Nora Flite
Nora Flite
Nora Flite
Nora Flite

#1 Romance/Suspense Bestseller on Amazon!

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If you hated your life—wanted to prove to the world that you could change—how would you do it?

I had a plan. I also had no family, no friends, and definitely no jerk of an ex-boyfriend who thought I was boring.
I was tired of being me.
In Vegas, I could be anything.

And then I saw him.
His hungry smile wanted a taste of the new me.
Only a boring person would have said no.

It was reckless to follow a stranger to his bed. Dangerous to take the drink he handed me. I thought the worst regret I’d have would be a hangover, a walk of shame through the hotel.

Except I didn’t wake up in the hotel.
Or in Vegas.

I doubt my face will end up in the news. “Woman missing,” the headline would say. “A stupid person who thought she could be someone else.”

I’m not someone else. I was only playing pretend.

Too bad he was playing for keeps.

Author’s Note: This is a dark romance novel, it contains themes of violence and mature situations that could make readers uncomfortable.

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Chapter One
Celeste

Stiff muscles, knots so solid they could have been marbles rolling up my arm. All around me was the ever present weight of grease, the smell penetrating my nostrils—hell, even my pores. It was an uncomfortable existence; one I had grown used to.

But it didn’t matter.

Right then, gaping at my boyfriend as he fidgeted and fretted, it didn’t matter one bit.

“What?” My tongue touched my lower lip, reminded the cracked skin it needed moisture. “Are you firing me or are you breaking up with me? Which is it, Jones?”

He slid a sticky hand over his skull. “Both. It’s both.”

“Both.” The word sounded meaningless. Maybe, if I kept repeating it, it’d lose all impact and none of this—how could this be happening? “I don’t… why?” Finally, I let my arm holding the spatula fall. I’d been flipping burgers on Jones’ food truck all afternoon. “What did I do wrong?”

“Shit. Celeste, don’t ask me that.”

“But I don’t get why you’d do this so suddenly!”

His eyebrows darted low, wrinkling his forehead. “Celeste, come on. This isn’t really sudden. Not if you think about it.”

I was already crawling through my brain, trying to put the pieces together. Sure, Jones and I hadn’t had the best relationship, but to end it right now—right now!—after everything we’d been through?

Gently, I set the spatula beside the griddle. “Tell me where I messed up. Give me a chance—”

“Celeste.”

“Give me a chance to fix it!” Had I just screamed at him? Standing in that tiny truck, facing down my boyfriend—I guess my ex, now—I felt like the walls were shrinking.

Jones was a skinny guy. Sliding off his stained apron just made him look even more pinched. I could see him breathe in, saw him gathering himself to speak. There wasn’t much sadness in his brown eyes. “You can’t fix who you are.”

Can’t fix who I am? I thought frantically, digested his comment.

He buried his thumbs in his jean pockets. “Celeste. You’re just… boring.”

I needed air so, so desperately. “Boring?” I held onto the wall.

“We haven’t meshed for some time. I’m sorry, but even the things you could maybe fix? Like, your cooking skills, your work ethic?” Listening to him rattle off the list was torture. “Hell,” he added, laughing sourly, “even this morning you were late. I saw you sleeping when I left to get the truck ready! Sleeping at ten, just… come on.”

Was the wetness on my cheeks sweat, or tears? “Jones.” His name was familiar on my lips. After three years, it had to be. “This isn’t right. What am I supposed to do if you break up with me?”

“It’s already done.” Turning away, he avoided my pleading eyes. “Don’t try to argue me out of this. Please.”

Stepping forward was difficult. My legs had never been heavier. When I reached out for his shoulder, he ducked away. He doesn’t even want me to touch him. The fact stung so fucking hard. All this time, and he won’t let me near him. How had it all gone so wrong? It was true, we’d been a little off for sometime, but that was normal!

Wasn’t that normal?

Routine had settled in. We spent all of our time together, though lately, I had been staying up later than him… and I had been the one dodging his attempts at starting up sex, but I was just so tired.

This was what life just was.

That was all.

Brushing back my strands of mousy brown hair in my loose bun, I hovered by the truck’s door. Though Jones was a mere two feet away, it felt like a fucking mile. “I guess I’ll just get my stuff from the apartment, then. I don’t know who I’ll—I don’t really have anyone to stay with, you know that.”

“I’ll transfer some money for a motel into your account,” he mumbled. “After that, you’re on your own.”

