Mask of the King

MJ Compton

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Injured baseball player Tag Gentry and caterer Skye Schuyler are both lured to a Mardi Gras house party by false promises of work. Skye is waiting for her contract with the baseball team to be renewed, but the front office is givi...
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Injured baseball player Tag Gentry and caterer Skye Schuyler are both lured to a Mardi Gras house party by false promises of work. Skye is waiting for her contract with the baseball team to be renewed, but the front office is giving her the runaround. No one knows how bad Tag’s leg injury really is, but speculation says it career ending. He’s not telling…and he hasn’t reported to spring training. He’s starting to wonder if there is life after baseball.

When Tag’s reporter ex-lover shows up in New Orleans, Tag pays extra attention to Skye, telling himself it’s only to deflect his ex’s attention. But his ex hopes the truth about his injury will be her next big story, and nothing is going to stop her, not even Tag’s involvement with another woman.

Skye realizes the promises that brought her and Tag to New Orleans are lies and wants to leave before things get any more complicated.

The only problem is they’re both targets for revenge, and Tag’s jealous ex may be part of the plot. Everyone is wearing mask, and not just for Mardi Gras. Tag and Skye don’t know who to trust--including each other.

Excerpt
Tag watched Red follow Noah and felt a little sick. Of all the caterers in the country, how had Noah found and settled on Red? Skye’s the Limit wasn’t that well-known. There’d been an article about her in one of the more obscure sports journals after the Gems had won the World Series, but she wasn’t exactly a household name. In a city famous for its food, she was a nobody.

A nobody who only had to look at him to make him hard.

A nobody he didn’t want around while he debauched. Because Red wasn’t the kind of woman who went in for debauchery. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt her. Yeah, he’d missed her while he was home, but a big part of his reason for coming to New Orleans was to forget about her.

The doorbell rang, startling him out of his funk. Since Noah was otherwise occupied, Tag opened the door. And nearly pissed himself.

“Tag! I didn’t know you were visiting Noah.” Terra Baldwin, his currently off-again woman friend breezed past him, pulling her utilitarian black suitcase. “It’s nice to see you.” She brushed her lips across his.

He resisted the urge to wipe away the caress. And hold his nose. He’d forgotten how much perfume she soaked in. “Terra. What a surprise.” He purposely omitted nice or pleasant.

“Oh dear,” she said. “You’re still annoyed with me about not coming to your bedside when you were injured. I told you there were rumors of a revolution in Kabalastan. “

Still using her half-assed career as an excuse. Annoyed wasn’t the word he’d use. The news was more important to her than their relationship. He’d known that on an intellectual level. “You overestimate my feelings. As usual.” He purposely kept his tone cool. Disinterested.

She’d told him she’d been out of the country when he’d gotten hurt, but he’d heard a rumor she’d really been in Columbia—South Carolina, not South America. That not only had she been in town, but they had attended the same Halloween party. He’d been at Drake Dixon’s place to keep an eye on Red because he’d heard bad stuff about Dixon and women, and allegedly Terra had been there wearing only a purple-feathered half-mask with silver beads. Her mouth had been available for whatever anyone wanted to stick in it.

Tag knew that was a double standard. He liked a blowjob as well as the next guy. And he and Terra had never talked about being exclusive. He was no saint. He liked fucking, and in different circumstances, he might have considered joining Dixon’s Halloween orgy.

What irked him was Terra had been too busy to visit him but not too busy to suck Dixon’s cock. Hence the off-again, probably for good, relationship.

What troubled him more was wondering what other surprises Noah had in store.

“My leg is starting to bother me.” Not a lie. “Noah’s showing another guest where she’ll be staying. He’s putting the women in his guesthouse. They went that way.” He jerked his head toward the back of the house.

His limp was a little more pronounced than necessary as he leaned on his cane and made his way back to Noah’s den.

“I do hope you’ll give me a chance to make amends,” Terra called after him. “Maybe tonight.”

He pretended not to hear her.

* * * *


“Hi.” Skye greeted the newcomer. The very familiar-looking newcomer. “Welcome to the girls’ bunk. I’m Skye from Skye’s the Limit catering. I guess we’re housemates over the next few days. I’m in the violet room.”

