By: Sarah Mayberry

Author’s Note

I’d like to send a big shout out to all the people who have helped get this book off my desk and into your hands. First off, I want to send bouquets of thanks to Marie Force, who has encouraged and cheered me on from the sidelines, as well as putting me in touch with great people who have helped get me from go to whoa. I also want to thank my amazing writer buddies who have shared their expertise with me - Mel, Joan and Mauri, bless you all. Thanks also to Dabney, who pushed me to dig deeper and think harder, and to Joyce, for tidying up my mistakes and making me look good. Huge hugs and kisses to Annie for my gorgeous cover - you are the best SIL ever, my friend. Finally, a thanks to the three “people” who are always with me whenever I write, even if they aren’t physically in the room - my amazingly talented husband, Chris, my fabulous editor, Wanda (who did not work with me on this book, but whose lessons will stay with me forever) and Max, the furriest, snuggliest companion a writer could have.

Chapter One

“Beautifully written. Very lyrical. And so many triple-score words I had to read with a dictionary by the bedside just to make sense of it.” Cleo set the heavy book on the table with an air of finality. “Now that we’ve dealt with Wolf Hall, I have a saucy tale to tell. And it’s a very good one, so buckle up, my friends.”

The other two women at the table burst into laughter, but Maggie Hendricks’ stomach did an uneasy drop-and-roll as her friend made her lighthearted announcement. This was the part of their monthly book club meetings she always dreaded — the part where talk of books and ideas and themes morphed into a discussion of men and sex and all things in-between.

“So does that mean you’re up for reading the sequel?” Maggie asked in a vain attempt to keep the discussion on track.

“Sure. Bring it on,” Jane said, raising her glass of wine high.

“Yeah. What she said,” Florence said.

They were seated around the old oak table in the back room of Maggie’s bookstore, The Reading Room, located in the hip and happening inner-city Melbourne suburb of Northcote. A half-empty bottle of wine and a platter of cheese and crackers stood on the table before them, along with four copies of Wolf Hall.

“Come on, Cleo, you can’t tease us with an opener like that and then hold back,” Jane said, gesturing for Cleo to ante up.

“At the risk of repeating myself, what she said,” Florence said, laughing at her own joke. Her long, straight black hair swung forward as she leaned in to grab herself a cracker and some cheese.

“You have no idea how much I have been gagging to talk to you guys about this,” Cleo said, shifting to the edge of her seat. “You know how I’ve been talking about getting a tattoo for a while now, right?”

Jane nodded sagely. “Your quarter-life crisis.”

“Exactly. Well, I decided on something, and I made a booking at that place up near the train station. The big gray place on the corner?”

“Brothers Ink. I love that building. Classic Melbourne neo-Gothic,” Jane said. She was a draftsman, so it made sense she’d noticed the architecture.

“That’s the one. So, I made my booking, and I got one of the actual brothers. Eduardo. Brazilian by birth. Amazing green eyes. And his body... You know how I have a thing for scrawny men? Well, he’s the rich woman’s scrawny. Muscles where he needs them, lean where it counts. Just...really hot. Really. Hot.”

Cleo literally squirmed in her seat as she described her tattooist. Maggie stood, propelled to her feet by a bone-deep unease.

“We’re probably going to need another bottle of wine, right? And maybe something else to eat?” She didn’t wait for her friends to respond, collecting the cheese platter and moving across to the mini-fridge tucked beneath the counter that ran along one side of the room. She busied herself preparing more food as Cleo continued talking.

“We talked about my tattoo for a while. He has the cutest accent, even though he and his brother have been in Australia for half their lives. He did a sketch, then he took me to one of their private workrooms.”

“Good God. This is going to be really filthy, isn’t it?” Florence said.

“In the best possible way,” Cleo promised. “So, we go into the back room, and he tells me to take off my skirt and underwear.”

Maggie didn’t need to look to know Cleo was smiling a cat-that-ate-the-cream smile. Maggie sliced a block of cheddar into precise squares and placed them in neat rows on the platter in front of her.

“So I’m stretched out on this table, naked from the waist down except for my shoes, and Eduardo—God, even his name is sexy—Eduardo rubs something cold on my butt and positions the design we’ve agreed on. Then he holds up a mirror so I can see how it looks. And I’m looking in the mirror, and he’s looking in the mirror, but I can see he’s looking at my ass, not the tattoo. And then I say to him, ‘What do you think?’ and he says, ‘I think I like it a lot that you didn’t take off your shoes.’ And our eyes just kind of locked, and that was it.”

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