The Escape Artist by Kitty Thomas
Publication date: January 14th 2020
Genres: Erotica, Romance
Claire was held captive for 43 days by a man who did unspeakable things to her.
Three years after her escape, she gets her revenge. The only problem is, she’s got the wrong man.
God help her if he escapes.
I absolutely loved this book.
From the first line to the last, The Escape Artist held me captive, just as Claire and Ari were held captive by one another. Kitty Thomas has crafted yet another amazing masterpiece of a story, one where she takes all the elements of wrongness and twists them into something that is so very right. This story is by parts emotionally charged, depraved, incredibly hot, fantastically written and populated with great characters.
This was wrong in every way a thing could be wrong. But he hadn’t been able to leave her alone in a world she could no longer navigate, and he wasn’t nobel enough to pass up this opportunity or just keep her as his indefinite platonic house guest.
The relationship between Claire and Ari is consensual at the same time as it isn’t, with the author somehow skating a fine line between the two. Just as I decided it was one thing, the tables turned and it became the other. Even more amazingly, Ms Thomas manages to take a relationship based on everything wrong and turn it into something perfect.
Ari was a good man until life gave him an opportunity to be otherwise, and yet that wrongness was the perfect thing to save Claire. Despite how morally dubious his actions were I adored him, and it was always clear that Claire’s wellbeing was his top priority. Theirs may not have been the most conventional of relationships, erroneous in just about every way possible, but it was exactly the relationship both of them needed.
The author has taken the possibly overused “captive” trope and shaken it up, producing a story that feels fresh and new. This is one red hot NSFW read, pushing buttons and boundaries in the most delightful of manners. I totally loved every single thought, word and action in the book, I simply can’t sing its praises loudly enough. In fact it’s left me with a deep need to read more of her work.
He’d felt how badly she needed someone to take control of her, her shattered life, everything. Someone who wouldn’t truly hurt her. But she could never ask for such a thing. And she could never feel safe if it were offered. Because she didn’t know who to trust.
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KITTY THOMAS writes dark stories that play with power and have unconventional HEAs. She began publishing in early 2010 with her bestselling COMFORT FOOD and is considered one of the original authors of the dark romance subgenre.
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(c) Copyright 2020, Kitty Thomas. All rights reserved. Excerpt used with permission.
TEASER SCENE 1:
Claire pushed the memories away, gripping the leather arm rests, willing her heartbeat and breathing to calm. That was him. She had him in a cell. That was the guy. He had a scar where she’d cut him. How could he lie to her with such a straight face when they both knew he had that scar and how he’d gotten it?
Because he’s a sociopath, Claire. He isn’t like normal people.
She couldn’t let herself forget that—what he was. She couldn’t let herself be tricked by the beautiful monster into setting him free and losing her own life. She got up and went to the kitchen, taking another bottle of beer from the fridge. This one she drank all the way down until a light pleasant buzz of calm skated across her skin. She took a long, steadying breath and grabbed the broom and dustbin.
When she returned to the cell, at least the arrogance had left his face. Maybe he was starting to understand his situation, that the tables had turned and he was now at her mercy. Let him lie about things, as long as she could wipe the smug smile off his face.
She silently swept up the shards of the beer bottle. The last thing she needed was for him to have a weapon. That had been his mistake with her after all.
“You can still let me go,” he said. His voice was so gentle and soothing. Calm and reasonable.
He’d never spoken to her like that in the basement. Of course not, he’d had the power then. He has to placate you now.
Claire just laughed. “Right. I’m going to let you go so you can hurt me again. Am I supposed to believe you’re reformed? After me, you stopped torturing and killing women? You realized the error of your ways?”
“What’s your name?” he asked, changing tactics. “My name…”
“Shut UP! If you speak your name I’ll kill you. I swear to fuck I will. I NEVER want to hear your fucking name. EVER. Don’t you try to humanize yourself. You’re a fucking monster, and you know it!”
“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, holding his hands up in surrender.
No he wasn’t, he was placating her.
“What’s your name, then?” he said, trying again.
“You know my fucking name. You used to hiss it in my ear while you were…” she trailed off, unable to say the words. She turned away from him and took a deep breath, quickly wiping the tears that threatened to spill over. She was not going to cry in front of him anymore. She’d cried all the tears for him she would cry.
She had the power now. Not him. NOT him. But she was shaking. She could feel the light tremors in her arms. He must be able to see them. He was the one chained up, and he was going to break her again.
“It’s okay if you don’t have it in you to hurt me. I don’t think you’re that kind of person,” he said gently.
“Just shut the fuck up!” she screamed. “I should starve you, just like you starved me for the tiniest act of defiance.” She turned back to finish sweeping the stray shards into the dustpan.
“Look at me,” he said.
It was a fucking command. He thought he could order her around when he was the prisoner? But she turned and looked at him.
“I would never starve you. Ever,” he said, holding her gaze in his.
He’d already starved her, and they both knew it. These head games… she had to regroup her strategy or he was going to get inside her head and mess with it. If she lost her nerve… if he got free again, he’d kill her this time. She was already in too deep. She had to get her shit together and finish this. It was the only choice.
TEASER SCENE 3:
“I thought you’d never wake up,” she said. “I worried I gave you too much. Wouldn’t that be a tragedy?”
But they both knew she wasn’t worried. Though it did cause Ari to worry because while there had been moments when he thought she might not have it in her to kill him—even though she had to know the price of not following through—now there was the new concern. She might accidentally kill him. She could give him too much of whatever drug she was dosing him with. One of these times when she was feeding him or injecting him with whatever, he could just… never wake up.
It sent a cold wave of anger running through him that she played with his life this way. He wasn’t her enemy, but she seemed dead set on turning him into one.
