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In the sexually charged world of Cirque du Monde, CEO Michel Lemaitre reigns as king of depravity. He’s a stringent, brutal Master who selects his slaves based on their ability to cope with strict handling and pain. He exerts rigid control over his chosen partners and they submit to him in all things—that is, until fiery Italian acrobat Valentina Sancia enters his life.
Valentina’s known as La Vampa, the flame of Napoli, and her tempestuous personality and wild libido soar as high as her circus tricks. Michel finds himself drawn to the red-headed firebrand even as he tries his hardest to resist her. It doesn’t help that the sensual beauty idolizes him and tempts him at every turn. He finally engages her in a one-month, no-holds-barred Master-slave relationship to prove their incompatibility.
And that’s when the circus really begins.
The two become wrapped up in bondage, cages, physical ordeals…and an emotionally fraught battle of wills. He’s never had a slave burn so bright, and Valentina’s heart is set on pleasing her Master, no matter the torment and trials she must endure. Is there such a thing as too much passion? Michel’s convinced there is, and he’s determined to tame a billowing love on the verge of blazing out of control.
Publisher’s Note: This erotic romance novel is approximately 79K words and contains sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Anal play/intercourse, m/m/f/m menage, BDSM scenes, power exchange themes, and extreme control.
Chapter One: The Flame
Michel Lemaitre looked at the clock, then shuffled posters on his desk, rearranging the second and third. All of them were trite, lacking in creativity. Since the final choice would become the promotional face of Cirque du Monde’s new show, Cirque Élémental, trite was not good enough. A waterfall? A white cat? Ridiculous.
He drew an engraved note card from his desk and composed a curt message to the art department:
If you ever send me another white cat on a poster, you will all be fired. Sincerely, M. L.
He piled up the posters and placed the note on top. “Jeanne,” he said into his intercom. When his secretary entered, he held out the packet to her. “Art Department, s’il vous plaît.”
“Oui, monsieur.” She took the papers and bustled out.
Michel stretched back in his chair, then reached past his laptop and took a file from the left side of his desk. He flipped it open, leafing past clippings and documents to find the headshot. Heart-shaped face, large, luminous hazel eyes, and vivid red hair that had earned her nickname. La Vampa—the flame. When a sharp knock sounded on the frosted glass door, he closed the file and barked, “Viens.”
Jason Beck, one of his Directors of Artistic Development, stepped into his office. You could take the coach out of California, but you couldn’t take the California out of the coach. Even now, after years in urban Paris, Jason was tanned to a subtle bronze, his chestnut hair streaked with inexplicably natural highlights. At the moment, his healthy charm was sullied by a ponderous frown.
“Well?” Michel asked, pointing to a nearby chair. “How was the practice? What do you think of her?”
Jason threw himself into the armchair and scrubbed his hands over his face. “What do I think of her? She’s a fucking maniac. She’s fearless. She’s terrifying. She’s...” His voice trailed off as he searched for an adequate descriptor. “Insane. I think that’s the simplest way to put it. Batshit insane.”
Michel steepled his fingers and pursed his lips. “Insane is a strong word. Let’s substitute eccentric, or visionary.”
“No, sorry. Did you talk to her? Did you converse with her even a little before you hired her?”
Converse with her? What did conversation matter with a performer like La Vampa? At twenty-six, she had twenty years of performance under her belt with one of Italy’s premiere circus families, starring in a banquine act that was considered the best in the world. When he’d passed her his card, he’d experienced a strange sense of recognition, or maybe precognition, that he was meant to meet this performer and bring her into his company. I’m with Cirque du Monde, he’d said. Would you like to come?
Yes, of course, she had said in luxurious English. With her accent it sounded like off course, and honestly, he had felt a bit off course as she held his gaze. Now, just in time for Élémental, Michel had procured his flame-haired flyer. Well, after he paid an ungodly sum to her family troupe as compensation for their loss.
