The Divas Pen: Author of Sensual and Dark Romance writing as Sienna Mynx and T.A. Ford

Don’t Leave Me This Way

He moved in a world of power and privilege. All of his life people expected greatness of him because of his noble birth. She was merely a young girl new to the country and different from any of the socialites who threw themselves at his feet. Their meeting was fated destiny. Falling in love with her was the unexpected consequence.

Crispin Maxwell had one meaningful affair. Though brief, he’s spent a decade trying to forget the brief encounter with Keturah Jones. He failed. However, Crispin has found her again. And who she is now is a far different than the girl he once knew. How does he win the heart of someone who has evidently moved on? To do so Crispin sets into motion events that bring about disastrous results. But in the end Keturah Jones is his. Will she hate him for the lies, deceit or understand that he is the only man that can share in her passions. He’s willing to gamble it all for her. And Crispin was born to win.

“Don’t Leave Me This Way” is a torrid BDSM love/hate story. The sex scenes are explicit. The betrayals in the story are extreme. The characters and their motivations will be left to your interpretation. The story starts in the past and hurls the reader ten years to the future. If you aren’t a fan of BDSM this book is not for you.

Read an Excerpt

Prelude

Ten Years Ago
Princeton University, September 2003

“Keturah! Hurry, we’ll miss our flight!” Mae shouted. Keturah tossed more shirts into her bag and ran down the zipper. “KETURAH!”

Flustered she sighed in defeat. She went to the window and leaned out with her hands gripping the window sill. Her long braids hung downward, a few of them were in her face. “Would you chill out? Our flight doesn’t leave for three hours. Give me a sec. Damn!”

“A sec? You’ve had me waiting out here for over ten minutes! The meter is running. Plus we have to go to the bank! Bring your ass down here!” Mae shouted, cupping her hands as if she were broadcasting her demand through a bullhorn. Keturah suffered a stab of guilt. It was true. She was a procrastinator. They would miss their flight if she didn’t hurry.

“Okay! Sorry, on my way!” She slammed the window down. Mae shook her fist at her and marched towards the waiting taxi. Maeko Chu was her fiercest rival and closest friend. Keturah had never really had girlfriends that were culturally different. But Princeton had changed her perspective on the world. When they both landed the spot for the fellowship and grant to study abroad they decided to be friends instead of enemies.

Keturah grabbed the worn handle to her forty-pound suitcase and dragged it towards the door. Just as she crossed the threshold her cell phone rang. She fished the little flip phone out of her pocket. She hadn’t expected a call from her father.

“Hello, Daddy!”

“Keturah, this is Jason. I wanted to confirm that you have everything you need.”

“Oh, okay yes, I do. Where’s my father?” she asked. “I left a message days ago for him to call me.”

“The money for school and expenses has been deposited into your account. If you should need anything else please let me know. I’ll see to it immediately,” Jason replied.

Three students on her hall that she was friendly with came out of their rooms to say goodbye to her as she balanced the door, the luggage, and the phone with her body. She smiled and nodded at them. Her heart sank over Jason’s cold aloof message. “Could you… ask my dad to call me?” Keturah asked.

The silence on the other end of the phone dragged on. Jason, her father’s assistant, spoke with a tense tone of tolerance. “I will deliver the message. Travel safe.”

The call ended abruptly. The last time she saw her father was during the summer break. It was then that he informed her that his schedule would have him out of the country for most of the year. She would have to communicate through Jason from now on. He never returned her calls. He never responded to her emails. It hurt more and more. But she couldn’t focus on the emotional strain. What would be the point?

She pulled her luggage out of the door and let it close. Keturah shoved the phone down in her bag with her passport and pulled the strap of her purse high on her shoulder.

“Need help?” Debbie asked. She was a short dark skinned girl from Oakland, California, who wore her dreadlocks tied up in a red, black, and green scarf. She often braided Keturah’s hair for her.

“Thanks!” Keturah smiled. Together they started for the elevator.

“So, you’re headed to Cambridge Uni huh?” Debbie asked.

“Yeah, I’m kind of nervous though,” Keturah confessed. “It’s my first time out of the country.”

“Don’t be. I did the program last year. It sucked. They rarely award the grant to the American students, and I’ve never seen a black candidate make it through the entire program.” Debbie shrugged. “They probably only accepted you for some affirmative action quota Princeton needed to meet.”

“That’s not true,” Keturah frowned.

Debbie arched a slender brow. Her hazel eyes blazed with defiance. Debbie was a master debater. Most gave up within ten minutes on any topic. Either Debbie was surprised or insulted that Keturah would challenge her opinion, since Keturah typically kept her opinions to herself. The girls stood before the elevator alone. The silence between them lengthened. Keturah couldn’t wait for the elevator to arrive. Debbie spoke, “Sorry about what I said. Believe what you want. Even if you deserve the scholarship and get it, they’ll believe what they want about you.”

“I’m excited to go either way,” Keturah said. She chose to ignore the sarcasm. They stepped onto the elevator. Debbie punched the button for the bottom floor.

