ISBN eBook: 978-1-3015-4712-8
ISBN Print: TBA
Publisher: Udumbara Publishing
♦ Multicultural ♦ Release Date: October 2012
Contemporary Romance, Erotic
Niko Chow craves solitude. Only fate won’t leave him in peace. His desire to overcome his demons leads him to a promise made to a dying friend and into the arms of a seductive chanteuse.
Donovan Matthews ignites a passion within him he has long denied. The more time he spends with her, the more Niko finds her spitfire determination and generous heart as sensuous and exotic as the lotus blossoms that bloom in his garden. Can she end his internal war and help heal his aching soul?
Read an Excerpt
Warning: This excerpt may contain material inappropriate for minors and is intended for readers over 18 years of age.
The siren lured him with a melodic song of heartache and pain; painting such vivid imagery Niko Chow couldn’t seem to push the tragic tale from his mind. He closed his eyes, soaking in the powerful, smoky voice filled with so much passion and conviction.
This stranger, this beautiful woman, was the reason he scoured every jazz club and trashy dive from Mexico to Los Angeles. The same woman he had overheard regulars affectionately nicknamed “Dove.”
All for a bloody promise.
Niko blew out a frustrated breath and opened his eyes with a slow ease. He re-adjusted to the dilapidated surroundings of dim, fluorescent, red lighting that hid some of the imperfections of the cramped lounge. Dusty shelves lined the outdated purple and red art deco décor complete with scuffed floors, mismatched furniture, and worn out bar stools and booths. The place was a real dump of the lowest caliber.
Niko wasn’t sure what possessed Dove to work at this shit hole anyway. He glanced over at the stage and the sultry voice pulled him back in like a wind tunnel, making it hard to resist visually drinking in his fill of those lush curves, big chocolate eyes, golden brown skin and silky raven’s curls.
His eyes remained fixed on her shapely physique and seductive performance. There was no denying that she belonged there. She was every bit an embodiment of those classic starlets that women envied and men longed to possess.
The name fit the woman, yet the Ella Fitzgerald voice mingled with the Billie Holiday sex appeal had been an unexpected charm. His lips twitched in humor, a smile never completely forming. She was definitely not what he had imagined.
While playing detective, all he had to go by was a battered ten-year-old photograph. By the looks of it, the beauty on stage was no way the same wide-eyed, pigtailed girl from the photo he carried in his wallet.
Niko grabbed the glass of scotch and brought it up to his lips. He paused, frowning at the habit he hadn’t been able to kick. The sharp peaty aroma hit his nostrils yet he inhaled deeply of the amber liquid as if it would quench his thirst. With a mournful gaze, he placed it back on the table.
How long had it been now?
Niko hadn’t stepped foot in a bar in eighteen months. Hadn’t touched a drop in what seemed like an eternity. The powerful urge often assaulted him, coaxing him to drown his troubles, his own demons. But what would that accomplish? Another stint at rehab and more self loathing? He wasn’t one for repeats. Nor was he one to give up when he committed himself to something…or someone.
The image of Gabriella Matthews appeared like an apparition in his thoughts. A quiet beauty with swanlike grace, mocha skin, big brown eyes and an infectious smile. No, Gabe wouldn’t approve if he gave in. He damn well wasn’t going to fall off the wagon now. Not even for a trio of naked whores drenched in scotch.
Niko’s eyes returned to Dove, his eyebrows drew together, his lips stretched tight.
Not even for the vixen squeezed into the skintight red ‘fuck-me’ number.
The torch song ended in a prolonged note, stirring something unfamiliar from deep inside. He shifted uncomfortably and rubbed his sweaty hands on his slacks. Had that feeling existed before? Niko zeroed in on her plump, scarlet lips and his cock jerked to life.
Hell, Niko didn’t need the scotch to feel the intoxication of the chanteuse. She proved more dangerous than the booze. Everything about her screamed addiction waiting to happen and he wasn’t ready to go there for two very valid reasons…
The room temperature seemed to spike and Niko had a sudden urge to seek some fresh air. He stood up, pulled several bills from his inside jacket pocket, and threw it on the table. His eyes drifted back to Dove for a quick glance before retiring for the night. This had been the routine the past three days. Watch but don’t speak. Don’t maintain eye contact.
