THE STRANGER BEHIND THE MASK

SYNOPSIS

“The Stranger Behind The Mask” is a romantic erotica, involving a cheated wife who has lost not only her faith in love, but her self-esteem. One night, she accepts a friend’s invitation to go to a very high-end sex club, where members are not allowed to remove their masks. There, she meets the man who would change all she knew about herself. Along the following weeks, she can’t resist seeing him over and over again and she feels more beautiful and desired than ever. Helena couldn’t be happier until she finds out that her new love has committed the fraud of the century. Now, to embark in this highly fulfilling romance, she will have to say goodbye to her friends and her successful career, change her identity, and leave her country to never return.  


Book

Prologue

London – Early ‘90s


After being tormented for years by the paparazzi, three friends from the wealthiest families in London founded a private club where prominent men and women could enjoy a variety of sexual adventures, without the risk of ending up in the tabloids. 

The Fleur de Lis was more of a concept rather than a physical building—its venue changed often in order to serve an increasing, worldwide membership. It was a temple of pleasure for the body and for the mind. But mostly, it was a place to meet people who would remain strangers after the party was over. Couples were not allowed, nor was revealing one’s identity. 

In short, it was a forum that provided total anonymity. 


Chapter 1

 

Monaco, Fall of 2012.

 

Tonight her name would be Rose

The mask concealed the upper half of her face, and her hair was tied underneath a black beret.

Why did I choose a flower’s name to do something so dirty? 

It did not matter.

Not after all that had happened in the past couple of weeks. Not after the two glasses of Champagne she had downed minutes ago, in the limousine, to muster the courage to walk through those doors. She needed to do something wrong, something promiscuous, just for a change. 

She was tired of being the good girl.

 

Rose’s best friend, was old money from London and had been a member of the club for a long time. She was allowed to invite two guests a year and had always tried to convince Rose to accompany her. She had not been successful until tonight.

“I can’t believe I finally persuaded you!” Rose’s friend said, as she sat in front of a computer to pick up her own pseudonym. “But I’m glad I did. That bastard no longer deserves your loyalty.”

“Please, don’t talk about George or I won’t be able to have any fun.”

“Good point! Here, you will find la crème de la crème. Why think about that loser?”

A robotic voice instructed Rose’s friend to rest her arm in a triangular platform on her right. As she did, the device stamped a temporary tattoo on her wrist, with the pseudonym Violet

“Let’s all be flowers tonight, honey!” Violet smiled. “Now seriously, remember the rules I told you because they are very strict here. Have fun, but don’t let alcohol or drugs drive you too crazy. If a guest breaks a rule, the member who brought him or her is expelled, in which case I would just kill you.”

Rose laughed. “Fair enough.”

“And–”

“–I know, I know… Keep your mask on and never reveal your name. Don’t worry. The last thing I want tonight is to be myself. I will find a hot guy who will fuck my brains out. I won’t exchange two words with him.”

Violet laughed out loud. “Wow! You don’t even sound like yourself. I love it! That’s the spirit, honey. That’s the spirit!”

                                                                  ***

As the car service parked in front of the secret venue, he turned to the friend who had invited him there, “After six months of hiding, I can’t believe I am going to a party!”

“That was the point of coming here, right?” his friend responded. “You are wearing a mask and there is no chance that anyone will recognize you.” 

“I know. But my face was on the cover of every newspaper and magazine around the world. Coming out in public, even behind a mask, still sends a chill through my spine.”

 His friend threw him a playful smile. “Your chills will vanish when you meet all those open-minded women inside. And did you notice how special these masks are?”

“Yeah. When you mentioned we had to wear masks I pictured something like a Venetian masquerade, but these are quite comfortable.”

“They were designed especially for us. This smooth, flexible cloth clings onto the contours of your face, allowing you not only to have sex but to sleep with it. Trust me, I did both things with it on and it is very, very comfortable.”

Both men laughed as they headed to the main door, where a masked hostess waited for them. She was tall and blonde, and wore a long silver dress. “Good evening, gentlemen. May I see your invitations?”

The man who was the club member handed the hostess an envelope. After reading it, she smiled. “Welcome to the Fleur de Lis. This way, please.”