“A word of advice. Find the African students. Hang with them. Stay away from the preppy white boys strolling for some fetish lay. Trust me. Oh and make sure you can back up all your references in the capstone. If you qualify they are sure to challenge each and every one.”

“Whatever,” Keturah said. Neither the call from her father’s errand boy nor Debbie could spoil her mood. The elevator doors opened. She and Debbie dragged her bags to the door. When Debbie saw Maeko waiting she gave Keturah a look of disapproval. It irked Keturah how segregated so many of the black and white students were in their thinking.

“Thanks for everything, Deb,” Keturah fast walked and Debbie kept pace. Outside of the dorm in the cold, Keturah tried to take the handle of the luggage Debbie pulled for her.

“Wait a second. I wanted to say good luck.” Debbie grabbed her arm with a hard squeeze. “I mean it. Didn’t want to come off as a bitch but sometimes I do. Here’s my advice. Stay on campus, keep your head down, and get your work done. When it’s over get the hell out of there. Don’t be so trusting.” She gave Mae an eye roll and then released Keturah’s arm. Before she could respond Debbie turned and walked away. Mae hurried over. She grabbed some of Keturah’s bags in an abrupt manner. Either Mae didn’t see Debbie’s cold glare or didn’t care. Keturah believed it was the latter. Together they brought the luggage over to the taxicab driver who refused to step away from the open trunk.

“If we miss our flight I’ll be really pissed.” Mae informed her. Her friend began to rant and curse in Mandarin. Mae was Chinese American.

“We won’t. I promise,” Keturah replied.

Keturah glanced back at Forbes Hall. Debbie stood behind the glass door staring after her. The look she wore on her face gave Keturah pause. She waved at Debbie who waved back. Whatever made Debbie despise the program at Cambridge was her own personal issue. Keturah was positive it wouldn’t be hers.

London, England

“Are you just going to stand there?” the Countess asked. She sipped her tea from a small cup. Crispin stared out of the rain slicked window to the street below. Several people busied about, oblivious to the misty downpour. He stroked his chin. Crispin envied the normalcy. When was the last time he took his bike out and went for a ride in the rain?

“Aww, and here I was looking forward to seeing you all day. Very well, then let’s play our game. What does Crispin need? What does Crispin want? Hmmm?” she cleared her throat. “Your mother is making plans. Do they scare you, Crispin? What is expected?”

His gaze slipped from the window to the Countess. Her ruby red lips parted in a seductive smile. “It’s been four years since you’ve come to me.” She spread a napkin across her knee. She picked up her salad fork and speared a tomato. She spoke before bringing it to her mouth. “I heard your parents have plans for you. Looks to me that you struggle with what is expected.”

Crispin turned from the window and eased his hands down into the pockets of his jeans. She was an attractive woman. When he was a kid he thought of her as a goddess. But as a man he saw her for who she truly was. A controlling wench who manipulated every man or boy within her reach to satisfy her own sadistic needs. He was once her prey. Those days were long gone.

“I asked you to come so we could say our goodbyes.”

The Countess’ gaze flickered up. She placed the cherry tomato in her mouth and chewed. She picked up her napkin and dabbed at the corners as she swallowed. “This is interesting. I thought we said our goodbyes four years ago when you decided to end our games.”

“I decided?” he asked.

“We decided,” she grinned.

Her floral perfume filled the air. It stunk of it. He hated the scent. He hated her polished beauty and air of superiority. He hated the hypocrisy. Crispin had spent four years hating everything about her.

“Join me,” she pouted. “Lunch is divine.”

Lunch was served in her suite. The hotel belonged to Crispin’s family. Her presence here was just as much an irritant as the dark history they shared that he could never wash himself clean of. “You will no longer visit the family, come here, come anywhere near the Maxwells again.”

She chuckled. “Or what? What will you do, little Crispin?”

He approached with a slanted smile. Even as he stood there with revenge in his grasp he had to acknowledge his weakness. Why had he let it go on for so long between them? Why had he ever given her any power over him? Youth was no excuse. He’d have to one day face what once made him her prey. Whatever that flaw in his human spirit was, he wanted it done away with. Permanently.

“Nothing to say, Crispin?” she asked.

“Under your plate, Countess,” he replied.

Her smug confidence dimmed in her clear blue eyes. She lowered her gaze to her plate. Her hand was slow but without hesitance as she lifted the plate. A plain envelope was placed beneath it. The Countess glanced up at Crispin with a curious tilt of her head. And now Crispin, twenty-four and aware, could finally give the witch what she deserved.

The Countess removed the envelope and opened it. She glanced to him once before pulling out the small polaroids. The steady fingers of a well-bred woman began to tremble. Her skin paled as the blood drained from her face. Horror stretched her eyes.

“If I see, or hear your name even spoken anywhere near my family again I will send those pictures to the press, your husband, and Scotland Yard. I’ll send them to fucking Queen Elizabeth herself.”

“Wha-where did you get these?” she stammered. “Where did you get these?” the Countess shouted.

