Three Days To Love
Mag Mell Chronicles #1
by Celeste Joy
Chicago cop Kitten “Kit” Rycroft works vice. Undercover. Every night. The beat is tough, but Kit was born to serve and protect. One summer night, a sting operation goes bad and Kit leaps in front of a bullet meant for her partner. As she leaps, she sees a vision of the sexy man she’s dreamed of for months standing on a beach extending his hand to her.
Detective Inspector Sebastian Sullivan sees the woman who’s haunted his dreams about to die. He reaches out and pulls her into his world—Mag Mell.
In Mag Mell, women emerge from the sea to be the perfect mate for one man. They’re guarded, coddled, loved and cherished. Usually. Sometimes, though, they’re bought and sold. Each woman has three days to decide whether she’ll stay, or return to her world. Sebastian plans to give his precious mate a life of pampered luxury in his fortress of a home...even if he has to bolt her in.
Everything changes when a woman is kidnapped. Kit throws herself into the search whether Sebastian wants her help or not, but she has to work fast. After all, she only has three days to prove women can be cops, three days to save the victim, and three days to make a big decision—should she stay, or should she go?
Release Date: April 16, 2019
Genre: Fantasy / Historical Romance
A Pink Satin Romance
Kit Rycroft knew it was a distinct possibility she would die when the girl across the street reached into her purse and pulled out a gun. It was so big, it looked like a movie prop. Kids in their teens shouldn’t have guns and this kid looked confused, like she was in shock.
It didn’t help that half a block away and moving steadily closer, other members of Kit’s vice squad were in the middle of a full-blown gunfight with the girl’s pimp and his pals. Bullets thudded into walls. Glass shattered and flashing lights painted the dirty buildings in garish red and white. Kit had to get her injured partner, who could barely stand, and the girl, away from the flying bullets.
“Stop. Put down your weapon. I’m a cop. I can help you.” Kit kept her voice both firm and calm.
The girl nailed her with a look of frustration and hatred. Her chest heaved. Her wild eyes darted around. “Is she a cop too?” She pointed her weapon at Kit’s partner, another under-cover officer dressed as a hooker. The woman slumped against the side of a building, probably going into shock from the beating she’d gotten from the girl’s pimp.
“She’s an injured bystander.”
“You’re lying. I’ve seen you guys together. She’s a cop like you. Like them!” The girl jerked the gun back to the cops down the block. Back to Kit. Back to her partner. Back to the cops. More sirens came toward them adding another layer of chaos. More jerky movements. More gunfire.
“Stop and put down your weapon,” Kit called again. The girl yelled back something unintelligible, locked her shaking arms straight and aimed her weapon at the injured woman against the wall.
Holy crap. She’s going to shoot. Kit decided in that fraction of a second that she had only one viable option. If she timed it right, she could tackle her partner, hopefully saving them both. If her timing was off, she’d either take a bullet or hit a brick wall.
Since she wore stiletto-heeled boots, it took her three steps to break into a run on the uneven Chicago sidewalk. She made her dive as bricks around her exploded.
But instead of the searing pain of a bullet tearing through her, or the impact of hitting her partner, everything froze. The street became silent. The dirty buildings, the girl with the gun, the flashing lights all disappeared, and she hung, suspended in mid-air, as if time itself had stopped or at least, hit the pause button.
She felt a warm breeze on her face, smelled the clean scent of an ocean, and saw before her a man standing on a beach at the edge of a turquoise sea. It wasn’t just any man though. It was him, the man who’d haunted her dreams for nearly three months.
He looked like something out of a Sherlock Holmes novel: long, dark coat, white shirt, tall collar, black cravat. Care and concern warred with genuine terror across his handsome face. A splayed hand stretched out to her, palm up, and he mouthed a single word, “Kitten.”
A tsunami of lust crashed through her. How bizarre. Here she was about to take a bullet or break her neck, and instead of pain, she felt desire. Is this what happens when you’re about to die? You get all sexed up?
Her mystery man stretched out his hand farther, as if begging her to come to him. In that instant, longing enveloped her. She wanted to be with him. She wanted him.
“I would join you if I could,” she whispered.
Darkness slammed over her eyes and it felt like someone grabbed a handle attached to her sternum and pulled her up and away.
“What the hell,” she tried to say, but her mouth refused to work. Had she just hit her head? Was this a concussion? Was it a dream?
A searing yellow light zipped by on her right, quickly swallowed by the darkness around her. She flew past another on her left and two red ones on her right as she picked up speed. More colored lights zoomed by in the darkness. Dozens. Hundreds. Thousands. Each light she passed rang and sang and harmonized in a song she’d never heard before. They blurred and twisted together around her as she flew through a shifting kaleidoscope of light and sound.
