The Pleasure Slave

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2010-06-01
  • Publisher: HQN Books
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Sante Fe, New Mexico

Ways Of The Pleasure Slave

The Slightest Whim Of Your Master Is Your Highest Law

The blare of a horn sounded. Again.

Julia Anderson gripped the wheel of her sedan and glanced down at her speedometer. Six miles per hour over the speed limit. The driver behind her found this completely unacceptable and honked yet again, a demand that she get out of the way or hit the gas.

The morning sun had yet to make an appearance, but the waning moon and towering streetlights revealed two open, easily accessible lanes. There was no reason to ride her tail like this.

Still the honking persisted for another mile.

By that time, Julia's nerves were frazzled and her foot was shaking on the gas pedal. She rolled her shoul ders and drew in a deep breath, but neither action man aged to relax her. She cranked up the volume on La Bohème.

That didn't help, either.

I'm a calm, rational woman, she reminded herself. I will not become unnerved by a little honking.

Honk. Honk. Hoooonk.

Her teeth gnashed together. She didn't have a tem per; she really didn't. Not usually anyway. But right now she wanted to slam on her brakes and give that driver a crash-test-dummy demonstration. Instead, she allowed her car to gradually slow.

"What do you think of that, Speedy?" she asked smugly.

Apparently, he didn't like it. His little Mustang finally whipped into another lane, accelerating quickly. When their cars aligned, he rolled down his window and began shouting and waving his fist. The moment she recognized him, Julia forgot she believed in thinking be fore acting. She forgot that she preferred to act rationally in all situations.

She gave him the bird.

That's right. She held up one hand and extended her middle finger. In a hiss of fury, the red sports car roared away.

Shock was still coursing through her when she reached her destination. She, a woman who prided herself on her calm, rational behavior, had just flipped off her biggest competitor.

And it had felt good. So deliciously good.

Chuckling, she parked her car. Her amusement faded, however, when she saw that there was one other car in the lot—a red Mustang.

A groan worked its way past her throat as she gathered her purse and stepped into the frigid Sante Fe morning. A strong wind immediately blustered by, mak ing her shiver. She tugged the lapels of her coat tighter and hurried toward the only building in sight.

The Mustang's owner was waiting near the metal doors. When he spotted her, he glared at her through small, dark eyes. Hostility radiated from him.

She came to an abrupt stop and watched him warily. At five foot six or seven, he wasn't much taller than she. His thin cap of hair gleamed with a thick film of mousse, and a round belly protruded over the elastic waist of his wrinkled pants.

The same wild impulse that had hit her in the car hit her now. He's going down, she decided, squaring her shoulders. And I'll be the one to give him the final push. He must have sensed her determination to outmaneuver him, because he placed one foot in front of the other and crouched down ever so slightly. The classic fighting stance.

This meant war.

She stiffened her resolve, refusing to run back to the safety of her car. She stared at him through slitted eyes, not willing to look away or even blink. To do so showed weakness, and the desire to win this battle had suddenly grown to unimaginable proportions. While he was closer to the door, she was a good twenty years younger and a hundred pounds lighter.

He didn't stand a chance.

Suddenly a click reverberated through the cover of silence.

The Kreager Flea Market had just opened to dealers.

Jumping into action, Julia pushed and elbowed her way past the man. She glided through the double doors a split second before he did. Yes! Victory. Smiling with pride, she grabbed a basket and began her treasure hunt.

Antiques. Ah, that one word had the power to send ribbons of delight down her spine. Over the years she'd been called many things. Garage-sale junky. Thrift-store devotee. Auction-house addict. She had accumulated so much stuff she'd had two options: buy an antique store to sell her wares or become buried alive in her collection.

She'd chosen to set up her own shop.

Julia's Treasures opened the day of her twenty-third birthday and had flourished in the two years since. It was her pride and joy, a place where she found success and happiness. Unlike the rest of your life, a hidden cor ner of her mind supplied.