Crispin smiled. He was his father’s son. Resources and means were a privilege he could indulge in now. He was no longer her pet. “Enjoy your meal. I expect you out of the fucking hotel before sunset.”

“CRISPIN!” The Countess screamed.

He plucked his sports jacket up and slipped it on as he headed for the door. Her screams of outrage followed him out of her suite to the elevator. When he arrived at the lower floor, George the doorman greeted him.

“Fetch my bike!” Crispin said.

“Sir? It’s raining.”

Crispin smiled “It’s the best day for a ride.”

Cambridge, England ~ Cambridge University

Keturah rubbed the fatigue from the pockets under her eyes. Her back ached between her shoulder blades. No matter how she shifted in the seat she was uncomfortable. The flight to London, and now the drive to Cambridge, left her muscles tight with weariness.

“You okay?” Mae asked.

“Yeah.” Keturah tried to mask her discomfort with a smile. She strained to make out anything remarkable about the passing city. After all this was England. She had always wanted to visit this country. The box shaped cab drove along the motorway with the driver seated on the right instead of the left. She couldn’t help but feel a little edgy over the role reversal. And the cabbie did nothing to alleviate her fears. He zipped in and out of traffic with no regard for their safety.

Mae took a few pictures of stone cottages and sloping hills when they rode into the countryside. “We are going to go out at least once while we’re here,” she announced.

“Not interested,” Keturah said after a wide, open mouth yawn. “You go out while I snatch up that scholarship.”

Mae chuckled and shook her head. They rode in comfortable silence. She and Mae fit in that way. Sometimes they both wanted to be alone with their thoughts.

“What did Debbie say to you?” Mae asked.

“Debbie?” Keturah frowned.

“Outside. Before we got in the cab. She grabbed your arm. What did she say?” Mae asked. She snapped more pictures with her digital camera.

“It was nothing. Forget about it,” Keturah replied.

“She doesn’t like me much,” Mae glanced over. “She doesn’t like you being friends with me.”

“Oh please. Debbie doesn’t like anybody.” Keturah tried to make light of the conversation. It was true. Debbie didn’t like Mae and made sure every time the three of them were together she let Mae know.

“I heard she tried out for the grant last year. Rumor has it Ms. Militant got in trouble with an English cutie. Smoking weed on campus. I heard she got kicked out of the program.”

That news struck Keturah hard. “Rumor? Where did you hear this rumor? Why are you just now telling me about this?”

“Because it’s none of our business,” Mae said. “I just didn’t want her to get in your head. You’re always so uptight, Keturah. Let’s have some fun while we’re here. Okay?”

“Who told you this about Debbie?” Keturah demanded.

“Does it matter? If it’s true then too bad for Debbie Downer. If it’s a lie then who cares?” Mae said. “Hang out with me. One night. Together we will explore the city. Promise me right now. You can pick the day.”

Keturah reached in her backpack. She pulled out the package and the school schedule. She flipped through several pages. “Thursday is a free day for the exchange students. I guess that’s your day.”

Mae clapped with glee and Keturah couldn’t help but smile. Her friend was a wildcat on the party scene. Mae loved the attention her exotic features drew from all kinds of men. But as flirty as she was she never hooked up with anyone. Keturah was just the opposite. Though men, mostly boys, had called her pretty she never really saw the need to take pride in surface beauty. She had her father’s skin, which was a dark ebony shade of brown. She was also tall for her build, with a petite waist, and oversized breasts. Her hair was always braided down in tiny plats that reached to her ass. She typically tamed her locks from her face in a ponytail. Her lips were thick and full, her cheekbones sculpted high, making her eyes slant when she smiled. Her father often told her she looked like her mother when she was her age. Maybe he even resented her a little bit for it.

“We’re here!” Maeko exclaimed. “Finally!”

“Yes. About time,” Keturah sighed.

They arrived at the resident hall. The long day of traveling had completely exhausted them both. The girls struggled under the brisk winter elements to carry their things inside. A student guide greeted them both in the lobby. The young woman with short red hair handed off room keys and packets. They were both disappointed that they wouldn’t be sharing a room, but with so much going on they wouldn’t have any time to socialize either way.

Keturah accepted her booklet, and her financial card for food and any incidentals during their stay. There was also a map of the college, information on the neighboring colleges, ID badges, and a detailed schedule mirroring the ones they received before arriving. She said her goodbye to Mae and walked down the long corridor to her room.

Once inside she plopped on the rubber mattress and scoped out the small quarters. Besides the bed, desk, and chair the room was bare. She walked over to the closet; opening the door she was amused by the limited space. She turned around with her hands on her hips.

She had done it.

She had a lot to be proud of now.

Mae was her best friend but Keturah planned to crush her to dust. She was a fierce competitor. Debbie Downer was wrong, the grant was hers. She could feel it.

