Crystal Cove by Lisa Kleypas

  Jason lowered her to her back with infinite care. Her limbs were loose and splayed, her breasts plumped high between the bands of rope. He reached for more of the hemp and bound her hands together, attaching them to a cord at her waist. Every movement was measured, the rigging progressing in a fluid and soothing rhythm. He kept glancing at Justine’s face, sensitive to every nuance of her expression.

  She had begun to breathe deeply, mesmerized by the sensation of being constricted by degrees, her body seeming to swell against the web of rope. Bound. Spellbound. There was no room to be embarrassed, no room for words or even thought.

  Moving behind her on the bed, Jason gently turned her head to the side and unfastened her hair. The loose waves cascaded over his hands. His strong fingers curved beneath her head to lift it slightly, massaging her scalp. Justine moaned in pleasure and relaxed as he cradled the weight of her head. One of his hands worked down to her nape, gripping the tight muscles with delicious squeezes until they loosened.

  Jason bent over her, his lips grazing hers in an upside-down kiss. “More?” he whispered.

  “Yes. Yes.” She lifted her face, her tongue touching the edge of his mouth where the masculine texture of shaven bristle met the silk of his lips. She felt the shape of his smile, smelled the hot mint of his breath. His fingers stroked her throat and face tenderly. She was lost, floating, her blood humming.

  Keeping her eyes shut, Justine waited as he moved to the other side of the mattress and grasped one of her ankles. He took her foot in both his hands, warming her sole, her toes, his thumbs massaging into the sensitive arch. She writhed, delight unfolding like a multifoliate flower. His lips brushed her heel before his teeth dug in lightly. The little nip caused her to twitch in surprise, runners of heat going through her, a bloom of intimate moisture between her thighs. A nibble at her toes, a ticklish kiss, and then Jason began to wrap her ankle. His hands were gentle and clever, bending her leg until her heel nearly touched her bottom, winding the thin, soft rope in a spiral toward her knee.

  Justine opened her heavy-lidded eyes to watch Jason’s dark silhouetted form. He knew what he was doing. Every tug of the cord tightened the urgency inside, hunger and confusion knotting exquisitely until she writhed from the inner pressure. A large, warm hand came to rest on her stomach.

  Jason was looming over her, hooking a muscular arm around her bent knee. “Beautiful,” she heard him say softly. “The patterns on your body. Red cord and ivory skin. Like an image from a shunga print.” He kissed the inside of her knee. “If I had a soul, I’d have sold it for a chance to see you like this.”

  How peculiar it was that she could feel naked and secure all at once, all her protections gone. She was nothing but a bundle of bare flesh tied in red cord, her nerves charged with need. Jason worked carefully, purposefully, tying and threading rope to shape her body as he wanted. Her knees were drawn upward and secured so that she was held defenseless and exposed. She was throbbing everywhere, her sex full, the air wafting coolly against a slick of moisture.

  Jason drew his hands over her legs, tracing the pattern of the cord. The air was filled with the mingled rhythms of their breathing. Even with her eyes closed, Justine could feel the intensity of Jason’s concentration on her. It gave her a disembodied feeling, being held and stroked and restrained, no choice except to submit.

  Jason reached down to the ropes on either side of her groin and readjusted them, gently stretching each cord between the outer folds of her sex so that she was spread open. She began to tremble and strain, her insides pulsing and closing on emptiness.

  Another whisper. “More?”

  “Yes,” she said on a sob of breath.

  Seconds passed while she writhed in the restraints, her bound wrists flexing, her toes curling. His hands gripped her bottom, forcing her to hold still. His mouth descended, covering her with slippery heat and sinuous flicking. She gasped, struggling against the ropes. Slowly his thumb worked inside her, rubbing deep circles while her muscles clutched helplessly at the new invasion. Her spine turned molten, and she dissolved in the heat, coming so hard she couldn’t draw breath to scream.

