The Order of the Golden Rose

an excerpt

Chapter One

Richard looked long and hard at her. A naked woman cradling a rare book in her hand was a sight to stimulate more than one level of emotion. If she perceived the intensity of his gaze, she didn't show it. The slight curl to her lips might have been amusement, might have been interest. Her tongue appeared, moistening her lips. She lifted a fingertip to her mouth then used the finger to turn a page.

"The rose is the gateway, its measure rolls fire toward the horizon, ringing the world, closing the circle."

As she read the words from the book, the gateway they described began to open in his mind. She had the voice of a natural orator with the precision of inflection to incite the words to ripple through the air to him. What reader of spells. Though with her it seemed impossible to judge whether that came from a rising of true emotion, or if it displayed no more than the skill she possessed to create a beautiful recitation. Surprising that she'd had such an undistinguished acting career in her youth. Of course, her formidable mind hadn't even considered that a setback. Going in a heartbeat from acting to producing, her plays in the Theater District were always hits. The principal owner of the Promethean Theater, she had the reputation of managing one of the most cutting-edge stages on the East Coast. She probably had more money than he and all of his Harvard colleagues combined.

Richard undid his tie, slipping out of his white dress shirt. He'd always been a modest man but bore his share of quiet pride in the fact that at forty, he remained trim and strong. His male professorial colleagues, on the other hand, seemed, for the most part, limited to the charisma of their intellects rather than their bodies. But, he mused, perhaps his looks were no blessing. The men and women he worked with shared their lives with loving partners. Their world consisted of kindness and caring.

He had this-women like Olivia Dorian-attracted by magnetism rather than emotional depth.

They had met a few months ago. Richard had noticed the advertisements announcing a modern reworking of the opera Pagliacci as a play at the Promethean Theater and had been interested in seeing the performance. The opera held an unusual, obscure significance to a scholar of mystical history. That significance once brought a very great prize into his hands, though one that he sometimes loved, sometimes hated.

The play was still running, showing no signs of slowing in popularity. Sex, betrayal, murder. He smiled. Right up Olivia's alley. On the night he'd attended, during the intermission, he'd noticed her standing with the writer and director, surrounded by fawning critics and other well-wishers. She'd stood a little behind them. Though Olivia was the prime mover behind the production itself, most of the compliments circling around the group had been for the actors, for the creators. She'd seemed lost in thought. A former actor rendered invisible, though of course he hadn't known all that at the time. He'd always gravitated to people outside of the spotlight and introduced himself to her, leading to a stimulating conversation before the curtain went up for the second act.

"Powerful characters," he'd said of the play. "So many masks, the play within the play."

"Yes," she'd answered, looking at him with growing interest. "I enjoy the dual nature of them all too. Or rather the triple nature. Actors portraying actors, who in turn portray characters that echo their own lives. And I confess, I always get a rush at the moment Pagliaccio murders Colombina. I played that same role once, long ago."

"Did you? An actor yourself?"

"For a little while. I got pigeonholed. Tragic heroines. Colombina, Desdemona, Ophelia, Juliet."

"Dying over and over again. That must have been uncomfortable."

"Quite the contrary. Dying is sexy. You think women would swoon over Romeo if he'd lived?"

She had invited him to dinner after the show, rather than the other way around. And over wine and talking about the hidden sexuality in the tensions of life and death and theater, the conversation had turned to mysticism.

Point of no return, he reflected now.

Fascinating woman that she was, mixed sensations always seemed to surround him since he and Olivia had become lovers. Sex, particularly sex elevated to a mystical experience, should be a step in bonding, should bring them closer each time to a union that was far beyond a fuck. But even in the moment, the sight of her and the sound of her voice caused his cock to harden and his breath to come short. A conflicting desire to tell her to get dressed surfaced, to send her away, tell her this was pointless.

Yes, you speak so beautifully, Olivia. But there is one word that is hard to imagine ever coming from your mouth. Love.

They had eaten an early dinner in one of the classy downtown bistros she enjoyed, afterward coming to his place as the sun had begun to set.

Richard stood naked too. The living room of his Massachusetts Avenue townhouse filled with the purple light that came with twilight's deepening. When they performed sex magic together, she preferred this room to any other, and he agreed with the choice. He'd made it very different from most living rooms, lining the walls with bookshelves and choosing paintings that had significance to him spiritually-a Delacroix depicting a king's last moments, a Chagall that portrayed Adam and Eve's departure from Eden. A graceful dancer by Degas, preparing herself quietly before a performance. Arriving at the townhouse after dinner, Olivia had taken off her clothes with businesslike impatience and gone straight to the shelf where he kept the most powerful of his occult books.

"Olivia, I think we should talk," he said.

She raised the finger she had used to turn the book page to her mouth again, letting it linger there between her lips for the space of a long breath. Lowering her hand, she stepped forward, caressing his cock with her dampened finger.

"You always want to talk," she said. "People talk to me all day long."