Keturah went through the motions, emptying her elephant sized suitcase. In an hour there would be orientation, followed by a meet and greet with the other students. Dinner would be held in Henry Hall and the shuttle bus would arrive promptly at 6 to pick up the students. She fingered through the schedule and sighed. Her studies were the only thing in her life that brought her joy. That was pretty pathetic.

* * * * *

Thursday

“Come in!” Keturah called out.

“Helloooooo!” Mae sang.

Keturah didn’t bother to turn from her book to address her visitor. The only visitor she ever had was Mae. “What do you need?” Keturah asked.

“Huh?”

When Mae didn’t explain the reason for the visit she glanced back to her friend. Keturah arched a brow in surprise. Mae had changed. Gone was the schoolmarm hairdo and oversized shirts with stretch pants. “I said what do you need?” Keturah repeated with a frown.

Mae sashayed in trailing a very seductive draft of perfume. Her hair fell evenly past her shoulders from a center part. It was the deepest shade of black. She wore fitted jeans and a hot pink turtleneck that accentuated her petite frame and small breasts.

“What’s shakin’, bacon?” Mae grinned.

Keturah shook her head smiling. She highlighted a passage in her book and continued to read. Mae huffed noisily for her attention. When Keturah didn’t look up Mae walked over to the door, opened it and then slammed it hard.

“No way, man! We said we were going out. You promised me that I had Thursday!”

“Is it Thursday already?” Keturah frowned.

“Get up and get dressed!” Maeko shouted to the top of her lungs.

“Are you crazy? You want to get us thrown out of here?” Keturah asked. “Lower your voice. And don’t slam my door again.”

“Whatever to that attitude, Miss Lady. We had a deal. We’re going, so get dressed.”

Keturah removed her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose. A headache had taken root and her eyes burned from the lack of sleep. “I can’t. I’m not even at a stopping point.”

Her friend leaned in over her shoulder. She scoffed at the twenty-eight-page document that Keturah had been slaving over. “You over think things too much. The research is there. Let it speak for itself. And you’re too uptight. I bet if you loosened up and had some fun for a change the work would flow. There has to be a balance,” she said.

“I know. But my statistics are off,” Keturah said.

“Who cares? It’s my scholarship anyway,” Mae grinned with the toss of her hair.

Keturah laughed. “Are you drunk? The chancellor has already put my name on it.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Get up. I’ve got a surprise for you!” Mae dragged the chair back from the desk. There would be no escaping the evening. Keturah put her face in her hands and bemoaned her plight. The last time she went out with Mae to a college party she got so drunk she slept for two days and missed an exam. Mae teased her over her naiveté and awkwardness with boys.

“Go!” Mae said.

“Please tell me it’s just us. I’m not in the mood for a big group thing,” Keturah said. “I really do have a headache.”

Mae leaned close to her ear and whispered, “I promise you I have the cure. All you have to do is believe in me. Oh yeah, and get your ass dressed in something cute.” Mae flung her hair from her shoulders and rocked her hips from side to side. “I want to shake my booty with some English cuties! Let’s do this!”

There was no use in arguing about the matter. And Mae was right. She needed a break. Her OCD was making her jumpy. The peer-pressure closed in on her from every side of her brain. So she forced herself to stand. At her closet she removed a new pair of black fitted corduroys. She bought them because of the way they wrapped snug around her hips and gave her butt a nice rounded lift. She chose a matching black V-neck cashmere sweater because it minimized the size of her breasts. It also slimmed out her waistline nicely. She grabbed her undies and hurried off to shower. “Give me twenty!” she shouted back at Mae.

The shower did an excellent job in revitalizing her weary bones. Keturah lathered, rinsed, and dried her curves with breakneck speed. She put lotion over her body, applied a dab of perfume to her sweet spots, and dressed quickly. She decided to leave her braids loose for the evening. She wore diamond studs. Mae chatted on her cellphone the entire time, ignoring Keturah’s beauty regimen.

After a final inspection of her side profile in her tight pants and riding boots, she felt confident about the evening. She puckered her glossy lips and winked at herself before grabbing her leather jacket and putting it on. And then her phone rang.

“Meet you downstairs!” Maeko said before she left.

Keturah located her phone. It was either her father or his assistant Jason. She had no other number to reach her daddy since he was constantly travelling “Hello?”

“Baby girl?”

“Hi, Daddy!” Keturah smiled. She felt such happiness her cheeks hurt from grinning so hard. “I’ve been waiting on your call.”

“Are you okay? Everything okay over there?” he asked.

“Yes! I really think I have a shot at this grant. And I—”

“Great. Great. Well if you need anything make sure to tell Jason. He’ll see to it.”

“Daddy? I wanted to ask about Christmas. I haven’t heard from Yvette on the family plans. I can’t make it home for Thanksgiving, because of the program, but I’m free Christmas.”

“Keturah, we talked about this. You’re a woman now. You can do whatever you want with your holidays.”

She closed her eyes and braced for the rest.

“Yvette wants the holiday to be for the kids this year. Especially since I’ve been out of the country for most of it. You understand? Have you tried your mother? To see what her plans are?”

