Authors: Kerry Connor
“I suppose,” she said. It wasn’t something she
wanted to think about. It just made her think about the book, which
made her think of impending failure, which made her think of
bankruptcy and homelessness…
That train of thought was abruptly derailed when he placed a plate
and a bowl on the table in front of her.
She stared down at the food he offered, almost in disbelief. A tiny
glazed chicken breast filet and mixed vegetables were laid out on the
plate like something out of a hundred-dollar-a-plate restaurant. The
bowl contained a huge Caesar’s salad so perfect looking it
could have been showcased in a gourmet magazine.
“Wow,” was all she could manage to say. “Do you
have a chef hiding back there?”
He lowered himself into the seat next to her. “You’re
looking at him.”
“I’m impressed, but I’m telling you, you really
don’t have to go to all this trouble—”
“You know what they say. The key to a woman’s heart is…”
She arched a brow. “Through her stomach?”
He shook his head. “Through absolute servitude.”
She laughed in spite of herself. “I haven’t heard that
one before. Is that what you’re after, Charlie? My heart?”
He gave her an enigmatic smile. “For now, I’ll settle for
a dedication in your book.”
She grimaced. “Don’t hold your breath. At the rate I’m
going, there won’t be a book to dedicate to anyone.”
“I’m sorry. I seem to keep finding the wrong thing to say
She waved off his apology. “That’s okay. You had no way
“Do you want to talk about it? Listening is among my job
“A man of many talents.”
“You have no idea.”
“Nor do I wish to,” she sighed. “Thanks for the
offer, but the book is the last thing I want to talk about. Or think
about. All I’ve done for six months is think about it. It would
be nice to get away from the damn thing for a while.”
“Then I’ll let you focus on eating.” He nodded
toward her plate. “Go ahead.”
“Aren’t you going to have any?”
“I did. Hours ago.” His mouth quirked. “What’s
the matter? Want me to try it first to prove it’s safe?”
“No, of course not,” she laughed, not sure why she was
being so silly. She carefully cut a bite of chicken and lifted it to
The instant the morsel touched her tongue, she let out a moan that
nearly rattled the windows.
“Oh, my God. You should be a chef.”
“I cook for pleasure. Doing it for a living would take the joy
out of it.”
She couldn’t help smirking. “That’s interesting,
considering what you currently do to make a living.”
He returned the smirk. “Some things can never lose their
She shook her head. “I shouldn’t have gone there. Let’s
talk about you.”
“That’s not part of the deal.”
“I think I’ve made it clear I’m not interested in
“Your mouth says one thing. Your eyes say something else.”
“That’s the kind of thinking that’ll get you into a
lot of trouble.”
“I’ve never had to force myself on a woman. I don’t
intend to start now.”
“Yes, I’m sure Felicity melted like butter under the
force of your charms.”
“So you admit I have charms? It’s a start.”
She wasn’t touching that one. “How’d you get hooked
up with Felicity anyway?”
He shrugged. “I heard she had an opening.”
She froze, fork lifted halfway to her mouth, and stared at him,
unsure how to take what he’d just said. Every word that came
out of his mouth dripped with innuendo, so it was hard to tell.
He caught her expression and threw his head back and laughed. “I
suppose that didn’t come out right. I heard she had a position
available—” He smiled.
Now he was doing it on purpose. “Many of them, I’m sure.”
Charlie shook his head at her. “I guess it’s true what
they say. The biggest prudes have the dirtiest minds.”
“I’m not a prude!”
“Then why do you object to the idea of your aunt and I having a
relationship so much?”
“Maybe I just don’t approve of people taking advantage of
“Who’s to say your godmother isn’t taking advantage
of poor little me?”
Jess snorted. “Poor little you, my ass. I doubt anyone could
take advantage of you without your permission.”
“Which you have, by the way. If you ever decide to stop being a
“Stop calling me that!”
