Authors: Tara Crescent
An Heiress in Venice (A BDSM Romance Novel)
By Tara Crescent
Text copyright © 2014 Tara Crescent
All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
My eternal gratitude to Jim, who pre-read and edited this novel. Jim really went above and beyond on this one – it’s very much appreciated. Additional thanks to my lovely friends – Alannah, Anne, Jean and Justine, who beta-read this story for me, and gave me invaluable feedback.
Cover Design by James, GoOnWrite.com.
It was three years after Ian’s death before I even thought about another man.
I’d been at some kind of fancy art gallery opening, the kind where they fed you cheese and wine and tried to get you to buy art when you were slightly tipsy. A guy had come up to me, we chatted about the meaning of life, and at the end of the evening, he asked me out to dinner.
Craig Dearborn had been handsome, kind and funny, and I’d had a much better time than I had expected. But, two days later, I’d received another letter in the mail, this one containing a photo of Craig and me from our dinner. I’d been laughing at something he’d said. I had looked happy.
My mysterious letter-writer had only written one sentence, but it was effective enough.
‘End this, or I’ll end him.’
I had ended things with Craig, declining to offer an explanation. But that had been the last straw. I’d lived in the shadow of the letters for the last three years, my emotions oscillating between angry recklessness and hopeless terror. But I’d be damned if I was dragging another person into the shit-show that was my life.
Many, many years ago, when I was a child, and my parents were still talking to me, they’d told me about the city they had honeymooned in. Venice. They had made it sound so magical. My mother’s eyes had been soft as she remembered how she fed the pigeons at the Piazza San Marco and how my parents had sat on the cobblestones and had eaten bread and cheese and fruit, and found themselves perfectly content with life.
Once upon a time, my life too had been magical, but those days were past. Yet, I still ran away to Venice.
It had been a week since my arrival in Venice, and on cue, a letter was slipped under the door of my hotel room. This time, there was no picture.
‘How far do you think you can run, Alice?’
And though I’d moved halfway across the world, hoping to be left alone, I’d been wrong. Whoever this person was who wanted me dead, I couldn’t outrun him or her. I couldn’t hide. All I could do was wait.
“Talk to me about Casanova,” I said into the phone.
On the other end of the line, I heard a squeal. “So you are going to do this then?” my best friend Paula asked me, her voice excited. “You are
going to go to a BDSM club?”
I grinned at her tone. It had been Paula who had first filled my head with games of dominance and submission. We’d been trying on clothing in a changing room in Houston, and I’d seen the welt marks on her back. I had openly asked her if I needed to call a domestic abuse line, but she had laughed at my horrified gaze and opened the door to a whole new world.
“I’m in a new city,” I responded. “What better time?”
She laughed. “Indeed,” she said wryly. Her tone softened. “Are you okay, kiddo?” she asked. “It’s a big step, and you haven’t really dated after Ian died.”
I swallowed. It was a big step. Ian had been my first and only love, but as much as I had adored him, he’d been gone for three years, dead from a swiftly ravaging pancreatic cancer that had taken him far too soon. I mourned him; there was a part of me that would always mourn him. But Ian would have been the first person to encourage me to go out and live my life.
“I think I’m ready,” I said.
“In that case,” she replied, “let me set the ball rolling. From everything I’ve heard about Casanova through the grapevine, they are really secretive, and they guard their privacy zealously. But don’t worry, I’ll get you in.”
I wasn’t worried. Paula could move mountains when she set her mind to it.
We chatted for a while longer, about Houston, about how much we missed each other, and when she was going to come and visit me, and then, I hung up.
Everything I’d told Paula was, if not an outright lie, a convenient half-truth.
Three years ago, back in Texas, I’d received the first horrible, vile, hate-filled letter the day after Ian’s funeral. It had accused me of wanting my husband dead and steering him away from life-saving treatment so I’d be able to inherit his estate.
The police had investigated and had found nothing. And over time, they began to believe I was making it all up. I was dismissed as the publicity-crazy heiress, desperate to keep her name in the tabloids. Or worse, as someone who would forge the letters in a bid for sympathy ahead of a looming lawsuit over her deceased husband’s considerable estate.
I hired detectives to unearth who it was that was sending me these tirades. Because it was someone who knew me. The letters were too personal, filled with too many details that a stranger just wouldn’t know. But they too had found nothing.
Paula knew all about the letters I’d received in Texas. But I hadn’t told her that so far, in the month I’d been in Venice, I’d received four threatening letters. Once a week, as regular as clockwork.
