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Carnal Desire

Carnal Desire

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A romance with a mafia boss has no place in my life. But he doesn’t care–not once he’s decided he wants me anyway.

Six months after my father’s untimely death, I’m drowning in debt. Even working for one of the most respected celebrity tattoo artists in Los Angeles hasn’t been enough to fix that. I don’t have time to fall in love–or even to think about dating. Even a one-night-stand has become a distant possibility.

Then my boss asks me to fill in for him while he’s sick–and I end up in a west LA penthouse, about to tattoo the most well-known mafia boss on this side of the country.

I’m only supposed to see him once. But there’s no telling him no. Not when he asks for me to be his artist instead of my boss, and not when he convinces me to let down my walls one after another–making me forget that the two of us are worlds apart, and that we should never have met at all.

Until a night of carelessness leads to a secret I don’t dare tell him about–and upends everything I’ve ever planned for my life. But the man I’ve fallen for isn’t a man I can easily run from.

He says I’m everything he never knew he wanted. And what he desires–he gets.

Carnal Desire is a steamy full-length standalone.

  • Enemies To Lovers
  • Arranged Marriage
  • Billionaire

Synopsis

A romance with a mafia boss has no place in my life. But he doesn’t care–not once he’s decided he wants me anyway.

Six months after my father’s untimely death, I’m drowning in debt. Even working for one of the most respected celebrity tattoo artists in Los Angeles hasn’t been enough to fix that. I don’t have time to fall in love–or even to think about dating. Even a one-night-stand has become a distant possibility.

Then my boss asks me to fill in for him while he’s sick–and I end up in a west LA penthouse, about to tattoo the most well-known mafia boss on this side of the country.

I’m only supposed to see him once. But there’s no telling him no. Not when he asks for me to be his artist instead of my boss, and not when he convinces me to let down my walls one after another–making me forget that the two of us are worlds apart, and that we should never have met at all.

Until a night of carelessness leads to a secret I don’t dare tell him about–and upends everything I’ve ever planned for my life. But the man I’ve fallen for isn’t a man I can easily run from.

He says I’m everything he never knew he wanted. And what he desires–he gets.

Carnal Desire is a steamy full-length standalone that can be devoured in one sitting! Enjoy!

Chapter 1 Look Inside

Chapter One

Emma

There are many, many things that I love about living in Los Angeles. The traffic is not one of them.

And, gauging from how many horns I hear honking and the colorful array of cursing that I can hear out of my car window, I’m not alone in this.

I close my eyes, breathing in the heated summer air and reaching for the dial of the radio. The speakers crackle a little–the sound system in my 1970 Chevelle is one of the things that I desperately need to get repaired–but the faintly retro sound of Cannons filters through the car, making my shoulders relax an inch or so downwards. I try to ignore the fact that sweat is beading on the back of my neck, making the loose hairs of my ponytail stick to my skin. Nighttime in California cools off even in the summer, but sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic is enough to make things feel stuffy no matter what. 

The clock on my dash tells me that I’m already five minutes late for my appointment, and I’m only halfway across town.

Another deep breath. The air smells of the city–which isn’t a good thing–but I try to pick out the better parts of it. The hints of salt from the distant beach and the sandy warmth of the desert air from the south, the leafy scent of palms. I’m good at imagining things as better than they are–it’s how I get through life, generally speaking. Even when everything seems to be at its worst, I’ve managed to muddle through. 

The last six months have been harder than usual, though. And tonight feels like the rotten cherry on top.

Normally, I wouldn’t be hauling my ass from east LA over to the west side. Normally I’d be driving the couple of miles to Night Orchid Tattoo, where I’ve worked for years since I was an apprentice. Normally I’d be settling in by now, my station set up for the first of the few clients on my schedule for the night, with a little room left for walkins.

Instead, I’m stuck navigating Friday night traffic so I can tattoo some rich asshole who can’t be bothered to reschedule just because his artist–my boss–is out sick. 

