Spotlight & Author Interview: Shadows Over Milan + Excerpt

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Shadows ebook cover

Title – Shadows over Milan, book five of the Night Flyer Series
Author’s name – Edale Lane
Genre – Historical fantasy action mystery/lesbian romance
Cover Artist Enggar Adirasa
Release Date November 2, 2021
page count 260 PDF/print version (246 e-book page count)
Content Warnings fighting violence, ff kissing with assumption of off-scene sex, brief scene where a character recalls an act of animal cruelty

What happens when heroes fall?

Murder strikes Milan, threatening the city’s future under an ominous shadow of war. Was it the Spanish, the Germans, the Milanese, or were darker forces at play? The city is thrust into a frenzy only the Night Flyer can quell, but can she halt the wheels of war?

Maddie’s greatest fears are realized when the Night Flyer suffers a serious injury that leaves her just short of dead. Florentina suffers more than physical pain as she grapples with a crisis of faith. Will she be forced to choose between continuing as the Night Flyer and staying with the woman she loves?

The final installment of the Night Flyer Series is riddled with mystery, political intrigue, danger, and heart-felt moments as the various storylines from throughout the saga come together in an exciting conclusion you don’t want to miss!

Amazon / GoodreadsPublisher Past and Prologue Press

That night Florentina stood on Madelena’s balcony in her nightgown and robe, gazing up at the stars. The rain had passed, leaving a fresh scent in the air. As she contemplated a myriad of subjects, she felt Maddie’s arms wrap around her from behind, and was comforted by her nearness.
“What are you doing out here?” Maddie asked as she pressed her body to Florentina’s back.
Fiore exhaled in blissful satisfaction, bringing her hands to cover Maddie’s at her waist. “Contemplating the mysteries of the Universe.”
Florentina caught Maddie’s chuckle as she squeezed her tight. “Of course you are,” she cooed with delight. “And what enigma have you discerned?”
Florentina sighed and turned in Maddie’s arms to face her. “That I have limitations,” she uttered in dismay, “and I would rather I did not.”
Over a year ago when Shadow Guild assassins in the employ of a chaos lord threw bombs through the church windows onto the very row she, Maddie, and the children occupied, her Night Flyer reflexes got them safely out of harm’s way. She still bore a few light scars from the glass and large splinters that were blasted into her back. But today….
“I would say that is a drawback common to all humans,” Madelena responded.
“I was so terrified, Maddie,” Fiore admitted. “I heard the thunderous hooves, then saw, and I ran. I tried to get to her, but I realized I wouldn’t make it. I knew the horses were faster and I could not save Betta. It felt like a sword slicing me from throat to gut,” she bemoaned.
“Sweetling, I heard, saw, and experienced the same panic, the same hopeless fear,” Maddie said. She kissed Florentina’s lips tenderly, keeping her in a tight embrace. “You were swifter than I was.”
“But I wasn’t fast enough,” she lamented. “It makes me feel like, if I can’t protect the ones I love, then what good am I?”
“Come to bed with me now, Fiore,” Maddie instructed, and she led her by the hand.
They snuggled in Maddie’s oversized bed, complete with pastel satin sheets and an array of goose-down pillows. Despite the lover nestled on her shoulder and being drowned in luxurious comfort, Florentina was troubled.
Maddie placed a kiss to her cheek and slid fingers across the smooth fabric of her gown, tantalizing the flesh beneath.
“We weren’t alone,” she explained as she lay facing Florentina propped on pillows. “Betta and Matteo would not have been so far ahead of us, and you would have had time to reach them. Benetto was closest; thank God he was able to protect her.”
Florentina locked eyes with Maddie, a bewildered expression on her face. “I kissed him; I was so grateful and relieved that I kissed him.” She breathed in and out and shook her head. “I am so conflicted now.”
Maddie pushed loose brunette hair behind Fiore’s ear and kissed her tenderly. “I can only imagine.”
“It was one thing to forgive him, to not think about him at all, to be indifferent to the man,” she continued. Florentina sensed the churning of too many raw emotions. “He killed my father, and yes, he is working to better himself and he has been grandfatherly with the children, but now I have all this thankfulness and appreciation for him. It just doesn’t feel right.”
“To be honest,” Maddie said, stroking Florentina’s cheek. “I am having some of the same mixed emotions, though not with the intensity of yours. People can change. They usually don’t, but it is possible, and I believe he has.”
Florentina nodded. “Would it be a betrayal of my papa if I were to develop any measure of affection for the man who murdered him? Forgiving and forgetting is one thing, but I see him all the time now; he is part of the family. I just don’t know how I should feel.”
Madelena kissed her again and asserted, “What you need to settle in your mind and heart is the answer to one question: is the Benetto who protected Betta the same man who killed your papa two years ago?”
“That is indeed what I must determine,” Fiore agreed. “Oh, Maddie, if he had not been there… I couldn’t…” Tears streamed from her eyes in a most unfamiliar way.
“You can do amazing things, mi amore; but no one can do everything or save everyone. Betta is safe, and you did everything humanly possible. Speaking of which, you haven’t said what happened when you and Antonio caught up with the coach.”
“Oh.” The tears dried up. Florentina propped herself on an elbow and turned her body toward Madelena. “We discovered Marquis Jaquet de Lozere’s dead body. He had been stabbed.”
Concern arrested Maddie’s features. “That is indeed an unfortunate turn of events.” They gazed at each other for a long moment. “I suppose the Night Flyer will wish to investigate.”
“You are quite correct. But there is nothing I can do about it tonight.”
Another pause hung in the air, then Maddie spoke. “Let me hold you. It has been a dark day and much weighs on your mind. It is my turn to be strong for you.”
Fiore caught her lips, kissing them with life-affirming fervor. When she released them, she breathed, “I love you so much. You always know exactly what I need and are happy to give it to me.”
“You are my life, my very breath,” Maddie uttered in a husky tone. “Now, come to me.”
Maddie pulled her in and Florentina snuggled close with her head resting on one full breast and a hand cupping the other in the sweetest embrace she had or would ever know, and prayed for sleep to capture them both.

