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FULLY

COCKED
(10 BOOK ROMANCE BOX SET)

KELLY FAVOR
OLIVIA CHASE
PAIGE NORTH
HARPER JAMES
LOCKLYN MARX
ZOE TYLER

FAVOR FORD PUBLISHING


Contents

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SMITH (The Beckett Boys, Book One) by Olivia Chase
1. Aubrey
2. Smith
3. Aubrey
4. Smith
5. Aubrey
6. Smith
7. Aubrey
8. Smith
9. Aubrey
10. Smith
11. Aubrey
12. Smith
13. Aubrey
Jackson (The Billionaire Croft Brothers, Book One) by Paige
North
1. Jackson
2. Emily
3. Jackson
4. Emily
5. Jackson
6. Emily
7. Jackson
8. Emily
9. Jackson
10. Emily
11. Jackson
12. Emily
13. Jackson
14. Emily
15. Jackson
16. Emily
17. Jackson
18. Emily
19. Jackson
20. Emily
Panty Dropper by Paige North
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Epilogue
SPIKED (A Sports Romance) by Harper James
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Epilogue
Dirty Professor by Paige North
ROCK HARD by Paige North
1. Jayce
2. Elena
3. Jayce
4. Elena
5. Jayce
6. Elena
7. Jayce
8. Elena
9. Jayce
10. Elena
11. Jayce
12. Elena
13. Jayce
14. Elena
15. Jayce
16. Elena
17. Jayce
18. Elena
19. Jayce
20. Elena
21. Jayce
22. Elena
23. Jayce
Obscene (A Bad Boy Romance) by Kelly Favor
Return of The Bad Boy by Paige North
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Cant Take The Heat by Locklyn Marx
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Heat Of The Moment by Locklyn Marx
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Bonus Content: RUDE by Zoe Tyler
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Copyright 2017 by Favor Ford Publishing

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical
means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written
permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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SMITH (The Beckett Boys,
Book One) by Olivia Chase
Aubrey
T he moment I walk into Outlaws, I instantly realize how much I
stick out. Worse than a sore thumb. More like a sore limb, or a
sore whole body. Silly me, I thought my skinny jeans and slim-
fitting T-shirt would be appropriate for a bar, but many of the
women in here are wearing tiny, skin-hugging skirts and sexy
shirts that make me look like a nun in comparison.
My face burns when several burly, greasy-looking men turn
and stare my way, their gazes raking me up and down for a
moment before visually dismissing me, but I make myself
continue walking through the propped-open front door into the
bar.
The floor crunches underneath my ballerina flats. I think its
peanut shells Im walking on but I cant say for sure, and Im
kinda too scared to look at what it is. Instead, I find a space at
the end of the beat-up wooden slab of a bar and slide onto the
rickety bar stool.
Some kind of rock with a heavy thudding beat throbs through
the large room, which is dimly lit. I hear the crack of a pool cue
hitting a ball, dozens of people laughing and talking. The air in
here smells like beer and warm sweattheres no air
conditioning, but thankfully theres a fresh breeze wafting in
through the open door.
I suck in a deep breath, pressing my hand to my lower belly,
and steady myself. Today, I begin again.
This is my new life. My new hometown. The place where I can
leave my shitty past behind and start over. Rock Bridge,
Michigan, a town chosen completely at random. A town that
includes the seediest bar Ive ever seen in my life. I didnt think
joints like this existed outside of movies.
I was totally wrong.
I study the beer to see whats on tap. Most are the usual
offerings, but there are a couple of brands I dont recognize.
Maybe local? I should try one out to help me acclimate myself
even more to my new town, my new state.
I peek down the length of the bar but dont see a bartender.
No one else at the bar seems to care, though. Theyre all caught
up in talking to each other, waving hands in the air, yelling over
the music. Their voices mingle around me.
Minutes pass. Nothing happensIm completely ignored by
everyone, and behind the bar is still empty.
I shift nervously, second-guessing my impulsive decision to
stop in here. Maybe this wasnt my best idea after all. But I spent
all day moving into my cheap but furnished apartment,
unpacking my meager belongings and getting settled in. I passed
the bar on my way to my new place and saw its within walking
distance.
For whatever reason, I didnt want to stay in that apartment
by myself. Not tonight. I needed to be around other people. To
remind myself that Im safe.
So here I am, sitting by myself at the dirtiest, grittiest bar Ive
ever seen. Like a fucking loser, I think, then correct myself. No,
not like a loser. Like a new girl in towntheres no shame in
that. Im not letting his voice insinuate itself inside my head
anymore. He cant control me, cant tell me how I should feel
about myself. My chest lightens with the realization that finally,
finally, Im out of his grasp.
I take my first real deep breath in what feels like months, and
my shoulders relax of their own volition. So what if Im alone
here? I dont care. I dont want anyone talking to me right now
anyway. I just want to drink a beer and relax. Be around people,
but not necessarily worry about integrating myself.
Besides, how would someone integrate herself in a bar like
this, anyway? Offer blowjobs in the bathroom? The thought
makes me laugh.
Uh, hello, a deep voice says from behind the bar, clearly
irritated.
I blink, realizing Ive been staring blindly at the nocked bar
surface, and peer up into the sky-blue eyes of the sexiest man
Ive ever seen in my life. His dark blond hair is clipped short on
the sides and pushed up in the front, and his black T-shirt barely
fits over his well-formed chest. His curvy lips are pressed
together in a thin line, surrounded by a red-blond close-clipped
mustache and beard, and he has one brow arched at me.
He doesnt look happy to see me. So much for customer
service, I think.
Um. Sorry. Yeah, hi, I stumble. Something about the
intensity of his gaze makes me clench, unnerves me. Hes raw
sexuality personified.
He quirks his brow even higher. I dont recognize you.
Im new to town, I reply. Just moved in today, actually. I
came from upper New York. Why in the hell am I telling him all
of this? Something about him makes me really nervous. And
when Im nervous, I ramble.
So, did you come from upper New York to just stare at the
bar, or do you actually want something to drink? His voice is
flat.
My cheeks burn, and I tilt my chin up. I would like a beer.
He just stares at me like Im a total moron, not speaking.
The heat slides down my throat and over the rest of my face.
Dumbass. Of course I want a beer. Im in a damn bar. He must
think Im a total idiot. I clear my throat. Something local,
please. Not hoppy though. Anything you recommend is fine.
He doesnt say a word but saunters away and grabs a thick
mug, tucking it under one of the taps. Its hard to not stare at his
ass in those faded, fit jeans. The fabric cups him perfectly; his
thighs are strong, too; I can tell that much. My belly throbs in
response to his blatant potencyhes unlike anything Ive ever
seen in real life. His arms are covered in tattoos, and I can see
another tattoo peeking over the top of his T-shirt at the base of
his neck.
So not my type.
And how well has your type worked out for you? I question
myself in a stinging inner voice. Because the last guy who was
my so-called type, clean-cut with a good job and a polite
demeanor that pleased my parents, turned out to be the worst
mistake I ever made. The reason I left behind everything and
everyone I know to start over in some random town I picked off a
map.
After what I went through with my ex, I should know better
than to judge a book by its cover again.
At the thought of him, my pulse picks up and my lungs
squeeze tight. He isnt here, I remind myself. He has no idea
where I am. Im fine now.
The mug of beer slides across the bar toward me. I grab it
before it spills on my lap, cupping the cool glass in my palms.
Hot Bartender is quite the charmer, isnt he? He didnt even wait
to see if I caught the drink before giving me his back in order to
flirt with a woman wearing the smallest tank top Ive ever seen
in my life. I think it was made for a toddler.
Smith, she coos, leaning over the bar to give him a flash of
her perfect cleavage. I thought you were gonna call me.
He murmurs something in response that I cant hear, and she
licks her lower lip, sexing him up with her eyes. Clearly she isnt
really that upset that he never called her back.
I fight back the urge to roll my eyes at them and sip my drink.
Whatever. I dont care about him, anyway. Let them flirt. Im
content to just sit here and enjoy my drink. I have to give him
credithe picked something good for me. Its rich but not too
heavy, with slightly sweet undertones. Ill have to ask him what
it is. That is, if I can tear his attention away from the chick.
I close my eyes and let the taste roll around in my mouth. This
is my new life, having new experiences, trying new beer. Baby
steps. No more having someone tell me what is best for me. I can
tell myself.
A small smile slides over my lips. I take another big gulp,
then barely keep from spitting it out all over the bar when
something hard slams into my back. I spin around to see whats
happeningtwo men are shoving at each other with a group of
people half circled around, yelling at them.
Fuck you! the dark-haired man yells to the shaved-headed
guy. You fucking cheated!
I didnt cheat, asswipe, the other man says in a warning
tone, his eyes slit narrow. Youre just too fucking drunk to be
any good. You suck at pool.
And you suck my dick, the first guy says, then gasps when
the shaved-headed guy slugs him right in the jaw.
I blink and jerk back in shock. What the hell? When I turn to
see what Smith, the bartender, will do to handle the brawl, I see
him staring at the two men, looking bored. He gives a weary sigh
then strolls around the bar and waves at the men.
Knock it off, assholes, he grunts. Take that shit outside.
The guys ignore him at first, shoving at each other.
I see Smiths jaw tick, and then he steps up and grabs them at
the scruff of their necks. I said, take it the fuck outside. His
words are low, barely heard over the thudding music, but
effective. I even find myself responding to the bold command in
his voice, the confident and firm grip of his hands, my spine
straightening. What the hell?
The two men stop and while theyre both panting and glaring
at him, they do as he asks and pull away from his grasp, shooting
nasty glares in each others directions. The crowd groans and
gripes about the fight breaking up, but they disperse, going back
to their regular activities of drinking and playing pool and
hitting on each other.
Wow. Ive never actually seen a bar fight before. I realize Im
clenching my beer mug and loosen my fingers death grip on the
glass. My heart is fluttering wildly, in fear andif Im honest, a
little bit of excitement. Just a tiny bit.
Because here I am on a Friday night, in a crazy-ass townie
bar, having some random beer and being brave, all by myself.
Two weeks ago, I was cooped up hiding in the apartment,
popping anxiety pills like candy, desperate to stop feeling the
tension and fear that came with almost every encounter I had
with Roger. Wishing I could make him happy, knowing that
something had to change because I was reaching my breaking
point.
Two weeks ago, the big incident happened that pushed my life
in this new direction.
Hey, sweetness, a voice says right in my ear from out of
nowhere. I slide around on my stool and see a short, stocky man
with a neck like a football linebacker. His brows are a dark slash
on his forehead and hes eyeing me greedily. I can smell beer on
his breath. You here alone?
I give him a polite smile and try to find a way to give him a
nice brush-off. Just enjoying a beer before I head back home,
thanks. I start to turn back toward the bar when his hand slides
along my lower back and grips my side. The intimacy of the
gesture makes my skin crawl.
My names Dan. I havent seen you in here before. Youre
gorgeous. Dan moves closer until theres barely an inch
between us.
I lean back. Dan may be short, but hes built and strong. And
after seeing that earlier fight, Im trying to figure out the best
way to blow him off without ending up in a bad situation. I
wiggle away from his hand and put my beer mug on the bar.
Thats nice of you. Im new here and just trying to enjoy some
quiet time.
Whats your name? he presses.
My pulse picks up. Im so not in the mood to deal with a
pushy guy. I really want to be left alone right now.
Dans brow furrows and he frowns. What are you, some kind
of snobby bitch? Im just being nice. He moves closer again, and
I can see red rimming his bloodshot eyes. Hes really drunk. His
gaze is barely focused on me. I can be real nice, baby. Make you
feel right at home. Those hands reach out again to grab my
waist and he yanks me off the stool, tugs me flush against him. I
feel his hardness pressing against me, and a rush of panic floods
my system.
My heart thrums. I try to pry myself out of his grip, but hes
too strong. Let me go, I tell him in the firmest tone I can
manage.
Just relax, Dan breathes against me, and the warm beer
breath puffing on my face makes my stomach turn. You dont
have to be so uptight. Have some fun with me, huh.
Im in full-blown panic mode, about to let out a scream.
Then suddenly, hes jerked back, his hands releasing me. I
stagger in response to the sudden freedom, and see Smith
gripping Dans shirt at the throat, and then Smiths fist slams
into Dans face with a sickening crunch.
Dans head whips back, blood gushing out of his nose. His
hands fly up to cup the injured part. What the fuck? he cries
out.
The whole room has gone quiet, so Smith doesnt have to yell.
Get the fuck out of here and dont come back to my bar. Ever.
His bar. Hes not the bartenderSmith owns Outlaws.
With his face obscured by his hands, blood pouring out
between his fingers, Dan staggers his way outside and
disappears into the night.
My heart is beating so hard Im sure Smith can see it when his
laser focus turns to me. I open my mouth to thank him for
intervening, even if his method was a littlebarbaric but he
speaks first, cutting me off.
You okay? He looks me over, his hot eyes raking my entire
body. I feel myself flush in response.
The excitement of yet another fight peaks and subsides, and
the bar goes back to its regular action. All in a days work, I
suppose.
I nod. Um. Yes. Thank you.
You should leave, too.
Wait, what? I blink in surprise. Hes kicking me out, for
real? What did I do? Hes the one who
Sweetheart, this place isnt for you. Smith takes a step
toward me, and I can smell his rich, spicy scent. My pulse kicks
up again, this time in a sheer sexual response. He stares down at
me hard. Outlaws is too rough for someone like you. I see the
moment his eyes fill with dismissal. Just like that, hes deemed
me too soft, too delicate. Try Foleys Sports Bar at the other end
of town. Theyre better suited for you.
Smith walks away and goes back to his place behind the bar.
The girl who was flirting with him eyes me, shakes her head with
a little smirk of pity, then turns her attention to Smith, reaching
over to stroke the back of his neck.
My entire face burns with anger, with embarrassment. How
dare he treat me like that? He doesnt know what Ive gone
through. He thinks Im just some scared little girl, but Im not. I
set my jaw, slide back into my stool, and face my beer again.
Fuck that. Im not leaving here, at least not until I finish my
drink. Smith just threw a big, fat challenge my way, and Ill be
damned if I cave. Im not slinking away with my tail between my
legs.
Rock Bridge is my new town. Im not going to be scared
anymore.
No one else around the bar talks to me while I drinkeither
my body language tells them to leave me alone or, more likely,
seeing Smith punch the shit out of Dan warned them off. The
beer is room temperature at this point, but I dont care. Over the
next twenty minutes, I stubbornly finish the entire thing. And
the whole time, Smith ignores me. Either hes completely
forgotten I even exist or hes trying to prove something to me.
That I dont belong.
When my mug is empty, I just sit there with a slight buzz,
debating what to do. Pride keeps me seated on the stool for
longer than I probably need to be.
Can I get you another? a purring male voice says. I glance
up to see a dirty-blond guy who looks like Smith, but a couple of
years younger and with a smooth-shaven face, eyeing me from
behind the bar. He cocks a crooked grin my way, a practiced
smile that I bet probably dissolves a lot of girls panties.
Before I can talk myself out of it, I nod. Fuck it. Im not letting
anyone control me, not ex-boyfriends or rude bar owners. Yes,
thank you. I shove the mug in his direction.
He rinses it and refills it, handing it to me. With a wink, he
says, Hi, Im Jax. Welcome to Rock Bridge. Quite the welcoming
committee weve gathered for you tonight, huh?
I cant help it. I laugh. This guy knows hes hot, is a ridiculous
flirt, and I needed the release of tension right now. I have to
admit, I wasnt expecting all of this.
Jaxs mouth quirks. Outlaws is a rough place. Can take a
while to get used to. With that, he gives me a nod then
swaggers away to serve other customers.
Hes cute, of course. But he doesnt have the same effect on
me as Smith, who is probably his brother or cousin. Something
about Smith makes my whole body feel alive. Damn him,
because I dont want to be attracted to him. Hes a jerk.
I can see what Jax means about Outlaws. This whole night has
been unlike anything Ive ever experiencedscary, yet also kind
of exciting, if Im honest. Maybe I need a little excitement in my
life. Something to shake me up and remind me Im alive.
I stubbornly refuse to look at Smith as I work on my new beer.
I can sense him behind the bar, moving around, waiting on
customers. Knowing this is his bar makes him seem even bigger
and more powerful than he was before.
Powerful and intriguing.
Damn him.
When I drain the last of my beer mug, I toss a twenty on the
barIm sure its more than enough to cover the two beers and a
tipand hop off the barstool. I can feel Smiths eyes on me, and
my skin vibrates. I make myself turn and stare boldly at him.
Tension crackles in the air between us.
He wants to challenge me? Ill take that challenge.
Im going to come back and prove to him, and to me, that I
can handle this.
Smith
One week later

Smith, Maria says to me in her high, breathy voice. She leans


over the bar and parts her lips in a seductive manner, one finger
sliding along her lower lip. Im soooo thirsty. Can you give me
something to fill my mouth?
Thats the thing with Maria. I never have to guess what she
wants. And what she usually wants is a hard fuck. Still, shes
loaded right now, more so than usual, so I grab a glass of water
and push it toward her. Drink this.
She pouts and thrusts her pert breasts in the air. But I dont
want water. I want something else, thick and creamy.
I admit, its tempting. The girl can suck a dick like she was
born to do the job, and its been a while since Ive indulged.
Probably her mini stint in the amateur porn industry gives her
an edge. But shes been clingy lately, not just wanting sex.
Hinting that shed like more. As in a real datedinner, movies.
Not tonight, sweetheart, I murmur to her then move away
from that end of the bar before she can say anything else.
Maria shrugs and turns her attention to the guy on the stool
beside her.
I focus on cleaning the glassware. The crowd is unusually
small for a Friday night, but its because theres a home football
game at the local high school. The town goes nuts for the
Warriors. Not me, of course. Fuck that place.
Nothing but bad memories there.
Im in the middle of pouring a fresh beer for Sam, one of the
locals who practically lives in the same stool he frequents every
night, when she walks in.
Miss Innocent.
My chest tightens a fraction. The fuck? I thought last Friday
would have scared her enough to keep her away. Fresh meat like
her shouldnt frequent a bar like Outlaws. Shell be torn apart.
Yet here she is, strolling toward the bar, a stubborn set to her
face. Her soft brown shoulder-length hair sways, and even in the
dim light I can see its glossy. I bet it feels good, clenched in my
fist as I jerk her head back and lick Oh, fuck no. Not going
there.
But its hard not to when I see her long expanse of curvy bare
legs in a tiny fucking black skirt with a little flare. Her tank top is
hot pink and her breasts spill over the top. Definitely different
than last weeks outfit.
Is she trying to pick someone up here?
She sits down at the same spot she was in last week and just
gives me a look. Her eyes dont have the same skittishness they
had before. Theres a stubbornness in her, thats for sure.
So she wants to hang with the bad boys, does she? Maybe
shes some pampered, spoiled new girl whos looking to slum a
bit. Wouldnt the first time weve had them walk in here,
spending Daddys money to buy a bunch of shots, then hooking
up with one of the Beckett brothers.
Normally it doesnt bother me. Hell, I end up winning both
waysthe bar makes money and I get laid. But something about
this girl makes me feel uneasy, a little off center. I cant quite
figure out what it is. And I dont like it.
I rarely lose my temper fast, but watching that idiot Dan
pawing all over her last week, the tension and edge of fear in her
eyes as she tried to get awayI fucking lost it. Broke his fucking
nose for good measure. Luckily he slunk out of here and didnt
file chargesit was a stupid, impulsive move on my part.
Whatever. Im not going to let her get under my skin.
I ignore her for a solid ten minutes, serving other customers,
cleaning glassware, keeping busy, anything to pretend she isnt
sitting there quietly, waiting for me to acknowledge her and
bring her a drink.
I guess she isnt going to just slink away, despite me silently
willing her to go away. I walk over to her. So youre back, I say,
and my voice isnt any friendlier than last time.
She lifts her chin. I guess Im a glutton for punishment. I
havent had shitty customer service in a whole week, and Im
way overdue.
The smartass answer makes me chuckle unexpectedly. Okay,
so shes funny, Ill give her that. What do you want?
A beer. You guys do still serve those here, dont you? Her
lips curl into a small smirk. Whatever you gave me last time is
fine, if you remember what it is.
Oh, I remember, all right. I remember lots of things about her
what she drank, how she smelled, how she bit her lower lip. I
thought about her randomly over the past week, wondering what
made her come to the bar in the first place. Figuring I wouldnt
see her again. Wouldnt hear her husky voice.
Thinking it was definitely for the best that way.
I let my gaze rake over her breasts, then raise then with
deliberate slowness to her face. Her cheeks are a delicate blush
of pink, but to her credit, she maintains eye contact with me,
unwavering.
I grab a mug and fill it, then hand it to her. She gives me a nod
and sips the brew, and I hear a small, happy sigh escape her lips.
Something about the way she takes simple pleasure in a thing as
unimportant as a beer makes me wonder how shed react in
other situations, like my face buried between her thighs.
My cock twitches at the thought.
I shake it off and make myself move away. Fuck no, Im not
going down that road with her. If she isnt a virgin, shes pretty
damn close; innocence practically radiates from her. The dirty
shit Im into would probably shatter her already fragile psyche.
This bar is hell, and seems to me shes an angel with a broken
wing who wandered her way into the wrong place. Despite her
bravado, theres still an air around her that speaks of pain and
sadness. But Im not getting caught up in that.
Still, shes fucking gorgeous. Its no wonder I see several guys
checking her out. I shoot a few warning glares out at the crowd. I
cant have her, but Ill be damned if I let any of these other
mutts pollute her, either.
Miss Innocent doesnt take her time finishing her beer; she
drinks it like shes on a mission. When its empty, she sets the
mug on the bar surface and doesnt say anything, just eyes me
quietly. Waiting to see what Ill do. If Ill continue to ignore her.
I tell myself Id be a shitty bar owner if I didnt try to serve my
customers, and I go over to her. Another?
I think I want a shot, she declares.
I see. I fight back the smirk that threatens to erupt and say,
And what kind of shot are you looking for?
A blowjob.
Hearing the word slide from her mouth makes my cock twitch
again, and I imagine my dick pressing between her swollen lips,
her on her knees in front of me, panting and licking and wet. I
keep my breathing steady and pretend Im not affected. You got
it. I start to move away to make her shot.
Do one with me, she blurts out.
With this, I pause and turn back to her. I dont do blowjobs,
sweetheart.
Oh, Im sure you dont give em, but I bet you receive enough
of them. Theres a definite flirtiness in her tone, and she licks
her lower lips. The angel is trying to tease the demon, is she? Get
a response out of me?
I need to resist this, but Im finding myself pulled to her. The
fact is, last Friday was crazy, yet here she is again, pretending
like it didnt bother her. Maybe shes trying to pick me up.
I cant let it go that farwont let it. But I cant resist flirting
back. Fine, but next we do a shot of my choice.
She swallows a little, then nods. Deal.
I mix the blowjobs for us and hand her one. We clink the shot
glasses on the counter, then raise them in the air. I give her a
small nod, and we swig them back.
She gasps and rubs her chest. Oh, thats hot going down.
Pretty sure its suppose to be, I lob right back.
She laughs, and her whole face lights up. The sudden shift in
seeing her like this makes my pulse throb. Holy fuck, did I say
earlier that shes gorgeous? Shes ethereal when shes smiling.
You make it good, she says, and her compliment warms my
chest in a way I find slightly disconcerting.
Whats your name, sweetheart? I find myself asking.
Aubrey. The word is a small breath, and she licks those
sexy lips again.
Im Smith. Welcome to Rock Bridge.
Her eyes widen in mock surprise. That was actually polite,
Smith. I hope youre not losing your surly demeanor. Ive so
come to enjoy our encounters and Id hate for you to change just
for me.
The half grin that had been working its way across my face
grows bigger. Aubrey isrefreshing. Shes definitely flirting
with me, that much is clear. But I like that shes busting my balls
too. Not afraid to throw it right back at me.
This ones full of surprises, I decide.
You ready for your next shot? I lean toward her and stare
into her eyes. Fuck, her gaze is so intense as she looks back at
me with increasing sexual interest, like she has no filter at all. I
can see everything on her face, every nuanced emotion. How the
hell has she made it through life exuding this level of innocence,
of naivety, and not been utterly broken yet?
I can almost smell her heat; the thought of how expressive
she probably would be in bed makes me bite back a groan. Im
sliding into dangerous territory herethis girl is so not for me.
Id do well to remember that before I get caught up in her.
She nods. Whats our drink of choice?
Jameson.
Whiskey. Aubrey gives a nervous laugh. Ireally havent
had a lot of that.
Seems like a good time to try something new, I tell her,
knowing my words are loaded and that I shouldnt be saying it.
Smith! Maria bellows. My new friend here wants to buy
me a drink. Theres a sharpness in her voice that I dont quite
care for. Clearly she wants me to feel jealous over some other
guy trying to bang her.
I walk over to them, flinging a dishtowel over my shoulder. I
keep my face expressionless; best to start cooling shit with Maria
so she doesnt think its ever going to be more than casual hook-
ups. I give the guy a nod. She likes rum and Coke, if youre
trying to get anywhere with her.
Maria gives a little shocked gasp and blinks. She huffs and
swivels to the guy, plastering a smile on her face. Thats what I
used to drink. Now I really like Jim Beam and ginger ale.
I cant help but laugh a littleits what the guy is drinking.
Maria gets over shit fast, Ill give her that. I mix one up for her
and slide it to her, and the guy hands me a few bills. Then Sam is
ready for a refill, so I pour him another beer.
Thanks, man, he slurs. His mussed brown hair is flopped
over his brow, and he squints at his watch, trying to read the
time, moving it closer and further away.
Its ten thirty-five, I tell him. Sam hasnt told me much of
his storyunlike most drunks, he doesnt treat the bar like a
personal confessional. But I can tell hes avoiding going home.
Of course I wonder why, but Ill never pry. The man has a right to
his privacy; in fact, most of our clientele frequent Outlaws
because no one gives a fuck what youre doing. We all just mind
our own here.
Sam nods, and I sidle back to Aubrey. Shes quietly watching
me, taking in everything going on.
So. She clears her throat, and the pink on her cheeks
deepen. Um, were doing a shot of Jameson? She digs in her
purse.
This ones on me, I say, waving her off. With deft, practiced
moves, I pour the shots and give her one.
Her thankful smile makes something in my chest tighten.
How is it she can look so fucking appreciative over someone
buying her a shot? The more Im around her, the less I think
shes a princess. No, she doesnt have that air of easy money
about her. That demeanor that says she naturally expects to get
things handed to her. This girl is different than that sort of
bullshit.
What should we toast to? she asks me in that sweet tone
that simultaneously makes me want to grab the back of her head
and kiss her, but also run the fuck away.
This girl feels dangerous to me in all the worst ways.
Lets toast to more blowjobs, I say in a distancing tone,
then down the shot without looking at her. I hear her clink the
glass on the counter, and I take it and walk off, rinsing them out
and putting them back.
My brother Jax slides behind me and slugs me in the shoulder.
Hey, you almost look fucking happy for once in your life. What
gives?
Shut up and go pour something, I tell him.
He pauses and eyes Aubrey. Oh, shes back. Mmmm, shes
looking mighty nice tonight.
I shoot him a glare. No. Just no.
Jax quirks a brow at me and says in an overly innocent tone,
Im merely being friendly with the customers. And you left her
without a drink. Tsk-tsk. Thats lost money, isnt that what
youre always telling me? Jax smirks; he knows how to push my
buttons better than anyone else. Im going to go help her,
because she looks like a little lost lamb in a den of wolves.
More like an angel in a den of demons, I mutter. Maybe its
better if Jax serves her though. Im finding her too charming
anyway.
Jax goes over to her, and within two minutes, shes giving
that sparkling laugh again, the one that lights up everything
around her. And I kind of hate that Jax is the one making her
laugh this time. Because a stupid part of me wants it aimed all at
me.
My gaze is drawn over to the pool table, where I see a couple
of guys standing in front of each other, posturing with each
other, trying to be overly macho. I give a heavy sigh and head
over there to talk them down before shit explodes.
The joys of co-owning a barguys get drunk and fucking
stupid, and they start having dick-measuring contests. Jax, my
middle brother, and Asher, our youngest brother, leave most of
the business operations to me, so I have to admit, the bar feels
more like mine than ours.
I walk up to the two men. Is there a problem? If so, take it
the fuck outside. I dont care if people are rowdy in here. I just
dont want them breaking my shit. It costs money to replace
tables and glasses, and were not quite flush with cash.
One of the guys, a regular at Outlaws named Shep, huffs. No
problem, except that this guy is a total pussy.
Your mom didnt think I was a pussy last night when I was
banging the fuck out of her, the guy tosses back.
Shep lunges toward him, and I hold him back and roll my
eyes. Grow up and stop being idiots. Come on. I grip their
shoulders and make them look at me. Chill the fuck out and
have a beer.
They both give reluctant nods and separate, Shep with his tall
and skinny girlfriend, the other guy by himself. Good. I dont
have time to deal with this horseshit. Too much on my mind.
Like how my body keeps wanting to turn back toward Aubrey
and see what shes doing. To see those sexy-as-hell legs crossed,
with a good portion of her thigh exposed
Without giving in to the urge, I head down the dim hallway
and go out back. The air is thick and muggy tonight, and my skin
is instantly slicked with sweat. My hand reaches for my back
jeans pocket before I remember my cigarettes arent in there.
Brilliant idea I had, giving up smoking a couple of months ago.
But Aunt Roselyn wouldnt stop hounding me about it until I
caved just to shut her up.
I rub the nicotine patch on my upper arm, wishing I could roll
it up and smoke it, when the door creaks open and Aubrey walks
through. She pauses, startled.
Oh, sorry, she says shyly. Is this area employees only?
Fuck. I sigh. No, youre fine. Im going back inside.
Aubrey takes a few tentative steps up to me. Theres a
softness in her eyes, the haze of alcohol, and I can smell its
delicate flavor on her breath. Um, did I do something to offend
you? I mean, at first it seemed like you hated me, and then like
you didnt, and now it feels like it again
I dont hate you. I dont even know you. I keep my voice
flat, willing myself to not respond to her body language, her
tone. The way shes leaning toward me, her lips parted, her eyes
wide, her breath coming in small pantsshe wants me.
And fuck if my body doesnt instantly respond. My cock
jumps to attention, slamming against my zipper. My pulse is a
throb in my limbs, and I suck in a deep breath.
I just Her lips thin and she glances at the ground. Its
I dont know how to feel around you. I think you like me and
then you act weird. Its throwing me off.
Her honesty startles me, silences me. Ive never met someone
as open and blunt as she is. The girl holds nothing back. And its
magnetic. I can tell where I stand with her, how she feels about
meits all over her face, in her body language, pouring through
her tone.
Shes attracted to me and struggling over it.
Before I realize whats happening, I cup the back of her head
and tug her to me. The moment my lips press against her, I
release a sigh that feels like its been in my chest for years, and
then I part her lips with my tongue.
She opens to me, eager, pliant, submissive. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I
yank her against me, our bodies flush, and she gives herself to
me as I plunder her mouth, taste her. She gives a small whimper,
her chest heaving, breasts pushing against me.
Im drawn to her, wrapping my hands around her small waist,
aching like fuck to feel her naked skin against mine. My fingers
slide of their own volition to her waistband and pull her tiny
tank top out from inside her skirt, and then I touch her bare
flesh and I moan in her mouth. My dick aches so badly I can
barely take it.
Oh my fucking God, I mutter. Her skin is like silk, soft and
ready for me. Ive never felt skin so soft. I want to touch her
everywhere.
Aubrey whimpers and her body grinds against me in what
seems more like an unconscious motion. Yes, she breathes
against my mouth.
I push my hand under her shirt and grip her upper back,
squeeze my fingers to dig into her skin. She grunts and sucks in a
deep breath, arching against me. God, yes
What the fuck am I doing? Making out with a customer in the
back of the bar? I draw all my strength and remove my hands
from her body, then step back.
Aubreys standing there, lips swollen, breath panting, eyes
heavily lidded. Shes so innocent but so fucking primed for me. I
could probably take her upstairs to my apartment and spread her
wide and plunge deep inside her.
But I cant do that. Because she deserves better than to be one
of my random booty calls. I cant ruin her. The kind of life I lead
its not for a girl like her.
Aubreys too good for me, and if she doesnt realize itIll
have to help her figure it out.
The thought sobers me, and my cock deflates a little. This
cant happen, I make myself say. I see a riot of emotions flash
across her face, but I continue. Go home, sweetheart. I make
myself use the generic endearment instead of her name. I dont
want her to feel like something could happen with us. Because
theres no fucking way it can. Youre drunk. Sleep it off.
Aubrey just stares at me for a moment, her chest rising and
falling. Her eyes are filled with things I cant quite interpret. But
I see the moment the shutters fall, and I feel the instantaneous
pangs of disappointment, despite it being my fault, my intent.
She gives a curt nod and without saying a word, spins on her heel
and vanishes back into the bar.
I should be relieved.
I should feel like I did something good, something noble and
selfless.
Instead, I feel like I cheated myself out of something
amazing.
I spend another twenty minutes outside, cooling down,
convincing myself that Im doing the right thing. Clearly she and
I would not be good together. She doesnt seem like the hook-up
kind of girl, which is all Im looking for right now. I cant give
anything else, and I dont want to. So why make things harder
for both of us?
When I go inside, shes gone, and I spend the rest of the night
telling myself Im not feeling like I lost someone special. Not at
all.
Aubrey
My head wont stop pounding.
I smother a groan, squinting my eyes open, and try to avoid
staring at the light pouring in through my bedroom window. My
head is a fog, my brain sluggish. At first I cant quite remember
what happened last night.
But the blissful naivety passes all too soon, and then I
remember. My stomach sinks with mortification. Fuck.
I groan and tug the covers over my face. Maybe I can just lay
here and die, and then I dont have to face how fucking
embarrassing last night was.
How I had the hottest damn kiss of my lifeand then he
basically pushed me away and told me he didnt want me, in so
many words.
I am the worlds biggest moron. And now I want to jump off a
bridge. How did this happen? Smith is a jerk. A jerk and smarmy
and rude and so ridiculously hot Okay, I know how it
happened. Because I was so turned on by him that when the
moment presented itself, and he grabbed me to kiss me, I
practically threw my desperate body on him. Wanting him
beyond reason.
I was so turned on last night, I would have done anything he
asked me to do.
And then he asked me to go.
And I did. Because I was so embarrassed I wanted to die on the
spot.
So much for feeling sexy. I dressed to kill last night, wearing
my cutest outfit, ready to show him I was worth paying attention
to. And he did, all right. Until he apparently came to his senses
and decided I wasnt what he wanted.
Was I that bad a kisser? Ive never had complaints before
And he did seem into it, at first anyway.
I groan again. My life officially sucks.
My cell phone rings. Despite the slight heave in my stomach,
I reach my hand out of the blanket and grab it, then check the
caller ID. Its Michaela. The one person who could possibly pull
me out of this funk.
Michaela knows me well. Knows everythingthe bad and the
good about my life and what Ive been through. I can trust her,
and thats about as rare as it gets in my world right now.
A wave of sheer missing her almost overwhelms me as I
answer. Oh my God, how did you know I needed you right
now? I ask.
Because Im psychic, you crazy bitch, she declares. How
are you doing? You were supposed to call me last night and I
didnt hear from you. I thought you were dead in a ditch or you
fell in a well.
I only wish that had happened. Fuck, I hadnt necessarily
meant to say that, but some stupid part of me must want to
purge this off my chest. Damn my big mouth.
Dont talk like that.
Its not actually that bad, I admit. Just vaguely
humiliating.
Michaelas curiosity is piqued, and once she gets on a scent,
theres no detracting her. Go on. Tell mama everything.
Reluctantly, I spill the beans. I talk about meeting Smith my
first night, the creeper who hit on me, how Smith punched him,
and then our kiss and his rejection. I end with, And now Im
hung over and feeling like a total moron.
Wow. I can hear the awe in her voice. When you start
over, you really start over.
Come on now.
No, seriously. Im so fucking proud of you I could puke. I was
afraid that Roger had scared you into never trying again, but here
you are, going out there and meeting new people. Do you realize
how amazing you are?
My eyes burn, and I blink back tears. Oh, shush.
You shush, bitch. But I hear the love in her voice, and I
know shes happy for me. Im sure youre embarrassed,
because I know you, but you shouldnt be. You went out and had
a little fundont make it into such a big thing.
I want to do as she says, but the burn of rejection I feel so
strongly still aches my chest. He told me to go home and sleep
it off.
She laughs Sounds kind of funny. Were you that drunk?
I guess. I dont know. I sigh, confused about whether Ive
read too much into the entire thing. It was a flirty, drunken
hookup and he was smart enough to admit as much. He probably
kisses women like that on a daily basis.
I cant let myself obsess over it or him any further.
Are you going to try and see him again?
My chest sinks. I doubt it. I shake my head and do my best
to put him out of my mindwhich is nearly impossible.
Anyway, tell me everything Ive missed at work since Ive been
gone.
Michaela laughs. Oh shit, you have no idea. Things have
been insane this week.
She and I met at the nursing home we worked at. Michaela
was the one who oriented me to life around old people, how to
stay on top of the surprising chaos and manage their
stubbornness so I could get my job done. Without her help, I
never would have got the expertise and confidence to apply for a
job at the nursing home in Rock Bridgeand get the job.
Michaela fills me in on the shenanigans that have happened,
how Mr. Carter decided he hates pants and refuses to wear them.
And Mrs. Carter, his long-suffering wife, keeps begging the
nursing staff to help her manage her husbands nakedness
during group activities.
The stories make me laugh and ease the heaviness in my
chest. A pang of homesickness hits me. Thats so funny, I tell
her.
Michaela sighs. I miss you. You sure this is what you want to
do? You know wed take you back in a heartbeat.
I know. My lungs tighten. But as long as hes there, I
cant.
Michaela is the only person who knew in advance about my
escape plan. I hadnt even told my mom or dad, because they
both have soft spots for Roger, not knowing the real him. I was
afraid of them spilling the beans to him, and while it hurt that I
couldnt trust them with the truth, I had to do what would
protect me.
I still havent called them. Im not even sure they know Im
out of state. But I cant worry about that right now.
I selfishly miss you, she says. But Im so ridiculously glad
you got yourself out of that situation. Rogers a psycho asshole.
You deserve so much better than him. Maybe this hottie
bartender dude will work out.
I snort. Right.
Hey, you never know. I hear Michaela mumble something,
probably to one of her kids. Fuck, I gotta go. Brians being a
little douche and drawing on the bathroom walls.
Well, he is your kid, I prod.
You shut your sass mouth, she tells me.
We both laugh and with kisses and goodbyes, hang up. I sit
there for a moment, savoring the sound of her voice still echoing
in my head, wishing I could be hear her. Michaela was my rock. I
miss her painfully. I tell myself Ill see her again soon, that Ill
have her come visit me. Yeah, my apartment isnt the best ever,
but she doesnt care.
Maybe shell like Rock Bridge.
I sure hope so, because Im planning to be here for the
indefinite future.

***

Mr. Danvers, you need to take your medicine, I coax.


He frowns at me, his brow furrowing with a hundred deep-
etched lines. I dont need that shit, he declares.
My first day on the job, and I cant even get my patients to
take their meds. To be fair, I was warned about him, how difficult
he was with new staff. I have to take control now, today, or he
will run all over me for the rest of my days at this nursing home.
I stiffen my spine and shoot him a stern look. Your doctor
says you need it. I may be new, but I wasnt born yesterday. Take
your medicine, Mr. Danvers.
He eyes me warily for several long moments. Then he gives a
painful sigh and extends his shaky hand. Fine, but Im doing
this under duress. I want it noted in my files.
No problem. I drop the pills in his hand, and he swallows
them. Have a good evening.
My last patient, done. As I walk toward the nursing station
and finish all the last-minute stuff to prepare the next nursing
shift, I stretch my aching back. This nursing home is bigger than
the one I left. There must be a lot more older people in Rock
Ridge than I realized.
And they all are stubbornand live in this nursing home.
A challenge, but Im up to it. My soles ache, and my lower
back is one big throbbing muscle pain, but I made it. And I have
to admit, I do have a few patients who are awesome and made
my first day on the job great.
If this job hadnt come through, I wouldnt have been able to
leave the apartment Roger and I lived in. Snuck out in the middle
of the afternoon while he was at work. That morning Id gotten a
new number assigned to my phone so he wouldnt be able to find
me. My heart had been a furious beating drum for hours until I
crossed state lines.
Once I reached Michigan, I was finally able to relax. But even
now, when I picture his face, hear his voice in my head, I feel my
throat constrict and my stomach aches. My palms sweat and I
feel nauseous. Getting away from Roger was probably the
bravest, and scariest thing Ive ever done.
So I dont really care how hard this job isIm staying put. At
least for a while.
Thankfully, the nursing home isnt far from my place. Just
under a mile. I lucked out on apartment locationeverything I
need is within a mile or so walking distance, from work to the
store to even a small hair salon. I step into the warm afternoon
air and start the stroll toward the grocery store. Last week I
stocked up on a few essentials, but I need some stuff for lunch
breaks at work. Seems like a good time to do so.
My time in the store is quick; I grab lunchmeat, chips, and
juice. While Im not destitute, I dont get paid for three weeks, so
I want to be savvy on how Im spending my money. I load the
bags into my arms and head toward home.
The blocks pass by in relative quiet. I hear a few kids giggling
in the distance, not unexpected for summer break, and find
myself smiling. The neighborhood is on the older side but
quaint. The houses are brick, with nice lawns and inviting
porches. Maybe someday I can save up enough to buy a house of
my own.
I wanted a house so badly in the beginning, but Roger put his
foot down, saying it was a waste of money for us to do so.
I make myself stop thinking of him. Hes out of my life,
irrelevant. It doesnt matter what he said in the past. He said so
much and did so much. What matters now is what I want.
The thought puts a spring in my step. I continue the walk
home. When I turn the corner, I see Outlaws a couple of blocks
away. The sight of the bar makes my heart trip with
mortification. Despite what Michaela said about not taking it so
seriously, Im still dying of embarrassment.
Maybe there is something unattractive about me. Maybe he
could sense how fucked up my past is, and he doesnt want any
part in that.
Maybe Im just not sexy enough.
My mood sinks a little, and I force myself to keep moving
forward. It doesnt matter. Im not here to look for a guy right
now anyway. Im here to make a new start, without drama,
without the fears of my past. I dont need a man. I need to rely
on myself. To know that I am strong and independent. Its for
the best that Smith pushed me away anyway. Because if he
hadnt, I probably would have God, I probably would have done
anything he asked me to.
In that moment, I was so wet, so turned on, I would have
given him whatever he wanted.
I approach the next block and see a guy turn the corner and
run toward me, shirtless, his tattooed chest gleaming with
sweat. I instantly recognize the clipped beard, the spiked hair,
the surly face.
Shit.
I draw in a steadying breath and cool my nerves. He probably
wont say anything to me, anyway. Hell probably just pass me
by and
Aubrey, he says as he nears, then stops, barely panting. A
small drop of sweat slides down his throat, down his chest, to
the waistband of his running shorts, and I find myself leaning
toward him and pull back. What the hell is wrong with me?
How does this man evoke such a strong reaction from me?
Im not supposed to want men right now. Im on a break. For
good reason. I dont need to be attracted to someone who
doesnt even want me, anyway.
I give him a curt nod. Hey. My left arm aches with the bags
in the crook of my elbow, so I shift them up. Ihave groceries
to get home, so
He gives me a long look, as if evaluating me. Its not what I
want right now, especially when I know he finds me lacking in
some way.
But then, without saying a word, Smith slides the bags out of
my arm and into his large hands. Lead the way, he says.
You dont have to
Lead the way, Aubrey. Theres no room for argument in his
tone. Smith gets what he wants, that much is clear.
And some stupid, ridiculous part of me wants to please him.
What the hell is that about? As soon as he gets that tone, that
look in his eyes, I find myself snapping to attention, homing in
on him, shutting everything else out, pliant and ready to be told
what to do. What does that mean?
And I have to admit, Im so happy that hes not totally
repulsed by me. He didnt have to stop and say hello, offer to
take my groceries. This was all him.
Smith nods toward me, which I take as my cue to go home, so
I do. I try to pretend Im not aware of the sweat dribbling down
his chest and neck and back. That Im not aware of the tattoos
covering him. That Im not aware of the muscles of his arms and
legs. I try to pretend my core isnt tightening in response to his
raw sexuality, pretend I dont want him to drop those bags, push
me to the sidewalk, and thrust his hard cock inside me.
God help me, Im so attracted to him I can barely focus.
Worst situation ever.
We walk in silence for a block or so. Then he says, So how
was your hangover on Saturday?
Great. Yes, lets bring that up. A slow burn crawls up my
throat. Im fine, thank you. Hopefully we can leave it at that
and not talk about what happened Friday night.
That kiss.
That fucking kiss that has haunted me, oh, every hour of
every day since then.
We get to my apartment building and turn on the sidewalk
toward it. I open the main door, and we stroll toward my door,
him close behind me. I can practically feel his heat pouring off
his skin, warming my own flesh. And here I am, looking unsexy
as hell in my nursing scrubs. Splendid.
I open my door and let us in. It doesnt matter if Im sexy or
not. Im not going to go anywhere with him or do anything else.
It was a random kiss and that was all.
A random kiss that practically knocked my panties off. But
whatever. I dont need another one. Its fine. I keep repeating
that sentiment in my head over and over.
Smith follows me to the kitchen and puts the bags on my
countertop. Hes in my kitchen and his presence fills up the
entire space and I dont know what to do. How to respond. How
to pretend like Im not affected by him when I am.
I just hope he cant read it on me. I hope my pretense of not
caring is somehow working, and he cant tell just how badly I
want him.
I press my backside against the stove. Um. Well, thanks for
helping me carry my groceries.
He gives a short nod. Turns.
Before I can stop myself, I find more words flying out of my
mouth. Ill see you tonight.
I dont even know if hes at the bar tonight, or why I said that.
Why I invited rejection again. What is wrong with me?
It was nothing but pure panic, just me saying anything to kill
the silence and not feel so overwhelmed in his presence.
Smith slowly spins back to face me, takes a couple of steps
forward until theres just an inch or two between our bodies. My
heart slams against my ribcage and my skin vibrates with the
need for him to touch me. God, Id give anything for him to
reach his hands up and caress my skin. To feel his fingers on me
again, the way he did on Friday, when he stroked my back.
Smith levels his gaze on me, and theres a distinct challenge
in his eyes. The look penetrates me to the bone, rips open my
soul and bares me to him beyond my control. He can see me,
deep inside, see exactly how I feel for him, how badly I want him.
And his responding look is so hot and intense it makes me melt.
I look forward to it.
With that, he walks out of my kitchen, the front door quietly
snicking closed behind him.
I stand where I am, body pulsing with need, throat closed,
lungs tight, heart racing. It takes me several minutes to steady
myself. To pretend that Smith isnt totally changing everything
in my world. That he hasnt flipped my plans upside down. I
wasnt going to go to Outlaws tonight. But suddenly I cant wait
to see him again.
Smith
A sher, I need you to see if we have another keg of Barstones, I
bark to the back room as I release the tap. Fucking foam
someone should have replaced this keg by now. Why does it
seem like Im always the one to notice this shit? Get on itwe
have a customer waiting.
I hear Asher sigh from the office behind me. Fine, fine, he
mumbles. I wonder if hes regretting coming home for summer
vacation from college to help out at the bar. I tried to get him to
stay on campus, find a local job, stay away from here, but he
insisted on coming home. Hes a Beckettstubborn to the core.
But Asher is going to be the one to escape this shit soon
enough. To live his own destiny. Get his degree and forge his
own path outside of the family business, the one that was
dumped on our shoulders when Dad died a few years ago.
I dont begrudge what I had to do. I made my choices, and Im
okay with it. And I knew before I even said anything about
keeping the business afloat, that Jax would stay by my side. Hes
an arrogant asshole most of the time, but hes loyal as fuck. Not
one to leave my side and make me handle Dads bar on my own.
Besides, Jax isnt cut out for anything but this little world we
inhabit.
Ashers different.
Asher is our golden child, the one who excels in school and
football, whos going on to bigger and better things. Move out of
our shitty town and be someone. Make our name proud. And
here he is, not quite twenty-one, stuck in Shitsville with the rest
of us losers because hes too stubborn to take my advice.
Asher gets the fresh keg hooked up to the tap. When hes
done, he brushes his hands and looks at me. I know hes seeking
my approval, for me to not be irritated about him coming home.
Done, he says.
I give him a brief nod. Next time, dont wait until its fucking
tapped. Keep an eye on it. If youre going to be here, at least do
your job.
He sighs and rolls his eyes at me, walking away. In the end, I
just want the best for him. He may not like it, but so be it. I cant
worry about his frustration right now. I have bigger things on my
plate. Like how the fuck were going to pay all our bills when
were not making enough money. Im barely paying the three of
us as it is.
I peer around the Monday night crowd. Its thin, too thin. A
couple of people by the pool table. A few scattered around the
bar, drinking cheap beer. How do I get more customers to bring
their asses in here, spend their money? What should we do? The
pressure of keeping Dads business alive is squarely on my
shoulders. Were barely floating by each month.
Fuck, I cant even afford to hire anyone else outside of our
family. Yeah, Im pissed that Asher came back this summer, but
it did relieve our stress a bit, giving us a cheap helping hand.
The main door opens, and in walks Aubrey, wearing the
tightest fucking jeans Ive ever seen and a black T-shirt that
looks painted on her skin. The outfit is simple but effective. Fuck
me, she looks so good I want to jump over the bar and eat her
alive.
My whole body is thrumming upon seeing her, and my cock
pulses, pressing against the fly of my jeans. Shit. I will myself to
lose my instant engorgement. Im not going to entertain this
attraction I have for her. I cant. Not only am I wrong for her,
shes wrong for me. Shes innocent and nave, not my type. I like
my women experienced. Hardened, distant, even cynical.
I can take them to bed and we have some fun, but it never
goes past that, and the kind of women Im used to understand
that. They enjoy it.
But Aubrey is different. Aubrey wouldnt be okay with the
occasional fuck, the late night drinks followed by a blowjob. She
would want to be wined and dined and she deserves that much
and more.
Only, I know I cant give her any of it. Im hardly keeping my
head above water and the last thing I need is another person
counting on me.
Jax slides up beside me. She is pretty, he murmurs, giving
her an appraising look. Probably amazing in bed, too.
Dont even fucking thinking about it, I retort. I dont have
any right to be possessive of her, I know, but I am. And I dont
want to spend any time mulling on the reasons why.
Jax shoots me a knowing look. The fucker can see right
through me. Always could. Hes so good at reading unspoken
thoughts. A couple of women have asked him if hes psychic.
You like this girl, he says. Its not a question.
Not at all. I give a casual shrug, hoping hell buy it. Shes
not well suited for our bar. But I dont want to be a dick to her or
anything. We should just leave her alone. There, a nice and
easygoing answer. Nothing that reveals the true depth of my
strange, unwanted feelings. The deep-down longing I have to tug
her toward me again, taste her mouth again.
To taste more. To rip those tight jeans down, shove her
panties aside, and lick the fuck out of that wet pussy.
I bet her come tastes amazing on my tongue.
My cock throbs harder at the thought. I cant seem to push
the images aside quite so easily. Because looking at her, perched
on the bar stool, so innocent and unknowingly sexy, makes me
want to do wicked, dirty things to her. Mess up that glossy hair
and watch her unravel for me.
Jax shoots me a long look, then turns his back on me
deliberately and moves over to her. What can I get you? he
asks Aubrey.
She murmurs something to him, and he nods, strolls over to
the bar, and pours her a beer. I bet its the beer I recommended
for her that first night. I studiously keep my attention on the
tasks at hand, cleaning the bar and serving other customers. I
cant let myself fall into thiswhatever Im feeling.
Because this girl isnt like Maria. She doesnt seem like the
person who would flit from one sexual encounter to another, not
caring too much, not getting attached. She seems like the
forever type, and I dont fucking want that at this point in my
life.
Right?
I finish pouring a beer for Sam when Aubreys eyes connect
with mine. I feel it square in my gut, a pull toward her. Theres a
crackle of attraction between us so strong, Im surprised no one
else in the bar is winded by it. It almost knocks me off my
fucking feet. The heat in her eyes, the smoky promise No, no,
no, I keep chanting, but I feel myself weakening.
I want her.
Plain and simple truth. I want her. I want to push inside her. I
want to grip her hair and tug her scalp and lick her bared throat.
I want to tie her wrists and ankles to my bed, make her helpless,
weak, wet for me.
I want to leave my marks on her, bruise that delicate flesh,
have her sore and aching after I ravage her.
But my cravings are most definitely too dark for her. And
even if they werent, Im not going to be any good for her. My life
is way too fucked up and complicated to have anything to offer a
girl like her. Im not the white-picket-fence kind of guy. I cant
let myself start thinking otherwise.
Just having her here in Outlaws worries me. She shouldnt
even be within ten miles of me or this fucking place. Its not safe
Im not safe.
Jax lingers by her, talking with her, and she gives him a
beatific smile. I find my own heart clenching in response. Fuck,
how can she be so beautiful? Even still, with the glow on her
face, I can see something deeper lingering underneath. An
emotion that seems to haunt her, that has haunted her since I
first met her.
I shouldnt let myself care about whats going on with this
chick. But I want to know. Why did she move to our town, our
state, of all places? Why does she have that sadness around her?
Is she as pure and innocent as she seems?
Could she ever be interested in entertaining my dirtiest
desires? The way Id love to bend her over and smack my hand on
her ass, just to start? Leave my handprint on her skin as a mark
of ownership, of possession?
How Id like to sink my teeth into the back of her neck? Cuff
her to my bed? Brand the insides of her thighs with the suction
of my mouth, the clench of my teeth? My hunger is deep and
wicked, always unsatisfied.
Theres no way Aubrey could fulfill that. She looks too fragile
and innocent to be into any sort of pain.
Then she shoots me a look. Her eyes connect with mine over
my brothers shoulders, and theres a heat in there that
surprises me, floods my body. Like she knows shes driving me
crazy and she wants to. Like she wants me hungry for her. I see
the way one side of her mouth crooks in the corner. How her
eyes lower ever so slightly, hooded, aroused. She wants me too. I
can see it plain as day.
God, I need to fuck her. Right fucking now.
It takes a herculean effort to make myself turn away from her
and move toward the office. My refuge. I cant think straight
around her, cant focus. My whole body is on fire for Aubrey, my
fingers itching to grip her hard and leave small bruises on her
flesh. Im dirty, filthy, unworthy, but God help me, I want to
pollute her a little with my sin. Make this angel learn how to love
the darkness.
I spend a good half hour in the office, shuffling papers around
blindly. Trying to convince my raging cock to calm down and lose
its erection. But every time I do, I think about Aubreys sexy
mouth, her on her knees, peering up at me with those innocent
eyes. And my dick screams to be released from my pants and
allowed to come.
She cant keep showing up at Outlaws, right? If I ignore her,
shell eventually stop dropping by. I should be happy at the
thought, but it leaves a heavy feeling in my chest. Something
about her smile is addictive; I want more.
I nearly thunk my head against the desk. Stop being a fucking
shithead, I chastise myself. This isnt like me. I dont lose my
cool over girls. Theyre fun to touch and kiss and fuck, but thats
it.
I never want more from them.
Finally, I manage to cool myself down enough to emerge from
the office. Im back in control. Back to myself. Chill. Collected.
Unattached.
I walk to the bar and will myself to not look at Aubrey. Im not
going to fucking look at her. Shes just a customer, thats all.
Nothing else.
My gaze slides, unbidden, over to her.
Theres a slim but fit guy I dont recognize, wearing a tight,
faded blue shirt. Hes leaning toward her, his teeth flashing, and
shes smiling at him. Hes charming, clean-cut. Engaging too,
from what Im seeing. Probably a better fit for her than I am,
thats for fucking sure.
Tell that to my chest though, because its so tight it feels like
my lungs are going to squeeze out. Jealousy burns my veins.
I dont want anyone else getting that smile. The one that
makes a man feel like the center of her world. I need that smile
for myself. Its one thing to convince myself I dont want her.
Another to be faced with the possibility of her bringing a
different man back to her apartment tonight.
Before I can question myself, I walk over to their side of the
bar. I ignore the guy completely and lock eyes on her, giving her
the full weight of my stare.
Letting her know exactly how far Im willing to go, letting her
see what I wantno holding back.
Aubreys breath catches; I see the hitch in her chest as she
swallows, stares back. The heat in her eyes slides beneath my
skin, thickens my dick. I need to taste her mouth so badly right
now I can barely see.
I have to get her away from this guy. Thats the sole thought
throbbing through me. I want her. I want her so much it hurts.
The guy clears his throat. Id like another Bud Light,
please.
I dont take my gaze off Aubrey, though. I want to hear what
shes going to say. Can she read the desire in my eyes?
Aubrey licks her upper lip, a small swipe of her pink tongue
that makes my dick pulse. Imgoing to, uh, go to the
restroom. Then she pauses, gives me a meaningful look. A
loaded look.
Fuck. Fuck yes.
It takes all my patience to wait, pour the Bud Light for this
asshole. Give her a moment to work her way slowly to the
hallway toward the bathroom.
Then I move.
My pulse pounds so hard as I walk toward the womens
bathroom. I hope to God no one is in there, because Im going to
kick everyone out. I need to taste her pussy right fucking now,
and there isnt any force on earth that can stop me.
I whip the door open and see Aubrey spin around from the
center of the room, her gaze a little nervous, her fingers twisting
in front of her. A quick glance around and at the bottom of the
two stalls shows no one else is in here.
I turn the lock and click it closed behind us. Stalk toward her.
You came here tonight for me, didnt you, I say.
She swallows, nods. Releases her fingers and presses her
hands to the sides of her jeans.
I hope youre ready.
For what? Her words are barely a breath when I grab her by
the waist and angle her ass toward the bathroom sink. In a
moment I have her jeans unbuttoned. In another, they are
unzipped and sliding down her skin. My hands glide along her
thighs and I cant fight the sigh that escapes my mouth. Her skin
feels like heaven.
Fuck me so badly, because Aubreys thighs are curvy and
fleshy and beckoning me to bury my face between them. And
that little scrap of black lacy fabric she calls panties arent going
to keep me away from tasting her cunt.
I rip her jeans down, and she gasps, reaching a hand out to
grip my shoulder to steady herself. She lifts her legs and gets out
of them, then does it again when I tug down those panties. I
scoop them in my hand and bring them to my nose.
Smell her pussy heat.
God help me, my dick pounds hard when I breathe her scent
in. Fuck, if she smells this good, she probably tastes like
everything Ive ever dreamed of.
I grab her bare ass and lift her onto the bathroom countertop.
She sucks in a sharp breath, her lips parting. I reach up and grip
her hair and tug her mouth to mine.
Yes, fuck yes. Her mouth slants over mine and opens easily,
without me even having to ask. Her body grows soft, pliant
against me. She stays right where I put her, not moving even an
inch.
Fuck me. Aubrey is submissive. Every part of her body, of her
reactions toward my natural dominance, screams it. How far do I
dare to push this?
The thought of having such a beautifully raw, moldable
woman makes me throb so hard I want to explode. Ive never had
someone so vulnerable and open to me. Her body language tells
me in no uncertain terms that Aubrey likes to be taken,
dominated. Mastered.
I plunge deeper into her mouth. Savor her exquisite taste. My
body hums when she reaches around my neck and her fingers
play with the short hairs at the base of my neck. She moans into
my mouth, arching those pert breasts toward me.
I slide my hands along the generous curves of her hips,
digging into them, giving a strong pressure with my fingers to
see how she reacts. Her body jerks in what Im sure is an
involuntary gesture, and she bucks her hips toward me.
God. Oh, God, the fun I could have with this woman. So
innocent but so fucking hungry to learn. How far would she let it
go with me?
I let my hands glide slowly along her thighs until my
fingertips are brushing near her bare mound. I hear her pant,
and my pulse triples in response. Something about the way she
holds nothing back, doesnt hide her reactions to my touch,
makes me want to ravage her so fucking hard.
I pry her legs wide and then push her ass until shes barely
sitting on the countertop. Her pussy is bared to me, lips smooth
and delicate pink, her inner labia slightly darker and just peeking
out. I can smell her feminine heat pouring off her down there
and a dark surge overcomes me.
I lean down and push my face so close I can almost taste her.
If I stick my tongue out, I could feel that velvety soft skin part for
me. But I make myself pause for a long moment, breathe deeply.
God, her wetness is a sirens call to metangy, sweet, heady. I
hear her begin to pant.
Aubrey, I growl. I want to eat this pussy so badly. Will you
give yourself to me right now? I need her to say the words, to
give me permission to take her how I want her. I need to see how
she responds to my request.
Yes, please, she whispers, and she arcs her pelvis a fraction
closer to my mouth.
I dont wait another moment. I move in and slide my tongue
along her already damp slit. Her moan shudders across my skin,
and her fingers dig into my hair. I grip the outsides of her thighs
and nudge my nose along her clit, feeling it swell from the touch.
Aubrey gives a small moan and when I look up, I see her head
is thrown back, the expanse of her neck bared to me. Shes so
open to me, willing to let me lick her right here in the bars
bathroom. So fucking dirty.
My cock is hard enough to pound nails. My blood pulses in my
veins. But I ignore my needs and let my mouth caress her damp
pussy lips, my tongue dancing along her slit. Shes already so
wet with barely a touch. I want to see how much wetter I can get
her.
I move my hands to grip her hips and dive into her pussy,
feast on the flesh. Fuck, she tastes so good I could come right
now, just from eating her. Aubrey shudders beneath my
ministrations, her whole body vibrating.
Oh God, Smith, God, God, yes, she breathes, her small
fingers digging into my scalp, and suddenly all I want to do is
make her explode so hard she sees stars. I want to give her the
best orgasm shes ever fucking had in her entire life. I want to
drive out that quiet sadness from her eyes.
I double my efforts, licking, sucking her pussy lips into my
mouth, flicking her clit, then reach one hand down between her
thighs and slide two fingers into her cunt.
That makes her jump, and she cries out, bucking wildly. Her
cunt is so impossibly tight, so wet, that her channel hugs me as
she accepts my hard finger fucking.
I want that come, baby, I tell her as I swipe my tongue
along her rigid clit. Youd better fucking come for me.
Im so close, she pants, her hips thrusting with wild
abandon. I love how she isnt self-conscious at all. How she
gives herself to me because I asked her to. I want to bend her
over and spank that ass so hard. She makes me want to do more
than even spanking
My mind flashes on an image of me using a paddle on her ripe
ass and I need to calm myself a little to get it out of my head.
Its hard to make myself stop thinking along those lines. But I
focus on this moment, focus on edging this beautiful, wet,
aroused woman toward orgasm.
I can feel her cunt begin to pulse around my fingers, tighten,
and I know shes close. Her breathing grows shallower. She is
gasping air, her hands gripping the countertop, her hips bucking
in what Im certain is an involuntary movement.
ImIm so close now, oh God, she whispers. Her
whimpers hit me straight in the dick.
I begin to fuck her cunt with my fingers in earnest, pounding
her hard, the sloppy sound of her juices filling the air between
us. I make my two fingers stroke her inner walls, her G-spot.
She pulses against my hand, so eager, so pliant. God, this girl is
fucking incredible.
Aubrey suddenly gets still, and I can tell shes going to come. I
can feel her opening tighten until I can barely move my fingers
inside her.
Yes, yes, right there, and then her keening cry echoes
throughout the bathroom, and I want to push my cock inside her
so hard right now that I can barely keep from unzipping my
pants. Holy fuck.
I dont stop fucking her until she jerks and presses her hand
on my shoulder, a gentle request asking me to lighten up. I move
to a slow thrust in and out, my fingers coated in her come.
Aubrey sucks in a slow breath and lowers her head until were
staring at each other. Were both sucking in deep gulps of air. I
cant read the expression on her face right now. The tension is so
tight between us its about to explode. Im waiting to hear what
shes going to say.
I dont know why, but it feels like everything hinges on the
next moment.
That was the hottest thing Ive ever experienced in my life,
she finally says on a small laugh, and I feel my lips curving up in
response. The knot I didnt even know was in my chest releases,
and I feel light, free.
If she liked doing this, what else might she like? What other
ways could I bring her to ecstasy?
This woman does things to me I never expected.
You think that was hot? I say with a quirked brow. You
have no idea.
I suppose not, she murmurs, and her fingertips brush the
tips of my hair as she gives me a shy smile. But I want to find
out.
Aubrey
I ts half past midnight when I leave the bar and head toward my
apartment. The air is thick and warm around me, but the breeze
flowing along my skin makes it bearable. I hope my bedroom
isnt scorching hotI may try to sleep with the window open
tonight if I can. Save a few bucks by not running the air
conditioner every night.
I wanted to hang around Outlaws for another hour and a half
until it closes, but I have to work the evening shift tomorrow, so
I should get some errands done in the morning. Be well rested
and fresh for the new day. And also not spend the rest of my
night just staring at Smith
Yeah, I tell myself Im going to sleep when I get in my
apartment, but odds are, Ill be lying in bed all night thinking
about Smiths head between my thighs. That was the hottest
sexual experience of my entire life, hands down.
Oh God, I want to do it again and again.
And then drop to my knees and please him right back. Lick
him, draw him into my mouth and make him release. Taste his
come, too.
Something about that low growl in his voice, the confidence,
the self-assured masculinity in his presence, makes me want to
give him anything he asks me for. Smith is intense, and I should
be petrified of it.
I should be, but Im not. Because the truth is, after I slipped
out of the bathroom and went back to my bar stoolthat other
boring guy had left, probably tired of waiting for meand
nursed another couple of beers, I couldnt help but feel the
ripples between us every time our eyes connected across the bar
and we shared a secret smile. Remembering what we did earlier
in the bathroom made me feel hot beyond all belief the entire
rest of the evening. Made me ache to do more dirty things with
him.
Ive never felt so worshiped in my entire life the way I did
during that brief interlude. Like someone focused everything on
my pleasure. Giving instead of just taking, not even a moment of
expecting reciprocation. I hadnt expected that at all.
I draw in a deep breath of the night air, exhale slowly, and
walk up to my front door, key the entrance. I drop my purse and
keys on the little table beside the front door and dont even
bother flicking on the overhead light in the living room. I just go
right to the bathroom and strip to take a quick shower before
bed. The walk back to my place made me a little sweaty.
My rinse-off in lukewarm water is fast, and I dry myself with
a new towel I bought at Target my second day in Rock Bridge. My
skin is still humming a little from feeling Smiths touch on me. I
want more of him. So much more. I never felt as alive, as free, as
I did in that bathroomthe sheer wildness of the moment and
my massive orgasm made me giddy.
Does he want more, too? Was that a one-off incident, or will
something else happen between us in the future? And if it does
happen, will I have to be the one to instigate it again? Because it
took all my courage to even be so suggestive to him, and Im not
sure I could repeat it. When I told him I was going to the
bathroom, I thought hed just grab my hand in the hallway and
take me into his office or something. I didnt know hed lock the
damn bathroom door behind him. The impulsive, wicked move
was so hot.
I open my window, close my eyes, and stretch out on my bed
in the dark, on top of the covers. Allow myself to fantasize about
Smith lying above me, our skin touching and sliding along each
other, his hands clenching my hips as he thrusts into me.
Something about the man is so wicked but also makes me feel
like Im in good hands. Like hed care for me.
Even if it was just to see to my sexual needs.
Roger was never like that. Even at the beginning, I noticed his
selfishness in the bedroom and everywhere else. But by the end
it was so much worse I push out all thoughts of my ex and
focus back on my moment of pleasure earlier tonight. How good
Smiths mouth felt licking me. Holy hell, the guy could have a
doctorate in oral sex. Ive never had someone do the things he
did to me. Never felt those sensations before of my pussy lips
being sucked into a mouth.
My clit throbs as I think about it, and I reach down, slick my
fingers between my damp lips. I can still hear Smiths breath
drawing in that second before he first licked me, the one where
he looked up at me and told me what he wanted. Made me give
him permission.
Why did that arouse me so? Why does the thought of turning
myself over to him drive me wild, make me almost shake with
desire? I should be scaredI told myself on the long drive to
Rock Bridge that after Roger, when I was ready to date again, Id
never date someone who wanted to control me. Id find someone
who made me feel free.
But its strangeeven though Smith took control during our
brief encounter, I never felt like he would take advantage of me
or hurt me. In fact, Id never felt so safe in all my life, despite the
excitement and danger inherent in the situation.
Still, despite my attraction to him, I know Smith isnt as safe
or simple as Id like to believe. Something about Smith makes
me feel like he would have many demands of me. Would they
only be in bed, or would they extend elsewhere?
I think about him whispering in my ear, telling me all the
things he wants to do with me, and my lower belly tightens in
response to the fantasy. Smith isnt a boring-sex kind of man.
Hed push my limits. It was easy for me to give in at the bar
because I knew the bathroom door was locked. But what if hed
left it unlocked?
The thought both scares me and makes my clit pulse. Then
someone could have walked in on us, seen him licking me, seen
me coming on his hand My breath catches in my throat and I
cant resist stroking myself more at the thought. My pussy gets
super wet, the juices sliding around on my lower lips as I run my
finger along the slit. Im panting, and my nipples bead and
harden when I imagine Smith sucking the tips into his mouth.
My orgasm builds fast. I let the fantasy continue, and in my
mind, Smith grips the base of my neck as he drives into me. His
eyes consume me, his cock fills me, his other hand slides along
my skin, and my flesh grows hot and sensitive and tingling, and
Im frantic as I finger my clit, the small bud pulsing beneath my
strokes.
I feel a surge crest in my pussy, and then it crashes over me
and I give a sharp cry out before remembering that my window is
open. I swallow back the rest of the sound and buck on the
mattress, my channel dripping juices along my slit, my body
radiating my orgasm all the way to the tips of my fingers and
toes. I turn my head and press my mouth to my pillow and let
the sensation subside slowly.
A lethargy sweeps in then, and I sink into the mattress, let
the drowsy post-orgasm feeling lure me into sleep. The last
thing I think of is Smiths brilliant eyes.

***

I blink awake and sleepily look at my bedside clock. Its a little


before three in the morning. Did I hear something? It sounded
like
Theres a rapid knock on my door. My heart lurches in
surprise.
Roger. Its Rogerhas to be.
Oh God, hes here. He found me. I scramble to throw on a pair
of jeans and a shirt, and I grab my phone and dial 9 and 1. The
baseball bat I also bought at Target is in my other hand. I inch to
the front door, pulse jumping hard, stomach a mass of knots,
and peek through the peephole.
No one is there.
What do I do? Do I stay inside, or do I risk it and peek to see if
Roger is out there? I swallow and stiffen my spine. Im not going
to let him make me afraid anymore. Plus, my phone is right
here.
I prop the bat against the wall, whip the door open, and step
outside, finger hovering over the last 1.
And see Smith turning the corner on the sidewalk away from
me.
Smith, I find myself calling out as the tension leaks from
my body. I exhale hard in sheer relief. Thank God. Not Roger at
all. But why is he here?
He spins to me and seems hesitant to walk back in my
direction, pausing for a moment. When he nears me, he says, I
woke you up, didnt I. It was a dumb impulse to come here so late
at night. But I cant see his eyes well in the dark; theyre
hooded, unreadable.
I turn my phone off and stick it in my back pocket. But? I
nudge him.
But I cant stop tasting you in my mouth and I needed
more. Smith stares at me hard, not moving still, just sexy as
hell and intense, the streetlights glinting off his dark blond hair.
Fuck. My pulse jumps in response to his reply. Thats the
hottest thing anyone has ever said to me. I draw in a steadying
breath. Earlier I wondered if Id have to make the next move. But
hes here, and Im not letting him get away.
I step forward and let myself gingerly stroke the column of
his throat, his Adams apple, right below the clean line of his
beard. The knot jumps under my fingers as he swallows. I stare
up at his mouth. I want more, too, I admit to him. Let my
fingers dance up to his lower lip and glide it along the smooth
flesh there. I force myself to also admit, II touched myself in
bed thinking about it.
Theres a long moment where neither of us move, and then
he darts his tongue out to taste my fingertips. And before I
realize whats happening, Smiths hands are around my waist
and hes pushing me in the apartment, the door thudding closed
behind us. He blindly fumbles with the doorknob lock behind
him, tugs the phone out of my back pocket, puts it on the small
table.
I need to fuck you, Aubrey, he states bluntly. Theres no
shyness in him like there is in me. Smith owns his sexuality, and
its so alluring.
Yes, I tell him. I want it, too. As soon as I saw him out
there, all my fear had vanished, replaced by the vision of Smith.
Hes here. Hes really here. Seeking me out. I did this to him,
made him find me after work. A small, feminine thrill runs along
my skin.
Smith pushes my hair to one side and his tongue strokes my
neck. I shudder, and he sucks the wet area. I need to taste every
fucking inch of your body.
When he says it, I feel like he legitimately means every inch.
The thought has my pussy clenching. I dont speak, just nod, let
his mouth drift along my throat, up my jawline, him giving me
small licks and sucks everywhere.
Then he stops and grabs the hem of my shirt, jerking it over
my head in one smooth move. Fuck, he groans as he sees my
bare breastsin my hurry earlier, I didnt bother to put on a bra.
My chest is heaving under his heavy scrutiny. I refuse to
squirm, just let him get his fill. He reaches up, cups their weight,
gives a soft squeeze that has me gasping, arching under his
fingers.
Take your jeans off, he tells me, stepping back.
I remove the jeans, letting them slide down my bare hips,
puddling on the ground. Im now fully naked before this man,
while hes still completely clothed. The vulnerability should
make me uncomfortable, but instead, Im throbbing and wet at
the thought of whats going to come next.
Smith gives me a slow smile and moves one hand to stroke
the back of my neck. Such a good girl, he murmurs, and
something in those words unfurls a need in my core. I want to
hear him say that to me again and again.
I dont have much sexual experience, but if I can please him
by doing these small things, I will.
Smiths hand strokes down my spine, a smooth movement
ending at my hip. That heat, the promise, are in his eyes. My
breath catches.
Are yougoing to get undressed? I asked him.
His lip curls in one corner. All in good time. I need to taste
more of you first. Take me to your bedroom, sweetheart.
I slip my hand into his, feeling my heart give a strange
squeeze at the gesture, and lead him to my room. The lights are
still off, the sheets in disarray. He takes me to what is obviously
my side of the bed, from the dent in the pillow, and gently
nudges me down to sitting.
The light is thin in here, but I can see him somewhat, his
strong frame, the darkness of his tattoos. I want to ask him to
strip and let me touch them, but a bigger part of me wants to
wait and see what happens.
Lie back on the bed, Smith tells me in a gruff voice. I do ask
he asks, my thighs trembling a bit in anticipation as Im exposed
to him, and he gives a small groan. Fuck. Your body is so
beautiful, Aubrey. Its all I can do to keep from spreading your
legs apart and fucking you right now. The bed dips down when
he sits on the edge, and then his hands are sliding along my
calves.
Smiths fingers are deft as he skates them around the
muscles, dips to the dents behind my knees. The gesture is light,
but it sends sensations rioting through my body. I feel myself
starting to clench, tighten.
He pulls back in order to quick strip off his clothes, and I
watch, in awe as his amazing body is revealed to me. But then
hes back on the bed, pushing his strong body between my
thighs, parting my legs for him.
I wish I could see him in full, really explore all those tattoos
on his body. His mouth glides across the arch of my left foot, and
I gasp at the way his tongue licks and swirls. Oh God, who knew
having your foot kissed could feel so good?
There is no rush. Smith takes his time, tasting my flesh,
leaving me quivering with every second that passes. My breath
comes in small, shallow pants. By the time he reaches the apex
of my thighs, Im throbbing in earnest, soaking wet. I grip his
hair and silently nudge him toward me there, needing to feel
that mouth on me again.
The first swipe of his tongue along my slit makes me cry out.
At this point, I dont even care if the window is open. I dont
want to hide the way he is making me feel. I cant keep quiet.
He grips my hips and licks me, the movement becoming
faster, more frantic. I hear him groan against my wetness, and I
almost lose it.
You taste so fucking good, I want to eat you all day, he
growls. Good God, your pussy is a sin.
I feel the orgasm surging close, so close. Please. Right
there. His tongue is doing deliciously wicked things to me, and I
need more. Im tightening, so ready to explode any second now.
I feel his fingers stroke along my lower lips, and then he
pushes deep into my pussy, curving the digits up. I groan. Im
almost there, almost there
And then his teeth sink into the tender flesh right on the
inside of my thighs, and I lose it. Something about the small
flare of pain, mixed with the thrusting of his fingers in me,
makes my orgasm erupt, and I gasp, then cry out my release. It
feels like the orgasm goes on forever and ever, and he keeps his
teeth locked on the skin, his tongue licking as he moves his jaw
ever so slightly.
Oh God, its so erotic and dirty, and it makes my pussy drip.
He releases the flesh and gives it small kisses as I slowly fall
back to earth, then his tongue takes a thick swipe along my slit.
Fuck yes, God, youre so fucking sexy and I want to tear you
apart.
In this moment, I would give Smith anything he wanted. The
possessive edge to his voice, the way his fingers dig into my hips
as he slides up my body, the soft warmth of his breath when hes
fully on top of me and staring down into my eyesits a rush,
and it leaves me heady and desperate for him.
I clench his back and blindly grind my pussy against him. His
cock is massive and hard and it fits in my cleft perfectly. I am
nothing in this moment but sensation and arousal, and I need
this so much that my body hurts for it.
Slow down, sweetheart, he murmurs, his hand fisting my
hair and pulling me back into the moment. I gotta get a condom
on. Gimme a sec. Before he moves though, he takes my mouth
in a raw, hungry kiss, one that thoroughly owns me. His tongue,
which tastes like me, plunges into me, stroking my tongue. Far
too soon, he pulls away and leaves me panting on the bed.
Then hes back on top of me, and I part my thighs and
welcome his weight on me.
My heart is a thrumming bird. Suddenly Im nervous. Ive
only been with two men before, both in serious relationships.
Ive never done this, never met a guy and had casual sex with
him. How will I feel tomorrow morning?
Smith reaches a hand up and strokes my jaw. I can see the
concern in his eyes. Hey. Where are you right now?
I give a shaky smile. Sorry. Im here. Im justthis is kind of
new for me
He gives that crooked grin that melts me a little. Kinda
figured.
Oh? How so?
His low laugh slides across my skin. You dont exactly
scream casual hookup.
At first Im a little taken aback. Is that a bad thing? Yet here
he is, despite him reading me so well. So why are you
Why am I here then? Smith leans down until theres barely
a breath between us. I can feel his heat and my own body surges
in response. Hes lying naked on top of me, his cock pulsing
between my thighs, and Im so aware of my body that Im
growing more aroused and less afraid by the moment. Because I
cant fucking seem to stay away from you.
Then he takes my mouth in a searing kiss, and I find my
pelvis arching toward him, seeking him inside me.
One smooth move, and hes fully nestled in my pussy.
Smith groans into my mouth. Sweet Jesus, youre so fucking
impossibly tight. Oh God.
I squeeze my inner wall around his thickness, savoring the
way it fills me. I want him to move. I want to feel what its like to
fully let go and be swept away by passion. I need to. Please, I
I cant seem to find the words to articulate what I want.
But he knows. He pulls out with a slow moan, then surges
back in, out, and suddenly hes pounding me and Im hanging on
and almost unable to breathe. His cock stuffs me so deeply hes
almost hitting my cervix, and the sound of our bodies slapping
against each other is insanely erotic.
Smiths hand buries in my hair as he clenches my scalp, and
the other hand slides under my back to pin me against him. He
pistons in me, plunges hard, relentlessly. The action rubs my clit
as well, and impossibly, I feel another orgasm approaching.
Does this feel good? he murmurs in my ear. Tell me what
you want.
I I swallow a gasp when he hits my G-spot with the head
of his cock. I want it hard. Really hard.
God, yes, he says on a groan, and then he withdraws fully,
pausing one second, then jackhammers my pussy like a man
possessed.
I cant think. I cant breathe.
I am overwhelmed, gloriously taken by this man who makes
me feel so fucking alive that Im not even myself anymore. I let
my legs fall wide open and dig my nails into his back. The bite of
my fingernails seems to encourage him; his eyes darken as he
looks at me, and he almost seems primal.
You loved being bitten, didnt you, he growls.
I whimper and nod.
His teeth latch on to the tender flesh above my nipple and he
sucks, still pumping into me. His hands are grabbing my hips so
hard Im sure Ill have bruises there. He moves his mouth down
and tugs my nipple between his teeth, sending shockwaves
straight to my clit. Oh my God, oh God, oh yes
When his teeth bite the tip of the nipple and pull it away from
my breast, I explode right on his cock. Pulsing wave after wave,
erupting in my body and sending me crying out against him.
Fuck yes, baby, he pants against my nipple, licking the
rigid tip. His thrusts grow more erratic, his breathing unsteady.
Hes close.
I want to push him over the edge. Give him some of the
pleasure hes given me. Please come, I breathe. I want it so
badly.
The words seem to unleash him. Smith gives one last hard
thrust and then he grows stiff, his body completely flush with
mine, his eyes locked on me with a heat and an edge of some
other emotion that makes my lungs lock.
In this moment, as he pours his seed into the condom, I feel
like he sees right through me. Like theres nothing between us,
no walls, no pretense. And I can see him too, and its an
intensity Ive never experienced in my life.
Smith closes his eyes, seems to struggle to breathe. He
presses a tender kiss to my forehead, and for some reason, that
simple, unexpected gesture gives me a lump in my throat.
This felt like more than just fucking.
This felt dangerous. Exciting. Addictive.
Neither of us speaks; the air is thick with our silence, the
weight of what just happened at the end of our sex.
I dont know what to do, and I lie there, feeling awkward.
Then he stretches out beside me, shifting my body so my back is
curled against his chest.
And the tension seeps out of my bones. Smiths gentle
strokes on my hip, my back, lure me into a drowsy satisfaction. I
let my eyes close and I fall asleep.
Smith
Sunlight peeks through the blinds as I open my eyes and awaken.
As consciousness comes to me, I realize Im not in my bed, in my
apartment above the bar.
And Im not alone.
Theres a soft body curled against my back, small fingers
resting on my hip, gentle breaths puffing along my skin. Aubrey.
Im in her apartment after we had sex last night. Sex that was so
fucking hot it was ridiculous. Sex that ended in a weird moment
where we had some kind of deeper connection.
Discomfort makes my body hot, and once again around her I
feel the urge to both get closer to her and run the fuck away. She
saw me last night, saw beneath my normal demeanor. And I
could tell that she was nervous, so I tried to get her to relax and
go to sleep.
Then I fell asleep beside her, and I slept better than I have in
months.
I let myself indulge for just a moment in the pleasure of her
against me, still asleep. Sex with her was different than any Ive
ever had.
I shift to lying on my back, and Aubrey moves in her sleep in
response, pressing against my side. Shes so vulnerable and
small in her sleep that I feel a surge of protection over her. I
move my arm so shes lying on my chest. Above her right breast
is a small bruise, where I bit her last night because I fucking
couldnt hold it back.
I bet she has a matching mark on her inner thigh.
My cock bounces. Images flood my mind, of me putting cuffs
on her hands and wrists, her helpless and wet and writhing
below me. I havent played in so long, too absorbed with work at
the bar, stress over my brothers. That old hunger fills me as I let
my thoughts wander. Would Aubrey even be open to something
like that? She seemed to really like me taking control. But
theres a difference in having a small bite mark and the pain that
comes with BDSM.
I shouldnt even ask her.
But I cant seem to stop thinking about it now, and I am so
fucking tempted to palm my cock and stroke myself. Maybe see
if shed be interested in round two.
Something about her is getting under my skin far too fast. I
need to cool my shit before I get in too deep and someone gets
hurt. At this point, I dont know if that someone would be her or
me.
Because at the core of things, nothing has changed. Im still
the same man I was. My last girlfriend was so freaked out by my
dark hunger that she called me a pervert and a creep and told her
whole family that Im messed up in the head. They still shoot me
dirty looks when they see me in public.
The accusations she flung at me in the heat of our last fight
still sting. How she called me an animal, a user, said my needs
were degrading and made her feel cheap.
Maybe she was right about me. After all, this sweet woman is
lying beside me, trusting me, and Im thinking about wanting to
tie her up and spank her. Shes too good for me.
I need to get the fuck out of here.
I delicately remove myself from her side and slide out of bed.
She barely moves, just gives a small, sleepy exhale as she digs
deeper under the sheets. Its a shit move, sneaking out when
shes not awake, but I need to get my head on straight without
being swayed by her eyes.
It takes just a moment to get dressed and in my shoes. I dont
let myself turn back to look at her as I exit her bedroom door. I
know if I do, Ill be far too tempted to get naked and crawl back
in bed by her side.
When I reach the front door, I see a baseball bat propped up
on the wall. Is Aubrey extra paranoid about someone breaking in
or what? This neighborhood isnt that bad. Something about that
niggles at me, but I push the thought aside and leave her
apartment, closing the door quietly behind me.

