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She sighed as she watched the dancers whirl by, the scene playing out like a Regency novel. Everyone, including the gentlemen, was dressed in period costumes, some more appealing than others. She gave a quick glance down at her breasts, which looked as if they were trying to escape the Empire style bodice, and tried not to wince. It was definitely a far cry from her normal attire of loose pants and baggy shirts. This dress, as Annie had put it, showed off all her ample assets, leaving almost no room for imagination. But at least the ice blue material was soft against her too naked skin.
She had no idea why she was here. Because she was curious, that was why, and because she'd let Annie talk her into coming. Two tickets to the most coveted underground masquerade ball, no strings attached. She still didn't want to know how her friend managed to snag them from her boss.
She was suddenly nudged from behind by a stiff elbow. "Come on, Sophie, you won't find a partner plastered against the wall."
She turned to find Annie standing beside her, her white fan coyly flipping as her undulating hips sent ripples through her peach-colored dress. With a soft velvet mask framing her twinkling hazel eyes, she looked like a barely contained nymph.
"I'm enjoying watching."
"They have a room upstairs for that," her friend said with a sly smile. "You aren't still worried that someone will recognize you, are you? In that properly fitted dress with your hair down and curled, not to mention those brown-tinted contacts, there's no way they would. They're used to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Miss Prim. So get yourself out of the corner, start mingling, and find yourself a man to playwith."
"And what about you? Have you found anyone you want to, um, get to know better?"
Annie gave a bright laugh and shook her head. "I'm still trying to decide. Meanwhile, I'm wondering why you came if you aren't going to participate."
Sophie adjusted her own soft mask and shifted her weight. "Because you wouldn't take no for an answer."
"And because you were nosy. Come on, admit it; you want to try all those naughty things you read about. Don't try to deny it, because I've seen some of the books you've brought home from work. Who knew being a librarian could be so ... stimulating?"
She shook her head and felt her lips curl into a smile. "Who knew that under your CPA exterior beat the heart of a sex kitten?"
"Who enjoys bondage," Annie added with a grin. "Now, come on, it's time to stop playing wallflower."
Sophie bit her bottom lip and turned, watching the couples and small groups make their way upstairs to the pleasure rooms. Somehow it was disconcerting to know what was going on in the gracious three-story Colonial mansion. But it was a yearly ritual of the rich and influential, each person sworn to secrecy by a binding contract signed the moment they entered the marbled entryway. She knew what the ball really was: a chance for like-minded people to find one another and explore a sexual relationship without any ties. Men and women, couples and trios and more, came together for the sole purpose of experimenting. She had to admit that when she'd first heard the rumors of this mysterious masquerade ball she'd been skeptical.
"I'm going to go over there and flirt outrageously with that gorgeous man in the corner. I think he might just be the one." Annie sent her a long look over her shoulder, her Roman-style brown curls dancing. "Don't wait up for me, and I'll hope I don't have to wait up for you, either."
Sophie studied the lithe movements of her friend as she made her way across the room. It was so easy for her, easy in a way Sophie had never experienced or understood. There had always been the reluctance, the uncomfortable feeling of filling out instead of up, of having too many curves to be sensuous and graceful. At the moment she felt bitingly raw with so much of herself exposed, and sadly alone since she had yet to be approached.
She jerked at the sound of a deep male voice behind her. Certain he was going to ask about Annie, she turned slowly, making sure there was a neutral expression on her face. When she encountered a pair of astonishingly green eyes she almost gasped. His hair was a dark chestnut color, not quite black, but not brown, either. The lights sparked red highlights in the thick mass, making her fingers want to touch it. He had chosen not to wear a mask, a bold move that only a few had made, leaving his strong features exposed. His wide-shouldered body was impressive underneath his dark jacket. The tan pants, which fit like a handmade glove, showed his lower body--all of his lower body--perfectly. A woman definitely wouldn't be disappointed with the gift underneath the wrapping.
He stared at her for a moment, as if he knew she was taking him in. He gave her a crooked smile and slowly held out his hand.
"Would you like to dance?"
Sophie blinked several times, sure she had misheard. "Dance?"
He gave her a curious look and she hoped her voice hadn't been too cool. "The waltz. I can't promise I won't step on your toes, but I'll try not to hurt you too badly."
She saw the sparkle of humor in his eyes and smiled back. "I suppose I can say the same."
Whoa, was that actually her voice? It had sounded ... husky, almost sensual, the timbre a hint deeper than usual. Her drawl, which normally didn't appear unless she was tired or extremely nervous, was pronounced and unmistakable. Must be a mix of nerves and champagne, she decided. His eyebrows lifted slightly, prompting her for an answer, and she replied by slipping her gloved hand into his.
He led her to the dance floor and fit her carefully against him. Though he didn't have her pressed completely into him, she could still feel every part of his body. She placed a hand on his shoulder and realized with a silent sigh that there was very little padding underneath his dress jacket. Broad shoulders ... she'd always been a sucker for them. Heaven help her if he had a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes tucked away in his pocket. She just might fall at his feet panting.
His hand circled her waist and he splayed his fingers across the small of her back. The heat of his touch burned through her dress, sending little shivers of pleasure up and down her spine. She'd never felt tiny or fragile or delicate in a man's arms. Not until this very moment. Somehow he made her feel infinitely feminine by simply holding her.
They began moving to the gentle music, whirling in a slow pattern as the other dancers maneuvered around them.
"You're wonderful," he whispered, a laugh in his voice. "I think you lied about being clumsy."
She gazed up and found herself being scrutinized with such blatant male speculation that she nearly giggled. Giggled for heaven's sake!
She wet her lips with her tongue and tried to sound unaffected. "I suppose I have a good partner."
He nodded in acknowledgment and spun her in an easy circle. "Do you know you were the first woman I saw tonight?"
Stay calm, stay steady, don't blabber, she coached herself. "Oh?"
"Well, really you're the only woman I've seen, since I haven't been able to keep my eyes off of you."
Sophie didn't know whether to laugh or gape. "That's ... hard to believe."
He pulled her even closer, pressing his aroused cock into her stomach. "I would never lie about something like that."
His fingers massaged her lower back as the palm that was holding her hand tightened. She watched, mesmerized, while he brought her knuckles to his mouth and scraped his teeth against her soft flesh. She tried to remind herself to breathe, but was afraid she'd forgotten how.
He leaned up and nuzzled her ear. "Have you found a partner for tonight?"
"Are you interested in a single partner?"
Her mind searched frantically for the answer. She knew it was there, but when his tongue snaked out to taste the skin behind her ear she could only gasp.
"I'll take that as a yes." He pulled back and stared down at her, the waltz forgotten as they stopped on the outskirts of the dance floor. "I'm only a blue card."
Red ... red was ménage. Gold, that was sub and dom and heavy bondage. Blue card ... someone looking for an evening of fun, possibly light kink, with one person. Vanilla, Annie would call it, but extremely enjoyable.
"A blue card as well, no mix of the other colors."
She watched his enticing mouth begin to form words as he took her hand again. "Would you like to go upstairs?"
It was the point of no return. She had every right to say no, to walk away with just the memory of the dance. But that would be all she had. There wouldn't be any daydreams of the night spent in a stranger's arms. No thoughts of how it had felt to try out one or two things she'd been curious about.
Sex with a stranger. He wouldn't know her, and she wouldn't know him. There was a kind of security in the anonymity. She could be as wild as she wanted. For one night she could become the woman she'd been fantasizing about being. She could take, and give, and she could enjoy it without giving away any part of herself that she didn't choose to.
She tightened her hold on his hand and turned toward the curved staircase. "I'd like that very much."