Author Interview:

1. What inspired you to write this book? OR Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?

The Night Flyer Series that this book concludes, began as a concept. I wanted to write something unique, so I set out to discover what time periods and locales are under-represented in historical romance novels. I also wanted to create a sort of superhero for the era. When I noticed not many recent books set in Renaissance Italy, my mind rushed to Leonardo da Vinci, one of my all-time favorite people. What if my leading woman had been a student of his and proceeded with knowledge of his many inventions? And what if an unscrupulous arms merchant killed her father leaving her to carry out the Italian Vendetta? She could invent a flying glider that would shock and awe her enemies. I then began to formulate my primary characters and the plot that would lead them through the trilogy. But, alas, Florentina and Madelena didn’t want to stop there, so I wrote two more books in the series to satisfy them.

2. What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?

In Shadows over Milan, my main cast travels to Venice. Research taught me much about the fabulous city and one of its leading attractions – the Rialto Bridge. Did you know the current bridge has been spanning the Grand Canal since 1591? It began as a pontoon bridge in 1181, then was replaced in 1255 with a wooden one that could be raised to allow the passage of ships, because of the increased traffic to and from the Rialto Market that boomed on the other side; hence it became known as the Rialto Bridge. In 1444 a tremendous crowd gathered to witness the boat parade for the Marquis Ferrara’s wedding celebration and it collapsed under the weight. The version of the bridge at the time of my novel (which included space for vendors to sell their wares lining both sides) fell down in 1524 and the city decided the next one would be constructed of stone.

3. What surprised you the most in writing it?

How quickly I finished it! Missing in Milan was released in August and by the middle of October I had completed Shadows over Milan, the longest novel in the series. Every time I write a book, it seems I get faster at it, but I doubt that will be the case with my present work in progress as it requires all new research.

4. What does the title mean?

In the previous books in the series, the readers learn of an underworld organization that reveres war and chaos. They work behind the scenes to influence government leaders, spread dis-information to the people, and try to sow dissention within and between nations. They are called the “Shadow Guild,” and they are back attempting to manipulate France and the Holy Roman Empire into a war over Milan. The book opens with the murder of an important French nobleman, seemingly at the hands of a German, which casts Milan under an impending shadow of war.

5. Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?

While both Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo appear in the series and are mentioned frequently, neither one is cast in Shadows over Milan. Several historical leaders such as France’s King Louis XII, Emperor Maximilian I, and Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella are mentioned, but none are characters in the story. Florentina and Maddie were both inspired by different sides of myself. I was a teacher for 24 years and I have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge like Florentina; I was a widow with two children at a young age like Maddie. And yep, you guessed it – I know when I draw upon my own thoughts, feelings, and experiences!

6. Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?

It does, or I wouldn’t have bothered to write it. To avoid giving spoilers, I’ll be very generic and list a few: forgiveness, redemption, trials of faith, seeking of wisdom, learning to let go.

7. What is your favorite part of the book?

My favorite part of the book is a scene I almost didn’t include because a few people advised me it may be disturbing to some readers, but it is so vital to understanding Don Benetto. In book one, Merchants of Milan, Don Benetto was a greedy, mean, ruthless arms dealer who was abusive to his wife and cared about no one but himself. After a life-and-death encounter with the Night Flyer, he began to re-examine his life in book two, to change his ways in book three, to learn to love in book four, and here we have him striving to make amends in book five. But why was he ever that overly ambitious brute to begin with? Villains are people too, and I felt strongly that relating Benetto’s backstory would add depth to the character and allow readers to understand how he became who he was, and therefore how he was able to transform his life.

8. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?

The most complex character to create was Don Benetto. Despite all the times assassins tried to kill Maddie, how many times Florentina was outnumbered in a fight, how disastrous Antonio’s battles while in the army, Don Benetto faced the toughest bout of them all – to become a better man, he had to defeat his old self. People can change, but they usually don’t. Few endeavors on this earth are more difficult, and to make the transformation believable, I needed to detail the steps and measures he took over the course of the series.

9. What are your immediate future plans?

I have begun work on a completely fresh novel, also in an under-represented setting: pre-contact Native British Columbia. I now live in beautiful Chilliwack, BC, and have started immersing myself in everything I can find about the First Nations people and their culture. It won’t be ready in under three months like Shadows over Milan; it may take a year to complete, but it will be done right.


Until November 23rd, you can enter to win a Kindle copy of the first book in the series (Merchants of Milan (Night Flyer Trilogy, #1).

Enter here

Author information

Melodie Professional-minEdale Lane is an award-winning author (Rainbow Awards, Imaginarium Awards, Lesfic Bard Awards) who also drives a truck. She is the alter-ego of author Melodie Romeo, (Tribute in Blood, Terror in Time, and others) who founded Past and Prologue Press. Both identities are qualified to write historical fiction by virtue of an MA in History and 24 years spent as a teacher, along with skill and dedication regarding research. A native of Vicksburg, MS, Edale (or Melodie) is also a musician who loves animals, gardening, and nature. When not driving around North America, she resides with her partner in beautiful Chilliwack, B.C. Canada.

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Spotlight & Excerpt: Viking Quest + Author Interview

Viking Quest Cover

Title – Viking Quest
Author’s name – Edale Lane
Genre: Historical fantasy adventure/lesbian romance
Publisher: Past and Prologue Press
Cover Artist: Enggar Adirasa
Release Date June 28, 2021
page count 229

When secrets and lies threaten the throne, can a fierce champion tame her passion in time to stop a cruel enemy’s ruthless march?

Jutland, Early 11th Century. Viking Warrior Princess Lena craves revenge. Hunting a killer after her husband is brutally slain, she discovers a shadowy traitor is at play behind the scenes, working to disrupt the balance of power. But she places her need for vengeance on hold when the king falls gravely ill, and sails out along with the pretty slave she rescued to locate a fabled healer.

Gunnar is loyal to the core. But when his lord orders him to sabotage the princess’s royal mission, he’s plagued by an unfamiliar sense of doubt. And after he witnesses the courageous woman and her crew save his life in a vicious storm, he’s no longer certain he’s fighting for the right side.

Beset by foul weather and an uncharted island of trolls, Lena fears she’ll never avenge her husband’s death… even as her heart softens towards the lovely Celt girl she longs to embrace. And now Gunnar must decide where his fealty rests as the tides turn to war.