"Well, I'm not one of your stage managers or actors," he persisted, refraining from touching her in return. Instead, he reached out and nudged the still-open book. "Maybe you don't take this seriously, but I do."

Olivia's eyebrows lifted a fraction, and the curl of her lip ceased to be ambiguous. This time, she did smile.

"I take it with perfect seriousness," she said. "Haven't I shown how proficient I can be?"

She set the book aside, placing it on the living room's small coffee table. Kneeling in front of him, she extended the tip of her tongue so that it brushed the head of his cock. He shuddered half-involuntarily. Electric, she was electric. She inscribed her tongue-tip in a perfect circle around him, raising her hands at the same time to caress her small breasts.

For a moment she stopped, still kneeling, and looked up at him. "We open the first gate, where the thick river flows and the air sighs."

He put his hands to the side of her head, her blonde hair, arranged with care into a perfect coif, in slight disarray now. He pictured her the way she must appear during the day-sitting in her office, talking to one person after another, making calls, using that voice with its exquisite modulation...knowledgeable, decisive. Filled with perception and drive. But also ruthless. Nobody messed with Olivia more than once, of that he had no doubt. Richard knew she was similar in age to him, but she didn't look it. Not a single worry line, or laugh line, for that matter, marred her face.

He observed that face between his palms. Such an intelligent, mesmerizing woman. Why did it seem so impossible to move her to the beauty of the sharing in what they were doing together? There came the hopeless desire to try one more time.

"Warmth, Olivia. Mystical lovers inspire warmth and life."

She raised her own hands and pushed his away.

"The sun sets," she chanted, "and we see the bronze doorposts which open one way. Their outlines are jagged and hover on perception's edge. Venom runs hot, and pain rips along the opening of a cut."

She moved one of her hands to curl it around the edge of his thigh, scratching him there with her fingernail. Again, he held his hands to each side of her head.

"Do you feel any affection for me at all?" he asked.

"Of course I do." She sounded impatient. "You're quite brilliant. I admire that a great deal."

"You don't see any problem between the question I'm asking and the answer you're giving?"

"Fuck that," she said, raising her gaze again to look at him, eyes clouded by an immense rush of lust. "The second gate opens in sudden, crystalline clarity."

Waste, this is a waste.

But he used his hands to draw her head toward him. Her mouth opened with an intensity of greed that both shocked and inflamed him, taking him deep in her mouth, holding him rigid there in the back of her throat until he half thought she must be choking, suffocating. At last she ran her lips back along his shaft with infinite, disciplined poise.

Unable to resist any more, he reached around the back of her head and tangled his fingers in her hair. She responded, sucking him with an almost elemental ferocity, until he gritted his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut.

The gateway, yes, all of this was a key, but what she wanted beyond passage of the gate remained an absolute mystery to him. Richard had asked her before, of course, and she had been obscure and evasive.

"I've had my fill of la petite mort," she'd said. "Grand deaths, or nothing."

Statements like that from her gave him a sense of foreboding, driving his own sexual feelings toward a place he had no desire to go. Harsh and stark and uncaring, which might well be the way she perceived sex, though he wished he could guide her into a softening of those perceptions. He tried. Working to calm her, reducing the motion of her fellatio, touching the side of her face this time with conspicuous, intentional gentleness.

He said the next words: "Four, five and six are ruby, emerald and diamond..."

But no chamber seemed to exist inside her with anything like love. Fuck, fuck, fuck with consummate skill and nothing more. All right, that's the way it was. Time to retreat from the point of no return if such a thing could be possible. His consolation in the moment was that he'd only taken her so far, not into complete knowledge of the Order of the Golden Rose. She knew the book and its basic history-half-wisdom, at best.

He pulled her away from him by her hair. The smile she gave him this time became feral. Continuing to manage her movements by his fingers tangled in her hair, he got her into a standing position, lifting her under the armpits to sit her on the desk. Olivia took an instant to shove the rare, irreplaceable book she had been reading from where it had been resting on the desk onto the floor. Opening her legs wide, she leaned back. Richard plunged in his tongue, drawing the same circle there she had traced on his cock- circle of life, it was supposed to be. He moved his mouth to taste the lips of her vagina-The Serpent's Kiss-darting in to strike her clitoris, touching, retreating, darting in again. She stayed silent, not a single moan. A woman of infinite control. Something he was guilty of himself during the acts of sex.

Too much control.

Olivia used her nails again, once more choosing a spot that wouldn't show under clothing, reaching around the side of his torso near his heart, close to the small tattoo he had-an Aries symbol, which also stood for the subtlety and power of male/female balance. A symbol she had expressed little interest in. Olivia had told him she considered male and female energy could only reach its fullness when they were in conflict. She drew a spiral there, breaking his skin and marking with a tracery of blood the sign of Ouroboros, answer to the Serpent's Kiss-the snake with its tail in its mouth.

