In the aftermath of a wild, liquor-soaked party, three women from very different social classes are about to live out their forbidden desires.
Society girl, Nora Richardson’s passionate nature has always been a challenge to her ever-patient husband. Now he wants out of the marriage and she has just this one night to win him back. The catch? He wants to punish her for her bad behavior. Nora is offended by her husband’s increasingly depraved demands, but as the night unfolds, she discovers her own true nature and that the line between pain and pleasure is very thin indeed.
Meanwhile, Clara Cartwright, sultry siren of the silent screen, is introduced to a mysterious WWI Flying Ace. If Clara, darling of the scandal sheets, knows anything, it’s men. And she’s known plenty. But none of them push her boundaries like the aviator, who lures her into a ménage with a stranger in a darkened cinema then steals her jaded heart.
Working class girl Sophie O’Brien has more important things on her mind than pleasures of the flesh. But when her playboy boss, the wealthy heir to the Aster family fortune, confronts her with her diary of secret sex fantasies, she could die of shame. To her surprise, he doesn’t fire her; instead, he dares her to re-enact her boldest fantasies and Sophie is utterly seduced.
One party serves as a catalyst of sexual awakening. And in an age when anything goes, three women discover that anything is possible…
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Exclusive Excerpt from IT STINGS SO SWEET
The casual admission of his intentions—and his regrets—astonishes me. Why, he’s insufferable. That’s what he is. “You’re trying to seduce me, sir?”
His eyes twinkle. “I’m trying to seduce the author of this journal; she isn’t as timid as you are.”
“I’m not timid,” I protest, with a toss of my head. “I’m just stunned at your nerve. I believe a person might find pleasure in thinking about things she might never actually want to talk about . . . or do.”
“Quite right. But do you think it’s likely that a woman might not want to do any of the things she imagines?”
We appear to be having a philosophical argument and every word we say is like a thread weaving us closer together. As much as I want to escape his dangerous web, I feel myself drawn closer. “This lacy garment isn’t the kind of gift an unmarried gentleman gives to an unmarried lady.”
“Right you are. It’s the kind of gift that a married gentleman gives to his mistress. But as I’m both unmarried and endeavoring to be less of a gentleman, I hope this gift might signal my willingness to help you experience some of your fantasies.”
I hear myself gulp. How many times in a girl’s life does she hear an offer like that one? Not many, I think. And in spite of my sweating palms, my nervous little breaths, and my general sense of outrage, temptation tugs at me. I’d best put a stop to it before I end up just like Gertrude. “Mr. Aster, I told you, the journal isn’t mine. And even if I—even if my friend wants to experience those fantasies, it doesn’t mean that she wants to experience them with you.”
He takes a moment, scratching his chin in feigned humility. “Why not? Am I too repulsive for her? Too rich? If she’s a friend of yours, I assume she’s attracted to Bolsheviks and penniless professors, but I’m told I have a certain appeal.”
He does at that.
There’s something about those gleaming teeth, in that brilliant smile, that make it hard to stay sore at him. In fact, I’m starting to feel something altogether different. Something that’s making me sweat behind the knees. It’s terribly warm in here and the decorative tie at the front of my dress is suddenly rather constricting.
Mr. Aster, on the other hand, is wondrously pale, cool, and collected. “If your friend doesn’t like lingerie, I have other tricks up my sleeve.”
“That’s the problem with men. They all want to trick a woman into bed.”
His head bobs up, as if I’ve finally offended him. “It was merely a turn of phrase, Miss O’Brien. I assure you, I’ve never tricked any woman into my bed. And in your case, I’ve been remarkably frank about my intentions.”
With that, he pulls a stack of cream-colored envelopes from the drawer, then piles them in the middle of the desk until the edges line up.
I stare, shocked to the marrow of my bones.
In one of the stories I wrote, a girl receives anonymous letters in the mail, each of them daring her to take some provocative new risk. I’d described the notes as being written on cream-colored paper with a silver trim. The envelopes on his desk look just the same—as if conjured from my own imagination.
I know what they are, and he knows I do. He doesn’t have to say it. It’s all in his gaze. And a little thrill goes through me that any man should go to such lengths to impress me. His meticulous attention to detail is flattering, overwhelming, alluring. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. But what kind of man does this? Is he mischievous, obsessive, dangerously eccentric, or depraved?
“You wrote on all these cards?” I ask, my mouth dry.
“I did.” Maybe he finally feels the heat, too, because he removes his closely tailored linen jacket to reveal a pale gray vest underneath. Then he rolls up his shirt sleeves and comes round to the front of the desk. “. . . and it was rather time-consuming.”
My eyes widen at his sudden proximity, large and looming. I motion to the wide shiny expanse of
his bare desk. “Don’t you have a hotel to run, sir?”
He chuckles, leaning towards me. “Yes, which is why I’m so bored.”
“What a luxury. Most of us are too busy trying to earn a living to have time for boredom.”
His grin widens. “Sorry, Comrade. Most of my business is finished by noon and I’m ossified by dinnertime. So, I’ve plenty of time for recreation . . .”
