Saturday, January 31, 2015

eARC Review & Excerpt: Chameleon by Ashe Barker

Chameleon (Totally Five Star: Marrakesh)
by Ashe Barker
Totally Bound Publishing
Published January 30th 2015 by Totally Bound

A chance meeting, two strangers whose paths cross—in the same place at the same time, yet a world apart.
When mining engineer Ethan Savage spots the cloaked, veiled woman riding a donkey in the Moroccan desert, he can be forgiven for thinking that in some respects nothing much has changed in two thousand years. She wouldn’t look out of place in Biblical times. They pass, nod, smile politely and go their separate ways, two strangers a world apart.
But when, moments later, she rescues him from his crashed car, the first words she utters make Ethan realize that appearances can be deceptive. His little Berber peasant is not what she seems.
Shifting effortlessly between her traditional roots in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and her professional life as the Totally Five Star hotel doctor, Fleur is a human chameleon, able to adapt and blend into any environment. At first irritated then amused by the handsome stranger, Fleur knows the assumptions he’s made about her. As their paths cross once more at the luxurious hotel, she realizes he, too, is not all he seems. This sexy Englishman holds the key to her most secret and sensual desires, dangerous yearnings she’s kept locked away for years. Now she has a choice to make.
Ethan is only in Marrakesh for a few days, then he’ll be gone and she’ll never see him again. No one will ever know, so surely it will do no harm? Can she pass up this opportunity? And once she’s trusted him with her body, experienced all he can offer, will she be able to return to her old life? Or will the sensual chameleon need to reinvent herself once again to fit into his world? 

Review by: Ramona
My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Chameleon is the first of the Totally Five Star conceptualized by Totally Bound Publishing. It's stories are set in luxurious hotels around the world (two are mentioned in this book: Marrakesh and Paris) owned by elusive hotel mogul James Conroy. I hope that the tone of these novels will all follow the first because - it's scorchingly hot!

Ethan is a man on a mission in the wilds of the desert. While surveying a parcel of land in Marrakesh where an opulent spa is to be built, he thinks he's contracted heatstroke, or at least seeing a mirage, when a woman on a donkey crosses his path. Mesmerized by her eyes, she's seared herself on his imagination. 

Fleur has learned to make herself disappear into the mass of humanity wherever she is. Whether she's in a first world or third world country, she fits right in. But it's completely different when it comes to her psyche. While she realized she was a submissive early on, she ran into some circumstances that made her bury her longings deep down and effectively deny herself. As luck -or accident- would have it, her longings come to the fore once again when she encounters Ethan. Why not let herself go for once? After all, Ethan makes no secret of the temporary nature of their relationship. 

In the beginning, Ethan is a real ass towards Fleur. I would agree with her unvoiced opinion that alpha males make the worst patients! Yet slowly it becomes apparent that he is more afraid of her meaning more to him than he can offer in return. Fleur is his complete opposite - open, giving, trusting, despite her being able to blend in perfectly wherever she is. There is nothing hidden with her. Their dichotomy is strange; Ethan hides on the inside while Fleur hides on the outside. Yet, it works. 

I had a strange '60s Mills and Boon vibe while going through the story. Oh, it's not bad, completely the opposite, just that deliciously illicit feeling of going through an adventure that you're not supposed to have an inkling about happening to somebody. Like you're a voyeur in someone else's journey of self discovery. It's not just because it's set in exotic Marrakesh but how the story is approached: you're actually there watching Ethan lovingly shred the protective cloak Fleur wrapped around herself and seeing her blossom into who she truly is. The only term I can come up with for this is beautifully erotic. 

Chameleon is a perfectly sensuous debut for Totally Five Star. I do have a question, Ashe Barker. How many more kinky friends does James Conroy have? And will he have a book of his own? I hope so!


By reading any further, you are stating that you are 18 years of age, or over. If you are under the age of 18, it is necessary to exit this site.
Copyright © Ashe Barker 2015. All Rights Reserved, Total-E-Ntwined Limited, T/A Totally Bound Publishing.

