19 June, 2012

Sneak Peek - Lie To Me, Chapter 1

Hi all!  We're back this week with more LIE TO ME -- my July 3rd release as Tori St. Claire, from Berkley Heat.  I had to take a brief hiatus there with a guest appearance on the Claire blog, and since I'm posting to both, I didn't want to spoil the surprise for anyone, so to speak.

You can read the previous installments here:

Lie To Me Prologue, Part 1
Lie To Me Prologue, Part 2

Let's jump in!

A man of action…
After helping to break up a Russian human trafficking ring as part of the CIA’s elite Black Opal team, Alexei Nikanova’s newest assignment is to rescue one of the stolen women and return her to her father. When he arrives in Dubai, he discovers his target is Sasha Zablosky—a woman he knows all too well, and who has haunted him ever since their unforgettable nights spent together in Moscow, two years earlier. But he finds Sasha reluctant to leave her Sheik, the only true friend she’s ever known. Only Alexei can’t give her a choice.

A woman of deception…

With their yearning roused by intrigue, Alexei and Sasha can no longer resist and spend night after night in forbidden pleasure. Soon Alexei finds himself falling for her even as he battles a shadowy menace to protect her. But Sasha is no innocent. She has a past darker than she could ever admit or that Alexei could ever forgive. And it is about to explode into her life once more. Now, as the lies they tell themselves—and each other—pull them deeper into a perilous desire, what began as simple passion becomes a love certain to destroy them and end the lives of countless innocents.


Chapter One

Present Day

Onyx eyes sparkled, silently laughing at Sasha from the plush beige chair beside hers. She stopped, mid-sentence, and pursed her lips, though her own humor threatened to spoil her attempt at annoyance. It occurred to her, even as Saeed’s amusement escaped with a warm smile, she was being ridiculous. Not once in two years had she felt the need to deliver a formal report on the staff she oversaw as his housekeeping manager.

She tossed the papers onto the table in front of her knees with a chuckle. “I’m no good at this.”

His broad shoulders shook with mirth as he reached across and straightened the disheveled report. “No, you are not.” Leaning sideways, closer to her, he brought the back of his hand to her face. Knuckles whispered across her cheek, then slid lower to push a thick lock of her long blonde hair over her shoulder. “You try too hard when your work already pleases me.”

“I just want everything to go well when you meet with the tribal leaders this week. They’ll expect the same meticulous service they received at your father’s home.” Sighing, she flopped into the soft cushions and played with the buttons on the blouse Saeed had given her on her birthday, two months prior. With Sheikh Amir’s suicide six months ago—a death Saeed diligently covered up—and the crimes Amir had been charged with, it was imperative his son make strong impressions to prevent the disgraceful secret from being discovered and his family from falling into shame. Particularly when Sasha was living proof of Sheikh Amir’s dark practices. Saeed and she rarely spoke about his ownership of her, or how she’d been presented as a gift two years previous, but they both understood her driving need to make sure she didn’t jeopardize him, or her own safety.

“Come here, Sasha.” He patted a muscular thigh.

Feeling like she bore the weight of the world on her shoulders, she moved catty-corner to sit in his lap. One arm wound around her waist, holding her protectively—comfortably—close. Sasha tucked her cheek onto his shoulder and breathed in the scent of frankincense that clung to his skin. Another sigh slipped free.

Saeed ran his hand up and down her spine. “You worry overmuch. We have discussed this, habibti, they will not ask questions. You are safe here. They assume I enjoy the pleasures of your body, no more. They will not find it worth their time to consider you, your work, or your origins further.”

A faint smile drifted to her lips despite the thick worry that had plagued her since Saeed had inherited his father’s kingdom. His preference for Western culture and his deviations from Muslim traditions were complication enough. If anyone discovered she was part of the ring of human trafficking his father had begun, one loose end as yet unresolved and one of the few women who hadn’t been returned to their original countries, Saeed’s family would suffer. Talk would begin again about Amir’s supposed meeting with the man who transported the women, and the questionable events that Saeed had managed to spin into a story of assassination, despite knowing his father had taken his own life. Saeed didn’t need her origins threatening him further.

She let out another heavy sigh. “Mellilah knows I was with you when you found Amir, Saeed. She also knows you never visit my bed. She hates me.” Saeed’s first wife despised the close relationship Sasha and Saeed shared. That she couldn’t dismiss Sasha with the simple tag of whore made her somehow feel threatened, and added yet another stressor to the circumstances.

Not that Sasha complained about her unique status and lack of sexual involvement. While Saeed was young and nice-looking, they had their own arrangement. She took care of his household, they’d become close friends, and for his own reasons, he hadn’t used her for the purpose she’d been gifted. Whatever those reasons were, she’d been blessed to be placed in such a position of trust. Blessed by the deep camaraderie they shared.