Maybe this was the famous tunnel that you go through when you die. Did that mean she was dying? Were the pearly gates around the corner?
Though the tunnel extended for what seemed like eternity, ahead of her, a pinprick of white grew and grew until she burst out and hung immobile in silent space. After the twisting, flashing lights, and the sounds in the darkness, everything around her was silent.
Her body refused to move. In fact, she couldn’t even feel it. Somewhere along the way, her clothes disappeared, replaced by…bubbles? Bubbles didn’t fit into any pearly gates story she’d ever heard, so it had to be a dream. From the top of her scalp to the soles of her feet, Kit tingled all over as millions of tiny little bubbles exploded and fizzled over every inch of her skin. Every inch.
They didn’t hurt. The sensation wasn’t unpleasant. In fact, it was embarrassingly stimulating. Her legs finally obeyed and opened wider. Oh yeah. She was a happy, naked human Alka-Seltzer fizzing away. And when she groaned with pleasure, salty bubbles exploded on her tongue. Salty? Her eyes popped open to see a vast, clear blue ocean. High above her, dappled sunlight shimmered and undulated on the surface.
The water temperature registered in her brain. Chilly? No, frigid. If drowning didn’t kill her, hypothermia would unless she got to the surface fast. Kit flopped nearly-useless arms and legs around, creating more fizz. Millions of bubbles popped and tingled as her lungs screamed for oxygen. Pretty soon, the terror of drowning outpaced her fear of freezing and lit up some primordial lobe in her brain that had never been called on before.
She kicked hard. She pulled even harder while the urge to inhale anything—even water—nearly overwhelmed her and the cold weighted her arms and legs. Sheer grit and stubbornness kept her mouth shut and her legs kicking. When she could see the surface glimmering a few feet over her head, someone flew past her. It was another woman and she was naked too.
A naked woman? Why couldn’t this weird dream co-star a naked man instead?
Kit kicked hard one last time and exploded through the surface and sucked in deep breaths. Warm, clean air flooded her burning lungs. Her heart slowed, and she was able to think again, though her thoughts tumbled and bumped and shoved each other out of the way. Maybe she’d hit her head, and all this was a concussion, because her brain acted like a computer booting up.
Memories flashed through her mind, a super-speedy slide show of her life. Mom. Dad. Gradeschool. High school. Christmas. The Academy. Thad. Dave. Doug. The sting. The girl with the gun. The man by the sea.
She put both hands to her temples and rubbed hard. What had just happened? Where was Chicago? Where was the girl with the gun and her partner and all the other cops involved in the sting? And, where was she?
That thought calmed her. It centered her and let her cop training take over. Observe. Assess. Prioritize. Kit took a deep breath and paddled around in a full circle.
On one side, brilliant turquoise water mirrored an endless sapphire sky, and both seemed to go on forever. On the other side, maybe a quarter of a mile away, a white sand beach lay with palm trees and thick, green vegetation beyond it. The sun hovered over a mountain in the distance; it had to be either early morning or late afternoon.
Two different groups of people stood at the water’s edge. One consisted of three women who looked like they stepped out of a Belle Epoch drama. Two wore long dark skirts and starched white blouses. The third woman was of African descent and dressed similarly though in green. On all of them, ribbon sashes ran across their chests from shoulder-to-hip with the word ‘Welcome’ written on it.
What the...How could she make out such tiny details from this distance? She looked again. Yup. All the sashes had ‘Welcome’ on them. She reached up and checked her eyes. No contact lenses, though she’d worn them since high school. They must have popped out while she was swimming.
In the other group, two men stood roughly twenty feet down the beach from the women. They shaded their eyes with their hands and stared. One of the men was him, and he looked exactly as he had in her dreams.
Tall, broad-shouldered and from what she could see, in great shape. His lean, angular face would stop traffic on Michigan Avenue. Wavy, light brown hair hung to his shoulders. He stood, legs apart, as imposing and solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. In her dreams, he’d always been on the move. Now that he stood still and she could examine him, she realized that he oozed alpha male from every pore.
Too bad every pore in Kit’s body despised that domineering attitude. So why had her traitorous body decided to throw out the pheromone welcome mat? Simply looking at him her nipples tightened, her stomach flipped, and even though she was surrounded by moisture, she added her own.
He nodded, brows tented, thrust out a hand to her and curled his forefinger inward three times, as if telling her to hurry up. How alpha male of him.
