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ďStay with me tonight?Ē he asked
Chrisís words surprised her, and sent a thrill of hope down Karynís spine.
ďPlease,Ē he continued. ďJust one more night to make sure my job is complete.Ē His blue eyes smiled down into hers. ďIím not ready for our weekend to end just yet.Ē
Neither was Karyn. But wouldnít spending another night with him just put off the moment sheíd have to watch him walk away? After all, they had an agreement. Was she being greedy? Tempting fate? Pleasure blended with misery as the feel of his hand stroking her back made her heart ache and her body hum.
As if sensing her internal debate, Chris leaned across the space between them, persuading her with a deep, sensual kiss. The need for his touch won out over her will, the promise of this moment overruling her fear of the future. ďOkay, Iíll stay.Ē
He rewarded her with a look that guaranteed her a night sheíd never forget.
And that was exactly what she was afraid ofÖ.
Whispers in the Dark has been a labor of love for me for a very long time. Iím so excited to finally share Chris and Karynís story with you!
This book began as a question that popped into my head while listening to a lecture on post-traumatic stress disorder. How do you return to a normal life after something tragic happens? For each and every person, just like for Karyn, the answer to that question is different. But the more I wrote, the more I realized determination plays a key partóthe same determination we all need in order to tackle the obstacles that block our goals, hopes and dreams. I like to think that Chris and Karyn shared their determination with me. I hope they do the same for you.
Iíd love to hear what you think about Chris and Karynís story. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit me at www.KiraSinclair.com.
WHISPERS IN THE DARK
TORONTO ē NEW YORK ē LONDON
AMSTERDAM ē PARIS ē SYDNEY ē HAMBURG
STOCKHOLM ē ATHENS ē TOKYO ē MILAN ē MADRID
PRAGUE ē WARSAW ē BUDAPEST ē AUCKLAND
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
When not working as an office manager or juggling plotlines, Kira spends her time on a small farm in north Alabama with her wonderful husband, two amazing daughters and a menagerie of animals. While writing in one form or another has always been a part of her life, sheís excited to see her first book published with the Harlequin Blaze line. Sheíd love to hear what you think of her debut, at www.KiraSinclair.com.
There are several people I need to thank,
because this book would never have happened
The PlayfriendsóAndrea, Danniele,
Kimberly and Marilynófor brainstorming,
Rumors, teeter-totters, late-night calls and
panicked e-mail sessions.
The MavensóBeverly, LJ and Lindaó
for setting such a wonderful example.
Rhonda Nelson for that last puzzle piece.
Lori Borrill and Leeanne Kenedy for readingÖ
and readingÖand reading again.
Shelley Visconte for the invaluable information.
My own personal hero and our little girls for your
love, patience and unflagging support.
And finally, my editor, Brenda, for not giving up
on me, Chris or Karyn.
ďYOU KNOW, as much as I enjoy this ritual, Iím really starting to resent you hogging my Friday nights.Ē
Karyn Mitchell looked up from her half-painted toes and rolled her eyes at her best friend, Anne.
ďFunny, I donít remember inviting you, anyway.Ē
ďYeah, well, I know what youíd be doing if I wasnít hereÖĒ
ďEnjoying a nice, long bath?Ē Karyn raised a pointed eyebrow.
ďBooorrrring.Ē As she flopped down onto the sofa beside Karyn, ice cubes rattled in Anneís fresh drink. ďYouíve been here almost two yearsódonít you think itís time to see something besides your gray cubicle and the inside of this apartment?Ē
ďI like my apartment.Ē There was nothing wrong with it. Or the fact that she preferred to spend her time safe inside it.
Capping her bottle of Ravished Red, Karyn tried not to let the familiar irritation surface. Anne didnít mean to push. She just couldnít seem to help it.
ďAnd grease-stained pizza boxes and demolished cartons of triple-chocolate meltdown, apparently. But neither of those will help you find a man.Ē
A joking smile crinkled her friendís bright green eyes. It didnít help. This was territory theyíd been over before, and Karyn was getting tired of covering the same ground. The only thing that kept her from exploding was the fact that while Anne might appear thick-skinned to the rest of the world, she was really a softie at heart.
ďI donít need a man.Ē
Anne snorted, a sound that clashed with her blond, model-quality exterior, but completely suited the rebel she hid inside. ďEvery woman needs a man, someone to help you feel pretty, feminineÖsexy.Ē
ďI wouldnít know sexy if it bit me in the ass.Ē
ďThatís my point.Ē A bright, mischievous smile flashed across Anneís face, lightening Karynís mood. Anne had that effect on herÖon everyone. Sometimes it was sickening. But, God, sheíd needed that so much when sheíd first moved to Birmingham.