Niko wasn’t a coward. No, he just couldn’t bring himself to deliver the tragic news. He wasn’t good at consoling anyone, let alone a stranger.
Christ, what did he know about relating to people? He had always been a loner. In fact, he could count the number of friends he had on one hand and still have some fingers left over.
You’re growing soft, Niko. Get the hell out while you can.
He should trust his conscience more often. He turned to leave only to be met with a disappointed glare from the ever-flamboyant Saban Liu. The petite Chinese man stood firmly planted in front of him. His intimidation tactics never worked on Niko, especially dressed in designer women’s attire.
Out of respect for their fifteen-year friendship, Niko would not physically remove Saban from his path, although he certainly entertained the thought. He had to admit Saban made for an attractive member of the female persuasion. The man could carry off a sequined gown and designer shoes better than some of the society women he’d known.
Saban had spent most of his life performing in drag and his reputation as a personal costumer had earned him an abundance of work with the elite entertainers.
With his signature dramatics, the man threw his perfectly manicured hands on hips in confrontation mode. “I’m ashamed to say your lack of initiative is unflattering. I thought you were much sexier when you were the brooding, take-charge type. I’m not liking the runaway bandit bit.”
“Not tonight, Saban.”
“When will you be in the mood?” Saban’s eyes flashed. “For Heaven’s sake, you’ve been searching for her for months and now that you’ve found Dove you need to tell her the truth.”
“I’m leaving.” Niko pushed past him only to be faced head-on with the one person he’d intended to avoid.
“So soon?” The smoky voice halted his departure.
Saban whirled around, squealing in delight, “Dove! So glad you’ve decided to join the party. Let me introduce you to my friend.” He stepped aside, hands flailing in introduction. “Niko, Dove. Dove, Niko.”
Niko felt uncomfortable. He hadn’t expected meeting her so soon, his lips stretched into a frown.
“My, aren’t we friendly.” Dove gave him a sarcastic smile.
“I was just leaving.” Niko moved but she blocked him.
Dove placed a hand on his forearm. “Not so fast, handsome. Saban tells me you’re buying me a drink. Seeing as you’ve been ogling me during every performance, I think it’s the least you can do.” Her smile brightened. “Besides, you wouldn’t disappoint a girl, would you?”
Dove couldn’t believe she was talking to Mr. Hotness, let alone forcing her company on him. If Saban hadn’t mentioned he knew Niko, she’d never muster the nerve to speak to him.
How could she not find the man attractive? Niko was fresh blood in this joint. She’d seen newbies come and go, but had easily picked him out of the crowd on that first night. Who could miss the full on badass black ensemble and attitude to match? A sexy, young Chow Yun Fat fantasy come to life.
Gorgeous was an understatement. Niko possessed chiseled features, a strong determined jaw, and a body that could only be maintained by a strict workout regimen. He wasn’t bulky but lean in all the areas that counted most. His dark eyes and warm complexion against spiky charcoal hair revealed an even more exotic appeal up close.
Saban had called him Niko, an interesting name that matched the man. However, he apparently lacked social skills. Who cares when he looked like…that! She could easily gawk at him all day without him saying a word. In fact, that seemed to be the routine from the beginning.
There was something to be said about dark and brooding strangers, they were a kind of trouble she didn’t need. Yet, she couldn’t help wanting to satiate the curiosity. Even now.
Niko motioned his head for her to take the seat across from him. His reserved nature should have put her off but there was a dark magnetism surrounding him that lured her in.
“Your weapon of choice?”
She sat down, crossing her legs in a comfortable position before addressing him.
“Well, I’m sure you’re a man who can appreciate a girl with distinct tastes.” Dove flashed him her most innocent smile. “Ardbeg Ten. Straight up.”
Niko’s brow rose in interest and her heart sped up a notch. She imagined they’d just made progress.
Saban grinned from ear to ear in obvious approval. “Let me do the honors. I’ve got some last minute things to take care of, anyway. Why don’t you two cozy up…and talk.” He gave Niko a knowing look then hastily sashayed out of the picture.
