Teaser: Confessions of a Glamour Girl

Finally, the cool autumn nights have arrived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and I’m ready for the chunky sweaters and spiced apple cider. But I’m most excited to share a sneak peek at my September 27th release, Confessions of a Glamour Girl.

This is the third and final book in my Her Confessions Series. I can’t tell yet if there will be a spin-off or a subsequent series built on this world, but I won’t close the door to possibilities in the future. For now, this will be goodbye to Jen, Maggie, and Lily.

If you’re in the mood for an Age Gap, Office Romance, then you should definitely snatch a copy of Confessions of a Glamour Girl. Lily’s story will give you all the warm, fuzzy feelings. Check out the first chapter below…

Chapter One

First Day at Valentina’s

I might as well be wearing a flashing neon sign over my head that says New Girl. After suppressing the urge to retreat, I take a deep breath and ignore the curious glances. Lifting my chin high, I cross the lobby, savoring the click of my kitten heels on the marble tile.

Staring is rude, but that’s exactly what they’re doing. Gawking. Not that I can blame them. The cherry print swing dress with the red petticoat always turns heads. Probably not the best choice for my first day working in a corporate position, but I don’t care. This is me, and I refuse to dim my shine to conform to ridiculous contemporary fashion standards. I readjust the purse strap over my shoulder, cursing the soft cashmere of the bolo sweater.

A glance at the clock on the wall calms my nerves. I have fifteen minutes until I have to be on the forty-fourth floor. I skipped my morning coffee to ensure I would be on time, but the lack of caffeine has undermined my confidence.

This is my first major step toward financial independence. After five years in college and six years working at a boutique downtown, I am still dependent on my father. He has paid for everything to get me to this point. My college degree. My wardrobe. My hobbies. Everything. Hell, he owns the Brooklyn Heights brownstone where I live with my three roommates. We pay rent, but still, I have my dignity. I’m tired of being daddy’s little girl, living on his charity.

Which is why I applied to Valentina’s. If I want to make my mark on the fashion industry, I need to understand how it works. College didn’t prepare me for that, but this will. Valentina’s is the largest high-end department store in the country, and I fully intend to learn everything I can.

With a yearly salary and room to advance, this job will give me the advantage I need to break free from my father’s controlling grip. He might be the most wealthy, powerful man in New York City, but he’s far from generous. He never invests in anything that won’t guarantee him a return. Me included. He’ll be pissed when he finds out my long-term goals don’t include him.

I’m relieved to see there’s a café in the lobby, and I step in line behind a tall man in a dark gray suit. While I wait, I admire the expensive fabric and the custom cut of the jacket. As a designer, I  take in every detail, noting the polished brown leather oxfords and expertly tailored suit. Whoever this guy is, he knows exactly what to wear to make an impression.

He steps up to the counter and orders his drink. “Doppio. Two sugars.” The deep, confident cadence of his voice leaves me breathless. He steps to the side, glancing to the left and giving me the perfect view of his profile.

Holy shit. Silver fox alert. I’m not normally attracted to older men—unless they’re Cary Grant or Gregory Peck—but dark hair threaded with silver at the temples is my kryptonite. Something inside me whimpers.

But it actually escapes my lips and he turns toward me. Oh. My. God. I look away and fidget with my purse.

“What can I get started for you, hon?” The petite barista raises a brow in question. She’s kind enough to not say anything about my gaffe.

“Cappuccino with caramel drizzle, please.”

She rings up my order and takes my money. I step off to the side to wait for my coffee, joining the sinful silver fox, who looks like he just stepped out of a vintage noir film set.

His attention remains on the newspaper in his hand when I stand beside him. Who is he? Does he work here? The thought of working alongside this man on a daily basis has my body thrumming. How the hell would I get any work done? I’d be distracted all the time.

The barista sets his drink on the counter and calls out his order. I manage to tamp down my disappointment when he takes the cup and walks away.

“Cappuccino with caramel drizzle.” She sets mine down on the counter. I grab it, making sure the lid is tight before I head for the elevator. I step into the full car right before the doors slide closed. When I reach for the button for the forty-fourth floor, it’s already lit.

It stops a few times on the way up, and by the time we reach the thirty-second floor, there is only one other person in the car with me.

The silver fox. He’s still reading his paper. I hold my breath and close my eyes.

“Please don’t be on the same floor,” I mutter.

“What number?”

Oh, shit. He heard me. I clear my throat and turn with a smile. “Forty-four.”

He looks up from the paper and I’m pinned in place by his ice blue eyes. “Hmm. You must be the new hire.” He folds the paper beneath his arm and takes a sip of his coffee.

“Yes, sir.” I’m so screwed.

“What’s your name?”

“Lily Astor.”

His brow knits momentarily, accentuating the firm set of his jaw, but his expression quickly relaxes. “Ah, yes. Miss Astor.” He holds out his hand. “Mr. Roberts.”

I shake his hand. His firm grip conveys strength and confidence, and it takes all my effort to mirror it.

The elevator comes to a stop on the forty-fourth floor, and I sway at the sudden halt in motion. His hand grips my elbow, steadying me. Before I can speak, the doors slide open.

“If you will come with me, Miss Astor.” He gestures for me to exit first.

I do, but the moment I’m out of the cloistered space, I step to the side and allow him to lead me down the hallway. We make our way through the maze of cubicles and hallways lined with offices. I keep my attention focused on his broad shoulders and curse myself for not looking up the staff I would be working with before I arrived.

“Good morning, Mrs. Foster.” Mr. Roberts nods to the woman sitting behind a desk outside a row of large offices facing the southern tip of Manhattan.

“Good morning, Mr. Roberts.”

He pushes open the door and steps into the office beyond the secretary’s desk. “Come in, Miss Astor.”

I nearly stumble over my heels but manage to compose myself quickly. Mrs. Foster casts me an encouraging smile before I follow him into his office. I glance at the door in passing and gasp when I see his name and the title beneath it. Vice President. Mr. Roberts closes the door behind me.

Oh. Sweet. Hell. I’ve been lusting after the vice president of the company. I take a fortifying sip of my cappuccino and hiss when it burns my lip.

“Please, sit down.” He gestures to the leather chair beside his desk.

Maintaining some semblance of decorum, I gently sit on the edge of the chair, careful not to mush the crinoline skirts, and cross my ankles.

He rounds the desk and unbuttons his jacket before sitting. “Well now, Miss Astor. I have a few questions before I let you get settled in.”

“Yes, sir. Of course.” I clear my throat and pray my voice sounds stronger than my confidence.

He pulls a file from the corner of his desk and opens it. “It says here you have a degree in fashion design from NYU.” He sets the file aside and meets my gaze with an intensity that leaves me simmering.

“Yes, sir.”

“Tell me, Miss Astor.” He steeples his fingers together and leans back in his chair. “Why Valentina’s?”

“Valentina’s is the oldest, most successful department store chain in the country. I want to learn all I can from the leader in the industry and be instrumental in reviving vintage fashion.”

“Interesting.” The corner of his mouth lifts, betraying his amusement. “Why work for us? With your family connections, I’m sure you could cast your influence with a much larger shadow.”

“I’m sorry?” I feign ignorance, but inside I’m cursing myself for not changing my name. Of course, they would run a background check before they hired me. My father once again asserts his influence without effort.

“Surely you don’t need to work when your father is one of the wealthiest men in the country.”

“In all transparency, sir, I may be the daughter of Monroe Astor, but our connection is in name alone.” I straighten my shoulders and keep my jaw from trembling.

“The tabloids once painted you as a daddy’s girl searching for her prince charming.”

“The tabloids print lies and fabrications to suit their own ends.” I pin him with a confident stare. “I am not a daddy’s girl any more than I am a media darling. I applied to Valentina’s in an effort to step out from under my father’s shadow and cultivate a name for myself. Now, do you have any other questions, or may I be permitted to do the job you have hired me to do?”

“Of course, Miss Astor. Please, forgive me. I did not mean to pry into a sensitive subject.” Mr. Roberts rises from his seat. “I look forward to having you on the team.”

“Thank you, sir. I’m excited to be here.”

He reaches the door before I can and opens it. “Mrs. Foster, will you please show Miss Astor to her desk?”

“Of course, sir.”

Mr. Roberts turns to me. “If you need anything, Miss Astor,” he smiles, and my heart shatters at the charm he carries with such ease, “please do not hesitate to reach out. My door is always open.”

“Thank you.”

Mrs. Foster leads me down the hallway, but the tension between me and Mr. Roberts remains like a nagging itch in the back of my mind. This will either be the best experience of my life or a waking nightmare.

One thing is for sure. I can’t indulge in vivid fantasies about my boss. Mr. Roberts might be the modern equivalent of Cary Grant with Paul Newman’s eyes, but I can’t let that distract me. His assertion about my father was accurate. I could have just batted my eyelashes and my father would have hung the moon for me. But that’s not what I want.

I’ll do it myself. I’ll show every last one of them how tough I really am. I’m more than a rich man’s daughter with a pretty face and expensive taste.

One day I’ll have my own vintage line with staying power like Gucci and Versace. But it won’t be my father’s name they see—it’ll be mine.

Lily Starling.


Thanks for checking out a sneak peek at my new release! I’m excited to share Lily and Jackson’s story with the world. xoxo

Releases September 27th…Check it out on release day for a special sale!

Much love,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Birthday Giveaway!

This week I’m hosting a Birthday Giveaway for both my US and International readers to show my thanks and celebrate this monumental milestone. Thank you, darling readers, for all your love and support.

For my US Readers, I’m offering a chance to win a pair of gorgeous tea cups and SEVEN signed paperbacks.

For my International Readers, I’m offering a chance to win YOUR CHOICE of 4 eBooks from my backlist.

I’ve listed them separately, so everyone gets a fair chance. Please be sure you enter the correct giveaway and good luck!

I will announce the winners on September 1st on all my social media platforms.

Also, I’m hosting a sale for Mississippi Moonshine this week. Only 99 cents!

I hope you enjoy it! Sending you all my love.

