a Stark International Novel
Tease Me is Story # 3 in the Stark International Security - Jamie & Ryan series.
Tease Me - Buy Now
About this StoryStory Type Book Primary Characters Ryan Hunter Jamie Archer Series Stark International Security - Jamie & Ryan Place in Series Story #3 Genre Contemporary Romance
Ryan Hunter watched the young woman he’d been hired to protect absently spin the gold ring on her finger. He doubted she even realized what she was doing. Instead, she was absorbed by the view outside the train’s window. The moonlit sand. The craggy mountains beyond. And the danger hiding in the moon-cast shadows.
She jumped, then turned to face him, her brown eyes bloodshot and puffy. An apologetic smile touched her lips as she pushed a lock of midnight-black hair off of her face, the dark curl in contrast to her pale skin, paler now that all of her makeup had sloughed off during their escape.
She seemed to look right through him, and he imagined she was looking back at the bomb-shattered buildings. The bodies scattered in the streets. They might be miles away now, but he was certain she could still see them. God knew he could.
With a sigh, she turned back to the window. “It looks so peaceful,” she said, her soft British accent contrasting with the hard reality that surrounded them. “I can barely wrap my head around the reality that there’s a coup going on. An actual coup. And that we’re right in the middle of it.” She bit her lower lip, then pulled the shade down, obscuring the view.
For a moment, she simply sat there, staring at the now-blocked window. Then she turned to face him, her expressionless eyes meeting his as she asked, very simply, “Are we going to get out of this alive?” She looked calm. As if the world of military coups and midnight escapes was old hat to her. Only the slight quiver in her voice gave away her simmering terror.
He took her hands, planning to spew all the platitudes that he knew she wanted to hear. Of course they were going to get out. Of course they would be just fine. That was why her father had hired a security firm. That’s why the firm had sent Ryan. That’s why they were moving quickly and carefully.
But he didn’t say any of that. She deserved the truth. More than that, she was smart enough to already know it. “We’re damn well going to try.”
For a moment, she just held tight to him, as if he truly had the power to ensure her safety. Then she pulled her hands free, crossed her arms over her chest, and tucked her hands into her armpits as she hugged herself tight. Her thin shoulders rose and fell, and she nodded slowly, as if absorbing his words. “I hate myself for being so stupid.”
“You aren’t stupid.”
She cocked her head, looking ridiculously young. “I followed a man I barely knew to an unstable country in the Middle East. A country I’m not even sure existed a month ago, and I’m pretty sure won’t exist next week. If it’s even still a country right now, and not just a bombed-out hole in the ground.”
Ryan bit back a grimace. She wasn’t wrong. They were deep inside disputed territory, peaceful only days ago, but now a hotbed of militant activity. And, yes, all the signs that the region was unstable had been there from the moment that Felicia had left London. One glance at a newspaper or one search on the Internet would have revealed the nature of the conflict and the danger of traveling to this part of the globe. Maybe she’d still have come and maybe she wouldn’t have, but there would have been no denying the red flags.
But she’d done none of that. She’d met a man and fallen hard. She’d wanted him, and Felicia Cartwright was used to getting what she wanted.
So when Mikal Safar had invited her back to meet his wealthy and politically powerful family, she’d gone without hesitation. But never once did she expect that dissidents would rise up. And she certainly never anticipated that they would murder Mikal and his father, thus inciting a rebellion that threatened the life of everyone with any sort of connection to Mikal’s father or the other government leaders.
In fairness, after reading the pre-mission dossier, Ryan understood how Felicia had gotten herself mixed up in the mess. Felicia had grown up like a princess herself, her royal blood of the kind that was bestowed by generations of wealth, not birth. Her mother had died in childbirth, and Randall Cartwright had doted on his little girl, showering her with love, affection, and as many toys and luxuries as the London-based millionaire could afford. Which, as far as Ryan could tell, meant all of them.
Felicia was completely spoiled, used to getting her own way, and stubborn as hell. But despite all that, Ryan liked her. The girl had spunk, that was for sure. And she was an intriguing mixture of hard edges and soft personality. Like cotton candy encased in steel.
As if to prove the point, she cocked her head, staring him down. “See? You know I’m right. You’re just afraid that if you admit that I’m an idiot, Daddy won’t pay your fee.”
He chuckled, her self-deprecating comment settling them both. “Your father knows you’re not an idiot. But he also knows you are impulsive. And sometimes that looks like the same thing.”
