Arabella stuck out her tongue. Licked slowly, then closed her eyes in rapture.
“Oooh. It’s so good.”
Watching her swirl her tongue over the firm rounded tip, seeing the expression on her face, was almost more than he could bear. Nico tamped down a bolt of raw lust.
She looked up at him, her eyes shining. “I’ve never had anything like this before! What did you say it is called?”
“Gelato. It’s called gelato. This one is made with fresh apricots.”
She ran her tongue over the smooth surface again. He stifled a groan, promising himself he’d slather the icy concoction all over his stiff rod one day just to watch her lick it off like that.
“We’ve been making gelato in Venice for years,” he explained. “It’s said that along with the introduction of exotic spices, the concept of creating a confection from fruit juices and snow or ice is one of the many innovations Venetian traders brought home from the Orient. Back in the last century, a Sicilian invented a machine so gelato can be made any time of the year. Of course, here in Venice we’ve added our own special touches to the recipe. Rich cream, and cane sugar from the West Indies.”
“It’s marvelous! Can we come back here and get another sometime?”
“As often as you like,” he declared.
She licked again and grinned at him. “Here we are, sitting on the sun-warmed steps of a lovely old church, listening to a beautiful aria by the chorus inside practicing for a concert. I’m having my first taste of gelato. Exotic scents are wafting on the breeze from the perfume shop across the piazza. What a lovely painting it would make! It’s too bad you can’t add sound and smell and touch to your work.”
“A true master can awaken all those senses with his art,” Nico replied. “I’ve seen paintings of a storm over the ocean in winter that sent a cold chill up my spine. Paintings of a woman so beautiful I could almost taste the sweetness of her lips, feel the softness of her skin.” He smiled back. “Canaletto’s paintings of you.”
“I haven’t been allowed to see any of them. Not his, nor the ones you’ve painted.” Her lips pouted so prettily, he couldn’t resist leaning over to sneak an apricot-flavored kiss.
“It’s better you do not see them. If you were imagining how you looked on canvas in every scene, your expressions would not be as pure and spontaneous as they are. Canaletto is a virtuoso but it’s his ability to capture the raw emotion, the wild passion on your face, that will make this series his masterpiece. Any man who sees them will ache to be the one who claims you at last.”
She finished her gelato and he rose, extending his hand. “Come. There’s one more thing we must do. But first, please put your mask back on. I don’t want the maestro to get into any trouble because he let you roam the city.”
She picked up the papier-mâché mask she’d tossed carelessly on the step next to her when he handed her the cone of gelato and tied it behind her head. It was the mask of La Colombina, the maidservant, a beloved character in Italian theater. A common choice for a female in disguise during Carnevale, Nico chose it so she could walk about freely without fear of being recognized. There were dozens of Colombinas on the street every day during the festival.
When they set foot outside the mansion, he’d bought a colorful lace-trimmed shawl from a street vendor in the first piazza they came to and wrapped it around her. With her face obscured and her striking figure shrouded from view, Nico felt safe taking Arabella down even the most crowded lane.
They strolled through the Piazza San Marco, Saint Mark’s square, where crowds had already begun to gather for the night’s festivities. Children ran giggling and shrieking through the huge plaza, rousting up a flock of pigeons that swooped over their heads. Then they made a game of standing still as statues to see who could coax the largest number of birds to land on them.
Arabella pointed to the campanile, a bell tower near the docks at the far end of the piazza.
“I saw that landmark from miles out at sea when Papa and I first arrived in Venice. Up close, it’s even more imposing. It’s taller than the dome of Saint Mark’s! Are people allowed to climb up in the tower? The view must be incredible.”
“Yes, it is an amazing view. You can see all the islands of Venice spread out before you. The tower is over three hundred feet tall. There’s a steep, winding staircase inside that leads to a platform at the top where the bells are. But it’s a long climb and a single misstep can be treacherous. Not one we’d want to attempt so near to darkness. Perhaps we’ll plan an excursion there for another day.”
“I would like that.”
They strolled on arm in arm, winding their way through the narrow streets. She clapped her hands together and let out a cry of sheer delight when he led her to a line of gondolas moored along a canal.