Kirsten

Teaser: Reign of Wicked Temptation

The day has arrived. All three books in the Prince of Whispers Trilogy are now available in print and ebook!

In celebration of yesterday’s release of Reign of Wicked Temptation, allow me to share the first chapter here for your enjoyment. It’s on sale for 99 cents until August 11th. Grab your copy now. But remember, this cannot be read as a stand alone!

I’ve listed some content forewarnings beneath the blurb. This prince isn’t for everyone. Please proceed with caution. No readers under 18 years old. (This book contains explicit language, adult situations, and violence.)

When he whispers, you will come.

Darkness hangs over the King of Meradin. Crispin suffers, unaware of the fate of his queen and his most loyal companion. His rage simmers beneath the surface threatening to consume the kingdom and what little remains of his soul.

Nothing is what it seems and he can trust no one. With Ruby and Henry missing, Crispin refuses to address anything besides recovering what belongs to him. He vows the kingdom will not rest until the queen and his trusted steward are returned unharmed.

Crispin’s past actions have led him to this point, and he must face the consequences before peace can be restored to the land. True change comes from within. In order to save Ruby, he will need to make the ultimate sacrifice.

***Author’s Note: If you’re not a fan of anti-heroes with dominating and questionable morals, explicit intimate scenes, or graphic language and violence, then this may not be the book for you. For a complete list of content forewarnings, please visit kirstensblacketer (dot) com and click on the Jen Bradlee tab in the menu.***


Chapter One

A scream pierced the darkness. Henry gasped and coughed, a familiar metallic taste burning his tongue. He groaned and pressed his hands against the cold stone floor. His body ached worse than it ever had after sparring or a long day in the saddle. Worse than when he and Crispin took down a band of thieves on the border, and he earned himself a scar on his side as payment for his good deed. The pain hung heavy around his shoulders, pinning him to the floor. The abrasive stone cooled his cheek. Even as he struggled to right himself, his limbs refused to cooperate.

Henry took several deep breaths and rested, willing his body to function. Where was he? Flashes of the altercation in the forest flickered in the back of his mind. Riding along the moonlit road. The wagon blocking their path. The raiders.

“Ruby!” Henry shouted with the effort it took to push himself up. Where was she? Had they taken her? Killed her? Where was he? The questions trudged through his mind, slowed by the haze of pain radiating through him. His head pounded like a hammer against an anvil, and his limbs ached with heaviness, protesting with every movement. Whoever took them captive must have beat him while he was unconscious. Never before had he experienced such agony ripping him apart from the inside.

The room contained a bed along the wall and a pot in the corner. Try as he might, he could not focus on the items in the room. He blinked attempting to clear his vision. Henry touched his face, covering his swollen right eye. The blur cleared into solid forms. He made a conscious effort to keep his injured eye closed and surveyed the room once more.

A prison cell. The sliver of light came through a thin slat in the solid wooden door held in place with iron hinges. Gripping the edge of the bed, Henry pulled himself up but stumbled at the tightening pressure around his ankle. He jerked his feet, dragging a chain across the stone. Manacles bound his feet, fastened to the wall by a chain.

Fighting against the restrictive bonds, Henry managed to pull himself up and sit on the bed. Another scream pierced the silence. His heart pounded harder, sweat formed on his neck, sliding over his skin and sending a shiver down to his bones.

Henry leaned against the wall in an effort to regain his balance. Nausea overwhelmed him. Had he anything in his stomach, it would have spilled with little resistance. He braced himself as the waves slowly subsided. He pressed his eyes closed, fighting off the instability of his vision. It reminded him of the sea voyage to France where he spent most of the trip bent over the rails unable to stand or eat. This was no voyage. This was far worse than he could have ever imagined.

He licked his cracked lips, tasting the blood caked upon them. He moaned at the sting and longed for the sweet, refreshing kiss of a mountain spring or a dram of mead, anything to quench his thirst and clear his mind.

Another scream echoed from beyond the door and gripped his soul. Ruby.

Ignoring the protests of his body and the limits of his chains, Henry shot off the bed and lunged for the door. The manacles snapped tight, bringing him to an abrupt halt and slamming him down onto the ground. Jarred, Henry struggled to his feet, bracing his hand against the cold stone wall.

Murmured voices filtered through the narrow slat in the door. He could make out nothing but the low cadence of two distinct voices.

“Release me, you sniveling bastards!” Henry shouted. His voice broke mid-curse, hoarse from disuse and thirst.

“You live. What a pity. I had a wager you would die during the night.” A deep chuckle filtered through the slat.

Henry glared with his good eye trying to glimpse his captor, but he saw nothing but a shadow against the wood. “Where is she?”

“The queen is no longer your concern.” The man’s tone implied his malicious intent toward both of his captives.

“If you harm her, I will eviscerate you and leave your rotting carcass for the crows,” Henry growled. His hands balled into tight fists.

“You waste what little breath remains in you.” Even though he could not see the man’s expression, pleasure reflected in his words. “If you persist, I shall be forced to punish the queen for her guard’s inability to follow direction.”

Even though he never relayed Ruby’s state, Henry took this information as a sign she was not dead as he feared. He inhaled deeply, allowing this small shred of hope to fill him with a steadying peace.

“Whatever game you play at, you will not win. The king will come for her.” Henry chuckled at the horrifying image his words brought to mind. Crispin would certainly come, and he would show no mercy. “He will slaughter you with pleasure, as well as anyone who follows your direction.”

“He is inept and consumed by childish, petty distractions.” His captor sounded bored. “The queen and the kingdom are no longer his. History will regard him as nothing more than a stain on the royal bloodlines of Europe.”

“The people of Meradin are loyal to King Crispin and Queen Eleanor.” Strength infused Henry. “This act of treason will not stand.”

Coarse laughter met his statement. “Once the people see the man beneath the crown for what he truly is, a selfish, deceitful imposter hellbent on his own personal gratification at the expense of those around him, they will turn their hearts.” The amusement faded. “Even after he used you for his own perverse pleasure, you stand steadfast in his service. Such loyalty is misplaced.”

A chill coursed through Henry. “My loyalty is mine to do with as I see fit.”

“And your body, does that also belong to you, or does your king control it as well?” The faceless villain tormented him.

Henry shook his head, reigniting the stabbing pain. “I know not what you imply with such venomous assumptions, but I am my own master.”

“You went willingly to his chamber. Indulged in wicked acts with them both freely of your own will?” Hearing it aloud brought shame and uncertainty.

“You rely far too heavily on the whispers of servants and idle gossip.” He swallowed the fear rising in the back of his throat. His chest tightened as the walls around him crept closer.

“The truth matters not. Rumors and gossip foster revolution. The people will demand a king who will not desecrate their kingdom for his own wicked desires.” The captor tisked. “’Tis better if you concede defeat. No one is coming. Death will bring the relief you crave. Freedom is merely an illusion.”

Before Henry could respond, the sound of receding footsteps echoed beyond the door.

“You son of a bitch! You will burn in hell for this, mark my words!” His throat burned from the effort he expended. He screamed and the anguish escaped, sliding off the stone and filling his soul with grief. How could he have allowed this to happen?

He should never have taken Ruby out of the castle. He endangered them all with his careless actions, and they now suffered the consequences of his poor decision. Ruby was alive, for the moment. That alone gave him comfort, and yet he knew that comfort would be short-lived. Whoever captured them had much larger plans than he first assumed.

Their captor intended to use the queen to force the king’s hand. They would take the throne by force. Blood would fill the streets if he successfully turned the people against the monarchy. Those who were loyal to Crispin would suffer.

He could not focus on something out of his control. First and foremost, he needed a way to escape and steal Ruby away from this madman.

Henry rested his head against the wall. Who could possibly want to tear the kingdom apart? There were many who disliked Crispin and wished to remove him from the throne. But none he knew of were brazen enough to invoke his wrath by taking the queen. Ignoring the pain and his thirst, Henry took what tools were given to him and replayed the events leading to their capture. If all he had was time, he would use it to the best advantage. There was always hope, even if it felt helpless. If only he could force himself to believe it long enough to survive.

Inspiration: Assassin’s Creed, Teresa Medeiros, and the Sarcastic Muse

My foray into medieval romance didn’t begin as Jen Bradlee with The Prince of Whispers. It began with the Shadow Guardians a long time ago. These two books drew vastly different inspiration than Jen Bradlee’s trilogy.

The book took on life years ago in the kernel of an idea I had for a story when I was fifteen. I made some notes and tucked them into a folder where they sat for years. It wasn’t until I joined a writer’s group in Clarksville, Tennessee, in my mid-20s that I really considered writing anything of length and substance. Until that point, my writing remained confined to poetry and journaling. But I always wanted to write a novel. This group encouraged me to do so.

But they weren’t the only ones. While living on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee, I had the opportunity to meet and hang out with bestselling historical romance author, Teresa Medeiros. She loved the idea of my Shadow Guardians and encouraged me to write it. I’m a huge fan of her work and always wanted to become a romance author. Her kind words and support sparked a renewed desire to write a novel.

Between Teresa Medeiros’ encouragement and my monthly writer’s group, I had finally uncovered my calling. This writer’s group consisted of a variety of authors from several genres, but I was the only romance author in the group. Even so, they helped me polish my voice and strengthen my prose. When I left the group (thanks to a military PCS), I kept in touch with a handful of the authors from the group and we started our own writer’s blog/group called The Sarcastic Muse.

The Sarcastic Muse no longer exists, but their influence lingers. They gave me the support and encouragement I needed to write a full length novel. One of the members sat with me on Skype every day as I wrote the first draft during National Novel Writing Month in November of 2012. Often we would sit in silence and work, occasionally bouncing ideas off of one another and brainstorming in those moments between writing sprints. I wrote 50,000 words in one month. The most I had ever written up to that point. And I couldn’t have done it without my fellow writers cheering me on.

But where did the idea for An Irresistible Shadow come from?

Well, the very first idea I had for the book was for a spirited princess who disliked all her father’s knights to fall in love with one of the mysterious warriors who appears at court. As you can see, the idea evolved into a story about Baron’s daughter who preferred her independence over the traditional expectations placed upon her by society. Of course, she falls in love with a mysterious, hooded stranger who claims loyalty to none and has deigned himself to be her personal protector. A Shadow Guardian.