Can Lena and Gunnar survive a bloody grab for power and find a true home for their hearts?

Viking Quest is a breathtaking historical fantasy novel. If you like principled characters, battles of conscience, and tender F/F romance, then you’ll love Edale Lane’s action-packed epic.

Content Warnings: Battle violence, mention of off-scene rape, ff kissing with assumption of off-scene sex

Buy Viking Quest to destroy a fearsome foe today!

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Wide eyed, Caitlin shuddered at the thought of his intention. It was always worse when he was drunk, when he would hit her and degrade her as he forced himself upon her. After being whisked away from her homeland across the waters, bought and sold by others, she had been only a few weeks in this man’s possession and her will to resist and escape had not yet been broken. But now, as he presented her with his sharpened knife, she was more frightened than before of being cut or killed. If he did pass out, she could use the blade to sever her bindings and run; if not, her prospects just became bleaker.
Suddenly, the door flew open before an avenging angel. Caitlin was struck with a thrill of exhilaration as the Viking warrior woman stormed through, exuding power from every inch of her strikingly beautiful body. She was tall, with chestnut hair and fiery brown eyes that matched the stance of her toned figure. “You,” she commanded with a stony stare at Caitlin’s captor. “Take your sword and face me like a man instead of the snake you are, for I am not accustomed to murder, as are you.”
Startled by this interruption, the man spun his head and torso toward the door. He seemed to recognize the shield maiden for his face paled, his eyes widened, and his mouth fell agape. He scrambled off the bed, almost falling flat on his face. “Wo, woman, what do you want?” he stuttered as he tried to gain his bearings.
“Justice; that is all,” seethed her icy reply.
The man glanced about the room, spotting his sword several feet away. The Viking advanced and drew her weapon without ever taking her eyes off him. “You must have made a mistake,” he said, trying to stall as he reached for his sword. Caitlin scooted back in the bed against the wall behind her, pulling the covers up, mesmerized by the liberator who was certainly the answer to her prayers come to save her. She is everything I wish I could be! If I had her confidence and skill, I need ne’er be afraid. No one would ever own me again!
“No, you are the one who made the mistake,” the enigmatic woman stated.
The dirty little man grabbed his sword, held it in front of him, and shuffled along the wall until he had passed the bed. “I am not who you seek,” he said.
The Viking answered with her blade, the hard steel drawing sparks as it struck his. “Oh, yes, you are,” she spat with venom. “I want to see the look on your face when I run you through the way you did to Gilivar.” She lunged at him with her sword and he could barely deflect the strike. He held up his weapon, waving it about in a feeble attempt to save his life. Backing away from her stronger blows, the man overturned a chair in her path and then the table.
“You pathetic worm!” she derided, kicking the furniture aside. “Why would a swine such as you dare to kill a prince? Who paid you?”
“You wanna know?” He grinned, trying to mask his fear, no doubt, for his hands still shook. “Perhaps you should know, but I cannot tell you if I’m dead.”
“Speak while you still have breath then,” she retorted as she delivered a powerful blow which knocked the weasel’s sword across the room.
“You must promise to let me live,” he insisted.
“I only promise to kill you if you do not.”
“It was,” he stammered in a shaky voice. His glazed eyes darted about and Caitlin supposed he was trying to fabricate some excuse to offer. Her heart raced at the thought of the fate that awaited her tormentor. She didn’t wish him dead, but neither would she mourn him.
“Uh, what I’m tryin’ to tell you… the German baron, Rhinestein. He wants Pomerania for his own holdings and, and an alliance with king Svein would mean his defeat. So you see, he wanted to start a war between your countries. Then when the fighting was done, he’d move in and take over.” He waited breathless, glossy eyes still wide, as the Viking woman pondered his story. Then a stony expression came over her.
“You lie.” She jabbed her sword deep into his abdomen and pulled it out with a jerk. In a cry of pain, he crumpled to the floor, grabbing his wound and staring up at her in horror. “Baron Rhinestein died last week; he was an old man of seventy-five and hadn’t walked for years. You should have told the truth.”
The little man squirmed with a twisted mouth as he tried to hold back the river of blood that flowed from his belly. “You can’t win,” he gasped. Then he motioned for her to come closer. She knelt near him, but was clearly still alert, sword in hand. “The enemy within,” he began, then stopped to swallow and breathe, his eyes closing for a moment. “Is greater,” he continued, forcing his heavy eyelids open. “Than the enemy without.” With that, he exhaled, convulsed, and eked a shallow last breath.
The Viking rose, wiped the blood from her sword on the hem of his robe, and replaced it in its sheath. Taking a deep breath, she stepped over the corpse, heading for the door. “Wait!” Caitlin cried out. She was free, but that was only the beginning. Surely her avenging angel had seen her and would not leave her alone in her predicament.