  His thumb withdrew, his mouth playing on her, easing her into softness. Wordless minutes passed, while he cradled her trussed body as if she were a vessel he drank from. The lamplight slid over the dark head between her thighs, the layers of his hair touched with gold. She whimpered in surprise as the need built again, her swollen flesh tightening and twitching.

  She felt the caress of his breath as he spoke hoarsely. “Use the safe word, Justine, or I’m going to take you while you’re tied. Do you understand, honey? Tell me to stop before it’s too late.”

  “Don’t stop,” she managed to say, the words sweet and raw in her throat.

  He pressed a rough kiss at the entrance of her body and stood to undress. His body was sleek and powerful, shadows cutting across his golden skin like tiger stripes. Standing at the edge of the bed, he gripped the harness of ropes and pulled Justine to him. He was astonishingly strong, lifting her without effort. She was helpless to move or participate, her body so neatly restrained that he could manipulate her like a toy.

  Reaching down, Jason positioned himself and entered her in a wet, skewering thrust. His mouth came to hers, absorbing her pleasured groans. He continued to kiss her as he gripped the ropes, using them to lift and rock her against him. It was like riding on waves, a steady undulation while the cords held her open, exposing her sensitive flesh to each lubricious plunge. His mouth covered hers, his tongue filling her, while his hands gripped the ropes to make her ride every hard thrust. She bounced helplessly, weightless, sightless, washed in the heat of a climax so prolonged that it had no definite beginning or end.

  She had never surrendered herself so fully, had never imagined it possible, and yet it was what she had always craved, to be sublimated in pure feeling. To hear her name in Jason’s voice, his body shuddering against hers, the thick pulse of him buried within her. To feel his arms go around her, his face nuzzling hard into her neck.

  When the final tremors dissipated, Jason eased her back and worked at the knots, untying them slowly, smoothly, pausing only to caress a private curve, a damp hollow. Each length of red hemp was deftly coiled and set aside. Dazed and dreamy, Justine lay in a passive sprawl while he rubbed and kissed the faint cord marks on her body. Her limbs were heavy, her heartbeat unhurried. Every nerve was alert to the pleasure of Jason’s hands on her, the intimate energy that flowed back and forth between them.

  “What’s a shunga print?” she asked eventually, her voice blurred as if she’d just come out of a deep sleep.

  “Ancient erotic art.” Jason wrapped a blanket around her and held her against his chest. “Hand-painted images showing couples in sexual positions.” His hand played gently in her hair. “To make it as stimulating as possible, the men are usually shown with exaggerated genitalia.”

  “In your case, that would be accurate.”

  She felt Jason smile against her head. But a second later, he eased her head back to look down at her with a flicker of concern. “Did I hurt you?”

  “No.” She traced the edge of his upper lip with her fingertip. “I just meant that you’re very … satisfying.” Yawning, she leaned her head back against his chest. “And you were right.”

  “About what, baby?” he whispered.

  “Being tied. I feel a little different, somehow. I feel…” She groped for words. “There was a moment when I was open and feeling everything and taking everything, and even though you were the one in charge, I felt like…” She hesitated, unwilling to say it.

  “You owned me,” Jason said quietly. “You knew I was yours.”

  Justine couldn’t reply, even though it was true. Especially because it was true. Settling deeper in his arms, she became aware of a slight soreness here and there, subtle reminders of ropes and flesh and pleasure.

  After a while, she was dimly aware that Jason had left the bed and had returned with a damp
washcloth, the moist heat moving over her face and limbs and between her thighs. The need for sleep was overwhelming. He pulled the covers over them both and she felt herself sinking into layers of inviting darkness.

  “I’m coming back to you, Justine,” she heard him say. “You know that, don’t you?”

  “You promised you wouldn’t.”

  “You’ll want me to.” When she didn’t answer, he held her more closely. “Don’t be afraid,” he whispered.

  Justine had every reason to fear for both of them. The safety she felt in his arms was only an illusion. But she would take it for now.

  * * *

  The shriek of the alarm clock woke Justine into a state of heart-pounding alertness. With a muffled exclamation, she crawled across the mattress and hit the snooze button. Collapsing onto her back, she groaned at the prospect of starting the day.

