Escaping her forced marraige, Sima accidentally hides out in a pleasure hotel and is appalled to learn of the decadence in the city of Irnia. Despite her shock, sparks fly when she meets Razi, the ward assigned to her room. He was sold into slavery as a child to support his poverty stricken family. Sima can't understand how he can be content with his life and changes it for what she thinks is the best, putting herself at risk and on the run. And the only one who can save her is Razi, if he can find her in time.
Sima Alonwei ran for her life. Her thick-heeled boots tap-tapped down the metal walk as she sprinted past storefronts in Irnia’s racier district, rain drizzling down. Far behind her, two bodyguards’ booming voices echoed down the tunnel. Sima didn’t turn. She squinted against the blaring streetlights and ducked behind an exotic pet shop. Her heart pounding in her chest and her breathing out of control, she peered up at the billboard above the building.
Juri’s Medicinal Tonic. Cures impotence.
The picture beneath the words startled her, drawing her attention for a moment. Two bodies entangled, beaded with sweat and arcing in passion. She hurried down the alley and slipped between the buildings, holding her breath until she recognized Boris and Delin’s gruff calls passing by her hiding place. Behind her, an animal scuttled through the garbage, maybe a rat or some strange Irnian pest. She glanced, but couldn’t see more than its shadow as it darted from view.
“Great,” she whispered. “I’ve escaped, but now where do I go?” She carried only her small purse, the beaded fabric fragile and garish. Her father liked it though, and that was why she had brought it this night. Clutching it against her chest, she hunkered down in the shadows to wait.
On the walk, shoppers and people passed, laughing, talking, and holding hands. Sima spied on them for hours before she crept completely from her hiding place. The moon glowed a bleary orange above the alley. She poked her veiled face around the corner of the building and felt relief wash over her. They’re gone.
Having planned this third attempt to run away, she untied the silken veil and dress she wore and slid it over her body. Nondescript black cotton covered her. She’d worn two layers of clothing. After balling up the finer, discarded garment, she tossed it in one of the City of Irnia’s dumpsters. It whispered as it landed within.
Still wary, she crossed the street and half-read the sign above the gray building before her.
…finest rooms this side of Irnia. Meals served in bed.
Her stomach grumbled, reminding Sima that her father’s idea of a strict diet was not in line with nourishment. The glass door alerted the desk clerk with a soft buzz when she entered, and a blue light flashed over her body, scanning. Strange hotel. A long, white counter with ribbed cabinetwork beneath greeted her. She walked up to it and looked at the attendant who busied himself rifling through a pile of plastic key cards.
“I’d like a room,” she announced.
He sat straight up and forced a smile across his thin lips. Grizzled shadow stood over his pale cheeks and upper lip, a clue that he’d been working long hours. Dark circles rimmed his eyes and he stood, further revealing a lanky frame.
“Do you have a preference?” He dropped a handful of key cards and reached for a slim data-sharer, holding it out for her perusal.
“Preference?” she repeated, unsure of what he meant.
“You know…color, length, that sort of thing.” He bugged his eyes wide and waved his other hand as if she ought to know what he meant.
“I guess something simple?” She bit at her bottom lip.
The attendant narrowed his gaze and frowned. “Simple. That’s new. How long will you be staying?” He set the data-sharer down.
She sighed. “How much is it?”
“For something,” he cleared his throat, “…simple, I’d do it for three shens, one night.”
Still unsure of her options, she dropped her purse on the counter. She searched through the credit cards and shook her head. Father will trace them. The zippered pocket at the bottom held cash. Sima pulled the wad out and carefully counted out nine shens. She pushed the glittery paper payment across the counter and grinned. “Does that include meals?”
“Meals, showers, the bed, the floor, the walls, wherever you want.” He sneered and closed his bulbous eyes, his fingers dropping to the pile of keycards. “Simple.” He clutched one at random and held it up. His gaze fell on it and he snorted. “Oh. That one.” Dropping it on the white surface that separated them, he said, “Down the hall. Seventh door. Walls are soundproof. No cameras. We believe in privacy here.”
“That’s perfect. If anyone asks, you didn’t see me, all right?”
