Authors: Kristen Strassel
***This is an Advanced Reader Copy. By accepting a copy, you agree to not share this with anyone. Uncorrected proofs are subject to change. If you have any questions, please contact me at
. Thanks for reading! Enjoy!***
Wrapped Around My Finger
Jagger’s broken all his rules to be with Leah. There’s no way he can keep working as a male escort now that he’s fallen in love. And if he wants to keep her, he needs to stop making excuses and prove he’s more than just amazing in bed.
Everyone warns Leah that it will never work with Jagger. A guy like him isn’t cut out for a real relationship. She’s spent her life taking care of everybody else, and now it’s her turn to get what she wants.
Leah knows that Jagger’s raw artistic talent is exactly what her new restoration show needs to be a success. But when a scandal threatens to ruin everything she’s worked so hard for, Jagger wonders if he’s made a mistake thinking he can be anything but an escort.
Money can buy love, but no one can have it all.
I’d never seen snow before Leah came into my life. The first time I visited her, pretty flakes sprinkled from the sky, changing everything they came in contact with. Snow reminded me of Leah; a gentle force of nature. But this storm showed me I had a lot to learn. This snow was mean.
I dragged Leah out for a walk before the plows came. I needed to take pictures and clear my head before going back to Miami. It was the only way I’d be able to figure what actually happened this weekend. Everything was clearer through the camera lens. I’d been on some fucked up jobs before, but I’d never had a client so hell-bent on destroying someone else’s life. The plan backfired, and instead I spent Christmas with the one person who made the holiday worth celebrating. Even better, I got snowed in with her.
I had no idea how hard it was to walk through two feet of snow, how fucking cold it was, or how something so beautiful could bring so much misery. But the most shocking part was the silence it ushered in. Everything had come to a standstill. A tree split the neighbor’s garage in half. A fluffy blanket of white coated the carnage. I’d never captured such violence in the same image with so much peace.
“Show him how to use the snow blower.” Leah’s mother stood in the threshold of the garage, helping us plan our attack on the driveway. We had a mission—to rescue her daughter, Raven, from her father’s house. So much waiting. First, the power had to come back on, then the plows needed to clear the street.
Snow was claustrophobic, trapping everything in time.
“Like I know how to use this thing,” Leah said loudly enough for only me to hear. She looked up, her gaze obscured by a knit hat, and bit her lip. Her cheeks were flushed from the cold, but I didn’t feel it. If I was trapped with this woman for the rest of my life, it wouldn’t be long enough. “Let’s get it outside before we blow the house up,” she said.
She held the side door open and I lifted it over the jamb.
“I’ll get your father. He’ll help you.”
“No,” we both answered quickly and burst out laughing as soon as the door closed. Her mother continued, muffled through the closed door, and it was even money whether Mr. Godfrey would come out or not.
“If we drag him away from his football game, he’ll lose his mind. You heard him when he thought the cable wouldn’t come on back in time. I’m not subjecting you to that.” Leah looked down at the snow blower and sighed. Only the mouth that spit out snow and the handle were visible. The rest was buried. “This thing is older than Raven. Rich pays people to clear the snow. You’ll see that’s the only time my ex spends his money well. And feel pretty smug about your life choices, when you’re back in Miami, away from this crap.”
Miami. Another life waited for me there, and I had yet to put a stop to it. It was my turn to sigh. “We should probably shovel first? Give this thing a little leeway.” Any identifiable landmarks had been buried. “Where’s the walkway?”
“Who knows? It doesn’t matter this time of year. You make a path anywhere you can.” Leah stepped back inside the garage and retrieved a shovel. She leaned on it, giving the snow blower another once-over. There were a ton of pulls and buttons and levers. “There’s got to be a video on how to do this. Do you have your phone?” she asked.
I nodded as I pulled it out of my pocket. My feet were already freezing. “It’s a five-minute video.”
“I’m not surprised.” Leah slipped under my arm and we watched the video, pausing it to find the parts the guy referenced. Our blower looked nothing like his. “I think shoveling might be quicker,” I said.
“Hit the button on top!” We jumped at her dad’s voice. He stood in the doorway in his sweats. “Don’t screw around with that damn thing. And make sure you don’t hit yourself in the face with the snow. It’ll knock you right on your ass.”
The blower roared to life after I pushed the button. Leah screamed as the machine belched snow at her, then pushed the mouth away from us. Once we figured how to start it, using it was a breeze.
Leah unraveled the scarf from around my head once we finished and went back inside. Her mother had wrapped me up good, insisting I’d die of exposure if she didn’t. Leah kissed me, her lips hot against my frozen skin. “You’re all red.”
“So are you.” There were so many ways I could warm her up.
“I made cocoa!” Her mom came back into the kitchen, oblivious to the moment she shattered. She grabbed my arm and patted it. “I’m so glad you’re here. I hate to think of Leah’s father out there. It’s too much for him, but he’ll never admit it.”
“Next year, you and Dad are coming to me for Christmas.” Leah handed me a mug overflowing with whipped cream. She wiggled her eyebrows at me. “Or maybe we can spend it in Florida.”
“Snow is part of Christmas!” Mrs. Godfrey insisted. “Jagger, how do you spend Christmas in Miami?”
I didn’t, but I couldn’t tell her that. My family turned their back on me when they found out I was an escort. I’d worked the last few Christmases, pretending the holiday didn’t happen. “It’s not like this.”