“I’ve been wanting to ride in one of these ever since I started learning about Venice before we left for this trip,” she exclaimed. “So far all I’ve done is walk the streets. The scenery is lovely, but I long to explore the waterways in such a romantic fashion.”
“That’s been my plan for ending our day all along, cara. No proper tour of Venice is complete without a ride in a gondola.”
He waved a hand at the nearest craft and bowed, then helped her climb down. She seated herself at the far end of the gently rocking boat while its proprietor kept the craft steady with a pole planted firmly in the canal’s murky bottom. Nico had a quiet word with him and handed over a few coins. The gondolier pushed off from the dock and began a slow, silent journey, rowing them down the waterway.
“They are all dressed the same,” she noted, as they passed the others waiting for a fare. “Striped shirts, straw hats with a wide flat brim. And the boats all look exactly alike.”
“It is their traditional garb. Only the men of certain families are allowed to work as gondoliers, much like membership in the Grand Council. The guild of the gondolieri is strictly regulated. Even their positions at the docks are passed down from father to son.
“As for the boats themselves,” he went on, “by the 1500s the wealthiest families here in Venice were all trying to outdo each other with the sheer size and trappings of their gondolas. With over ten thousand of the crafts plying the canals back then, the Grand Council passed laws restricting the size and shape to halt the madness and reduce crowding on the waterways. Since then, gondolas are all required to be painted black on the outside and built to specific dimensions. But the gondoliers can still express their originality on the interior,” he added, pointing out the plush red velvet of their cushioned seat and the ornate lanterns at either end.
Arabella’s head swiveled from side to side, taking in the mellow stone walls of centuries-old homes lining the canal, all rising straight up out of the dark waters. She seemed delighted by the sight of window boxes crammed with colorful blooms decorating nearly every house. Here and there she pointed out lush vines and palm trees growing on rooftop terraces.
“It’s so peaceful, so beautiful, seeing it all from a canal. I could almost forget the evil I’ve experienced here.”
“Evil exists everywhere, cara. Venice is no worse than other cities. The more beautiful and holy the place, the more stark the contrast seems.”
Her eyes filled with pain. “Be that as it may, this city holds so many horrible memories for me. I long to get as far away from here as possible.”
Nico’s heart sank. He’d grown accustomed to being with Arabella every day. Capturing her beauty, her fiery spirit, on canvas. Seeing the flush come to her cheeks as the scenes they played out in Canaletto’s studio awaked her passionate nature. And then later, showing her ways to satisfy that wild hunger long into the night.
He knew in his heart she wasn’t guilty of murder. And until he began falling in love with her, the current arrangement had suited him, since they spent nearly every waking hour together. He’d wanted her with him so badly he hadn’t put any effort into seeking out her father’s true killer and clearing her name. But now, he could no longer bear to have other men touching her. And it broke his heart to see her so unhappy. It was time to set her free.
Nico vowed he’d find out who really murdered Lord Hays and bring the butcher to justice. He offered up a prayer that by the time Arabella was declared innocent of any crime, she’d decide to stay. Fall in love with Venice—and with him. The way he’d fallen in love with her.
Arabella saw a flash of pain in Nico’s eyes at her remark. After all he’d done to see that she had a few pleasant hours of freedom, she’d been thoughtless and rude. She’d meant what she said to him earlier. He’d been her savior, her protector—and he was more than a good friend.
She loved him. It was as simple as that.
And she’d hurt him.
She took his hand in hers. “Forgive me, Nico. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Truly, you’ve shown me a side of Venice I didn’t know existed. Beautiful music carried on the breeze, flowers everywhere, carefree children laughing and playing.”
“Don’t forget the gelato,” he teased.
She closed her eyes and sighed, running her tongue over her lips. “Aaah, yes… the gelato.” She leaned forward and kissed him softly. “You’ve brought me so much joy. Joy I thought I’d never feel again. I would like…” She stopped, blushing.
“What would you like, cara? Name anything—and if I have the power to grant it, it is yours.”
She glanced at the gondolier on the other end of the boat, making sure his back was to them. “I would like you to teach me how to give you pleasure tonight,” she whispered shyly. “The kind of pleasure you’ve given me… with your lips and your tongue.”
