Carmen’s close to concluding her college career, but one major obstacle stands in her path: Sizemore, her pervy professor. Her FWB relationship with sexy IT tech Stefan offers Carmen the perfect distraction—until an unexpected twist of fate restricts their interactions.
Throughout lockdown, Carmen searches for creative ways to keep herself occupied while she waits out the pandemic. Stefan can handle her when she’s hot to trot, but will he stick around when she’s down and out? During their first post-vax soirée, a jaw-dropping blast from the past flips the script on Carmen’s expectations of a steamy reunion with Stefan—and pushes their f*ckship into uncharted waters.
Primer 2: Masking is the standalone sequel to short story “Primer.”
Warning: This book contains explicit sexual content and strong language. Reader discretion is advised.
A reedy electronic drum, interspersed with succinct taiko accent hits and the occasional beep of what sounds like a life support machine, enhances Liger’s Den’s ambiance. I’m not sure what to expect, but the mystery’s keeping me agitated. Like a whiny kid, I tug on Stefan’s sleeve, beseeching him, “C’mon, let me see,” with little kitty-cat meows and purring promises of sexual fulfillment to be paid in full once he removes the blindfold.
He sweeps his fingertips over the electric-blue lightweight polyester of my low-cut, kimono-sleeved cocktail romper. “Mystery is part of the experience.”
Even the tiniest hint would earn him a hummer…but he won’t budge on his “sworn secrecy” stance. He’s the only person I’ve dated whose stubbornness exceeds my own. Gotta say, I love riling him up—I go wild for his disapproval (jungle noises included).
Ever the reaction-seeker, I pout and mumble as he keeps his hand on the small of my back, and the blindfold-facemask lace-and-leather combo he ordered from some kink website that claims to “put the safety of its players first” stays put. Damnit! Since my nose is obscured by two layers of fabric, plus one layer of fusible lining, I can’t smell as well as I’d prefer; nevertheless, I detect the odor of fresh fish. Clean, just-caught, still-flapping-on-the-deck-gasping-for-breath-until-it took-a-hammer-blow-to-the-head fresh. Also: spice. Salt à la soy sauce. Sweet, dark fruit. A hint of amber incense, though not enough to overpower the odor of food. The urge to tear off my blindfold is stronger than ever.
“Ugh,” I mutter. “I must look the fool.”
He breathes in my ear. (Minty!) “If fools looked like you, there’d be fewer crazy people in the world.”
Corny, and somewhat nonsensical, but his compliment totally wins me over. I stick out my chest, peacocking a bit.
“That blindfold is sexy,” a random person opines, seemingly from a height above Stefan. “Take good care of her, man.”
I want to point out that the stranger’s statements are neither grammatically nor logically consistent (is “her” supposed to mean me, or the blindfold?), but I let it go.
“She takes pretty good care of herself,” I say in a loud voice, raising my chin. “But it’s nice to have an escort.”
Stefan chuckles. “I love it when you’re sassy.”
“When am I not?”
He leans down to whisper, “When you’re begging me to come.”
I blush. It’s totally true.
“Stefan, party of two?” (I presume Stefan nods during the pause.) “Right this way,” our flute-voiced hostess directs.
The chatter of patrons dims and the pervasive odors morph into a distinctive perfume that’s difficult to place. The scent is familiar—I’ve probably sampled it before at a department store or caught a whiff of it in the beauty catalogs that arrive via snail mail. Exotic, citrusy, classically feminine. As I’m attempting to identify it, Stefan guides me to a seated position. This chair’s not the most comfortable place to rest my derriere, but I don’t mind a hard bottom. (Or a sore one, depending on what/who makes it ache.)
“You’ll wait here in the anteroom until it’s time for the main course. Per your reservation request, we’ve prepared your drinks to enjoy beforehand,” the hostess says. “Is there anything else you need at the moment, sir?”
“We’re good, thanks,” I hear Stefan reply.
“Your server Angelica will be right with you.”
I hear her leave. “Now can I take off the blindfold?”
“I want to see.”
“You’ll see when the time is right. Just be patient.”
“Boo.” I squeeze my hands together. “You’re having too much fun in the driver’s seat.”
His tone turns playful. “I promise I’ll let you drive me later tonight.”
I huff. “You’d better. And I get to pick the position.”
“Ladies’ choice.” His voice sounds clearer, like he’s removed his mask. “Ready to see where we are?”
