Under the Mask
Copyright © 2017 by Aliyah Burke
Kailey Cox adjusted her mask to ensure total anonymity, lowered the shoulders on her peasant top, and stepped through the open ballroom doors with Artemis at her side. The massive room in the prestigious hotel overflowed with people who, like her, were in costume. She was attending a huge fundraiser in support of banishing illiteracy among both children and adults. Something she agreed with wholeheartedly.
“This is gorgeous.”
She glanced at her companion, Karma Whitfield—best friend in the world—who stood beside her dressed in a stunning and sexy Artemis costume. Had they not arrived together, she wouldn’t have known it was her.
“I agree. Tell me again, how’d you get tickets for this?” Kailey gazed about, taking in the champagne fountains, chocolate waterfalls, and other lavish displays.
“I know people.”
Rolling her eyes, she laughed. “You mean you slept with a guy who gave them to you.”
Karma tugged on the hem of her very short skirt, appearing extremely unrepentant. “Hey, I knew him.”
“You know you’re wrong, girl. So, so wrong.”
“Hush. He was smiling when I left him. Besides, you need the night out. What better way to forget the asshole extraordinaire than by spending some time with incredibly rich, most of which are hot, men?”
She didn’t care about rich. Nevertheless, being out was a nice thing as opposed to not being out again, spending another night at home, and dwelling over what had been her life for the past year.
They took flutes of champagne from a passing waiter’s tray. She drank and thought about her ex-husband Brad. The divorce had been long and drawn out. Nasty, lasting over a year. Some of her friends—not Karma—had tried to set her up on dates. She’d refused them all.
Divorcing or not, she was still a married woman until the ink was dry stating it was final she wasn’t about to commit adultery. Despite that fact, Brad had had zero qualms about doing so. She’d walked in on him with not one, but two other women. In their own bed.
A deep breath as she pushed back the memories. This was why she was here tonight. She was free of that ball and chain.
“Forget the rat bastard.” Karma touched her bare shoulder before pushing back Kailey’s long black locks.
“How’d you know?”
“We’ve been friends since we were in diapers, long enough for me to know. This is a party. You are officially divorced now and get to find some fine ass stranger to shake out the cobwebs.”
She almost snorted her drink. “Cobwebs?”
Behind her headgear, which obscured most of her face, Karma winked. “You’ll remember. It’s like riding a bike.” She waved a hand around. “Have fun.” Karma blended into the crowd, leaving her alone along the outskirts.
Part of her wanted to retreat further, like to her room. This wasn’t her anymore. Brazen and outspoken had not been her for a while. She preferred the sidelines, the shadows. But she didn’t run, didn’t hide. She wore a costume. No one would know her. This was her night.
She had plans to make the best of it. A smile tipped her red-glossed lips in a satisfactory manner. First, she would explore this room and mingle. After all, like Karma said, this was her time now. She was free.
The hotel was magnificent. Lavish ornaments from Asia added an exotic flare to the place. She mingled, chatted, danced, and drank. Finally, needing some time to herself, she stepped outside to get a breather. She stood along a balcony, trailing her fingers along the smooth marble balustrade. The night air cooled her heated flesh yet didn’t chill her.
“Pray tell, what’s a lovely gypsy woman doing out here all alone?” A deep voice questioned from behind her.
She’d gotten many compliments on her outfit and tried to ignore why it was this one, spoken in a seductive and alluring tone, that affected her more than the others had. Turning her head, she hesitated, unable to make anyone out. Maybe she’d had too much to drink and it was her imagination.
Pity, for the voice was nice. Deep and raspy, it stroked along her skin. The reaction it created in her only solidified the knowledge of her dry spell.
“Looking for me?”
She licked her lips and tilted her head to the side. Definitely wasn’t her imagination. There was someone out here with her.
“Well, yes. Unless you are here as the Invisible Man.”
A decadent chuckle. “No.”
“So, are you remaining in the shadows or do I get to see you?” Seriously, if his body matched his voice, she’d have died and gone to heaven.
“You’re the gypsy. Can you not tell what’s in my future?”
She smiled and trailed a polished tipped finger along the rim of her champagne flute. “Of course I know. I don’t give away fortunes for free, however.”
“Oh, I’m willing to pay.”
She dragged her tongue along her lower lip, set her drink down, and walked toward where the voice came from. The dark corner of the balcony. Her gold coins tinkled with invitation every step she took. She paused and blinked. “Step into the light.”
There was a whisper of sound and she found herself staring up at a tall, powerful man clad in a warrior costume. Her breath left her in a rush as she tried to stifle her instantaneous and lustful reaction.
A gold helmet covered his head, which, courtesy of the cheek and nose guard, obscured his features. Muscles were there, muscles she wanted nothing more than to touch and to feel surrounding her. A red cape, secured with a gold emblem at his right shoulder, left his arm bare with the exception of leather cuffs. He wore no shirt, and she could see his well-defined abdominals and pectorals. Leather sandals with wide straps crisscrossed up his powerful calves.
On one side, she could see a shield and a sword hung from the other. He had smooth copper skin and obsidian hair. Men in skirts weren’t supposed to look so good. Well, technically it wasn’t a skirt; it was a wrap, part of his tunic. Either way, the man looked delicious.
He flowed toward her, stopping when their feet were touching one another. “Hello, gypsy woman.”
Her belly exploded in a flurry of want and lust. She reached out and rested her hand against his bared chest. His skin was warm beneath her palm.
“You know the costume?” He sounded suitably impressed.
“Oh yeah. I came with Artemis, she informed me who everyone was.” Why tell him she had seen a lot of movies with Spartans in them when using Artemis as a reason for her knowledge seemed viable enough? The emblem holding his cape was a remake of the Spartan shield that bore upon it the letter lambda, which stood for Lacedaemon.
He stepped closer, brushing more of his hard body against her. “Interesting.”
“What is?” She had a hard time focusing on anything but him.
“That a gypsy would hang with a Greek goddess.”
She tucked a loose curl behind her ear with her right hand while her left touched his chest. “I am no fool. When she extended her invitation for me to walk with her, I took it. I had no wish to be turned into something small and slimy. I know how to play nice.” He chuckled, a deep and tempting sound. Her other hand joined the first. Goodness, he was solid. All over. “Although, I am curious about something.”
She swallowed and licked her lips again. “I know about kilts, but what do Spartans wear under their wraps?” Her fingers smoothed along his sides enjoying the taut skin, the heat of him, and the feel of a man.
“I could tell you. Or.” He leaned down, brushing her cheek with his own and continued, “I could show you.”
Her lids fluttered as desire struck hard and deep. This was what she needed. A night of mindless sex with a hot-as-fire stranger.
Readjusting her arms so they surrounded his neck, she held his gaze. The five-inch heels helped bring her closer yet she still had to stretch to place her mouth within millimeters of his.
“Show me,” she breathed.
He took her hand and led her through the hotel up to a suite, one which doubled the size of her room she was staying in here. The entire way up he remained silent. He continually rubbed his thumb along the back of her hand, bestowing attention on her without any verbal communication.
The moment the door clicked closed behind them, he hauled her flush to his chest and kissed her. Sparks shot throughout her as his masculine taste flooded her. Lord, the man could kiss.
His tongue dipped, stroked, and thrust within her mouth until she sagged against his larger frame. Oh, she was in serious trouble. Most assuredly.
“Let’s see what’s under here, my beautiful gypsy.”
He touched her mask, spurring her into action. “Leave them on.”
He did after a slight hesitation and she was glad. Masks were important to maintain her anonymity. Moreover, he showed her exactly what was worn—or not worn—under a Spartan warrior’s outfit.