Just Erotic Romance Reviews loved Appassionato – Chapter One excerpt

Just Erotic Romance Reviews loved Appassionato, the first novel in my Dream Marked series! In celebration, I’m posting a first chapter excerpt! From the review:

Emma’s erotic dream set the tone for the explosive sex and undeniable chemistry the trio experienced throughout the story line.

Appassionato released!

I hope you enjoy meeting Emma and her rockstar mates: Duncan and Jake!

When Emma dreams about super-famous rockstar Duncan and his friend Jake, it never occurs to her they might be dreaming too. About her. Everyone knows dreams aren’t real, but what will happen when the trio’s shared visions develop into a passion that can’t be denied?

When reports of a new “bonding” phenomenon surface, Duncan and Jake finally realize why they feel so connected to the sweet high-school librarian they’ve never met. The headaches and dreams suddenly make sense, but it isn’t until they meet Emma face-to-face that instinct takes over, and passion binds their minds and bodies into a link that can’t be broken.

Then, just as the happy ending Emma always hoped for seems possible, a hostage crisis and a series of kidnappings threatens everything. Can the trio unravel the conspiracy in time to protect the future of their bond?

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Chapter One

In her dream a man pressed against her, sleek muscles hot against her bare skin. Emma didn’t recognize the bed or the room, though candles lit the darkness, a hundred joyful flames dancing in unison. So pretty, she thought, smiling, and the man replied with long, delicious kisses that made her forget she didn’t know his name. When she moaned, he licked down the length of her jaw, behind her ear, stopping to bite until she gasped at the sting, the pain sweet as candy. He glanced at her through his lashes, gorgeous brown eyes sparkling, and she touched his face, wanting him to give up his secrets, but instead he kissed her palm and pushed his cock along her hip, hot and desperate, an offering of sorts. She gasped, wanting more, and then another strong body spooned up behind her. A male voice whispered against her nape, but Emma couldn’t understand his intention until he slotted his hardness up against her backside, rocking into her so that she went limp with delight.

There are two men in bed with me, she thought, confused. I must be dreaming. She’d never in her life had sex like this. Then the man behind her cupped his hands around her breasts, and she forgot everything in order to focus on the warmth of his palms. The first man moved lower and pressed his face against her nipples, scratching his stubble against her until they peaked. She shivered as she watched him kiss the other man’s fingers where they held her breasts. Then he nibbled at her until she thrashed her head. She tried to turn, she wanted to see the new man, but he tightened his hands in warning.

I must be dreaming, she thought again but didn’t wake up. The first man slid down between her legs, and Emma squeezed her eyes shut. He nudged his shoulders against her inner thighs until she squirmed at the tickle of his hair. He leaned in to lick a stripe down the curve of her hip, and she heard herself beg, Please, don’t stop, please, so he moved in, stroking her with his thumbs right before he placed his lips against her nub. Emma panted, so close, and tried to grab onto something, the sheets, the headboard, anything, but the second man held her hands above her head. She struggled but couldn’t break free and, even though it was a dream, Emma knew she didn’t really want to get away. The second man shifted until he lay on his side, holding her while he teased her nipples. It was all she could do to look into his clear, green eyes. He wore silver earrings in both ears, and his wavy brown hair looked so soft she wanted to grab on and never let go. She wanted to kiss him. She wanted to do a thousand dirty things to him, but she couldn’t move or think. All she could do was shudder and clutch at his fingers while he smiled. He never let go, not even when the first man stopped licking and began sucking, the strong pulses of heat making her throw back her head and push her hips closer. He didn’t let go when she wrapped her legs around the first man’s shoulders. He didn’t let go when he leaned in for a kiss, sucking on her lips the same way the other man sucked on her clit, both of them flicking their tongues until she shattered, the pleasure so ridiculous she couldn’t see anything but sparkles of light, like fireworks. She tried to open her eyes, hug the men to her, wanting to give them the same joy, but everything suddenly faded, her hands falling apart with nothing to hang onto. She woke up, gasping. It was her twenty-fifth birthday. She’d never dreamed like that before in her life.