Though admittedly, it was a bit odd that while he obviously found her desirable, he’d never acted on the urge.

“Mellilah does not cause you trouble, does she?” Wariness gave Saeed’s voice an edge.

“No.” Sasha shook her head and sank deeper into his embrace.

“And she will not.” His hand slipped to her waist, the other coming to join it, and he shifted her so she faced him directly. “She has borne me two sons, my rightful heirs. She will bear me more. She would not jeopardize her security, or theirs.” He paused, then looked Sasha straight in the eye. “Or even those which come from your womb.”

Saeed’s sons. She could give him children—Lord knew he had done more than enough for her. And he was an attentive father to his boys. But to get to that point, something would have to change between them. Drastically.

Sasha laughed. “I think you’d have to do more than come to my room to go over your staffing reports.”

The light in his eyes darkened to a deeper hue of black as a faint smile touched his full mouth again. One corner of his narrow mustache twitched the way it always did when he found something she said satisfying. He cupped her chin in one hand, his hold gentle, his voice intimate. “I have waited two years so you would come to trust me and feel as if you truly belonged in my palace. Do I have that trust now?”

“I trust you with my life, Saeed.” Her secrets too. He was the only person in this world who knew the things she had done, the deaths she’d unwittingly caused, and the absolute hatred she felt for her father.

She ran a fingertip over the line of close-cut dark beard that edged his defined jaw. “You know this.”

“It is time for things to change between us, habibti.” For the first time since she’d known him, he leaned forward and touched soft lips to hers. “Tonight. I have planned a surprise for you. It is my hope you will not take offense.”

Startled by the sudden kiss, Sasha struggled to connect his meaning. “Offense?” This was unexpected. She knew it would come eventually, and she couldn’t say the idea of sleeping with Saeed didn’t appeal—he was handsome, kind, and always considerate. But the last thing she’d been prepared to hear after discussing household reports was that he’d decided to exercise his inherent rights to her body.

He didn’t answer with words. His lips brushed hers again, then lingered, the tip of his tongue teasing the corner of her mouth. Sasha responded naturally, opening to his subtle entreaty and gliding her tongue across his. Confident, yet tender—he kissed the same way he benignly touched her. She closed her eyes and let him take his fill.

The newness of their circumstances held a strange appeal. His previous restraint hadn’t made sense. He was a man. She was a woman. He desired her. He should have acted on it far sooner. Instead, he’d put her on a virtual pedestal, gave her important duties in his household, and treated her like a princess. But the gentle press of his lips didn’t come close to stirring the fire of the last man she had kissed. Alexei still haunted her dreams. Still stoked an ache she couldn’t satisfy.

Saeed eased the kiss to a close, his breathing elevated, his gaze now fathomlessly black. “You must understand it is only your pleasure I wish for, Sasha. Despite how it may sound . . .” His brow furrowed.

“What is it, Saeed?” Smiling, she flattened her palm against his chest.

“I fear you will not like my explanation.” Abruptly, he slid her off his lap into the cushion beside him. “But there are things I must do to protect the secrets of my family. You’re right, in some ways, to worry.”

A spark of apprehension lit, and Sasha’s gaze narrowed. Sheikh Amir had done some terrible things. Buying women for his hotel, trading arms, running drugs—none of those sounded like Saeed. And if he’d suddenly decided black-market bombs were his thing, they were going to have serious problems. He knew how she felt about that.

“I found myself approached by awkward allies,” Saeed began cautiously. “The same tribal leaders you have been so concerned with.”

Sasha nodded.

“Though they have mentioned nothing of you—and they will not— several already question the circumstances of my father’s death. Mahmoud specifically talks of how my father and he were supposed to meet with the agent who arrested him, but my father was coincidentally found dead in the palace garden the morning of. Mahmoud’s sons question the story that my father was killed by the same agent.” Saeed passed a hand through thick, wavy hair. “His sons have insinuated that if I shun the involvement of other tribal leaders, they would make it . . . difficult.”

Sasha cringed. Saeed had worried about Mahmoud, one of the few men who had been captured and taken to America as opposed to being killed in the quiet of night. He hadn’t anticipated Mahmoud would talk, or that the questions Mahmoud posed would travel across an ocean to the homeland that neighbored Saeed’s. The men who were lured by the money to continue in what their fathers began wanted Saeed’s connections with the Western world. Connections they didn’t possess. Evidently now, they sought to press his hand the only way they knew how, by using rumor and suspicion to gain his aid and alliance.