On my own, I thought sullenly. If I was honest with myself…

I’d felt on my own for a long time.

* * * * *

It didn’t take much work to grab my things. Living together for several years, I’d still accumulated so little. I’d never been good about buying myself anything, and Jones had been sparse in his generosity.

He was crazy, maybe going through some stress. It was making his brain weird.

That had to be the reason he’d broken up with me!

With a bag of clothes and some basics, I slid into my car and just… stared. The last time I’d packed up and driven any distance, it had been to move across California from Bakersfield to LA to be with my boyfriend—ex, my ex. My ex for now. It was too hard to believe this couldn’t be mended.

Glancing at myself in the mirror, noting my bland brunette hair, weighed down by grime and stress, I recalled his words. Boring. He said I was boring. Was I? It was true, I wasn’t exactly the most spontaneous person. But that shouldn’t matter!

Convincing myself was a failed exercise.

In my brain, Jones’ words were crawling through. Boring boring boring. He thought I was boring.

Inhaling until my ribs hurt, I turned my keys and started the car.

He’d said I couldn’t fix who I was.

I had every intention to show him otherwise.

The salon was more than happy to help me when I brushed through their door. The bell above, jingling my entry, was poignant. The girls sat me down, fluffed my long-overdue-for-a-cut-hair, clicked their tongues.

“How do you want it done?” The one who asked was a voluptuous thing, lips glossy and red as berries. Lifting my chin, I pointed right at her long, shiny locks of blonde. She smiled wide. “Oh, honey. You’ve made my day.”

I’d never colored my hair. Not once in my life. Simple, no-trouble brown was just what I’d been gifted with. I kept it tied back for working on Jones’ food truck. It had never seemed important to bother with.

But, now…

I am not boring, I told myself silently. And, hours later with my new, shoulder length waves of golden blonde, I almost started to believe it. As the girls did my nails, pampered me, I kept gawking at myself in the mirrors.

Celeste—the girl who slept too late and didn’t excite her boyfriend—she no longer looked back at me. It was odd, I was out of my own skin.

And… and I honestly liked it.

I felt powerful. I felt beautiful and sexy and amazing, all in one big tangle.

Why had I never done this before?

I left the salon to the fanfare of the girls, my heart starting to swell and tingle. How funny. Adjusting my mirror, I felt my silky hair. Could it really be so simple? Is this enough to change me, to fix me and make me interesting? Stroking my head, the sharp spikes of resent began to poke. He said I was boring… but he also said I was bad at my job.

There was no way that was true.

I froze, fingering my hair absently. He’s wrong about me. I’m not boring or lazy or… or any of that. Jones is wrong about me. In my own reflection, I watched the bitterness sink into my pale blue eyes. The time away from the event was letting me pick over his comments.

He actually called me boring.

What kind of an asshole would do that? Especially to me, the girl who had uprooted, come all the way out here to work on his dumb fucking food truck to help get his dream off the ground! The first year, I’d labored for him for free.

For free!

When I pushed on the pedal of my car, the engine growled. Perhaps the Celeste of hours ago would simper and whimper and argue for the right to date someone who dared to call her boring

But the Celeste of now, blonde hair flying in the wind?

I’ll show him what it means to be spontaneous.

I knew exactly where to go to embrace such a wild concept.

It was after five on a Friday evening. If I left now…

I’d arrive in Vegas just when things would be heating up.

* * * * *

True to his word, my ex had dropped enough money into my account for me to afford a cheap motel for a few nights. As I dragged my bags through the giant, arching walls of Caesar’s Palace, I wondered if it would be enough to get me a room there.

Hoisting my suitcase to the counter, I rocked on my heels, eyed the crowd. I should have changed before coming here. I look like a giant mess in jeans and a tanktop. Shaking my head, I scurried towards the beckoning clerk.

He was small, perhaps my height or even the same age. The look of a baby-faced college kid in a too-slick dark jacket, for sure. “Hello there,” he crowed sweetly. “How may I help you?”

“Um, hey. I was hoping to get a room for tonight.” Please don’t be too expensive!

Nodding quickly, the man began tapping at his computer. “Certainly. Just for tonight?”

“Yeah, just tonight.”

“Queen or king?”

“Er—queen.”

His chin kept bobbing. “We have a non-smoking available, only three-hundred for the evening.”

My heart dove into my belly, happy to stay there. “Sorry, did you say three-hundred?”