***

The week crawls by in a tedium of work. Bar business keeps me


busy enough, and when Im not at work, Im either getting shitty
sleep or running. My already surly attitude is brewing over into
the red zone. Jax tried to crack a joke about me needing to get
laid and I shot him a look so angry that he just walked away,
hands up in the air.
I know I shouldnt take my mood out on them. Because I
know the reason Im feeling so fucking off.
I havent seen Aubrey in days.
And why should I expect to? I snuck out of her apartment like
a total asshole. I dont have her number. The only information I
know about her is where she lives.
When Friday comes, Im extra on edge the whole night. The
minutes tick by in a painful slow cadence. Maria tries to flirt with
me but I pretty much ignore her.
My gaze keeps being dragged back to the door.
The door where Aubrey never comes through.
And its my own fucking fault. Even though I know its best
for both of us, I still want to see her face, hear her laugh, push
her buttons and make her snipe right back at me.
Run my tongue along her skin and elicit a groan so sexy it
makes my dick throb.
Aubrey intrigues me, compels me, attracts me like no woman
has in a really long time. But I cant have her, because Ill end up
fucking it all up and ruining her. Ruining myself, too.
For once in my life, Im trying to do the noble thing. The
selfless thing.
And I hate it so damn much.
Are you okay? Asher asks me as he brings a tray of dirty
mugs over to wash. Youve seemedespecially angry this
week.
I roll my eyes. Im fine.
Ashers lips thin as he presses them together, and he turns to
face the sink and wash the mugs. When he finishes that and puts
them on the rack to dry, he faces me yet again. Smith, Im
fucking tired of this.
Tired of what? The anger in his eyes both takes me aback
and brings my own surliness back to the surface.
Of you punishing me for coming home for the summer. I
have the right to make my own choices, whether you like it or
not.
Yeah, you do. And you made a stupid one. You could have
stayed there and gotten an internship in your major and building
up experience, but instead youre here, slinging beer at this
place. Youre not going to get anywhere by working here. The
words are blunt. Im not filtering myself with him about this
topic. He fucked up on this one.
Maybe I shouldve stayed, but I came back. Its my right to
do what works for me, though. Keep being pissed if you want,
but I dont regret it. His eyes flare as he lobs the words at me.
A customer waves at me; I pour her a beer, trying to keep my
frustration from boiling over, and shoot her a tight smile. Then I
make my way back to Asher. Of course you dont regret it. You
have the luxury of being able to just do whatever you want.
You can go to school too, you know, he retorted. Youre
not dead.
Theres no way this business will make it without me.
God, youre so fucking arrogant. His voice is filled with
shocked wonder. You really think Jax and I are so stupid that we
couldnt handle things here ourselves? That wed just drive
Dads business into the ground without your saintly presence to
keep us all alive?
My lungs tighten at the accusation in the words. Because the
truth is, that is how I feel. That neither of them could handle it.
And given the fact that Jax is a complete fuckup and Asher just
started growing facial hair recentlyId say that my gut is pretty
accurate on this one.
Without me saying a word, Asher can still read it on my face.
Fuck you, he tells me quietly, then leaves.
A flood of emotions are surging through meanger, guilt,
frustration. My life isnt what I wanted it to be, not at all. Not
even close. I had my own dreams and aspirations. Then Dad died,
leaving me with two teen brothers to raise and a failing bar to
tend to.
My chest is tight as I serve customers. I can barely keep a
restraint on my rampant feelings. They threaten to explode. I
cannot lose my shit right now. I have to be the responsible one,
the father figure. Asher might not like it, but I do have a point to
how Im feeling. He could have used the experience to help him
after he graduates next year.
I pour a beer for myself and take a long draw of the refreshing
liquid. Maybe alcohol will take the edge off. I rarely drink at work
unless a customer buys me something, but I need it tonight.
The tension keeps ramping up in me, tightening my chest.
God, why am I so fucking worked up right now? I know exactly
why. Its because I keep screwing shit up in my life. I try to make
things right and I end up making people pissed. And Im tired
and need to feel good.
I want to feel Aubrey in my arms, to hold her close and feel
her warmthforget all of this nonsense. But thats not going to
happen and I need to put it out of my mind for at least a little
while.
When I head back to the office, Jax follows me in there.
Not now, I tell him, a warning clear in my tone.
Dude, youre a fucking mess. You need to go. Take a night
off. Pretend you remember how to just be a man and not a
business owner.
I cant take a night off, I reply. I dig through the papers on
the desk, looking for last nights totals for comparison against
tonights. It seems like a better crowd in here right now.
As part owner, I insist. Get the fuck out of here. Youre
stressing the customers.
I stare hard at him.
Jax gives me a small smile and laughs. Okay, not really. But
youre stressing me. Please. Just go. You cant keep working at
this pace, man. Take the night off and enjoy yourself. Have fun.
Find a chick to bang. I promise well be okay. We can always text
you if theres an issue.
I have to admit, its tempting. I havent taken a night off in so
long I cant remember the last time.
Jax can see that his words are working on me. He goes for the
death blow. Dad would not want to see you killing yourself like
this. You know it would hurt him.
My breath exhales in a hard whoosh, and I run my fingers
through my hair, over my beard. Fuck. All the fight leaves me
at the mention of Dad. No, he wasnt the best businessman, but
he did the best he could for me and my brothers. Made sure we
went out and did things together. Fishing, baseball games,
skiing.
The familiar pain that I always feel when I think about Dad
comes creeping back in, and my chest grows tight.
He comes over and pats my shoulder. One night. It wont be
the end of the world. Stop being our dad and remember that you
have a right to a life, too.
You have to textno, callif anything goes wrong.
We will.
And if someone starts a fight, make sure to break it up
immediately so it doesnt get worse.
Yeah, we know.
And keep an eye on the kegs
Fucker, we know. Shut up, idiot, and get out of here. Jax
shoves my back. I growl at him, and he laughs. Yeah, yeah, big
guy. Dont forget, I can take you.
One time, when you were like twelve.
Best day of my life. He winks. I was thinking of getting a
trophy for it.
I cant help it. I laugh. Asshole knows how to work me. I
glance at the time on my phone. Its only nine-thirty. A whole
night offwhat am I going to do?
I grab my keys and head out the crowded bar toward my
motorcycle. Crank it up, rev it, then back out of the spot and just
drive. Im not sure where Im going. I just need to feel nothing
but the street beneath my tires, the power of the bike. It was my
dads, and he left it to me in his will, knowing how much I loved
helping him restore it.
Whenever I ride it, I feel closer to him.
Mile by mile, the tension starts to fade, and my shoulders
loosen. The wind whips through my hair. I take the back road up
to the small lake in the park. A good place to be alone with my
thoughts.
Think about what it is I want and how to get it.
When I get to the parking lot, there are a few other cars there.
I hear a couple of kids playing in the playground at the far end of
the park. The air is warm but not humid tonight. I park my bike
and head right to the waters edge.
There are a few ducks swimming on the surface; the sun has
already set, so its dark over here, lit by a couple of ambient
lights around the park. The sky is an explosion of stars above
me. I work my way around the perimeter of the water to my
favorite thinking spot, a small grassy patch in the back.
Been a long time since Ive come here. This used to be one of
my retreats from the world, where Id lie on the grass and not
worry about anything.
I bet Aubrey would like it here.
The thought stops me right in my tracks.
Ive never brought a woman to this place. Not because its
that big of a secret or anythingit is in a fucking public park,
after all. But something about doing a thing as regular as going
with a woman to a park seems like real dating.
When the fuck have I last gone on a real date, not just a one-
night stand? And why does Aubrey make me think about these
things? Thats not what Im interested in.
Ive been telling myself that very thing all week, that I dont
want more than just fucking. And the entire time, Ive known
Im lying to myself. Because dating Aubrey would give me a
chance to hear more of her laugh, make her smile. Give us the
chance to tease until were so sexually aroused we cant see
straight.
Maybe trying a date wouldnt be so bad. Just one.
If shell even have me. I did creep out of her place without a
goodbye. Shit move for sure. Jax, the king of one-night stands,
would even kick my ass for that.
Is she pissed at me? Regretting what we did?
Guilt sinks my stomach hard, and I sigh. This week has
fucking sucked because Ive been running from the truth, and I
know it. I want to know Aubrey more. Maybe take her out to
dinner or whatever.
One date couldnt hurt, could it?
Fuck me, I want to see her again. Feeling that tight cunt
wrapped around my cock was one of the hottest moments in my
life. Her innocence, mingled with that dirty curiosity, that
eagernessI need it right now.
Aubrey could drive away the shithole this week became.
I just have to get her to give it a chance.
I go back to my bike and hop on it. Get back on the roads and
weave my way to her apartment. Ill convince her to see me. I
know she feels our sexual connection too. That look in her eyes
wasnt manufactured. That pussy was drenched for me, her body
craving my hands, mouth, dick.
Aubreys name is a pulse in my head as I ride to her place, pull
into the open spot in front of her building. Stroll to the door. The
front light is ongood indicator shes home. Which means she
is avoiding Outlaws, that I pushed her away.
I can make it up to her though.
I refuse to acknowledge the small flutter in my gut and push
that shit right aside. Knock on her door with a firm rap.
After a moment, the door cracks open. Aubreys wearing a
pair of faded jeans and short-sleeved pink shirt. Her breasts are
molded by the fabric; its hard to fight the way my mouth waters
at the sight. Holy fuck, her tits are gorgeous.
I look up into her eyes and see wariness. You cant possibly
be this desperate for customers, she says in an airy tone,
contradicting the tension I see around her eyes, her mouth.
Not for customers, I tell her. Let me in, Aubrey.
No, thanks. I already met my quota for guys running off in
the middle of the night while Im sleeping. She moves to close
the door, but I block it with my foot.
It wasnt night. It was morning.
She huffs a frustrated breath. Oh, awesome. Thanks for the
correction. Thats good to know.
Come out with me tonight. I look down at her lips and
watch them part ever so slightly. Aubrey might be trying to play
cool, but she still responds to me. A small thrill whips through
me. Let me take you to dinner.
I already ate. She glances at the ground. Why are you here,
Smith? Seems like you got what you wanted.
Fuck. I can tell shes trying to sound casual, but I see the
tension in her shoulders. Her feelings got hurt by me running off
like that.
I scrub my face with my hands. Look. Im shitty at all of this.
I havent been on a date in probably well over a year.
That makes her look up at me. She raises a brow. I wouldnt
exactly call what happened between us a date.
I roll my eyes. Yeah, no shit. I mean I want you to come out
with me tonight. Ill buy you dessert or get you drunk. Your
choice.
She furrows her brow, studying my face. I try to keep myself
steady, tell myself that this isnt that important, but I cant help
feeling like everything is hinging on her response right now.
The more she thinks, the worse it gets for me. So I throw out
another possibility, hoping to catch her interest. I know a place
that makes the best damn key lime pie youve ever had in your
entire life. Its a stab in the dark, a random hope that she might
be tempted enough by food to give me a chance.
Ive never had to work to get with a woman before. Why am I
pushing this so hard? I know the answer when I look down into
her eyes, see nuanced emotions flickering right in front of me.
Because the moment she opened the door, I felt like I could
breathe after living underwater for a week.
Aubrey is oxygen.
She draws her lip between her teeth, and I see in her eyes that
shes getting swayed by my argument. I havent had a good key
lime pie since I visited Florida a couple of years ago, she admits.
This woman is a Key West native who moved here when she
got married. Shell make your panties melt off.
That makes her quirk a smile. Dont think that a slice of pie
is going to make anything happen to my panties, Smith.
Well see about that. I wisely refrain from saying that and just
give her what I hope is an innocent smile.
She rolls her eyes and shakes her head, and the laugh she
gives sinks down beneath my skin, chips away at the hardness
that had surrounded my chest all week. I feel alive with her,
elated, aroused, warm. God, Im a walking clich. Swayed by
sweets.
It happens to the best of us. We all have our weaknesses.
Somehow I dont think you have any, she murmurs as she
cracks the door open, grabs her purse off the side table, then
locks up.
Youd be surprised. I leave my comment at that. Because
Aubreys beginning to feel like a weakness, an addiction.
Something I crave beyond sensible reason. If I were smart, I
wouldnt be here right now. Id let her slip away.
For once in my life, Im kind of glad Im not smart.
We stroll to the parking lot.
Wheres your car? she asks from directly behind me.
I point to the motorcycle. Right there.
Oh. God. I should have guessed. Theres a breathlessness in
her voice.
Youve never been on one, have you, I say as I turn around
to peer down at her.
Her eyes are wide, locked on mine, and in this moment I feel
like Im the only man on the planet. Aubrey has a way of making
me crave that look, making me want to keep her looking at me
like that.
I dont have a helmet, she says weakly.
I have one on the back of my bike. Next argument.
She crosses her arms and squints at me. Youre kind of
arrogant, you know.
I laugh, and it feels freeing. My laugh makes her lose her
irritated look, and she gives me a small smile. Youre not the
first person to tell me this today. I take her hand, feeling the
slender bones, the soft skin, feeling like maybe this week wont
be so bad after all. Hop on the back. Youre about to learn what
real freedom feels like.
Aubrey
I t takes all of my strength to approach the motorcycle after
Smith climbs on. He looks so ridiculously hot that I can barely
believe it.
Meanwhile, this helmet probably looks stupid on me in
comparison. But I can hear my moms voice in the back of my
head, telling me how many people die on motorcycles from
being improperly protected. Because of her, I grew up petrified
of them.
So of course, Smith rides a motorcycle, because fate likes to
push my buttons in every possible way.
Im looking like a doofus for you, Mom, I say to myself.
Hopefully that will appease her. Im sure that at home, shes
probably got some kind of Mom alert warning her that her baby
girl is doing something dangerous.
Smith takes a couple of minutes to coach me on how to be a
safe backseat rider, to lean with him into curves, not squeeze
him too hard, not move my feet off the foot props so I dont get
burned on the exhaust pipes. I nod and try to remember all of
the details.
Then I hike my leg up and slide onto the back of the bike
behind him.
And suck in a shaky breath when he tugs me closer so that
hes nestled right between my open thighs. The feel of his
smooth back pressed against my breasts makes my nipples bead
right up; since Im wearing a thin, unlined bra, I cant help but
wonder if he can feel my reaction.
Oh fuck, I hadnt anticipated needing to be thisnear him.
With his hand stroking my outer thigh as he revs the engine, I
feel myself sinking into a space with him I swore I wasnt going
to feel again. After waking up alone that morning, hurt and
embarrassed that he didnt bother to even say goodbye, I was
determined to avoid Smith.
Even though I thought about him all the time since then.
But the hole I felt in my heart since waking up to find him
gone has made me feel empty and sad and jaded in a way that is
unexpected. I didnt intend to start falling for this tattooed guy
who runs a bar and seems like the type that doesnt ever settle
down.
I hoped Id learned my lesson after he ran out on me, hoped
the hole in my heart would start to repair itself and Id lose
interest in Smith Beckett, as impossible as it seemed.
And then he showed up at my door not asking for sex, but for
a date. Seeming awkward and trying to talk me into it, even
when I initially refuse him. Not like his usual self, the version of
him that is so self-assured that he never has to work for a girls
attention. The version Ive seen of him at the bar, in bed.
The fact that he put himself out there for me made my heart
weaken. So despite me swearing him off a few days ago, here I
am, on the back of his bike as he pulls out of my apartment
complex and onto the road.
I must be a fool to open myself up to yet more heartache. Will
I never learn?
When we pick up speed, I can feel the wind whipping at my
bare skin on my arms. I try to be careful not to move my head too
much so he can stay balanced, but Im riveted by the sight of
everything streaming by us fast, the world open, unlike in a car
where were closed in metal and glass.
Here, Im not just riding. Im almost a part of the road.
Smith navigates turns expertly, and I lean with him into
them. His body is firm between my legs, and my clit grows warm
and begins to throb. I cant help but be reminded of the last time
he was there.
Something about sitting on such a powerful piece of vibrating
machinery with the sexiest man Ive ever met is arousing me
more than I ever realized would happen. God help me. I refuse to
get off this bike and jump on his body the way I want to.
After about ten minutes, we pull into a parking lot of a small
diner. Despite its size, the lot is filled, with people lingering
outside in a row along the building. When the motor cuts, I take
off my helmet and get off the bike.
Smith takes the helmet from me and locks it into place in a
resting spot on the back of the bike. I cant stop staring at him.
Hes radiating sex, and several of the younger womenand a
couple of older womenare eye-fucking him so hard it makes
me feel a small surge of jealousy.
But when I turn back to look at him after scoping out the
crowd outside, his eyes are locked on me, and I forget everything
else.
Um. Thanks for the ride, I tell him. When his mouth quirks
in a half smile, I chuckle and say, I mean on the motorcycle, you
perv.
Lets go get some pie. Fuck, his voice is just as sexy of a
rumble as that motorcycle. Is there anything about him that
doesnt turn me on? Its almost embarrassing how much I feel in
heat around him.
It, uh, seems like a really long wait, I tell him.
I have connections. Smith takes my hand and leads me in
front of the crowd. He weaves his fingers in mine, and I tell
myself its just to get us to the building, because if I start
thinking its anything more, Ill just get hurt again.
I cant let him make me feel bad about myself, the way I did
when I woke up alone, mortified, thinking maybe the night
wasnt as impactful for him as it was for me. Im only here
because he made an obvious effort in this, but that doesnt mean
Im going to drop my guard.
Besides, it would be good for me to explore more of Rock
Bridge. Right?
The door dings when we come in, and the older black woman
at the register waves Smith over. Holy shit on a shingle, its
about damn time you get your ass in here, you overworked
moron. I was wondering if you ever take a day off from that
skank hole you call a bar.
A barking laugh erupts from my chest at her blunt words,
especially when I see Smith narrow his eyes but not lash back out
at her. I have no idea who she is, but I already like her. She
seems like she can tame the beast in a way no one else can.
Aunt Sylvia, can you fit us in? he asks her, obviously
exasperated but reining it in. Aubreys new to town, and I told
her the key lime pie here is the best.
Well, damn right it is. I make it myself fresh every day. She
gives a matter-of-fact nod then eyes me. Her eyes are the same
color as dark amber, and her skin is smooth, despite her
advanced age. Youre pretty. Sweet-looking. Not his usual
type.
I feel my face flush. Sounds like that isnt such a bad thing,
I mumble.
She cackles and smacks my upper arm. This ones got
spitfire. I like her. She leads us through a room packed with
tables to a small two-top table right by the fryer. Best I can do,
so suck it up.
This is fine, I assure her. We appreciate you fitting us in.
Aunt Sylvia moves away back to the register, and we sit down.
Due to the location of the table, were forced to be right beside
each other, since the table is pressed in between the building
wall and the half-wall of the fryer area.
A teenaged waitress brings us waters, and I take a deep gulp
as I try to pretend Im not totally nervous about being out with
him.
I cant believe Im here with him. That were on what is
definitely looking like a legitimate date, something he said he
doesnt do. So why me? I cant help but ponder it as we sit in
silence for a minute, then two.
I shift in my seat. So you got today off work, then? Sounds
like you never leave the bar.
Smith groans and reaches for his water. I see the snake tattoo
peeking out from his sleeve, wrapping around his forearm.
Aunt Sylvia exaggerates. Kind of.
Is she really your aunt? Im not sure if thats a rude
question to ask or not, and my cheeks get a little warm.
Sure is. My granddad married her and brought her here from
Key West. Shes his second wife after his first passed away
young. But she hates being called Grandma, so she makes me
and my brothers call her Aunt. His face softens and he seems
different, less edgy, as he talks about her. After my dad died,
she got us through the hard time.
Oh God, Im so sorry, I say, a heaviness in my chest at the
thought of his sorrow, losing a parent at such a young age. I
cant imagine how difficult that had to be for you. Your mother
must have been devastated.
The softness fled his face until the hard lines returned. I
wouldnt know. She ran out on us when I was five. Dad raised us,
and then he had an unexpected heart attack and passed a few
years ago.
My heart lurches, and I realize this probably explains a lot
about Smith and why he is the way he is. Hes the oldest brother,
that much I can tell. I bet he had to step in and be a parent to two
teens when he was barely an adult himself. Sohow did you
come to own the bar?
It was Dads. He always wanted to run a bar. Be that place
where the regular locals loved to come. He gives a wry smile.
Unfortunately, as youve seen, the locals that frequent our spot
tend to be on the rowdy side.
I laugh and nod. Ummmyeah, I did notice that.
Weve got an unfortunate reputation and some people are
afraid to even try us out.
It probably doesnt help that you send new customers to the
competition, I reply, watching to see if he gets it.
His face is momentarily blank and then he breaks into a grin.
Youre never going to let me live down the fact that I was rude
to you that first night, are you?
Definitely not, I say, trying not to smile too widely. My
heart squeezes in my chest, and I hate the fact that Im enjoying
this time with him so much.
Aunt Sylvia arrives with two slices of key lime pie, golden and
delicious on top of a thick graham cracker crust.
I didnt think I was really hungry, but my mouth waters upon
the sight. Oh wow, these look so good, I tell her.
Duh. Just wait until you eat it. She saunters away.
I see where you get your confidence from, I say.
That makes Smith laugh. The earlier tension from his eyes
vanishes, and he gives her an affectionate look. Shes nuts, but
we love her.
I dig into my pie and take my first bite. And die of pleasure.
Holy hell, its creamy and tart and exquisite. I cant help but
moan as I lick the last bits off the fork. I close my eyes for a
second and just taste, savor. Okay, she has a right to be
arrogant. This is incredible. I would marry her just to have her
make this pie As I open my eyes, my words drawl off, because
Smith is looking at me like he wants to spread my thighs and eat
me the same way.
My pussy clenches in a tight spasm.
You have no idea how sexy you are with how you enjoy
things, he says in a low rumble. The intensity pouring from his
eyes almost overwhelms me. A room full of people, but I almost
get the feeling that if I told him I wanted to have sex, hed brush
everything off the table and prop me up there and fuck me. In
front of everyone.
Something about that thought makes my clit throb harder. I
try to sit still in my seat and not shift, not give away my arousal.
Im not doing anything else sexual with this man, I chant to
myself. I cant risk him running off on me again like that. My
pride wont take it. Pie is fine. Pie is safe.
Unless I have pie with him, it appears.
I dont respond to his statement. Instead, I make myself
finish the pie. Its so damn good that it isnt a hardship. But
Smiths body heat beside me, the look Im seeing in his eyes
because he still hasnt taken them off meits all making my
body surge and my nipples harden and my pussy swell and
dampen.
This man makes me have dirty thoughts.
I cant cave. I cannot cave.
Smiths hand slips down to stroke my jean-clad thigh, and I
fight the instinctive urge to arch under his touch and purr like a
fucking cat. One night of sex, and he already figured out how I
like to be touched. The man is a sex genius, thats for sure.
I cant cave.
I drop the fork on the plate and declare with as much casual
attitude as I can muster, That was so good. Thank you. I force a
lightness in my tone. But you havent finished your piece yet.
Why are you here in Rock Bridge? he asks me out of
nowhere, his fingers dancing along my kneecap.
My stomach tightens, and I have dual feelings of discomfort
and arousal at the same time. I dont want to talk about Roger.
Dont want to think about him. But Smith opened up to me a
little and shared something difficult with me. I should do the
same. I select my words carefully so as not to give everything
away. Well, I got this job opportunity, and I took it. I had some
stuff happening in my personal life, so coming to a new town
was a good way for me to start over.
Who was he? That incessant hand keeps touching me,
sliding up my thigh to caress my hip, nudge under the band of
flesh exposed above my jeans and touch my back.
You just assume theres a guy involved, I lob back at him. I
mean, hes right, but I dont want to admit it like that.
So there isnt? His brow is quirked, his gaze heavy on mine.
He already knows the answer; I can see it in his eyes. Hes just
waiting for me to confirm it.
My ex, I relent. Things didnt end well with us. I needed a
new scene.
His hand pauses in caressing my back. Did he hurt you? The
words are said quietly, but I can hear the concern in them.
Not My hand flutters to my throat as Im suddenly
inundated with mental images of the rocky, tumultuous
relationship I escaped. Notin the way you think. It was just a
bad thing for me. I clear my throat. I dont want to talk about
this anymore right now, if you dont mind.
Hes why you have the baseball bat. Makes sense. With
that, Smith resumes stroking my back, inching his hand up to
the middle of my spine. Whens the last time youve gone
skinny dipping?
I blink at the rapid conversation change. What?
He gives me a wide-toothed grin that knocks me back in my
seat. Smiths smile at full wattage is devastating. Oh God, this
man could really do me in. My brain is screaming danger,
danger! Youve never been, have you.
Swimming naked is not a requirement of graduating into
adulthood, I say defensively, trying to pretend Im not fully
absorbed in him. Smelling his scent, listening to the rough
timbre of his voice, feeling his fingers swirl circles on my skin,
now inching closer to my waistband. Not everyone is as pervy
as you.
His hand stills again, and he seems to pull back into himself.
Aunt Sylvia chooses that moment to come over. Now you tell
those two hooligan heathen brothers of yours to get themselves
in here soon. I dont even have to tell you what Im gonna do if
they dont.
Smith gives her a tight smile. He moves his hand to the table
surface, and I suddenly feel bereft. What did I do? What did I say
wrong? Somehow I fumbled things; all the talking wed done
seems to be over now. Ill be sure to tell them. He goes to dig
in his wallet, but Aunt Sylvia shoots him a glare so hard, he
finally lifts his hands in the air. Fine, but one day you have to
let me pay you. This isnt how you make money in a business.
Trust me, Im doing just fine. She moves away.
When shes gone, he grabs a twenty out of his wallet anyway
and leaves it on the table. I guess thats our cue to go.
I feel deflated when we rise from the table. I want to say
something, but I dont know what. We step outside into the mild
night air, and before he mounts on the bike, I touch his shoulder.
He shifts his head so I see his profile.
Hey. Idont know what happened back there.
His walls are up; I cant read his face at all. Nothing. Totally
fine.
Right. Thats why you just suddenly pulled away.
Frustration wells in me. My ex used to play these gamestell me
nothing was wrong, nothing was wrong, then explode at me
when I didnt react the way he wanted me to, didnt comfort him
about whatever phantom injury I committed against him.
I cant do that again. Cant spend my days walking on
eggshells, afraid Im going to set someone off.
My chest tightens, and I turn from him, fighting back the
emotion welling in me. You know what? Im going to get
another ride home. Thanks for the pie. I grab my phone and
start walking in the direction we came from. I can find an Uber
ride to take me, Im sure.
Aubrey. His hand wraps around my upper arm.
I lift my chin and glare at him. Im not stupid. Dont tell me
nothing is wrong, because I know it is. And Im not going
through that anymore, so if thats the bullshit you want to pull
with me, I cant do this.
This? Smith steps forward. Theres a dark menace in his
eyes, but Im too heated myself to care if Im pissing him off.
What is this?
How the hell should I know? I swallow and try to ignore the
feeling of his strong fingers on my bare skin. Obviously this is
nothing.
Its not nothing, and you know it. He leans down until our
mouths are an inch apart. I spent all week telling myself to stay
away from you. That were better off this way. You not getting
dragged down by someone like me. I cant let you.
Youre not dragging me down, Smith. I dont know why
youd think that, either.
I dont know. Maybe because Im such a perv, he says, a
trace of bitterness in his voice.
It suddenly hits me that Ive insulted him. It was a joke, I
say. I thought youd laugh.
But thats the problem. Its not a joke, Smith says, and
theres real emotion in his voice now. I like things dirty.
Rough.
Something about that admission makes me throb, awakens
all my nerve endings. How dirty? How rough?
He sees my reaction, and his nostrils flare.
Smith brushes his mouth on mine, a delicate touch that belies
his next words. I dont think you could handle how rough I want
it with you.
Is thatis that related to why you left while I was sleeping?
I have to know. To know it wasnt that I did something wrong.
That maybe hes struggling with this demon inside him.
I go to drop my hand when he captures it and brings my
fingertips to his mouth. He sucks them in, then licks them, and
the desire that floods me from the tugging sensation is almost
too much. God.
The things I want to do to you He stops and drops my
hand, steps away. But I cant.
Please, stop playing games with me, I reply. Im tired of the
big, bad Smith acting like hes the only one who wants dirty
things in bed. Yeah, Ive only been with two menwell, now
threebut that doesnt mean I dont have a healthy sexual
appetite. I have a feeling I can handle whatever it is that youre
into.
Even as I say the words, I wonder if Ive bitten off more than I
can chew.
He narrows his eyes and when he speaks, theres a warning in
his tone. That sounds distinctly like a challenge, Aubrey. One
Im not sure youre ready to undertake.
Some boldness makes me assert, Well, theres only one way
for us to find that out, isnt there.
Smith
My liver hurts, Jax complains as he drinks another beer. He
kicks his bare feet up on my coffee table.
Put your feet down, I say to him, a complaint Ive been
lobbing at him for years. Its a fruitless effort; I already know he
isnt going to. I take a swig of my own beer and settle back on my
worn couch.
From his spot on the other end of the couch, Asher shifts,
swigging his dark beer. So, youve been busy lately, he says in
a casual tone, shooting a side glance at me. Hes so wanting to
question me but hes too nervous to do so.
Jax, however, has no fucks to give. You and Aubrey are
practically inseparable, he murmurs, making sure to adjust his
feet so theyre even sturdier on my coffee table. Dick. He gives
me a careless smile. You guys must be fucking like bunnies.
Its none of your business, I tell him as I turn my attention
back to the TV. Theres a soccer game on but were not paying
much attention. I watch the men run up and down the field
chasing the ball. Sip my beer. Hope that theyll drop the subject
of Aubrey.
Because honestly, I dont quite know what to think. After we
went out for key lime pie a few nights ago, weve seen each other
every day.
But Ive tried my best to keep my dark urges at bay.
I dont know why Im not just banging the fuck out of her. I
want to. Especially after she issued that challenge to me, her
eyes glowing with fire. But Aubrey has no idea what she was
asking me for. Because to fully release myself, to let her see the
perv I really am, would destroy any chance we have together.
She might think she wants to see what Im all about, but she
doesnt.
A girl as pristine and angelic as Aubrey would melt in my fire.
I cant do that to her. I wont do it to her.
I want more time with her, even if it means we arent fucking.
Aubrey is quickly working her way under my skin.
So she must be a tiger in bed if youre still hitting that. Jax
tosses the crude words at me with almost a leer.
Shut the fuck up about her, I say.
You like her. Its thrown out as almost an accusation. Jaxs
eyes narrow. Shes not just a piece of ass for you, is she.
Im not having this conversation. I turn away from him and
drink my beer, trying to push down the irritation swelling in my
chest. Fucking Jax and his fucking attitude. Hes the one who
encouraged me to get out and go live a little instead of working
so much. Now hes giving me flack about it? No.
No, of course youre not having this conversation with us,
he counters in a harsh tone. And why am I surprised about this?
Youre a fucking uptight as a virgin lately, and as closed off as
one too.
Where is all this coming from? I ask him, turning to give
him the full weight of my stare. Whats your problem? Is
hooking up with one or two different women a day not keeping
you busy enough anymore?
At least Im still me. Youre just Jax waves a dismissive
hand at me. Youve changed. And not even since she came to
town. Youve been a fucking dick to everyone lately. Look at how
you talk to Asher. Hes too nice to tell you, but you need to chill
your shit out with him.
I spin my head to glare at my youngest brother, whos brow is
furrowed, and hes shooting deathly daggers from his eyes at Jax.
Dont drag me into your fucking argument, he says. I already
said my piece about all of this shit.
And yet I get the feeling you havent said it all, since you and
Jax seem to be talking about me behind my back. Anger is a
quiet pulse in my lower belly. I can feel the heavy frown line
between my eyebrows. What the fuck is this all about?
Today is supposed to be a chill-out afternoon, unwinding
before the craziness of Thursday nights, our weekly ritual. Drink
some beer, what whatever the fuck is on TV, bust each others
balls, and so on.
This feels like more than just busting my balls. This feels like
Im being ganged up on.
Asher sighs and puts his beer on the side table. Look, were
just.Youre not acting like yourself.
Maybe Im too fucking tired from running the bar to act like
myself. The words fly out before I can stop them.
Jax stills. Complain much, tough guy? No one is asking you
to carry the weight on your shoulders. But you act like were still
little kids and you have to herd us into place. News flash, Smith
we dont need you to be our parent anymore. Maybe we can,
oh, I dont knowtry to be brothers or whatever.
The pulse is throbbing at the base of my throat, and I struggle
with my words. Maybe if you guys, oh, I dont knowpulled
your own weight with managing the bar, I wouldnt have to
parent you.
Fuck you, Jax says, standing and glaring down at me. The
change in his attitude hits me hard. Hes not normally one to get
this angry. Hes the jokester, the charmer, the guy to smooth
things over. But apparently not today. No, Jax is letting me feel
the brunt of his anger. Were trying to do our best if youd chill
the fuck out a little. And maybe if you werent distracted by
Aubrey, youd see how were keeping the bar running just as well
as you are.
Asher sighs and holds up his hands. Shit is getting too out of
control right now. Lets all relax and take a moment before
things explode. Our Beckett tempers are raging.
Jax sits back down and drinks his beer with a purposeful
casualness that irritates me. Fucking dick. Its nice of him to
throw out a bunch of shitty opinions then not have to answer for
them.
Aubrey isnt a distraction. At least, not in a bad way. Spending
time with her has become the bright spot of my day. She
reminds me what it feels like it have a real life outside of
parenting my brothers and running the bar. She reminds me
what it feels like to be a mannot just hooking up, but more.
With her, I feel like all my troubles slip away. Arent as
important. I get an absurd amount of joy just watching her be
happy.
Silent tension bubbles between the three of us for several
minutes. The soccer game is still raging on in the background,
the crowd cheering on the big-screen TV. Were all staring
blindly at the game but not really giving a fuck. Nursing our
drinks and our injured feelings.
Jax exhales hard and smooths a hand over his jaw. Okay, this
is fucking dumb. I dont want to argue right now, especially
when we have bigger shit to worry about.
Like what? Asher asks.
Like the fact that the town is ganging up on us, he says.
I ask, What do you mean?
Jax hops off the chair and moves to my kitchen, whipping
open the fridge door. I hear another beer crack open. So, I was
driving yesterday and got pulled over by the police.
I roll my eyes, and a little of the tension from earlier leaks
from my shoulders. Jax getting pulled over for speeding is not an
unusual occurrence. About as unusual as the sun rising in the
east. That fucker loves the gas pedal a little too much. Is this
the part where were supposed to be shocked? You being pulled
over for speeding isnt some kind of town conspiracy.
Asher laughs. Seriously.
Very fucking funny, he says, moving back to the living
room. He swigs his drink and exhales. I wasnt even speeding
when they pulled me over. The cop claimed I did a rolling stop
when turning right on red. Total bullshit claim. He gave me a
ticket and then told me that our bar is bad news and he has a few
friends working on driving us out of business. The cocksucker
didnt even try to be smooth about it.
I sigh and rake my free hand through my hair. The guy was
probably just talking shit, I say, knowing somehow that its not
the case. Our bad rep is getting worse every day and Ive been
aware of the rumors and whispers around town for awhile now.
But this takes things to an entirely new level.
I guess theyre stepping up their game, Asher comments.
A couple of months ago, we had two police offers saunter into
Outlaws, making a big show of looking around. They eyed all our
customers to the point of making them nervous; several even
left. It was easy to see what they were doingtrying to psych us
out.
Okay, yeah, wed had a few fights erupting before that, but it
wasnt anything unusual for our bar.
Im not letting them bully us, I vow. Fuck them. Well
figure out what to do.
They cant actually close us down, can they? Jax asks.
No, I say, though truthfully, I dont know. I never told my
brother about the guy who came to our bar a couple of weeks ago
offering to buy it from us. Hed lowballed so badly that Id easily
laughed him off.
But given the pattern emerging here, the town is working
against us. Its highly possible that guy was setting the stage for
the police to shake us down, scare us enough to sell the property
to him. And then what would happen? My dads dream would
disappear and a big part of him along with it.
Nothing left to show the world he made a mark. Nothing left
to remember him by.
I swear, sometimes in the bar, especially alone before it gets
busy, I can actually feel the old mans presence in there. I cant
lose that.
The thought makes me depressed and angry at the same time.
We were robbed of our father. No fucking way is anyone gonna
rob him of his one legacy. Outlaws might be a shithole, but its
our shithole, and were fucking keeping it.
I dont have the answers. I need time to think. A run after my
brothers leave might help clear my mind, open me up to new
possibilities and options before I head into work tonight. Im
tempted to ask them to go now, my body itching to feel the burn
of muscles, the release of all my stress and escape into the
moment.
I need space and time to think about everything my brothers
unloaded on me just now.
Its clear my brothers arent too happy about me seeing
Aubreyor whatever the hell it is between us. It sure as fuck
isnt just sex. Theres something deeper emerging. Something
that makes me feel strange, not my usual self.
That makes me crave her in my presence all the time.
I cant label it right now. Im not even sure I want to. I just
want to enjoy it and know her better. See what else makes her
tick.
Maybe Aubrey is a distraction, after all. But if she is, shes the
best kind.

***

My feet pound hard on the pavement as I run through the woods.


Rhythmic slapping, my lungs burning, my muscles flexing,
nothing on my mind except getting through this next mile.
I needed this escape, needed to clear my fucking mind. I cant
keep carrying the weight of everything on my shouldersmy
brothers are right about that. But can I depend on them to help
me?
Jax is a loose cannon whos more into partying and fucking
Theres a gap in the trees, and the late afternoon sun washes
me in its warmth. Sweat trickles down my bare back, into the
waistband of my shorts. Ive run this path every day since I was a
young teen.
Rock Ridge is my home. My haven and my hell at the same
time. The place where I have the best memories of my brothers
and I spending time with my dad. The place where I felt the
worst grief after he died. Where I feel like Im living here but
dont quite belong. Were the rebel boys, bad to the bone, insert
your own clich. Wanted in bed, hit on in the bar, but in public?
Barely acknowledged.
But not Aubrey.
We went to the park the other day. I showed her my spot. And
she held my hand and sat with me as we watched the ducks.
In that moment, I felt a peace, a stillness in me Id never
experienced with another woman before. It was fucking
intoxicating. Addictive. Aubrey is my fix, and I want more and
more of her.
I also want to fuck her so badly I can barely stand it.
I make my way out of the wooded area and back on the
sidewalk toward my apartment above the bar. Just another mile
to go until I hit home. Shower and get my shit together for work
tonight. My whole body is drenched in sweat at this point.
Jaxs comment about the police nudges its way back to the
forefront of my mind. Fuck. We have to do something about it. If
we can get the bar to pull in more money, maybe we can prove
why we deserve to remain here and well be in a stronger
position to not let them fuck with us.
I need ideas. Fast.
I cross the street and make it to my neighborhood. Kids are
playing on small grassy lots in front of their homes, jumping in
sprinklers, throwing balls, screaming and acting like little shits.
I feel a grin lighting my face despite my troubles when I see a
small boy tugging the hair of a small girl, and she hauls off and
hits him on the ear.
When I turn the corner and make it to the sidewalk leading to
my entrance, I find myself slowing in surprise. Aubreys sitting
on my stoop, a plastic bag in her lap. I suck in several breaths
and try to get my heart to slow down.
The pounding of blood in my veins isnt just because of me
running.
Aubreys wearing nursing scrubs. Shes either home from
work or on her way to it. She stands when she sees me, a shy
smile on her face, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear and
putting the bag on the stoop. Hi, she says as I near her.
I dont say a word in response. I cup her face and tug her
mouth to mine. All I want right now is to fucking taste her
mouth. I need it so badly that the ache is a throb in my entire
body. I need to sink into her, escape from everything, let her
drift me away from the stresses of my life.
Aubrey gasps and opens her mouth to me without hesitation,
and I slant my mouth over hers and glide my tongue on hers. She
tastes like mint and warmth, that flavor thats uniquely her. I
thread my fingers in her hair, careful not to press my throbbing
body and quickly rising cock against her clean uniform. But oh, I
want to mess her up, make her leave her disheveled, feeling
thoroughly owned.
Why the hell have I been holding back from her?
As I kiss her, I realize I have no idea. Cant remember a single
fucking good reason for it.
Aubrey whimpers, which makes my blood boil. I plunge
deeper, possess her mouth, and she buries her fingers in my hair
and kisses me in earnest. I can feel her shaking a little with her
desire, which ignites my own hunger. My cock is so hard Im sure
everyone could see it. And I have zero fucks to give about it.
My woman, something in my head growls. I run my hand
down to her side and squeeze. I am feeling animalistic, primal,
and I need her so much right now.
Aubrey pulls back with a wide, open smile, panting. Her lips
are swollen, her hair mussed, and I suppress the urge to gloat
that I made her look this way. Wow, that was the best greeting
Ive ever had in my life.
I want you so badly right now, I tell her. My entire body is
on fire for her. I want her hands and mouth everywhere.
Aubreys eyes darken and her chest rises and falls with her
shallow breaths. God, I Her lips part and she swallows. I
told myself I wasnt going to, uh, that we could just Wed be
nothing more than Her cheeks burn a delicate pink and she
presses her lips together and looks away.
Fuck. I know what shes driving at. Shes hurt by how I
slipped away from her that day. I want to kick myself again for
hurting her feelings. Yet despite her embarrassment, shes still
been going out with me.
This woman is going to be my downfall. I know it right now as
surely as I know my name. I shouldnt have left like that, I tell
her. It was a shit move, and it hurt you. I cup her chin and tilt
her face to look at me. The vulnerability in her eyes, tinged with
fear, makes a swell of protectiveness rise in my chest. I wont
do that again, I promise.
Im justscared. I really like you.
The soft admission makes my heart skip. I swallow back the
response and make myself say with a cocked brow, Do you like
me like me?
That gets the laugh I was hoping for. Her eyes are light again,
and she punches me on the arm. Youre rotten. With that,
Aubrey spins around and grabs the bag thats on the stoop. I,
uh, just swung by before going to work to bring you food. I know
you said before that Thursdays are crazy for you, and I wanted to
make sure you had something to eat. I went to Aunt Sylvias
diner and she told me what your favorite meal is. Aubrey
thrusts the bag in my hand. One cheeseburger, extra cheese,
mayo, ketchup, no mustard or pickles. And fries.
I go still, just staring at her.
She seems to sink a little at my silent scrutiny. Sorry, was
that a dumb thing to do? It was a silly impulse, wasnt it. I hope I
wasnt overstepping
I lean over and kiss her hard before she can continue. My
chest is so full right now I cant think, cant speak. I dont know
how to articulate what Im feeling, so I let my mouth do it for
me. I show her my appreciation and with my free hand, caress
her nape. I slide my tongue along her lower lip, delve into her
mouth, kiss her with a sensuality that has me rock hard in
moments.
I want to fuck her, yes. But more than thatI find myself
wanting something deeper.
When we pull apart, our eyes lock, and something passes
between us. The same emotion that did when we last had sex,
but even deeper. Like the past few days have bonded us.
She brought me food.
When was the last time someone took care of me, without any
strings attached, without any other incentive but just to make
me happy?
I cant fucking remember.
Ive spent the last several years being the one to care for
others. Make sure bills are paid. Help them when they needed
me. Give advice, keep the bar running. And here comes this
woman into my life, and she brings me a meal before I go to
work.
Its so intimate and domestic of a gesture.
Aubrey strokes my chin, her fingers dancing along my beard.
She sucks in a shaky breath and exhales, giving a shy laugh.
Shit. I gotta go to work. Im on the night shift.
Im glad I got to see you, I tell her. I feel like the outer layer
of my skin has been shaved off and my nerves are all exposed.
Its uncomfortable and strange, and I dont know how to handle
it.
Aubrey kisses the corner of my mouth, then leaves, hopping
into a Corolla and driving away.
I make myself walk into my entrance, up the stairs to my cool
apartment. Its quiet in here, only the sound of the air
conditioner whirring. The scent of the food is warm and makes
my stomach growl. I cant fight the grin that spreads across my
face.
I finish every fucking bite of dinner.
In the shower, I scrub down, ignoring my cock, which is still
semi-hard for her. Instead, Im distracted by other things Im
feeling. Something distinctly akin to a romantic affection. Im
developing real feelings for Aubrey.
And I have zero fucking idea what Im going to do.
Aubrey
Mr. Dextry, I need you to stay still so I can get your blood
pressure. I try to gently cup his arm to get him to stop wiggling.
He turns to me, his face deeply lined and droopy. His
eyebrows are furry caterpillars with wild hairs erupting
everywhere, and I see gray hairs sprouting out of his ears.
What? he yells at me.
I bite back a smile. Please sit still, I say in a much louder
voice.
Well, you dont have to yell it, he grouses, but he stops
moving on his bed and lets me work.
I get his vitals and thank him, then move on to the last room I
have to cover on the floor. Im doing a round to check on
patients who have been ill or are currently sick. Mrs. Maze is a
feisty woman when shes sickhopefully shes in a good mood
tonight. She seemed pleased with dinner earlier and ate all her
food, so that should help.
I pause before entering her room and try to stop thinking
about Smith. But how can I? Something happened between us
earlier. Some kind of shift in our relationship, or whatever the
hell youd call it. I dont know what is going on with us, but I felt
a change in him.
Those kisses he gave me scorched my bones. Every encounter
with him changes me on some kind of chemical level. Im never
going to be the same. Smith and I have been doing a slow,
torturing tease with each other the last several days. I wondered
if that challenge I issued him outside the diner would spur him
into acting.
It didnt. At least, not sexually.
But I can tell hes feeling as sexually hungry as I am.
Something is going to give between us, soon.
I rap on Mrs. Mazes door, which is cracked open, then peek
in. Shes lying on her bed asleep. I gently touch her shoulder.
Hi, its time for me to get your vitals.
Mrs. Maze blinks up at me. Her eyes are a little glassy still,
but she seems better than she did yesterday. Hey, Aubrey.
I run through obtaining and recording her vitals. As I do, I
ask, How are you feeling?
That opens the floodgates. She spends the next five minutes
giving me a litany of things wrong with her, from how much she
aches to how shes constipated. Nothing to really be concerned
with. I murmur in empathy in the appropriate spots.
Well, your temp is greatly down. Youre barely registering a
fever. I give her a smile and pat her hand. Try to get some
sleep. Itll help.
I could sleep if you guys would quit interrupting me.
Ah, there she is. The sassy mouth Ive grown to know and
love. I laugh. Ill quit interrupting you if you get better, I shoot
back, then close the door to her earthy chuckle.
I head to the nurses station and rest my feet, which are
already aching. Its going to be a long night, but at least evenings
are quiet. There are some fashion magazines spread out on the
table, and I grab one and flip absently through the pictures.
After peering blindly at images of beautiful women for about
twenty minutes, I tug my phone out and send Michaela a quick
text saying hi. I dont want to bug her if shes up, but I miss my
friend. Times like this, quiet nights on our shift, were when we
got into the most trouble.
A moment later, my phone buzzes with a reply from
Michaela. OMG you will not believe what just happened!!!! I AM
SCARRED FOREVER.
Dont keep me in suspense! I text her.
I caught Mr. and Mrs. Carter having sex in the activities room.
He had her tied up to the chalkboard with two of his ties.
Apparently he read Fifty Shades of Grey and decided to try it out,
and he talked his wife into it.
Its so hard to keep my laugh quiet. Dont lie, I reply. You
were so turned on, werent you.
I think Mrs. Carter wanted to crawl in a hole and die. LOL
A fresh wave of missing her hits me, and I stare at our texts. I
made the right decision. I know I did. There was no way Roger
was going to accept our breakup. He proved that loud and clear;
it took the bruises on my upper arms almost two weeks to fade
away. It just makes me kinda mad that I had to give up my life to
find safety.
Though I have to admit, Im starting to like Rock Bridge.
When I saw Aunt Sylvia earlier while ordering dinner for Smith,
she told me to come back anytime and said shed save me a seat
whenever I wanted to visit. That any real friend of Smiths was a
friend of hers.
Its nice to feel like Im planting roots.
I hope you took pics, I write Michaela back, then tuck my
phone away. Were allowed to use our cell phones during slow
times, but I dont want to look like a slacker. I need this job and
am so fortunate to have found it on short notice.
Felicia and Tawny, two other nurses working the shift with
me, stroll over and plop down at the table. Theyre both older
than me, with Felicia in her thirties and Tawny in her early
forties, but theyve been nice so far. I enjoy shifts with them.
Tawny groans and presses her hands to her lower back,
stretching. Fuck, Im whomped already, and we still have hours
to go before were done.
Living the glamorous life, Felicia says with a laugh as she
sips on her water.
No, the glamorous life would include a wealthy husband and
a pool boy, Tawny replies, her toothy grin wide.
We both chuckle.
I just want a margarita and a bar of chocolate right now, I
say.
They groan.
That sounds divine, Tawny says with a nod. We should
make that happen.
Foleys Sports Bar serves the best margaritas Ive ever had in
my entire life, Felicia says. She pats her dark red hair to make
sure its still in a bun and eyes us both. We should go soon and
get some.
Oh, hell yeah. Tawny pauses. I work tomorrow evening
and then Im off Saturday. What about you guys?
My heart jumps in my throat. Im actually being asked to join
coworkers for a night out. Im making real friends. Deepening
my roots. I work Saturday morning shift, so that evening would
be good for me.
Felicia wiggles in her chair in excitement. Im working
Saturday morning too. Sounds like we have a date, bitches.
I havent been to Foleys, I tell them. Is it good? I
remember the name though. Foleys was the place Smith told
me to go that first night I showed up at Outlaws. Where he said
someone like me would be better suited.
So have you been drinking out of town or something?
Because thats really the only place around, Tawny says. She
scrutinizes her perfectly painted nails.
Ive gone to Outlaws.
Both women stare at me.
The bar, I add.
Felicias lips quirk. Oh, we know what Outlaws is, trust me.
But it
Isnt my type of joint, I say with a laugh. Yeah, I heard.
They have good beer though.
And good-looking bartenders. Tawny waggles her brows.
Those Beckett boys are hell raisers, but I hear theyre wild in
the sack.
I think about the night Smith and I had sex, the way he went
down on me in the bathroom. God yes, hes wild. I wish I knew
how wild though.
No fucking way, Felicia says in shock, as she sees the look
on my face. You bagged a Beckett? Oh my God, you did! she
practically shouts, pointing at me.
My throat burns, a slow crawl that works its way up my
cheeks. I I swallow. Im kinda talking to Smith.
Sweetheart. No one talks to Smith. Tawny lays a hand on
my shoulder and gives me a sympathetic squeeze. The Beckett
boys are good for one thing. Fucking. Okay, two thingsfucking
and fighting. But they dont date anyone, and they sure as hell
dont talk.
Its not true, though I dont bother to correct the women.
Smith and I have talked. Im the new girl, though, so I know Ill
just hear how I dont know enough yet. Its like the script writes
itselfI can almost predict it.
Tawny sighs and picks up a magazine near her. I sure wish I
could find out how well they are in bed. Im far too old for them
though. I dont think theyre into cougars.
Felicia laughs. Please. I saw the way that guy at Foleys was
hitting on you. Remember him? The black-haired one who
barely had enough facial hair to indicate he was out of puberty?
They both cackle and talk about him, the Beckett Boys
forgotten. But my stomach is unsettled now, uneasy. Am I really
nave as to think that maybe what Smith and I are doing is
different? Or is this just me being blind?
Sometimes I can see every emotion on his face. Other times, I
cant tell a damn thing hes thinking. Hot and cold.
The rest of my shift crawls by. Im plagued by doubts, feeling
a little silly, yet also trying to convince myself that I know what I
know. Im not just a booty call to Smith. Theres more between
us than that. What that more is, I dont know. But its there.
Either that, or hes the worlds greatest actor. Because the
emotion in our last kiss was so strong it almost blew me over.
At seven, I wrap up my shift, tired down to my bones, and get
in my car. The morning sun is peeking over the horizon, and the
trees are awash in a golden glow. There arent a lot of cars on the
road, just tree-lined avenues and quiet houses waking for the
day. Rock Bridge is a lovely town, and for the first time, I let
myself really start to observe it for what it is.
Really, does it matter what Smith and I are right now? Weve
only known each other a few weeks. I should stop hyper
focusing, overanalyzing, and just let it be what it is. Enjoy his
company, his kisses, the way I feel when Im with him.
Smith isnt perfecthes surly and abrasive at times, hard to
read, and his temper is quite strong. But hes also got this
vulnerability underneath all of that. His kisses make me feel
alive. And God, do I crave him again, despite my best efforts not
to. I want him inside me so badly I could scream.
Hes spent the last few days showing me who he is. Slowly
dropping his guard, giving me a hint or two about his life, his
stresses. What he wants. And every bit of information I get is
like a drop of rain on the desert. I soak it up and instantly want
more.
I weave my way to my apartment, getting a string of green
lights.
Im in a good place right now. I need to stop being so on edge.
Rock Bridge is turning into home for me.
I pull into my parking lot and kill the engine. Lock my car
door and head to my apartment. Theres a folded-over note for
me taped on my door with no text on the outside. Maybe Smith
thanking me for bringing him dinner?
I rip it off and flip it open.
The words are stark and accusing.
I FOUND YOU
I cant believe that hes been here.
Roger.
Just thinking his name, just seeing his handwriting, makes
me feel like Im going to be sick.
My hands shake so badly that I drop the note, and it flutters
quietly to the ground in front of my feet. Oh God, oh God. I spin
around and eye the hallway around me. Empty. My entire body is
trembling, and it takes all my effort to bend over and retrieve the
note, cramming it into my purse, then walk back to my car.
Every nerve ending has roared to the surface of my skin. Im
just waiting for Roger to jump out and grab me any second. The
walk to my car takes a year, and it doesnt help that Im feeling
lightheaded. It takes me far too long to get the key in my lock,
but I finally do and dive into the drivers seat, locking the car
doors and gasping for air.
Im on autopilot as I pull away from the parking lot. I drive in
random patterns for a good half hour, looking to see if anyone is
behind me every thirty seconds. I dont think Im being tailed,
but Im so scared that I cant be sure.
Roger is out there somewhere. He knows where I live. Hes
found me, and Im in real danger now, because me running away
like that surely angered him beyond reason. I know himhes
going to make sure I am fully aware of how he feels.
When Im pretty certain that Im not being followed, I use
GPS to navigate me to Outlaws. I park two blocks down the street
on a residential road, then practically run the whole way to
Smiths entrance.
I bang on the door, praying hes here, glancing around me.
I hear thudding as someone walks down the stairs. The door
open, and Smith stands in front of me, looking sleepy and
disheveled, his hair mussed on top. He blinks when he sees me.
Hey, whats He stops talking and jerks to full attention,
staring at my face. Whats wrong, Aubrey?
The knot that has been slowly building in my chest gets so big
its unbearable, and I feel myself unravel. Hot tears burn the
backs of my eyes, slide down my cheeks. IIm scared, and I
didnt know where to go
Thats all I get out before Smith jerks me inside the doorway
and locks the door behind me. He has my hand in a death grip
and tugs me up the narrow stairwell to his apartment. I follow
him, my palms clammy, clenching his hand so hard Im almost
afraid I might break his fingers off.
He sets me on the couch then takes a seat between my legs on
the coffee table. Grips my shoulders and makes me look at him.
Aubrey. What. The fuck. Is going on. I need you to tell me
everything.
I sniffle and feel another sob erupt from my chest. I try to
suck it back. I I shudder and swipe my hands across my eyes.
Im sorry. Im just Deep breath, Aubrey. Im scared. I
didnt know where else to go. I sob again, and again, and then I
cant stop crying.
With a move that happens so fast I can barely blink, Smith
scoops me into his arms like Im a doll and shifts us so hes
sitting on the couch, me on his lap. I wrap my arms around him
and breathe in his scent, let the feel of his strong arms around
me comfort me. My tears come, hot and heavy, and we sit there
as he lets me cry for a few minutes. He says nothing, just silently
stroking my hair, my back.
I accept his comfort and nuzzle into his neck. I know Im
getting him wet from my tears, but I try not to be self-conscious
about it. Finally the tension in my lungs releases, and I can
breathe again. I find myself drawing in a slow gulp of air, then
releasing it.
Smith kisses my brow, and the tender gesture eases the pain
in my heart. Sweetheart, let me help you. Please. Im worried.
I swallow and sit back, looking him in the face. I swipe my
eyes again to clear the tears. When I go to move off his lap and
give him room, he frowns and clenches my hips to lock me into
place.
I give a weak smile. Sorry. Imreally tired. And I came
home to find a note from my ex-boyfriend on the door saying
hes found me.
Im guessing thats a bad thing, he says quietly. I need
you to tell me why.
I squirm a little, discomfort blooming in my lower belly. I bite
my lower lip and look away. I dont want to look at him while I
tell what happened. Roger and I met at a party. He was really
sweet and attentive at first. Totally into me. He told me he felt
connected and vulnerable in a way he never had, and I was drawn
to it. Id I clear my throat. Id only ever been with one man
before him, and he was an emotional dud. So I found Rogers
focus flattering and compelling.
Smith doesnt say anything, just lets me continue. His hand
rubs soft circles on my back, soothing me in a silent gesture. I
close my eyes and let the sensation give me strength to confess.
Things moved fast. Roger thought we should move in
together a month after we dated, but I managed to hold him off
another couple of months. I skipped out on my lease and moved
in with him, because his place was bigger and he felt it was a
good start for us to grow. That eventually wed find a home
together. Images of those early times flash through my mind.
Rogers gentle coercion to get his way. How he made me feel that
what he wanted was best for both of us.
Roger grew morecontrolling as time went on. It started
with him chastising me about how I spent my money and spare
time. He tried to make it sound reasonable at first, like he was
just giving me advice and I was overreacting for getting upset.
But then it became that he wanted to mesh our bank accounts
together. Which I stupidly did. I can feel the old, familiar
sickness over my stupidity swirling in my gut.
Go on, Smith urges me. I cant tell what hes feeling right
now; his voice is even and quiet. Im kind of afraid hes probably
questioning the wisdom of being with someone like me, but I
make myself continue.
Having access to my spending gave him more control over
me. He was constantly harping on how much money I blew. If I
drew cash out, he wanted to know what I was spending it on. I
had to start keeping receipts to prove it. I duck my head in
shame and stare at my lap, fiddling with my fingertips. A big
source of contention for us was that I didnt want to quit my job.
He wanted me home, taking care of our place, but everything I
did was wrong. I folded towels wrong. I didnt buy the brand of
toilet paper he wanted. One time I forgot to check the pantry and
brought home duplicates of things we already had. I came home
from work that night to find all the duplicates lined up on the
dining room table. It was his way of shaming me. Making sure I
know the he knew I fucked up.
As I confess all of this, I find my old anger at Roger surging up
in me again. My breathing gets quicker, and the blood pounds in
my veins. I wanted out, but I felt stuck. Our lives were
intertwined. I wasnt in love with him anymore, but he
controlled everything. Hed taken over paying all the bills,
including mine, so I had no idea where it all was. Hed even
started doling out cash to me for spending money to ensure I
didnt go crazy. I told my friend this at work one night and she
said he was abusive and I needed to get the hell out of it. I
swallow, thankful once more for Michaela. She helped me
understand just how bad our relationship was. She pushed me
into getting my independence for a couple of months, and I
quietly started searching for another job, casting my nets out of
state, even.
I pause. Smith is stiff, not saying a word. I wish I could read
him. I turn to look into his eyes and he stares hard at me. A long
moment passes.
Its difficult, but I make myself keep looking at him as I reveal
what happened that night. When I had a lead on a position in a
different state, one that seemed promising, I finally gathered my
courage and told Roger that I was done. That I dont love him and
I want us to break up and separate all our entanglements. Upon
retrospect, telling him when he was drinking wasnt my best
idea. He got super angry with me, called me a whore, asked me
again and again if I was cheating on him and leaving him for
another man. Said hed followed me at work and had seen me
talking to men when I was there, or running errands. Iwas
shocked. All the tension from learning about that reveal came
back into me, and I started to shake again. Hed put keystroke
detection on my laptop and was monitoring everything I was
saying. All this time, Roger had been watching me. Checking my
text messages on my cell phone when I wasnt looking, seeing
who I was talking to, reading my emails.
I close my eyes. He grabbed me hard and shook me. I tried to
get away from him but he wouldnt let go. I got scared and
shoved at his chest, and he screamed at me to stop fighting him,
that I was making a mistake leaving him. That hed make me
sorry if I thought I could walk away like this. That he had a say in
our relationship and he wasnt done yet. I press trembling
fingers to my stomach and make myself breathe. The horror of
that night, the overwhelming fear I felt, shudders through me.
So I stayed, because I was petrified. I stayed for another couple
of weeks. During that time, Roger was his usual selfand why
wouldnt he be? He got his way. I was still there. Until one day,
my cell phone rang and I got the job offer from here. I accepted
on the spot. Then the next day, I waited until he was at work and
I packed everything I owned and left. I drove to the bank and
took out enough money for me to live on. When I made it to a
friends house, I contacted my bills. Turns out Roger hadnt paid
any of them. He was hoarding my money and keeping me
indebted to him. I worked out a payment plan to get me back on
track.
Shame burns me all over. I get up and move from his lap, and
he doesnt stop me. The rawness Im feeling hurts so badly.
Telling him that story, confessing it all, makes me realize what
an utter fool I was with Roger. How did I let him control me like
that? What is wrong with me?
I go to a window and press my forehead to it, looking down. I
dont see anyone out there who looks like Roger. No cars parked
nearby. I finally let my guard down and Roger came back into my
life, destroying everything again. And now that Ive finally found
someone I connect with, someone who excites me and
stimulates me, he ruins it all.
I hate him. So deeply.
And I kind of hate myself for being stupid and weak.
Soft hands touch my upper arms, then wrap around me, and
Smith tugs me to his chest. Hes holding me tightly, pressing
small kisses to the side of my brow, then he turns me in his arms
and grips me.
I can feel his body is so tense he seems like a live wire, and it
makes me pause.
If this fucker ever tries to harm you again, Ill fucking kill
him, he says in such a cold, furious tone, it takes me aback. I
will protect you from him, I swear it. You will never have to be
afraid of him or anyone else. His words are breathed against my
forehead, rustling the small hairs there. I will find him and
make sure he knows he will leave you alone for good.
Listening to Smith, Im convinced he means it. Some of the
fear dissipates from my body, and I sag against him. He grabs me
and scoops me into his arms again, carrying me down a dark
hallway, kicking open a door. Then Im delicately laid on a bed,
and hes curled up behind me, cupping me. My back is warm
against his chest.
Sleep, baby, he tells me in a gentle tone. His hand rubs my
hair, my back. Trust me. Ill protect you. Sleep.
I didnt think I could, but I find my eyelids drifting closed. Im
so tired, and crying made me even more fatigued. Between the
low hum of the fan above us and Smiths steady warmth, I find
myself drifting into a dreamless sleep.
Smith
I m not sure what time it is when I awaken, but I realize theres
a curvy form arched against me in my bed, and my cock is aching
so hard I could hammer nails. Everything surges back to me
Aubreys horrifying story, how her insane ex tracked her down.
Theres no fucking way Im letting that man anywhere near
her. He has no idea who hes dealing with now, but hell find out
very soon if he pushes his luck.
When she gives a small groan in her sleep, I realize Im
gripping her hip and relax my fingers. I look down at her sleepy
form, the dark lashes brushing the tops of her cheeks, her pink
lips relaxed as she dozes. This girl is insanely gorgeous and
sweet, and that asshole took advantage of her goodness.
I might not be perfect, and I might be the worst kind of man
slut, but I would never want to treat her that way. I know that
much for certain. My hunger comes from wanting to please her,
give her the kind of pain shed crave, not fear.
Consensual.
I would cut myself before I made her afraid of me. Before I
shamed her or guilted her or abused her. For once, Im glad I
know enough questionable people. I have friends who will keep
an eye out for this dick
Aubrey deserves that.
I stretch out against her, willing myself to calm down. This is
not the time to be horny for her. But its hard to help it when
shes so soft and pliant right now. And having her trust me after
what she went through I wont fuck that up no matter what it
means I have to do.
I make myself get out of bed, despite every cell in my body
screaming at me for it, and pad to the kitchen to make coffee.
Shell want some when she wakes up, Im sure. Seems like every
nurse I ever met lives on the shit. Maybe some breakfast too. I
dig through my fridge. Fuck, I need to go shopping. I do see
lunchmeat and cheesea quick sniff confirms theyre still okay.
I have bread on the countertop too.
Small hands touch me from behind, setting my skin on fire. I
turn to face the sleepy eyes of Aubrey, peering up at me, wearing
only her scrub top and panties. Her legs are bare, and my cock
throbs painfully at the sight. Holy fucking God, this woman is so
beautiful.
Whatcha doing? she asks in a sleep-thick tone. You left
the bed. I wasnt sure where you were.
I draw her close to me and kiss her brow. I didnt leave.
I hear her chuckle. I can see that, goof. Justwell, we really
didnt talk much about what you felt about what I said, and
Sweetheart. I tug her head back so shes looking up at me.
The way shes so open and lets me see everything just makes me
want to kiss her endlessly, to plunge deep inside her. But this is
so not the time for that. Not when shes afraid. Its fine. I was
just getting you some food and coffee. Figured youd be ready for
it.
Oh. She tugs her lip between her teeth and worries it.
But Her shrug is light, and she glances away. I dunno, I
thought that maybe since Her cheeks go bright pink, and she
peers up at me, and I see her eyelids go heavy.
Fuck. She wants to have sex. Its all over her face, in her body
language, the way her nipples hardening under her shirt as shes
talking. Aubrey wants me.
And Im trying so fucking hard to be noble that I want to kill
myself. The irony is bitter.
I I cough. Look, this probably isnt the best time for us
to do anything.
She quirks a brow, feigning casualness even though the
redness burns down her throat now to disappear into her shirt.
Oh? Are you on your period or something? I know cramps
totally kill the mood.
I cant help the laugh that bursts out of me. You know what
Im saying, Aubrey.
Her lips part and she presses her chest to me, lets me feel
that she has no bra on underneath, that her nipples are rigid and
aching for my touch. Maybe I dont. Maybe I just know that I
want to feel good right now, and I want you to make me feel that
way.
I shoot her a warning glance. My cock is pulsing between us in
my shorts. I know she can feel it, because shes wiggling her
lower belly against it. Aubrey
Her eyes widen as she drops to her knees and when she eyes
my cock, I groan. Before I realize whats happening, shes
unzipping my fly and pulling me out, and my dick is pulsing in
her hand, and then her tongue is on me and Im soaring. God,
yes. Yes. Her mouth is everything thats perfect in this world.
I need to stop this, but I cant make myself fight it anymore.
Aubreys had enough people controlling her. If she wants us to
have sex, I want her to feel like her opinion matters. She needs
it.
So noble of yourself, my dark side chides. Because truth is,
while I do want her to have control, I also want to fuck her brains
out.
I let my fingers dive into the silk of her hair and close my
eyes, allow myself to feel the sheer pleasure of her soft, puffy
lips around me. She is earnest and eager, her little tongue licking
the underside of my head, and she makes these small noises that
let me know shes enjoying it too.
I can feel myself twitching in her mouth. I fight so hard the
urge to push deep in her throat. Stay still, I warn myself. Let her
lead right now. Aubreys mouth slides further toward my root,
and her guttural groan makes my cock vibrate in her throat.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
You taste so good, Aubrey manages to say around a
mouthful of my dick. Her hands clench my hips and she draws
me deeper, and then Im hitting the back of her throat and shes
sucking me all the way in and my whole body is my throbbing
pulse, and I ache for her, to come down her throat, but also to
fuck her so hard she cant walk for three days.
When she pulls off me and her tongue slides along the
underside of my dick, back and forth in a teasing pattern that
makes my balls tighten, I grip her hair and find myself bucking
against her mouth.
Aubrey, I gasp, I want so you fucking badly.
I want you too, she groans as she grips the base of my dick
and pops the head in her mouth. She slurps and sucks and licks,
and then sighs. Your precome taste so good, oh God. I want
more. The innocent way she says this makes me want to come
off in her mouth.
It takes every fucking ounce of will I can muster to tug her off
my feet. She looks disappointed until I grip the bottom of her
shirt and practically rip it over her head. In my bed, right
fucking now, Aubrey. My patience is wearing super thin. I need
inside her in the next few minutes or Im going to explode.
But I want to try something with her first.
Aubrey goes to my room, her ass swaying in front of me in
lacy pink panties. When we get in there, I jerk her around, reach
for the waistband of the panties, and rip them right off her.
She stiffens, and I see her nipples get hard. Oh God, that was
so hot, she breathes.
Ill buy you a hundred more panties if I can tear them off
you, I tell her. Now get on the bed.
Aubrey obeys, lying down. I nudge her into the center and
stretch her arms and hands out wide.
Any time you want to stop, say red, I tell her, staring into
her eyes. You wanted to try some things Im into. This is your
chance. Red to stop. Do you understand me?
She nods.
You need to tell me, Aubrey. Be vocal. Do you understand
me?
Yes. Her voice is barely a whisper, and I can see her body
shaking a little. But its not in fear. Its desire. I can smell the
damp heat pouring from her pussy, see her slick lower lips
already aching to be touched.
Red is stop. Yellow is slow down. Green means good.
Yes. I understand. Aubrey stays still, and I reach over and
grab the black leather cuff I have on the end of a chain in the
corner of my bed. I cant remember the last time I even had a
chance to use these. But it doesnt even matter, because
clamping these on her wrists feels like its my first time. Her
skin is soft, her wrists tiny in my grip. I tighten the cuff and then
straddle her stomach so I can fasten the other.
Her eyes are locked on me. I see her breath rising and falling
in rapid pants. Her pupils are small, her lips parted, and those
nipples are begging to be kissed, nibbled. Youre next, I silently
tell them.
I finish her wrists, then pull her feet wide enough apart so
shes completely spread eagle on the bed. I make fast work of
binding her ankles. Then I stare at her naked body for a moment,
let myself savor the sight.
Aubrey isnt freaking out. Shes staring hard at me, almost
writhing in her hunger. She wants this too.
Something in my chest releases, and I feel an old weight fly
away.
I dig into my bedside table and procure two nipple clamps.
Lets see how this dove likes to play, if she can handle these. Her
eyes widen but she doesnt speak.
We still green? I ask her.
She nods, then remembers shes supposed to speak. Licks her
lips and says, Yes. Um, green.
I finally let myself touch her breast, feel her chest arch under
my hand. Squeeze and mold the flesh. Shes so pliant for me
right now, so eager for whatever is about to happen. When I
clamp it over her nipple, she gives a whimper that shoots
straight to my dick.
Oh God, oh, wow, that feels Aubrey shudders and closes
her eyes, and her body goes soft.
I quickly put on the other one. I need to be inside her right
fucking now. I cannot wait another second. Her nipples are
pinched in the clamps, and I swipe a hand along her cunt slit,
and the wetness there drives me fucking mad. Just from tying
and clamping her, shes dripping for me.
Shes a dirty girl, Aubrey is, and Im heady with my arousal
for her. I blindly fumble for a condom before I lose my mind and
rip the foil open, roll it on my painful dick.
Then I move on top of her, my forearms resting on the sides
of her head, and I press my dick at her entrance.
Her pelvis jerks toward me, and she says, Please, oh, please,
I need you inside me. Her chest is panting so hard the clamps
are bobbing with the movement.
I slam into her, and she cries out. I let my fingers drift in her
hair, touch her, tug her scalp, and I hammer her soaking wet
pussy. Aubreys cries grow louder to nearly screams as she takes
all of me in.
I drop a hand down to caress her clit and I feel the hard bud
pulse under my fingertips. Youre a wicked girl, arent you, I
breathe in her ear. You like being fucked like this, dirty and
spread open for me. Your nipples clamped and your wrists and
ankles bound.
Yes, she gasps.
We move together, and my body starts to slick with sweat.
Shes slippery beneath my hand, around my dick, wet like Ive
never seen a woman before. Aubrey begins to buck her pelvis,
her head pushed back on the pillow, body bowed.
Are you going to come for me, my dirty girl? I growl. I speed
up my strokes on her pussy as I fuck her harder. I want to drive
her crazy. I want to make her crave more of me, of this. I need it
more than I need oxygen.
My own orgasm is swelling, and I fight it as best as I can. My
balls are tight and tugged to my body, and my limbs are tense.
Imso close, she says, and then her eyes fly open.
Almost there.
On impulse, I shift down until my mouth is over a clamp, and
I pull it up and away from her body so her nipple is stretched
harder.
Aubrey screams and erupts all around me. I feel her cunt
juices gushing on my dick, and then I cant hold my own orgasm
back and I shoot my load into the condom, bucking on her, body
vibrating, heart racing, lungs locked. Fuck, fuck, my brain is a
jumbled mess and all I can think about is her name.
It takes a while before our orgasms subside. I pull myself
together, withdraw from her, and then gently remove the clamps
from her nipples. Her sudden inhalation turns into a sigh when I
lick and kiss the tips. Then I remove her wrist cuffs, massaging
the limbs to get blood back into them, then the ankle cuffs.
Aubreys body is lax and malleable as I maneuver her to lie on
her side. I remove my condom and toss it away, then curl up
against her, heart still racing like Im on speed. She melts
against my chest and gives a soft little sigh that tears me apart.
Fuck me, this woman is everything.
Ive never had someone give herself to me so willingly,
especially after everything shes been through. Aubrey trusted
me to take care of her, to not hurt her. I tug her tighter against
me and swear that I wont let her down. I cant.
This woman has shaken me apart in every way, has turned my
life upside down, and I need her.
We remain silent for several minutes, just breathing, relaxing
through her aftercare.
How do you feel? I finally ask her. I brush damp hairs from
her brow.
Likemelted butter. Her voice sounds so sated and drowsy
from our sex that I cant help but crow internally.
I did this to her. Me, giving in to something I hunger for,
something I always thought would ruin a girl like Aubrey. I took a
chance, and she responded and loved it. My chest swells and I
wrap my hand around her hip to cup her belly.
I want you to stay here. With me, I say out of nowhere,
voicing the tiny thought that has been niggling at the back of my
mind. I cant bear to let her go back to her apartment,
unprotected. Unsafe.
She stiffens, and the reaction makes me start thinking of
reasons on how to convince her this would be a good idea. I dont
want her to think its because Im trying to control her. The
truth is, I care. A lot. More than I want to admit to her. I care,
and the thought of her being in danger without me there to
protect her freaks me out.
Are you going to tell me its for my own good? she says in a
low tone.
I draw in a slow breath and search for the right words. I can
tell you all I like what I think is good for you. But in the end, you
have to make that choice for yourself. You can go to the police, of
course.
She snorts. Right. Because theyre so responsive in these
situations.
Sad truth. God only knows how our local police would react if
they knew about her connection with me, anyway. Probably give
her an even harder time.
I press my forehead against the back of her head and breathe
in the scent of her hair. Let myself just enjoy the feel of her
satiny skin. Aubrey, its not safe for you to be out there alone. I
dont want to smother you. I want to protect you from someone
who is a danger to you, as you already know. Let me help you.
She sighs. I know. I justI tried so hard to be independent,
and I cant seem to make it happen. I hear the disappointment,
the failure in her voice, and I want to sooth her.
You are independent. Its not your fault your ex is a psycho.
I add, Besides, I wont bust your balls if you buy food here. Hell,
Im just glad to have any food at all. I live on beer and pizza.
Order duplicates of anything you want.
That makes her chuckle. Beer and pizza are two essential
staples.
Stay with me. I try not to make the words sound like an
order, but Im a little too nervous to let them sound like Im
begging her. Because I still have my pride.
The thought of sleeping beside her for a few nights is
tempting as fuck though.
Aubreys quiet for a stretch, and I start to wonder if she fell
asleep. Then she says, Okay.
Aubrey
My phone vibrates in my pocket. Im just finishing up my
afternoon shift, so I ignore it for now. Ill check it later when Im
in the car or whatever.
Bye! I tell my coworkers.
They wave at me from their spot at the table in the nurses
station.
Have a good day! Mary Ann, one of the older STNAs, tells
me.
I step into the glass-and-chrome front lobby and wait for
Smith to come pick me up. When I got that note from Roger a
little over a week ago, we came up with a plan of action. I
insisted on still going to work, but I conceded to let Smith pick
me up and take me home sometimes when it isnt inconvenient
for him.
Late that afternoon, we both went to the apartment together
and got enough of my belongings to last for a little bit.
I have to admit, I think as Im waiting for Smith, its been
incredible getting to sleep beside him. We sometimes work
different shifts, but on the nights when our schedules match up,
its sosatisfying to slide into bed beside him. He often wakes
up when Im coming back from my morning shift and we have
sex, then fall asleep.
A girl could get far too easily used to this. Being able to roll
over and touch him in the middle of the night, curl against his
back, watch him wake up and look at me with a sleepy smile
its addictive.
But I rushed things with Roger, and look where it got me.
Hiding from my ex in this town while trying to see what his next
move will be. Surely hes going to pop up somewhere. I just have
to be ready.
When Smith pulls up, I find the tightness in my chest release
a bit. Ive been walking around with a small knot of anxiety in
me since all of this started. Just waiting for something to
happen. Hoping it does to get it over with, yet also fearing it. I
hate this limbo so much.
I jump into Smiths car and give him the bravest smile I can
muster. Thanks for getting me.
His eyes are sparkling in the afternoon light, and it glints off
the light red in his beard. The anxiety I experienced is replaced
by a much warmer feeling that moves down to my lower belly
and makes me breathy.
Its no problem at all, he says.
We weave our way through the roads and make it back to his
place. Once inside, I plop down on the couch and sigh, toeing off
my shoes and stretching out. My bones are tired. The soles of my
feet are throbbing. My back is in pain. I worked an extra four
hours this morning because another nurse had to leave early for
her sick son, so Im ready for a good nap.
Smith comes over and drops to his haunches in front of me.
He strokes my hair, and my chest unfurls at the tender gesture.
Im filled with warmth that tingles down to my fingers and toes.
Something Ive noticed about him is that he likes to touch me a
lot, even just casual brushes of our skin. It keeps me constantly
aware of him.
Dont get caught up in this, I warn myself. It would be so, so
easy to let myself start fantasizing about what we are, where
were going. After all, Smith isnt like Roger. He wants me to feel
free, not restrained.
Well, not in the bad way, anyway.
Every day I spend with this man makes me sink deeper and
deeper into this thing Im feeling for him. I refuse to put a name
to it right now. Its too early for thatisnt it?
Smith says, Hey, I gotta go run some errands before I open
the bar with my brothers. Will you be okay here?
I yawn and smile. Im going to take a nap. Ill be fine. Go, get
your stuff done. My eyes are growing heavy.
Smith leans over and presses a soft kiss right above my right
brow, and my heart catches. Come down tonight and have a
beer when youre up and around. Ill save your regular seat for
you. He gives me that crooked smile Ive grown to be fond of, to
say the least, and then leaves, the door clicking softly behind
him.
I lie there and let my mind wander as I think about what its
been like staying here the past few days. Smith isnt uptight
about things at all. He has three full bottles of ketchup in the
fridge, because he says he keeps forgetting and then buys
another. Clearly not someone whod get mad and shame me for a
duplicate now and then.
And in the quiet of the morning or night, when were lying
together, we talk. He tells me what his childhood with his dad
was likehow his father was a hothead just like them, quick to
bellow, but he always had a big smile and a big heart, and he
made time for his boys. He even was careful to spend one-on-
one time with each of them. Smiths love of the man is evident
in how he speaks of him.
Hes even talked about his mom, a couple of memories he
has. Mostly of the way she smelled like flowers, and how she
liked to sing as she washed dishes. He doesnt know why she
left, and I think the open-endedness is what hurts him most of
all. No closure.
I told him about my parents, how theyre kind but distant, not
very affectionate. I grew up an only child. Listening to stories
Smith tells about the trouble he and his brothers got into as kids
setting the middle school Dumpster on fire, trying to
skateboard down the smooth rail of the librarys steep steps,
making a potato gun and accidentally searing off Ashers
eyebrows
I find myself smiling and wiggle my aching toes. I want to
know his brothers better, though I think maybe weve gotten off
on the wrong foot. Theyve only come by once since Ive been
here, and they spent all of five minutes in the apartment, barely
giving me a hello. Does my presence bother them? Are they
upset about Smith putting himself in danger to help me out with
the Roger situation?
I yawn again and sink deeper into the couch cushions. I
should make an effort to talk to his brothers. After all, Im living
here now. I need all the friends I can get. The tiny voice in the
back of my head says that I also want to know them simply
because theyre related to Smith.
I want to know more about him.
I find myself drifting to sleep. Im not sure how long Im
conked out, but my phone vibrating in my pocket jerks me
awake. I rub the sleep from my eyes and glance around the room.
The late afternoon sun has dimmed the living room quite a bit.
Crud, someone texted me earlier too, and I forgot to check it. I
dig into my pocket and procure the phone, then look at the
messages.
Theyre both from a number I dont recognize.
Do you miss me? I havent seen you at your place. Where
are you?

And then the next, sent only a moment ago.


What the fuck. I just saw you with a man. Is he the one you
left me for, you fucking bitch? I knew it. Youre a lying whore.
My heart jumps to my throat. How in the hell has Roger found
me? How does he know where I live and my new cell phone
number? Only a few people have that information right now. I
know Michaela would never have told on pain of death. Hell,
shes the one who encouraged me to get the hell out of the
relationship.
A sinking feeling hits my gut as a suspicion blooms in my
mind. They wouldnt, would they?
My hands are shaking as I pull up my moms number and call
her. It rings twice, then she picks up.
I was wondering when I was going to hear from you again,
Mom says lightly. Youve been so busy working. Dont they give
you days off?
I swallow and struggle to keep my emotions level. My mom
responds poorly to me being emotional, a fact I learned a long
time ago. Mom, I need to ask you something.
Sure, whats up?
Have you talked to Roger since I left?
Her end of the line goes silent. And now I have my answer.
Betrayal hits me square in the chest. How could she? I told her
our relationship was bad, though I didnt give her the details so
as not to upset her. And still, she talked to him.
Maybe I should have given her all the gory details though.
Maybe then shed finally get it and stop viewing him as someone
who should be given another chance.
Mom clears her throat. Well, Roger came by a week or so ago
and he just seemed so contrite. I felt bad. He was even crying.
What was I supposed to do, be cruel and tell him I couldnt help
him? He just wants to be with youhe loves you so much and he
doesnt understand what happened. Her tone turns sharp.
And by the way, you didnt tell me you just left him while he
was at work. I didnt teach you to run away from your
responsibilities like that.
Im so mad right now Im shaking. Is she really chastising me
over protecting myself? Its tempting to hang up, but Im not
letting it go like this. Not this time. I suck in a breath and then I
tell my mom everything.
How the abuse started, what happened when I did try to break
up with him, how I felt this was my only option, how scared I am
right now and how hes found me and is bothering me.
Mom is silent the whole time. When I finally stop speaking, I
hear only her heavy breaths.
I feel my cheeks grow cold in streaks and realize Im crying,
even though I feel numb inside after telling all of that to her.
Its Mom pauses. Starts again. Its so hard to believe,
Aubrey. Weve never seen anything of the kind in him, not
once.
Thats kind of the point, isnt it? I charge back. To make
sure no one else knows whats really happening? You do believe
me, dont you?
Moms sigh cuts me right to the bone. I know that sigh. Its
the one where shes struggling with what to say. And in this
situation, shes struggling to believe me and is trying to find the
right words to neutralize this situation. Because to believe me
means she made a grievous error in judgment. And my parents
hate to be wrong, no matter what it costs.
You know what? I dont care, I finally tell her, my voice
trembling with pent-up emotions. Believe or dont believe. I
know whats true and I dont need to waste my breath trying to
convince you of it. But thanks a lot. I hang up before she can
reply.
My phone buzzes again, but I dont feel like talking to her or
anyone else right now, so I shut it off. No, wait, I do feel like
talking to someone. I want to find Smith.
When I came to him, scared and vulnerable, he believed me
without a second thought. Didnt ask me to even show him the
note Roger left. No, he held me in his arms and let me cry and
then he told me he was going to protect me.
My legs are little unsteady as I rise from the couch. I comb my
fingers through my sleep-mussed hair then make my way down
the stairs to the bars entrance. I see Jax, who is startled to find
me standing in the hallway.
Im sorry, I say, fighting with everything I have to sound
even and not like Im about to lose it. I cant stop shaking. The
stress of the text messages, of my mom, are weighing on me,
and I just want to cry. I need to speak to Smith if hes
available.
Jaxs brow furrows as he eyes me. He steps closer. You
okay?
My throat gets so tight I cant even speak. I just look down at
the ground and shake my head.
Fuck. Did that asshole ex of yours do something? Jax says,
his voice changing now.
I hand him my phone and let him see the text messages.
Oh, hell no. Jaxs voice raises. Fuck that. No. Well find
Smith and take care of this. That guy is gonna regret ever coming
here to find you.
I look at Jax, who doesnt know me, yet he too is standing by
my side, and I burst into tears.
He looks startled. Shit. Did I say the wrong thing? He
scrubs a hand over his hair. Im trying to help. Sorry.
No, Im just I sniffle and blink. Im sorry. Im stressed.
This is difficult. Thank you for your helpI appreciate it. I dont
want to be a burden.
The only burden is this motherfucker whos going to quickly
realize you dont screw with us, he says vehemently.
And just like that, Im enveloped into the lives of the Beckett
boys. Jax waves Asher over as he walks by and pulls his brother
aside, whispering to him. He shows him the texts.
Ashers face pinches in anger and he looks over at me. Dont
you fucking worry about a thing, he says to me hotly. This shit
dont slide, not at all. Well take care of it.
Take care of what? Smith says, appearing behind the
brothers. He takes one look at my face and storms over in front
of me, gripping my arms. What happened? Are you hurt? He
pulls back to eye me from head to toe. Tell me.
Jax hands Smith my cell phone. Smith looks at it, his face
unreadable but for the jaw line ticking as if hes grinding his
teeth. Smith doesnt say anything at first.
He gives me my phone back, then wraps me in his arms and
strokes my hair. Oh sweetheart, Im sorry. I promise you well
make it all okay.
Enveloped in his warmth, surrounded by his brothers, in this
moment I believe Smith. I feel overwhelmed by their
protectiveness, these wild boys who have such a bad reputation
yet such deep hearts. How is it no one sees this in them? Its
clear as day to me that they care strongly.
After a few moments, I withdraw from Smiths arms. We
should go to the police, I say. I didnt want to before, but he
texted me. They can trace that stuff, right? Find where it came
from? I have evidence now of him trying to harass me.
Smith stiffens. Um. Yeah, I guess we can.
Is it not a good idea? I dont know what else to do. You dont
think theyll take me seriously? Panic hits me. Where the hell
can I turn if even the police cant help me against Roger? How
much can the Beckett brothers really do?
The other two brothers stand there, staring at Smith. An
unspoken message passes between the three of them.
What is it I dont know? Are the cops corrupt or something?
I ask.
Smith gives a dark laugh. Arent all cops?
I blink. Wow, thats bitter.
You gotta forgive him, Jax says smoothly. Weve had some
shitty run-ins with the local fuzz. They dont exactlylike us.
And since youre associated with our family, Asher
continues, theyll probably give you shit for it.
Smith gives them both a heated stare, then turns to me.
Aubrey, we can go to the cops if you want. Its your choice.
I stand there, emotions roiling in me. Part of me wants to go
to the police and try, because I feel like thats the responsible
thing I should do as a citizen. And Smith will go with me even
though hes clearly uncomfortable with it. Are they mad at you
because of things youve done as kids? I ask. It seems like this
is something important to know, given the way theyre reacting.
Smith takes my hand and leads me into the office, closing the
door behind him. We sit on the beat-up couch in the corner of
the room. Look. Outlaws is havingproblems. Were a rough
bar with a bad clientele, and not only that, were not making
enough money to sustain our business for much longer. The
police are trying to strong-arm us into closing, and people are
coming in attempting to buy the bar. Probably to knock it
down. Hes even-toned as he tells me all of this.
But I remember our talks about his dad. How much he misses
the man. This bar is a connection to his father. Of course he
wants to keep it.
My heart bleeds for Smiths struggle. He has to feel like the
world is against him, given all the shit hes going through. Yet
here he is, trying to help me, putting himself in a situation to get
harassed by the very people who are supposed to protect us.
I reach over and cup his face with both hands, drawing him to
me and kissing him. I want to help this man any way I can. I
want him to know what it feels like to be supported. Hes spent
so long being the backbone of his family. He needs someone to
nurture him, too.
Smiths mouth opens and I tentatively slip my tongue inside.
He groans, and the kiss deepens when he tilts his head, takes
control. His hands reach down to my hips and he tugs me onto
his lap.
I can feel him already starting to get hard. God, can I ever get
enough of this man? He makes me feel everything so vividly. Not
just in bed, but outside of it. My pulse throbs in my body, and I
feel my skin growing hot.
We kiss for what feels like forever, our bodies pressed hard
together, our hands roaming each other, just pouring everything
out. Everything Im feeling is bubbling right to the surface, and I
want to drop my final walls and tell him how much he means to
me. How Im falling in love with him, despite my efforts to keep
my heart protected.
I wasnt planning for this to happen, but its here. I cant
fight it, pretend this isnt what is happening to me.
When he pulls away, panting, I take a moment to breathe and
collect myself. This isnt the time to be spilling the beans on my
feelings, I know. But God, I want to, if only to get this gigantic
feeling out of me and out there. Some kind of weird self-torture,
I guess. I dont have a clue how hed respond.
Smiths eyes are dark and hooded. Damn if kissing you
doesnt make me forget just about everything.
Well, dont forget how to pour beer, I tell him sassily,
trying to get myself back under control. Were going to save
your bar. No one is going to buy Outlaws. Well keep it in
business, in Beckett hands, and help it thrive.
Ah, so heres where you pull out your checkbook and leave a
massive donation to the cause, he retorts in a dry tone.
No, smartass. Heres where we brainstorm ideas to keep the
business afloat until we can turn things around. Get you a better
clientele. Freshen things up. Not make this place feel so
Smith quirks a brow, waiting to hear what Im going to say.
Soin need of a makeover, I finish as gently as I can.
He gives a chuckle, and his face lightens. Youre upbeat, Ill
give you that. Its surprising in the face of everything youre
dealing with right now.
Easier to look at whats on your plate than on mine, I point
out. I have no idea what to do about my situation. My
lightness dampens a bit. Fucking Roger. Why cant he just let me
go?
I know why. Its because I was in his control, and controlling
people hate losing that. Not to mention me leaving injured his
pride. Roger is pissed at me.
Will you trust me to deal with your situation? Smith asks
me. Theres a weight in his eyes as he stares at me. I can tell
theres a lot more involved in this question. Hes asking me to
trust his way of dealing with things. To trust that he isnt like
Roger, that he wont treat me that way.
But you already have so much to do, I tell him quietly. I
cant put this on your shoulders, too.
It would make me feel better if I could help you. I want to.
Simple words, but powerful.
Only if you let me help you with the bar. Its a fair
exchange. My brain is already whirring with ideas on how they
can make business stronger.
He narrows his eyes.
Take it or leave it, I reply. Those are my terms.
A dimple pops up in his cheek as he gives me a crooked grin.
Youre quite a handful, arent you, Aubrey? Smiths chest rises
and he gives a steady exhale. Something in him changes, just a
bit, a small difference. The weight he carries around his eyes is
gone.
You have no idea. I laugh. I dont know what hes going to
do, but I have to trust that Smith will be okay and he wont do
something insane or self-injuring. I reach over and take his
hands, stroke the length of his fingers. For your bar, I was first
thinking you should talk to Aunt Sylvia.
He groans, then flips my hand over so hes running his
fingers along the creases of my palm. The gesture sends shivers
skating across my skin. Shell rub it in about how bad the bar is
doing.
I shake my head. No she wont. That woman loves you,
Smith. She wants to help. Let her intrust her. I bet she can
help you come up with some food specials. He opens his mouth
to protest, but I press on. Yes, you should have meals, even
something easy to make. Drunk people like to eat, and eating
means theyll linger and thus buy more drinks.
He gives me a grudging shrug. Yeah, I guess.
If Im going to trust you, you have to trust me. My uncle
owns a restaurant and hes talked to me a little bit about how it
works. Im not an expert or anything, but he isand he has good
connections. Connections that can help us iron out a game plan
for Outlaws.
I can tell it stings Smiths pride a bit to have to rely on
strangers for assistance. He doesnt know my uncle. But he gives
me a quick nod. Ill talk to Jax and Asher about it, he says. As
they keep pointing out to me, theyre part owners of the bar.
They should have a say in it. He gives a chuckle. I have a
feeling theyll be on board with the food idea, though. Ashers
been nagging for us to do so for a while.
I know that Smith and I are going to help each other. And
together, well sort all this shit out.
Smith
I get Aubrey settled back in upstairs, telling her Ill be back up
tonight and not to leave the apartment or answer the door for
anyone. Its obvious from the text messages that her crazy ex
knows where I live, that hes been following her. The thought
makes my blood boil, and I want to choke the shit out of him.
Unfuckingbelievable, his nerve.
I have Aubreys cell phone in my pocket. I asked her to let me
have it, and she gave it right to me. Her faith in me, her trust,
makes me honored. After everything Roger has done to her, the
way hes violated her personal space, and yet she still believes
that Im not going to use access to her phone against her.
I dont know what Ive done to earn her trust but Im not
going to fuck that up.
Aubrey means too much to me. More than anyone else ever
has.
I head back to the bar and try to focus on my job. But a plan is
brewing in the back of my mind. If he wont show himself, Ill
draw him out. And her cell phone is the best way to do that.
A guy like him is trying to provoke her into responding. It
gives him control if he can get her to cave and answer him,
whether its lashing out or defending herself. It opens the door
to conversation and allows him to manipulate her. Ive
encountered more than one of this type in my life.
What he doesnt know is that he wont be dealing with Aubrey
anymore. Hell deal with me. Im not letting him anywhere near
her.
Jax comes over. Hows she doing?
Shes okay. Not as freaked out. I told her wed handle it.
Damn straight. Thats fucked up. No wonder she was upset. I
bet youre already planning how were going to kick his ass,
arent you. He laughs when he sees something in my eyes. I
knew it. Youre so easy to read. Youre totally falling for her.
I start to protest, to deny it. But its true. I cant deny it.
Aubrey has totally entranced me. Shes witty, spunky, and she
doesnt take my bullshit. She gives it right back when I start
getting too much attitude. But shes also beautiful and
emotional and she opens herself right up to me.
And in bed
Yeah, okay, I do have feelings for her.
Jax gasps and looks up at the sky in an exaggerated fashion.
When I just stare at him with my brow raised, he says, Im
looking for the four horsemen to come galloping from heaven,
because surely this is the end of times. This event was foretold in
the Bible. Smith Beckett has fallen in love.
Dont make me have to hurt you, little brother.
We both grin, and he pats my shoulder. Im fucking happy
for you, asshole. Being tied down is not for me, but hey,
someones gotta populate the world with more of us sexy
Becketts.
Excuse me, Id love a beer, some girl calls out from the far
end of the bar. She waves at him and bounces, her breasts
heaving up and down with every move.
Ah, the sirens call. I think I found tonights conquest. He
waggles his brows and sidles over to her, giving her his full-
wattage smile.
I just laugh. Jax is the wildest out of the three of us, by far. I
cant see him getting attached to a girl or being responsible in
any way. Though he is trying harder at the bar; Ill give him
credit for that.
I tug out Aubreys phone and pull up the texts from her ex. I
feel the hot surge of anger sweep over me again, and I dont try
to swallow it down. This fucker will learn the hard way.
I quickly tap out a text to him: Look, we have to talk. I dont
want to do this over phone.
I continue slinging drinks and washing dishes and doing
whatever else I need to do, waiting for his response. Itll comeI
know that much. Just a matter of when. Hell take the bait, no
doubt.
Im whistling as I straighten up around the bar. Im almost
joyous.
When Asher comes over to check the taps and make sure the
kegs arent empty, I give him a small nod of thanks. He gives one
back and goes to leave, but I grab his upper arm.
Hey. Thanks for the help with Aubrey. And around here, I
tell him.
He narrows his eyes, looking at me with suspicion. Not that I
blame himgiven how pissed Ive been about him being here
this summer, it probably seems like somethings up. But talking
with Aubrey about all the good memories we had as kids, seeing
him step up without question to help Aubrey out, made me
realize I need to back off a bit. The decision was already made,
and hes here. Continuing to be pissed is only injuring myself.
He finally sees that I mean what I say and gives a quick nod.
Youre welcome, he says, then I see him smile proudly as he
turns and walks away.
I head back to the office to crunch numbers, mulling over
Aubreys suggestion in the back of my head. After this shit with
her ex is dealt with, Ill bring the idea up to Jax and Asher. Food
at the barnot a bad idea. Well have to keep it limited at first,
of course. I dont want us getting overwhelmed. Maybe stuff that
can be prepared in bulk ahead of timedips and shit like that.
Shes right though. Aunt Sylvia will have good ideas on what I
can do.
What we can do.
I have to stop viewing this bar as just mine. Not only is it too
much to deal with, its causing issues with me and my brothers.
If they want a bigger role, fine. Ill give it to them. I can make Jax
start with balancing us out every night.
A wicked grin creases my face. Im such a bastardJax hates
doing anything with math. Too bad.
My pocket buzzes, and I instantly snap to attention. Its the
pocket with Aubreys phone in it. Lets see what he has to say.
Yes, we do. You owe me an explanation. I need to know why
you did this to me
To Us
Ah, hes trying to play on my guiltwell, on Aubreys guilt. I
write back, We should meet somewhere and talk instead of
doing this over the phone. I fire off a location at the end of the
message, asking to meet tomorrow morning at sixpurportedly
before my shift at the nursing home, and send it. Aubreys off
work tomorrow, so shell be safe and sound up in my bed.
Meeting up so early in the morning will likely keeps his
suspicion from being aroused.
A moment later, another buzz.
Im looking forward to hearing the TRUTH. Ill be there.
I put the phone away. Finish my work with a smooth calm
that has swept over me. First things first, get this accounting
work done. Close the bar out tonight. Then, tomorrow, Ill deal
with Aubreys ex.
No fucking way are you going alone, Jax says as we finish
cleaning the bar.
It was a surprisingly quiet nightno fights, no drama. Which
is good, because as keyed up as I am to get this shit done and
meet with Aubreys ex, I probably would have gotten into
trouble.
Ashers sweeping the floor while Im restocking the booze in
the bar to ensure were ready for tomorrows crowd.
I can handle this, I tell Jax assuredly.
He just eyes me and whips a dish towel over his shoulder.
Im sure you can, but why would you? Besides, Im just going to
follow you anyway, so you might as well have us come.
I shake my head. You are stubborn as hell.
Got it from Dad. He gives me his trademark smirk. Just
like you.
Im helping too, Asher says from across the room.
I consider telling them no, keeping them out of it, but decide
that its better to have backup just in case.
We finish up on the bar then brew a pot of super-strong
coffee. It gurgles as it fills the pot. Still the same coffee pot Dad
used back in the day.
How many fucking pots of coffee did Dad go through during
the course of a day? Asher asks as he pours himself a mug. He
fills up two more and slides them across the bars surface toward
us. Seemed like he always either had a beer or a coffee in his
hand.
Thats about right, I say with a half smile. I think he had
coffee running through his veins.
We remain silent and drink our coffee. Im flooded with
thoughts of Dad. Funny how hes been on my mind a lot lately.
Why is that?
You know hed be proud of you, Jax says. I turn to see hes
looking at me over the top of his mug. For how hard youve
worked to keep this place floating. And for all the shit you dealt
with otherwise. Hes referring to himself and Asher, of course.
Well do the best we can to keep the bar running, but Dad never
expected us to be superhuman.
His praise is out of character, but it means a lot for just that
reason. I find the usual tension I have when thinking about the
bar fades a bit. Well sort it out somehow. I have to trust in that.
Trust. Funny how that word keeps cropping up a lot lately,
too. I need to trust my brothers more, depend on them. Let them
help me. I cant carry this all on my owntheyre right about
that.
And trust in Aubrey too. The way shes trusted me. She
deserves it given right back to her. Trust means not trying to
control her, the way her ex did. Yes, I want her, in every fucking
way I can have her, but I never want to smother her spirit or
make her afraid.
Jax glances at his watch. We have some time to kill. You
assholes wanna lose a little money before we go take care of
some unfinished business for Smiths girl?
I smirk at him. Its been a while since Ive raked him over the
coals in poker. I move around the bar, lower three chairs at a
table, and wave them over. Something about the camaraderie of
us doing as regular a thing as playing cards makes me feel less
alone. Lets do this.