  After a long, shivering stretch, she yawned and glanced around the room. Thin morning light had seeped through the shutters, casting the room in muted colors like a vintage postcard. Her gaze was attracted by an incongruous splash of red … three bundles of hemp rope on the nightstand.

  Mortified color spread over her as images flashed through her mind. She wished she could have claimed that the previous night had happened as a result of one glass of wine too many. Because no one had that kind of sex while sober. Crazy sex. Off-the-chain sex. I-can-never-see-you-again sex.

  Justine inched lower on the bed and tugged the sheet up to her nose. Had those bundles of hemp not been left out, she might have convinced herself it had been a dream. Unfortunately she could recall every detail. The way Jason had gripped the ropes to pull her body onto his, the way he had traced and kissed the marks on her skin afterward. The sight of him so deliberate and intent, a flush of passion on his face. His smoke-and-brimstone whisper … “You owned me.”

  She had felt it. She’d had him going hard, all wrapped up in her, taking her mouth with hard sweet kisses and breathing her name in between, every muscle in his body straining to get closer, deeper. At the end, a sound had caught in his throat as if something had hurt him. Unable to hold him in her arms, she’d gripped him down below, a tight caressing clasp while he spilled inside her.

  Remembering, Justine let out an unsteady sigh. Her chest was heated with a leftover erotic glow.

  The warmth faded, however, as she reminded herself that Jason was gone. Spirits willing, he would be safe now that he was away from her. Don’t think about him. Don’t miss him or his blinding smile or those long kisses or how his skin always seemed hotter than normal, like a perpetual low-grade fever.

  How did you stop yourself from loving someone? You could end a relationship, but you couldn’t end the feelings that had fueled it. Only time could do that … maybe.

  Sitting up, Justine pushed back the tangled sheaf of her hair and reached over to the nightstand for her necklace, the long chain with the copper key.

  It wasn’t there.

  Had it fallen? Frowning, she slipped out of bed and hunted for the chain on the floor. She looked behind the nightstand. Still nothing.

  She felt sick, covered in adrenaline stings, the way it felt when she was about to fall but had caught herself, nerves zinging with the anticipation of pain. Her mouth and throat went dry. She was too numb even to feel her heartbeat. Before she brought herself to look under the bed, she knew what she would find.

  The Triodecad was gone.


  The only fortunate aspect of the situation was that with the guests gone, no one was there to hear the howl of outrage coming from the back cottage. Nor did anyone witness the explosion of an alarm clock, two lightbulbs, and a toaster.

  By the time Justine had regained control, the cottage was filled with a light acrid haze of smoke and she was huddled on the floor. Her eyes were hot and bone-dry with fury. She was going to kill Jason Black. Creatively. Slowly.

  Clasping her head in her hands, she tried to think through the red cloud of rage.

  How could Jason have stolen her spellbook? No one could take it from her … it wasn’t possible. And yet somehow he had.

  “I swear I won’t come back unless you ask me to.”

  The bastard had known that she would want him to come back, if only to return her spellbook. She let out a guttural cry of rage.

  What the hell did he think he was going to do with the Triodecad? Did he think he could just open it and recite a spell like he was reading a Betty Crocker recipe?

  No. Whatever else Jason was, he wasn’t stupid. He knew he would need a crafter to help him. The concept of paying someone to cast a spell—magic for hire—was as old as time. From Jason’s point of view, stealing the Triodecad was a Hail Mary play, a gamble with no downside. As he had told her the previous night, he was already living on borrowed time. He intended to do exactly as he pleased, and then talk Justine into forgiving him. Fat chance, she thought darkly.

  Struggling to her feet, Justine went to her bedroom. She pulled on some leggings and an oversized tee. Her gaze went to the dark space beneath the bed, and her chin trembled. She hadn’t been separated from the Triodecad since Marigold had given it to her.

  Justine left her cottage and went to the empty inn. The Inari group was gone, and Zoë wasn’t coming until the afternoon. Four of the rooms had been booked for the weekend, but that was a couple of days away.

