Forever Wicked

1001 Dark Nights - 1

Wicked Lovers - 7.8


Shayla Black

One Thousand and One Dark Nights

Once upon a time, in the future…

I was a student fascinated with stories and learning.

I studied philosophy, poetry, history, the occult, and

the art and science of love and magic. I had a vast

library at my father’s home and collected thousands

of volumes of fantastic tales.

I learned all about ancient races and bygone

times. About myths and legends and dreams of all

people through the millennium. And the more I read

the stronger my imagination grew until I discovered

that I was able to travel into the stories... to actually

become part of them.

I wish I could say that I listened to my teacher

and respected my gift, as I ought to have. If I had, I

would not be telling you this tale now.

But I was foolhardy and confused, showing off

with bravery.

One afternoon, curious about the myth of the

Arabian Nights, I traveled back to ancient Persia to

see for myself if it was true that every day Shahryar

(Persian: شهریار, "king") married a new virgin, and then

sent yesterday's wife to be beheaded. It was written

and I had read, that by the time he met Scheherazade,

the vizier's daughter, he’d killed one thousand


Something went wrong with my efforts. I arrived

in the midst of the story and somehow exchanged

places with Scheherazade – a phenomena that had

never occurred before and that still to this day, I

cannot explain.

Now I am trapped in that ancient past. I have

taken on Scheherazade’s life and the only way I can

protect myself and stay alive is to do what she did to

protect herself and stay alive.

Every night the King calls for me and listens as I spin tales.

And when the evening ends and dawn breaks, I stop at a

point that leaves him breathless and yearning for more.

And so the King spares my life for one more day, so that

he might hear the rest of my dark tale.

As soon as I finish a story... I begin a new

one... like the one that you, dear reader, have before

you now.

Chapter One

“To what do I owe this displeasure?” Jason Denning leaned against the doorjamb and stared at the all-too-familiar face glowering back at him.

This close to Halloween, he wished his visitor was some kid he could hand a piece of candy then send away. Unfortunately, this wasn’t someone in a costume.

“Is that any way to talk to your mother?” Samantha Denning-Markham-Lloyd braced her hand against his chest and shoved him out of the way to enter his condo uninvited. The tap-tap-tap of her ever-present stilettoes clattered against the hand-scraped hardwood floors and echoed off the high ceilings, resounding through his downtown Dallas loft.

As he followed her across the foyer and into the great room, she picked up his remote and turned off the football game with a dramatic sigh. The TV mounted on the exposed brick wall went dark—sort of like his mood.

“No, really, Mom. I wasn’t watching that or anything.” He crossed his arms over his chest.

“I haven’t seen you in three years, and you’d rather gawk at grown men chasing an oblong ball? Don’t you even have a hug for your mother?”

Samantha had barely allowed him to touch her, even when he’d been a little boy. Now, she only ever wanted something from him when her life had gone to hell and she wanted help fixing it. “You mean like we’re a warm, well-adjusted family? They usually spend Christmas together. But oh, you didn’t show up last year, like we’d planned. Thanks for not calling to let me know you weren’t coming. I had a fabulous holiday alone, thanks for asking.”

Samantha sighed. “You have your father’s sarcastic streak. I could live without it.”

“Too bad I can’t. Is there a reason you couldn’t return my messages? I haven’t moved or changed my number for the last few years, so I know you didn’t fail to call because you had trouble finding me. I assumed you were too busy with husband number three for your only son.”

“I didn’t come here for guilt.” She waved his words away, and he noticed that her ring finger was currently bare. “Lloyd is long gone. The poor bastard went bankrupt. I couldn’t possibly stay.”

Jason supposed that whole “for richer or for poorer” thing didn’t mean much to Mommy Dearest. “So you dumped him?”

“As it happened, I met another man about the same time. Robert swept me off my feet.”

Translation: He had a lot of money and spent a nice chunk on her. “So you left Lloyd for Robert. Beautiful.”

“It was,” she defended. “We had a fabulous wedding in Fiji. You would have loved it.”

Doubtful, but since he hadn’t been invited and it sounded like the union was over, his opinion was moot. “Is the divorce final yet?”

“No. He just filed last week.” She pursed her artificially plumped lips as much as the injections allowed, looking a bit like a three-year-old in the body of a woman on the downhill slide to sixty. “He met a girl making a music video, of all things.”

“A musician?”

“No.” She scoffed. “A model strutting around in a bikini and spreading her legs on the hoods of cars for the camera. She convinced him that he still had the libido of a man half his age. Now they’re engaged.” She gave him a dainty huff. “I kept up my end of our prenuptial, as I have with every husband. I remained a size four. I played the gracious hostess for all his boring business parties. I even gave him the requisite blow job once a week.”

Jason winced. “TMI, Mother…”

So Robert had left her—a first for Samantha. She was used to men of all ages falling at her feet and offering her the world. She was usually the trophy. Maybe those days were over.

Jason couldn’t tell much difference in his mother’s appearance since he’d seen her a few years ago. She stayed in impeccable shape with a personal trainer. A stylist dressed her. She religiously saw an esthetician and had a plastic surgeon on speed dial. Most people wouldn’t think her more than a day or two above forty.

She fluffed her artificial blonde hair and shot him an impatient stare. “Don’t you have anything to say?”

Not really. Though he sensed the incident had broken her ego more than her heart, she still hurt. “Is he refusing to honor the terms of your prenup?”

“No, but…” She paced, looking out over the Dallas skyline all lit up in its evening glory yet not really seeing.

“But?” he prompted. The sooner she said whatever she needed to get off her chest, the sooner she would leave.

“He’s thirty-five years older than her. It’s ridiculous!”

Jason refrained from pointing out that billionaire Charles Denning had been thirty-two years Samantha’s senior when she’d married him. She hadn’t believed the age gap ridiculous then. Since his mother had given birth to him six months after she and his father exchanged vows, Jason didn’t think his mother had wooed his father away from his first wife of twenty-seven years with her scintillating conversational skills. Pointing that out now would only make her snit worse.

“Do you want a glass of wine?” A few of those usually solved her problems.

She shook her head and unwound her cashmere wrap, then tossed it at him. “It doesn’t mix well with my Xanax, and I can’t afford the extra calories. I’m looking for another man, one younger than me. I’ll show Robert.”

His mother sounded bitter. He wasn’t surprised. She’d always acted as if the world owed her something.

It was going to be a long evening.

Jason paced to the fridge and grabbed a beer, then tossed himself onto the black leather sofa, peering at the cityscape. He should probably keep his mouth shut. After all, he knew damn well that she hadn’t come to him for advice, probably money and sympathy—in that order. But she was all the family he had left. Even if she hadn’t been much of a mother, she was his.

“Maybe you should take some time to be alone, consider what you really want in a marriage before you dive into number five. There’s a reason things never work out, Mom.”

“That’s not fair,” she shot back. “Your father died on me when you were barely thirteen. I was married to Daniel Markham for over a decade before he got stingy.” She sighed. “Lloyd and I had a good five years, then…like I said, he went broke.”

“And Robert couldn’t keep it in his pants. Got it. I’m just saying that maybe some soul searching wouldn’t be all bad before you get involved again,” Jason suggested.

She cut him a blue-eyed glare as she perched on the edge of a gray suede chair and crossed her ankles. “What would you know? You’ve never been married.”

Jason froze. He should probably shut up now, but he’d learned a thing or two lately. “Actually, I’m currently married. Have been for almost a year.”