“She and I don’t get along, Daddy. You know this,” she said, the quiver in her voice matched the tremors in her hands. She blinked away the tears. “It’s Christmas!”

“Grow up, Keturah. Focus.”

Keturah sucked down her weak reply. It was hard, but she had had years of practice on how to still her tongue. “Thanks for calling, Daddy,” she said.

“I love you,” he replied. “I’ll call and check in again soon.”

The line disconnected.

Keturah wiped her tears from her cheeks. She turned off her cell phone and shoved it into her purse. Instead of crumbling she forced herself to get stronger. She left the room and pretended none of it mattered. Mae called a cab to come for them. The drive out of the university into the night was unsettling. Keturah didn’t trust the dark roads, the foreign country, or anything about evening. It dawned on her why she didn’t trust the night. Because it was often at night when she felt the most vulnerable.

“I met a guy!” Mae blurted.

“Huh? You what?” Keturah asked.

“I met a guy. Yesterday. We’re meeting him at a pub tonight. It’s called Ta Bouclé. We’ll have pints of beer, meaningless conversation, and stranger sex!” Mae grinned.

“What the hell is stranger sex?” Keturah’s nose wrinkled.

“Sex with a stranger, dummy!” Mae laughed.

“How in the world did you manage to meet a guy? I haven’t been able to see over my books.”

Mae shrugged. “I have it in my itinerary. Study. Meet guys. Study. Meet cute guys. Study. Get me some English lovin’ from a really cute guy. Check! Check! Check! Double check!” Together they laughed. Keturah needed the humor to distract her. A night with Mae was always fun.

When the cab stopped in front of the pub, Keturah split the cost with Mae, and braved the brisk night air once more. The wind picked up her braids from under her beret and blew them out behind her neck. She shivered in spite of the black leather jacket she wore. Mae held her coat closed with one hand reaching for Keturah’s with the other. Together they walked fast up the sidewalk. Maeko pushed in the door. The warmth and the noisy crowd greeted them. Keturah’s eyes popped out of her head. The patrons were seventy percent men. Many of the guys turned and gawked at them. This was not what she had in mind.

* * * * *

He glanced around him with an intense look of displeasure. The beer he nursed was flat. He barely tasted his last swallow. Truthfully boredom lingered more on his palate than the lackluster barley. He’d left his mates at the table and posted at the corner end of the bar. At that very moment he cared less about drinking, chasing women, or even the game on the telly. His wants were now just a ball of misery buried so deep in his gut he could make little sense of them.

He lifted the pint and took another sip out of habit. His thoughts shifted to home. His father by now had uncovered his secret. Soon he’d pay a visit. Soon he would have to make a choice between the life chosen for him and the life he wanted. The last thing he would tolerate would be interference from his family. And rebellion would be so costly he was unsure if he could survive the backlash. What the fuck was he to do?

His narrowed gaze swept the bar once more considering his options. Sam wanted him to stay. Insisted on it. Why he even bothered was a mystery. Until he saw her. Out of nowhere she appeared. She walked in the bar and his breath hitched in his throat. The crowd of mates cheering the game shifted and his view was blocked. She was lovely, different, a breath of fresh air he inhaled deeply. However, lovely as she was, she was not the type of girl who frequented this pub or his social circle. Could she be the one Sam spoke of?

“Ah, Mae?” Keturah said. “Where the hell are we?”

“Nice! Huh?” Maeko grinned. She chomped on her gum and scanned the crowd of men like a predator. Keturah removed her beret and shoved it into her purse. She avoided the eyes of those staring at her. It was hard to do because they stared from every direction.

“Leave it to you to find a bar full of men,” Keturah said through clenched teeth.

Mae pointed at the screens o the televisions hanging from mounts in the ceiling. There was a rugby game on. Mae shook off her coat and Keturah followed her lead. They both dropped them on a hook with the others. Her friend stepped boldly into the crowd of men. Keturah wiped her hands on her hips. She hitched her purse higher on her shoulder and followed Mae’s lead.

Several men touched her hand. A few whispered to her as she passed them by. Others ignored her completely as they shouted at the televisions. And then there were those that stared, so openly she found herself caught between blushing and fighting down the urge to run for the door. The British accents and schoolboy looks of these guys made her feel awkward and out of sorts. Bam! A stocky guy, with dark brown eyes and disheveled hair jumped in front of her. His cheeks were scarlet red. His breath reeked of beer.

“Have a pint with me, lassie!” he roared.

“Lassie?” Keturah doubled back and bumped another guy. The stranger she collided with ran his hand over her hip as he steadied her. “Nice,” he whispered against her ear. She shrugged his touch off and shook her head no at the grinning idiot in front of her. The swell of panic tightened in her chest, which stifled her breathing. Jerkily she turned to escape. She was trapped between strangers. She strained her eyes in search of Mae.

