Mara Jones had been staring at her computer screen for the past five minutes in disbelief, trying to decide whether what she saw was pure luck or if someone had just pulled a scam on her. But there it was -- Dangerous Curves, the fabled site she had heard so much about -- right before her eyes.
The company that ran the site boasted a sole mission: they guaranteed to match big, beautiful women with extremely hot hunks, but only if they were deemed worthy of getting laid. Because of that, the site wasn’t accessible to just anybody. Rumor had it if you sent a blank e-mail addressed to Dangerous Curves, Dangerous Curves, Dangerous Curves -- yep, you had to type it three times and without any extension -- the site would reveal itself to you.
Mara had thought Dangerous Curves was nothing but an urban legend. The Internet was notoriously filled with weird stuff nowadays. But when the girls at the office had talked about Dangerous Curves, Mara became intrigued.
It wasn’t like she was specifically shopping for a man. After her episode with her ex-fiance, Ben, years ago, her love life had been nearly nonexistent. Her relationships always fizzled out before they went somewhere, and she had become tired of “it’s not you, it’s me” routine. And for the past couple of years, she had abandoned the dating circuit and indulged in sweets and chocolate. Still, it would be nice to find that special someone. Someone to talk to. Someone to share her bed.
Mara’s friend, Candace, who worked in the archives department, had been obsessed with Dangerous Curves’s site for the past couple of weeks. Whenever Mara dropped paperwork off for Candace to file, she saw the girl fussing with her in-box, trying to send a blank e-mail to the phantom Web site.
Without a proper extension, the Whiting Library e-mail server wouldn't allow her to send the message, and in commercial networks, the e-mails always bounced back. When Mara had stolen a glance at Candace’s computer screen earlier, she had seen Candace's in-box filled with notifications of undeliverable e-mails.
So, a few minutes earlier, when Mara had wrapped her work up for the night and was ready to go home, a sudden curiosity had compelled her to send a blank e-mail to Dangerous Curves. Seconds after she hit Send, her computer screen blanked and the Web site popped up before her eyes. She wanted to pinch herself, unable to believe it had actually worked. She would have screamed loudly and called Candace to her desk, but her friend had already gone home.
As a fabled site, Dangerous Curves lived up to her expectations. It looked flashy, designed in an elegant red-and-gold color scheme, complete with a streaming ad featuring their success stories. Dozens of photos of happy couples danced across the screen, and the testimonies about how Dangerous Curves had changed their lives plastered the home page. The one thing she noticed the most was that Dangerous Curves wasn't kidding about their mission. The men who were being matched with the ordinary, Rubenesque women were extremely hot. Like five-alarms hot. Watching them made Mara want to fan herself. Where had they found these guys who loved lush women?
She looked to the bottom of the page. It asked if she was ready to embark on the journey of a lifetime. "Well, yes, sir," Mara exclaimed. "Count me in." She clicked Yes, and it took her to the signing-in page. After a row of text stating their guarantee to find her perfect match, the only things there were fields for her name and birthday. How were they supposed to match you with hot hunks if they only took your name and birthday information? Then she felt she had nothing to lose. She went forward with it. Mara typed in her information and hit Send. A pop-up window thanked her for her interest.
That was it? Nothing else? What a rip-off. She started having second thoughts about Dangerous Curves. If something sounded too good to be true, it probably was. Irritation crept at the base of her skull. Sighing heavily, she turned off her computer and headed home.
Later on, as she unwound in a hot bubble bath, she heard her land phone rang. She didn’t feel like getting out of the bathtub, so she let the answering machine roll in. Somebody left a message for her. A silky, husky woman’s voice came from her bedroom.
“Ms. Jones. I'm calling you on behalf of Dangerous Curves. We’d like to inform you that we have found your match. Congratulations.”
Mara bolted straight up in her bathtub. Dangerous Curves. How did they know her phone number? A cold shiver ran through her spine. Mara got up from the bathtub, wanting to check the message again. Before she could think of anything else, the glass shower door she was holding on to disappeared. She slipped and tumbled back into the tub.
Mara screamed as she tried to hold on to something. Her bathtub expanded, becoming bigger and deeper than a swimming pool. Her feet couldn’t reach the bottom. She panicked, pedaling to keep herself afloat. The water around her whirled, and a powerful current seized her and pulled her down to the drain. Water filled her mouth as she struggled to swim to the surface. She gasped and spluttered, flailing her arms to grab something, but she couldn’t fight the thick current. Mara was helplessly swept into a whirlpool of water that dragged her into the dark, deep unknown.
* * * * *
“Greetings, lovely one. What is your name?”
Mara screamed when she realized she was sitting in a man’s lap,
“Uh.” The man made a face. “I didn’t realize the aboveground beauties had such powerful voices.” He tried to calm her. “Relax. I won’t harm you.”
She coughed and spluttered, and at the same time, tried to cover her nakedness as best as she could. Where am I?
Mara gasped, filling her lungs with much-needed air while throwing a glance at her surroundings. She didn’t recognize this place. The last thing she remembered was her bathtub trying to swallow her into the drain. She cut her gaze to the man. Who the hell is this guy? How did I end up here?
She squirmed, wanting to get off him, but the man wouldn’t let her. He wrapped his arms around her waist possessively.
“Who...who are you?” Her voice was shaky. She felt embarrassed beyond anything. She’d never been naked in front of a stranger before, especially one this gorgeous.
“I asked for your name first.”
He had a foreign accent. Definitely not an American. Not British either. Mara couldn’t put a finger on his nationality. His voice was deep and crisp, laced with dulcet tones so each syllable made the base of her spine tingle.
She cleared her throat. “M-my name’s Mara Jones. Wh-where am I?”