I hadn’t told her that I felt that my death was imminent. That I lived in fear that, at any moment, my unknown letter-writer was going to tip over into insanity, and come to claim me.
I couldn’t tell her that I felt that there was a clock ticking over my head, and if I was ever going to do something as wild and crazy as going to a sex club, I was running out of time to do it. And I couldn’t tell her why I couldn’t date. I was utterly determined not to drag a man into the entire, sordid mess.
I didn’t say any of that. She would worry. Better instead for Paula to think that after eleven years of marriage, and only one sexual partner in my entire life, I was just belatedly sowing my wild oats.
My life didn’t have room for relationships, but I missed a man’s touch. I’d been curious about BDSM, ever since Paula had told me about her relationship with her husband Jason. Life had handed me lemons, in the form of a crazy, deranged stalker. I was going to make lemonade.
“Inspector Peron,” Constable Rossi looked at me as I came to work Friday morning. “There was a break-in attempt at a
near the Piazza San Marco.”
I raised an eyebrow. This was routine stuff, and I wasn’t entirely sure why he was telling me about it. He cleared his throat apologetically. “It was the American heiress’ apartment. Alice Blackwell. The owner of the
Ah, I understood. Alice Blackwell was Venice’s newest
. Rich beyond belief, undoubtedly spoiled. The entire city of Venice had been gossiping about her for the last month. She had rented a vacant store at the Piazza San Marco and the rumours were that she was going to run a bakery there. Every single Venetian had been discreetly snickering since they had heard that. An American baking bread for Italians.
“I guess I should go placate our newest resident.” I rolled my eyes. I’d have to soothe her and assure her that her trivial concerns were being taken extremely seriously. She’d driven the Houston police insane with her incessant demands for security. Undoubtedly, we were next.
Damn it. My landlord had gone and called the police.
And now, he had called me and assured me that someone was on their way over. As if I wanted to see another policeman with a carefully blank expression listen to my fears, and then laugh about it at the station afterwards.
I was terrified, true. The front door of the
had been forced open and there had been scratches at my apartment door. Someone had tried to enter my space when I was sleeping.
A very bored young policeman had already come by to dust for fingerprints. He hadn’t looked concerned at the scratches, and had just shrugged when I had fretted.
I gritted my teeth. Damn it, I hated cops. This was exactly why I hadn’t bothered to go to the police in Venice about my anonymous threatening letters. I shouldn’t have even told my landlord about the break-in attempt, but I’d been upset, and I hadn’t been thinking clearly.
What if it had been the person writing the letters, finally ready to take a step further, and act on the death-threats he or she had been sending me every week for the last three years?
There was a knock on the door, and I got up to open it. A man stood there. A gloriously gorgeous man. Tall, broad shoulders, ruthlessly short black hair. Beautiful golden skin. Sexy brown eyes. Mid-thirties. No wedding ring. Navy blue shirt, sleeves rolled up till the elbow. Perfectly tailored black slacks. For a few seconds, I gawked shamelessly.
“Ms. Blackwell.” He stuck out his hand to shake mine. “I’m Enzo Peron from the Venice Police Department. I heard you had a break-in attempt, and I came by to follow up.” He handed me a card and I looked down at it for a second. Enzo Peron, Chief Inspector of the Venice Police Department. Ah, they’d sent the big guns to tell me that they were doing everything in their power to solve my problems.
His fingers were warm and slightly calloused, and as he touched me, unexpected desire filled my body, and a palpable sense of attraction sparkled between us. He had the sexiest voice, and his accent, an intriguing mix of British and Italian, set something fluttering deep in my core.
Then, his words filtered through my brain. He was a cop, undoubtedly another in the long line of policemen and women who thought I was crazy, imagining threats that didn’t exist.
Fuck it. I had had a break-in attempt. I wasn’t going to back down; I was going to stand up for myself. I hadn’t moved halfway across the world to be paralyzed by fear.
“There are scratches all over the lock and the door,” I said, straightening my shoulders.
“I noticed,” he said. “They look quite serious.” He looked at me, and his eyes were so luminous, I could have drowned in them. “Are you okay, Ms. Blackwell?”
She hadn’t been lying; it was a break-in attempt all right. But that wasn’t the only surprise.
Everything about Alice Blackwell was… unexpected. Everything contradicted the mental picture I’d formed prior to meeting her.
She didn’t seem either spoiled or rich. She seemed terrified and very alone, and she was bringing out every protective instinct in me. And she was so, so very beautiful, and I was shocked at the sudden lust that had shimmered in the air when I touched her.