A muscular security guard escorted the two guests to a room where they were required to choose pseudonyms. When they were alone, the club member, who was familiar with the protocol, sat before the computer. 

He chose the pseudonym King

When he was done, his guest took a seat. Finding most of the options on the screen either stupid or obnoxious, he ended up choosing simply John

“Now let’s go,” King said, excited. “We’ve been to crazy parties before, my friend, but nothing like this.”

“Why do you say that?” John asked.

“Because most parties have beautiful girls who have nothing in their heads. The annual membership here costs 25,000 pounds, so every girl inside is not a model or a prostitute, she’s a member. And they are smart, rich, worldly, and very discreet. This club is the most well-kept secret among the global elite. And we are nearly a thousand members now!”

John scoffed. “Are you telling me about secrets well-kept? Bullshit. I wouldn’t be in my current situation if people were able to keep big secrets. And I just trusted one person, not a thousand, and she betrayed me.”

“Well, we’ve been friends for twenty years and I always told you my opinion about Susan. She was a professional gold digger. She thought she could make more money by selling you out, so she did it. But I will tell you why secrets work here. No celebrities or crazed new rich are accepted. With few exceptions, all members are old money, so they care enough about their reputations to follow the rules and keep things off the radar. And just in case, the club’s board has everyone in their hands because membership candidates have to submit their photo ID and personal information for approval.”

“That makes sense. No one wants their files to see the light of the day if your little secret society is discovered, right?”

“Exactly.”

“Well, next girlfriend I have, I will make sure I have something juicy to blackmail her with before I tell her my secrets.”

 

John felt his throat constrict as a massive glass door slid open, granting them access to a main room filled with elegant men and women behind chic, form-fitting masks. The place itself was extraordinary: wood-paneled walls, crystal chandeliers, Persian rugs and expensive art . The air smelled of cinnamon and something else that John couldn’t quite distinguish—something foreign, and slightly citric that was incredibly seductive. The soft, sensual instrumental music, combined with the dim candlelight, enveloped the guests in a sublime atmosphere, perfect to liberate one’s mind from the realities of everyday life. 

 

John wasn’t in the mood, however. In his mind, he was still reading tomorrow’s headlines bearing photos of him trying to flee the authorities. That thought made him laugh—maybe he had become a little paranoid these past six months. King was right. It was time for him to have a taste of freedom. But he never thought he would have the guts to go out again, knowing that the FBI was still chasing him, despite his attempt to fake his death. Despite the masks, he had the impression that everyone was staring at him. He often caught himself touching his mask just to make sure that his notorious face was still hidden. 

 

“Calm down, man,” said King, chuckling. “No one ever knew about our friendship, so the authorities have no clue that you are here with me. And with this mask, not even I would be able to recognize you. Let’s have a drink. It will help you relax!"

 

The mansion sported three floors for the guests to explore, each boasting a vast bar and distinct atmospheres. The grand room on the first floor was for the shy guests, or the novices, as the veterans called them. There, members would keep their clothes on all night and drink, talk, flirt, and if they felt like it, make out on the sofas scattered about. The second floor was for those who wished to have sex with one or two other members. And the third was an isolated area, only for those willing to enter entirely naked and to experiment with group sex.

 

King was a fan of the big orgies, but he would let his friend acclimatize on the first floor for a while, before giving him the grand tour. John was a lover of wine, and that’s what he would have normally ordered. But tonight he needed something stronger, so when the barman brought their drinks, he downed an entire glass of Scotch straight-up and immediately asked for another.

“Not bad!” said King, patting his friend’s shoulder. “But before you get awfully drunk let’s go talk to those hot chicks over there.” 

John nodded, and they headed to a group of three young women, sitting around a plush table in a corner of the room. The ladies smiled, receptive, and invited them to join in. King quickly slid onto the couch, squeezing between a black girl and a brunette. John deposited himself in a nearby chair, and a tall blonde in a red dress sat on the arm of his seat. 

“So shy…” she told him. “I bet it’s your first time here.”

“It’s that obvious?”

“Sure is. But it’s ok, I was shy my first time, too.” She took a sip of Champagne and leaned toward him. “How do you like it so far?”

John glanced at the name on the blonde’s wrist tattoo. “Seems like fun, Belle.”