“Mara Jones,” he echoed, as if her name was a fabulous secret he’d just learned. “Well, Mara, I’m Arrain de Iassain. Welcome to Myria.”
“Myr -- what?”
“Myria, my kingdom.”
Right. His kingdom. Was he European? French? This whole thing didn’t make any sense. One second she was minding her own business in her bathtub, and a second later she landed in his lap. Could this be magic? Or had she actually slipped on her bathroom floor and cracked her skull open and all this was nothing but a hallucination? She had heard a brain injury could cause some funky delusions, as if you were on an acid trip.
“Could I please have a towel?”
“Are you cold?”
“I like you this way.” He ran his hand from her thigh up to the curve of her waist and then on to the swell of her chest.
Mara shivered, mortified beyond anything. She felt self-conscious, as she hadn’t been naked in front of a man for a long time. “Please, sir, I’d really appreciate it if you’d give me a towel. Or anything that I can cover myself with.”
He tugged her chin up. Their gazes clashed.
Mara trembled. She realized how beautiful his eyes were. They were large, oval-shaped, with shockingly green irises like jewels from the deep ocean. His lashes and eyebrows were black, as lush as the hair that framed his strong jaws. God. Her heart pounded faster. Heat rose to her cheeks. She’d never met a man as striking as him in person.
He inclined his head. “Very well, sweet thing. I’ll grant your wish.”
He lifted her and carried her to the bed. Mara drew a relieved breath. As soon as he deposited her on the silk-covered mattress, Mara shrank away from him and hastily snatched the bedspread to cover her nakedness. There. Somehow, she felt a hell of a lot better when she didn’t have to be in her birthday suit in front of this man.
He watched her with amusement. Mara noticed his towering height as he stood at the foot of the bed. The man must have been at least seven feet tall. She wasn’t exactly a pixie, but those toned arms of his were bigger than her calves. He was bare-chested, dressed only in black leather pants and boots, showcasing his glorious muscles, from his biceps and pectorals to his chiseled abs. God, was he luscious. His skin looked like golden caramel tempered with sunshine, smooth and so mouthwatering it made her want to lick it. Her gaze strayed to the impressive bulge at the juncture of his thighs. Good Lord
. Mara blushed, tearing her gaze from him. The man was aroused. Unconsciously, she inched farther into the middle of the bed when he settled next to her.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Everything. Why am I here?”
“You wished for me.”
“What? No, I didn’t. I don’t even know you.”
His eyebrows arched. “Didn’t you wish for a mate?”
“A mate? You mean a date?”
He gave her a look as if to ask, What’s the difference?
Suddenly, it dawned on her. Dangerous Curves. The message left on her answering machine. Oh God
. Everything clicked. She remembered the lady from Dangerous Curves saying they had found her match. Him. This guy. “I didn’t expect you to be my date. How did you get me here? I was taking a bath in my own freaking bathtub.”
“You were?” His smile widened. “That explains the soap on your body.” He leaned forward and sniffed her. Mara inched away. “Simply divine,” he purred.
“P-please, just answer my question. Why did you kidnap me?”
“Kidnap? No, sweet thing. I did no such thing. The Weaver sent you here.”
“Who? I didn’t agree to any of this.”
“Did you not sign a contract?”
“What contract? I only gave my name and my birthday on the Web site and...” Her words trailed off when he gave her a reproachful kind of look. “What?”
“In our world, your given name and birthday are sacred, for those are the marks of your soul. If you give your name carelessly, a Dark Weaver can take you prisoner. Giving away your birthday allows them to enslave you. You ought to be careful with Weavers, sweet thing.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“I am definitely not
Okay. She made a mental note to never give away her name and birthday so casually again. There were people who were crazier than ID thieves and hackers. Cyber thieves only stole your money. These weirdos could steal you through the bathtub’s drain. Mara glanced around her. The bedroom was grand and opulent, definitely catering to a king. All the walls were plastered in rare white stone, and the ceilings were so high, someone could fit a three-story building in there.
The decor was simply magnificent. All the furniture was carved in dark wood and adorned with gold inlay. Every drapery and linen screamed expensive. This place looked like one of those palaces she read about in travel books about Europe. If she wasn’t so freaked out from the whole ordeal, she would have loved to stay and chitchat with this charming stranger. But since she was practically naked and this man had caught her in the worst possible state, Mara itched to get back to where she belonged and forget this whole thing had ever happened.
“So, Mister, can you send me back home?”
“Why the hurry?” He flashed another stunning smile. “You wished for me, and here we are. Besides, we haven’t yet gotten to know each other intimately.”
A shiver coursed down her spine. How intimately?
Her face flushed hot. She hadn’t been intimate with a man in a long time. Years. She had dated a few times, but none of those dates had gone beyond polite conversation in the restaurant or holding hands in the movie theater. A couple of men she’d dated had confided to her friends behind her back that she was too tense and frigid. Frigid, for criminy’s sake! After Ben had left her stranded at the altar ten years ago, she had become a bit paranoid about opening her heart to someone new. Nothing could crush a woman’s confidence more than having her fiance bail on her on her wedding day, and all courtesy of a skinny stripper chick who had entertained at his bachelor party. Since then, Mara had been introverted and self-conscious.
Why the hell would this man be interested in her? Genuinely. Not just pretense or being polite, like most of her dates were. Didn’t hot guys usually dig hot chicks?
“I” -- Mara cleared her throat -- “I think this has to be some kind of mistake. I’m sure I’m not your type. I...”
“Mistake? Nay.” He shook his head. “You’re exactly the one I want. I have paid a fortune to the Weaver to find me an aboveground beauty like you.” He leaned forward until their lips were only a hairbreadth away. “Mara, you are going to be my queen.”
Lizzie Lynn Lee