His expression was openly condescending. “Let’s face it,
Jess. You do seem have a few hang-ups about sex.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Really? Then why aren’t you taking advantage of what we
both know you want?”
“And what is it you think I want?”
She raised her eyes skyward. “If I wanted to get off, I could
take care of that myself. What do I need you for?”
“You need a man if you want it done right.”
“I think my little vibrating buddy would beg to differ.”
“If you can’t tell the difference between a man and a
vibrator, you really haven’t met the right man.”
“Oh, I know the difference. A vibrator always gets the job
done, with none of the male arrogance involved.”
“That certainly sounds efficient,” he noted dryly. “And
if all you’re looking for is instant gratification, I guess
that will suffice. But there’s so much more to the sexual
experience that a mechanical device can’t replicate. Everything
that makes it a richer, more satisfying experience requires a man who
knows what he’s doing.”
“And if I want something done right, I should go to a
“Makes sense to me.”
“Of course it does.”
“Tell me something, Jess. Have you ever been loved?”
She couldn’t help but smirk at his terminology. “I’m
not a virgin, Charlie, and I haven’t been for a very long
“Trying to tell me you’ve been around the block?”
“There aren’t many blocks in the jungle, but yes, I have
had sex before. I’m certainly not afraid of it, no matter what
“I’m not talking about sex. I mean more than that. Have
you ever had a man worship your body? Have you ever been completely
and utterly satisfied by a sexual encounter? Have you ever been so
consumed in another person that you forget everything in the world
except what he’s doing to your body at that very moment? Have
you ever had someone touch you in a way that made you feel like the
most cherished woman in the world? Have you come so hard and so
thoroughly that you can’t form a conscious thought for the
longest time after it’s over? Better yet, has it ever been so
good that even when it’s over, it doesn’t feel like it is
because the sheer joy and pleasure of the experience carries through
for hours afterward? That’s what I mean, Jess. Have you ever
been loved like that?”
She could only stare at him across the flickering candlelight. He’d
spoken in a soft, steady cadence, the words rolling off his tongue,
each one hitting like a dart in a bullseye. She slowly became aware
that her mouth had gone dry, and that she was sitting there, her fork
lifted halfway in the air, held immobile. His unblinking gaze never
wavered from hers, waiting for an answer, waiting for her to blink
first, daring her to tell him she’d had everything he’d
named, if not more.
She did blink first, lowering her gaze and setting her fork on her
plate. He was exaggerating, of course. Sex was sex. It certainly
wasn’t everything he’d named. At least it hadn’t
been in her experience.
Jess took a long, slow drink from her wineglass, desperately needing
the liquid to moisten her parched throat. She purposefully regained
his gaze over the rim and held it as she lowered the glass.
“Is that what you’re offering, Charlie? All that?”
There was no hesitation, no waver in his voice. She knew it was sheer
male bravado—it had to be—but a shiver slid down her
spine at the purpose she heard there all the same.
“Aren’t you afraid of overselling yourself, promising
something you can’t deliver?”
“I mean every word.”
The way he said it almost made her believe he did.
This time it was he who broke the eye contact, rising from his seat
so abruptly it caught her by surprise. Which was probably exactly
what he’d intended.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “At the rate I’m
going, you’re not going to be able to finish a meal today. Why
don’t I let you enjoy your dinner?”
He’d managed to knock her equilibrium so thoroughly off-kilter,
all she could do was nod. “That would be nice.”
“Then I’ll leave you to it. Don’t worry about the
dishes. I’ll take care of them later.”
Jess watched as he began to stride from the room. He surprised her
again though when he stopped and turned back at the door.
“If you really want to clear your head, you should take some
time in the pool. I find it always works for me. Maybe I’ll see
The words were perfectly innocuous. She wasn’t fooled. He was
daring her to remember his antics that morning. The sight of him
gliding nude in the water. He knew she’d watched him. Of course
he did. That was the entire point of his little show.
“I don’t think so,” she said stiffly. “I
might turn in early.”