“Privacy,” the clerk repeated, and winked.
Sima smoothed her black blouse and nodded. “Thank you.” She started down the hall, stopped at a set of glass doors, and pulled one open. For a hotel, the place seemed terribly quiet. Her boots clicked on the tiled floor, their echo following her. The seventh door stood like a beacon of hope, her escape from years of oppression and obedience. The key card felt cold in her hands. Her fingers trembled when she slipped it into the slot above the lever. “Let this be my new beginning,” she whispered.
The light above the slot glowed green and automated locks popped back to allow her entry. Sima turned the lever and went inside. The room did seem simple. She ran her hand along the wall to the switch. Bright, incandescent light shone from angular fixtures on the high ceiling. The furnishings were plain, a brown couch, a black table with four chairs and a small counter bar near the kitchen. The door glided shut behind her.
She hurried to the couch and plopped down. “I’ve done it. I’m free.” Bending, she unzipped her boots and tugged them off her aching feet. “I wish I had a masseuse. Damn heels.” Sliding her fingers up her pants, she hooked the ends of her knee-high nylons and freed them. They dropped on the beige carpeting in silence, looking like two lumps of crumpled, gray skin.
She closed her eyes, relaxing. The room smelled like leather and musk, almost like a man. “Mm, now I can have any man I want.” Years ago, when she was nothing more than a mere teen, she fancied Boris, but he shrugged off her immature advances, his loyalties true to her father. Her other bodyguard, Delin, didn’t win prizes in the looks department.
Leaning back, she stretched her legs, running the bottoms of her feet across the carpet. “I’ll go barefoot for three days and eat anything I want.”
“Are you hungry now?” a masculine voice asked.
She opened her eyes and curled her legs up, hugging her knees to her chest. A man stood in front of her, dressed only in blue pants that hung a little low on his waist. The first thing she noticed was the line of dark, curled hairs running from his pant’s tie to his navel. Her eyes traveled up as she took in his chiseled abdomen and his broad, muscular chest. Dark, milk chocolate skin gleamed in the light from above. One of his nipples bore a silver ring pierced through it.
“Um,” she stammered, her stare catching on his handsome face. “Am I in the wrong room?” She held up her key card, admiring his large lips. “The guy at the counter…”
“Ailen. He said you wanted something simple.” The stranger smiled. He brushed his hand over his short, black hair.
Sima’s brow furrowed. She pulled the key card back and clutched it to her chest. “Wh—why are you in my room?” She cocked her head to one side and nervously chewed her lip.
“You tell me.” He took a step and leaned forward, holding out his hand. “I’m Razi.”
“Sima,” she whispered, reaching out as well. His coal-colored eyes looked mysterious, and she wondered for an instant what it would be like to peer into them from a closer vantage. Warm, thick fingers curled around her hand. She tensed. He is too attractive to be a room keep, running around half dressed. “What kind of hotel is this?”
“Hotel?” He chuckled and pulled her up, unexpectedly. “Are you joking?” He slipped his other arm around her waist and guided her close.
His chest touched hers, and she realized how cold and wet she was from standing so long in the rain. Her nipples stood at attention, poking at his skin. The sensation made her shiver worse. “Joking about what?”
Razi’s eyes widened, and his smile turned mischievous. “Sima, why did you come here? What do you want to do?”
“I-I wanted to get out of the rain, sleep in a warm bed, shower, maybe eat…” She flinched when he leaned closer, his dark eyes searching. He drew circles on her lower back with the pad of his thumb.
“You’re very beautiful,” he whispered. “Is this a game you’re playing?” He touched the tip of his nose to hers and ran it up a ways. His full lips parted when they brushed the side of her mouth. “I like games. Tell me what you want.” Razi’s breath came out in minty gasps. “I’ll play any game for you.”
She closed her eyes. Words felt like lumps clogging her throat. Her fingers came against his waist in a tentative way. His skin was hot beneath her touch. “Is this a…pleasure house?”
He ran his cheek across hers, his hand slipping further down her back until his palm cupped her ass. “Yes it is. You feel so cold, Sima. Do you want to take a shower?”