Happy birthday to me, Emma thought, perplexed and flushed. Her body still tingled. She remembered how the men felt, how they smelled. For a moment, she wished she could have a dream like that every night, then her alarm blared and she flinched. Just a dream, she thought, sighing as she flicked off the buzzer and tiredly slid out of bed. Time to get moving.

In celebration of her birthday, she ate chocolate cake for breakfast then spilled coffee on her white blouse as soon as she got to work. Unfortunately, her first class began before she could clean up and the sweater she tossed over the mess on her shirt didn’t do as good a job camouflaging the damage as she’d hoped. This is payback for eating cake at breakfast, she thought darkly as she tried again to wipe the stain away with a tissue. Serves me right. She looked down at her stomach, trying not to hate the curves that filled out her clothes.

“Do you need a napkin, Ms. Bell?” Samantha asked from her seat at the table in front of the circulation desk.

Emma sighed, frowning at the tiny specks of tissue her haphazard attempts at cleanup left all over her top. “Thanks, Samantha, but I think the damage is already done.” She hoped the girl would be satisfied with that explanation.

“I think the tissues are making it worse,” Samantha said, not unkindly.

Emma looked up, smiling wryly at the girl. She shifted her sweater, buttoning it closed and trying not to grimace at the unpleasant sensation of web fabric against her skin. Better that than for the students to have an unobstructed view of her floral-print bra.

“I think you’re right, Samantha. Oh well, it’s not like spilled coffee is going to kill me,” Emma said. Never in a million years did she anticipate that her job as a high school librarian would involve embarrassing situations like this, but after five years she knew better. This wasn’t the first time she’d spilled something on herself, and it wouldn’t be the last. At least most of the kids in this school are nice, she thought, eyeing the class that had just arrived for help with their science project. She smiled at them and ignored the itch from the wet blouse.

“I’ve collected most of the books we have about mitochondria and a few that touch on microbiology on a more general level, but if you need help finding anything else, just let me know.” Emma spoke loud enough for the students to hear over the low murmur of gossip. Most quieted down and Emma smiled, grateful she liked her job. She tried to shake off the lingering sleepiness from her restless night as the students perused the books she’d collected for them. She kept half an ear trained on their low conversation in case any needed help while the rest of her brain worried over the strange dreams she’d had.

Forty minutes later, the class filed out of the library and she heaved a sigh of relief, waving to her two aides that she was going to take a break. Portia, the older aide, nodded back at Emma. The younger aide, Emma’s friend Julie, moved behind the circulation desk. The three of them tried to keep someone available at all times to check books in and out for the students who visited between classes and during study hall, but unless there was a class in the library, only one person was really needed to run the computer. Emma picked at her blouse, grimacing at the half-dry stain as she lifted it away from her skin. Maybe if I take it off and rinse it, I can dry it under the hand blower in the bathroom, she thought absently as she headed to the small, private bathroom at the back of the library office. I can just wear my sweater if that doesn’t work. She closed the door behind her and unbuttoned her blouse. The small room was quiet and she breathed a sigh of relief as she ran water over her blouse. She hated feeling this tired. The dream she’d had this morning was lovely, but she’d slept fitfully most of the rest of the night. She remembered dreams where she was on a stage singing and then in the next moment she was on a plane, looking over a complicated spreadsheet. Then she was outside on the street, laughing, but her voice was wrong. And she felt taller, like her body was not her own. Except for the last dream, they were all very unsettling. Emma leaned against the sink, letting the cold water wash over the fabric, trying to calm her brain. She’d just managed to relax when the hallucination hit her between the eyes and she staggered. Water splashed over her hands and she slammed her hip against the sink counter, fighting to stay on her feet. She couldn’t breathe properly. Her heart pounded as she closed her eyes, trying to convince herself that the stage she was seeing so very clearly was just a remnant of one of her dreams. Yeah right.