I could tell she was struggling to stay composed, and I didn’t blame her. She was in a new country, and someone had tried to break into her apartment.
“Are you okay, Ms. Blackwell?” I asked her gently.
The tears started rolling down her cheeks, and she lowered her face to conceal them. I couldn’t help it, I reached out and placed my hand over hers. She was so forlorn, and I wanted to pull her in my arms and promise her that everything would be okay.
“Sit down, Ms. Blackwell,” I ordered instead. “Come on, let’s get you a cup of coffee.”
“Tea,” she replied. “I don’t drink coffee.”
“Tea then,” I said. “Come on.”
I fled to my bathroom and splashed some water on my face, yelling at myself the entire time. Someone had tried to break in. The letters still kept coming. Nothing had changed.
No need for tears, Alice,
Crying is just a waste of time.
Enzo Peron was attractive. No, he was very, very good looking, and I was incredibly attracted to him.
To his body,
I corrected myself. But he was a cop, and I was used to being mocked by cops. I wanted nothing to do with them.
Pull yourself together, Alice,
I told myself.
Get him out of the apartment, fantasize about him with a vibrator, if you’d like, but that’s it.
I could hear Enzo clanking around in the kitchen, and I went out to see what he was up to. He had put the kettle on. “I found your teapot,” he said, gesturing with a grin. “But I didn’t want to look through your cupboards for tea.
“Not without a search warrant?” I quipped, grinning back at him before I could stop myself. I inwardly cursed. His smile had been friendly, and I was responding to his warmth like an attention-starved puppy.
Damn it, Alice?
I yelled inwardly.
You want friends? Call Paula, call Jeremy. This guy is going to go back to the police station and snicker about the crazy, paranoid American heiress.
He laughed easily. “Exactly,” he said. I moved, almost as I were tethered to a string, and he was pulling me forward, closer and closer to him. At the last minute, I found my senses and veered off, heading to the cupboard that housed the tea.
“Do you drink tea?” I asked him.
“Only when coffee isn’t on offer, Ms. Blackwell,” he said, his eyes amused.
“Call me Alice,” I replied. “After all, I did cry in front of you.” I handed him a cup and he thanked me and took a seat, settling down on the couch, leaning back, stretching his legs out and crossing them at the ankles. My eyes were drawn to his body. He really was gorgeous, but he wore it well. There wasn’t even a hint of
in him; he was all man. Hard, muscled man.
He cleared his throat, and I looked up to meet his eyes. Damn it, I’d been caught checking him out. He patted the seat next to him. “Would you like to sit down, Alice?” he asked. His tone had deepened.
No. I wouldn’t like to sit down. I wanted him to finish his damn tea and get out of here. I didn’t want to be attracted to this man. But I sat down anyway, a safe distance away. “Why did you come by, Chief Inspector Peron?” I asked. “A couple of policemen have already come by to take fingerprints.”
He grinned. “If I’m going to call you Alice, then Chief Inspector Peron seems so formal. Call me Enzo.” He took a sip of his tea. “I just came to assure you we are taking your break-in seriously, and will do our level-best to track down who is responsible.”
I didn’t respond. His eyes were on mine, warm and inviting, and I was shocked at the way I was reacting to him. My body felt heavy and achy, yearning to move closer. The silence grew between us, and it felt like a tangible thing, yet so fragile.
His phone rang, and he reached for it. I sighed in relief. I’d almost done something very stupid; I’d almost reached towards him, unable to help myself.
He had a brief conversation in rapid-fire Italian on the phone, then he hung up. His eyes met mine. “I have to go back to the office,” he said. There was reluctance in his eyes. He felt it too then, this thing between us. “I’ll keep you informed about what we find,” he continued. “And in the meanwhile, I’ll have someone keep an eye on your street. You will be safe, Alice.”
No concrete offer of protection. A vague promise to have a couple of cops occasionally keep a watch on my street. How was that a deterrent for a person determined to break into my place? I knew what was happening. I’d been here before. This was police-speak for
‘We don’t think anything is wrong, but let’s humour the crazy lady.’
My spine stiffened and when I spoke, my voice was steady. “Thank you, Inspector,” I said, pasting a false smile on my face.
He eyed me for a minute. “Enzo, remember?” he said finally. “I’ll be in touch, Alice.”
I stayed staring at the space he’d been in for the longest time after he left. My tears had surprised me, but they were understandable. What I couldn’t understand was the flare of attraction I felt for Enzo Peron.