“Correct, ma’am. Is that a problem?”

It’s an expensive problem. It’s five nights in a cheap motel levels of problem. “Nothing cheaper?”

“I’m afraid not. Perhaps you should check another hotel if our rates don’t sound fair.”

Biting the side of my tongue, I fought down a groan. “It’s not that. Let me just, you know, go make a call and see what I can do.” No phone call will help that cost, ugh. “Um, could you point me to a restroom, please?”

Following his gesture, I pulled my rolling case along the floor. Weaving through throngs of people, I was relieved to enter the quiet, beautiful bathroom off of the lobby. Hell, this is nicer than my apartment. I had to stop thinking about it as my apartment. For now, at least.

Bending over the sink, I stared at myself and tried to think. My skin was pale, eyes tired and sunken. I had to admit, my hair looked fantastic, but the rest of me didn’t match. I wanted to get a room, clean up, and then try and actually have some fun for once. Do the things I never got to, be wild or… or something. It wasn’t as if anyone could tell me not to get crazy and be spontaneous. No boyfriend, no close friends, no family. The only one holding me back was…

My foot hit my suitcase. Startled, I peered at it, an idea floating up. Right. No one is stopping me from enjoying myself but me. Setting my jaw, I pulled the case into a stall. The zipper was loud, grinding through the air.

Tugging my shirt away, I unclasped my boring white bra. In the yellow light of the restroom, my nipples were darker than usual. I’d always wanted smaller breasts, been ashamed of how high mine sat. It made it impossible to wear certain cuts of lingerie, not that I’d bothered trying in the recent years.

I blamed puberty, originally. Thought maybe my chest would stop swelling and start looking more like the girls in fashion magazines. Would keep my parents from acting like I was behaving inappropriately just by existing. Now, at age twenty-two, they were the plumpest they’d ever been. I was ashamed of them, such an awkward teen.

I didn’t want to be so shy any longer.

Shivering in the cool air, I hurried to finish undressing.

I didn’t own much in the way of fancy clothes. The short, tight little black number I slid into view was perfect Vegas camouflage. Jones had bought it for me last year, an attempt to add ‘spice’ he had said. I’d shied away from ever putting it on.

Steeling my nerves, I yanked the skin-tight dress over my head. It was silk come to life, hugging my curves and reminding me I had on no bra. I couldn’t see how to wear one, though, with a strapless dress like that. Everyone would see it. The girls who wear outfits like this never have bra straps showing. It’s just not done.

The ensemble was complete when I pushed my toes into a pair of silver heels. They weren’t too high, but I knew my hips would still swing. Stepping from the stall, I caught the sight of myself in the mirror and gasped.

If Jones saw me like this. Wow. I kicked him from my mind. I was supposed to be angry with the asshole! He’d broken up with me, said awful things about me.

Why even waste time remembering him?

The finishing touches came next. Some concealer for my tired eyes, blush to remove my pallid color. I went so far as to stroke on cobalt eye liner, highlighting the color of my irises. Puckering my glossy pink lips, my grin went sideways.

I actually look kind of good.

It didn’t fix my problem when it came to getting a room, but it did cheer me up. My confidence grew the more I played with my newly flaxen hair, studying how the dress swelled around my hips and ass. Worst case, I thought to myself, heels clicking out into the hotel, I can just drive off the strip and find a cheap motel later.

Emboldened by my logic, by how I caught the clerk eating me with his eyes as I passed, I strolled out into the main casino. The place was bustling, people flocking to Vegas for the weekend. If a busy, loud night was my goal, I’d picked the right time to come.

My attention wandered, caught up in the noise and energy. I’d never been one to gamble, but seeing the people screaming at a table as I passed had me intrigued. Slowing, I pulled my case towards the commotion.

It was a group, three people thick. I had to crane my neck to see the game being played, thankful I should go ignored in the action. The green felt was covered in chips. Roulette, I realized, spotting the red and black markings.

“No more bets.” The dealer, an older woman in a black vest, waved her hand over the table. The people were murmuring, eyes shooting to the spinning wheel. Leaning in closer, I copied them, trying to make sense.

The ball dropped onto twenty-five. Instantly, everyone cheered, arms flying up. I found myself caught in the energy. It was amazingly easy, the voices chorusing over me like clouds. This is fun! I don’t even get the game, but the mood is intoxicating!

Out of no where, tiny hairs became needles of warning on my neck. Lifting my eyes, I caught something—someone—across the way.