Lena stopped and turned in the direction of the plea, noticing the girl with sun-kissed hair. Although her senses had taken in her presence, the singleness of her purpose had blocked the girl out; her mission now accomplished, she came back to herself. The woman was young, frightened, and alone. “What? He killed my husband; I’m sorry, but he deserved no less.”
“Sorry? I thank ye—ye’ve saved me!” she gushed with emotion overwhelming the foreign lilt in her voice.
Lena noticed that the girl’s hands were tied, so she took a moment to draw the small dagger from her gauntlet and cut her bonds. “There you go. All free now.”
“Please take me with you,” she implored with hopeful verdant eyes.
“I can’t.”
“Listen.” She vacated the bed and stood before Lena. “My name is Caitlin and I am Gaelic. Raiders took me from me home in Eire and sold me as a slave. This man,” she said pointing, “treated me cruelly. I don’t know anyone in this town; I have no one and nowhere ta go. I ask only you let me serve ye ‘til I can get back to me home.” Lena studied the young woman, her bruises, her youthful innocence. She could be a beautiful girl, and obviously needed help, but Lena had things to do and could not waste precious time. “Please,” Caitlin repeated, touching her hand to Lena’s arm, her eyes lipid pools of green. “Don’t leave me.”
Lena stopped everything at Caitlin’s touch. She stopped calculating, stopped hating, and even stopped grieving. A peculiar sensation enveloped her, one she could not interpret. Mayhap it was the desperation in the girl’s lilting voice, or the hope that shone on her face. Lena did not know where the surge of compassion came from that flooded her soul, but she could not turn young Caitlin away. It was inconvenient and had all the potential for disaster, distracting her from her mission. Nevertheless, she could not bring herself to refuse her request. Lena’s features softened as she let out a sigh. “Very well, but I must make haste and cannot have you slowing me down.”
“I won’t, and that’s a promise!” Caitlin beamed excitedly.
“Dress with haste; we will be riding,” Lena instructed. At once, Caitlin gathered a peasant blouse, full skirt, shoes, and a wrap and went about frantically changing into them.
“Ye’re a Dane warrior, aren’t ye?” she inquired admiringly. “A real shield maiden?” Lena nodded in response. “How excitin’! The good Lord sent ye ta rescue me, I know He did.”
Lena let out a little chuckle at the youth’s hero worship. “I’m Lena, and I came here to kill the man who murdered my husband, not to rescue anyone. But, here we are. Are you ready?”
Caitlin’s bright eyes shined at Lena, and her head bobbed in an exuberant nod. “Aye; let’s be off,” she proclaimed as she stepped around the dead man’s body. Then she added in quiet sorrow, “I’m sorry for yer loss, truly.” She spared one glance down at the blood-soaked corpse. “He was a horrid wee man.”

Author Interview:

1. Tell us a little about how this story first came to be.
I wrote this story twenty-four years ago but never published it. I wanted to cast a powerful woman in the lead role of a Viking adventure because who doesn’t love a sword wielding woman warrior? It was the only book I ever wrote that my mother had the opportunity to read as she passed in 2000. This spring I took it off the shelf and totally reworked it to bring it to date and recast Caitlin as Lena’s love interest rather than mere friend.

2. What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?
Though I have a master’s degree in history, Scandinavia was not my area of specialty, so I learned more about the Danes, the Irish at that time period, and details about Leif Erikson that were omitted from general history texts.

3. What surprised you the most in writing it?
That I finished! Twenty plus years ago, that was a rarity. Also it surprised me that the rewrite went so quickly, but with five other novels under my belt by now, I am getting faster.