The woman smiled. “Would you like it to get even better?” Before John could push out half a syllable, she gently slipped onto his lap and kissed him.

When the girl pulled away, John smiled back. “You do know how to make things interesting.”

King and the other two girls were getting up. “We’re going upstairs. Would you guys like to come with us?”

Belle shot up and grabbed John’s hand. “Let’s go! It’ll be fun.”

The second floor wasn’t quite the brothel scene that John had imagined. Most guests were chatting with one another, or kissing discreetly. John had to hand it to them: in spite of their liberal ideas about sex, these people had class. 

The first room they entered was taken, so King led them to a second, and then a third. In the last door, John saw three beds: the first was occupied by a naked couple, while the third held two girls and a man who were caressing one another in a slow, rhythmic slither. The second group hadn’t fully stripped—they kept their under garments on as well as their masks. But the rest of their clothing rested in a messy pile on the rug. 

King turned to John and grinned. “One bed left! It’ll be tight, but who cares?”

The three girls giggled and pranced ahead. When they reached the bed, they threw an inviting glance at the two men. 

“Why don’t you guys get started?” John said, turning to King. “I just need to freshen up. I’ll be right back.”

 

Returning to the hallway, John bore a defeated expression. Going to that club hadn’t helped. Who am I kidding? he thought. Susan is a bitch and she betrayed me, but I can’t get her off my mind…

He had quit smoking, but tonight his nerves were a wreck. He needed at least one cigarette. To his surprise, smoking was prohibited inside the house. So he asked the barkeep where he could escape for some fresh air for a few moments, and headed upstairs to the roof. 

 

The 2500-square-foot roof had been transformed into a true landscaping gem. At the entrance to the rooftop garden stood a marble fountain with the sculpture of two lovers, lost in a passionate kiss. It was encircled by stone mosaics, which lent the place the charm of a Mediterranean piazza. The surrounding sections were adorned with emerald grass, neatly pruned bushes and miniature palm trees. But the most fascinating touch was the living fence around the garden, shaped as six-foot walls. They zig-zagged over the entire terrace, forming triangular rooms, nicknamed islands. Having a trained eye for luxury, John quickly realized the grandeur of the project. The islands were lit up in different colors: amber, orange, red, violet, green, and blue, and he bet that each one of them carried the signature of a famous designer.

 

In the summer, the garden was one of the best seats in the house. But it was November, and despite the space heaters and the thick glass dome above his head, the temperature there was slightly lower than that inside the house. That night, with the exception of a few smokers sitting alone by the piazza, the place was empty. 

John lit the cigarette the barman had given him and headed to the blue island. Up close, it was even more sensational. The living fence gave it plenty of privacy, and the décor resembled a club’s lounge with modern white couches, lamps in abstract shapes, thick rugs, and acrylic coffee tables.  

For a moment, John forgot that he was in a garden. He stood there for a few minutes, then put out his cigarette, and continued walking along the flat stone path that led to the other islands. As he approached the amber-colored section, located farthest from the entrance, he heard an argument. 

John froze on the spot. When the commotion quieted down, he approached the fence and peered over it. Instead of a couple, he found a woman, sitting alone. 

 

The stranger was not a bombshell, like the blonde he had kissed before, but there was something elegant about her. She was petite, with a creamy-white complexion. Her black lace dress traced the curves of a slim body, with fit legs that were crossed in front of her. Her hair was a chocolate brown, though its length was impossible to discern, hidden underneath a beret. 

 

The island’s entrance was just a few yards ahead of him, and no one had left. As John speculated who the stranger had been talking to, a shrill ringing startled him, and he realized that the argument had taken place over her cell phone. 

The girl looked away, trying to ignore the ringtone, but after the sixth ring, she answered. “What else do you want?!” 

John could not make himself leave. Hiding behind the fence, he tried to make sense of the fragmented dialogue that was unraveling before him.

Suddenly, the girl got up and paced back and forth, gesticulating widely with her free hand. “You are a goddamned liar! Don’t try to argue with me!”

Another round of silence and then she shouted, “Go be with her then! Go to hell for all I care!” And to John’s amazement, she threw her phone over the fence. 