Where the hell did I get that idea?

Blame Assassin’s Creed. One day I saw a picture of Ezio, and the faded outline of my Shadow Guardian took hold of my muse.

I borrowed some of Ezio’s design and created my secret protector. Most notably, the deep hood covering his identity. Gabriel became my first Shadow Guardian in An Irresistible Shadow. He’s a knight of sorts, with a heavy investment on the unstable activity along the English and Scottish border in the 14th century. His passion is only exceeded by his skills.

Evelyn, my brash, independent heroine, was heavily inspired by Merida from the Pixar movie Brave. She’s the perfect complement to Gabriel, and together they make a formidable team.

I loved writing their story. Now, I look back on their book with fond memories. My first novel. My first big publication. My first everything.

This book brought me so much joy and tons of experience. It paved the way for me to enter the publishing world and taught me a wealth of knowledge for editing and marketing. I waded through the tangled process of becoming a published author and came out with a shiny novel. An Irresistible Shadow will always have a special place in my heart, even with its newbie flaws.

And of course, it spawned a second novel thanks to two very persistent secondary characters.

I wouldn’t be the author I am today without this novel and those who encouraged me to write it.

Thank you, my friends, for having faith in me and showing unwavering support and love. I appreciate it more than you can possibly imagine.

You never know when inspiration will strike or where it will come from. Write all of your ideas down and tuck them away. There just might be a novel hidden in those random thoughts. I hope this inspires you to write it.

All my love,

Kirsten

Teaser: Seduction Most Wicked

When he whispers, you will come.

Here is a sneak peek at the second book of The Prince of Whispers Trilogy, Seduction Most Wicked. I’ve listed some content forewarnings beneath the blurb. This prince isn’t for everyone. Please proceed with caution. No readers under 18 years old. (This book contains explicit language, adult situations, and violence.) Releases on July 12th. Enjoy…but be warned, this book ends on a cliffhanger. Book 3 releases August 9th.

With Ruby by his side, Crispin Saville takes his place on the throne as King of Meradin. The first months of his reign are fraught with rumors of treason and deceit. Crispin and Henry, his trusted ally, search the kingdom to root out those who threaten the stability of the monarchy.An unexpected guest shakes the foundation of Crispin’s kingdom, setting off a series of events which could destroy not only the kingdom but his hard-won bond with Ruby.Deception runs rampant within the walls of the castle. Secrets and lies infiltrate those closest to the king. Ruby uses her influence to calm the raging tempest inside him, but his wicked heart may be stained beyond redemption. It will take more than love to save his soul and the future of Meradin.

Contains: Still Morally Gray Hero, Possessive Hero, Questionably Poor Decisions made by Secondary Characters, Dubious Consent, Explicit Sex Scenes, Mature/Graphic Language


Chapter One

Was Crispin dead?

The concern for her husband’s life weighed as heavily upon her as the bounty once had. Ruby wrested herself from those distracting thoughts, determined to focus on the task before her. The harvest festival would take place within a fortnight and much of the planning remained. There was no time to worry about something over which she had no control. She wandered among the tables in the great hall, her gaze skimming over the selections brought for her approval by the villagers to decorate the town.

Two moons passed since her marriage and the coronation, and still, she could not find comfort in her new position. While she knew her life as queen would not be as exciting as her life as an outlaw, it granted her small windows of opportunity to place her mark upon her kingdom without being branded a traitor. She longed for the freedom of the forest, but the path that lay before her bound her both to Crispin and the people of Meradin. This truth proved unshakable.

“Have you made a decision, your majesty?” The servant girl, Ivy, stepped forward. Her hands folded demurely in her lap, eyes downcast.

“I have not.” Ruby waved her hand across the selections. “I am indecisive. They are all beautiful in their own way. Perhaps you could offer some perspective, Ivy.”

Ivy’s gaze snapped up to meet hers. “You wish for my opinion?”

Ruby regarded her with a smile. “Aye, I trusted your judgment when it came to my trousseau, why would I not grant you the same leave when it comes to decorating for the harvest festival?”

“I am your humble servant, my queen. Truly.” Ivy hesitated when the door opened behind her and Vivienne entered the room. “I do not wish to overstep the bounds of propriety.”

“How in heaven would you selecting some garland be overstepping?” Ruby inclined her head to Vivienne who came to a stop beside her.

“I agree.” Vivienne brushed her fingers over the woven garland. “Which would you choose, Ivy?”

“This greenery would stand out the best against the individual stands with the red and gold accents. These garlands would be best around the inner and outer bailey.” Ivy itemized each piece placing it perfectly in the mind’s eye. When she finished, she bowed her head.

Ruby motioned to the other servants. “Take these with instructions for the villagers to have more made for the celebration.” The weight on her shoulders lightened with the decision. She turned to Ivy. “My thanks for your help. I am confident in your selection.”

“As you wish, your majesty.” Ivy bowed and followed the other servants out of the room bearing an armful of garlands and fabrics.

Once the solid doors closed leaving her alone with Vivienne, Ruby collapsed on a nearby bench. Longing and exhaustion clawed at her chest. She gazed at the vaulted ceiling wishing it were canopied expanses of blue sky.

“Come, my dear.” Vivienne ventured toward the staircase leading into the heart of the castle.

Ruby pulled herself to her feet wondering where Crispin’s mother intended to take her. They wove through the corridors and passed Crispin’s chambers. Her heart ached. She missed him desperately.

The day after the wedding, Henry’s family disappeared from the capital of Culver without taking their leave. They gave no indication as to the reason for their sudden departure. Even though Ruby felt nothing but relief at their absence, Crispin and Henry immediately banded together in his private chambers only to emerge and leave the castle the next morn, abandoning the tournament which was to be held in honor of their marriage. He kissed her thoroughly before leaving without a word of explanation.

After two moons passed, the only assurances of his safety she received were from the messenger relaying information to the privy council. Part of her resented him for departing with such haste and shrouding his intentions in secrecy.

Vivienne stepped through the archway leading to Crispin’s personal garden. The flowers faded on the vine, retreating from the burgeoning chill of the approaching winter. Ruby brushed her fingers over the bruised petals.

“Come, let us tarry a while.” Vivienne sat on the stone bench against the wall and gestured for Ruby to join her. “Speak to me, child. I cannot offer comfort if you do not unburden your heart.”

“My apologies.” Ruby settled onto the bench and leaned against the wall.

“I do not want your apologies, I desire to know what thoughts plague you.” Her soft voice held no censure, only concern.

“I cannot help but wonder if I have made a mistake.” She toyed with the gilded hem of her gown. “I made a much better outlaw than I do a queen.”

“You judge yourself quite harshly.” Vivienne took her hand.

“’Tis the truth. I may be of royal blood, but deep in my breast beats the heart of an outcast.” Ruby attempted to collect the chaos of her thoughts into coherent reasoning. “I cannot even make the simplest of decisions in preparation for the festival, how am I going to influence the kingdom?”

“You are adrift in an unfamiliar sea. I understand.” She nodded with sage understanding. “Even though I was raised in the court from birth, I had not been the first choice. With three elder sisters, my parents placed low expectations on my marriage ever forging a strong political alliance.”

Ruby studied her profile as she spoke. Everyone knew Queen Vivienne was the Bavarian cousin of Catherine of Valois. But these intimate details of her past were not something often discussed among courtiers. Vivienne knew better than to foster any gossip of the royal courts.

“The first time I saw Edgar, I wanted to strangle him. He paid me no mind, focusing all his attention on my elder sister, Sophia. They were engaged within a fortnight.” Vivienne chuckled at the memory. “Before they were to leave my parents’ estate and return to Meradin for the wedding, Sophia eloped with the stable master’s son. My father offered me as a replacement for Edgar’s stolen bride.”

“Against your will?” Ruby bit back the fury of indignation on her mother-in-law’s behalf.

“Not completely against my will.” Vivienne winked with a grin on her lips. “I seized it for the opportunity it was. A chance to become queen and exert some influence, even if it came through my husband. Although, I found myself floundering the first few years. Nothing prepared me for the reality of wearing the crown.”

Her story tugged at Ruby’s heart. “So there is hope for me?”

Vivienne drew her close and pressed a kiss to her head. “Aye, my child. There is hope for you still. Do not be disheartened. I shall instruct you, should you need it, but trust your intuition. It will not lead you astray.”

“How can you be so certain?” Doubt fluttered in the pit of her stomach even though the words bolstered her confidence.

“When you were in the forest living as an outlaw, which did you rely on more, your training or your intuition?”

Ruby pondered the question for a long moment, but the answer formed in her mind immediately.

“You saw my son in trouble and acted on intuition alone, relying on your training to come naturally.”

“Aye.” The reasoning behind her assessment soothed the chaos in her mind.

“Even with all the training in the world, it means nothing if you do not trust your intuition. It will guide you to the right path, as it always has before.” Vivienne’s gracious smile warmed her.

“My thanks for your words of wisdom.” The restless unease in Ruby’s soul settled leaving just a smidgen of lingering doubt deep in the pit of her stomach.

“I have faith in you, my dear. One day, you will be the regaled as the most beloved queen in all Meradin’s history.”

Ruby snorted at the statement but covered her mouth quickly. “My apologies. I did not mean to laugh.”

“You will see. One day.” Vivienne stood and brushed her hands over her fine crimson velvet skirt. “I have some things to attend. Perhaps you should take some time to rest in your chambers, you look pale. Have you been eating?”

“Aye. I have not slept well since Crispin departed.” Inside, relief washed over her. She was exhausted but did not wish to retreat from her duties. “A rest will do me wonders.”

“I understand. I shall send Ivy with some warm broth.” She paused in the doorway and glanced back at Ruby. “And do not fret, my dear, Crispin will return soon. Lord knows you will need your strength for when he returns.”

Ruby’s face warmed at the implication of her words. After their wedding night, the entire castle witnessed the ferocity of Crispin’s desire for his bride. The thought of his return left her body warm and planted a desperate ache deep inside her.