“I had to choose a means of pacifying them, habibti. With the respect I feel for you, I couldn’t agree to the trading of arms. You also know my abhorrence of drugs. Which leaves . . .”

His gaze held hers steadily, speaking what they both knew. What they both despised, but couldn’t escape—the trade of women. Sasha swallowed hard. She’d had it good. Far better than the rest of the women that U.S. Intelligence had taken back, and introduced to rehab programs that would cleanse the heroin from their blood, and hopefully their minds. But they’d never shed the scars.

Still, she had little room to protest. Saeed was caught between two threatening boulders. She couldn’t ask him to endanger his entire family for her peace of mind. Nor would she. He had saved her from that horrific dependence on drugs and an endless stream of sexual degradations. Despite all that, despite all the privileges she knew, she still belonged to him. She was not his equal. Her opinion wouldn’t matter against the current stakes, and while Saeed cared for her, he wouldn’t risk everything to alleviate her disgust.

“What did you plan for tonight?”

“I have met with a man. Vasily. Another of the Bratva who comes highly recommended for duties such as this. He has been trading Russian women to China for several years.”

Like Alexei. Sasha’s heartbeat kicked up a notch, the familiarity uncanny.

“He asked for a token evidencing my trust in him.” His gaze cut to her, sharp and direct. “He heard of your beauty. He heard also, though I am shamed to admit it, that you are my weakness.”

A knot began to form in Sasha’s gut. All the months of being put on a pedestal had come to haunt her in a far larger way than her origins or Mellilah had ever posed. Though she wouldn’t put it past that gloating witch to spread the whispers of Saeed’s supposed weakness. Mellilah would be glad to be free of Sasha.

“You’re not . . . sending me to China . . . are you?” She could hardly get the words out, the thought struck such fear.

Saeed gave her a frown. “Do not be silly. I would never send you from here unless such was your wish.”

Saeed placed two fingertips beneath her chin and lifted her gaze to his. “I offered to share you for one night. We will both come to you tonight. For your sacrifice, habibti, I swear upon my soul, you will know nothing but pleasure.”

Her eyes widened in shock. Not just Saeed, but a stranger? Two men, in her bed. One she trusted. One she didn’t know at all. Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she knew she ought to feel shame. Outrage. Something other than the kernel of excitement that popped inside her soul. That she didn’t made her uncomfortable. She squirmed out of Saeed’s gentle hold.

Saeed clasped her hand, his intense gaze willing her to believe. “I also swear, such will never happen again—unless you request it.” His thumb stroked the back of her knuckles. “As my beloved partner, Sasha, your happiness will know no restrictions.”

Dumbfounded both by what he proposed would happen this evening and the selflessness in his promise of their future, Sasha’s jaw dropped.

Saeed winced. “I have offended you.”

“No . . .” she answered hesitantly, uncertain how to define the emotion skittering through her veins.

Shifting closer, he twisted so one knee touched her thigh. His fingertips grazed up her forearm to her elbow. “You promise I have not?”

“I promise.”

“Good then,” he murmured as he dipped his head. His breath danced against her lips. Warm fingers slid higher to the tank-style sleeve of her sheer baby-blue blouse. Then his caress drifted downward, and he trailed the back of his hand over the curve of her breast.

Featherlight, the unexpected touch combined with the whisper of his lips and the shocking idea of what tonight would involve. Her thoughts rioted between surprise, curiosity, anticipation, and shame.

A shiver rolled through her all the way down to her toes. She arched into the press of his palm with a gasp.

“I promise nothing but your pleasure,” Saeed murmured before he took her mouth again.

As a foreign sense of attraction for this man tumbled through her veins, Sasha yielded to his tempered kiss. His fingers stroked the soft flesh of her breast, tightening it until her nipples hardened into tight buds. Funny how he’d never once elicited this sort of response from her. But under the command of his hands, guided by mental images of his promised evening, and tormented by memories of another kiss, another touch, another beard that scratched her cheeks, she yielded to repressed desire. Two years she’d gone without a man’s touch, known only the satisfaction she could give herself.

Saeed might not turn her insides into jelly or make her willing to beg as she had with Alexei, but it had been so long. And in his own way, Saeed was tied into her heart.

Arousal stirred in the depths of her womb, seeping lower to moisten between her legs. But as she squirmed against the building pressure, Saeed abruptly pulled away. A smile settled on his full mouth.

“I must meet with him. Asiya will see to your preparations.”

Before she could blink through the chaos of her thoughts, Saeed strode from Sasha’s sitting room, leaving her to dwell on the lingering magic of his hands and the forbidden promises of the night to come.

(Continued Next Week)


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