The Exiled Prince by Jeana E. Mann
One night. No names. No faces. It should have been simple.
I’ve never been reckless with my heart until I meet a handsome stranger at a secret masquerade ball. From the glint of his dark eyes, he knows I don’t have an invitation. I’m not rich or a celebrity. I’m just the personal assistant of someone important. Instead of showing me the door, he escorts me through the gardens and into a world of decadence, sin, and forbidden pleasures.
From the moment we meet, I can’t stop thinking about him. The way his hands feel on my hips. The press of his hard chest against mine. Everything about this night is a sham except for the way he owns my body. Tomorrow, I’ll go back to my normal life and forget this ever happened. Tonight, I’m going to live it up.
Except…this isn’t the ending. It’s just the beginning. A few months later, my new boss is the billionaire exiled prince from the masquerade, and I’m in serious trouble.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 4 – R Rated
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wrote this book purely for my own enjoyment. I wanted something dark, dangerous, and super sexy with a hint of suspense. It's the most fun I ever had writing a book.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I wanted the hero, Roman Menshikov, to be a quiet, enigmatic type of guy with lots of secrets. I combined my favorite heroes from books like Manwhore, Consequences, and Beautiful Bastard to come up with his traits. He's a little bit scary at first until you find out that he loves with his whole heart.
Rourke Donovan is just a normal girl who works for people with important jobs. I wanted her to be relatable. She's not beautiful. She's a little overweight. Sometimes, she lets people run over her because she tries to be a good person. Her journey to becoming a strong and independent woman is amazing.
I wandered through the ballroom, mesmerized by the scores of beautiful people. Behind their masks lurked some of the most famous faces in the world. Every now and then, I thought I recognized the curve of a woman’s smile or the width of a man’s shoulders, but I had no way of knowing who was who. The masks came in all shapes and sizes. Some were elaborate combinations of feathers and gems on a background of satin. Others were sleek and simple like Ivan’s. Everly had picked up my mask on one of her many trips to Venice. It rested lightly above my nose, held in place by strings of silk, allowing a clear view of my eyes but obscuring enough to hide my identity.
After a few minutes, I began to grow comfortable among the guests and had to admit I was enjoying the anonymity. Without the threat of disapproval, I could do anything, and be anyone, I wanted.
A brown-haired man in a navy tuxedo tapped my arm. “I was wondering if you’d like to dance?”
Remembering my promise to Everly, I accepted. His aristocratic features and pleasant smile bolstered my resolve to meet someone new. “I might be a little rusty. I haven’t danced in years. If you don’t mind my clumsy feet, then I don’t mind either.”
He extended a hand. “It’s my pleasure.”
I placed my hand in his and let him lead me to the dance floor. The brush of our palms together sent a pleasant ripple along my skin. The orchestra segued smoothly from a foxtrot into a waltz. From the sidelines, Everly nodded approvingly. My heart skipped a beat when he put his arm around my waist. It felt good to be held by a man again. He twirled me around the floor until I was breathless, ignoring the many times I stepped on the toes of his shiny shoes.
At the end of the song, he smiled down at me with full lips and gray bedroom eyes. Beneath the dark blue velvet mask lurked the face of a handsome man, around my age, maybe younger. “That was delightful. You’ve made my evening.”
“Thank you. You’re too kind.” I smiled. He lifted my hand to his lips, grazing his mouth over my knuckles, sending a shiver of attraction through my body. “You can call me Nicky. And what should I call you?”
Panic evaporated the moisture from my mouth. I cleared my throat. “I thought we weren’t supposed to reveal our real names.”
“I never said it was my real name.” He watched me closely, waiting for my answer, his gaze focused on my lips.
“You can call me—” I searched for an appropriate name. “You can call me Cinderella.”
His burst of laughter escalated my panic. “Oh, that’s priceless. Well, Cinderella, tell me, how did you come by an invitation to the elusive Masquerade de Marquis?”
I tried to smile and stay calm, deflecting the question with one of my own. If I’d learned anything during my years with Everly, it was that people loved to talk about themselves. “I kind of fell into it.” Not exactly a lie but not the truth, either. “What about you? Have you attended to the masquerade before?” I kept walking in the direction of the ladies’ powder room, preparing to excuse myself before I got into trouble.