Wow! And I thought I had witnessed hot fights! he thought, containing his laughter.

The phone rang again and John discovered it had landed near the base of a bush. He waited for the woman to come find it, yet the first round of ringing stopped, then another began, and she remained immobile, sitting on the couch. 

John decided to fetch the phone for her. As he got on his knees to grab it, he spotted the name “George,” on the screen. This time he laughed. You’re in big trouble, buddy.

 

When John reached the entrance to the island, the woman was crying with her head down. She had removed her mask, and when she raised her chin to dry her tears, John caught a glimpse of her face. She possessed plain features, as he had surmised on his first appraisal of her, but she also appeared so fragile. She reminded him of his first girlfriend, back when he was fifteen. 

In those days, John didn’t have billions in his bank account. He was merely the son of an insurance salesman who struggled to support his wife and four kids. But the upside of being poor was that the women in his life would love him for who he was. This had drastically changed after he became a billionaire. Although most considered him smart, funny, and quite attractive for a 44-year-old, he only seemed to attract materialistic women like Susan. 

 

This was a unique opportunity for John—he would finally be able to talk to a normal woman, who was also rich, and whose heart had been broken, just like his. 

The woman was staring down at her feet now, apparently too crushed to even notice that she was being watched. She blew her nose in a paper tissue, and refastened her mask.

John found it funny that despite all her stress, she was committed to keeping the club’s rules. This reveals a lot about her personality, he thought. She is probably the type who’s afraid of punishment and does as she is told… 

John was intrigued. He wanted to know why this woman had come to a sex club in such a poor state of mind. And he wanted to find out who George was and what had happened between them. He was fully aware that his curiosity was unreasonable, and he should just leave this poor soul alone. But unlike her, he did not always follow the rules. 

 

The woman raised her head, as she sensed somebody approaching, and her hazel eyes  met John’s through the slits in his mask. 

“I guess this belongs to you,” he said, as he handed her the phone.

The mysterious woman seemed embarrassed as she realized he had witnessed her fight, but then she offered him a small smile and said, “I hope it didn’t hit your head.” 

John had expected just about anything to have come out of her mouth, except a joke. He laughed. “No, it didn’t. But there is a small crack on your screen.”

“It’s okay. Thank you, and sorry about the drama.”

“No problem.”

She accepted the phone, but John didn’t leave. His eyes rested on her right wrist for a moment, and then he said, “This is my first time here and I’m feeling a bit out of place. Do you mind if I sit with you, Rose?”

Rose had felt awful throughout the party, so she came up to the rooftop to be alone. She certainly was not in the mood for some idiot to hit on her. However, this dark-haired stranger was polite; he didn’t seem like the aggressive types she had met downstairs. 

She deliberated over the man’s request and then said, “As you can see, I’m not having my best night and will probably be terrible company. But, go ahead, I don’t mind you sitting with me.”

John gently slid onto the couch beside her. “You know what? Some of my dearest memories were spent in the company of strangers. They never judged me. They were always honest and allowed me to be myself. We had great conversations. Even when they were having a bad day, just like you.”

Rose had to admit that if that was a come on, it was a smart one. That man had class and she felt comfortable with him. “I guess you are right. I like talking to strangers, too. People who know me normally think they have me all figured out, and I hate it because they rarely do. Strangers are the ones who actually listen to you.”

“I couldn’t agree more. So would you like to talk to this stranger here about what just happened to you?”

Rose appreciated his humor and she liked the playful way this man presented himself. Yet, she shook her head. “No...I’d rather drink a lot and talk about something happy.”

“Like what?” 

“Like the beautiful beaches you’ve been to. I’m jealous. I see you’ve got a fabulous tan.” 

John rose from the couch, a smile curling the corners of his mouth. “If you promise not to go anywhere, I will grab us some drinks and then I’ll tell you everything.”

“All right. But don’t take long or I’ll go back into the casino. I was having more fun at the roulette table.”

“Oh, are you a big gambler?”

“Aren’t we all?”

This woman was a box of surprises. John was more and more intrigued by her the more she spoke. “I guess we are. Would you like anything in particular?”

“No. Whatever you are having.”

“I will be back in no time.”

 

John returned with fresh glasses and two bottles of Pinot Noir.

