Please be advised that this excerpt contains adult material, unsuitable for younger readers.Chapter One
Live the Fantasy
An exclusive fantasy resort set in the sultry warmth of Palm Springs. The place for a woman to experience her most secret desires in a safe, discreet environment, surrounded by sheer luxury.
Choose your dream theme from among our five Ultimate Fantasy worlds:
* Casablanca: Live the glamorous and seductive era of the 1940s.
* Wild, Wild West: Guaranteed to be the wild experience of a lifetime.
* The Castle: The romance of medieval times brought to life.
* Pirate's Cove: A pirate adventure you'll never forget.
* Kama Sutra: The ultimate in exotic fantasy.
And coming soon: Arabian Nights:
The sensual luxury of a sultan's palace.
Relax in absolute privacy at one of the world's
finest luxury resorts.
Come to EXOTICA, and live the fantasy. . . .
The limousine sped through the desert, the sleek length of it gliding like a snake across the hot sand. Heat shimmered on the highway, the glare of the sun warming the darkened windows of the car, even though the air-conditioning kept the limo at a comfortable seventy-five degrees inside. Still, Lilli's hands were damp as, for the tenth time that morning, she looked over the brochure her friend Caroline Winter had sent her.
They'd hardly spoken the last several years, but they'd found each other through their college alumni association last year, just as Lilli was going through her divorce. They'd talked a bit through e-mail, and then by phone. Lilli could hardly believe it when Caroline had admitted what it was she did for a living, managing Exotica. But the idea had become more and more intriguing, until finally, Lilli hadn't been able to resist Caroline's repeated invitations.
Was she really going to this place? Was she actually daring to do this?
She shifted on the leather seat, the smooth surface sticking to her bare legs beneath the linen skirt she wore. She felt naked, somehow, just reading about Exotica, imagining what might happen to her there. Gloriously, yet shamefully, naked. But then, her life was full of contradictions lately, wasn't it? Had been since she'd found out what a sham her marriage was all these years. But that was behind her now, and coming here was a step toward making her new beginning. From now on, her life would be of her own creation, her own choices.
Still, she had to stop and wonder if she'd been completely insane when she'd signed on for this adventure. Or maybe it was simply old habit, one instilled by Evan, to question herself, to worry.
She tapped her fingers on the armrest, her pulse racing as she stared out the window. Long stretches of sand dunes swept past, punctuated by tall, stately date palms clustered around the entrances to beautifully landscaped homes. She'd always loved Palm Springs; she found the desert soothing, serene. Why did she have a feeling after this adventure, she'd never see the desert in quite the same way again?
The driver's voice came over the intercom. "We're here, Madame."
A pair of enormous iron gates rolled back in front of the car. Imposing. Beautiful. Her stomach gave one hard twist. There was no sign here. The resort was far too exclusive, too discreet for that. Nothing more than those big gates closing it off from the rest of the world. Almost another world in itself.
They drove past sweeping lawns with peacocks wandering beneath the palm trees. Gorgeous hedges of blooming bougainvillea in shades of red and pink climbed the high stone walls on either side. As they pulled up in front of a long, low building, done in the same stone that seemed to blend naturally with the jagged mountain peaks in the distance, she rubbed her damp palms together.
This is it.
The car came to a stop and the brochure fluttered to the floor as the driver opened the door and helped her out. She was breathless, suddenly, standing in the heat and the brilliant sunlight. Dazed.
"Lillian DeForrest! You're here at last."
"Caroline." Lilli looked up to see her approaching, an attractive woman with long brown hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail. She was dressed in a chic summer dress of white linen. The same beautiful, sculpted face and striking blue eyes she remembered. Caroline had hardly changed at all since they'd met in college.
Her friend leaned in and gave her a hug, enveloping her in warm, spicy scent. She stood back, and Caroline smiled at her. "Welcome to Exotica."
"It's so good to see you. You look wonderful."
"So do you. All that curly strawberry hair of yours; I've always loved it, and you still look like you're nineteen years old. How many years has it been since we've seen each other? But come inside. It's too warm today to stand out here in the sun."