She paddled around to face her fellow swimmer. The other woman almost had her breathing back to normal.
“Are you all right?” Kit asked.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine...except for…where am I? How did I get here and how come I have two hands?” She spoke with a New York accent. Bronx, maybe.
“Two hands? We’re naked swimming in some ocean God only knows where, and you’re wondering about your hands?”
“I’m an army mechanic. I lost the right one in Afghanistan last year.” She flexed her fingers and stared at it.
She lost a hand last year, and now has two? What is this place? “H...how can you re-grow a hand?”
“You can’t, but this isn’t a prosthetic. It’s a real hand. What the hell is going on? Five minutes ago, I was cruising to a club to meet my cousin. The next minute I’m sucked into a rainbow tube, lost my clothes, nearly drowned and now I’ve got both my hands and I’m swimming in the... what... Caribbean?”
“Maybe they could tell us where we are.” Kit jerked her head toward the women on the beach.
“Looks like a costume party.”
“And we get to go as Lady Godiva.”
“They’re holding towels or blankets, something like that.”
Kit looked again at the women and then over at the blue-eyed man. He still stared at her, and this time their gazes didn’t simply meet, they zoomed in on each other. The air whooshed from Kit’s lungs. His smile grew, lighting up his face. Kit heard the voice of her grandmother talking about her third husband.
That man had a smile that meant business and promised sin. Yep, her mystery man’s smile definitely promised sin.
“I vote we head toward the women,” Kit said.
“And why would that be?”
“Well, they’re the ones holding towels and besides that, have you noticed that we’re swimming in salt water?”
“Did you ever see Jaws?”
Apparently, New York had seen Jaws, because she torpedoed toward the shore. Kit joined her, surprised that her stroke was strong, and when she kicked, real power shot her through the water.
The men turned their backs when she and New York neared the beach. The women met them in knee-deep water with sheets, towels, and words of encouragement. Their long skirts had a series of marks on them, like they’d gotten wet, dried, and then wet again. Their eyes drooped a little, and Kit wondered if it was from the glare off the water or if they’d been pulling soggy women from the sea all day.
“What the hell...” New York’s legs wobbled and buckled when she tried to lurch out of the water. Two of the women grabbed her arms and hauled her the rest of the way.
Kit tried to stand and found that she too was as steady on her pins as a pledge at a frat party. “I don’t know what my problem is. Walking seems beyond me.”
The woman in green put one arm around Kit’s waist and half-carried her to where she could sit at the water’s edge. Her golden brown skin glowed in the afternoon sun. “Your new bodies need time to remember how to balance and walk.”
“The weakness will pass faster if you eat and drink. Here, this will give you the strength to stand.” The woman in green spoke with a hard-to-place accent. Jamaican, maybe? She pulled two glass bottles from a basket and handed them to the swimmers.
Kit tried to absorb the line about “new bodies” as she greedily drank the clear, cold water and wolfed down a small oat roll. Yum. It tasted of cinnamon and cardamom and was studded with seeds and raisins. She gratefully took a second.
“Give yourselves a moment to get acclimated. In the meantime,” the woman cleared her throat and held one arm stiffly out to her side. “We represent the Londonderry Welcoming Committee,” she announced in an overly-dramatic, sing-song voice as she touched her white sash with her other hand. “My name is Millie Drinkwater, and on behalf of Prince Robb and the citizens and governments of Mag Mell, allow me to extend a warm welcome and to—”
“Excuse me, but where exactly is Mag Mell?” Kit asked.
“Not right now, love. Millie hasn’t finished the speech,” one of the other women said. She wore a small flat hat perched at a rakish angle. “You must be Kitten.”
New York snorted. Kit glared. “I prefer Kit, and how did you know my name in the first place?”
“We were told your names and approximate sizes weeks ago.” The third woman wore her flaming red hair in a loose bun.
“Wait a minute, back up. Who told you our names and sizes?” Kit asked.
“Your men, of course,” pert hat lady said.
“What men? We don’t know anybody here,” New York said.
“Now Rose of Sharon—”
“Rose of Sharon?” Kit’s turn to chuckle.
“The name is Rosie. Rosie Irizarry. Only my dad is allowed to call me Rose of Sharon. Now, who are these guys you keep talking about? Where the fuck are we, and when can we leave?”
The red-headed woman gasped, while the one with the teensy hat covered her gaping mouth with her hand.
“Ladies, we are not accustomed to hearing the casual use of such…foul language.” Millie inhaled deeply before continuing. “I already told you, you are in Mag Mell. Starting tomorrow, you will have three days to decide whether you would like to remain here with your men or return to your world.”