Black, darker than shadows inside a cave. That gaze was fixed on me, belonging to a man on the other side of the busy table. There was an olive tone to his color, face hard on the edges and made harder by a trimmed beard along his jaw. He reminded me of the guys you’d see in a GQ magazine, selling whiskey or watches or something plain expensive.
He didn’t move. Somehow, I felt like he was touching me.

In my chest, my heart fluttered. I couldn’t explain it, how someone could just look at me and cause my skin to itch, to writhe, yet it was happening. Swallowing, I forced myself to avert my eyes. Why is he staring at me? Hooking my fingers on my suitcase, I tried to decide where to go. Pick a direction. Stop being so weird! Except it was weird. Extremely weird.

Too aware of how my dress was fitting me, I tugged the hem lower on my thighs. Instantly, the man quirked a small smile. That motion was fingers down my spine. Warmth boiled in my lower belly, made me breathe fast.

Shit, he was looking at me like he wanted to chew me up.

Why was that so exciting?

Brushing my hair nervously, spotting the blonde ends, I was reminded of my whole goal in coming to Vegas. I am not boring. I can fix who I am.

However, I still wasn’t brave. A man like that, even if he was broadcasting his hunger across the room, could still want nothing to do with me. My case rolled, feet taking me further into the casino and away from the stranger. I felt his gaze long after I was out of view.

Among the array of slot machines, I walked until I could put him from my mind. My feet, not used to the heels, ached for a break. Dropping into the chair of a machine, I sighed. What am I even doing here? Glancing down at my polished nails, I scowled. All dolled up, too scared to flirt. I’m not so great at the whole breakup recovery process. My lashes tickled my cheeks. How do I get through this mess? No job, no family, no boyfriend, I just…

“Excuse me.”

Sitting up, I twisted around. A waitress stood beside me, perfect teeth shining. “Um, yes?” I asked, eyeing her low-cut top.

“This is for you,” she said, offering me a tall glass of something cranberry-red.

Shocked, I took the container, the condensation cold on my fingers. “Sorry, I didn’t order anything.”

Giggling, the waitress nodded her head to the side. Following the motion, I spotted him. Her words were muffled in my ringing ears. “That gentleman sent it. It’s paid for. You know him?”

Dazed, I shook my head. My eyes were stuck on his, those black centers made from magnetic tar.

She flipped her hair and shrugged. “Guess you caught his attention. Have fun, honey.” I heard her walk off; didn’t look to confirm.

Who the hell is this man?

I couldn’t help it, I was blushing. Water dripped from the glass, making me jump as it splattered on my bare knee. I broke the stare, sniffing the drink curiously. Taking a sip, the tartness exploded on my tongue. Maybe this is what I needed, I mused, swallowing a healthy mouthful. Liquid courage, they say.

It took downing half the glass, my head buzzing with a welcome softness, before I got myself out of the chair. Even then, the ice clinked before I made my heels carry me towards the stranger. He watched me come; not blinking, always with his tiny smile.

Setting the bag against the table, I swirled my empty glass. “I’m guessing I should thank you.”

Shifting on his chair, the man smoothed the front of his charcoal jacket. My eyes ran down with his motion, caught up in how the shirt beneath stretched over his broad chest. “It’s only natural to send a beautiful woman a gift.” His accent was thick, rippling through my ears like syrup mixed with gin.

Beautiful. That was it, I couldn’t meet his intensity. Turning away, I placed the glass loudly on the table. We were alone—as alone as you could be in Vegas. “You’re pretty bold, huh?”

His chuckle pulled me back; his eyes kept me. “Let me be even bolder. Tell me your name.”

“Cel—” I cleared my throat. “Celeste. I’m Celeste.”

“Celeste,” he repeated. I saw him roll my name around in his mouth. He tasted every edge of it, of me, and the way he smirked said he found it fitting. “A lovely name for such a lovely woman.”

It was a wonder I was still standing. “And you?” I asked, tracing the rim of my empty glass. Alcohol was fueling me, rumbling through my veins and making me braver. “What should I call the man who sends me an unsolicited drink?”

“In private, you may call me anything.” Reaching across, he touched the side of my wrist casually. His flesh was electricity without anything to ground it, jolting my heart and sending waves down to my inner thighs. Could he feel how my pulse was pounding? “But in here, Leonide will do just fine.”

