It’s been much too long, but I finally can see the light at the end of the tunnel for the second part of Goddess, my erotic romance trilogy. I’ve just printed out the manuscript and will do one final read-through before I send it to my first round beta readers.
I’m so excited and relieved that I’d like to share the first chapter with you. I hope you enjoy it, and I promise not to make my readers wait as long for part 3!
GODDESS ASCENDENT (GODDESS, BOOK 2)
I ran my palm along the hard, smooth edge of the lectern. Its dark, masculine finish was worn to a dull white by the countless hands that had rested here before me. Some of the most renowned names in archeology had stood here, confident in their grasp of the past and their ability to convey it to their young disciples.
He had stood here.
I imagined him gazing out at the throng of students lined up in expansive rows of vintage wooden chairs. Even his early Monday morning classes were full. His resonate voice and deep blue eyes commanded the room. His lectures held students spellbound, especially the young women who jockeyed for a seat in the front row.
But he was gone, on the other side of the world, out of touch, if not out of mind. I was the one standing here in his shoes.
Technically, I was standing in Dr. Chang’s shoes, until he returned from his daughter’s wedding in Hong Kong. I was just the lowly teaching assistant. It was highly irregular for me to even be in that position, as Marilyn, our department secretary, liked to remind me. Every other TA in the archeology department was at least a second year PhD student. But Dr. Chang, a visiting professor from Beijing University, either didn’t know or didn’t care about protocol. I had been part of the team that brought the ancient matriarchal civilization of Magoa to the world. Dr. Stewart should be teaching this class, he wrote in an email to me. You’re close to him, so you’re the next best thing.
Dr. Chang didn’t know how close.
“Professor Nelson?” Zoe Glassman waved her hand from the middle of the cavernous auditorium. I had recognized her on the first day of class. She was the redhead I encountered many months ago, telling her friend about a “gentleman caller.” She turned out to be a whip-smart sophomore who changed her major to archeology after reading about Magoa.
“Just Julia,” I corrected her. “It’s going to be a long time before you can call me professor.”
“When you’re a middle-aged grad student, it comes with the territory.”
“How did a matriarchal society like Magoa thrive for so long?” Zoe went on. “They weren’t the typical male warrior society that survives by conquering its neighbors.”
“You make it sound like there weren’t any men in Magoa,” a young man with carefully tousled hair interjected. “Somebody had to supply the sperm to make the babies.”
“That’s what it always comes down to,” said a young African woman with fiery eyes and natural curls. “Men and their penises.”
‘Maybe the women were the warriors,” another young woman spoke up, “It’s not just men who can kick ass.”
“Or they were just smarter than the men,” another young woman said. “They knew how to keep them in line.”
“That’s no big challenge,” Zoe said.
I smiled patiently. I’d been getting emails along this line from feminists, wiccans, and pagan worshipers, as well as misogynistic trolls, since Magoa was unveiled. “Dr. Stewart hasn’t found any evidence of weapons or city defenses,” I said, “and he hasn’t learned anything about the role of men in their society. There’s still a lot of research to be done.”
“What if their goddess was so powerful she was able to hold off invaders?” Zoe asked. “She was the reason Magoa was so successful.”
“What, like she shot lightening bolts out of her tits… I mean breasts?” another male student said.
A clamor of female voices immediately rebuked the young man. He slunk down in his seat.
Zoe raised her voice above the clamor. “People don’t laugh at Christians because they think their god is real and all-powerful. Why shouldn’t the Magoans be given the same respect?”
I picked up my phone to check the time and noticed a text from Lily. “I do think we should keep an open mind,” I said, “but you’ll have to continue this discussion in religion class because we are out of time.”
As students gathered up books and papers, the room was still alive with heated discussions. It was an exciting time in archeology and made me feel good about my decision to pursue an academic career.
I read my oldest daughter’s text. Bring chocolate ice cream and green olives! I smiled to myself as I typed out an answer: OK, but no cocktails.