***

Just before six, were sitting in Jaxs car, staring at the coffee
shop. Its still a bit on the dark side out, and the glow of the shop
is the only real sign of life so far on the street. I told him to meet
there because I figured Aubrey would consider it a safe and public
location, and her ex would think that as well.
Now to wait.
What does he look like? Asher asks from the back seat.
Like a psycho, Jax says. Asher slugs him on the arm, and he
grunts. Stop fucking punching me. You suck.
I laugh. Knock the shit off, boys. We have a job to do.
Hes the one who started it, Jax murmurs, but I hear the
amusement in his voice. Oh, look. Someones coming now.
I see a man in his late twenties, clean-cut and wearing a suit,
walk hesitantly toward the caf door. He steps inside and moves
to a table. Gotta be him.
The three of us exit the car and follow him in. No one else is
in the cafJax has had relations with the manager and asked
her to open up the shop an hour early so we could have a
business meeting there.
She didnt ask too many questionsJaxs girls never do.
We walk inside, and when the door dings behind us, Aubreys
ex spins around. Sees us and his brow furrows. He gives a
haughty look and offers us his back, peering over the counter.
Excuse me, he says loudly, calling out to the empty caf,
peering to see where the employees are.
Are you Roger? I ask.
His back stiffens. I can see his gaze darting around. Hes
evaluating the situation. My brothers move to either side of him.
How about we move to the back, I tell him in a quiet voice.
We need to talk.
Rogers entire body is rigid. He wants to run so badly, but we
have him surrounded. He lifts his chin. Im not bothering
anyone. Just getting coffee and waiting for a friend. You folks
should be on your way back to whatever hillbilly hole you
crawled out of.
Jax gives a loud, barking laugh. Thats fucking hilarious.
Hillbilly hole. This guys witty! I can definitely tell what Aubrey
saw in him.
At the mention of her name, her visibly startles. Studies us
closer. When his gaze locks on me, I see fury unleashed in his
eyes. He recognizes me.
Oh, good. You know who I am. That saves me the trouble of
having to introduce myself. My voice is ice. My fists are
clenched at my side. Get your fucking ass in the back room or
Ill pick you up and carry you there myself.
And why would I want to go back there with you? Hes
trying to sound brave, but I hear a thin hint of fear in his voice.
I step closer to him, look at the face of the man whos
petrified the woman Ive fallen for. Whos made her life hell to
the point where she had to move away from him to escape his
abuse. All the rage I feel rushes to the surface. Because were
going to talk.
Fuck you, he spits at me.
I punch him right on the nose. He gasps and holds it as blood
gushes out, spattering on the floor. Fine with me. Id rather
fight anyway. Ready to go?
My brothers cross their arms and stand there to make sure he
doesnt try to run off.
Roger holds his nose with one hand and raises his other in the
air. Fuck. Fuck. I think you broke it. Im going to call my
lawyer.
I grip his hair so tight it makes him cry out, and I force him to
walk behind the bar then drop to his knees. Jax moves over to
flip the Open sign to Closed, his back to the door.
Roger stares up at me, blood streaming down his face in thick
gushes, eyes watering.
You arent calling anyone, I tell him. If you even think of
doing so, Ill fucking wreck you so hard you wont be able to
move, much less dial a number. Any man who would hurt a
woman to try to control her is a fucking dog and deserves to be
put down. I squeeze his scalp tighter, and he whimpers. You
are never to contact Aubrey again in any format. You will never
contact her family or friends again. You will go home quietly,
and you will stay the fuck away from Rock Bridge for the rest of
your life. And if you call anyone about what happened here
today, I will find you, and I will fucking kill you.
I tilt his head up to make sure he can see how serious I am.
No one is ever going to hurt Aubrey again. Im protecting her
now. Do you understand me?
He swallows and swipes a hand along the bottom of his face
to wipe away the blood running.
I snap his head back and bend over him. Thats not an
answer. Do. You. Understand. Me.
Y-yes.
I jerk on his hair to force him to standing. Give me your
phone.
What? He blinks in surprise.
I raise and pull back my other fist, and he cringes away,
fumbling in his jacket pocket.
H-here, okay, fine, just take it. His fingers are shaking so
hard he can barely hand it to me.
I release his hair, then I drop the phone and stomp on it.
Crush it beneath my boot. He groans, and Jax claps. Just to give
you a little incentive to not call anyone when you drive your sorry
ass home.
Im so tempted to beat this man senseless right now. I want
to unleash everything. But Im trying to restrain myself. I dont
want to be a man Aubreys afraid of. Im her hero, not another
man who uses his strength to intimidate her. And while she
hates and is afraid of Roger, doing any further damage to him
will only make her feel bad.
Get the fuck out of here before I change my mind and do
what I really want to do to you right now.
Roger scrambles to move around the coffee bar counter,
cupping his nose, then dashes outside. I see him struggle to open
his car door. He backs out of his parking space and his tires
squeal as he leaves.
Do you think hell leave her alone? Asher asks.
I sigh. If he knows whats good for him. Pretty sure he shit
his pants when I threatened to punch him again, though. I
shake my fist outdecking him felt so good, but it did hurt my
knuckles. I grab a wad of paper towels and clean the crime scene
of his bloodied nose off the ground. Dont need to freak the poor
manager and baristas out when they come back. I toss the soiled
paper towels.
This was supposed to be a business meeting, after all. And I
suppose in some ways, thats exactly what it was. Tying up some
loose ends.
Jax yawns. Im fucking whomped. Watching you punch a
douche made me more tired than I expected.
Asher laughs, and I clap him on the shoulder as we move to
the exit.
The door dings behind us, and we hop in Jaxs car. He drops
me off back at the bar, and I make my way up the stairs to where
my girl is lying on my bed.
She is my girl if I have anything to say about it. I need this
woman so badly, would do anything for her. I dont know how,
but in the span of a few weeks, Aubreys flipped me upside down
and given me life. Shes broken me out of my darkness, shown
me hope, affection. Made me feel like Im good enough as I am.
I want her to feel the same. I want her to be mine.
I kick my boots off and strip out of my clothes. Weariness
makes my bones tired. I need sleep. But more than that, I need
to curl against her warm, inviting body and find my solace, my
salvation, in her arms.
Aubrey is the one who saved me, who changed me.
I crack open the door. Shes breathing softly, my gray sheet
tangled in her limbs. Her breasts are bare, moving in an even
rhythm. Something in my heart cracks wide open. I move to her,
unable to pull away. I slide against her body and cup her breasts,
feel their weight in my palm.
Aubrey gives a gentle sigh and arches against me. Smith,
she says in a whisper, stirring, and my cock pulses to life,
pressing along the slit of her ass. I missed you. The admission
makes be even more aroused.
I missed you too. I turn her to face me and rain kisses all
over her brow, her cheeks, ending with her mouth. She opens to
me, my sweet and willing Aubrey. I bury my hands in her hair
not hard. Tender. I need to feel close to her right now.
She gives a sleepy, satisfied sigh against my mouth.
Im falling in love with you, I find myself murmuring on
her lips.
Aubrey goes still in my arms. I see her blinking herself awake
in the pale glow of morning through the slats of the blinds. I
did I hear She rubs her eyes and sits up.
I sit up with her. My heart is pounding so hard I feel like its
going to erupt from my chest. I tug her to me, needing her
closer. God, Aubrey, you dont know what you do to me. Tell me
you feel this too. That it isnt just me.
Her breath catches, and she reaches a shaky hand up to caress
my jaw. I cant see her eyes, but everything I need to know is in
the tenderness of her touch. Im falling in love with you too.
Then Im kissing her and we fall back into bed, lost in each
other.
Aubrey
Three Months Later

Aunt Sylvia is gifted. Why is this pie the best Ive ever had? I
ask as I feed a spoonful of key lime pie to Smith across the bar.
Im sitting in my stool, after the bar has closed. Jax left after
finishing cleaning up for the night, so its only the two of us in
here. Im glad its been a hit. I had a feeling everyone would
want it.
Smith gives me a wicked grin. Well, its not the best pie Ive
ever had.
I shake my head and swat at him. Youre insane. Insane,
but I love it. Weve been inseparable, spending as much time
together as possibleand as many nights. The things weve
experimented withvarious types of bondage, clamps,
spanking, even paddlinghave made my toes curl with glee.
Apparently Im into dirty shit. Who knew? I never would have
guessed this about myself.
Or maybe its just because Im into Smith so much that
anything we do together feels wicked and fun. I watch him as he
checks the taps and removes one. Hes so efficient and confident
in his work. I really enjoy observing him, seeing him move with
his usual prowess. No matter what Smith does, its sexy.
He bends over and pulls out a new tap handle, one thats
distinctly shaped like
I laugh. Do you realize how phallic that is? I ask.
He raises that trademark brow at me. Why do you think I
ordered this beer?
Um, for its hoppy flavor? Or its exquisite mouth feel? I
tease as I move around the bar to his side.
Ill show you mouth feel. Smith hauls me up to sitting on
the bar, and he cups my ass to tug me close to him. Being in his
arms, in his presence, feels so good, so right.
Ive never had a man wreck me so completely as Smith has. I
lean down to capture his mouth in a kiss. God, how I love this
manthis hotheaded, crass, surly, protective, beautiful man.
The last few months have been heaven, especially since Roger
has left me the fuck alone. Thank God.
I caress his lips with mine, just a little tease, and he grips my
hips tighter, a silent plea for me to give him more. But I refuse. I
dart my tongue out and swipe it along his lower lip, along the
seam. He groans, and then hes spinning me to lie fully on the
bar, and he jumps on top of me.
Smith! I cry out with a giggle. Can the bar handle both of
us being on here?
His answering smile is so wicked it makes my pussy pulse in
anticipation. I guess well find out. A little edge play for you,
huh, sweetheart?
I reach up to cup his firm ass, squeezing the globes through
his jeans. My God, this man has the perfect body. He rests on
one forearm to whip his shirt over his head, and I slide my hands
along the lines of his tattoos. Ive tasted each one intimately.
Youre so fucking beautiful, he says as he stares at me in
what looks like awe. I cant believe youre mine.
My cheeks turn a little warm from the compliment. You
make me feel beautiful, I tell him.
Thats because you are. And you deserve to feel it every
damn day. I can see the sincerity in his eyes. The heat radiating
from him. His cock bobs between us, evident even though his
jeans. I lift my legs and wrap them around his waist to get him as
close as possible.
I want to feel you every damn day, I tell him hotly.
His eyes turn dark, and I can tell hes thinking something
naughty. I feel my body erupt in tingles. God, every time he gets
that look, I end up coming like crazy. I swallow and feel my
breasts swell, my nipples harden. My pussy throbs with my pulse
now.
Smith sits up enough to unbutton my long-sleeved shirt and
tug it off me. Then my jeans follow. Both are tossed to the floor
without another thought. He slowly looks me over, his hands
following his gaze, his rough fingers squeezing and kneading my
flesh. I want to fuck you so badly right now.
I arch my breasts at him and cup them with my palms,
offering them to him. Then why dont you?
He growls, and my bra is almost ripped off and then thrown
to the ground. Last are my panties. Im lying on the cool bar
surface, shivering, hungry, needing this man inside me so much
I cant breathe for wanting him.
Im shaking now. He adjusts my legs until my feet are planted
firmly on the bar. Im exposed to him, naked.
When his tongue hits my clit, I jump. I feel his hot hand press
my lower belly to keep me in place. Dont you fucking move,
he growls at me. I want you right here, that sweet pussy open
and dripping wet. His mouth goes back to licking me, and I sigh
and shudder from the expert movements of his tongue.
He sucks my labia into his mouth, which makes me cry out.
God, that feels ridiculously good. I want to touch him but I do as
he commanded and lie still. Smith rewards me when I obey him,
makes me feel so good that I want to please him as much as I
can.
He laps me and Im dripping on the table; I can feel it sliding
down my crack.
Good girl, he purrs.
Yes, I moan, as he continues fucking me with his amazing
tongue.
Does getting that wet pussy eaten on my bar make you feel
dirty?
I swallow. My pulse is skittering through my limbs now. My
fingers and toes tingle and my breathing is shallow. So dirty, I
admit.
He kisses my inner thighs and draws a small portion of flesh
between his teeth. Bites down.
Oh, God, Smith. Please
Please what? What do you want, Aubrey? Tell me.
P-pleasefuck me right now. I need it.
Youre so fucking sexy. Im going to make you come all over
my dick. Smith takes out his cock and slides it in me, raw, and I
feel every ridge and line on his perfectly bare dick, and oh God, it
makes me start to thrust against it just to get it deeper. I cant
help it.
He pulls it out, pushes it inside me again, this time a little
faster. Hes angled the tip so it rubs against my G-spot. How
hard do you want to be fucked? His voice is so low I can barely
hear him.
As hard as you want to give it to me, I find myself saying.
Its a challenge, a dare, me offering myself to him completely.
Trusting him to give me what I want and need.
He groans. I feel him shift between my legs. Oh, fuck yes.
Then he begins to pump into me, and I feel that familiar heat
build in my belly. My clit is swollen and desperate to be touched.
Like a mind reader, he says, Stroke yourself as I fuck you, baby.
I want to watch you pleasure yourself.
I reach my right hand between my trembling thighs and
brush my fingers on my clit. It pulses in my touch. I cant stop
moaning, arching, needing this, wanting to be his dirty girl. The
waves ripping through me as he fucks me are impossible to stop.
Im bucking and stroking and squeezing my channel, and my
pussy is so wet I can smell myself.
My orgasm starts to near. I pant, and Smith says, Oh, fuck
yes, give me that come. I want it. Come on my dick. Right. Now.
My whole body is vibrating, moments from shattering apart
and flying into pieces. My clit is pulsing beneath my frantic
fingers, and hes now slamming the full length of his cock inside
me.
God oh God oh God I arch and then as my orgasm hits
me, I scream, scream, unable to bite back the enormity of
sensations drowning me. It just keeps coming and coming, and
Im burning alive for Smith.
It seems to take a year for the orgasm to subside. My hands go
limp, my legs sliding down the bar surface, and I gasp for air.
Smith pulls the handle out of me and bursts, his cock shooting
hot ropes of cum onto my lower belly.
Oh fucking sweet Jesus, that felt so fucking good, he says in
a guttural tone. He moves to stretch out on top of me and takes
my mouth in a hot, possessive kiss.
I give it to him, my body languid and sated, the stickiness of
our body juices between us, my mind blissfully numb. He wraps
his arms around me and kisses me, and I kiss him back, pouring
all of my emotions into it. Im overwhelmed by the love Im
feeling for him, my dirty, sweet boy.
After we kiss for a good minute, Smith pulls back.
He bends down to pick up his T-shirt from behind the bar and
slides it over me. I love wearing his shirtits like being
wrapped in one of his hugs. At the sight of me in his big shirt, he
smiles. Cups my cheek. I fucking love you so much.
I smile back. I love you too. I cant even tell you how much.
It just grows bigger every day.
I miss feeling you in my bed every night.
His admission stills me. After the shit storm with Roger was
over, I went back to my apartment, though we spend at least
three nights a week together. But on the nights Im not with
him, I lie in bed wishing I was. I do too, I tell him.
Suddenly, he licks his lips and seems to get an anxious look
on his face. He seems lost in thought, his brow creasing, his eyes
faraway.
Is something wrong? I ask, nervous suddenly.
He shakes his head. Justjust hold on one second.
Smith fishes in his pocket. Pulls out a small velvet box.
My heart slams against my ribcage so hard Im sure it cracks a
bone. Oh God, is it
I wasnt going to do this like this. He cracks the box open,
and theres a large, sparkling diamond sitting there nestled in
black velvet. He looks up at me, and I see love shining in his
eyes. I wanted to do a fancy proposal. Really knock you off your
feet. But in the end, we dont need fancy. We just need us, you
and me, together. What makes us work is how we satisfy each
others needs, no matter how simple.
My throat closes, and I feel a burn in the backs of my eyes. I
nod.
Youve made me so happy, Aubrey. I know this is fast, but
fuck it. I love you. I want to marry you. I need you to be mine,
and I need to be yours. Will you marry me?
I gasp and grab the back of his neck, tugging him to me. Yes.
Of course I will.
I hear him exhale hard, and then his arms are around me and
hes hugging me so tight its like we fuse into one. Oh, thank
fucking God. Thank God. His hands are stroking my hair and
hes almost overwhelming me with a surge of his love.
I begin to actually cry and I cover his face in kisses. My hands
are shaking. He pulls back and puts the ring on my finger, and I
swallow, then kiss him again.
My beloved.
My fianc.
The man who believed in me when I needed someone. Who
opened my eyes to pleasures I couldnt fathom. Who accepts me
as I am, frees me, cherishes me, protects me. How could I
possibly want anything more than Smith? Theres no way.
I hold my fianc in my arms, and we sit there, me on the bar
in his shirt, him wrapped around me. Our own little bubble of
happiness.

***

Michaela? I say later that morning after Smith and I went to


bed in his apartment, had sex, then fell asleep wrapped in each
other. Im whispering into my cell phone in the kitchen. How
do you feel about visiting me in Rock Bridge? I ask her.
Hell yeah. Its not that far of a drive. When can I come?
Im not sure yet. My heart skips a beat. Ill need your
help.
With what?
With planning my wedding.
Michaela screams so loud into the phone that Im sure Smith
can hear her from the bedroom. Are you fucking pulling my
chain right now? Because if youre fucking with me, Im going to
beat your ass, you bitch.
Im not! I squeal and look down at the ring on my finger.
He proposed to me early this morning after the bar closed! I
decline to tell her what our activities were before said proposal
thats our dirty secret.
Oh God, Im so fucking happy for you I could cry. I cant wait
to meet him. Im coming this weekend, okay? And dont say no,
because Im, like, already packing a bag as we speak and Im
going to call in dead to work.
I love you so much. Im laughing and crying again, and I
feel so happy I could explode.
So have you told your parents yet? Her words are gentle;
she knows about the fight that happened. I havent spoken to
them in months, too upset to return their calls. Surprisingly,
shes left me messages every couple of weeks, nothing big, just
saying she wants to talk. I just havent been ready to.
I guess I should, I say, discomfort tightening my chest.
They might want to know. Michaelas voice is soothing.
But you do what feels right, okay?
A pair of warm, familiar hands slide across my waist and cup
my breasts through the shirt I slipped on before padding down to
the kitchen. I lean back against Smiths chest and look up at
him. Michaela, I mouth as I point to the phone. He nods and
kisses my forehead.
Okay, bitch, I should go then, I say. I have shit to do and a
fianc to have more sex with.
Hell yeah. I support this.
We blow each other kisses over the phone and hang up.
Smith gets his coffee pot going and turns to me, leaning
against his kitchen counter. Everything okay?
Yeah, I guess. I justdont know how I feel about calling my
parents right now, to be honest.
He looks at me without judgment, but his face is serious.
Call them. Id give anything in the world to call my dad right
now and tell him about you. Hed love you, you know.
The words pinch my heart with guilt. Fuck. That was
insensitive of me. Im sorry.
He gives me a small smile and rubs the back of my neck. I
know you werent trying to be. But I think if you talk to them,
youll feel better. Just something to think about.
Will you stay here while I call them?
Theres nowhere else on the fucking planet Id rather be
than by your side.
The warmth in his voice helps me gather my strength. I can
do this. I suck in a slow breath, exhale. Turn to rest once again
against the solidness of his chest. My fianc. Soon to be my
husband.
The most amazing and complicated man Ive ever met.
I dial my moms number, and she picks up after a couple of
rings. Hello? I hear the tentativeness in her voice, tinged with
hope. Its been so long since Ive heard her voice that I feel a
bunch of emotions slam into me hard.
My stomach twists in a hard knot, and I steady myself. Smith
squeezes my shoulders. Mom? Hi. Its me. And I have some
news for you.
And then I start telling her our story, and Im smiling,
because finally its not just I anymoreits we. Smith and
Aubrey.
Forever.
THE END OF SMITH (THE BECKETT BOYS, BOOK ONE)

Start reading JAX (The Beckett Boys, Book Two) immediately, by


clicking here!

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Jackson (The Billionaire Croft
Brothers, Book One) by Paige
North
Jackson
I sit staring at the phone, my hand clenched in a fist over my
mouth. I close my eyes and tell myself to get my shit together.
Do the usual, calm my breathing and remind myself that I can
fight through this just like always.
A few seconds later, my eyes open againand Im still fucked.
My father always knew how to push my buttons, but after
twenty-eight years of his shit, I thought Id learned to stay cool
under his unrelenting pressureand the pressures of Croft
International. This business is all pressure, all the time. There is
no room for any cracks or weaknesses.
But that phone call
How could he?
After everything Ive done to earn my place in this business?
After all of my sacrifices?
It turns out the old man saved his best trick for last. Pulled
the rug out from under me and then disappeared off the face of
the earth, so hed never have to answer for any of it.
I get up and stride across my expansive office to the bar
tucked into custom-made walnut bookshelves. Toss a few cubes
in a glass and pour three fingers worth of the scotch that is the
same age as I am.
I take a deep gulp as I look out at the view from my office. The
strong, smooth alcohol and serene view of the boats bobbing in
the harbor are supposed to soothe me. Instead, all I feel is anger
rising and rising, the image of my bastard father growing
stronger. Hes laughing from the grave where the dirt is still
fresh, of that there is no doubt in my mind.
A grating buzz sounds from the phone.
Mr. Croft? Your ten a.m. is here.
Christ, I mutter. I push the intercom button. Sandra, I
cant do it. Youll have to reschedule. I dont even remember
whats on my calendar but at this moment I dont care. My only
plan is to finish this scotch, then start on another.
Im sorry, Mr. Croft. But she says this is the third time
Damn it, I said I'm busy! I snap. What part of reschedule
did she not understand? I throw back another drink, nearly
draining the glass. It stings my throat but in a good way, like a
rough massage.
That shouldve been that, but then I hear some bullshit
outside my door.
I dont care what he said, a woman is saying, her voice
smooth but insistent. Im not going to reschedule again, its
insulting.
The door flies open and a woman comes in, trailed by Sandra
who is frantically chasing her.
At least he can tell me why hes cancelling again to my
face, the woman finishes. She stands just inside my office, her
green eyes blazing toward me.
The annoyance of being barged in on is replaced by shock at
the woman thats standing before me. This woman is all curves
in all the right places, her cleavage showing just enough to
tantalize me with thoughts of what shed look like naked in my
bed.
But its her eyes, so bright they seem on fire as she stares me
downher eyes are what really stir me.
Shes determined, but more than that, she has a spark, a fire,
and it lights something inside of me.
Sandra, not used to being disrespected or railroaded, stands
behind the woman looking like shes ready to body slam her,
despite the arthritis. Im so sorry, Mr. Croft. She just barged
through. I was about to call security.
You dont look too busy to me, the woman says to me,
eyeing the scotch.
Thats it, Sandra says. Im calling security. She turns
back toward her desk to grab her phone.
The woman doesnt budge. In fact she slowly crosses her arms
across her chest, cocks her leg out, and begins tapping one of her
stilettos.
Something washes over mesomething more undeniable
than her absolute beauty.
Her long hair is pulled back in a low ponytail, and her dress is
not as tailored as the businesswomen Im used to being around,
but damn if it doesnt smooth over her in the sexiest way.
But this is my turf.
I know how to stand my ground with the most powerful
people in the industry. Shes beautiful, and her act is cute, but
she has no idea who shes dealing with.
Trying to come up with an excuse? she says, breaking into
my thoughts.
Very nice line. I like it.
And I like that for a brief fleeting moment, this woman
caused me to forget the burning ashes of betrayal that I can still
taste in my mouththe memory of that phone call still making
me feel like I want to throw my chair through the fucking
window.
I dont need an excuse, I tell her.
Couldve fooled me, she replies instantly.
I want to chuckle at her, but theres a reason I can clean house
in poker with anyone from the guys from the mailroom to the
gentlemen at the Algonquin Club. My expression doesnt change
as I tell Sandra, Dont call security. I can handle this. Without
a word Sandra hangs up her phone and closes the door for me.
Once were alone, I say, I dont know who you are, but
unfortunately now is not a good time, so I will have to rearrange
our date.
You mean our meeting? she says.
Todays no good, I respond, ignoring her jab.
Im here, youre clearly not busy, and Id like to go ahead
with our meeting, she says.
What did you say your name was?
I didnt. Im Emily Brown, she says, her chin lifted slightly.
Shes trying to be authoritative, but I can hear the quiver in her
voice. Im from the Childrens Education Fund. Id like to
discuss our annual goals.
Ive never heard of your charity and I really dont have time
to worry about someone elses financial goals. I have my own,
Ms. Brown.
I have to stay focused. After that phone call I just received,
the last thing I need is some bullheaded woman throwing me off
the goals Ive worked my life to achieve. My goals, not some kid
charity nonsense.
She pushes ahead, trying her best to keep talking. Its called
the Childrens Education Fund and its
I heard you the first time you said the name, I tell her.
And to be clear, Im not sure how you got on my calendar, but I
have charities asking me for money on a daily basis. I dont need
another one.
She shifts her leg so that shes standing full upright. Shes a
little thing, no more than five-four. But right now shes doing
everything she can to demand authority. The least you can do is
give me five minutes after cancelling on me twice before now. If
youd stop trying to get me out of your office we could have been
halfway through this meeting by now.
A meeting I have no interest in having, I remind her.
Although, to be fair, shes doing a good job of holding my
attention right now. Especially those tits. And those legs. What
would she do, I wonder, if I grabbed her and bent her over my
desk right this very second?
I think that perhaps she would welcome it. My dick stiffens
and I find my lip twitching into a near smile as she bravely
continues her little pitch.
Its a highly worthwhile organization, she says. I have
some papers for you that will help explain. She starts digging in
the black canvas bag dangling at her side. Thirty-four percent
of kindergarten children lack basic language
You look a little young to be leading the fundraising for a
non-profit, I say, partially because Im curious, but also to keep
her riled upand throw her off her speech, which she has
probably practiced in the mirror thirty times.
I have to admit, its fun to watch her squirm. Also, it gives me
an excuse to really look at herher full lips, which she licks in
way that makes me want to crush her mouth with my own.
Im not that young, she says. Im a graduate student at
Boston University.
Youre a student? I say. What the hell kind of organization
sends a student to my office to get money for some charity no
one has ever heard of?
Maybe Im just that good, she replies, color blooming in
her cheeks.
My dick stiffens further, and now I really am tempted to grab
her and throw her over the desk, slide my dick into that pussy,
knowing how tight and wet and ready she would be for me
I'm used to dealing with CEOs, presidents, senior directors
of development at the very least, I continue, feigning boredom.
Truly, though, this is a fun distraction. Better than the scotch.
I'm here because I thought
That you could just walk in here and ask for a pile of money
and Id hand it over? It doesnt work like that in the real world.
I thought I could come here and wed have a discussion, Mr.
Croft, she says. Youre right, this isnt going the way I thought
it would. Not at all. She takes a deep breath, keeping her eyes
focused on me. Were looking to raise money for our annual
fund that focuses on getting kids to read, especially kids in
disadvantaged neighborhoods. Theres a luncheon coming up
Which I wont go to, I say. Charity luncheon? An absolute
hell and waste of my time. Clearly this woman knows nothing
about me. Which, of course, gives me a little more power over
her, always a good thing.
I didnt say you had to. Shes not going down without a
fight. You can simply donate, earmark the money for the
reading fund or any other program within CEF. We prefer general
restrictionsthat way we can put the money where its most
needed at any given time.
I have to say, I begin, that you really sound like Ive
already agreed to write you a check. Which I have not.
Studies show that children who
I hold up my hand. Honestly, I cant listen to such mundane
statistics. Look, Emily, Im going to be honest with you. Please
spare me the sob story about babies who cant read. I dont care
about your charity. I dont care if these kids can read or not, or
what their level of reading is. It doesnt matter to me. It is not
what Im here for. I am here to make money, broker deals, build
buildings that make the Boston skyline even more beautiful and
invest in real things that make lots of money. Ill leave all the
philanthropy nonsense to philosophers and dreamers to figure
out. People like yourself, obviously.
Emily keeps her eyes fixed on me for a moment before saying,
You truly are as cold as they say. I didnt believe the stories, I
came in here with an open mind, but it turns out youre even
worse than I could have imagined. She shakes her head. We
need to invent a new word for cold because it doesnt fit, thats
for sure. Colder than ice.
Somehow Im amused rather than offended. She has no idea
that this version of me has been forged through years of
relentless battles fought with and against those closest to me.
She has no clue that its people like me who make jobs like hers
possible.
But if she wants to melt the ice man, then perhaps Ill see just
how far shes willing to go to heat things up.
Tell you what, I say, rising from the desk and slipping my
hands in my pockets. I will donate to your non-profit. I pause,
relishing in the surpriseand self-satisfactionthat flashes
across Emilys face. Like she just cant wait to run back to her
boss and brag that she did itshe landed a donation from the
mighty Jackson Croft of Croft International. In fact, I say, Ill
make it generous. Ten thousand dollars.
A breath escapes her lips, and she cant help but smile. She is
pleased with herself. Thank you very much, Mr. Croft. The
Childrens Education Fund thanks you. She strides toward me,
that satisfied look playing on her lips with her hand stretched
out toward mine. I take it in my own. Her hand is tinymy own
completely engulfs it, covering the smooth, soft skin.
Im not done yet, I say, keeping her hand in mine. Theres
one condition. Ill donate the moneyif you allow me to take
you out to dinner tonight.
The smirk falls away from her face, and she pulls her hand
out of my grasp.
There is no way in hell, she says. Not even for a million.
Emily
A rrogant prick.
Never has the term seemed so fitting. What an arrogant prick
this Jackson Croft is, and to think I actually believed hed want to
add some philanthropy to his company, if for no other reason
than it makes them look good.
As his words sink in, Im shocked at his proposition. Even
after Ive said no, hes clearly not discouraged. I can tell by the
way hes watching me, confident, his expression almost amused.
Im suddenly flustered, despite my best intentions to stay
focused and calm.
Because despite the fact that hes an arrogant prick, I cant
help admitsecretly and only to myselfthat he is hot.
He really knows how to wear that suit, perfect to his every
muscle and bulge. The cost of that one suit could probably fund
three kids in our program.
Of course, this makes me even more determined to say no to
himhis values are so out of whack.
I square myself against him, trying to keep my eyes on his
face, chiseled though it is, and not let them drift to his broad
chest and flat abs. He may be wearing a perfectly fitted oxford
and tie, but there is no hiding the fact that theres one amazing
body beneath the fabric.
Look, I say, trying to steady my voice. Theres no way Ill
go to dinner with you just so we can get a donation. You are
totally delusional. I need to get out of his office and fast,
because whoa. I can feel myself losing what little authority I
pretended to have when I first stepped in here.
The longer Im near this guy the weaker I feel. Its purely an
animal thing, Im sure. The guy is an asshole. But hes still the
hottest man Ive ever seen in my entire life.
Despite the fact that I am embarrassingly inexperienced in
romance and sex, no man has ever made me feel this strongly,
this quickly. Its like I can feel the pull toward him, my body
wanting to get closer to him, while my brain tells me to run for
the door.
So I do, I head for the door, eager to get out, regretting my
decision to storm in here in the first place.
Emily, wait.
My fingers are on the cool door handle. I pause. Looking back
at Jackson, I cant help but be curious. What?
Slow down, he says, and although his face is stern, I swear I
hear the slightest hint of teasing in his deep baritone. He likes
this, being in control.
I wont be bought, I tell him. My parents taught my siblings
and me to stand strong on our own two feet and make the world
a better place, but they didnt mean like this. Dad always said
integrity cant be bought, and hes right. Clearly Jackson is used
to buying whatever he wants, but hes got the wrong girl this
time.
His looks might make me weak in the knees, but his
personality is ugly, and thats what really counts.
Im not trying to buy you, Jackson says. His voice has
softened. Id simply like to spend the evening with you. One
meal. I was curt with you when you came in here, and I want to
make it up to you. Maybe you can tell me more about what you do
at the fund. He cocks his head to the side, his eyes like lasers on
me. My heart has picked up speed again and I try to keep my
emotions steady.
This isnt how this morning was supposed to go. I knew
Jackson Croft would be intimidatinga twenty-eight-year-old
billionaire doesnt get to this position without some serious
balls, even if it is the family business. But I didnt expect him to
make me feel like charging across the room and wrapping my
legs around his waist. I squirm under his gaze.
But if he can stay strong, so can I. Not a chance, I say,
lifting my chin to show that I mean iteven if I am intrigued at
the prospect. Which is why I have to get out of here, quickly.
Before I can open the door, he says, Twenty thousand.
Excuse me? I say, turning back to him.
Ill donate twenty thousand dollars to your charity.
Great, Ill take the check now, I say, hoping against reason
that hes not serious about the strings.
He slowly shakes his head. His hair is thick, chestnut brown
with golden highlights that probably come from summers at
Cape Cod. Its combed back, every strand perfectly in place. God,
even his hair wouldnt dare disobey him.
Dinner, Ms. Brown, he says. Tonight.
No, I say, my face now blazing. I cant believe the arrogance
of his guy. And its ridiculous that youre even playing this
game. With a charity. For kids.
Im disgusted and just want to get out of here.
I can dream about running my fingers through his hair as his
lips kiss my neckdream about him from a safe distancebut I
cant stand to be in this office a second longer.
Just as I finally open the door, he says, One hundred
thousand dollars.
The words freeze me. A hundred thousand dollars. I mentally
do the math and think about all the kids whose lives we could
change. Plus it would be the biggest donation in the
organizations history.
All I have to do is sit through a dinner with him.
Just the two of us.
I wonder: would that really be so bad? I mean, I do have to eat,
right? It might as well be with him instead of the UBurger I
planned on picking up at the end of the day.
I close the door and turn back to Jackson. I stride across the
room quickly, before I lose my nerve. He seems at once startled
and amused.
I'm standing what feels like inches from him. So close I can
smell him, a light, clean scent with a hint of spice. Up close I see
the gold dust in the brown of his eyes, and the smooth skin over
the sharp lines of his jaw.
Maybe moving so close wasnt a great idea. Now all I want to
do is slide my hands up his chest and see if it really is as hard
and strong as it looks through his shirt.
Yes? he says, cool as ever.
You cant be serious, I say.
Im always serious.
Why? I ask, honestly. Why does it have to be like this?
Why cant you just be good and donate the money? I would have
been happy with the ten thousand. Thats an amazingly
generous offer that would do so much good. Dont you want to do
good?
Oh, I do good, Ms. Brown, he says. In more ways than
one.
I mean with the charity, I say, as my cheeks flush.
I told you, I dont care about the charity.
I cant even believe someone would say that, could feel that.
Im glad he said it, because it shows me once again how truly
slimy he is.
I wont do it, I say, and now I finally mean it.
Leaning toward me so close that I can feel his cool breath on
my cheek, Jackson says, Think of the children. Because I
wont.
Youre cruel, I say.
You have no idea. Now, this is your last chance to consider
my offer, and because youve been so hard-headed about it, Im
putting you on a time limit. He looks at his watch, which is
large and flashy and totally obnoxious. You have one minute to
decide. Is dinner with me so horrible a thought that youd give
up all that money that, as you say, could do so much good? Time
starts now.
I want to explode. Hes an asshole, but theres just something
about him thats got me, emotionally and physically. I hate him;
I want to crawl all over him. Hes watching me closely. My eyes
drift to his lips, which are parted slightly.
Tick tock, tick tock, he says softly, teasingly.
This is what I want to tell him: Ill go to dinner with you. For
free. I dont need some sleazy proposal to do it.
Id like to see him on more neutral ground, not this office
where his presence hovers as high as the top floor his office sits
on. Maybe in a restaurant hes less of a prick. I picture him
checking his heart at the lobby downstairs each morning before
he comes to work. Maybe he gets it back at the end of each day.
He crosses his arms over his chest. The smirk is still there,
playing on those lips. Yeah, this guy is definitely used to getting
what he wantsin business and from women.
No, I say, finally. Im sorry you dont feel your money is
good enough for us. But I wont be bought.
He almost laughs. Youre not serious.
But I am serious, and I prove it to both of us by moving as
quickly as I canbefore I do what I really want to do and give
him everything he wants and more.
On shaking legs and in heels that are cutting my feet, I finally
leave Jackson Crofts office.

***

I get on the T at the State Street Station in a bit of a fog. What did
I just do? I just turned down one hundred thousand dollarsso
much money for the Childrens Education Fund.
Money we desperately need.
Not only is that stupid, bad business, and irresponsible, it
might also get me fired from the job I was hoping to move into
full-time once I graduate next year.
Plus, all that money could have changed so many kids lives,
and isnt that my mission in life? Why Im busting my butt in the
graduate program at Boston University to get my masters in
educational leadership? I want to make a difference, add some
good in the world.
And now whatI have too much integrity to have dinner with
a gorgeous billionaire? Am I clinically insane?
But I know that the game he was playing was dangerous. If Id
agreed to that dinner, if something god forbid had happened
between usthen Id basically have been no different than a
prostitute.
And I didnt get into this to sell myself to rich men.
Not even sexy, gorgeous ones like Jackson Croft? I ask myself.
My chest aches, knowing that a bigger part of me than Id like
to admit, actually wanted to give into him. Was dying to give in
to his demands. The reality of the situation is that I was lucky to
make it out of his office by the skin of my teethand if hed said
one more thing, perhaps touched my armit all would have
been over and Id have crumbled before him.
I transfer to the green line on autopilot, headed back to my
place in Allston. I have class later this afternoon. No way will I be
able to concentrate. What am I going to tell everyone at work,
anyway? I have to tell them the truththat he offered, and I said
no.
To calm myself, I imagine telling this story to my mom and
dad. Theyre the ones who raised me to live a life of service to
others. We may not have had a ton of money, but we always give
what we can to helping others. Its how I was raised, and its the
only way I know how to be.
Which makes Jackson Croft that much more confusing.
The thought of someoneespecially someone so privileged
having zero interest in helping others, even so much as to write
a freaking check, is totally foreign to me. I just dont get it.
I get off the T at the Allston stop. There are hints of fall in the
air, and I relish the crisp air on my cheeksmuch better than
the suffocating heat I was feeling in Jacksons office.
As I head into my studio apartment in the back of a blue
house on Greylock Road, I get the story straight in my head. I had
a bold plan to ask a huge corporate boss-guy for a donation and
he turned me down. Thats one part of the story, the one Ill tell
to my co-workers. The other part of the story is that I met one of
the sexiest, most ridiculously attractive men I have ever seen in
my life.
The way he acted repulsed me. The way he looked drove me
insane in a completely different way.
I sigh with relief as I kick off my shoes. Stupid blister. As I
hunt for Band-Aids, my phone buzzes. Its Jules from work, no
doubt wanting every detail of the meeting. I had gone in with
total pipe dreams of securing a donation and gradually getting
Jacksonand his moneymore involved in CEF, but it backfired
in a humiliating way.
Hey, Jules, I answer. I take a deep breath, preparing myself
for blowing it so badly. If things had at least gone differently
like, if Jackson Croft had said hed think about donating to such a
worthwhile cause but needed to see more research, I could have
brought in Jules to close the deal.
But now the deal is dead before anyone else had a chance at it.
Thats my big mistakegoing for such a big prospect with no
backup.
So? Jules asks. Youre on speaker. Talk.
Tell us! voices say in the background, and theres laughter.
My stomach churns. Its a small office but it sounds like most of
the staff is there. Did they really think I was going to pull it off?
Get Jackson Croft of Croft International to give money to our
little charity?
Theres not much to say, I offer lamely.
We need to know all about it, she says.
Im just, I begin, not knowing how to tell them all, where to
begin. My mind has gone suddenly blank. I dont know what
happened.
Youll have to do better than that, Jules says. Because
whatever you did needs to be standard operating procedure from
now on. Youll have to train the interns on how to ask for
donations.
And get the big ones! someone calls in the background.
I pause, confused. Wait My mind is racing.
So tell us how you did it, Jules says. Why does her voice
sound upbeat instead of pissed off to the point of terminating
me?
Cautiously I say, Did what?
You tease, Jules laughs, and I hear a chorus of whoops in
the background. How did you get Jackson Croft to give the
single biggest donation in CEFs history? Emily, youre
amazing!
Way to go, Em! someone else cheers.
I slowly lower myself to my threadbare couch. Wait a
minute. He actually did it? Jackson Croft donated?
One hundred thousand dollars, Jules says to more cheers.
We have to knowhow did you convince him?
I feel light headed. How did I do it? Thats a great question
that I cant answer.
So? Jules prompts.
She needs something from me, and Im certainly not going to
tell her or anyone else about Jacksons little proposal, even if I
did turn it down. Now that hes donated the money, the last
thing I need is for people to think that anything untoward
happened between us.
Its in everyones interestdonor and recipientto present a
clean, professional and united front.
I just, I begin, thinking. You know, I gave the stats like
you said. I mean, who can say no to kids, right?
My brow is sweaty and I gulp anxiously. I feel hot, suddenly.
Im sure there was more to than that, Jules says, but
whatever you did, its amazing. Truly, Emily. Were so proud of
you.
And excited about the money! someone else cheers.
Thanks, guys, I say. Ill see you in the office.
As we get off the phone, I hear more shouted congratulations
and then Im alone with just my racing thoughts.
Why did he do it?
I think back to our conversation and wonder if it was
something specific that I said that made him change his mind.
Or maybe he just regretted cornering me, had a change of heart.
Whatever it was that caused him to donate, the right thing to
do is to call him and thank him. I can just leave a message with
Sandra. I dont want to speak to him directly, just hearing his
voice makes my stomach flutter.
What is it with this guy and the spell he puts on me?
I quickly pick up my phone and call the number I have in my
phone.
Jackson Crofts office.
Hi, um, Sandra? Its Emily Brown, from earlier, I begin,
nervous already, even though its only a phone call. Could you
leave a message for Mr. Croft for me? I continue, my throat
raspy with emotion. Tell him I called to say thank you for the
very generous donation he gave to the Childrens Education
Fund? Tell him its really going to do a lot of good for a lot of
kids, and we really appreciate it. A bit of a shaky voice but I got
it out, thank God.
One moment, please, Sandra says. I guess I should have
paused long enough for her to write it all down. I wait quietly
while she jots down the message.
I hear a click on the line, and before I can wonder if Ive been
disconnected, that smooth deep voice thats already doing on
number on my stomach says, Emily Brown. Hello, again.
Mr. Croft, I stumble. That sneaky Sandra! She could have
given me a heads up. Im sorry to disturb you, I just
If you were disturbing me, I wouldnt have picked up,
Jackson informs me.
Right, okay. Um, I just, I left a message with Sandra.
Im here now. Tell me, he says.
I take a breath. Im not letting this guy get to me because
thats totally ridiculous. Hes just a man. A totally gorgeous man
who makes me forget my name, but still. Get it together. Thank
you, I say. Thats what I was calling to say. Thank youfrom
the Childrens Education Fundfor the donation. Its really
its huge. Its really big and were so grateful at such a large
gift
Jackson chuckles. He actually chuckles, and I bet I know why.
I'm cringing. Could I possibly find another form of the word
huge? Jesus, Im using them all.
Anyway, I say. Thank you. We really appreciate it.
And what about you? Do you appreciate it, or are you only
speaking on behalf of the fund?
No, I appreciate it too, I say. Very much. Mr. Croft, I really
believe in this organization, and judging by the size of your
donation, I think you do too.
Getting a call from you is enough for me, he says.
Although, I have to be honest. Id still like to take you to
dinner. I know I made you uncomfortable earlier, so Id like to
take you somewhere to show there are no hard feelings. No
strings, no quid pro quo. Just dinner. What do you say?
That catches me off guard. The money is already with the
fund so I know he cant corner me again with that ludicrous
proposal. But Jackson Croft is basically everything I despise in a
human. Hes selfish, money-centric, arrogant, and overall not a
nice person. Aside from the hundred grand he donated, that is.
Im sure he has an angle to that, anyway.
Still, it is just dinner. Right? What harm could there possibly
be in eating food with this guy in a restaurant full of other
people?
Dont overthink it, Jackson says. Just say yes.
So I hear myself say that one little word.
I say yes.
Even though I know Ill live to regret it.
Jackson
I knew shed say yes. I get people to say yes to deals worth
millions everyday, so I had no doubt little Miss Emily Brown
would say yes to dinner with me.
Still, it gives me a thrill deep inside knowing Ill have her for
the evening. Shes unlike any woman Ive ever knownand
thats a problem. She may have said yes to dinner, but Emily has
proven that shes not the kind of person who will just cave in to
pressure so easily.
She presents a unique challenge. And I do enjoy a challenge.
As I get in the car and turn the ignition, preparing to go and
pick Emily Brown up for our impromptu date, I find myself
wondering just what makes her so different from me.
Maybe thats what attracts me to her, but its also why I cant
even bother thinking about her as anything more than a
tonight-only thing. I cant get more involved than this. Not
since everything I learned with the phone call from my fathers
lawyers.
Ironically, Emily is the exact opposite of what I need right
now.
Ill have this one amazing night, one night to get her out of
my system because she is not a distraction that I can afford to
keep around. Dinner will simply be the scratch to the itch Ive
had for her since she first walkedno, barged through my office
doors.
Once Ive had my time with her, Ill no doubt be ready and
willing to move onto the next thing. Ive got more than enough
options and shes not my type, in any case
But right now I do need a short distraction from the family
bullshit.
Other than the short time I spent with Emily this morning,
every moment has been spent ruminating on the bombshell of a
phone call I received just before she arrived.
The call that told me I would no longer simply be inheriting
the company that Ive been groomed to run since before I can
even remember. The call that told me I would once again need to
prove myself to dear old Dad, even though hes no longer alive
and with us.
No, no, no, Jacksonthink again. You must fight, fight, fight.
The provision in his will was apparently quite clear on that score.
My brothers and I will compete for the right to lead our
company into the future. And the competition takes the form of
such a ridiculous requirementjust thinking about it makes my
blood boil.
That is my cross to bear, but now, for one night only, I will
enjoy the company of a gorgeous smart-ass woman who makes
me forget, ever so briefly, that everything Ive worked for might
be falling apart.
Once Emily stormed out of the office (and watching her go
damn, what a sight), I had Sandra pull up her information in
order to better understand what I was dealing with.
I know that shes a grad student working part-time for the
Childrens Education Fund. An intelligent do-gooder. Makes me
roll my eyes. Just from this one afternoon I can tell shes a
woman who goes after what she wants, and shed no doubt be
great in a real business, but shes stuck on some charity bullshit.
Well, real businessits not for everyone.
Not for the faint of heart, thats for sure.
I drive to Emilys neighborhood, just ten minutes from the
office and a little on the outskirts of the city. Lots of Boston
College and Boston University students live out here in Allston
we have several interns who ride the T in from this area.
I drive down Greylock Road, stopping in front of a blue house.
Before I can get out to go to the front door like a proper
gentleman, I see her silhouette walking down the driveway from
the back of the house.
Im at a temporary loss for breath. The tight dress shes
wearing skims down her figure like dripping goldan
improvement over the mornings bargain basement suit but
honestly, this woman could make sweats look sexy.
Im out of the car quickly, headed over to her side so I can
open the door for her. The closer I get to her, the faster my heart
beats.
Good evening, Emily, I say, using one hand to button my
suit jacket.
Hello, she says, her eyes focused on the car. I lean in to
greet her with a kiss on the cheeka habitand it seems to
startle her. She smiles, though, showing dimples in her cheeks.
You ready? I ask.
This is your car? she responds, still eyeing it.
Yes, I say. Im driving it, arent I?
She shakes her head. Yeah, its just...nothing. Lets go.
I have no idea what thats about, but once in the car we head
back into the heart of the city. Sandra called ahead to Prime &
TenderCroft International is a silent partner in the Michelin-
starred restaurantand so I know that the restaurant will pull
out all the stops for us tonight.
I pull up to the curb on Boylston Street and the valet is there
to help Emily out and take my keys. I guide her through the
restaurant, lightly touching the small of her back, already
wishing I could feel more of her.
This might be a long, torturous night.
Im greeted by staff as were ushered back into the private
room. When my hand leaves Emilys back, I instantly feel the
void.
Were seated, napkins gently dropped in our laps. Emily is
looking around the small space with a mix of curiosity and
confusion, and I know why. She thought shed agreed to dinner
with me in a room full of strangers, but no way did I intend to
spend my one evening with her being ogled at by other people. I
want to keep this little treasure to myself for the evening.
They keep this room for me, I tell her. Its small, but I like
it because its private.
You dont like people seeing you eat or something?
Its not that. I often have dinners or luncheons with high-
level international clients, and I dont need those meetings
ending up in the business section of the Boston Herald. Keeping
some things private is essential to my company.
So you can do your hostage takeovers? Emily asks, her eyes
steady and slightly hard on me.
Everyone comes willingly, I reply, enjoying the repartee.
Shes already made me forget my troubles and weve only just
begun.
Ill bet, she says. She shifts in her seat and looks
awkwardly around the room, like she doesnt know what to do
with herself.
Good evening, Mr. Croft, a voice says, and I turn to see Chef
Barton walk through the door. Im so happy to have you here
this evening.
I stand up to shake his hand. Thank you for having us. Id
like you to meet Emily Brown.
Emilys eyes dart between us, and she finally offers her hand.
Youre the chef? Oh, wow, um, nice to meet you.
You as well, Chef Barton says. Welcome to Prime &
Tender. Mr. Croft has been a supporter of ours from the very
beginning. We wouldnt be the success we are without him.
Its all in the genius of your food, Andrew, I say. I sit back
down.
I have some wonderful options for you, he continues. Of
course, the regular menu is available to you, or anything you
desire. But for you both this evening, I recommend either the
roasted lamb with fresh mint sauce or my signature five-spice
seared yellowfin tuna that pairs perfectly with the Provence
ros.
Chef Barton tells us about the other courses and I watch as
Emily takes it all in. She looks a little lost at not having a menu
to look down at, or maybe its the abundance of courses thats
got her thrown. Either way, its charming.
Ill send Rocco in to take care of you for the evening and get
you started with some wine and your first course, Chef Barton
says. Please enjoy your evening. Ill check back with you later.
That wont be necessary, I tell him. Having him come in
now is enough show for Emily. For the rest of the evening, Id
like to have her alone as much as possible.
Once Chef Barton has gone back to the kitchen, Rocco comes
in with wine and our appetizer, which Rocco tells us is a canap
of wild smoked salmon with avocado.
Did you decide on your entrees? he asks. Or would you like
to see the menu? He asks this to Emilyhe knows I always
order whatever Chef Barton recommends.
Youll love the roasted lamb, I say to Emily. Its legendary;
people fly in on private planes just to eat it.
Emily is looking at the canap as if shes not quite sure if she
should eat it or take a photo. Oh, um, she begins, looking
between Rocco and me. What were the choices?
Whatever you want, I tell her. The chef recommends the
lamb. He also has a yellowfin tuna.
Or I could bring you our regular menu, Rocco offers. Its
seasonal, so only the freshest, most readily available foods are
used.

She looks up at Rocco. I think Ill have the yellowfin, please.


Very good, Rocco says before leaving the room.
Do you always eat like this? she asks.
Like what? But of course I know what she means.
She tosses her hands out to her side. Like this! In a private
room. The chef just came out here. I mean, I dont know
anything about the food world but I can take one look at that,
she indicates the canap, and know that this is fan-cy. She
says it like two words, clearly on purpose. Its at once adorable
and sexy.
Its very good, yes, I concede. The best in the city,
actually. But you wouldnt believe what I have to pay that guy to
keep him from going to New York or Paris. It costs a lot to keep
talented people around.
Youre used to getting what you want, arent you?
I shrug. Of course Im used to getting what I want. I work hard
to get it, but I always win. Usually, I say. I hold up my glass,
looking Emily in her eyes. To the Childrens Education Fund.
She raises her glass we touch rims touch.
As we begin the appetizer I realize I need to calm myself
watching Emily take a sip of wine or touch a morsel of food to
her lips might make me explode.
So tell me, Emily says, dusting off her handsthe napkin
is right there in her lap. She leans forward on the table just
enough to push her breasts up a little more. Is it true that you
really dont care about charities like you said?
Averting my eyes, I say, That may have been a slight
exaggeration.
I knew it, Emily says, victorious. Unfortunately, she sits
back in her chair again and I lose that spectacular view. The good
news? I can see more of her bodyat least from the waist up. I
remember the feel of my hand on her back, and realize how
much I want to touch her again.
No one can not care about charities.
I gently wipe my hand on my napkin. Youre right. I care
about the tax advantage they give me.
Youre terrible, she says, looking for a moment like shes
going to throw her own napkin at me. Were you raised to only
care about money?
Yes, I say. And power.
She smiles, thinking Im joking.
I bet you were raised in Beacon Hill and played rugby and
had chef-prepared meals every night.
Pretty close, I say. I was raised to fight but in a custom-
made Italian suit.
Ha, she says. She reaches across the small table and takes
my wrist, tugging it toward her. And this thing, she says,
touching the face of my Rolex. I bet this matters too.
Her fingers so close to my skin make me burn. It matters as
a symbol, I say. A symbol of what Ive achieved.
Let me see this thing, Emily says. Shes not exactly gentle
as she tugs my arm closer to her for a better look. She leans on
the table, that spectacular view back, and inspects the watch.
Was this a gift or did you buy it for yourself?
Bought it myself.
She traces the face, looking at it so closely its as if shes
never seen a watch before. Some lady didnt buy this for you?
My relationships dont exactly go like that.
Emily looks up at me, her fingers lingering on my wrist.
What do you mean? You dont like women buying you gifts?
I try to concentrate on her question, and not the softness of
her fingers on my skin. Its not that, I say. Although I do
prefer to do the buying. But honestly, I dont stay in
relationships long enough for this kind of gift. Or much of
anything else, I almost add.
Come on. I bet you have women lined up around the block
for you.
Emily, I said relationships. Not women.
Oh, she says, blushing slightly. Does that mean that work
is the true love of your life?
Keeping my eyes on her, I say, Maybe.
She holds my gaze, unwilling to back downthat is, until she
does. I would never break first. Her fingers slide away from me,
and she crosses her hands under her armselbows on the table
and allgiving me the view that is going to drive me insane.
Well, she says looking back at the Rolex, it looks
ridiculous.
I laugh out loud. I cant help it. What is it about her that
makes me delighted and furious, that makes me want to run to
her as quickly as I want to run away?
Lets see yours, I say. You probably have something
practical with a thin leather strap.
She immediately moves her arms down into her lap.
I knew it, I laugh. Let me see. I wont tease you.
You wont? she asks, looking at me carefully.
Promise, I say. She slowly moves her hands back onto the
tops of the starched tablecloth. Her fingers and wrists are bare of
any jewelry. A minimalist? I ask. I take her hands in mine as if
Im inspecting them for hidden jewels. I run my thumb over her
palm.
I dont like anything fussy, she says.
You certainly dont need anything extra to make you shine,
I say. How about a delicate diamond bracelet? I wrap my
fingers around her tiny wrist. Youd wear it well.
Do you plan on buying me something? she asks. I thought
you didnt stick around for things like that.
I dont, I say delicately.
So dont tease me, she says. You said you wouldnt.
I realize this is getting a little heavy for me. I release her wrist
and sit back in my seat, putting distance between us. Im
tempted to throw the table aside and wrap her up in my arms.
The small touch of her skin may have only made things worse.
But if one thing is a real boner crusher, its relationship talk.
I wont tease you, I say. Unless you want me to, I want to
add but dont. The main course isnt even here yet, and Im
starting to wonder how much more I can take. I have a sip of the
wine, then chase it with the sparkling water to help keep my wits
about me. With each moment that passeseach look, each
touch, each word out of Emilys perfect lipsI wonder how Ill
ever survive being tempted by her.
Our eyes locked on one another again, neither of us speaking
at least not with wordswhen Rocco comes through the door.
As we go through the coursesan arugula salad with pear, a
roasted corn soup, and a champagne sorbetI find that as
passionate as Emily is about helping others, shes done little to
help herself in terms of a social life.
Thats one thing we have in common, I tell her. Work
always comes first.
I spend so much time studying, not to mention working
part-time at CEF, that I hardly have time for anything else aside
from the occasional happy hour and grub at Mickeys Tavern,
she says.
Its ridiculous, but Im glad she doesnt mention a guyaside
from her brother and father.
This is the most out Ive been in, God, she says, thinking.
I dont even want to say. I had to really dig in the back of my
closet to find this thing.
She gestures down at the gold dress, which fits her so
perfectly despite the fact that I find myself wanting to rip it off
her body.
When the entres arrive, Im happy for the distraction.
Rocco sets our dinner plates in front us, pieces of art, really.
The rich aroma of the lamb warms me, and Emilys five-spice
seared yellowfin tuna is a plate of vibrant colors and beauty.
Once the new wines are servedincluding the ros for Emily
Rocco makes his exit. We listen as the door clicks shut.
Oh my god, she says after taking her first bite. Jackson,
this is incredible.
I smile. Of course it is. I only go in for the best. When I heard
talk of Chef Barton opening his own restaurant I knew I had to
get on board if for no other reason than to dine here whenever I
wanted.
You have to taste this, she says.
Ive had it, I say. I know how good it is. You enjoy it.
She takes another bite and closes her eyes as she chews. I
almost drop my fork as I watch the pure pleasure on her face as
she slowly works her jaw, savoring each taste. She opens her
eyes as if waking from a dream, swallowing the bite. Here, she
says, nudging her plate toward me. You have to have some. Its
the most amazing thing Ive ever had in my mouth.
Christ, shes killing me and she has no idea. Absolutely none.
Ill taste yours if you taste mine, I say. You first. I cut off
a small piece of meat for her. Emily leans forward in her seat,
her breasts coming dangerously close dipping into the sauce on
her plate. Without a word, she drops her mouth open and waits
for me to feed her, her eyes locked on mine. I move the fork
toward her mouth, and her tongue slips out the smallest bit to
capture the food. She wraps her lips around the fork and gently
tugs back. I think I might explode right here at the table.
Mmm, she moans as she chews, her eyes falling shut again.
Amazing. I cant move while I watch her. Never in my life has
a woman had me so charged up, and over dinner. Your turn.
She fills her fork and leans toward me again, her eyes on my lips.
The fork hovers there for a moment, but I cant take my eyes off
her. Here.
Put it down, I say, and I hear the scratchiness in my voice
as if Im choking on want.
You dont want to taste?
God, is she this innocent, or is she messing with me? I cant
tell, but its making me crazy just the same.
I stand up from the table and stride across the room to the
door. I lock it. When I look back at Emily shes still holding that
damn fork but her mouth has fallen slightly open. I walk back to
the table. I run my fingers over her jaw.
Emily, I say. I definitely want to taste.
Emily
J ackson moves his hand to the back of my neck and pulls me
toward him. His face moves toward mine, his lips parted and
eyes focused on my mouth. Im watching it happen, frozen in my
chair, not breathing, heart stopped. Hes been open one moment
and cold the next, leaving me wondering whats going on in that
gorgeous head of his. Now I know. Hes going to kiss me, and
that means I am floating in a dream.
His lips touch mine softly, as if testing to see my reaction. I
press my lips back, showing him that I want it too. His lips move
over mine, feeling me, as one hand kneads over the back of my
neck, gently pulling me closer to him. His other hand softly
touches my face. I press into his lips until his tongue pushes
through, seeking my own tongue and tasting me, exploring me. I
give him back as much as I can but no one has ever kissed me
with so much urgency its almost messy, and delightfully so. It
makes me lightheaded and Im glad Im sitting down, my hands
resting in my lap as if Im paralyzed which, in a way I am.
Jackson Croft has me powerless to move my own body.
When he pulls away I almost fall forward. Im looking up at
him, still standing above me, and my eyes catch whats right in
front of my facethe evidence of how excited Jackson is.
By me.
It hardly seems real. This guy is my exact opposite but the
way hes looking at me now is the sexist way anyone has ever
looked at me in my life. Not just like he wants me, but like he
needs me in order to keep breathing.
Jackson sits back down in his chair and I realize the moment
is over. I want more but at least Ill leave tonight having had the
most passionate kiss of my life.
Jacksons eyes never leave mine, and his gaze is so
penetrating that it still has me grounded to my seat. My breaths
come in deep in slow as I try to gather my thoughts, bring myself
back to reality.
Emily, Jackson says, come here. Without thought I
somehow stand up and move closer to him. Sit down. I look to
his lapbuzzing in my stomach flutters up knowing whats
happening in those tailored pantsand begin to sit, legs
together and one arm around his back. But he stops me with his
hand on my hip. No. Face me.
He wants me to straddle him? In here? I look toward the door,
knowing he locked it but still. What if Rocco or Chef Barton try to
come back in to clear our plates or offer us dessert?
Dont worry about that, he says, watching me. No one will
bother us. Now sit.
My face is heating up like Im standing in front of the sun and
frankly my knees may not be able to hold me much longer. But
still
My skirt, I say, tugging it down like an awkward schoolgirl.
Itsit wont I dont know what Im trying to say. If I were
wearing a flowing skirt or pants it would be different, but to
straddle him, in a restaurant, in this skirt, its like the skirt is
the one thing holding me back. Like its one thing too many, one
extra thing Ive never done.
Emily, Jackson says again, and every time he says my name
its a soft but firm command. His hands slid up the side of my
thighs to my hips. There at the top, he tugs up the fabric ever so
slightly. Im not going to tell you again.
The truth is, it gives and stretches easily. And I want him. I
want to do whatever he asks, without thought, without care of
who he is or what kind of person he is. So I place one leg on the
side of him then drape the other on the opposite side, all the
while his hands are resting on my hips, not pressing, not
guiding, just letting me feel him on me.
Down, he says, his eyes watching mine.
I lower myself onto his lap, spreading my leg out as I push my
hips forward. Jacksons hands move toward the back, cupping
my ass as he pulls me up on him. I gasp, not only at how hard he
is but how big, so big, more than I can probably handle but so
tantalizing and right under my soaking panties.
You dont even know, he says, his hand touching my face,
how sexy you are. His lips softly touch mine. You dont know
what youre doing to me.
I think I have an idea, I say, and I grind my hips down on
his big hard dick as he lets out a groan, burying his face in my
neck. His kisses my neck, softly at first and then quickly, with
urgency. My head falls back as his tongue teases my skin, the
eager sensations coming at me all over my body. I move my hips
into him, feeling his dick like titanium beneath me, and each
time I move he uses his hand on my waist to jerk me into him,
harder and harder each time. I wrap my arms around his neck to
hold on, my fingers gathering his thick hair above the base of his
neck.
His hand moves up to my back and he pulls my chest into
him, our bodies still thrusting into each other, the slickness of
my pussy riding him through all that fabric. My breasts are
pushed up to the top of his chest, just below his chin, and it
doesnt take him long to see the proximity of that.
He pulls down the shoulder of my dress just so its hanging on
the side of my arm. He looks down at my breasts, rising and
falling with my intense breathing from so much touching, so
fast. You are unbelievable, he mutters as he runs his hand
across the top of my chest, an inch from my breast. I arch my
back, eager for the touch thats so close I can feel his breath on
me. I want him to pull down the fabric of my dress, free my
breasts so that he can take them up in his hands and, God, his
mouth. But he wont give me more. Instead he lets his fingertips
drift back and forth, one finger barely drifting into my cleavage. I
arch up into him again, desperate.
Please, I say, the word coming out of me in a breath.
Jackson, please touch me. I grind my hips down into him again
to show him how much my body needs him. I press my hands
into the back of his neck, showing him, guiding him. But Jackson
doesnt take orders. He moves his hand away from my chest and
down onto my bare thigh.
He runs his hand up my burning skin, his thick fingers
pressing into me as we continue to grind into each other,
desperate to find some relief. Apparently hes unwilling to give
it, at least not yet. I dont know how far he intends to take this,
but my body is acting out of its own need and I have no desire to
slow it down, especially when Jacksons hand slides up under my
dress and squeezes my ass. Our breathing is heavy, mixed with
one another and I so desperately want to cry out but am fully
aware that theres a restaurant full of people just outside that
door. As we push into each other harder, Jackson puts both
hands on my ass, under my dress, on my bare skin and yanks me
up on him, grunting softly as he does. His hands pull my butt
cheeks apart, the lips of my pussy throbbing even more as they
too widen over his steel-hard cock. I bite down on my lip to keep
from screaming out from the pleasure thats all over my body,
and the intense ache that it needs more. I need more. And
apparently Jackson does too.
His hands stay where they are and he stretches his lips up to
mine and our mouths crash together, tongues desperately
deepening into one anothers mouth to get more out of each
other. No man has ever made me feel more passionate and full of
need than Jackson Croft, right in this moment.
My arms pull him into me, my breasts still frantic for him to
take hold of my breasts. Finally he cant wait anymore and, with
our mouths still melded together, he yanks the dangling sleeve
down further until my nipple is just exposed.
He takes me in his hand, holding and pressing into me, so
good that I want to cry his name. A little weep escapes my throat
and goes into his mouth where are tongues are slipping every
which way, feeling everything.
When he pulls away from me I want to yank him back, but
that capable mouth of his is finally on my tit, covering my
exposed nipple. He sucks and pulls on it as I hug his head to my
chest, rocking into him and still trying not scream out. His teeth
tug on my hard nipple before his tongue quickly laps over it
again. I cant believe its possible to make me any wetter but he
manages, taunting and teasing me until I feel like I cant take it
anymore.
And then he goes even further.
With his mouth still on me, his hand moves down my
stomach, over my hip and across my thigh. He moves up my
inner thigh while working his tongue over my nipple, and runs
his hand over my crotch.
God I can feel through you, he says, slowly rubbing his
fingers back and forth. I can feel how wet you are. Youre
fucking soaking.
Im already flush from the heat of him, from the burning he
makes me feel, but those words of his make me blush in a way
that has nothing to do his touch. Its crazy that Im not at all shy
about grinding down on his dick, but knowing he knows how wet
hes made me suddenly makes me feel timid.
Ive made you this wet, he says, rubbing his fingers across
the thin fabric. He pauses to circle my hard nub with the tip of
his middle finger. Didnt I?
My eyes are closed to the sound of his voice and the feel of his
hands. Yes, I say.
You came storming into my office all self-righteous. Now
look at you, he says, continuing his gentle rubbing. Youre
desperate for me. Your pussy wants me. I did this to you. Tell me
I did.
Yes. You did this, I say, wondering what more he wants of
me. Hes got me. Please.
Please what?
What? I dont know. My head is swimming. All I know is that I
want. Im greedy and I want more and more and more. The words
hes saying are true but no man has ever spoken to me like this
and it has me shy and hot at the same time. I like it, but I cant
do it.
Tell me what you want.
You, I say. I cant open my eyes. I cant look at him.
More. More of his hands. More of his mouth. More of his
tongue. I want his dick inside mesuddenly its all I can picture,
but I certainly did not agree to go out on this one dinner with
him to have sex.
Ive never gone this far on a first date and frankly I cant
remember the last date I went on. In all my spinning thoughts, a
tiny part of my brain that isnt drowning in endorphins reminds
me that this is not a date. I dont know what this is, but my body
aches for more and more.
Be specific, Emily, Jackson says, teasing me with my name.
Do you want more of me here? His fingers drift over the
roundness of my breasts, grazing my nipple.
Yes, I say, because yes it feels so good.
Or do you want more of me here? He moves back to my
throbbing pussy, making me want to cry.
Yes!
No, he says. He moves his hands to my hips, no longer
touching my skin. They rest there comfortably but suddenly
feeling so far away from me. I slowly open my eyes. Wont he
give me anymore?
Please. Its the only word I can manage, and the only word I
need to speak.
The way he looks at me is beyond hungry. Its an animal need.
I told you I always get my way. And I told you I wanted to taste
you.
Before I can react, in one swift motion he has lifted me up by
my waist and set me directly on the dinner table. He shoves back
the plates and Im sure the clanking of the china is going to
make the staff come busting down the door.
My legs are still spread open, my skirt hiked up to the top of
my thighs. Im panting as I watch Jackson pull up his chair and
sit before me, perched up on the table. He runs his hand up my
stomach, over the center of my heaving breasts and to my
clavicle, where he gently pushes me back.
Lean back, he orders. On your arms. I go back on my
forearms. His hands push up the remaining bit of privacy and he
looks at my panties like hes found the treasure.
Please, I beg once again.
Please what?
Please take them off.
A smirk comes up on his face. With his eyes locked on mine,
he lifts my leg from beneath the knee and begins kissing the
inside of my thigh, his tongue dancing over my skin as he goes.
The higher he gets, the more I squirm, scooting down lower on
the table to get myself to him, to his mouth and his tongue and
all the pleasure I know is waiting for me.
Jackson
He takes hold of the sides of my panties and rips them down,
forcing me to temporarily close my legs so that he can get them
off me. Soon he has me back in place, right where he wants me.
He pushes my dress up again and stares down at me as he
breathes heavily, hungrily. When he moves forward he doesnt
go slowly. His tongue is on me like a bee to the flower, licking up
my throbbing walls. He flicks his tongue over my clit several
times, making me sure Im going to lose my mind. He has me
panting, gasping for air. He pulls me closer to his mouth his
tongue working over me as it throbs and pulses and I know Im
nearing the release. I have to see him.
I look down at Jackson, buried between my thighs, and I cant
believe this is happening. Hes beyond sexy, beyond amazing. It
doesnt even come closeno man has ever come close to
making me feel this way.
I reach down for him, my hand brushing back his thick hair,
wanting to touch him. Hes doing everything right but I realize
Im pulling him even closer to me, pushing his head more into
my pussy, and for a moment Im afraid hell stop and tell me he
doesnt like to be told what to do. Instead, his eyes open and he
looks up at me. He slows only for a moment, and then his tongue
picks up again, devouring me, working over my clit like nothing
Ive ever felt before.
God, Jackson, I moan.
My breaths become shorter, my vision starts to tunnel, and as
I watch Jackson take over my pussy, his eyes locked on mine, I
explode. My hips buck and he grasps my thighs, keeping his
mouth in place as I ride out the orgasm, squeezing my eyes to all
other sensations. I somehow manage to stifle the screams and
moans that want to escape.
I can hear Jackson moving, but I still need a moment. I think I
may have lost consciousness for a moment. I feel Jackson move
my knees back together, then cover my legs with soft kisses.
That was I begin.
intense, he finishes. We both manage to laugh.
He helps me off the table and places the strap of my dress
back on my shoulder as I tug down the skirt. I can hardly look at
him but when I do, for just a quick moment, it feels warm and
sweet.
I just want to say, for the record, that I have never done
anything like that in my life, I tell him, once Ive gotten myself
dressed and back in my chair. I let my hair fall in my face, unable
to look at him. That was justcrazy.
Jackson reaches over and tucks my hair behind my ear. He
lifts my chin so that Ill look at him. Youre beautiful, he says,
and something in his eyes and the tone of his voice makes me
feel like its more than just a line hes using on me.
But then again, maybe thats why hes so seductivehe
makes everything seem real, convincing, believable.
Does he mean any of it?
He walks back over to the door. He puts his fingers to his lips.
Shhh
I cant help but grin as he unlocks the door then hustles back
to the table like a naughty schoolboy trying not to get caught.
Moments later the door opens and Rocco and another waiter
arrive to clear away our dishes and present us with dessert. We
all act like nothing out of the ordinary happened.
And it was so incredible, so unbelievable, I could almost
convince myself that I made it all up, that I blacked out from the
wine and had an intense, erotic dream. But then Jackson reaches
under the table and clasps my hand and I realizeits real. I
didnt even have to dream it.
Jackson
T hat was not how I intended the night to go.
That was bad.
Well, it was fucking amazing. The hottest sexual experience
Ive ever had in my life. But its bad because now Im hooked on
Emily Brown and I dont like to be addicted to anything.
I need my wits about me now more than ever, and all Emily
does is make me lose my mind.
Is it possible that shes everything you never knew you
wanted?
The question hangs in my mind for a brief moment before I
shake it off.
No. I cant allow myself to become weak, thinking that way.
My father taught me all too well that emotions make you
irrational and easy to beat.
Still. Maybe she is a good candidate to help me get what I
want with the business. At first, I was convinced that she would
just be an itch to scratch, but now Im wondering if I can have my
cake and eat it too.
Scratch that itch again and again, while also satisfying the
ridiculous stipulation my father inserted in his will. Dads final,
cruel joke, has forced me and my brothers into yet another
competition over what I know is rightfully mine.
But now I have to get my head back in the game because I
have some briefs to go over before the video conference call with
my brothers tomorrow. Theyre doing the exact same thing
tonight in New York and Los Angeles, and I cant let the sexiness
of tonights dinner slow me down in my preparations for battle.
In fact, I shouldnt have gone out tonight at all. I should have
spent all evening in my study.
I cant make this mistake again.
The thing isits not just that Emily is sexy, although damn
she is. Its that she hooks into me in a way that no one ever has
before. Shes got me second-guessing my watch, for Christs
sake, which costs more than most peoples cars. Its a classic.
Still, back at my brownstone I smile as I take it off and toss
the watch into the velvet-lined drawer with all my others. I
think of her fingers touching my skin, and how she felt when I
held her tiny wrist.
How she tastedlike honey, only sweeter.
The way her legs were open, the way she smelled, the
shivering of her skin as I touched it. And just like that, Im rock
hard once more.
I look at my phone, her number already secured in it, thanks
to Sandras quick administrative skills.
Maybe I could call her, find some excuse to see her again. I
could send a car to bring her here right now and we could finish
what we started in the restaurant.
I shake my head. This is exactly the problem. When I should
be working, Im thinking about how I can get Emily here next to
me.
I undress and change into flannel pants and a cotton shirt. In
my office on the second floor, I open up my computer and start
reviewing the agenda for the meeting and try to suss out what
Rex and Miles will each fight me on, because there is always a
fight. Our father called it competition but really its all-out war.
Dear old Dad loved nothing more than pitting brother against
brother, even when it came to dinner. Hed purposely have the
cook set out too few pieces of meat or not enough of our favorite
sides just so he could watch us fight over it.
When Mother tried to give us some of her food hed rail
against her too.
I know people think I had this job handed to me by good old-
fashioned nepotism but my father raised us to believe that if we
werent competing, we were wasting space. It was nonstop,
never ending, but its the only way I know.
Ive never bothered with relationshipsI spend time with
women, of course, but usually more of a one-night stand variety.
I dont have time for dating bullshit and honestly I dont want
someone who is around all the time. Marriage is a burden of
worrying about what someone else wants and needs and expects
from me. Pretty much my nightmare. I just want to be left alone
to work.
I give it a go for about twenty minutes, pretending to read
contracts and proposals and make sure all my documents and
points are ready for tomorrow but really, Im just looking at
these things. Im not absorbing anything. Its a waste of time so
I head to bed with the intent to skip my regular six a.m. workout
and get to the office even earlier than usual.
But its still no use. I cant stop thinking about Emily.
I feel like I could replay the dinner in my mind for the rest of
my life. Emily took me by complete surprise, which I suppose is
why I had to take her.
As I lay in bed, I mentally undress Emily, taking her dress all
the way off, seeing her completely naked before me.
I liked teasing her but right before I tasted her I wasnt trying
to tease her. I was thinking that if I went through with it, if I had
a taste of her, I might not be able to go back. When my name
came whimpering out of her mouth, I was done. She already had
so much power over me, and Id gone further with her than I
ever planned. I realize now that the moment I saw her in that
dress, her perfect body filling it out and those gorgeous eyes of
hers, I was a goner. Nothing could have saved me.
As I finally fall asleep, I vow to myself to get my shit together
the second I wake up in the morning.