Once she reached her chambers, she freed the pins from her hair and loosened the plait before lying on the coverlet. Images of her husband floated through the haze of her memories. His wicked mouth on her skin. His teasing fingers parting her folds. His body fitting perfectly to hers. Ruby’s breathing came in shallow bursts as the restless ache consumed her.

A knock at the door pulled her from her sensual thoughts.

“My queen.” Ivy entered the room bearing a tray. “My apologies, I did not realize you were abed.”

“’Tis no matter.” Disappointment replaced the aching need. She rose from the bed and settled in the comfortable chair beside the hearth.

Ivy placed the tray on the table beside her. “Will you require anything more, your majesty?”

“Nay, I shall be quite content.” She lifted the bowl to her lips and sipped the broth. Her stomach twisted and lurched against the scent, making her flinch.

“My queen.” Ivy knelt beside her upon observing her distress. “Are you well?”

“’Tis nothing more than a passing pain.” She pressed her hand against her midsection and groaned. “The taste does not bother me, but the aroma leaves me ill. Perhaps I should have some peppermint tea.”

The maid studied her for a long moment, her sharp gaze narrowing. “I shall fetch it now.”

Ruby nodded, bracing her head in her hands. The door closed behind Ivy leaving her alone with her thoughts once more. She attempted a few more sips of the broth, but the scent became more unbearable. With a groan, she pushed it away and returned to the bed.

Lying down seemed to soothe the persistent discomfort, but removing the scent eased the churning in her abdomen even more so. Ruby rubbed her hand over her stomach. A tendril of fear crept into the back of her mind.

When Ivy returned, she urged Ruby to sit up in bed and made her comfortable by propping cushions around her before providing the steaming mug of tea. The pungent mint immediately soothed her. It brought memories of her childhood with Marian and Guy to the surface. A tendril of homesickness wove around her heart constricting it. How she missed them. Perhaps she should send for Marian to come visit. She possessed ways to ease her concerns when all others failed.

“My queen, I hope this is not forward of me, but I am concerned for your health.” Ivy met her gaze directly. “Shall I send for a healer? Or perhaps the Queen Mother?”

Ruby sipped the tea. “I appreciate your concern, Ivy. But I do not wish to cause anyone undue worry on my account. I am perfectly well.”

Ivy fidgeted with the hem of her kirtle but her gaze remained steady. “Ma’am, ’tis possible you are with child.”

Hearing the words aloud voiced the fear she refused to acknowledge. Ruby pinched her eyes closed and conceded. “Aye. ’Tis a strong possibility.”

“Such news should be cause for celebration, should it not?” Ivy asked, her green eyes bright. “The king will be overjoyed at the news of an heir. The whole kingdom will celebrate!”

Ruby grasped Ivy’s hand and held it tight. Fear pulsed through her, threatening to tear her in two. “Promise me you will tell no one. Not a soul. Not until…well, until I am certain.”

Ivy took her hands between her own, her expression softening. “I promise, my queen.” A frown pulled at her mouth. “But you must at least inform the Queen Mother. She will understand your plight.”

“I will think on it.” Ruby swallowed hard not allowing herself to consider the implications of the conversation with Vivienne. “I do not wish to give her false hope.”

“A child is a blessing.” Ivy smiled, and her face transformed, revealing a hidden beauty.

“Aye.” Ruby took another sip of her tea. How had such a lovely maid escaped the notice of every man in the castle? The passing thought made her pause, but she pushed it away.

A child would be a blessing if only she could be certain of who the father was. Even though she had been faithful to Crispin, one night created chaos and conflict in her mind. Her body warmed at the memory of being blindfolded. The touch of two men. The pleasure they wrought with little effort. And the shame that stalked her every day since.

She hung her head. Could it be possible this child belongs not to the king but to his closest friend and confidant? The thought alone left her filled with a writhing agony. What if the truth somehow emerged? Was it not treason to betray the king? To tarnish the monarchy with this blatant infidelity. Would Crispin consider such a revelation treason?

“All will be well.” Ivy took the cup from her hands and set it on the bedside table. “You will see. The king will return soon and all will be well.”

“I do hope so.” Ruby settled back against the cushions and closed her eyes.

“If you require anything, I shall be in the kitchens.” Ivy retrieved the tray with the bowl of uneaten broth.

“Grammercy, Ivy. You have been a gift from heaven during the king’s absence.”

“I live to serve you, my queen.” Ivy bowed and left the room.

 “What am I to do?” Ruby whispered against the coverlet, clutching the fabric tight. The sound dissolved in the empty room. “I cannot tell Crispin. I cannot tell Vivienne. Where else can I turn?”

Panic consumed her in waves. Slowly it pulled her down into the darkness of her deepest fears. If this child were not truly the heir of Meradin, what horrors would Crispin unleash upon her? Even though the events of that night were of his ministrations, his command, would he still blame her for fostering a bastard in her womb? She buried her face against the cushions.

Unable to quell the rising panic, Ruby rose from the bed and darted into the hallway. With determined steps, she wandered the corridors until she located Mina, her young maid, outside the king’s presence chamber.

“Fetch the swordsmith’s apprentice, Matthew. Have him meet me in my chambers. Quickly.” Ruby kept her voice low.

With a nod, Mina darted down the hallway and around the corner.

Ruby returned to her chamber and paced the floor near the window overlooking the inner bailey. The autumn wind rattled the thick pane of glass. Her hand settled on the curve of her stomach. Truth be told, whoever the father of this child, she would treasure it regardless. She would defend and protect it until her dying day.

A knock at the door shook her from her thoughts, and she bid them enter.

“You summoned me, your majesty?” Matthew bowed low. His young face smeared with dust and dirt. His rough hands twisted his cap.

“Aye, Matthew. I require you to travel to my mother’s cottage and bring her to the castle post haste.” A calm settled in the depths of her soul as she issued the directive.

“At once, ma’am.” Matthew bowed once more and retreated from the room.

Ruby detested using the young man as her own personal messenger, but she trusted no one more than she did the young blacksmith. She came to the aid of his family on multiple occasions and gave him a position within the castle to ensure his family a comfortable life. In response, they swore fealty to her. A fact she chose not to exploit. However, in her desperation, she required someone who could be trusted completely and knew where to find Marian.

Until she spoke to her mother, she would remain in her chamber. Vivienne would certainly be understanding and supportive if she chose to trust her with this revelation, but she required the comfort and advice of a woman who knew the depths of her soul like no one else.

Marian would know what path to take. How to best reveal the news to Crispin and the kingdom. But this conversation would entail revealing the sinful details of the night of passion spent with both Henry and her husband. Could she face the shame of revealing such information to her mother?

She bit her lip. Perhaps she had been hasty in summoning Marian, but it was too late. She would need to reveal the truth sooner or later. If anyone could understand without passing judgment, it would be her mother.

After retrieving her now cold tea, she settled before the hearth and stared into the flames. The moments drifted away until the sun set beyond the window and darkness filled her chamber. When Ivy arrived with some bread and dried fruit, she nibbled on the fare and found it fortified her without making her ill.

Before she drifted off to sleep, Matthew arrived breathless at her door. “I did as you commanded, my queen. But the cottage was empty.”

Disappointment gripped her heart but it also gave way to relief. “My thanks, Matthew. Please find something to eat in the kitchens before returning to the smithy.”

“Many thanks, ma’am.” His youthful grin infected her with hope.

Once Matthew took his leave, Ruby prepared for bed. On the morrow, she would visit her mother. Crispin was not present to dictate the boundaries of her royal prison and determine whether she could leave the castle grounds. She would take two guards and make the journey without incident.

For the first time in weeks, a sense of peace settled over her. Perhaps she merely needed to escape the confines of these stone walls. Ruby could not run forever, but she could embrace the opportunity to forget for a while.

Comforted by her plan, Ruby nestled beneath the blankets. Soon Crispin would return, turning her whole world upside down once more. While she longed for his return and the comfort of his touch, his presence hung like a shadow over the castle.

In truth, they were still so little acquainted and newlywed. There was still much to learn from and about one another. But one thing she knew for certain. She would never be able to keep a secret from the King of Meradin. Especially not one with such monumental consequences.


Thanks for reading!

Love,

Jen Bradlee

Inspiration: Shemar Moore, the Duke of Hastings, and Video Games

This book was never supposed to exist, but this is true for most of my stories, so bear with me as I explain how Confessions of a Gamer Girl came into existence.

When I set out to write Confessions of a Fangirl, it was supposed to be a one and done kinda book. I had an idea for a story, and I wrote it. The end.

But when I wrote Maggie’s character in Fangirl, I knew she deserved to have her own story. The moment Lily’s roommate, Gavin, waltzed onto the page during game night, I knew I would write Maggie’s book next. Both Maggie and Gavin had strong personalities that lit up the scenes they were in. I couldn’t ignore the tension simmering between them.

Fortunately, when I plotted their book, their story flowed naturally. With both of them being avid gamers, their competitive natures brought a great source of contention between them. They were both successful and independent, but they grew to love and crave the benefits a partnership could bring.

Petite Maggie packs a punch. When I saw her in my mind while writing Fangirl, I had a clear vision of her style and personality even though I didn’t have a specific person I modeled her after. Gavin was a completely different creative process.

When Lily introduces her roommate during game night, the first person who came to mind was Shemar Moore. The handsome charmer became the inspiration for not only Gavin’s looks but his personality as well. I loved his portrayal of Derek Morgan in Criminal Minds, so I allowed it to inspire me. I mean, who wouldn’t want him to whisper baby girl in their ear? But he wasn’t the only one who inspired Gavin.

The Duke of Hastings certainly made an impression on me when I watched Bridgerton Season One. Rege Jean Page’s swoonworthy performance in season one held me captive. How could I not be inspired by such a dapper duke? I mean…look at him. *swoon* The combination of these two men served as the perfect amalgamation for Gavin in Confessions of a Gamer Girl.