He cleared his throat and frowned at Jason. “Whether she is insane or not, she is a highly skilled performer for whom we paid an exorbitant amount. Allowances must be made.” Insanity didn’t worry Michel Lemaitre, but Jason’s exasperated expression did. He pitched his voice to a low, soothing lilt. “Tell me about your first practice with La Vampa. I’d love to hear what has you so worked up.”
Jason’s rough exhale shifted the hair that escaped his ponytail. “Okay, where do I start? She arrived on time in the company of a gentleman purported to be her father.”
Michel raised a brow. “Purported?”
“I’ll get to that in a minute. We talked for a while, got to know each other.”
“It’s good, but when she gets excited she can be difficult to follow. And she gets excited a lot. By everything.”
Jason gave him a look that communicated a different opinion. “Anyway, she gave me a short demonstration of her skills.”
“Her acrobatics are excellent, yes?”
The director’s eyes shone with reluctant approval. “Her acrobatics are world class and her agility is astounding. Nearly as astounding as her lack of inhibition.”
Michel waved a hand. “What need have we of inhibition? We are Cirque du Monde. What else did you discover? What are her strengths and weaknesses?”
“Strengths? She’s athletic, with great natural ability. She’s amazingly comfortable in her body. Flawless balance, flawless control. She’s creative and energetic. Weaknesses...” He paused with a grimace. “Well, there’s only one real weakness. She doesn’t seem to possess an ounce of self-preservation. I spent ninety percent of the practice expecting her to break her neck. She’s insane.”
Michel shook his head. “She is an artist. The best art is fearlessly rendered.”
“That’s a real pretty saying. She still scared me to death. She also has the attention span of a flea. She stopped halfway through practice because she spotted a scrap of nylon fabric across the gym that she had to have.”
“Had to have? Why? What did she do with it?”
“She stuck it in her gym bag, God knows why. She also spent a good bit of time flirting with Adei and some of the other gymnasts.”
“Not you?” Michel asked, lips curling in amusement.
“Oh, me too. Halfway through practice I put a hoodie over my tee shirt because she was undressing me so hard with her eyes.”
Now he laughed out loud. “How wonderful for you.”
“Wonderful? First of all, I’m engaged to your daughter. Second, I’m supposed to be Valentina’s director, not her love toy. Speaking of love toys, her father—”
“You said ‘purported’ father,” Michel reminded him.
“During the break I found him with her in the locker room showers.”
“Fucking her against the wall. It didn’t look very fatherly, but Valentina seemed to be enjoying it. She wasn’t the least bit embarrassed either. She looked at me like she expected me to join in.”
“Did you join in?”
“Come now, confess. I’m not one to judge.”
Jason ruffled with impatience. “Again, I’m engaged to your daughter. And I’ve never slept with any of my performers.” At his boss’s doubtful glance, he amended, “Well, except for your daughter.”
Michel smiled at the correction. He’d sent Jason to scout his daughter last year at a circus in Mongolia, and by the time they returned, the two were embroiled in a relationship. Before then, Sara hadn’t realized she had a father in Paris, or that he owned the world famous Cirque du Monde, and Michel hadn’t realized he wanted to be a dad. At Jason’s urging, Michel had grown close to the twenty-two-year-old woman, and given her the trapeze act in his new elemental-themed production. His daughter was air, wispy and ethereally lovely.
La Vampa, he hoped, would bring the fire.
Michel tapped at the file on his desk. “Aside from Miss Sancia’s fearlessness and her voracious appetite for her fake-father, how did you find her artistry? Her tenacity? Did she take direction well?”
“Did she seem capable of intricate technique and concentration?”
“Energy, vitality. Conflagration,” Michel said with a sigh of pleasure, enjoying the feel of the word on his lips. “She’ll be perfect for Élémental.” Michel flipped open her file to show Jason the sketches and notes he’d made while the talent department labored to bring her into the fold. “Do you know what they call Valentina in Italy?”