The dark-haired woman with eyes the color of fresh bruises grimaced. “Noah is separating us by sex? How…quaint.”

Skye recognized the woman now. She was a TV news reporter. Her name had been linked to Tag’s in the past. Terra Baldwin. She worked for one of the minor cable news networks. Very minor. “Banished to the garçonnière.”

“The what?”

“The house where single men lived on plantations before the Civil War.” Skye had picked up a lot of information from the historical romance novels she’d read growing up. The oddest things stayed with her.

The other woman laughed. “I’m Terra Baldwin, by the way. Aren’t you the caterer for the Gems?”

Skye couldn’t help but be flattered. “Yes. The front office asked me if I’d work Mr. Nash’s house party this week.”

Terra shook her head. “Noah is a piece of work. Now Tag Gentry on the other hand… Do you know who else is here besides Tag?”

Skye tamped down the spurt of jealousy that flared. “I haven’t seen anyone else. Mr. Nash said I was the first woman.”

“Mr. Nash?” Terra laughed again.

The noise sounded forced to Skye.

“He’s Noah. He won’t want formality, even if you are working for him this week.”

“It’s a courtesy thing,” Skye explained.

“Noah wouldn’t know courtesy if it bit him in the ass.”

* * * *


Skye returned to the main house after she’d unpacked. Rather than disturb Mr. Nash, she went in search of the kitchen on her own. She found it almost immediately, as if she had culinary radar.

The facilities were okay. Less than ideal, but Skye could manage if she wasn’t expected to produce anything too elaborate. She needed to get the details of the house party from Mr. Nash. How many guests? What meals would be required? Was there a household account to which she could charge purchases? What did he expect for the grand finale—Mardi Gras?

The situation still didn’t feel right to her. Tag’s former—maybe current—girlfriend was not someone she could be comfortable about. Tag had claimed he was no longer with Terra when he’d seduced Skye. Even so, she didn’t like thinking that maybe she’d come between them.

“You’ll be okay here?”

Skye jumped.

Noah Nash stood in the doorway. The man was quiet. Something about him—

“It’s fine,” she said. “As long as you don’t want superfancy.”

He shrugged. “It’s Carnival. Everyone will be too wasted to appreciate anything elaborate.”

“How many people are staying?”

“However many show up. I invited ten houseguests for the week. Maybe another fifty or so for Mardi Gras. And who knows who’ll wander in off the streets. Things tend to get rowdy in the Quarter on Fat Tuesday.”

Not very helpful. She tried again. “Do you want breakfast? Lunch? Supper? I forwarded my standard contract to you, but you only signed it. You didn’t fill in any of the information I need.”

“This is a house party. Emphasis on party. Do what you think is best.”

Skye was starting to get annoyed. “Any requests?”

“I’ll leave that up to you.”

For someone who’d gone to the trouble of flying in his own caterer, Noah Nash didn’t seem invested in his own event.

She needed to research traditional Mardi Gras foods. She was trying to build her reputation as an events caterer, not just a sports caterer. Maybe if she kept telling herself Mardi Gras in New Orleans would look good on her résumé, she’d start to believe it.

Since the disaster of Drake Dixon’s Halloween party, she’d been nervous. Some of her jobs were fine—the Board of Elections Election Night buffet, the Jaycee’s Annual Harvest Ball, even Tubby Maldonado’s Thanksgiving weekend wedding hadn’t bothered her in the least. But private parties in people’s homes? She turned down as many of those jobs as she could afford. Which wasn’t many. Although she’d replaced her broken oven and range with used appliances, her state-of-the-art fantasy stove was still on her agenda. And at the rate she was going, forever out of reach.

If Nash hadn’t played the Gems’ card, she doubted she’d be in New Orleans.

“My main specialty is sports nutrition.” She forced a smile. “I don’t think that applies to Mardi Gras, Mr. Nash.”

“Up to you,” he repeated. “And please. Call me Noah.”

“Buffet? Sit down? What kind of food do you want?”

“Your choice.” He didn’t seem at all interested. “I heard you’re a great cook. I will leave everything in your competent hands. Oh and don’t bother about tonight. We’re going out.”

Then he winked.

* * * *


“You need to move me into the main house,” Terra commanded.