“A few times.” He fell into step beside me. “No one turns away an invitation unless they want to offend the host, and Mr. Menshikov doesn’t like to be offended.” His eyes watched me with the sharpness of a hawk watching a mouse. The predatory nature of his stare raised the tiny hairs on my arms.
“Are you a celebrity?” I kept my tone light and teasing but cast a glance in the direction of the ladies’ room, judging the distance.
“In some circles.” A dimple popped on his right cheek. “Mostly I’m here because I have friends in high places.”
“Are you a friend of Mr. Menshikov?” My sense of self-preservation went to war with my curiosity. I wanted to know more about the enigmatic host without giving too much of myself in return.
“Friends?” The sharpness in his laugh made me flush. Obviously, I’d crossed an invisible boundary. “Roman doesn’t have friends.”
“Ivan said he’s not here tonight.” I stopped walking and gave my full attention to Nicky, hoping to coax more information from him. “Do you know him? Roman, I mean?”
“I don’t think anyone truly knows Roman.” Mystery edged his words. Mistaking my curiosity for the host as interest in him personally, he smiled and took my hand again. He lifted it to look at the ring on my little finger. Delicate strands of silver and gold vines twisted together to form a circle. Amethysts sprinkled throughout the band like tiny flowers. “Your ring—it’s very unique.”
“It belonged to my mother,” I said, running my thumb over it. “My father had it made for her when I was born.”
“Ah, how romantic.” He stroked the band with a fingertip, the light pressure tickling along my skin. “Speaking of romantic, would you like to take a walk in the garden? There are all kinds of entertainers down there. There’s nothing I love more than a moonlight stroll with a beautiful woman.” He leaned down, his tone lowering. “Someone said there are naked performers dancing through fire. How can you pass up a chance to see something like that?”
Although his charm was infectious, I shrank away from the opportunity. I didn’t want to blow my cover. A few yards away, Everly lifted an eyebrow. Although she didn’t speak, I knew her well enough to understand the message. Get your ass out there. Live a little.
I squared my shoulders. “Thank you so much for the invitation, but I think I’d like to dance some more.” Dancing was safe. With the music swelling and the hum of conversation and laughter surrounding us, there was little opportunity for questions I didn’t want to answer.
“Fair enough.” He bent low in a deep bow. “May I have the honor of this dance?”
For the next several hours, I danced with Nicky until my feet ached, drank champagne until my head swam, and laughed until my insides quivered. He was delightful, although his prodding questions required my skillful avoidance.
“Who is that man?” I asked, having caught sight of a gentleman near the fireplace, his forearm resting on the mantle. Although I couldn’t see his eyes behind his mask, I felt the weight of his relentless gaze following us around the room as we danced. The curling edges of his dark hair hung to his collar, its messiness at odds with the crisp lines of his tuxedo.
“Where?” Nicky followed the incline of my head. “Oh.” For the first time, he missed a step. His shoulders tensed beneath my touch, the smile sliding from his face before he recovered. “I’m not sure. He could be anyone.”
Was it my imagination, or had I heard a touch of Russian accent in Nicky’s reply? “He keeps staring at us.”
“Probably because you’re so beautiful,” Nicky said. In an adept maneuver, he directed us toward the opposite end of the room. Within minutes, I forgot about the stranger, too focused on following Nicky’s lead and the heady exhilaration of being held by such a charismatic guy.
“It’s getting late, and I have to leave soon,” he said, leading me toward the row of chairs along the wall. “I know it’s against the rules, but I can’t go without learning your name—your real name.”
“You know I can’t tell you that,” I said, still breathless from his touch and the physical exertion.
“But you can. It’s just a stupid rule Roman invented for his own amusement. You can tell me. No one has to know.” He squeezed my hand tighter, his jaw tightening. “I want to see you again.”
“No. You can’t.” At the flicker of hurt in his eyes, I softened my refusal. After all, he seemed like a nice guy. “There’s no point.”
“You’re married?” His grip loosened on my fingers.
“No, no, nothing like that. It’s just that I’m going back to America in a few days.” Behind his mask, his eyes searched mine. I fisted my hands, resisting the urge to brush his light brown hair from his forehead.
“I travel to the States frequently. I could look you up. We could have dinner, and you could show me the sights.”
“Excuse me, may I cut in?” A smooth, deep voice sliced into our conversation. From his accent, he was American, a New Yorker or somewhere on the east coast.