“What men?” Kit tried to keep her voice calm though she wanted to scream. “And what do you mean by, ‘return to our world?’”
Millie threw her hands in the air. “I have been trying to explain, but you keep interrupting my speech and the hour is late, so here is a shortened version. Just before you arrived here, you were in mortal danger. You saw a man in your mind and he extended the invitation to join him here. You accepted it and here you are. Women are never born on Mag Mell. We all arrive from the sea. As I said before, you have three days to make a big decision but right now, we are in a hurry. If you will please wrap the sheets around your bodies, we will escort you to the changing house and proceed with the services we offer.”
What? Kit wanted to demand a do-over. When had she accepted an invitation to desert her body, leave Earth and come to this weird place? And how could a world exist where women weren’t born, but arrived from the sea?
Clearly though, she was at a disadvantage. She needed clothes and hopefully more food. She glanced over at Rosie. Mutiny painted her face like graffiti in a New York underpass. She probably wanted to argue too, but the other women had already started up the path. Rosie dipped her head once, as if in silent agreement. Questions could wait until they were clean and dressed.
They fell into line behind the women and traipsed through sea grasses. Stray coconuts littered the path that turned from sand to dirt the farther they walked. After a while, palms gave way to temperate giants like firs and cedars and eventually apple trees. What kind of a crazy climate was this? Strange animal cries and howls came out of the thick woods. Though they sounded far off, Kit looked for anything that could be used to defend herself. She didn’t see so much as a stray stick or branch.
Hopefully one of these chicks had something weaponizable stashed in a pocket.
After another half mile, they came to what looked like a Victorian cottage. Grey weathered boards, white shutters, gingerbread trim, and a red door greeted them. Inside, a long table against one wall held plates, napkins, assorted baskets, and mixing bowls. More food? Yeah! Voices and the sound of pouring water floated in through an open door on the opposite side of the house.
“Two ladies arrived shortly before you. They will soon finish bathing. Your clothes are in these corners.” Millie pointed to two chintz screens. “Rosie, you are here and Kit, you are over there. We, the ladies of the Welcoming Committee, will assist you in dressing.”
“I hope you have jeans in my size,” Rosie snapped, and ducked behind her screen. “What are these?” She emerged holding up a corset in one hand, and a pair of what looked like white cotton crop pants in the other.
The ginger-haired woman gasped and raised her eyebrows. “Those are your undergarments,” she whispered. “Do you not wear undergarments in your world?”
“Of course, we do, but they’re a lot less complicated.” Kit thought about a thong and sports bra as she found her own corset, chemise, and drawers behind her screen. Short white leather button-up boots sat on a chair beside a pair of silk stockings. Wall pegs held a starched white linen blouse, a dark pink skirt, and a light pink sash.
You’ve got to be kidding. She hadn’t worn pink and white since she was six. She lifted a white parasol with pink ruffles from yet another peg on the wall. The shaft was wood, and the spokes were made of metal. Okay, in a pinch, this could be used as a club. A frilly pink club.
“This dream is getting freakier and freakier,” she said.
“Did I hear someone mention a freaky dream?” A stunning blonde woman wearing a linen sheet toga-style swept into the room. Her long, cool drawl gave her up as a Texan. “Y’all think you’re in a dream too?”
A tall, black woman with the looks and walk of a supermodel entered behind her. “I take it you two found the underwear. Apparently, they’ve never heard of bras and knickers around here.” She spoke in a clipped British accent. “My name is Elizabeth McIntyre. Friends call me Liz. This is Sunshine Pearson. She goes by Sunny.” Liz held out her hand.
After brief introductions on their part, Rosie asked, “Have you figured out yet what the hell is going on?”
Kit smiled as the Mag Mell women gasped again.
“No, we’re as confused as you are. We’ve been told that someone will explain things to us as soon as we’re washed and have changed into the antique clothes,” Liz said. “We’ll eat something too. I’m absolutely famished.”
“The shower does feel like heaven,” Sunny drawled. “Y’all hurry now and wash. We’ll figure out the damn corsets.” There was another gasp and Kit didn’t bother hiding her smile.
She wrapped her sodden sheet around her and followed the trail of wet footprints out of the building. The “shower” turned out to be a two-stalled, three-sided, open roof shed with tin watering cans suspended on ropes. The soap was creamy and white and smelled of jasmine. Though it took a while to figure out how to get the cans to give a steady stream of water, soon they were back inside, scrubbed clean and ready to dress.