“What’s the Italian word for ‘nymphomaniac’?”
Michel ignored this. “She is called La Vampa di Napoli,” he said. “The Flame of Naples, roughly translated. I imagine this ‘Vampa’ as a central character in our production, a motif. A woman of unbridled passion and strength, a blaze igniting inspiration wherever she goes.”
Jason scratched his temple. “Okay. But she’s crazy.”
“Excentrique,” Michel corrected.
“Excentrique,” Jason repeated with a passable Parisian lilt. “However you want to say it. She’s something else.”
Something else. Michel felt the familiar rush of inspiration. “We have earth, air, water, spirit, and now fire,” he said. “I see oranges and reds, a dynamic, vigorous act, a performer who embodies a blaze with flames reaching to the sky.”
“A character called La Vampa?”
Michel nodded. “What do you think?” He felt heartened by his director’s thoughtful expression. “These are just preliminary plans. Visions. I’ll need your help, Jason. I’ll need Valentina’s most magnificent efforts and your expertise in refining them.”
“And a magnificent insurance policy for La Vampa, who seems determined to break every bone in her body.”
Michel stood with a smile. “Where is our flame now? Did you leave her in her father’s arms?”
“Last I saw, they were headed to the cafeteria for lunch.”
“Let’s join them. I would like to welcome her personally to our community of artists.”
Jason threw up his hands. “Sure. Why not?”
Michel strolled through the corridors of the main Paris complex with his usual sense of pride. He had begun his circus career as a traveler, a vagabond juggling on street corners. Even then, homeless and poor as a beggar, he’d found creative beauty in the ebb and flow of life. He’d built the Cirque empire from the ground up, scratched and begged and bullied until he achieved his perfect vision, until he got the results he wanted. It was a mode of operation he still practiced today, although he did considerably less begging and considerably more bullying.
The man beside him, Jason, was a trusted colleague as well as his future son-in-law. He could be depended on to whip the acrobatic acts into shape; his light manner belied a steely core. Perhaps he was an effective director because he shared Michel’s dominant proclivities. As a player in the Cirque’s BDSM subculture, the younger man’s depravity rivaled his own.
No small feat, considering Michel’s depravities.
They turned off the wide corridor into a community dining space dominated by panoramic windows and bright murals. A scan of the tables revealed no splash of red hair.
“I don’t see her,” said Jason. “But there’s her fake-dad.”
“I’d love an introduction.”
Michel and Jason crossed to the man’s table. Michel extended his hand. “Good afternoon, Mr...”
“Forenze,” the Italian provided with a thick accent, leaning forward.
“Mr. Forenze, I am Michel Lemaitre, the owner of Cirque du Monde. Welcome to our happy little enclave.”
“Happy?” Forenze leaned back again and made a disgruntled sound.
Michel looked around. “Where is your daughter?”
“She is not my daughter. She told me to pretend I’m her father so I can stay with her.”
“You’re not her father?” said Michel with feigned shock. Jason poked him in the back.
The Italian shook his head. “I meet Valentina last week at a café. She beg me to come, crying that she will not know anyone. She has already made several new friends,” he sneered. “As for me, I have a ticket home tomorrow.”
“Well.” Michel turned to Jason, who’d flushed red around the ears. The American hated awkward scenes. “You’ll be missed. Safe travels.” He scanned the cafeteria once more. “Do you have any idea where she is?”
“Of course she did,” Jason muttered under his breath.
“Adei?” Michel guessed.
“She did a lot of staring across the practice space at him. So probably. Yeah.”
“This is serendipitous. He topped my list of prospective partners for Miss Sancia.” The first meeting room in the hall was empty. Michel closed it and proceeded to the next. “I picture a hand-to-hand routine. Adei’s strength and presence contrasted with her delicacy.” He opened the next door. “Ah. You see what I mean?”