Now, I’m not going to lie. I was insanely intimidated writing a POC hero. I’ve never written any characters who weren’t white, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Fortunately, my best friend and biggest supporter is also a person of color with a rich, vibrant cultural background. She helped me through the process and encouraged me every step of the way. For that, I am eternally grateful. Thanks, Niki.

Since I was a kid, video games have always fascinated me. Because I’m an 80s baby, I feel like video games and I share a lifetime. They evolved as I grew up. Even now, seeing how far we’ve come in gaming is amazing. Now, I’m not a gamer, but I have many friends who are avid gamers and I love watching others play. While Maggie’s obsession with gaming isn’t something I can relate to, I know many people who can.

I watched my brother take on the neighbor kids in Super Mario and battle on our first computer in Duke Nukem and Doom. My roommate in college spent many nights playing Counterstrike, where I’d fall asleep to the sound of gunfire and smack talk. Even my best friend in college was an avid gamer who had an obsession with Legend of Zelda and a tattoo of Link to prove it. And today, I love taking my kids to the local arcade for pinball and watching them play Battlefront and Assassin’s Creed on the PlayStation.

Video games have become an integrated part of our popular culture, and it felt natural to write a story centered on two peoples’ love of gaming. Especially after writing a book heavily focused on the struggles of being a fangirl. But in the same vein of Fangirl, I wanted Gamer Girl to showcase the struggle with finding balance and discovering what’s truly important in life.

Writing this book taught me to reach beyond my own comfortable bubble. I’m proud of Maggie and Gavin’s story. Their characters are dear to my heart. I’m excited to see if they pop up again in future books. One of my favorite things to do is tie in the characters from other book series I’ve written, like I did with Ben, Evan, and Andrew in Gamer Girl. (If you’d like to read their stories, you’ll find Ben’s in A Lockdown Love Affair, Evan’s in A Holiday Love Affair, and Andrew’s in Mistletoe and Mistakes.) You’ll definitely see Gavin, Maggie, Jen, and Shaun again in Lily’s story, Confessions of a Glamour Girl coming in September.

Thanks for all the support and love. Happy reading, my friends.

All my love,

Kirsten

Sneak Peek: Confessions of a Gamer Girl

I’m so excited to share Maggie and Gavin’s story with you! With release day just around the corner, I wanted to give you a sneak peek. Let me know what you think in the comments. Enjoy! xoxo

Releases on June 28th!

CHAPTER ONE

One year ago…

“You’re gonna die! Don’t do it!” The shout echoes through the immaculate brownstone, followed by a chorus of disgruntled groans and several colorful metaphors my mother would disapprove of. Those words, those groans of agony, are etched upon my soul, and they lure me down the hallway.

They’re coming from a dark room where an eighty-inch television sits against the far wall, its glorious glow casting three men in flickering shadows. The two with controllers sit bickering like five-year-olds over the game flashing on the screen. The third lounges off to the side, his face hidden. Looks like the most recent Space Vendetta game. The one I haven’t had a chance to play yet but have been dying to buy because it allows both in-person and online player-versus-player battles.

“You found it! I didn’t hear you knock.” Lily appears at the end of the hall wearing her signature pinup-red lipstick and a vintage cream blouse paired with a black and white houndstooth print skirt. The Betty Boop apron tied around her waist makes me grin. This girl was born in the wrong decade.

“Hey, Lily. Sorry, I just let myself in.” My gaze drifts to the room where her three roommates sit in the semi-darkness glued to their video game. “No one answered when I knocked.”

“I told them to listen for the door.” Lily glares at the room before turning back to me. “I’m sorry. Jen and I had music playing in the kitchen. Come on. We’ll leave the boys to their game.”

“Aren’t we watching a movie tonight?” I follow her down the hall, though there’s part of me that wants to run back to the living room and watch them play. No. Fuck that. I want to take them on. I rarely get to challenge anyone in person. No one wants to play against me. Not face to face at least. Guys don’t like when girls kick their asses in a video game.

“Yeah, but I told them I was commandeering the living room at seven. They’ve had time to play their silly games.” She tosses her head back and her set curls bounce against her shoulder. I flinch at the way she says it. Her huge blue eyes fix on me and she bites her lip. “Sorry, I forgot.”

“It’s okay, Lily. I didn’t take it personally,” I lie. It stings to hear the condescending tone. Not that she meant to imply gaming was silly or a waste of time, but that’s typically the response I get when people uncover my secret passion. It shouldn’t have to be a secret, and I shouldn’t have to apologize for liking video games. I grit my teeth and force a smile.

Jen pops in from the other side of the kitchen. “Hey, I’m glad you came.” She smiles and hugs me. Her dark hair lays in a braid over her shoulder. The oversized sweater she’s wearing looks warm and comfortable. Paired with jeans, she resembles one of those cute heroines from a Hallmark movie right before she meets the town hunk. I shake my head. We are such a trio of oddballs.

“Yeah, well. I have to admit, these girls’ nights are becoming the highlight of my week.” I take a seat beside Jen at the island in the center of the kitchen.

“Mine too.” Lily pulls something steaming and delicious out of the oven. The scent makes my stomach growl like a rabid dog. I shouldn’t have skipped lunch. She sets the casserole on the stovetop to cool and bustles to the fridge. “Want a beer?”

“Got anything stronger?” I joke, but I’m half-serious.

“Of course.” She grins and pulls a bottle of vodka from the freezer. “Don’t tell Gavin.” She winks conspiratorially and pours me a double in a whiskey glass. “Want some, Jen?”

“I’ll stick with the beer, thanks.” Jen watches with wide eyes as I lift the glass to my lips and down it in one swallow.

The ice-cold vodka burns straight to my gut, ripping away the thoughts of the past week and my asinine bosses. I set the glass on the table and Lily gapes at me.

“Rough week?” Jen asks with a smile as she pops the top off her Yuengling.

“If your boss was anything like mine, you’d be drinking straight from the bottle as soon as you got home.” A stifled laugh breaks from my throat. “Those two think I’m a fucking miracle worker.”

“Mr. Roberts can be like that, right Jen?” Lily takes a sip of her beer. Her pale face pinkens at the mention of their boss, but before I can say anything, Jen cuts in.

“Yeah, though he’s reasonable most of the time, from what I’ve noticed. But I don’t know him all that well. He keeps to himself.” Jen takes a drink.

“Well, Mr. Sunshine and Major Grump think I have nothing better to do with my personal time than chase their fucking mistakes.” Lily and Jen chuckle at the nicknames I’ve bestowed upon my ungrateful bosses. “They’re lucky I know my way around that office blindfolded.”

“It has nothing to do with the fact you need that job and can’t afford to get a poor character reference because you cursed out your employer and burned down the building, right?” Lily smirks behind her frosted mug.

I shove away from the counter, rip open the freezer, and pour another double. She’s right. One hundred and fifty percent. I do need the job, and I can’t afford to have my reputation ruined for all eternity because I couldn’t hold my tongue.

“This is why I have friends.” I toast them, raising my glass high. “You catch the brunt of my rage so I can keep my pristine reputation and my job. Thank you for your sacrifice.” I pour the liquor down my throat and shiver at the intensity of it.

“Hear, hear.” Lily and Jen both drink to my pathetic admission.

“Is it movie time? I need to eat something and vegetate for a while.” I hedge around their concerned looks. They want to ask me what happened, I can tell, but I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to escape for a while. Normally I’d lose myself in a game from Friday night to Sunday afternoon, but since girls’ night became a weekly thing, it’s thrown off my me time. My fingers itch for the plastic comfort of the PlayStation controller.

“Yeah.” Lily sets her glass aside and prepares plates heaping with the gooey delicious casserole cooling on the stovetop. “Here.” She hands one to both Jen and me before taking up her own and retrieving her beer. “Let’s go kick the boys out. They can go find something else to do.”

“How the hell do you put up with having three guys for roommates, Lily?” Jen asks.

“I don’t know. They kinda grew on me I guess.” Lily beams as though it explains everything.

“Don’t they drive you crazy though?” I’m curious because I hate people and the thought of sharing my living space with another person, let alone three men, makes me want to rip the fabric of space and time apart with my bare hands. Although living in a vintage old brownstone like this might be worth the frustration.

“Sometimes. But they always help out when I ask and pay rent on time. Even though they can act like children, they’re really sweet.” Lily smirks. “Plus, they’re a great deterrent if there’s a guy who’s interested in me, but I’m not into him.”

“How do they feel about the ones you do like?” Jen’s question mirrors my thoughts exactly.

“I haven’t found one worth bringing home that I wanted to keep.” Lily half-heartedly defends herself.

“You have a kinky side, woman, I can see it.” I snatch a fork from the pile on the counter. “One of these days, you’ll share your dark secrets.”

Lily flounces from the room without a word, leading the way down the hall. She sets her glass down on the table beside the couch and flips on the light switch, flooding the living room with a brilliance that blinds her roommates.

Their loud groans melt into complaints as they shield their eyes behind their hands.

“Come on, Lils, ten more minutes.” The one winning complains with a pout, shoving aside the blond hair hanging in his eyes.

My gaze shifts between her roommates. The two engaged in the battle when I first arrived were still at it. They look similar, in a distant cousin kind of way. Both have lanky builds with sharply defined jaws and handsome features, but one sports slick, jet-black hair while the other rocks shaggy dirty blond hair.

“Please, Lily. I’ve nearly got him. One more, please?” The black-haired roommate inclines his head and pouts, batting impossibly long lashes in Lily’s direction.

“Tough. I said seven, and it’s five after. Get out.” No nonsense Lily shelves her hand on her hip. Pride wells up in my chest. She doesn’t bend easily to their demands. Good for her.

“But Gavin hasn’t had a chance to play yet.” The blond pleads. “Can’t you guys watch a movie upstairs?”

My attention shifts to the third roommate, the one who seems to favor the shadows, and my lady bits decide to take notice of absolutely everything and approve wholeheartedly. His soulful brown eyes, the scruff along his jaw, and the short, dark curls crowning his head. His gaze rests on Lily, and with his chiseled good looks, I can’t help but catch the passing resemblance to a young Shemar Moore from Criminal Minds. Hot damn. I resist the urge to fan myself because I do not fan myself in the presence of delicious men. No, I do not. When he meets my gaze, I stiffen as a slow smile curves his sinful lips. Bastard knows exactly what he does to women.

