Excerpt #1 | Excerpt #2
“Why wouldn’t you want to expose your ass to half of San Francisco? At least the hypothermia will prevent you from feeling the prying hands pinching you,” Julia Fletcher commented dryly as she took a sip of her French martini.
Charlotte Korte spewed diet soda across the dimly lit outdoor table. “Aubrey’s going to kick your ass if you don’t lower your voice.”
Aubrey Bennett rolled her hazel eyes and deposited a bit of sucked ice back into her water glass. Nothing that came from Julia’s mouth surprised her -- the woman thrived on adrenaline. Setting her glass down, she looked around the small restaurant patio area and shivered. Sitting outside in the chilly October air was foolish, but they all wanted a change of pace.
“I for one think a French maid outfit would look as sexy as hell on you, and I’m secure enough in my sexuality to say that.” Julia raised her drink and toasted the air as the other three girls laughed.
She didn’t bother to respond to the comment. Aubrey got enough male attention as it was, not that she was complaining. But traipsing around town wearing a barely there French maid costume wasn’t going to work. She hated crowds, and Halloween had never really been on her radar for fun.
Way too many trashed maulers on a pawing frenzy. Add the packed, darkened venues to the mix, and Aubrey’s claustrophobia morphed into sheer panic.
“What are we doing for Halloween this year anyway? I don’t want something boring.” Charlotte’s red lips pouted slightly. Aubrey knew that mischievous, doe-eyed look.
“You already have an idea, so you might as well spill it.”
“I do not!”
Aubrey snickered as Charlotte’s fingers began winding around in her curly auburn hair. “See? That’s the tell right there. Anytime you start playing with your hair, we know you’re lying.”
“A tell?” Julia asked.
Francie Parsons grinned and nodded. “Definitely. A tell is a visual clue when someone is unsure of themselves or is lying about something. Aubrey’s played a few too many hands of poker, I see.”
“I have a tell?” Charlotte asked, her sultry voice raising an octave. Aubrey loved her friends like sisters, and it was hard to imagine that seven years had passed since they had met at UCLA. Four starving, homesick girls thousands of miles from family had formed one of their own.
But the year had been fraught with stress -- both personal and professional. Sure, having one another for support had made the string of breakups and work mishaps manageable, but that didn’t make for a fun year. And Aubrey suspected all of them wanted to unwind just as much as she did.
“What is it?” Francie asked.
“It may be too…” Charlotte’s chocolate eyes peered around the abandoned patio area. “It may be too out there for a couple of you.”
Aubrey smirked when Francie’s petite frame stiffened, her chin lifting stubbornly. Julia shook her head, a perfect blush already staining the china doll complexion they each coveted.
Sweeping black ringlets from her forehead, she remained silent. Francie and Julia were the most conservative of the group, but Aubrey suspected they had wild sides yearning to break free of the perfectly pressed power suits.
“What if we throw a key party of sorts, except with a unique spin to it?”
Charlotte’s eyes danced between the table’s occupants.
“What sort of spin?” Francie asked, wariness reflecting in her voice.
Aubrey had no doubt it would be wild. That was Charlotte. Wild and uninhibited. A firecracker with no fuse as many lovingly referred to her. “And to clarify by key party you mean the swinging thing they did back in the seventies?”
Julia gasped, and Aubrey cast her a sympathetic look. Julia wasn’t as deathly shy as Francie but certainly close. Francie had paled to an almost ashen appearance, her eyes wide and apprehensive.
Charlotte laughed. “Not just then, but yes. I was thinking it would be fun if each of us invited as least one guy, and we let them pick out some role-plays.”
“Why would they get to pick them?” Aubrey asked, her curiosity piqued by the idea. Her pulse raced as her mind processed the endless possibilities. “Because that way we wouldn’t know who is playing the male roles. It would add to the thrill.” Charlotte took a sip of her drink, her overly dramatic hand gestures paralleling the excitement on her face. “And then we’d draw to see who got which role, and we’d play them that weekend.”
“What if it’s…” Aubrey could finish Francie’s sentence.
What if it was something they didn’t want to do?
Charlotte patted her friend’s hand and smiled. “We all have good taste in men, even if a couple of us are a bit wild. None of them would push us into anything we didn’t want, and there will be a safe word, of course.”
Aubrey felt coils of tension wrap around her nerves and constrict. Not even she had given that much power to a man before. This was a different playground entirely, one she didn’t necessarily want to run off, but she couldn’t help wonder if she was ready.
No. She was more than ready. This year had seriously sucked.
The Fabio wannabe, Dave Sparrow, had turned into a pathological stalker one shutter away from a working camera. Three a.m. heavy breathing calls had annoyed her, dead flowers on her doorstep had pissed her off, but breaking into her home… That had crossed the line into deranged.