I’ve only ever tattooed out of the shop–friends wanting me to etch a smiley face on their ankle while we’re drunk at home don’t count–but there’s plenty of wealthy celebrities and athletes who are willing to pay to have someone come to them. Those sorts would never be seen walking around the neighborhood I work in–they’re too good for that, but not too good to have Rico Axton tattoo them. As long as I’ve worked at the Night Orchid, he’s been the one who takes all of those upper crust clients. It means he makes a hell of a lot more money than I or the other artist at the shop do, but I’ve never minded. I’d rather be in my familiar booth, with my art on the walls and the sound of the music Brendan and I picked for the night filtering through the shop, the smell of the Thai place behind us making its way in every time someone opens the door until one of us finally caves and orders it to split for dinner. 

Besides, Rico is the boss, and I know I was lucky to get a spot as his apprentice. 

Something he never, ever lets me forget. Especially when it comes time to call in a favor, like tonight.

My phone vibrates, sliding across the cracked leather of the passenger’s seat, and I snatch it up and put it on speaker. I’m sure I know who it is before I even hear Rico’s gravelly voice, and he doesn’t bother to wait for me to say hello.

“You’re ten minutes late, Emma,” he growls. I can hear the thick phlegminess in his throat from the shitty flu he came down with. “I just got a call asking where you were. What the hell? This is an important client.”

So were the ones I had to reschedule tonight, as far as I’m concerned. I bite back what I want to say, gritting my teeth. I’m beyond pissed that I had to shuffle around my schedule and put my clients off–all of whom have paid a deposit and are just as important as this dickhead I’m driving towards–and even more aggravated that Rico hasn’t so much as said ‘thank you.’ I won’t get paid for this appointment tonight, nothing other than maybe the tip, if one is offered. All of the fee will go to Rico. I can’t really afford to do this, but I can’t afford to lose my job, either.

“The traffic is hell, Rico,” I bite out, inching forward as the light turns green again. “Surely your client understands that.”

“Getting there on time is your responsibility.” He doesn’t sound as if he’s going to give me even an inch. “Don’t you know how to use Google Maps?”

“I left when it said I should. I don’t usually drive across the city, you know that.” I never have a reason to go to west LA. I’d rather not, all things considered. The best parts of the city–the interesting food, the vibrancy of the people, the less crowded beaches–all of that can be found in the south and east LA. The west side, as far as I’m concerned, is nothing but celebrities and Hollywood types with too much money, tourist traps that cost too much, and everything choked with the kind of people I’d rather avoid.

“You’re gonna have to get used to crawling out of your hole now and then if you wanna make the big bucks, Emma.” Rico gives another hoarse laugh, coughing wetly. I wrinkle my nose. 

“I like my spot in the shop,” I tell him defensively. “And it makes me enough.”

He and I both know that isn’t true. I’ve been a working tattoo artist for four years now–a good one, too, with plenty of recommendations from clients I’ve worked on–but LA is an expensive city. 

Those expenses have only gotten worse in the last few months.

“Don’t fuck this up, Emma,” Rico warns. “I’ll let him know you’re on your way. But you’re dealing with this. You better make sure he knows just how apologetic you are for the tardiness, understand?”

I clench my teeth so hard I can almost feel my jaw pop. The last thing I want to do is bow and scrape in front of whoever this guy is, trying to get him to ‘forgive’ me for running late. As if I’m intentionally keeping him waiting–as if I’d rather be sitting in traffic than getting my fucking job done so I can go home to a bowl of ice cream and an epsom salt bath for my hands. 

But telling Rico that isn’t going to get me anywhere.

“Fine.” I’m sure he can hear how aggravated I am, but that I can’t help. “I’ll make sure he’s aware that I’m sorry I’m late.”

“I certainly hope so.” Rico coughs again, hacking long enough that I consider simply hanging up and letting him think I lost his call. “You do good work, Emma. He’ll be pleased, as long as you can keep that attitude of yours in check.”

“Sure thing, boss.” I do hang up then, before he can say anything else. I know the compliment was genuine, but I’ve had enough of Rico for one night. Anything kind he ever says is always sandwiched between two layers of shit.