“Tell you what, Lily.” Gavin leans forward. “Let me play a round against your friend here, and we’ll leave you alone for the rest of the night.”

I swear he’s Shemar’s twin. That silken voice could seduce a whole convent of nuns into sinful abandon. I can almost hear him whisper the words baby girl, and I shiver. Then the implication of his words registers. Was he challenging me? I click my tongue about to form a response, but Lily interjects.

“One game?” Lily taps her chin, skepticism written all over her face. “With Maggie?” A satisfied smile curves her lips. “It’s a deal.”

“Wait, what?” I’ve never even played the game! I tend to stick with military-style first-person shooter games. This one looks similar to that, but I know nothing about it aside from the characters. I’m relatively confident the same tactics apply, but still—

“You got this.” Lily pats my shoulder. “I have faith in you.”

“Thanks.” I turn to Gavin, who seems amused by this whole exchange. Confidence oozes off him in waves. He underestimates me. They all do. I grin and all my uncertainty scatters. He’s going down. This cocky shit has no idea what he’s in for.

Surfer boy hands his controller to Gavin while Maybelline gives me his. I don’t actually know their names as they forgot all their manners and never introduced themselves. So nicknames it is. I scoff. Men. They both move from their seats, allowing Gavin and me to have the center stage. Our audience flanks us, Lily and Jen to the right, and the two guys on our left where Gavin had been sitting. I flex my hands as my challenger chooses the settings and battle mode.

We’re not touching, but his heat surrounds me. God, he smells good. Like Gucci and wintergreen gum. There’s something else lingering beneath it, a haunting scent I just can’t place. I lick my lips and focus on the screen. I won’t let him distract me. Damn him.

“Don’t worry, baby girl. I’ll take it easy on you.” He mutters under his breath.

Lord, he really is channeling Shemar. It takes the restraint of a nun not to react to that tempting purr and the deluge it releases inside me. I bite my tongue instead of unleashing my uncensored thoughts. “Thanks.”

The game starts. Immediately I jump into the zone. Everyone around us disappears into the background. I’m in the world on the screen. The controls are exactly like my favorite game, so I adapt quickly. Stumbling a few times, I miss a few obvious things, which makes my opponent chuckle. I curse under my breath and redouble my efforts.

Beside me, I feel Gavin’s presence, his focus. But he’s too relaxed. Too confident. Once I see my opening, I shift into action and steal into the position I need to ensure my victory. The moment I do, I feel the transition. He leans forward, his elbows resting on his knees. I hear him swear when I steal the health pack and weapons cache from under his nose.

A smirk plays on my lips as I sneak up behind him on the screen and put a bullet in his skull before he even realizes I’ve made it past his defenses. Game Over flashes on the screen in bright green lettering.

His jaw hangs open while the controller dangles between his hands. “What the actual fuck?”

I stand up and do a little victory dance. Drinking up the look of pure disbelief and rage on his face, I add a little more sizzle to my dance and drop it to the floor, ensuring he sees every twitch of my ass when I bring it back up.

“Thanks for taking it easy on me, sweet cheeks,” I murmur in his ear before handing my controller to Lily. “To the victor go the spoils.”

Surfer boy and Maybelline grumble as they gather their drinks and leave the room. Gavin slowly rises from his spot on the couch. He towers over me. The top of my head doesn’t even reach his shoulders. It hurts my neck to look up at him, and I take a step back.

“Good game.” I offer my hand in a truce.

With a dirty look, he pushes past me and leaves the room. I stand there with my hand hanging in midair. Disappointment crowds me. I shove it aside, rubbing my palms on my jeans.

“I knew you could do it, Mags.” Lily hugs me before sitting on the couch.

“You were amazing!” Jen settles down beside Lily.

I sit in the spot Gavin just vacated. His scent lingers and I close my eyes. The image of his handsome face skewed in shock and disgust fills my mind. Damn it. This is why I don’t challenge people in person. Losing is bad enough, but it’s almost like losing to a girl brands you with shame. Losing to me is a surefire way to end any possibility of a friendship or more. I curse my competitive nature and my love of gaming. Not that it matters. I don’t need a man. I’ve got a good thing going without one.

As for Gavin, he’ll get over it. They always do.

Romantic Short: The Blindfold Agreement

First Place winner of the Summer 2021 Writers’ Competition at RomanticShorts.com. This steamy romp excites the imagination and gets the blood boiling. Warning: This story contains explicit sexual content and coarse language. If you are under 18 or prefer content with closed-door romantic encounters, I suggest you leave now. This is highly NSFW. Read at your own discretion.

Oh, and by all means, enjoy!

The Blindfold Agreement

by Kirsten S. Blacketer

The instructions are simple. Do not remove the blindfold.

I stare at the card in my hand and swallow the rising uncertainty. My friends think I’m crazy indulging in something so reckless, but you only live once, right?

My hand skims over the silk embroidered duvet covering the king-size bed. The four mahogany posts rise up like sentinels at the corners of the mattress. I admire the plush carpet beneath my feet, but it makes walking in heels a challenge. So, I slip off the monstrous three-inch Louboutins I borrowed from my best friend in an attempt to look sexy for my special night and set them by the door.

The suite hosts a bedroom, a full bathroom complete with jetted tub and dual shower heads, a fully stocked kitchen, and a living room with a flat-screen built into the wall. In the space between the bed and the couch, there’s a single chair facing the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the city. A small sign is taped to it. Sit here and wait.

When I received the email with the details, I nearly fell off my chair. This hotel is nicer than any place I’ve ever lived, and one night costs more than my monthly rent. But I’m not paying for the hotel.

He is.

I glance at the clock on my phone ignoring the dark alluring gaze of the handsome actor on my wallpaper background. Two minutes to seven.

“Shit.” I quickly pull the black silk scarf from my purse and set the bag on the nightstand.

Inside, my phone is safely tucked out of sight with my location settings on. I’m not completely reckless. The girls know exactly where I am.

Once I settle into the chair overlooking the vibrant city, I place the smooth fabric across my eyes and secure it firmly careful not to get my hair tangled in the process. The room plunges into darkness. I tug the edges into place ensuring I’m in full compliance with his instructions.

It may be my evening, but he makes the rules. I am at his mercy. 

God, I must be fucking crazy. Letting a stranger lure me into such a vulnerable situation.

My skin prickles with awareness as the cool air brushes across my bare shoulders. I should have worn something with layers. But Jen convinced me to wear the halter wiggle dress I had tucked in the back of my closet. I bought it for a vintage ball but never had a chance to wear it. The fabric hugs every curve I’ve tried to hide beneath layers of baggy sweaters and yoga pants.

I won’t lie. My confidence bolstered the moment I saw my reflection in the mirror. I missed my calling as a pin-up girl. The looks I got crossing the lobby downstairs definitely made my ego purr with delight. The poor maintenance man will have to use a mop to clean the drool off the floor.

My hands rest in my lap. I fidget with the edge of the press-on nails. The silence is unnerving. I swear I can hear the air circulating through the room. My mind teases me with horrible possibilities. What if he’s going to kidnap me? Harvest my organs? Kill me?

Damn. This was a bad idea. My mother warned me about this. Stranger danger. 

Especially when you meet them in an online forum. My heart pounds in my chest. I swear it’s echoing in the room growing louder with every passing moment. I take a deep breath to calm down, but the anticipation has me on edge.

I feel everything. The slide of the leather beneath me. The warm air filling the room through the vents. The thundering of my heart. The plush carpet between my toes. The pulse of the city beyond the glass.

How long has it been? Probably only a few minutes, but it drags like hours. I shift in my seat considering my alternatives.

I should rip off the blindfold and haul ass out of here. That would be the wisest course of action. But I’m rooted to my seat. My curiosity is stronger than my self-preservation.

Regret and uncertainty fill me. I should never have joined that site. I silently curse my ex for bringing it up. I hate that my friends encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone. It’s not too late. I can rip off the blindfold and walk out the door.

The click of the electronic lock and subsequent beep tells me the opposite. He’s here.

Oh god, what the hell am I doing? I focus on keeping my breaths steady, but my heart rate slowly increases when he enters the room. The air changes shifting from neutral to pure static. Goosebumps cover my arms. I resist the urge to rub them.

Instead, I remain perfectly still. Eyes closed even though the blindfold is securely in place.

The carpet muffles his footsteps, but I feel him behind me. His heat surrounds me just before his scent. I moan when I recognize the faint aroma. Gucci Guilty. Mixed with the undercurrent of his chemistry, it’s damn near intoxicating. I lick my lips fighting off the urge to remove the blindfold and see if he looks as good as he smells.

His deep chuckle sets off a chain reaction of butterflies in my stomach. “I haven’t even started.”

Oh, sweet mother of all that’s holy. His deep voice catches me unprepared. I bite my tongue, pressing my lips together to keep another moan from slipping free. There’s a hint of an accent behind his words, but I can’t place it.

“You’re such an obedient girl. Eager to please.” The soft words are like a caress against my throat. His breath warm against the skin below my ear.

My heart skips a beat. I feel the heat blossom across my chest and up into my cheeks at his observation.

“This dress.” He purrs with appreciation making me shiver. “I want to see what it’s hiding.”

I gasp when his fingertips brush against my collar bone.

“Do you want me to stop?” He whispers the question, but its intent is clear. “Say the word, kitten, and it stops.”

My mind drifts back to our chat conversations. He’s asking for my safe word. Did we ever discuss one? I mean we joked about it, but there was never a conversation outlining details in any sort of agreement. I shake my head unable to remember.

“Tonight is yours. I want you to feel safe.” He presses his warm lips to my shoulder. “Treasured.” Another kiss, this time against my throat. “Worshiped.”

I whimper and catch my lower lip between my teeth. It takes every ounce of restraint to keep from reaching for him. I clench my hands into tight fists.

His hand covers mine. Holy shit. Long fingers intertwine with mine and his palm dwarfs mine.