Leonide. With his accent I couldn’t place, like he was rolling diamonds under his tongue, his unique name added to the mystery. “Where are you from?” I blurted.

Arching a dark eyebrow, his lips curled down at the edges. “Now, who is the bold one?”

Every inch of my face burned red. Yanking my arm away, I rubbed it nervously at my waist. Fuck, what was I thinking? “Sorry! Uh, I was just—your name is so interesting, and…”

His laugh surprised me. It was an earthy sound, low in his gut. “No, it’s nothing.” His black irises twinkled, moving to my suitcase. “Let me ask where you’re from.”

Peeking at my bag, I wished I hadn’t been dragging it around. It made me feel clumsy, ruined my whole ‘confidence’ aura. “Not far. I live—well. I guess I was living in LA.”

Leonide tilted his head. Carefully, so that I almost missed it, he waved a waitress over. “That sounds like a story. Bring us two more drinks—scotch, for me.” Considering my flushed cheeks, he pursed his lips. “A rum and coke for my friend.”

“Oh, but I really shouldn’t impose.” Or mix alcohols, talk about walking the edge.

The girl wandered off, ignoring me entirely. Leonide reached out and took my hand. Patiently, but with unyielding force, he guided me to sit across from him. Unable to make my brain work around the mush it was becoming, I just… I went along. His fingers linked under his angular chin, attention fixed on me solely. “Now, Celeste. Tell me more about why you’re no longer living in LA.”

“It’s not a very good story.” The waitress swayed up, handing our drinks over. I didn’t see how much he handed her, but I knew he had to be tipping her well to make her move so fast. The drink was cool, the burn slow when it worked up to my skull. “Why don’t you tell me about you? I bet you’re way more interesting.”

Under the table, something touched my ankle. Straightening stiffly, I watched the man across from me smile slyly. “You seem very interesting to me, Celeste.”

Chewing the inside of my cheek didn’t help me. “My ex said the opposite.” Blinking, I realized what I had just said. Smoothing my hair behind my ears, I squinted into my drink like there was a prize inside. “Sorry! You don’t want to hear about my ex. How stupid of me.”

Leonide leaned close, his fingers spreading on the table. They were a mere breath from mine. I thought the magnetic tension would pull them the rest of the way. “Ah, on the contrary.” In the low lights, his eyes were coffee and satin. “Learning that you’re single is exactly the sort of thing I like to hear.”

Squeezing my knees together, I struggled to speak. “Oh—uh. Well.”

“You’re not living in LA anymore, is what I gathered from your words.”

“That—I’m just not sure where I’ll go now, is all.”

“No family, no one to take up with while you figure this stuff with your ex out?”

On the table, my hands twitched. I was itching for him to close the distance. Every cell of mine was struggling to understand what parts of me were sweltering due to alcohol, or due to the handsome, intense man before me. “I… no.” Why am I telling him this? “My parents were my only family, really. And they’re…” Dead. Just say dead. “Not around anymore.”

The way he looked at me said it all. It wasn’t quite pity; the neutral line of his mouth spoke more of simple understanding. That was enough. I didn’t want to talk about dead parents or ex-boyfriends, or anything like that.

I don’t want to be boring.

Gingerly, I slid the toe of my shoe against his ankle. Amazingly, he gave no hint of reaction. “Forgive me,” he said. “I pried too much. The loss of a loved one never settles in the heart.” Gripping his glass, he sipped the amber colored liquid. I, in that second, made note that he wore no rings of any kind.

How was such a handsome man, someone who dripped power and money, not married? I was tempted to pry. I never got a word out; his hand dipped under the table, touching my bare knee. “Celeste. I admit, I noticed your bag for a reason. Are you staying in this hotel?”

My tongue was swollen. Speaking was so much work. “Um, I—I was planning to, but the rates were just—I mean—”

“I’m here on business.” His thumb glided over my calf. I closed my eyes, lost in the sensation. I was losing myself to a stranger… shouldn’t I have put up more of a fight? Made him work? Was I so eager to make music for anyone, so long as they plucked the right strings? “Celeste, drop your bag in my room. I have plenty of space for it, then you won’t need to drag it around the casino.”

“I…” He brushed the hem of my dress. “That’s…” In my shoes, my toes were curling. I was a single heart beat from top to bottom. “You’re very kind, Leonide.”

He chuckled. “Ah. My dear, you’ll find I can be very kind.”

