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Authors: Nicole Camden

Cursed

BOOK: Cursed
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CHAPTER
Nineteen

For three weeks, Lille didn't have time to go to Jobman's Pub, which was a good thing, she decided, as she taped up yet another box for shipment. Her encounter with Max had unnerved her, and her behavior afterward . . . Well, she didn't want to think about it. Since Kim, an aspiring documentary filmmaker who worked for the Fetish Box, had started posting “episodes” featuring the Fetish Box on the store's Web site, Lille and the other employees at the store had been flooded with e-mails and calls—some were disgusting, but most were innocuous enough. Of the twenty or so episodes Kim had posted so far, almost all of them had more than a million hits on YouTube. The one of Lille frolicking drunk in the ocean had more than four million, and the Box's Web site traffic had quadrupled, according to Google Analytics. Luckily, online orders had also picked up, which made it worth all the attention—or so Lille told herself. Part of her couldn't help but worry that all the attention being paid to her was going to turn out badly, either for her or for the people close to her.

She'd seen Max only a handful of times since their time together in his office—the latest being this morning, when he'd stepped outside in his backyard and whistled to Bambi, his German shepherd. He'd been wearing only a pair of cargo shorts and his tattoos; his hair had been mussed from sleep. He'd looked at her as if he were picturing the way she'd been in his office that night three weeks ago, bent over his desk and submissive to his pleasure, but he hadn't said anything, and eventually he and Bambi had gone back inside. Lille had felt both aroused and ashamed, as if she'd shared something with him that she shouldn't have—a glimpse of her unprotected self. She didn't like it—this strange vulnerability.

To make sure she stayed too busy to think about Max, Lille had started a blog—
Fetish Secrets
—that she updated daily, with input she sought from colleagues and from the fans, who were a twisted bunch of folks. She'd posted that
Secretary
was one of her all-time favorite movies, and there'd been a flood of protests that it wasn't hard-core enough, but today she'd written an entire article on tattoos and piercing fetishes. She almost—
almost
—wished she had a picture of Max, but she knew he guarded his privacy a little too closely to ever want his body on display that way.

Mary, Lille's best friend and owner of the Box, was helping Jordan, another of the employees, inventory stock this morning, but she stuck her head in Lille's office after they'd been working for about an hour.

“Hey, a vendor stopped by yesterday wanting to know if we could sell her custom fetish furniture on our site.”

“Fetish furniture?” Lille asked.

“That's what she said. ‘Tasteful furniture to fetish fantasy' is the tagline on her card.”

Lille shrugged. “I'll take a look. What did you think?”

Mary stuck out her lips in consideration. “It sounded like something our clients would enjoy, but I'd want to see it first. And we'd probably need a disclaimer so we don't get sued if someone breaks a leg using it.”

Lille laughed. “You don't want to know the picture that just came to my mind.”

Mary grinned. “I'll get you her card.”

Lille nodded. “Okay, and I'll call Albert to find out what kind of legal language we would need to add to the site.”

“Sounds good.” Mary grinned, but then her face turned thoughtful.

Lille's eyes narrowed; Mary was going to bring up Max or Lille's father—she just knew it.

Three weeks ago, Lille had received a call from a man saying that he represented her father. Lille had never met her father, the son of a Russian gangster who'd been in prison for most of her life, but she'd lived in fear of him for as long as she could remember. She'd even run away at fourteen and changed her name to keep herself safe.

The next day, after her wild encounter with Max at Jobman's Pub, Lille had told John and Mary about her past, about her real name—Sarah Wells—and about the man she had feared all her life. Mary had been shocked to hear that Lille had a secret past. They'd been friends for more than ten years, after all, and Mary had been asking Lille every day if her father contacted her yet.

Lille was trying not to get irritated, but the waiting and wondering was bothering her as well. Between worrying about her father's intentions and wondering about Max, and how he felt about that night in his office, Lille was on edge.

“So . . .” Mary perched on the edge of what had once been her desk but more recently had been taken over by Lille. “Why don't you come with us to the pub tonight?”

Lille pushed her reading glasses onto her head. “I'm not coming to the pub.”

Mary made a
tsk
ing noise, which Lille thought she must have picked up from her grandmother. “I've never known you to be afraid of a man, of all things.”

Lille raised her chin. “I'm not afraid. I'm busy.”

“Too busy for your best friends?”

“Who's going to watch the store?”

“Jordan and Tyler.” Tyler was the new kid. Lille had finally met him a few weeks ago. Barely eighteen and ridiculously skinny, he rarely spoke, except to customers, and even then he uttered mostly monosyllables.

“Jordan's been here all morning.”

“I'm sending him home now.”

“That boy needs a life. He works, eats, and fantasizes about Kim.”

Mary gave her a significant look.

Lille curled her lip. “I don't fantasize about Max.” Much.

Widening her eyes innocently, Mary said, “I didn't say anything.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Just come with us.”

“I'll think about it.” Lille smiled like a woman turning down a date without even pretending to be sorry about it.

Mary huffed. “You need a day off. You're totally Miss No Fun.”

“Miss No Fun.” Lille felt a real smile kicking up the corner of her mouth.

“Yes.” Mary laughed and hopped off the desk. “You haven't even picked out a costume, and the party is Thursday.”

Carl, Max's stepbrother and a friend of everyone at the Box, had arranged for a party to celebrate both Halloween and Lille's arrival, though she'd “arrived” almost six weeks ago. Lille had originally intended to have a Halloween party at the Box, but she'd decided there really wasn't enough space.