“Nothing goes beyond what we agreed.” He gives my hand a gentle squeeze. “Promise.”

I open my mouth to tell him I’m not scared of him, of this. I’m so turned on right now I can’t think clearly. If he keeps going, I’ll be a pile of goo on the floor. My panties are ruined. I’m ruined. No other man will be able to top this. Ever. It’s the single most erotic moment of my life, and he hasn’t done anything yet.

When he releases my hand, his heat disappears. For a moment I think he may have reconsidered until his hand encircles my throat. Fingertips graze the sensitive spot beneath my ear.

“You lied to me, kitten.” His gruff accusation stings, making me bristle. “I…” He places his fingers over my lips silencing me. I want to lick him.

“The description you gave me was incomplete.” His fingertip rubs across my lower lip teasing me.

“That’s not lying.” I gasp when his other hand finds the clasp holding the halter portion of the dress together.

“Lies through omission.” He unfastens the button and the fabric loosens.

I grasp the top of my dress as the straps slide down out of habit. He tuts at my reaction. “I thought we had an understanding.” He grasps my wrists and peels them away from where they cover my chest.

My breasts aren’t exposed, but one shimmy and they’ll slip free with little effort. My nipples tighten at the thought. I relent, if only because he’s right. Tonight was not a drunken invitation, it was carefully calculated and discussed. We both consented to this. And even though my insecurities won’t allow me to relax into the moment, I crave what he offers. My hands fall to my sides.

“Stand up.” His order cracks like a whip.

I suppress a shudder of need and rise to my feet, thankful I removed the heels before he arrived. My knees are weak. I sway at the disoriented rush. His strong grip catches my shoulders holding me steady. Once I find my balance, he releases me.

He locates the zipper on my dress, and I stiffen at the touch. “Kitten, trust me.” His heat warms me.

“I don’t know you.” My insecurities rise like bubbles to the surface. He exhales, almost a sigh, and drops his hand.

“But you do.”

I shake my head, need twisting with uncertainty in my gut.

“From conversations online. Did you lie to me during those conversations?” he asks softly.

“No.” I shake my head again more fervently and the blindfold slips. I reach to catch it but he grasps my wrist and moves it away before securing the scarf over my eyes. “Did you?”

He hesitates for the briefest moment. “No.”

“Omissions are lies,” I repeat his words back to him.

“Damn it.”

My heart sinks. Is it over? A deep regret settles in the pit of my stomach. I reach up to pull off the blindfold when he catches me around the waist pinning me against his body. Oh, shit. He’s tall and broad. His chin brushes the top of my head, which means he’s at least six feet. I try to pull away, but he holds me tight. Damn, he’s strong. I want to melt into him absorbing the strength and the heat.

“If you keep squirming, I may forget I’m supposed to be a gentleman.” His growl reverberates through me. I go completely still. His hands rest on my ribs beneath my breasts, and I’m hyper-aware of the pressure of his fingertips.

I want him. More than I did before. More than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life. My breath quickens and his heartbeat pulses against my spine. It’s racing. Like mine.

“Why were you in that forum?” His tone is deceptively calm, but tension radiates off him in waves.

“It’s a fan fiction site.” I snap as though the reason is obvious.

“Yes, but that forum is reserved for role play only.” His grip tightens, pulling me flush against his torso. The evidence of this exchange presses against the small of my back. I groan.

“Curiosity?” I arch my hips back, smiling when he curses.

“Bullshit. If it were idle curiosity, you wouldn’t have posted that first message.”

“I posted that a year ago.” My amusement evaporates at the implication. “We’ve only been chatting six months.”

“Oh yes, kitten.” He sways his hips almost like a dance, grinding against me. “I’ve been a fan of your work for quite a while.” My lips part when his breath caresses my ear. “Imagine my delight when you joined the same group. It gave me the perfect opportunity.”

“To do what? Stalk me?” I tease him. How does he manage to distract me so perfectly with his hands, his hips, his heat? It’s getting difficult to focus on anything but the tension building between us.

“Stalk is a strong word.” His hands drift to my hips. He’s effectively pinned my arms down and the only thing I can grab for stability are his thighs. “Do you stalk those actors you write about in your fanfiction?”

“No, of course not.” I snap. I shouldn’t be defensive. We met as mutual fans in the same fandom. Even though he’s never written anything, he’s a voracious reader, devouring as much as any dedicated fan would. He’s drawing me out, making a point with the comparison.

“You admire them. Study them. Appreciate them.” His voice deepens. “They inspire you, and your creativity is an homage to theirs.”

I nod and my soul takes flight. He understands without judgment. It’s one of the things I enjoyed about our conversations. One of the things that drew me to him. Made me open up to him. We were kindred spirits bonding over art that inspired us to create something that would inspire others.

“Your words inspired me.” His hands wander over my hips.

I dig my nails into his thighs. They’re powerful and lean, the way I imagine the rest of him is. A panther poised to strike the moment his prey is in sight. I want him to ravage me. He’s already seduced my mind and my imagination, and yet the hesitation remains.

“Why me?” I ask, seeking reassurance, a sign, something to tear down this last remaining wall between us.

He gently turns me in his embrace until my hands are pressed against his broad chest. I want to rip the blindfold off and see the sincerity in his gaze when he responds. I want to drown in whatever color his eyes are. But I promised. The only rule I would not break. Do not remove the blindfold.

“Because I’m a fan.” He’s close. So close. His breath ghosts over my lips.

He smells of mint and desperation. I want to close the gap and steal his words with my kiss. But I refrain, hanging on every syllable of his confession.

“Your first post. Your fantasy.” He grips me tight. I fist my hands in his shirt when his pecs flex beneath my palms. “I have the same one.”

My breath catches. My fantasy. What fantasy? I have so many. My mind reels as I try to remember what I posted. It could have been anything. I’ve posted so many times in the group trying to find a connection. Someone who understands me within the fandom.

He must sense my confusion and chuckles. The sound shoots a bolt of lust straight to my already aching clit. I want to bury my face against his chest even though half of it is already hidden by the blindfold. He tips my chin up with his finger. I wish I could see him, but I can only feel him surrounded by the darkness hindering my vision.

“Don’t you remember?” His accent shifts, making me pause. He sounds so familiar.

There’s a lilt to his words now. Sexy and soothing.

I freeze. He’s someone I know. I’ve made a fool of myself exposing my innermost desires to someone who could reveal them to the world. Oh god, what if it’s someone I work with? One of my family friends? Horror floods me, and I push away from him.

“Ah-ah, no, kitten.” He shackles my wrists in his massive hands. “Remind me. What was that fantasy you posted?”

“I don’t remember.” I take a breath to calm my racing heart wishing I could rip off the blindfold and see him. I need to know who’s tormenting me with my own desires. “Please. Daddy.”

I murmur the final word in shame. It’s my safe word. We joked about the DaddyDom trope and its prevalence in fan fiction. I swore I would never use it. It sounded too childish, too ridiculous. He teased it would be my safe word since it was the last word I would ever use in bed. I hang my head and whimper when he releases me.

Part of me wants to take it back the moment his heat vanishes. But instead, I tug at the top of my dress and clear my throat. My hand pauses halfway to the blindfold when I drop it to my side. I promised not to remove it. At least I could avoid meeting the gaze of the man who brought me to this humiliating moment.

In the distance, I hear the sound of running water. A few moments of stillness pass and his hand takes mine.

“Drink this.” He places a cool glass against my palm.

“Thanks.” I raise it to my lips and drink, swallowing every drop. I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was. He takes the empty glass, and I wipe my lips with the back of my hand.

He chuckles. “You smeared red lipstick all over your mouth.”

Shit. I forgot about my lipstick. He takes my elbow and leads me across the room until my bare feet hit the tile. With the flick of a light switch and the click of the door, I know I’m alone. I pull the blindfold off and stare at my reflection.

Sure enough, my cherry red lipstick is smeared across my mouth. I look like a clown. Oh, God. Embarrassment floods me. I take some tissues and clean my mouth. A little pink lingers where it smeared, but it’s nothing more than the shade of kiss bruised skin.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I murmur beneath my breath. I toss the tissues in the bin and stare at myself. At least my mascara didn’t smear from the blindfold.

My gaze drifts to the door separating us. Who is he? Why would he bring up one specific fantasy? I rack my brain trying to remember. After so many years of writing fan fiction and one-shots, it’s a wonder I can keep anything organized in my mind. I struggle for a few moments until it hits me.

Hard. Like a plane falling out of the sky, plummeting toward an unsuspecting pedestrian walking across a football field. I cover my mouth with my hand and watch the blush creep over my skin turning my face six shades of red.

My fantasy. The one where I run into my favorite actor, Ben Harris, at a hotel bar during comic con. We hit it off, and there’s a spark between us. He invites me to his room where we have wild, crazy passionate sex. No. It wasn’t that one. Was it?

I gasp against my hand. No, wait. What did he say about my fantasy?

I have the same one. His voice. That accent. HOLY SHIT.

“Oh, god. No. It can’t be.” I hyperventilate at the possibility. It takes a few moments before I’m able to calm myself down. I grip the blindfold tight in my fist.

The blindfold. I stare at it. Son of a bitch. His only rule. Do not remove the blindfold. Mustering whatever courage I possess, I rip open the door and storm into the living room.

I come up short at the sight of him standing in the window with his back to me. The tall, broad stature I joked about wanting to climb like a tree. His dark hair in waves down to his collar I’ve imagined running my fingers through on sleepless nights. Bastard.

I stop an arm’s length from his back. “Did you really think the blindfold would work?”

Ben turns, his dark eyes are fathomless in the shadows. A charming smile curves his sinful lying lips. “No. Not really. I figured it would give me an advantage.” He cocked his head. “What gave it away?”

“Your accent slipped.” I almost smirk. “Don’t worry, even the most talented actors break character once in a while.”

I want to be angry but seeing Ben Harris in the flesh has me disoriented. Then I remember his body pressed against mine only minutes before. The feel of his lips on my skin. His hands caressing me. I grip the blindfold so tight my hand hurts.