Nicky and I both turned to face the stranger. A black leather mask prevented me from going further than the curve of full, pouting lips. My gaze traveled from the onyx buttons of his charcoal vest down the perfect crease of his dark gray trousers to the shiny, pointed toes of his black shoes. Unlike the other formally attired guests, the tail of his silver bow tie dangled from the breast pocket of his jacket. The lack of formality seemed out of place and rebellious in a room overflowing with perfection.
“We were having a conversation,” Nicky said, his tone acidic. The change in his demeanor caught me by surprise. I glanced from him to the stranger. A palpable air of animosity pulsed between them.
“Watch your manners, Nicky.” The stranger’s light rebuke reminded me of a parent scolding a rebellious child. “Please forgive him. He’s been running with the wolves for too long.”
“At least I’m still running.” There was no mistaking the competitive edge in his words.
My gaze bounced between the two men. Whatever their relationship, it was complicated and intriguing.
“Not here. Not now. Not in front of our lovely companion.” While he spoke, his dark eyes locked onto mine. He took my hand in his long, graceful fingers, his smooth palm gliding against mine, and lifted my knuckles to his mouth. My heart stopped at the brush of his soft lips on my skin. In the background, the introduction to a tango began. “Dance with me.”
Three words sent my pulse into overdrive. “The tango used to be my favorite, but I haven’t done it in years.” I panicked at the thought of the intricate moves.
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of everything.” After another kiss to my knuckles, he led me to the center of the dance floor. The guests parted, making way for us, their eyes heavy on my back. I couldn’t blame their stares. This man exuded confidence, elegance, and power. He placed my left hand on his waist and took the right in his palm. Shying away from his gaze, I stared at his throat. The top two buttons of his crisp white shirt gaped open, revealing a triangle of smooth, tanned skin dusted with black hair. He squeezed my hand, demanding my attention. “Eyes to mine. Don’t look at your feet. Follow my lead.”
Behind the mask, his eyes were dark, almost black. Anxiety closed my throat. This would either be an amazing experience or extremely embarrassing. Probably the latter. The music swelled, and we began. Within a few steps, I captured his rhythm. He was strong and forceful, moving me into each position, twirling me out then snapping me back against his chest. I gasped at the press of my breasts against hard muscles.
“Very nice,” he said. A neatly trimmed beard and mustache couldn’t obscure a square jaw, reminding me of a jaunty pirate.
“Thank you.” The warmth of his approval spread through my chest.
“I’m going to have to step up my game.” His eyes glittered with challenge.
“Yes. You are.” They were bold words for a girl who hadn’t danced the tango in six years, but I didn’t care. I liked the feel of his body against mine and the strength in his arms. More than anything, I enjoyed the way his overpowering maleness made me feel feminine and dainty.
“Be careful what you ask for.” His arms tightened around me. I slid slowly down his torso and pressed my breasts into the hard lines of his body. When my eyes reached the level of his narrow hips, he yanked me to my feet. The crowd gasped.
“You surprise me,” he said.
“You aren’t the only one with secrets, sir.” The hem of my skirt swirled around my ankles. The slit opened to flash a stretch of my leg and the white garter belt around my thigh. I felt his gaze go there. It returned to mine, flashing with desire.
“So, I see.” By the humor in his tone, my answer pleased him. Or maybe it was the garter. There was no more time for conversation as the intensity of the music continued to escalate.
This was more than a dance. It was a test. A game of dominance and submission underscored by sexual tension. I stiffened my arms and pulled away. The words of my dance instructor floated through my subconscious. Be angry. Let the audience see the struggle. He snapped my body to his and stroked a leisurely hand from my armpit to my hip. Goosebumps peppered my skin. I spun away, only to be returned by a tug of his arm. We continued our war of wills around the room.
At the finale, he bent me backward over his thigh, arching my spine until the ends of my hair swept the floor. The smooth fabric of his trousers rubbed against my bare back. I was totally at his mercy, one foot on the polished marble, the other lifted to keep from tumbling over. His lips grazed the column of my throat in an erotic caress. Excitement and lust simmered in my veins. I was living my fantasies in the arms of an exotic stranger.
The music ended, and the crowd erupted into applause. I’d been so engrossed in our power play that I’d failed to notice the onlookers, or that all the other participants had moved to the sidelines. We were the only couple on the dance floor. Under normal circumstances, this kind of attention would have made my stomach queasy, but beside him, it seemed natural.