Terra was not subtle. She was in full bitch mode too. Tag wondered what had set her off. Not that he cared. Or was even interested. Reacting to Terra was a habit, not an emotion.

Noah didn’t seem to know what to do about her. “I don’t have a room for you.”

“This isn’t church camp where you need to separate us by gender.” She smiled at Tag. “If you don’t have an extra room, I can bunk with Tag. It wouldn’t be the first time.”

“What’s wrong with the guesthouse?” Noah asked.

“She can have my room,” Tag said before Terra could answer. “Stairs are tough on my leg. I’ll move to the guesthouse.” Not a lie. Although he was managing fine with his cane, stairs were brutal. Besides, he didn’t want to be in the same vicinity as Terra.

Red’s presence had no bearing on his offer. None.

Noah’s scowl deepened for a flash before his face smoothed. He became the genial buffoon of his reputation. “I didn’t think about your injury and the stairs, Tag.”

Tag shrugged. He didn’t want people thinking about his injury. He wanted to pretend he was whole. He wanted to forget the numbness down the side of his calf where the nerves were so badly damaged he probably would never regain feeling in that area. He wanted to forget the hours of brutal physical therapy Bluto the Torturer inflicted on him. He needed to believe he could fight his way back to home plate.

“It’s no biggie.” He refused to look at Terra. They owed each other nothing, not even good-byes.

“Well, if you’re going to move to the guesthouse—” she began.

Tag cut her off. “We’ll swap rooms. There’s no point upsetting all Noah’s preparations. Besides, I sleep better alone. I can’t risk being accidently kicked.”

“You just want a harem.” Noah’s joke didn’t make Tag laugh.

* * * *


Tag could smell Red in the purple bedroom. Even if he hadn’t recognized her teal-colored overnight bag, he would have known she was the occupant by her scent alone. Her fragrance was far more delicate and natural than Terra’s. Another bedroom opened off her bathroom. He dumped his bag in there. He knew Red. And she knew his boundaries.

He had let Noah carry his repacked suitcase down the stairs but had taken over from there. No point overplaying the gimp card.

Red wasn’t around.

He took his time unpacking, hoping for a few more minutes of privacy.

Maybe Red had gone food shopping. She did that a lot. But more often than not in the morning, and it was now late afternoon. She was probably cooking supper for everyone. The reason she was there.

He was headed for the courtyard door when it swung open. A shaft of sunlight tangled in penny-colored curls.

“Hello.”

Red stopped. Stared at him. “Did you need something?”

“I moved into the guesthouse. Terra wanted to be in the main house, and the stairs are tough on my leg, so we swapped. I’m in the blue bedroom. You and I are sharing a bathroom.”

Her eyes widened when she realized what that meant. “Do you think that’s such a good idea?”

Her voice was low. Sultry. As always, it did things to his spine. To his dick.

He stepped closer. “I think it’s the perfect solution to a lot of issues.” His cane clattered to the floor as he sauntered toward her. Pressed her against the wall. Let her know just how good of an idea it was as his mouth covered hers.

There was a brief moment of resistance, but Red melted as if she were an ice swan and he a volcano. Her lips parted. He cupped her ass and pulled her tight against his erection. She tried to get closer, but their clothes were in the way.

“God, I’ve missed you,” he said when he was finally able to form coherent words. “Your room or mine?”

She pushed at his shoulders. “Not a good idea.”

She was right. He’d come to New Orleans in part to forget about her.

So much for that plan.

“Why not?” He cupped her breasts. He needed to suck on them. Needed to have her under him. His leg was up to fucking. He tugged at the back of her bra. Managed to unhook it.

“I’m not sure we should do this. Not here.”

She was definitely right. He was in New Orleans to party.

Tomorrow. He’d start partying tomorrow.

He buried his face against her neck as he worked to rid her of more clothing. “Why not here? It’s private. If I was a hundred percent, I’d pick you up and carry you to a bed, but you’re going to have to walk.”

“As if I’ve ever done anything else,” she muttered.

“You run. You know it.” If he didn’t get inside her soon, he was going to come in his pants like some pubescent rookie. He released her. Grabbed her hand. Pulled her toward the purple bedroom.

Copyright © MJ Compton

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