Author: Annabel Josephmore from this user
A stranger in the wings, a traitorous pair of toe shoes, and a traumatic turn dancing with The Great Rubio… For ballerina Ashleigh Keaton, it’s been one hell of a night.
But it’s not over yet. When Rubio drags her to a private party at his friend’s house in the ritzy part of London, she meets Liam Wilder, a lifestyle dominant and frighteningly seductive man. Liam pursues Ashleigh, attracted by her strength and talent, but she has secrets—an abusive past and a crippling fear of intimacy that prevents her from connecting to anyone, especially a playboy reputed to be legendary in bed.
Eventually he wins her trust and sets out to heal the troubled dancer, awakening her to a world of sensual abandon in a series of BDSM “sessions” at his home. But how pure are his motives? Is he helping her or endangering her fragile soul? Liam hides his own destructive secrets, and so does Fernando Rubio, their temperamental friend. Over time the three become embroiled in a tangle of artifice, fears, and lies that threaten to undo everything they’ve worked for.
Will Ashleigh and Liam find the strength to defeat their demons? Or are they cursed to sleepwalk through life forever, afraid to experience the passion and intimacy of love?
I took the flower and held it to my nose, swallowing back emotion as I stared at him. He’d gone to the theater to find a replacement rose for me. It was the nicest thing anyone had done for me in months. “Thank you,” I said. “I felt bad about the other one.”
“I know. I felt bad about a lot of things that happened yesterday. I made Ruby apologize to you, but I should have apologized too.”
He ran a hand through his hair and looked at the floor, then back at me. “I should have listened when you said you weren’t a party person. I should have read your signals better. I should have seen you home myself after I kicked Ruby out. I should have done a lot of things I didn’t do. I guess my main concern is whether you’re okay.”
It was my turn to talk. To say I was perfectly fine, that it was no big deal. I wanted to say all the right words but they wouldn’t come. I could feel my face breaking. I didn’t want to start bawling in front of him—I was so ugly when I cried. No graceful, pretty tears here. More like awful, miserable, emotional-weirdo tears, so it was really, really important that I get away from him. I clutched the rose to my chest and searched for my keys.
“What?” My voice sounded thick and weird. Maybe he wouldn’t notice since he didn’t know me that well. And why the fuck were keys as elusive as unicorns when you needed to find them in your purse? I saw him reach out in my peripheral vision, and then he took my face in one of his hands, just gripped it between thumb and fingers. Our gazes met and locked. His eyes were liquid amber, even more beautiful than I remembered. He came close, so close to me, and I realized he was going to kiss me. He tilted my face and brushed his lips across mine with the barest hint of pressure.
It wasn’t a lucid decision—okay, I’m going to cry now—but as his lips moved over mine, the tears that had been building up all day spilled out of my eyes. My face scrunched up and my mouth trembled uncontrollably. He brushed his fingers through the wet trails, nuzzling me, dropping warm, light kisses on my cheeks. “Don’t,” he whispered. “Don’t cry.”
I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t seem to stop. I touched his waist when he drew back, my silent plea for him to continue even if I was falling apart in his arms. He answered with a deeper kiss, a skillful, attentive exploration that had my fingers tightening against the softness of his sweater. While he nibbled and teased and slipped his tongue between my teeth, he slid a hand back to cradle my nape, then he walked me backward, pressing me into the corner of my door.
His kiss transformed then, from soft and gentle to something else. I tensed, fearful of the sudden change in his demeanor. He stood like a wall in front of me, his muscular, sculpted physique pressed against my much smaller body. He didn’t paw at me. If he was rough or clumsy, I could have pulled away and said, ugh, this asshole, and regained control of the situation, but he was the opposite of clumsy. Each touch of his lips, his tongue, ignited a response in me. His fingers twisted in my hair, his tugs causing pain but something pleasurable too.
