Here's an excerpt from the Artist's Retreat:
Up close, the ground swelled with twisted, fertile promise. The muddy earth sucked and pulsed around my feet. I could not imagine what might burst from it, what ancient things might wind around my ankle and pull me down to them. Olivia’s cheeks had grown bright. She pressed her body against the boulder as if against a lover’s chest, her free hand stroking it languidly. “Touch it,” she said.
I resisted, feeling a surge of fear and revulsion even as I wanted nothing more on earth than to feel the sensations I saw reflected in her eyes. I watched as if in slow motion as she pressed our linked hands also to the stone.
The boulder might have shuddered beneath my touch. Olivia guided me to stroke its moist surface, as smooth as skin. I felt little grooves in the stone and leaned closer. Shrouded by the moss, I could just see intricate engravings, impossibly complex and certainly older than any civilization I had known to live in this part of the world.
The cryptic images did not depict any shapes or beings I knew--still, they stirred me. I got to my knees beside Olivia, and together we explored the contours of the boulder. I could not piece together an overall image of the design. Neither could I decode any individual piece. But the longer I ran my fingers over it, and the longer I knelt beside her and stared, the more I began to see flashes of meaning. Two coiled appendages, wound around each other and rubbing their undersides together obscenely; what could have been a thousand tiny fingers caressing a swollen, monolithic shaft; a long and muscular tongue, curved into a suggestive question.
Though the boulder stood only as high as my shoulder, the engravings seemed impossibly vast. Soon I gasped aloud as we explored new regions of it. Olivia edged closer to me; we leaned our shoulders together as we moved our hands across the stone with increasing eagerness. I heard her panting beside me.
Gently, Olivia released my hand and placed both palms against the stone. I copied her movements. I imagined the boulder pressed back against my touch, molding itself to the contours of my hands. The skin below my collar bone felt hot. A light breeze chilled me more deeply than it should have, cooling the layer of sweat that coated my forehead and the back of my neck.
Olivia let her head fall onto my shoulder. I froze. She smelled earthy, like what I would expect from the herbs in a witch’s kitchen. I swallowed hard and turned my face into her hair, breathing deeply. The boulder in my palms pulsed to the rhythm of my breath. Intoxicated, overwhelmed, enthralled, my nose ventured deeper into her thick, red locks. Olivia’s hair brushed my lips, soft and warm in the shaded chill beneath the trees.
I could not think. I moaned and pressed my lips against that hair, kissing the top of her head. Olivia let go of the boulder and wrapped her arms around me. Even through my clothes, her hands burned. I released the boulder as well and buried both hands in that ambrosial hair. I shivered as I wrapped it around my fingers, remembering Olivia’s self-portrait and the way the woman’s body had disappeared into the dull black mass. I wanted to disappear into her hair just that way, to be tangled and shaped and possessed by it, though I could not allow those thoughts to form a bridge from urges to conclusions. I felt heat coming from all directions--my body, her body, the boulder, the ground.
Olivia stirred. She lifted her head. Her hair slipped across my lips and nearly undid me. Then her serious green eyes asked a question, a mere inch from mine. I couldn’t face questions or answers just then. I closed my eyes and pulled her against me, searching with blind lips. I found the top of her ear, her temple, her cheek, and finally her mouth, which opened willingly beneath my first avid touch.
Her tongue felt hot and strange against mine. The mystery of her taste drew me to reach deeper, gripping the back of her head now to explore her better. I could not have explained what I was doing, but at that moment I did not care to. My mind filled with incoherent thoughts, guided by the images of the past few days, but also with urges I could not fully describe. I wanted to pull her so close that I brought her into me. I wanted to press inside her so far that I would know her completely.
I needed this kiss like I had never needed anything. I gripped Olivia’s arms and directed her against the boulder. I needed leverage. I needed something to press against. I could not control my hands. They wanted to uncover all of her. I slipped them under her shirt and touched the small of her back, the flushed skin there twitching slightly under the force of my grip. I tugged her shirt up, my fingers attempting to decode her spine. I kissed harder, pinning her naked back to the boulder and crushing my hands against its rough engravings.
The kiss exploded around me. Suddenly, the trees were part of it, and the ground, and the rock, and the sun. Olivia and I, tangled together, became another part of the engravings on the stone, their natural extension as they reached into the air. We became part of something old and ancient and wanting, something that coiled at the bottom of my belly just as it nestled under the flesh of the earth.
I wanted to do everything, have everything, to plunge my hands into the mud, to curl my belly around the boulder and lie baking in the sun, to kiss and kiss Olivia until neither of us could ever breathe again. We screamed into each other’s mouths. Her body began to jerk slowly and rhythmically against mine, her tongue lagging just behind. For a moment, I felt she was feeding me secret, forbidden knowledge. Against the dark and private backdrop of my closed eyelids, I could almost glimpse a place far beyond the stars, a wild, great, terrible, and exhilarating enigma. She was there, I felt, but I could not quite join her.
I shifted my hands. Her skin felt clammy now. Concern gave me the strength I needed to break the kiss. The sight of the milky skin of her stomach and the bottom wire of her black bra would have enthralled me again were it not for the sickly pale of her face and her eyes rolled back in her head and the horror of her mouth, which did not seem aware that I had pulled away and still worked as if in the throes of ecstasy.
A dizzying wave of shame struck me full-force in the chest. I’d never felt these sorts of urges before. I couldn’t understand what I’d been doing. And I feared what might have happened to Olivia. My lust set aside for the moment, I gripped her arms and pulled her away from the boulder.
She came away heavily. I imagined for a wild moment that the stone parted with her only reluctantly. I stared into her clouded green eyes. She gave a slow blink, then began to shiver violently, her teeth chattering with the force of hailstones on pavement. “Olivia,” I said, a few times until she responded.
If I expected her to be disturbed by what had happened, her expression disabused me of my mistake. “Do you understand a little more?” she whispered when she had recovered, the feverish brightness returning to her cheeks and eyes.
It was great to have room to really stretch out and write this story, building up from sparks to a raging fire.
I highly recommend buying the anthology--not just for this story, but for everything in it. I'm astounded at the company I'm keeping here. Every one of the stories in this anthology is awesome, and there's a lot of range.
Check out, for example, Elizabeth Reeve's "The Dreams in the Laundromat," which is the sweetest, most romantic tentacle sex story I've ever read.
If you need more convincing, read this very flattering review. Then go forthwith and check out everything Circlet has to offer--they're doing great work over there.