In front of her a sea of people clapped wildly as they screamed and waved their arms. All those faced turned up towards her made Emma swallow hard. She felt as though she were in two places at once. For a second she thought she was having some sort of weird memory flashback because some of the dreams she’d had the night before were strangely similar to this one—standing on stage, microphone near her mouth, except nothing she’d dreamed was precisely like this. She had an excellent memory, a freakish memory, her friend Julie claimed sometimes, and this was not the same crowd, not the same stage she’d been on before in her dream. She swallowed again. She’d never been on stage in her life, at least not with a guitar in her hands. All of her stages involved talking to students about the Dewey Decimal system. Suddenly, a wave of confusion flowed through her. She closed her eyes and rested her fingers on the strings of her guitar, wondering what the fuck was happening. When she opened her eyes, she stood at the edge of the stage, frowning down at the clipboard she held. Thick bracelets sat over her wrists, the chased silver riveted into the cuffs looking bright against the soft leather. The name at the top of the clipboard read “Duncan Green,” and she licked her lips as the face associated with that name flashed across her thoughts—dark hair, brown eyes, gorgeous smile. Then she blinked and she was back to hanging on the bathroom sink, trembling. Shit. What just happened?

She slid down, sitting on the toilet lid, trying to pull herself together. She never cursed like that, not even in her own head. The most obscene expletive she ever used was damn, and it was telling that her brain supplied her with the word “fuck” right in the middle of her nervous breakdown. She wasn’t sure what it meant, just that it was downright strange. She struggled to breathe properly, willing herself to calm down. She was always calm. She didn’t freak out, and she didn’t have hysterics, and this ability to remain laid-back was one of her strengths as a teacher. She repeated this to herself, snorting under her breath when she flinched at a knock on the door. Not so calm, huh?

“You okay in there, Emma? I thought I heard something,” Julie called.

Emma swallowed and stood up, forcibly pushing thoughts of Duncan Green, rock star, out of her head. “I’m okay, Julie, just feeling tired today.” She lifted her blouse from the bottom of the sink and held the stained part under the faucet again. “I’m trying to rinse out the stain now.”

“Okay, Emma, just wanted to check.”

Emma sighed in relief as Julie stepped away from the door. Her thoughts wandered back to the hallucination, and she grimaced as she tried to puzzle out what had just happened, trying to think over the ache in her skull. She liked music but didn’t go out of her way to buy a lot of it. She didn’t know much about rock, but even she knew who Duncan Green was. Even if she didn’t know his face, his gorgeous face, her brain supplied, she’d still know who he was because Julie’s obsession with everything Duncan was well known to everyone who worked in the library. Usually Emma found it amusing, but right now she just wished the weirdness would stop. Emma couldn’t figure out why she was dreaming about him. Or hallucinating him. Whatever. And what about the other man, the one with the leather bracelets? Julie never mentioned him, but Emma knew, somehow, that he was associated with Duncan. She didn’t know how or why she knew that, but she remembered him from her dreams last night, how his curly hair made her want to sink her hands in it. He was the second man in her dream from this morning, she realized. She wished she knew his name. And that meant that the first man in her last dream must have been Duncan Green. She shivered, remembering how good his body felt against hers. She took a deep breath, trying to figure out why she was seeing these two men so vividly now, while awake. The dreams and hallucinations were connected, somehow. She shook her head and shut off the water. She looked at herself in the mirror, noting the dark circles under her hazel eyes, her messy brown hair. Shit.

She wrung out her blouse and hung it up with a spare hanger on the back of the door. There was no way it would dry in time to wear again today, so she slipped on her pink sweater and buttoned it up, relieved that it looked okay with her gray pleated skirt. She squared her shoulders, smoothed down her long hair, and opened the door. For a moment she felt a surge of something, not fear precisely, but not relief either, and she scanned the office, thankful that both Julie and Portia were off in the stacks, probably helping students. Walking through the clutter, she stopped at Julie’s desk and watched her screen saver for a few seconds. Various photos of Duncan Green in all his rock star glory faded in and out of view on the monitor. He was lovely, she mused, looking at his long, wavy hair and brown eyes, usually lined with some smoky makeup, every woman’s dream bad boy right there. In a few of the shots, the more casual photographs, she noticed another man standing behind him, holding what looked like papers in his leather-cuffed wrists. His hair was shorter, and his green eyes practically leapt from the picture, making Emma’s heart pound before the screen saver blinked another photo of Duncan into view. Emma had no idea who he was, but she knew he was the other man in her dream. She bumped the desk and the screen saver winked off. If only she could turn off her brain as easily.

