For fans of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and BARED TO YOU comes LOSE YOURSELF, the second book in the erotic, emotionally charged and addictive DESIRES UNLOCKED trilogy.
In LIBERATE YOURSELF, Valentina Rosselli realised that Theo Steen is the only man she’s ever loved. Now, in LOSE YOURSELF, she travels to London to win Theo back – and to continue their relationship from where they left off. But has she left it too late, and lost him forever?
In London in 1948, virginal Maria falls in love for the first time, and is drawn into a passionate, intensely erotic relationship with the charismatic Felix Leduc. Maria is soon overwhelmed with desire – and finds that love induces her to behave in ways she never thought possible.
As Valentina uncovers Maria’s story and its ties to her own, she is tipped headlong back into her romance with Theo – passionate, intense and powerful.
In my dreams, I dance
Last night she dreamt of Paris again. She wandered the alleyways of Saint-Germain-des-Prés at dusk – that time when they used to come out to play, the city still raw, still edgy from its recent liberation. She was searching for him. In the fading light she saw mauve shadows flitting this way and that, leading her on a false trail. She rushed down the streets, slipping on the smooth cobbles, desperate in her need to find him.
Yet he could not be found. She hunted for him in Le Flore, but the café was practically empty. Only Monsieur Boubal stood behind the bar, drying glasses with a white linen cloth, surveying her coolly.
You don’t belong here anymore, she read in his haughty glance.
She looked for him in all the clubs, the violence of the jazz accelerating her heartbeat as she pushed through the hot throngs of young Parisians and the new Americans, the guys with the scruffy little beards, the girls with long, lank hair and blunt fringes. They all stared at her blankly.
What are you doing here? She knew they were thinking. You are not a part of us anymore.
She was back in the dark streets, running, running. The abbey loomed in front of her as she turned a corner and she spied their hotel. Relief coursed through her. Surely she would find him there? She ran through the lobby, ignoring Madame Paget and her resentful stare.
Get out, she imagined her saying. You are not one of us.
Up, up, in that rickety cage lift. How could she ever forget it? And down the dark corridor she ran. She flung the door of their room open, her heart in her mouth, but it was empty. Devastated, she stepped inside. There were the tousled bed sheets, the three dead geraniums in the empty wine bottle on the windowsill, the empty case on the floor and, sitting on a chair, as if it was expecting her, was his camera. And yet he was not there. She stepped inside the room and picked up his camera, cradled it in her hands. He will come back. He must. She sat down on the chair, destitute, and her memory came back to her in the form of flickering images projected above the bedstead like one of the films they made. She sees her breasts and his hands caressing her nipples, she sees their lips meeting and his body upon hers, within hers. All is grainy and soft focus, yet the images slice her heart open like knife blades. She had surrendered every part of herself to their love. She had been possessed by it. How could she live without it?
Maria woke up on fire, her mouth parched, her body bathed in sweat. She was pulsing with need. There was a deep ache inside her womb and she began to reach down with her hands, to put them between her legs, to touch herself. No! She tore the sheets off herself with vehemence and lay on her back, letting the air of their bedroom cool her until her heart rate slowed and she was back inside her body – a body that had almost forgotten the darker side of passion. Carefully, she climbed out of bed. The cool floor beneath her hot feet pulled her back down to earth as she stumbled out of the bedroom into the hallway. Their apartment ticked in silence and there was not a sound from the streets outside. Milan had not awoken yet. She looked up at the cross above the hall table. She squeezed her eyes shut, clasped her hands tight and prayed to Jesus, her sweet saviour, to give her peace. Yet even He could not console her. On these nights, there was only one thing she could do to comfort herself.