 Rose greeted him with a wide smile. “You exceeded my expectations! I love red wine. I guess it will have to do as my therapist for the moment.” 

John filled their glasses and Rose said, “Now tell me your name. I can’t see it from here and I don’t want to spend the rest of the night calling you Mr. Nice Tan.”

John smiled. “My real name or my name for tonight?”

“Whatever. I won’t see you again anyway.”

He handed a glass to Rose. “Would you tell me your real name?”

“No.”

“So let’s stick with our tattoos. Call me John.” He accommodated himself beside her and tasted his wine. “Not bad. Do you like it?”

“A lot!” Rose emptied her glass in a heartbeat, and extended it to John for him to refill. As he did so, she said, “You don’t look like a John.”

“And you don’t look like a Rose.”

“Of course I don’t. Roses are beautiful and I have always been the plain girl. On my best days I can manage to look cute. That’s why my husband has been having an affair for three years.” She let out an ironic laugh and brought the glass back to her lips.  

“I am very sorry to hear that.”

“Don’t be. You guys are all about looks and I should have known that George was no different. We met when we were teenagers. We dated, married, and then…poof! Just like that, once he caught wind of a hotter ass, he forgot all about our wonderful history together, about our love.”

 “You shouldn’t be so tough on yourself. You are an attractive woman.”

“Oh, please. You don’t need to be condescending just because I was crying. I won’t fuck you just because that asshole cheated on me.”

“I am not being condescending, and you don’t need to be rude.”

Rose was not drunk, but tipsy enough to have a loose tongue. She knew she shouldn’t have said those things, but she was not ready to apologize. She just wanted to go home, but she knew Violet was having fun downstairs and she would take a while.  Rose decided to ask their driver to take her home and then go back to pick up her friend. 

“I guess it’s time for me to leave,” she told John. “I am tired and need some sleep…or maybe some more wine at home, by myself.”

“Well, I don’t think you should be alone. Since we are here and, as you said, not fucking, how about we give the wine a break and talk, like good strangers talk?”

“I don’t want to talk anymore. I told you enough and I—”

“I still haven’t told you how I got my fabulous tan.”

John was smiling now, a perfect, sexy smile, and Rose laughed. “You are such a character! Ok, glasses down. Let’s see if you can entertain me better than the wine.”

“I bet I can.”

“Not with your charm, stranger. Tell me an amazing story.”

 “All right. How about this one? This is my first trip to civilization in over six months. I’m a notorious crook and have been hiding on my private island, with nothing but the beach as company. That’s where my tan comes from.”

Rose cracked up. “Good one! But what happened to being honest with strangers?’

She was fun and the sound of her laughter was warm and welcoming. It was easy to talk to her, but as tempting as it would seem, John knew he shouldn’t go too far. Even as a joke. “This house is a place for fantasy,” he said. “As a member, you should know that, my dear.” 

“I guess you are right. But you know about my husband and all his cheating, so please, level with me. What was the worst thing a woman has done to you?”

John could answer that. Or at least, make up a story that was reasonably faithful to what Susan had done to him. “She betrayed me. But not because she was seeing another guy. I told her a big secret and she told my...boss. I lost my job because of it.”

“Oh, that’s awful. But why would she do that? Did you cheat on her or something that made her feel like she should get even?”

“No. I was crazy about her and the only reason I told her something so serious was that I thought she loved me too. But apparently, she loved money more. Someone convinced her that telling on me would cut her a great deal. So I lost everything.”

John meant he had lost all that was important to him, including his reputation and Susan, not all his money. But Rose quickly dropped him to the middle-class category. “So, when you said it’s your first time here, you actually meant you are somebody’s guest for the night?”

“Yes. My friend is well-connected and told me that I needed to cheer up. But I guess I was not ready to be among so many people, so I ended up here with you. I was lucky we met and now we are having such a nice conversation.”

“Likewise, and since you are being so open, I am a guest, too. I live in New York but I’ve been here in Monaco for the past two weeks visiting an old friend. She’s a member here and insisted that I come to forget about the affair. I just wanted to feel desired after having been replaced by a more attractive woman. But an hour after I arrived here, I met this guy and when he held my arm, I jumped five feet in the air!”