Emma had more flashbacks throughout the rest of the day. Random bursts of vision and sound, none lasting long enough to pin down, but long enough to make her head start to pound instead of ache. She saw crowds and Duncan’s hands signing photos and pieces of paper. It was as if she was in his head, but just when she’d figure out that the point of view was Duncan’s, the hallucination would snap away and she’d be looking at him. She could hardly wait until school was done for the day so she could go home and crawl under the covers of her bed. She’d taken ibuprofen, but it didn’t do a thing to relieve the pain behind her eyes. At lunchtime, she hid in the library office, eating her sandwich alone while the visions flew past her closed eyes. She wondered if she was going crazy. She thought at first that maybe she just hadn’t slept well, but she’d never hallucinated before. By four o’clock, she was almost crying from the stress. She’d spent the afternoon dodging questions from Julie and Portia. She didn’t feel like trying to explain what was wrong when she didn’t understand herself what was happening.

After the last bell, she was finally able to escape, for once not lugging anything home with her to work on in the evening. She worried about driving, hoping none of the episodes would happen on the way home, but luckily the drive home was uneventful. She pulled into her short driveway, waved to her neighbor, and went into her small house, grateful to be home. She prepared a quick dinner, ate it standing up at the kitchen counter, then stripped and fell into bed, desperate for sleep. She dropped off right away, slipping into a heavy sleep despite the early hour.

The next thing she knew, it was dark and she was sitting up in bed, heart pounding. She flicked on the small bedside light and tried to calm herself, blindly looking around at her soothing cream walls and pale yellow curtains. The streetlight outside filtered through the soft fabric, twinkling in the darkness of her room. She didn’t feel rested at all.

When she closed her eyes, she remembered every dream as though it were real—Duncan growing up, having a hard time with his weight as a child until high school, teaching himself how to play guitar, losing the weight and realizing he could sing. She knew the exact moment he figured out he was bisexual and his very quiet experimentation during the one year he attended college until he dropped out to pursue his music career. She followed every step of his life from childhood to adulthood—his first record contract, the wild success of his first album, the two Grammys he won, and subsequent critical acclaim for his second album. She could sing every song on the new album, the one he was touring for now with his best friend and assistant, Jake Mackenzie. The memories weren’t sharp, not like her own. She knew the broad outlines of his life, but not the details that made them real. They felt like the memories learned in conversation with a friend.

She grasped the blanket closer to her chest, trying not to hyperventilate as she suddenly realized that she knew Jake, too. She knew the two men grew up together, and she knew that Jake was straight and had his heart broken by his high school girlfriend his second year of college. That was why he’d dropped out and finally taken the job Duncan had offered—manager, assistant, co-writer. She knew that he had an incredible laugh. He could play piano, and he’d helped create every single one of Duncan’s songs, though he refused to play onstage. She knew that they’d both grown up in New Jersey but that they lived in Brooklyn now, sharing a townhouse. Emma realized that she was crying because she felt like she knew the two men in her dreams as if they were her best friends, and that was so wrong. That was crazy and twisted, and she was obviously losing her mind, crying into her sheets in the middle of the night over two guys that she’d never even met. She sniffed and rubbed her nose, willing herself to stop it. She looked at her hands, vaguely surprised to find them so small and feminine after feeling guitar strings and piano keys under her fingertips for the past few hours. She couldn’t play an instrument if you paid her a million dollars. What was happening to her?