Dove placed her elbows on the table and clasped her hands together, leaning in toward him in an almost intimate gesture. “Let me guess. You’re just passing through. Being Saban’s friend, he’s coerced you into coming here to get you out of the stuffy hotel. You’ve only frequented this place because you don’t have a desire to expand outside of the parameters of hotel and lobby dining. Am I correct?”
He paused for a long second and leaned in. His gaze locking with hers. “Tell me, Dove. Why are you here? Your talents are wasted in this…place.” She hadn’t been prepared for his directness.
She pulled back. “I think it’s none of your business.”
“Really?” Niko’s lips twitched. “But it’s your business to make assumptions about me?”
She started to respond when a server interrupted their discussion by setting the glass down in front of her. She eyed the generous portion of scotch. The drink would certainly knock her socks off. In truth, she wasn’t much of a drinker but this man made her feel like she shouldn’t show any weakness.
Dove wanted to change the subject. She was never good at small talk, especially about herself. She picked up the scotch as if she had done this motion a hundred times. “Will you join me in a toast?”
Niko’s intense stare made her hands tremble and she hoped he hadn’t noticed her reaction.
“Unfortunately, I’ve made a vow not to drink…” His emotionless expression didn’t hide the solemn tone.
A man with many secrets.
He piqued her interest and Dove didn’t know how to assess his behavior. Niko frequented bars and yet he had no desire for a taste. Strange, but fascinating. What or who could’ve made him take such a vow?
“A shame.” She raised the glass. “I can respect keeping vows.” She winked before taking a healthy swallow.
The liquid burned a path down her throat, constricting her breathing in the process. Her eyes threatened to water yet she maintained her composure, resisting the urge to gag as she endured the effects of the strong alcohol. No way would he have the satisfaction of seeing her falter. She’d started this game and she’d have to see it through.
The knowing expression on Niko’s face made her want to toss the remains of her drink at him. Why did he affect her so much? Why was she trying hard to impress this man?
He’s not going to get to me.
“I admire a woman who can appreciate a good scotch.” His voice held a hint of laughter.
Dove placed the untouched portion of the lethal drink on the table. She finally spoke without her voice sounding scratchy. “Looks could be deceiving.”
“It certainly could.” He gave her a lopsided smile that made her heart stop.
Oh my. For a brief moment they were in their own subspace. She watched him through her lashes, her body blushing from his hard stare. His eyes sucked her in, making it hard for her to turn away from the sexual energy flowing between them.
A chill assaulted her and their moment dissipated all too soon. Even before Harry’s hand touched her shoulder Dove knew he didn’t like what he was seeing. She glanced up and met the cold, steel blue eyes of her manager.
Harry gave her a disapproving frown. “Are you ready?”
“I’m catching up with an old friend,” she snapped, jutting her chin out in defiance.
“Perhaps you’ve forgotten we have plans tonight,” his tone clipped, as if that was the end of the discussion.
Dove could tell by his expression that Harry wasn’t in the mood to argue or put up with her resistance. A part of her wanted to tell him to leave her alone but she knew it was a dangerous line to cross. She’d paid the price before and she didn’t want to test him tonight.
Like an obedient child, Dove slid out of the chair without saying a word. Humiliation and anger flooded her. In that moment, she vowed she’d gather the strength to walk away from him once and for all.
Dove smiled at Niko. An odd sadness tugged at her heart at being cheated out of time with him. “It was good seeing you again.”
Niko rose up in a gentlemanly fashion. “I hope we’ll meet again.” His expression hardened as he eyed Harry.
“I don’t believe it would be welcomed.” Harry reached out and pulled Dove beside him like a possession.
“Perhaps you should ask Dove what she would welcome.” Niko’s hard-edge glare made him appear suddenly dangerous.
Harry tightened his grip on her waist and she flinched in reaction. Dove hoped Niko would discontinue the challenge before things got out of hand. These days she’d grown tired of Harry’s jealousy and rage. She’d rather not to provoke him because she’d be the one facing the consequences.