His arm slid around my waist and tightened in a hard clasp, and in that moment something inside me awakened, some part of me that I’d stuffed down and smothered for years. That thing—want, desire—stirred to life with a starving vengeance. I returned his kisses with uncharacteristic abandon, and the harder I kissed him, the tighter his grip became. He had me cornered, but I found I liked being cornered by him. I wanted to be trapped and restrained against the wall and kissed into submission. I’d avoided passion and sex for years because I feared force, because I was afraid to give up control, but somehow he took all of that out of the equation and made me want him.
The more he kissed me the harder I cried, because it felt so good and so scary, and because each kiss was changing me a little inside. I grasped his arm with my free hand, clutching the rose stem in the other. I had to stop him before I lost myself, before bad memories and bad feelings turned this dream into a nightmare. I forced myself to stop responding, to push him away. His kiss gentled and his arm at my waist loosened. He drew back—only slightly—and pressed his forehead to mine.
“What is it?” His thumb caressed my cheek. “What’s wrong?”
You brought me a rose. You kissed me. He wouldn’t understand why that called for tears. He didn’t understand anything. Instead I said, “I had a terrible day,” which was mostly true.
He rubbed behind one of my ears, a light touch that made my breath shudder. “What was so terrible about it?”
“I don’t know. I felt bad about last night.”
“Bad in what way?”
I swallowed and turned my face from him. I shivered with cold, or anxiety, or perhaps the shock of his proximity. He drew away with a soft sound. “Where are your keys? Let’s go inside and get you out of those wet clothes.”
I understood from his words exactly what he wanted me to understand. Let’s go inside and fuck on some horizontal surface. His gaze communicated it, along with the pitch of his voice and his gentle but possessive grasp on my arm. I understood—but old fears die hard. I wanted him but I didn’t. I fumbled around in my bag, my fingers useless and heavy with nerves.
“I can’t— I—” I can’t do this. I’m embarrassed. I’m afraid. “I can’t let you in. My apartment is a mess.”
His hand stroked up and down my arm. He watched me with far too much attention. “Are you okay?”
I shrugged and flailed around in my bag for the keys. If I didn’t come up with them soon I was going to fling the whole damn thing against the wall. “I’m fine.”
He took it from me and within five seconds came up with the keys.
“Thank you,” I said. “I’m sorry. I have to go change.” I could really feel the cold now that he’d let go of me. I stared at the middle of his chest, wondering how to turn the closeness of this moment into a goodbye. The idea of it started my bottom lip trembling again. Why not me? Why couldn’t I have this man and the things he offered? Why couldn’t I be different?
“Ashleigh.” He said it light and slow as I stared at his lips. “Let me come in, just until you feel better. We don’t have to do anything.”
I leaned back against the door, gripping the knob. “The thing is…”
“The thing is…?”
“I— I don’t usually let anyone in my apartment.”
“Why, what’s in there?” he asked in a bemused voice. “Piles of dead bodies?”
No, I thought. Just one dead body. My own. I turned back to the door, opened the lock and edged myself inside. I intended to close it but something in the way he stood there stopped me.
“I don’t want you to come in,” I said. “I’m just… I’m just too weird.”
He stepped forward, right into my apartment, and smiled at me. “Too normal, I’d worry about. Too weird is perfectly fine.”
* * * * *
I’d been with a lot of women in my life. I’d seen a lot of strange things over the course of my adventures, but one thing I’d never seen was a blanket fort in a grown woman’s apartment.
At first we both ignored it. She put the rose on her kitchen counter and ducked into the bathroom to change out of her wet clothes. She emerged in a tiny tee and form-fitting sweatpants that I wanted to peel right back off her, but then she pulled on a drapey cardigan that swallowed her whole. She faced me with a look that said you’re still here? She offered me coffee and I accepted. I didn’t want to leave.
While the coffee brewed, she showed me around her studio apartment. Here’s the kitchenette. Here’s the bathroom. Here’s the closet. Here’s the window. There was no bed. Believe me, I looked.
But there was a blanket fort. I was having second thoughts about what I was doing here.