Laughter. Something sheíd only faked for years. Her family had smothered her. Cocooned her in bubble wrap and walked on egg shells around her. Even surrounded by people, you could be alone. She just hadnít realized how alone sheíd been until sheíd met Anne.
It hadnít always been that way. A mischievous child, sheíd grown up the center of attention and relished every last moment. And as a teenager, sheíd loved being the outgoing, friendly one. Not the most popular girl. But the one everyone turned to for advice and a shoulder to cry on.
Being happy had been easy. Then.
She missed that girl. Wanted her back. It had taken five years, but she was finally starting to find that place inside again. If she could just break through that last barrier to being wholeÖ
ďA good man would teach you Ďsexy.íĒ Anneís mouth twisted into an up-to-no-good grin as her eyes flashed fun. ďNow turn the radio on. The showís about to start.Ē
Karyn groaned. She had a love/hate relationship with Dr. Desire and his radio show. There was something about that manís voice that made her insides tingle and turn to goo. Listening to him talk about relationships and sex for hours every night drove her crazy. Of course, she supposed it was self-torture, considering sheíd given up all hope of ever having sex again.
ďYouíre on the air with Dr. Desire. Letís put some spark back in your love life.Ē
His familiar voice filled the room around her. Calm and pleasant, deep and dark, Dr. Desire had the uncanny ability to put her at ease and hype her up, all with that one catch phrase.
Comfort and confusion, thatís what he offered. How could she want everything he talked aboutóa healthy, satisfying relationship plus sweaty, hedonistic, no-holds-barred sexóand yet still be unable to take that first step in finding it?
Listening to his show had become a nightly ritual, one she shared every Friday with Anne. It had started out as a sort of self-prescribed therapy. Sheíd hoped that hearing men and women talk about sexual relationships every night would take the edge of fear away, would get her juices flowing again. And it had, it did, but each and every time sheíd attempted to put that energy to good use, the anxiety would resurface.
Holy hell, she was frustrated.
She wanted sex. She wanted a life. And she wanted someone to share them both with.
ďHow can he fulfill your needs if you donít tell him what you want? Listen, ladies, we arenít mind readers. You want a little adventure with your sex? Then spell it out for him. Trust me, heís probably willing to try anything once.Ē
Karyn sighed and leaned back against her sofa. She rattled the ice cubes in her buttery nipple, wishing, not for the first time, that the warm buzz wouldnít go to waste. But she never drank hard liquor in public, not when there were men around to take advantage.
Rolling her head sideways, Karyn shot Anne a glare. ďNo.Ē
ďHeíll have the answer.Ē
She stared disbelievingly as Anne hopped up and hobbled across the floor toward the phone.
ďAh, noóhe wonít.Ē
ďLook, how can it hurt? Youíve seen how many therapists over the last few years?Ē
ďFour in five years.Ē
ďAnd has anything theyíve told you to do helped?Ē
ďPrecisely.Ē Anne duck-walked back to protect her wet polish. With a raised eyebrow and cocked hip, she thrust out the handset. ďWhat do you have to lose?Ē
Staring at the thing like it was a mud-covered spider, Karyn said, ďUh, my dignity, self-respect, sanity? Any of those will work. There is no way Iím going on the most popular radio show in the city to spill my guts. Everyone I know listens to this show. Youíre the only person here who knows what happened. I plan to keep it that way.Ē
ďSo lie, use a different name. No one will know.Ē
ďYouíre assuming he canít helpóĒ
ďHe canít. You listen to the show just as much as I do. He might know a heck of a lot about the male/female thing, but somehow I think my problems run a bit deeper than the normal issues he handles. I do not need a sex expert.Ē
ďThat man is an expert on more than just sex. He knows how to handle a woman, make her feel special. Although, if you ask me, a sexpert is precisely what you need.Ē
Anne frowned and Karyn thought, Oh, shit. Her best friend bright and animatedÖthat was normal. Her best friend with a missionÖthat was just scary.
ďThat man could charm the panties off anyoneóincluding you. Heíd have you naked and panting before fears and your overactive brain could sabotage you.Ē
Standing up, Karyn paced past her friend toward the stereo. She should just turn the damn thing off. Instead she turned back and asked, ďWhat do you think heís going to say?Ē
Anne lifted one challenging brow. ďItís more what I expect he could do.Ē
ďDo? What, you think heíll pimp for me? Find a man willing to take on the challenge?Ē
Anne twirled the phone in her hand. ďNope. I expect heíd help you himself if you asked.Ē
Her knees went weak, almost like someone had reached in and pulled the bones straight through the bottom of her feet. ďAsked. You expect me to ask Dr. Desire for sex?Ē
ďHeís precisely what you need. He definitely knows his way around a womanís body. Any man who can talk about women and pleasure the way he doesÖĒ Her friend trailed off into a wistful sigh. ďAt least call him.Ē
Karyn shook her head, not sure what to say. There was no way she could ask Dr. Desire for sex. On air no less!