“I wasn’t trying to trick you.” He ran his hand through his hair in a careless gesture. “I needed to be sure.”

“Of what?” I snap, hating myself for still wanting him after he made a fool of me. “That we had that spark.” He steps closer.

“What spark?” I inhale sharply when he approaches me and tugs the blindfold from my grip.

“You know what I mean.” He drags the silk across his lips. “That connection. I felt it every time we spoke online.”

I scoff. “I won’t deny it. But you can’t play fast and loose with your fans like that.”

“I don’t.” He regards me pensively. “Do you think I seduce every fangirl who posts erotic fan fiction about me?”

“Don’t you?” I stumble back when he shifts his weight toward me.

“No, kitten. I’ve never even been tempted until you.” His hooded gaze searches mine, and I’d give anything for that barrier between us again. Anything to save me from losing myself in the intensity of his dark eyes and bring back the uninhibited sizzle cracking like electricity between us.

“Why me?” It’s the second time I’ve asked him this question, but now I know who’s seducing me and I want full disclosure before I allow this fire to consume us.

“I’m a fan.” He grins and my heart flips. “I stumbled on your fan fiction a few years ago.

Your retelling of the cursed knight from one of my earliest projects. It was before I hit the mainstream with the bigger studios.”

“I remember that one.” My face warms. One of my first attempts. I lost myself in the comfort of films and stumbled onto Ben Harris before he became a heartthrob and the coveted darling of one of the largest fandoms in the industry. It was poorly written and ridiculous, but it was the first story I wrote featuring one of Ben’s characters.

“I loved it.” He confesses, searching my face in earnest. “I followed your page. Read every story you posted.”

My jaw drops. “No, you didn’t.”

“I did.” His signature smirk returns. “I’ve spent many nights in my bed with only your stories for companionship. Not because they feature me. But because of the way you write it. The emotion. The intensity.”

“The sex?” I tease him.

“Of course.” He chuckles. “I debated messaging you privately, but it never felt right.

When you joined the group, I couldn’t believe my luck. The fantasy post though—that was the sign I needed.” He runs his hand over his jaw. “I can’t tell you how many times I imagined that exact scenario, and I don’t even do comic con appearances. Although I considered it briefly in passing a few times, I knew if it wasn’t you, it wouldn’t be enough.”

“It wouldn’t?” I ask unable to believe his sweet words. “But you can have anyone you want.”

He shrugs. “They’re not you.”

“You don’t even know my name.” I snort.

“Teresa DeLuca.”

“How—?” I snap my mouth shut. Disbelief replaces my skepticism. “Never mind. I don’t want to know.”

“Oh but you do, Teresa.” He closes the gap between us and runs his thumb along my jaw. “That curiosity of yours is what got you into this situation in the first place.” Ben winks. “And aren’t you so very glad it did?”

Lord, I want his hands all over me. When he touches me, I lose all sense of reason. This is madness, insanity. I try to convince myself what a horrible idea this is, but I can’t seem to pull myself out of his reach.

“If you want me to stop, all you have to do is say the word.” This time I see the wicked glint in his eyes. He loves to toy with me, and I admit, I’m enjoying the attention. It’s been so long since anyone’s shown genuine interest in me.

But I’m not going to say the word again. Not even if he tosses me over his shoulder and has his wicked way with me. I shift my weight from one foot to the other. That’s what I want, and the look in his eyes tells me I have a terrible poker face. He can read me like a goddamn book.

“What are we doing?” I ask when he fills the space before me, and all I can smell is him. His lips twitch when he thinks. It’s endearing and so arousing. I want to rise up on my tiptoes and taste him.

Those impossibly long fingers wrap around the back of my head, threading through my hair. I lick my lips and let him take control. My pleasure. His rules. That was the agreement.

“Whatever you want, kitten. You want it sweet? Rough?” He smiles when my breath hitches. “Ahhh, you want me to bring out the villain, is that it?”

The thought alone has my body weeping. If he touches me, I may implode, I’m spun that tight with his words alone. I always enjoyed dirty talk, but this far exceeds anything I could have ever imagined.

“All those fics you wrote with my villains featured as the hero.” He clicks his tongue in amusement. “Gets you off, doesn’t it? The play of power. Him taking what he wants without regret or remorse.”

I whimper when he leans down pressing his cheek to mine, his lips beside my ear. He whispers, “But deep down, he’s not a monster and knows exactly what she needs.” He draws back until our gazes lock and his mouth hovers over mine. “Tell me I’m wrong.”

“I can’t.” I moan when his free hand comes to rest on my hip, his fist gathering handfuls of fabric drawing my skirt up until my soaked panties are exposed. “Play the villain. Make me beg.”

The heat of his fingers against my clit makes me groan. He nudges my thighs apart and slides beneath the fabric. “Oh kitten, you’re full of surprises.” He slides his long fingers into me, and I grip his shirt with both fists gasping at the delicious pressure.

“Ben.” His name slips free like a whispered plea.

“I’ll give you exactly what you need, kitten.” He kisses me, and the moment our lips meet, I’m drowning in a sea of sensation. I cling tighter to him wanting to feel his whole body pressed to mine. Friction, heat, skin to skin. I want it all. I want it now.

Ben’s tongue steals across mine. It’s an explosion of need. He takes me by the waist and steers me toward the bed never breaking contact. The kiss is a battle of desperation. His breath mixes with mine, and I can’t seem to get enough.

He pushes me back onto the king-size bed and climbs over me. What little reprieve this gave me from his kiss disappears in a flurry of teeth and fabric. He unzips my gown and pulls it off with little effort.

I fumble with the buttons on his black shirt. When the fabric parts, I rake my fingernails over his chest making him hiss before pushing the fabric off his shoulders. He tosses it aside with my dress.

He tugs my strapless bra down until it’s pooled around my waist and takes my nipple in his mouth. I arch off the bed and bury my fingers in his hair pulling when he bites gently on the nub. Somehow I manage to unfasten the bra and shimmy out of my panties amidst his ardent attention on my bare torso.

Ben settles between my thighs, his wicked grin flashes before he laves his tongue across my clit and sucks it into his sinful mouth. I have one hand fisted in his thick hair and the other twisted in the comforter.

“Shit!” I gasp when he repeats the action and tug on his hair. “Ben, please. Please.”

“What’s wrong, kitten? Too much for you?” He kneels and unfastens his belt with both hands. Still recovering from his tongue, my mouth waters when he slides his pants down over his hips and kicks them aside.

Big hands and an even more impressive cock. He’s grinning. I shake my head and try to bury my face in the pillows. Turning my back on a predator might be the most unwise thing I’ve done all night.

Ben snatches me by the waist and pulls me back until his cock nestles against my ass. His hand wraps around my throat, his chest slick against my back. His hand slides over my stomach and down until he’s circling my clit.

I writhe against him. He knows exactly what I want. What I need. It’s like he can read my mind, but deep down I know it’s because he’s read all my stories. He found the pieces of me in those scenes and now he’s playing out every fantasy in vivid detail. I’m helpless against him.

He’s my weakness and my salvation, and right now, all I can focus on is his wicked torment and the orgasm building in my core.

“That’s it, kitten. Tell me how good it feels.” I buck against his hand and bite back a loud moan. He guides his cock into me from behind and this time I cry out. He fills me, hitting every sensitive spot I never realized I had.

As he toys with my clit, he moves inside me. I meet his thrusts, bending at the waist enough to take him deeper. He groans and buries his face in my shoulder. His teeth graze my skin, and my orgasm rushes up in a tsunami washing over me, pulling me under.

My moans echo off the walls of the suite. I’m too far gone to care if anyone hears me.

Ben’s name flies from my lips amid a flurry of curses as he quickens his pace and takes his pleasure. He pulls out and the warmth of his come marks my skin.

The well-intentioned discussion about contraception and testing within the emailed instructions flitted across my mind for a moment, but it didn’t matter at this point. When Ben nuzzles his cheek against my shoulder, I dismiss it completely. He makes me reckless.

He slides away, cleans us both, and pulls me against him when he rejoins me on the oversized monstrosity of a bed. We lay face to face in silence, and I’m struck at how surreal this whole evening has been. I chuckle.

He smirks. “What?”

“This. No one will believe it.”

He tucks a stray curl behind my ear. “Do we have to tell them?”

“No. But my friends will ask, and I don’t want to lie.” I rest my hand on his heart.

Ben shrugs and covers my hand with his. It engulfs mine. “Tell them the truth then.”

“They’ll laugh me out of the house.” I memorize the angles of his face and the sweet imperfections. He’s so much different in person than on the screen. More real. More human. My heart aches. I can’t fall for him. I shouldn’t even want something from him, but I can’t help it. He sees the part of me no one else does.

“Then I’ll come home with you. If you want me to, that is.” He’s being sincere, and it leaves me stunned. “Problem solved.”

“You’d do that?” I prop myself on my elbow. “Why?”

He grins and the lines around his eyes soften. I see the hero beneath the dark, brooding villain he often plays. “Because I like you, and I want to see where this leads.”

I snort-laugh. “Your fans will tear you apart for dating someone like me.”

“Who I choose to date is none of their business.” Ben gathers me against him and kisses my lips. “I’m yours, kitten if you’ll have me.”

“This could end badly,” I warn him.

“True, but it could be a happy ending too.” He squeezes me. “What do you think? Shall we give it a shot?”

I make a show of thinking long and hard about his question knowing full well I’m not going to turn him down after only one night together. “Are you going to blindfold me again?”

“Absolutely.” He winks and reveals that snarky grin I fell in love with on-screen so long ago. “Then I’m going to reenact every single one of your fanfics with you as my leading lady.”

“You’re not going to let me live this down, are you?” I bury my face against his chest.

“Never.” He forces me to meet his gaze, his fingertips gentle beneath my chin. “I plan on making you live out every fantasy you’ve ever had about me.”

“Oh, god.” I pinch my eyes closed and heat fills my cheeks. “Why?”

“Because I’m your biggest fan.” He kisses me and makes love to me the way a hero should with all the passion of a villain succeeding in his plot.