“I know you can’t control your smart mouth, and I don’t want to talk about last night,” she said, explaining the tape.
He nodded and remained silent. He knew the pointlessness of trying to speak behind the tape. Ari was beginning to feel more helpless than he’d yet felt while under her control. He couldn’t even talk to her. Or try to reach her. And he wanted to. He had no idea what he’d say after last night, but he needed to talk to this girl.
The previous night he could have forgiven her for what she’d done to him. Those helpless agonized screams would be seared into his own nightmares for a good long time. But now? With the way she was looking at him and whatever she might be about to do to punish him for hearing? He wasn’t so sure.
Ari flinched when her fingertips skimmed over the scar on his chest again. What he wouldn’t give to know what she thought that scar meant.
Her gaze panned over his naked body, and she flinched. Oh shit. Yeah, he still couldn’t control his body’s reaction to her. Damaged or not, she was exactly his type. She was everything he’d wished Holly had been. That sweet and fragile look just did it for him. Except that despite her fragile exterior and how she hung to the edge of sanity by a thread, this girl could fuck his shit up beyond recovery. He knew that now. It was probably better she’d used the tape. He needed to buy himself enough time to figure out the drugging pattern. And after last night she was far too volatile to risk any of the million wrong things he could say right now.
Both times she’d drugged him, it had been in the beef stew. Probably covering up the taste of the drugs. So then the other foods shouldn’t be drugged. Though she wasn’t a stupid woman. She’d no doubt send him some decoy stew so he could never be one hundred percent sure which meals were drugged and which meals weren’t.
His eyes widened as a hard slap connected with his face. His gaze flew to hers. He thought she’d smacked him because he’d zoned out, but the next words out of her mouth proved otherwise.
“You sick piece of shit. You can have a hard on until the end of time but you will NEVER touch me again, do you understand?”
He nodded quickly. It wasn’t as though he could help his physical reaction to her. She was so goddamned gorgeous. There was no part of Ari that liked being dominated. It wasn’t her act of being in control that affected him. It was the tragic vulnerability that threatened to escape out from under her mask of calm, cold retribution.
The mask had already slipped when she’d whipped him and fallen into sobbing fits on the floor. Some absolutely insane part of him had wanted to comfort her in that moment. Both of them were playing games they were ill-equipped to handle.
He didn’t do well without the control. His smartass remarks were a way to deflect from the very real distress over not being the one with the power. He didn’t even like the minor defiance of a brat sub, let alone being in a position like this. They were in the wrong roles here. She should be on her knees at his feet, and he should be the one holding the whip.
She paced back and forth across the cell, watching him carefully. Finally she snapped her fingers in front of his face to get his attention—as if there was anything else in this room he could give his attention to. She was in too deep. They both knew it. She was breaking apart at the seams even as she broke his skin with her whip. He needed control of her. And he needed it soon. Before this went too far.
In one swift movement, she ripped the tape off his mouth.
“Owww, motherfuck!” he growled.
“I changed my mind. We should talk,” she said. “Does it give you a thrill to know you can get into my head in my dreams? I bet you just love that I’m still fucking running from you even when I’ve got you helpless and at my mercy. Do you like that? Is that why you’re so hard?”
Ari sighed. “I’m not him. I’m not the man from your nightmares.”
Those calm words earned him another hard slap across the face.
“Stop. Fucking. Lying to me! We both know the truth. You have the scar. You look the same. You’re HIM!”
She began to pace back and forth, her eyes wild.
“I don’t know what you want me to say. You’re not going to believe it anyway so what’s the point?” Ari said. She might become even more erratic if she knew how he’d gotten the scar. And if he made up any other lie he was sure she’d read it on his face. It was both risky and pointless.
She gripped his throat and held him against the wall. Even chained he could probably buck her off him, but if she got injured with him confined like this it wouldn’t help anything. And despite how crazy he knew it was, he didn’t want to hurt her. He wanted to take her out of here and fix this.
He just had to figure out a way to escape her inescapable fortress cell.
She squeezed harder against his throat. He would no doubt have a bruise if she didn’t just kill him. He wished he knew her name. He needed something to call her. How could you reach and reason with a person if you didn’t even know their name? He was sure she wouldn’t respond favorably to any of his standard pet names. Calling her Doll might get him castrated.
Finally she released him and went back to pacing.
“I think this is hurting you more than me,” Ari said, knowing even as he said it, that it was probably the wrong thing to say.
She laughed. It was a bitter sound that bounced eerily off the walls of the cell. “Right. So… me letting you go… that’s for my benefit. You are an evil fucking piece of work.”
He captured and held her gaze in his. “Yes. I think letting me go is for your benefit. It will destroy you if you take a life. You and I both know it. You don’t have it in you. You don’t have to do this. I won’t go to the police. I’m not going to hurt you. I know it might seem that way, but I’m not him. Do I act the same way?”
“You’re the one in the chains! Of course you don’t act the same way. You have to act reasonable. You have to trick me! You think I’m dumb enough to let you trick me into my own grave?”
Ari took a slow calming breath and tried again. “If I was the type of man who would have done unspeakable things to you, do you really believe I’d still be calm right now? Wouldn’t I be yelling and threatening you?”
“You DID threaten me, the first day!”
Ari shook his head. “That was before…”
“When you thought you’d been taken by a man? Am I supposed to be charmed by the patronizing sexism?”
“Tell me your name,” Ari tried again.
“Is that the way it’s printed on your birth certificate?”
She pulled another piece of duct tape off the roll and slapped the tape over his mouth. “We’re done talking. You’re not getting inside my head. It’s bad enough you can still do it while I’m sleeping. You will never be in control while I’m conscious.”
Ari raised a brow. Wanna bet?