***

So the golden boy didnt get the job, my brother Rex says over
the video screen. He leans back in his chair in Los Angeles and
rests his head back on his hands and laughs. The bastard actually
laughs.
Dont be a dick, Miles scolds, but he doesnt mean it. Miles
is enjoying this as much if not more than Rex. Really. The poor
son of a bitch thought he had the job locked down and now hes
just like us.
Yeah, we send our condolences to the heir apparent, Rex
says. The contempt cant be kept from his 25-year-old face. Hes
the youngest, and the biggest smartass. And youve treated us
our whole lives like we were working for you, like you were
higher than us. The arrogance on you is legendary, brother. Now
were all on the same shit-level playing field. Miles and I have
just as good of a chance of taking over Croft International as your
sorry ass does.
Look, can we just focus on the business at hand? I say,
desperately trying to keep all emotion from my face.
These calls are always bad enough.
When our father passed recently, we had all expected that I
would take the reins of this company as president and CEO of all
of Croft International, across all operations and platforms. That
would have made me the big boss to my little brothers Miles and
Rex.
Its what Ive been told my entire lifewhen Father passed,
the company would become mine, the eldest.
But Edward Croft was a ruthless man, in business and in life.
In his will he changed the rules. He deemed all three of us a
disappointment because none of us has settled down and
become family mena key ingredient he felt was necessary to
running a corporation.
So in his will he decreed that the first of us to marry will
become the true president and CEO.
Father was not a great family man, but he made himself look
the part. Around the time he expanded his business from luxury
hotels to resort destinations, our mother, always quiet and
proper, packed up her monogrammed Louis Vuitton cases and
moved to Monaco.
I was ten.
The last time I saw her was for my college graduation. She
flew in for the ceremony, but Father insisted we accompany him
to a wedding for the daughter of the U.S. senator to Vermont.
He wanted to present me to all the bigwigs at the wedding as
if it were my coming out into the family business. Mom and I did
our Croft duties all night, shaking hands, being proper, and not
having more than two glasses of champagne during the entire
seven-hour evening. Mother flew back the next afternoon on a
company jet. That was my graduation celebration, and the last
time I saw her.
The new terms of his will is just one final middle finger to the
three sonsbut most of all me.
Nobody sacrificed more than I did for this damn business.
I keep my voice calm, but in reality Id like to punch through
the window of my thirty-second floor office. My brothers faces
are vivid on the screens before me, and the glee in their eyes is
undeniable. My brothers and I are never a team, but when we
have these calls we have to pretend to come together for the
good of the company.
Well, thats enough chit chat, Miles says, breaking me from
my reverie. Jackson, where are the reports you were supposed
to send us?
For a moment I dont say anything.
Hello? The quarterly reports for the Madrid properties?
Yeah, I didnt get them either, Rex adds.
I fumble through the files on my computer. I did look at it last
night. I thought Id sent it. Or had I meant to look at it one more
time early this morning before sending?
I have it, I just needed to confirm a couple of numbers, I
say.
Somebody didnt do his homework, Rex chides.
Jackson, I need that report for my meeting with the
investors at noon, Miles says.
I said I have it, I snap. Im frantically clicking through the
files. I dont get rattled. Its one of the things Father instilled in
usthe ability to roll with the punches (both literal and
figurative). He was known to damage our sporting equipment
before big matches just to see how wed handle the sudden
crisis.
Has finance seen it? Miles asks. Because you know it has
to through them before I can present it here in New York.
Shit, how could I forget that? I should have sent it last night
before I went to dinner with Emily. This is a significant screw up.
Whats wrong with you, Jackson? Miles asks. My meeting
is in two hours. What am I supposed to do?
Frank is going to be pissed, Rex unhelpfully adds. He
hates having his time wasted.
We all do, Miles says. Not to mention it makes me look
like Im slacking on my job. Thanks a lot, Jackson.
I said Id get it to you as soon as I can.
You better hope its in time for my meeting, Miles says.
Will I even have time to review it or are you going to send it two
seconds before the meeting? It starts at noon.
I know what time your meeting starts.
Do you? Miles sits back in his chair, exasperated. God, you
dont care about anyone but yourself. Im so glad Father
amended his will because youd run this company into the
ground.
Watch yourself, Miles, I say. You both can say what you
want about me but dont question my abilities in this company.
Youre proving him right, Rex pipes in. You dont have the
reportbasic stuff, Jackson.
Your entire life youve had this chip on your shoulder,
Miles says. You dont just think youre better than me and Rex,
you think youre better than everyone. And on one of my most
important meetings of the quarter you cant get me what I
need.
Ive contributed more to this company than the two of you
combined, I say, the heat flowing up me faster than I can
possibly contain it. They have no idea the sacrifices Ive made for
the sake of Croft International. Do not question my ability and
do not question my authority.
God, you cant help yourself, Miles says. Selfish and
arrogant as always.
You still cant see it, big brother, Rex says. You have no
authority over us anymore. There was the idea that you would
someday, but that day is over.
I can see the glow of the morning sun behind him, three
hours earlier in Los Angeles, and something about that whole
dawning of a new day gets me. Hes right. Its like my whole
future is down to a foot race between my brothers and me.
Whoever makes it to the altar first, wins.
I cant even stand to look you bastards right now, Rex says.
Is there anything else? Another thing Jackson screwed up or
some more fortune cookie words of wisdom you want to share,
Miles?
Do you have to be a dick every second of the day? Miles
shoots back.
Rex chuckles. What can I say, you bring out the best in me.
Thats it, I tell them, raising my voice. Do I always have to
be the grown up here? Stop acting like children.
Now Miles leans towards the screen. Send me those
reports.
You dont give the orders around here, I warn him. My
temper is flaring up and I feel my emotions starting to give way.
Neither do you, anymore, Miles reminds me. So lets just
agree on one thing: we dont talk to each other again unless
absolutely necessary.
Im good with that, Rex says.
Thats fine, I say. I dont need to see their faces again or
hear their voices. Especially with this new boastful attitude they
have. Well stop these regular video conferences and
communicate only when necessary and only through our
assistants.
Great, Miles says.
Agreed, Rex says.
Thats it then, I say, and with that, I push the button that
ends the conference and erases their smug faces from the room.
I let out a deep breath, collapsing back against my chair. My
brothers and I never get along and these calls are always
continuous, but that was a real shit show. Not only did I drop the
ball on the reports I was supposed to have sent out, but I lost my
cool. A man can only be pushed so much and God knows my
brothers know what buttons to push.
A text pings on my phone. My heart clenches when I see its
from Emily.
Thanks again for last night. Totally amazing on all counts.
I stare at the words for a moment, Emilys face floating
through my mind. My instinct has been to get back to her as
quickly as possible. Drop everything and have her by my side.
She has my mind spinningspinning so much that even after
just one night Im already slipping on the job.
What would happen if I actually dated her seriously or, God
forbid, married her? Even though I can see it, that stupid,
childish institution of marriage with Emily Brown, I shake it
from my head. If I do what Fathers will asks and marry to keep
the company, I need someone who doesnt make me screw up on
the job. Emily wouldnt help me with the companyshe could
only hurt me.
How ironic that the one woman Ive found who stands out
from the rest is the exact woman I know I cant afford to get
wrapped up with.
No distractionsnot now, not ever.
But especially not now.
I look back at the text, sitting there on my phone. I picture
Emily at the other end of that text, waiting for me to reply,
probably excited and nervous, wondering what Ill say and when
well see each other again.
No, I cant have that. I cant spend time with these flirting
games, texting each other on the sly in meetings and planning
fun outings. I
have a job to do, and now its two-fold: keep my end of the
business running smoothly like I always have, and find a way to
beat my brothers to the top of this company.
What I need is a woman whos already used to my lifestyle
someone refined, elegant, someone who understands social
etiquette and doesnt get excited by little things like a private
dining room.
Someone who dresses the part, speaks the part, a blue blood
through and through.
I need someone like the girls I grew up with, the ones I met at
the socials when wed bus over to Dana Hall, the girls boarding
school not far from my own. They were beautiful, well spoken,
had hobbies like equestrian, and were basically being groomed
for a life of social galas and luncheons. Its a life wed both
understand.
Theres an empty tightening in my gut, imagining myself
pursuing such a woman. They are all the samethey are all Ive
ever knownand they bore me.
But Emily is a risk.
I do not respond to Emilys text. I know its better this way.
Emily doesnt need someone like meselfish and arrogant,
just like my brothers said. She needs someone good and giving,
someone more like her. How could we possibly work together as
a couple, especially long term? Shes already more to me than
the things we did last nightthe good in her goes so deep, and
Id only ruin that in her.
Yes, this is for the best. I just have to keep telling myself that,
and hope someday I actually start believing it.
Emily
A nd dont forget, the paper is due a week from today so if you
need any help or have questions about it, make an appointment
during my office hours, Brent, the TA for my class says as he
wraps up. Professor Stanwick is a real stickler for anything late,
or any excuses so make sure youre on it and if not, well, thats
what Im here for. Okay, thats it for today.
Its been another long day that began with work at CEF,
transitioned into classes at school, and will end with me working
on this paper. Brent Fuller is a good and fair teaching assistant
and his knowledge of School Law is ridiculously intense,
especially for someone who is only in his late twenties. More
than once Ive holed in his office as he helped me understand the
tricky legal aspects of school policy.
Emily, Brent calls before I head out the door. He nods me
over to him. How are you holding up? he asks once Ive made
my way through the exiting students.
Fine, I say, curious. Why?
He shrugs. You just seem a little distracted, thats all. Or
maybe my lecture was just boring you?
No, its not that, I say quickly.
He grins. Im kidding. I mean, I hope the lecture wasnt too
boring
No, really, I say. Its not you, its me. I stop and shake
my head at the odd, clich statement. I just mean, yeah, I was a
little zoned out today but it had nothing to do with your lecture.
Im just tired. Thats all.
Lie, lie, lie. I am not tired. In fact, lately I cant even sleep.
Jackson Croft floats in my mind every night, every day, every
freaking waking moment since that night at the restaurantand
especially since I havent heard a peep from him since.
Okay, Brent says, grinning. Id hate to think you werent
utterly fascinated by recent developments in school law.
I smile because hes being nice. Thats what Brent is, a nice
guy. A nice smart guy. A nice smart guy who tucks his T-shirts
into his pants. Hes totally inoffensive, void of controversy. Plus,
hes a good T.A. Professor Stanwick is a bit dry and clinical in his
lectures but at least Brent brings some enthusiasmas much as
you can bring to a class like this.
Ill have my head back in the game by next class. I promise.
And what a pretty head it is, he says, and Im a little
shocked. He quickly realizes the flattering statement because he
turns red and say, Geez, Im so sorry. It just came out. I didnt
mean for it to.
Its okay, I say. Poor guy is really squirming. And, well,
thank you.
Brent takes a deep breath and says, Anyway, if you need any
help just come see me in my office. Doesnt have to be during
regular hours. Im locked in there most of the time anyway,
working on my thesis or grading work for Professor Stanwick.
You have my number right? Because you can call me any time.
Yeah, I have it. It was on the syllabus.
Here, let me give you my cell number too, just in case.
Before I can objectits really not necessaryhe scribbles his
number down and tears off the paper, handing me the scrap.
There you go. I look forward to seeing youand your head
back in class next week.
I laugh. Thanks, Brent.
Hes not wrong. My head has not been in the game. Ever since
that dinner. Im either totally focused and throwing myself into
my work, or spacing out at odd moments, like during Brents
lecture today which, on a normal day, I would have found
interesting.
Last week I was in a meeting at CEF, my mind drifting back to
the dinner as it too often does, and Jules asked me a question.
My response? Prime & Tender.
Um, what? Jules had said. I think thats a little out of our
price range.
Wait. What? Id asked, confused and embarrassed.
I asked if you knew what menu Beatrice chose for the
upcoming luncheon? I think the hotel caters it, right?
Yeah, sorry, Id said, then fumbled through my notes to fill
Jules and the rest of the development staff in on what Beatrice,
who was home with her sick daughter, had chosen for the menu.
Damn that Jackson Croft. I mean, really. When I first met
him, I had him pegged. Arrogant prick, those were the only
words that came to my mind and God, I was right. First
impressions are usually the right impressions. But then I let him
pull me in with a fancy dinner and some serious tongue action to
get me
Oh, God. I think of that tongue and I lose all other thought. I
think of that tongue and what it did to me, and I just want to
melt again. He was so beyond the realm of sexy, something
completely foreign to my universe, but that doesnt change the
fact that hes a complete jerk for dropping me like he did. He
made a big deal about taking me out to dinner, that fancy, flashy,
unnecessary dinner, and more, and then he drives me home and
thats it forever.
Transaction complete.
Which should be fine with me. I dont want him, definitely
dont need him. I just feel like an idiot for sending him that text
the next day. It was a brief moment of weakness. Not that Ill
ever see him again to tell him. I wrestled with the idea of
sending it to him for a good twenty minutes.
If Id talked it over with someone, like my little sister Sabrina,
I would have had some sense talked into me. Sabrina may only
be twenty-one but shes had more guy experience than I have.
Although, to be fair, most high school freshman have more
dating experience than I do
Which is all beside the point. The point is, I wish Jackson
Croft would exit my brain immediately and never come back.
Eviction notice posted.
Finally its the weekend and Im in my studio apartment
working on the paper for Professor Stanwick. Trying to work. Its
due on Monday and I have a good ways to go. Ill be here all
weekend workingnot that I have other plans to worry about.
My parents have a standing Sunday brunch invitation for me,
Sabrina, and our brother Dax but I wont make it out to
Lexington this weekend. Must stay chained to desk.
As I shuffle through my notes on my desk, a scrap of paper
flutters to the floor. I pick it up and see that its Brents cell
number. Next to his name, which is written in airy cursive, is a
little smiley face. I cant imagine a moment in which Jackson
Croft would ever draw a smiley face, for any reason at all. Hed
rather be
I stop myself. Stop thinking about Jackson, I command
myself. There is no more Jackson. There never was a Jackson. He
was just a figment of my imaginationan amazing, gorgeous
and mysterious figment that evaporated once night became day.
Brent is definitely more my speed. I can totally picture him at
Sunday brunch with my family, fitting right in with Mom and
Dad.
Sabrina might make fun of his tucked-in T-shirts, but shed
also give him props for his quick intelligence and Mom and Dad
would love him for his vast knowledge of the workings of non-
profits.
Hes cute, in an every-man kind of way. Hes the kind of guy
who sunburns easily and has never played a contact sport in his
lifenot that those are bad things. Brents goal in life is to make
positive change to the world, not line the pockets of investors or
build yet another luxury fill-in-the-blank for the superrich like
someone I know. Brent is what most people, including my dad,
would call a good guy.
And whats wrong with being a good guy?
As I look at his cell phone number, I think about calling him.
Should I invite him out for a drink? Or maybe something low
pressure, like a coffee? As Im considering what I should doif
anythingmy phone rings.
For the briefest of a millisecond, I think it might be Jackson
and the feeling of my heartbeat speeding up and the butterflies
in my stomach, hurts. Especially when I see that of course its
not him. Will never be him.
Hi Ems, Natalie from my School Law class says. What are
you up to?
Working on a paper, I say. I push Brents phone number
across my desk.
On a Saturday night? Wow, youre really living it up.
Try not to be jealous, I say. Whats up?
If youre too busy working, I understand, Natalie says. But
Im headed to a party in Cambridge and my roommate just bailed
on me. I wouldnt mind going alone but I dont know anyone and
this guy I really like is going to be there so
So Im your second choice? I tease her. Natalie and I are
more like campus friends. Weve only hung out a couple of times
outside of school, and even that has revolved around studying or
school issues. But I like her. She doesnt take things too
seriously.
Youre my first choice wingman. What do you say? Can you
break away for a couple of hours?
I look back to Brents phone number. Its not Brent I want or
need, just someone. I need a full body and mind rinse from you-
know-who. So I agree to go. Because Im due for a little
breakaway.

***

The party is fine. Its a graduate party, so theres more wine than
beer, more political talk than Hollywood gossip. The food is
better too. And theres a guy. His name is Nick or Mick, Im not
sure.
He tells me the party was a bore until I showed up and that
Im the prettiest one there.
I feel nothing as he compliments me. He asks me to put my
number in his phone, and I doalthough I may have
accidentally-on-purpose typed in the number wrong. Maybe
that was mean but hes so eagermaybe its that eagerness that
turns me off. It smells of desperation. Jackson would never do
that.
He slips into my mind that quickly, without warning, and
without any control. I tell Natalie I want to get another hour of
work done tonight, and the disappointed look she gives me fills
me with guilt.

***

By Monday, Im determined to truly make a change. Be bolder in


my social life.
Brent calls me to stay after class later that week.
Hey, I say at the front of the class. Whats up? You got my
paper, right?
Yeah, I got it, he says. He runs his palms down the front of
his jeans like hes drying them off. Wait, is he sweating? Does he
have sweaty palms? He watches nervously as the students leave
the room, waiting until the last one has gone.
Everything okay? I ask, worried that I accidentally emailed
the wrong document and Professor Stanwick got some random
I dont know what. But Brents anxiety has me nervous.
Yeah, its great, he says. Finally the door to the classroom
shuts and he looks back to me. I know youve been working on
the CEF luncheon later this week.
Yeah, I say. Ive done some mailings and phone calls.
Basic stuff.
You know how the university has partnered with CEF for the
mentoring program? Well, since Im a T.A. I got two tickets. I
guess they feel bad for paying me so little. He laughs nervously.
How about if you go with me? You could give me the insiders
view of what CEFs future programs look, especially in
coordination with the graduate program.
I pause, surprised. Im not sure if hes asking me as his date
or as a colleague. I suppose it doesnt matter. This is what I need.
I need to be social, and being social in a charitable way is right up
my alley. It might be fun to have a good lunch with Brent, talk
about our goals and the future of education. It might also help
me finally dust off the last remnants of Jackson Croft.
Yeah, thatd be great, I say. Id love to.
Great, he says, beaming. Do you want me to pick you up,
or? I dont have a car but I can get a cab
Lets just meet in the lobby and we can walk in together.
Sound good?
Perfect, he says. Awesome, Ill see you then. Cant wait.
As I head home, I feel lighter. Finally, Im getting my head on
straight again.
Jackson
So you grew up here in Boston?
Yes, Louisburg Square, she says. I think her name is
Gwyneth? Genevieve? Yes, Genevieve, thats it. She is slim,
blond, well spoken and well educated. She can taste the
difference between the Malbec wine and the Carmnre.
She dresses with sophisticated ease and, since were on a
date, only the most tasteful amount of cleavage is showing. In
short, shes exactly the kind of woman I need for my future. She
looks the part and wont distract me from my job.
Unfortunately, Im bored out of my mind. Its no fault of
Genevieves, sweet as she is. Perhaps I shouldnt have brought
her to Prime & Tender.
The home has been in our family for generations, she
continues. Itll be passed to me once my children are of school
age.
But first you have to have those children, I say.
Of course, Genevieve says, blushing. And the husband. It
all has to line up.
Thats something I can understand. Im trying so hard to
make myself feel something. This woman is everything I need,
and shes practically telling me that Im what she needs as well.
An arrangement like thisboth of us getting exactly what we
requireis pretty common.
Love isnt what matters, its the union that counts. Our two
families coming together would be the biggest thing to happen
in New England society since my father married Sylvia Cornwell
of the Connecticut Cornwells.
But my eyes keep drifting over to the closed door that leads to
the private room. I keep seeing Emily, her eyes looking into mine
as she came on my mouth. I can feel her flesh beneath my
hands, holding her tighter, my fingers digging into her skin as
she muffled the cry shed been desperate to release as her hips
jerked. I tried to hold her down, riding out her orgasm and
keeping my tongue working over her pumping clit until the very
last drop. The way she said my name like a moan of
desperation
Jackson?
My eyes refocus, and I see Genevieve looking at me curiously.
Without realizing it, Im biting my knuckles.
Are you okay? she asks.
Yes, I say, placing my hand on the table.
I was just saying I have ballet tickets for the upcoming
performance. Id love for you to be my guest.
Of course, I say without thought. Yes, Id love to. I shift
in my chair, my dick hardening from the memory of Emily. I
focus on the duck confit in front of me and listen to Genevieve
talk about her winter ski trip to Klosters in Switzerland.
The evening ends with a respectful kiss on Genevieves cheek,
and I head back to the privacy of my brownstone.
My hand is down my pants the second Im in the bathroom,
leaning on the marble countertop. With my eyes closed I pull on
my dick, feeling Emily on me. I only had one evening with her
and I wonder how long Ill be able to sustain myself on that
alone. The way her mouth opened to mine so readily, her tongue
on mine in the same eager way I felt.
I pump faster when I see her up on that table, her legs spread
open to me, wanting me, her sweet pussy so wet from my kisses
and my touch.
In my mind I want to take my dick and slide it into her
beautiful, eager body. Would I take her slowly or would I not be
able to control myself?
The thought of being inside her, becoming one with that
perfect body, that beautiful woman, is almost too much. My
hand moves faster and faster across my long cock, hardly able to
take the fantasy anymore of Emily as I see her mouth open as
she pants, her head falling back from desire, her hips pushing up
as I take more of her, pushing deeper and harder into her, both
of us moaning and panting as finally we come together. Or rather
I come alone, leaning further onto the counter, jerking my dick.
As Emilys face slowly fades from my mind, I look at myself in
the mirror.
Thats the last time, I tell my reflection. I have to put her
out of my mind, and concentrate on the business.
A few days later Im tossing through a pile of mail on my desk
at the office. Sandra sorts it, opens everything and organizes it
into piles so I can sift through it all quickly and hand back
whatever she needs to deal with.
Im thinking about my upcoming meeting with the head of
security for our hotels when something catches my eye. An
invitation. Sandra has stuck on Post-It on it with the one word
scrawled.
Regrets?
Because she knows I turn down most of the invitations I
receive. Galas, dinners, all the bullshit that comes with being the
face of a huge corporation.
But this one catches my eye when I realize its from the
Childrens Education Fund. Theyd like to recognize me for my
and few others for our contributions to the fund. Sounds like my
hell, being publicly recognized for writing a check at a stuffy,
boring luncheon. Still
If I am to take over Croft International, I suppose I need to do
more things like this, get my face out there at charity events to
show what a caring corporation we are. It certainly wont hurt to
have my picture snapped at an event for the children. Itd look
great in our company newsletter.
After all, I paid that money to themthe least I should do is
make sure I get something out of it for myself.
And then I think of Emily and I know deep inside that I got a
hell of a lot more than I bargained for already
I have Sandra RSVP yes for me, and then get back to work. I
have that meeting with our head of hotel security in fifteen
minutes.
***

As I walk through the lobby of the hotel I keep my eyes focused


straight ahead. I dont look into the faces of the people milling
around the lobby or walking toward the ballroom with me. I
dont care who else is at the luncheonIm only here as the face
of Croft International. This is purely work, and has nothing to do
with a certain grad student and part-time employee of the fund.
Shes probably in classor out tutoring some kid in juvie.
I shake my head and remind myself of my dinner with
Genevieve this evening. Weve kept in touch, and the coolness of
her personality works for me. I dont spend chunks of my day
thinking about her, thats for sure.
Mr. Croft? a young man says as I walk into the ballroom.
Yes?
Hi, Im Derek with the fund. He offers his right hand,
which I shake. Hes holding a binder thats opened to a page I
can clearly see.
Donors is written at the top and the page is filled with color
headshots and short descriptions. I catch sight of my photo from
the company website. Im helping out with the development
team today. Were so happy you could join us. Would you like a
drink? Glass of wine, water?
No, Im fine.
He leads me into a smaller room thats set up with banners of
kids faces and the organizations name and logo. Theres a bar
on either side of the room and two waiters with trays of hors
doeuvres circling the small group of people chatting in clusters.
Must be the high-rollers room.
Id like you to meet Jules, our head of development, Derek
says, presenting me to a woman who had been busy with two
elderly women with no wrinkles or gray hairs.
Mr. Croft, Jules says with a bright smile, offering her hand
to shake. Were so glad you could join us this afternoon. I know
how busy your schedule must be.
Its no problem, I say, my eyes darting about the room.
Happy to be here.
Can we get you something to drink?
No thank you, I say, annoyed to be asked twice. Annoyed to
be here. Why did I agree to this? There is so much work to do
back at the office. This is a complete waste of my time.
We so appreciate your donation, Jules says. And the fact
that you donated it to unrestricted funds really gives us the
opportunity to put the money where its most needed.
I try to force a pleasant smile on my face and concentrate on
Juless words.
Wed love to see if youre interested in working directly with
some of the kids who will benefit from your donation, she
continues. Were doing some wonderful mentoring programs
with Boston Universitys graduate program. Weve been talking
about taking that a step further and starting mentorships with
people like yourself in the corporate world, really show the kids
how the tools theyre learning from our standard programs
actually fit out in the broader context. Its good to show them
that what theyre learning is practical and not just a bunch of
fluff. Dont you think?
Yes, of course, I say, even as I think to myself that it is all
just a bunch of fluff. But Im here and Im being pleasant.
So itd be okay if we reached out to you about the
mentorship?
Shit, what did I just agree to? I have to squash this
immediately. Jules, I love the programs youre working on. Very
innovative, really preparing the future entrepreneurs of
America. My schedule is very tightI had to move several
meetings around in order to attend todays luncheon, which Im
happy to do.
Jules smiles and holds up her hand. Say no more. Im sorry, I
just get rolling when I talk about the fund. Still, if theres
someone at Croft Internationala little lower down the food
chainwho would like to be a mentor to some of our kids, wed
be happy to set that up.
Of course, I say amicably.
Jules looks around the roommaybe for more conversation
since Im not helping her out. I can be good at this sort of
cocktail-party talk, but once again Im off my game.
Oh, look, Jules says, spotting someone in the crowd. Its
Emily. You know Emilyobviously you know Emily. She grins.
Shes the reason youre here, after all.
Excuse me? I say, taken aback by her blatant assumption.
Emily is the one who talked you into donating in the first
place, Jules reminds me, her brow creasing. You wouldnt be
here if it werent for her.
My eyes dart around the room, searching her out. I spot her
across the room, talking pleasantly to two ladies.
How could I forget Emily Brown? I say, watching her. Its
almost as if she can feel my eyes on her. She turns slightly and
our eyes meet. We both freeze for a moment. I can feel my heart
picking up speed. Its the first time Ive seen her in so long, and
the urge to plow my way through the room to reach her is real.
Shes every inch as beautiful as she was at dinner, and in my
fantasies. The hunter green cocktail dress she wears makes her
eyes glow, and the way her lips are parted as she watches me,
makes me swallow hard.
I should call her over, Jules says, raising her hand to get
Emilys attention, but Emily is already looking away from us.
She glances down at the floor as her hair falls in her face.
Shes so pretty butthen someone appears beside her.
Some guy. When he puts his arm around her waist she jumps
slightly but seems to relax when she sees who it is. I feel my
chest tightening and my stomach burning like its filling with
acid.
He says something to her that makes her smile. If Id taken a
glass of wine or water Id crush it in my hand right now.
Jules is still babbling. Emily has really been working hard
in bringing in new donors like yourself. Shes a real asset to the
team
Meanwhile, Emily and this guy begin to move through the
room, together. The anger is rising up through my throat as Jules
goes on and on about Emily. Meanwhile I feel as though Im
about to explode, even if my expression hasnt chanced an iota.
I glance at my watch and tell Jules, You know, Ill just pop
over there quickly and say hello to her, I tell Jules, not wanting
to bother waiting for a second longer.
Emily is so close but shes moving away now, perhaps on
purpose.
I start toward her, politely nudging my way through the crowd
with Jules close at my heels, damn her.
Emily sees me, and theres a panicked look in her eyes. The
closer I get to her the more quickly she moves toward the exit.
Ive got Jules following me and Emily has that guy stalking her.
What is his deal? Why wont he leave her alone?
Emily moves out of the room and is absorbed by the crowd
moving like cows into the ballroom. I slow down.
That was strange, Jules says. I swore she saw us. Lets
head into the ballroom and find your table. She waves off
Emily. Well catch up with her later.
How will I sit through this hell of a luncheon knowing Emily
is in the same room? Sure, the room is probably the size of a
hockey rink but shes here, and I have to speak to her. I dont
know yet what Ill say, but one thing is for sureI havent been
able to get her out of my mind.
And I need to know who the hell that guy is that shes with.
Emily
A re you kidding me?
What is he doing here? I knew it was a possibility but I also
know enough about Jackson Croft to know that charity
luncheons are not his thing.
As soon as I spotted him my heart dropped to the floor, and I
immediately tried to move across the room, getting as far away
from him as possible.
Is he here to torment me? Im finally moving on from the
humiliation of getting dumped by a guy after one dateand it
wasnt even a real date! And he has to show up here, and when
Im with Brent.
Although Im still not sure Im here with Brent, but we
arrived together and are sitting together so as far as Jackson
Croft knows, Im with Brent.
God, I went on one maybe-but-not-really date with Jackson
and now Im on the same with Brent. Im a twenty-three-year-
old grad student at one of the countrys top universities and I
cant figure out when Im on a date with a guy and when were
just eating food at the same table.
Pathetic.
More pathetic still is the fact that Id much rather be on a
maybe kind of date with Jackson, then a definite date with Brent
and I hate that I feel this way.
Brent and I are seated in the back of the room, which is just
fine with me. The further away from Jackson Croft I am, the
better. Only the big donors and top people in CEF will be sitting
with him, up front near the stage for an afternoon of speeches,
photos and back-clapping awards. I take a little solace in
knowing Jackson will be absolutely miserable during the entire
lunch. Wait until he sees the video of the children. Hell really be
miserable.
Brent and I find our table in the back. Its near a pillar that
partially obscures the stage and near the swinging kitchen door
where wait staff is knocking through in rapid pace. Do I care?
Not a bit. Im getting a free meal and distance from the citys
biggest egomaniac.
Brent has pulled my chair out and is waiting for me to sit. I
want to see what table Jackson is at so I know what area to avoid,
but Brent is just standing there, waiting. Its a little annoying but
I smile and sit down, thanking him as I do.
This is nice, Brent says. Its almost like having a private
table.
Its sweet that hes making whats more like an exile into
something positive. I can see Jackson moving around, shaking
hands with Jules by his side. Hes looking around the room and
he better not be looking for me.
Why he would be, I have no idea but I dont want to talk to the
guy. Not today, not everEven though there seems to be a spot
in the center of my chest that throbs every time I so much as
look at him out of the corner of my eye.
Maybe one day after class we could go get lunch for real,
Brent says. Off the clock, you know?
Uh huh, I say, watching the room. We begin eating our
salads, which were already placed at the tables before we came
into the room. Its thin and soggy but I keep moving my fork
from my plate to my mouth with no thought.
Hello, Emily, a voice says above me. That voice. The only
voice I dont want to hear.
The voice I cant forget.
I look up and see him, Jackson, standing behind my chair
looking obnoxiously dapper in his suit and tie, his hair perfectly
combed back. The better to show off that face of his, gorgeous
strong jaw and mesmerizing eyes. Damn him. Hes so annoying.
Hello, Mr. Croft, I say in what I hope to be a sufficiently icy
tone of voice. I hardly look at him, no more than the initial
glance.
He lets out a chuckle. Surely by now you can call me
Jackson, he says. What does that mean, by now? Does he
think because he gave me the best orgasm of my life that means
I have to act familiar with him?
Its been a while. I wanted to talk with you.
Thank you for coming to the event, I say, because there are
a couple other people at the table, and theyre beginning to
watch us curiouslyincluding Brent. Were so happy to have
your support.
Im happy to give it, Jackson says, his voice as cool as ever.
Its maddening. How can he be so steely? Is there nothing inside
his soul? And againwhy is he here? Why is he talking to me?
Looks like a pretty full house. That must make you happy. A big
success for the children and all
Thats it. I cant take it, especially if hes going to start giving
lip service to the actual needy children of Boston. What a
condescending asshole.
I get up from my chair, and jerk my head toward the nearby
pillar and stand on the opposite side of it, away from the prying
eyes and ears of my table.
What is wrong with you? I say.
Emily, Jackson says, pulling back at my dramatic opening.
I wanted to say
Nothing, I snap. You dont get to say anything to me. You
had the chance, the day after that dinner. But what did I get? A
big fat dose of silence.
Its not so simple
Dont you dare give me lame excuses either. I dont care.
Okay? About you or what happened between us or anything. I
start to leave but decide Im not done, turning back to him. You
know what? You cant treat people like that. You think youre so
much better than everyone else and that you have some right to
treat people like crap. Im glad you donated the money but I
regret going out to dinner with you. You were just scamming me
so you could use me up for one night and then discard me. Youre
disgusting, Jackson Croft.
With that, I push past him, getting the hell out of that room. I
am not going to cry, but I might need to scream into a pillow or
something.
I punch through the ballroom door. I go to the end of the
hallway and around the corner, near the elevator for the hotel
offices. I hear the doors of the ballroom click shut and I hope its
not Jackson coming to look for me. Itd be just like him to want
to get in the last word.
So Im surprised when its Brent who rounds the corner,
looking for me.
Hey, he says in a voice that sounds more like hes talking
with a child than an adult. You okay, sweetie? He puts his
hands on my arms and rubs them up and down, as if Im cold.
Im not, Im heated up and wish hed stop. I nudge my arm and
he releases me.
Not particularly, I mumble.
What was that all about back there?
I dont want him to know about my brief history with Jackson
so I just say, It was nothing.
Did he say something to do? Something he shouldnt have?
No, I say. Brent is leaning in so close to me, trying to get
me to look in his eyes but I dont want to. I just need a moment
think. I just thanked him for his donation and then I started to
not feel well so I came out here. It was nothing.
It didnt look like nothing, he says in a gentle voice, like
hes trying to get a frightened cat out from under the bed. I
hope you know that you can tell me if somethings wrong.
Seriously, Brent, I say. It was nothing. I force a smile,
hoping itll be enough for him to back off. Hes wearing cologne,
too much, and the smell is making me feel like Im going to
choke. Lets go back in there. Really. Im better now.
Hey, now, slow down, Brent says. He touches my arms
again, holding them on either side. It is nice and quiet back
here. He tucks my hair behind my ear.
Brent I begin. This is the last thing I need.
Shhh, he says, his breath hitting my face. Hey, its going
to be okay.
I take a deep breath, closing my eyes and truly trying to calm
myself. I feel penned in, trapped.
God, youre gorgeous. He puts his fingertips under my chin
and leans in, his lips aiming for mine.
Hey, wait, I say, pulling back as much as I can when Im
backed against the wall. Brent, come on. I mean, I'm sorry. I
dont meanI mean youre a really nice guy and all.
Dont give me that. I know I'm a nice guy. A really nice guy.
He closes the space between us again and says, I can be a really
nice guy to you in more ways than one.
If thats supposed to be sultry talk then I just cant. I dont
want this from Brent.
Brent, can we just go back to the table? I say. He doesnt
move so I put my hand on his chest to nudge him back but he
grabs my wrist and holds me in place.
Come on, he says. Dont be such a prude. He tries to kiss
me again but I turn my head, his mouth landing on my ear.
Goddamn it, stop it. Come on, relax.
My fight or flight responses are hitting max level. I need to
get away from this guy. What has happened? How did he turn so
quickly?
Im serious, Brent. Let go of me. Part of me wants to
scream, but I dont want to cause a sceneI just want to get the
hell out of here and away from him.
Youve been in my office more than any other student and
now youre going to tell me to let go? Emily, dont be that girl.
He tightens his grip and then pushes his body up against mine,
pinning me to the wall.
Stop it, Brent, I say, the panic in my voice rising.
His face is a tight, angry ball of madness like Ive never seen.
Squirrely little Brent is scaring the hell out of me.
I have the absurd thought that maybe Im misreading him.
And hes my T.A.I could get in trouble or at the very least, he
can make my life in class hell.
But his grip is not loosening and the more I struggle the
tighter he holds and the more frightened I become. Tears are
forming in my eyes because shit I cant believe this is
happening.
I have to get away from him. Why wont he stop?
Let go of her, a deep, ferociously growling voice commands.
I look over and see Jackson, looking as tightly wound as a ships
knot, his hands balled into fists at his side, his eyes blazing
anger at Brent. Dont make me say it again.
Brent steps back slowly, but the look on his face says that
hes nervous. He was not expecting Jackson Croft to appear.
Hey, man. We were having a moment here, if you dont mind.
I do mind, Jackson says, keeping his eyes level on Brent.
And I told you to step away from her. Now.
Brents eyes dart from me to Jackson. He straightens his back
and says, Look. Everythings fine. Why dont you go back inside
and enjoy the lunch?
With long, stalking strides, Jackson moves toward Brent, who
takes a couple of steps back, his palms up in front of him,
bracing for impact. But Jackson doesnt actually lay a finger on
him. He leans in close to Brent and says, If you ever touch or
even bother Emily again, I will not think twice about breaking
every single bone in that wormy little body of yours. Do we
understand each other?
Brent doesnt move. The guy is drained of color and totally
paralyzed by fear.
Jackson shakes his head slightly, then speaks again. Tell me
you understand or theres going to be a real problem.
II understand, Brent stutters.
Good. Now get the hell out of my sight.
Brent immediately starts walking, looking as if his buttocks
are clenched, half waddling, half speed-walking down the hall.
He shoots one nervous glance back at Jackson and then starts
running.
Soon hes gone.
I fall back against the wall and cover my face with my hands.
Holy crap, what just happened?
Emily, Jackson says, his voice now soft. Are you okay? Did
he hurt you?
I shake my head no.
Its okay, Jackson says. His hands lightly touch my
shoulders.
Its not okay, I say.
He drops his hands. Youre right, he says. Its not.
Goddamn it, I say. My hands are shaking, my insides are
boiling, and my brain is scrambled. What the hell was that? I
never evenwhy did he
Its not your fault, he says. And Ill gladly go hunt him
down right now and really take care of him, if youd like.
I shake my head and give a muted laugh. I think you scared
him enough, I say. I try to gather myself by taking a deep
breath. Finally I look up at him. What the hell are you doing
here?
I was invited, he says.
What are you doing to me? I clarify.
Jackson runs his hands through his haira move Im already
seeing as a tick he does when hes thinking. He leans his
shoulder against the wall next to me. My back is still against it
and although hes so close to me, Im not looking at him directly.
I mean, its fine, I say. We had one dinner and that was it.
Youre not legally required to ever speak to me after that. But
why did you have to show up here? Because I know you hate this
stuff and if it really was important to your precious business
then you would have sent someone more junior to do the whole
photo op thing. So why? I look over at him. Why are you doing
this?
Emily. He says my name so softly. He drops his head
against the wall. I cant stop thinking about you.
Finally I do turn my head to look at him. Im shocked he said
these words. Im even more shocked at the tone of his voiceso
unlike him. So vulnerable. So real.
His eyes meet mine, and Ive never seen such sweetness from
a man looking at me. And its Jackson Croft, of all people. The
serial business crusher. He moves his hand as if hes going to
touch me, but stops short. I tried to forget, but its impossible. I
finally realized I couldnt stay away from you any longer. When I
got the invitation, I used it as my chance to see you. I dont know
what youve done to me, he says with a smile, but its deep,
and its bad.
I cant believe hes saying these words. After all this time,
leaving me hanging, he feels the same as I do.
I turn my body to face him. Why did you try to stay away?
Why not just be with me?
Because, he says. My lifethe way I amIm not good for
someone like you. And yet, he smiles, I cant stop wanting to
try.
I cant believe hes saying these things to me. To know that
this man in front of me feels that way about me is shockingand
a totally sexy.
Well, I say, lowering my voice to quiet, soft levels that hes
using. Youre definitely in trouble for what you did.
A grin creeps up on his lips. He takes a small step closer.
Whats my punishment?
Now Im grinning. What did I just start? If he expects me to do
dirty talk I cant possibly. I drop my head, embarrassed.
Jackson moves closer still, slipping his hands around my
waist. He dips his head close and says, Tell me what you want
and Ill do it. When I dont say anything because oh my God I
am blushing so badly he says, Should I kiss you? I nod yes as
my heart pumps wildly in my chest.
His lips meet mine and its like Im home. We kiss slowly at
first, tentative. When his tongue pushes softly into my mouth
its like nothing else matters expect the feel of Jackson. I rest my
hands on his biceps, so firm beneath his elegant suit, and I give
them a squeeze, delighting in how strong he is. I know that
nothing bad can happen when Im in Jacksons arms.
He tugs me closer, our hips pressed up to one another. His
kiss deepens and I do the same, each of us trying to get more and
more of the other. I move my hands up to his shoulders and
neck, then up into his thick hair, digging into it while pressing
his face closer into mine. His hands are roaming all up and down
my back, our bodies mashing up against one another but its still
not enough.
Oh! Excuse me, a voice says.
I quickly move away from Jackson and turn to find Jules, my
boss, standing at the corner having just witnessed Jackson and
me groping each other like horny teenagers.
Jules, oh my gosh, I say because I dont know what to say.
Jules doesnt seem to know either. She just gives me this look
disappointment?and turns on her heel and walks back into
the ballroom.
Oh, great, I say. I feel like my insides have just been frozen,
recalling that look on her face. It was masked, but it was still
obvious disgust.
How unprofessional could I be? Making out at a fancy
fundraiser with a donor? Im seeing shades of prostitution in
that scenario. Im in so much trouble.
Ill talk to her, Jackson says as he rubs my back.
No, thatll make it worse, I say. I dont need you
smoothing anything over. Oh my god. Now I have to go back in
there. My face must look like a mess. Am I all splotchy and red?
I turn for his inspection.
You look absolutely beautiful, he says. Honestly, dont
worry about it. He puts his arms around me again.
So what do you propose we do? I ask. Stay out here and
wait to get caught again?
No. I have a much better idea. He whispers into my ear,
Come home with me.
I smile, pulling back slightly to look at him. You want to take
me to your place?
You make it sound so seedy, he says. Its not a dorm
room. Its a house.
And Ill bet its in Back Bay.
He gives me a look and says, Do you want to come with me
or not?
I know that what I really should do is go back in and try to
repair the damage with Jules. What I really should do is learn
from past mistakes and not be involved with this man.
Hes admitted himself that hes no good for me.
Ive already been hurt once, and Im sure to be hurt again.
But my pulse is already racing as I think about spending more
time with him, tonight, right now. And so I find myself doing the
exact opposite of what my brain says I should do.
I want to come with you, I whisper, and then he takes my
hand and leads me outside.
Jackson
I m kissing Emily in the car on the way to my place on
Marlborough Street. Im kissing her as we walk up the steps of
the brownstone. Im still kissing her when I insert the key and
go through the front door. I kick the door shut and press her up
against the wood-paneled wall and devour her some more. I
justcantgetenough. The way she digs her fingers into my
hair, pulling me into her makes me absolutely insane. But I need
to take her. I need to show her how spectacular she is, how out of
control she makes me feel, and just how much I want her.
If I can get us out of the foyer.
I pull back from her and take her hands. If I could magically
make my bed appear, Id do it but frankly I dont have the
patience to take her up the stairs. Im guiding her into the
formal sitting room off the entrancethere are couches and a
plush rug if it comes to thatbut we still dont make it far.
Jesus Christ, Emily says, her eyes drifting up toward the
curved staircase and dark, high ceilings. This place is huge. I
tug her toward me, covering her neck with kisses to distract her.
I dont want her to see my house. I want her to feel me. Her
hands go back around my neck. Briefly. No, seriously, Jackson.
This is some major old money home.
I pull back and look at her. This is Boston. The houses are
old. This place was built in 1860.
She looks into the sitting room with the modern cream couch
some decorator picked out to help counter the stuffiness of the
homes original details. You have a fireplace? She says this
like its outrageous, like I have a pony in the courtyard.
I have five, I say.
I love watching her walk around in awenot because Im
trying to impress her, although a part of me definitely wants
Emily to be impressed by me, and in every way possible. I love
the way her face lights up, her eyes scanning the room and
catching every new thing. Youd think she just stepped through
the looking glass. I guess maybe for her, she has. Of all the
women Ive brought here, many were impressed with its old-
world charm or its sizeI own two side-by-side brownstones
but none looked at it like they were in the queens palace the way
Emily is.
Will you give me a tour? she asks.
I groan. Yes. But later. I pull her back into my arms, right
where she belongs. Id rather be the one taking a tour. I run
my fingers down her side.
Ha ha, she says, but her eyes are getting that heavy, lustful
look back.
Get back here, I say, pulling her into me again and crushing
her mouth with mine. The taste of her is so sweet and delicate
that its all I need.
Except its not. My body needs to pressed against her hard, be
closer, feel more of her. I want to do everything to her at once,
and the fact that I have to touch and kiss and lick her one place
at a time makes my head spin.
We are panting with passion, our hands clawing all over each
other. Emilys hands run down my chest and I take off my suit
jacket and toss it on the floor.
More, is all Emily says, reaching for my tie. The fire in her
eyes makes her meaning clear. I tug it off as she begins working
the buttons of my shirt, her fingers fumbling in her haste.
Let me, I say, swiftly getting the shirt and undershirt off
and tossing them to the floor with the rest, my gold cufflinks
clanging on chestnut floor. Her hands touch my bare chest,
tracing over the lines of my pecs, studying me as if shes
memorizing every ridge. I chill to her warm touch, restraining
myself for a moment to let her feel me. Waiting is hard because
Im already pushing out of my shoes, ready to take more off.
Emily begins to take off her own shoessexy little black
heels with straps going this way and thatbut I stop her. I dont
want her to have to do anything. I want to touch and feel every
inch of her. I want to care for Emily; thats what she deserves.
I kneel down before her and unbuckle the doll-sized straps of
her shoes, helping her step out of each one as she leans back
against the wall. Her feet are so small and perfect that I hold one
up and kiss it. I cant help myself.
Jackson she says, and hearing the smile in her voice
delights me beyond measure.
I stay kneeled before her, running my hands up her smooth
legs, going just under her skirt enough so that I can hear her
breath quicken. I feel her body across her dress, the shallow
breathing telling me how she feels under my touch.
I cant keep standing, she says, her hands flat against the
wall behind her.
Wait a moment, I say. I want to look at you.
I stand back up, reaching behind her to find the zipper thats
keeping this beautiful body of hers covered. I pull her hair to the
side and kiss the soft insides of her neck, tasting her with my
tongue as I lower the zipper down to her waist. I take her face in
my hands and look at her, her eyes heavy, her lips full and
parted, and I softly kiss her, our tongue mingling in a flawless
dance together. I take the straps of her dress and lower them
down from her arms, pulling away from her lips when the dress
is to her waist. She wiggles her hips a little as I help shimmy it
down to the floor. Then I step back from her and look.
My God, you are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen
in my life.
Stop, she says, but she doesnt cover herself. It would be a
crime to my eyes if she did. I need to drink this in. Her skin is
luminescent. Her breasts rise and fall like an ocean wave, full
and luscious in a black lace bra. Her mismatched panties tell me
she didnt get dressed this morning thinking anyone would see
her naked, and that fact fills me with gratitude. I run my hands
over her rounded hips, down slightly to the part of her Ive had,
the part of her that I taste in my dreams. But I dont fully touch
her there yet. I'm finally getting my time with her, and I intend
to go slow and savor every moment.
Come here, I say, taking her by her hand and leading her
over to the small plush sofa in the sitting room. Ive only used
this room a couple of times for formal aperitifs before equally
formal (and boring) dinners. I sit her down in the center of the
sofa, and before I can make another move she reaches out for my
belt.
You, she says. I love that shes only able to speak in one-
word sentences. She starts to open the buckle, but I stop her. I do
it myself, watching as her eyes stay focused on my body. If shes
going to stand displayed in front of me, I suppose its only fair I
do the same for her. And gladly. The look on her face is pure
appreciation. Knowing Im already giving her such pleasure
makes my dick strain even harder.
My pants are quickly discarded on the floor along with my
socks, and I stand before Emily as she runs her hands over my
stomach and chest, relishing in the feel of her hands on me. Her
hand dances circles around my cock, going from my abs around
my hips to my thighs. Her mouth is open, eager. I take her hand
and rub it over my stiff cock, showing her what shes doing to
my body. Her fingers wrap around the outline of my dick as we
slide our hands together, the slight friction and feel of her hand
on me making my head spin. I could come right now if I let
myself. But Im not even close to being done.
When she moves to the edge of the couch, closer to me, I grip
her hand a little tighter. She looks up at me, and I shake my
head. No. She moves back on the couch. I need to control her,
not to keep her from getting pleasure but to ensure that she gets
all I have to give her.
I put my knees on either side of her, pining her to the spot. I
press my lips to hers, taking her in, getting off on the little
moans that escape from deep inside her. Her hands run over my
skin, enjoying the feel of me as much as I enjoy her touch. I pull
her forward slightly, my next target her bra. With my hand on
the clasp, I ask, Is this okay? I want her to know that, even
though I am in control, she has a say. But I never ask a question I
dont know the answer to.
Yes, she says, her voice hoarse with lust.
I release her full breasts from the confines of that sexy black
bra. How did I manage to only devour one of these perfect tits
that night at the restaurant? I take them in my hands as she
arches her back, offering them up to me. I lick her nipple, her
skin even more tantalizing here, and I once Im here I dont
know how Ill ever stop. I kiss and lick her, then give the same
attention to her other gorgeous breast. She moans clearly now,
loving the feast Im having on her, and that only encourages me
more.
I move to the floor in front of her and watch her eyes as I slid
the last scrap of fabric covering her body. She raises her hips and
I take those little panties down, tossing them aside.
I run my hands over every part of Emily. I feel her stomach,
her breasts, her shoulders and arms. I touch her thighs, all the
way down to her toes, painted some kind of light purple, which
for some reason makes me smile. I kiss her toes, literally kiss
her feet, because at this moment I would do anything for this
woman.
I kiss up her thighs, ready again to take her the way I did at
the restaurant. I could do it a thousand times and it wouldnt be
enough. Kissing my way up her thighs, Emily writhes her hips,
as eager for my tongue as I am to give it to her. I look up at her;
her cheeks are flushed pink. Her breathing is heavy and she
keeps biting her lips. I swear I almost come when her hand
reaches for my head, gently nudging me toward her.
I kiss further inside her thigh, her smell animal and alluring.
She scoots a little further down the couch, eager like she was at
the restaurant, presenting herself to me, giving her sensual
parts over to me. I let out a groan and with no further ado, flick
my tongue over her pussy. Emily immediately responds with
another moan. Her hands are gripping the edge of the couch,
nails digging in. I lick the full length of her sex, savoring it. My
tongue tastes the hardness of her little clit, brushing back and
forth until panting noises come from Emily and her hand is once
again reaching for my head. Just when I think she might come I
change course and let my tongue roam across her slick folds,
tasting all the parts of her.
Oh, God, Jackson, she moans. She has no idea how much
pleasure that gives me. I reward her by slipping my finger inside
her, her juices covering my finger. Those sexy noises of Emilys
pick upshes got her hand over her face as if shes trying to
keep some sort of composure. I work her hole gently at first,
slipping easily in and out. My mouth goes back to work on the
hard little nub of her clit, sucking gently on it while my finger
pumps in and out of her tight little hole. Once shes been
thoroughly worked I add another finger, opening her up even
more, pumping her like I intend to pump my dick in her,
stretching her a little further, a little wider. I push my fingers
deep inside her and hook them at the top, giving her even more
pleasure.
Youre gonna make me come, she pants. God, Jackson.
Stop or Im gonna come.
Her hand tangles back in my hair and she keeps my face
pressed between her thighs. I work double time on my efforts,
lapping at her clit, pumping my fingers inside her, sucking her,
doing everything I can to get her off now that shes so close. Im
rewarded when Emily cries out, bucking her hips into my mouth
as her walls clench, her hand digging in my hair. I ride her out
until shes done.
Oh my God, she says, her eyes closed and her head
dropping to the side. Her body has gone limp. I kiss her thighs,
giving her a minute.
Dont go anywhere, I say, standing up. She doesnt move. I
dont think she could right now if she had to.
I move to one of the hall closets and grab armfuls of plush
blankets and pillows the housekeeper stacks neatly in here, and
which I have no recollection of ever buying. Thats the thing
about having a staffthings just appear, and sometimes at the
best of times.
I lay the blankets on the floor in front of the fireplace and
drop the pillows down as well.
Come here, beauty, I say, helping Emily up and guiding her
to my little bed. Id take her upstairs to my bed but this
somehow seems more intimate. Ive never been with anyone
else in this room.
She lies down and I toss a couple of the blankets over her and
she snuggles down in their warmth. I start a fire, then burrow in
next to her, wrapping her naked body up in my arms. I kiss her
neck, taking in the scent of her skin and hair. She giggles and
lifts her shoulder.
That tickles, she says.
What, you mean this? And I nuzzle in even more until she
squeals and squirms. You werent complaining a moment ago,
all the things I did with my mouth.
She grins. The golden oranges flicker over her face, making
her even more beautiful, if thats possible. I hope your
neighbors didnt hear me. God, Ive never made that kind of
racket before in my life. Youre amazing. She nudges her ass
back into a little; I pull her tighter.
I dont have any neighbors, I say.
What do you mean? Youre on the corner but theres the
brownstone next door.
I own that one too.
God, why am I not surprised? she says. I should have
known you live in a double wide. I laugh along with her. All
that and a fireplace.
I have eight, I tell her.
Youre ridiculous, she says.
So you keep telling me. I kiss her arm, running my finger
over her skin.
Youre in this big double house all by yourself? Not even a
dog?
Not even a goldfish, I say.
After a moment she says, That sounds lonely.
You live alone, I say. Are you lonely?
Sometimes, she admits. But my studio is cozy and I use
every part of it. How many rooms does this place have?
Too many I say. I kiss her arm, preferring to concentrate on
her body than my house.
I bet there are rooms you never even go in.
Probably, I say, continuing my kissing. Definitely.
So why have such a big place?
I stop and look at her. Because I can.
She holds my eyes for a moment. A grin slides across her face
and she looks back to the fire. She nudges her shoulder back at
me, and I go back to my light kisses. Well, I think its
Ridiculous? I say.
Yes, she agrees. Totally.
I dont disagree with her. Being here with her in this big
house, I realize that there is something I want, and something I
need. Emily. I can see her living here with me, helping to fill up
this big house with her light and energy. Maybe wed even get a
dog. I dont want her to leave my arms, let alone my house. It
could work. Emily and I together could work, if shed have me,
apropos of my fathers last demands of who will take over the
company. If I married EmilyGod, I cant believe these thoughts
are running through my mindbut if I married her it would
mean I would get the company. But maybe I dont care about
that. Right now, all I care about it making Emily happy.
Emily
I wake slowly to a hard pressing against my ass. Instinctively, I
push myself back. I know what that is, and I want more of it.
Id fallen asleep in Jacksons arms, warm from the fire and his
body cupping mine. I feel like Im still in a dream as his
hardness, still covered by his boxer briefs, pushes into my bare
ass.
This is a place Id fantasized about beingin Jacksons arms,
his body on mine. Even though its real, I keep my eyes closed,
just in case Im dreaming.
When I feel Jacksons lips nuzzling me deep in my neck, I
know its real. And this time when he kisses me, I dont laugh. In
fact, Im already wet, wondering how its possible to have so
much lust in me. Has it been inside me all these years, just
waiting for the right man with the key to opening me up? I never
thought itd be someone like Jackson, but Im not complaining.
Especially not now as his hands move over my hips, pulling me
closer to him.
He pulls me onto my back and climbs above me. He rubs his
hard dick up against my exposed pussy, pumping me slowly as I
groan. Hes pushing me open, the tip of his covered cock
nudging my hole before teasing my clit.
The fire is warm beside me, but the press of Jacksons body on
top of me sends lightening through my body. I need him inside
me. I cant wait. I push down his boxer briefs, and before I can
even get him in my hand he pauses above me.
Are you sure? he asks. His hair falls over his forehead,
hovering past his brows. I brush it out of his eyes.
Positive, I say.
He strips them off. My breath catches when I take him in my
hand. His cock is huge, a steel-hard giant, so long and thick.
How can I take him inside me? I pull him slowly in my hand,
getting used to the size. He moves his hips with me, his eyes
fallen shut.
I press his long cock against the length of my pussy. Jackson
lowers himself to his forearms and rocks back and forth against
me, soaking his dick in my wetness, so close to entering me but
not going for it yet. His hips and dick press into me as his mouth
and hands work the rest of me. His kisses cover my neck as his
hand rubs my breasts gently as his thumb grazes across my hard
nipple. I arch my back, eager for him to take me in his mouth
again, and he complies, sucking my full tit as his dick works it
way across my clit. I cry out; I need more.
Jackson, I say, my head spinning with all the ways hes
making my body feel. I reach down and take him in my hand. I
guide his soaked dick to my hole, rubbing it across the outside of
my wet entrance.
Are you sure? Youre ready? His fingers glide across my
cheek, his eyes looking closely into mine. I can only nod my head
yes. He kisses me fully on my lips, his tongue digging into my
eager mouth. He takes his dick back in his hand and puts the tip
inside me. He pulls his face back to look at me, making sure Im
okay. When he pushes in slowly, just a tiny bit more, I gasp out
as my cunt walls stretch to accommodate all that cock. He kisses
my face before he slides in a little more, slowly, until hes all the
way inside, filling me completely, my walls stretched further
than ever. I press my legs out as much as I can. Theres a slight
pain between my legs, like a tear of my skin, but the sensations
of his dick slipping slowly in and out of me far out weight any
pain I might feel.
He pumps me a little faster bit by bit, always watching my
face to make sure Im okay. The more he pushes into me the
better it feels until any small pain is far in the past. When he
says my name I move my hips up to him, wanting to take more
of him. Soon Im bucking up as his dick slams into me, our
sweaty skin slapping against each other. His dick fills and pumps
me, harder and harder until we cant take it anymore. When we
come I feel my walls clench as fire explodes in my stomach, my
fingers digging into Jacksons skin. Hes only a moment behind
me, his come bursting inside me as he pumps until the very end.
His body collapses on top of me, both of us heaving, trying to
catch our breaths. When he moves off me, sliding his dick out
with a moan, warm liquid runs down my thigh.
Do you have any idea how good you are? he says. He pulls a
pillow under his head as I tug the blanket back over my body.
I didnt do anything, I say. I feel bad. You did all the
work.
I promise, it is not work. Although if it was, Id definitely
sign up for a full-time position. He cuddles close to me, our
naked bodies warming each other along with the fire and
blankets. I take his hand, which is resting on my stomach under
the blankets, and hold it. We fall asleep to the crackling of the
fire and our satisfied breathing.
The next time I wake up the pale sun is streaming through the
bay window and the smells of fresh cooking wafts over me. The
fire has been revived and the house is warm. I gather myself up
in a sheet thats tangled around me and follow my nose into the
kitchen.
Good morning, beauty, Jackson greets me as he flips
pancakes. You hungry?
Im starving, I say. You cook?
A little, he says. I love good food, as you knowthe
restaurant. And Ive picked up some things here and there from
chefs Ive talked to, including Chef Barton. Sit down. He
motions to the stool on the other side of the island where hes
prepping. He slides a bowl of cut fruit to mepineapple, red
grapes and strawberries. Coffee?
Please, I say, tucking into the fruit. This kitchen is
gorgeous. Its bright with white cabinets and a white marble
countertop and stainless steel appliances. A large window at the
back looks out onto a garden.
I dont get to use it as much as Id like, he says, serving up
a fresh cup of French press. Milk? Sugar?
Just sugar, thanks, I say. More evidence that you need to
use this house more. Needs more life in it.
He smiles. He looks so carefree when he smiles. The
buttoned-up, tense, calculating face that Ive seen too many
times disappears when he smiles. I want to be the one who
makes him smile more often.
Maybe that can be arranged, he says. He winks at me, and I
melt. Damn, he is sexy, even in his gray T-shirt and flannel
pants. You like eggs and bacon?
Yes, I say. Sounds like a lot of food. I gesture to the fluffy
stack of pancakes hes moving to the island and the fruit bowl
Im working on.
Just wanted to make sure you were well fed, Jackson says.
I dont know what you like.
I look down at the fruit, blushing. He definitely knows what I
like, but I suppose not of the breakfast-food variety. If he
werent standing in front of a hot oven, I might climb across the
island and attack him right here.
I brought down some clothes for you to wear, Jackson says.
He moves to a chair and picks up a folded pile of clothes.
Although I have to say, the sheet looks stunning wrapped
around you. Makes me want to take it right off you.
So why dont you?
Dont make me lose focus when Im working so hard on this
breakfast for you, he says, although its clear from the look in
his eyes that he wants me, right now.
Fine, I say, and I get to up to inspect the clothes. Theyre
his, so theyll be gigantic on me. I do want to tease him a little
though, so I drop the sheet off my body in full view of him.
Emily
What? I say innocently, exposing my nude body to him.
Im changing. Like you said.
Youre going to make me burn your breakfast.
No one is making you do anything, I say.
His eyes roam my body, which he knows so well now. I turn
my back to him and bend over dramatically to pick up a shirt
from the chair. I look over my shoulder at him and yep, hes still
watching me. His hand flips a knob on the oven and in two
strides hes got me turned around and gathered up in his arms.
His mouth crashes into mine and we cling to each other as if we
hadnt just spent all night with our hands and tongues exploring
every inch of each other. His hand cups my breast, and he pulls
away from my mouth and sucks my nipple so that Im already
groaning, my fist in his hair, pushing him into me. He really
knows how to work that tongue.
In quick time he flips me around again and has my stomach
up against the island, pushing me down by the back of my neck
so that Im bent over, ass up, ready for him.
Is this what you wanted me to do? he asks, his voice heavy
with breath. He keeps on hand on my back and I can feel him
digging in his flannel pants, pulling his dick out for me.
Yes, I say, arching my back so that my ass perks up for him.
Take me, Jackson.
Spread your legs.
I do as he says, the cold marble helping to cool down my hot
skin. I rest my flushed cheek on it. With no warning I feel his
dick at my entrance, so used and stretched from the last twelve
hours, and so wet just from the sight of him this morning.
Jackson thrusts his enormous cock inside me, and I cry out in
pleasure. He holds my hips and continues his slow, powerful
pumping into my needy cunt, his soft grunts making me wish I
could see him. Feeling him fill me up, picturing his contorted
face as he digs into me is enough to make me groan at every
thrust. I match his rhythm as I jerk back my hips to push more of
him into me. Hes on me in just the right spot now, and our
animal grunts are in sync as he takes me so close.
Im close, Im close, he says.
Yes, I say, and together we speed up, slamming our bodies
into each other until were both crying out, feeling the release
together.
God. Jackson collapses over on my back, both of us
sweating in such a short moment. I can feel his breath on my wet
skin, instantly drying it. You are a dangerous woman.
He pushes himself up and slides out of me. He pulls his pants
back up and his face is flushed and hes smiling and satisfied and
so happy. I reach out and put my hand on his cheek, prickly with
a growing beard but I know how soft he is beneath. I brush his
jaw with my thumb. My feelings for him are going into overdrive
maybe something to do with the fact that we were just
intimate, and have been for the last twelve hours or so.
Whatever it is, I want to tell him how I feel about him, how much
I care for him and want him to be happy. I want to be the one
who makes him happy. But I cant say anything if I dont truly
know what these feelings are, or where they are going.
So I all I say is, Now wheres the rest of my breakfast?
He tips his head back and laughs. Me, making him smile. That
makes me smile.
He puts on an oven mitt and pulls a tray from the oven. Two
white ramekins are filled with spinach and bacon, some kind of
white cheese and, on top of each, an egg.
Jackson gently pokes each of the eggs with his finger. Ha.
Only overcooked them a little, he says proudly.
I finally put on the clothes as well as socks and big jacket and
we carry our breakfast up a set of twisting back stairs that lead to
the rooftop terrace. Because of course he has a rooftop terrace.
With a view of the Charles River.
Whoa, I say as we set everything down. The early fall air is
cool and crisp, and its going to be a sunny day. We can see early-
morning rowers out on the river, the water sparkling in the
morning light. This is stunning.
He looks around the terrace as if hes inspecting it. Yeah, I
guess.
You guess? This alone is as big as my apartment.
Why do you live in a one-room apartment? he asks.
Please dont tell me youre that out of touch with reality,
Jackson, I say. Im a grad student. Working even part time is
kicking my butt so its all I can afford.
Well, he says. I have plenty of rooms in this place. You
should just move into one of them. Wont even charge you rent.
Hes joking, but he doesnt realize its a bit of a cruel joke. But
whatever, I just give it back to him.
Great, Ill start moving in tomorrow, I say. Sure, I think. I
can see myself living here. But Ill expect a breakfast like this
every morning.
We finish up our foodthe egg-in-a-dish thing was
outstanding. Jackson was right, the eggs were only slightly
cooked through but Im not sure the dish would have been that
much better if theyd been running, like he intended. We make it
through most of the pancakes and a little of the fruit. Basically,
were stuffed, feeling full and mellow as the sun warms the day.
He reaches out for me. Come over here. I gladly do as he
requests, and he pulls me onto his lap and wraps his arms
around me. We sit and stare at the view, not speaking, not
needing to.
Excuse me, Mr. Croft, a womans voice says from the
terrace door, startling me. Not Jackson. He turns to the woman
and says, Good morning, Eliza.
Shes wearing a boxy blue dress with buttons down the front.
I think it might be a housekeepers uniform.
Im sorry to disturb you. I guess they tried your cell phone
but its the office. Theyve called the house phone. Sandra needs
you urgently at the office.
Oh, Christ, he mutters. Okay. Thank you, Eliza. Could you
call Sandra back and tell her Ill be there in twenty minutes?
Of course, she says before heading back down.
I didnt expect to stay here all dayI wanted to, but didnt
expect to. But Jackson having to leave so suddenlyand still so
earlyis a bummer to say the least. I begin to get up from his lap
but he pulls me back.
I dont want to leave you, he says.
I dont want you to go, I say. But work calls. I wonder if
work will always call, and if hell always go running.
He kisses me softly. Our lips linger, neither of us wanting to
break. He caresses my cheek.
I better get in the shower, he says. Sandra can fend those
corporate wolves off for a while but I dont want to leave her
hanging.
Of course, I say, getting up from his lap. I begin picking the
breakfast dishes but Jackson says, Leave all that. Eliza will get
it.
I suppose I hoped I could hang around while he got dressed. I
pictured myself watching him shower through a steamy glass
door, but he has Eliza arrange for a car to take me back to Allston
before he heads upstairs to get dressed. I dont want to admit
that it feels a bit like a dismissal butmaybe a little.
He holds my face and kisses me again before he goes. Ill call
you. Okay?
I nod okay. Yes, call me, I think. Please call me.
When I get home to my terrace-sized studio apartment, I
certainly see my surroundings in a whole new light. As I stand in
Jacksons oversized clothes, my heels and dress in one hand, I
wonder if Im out of my mind. The worlds that we come from and
live in could not be more different. I never thought of my studio
as such a hobble but now hes got me thinking Im living the
slum life. He doesnt seem to get that living alone in something
like an eight-thousand square foot house is ludicrous, a
complete waste of space. Even if we did live togetherand I
know we never would, but Im just thinkingthat if we did wed
probably never see each other. Id be too busy getting lost in that
big house while he would be too busy with work, making more
deals and putting out more fires.
I wonder what interests him besides work? Food, I learned
that. But he has no one to cook for. My mind cant help but
wonder if hes made breakfast for other women like he did for
me. I hate the thought. I hate that it enters my mind.
As I shower and get ready for the day, I hope that Jackson
doesnt disappear like he did last time. Last night was far
different from the restaurant, deeper and more intense. He cant
blow me off again. Despite being polar opposites, I really want to
see him again.
The words had formed on my lips after our pre-breakfast
tryst but I swallowed them down. What I wanted to say was, I
love you. Or at the very least, Im falling in love with you.
Because against better judgment, that is whats happening to
me.
So, yeah. I really hope he calls.
Jackson
J ackson, does that work for you?
I turn and look at the conference room full of people staring
back at me. Id been staring out at the rain falling over the
harbor, thinking about Emily. Maybe when clear skies come back
I could take her out on the boat for a couple of days. Being alone
in the sea with Emily where no one can reach sounds perfect.
Except first I have to get through these meetings. Five, back to
back, all day.
Should Deon contact Melissa and arrange the meeting? Or
did you want to reach out to her directly?
Deon, you can contact her, I say to Deon, as if Ive been
paying close attention this whole time. The looks Im getting
from around the room say they know better. Let Sandra know
when its set up. Well do a lunch meeting, keep it casual.
Anything else?
When the meeting ends, the first thing I do when I get back to
my office is send a text to Emily. Its been a few days since I last
saw her. I had to spend the weekend working out the crisis that
came up, but this time I made sure to call her after our incredible
night. It was late on Friday night, but I figured she wouldnt
mind.
Did I wake up? I asked when she answered, her voice soft
and quiet. The thought of her in bed instantly made me crazy.
No, shed said. I was just studying.
Liar.
She laughed softly. Okay, I was sleeping. At eleven on a
Friday night. How lame am I?
Im at the office on Friday night, Id said. I think Im
worse.
You are for sure, shed said. She let out a big yawn, and I
could just imagine her stretching her body out like a cat. I
thought, If I get in my car now, I could be there in fifteen
minutes. But I still had work to do.
I dont want to keep you up, I said. I just wanted to say
hello andlast night was incredible.
She laughed again and I wished I could watch her lips curl as
she did. Next time I should really call her on video. Yeah, last
night was probablyI dont know
What? Id said. She was getting shy again. I loved it when
she got shy. Tell me what you were going to say.
Just that I agree. Last night was incredible.
Thats not what you were going to say.
She sighed. Fine. I was going to say that last night was
probably the most incredible night Ive ever spent in my life.
Happy?
Yes, actually. I am happy. Very happy. Perhaps the
happiest Id ever been. I didnt want to tell her that, not yet
anyway. I still needed to keep my wits about me but I couldnt
deny that she made me feel like nothing mattered but us. When
Im with Emily, Emily is all that matters. I want to see you
again.
Okay, shed said. When?
I looked at the work on my deskstill so much to do. Let me
get through this crisis and then Ill take a look at my schedule.
Ill call you.
Once wed hung up it took me a few minutes to get my head
back into the work before me. Hearing her soft bed voice and
picturing her laid out in sheets wearing whatever my
imagination stirred up made me want to stick my hand down my
pants and take care of my urges. But I didnt. I moved around the
office, turned on some music and effectively got back to work.
But it wasnt easy.
Now Im back in my office with two hundred new emails that
need my immediate attention, plus another meeting in five
minutes. But instead of dealing with any of that I look at the new
text from Emily, which picks up on the random conversation
weve been having.
The fact that youve never been to a water park says you were
surely neglected as a child.
I smile. I got plenty of attention as a kid. At boarding school.
I wait for her text to come back. When I see the little bubble
on my phone that says shes writing me right now, I just sit and
stare at it, waiting.
Shes got me pretty bad.
Thats so sad! her text reads. She includes an emoji smiley
face. Only Emily can get away with that. If it were anyone else,
Id end things right there. Sent off to school and no water park.
Too bad you werent sent off to water park school. That wouldve
been cool.
We started this conversation when Emily texted that although
she loves fall in Boston she was sad shed let summer come and
go without so much as touching the waterno beach, no pool,
and no water park. I didnt even know what a water park was, for
which she teased me mercilessly.
Instead I wasted my time at business school. What was I
thinking?
Hey, Im not far from you, she writes. Want to meet for
coffee?
Yes, yes, I want to write. Screw everything else, I want to run
to see her. But instead I write, Wish but I cant. Another meeting
soon.
Ditch!
Im running the meeting. I think theyd notice if I was
missing.
Whats the point of being the boss if you cant do what you
want?
If she only knew that being the boss meant I have so much
more responsibility and have to work harder than everyone else.
I may not have always agreed with my father but the lessons he
taught me about work and leadership have really paid off. My
staff respects me, even if they dont always like me.
I hate thinking of you sitting alone in a caf drinking your
coffee, I write.
Meh, I think Ill just go home and study. If your meeting gets
out early you know where I live
Mr. Jackson? Are you ready?
Yes, Sandra, I say, smiling as I close the screen on my
phone. God, theres nothing Id rather do right now than go see
Emily. Burrowing down in bed with her as the rain falls outside
sounds like perfection. But its truebeing the boss means I
have be at all these meetings, making the decisions that will
ensure the companys growth.
As Sandra and I walk down the hall for the next meeting, I
have an idea.
Sandra, could you do me a favor? I give her the details and
she assures me that shell take care of everything.
Another one of the perks of being the boss: lots of people
around me who can make great things happen.
I stepped away from things with Genevieve, not that there
was really anything to step away from. One dinner and a few
texts was all. After Emily spent the night I cancelled our plans to
attend the ballet and told her things were too intense at work for
much outside enjoyment. Genevieve understood what I meant.
Shes probably already on to the next blue blood, looking for a
husband and sperm donor to fill up the family home in
Louisburg Square.
I make my way through the days meetings, filled with
PowerPoint presentations, graphs, video call-ins, projections
and baselines, one debate over a commodity report that almost
turned ugly, and more coffee than I can count.
Its almost seven when I go back to my office. Sandra is still
there at her desk.
What are you still doing here? I ask her.
I wanted to let you know its all set. Just let them know what
evening and theyll arrange for it.
Having money certainly has its perks. Emily isnt going to
believe what I have planned for us.
***