Narrowing her eyes, Anne jabbed the phone toward her. ďIf you donít, I will.Ē
Karynís heart seemed to seize in her chest. Pulling her gaze away, she decided to ignore the pointed gesture.
Anne shrugged and started dialing.
Snatching the phone from her, midpunch, she stabbed the off button and hid it behind her back.
With a smirk Anne said, ďI have a cell phone, you know.Ē
Karyn growled under her breath. Arguing with Anne made her almost as frustrated as fighting with her big brothers always had. A tiny part of her missed those moments with her family, when she could be herself, when her older brothers had acted like annoying, interfering older brothers. No one except Anne fought with her now.
ďLook, Iím not asking that man to sleep with me.Ē
ďFine. But call him. It canít hurt to tell him your story, see if he has any advice.Ē
Karyn swayed. Sure, sheíd considered calling before. The only thing that had stopped her was an absolute certainty that it wouldnít do any good.
Crossing the room, Anne laid a hand on her shoulder. ďYouíve tried everything else. What do you have to lose?Ē
She gave up with an exasperated groan. ďWhat am I supposed to say to him? Hi, my name is Karyn and Iím a victim of rape?Ē
ďWell, that depends on what youíre looking for. Iíd suggest you start with the fact you havenít had sex in five years and go from there.Ē
Plopping down onto her sofa, Karyn dialed the number for Dr. Desireís hot line, 1-800-4DESIRE and cringed. It sounded a little too close to a phone-sex line for her peace of mind. But if this would get Anne off her back for a while itíd be worth any discomfort. Sheíd call, tell him her problem and just see if he had any suggestions.
What she wouldnít do was ask him for sex.
Her heartbeat quickened as the line connected and rang. The bundle of nerves in the pit of her stomach seemed to tighten and churn as she explained to the showís producer why she was calling.
After being placed on hold, Karyn breathed deeply in a vain attempt to dispel the emotions jittering through her. Sheíd explain her situationóleaving out most of the detailsóand then when he couldnít offer her anything constructive would hang up and forget sheíd ever dialed the number.
She felt better, until she looked up into her friendís expectant eyes.
ďI still think you should ask him for sex. Iím telling you, that man knows his way around a womanís body. The only thing youíd be thinking with him touching you is more, more, more.Ē
The breathless way Anne moaned the words was not helping. ďI am not goingóĒ
ďYouíre on the air with Dr. Desire. Letís find the spark in your relationship.Ē
Karynís eyes flew wide as she leaped to her feet, standing uselessly in the center of her living room. His voice slid down her spine, not from her strategically placed speakers, but from the phone pressed tightly to her ear. Her hand flexed around the curved plastic in a bid to hold on to something tight. She certainly didnít have hold of her sanity at the moment.
A vision of Dr. Desire, a carbon copy of the billboard she passed at least twice a day, jumped easily to her mind.
With a wide, white smile and rumpled, dark brown hair that always looked as if some woman had just run her fingers through it, the man was gorgeous. No red-blooded, breathing woman could argue that. But it wasnít just his rugged jaw or kissable lips that held her attention. Something deep inside those smoldering blue-gray eyes made her insides clench and melt whenever she drove past.
Even now, just the memory of that picture had her body heating. Heating more than it had for any flesh-and-blood man in the past five years.
ďNow, donít be shy. I wonít bite. Unless you want me to.Ē
Karyn heard his laugh. Like his voice, it was deep and sexy and somehow soothing. She relaxed the muscles that had bunched at her back and sank blindly onto the sofa.
Her mouth opened and words tumbled out before she could stop them.
ďI need you to sleep with me.Ē
CHRISTOPHER FAULKNER nearly fell off his chair. He did bobble the microphone in front of him.
Considering the timid way this woman had started her phone call, that last statement had been a shocker.
Jerking up, he mouthed, ďWhat the hell,Ē to Michael, his forty-two-year-old producer. The man supposedly screening his calls just shrugged and went back to playing with switches.
Chris fought down the urge to strangle him. Heíd wrangled with that sensation often over their five-year friendship. There was something about the other manís laid-back attitude that tended to grate against his nerves. Especially during the past few months.
Michael knew he didnít like to deal with this sort of thing on air. Hell, he could barely walk out his door without being accosted by some primped-up prima donna looking for him to rock her world. All they ever really wanted was an instant catapult to notoriety. Or money.
The novelty of fame had long since lost its shine. He really enjoyed helping people, but could have done without some of the headaches that went with the job.
Pasting a smile on his faceóbecause the listeners really could hear when it wasnít thereóhe put every ounce of experience heíd gained over the past five years into handling the thorny situation Michael had dropped in his lap.
