…both a spiritual sequel to the midcentury erotic novel Story of O and a prequel to Reisz's erotic thriller series, Original Sinners, but it works beautifully as a stand-alone story. There are a few hints at its prequel nature, but let those flow by and there's a surprisingly engrossing erotic thriller here all on its own…Reisz writes sadomasochistic scenes that are charged with love and care alongside the sex and suffering, and Kingsley is an engaging hero to follow on this strange fantasy of a mission.
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As the Jack-of-All-Wicked-Trades for a secretive French military intelligence agency, Kingsley Boissonneault has done it all--spied, lied, and killed under orders. But his latest assignment is quite out of the ordinary. His commanding officer's nephew has disappeared inside a sex cult, and Kingsley has been tasked with bringing him home to safety.
The cult's holy book is "Story of O," the infamous French novel of extreme sado-masochism. Their château is a looking-glass world where women reign and men are their willing slaves. Or are they willing? It's Kingsley's mission to find out.
Once inside the château, however, Kingsley quickly falls under the spell cast by the enigmatic Madame, a woman of wisdom, power, and beauty. She offers Kingsley the one thing he's always wanted. But the price? Giving up forever the only person he's ever loved.
Contains mature themes.
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"I loved [Hart's] voice and accents, I loved her inflections during the narration, making the story more mysterious." -Collector of Book Boyfriends
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The dream always begins the same way. In the winter. In the woods.
Kingsley stands in snow surrounded by shadows. None of the shadows are his because he's not really there. He leaves no footprints as he walks. He does not see his steaming breath as he breathes. He is a ghost in this white forest, but he is not the only ghost here.
Before him stands a door.
It's an arched wooden door alone in the woods. It belongs to an old chapel, but there is no church here, no chapel, no house. Only a door. Kingsley can walk around the door, but nothing will happen. Nothing will happen at all until he steps through it. The iron latch is cold enough to bite his bare fingers, but he doesn't feel this either. He lifts it and passes through the door, because that is where the boy in white waits for him.
The moon is full and high and the snow is bright, and he can see the young man so clearly it's almost as if it were daytime, almost as if it weren't a dream at all.
The boy in the clearing is beautiful, his hair so blond it looks almost white. His hair is white and his clothes are white, not snow white but a purer white, a baptismal white.
Kingsley speaks a word — either the boy's name or "sir." When he wakes he can never remember what word he says.
The boy, luminous in his pure white clothing, stands next to a table made of rough stone and on the stone table is a chess board made of ice.
Even though it is a dream, and no one has spoken but him, Kingsley knows he is supposed to sit and stay and play the game. It's the rules. If he doesn't play, he'll wake up, and the last thing he wants is to wake up now, to wake up ever.
He sits opposite the young man with the white-blond hair. The chess board is between them. Everything is between them.
Kingsley moves his pawn.
"You're not really here," Kingsley says to the boy with the snowy hair and the silver eyes. The boy's beauty renders the dream a nightmare because Kingsley knows when morning comes, the boy will be gone and nowhere does such beauty exist among his waking hours. Not anymore.
"How do you know?" the boy asks, moving his king.
"You look eighteen," Kingsley says, moving another pawn. "You're twenty-five now. I'm twenty-four."
The boy moves his king again. "In your memory I'm eighteen."
"That isn't how you play," Kingsley says. "You can't move the king like that."
"It's my game," the boy in white says. "I move my king however I want. Don't you remember? Don't you remember the way I moved my King anywhere and everywhere I wanted him to go?"
Even in the snow and the cold, Kingsley grows warm.
Kingsley moves his bishop.
The boy in white moves his king again.
"I don't know how to win this game," Kingsley says. "How can I win if I don't know the rules?"
The boy in white narrows his silver eyes at him. "You've already won."
"To play is to win, if you're playing with me. Isn't that true?" the boy asks with an arrogant smile in his eyes.