How well she knew them all. The actions and symbols that, when employed, could bring sex up a ladder of physical extremes, designed to awaken dark corners of the soul. He knew she gloried in those moments, but they wouldn't be enough for her. They never were. In Olivia, there never came any interlude of satiation, which could allow her to descend the ladder again into sensations of peace or completeness.

She leaned back and let him continue, moving her hips in time with the strokes of his tongue, close to an orgasm. Many was the time he'd coaxed her to climax after climax, but this time, her muscles contracting with the beginning of her first, she pushed him away with her foot to his chest.

Olivia narrowed her eyes. She knew. Of course she did. After tonight he would never make love with her again. And precisely for that reason-it wasn't making love. Richard had a flash of thought that she should be angry at the knowledge. But she arranged her lips into that cool smile again. Sitting up, she leaned over to return his cock to her mouth for a moment before retreating and inclining her mouth upward to kiss his, giving him a taste of his own musky heat. She slipped off the desk to stand with her head barely reaching his shoulders. It became so easy to forget she was such a small woman since she became such an insatiable force in her passion.

Taking up the next ritual position, she placed one of her feet on top of his while putting one of her arms around his back and the other on his shoulder. She bent the knee of her other leg for him to take hold of. Small, yes, easy to lift, he raised her and she curled her legs around his ass. Slowly, he lowered her onto his cock, impaling her as if on a spike. He held her there, hands under her buttocks.

She buried her face into the crook of his neck, and he almost expected to feel the sudden, stinging pain of a bite. Vampire. That would suit her. But all that came was her breath, even and steady. To continue climbing the tantric ladder would require both of them to pierce the veils and mists of simple lust and begin to gather energies in the mind and in the body. Almost, he began just that-the envisioning of the Goddess in her, and the summoning of the God into his own body. The tracing of pathways of light in patterns from her eyes to his flesh, from his hands to the fiery center of her sex. Climbing toward an orgasm that would flood the mind with illumination and leave him bursting with its power, uplifted and transformed.

Instead, she pressed her feet to the backs of his knees and levered herself upward and off him.

Grand deaths, no more little ones.

"Animals tonight, Professor Blake," she said. Turning away from him, she got down on her hands and knees. She put one outthrust hand right on the book she had shoved to the floor, covering the words. Symbolic enough. That, and the reversion to his academic identity, took them in an instant from being intimates. No longer magical lovers, but an angry man and woman having sex for the last time. So, she's decided on her own response to the rejection she's sensed. She'd turned her face from him but still wanted satisfaction. He could have her from behind, leaving any rapture that might enter into her own eyes unseen by him. Olivia arched her head back, inviting him to take hold of the hair that was now plastered by sweat to the back of her neck. The Lioness. A position of supposed submission, which he was astute enough to be aware represented the opposite.

Yes, animals. This is how the fallen fuck.

No more upward climb toward Heaven. Richard slipped the length of his cock into her, feeling a primitive satisfaction in the degree to which he filled her. Surprised, he heard the smallest moan escape from her. This is what gave her pleasure? The instant before an ending, with nothing but mutual dismissal left in it?

Grabbing hold of her hair, he became the primal man, screwing Lilith in the final hour before she turned her back and walked out of Paradise. He pounded hard at her, until the pearl of heat that had begun to take root in his groin began to spread outward. He gritted his teeth as his body convulsed in a pleasure closer to pain. If she had an orgasm of her own, she didn't cry out. Again, the faint moan and she shook her hair free of his gripping hand. Letting his cock slide out of her, he watched her move in a casual fashion to kneel upright, then stand, still keeping her back to him. She went right for her clothes, where she had left them draped over the back of one of his living room chairs.

Richard wanted to stand too, to be on equal footing with her. But he was so drained, he couldn't bring himself to rise. Olivia said something, and it took him a moment to realize the words were the last of the chant.

"A golden-eyed panther, cut from uncast shadow, will leap and lay open the last of flesh."


He didn't know what to say to her. For all his embrace of the mystical, he had never been a believer in demons. People were no more than people under it all. There wasn't any devil. The sight of Olivia turning, favoring him again with her icy smile, prompted him to wonder.

"It's been fun," she said. "I wish you'd introduced me to the rest of your friends, Richard. They might have more to offer. In fact, I'm sure of it."

"What are you talking about, Olivia?"

She had put her dress back on. Slipping on her high heels, she crouched to fasten the straps.

"Why nothing, darling. Why don't you take a nap? They call sleep the little death too."

Shaking his head, he blinked and raised a hand to brush the sweat from his eyes. He saw that she had her coat over her arm. Regrouping his strength to stand, he still made no move to accompany her. She walked to the door of his apartment.

Thank heaven he'd never given her a key. Olivia made her exit without another word. The door clicked shut. After she'd gone, he took distinct pleasure in flipping the latch on the lock.

It wasn't until he returned to the center of the living room and looked with alarm at the empty floor, that he realized she had taken the book.