She followed Caroline up a wide, shallow staircase and into the cool interior of the building. Inside, it was all sparse, calm elegance. High ceilings made the space feel airy. Polished tile floors led to a high, curved reception desk made of some light-colored wood.
An attractive young woman greeted Lilli from behind it. "Welcome, Ms. DeForrest."
"Samantha, please see that Ms. DeForrest's luggage is sent to the Kama Sutra suite."
"Yes, Caroline. Right away."
"Would you like to see a little of the grounds before I take you to your suite?"
"I'd love to. This place is . . . intriguing."
Caroline smiled at her. "Come with me, then."
She led her across the cool expanse of tiled floor, beyond the reception desk, down a wide hallway, and through a pair of French doors at the back of the building.
Dazzled by sunlight, Lilli pulled her sunglasses from her purse and slid them onto her face. In front of her was the brilliant green of a wide, sweeping lawn with meandering pathways twisting beneath the towering palms. Bordering the lawn were high walls, punctuated by gates in various styles. And in the center an enormous rectangular pool of calm water sparkled in the sunlight. Bronze statues of male nudes done in classical Greek style stood sentry at each corner. They were graceful. Erotic. A faint pulse of heat beat deep in Lilli's body, just looking at these statues, thinking about what she was doing here.
Caroline made a sweeping gesture. "Exotica is very much like an adult Disneyland. Each of our fantasy suites are like tiny cities done in different themes, with servants' quarters, background players, the appropriate architectural details. See there? You can see the tower of the Medieval Castle over the wall. That's our largest section, where guests share the main castle with each other, so there's an entire royal court going on all the time. It's very popular."
Lilli followed Caroline's gesture and saw what appeared to be ancient stone parapets that could have belonged to King Arthur, with colorful flags flying in the slight breeze.
"It's beautiful. Amazing really."
"We do everything we can to make the fantasy as real as possible, to make it all come alive. We want you to immerse yourself. That's why our companions work on bimonthly rotations, with thorough medical checks in between. Condoms break the fantasy far too easily. All of the men here are clean, so our clients never have to worry."
Lilli shook her head, her pulse fluttering. "You seem to have thought of everything. It's so . . . strange that you can talk about such things so matter-of-factly. And I can hardly believe I'm here. That a place like this exists." She laughed. "That you work here, run this place."
"Sometimes I can hardly believe it myself." Caroline shrugged. "But it's just my life now. And after your first night here, you'll hardly be able to remember your life anywhere else."
A small shiver went through her at Caroline's words. What was she so afraid of?
Caroline put a hand on her arm. "Don't worry, Lilli. He won't do anything you don't want him to do."
"Oh God. That word. 'Him.' That makes it seem all the more real, for some reason." A small trickle of perspiration ran down the back of her neck.
"Why don't you come back inside and relax, maybe have some iced tea before you meet him?"
"Yes, I'd like that. I feel like I need to . . . to catch my breath. Do you have time to sit with me? Talk with me?"
"Of course. We can get caught up. And I'll answer any questions I can. Come."
Caroline led her back into the artificially chilled interior of the reception building, but this time she took her into her private office. It was as open and airy as the reception area had been, with tall banks of tinted windows overlooking the lawns. Caroline gestured to a pair of creamy leather couches, but Lilli paced the floor instead, gazing out the window, as Caroline went to the intercom on her sleek glass-topped desk to ring for drinks.
"Lilli, you're as wound up as a clock. Come sit down with me on the sofa and tell me what I can do to make you more comfortable."
"I . . . I'm not sure. This sounded so wonderful when you first told me about it. Okay, a little . . . fantastical, maybe." She settled on the plush sofa, sinking into the soft leather. "After you explained it to me, after I thought about it, I realized it was exactly what I've needed. But now that I'm here it's a bit intimidating, the idea of being with a man." She let out a small, harsh laugh. "I'll be forty in a few weeks. No one but my husband has seen me naked for years. My ex-husband. And Evan was never . . . very kind in his evaluation of the way I looked."
"You didn't deserve that," Caroline said, her voice low, a small edge of anger there.
"No, maybe not. But here I am, nonetheless, about to face my fortieth birthday and not feeling great about myself. Part of what I'd like to accomplish this week is to feel more confident. Less hard on myself. More feminine, if that makes sense. But the hardest part for me is the idea of just . . . letting go, you know?"