Adrenalin buzzed through my head, more intoxicating than the liquor. He eased me to my feet. Once I’d steadied myself, he released my hand and bowed. “Thank you for the dance.” Before I could respond, he melted into the crowd. I watched his broad shoulders disappear. A curious sense of regret tempered my euphoria. That was it? One amazing dance, and he left?
Someone touched my elbow. I erased the disappointment from my expression and turned to find Everly. She drew me aside and fanned her cheeks with a cocktail napkin. “Holy crap, Rourke. That was hot. Who is that man?”
“I’m not sure.” I stared wistfully in the direction he’d gone, but my attention wavered at the weight of Nicky’s disapproving stare on the stranger’s backside. What was it between those two men? “I think he’s Roman Menshikov.”
Everly’s gaze followed mine in the direction the stranger had gone. Her brows lowered. “It could be, but I don’t think so. Everyone says he’s out of the country.”
“I know, but there’s something about him.” I searched through the guests, looking for disheveled black hair and an unshaven jaw.
“Did you ask him?”
“How could I? I certainly can’t tell him who I am. Ivan will throw me out.”
“True. Well, no matter. You have another admirer,” Everly said, her eyes dancing with delight, nodding toward Nicky. “This is so exciting. Are you having a good time?”
“Yes.” The answer required no conscious thought. “I haven’t had this much fun in years.” As always, my thoughts returned to her welfare. “What about you?”
“I’m having a great time. A few of my friends are here.” She squeezed my hand. “Thank you so much for coming. I could never have attended on my own. This is the best bachelorette night ever.”
“You’re welcome. Thank you for dragging me here.” I smiled back at her, thrilled by her excitement.
“I think you should hook up with one of those men.” The mischievous glint returned to her eyes. “A good lay would do wonders for your self-confidence.”
“Oh, no.” I shook my head.
“Yes. You absolutely should. Think about it. Everyone here is anonymous. It’s like Las Vegas. What happens here, stays here.” Her eyebrows lifted, but she quickly got her expression under control and ducked her head. “Don’t look now, but the brown-haired gentleman is coming this way, and he doesn’t seem happy.” She waggled her eyebrows. “Look at you, stirring the shit. I’m out of here. Have fun and be safe.”
“Don’t you dare leave me, Everly.” Despite my plea, she sashayed toward the back hall, waving her fingers over her shoulder in my direction. “Traitor.” I steeled myself for more of Nicky’s questions.
“Did you enjoy your dance?” he asked. If he was displeased with me, the face beneath his mask gave no indication of his feelings. Neither did his tone. “You were a vision out there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone quite so breathtaking.”
“Thank you.” I felt the blush creeping into my cheeks. “I’d like to take the credit, but my partner was responsible for most of it.”
His jaw flexed, a small but obvious indication of his disapproval. “He always had a flare for the dramatic.”
“I thought you didn’t know each other.” Something about his demeanor had changed since we’d parted earlier.
“We knew each other as children, but we haven’t run in the same circles for a very long time.” As if he sensed my mistrust, he shook his head and smiled sheepishly. “I apologize if my behavior is unacceptable. I’m afraid the sight of you in another man’s arms has brought out my jealous side.” A lot of years had passed since any man had flattered me quite so thoroughly and with such skill. However, pretty words had never turned my head.
The orchestra segued into the next song, an upbeat, modern tune. Over Nicky’s shoulders, I caught sight of the mystery man. He was talking to a busty beauty with raven hair. The plume of her elaborate gold mask jerked and bobbed as she spoke. His words might have been for her, but his eyes were mine. A dozen yards separated us, but the heat of his gaze seared into me.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” Too late, I realized Nicky had asked me a question.
His gaze followed mine. A frown of frustration shaded his smooth features, a frown he quickly erased. “I said my schedule is full next week, but the week after, I’ll be in Manhattan for meetings. I’d love to take you to dinner.”
“I appreciate the invitation, but it’s just not possible.” Once I returned home, I needed to find an apartment and a job and check in on my aunt. Nervous anxiety squeezed my stomach. I didn’t want to think about real life. Not yet. Not until I had no other choice.
Across the room, the dark stranger ended his conversation with the busty woman and strode toward us like a shark slicing through a school of fish. The crowd parted for him then closed in his wake. A wave of heat swept up my chest and into my neck before settling in my face.
“Tell me your name. Please.” Nicky took my hand, drawing my attention back to him. “I’m begging you.”