I scanned my email and gathered up my materials as the room emptied out. When I looked up, I was surprised to see one seat still occupied.
He was sitting in the back row. He wore dark, fashionable sunglasses and a ridiculous floppy hat pulled down so tightly over his head that most of his face was obscured. The Chevron mustache under his nose looked like it was pasted on. He had no books or backpack. I didn’t recognize him, and he appeared older than my undergraduates. I’d heard about several campus rapes in the years since we moved here. I gripped my phone tightly, ready to call 911, and stood as tall as my 5’ 6” frame would allow. I tried to sound calm and authoritative. “Class is over.”
“And an excellent class it was.” The man’s deep, polished voice resonated in the empty space. It sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place where I’d heard it before.
“This is a private university. If you’d like a tour, you should go to the visitors center.”
He tilted his head forward to observe me over the top of his sunglasses. His eyes were hazel and seemed to dance in the afternoon sunlight streaming through the tall auditorium windows. “But you’re the reason I’m here and I had no trouble finding you.”
I sensed he enjoyed unsettling me. “But I don’t know who you are, which is why I’m calling the campus police.”
I started to dial. He languidly peeled off his hat and glasses and flashed a charismatic smile women would immediately recognize. Certainly, Lily would. She must have watched The Burning Heart dozens of times, mooning over its drop-dead gorgeous star. “You’re Harlan Cassidy,” I said.
“I see you’re talented at uncovering more than ancient civilizations.”
I was so disconcerted by the sudden appearance of a man who inhabited a world I’d only seen on Entertainment Tonight that it took me a moment to respond. “Dr. Stewart deserves all the credit there.”
Feeling safer, I stepped down from the auditorium stage. “What are you doing here?”
Harlan stood and moved slowly down the empty row. His eyes met mine. “You should be asking why I wasn’t here sooner.”
I swung my bag over my shoulder and approached him. Up close, he was just as dazzling as his screen image. He was probably in his late 20s. His face was tanned and perfectly proportioned. A blonde tress hung sexily across his forehead. He was the quintessential, sun-drenched California heartthrob. “I know you quit acting and opened a spiritual retreat center, so my guess is you’re interested in Magoa like everyone else.”
We met in the aisle. He wasn’t as tall as Ashland. In fact, he was only a few inches taller than me. But he exuded self-assurance. “I don’t believe in guesses,” Harlan said. “I believe in intuition. I use my inner light to guide me.”
“Your inner light needs to read the news more often. You would have found out Dr. Stewart is still in North Korea. I’m afraid you’ve wasting your time coming here.”
He unexpectedly reached out and took my hands in his. I wanted to pull away, but his touch was magnetic, his palms pleasantly cool and smooth. I immediately relaxed, though I didn’t know why. “There was no logic involved in my decision to come. I didn’t understand why my spirit was guiding me here until I stepped into this auditorium and saw you.”
Now I was even more confused. “Me? Why me? I’m just a grad student.”
He offered a radiant smile. It was difficult not to be charmed by Harlan Cassidy, and I suspected he knew that. “I don’t believe that. I knew you were something much deeper and radiant the moment I laid eyes on you.”
In my dream, I was a teenager bagger at the IGA, back in my hometown of Bicknell, Indiana. But instead of standing at the end of the conveyor belt, sorting iceberg lettuce from Coco Krispies and Tampex, I was relaxing in a director’s chair next to my station while Cliff, our balding assistant manager, hustled groceries into paper bags. “Ready for your close-up?” Harlan Cassidy called from behind an antique, hand-cranked camera. Wearing a seersucker suit and bowler cap, he was Jay Gatsby without the ennui. A makeup woman hurried forward to pound a voluminous cloud of powder on my nose. Through the white haze, I could see Susan, my childhood best friend, making out in the chips and soda aisle with the boyfriend who eventually got her pregnant.