Emma threw back the covers and groped for her robe, suddenly realizing that she was nude. In her rush to get to bed, she’d just pulled off her clothes and crawled under the covers. She blushed, mildly embarrassed. She never slept naked. But Jake did, she thought then blushed again. Duncan wore boxers to bed, a result of growing up with two sisters. Jake was an only child. And with that thought, Emma nearly started crying again, because really, she must be insane. There was no way she could know these things. Her brain was making this shit up. She padded to the bathroom and rinsed her face then made her way to the living room. She flicked on the TV and sank into her couch, not surprised to find a rerun of her favorite late show on, even though it was two in the morning. What did surprise her was how familiar the stage and audience looked as the camera panned across the stage. Her heart began knocking against her ribcage. That was the same stage she’d dreamed about! When the camera zoomed in on the host, he held up a CD, Duncan’s new one. Emma laughed shortly and dropped her face in her hands. When she looked up again, she wasn’t at all startled to see Duncan playing the guitar. She knew every note of that song by heart. The strange thing was that she knew exactly when he would change up the melody for this particular performance, holding certain notes longer and others shorter than the version on the CD. She sighed and settled onto the couch, willing herself to relax. If she couldn’t stop the dreams, she may as well enjoy the music.

* * * *

“Man, I hate it when our flight lands in the middle of the night,” Duncan complained, running his hands through his hair. He and Jake were in the car Jake had arranged to take them home to Brooklyn from the JFK airport after taping a late show in LA earlier that day. Jake slumped down on the seat across from Duncan, trying not to fall asleep. His friend looked exhausted, and Duncan worried about him.

“Yeah,” Jake grunted, not opening his eyes. “And this damn headache is driving me crazy.”

“My head still hurts, too,” Duncan said, rubbing his temples. “And even though I slept a little on the plane, I had the weirdest dreams.”

“You too? I dreamed about this woman, I think she was a high school librarian. I haven’t thought about high school in years, and here I am dreaming about a teacher. She seemed so lonely.” Jake laughed. “Reminds me of that old Adam Ant video.” He grinned at his friend, but Duncan couldn’t bring himself to smile back.

“Wait, what? I dreamed about a teacher, too. I even know her name, Emma Bell.” Duncan frowned as Jake looked at him in disbelief. “What?”

“That’s the name of the woman I dreamed about.” Jake scratched his head. “Did we ever meet someone named Emma?”

Duncan shrugged. “No, not that I can remember, but you know how many fans I’ve met the past eight years? There’s no way I could remember all of them.”

“Well, even if you could remember someone named Emma, why would we both dream about her at the same time?”

Duncan shook his head, feeling his headache intensify. “What did she look like?” Jake smirked, and Duncan rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I know what she looked like to me. I want to know what she looked like in your dream.”

“She had long, wavy brown hair. And the most gorgeous hazel eyes I’ve ever seen. And she was curvy.” Jake rubbed his face. “She was really pretty. I dreamed about when she was a kid. Saw how she went to college after—” Jake broke off, seeing Duncan nodding.

“Yeah, that’s what she looked like in my dream, too. And her brother died. That’s when she went to school.” Duncan yawned and blinked his eyes, trying to focus. “What the hell is going on? Dreaming about the same woman? That’s just weird.”

“Yeah.” Jake closed his eyes again and slumped down. “I’m going to nap until we get home. Then I’m going to crash for two days, and then we’re going to do the concert at the Garden, and we’re gonna laugh about this. Because it can’t possibly be real.” He smiled as he folded his hands over his abdomen. “We are obviously still asleep and I’m dreaming up this entire scenario because of the profound lack of sex in my life this past year.”

Duncan laughed and very carefully did not look at the way Jake’s tight jeans displayed his slim hips. He also refused to notice Jake’s taut stomach and graceful hands. He had a lot of practice ignoring his attraction to Jake, and he wasn’t going to screw up now. “Okay, I’m game. If you think you’re dreaming, then we’ll see if either of us remember this tomorrow,” Duncan said fondly, eyes lingering on Jake’s relaxed smile as the car took them closer to home.

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