Damn is all I can say Saturday night when Emily steps out of
the car I sent to pick her up at her place. Id planned to get her
myself, but yet another work emergency popped up and I spent
my day ripping incompetent staff who are too lazy to do a job
right the first time.
But EmilyEmily looks stunning. I walk toward her, my body
already eager to be up against her in a slim-fitting dress with
spaghetti-type straps and heels that could pierce my heart. She
wears a black pashmina to keep her warm.
Its okay? she asks, smoothing her dress with her hand.
More than okay. I wrap my arm around her and bring her in
for a kiss, a light but sweet scent about her. You look
stunning.
She smiles. Well, I had to go shopping because I dont
exactly have the clothes for this stuff. She nods up toward the
top of the building were entering. I looked at it online and its
like, super fancy.
Its not super fancy, I say. I take her hand and lead her
inside to the elevators. But it is elegant.
I hope I know which fork to use, she says.
I push the button for the fifty-second floor. Were alone, and
Emily looks more beautiful than ever, so of course I cant help
but make use of the ride. I press her up against the wall and our
mouths come together. The taste of her is better than anything
that could possibly be on the restaurants menu, I am sure of it. I
slide my hands over her hips as she pulls my body closer to hers.
God, how will I make it through dinner?
The elevator slows and we both pull back. Emily quickly
straightens her dress and wipes around her mouth.
Now I have to go to the ladies room to fix myself back up,
she says.
You dont need it, I say, kissing her cheek as we arrive at
the host stand.
Good evening, Mr. Jackson, the woman says. If youre
ready we can seat you now.
Come on, I tell Emily, taking her hand. You look perfect.
Her eyes are darting around the space, taking it all in. I guess
its dark enough that you cant see if my face is all red now.
I didnt think Emily was the type to really worry about this
stuff, but as we walk across the restaurant at the top of the
Prudential Center and overlooking all of Boston, she looks a bit
self-conscious.
This view is amazing, Emily says once were seated at a
round table in a quiet corner near the window. I love watching
her see and do things for the first time. Its not just the wonder
in her eyes, but the appreciation of what shes seeing. Its
something I have lost over the years. Im so used to certain
things, like the view from the top of one of the tallest buildings
in Boston. Ive been in this restaurant more times than I can
count, for business luncheons and a date or two over the years.
Emily turns to me, her face bright with childish excitement.
Look! Youre not looking!
Im looking.
She rolls her eyes. Pointing dramatically at the window she
demands, There.
Give me your hand first, I say. Her face softened as she
rests her hand on the table and I take it in mine. We look out at
the view, the night darkening into rich blues and yellow, the
lights of the city beginning to sparkle.
As the courses begin rolling in and were finishing our first
bottle of champagne, Emily says, This is all too much. You
didnt have to do this.
Do what? I ask.
She motions around the room. Its so fancy! You could have
taken me to a pizza joint and I would have been happy.
Would you rather have gone to a pizza place? Earlier in the
evening shed kept looking around the room, and not at the
beauty of the dcor but I think at the other women and how they
were dressed. She kept fussing with the straps on her dress, or
tugging down the hem. When the salad was served she waited
for me to pick up the proper fork before picking up her own.
No, she says. I mean, I know this amazing place in the
South End but good pizza really cant compare to these scallops.
They melt in my mouth like butter.
One thing you can be sure of, I say, is that when youre
with me, youll always eat well.
So what if we want a late-night snack? she asks. Are we
going to come back up here?
They have a late-night menu in the lounge, I say.
She laughs and shakes her head. You do not live in the real
world.
Sure I do. Its just an alternate version.
Exactly, she says. She takes a sip of her champagne,
watching me closely. Give me some of that lobster.
Whatever you want, I say, feeding it to her, watching her
wrap her lips around the fork just she did at Prime & Tender.
Admit it. You like this world.
She savors the lobster for a momentits truly the best Ive
ever had, so tender and fresh.
This is nice, dont get me wrong, she says. But this all the
time? Its unnecessary.
Im starting to rethink my plans for the second half of the
evening.
Theres more? I nod yes.
Emily, this is only dinner. The real surprise is afterward.
What, your place? Her foot reaches over to my leg under
the table, touching me lightly, letting me know what shes
thinking.
Well, I wouldnt be opposed to that afterward, I say. But
theres something right after dinner that I have planned.
Youre spoiling me, she says. The grin that plays on her lips
says she likes it.
You deserve it, I tell her. Watching you experience this
stuff is worth it.
I dont know if I could ever get used to it, she says, gazing
out at the view.
What do you mean? I ask, curious. She seems to be saying
something bigger, about the future. We havent talked about a
future or a true commitmentalthough Im totally committed
to her in a way Ive never been with a womanbut Ive already
felt that we could work out. We could be together for the long
term. Fine, marriage. I barely let myself think that word since
its something Ive never thought about for myself. I know it
would be easy in the sense that it could fix things for work but I
dont want to exploit Emily, or push her into something for my
own benefit. But Emily makes me think about those things. With
Emily, I can see that kind of future. Now, though, is she saying
she cant see it?
I dont know, she says. I was just raised more simply, that
a meal at home is more meaningful than at a table floating above
the city. Thats why we have Sunday brunches. I dont go out to
my parents place in Lexington every weekend but I go as often
as I can, and so do my brother and sister. Its casual, nothing
fancy, but some of my best memories are from sitting around
that table, eating food we cooked ourselves.
I cooked for you. I have to admit, Im feeling a bit
defensive. Does she not like what I have to offer her?
I know, she says, reaching out for my hand. Im not
sayingI dont know what Im saying but Im pretty sure I sound
like a jerk. Jackson, this is incredible. I love it. No one has ever
treated me like this. It makes me feelspecial.
You are special, I tell her, kissing her hand. You deserve to
be treated to the best views and the best food and the best wine.
The best of everything.
Im not sure if I deserve all of that, she says.
I can cancel the second half of tonight if you want me to, I
say, praying she wont actually do that.
No, she says. Now her face is light and full of mischief. I
want that surprise. I cant wait to see what youve drummed up.
I think youll like it, I tease her. If youre not too much of
a snob about it.
Im not a snob! she says, leaning toward me, her scent
wafting over me.
Come here, I say. She leans closer and I kiss her lips
because her protests are too cute.
How can I be a snob if Im broke? she says.
Emily Brown, may I suggest a theory?
What? she says, tipping back her champagne flute.
I think you might be prejudice against people of wealth.
She almost chokes on the champagne.
Thats not even a thing, she says when she recovers.
Sure it is, I say with total seriousness. You look down on
people with money.
You are people with money. I wouldnt be here if that were
true.
Maybe youre gathering evidence. Maybe youre using me to
find all the terrible things I do with my money so that you can
report back to the middle class. I quite like joking with her, but
when I look at her I see that her face has changed.
Jackson, I really hope you dont think Im using you, she
says. I would never do that. I didnt mean to act
unappreciative
Stop, I say, reaching out for her again. I shift in my seat and
lean in closer to her face. I dont think that for a second. I
promise.
Because I could sit in the Public Gardens with you and watch
the ducks and Id be just as happy.
Emily, I say. I like taking you out. I like watching you
experience things youve never seen or done. It makes me
happy. Okay?
She nods and leans toward me to seal it with a kiss. I keep her
hands in mine, loving their warmth.
Im really starting to believe that everything is going to work
outwith Emily and the company and Fathers deathbed
demands.
Later, once dinner is finished (No dessert, I tell Emily. Not
here, anyway.), we take the private car just a few blocks to one
of the citys most elegant resident hotels. Emily thinks were
getting a room for the night, but I remind her that I have plenty
of my own rooms, and more than enough privacy. But this
place, I tell her, has one thing I dont.
I literally cant even imagine what that is, she says, but she
looks excited, ready for the game.
Once again we take the elevator to the top floor, but this one
isnt quite as highonly twenty-eight stories high.
When the doors open at the top, we step into a warm dim
glow of light.
Good evening, Mr. Jackson, Ms. Brown, the woman who
greets us says. Theres a gentleman with a tray nearby with two
glasses of champagne. I say hello and take the champagne,
handing one to Emily.
I hope you like the surprise, I say. I want her to be
impressed, by how I treat her and I suppose what I can give her,
even if she says shes not really into all this stuff. Its the only
way I know how to show how I feel.
Im with you, arent I? she says. Nothing else matters.
And thats why shes got my heart so hooked on her.
The greeter directs Emily into a nearby dressing and me into
the other side. I told them to do this, to keep us separated while
we changed. I wanted to give her a moment alone to collect
herself and, I dont know, do any of the odd things I imagine
women must do to fix themselves up when theyre on a date.
Plus, I knew being apart to take our clothes off would heighten
her curiosity.
Are we getting a massage or something? she asks when she
meets me in her plush robe and slippers, looking so adorable I
almost cant handle it.
No, I say. Maybe later though, if youre good.
I take her hand and guide her through the space and out onto
the terrace, where I have had the buildings heated pool closed
off to all the residents and hotel guests. Candles line the pools
perimeter, the lights glow electric, and the hot tub bubbles. The
citys view is dark and sparkling and we are the only two people
in the world.
Jackson, she says. Her face washes with wonder. It makes
me smile, which Ive been doing a lot of since I met Emily. You
are out of your mind.
I know its a little cool outside, I say, but the pool is
heated and theres the hot tub too. Summer may be over but you
can still get wet.
She pauses from her awe and gives me a look. Very funny.
Still, she wraps her arms around me and says, This is the
coolest thing anyone has ever done for me. Thank you, Jackson
Croft.
Youre very welcome, I say, and kiss her. I didnt plan to do
anything but swim a little hereit was more the thought of the
pool than the actual swimmingbut knowing how little she has
on underneath that robe, if anything at all, is already making me
pretty anxious. Do you want to get in?
Definitely, she says. I watch her walk to the pool steps. She
takes off the slippers and begins to untie her robe. She looks
over at me. You coming?
I want to watch you first, I say.
She slowly lets the ties of the robe fall by the side. She opens
the robe, exposing her smooth skin and the curve of her breasts,
and I actually sort of love that shes still wearing her underwear.
Ill get them off soon enough. She pulls something off her wrist
and uses it to pull her hair back, twisting it up in a knot on top of
her head.
She slowly steps down into the water.
Its so warm, she says. Feels so good. She dips down to
her shoulders so that I cant see the rest of her body. Are you
coming? Or are you going to make me do this alone?
Im definitely coming, I say, moving to the edge, closer to
her. Take off your bra. I dont want to be the only one topless.
She swirls in the water like a nymph, turning her back on me.
She looks over her shoulder at me before unhooking her bra and
tosses it on the ground. She keeps the water to her shoulders,
still hiding from me.
You have to get in if you want to see more, she says.
I take off my robe and slip in from the edge and swim over to
her. I gather her body up in my arms and she wraps her legs
around my waist. We kiss, our tongues slipping against each
other. With my hand at the back of her neck I push her face
closer into mine, always wanting more of her.
Her full bare breasts feel so soft and plush up against my hard
chest. Id rather have them in my mouth, though, so I break
away from her sweet mouth and bury my face in those mounds.
She pulls closer to me, wanting more from me. I intend to give
her everything, even if it takes all night.
I suck on her hard nipple, the perfect little nub, holding her
breast in my hand. Moans are already coming from her, which
only makes me more eager to give. Her nails are clawing at my
back. I know shes leaving marks but I dont feel any pain. Only
pleasure.
I move our bodies in unison to the side of the pool, Emilys
back to the edge. Im sucking and licking at her nipples, first one
then quickly to the other, holding and massaging them. Emily
holds tight around my waist and moves her hands to her tits,
gathering them underneath, pushing them together and up
toward me, telling me without words to take more of them. I
continue to feast on her until I cant take anymore because I
need more. Always more from her body.
I reach down in the water between us and, without teasing or
hesitation, I use my fingers to move aside her panties and feel
the walls of her pussy, wet with her own juices. As she moves her
hips the water rolls over her stomach, rocking the pool gently. I
pump slowly, because of the friction of the water, but maybe its
better that way. It forces me to take my time, really watch her
face writhe in pleasure. When I slip in a second finger she cries
out.
Yes, she says. More. Deeper.
Is this not enough for you? I keep the slow pump of my
fingers in her, in then out, in then out.
Yes, but
What, Emily? Tell me.
I want more.
Do you want another finger? I ask. I dont stop sliding my
fingers in her warm cunt. Or something else?
She moans, her eyes closed, head dipping back, and hips
grinding down on my hand.
Another finger, she tells me. Please.
I slip out just enough to add a third finger to her tight
opening. I edge up inside her slowly, working her open, carefully
stretching her walls. But I know shes ready. She can take it. I
push my fingers up inside her up to my knuckles, then back
down to start again as she cries out her pleasure.
I pull her back in closer so my mouth can take over her tits
again. I fingers work her cunt, slowly but deliberately as my
mouth sucks her nipple. My teeth pull on her and I lap all over
her breasts like a wild animal. I push my hand up, deep inside
her, and stop, moving my fingers inside her. Her eyes pop open
and shes holding on for dear life now. My thumb finds her clit,
so swollen and neglected, and I rub it as my fingers work inside
her. She cant take it anymore. Her pussy clenches over my hand
as her body tenses up, her nails digging into my skin. She
contracts again and again, coming all over my hand.
She goes practically limp in my arms. I slip my fingers out of
her and hold her while she catches her breath. She lifts her head,
wraps her arms around my neck and kisses me so deeply,
exploring my mouth like her tongue has never been there before,
that I get even more excited than I was one minute ago. My cock
is straining against my boxer briefs, begging to be touched.
Thankfully Emily knows exactly what I need, and as she
continues to devour my mouth, her hand slips down between us,
her palm flat on my stomach, past the elastic of the briefs, easily
finding the head of my cock.
Now its my turn to moan. She works my cock slowly, her tiny
hand taking as much of me as she can.
Emily, I really need to fuck you, I say, covering her neck
and the top of her chest with kisses. Right now. I have to have
you.
So take me, she says, always so willing.
I want to fuck you hard, I tell her. And then I want to take
you back to my place and make love to you all night. Will you let
me do that?
Yes, Jackson, she says. I want that.
Do you want me to fuck you?
Fuck me, Jackson, she says. Fuck me hard.
God, thats it. Im going to blow if I dont do it. But the water
will slow me down too much, so I take Emily, still wrapped
around me, her hand still stroking my dick, over to the step. We
step out together, a bit awkwardly since were still all over each
other, her hand on my dick, mine roaming over her curves as my
mouth runs over the silkiness of her skin.
Now that the water isnt a factor, Emily starts pumping me
faster.
I lead us over to the side, in the dark where the showers are. I
can see the chills on Emilys skin from the night air so I turn on
the water and make sure its warm and not too hot. Then I move
her under the stream. I strip down my boxer briefs and she does
the same with her panties.
I crush our wet bodies together again and waste little time in
taking my dick in my hand, ready to be inside her. I move her up
against the wall, bend my knees, and in one swift motion I shove
my dick up inside her cunt, already so wet and stretched and
ready from my fingers. It literally lifts her off her feet, and I hold
her little body with one arm under her ass, her arms wrapped
around my neck, legs around my waist. I slam into her, my only
goal to get off so that I can get my mind back and really make
love to her, really take care of her. I just need this or I swear Ill
fucking die. I jerk my hips up into her quickly, her moans telling
me shes still enjoying it. I continue to slam into her, pumping
her hard, slamming up into her tight pussy as her fingers dig
into my shoulders. I burst inside her, the lights behind my eyes
pop like rockets as I come again and again, shoving my dick
higher into her to get every drop inside her.
When the sensations pass, I feel lightheaded. I slowly pull out
of Emily as I lower her to the tiled floor.
Wow, she says. That wasare you okay?
Im standing but my body is limp, my eyes still closed. I am
so good, I say. Perfectly fine. I open my eyes and see
beautiful naked Emily in front of me, letting the warm water
wash over her.
Do you still want to take me back to your place? she asks.
Oh, honey, I say. Im not even close to being finished with
you.
I make good on my promise.
It takes a lot of self-discipline but once we get through the
door of my house we make it past the sitting room where we got
stuck last time. We are mauling each other with our hands,
clothes flying off our bodies and dropping randomly to the floor,
but at least were moving up the stairs, however slowly.
I need to get her into my bed. Its the one thing Ive been
fantasizing about since the moment I met her, even if I didnt
quite realize it at the time.
As I lead her down the hall on the second floor Emily says,
Jesus, how big is this place? Her eyes roam down the long hall.
I take her face in my hands, pressing my lips into hers.
Once were standing before my bed I scoop her up in my arms
and literally toss her onto the mattress. She laughs as she
bounces on the thick comforter and way too many decorative
pillows. I shove them to the floor. It seems impossible, but Emily
looks even sweeter with her damp, loose hair and clean face. I
cover her body with mine, ready to get her clothes off. Our shoes
are long gone and neither of us put our wet underwear back on,
so the barriers between us are few.
Once Emily is lying naked before me, I begin kissing every
part of her, worshipping her body. I gently suck at the skin on
her neck, kiss over her shoulders and the impossibly smooth
skin of her arms. I take the buds of her tits in my mouth, pulling
gently as I watch Emilys hungry face. I work my way down my
stiff dick bobs across her thigh, causing a small weep to escape
her lips. I love the way her body moves under me, wanting more.
Her hands are constantly reaching out for me, touching my chest
or shoulders or head. Knowing Im satisfying her even in these
simple ways makes want to do even more to her, please her
further.
Jackson, her sweet voice calls. I need you inside me.
She doesnt have to say it twice. I scoop her up and move us to
the top of the bed, both of us sitting up, my back against the
headboard.
Then sit on my dick, I tell her, working her breast in my
hand. Put me inside you.
She reaches down between our bodies and takes me in her
soft hand. I close my eyes to her touch, but only briefly. She
slowly works me up and down, teasing me for a moment, then
scoots on her knees a little closer so that her pussy is right above
my dick and damn if she doesnt tease me further by running my
hard cock over that slick eager opening of hers. Finally she sets
me right at her opening, then slowly slides down and envelopes
my dick. We both sigh out our gratitude.
I let her set the pace, letting her get comfortable. She doesnt
take all of me in at once but eases back up and slowly down
again. My mouth is on her tits again, so full I cant help myself.
Soon Emily begins to increase her pace, moving more quickly,
pumping on my dick, going deeper. Our bodies are beading with
sweat. I love the way it feels running down Emilys back.
I take her ass in my hands and squeeze her, helping her move
on me so she doesnt have to work so hard. My hands are
devilish things around Emily, and I cant help but pull those firm
cheeks apart, kneading them in my hands. With my middle
finger I touch her hole, just a little, pressing on it but not
entering it. She gasps, her eyes widening.
I wont go in, I say. I just want to tease you.
Her hips move back toward my hand slightly, telling me to
keep it up while giving my dick a new enthralling angle inside
her tight pussy. As she pumps harder over my dick her breasts
are bouncing and Im pressing on her sensitive hole and I know
its making her mind go wild. Shes slamming her cunt down on
me now, her hands on my shoulders for more leverage and Im
not sure I can take it anymore.
Im going to come, she says.
Yes, I tell her.
We explode into each other, Emily crying out as I unload into
her again. I pull her body close, breasts again my face as we
finish, panting, dizzy, ecstatic.
Jesus Christ, Emily, I say. What are you doing to me? You
make me absolutely insane.
We spend the night wrapped in each others limbs, caressing
each others skin, kissing each others lips. I start a fire in the
bedroom and the glow and warmth of it makes the night even
more incredible. I love watching Emilys eyes get lost in the
flames.
We make love again before morning. The more we explore
each other, the less shy Emily becomes and its such a turn on.
When her hand is on my dick, I cant think straight. If its ever in
her mouthand God I hope it will beI dont know if Ill be able
to handle it. For now, though, all I care about is pleasing her.
That makes me plenty satisfied.
You are making me absolutely crazy, I tell Emily in the
morning, holding her gaze. Youve got my mind in disarray and
my heart pleading for more. Not to mention my body
Youre doing the same to me, she says.
So what should we do? Spend every second together? If I
could swing it, I would do it. Believe me.
I dont know, Emily says. Ive never really been in a
relationship before.
Is that what this is? A relationship?
Do you want it to be?
Shes not looking at me, and I can feel the hopefulness in her
words. I dont know what I want from Emily, but I want her, all
the time.
I dont want to disappoint you, I tell her. Ive never really
been a relationship guy.
She snuggles closer. Well figure it out. No pressure.
No pressure, I echo.
When we do say goodbye later the next day, I feel closer to her
than ever, but also unsure of where its all going. I feel more
strongly about Emily than I have about any woman in my life.
Clearly, being with Emilyforeverwould fit nicely into my
fathers demands of becoming a family man and I could take
command of Croft International as I was born to do.
Still, Im leery of rushing the relationship. I dont want to
push Emily and frankly, I dont know if I could be the man she
needs me to be. Work has been my whole life. Now Id almost
give it all away to spend every waking moment with her. The
worst thing I could do would be to use her. I wont do that to her.
So I forget about the will and Fathers demands and do as Emily
saysfigure it out. I dont know when or how or what will
happen, but for now I intend to enjoy simply being with her.
Emily
Hes got my head absolutely spinning.
Every moment with Jackson feels like the first drop of roller
coasterexhilarating and dangerous. When Im with him all I
want to do is touch him. When touch him I want to be closer to
him, and when were not together I can hardly get him out of my
mind. I am addicted.
Im trying to concentrate on school and work and keep my
head out of the proverbial clouds. Its not easy.
The week after the luncheon, Brent wasnt teaching.
Professor Stanwick mentioned Brent was ill, and although I
didnt want the guy to be sick I was glad not to have to see him. I
wasnt sure how he would act after what happened. I figured he
was embarrassed that he got pushy with me, and having
someone as powerfulphysically and otherwiseas Jackson put
him in his place probably didnt help his ego.
When Brent finally came back to class, Id been so in my own
world of Jackson that I hardly noticed him, although I did think
he was a bit icy to me when I asked a question about his lecture. I
still didnt think much of him even when Natalie told me after
class something he said when she ran into him at a caf.
I asked him how the luncheon had gone, Natalie explained.
And he said, Why? Whatd Emily say? I told him I hadnt even
talked to you yet and he said, She better keep quiet unless she
wants her shit to come out. I was like, oh-kaaay.
At first I thought, Whoa. Why so aggressive? But I didnt tell
Natalie the whole story. I honestly didnt want to embarrass
Brent. I still thought he was a nice guyalways a nice guywho
had a little crush on me but who wouldnt stand a chance against
Jackson Croft in anyway, from looks to intelligence to downright
sexiness.
Today is a work day, not a class day. Some days are both but
today I go into the office for a full day.
Im eating a late lunch at my desksalad in a Tupperware
bowlwhen I get a text from Jackson.
You wont believe this. I have a free hour. Meet me for lunch?
He suggests a restaurant in Faneuil Hall thats sort of
between our offices.
I look at my salad, mostly eaten. I look at the clockits one-
thirty. Its a little strange to take lunch so late but were not
exactly punching in here. And of course I want to see Jackson. I
havent seen him in so longthirteen hours, at least. I went to
his place last night when he finally got home from the office. I
spent the night, and found a room in his house that I dont think
he knew existed. I teased him that there was probably a small
family living somewhere in that doublewide that he had no idea
about.
Not hungry but will definitely go to see you.
I toss out the rest of my salad, grab my jacket, and go out to
meet Jackson. There might even be a little skip in my step.
Its almost three by the time I get back to the office. Im
pretty sure neither of us wanted to separate so we stayed in the
horseshoe booth of the restaurant, sitting close so that we were
always touching. We talked as he played with my fingers,
brushed my hair behind my shoulder, or gave me quick kisses on
my cheek. I kept my hand on his strong thigh, squeezing it
sometimes or running my hand up high, watching him take in a
quick breath. We didnt pull ourselves away to leave until the
waiter asked, for the third time, if there was anything else he
could get us.
When I walk back into the office I am floating.
Where have you been? Jules asks once Im back at my desk.
Oh, hey, I say, startled. Id been staring blankly at my
email. I took a late lunch.
Jules leans on the doorway of my cubicle and crosses her
arms. Some people are saying youve been seeing Jackson Croft.
Is that true?
My defenses shoot up. Who is talking about me and why is it
their business?
Yes, I say. Werekind of seeing each other. The truth
is, I havent talked to anyone about him. Ive been keeping the
relationship close and private because I dont know what its
going to become and frankly, I dont want to jinx it.
Is it serious? Jules asks. Emily, Im not just asking as your
boss. Im also asking as your friend.
The way shes looking at me makes me uncomfortable. This
feels very much like a Serious Talk, and Im not prepared to talk
to anyone about Jackson.
I choose my words carefully. Im not sure. Were spending
time together.
She nods. Then as your boss, I need to tell you that youre in
a gray area by dating someone who donates to our organization.
Its not exactly against protocol but it could be seen as
unsavory. As your friend, she continues, I want to tell you to
be careful, Emily. Jackson Croft is a whole different league of
man. Its not just his money or the family he comes from,
although those things do matter, even if you dont think they do.
You might be having fun now, but remember to protect your
heart. When things turn south, dont expect him to be the sweet,
dashing guy hes probably being now. Youre innocent when it
comes to guys, Emily. I just dont want to see you get hurt.
I wont, I say. Its not like that. Itswere just hanging
out.
She nods, but I can see that she knows better. Okay. Just be
careful. Thats all Im saying.
Jules leaves me rattled. I didnt think about what people did
or didnt know about Jackson and me. I didnt think I cared. I
only cared about seeing him, being together with him. Now I
think back to what Natalie told after class, that Brent told her
that my shit might come out. Did he mean Jackson? Did Brent
get word to CEF that I was seeing him? Its not like Ive been
secretive about Jackson, and I never thought I was doing
anything wrongI still dont. Now I feel on alert, but for what
Im not quite sure.
In class the next day, Brent is on a rampage. He holds up a
paper we had to do and that hes about to hand back.
This is an example of what not to do, he says. He doesnt
say whose paper it is, but he reads portions of it and its clear its
mine. And everyone knows its mine because it uses the
Childrens Education Fund as an example and everyone knows
thats where I work part-time. Come on, people. Youre better
than this. This is laziness. Make real arguments and site credible
sources. Youre graduate students at Boston University. This
isnt some online college. We have a reputation. And if youre
more interested in your social life and whos taking you out to
expensive dinners than your work, you might want to reassess
whether or not you even deserve to be in this program.
And then, if there had been any doubt as to whose paper he
was massacring, he took that same paper, held it out before him
and said, Emily Brown. I had to walk across the entire class
and take that D paper from him.
When I went back to my desk, Natalie leaned over and said,
What the hell? Even Winston, a guy who usually sits in front
of me, turned around and said, Whatd you do to piss him off?
I hold my hands up. Nothing!
I decide I should say something to Brent. The truth is I
havent really spoken to him since the luncheon, and thats
probably cowardly of me. He did take me on what I now know
was a datein his mindand I left with someone else. I actually
thought about dating him at one point. Boring, safe Brent.
When class ends I linger as students file out.
Want me to wait for you? Natalie asks.
No, its okay. Thanks.
She squeezes my arm. Let me know if you need anything.
When the last of the students have gone, Brent shoves some
papers in his canvas satchel and starts to leave, like hes in a
hurry. Cant wait to get away from me, apparently.
Brent? Can I talk to you for a second?
Grades are final. And approved by Professor Stanwick. He
wont look at me.
Its not about the paper, I say, although I should fight for a
better grade. Ive never written a D paper in my life. For now,
though, I decide to talk to him like an adult, and also look over
my paper carefully later so that I can see if what I did was maybe
worse than I thought. I have been distracted lately. I just
wanted to see if everything is okay. Between us, I mean. We
havent really spoken since the luncheon and I feel bad about
how it ended.
He chuckles. I highly doubt you feel bad about how that day
ended. Seems like you upgraded your date the first chance you
got.
Brent, I begin. Thats not how it was. I did get a little
nervous when you tried to kiss me. My face is burning and my
insides are in complete turmoil. I do not want to be having this
discussion but if I can clear things up from that one afternoon,
the rest of the semester will hopefully go smooth. I guess I was
a little taken aback. I didnt know things were going to get so out
of hand.
You mean with your bodyguard boyfriend?
Without thinkingand sounding like a kidI say, Hes not
my boyfriend.
God, Brent says. Thats even worse. What are you even
getting out of that?
I dont intend to talk to Brent about Jackson so I try to steer
things back on course. Look, I came up here to say Im sorry
about whatever happened at the luncheon. I dont want things to
be tense between us. I just want to move forward.
Professionally.
He zips up his bag, his eyes on me like hes carefully
preparing what hes about to say. I brace myself. You know,
Emily, he begins in an overly casual tone of voice, and I know
its going to be bad. I never took you for a social climber. Trying
to claw your way out of the middle class and into a Stepford wife?
Im not sure the bosses over at CEF would like it too much
knowing one of their employees was dating their biggest donor.
Makes things a little complicated, dont you think? Do you two
have an arrangement? You sleep with him and he gives you
money? I mean, money for the fund. Right
So it was you who told them I was seeing Jackson, I say,
surprised even though I shouldnt be. Im totally disgusted at
what he just said to me. Jules knows. You didnt get me in
trouble. And Im not clawing my way to anything. What I do in
my private life is none of your business. I wish you could
separate that from class and not try to take some petty anger of
yours out on my papers.
Look, I dont know if you went to that lunch with me so that
you could gain favor in class, he says, but it doesnt work like
that. I treat everyone in class the same. If you cant handle
getting a better grade then I suggest you think about what youre
even doing in this program. He moves toward the door. I have
office hours. And Emily? Maybe you should really look at yourself
and what youre doing. Dont try to blame others for your
shortcomings. Its not professional.
With that he leaves the classroom. Im stunned. I never would
have guessed that Brent Fuller would turn into such a world-
class dick.
Hes not worth the drama. I decide to put him out of my
mind, and just be more careful in class.
A few days later I have a brilliant planits a risky plan but I
think itll work out.
Im at Jacksons, lying on a couch in his office reading a book
while he does some work at his desk. When I tell him how
comfortable the couch isits super soft and plushhe admits
hes never even sat on it. I groan and tell him for the thousandth
time how wasteful he is. He doesnt seem to mind my teasing,
but he also doesnt seem interested in downsizing. I think hes
too used to big spaces.
Hey, Jackson? I say. Im nervous about asking him, but my
dad used to say, The worst they can say is no. Theyre the
same words I used when I marched into Jacksons office that first
day. All he could say was no to donating, and after that nothing
mattered. Except that after that, everything with him mattered.
Yes? he says, not looking up.
Feel free to say no, I begin, but would you want to go with
me out to Lexington this Sunday for brunch? With my family?
Ive mentioned the Sunday morning brunches to him before, and
he knows I havent been to one since we started seeing each
other.
He stops what hes doing and looks across the room at me.
First of all, I always feel free to say no. Second, my goal in life is
to never say no to you. I grin, feeling all butterfly-ey. Third,
yes. I will go to brunch at your parents place this weekend. In
fact, Id love to.
Really? He nods. I jump up and run toward him, wrapping
my arms around his neck and covering his face with kisses as he
laughs. Thank you! Theyre going to love you, I know it.
We dont talk about what this means for our relationship.
These things still go unsaid. Its fine, I tell myself. Even though
we dont say the words, I know that Jackson feels the same way
about me as I do about him. I can feel it in the way he looks at
me, how he touches me with both passion and warmth. And
now, by the fact that he wants to meet my family. This may be
my first relationship, but I know what that means.
It means things are serious. And I am seriously excited about
the future.
Jackson
I ve met other womens parents before, but usually at a wedding
or some sort of reception or other work-related event. Normally
when I meet the parents its because our families are already
connected in some way through business. In many ways,
meeting the parents is just another business connection to
make.
Meeting Emilys parents is none of those things. Its
something I truly want to do. I want to know more about her
family.
Emily has big plans for the weekend. She doesnt just want to
get in the car Sunday morning and drive out to Lexington. Lets
go out Saturday night, she says, and I get to choose the place.
And I get to pay!
I laugh. Shes sitting on my lap in my office, having just asked
if I would go to the brunch this weekend. You can choose the
place, I tell her. But I cant let you pay.
Jackson, I have a job, she tells me.
Part time, I clarify.
I still have money, she says. Im not destitute. I can afford
to take you out for pizza.
So were going for pizza?
Ive said too much! she says, and shes just so damn cute.
Her excitement is contagious, and the weekend cant get here
fast enough.
On Saturday, Emily insists on meeting me at my house but
says I will still have the chance to be a gentleman by taking her
home later.
Now youve got me thinking about getting you home, I tell
her as I kiss her neck in the cool night air. She laughs and
squirms away from me.
Emily directs the cab driver to a place in the South End. A
pizza place.
Just wait, she tells me, her eyes sparkling as she takes my
hand and leads me inside. This is the best pizza youll ever have
in your life.
I have to tell you, I say, that I have had pizza in Naples.
She slaps my chest. Dont ruin it before it begins!
I take her hand and kiss her fingers.
The place is small with distressed wooden booths and little
round tables. The walls are red and look like theyve been
painted over a hundred times. Its slightly dark and Italian folk
music is playing on the overhead speakers. The small space is
warmed up from the brick oven behind the counter.
It certainly smells good, I say, because it does. I can tell
already that good fresh ingredients are used.
We take a small table near the backthe more I can get Emily
alone, even in public, the better. Although the table is so small I
dont know how a pizza pie will ever fit on it. Were so crammed
into our seats that I can keep hold of her hands in mine under
the table. Bonus? Despite the feel of fall outside, Emily is
wearing a skirt, some fluttering thing that I can scoot up higher
on her thigh beneath the table, if I so choose. Which I will. Soon
enough.
Okay, so I dont know much about wines and I really dont
want to know about the vineyards in California you might own,
she begins, but I do have a recommendation on which pizza we
should get if you dont mind. It might sound boring but its
amazing, I promise.
Whatever you want, I say. This is your deal.
When the waitress comes over Emily order the pizza
margherita. She explains to me that its really simple but they
use great ingredients so everything really shines. I kiss her check
when she finishes her explanation because, oh, sweet Emily. I
dont want to spoil her fun by telling her that I have had this
very kind of pizza in Naples, that they invented it, and that
nothing is better than the local Napoli ingredients. But Im sure
the pizzaand the Chianti she orders with itwill be great. One
thing is for surenothing can beat the company.
What else do you have planned for tonight? I ask. We
havent stopped touching her under the table. I keep nudging
her skirt a little higher on her thigh, and she lets me.
Its not as big of a surprise as a private pool, she says. But
I when I was an undergrad I used to go to this place a lot for
drinks and music. Its really cool and I cant wait to see how you
look in there with your slim pants and highly polished dress
shoes.
Whats wrong with how Im dressed? I asked, not that I
care.
Absolutely nothing, she says, and kisses me. She puts her
hand on mine, and I swear she nudges me even higher up on her
thigh. Her tongue slips past my lips, and for a moment I forget
were in public.
Pizza margherita, the waitress announces, and we quickly
pull apart.
The pie is set precariously on the table along with our wine.
Emily picks up her glass and makes a toast. To Jackson Croft,
slumming it in the South End.
I roll my eyes but clink her glass. So what do I need to
prepare for tomorrow? I ask her as I put a slice on her plate,
then mine. Is your father going to ask me what are my
intentions with you?
No, she says. My parents are super casual, easy going.
Theyre going to love you. Although Sabrina might ask that
question.
Younger sister, right, I say, remembering. She told me
about her family one night when we were curled up in my bed.
She spoke about them with a love and enthusiasm that was hard
for me to fathom. She clearly not only loves her family but likes
being with them. How old is she again?
Twenty-one, Emily says.
Oh my God, I say, having just taken the first bite of the
pizza. This is extraordinary.
Whatd I tell you? she says, clearly pleased.
I was keeping my expectations low but this is pretty much as
good as what Ive had in Naples.
Slumming tastes pretty good, huh?
Stop, I say. Im not slumming and I dont think Im
slumming. Now tell me about Sabrina. And Dax. And your
parents.
Sabrina is opinionated, so Im really excited to see what
happens between the two of you.
Great, I mutter. Nothing like being set up.
Dax is more thoughtful, she says.
So hell judge me silently. Got it.
He works in development for a non-profit in Framingham.
One of those big national one, she says. And then my
parents
Yes, please do tell, I say. I take another sip of the Chianti
and realize that everything balances out perfectlythis meal is
damn good, including the wine. I had come in with a snob
attitude but look at me now, ready to come back any time.
Ill let you figure them out on your own, she says.
Great, I tell her.
You know, she says, wiping her hands on her napkin, you
never talk about your family.
Shes right. Weve only skimmed over the topic, and Ive done
a good job at dodging and weaving even then.
All I know is that your father passed away, you have brothers
in New York and Los Angeles, and your mom iswhere is she
again?
Monaco. Now you know everything you need to know.
Thats me, weaving away.
Your brothers are in the family business, right? Are you guys
close?
I try to stifle the laugh but it only makes me cough. Once Ive
recovered I say, No, we do not get along. We speak as little as
necessary.
Why? Did something happen? Id think that with your dad
gone and your mother living overseas that youd want to be close
to them.
Well I dont. It comes out more harshly than I meant so I
feel the need to explain. Since Im meeting her family tomorrow,
she deserves to know more about mine. My father was an
asshole. Simple as that. Its why my mother moved so far away
she couldnt take him and his harsh rules. And there was one
rule in our house: fall in line with whatever Edward Croft said. If
you didnt, you were punished.
She lowers her voice when she asks, Did he beat you?
No, nothing like that, I say. In fact, I cant remember any
time at all that my father laid a finger on me. Not in punishment
and not in love. The most important thing to my father was
success. Success at any cost. My brothers and I had to be
winners, even when we were competing against each other.
How could you all be winners if you were all competing
against each other? Emily asks.
Exactly, I say. We couldnt. Two out of three would always
be punished. And my mother had no control. Shes not a strong
person anyway, but no one could stand up to Edward Croft. He
was just way too formidable. So she left.
She divorced him?
No, I say. Father would never allow that. Bad for the
image, he said. Are you ready for the most ironic part? Looking
like the good family man was one of his keys to success. He
drilled into us the importance of choosing the right partner.
If you dont mind my saying, Emily says, it doesnt sound
like your father was exactly the definition of family man.
I said looking like a good family man was key, I say. When
you tell your three sons whoever builds the tallest, strongest
Lego building will be his favorite child for the evening, you
pretty much lose out on any father-of-the-year award.
Im so sorry, Jackson, Emily says, resting her hand on my
thigh.
Dont be, I say. Honestly. Its all in the past.
But your brothers, she says.
This is definitely going on too long than Id ever want talk of
my family to go.
Lets just enjoy the rest of the evening. What do you have
planned for us next?
It turns out that whats next is a place somehow smaller than
the pizza joint. Its a tiny club that is dark and crammed by the
time we arrive. Theres a jazz band blowing it up on stage, and
although Im not a huge fan, the energy is pretty cool.
Emily says something as I hand her the drink I just got at the
bar.
What? I say.
I said, she says, her voice almost a yell in the noisy club,
they play different kinds of music on the weekends. Sometimes
funk, blues, even country. I wasnt sure what kind
This is perfect, I say back.
I find a space along the wall that I lean back against and hold
Emily in front of me. After another drink Ive got her pressed up
against the wall and am doing everything in my power to not get
arrested for lewd conduct in public while still feeling every inch
of her. By the time I suggest we head out, my lips are bruised and
Emily has destroyed my hair.
Can we go to my place? she asks as step outside.
But there are still rooms at my house you havent found
yet, I say. We can go exploring.
We always go to your place, she says. You havent seen
inside mine yet. Come on, Jackson. Come see where I live.
I do want to know everything about Emily that I can possibly
learn, even if Im not thrilled about spending the night in a
studio apartment in Allston. But for Emily, Id spend the night at
the bus station.
Emily
I m nervous for him to see my place. Its nothing to be ashamed
ofIm one person, I dont need a lot of space. And the
neighborhood is good, mostly BU students. Jackson is so used to
opulence and grandeur, so Im not sure how hell react, but he is
going to meet my family tomorrow so he should see where I live.
I guide him around to the back of the house where the
entrance is. As I put the key in the lock, he nuzzles my neck, his
hands around my waist. How is it that I can never satiate my
appetite with him?
Here we are, I say, opening the door and turning on the
lights. I have a small kitchen to the left, and straight ahead is my
living room/bedroom combo, a couch and TV on the right and my
bed on the left.
Jackson looks around, sticks his head in the kitchen, looks at
the desk by the door where I do my work and sometimes each
meals.
Itscharming, he says.
Its small, I know, I say, because thats what he means.
Dont you go stir crazy in here?
I try not to spend long stretches of time here, I say. I go
out to study a lot. The way his eyes drift over everything, Im
starting to feel self-conscious about my place. We can go to
your place if youd rather.
He looks at me. No. I want to stay. I want to be here with
you. Which melts my heart a little. Are these your siblings?
he asks, pointing to a photo hanging crooked on my wall.
Jackson levels it.
Yeah, I say, stepping closer. That was a few years ago.
Before Dax went to school the three of us decided to go to Six
Flags. Sometimes hanging out with them is more fun than
hanging out with my closest friends. We laughed so much that
day.
Looks like a good day, he says. And these are your
parents?
Yep, I say at the other photo he points to.
I cant tell if hes being polite or if hes nervous being here,
out of his element. He doesnt need to be. Ive relaxed, and now
the heat from earlier is seeping back into my body. Truthfully,
having him hereon my home turf, so to speakand seeing
how it discombobulates the great Jackson Croft is kind of a turn
on. It makes me feel powerful.
Did they grow up around here?
I dont want to talk about my parents right now. He looks
up from the photo, confused.
I walk over to the back of the couch. I lean forward on it so
that my ass is sticking right toward Jackson. I hike up my skirt
and say, Could you help me get these off?
Jackson is on me in two strides. He falls to his knees and
pushes my skirt up over my hips until only my pink lacey panties
are showing. I watch over my shoulder as Jackson slowly slides
them down.
Spread your legs, he says, and I spread my legs nice and
wide for him. He pops my ass with his palm, startling me. He sits
up a little more on his knees, takes my ass, and spreads my
cheeks. His tongue covers my wet slit in one long stroke that
starts at my clit. He licks me again, getting me even wetter as
little bolts of lightening shoot through my stomach. I stick my
ass back further for him and he smacks it again before burying
his face back into my pussy, his tongue a magician on my cunt.
He swirls around my swollen clit then licks the hole of my cunt,
darting in and out of me. Jackson moans as he feasts on me,
voicing how much he loves the taste of me, which only makes
me hotter, wetter.
I cant reach back for his head, but when I push back on him
again his moans make me pant until I feel like Im losing my
breath. Suddenly his fingers are inside me, his mouth gone but
on my ass, kissing me still as he pumps me with two fingers,
pulling out to circle my nub before dashing back up inside up, all
the way to his knuckles Im sure, giving me so much pleasure
Im not sure my senses can take it.
Im not sure if he does or I do but suddenly Im turned around
and standing up, back to the couch, Jackson still on his knees
before me. His fingers never left me; hes still slipping them in
and out of the wettest pussy that ever existed. I hold my skirt out
of the way as I watch him staring at his fingers pumping me with
fascination. I use my other hand to grab a fistful of his hair and
tug him closer. I need more, I need all of it. My cunt is throbbing,
and he fucks it with his fingers as his mouth covers my clit
again, flicking his tongue over it, lapping at it. I can hardly
stand, leaning back on the couch for support as my hand stays
buried in his thick hair. God, watching him from above, his face
digging into my crotch, is too fucking sexy. He works his fingers
in me, pushing higher, pumping harder, and I feel the walls of
my sex tightening, sparks of light flashing as I squeeze my eyes,
and come all over Jacksons mouth and hand.
You cant keep doing that, I say when I finally catch my
breath. You cant keep giving me all the pleasure. Its not fair.
Its more than fair, he says, his hands roaming my thighs
and hips under my skirt. As long as youre enjoying it, Im more
than enjoying it.
I look down at him. But what about you?
Im fine.
Yes, you are, I say, combing his hair back into place. But
you need more. I want to give it to you.
All I need is you, Emily.
I believe him when he says that. What he doesnt realize is
that it only makes me hotter for him.
Youre in my house now, I say. You have to play by my
rules.
A smile twitches on his lips. He may think hes satisfied, but
he needs more.
I lead him over to my bed and sit him down on the edge. Its
my turn to strip him down, let him be naked before me. I can
still feel the wetness of his tongue between my legs, and I want
to do my best to give him some of the same pleasure he gives me
every single time I see him. I sit down on my knees before him
and begin by taking off his shoes and socks.
Im nervous. I dont know if Im any good at this, and
knowing Jackson has been with many women before me doesnt
help matters.
Still, I want him. I want to take him. I want to go further with
him than I have any other man. Admittedly, that doesnt take
much for me, but theres no one Id rather be with than Jackson
Croft.
I start with his shirteven though I can see his impressive
bulge through his black pants. I bite my lip to keep from going
straight there as I pull the soft fabric of his shirt up and over his
head, mussing his hair as I do. His chest is a work of hard planes
and deep valleys showing the ripples of his abs. I trace my
fingers tenderly over his skin and the light hair that covers his
chest. I run my hand over his heart and pause to feel its beating.
Its a quickened pace that tells me whatever Im doing is right.
So I go for his belt buckle and watch as his chest rises and his
stomach pulls in. Hes eager.
I unzip his pants and tug them down as he adjusts to help. I
leave his boxer briefs on, partly to tease him but also to take it
slow for me as I build up to it. I kiss his taut stomach, feeling his
warm skin on my lips. I scoot further between his legs and when
I lean in again to kiss his chest, my breasts push up against his
dick, which is long and rigid and pushing to get out. I press down
a little to feel him more, running my hands over his strong arms,
lingering over the carve of his triceps. He catches my face in his
hands and kisses me, his tongue pushing past my lips like hes
searching for air. I lean into him more, onto him more, wanting
him more. I move my hands down to his waist and slip my
fingers under the thin fabric of his boxer briefs.
He eagerly lifts his hips so that I can drag them off his body,
and I watch as his impressive cock bobs up after being released.
Jackson takes it in his hand and gives it a slow pull. He angles it
toward me slightly and I lean forward and lick the top of his dick,
tasting the wetness that is already there. He keeps pulling on
himself, and although its hot as hell I want to do all the
pleasing. So I nudge him away, and take him in my hand.
The skin is so soft and pliable against his big rigid member. I
stroke him softly at first, to get him a little more excited and to
give me a moment of my own pleasure as I feel him in my hand
and watch his eyes get that dark, lustful look. I increase the
tempo and lean in to kiss his chest, letting my tongue drag
across his hard stomach as he sucks in another breath.
When Ive teased him enough I pull my hair to one side and
lick the top of his dick. I stretch my jaw wide and wrap my lips
around the top. With my tongue flat against him, I slid him into
my mouth as far as I can take him. Jackson let out a moan.
Emily
Im careful to keep my teeth out of the way, but other than
that Im not sure what Im doing, but I know I love the feel of his
dick in my mouth. I let my tongue drag up the pronounced vein,
licking around the tip before taking the whole cock in my mouth
again. I use my hand for more leverage and more pumping.
Jacksons hands dig into my hairsomething I love to do to him
when hes driving me insane with want, so I know Im doing
something right. I keep up the pace, taking his dick deeper and
further into my mouth, nudging down my throat. Having him in
a new place inside me, tasting his skin, smelling the soft scents
of his body, makes me wetter than ever. I cant wait for him to
come. I cant wait for him to fuck me.
I pick up the pace on his cock, unable to control myself. I
sucked him and jerked him until his moans tell me hes close. I
keep up the pace, pushing his dick deeper into my throat. The
more I work him, the more relaxed I becomethe hotter I
becomeand my body relaxes in response. I could never take
him fully in my mouthat least, I dont think I couldbut
damn if I dont try my best to wet his dick with my mouth and
tongue.
Emily, he pants, his hand guiding my head faster and
deeper onto him. Im going to come. Im going to come.
When he does, I feel his hot juices explode in my mouth and
down my throat. I groan over him, the warm sensation so sweet
and sexy as I drink all of him down.
Jesus Christ, he pants, his head hanging low as he catches
his breath. The sight of him so worked over makes me feel
unbelievably sexy. I crawl up on the bed and wrap my body
around his, gently kissing his neck and shoulder. I run my hands
over his solid arms, amazed that I get to touch them, that they
hold me.
I get us a couple of waters, which we both gulp down, and
then we snuggle down in my bednot so big or so soft as his but
just as warm and comforting. I rest my head on Jacksons chest,
basically feeling deliriously happy to be up against his (naked)
body. I let my fingers dance lazily across his skin, feeling his
hard lines and muscles as his eyes drift closed.
A little while later I wake up, still in our same positions. I
press my body, still wearing that nights outfit, sans underwear,
up against Jacksons body. I begin kissing his neck, running my
tongue softly over the skin. I breathe into his ear as I take his
lobe between my teeth, pulling gently. He shifts slightly, and I
let my hand drift down his body, right to that (perfectly
trimmed) patch of coarse hair. He moves his hips in response,
and I drape my leg over his, getting closer. The more I kiss him
the more his breathing picks up. I feel his dick nudge my leg,
responding on its own to my touch. I take him in my hand and
slowly begin pulling, feeling him harden in my hand.
I slid over on top of Jackson, burying my face in his warm
neck as I rub my crotch up against his dick. Hes half asleep, half
awake, and something about taking over his body in that state is
so hot to me, like maybe hes dreaming this is happening and
hell wake up to see it really is. Im so wet that I easily glide up
and down on him, feeling him push open my slick walls. I press
into him on the grind down, pushing on my clit, already swollen
with need. I know I'm going to take him but I wait a little longer,
letting him stay in that dreamlike state.
I reach under my skirt, between my legs, and take his rock-
hard cock in my hand. Jacksons breath stops. I guide that dick to
my hole and slowly lower him into me. Jackson lets out a moan,
his eyes opening momentarily. He grabs hold of my waist as if he
needs to stay grounded.
Hes so fucking thick and long that I pause for a moment,
letting my pussy get used to sudden deepening and stretch. I
move up on him, then fall gently back down, grinding my hips
into his to really push into me further. I spread my legs wider
and rest my hands on his hips. Theres a slight pain far inside
me from taking so much of him at once but Im determined to
work through it. I lift myself off him only the slightest bit, and
then I begin slowly rocking back and forth. Jackson moans my
name, his hands squeezing my hips. I pick up the pace,
loosening myself up and suddenly wanting him deeper. Im fully
on him, his dick as far up inside me as itll go and its heaven.
Jacksons body inside mine, filling me up, its like its all I need
in the world. I cant believe how much I need this man, and even
more amazing is that he seems to need me as well. I look down at
him, such a beautiful specimen, his body so perfect. I cant
imagineI dont want to imaginea time in the future in which
were not together. How would I breathe without him? The need
for him has become so great its as if we couldnt possibly
function without each other.
Jackson suddenly has his hand around me and flips me on my
back in one quick motion, startling and delighting me. Yeah,
hes definitely awake now.
Come here, he says. He takes my hand and pulls me up into
as much of a sitting position as I can with his dick still inside me.
Get this off. We clamor to get my top off and he wastes no
time in removing my bra. His mouth is on my tits immediately,
kissing and sucking at my nipples, kneading me not so gently
with his hand. Im trying to figure out how to arch my back
toward him so he can take more of my breasts while also pushing
my pelvis further into him.
He pulls back from my chest, his hands working furiously
around my skirt, trying to find the zipper. Its been twisted
around my body so many times Im not even sure where its
ended up.
Where the fuck is this thing, he says. I giggle as we both
feel around the fabric until he finds it. I want to cry when he
pulls his dick out of me to rip down the skirt, which he tosses to
the side. I push my knees wide, waiting for him to take me back,
but he pauses. He looks down at my body, his eyes scanning me
as if hes memorizing every curve and every line. This body,
he says, his eyes drinking me in, is stunning. I love this body.
Damn if it doesnt make me want to come right then. Instead
I let out a whimper, scooting down closer to him, needing him
back inside my pussy that is absolutely throbbing. I can feel how
swollen my cunt lips are. I reach down to give myself some relief
as he takes me in with his eyes. When I start to circle my clit
with my finger, Jacksons mouth falls open. He licks his lips,
watching.
My thighs are tingling with anticipation as my finger gets
soaked in my own wetness.
You have no idea how sexy you are, Jackson says, watching
me with fascination.
Take me, I say, pushing my hips up toward him. Please,
Jackson. Take me.
In a flash hes got his dick in his hand and is shoving himself
into me, making me gasp with delight. My eyes flutter shut as he
moves into me in slow, hard punches. My tits jiggle with each
thrust, and he reaches out and holds and rubs me, his thumb
crossing my nipple as he slams into me again. I reach back and
put my hand on the wall, bracing myself from the hard slow
pump from Jacksons powerful cock. Jackson moves his hands to
my hips, holding me in place so he can use all the power he
wants, and I take it, pushing my legs still further apart. His
thumb finds my clit, and with increased speed he picks up where
I left off. With my hands on the wall, his cock slamming into my
cunt and his thumb working my clit I'm going absolutely mad.
He picks up speed with his dick, going faster and impossibly
harder. I dont even try to hide my screams. Its all too much, too
good, my skin too hot as my pussy gets fucks so hard. Im crying
out as the world explodes behind my eyes, my entire body turns
to spasms as I buck and scream out, sweat rolling across my
entire body.
Jesus fucking Christ, I say, and Jackson laughs.
You are the sexiest beast I have ever seen, he says. He
slides out of me, and I feel his absence immediately. I let out a
little groan at the loss. How am I going to not think about this
tomorrow while Im sitting at the table with your family?
I smile. That gives me a good idea. I should totally tease you
under the table.
Dont you dare, he says.
He holds me to his chest and kisses my head. My mind is
spinning with the amazing things we just did, and even a little
excitement for tomorrow. Itll be the first time Ive ever
introduced a guy to my family. Well, its the first time Ive had a
guy to introduce, but its a big deal. I know theyll love him.
Jackson Croft may be a killer in the boardroomand the
bedroombut I know that in real life, he is sweet and smart and
caring. And he really likes me. (Oh, and he loves my body. Just
sayin.)
We fall asleep in each others arms, and I know nothing can
go wrong.

***

Oh, shit. Jackson.


I look at the clock and its after nine. We have to be at my
parents by ten-thirty and even though its a little more than a
half hour drivein no trafficwe still have to go by Jacksons so
he can shower and change.
Wake up, I say, nudging him.
But he only wants to wrap me back up in his arms. He pulls
me back to him and covers my neck in kisses, his hand
instinctively cupping my breast. And it feels so good, and theres
almost nothing Id rather do than see this morning in bed
through, but we have to get going. Even though my parents are
super easygoing, I dont want to stroll in flushed and late and
smelling like sex. So we have to get showered and get going.
Come on, Im serious, I say. Goosebumps spring up on my
arms from all his kisses and touches. I sit up, scooting out of his
reach. I throw the covers off him, intending to make him cold so
hell get up. All I manage to do is expose his sculpted bodyand
his dick, rising to the occasion. He moves toward me like a lion
hunting its preyslowly, methodically, eyes on the prize.
Dont you dare, Jackson, I say. Im serious, we have to get
dressed.
But I want it just as much as he does. I laugh as he tosses me
on my back. He takes my bent knees in his palms and pushes
them back toward my shoulders. Dont worry. Ill make this
quick.
My body is ready to take him as he slides his dick back in
where it belongs. I moan as he moves inside me, more slowly
than the last time and despite the clock ticking away. I dont
care, though. My mind goes blank to everything except the feel
of Jackson in me, his hands on me, keeping my knees pressed to
my shoulders so that my pussy is fully open to him. When we
come, we come together, sweating and panting.
See? That wasnt so bad, he says in my ear, kissing me one
last time before sliding out of me.
Were both a bit dizzy as we get dressed. We decide well both
shower at his place, and I grab some fresh clothes and my
makeup bag. I might have to finished dressing in the car on the
way out to Lexington. This is my whole deal, from last night to
this afternoon, and I have to admit I didnt plan it very well.
Even if we had gotten up earlier, and even if he hadnt just taken
me, wed still be pressed for time having to go back into Back
Bay before driving out of the city.
I just want everything to go perfectly today. Yes, that was the
perfect way to start my day, but I dont like the feeling of being
rushed. My parents dont appreciate tardiness. As we fly out of
the city, I hope we can get there on time, and the day can
continue without a hitch.
Jackson
Emilys family home is a little tan ranch-style house on a quiet
street filled with trees and dog walkers. Its like Ive died and
gone to suburban hell.
Thats mean. Its actually quite charming in a Norman
Rockwell kind of way. Its just so totally opposite from what I
grew up with. This place oozes warmth and we havent even
made it through the front door yet.
Emily is fidgeting as I pull up in the driveway. I take her hand.
Nervous? I ask.
A little.
Why? Do you think I'm going to blow it or your parents
wont like me?
Neither, she says, and then, I dont know. I just want
them to like you as much as I do, see what a good man you are. I
dont want any of the differences to matter.
By differences she means moneyspecifically mine. I kiss
her fingertips. You have nothing to worry about. Everything is
going to be perfect. I promise.
Her parents greet us with open armsliterally. Im going in
for the cheek kiss on Mrs. Brown when she envelopes me in a
full-on hug. It throws me off. And then I reach out for the
handshake with her father and he does the same thing. Im not a
fan of social touching. I think its presumptuous and frankly a
bit invasive.
Come in! Mrs. Brown says. The house is warm and stuffed
with tchotchkes that would have my mother breaking out in
hives. Mrs. Brown touches my back as she guides me from the
foyer, overflowing with rain boots and umbrellas and, God, even
a beach ball.
Thank you for having us, Mr. and Mrs. Brown, I say. I
present her with the bottle of Veuve Cliquot I brought as a gift,
thinking thered probably be mimosas.
What in the world? Champagne? Mrs. Brown says. I
wouldnt even know how to open this. And its Martha and Joe,
sweetie.
I give Emily a quick look. Who doesnt know how to open
champagne? You just unscrew the cork. Whatever, Martha and
Joe, I can get used to that.
Emilys siblings are in the living room, and they both rise
when we walk in. Im introduced to sister Sabrina and big
brother Dax, who eyes me with the sort of suspicion I can respect
from a girls big brother. Extra points for not hugging me. Dax
shakes my hand and Sabrina gives me a little wave.
Martha sets the bottle of champagne on a side table and
invites everyone in to the dining room table. A feast is set out
with stacks of waffles, a plate of eggs and another of bacon.
Martha, this looks amazing, I say, choosing a seat. Emily
sits next to me. I can tell shes still a little nervous. A pleasant
smile has been plastered on her face since we walked to the front
door. I reach for her hand and give it a squeeze.
Aw, so sweet, Sabrina says. I move my hand away from
EmilysI hadnt intended for anyone to see what was meant as
a private moment. Dont stop on my account, Sabrina says,
not missing a thing. You should see my parents slobber all over
each other. Its disgusting but also sort of sweet.
I realize the entire family is looking at Emily and medo they
expect me to touch her again? What do they want from me?
Whatever it is, at this point I prefer to keep my hands to myself
if its going to cause this much commotion.
So, Mr. Brown
Joe, he says, sitting down. Martha has set a pot of coffee on
the table anda can of whipped cream? Everyone is seated,
parents at the heads of the table and Sabrina and Dax across
from Emily and me.
Sorry, Joe
Jackson? Martha says, interrupting. Before we get started
would you like to say grace?
I am momentarily stunned. Grace? Like, the prayer? My
family attended church on the major holidaysChristmas and
Easterbut that was strictly for appearances. During services,
my mind always wandered to my homework or a project I was
working on. I absorbed nothing because I knew it meant nothing.
Ive never said a prayer in my life, out loud or to myself.
Mom, Emily says. Hes the guest.
Thats exactly why he should do it, Martha says. Please,
Jackson. Wed be honored.
Jesus, Im not the pope here to bless their food.
No, truly, I say, going for modesty. Ill just end up
mangling it. This is your home. You or Joe should say grace. I
insist.
Theres a beat of silence that tells me maybe that was the
wrong thing to say. I could have made up some words, blessing
the food and thanking God for this day. But I dont think perfect
strangers should assume Im religious. Its like theyve put my
faithor lack thereofto the test, and I failed. Little do they
know that being tested and being set up are two things I really
fucking hate.
Joe says the blessing and soon were passing the dishes of
food around the table. I hope the awkwardness has passed and I
can get back on my game. Im so good with adultsI was around
them more as a kid than people my own ageand to not do well
today would be failure on so many levels.
Martha, this all looks so amazing, I say, doling out
scrambled eggs onto my plate.
Dad made it, Dax informs me. We dont go along with the
patriarchal ways around here. Theres no womens work.
Jesus, Dax, Emily says.
Emily, watch your mouth, her mother says. Sabrina stifles
a laugh. Grown adults being reprimanded at the dinner table.
Okay. This is different.
I stare across at this guy, only a couple of years younger than
me. I didnt mean that at all. Whoever set this all up, it looks
amazing. Im thankful you all invited me.
Jackson, tell us about your work, Martha says in a clear
effort to smooth things over. Emily hasnt told us much about
you but she did mention that you met through the Childrens
Education Fund.
Its such a great organization, Joe says. What made you
decide to get involved?
Emily, I say. She stormed into my office one day,
demanding money.
It didnt happen like that, she says. We had an
appointment and he tried to cancelat the last minute and for
the third time. I couldnt believe it. I was so annoyed.
Youve got a headstrong daughter here, Joe, I say. She
wouldnt take no for an answer.
So whatd you donate? Sabrina asks. Time? Services?
Oh yeah, Dax says. CEF has that great mentorship
program. Is that what youre doing?
No, I say. I donated money.
Yeah, but what else? Dax asks. I stare at him for a moment,
not understanding the question. Finally he says, I mean, you
didnt just write a check, did you?
It was a check for a hundred thousand dollars, I clarify.
Jackson was very generous, Emily says.
Yeah, but I mean, Dax continues, what are you doing
now?
Im ready to strangle this guys neck when Joe steps in and
says, I think maybe what Dax is getting at is perhaps how you
got involved with CEF. What drew you to them out of all the
other worthy non-profits?
Just Emily, really, I say. Truly, she was very persuasive.
Being so wealthy you probably donate to lots of causes? Joe
asks.
Just Emilys. I smile at her, hoping shes feeling more
relaxed. And Im not that wealthy.
Oh, come on, Sabrina says. Everyone knows youre rich as
hell.
God, Sabrina, Emily says.
Sabrina, please, Martha says, looking a little mortified.
Im sorry, Jackson. We shouldnt talk about such things
anyway. Although it must make life a little easier, not having to
worry about money.
I still worry about money, I say. My company certainly has
profit goals every quarter. If I dont make them, I hear about it
from the board.
Croft International is one of the wealthiest companies in the
country, Joe says. How can you sit and worry about making
even more money?
Its my job, I say simply. We have shareholders who
expect a certain amount of return on their investments. I dont
think its too outrageous to give them that.
But dont you think, at some point, its enough? How much
money do you have to make for you to say, Okay, Ive made
enough. Now Im going to start giving it away?
There is no number. We live in a capitalistic society.
It looks like old Joe is on the verge of a head explosion when
Emily steps in. Come on, guys. Stop being so hard on Jackson.
Hello, we met because of his donation. A very generous donation
that shouldnt be overlooked. Its the biggest in the funds
history.
Martha mutters something about how thats not the issue as
Joe refocuses on his eggs.
What about the mentorship program? Dax says.
I look across at Dax. What about it?
Why dont you get involved in it? Being the head of a
company is the exact kind of person Id think they would be
looking for. Wouldnt you want to mentor a young kid, expose
them to the business world and help them see the heights they
can climb?
Believe me, if I could find a way to add more hours to the
day, I would. I hardly have the time to do much of anything,
besides work. My days are filled from top to bottom, keeping the
company running and earning money. Its an eighty hour a week
job, and thats when things are slow.
You make time for exercise, right? Dax says, eyeing me
carefully. Its the same concept. You just do. You make the
time.
What this kid is not getting is that I dont want to make the
time for shit like that. Id rather write the damn check. But of
course I dont say that.
Can we ease up on the third degree? Emily says. Jeez,
guys. Hes not on trial. Hes here so we can all get to know each
other.
Emily is right, Martha says. Im sorry, Jackson. Were just
so focused on charity in this family. Weve all chosen to donate
our lives to service so were a bit passionate about it.
Well, Im happy to help fund that passion, I say. As soon as
the words are out of my mouth, I regret it. Fuck, what a mistake.
Condescending asshole, thats me. What I meant was
No, its fine, Martha says. There are those who do, and
those who write the checks. It all makes the world go around.
When you do have a moment to relax, what do you like to do?
Shes goodmoving on quickly after her dig at my money.
What is it about this family and money? I thought it before about
Emily and now I see where it comes from. They really hate
money. Ive never known such a way of thinking could exist.
Honestly, in the past few years I havent even had time to
even take a vacation. Pathetic, I know. Work is just so
demanding that it takes up almost all my time.
Is it fulfilling? Martha asks. Working so much?
Fulfilling? I repeat, as if I dont know the meaning of the
wordand maybe in this context, I dont. I work because its
what I do. I work because its expected of me. I work because its
been drilled down deep in me, into my core, that I have to work
harder and longer and better than anyone elseincluding my
brothers. Yes, I suppose I like what I do. It is rewarding.
Thats wonderful, Martha says. And not to harp on the
issue but I bet youd feel even more rewarded if you found the
time to do a little volunteer work. It doesnt take much to make a
difference in a life. She smiles like shes not harping on the
issue.
Well, youve certainly all made me think, I sayor rather, I
lie.
We finish the rest of the meal with the sort of pleasantries
this afternoon should have been filled with. Sabrina talks about
her professors and some guy shes seeing and Dax talks to his
father about ways to increase volunteer services at the non-
profit he works at. He makes sure to shoot a few side-eyes in my
direction. I want to ask, What the fuck did I do? For such a sweet
family, these people seem like a bunch of assholes. Sabrina gets
a pass, I suppose. She didnt say much, but at least she didnt
insult me or take shots at me.
One thing is for sure: this brunch did not go as planned. Now I
have to go back and figure out where it all went wrong. But first
order of business is getting the hell out of here and back to the
sanity of the city.
Emily
Were all about to move into the living room for more
conversation. I see this as a fresh start to get things back on
track after the contentious brunch. But it seems that Jackson has
had enough.
Emily? he says. We should head back into the city.
You think? I glance at my watch. Its not even noon.
You dont have to get back to work now, do you, Jackson?
Dad says. On a Sunday?
Ill probably stop in for a little bit, Jackson says. Get a
little jumpstart on the week.
I stare at Jackson for moment thinking, Really? Youre going
into work today?
Dad turns to me and says quietly, Sweetie, will you be okay?
Im fine, Dad, I say as he kisses my cheek.
Youve raised a very independent young woman, Jackson
says. Emily is great at taking care of herself.
We all walk to the front door, Sabrina and Dax calling out how
nice it was to meet Jackson even though I know they dont like
him. None of my family likes him. This has all gone terribly
wrong and Im not sure why or how.
Nice car you got there, Dad says, stepping out onto the
front steps. Dad has never cared about cars. I cant tell if hes
being nice or condescending.
Mom stops me before I can follow Jackson out.
Emily, she says. What are you doing with this man?
Mom, I say. Dont.
Hes nothing like us. Hes nothing like you.
If youd given him a chance youd have seen how kind he
really is. And he treats me really well, by the way, I say, hating
that Im defending him. You guys were all way too hard on him.
You were rude.
We were not hard on him. And maybe he does treat you well
with gifts and fancy dinners?
No, Mom, thats not what I meant
Actions speak louder than words, Emily, she says. The
action I see is that hes going into the office on a Sunday. He
cant even spend one whole day with you? What kind of partner
is that? You deserve better.
You only got a snapshot of him today, I say. Hes more
than his job.
Sure doesnt seem like it. Honestly I dont know a single
other thing about that man aside from his job. And that I could
have learned that from Google.
Im going, I say, shaking my head. This isnt going to get
any better. Mom pulls me in for a hug before I can get away.
We just love you, honey, Mom says. We want the best for
you, and you deserve a person who understands all the amazing
qualities that make you who you are.
As we drive away, I feel like Ive ingested a rock.
Well, that didnt go as planned, I say. I give a little laugh,
like it wasnt so bad but its at least fixable. Jackson keeps his
eyes on the road. You dont really have to go to the office, do
you?
I do have a big meeting tomorrow.
You have big meetings every day, I say. Jackson sighs. God,
are we fighting? Or about to fight? I reach across and put my
hand on his thigh. Should we at least hang out at your place for
a little bit?
He takes my hand and kisses my fingers like he does. Like I
love.
How about this, he says. How about I take you out to
dinner tomorrow night? Wherever you want to go. Pizza, lobster,
steak; South End, Downtown, Back Bay. Your choice. Whatever
you want. Sound good?
Yeah, I say. A swelling is caught in my throat, so I clear it
and try again. Sure. Sounds good.
When he drops me off at my apartment he gives me a kiss on
the cheek before he speeds off down the street. Like he cant get
away from me fast enough.
Did I make a huge mistake by introducing him to my family?
Did I scare him off?
I think back to what Mom said: Hes nothing like us. Shes
right, and Ive always known that about him. Maybe the
differences are starting to divide us. I work hard at school and
my job but I also understand the importance of spending time
with family and friends (even if Im not the most social person
around). Is Mom right? Do I really know so little about him?
I do what Jackson is doingI bury myself in work for the day.
I have a lot of reading I can catch up on, and some research I can
do at the library for one of my classes.
The library is fairly busy. Most seats are full, but its quiet
aside from the turning of pages and light tapping of fingers on
keyboards. I find a spot at a large table in the center and spread
my books and notebooks out.
Hey, Emily, a voice says quietly. I look upits a girl named
Kera from my School Law class with Professor Stanwickand
Brent. She looks down at my books and sees Im studying for our
class. What are you studying that for? Before I can answer she
says, I heard youre sucking dick for grades now.
What?
Thats what I heard. That after you bombed the last paper
you offered Brent a blow job for guaranteed better grade.
Are you kidding me? Do people actually believe that? Do you
believe that?
She shrugs, indecisive. I just thought you should know
whats being said.
Its not true, I say. And you can tell that to anyone who
believes that. Its not true.
After that, the day is a wash. I cant concentrate.
I call Natalie on my walk home.
What else is Brent Fuller saying about me? I ask.
Well she begins, and its clear she doesnt want to say.
Nat, tell me, I press. I need to know.
I didnt hear him say it, but I heard from someone else that
youve been spending a lot of time in his office. And that one
time, when you were coming out, your skirt was on backward or
inside out or something.
I havent been in his office in forever, I say, fuming.
Someone else said youve been going to his apartment.
I dont even know where he lives!
Im sorry, Em, Natalie says. I told those people the stories
were bullshit. Im sorry I didnt tell you sooner.
Its fine, I say, even though its not. What a petty little
weasel Brent is.
Are you going to tell Professor Stanwick?
Tell him what? That I heard his T.A. is spreading rumors
about me? I have no proof.
Just keep your distance, Natalie says. Dont give anyone
any reason to think something is going on by staying after class
or going to his office.
Do you actually think Id go to his office after this?
No, I dont, Natalie says.
Sorry, I say. I dont mean to get snippy. I just dont need
this right now. With things with Jackson feeling tangled up, I
dont need school in a knot either.
I stick to my word and Monday after class, I shoot out the
door. I do not want to be seen by anyone to be lingering around.
Besides, I want to get home and get ready for dinner with
Jackson.
We texted a couple of times. He wrote and asked, Any ideas
for dinner? I guess he didnt want to impress me with another
fancy meal. Which is fine, honestly. Im not complaining. My
mind is going into crazy-girl territory, wondering if hes losing
interest in me. Maybe he doesnt care about impressing me
anymore.
But I took the initiativealways a good thingand found an
Italian place in the North End that gets great ratings for serving
freshly made pasta. Jackson asks if I want him to pick me up or if
I want to meet him at the restaurant. Ouch, I think. Its really
starting to feel less and less like a date and more like a casual
meet up. My place in Allston is totally out of the way, so I tell
him Ill take the train and meet him there. He doesnt argue.
When I see him walk down the crowded street, I cant help
but smile. Hes staring down at his phone, and Im watching,
worried that hes going to walk right into the pole of a parking
sign or something. He looks so slick and handsome in his suit,
even though he ditched his tie. Hopefulness springs up in me
maybe we just hit a rough patch and tonight things will get back
on course.
Hey, you, I say, stepping toward him. He glances up at me,
lands a peck on my cheek, and continues working his phone.
Still busy with work? He grunts a reply. I wait until he finishes
what hes doinghis brow is slightly furrowed so it cant be
anything good. I have to respect Jackson for the multitude of
things he is responsible for. I respect him for it, I dont fault him
for it, like I worry my family does.
When he finishes, he slips his phone into his inside coat
pocket. Once were seated and have ordered our food, I hope
things will relax but theres a weird tension between us.
Something bad happen at work? I ask.
Something bad happens at work at least five times a day,
he says. But I always handle it.
I think about telling him about Brent, but hes clearly in a bad
mood and I dont want to make it worse. Besides, Im handling
Brent. Hopefully his poor little ego wounds will heal soon and
hell back off.
We eat in relative silence. I wish it were the comfortable
silence of a couple that is assured of their status, but it is not.
Jackson shoots me a tight smile now and then and asks me a few
bland questionshows the food, hows school, whats new with
workbut its nothing substantial.
Im prepared to shake his hand and walk to the T after dinner,
but he surprises me by saying, Want to go back to my place?
Sure, I say, trying to sound casual when inside I'm doing
cartwheels. Hes just in a funny mood. He wants to be with me.
And I need to stop reading into things.
Jackson
I cant shake it. Today was as epically bad at work as yesterday
was with Emilys family. What is happening to me? Im losing
my edge, that much is clear.
Today my brothers circled me like the sharks they are. Miles
and Rex both responded to an email that was sent to all three of
us by the family attorney which read: Your fathers wishes were
to put the most responsible family man in charge of Croft
International and it is my job to ensure that happens. Until one
of the sons is married, an intermediary president and CEO will
named as head of Croft International and will remain until the
terms of Edward Crofts last will and testament have been
fulfilled. The board has selected Robert Irving to step into this
role until such a time as the requests of your late father have
been fulfilled.
It goes on to some legalese crap but Rex and Miles had to
chime in despite our agreement to speak only through our
assistants.
Miles wrote from New York: Dont think for a second that
there arent a hundred perfect blue bloods down here in New
York. Nothing is more important than showing you two losers
how things should truly be done. And I think we can all agree
that, if Irving gets that title, he will not let go until hes six feet
under.
Baby brother Rex had to throw his own temper tantrum from
Los Angeles to inform us that being the youngest CEO of a multi-
billion-dollar empire would be just one note to his legacy. I live
in the land of women whose only goal is to marry up. All I need is
one visit to the Polo Lounge and I will find a willing woman to
make the next Mrs. Croft. Prepare to bow down, assholes. And I
agree with pretty boy MilesIrving cant be trusted with our
company. Its time to put extra pressure to this race to the
altar.
Rex keeps it classy, as always. And Miles definitely makes a
good point in Robert Irving. Hes a blood-sucking, scrupulous,
under-handed monsterwhich is exactly why Father liked him.
He let do Irving do the truly heinous jobs that Father didnt want
his hands dirtied on. Father always had clean hands.
The point is, the pressure is mounting.
And then theres Emily.
The brunch with her family was not successful. I keep
thinking back on it to see where I went wrong. I dont like being
cornered and questioned, and I dont like to bullshit people by
saying the things just because its what they want to hear. That
left me (smugly?) reminding her family that I benefit greatly by
living in a capitalistic society. Normally I wouldn't care about
speaking the truth like that, but it upset Emily, and that hurts
me more than knowing I pissed off her family.
I want to make up for yesterday, and maybe for my distance at
dinner tonight. I have a lot on my mind but I shouldnt take it
out on Emily. I shouldnt ignore her. Shes the only thing good in
my lifemy one true bright spot.
When we arrive at my place, all I want to do is wipe my mind
clean of the last two days. I want to gather Emily up in my arms
and hold her close all night long. More importantly, I want to be
honest about what Ive been feelingand whats happened with
work and my father. She deserves to knowespecially now that
I realize how deep my feelings for her are.
Are you thirsty? I ask Emily. We walked into the kitchen,
and I put my briefcase on the counter. Water? Cocktail? Wine?
I could use a drink, she says. Surprise me with something.
Im going to head to the ladies room.
I watch her walk away, the way her hair hangs down her back
and her hips sway. She turns back to look at me, and smiles. My
heart almost cracks, that smile is so beautiful.
I need to enjoy the night so I open my laptop right there in
the kitchen and check the emails one more time, making sure
theres been no more traffic from my brothers and the lawyer.
Nothing new. With Rex three hours behind in L.A., Im sure hell
have more to add as his evening goes on. Im glad to be done
with it for now.
I make two vodkas with soda and pomegranate juice with a
splash of lime. I carry them into the living room, a space I
actually use to watch games on Sundays or let movies play while
I stretch out on the couch with my laptop and do some work. Im
thinking about what Im going to say to Emily because at this
point Ive left too much unsaid. If only I knew which words to say
to her. Thank god for the vodka.
There you are, her sweet voice says, finding me in the
living room. She curls up next to me on the couch, her body
fitting so perfectly against mine. She picks up her glass from the
oversized ottoman in front of the couch. Cheers, she says,
clinking her glass to mine. I watch as her lips touch the cold
glass, the liquid pouring over her tongue. Dang. Youre even a
good bartender. What cant you do?
My feelings for Emily are deeper than anything Ive ever felt
with a woman. Theyre real and deep and totally fucking
complicated because of my family. How can I ask her to be a part
of such an ugly world, where siblings actually despise each
other? Her family loves her, wants the best for her with no
strings attached. If I did what I wanted to doand what I want to
do I can hardly admit to myselfand married this woman, what
kind of life would I be bringing her into? Her mother is rightI
cant give her what she needs. She deserves someone better,
who can be there for her at all times, not when my schedule
allows.
Come here, I say. She moves close, facing me. I rest my
forehead against hers. My mind is tangled, I say. I run my
fingers along the smooth lines of her jaw.
Emily touches my chest, her hand gently rubbing right over
my heart. I know, she says. But its okay. I feel tangled too.
Ive never felt this way before, Emily.
Neither have I, she says, so quietly its almost a whisper.
Its a little scary, isnt it?
I cant admit that out loud so I nod into her, our foreheads
still together as if our thoughts are melding into each other,
words not necessary.
Her lips look as plump and kissable as ever. I run my thumb
over her bottom lip, so pliable under my touch.
Im sorry about my family, she says.
Dont be, I say, concentrating on her lips as she forms the
words.
Theyre just protective. They mean well.
I know. I gently kiss her, my fingers caressing her cheeks.
If you ever want to talk about your family, Im here, she
continues, her voice as soft on her skin. I continue my kisses
down on her neck. You can tell me anything, Jackson.
I pull back and look at her. I know.
And I doI can tell her anything. I can tell her that I am in
love with her, because I am. I can tell her that she makes me
crazy happy, because its true. I can tell her that I want to marry
her and that I want to be with her always. Forever.
But I could never tell her about my fathers wishes, or that
beating my brothers to the altar and the top of the company is
something I feel the need to do. Its beyond crass. I want Emily
for who she is, how she makes me feel, and for who we are
together. Nothing else matters.
I kiss her, her mouth opening up to me as my tongue finds
hers. I drink her in. She moves her body closer to mine, pressing
her breasts against my chest. I love this woman, and knowing
that this mouth will be the only one Ill kiss for the rest of my
life makes me need her even more.
My hands roam across her stomach and up to her breast; I
hold it gently, rubbing my thumb over her nipple, hard through
all the fabric. Her heavy breathing and the want in her eyes
makes me even harderand then she takes off her blouse for
me, showing me those luscious tits of hers, and I cant help but
bury my face in the them. She holds my head close to her chest
as I kiss across those gorgeous mounds, kneading and licking
until she reaches behind her and unclasps her bra. I take her
bare breasts into my hands. I groan as I take her hard pink nipple
in my mouth, working it with my tongue and gentle pulls of my
teeth as she arches into me, her hands grasping for the edges of
my shirt. I pull it off for her and watch her. Shes seen me
shirtless plenty of times but each time I swear its like the first
moment. Her hands skim across me, her touch so delicate.
I pull her close to me, our bare chests together as our tongues
find each other again. Her hands on my skin, slipping down my
abs, makes my head spin. When she reaches for my pants, Im
ready to give in to her. She can have me. She can have whatever
she wants.
I let her strip me down to my boxer briefs, my dick so hard its
practically pulsing. She runs her hand over it, so slowly that I
swear Im going to come right there. I start pulling at her skirt
desperate to get every piece of clothing off her sumptuous body.
She stands before me, her tits full and ripe with her hard
nipples. I rest my hands on her hips and look up into her eyes.
She unzips the skirt and lets it fall to the floor. Before I can say,
Everything, wanting her to take even those tiny white lace
panties off her body, shes hooking her thumbs into the edge of
the fabric and pulls them down. Emily stands before me
completely naked, a sight so beautiful it hurts my heart. I cover
her stomach in kisses as she sucks in for air, her arms wrapped
around my head.
I dip my head just enough to kiss her mound, loving the way
her body reactsher stomach sucks in, her hips push slightly
toward me, her hands hold tight for the ride she knows Ill give
her. I could live down here at her pussy; I cant get enough. As
my tongue reaches in for the wetness that awaits me, Emily
moans and digs her hands in my hair like she always does.
God, you are so good to me, she says, her hips moving
gently in my hands. Her words and her satisfaction only make
me want to give her more. I flick my tongue at her clit as her
moans fill my head. Shes leaning more into me, so I wrap my
arms around her ass and pull her up on the couch with me so
that my head is back and shes straddling my face.
Work me however you want, I tell her. I dig my fingers into
the plush cushion of her ass. Fuck my face.
She places her wet cunt right on my mouth, moving her hips
down as I work her pussy with my tongue, her hips slowly
circling and pushing on me. Its so fucking hot how much she
wants it. She went from a shy woman who was too timid to tell
me what she wanted to this vixen who has no problem showing
me what she wants and how. How is it possible that she keeps
getting sexier and sexier?
As I increase the speed and thrust of my tongue her hips rock
harder, pushing against my mouth and chin as I take as much of
her as I can. Her moans become louder, her breath shaper, and
she doesnt even have to tell me shes close. I know from her
sounds. Her cunt clenches and I lick her up, holding her tight
until the very last spasm.
In her haze she slowly slides down my body and I kiss every
inch of her as she goes. Lucky for me she lands straddling me.
You dont think I'm done with you yet, do you? I say.
You better not be.
I capture her mouth, letting her taste herself. She grinds
down on me, my cock straining through the thin fabric. You
know, she says, I think were slowly making our way through
all these rooms.
Theres still at least ten to go, I say.
Hmm, she purrs. Im game if you are.
Im not going anywhere, I say.
She cups her tit in her hand and offers it up to me; I more
than willingly take it in my mouth.
Emily reaches down between us for my dick, rubbing her hand
over it. Shes already eager for more. I flip her onto her back on
the couch as I take off the remaining bits of fabric from my body.
She sits up and reaches for me, her hands covering me so quickly
until my dick is in her hand, stroking me. My eyes fall shut and I
feel the warm wetness of her mouth on me, making me catch my
breath. She dips her head up and down, positively slobbering all
over my cock, soaking it, making me want to spray down her
throat in two seconds flat. But I have to give her more. She sucks
on my dick then pulls back and pumps me with her hand, and
there is nothing gentle about it. She is pure sex.
I push her back with my hand, getting her into position so
that I can take her. But Emily isnt having it. Not tonight. She
turns until she is on her hands and knees, her ass popped up
toward me. She looks over her shoulder at me and I swear, I
couldnt close my mouth if I tried. Staring at her round ass
offered up to me is the hottest thing Ive seen. I dont even
realize Ive taken my dick in my hand, giving it slow strokes. As
if she couldnt get any hotter, she lowers her body to her
forearms, so that her ass is really primed and waiting for me. I
cant wait a second longer.
I move forward and easily find her soaked slit and I push my
long dick slowly into her cunt. We both moan out, the new angle
giving us both new pleasure. I slide my dick out, coated in her
juices, then push it back in, her hole so tight. I watch as my dick
widens her and disappears into her pussy. I pump her slowly,
stretching out her walls. She moves back into my dick, moving
with me, wanting more. I increase my tempo, gently at first,
testing her out. Sweat is dotting her back, lining the ridge in her
spine, and I run my hand over it. Shes pushing back even harder
into me, so I give it to her back, slamming my dick into her, my
balls smacking her ass until shes screaming out and Im
exploding into her, grinding myself as deep into her as I can into
her pussy. Fucking hell, I never knew a woman could be so hot.
After a moment I slowly pull myself out of her. She stands,
reaching out for my shoulder as she sways.
Whoa, I say. You okay?
Her eyes have fallen shut; her cheeks are flushed red and her
hair is a mess. Naked fucked Emily standing before me could get
me hard again in about thirty seconds.
Yeah, she says. A smile forms on her lips. I just need a
minute.
I hold her hand as she walks away to the bathroom. I rub my
hand through my hair as my mind slowly comes back. She could
make me forget everything, and gladly. I need her in my life,
always. Business asidein fact, screw the business. I dont want
anything, only Emily. I cant continue keeping these feelings
inside me. I have to tell her how I feel.
Emily
I splash water on my face in the bathroom not far from the
living room. I cleaned myself upas usual, Jackson had me
absolutely drenchedand I still needed a cool down as my
senses slowly come back to me. I dry my face and try to fix my
hair, smoothing it down into something that doesnt make me
look like I just woke up in the forest.
I go into the kitchen for a couple glasses of water. The glow of
a laptop illuminates the refrigerator. I cant help but turn to look
at the screen.
My eyes scan across an email. I see the words, but I have to go
back and read it more slowly because I cant believe my eyes.
The gist? In order for Jackson to take over the family business,
he has to prove his family values by getting married.
Hes been using me this whole time as some sort of sick
contest with his brothers. Draw me into his life, wine and dine
me a little, and then pop the questiononly so that he can get
the real prize. I know how bitter hes been about not taking over
the company like his father had told him his whole life, but I
never imagined Id be a part of some plot to become his trophy
wife. And here I am, standing naked in his kitchen, the cold of
the travertine floors sending chills straight up my body. All I
want is to get out of here but my clothes are in the living room,
where Jackson still isprobably naked.
A shame builds up in me for believing someone like Jackson
could be with someone like memuch less fall in love. I knew he
was out of my league, and I only mean that in terms of hotness
(damn him) and money. In all other ways, my family was right.
Hes not the man for me. He only cares about himself and his
business.
When I storm into the living room, hes (thankfully) got his
boxers back on and is lounging back on the couch, one arm
behind his head like hes posing for an underwear ad. Jesus, his
body. I literally cant look at him. I find my panties and slip
them on.
Come here, he says, lazily reaching a hand out for me.
No, I say.
He sits up on his forearms. You okay?
I throw his pants aside and find my skirt and blouse but
where the hell is my bra?
I just want to get dressed, I say.
Are you cold?
I shake my head no. I cant speak. Not yet. I definitely cant
look at him. Finally I find my bra on the other side of the
ottoman and I snatch it up. I turn my back to Jackson as I finish
getting dressed.
Emily, he says. Are you okay? Whats wrong?
I cant stop the tears from coming, as much as I want to. I
swipe my cheeks clear before turning back to him. He looks so
confused, maybe even concerned. But its part of his act. I know
that now.
I wasnt snooping, I begin. Not that it matters, but I
wasnt. Your laptop screen must lack a sleep mode or something
because it was on, bright and shiny when I went to get some
water.
What are you talking about? Come here. Sit down.
No. I saw it, I say, and everything starts to bubble up at
once, completely out of my control. I saw the email between
you and your brothers and some lawyer guy. First son who gets
to altar gets the company? What kind of sick shit is that,
Jackson? Youve just been using me this whole time as a way to
take over your family business. How sick in the head are you?
Emily, wait, he says. Hes standing up now and stepping
toward me. I step back.
Stay away from me, Jackson.
He raises his hands in surrender. Im notI wont touch
you, Emily.
This has all been a lie, I say. Its all bullshit. What, you
thought I was dumb enough to go along with this? That you could
woo me with your big house and private rooms and rooftop
pools? Tears stream down my face at the memories. All those
things he did for methat I thought he did for me. It was all a
scam. That whole time you were just priming me to be your
little wife. Did you think Id be thankful to you for saving me
from a life of middle-class boredom? That you could appease me
by writing a check to my cute little charity?
Emily, no. I swear. Its not like that at all. It never has
been, he says.
So youve never thought of being with me as a way to win
the seat at the top of the company?
No, not like that. Let me explainits complicated.
I was so blind. My first impression of you was that you were
a complete asshole and somehow I let myself forget that. That
day in his office he was so cocky. He was toying with me even
then. So what happened? You learned that you had to get
married so thought of me? Some fresh, pliable girl for you to
mold to your liking?
Emily, it wasnt like that at all. My feelings for you are
genuine. I truly care about you. Please. He takes another step
toward me.
My voice quivers as I say, Dont you dare touch me.
I hustle out of the room and across the house, so
unnecessarily big, just like his ego. Jackson chases after me.
I do care about you, he says. Please listen to me. I know
how that email looks but I dont care about any of that. I dont
care what my asshole father wanted. I only care about you.
I may have been nave once but my eyes are wide open now,
I say. I dont believe for one second that you dont care about
your business. Its fine that you care about ityou shouldbut
its the only thing you care about and thats not okay. God, my
family saw that within three minutes of meeting you. What took
me so long? I know what took me so longI was swept up in
those strong arms of his, those sensual kisses, those deft
hands
Emily, I do care, Jackson says, his eyes pleadingprobably
because he sees his beloved company slipping away. Ive been
falling for you. Please. Stay.
I want to slap him for saying that. His desperation to save
himself is as pathetic as it is transparent.
Youve just proven my point, I say. I swing open the heavy
oak door and practically run down Marlborough Street, away
from Jackson and everything I let myself believe.

***

I throw myself back into school and work with renewed force. I
have to keep my mind occupiedits the only way I can survive.
Natalie and I spend an evening studying our asses off for an
upcoming exam. Afterward we hit up a pub in Brookline where I
drink way too many beers. I dont even mind the old guys flirting
with me. I laugh loudly, toss peanut shells on the floor, and give
two shits about what happens tomorrow and zero shits about
what happened with Jackson. I go through the motions of being
carefree.
But when Im in bed at night, just before sleep takes hold of
me, I see Jacksons face and I cry. I hate myself for it. I hate
myself for missing him and feeling like I need him.
Sitting through Brents class is a different kind of hell. At
least Natalie is next to me, but even she cant shield me from the
looks I get from other classmatesthe disgust of some of the
women, the salacious interest from some of the guys. Im
repulsed by the whole thing.
Lets think about examples due of process in public
schools, Brent says from the front of the class. Its been a long
week of trying to be okay, and Im tired. Its been raining and
cold and everyone is coming down with colds. Theres a general
miserableness to the room thats felt by everyone, I think. Today
its not just me. What steps must be taken before any
punishment is handed out when a student is suspected of
wrongdoing?
No one speaks up, so I raise my hand just to get the discussion
moved on so we can get out of here. I want to get to the caf and
warm up with a hot tea and bagel.
No one? Brent says. Ill give you a hintthere are two
things that must happen. I keep my hand raised; he keeps
ignoring me. If these steps arent followed any conviction can
be overturned so you better know this. Someone yawns loudly.
Brent sighs. You must first
Hello, I say, pretty much surprising myself and everyone in
the classincluding Brent. I know the answer. Ive been
raising my hand. And we never raise our handswe normally
just speak out.
The Fourth and Fifth Amendments, people, Brent says.
Concerning
Privacy and fundamental fairness, I interrupt. Even from
four rows back I can see Brent tighten his jaw. The Fourth
Amendment concerns itself with privacy issues and the Fifth
Amendment gives the accused the right to heard. Ironic, huh?
I dont appreciate you speaking out of turn, Brent says, and
damn if he isnt ballsy. Well, guess what? My balls are bigger.
You dont get to ignore me and spread rumors about me.
Rumors, everyone. All lies, I say, looking around the class.
People had been staring at me, but now a few look awaythe
guilty. The only thing I did to Brent was turn him down when
he tried to get physical with me. Which, by the way, was pretty
scary. I hope you ladies never have to experience having a guy
shove himself on you. I should report you to Professor
Stanwick, I say, looking back to Brent. He doesnt look pissed
anyonehe looks scared. He should be.
I think about storming out of class. Theres only ten minutes
left. But in that moment I decide staying will make Brent more
uncomfortable. So I dont move, and watch as he clumsily tries
to get back on track with his boring-ass lecture. He dismisses us
five minutes early. No one looks at him as they shuffle out the
door. With a gut-full of confidence and Natalie by my side, I stop
by him on my way out.
I mean it, I say to him. His eyes flash at me before
continuing to shuffle papers into his canvas bag. I will report
you for mistreatment if you dont stop harassing me, That word
seems to catch his attentionharassing. As it should. Youre
lucky I havent done it yet but Im not afraid to.
As I walk out the door I hear Natalie say, Yeah, you spineless
jackhole.
Once were down the hall I turn to her and laugh. What is a
spineless jackhole?
I dont know, she laughs. It was the first thing of.
Im using it from now on, I say. Thanks for hanging
around.
Of course, she says.
I dont know if its because Im angry with the way things
turned out with Jackson, or sad or surprised or what, but theres
something in me that says, No more messing around. If I want to
get something done, Im doing it. I can be professional, but I also
dont have the energy to deal with any nonsense.
Later Im sitting in a meeting at the office, listening as junior
members of the development team talk about their frustration
with not getting meetings with prospects.
They wont respond, says Amanda, who was recently
promoted from administrative assistant. Ive sent two emails
and gotten nothing back. I dont want to be pushy about.
Amanda is smart but this is frustrating. I know I'm only part
time but I do far more work than many of the full-time
employees.
Who is this? I ask.
The senior VP over at Chase, she says.
Sonja Atkins? I ask.
I feel the rooms eyes turn on meyeah, I know who our
prospects are. Everyone here should. Amanda says yes, its
Sonja.
I lean forward. Whats her number? Lets call her now.
I look to Jules for approval. No time like the present. Want
me to talk, Emily, or do you want to take this?
Ill take it, I say. I look to Amanda, who looks like she
might vomit. All she can say is no, I tell her, repeating the old
phrase from my dad.
We get through to Sonja and I swear the call lasts three
minutes. All Amanda had to do was agree to a meeting with her
and Jules about possible partnerships. Thats the first step. Sonja
quickly agrees, and its done. Just like that.
Well done, Emily, Jules says. She looks to Amanda and the
other junior staff and says, Dont be afraid of the phone, guys.
As the meeting breaks up, Jules says, Way to show some
leadership. I knew you had it with that first big donation, and
I'm glad to see you havent lost it.
That first big donation is, of course, Jackson but she doesnt
say. Otherwise its a nice reminder that Ive got this inside me, if
I just let it out. I can be assertive. I took down that weasel Brent,
after all.
On my way out to my parents place for brunch one weekend,
I start to realize that good enough doesnt work anymore. I can
always be better. Like at work. Amandas emails werent good
enough. They were fine, and fine doesn't get the job done. No
one ever made a difference by being fine. I realize its probably
how Jackson feels every day at work. Its why he works so hard
something inside him, whether he was born with it or his father
instilled it in himbecause he cant let himself be satisfied with
anything but greatness. Jackson works his ass off to get it.
Despite everything else, I have to admire that. Maybe I picked up
a little of it from him.
I cant say that Im surprised, Dad says when Im forced to
tell them Im not seeing Jackson anymore. That was not exactly
a match made in heaven.
Hardly, Mom says.
At least he was hot, Sabrina adds. I kick her under the
table. I was being nice!
I see guys like him all the time, Dax says. They think
giving money makes them charitable but its just a tax write-off.
They actually save money come tax season if theyve donated a
little throughout the year. Its a scam.
Its ridiculous you all made him seem like a bad guy for
giving money away, I say. Even if it is for tax purposes. Who
cares? Money from people like that is what helps us do what we
love. And Jackson works really hard for his money. I dont see
whats wrong with working hard. Didnt you guys teach us that,
along with doing good?
Mom looks at Dad a bit guiltily.
Maybe theyre right about some thingseven Sabrinabut I
feel like theyve missed something important in Jackson.
You guys were jerks to him. It was like giving money to a
charity is as bad as slapping a baby. And you tried to slam him
with that patriarchal crap, I remind Dax. Hes not a bad guy.
So can we just lay off?
Sweetie, were sorry, Dad says. We just want whats best
for you.
I know they all mean well, but they dont have to try to
destroy something before I even know what it is. Or was. And
what was it?
As I go back to the city, I think about that. What were Jackson
and I? Stripped away, we were a guy and a girl who shouldnt
have liked each other but turned out to be crazy about each
other. He was sweet to me. He seemed to take joy in spoiling me,
not to show off his wealth but to make me happy. So why is that
such a bad thing?
I start to feel hopeful until I realize that, oh yeah, he was
using me. I curse him for being an asshole and a good actor.
Jackson may have liked me well enough to consider using me to
get control of his company but that doesnt mean he cared for
me. Thats what matters. Thats what hurts the most.
Jackson
A nd so as we head into the final stretch, this makes it our most
successful quarter ever.
Theres clapping and few cheers around the boardroom table.
Rachel Sullivan, one of several VPs, just delivered the news that
should make me want to celebrate with a nice bottle of scotch.
Instead I feel nothing.
Congratulations, Jackson, several people say after the
meeting. My shoulders are clapped, handshakes are offered,
drinks are suggested. Everyone is quite pleased with how the
company is progressing. I feel empty.
I stay in the boardroom after everyone has left and look out
the large window. I dont see the other buildings or the people
scurrying along below. All I see is Emily. She hasnt left my mind
for more than a moment since she left my house. Ive tried
texting and calling her but she rejects or ignores my every
attempt. I cant say that I blame her.
I have to see her. I cant keep moving along like this,
desperate for her. She has to understand what happened, and in
order for her to understand, I have to tell her everything about
my familyincluding the details of my fathers will.
Sandra, could you send the car around? I ask as I head back
into my office. And cancel the rest of my appointments.
I rip off my tie and toss it on my desk. I grab my jacket and
head for the elevators.
In the back of the car, we drive around areas of the city I think
she might be. We go to the Childrens Education Fund offices
and I run inside and ask if shes working today.
She usually comes in after lunch, the girl at reception says.
She always comes in carrying a coffee cup from Bonatellis
Caf. Maybe shes there?
So we head through the streets for Bonatellis. I walk inside
the caf, my eyes scanning every face, most of which are staring
down into laptops or cell phones. And then I land on Emily. Her
sweet face that I want to hold in my hands again and cover in
kisses, if only shell let me.
Emily, I say. Her head jerks up, her face full of surprise at
seeing me. I kneel next to her so that we can be close.
What are you doing here? she says slowly. Her hair is pulled
back into a sloppy bun and her skin is glowing and natural. Shes
reading a book, a scarf wrapped tight around her neck and all I
can think is how perfect she looks. And, I realize with some
relief, she isnt running away from me. Not yet.
Please hear me out, I say. I want to take her hand but I
dont want to scare her off. Shes listening, though, so thats a
start. Emily, Ive been going crazy since you left. I cant think
straight. Im completely obsessed with you. Youre just
crowding my every thought. I dont want to lose you.
People around us are watchingI can see them out of the
corner of my eyebut I dont pay them any attention and
neither does Emily. Shes thankfully focused on me.
I cant stop thinking about you either. But I wont be used.
Her eyes well with tears. Her chin quivers when she says, You
crushed me, Jackson. I was falling in love with you and you killed
that. How could you use me like that? I thoughtI thought you
actually felt the same way about me. Maybe not love but
something close.
Emily, I say, and this time I do reach for her hand. Her soft
delicate little handI covered it with both my hands, wanting to
hold her tight. I do feel the same way about you. Ive told you
some of the ugly parts of my family and that emailor my
fathers will, which is what the email was aboutis the worst
part of it all. Its the ugly ending to a lifetime of forced
competition. He raised my brothers and I to be the gladiators to
his emperor, fighting to the death for his entertainment. And I
shamefully admit that, for a moment I did think you could solve
the issue of taking over the company by marrying me. But what I
realize nowwhat I just realized today, sitting in a boardroom, is
that I dont care. If I dont have you, nothing matters. Certainly
not the company. I almost laugh. The company is the least of
my concerns right now. I left work today. I dont even know if Ill
go back. I dont realize its true until I say the words. Work
means nothing to me anymore. Theres no joy in it.
Emily is listening, letting me hold her hand. Tears spill down
her cheeks and I wipe them away, running my thumb across her
cheek.
I dont want you to ever cry again because of me, I say.
So, you do feel the same way about me?
I almost laugh. After all I just said thats what you heard?
I heard it all, she says, sniffling. Ive always known your
family was a mess. I didnt realize how bad it was until I saw that
email. But if youve felt the same way about me as I feel about
you, then that would mean you werent using me. Right?
Logical as always, I say. My heart races with love and
anticipation and hope for this woman. Emily, I love you. Im
walking away from the company.
Really? Youre leaving Croft International?
I dont care about it. The only thing that matters is being
together. Forever. Emily, will you marry me?
It takes her a moment to realize what Ive said. Maybe its
because no truer words have ever come out of my mouth. I watch
as the slow realization crosses her face.
Seriously? she asks.
Seriously, I say. I kiss her hand. I dont have a ring but
Yes, she says, and now the tears are really streaming down
her face. Ill marry you, Jackson.
Finally, I take her sweet face in my hands and kiss her lips as
more tearshappy tearsstream down her face.
I dont want anyone to find me. I dont want to talk to or see
anyone, so we head straight for Emilys little apartment.
When we kiss, its as if weve been apart for a year. We need
to make up for the time apart. I need to make up to her for the
pain I caused her.
We crash into each other, Emily kicking the door shut with
her foot, and begin tearing the clothes off each other. I kiss her
more deeply than ever, taking as much of her in as I can. I never
would have guessed that my need for her would grow but now
that my heart is fully in Emilys hands, I feel like I could die if
she left me again.
Her fingers deftly work the buttons on my shirt as I pull the
T-shirt up over her head. She pulls the band out of her hair and
lets it fall around her shoulders. My lips cover her skin, lick and
taste her all across her face, her neck, her shoulders, her chest.
Soon weve kicked off our shoes and shes got my pants shoved
down around my ankles.
We make it to the bed and I help her out of her jeans, so tight
to her skin. Her panties dont get to stay onoff they come, as
do my boxer briefs. When I cover her body with mine, she wraps
her legs around my waist, every inch of our bodies touching. I
run my hands over her thighs, tight around my waist, her hips
pushing into my raised dick. Her pussy touches me, her wetness
making me want to shove myself deep inside her. But I want to
go slower, show Emily how precious she is to me.
I run my finger down her slit, Emily curving her back so that
her hips push up into me. Her eyes stay on me, her mouth open,
eager. I gently glide my finger across her pussy, so wet and pink
and mine, mine to play with, mine to please. I dip my finger
inside her and she lets out a moan. I pump inside her before
slipping my finger out and giving her clit some much-needed
attention. Her face is flushed with passion and I know shes
going to start begging me soon for more. I love that she always
needs more.
She reaches down between our bodies and takes me in her
hand. God, her hand, so small but so assured on my dick. I slip
my finger back inside her pussy and she pumps me at the same
tempo as I do her, matching me, showing me that she can take it
if I can. Im not sure my body can take itI fall to the bed beside
her, fingers and hands still in place. Facing each other we work
each other, our breath mingling in the small space between us.
I love you, Jackson, she says. When she kisses me it fills me
up with such love like Ive never known. I have to make love to
her.
Emily, I say, moving above her. I put my finger, covered in
her juices, in my mouth and suck it all off. She reaches out for
me, but I take my dick in my hand.
Yes, she says.
I slide my cock into her slowly, leaning down on my forearms
so I can be close to her face, which I intend to cover in kisses.
Warm inside her, our bodies combined, I whisper in her ear, I
love you.
I slowly move through her, never wanting to leave. Her pussy
hugs my dick so perfectly, and with every drive inside her I want
to come. But I ride it out, looking into her eyes, moving so slowly
its a major tease for us both. I go harder, slamming my dick in
her, methodically as her face burns with desire.
Tell me again, she says.
I love you, Emily.
I pull her leg up, my arm wrapped under her knee and
continue loving on that cunt, her gasps and moans taking me to
the edge, but I dont fall over, not until shes ready. She pushes
her hips back at me with equal force, and as her hands claw out
for more of me I know shes ready and I let go, both of us
jumping over the edge in an explosion of fireworks. When I
collapse next to her I kiss her long and deep, holding her face in
my hands and tell her again that I love her.
We spend long stretches of time in bed feeling each others
skin, running our hands over every inch of the others body,
memorizing curves and lines and angles. We make love again, we
fall asleep. We somehow manage to order in some Thai food,
which we engulf before turning back to each other once again.
Its twenty-four hours of love and sex and sleep, a little food and
a lot of Emily. A lot of Emily naked.
Soon, Ive hit my limit staying in a basement studio
apartment, even if Emily is naked most of the time. I suggest a
change of scenery, and Emily is game. I have my driver drop off
one of my cars outside Emilys apartment.
What am I supposed to pack for? she asks. For how long?
I dont know, I say, because I dont. For once in my life I
have nothing planned.
We get in the car and speed out of town.
Are we going to the Cape? she asks, noticing the direction
Im headed. Even I hadnt noticed where I was going, but I guess
Im on some sort of auto-pilot.
No, I say. Marthas Vineyard. Its perfect. Its a fucking
island and I dont even know the phone number to the house. I
own a house there.
She throws her head back and laughs. Of course you do.
I havent been out here in years. Ive literally forgotten I own
the home. In fact, I cant remember the last vacation I took. My
life has been consumed by work. That is, until Emily came
around and reminded me that taking breaks can actually make
you more productiveand result in the best quarter in the
companys history. My father never told me that.
So weve moved our camp from Allston to Edgartown. Its a
classic Cape Codstyle home on the beach with plenty of land to
keep the neighbors and other prying eyes at bay. My closet has
clothes already in it, mostly summer beachwear but also some
sweaters and wool pants because my staff is always prepared.
There arent many off-season stores out here to buy warm
clothes for Emily so we scoop up what we can and put in a huge
order online for the rest.
I dont need all that, she says as I put in my credit card
information.
Your hands and feet are blocks of ice no matter how much I
turn up the heat, I tell her. You actually, literally need it.
But were not staying here forever.
I pull her close and say, Why not?
The fire is roaring and were bundled under cashmere
blankets. We have the essentialsa bunch of dry pasta and
sauces, a cellar of wine, and each other. As corny as it may
sound, its all we need.
There is one thing missing, I tell her, holding her hand. If
were truly engaged, then you need a ring.
God, she says, like I just suggested we go clean the toilets.
If were truly engaged then you wont buy me some gaudy
monstrosity.
Hey, I take offense to that. I happen to have good taste.
No, you hire people with good taste.
I nibble her neck, holding her tight as she squirms.
Whatever kind of ring you want, you can have, I tell her.
Tomorrow Ill call Samuel at Tiffanys. They can come out here
and show you a variety of rings. You can pick out whatever you
want.
Thats romantic, she says. It takes me a moment to realize
shes being sarcastic.
In the end, she finds a ring in a vintage store just off Main
Street that she absolutely falls in love with. Its a medium band
of rose gold, art deco with an oval center of a peachy-pink
morganite stone.
Are you sure you dont want a diamond, I say. I do have a
reputation to uphold.
No, she says, holding her hand out to inspect the ring on
her finger. Its perfect.
Emily
Everything is perfect.
When Jackson appeared in that coffee shop, half of me
wanted to run away (maybe slap him first) but the other half, the
truer half, wanted to fall into his arms. Just by showing up, I
knew he loved me.
Im sitting at the kitchen island as he prepares us another
gorgeous breakfast. I still havent figured out how he makes his
scrambled eggs so dang good. Since he had a crate of food
delivered out herethe far reaches of the islandwe have been
eating well. And I love watching him cook.
So what happens next? I say. We cant just hide out here
forever. Its been a week and although its heaven, I do have a
life to get back to. I called in to work and told Jules I needed a
little time off. As for school, Professor Stanwick found out what
Brent had been doing to me and arranged for me to take time off
from all my classes. In fact he told me to take all the time I need.
I think hes worried I might try to sue Brentor the schoolfor
harassment or something.
That was my plan, Jackson says as he slices fruit. I swear,
his hands are as deft with a kitchen knife as they are with my
body. So smooth and assured.
You are not the kind of man who can just walk away from
work, I say. I dont know how youve lasted this long without
your phone.
Hes checked it a few times but the Wi-Fi is spotty. Theres a
house phone we can call out of but Jackson doesnt know the
number. We really are out here on our own.
Its been so easy being with him. Weve spent our days
bundling up for walks on the beach. In the evenings we cookor
rather, I sip wine while he cooks. Then we watch movies together
I never would have guessed he has a love for old westerns. And
at night, we make love. His kisses on my skin make me float
away, and his hands make me feel safe and sexy, all at once. We
sleep late because we stay up late; we have created our own
schedule, eating when we please, drinking wine at lunch,
napping, staying up until three in the morning. We have no
responsibilities. Were like teenagers on summer vacation.
I dont care about my phone, Jackson says. I suppose I
miss working, but not necessarily my work. How about you?
I look into my glass full of orange juice. I miss working. I
mean, I know its only been a week but Im wondering what
theyre doing, what they decided on with some things we were
talking about right before I left. I wish I could work full-time but
theres no way I could keep it up with my school schedule.
When you graduate, youll be able to do anything you want,
he tells me. He sets a plate of thick-cut bacon in front of me. I
snatch a piece, biting into the perfectly crispy goodness that has
a hint of maple syrup.
Sometimes my mind races with all the work there is to do for
kids, I say. And here I sit in this mansion by the beach. Should
I feel guilty?
No, Jackson says. Never feel guilty about what you have.
But you can give back even more. With your knowledge and
assertiveness, and my money, we could make one hell of a
team.
What are you saying? We should start our own charity?
Why not? he says, like its that easyyou have an idea, and
you do it. It could focus on mentoring at-risk kids like you keep
talking about. I bet there are some people in the office who
would be happy to do it. One of my senior vice presidents, Rachel
Sullivan, would be a great female role model. It could really
work, Em.
Our own foundation, I say, testing the words out.
You just tell me what to do, Jackson says, and Ill do it.
Oh, really? I say. Just like that, huh?
Whatever you want.
Then I want a kiss, and stat.
Thats an easy one, he says, coming around to me. He
wraps me in his arms, one hand still holding a spatula, and
kisses me. He tastes of coffee and pineapple. He tastes of love
and home and security.
So what do you want to do today? I say when he goes back
to the stove.
What do you think about taking a walk?
I look out the window. Its pretty windy out there. Looks like
its going to rain.
Not on the beach, Jackson says. Down the aisle.
My heart is bursting. Ive never felt so much love in my life. I
am filled to the brim with everything Jackson is giving me.
We dont have to, he says quickly, coming back to me. If
you want to wait, or do something more traditional, we can. Ill
wait. However long you want.
Thats not it, I say, crying. He holds me to his chest, so
strong and comforting. I think itd be perfect, just the two of
us. Can we have a party back in Boston for my family and
friends, though?
Of course, he says. I told youanything you want.
This is everything I never knew I wanted. I never imagined a
life like this. I know that no matter what happens, Jackson and I
can take it on because were a team.
I can just see the write-up in the society pages, I say. The
bride wore a white wool sweater and Huntington boots and the
groom sported denim pants and a Patagonia jacket.
Just like I always imagined, Jackson says.
We drive into town, fill out the paperwork and are married in
the judges private chambers. Our witness is a woman named
Betty who is there to pick up a permit for the gazebo shes
building for her granddaughters wedding next summer.
When Jackson looks into my eyes, holding my hands, there is
no one else in the world. I will honor and protect you in good
times and in bad, he says. Ill be your strength when you feel
you have none, and your light when you find only darkness. I will
work every day to prove my worthiness of your love. I promise to
laugh with you, to listen to you and to love you until the last
breath leaves my body.
Its a good thing Im not wearing much makeup because I am
a slobbering mess by the time our little ceremony is over and the
judge has declared us husband and wife. When we kiss, Betty lets
out a little whoop of joy.
Jackson carries me across the threshold, even though I tell
him it is not necessary.
Im not even wearing a wedding gown, I say.
All the more reason to go through with the tradition, he
says.
He takes me upstairs to the bedroom and lays me on the bed.
He pulls my sweater and boots from my body. He runs his hands
down my arms and across my belly.
My wife, he whispers.
Jackson makes love to me slowly, like we have all the time in
the world. And we dowe have a lifetime together.
Afterward, we are lazing in an afternoon post-coital haze of
tangled sheets and sweat drying to our naked bodies. We both
jump when the phone rings.
God, I cant remember the last time I heard a land line ring,
I say.
Jackson hops into a pair of flannel pants and walks across the
room to a little table, on which sits a black old-fashioned phone.
Hello? Jackson says. I figure it must either be a wrong
number or maybe Sandra calling from the office, checking to see
whenifhes coming back. Is that totally necessary? he
says. His face has changedhis features are pinched, no longer
relaxed. It has nothing to do with me. When would I have to
be there? That soon? Alrightfine, Ill call for the jet. Ill be
there.
When he hangs up he runs his fingers through his hair.
Everything okay? I ask. When he looks back at me the old
familiar heaviness is creeping into his eyes. Its the heaviness he
wears with his business, and when he talks about his family.
Jackson? What is it?
He comes back to bed, sitting on the edge. It was the family
attorney. I have to go to Los Angeles to meet with him and my
brothers.
Did something happen? I ask.
He said theyre going to decide the fate of the company.
It doesnt have anything to do with us, does it? I ask. I
mean, we just got married. I know rich powerful people have
long arms into some shady stuff, but theres no way anyone
would know we just got married today, out in a little town on a
little island.
No, no one knows about us, Jackson says. Which means
its something else. But I have no idea what.
I reach across and take his hand. Hey, listen. Were a team
now. No matter what happens, Im here with you. Okay?
He looks at me, and the comfort is immediate. He squeezes
my hand back. Okay, he says, nodding.
But its something more. Something isnt right. I dont know
what will happen at that meeting in Los Angeles, but I know one
thing is surenothing will ever get between Jackson and me
ever again. Were too strong together, both of us too determined
to make our own happiness.
Now get back in these covers and make love to me, I say,
hoping to get his mind off that phone call, if only for a little
while.
When he looks at me I can see his features relaxing again. He
moves over to me and covers my body with his. Whatever you
require, my love, he says, Im here to provide.