4. What does the title mean?
The working title was “Lena the Viking”, but that was really lame. She leads an expedition on a quest, so Viking Quest sounded much cooler!

5. Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?
Leif Erikson was an actual person, and though a minor character in this novel, I did much research to portray him properly. There was a King Cnute who ruled both Jutland and England during this time period (between the action in this book and the invasion of William the Conqueror, 1066) so one may use his/her imagination whether or not his mother was a fierce warrior-princess.

6. Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?
Naturally! There’s the whole good v. evil thing going, but also compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, and the process of making difficult decisions that require putting duty above preference. One character in particular, Gunnar, is placed in a moral dilemma in which he must choose between his oath of fealty to a murderous lord and his sense of honor and indebtedness to the young man who saved his life.

7. What is your favorite part of the book?
My mother’s favorite part was the visit to the troll village on an uncharted island north of Britannia; therefore, it is also my favorite. Once again, my aim was to be creative, entertaining, and still reflect on human behavior in a way that is relevant today.

8. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
The most complex character to create was Gunnar, as he faced the tug-of-war moral decision. But Caitlin was challenging because I wanted to make her “Irishness” stand out in an authentic way. I enlisted the aid of a cousin in Northern Ireland for dialect then had to tone it down so the general reader could understand what she says.

9. What are your immediate future plans?
I am almost finished writing the fourth installment of my Night Flyer Series, Missing in Milan, and then the grueling editing process begins! Hoping to have it released before the end of August.

Author information

Edale Lane is an award-winning author (Rainbow Awards, Imaginarium Awards, Lesfic Bard Awards) who also drives a truck. She is the alter-ego of author Melodie Romeo, (Tribute in Blood, Terror in Time, and others) who founded Past and Prologue Press. Both identities are qualified to write historical fiction by virtue of an MA in History and 24 years spent as a teacher, along with skill and dedication regarding research. A native of Vicksburg, MS, Edale (or Melodie) is also a musician who loves animals, gardening, and nature. When not driving around North America, she resides with her partner in beautiful Chilliwack, B.C. Canada.

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Spotlight & Excerpt: House of Agnes + Giveaway

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House of Agnes
by Fiona Zedde
Genre: LGBTQ Lesbian Romance


A lesbian romance filled with intrigue and sizzling sexual tension as enemies discover that the other side of hatred…is desire.

Agnes Noble is private, mysterious, and untouchable. She rules House of Agnes, the most exclusive escort agency on the East Coast, with a diamond fist. Crossing her is a mistake no one makes twice.

Investigative reporter Lola Osbourne is not afraid. She’s gunning for the House and its so-called queen. She’ll make sure no other innocent gets dragged into Agnes’s alluring web, to be used and discarded the way Lola’s sister was.

But her plan to get close to the elusive madam shatters the moment her eyes meet the Queen’s. One look and everything’s different. More complicated. Dangerous.

Now, Lola’s not just fighting to topple a queen from her throne, she’s also scrambling to escape their explosive collision with her suddenly vulnerable heart intact.

