The Dark Arts
Publication date: February 17th 2021
Genres: Adult, Dark Romance, Romance
The Complete Duet
The Con Artist:
Art. Obsession. Twisted possession.
When starving artist Saskia Roth meets Lachlan Niche, a local art collector and tech tycoon, she has no idea how her life is about to change. One act of desperation, one con gone wrong, and she finds herself at the mercy of a powerful man she fears and despises–or so she thinks.
As her desire for him grows, life as his captive becomes something more… something that could both transform her and destroy her.
The Escape Artist:
Claire was held captive for 43 days by a man who did unspeakable things to her.
Three years after her escape, she gets her revenge. The only problem is, she’s got the wrong man.
God help her if he escapes.
(Includes Saskia and Lachlan’s complete HEA from The Con Artist)
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Four months, three weeks, and two glorious days had passed since Saskia had run off with twelve million dollars of Lachlan’s money while Joseph Quill’s nude remained unmolested at the Raine Estate. Even with sunglasses, she had to shield her eyes against the blazing sun at Venice’s Piazza San Marco, or as the locals called it, la Piazza.
She never tired of coming here. On first arriving, she’d bought up every tourist-y book she could get her hands on and learned everything she could. The Piazza San Marco had supposedly once been called the drawing room of Europe by Napoleon. Whether he’d truly said it or not could never be proven, but it felt true nonetheless. This place kept drawing her back to it.
After a couple months of traveling and seeing everything she could think to cram into that time—every famous art museum and gallery dotted across the world—she’d finally settled back in Venice. The tropical island idea had gotten boring after two weeks. Italy was where she belonged. It was an artist’s paradise.
Sometimes she liked to sit inside St. Mark’s Basilica, staring up at the awe-inspiring gold mosaics so long it made her neck hurt. Even with tourists fluttering about, the space felt sacred. But even inside a church as grand as St. Mark’s, Saskia had barely a flutter of guilt about her crime. Why should she? Lachlan had billions. Twelve million was so laughable he wouldn’t have missed it if she’d taken it right out of his bank account while he looked the other way.
“Having fun, Miss Roth?”
Saskia considered running, screaming, anything but turning around to confirm who she knew stood just behind her, his hot breath mixing with the warm breeze against her neck.
People ran into people—even in Venice. There was no reason to think he knew…
“If you run, I’ll have you arrested.”
Okay, so he knew.
When she finally turned, he looked far more smug and self-satisfied than a man who’s learned he’s been robbed should look. He wore a crisp, dark suit and appeared as if he were on his way to a funeral. Hers, maybe?
“How did you find me?”
“Why don’t we have this discussion at that lovely expensive villa you bought with my money? It’s not far from here, is it?”
She’d just bought it a month ago.
“No, Mr. Niche.”
“Oh, it’s Mr. Niche, now. So formal. You think the formality will do you any good?”
His hand slid into hers, and for the first time in their association, she didn’t pull away from his touch. Maybe he could be reasoned with. He might make good on his arrest threat. But then again he might kill her if he got her somewhere private. Maybe she should take her chances with the police. Which option would be worse? Which might save her?
“Just relax,” he whispered. “I’m not going to hurt you. Much.”
It was close enough to walk, though each step dragged so that it seemed impossible one could span the distance by foot—even though she’d done it easily just that morning.
Her hand trembled when she tried to put the key in the door.
Lachlan’s fingers closed over hers. “Relax,” he said again as if simply repeating the word would have any effect on the way everything inside her convulsed over what he might do with her now that he’d isolated her from possible witnesses. He unlocked the door with a steady hand and walked in like he owned it.
And really, he kind of did.
“Not bad,” he said. “But I can tell you with this kind of money management you’d be a starving artist again inside of three years. Why don’t we sit out beside the pool?”
“So you can drown me more easily?”
He laughed, and the tightly bound breath that had been stuck inside Saskia’s chest came rushing out. Surely he wouldn’t laugh like that if he planned to kill her. It wasn’t an evil laugh; it wasn’t even a sleazy laugh. It was… musical somehow.
And all at once the guilt appeared.
‘Have I been dehumanizing him this whole time just so I could steal from him?’ It wasn’t a pretty thought. It didn’t match the trees and clouds and sky and all the beautiful old buildings that seemed like art installations on their own. There was no denying how uncomfortable he made her. And that one day in his study when he’d touched her inappropriately—she hadn’t imagined that. But beyond that one moment, had she created the image of a monster for her own convenience?
“Did you paint the trompe l’oeil on the walls yourself?”
Saskia tried not to let the compliment affect her. Who cared what Lachlan thought about it? She remained unconvinced he’d know real art on his own if it bit him on the dick.
She followed him to the terrace and sat in the chair he indicated. He reclined next to her and watched her for several minutes—so long she couldn’t stand the scrutiny and silence any longer.
“Lachlan, I’m sorry, I…”
He held up a hand. “No. You’re not sorry. You’re sorry you got caught. You’d rob me blind again if you thought you’d get away with it.”
A fair point.
“Holding back and giving me a lower quality forgery the first time was a nice touch. Lesser men might have been fooled. How much of my money have you spent?”
“Six million,” she mumbled.
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
“Six million. H-half of what you gave me.”
“A three-year countdown to your renewed destitution was generous. I give it two, tops. Were you planning to invest any of it? Even millions run dry if you just keep spending.”
“I wanted to travel and get settled first.”
He nodded as if any of this mattered now. It was all just trivia of a life that could have been.
She wondered how many lives that could have been would be dangled in front of her and then ripped away before her true fate unfolded. The fantasy of the fairy tale with Eric, the illusion of this independent life in a villa in Venice… both lovely ideas, both impossible dreams.
“So, you owe me six million dollars.”
“I’ll sell the villa, and…”
He twisted his chair to face her. “No. That’s not the deal. You stole from me; I decide the terms. I want a wire transfer by the end of the day in the full amount.”
“But you know I can’t…” It was ridiculous for him to demand she return the money on such short notice. It took time to sell a villa. And the furniture. And the Ferrari—which had already depreciated. She didn’t want to think about the amount she wouldn’t be able to get back—the small things that added up. Clothes. Jewelry. And the intangibles: spa appointments, all the travel.
“So we’ll handle it the old-fashioned way. You will indenture yourself in servitude to me to pay off your debt—likely for the rest of your life given the amount of money anyone would reasonably pay you for anything you’re actually qualified to do.”
Just what he’d wanted all along: her at his mercy in a compromising position where she’d have to warm his bed to survive. It was no doubt like winning the lottery for him. He knew everything could be bought, even her—given the right circumstances. And here the circumstances were, wrapped up and gleaming.
Saskia wasn’t unattractive, but she knew there were other women more beautiful than her. The appeal to him was acquiring something that was difficult to acquire—just like all the art he collected. If she’d been eager to jump in bed with him, he wouldn’t want her. Was that worse or better?
“And if I don’t agree to your terms, you’ll what? Kidnap me? Exactly how would your felony cross out my felony?”
He laughed. It was decidedly less endearing this time around. “I’ll turn you over to the authorities. You can go to prison, or you can give yourself to me. The accommodations with me will be better.”
“But not the company.”
Lachlan’s eyes narrowed. “I’m going to do something about that smart mouth of yours the moment we get home.”
KITTY THOMAS writes dark stories that play with power and have unconventional HEAs. She began publishing in early 2010 with her bestselling COMFORT FOOD and is considered one of the original authors of the dark romance subgenre.
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