Two drinks in, I was such a lightweight. Struggling to stand, I didn’t fight when he took my bag from me. I didn’t even fight when he slid his arm through mine, taking me by the elbow to lead the way.

I was feeling drunk. Not to mention… well. I was turned on as fuck. Horny, dizzy, guided by a mysterious—but hot as hell—man through Vegas.

And I kind of loved it.

Call me boring now, I thought, stepping into the elevator. Dare to call me anything like that again, Jones.

Jones.

I didn’t want to think about him or his stupid, greasy face again.

In the reflective walls of the elevator, I saw myself. Pressed against Leonide, my head was below his shoulder. He towered over me, suit contrasting beside my newly bottle-blonde hair.

We went up many floors. I lost count, wasn’t paying attention. I was busy smelling him, letting his musk take over my nose and slide into place. If I could just smell Leonide, I would have been happy for hours.

As it was, I followed him on shaky legs towards his room. Each step was a chore; my core was tugging at me, aching with my growing attraction. Maybe I was going crazy. Maybe this was how people handled breakups.

I didn’t dwell once he opened the door.

The room was huge, a giant king bed filling one side and hardly taking up space. I barely glimpsed the bathroom, but I certainly noted the huge spa tub. This room! Mine would have cost three-hundred? How much is this one? Jesus!

He set my bag down by the wall, fingers working at his jacket. “That should be better. Less cumbersome.” The clothing fell onto a chair. Fiddling with his form fitting white button-down, Leonide glanced at me. Whatever he was about to say, I cut him off.

“Oh my god, that view!” Brushing around him, my nose touched the giant window. It stretched to the ceiling, looking down on the Christmas-colored lights of Vegas. I’d never seen anything so gorgeous. If all I got from this trip was this moment, it was worth it.

Leonide’s steps were soft as feathers on the rug. I didn’t see him until he was close enough for his breath to tickle my ear. “A drink, before we return to the vibrancy of the casino.”

Twisting away, I spotted the two thick glasses of copper liquid in his hands. On the clear surface, his nails were immaculate. “Oh, sure,” I laughed nervously. My mouth was parched; it wasn’t from lack of drink. God, this man is beautiful. Why is this happening to me? Me, Celeste Barstow. Even if I was trying to NOT be boring, the fact was there were hundreds—if not thousands—of beautiful women downstairs. Here I was, just feet away from a man who could certainly get the attention of one of them.

Why waste his time on me?

Taking the glass, I sniffed curiously; notes of almond, of smoke and fire. It burned righteously down my throat, brought more fog to my fluffed skull. The concoction was strong, and I…

I was not.

“What is this?” I asked, turning the container in the light.

“Does it matter?” His glass was empty. “If something is delicious, does it matter what it is created from?” He was standing too close, watching me with those onyx eyes that threatened to pull me under.

I need to say something. Instead, I just gazed at his wicked smile. Such full lips for a man. How would they feel, gliding along my own, tasting—No! Jesus, focus yourself, Celeste. You don’t know this guy, you’re halfway to wasted and in his hotel room. What are you doing, what do you want from this?

The answer was on the tip of my memory. Looking at the window, I caught my reflection. Blonde hair, flushed, heaving chest. My dress was a glove, hugging my breasts and hinting at the hard tips of my nipples.

Right then, I wasn’t Celeste Barstow.

I didn’t need to be.

I don’t want to be boring. If I have to play pretend to make that happen…

Fuck it. I will.

The last of the alcohol ran down to my gullet. Leonide had asked me something. I blinked, saw him take the empty glass from me. His skin was so warm where it touched mine, so kind and gentle.

I realized I was leaning on the window, the surface chilly on my shoulder. Standing was hard, thinking was… harder.

“Celeste?” My name was candy when he said it. I let the sound coil into my ears, shut my eyes and felt myself stumble. “Celeste!” Then he had me, catching under my arm to let me stabilize. “Easy there, maybe that drink was too much for you.”

Hair tickled my nose; was I looking at the floor? “No, it was… it was really nice. Sorry, I don’t drink much.” No, don’t tell him that! Remember, interesting… be exciting, be cool! Lying was so difficult with my brain washing away.

He led me to the bed. The sensation of his strength excited me, left me lonely when he released my arm. Under me, the mattress yielded. “Just relax a moment,” he whispered. “I thought you could handle more than that. My apologies.”