The bar exploded with cheers from a score. Loud ruckus forced her back a few steps as others leapt from their bar seats and chairs. Keturah tried to spot her friend through the rambunctious crowd. She was forced to move closer to the bar in an effort to ease by several others. Her vision focused left on the narrow space of escape. In doing so she locked eyes with the unwavering stare of another. A young man a few years older than her sipped his beer while staring at her. Keturah could not look away. He was that striking. Time slowed to the rhythm of her beating heart. Men hugged each other and laughed, and beer sloshed in mugs as they slapped backs and the heads of their chums in celebration. All the while the stranger stared on with a slow sexy smile that started at the corners of his mouth and spread across his lips. In that moment she couldn’t really assess much about him regarding height or build. She didn’t need to. It was his eyes. The overall impact and firepower of his intense stare snared her.

The stranger lowered his beer, aware that he had her full attention. He gave a sly nod in her direction. She smiled in return.

“What the hell are you doing at the bar?” Mae pushed up into her face and dragged her back into reality. “Come on! We don’t pay for our own drinks.” Mae grabbed her hand and pulled her into the crowd. Keturah glanced back at the bar where she saw the handsome stranger but he was gone. She was pushed toward a table of three men. The one closest to her introduced himself as Scott. He pulled out her chair. She sat.

The waitress shouldered her way to the table and took their next round of drink orders. Keturah ran her fingers through her braids, smoothing them back. She could breathe again. She ordered a beer and forced herself to relax. The bar erupted in the celebratory noise of drunkenness. The excitement was contagious. She found herself clapping but not sure why.

“So what are you studying? Why Cambridge?” Scott asked.

“Law. I’m here on a fellowship-grant to compete for a scholarship that will give me dual enrollment between Cambridge and Princeton. A full ride,” she answered. She felt flushed when he leaned in and spoke against her ear, so instinctively she leaned away. His hair, blondish brown, thick and curly, it peeked out from under his baseball cap. Out of all those gathered he was the only American. The party went on and for once she was part of it. Though Scott was a looker, she kept glancing through the shifting crowds near the bar for the stranger.

Music blared. It sounded like pop and effectively drowned out Scott’s voice. Mae jumped up gyrating her petite hips. Keturah smiled at her friend. They hadn’t started drinking yet. So of course it was going to be a long night. They would pay dearly for it in the morning. The waitress returned with a tray stacked with beer mugs. She slammed one down in front of Keturah and dispensed the others to those at the table. Keturah sipped her beer. She watched her friend pull one of the guys to the small dance floor. Scott reached over and touched her braids.

“You’re lovely,” Scott said as if he found the words ‘lovely’ and ‘sexy’ to be synonymous. Her gaze slipped over to his and then shied away. He leaned in closer, his arm across the back of her chair. He reminded her of those preppy fraternity boys she had seen at school in America. The cap he wore down low on his forehead shielded his eyes and thankfully his breath didn’t reek from beer. He had the deepest dimples when he smiled. Keturah liked him instantly. She didn’t date. There was no time and she felt awkward around boys. His being American put her at ease. And his being so close coupled with the warm inviting feel of the pub relaxed her. She hadn’t decided if she would go with the flow or not.

“Thank you,” she said.

“I’m from Ohio. Where are you from?” he asked.

“New Mexico,” she replied.

“Ah.” He dropped back in his seat and the smile stayed fixed on his face. “A desert princess.” Thanks to his pearly whites and the warmth in his eyes all thoughts of stranger danger were forgotten. He had managed to gain her full consideration. Keturah tried to think of something witty to say, but she was suddenly startled when the handsome stranger from the bar plopped down in Mae’s empty seat. He put his beer mug on the table. He looked her up and down in a presumptuous, possessive way that made her shy and uneasy. Keturah saw his eyes were even more mysterious up close. They were grey, almost clear as ice. Each guy at the table acknowledged him, including Scott.

He said a few words then looked at her once more. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”

She knew immediately he was different. His brogue wasn’t thick like the others, but polished and crisp.

“Keturah,” she replied.

He smiled. “Ka-tour-rah? I like it. What does it mean?” he asked.

Keturah frowned. “I guess it means sweetheart.”

He laughed. The other men didn’t. In his presence they were silent. She glanced around at them and back at the stranger. What was she missing?

“So what’s a beauty like you doing in England?”

“I’m at Cambridge Uni on an exchange program for the next few months.” Keturah offered.

“Interesting.” He turned up his beer.

Keturah shrugged. “Aren’t you going to tell me your name?”

Scott leaned over. In her ear he whispered. “That my dear is Alistair. He’s not to be trusted. I suggest you give me your attention instead.”

His name was Alistair? He didn’t look like an Alistair to her.

“Piss off, Scott. I want her,” Alistair replied and lowered his gaze to her once more.

Keturah’s attention volleyed between them both. Were they toying with her? Surely they weren’t both vying for her time. Alistair slammed his beer down on the table, he grabbed her hand as he stood and forced her to as well. “Let’s dance.”

