Dark Blue: Study in Seduction, Book 1

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Dedication

For H and E. Thanks, guys. X

Prologue

London

September

Carla Jonas set one foot in the drawing room of the swanky Victorian terrace and knew she’d made a huge mistake. She’d promised herself she would give the party a good hour before she decided whether to stay or not.

She’d given it five minutes and was ready to bail out.

Despite the magnificent chandelier suspended from the ceiling, the room was lit only by candlelight. Nonetheless, Carla could see all she ever wanted to.

On a satin couch, a chubby man in hot pants and a dog collar was feeding grapes to a woman in a latex catsuit. Over by the fireplace, a bearded nun flicked a rubber flogger at the rear of a matronly lady, and the tangle of limbs in a dark corner told her that at least three people, all naked except for their masks, were getting to know each other very well indeed.

Carla hiked up the front of her velvet basque for the umpteenth time. She’d worked hard to keep her figure, but the leather trousers that were comfortable a decade ago required a shoehorn to get into and out of. Her heels, an impulse sale purchase from a shop aimed at girls half her age, were killing her. As for the silver mask, a relic from a New Year’s Eve do, it had cut her peripheral vision to almost zero.

Which was why she felt rather than heard the bald man who’d appeared at her side. Mainly because he’d greeted her with a heavy slap across her behind.

“Ow!”

Two eyes peered out from a Dracula mask, and he swished a black cape that Carla suspected had come from his kids’ Halloween box.

“Well, hello,
you
. Are you ready to play?” His attempt at a sexy growl sounded more like indigestion.

“Um…I’m not sure.”

Dracula grasped her butt cheek. “Of course you are.”

“Ow!” Carla shot backwards out of reach. “I’d really rather you didn’t do that.”

“Oh, we
are
a skittish little thing, aren’t we? This is a fetish party, love. What did you expect? Look around you.”

She had. Too much. Glancing at the panting, giggling mass of people of all ages, shapes and sizes in various states of fancy dress and fancy undress, she just felt ridiculous.

Dracula clamped his fingers round her wrist, and Carla wrenched her arm away. This party might have been some people’s wildest dreams come true.
Fine
. She now knew it wasn’t hers.

“Actually, I was just on my way out. I really don’t think this is me.”

He waggled eyebrows that reminded Carla of caterpillars. “Then why are you here, you naughty little minx?”

Carla gagged as he ran a fat finger down her cleavage. In any other situation, she’d have kicked him in the nuts and called for help. Not in here. Hitting Dracula in the balls might save her from getting pawed again, but there was no way she wanted to draw any attention to herself. A dignified exit was the best she could hope for now.

“You know, I don’t really know why I’m here, and I’m not sure I should be. In fact, this has probably been one of the biggest mistakes of my life.”

Dracula’s pudgy claw clamped down on her wrist.


Stop right there.

Another man appeared in Carla’s vision. She had to crane her neck to take in all of him, and what she did see was dressed from head to toe in black—boots, jeans and silk shirt. His thick, dark hair was slicked back from a tanned forehead, his eyes obscured by a black silk mask.

Dracula squared up to the new man. “What’s it got to do with you, pal?”

“A lot. The lady is with me.”

That accent… It was perfect English with a hint of something more exotic. An image slid into her mind and made her want to giggle. He was the man in the mask. Zorro.

“So why don’t you just leave us to it, Dracula?”

Carla made to protest, then clamped her lips together. While Zorro and Dracula beat the crap out of each other, she could quietly slip away.

“You don’t bring your own food to this kind of party, mate, and even if you do, it’s share and share alike around here,” said Dracula.

“Firstly, I’m not your mate, and second, I never share.” Zorro sneered and very beautifully, Carla decided, transfixed by his full, sensual lips. He hadn’t resorted to silly gear either, just what he’d found in his closet, by the look of it.
Wow
. Perhaps he hadn’t wanted this kind of scene either and was exploring or curious like her.

Dracula stepped closer until he was face-to-chest with Zorro. “Then you shouldn’t be here.”

“You’re right. I shouldn’t and neither should my girlfriend. We’re both leaving.”

Carla turned her back and headed for the door. Before she knew it, Zorro’s arm was at her elbow, propelling her out onto the landing. She shook off his arm. Shit. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. But
what
a fire, her wicked side whispered. Although he made no attempt to touch her again, his footsteps followed her as she hobbled down the marble staircase that led to the foyer.

“Please don’t come after me. I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself,” she said, making it into the foyer without breaking her ankle.

“I’m sure you are. My question is, what on earth are you doing here?”

She turned, one hand on the polished balustrade to steady herself. What was she doing here? It was a question she’d asked herself ever since she’d managed to get an invite to this fetish party. It had been on her list of Mad Things to Do since her husband, Stephen, had died four years previously, along with giving up her job and using Stephen’s inheritance to go to university. In fact, it was only in the past few weeks that she’d finally found the courage to embrace the desires she’d pushed into the darkest corners of her subconscious while her husband was alive—and that afterwards she’d been too crushed by grief and betrayal to even contemplate.

This party was meant to be her first step, a safe, toe-in-the-water adventure suggested by a friend of a former work colleague.

She fished in her bag for her mobile. “I have no idea, and right now I’m leaving.”

Zorro sighed deeply, causing Carla to look at him more closely. His eyes were darkest caramel, glinting in the flickering candlelight. “Yes. I’m guessing we both thought this was a good idea at the time,” he said.