“See?” She raised her eyebrows at Leah, point proven.
“I need to text Raven,” Leah said, leading me into the living room so she could grab her phone. “The roads should be clear by now. She might need help hiding the bodies.” Raven had reluctantly gone to visit her dad and all reports had been bleak.
“These bastards think they can take the week off since they’ve already made the playoffs,” Leah’s dad grumbled. He looked over at me. “You like football, Jagger?”
“I do.” I took a sip of my drink, thinking about how to break the news to him. “Your team is playing my team this week.”
Leah pulled my arm. “Oh man, I’m separating the two of you until the game is over. I want you guys to like each other. Dad takes these things personally.”
She dragged me up to her bedroom. It was quiet up there, like it had been when the snow was falling. “Did you book a flight yet?”
I shook my head. “Nothing’s getting out of here for days.”
“Once we get Raven, we can hit the road. You’ll be able to get one out of DC much easier. I know you have to work on New Year’s Eve.” She spit out the word
, whether she meant to or not.
“I’m not going.” I slid closer to her, pushing her chin back up when her mouth fell. “I can’t do it anymore.”
“Can you do that? And not get in trouble?” Her brow furrowed, but her face lit up.
“You mean not get fired?” I asked. She nodded. “Doesn’t matter. I’m quitting. As soon as we get to your house, I’m calling Barry and telling him to cancel my appointments.”
Leah gasped. Not exactly the reaction I expected. She took my hands in hers and studied them. “You know I want this. But I don’t want you to do it because of me.”
“I’m not.” That sounded awful. “But I am, if that makes sense. I hated what I did to you the last few weeks. Your face would light up every time you asked me if I was still working on Christmas—like the job would magically disappear—and it killed me to tell you I was because that light drained away every time.”
She bit her lip, but the smile won out. “Jagger, we barely know each other. I was someone I didn’t want to be for most of my marriage because I thought I was making Rich happy. But instead, I made us both miserable. I don’t want that to be us. I want you.” She took a deep breath. “I understand not everything will be perfect. I want you to do things that make you happy, not that you think will make
happy. That doesn’t work. I’ve got the scars to prove it.”
Leah took a sip of her cocoa and got whipped cream on her nose. I wiped it off and fed it to her. My finger lingered on her lips a moment too long and she drew it in, clamping down on it and swirling her tongue around it. My cock stirred and I took my finger back. Leah’s dad yelled at the TV, but we’d never get away with a mid-afternoon fuck. Her mother would be in here any minute offering lunch. And we had to get Raven.
“Remember, I almost turned down this job, and then I would’ve never met you. I’m tired of being used and forgotten. Or being everyone’s dirty little secret. I’ve never been able to make both lives fit together, and I didn’t try, because for a long time, I wanted to be an escort. Now, I want you.” And it felt good to say it. The weight wouldn’t lift until I actually quit. For a long time, I didn’t know it was there. “You gave me the courage to do this. I told myself I’d escort until I was out of debt, until I got the gallery, but there was always going to be something that dragged me back. You said it best, Leah. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I was going insane without you.”
The light was back, bursting through her flushed cheeks. This time, I was going to do everything in my power to keep it glowing.
Her phone dinged, another moment shattered. She looked down and laughed. “Let’s go. She’s using the hashtag again.”
My poor baby. Trapped behind enemy lines during Snowpocalypse.
She tried to stay away, but when Rich threatened to take me to court for violating our custody agreement, insisting I was keeping his daughter from him, Raven gave in and went to see him. I hated that he dragged her into it, knowing that one of us would give in. I should’ve picked her up sooner. None of us took the weather report seriously, and Raven and I both regretted it. She started sending me desperate texts and pictures as soon as the roads became impassible. She created a hashtag,
, and used it as punctuation for every message. Then the power went out and her phone lost its charge. I demanded a headcount when she came back online, and she sent me candid shots of Rich and Shelley, still very much alive. Raven had much more self-control than I did at this stage of the game. I knew she’d hid out in her room, under the blankets with a flashlight, and read a book. But she was stuck with those two, and anything could happen.
Especially after Christmas Eve. My ex-husband lied to me, getting me and my parents to his family party under the guise his mother was ill. While it might have been true, she wasn’t there. He and his new wife had wanted to humiliate me. They figured out I’d hired Jagger as my date for our twentieth high school reunion. Shelley’s BFF hired him for Christmas and paraded him in front of everyone, making sure they all knew how we met.
I wasn’t ashamed of Jagger. Now that I had a chance to cool down from the other night, I realized I wasn’t ashamed of how I met him, either. I took matters into my own hands and got what I wanted. Rich and Shelley’s plan backfired. My mom had been handling my PR since the party. She didn’t understand what an escort actually was, and everyone was willing to believe I’d met him through an online dating site. I didn’t bother splitting hairs. I got what I wanted all along—to spend Christmas with Jagger.
But in my blind anger, mixed with my elation of actually getting to see Jagger when I didn’t expect to—we lived a thousand miles apart—I’d let Rich and Shelley off the hook way too easily. It was a learned behavior, I’d been doing it all my life. Letting little shit slide until the big shit made a fool out of me. Deep down, I knew Rich had been screwing around and I ignored it until I caught him fucking Shelley in my bed. They’d been making little digs at me, and I convinced myself I was the bigger person if I ignored them, until this.