Authors: Roxy Harte
Tags: #Romance, #Adult
I will never forget the first time I saw him, or the last.
The first time was right after Luka died. God, they were identical. I saw him going into a restaurant; I actually followed him inside, grabbing him from behind, and spinning him around and into my arms. I kissed him. That’s when I knew it wasn’t Luka. His kiss.
So not like Luka. Amazing that two men could look so identical—walking, talking, appearance—but kiss so differently. Not bad, just different.
The last time I saw him was at Whips. Last week. He is a regular.
Sometimes, I sneak away between assignments, away from Liam, away from friends, just to see him. We’ve become friends, the kind of friends who can talk to each other about anything, not the kind of friends who kiss. There has been no repeat kissing. I like Daniel as a friend, he’s easy to talk to. It makes me wonder, if Luka and I hadn’t developed a strictly D/s relationship, if we could have been friends. Would we have talked?
“Hey, Eva! Have you seen the front page of today’s paper?” Matilda asked, waving it before me.
I know Matilda too well, she is discreetly warning me … the mix of excitement, and anxiety in her wavering smile is unmistakable. If I weren’t already on edge, this would have put me there. As it is, it pushes me over the top. Accepting her warning, I play along with the moment, faking a teased grab; she pulling back just in time to make it even more believable that she wants to draw out my agony. We both resort to big, company-issued smiles. Shit, this is bad.
Light as a breeze, I offer, “You know I don’t read newspapers. They’re too damn depressing.”
“Well, you might want to read today’s.”
Suzuki snatches it away from Matilda before I can take it, snapping, “No, Matilda, not tonight.”
I don’t miss the exchanged glances—Suzuki’s evil how dare you, or Matilda’s volley back, all wide-eyed innocence. A screaming, prickly heat pinches my forehead, third eye on fire, a sure sign that someone is lying, plans on lying, or has already lied. Not exactly rocket science, but I go with my gut on this one. Thank you once again, Luka, for putting me in touch with my chakras.
“It’s nothing we need to worry about tonight,” Liam pipes in, handing me a cup of hot tea. “Warm up with this.”
Liam’s trying to keep this from me, too?
“You know I hate tea.” I accept the cup without fight, and watch as Liam snatches the newspaper away from Suzuki and gives it a solid toss into the garbage. Okay, now my curiosity is piqued.
“Never mind the news, I say,” Suzuki adds too quickly. Again, passing that shut-up-or-you’re-dead look to Matilda. “It’s—nothing.”
Okay, I don’t know who’s trying to kid whom, I know Suzuki lives for the Special Reports on CNN. Without even bothering to sip the tea, which I know will be too weak and too sweet, I set the cup on a nearby table and look pointedly at Matilda. “Well, you’re going to have to tell me now.”
Matilda backs away, looking from Liam to Suzuki and back again. She has stopped smiling.
A quick movement in my peripheral jerks my hand to my underarm. Shit, holster and gun are in the drawer. I really am on edge, realizing it is only James bending meekly to retrieve the newspaper from the wastebasket. He hands it to me, lead story facing up.
The headline is bad enough—Reclusive Scandinavian Heiress Secret Wedding Plans Revealed.
Ohmygod, my face, my face on the cover of a major U.S. tabloid. It’s every agent’s worst nightmare—public recognition. This can’t be happening—I’ve been so careful. My picture has never been seen, until now. My parents protected their daughter, and then once I was old enough to be recruited, the agency made sure my face wasn’t in the paper.
My God, my face is front page!
“It’s all right. I promise.” Liam pulls me into his chest, patting my back, smothering my protests, hoping, I am certain, to stem the explosion he knows is coming. “It’s okay, It’s going to be okay.”
“No, it’s not okay. My picture has never been seen! Ever! My fucking life isn’t ever going to be normal again!”
“Normal? Eva, darling, we left normal a very long time ago,” Liam whispers, harsh and nasty into my ear. “Might have been nice to know that my fiancée is one of the most sought-after personalities in Europe, though.”
“Eva, love, we love you no matter what dirty secrets you are hiding in your past.
Including being the wealthiest woman in this hemisphere.” James holds my shoulders and, looking into my eyes, kisses each cheek.