John laughed. “Sorry, but you’re very good at turning tragedy into humor. It’s a big talent.”

“I’m serious. I guess despite my anger, I was not ready to have sex with a stranger I had exchanged half a dozen words with. So I ended up here, calling my idiotic husband and telling him how much he had hurt me. I thought I would feel better getting it off my chest, but I didn’t. Or, maybe I felt worse because I expected him to say that he was sorry and he wanted me back. But instead, he said he was sorry he hurt me, but he still loved her.”

Rose casually slipped out of her shoes and drew her legs up onto the couch, as if she were at home, watching TV. “You never suspected your girlfriend could betray you?” she asked.

“I guess I did. But I tend to be blind when it comes to the people I love. I refuse to see their faults.”

“You’re not the only one,” Rose said. “Maybe we should toast to the benefits of denial!”

“Please, no more drinking. You are too much fun and I don’t want you to fall asleep.”

Rose smiled. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For keeping me company. For being a gentleman and for listening to me. I’ve been feeling so bad, so confused.”

“It’s okay. You said the wine would be your therapist. I’m glad you felt comfortable to talk to me.”

“ I am glad, too. And you know something? You said you refuse to see the flaws of those you love. I guess most people don’t. George cheated on me with this woman he worked with. And although I never had any evidence that they were together, I got mortally jealous every time I saw her around him. It was like I could sense there was something going on, but I did nothing. How could I have been such an idiot?”

 “You’re not an idiot,” John replied. “It’s hard to accept betrayal from someone we trust. For a while, you feel…” He searched for the word. “…lost.”

Rose found it remarkable how John’s pain was so similar to hers. The man whose real name was unknown felt very familiar to her. “I am originally from California,” she said, “the youngest of three sisters. I was always considered the ugly duckling of my family. My sisters were athletic blondes with long, tanned legs, while I was petite, with a blindingly white complexion. I always wondered if I had been adopted. I finally decided to make up for my unattractiveness by becoming the best student in my class. I succeeded there, but still, it bothered me that my sisters were always surrounded by boys who had a great time bullying me about my skinny figure and red skin every time I went with them to the beach. ”

“It seems like you had it tough.”

“I did, and honestly what happened during those years hurt my self-esteem forever. I’m 38 years old and when I remember the woman my husband left me for, I still feel like shit. Like it’s my fault, because I am not good enough.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, don’t say that. Listen, now that you know I will not try to seduce you, would you do something for me?”

“What?”

“Can you let your hair down?”

“Why?”

“Because I find you attractive despite the mask and the beret, and it’s hard for me to fathom why you still think you are ugly.”

“I don’t think I am ugly. Just not pretty.”

“Well, you are not the tall, long legged top model type, but your dress is tight enough for me to see that you have a nice body. And, although the mask covers most of your face, I see flawless skin, beautiful almond eyes and a gorgeous smile. And I love your hands. Now I just need to see your hair. Maybe if you are bald, I will change my mind.”

Rose laughed. “I am not!”

“I need to see it with my own eyes.”

John’s sense of humor warmed Rose’s heart. She removed her beret and then the pins holding her hair up. A cascade of straight brown hair tumbled onto her shoulders.

John looked at her sternly. “Definitely a monster. I should take you to my secret island and keep you away from the eyes of the world.”

Rose laughed harder. “You are a monster! Another bully, and I shouldn’t have listened to you!” 

“All right. Now go on, tell me how you met your husband.”

“Aren’t you tired of listening to me?”

“No one has told me their story in a long time. Please, carry on.”

“Well, I studied piano since I was a kid and when I was fourteen I accidentally discovered I had a good voice.”

“Really?”

“Modesty aside, I have a great voice, actually. But I was too shy to sing in front of my family or to participate in any recitals at school. George was my colleague at the conservatory and music was his greatest passion. He was a talented pianist and aimed to become a conductor one day.”

“Is that what he does now?”

“Yes.”

“And did you become a professional singer as well?”

“Do you mind if I don’t answer that, so we don’t reveal too much about our lives?”

“Sure. I am sorry. I was just curious.”