“Good lord,” Jason said, turning away.
But Michel didn’t turn away. Why would he deprive his senses of such a lovely tableau? Valentina sprawled atop a conference table, pants and panties around her ankles, her legs held open by Adei as he licked her bare pussy with abandon. “Lovely,” Michel murmured. “See how he worships her?”
To say Michel Lemaitre was sex positive was like saying a fish was water positive. He didn’t just love sex; he needed it to live, to breathe.
“You are not required to finish what you’re doing,” he said to alert them to his presence, “but I would enjoy watching the finale.”
Across the room, the two performers froze, and two alarmed sets of eyes turned to him, Valentina’s half-dazed with pleasure. Michel winked at Adei, who winked back and tightened his grip on the woman’s thighs.
Jason made a noise behind him. “I’m out of here.”
Michel was too absorbed in the scene to care when his director stalked away. He pulled the door closed as Adei hunched over La Vampa’s glistening mons. She held Michel’s gaze another moment and then threw back her head in pleasure. Adei slid his hands under her legs and lifted her, bobbing her up and down on his tongue. There was nothing on earth like watching athletes fuck. They were so energetic and flexible. He envisioned an act in flame orange, Adei sending Valentina skyward with his thick, muscular arms so she flew like a comet, trailing that fire-red hair.
As he daydreamed, Valentina gripped Adei’s head. “Sì, sì, sì, sì, sì,” she hissed. A moment later, Adei’s efforts had her bucking through a prolonged climax. How beautiful she looked caught in the throes of orgasm. He watched the sleek muscles of her legs as she twitched through aftershocks. Her pussy glowed like a flower and he found himself wanting to take his own sample of her nectar. He found himself wishing to force open those shapely, strong legs and explore her many charms. He found himself wanting to tuck the delectable creature into a cage so he might fuck and torment her whenever he wished.
Such lurid fantasies. His cock ached, rock hard, but he smoothed a hand over it, willing it to subside. This little spitfire was not for him. Too young, too fresh, and certainly too undisciplined to satisfy his exacting tastes.
Michel gave her a moment to rest and compose her clothing before he held out his hand. “Come, Miss Sancia. We have things to discuss.”
“You are angry?”
“Why would I be? I am not angry in the least.”
She studied him, her light, gold-hazel eyes still glowing with pleasure as their fingers intertwined. Ah, he remembered that light in her eyes, that lively spirit from their single previous meeting. Her erotic hedonism, though, was a delightful surprise.
To Adei he inclined his head. “Bravo, young man. To give is sometimes to receive. Come to my office at four o’clock. We have things to discuss.”
He turned back to Valentina. The reckless flirt blew Adei a kiss as Michel drew her out the door.
* * * * *
Valentina had to walk fast to keep up with Michel Lemaitre’s purposeful strides—and she had to keep up, because he hadn’t yet loosened his grip on her hand.
Not that she minded. She could barely believe she was walking through the halls of Cirque du Monde’s headquarters on the arm of the powerful, sexy CEO. She’d liked Naples, and liked performing with her family as part of a traveling variety act, but they never left Italy. City festivals and community fairs were small time. She wanted to see the world and the surest way to do that was to join Mr. Lemaitre’s company, with shows in numerous countries and touring productions that spanned the globe.
And the man beside her? He was nothing less than a genius, and that excited her. He exuded an intensity, an electric energy that made her heart pound. No, not her heart. Her sex. The moment she met him, the moment he took her hand so many months ago in Italy, she had recognized him as a sexual creature and responded in kind.
It was an effort for him, she understood, this tame front. His exquisitely tailored suit, his styled hair, even his neatly manicured facial hair spoke of tamed impulses. Control. Nothing fascinated Valentina like an intriguing, complex man. Adei was charming and enthusiastic, but so much on the surface. So sweet.
Michel Lemaitre was not sweet. He was something else.
