Authors: Cynthia Dane
Tags: #Billionaire Romance
“I would never. Being a sub is more a state of mind than an action. Being sexually subservient to me means being available at my whim. I’m sure you have your likes and dislikes. All women do. As we get to know each other that will become a part of our arrangement as well. Contrary to what you may be thinking, I do want my partner to be happy as well. This is only awkward because we’ve only recently met.”
“You think? Like I said, I barely know you from Adam. For all I know you’re waiting to lure me in and start smacking me around and calling it BDSM.”
Ethan had yet to stop smiling. Jasmine didn’t know if that was his default business face to keep her placated, or if he was truly that amused. “The more you talk, the more I like you. Believe it or not, I like a woman who challenges me.”
“Because no one else does?”
Their food arrived. Jasmine stared at her plate, and even though she was starving a couple hours earlier, she could barely look at the food now. Not with Ethan Cole cutting up his food and eating as if his overbearing mother were watching his every move.
Jasmine pushed her food around her plate and tried to not think of sex with this man. Not because he wasn’t attractive –
I’d bang him under normal circumstances, but this is hardly normal –
but because Jasmine had some propriety.
Not much, but…
“You’re a beautiful woman, Miss Bliss.” Ethan put his utensils down, although his elbows remained on the table. “You also have quite the personality. I like it.”
“Beautiful, huh?” Jasmine didn’t hear that often enough. At best she thought herself plain. Average. She could do worse, but she could also look way better. There was nothing special about a grown woman with dark hair and a basic wardrobe. “I thought guys like you were more into blondes.”
“I don’t care so much about that. Beauty is more than your general appearance. It’s also how you carry yourself. Speak. Interact with the world around you. When you’re in my position, you learn that how someone carries themselves is more important than how they look.”
“I’m serious.” Ethan pointed to Jasmine’s plate. “Don’t like it?”
“I’d rather talk business.”
“Oh, business. Forgive me, but I think at this point if we’re still talking in circles that we should move on.”
Jasmine put her fork down. “What do you mean?”
The way Ethan looked at her told her she knew exactly what he meant.
How Jasmine ended up back in the limo, heading toward Ethan’s penthouse in the middle of downtown, remained a mystery even to herself.
He told her this wasn’t his permanent residence. He had a mansion up in the hills for that. Instead this was his crash pad for when it was too late to go home and he had to be up early for work. “That happens a lot,” Ethan said, as he led Jasmine into a private elevator. “My last assistant lived here since it was more convenient for her. After I get to know you a bit better, you could live here too through your contract.”
Live in a penthouse? Two million dollars?
He needed to stop giving her reasons to go along with this. “Depends. Are cats allowed?”
“I… have no idea. I’m sure I could arrange it. You have a cat?”
“Yes. Norwegian Forest Cat.” Jasmine grinned. “His name’s Blackbeard. He’s a tuxedo cat. Cutest little…” Ethan looked at her as if she were a crazy cat lady. “Sorry.”
“Why? For liking cats? There are worse animals in this world.”
“Do you have a cat?”
“Not for a long time now.” The elevator came to a stop. Ethan hooked his arm around hers again and escorted her down a plush hallway full of soft, red carpets and expensive wood paneling screaming how rich he had to be to live here.
For a penthouse, it seemed very small. Jasmine didn’t know what she expected, but this was not it. Oh, it was fancy enough. She could see a modern, gourmet kitchen full of new cabinets, marble counters, and every appliance any man could want in his home. A crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling and illuminated a modest living room full of leather furniture and a large flat screen TV. The artwork was exquisite, but impersonal. Everything looked as if it came with a penthouse, and Ethan Cole had done nothing to make it more to his standards. Then again, if he only used this place every once in a while, Jasmine supposed that it didn’t make sense to call in a personal decorator if that’s not what he was into in his spare time. Still, it was lovely, but as if it came right out of a catalog.
“Please, have a seat.” Ethan went into the kitchen and grabbed two glasses out of the cabinet while Jasmine made herself at home on one of the leather couches. “I’m sorry that this place isn’t much, but it gets the job done when I need it to.”
He brought out a glass of champagne and sat on another couch next to Jasmine’s. She accepted a glass even though she didn’t care much for the stuff and didn’t want to drink more alcohol after the wine at dinner.
It would be rude not to take it.
So she sipped it, commented on how nice it tasted, and set it down on a clear glass coffee table. With nothing else to do, Jasmine smoothed out her red skirt and made sure that her legs were held tightly together. She realized that she did not look comfortable in this place, but that was to her benefit. She didn’t want to come out and tell Ethan that she was still having some second thoughts, and she hoped that he could read body language well enough to realize that she was feeling this way.
If he’s such a great tycoon, he should damn well know body language.
“So, what should we talk about?” Ethan, on the other hand, was very much relaxed in his own penthouse. He leaned back in the sofa, making it squeak beneath his movements. His sharp Italian suit wrinkled a little bit, but the leather of the couch wrinkled more. Half of his champagne was gone by the time he put his glass down on an end table. “I’m sure you know a lot more about me than I know about you. Tell me about yourself.”
“I’m not sure what there is to say.” Jasmine was aware that he was staring at her, both in curiosity and possibly arousal. No, there was nothing about his body that insinuated that he was about to jump her bones at any moment. But Jasmine knew why she was here. “You also already know everything there is to know about me. I’m nobody special.”
Ethan frowned. It was not a good look on him. “I remember seeing on your résumé that you majored in history. What was your focus of study? While I would not consider myself a scholar of such matters, I can’t lie, I enjoy watching the History Channel now and again.”
Oh, good, so he knows all about the alien invasions of the past few millennia.
