Enslaved Vol. 1 (serial)
1

Incubus.

A demi-god imprisoned in the Inbetween—a realm outside the human world; a safe place to dream—fulfilling sexual fantasies for anyone who called upon their services. The callers have the best sex in their life. The incubus adds her face to the endless stream of people he’s bedded. An ideal situation for both parties to scratch the eternal itch. 

If only the fantasy were true.

The reality behind the incubi's existence doesn't inspire epic romantic poems. Men need not envy the poor souls indentured to a life engaging in meaningless intercourse. Love was a foreign concept in the stark barracks housing the incubi—where the demi-gods lived when they weren't summoned and ridden like prized stallions. Their flesh was marred with tattooed cuffs; binding spells to strangle the demi-gods' powers, leaving them enough to transport between realms and execute basic magics. The gods would not sully their eyes looking on an incubus. Demons got a better reception in the God's Lands.

Deryck—named after the man he replaced in the incubi's ranks—was one such unfortunate soul. Stolen from his mother's womb a month before he was to be born, he only knew a life in service to pleasure. Received a slave's education. Given a slave's residence. He owned nothing outright. Never held a conversation with a woman without it ending in her orgasm. The world be damned if he could figure out how to fix the vehicles he frequently performed inside of, or even drive the damn thing, but he knew every single way to pleasure a woman.

"Oh my God."

Another satisfied caller.

Her leg tightened around his hips. He pulled her right foot behind his bent knees and slid his right leg forward to change the angle of his thrusts. Deryck braced his left arm around her ribs, holding her right shoulder against his lips—silencing a frustrated moan. He held his breath, refusing to beg for orgasm. His body was built to give pleasure until he dropped from exhaustion. Only her permission spurned his release.

"Shiiit. Come, baby. I can't take anymore." Blessed words from her lips.

Deryck came. Relief sagged his shoulders. He slowed his thrusts, coaxing one last pleasured shiver from his caller.

Sexual power zinged through his binding tattoos and gathered in his meager magic resources, safely stored for the trip home. Without the tattoos, sex with one caller would give him energy to transport to his father's temple in the God's Lands, zap him in the balls with godfire, and leave enough to take himself to a beach in the human realm far from civilization to ride out eternity. With the bonds, he had a nice power-drain hangover to look forward to after transporting home. His plan was to hit the shower, then bed.

"Time for me to go, mistress." He eased his body off the brunette gasping for air beside him. Moving her hips to the left, he grabbed the damp sheet and wiped his seed off her. Deryck took longer cleaning himself.

"Will I see you again?" Her drugged voice barely carried from the pillow under her cheek. She rolled onto her back. Sweat-drenched hair clung to her breasts like chocolate rivers over sunbaked hills. The woman arched her back and played a finger over her erect nipple.

"Sure you will." A blatant lie. He never answered a summons from the same woman twice. No exceptions. He'd seen too many incubi grow to love their callers. Humans live and die in a blink. Why put himself through an endless grief loop?

"Mmm . . . good."

Deryck slid his finger down her neck. "Sleep."

His slave bands stretched. Pain stung his forearm as his restricted powers touched his caller. The command sucked her into a deep slumber. She’d wake in her realm, retaining pleasant memories from their time together with none of the unfortunate side effects from a one-night-stand. Incubi were infertile, much to his relief. No doubt any child born from an incubus would be slaughtered on sight or trapped in slavery like their father. No one deserved to live a half-life because of who sired them.

Deryck dressed in the jeans and form-fitting, sky blue t-shirt he arrived in. He raked a hand through his hair. Knotted strands tangled around his fingers. Giving up, he ground his teeth. With luck, his roommates were all in the Inbetween. Silence and solitude were the only friends an incubus needed after a summoning.

With another pain-ridden power flex, he transported from the Inbetween to the compound in the God's Lands where the incubi lived. A headache slammed against his forehead. Pressure built behind his eyes. Deryck braced his right arm on the wall above his headboard, waiting for the purple-grey splotches to clear from his vision.

"Holy shit, were you mauled by a tiger?"

Garik propped his bare shoulder against the archway leading to the communal showers. Water droplets glistened on his reddish-brown skin, dribbled down his chest, soaking into his shorts. His jaw moved. A pink bubble blew past his lips, popped, and disappeared into his mouth. He nodded at the scratches on Deryck’s throat.

Deryck shook his head. The headache flared, making the walk from his bed to the bathroom a pure pleasure. If I were a masochist, life would be easier.