If he wasn’t one of the most well-known and well-respected artists in the city, I’d have left the Night Orchid years ago. 

The traffic starts to pick up a little, and I let out a sigh of relief. A breeze drifts in through the window, bringing with it a whiff of some expensive-smelling food that makes my stomach rumble. The sidewalks are clogged with people heading out for a Friday night’s entertainment, and I glance at them as I drive. I’m entirely out of place here. A Lamborghini pulls around me, turning into a parking garage, and I see the man in the driver’s seat wrinkle his nose at my Chevelle. The pretty blonde next to him laughs, whispering something.

I flick them both off, just in time to see the blonde’s eyes widen. 

I check my directions as I get close to my destination, seeing a closed-off parking garage underneath a high-rise. It’s not the type just anyone can pull into either–as I get closer, I see one entrance flanked by black-garbed security guards that look like they’re packing serious heat. My stomach twists a little–heavy security is to be expected, especially if this guy is a celebrity, but it still makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like the idea of hanging out in someone’s penthouse surrounded by a small private army.

Unfortunately, I’m not getting much of a choice.

I turn into the garage, stopping as one of the security guards walks up to my window. “What’re you doing here, little lady?” He peers at me, his gaze sweeping over first my attire, then my car. His expression says that he thinks I’m either lost, or somewhere I have no right to be.

“Emma Garcia. I’m here on Rico Axton’s behalf. He’s out sick, so I’m tattooing his client. I’m fifteen minutes late,” I add, as apologetically as I can manage. “I was expected at seven.”

“Hang on. Let me call up and verify.” The guard takes a step back, reaching for the walkie at his hip. “Hey. Lady by the name of Garcia–mhmm, says she’s here for someone called Rico Axton. Tattoo artist–yeah. Send her in? Alright.”

The guard glances back at me, clipping the walkie back onto his belt. “Go on,” he says roughly. “Park towards the front. Door to the elevator up is on your right. Don’t go near any of the boss’s cars.” He hands me a slim plastic key. “This’ll take you up to the penthouse floor. Boss’ll be waiting up there.”

I take the card, pulling forward into the garage. As I get out and collect my equipment out of the trunk, I can’t help but take a look around–and whistle low under my breath as I get a look at the collection of cars and motorcycles on display.

I love cars. It’s not the most feminine of interests, but I grew up an only child with a father who came to LA to be a stunt driver. I grew up handing my father wrenches and going to the dinner table with smears of grease under my nails, and I’ve never shaken that–especially now. So looking around the garage and seeing an array of cars that would make any collector’s palms itch is enough to both send a wave of aching nostalgia through me–and make me possibly dislike this guy a little less.

At the very least, he has good taste. 

The urge to walk through the garage and take a look at them all is strong. Right off the bat I see a ‘69 Mustang Boss, a ‘62 Ferrari, a ‘54 Mercedes Gullwing, even a classic Mini Cooper. There’s a row of motorcycles too, which I know less about, but I catch sight of a Triumph Thruxton and an Indian Scout, and it’s all I can do not to go and take a closer look. But I can feel the watchful gaze of the security on me, so I hang a left and head towards the frosted glass that leads to the elevator instead, my bag slung over one shoulder.

I step inside, and I’m almost immediately confronted with two more guards flanking the elevator, both of them looking at me suspiciously as soon as they see me. I hold up the slim card, waving it like a flag as I stop in my tracks. “I’ve got–clearance to go up,” I tell them, sounding like an idiot to my own ears, but it’s enough. They nod, moving aside a little so I can hit the button for the elevator, feeling more than a little uncomfortable. They’re as speechless as the Buckingham palace guards, standing closer than I’d like as I wait for the elevator to come down.

Once inside, I let out a breath. I glance at my reflection in the mirror–brushing the pieces of hair sticking to my forehead away, trying to relax my jaw so I don’t look quite as much like I want to bite someone’s head off. Resting bitch face can be a boon in my industry, but I have a feeling this guy isn’t going to appreciate it.

Normally I wouldn’t give a shit, but tonight I kind of have to.