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house of agnes teaser 1

houseofagnes - excerpt
“You know, all work and no play makes Queen Agnes a very dull girl.”
Agnes saved the spreadsheet on her computer and looked up, masking her irritation at being interrupted. A glimmer of light fell over the bare shoulders of the woman walking into her office unannounced, the emerald minidress a complement to her slim but curvaceous figure. The woman’s high heels teased the marble floor, and her smile said she wanted a lot more than a talk.
“It’s a good thing I’m not a girl then.” She sat back in her leather executive chair, giving Rox the attention she obviously wanted. “The evening went well?” Although if it hadn’t, one of Agnes’s security people would’ve let her know long before now.
“Just as expected.” Rox gave her trademark smile, the one that regularly had men and women offering up thousands of dollars to spend a few hours with her.
She pulled a small stack of bills from her cleavage, all hundreds and all miraculously dry, and laid it on Agnes’s desk. “It went very well, actually. And I kept the tip.” Her cheek dimpled and her red mouth glistened in the soft golden glow from the Tiffany desk lamp. “Care to help me celebrate?”
Before Agnes could accept or refuse the offer, Rox shrugged off her dress. It slithered from her body and pooled around her feet in a puddle of green satin.
Agnes drew in a breath. The lamplight played over Rox’s curves, showing off her high breasts with nipples stiff from the arctic air-conditioning. Her belly was tight with muscle and her hips rounded and smooth. The V at the joining of her thighs was completely bare of hair.
Bald vaginas had never been Agnes’s thing.
She sat back in her chair and rolled her favorite pen between her fingers, leisurely appreciating all the ways Rox had taken care of her body.
The woman was beautiful. Truly. From the loose waves of hair around her fashion model face to her long legs and every worthwhile stop in between. But Agnes didn’t fuck any of the women who worked for her. Never had, never would.
They all knew that and, Agnes was well aware, still tried to make a game of seducing her. She’d seen plenty of naked women before though, had touched enough of them, had made them come. There was nothing special she could have by drinking from that particular well.
“I’ve already had my dinner for the night,” she said with slightly pursed lips, finally smiling when Rox huffed out a sigh of frustration and picked up her dress.
They’d done this dance too many times before for Agnes’s refusal to come as a surprise.
“Look at you,” Rox went on. “With your gorgeous face, all that flawless skin, those tits and legs any girl here would kill for, you’re perfect. But you might as well be a statue for all the use you make of what some of us go under the knife to get. It’s a waste.”
Even for Rox, this was a little far. She usually only took it as far as a little flirtation, flashing bare breasts or sending suggestive texts. However, her attempt at cruelty was nothing compared to what Agnes had suffered on a daily basis at the hands of the man who’d raised her.
“Are you quite finished?” Agnes didn’t hide her amusement at the pathetic stab.
It made her glad, these flashes of meaningless challenge she saw in Rox and some of the others. Before, with her father, they’d been too terrified to do more than breathe around him. Now, they felt safe.
Rox made that frustrated sound again. “Fine, but you can’t sit here untouched in your glass tower forever. One day, you’ll have to let someone in, let them touch you, and feel what it’s like to be a real woman instead of a queen of air and broken dreams.” Rox draped the three-thousand-dollar dress around her neck like a scarf and turned on her stilettos, her nude body again shimmering faintly in the light. “Good night, Queen Agnes.”
“Good night, Rox.”
Agnes went back to what she’d been working on before the interruption, paying scant attention to the petulant stab of high heels into marble as Rox walked away. She barely glanced at the stack of hundreds, content enough to know it was there.
“Oh, God, I’m so sorry!” Her assistant, Clare, rushed in, slight color in her cheeks despite the level tone of her voice. “I tried to stop her from interrupting you, but that woman who keeps trying to see you called again.” She swept up the cash Rox left and sat down on the nearby leather sofa to count it.
“Next time our persistent mystery woman calls, just put her through to Whit.” Whit was Agnes’s personal security. “As for Rox,” she said with a faint quirk of her mouth. “I can handle a woman trying to seduce me.”
Clare acknowledged the order about the mystery woman with a nod. “Was that a seduction? It looked like an ambush to me.”
“To certain wildcats and other prey animals, it’s the same thing.”
Clare snorted and tapped the neat stack of hundreds she’d just counted. “It’s all here. Five thousand.” She made a note on the iPad she always carried and put the money in the floor safe hidden underneath a waist-high bronze statue of Oshun. “By the way, Rox requested the next week off.”
Agnes mentally consulted the schedule. “Of course. She’s earned it. Give her two weeks if she needs more.”
“You know she won’t.” Sitting once again on the sofa, Clare started doing something on her iPad that involved lots of fast but silent typing. “She’d want to get back to work as soon as whatever is keeping her away gets sorted.”