"Don’t play coy, Deryck. Tell me about her."

"When have I ever shared the details of my business?" Deryck stripped off his shirt. He would shower, even if it meant having company.

"Humor me, man." Garik's voice held unrestrained excitement. He'd yet to grow out of the phase where their lifestyle thrilled him. Give him another eighty years and he'd be jaded like the rest of them. For the time being, they endured his exuberance.

Deryck tugged off his shoes, socks, and jeans, dumping them in the hamper outside the bathroom. He edged past Garik in the doorway.

The shower room held twenty showerheads along one wall. Containers with body wash, shampoo, and conditioner hung in rows under the showerheads. Opposite the showers were toilet stalls, offering the only privacy in the barracks. Sinks lined the short wall at the far end. A long mirror was mounted over them. A linen cabinet sat near the door.

Deryck snatched a washcloth and towel from the cabinet and walked to the showerhead he called dibs on since his first night in the compound. The night he'd been summoned to ravish his first caller, Deirdre—the only lover whose name he remembered. A man never forgot his first, no matter how many come after.

A low whistle cut over the first rush of falling water. He ignored Garik and hung his towel on the hook on the wall. Pumping blue gel body wash onto the wet washcloth, Deryck set to scrubbing the recent caller's spicy perfume and sweat off his body. Not that he considered it his body. Other people used it, fed it, and clothed it. He just lived in the sack of muscle and bone, praying for the day he'd be allowed to pass on to oblivion—the only retirement option available for incubi. They performed as commanded until the gods got a hair up their backside and ended the incubus' existence.

"She must have been a wildcat." Garik plopped his lanky body on the cold tile near the sinks. His green jogging shorts soaked up the water running toward the drain by his right hand. "Maybe she'll summon one of us again. I'd love to take that ride."

"Be my guest."

"Why don't you take repeats, man? The rest of us do." Gods, would he drop it already?

Deryck rinsed the soap off his back. "I don't care for it. That's all."

A wide grin cut across Garik's face. "You're missing out. When they learn what you like, it—"

"Not interested in teaching humans." Turning his back on Garik to wash his face, he hoped like hell he would take a hint and get lost. Their callers occupied their every waking moments. The last thing Deryck wanted to do was compare notes when he'd be knuckles deep in a woman in less than three hours, four if luck was on his side.

When he turned around again, Garik was blessedly absent.

Deryck washed and conditioned his jaw-length hair. After any summons, it remained the best part; washing away the evidence of how he'd been touched by others. With his hair clean, he could face a mirror and know if a strand was misplaced, he styled it that way.

He shut off the water. Deryck grabbed his towel off the hook next to the conditioner container. It didn't take long to dry his hair and body. He checked the scratches in the mirror above the sinks. The scabs came off in the shower. Glossy pink scars crossed his throat and shoulders. Those too would vanish in the next hour. Rapid healing was one benefit from his powers. He'd heal a lot quicker without the bonds.

Back in the sleeping quarters, fresh clothes sat on the foot of his bed. None knew who provided the clothing or how the being knew what clothes each man preferred. Nevertheless, he appreciated wearing what he wanted, even if he didn't provide it for himself. He pulled on the loose t-shirt and sweatpants, sending a silent thanks to their invisible butler.

"I'm gonna go grab some food. You coming?" Garik waited at the double doors to their barracks.

"In a moment. I'll meet you over there."

"I'll grab you a plate. You'll come eat or I'm bringing it to you." Garik left, taking the unwanted noise with him.

"Yes, mother," Deryck muttered.

Alone at last, Deryck lay back on his bed. His arms pillowed his head as he contemplated the bare white ceiling.

How much longer could he keep going? An existence where one possessed no control over his life wasn't a life at all. The potential he possessed at birth changed to a living hell. All because his mortal mother was tricked into bed by an Egyptian fertility god. Deryck sneered, thinking about the father he'd never met. Before he retired into oblivion, he swore he'd sink a dagger into Min's gut.

With that pleasant thought, sleep tugged his eyes closed. Before the conversations from the incubi outside faded, pain engulfed his forearms. Another caller. Deryck wasn't allowed time to be himself, love himself. He was a sham, pretending to love women when he knew nothing about it outside the half-dozen novels he read in his lifetime. They all deserved better.