At least heíd learned something on his journey from ordinary nighttime DJ to megastar.
ďWell, gee, Iím flattered.Ē He forced out a laugh that fell as flat as the lie heíd just told. He was nowhere close to being flattered. In fact, he was much closer to annoyed.
ďThatís notÖI didnít meanÖLet me explain.Ē
The young womanís voice floated into his ears through the headphones he wore. He heard desperation, which scared him, but also something underneath that caught his attention. Something sweet with a tinge of the same uneasiness he was trying to ignore. In a strange way it stirred a connection, a sense of kinship with the woman on the other end.
ďI know this must sound crazy to you and, frankly, I wouldnít blame you if you cut me off, but please just hear me out. Honestly, I didnít mean what I said before. Really.Ē
Her admission took a bit of the edge off. Barely.
She paused, sucking in air. The broken sound reverberated through his brain. When she started again her voice trembled and he wondered what had made her take this step. Whatever she was trying to say, it was obviously difficult.
ďMy name is Katy.Ē Her voice faltered and drifted away for a moment before beginning again. ďThis is hard for me to talk about.Ē
ďWell, I canít say Iíll sleep with you, Katy.Ē He forced out another laugh, but even he could hear the brittle edge. ďBut Iíd like to help. Tell me whatís going on.Ē
ďAbout five years ago I was date raped. I knew the guy. Not very well, but enough to think Iíd be safe with him. I wasnít.Ē
A tight knot dropped into his stomach, punching straight through to his toes.
How had this girl gotten through? Sheíd already hit two of the auto-dump buttonsópropositioning him and having a serious sexual issue, one that required professional help. He was no professional.
His unfinished business-management degree didnít really qualify him to deal with severe sexual hang-ups. And if, in the silence of his own mind, heíd thought once or twice about remedying that deficiency in his educationÖwell, thereíd never been a reason to admit that idiocy to anyone.
He stared hard through the glass at Michael. The other manís forehead was wrinkled even more than usual. Sure, now he cared. Where had that interest been five minutes ago?
Katyís voice continued, tightening and turning to an emotionless monotone while she recited the bare-bones facts he really didnít want to hear.
ďIt was terrifying and a long time ago. But I canít seem to move past it. Iíve tried so many things, listened to so many people. No one seems to have the answer.Ē
ďThe answer to what?Ē The sound of his own voice coming through the headphones shocked him. Why had he asked her that?
ďI canít have sex. I want to.Ē The girl groaned softly, the sound lodging right next to the knot at the bottom of his stomach. ďGod, I want to. But even thinking about itóI freeze up.Ē
His eyes locked with Michaelís through the pane of glass between them, narrowing to slits. His jaw clamped so tight he thought the entire audience could probably hear the grinding sound.
This girl had a serious problem. Not the ďmy boyfriend wonít go down on me,Ē ďmy girlfriend wonít do a threesome,Ē ďis this burning sensation something to worry aboutĒ kind of stuff he dealt with in a normal night. She needed some professional help. She did not need him.
This had disaster written all over it. His show was bubblegum and handcuffs, not emotional turmoil.
Heíd fallen into the job as Dr. Desire. A few comments to a late-night caller and before he knew it, what had been a play-the-records, punch-the-buttons kind of job had turned into hours of sex and relationship discussions that led to more than heíd ever imagined. But heíd worked hard over the past five years to build a public persona, to provide confidence and helpful information to those seeking sexual answers and a push to try something new.
The people who called into his showóthe people that got past Michaelís supposed screening processómostly wanted relationship advice or to share their own fantasies or be turned on.
He was prepared for that. He was not prepared for this.
ďKaty, as much as Iíd like to help you, Iím not a doctor. It sounds to me like you need to see a professional.Ē
ďIíve talked to a therapist. Four, in fact. None of them helped.Ē
He looked again at Michael, raising his hands in the universal sign for ďWhat the hell do I do now?Ē
His producerís response was the cut signóa hand across his throat. Heíd like nothing better than to end this call, but he didnít think that would be a very good idea. Not for Katy. And certainly not for the show. His female listenersówho comprised more than half his audienceówould raise hell. How could he extract himself without appearing cold and indifferent?
ďWell, Katy. Maybe you just need to give yourself some more time. You had to have been young. You barely sound old enough to drink.Ē He pushed out another laugh, trying to maintain the tone of the show despite feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place.
ďIím twenty-six and it hasnít gotten any better in five years. Thatís a long time. I want a husband and kids. At the rate Iím going Iíll be fifty before I have sex again.Ē Another desperate sound echoed across the line and twanged the nerves at the bottom of his spine. ďI donít think I could handle that.ĒŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