"Hey," she said, then pressed her lips together. I'm happy with the rest of my life. So what that she had plain brown hair, nondescript green eyes, and a short, rounded body that failed to gain admiration. So what that she had no fashion sense and didn't know how to attract a man. "I'm happy," she repeated firmly.

As she wandered through the market, her old, ratty sneakers squeaked, drawing the attention of several sellers intent on luring her over. Knowing exactly what she wanted to buy—and what she didn't—she ignored them.

She bypassed a table of porcelain dolls and didn't look twice at the stand laden with Depression Era glass.

In the back, next to a slightly worn cherry vanity, she spotted an old corncob pipe. She studied the aged wood from every angle, then lifted it to her nose and sniffed. The faint scent of tobacco drifted to her nostrils. She grinned, the perfect customer in mind.

Elated, she carefully placed the pipe in her basket. Next she examined a colorful blown-glass carousel, but decided to forgo purchasing such an expensive item when she didn't have a buyer already lined up. The rest of the items on the table received a cursory perusal before one object in particular drew and held her gaze. She set aside a collage of plastic flowers and stared down at what looked to be an old square jewelry box.

The sides were chipped, and the outer layer, which at one time had probably been a glossy ivory, was now a dull yellow-brown. There were several holes where colored glass, or maybe even precious gems, once re sided. Overall an extremely ugly piece, yet something about it called to her. Biting her lower lip, she ran her fingertips over the surface. Unexpectedly, the cool ex terior sent a shaft of warm, inviting heat up her arm. Tin gles raced down her back, making her shiver. Intrigued, she tried to raise the lid, but the stubborn thing refused to budge.

That didn't dissuade her. She wanted this box. Badly.

"See something you like, lass?" asked a voice with a slight Scottish accent.

Julia glanced up. A man who appeared to be in his early sixties with a beaked nose and eyes that drooped low on his cheekbones regarded her expectantly. Those eyes, she thought…they were as fathomless and blue as an ocean, and she would swear they saw into her soul. She shook off her unease.

Not wanting him to know just how much she desired the item, she schooled her features to show mild curiosity, nothing more. "How much for the jewelry box?" she asked.

He smiled, causing the puckered skin around his lips to deepen. "Today only, lass, I'll let you have it for fifty dollars."

"Fifty dollars? When the stones are missing and the lid is broken?" She laughed. "I'll give you five."

He made a choking sound in the back of his throat, and when he spoke again, his burr was more pronounced. "No can do. I canna let a prize like that go for such a paltry sum. Not when there's a tale that comes with it." He wiggled his bushy, silver brows. "Verra in triguing."

"Well…" Confident he simply wished to drive up the price, Julia pursed her lips and donned a nonchalant air. "I'm not really into fairy tales."

"Oh, you'll like this one. There's none like it. That I promise you."

After a sufficient pause, she said, "Sure, why not?"

His eyes lit with amusement, as if he knew her game. "Story is, that when a woman owns this here jewelry box, she'll find the greatest pleasure ever known."

Julia waited for him to continue. When he didn't, she said, "That's it? That's the big story? Own the box and find great pleasure?" For fifty dollars, she'd expected a story about naked dancers, bowls of cocaine and wild orgies. Disappointment coiled through her. "Just what is the greatest pleasure ever known?"

"I don't rightly know." He scratched his beard, and a rain-scented breeze, like the calm after a storm, accompanied the movement. "I guess pleasure's different for everyone. Who's to say?"

"The last female owner."

"Well, now, she lost her soul long ago, so I canna be asking her, can I?"

"Lost her—oh. I'm so sorry for your loss," she said softly. "I didn't mean to bring up painful memories."

"No, no. No need to be sorry. She was an ancestor of mine, you could say. I like to call her Granny Greedy." He chuckled at his own joke. "Family legend says she created the box and kept it with her at all times, never letting it out of her sight. When she died, the damn thing had to be pried out of her fingers." He barely paused before adding, "What's your name, lass?"

"Julia Anderson."