                                                     * * * * *

Springtime in Missouri didn't receive the memo—summer wasn't due for at least another four weeks. Shayla McIntire shrugged off her wool jacket and laid it over the back of her chair. The patio outside her favorite teashop, Tea Haven, overflowed with people overly concerned by global warming, the clothing on college-aged women, politics, or, worst of all, men sporting sandals with white crew socks. Couldn't they enjoy a nice day without focusing on the negative for once? Apparently not. The women two tables over had a point, though—crew socks shouldn't be within fifteen miles of Birkenstocks.

Across the table, Shayla's best friend likewise shed her jacket. Faye Colt shook out her gorgeous long, brown hair and stretched over the back of her chair. The guys at the next table ogled.

Shayla leaned toward the nearest bug-eyed man. "She has to ask her mother for permission. And Jesus."

He recoiled. His two buddies laughed. 

"How bad could her mother be," the guy Shayla startled asked his friend under his breath.

"Not sure, Trevor, but her perfume smells like the great parts of autumn grew tits." His friend didn't help their cause. Must not be the religious type outside the bedroom and family holidays.

"We can hear you, gentlemen," Shayla called.

"Shit. Let's go, Jed."

The men grabbed their drinks. They left through the patio gate and crossed the street in front of oncoming traffic. Frustrated lunchtime drivers laid on their horns. The guys ignored them and climbed into their primer grey Impala.

"Thanks, Mom. You just scared off my future ex-husband."

"Don't Mom me. You're five years older than I am." She tossed a wadded straw wrapper across the table. "You're not marrying anyone named Jed, anyway."

"You can't judge my taste in men." Faye picked up the wrapper and flung it. It bounced off Shayla's forehead. "Would it kill you to buy something made for this season?"

"Why bother? I only go out in public with you. Trust me, no one's looking my way. I'm A-Okay with that."

"It's been five years. Not even a good vibrator can keep a woman satisfied for that long."

A blush crept up Shayla's cheeks. "The only way I'm hooking up again is if the world's most gorgeous man crawls out of my dreams and proposes."

Faye took a bite from her croissant, wagging the rest to punctuate her words. "Make sure he passes a psyche evaluation and a driving test. You don't want a repeat of the last guy."

"Leave ancient history in the text books. I made a mistake."

"That mistake cost you dearly."

Shayla held up a hand. "It's not up for discussion."

"Fine. But I'm serious; you need to take care of your needs, Shay. Physical and emotional. Solitude isn't healthy."

Shayla sighed before she could check it. They'd been down the relationship path before. Cyrus, the scumbag ex who made the last seven years of her live a living hell, made her hesitant to trust anyone. Ruined her physically, as well. She ran a hand over her stomach. The scar tissue wasn't visible, but it didn't lessen the impact Cy's attack had on her.

It wasn't in her nature to have one-night stands so she could hold someone again. Her safest option for companionship ran on batteries and never left the toilet seat up in the middle of the night. Did she miss having someone to cuddle with on the couch and watch movies? Totally. It didn't mean she was ready to settle down. Mr. Dreamboat wouldn't be popping up any time soon. If he did, she'd probably run for the foothills. She accepted single life and used the time to fix the mess left after her life imploded.

"There's a sale at Isabel's Boutique. Come on. You can help me find clothes that aren't from last year." When in doubt, distract Faye with shopping. It generally worked for Shayla.

Faye's honey brown eyes narrowed. "You're changing topics. It's working."

They put a tip for their waitress under the sugar shaker. Surprisingly, they left Tea Haven without anyone tripping over themselves. A strange law of the universe made men regress to awkward teens when Faye walked past. It amused Shayla to no end. Her friend talked a big game, but rarely gave in to everyone's insistence she should become a model.

Arm in arm, they walked three blocks south on Harris to the boutique. The owner, Klara—an old friend from high school—smiled from behind the cash register. An elderly woman plopped a purple cotton mountain on the counter and a black faux leather belt. Around the store, shoppers searched through racks of gorgeous clothing. Maybe shopping wasn't a good idea.

"Oh no, don't you dare," Faye warned.

"What?"

Her friend led her to the blouses in the back corner of the store. "You've got that frightened bunny look. They don't care what you try on."

Before Shayla responded, Faye shoved clothes in her arms. Shayla followed in her wake, taking everything her friend thought she should try on. Shopping was usually a task braved only when one's last good jeans developed a hole in the ass. Good lord, she thought, adjusting clothes in her arms, silk and linen sure weigh a lot.

Faye pushed her into an empty changing stall and followed.

"I can dress myself." Shayla dropped the clothes onto the wide bench.