She opened the door of her daughter’s bedroom and tiptoed inside. A lamp glowed in the corner, for her daughter was afraid of the dark. The room was a golden sanctuary. The shelves were full of books and dolls; pictures of fairies and magicians were pasted on the wall: the fairy-tale dreams of a little six-year-old girl. She sat down on the chair next to her daughter’s bed and gazed down at her. She felt a twinge of guilt at disturbing her, as she stroked the hair away from her forehead and leant down to kiss her. The child’s eyes fluttered open and she looked up at her mother, sleepy-eyed and confused. Maria climbed into the bed with Tina and held her in her arms. She pulled her child in so close to her that it was almost as if their two hearts beat as one. The child whimpered. She was tired, grumpy at being woken. Maria whispered into her tiny shell ear. She told her stories of a great romance. But this was not Maria’s story. No. She told her own mother’s tale: Belle and Santos; a love born in the majestic city of Venice; a star-crossed couple, destined never to be. A story that made the little girl cry and yet it was a story to believe in – that one day your prince will come. Maria squeezed Tina tighter. Better to fill her head with such nonsense than tell her the truth about love, of how it could turn a girl’s soul inside out and take her to such a place of liberation that it was terrifying. For once you had tasted this kind of love, experienced such abandon and bliss, it was hard to settle for anything less. And yet, what if the man you loved could never be yours? Then you were in prison for the rest of your life.
No matter how many princess tales she tells her daughter, Maria knows it is to no avail. As her daughter grows older, she sees it. Every time she looks into Tina’s unblinking eyes, she detects the fire of the spirit that burns in them all: her mother; herself; her daughter. And she sees more besides, for she recognises the child’s father – an echo of him – within the outlines of her face. And, when she sees that, she is afraid.
Valentina lies on her tummy, turning the page of her book. She inhales the comforting scent of the paper as she rereads the paragraph again. Anaïs Nin is describing a Brazilian dancer, who is painting her sex with red lipstick. The woman is surrounded by her admirers, none of whom is permitted to touch her, only watch. The image plants itself firmly into Valentina’s creative imagination. Anaïs Nin goes to town describing the red luscious lips of this dancer’s labia, like a ripe tropical flower, and Valentina can’t help but feel affected. She finds herself squirming on top of the bed covers and crossing her legs, yet even still she can feel her insides warming. She has an irresistible urge to paint herself, see how it makes her feel.
She hears a rustle of paper, as her companion turns the page of his book. She twists round to look at him, leaning against the bedstead.
‘What are you reading?’ she asks.
‘Edgar Allan Poe,’ Leonardo replies, blinking at her from behind his glasses. ‘“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”.’
‘Oh, I’ve read that,’ Valentina says, remembering that this was one of Theo’s favourites. ‘It’s supposed to be the first ever detective story, isn’t it?’
Leonardo nods, lifting his head and taking his glasses off. ‘How is Anaïs Nin?’
He cocks his head, his eyes mildly amused. ‘Is that so?’
She watches him regarding her body, his gaze resting on her backside. Leonardo has told her a thousand times she has the perfect bottom for a submissive: curvaceous, yet firm, plump and ripe for spanking. She knows he is teasing her, but the truth is she has grown to adore their games. It helps her to forget about Theo.
It is only five months since Theo and Valentina were in Venice together; only five months since their passionate reunion. And yet, the following day, it all fell apart. She remembers how close she had been to giving him her all, to admitting her love for him. Theo had spent months showing her how much he loved her, how he accepted her for who she was and never wanted her to change. Of course, he needed her to give something back to him; it was only fair. Yet something had stopped her from telling him she loved him. She still cannot reason why. It took just this one moment of hesitation to destroy their whole life together. For, despite her insistence that she could not even be called his girlfriend, they had shared a life in Milan. Until Theo was gone for good, she had not realised just how much he was a part of her.
After he had walked out on her in Venice, she decided she was going to win him back. Yet, when she returned to Milan, he was already gone. How did he manage it? To pack up and leave within twenty-four hours, the key to the apartment sealed in a blank envelope in her postbox. Not one word did he leave for her. Had he gone back home to America? All she knew was that his parents lived in Brooklyn. She had no address, and no phone number.