  Bounding up the stairs, Justine went to the Klimt room. Jason had left nothing behind. No note. No message on her phone. The covers had been drawn up neatly over the bed. Justine sat on the mattress and dialed Priscilla. It was especially galling that Justine didn’t even have Jason’s cell number and had to reach him through his assistant.

  “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” she said to herself through gritted teeth. “Justine Hoffman, do not ever sleep with a man without getting his phone number first.”

  At the moment, Priscilla and Jason and the others were on the company plane, flying back to San Francisco. Or maybe the Inari group was going to San Francisco and Jason was heading somewhere else. With the Triodecad. Damn him, what was he going to do with it?

  The call clicked through to Priscilla’s voice mail, directing her to leave a message. “Priscilla,” she said tersely, “have Jason call me as soon as possible. He has something that belongs to me. I want it back.”

  Ending the call, Justine flopped back on the bed. She tried to think of what to do next. Undoubtedly she should call Rosemary and Sage for guidance, but the idea of having to confess how monumentally she had screwed up … that she had lost possession of one of the most revered grimoires in the Tradition … no. No way. She would handle this on her own. It was her mess, her fault, and she would deal with the fallout.

  Continuing to lie on the bed, she redialed Priscilla and left another message. “It’s me again. This is important, Priscilla: Tell Jason he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s going to put himself and possibly other people in danger. Make him call me right away.”

  Fuming, Justine ended the call and stared at the ceiling. Priscilla had to know something about what Jason was planning. He had probably put her in charge of finding someone who could work a spell. And Justine was pretty certain that Priscilla wouldn’t let the questionable morality of Jason’s plans bother her. She was too ambitious to let anything get in the way of her career. Whatever Jason wanted, Priscilla would do without hesitation.

  I have to reach him before he tries anything.

  Arrogant, lying lowlife … the question of what Jason might do with the Triodecad in his possession, given half a chance … the possibilities were appalling.

  As she tried to keep from thinking the unthinkable, Justine was infuriated to discover that she was unconsciously rubbing her cheek against Jason’s pillow, subconsciously trying to derive comfort from the scent of him. Hades’ bones. Grabbing the pillow, she hurled it against the wall.

  * * *

  To expend some of her rampaging energy, Justine spent three hours replacing a couple of old damaged
floor planks in the dining room. It was a project she’d kept on the back burner, until she found the right time to take care of it. Now was as good a time as any. She took particular enjoyment in pounding the new planks into place with a rubber mallet, imagining she was hammering parts of Jason Black’s anatomy.

  When her phone rang, Justine’s heart began to slam hard against her ribs. An unfamiliar number appeared on the tiny screen. She fumbled to press the “accept call” button, and held it up to her ear.


  Conflicting emotions coursed through her as she heard Jason’s infuriatingly calm voice. “You know why I did it.”

  “Yes, I know why. And it doesn’t make you any less of a sneaky, self-serving shithead. Where are you?”


  “Traveling to where?”

  “East Coast.”

  “Where on the East Coast?”

  “We’ll talk about that later.”

  Justine burned with indignation. “I want my book back now. The Triodecad isn’t going to do you any good. You don’t understand the first thing about magic—this is a disaster waiting to happen.”

  “You’ll have the book back soon.”

  “The next time I see you, I will Taser you with my bare hands!”

  His tone turned gently cajoling. “I understand why you’re upset.”

  “Yeah, funny how I tend to overreact when I’m robbed.”

  “I didn’t steal it. I borrowed it.”

  “Oh, please,” she said wrathfully, and hung up.

  In fewer than thirty seconds, her phone rang again. Justine answered it without preamble. “Tell me who’s going to do the spell-casting, or I’ll hang up again.”

  He hesitated for a long moment. “Priscilla.”

  Priscilla? Justine’s fingers went to her mouth, mashing her lips against her teeth. When she could manage to speak, she said unsteadily, “Fiveash. I knew her last name meant something. She’s a crafter. She’s … My God. Is she natural-born?”

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