Nico’s eyes narrowed. “That is a very naughty request. In my country, naughty girls get spanked by their men. Then, if they promise to be good, they might get what they ask for.”
His tone was stern but she caught the wicked glint in his eyes. Her pussy clenched and she felt a gush of dampness between her thighs. Days of being tantalized and tormented, having her hunger aroused by strangers for hours on end, while the maestro captured it all on canvas, made her bold. She’d grown to love the wild sensations pouring through her body, and she’d begun to crave the savage heat ignited by the spanking she knew would end each scene.
She lowered her eyes demurely. “You’re right, Sir. It was very naughty of me to ask that. I deserve to be punished for my wicked desires.”
“Then prepare yourself for a spanking when we get home.”
The ride to Canaletto’s mansion seemed to take forever. Nerves on edge, Arabella had second thoughts by the time they arrived. She’d never voluntarily submitted to a spanking before. The image of bending over his lap, offering her bottom to be disciplined by his hard palm, made butterflies flutter in her stomach.
She’d begun to regret her brazen request as well. She longed to draw cries of pleasure from Nico, bring him to the peak of rapture he’d brought her to so often. But she was inexperienced. She knew her lover had had many women before her, some of them courtesans skilled in erotic arts. What if she couldn’t please him?
Just as she was about to take back her words, they arrived at the mansion. Nico held out his hand to help her onto the dock. Seeing the hunger in his eyes, she swallowed the impulse. He’d given her so much pleasure, asking nothing in return. And she’d selfishly taken. Tonight, she’d bow to his mastery, accept his discipline—and then do her best to wring moans of ecstasy from him.
She put her trembling hand in his and let him lead her up the stairs to his room.
Nico sat down on the side of the bed and patted his thighs. “Come here and lie across my lap for your spanking.”
She blushed a becoming shade of scarlet and her feet seemed suddenly glued to the floor.
“I said come here,” he growled.
Wringing her hands together, she took a few unsteady steps toward him, like a condemned man heading to the gallows.
“Don’t make me tell you again.”
She crossed the rest of the room and stopped in front of him, head down, refusing to meet his eyes.
“Place yourself over my lap.”
Awkwardly she draped herself across his knees. Enjoying the sight of her there, knowing what was to come, he prolonged the moment, running a hand lazily down over her skirt to one stocking-covered ankle. “Why are you being punished?”
“Because… because I wanted to do something naughty.” Face buried in the mattress, her voice was barely a whisper.
“You were bold and brazen,” he declared. “You’re a virgin, yet you want to kiss my cock, take it in your mouth, and make it swell and throb with need. That’s a very naughty thing to do. A man would barely be able to restrain himself from ramming his stiff prick deep inside your pussy after you did that.”
“Oh!” She twisted to look up at him, shocked at his rough language. “I’m sorry, Sir. I didn’t mean to tempt you into breaking your word. I only wanted to please you.”
“If you want to please me, reach back and pull up your skirt. Then tell me you’re sorry for teasing me like a shameless wench and ask me to spank your ass.”
Hands shaking, she slowly hiked up her skirt until it was bunched around her waist. He looked down at the quivering globes of her rear and groaned. He’d done his best to sound stern with his warning about tempting a man, but now that she lay across his lap, baring herself to him, he realized the truth in his statement. It would take every ounce of self-control he had not to wallop her good and hard, then roll her onto her back and plunge his rod into her velvet heat.
“I’m sorry, Sir. I deserve to be punished for teasing you thoughtlessly. Please spank my… my…”
“Say it. Just as I told you.”
“Please spank my ass.”
His hand cracked down and she jerked away.
“You will not move,” he ordered. “Not until I give you permission.”
She lowered herself back over his thighs. He could feel the heat of her mound resting on the bulge in his groin. He smacked her again, hard, then ground himself into her. She wriggled, rubbing instinctively against his stiff rod.
The move nearly made him lose control. His cock ached to bury itself in her soft wet heat but honor would not allow him to break his vow. For now, he’d feed the hunger building inside by turning her pert bottom an enticing shade of scarlet. Then he’d give his eager pupil a lesson in how to ease the fever she’d ignited.