“Ohmygod, Eva, you have to see the dress!” Eric reenters the conversation, and I don’t miss the look passed between him and James. They didn’t arrive as a couple, did I miss something?
Catching Ben’s blush, I deduct I definitely missed seeing this coming! I focus on the undercurrent of energy riding hard between the newest set of lovebirds, Eric and James, to keep from screaming. Liam’s voice becomes white noise as I try to focus on tasks from most important to least.
First, kill the messenger.
Second, burn the dress.
I’d forgotten that Henri’s part of the plan included dividing my brothers and taking control of the kingdom … how is my face on the cover of a tabloid going to facilitate this?
“I’ve already managed to book a different church than the one reported, so no worries about crowd control…”
Screw the dress, burn the church, it will make a bigger statement.
“…and absolutely everyone has been notified—caterers, florists, the limousine service, the guests. So no worries. All you have to concern yourself with is arriving on time, quoting your vows, and consummating.”
The last of the white noise is supposed to be a joke … I’m not laughing.
“You know I love you.” Very practiced white noise. If I’m the one supposedly fooling him to make this happen, why do I suddenly hear lies in his voice?
“Do you realize that my cover is destroyed?” I want everyone out—now—if I am going to have a mental breakdown I’d like to do it in private, thank you. I tilt my head, scanning the article.
“New Year’s Fucking Eve? That’s five days! You changed our wedding date to five days from now without telling me? How dare you do this, Liam? How dare you do this to me—now?” I finally manage to snarl, my mental task list disintegrating, my verbal tirade being reduced to a string of unintelligible curse words in at least three languages as I realize, a bit belatedly, that Liam has been the one coordinating this wedding from the start. If there was an early leak, it was because either he or Henri made it so.
I slap his face mid-tirade. God, how I hate delayed reactions. Someday, I assume it will get me killed, but not today. Liam backs away, hands raised in surrender, my bad luck.
Matilda passes me a very tall brandy, with that look. I really need to get her alone to find out exactly what that look means today.
“I hardly think you need this, tonight.” Liam steps back into the moment, taking the glass of brandy from my hand.
“You’re quite right, Liam,” I answer, walking over to the wet bar to retrieve the half-full bottle, “I need this.” I chug straight from the bottle.
“Good Lord, Eva! Bloody hell!”
My boldness results in exactly what I hoped, guests shuffled to the door, an early end to the evening, if two a.m. is early. God, it was hard enough when there were only two people in the equation with agendas. Henri’s and mine. It’s time to get my head together so that I can figure out Liam’s ulterior motive in all of this.
I don’t remember going to the couch; however, that is where I awake, covered with a cashmere afghan, a gift from Liam’s grandmother, arriving by post just before I left on my last assignment.
Soft laughter calms my mind … Matilda, she has my back. Matilda always has my back, I don’t know why I doubted for a moment. I take a moment to thank the God I no longer believe in for making her stay to watch over me.
The spinning room indicates I am drunk on my ass.
Matilda laughs again, swelling the room. Four deadbolts slide home … Matilda left?
Liam stayed? Is it still Christmas?
Dark room, still night at least.
I drift between wake and sleep, remembering another night, too drunk then too, when Matilda’s laughter filled another room, drawing even more men to our position bar-side…
She laughed, just before she turned to me and whispered in her deadly serious tone,
“Are you sure about this?” Her laugh, always memorable, all-feminine, drew attention.
Every man at the bar was watching us.
Looking at my lips in the small mirror of my compact, I applied fresh lipstick—
Bubble Gum Pink. Over the rim of tortoiseshell plastic, I smiled at her, sensing her fear, hoping my own ease would rub off, thinking, are you nuts? Of course, we have to do this!
I felt it in my soul—it was my destiny to be there in this place—on this night.
The bartender set a fresh Screaming Orgasm in front of me with a wink in response to my grateful smile. Matilda had yet to finish her first White Russian.