“Don’t beg, Nicky. It’s embarrassing,” the stranger said.
I placed a hand on my stomach to steady my breathing as his cologne reached my nose. The spicy, masculine, and hypnotic scent conjured images of tangled limbs and fingers clutched in bedsheets.
Nicky turned and said something low and guttural in Russian to the stranger. Although my Russian was rusty, I caught a few snippets of profanity and the phrase don’t mess with me.
The stranger laughed before turning to me. “I apologize. We’re being rude.”
“Are you speaking Russian?” I asked. “I’m afraid I don’t understand much.”
“Just as well. It’s an uncivilized language,” the stranger said. His stern smile signaled the end of the topic. “I’m about to go for a walk. Would you like to accompany me?”
Nicky touched my elbow. “Don’t fall for his pretty words. You can’t trust him.”
“Walk away, Nicky,” the man said. From behind the edges of his plain black mask, dark eyes glittered dangerously.
“No, I don’t think so.” The younger man squared his shoulders.
“I’m not asking.”
Nicky sighed, his tone turning petulant. “You’re breaking the rules.”
“Ah, but you forget. I make the rules.” The stranger’s posture straightened, his height growing. The cut of his tuxedo suggested a powerful chest beneath his tailored lapels.
“Did you ever happen to think that maybe she’s not interested?” Nicky’s voice teemed with irritation.
“And maybe she is. Did you ever think of that?” the stranger asked.
“Gentleman, please stop talking about me like I’m not in the room,” I said, finding my voice at last. Both men had the good grace to look abashed.
“Again, I apologize,” said the stranger, his eyes locking with mine. Something about this dark man lit a fire in my veins. I wanted to know more. Who was he? Why was he here? What had he done to gain an invitation?
“I’d love a tour,” I said. “Nicky and I were about to say goodnight anyway.”
“Can I have a word in private?” Nicky ducked his head to my ear, speaking too low for the stranger to hear. “Are you sure about this? He’s not the kind of man to be trifled with. You might find yourself in over your head.”
“I appreciate your concern, but I can take care of myself.”
Nicky glared at the stranger, a silent conversation passing between them. Then his gaze turned to me. After an awkward pause, he let go of my hand and bowed. “It’s been a pleasure, Cinderella. I hope our paths cross again soon.”
“Goodnight,” I replied. “Thank you for your company this evening.” With long strides, he crossed the ballroom and disappeared into the hallway. Part of me was sad to see him go, but the other part felt relief. Nothing could come of our relationship. It was best to end things before it became too messy. As much as I liked Nicky, I preferred the company of the dark man at my elbow. His attention made me uneasy and exhilarated, like those precious moments of anticipation before a rollercoaster plunged over the first hill.
“Cinderella? Interesting choice of names.” He closed the distance between us until his shiny shoes rested next to my sandals.
“Yes. I like it. And you are?” Dangerous. The answer flashed through my head. I pushed away the assumption. Nothing about this man seemed threatening, except to my ovaries, which had begun a dance of excitement.
“My friends say I’m the devil.” Once again, he took my hand in his. The intimate glide of his fingers between mine unleashed a repressed longing to feel those fingers elsewhere on my body. “But I suppose if you’re Cinderella, then I’ll be your Prince Charming.”
“That’s a little presumptuous, isn’t it?” I baited him in an uncharacteristically flirtatious tone, my confidence buoyed by Nicky’s attentions and too much champagne.
“It’s not presumptuous. It’s a truth. That’s something you should know about me. I only deal with facts.”
Somehow, in the space of our conversation, we’d drifted toward one of the curtained alcoves along the perimeter of the room. When the curtain closed behind us with a whisper of velvet, and the bright colors of the ballroom dimmed into candlelit darkness, I realized I was alone with a man I didn’t know. A very tall, ominous man, whose broad shoulders and penetrating stare dwarfed the room. Nicky’s words echoed back to me. He’s not the kind of man to be trifled with. I swallowed a frisson of fear, as intoxicating as it was disturbing. No need to freak out. The party continued outside the alcove. Help was only a few feet away.
“I thought we were going for a walk.” My gaze flicked to the heavy drapes, judging the distance in case I should need a hasty escape.
“Later. First, I want to know more about you.” His hooded gaze traveled over my face, lingering for two heartbeats on my lips. How many nights had I dreamed of a man like this—one who’d thrill and frighten me? He braced a hand on the wall by my head, hemming me in. Up close, he smelled of leather, expensive cologne, and fine, rare things.