“Dove, my darling, is it true you would welcome his company?” Harry waited expectantly for the answer she knew he wanted to hear.
Her eyes met Niko’s and she thought she’d witnessed a flicker of concern. Her hesitation made Harry’s body tense up.
Niko’s lips curved into a smile. “I believe the answer is in her lack of response.” He held his hand out to Dove.
Harry shoved her roughly behind him as he confronted Niko. “You dare come into my place and disrespect me? You’re treading on dangerous territory.”
She watched Niko’s jaw tighten at Harry’s rough treatment of her.
“I suggest you curb your tone.”
“Are you threatening me?” Harry sneered.
Dove reached for Harry’s arm. “Let’s go, Harry. We don’t want to be late.” She tugged at him to follow, but he jerked his arm out of her grip.
He glared at her with resentment. “Are you trying to protect him, Dove? Is there something I should know?”
“No. There’s nothing going on. Please, let’s just go.” Her voice came out shakier than she’d intended. She placed her hand on his chest and gave him her most seductive smile.
Harry grabbed her hand and squeezed painfully. “I’ve never known you to try so hard to get me to leave.” His lips curled into a cruel smile before he dropped her hand.
Niko spoke with a deadly calm, “A woman should be treated with respect, not as a property to be discarded without a thought when it suits you.” His words made her stomach tighten with a newfound respect.
Chivalry was not dead after all.
Without warning, Harry seized her wrist and shoved her at Niko. “If the little whore wants to protect you, I’d imagine your acquaintance is more than mere friends.”
Harry’s action snapped something inside of Niko and his cool demeanor was replaced by a dark cloud of anger. Without warning, he threw a punch that sent Harry sprawling on the floor. “I warned you about respecting women.”
Within seconds the bouncers reacted to the situation, quickly advancing toward Niko. A loud scream from across the room startled her, momentarily distracting the bouncers. Saban’s hysterics was a much needed diversion from the fight that had ensued.
Everything happened so quickly, leaving Dove disoriented. She squealed when Niko scooped her up and threw her over his shoulder like a weightless sack of rice.
“What are you doing? Let me down!” she commanded, panic setting in. She tried to kick her feet while pounding his back with her fists in protest but it was like hitting a brick wall. The man was made of a hundred percent lean, solid muscles. His death hold on her made it even more difficult to fight for freedom.
She felt helpless as Niko twisted from left to right to find the nearest escape route. The situation had escalated into total chaos.
Dove watched Harry stir from the floor, rubbing at his jaw as he tried to get up unsteadily. She hadn’t expected Niko’s punch to have so much power behind it and had been stunned by the action. Secretly, she was pleased that Harry was finally on the receiving end of a fist.
When the bouncers lunged for Niko, Saban jumped in between to add further commotion. She didn’t know whether to be pissed off or grateful for the man’s interference.
The bouncers looked at Saban as if they didn’t know how to handle his hysterics while he was dressed as a woman. This gave Niko ample opportunity to charge across the room. He sidestepped furniture and skillfully maneuvered his way around the panicked patrons in their haste to flee.
Niko slammed on the metal bar of the emergency exit before shoving it open. Once outside, he kicked the door shut as the shrill of the alarm drowned out any noise. He took off down the alley with Dove securely on his shoulder. He whipped around corners like a pro soccer player and headed in the direction of a parked car across the busy street.
He dumped her on the seat of his convertible before hastily making his way around. Niko jumped into the driver’s side without bothering to use the door. He shoved the key in the ignition and fired up the engine. They shot off so fast that all she caught was a glimpse of Harry and the bouncers running after them. The men slowly faded into tiny specks in the distance, into the darkness.
Dove’s heart drummed hard against her chest. The entire evening had become a distant blur in her mind.
Had she finally escaped for good?
Instead of relief, fear seized her soul. She didn’t want to think about what would happen if Harry should find her.
After tonight, she knew her life would never be the same again. She’d come this far already and she didn’t intend to go back—she couldn’t go back if she wanted a new start, another chance to live again.
She expelled a shallow breath.
The thought of crossing the point of no return filled her with a small kernel of hope.