"Of course, but this way I make sure you try everything on." She snatched something off the pile. "Start with this."

A screaming red and black lace bra dangled from Faye's fingertip. The matching panties sat on the bench. Shayla batted the thing away.

"I'm too old to wear that bra. It looks like a demon bat. Quit swinging it."

"No you're not. Every woman needs a sexy bra. Your off-brand Target bra can't be that comfortable. These are like angels hoisting them up for eight hours." She shook the bra again. "Put. It. On."

"Why did I suggest we go shopping?"

Faye shoved the bra in her hand. "Your subconscious is ready to move on. I don't want Mr. Dreamguy to come into existence and see you in that beige thing you're wearing."

She didn't bother to ask how Faye knew what bra she wore. They knew each other far too well. Turning around, Shayla stripped off her t-shirt and slid out of her bra. With a few curses, she wrangled herself into the new bra. Eyes downcast, she turned back around.

"Call me demon-bat girl," she muttered. The inserts in the bra pushed her breasts up higher than they ever sat at eighteen. She couldn't see her feet. It was awfully comfortable.

Click. Shayla opened her eyes. Faye grinned. Her phone disappeared down her blouse. The sneaky bitch took a picture.

"Delete it, Faye!"

"Nope." She pushed Shayla around to face the mirror. "You look gorgeous. We're getting the bra and the panties. Don't argue that you don't have anyone to wear them for. Wear them for yourself, okay? Self-confidence starts from the inside."

"I don't think whoever said it meant inside my clothes."

"Come on, try on something else while your tits look awesome."

My breasts do look good in this bra. No way she'd say it out loud and prove Faye right. Pride kept her mouth shut while her friend played Barbie with her wardrobe. How she managed to pick the right sizes every time confounded Shayla.

After what felt like an eternity wedging herself into designer clothes, they decided on two outfits which could mix and match to make her wardrobe not one of a woman so long on the rebound her backside felt like it was made from rubber. 

At the register, Klara chuckled as she scanned the matching bra and panties. "I love these. They're the best thing we carry. Feels like—"

"Angels holding—yeah, yeah." Shayla's cheeks heated. She wanted to kick Faye. Gently. Without Faye, she'd have no one to drag her out of the house on bad days. Those were necessary interventions from too much thinking.

Klara handed over a bulging cloth bag with the store's logo screen printed on the side. "Where are you two off to next?"

Faye tapped her nails on the glass counter. Nothing good ever came from the look on her face. "There's an art show at New Moon Gallery."

Shayla shook her head. "Isn't that the show with nude men from across Europe recreating life from the eighteenth century?"

"Yes it is. Most of them are athletes." Hope glittered in her eyes.

"You're not going to take no for an answer, huh?"

"You're not allowed to forego nude men to stare at elves alone in your living room. Again." Faye had a good point. Plus, only the brain-dead would pass up a chance to see handsome, naked men. She had issues with relationships, not men as a whole. 

"The gallery is next to Fifth Street Bakery. Can you please bring me back something? I haven't been able to get free at all today." Klara opened her purse under the counter and handed Shayla a twenty. "Strawberry cheesecake and three cream puffs dipped in dark chocolate."

"You want a side of insulin with that?" Shayla pocketed the money.

Klara laughed. "I'll be ok—"

"Miss, do you have this in a size eighteen," asked a middle-aged brunette whose wardrobe never left 2001.

"I'll help you look, ma'am." Klara hopped around the counter, hugged them, and vanished into the sea of bargain hunters. May God help her. They looked ravenous.

Shayla and Faye walked out to an angry customer yelling, "Why don't you have anything above a size sixteen?"

Shayla made a mental note to double Klara's cream puff order. The customer's voice went up an octave. Okay, maybe a triple order would better smooth ruffled feathers after her rough day.

2

A fork tapped Deryck's untouched blue glass plate.

"You planning to eat that?" Herryk settled in the chair across the table. He'd eat them out of house and home, if possible. The guy spent every waking moment screwing or eating. He needed nor desired any hobbies. Like his father, Marduk, Herryk remained laser-focused on his primary goal. Since incubi couldn't do anything else, the Babylonian incubus set his sights on being the best fucker in any realm.

"Have at it. I'm not hungry." Deryck shoved the plate away. The dish—eggplant parmesan, perfectly cooked with a side of spaghetti—smelled appealing, but his stomach protested food so soon after returning to their compound in the God's Lands. The last caller was sweet, a virgin in her realm. Her honest reactions to his touch lightened his heart. The feeling dimmed when the power she gave him was used up.