Caroline nodded and said quietly, "I think I do."
"Do you . . . have you ever become involved with any of the men here?"
"What? No, of course not."
"Why 'of course not'?"
Caroline shifted in her seat. "I have to maintain a certain professional distance. It helps me to do my job with a clear head."
"I guess that makes sense." Lilli paused. How could anyone work in such a place and remain so unaffected by what went on here? "Is it because . . . of what happened with Jeff? That ability to distance yourself?"
Caroline blinked, looked away.
"I'm sorry, Caroline. It's not my place to bring that up."
"No. It's fine. There's no one else anymore who even knows about that part of my life, other than you. It's been five years. It's long behind me." She paused, smoothed a hand over her already perfectly sleek hair. "I think I get that ability to detach from my mother. You met her when we were in college. You know how cold she was."
Lilli could see the belying flush on her friend's cheeks. "I'm sorry," she said again. "Yes, I know how your mother was. It's just that, after that . . . episode with Jeff, and even more, what happened with Sarah, you really shut down, distanced yourself from everyone for a long time. Not that you didn't have every right to. I know it's none of my business . . ."
"No, it's alright. There isn't anyone else I can talk to about it. And it's been so good talking with you this last year, reconnecting. I've needed a friend."
"So have I." Lilli smiled.
"Go on then," Caroline urged her, even as her fingers twisted together in her lap.
"It just seems to me that maybe your detachment from what goes on here generates from that experience. Because I know I couldn't be so cool, so removed, working here. I don't know how anyone could be, surrounded by all of this. By the men, frankly."
Caroline gave her a wan smile. "Well, maybe that just makes me the perfect person for the job."
"Maybe." But Lilli wasn't so sure of that.
A soft knock at the door and a uniformed maid brought in a tray with two tall glasses of iced tea, a small bowl of sugar, and another full of lemon slices.
"Thank you, Marcy." Caroline held a glass out to Lilli, then took one for herself and squeezed a lemon wedge into it.
Lilli sipped her tea. "I just wish I could calm down and relax."
"It's natural to be a little nervous. This isn't the sort of thing most people do every day."
"It's definitely not an everyday occurrence in my life. I haven't even dated since I left Evan. How do I do this? How do I let go and just . . . experience whatever's offered?"
"Rajan will help you. He's one of our best."
"Rajan?" Lilli's stomach knotted, hot and tight. "Is that his name? The man who will be my . . . companion?"
"Your Kama Sutra lover."
Lilli took a long drink from her glass, trying to cool the blood racing fast and furious through her veins. "Oh God. I'm really doing this, aren't I?"
Caroline nodded, smiling at her. "Are you ready to see your suite? To meet him?"
"I think so." Lilli pulled in a long breath, blew it out. "Yes. I'm ready."
Caroline stood, offered Lilli a hand. "Good. I'll take you to the Kama Sutra suite. To your fantasy."
Back out in the bright sunlight, they climbed into a white golf cart and followed one of the paths across the lawn. When they reached a pair of heavy iron scrollwork gates, a guard nodded them through. Instantly the air felt different. More moist, sultry. Dense, tropical foliage crowded the edges of the narrow, pebbled path and the scent of flowers was heavy in the air.
The cart rounded a turn in the path and Lilli caught her breath as a structure came into view. A
long, narrow pool of pure blue water led to what appeared to be a small reproduction of the Taj Mahal, complete with graceful minarets and domes, and walls inlaid with calligraphy and flowering patterns of colored stones.
"I've never seen such a beautiful place."
Caroline stopped the golf cart at the front entrance. "The designers really outdid themselves, didn't they? I'll take you inside."
They got out and walked up a short tiled path to an open archway. Lilli put her hand out to touch the carved stone of a pillar, then pulled back. "I'm sorry. It's just that everything is so unbelievably gorgeous. Like something out of a dream."
"A fantasy, Lilli." Caroline smiled at her. "And it's alright. You can touch it. You can touch anything you like here."
Excerpted from Exotica by Eden Bradley. Copyright © 2007 by Eden Bradley. Excerpted by permission of Delta, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.