Leonide brushed hair from my face, guided it behind my ear. Looking up at him as he bent over me, I was stiff. All I wanted to do was look at that wonderful face, to lose myself in his smell and smile for the rest of my time. Thought I could handle more, he said. Guilt ran hard into my guts. He said I was interesting, I’m making him think otherwise… I…

I needed to do something.

Maybe I just wanted to justify it. It was impossible for me to know, especially then. The edge of his smirk felt decadent on my lips. I’d never been the one to kiss first, I’d always let men take the lead.

Not boring, not boring, I won’t be…

He curled his hand on my neck, trapped my hair. Tingles spread from the roots in waves that made me inhale sharply. Leonide didn’t need to hold me still, to crush his lips to mine while holding me there by my nape. He didn’t have to control me in any way at all.

But… fuck if I didn’t like it. I’d never felt my pussy throb in connection with my breathing. Hell, was I breathing? It was a struggle to think about anything beyond his tongue grazing my teeth.

Under my back, the bed springs shifted. I was lying down without knowing when I’d fallen—or been shoved. I was just there, his weight on me like a familiar blanket. How far will he go? I wondered, blinking when he pulled away. How far will I let him?

Crouching over me, Leonide studied my face. Two fingers ran down my cheek, then tugged my lower lip. “Beautiful.” The word was ample; I loved his god damn accent more and more. “Am I moving too fast?”

Closing my mouth took a second; opening it was slower. “No.”

His smile was tainted by something. “Good.”

Inching down my body, his beard rubbed over my collar bone. I’d said he wasn’t moving too fast, yet the sensation of him fondling my left breast tightened my spine. I wanted to sit up on my elbows, to get a better look the lower he went. Moving was a chore. “I feel weird,” I mumbled.

He left embers where his fingers scraped. “I feel it too, Celeste. Perhaps it’s love.”

My eyes rolled to the ceiling; had I shut them? No, not love. Something is off.

Reaching under me, he pulled the zipper of my dress. Leonide tore the garment down my thighs, peeled me like a piece of fruit. My blood was pumping, thighs feebly pressing together while he stroked over the front of my panties. Dazed as I was, I could still feel my own slickness through the material.

Everything in my mouth was numbing. I wanted to say something, didn’t know what. Leonide spoke first. “You smell intoxicating.” His words tickled across my barely hidden lower lips. “Tell me, are you a virgin?”

The question caught me unprepared. I tried to lift myself, to look down my body and see him. It was all too hard, shadows dancing in my vision. “I—what? Why?”

His response was quick, fingers spreading my skin roughly. My moan was wild, silky underwear digging into my soaked slit. “Have you fucked a man before? Your boyfriend?”

I felt the blanket on my cheek. It was cool on my melting face. If I bit it, maybe I would stay silent… avoid answering his embarrassing question—

With deliberate purpose, he thumbed my swollen clit through the fabric. “Celeste.”

“Yes!” I gasped, delirious from arousal and—and something more. Surely just alcohol, except nothing in my muscles felt right. Nerves were decaying, more than just his expert touch should have caused.

Over my own heavy breathing, I heard his morbid sigh. “Pity.”

Why is that a pity? I wondered.

“It’s fine.” He tore the clothing from me, the air caressing my exposed pussy. “There are other things worth cultivating than chastity.” Bending deep, Leonide sank his tongue into my wet pinkness. What feeling I still had, it resonated there. My center, my very being, it all became involved with the pulsing ache of my loins.

He whispered things, lapped and tasted me like I was a fine meal. Jones had never done that; I’d never let him. I wouldn’t have called myself a prude, I’d just been shy about letting anyone touch me so intimately.

It had taken someone as direct as this stranger—this man I didn’t know beyond smell or voice—to make me give in.

He must have sensed how on the edge I was. Tension boiled, my knees vibrating as the orgasm rose. Two fingers curled inside me, my walls hugging down as heat exploded. I was too weak to scream; I whimpered instead.

Chuckling, Leonide slid free. His weight settled over me. I knew he was there, why wouldn’t my eyes open? Darkness was taking me under, energy fleeing. “There’s something to be admired about the classical blonde,” he said against my throat.

Groaning in my throat, I felt myself falling. Far above, in a black world somehow more dangerous than the abyss I was tumbling into, I thought I heard him speak again; I couldn’t have. I must have been dreaming, drunk on sex and alcohol and the power of being someone I was not.

“Yes. I do love a good American whore.”

Dreaming. That was all it was.

I was content to dream forever.