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Artemis Gardens (FF)

Painted Hearts Publishing

Heat Rating: STEAMY
Word Count: 31,394
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Fresh out of business college, 22-year-old Winifred Harper arrives at Artemis Gardens, a large, mysterious, and possibly haunted estate in the Berkshires. There, she will begin her new job as personal assistant to wealthy Sabine Amaranthos, who has recently inherited the estate. Though she expects to find a middle-aged or even elderly woman, Winifred is pleasantly surprised to find that Sabine is only in her thirties and is quite warm and personable. Also living at the estate are Sabine’s sister and brother, who appear to be about Winifred’s age. Since Winifred is not close to her own family, she is thrilled when the Amaranthos siblings welcome her as one of their own, and Sabine even seems receptive to indulging a deeper attraction.

All too soon, however, mysterious events begin to plague the estate and threaten Winifred in particular. She even hears strange rumors of bizarre rituals, eternal youth, and human sacrifice in the back garden presided over by the magnificent statue of Artemis, rumored to be thousands of years old and brought from Greece by Sabine’s ancestors. Winifred soon learns that the recent death of Sabine’s grandfather at the feet of the statue might not have been an accident after all. Though Sabine tries to tell her that she is simply being irrational, Winifred can’t help feeling that she may be destined to die next.

Excerpt

“Sorry to disturb your rest,” a soft voice said. In her befuddled, sleep-sodden state, Winifred could not tell whether it was Petra or Sabine. But of course it was neither of them, really—she was dreaming, her senses overstimulated by all she had seen and encountered that day.

The dream-figure approached the bed, leaned down, smoothed a warm, soft hand over her forehead. “I wanted to make sure you were perfectly comfortable.”

“Yes—thank you,” Winifred mumbled.

“You’re very beautiful, aren’t you?”

“Of course I’m not.” Winifred giggled.

“But you are,” the sweetly feminine voice insisted. What a strange dream she was having. The pressure of the dream-visitor’s hand, and the singsong quality of her voice, felt so real…

Too real, in fact.

Winifred had just started to sit up when the silhouetted figure suddenly leaned forward and kissed her full on the mouth.
Winifred’s breath caught as the warmth of the unseen woman’s kiss penetrated her mouth and radiated out to fill her entire body. Slowly, the figure pressed in closer, one hand sliding around the back of Winifred’s head. Long fingers twisted into her hair, drawing her face closer. Hungry lips devoured hers, the kiss punctuated with the occasional scrape of bared teeth.

“Wait,” Winifred managed to say as she pushed herself into an upright position. Her hand fumbled for the night table beside the bed. Somehow, her fingers made contact with the switch. Just as she twisted it, she felt her unseen admirer pull away and leap from the bed.

For a moment, Winifred could not tell if she were awake or in a dream. Amorphous in the shadows, the figure paused in mid-stride and froze halfway between the door and her bed.

“Who is that?” Winifred demanded when she found her voice. “Come back here! Show yourself!”

Silent, the figure retreated a step. Its silhouetted hand seemed to reach behind it, fumbling for the doorknob.

Summoning every ounce of mental and physical strength she possessed, Winifred leaped up from the bed and lunged forward with both hands outstretched. Just as her fingertips made contact with a cotton sleeve, the unseen figure slipped away and darted from the room. She heard the padding of rapid footsteps as whoever it was darted from the darkened room.

Winifred fell against the door and a sharp pain flashed through her shoulder. By the time she had regained her balance and stumbled into the hall, the intruder was nowhere to be seen.

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