“Carl promised he'd come over tomorrow when we're closed and we'd pick one out together.”

Mary nodded. “Well, that's something.”

“Why don't you come and we'll have champagne and strawberries and make a day of it. Maybe get a mani-pedi afterward.”

“All right. I guess I'll take back the Miss No Fun.”

“I'd appreciate it.”

Mary shook her head as if she despaired of Lille and went back to working on the inventory. Lille heard her tell Jordan to put down the Swarovski dildo—ouch—and go home.

Kim, whom Lille hadn't noticed—seriously, the girl was starting to disappear into the woodwork—moved the camera down to her side and came to stand by Lille's desk.

Lille waited, but the girl didn't say anything right away. She seemed to be debating something, which wasn't like Kim; she usually didn't seem that concerned with tempering her words.

“What?” Lille asked finally.

“This is boring.”

“What is boring?”

“This.” Kim waved a hand at the computer, at Lille sitting in the chair, at everything.

Lille sighed and sat back in her chair. “What would you like me to do about it, Kim?”

“You're famous now. People on YouTube want to see you in your underwear again.”

“No.” Lille shook her head. “That was a one-time-only drunken event.”

“The other thing they want is you with Max. Everyone thinks he's hot. They want you two to hook up on camera.”

Lille folded her fingers together at her waist. “No. We're having the Halloween party at Carl's gallery. I have a date with a handsome man. That'll have to be exciting enough for the moment.”

Kim shrugged. “Just saying, is all.” Then she walked out of the office, as if to underscore how boring she found Lille now.

Lille sighed. She was busy; the store was doing well, much better than when she'd arrived; and so far the private investigator she'd hired hadn't turned up any indication that her father intended her harm—in fact, he'd reported uncovering a rumor that the man had cancer.

Lille didn't know why her father's having cancer would lead him to try to find her, but she did have an idea of how he'd learned her name. She'd had the private investigator try to contact her mother and had discovered that she'd been put in a long-term-care facility for early-onset Alzheimer's. Lille wasn't sure who was paying for it yet, but the investigator was supposed to be looking into it. According to the nurse who'd answered the phone when Lille called, her mother's husband had been visiting her every month. The last Lille had checked, her mother didn't have a husband. She suspected that her father had been asking her mother questions now that he was out of prison, and her mom, if sick, might have told him the secret of her daughter's name. It made Lille ill, thinking of her mother, of what she'd gone through after Lille had left, about what she was going through now. She wished she were brave enough to visit, but she hadn't seen her mother since the night she'd run away. The same night Lille's father had beaten her mother and left her unconscious in the parking lot of the strip club where she worked. Apparently, some of the girls had called the cops and an ambulance. Lille hadn't learned these details until years later. She hoped to be able to visit her mother soon, maybe after she found out why her father wanted to contact her.

“Boring,” she muttered, and slid on her reading glasses. Her life was anything but boring. She'd gotten involved with Paul because she thought she wanted a nice, safe, boring life, but that had turned out to be a mistake. Now she was just determined to keep working, without allowing her thoughts to drift to her father, her mother, or Max. It was appalling how often she let him slip into her thoughts. She barely knew him. She
felt
as if she knew him, though. John, Mary, Carl—all of them talked about him.

Some nights she woke up covered in sweat, the balmy ocean breeze blowing over her overheated flesh, and she considered crossing the tiny lawn that separated Max's house from Mary's. She kept dreaming of him, remembering how it had felt to have him restrained beneath her. All it would take was crossing to his house, opening the door, and getting into his bed. He wouldn't turn her down. She knew that much. She was just too wary of what he would ask in return. He tempted her; she wanted to give him entirely too much.

Which was probably why she'd accepted a date with Benson Hunter, the JetBlue pilot who'd asked her out three weeks ago. She'd turned him down at the time, but he'd asked her out again last week, and she'd decided to let him take her to the Halloween party. Part of her wondered what Max would do when he found out.

Max couldn't
get Lille out of his head.
Three weeks of wondering if she would come by, three weeks of waiting to see her. Images of her just kept popping up into his head. He'd hired a new waitress, a pretty little thing named Keisha, with braids and gorgeous blue-black skin, and all he could think about was Lille, bent over his desk—this very desk—while he slid his dick in and out of her.

He adjusted himself and glanced at his computer monitor. It probably didn't help that he kept watching those stupid videos Kim posted on the Fetish Box Web site. He told himself that he wouldn't go to the Fetish Web site again—he promised himself, but then he'd find himself clicking on the link and there'd she be: the Fetish Queen.

Reading the comments below the videos didn't help much, either.

HOT MAMA! Want me some baby

Call me sexy, yeur pretty

U can beat me. Want u to sit my face

Max grimaced.

Entirely too many people seemed obsessed with the way she looked in her lingerie.

A knock sounded, prompting him to hide the Web page.

“Come in,” he barked. He'd told Kyle not to bug him this afternoon.

John opened the door. He was wearing running gear. He held up Max's gym bag with a questioning eyebrow.

Max shook his head. Ever since he'd mentioned that he was quitting smoking, John had been on his ass, making him run all the time, building up his wind, sending him fucking Chantix ads, of all things.

“All right. I'm comin'.”

“Good. Kyle says you've been acting like a bitch.”

“Kyle's going to get his head stuffed up his arse.”

John made a noncommittal noise in his throat. “Since he's your only bartender at the moment, you should probably wait on that.”

BOOK: Cursed
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