“Look, it was your idea to come here in the first place,” I reminded her, clicking the lid of the compact closed loudly before tossing both compact and lipstick into my bag with purposeful force, wanting her to feel my agitation. I’d been flirting subtly all night with a man I’d caught, early in the evening, watching me from the shadows. I got the definite impression he’d felt hidden from view, my direct wink surprised him. Later, dancing, I’d managed to get close enough to make sure that when I exited the dance floor, I could rub between him and the woman he was dancing with, making sure no doubt was left in his mind that my tits were the real thing when they pressed against him, accidentally of course. He’d provided the last round of drinks from across the room with a message, an invitation to join him in The Dungeon. He was currently waiting for us to make a decision. I say us, because another man stood ready, willing and able at his side to entertain Matilda. The dark one I would come to know as Luka nodded to let me know that he was still waiting. Thank God. His too tan, too blond friend, introduced as Hans, feigned boredom.
“It’s your birthday and I wanted to dance!” Matilda insisted. “Whips seemed exotic, a really cool place to bring you to celebrate! And when you got so excited about it…” her voice trailed off, I assumed she was searching for the right words, but was in no mood for another lengthy conversation. At the agency we’d been paired as partners; she a profiler, me a tracker, two decidedly different personalities, hers analytical, me action first, consequences second.
“Mattie, I’m going to the Dungeon with that very hot man over there. That is my birthday present to myself. Stay or go, I won’t be mad, I won’t feel abandoned. But if he leaves this room with someone other than me, I will never, ever, forgive you.”
“Please!” Matilda whispered frantically, her eyes darting to the two incredibly sexy men who were waiting. “What if they tie you up?”
I’m out of patience, the subtle change in the two men’s bodies making it paramount I go with them now.
“Look, Mattie, there’s nothing I would ever do to hurt our friendship, but I’m not walking away from this. You know what I do for a living, being tied up by a really hot guy and spanked—that’s my ticket from reality. So go home. Okay?”
“I’m not leaving you!” she exclaimed too loudly, drawing a glance from the guys, causing the blond to panic.
“Go! This isn’t your thing, I get it! I’ll make the excuse that you got a migraine from the loud music, or you started your period and were just terribly embarrassed and had to go.”
“Scared yet, ladies? We’re off to the Dungeon!” Luka exclaimed, interrupting us with his exuberance.
Without waiting for a response, his arm circled my waist and he was leading me to The Dungeon entrance. As he walked us along, he made idle pleasantries and my knees grew weaker with each word spoken in his heavy Mediterranean accent. Looking over my shoulder, I saw Hans with Matilda similarly in tow.
“I’m scared,” Matilda whined as the two lured her in.
“You should be!” Luka laughed, overhearing. “Isn’t that why you’re here, to be scared out of your mind, little girl?”
“No way, Luka, this little girl’s mine, and she’s been very naughty, but a spanking will right your world, won’t it, darlin’?” Hans chimed in, smiling for the first time all night, his blue eyes dancing mischievously.
Darkness enveloped us as soon as the heavy dungeon doors closed. Hidden lights along the floor blazed a red, eerie runway along the strange corridor, music threaded with soft moans and the occasional scream heightened the drama. Flaming torches mounted in wrought-iron sconces added to the effect that we had truly entered a medieval dungeon.
In the semi-darkness, it was easy to sneak peeks at Luka. He really was wonderful to look at. His deep brown eyes glowed back at me from beneath hooded lids, not seeming to mind my silent appraisal; his confidence was devastating, shaking me to the core.
His smile was equally overwhelming. In one word, he was charming, in two words, charming and feral.
He stopped beside a glass window, voyeurism at its finest, and I found myself speechless, perhaps for the first time in my life as we watched through the soundproof glass. A man wearing a leather hood poured melted wax onto his tethered victim. Spread eagle, she tossed her head back and forth, but didn’t make a sound. Her eyes closed, opening only when the man leaned over to kiss her lips. It seemed to be a signal between the two. Was that the end of it then, I wondered? No, a signal that the tempo of the scene was changing, evidenced when he lifted a black candle and poured a stream of wax that would become a necklace. The woman’s eyes closed and her entire body tensed.
“Does it hurt?” I whispered.
“It can,” Luka answered. “It depends on the height of the candle; distance allows the wax to cool a little. Color too makes a difference, the lighter the wax, the cooler the melted wax, except beeswax. Never underestimate beeswax, it melts as hot, if not hotter, than the black.”
“But is he hurting her now?” My voice cracked, watching the woman’s face, and it irritated me that I had so little control over my emotions. What was happening to me?