"Well, Jules me girl, I'll be honest with you. I think you need this here box more than you realize. Great pleasure will put some color in your cheeks. Maybe put a sparkle in your eyes. So are you interested in buying or not?"

Julia tried not to be insulted; she really did. She might not have any hobbies outside of work, and she might spend every evening in bed, reading sexy romance novels and watching made-for-TV movies, but she did have pleasure in her life. At the moment, though, she just couldn't recall where.

"Thirty," a nasally voice said from behind her. Julia spun around. The Mustang's owner gave her a smug I've-got-you-beat-this-time grin. "I'll pay thirty."

"Well, lass?" the salesman prompted, giving her a chance to outbid.

After haggling for half an hour over the price, Julia finally paid seventy-three dollars—plus fifteen for the pipe. She'd been robbed. She knew it, just as she knew her opponent hadn't really wanted the box. He'd wanted retribution, and she hadn't been able to walk away without owning the "greatest pleasure."

The moment she arrived home, an all-too-familiar anticipation filled her. She carefully placed her new purchases on the kitchen table, then gathered a rag and cleaning supplies. The bark of a dog pierced the air and the midday sun dappled through sapphire curtains covering the large bay window on the far wall. Settling into a high-backed gold velvet chair, she focused all of her attention on the jewelry box, cleaning every inch with painstaking gentleness. There was something al most… magical about it. And she would swear to God it purred every time she stroked the corners.

Just as she began adding polish to the outer surface, she zeroed in on a tiny button hidden beneath the rim. Her fingers stilled and her heart drummed erratically in her chest. Excitement pounded through her veins.

Would this open the lid? And if so, what would she find inside? Jewelry? Love letters? Nothing?

With shaky fingers, she set aside her rag and pressed the button.

At the moment of contact, lights flickered on and off throughout the house, dancing shadows and light on the rose-tinted wallpaper. A pulsating, purplish mist erupted in her hands and lit her entire kitchen.

Startled, Julia jumped to her feet, dropping the jewelry box as if it were nuclear waste. Instead of shattering, it landed atop the honey-oak tabletop with a thud. She tore her gaze from the box…and froze in terror.

A man—a large man—a very large man—stood just in front of her. He wore nothing more than a pair of black, skintight pants and—Omigod! A long, menacing sword dangled at his waist. A scream rose in her throat at the exact moment a hard lump formed, preventing any sound from emerging.

Terrified, she scanned the kitchen, looking for a way out. The back door was bolted shut. The windows were closed. Sweat beaded across her forehead.

It didn't matter that the man was, well…gorgeous, that his seductiveness hit her like an uncontrollable whirlwind. He didn't belong here, didn't belong in her home. Alone. With her. With her panic intensifying, she assumed a karate position and prayed with every fiber of her being she appeared menacing and lethal.

Why had she never taken self-defense lessons?

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

"I know karate," she forced out. "My body is a dangerous weapon."

He merely arched a brow.

He knows I'm lying. At least she could memorize his description—just in case she survived. Concentrate. Concentrate. His towering height pushed toward the ceiling. Inky shoulder-length hair framed a strong forehead, a straight nose and high, bladelike cheekbones.

Yet it was his eyes that truly drew her attention. They were pale violet, almost lavender—wait. They were blue, a light aqua. No, no. They were emerald green. But that wasn't right, either. She blinked, shook her head and realized his eyes weren't one color. They were all colors, shimmering like a sea of constantly chang ing purples, blues and greens. Glowing with a life of their own, catching her attention until she almost for got where she stood—and why she was standing there.

Look at the rest of him, Anderson.

His skin was bronzed, sexy and ridged with muscle. Lord, what strength! His stomach muscles formed a vee that pointed her eyes lower, lower still, directly between his legs. She gulped. He was like a savage romance novel warrior come to life in her home. Everything about him oozed carnality yet screamed with danger.

He stared at her a long while before taking a step toward her.

She recoiled.

The chair stopped her retreat.

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