Herryk snatched the plate closer and dug in. "She must have been a good one if you're too distracted to eat."

Grinding his teeth, Deryck pushed back from the table. Glorifying their position didn't change how he felt. The girl he deflowered had no clue about her part in his torment. Her heart wanted to know what sex was like—without social stigma or threat to her safety—the Inbetween called them together to make it happen. Over and over, innocents summoned him to their beds. Then they forgot him minutes after waking. He couldn't remain upset with them. Deryck loved them, though they continuously broke his heart. "It is our nature," older incubi claimed. He called bullshit. Every being deserved love.

Turning, he headed for the door. Maybe sleep would screw his head on straight.

Garik stopped him in the doorway. A small bowl passed from his hands to Deryck's. He frowned.

"Fresh nectarines. You need to eat, even if it's deer food." Garik patted him on the shoulder.

"You didn't have to pick these for me." The crisp, sweet nectarine scent made his mouth water.

"The trees decide when I pick. I just hand out what gifts they provide." His deep harmony with nature gave Garik's inherited powers a boost, despite the slave bonds. Some psychic gifts went deeper than the gods thought when they set laws for the incubi.

"Thank you."

"Starving yourself won't change your circumstances." Garik left him in the doorway to join Ryker and Herryk at the table.

Well, maybe one person in the barracks understood, even if he still enjoyed the lifestyle.

Bowl in hand, Deryck left the others to their meal. Conversations about their latest conquests cut short when the brass doors shut. He strolled down the walkway running the entire inner perimeter of the Grecian-style building toward his sleeping quarters. Would he ever be comfortable trading play-by-play with his brothers? Gods, no. 

Deryck paused outside the entrance to his barracks. Leaning on the marble railing, he looked down into the garden and small orchard filling the rectangular courtyard. Directly below where he stood, a pond dominated the corner. The water rippled; a dozen colossal koi swarmed his way to beg for food.

"I know Garik just fed you," Deryck told the fish. "There's still duckweed floating by your heads."

They didn't care. Amused by the little beggars, he left them to bug the next sucker who stopped.

In the sleeping quarters, he sprawled out on his narrow bed. Two nectarines stopped the hunger pains gnawing his gut. He closed his eyes. 

Please, no dreams tonight. No callers. I want to fall into a vast nothing for four hours. Praying for peace and quiet was a joke. The gods didn't listen to pleas from their slaves. 

                                                * * * * *

Whitewashed and dull, Shayla's neighborhood was exactly where she wanted to be after Faye's attempts to turn her into a sex kitten. At the gallery, she magically disappeared, leaving Shayla trapped in conversation with a Swedish model. During the hike back to the parking garage, Faye stopped a passing jogger to ask their opinion on haircuts should a hypothetical "someone" wish to change their look.

If a person could die from embarrassment, Shayla came damn close to kicking the bucket.

"You sure you'll be okay alone?" Faye's car climbed Shayla's driveway and stopped beside her car.

"I've been alone for a while now. One more night of peace and quiet won't hurt." She turned in her seat and snagged the clothing bag off the backseat.

"I wish you wouldn't do that," Faye said.

Shayla met her gaze. Her friend's concern was a slap in the face. Even then, she held fast to her pride. "Do what?"

"Act like everything is okay when obviously it isn't."

Unable to formulate a coherent response, Shayla scooted out of the car. She leaned down and gave Faye her best everything-is-okay smile. "Drive safely. I'll call you for lunch next week, okay?" 

She shut the door on Faye's frustration. Faye revved the engine. Shayla waved her away. Her friend responded with a middle finger before backing her car down the drive and taking off down the street.

"Everything is okay, damn it," Shayla reassured herself.

She unlocked the front door. Silence waited for her. Maybe I should get a dog. 

The bag in her hand hit the small hall table; the change bowl on top jangled. Shayla dropped the bag next to the bowl and wrinkled her nose.

"You, however, are not okay."

She'd sneak back to the boutique during the week and exchange the lingerie for something not so . . . red. Self-confidence comes from inside, she told herself, mimicking Faye. No amount of confidence would make her comfortable drawing that much attention to her chest. Blending in with the crowd was okay.

Faye possessed far too much faith in Shayla's ability to leave the past where it belonged. Shayla never admitted how often she had nightmares about the weeks leading to the end. The way Cyrus talked to her. Treated her.

"Don't go there, idiot," Shayla warned herself.