“But…” Before she could object she was pulled away. The music had changed to a bluesy song from a singer she thought she recognized. Alistair brought her through the tightly gathered crowd toward the tiny area cleared away by the speakers for a dance floor. She looked to the left and saw Maeko rolling her hips and pumping her pelvis against the thigh of a guy that towered over her. Alistair swept Keturah into his arms and held her in the intimate possessive fashion of lovers. She lifted her arms and circled his neck to seal the deal. He seemed to like her complicity. He rewarded her with a smile that made her knees weak.

He felt a wry smile tug at the corner of his mouth when her curves pressed into his. This was not a female to come on strong to. She was the type of girl that needed a reason to let a guy hold her hand. He could tell by the way she kept pushing at his chest when he pulled her in closer. How her smoldering brown eyes shifted nervously about instead of lifting and focusing on him. And even more importantly she didn’t know or care who he was.

A fresh slate.

How old was she? Eighteen, maybe nineteen? Her reserved demure manner compared to the wildcat friend of hers who was grinding against his mate’s leg, was a welcome difference. It made him conscious of making her feel at ease.

Alistair buried his face against the side of her neck. With final resolution he closed his mind down on the matter of where he’d spend the rest of the evening. He owned the slow dance. He instructed the rotation of her hips. His hands traveled up and down her spine never venturing past the dimple in her lower back that reached the curve of her ass. Feeling her breath on his neck and caught up within the soft, yet unyielding arms of her embrace, he slipped under that physical lust he rarely felt so swiftly for a woman. He wanted to taste her lips desperately. She would refuse to allow him the privilege so soon. But she slowly lowered her defenses and pressed in closer to him. She felt as beautiful as she looked.

“Kitten,” he said.

“What did you call me?” She lifted her gaze under sweeping long lashes and blinked up at him. For a moment he was lost in the deep brilliance. A flicker came on in his brain. He had said the word out loud inadvertently. But he would never shy away from his actions. He leaned in and spoke again against the shell of her ear.

“Kitten,” he repeated. “When you came into the bar you reminded me of a scared little kitten.”

Keturah laughed. “Well I’ll call you wolf. Not sure if your bark is worse than your bite.”

He arched a brow. Keturah matched his stare with a single lift of her own brow. She studied his face unhurriedly, feature by feature. Very few times had her attraction to any man been so physical. He then leaned in and brushed a sweet, achingly gentle kiss between her brows. The crease at the center melted and once again she was reminded of how close he held her. Wow. She could feel every hard angle of his chest and thighs pressed against her.

“Kitten, I want to thank you,” he said.

“F-for, er, what?” she cleared her throat. “For what?” she repeated.

“You’ve rescued me from boredom,” he replied.

“Have I?” How could a man so handsome and confident suffer boredom? Surely he had plenty of options for entertainment. Though they were too close for strangers, he never crossed the line. The restraint only made her nipples harden with a warm tingle that spread between her thighs. She focused on breathing. It was all she could do. With each intake of air she breathed in the heady, mossy scent of his cologne like one would do for a freshly bloomed rose. The song ended but he held on to her and it felt nice. Keturah let herself go within his embrace. However, the dancing couples around them twirled to the upbeat tempo, which eventually broke the spell. He released her.

“Let’s leave.”

“What?” she asked.

“Come with me. I want to show you Cambridge at night.”

Keturah searched for her friend. Mae jumped up and down in her three-inch heels, dancing, swinging her hair around her head like a rock star. “I can’t. My friend.” Keturah pointed.

Alistair looked over undeterred. “Not a problem.” Holding her hand he yelled at the man dancing with Mae and told him it was time to roll. It was done. She and Mae both were ushered to the table where the others were. Alistair announced his departure. He made it clear she would be accompanying him by the way he held to Keturah’s hand. Scott gave Keturah a disappointed smile. He touched his heart as if wounded. He then stood and with his beer he stalked off toward the bar where a few girls were gathered. The whole experience was so surreal; Keturah barely noticed her legs were moving until she was walking out of the pub doors.

Once outside, the arctic wind blew against them and sobered her from the reckless attraction she felt for the stranger. “Um, slow down, where are we going?” she asked. She stopped on the sidewalk to button her coat and resituate her beret on her head.

“Cold?” he asked. He didn’t bother to answer her question. She nodded that she was indeed cold. Even in her coat, she was still cold. He pulled her under his arm and walked her toward his BMW. He opened the door for her while Mae and her guy friend climbed in the back seat. Keturah stared at the passenger seat. The invitation was clear. But she and Mae weren’t those types of girls.

“Get in! It’s cold!” Mae yelled from the backseat.

Alistair waited. She relented. He closed the door and got in on the opposite side.

“By the way, the horny toad in the back is Sam. Your friend will be okay with him,” Alistair said.

“What about me?” Keturah asked.

He smiled. “What about you?”

“Will I be okay?” she half joked.

“I’ll personally see to it, Kitten,” he teased.

Keturah turned and grabbed her seat belt. She glanced back to see her friend deeply tonguing the one named Sam. She hoped she would get a kiss. Second base was off limits. Alistair would have to be more than a cute guy with a nice smile to convince her to spread her legs.

