Winner of Best Erotic Romance 2014 – All About Romance Reader Poll
Behind every heroine is the pain that binds her.
Manga café owner Kara Sinclair has one burden she’s been carrying around so long it’s bordering on pathetic. Her virginity. Getting rid of it, though, means doing the one thing that scares her the most—letting down her guard with a relative stranger. Which makes her best friend’s older brother Vin Fox’s offer too tempting to refuse.
Vin barely has room in his schedule to turn around, much less worry about Kara and her crazy quest. When she insists on going ahead with a plan that he considers unsafe, though, enough is enough. If she wants to lose it, she can lose it with him. Bonus: he gets to play out his darkest fantasies, slave collar and all.
Kara thought dealing with a known entity like sexy-as-sin, controlling-as-hell Vin would smooth the way. But when it comes right down to doing the deed, not even the safety of a costume can fool her demons.
By then the game has gone too far…and the consequences could bind them together forever. Or tear them apart at the seams.
Warning: Contains a sexy, brooding “fix you” hero and a heroine who isn’t afraid of anything…except “normal.” More kinky cosplay losts-and-founds than you can shake a riding crop at. WTF Infirmary is booked up; please make an appointment before you read.
Kara dodged the crowds as she left the convention center’s bar, feeling bad about leaving Ellie alone. She felt bad about leaving full stop, but knowing Hunter was coming to get her friend helped.
Hiding the fact she was going to meet Vin didn’t.
Then again explaining to Ellie that she’d been sending the pictures Ellie had been taking of her, including the ones containing various potential suitors, to Vin all night, for reasons she couldn’t have explained even to herself, would also have been a little difficult. Ellie probably wouldn’t have cared but Kara felt awkward about it all the same.
Plenty of time to tell her friend later though. When whatever was going to happen with Vin had happened.
A small burst of excitement went through her as she went down the main set of stairs and out through the entrance into the brightly lit city beyond. An excitement she couldn’t pretend she didn’t feel.
I’ll tell you who…
God, did he truly have someone in mind for her or was he teasing her in return for the whole day she’d spent teasing him? Perhaps she’d get to the bar to find no one there.
Kara pulled the long duster-style black coat she wore tighter around her as she stepped out onto the pavement, concealing her costume.
No, that wasn’t Vin’s style. He was a straight-up kind of guy not a game-player. He was probably meeting her so he could give her another lecture, then he’d take her home. Like a child.
Kara began walking in the direction of the pool bar. Man, if all he was going to do was give her a talking to then she’d be forced to take more serious action. Like drop the coat and do a sexy dance in the middle of the bar. Not that she knew any sexy dances, but she was sure she could improvise. That would probably embarrass the crap out of him.
The pool bar itself was dimly lit, a bit shabby and full of the usual Saturday late-night crowds, an odd cross-section of people ranging from students and business types to a group of old guys and what looked like a hen party.
As Kara scanned around the pool tables looking for Vin, she soon discovered why the hen party was making rather a lot of noise. There was a tall guy playing the table next to theirs, causing them do a lot of whispering, pointing and giggling.
No wonder. It was Vin. And his tall, lean figure in low-slung jeans and a black T-shirt was enough to make anyone stare.
Kara wound her way slowly through the tables, unable to take her eyes off him as he lined up a shot, one muscled, tanned arm out, his cue held firmly between long fingers. The severe beauty of his features was shadowed by the overhead lighting as he focused on the ball, but the light picked up the sheen of copper in his dark hair, the only other similarity he had with Ellie.
The sheer physical magnetism he possessed held her and the entire hen party at the next table absolutely hypnotized as he drew back his arm to take the shot. The white hit a green ball which then bounced off the side of the table and hit a red with unerring accuracy. The red shot straight into one of the pockets.
The hen party clapped but Vin didn’t look at them. He lifted his gaze from the table and looked at her instead.
Electricity whispered over her skin as she met his dark, stormy blue eyes, and she had to take a deep breath, trying to slow her racing heartbeat.
God, this was insane. Where had all this sudden sexual tension come from?
Telling herself to move, she approached the table, her coat still pulled tight around her. He straightened, holding his cue by his side, looking her up and down.
“I’m still wearing the costume,” she murmured, wanting to push him in some way. Get him back for the way he made her feel so off-balance. “Wanna see it?”
His gaze didn’t move from hers. “Show me.”
Kara caught her breath. She hadn’t expected him to want to. She’d thought to flash him and catch him off guard. Shock him and maybe embarrass him a little. Part of her had even been looking forward to it. But now, perversely, she wanted to refuse. Deny him just to taunt him.
She lifted a brow. “My, Vincent. So demanding. Say please and I might.”
“No please.” His voice held a note of command she’d never thought she’d ever want to obey. “Show me. Now.”
But she did want to obey. Because another, secret part of her wanted him to see her.
So she let the two halves of her coat open, giving him a glimpse of the slave collar and chain, the metal bikini top and exposed length of her torso and thighs.
Vin didn’t move but the way his gaze swept from her head to her feet made her whole body prickle with heat. She felt like she’d been licked with fire, scorched. A voice inside her head screeched at her to cover herself, that she’d made herself vulnerable, but she resisted the urge. She wanted a reaction from him first. Some evidence that she hadn’t shown herself to him for nothing.
Because somehow it felt important.
Slowly Vin lifted his gaze from her body to meet her eyes. The look on his face was hungry, skin drawn tight over the classical bone structure beneath it. His eyes glittered. The intensity of him held her motionless, made it difficult to breathe.
He liked what he saw, that much was obvious. And the fact that he did made her ache. Made her want.
“Stop, Kara,” he said after what felt like an age, that edge of command still in his husky voice. “Stop sending me texts. Stop sending me pictures. And stop pushing me. Because you may not like the consequences.”
Slowly she leaned her hip against the side of the pool table and folded the coat around herself again. Breath, long denied, filled her lungs. “Why? You don’t like?”
“I don’t like you messing with me, no.”
“Sure you do. In fact, I think you love it.” She eased away from the table and came closer to him. He watched her approach, unmoving. “I think you want me to mess with you more.”
She didn’t know quite why she felt the urge to keep pushing at him. Or what reaction she wanted from him.
Sure you don’t.
Kara inhaled. Yeah, she knew. And perhaps it was time to stop denying her own feelings. Her own needs. Perhaps it was time to admit to herself what she wanted and why she could not leave him alone.
She hadn’t wanted any of those guys at the Con. The guy she really wanted was Vin.
For a long moment neither of them said anything, the space between them full of tension and unspoken desires.
Then he said, “What do you want, Kara?”
“You said you were going to offer me an alternative to all the guys I’ve been sending you.” She turned, leaned back against the pool table, her hands gripping the sides. “So here I am. What’s your alternative?” Somehow telling him exactly what she wanted felt too hard. Made her too vulnerable. She’d been rejected too many times before to leave herself open to the possibility of it happening again.
His gaze had dropped to where the coat had opened a little, giving him a glimpse of her bare leg. Good. Let him look. Let him see what he could have if he wanted. He just had to say it. Just had to tell her.
“An alternative?” he murmured. “You really want to know?”
“Yeah.” Her voice wasn’t as steady as she would have liked it to be.
Vin didn’t move, but his gaze lifted from the gap in her coat back to her face again. “Me.”
Coming from Samhain, February 2014