First things first. She walked down the hall to her bedroom and ditched her khaki slacks and grey blouse, replacing them with worn blue flannel pajama pants and an oversized t-shirt—a freebie from donating blood ten years ago. Finally comfortable, Shayla padded into the living room. The remote was where she left it on the couch.

"Let's see what's On Demand."

Crap. Crap. More crap . . . and a section devoted to romantic comedies. Nothing on the cable menu looked remotely entertaining. Her ideal hell transformed from being locked in a room with a thousand bees to being locked in a room while The Wedding Planner played endlessly on screens covering every surface.

Shuddering, she gave up on the programming failure from the cable company and flipped on the DVD player. Her old standby would get her through the night. After all, who felt lonely watching Legolas running through beautiful green countryside? Only idiots, she told herself.

Shayla pressed play. "You'll never forsake me, will you, Legolas?"

Of course he didn't answer, but he didn't need to. She'd grown up on Tolkien's novels and spent a good portion of her adult life watching the movies made from them. At one point, she'd hidden the DVDs in her shoe collection to keep her ex from throwing them out. God forbid she had hobbies or liked movies he didn't. Cyrus threw away two full sets of the extended-version movies before she wised up and hid them—like a teen boy hiding porno magazines from his mother.

"Stop going there, Shay," she muttered and occupied her thoughts with the gorgeous costuming.

On the screen, men on horseback faced off with the intrepid heroes. Shayla recited the lines from memory. So what if she looked ridiculous, it wasn't like anyone would ever witness her anti-depression ritual. 

Shayla twisted her hair into a bun and scooted to lay across the couch on her side. The TV fuzzed in and out of focus for a few minutes. Finally, sleep claimed her.

                                                  * * * * *

Brightly colored cereal clattered into the large ceramic bowl on the kitchen counter. Shayla poured until pieces bounced off the rim and skittered across the tile. She'd always been a sucker for sugary, bad-for-you breakfast foods. While she couldn't imagine feeding the stuff to a child, she occasionally ate it for a morning energy burst.

"Better than coffee."

The milk jug appeared at her side. She smiled and took it. Milk splashed in the bowl. A few cereal pieces jumped ship.

A warm body pressed against her backside. His arousal rubbed her ass, each move raising them hemline on her skirt. Tempted, Shayla reached back to tease him in return. Strong hands caught her hands and pressed them onto the tile. He leaned in, trapping her against the kitchen counter.

"You weren't in bed when I woke up." Lips brushed her nape. Hot breath caught her hair; it tickled her ear.

"I got hungry. Sorry." Shayla emphasized the apology by grinding her hips against him.

A low groan answered her tease. His hips held her still as his hands slid up her arms. He cupped her breasts, coaxing a moan from Shayla. His left hand trailed up her throat, bending her back. He devoured her next moan. Soft lips caressed hers. He slid his tongue over her bottom lip. Obediently, she opened her mouth to give him a taste of what was his.

Her body was utterly pliant under his attentions.

Shayla's breathy laugh broke the kiss. She nuzzled his neck. "My cereal is going to get soggy if you keep molesting me."

Secretly, she hoped he'd tell her to forget the cereal and make a meal of her there on the kitchen counter. They hadn't fooled around in the kitchen before. Her eyes measured the depth of the countertop. If they moved the bowl and milk, she could perch up there while he . . . .

Behind her, a scoff cut off the thought. "Eat that crap and your ass will be even bigger."

                                                   * * * * *

Shayla bolted upright. Sensations crept over her skin, remnants from her nightmare visitor pawing her erogenous zones. God, I hate that dream. Each time it popped up she hoped just once her mystery dream guy wouldn't prove to be like every other man in her life. Even in her dreams she was attracted to assholes. Faceless, nameless assholes.

"Carrying extra weight around your belly? Slim-Now will help you drop it in a matter of weeks!"

A weight loss infomercial flickered on the TV screen. Shayla grabbed the remote, fully intending to throw it at the perky-breasted women jogging through a park. Instead, she switched the TV off.

The cable box display changed from the channel number to the current time.

"Wonderful. Slept like crap on the couch and now I have to hurry."

Shayla hauled her aching body off the couch and stumbled into the kitchen. Her nightmare threatened to resurface while she ground the beans for her coffee and started a pot to brew. She shoved the nightmare back in the cesspit of bad emotions bottled in her subconscious.

Dwelling over the past wouldn't change the truth; she'd never be able to trust a lover again. 

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