Christ, it’s hot.
Ethan straightened. Scowling, he ran his fingers across his brow and flicked off the moisture. He leaned into his car to retrieve a liter bottle of water and took a long drink. The liquid was warm, but still wet enough to help—a little. He returned to stand at the front of his car, leaning over the large geological chart spread out across the bonnet. He studied the details on the map, resting his hands on the curling paper in an attempt to smooth it out, only to wince as his palms flattened on the scorching metal of the car. He stood up again, fast, shaking his hands and cursing the heat, the dust, the general desolation that was this place.
Forty degrees Celsius and rising, and still not nine in the morning. He had maybe an hour’s work to do here before he could head back to the blessed, air-conditioned cool of the Totally Five Star hotel in the center of Marrakesh but that was eight miles away to the north. Here, in the arid desert—in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains—was where his friend James Conroy had it in mind to construct his latest project. It was why Ethan found himself out in the already searing heat, parked in the dust at the side of the long road leading from Marrakesh to Tahnaout, boiling his nuts and squinting at the glowing metal of his hire car.
James was CEO of the Totally Five Star chain of hotels, internationally renowned playgrounds of the rich, the famous and just occasionally the infamous. The Marrakesh Totally Five Star was without doubt the best hotel in the city, arguably in the whole of Morocco. Constructed in the style of a series of Arabian riads, it offered its exclusive clients a rare blend of privacy and luxury, an oasis of Western efficiency set against the backdrop of exotic Eastern tranquility. The Totally Five Star was a slice of authentic Eastern promise, but the water ran hot, the electricity never failed and the newspapers were in English.
Despite all this, James wasn’t satisfied with it. He loved horses and saw no reason why his guests should be denied this fine Arabian tradition. But downtown Marrakesh was not the right location for an equestrian themed leisure spa. For this, James would need space—lots of space. Ethan looked around him, turning a full three hundred and sixty degrees. No shortage of space here. Flat, endless, timeless space, shimmering away to the horizons in every direction. James had acquired an option to purchase several thousand acres of scorching desert, intending to transform it into an annex to his opulent hotel chain, this time catering to horse lovers. There would be the usual other spa facilities too, of course—swimming pools, Turkish baths, massage, beauty and health treatments—all the pampering that money and an abundance of leisure time could make possible.
But only if Ethan said so. James needed Ethan to complete the geological survey and tell him if this site was suitable for what he had in mind. He needed to be sure there were no hidden deposits of toxic substances, no subterranean instability rendering the location unsuitable for a major development. So he’d called his old school friend, Ethan Savage, now heading up his own company specializing in geological surveys. Savage Geo was just the firm James required to start this ball rolling, to help him take the first steps in turning his dream into reality.
This is what had brought Ethan here. This was why he now found himself sweltering in the morning heat of the Moroccan desert, his eyes scrunched into tight creases behind his dark Ray-Bans as he peered at the charts before him, matching the diagrammatic representation to the reality of the actual contours and hollows of this barren landscape. He’d need to do some bore holes, sink some test probes to check what was actually going on below the surface, but so far, he’d seen nothing to cause him any real concerns. This scheme of James’ might just work. Though Christ only knew how James would manage to recreate the lush cool of the Totally Five Star out here, where the very air vibrated in the heat.
On that thought, Ethan straightened again and took another long drink. As he bent to place the bottle back in the car, something caught his eye. A glimmer, a slight tremble of motion in the distance. He squinted back along the road as it snaked away across the hillside, shading his eyes to focus. Something glinted, shimmered, right out there on the horizon. He walked around to the boot of his car, where his field equipment lay stowed, and opened it to grab his binoculars from his rucksack. He raised them to his eyes, adjusted the focus and blinked in surprise as the hazy vision solidified.
A head. A woman by the look of it, heavily cloaked, emerging slowly over the horizon. Her pace slow, sedate, rolling slightly. Ethan watched, puzzled, but soon understood the reason for the curious gait. Another head, this one gray with long ears pointing straight toward the heavens—a donkey. As they crested the hill, Ethan saw that the cloaked woman sat astride the animal, perfectly in tune with its leisurely pace as the beast ambled placidly along the ribbon of tarmac. Neither the woman nor her mount appeared to be in a hurry. As Ethan watched through his binoculars, a pair of shoulders appeared, also shrouded in a heavy cloak, the fabric enveloping her small figure. She didn’t appear to be guiding the donkey. She had tucked her hands inside the drapes of her clothing, perhaps for protection from the searing heat. Her feet, too, were swathed within the cloak. The ethnic details in the brightly colored fabric crystallized as he watched. He suspected the multihued woolen fabric to be hand-woven. When the pair came fully into view, Ethan could make out panniers swaying on either side of the beast, one with a small, rolled up carpet peeking from it.
As they made their slow, unruffled progress down the road toward where he stood, Ethan dropped the binoculars onto the passenger seat, preferring to watch them with the naked eye. He stared, unashamed, as they drew nearer, taking in every detail of this pair, so incongruous almost anywhere else yet so perfectly placed here in this unchanging landscape. Ethan strolled to the rear of his car, resting his hip against the boot. He made no pretense of disinterest, not so much as a passing nod. His fascination was total.