Sparks flew between them, or at least they flew from her to him. Even with the mask obscuring the top half of his face, she could tell he was sinfully gorgeous, and as for that accent, it made her want to drool. She couldn’t place it, but, judging by the tanned hand, she guessed he was at least partly Mediterranean. Automatically, she checked out his ring finger. There was no pale band where a ring might have been, though that didn’t mean he was single. She just couldn’t bear to hook up with a man prepared to hurt his partner the way that Stephen had done to her.

Down here in the hall, the situation had started to edge back into her comfort zone, and she smiled. “A friend of a friend I used to work with mentioned this place to me; now I wish she hadn’t. What about you?”

“Something like that… I can see you don’t belong here. Neither of us does.”

Though he hadn’t so much as touched her, the intense look he gave her reached out and caressed her whole body. She felt as if she had been stripped naked by his words.
You don’t belong here. Neither of us does.
The party had been a disaster, but meeting this man might be fate. She’d never felt such a powerful and instant attraction to a man before, not even with Stephen. Was this the moment when she would finally dare to take a chance? With this exotic stranger?

Immediately, sensible Carla took herself in hand. What was she thinking? She’d only just got rid of one creep, and here she was contemplating getting involved with this guy. He might be a serial killer for all she knew, and leaving with him would be ten times more stupid than staying at the party had been.

“I’ll call my cab company,” he said.

“Now, wait a minute. I’m not going home with you. I don’t even know you.”

He gave a small smile. “I wouldn’t go home with a man like me either. Now, wait here,” he commanded.

Carla bridled at his arrogance. “I’ve got my mobile. I can call my own cab.”

He ignored her and had already started ordering the taxis. Carla heard the controller answer as the man ordered one taxi for her and another for himself. So, no mysterious driver in a horse-drawn coach would arrive to carry her off to sexual slavery with this man…

Pity
, her reckless side whispered.

“The controller said they’ll be here in”—he checked his watch—“five minutes. They’re dropping more guests off at the party. I hope they know what they’re letting themselves in for.”

Having misjudged him once, Carla’s polite side kicked in. “Yes. This party wasn’t what I expected either.” He didn’t say whether it was what he expected, so she blundered on. “So how did you get an invite here? Do you know Elena?” she asked, naming the party contact given to her by her colleague’s friend.

He placed his finger over her lips briefly, and the soft tissue felt as if he’d branded it. “No names. No information. Surely you knew the rules when you accepted the invitation?”

“Yes, but…”

“And you just broke one of the biggest.”

Carla laughed. “It hardly matters, does it? Now we’re both leaving.”

Zorro didn’t laugh back. “On the contrary, it matters to me. Rules are rules, and I value my privacy, and if we weren’t leaving right now…” The look he gave her almost scorched the clothes off her body. “There is nothing I would like better than to put you over my knee and spank that delicious leather-clad bottom of yours. However, sadly, there’s something I think you need even more right now.”

What? Had she really heard him threaten to
spank
her? The sensible Carla wanted to slap him, but the new, reckless one had just received a shot of liquid fire to her core. Desire twisted low in her belly, and the blood rushed instantly to her face. This man had found out her secrets in a few minutes, and now he wanted a reaction out of her.

“And what do you think I need?” she asked as her wicked alter ego seized control.

“To go home and find a different way of exploring your desires.”

She didn’t want to do either of those things. She wanted to stay here with him and put her hand farther into the tiger’s cage and see if he really would bite her. “And what about you?” she asked, her heart pounding.

His voice was silky. “Oh, I think I’ve run out of ways to explore them by now.”

“You haven’t met me yet.”

Where the hell had that come from?
She had to leave now, before she got into the deepest hot water she’d ever been in. Every nerve-tingling instinct told her that this man was not to be toyed with.

Too late. He’d started to pull her towards the deep shadows beneath the grand staircase, and in seconds, she’d been backed against the wall, wobbling on her heels with the man inches from her face.

“The cabs are on their way…” she murmured.

His mouth quirked in a smile. “That still gives us almost five minutes.”

The dim light of the hall was obliterated as his lips came down on hers, and she closed her eyes, unable and unwilling to fight the cocktail of pure lust that shot through her veins. No first-time gentleness for him. He devoured her straightaway with a mouth that was hard and hot. She darted her tongue inside his mouth, desperate to know everything about him in that single kiss. It was impossible not to arch her pelvis against his, and in return he pushed against her. She was wet inside, so wet…
 

And it was wrong, the wildest thing she’d ever done and so out of character. So not Mrs. Jonas.

He pulled his mouth away and looked down at her. “Dracula was right about one thing. You’re very beautiful.”

No one had ever told her that. Not even Stephen, and, inexplicably, she wanted to cry. “I…don’t know what to say to that.”

“Don’t say anything. Just enjoy it.” He dipped his head, and his teeth grazed her bare shoulder, then nipped the soft flesh. She cried out softly, more in delighted surprise than pain, and immediately he soothed the sore skin with his tongue. Carla could barely breathe as he trailed his tongue down her collarbone towards her cleavage. He pressed his erection harder into her pelvis, and she clutched his hips. She ached for him, but this was crazy. He was a stranger, gorgeous and also lethal. She could smell, hear and feel danger oozing from every sexy pore.

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