The doors open, and I step out. Unsurprisingly, there’s more security, and I flash the card at them again. “I’m here for an appointment,” I tell them flatly, feeling as if I’ve had to run a gauntlet to get up here. “Emma Garcia. I’m filling in for Rico Axton.”

This time, one of the guards verifies me again. He runs the same spiel that the one down in the parking garage did through his walkie, and then finally nods, turning to wave a keycard in front of the blinking lock on the front door. 

“Boss is inside. Go on in.”

I don’t really know what to expect. I step in between the two guards, pushing the door open, and step into a room that smells of leather and sandalwood. 

I see immediately that it’s an open floor plan, one huge space walled in on three sides by nothing but glass windows, letting the lights from the city flood in and add to the illumination of the space. On the left, there’s a modern kitchen that’s all gleaming stainless steel and black granite, cleaned so impeccably that I’d bet I could see my reflection in the countertops. There’s a half-moon bar with the same black granite separating the kitchen from the rest of the space, with industrial-style barstools in front of it, and antique brass shelving on the opposite wall with liquor bottles and crystal glasses. In front of me is a sprawling living room with long dark leather couches and an industrial-style coffee table with a neat stack of books on one end, set in the center of a thick tufted rug. There’s a long table near one of the windows with an antique record player on it, piping out mellow music that fills the space, and I see an iron staircase that leads up to the second floor. 

At the far end of the room, his back to me as he looks out of the window, is a dark-haired man. He’s wearing what I assume must be casual clothes to him–dark grey chinos tailored so perfectly that I can’t miss the curve of his firm ass, and a fitted black button-down with the sleeves rolled up that highlights the lean musculature of his back and upper arms. He doesn’t move, as if he didn’t hear me come in, and I clear my throat with muted annoyance, setting down my equipment bag with a thud.

There’s a brief pause, and then the man turns to face me.

My first thought is that he’s incredibly gorgeous. Thick dark hair expertly cut, a shadow of stubble on his chiseled jaw, that perfect muscled body under the fitted clothing, and sharp green eyes that fix squarely on me the moment he turns to look. But that’s hardly unusual here. Especially in this area, a person could trip over five supermodels before they walk a block. Still, there’s something arresting about him–a certain presence that could be arrogance, but I’m not certain that it is. I’m not sure what to make of him.

The man presses his lips together–full soft-looking lips, I notice, much to my own annoyance–and looks at me curiously.

You’re my tattoo artist? Not what I was expecting, when Rico said he was sick and sending someone to cover for him.” A perturbed expression crosses his face. “I put the deposit for this down months ago.”

I’m hardly Rico’s biggest fan, but I feel a flash of irritation. “It’s not as if he got the flu on purpose to inconvenience you,” I tell him tartly. 

His mouth twitches at the corners, as if I’ve amused him. “I’m sure he didn’t. And you are?”

“Emma Garcia. I apologize for being late–” I force the words out despite my resistance to apologize to this man for anything. “--and I assure you, I’m more than capable of handling whatever it is that you wanted Rico to do for you–”

“I’m sure you are.” His voice is deceptively mild, but I’m pretty sure I catch a hint of disbelief. It’s nothing new–we get walkins to the Night Orchid all the time who don’t believe a woman can be a capable tattoo artist–but it pisses me off all the same. I’ve spent my career in a male-dominated field, ignoring catcalls and lewd remarks and disparaging commentary from peers and clients alike, until I got to a position where I could tell some of them to fuck off.

I can’t tell this man to fuck off, though. I have a feeling he’d simply have me thrown out of his building, and then I’d be out of a job as soon as Rico heard about it. 

He smiles, displaying perfect white teeth, as perfect as the rest of him. “My apologies,” he says smoothly. “I’ve been terribly rude in not introducing myself. I’m Dante Campano.”

Campano.

Everything around me slows for a moment, my pulse picking up with a sudden nervous staccato as I recognize the name, and wonder if it might not be worth the risk to my job to simply turn around and leave. The overwhelming security presence, and their attitude, suddenly makes chilling sense.

This client isn’t a celebrity or a businessman or an athlete.

He’s a mafia boss.

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