Ella Winston is a talented chef with a problem–the slightest touch can reveal anyone’s darkest secrets.
Hired to cook for the artist, Ren Plancharde, she struggles to keep her ability under wraps.
After accidently uncovering Ren’s underground activities, the eccentric painter offers Ella a glimpse into his world of pleasure and pain. Intrigued, he decides to make Ella a part of his sinister Corde Noire Society, but his chef isn’t quite ready to commit.
Absolute submission isn’t all Ren wants from the stubborn woman. He has big plans for her gift, too. The only question is … will Ella be willing to give in to his desires when the time comes?
The darkness within can hide a lifetime of secrets.
Through the haze of her apple martinis, Ella spotted someone across the wide dining room. He was different from the other patrons there to celebrate the restaurant’s two-year anniversary. With an arrogant walk, he strutted across the stone floor. Lean, muscular, and blessed with one of those bodies women would always notice, he had dark blond hair and disquieting dark green eyes. He was the kind of guy who knew he was good-looking and let everyone else know it, too. She wasn’t usually attracted to that type, but this man—his confidence intrigued her.
“You’re Ella, Ella Winston,” he said in a voice like dark chocolate fondue: deep, and wickedly sexy.
“Yeah.” She almost dropped her drink. “I’m the sous chef.”
“I know. Marcus told me.”
As his smile sank to the depths of her belly, he extended his hand, but Ella ignored it.
Don’t touch him. You know what happens when you touch them.
“So, how do you know Marcus?” Ella quickly asked, hoping to make up for her rudeness.
He laughed, looking her over. Above the din in the room, she could sense something different about his laugh. Unlike the insincere chortle of others, this man’s laugh got to her. She was having an unusual physical reaction, something that never happened to her. When most men laughed, Ella usually ran away.
“Marcus and I share the same friends.”
“What friends are those?” she asked, craving another martini.
“The wealthy kind, who like to support the arts.” He raised a green bottle of sparkling water in his hand. “I’m a painter. Marcus and I know a lot of people who like to pretend they’re patrons and keep us gainfully employed.”
“Painter?” Ella shrugged, finding it hard to believe Marcus knew any painters. “What do you paint?”
“Portraits of women. Usually with very little clothing.”
Oh yeah, I need another drink. “Is that lucrative?”
Her eyes wandered around the dining room, desperate to find a rescue. Ella needed to get away from this man before she said or did something really stupid.
“Do you like art?” he pressed.
“Some art. I think it would depend on the passion I see in a painting.”
“The passion in a painting?” That laugh again. Her toes tingled. Not good. “You sound like a painter, Ms. Winston.”
The martini glass in her hand suddenly weighed a ton. “Isn’t painting a passion for an artist, like cooking is a passion for a chef? Having a passion is a healthy thing. It reminds us that we have a soul.”
He nodded, seemingly approving of her drunken ramblings. “That’s very profound and also very true. I think you have a lot of talents yet to be discovered, Ella. May I call you Ella?”
“Ah, sure. Ella is fine.” Her mouth went dry. “What makes you think I have any talents outside of cooking?”
“I have a sense for these things.”
She tensed. Can he tell? The same thought always haunted her when she met new people. Ella fought so hard to keep her secret under control. Time to make a run for it.
“Don’t let Marcus know I have other talents. He’ll probably fire me.”
She was about to depart when he stopped her. He leaned in, and she could just make out the small cleft in his pointy chin. “I promise, if you ever need a job, I’ll hire you.”
His mouth was so close she could have kissed his perfect, thin lips. Frightened by the notion, Ella backed away. “I’ll hold you to that.”
She should have done a million different things: asked his name, gotten his phone number, or stayed to flirt with him some more. Instead, Ella walked away. She figured it was one of those moments in life she would live to regret. Fortunately, Ella found the bar and drowned her disappointment in another apple martini.
Ella reasoned that was the way of it. You meet people and move on, and one day, if you’re lucky, you meet the interesting ones again.