“I was born ready.”
“Take off your mask. I’ll handle the blindfold.”
After I comply with his order, I feel his hands loosen the visual restraint.
My eyes need a moment to adjust; but when they do, I notice we’re in private room with Japanese tapestries decorating the walls and soft glowing light fixtures suspended from the ceiling.
I whistle my approval. “Classy.”
The table, low to the ground, is long enough to accommodate a party of ten. A carafe of heated sake and two glasses of ice water rest upon it. Stefan hands me a one-page, two-sided menu. Skimming the front, I notice there aren’t many meal options. I flip it over, expecting to see more choices; instead, there are headshots of a gorgeous young women vastly different in appearance, like a cornucopia of ethnicities. I’m not exactly comfortable with the spread, so to speak.
“What the hell kinda place is this?” I demand.
Stefan indicates the model line-up. “Which one do you like?” He caresses my knee under the table. “I’ve been trying to figure out your type.”
I put down the menu. “Why?” Gulping the sake he poured for me, I say, “What are you plotting?”
“Nothing much.” He squeezes my lower thigh as he drinks sake. “I’ve seen you check out girls before.”
“Bah!” I drain my cup and replenish our drinks. “I’m not here for the scenery.”
“But it’s fun to window shop.” Stefan shifts in his seat. “I like the brunette with the flower in her hair.” He taps her picture with his pointer finger. “She has great posture.”
Is this what we’re doing now? Browsing “merchandise”? Window shopping for women? Hello, confusion!
“I was under the impression you were already satisfied with your choice in decor.” I’m trying super-hard not to sound huffy. But seriously, what the hell? Is he trying to make me jealous? It’s not exactly working, since I’m all for checking out hot women; at the same time, he’s never overtly mentioned his wandering eye before. Maybe he’s testing me—he does get off on pushing boundaries.
“Hello, how are you both doing tonight?” says a female voice near the now-opened door. “It’s my pleasure to serve you.” A lovely young woman with slicked-back hair comes to stand beside the table. She gives us a welcoming smile. “Have you decided, or do you need more time to look at the menu?”
“We’ll have the Immersive Experience with Number Eight, please.” Stefan hands her our menus. “And another round of sake.” He examines her name tag. “Angelica.”
“Certainly.” She sweeps the menus under her arm. “You’ve made a wise decision. Number Eight is a popular choice.”
He smiles. “Great to hear.”
“You’re pretty confident you know what I want,” I say after Angelica’s out of earshot. “What’s the ‘Immersive Experience’ anyway?”
Tipping the remainder of the sake into our cups, Stefan explains, “An opportunity to sample every dish the menu has to offer. You love trying new things, Carmen. Trust me”—he clinks his jade-green porcelain cup with mine— “I have a good idea about your likes and dislikes.”
“There’s still a lot about me you don’t know.”
He takes my hand. “Lockdown’s been rough. Let’s enjoy our freedom.”
His touch calms me. Bonus: he looks super-dapper—sartorially yummy—in his bespoke royal-purple threads. This is the first time I’ve seen him wear a suit and tie, and I like it.
“Agreed. To unfettered enjoyment.” My sake cup’s now empty, so I lift my glass of water. “And to our first getaway since the influx of COVID madness.”
Angelica reappears to drop off our fresh round. She hands us piping-hot towels to steam-clean our hands, followed by our own personal mini pump of Purell.
“Please remember to sanitize in between courses.”
My smile falters. Her necessary reminder of caution is a killjoy.
Stefan catches my eyes. “It is what it is.”
“Enjoy your drinks.” Our sleek-haired server bustles off to the adjoining room. I must admit—having our own private nook to dine in is a luxury. I feel thoroughly fancy-fied.
“I heard they have restaurants like this in Japan,” I say after Stefan serves me another cup of sake. “You get your own room and cook your own food.”
“We won’t be cooking our own food, but I think you’ll be glad for the privacy.” Stefan winks.
“Absolutely. Don’t want anyone to witness my transformation into a human composter. I’m hungry enough to—”
There’s a polite knock on the closed sliding door. At the same time, Angelica returns.
“Your model is ready.” She gestures to the door leading to what I assume is the dining room. “Would you care to take your drinks and follow me?”
“Model?” I look to Stefan for clarification.
“You’ll see.” Standing, he picks up the sake carafe and his cup. “Are you ready for a feast?”