“Oh, I’m so happy,” she burst out, skipping beside him. “This place is...magnifico.”
He dropped her hand so she could complete an exuberant pirouette. “I do not doubt you think so,” he said drily, “considering how you spent the last half hour.”
“Half hour? It was only twenty minutes.”
He raised a brow. “And before, in the showers?”
“Oh. That.” Perhaps he didn’t completely approve. “I told Mr. Beck that man was my father, but he isn’t really.”
“I rejoice to hear it.”
She couldn’t pin down his tone. Angry? Teasing? Bemused? “My father is home in Italy,” she said. “I met Lugo at a cafe and he wanted to come.”
“He wanted to come, or you compelled him to come?”
“He had nothing better to do. He’s very much a...what is the word? Slacker? Anyway, I think he’s leaving.”
She hoped he was leaving. Lugo’s avid, clumsy lovemaking had thrilled her at first. She loved big, brutish men who grunted and groped. Then again, she loved cultured, urbane men too. She slid a look at Signore Lemaitre, who was large and had dark hair like Lugo, but was so much more attractive. She wondered what it would be like to share a bed with him. She’d heard that the Cirque founder was omnisexual and intensely dominant.
He paused, bringing her to a stop. “In here, if you please.”
He guided her through a set of double doors into an office complex. There was an outer waiting area with conference rooms and cubicles, and Cirque posters decorating the walls. She loved design and art, and the entire office sang with artistic energy. The area was flanked by a frosted glass wall and a door that read Michel Lemaitre, Cirque du Monde. She suppressed a frisson of excitement as he led her inside with a light touch on her back.
“Please have a seat.” He nudged her toward a worn leather arm chair facing his desk as he removed his suit jacket and hung it near the door. She looked around at the memento-laden shelves, at polished wood furniture that spoke of refinement, wealth, and success. These walls too were decorated with photographs of Cirque performers in rehearsals and shows. She recognized some of them. They were the trailblazers, the outstanding ones. She hoped she would earn a place on his wall one day. He only had to give her a job to do. She would perform the hell out of it, whatever he wanted. Valentina was an adrenaline junkie who loved challenges. She lived for the high of performance, for that soaring feeling of expressing herself. Please, she thought, turning her eyes back to him. Please let me express myself here.
His gaze locked on hers across his desk and for a moment she felt frightened by the depth of his scrutiny, not that she had anything to hide. She lived in the open, true to herself as much as society allowed. She hoped he would respect that. “Well,” she said, as silence spun out between them.
“Well,” he repeated with a slight quirk to his lips. “First, I must commend you. Your English is excellent. Much better than my Italian.”
She smiled at his compliment. “I have never had problems learning things.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“I can help your Italian if you like.”
He tilted his head. Did he hide a smile? “I believe we’ll limp along just fine in English,” he said. “Miss Sancia—”
“You can call me Valentina,” she interrupted. “Or Tina. My friends sometimes call me Tina.”
“I am your employer, not your friend.”
His curt reminder both devastated her and turned her on. “Of course,” she said, sitting on her hands to keep them still.
He pushed a thick file forward across his desk. “Miss Sancia, do you know what this is?”
“Yes. Do you know what is inside?”
She bit her lip, thinking over his question. “Complimentary things, I hope. Any police reports...they are not to be believed. I did not vandalize that fountain, merely went wading in it because the water sparkled so beautifully that day.”
“And I was only naked because, well, I had on my favorite dress and I didn’t want to ruin it. I was not even fully naked. Just mostly naked.”
“And that other time, no matter what the report says, I did not force the Sicilian councilman’s sons into any inappropriate behavior.”
His blue eyes widened. “Sons? Plural?”
“Monsieur, I never would have. I merely—”
“There are no police reports,” he said, cutting her off. “Although we may continue this discussion at another time. This dossier contains my talent scout’s notes, photographs, and my own notes from our brief meeting last year. Do you remember?”