THE END OF BOOK ONE

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Panty Dropper by Paige North
Chapter 1
I was looking into the eyes of The Panty Dropper.
I squirmed a bit in my seat in the conference room and
wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into. My first day on
the job and we were talking about this specimen of a man, who I
only knew by one name: The Panty Dropper.
All five women who were at the meeting, notepads and pens
out and ready to work, oohed and gushed over the photos being
passed around. They all looked so smart and chic, dressed in
stylish tops and perfectly-fitted dresses, accessorized and styled
to the maxall to go to work. Id put in half the effort, even
though it was my first day on the job.
I guess when I thought of a writer I saw someone in yoga
pants and a topknot. Id done a little better than thatblack,
loose pants and a button down with flats. I thought I couldnt go
wrong, but looking around the table, I knew I was out of my
league.
Even the view of the Hollywood sign off in the smoggy
distance couldnt hide the fact that I was in over my head. After
applying to every magazine, newspaper, journal and news site I
could find, it had been Crush, and only Crush, who agreed to hire
me.
Turns out employers want editors with experience and writers
with bylines, but how could I get the experience if no one would
hire me? Luckily Crush took a chance on me and I was grateful
for the workeven if I didnt read the magazineand anxious to
get my first assignment. I wanted to make a good impression. I
just didnt think that at my first meeting on my first day, wed be
talking about someone named The Panty Dropper, whose
chiseled face was scattered across the conference table in more
than a dozen photographs, from paparazzi shots to red carpet
events.
Look at her, shes blushing, said one of the girls, watching
me with a smirk.
I bet they dont have men like that back in Maine, do they?
asked the girl sitting next to her, and the two laughed.
No, I bet Maine men are outstanding, said the first. I bet
theyre all chopping wood in red flannel shirts, muscles
bulging
I think I see some bulge in this picture, said the girl next to
me, leaning over to take a closer look at the photo. Everyone
laughed.
Alexa, Bethany, lets pretend were professionals, said Kait,
the magazines editor in chief. And be nice to the new girl.
Actually, before we get into the good stuff, why dont you
introduce yourself to everyone?
Kait stared down at me from the head of the conference table.
Everyone quieted, and all eyes turned on me. Now they could all
get a good look at this stupid outfit Id chosen for my first day at
work, this cheap, ill-fitting ridiculousness that made me look, I
now realized, more fitted for sitting in a retirement home than
sitting in the offices of one the top womens magazines in the
country. Id overthought my wardrobe last night, something I
did far too often, and never to good results.
Um, hi, I said, giving a funny little wave to the other
women in the City Living department of the magazine, the same
department Id been hired to work in. I dropped my hand back in
my lap. Yeah, I'm Sophie Scott. From Maine. Um, I just
graduated and Im, well, really happy to be here.
They kept looking at me, waiting, for what I had no idea. I
could hear the a/c click on, and a chill went down my arm.
Okay, then, Kait said, looking bored and unimpressed. God,
I was blowing it already. Thats Sophie who graduated from
Maine.
I didnt graduate from I began.
Now lets get back to work, Kait finished, not knowing or
caring that she cut me off. Which was fine. I was there at Crush
to do a great job. Id listen, and learn, and work really hard. That
was my goal. Do well, and move on to a better, more intellectual
magazine or journal and work on something more substantive
than the fluff they wrote here
I think their big think piece for the newest issue was how to
have an orgasm in less than ten seconds.
Oh, no, I suddenly thought. What if I had to write an orgasm
story someday soon? I slunk down in my seat a little lower, not
wanting anyone to look at me for any reason. It was my first
editorial meeting, and I was there to listen. Nothing more.
Back to The Panty Dropper, Kait said, pointing to the photo
before me. We all know who he isor do we? Sophie, do you
know who that man is?
I looked back at the photo before me. It showed a man in a
slim blue suit and dark sunglasses walking purposefully across a
street. Frankly, it looked like a fashion shot for the magazine,
but it was a paparazzi shot. From the full-body picture it was
clear this guy was fitI could practically see the muscles in his
thighs and biceps beneath the tailored suit. His dark brown hair
was thick and wavy. His jaw was hard and definedlike the rest
of him, if pictures dont lie. He was incredibly handsome.
But as to who, exactly, he was? I didnt know. But I didnt
want the others to know that I was clueless.
Right, the panty dropper, I began. Hes that guy, everyone
knows him. I nod my head enthusiastically, as if what Im
saying actually means something. Hes that really famous guy,
hes rich, successful Looking at the picture, I could just see
panties falling out of his pocket because he was so successful. At
his job. Selling panties?
I could already hear Alexa and Bethany across the conference
table snickering at me as I spun my wheels.
Kait let out a deep, disappointed sigh. She leaned across the
table and took the picture from before me. This, as most of you
know, is Leo Armstrong, twenty-seven, the most sought-after
bachelor in all of L.A. and the head of relative newcomer Epix
Studios.
Also their youngest head in history, said Bethany. Unlike
me, she was dressed simply and fashionably in a slim, cap-
sleeved green dress. I tugged on the collar of my shirt, a new
level of discomfort filling me.
Id like to give him head, muttered Alexa, and none too
quietly either. They barely tried to stifle their laughs.
Kait ignored them. Leo Armstrong is the president of Epix
Studios. Every girl L.A., from the fledging starlet to the seasoned
Oscar winner wants to sleep with him or at least get an audition
with him
On his couch, said Alexa, and Bethany swatted her arm.
And of all the women hes dated, Kait continued, and
there have been a lot, no one knows anything about him
personally. Theres never been even the tiniest whisper of what
its like to date him. Hes the most famous person in this town
and no one knows what hes really like. Were going to change
that. Her sharp eyes took in all the women at the table. Then
she said, One of you is going to date Leo Armstrong.
A hush fell over the room. No one was laughing anymore.
Even though I didnt know these womenI didnt even know
all their names, save for Bethany, Alexa and Renee, the girl who
sat next me, studiously taking notesI realized I was excited for
them. If this guy were some famous Hollywood big shot, plus
totally hot, it would be a fun story to work on. Who wouldnt
want to date a rich famous guy and write about it? My dating
experience was limited, relegated to Paul, who I dated for a
couple of years in college, and who cheated on me. The worst
part was, he wasnt even that good looking. Id spent my college
years so focused on my studies so that I could get a great job as
soon as I graduated. Now I saw the irony of limited dating
experience as I sat in the offices of a magazine dedicated to the
art of the blow job.
This guy is the classic womanizer, Kait said. He dates, and
discards, one after another. But what goes on behind closed
doors? Thats what Crush is going to find out. I want to know
everything about him, and not just boring things like how he
takes his coffee and if he snores. I want to know how he treats
these women. Does he bother acting like a gentleman? Is he
boring? Selfish? Does he have something to say? Is he more than
just good looks and loads of money? How big is his dick?
Everybody burst into laughter, and I tried to chuckle
appreciatively, as I felt my face flush yet again.
Everyone in L.A. wants to date this guy, said Renee. You
said so yourself. But how does anyone get that date? How are we
going to infiltrate this guys world and get him to take one of us
out on a date?
Multiple dates, Bethany said, and when Alexa gave her a
look, she said, No, seriously. You cant write an expos off of
one date.
Yeah, not to mention the fact that theres no way Leo
Armstrong is going to date a journalist, Alexa said. A celebrity
dating a journalist would be like a compulsive eater dating a
chef. Leo would never trust a writer, and so were shot in the foot
before we even get started.
Plus, Renee said, how do we get that first meeting? she
asked to Kait. Honestly, if I knew where to bump into Leo
Armstrong Id be there right now.
Im not saying this is going to be easy, Kait said. But Ive
put a lot of thought into it and I have a plan. One of the first
things well do, as Alexa brought up, is have you use a false name
and occupation. Leo Armstrong cant know hes dating a writer
at Crush magazine. What I still dont have, though, is the
undercover agent whos going to do this gig. She looked around
the room at the six of us who made up the City Living section of
the magazine. Id been hired as the voice of The New Girl, the
magazines fun, flirty column about getting adjusted to L.A.
life. And believe me, I had a thousand ideas because L.A. is
worlds apart from Maine, and I dont just mean the three-
thousand miles, either.
Kait looked around the room at all the women and I noticed,
with some relief, that she didnt look at me. Obviously Id never
get this assignmentit was a big gig, and shed want one of her
seasoned writers on the job.
Kait, Ill just go ahead and say Id love the job, Bethany
said, sitting up straight. Ive got lots of experience under my
belt, and I really think my piece on dating older men set me up
for this type of story.
Leo Armstrong is only twenty-seven, Alexa said. Besides,
with my background in theater, I could really play the part
because isnt that what undercover isplaying a role? Kait, I
could do this, no problem. And you once said my stories were the
easiest to edit because they were so cleangrammatically
speaking, of course.
Bethany shot Alexa a look, and just like that, it looked like the
two besties had pitted themselves against each other.
But I have more journalism experience, Bethany said.
Writing restaurant reviews for a local Orange County free
magazine? Alexa said. Please. Kait, honestly, I know Id be
great for this if youd just
And so will I, Ill be better
Girls, Kait said, holding up a hand. Easy on the sales
pitch. Im not making any rash decisions here.
Look at these pictures, said Renee, and all the women hes
been with. She took two, and held them up. There are eight
here, and more on the Internet that I didnt pull. He clearly has a
type. Out of all of us, there is one person who seems like his
exact type. Its her.
The room was quiet, and when I looked up I realized Bethany
had been speaking to me. I even pointed to myself and said,
Whome?
I felt my pulse beginning to pound increasingly faster.
Shes right, Kait said, really examining the photos. She
picked up a photo of Leo riding bicycles with a brunette in
Manhattan. Looks just like her. Her eyes widened. The bone
structure, the lips, the eyes
I dont believe this, said Alexa.
I saw only a passing resemblance to the beauty in the photo,
and that was mostly due to the long dark hair. And she probably
wore extensions anyway.
Suddenly, all eyes were on me. And I laughed. A stupid,
sputtering laugh.
Well, I, I began. I mean, of course Im up for whatever you
want, I said to Kait. But Im sure you want someone with more
experience. Either of you guys would be better than me, I said
to Alexa and Bethany, who looked at me with narrowed eyes.
Kait fixed her sharp eyes on me and said, When I hired you,
you told me you were a hard worker who was willing to do
whatever was best for the magazine.
I know but...
And well be there for you, Kait said. Ill be there for you.
Ill be your direct editor on this story and will help you through
it.
Kait, you cant be serious, said Bethany. She just got here.
From Maine. And youre going to trust her with this? No
disrespect but thats crazy.
Bethany was rightit was crazy. Yeah, the writing and
investigative part of it frightened me, but in a good sense. Itd be
a challenge but I wasnt afraid of a challenge. After all, Id
packed up my life and moved all the way out here knowing
exactly zero people. What worried me the most was Leo
Armstrong. The intimidation of this guy came right off the
glossy photos scattered across the table. I could handle the
writingbut could I handle the subject?
They wanted me to date this big celebrity, and dating was far
from my strong suit
No, Renee is right, Kait said. Sophie looks the part. Shes
a good writer or I wouldnt have hired her. And I think her
innocence will lend itself well to the subject. Hed never guess a
sweet little New England girl is out to get him. The look in
Kaits eyes made it clear that she was living for the day she
busted Leo Armstrong. It made me squirm in my seat. That and
the fact thatwas this really happening? Was she going to make
me do this job?
Shell need a makeover, in the very least, Alexa said.
Not to mention wardrobe, Bethany said, looking me down.
Good thing we have entire sections of this floor dedicated to
fashion and beauty, Kait said. With the right makeup and hair
and clothes, we can make Sophie look like Leos dream girl.
And then, after thinking some more, she looked at me and said,
Congratulations, Sophie. You just received your first
assignment.
Lucky girl, said Renee.
Unbelievable, muttered Bethany.
In my head I knew they were both right. I was lucky, and it
was completely unbelievable. It was also totally out of my league.
Chapter 2
By the next day, Kait had gathered up even more photos of Leo
Armstrong and his ex-girlfriends and had them posted all over
her wall. She called me into her office, and when I stood in the
doorway, she was staring at them with Alexa and Bethany sitting
in the chairs in front of Kaits desk.
Theyre right, she said, without turning to look at me. You
are most definitely his type.
Look, Kait, Ive been thinking, I began. Id spent the whole
sleepless night thinking and not much else. This was crazy. I
couldnt do this assignment. Id blow my so-called cover in the
first three minutes. I felt nauseous and I hadnt even done
anything yet. Id never make it though. I just dont think I can
pull this off.
Finally, Kait turned to look at me. Her eyes were a hard gray
blue, and when she spoke there was no hesitation in her voice.
Youll do it, or youll find somewhere else to work.
I told you Kait, said Alexa. Shes not qualified. Shes going
to blow it.
Im telling you, I can do it, said Bethany.
Sophie is doing it. I have a feeling, and I always trust my
gut, Kait said with finality. Now lets get her fixed up.
We went to the fashion editors section, where her office was
basically inside the massive closet where all the samples from
designers were held. Everything from jeans and dresses to every
kind of accessory and shoes, shoes, shoes galore. I wasnt that
into clothes, but even I was impressed with the loot.
Shes got a great figure, said Mel, the fashion editor. She
dug through the closet, holding up dresses to my frame for quick
assessments. But these might be a little snug for her.
Even better, Kait said. Put her in the yellow and
accessorize.
They all stood around the fashion closet while I held the dress
and shoes Kait had chosen for me with the help of the fashion
editor.
Now all you have to do, darling, Kait said, is put the
clothes on.
I felt like an idiot, but at least Mel shot me a sympathetic
look. I didnt know if Kait was always so curt, or if it was me who
brought it out in her. As I stood there in that closet full of
gorgeous designer clothesmost of which werent even in
stores yetI should have been having the time of my life.
Instead I felt like a kid raiding a womans closetan
unwelcomed kid.
Next stop was Rebecca, the beauty editors office. Bethany
and Alexa were there as well, hovering and waiting for me to
back out, it seemed. As I watched, Rebecca went through her
supply of beauty products that made Sephora look like a starter
store. Meanwhile, Kait filled me in on what was about to happen
how I would get in with The Panty Dropper.
Bethany, Alexa and I came up with a backstory last night,
Kait said. I wondered why I wasnt involved in it, but then again,
when I left the office I sort of ran out of the building with the
hopes that my first day had all been a dream. A very terrible,
horrifying dream. You are no longer Sophie Scott. You are
Sophie Adams, and youre an aspiring actress. My husband, who
is a casting agent, got you an audition today for Epixs new action
film. Something called Destruction Overload, she said,
checking her notes. Just another mindless shoot-em-up movie,
same schlock Armstrong always does. The role youre going for is
Grace, who is the wife of a Navy colonel held hostage by
terrorists.
Of course the wife is like thirty years younger than the Naval
colonel, said Bethany, rolling her eyes.
Heres the page youll be reading from, Kait continued.
The scene youre reading is Grace pleading for sympathy from
her captors.
She handed me a page from a scripta real movie script,
something Id never seen beforeand my pulse raced. Going
undercover was bad enough, but Id have to actually act as well?
Dont look so green, teased Alexa. Remember, its all a
role. All for the article. Just act, and youll do fine. We hope, she
added.
Rebecca had wrangled my long hair into soft, beachy waves.
And even though shed put what felt like a ton of makeup on my
face, when I looked in the mirror it looked fresh and minimal.
My skin glowed like the surface of the moon.
But I didnt see a beauty. I saw a frightened girl from a small
town in New England.
I dont know what makes you all think I can do this.
Youll have to prove that you can, said Bethany.
Think of the great story youll get if this actually works,
Alexa said. Wed all kill for this assignment. Not just going out
with Leo Armstrong, but exposing him for what he really is. So
dont complain. Just do your job.
Shes right, Kait said, looking at me in the mirror before us.
Dont forget the goal, Sophie. To expose Leo Armstrong for the
womanizing bastard that he is. Now, she said, pulling my long
hair back and draping it over one shoulder. Youre ready to
meet him.
Chapter 3
I tried my best to tug up the plunging neckline of the yellow
dress Kait had chosen for me but it wouldnt budge. The girls
were definitely out today.
Dont blow it, Kait had said before I left, and I wondered if
she meant the acting or the story.
I walked into the offices where the auditions were being held.
I handed over the paperwork Kait and her crew had created for
me and waited my turn in a hallway full of womenall of whom
looked like they could easily be models and actresses which, I
supposed, they were. I hadnt lived in Los Angeles for long, but I
was quickly learning that the world was full of beautiful people,
and most of them lived here. No way would I stand out to
someone like Leo Armstrong. I decided to just try my best, and
see what happened.
I tried to study my lines but my hands shook and the chill of
the hallway made me shiver. Or maybe it was just my nerves.
Sophie Adams! Youre up.
I stood on teetering heels and followed a woman in baggy
black pants and Chuck Taylors through to another room. There
was long table at the back where three people sat closely talking
two men and a woman. A camera on a tripod was positioned
on the side and a man in a blue workmans overall sat eating a
sandwich in the corner.
Heres your mark, said the woman. I stood where she
pointed and tried to take a deep breath.
This is Sophie Adams, the woman announced to the three
at the table. Basically no experience. She handed them my
one-sheet.
Another virgin, muttered the man at the center. Lets get
this over with.
You done any work at all, taken any classes? the woman at
the table asked. The Groundlings maybe?
Sorry, the what? I had no idea what she was talking about,
but the deep sigh she gave me told me I should have.
Im going to read off you, sweetie, said the woman who
brought me in.
I was confused for a moment because the character in the
scene was a man, but I took a deep breath and looked down at my
lines. When I looked back up, the man in the center of the table
looked up at me, and I froze. There sat Leo Armstrong, his clear
blue eyes piercing me from across the room.
When youre ready.
I fumbled with the script, a wrinkled mess in my sweaty hand.
I began. Puh-Please. Ummy boyfriendhusband is very
powerful. I tugged on my dress, feeling as if the heat had been
turned up in the room. I looked at the table before me and
realized Leo Armstrong was watching me intently, the weight of
his eyes practically physical from across the room. I tried to plow
forward, woodenly reciting the lines. I mean, a powerful man.
My husband is a very powerful man. He will do what you need
want. Get you what you want. Um.
What I want is for your husband to realize the grave mistake
hes made by crossing me, said the woman flatly, reading the
lines against me.
Leo Armstrongs eyes had me locked in place. He didnt blink
or look away, and I realized I couldnt either. You dont want to
do this, I said, and realized I was still looking at him instead of
my scene partner. I quickly looked toward the women. Um, like,
I beg you. I cursed myself under my breath.
Peggy, Leo said, standing up from the table with one swift,
graceful movement. Let me take over. Ill read with her. Maybe
thatll relax her. Watching him move toward me, I felt like my
legs would buckle beneath me. He strode across the floor in sure
strides, never taking his eyes off me. If I was going to make it
through this audition, I couldn't do it while looking at him. I
wasnt sure I could breathe while looking at him.
When he stood before me I looked down at the floor, seeing
only his highly polished leather oxfords and dark slacks.
Start from the top? he asked, his voice deep and assured. I
nodded yes. When youre ready, he reminded me.
I cleared my throat and began again. Please. My husband is a
very manly power. Powerful man. Sorry. Um, a very powerful
man he will get you whatever you want please.
There was a pause before Leo said, Begging wont help.
Ill beg or plead or do whatever just please let me go let me
go please let me go.
Even though I was saying the lines like a robot, I meant them
I wanted out of there. Immediately. My breath was coming in
short gasps and my head was beginning to spin. I wanted to say
the stupid lines as quickly as possible so I could turn and run out
of the room and never look backmaybe run all the way back to
Maine.
I think weve seen enough, Leo, said the woman at the
desk. Thank you, Sophie. Well be in touch.
Thanks, I muttered, and turned to leave. Before I could, Leo
took my wrist, stopping me. I looked at his hand, smooth and
lightly tanned, his fingers easily circling my small wrist.
He leaned in slightly and said, A little advice? Eye contact is
a good thing. His thumb ran across my wrist. Okay?
I turned my eyes up to look at him, so close I felt the walls
closing in. Now I could finally see it all, everything that even the
best telephoto lens couldnt pick upthe sharp lines of his face,
the smooth skin of his cheeks, and his lips, full and gorgeous. I
had to remind myself of the lies those lips told and the hearts
they broke. With heat prickling my face, I turned to leave just as
the next girl walked in. Taller, thinner and more beautiful than
anyone had a right to be.
Leo, this is Amber Hastings, also reading for the role of
Grace. Sophie, thank you, well call you, Peggy said to nudge me
on my way. I looked toward the others at the table, and noticed
the guy in the corner eating his sandwich laughing softly.
As I left I heard someone say, Isnt there some vetting
process in place? Why are we wasting our time on these
amateurs?
I made my way through the door, brushing shoulders with the
girl going in. I wanted to take off at a full sprint, putting as much
distance behind me as I could from what was surely the end of
my short career in journalism. One thing was clearId blown it.
Chapter 4
I promise, youve never seen anything like this, I said to Ava
Marie, my roommate, later that evening. The audition was late in
the day so Id gone straight home afterward. It was like I didnt
even speak English. I didnt get one line out correctly. And I
heard them making fun of me on the way out. I bit into another
nacho cheese chip with plans to finish the entire bag.
Im sure it wasnt that bad, said Ava Marie as she stretched
on the floor, her legs spread in an almost perfectly straight line.
No, I promise you, it was. Theyre probably all sitting in
some fancy bar drinking martinis and laughing over the worst
audition theyve ever seen. I crunched on another chip, trying
not to see Leo Armstrongs face. I rubbed my wrist where he
touched me, getting orange dust on my skin in the process. It
felt good to talk about. I didnt have any friends in L.A.yet
and Ava Marie was someone who knew the ropes.
I didnt tell her, but I hoped she could help me with my
column, once I finally started on it in the true sense of things. I
figured we could go out on the town together, checking out the
hot spots. She knew I worked at Crush, but I had told her that I
was also thinking about getting into acting. In a town like this, it
wasnt unusual. What I didnt tell her was that I was working
undercover on a story to expose Leo Armstrongs caddish ways.
Ava Marie pulled both her legs together in front of her, flexed
her heels and leaned over her knees. She had what could only be
described as the perfect bodylong, lean, strong but not too
muscular. A dancers bodywhich she was. A dancer, I mean.
I dont think you get it, I said, cringing when I thought of
the way those people looked at me when I read the lines. Siri had
more personality than I did. There was this guy sitting in a
corner eating a sandwich during the whole thing. I think he was
the janitor, Ava Marie, and even he was laughing at me.
Look, Sophie, Ava Marie said. I dont know you very well.
Weve only lived together a couple of weeks. But one thing you
should know about me is that I dont lie, and I dont bullshit. So
if youre looking to me to give you sympathy for this one
audition you had today, youre looking in the wrong place. I go
on auditions all the time. Its a full time job that doesnt pay.
Tonight is one of the few nights I have off from my other job at
the restaurant and I really dont want to spend it listening to you
whine.
I didnt mean to whine I began, stunned by her harsh
tone and frankly, a little embarrassed. Since Id moved into our
tiny apartment I rarely saw Ava Marie. She left in the morning
for auditions and usually went straight to her job waiting tables
on Third Street Promenade.
Talk to me when youve been on seventeen auditions in one
week and turned down for every single one. And that happens
for weeks on end. Ive had to audition through stress fractions
and tendonitis. My body is in constant pain and my ego is always
being smacked down a peg. Ive been told Im too fat, that my
neck is too short, my torso too long for my legs. On top of it all,
Im dead broke. And I never complain about it.
Ava Marie, Im sorry, I said. I was justventing.
Vent to someone back home, she said, standing up. She
looked at me and let out a deep sigh. Her voice softened as she
said, Im not trying to be mean. Its for your own good. You
cant let what people say out here say get you down. Youll never
survive.
My stomach felt heavy. I was totally regretting my dinner
choice which, lets be honest, was a pity party for one.
My phone rang, and unfamiliar number on the screen. I
picked it up and answered, hoping it wasnt Kait looking to get
all the gruesome details.
Hello?
Is this Sophie Adams? a deep and somewhat familiar voice
asked.
My heart stopped at the mention of my undercover name.
Yes.
This is Leo Armstrong. I hope Im not disturbing you.
I cleared my throat, which had suddenly become dry. No.
Not at all.
Id like to talk to you about the audition today, he said. His
voice was clipped, formal. If youre not too busy, Id appreciate
your coming by my condo.
Yeah, I said. Sure. I can stop by tomorrow
Tonight would be better. If youre not too busy.
I looked at the half-eaten bag of chips. My big plans for the
night. My stomach was dropping as if Id just stepped in an
elevator that plummeted twenty stories.
No, its fine. I mean, yeah. Ill come by.
Ready for the address?
When I hung up the phone, Ava Marie said, You okay? Who
was it?
Oh, um, a guy from the audition, I said.
You got a callback? she said, and I could see the jealousy on
her face, that one audition would go so well.
No, it wassome other guy. He invited me to his place to
run lines. The quick-thinking lie sounded pretty good, I
thought.
But Ava Marie looked at me like I was simple childone she
felt sorry for. Oh, Sophie. Sweet, innocent Sophie. I dont know
what goes on in Maine, but when a boy calls to invite you to his
house to run lines, he probably means something more like
running his tongue in lines all over your body.
I couldnt help but laugh. I know. Even though I had totally
not thought of that. I couldnt think straight, frankly. Leo
Armstrong just called me. Leo Armstrong just invited me over to
his condo. Holy shit. I didnt know whether to be excited that I
hadnt blown the audition, or a nervous wreck knowing that the
undercover story was moving forward despite my efforts. Im
not that dumb.
You sure about that? she said.
Damn, Ava Marie, I said, offended.
Sorry, she said, with a shrug. I just want to make sure you
get it.
I get it, I said with a little extra force. I was in it now. I was
playing a role for a breakthrough article. I had to steel myself
against the nerves. I looked down at myself. What am I going to
wear? I couldnt wear the same dress as this afternoon. This
was my second chance to make a good impression on him. Id
totally blown it in the audition so I had to make sure I dazzled
him tonight. I headed to my microscopic bedroom to see if
anything would do.
I found a red stretchy dress still in a box in my floor. Id
bought it to wear on a date with Paul, my ex-boyfriend. We had
planned to drive down to Portland for dinner to celebrate my
graduating cum laude. Before I could cut the tags off, he called to
tell me that our lives were going in different directions, and we
should call it quits before someone got hurt. I didnt even know
at the time it was too late for that.
Dont worry, I told Ava Marie as I took off the yoga pants
Id immediately put on when I got home from the audition. I
know what I'm doing.
Which was a total lie, but it seemed pretending to be someone
I wasnt was the only way Id make it through this assignment,
so I might as well start now.
Chapter 5
When I pulled up to the high-rise condos on Wilshire Boulevard I
felt like I was pulling up to a luxurious hotel. A guy actually valet
parked my car. As I walked away I had to scramble to see if I even
had any money to pay once I left.
I took the elevator to the twenty-third floor, per Leos
instructions. I wasnt sure what I was supposed to do once I got
therehe hadnt given me an apartment number.
Turned out I didnt need one. He lived on the entire twenty-
third floor.
He stood at the end of the long hallway as I exited the
elevator, waiting.
Hello, I said, as I nervously walked toward him.
There she is, he said, and a smile filled his face that could
have lit all of the Hollywood Hills. I couldnt help but smile back.
It felt good to know that seeing me made him look that way
even if I had to remember what kind of guy he was.
He made no move to meet me halfway down the hall. I felt
self-conscious walking toward him in my tiny dress and heels as
if I was on a runway, and Leo Armstrong the only one in the
audience. The intense blue of his eyes came into focus before the
rest of his features, like a beacon aimed right through me. Even
from the distance, I felt like he saw me.
Finally, when I stood before him, he said, Welcome. Im glad
you could make it on such short notice.
Yeah, sure, I said. Thanks for having me.
I followed him through the door and into a world of total
opulence and sleek beauty. The living room was two stories high
and lined with glass and steel and looked out over the glittering
city below. It was decorated in clean whites, blacks and gray, all
sharp edges and no fuss. A staircase curved up to the second
floor, and a chandelier dripped down from the second story, lit
with crystals and LED lights, giving it a magical glow.
This is amazing, I said, not caring that I was wide-eyed and
slack jawed.
Thanks, he said. Its good for a starter home. Next time
Ill get something more spacious. I turned to look at him,
stunned. He flashed me a smile, his lips curling up in delight.
Im teasing you. I know its big and gorgeous. Sometimes I feel
guilty about it. I followed him to the couch, where he motioned
for me to sit down. It was white and soft, like cashmere. Thats
another lie. I dont feel guilty about it. Not one bit. Nowwhat
can I get you to drink?
I had no idea what to ordershould I ask for wine, or would a
mixed drink be more sophisticated? I wish I knew what his other
beauties drank because it suddenly felt like a daunting question.
I wondered for the thousandth time why hed even see fit to
invite me over. Id definitely bungled the audition, and in terms
of looksI didnt even rate on the same scale as the other
women whod been in the room waiting
So what was I here for?
That wasnt a trick question, he said, watching me. He
hands were in the pockets of his dark pants, and with his sleeves
casually rolled up, I could see the strength even in his forearms.
Incredible. I hadnt seen any beach shots of him, but I suddenly
found myself desperately wondering what the rest of his arms
looked like. If just looking at his forearms could do this to me, I
wasnt sure I could handle the rest.
Sorry, I said, smiling. I needed to calm down. Ill just have
whatever youre having.
Good, he said. A director just sent over this bottle of
prosecco. Its a nice wine, dont get me wrong, he said from the
bar as he got glasses and the bottle from the wine refrigerator.
He held up the bottle. But do you think going over budget by
two million dollars is worth one bottle of Italian bubbly? He
could have at least sent me a case.
Or bought you the vineyard, I said.
Smart girl, he said. The faintest stubble of beard had
appeared since our meeting, giving him a more careless look,
despite the sharp clothes he still wore.
He shot me a quick grin and my stomach thrilled.
I was quickly finding that it made me happy to please him and
make him smile. Who wouldnt want to see that face light up?
And seeing him smile also alleviated the sensation that I was in
so far over my head, I might drown.
On an oversized coffee table was a plate full of fresh fruit,
cheeses and baguette slices. I thought of my chip dinner, and my
stomach growled. Leo sat next to me, close enough to reach out
and touch me. The feeling from the audition of being so close to
him returned, and I found myself feeling jittery. He handed me
the glass of processo, and our fingers brushed. I definitely
needed the alcohol to calm myself down.
Leo held his glass aloft. He turned his body toward mine and
looked at me in a way that felt piercing, almost intrusive. But
then a little smile played on those luscious lips of his, and he
said, Heres to nailing auditions.
I smiled and rolled my eyes. I clinked his glass and took a
drink. Once I had a little liquid courage in my belly, I felt
comfortable saying, Can we just agree that that was the worst
audition youve ever seen?
The worst? Absolutely not, he said. You didnt pass out. At
least not that I saw.
People have fainted in auditions?
You have no idea. When we do open auditions like the one
we had todayusually when we have a movie that has so many
smaller roles, its easier to just open it upwe get lots of
interesting auditions. People with one line of dialogue will come
in with this whole backstory for their character, only to say the
line, Your car has arrived. Or some want feedback immediately,
and sometimes the actors will throw a fit if you dont tell them
what they want to hear. So on a scale of one to crazy, yours
wasnt so bad.
Yeah, but I couldnt even get out a single line. I was a total
idiot.
You were charming, he said. And gorgeous.
Stop, I said, the heat on my face unbearable I had to cover it
with my free hand. Leo reached up and took my hand, gently
pulling it away. The sureness of his hand on mine felt electric,
and when I looked at him his eyes danced with delight
probably knowing his words could make a silly girl like me blush
so easily.
I think I can easily guess that youre not from around here,
he said.
Nope, I said. How can you tell? Was it my dress? Or
something about the way I spoke?
You dont have that jaded, cynical way about you like most
people here, he said. Also, you look like a real woman, not
some pin-thin, plastic Barbie doll type. You lookall natural.
His eyes scanned down me for a moment, and it was in such a
sexy way, far different from the way Bethany had looked me
down yesterday. So where are you from?
Maine, I said, feeling embarrassed. Id practically gotten
laughs at the editorial meeting for stating such a shameful
statement.
Leo looked off and said, I spent a fall there, up in Bar Harbor.
You know it?
Yeah, of course, I said, pleased that he actually knew Maine
as something more as that state way up there in the corner. Its
on Mount Desert Island.
Right, he said. Yeah. It was really a beautiful, picturesque
small town. Quiet, secluded. And I know Maine is known for its
lobster but I had the absolute best at this little restaurant there
just off the main street.
I live further south from there but Ive been on vacations up
there on long weekends. Its great.
He asked me more about myself, like how long Id been in
L.A. and how Id ended up here. Instead of telling him that one,
and only one, magazine hired me, I said I was mostly looking for
an adventure. I just thought Id come out here and see what
happenedwith the whole acting thing, I added. I dont plan
on living my whole life here.
No? Think youll go back to Maine? he asked.
God no, I said. I mean, I like where Im from. I just want to
do something more, you know? Something a little bigger. Only I
dont know what that is yet.
Im sure youll figure it out, he said. I dont know, Sophie.
I have a good feeling about you.
I could feel myself blushing again, so I took a sip of the wine.
Youre also very beautiful, too. Although Im sure plenty of
people have told you that before, he continued.
Stop, I said, smiling and covering my face with my hands,
wondering if Kait had actually been right that I was somehow
Leos type. It seemed bizarre to say the leastpatently
impossible.
And yet here I was, sitting next to him at his condo.
And even more beautiful when you blush, he said. Dont
ever hide your face. Its criminal. He took my hand gently and
guided it back down to my lap, and his thumb brushed on my
bare thigh, sending a shock straight up between my thighs. I
shifted slightly on the couch. I couldnt help myself. When he
released my hand, dragging his fingers across my thigh, I let out
a breath I hadnt realized Id been holding. I took a drink of the
wine, concentrating on the light bubbles that danced across my
tongue and down my throat.
So, I began, trying to pull myself back to some sort of
decent conversation. Do you have any notes for me from my
audition? Anything I can do to improve my skills?
He smiled a crooked smile, which damn, was even better than
the full version. He was amused by me, and I had a feeling he
enjoyed watching me squirm.
Is that what you want? he asked. For me to help you
improve your skills?
Well, I I stammered. At that exact moment, my dress
slipped off one shoulder. Leo reached up and tucked the fabric
back in place. He left his hand there, his fingers holding on to
my shoulder, pressing delicately.
Perfect timing, huh? he said.
I laughed, releasing some tension, and covered my face with
my hand again. Total embarrassment.
No, no, he said, teasing, taking my hand again. Whatd I
say about covering up that gorgeous face?
The last thing I wanted was for him to let go of me, to stop
touching me, but thats exactly what he did. This guy was getting
to me, and fast.
I kept reminding myself that none of this was real, but
suddenly it was feeling all too real, and my defenses had not
been prepared for the kind of heat and chemistry I was
experiencing.
Leo stood from the couch and said, Listen, Sophie. I dont
like to pretend. He walked toward a table near the two-story
window, where the city lights danced below us. He opened a
drawer and pulled something out. I live in a world of make
believe, with movies and people using each other to get ahead.
So I need to know I can trust you. He sat back down next to me.
On the table, near all the food I still wanted to eat if only I could
stop panicking, Leo Armstrong placed papers and a pen down
before me. For someone like me, he said, its a part of my
reality. Before we talk about your audition oranything elseI
need you to sign this non-disclosure agreement. Its standard
but feel free to take a moment to read it. If you dont feel
comfortable signing it, I completely understand, but
unfortunately I wont be able to enjoy your company without it.
I picked up the paper and let my eyes scan the words. The
flirting of moments ago had certainly evaporated. Legal
documents will do that to a girl.
You want me to sign this? I asked.
I know, he said. Its strange. But my lawyer insists and
well, like I said, I live in a world where people want to take
advantage of me at every turn, sell whatever piece of me they
can to the tabloids, so this just helps protect me and, frankly,
also shows me upfront who is really interested in me, he said,
touching his chest, and who is interested in all the rest. He
lifted his hand to indicate the grandness of his home, and all his
wealth and the power that came with it.
As I held the document before me, I tried to gather the racing
thoughts in my head. My eyes scanned across the document,
flipping through the pages. I couldnt take photos of him. I
couldnt disclose any information, at all, zero. I basically
couldnt talk about him to anyone, because if I did that person
who didnt sign the agreement could sell the stories. The
financial penalties were upwards of five million dollars for
speaking or writing about him in any form whatsoever--or I
would be sued. I wanted to ask if Id be sued for even thinking
about him, but decided that regardless, I was in way over my
head, and I needed help.
Do you mind if I use the restroom? I asked, setting the
documents back down on the table.
Yeah, sure, Leo said. On the other side of the staircase.
I took my purse and headed into the bathroom, which was
just as sleek and beautiful as everything else Id seen (including
Leo). It was white with mirrored vanities and in the corner was a
plush white chaise lounge chair, perfect for faintly ladies.
I took a seat on the chair and fired off a text to Kait. Job
impossible, I wrote. Wants me to sign NDA. Means I cant say
anything to anyone about him or us. If I dont sign, he shows me
the door.
I took a deep breath after I sent it off. I walked to the sink and
looked at my reflection. I dropped the shoulder of my dress to
see what Leo had seen before he pulled the strap back up for me.
I thought for a moment, wondering if I was perhaps relieved
that this wasnt going to work out after all. And then I realized
that noI wasnt relieved. I was disappointed.
My phone pinged. Youre with him? Why didnt you tell me
you were seeing him again? Great job!
I rolled my eyes, frustrated. What about the NDA? See above.
No worries, she wrote, and I waited for more guidance. When
nothing came back, I texted, But I cant sign it, right? What
should I do?
An excruciating moment later she wrote, Sophie Adams
doesnt exist. Doc wont be valid anyway so u might as well sign.
Sophie Scott is in the clear. Go get him.
She was so sure, so quickly that it still made me pause. All
kinds of thoughts and emotions flashed through my mind.
Before, this entire plan had been theoretical. Id never truly
believed that I could snag the interest of a man like Leo
Armstrong, and Id never thought through what it would truly
mean to give a fake name and deceive another human being this
way. But now that the decision was in front of me, I felt hesitant
and deeply unsure. Afraid.
This is wrong. You cant sign a fake name, you cant just lie to
him, knowing that everything hes saying and doing is going to
be used against him in an article that millions of people might
see.
On the other hand, if I backed out now, my journalism career
would come to a swift and untimely end. Besides, everyone said
that Leo Armstrong was a womanizing bastard who treated
females like disposal products he could toss away whenever he
so chose. A man like that didnt deserve honesty.
Hes the one lying, I reminded myself.
But is this really going to end up okay? Does Kait know what
shes talking about? I wondered. My stomach twisted uncertainly
and my mind warned me that I was crossing a line that couldnt
be uncrossed.
In the moment, though, I had no alternative but to trust Kait.
Okay, I wrote back. Will sign Sophie Adams.
Kait texted back in milliseconds. Want full details tomorrow
at 8:00 a.m.even if youre up all night.
Chapter 6
Good, Leo said when I handed over the signed document. Ill
put this away and we wont have to think about it again.
Whats this we, I thought. I was nervous about putting a fake
signature on a legal document, but I was also bothered by the
fact that he had all the power. He could throw my name around
all he wanted, but if I even breathed his name, Id be sued, wiped
out clean.
Maybe Kait was right about him. What kind of man started a
relationship with a legal document? It was creepy.
I bet you like having women sign those contracts, I said,
feeling bold thinking about Kait and her words of justice for
women. Makes you feel powerful.
He set down his glass of prosecco and fixed his eyes on me.
He moved closer to me, flicking his eyes down on my lips for a
moment. Sophie, Im the head of Epix Studios. The youngest in
their history. Last year alone my movies made one-point-seven
billions dollars netand that was on revenues of eight-point-
two billion. Look around you. This home might impress you but
it isnt my only oneI have two others. I am powerful. I dont
need some document signed by a girl I just met to make me feel
that way.
Look, I didnt
If you want to leave, you can. No hard feelings, he said,
spreading his hands. It doesnt have to be complicated. There
are some things I have to do to protect myself. Its just the way
my life is. But if you think you wont get anything out of this,
thats where youre wrong.
What will I getlots of sex? I said sarcastically, my heart
thrumming in my chest.
He moved even closer to me. I could almost feel his breath on
my cheek as he looked down at me. More than you ever
dreamedif you want. Ill have you begging me for more before
the ink dries on that contract. I swallowed hard, and tried to
remember to breathe. Leo still hadnt moved, his scent wafting
over methe sweetness of the wine, and something spicy.
I wasnt being serious about the sex thing, I mumbled, as
my heart raced.
Do you want to stay? he said coolly.
I nodded yes. And not just because it was my job. If only it was
that simple, but the electric feeling surging up and down my
spine wasnt about a job well done. It was about the way Leo was
making me feel.
A smile spread across his chiseled face. Good, he said
softly. He picked up his drink. Sodo you want the tour? Most
people want the tour.
I gathered myself as best I could from the heat of the
moment. Im not most people, I said, which made him
chuckle.
No, Sophie Adams, you most certainly are not.
The mention of my false name brought me back to job at
hand. Find out more about this guy and his ways with women.
All I want to see is L.A., I said.
Is that all? he said, amused.
I nodded. Show me that view.
He extended his arm. After you.
We walked across the glossy floors to the large doors that slid
open on the balcony that wrapped around half the floor.
I leaned on the steel railing, looking over the edge. The street
was so far below, tiny little dots of life. Ahead was the glittering
lights of the city, sparkling like jewelry.
So this is a million dollar view, I said, the breeze light on
my bare skin.
It cost a little more than that, he grinned. Leo leaned on
the railing next to me, his forearm brushing mine. What other
auditions have you been on?
I tucked my chin, embarrassed. None. That was my first
one.
You dont say, he said, turning to face me. I never would
have guessed.
Dont tease me.
But Im so good at it.
And dont be arrogant, either, I said, fixing him with my
most stern expression.
You know, if youd played the part this well at the audition,
you might have stood a chance. At least for a callback.
Well, I dont have a lot of experience, I said. He raised a
brow. In acting, I clarified. My nipples suddenly felt stiff and I
felt heat rise to my cheeks.
Luckily for you, youre standing next to someone who knows
a thing or two about acting, auditions, castinga general
knowledge of the movie business, some would say.
No kidding? I said. Hmm, you know its so easy to forget
what you do for a living. When I smiled, he smiled back.
Honestly, though. I could give you some tips. You werent as
bad as you think.
My roommate says I should get over it, I said. Shes a
dancer and jokes that her full-time job is getting rejections.
Shes not altogether wrong, Leo said. Theres a lot of
rejection in the industry. Its not for the weak hearted.
Good thing Im strong, then, I said, and believe me, it was
all false confidence.
Leo looked at me carefully, his eyes scanning every inch of my
face, and then down to my hips and waist. I dont think youre
an actress.
Whawhat? Yes I am. I mean, I'm trying to be.
You either are or you arent, and I dont think youre an
actress, he said, inching closer to me. You hadnt even heard
of The Groundlings, and everybody whos starting up in acting
knows about The Groundlings. So why dont you tell me what
youre really here to do.
I couldnt speak. I dont think I moved. Come on, Sophie.
Confess, he said in a teasing whisper, the traffic below us
humming.
My heart stopped and I could hardly swallow. Confess
what? I said through a clenched jaw.
What do you want to be when you grow up? he said, and I
could hear in his voice that he didnt truly suspect just how close
he was to exposing my lies.
I turned to look back at the view. I could better trust myself if
I didnt have to look at him. Youre rightIm not an actor. I
took the audition because I'm desperate for work. I just moved
here and, well, money is tight. I saw an ad for the audition and
decided to give it a shot.
Did you wake up thinking today was the day youd be
discovered?
I laughed. Hardly.
Tell me what you want, he said. I want to know. He tilted
his head and looked at me, and something about the way his eyes
found me made me think that, even if this was all part of his
game, his did want to know.
I bit the corner of my lip, thinking if it was a mistake to say
what I was about to say. I want to be a writer, I said, liking
telling the truth to him for once.
Is that so? he said, his voice soft. He moved closer to me,
closing the small bit of space between us, leaving mere inches.
I was a little stunned that he didnt sound suspicious or upset
at the revelation. After all, Kait and the others had said that Leo
would never trust a writer.
Words failed me, so I nodded yes. I ran my hand over my arm,
chills from the breezeor maybe from Leos closeness.
Cold? he asked. Without waiting for my response, he ran
his hands up and down my arms, slowly. His skin on mine was
hot, giving me another dose of chills. Are you sure? Because
youve got some major goose bumps here.
Im fine, I said.
Is this helping? he asked, his hands still moving on me.
Yes.
Do you want me to move closer?
Yes.
He wrapped his arms around me, pulling me into his chest. I
could feel how strong and defined his chest was, and I lay a hand
there, feeling his strength. He put a hand on my lower back and
tugged my hips into his. He held me there for a moment as my
heart raced. His arms felt so good around me, so secure. The
breeze of the warm air fluttered over me. I couldnt help but
press myself into him a little more, and I felt how excited he was
the same as me. Through the thin fabric of my dress, I pushed
a little closer as he held me a little tighter.
Leo lifted my chin up, and our eyes met. He held my gaze as
he gave the slightest rock against me, showing me again how
hard he was, and oh good Lord how big, and it made me lose my
breath. My mouth was open, wanting his on mine so desperately,
waiting for him to do more.
I wondered if any of this would go in my article, and then told
myself to stop thinking about the article and the magazine. If I
was going to really do this, really embrace my mission, then Id
have to temporarily forget the truth and believe my own lie.
Another slight pang of guilt hit my stomach and I pushed it
away.
Conscience be gone. I have a hot man holding me tight, and
Im not ruining this moment with my neurotic, obsessive
overthinking.
Leo slid his hand around the back of my neck, gathered my
hair in his hand, and pulled me to his lips. His lips touched mine
softly, and it took every inch of my willpower to let him go at his
speed, because the slow touch of his lips was beyond hot.
This body, he said, his breath on my lips, his hands tracing
the curve of my hips and down my back. In this dress. He
kissed me again, but deeper, his tongue finally stroking mine as
he continued to push himself against my crotch. I let out a
whimperI couldn't help myself. I was in pain, on fire, and all
from a kiss and a touch. I needed more, so much more, but I
willed myself to go slow and let him set the pace.
Leo deepened the kiss, melding our mouths together, tasting
each other like it was life we were looking for. My hand traced up
the back of his neck, and I dug my fingers into his hair, gripping
him and trying to get more of him. My body wanted to melt right
into his.
He pulled back, our lips tinged from the pressure. Do you
even realize how sexy you are? What youre doing to me?
I leaned up and kissed him again, the only words I could find
to tell him that he was the one doing this to meand I wanted
more. More of his tongue on mine, more of his hands on more of
my body. The city below had faded away, and all that mattered
was Leos hands, and Leos mouth. Something beyond my
control was pulling us together and I didnt want to stop it.
He moved his hand around my hip and down the side of my
thigh, giving me shivers for the place he just passed. He kept his
mouth firmly on mine as he bent slightly to gather up the hem of
my skirt to touch my bare skin, his warm hand griping and
rubbing my thigh. I was thankful Id decided to wear my silk
panties as his hand moved over my ass. He pulled his lips away
from mine and I almost whimpered at the loss. He hooked his
hand under my knee and lifted my leg, setting my strappy-
heeled foot on the railing near my shin. He slid back the fabric of
my skirt again, pushing it up to my hip. He moved his hand over
my panties, cupping my crotch.
God, I can feel how wet you are even through this, he said,
moving his fingers across me. I rocked forward, needing more of
him, but his other hand held firm to my hip. No. Stay still.
I didnt think it was physically possible, and I wanted to cry
out. As he moved his hand across my panties, using his middle
finger for extra pressure on my slit, I held tight to his broad,
strong shoulders. Please, I said.
He pulled back and looked at me, a smile playing on his lips.
Already begging, are you?
Instead of speaking, I pulled him toward me and crushed his
mouth with mine. He responded, our tongues moving together
as he held firm on my hip. Under my skirt, he finally made his
move.
He moved aside the small bit of fabric and slid his finger
across my slit. Youre so wet, he said. Have you been wet all
night?
Since I first saw you, I panted as his finger continued to
tease, moving back and forth but not entering me. He circled my
clit, hard and throbbing. I draped my arm over his shoulder,
holding tight.
Finally he slipped a finger inside me, giving me the slightest
bit of release but not nearly enough. He slowly pulled his finger
out and circled my clit again before dipping it back into me as
deep as he could go, and out again, back and forth. My hand slid
from his neck down this hard chest. As I continued down past his
waist, almost to the thing I wanted most, he stopped me, his
fingers still in my soaked pussy and his other hand on my wrist.
No, he said, his voice ragged. Not tonight. Just wait.
How could he stand it? How could he go so slow, so patient? I
wanted to rip every stitch of clothing from him, run my hands
and lips over his entire body, feeling how hard was, from the
muscles in his arms and chest to the bulge pushing out the front
of his perfectly-tailored pants. I needed more of him, and then
he slipped a second finger inside me, moving slow enough to
make my head spin. I closed my eyes and felt only his fingers on
me, torturing me, thrilling me, making me want to scream out.
When he inserted a third finger, I did.
God, youre so sexy to watch, Leo said, moving his fingers
faster, deep, moving them so that they rubbed my clit and I knew
I couldnt hold on much longer. I want to taste you.
I opened my eyes, looking at him. For a moment, the image of
his tongue on my soaked pussy flashed through my mind, and it
looked perfect. It was exactly what I wanted, before I even
realized.
Keeping his eyes on me, he said, Not tonight. Tonight I want
to watch you come on my hand.
I let out a small groan, disappointed, but the way he
continued to thrill me with just his fingers was beyond amazing.
I felt nothing but his fingers inside me, my entire skin buzzing
with pleasure, my stomach clenched, my pussy ready to explode
all over his hand. His own breathing had sped up, matching
mine. I whimpered the closer he pushed me to orgasm. Knowing
he was watching my face made me self-conscious, but it also
thrilled me. His long fingers brushed over my clit, and when he
breathed out my name, that was the end. The world exploded
behind my eyes, up through my stomach and out my throat,
where I groaned and cried out like I never had before. My head
fell on Leos shoulder, my hands still holding on to him, purely
for support. Otherwise, Id fall right over.
God, I finally managed.
He slid his fingers out of me. Quietly he said, I still want to
taste you. I watched mesmerized as put his fingers in his
mouth, moaning as he pulled them out, slowly, savoring every
moment. I knew a girl as sweet as you would taste the same.
Locking my eyes to his, I took his wrist, surprising himand
myself. I opened my mouth and slide my tongue from the
bottom of those fingers all the way up before wrapping my lips
around the top. Then I dipped my head to take all three fingers in
my mouth and slowly slid down and up.
Jesus Christ, he breathed, his eyes heavy as he watched,
fascinated. I gave one last pull as I released his fingers. Youre
incredible.
I lowered my leg from the railing and readjusted my dress,
back into its proper position.
Seen enough? he said.
Hardly.
We went back inside settled on the couch, where the
untouched food and barely sipped prosecco still sat. A silence fell
over us. Not awkward, exactly. Leo looked at me with ease, the
lust still present in the curve of his lips but the hunger satiated,
at least for now.
So, he said, taking a drink. Think youll be taking any
more auditions? I just want to be warned in advance.
Very funny, I said, eating some of the cheese on the table.
If I was hungry before I was ravenous now.
I told you I was good with teasing. A smiled played on his
lips, and I couldnt help but smile back at him. Tell me more
about writing. What kind do you want to do?
Fiction, I said. Novels. Maybe screenplays, I added. I
hadnt thought about screenplays until then, but it seemed to
please Leo. I wished I could tell him everything, but that was
now an impossibility.
Good, he said. Then I can still give you some pointers, and
we wont have to limit our activities to the balcony.
I laughed. Telling him about writing had been surprisingly
easy. I didnt feel silly like I sometimes did, when people would
snicker, So you wanna write the great American novel?
When Id told my ex-boyfriend Paul that I wanted to major in
writing, hed said, I hope you want to be a teacher, because
thats the only kind of job someone with that kind of degree will
ever get.
It stung me to realize that so far, Leo was nothing like Id
imagined him to be. Right now, in fact, I liked him better than
anyone else Id met since moving to LA.
Still, I had to remember my mission. Did you always want to
be the youngest head of a movie studio?
Hardly, he said. But Ive always been driven, thats for
sure. He stared down at the floor for a moment. I started out
wanting to be a writer.
Really? I asked, surprised.
Yeah, he said, laughing. I wrote this terrible screenplay
when I was still an undergrad and submitted it to another studio.
I was so full of confidence that I was sure theyd buy it for a
million dollars. I didnt get so much as a rejection. They didnt
even bother.
Ouch, I said. I could totally relate. Id once submitted an
overly wrought short story to a literary magazine. I did get a
rejectionan auto-reply from the sites info box.
Yeah. If anyone finds out that script is floating around, itll
be dug up and laughed at by the industry, he said.
Well, I wont tell, I said. I dont really feel like being
sued.
Sophie, he said, disappointed. He gave his head the
slightest of shakes. Dont do that.
I didnt say anything. I guessed teasing about the contract was
out of bounds. I didnt want the awkwardness to settle in after
such an incredible moment on the balcony, so after a moment I
said, I should probably get going. I stood up. Thanks so much
for having me over.
Of course, he said, standing up with me. Ill walk you to do
the door.
We started across the marble floors, my heels echoing in the
large space. Just before he opened the door that led down the
hall to what I now realized was a private elevator, Leo said,
Wait. Will you do me a favor?
I shrugged. Sure.
Stay here, he said, and went back inside his condo, which is
a silly thing to call a place that was more like a mansion in the
sky. When Leo came back, he held a stack of papers in his hand.
This script has been floating around the office for months. Its
been read by a dozen executives and ten junior readers but no
one can figure out whats missing. It should be a good story but
something is off. Would you read it and let me know what you
think? You can write notes on this copy.
Yeah, I said, stunned. Sure. One thing I realized in taking
this script from Leo Armstrong was that he intended to see me
again. That was goodfor the magazine, of course.
As incredible as the balcony had beenas amazing as he was
with his lips and handsI decided to use him like he was using
me. Mutually beneficial. If a woman wanted to be in his
presence, they had to sign away their rights to him. He got all
the comfort of doing whatever he wanted in the relationship
knowing hed suffer no consequences.
Eventually, hed tire of me and unceremoniously dump me
like he did every other girl.
Sure, he seemed nice enough right now, but that was because
he wanted to sleep with me. As soon as he got what he wanted
from me, his true colors would come out and then Id be nothing
to him.
Fine.
That would simply make it easier to do the hit piece that Kait
was looking for me to write about him for Crush.
But will you really sleep with him if thats what it comes to?
Sleep with a man you dont respect, who doesnt respect you?
I sighed, knowing that this was the worst part of it all.
Sleeping with him was what I was looking forward to most.
Chapter 7
Spill it, Kait said, practically pulling me into her office. I
want every detail.
I was surprised to see Alexa and Bethany sitting in Kaits
office. They were all waiting, pens hovering over notepads.
Grab a chair from down the hall, Bethany said.
I took the extra chair from Kaits assistants desk and rolled it
into Kaits office, where all three women looked at me as eagerly
as children waiting for their birthday presents.
Kait said you were at Leo Armstrongs place last night,
Bethany began, once I sat down.
Must have been some audition, Alexa smirked.
Shifting in my seat, I licked my lips. I totally blew the
audition.
It certainly doesnt sound like you did, Kait said, slowly
swiveling her chair like a lion circling its prey. You clearly did
something right.
How did he get you to his apartment? Alexa asked. Like,
what was his excuse?
Alexa, hes Leo Armstrong, Bethany snickered. He doesnt
need an excuse.
I had to admit, Bethany was right about that. He just called
and invited me over, I said. That was sort of it.
And? Bethany and Alexa asked at the same time.
And I went. His place is huge. It has its own elevator, I
added lamely.
Alexa and Bethany exchanged looks like they couldnt believe
the boring details I was handing over about a such a huge player.
I didnt feel comfortable at all telling them or anyone else about
the balcony incident, and other than that we didnt exactly talk
about too muchat least nothing news worthy. What we did talk
about had been clouded by the way he made meand my body
feel when his hands were on me, something I thought every
waking second since.
Look at her, shes blushing, Alexa said.
Youre holding out on us, Sophie, Bethany said.
I looked to Kait, knowing she planned to get it all out of me.
Sophie, she began. I shouldn't have to remind you already
that this story is due in a few weeks. I intend to have it in the
next issue. Theres no dragging your feet on this.
I understand, I said, feeling like I was failing already. I
wasnt there to protect Leo Armstrong, no matter how good his
fingers felt inside me last night. Thats what he was good at
doing, to hundreds of women, probably. I was just another in a
never-ending string.
So I told them what I could. I told them what his place looked
like. Kait said it could be a good way to show some setting for the
piece.
Sounds like his dcor is as sterile and unemotional as he is
about his women, she said. I had just thought it was sleek and
modern, but I supposed I saw her point.
I told them how I had to tell him that I wasnt really trying to
be an actress, and that he seemed to believe me and it hadnt
made him suspicious, even when I told him I wanted to be a
writer.
Did you tell him screenplays? Kait asked.
Basically, I said.
She nodded approvingly. And? she asked.
Actually, he gave me a screenplay to read. He wants my
opinion.
Very good. So a second date, then? Kait said.
I guess, I said. I certainly hopedfor the sake of the story,
of course.
Kait eyed me closely. Did something physical happen?
I squirmed uncomfortably. I would not give details, but I knew
I had to give her something. We kissed a little.
Lucky girl, Alexa said.
How was he? Bethany asked.
Amazing, I replied, despite myself. I hated being
interrogated like this. It was a violation, but I reminded myself
that Id signed up for it.
You would be amazing too, if you got as much action as this
guy does, Kait said. Listen, Sophie, youre off to a good start.
But surely theres something concrete we can take away from
your first evening with him?
They all watched me closely. My mind spun, trying to think of
something I could give them to let me out of their scrutiny.
Oh, I said, remembering. He originally wanted to be a writer.
He sent a screenplay to one of the studios when he was an
undergrad. After the words leave my mouth, I instantly regret
them.
Seriously? Kait asked. Single-minded Leo Armstrong
wanted to write? How pathetic.
Which studio? Alexa asked.
He didnt say, I said, hoping theyll just drop it.
We have to get a hold of that script, Kait said. At least find
out what studio he sent it to.
Look for the script that contains aliens, explosions, guns
and women with no speaking roles, snickered Alexa.
Why do all the studio execs think thats what we all want?
Bethany said. Its embarrassing.
Alright, thats enough, Kait said, shutting up the girls.
Sophie, make sure you write all this down. Keep copious notes
and save them to the shared drive so I can see your updates. Got
it?
As I left Kaits office, I heard the girls fall into another fit of
laughter, and the weak part of me felt bad for telling The Panty
Droppers secret.
Except thats what Im being paid to do. Find out his dirty
secrets and then expose him for the woman-hating misogynist
that he clearly is.
At home that evening, I read through the script Leo gave me
for a second time. Id read it last night when I got home from
Leos, unable to sleep. Now I went through it again, making
notes and gathering my thoughts.
A video call came through on my laptop, and I smiled when I
saw who it was.
Delaney! I said, seeing my best friends freckled face on my
screen.
Hows my L.A. girl? she asked. Have you been discovered
yet?
I smiled. Not yet.
Well, hurry up so I can move out there and be your personal
assistant!
I laughed. Delaney and I had been best friends since second
grade. She broke down crying when I told her I was moving to
Los Angeles, and Id begged her to come with me. And do
what? shed asked. My familys business is here. And Im
pretty sure no one in Los Angeles eats frozen custardor fat of
any kind, for that matter.
Seeing Delaneys familiar face after too many days of having
no one close to talk to made me let out of sigh of relief. Hows
the ice cream business? I asked.
Its custard and you know it. It was a joke I always made to
her. The Day family didnt sell ice creamthey sold frozen
custard, thank you very much. Her family owned a local shop
called Days, and her father expected Delaney to expand the
business from Maine down to New Hampshire, and that was
plenty of pressure for a recent college graduate.
Sell more scoops so you can come visit me, I said, her
familiar face grinning back at me. Hows business?
Who cares? I didnt call to talk about how egg yolk is
basically the only difference between custard and ice cream. You
talk. Tell me something exciting, she said. Whats it like out
there? Is it crazy or what? Delaney wanted stories of adventures
along Sunset Boulevard, swimming in the Pacific, and posh
dinners in Beverly Hills. Id been here just over two weeks and I
hadnt seen any of the familiar sights.
I hate to disappoint you, I said, but I havent done much
sightseeing. Just been working, trying to figure that whole thing
out.
Have you made any friends? Whats your roommate like?
Shes okay. A dancer, tough, doesnt like to bullshit or
coddle. Ive hardly seen her since I moved in.
Best kind of roommate, Delaney said. Come on, Soph.
Something must be happening out there.
She looked at me eagerly, but not in the greedy way the girls
in the office had as they waited for my report from Leo
Armstrong. Delaney looked at me excitedly because she wanted
me to have an adventure. And as shed said a hundred times
since I told her I was leaving our small town, she planned to live
vicariously through my adventures.
But I couldnt tell her about Leo Armstrong. I knew I could
trust Delaney with my life, but I hesitated in telling her my big
writing assignment.
The roommate is a little intense. So are the girls in the
office, I said. What I need is my partner in crime with me to
explore the city.
And its seedy underside, she joked. Does the fact that you
havent seen the sights yet mean you havent met any guys yet
either? Or are you already so wrapped up in some Malibu surfer
dude that you havent had the time?
Thats not it at all, I said. Normally Delaney would be the
first and only person Id call after a night like last night. I was in
unfamiliar territory, not being able to tell my best friend about
the hottest non-sex Id ever had.
I hope its not because youre still hung up on Paul, she
said. He is a royal prick. Im sure its only a matter of time
before he cheats on Meredith.
I perked up. Paul is with Meredith?
Delaney cringed. Sorry. I thought you knew.
How would I know? Im out of the gossip loop.
And in a much better place than this, thats for sure. Listen,
Soph, Delaney said, turning serious. Make the most of your
time out there. I hate the thought of you being in one of the
worlds most exciting cities but staying inside your cramped
little shared apartment because youre too afraid to get out there
on your own and meet people. Surely your roommate does
something other than dance. Oh! She can introduce you to her
hot dancer guy friends. They have the best bodies, and are totally
uninhibited, too.
I know, I said, guilt washing over me. Youre right.
Dont let what Paul did to you make you think all guys are
like him. Because theyre not. There are good ones out there,
too. And well find themone for each of us.
As much as I hated it, my mind naturally clicked over to Leo
and last night. As far as I could tell, most guys were just like
Paul. The only difference between him and Leoaside from
money, success and GQ lookswas that Leo made girls sign
nondisclosure agreements to try and keep his jerky ways
completely secret.
My phone buzzed on my desk. Blocked number. My heart
raced, thinking it might be Leo.
Delaney, thats my phone, I told her. It might be work. I
gotta go.
Okay, but think about what I said. Get out there and have
fun.
I smiled. I will.
And remember the dancers!
I told her I loved her then ended the video chat. When I
answered my phone, a deep sexy voice greeted me.
Did you read it? Leo asked by way of greeting.
Yes, in fact I did. Twice, I said.
Trying to get to the head of the class, are you? he asked.
Well, young student, Id like to go over your work. Can I take
you to dinner tonight?
To discuss the screenplay? I asked, teasing a bit but also to
see if he had more in mind. Last night would hold me over for a
while, but not for long. Just hearing his voice made me crave him
all over again.
That, and whatever else might come up, he said, and my
thoughts immediately went south.
Just tell me when and where.
Ill send a car. Be ready in thirty minutes.
You dont give a girl a lot of time, do you? I said.
You dont need it, he replied. Im sure however you look
now is perfect. But, uh, if you are taking requests, where
something that shows off those gorgeous curves of yours.
Chapter 8
When I slid into the back of the black SUV, I expected to find Leo
waiting for me. But he wasnt there.
Good evening. I'm Steve, Ill be driving you this evening. Mr.
Armstrong will meet you at the restaurant. Aside from that,
Steve the driver said nothing else to me. I watched out the
darkened windows as we drove on, to where I had no idea.
I got excited as we pulled onto Sunset Boulevardfinally
something to check off the list and tell Delaneybut I should
have known that Leo Armstrong would not be so common as to
dine on one of the citys most popular streets. Instead we soon
turned off onto a small side street that wound its way up the hills
until we arrived at a little place that looked like a small house
tucked into the trees. The driver pulled the SUV up to the door,
and a valet opened the back door for me, helping me out.
Inside the lights were dimmed and although most of the
white linen covered tables were occupied, the noise level was
low. Respectable.
Im meetingLeo Armstrong? I told the hostess, feeling
ridiculous. The words sounded ludicrous coming from my lips.
But the Amazonian blonde in the tight black dress said, You
must be Ms. Adams? Mr. Armstrong hasnt arrived yet, but Ill
show you to your table.
She took two hardcover menus, and I followed her through
the dining room. I sat in the horseshoe booth, sliding to the
center. I tugged on the dress Mel had provided me from the
fashion closet. Rebecca let me take home a few clothes and
cosmetics that I need for a story we were working on. Since I
didnt know much about the restaurant when Leo had called, I
opted for a rich blue wrap dress that showed off my cleavage and
hips perfectly. I just hoped Leo would find it acceptable.
And if his face upon seeing me was any indication, he did.
Hello, gorgeous, he said, that bright smile spread across his
tanned face. He slid into the booth and kissed my check, his
hand washing down my back, sending instant chills. I hope you
havent been here long.
Just long enough to get this, I said, raising my glass of
prosecco. Id never admit it, but I hoped a part of me thought it
would become our drink.
The waiter stopped by our table. I paused for his face to light
up with recognition of having a big-time movie exec at his table,
but he showed nothing when he said, Can I get you something
to drink, sir?
No, nothing for me.
I turned to look at Leo, confused. Can you give us a
moment? The waiter nodded and turned away without another
word.
Is everything okay?
Well, not really, he said. He turned to better face me, his
hand resting on my hip. It felt warm there, comfortable, his
hand cupped perfectly around it. Ive got a bit of a work
emergency on a set up in Seattle. I cant stay for dinner. I'm on
my way up there now.
I felt myself physically deflate. I wouldnt admit it, but I
didnt think it was because of the lost opportunity to turn more
dirt up on him.
Being near him made me anxious in the most thrilling way.
But I think you should come with me, he continued.
To Seattle? Now?
Sure, why not?
No, Ive got to work tomorrow, I said. Leo turned his head,
and I realized my mistake.
Doing what? Don't tell me you booked an acting gig, he
teased while watching me closely.
Temp, I got a temp job, I said quickly. I think Im
answering phones. Not sure. I have to be there by nine, though.
I prayed he didnt ask more.
Ill have you back in plenty of time, I promise.
Go up to Seattle and back tonight? I asked. Youre joking.
Its just three hours. You fly up with me, he said, leaning
close enough that I took in his scent, already becoming familiar
to me. He ran his fingers down my arm, sending me serious
chills. Ill stay in Seattle to handle the business for a day or two,
but youll fly back tonight.
Confused, I said, Why would I fly up to Seattle only to turn
around and fly right back? Even if it were first class, as I
assumed, it was still a plane. It didnt sound fun. It sounded the
opposite of fun.
Leo leaned in close to my ear, nudging my hair away with his
nose. Softly he said, Did I mention its a private jet?
Realization washed over me. For a moment, a flash of hurt
seared my chest. This was nothing but a straight up booty call.
He wanted to hook up with me, and then send me right back
home like a paid escort.
But as soon as the pain erupted, I quelled it. I reminded
myself that we were both using one another, and now that I saw
Leos intentions, I could stop feeling guilty all of the time.
This is why I was being paid to write an expose about Leo
Armstrongbecause he was sleazy and rude and he used
women.
My guilt now assuaged, I turned to him, our lips inches apart.
You know, Ive always wanted to see the Seattle airport, I said.
Its on my bucket list.
You wont believe your eyes, he said, smiling so close to my
lips. I wanted to close the inches between us, but in a crowded
restaurant
His lips covered mine before I could finish the thought. They
touched me gently but firmly, his fingers just under my chin. I
forgot about everyone and everything in those few moments,
feeling the kiss he gave me and enjoying it fully.
Arent you afraid someone will see us? I said. He leaned his
forehead onto mine, his fingers still delicately caressing my jaw.
Let them. He moved away from me to exit the booth. I
followed his lead. He tossed two twenties on the table and said,
One of the reasons I come to places like thisaside from their
outstanding filet mignon, is the discretion I know I can count on.
Good night, Sylvia, he said to the hostess as we walked past
her.
Good night, Mr. Armstrong, Ms. Adams, she kindly replied.
Steve had us at the airport soon after, and I found myself
walking up the steps of the Epix Studios private jetone of
them, anyway. This one, Leo told me, was for his use.
Sometimes I let the CFO use it, he said, since he handles the
money. But this is the good one. Gulfstream G650. He sounded
so proudor maybe arrogant. I tried to commit the plane to
memory for my notes later.
Once the crew had greeted ustwo pilots and one flight
attendant, Helenwe buckled into our seats and readied for
takeoff. Leo and I sat facing each other, and my eyes caught the
long couch just across the narrow aisle.
Dont worry, he said, leaning across the table from me once
Helen had served us white wine. I could smell rich food warming
somewhere in the cabin. Once we finish dinner, Helen retires to
the front and closes her door, and knows not to disturb me
unless called. Cheers, he added, and I clinked my glass to his. I
felt a tightening in my throat at the thought of Helen knowing
his routine, and when to stay away. It seemed to mean that I was
not the first girl to take a ride with him on the jet.
Id only flown a couple of times. Once Paul and I flew down to
New York for a long weekend, but the entire trip was filled with
his complaints of the traffic and noise and people and crowds,
the very things I loved about the city.
The plane took off and I gripped the armrests tightly, the
power of the long, sleek plane feeling so close, as if it were
shooting us off like a slingshot. Leo watched me with an amused
look on his face. I couldnt help but smile back.
You get used to it, he said. And then you cant go back to
commercial.
I wondered if thats how he felt about the women in his life,
but decided to let it gofor now.
Im pretty sure Im not the first girl youve taken for a ride
on this jet, I said.
No, youre not, he said.
Do you always take women with you wherever you go? I
asked. Tucking them in your pocket like a trinket? I smiled
while I sipped my wine, trying to look like I was teasing when I
really I wanted to know the truth.
Leo shrugged. He looked perfectly at ease in the high-back
cream leather chair, flying away at a moments notice on a
private jet. I like to be surrounded by beautiful things. Is that so
wrong?
No, not at all, I said.
He swirled the wine in his glass as he watched me, waiting for
me to say more. If he was so willing to answer, Id be willing to
ask.
Obliging my instincts, I went further. Is your stafflike your
driver Steve and Helen back therecarefully briefed on your new
girls? Has anyone ever had a slipup and called someone by the
wrong name?
I like to make everyone feel comfortable, Leo said, his
expression relaxed. My assistants help to make sure all my
guests feel welcomed. No matter who they are.
Even if theyre just some failed actress from nowhere
Maine?
I want to hear more about this place youre from he said, by
way of changing the subject.
Boy, he was smooth. I had to admire it, even as it angered me
a little.
But still, I didnt want him to know too many details about
me. The less he knew about me, and the more I knew about him,
the better.
Dont change the subject, I said. I ran my hands over the
soft buttery leather of the chair. I just want to know how many
other women have sat here.
Were not doing that numbers game, Leo said, his tone
hardening now. Sophie, dont ruin this by asking too many
questions.
I had to get my story somehow. I needed to know more about
him. As Helen brought us dinnerscallops and risotto on real
chinaI told myself to be patient.
Lets talk about why youre really here, Leo said, setting
down his fork. Id always heard that airplane food was terrible
if you got anything more than peanutsbut the food on that
plane was the best thing Id eaten in months. Better than
anyplace Paul ever took me, thats for sure.
I thought I was just here to keep you company, I said, my
heart jumping as I once again braced myself for my cover to be
blown.
His eyes held mine like they often did. When Leo Armstrong
looked at me, I didnt want to look away. What I mean, he
said, was, we need to talk. About the script.
The screenplay you gave me to read, I said, relieved yet
again. Id let myself get caught up in everything else. Talking
about the screenplay sounded like much more fun than trying to
find out about his other women. I got my bag from behind the
chair and pulled out the stack of pages.
Tell me what you thought, Leo said.
I thought it was good, I said, flipping through the pages.
Be specific.
I felt like I was being put on the spot by one of my college
professors. But I wanted to impress Leo, so I started again. I
guess its just not my kind of movie.
Why?
Because, I began. I dont know. Im just not into these
revenge stories. Drunk driver kills this woman, and then this
crazy guy goes on a rampage of destruction to track down the
driver and make him pay for what he did. I mean, did he have to
blow up the police station in the process? It seemed a bit much.
A man seeking to avenge his wifes death is a bit much?
Thats not what I meant, I said, as Helen cleared away our
dinner plates and refreshed our wine. I leaned down and slipped
off my heels, letting my toes feel the soft carpet of the plane. I
just think that I need to know more from this guy. Jake, thats
the killers name, right?
You mean the man who is seeking revenge? Or the man who
killed his wife?
I cocked my head. You know what I mean.
Its an important distinction, Leo said.
Its just an action movie, I laughed, wondering why he was
pushing so hard. What does matter?
It matters, Leo said, because these characters are real. Or
they should feel real, no matter if theyre seeking out a foreign
enemy or someone from their hometown. You should feel
something from the characters, understand their motivations. It
matters, Sophie, because this is my business, and if youre
telling me that this is all just cheesy shit that doesnt matter,
then I have an earnings statement that says viewers all over the
world think differently. This may not be Kill Bill, but it should be
the best movie viewers pay to see on the night they choose to see
it. Understand?
I nodded. Yes. I understand.
These arent caricatures and if they are, tell meand tell me
how youd fix it. He ran his fingers through his hair, taking in a
breath. Tell me what doesnt work about it.
I did as he asked, telling him my thoughts, being so specific I
felt like I was a New York Times film critic or something. But Leo
wanted to know every detail, every stray thought I had about the
script.
As Helen brought out dessertchocolate raspberry cakeLeo
continued to push me, asked me questions. We worked through
the script for nearly two hours, making marks on the pages
about character development and pacing.
Finally Leo tossed his pen on the table between us and said,
You did well, Sophie. When you push yourself, you really see
the heart of things. Of this. He tapped the screenplay.
Thank you very much, Mr. Armstrong, I said. Im glad I
pleased you.
Well, he said, lets not get ahead of ourselves. We locked
eyes, and I wished for the life of me that the table wasnt
between us.
You enjoyed the work? he asked.
Yes, I said. I loved it. I mean, I didnt do so great on this
first go-around but I learned a lot. It was true. Leo had made
me look at the characters Id normally brush off as one-
dimensional in a different way.
I had to admit, I was surprised and impressed by him, by his
work ethic, and his willingness to really take me seriously.
Something about that fact was more attractive to me than
almost anything else.
My desire for Leo had just grown by leaps and bounds in this
short time.
Leo nodded, watching me carefully. Helen appeared and
asked if wed like our dessert plates cleared. Yes, thank you,
Leo said. And thatll be all until arrival.
Yes, Mr. Armstrong, she said, and she retreated to the front
of the cabin, where I knew shed stay behind the closed door
until we landed. The thought thrilled me so much I felt myself
twitch in anticipation.
Once shed closed the door behind her and dimmed the cabin
lights, Leo slowly rose from his side of the table and I almost
melted with relief. A part of me had wondered all night if he
really did just want to talk to me on the flight to Seattle, but the
hunger in his eyes as he walked toward me said he wanted so
much more.
He leaned on the armrests, boxing me into my seat. Now,
he said, watching my lips as I tried to control my breathing. Are
we done with the business portion of the evening?
Before I could answer his lips were on mine, soft and full of
want, and I knew hed been waiting for this all night, too. His
kiss was needy, his tongue going deep, seeking more of me, and I
gave him everything back I could. His mouth absolutely
devoured me, and because he stood above me while I still sat in
the chair, he was at the perfect height for my hands to start
wandering.
In almost no time I had his shirt un-tucked and my hand
running over the steel of his abs, which clenched under my
touch. I looked up at him, his lips full and parted as he watched
me slowly unbutton his shirt, his hands caressing my face and
neck as if he couldnt bare to stop touching me. It only propelled
me to keep going, further, pushing his shirt open like curtains
once it was free from the restraint of the buttons. I looked at his
chest and stomach, my hands tracing over his beauty like it was
a piece of fine art. The hard muscles, the deep breathing I knew
he was trying to control, his strong chest rising and falling, all
had me so weak that if I werent already sitting, Id be down on
the ground.
I touched my lips to his skin, just above his belt, slipping my
tongue out delicately to taste him. Leos hands raked through my
hair, his breathing urging me onnot that I needed it. I was on
autopilot, doing only as my body wanted, and it wanted more of
this perfectly formed man in front of me, kissing and tasting and
touching as much of his flesh as I could.
This felt so right and so wrong all at once.
I was only here because of lies and deceit and my motive was
purely business. Yet, my lust for this man couldnt be denied.
And knowing that the last thing I should be doing was having
sexual relations with Leo Armstrong right now, only made me
want him that much more.
I was sure I could never please him, not in the way in which
he was accustomed. Hed had gorgeous, experienced women, and
I was practically a born-again virgin. Id only ever been with
Paul, and we didnt even have sex the last four months we were
together. So as my hand traced the thick outline of Leos penis
through his pants, pressing against the fine material as if it
wanted out as much as I wanted to feel it in my hand and mouth,
a part of me hesitated, afraid Id only make a fool of myself, that
Id somehow do it wrong. The other part of methe purely
sexual part of me that had my panties soaked once again
decided I needed him. That part of me thought I might die from
want if I didn't have him in my mouth.
I slid open the smooth leather of his belt, watching him as he
swallowed hard, the lump of his Adams apple bobbing up, then
down. His mouth fell open again, and he ran his thumb over my
bottom lip, which I bit gently, teased it with my tongue. He kept
his eyes on me like nothing else mattered, and I was sure
nothing did. I slowly pulled the zipper down, waiting for the
present he held so tightly in those soft, elegant pants. I ran my
hand over the next thin layer of fabric of his boxer briefs, his
breath becoming deeper and more ragged. Leo slipped his hand
to the base of my neck and gave me the slightest, almost
imperceptible nudge toward. I looked up at him and smiled,
reveling in the power I was seeing I held over him in the
moment.
Tracing the thick outline of his long cock, I smiled and said,
Youre not getting impatient, are you?
In answer to my question, he took the smallest step closer to
me, putting what I wanted even closer to my mouth. I moved
both my hands just under the remaining fabric that stood
between us, and lowered it past his knees. My breath caught. His
massive dick stood at attention before me, more intimidating
than Leo Armstrong himself. I took it in my hand, my fingers not
quite meeting on the other side it was so thick, and I wondered
how Id ever manage, even as much as I wanted to take every last
inch of him in my mouth.
I flicked my eyes up at him as I pressed my tongue flat against
at the base of him, slowly dragging it up the full length.
Jesus, he gasped.
I traced over the slit at the top and twirled my tongue around
the entire head. Then I started again, licking up the front and
swirling around to the ridge on the underside, teasing him,
making him wish he were fully in my mouth. I used my tongue as
a lubricant to gently pull his flesh up and down with my hand
until finally I dipped my head, stretching my jaw as wide as it
would go, and took Leo in my mouth. He let out a deep moan.
Slowly I lowered my head, taking him in inch by inch as his
fingers dug into the hair at the base of my neck. Knowing I had
him so hot made me want to give him more. With one hand on
his dick, following the motion of my mouth up and down his now
slick cock, I used my other hand to gently cup his balls, moving
them gently toward his body. They tightened under my delicate
touch, and I loosened my grip.
My main work was done with my mouth, though, and I
savored every taste, keeping my lips and tongue firm against
him, releasing only to lick him at the top, the delicious treat that
he was, more satisfying than that chocolate raspberry cake could
ever hope to be. Each time my head dipped down, I took more of
him in my mouth, marveling at how loose my throat had
become, that it could take much more than I ever imagined.
God, Sophie, Leo moaned, his fingers fully tangled in my
hair as he took over, guiding my head at the pace he wanted, a
little faster, my mouth stretched wide as I moaned at the feel of
him on my touch. I paused and took my mouth off his dick,
giving it quick kisses up the side before taking it back, as deep as
I could, Leos hand gently pushing to have more of him. His
breath came in gasps as I quickened my pace, my hand still
holding him.
Dont stop, he gasped, and I wouldnt have even if the
plane were going down. Im going to come, he said, and
knowing my mouth could do this to him made me moan with
him and soon he exploded, down my throat and I took him, all of
him, holding him there as more came from him, his grunts
hardly contained. His hand fell from my head to my shoulder,
and finally he braced himself on the arm of my chair, panting for
air. I slipped him out of my mouth.
Once hell pulled himself togetherand pulled up his pants
he sat on the bench across the aisle. He rubbed his hands over
his face and through his hair. Damn, girl. Im going to need a
minute. I think I went off to another universe for awhile there.
Flatterer, I said, but secretly I was pleased. Id never made a
manthe one Id been withsay my name like that and was
amazed I had done it, and to this man of all men. I moved over
and sat next to him.
Im not kidding, he said. Howd you get so good at that?
Ill never tell, I said, leaning over to nip at his neck. That
part, at least, was the truth. Like Id admit to learning how to
give a blowjob from a magazine? And not even Crush. The
horror!
He let out a satisfied sigh as I kissed his neck. Come closer,
he said. He put an arm around my back and hooked the other
under my legs. In one smooth motion, he had me sitting on his
