By Kendra Leigh Castle
Tricia tucked an errant lock of hair behind her ear, feeling her curiosity beginning to overtake her fear. She glanced around quickly, and decided that she was safe enough from being either ravished or dragged off somewhere for the time being. There were bound to be other band members wandering through. Still, for the moment, they were alone.
“So you’re telling me Armand is lying?” she asked, arching a skeptical brow at him. “I mean, the sex slave dealer was a new one on me, but still. I know Armand. I don’t know you.”
Not, Tricia silently amended, that I wouldn’t like to fix that problem. The dark, handsome stranger was even more compelling close-up, his fair skin a striking contrast to close-cropped ebony hair and eyes such a dark blue they were almost black. His mouth, a hard yet somehow sensuous line, curved slightly upward.
“That, I'm happy to fix.” He put his hand out, and Tricia let her small hand be enveloped in his large one. His skin was surprisingly cool to the touch, but that didn’t stop her mind from wandering immediately to inappropriate, and far warmer, places.
“Marcus Black,” he said, giving her hand one firm shake before pulling his own away with a long stroke that felt like a caress. “And you?”
“Tricia. Um, Tricia Ivy,” she said, her entire arm tingling. The longer Marcus Black looked at her, the odder she felt. He seemed to be looking not just at her, but into her. Not that the feeling made any sense. She probably should have skipped the bolstering shot of tequila on her way out of her stateroom. It helped with the uncomfortable dress, but in dealing with a disconcertingly gorgeous man who seemed determined to be in her company, not so much.
“Tricia,” Marcus repeated, his voice like warm honey. She wondered where he was from—there was a faint lilt in his voice that was almost certainly British, but some of his words carried a hint of somewhere even more exotic.
“Tell me, how do you know Armand? You don’t seem the type to get tangled up with his kind.”
Tricia smirked. “You don’t really know me well enough to judge, do you? But yeah,” she admitted ruefully, “this cruise hasn’t exactly been a picnic so far. I apparently didn’t know him as well as I thought.” At the questioning tilt of Marcus’s head, she continued, “He’s my hairdresser. When he asked me to help out with his jewelry business on this trip, it seemed like a complete no-brainer to say yes. I mean, how much safer does it get?”
To her surprise, Marcus drew her even closer…and, Tricia realized, she’d been close to plastered up against him as it was. There was just something so magnetic about him, it had seemed natural not to step away. Now, when Marcus pulled her to his chest and pressed his lips against her ear, she wondered whether that had been a wise decision. Then again, she thought as delicious shivers coursed through her at the velvety rumble of his voice, it might have been the best decision she’d made since coming along on this stupid cruise.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing safe about this cruise for you, Tricia,” he purred, and Tricia melted against him even though his words had fear blooming anew in her chest. “I will never understand why that piece of shit Armand is allowed access to our world, except that he knows very well how to choose his wares…and how to showcase them.” She felt his cool fingers trail along the edge of her necklace, and without thinking tilted her head to the side to allow him better access.
“Your neck is as lovely as the rest of you, I’ll give him that. I might almost consider paying for you myself…but then, Armand knows better. The only kind of payment he’ll ever get from me wouldn’t be at all to his liking.”
Tricia’s eyes slipped shut as Marcus’s arms slid around her, steel bands trapping her neatly. What was he talking about? Danger? Her neck? Wanting an intense make-out session right here behind the stage?
No, wait…that last one might have been wishful thinking.
She felt his smile against her ear, followed by a quick nip that had her legs threatening to go to Jello.
“Not here. But later, absolutely,” he said. It took a moment for his words to register, but once they did, Tricia’s eyes flew open and her blood ran cold. Had he heard her thoughts? Before she could ask, however, Marcus tensed. His next words came in a rapid whisper.
“Be careful. Don’t go anywhere alone. And for God’s sake, don’t trust anything Armand says. Nothing on this ship is as it seems. But I’ll get you out of here before long.”
In the blink of an eye, Tricia was alone, her arms clasped loosely around…air. And a very familiar, increasingly unwelcome voice sounded behind her.
“Didn’t I tell you to follow Anita? What are you doing, slow dancing by yourself?”