She nodded, wondering about the purpose of this conference. Was she not officially hired? Had he gone over her dossier and decided she was not, after all, a Cirque du Monde-caliber artist? She was beginning to regret stealing private time with the handsome gymnast. “About before, about the man who was...”
“Going down on you on my conference table?”
“Yes. It was a matter of impulsive urges.”
“His name is Adei. Please do not disappoint me by stammering out excuses. I admire your carnal enthusiasm. However, we are not in the habit of constant, promiscuous, and public sex here at our headquarters. The focus must be on training for roles and performances.”
“Of course,” she said.
“That is not to say we don’t satisfy our sexual urges at other times, in other, more appropriate locales,” he added. “But while you are here in the training facility, please refrain.”
“Yes, sir.” She tried to appear duly censured but couldn’t help looking at him sideways with a flirtatious smile. For a moment he gazed at her, a probing, prolonged study that wasn’t flirtatious in return. Then he shook himself and looked down at the folder on his desk.
“Anyway, about your file. You have probably realized by now that you’ve not been brought here to blend into the background of some existing cast. Like many who see you perform, I find myself compelled. Inspired.” He leaned back in his chair and fixed her with a look. “Do you know what it means to inspire a man like me?”
Valentina wasn’t one hundred percent sure she knew what it meant, but she acted on her best instincts, rising to her feet and crossing to kneel before him. She could barely keep her excitement in check as she reached to unbuckle his belt.
“No.” His hands came over hers, stilling them. “No, my dear. Not that.”
“Oh, indeed. You begin to alarm me. Is there some...condition? If so, we’ll work with it as well as we can.”
“A condition?” she asked, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment.
“A medical condition which requires you to have sex at least once an hour? Be honest, my dear. There will be no repercussions, and we will make allowances as we may.”
“No, there’s no medical condition.” She straightened, wishing there was a way she could instantaneously be sitting back in her chair. “I’m sorry. I misunderstood what you were asking.”
“That seems patently clear. When I want sex from my partners, I am very direct about it.” He indicated that she should go sit down. “If I am not demanding sex from you, you may rest assured it is not desired.”
“I’m sorry,” she said again, miserably. His cool tone wasn’t mocking, but Valentina nonetheless felt mocked. “I do have a bit of a condition. I am too...enthusiastic. Too impulsive and passionate, not just with sex, but everything.”
“These are excellent problems to have, in my opinion. Before I knew you were called La Vampa, I sensed you had a bit more fire than everyone else. I need your fire, Miss Sancia.”
She stared at his broad, classically handsome face, his generous mouth. “You can have my fire, signore. As much as you want.”
“What if I want all of it?”
Did he mean—? She rose to go to him again.
“No.” He held up a hand. “I do not mean that. I mean that we are to mount a new production here in Paris. New cast, new performances, new blood. I have conceived a show about the elements, but it needs a central symbol. A flame, a fire, an explosion of life to anchor the rest of the acts. You understand? The show needs a spirit to drive it. You have this spirit and I want to use it to delight Paris audiences. The production will be named Cirque Élémental.”
“But...” She wasn’t sure what he asked. “I’m an acrobat, a banquine flyer. I don’t have an act to last an entire show.”
“Not an entire show. There will be other acts, but you’ll be the show’s figurehead, the vision on the poster. We’ll create an entire production with ten or fifteen other acts. Dance, lights, costumes, humor and pathos, feats of strength and agility. You know...circus.”
The steady tone of his voice never altered, but some deeper challenge in his gaze excited her almost beyond bearing. At the same time, he’d made it clear he wanted her artistry, not her sexual advances. He hadn’t wanted her on her knees before him. Very sad.
“I will do whatever you like, Mr. Lemaitre. Simply tell me.” She gave him a look, one she hoped communicated that she was his vessel to use, artistically or otherwise. “Whatever you want from me, sir, I am yours.”