I’d come here to fuck her, in case you hadn’t figured that out yet. Kinky or not, her graceful, unique ballet body attracted me. I wanted to grope her all over and work out my curiosities with some prolonged and athletic sex. I wanted to pull her glossy hair, pinch her small, pert breasts. After I fucked her, I could stop wondering what it would feel like to fuck her. I could walk out of here in the morning and sleep a lot better tomorrow night.
That was the plan. I just hadn’t expected a blanket fort in the corner.
But she ignored it and drank coffee, and so did I.
“Where did you say you were from again?” I asked.
She half-smiled at me. “I didn’t, remember? You guessed.”
“But you never actually told me.”
She stared down into her coffee cup. “I grew up in Wyoming. In cattle country.” She made a face and looked back up at me. “To this day, I can’t stand to eat beef. I don’t like anything from a cow.”
I stared at her. “No steak? Hamburgers? Roast?”
She shook her head firmly. “I don’t eat beef.”
I pointed at the cream she’d set out for our coffee. “That comes from a cow.”
“It’s not the same.”
“Leather jackets?” I asked. I’d slung mine over the back of my chair.
“I don’t care about those so much. It’s the food that makes me sick. The taste.” She shook herself a little. “There’s a smell in Eastern Wyoming that makes me sick.”
“One nice thing about London—there aren’t a bunch of cattle ranches stinking up the place.”
That made her smile. A little.
“Tell me about your security job,” she said, stirring her coffee. “And your talent for opening locks.”
“I only work on the right side of the law, I promise. I own a personal service agency with my dad. Ironclad Solutions—discreet personnel for the rich and famous. Bodyguards, PAs, travel security. Business is pretty good.” That was an understatement, but she’d seen my house. She knew. I was past apologizing for my money. I gave away as much as I could and enjoyed my life with the rest of it, although I felt a pang of guilt sitting in her tiny, bed-less apartment.
“Bodyguards, huh?” She glanced at my well-developed biceps. “Is it ever dangerous?”
“Sometimes. It depends on the situation. Sometimes it’s just escorting a client around an unfamiliar city, or babysitting celebrity kids. When Rubio travels, he uses our agency’s protection to ensure his…personal space. We serve high profile clients who need security and management, but in most cases it’s not a life or death thing.”
“In most cases?” She shook her head. “Wow.”
“Are you worried about me?” I teased. “About my agents? Believe me, they’re well trained. Like you, only a different set of talents.”
“Is that how you found out about Rubio’s…uh…proclivities? You had to follow him into some sex club?”
“Not me, no. My employees probably have, a time or two. But I knew Rubio in BDSM circles before he ever used Ironclad.” I fell silent a moment, my gaze trailing off over her shoulder to her slouching blanket fort. “Can I ask you a personal question, Ashleigh? Where is your bed?”
A flush crept across her cheeks. She thought for long moments, like she was putting together some big, enlightening answer. I waited patiently to be enlightened, but in the end all she said was, “I don’t have one.”
I leaned closer and whispered, “Do you sleep in the fort?”
She got the same look on her face that she had when Rubio pulled the rose out of her bag. Embarrassment, guilt. A bit of horror.
“If you do,” I said a little louder, “I’ll pretty much think it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. I guess it’s possible that you sleep on your couch, but the fort would be so much edgier.”
“It’s not edgy,” she said, fighting a smile. “I can explain it, actually.”
“I’m all ears.”
She looked over at the pile of blankets. “I grew up in a super religious family. My mom and dad always threatened me about the devil. They said he wanted to possess me, that he was always watching me and making me do bad things.” She bit a fingernail and looked back at me. “At some point, I got this idea that the devil lived under my bed. After that, I couldn’t stand to be in one.”
This was all kinds of fucked up. “So you don’t have a bed because a devil might be under it?”
“I just don’t like beds. Anything could be under them. Devils, monsters. Spiders.”
Your parents, I added silently. I glanced at her fort. “So, blankets have devil-repelling qualities?”
She shrugged. “A devil hasn’t gotten me yet.”
Ha. You’re sitting across from one.
This is the first in a series of two standalone books (BDSM Ballet series). Welcome reviews anywhere but especially love Amazon reviews!