Redthorn sits down against the cushions to my left, spreading his vast body over the golden silk. I manage a peek at him and for the first time notice the tattoo on his right shoulder, three black symbols, Chinese writing. He turns towards me, as if sensing my scrutiny, and I avert my eyes.

‘And how are my mistresses this evening?’ he asks, his voice a baritone thunder to my ears after the women’s light chatter. They reply in giddy, breathless spurts. He has these women under his spell.

‘And you, Mistress Catherine, are you still feeling unwell?’

‘Well, you did fucking drug me.’
Shit! Mouth before brain! The combined intake of breath from the women takes the air from the room like a tornado.

‘Leave us,’ he commands. I’m abandoned without a look back. ‘You’re angry with me,’ he says.

‘You drugged me.’

‘I wanted you here. My desire overrode my manners.’

‘Manners?’ Piece of shit . . . ‘I signed your agreement. You knew I would come.’

‘I hoped.’ He stands, colossal before me and my panic escalates, adrenaline flying. ‘Are you shaking because of lack of sustenance, Catherine, or because you are afraid of me?’

‘I’m not afraid of you.’

He kneels, muscles tighten beneath his flesh. ‘Why are you here?’

‘To learn the truth; a truth you promised me.’

‘Do you mean the truth which will confirm I am a killer . . . or the truth about yourself, Catherine?’

Mind games! ‘What do you mean?’ He comes closer, climbing over me. I push myself deeper into the cushions. He plants his big hands either side of my head, fingers catching in my hair as he pins me with his indigo stare. ‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m going to kiss you. And you will kiss me back, Catherine,’ he tells me. He lowers towards me and my vision is all him now. ‘You’ll kiss me not because you’re trying to hide your true motives for being here from me, or because you’re afraid. You will kiss me back because you
want to.’

I want to reply, throw something back at him but his lips within striking distance of mine send a flood of arousal pouring out of my core. The pull of him, the allure of his voice—

He touches his lips to mine. I gasp, hands clasping the satin beneath them and he eases inside. Our tongues touch for the first time, licking tentatively at first, then stroking each other, urgent and needy. I give in, taken over.

His fingers tangle in my hair and he eases me back, denying me his kiss further. ‘I’ll have you in ways you’ve never dreamed of, Catherine.’ He kisses me again and I try to move closer but his grip tightens on my hair. It’s painful; it’s pleasure. ‘Sometimes I will make love to you for hours.’ He kisses my face. Soft, beautiful kisses. ‘And sometimes,’ he stares down at me, ‘I will fuck you hard and fast.’ I gasp and he smiles. ‘You will submit whenever I choose it. Shall I tell you why I know this?’

His lips are working me into a frenzy of lust, soft, gentle against my throbbing jugular. ‘Tell me.’

‘Because it is what you need,’ he purrs in my ear.

‘I don’t understand you.’ He takes my mouth again and I don’t care I don’t understand.

‘You are a natural submissive,’ he says.

What!

‘You ache to be dominated by a man who understands your complexities, Catherine.’

‘No—’

He destroys my protest with another toe-curling kiss.

Yes, my lady,’ he says. He stares down at me and I have nothing left. I can’t speak or think or understand anything but how wonderful his kiss felt.

I hear the rip before the movement registers. He’s torn my robe open…