“It’s ok. So, George encouraged me to rehearse three times a week in his garage and that became our secret. He was very persistent and helped me develop my skills. The rehearsals increased to five times a week and soon we were dating. He loved my personality and my talent and I loved him for that. George was my first boyfriend and I intended to live with him for my entire life. But now that he’s gone, I realize that I didn’t love him as much as I thought I did. Our connection faded years ago and I guess I was just too afraid to admit it.”

“You shouldn’t be afraid. You may not be like the role models of beauty that you have in your mind, but you are beautiful and interesting, funny, smart, and very, very sweet.”

“Thank you. And sorry I was rude to you before. You are exactly the kind of man I was hoping to meet tonight. I just didn’t believe I would.”

Rose looked at the masked stranger whose face she couldn’t see, whose face she would never see again, and without a second thought, she kissed him. 

John wrapped her in his arms and pulled her closer, enjoying that unexpected, pleasant surprise. They broke away for a brief moment and smiled.

“There is something else I need to add,” John said. “You are a great kisser.” 

His mask was truly comfortable, but he wanted to fully enjoy that moment and kiss Rose without it. He reached to the back of his head to unfasten his mask, but Rose grasped his wrist. 

“Please, don’t do that…”

“Why not? You actually think there’s a hidden camera here and someone will check on us?”

“No”, she whispered. “I want you, but I don’t want to know who you are.” And before John could protest again, Rose’s hands had slipped over his stomach, unfastening his belt, and unbuttoning his pants.

He had long dyed his blond hair black and gotten rid of his beard, but part of him was grateful that she had stopped him. What the heck was I thinking? What if she recognized me?  “You’re right,” he said. “You’re right.”

 

Their lips met in an infinite kiss, and their hands found secrets paths under their clothing, exploring each others’ bodies with the intimacy of old lovers. It had become clear for John why Rose had rejected the man she had met downstairs. She might have thought she wanted casual sex when she arrived at the party, but she didn’t. Her husband had hurt her deeply and she seemed to be chasing a brief illusion of romance, just to give her hope that someone better might appear in her future. Apparently, John’s confession about Susan had turned him into the ideal candidate for her fantasy one-night stand. She looked at him as if he were the most incredible thing that had ever happened to her, and it caught him completely off guard. Susan had never looked at him that way. No woman had.

John found himself trying to see through Rose’s mask again, searching for the face he had seen earlier, washed in tears. She felt so good and he loved having her in his arms, tasting her mouth, breathing the scent of her skin. But strangely, her pain and broken heart made him want her even more.

When it became impossible to wait any longer, John rolled a condom over his erection, drawing a sigh of anticipation. Then, holding her gaze, he laid on top of her in a single fluid movement, and the rest of the world ceased to exist.


Chapter 2


Lost in each other’s arms, the two lovers lay motionless on the white fabric, like a statue emerging from a block of marble. 

John slowly opened his eyes and focused his gaze on the crescent moon above the glass roof. A brunette head rested on his chest, and a delicate hand lay over his heart. Good—the night was not over just yet. 

While he rubbed Rose’s back, feeling her smooth hair dance over his fingers, he thought of how incredible this encounter had been. Not only the sex, but the intensity, the surrender. Susan had been his greatest love, but John had never felt so close to someone as in those moments by Rose’s side. 

He would need to see her again.

Rose rested her head on John’s firm chest, surrendering to the rise and fall of his breathing gently rock her in and out of sleep. She had gone to the club in search of revenge, yet had found peace. It had been so long since someone had made her feel that way. Who could the man behind this mask be? He was smart and articulated, and at the same time, empathetic and understanding. What might his profession be? John had left no clues, not even about which city he had come from—it seemed like he had lived in so many places; even his accent was hard to pinpoint. She just knew that he was American, too.

Rose smiled sadly. What does it matter who he is? I will never see him again. 

Unfortunately, logic did nothing to alleviate the sinking feeling as she remembered that soon, it would be time to leave those arms. She inhaled the citric perfume on John’s skin, and closed her eyes, savoring that magical moment. In some secret place in her heart, Rose allowed herself to dream that one day they would meet again.

The deep voice of her lover brought her back from her reverie. “Are you awake?”

"You mean to say, am I conscious?”

John laughed. “I’m not thinking clearly either. It was so intense I think I melted some neurons!”