“Whatever you want.” His tone said he didn’t
believe her. Not that he gave her a chance to argue the point. He
slid out the doorway and disappeared into the darkened hall.
For a moment, she stared at the food on her plate, no longer able to
identify it. She took a few bites, but it wasn’t the same. She
ate by rote, no longer tasting the rich flavors. All she could think
about was other things. Things Charlie had put in her head.
God, but he was good at what he did. He’d played her like a
violin, pulling her strings with expert precision. And like a fool,
she’d allowed herself to get sucked into his mind games.
Let him, she decided with determination. Let him play his games. She
was made of stronger stuff. She wasn’t going to get sucked in.
One thing was for certain. She wasn’t going to the pool.
He gave her two hours. The first to think about coming down to the
pool, the second to refuse to out of sheer stubbornness.
Jess stepped onto the patio one hour and fifty-three minutes later.
He felt her seek him out, her gaze sweeping across the pool area
until she spotted him, slung into one of the deckchairs along the
water’s edge. He sensed the moment she saw him, because she
looked away just as quickly. Strange how attuned he was to her
He didn’t look up from the magazine he’d been thumbing
through, some idiotic celebrity gossip rag full of big, glossy
pictures and short, punchy paragraphs. It wouldn’t have been
his reading material of choice, but it fit his character. She was
supposed to think that he was nothing more than a shallow,
sex-obsessed, dimwitted gigolo. Just a stupid guy, the kind she
wouldn’t worry about sharing her secrets with. From the limited
time he’d spent with the real Charlie, he suspected the truth
wasn’t far off.
Out of the edges of his vision, he watched her skirt the other side
of the pool, treading as far from him as she could get. He couldn’t
resist glancing up, keeping his head bowed at he surveyed her. She
was wearing a modest one-piece bathing suit. He suppressed a smile.
He wouldn’t have expected anything else from her. His Jess
wasn’t the bikini type, even if he hadn’t been here.
Simple, practical, unconsciously sexy. That was Jess.
Short of wearing some antiquated bathing suit from the 1920s, she
couldn’t have been more covered up. As he watched her, though,
she couldn’t have been more exposed. The suit clung to every
sweet curve. It rode high on her hips, exposing the full, long length
of her legs. Her breasts swelled gently against the top. He’d
been with women who were more generously endowed, whose forms were
model-perfect, but damn if she wasn’t a perfect package. Lithe.
Lightly muscled. Perfectly proportioned.
She shot him a few quick looks as she walked. Did she feel him
watching her? If she did, she gave no sign. She didn’t preen or
make an attempt to cover up. She carried a folded beach towel in one
hand, and as she reached the chair on the far side of the pool, she
bent slightly to set the towel down. The action gave him a prime view
of her ass, the flexing muscles of her back and thighs as she moved.
It was like she was returning the favor from that morning. There were
only a few soft lights flickering around the edges of the pool. A big
full moon hung low in the sky. The moonlight trickled through the
branches of the surrounding trees, painting the water a luminous
For just a moment, it was though her bathing suit was transparent and
he could see all of her. Her breasts high and full. The soft
roundness of her buttocks. It was just a trick of the light, but he
felt himself begin to harden. He shifted the magazine to cover
himself and lowered his eyes. He was wearing the skimpiest of bathing
suits—hardly his personal preference—and it was
concealing far less than her suit. One look and she’d know
exactly what he’d been doing.
When he ventured another glance, she was about to dip a tentative toe
into the water. Time to make his move.
Jess jerked her head up, her eyes wide with surprise. She lurched
off-balance. Exactly as he wanted her.
He waited until she steadied herself before offering a mild, “Sorry.”
But he wasn’t.
Her expression said she knew that. “Thanks for the tip.”
She hovered uncertainly at the edge of the pool, like a doe who’d
sensed danger and was on the verge of bolting. Little did she know
how right she was. Or maybe she did.
“Are you going to get in?”