“There isn’t much to tell really,” I said, my knees weakening. Although his nearness set my senses on high alert, I didn’t feel threatened, just aroused.
“You’re an American?”
“Yes, a New Yorker.” I bit my lower lip to keep from giving away more than I wanted.
“Why did you come to this party?” He leaned closer, edging me backward until the hard paneling chilled my backside.
“Why does anyone come to these parties?” I asked, feeling lightheaded at his closeness.
“To enjoy anonymity in a safe and nonjudgmental atmosphere. To experience decadence without the threat of discovery.”
“You sound like a travel magazine.” I pressed my palms against the wall at my sides and reveled in the escalation of my pulse.
“People come from all over the world for this experience. There are places here—secret places—with access given to only a select few. I can take you there. We can explore those mysteries together.” He drew in a deep breath, angling his head and scenting me. The primitive gesture caused an immediate pulse in my sex. “You haven’t answered my question.”
“Yes,” I said, feeling weak-kneed, excited, and frightened in rapid succession. “To all those things. I want to experience all of that.”
“Let me show you everything your heart desires.” The low, seductive music of his voice and an excess of champagne dulled my common sense. I had the distinct feeling I was being seduced by Satan, and the safety of my soul hovered in the balance. “Well, Cinderella, will you join me?”
“Okay.” For a second, I thought he was going to kiss me. When he increased the distance between us, lowering his hand from the wall, disappointment washed over me.
“Before we begin, may I see your invitation?”
His request sent my stomach plummeting to the floor. “No, you may not.” I lifted my chin, trying to pull together my faculties. “I don’t have it on me. It’s with my friend.”
“You’re not a very good liar. And you’re not Barbara.” Each of his words raised my temperature another degree until I thought my insides would combust. How would he know Barbara unless he was Menshikov?
“I never said I was Barbara.” If I was caught, I had nothing to lose by bluffing. Meeting his gaze, I conjured a playful smile. So many sins could be hidden with a smile. “I came here under the assurance that no one would question my identity. If anyone found out that I was here, it could be very—damaging—to my reputation and my career.” This was total bullshit, but I kept going, even though my heart jackhammered against my ribs. “Are you threatening my privacy? Because I’m pretty certain that’s a direct violation of the rules.”
“Rules were made to be broken.” Full lips rolled together. I couldn’t help staring at the gesture and wondering how those lips tasted, how they kissed. Would he be forceful? Gentle? Would his hand fist in my hair while his knee parted my thighs?
“I’d bet my life that you don’t have an invitation.” His eyelids lowered to slits. “I know everyone at this party. Everyone but you.”
“Are you sure? I’m sure we’ve met before. In Rome? Or maybe Paris?” I met his gaze, refusing to blink. “I think we’re done here,” I said, calling his bluff. “If you’ll excuse me.”
“God, a woman with balls. I love it.” He threw back his head and laughed. The deep sound shimmered over me, easing the tension in my shoulders. “I’m one hundred percent certain we’ve never met. I couldn’t forget someone as lovely as you.” The weight of his gaze crawled over my face, lips, breasts and hips, scraping over my nerve endings, alighting my body with a new and intriguing kind of fire. He rested a fingertip under my chin, tilting my eyes up to his, the tip of his thumb grazing my skin. “Very well, Cinderella. You win. I’ll give you a pass this time.”
“I’ll stay, but only if you behave.” God, he was handsome. The silk mask and thick but well-groomed beard couldn’t hide the sharp lines of his square jaw, the chiseled planes of high cheekbones, and the knife-blade edge of his nose.
“I realize I’m out of line, but you’ve piqued my curiosity.” If only I could see his eyes. Were they blue or brown? Under the shelter of his mask, I couldn’t tell.
“Are you Menshikov?” How else could he know that I entered the party under the guise of Barbara Ellis?
He studied my eyes for a long second. “No, I’m not. But I know him very well.”
“Are you going to tell him?”
“That you’re here without an invitation?”
Too late, I realized my mistake. “No, I mean—”
He silenced my words with a fingertip to my lips. “Hush. Your secret is safe with me.” His gaze dipped to my mouth again. I slid my tongue across my bottom lip, suddenly famished and thirsty, dying for relief from a hunger I never knew I possessed. “For a price.”
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