Rose had seen John laugh before, but he was so much more handsome now that he was closer. He propped himself up with his elbows and played with the sleeve of her dress, which she never had the chance to remove. 

Right then, she felt like ripping off John’s mask and examining every detail of his strong face. Seeming to read her mind, he traced her mask with his index finger, and said, “Since you insist on keeping this part of the mystery, can you at least tell me your real name?”

Reality hit Rose like a whip and she untangled herself from John’s arms. 

“Better not…” she murmured, sitting at the edge of the couch. “It’s better to leave things as they are.”

The smile faded from John’s face and he sat by her side. “I’d like to see you again. At a normal place. Would you like that?”

Doubting her own conviction, Rose avoided his eye contact. “Of course not. This is a sex club and we had more fun than expected. We talked, we drank, and we fucked, now that’s it. I will go back to my life and you will go back to yours. You know the rules. No complications.”

“I am used to complications, and the club’s rules are irrelevant to us. We are not even members. Please, look at me and tell me what the real problem is.”

Rose sighed and then faced him. “You’re right. We can forget the club’s rules, but not the rules of real life. “I am still married and until I get divorced I’d rather not have a relationship with anyone. But even if I wanted to, you said you lost your job and all you had. So, where do you live now?”

John couldn’t answer that one, so he lied. “In Hong Kong.”

“So you see? We have a very basic geographic problem here, which means that it doesn’t make sense for me to enjoy your company for a couple of weeks and maybe fall for you, only to return home with my heart broken again.”

Rose promptly stood up and silently fixed her dress. She put her beret back on her head, and added, “It was really a pleasure meeting you, John. Enjoy your time in Monaco.”

“Wait!” John said, rising from the couch.

Rose slowly turned around, and melted under the warmth of John’s brown eyes. All her convictions wilted away in that moment. His tall, lean body rose in front of her like a protective tower, his half-open shirt revealing his broad shoulders and handsome torso. 

“Please, don’t leave like that.” He wrapped her in the most affectionate embrace and whispered over her head, “I know you want to see me again, too.”

Rose was dazed. It seemed absurd that a stranger could affect her like this, but the truth was that George had been so indifferent to her in the past few years, so absorbed in his own world, that she was no longer used to dealing with sweet, understanding men. And the more she stayed with John, the harder it would be for her to do the right thing.

She gently pulled away and said, “Why are you doing this?”

“Because I really like you and I want to convince you of how beautiful you are.”

“Stop it, ok? You know as well as I do that we stand no chance living that far. So if you like me, please don’t play games with me.”

“I’m not. And nothing is too far when we have money.”

“I agree, but we don’t have that much money and we have our careers. I don’t know about your current job, but mine demands a lot of my time. It would be too expensive and time consuming for us to fly around the globe to see each other. So, let’s be realistic. I like you, too. But this is impossible. Now, please let me go.”

“Just a question then, and please be honest.”

“All right. What do you want to know?”

“If we lived in the same city, would you be my girlfriend?”

Rose laughed. “Are you always that fast?”

“Yes. I know what I want and when I find it, I pursue it. Now, please answer me.”

“I guess I would.”

“You guess? Or you would?”

“I would.”

John smiled, although faintly. “So I want you to keep a little souvenir to remember me by.”

“I don’t need anything to remind me of you.”

“I insist.” John removed his Patek Philippe watch from his wrist and gave it to Rose.

“I can’t accept that.”

“Yes, you can, and I will feel deeply offended if you don’t.”

Rose sighed. “You are crazy, John. Totally insane.” She approached him and gave him a long kiss on his cheek. When she looked up at him again, he saw the tears accumulating in her eyes. “Goodbye,” she said, forcing a smile. “Take good care of yourself.”

“I will.”

Rose headed to the exit and before entering the elevator, she turned back and gave John one last smile. As soon as she was gone, he pulled out his cell phone and called his bodyguard.

“Greg, I need you to follow a woman for me and discover all there is to know about her. She is an American. Brunette, five-foot-six and about 115 pounds. She is wearing a black lace dress and a beret, and should be outside in a few minutes. In case she’s not, she has my watch. Use the GPS tracker to find her.”


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