“American history, if you must know. You’ll be especially amused to know that I wrote one of my term papers about the barons of the turn-of-the-century.”
“Really? Would it in turn amuse you to know that one topic that comes up in many of my meetings is who our favorite barons are? Everyone chooses Ford or Rockefeller. They think it makes them sound altruistic. But I think they were all scum.” He said it so assuredly and clearly did not want Jasmine to challenge him.
He asked her a few more questions, all of them ranging from her favorite color to one of her fondest memories. The answers she gave were short, sweet, and simple. As these conversations went on, however, she began to shake, and within time her red skirt became bunched up in the sweaty palms of her hands. Every so often Ethan would look at this, and not say anything other than to ask her another question about her and her life.
Finally, he set aside his empty champagne glass and asked her point blank, “Are you nervous around me, Miss Bliss?”
Jasmine did not know how to respond. She did not want to lie and say that she wasn’t nervous, but she also did not want to appear weak. So she didn’t say anything at all.
“I won’t ask why you’re nervous. I won’t pretend I don’t know why. But I want you to know I don’t expect anything out of you that you wouldn’t be willing to give yourself. You’re welcome to leave this place whenever it feels right to you.”
Jasmine didn’t want to give this man cookies for saying exactly what he should have.
I can’t deny that it makes me feel better.
Still, it would not sate her nerves. “Thank you.” An odd thing to say, but she wanted him to know that she appreciated him being a decent man in this moment.
Ethan stood up, shook out his sleeves, and turned in the other direction. “I need to make a quick call. While I’m gone, feel free to do whatever you want. I won’t be offended if you leave.” He pulled out his cell phone and went into another room, quietly closing the door behind him.
So here Jasmine was, trying to decide what she was going to do in this situation. When she decided to go on this date with Ethan, she had no idea how it was going to turn out. She was ready to walk out whenever she wanted. After all, it didn’t matter how much money he threw at her, if he seemed like a sleazebag she was going to leave. Jasmine had long reconciled that she definitely had a price, but wasn’t going to put up her mental or physical health against that wall.
Do I want him? Do I like him?
Those thoughts swam in her head for the better length of a minute. No matter how many times she played out the situation in her mind, nothing could have prepared her for the actual reality. She was in Ethan Cole’s penthouse, and there was only one real reason he had invited her there.
Jasmine got off the couch and tried to distract herself with what was on the walls. They were simple scenery paintings, depicting a normal rural and rustic life from an age long gone by. There were also paintings of flowers, and at first Jasmine thought them strange to be hanging in a businessman’s home. Perhaps they were hung up there by his last “girlfriend,” and he never bothered to take them down again. They were colorful, vibrant, and perhaps even radiant when not viewed by a woman who was about to lose her mind.
Said mind was definitely lost when a pair of arms attempted to wrap around her. Jasmine jumped and squawked in fright, her elbows pushing against the man behind her.
If Ethan was offended, he did not let it show. Perhaps he knew that this would be the reaction he got. But before Jasmine could accuse him of something nefarious, she saw a string of gold hanging from his right hand. “I’m sorry for startling you.” Ethan held up the gold chain. But it wasn’t just a gold chain: dangling from the center, pulled by gravity, was a teardrop red ruby. Jasmine gasped for many reasons, but mostly because she knew that was meant for her. “I wanted to give you something, yet I didn’t think this through. Please, turn around.”
Jasmine did as he asked, turning to that floral painting and pulling her hair off to the side.
What am I doing? Accepting such a thing from a stranger?
On a first date! What kind of woman was Jasmine setting herself up to be if this was how she now conducted her business relationships? There was no time to ponder this, for Ethan reached around her once more and placed the teardrop ruby on her chest. It settled there nicely, firmly clasping behind her neck.
Ethan stepped away from her. Jasmine gazed at her minimal reflection in the painting, amazed that such a small trinket could make her feel so dirty inside.
“I can’t accept this.” Jasmine touched the ruby anyway so she could say she knew what one felt like. “I can’t.”
“Why not? It looks beautiful on you. I saw it back there and knew you had to have it, because it matched the color of your dress.”
See, this is why I can’t accept this. This is a man who goes into his bedroom, sees something as precious as this, and gives it to the woman he’s on a first date with.
Suffice to say, Jasmine had never received a trinket like this before. “This didn’t belong to your ex, did it?”
“I don’t know where it came from. Perhaps I bought it for someone else and then never gave it to them. I’m sorry if it offends you. If you really don’t want it, I’ll take it back.”
Jasmine didn’t say anything once again. She kept finding herself powerless in front of this man. Perhaps she was afraid of offending him. But deep inside, she knew. She couldn’t put it into words, but she knew it wouldn’t mean anything good for her reputation.
Two hands became acquainted with her two shoulders. Jasmine froze, but she did not protest. Soon she felt his breath on her neck. Feeling him so close only made her weaker.
Never had Jasmine considered herself a prude. Although she always had a relaxed attitude toward sex, she never indulged in it as much as she wanted. She blamed her hippie parents. The sort of people who change their last name to Bliss.
I don’t feel so blissful right now.
God knew she wanted to.
It seems so wrong.
This man wanted to give her money to be in a relationship with him. A ridiculous amount of money. Jasmine only had to say the word and she would soon be stinking rich like him. But at what true cost? Besides, tonight they were only getting to know one another. There was no money — other than the stupid ruby necklace – and as far as the universe knew, Jasmine was merely on a first date with a handsome stranger.
Yet she admitted that it went against everything she ever knew about herself. Her morals. But the closer his breath got to her skin, and the tighter his arms wrapped around her waist, Jasmine was starting to see his side of things. Things like sex.