Aubrey shuddered, running her hands up her bare arms. It had been a month since that incident, and she had moved, turned tail and run like a scared animal from the condo she loved so much. All because some prick couldn’t handle rejection. Mentally affirming her decision, she snapped back to reality.
“Safe word?” Julia asked.
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “Sorry, I should have explained. It’s a word that signals an immediate stop to the play.”
“Doesn’t ‘stop’ do that?” Francie asked.
Aubrey laughed. “Not if you’re playing hard.”
Charlotte grinned. “A girl after my heart. So what do you all think?”
Aubrey glanced out across the pier, the harbor sounds detracted from the deathly silence at the table. Her heart raced and her pussy moistened at the thought of role-playing. It had been so long since she had. Too long.
But playing with a stranger added a new element of daring to the mix, one she wasn’t sure even she was prepared for. “What about safety as far as the men goes?”
“There’s still plenty of time before Halloween. We can all get tested and play safe,” Charlotte said authoritatively.
“Get tested?” Julia asked.
“For STDs,” Aubrey added.
Julia’s blush was crimson as she looked around the table. “That sounds reasonable to me. I’m tired of being the shy, conservative one of the group.”
“I thought that was my role. You were the quiet, elusive one,” Francie said with a smile. “It sounds fun to me.”
Aubrey was stunned. She never would have guessed either woman would agree, much less both of them agree so quickly. It was uncharacteristic. Then again, maybe it wasn’t.
All their conversations had recently been wrapped around doing something different and daring, and it certainly didn’t get much wilder than Charlotte’s idea. Not for Aubrey at least. Of course, she doubted either Francie or Julia had honed in on what Charlotte had said.
At least one man.
That implied ménages would be possible. Aubrey’s body pulsated at the chance of fulfilling a fantasy. “Count me in.”
Charlotte yelped her exuberance, startling a passing waiter. The women laughed as Francie dove to help balance the careening tray of beverages meant for the table beside them.
“So who is everyone inviting?” Francie asked hopefully.
Aubrey grinned at the not so subtle question. Quite a few men had drifted through their lives over the years, but most of them shared the same taste in men. She doubted attraction would be an issue for any of them.
“I don’t think we should tell one another. It will add to the thrill,” Charlotte said.
“I agree,” added Julia.
Aubrey gasped. “You do?”
“Yes, I do. If I’m living on the edge, I’m going to enjoy it and not fret over it weeks before.”
Charlotte raised her glass. “Good for you!”
Aubrey shifted restlessly in the booth, her body thrummed with anticipation. The Halloween festivities had become much more interesting.
He’d set traps to snare her.
Charlotte bent over and rested her hands on her knees. Not even lungs full of the woods’ clean air aided her breathing. A bird cawed from its perch overhead, and she grimaced. It was almost dusk.
For four hours she had wandered around aimlessly. After two, she realized she had been going in circles. Her Boy Scout father would be ashamed. So far, she had discerned she was somewhere near Mt. Tamaulipas State Park, but she wasn’t sure whether she was in it or on private lands.
Her legs ached even though she had defied the rules and worn flats. Too many years hiking with her family had taught her not to even attempt heels in this terrain. Not when she was being chased.
He was watching.
The feeling refused to vacate her weary body. The cat-and-mouse game had officially begun.
He had let her become familiar with her surroundings, had allowed her defenses to wane under exhaustion. He was a hunter, and she was his prey.
A loud growl echoed through the dense redwood and Douglas firs. Her heart beat frantically as her mind tried to process the sound’s position. Was that a mountain lion? Her overactive imagination?
She laughed. One karate kick could probably throw him by surprise and give her a chance to flee. A carefully timed roundhouse should work. She intended to make him work.
No Korte goes down without a fight. No way. No how. Anticipation thrummed through her, ready to spring forward. She wanted him to catch her. The thought hadn’t kept her from doing her best to get out of the woods, but she didn’t expect to outrun him.
A shadow flashed in her peripheral vision, then disappeared behind the massive trees to her left. Charlotte sprinted, unsure of where to go. Another growl pierced the air around her, the fear raging through her veins palpable in the biting air.
There wasn’t time to look back.
Footsteps thundered behind her. What if this wasn’t part of the game? What if it was some animal?
Her legs burned, her muscles ached. Reality demanded that the grueling, breakneck pace end soon. A heavy weight pressed between her shoulder blades, and she cried out as the earth raced toward her. Something had pounced. Hot breath caressed her neck. Someone.
Please let it be Matias.
She fought, kicking wildly at anything in her way. A snarl stilled her flailing. Wait. Let him think he’s bested you.