Excerpts from The Huntress and The Hawk

Maude and Gaven's first meeting (and dance)

Halfway through the song, Gaven pulled away just far enough to look down at me. I slid my tongue over my bottom lip, and his gaze followed the movement. When his eyes lifted to mine, they seemed to have darkened, and his voice was thick with promise.

“You dance as if born to it. Do you do everything so well?”

I swallowed hard. The world of sensuality and seduction was my specialty, yet he seemed to be upping the game. With any other man, I would have felt annoyed, but it had been a long time since anyone had filled me with excitement and anticipation. Not since Enrique.

His lips twitched into a smile. “Was that too forward?”

I laughed. Oh, how I’d love to take him up to my room where we could be locked away for days. “With the type of club I run, do you think I’d find anything too forward?”

His smile widened, and he bent to whisper in my ear, his warm breath creating goosebumps as it rippled across my skin. “The things I could show you might make you re-think that.”

That did it. It was his richly timbered voice. That had to be it. I couldn’t remember anyone ever making my panties so wet, not even Enrique. I had to change topics before I did something irrational. I licked my lips again and almost smiled when I felt the beginning of his erection against me. At least we were both suffering.

“Tell me, Mr. Sinclair, what is it you do for a living?”

He gave a mock frown. “Oh, it’s like that, is it? I prefer Gaven, but I’m a patient man.” He continued to move us around, his hand moving from the small of my back to the top of my ass, the heat of his hand melting through my simple gown.

“I run an export company.”

My research appeared to be accurate. “And what do you export?”

“This and that.” He smiled and leaned in for another whispered response. “And if you want to know more, it makes a better dinner conversation.”

Before I could respond the song ended, and he kept hold of my hand as he steered us back to the bar. I wasn’t sure if he expected an answer, but if I tried to dig further into his occupation, I’d end up having dinner, and God knew what else. He was a difficult man to step away from.

Once I was seated, he leaned against the bar and fiddled with the remains of his drink. He picked up one of the pictures I’d dug up from last year’s ball.

He studied it intently. “You know how to make a member feel comfortable.” He looked around the lounge. “Rooms for any desire or proclivity, and guest rooms you’d be hard-pressed to find in five-star hotels.”

A pang hit me out of the blue when he mentioned the other rooms. Had he already visited a private room? Of course, he had, Maude. He’d been here for a week. Remember your rule. No touching the guests. I tried to bury my inexplicable jealousy, but another twitch of a smile from him said I may not have hidden it as well as I thought. The last thing I needed was him thinking he’d won an unspoken battle.

I gave him my most dazzling smile. “I’m glad you found the rooms to your liking.” I kept my smile in place as I took the picture from him. “Have you been to other masquerade balls?”

“In Europe. They tend to cling to the old.”

I sighed. “There’s something to be said for that. I suppose that’s why I continue to hold the ball. A nod to those before us.”

“A romantic.”

I laughed. “Of course.”

He laughed with me then set his glass aside. Gallant as a knight, he picked up my hand and kissed it with a slight bow. “May I ask what your costume will be this year?”

“Jeanne Antoinette Poisson.”

“Madame de Pompadour?”

“You know your history.” Somehow I wasn’t surprised by that, or by anything else he might say or do.

“Bits and pieces. And my suggestion for dinner was a serious one. We should find time to talk.”

“The evenings are for the club.” I could see the barest of crinkles at the edge of his mask, and they matched the smile hovering on his lips. “But you’re right. We should meet to discuss Chicago. Perhaps lunch instead. How about Thursday? There’s a place called Lilette’s, downtown in the Pearl district.”

He nodded. “I prefer later lunches if that’s all right. How about two?”

He hovered for another few seconds as he stared at me. All I could do was nod in response.

Did he want to kiss me?

I sure as hell wanted a taste of those lips. I reminded myself it was against the rules, or so I told myself, over and over and over again as he tipped his head and strode out of the lounge.