Kingsley knows this is true though it galls him to admit it. He doesn't care who wins the game as long as the game between them goes on forever. He moves another pawn and the boy in white captures it.
To be the pawn captured in that boy's hand ...
"How do you keep finding me?" Kingsley asks.
"You came to me," the boy says. "I'm always here."
"I lost you," Kingsley says. "Seven years ago. I lost you."
"No," the boy says, smiling for the first time. His face is like Michelangelo's David, passive and powerful and carved from pale marble. His eyes are granite and if Kingsley had a chisel he knows he could chip away at the boy's chest until he uncovered an iron and copper wire heart beating inside a steel ribcage.
"You lost you," the boy says. The smile is gone and it has begun to snow again. When it snows, Kingsley knows the dream is almost over. All he wants to do is stay asleep a little longer. All he wants to do is stay asleep forever.
"How do I find you again?" Kingsley asks. "Please, tell me before I wake."
"You don't find me," the boy says. "I find you."
"Find me then."
"When it's time."
"When will it be time?"
The boy in white moves his hands over the board and Kingsley looks down. The ice king lays on the board broken in two pieces.
"When?" Kingsley asks. He is a child again, asking a thousand questions in the quest for a single answer. The snow is falling harder now, heavy as rain and hot as tears. "Tell me when, please ..."
The boy leans across the board as if to kiss him, but instead of a kiss, Kingsley is given an answer.
"When you find you."
Between the kiss and the answer, Kingsley would have picked the kiss.CHAPTER 2
PARIS, FRANCE. 1989.
Kingsley woke up covered in cold sweat. His body ached like he had a fever, but he didn't — not of the sort that would ever break, anyway. For a long time he stayed in his solitary bed with his eyes closed, trying to remember as much of the recurring dream as possible. They had started a month ago when he returned from a successful mission in the Swiss Alps. Something about the snow there, something about the blood on the snow when he'd completed his dark task, had opened a door in his mind that Kingsley usually kept locked and guarded. The boy in the dream escaped that hidden room. There would be no locking him back in again now that he was out.
Ah, well, it was Kingsley who probably needed to be locked up. Seven years since he'd last seen the boy in white, and here Kingsley was, dreaming strange fever dreams of the lover he'd left so long ago, waking up sweating and hard. He ought to be ashamed of himself, but that would require shame. If Kingsley ever had any shame, he'd lost it when he lost his heart to that terrible blond monster whose hallowed name he refused to whisper even in the privacy of his own mind.
Outside his window, footsteps echoed off the pavement. A woman walking briskly in high heels. He gave himself permission to miss the boy in white who invaded his dreams, but only until the sound of the woman's sharp heels faded from hearing. That was all. He didn't weep nor did he shake. He simply lay naked in his bed and burned.
The sheets smoldered and the pillow warmed from the inside out like it had a core of hot coals instead of down. The air around his body turned to steam. He stretched his arms over his head and slid his wrists under the brass bar of the headboard and tried to pretend he was tied to it.
I want you.
I need you.
Use me. Hurt me. Destroy me because you're the one who created me. Kill me because you're my only reason for living.
Find me because I'm lost without you.
In his mind Kingsley spoke those words, in his mind and never aloud. He was a man now, not a boy. He didn't beg anymore. He didn't debase himself for love anymore. And he didn't want to.
His time of remembering was almost up. As the sound of the woman's footsteps waxed, waned, and then died, the fire in his heart burned itself out, leaving him once more with nothing in his bed but the soot and ashes of his memories.
Find me then ...
When it's time ...
When will it be time?
When you find you ...
What the fuck did that mean?
"You fucking monster," Kingsley said with a sigh. "You even piss me off in my dreams." And, because he could, he added, "Asshole."
