Home > Sweet Temptation (Sweet #4)

Sweet Temptation (Sweet #4)
Author: Maya Banks

PROLOGUE

Angelina Moyano watched from a distance as Micah Hudson stood over the two headstones in the small graveyard. She studied him from behind a large oak tree, her small hands gripping the rough bark. It was always like this. At dawn he’d come to honor their memories. Just as he did every year.

The sun’s rays were barely peeking over the horizon, but the Florida humidity was already thick and heavy, each breath a struggle in the cloying heat. She chanced a look over her shoulder, damning her paranoia that she’d been followed, but she couldn’t afford to take chances. Seeing nothing, she turned her attention back to Micah.

He knelt at Hannah’s grave and carefully laid a single yellow rose, her favorite, just below the marble slab that marked her death. He kissed his thumb and the ridge of his forefinger then laid his hand over the flat ground.

Angelina sucked in her breath. It was different this year. Before he’d always stood there looking so haunted, his eyes filled with grief and regret. This year ... this year he seemed to be saying good-bye.

Her eyes filled with tears when he turned to David’s grave and drew a simple rosary from his pocket. He kissed the beads and then laid them at her brother’s headstone.

Sadness knotted her throat. She missed them too. She missed Micah, but he was as lost to her as David and Hannah. Maybe now he was ready. Ready to let go. He had grieved long enough. She had grieved long enough.

He rose, shoving his hands into his pockets. For a long moment he simply stood there as the early morning light grew a little brighter.

Warmth flooded the place where Micah stood, and Angelina took it as a sign that it was time.

“I love you,” she whispered, letting the wind carry her words away.

When he finally turned and walked back toward his truck, she waited only long enough that she wouldn’t be seen, before she darted back to her car. She would have to hurry if she was going to get to Twilight before he did.

It was where he always went after he paid his homage to his former wife and David, his best friend. Only Angelina understood the need that drove him. Only she understood his pain, knew his private demons. She would help him because she could do nothing else. She’d loved him far too long. Maybe now he could finally love her in return.

She took the shortest route to the club and whipped into the back parking lot ten minutes later. Though it operated twenty-four hours a day, at this time of the morning it was usually empty, and she knew that was one of the reasons Micah always chose this time to come.

Grabbing her bag, she hurried inside the employee entrance and checked with Rose, who manned the front door.

“I’m here, Rose. Just give me a minute to change. If he gets here, put him in room one.”

“Hey, baby. I see him walking up now, so scoot on back so he doesn’t see you.”

“Thanks, Mama Rose.” She blew a kiss to the older woman and ran for the dressing room.

She didn’t go for garish dress-up. No leather, no high-heeled boots. No, save for the mask that protected her identity, she went with black jeans and a long-sleeved black shirt. Her long, dark hair was drawn into a braid and tucked down her shirt. She was as nondescript as they came.

The last item was the leather mask that covered her from the neck up. Only her eyes were visible, and they blended with the dark leather, dark, almost black.

David would have killed her if he were alive. He and Hannah would both be horrified that David’s little sister was for all practical purposes a surrogate daughter to a woman who owned one of Miami’s most successful bondage clubs.

Micah would look at her with those dark eyes and ask her what the hell a little girl like her was doing in a place like this.

And it was all because of him.

A soft knock at her door had her whirling around as Mama Rose stuck her head in.

“He’s ready for you.”

Angelina nodded and walked out the door and down the hall to one of the flogging rooms. When she entered, she sucked in her breath so hard her chest hurt.

Her reaction to him never dimmed. The sight of such a powerful, proud man standing in the middle of the room, bared to the waist, his hands high above him, tied to a spreader. He was utterly magnificent.

On another man, his pose might seem submissive. Weak. Only she knew better. Underneath the seemingly calm surface was a man who seethed with emotion. Dark and boiling. And she would call it to the surface.

His head rose when he heard her footsteps. There was a vulnerability to his eyes she hadn’t seen in the past. As if the emotion bubbled that much closer to the surface. Before he’d buried it, only releasing it with his pain.

Not everyone would understand his needs. But she did. Oh, how she did. She would set him free. She would give him what he needed.

“I need ... Don’t go easy,” he said in a low voice.

She nodded her acceptance of his request. She alone understood his need for this kind of pain. They were more alike than he would ever know.

She uncoiled the whip and let the end fall to the floor as she circled behind him. Such beauty. His back was broad, his waist lean and narrow. The muscles tensed and bunched between his shoulder blades as he readied himself for her strike.

How long she had practiced, relentlessly perfecting her method, so she would never disappoint him. He was safe in her hands.

The first lash landed against his skin with a deafening crack. He jerked but quickly righted himself and went still, awaiting the next. She flicked her wrist again, exerting just the right amount of force, and placed an identical stripe across from the first.

She forced herself to relax, to not allow the welling emotion to bubble up. Calmly and methodically she kissed his back with the lash, watching as he jumped and bowed under the whip.

Sweat glistened on his back, dampened his hair until it fell in limp curls past his neck. Still she continued, sensing he needed more. She striped one side then the other, working a path down to his waist.

As she worked her way back up, blood beaded and shone in the low light. Finally. Release. Lightly, like a lover’s kiss, she whispered the whip across his shoulders until they were slick with blood.

It was like making a cut in a festering wound. The relief was profound, as pressure—and pain—escaped the seething cauldron. His hands clenched in their bonds, his wrists flexing as he raised his head, looking upward as if he was seeking redemption.

With every stroke, she lavished him with her love. It would have seemed bizarre to someone who didn’t understand. An unacceptable outlet for many. But this was his way. She accepted it, as she did him.

A heavy sigh escaped him, the only sound he made the entire time. His shoulders drooped, and she knew it was enough. She let the whip fall and walked around to face him.

His eyes were closed, but his cheeks were streaked with tears. Her own eyes clouded with moisture. He’d never cried for them. Not at the funeral. Not at the graves. Not afterward when he’d driven her home. And then he’d simply disappeared, dealing with his grief as he did everything else. Alone.

She ached to hold him, to tell him it was all right, that Hannah and David loved him too. That she loved him. That he didn’t have to be alone any longer.

Instead she stepped forward and cupped his face lovingly in her hands. She pressed a kiss to his forehead and whispered in a husky voice he’d never recognize, “Vaya en paz.”

Go in peace.

As she stepped away, he looked up at her with glazed, unfocused eyes. Another tear slipped down his cheek, marking a raw trail on his face.

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