The woman and donkey would not have looked out of place in Biblical times, and it struck Ethan that in many ways not much had changed here in over two thousand years—at least on the face of it. He watched as the woman reached up to rearrange her cloak slightly to cover most of her features, the traditional modest feminine gesture so common hereabouts. Now she gave off no clues at all, there was no way he could surmise what might lie hidden beneath the heavy shawl. Long minutes crawled past as the pair covered the distance separating them from Ethan. He regarded them solemnly during the whole of their journey.
At last, they were close enough for him to make eye contact. On impulse—and because it seemed impolite not to—Ethan removed his Ray-Bans and met the woman’s gaze. She looked him in the eye, direct, unafraid. And certainly not so much as hinting at the timid modesty he might have expected. Her eyes were dark, lined in the local kohl, but her Berber heritage was evident. Despite having no other clues to tempt him, Ethan found her eyes oddly beguiling. Intrigued, he would have liked to know her, to chat perhaps. But that would never happen, not here. In this magical, timeless place, worlds passed within inches of each other, beings such as she and he might co-exist, but their lives did not touch, would never touch. They were a million miles apart.
The woman and donkey drew alongside, and Ethan greeted her in the way that seemed natural to him. He nodded, offering her half a smile—polite, distant, acknowledging her presence in this remote place, and his. The woman inclined her head slightly, the movement almost imperceptible but enough. Just enough. As she passed, she dropped her gaze from his, returning her attention to the road in front of her as the donkey carried her onwards.
The innate submission in her response to him affected Ethan powerfully. His cock twitched and leaped to attention with a degree of enthusiasm that even he felt was unseemly in the circumstances. With his erection straining the front of his faded jeans, Ethan turned, following her with his eyes as she moved away from him, relieved that she could no longer see him, as the effect she’d had on him would have been difficult to conceal. From the back, she appeared even more mysterious, even more inscrutable—a small, still figure swaying gracefully with the motion of the donkey.
Ethan shook his head slightly, intrigued, mesmerized, though he couldn’t say why. Where else in the world could two people so different in every respect meet, pass each other, nod a greeting, neither one in the least surprised to see the other, and both with a perfectly good reason to be there?
What was it about the small woman that fascinated him? He knew nothing of her life, nor she of his. They would never meet again and he doubted he’d even recognize her if they did. Still, he stood transfixed, watching as she slowly receded from his sight.
It was perhaps twenty minutes before she finally disappeared over the next slight brow in the road and dropped out of view. At last with a sigh, Ethan tore his gaze from the now-deserted road and back to the matter at hand—his geological survey of the spa site. He grabbed his tripod from the boot and quickly snapped the legs out, locking them in place and securing his camera on the top. He proceeded to position the equipment before capturing a few dozen images. He moved the camera about, photographing the site from every angle, also recording distances and gradients with a view to constructing a three-dimensional section model at a later stage. He worked quickly, keen to complete his site investigations and be able to return to the cool, air-conditioned comfort of his suite at the Totally Five Star to input the data into his laptop and start analyzing the information. He hoped to be able to provide James with preliminary survey results within a few days, sufficient for his friend to take a decision regarding further, more detailed work.
Satisfied at last that he’d completed all he could do here, today, Ethan dismantled his photographic equipment and put it all back in the boot of his hire car. He refolded the charts and tossed them in as well, took one last swig of his water then gratefully slithered back into the driver’s seat. He slammed the air conditioning on full blast as he reversed the car off the dusty roadside and back onto the asphalt. He turned the nose toward Marrakesh and headed for home. Or, at least, this week’s home.
He caught up to her maybe two miles farther on, still walking sedately along the dusty road, swaying gently on the donkey’s back. The animal struck him as the most placid of creatures, but still Ethan slowed as he came up behind them, careful not to over-rev his engine as he drew close. He passed them at a dead crawl, leaning down and forward to make eye contact again with the woman through the passenger side window. He lifted his hand in greeting this time, as did she. Once past, Ethan accelerated again but not hard. He flicked his eyes up to watch her in the rear-view mirror, enjoying his last vision of her before she slipped out of his sight.
He should have been watching the road ahead, not ogling a beguiling Berber peasant woman behind him. If he had been looking where he was going, he might well have spotted the pothole before he crunched his front nearside wheel straight into it. Amid the grating clatter of his suspension bottoming and the powerful jolt as the shock reverberated through the axle and up the steering column, Ethan fought to regain control of the vehicle. He might have succeeded if the tire had held out. But it didn’t, and he found himself hurtling off the road, out of control and heading with unerring accuracy toward the only obstacle for miles around.
He hit the olive tree with less force than perhaps he might have feared but still enough to spin the car around. Ethan lost his grip on the steering wheel and hurtled forwards, his last thought before he hit the windscreen that he really should have used the seatbelts provided. Pain exploded in his head, and the world went black.

Idiot tourist!

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