Slowly Kingsley opened his eyes, wincing as the bright white light of morning slammed into his optic nerve and caused the back of his brain to recoil. There existed the slightest possibility he'd had too much wine last night. He rolled up in bed and for a moment stayed there, knees bent to his chest, head down, arms around his ankles to stretch his back. At least the pain in his ribcage was gone, more or less. He'd taken one hell of a beating on that mission in the Alps, enough of a beating that he'd been given a full six weeks off to recover before being sent out again. He wished they'd hurry up and give him something to do. The more downtime he had, the more time he had to sleep. The more he slept, the more he dreamed ... and the more he dreamed of the ice-hearted boy in the snow-filled forest, the more he wished to never wake again.
Like it or not, Kingsley was awake. He got out of bed, the white sheets damp with his sweat. The cold hardwood flooring kissed the bottom of his bare feet. Two wine glasses sat on the floor at the foot of the bed. Kingsley drank the last two swallows in each and set the empty glass back down for the cleaning lady, a local widow, to tend to it. He wasn't lazy. He simply took enormous pleasure in trying to scandalize her with how much he drank and how often he fucked. So far, she hadn't been impressed.
"I personally thanked a whole platoon of Patton's boys after the Liberation in '45. You'll have to do more than five girls a week to impress me, little boy," she'd said to him once. He'd kissed her cheek and whispered in her ear that he knew other ways to impress her, which had earned him a well-deserved swat with a kitchen towel on the seat of his trousers.
Maybe he should put a third glass by the bed today. Or a fourth, each with different-colored lipstick on the rims. That might do the trick.
Smiling at the thought, he walked naked to the small galley kitchen in the garret flat on the third floor of a house that he occupied between missions. He never said he "lived" there because that wasn't the point of the flat. He lived while he worked and when he wasn't working, he ceased to exist. Until someone knocked on that door with a file, a passport, money, and a target, he was a ghost.
He was a hungry ghost that morning, but unfortunately the refrigerator was bare. And his companion from last night — a twenty-year-old Swiss university student named Nina (or was it Zina?) — had left around two in the morning. Usually if one of his girls stayed overnight, he'd make an offer: You feed me, and I'll eat you. The line never failed. Since he'd woken up alone this time, he'd have to find his own breakfast. Horrible thought.
Kingsley turned on the cold water in the kitchen sink. He stuck his head under the faucet, washing the last of the cobwebs out of his skull with a quick whore's bath. He dried off with a kitchen towel, chuckling when he noticed the red marks on his skin that Nina's fingernails and teeth had left on him. She'd called him "delicious." She'd meant it, too, attempting to cannibalize him with nibbles and bites and licking kisses all over his stomach, sides, and hips.
She'd been a playful little thing. Even made him laugh a few times with her dirty mouth. He'd thought he'd forgotten how to laugh. He wouldn't mind seeing her again, which fairly well guaranteed he never would. These days he couldn't afford to get emotionally involved with anyone. He was gone too often. Even when he was back in his flat for an extended period of time, it was usually because he needed a few weeks to sleep off his injuries. Nina — no, it was definitely Zina, he decided — was sweet and like everyone he slept with, she deserved more than he could give. The more he liked someone, the less he saw of them — for their sake. But try passing that line of reasoning off onto a lovesick university student waiting by her phone. No, he wouldn't see Zina again, even though she'd left her phone number on the counter signed with a red lipstick kiss.
After washing up, he found his cleanest pair of jeans, a black sweater, black scarf, and was halfway to the door when he stopped at a sound.
Inside the house, coming up the staircase.
Jeanne wasn't due to clean today. And the house was owned by his employers. No one lived in it now, except for him. Unless Zina was returning with breakfast, the footsteps meant one of two things: either someone was coming to kill him or someone was coming to give him a job. Considering he was supposed to have two more weeks off, he doubted his visitor was here simply to say "bonjour."
Kingsley quietly pulled open the cutlery drawer in the kitchen, the one where he kept his Beretta. He waited behind the door, gun in hand. He wasn't scared. Not yet. That would come later if he survived. That was something they'd never warned him about in training, that he would never stop being afraid no matter how many years he did this job. Only made sense, he supposed. An old fox ran as hard from the hounds as the young fox. No one ever got used to being hunted.