Arabella bit her lip, trying desperately to stay in place over his lap as Nico smacked her bottom over and over. She’d learned by now that, unlike the punishments she’d endured from others in Canaletto’s studio, when Nico spanked her, before long the fiery pain morphed into a spicy heat.
He stopped to rub slow, sensuous circles on her stinging bottom. She gasped as his hand strayed, dipping down between her legs to sample the level of her arousal. When his finger encountered the slick juices, he grunted in approval.
“You want me to teach you how to please me?”
“Yes, please, Sir,” she breathed, as his finger began stroking the wet folds, venturing a fraction deeper with each pass.
“Stand up and take off your clothes.”
She fumbled to her feet. Seizing the folds of her gown crumpled around her waist, she drew it over her head and tossed it to the side. Hands at her sides, she threw back her shoulders and let him gaze at her.
Despite all the scenes where she’d been undressed by Canaletto’s male models, posing nude or nearly so for hours on end, standing in front of Nico this way, with just the two of them alone in the room, made her feel so much more naked, so vulnerable. Arabella stood it as long as she could. After what seemed like forever, she gave in to embarrassment, crossing one arm over her breasts and covering the curly patch of hair between her legs with the other hand.
Nico’s eyebrows drew into a frown. “Did I tell you to cover yourself?”
“No, Sir.” Shoulders slumping, she dropped her hands to her sides again.
He stood up. Coming around behind her, he gave her two sharp whacks on her bottom. “You said you wanted to learn how to please me. Seeing you naked, being able to stare all I want at your lush breasts and pink nipples, your narrow waist curving into full hips—that pleases me. Covering your body from my view does not. Lesson one—when you take my manhood in your hands or your mouth, you must always be naked.
“Now, get on your knees and you shall have lesson two.”
She knelt before him obediently.
He stripped off his shirt and dropped it on top of her gown. “Unfasten my breeches and free my cock.”
Hands trembling, she did as he ordered. Once released from its confines, his member sprang out, already thick and hard.
“Cup my balls in one hand and run the other up and down the shaft.”
She reached down and cradled his sac in her hand. Already swollen, it filled her palm. With the fingers of her other hand, she traced the path of a bulging vein to the engorged tip, marveling at the glistening drop of fluid she coaxed from it.
“Now take your tongue and run it up the shaft the same way you did with your hand.”
She bent her head. When she touched her tongue to the base of his cock, it jerked. He let out a groan. Emboldened at coaxing the raw sound from his lips, she flattened her tongue and ran it up the shaft.
Silky and smooth, with a hard core underneath, his manhood tasted musky.
“Yes,” he muttered, his voice rough. “Open your mouth and take the head in.”
She put her lips around the reddish purple tip of his cock and licked a drop of fluid welling out of the opening. Thick. Salty.
Nico made a low rumbling sound deep in his throat and buried both fists in her hair. “That’s it. Run your tongue around the head and then suck it.”
She explored the surface with her tongue, swirling it over the smooth tip and then around the ridge separating the head from the length of him. The vein running down the shaft throbbed and pulsed as she lowered her mouth over it. She closed her lips and sucked gently on the head. Nico’s hands tightened in her hair and he rocked his hips forward.
“I want to fuck your mouth,” he growled.
He held her head in place and began pumping in and out. She panicked, struggling to breathe, but at the same time, the raw sounds torn from his chest made her feel powerful, enticing her to excite him even more. She opened wider, allowing him to thrust deep, sucking on the head as he stroked in and out.
He tensed and she felt his body start to quiver. With a wild shout, he exploded, shooting jets of hot seed down her throat. She swallowed convulsively as he continued to pump, holding her head in an iron grip all the while.
Being mastered so completely, yielding herself to his gratification, sent a shocking thrill through her body. As satisfying in its own way as the savage climaxes he tore from her.
Nico’s grip eased and he drew her to her feet.
“Cara, that was incredible,” he murmured. “And now it is my turn to drive you mad—and then hold you in my arms when I take you to the peak.”
He pulled her down onto the bed under him, spread her legs, and dipped his head between her thighs. Arabella clenched the thin blanket in her fists, closed her eyes, and let the waves of ecstasy draw her into the abyss.
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