lap.
Right where you want me, I said.
Why dont you come to the set with me? he said, his fingers
tracing lazily on my bare thigh. Ill just keep you like this
during meetings. Uh, Mr. Armstrong, are you aware that theres
a human woman attached to your lap? Well just feign
ignorance.
I laughed and went back to his neck, giving him gentle little
licks and bites as I went. You taste so good, I mumbled, as I
continued kissing.
If you keep that up, I really will be forced to take you with
me.
Please take me, I sighed into his ear, my hand running
across the chest I hadnt spent enough time exploring. There
was so much more of him to touch and taste and feel. If he
rerouted the plane to Australia I wouldnt have minded at all. It
still wouldnt be enough time.
Soon, sweet Sophie, he whispered back. Soon.
Mr. Armstrong, came the captains voice over the
intercom. Be advised that we will be landing in twenty minutes.
Please make sure your seatbelts are secured.
Dont listen to him, I said, my arm wrapped around his
neck. I brushed the brown strands of hair from his forehead,
then kissed him there.
He laughed. Even I have to listen to the captain. Sophie, he
said, pulling back and looking at me closely, and I felt ithe
needed to tell me something, confess his feelings or beg me to
wait for him in Seattle. It had to be something, the way he
looked at me like I held all the answers to the questions hed
asked his whole life. His eyes flicked away for a brief second, and
then he said, This bench pulls out into a bed. You can sleep on
the way back to L.A.
It was as if wed hit a sudden patch of turbulence, the way my
stomach suddenly plummeted. Id believed for a moment that he
was going to say something deep and personal to meespecially
after the deep, personal thing Id just done to him. But
something about the sudden business of it all had me rattled.
Great, I said, standing up and tugging my skirt down as I
did. Lucky me. I sat back in my own seat and buckled my
seatbelt.
Leo sat across from me. I didnt meanare you okay?
Im fine.
Sophie, he said. Look at me.
I was afraid that if I did Id burst into tears, and that was not
how I wanted what had been an otherwise incredible night in the
sky to end. I did, though, I looked at him, the blue of his eyes so
bright now, looking at me in that way he had that I couldnt fully
describe. It made me feel exposed, and that was the last way I
wanted to feel around him. Thank you for coming with me, he
said. Honestly, I travel a lot and I hate flying alone. Its
depressing.
Glad I could hang out, then, I said, looking away again,
despite the sincerity I could hear in his voice.
Dont be like that. Theres no one else I wanted to be with
tonight than you, he said. And I want to see you again. I want
to see more of you.
My eyes turned back to him. He definitely seemed sincere, but
I knew that this was simply a ploythis kind of pacifying speech
was his stock-in-trade. Leo was damn good at making me feel
wanted, but I had to remember that hed also been just as good
at it with dozens and dozens of women previously.
Do not ever forget who and what he is, I told myself.
Before he stepped off the plane he took me in his arms,
pressed me tight to him, and kissed me deeply and with such
tenderness. I sank against him, wishing that kiss would never
end. But it did. Soon I was watching from the window as he
slipped into an awaiting black town car on the tarmac, and Helen
had lowered that bench into a bed for me, complete with pillows
and blanket.
Can I get you anything before takeoff? she asked.
I watched out the small window as the car drove away, taking
Leo with it. I realized he hadnt said how long hed be gone.
No, thank you, I said. I felt strangely sad and forlorn, and I
hated knowing that my body and emotions were steadily
betraying my rational brain.
As we hit cruising altitude and I had snuggled down into the
cozy little bed, I fell asleep quickly, wondering how soon I could
see him again.
Chapter 9
When I walked back into my apartment at three oclock that
morning, I heard Ava Marie moaning and her bed bucking behind
her slightly ajar bedroom door. Great, I thought. Just what I need
to hear after rocking off Leo but not fully finishing myself.
Did oral count as being part of the mile-high club? I wondered
stupidly.
Had I been used? The first night at his apartment had,
frankly, been all about me. If thats how Leo Armstrong used
women, then I say let him. But tonight Id returned the favor, so
to speak. And even though Id enjoyed every delicious second of
it, was he laughing at me right now, telling the guys how some
dumb girl gave him a blow job on the company jet? Again,
Armstrong? theyd probably tease, and hed laugh self-
deprecatingly, all the while knowing his legend was increasing
by the second.
But then againI couldnt help thinking about the amazing
talk wed had. It was fascinating hearing about scripts and
characters from his perspective, to learn what he wanted from
them. That maybe there was more to his movies than just guns
and explosions.
Then I recalled how seriously hed taken my opinionsmore
seriously even than Kait and the women at Crush.
I got a glass of water from the kitchen, waiting for Ava Marie
to finishwhoever she was doing.
The door to Ava Maries bedroom opened and a man in boxers
walked into the dark hallway, toward the kitchen.
Hello? I said to let him know someone else was there.
Holy shit, he said, stepping back.
What is it? Ava Marie called from her bedroom.
Its Sophie, I called. Im home.
Ava Marie came out with a short robe loosely tied around her
slim waist. Oh, hey. I thought you were out.
Just got home, I said, holding up my water glass.
This is Christian, she said, motioning to the perfectly
proportioned creature now searching for a water glass.
Christian, thats my roommate Sophie.
I guess if youre just now getting home that means you had a
good night, Christian said, without an ounce of self-
consciousness at walking around in our kitchen half naked.
Thats true, Ava Marie said, a smile playing on her lips.
Did the new girl in town find herself a native?
I didnt feel like talking about it. The nightthe flighthad
been incredible but also confusing to put in mildly, and I had
some mental sorting to do. I had a work thing, I said, not a
total lie.
Listen, I feel kind of bad about the other day, when I told you
to like, get over your audition rejection. I shouldn't have been so
harsh.
No, its fine, I said. You were right.
You a dancer, too? Christian asked.
I wanted to know what planet he thought a woman with my
curves would be a professional dancer. Thats when I realized
he was a dancer, too. I could see it in the way he movedand in
his lean muscles totally on display.
Sophies still trying to find herself while working at a
magazine. Right, Soph?
Something like that, I said.
So who were you out with tonight? Ava Marie asked, eyeing
me mischievously.
No one, I said, my instinct to lie growing stronger and
easier each time. I mean, it was that guy I met at the audition.
Nobody special, I added, rubbing my neck.
Oh, yeah, the actor who wanted to run lines with you, Ava
Marie said. Hey, that reminds me. Some of us are going to the
drive-in some time next week if you want to join us. Bring your
new actor boy.
A drive-in? I asked. Like, an actual drive-in?
Yeah, in Silver Lake. Its super retro, really cool, Ava Marie
said. Im surprised more people dont know about it but since
youre new to town and all. Come with us. If your actor boy
isnt working out, I can set you up with someone.
As long as you dont mind dancers, Christian said. Thats
basically all we hang out with. Who are you thinking of? he said
to Ava Marie. Reed?
No, Michael, she said. Reed is chasing after Monica. What
do you say? she asked me.
It wasnt a bad idea. It would get me out to see the city and
meeting new people. More importantly, it would get my mind off
Leo. But I wasnt sure that was what I wanted right then. I told
her Id think about it.
It was strange feeling like I wanted to remain faithful and
exclusive to a man that was using me for sex, whom I was using
to further my career. Beyond strange, it was actually kind of
mortifying.
I went back to my room and typed up some notes about the
evening with Leo to send to Kaitbasically leaving the best part
outand when my head hit the pillow, I was out.
Since only a handful of people at Crush knew what I was
working onnamely the girls in the City Living department, and
Kaitthe rest of the crew wanted to know what the new girl was
working on. From their perspective, I wasnt doing anything but
coming into the office late and bleary-eyed most days.
My first all-staff meeting, which was a week after Seattle,
consisted of the head of each department pitching ideas for the
upcoming issue. We sat in the same conference room with a view
of the Hollywood sign that Id sat in on my first day.
Now it was time for everyone from all the magazines
departments to pitch their ideas for the upcoming issuethe
one that would have my Leo piece in it. Mel wanted to showcase
leather for spring and Rebecca swore hair mousse was making a
comeback. Jenny wanted to do a piece on open relationships,
Susan wanted to write about toys that enhance oral and Liz had a
story ready to go about the newest fitness craze.
Id been so caught up in my Leo sexcapades that Id long since
forgotten about the list of ideas I had on my first day for my New
Girl column. Once everyone had pitched, Pam, the managing
editor, fixed her eyes on me and said, How long before you
jump in?
My head snapped up and I got that panicked feeling of being
caught in class without having read the assignment. I have
um, ideas, I said.
So lets hear them.
I looked to Kait for help, since she hadnt told me to work on
anything other than my Leo story.
Sophie? Kait said, scribbling in her notebook. The newbie
go-getter. What have you got for us?
I flipped nervously through my notebook, trying to find those
ideas Id written down for my first daythe ones Kait had no
interest in hearing.
It shouldnt be that hard, Pam said. You are actually new
in town. What have you been doing? Some other project got you
too busy for the job you were hired to do?
No, I said quickly, instinctively. Did she know about Leo?
Kait said only our department knew about Leo. Was word
spreading? Who else knew?
So? Pam pressed.
Well, I began, my mind racing to find something to grab
hold of. I heard about this amazing drive-in movie theater near
Silver Lake.
A drive-in? Kait asked, curious.
How very 50s, Pam snickered.
Its supposed to be really cool, I said. Id looked it up online
after Ava Marie told me about it. They play classics, some from
the 50s, I said to Pam, and other old stuff from the 80s and
90s. Everything from Raging Bull to Love, Actually. The foods
supposed to be good, too.
Ive read about this place. Sounds like a fun date spot,
Renee said, and I was so thankful for her speaking up for me.
Looking to Kait, Pam said, So have her do a date piece on it.
You can come up with an interesting date, cant you? she asked
me.
I looked between Pam and Kait. Pam was pushing something,
it was clear. Had Kait told her about Leo? Finally I just said yes, I
could find a date (thanks very much) and the meeting wrapped.
As I got my notebook and pens together, Pam came close to
me.
Dont think you can slack just because you got some special
assignment, she said softly, but her tone was like iron. Weve
all been here a lot longer than you. We dont need some recent
grad coming in acting like shes some hotshot reporter. Write
your little drive-in piece, and remember your place. She started
to leave, her hand on the conference room door. By the way,
Im editing it, so it better be good.
Before I could say a word, she was out the door, leaving me
shaken. What had I done to upset her? What did she know about
my Leo assignment?
Since the moment Ava Marie told me about the drive-in, I
couldnt help but picture being there with Leo, a totally
irrational thought. Pam may have been on the attack, but she
was rightI had to see Leo as nothing more than a subject, and
as a subject, I shouldnt use him to hang out with for fun.
I plopped down on the chair in my cubicle. Besides, Itd been
a week since the flight with Leo and I hadnt heard from him.
Even if I had the nerve to call him I couldnt, since the number
he called me from was blocked. I guess despite the contract, he
had me on probationor a leash, as Kait said when I told her
about the time gap since Id heard from him.
Every morning she stopped by my desk, her double-shot
skinny latte clutched in her hand, and asked one question:
Heard from him? When I shook my head no, she kept on to
her office without another word, but I felt the disappointment
coming off her, like it was my fault he was out of town or
unavailable.
Today, though, she stopped at my cubicle on her way back to
her office after the meeting. She draped her arm over the wall
and said, Listen, Sophie. You need to step it up on our story,
she said, and I had no doubt about what our story meant.
Work on the drive-in piece for New Girl, but as for the other
She lowered her voice. This whole business of not having his
number is ridiculous. Its a great anecdote for the storyit
clearly shows the level of control he has in his relationships
but its a disaster when it comes to you getting closer to him for
the sake of the story. The next time you see him, get his number.
That way you can text him, maybe invite him out to dinner. Got
it?
But what if hes alreadyyou know, moved on? I asked,
anxiety blooming inside my belly.
You didnt fuck him yet, did you? she shot back, her eyes
narrowing with suspicion.
God no, I said, but I wondered if oral sex counted.
Good, because if you screw him right away, youll kill the
whole deal. You have to make him wait so you can get more
dirt.
Im not having sex with him, I said forcefully.
She nodded and made a face of disbelief. Sure, she said. Of
course not. After all, why might you want to have sex with the
hottest stud on the planet when you could probably be out eating
fast food with some guy from the mailroom?
I couldnt force the guy to give me his number, even if I did
agree with Kait that it was a clear symptom of the way he treated
women. Withholding. Controlling. Using.
My head throbbed with confusion and budding anger and
resentment towards Leo and everyone else.
I started researching the drive-in in Silver Lake but soon I was
searching images for Leo Armstrong. He wasnt often
photographed by the paparazzi so most of the pictures were of
him on a red carpet for a movie premier in one of his many
custom-made tuxedos. Closed-lip smile, hands in pockets, a
glint in his eyes like he knew something all those photographers
didnt know.
I made the mistake of adding the word women to the end of
his name in the search. Out popped hundreds of images Leo
Armstrong with different girlsmostly in tiny bikinison
beaches and boats all over the world. He was like a sailor who
had a woman in every port. I hardly saw two pictures of the same
woman. He was always with someone different. We were all just
playthings to him.
I stared at Leos bright smile, the one that made his eyes
shine a light, bright blue and crinkle the corners of his eyes.
My phone buzzed with a text. In the split second before I saw
the screen, I held hope that it was Leoand hated myself for it.
But it was Ava Marie.
At auditions all day. Meet us for drinks tonight? 7:30 @
Thirsty Cow. Michael will be there!
I looked back at the photos of Leo and wondered what he was
doing tonight. It was none of my business. He was strictly
business. I had to remember that. And the fact that he was
probably out gallivanting with another woman after what he did
to me on that plane was also none of my business.
Will see you there, I texted.
Id have time to go home and change, refresh and put on
something outstanding for this Michael fellow. It was time I
started having fun in L.A. without relying on Leo.
Chapter 10
Minimal makeup and red lipstick felt in order for the evening,
and a black dress that was shorter than I normally wore. I told
myself I was excited to meet Ava Maries dancer friend, Michael,
and see if there was any spark there.
A text came through from Ava Marie. Were here. Where are
you? Michael is asking!
Just texted for a car, I wrote back. Be there in 15. Tell him Im
coming!
You will be, Ava Marie wrote back, and I laughed. I felt better
about my decision already.
I was slipping on my heels when the doorbell rang. I
wondered why the cab driver would come to the door, or how he
knew my apartment number.
Delivery for Ms. Adams? said the man when I opened the
door.
Thats me, I said.
He handed me a thick envelope, and left. Inside was a
screenplay. UNTITLED ARMSTRONG, said the cover page. A note on
thick cardstock was attached.
Discuss by the ocean tonight? L
My phone rang, making me jump. I didnt recognize the
number, but it was local.
Good evening, Ms. Adams. This is Steve, Mr. Armstrongs
driver.
Oh, hey, Steve, I said.
Mr. Armstrong would like to know if you received the
package he sent over, and if youre available to spend time with
him this evening?
Yeah, I got it, I said. I quickly set the stack of papers down
on the table by the door and flipped through the pages, curious.
Mr. Armstrong would like to work with you tonight, if youre
available.
Well, I
And youre under no obligation.
I know, its just
If youd like to join him, I can drive you now, Steve said.
Im just around the corner from you.
My phone buzzed a new text. Hang on, Steve, I said, and
checked the text. It was Ava Marie: Hurry up!
I looked back at the script on the table, and a thought came to
mehad I come to Los Angeles to socialize, or to start my
career?
Steve? I said. Come get me.
Afterwards, I send Ava Marie an apology text, stating that Id
been called into work for an emergency edit on an important
article.
She never responded, so I assumed she was angry, but I
couldnt let that distract me from my mission.
Soon after, I was in the car, headed for my rendezvous with
the infamous Panty Dropper yet again. That name held more
meaning for me now than it had originally, that much was for
sure
We drove up Pacific Coast Highway, the sun still shining over
the horizon. I watched as we passed by the beaches, surfers
carrying their boards back in from the ocean. We arrived at a
sushi restaurant, and Steve helped me out of the back of the
SUV.
As I walked across the restaurant I had flashbacks of the last
time Leo invited me to dinner and we ended up dining at thirty-
nine-thousand feet. I hoped he would show, and we would
actually sit and have dinner. I wanted the after-dinner stuff, too.
But I wondered what he wanted with me and the screenplay.
Also, I needed to hustle on the story for Kait.
I needed more info, the pressure was mounting for me to
really deliver.
My eyes scanned the room for Leo. When I found him at a
small table by the window, tucked in the shadows, my heart
skipped a beat. Its not that Id forgotten how he looked or how
handsome he was. I suppose Id just forgotten how gorgeous he
was in person. He caught my eyes at the same time, and I froze. I
thought I might collapse to the floor as a smile stretched across
his face and crinkled the corners of his eyes.
Just the way he looked at all the other girls in those photos Id
seen online, I tried to tell myself. But this time, I realized, he was
looking at me.
He stood up from the table and greeted me with a kiss on my
cheek, his hand on the small of my back. The closeness of him,
his hand on my body, his breath on my cheekit was all more
thrilling than I wanted to admit.
Youre falling for him! I cried inwardly.
But he was like a vampire, even if you knew what to expect
looking too long into his eyes would guarantee your seduction.
You should walk across rooms more often, Leo said,
keeping me close. You look absolutely stunning. I felt the heat
of my skin blushing, and I moved to cover my face. He gently
took my hand. Remember, he said, kissing it, no hiding. He
pulled out the chair for me.
Wow, I said, sitting down. Id walked across the restaurant
toward Leo, and hed been all Id seen. Now, though, sitting at
the table, I saw that the restaurant was actually perched on the
beach, waves hitting a large rock barrier just below us. The sun
dipped in the sky, a blazing orange. This is incredible. When I
looked at him, he still had that easy, pleased looked on his face,
watching me. I pointed to the window. Look at that! Its
amazing!
Leo laughed. I see the view and yes, it is amazing.
I smiled and rolled my eyes. Its new to me.
Too cheesy? he asked.
A little, I said, but I had to admit I was buying into it
despite myself. Are you trying to impress me, or do you always
eat at such fancy restaurants?
He replaced his napkin in his lap. I do not always eat in fancy
restaurants and yes, Im definitely trying to impress you.
Well, I sighed, its working.
This isnt so fancy, he said, looking around the dimly-lit,
romantic restaurant.
Leo. This place has a sommelier and a dress code, I said.
Fancy.
Maybe, he said. The glow of the sun shone on the side of
his face, and when he turned back to look at me, the blue of his
eyes was electric, piercing. I guess Ive gotten myself spoiled.
In more ways than one, I said. You even have a driver. Are
you not able to drive or do you not want to drive?
I am capable of driving, thank you very much, he said.
One day Ill take you on drive somewhere. Up the coast to Santa
Barbara or something. But having Steve take meand
sometimes my guestsjust makes things easier with my
schedule. I can work in the car, take calls, go over scripts, that
sort of thing. In case you havent noticed, traffic in L.A. is a
nightmare, so I can keep working while were at a standstill on
the 405.
My mind was still on going up to Santa Barbara, Leo in the
driver seatprobably of some panty-dropping sports car. Still, I
saw myself in the passenger seat, hair blowing in the wind, his
hand on my bare thigh. But I had to keep focus and, honestly, I
wanted to know more about him. Did you grow up rich or
something?
Blunt, arent we? he said. Leo sucked in a breath and said,
I grew up rich in advice.
What does that mean?
I had lots and lots of people telling me what I should do, he
said.
Did you listen to any of them?
Not a one.
Leo had ordered the wine before I arrivedfrom the
sommelier, of courseand she appeared at our table to present
the bottle and pour us each a glass. Soon after, the waiter arrived
and Leo asked if he could order for the two of us.
Ordering is one of my many talents, he joked.
He began rattling off specialty rolls, tempura, sizzling meats
and all kinds of dishes Id never heard of, and it sounded like
enough food for a party of five.
When I looked at him ordering for us, I felt a sense of ease,
which was the last thing I should feel sitting across from the
most powerful man in Los Angeles with a script he gave me to
evaluate still resting in my lap. But I did. Or maybe I was still
feeling shell shocked from his mere presence.
Ordering done, the waiter took his leave.
You brought the script with you? Leo finally asked, turning
towards me now.
I did.
Did you have a chance to read it?
Straightaway I wondered if this was a date or a business
meeting. Still, I laughed at his question. Leo, I just got this less
than an hour ago. But I did skim it and see that its set in Korea.
Im hoping youll help me with it. Thats a very rough draft,
but you have a sharp eye and I think you could really bring some
life to it.
You think I could add something to a war movie? I said, a
bit confused. Leo had already taught me that, even in the loudest
of movies, there could be realistic, compassionate, three-
dimensional characters. But a war movie set in the 1950s?
Its not a war movie, he said, a smile flickering on his face.
I guess you didnt get to read much of it on the drive?
There was a pretty spectacular view on the ride that held my
attention, I said. Kind of like the one here. You bring all your
script dates here?
No, come on, he said, rearranging the plates and
chopsticks before him.
Im teasing, I said, resting my forearms on the table.
Youre very good at it. Listen, Sophie, he said. He reached
across the small table and brushed his fingers over my hand. I
felt myself staring down at the slow motion of his fingers on my
skin, hypnotized. I enjoy spending time with you. Youre smart
and drop-dead beautiful. If you enjoy spending time with me,
then lets not read more into it. Okay?
That pulled me out of my trance. Yeah, sure, I said,
flustered, the familiar pang of rejection hitting my insides. I
wasnt readinginto it, I mean.
And you also werent reading that script, I see, he said, that
grin coming out to play on those lips again. I thought hed sit
back, move his hands away from mine after making his not-so-
subtle point. Instead, he covered his hand over mine and held
firm, stroking his thumb slowly across my skin. I was expected
to sit through dinner with him and act as if this one small
gesture didnt make me squirm in my seat, already hot with
desire for him? Id never make it past the edamame.
He watched me closely, and I shifted in my seat, crossing my
legs. I moved my thumb so squeeze his hand back. If you gave
me a little more time to do my homework, professor
He laughed, and the fact that I made Leo Armstrong laugh out
loud gave me immense pleasure, even though it made him move
his hand away from mine.
I want to work with you on this, I said, taking the stack of
papers. Whatever it is. But theres one thing I want from you
first, I said, recalling how lost Id been when he disappeared for
so long up until tonight.
A role in the movie?
Very funny, I said. All I want is your phone number.
Thats not too much for a girl to ask, is it? I kept my eyes on
him, gauging his reaction. He kept such a steady watch I couldnt
tell what he was thinking.
Why wouldnt I give you my number? he said.
Because thats your M.O.? I said. And because up until
now you havent given me your number?
Because thats how you keep control over the women you
date, I wanted to add, but didnt.
Leo looked confused. Ive called you before, he said. Why
didnt you just copy my number from that?
Because its blocked, I said.
It is? He thought for a moment. My assistant set up my
phone. I dont know what it says on the other end when I call.
But heregive me your phone. Ill put it in now.
And like that, this thing I thought I had him on was resolved.
He handed back my phone and said, Now that thats done,
do you want to talk about that screenplay?
I was a little stunned, but tried to recover.
Back to business, I said, putting my phone away after hed
put in his number.
Theres plenty of time for pleasure, he said.
My mind immediately danced around what that pleasure
would be, where, when, and what. But I had to focus. The
screenplay, yes. Whats it about? I feathered through the pages.
Some captain leading his platoon over a hill against a hundred
enemy soldiers? I joked, because I really hadnt read much of it
on the drive up.
Like I said, its not a war movie.
Its about Americans in Korea in the 1950s. But not a war
movie. Okaywhat is it?
Its about an American nurse serving in Koreaduring the
war, yes. She has a fianc back home in law school. During her
deployment, she goes on a month-long leave to Australia and
meets a man. They fall madly in love. Soul mate love.
Wow, I said, surprised. A romance? And you want to make
this movie?
It came out harsher than I intended but Leo didnt seem
offended. Instead, he said, Absolutely.
This isnt the kind of movie you normally make, I said,
stating the obvious.
Youre wondering where are the explosions and car chases
and aliens? he asked. There will be a some gunfire in the
beginning. Vivianthats our heroine, the nurseshes
stationed at a hospital, so there will be some blood and
disturbing war images.
Thank goodness for that, I joked.
But the majority of the storythe bulky middlewill be set
in and around Sydney. Lots of sun, bright blue skies, beaches,
that sort of thing. But I need you to help with the script.
I was flattered, but intimidated. Leo, I appreciate the vote of
confidence and all but Im no expert. I cant write or rewrite a
script.
I think you can. I already know that you have a good eye for
story, and a good ear for dialogue, he said. And frankly, I trust
you. No one at the studiono one anywhere, actuallyknows
I'm working on this.
Really?
Really, he said. And I dont want them to. I dont need to
hear the negative comments about Leo Armstrongs Epix
Pictures working on what theyd no doubt call some sappy
romance, and the industry chatter about my losing grip on
reality and what makes a hit. I dont need it. So I want to work on
this with you, to see what comes of it.
Wow, I said, intimidated. Leo, Im not sure Im qualified
for this.
You wont be alone, he said. Ill be with you every step of
the way.
I felt not only comfort in that statement, but warmth. Having
Leo Armstrong as a mentor on a movie script was a once-in-a-
lifetime opportunity. Having Leo Armstrong by my side as I did
anything was more thrilling and exciting than any roller coaster
in the world.
Of course, now that hed defied my preconceived notions
about him, my guilt was slowly crawling back into view again.
Guilt over the fact that Leo had entrusted me with more and
more aspects of his business and his personal life, while I was
Lying. Plain and simple.
I tried to shake off the nagging sensations of tension that
were squeezing me from the inside, but it was hard to do. I
almost wished Leo would do something mean again, just to
remind me why I was doing any of this.
Id always considered myself a pretty honest person, but for
the first time I was starting to wonder how that could be true if I
was willing to say and do anything for a story and my career.
The food was served in slow rounds, giving us time to enjoy
every bite while talking about the story. We read through
sections of it together and I got a feel for the tone. It was
definitely more cerebral than any of his other movies, to say the
least. He wasnt joking when he said the majority would be set in
the happy, sunny land of Australia.
Almost three hours passed. Id been so consumed in talk of
the story of Vivian and her true paramour, Ian, that I missed the
sunset and couldn't even say how many plates of food wed gone
through. Not to mention the wine and cold sake Leo had ordered.
Its a good thing you have that driver, I said, feeling tipsy.
Its a long drive back to Wilshire Boulevard.
Luckily I have a place nearby, he said.
I tilted my head. You have another home?
He smiled. A man of means cant have just one home,
Sophie. What would people think?
It would be so low rent, I said, taking a last sip of the sake.
And Im sure this place of yours nearby is on the beach?
He spread his hands. Why bother having a house in Malibu if
its not on the beach?
Naturally, I said. Well, if you can make it back to your
place then Steve can drive me to my little shack in Culver City.
Or as my roommate likes to call it, Santa Monica adjacent.
Or, Leo said, Steve could drive us both down the road to
my house.
Like I was going to say no? It was Friday night and I had the
whole weekend to do nothingno Kait breathing down my neck,
and I could also put off up a little bit longer Ava Maries
disappointment that I stood her up.
Well, I began, acting as if I was really thinking it over. I
guess we still need to talk about the ending of this thing. I
touched the pages of the still-untitled screenplay.
The work never ends, does it? he said. The way he looked at
me, playful with an undeniable dose of want in his eyes, made
me want to race back to his houseor anywhere privateand
press my lips and body to his and never let go.
Tough life, I said, and within moments, the check was paid,
and we were out the door.
Chapter 11
O h, I get it now, I said.
We walked through the interior of his Malibu home, and
across the open living room was a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall
picture window that looked out on a deck and the ocean. When
wed pulled up outside, all I saw was a shortened driveway
directly off the busy Pacific Coast Highway, and had thought his
place was a small, charming little bungalow. But the way it
dropped down and spread over the hill and sand and was more
spectacular than I thought.
Leo slid open the doors, and the rough sound of the waves and
the cool breeze of the ocean all came rushing in.
Impressed? Leo asked.
I shook my head. You know I am. You dont have or do
anything unless it impresses people. His grin told me that what
I said was true.
Come look, he said, and I followed him out onto the deck.
Lights shone out over the railing, down onto the beach and
the water rolling in not but a few feet away. Leo came up behind
me, his arms resting on either side of me on the railing, locking
me in as I looked out at the view. His chin brushed my forehead.
He covered his hands on mine and I let myself fall back into his
chest.
Its beautiful, I said. He kissed my temple, the heat of his
lips on me undeniable. He moved down to my cheek and then my
neck, making my eyes roll shut and a deep sigh flow out of out of
my mouth. He let his tongue skim my neck, and lightly nipped
the skin there, making me want to scream out over the sound of
the waves crashing. Id been kissed on my neck before, but never
like that. Leo had a way of doing things to me, making me feel
ways Id never felt before. I tilted my head to the side, giving him
more of my neck to kiss and lick and nibble. I pressed into his
chest more. Reaching back, I put my hand behind his head,
gathering the curls there, and pulled him even closer to me. I
would have sworn I could stand there forever, letting his lips
taste my skin, and Id never get tired of it, Id never get bored, Id
never be able to get enough. His lips moved to my shoulder, and
he pulled away the small bit of fabric from my dress so that he
didnt miss a single spot. He took a little bite out of my skin
there, and I yelped.
Hey, I said, looking at him. Careful.
Cant be, he said, kissing the same spot. I want to eat up
every part of you.
How do you know all things I want right when I think
them? I turned around to face him, my back to the railing. I
leaned toward him, my lips touching his. Despite the cool ocean
air all I felt was the warmth of his lips. His tongue touched mine,
and I pulled him closer, my hand digging in his hair as his
wrapped around my back, pulling my hips toward him. I let my
hand drift over his chest, and I longed to feel the skin beneath
his shirt. Just as my fingers began playing with the buttons, he
stopped me.
Wait, he said. Come inside.
I would have followed him straight out into the ocean if hed
asked.
I thought he might take him to his bedroom or at least give
me a tour of his stunning (second) home, but instead we sat on
the white linen couch, a respectable distance between us.
Is everything okay? I asked, suddenly nervous. Was he
going to tell me that he didnt want to see me anymore, or worse
that he knew who I was?
Of course, he said, reaching for my hand. I instinctively
moved closer to him; he put his other hand on top of mine and
held tight. With his eyes down on our hands, he said, I dont
want you think I just brought you here to sleep with you,
although, he smiled, I have to admit its on my mind a lot. I
grinned, my chest bursting with the pleasure of knowing Id
been on Leo Armstrongs mind. He ran his fingers up my arm,
sending chills all over my body. But then I realized, he said,
that I dont even know where youre from. I know somewhere
in Maine, but I dont know what town.
I almost laughed. Actually, I think I kind of did. Leo
Armstrong wanted to know where I was from? Okay, then.
Mechanicsville, Maine. Its about as glamorous as it sounds.
Hmm, Mechanicsville, he said with mock serious. And I
suppose you were raised to be a mechanic?
Way to go for the low-hanging fruit, I said.
An uncreative movie guy, he joked. Whatd you expect? I
need you to edit me.
Very funny, I said, but I loved the sound of him needing
me, even if he was only teasing.
Did you always want to be a writer?
This is sounding strangely like a job interview or
something.
Or something like a date? he said. Id say a first date but
Im not sure weve properly had one so I want make sure I get to
know you. Like a normal guy who is seeing a normal girl.
You are so not a normal guy, I said.
And you are no normal girl, he said, grinning. So tell me
whats your favorite movie?
Sure, no pressure, I said. Only the movie question.
It doesnt have to be one of my movies, he said. In fact,
Im pretty sure it isnt.
If this were a job interview, Id definitely say one of your
movies, I said. Id say, Dangerous Connections. Or maybe No
Second Chances. Both visually stunning.
No, come on, he joked right back with me. What kind of
movies do you like?
This is like when someone asks what kind of music you
listen to, and you have to admit that you love pop music more
than anything.
I love pop music, he said, touching his chest. When I gave
him a look, he said, Okay, I think its insipid and the end of
civilization as we know it but thats okay. You can still be a
normal person and like pop music. Maybe. I dont know, I might
need to think on this one.
Forget it, I said. Im not telling you what my favorite
movie is or what kind of music I like.
So you do like pop music?
He eyed me closely as I sat for a moment, thinking. Finally I
burst out, Okay, its true! I like pop music, which, by the way,
means popular music. Lots of people like it. Its fun and
energetic and sometimes the lyrics really speak to me.
Leo fell back against the sofa, his hands over his face. Oh my
god, what have I gotten myself into? Next thing I know shell be
telling me her favorite movie is Maid in Manhattan.
Well, it wasnt so bad
Stop! I cant listen anymore!
Oh, please, I said. Coming from the guy whose last movie
had more explosions than the last six months movies
combined. Yeah, thats art.
Ouch, he said, clutching his heart. Hit me where it hurts.
I reached over and put my hand over his, over his heart.
Dont worry. Youll survive. I bet that thing is made of steel,
anyway. He slid his hand out from under mine, and covered my
hand with his. I felt the steady beat of it his heart beneath the
soft fabric of his shirt, and once again I wanted to undo those
buttons of his. My eyes found his, looking at me so closely,
sending a swarm of butterflies into my stomach. His fingertips
touched my face, then traced lightly over my lips, which were
parted and eager for him to come closer, to cover mine with his.
I love kissing these lips, he said quietly.
I nudged my chin up the smallest bit, wanting to be closer to
his. He didnt move, just kept looking and brushing my lips,
using his thumb to tug slightly on my bottom lip. I thought I
might scream out if I didnt have more of him, so I ran my hand
over his strong, solid chest, feeling the muscles beneath, feeling
his own breath pick up at my touch.
He took my face in his hands, pulled me to him and pressed
his lips to mine. I inhaled his now-familiar scent, that sweetness
and spice mingling together, and let his lips set the pace. Just
having a part of my body pressed up to his, having his hands on
me, was what I needed. Soon, his tongue slipped against mine,
and I savored the taste of him. The deep intake of breath he took
seemed to mirror the way I feltany touch was thrilling, but I
always wanted a little more, then a little more again.
He pulled me closer to him so that my chest was pressed
against his. Our kisses became deeper, more urgent. My fingers
got lost in his hair as his hands roamed my back and caressed my
waist. He kissed my cheeks, not sweetly but passionately, and
soon his lips were back on my neck, kissing, tasting, tugging on
my skin. I turned my head, giving him as much of my neck as he
wanted, and he covered me with more of his mouth, pulling
down the side of my dress to kiss my shoulder. His hand ran
across my neck and collarbone, and I leaned away to give him
more, always more. He traced my skin with his fingertips, his
eyes hungry and on my body.
Id never felt passion like this in my life. Id liked guys before,
and had obviously been attracted to them, but nothing like this.
With my ex, Paul, the kisses and everything else had been slow
and dull, nothing like the feeling I had of wanting to rip every
inch of clothing off Leo as he did the same to me.
He pulled one side of my dress strap down off my shoulder,
then the other, kissing my chest as he went. I hoped with every
cell in my body that he planned to kiss every inch of me, no
matter how long it took. Id never needed something so much in
my life as I needed more of him, right then.
I reached behind me and unhooked my bra, exposing my bare
breasts to him. His breath deepened as his eyes took me in.
My god, he said. Youre so beautiful.
His hand held my breast firmly as his mouth went back to my
skin, going lower, onto the top of my breast as his hand stayed
on the other, his thumb brushing across my hardened nipple. I
arched my back, giving him more. His tongue lapped across my
nipple and I gripped onto the back of his head, gathering his
curls in my hand as I tried not to cry out. The slow licks his
tongue made had me panting, and when he gently took my
nipple between his teeth and gave a little pull, I moaned.
Please, I said. Dont stop.
He gave me what I wanted. His mouth worked over my
breasts more urgently, his hand holding and kneading me, and
then his mouth was on me again, taking as much in as he could
while his tongue worked its magic, rocking a sensitive spot in
me, making me completely wet, wishing he could be all over me
at once. The things hed done to me so farat his apartment, on
his plane, and even here tonightshowed me that he knew
exactly what my body wanted before I even knew myself.
Tonight, though, I didnt want to stop.
Leo, I said, but it came out like a moan. My head was tilted
back, my fingers still tangled in his hair. I tried again. Leo, wait.
Not here.
He pulled back and looked at me, concern in his eyes. Okay,
Ill stop. His fingers touched my face softly. I dont what it is
about you, Sophie, but youre impossible to resist. Should I slow
down? Or stop?
I found it utterly charming that he was worried about pushing
me too far when all I wanted to do was go all the way, and now. I
smiled and said, Do not stop. Do not slow down. Justnot here.
On the couch. If thats okay.
His eyes darkened as he crushed his lips back to mine quickly,
deeply before pulling back again. He pulled the straps of my
dress back up into place, kissing my shoulder again.
Come on, he said, standing, giving me a full view of just
how much he wanted me. Flashbacks of his bulging cock in my
mouth came back to me, and I had to take his hand to pull me
into standing positionI wasnt sure I had the strength.
When I stood face to face with Leo, his hair was tousled and
looked wild, giving him a boyish look. He kissed my lips again,
and I wondered if wed even make it to the bedroom.
Chapter 12
Leo grabbed the edge of the comforter and pulled the whole
thing off in one dramatic motion. I almost laughed, but when he
turned his eyes back to me, all sense of funny vanished along
with that comforter.
He kissed me, taking my mouth as if it belonged to him. A
groan tickled in my throat, wanting to give him everything he
wanted. My entire body throbbed to feel every inch of him. My
legs felt weak, and I wanted him to just throw me down on the
bed, but something about standing near it and not having it felt
even hotter.
My fingers found his chest, and the buttons on his shirt that
held me back from his delicious skin. As he continued to kiss me
so deeply, I fumbled to open those buttons until finally they
were all free and I pushed his shirt off over his shoulders and
down his arms, feeling the strength and power of them as the
shirt fell away. I pulled my mouth away from his, eager to see his
naked chest, to savor the sight and feel of it, something Id been
longing to do.
Leo watched me, his hands lightly caressing my waist as my
hands traced the peaks and dips of his muscular chest. His skin
was smooth with light bits of hair across the middle. His nipples
were hard and, operating only on want, I pressed the flat of my
tongue on him, licking over that nipple. His sharp intake of
breath edged me on, and I kissed him across his powerful chest
while running a hand over the table of his abs, feeling the
uneven gasps of breath he took under my hand. My hand dipped
past his waist and over his cock, hard and pressing against his
pants.
His eyes, heavy with passion, found mine again, and he pulled
me in for another deep kiss as he pulled down the straps of my
dress, slowly lowering it to my waist, exposing my bare breasts. I
stepped into him, feeling our bare chests together, our flesh
melding into one another, and the sensation felt like warmth. I
could feel the heat on my face as his fingers found the zipper in
the back of my dress, taking it all the way down and letting the
dress fall to the ground. Staying as close to his body as I could,
we moved together as I pushed the dress away, hearing it slide
across the floor, unneeded.
Leo held my waist in his big hands, taking a step back to look
at me. He shamelessly let his eyes slowly wander down my body
as I stood before him, exposed. His hands roamed across my
body, stroking my arms and shoulders, brushing over my beasts,
taking only a moment to hold them firmly in his hands before
moving further down my hips again. His hand ran across the
front of my lace underwear, my stomach caving in at his touch.
And then, Leo got on his knees before me.
I dont think Id ever seen anything hotter in my entire life.
He ran his hand across my stomach, my breath ragged at his
touch, at his mouth so close to my pussy. I instinctively pushed
my hips a little closer to him. He leaned in and kissed my
stomach, moving his body close, his hands moving around my
hips and onto my ass, letting me push closer to him.
He kissed me over my panties, on the very top of my thigh,
then across to just under my bellybutton. My head fell back,
feeling his mouth on me, my legs barely holding me up. My
hands found his head and I wove my fingers into his thick hair,
touching lightly this time, letting him move as he wanted. His
mouth went lower, over my mound, my hands tightening around
his curls. I looked down to see him, his mouth kissing closer to
my tight bud that ached for him. He moved his mouth onto my
sex, and the heat of his breath through my panties onto me
made me moan out and this time, I truly felt like I would fall over
from lack of oxygen.
Leo, I breathed. Please. Wait.
When he moved his mouth to look up at me, he replaced the
spot on me with his hand, moving his fingers back and forth
across me, sure he could feel, even through the thin fabric, how
soaked I was. He ran his other hand up past my ribs, taking hold
of my breast. I moaned again, my eyes falling shut.
But now that I knew we were going to actually do thishave
sexbe that intimate, I realized that it was completely wrong for
me to do it under false pretenses.
My lies were truly a web, trapping me, and seeing him this
way and knowing how I felt about himI couldnt keep quiet any
longer.
We need to talk, I sighed, feeling almost sick at the
thought.
Oh? Leo stood up, his eyes concerned, and I sat on the edge
of the bed.
Talk about what? he asked.
I justI dont even know where to begin. I justyou know
that I never wanted to be an actor.
Yes, we already covered that, he said, his eyes crinkling up.
And Ive told you that I really want to write
Leo laughed. And?
I thought about just blurting it out. Im a journalist sent to
write a story about you. My name is a lie, my story is a lie
everything but the fact that I truly do have feelings for you.
I just want us to be honest with each other, I said. Like, I
want you to be able to tell me everything, and I can tell you
Hold on, Leo said, putting a hand up. He came closer and
knelt down again, grabbing my hands. You seem like youre
getting in your head, Sophie. This doesnt need to be heavy. I
really like you and you like me, right?
I nodded. Yes, I really do.
As for the rest, he said, looking down. Im not really that
kind of guythe tell each other all our secrets and deepest fears
kind of guy, if you get what Im saying.
I felt like hed just thrown cold water on me. He didnt want
to be intimate emotionallyjust physically. So hed asked me a
few details about where I grew up, that didnt mean he really was
ever going to share himself with me. Id been fooled again, or
rather, Id fooled myself again.
I understand, I told him softly.
He put a hand under my chin and tilted my head up to look at
him. Are you angry with me? he asked.
No. Im not, I said, and it was true. I was deeply
disappointed, and I knew that the right thing to do now was to
stop everything and leave. Perhaps even leave LA.
Come back to me, Sophie, he said, running his fingers over
my hand, sending chills up my arms. Dont get in your head.
Stay here. Be here with me right now.
I realized at that moment that my desire for him was stronger
than my ethical dilemma, stronger than my disappointment in
Leos inability to really trust me or show me real commitment.
I still wanted him, in some ways more than ever.
Id tried to tell him the truth and hed made it very clear he
wasnt interested in hearing what I had to say.
The wolfish look in his eyes as they considered me brought
me back to my base urges, and suddenly my hands went for his
belt, flipping it open in quick time. His breath caught and his
hands fell away from me, dangling at his side as he watched my
hands unbutton and then unzip his pants, slow enough to tease
him, fast enough to see what I wanted. As I pushed his pants
down he quickly kicked off his shoes. As he stepped out of his
pants he slipped off his socks as well.
Now were even, he said, standing before me in as much
as few clothes as I was.
Not quite, I said. I rubbed my hand over the smooth fabric
of his boxer briefs, barely containing his huge, long cock,
remembering the smooth feel of it in my hand on the plane.
Instead of teasing him like he had done me, I lowered his briefs,
watching as his dick sprung free from the confines of those snug
shorts. Before I could get my hands on him, Leo took his cock in
his own hand, stroking it slowly up and down while watching
me, mouth fully gaping with desire.
He slowly pulled up and back, breathing deeply as he did. He
angled his dick toward me, toward my mouth, and I accepted. I
leaned forward, licking the tip of him, swirling my tongue
around as he muttered curses above me. He brushed my hair off
my shoulder, and seeing his hand hold his dick toward me like
an offering made me wetter than I thought possible. Stretching
my mouth open, I took him in, going as deep as I could before
letting my tongue drag over him as I pulled up. Leo moaned my
name, and I put my hand over his, encouraging him to keep his
hand on himself.
His eyes fell closed as he moved his hand up and down over
his dick, his strong hand fisting himself, moving the way he
liked. He went slowly but soon he couldn't help himself,
speeding up. He opened his eyes, pushing his cock toward me
again.
I need your mouth on me, he breathed. I gladly took him in
again, sliding him into my greedy mouth, opening my throat as
much as I could. I moaned as my mouth felt as much of him as I
could take in, more than last time, his dick going deeper into my
opening throat, feeling more of him inside me. My head bobbed
fast, the feeling of him so good. Leos hands kept brushing my
hair out of my face and I knew he was watching me, making me
wrap my lips a little tighter around him, press my tongue against
him a little more firmly. And then he did to me what Id done to
him. He pulled back, his perfect member suddenly leaving my
insatiable mouth.
He stood back a foot, looking at me with wild, ravenous eyes.
I dont want to come, he said. Not yet.
I scooted back on the bed, and he was on me like a tiger,
quickly, covering my body with his. He buried his face in my
neck, covering it with bites and kisses as he pressed his bare
cock onto my still-covered pussy. As he moved his hips over me,
pushing his stiff cock over my throbbing pussy, I closed my eyes
to all other senses except touch. I moved my hips in time with
his, at once reveling and cursing the tiny bit of fabric that
separated us. His arms on either side of me, I ran my hands over
the solid strength of his biceps, feeling the muscles flex even
more as Leo moved his body above me.
He sat back on his heels, running his hand across my body,
taking me in with his eyes.
Ive been thinking of this since I first saw you in the
audition, he said.
I kept my eyes on his, not wanting to think about that
audition. When his hands moved to my underwear, I lifted my
hips to help him pull them down my thighs and off my legs.
Finally, I lay totally bare before him.
A deep groan escaped Leo as he looked over my body hungrily.
I was surprised at how much I loved being so exposed, his eyes
all over me. Maybe it was the pure desire in his eyes, a desire
that was solely for me.
In quick motion, his arm was under my back and he pulled me
up, my legs around his hips, both of us sitting up, facing each
other. He used his strong arm to pull my hips up a little more,
letting my wet pussy slide over the length of his cock. I wrapped
my arms around his neck, holding on as he dragged me back and
forth but never letting himself inside me.
He rocked our bodies slowly against our most sensitive spots,
and I simply held on. With one arm around his neck I brushed
his cheek with the other, touching the light stubble of the late
day, running my hand across the smooth bridge of his forehead,
looking into his Mediterranean blue eyes while trying to get air
into my lungs. The lips of my pussy throbbed as Leo continued to
tease and thrill me. Each time I slid up, nearing the head of his
cock, I pushed a little harder, trying to get him inside me.
God, Leo, I said, pulling him closer.
He responded by covering his mouth with mine, taking in my
moans. Our tongues collided, tangled, went deeper with every
rock of his hips.
My hands tangled in his hair and my lips kissed his face and
neck in a desperate attempt to get more of him, get closer, take
in more of this incredible, sexy, irresistible man.
Leo suddenly crashed me back on the bed. We were both
panting, eating each other up with our eyes. He opened my
knees up and I was there, spread out before him, waiting for him
to take him. Leo took his cock in his hand and slid it up and
down my slick walls, pausing at my opening, touching just the
tip a fraction into me. I groaned, pushing myself closer to him. I
felt nothing but my throbbing sex and his dick, teasing me into
insanity.
Please, please, I begged, desperate for him. He rubbed his
cock over my clit, making me all but scream, reaching out for
him, trying to pull him closer. But Leo seemed to revel in
torturing me, gently pushing my hands away. He kneaded my
breast, rubbing his thumb over my nipple while continuing to
tease my poor cunt. He startled me in the best way possible
when he dipped his cock halfway in me before meanly pulling
back out. I almost cried. I couldn't take much more.
Youre beautiful when you beg, he said. You want this?
he asked, tracing the drenched walls of me more.
God, yes, I said, unable to stop my hips from wiggling,
unable to open my eyes to any more senses. Ill do anything, I
said, and in that moment I meant it. Id have done anything to
have Leo Armstrong buried inside me.
Anything, huh? he said, a teasing lilt to his voice. Okay,
then. Look at me. I moaned but my eyes stayed closed. He
pulled his dick away from me.
No, I said, my eyes flashing open. Come back, I
whimpered.
A lusting smile crossed his face. Thats good, he said,
moving his dick back to me, keeping the tip just barely pressed
against the entrance. Keep them open, he breathed. He slowly
pushed his hips forward, his long dick slowly taking over, filling
me up. My mouth fell open in silent ecstasy, my eyes fixed on his
darkening eyes. He pulled out slowly then pressed hard,
deliberately into me, and I couldnt contain my moans anymore,
quickly turning into screams of pure pleasure.
Leo fell forward onto his forearms, upping the thrusting
rhythm of hips, pushing into me harder with each thrust. He
took my leg under knee and pressed it back nearly onto my
shoulder, and I felt it all more fully. Leo kept his eyes on me,
brushing my hair off my forehead, even managing to kiss me
there as he kept up his unrelenting pace. I could feel myself
getting closer, and when he slowed his hips I bucked up toward
him.
Impatient, he said, grinning down at me, sweat dotting his
temples as he worked to satisfy us both, giving me everything I
wanted.
Yes, I admitted, not caring, only wanting.
He slowed his pace but pushed harder into me until I could
feel his balls slap against me. Leo was holding it together, I could
see it in his eyes, and all I wanted was to come with him. Im so
close, I admitted.
Oh, fuck, he said, and his hips jerked faster and faster until
we were both screaming out. I dug my nails into Leos back as he
sent me completely over the edge, squeezing myself around him
as I pushed my hips up to meet his as the release came, bursting
through the scream in my mouth and the explosion on my pussy.
Leo groaned with me and fell into the crook of my neck, both of
us completely spent.
We lay panting like that for several moments, me trying to
get my senses back while not wanting to let go of Leo. He had my
head spinning.
Even if an earthquake started right now, he said, still
panting, I wouldnt be able to move.
I wouldn't be surprised if you just caused an earthquake, I
said, my hand on my forehead as I tried to catch my breath.
He sat up on his forearm and looked down at me, a playful
grin on his flushed face. That was all you, he said, lightly
kissing my lips.
Please, I said, but couldn't stop myself from grinning.
You are far sexier than you know, Sophie, he said.
We fell asleep like that, tangled in each others limbs, a happy
grin on both our faces. I wondered if Id ever feel so full and
content again.
Chapter 13
When I woke up the next morning, it wasnt with Leo
Armstrong, the youngest studio head in Epix history. It wasnt
even Leo Armstrong, the panty dropper playboy. It was Leo
Armstrong, the man who hated pop music and loved a good
prosecco. The man who wanted to try new things with his studio,
things that might get him laughed out of town. The man whose
one kiss could send me to another planet on a wave of ecstasy.
Leo Armstrong, the man laying beside me so peacefully, his
lashes resting on his cheekbones, his breathing deep and even,
looking like he didnt have a care in the world instead of a billion
dollar empire on his shoulders and millions of eyeballs watching
his every move.
Of course, those thoughts were immediately followed by the
conflicting emotions I still had around what this thing between
us really was and the lies I was continuing to tell.
Leo had made it perfectly clear that our relationship wasnt
serious.
And his history with other women made it almost impossible
to forget that someday soon, I would become just another notch
on his belt, another woman in his long list of female conquests.
But I like him. I really do like him, I kept thinking, as if that
changed anything.
I knew, in the end, how I felt about Leo didnt make an ounce
of difference about any of it.
I leaned over him and kissed his cheek, then his forehead. He
took in a breath and stretched his long body even longer, the
sheet, which had been carelessly draped over his perfect body,
now exposed his strong chest.
Without opening his eyes, he reached for me and pulled me
close, burying his face in my neck, making me squeal with
delight.
That tickles, I said, pulling away and laughing. He growled
and bit some more, moving his still-naked body on top of mine.
You dont know what you do to me, he said into my neck.
From the rising cock between his legs, I had a good idea. I
wrapped my legs around his waist and pulled him close, already
wet and open and ready for him.
After teasing my neck, Leo leaned on one elbow and looked
down at me, brushing the hair out of my face. When he
whispered my name, I reached down for him, taking him in my
hand and guiding him into me. He let out a soft moan, his eyes
falling shut. He slowly slid in and out of me, and as much as I
wanted him to pump as hard into me as he had last night, I also
wanted this, wanted this gentleness to make it last longer. Every
moment Leo was inside me was a moment I was in total, blissful
heaven. I moved my body in tandem with his, reaching to hold
his firm, tight ass in my hands, feeling the motion and matching
the rhythm he made. He kissed my neck but gently, sweetly. He
whispered in my ear how sexy I was, let his hand roam over my
breast, all the while never stopping, always moving inside me.
He pushed my knee open, making me feel more of him. He
shifted his position so that his hard, wet cock moved against my
clit, bringing me so close I wanted to squeeze my eyes shut
against the intense pleasure of his body inside of mine. But Leo
kept his steely blue eyes on mine, watching me as he moved, as I
panted and grew more heated, holding him closer and tighter.
He picked up his speed but slightly, moving in just the right
place until I didnt think I could hold it off any longer.
God, Sophie, he said, watching me, and hearing my name
on his lips sent me straight over, pleasure bursting out of me, a
loud cry coming from deep in my throat as I squeezed my eyes
against it all. I rocked my hips up to his, wanting every last bit.
Leo groaned and dropped his head back into my neck where it fit
so perfectly. After a moment, he slowly lowered my leg.
Dont go, I said, grabbing his ass again as he tried to slide
out of me. That was the last thing I wanted.
He chuckled into my neck. Should we just stay here like this
all day?
All weekend, I said. What I wanted to say was, Forever.
So youre staying all weekend, I see?
I immediately cringed. How foolish, how presumptuous to
think I could stay here, that he didnt have a million better
things to do.
No, I mean, Im sure you have
Leo stopped my worries by pushing his still-hard cock further
inside me. Moving gently he said, Stay as long as you like.
I turned to look at him, eye to eye. I ran my hand over the
mornings stubble, golden and tan and only slightly prickly.
Instead of answering him, I kissed him.
When we finally untangled our bodies I was sticky with love
and starving hungry from all the energy. Leo said I could take a
shower while he went searching for food in the kitchen.
To be honest, I have no idea whats stocked here, he said.
Before he went, I had to have him help me figure out the
shower. There wasnt just a knob to turn the water on. It was all
digitized so that the temperature of the water could be set at
whatever the user liked.
It doesnt have to be this complicated, I said, standing
naked in the shower big enough for ten people as he punched
buttons on the keypad.
I honestly only know how to do it for myself, he said. I
just push this button and its set on the temperature I like.
So push it!
Screw it, then Im getting in with you.
I win, I cheered as he tossed his boxers and started the
water. It was colder than I liked, but Leos arms around me,
taking great care to lather every part of my body as the two of us
grinned like fools made me feel warmer than I had in years.
And then Leo made me breakfast. Leo Armstrong made me
breakfast. He found some eggs and turkey sausage that he
cooked up with apple slices on the side and two steaming cups of
the best coffee Ive ever tasted. The sun was shining over the
ocean, showing a new view than what Id had last nightthe
sapphire blue water kicking up on the beach, locals taking
morning strolls or walking their dogs.
You know, Leo said, breaking into my zoned-out daze. We
havent talked about the ending.
of our relationship, is what I heard at the end of his
sentence, even though he hadnt spoken it. I wasnt prepared to
think about anything but each moment I had with Leo, at least
until Monday morning. Besides, I knew what he meant.
The ending of the screenplay, I said. We hadnt made it all
the way through the script last night so I actually didnt know
how the story ended. I pictured Vivienne, the nurse, setting up
shop on the Gold Coast and her true love, Ian, teaching her how
to surf.
Come on, Leo said, setting down his coffee mug. I want to
show you something.
He led me across the smooth, shiny floors to an office on the
other end of the house. From a shelf behind a desk he took a
silver picture frame and showed it to me. It was a faded photo of
a woman in a white halter swimsuit, grinning on a beach.
Who is this? I asked. Shes beautiful.
Thats my grandmother, he said, on Bondi Beach in 1952.
I looked up at him. Thats in Australia.
Yes, he said.
Like your script. He nodded. Is this Vivienne?
Technically thats Alice, he said. But Vivienne is a version
of my grandmother.
Putting it all together, I said, So the story in the screenplay
is about your grandmother? Its a true story?
No, not entirely, he said. But all fiction has a bit of the
writers truth in it. I didnt want to do a straight re-telling of my
familys story.
Yesterday wed talked a lot about the charactershow
Vivienne was a strong-willed woman, bold for the time she lived
in. She was a nurse in the army and volunteered to go help
soldiers during the Korean War. Her fianc, Ronald, practically
forbade her from going. And during her leaveher vacation
while stationed in Koreashe and a couple of her girlfriends
went to Australia where she met Ian, a dashing Aussie with a
mega-watt smile. Leo and I talked about how Ian was everything
Ronald was notspontaneous, full of life, adventurous. Things
that Vivienne wanted in her life but felt stifled by being a young
woman in the 1950s. But we hadnt gotten beyond that.
Is she still alive? I asked. Your grandmother?
No, he said. She passed recently, actually.
What about your grandfather, I said. The Ian character? I
wondered where his photo was.
Leo shook his head. Hes not my grandfather. When she
finished her service in Korea and came back to the States, she
picked up right where she left with Ronald.
I looked back down at the smiling woman in the photo, clearly
so happy and full of life. But what about Ian?
What about him? Leo said, rather harshly. In my family,
there are obligationsto be with the right person, to have the
right job, live in the right city. Im the one to break that cycle.
He took the photo from me and set it back on the shelf. I keep
her photo to remind me to live my own life. My parents followed
a similar path as my grandparents. They were two people who
never should have been together but their families deemed it a
good match. They divorced before I was four and went on to
marry three other times. All Ive seen my whole life is a series of
failed relationships, disastrous marriages, useless stepsiblings.
My family has become a wasteland of various strangers who have
passed through on the way to another failed relationship. I wont
have that in my life. Ill never marry, and when a relationship
ends, thats it. I walk away and dont look back. He shrugged as
if this was all normal. Its the way I learned. And I think its an
interesting enough story to tell.
So the movie isnt a romance, I said. Its a tragedy.
Of sorts, he said. He turned his eyes to me and said, A
cautionary tale.
It crushed me to think of anyone living that way. It doesnt
have to be that way, I said. To cover myself I added, In the
script, I mean. People like love. They like romance.
He smiled at me, but it was a sad kind of smile. Thats what I
love about you, Sophie Adams. Youre still untarnished enough
to believe that.
It took me a moment to recover for the words. The I love you
bitokay, I love about you bit. But then I heard what he was
really sayingthat I was nave, and he would never be anything
more to me than the mind-blowing sex of last night.
I dont want you to have any false expectations, he said,
putting the final nail through my heart. With me or the ending
of the script.
I steeled myself against the words, reminding myself again
what my goal wasthat damned article.
Im confused, I said to Leo, leaning on the desk. Are you
using me for my body or my mind?
Leo expression softened as he looked at me. Both. Equally.
What do you want to use right now? I teased.
He leaned across the desk and gently kissed my lips. Both,
he said.
We ended up back in the livingworking on the script. Every
time I suggested a tweak for a scene or length of dialogue, Leo
pushed me one step further.
Thats the easy thing to say, hed tell me of the suggested
dialogue. Audiences expect her to say that, or in that way. Go
deeper, hed say. Say it stronger. And so Id come up with a
better way for the character to state her point, or a better scene
for Vivienne and Ian to meet for the first time.
The work thrilled me more than I ever thought it would. Leo
was not easy on me. He was demanding and took on a tone that
intimidated me. But I wanted to do well by him, and the story he
wanted to tell. Before I knew it, the sun was setting, and Leo
ordered dinner to be delivered.
We took a break to eat on the deck as the sun set. We dug into
the food realizing how hungry wed become. Once we got started
on the script, we hadnt taken a single break. The time flew by.
You never did tell me, Leo said as he bit into his taco.
Whats your favorite movie?
Didnt we decide thats a minefield?
No, we decided not to talk about music, he said.
You decided, I said. I could talk about it all day.
Please dont, he said. My ears cant take it.
So what, then?
Movie, he said again. Your favorite. What is it?
I really didnt want to tell him. It felt too personal or
something. I once read this book that I fell madly in love with. I
couldnt stop talking about it, so my ex, Paul, said he wanted to
read it, too. When he finished, he deemed it obvious, and Id
felt as if someone had just told me my firstborn was ugly or
something. I swore Id never make that mistake again.
But since I gave Leo grief about his ending, I decided to lead
by example and tell him.
Ill tell you mine if you tell me yours, I said, hoping to
soften the blow in case he did laugh or roll his eyes at me.
Easy, Leo said without an ounce of shame. Apocalypse
Now.
I groaned. Should have known. Big, bloody, manly war
movie. You really are in the right business.
I love the smell of napalm in the morning, he quoted.
Best line in cinema history.
Gah, I said.
Come on, Sophie. You should know me well enough by now
to know that I am deeper than that, he said. Apocalypse Now
explores the darkness in all of us. The darkness of war, the
insatiable appetite for destruction. Its human nature on
celluloid. Its brilliant.
More like human nature on steroids, I grumbled.
Okay, then, he said. I told you mine. Now tell me yours.
Whats your favorite movie?
I paused, not for dramatic affect but out of uncertainty.
Flashbacks of Pauls diss washed over me, but I pushed past.
Fine. Its Dead Poets Society.
Never saw it, he said, scooping up a bite of rice.
That was it? No reaction? I couldn't decide if I was relieved or
annoyed.
How is that possible? I asked. Youre in the movie
business. That is one of the classics.
He waved away my comment. Do you know how many
classics there are? Its an ever-shifting list of films that are
randomly deemed amazing for one reason or another. I dont
want to see them all, and I dont need to see them all.
ButDead Poets Society! Itsamazing!
Remind me never to have you write film reviews, he said.
I playfully slapped his arm. Robin Williams is
Annoying, Leo said.
Not in this movie. You would like it. Its about young men
finding their place in the world, fighting against whats expected
of them.
Through poetry? No thanks, he said.
Youre seriously impossible, I said. I picked up my fork and
pushed my food around my plate. Im going to make you see it
one day, I said, that one day still lingering on my tongue, that
possibility of more. Youre gonna like it.
Doubtful, he said.
Youll see, I said, all false confidence and bravado. And
then youll have to say you were wrong and I was right.
Thats it, he said, tossing his fork down on his plate with a
startling clank. Out you go.
Before I could gauge what he meant and what was happening,
Leo had me thrown over his shoulder and carried me down the
steps of the deck and out across the beach. In the water you go
for thinking Id ever say I was wrong about anything.
I squealed with laughter, begging him not to throw me in the
water. People walking by looked at us and smiled, a playful
couple at sunset.
Leo set me down, the water up to my ankles and gently
pushing past us. I wrapped my arms around his neck, and he
pulled me close, his hands resting on my lower back. He leaned
close and said, Ill get you one way or the other.
You better, I said. As he kissed me, I pulled myself up his
strong, solid body until my legs were wrapped around his waist.
He easily held me, despite my weight and the fighting of the
waves. Take me inside and teach me a lesson.
Sophie, you will be the end of me, he said.
You and me both, I thought as he carried me inside.
Chapter 14
We just couldn't stop ourselves. If I wasnt touching Leo or
within two feet of him, I felt myself deflating. He was the oxygen
I needed to be alive. But once we got into a work rhythm, we
were unstoppable. By the end of the weekend, we had eliminated
everything from the screenplay that was unnecessary, sketched
out what needed to be rewritten, and had a game plan of how to
attack those rewrites. It was exhausting and totally fulfilling.
And in that same timespan, Id somehow managed to
convince myself that the lies were truthI really was Sophie
Adams, struggling screenplay writer whod moved to LA and
tried her hand at acting on a lark.
Are you going to send me off with Steve, I asked Leo,
pressing myself to his chest as we prepared to leave Malibu and
head back down to our apartments. Or will you be a gentleman
and drive me yourself? I rose up on the balls of my feet and
kissed his neck. He ran his hands down my arms, sending chills
all the way to my toes.
If you keep that up we wont be driving anywhere. He took
my face in his hands and kissed me.
Just as I suspected, Leo had a sleek matte black sports car, all
loud engine and low to the ground. He drove me back to my little
place in very unglamorous Culver City, which happened to be
near the Epix movie studios. The drive wasnt much better, in
terms of us keeping our hands off each other. I couldnt stop
leaning across to him to get my lips back on his neck and face,
kissing him like some madwoman. I reached down and felt how
hard he was for me. Being selfish and wanting more of him,
danger be damned, I pressed harder, eager to pull him right out
of his jeans, right there in the car. But Leo pulled my hand away
and said, If you dont stop, I am seriously going to wreck this
car and kill us both. And then well never get to do that again.
I wasnt sure if it was the threat of death or of never touching
him again that finally made me stop, but I did manage to stay in
my own seat for rest of the drive.
When we finally arrived at my apartment I was wet as hell and
wanted to fuck him right there in his car but knew it was
impossible. I also knew I couldnt invite him inside my scrappy
apartment with my roommate. So I kissed him goodbye, and
gave his dick one last hard rub.
God, youre cruel, he said.
When I went inside, Ava Marie was sitting in the living room
watching TV and stretching.
That was you in that fancy car outside? she said, eyeing me
coolly.
Hey, I said. Had she seen who I was with? She leaned over
her leg, resting her cheek on her knee.
I tried to keep my voice light, to encourage a friendlier
exchange. Look, Im sorry about Friday night.
Sure. Just dont ask me to set you up again, she said.
Michael was annoyed and I looked like an asshole. But anyway,
you look like you had a fairly satisfying weekend. She sat up
and looked me up and down. Was it written on my face all that I
had done over the weekend? Was I so transparent?
I locked the door behind me.
Someone from work? she pressed. Or the actor guy you
mentioned?
Sort of, I said.
Ava Marie eyed me as if she was waiting for me to say what, I
didnt know, but it made me really nervous. I felt like I was being
questioned by a cop.
He must be a pretty good actor to be able to afford a car like
that, she said. I took off my shoes, ready to race to the
sanctuary of my bedroom, away from her questions and accusing
eyes. He also looked a lot like someone I know. Some celebrity.
Leo Armstrong?
When she said his name, I froze.
That was Leo Armstrong, wasnt it? she said. I looked out
the window when you guys drove up. I swallowed hard against
the nerves thrumming through my body. What the hell are you
doing with that guy? He has the worst reputation with women.
I know. Im not with himits not like that, I stammered.
Then what? Ava Marie asked. Sophie, I know youre still
finding your way here, but you have to look out for yourself.
Dont start getting mixed up with men who are only out to use
you.
Im not.
You have to be smart, she pressed.
I am, I said, frustrated.
No youre not, she insisted.
Listen, I said, moving into the living room and sitting on
the arm of the sofa. I suddenly realized I was actually going to
tell someone the truth. Maybe it was because Id been holding
back for so long, dying to confess my sins to Leo. Telling Ava
Marie was a risk, but I couldnt seem to keep it all to myself
anymore, and besides, shed already discovered some of the
truth on her own. I took a deep breath, as if readying myself to
jump off a cliff. You cant tell anyone. Okay?
Okay what? she asked.
Im working on a story for the magazine, I said. Its about
his reputation with women. I dont know what I expected her to
say.
Oh, shit, Ava Marie muttered. Sophie Scott, you better be
careful. Do you realize who this guy is?
Of course, I said, and shots of his heavenly blue eyes
looking down at me flashed across my mind. I shook my head. I
know what Im doing.
Crush magazineand youare going up against the head of
Epix Studios, she said, as if it was the most ridiculous concept
in history. Dont lead this guy on, Sophie. Youll regret it. The
warning in her voice, the look on her face that told me shed
seen more than I could ever imagine in this town, made my
stomach do a backwards somersault.
Everythings under control, I said as I felt myself tremble.
Ava Marie leaned back over her knee, going back to her
stretching. This can only end in disaster, she said, and
ominous was not a strong enough word for how she said it.
My perfect weekend was officially over.
That spilled over into Monday, with Kait hovering in my
cubicle, once again asking about Leo. I realized it was the only
time she spoke to mein drive-by fashion asking about Leo.
I need more, she said, when I told her lamely that the great
Leo Armstrong didnt watch classic movies. Something real. Do
you want to write or not? Dont give me this baby crap youve
been feeding me. We need more. We need real. We need dirt. It
exists on this guy. Dont tell me you cant find it.
It wasnt just all that had happened over the weekendand a
lot of good stuff had happenedin the living room, the
bedroom, the shower, the kitchen, a little on the deck... And it
wasnt just the way hed looked at me in all those moments, like
he was really seeing me and connecting to me. I shuddered
thinking about his eyes on me as he caressed my face making
love to me. It wasnt just that. It was all that was said. He was so
honest with me, telling me about his family, sharing details
about his grandmother, not to mention the secret screenplay. I
felt that he had truly let me in.
But then I remembered what hed told me about having false
expectations about what our relationship was really about, and I
felt sick all over again. I really shouldnt have fooled myself,
thinking Leo Armstrong made love to me. He fucked me. Just
like he did other girls. Right?
I got his phone number, I told Kait. He said he hadnt
meant to keep it from me, just that his assistant set up the
phone.
Right, she scoffed. Have you tried the number yet?
Probably wont go through. I bet he accidentally gave you the
wrong number, and itll be another week before he tries again,
and then therell be another excuse and then hell be done with
you. Hell be on to the next piece before you ever get his real
number. Thats how these guys operate, Sophie.
I looked down at my phone resting on my desk, and
wondered.
Kait let out a deep, annoyed sigh. What else?
My brain didnt know which way to go. I didnt know what to
believe. Before Id walked into my apartment last night I had
believed that Id just had the best weekend of my life. Now I
didnt know what to believe. Was I being played? The worst of it,
I realized, was that Leo couldn't play me because hed already
laid out his rules for me, for us. I didnt get a say in it. What
about how I felt?
He told me, I began. I rubbed my hand across my forehead.
Yeah, what? Kait pressed, her nails clicking on the top of
my cubicle wall.
He told me that hed never get married or be in a serious
relationship because his parents have gone through so many
marriages that he thinks its meaningless. It wasnt verbatim,
but Kait was making me sweat.
A mommy complex, huh? she said, and I didnt correct her.
Nice, I like it. Thats something we can probably use. Make sure
you stay on him, okay? Get all you can before he gets bored of
you.
Maybe Ill take him to the drive-in, for my other piece, I
said, kind of thinkingdreamingout loud.
Dont get the two confused, Sophie, Kait warned me before
walking away.
I wanted to text Leo right then and prove Kait wrong, that it
really was his phone number, and he had made an innocent
mistake in not giving it to me. It wasnt about control, not like
that, anyway.
I sat back in my chair, feeling nauseous about what Id just
told Kait about Leos family. Its not like hed told me it was a
secret or anything, I told myself. Besides, I still hadnt told
anyone about the screenplay.
I looked down at my phone, tempted to text Leo right then
and prove Kait wrong, that I did have his number, that one thing
about him was true. But then I worried about looking foolish to
Leo, bothering him during work, and right after wed spent the
whole weekend together. I didnt want to look desperate.
The week trudged on, and I did hear from Leo againin the
form of messengered versions of UNTITLED ARMSTRONG. He didnt
want any of it sent through email, too afraid that hed get hacked
and his secret project would be revealed. Id mark up the pages
and send them back to him, then hed send back notes on my
notes. Id work half the night on rewrites only to have him tell
me to consider the character from this angle, to look at the scene
from that perspective. It was never good enough.
And then Id go to Crush and there was Kait, breathing down
my neck for more gossip of Leo. She was insatiable, practically
foaming at the mouth for any negative word on Leo.
Its been days and you havent even spoken to him? she
said.
I dont want to push him, I said, which was partly true.
Dont you dare let him slip away.
Which was the last thing I wanted to do. But not for the same
reasons as Kait.
A few days later I got an email from Pam, subject line: Story
Need drive-in story for New Girl. When will it be done?
I quickly wrote back that I was working on it and would have it
to her in a few days. I sent the email, knowing time was really
ticking, and I had to get on it.
Her reply came back swiftly: Make sure its a date piece. Take
romantic type with you.
She certainly didnt waste time with her requests, I thought.
Her emails read more like text messages.
The writing of the story wasnt a big deal. I was looking
forward to it. But the fact that I needed a date was what gave me
pause. In a city full of gorgeous men, finding one to go out with
me seemed daunting.
I had the upcoming weekend to get it the article done. I
thought about asking one of the other girls in the office to set me
up with someone for the drive-in. I couldnt go back to Ava
Marie, that was for sure. To stall, I went to the web site for the
drive-in the see what was playing that weekend. When I saw the
movie, my stomach dropped.
Dead Poets Society.
Like it was meant to be or something. How could this movie
be playing after Leo and I had talked about it so recently? And
right when I needed to do the New Girl story for my column? I
became excited by this sign from the dating gods, and with little
more thought than that, grabbed my phone and texted Leoor
at least the number hed given me. Finally, Id find out if it was
real or not.
Dead Poets Society playing Friday at drive-in in Silver Lake.
Go with me?
I sent the message and held my breath. Nothing came back
saying it was a bum number, so it went through to someone.
Now I just had to wait until he respondedhowever long that
might be.
Turned out it wasnt but a couple of (excruciating) minutes.
Sure. Meet at my office.
Okay, so it wasnt enthusiastic or warm and fuzzy but it was a
yes, and thats all that mattered.
Who is that? a voice over my cubicle wall said. I jumped,
not expecting someone to be lurking over my phone.
Oh, hey, Alexa, I said, turning to look at her. She nodded
back to my phone, waiting for an answertotally annoying, by
the way. She was in on the Leo story, and I thought that maybe
opening up to her might help us become closer. I still felt like
such an outsider at Crush and was eager to connect with some of
my co-workers.
Actually, I said, lowering my voice, its Leo.
No shit? she said, raising an eyebrow.
Hes my drive-in date this weekend.
Your date? Alexa said. Uh, you sure about that?
What? I asked, feeling like a bug under her sharp gaze.
Nothing, she said, backtracking. Take Leo Armstrong to
the drive-in. Whatever. Just make sure he stays in the car. You
dont want to create a stampede with people spotting him at the
snack counter or anything.
Right, I said. Thanks.
Have fun, she said, walking away.
It was good adviceI couldn't afford to be spotted out in
public with him, lest people find out who I really was. But why
did Alexas warning feel more like a threat?
I was being paranoid, I told myself. Everything would be fine.
Chapter 15
I arrived at Leos office and parked my car in the underground
garage. I was full of nervous energy, an army of butterflies
fighting in my stomach. I was excited to see Leo again, but
feeling a little shy at the prospect of taking him on a date. In
public. Wed only been out at restaurants of his choosing so Id
always figured in the back of my mind that if someone snapped a
picture of us, I couldn't feel guiltyor be blamed. But now it was
like he was on my turfa landscape I hardly knew.
I was escorted into his office by one of his assistantsI think
he had four, but I couldnt be sure. Most of the vast office was
empty, it being late in the evening on a Friday.
This place is a regular Fort Knox, I said, taking in Leos
expansive office with a killer view. I had to go through four
gatekeepers, a key cardprotected turnstile, and a metal
detector.
People want to steal ideas as much as they want to steal
money, he said.
I guess the ideas are money, huh? I said, setting down my
bag.
And a lot of money at that, he said. Finally, his eyes took
me in. So were going to watch this movie?
Yes, I laughed.
And Im expected to watch a movie sitting next to you, in a
car, wearing that. He stepped closer, stopping just from me, his
hands tucked safely in his pockets.
Whats wrong with this? I said, looking down at my cut-off
shorts and tank top. Id decided to forgo any Crush closet clothes
and opted for my own, picking out something I would wear on a
casual outing with a normal person. None of which was true, but
I was trying not to overthink the evening.
Absolutely nothing, Leo said, if you want my hands all
over you all night.
Were watching the movie, I said firmly. He groaned.
The woman who led me into Leos office stuck her head in the
doorway. Do you need anything else from me? she asked.
No, thanks, Elaine. See you Monday. You can close the
door, he added. Once Elaine had gone, the door firmly closed,
he turned back to me, his eyes blazing with desire.
He closed the small bit of space between us. He slid his hand
down the front of my shorts, grabbing hold of my crotch and
pressing his fingers into me. I sucked in a breath, my eyes falling
shut.
Did you think wearing these would keep me from you? he
said, dipping his head close to my face. Did you?
No, I breathed, as his hand continued to move slowly
across me.
I didnt pay you, he said, pushing on my now wet pussy,
nearly enough attention this weekend. I intend to make up for
that. He guided me backward until the back of my legs hit the
armchair in the corner. Sit. I did. He nudged my shoulders
back, then pulled my hips down lower on the seat.
He started by kissing the tops of my thighs. My heart raced,
seeing him down on the floor in front of me. I reached for his
head to run my fingers through his hair; he caught by hand with
his lips, kissing me. His eyes found me, the lust in them clear,
and I thought Id cry out before anything really started. He made
my body feel as if it were floating.
His hands continued on my thighs, his palms running flat
across them, kneading them and making me squirm. He
unbuttoned my shorts and slowly pulled the zipper down. I lifted
my hips, moving myself a little closer to his face as he slid the
shorts down to the floor. He moved forward and covered my
thighs with kisses, his hands all over me, on my hips and up my
stomach, over my breasts. My eyes fell shut, and I couldnt sit
still, moving myself closer to him, desperate for him to take me.
When he pressed his lips on my pelvis and I groaned. He kissed
me there, and then under, right where I was soaked the most. I
begged him, desperate for him to take down the last scrap of
fabric separating us. I already pictured his mouth there, and
flashed back to the plane, when I had him fully in my mouth. My
jaw went slack at the memory. I wanted him to take me.
Impatient, are we? he said, a smile dancing on his lips.
Yes, I breathed. Please.
He took the fabric of my panties and I lifted my hips again. A
hint of shyness crossed me, being naked from the waist down
with Leo on his knees in front of me. But if I was shy then, it was
nothing with what he did next.
Leo took my leg under my knee and draped it over the side of
the chair, opening me up to him, fully exposed. I hoped I didnt
disappoint him, but then one look at his face showed me he was
more than pleased.
God, youre beautiful, he said, my sex clenching for him,
teased out of its mind with his lips and tongue being so close but
not yet touching me. He started his kisses again on the inside of
my thighs. My legs seemed to have minds of their own,
spreading wider, showing Leo more of myself. And then he was
there, his tongue sending quick flicks over my nub. I cried out.
The need for more was almost unbearable. I looked down, and
seeing his face between my legs was the sexiest sight Id ever
seen in my life.
Leo moaned as he ran his tongue over my wetness. I felt
dizzy, my head swirling, my body unable to do anything but
move in the direction of Leos mouth. My hips gently rocked as
his tongue explored me, gliding over me as I thought Id lose
consciousness. He moved slowly over my opening and back up to
my clit, his tongue making gentle work of it as I moaned, hoping
it never ended while desperate for the release hed soon give me.
His tongue became more pointed as he moved in quicker
motions over my clit, and my breath came in short gasps in time
to the flicking of his tongue. With no warning, he flattened his
tongue and drove it in long licks up the entire length of me. I
breathed out, reveling in the sensation.
My hand moved up to my breasts, massaging them through
my shirt. Leo noticed and moved his own hand up the skin of my
stomach and over my bra. I gently put my hand on top of his,
letting him move at the perfect pace while I sat back, along for
the ride. When he sucked on my clit, my breath caught and I
knew I was close. My groans were loud enough to be heard
outside his office door and I hoped everyone had really left for
the evening because I was only getting louder as he continued
his gentle sucking and licking of me. With my eyes closed, I
reached down to him, pushing his head closer into me as I
sucked in air, every fiber of my body rippling until I felt myself
explode, releasing the air from my lungs, stars bursting behind
my eyes. Leo grabbed my bucking hips, holding me down as he
pressed his face into me, making sure I rode it out as long as
possible.
When it was over I collapsed back into the chair, every ounce
of energy spent, my eyes closed and limbs limp. Leo kissed my
thighs, going back to wear he started, but it felt sweet this time,
gently pulling me back to reality.
Now that thats done, he said, I might be able to
concentrate on the movie.
Youre awful, I said. And when I say that I mean
amazing. A smile played on my lips as I opened my eyes. Seeing
Leo there, a satisfied look on his face, made me feel warm and
happy.
Im going to go change, he said, nodding toward a
bathroom door on the other side of his office. Can you manage
to pull yourself together?
I have a better chance if youre not kneeling in front of me,
I said, resting a hand on top of his, resting on my thigh.
This is the best place in the world to be, he said, making me
groan with pleasure. Finally, he stood up and went to change,
and I got myself dressed again. When he came back he was more
casually dressed in jeans and a polo shirt.
I told Leo Id drive. Even though the drive-in was for a story
for Crush, I wanted it to be like it was a date. Leo had paid for
everything so farthe dinner and all the take-out food hed had
delivered to the beach houseand I wanted to put in my fair
share as well. Hed asked me if I was working again next week,
and it took me a moment to realize he meant the temp job. A
stab of guilt hit me as I told him that yes, it was back to the grind
working reception.
We took the elevator down to the parking garage and I led us
to my car, a little Honda Accord that was only slightly rusty
around the edges.
No, Leo said suddenly as I unlocked my door. He stood at
the bumper as if an electric force kept him from moving closer.
What? I asked, confused.
This is what were riding in?
Come on, I said. Not everyone can drive a fancy car.
Exactly, he said. So if you have one, you should take it out
as often as possible. Come on. He began walking back to the
garage elevator.
Are you kidding? I said.
Not in the slightest, he said.
I shook my head and followed him. You are a snob. Total and
complete, stuck-up snob.
He punched the button for the elevator. Fine. Im a snob.
But I also have standards.
Uh huh, I said. Youve also insulted my car. I worked
really hard for that thing!
How many phones did you have to answer to have enough
money to buy that thing? he asked.
Very funny, I said, feeling that twang of guilt again.
My car is more comfortable. And safer, he added. Plus I
like driving.
That thing you drove us in back from Malibu? I said.
Despite my intentions of distracting him on the drive back down
the coast, the car did not feel safe. And it wasnt that I cared
about going in his car, exactly, but I had wanted to sort of take
control of the evening, and one way of doing that was driving.
No, not that car, Leo said. I have my other car here.
Im sure Ill regret asking this, I said, but how many cars
do you have?
He smiled. Several, he said. But this one is much more
comfortable, I promise.
Fine, I said. But Im paying for the movie and food.