The footsteps paused outside the door and then came the knock.
Tap, tap, tap, tap.
Kingsley sagged against the wall with relief. He wouldn't have to shoot anyone today.
"Lieutenant?" said the voice from outside the door, and Kingsley growled with barely repressed fury. Maybe he would shoot someone today after all.
He opened the door. At the top of the stairs stood a young man with disheveled brown hair wearing a foolish grin and holding what appeared to be a blue bowling ball bag.
"Good morning, Lieutenant," the young man said, grinning like a cameraman had just told him to say "Cheese."
"Bernie," Kingsley said as he leaned on the doorframe. "I thought we had this talk."
"Which talk? Oh." Bernie grimaced and switched the bowling bag from one hand to the other. "Right. The one where I don't call you by your name or rank?"
Kingsley dropped his chin to his chest. Poor Bernie. He looked like a twelve-year-old boy who'd never grown up. He'd merely gotten taller, like someone had pulled him like taffy or stretched him on a rack.
"I mean, sorry, ah ... John," Bernie said.
"Better," Kingsley said. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, Lieutenant."
Kingsley used his gun to rub his forehead, despite knowing there was the slightest risk he'd accidentally shoot himself in the head. He'd take that risk.
"Bernie, we have to have the talk again."
"I've asked you not to call me Bernie," he pointed out. "You still do."
"It's affectionate," Kingsley said. The young man's last name was Bernard. "I only call you that because I like you. Did you bring breakfast?"
"Ah, no," Bernie said, glancing around as if hoping to find a breakfast that someone else had inadvertently left behind. "Was I supposed to?"
"It's protocol, Bernie. It's in the manual."
"Protocol, right," Bernie said again. "Well. I'll be back. You'll be here?"
"I'll be here. If I don't answer right away, it's because I'm in bed cleaning my gun."
Bernie glanced at the gun in Kingsley's right hand.
"Looks clean to me."
"It's a euphemism," Kingsley said. "You'll figure it out when you hit puberty."
Kingsley shut the door in Bernie's face, and put his gun away before he shot someone accidentally or on purpose.
At first, he heard nothing.
Then he heard footsteps receding. Then he heard those same footsteps returning. Then he heard that knock again — tap-tap. Pause. Tap-tap-tap-tap.
"Bernie?" Kingsley said through the door.
"It's a wanking joke, yes?"
He smiled only because Bernie couldn't see him.
"Good job, Bernie. Breakfast?"
"Don't forget the coffee. That's also protocol."
"Stop calling me Lieutenant."CHAPTER 3
Bernie could never remember not to call him by his name or rank, but at least he knew how to fetch a decent breakfast. Kingsley hopped up on the kitchen counter and sat with his legs crossed like a schoolboy, devouring the croissant smothered with the fresh strawberry jam. He washed it all down with a large stout cup of coffee, black, just the way he liked it. Meanwhile Bernie sat waiting at the little yellow table for two under the kitchen window. The garret flat was so small and narrow that Kingsley could have extended his leg and kicked Bernie in the head, had he any desire to do such a thing. Since Bernie had fed him and brought him coffee — above and beyond the call of duty — Kingsley left him un-kicked.
For the moment.
"You had company last night," Bernie said, nodding at the empty wine bottle and the two glasses by the bed. A small brass bed, barely big enough for two, but that was fine by Kingsley as he was happy to let his companions sleep on top of him. Or, on occasion, underneath him. And who needed a big bed? The best sex he'd ever had in his life had been in a cot.
"I have company every night," Kingsley said.
"Is that safe?" Bernie asked.
"Are you worried I'll catch something?"
"Yes," Bernie said. "A bullet."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Chateau"
Copyright © 2018 Tiffany Reisz.
Excerpted by permission of 8th Circle Press.
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