Emboldened by his teasing, I put a hand on my hip like Clara Cartwright always does in the movies when she needs to knock a man down by a peg or two. “If you’ve so much time on your hands, perhaps you ought to make time to hear the complaints of your workers. I’ve a list of grievances, starting with a friend of mine who—”
“Another friend, Miss O’Brien?” he says, his eyes sweeping up and down my body. “My, you’re a popular girl . . . but I’d rather not talk about business, if you don’t mind.”
I do mind. Or at least, I should mind. It’s just that I never knew how very difficult it is to champion a cause—even a very good cause—when a man smells so wonderful. Soapy, spicy, and clean. My nostrils twitch in delight, which I fear must make me look like a timid little rabbit after all. Bloody hell!
“Aren’t you curious about what’s in the envelopes?” Mr. Aster asks.
“Painfully.” My fingers itch to open them. But when I reach for one, he stops me.
His eyes crinkle at the corners. “Those aren’t for you, unless you want to admit that you wrote the journal.”
Such an admission is going to cost me. It’s going to cost me dear. It better be worth the price. “Will you give my diary back to me if I admit the journal is mine?”
He nods, his eyes shining with challenge.
I’m sure I’ll regret it, but that look in his eyes goads me to make the confession. “Very well. I wrote it.”
“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” he asks, his voice low, seductive, and approving.
It was harder than I imagined because now he knows all sorts of things about me and I don’t know anything about him. “It’s extremely embarrassing.”
“I wish you wouldn’t be embarrassed. I think most women are ashamed of thoughts like these, so men don’t know that you have them. We assume you’re all angels we taint with our own base desires rather than earthly creatures with desires of your own. That’s a tragic mistake I’ve made at least once before.”
With that last bit, he takes it a touch too far. He’s been seen on the arm of pretty husband hunters and socialites. Why, before he returned to the city he was even linked in the scandal sheets with movie stars. It ought to serve as a warning to me what kind of man I’m dealing with.
“I’ll wager that’s more than a bit of blarney, Mr. Aster. You’ve quite a reputation with the ladies.”
“My reputation notwithstanding, I won’t force unwanted attentions on a young woman in my employ. If you want to take your journal and go, this can be the end of it . . . but if you would like to make any of the stories you’ve written come true, I’d be happy to be of assistance.”
“Would you now?” I grin, in spite of myself.
He levels his gaze on me. “I doubt you’ll find many men better suited . . . especially for the more outlandish and expensive fantasies.”
His self-assurance must come from knowing he can buy whatever he wants, and whoever he can’t buy, he can probably charm into submission. I wonder what it must feel like to be him—able to live his life with no limitations but the ones he puts on himself. I call myself a modern thinker, but feel like an unsure girl inside. And here’s a man offering me a chance to become a woman in all the ways I’ve only imagined. Would I be a fool to refuse? “Just how far are you prepared to take this, Mr. Aster?”
“As far as you’ll let me,” he replies, tapping the pile of envelopes. “What do you think?”
I think that I’m two breaths away from forgetting all good sense.
“I need to return to work, sir.”
Standing up, I dare to pluck my beloved journal from his hand. He follows me to the door and when I start to turn the handle, he angles his shoulder to block my exit. “Aren’t you forgetting your lingerie?”
Something flutters in my belly. “It seems like a dangerous gift to accept.”
“Oh, it is,” he says, leaning lazily against the doorframe. “But I want you to have it. I want to imagine you wearing it. I can’t quite get the picture of you naked right in my mind, though. I can’t decide if your breasts are round or pointy, with low nipples or high nipples, and the curiosity is driving me mad.”
“Mr. Aster!” I laugh, shocked, amused, offended, aroused, and uncertain which is the strongest emotion. I’ve imagined men of all sorts in my fantasies: strong and shameless men, controlling and crude. But I’m not sure I ever imagined a man quite so playfully debauched.
“Take the lingerie,” he insists.
I don’t own anything like the garment in that box. It’s pretty and feminine and utterly impractical. It would be a gift I couldn’t tell anyone about, a gift just for me, secret and sinful and forbidden, just like him. “I don’t think I should.”
“Then don’t take it. Just stay. Because this is the most interesting morning I’ve had since returning to the city and I’m not ready for it to end.”
“So I’m a source of amusement to you.” It ought to offend me, but it doesn’t. Everything is crowded out by the coiling desire in my body.
“I mean to be a source of amusement for you, too, Miss O’Brien. Haven’t I already amused you?
You came into this office such a serious girl, but you’re on the verge of laughing now . . .”
I have to bite my lip to hold back the merriment he senses. “What happens if I stay?”
“Then I’ll let you open an envelope . . . but there are rules. If you find that you don’t want to obey the command written there, the game stops and you don’t get to open any of the other ones.”
Obey? So there are commands in those envelopes. The thought of it makes me bite my lower lip even harder. The secret notes were my own idea, drawn from little dreams that gave me pleasure in the dark. Will I still like them in the light of day?