***

The drive-in was just as I had pictured it, on a big empty lot with
cars lined up neatly in rows with a little red shack of a concession
stand at the back. His cara midnight blue Mercedes S-Class
sedanwas not too much fancier than many of the other cars
there. It didnt stand out, at least.
I was nervous about what hed think about a movie I loved so
much. As it began, I kept stealing glances at him to gauge if he
was enjoying it. He quickly had me distracted when he rested his
hand on my thigh. When I put my hand on the smooth skin of
his, he flipped his hand over and clasped our fingers together.
My heart skipped a beat. Something about holding hands
despite all the far more intimate things wed done together, and
to each othermade things with Leo feel significant. Official,
maybe. But it was more than that. I loved being with Leo. Being
near him, sitting beside him, felt so normal and right that Id
almost forgotten that tongue-tied feeling Id had at the audition
that first day.
When the movie ended, we didnt move. Leo sat staring at the
screen as if it were the middle instead of the credits. I let the
silence hang like that until the screen finally went black, and we
were almost the only ones left.
I guess this means you liked it, I ventured.
That, he said, was amazing. Which made me absolutely
beam. Those parents. What dicks. When Todd Andersons
parents sent him the desk set again for his birthday
I know! I said, so excited he liked it.
And then his roommate, whats his name
Neil Perry, I said.
told him it wanted to fly.
Such a great scene, I said. I felt happiness bubbling up as I
heard true excitement in Leos voice.
And Neils parents, he said, his eyes focused on nothing
outside the windshield of his shiny car. Theyre miserable
human beings who insisted on making their son just as
miserable. I thought he was going to shoot his dad for a while
there.
Yeah, but what about letting yourself be free, like Mr.
Keating encouraged them all to be? Especially creatively free.
Not letting anyone or anything hold you back? As I said the
words, I realized how closely it all mimicked his lifesans
suicide, of course.
Exactly, he said. He finally turned to look at me, his eyes
bright with thought. Thank you, Sophie. Thank you for showing
me your favorite movie.
I smiled. You liked it?
I loved it, he said.
I turned to better face him. So is there anything youd like to
say to me, then, Mr. Armstrong? I asked coquettishly. He
looked at me curiously. Something along the lines of, I was
wrong about the movie, and you were right? Ring a bell?
He leaned across the seats toward me, lightly touching my
chin. I held my breath as his lips moved closer to mine. When he
kissed me, I felt the air rush through me, and I wondered if the
feeling would ever end. I certainly hoped not. He pressed closer
to me, his hand sliding to the back of my neck, and I loved the
taste of him. It all felt so real and so normal, and I wanted the
moment to last forever.
Not a chance, he said, making me laugh but roll my eyes.
The ego on you, I said.
My place? he asked. As usual, his kisses scrambled my
mind so much that I couldnt speak sensible words. All I could do
was nod yes.
We were hardly off the elevator of his apartment before we
were clawing the clothes off each other. It was like we were
starving, and the only thing that could fill us up was each other.
His mouth devoured my neck as his hands slipped under my
blouse, feeling up my ribs until he was sliding it off over my
head, tossing it aside. My mind became so frazzled in these
moments, not knowing whether I should go for his shirt first and
feel that hard, strong chest, or go straight for his pants for what
I really wanted. I started with his shirt, although I almost ripped
the buttons off I was so eager.
Leo paused and stepped away from me, panting. His lips were
red with the force of his kisses, and I had no doubt mine looked
the same. He took my hand and guided me up the curving
staircase and into his bedroom. Windows surrounded the room,
the view similar to the one on the balcony, directly below us. He
kept the lights off, letting the citys glow fill the room just
enough to see each otherto see his ever-hungry look.
You ever get lonely in this big apartment all by yourself? I
asked because, honestly, the place was big enough for a family of
ten.
Im never lonely when youre around, he said, pulling me
to him. His skin was hot on mine, and I felt us melting into each
other. My hands wrapped around to his shoulder blades, feeling
the muscles down his back. I ran my hands over the back of his
jeans, cupping his firm ass in my hands, feeling his strength
wherever I touched.
Leo suddenly picked me up and tossed me onto the bed
literally tossed me. I laughed as I bounced across the ocean of
sheets, but stopped when he crawled across the mattress toward
me like a lion. He was on top of me in a flash, his strong arms
blocking me in, and I ran my hands up them, slowly, feeling
every ripple of muscle. He leaned down into me, and when our
lips met again, my breath finally came back.
Even after what hed done to me earlier that same evening in
his office, I needed more. I always needed more of him. I was
starting to realize I needed all of him, all the time. He seemed to
feel the same. We both ripped off our remaining clothes, and
then Leo grabbed my hips and pulled me down closer to him. In
quick time he slid into me, making me gasp with pleasure, and
as he thrust in and out of me he kept his eyes on me, never
looking away. I was mesmerized by the beauty of those eyes and
by the perfect feeling of Leo inside of me, moving and filling me
and making me feel like at any moment my entire body might
explode with satisfaction. He continued his thrusting until we
were both sweating, my hips angled up toward him.
Leo, come with me, I said, because I was so close.
But he stopped and flipped my body over as easily as a
pancake until I was on my stomach. He never left my body. He
took my hips again and pulled me up on my knees, then gently
pushed my shoulders down until I was ass up. As he began
moving again the new sensation made me cry out a new, the
angle of his dick pushing down on my clit. I begged Leo to push
harder, go deeper, get more of me, and he complied.
Sophie, he cried out, a grunt mixed with passion, and he
exploded inside me. I felt some of his juices run down my legs,
and I kept pushing back into him to get every last drop.
Afterward, as the world came back into focus, we settled on
the pillows and under the sheets properly, facing each other. Leo
had a little grin on his face, and I stroked his sharp jaw, feeling
the stubble touching his smile. I ran my fingers through his hair,
which made his eyes fall slowly shut. He whispered my name,
and in that moment I felt possibly more connected to him than I
had when we made love. My heart ached for him. I felt those
three little words deep in my chest, beating inside me as clearly
as my heart thumped at his every breath.
But I didnt dare say them. I didnt know what to do with the
words, but I held them tight. When Leo pulled me close so that
my head was nestled in his neck, I had this comforting sensation
that he felt it, too. Then again, it might have just been a healthy
dose of wishful thinking.
What are you thinking about? he asked me. I gave a little
laugh. God, no way would tell him.
Nothing, I said. You. Just wondering when youre going to
get tired of me.
He kissed my forehead, his arm holding me close. Never,
he said. I ran my hand over his stomach and ribs and squeezed
him tight.
We talked for an hour. Not about anything special, just our
lives. Leo told me he about the huge premiere he had coming up,
and that he was concerned about critics responses to his latest
film. I told him about Delaney and her custard empire, which
made him laugh when I put it like that. He said, in a lazy way,
that she should come to L.A. and open up a shop here. Well fly
her out, he said, and that we got me again. I realized I was on
the hunt for any little sign that he felt for me like I did for him.
There were signs but they were small, and always I had Kait in
my ear, convincing me that he said these things to all his girls.
In his bed that night, I pushed thoughts of Kait aside. I made
plans with Leoa new restaurant to try, an overnight trip to
Catalinaand only once did I think about the ending. Or how he
told me that, when he walks away, he doesnt look back. We held
each other close, and eventually, we fell sleep.
Chapter 16
I stayed up late Sunday night to write my drive-in story. When I
finished at three in the morning, I felt really proud of what Id
written. My first piece for Crush magazine, and it was a fun,
flirty story about an old-fashioned date. Naturally, I left Leos
name out of it, but I was sure itd make the magazines readers
want to try out movie-watching from the front seat of their cars
or the backseat, if the movie was boring.
I emailed it to Pam so shed have it as soon as she arrived at
work on Monday. I certainly didnt want her having any new
ammo on me by turning it in late, or even on time, considering
what a bulldog shed been about being the one to edit it. I was
actually excited for her to read and edit it. I felt like Id learned
so much from Leo about writing and creating stories that, even
though this was an article and not a story, Id been able to use
his insight to make it better. Plus, I welcomed Pams
constructive criticism. Everyone said she was a really strong
editor, and I wanted to be the best writer I could.
Monday morning I didnt even make it to my desk before Kait
was screaming my name, calling me into her office.
I stepped inside.
Close the door, she said, not looking at me. I did as she
said, feeling an epic-sized boulder in my stomach.
I went to the drive-in for my New Girl column this
weekend, I said, because surely thats what she was pissed
about.
I know you did. And I bet I know who you took on that date,
she said, and slapped a print out on the desk in front of me. I
picked it up and saw a dark, grainy photo of two people sitting
inside a luxury sedan, parked at a drive-in movie theater.
Is that you? Kait asked. It looks like you, and its definitely
him, but those are not our clothes.
LEO ARMSTRONG SPOTTED WITH MYSTERY WOMAN. WHO IS SHE?!
Need I remind you that you are undercover? Kait said. If
the paparazzi find out that youre a writer with Crush magazine
then the whole thing is over. Do you get that?
Yes, I stammered, holding the picture in my shaking
hands. The picture showed Leo looking me, smiling. It was right
before he leaned across and kissed me. I had lost focus on the
story and now the whole thing was about to blow up in my face.
What if Leo had seen this? Would he think I was just with him for
press?
Christ, I thought. Maybe I did have the two confused.
I know youve been out with him in public, but that was to
his places that he knowsand I know how people in this town
can bribe anyone from a restaurant manager to the busboy to
keep their mouths shut about their celebrity clients, Kait
continued. But you took him to one of your placesand on
assignment for the magazine. I cant even begin to know what
you were thinking. So what are we supposed to do with your
drive-in story? Run it with this picture? Jesus, Sophie. She sat
back in her chair, exasperated.
Im sorry, I began, and my voice was trembling. God, if I
started crying
Your story is scrapped, Kait said, swiftly, like the drop of
the guillotine. We need to know the impact of this photo. Well
have to wait a couple of days to see if the press picks up on who
you are because I guarantee you, theyre digging right now.
Youre lucky you werent in your own car. Someone would have
run your license plate through the DMV to find out. Not taking
your own car is the only thing you did right.
If she only knew. I couldnt believe such a great night had
turned out to be such a disaster. And what about Leo? My phone
was in my bag at my feet and I was itching to check it, see if hed
texted me. I had to make sure he wasnt mad about the photo
to see if he even knew about it. I also had to make sure I didnt
lose my job.
Ill fix it, I promise, I said to Kait, but she quickly cut me
off.
Im here to tell you how to fix it, she said. Get your phone
out and text him right now.
I didnt dare tell her thats exactly what I wanted to do.
Except, of course, I would have preferred to do it alone in my
cubicle. I hesitated for a moment before reaching down into my
bag.
Text this, she began. Still thinking about you. Dinner
tonight, question mark. Your choice. You got that?
I was sick to my stomach, but I wrote the words. My thumb
hovered over SEND. Maybe I could go back to my desk and write
what I wanted to write. Ask him if he was okay, or maybe write a
joke, like, The name is Nuwanda. Hed get it. I wouldnt even
have to remind him about Dalton from Dead Poets Society saying
it.
I realized that Leo Armstrong and I had inside jokes now.
Thats how close wed become. Real close. True close. Not
scamming-for-a-story close.
Sophie, Kait said, pulling me back. Send it. Let me see.
She held out her hand like a teacher checking her students
work. It was humiliating.
I didnt want to lose my job, and really, the text was harmless.
Just a check-in with Leo. So I hit SEND and showed my phone to
Kait.
Good, she said. I want to know when he writes, where
youre going, and what he says. Understood?
Sure, I said, completely defeated.
Now go, she said, and turned away from me.
When I got back to my desk, Pam was just walking away. She
turned back when she saw me.
There you are, she said. I was up early so I read your rough
draft. I made a few marks and suggestions. Left it on your desk.
Thanks, I muttered, letting the rough draft remark slide by.
She knew it was the final version. I think Kait is actually
putting it on hold. For now, anyway.
A tiny smirk crept up her mouth. Yeah, I know. But I figured
you could still use some help in the writing department. Better
luck next time, kid, she said, and walked away.
On my desk I found bloodied pages. She went old-school with
a red pen and everything. Shed crossed out half my lines and
the ones she left had things like Really?? in the margins.
It was total crap. She may as well have taken her red pen and
stabbed out my soul.
Next I got a visit from Alexa.
So, she said, I guess you decided to take him to the movies
after all, huh?
Alexa had started to caution me about taking Leo on my New
Girl date, but then had pulled back.
I suppose I should have listened to you, I said.
Yeah. Its so weird how the paparazzi just seem to know
where to find the celebrities, isnt it? Even when theyre at a
totally new place.
She looked so satisfied that I felt like I knewshe had made
some phone call and told photographers where wed be. Alexa
had set me up.
I felt like everyone in the office was against me.
It wasn't until almost the end of the day that Leo texted me
back.
My apt, 8.
Thats all it said. I had no idea if he knew about the paparazzi
photo and if so, if he was mad about it. He couldn't be, right? He
was photographed all the time with beautiful women. He
couldn't avoid it. As long as he didnt know who I really was, I
was sure Id be fine.
When I reported the nights date at his place to Kait she
didnt look pleased or annoyed or anything. All business, out to
get Leo Armstrong. I kind of wished shed yell at methe quiet
fury terrified me.
I assume his building has a doorman? she asked.
I think so, I said. Thered been many uniformed people in
the lobby each time Id been there.
Talk to him, she said. Doorman, concierge, whoever is
there, or both. They surely havent signed confidentiality
agreements. Get some dirt from themhow many different
women hes brought home, if he has several women at once, any
women coming by late at night alone, someone who could be a
prostitute. Oh, grow up, she said, probably noticing the
shocked look on my face at having to find out if Leo had
prostitutes visiting his apartment. I shouldnt have to tell you
to do these things. You should know to do them on your own.
Dont let us down, Sophie. Get the story.
With that, I was dismissed.
Chapter 17
I walked across the lobby of Leos apartment building later that
evening in a yellow cotton sundress and flats of my own. Kait
had thrust another cleavage-baring dress and sky-high stilettos
at me, telling me the wear them tonight, but Id left them in the
backseat of my car. I didnt want to wear her clothes anymore.
I stopped at the deskthey needed to unlock Leos private
elevator to let me up once theyd okayed it with a quick call to
him. As I waited for Erniethe same guest manager, as he was
called, who had been there on the other nights Id come byto
call Leo, I drummed my fingers, trying to pull up the nerve to ask
Ernie the questions Kait wanted answers to for the story. Part of
me still wanted to do my job, and do it well. The other part of me
was starting to think it was sort of gross to try to expose Leo, and
for what? Dating other women? He was allowed to do that, just as
I was allowed to see other menif I knew any, or had any hint of
desire. As it was, Leo was the only person who held any interest
for me. He was all I could see.
As Ernie picked up the phone to call upstairs, I said, I bet
youre doing this all the time for him, huh? I gave a little laugh,
like I was in on the joke.
Ernie held up a finger, and soon he was telling Leo that Miss
Adams was there to see him. When he hung up and told me I
could take the elevator, I gave it another try. I bet Im not the
first girl to take this ride, am I right, Ernie? I cringed, hearing
myself. I was worthless. I wasnt sure if I didnt want to be a
reporter, or if I didnt want to be that kind of reporter.
Have a good evening, miss, Ernie said with a sweet smile,
his lips firmly closed.
If I were Kait, Id have him telling me all the girls names
along with their date of birth and social security numbers. She
was cutthroat. She was good.
The ride up in the elevator was nerve-wracking, wondering if
Leo was angry about the photo getting out. One look at his face
waiting for me down the hall told me the answerno way.
There she is, he said, his grin as wide as ever, and I couldn't
contain my own. My face instantly broke into smile at the mere
thought of Leo these days. He was the anecdote to all bad things
in life. I had to hold myself back from running straight into his
arms, especially how gorgeously charming he looked in a dark
gray T-shirt and jeans.
When I got to him, I threw my arms around his neck and
pulled his body close to mine, holding him tight. His arms were
around my waist, gently caressing.
Bad day at work? he asked, and I held him tighter. I didnt
want to talk about work. I felt disgusting for trying to press Ernie
for dirt on Leohowever poorly I had done on that
investigation. You look beautiful, he said, looking me over.
Temping must pay pretty well. He kissed my lips, and I
reached up quickly to touch his face, make the kiss last longer
than a peck. I held him close, feeling the softness of his lips on
mine, taking in the scent of him.
Come on, Leo said, gently letting me go. I have good
news.
He led me across the expansive floors of his giant home, the
beautiful nighttime view of Los Angeles flickering outside the
windows. We went past the curving staircase to his office, where
he sat me down on a button tufted brown leather sofa.
Here, he said, his tanned face beaming as he handed over a
bonded stack of papers. That familiar cover page that said
UNTITLED ARMSTRONG. Its our screenplay, he said. Our
screenplay, I repeated in my head, as Leo continued. Its
finished. The last round you sent me really got it where it needed
to be. Sophie, he said, sitting down next to me. Im going to
make this movie, and its all thanks to you. I couldnt have done
it without you.
I didnt do much, I said. Youre the one who pushed me in
the right direction.
Dont do that, he said, taking my hand. He kissed my
fingers, his breath warm on my skin. Dont deflect a
compliment. You earned every bit of praise for this. Im going to
start casting this week.
Really? That fast?
Why not? Ive been wanting to do this for some time, and
now that the screenplay is completed I dont want to wait any
longer. Im going to cast unknowns, film it under the radar and
release it in a few months. Everyone will be shocked, he
laughed, that shallow Leo Armstrong can make a movie with no
aliens or car chases.
Dont you do that, I said, putting my other hand over his.
Dont concern yourself with what other people think, and dont
diminish the movies you do make. You provide a great escapism
for people, and God knows we all need that from time to time.
Howd I get so lucky to find you? he said. He held my chin
delicately in his fingers, and pulled my bottom lip down with his
thumb. He leaned into me and gently pressed his lips to mine,
sliding his hands across my face. He held me there as he kissed
me softly at first, and then more deeply until the taste of him
had me yearning for more, so quickly. Truthfully, all it took from
Leo was a look and I was a goner. When he kissed me, I had no
hope of resisting. I ran my hands over his strong chest, feeling
the muscles beneath his T-shirt before moving to his arms,
flexing as he moved his hands across my shoulders and back. He
pulled me into him, our chests pressed together, our breath
already heavy with desire. I delighted in my tongue on his,
tasting him, feeling him on me.
Sophie Adams, you dont know what you do to me, he said
before crushing his lips back into mine. I kissed him back, but
the sound of my fake name had caught me off-guard once again.
I took his chiseled jaw in my hands and moved away, both of us
panting. When he moved to go back to my lips, I pushed him
back. He gave me a curious look and I answered by sliding away
from him, slightly, keeping my hands on his handsome face. He
dipped toward me again, his lips eager for mine, but I nudged
away again, and this time I slid back into the arm of the couch,
just out of his reach.
His eyes gleamed with desire as he watched me. When he
reached out for me, I moved my leg up, pushing his hand back
with the toe of my shoe.
Not yet, I said, and a low growl came from Leo. Id never
had someone so attracted to mein so many different ways
that he actually growled without even touching me. I slipped my
shoes off, letting them drop to the floor, and then I pulled the
hem of my skirt up to just below my hips. Leos eyes were
transfixed, his lips parted and his skin flushed, all at the sight of
me. Show me what I make you want to do, I said. He let out a
moan and practically lunged for me, but I stopped him again.
No. Stay on your side. All the way back. He reluctantly sat back
against the opposite arm of the couch, one leg on the floor, the
other bent in front of him. I opened up my legs and reached
between my thighs, rubbing the outside of my panties. His
bright eyes stared hypnotized as I made slow, deliberate circles
around my clit.
You are so sexy, he said, his eyes fixed on my crotch. You
expect me to sit here and keep my hands to myself?
I expect you to keep your hands on yourself, I said, and I
had not idea where the bravery came from. Id certainly never
done anything like that before. All I knew was that I wanted to
keep my eyes firmly on Leo and watch his every lustful
expression.
Take off those sweet little panties, he said.
Take off your clothes, I countered. He didnt even hesitate,
standing up and quickly discarding his shoes, socks, shirt and
jeans onto the floor beside him. He took his place back at the end
of the couch, never once taking his eyes off me. I never stopped
the slow movements of my hand on my crotch. I could feel
through the thin fabric how wet I was as I ran my fingers down
my slit, the walls of my pussy aching.
Leo stroked the outside of his boxer briefs, clasping the huge
bulge of his dick in his palm.
Sophie, he said, his eyes heavy. I watched with fascination
as the muscles in his arm moved and flexed in time with his
hand stroking his dick. Now you. Take off your clothes.
I gave myself one more long, slow pass over myself, watching
Leo as his jaw clenched as he struggled to breath normally. Then
I stood up and pulled the shoulders of the dress down, past my
arms and over my hips before stepped out of it. I started to sit
back on the couch when he commanded, All of it.
I paused, my thumbs hooked into the delicate fabric just
below my hips. You, too, I said.
Leo stood up, his chiseled chest puffing up with each deep
breath he took. He shoved down his boxer briefs and kicked
them to the side, and my own breath caught in my throat. Id
seen him naked, but never standing before me like some Greek
god statue. His dick stood tall and angled toward me, as if it
knew where it needed to go. Leo took it in his large, smooth hand
and gave himself the slowest pull that I thought my knees would
buckle. My sex clenched with total needfor that cock to be
inside me. But I held back. I lowered my soaked panties down my
legs and stepped out of them. A guttural sound came from deep
in Leos throat, and he took the smallest step toward me, but I
stepped back, letting him know not yet.
Youre killing me, he said.
You, I said, taking in his entire body from top to bottom,
are perfect. The muscles in his thighs looked like their own
continent, and his six-pack stomach clenched harder with every
breath he pulled in. He continued to work his cock in his hand,
the muscles in his arm showing every perfectly molded detail. I
wasnt sure how much longer Id be able to resist, but trying was
half the fun, I realized.
We both sat back on the couch, opposite ends and facing each
other. Leo left one foot on the floor and I had both my feet on the
couch in front of me. His hand never left his dick as he watched
me. I tilted my hips up, feeling myself clench with want. Slowly I
opened up my knees, letting myself spread out before him,
giving him a perfect view of my pink, wet pussy.
Oh, my god, he moaned.
I slid my finger over my soaked walls, up and around the hard
nib of my clit. I kept my finger there, dancing in circles as my
breath became shallower. I moved my body down a little further
on the couch. Leo watched as my fingers moved down one side of
my pussy and back up the other. He swallowed hard, his eyes
laser focused on my every movement. My finger traced the edge
of my opening, dipping the very tip of my finger in. His hand
stopped moving, and so did I.
If you stop, I stop, I said.
He looked at me, and his hand started again, pulling on his
enormous dick. His eyes were dark as he looked at me, and for a
moment, his eyes closed and his head fell back, his hand moving
up and down, up and down on his long, glorious dick.
I didnt stop, he said. Open your legs more. Show me.
I did as he asked, spreading them wider, feeling no shame at
being so exposed in front of him. His chest rose and fell in deep
breaths, his desire for me making me even wetter than I thought
possible. I teased myself, my fingers circling my hole, feeling
myself clench, wanting to be filled with anything for the
moment. I slowly dipped my finger in, as if testing the waters.
Leos mouth fell open a little wider. I pulled my finger out,
pumped it a few times in myself before going back in again,
soaking my finger to the knuckle. Pulling it out again, I added a
finger, opening myself up more as they went in. I let out a moan,
biting my lip. My fingers went back in and out, pausing only to
circle the hard, desperate nub of my clit, spreading my juices all
over it.
God, I want my mouth right where your hand is, he said. I
want you to fuck my face, Sophie. Come over here and fuck my
face.
That did it for me. I was crawling across the couch toward
him, his eyes so hungry on me. I stopped only to bend down and
lick the full length of his cock, and the groan he let out was a
near scream for mercy. I put one knee to the side of him, against
the inside of the couch, and my other leg I pulled up and rested
on the arm of the couch behind his head. My aching pussy was
right in his face, and he took my ass in his hands and brought me
to his mouth.
He gave a long, deliberate lick across the full length of my
sex, groaning as he went. He let his tongue circle my clit and the
cries escaped me. I knew I wasnt going to last long. I held on to
the back of the couch and pushed my hips into his face, his
groaning urging me on. His tongue reached inside me, going so
deep, moving so far inside me. I saw nothing but the blackness
behind my eyes. Everything on my body was numb except the
feeling of his mouth on meall the blood in my body went
straight for my most sensitive part. Leo lapped up my
considerable juices as if it were the most delectable treat in the
world. When he sucked on my clit, I thought the world might
explode. My stomach clenched in as my hips went closer to his
face. I held on to the top of his head, his dark hair clenched in
my hand. I groaned and screamed with zero inhibition as he
continued to work me, bringing me so much closer with every
lick, every pull, every groan from his own throat. I was falling
quickly over the edge and I held tight, my head tipping back as
my hips bucked onto his face, his mouth, his perfect tongue that
knew exactly what I needed. Finally I was crashing over, my skin
tingling and stars bursting behind my eyes. It went on for several
moments, that sensation, and I rode it to the very last drop.
My body began going limp, as he kissed my stomach. I slid
further down his body, leaving a wet trail down his chest.
God, I moaned, still unable to open my eyes into the
aftermath of something so spectacular. I moved my leg down
from the arm of the couch and put my knee on the other side of
Leos body. He took my breast in his hand and kneaded it,
rubbing it passionately. His mouth was covering my nipple in no
time, his magical tongue teasing my hard nipple, bringing me
back to the deep want, the need my body had to consume more
of him.
Leo ran his hand over my breast and, looking up at me, said,
You didnt think I was done with you, did you?
He took my hips in his capable hands and moved me down his
body. I reached between my legs and took his dick in my hands.
He held me aloft, just over him, and let me pull him up and
down, my hand wrapped firmly around him. He kept his heavy
eyes on mine, his hot breath covering my face. I guided him
toward my hole and he moved my hips right there, right above
him. He let go and waited for me to do the rest.
I slowly slid down his engorged cock, both of us groaning as
he stretched the walls of my slick pussy, stuffing me full. I sat on
him, Leos entire dick up inside me, letting myself stretch to his
thick member.
He wrapped his arms around my waist, hugging me tight to
his chest, my bare breasts against his skin. The way he held me, I
felt as if he could never let me go.
Slowly he rocked his hips, moving me back and forth. I was at
the point where having him fully inside me wasnt enoughI
wanted more. I pushed my hips down on his, grinding on him in
an effort to get every last bit of him inside my body. We held
each other tight, moving slowly.
Leos arm held my back as he quickly moved our bodies, still
held together as one, to the floor of the office. The changed
position gave my body new thrills. I realized that the only thing
better than Leos face between my legs was his face looking
down at me, watching me as he moved in and out of me,
savoring every second of pleasure.
His eyes on me from the angle made me feel like he could see
all of me, and I felt flush under his scrutinyeven more than
when my legs were spread before him. The look he gave me was
far more intimate than anything Id experienced.
Sophie, he said, breathing out my name. I cant stop
making love to you. I don't want anyone or anything other than
you. I cant stop.
I cried out as he moved harder into me, his face contorting
but his eyes always on me. I moved my knees out to the side as
far as they would go, and he took them both and pushed them up
by my shoulders. The sensation filled me as I arched my back,
concentrating on the pounding he gave me, moving faster and
faster, all while keeping those sea blue eyes on me.
Feeling him, seeing the look in his eyes, it was almost more
than I could bear. I reached up for him, clawing at his chest and
throat, wanting every part of him. I sat up on my elbows, the
angle of him inside me pushing right where I wanted it. When
Leo came, I came again, with him, both of us looking into each
others eyes, keeping them wide open as we cried out. Finally he
collapsed down on top of me, and we held each other as our
hearts slowed their beating.
For a moment I felt shy, a bit rattled as we picked our clothes
off the floor and got dressed again. Leo had a satisfied grin on his
face, and I wanted to rush back into his arms. I wanted to tell
him I loved him. The emotions washed over me with undeniable
force. My heart wanted to say the words to him, but my mind
held me back.
Hed made love to me. Hed done it, and hed even said that it
was real. And I was more confused than ever.
Worse, I realized I was totally in love with Leo Armstrong. I
was in love with a man that everyone in the world knew as The
Panty Dropper. What was I supposed to do with that?
Once dressed, Leo took my hand. Want something to drink?
Water, wine?
Water, I said.
I sat on the couch out in the living room, looking out the
window at the twinkling view. Leo brought me a glass of water
and I took a sip and set it on the coffee table.
I decided now was a good moment to bring up my new status
to Leo.
Did you hear that its official? I asked as he sat down beside
me. Im now known as Leo Armstrongs mystery women. My
picture was up online yesterday.
That grainy thing? he said. That was nothing. Doesnt
bother me. How are you feeling about it? He tucked my hair
behind my ear.
I shrugged. I dont know. Its weird.
Those tabloid vultures trying to get a piece of my private
life, he said with clear disdain. We can be more careful, if it
makes you uncomfortable, but I try not to let them rule my life.
No, its fine, I mumbled, a sense of extreme guilt piercing
the armor of my chest. I was one of those tabloid vultures, as
much as I didnt want to be. And here he was, trying to offer me
protection from the very thing Id become.
Come here, he said, pulling me close to him.
My head rested comfortably on his chest, my leg wrapped
over his. He brushed my hair off my forehead and kissed me
there, something hed done before and that I loved so much. I
snuggled in closer to him.
You should come over every night, he said.
I can come back tomorrow night.
Come back every night, he said. Leo kissed me again and
whispered, Stay tonight.
I wanted to, with every inch of my being. I didnt want to
leave his side. But I knew I needed to get home. I wanted to stay
in the foggy afterglow of lovemaking with Leo but I needed to
step out and clear my head and figure out what, exactly, I was
doing. My feelings for him had clearly grown into something
that felt unstoppable, and I had to figure out what that meant in
terms of my joband my entire life.
Im going to go home, I said. But not right now. That
okay?
He squeezed me tight and said, Stay as long as you like.
We ended up in his bedsleeping. Our bodies tangled, our
faces close, breathing in each other. Id never slept so peacefully
in my life. Little did I know, it was all about to change.
Chapter 18
I ts been long enough, Kait said. Time to write.
Yeah, sure, I said, scrambling through the papers on my
desk to find the drive-in story. For the past couple of weeks at
work, Kait had me doing total low-level workcoming up with
cover lines, writing the snappy one-lines in the table of
contents, and fact checking beauty product spellings. I still
have Pams notes. I can polish what I have with her marks in
mind.
What are you talking about? Kait said. She always spoke to
me like I was her younger, annoying sisterthe one she had
absolutely no love for.
My New Girl story? The drive-in piece?
I told you. Thats scrapped.
But I thought since no one
She leaned closer to me. The Leo story. Jesus, the one thing
Ive asked you to focus on. Our next issue goes to press at the end
of the week so its time to get all your little notes and mementos
and whatever else youve been saving, and write the story.
Does this story have to be for this issue? Cant it go in a
future edition? I asked, hoping against hope for a reprieve, a
pardon from the warden. Anything to stop this from happening
right now.
Kait gave me a death glare. I know youre stalling, Sophie.
But its become more than clear to me that whatever little grains
of information Leo Armstrongs giving you are not improving
with time. Hes obviously grown bored of you, hes stringing you
along and theres nothing to hold out for.
Im doing my best, I say, my tone more defensive than I
intended it to be. Of course, it was a lie. I hadnt done my best for
Kait and the magazineId left out all the juicy stuff and tried to
protect Leo from their prying and poking.
I get that, she said, even more annoyed now. And so we
might as well work with what we have. I want all that crap about
blocking his number from you and his sad story about the
women in his family making his poor little heart so cold. Give
me three-thousand words in three days. And dont screw it up.
Any questions?
All I could do was sit slack-jawed and shake my head no. No
questions, unable to process
And dont forget to send me your cover line suggestions and
table of contents, she said, and turned and walked away.
That night I sat in my bedroom with my laptop, staring at the
blank page. Leo was the only thing I was thinking about. I had
entered near obsessive levels of having him on my mind.
But the man on my mind was not the same man Kait and
others had warned me about for so long.
The Leo on my mind was the guy who picked the pine nuts out
of my salad because I was allergic. The Leo who whose hand
instinctively drifted to me like a magnet when he wasnt even
paying attention, just reading emails on his phone. The Leo who
looked at me like I mattered.
Hed taken me to his favorite Mexican restaurant the other
night and when I told him Id never been out of the country hed
immediately gotten on his phone. Im taking you to Mexico.
Now? Id laughed. My cheeks were warm from the
margaritasand the smoking hot company.
Hey, why not? he said while typing something on his
phone. No, Im going down in a couple of weeks. A little break
before we start filming our movie.
Our movie meant the one wed worked on together, and that
still boggled my mind. Are you serious? I said.
Ill have Elaine book a ticket for you. You have your
passport?
Wait, slow down, Id laughed. I cant just go to Mexico.
Although, Id thought, Kait would probably give me the time off
if I told her what I was doing. But I didnt want her to know what
I was doing. I didnt want to go to Mexico for Kait. I wanted to go
for Leo, and for me.
I think the temp agency can live without you for a few days,
he said. Besides, we need to celebrate the great work you did on
the screenplay. Come with me. His eyes had a hopeful glow to
them as he waited for me to say yes.
Its just a trip to Mexico, not a marriage proposal, hed said
said. Elaine will help expedite your passport, if thats what
youre worried about. Shots?
Youre getting me drunk, Id said.
Thats okay, hed replied. Its practice for Mexico.
For him, everything was so easy. He just bought it, demanded
it, or had his assistant Elaine do it for him. People did what he
wanted them to doincluding me. When he smiled at me, I
melted.
Who wouldnt want to live such a charmed life? So far, Id
seen no misogynistic behavior from him. All the things Kait had
been ranting about for weeks hadnt been my experience. I
didnt know if she was crazy, or if he was just different with me.
As I sat staring at my blank document on my computer in my
bedroom, the doorbell rang. Ava Marie was at a gig, so I trudged
out to answer it.
A messenger handed me a package with my name on it. I
opened it up and found a white bikini with fun little palm trees
over the breasts. A card inside read, You wearing this will be the
best view in all of Mexico.
Of course, it was my size. He knew my body well enough, I
supposed. I certainly knew his. I shivered, thinking about the
smooth skin on his arms, the rippled muscles of his abs. The way
the left side of his mouth crooked up a little higher when he
smiled than his left. I fell asleep at night thinking about those
lips.
I drifted along in a haze for the next two days, knowing Kait
was anxiously awaiting my article. The day it was due I thought
briefly about calling in sick. I may have been nervous, but I was
still ready to face her. At least, thats what I told myself as I sat
in the crushing L.A. traffic on my way to work.
As I walked down the halls of the magazine, I felt like all eyes
were on me. Pam shot me a look from inside her office as I went
by.
Kait was in meetings all day, which made the pain of waiting
for her ten times worse. I had no idea what was going to happen,
but I knew it wouldnt be good, and as the hours ticked by my
imagination became more outrageous. By the time she finally
called me into her office at nearly six oclock, I was a bundle of
nerves.
I took a deep breath, gathered my strength, and stepped
inside Kaits office.
I dont have any emails from you, she said, her eyes on her
computer. Wheres the story?
I braced myself before I said, I didnt do it.
Kait cut her eyes up at me. Excuse me?
Still standing in the doorway, I shifted my weight, telling
myself to hold steady. I didnt do it. I thinkI didnt really get
any dirt on him anyway.
Kaits eyes didnt move from mine. Her jaw was tight, and she
looked coiled, like she was ready to spring across the desk for my
throat.
Youre telling me that, the assignment I gave you that could
launch your career you just decided, screw it, I dont feel like
doing it?
No, Kait, its not that.
We go to press tonight. You better get your ass back to your
desk right now and start writing, she said. And you better
hope your fingers can type fast enough because if I dont have
that article in my inbox by nine oclock tonight, you can kiss
your career goodbye.
What if we did the article showing the other side of Leo
Armstrong, the one that goes against his reputation? I tried. Id
thought of that as I sat in traffic, my stomach a gurgling mess of
nerves on my way in. I knew it wouldnt work, but I had to try. I
was sinking fast.
I cant believe what Im hearing, she said. After all Ive
done for you? I gave you your start in this field. Do you know how
many girls wish they had your job? How many girls wish theyd
been given free rein of the Crush fashion closet to pick out
anything so that they could look good on their dates with the Leo
Armstrong? Do you get that?
And Im so appreciative, I said.
He has got you so fooled, Kait said, shaking her head in
disgust. Pam told me not to trust some young, nave girl like
you and she was right. That man has got you so fooled into
thinking he actually cares about you. I dont know whether its
sad or pathetic or both. Sophie, she said, leaning forward.
Listen to me carefully: He doesnt care about you. No matter
what hes said to you in those quiet little moments in his high-
rise apartment, he doesnt care about you. All he cares about is
using you. Hes been using you this whole time. Do you get
that?
Maybe youre right, Kait, but I dont know why you hate him
so much and why youre out to get him. Hes not the man you
think he is, he hasnt treated me badly and I wont say that he
has just to make you happy.
She kept her gaze on me, and I refused to look away.
If you dont write that story, she said, you can kiss your
job here goodbye, and I promise you that there will be no other
jobs to come. Los Angeles is a much smaller town than you
might think.
Id considered this all day. Kait wasnt the type of woman to
let anyone tell her no. Hearing her say the words, though, still
shocked me. I paused, wondering for a moment if I was prepared
to do thatto give it all away and maybe get nothing in return.
You know, I said, what you dont understand is that Leos
not the real user. You are.
With that I turned and left Kaits office, pausing only to grab
my bag from my desk as I marched down the halls. The other
editors had apparently been straining to listen and they all stood
at the edge of their cubicles and offices as I walked out of Crush.
I didnt care about their snide faces (Alexa, Bethany) or their
victorious grins (Pam). I only cared about one thingtelling Leo
the hard truth.
Chapter 19
Please answer, I silently prayed as I sat in my car outside the
Crush officeswhere my career had just been crushedand
listened to the ringing of Leos phone. Finally, thankfully, he
answered.
Hi! Leo! I said with a little too much pep.
Hey, beautiful, he said, making my heart sing. How are
you? Yeah, that tie is fine, he said to someone else.
You busy? I asked.
He chuckled. Only a little. The Trigger Happy premiere is
tonight.
Oh, right, I said. I forgot.
Trigger Happy was his biggest project to date. Hed
mentioned the problems with it in passing. The co-stars hated
each other, the director couldnt control them, and the weather
never cooperated. But tonight, all that would be put aside as the
movie was finally released, and I knew Leo was ready to
hopefully throw a successful launch and put the gossip in the
rearview mirror.
My car is here, Leo said. Im going in the elevator so I
might lose you. Did you need something?
His tone wasnt unkind, just distracted. I didnt want to lose
him, in the elevator or anywhere else. I had to see him and tell
him the truth about everything before he found out from
someone or somewhere else. Kait was surely right when she said
it was only a matter of time before reporters found out who Leos
mystery woman was. I couldnt let him find out from anyone but
me. I had to tell him the truth, and hope that he could somehow
forgive me.
I have to talk to you tonight, I said. Where is the
premiere?
At Graumans Chinese on Hollywood Boulevard, he said.
Can I meet you there? I asked.
Sounds important, he said. Like I said, Im leaving now.
Ill have Elaine email you a pass so you can get in. Good luck with
parking, though. Itll be a nightmare.
I didnt care about seeing the movie or where Id park my car.
I just had to get to Leo, and fast.
Of course, theres nothing fast about driving through L.A. in
the heat of rush hour traffic. The whole drive over I tried to stifle
the voice in my head that told me I was crazy for everything Id
done since the day I arrived in the city. But I had to believe that
there was something real with Leo. We hadnt just been fooling
around.
Things had changed, at least for me, and it was more than just
physical. It was how I felt when I was around himcontent, at
ease, happy, blissful even. The way he looked at me had
changed, too. When Leo looked at me, I felt like he was seeing
inside of me, at the person I was and trying to be.
Of course, I hadnt been truthful and it was an ugly side of me
that I was now deeply ashamed over. The opportunity to be a
journalist had brought out a weakness in me that Id never
known existed. I was sick with guilt over it, but tried to push it
away as I finally exited the 101 Freeway at Highland and turned
onto Hollywood Boulevard.
The scene was a madhouse. The road was partially closed,
forcing me to turn onto another street. I couldnt waste time
searching for a parking spot that I was sure didnt exist so I
pulled up at a restaurant and tossed my keys to the valet. I heard
him yell at me about only customers being allowed to valet there,
but I was off and running toward the theater.
There were hundreds of people crowding the street in front of
the historic theater. I took out my phone to text Leo to see where
he was. Instead I found a text from Alexa.
Thought youd want to know. Kait didnt even need you to
write the article. Shes been keeping your notes and emails all
long and just assembled it for a Crush exclusive. ;)
I clicked on the link and it took me to the front page of the
Crush web site.
EXCLUSIVE: LEO ARMSTRONGS WOMANIZING WAYS EXPOSED
My heart raced as I scanned through the article, which was
short and ended with the teaser, Read the full story in our next
issue!
Instead of being written by my perspectivethe reporter
Kait had switched it up a bit.
Armstrong took Sophie as his carry-on as he flew up to
Seattle for on-set movie trouble, and refused to even let her de-
board the plane. She was relegated to being his in-flight
entertainment...
kept a short lease on our young Sophie, refusing to give
her his phone number even after several datesdates which
were carefully planned to include only the restaurants where he
was able to bribe the entire staff into silence of his evening with
yet another young, trusting woman on his arm.
uses his grandparents as an excuse to avoid
commitment
My hand shook as I read the words. I knew Kait was low and
cutthroat, but I didnt know shed spin things this badly. She
was evil, plain and simple. I knew she was out to get Leo but why
did she have to throw me out as well? What had I done to make
her hate me so much? I looked through the crowd to see if I could
spot Leo. The only good thing was, he was surely too busy on the
red carpet, posing with his stars and answering questions from
entertainment reporters to see this bombshell on some womens
magazine web site.
Id only seen movie premieres on television and had no idea
they were such frenzied, screaming affairs, and Im not just
talking about the fans who were pinned behind riot gates across
the street. As I got closer I could hear the reporters yelling
questions, jostling each other and cameras flashing, and it was
all concentrated in one spot, on one personLeo Armstrong.
Where is she? Did you bring Sophie Scott tonight?
What do you have to say about your so-called mystery girl
writing an expos on you?
Did you use the same tactics on the other women you date?
Have you spoken with Sophie Scott since the story came
out?
The use of my real name made me realize it was all
happening, and they knew who I was. I stayed laser-focused on
getting to Leo, whose tight smile showed me that he was just
trying to get through this thing, and safely inside the theater. I
moved to the side of the crowd, hoping to catch him and pull
him into some relative safety on the side of the building.
My heart went out to him, but my heart was also breaking at
the same time. Why had it happened this way? Why hadnt I just
told him everything sooner?
He moved down the red carpet swiftly, and I couldn't help but
notice how beautiful he looked in his perfectly-fitted tux, his
hair combed back but the waves still there. The screaming
reporters and flashing lights could not pull me out of my goal of
getting to him, talking to him and trying to explain things. Even
as they screamed his name mixed with my real name, I refused
to believe Id lost my chance until I was face-to-face with him.
So I slipped through the edge of one of the police barriers,
sucking my stomach in to fit through, and stood on my toes to
try to get his attention. Only instead of Leos attention, I
attracted the attention of the reporters.
There she is!
Its Sophie Scott, Leo Armstrongs mystery woman!
The woman who exposed his truths!
Well, that got Leos attention.
When he saw me, our eyes locked as the yelling and flashing
continued all around us. Soon they were on both sides of me,
surrounding me, screaming my name and shoving their cameras
so close to my face. I felt like a fox trapped by hunters.
Leo moved swiftly toward me, pulling me close as he ushered
me toward the theater. My hand covered my face the flashes, and
he kept me close to his body protectively, my head against his
chest, his hand on mine. As we raced through the safety of the
door, I realized that he did care about me. The minute he saw me,
he wanted to protect me. I would be able to explain everything.
The metal door wed gone through banged shut behind us.
Leo immediately released me from his hold. I pushed my hair
back and tried to gather myself and calm my racing heart.
Id never been publically persecuted, and it was not an easy
ride.
Once Id finally taken a breath, I looked at Leo, who stood
away from me, leaning against the wall, his hands now safely in
his pockets. He didnt look at me. He kept his eyes firmly on the
multi-colored pattern of the floor.
Leo, I said, stepping toward him. He stiffened, standing up
straight. When he looked at me, those eyes that Id grown to love
so much, looked as if I were a scuff on the toe of his custom-
made shoes. I disgusted him. My presence annoyed him. Worse,
I was nothing special. My chin quivered as I tried to hold my
emotions together. Im so sorry. I wanted to tell you. I came
here to tell you.
Tonight you wanted to tell me? he said.
No, I said, flustered. I wanted to tell you sooner, weeks
ago. I should have. I justI was afraid and I
Afraid? Of what? he pressed. Of me? Did you not trust me,
Sophie? Because guess what? I trusted you.
Tears slipped down my face, and I quickly brushed them away.
He didnt want to see me sobbing over the terrible things Id
done to him. I needed him to know the truth.
I didnt write that article, I said. You should at least know
that. I got fired today because I wouldnt write it.
You wouldnt write it but you had no problem doing all the
research. Is that supposed to make me feel any better?
No. Leo please, I said, and I could see it, right before me.
This man Id grown to love was slipping through my fingers
gone already, in fact. I could see it in his eyes. I had betrayed
him, and he could never trust me again. I didnt mean to hurt
you. Honestly. What I felt for you was real. Ive been struggling
with this story thing for weeks and I know I should have
I dont need to listen anymore, he said, his voice as cold as
the cemented footprints outside the theater. I get it, Sophie. No
need to explain. Its fine, really. This is L.A. and Im used to
having women use me. Men, too. Everyone wants to be around
me just to create some attention for themselves so they can say
they hung out with Leo Armstrong or are friends with Leo
Armstrong or fucked Leo Armstrong. Now I can just add you to
that list. He turned and began walking down the long hall
toward the screening area around the corner.
Leo, please. Wait
He stopped, and the small, hopeful part of me thought
maybe, maybe, he would come back to me, pick me up in his
arms, and tell me it was okay. Instead, when he turned to face
me, totally expressionless, he said, Congratulations. Im
usually better at spotting users. But you were good. You were the
best, Sophie.
This time, when he turned and walked away, I knew he
wouldnt come back. When Leo Armstrong was done with
something, he made a clean break. Hed said so himself. He
never went back, never stayed friends with ex-girlfriends or old
business associates. I knew, as he turned the corner to try to
salvage what was left of his premiere, that Id never see him
again.
Chapter 20
T he thing about living in a city for a very short amount of time
is that it takes no time to pack up and get the hell out of town.
Ava Marie watched as I closed the last box in my room.
Everything else was already on the little trailer Id rented,
attached to my car, ready to be hauled all the way across the
country. Hardly enough distance between me and the mess Id
made of my time in Los Angeles.
You sure youll be okay driving by yourself? Ava Marie
asked. Its so far.
Yeah, Ill be fine, I said. I need time alone, to think. Five
days on the road traveling three thousand miles might come
close to what I needed to clear my head of everything. Leo had
put our relationship behind him and left me no choice in the
matter.
And by now, I knew that he definitely wanted me to put him
in the past toomy unanswered texts and calls proved as much.
Ava Marie carried my bag as I carried the last box outside. She
had a long day of rehearsals for a television show shed just been
cast on. Tomorrow, one of her dancer friends, Rosario, was
moving in to take my place. Everyone kept moving along while I
felt like I was being pushed out. But I guess Id done it to myself.
Ava Marie gave me a hug at the curb. You dont have to go,
you know. Dont let that editor bitch run you out of town.
Im not, I said. I just need to get myself together. I might
come back. I didnt really believe I would. I was already seeing
L.A. as some sort of blip on the radar of my life, a moment Id
done something wildmoved across the country, dated a
celebrity and had it all blow up in my face.
***

A week later I was falling into another friends armsmy best


friend, Delaney.
Screw everyone, she said. I hate them all. Whoever you
want me to hate, Ill hate them times ten.
I smiled, wearily. The drive across the country had been more
exhausting than enlightening, although it had given me plenty
of time to cry and cry without anyone around to tell me to knock
it off. Now I just wanted to crash into bed and sleep for about a
year.
If Id wasted my time in L.A., I didnt intend to waste it now
that I was back home. I was starting over at the ripe old age of
twenty-one.
I got a little apartment in Mechanicsvilles historic
downtown, which was two blocks of old, preserved buildings
from the 1930s. When we had tourists, its where they came, and
Delaneys familys custard shop was a prime destination. She
wanted to hire me to do their marketing.
You dont need marketing, I said, sitting in her second-
floor office above the shop. Everyone knows who you are. I
knew she was just offering me a job to be nice as I tried to sort
my life out.
Please, she said. You think Coca-Cola stops advertising
because everyone knows who they are? Plus, writing marketing
materials and handling our social media is basically writing,
which is what you do. Its a little off the path of where you want
to be but not too far.
Im not even sure I want to write anymore, I said, picking at
the threads of my shredded jean shorts. No more slim fitting
dresses and stilettos for me. Id gone back to my roots, flip flops
and all.
Dont you dare say that, she said, leaning across her desk.
You look fancy sitting at this big oak desk, I said, trying to
change the subject. The arched windows behind her did look
pretty cool, though, I had to admit.
Plus, she continued, ignoring me, Ill be down in New
Hampshire more, and I need someone I can trust looking after
things here. Youd really be helping me out.
Taking over the world, one frozen custard at a time, huh? I
said.
If you ask my father, then yes, she said. Dad is breathing
down my back to make the New Hampshire store bigger and
better. He wants it to be a model for even more expansion.
Id only been back in town a couple of days, and I was shocked
at how differently I saw everything. Not just the townwhich
felt claustrophobicbut even some of my old friends, the ones
who stayed behind because they loved it there and wanted to
raise their families in a quiet New England town, where all the
seasons were picturesque and every evening was safe and quiet.
There was no risk, I realized. Nothing to shock you into trying
something that scared you, to force you to be a stronger version
of yourself. But had I really changed from my few months in
L.A.? Or had I simply been burned?
Hey, Delaney said. Come back to me, daydreamer. I cant
have you zoning out on the job. The custard must be kept frozen
at all times! She smiled at me, trying to keep my head above
water. Shed always been my biggest support, from talking me
off the ledge when I didnt get into my first-choice college to
helping me get over Paul. Now, here she was again, throwing a
job at me simply to keep my mind off the one thing I could not
clear myself ofLeo Armstrong.
So what do you say? she said. You going to help me out
here?
Of course, Delaney, I said. Ill help you.
Yay! she cheered, and decidedly un-boss-like move. I
laughed. Its going to be fun! We havent worked together since
freshman year when we were scooping downstairs.
And you should have learned your lesson then, I said.
Remember how I sneezed into the vat of the strawberry cream
and we had to throw the whole thing out?
Dad was pissed, Delaney laughed. He almost took it out of
our paychecks.
You know, I had like five spoonfuls before I tossed it.
Gross!
It was my own snot! I said. But I got brain freeze so the
joke was on me.
Oh, remember the time I told Richie Reiner that frozen
custard doesnt give you brain freeze and the best way to eat it
was really fast?
I started laughing again. He was in so much pain!
We reminisced until Delaney had some conference call with
the builder in New Hampshire. I was sorry to leaveI couldnt
remember the last time Id laughed that hard. I could hardly
remember the last time I laughed at all. The one thing I was sure
of, though, was that it was probably with Leo. Knowing that the
last time Id smiled had been at Leo pulled me back down, even
as I continued to fight to stay above.
I was drowning and I knew it. Worst of all, I deserved it.
Time moved as it does in small townsslowly, and without
change. The job really did help keep my mind occupied. It was
easy and almost fun, but for the fact that enjoying things was
difficult for me. I took pictures of the custard, sometimes the
customers, and posted them to the accounts online. I wrote
press releases in the build up to the new shop in New
Hampshire, and helped organize a town-wide party for the
shops forty-fifth birthday. Delaneyand more importantly, her
dadwere more than happy with the work I was doing.
Its lucky for us you came back, Mr. Day said. Theres no
way we could have done this without you.
I was pretty sure he was just being nice, but I decided to take
the compliment. Because slowly, life was becoming almost
bearable again. I was smiling and laughing more, even though
sometimes it hurt to do so. I connected with some old friends Id
lost touch with. I hung out at Joes Tavern with Delaney after
work, where wed down beers and fried clams and talk about it
all. Slowly, I unfolded the sordid details of L.A., and Delaney
listened, never once judging me for anything Id done.
It was a fine life, even if somehow it all felt like it was
happening behind a pane of glassas if it wasnt truly
happening to me anymore.
But Id accepted that this was my life, and I did my best not to
wonder about Leo anymore, not to think about him, or cry, or
google him and see that his life continued on without me.
Until one rainy day, at the check-out line of the grocery store,
I decided to buy a gossip magazine. Id steadfastly avoided them
since leaving the west coast, but I foolishly thought enough time
had passed and it was safe to indulge in a little mindless gossip.
I didnt see it until I was back in my apartment, soaking wet
from the rain. I was sitting in my favorite brown chair that faced
the window, watching the downpour. It was a small item, but the
impact was huge.
FAST-TRACKED, SECRET ARMSTRONG PROJECT HAS TONGUES WAGGING
Leo Armstrong, infamous ladies man and head of Epix
Studios, has already begun principal photography on a closely-
guarded film. The plot is said to be centered around a powerful
industry insider who is taken advantage of by a young, hungry
reportersomething that all but mirrors Armstrongs own
experience with former magazine editor Sophie Scott, who
famously dated Armstrong as part of a sensational undercover
story for Crush magazine. Cast and location are under wraps, but
word is the film is slated to hit theaters in just two months.
Had I really thought Leo would sit back and let all of
Hollywood laugh at him for falling for girl like me? Did I really
think hed do nothing? He had said that when something ended,
he walked away and didnt look back. I guess hed changed his
stancehe could drop a grenade of revenge on me as he walked
coolly away. And could I blame him?
We need alcohol, Delaney said later that evening when I
showed her the article. Id spent the rest of the day online trying
to find out more about the movie but got nothing. There were a
dozen stories about how secret it was, and loose facts about the
plot, but it was mostly speculation on what Id already read.
When I saw a picture of Leo walking down a street in Beverly
Hills with a curvy brunette by his side, I quickly accepted
Delaneys offer, and met her at Joes Tavern.
Maybe it wont be as bad as you think, Delaney said. We
were belly-up to the worn bar, arms resting on the dull brass
railing. Shed already told me about a meeting she had with
some dairy farmers, but said it wasnt for another hour and she
could totally do it buzzed. The movie might be sweet.
Leo Armstrong doesnt do sweet and he doesnt do
halfway, I said, tipping back a shot of tequila. I cringed at the
burn, chasing it with beer. I hoped to be numb, body and soul,
within the hour. Chances are, its going to be worse than I can
imagine. I wondered where he was right then, at that exact
moment. It was the middle of the afternoon in Los Angeles.
A painful ache speared me and for a moment, everything
around me seemed to grow dim, as if a shadow had been thrown
over the world. I tried to blink it away, but now the heaviness of
loss and regret was in full bloom within me.
Look at it this way, Delaney said. If hes making a movie
about you, that means hes thinking about you.
Horrible, terrible, evil thoughts of me, yeah, I said.
He cant get over you, she pressedunhelpfully, I might
add. Hes like, pining over you. I think youre looking at this
the wrong way. I think its a good sign.
And I think youre drunk, I said.
All I knew was that waiting for this horrible film to come out
was going to be worse than anything I could think of. If Leo
Armstrong wanted to torture me, hed certainly found the right
way to do it.
Chapter 21
I t was two months later almost to the day, that I opened my mail
and found an invitation on thick card stock. At first I thought it
was a wedding invitation.
The last thing I needed was to be around happy, joyous
couples whod found love and actually not screwed it up
completely.
Id actually been doing a good job of sticking to my promise to
myself of staying in my lane, doing my job with Delaney, and not
getting involved in any hometown drama.
When I opened the invitation, though, Leo came racing right
back at me. It was an invitation to the screening of his new
movie, All For You.
Why would he invite me? I asked Delaney. I raced to her
office, invitation in hand, soon as I saw what it was. Hes going
to publicly humiliate me, isnt he?
No, come on, she said, examining the invitation as if it
might hold the answer. Hes a classy guy. He wouldnt do that.
So why? I pressed. Why invite me to the premiere?
Delaney dropped the thick invitation back on her desk. I
dont know. But do you want my opinion?
Always.
Dont go. The press knows who you are. Youve been lucky
no one wants to come way out here to the sticks to photograph
you. But going to L.A., to this premiere, is stepping directly into
the lions den. Havent you been through enough?
She was right. Id suffered enough heartache, not to mention
public humiliation. Did I really want to go back there, but myself
on display simply to be ridiculed? It would be stupid to go.
And yet.
I didnt know what Leo Armstrong felt, about me or anything
else. Maybe this movie would show me how hed felt about
everything between us, even though I would surely be a villain in
the film.
But I also knew that part of my penance for the way Id
betrayed himand myselfwas to do the hard thing and show
up for the premiere. I wasnt going to cower away and hide from
my past, I was going to face it and own the consequences of my
bad behavior.
I think Ill go, I said, realizing as I said it, that my decision
was final.
Delaney shook her head. You are insane. What did that guy
do to your head?
He twisted it in ways I never thought possible, I said, and I
meant it in the best way. Besides, I think I owe it to him. I was
the one who was dishonest with him. I did a terrible thing. So
the least I can do is go back and watch this film hes made.
Crazy or not, I would go. I would go and face whatever it was
Leo Armstrong felt the need to sayon film, no less. Who knew
maybe it was the closure I hadnt yet been able to find. I was
willing to find out.

***

It felt strange being back L.A. When I first arrived all those
months ago, Id had such hope of starting my life, truly starting
the excitement of a career I was sure would skyrocket. Being
back and seeing the cars and people bustling about, I felt a
sadness of being kicked out of the club, in a sense. I wished I
could still be there, if only things hadnt happened the way they
had.
Ava Marie picked me up from the airport and let me crash at
the apartment. It was odd seeing someone elses things in what I
still considered my room. Rosario, the girl who took my place,
was at her catering job when I arrived late, and Ava Marie set me
up on the couch.
I think youre doing the right thing, she said, tossing a
pillow onto the end of the couch. I think itll feel good to face
him, and face this whole episode in your life. Itll be
therapeutic.
I scoffed. Does my therapy have to be so public?
One of my friends whos an actor said Leo Armstrong was
really burned by the whole thing, Ava Marie replied.
So burned that I saw pictures of him with some bombshell
not long ago.
Ava Marie shook her head. Thats not what I hear. I mean,
supposedly he hardly goes out anymore. He doesnt date. He just
works. And yeah, hes been totally focused on this movie but
people say hes different now.
Different good or different bad? I asked.
She shrugged. No idea. Anyway, I think youre brave for
doing this. Good or bad, when you get back on your flight in two
days, you can truly put it all behind you.
I seriously hoped she was right. But the idea of seeing him in
the flesh again, after all this time, made my heart ache and my
stomach knot.
I wanted to see him so badly, but knowing he would only hate
me was like actual physical pain. And there was no medication
that could take it away.
The dress Id bought for the occasion was from the one nice
store in Mechanicsville but it was pretty, or at least I thought it
was. Modest, not flashy, with a full skirt, 1950s-style, and a
halter top. I didnt know what message I was trying to convey
all I really hoped was that Leo might see it and remember that
this is who I was. A simple girl from a small-town whod given
up everything for him.
I took a car service to the theater. Id learned last time that
parking was a nightmare.
Already I was going into this thing wiser, or so I told myself.
It started as soon as I stepped out of the car near the theater
entrance but away from the red carpet (no way was I walking that
thing).
Once one reporter spotted me, the others swarmed in.
Microphones and television cameras, photographers snapping
pictures, everyone yelling my nameit all gave me serious
flashbacks to the last time I was at a premiere.
I had managed to escape all of this when Id gone so far away
from Los Angeles, but now I remembered that in this town I was
notorious.
Leo was holding this premiere at a smaller, less assuming
theater in Westwood instead of the classic, big Graumans
Chinese Theater of Trigger Happy. That meant one big, saving
gracea shorter walk to the entrance. I knew once I was inside,
there would be no more cameras or reporters, and I could let out
a sigh of relief.
Cameras may have been absent from inside the theater, but it
still felt like all eyes were on me. I roamed the halls as
inconspicuously as I could, looking for Leo. I didnt see him
anywhere, but I got lots of side-eye from the other guests.
Do you know who that is? one woman said as I passed. Its
her.
I tried to keep my chin up and not break into horrific sobs. I
didnt see Leo anywherenot even Elaine or any of his other
assistants. I wondered what I thought Id say when I saw him.
When it was time to take my seatthankfully on the aisle,
where I could make a quick getaway if neededit was clear he
wasnt there at all.
That was like the final blow to my heart, and it just cracked
open.
He knew me well enough to know that Id be expecting to see
him there, but he didnt respect me enough to even show up.
He truly despised me.
I took deep breaths as the house lights went down and the
opening credits began. Tears were already dripping down my
cheeks and nothing had even happened yet.
I braced myself for the worst two hours of my life.
I told myself I would sit there through the whole thing, no
matter how painful or humiliating. It was the least I could doit
would be my final way of apologizing to Leo for all that Id done.
After this, I was done, debt paid.
I was a bundle of nerves as the first scenes began. It was
strange seeing some actress version of me on a giant screen, but
soon I was lost in the story, fascinated at how it all played out.
The film was from the mans perspectivein the movie, his
name was Martinand focused on his fight to become a huge
success at such a young age, and the constant pressure to stay at
the top while everyone waited for him to fail. With every success
the stakes became higher, until Martin thought he would crack.
Sylvia entered the picture for the first time when Martin
went to what he thought was just another painfully dull audition.
Her honesty and light-heartedness helped soften Martins steely
exterior.
Its safe to say I was on the verge of total breakdown crying
throughout most of the movie. I did my best to hold it together
because it was a truly beautiful film. Wonderfully acted, shot like
a dream, painfully honest. Frankly, it was just the kind of movie
I would have loved anyway, even if it hadnt been based on my
life.
As I braced myself for the endingwhere Sylvia turns evil
and crushes Martins soulI realized slowly that such a
revelation wasnt ever going to occur.
Instead, what I watched onscreen was Leos character give
Sylvia an impassioned speech about how he blamed himself for
losing the best thing that ever happened to him.
In fact, this one scene was the only truly made up moment in
the whole film. It happened in the same location as the dreadful
premier night when my true identity had been exposed, when
wed been alone together and Id tried to apologize to Leo, only
for him to shut down and shut me out.
But in this fictional version of our story, Leo was the one who
truly opened up.
You pushed me to let my guard down, to believe in love and
all its great possibilities, Martin told Sylvia in the film. But I
couldnt listen. I wouldnt let myself. I kept my armor on even in
our most intimate moments when all I wanted was to tell you
everything, how incredible I felt when I was with you and how I
wanted to change to be better for youbecause thats what you
truly deserved. But I held myself back, never saying my truth,
and so I lived a lie. But not anymore, Martin said. I love you,
Sylvia. I love you so much but I was too much of a coward to
admit it to you. Not anymore. Not ever again.
He embraced her as tears ran down Sylvias face, and kissed
her passionately. He pulled back to look closely into her eyes. I
love you, Sylvia. Now until the end.
I didnt even notice the credits running, my face wet with
tears, and I was openly sobbing, as the audience stood and
applauded. Somehow Leo had put in the very thing Id wished
and wished had happened that night.
Maybe he really did know how to torture me so cruelly,
because changing that one scene was almost too much for me to
bear. Id rather he painted me a villain than shown me such a
vivid version of what might have been.
An extra roar of applause erupted from the audience as the
house lights came up, and I turned to see what people were
looking at.
And then I saw him.
Leo.
He was real, and he was there, walking down the aisle in yet
another perfectly-fitted suit looking painfully beautiful. I
searched his eyes for compassion and love and anything good.
All I could feel was the tears on my face and the instinct to run to
him, but knowing he wasnt mine to run to. As he got closer to
my aisle, I realized he carried a large bouquet of red roses,
probably for the lead actress.
But he stopped. Right next to me, at my aisle. And then, Leo
Armstrong turned to look at me. I was frozen.
He reached out his hand for me to take, and I did, going solely
on autopilot. All thought had left my mind. I had no idea what
was happening or what he planned to do.
Leo smiled and looked around the theater, taking in the
applause. He held up one hand in a gesture for thanks and quiet,
and the audience immediately obeyed. The theater was as quiet
as it had been during the most intense scenes of the movie. And
then, Leo spoke.
And when he spoke, his eyes were on me and only on me. He
wasnt talking to anyone but me now.
Youre probably wondering what all of this is about, he
said.
I nodded, still unable to find my voice. Seeing him again, the
realness of him, the love I still had for him, was like drowning. I
couldnt bear to be this close and know that we were over.
The truth is, when I first started this script, I was going to do
a real hatchet job on you, he said. I was so angry and hurt and
heartbroken, more jaded than Id ever been before. I intended to
hurt you by writing this film, Sophie.
I swallowed. When I opened my mouth to tell him that I
didnt blame him, he held up his hand. Wait, he said softly.
Just let me get this out. I need to say it all.
I nodded my acquiescence, and he continued.
But as I worked on the screenplay, everything flooded back
to me. All of our time together, and the way you made me feel. I
remembered who you truly were, and for the first time I was able
to step back and objectively view our relationship. Leo
swallowed, his chin trembling momentarily. When he spoke
again, his voice was full of emotion. I realized that youd given
yourself to me fully, and I was the one whod held back. And
then I understood, by the end of writing and filming, that I was
the one whod been a coward, too afraid to show you my feelings,
Sophie. Youd lost everything to be true to what we had, and I
hadnt been willing to do the same. It had been easier for me to
blame you. But thats because Id been a fool.
I so badly wanted to talk now, but I recalled that he wanted
me just to listen. So I kept my mouth shut even as tears
streamed down my face.
Leo looked into my eyes. I rewrote and reshot that last scene
only a few weeks ago, and it was only then that I realized what I
needed to do. He took a deep breath and sighed, his eyes
brimming with unshed tears. I needed to tell you the truth,
Sophie Scott. I needed to tell you that I always loved you, and
that I still love you more than ever. Your love made me seize not
just the day, but my life. And I intend to spend the rest of my life
with the woman of my dreamsif shell still have me, that is.
He handed me the bouquet as I nodded, barely able to speak.
Of course, I said, as the crowd burst into thunderous applause
that I didnt even care about. All I cared about was him.
Leo.
He loved me back. He didnt hate me at all.
I found myself wrapped up in Leos arms, tears running down
my face and his lips pressed firmly to mine. I was his. It had
always been that way but wed let outside influences get in our
way. As he kissed me there in that theater in front of his friends,
colleagues and industry bigwigs, I cared only for Leo and our
feelings for each other.
I knew that Id never let a day pass without showing him how
much I loved him, and what he meant to me.
Just minutes later, we walked out of the theater with our arms
around each other, straight into a waiting limowith Steve at
the wheel, of course.
Its great to see you again, Miss Scott, he said, and I was
happy and relieved at the use of my real name.
Yeah, yeah, Leo said. No offense, Steve, but lets just get
out of here already.
As the car pulled away, I stayed snuggled close to Leo, still in
shock that I was there with him, and that he hadnt stopped
loving me after all.
I felt the reality of Leo Armstrong, his scent, his feel, his heat.
I let go of the flowers and clutched him.
Whats wrong? he said, touching my cheek that was still
wet with tears. I thought this was a happy moment, Sophie.
Im afraid that if I let go of you, youll disappear again, I
told him.
He pulled me closer. Then dont let go, he said, his voice
slightly bemused. But then he held me, too, his strong arms
encircling me. I wont if you wont.
And I knew then that he was a little scared too. Wed both
thought that wed lost each other, and being in one anothers
arms again felt too good to be true.
But it was true.
I looked up into his eyes. Im so sorry
Dont, he said. You never need to apologize to me. Im in
love with you, and besidesI think weve met our apology
quotient for this year.
I laughed a little, my chest loosening. I was beginning to
accept that this was actually happening. I always want to tell
each other how were feeling from now on, I said. Promise?
Promise, he replied, stroking my hair. As long as we both
shall live.
Epilogue
Youre wrong, I said. She would never say that.
Sure she would, Leo said.
Why? Whats her motivation? I asked.
Leo stood for a moment in our living room, his blue eyes fixed
on the rolling hills outside the large window.
See? I said when he didnt answer. I smiled and shook my
head. She wouldnt say that. Lets go back to earlier in the
script.
Leo walked over to me. I tilted my head up toward him,
offering up my lips, which he kissed. I taught you everything
you know and now Ive created a monster, he teased, running a
hand over my growing belly.
I learned some things for myself, I said, putting my hand
on top of his.
After the premiere, my life became just plain ridiculous. Leo
and I eloped and then he took me to Mexico, just like hed
wanted to all that time ago. We stayed in a secluded area with
our own beachside bungalow, big enough for a large family but
all for us and complete with full staff and a chef. We stayed there
for three perfect weeks, watching the gossip blogs go nuts over
what happened at the screening and reading the reviews for All
For You. Critics said the movie had signaled a new reign for Epix
Studios, proving that the studio wunderkind could be passionate
and thoughtful in his moviemaking and not just loud and
explosive. Of course, I knew that already. And now, a year later,
here we were, together in our new home working on a script
that old script hed first had me work on during my dark days at
Crush magazine. Id finally gotten him to agree to change the
ending to something more hopeful instead of the dark
cautionary tale he wanted.
With his hand still on my belly, Leo said, I hope our baby
grows up to be as strong as you are.
And as willful as you are, I added, kissing his lips again.
Leo had sold his Wilshire Boulevard apartment and his Malibu
home soon after we were married; now we were nesting in the
Hollywood Hills, a place that was oursand our soon-to-be
bundle of joy.
Even though it was a Saturday, we were working because we
loved to work. When our minds went toe-to-toe it was as
satisfying as when we rocked the bedroomin a totally different
way, of course.
Delaney came out to visit so often that she practically had her
own bedroom, and Leo was trying to convince her to open a shop
out in L.A. She was considering it, especially since the New
Hampshire location was doing better than expected. And I still
kept in touch with Ava Marie, who was on the short list of
dancers in the Epix offices, so she was working steadily and had
even upgraded to a decent apartment in Santa Monica proper.
Life was good. I still couldnt believe it.
Hey, Im getting burnt out with this rewrite, Leo said,
breaking me from my reverie as he yawned and stretched his
muscular arms upwards. Want to take a drive and get a
smoothie?
I made a face. Thats all I ever drink anymore.
Leo just chuckled, grabbed my hand. You have it so rough,
he said.
I missed drinking coffee like it was going out of style, but Leo
had graciously gone without in a show of marital support. So I
couldnt complain too much, anyhow.
We got in his car and drove to a nearby restaurant that made
great smoothies, and had nice outdoor seating. It normally
wasnt very crowded and we could easily avoid the
photographers that hounded us at the more typical Hollywood
hangouts.
The day was beautiful and I felt like nothing could possibly
make it better. As we held hands and crossed the street to get
inside the restaurant, I glanced over at Leo and found myself
smiling, as I often did lately.
He looked back at me and smirked. I thought you were sick
of smoothies, but youre smiling like youd rather be here than
anywhere else.
Im sick of smoothies, but Ill never be sick of spending time
with you, I told him, and we kissed one another. It was just as
magical as our first kiss, probably more so, because now I knew
that he was mine and I was his.
I knew that he truly was the good, kind, loving man that Id
always suspected him to be.
As we broke off the kiss, I happened to glance to my right.
Sitting not five feet away from us at one of the outside tables,
all alone, was my old editor from Crush. Kait was sitting and
nursing a drink, an open magazine in front of her. She looked
pale and angry, her face pinched beneath her fancy sunglasses.
She had clearly spotted us, but went back to looking at her
magazine and pretending she didnt.
Leo squeezed my hand and pulled me to the bar to place our
orders. Did you see who was sitting out there? I said under my
breath.
Leo nodded as he paid for our smoothies. I saw.
I want to give her a piece of my mind.
He laughed. Dont even bother.
But she needs to know that what she did was wrong.
Sophie, just look at her. Shes sitting at this restaurant,
drinking all by herself. She looks completely miserable. And now
she sees us here together and knows that were happy and none
of the bullshit she tried had any effect on us at all. Do you realize
how much it sucks to be her right now?
I thought about it and realized he was right. Lets get those
smoothies to go, just the same, I told him. Id rather have
them on the ride back. Just you and me. Together.
Your wish is my command, Leo replied, bowing slightly.
A few minutes later, we were walking to the car and getting
inside, and already, as he started the engine and pulled away
from the curbwed begun discussing the film script again.
Im telling you, she would never do that, I said, shaking my
head as I sipped my smoothie.
Leo started to tell me why my idea for the script was wrong
and his was still right, when it suddenly occurred to me that
wed walked right past Kait as wed left the restaurant. And Id
completely forgotten about her. Shed just slipped my mind, as if
shed never really existed.
And I realized that it was because, in a way, she hadnt.
Her brand of anger and bitterness was like smoke, dissipating
in the wind, and now we were driving with the windows down
and my hair was blowing in the warm breeze and I was truly
happy.
Nothing else existed but me and Leo and the life wed dared to
create together.
I took another sip of my drink and listened to Leo talk, loving
the sound of his voice and reminding myself to never let this
feeling slip away.

THE END

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SPIKED (A Sports Romance) by
Harper James
Chapter 1
A tlanta was full of new things.
Strange things.
Confusing things, even.
Id never, for example, seen so many clubs proudly flying
rainbow flags (which delighted me) or so many one-way streets
(which horrified me). Id never experienced traffic as bad as the
connector at rush hour, and Id definitely never had so many
dining options at two oclock in the morning (including a place
where apparently one could order both egg rolls and nachos,
delivered, which was the trifecta or strange, confusing, and
new).
But traffic aside, it was a thrilling place to be not just
Atlantabut being enrolled at Harton University. Finally,
finally, finally, I was out of my tiny town of Tifton and getting
my actual life started.
Even as I stood in the middle of Harton Universitys beautiful
campus, I was blown away by the fact that I was actually there.
Everything felt fresh and new and vibrant. I could smell the
grass and see the gorgeous buildings, and it was like a dream I
didnt want to end.
A cheery girl on the schools north campus handed me a thick
folder. Here you go Copeland, Sasha, right? She flashed a
smile at me and continued talking. This is your welcome
packet. Theres a campus map, a social calendar for upcoming
freshmen, and your housing information. Looks like youre in
Wells. Whichwait. That cant be right, the girl said, frowning
and pulling the folder back.
No, Wells is right thats the one that was on the letter
they sent to my house, I said.
But Wells is the upperclassmen suites. Youre registered as a
freshman, the girl said. You should be in Parks.
I smiled, though I could tell the expression was more than a
little tight. Im a freshman, but Im nineteen and didnt really
want to do all the freshman stuff with the eighteen year olds. So
they put me in Wells.
Oh! Ok, the girl said, looking a little baffled. Are you sure,
though? The freshman mixers are a great way to meet people.
Im not really interested in mixers. Im just trying to get my
education, I replied in my best polite, yet final, voice.
Sure, the girl said. She shrugged and surrendered the
folder. If you change your mind, talk to your RA. She can
probably get you on the freshman calendars even though you
arent in Parks.
Thanks, I said. I tucked the folder under my arm and
walked away or at least, I tried to walk away. I was more or less
stopped dead in my tracks by a row of cheerleaders who broke
into cries of Go Rams! as I started down the path. At the end of
the path, should I survive the cheerleader gauntlet, was the
schools costumed Ram mascot and a photographer.
No, thanks! I called to them, and tried to walk the other
direction.
Come on! Youre joining the herd. Youll regret not getting a
picture to commemorate it, the nearest cheerleader said. She
had a kind face with bright red lipstick and a Rams logo fake
tattoo on one cheek.
Cheerleaders and the sports they were attached to werent
really my thing but I didnt hate them either. Everyone needed
to find their tribe, after all; the cheerleaders tribe was for people
who possessed amazing hair and unheard of flexibility; mine was
with those who called the library home.
Come on, the cheerleader pleaded. One quick photo with
Ramses! Were supposed to get one with everyone who picks up
their registration. Theyre doing a big collage in the football
program, the sort where they use everyones photo to make a
giant ram? You wont want to be left out.
I really wanted to get to my suite, so I could chart my
schedule. But hey, I had come all the way to Atlanta to attend
school why not mark the occasion with a photo? Itd definitely
look a lot nicer than one of my infamous scheduling charts in a
scrapbook, someday.
Sure, I said, finally. The girl slipped her slim arm through
mine and led me down the path, cheerleaders on both sides
hooting as we went. I was deposited by the Ram mascots er,
Ramses side, and a photographer knelt down to snap a
picture.
Say, beat the hornets! the photographer shouted.
Beat the hornets! I said cheerfully. Whoever they are.
The photographer lowered the camera, looking stunned.
What? Are you serious?
I realized that the cheerleaders had gone quiet. Oh. Um. I
just dont really do the sports thing. Sorry.
The cheerleaders glanced at one another; the photographer
looked at the ground. I turned to Ramses, like his giant cartoon
eyes might offer some sort of solace; instead, the light hit the
costume eyes in such a way that I could see through them, to the
disappointed eyes of whomever was wearing the costume.
But I hopewe beat the hornets all the same? I offered.
Honey, youre gonna have to do a lot better than that here at
Harton, the photographer said, smiling pityingly, and before I
could resume a smile, snapped a picture.

***

Wells was toward the center of campus, in a fairly new building


(unlike the freshman dorm, Parks, with its lack of air
conditioning and concrete walls). I spun the keycard around my
fingers and thought yet again about how hard Id worked to get
here.
How many hours Id slaved away at Tiftons only fancy
restaurant the golf course clubhousewhere in-between tee-
times, wealthy patrons could pop in for fried chicken and mint
juleps and really get the full Southern dining experience.
Itd taken more than a year of working every available shift at
the clubhouse for me to save up enough for Harton. The
realization that I was actually, truly in college now, hit me full
force as I went up the steps, waved my keycard in front of my
suites lock. It beeped, lit up green, then whirred open. I turned
the handle and stepped into my new home.
Which smelled like hair products.
Hello? I called, stepping inside. The front door had opened
into a common area, which looked very lived-in, especially given
that today was move-in day. I frowned and called out again.
Anyone? Hello?
A stunning girl with thick auburn hair poked her head
through one of the bedroom doors and smiled. Her teeth were so
straight that she looked like she belonged in a mouthwash
commercial. Hey! Are you our new Lily? she asked.
I had no idea what she meant, but decided to play along.
I guess? I said, stepping inside and letting the door swing
shut behind me. I dropped my two shoulder bags down beside
my rolling suitcase, and my arms thanked me for the relief.
The auburn-haired girl stepped into the living area, a towel
pulled around her body. I couldnt help but blush a little I
couldnt think of a time when anyone had seen me in just a
towel. Tifton, like most small towns, was too modest for that.
Im Piper, the girl said, extending a hand, trying to hold the
towel up with the other.
Sasha, I said, smiling.
Is that the new Lily? another voice called.
Yep, Piper yelled back. The other second girl emerged from
her bedroom in a sundress with so many cutouts, it was a feat of
engineering that it held together. She introduced herself as
Kiersten, taking care to enunciate the name in a way that told me
she was tired of being called Curr-sten, Kristen, and Cry-
sten.
Look at you. Youre adorable! Kiersten said, shaking my
hand.
Thanks, I said, unsure when Id last been called adorable.
Elementary school? Whats a Lily? I added.
She was our old suite mate. She isnt coming back this year,
so they filled her room with you, Piper explained.
What happened to her? I asked.
Flunked out. She was a party girl. The party girl, actually,
Kiersten said, looking a little too delighted at her suite mates
demise. We moved into Wells right after spring semester, but
she was out before July. Not that we arent glad to meet you, but
we are a little sad that we wont get to keep using the spare room
as a closet. We were going to do it up Kardashian style, she
finished wistfully.
Oh! So youve been here all summer? I asked. That
explained why the place looked so lived-in; the pictures on the
walls, the array of empty liquor bottles decorating the top of the
fridge, the un-vacuumed floor. It was tidy enough, but definitely
didnt have that new-apartment feel or fresh-paint smell.
Trust me, New Lily. Once youre at Harton, you dont want to
go home, not even for a few months, Piper said wryly.
Everyone basically stays over the summer. Everyone worth
knowing anyway. Come on, Ill show you your room.
Piper and Kiersten lead me to the back corner room. It was
furnished with all the stock Harton stuff a twin bed, a dresser,
a desk and a nightstand, all of which were covered in lint and
makeup dust.
Is the rest of your stuff in your car? We can get some of the
guys to help carry it up, Piper said. She was still wearing a
towel, but was doing so with such confidence that if shed told
me it was a new style of dress, Id have believed it.
Uh, no. This is all my stuff, I said, motioning to the suitcase
and my shoulder bag. And I dont have a car.
Piper and Kiersten looked at each other, wide eyes. Thats it?
Thats literally all you brought? Piper asked.
I tried to laugh their surprise off. I mean, I have more stuff
at home. But I had to take a bus up here, so its not like I could
bring everything.
You took a bus? Kiersten asked.
Yeah. I dont have a car.
You dont have a car? Piper asked.
I did my best not to show my annoyance with this line of
questioning.
Nope. No car. And even if I had one, I could never have paid
for a parking pass on campus, I thought.
Everyone in Atlanta has a car, Piper said. Youre going to
have to hitch rides if you want to go anywhere off campus.
I guessIll just try to stick to the campus, I said,
shrugging.
Oh, honey. Where are you from, again? Piper asked
sweetly.
Tifton. Its near Boone.
And where is Boone?
Sort of near Valdosta.
Oh, Piper said, finally recognizing a city. Well, Sasha,
youre in Atlanta now, and more importantly, youre at Harton.
Stick with us, okay? Were basically experts at this place. Plus,
guys are going to be all about this homegrown look, she paused
to motion at my body, and we can tell you which ones are worth
the trouble.
I laughed a little. That sounds great. Thanks.
So, Kiersten said, what are your lottery dates?
Idontknow what youre talking about, I said, sitting on
the edge of the bed.
The football lottery tickets? Oh my god, you havent
registered yet? Kiersten said, looking horrified. Thats okay,
itll be okay, dont worry. Youre a sophomore, so youll be third
tier for dibs. Its not great, but its better than being a freshman.
They get shit tickets, and thats why they always end up selling
them its more fun to just tailgate than watch from the
nosebleeds. Whered you transfer from, anyway?
I didnt transfer, actually, I said. Im a freshman. I just
took a year off after high school.
Oh! So you took like a gap year! Like the British take, Piper
said.
Sure. Exactly, I said. Technically, a gap year was more for
fun and travel and relaxing, not smiling at smug corporate types
who slapped my ass as I walked away from tables. But I had to
admit, imagining that time as a gap year sounded a lot more
pleasant, so Id take it.
Right. Ok. Well, were going to get you registered for the
ticket lottery, New Lily, Piper said, shaking her head. And
youre going out with us tonight.
Tonight? I sort of have plans. But thats really nice of you, I
said.
Cancel them. What are they? Kiersten asked.
I was going to do a walk through of all my classes? I dont
know where the buildings are. Other than on the map, I said.
Kiersten looked beyond horrified now. Jesus Christ, no. No,
no, no. Youre our suite mate, so what you do reflects on us.
Youre coming to Football House, Kiersten said, shaking her
head.
I chewed my lip.
Kiersten sighed dramatically. Ok, fine. Football House is
near the Arts and Sciences building. Well take you by it on the
way, as long as you promise not to tell anyone aboutuh
anything. Let us do the talking, okay? Trust me, New Lily, youve
totally lucked out getting in our suite. Were going to show you
how to Harton like a pro.
Chapter 2
I had never thought of myself as a small town girl, even though
in a sort of academic sense, I knew thats what I was. But
everyone from Tifton was a small town boy or girl most people
in my graduating class were working at the canning factory, or
on a farm, or maybe, if they were really fancy, the Wal-Mart.
Those that went to college didnt look back, save the cursory
visit at Christmas, which had made my gap year all the more
humiliating. I was the valedictorian, after all yet without a
detailed explanation, when people saw me waitressing at the
clubhouse theyd always assumed I was just another small town,
go-nowhere type of girl, soon to be barefoot and pregnant.
But still there was a difference between a girl from a small
town and a small town girl, and I wanted to make sure
everyone at Harton understood I was the former. Thats why I
agreed to this football house party thing.
Academics are the priority, I reminded myself (as if I needed
reminding). But hey, hadnt I read somewhere that people with
strong social connections and community ties were more likely
to succeed? As long as I kept my eye on the prize the degree
what could a little revelry hurt?
Whys it called the football house? I asked as we cut
through the campus. True to their word, theyd taken me by the
Arts and Sciences building, pointed out the library, and even
shown me a picnic area where people who like to study hang
out when the weather is nice.
Not the football house. Just Football House, Piper
explained, looking over her shoulder at me. Theyd dressed me
in one of Pipers dresses, a number so small I didnt know if I
should pull it down or tug it up, and Kierstens shoes, which
were the highest heels Id ever walked in. I had insisted on doing
my own makeup I actually liked makeup, I just didnt like
quite as much of it as Piper and Kiersten did.
Ok. Why is it called Football House? I corrected.
Its where the football players hang out, Kiersten said.
They cant live there, since thats considered a gift, so its sort
of aclub? I guess? Youll see. One of the alumni bought it. Its
amazing.
Really? Some guy just gave a really nice house to the football
players? I asked.
Told you: Football is a way of life here. You know, its sort of
a big deal that youre even getting to come. Freshmen usually
arent invited. But youre with us, and youre New Lily, so youve
got an in, Piper said, nudging Sasha. Piper then jutted her chin
forward. Thats it up ahead.
My eyes widened.
Id been expecting something really nice, but not something
that belonged in a magazine. It was an enormous house, framed
by tall buildings on either side clearly a relic from when this
part of Atlanta was more neighborhood than city. It sat high
behind a brick wall, which gave it the appearance of a castle, and
there were wraparound decks on each level. There didnt appear
to be any sort of driveway or garage a fact which made me
certain it had to have been built sometime around the 1920s
but there were tall wooden doors in the brick wall, which were
nearly obscured by the white jasmine climbing alongside and
over the entryway. The entire place glowed gold and white and
thumped with music, but it didnt have the drunken, dirty sort of
feel that I had to admit Id been expecting. A sign out front,
surrounded by ornate landscaping, labeled it the McMillan
Alumni Hall.
We walked across the street and up to the gates. This close,
the jasmine smelled heady and thick, and the bass from the
music boomed deep in my chest. Piper knocked on the door a few
times; finally, someone swung it open.
Hey, Tyler, Piper said sweetly.
The big, six foot something guy gave her a friendly nod. Hey
Piper, he said, grinning. His eyes fell on me, and he looked
uneasy. Whos the new girl?
The New Lily. Shes with us, Kiersten said.
Umlet me check with the captains, Tyler said, glancing
over his shoulder.
Come on. Its one girl. And shes adorable, isnt she? Plus
shes new to Atlanta so she doesnt know anything. Its hella
charming, Piper said, stepping forward to twine her fingers
around Tylers.
Tyler pressed his lips together, then glanced up the wide
stone staircase behind him, which lead to the expansive front
porch. Okay. Yeah, itll be fine. New Lily, lay low, okay?
Sasha, I corrected. My names Sasha.
Sure, Tyler said, still looking more than a little wary. The
three of them brushed in.
Is he going to get in trouble? I whispered to Kiersten as we
started up the steps.
Maybe. But thats sort of what hes for. Theres a pecking
order with the football team captains, then seniors, then first
string, then everyone else. Tylers an everyone else. Dont sleep
with him, by the way, or anyone else on his level. Theyre cute,
but once youve been with them, youre practically damaged
goods so far as the upperclassmen on the team are concerned.
Im not really planning on sleeping with any of them, but Ill
keep that in mind, I said, trying to not be offended by the
phrase damaged goods and failing. And people think Tifton is
backward.
Kiersten rolled her eyes. Whatever. More of the good ones
for me, then.
Yousleep with them? I asked. We were nearly to the top
of the stairs now, and the front porch was coming into view.
There were elegant lawn chairs set up across it, most of which
were occupied by boys in dress shirts and girls in outfits similar
to mine and my suite mates. There was a level of class to the
whole thing, a sort of old school, swanky feel.
Kiersten shrugged. Sometimes.
Piper snorted. Often, she corrected, and then she and
Kiersten both laughed. I laughed as well, trying my best to hide a
fact that I was certain would horrify both of my suite mates: That
I had never had sex. Not sometimes, not often.
Never.
It wasnt a religious thing, or even a guilt thing. Id just never
met anyone in Tifton that I wanted to have sex with. Sure, I got
turned on by the thought of someones hands on me, someones
body against mine, someone in me, but then Id inevitably see
my crush swilling Bud Light and belching and suddenly, the idea
of letting a Tifton boy near my was horrifying.
Id never even really had a serious boyfriend what was the
point? Id known ever since fifth grade that I was going to college
and getting out of Tifton better to not have ties. I had the same
plan here, at Harton, since despite what my aunts and
grandmother said through giggles, I had no desire to use college
to get my MRS degree.
We were finally at the top of the staircase, Football Houses
first level splayed out before us. There were massive windows
that were thrown open, as were the doors. Inside were hardwood
floors covered in fancy rugs, though aside from that, the house
had clearly been modernized. There were Leather sofas, an
enormous television, a series of video game systems, a long table
covered in snacks, and an honest-to-God open bar.
A bartender wearing a vest was mixing drinks, though I saw
three kegs on the porch as well. Younger-looking boys the
freshmen, I reasoned were darting to and from the older guys,
bringing them drinks, snacks, their phoneswhatever they
wanted.
Pecking order indeed, I thought.
It wasnt until we were walking toward a few of the older guys
that I realized two things: One, that girls seemed to more or less
be exempt from the pecking order, laughing and being waited on
every bit as intently as the older players, and two, that college
football players were all huge.
Which, of course they were. Football was a contact sport. They
had to smash into each other or whatever. And the football
players at my high school had been sort of big. But nothing like
these guys. The seniors, in particular, were enormous. Tall,
broad shouldered, muscular beyond reason. Their jaws were
chiseled and their arms protested against their sleeves.
Ladies, a young player said, sweeping toward us with three
matching cocktails in his hands. He passed them out. Whos
your friend? he asked Piper, nodding toward me as if I was a
mute.
This is Sasha. Shes the New Lily, Piper explained.
Got it. Someone was asking, the young guy said, then
skirted off before saying whom.
Someone was asking? I said, looking at the drink warily.
Newcomers to Football House are noteworthy. I told you,
Sasha, this is a big deal, Piper informed me, looking pleased
that I was attracting attention.
Piper took a careful sip of her drink, while Kiersten gulped
hers and then tossed the cup to the nearest football freshmen.
I hesitated.
Oh god, dont tell me you dont drink, Piper said, looking
horrified.
No, uh, I justyou know. I didnt see who made this, and
Ive heard more than a few horror stories, I said.
Piper gasped a little and looked embarrassed. Oh, honey, no.
Not here. I mean, yeah good thinking. But like I said, Football
House is a big deal. That sort of shit just doesnt happen here.
Promise? I said, glancing down at the drink again. The last
thing I wanted was to become a statistic my first day of college.
Youll be fine, Kiersten said seriously. But hell, here
She snatched the drink from my hand and downed it, then
tossed it toward one of the freshmen. The boy caught it soundly,
then continued on his path. Kiersten looked back to me and
grinned. Go have the bartender make you another.
Thanks, I said, flushing a little, and made my way to the
bar. Kiersten and Piper watched me go, then turned their backs
on me when one of the older football players a tall, Latino-
looking guy with dark eyes and cheekbones carved by angels
approached them.
What can I get you? the guy behind the bar asked as I slid
up to it. There were no seats just the tall bar table but I still
found myself clinging to its edge like a life raft.
Something easy to drink? I asked.
The bartender smiled he was wearing eyeliner that was so
on point, I wanted to ask him for tips on doing my own. How
about this? he asked, and opened a cheap beer.
Yes, please, I said, taking it from him. Will I be the only
one not drinking something fancy?
Nah everyone dissolves to PBRs by the end of the night,
the bartender said. He rested his elbows on the bar and leaned
across. So. Youre new.
Yes. I came with Piper and Kiersten, I said, turning to
motion toward them. Oh! I said, feeling my face flush.
Piper was steadily making out with the Latino guy, reaching
up to wrap her arms around his neck. He reached down and lifted
her from the ground like she weighed nothing at all which, given
the size of his muscles, she probably didnt so far as he was
concerned.
Piper, Piper, Piper, the bartender said, shaking his head a
little. He sounded unimpressed. Thats Stewart Adams. Hes a
rising junior, future star quarterback. Just ask him.
Oh, I said, unsure what else I could say. So hes a jerk?
The bartender shrugged and tidied the neat bowtie at his
throat. Hes fine. Shes just using him. Trying to get to the real
prize, he said, and grinned.
Whos that? I asked.
The bartender side-eyed me. You are new. Well, honey, first
off: Welcome to Harton. Second off, allow me to be the first to
point out the hero of Harton, the king of this particular castle.
Hes the fire in the loins of every girl and at least one of the boys
in this room, he said, raising his own hand. And the kings
name is Jacob Everett. As the bartender said the name, his voice
got low and sultry, as if even uttering it was somehow decadent.
The bartender motioned over to his left and into a room just
over his shoulder. There was a fireplace with a brick mantle, and
around it were dozens and dozens of posters, photos, and
newspaper cutouts celebrating the Harton Rams football
achievements. A beaten but cozy looking leather couch was
positioned along one wall, and was occupied by a variety of girls
(who looked like off-brand versions of Piper and Kiersten).
Other football players all clearly the upperclassmen were
lingering near the couch arms or standing in the open doorways,
laughing at jokes I couldnt hear and more or less blocking my
view of the center of the couch.
Which one is he? I whispered to the bartender.
Youll know. Wait till they move, the bartender said a little
hungrily. A few breaths later, one of the largest of the players
finally shifted and stepped to the side and yes, the bartender was
right I knew immediately who Jacob Everett was. Sitting in the
center of the couch as if it were a throne, he forced me to take
him in piece by piece.
I noticed first that he was tall or at least, I figured he was
tall, because it looked like he could barely sit comfortably on the
couch, his knees were bent so high. His t-shirt hugged the
muscles of his shoulders and neck, soft material against hard,
toned skin. He had full, dark hair that looked flawlessly tousled,
and angled eyebrows that turned up the volume on each and
every expression.
Then I noticed his eyes gray-blue and deep-set, gems in
the center of his carved face. They were eyes that made my
stomach twist, that made something between my legs clench
and my tongue press to my teeth.
And they were on me.
I jumped, realizing this Id been so busy watching him that
I hadnt noticed he was watching me until Id probably been
staring for a ridi