A cell phone played Beyoncé. A butler in coat and tails brought it to me, offering it up on a silver platter.
I woke with a start to realize that my phone was really ringing. Anna had changed my ringtone last week and I still didn’t recognize it. I fumbled for the device in the dark on the bedside table. There was no number on the screen. “Hello?” I mumbled, still half asleep.
“Sorry to wake you.” The voice was crackly, with an annoying echo.
“Ashland.” I caught myself. “Dr. Stewart. I wasn’t expecting your call.”
“And I wasn’t expecting to be in Pyongyang. We’ve had a lot of rain at the dig, so I decided to come here to chat with some government officials.”
Even the distant sound of his voice was enough to fire an erotic pulse down in my pleasure center. I longed to tell him how much I missed him, how much I wanted him. But I knew the North Koreans were probably listening to every word we said. “How’s it going?” I asked, trying keeping my arousal in check.
“We’ve made some amazing discoveries in the last few weeks. So far, they’ve confirmed all our theories.”
“That’s wonderful.” I pushed away the covers—the steam radiators in my depression-era apartment building always seemed to be going full blast. With no kids around, I had gotten lazy about putting on pajamas, preferring to drop my clothes in a pile on the floor and flop into bed wearing nothing but panties. “You know that all your colleagues here are thinking about you.”
“I hope so,” He shifted his voice subtly to a more intimate timbre. “Please let them know that I’ve been thinking of them too.”
I touched one of my nipples. It was already erect. My index finger circled it slowly. It was a poor substitute for Ashland’s tongue, but it would have to do. “We’ve all missed how long and hard you worked when you were here,” I said.
Over the last five months, we’d learned to disguise our lust for one another behind an elaborate verbal subterfuge. It was too risky to let the North Koreans guess our relationship. They might find a way to use it against Ashland.
My hand moved downward until it rested on the soft curve of my stomach. “It’s been difficult, not being able to assist you with whatever you need,” he said. “I know how gratifying that is for all of us.” Of course, I couldn’t see him, but I could imagine what he might be doing, alone in his hotel room. That is, if he felt certain hidden cameras weren’t observing him.
My fingertips grazed the elastic on my panties. “I feel the same way. I can imagine the enormous work you have in your hands.”
“What about you?” Ashland asked. “Are you still working hard on your own?”
“Definitely,” I murmured. “In fact, I’m in the midst of some hands-on research right now.” I slipped my hand inside my underwear and caressed the soft mound of pubic hair. My fingertip grazed my erect clitoris, sending an amatory wave to the tips of my curled toes. “I’m so sorry it’s been rainy there. It’s turned very wet here too,” I managed to say as I moved a finger slowly down my saturated vulva.
“That’s wonderful. I know from experience how wet weather makes things grow.” I could hear the growl in the back of his throat.
I returned to my clitoris and moved two fingers rapidly across it. My pleasure increased exponentially. “I just read about a strange botanical phenomenon,” I said. “When it’s wet in Chicago, there’s a species of tree in Asia that grows a very large appendage, even though it’s on the other side of the world.”
I smiled at what the North Koreans must be thinking if they were listening to our conversation. “I’ve witnessed that first-hand,” Ashland said. “It grows a broad, firm branch that curves slightly upward, and if you caress it, a thick, milky substance emerges from the tip.” From the clipped intonation in his voice, I knew he was doing just that. Picturing him stroking his member released an uninvited moan from my lips.
I was so in tune with Ashland’s sexual signals that I could hear the subtle shift in his breathing on the other side of the world. I imagined his hand slipping up his hard shaft. He would pause at the top to caress the soft, round head, before letting it travel back down to the base. I pictured myself there, stretched out next to him, our naked bodies pressed together. I was the one pleasuring him with my hand, enjoying the ecstasy on his face.
