Carnevale & Subterfuge Excerpt

Anarrae opened her eyes and lifted her head. Her gaze wandered around an unfamiliar room. Her mind felt swathed with cotton. She remembered checking into the hotel and feeling very sleepy. After that, nothing. Now, standing at the foot of the bed, was the man from the bar, shirtless and holding what looked like a riding crop. Her heart hammered against her rib cage as fear slammed into her.

She knew she was in trouble. Real trouble. Her breath came out in small pants. She struggled to get up from the bed only to find her ankles and wrists bound in leather cuffs. Tears welled in her eyes. There was nowhere she could go. Ana opened her mouth to try to scream, but all that came out was a strange, hoarse sound.

“Please,” she finally managed.

“Shhhhh, it’s OK. Relax. I’m not going to hurt you if you don’t want me to. I promise.” The man moved to sit down on the bed, still holding the riding crop. “You wanted a gondolier and here I am.”

Ana swallowed. “How…?” She had to stop; her voice was still hoarse. “Water.”

“Oh, sorry about that.” The man put the whip on the bed and dashed out of the room.

Ana’s head began to pound and she moaned. The day had gone from humiliating to worse. Now the man from the bar had kidnapped her…to do what, exactly? She didn’t have time to dwell too much on his reasoning. He returned with a small cup of clear liquid. He placed it on the nightstand and unshackled her wrists.

“Drink this slowly,” he said.

The soft, roughness of his voice, edged with an indefinable accent, sent a shiver of warmth through Ana, despite her unease. A cool breeze on her skin caused goose bumps to rise, and she realized she was naked. She squealed and looked down at her body. Not an inch of her was covered.

“Drink, and then we’ll discuss rules. I added a bit of something to help with the alcoholic aftereffects. I crushed up a food pellet, I assure you, not some sort of drug.”

Ana took the cup and drank it down without protest. For some reason, she trusted him. A glance into his olive-green eyes set her at ease. There was something there that made her relax despite him being a perfect stranger.

“I should tell you right off, I’m a very well-known con artist,” he said. “The reason I say this is because I looked you up. I know why you’re here, and I want to give you what you need. That is, if you still wish to continue with this holiday?” Uncertainty clouded his gaze, and Ana shifted uncomfortably at his confession.

“So,” she tested softly, relieved to find her voice was no longer hoarse. The pounding in her head had also disappeared. “You’re an admitted con artist, you hacked into my information, and you want to give me the holiday I wanted. I’m not going to ask what you saw, or how you know why I’m here, because I honestly don’t want to know. But I will ask you this: why are you doing this for me? I don’t have a lot of money, no gems to steal, and I’m not related to anyone important.”

The man ducked his head. Thick waves of midnight hair slid forward to cover half of his masked face. “I have my reasons. So, do you want to have a go, or don’t you?”

Ana thought about it as she took in his naked upper body. He was lean, with tribal tattoos covering one entire arm and half of his torso. His dusky pink nipples were pierced with black barbells. His mask still hid half of his face, and he still wore the spiked collar. Now she could see he also had spiked leather cuffs encircling his wrists. He had an air of danger and seduction, but there also something vulnerable about him. Ana found herself drawn to him and couldn’t understand why. She didn’t know him at all.

She sighed. “If I’m going to get tied up and fucked, I might as well do it with someone I’m attracted to. I’m sure you know the rules I had with the other gondolier, yes? No names, no personal information, although that’s too late. I want to be tied down and fucked. A little pain but not too much.” Ana couldn’t remember what else was on her list.

“We need a safe word, something that tells me that you want to truly stop,” he murmured, looking up at her.

Ana licked her lips and thought about it. “I choose ‘jasmine.’”

“Jasmine,” he murmured. “All right, good.”

“Um, what do I call you? No names. I just need to know how to respond.” She ducked her head shyly. This was a whole new experience for her, and she didn’t know how to act.

“What do you like? Do you want to call me Master? Sir? What?” he asked, running his hand through his thick locks.

Ana noticed he had a large silver hoop in the other ear as well. She stared at that hoop, trying to find a name she might like to call him. “Sir” reminded her of Captain Drogan, and she just couldn’t call him that—too weird. “Master” sounded too intimidating. Names rolled around her head, and she tried to pick one.

“How about Dodger, after the Earth character from fiction? You are a con artist after all.” She smiled at her sense of humor.

He chuckled. “I kind of like that. Dodger it is then, love.”

“Are you going to tell me what you’re about to do? Or do I have to guess?” Ana asked.

He stood up and looked down at her. “No, you let me be in charge and just get ready to feel. Now lie back down.”

Ana did so, extending her arms over her head and waited for him to move.

He shackled her to the headboard again. She swallowed and took in a deep breath. Excitement shimmered through her body, and she closed her eyes. Finally her holiday was going right.

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