The “whatever” was probably a woman, maybe even someone Rox met on one of her recent assignments. Incredible. Sometimes Agnes was surprised at the stamina Rox had for someone her age. Agnes liked sex as much as most, but she couldn’t understand doing it for work then running off and doing it for fun too. Which was probably why she wasn’t having any sex at all.
“I just sent her the approval of the next week off and your offer for the one after that.” Clare interrupted Agnes’s useless musings on her sex life. She darkened the iPad’s screen and put the device face down on her lap.
“Perfect.” Agnes tapped the mouse to wake up her own screen. A reminder to herself that she still had work to do even if a part of her wanted to step out and breathe different air. “Thank you. You can head home now. I know it’s late.”
“I don’t mind staying.” Clare gave her quick smile, hands tucked in her lap. A trick she used to seem vulnerable and compliant when she was anything but. It also was a trick she didn’t need to use with Agnes. But habits were hard to break, especially ones painfully learned.
“I know, but you need to go home so I can have a clear conscience.” Agnes made a shooing motion toward the door. It was already half past five on a Friday afternoon. Although Clare’s cat wouldn’t be calling the cops to find out where her human went, Clare still needed some time away from The House. Even if she didn’t want to admit it.
“I’ll go, but only if you do too.”
Agnes raised an eyebrow, giving her assistant a single glance.
“Fine. I’ll stay out of your affairs.” Clare stood up, smoothing down her skirt. “You should leave, though. I’m sure there’s someone out there who wants your company.”
Agnes smiled at that not-so-subtle way of trying to find out what was going on in her life. They’d worked together for over five years now, the entire time this current version of The House had been in existence. Despite that, Clare—and most of The House’s employees—knew nearly nothing about Agnes’s personal life, and she preferred it that way.
She’d made The House of Agnes from the ashes of what it had been and created an image for herself—deliberately remote yet fair, untouchable, and just a little bit dangerous—so their competitors didn’t get any foolish ideas. That cultivated persona wasn’t easily worn, but she kept it up in all areas of the business. She didn’t become or stay Queen Agnes by allowing everyone to know intimate details about her, such as whether or not she had a family and, if so, where they lived. Not that many people even knew where she lived.
Her business details, though, were more public. It was common enough knowledge that the top three floors of this twenty-story building housed her offices plus a pair of penthouse apartments for her exclusive company use. H Holdings, the name The House of Agnes did business under, quietly owned the whole building and rented the rest of it out to other businesses.
“Thank you, Clare. I’ll only be here another hour or so anyway.”
“All right. I’ll keep my cell phone close if you need me.” Then, with another apologetic smile, her assistant was gone.
Agnes waited until she heard Clare’s footsteps disappear down the hallway toward the elevator before she stood. Her bones hurt. She stretched her long body and sighed at the sensation of moving muscles held too long in one place. The outer glass walls of her office, tinted and bulletproof, reflected her figure against a background of the night’s darkness. High heels, matching gray skirt suit, white blouse with the high collar held closed by a diamond brooch. Cool. Professional.
Clare was right, though. It had been a long day, and this suit she wore, both the face and the outfit, were pulling tight now over her skin. She ached to get rid of them.
So, she did.
She slipped out of her suit, the matte heels, her boring blouse. Unpinned the stern updo. Her reflection this time was very different from the one everyone saw. Her nearly six-foot body, nude except for the plain black bra and G-string, straightened hair loose around her face and brushing the AC-hardened tips of her breasts. As Rox had so charmingly stated, not bad for thirty-six.
The freedom of being nearly naked and away from the scrutiny of others made her close her eyes for precious seconds. Then she shook herself. It wasn’t as if she had all night.
In the closet, she chose pink. A knee-length pencil dress with three- quarter sleeves and a high neck. It looked good, softened her usually remote-looking features, and hinted at an innocence she no longer had. She stepped back into the matte heels. An attempted smile in the mirror looked more like a snarl, but that was all right too.
After setting an alarm on her phone, she took her private elevator down to the garage. There, she climbed into one of her anonymous-looking cars and drove toward her private club, where she usually ended up at least once a month. It was a routine Whit repeatedly warned her to break.
But she didn’t want to.

Fiona Zedde is a Jamaican-born novelist and short-story writer who currently lives and writes and Tampa, Florida.

She is the author of six novellas – “Pure Pleasure,” “Going Wild” and “Sexual Attraction” appear in the collections, Satisfy Me, Satisfy Me Again, and Satisfy Me One More Time, respectively.

Her novels include Bliss, A Taste of Sin, Every Dark Desire, Hungry for It, Kisses after Midnight, and Dangerous Pleasures. To find out more about her, log onto her website at

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