I spread my legs wider. I could feel my juices drip between my thighs. If I were to look down, I knew my fingers would be a blur. Instead, I closed my eyes as I imagined Ashland’s talented fingers bringing me to climax. “I had no idea you had such intimate knowledge of conifers,” I said, no longer able to keep the heat burning in my groin from affecting my voice.
“When I’m alone on a mountain top, I spend a great deal of time contemplating the wonders of nature.”
I couldn’t keep jealous thoughts from disrupting my desire. “Does Elena share your interest in botany?”
Ashland’s breathing halted. I could almost hear him frowning across 6,500 miles. “Elena and I don’t discuss the local plant life. We’re completely focused on archeology.”
My hand stopped moving. I didn’t want to lose this moment. It had been too long since Ashland and I shared our hunger for one another. But I hated the thought of them together, every day and every night. “If I could see your face,” I said, “I’d know for sure.”
“Then I have good news for you. Elena and I are returning early. In a few weeks.”
I immediately forgot about my imminent orgasm. I sat up in shock. “Why?”
“The first snows will probably cover the mountain in a month or so. There’s a lot of cataloging and research I can do in Chicago.”
“But I thought you were going to stay until the weather got too bad to continue.”
“I’ve decided to change plans. As long as international relations remain reasonably stable, I can return next summer.”
I should have been overjoyed, but Ashland’s news troubled me. “That’s taking a big risk. What if you can’t get back?”
He was silent for a moment, as if gathering his words. “It’s been difficult being away so long, Julia.” His voice betrayed no emotion but I sensed it was there, hidden behind his even tone. “I’ve missed my colleagues. I miss the collaboration we’ve had. I need that to continue my work.”
“Ashland… Dr. Stewart,” I quickly corrected, “this is too important to make any compromises.”
“I thought you’d be pleased by my news.” I could clearly hear the disappointment in his voice.
“I am,” I said quickly, “but Magoa is important to me too.”
“Magoa has been here two thousands years. It will be here when I return.”
“Dr. Stewart, I…” A blaring tone jarred me. We’d been cut off, either accidently, or because the North Koreans thought we’d talked enough.
I set my phone on my nightstand and lay on my back, staring at the white ceiling above me. My clit still throbbed with desire. I wanted him so much. I reached down again. My index and middle finger manipulated my nob, working feverishly. But the orgasm that was once inevitable now seemed as distant as the Korean peninsula. I focused on vivid sensory memories—the warmth of his breath against my neck, his lips caressing my skin, his tongue dancing across my clit, the incredible rush when he entered me.
It was no use. I couldn’t recapture the charge I’d felt just minutes before.
What was wrong with me?
I lay quietly and slowly collected my thoughts.
Ashland was coming home.
Why wasn’t I thrilled?
I tried to wrap my mind around my contradictory feelings. I still loved him. I still wanted to be with him. I also wanted him away from Elena’s constant presence. But in the five months since he’d left, I’d discovered I was still happy. I had come through one of the most difficult periods of my life and had emerged stronger and more confident. Yes, Matt and I were still going through a divorce, and it was difficult spending half my time living separately from my children. But I loved graduate school. I loved getting the chance to TA a class. I loved my colleagues and new friends.
I loved my new life.
But something more was bothering me—my encounter with Harlan Cassidy. I didn’t understand why my spirit was guiding me here until I stepped into this auditorium and saw you. Magoa changed my entire life, but there was an important connection to it that I had never fully explored. I gazed downwards. In the darkness, I could barely discern the tattoo on my ankle, but its outline was as familiar to me as my daughters’ faces.
The Magoan goddess symbol.
Why had it appeared in a dream so many years ago? Why had it led me to Ashland? My own spirit wanted desperately to know.
My eyes drifted back to the ceiling. I imagined the spider I had first seen the night before this adventure began. It was waiting quietly in the corner. I watched for a telltale movement of whispery thread that signaled a change in its static life.
Was my life about to change again too?