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Netherworld: Drop Dead Sexy

By´╝ÜTracy St. John

Netherworld: Drop Dead Sexy


Tracy St. John

Chapter One

I sobbed, staring at the Southern yellow pine woods that surrounded me. My head whipped this way and that. Only lines of gray-barked trunks, topped by evergreen needles, greeted my wide-eyed gaze. The nightmare had begun again.

The daytime terror possessed me this time. My nightmare’s sunlit version was infinitely better than my woods-at-night dream. Nothing stalked me while the sun shone down. Still, heaviness bore down on me, letting me know terrible things had happened here. Things so horrible, it coated the atmosphere like an August afternoon’s humidity.

Nothing hinted at the dread that filled the hushed woods. The dry pine needles beneath my shoeless silk-stockinged feet were a carpet, layered thickly over the ground. Nearby, a humped, rumpled splash of teal fabric lay in a drift of the brown needles and pine cones.

I wouldn’t look at that. I couldn’t look at it. My eyes skittered over the bright scream of color, refusing to focus.

The early spring air was warm, just starting to hint at the muggy, breath-choking humidity that would descend over southeast Georgia within a few weeks. The pine trees marched in neat, unnatural rows. I stood in the middle of one of the many tree farms that served the nearby pulp mill in Fulton Falls, where I lived. The sun hung golden in a powder-blue sky, peeking between gray-brown branches.

It was as peaceful a scene as you might imagine, far from the terror of the nighttime version of my dream. When the sky turned velvet black, something darted through the trees nearby, growling and searching. I had the ugly feeling it looked for me. I always tried to make myself small and invisible in those sleeping fantasies, because if the unseen something caught me I would be in a world of hurt. I knew that as sure as I knew my own name.

For these hours of light, I cringed from nothing beneath the pines. Alone, without that cold, brutal presence haunting the woods. This place still scared the heck out of me. Sure it was only a dream, but that didn’t change the sick, watery feeling in my stomach. God, I so wanted to wake up.

“Hello,” said a quiet voice behind me.

I jumped a clear mile. A high, thin scream streamed from my lips. The stalking thing that filled my after-dark nightmares was here after all, and it had found me at last. I whirled to see what shape my doom would take.

I don’t know what I expected to see waiting to gobble me up with pointed dagger teeth, but it sure wasn’t this smiling dark-haired man wearing a nice button-down shirt and pressed slacks. He didn’t have sharp teeth. Or claws. No, he looked nicely normal.

Okay, he looked a little better than nicely normal. Clean-cut with a little bit of a five o’clock shadow on his ruggedly handsome face. And I do mean ruggedly handsome as in the stereotyped Marlboro Man sense. This guy was not a pretty boy, what Yankees probably referred to as ‘metrosexual’. He was a manly man with a capital MAN. Strong jawed. Wide browed. Sharp chocolate brown eyes with creases in the corners. More light creases in his forehead and around his mouth told me he was no wet-behind-the-ears youngster. Late thirties, early forties, perhaps? Yummilicious, in a word.

It didn’t end with the face either. Oh no, Mr. Rugged was the whole package from top to toe. He wasn’t tall, maybe only five inches higher than me, but that suited me fine. He’d still be taller when I wore heels. His wide chest tapered to a trim waist. Thick thighs pressed the boundaries of his slacks. Shoulders to die for started arms I would just love to be scooped up and carried away in. He possessed a body that did hard work and could work a girl hard.

From terrified to turned on in a couple of heartbeats. Yeah, I liked my dream plenty just about now.

But even in dreams, a lady doesn’t jump on a solid piece of walking sexual real estate. Introductions are a must. “Who are you?” I asked.

His deep voice was gentle, a muffled bark of sorts. “I’m here to help you. You seemed very upset when I got here.”

Oh glory, my subconscious served up gentlemen today. And I am very good in the Damsel in Distress role. It happens to be several of my clients’ favorite.

Sniffling decorously, wiping at the real tears I’d cried only moments before, I said, “I don’t know what I’m doing here. Tell me it’s just a bad dream.”

Marlboro Man winced, his eyes closing in seeming pain for an instant. He looked at me again and stepped closer, near enough to touch. I had a hard time not running my hands over those muscular shoulders or the chiseled chest I knew hid behind that very professional white shirt. I was like a kid at the dessert bar, and he was the buffet.

“My name is Dan,” he said.

Okay, it wasn’t Bruce or Lars or Travis or anything super macho sounding, but Dan was not a bad name. It wasn’t a sissy name at least; I swear if I meet one more Brent or Chip in this town I’ll scream. “I’m Brandilynn,” I said.