“So what do you ladies like to do for fun?” Alistair asked.

Keturah glanced back again at Mae and hit her thigh for her to come up for air. Mae shoved Sam off her with deep giggles. They both smiled and spoke in unison.

“Study!” Both of the friends roared with laughter. Alistair kept driving. Either he didn’t get the joke or didn’t find it funny, but his eyes alone betrayed his ardor. He glanced her way and focused briefly on her face. It was a beguiling look of interest. Keturah returned her gaze to her passenger window.

“How old are you?” Alistair asked.

“Nineteen,” she replied.

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No time for boyfriends,” Keturah replied.

Sam laughed. He leaned forward to the divider between them in the front seats. “You have to be kidding me? There is always time for boyfriends,” Mae dragged him back to her in the backseat and they again began to wrestle and kiss as if they’d known each other for an eternity. Keturah sat silent. She pursed her lips and tried to get her head around having a boyfriend. She had never had a man, a real man not a boy pretender, to share her physical and emotional needs with. School was a good substitute, or was it? If you never had a boyfriend how would you know they were important? Her gaze slipped to her companion. When he felt her stare and looked her way she averted her gaze. The car sped through the night.

“You didn’t answer my question,” said Keturah.

“Which question was that?” he asked.

“Where are you taking us?” she repeated.

He settled back into the seat with his arm extended and hand fastened to the steering wheel. “Ah, that question. Our destination is a surprise.” He smiled with his focus on his hidden agenda.

“Um huh,” Keturah said, not wholly convinced. She noticed how his gaze flipped up to the rearview mirror. He was checking on the kissing bandits in the backseat.

“I won’t be doing that tonight,” Keturah said in an emphatic tone.

She expected him to challenge her statement. He continued to drive as if she hadn’t spoken.

“Did you hear me?” she asked.

“I did. And of course not, not if you don’t want to.” He glanced over to her and away again. “But who’s to say that the lady won’t change her mind?”

Keturah chuckled. She crossed her arms in defiance. “Not likely.”

“Holy crap! Where the hell are we?” Mae screeched. Keturah glanced out of her window. She squinted at the darkness, barely able to see the outline of the landscape.

“Is that—is—is it a castle?” Keturah stammered.

“It’s a fucking castle!” Mae exclaimed.

“Alistair is showing off. It’s nothing but a cottage made of stone! Isn’t that right, Duckie?” Sam said through spurts of laughter.

“Bloody right. A stone cottage. The biggest stone house in Cambridge.” He glanced again in Keturah’s direction.

“Is that castle yours?” Keturah asked.

“The fucker is over 800 years old so how could it belong to me?” he asked. The car stopped before a ten-foot gate cast in iron with a large letter S at its center. “I present to you, my American princess, the House of Sutherland.”

The castle loomed beyond the tall gates in the darkness. Alistair got out of the car. He went to a keypad podium off to the side of the road and punched in a code. The gate creaked open.

“Do you believe that?” Mae asked from the back seat. “A fucking castle. It’s cool.”

“Cool? I don’t think so.” Keturah peered up at it. Alistair returned. He slammed the car door and sped through the opening gates. “This is spooky.”

“Spooky? Afraid of spirits are we?” Alistair asked.

Mae laughed. The car came to a stop. Mae grabbed the back of Alistair’s seat and came forward when she spoke. “Remember when we watched Freddy Krueger one night? Girl you slept in the bed with me for two days.”

“Don’t remind me,” Keturah mumbled. She would rather spend the night in the car than in some old castle.

“Ladies.” Alistair got out. He crossed the front of the vehicle and went to Keturah’s door. He opened it for her. Reluctantly she allowed him to take her hand. His eyes rested on her face as she emerged from the car. His nickname for her was spot on. She glanced around with displeasure denting her pretty brow. She was the complete antidote to pious, uppity, shallow young women in search of a title. He grew even more intrigued about who she was and where she came from.

“Careful,” he said as he helped her step away from the car in the dark.

“Is anyone here?” Mae asked when Sam helped her out of the car next.

“Nope,” Sam answered then gave her a pinch to her rear. Mae karate chopped him in the gut and he bent over in mocking discomfort. She said something in Mandarin. Sam laughed. Mae giggled like a schoolgirl.

“Okay we’ve seen it. Can we go now?” Keturah asked him.

“Go?” Mae gasped. “Go where? We’re here now. Let’s go inside.”

“I don’t like it,” Keturah whispered to her friend as if Alistair and Sam couldn’t hear her. She yanked her hand from his and immediately he felt a pang of disappointment. Maybe I should take her somewhere else? It was an odd thought to have. He usually didn’t indulge a woman’s wants over his so soon after meeting them. Though he was bred to be a gentleman, he was an admitted cad and a notorious playboy. All of which was to his defense. Every woman who knew of him would take ruthless advantage of his weakness for her gain.

“I’ll let us in,” Alistair said, and tried to win her over with a smile. Keturah glanced at him and frowned. He chuckled and walked off to the doors.