“Either way, we get to the same point. I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have followed Mikal. And the day he disappeared, I should have headed straight for the border. Thank goodness the old lady—”
She broke off, choking back a sob. One of the servants in the Safar household had warned her that Mikal’s disappearance wasn’t because he’d been trying to escape before the coup—rudely not taking her with him—but that he’d been captured and beheaded. And then, with Felicia still reeling with shock, she’d warned the girl to do whatever she could to escape before she was also killed by the dissidents—or worse.
Ryan leaned forward, then used a finger to lift her chin, making a point to meet her chocolate brown eyes straight on. “You made an impulsive decision to follow a man you cared about, that’s true. But it’s also an age-old story. Don’t beat yourself up for underestimating what you were getting yourself into. This isn’t your world. You had no point of reference. And even if you’d paid attention and knew that the area was unstable, you trusted Mikal.”
She sniffled and nodded. “I did. I know I probably shouldn’t have—not after only knowing him such a short time—but I really and truly did.”
“And from what I know of him, he was an upstanding man. Look at me,” he demanded when she cast her eyes down. “You were sharp enough to trust that woman, and you called for help immediately. You didn’t cry or hesitate. Despite your grief, you acted.”
She rolled her eyes. “I did what I always do. I called my daddy. And he called you. So much for bravery.”
“Don’t you dare denigrate your actions. It wasn’t as easy as pushing speed dial, and we both know it.” The rebels had shut down cellular service, and she’d had to sneak into an occupied office building to find an outgoing landline. It had been that single act of cunning and bravery that made Ryan certain that she could handle whatever they would face during this escape.
Unfortunately, not breaking down into tears and self-pity wasn’t the same thing as surviving. And as Mikal’s guest, she was on the dissidents’ radar. That made this whole thing a much more dangerous ordeal.
He drew a breath. “You’re smart. You’re resourceful. And you did the right thing. Don’t go soft on me now.”
“I’m sorry, you know.”
She rolled her eyes. “All of this. It’s my fault that you’re stuck in the middle of the danger with me.”
“Well, that’s my job. I think we can give you a pass on that, okay?”
Her smile quivered a bit, but she nodded. She had a thin blanket, and she pulled it up over her stained white blouse.
“Try to get some sleep,” he said. “We both need it, and so long as the train’s moving, we’re safe.”
“Okay,” she said, her heavy lids already drooping. A few moments later, her breathing became even, and he knew that she’d drifted off despite her fears. Not surprising. They’d been on the run for three days, working their way desperately toward the river—and the border that ran right down the middle of those deep, churning waters.
All they had to do was make it over the bridge and past the checkpoint, and they’d be home free.
That was going to be the tricky part. But hopefully it would go seamlessly. It had to, as he had no one he could call on for backup. Not now. He was on his own until he crossed that line. No allies, no resources. But once they were past the checkpoint, he could radio for support. He’d have air transport, backup.
He’d have the means to get her safe and home.
Three hundred miles.
They’d come so far already. Surely, he could take her that much further.
He leaned back, closed his eyes, and let the rumble of the train against his back soothe him into sleep.
* * * *
“We’re slowing. I’m not sure why.” His tense words seemed to underscore the cha-cha-chunk of the train, a harsh reminder that although they were moving, their destination remained elusive.
He’d awakened before Felicia, as soon as the rhythm of the wheels on the track had slowed. He’d sat quietly, studying the gray landscape, growing darker as the moon set behind the distant mountains. Now he turned his attention to her, forcing a smile in the hopes of keeping her calm as the hours wore on. He took her hand, his thumb brushing the gold ring on her finger. “It’s okay. I’ll take care of you.”
Even in the dim light, he could see the blush rise up her neck to settle on her cheeks. She pressed her lips together, then nodded. “Ryan,” she said, then cleared her throat. “Do you think it’s us? Do they know we’re on board?”
“I don’t know. I hope not. Most likely we’re approaching the river.” If so, then the reduced speed made sense. If not…well, that very well could mean danger.
He glanced out the window again but couldn’t see far enough. Then the track curved, and he breathed more easily, relief flowing through him like the water ahead. “It is the river. I can see the bridge up ahead.”
Her smile lit her face, temporarily erasing the now-familiar lines of worry that hadn’t faded even when she slept. “So we’re still safe. And it’s almost over.”
“Almost,” he confirmed. “But not yet.” He leaned forward, taking her hands in his. “We can’t get sloppy now. Tell me. Just like you’ll tell them when we reach the checkpoint.”
She squared her shoulders. “My name is Felicia Cartwright Hunter. I work for my father’s company, and I came here to discuss a joint business venture with Mikal Safar. There were rumors that we were involved, but that was ridiculous.”
She gave an imperious sniff, as if in disdain. “I have no interest in the political climate here, and certainly none in Mr. Safar. If I had, why would I have brought my fiancé with me, much less married him when we saw how lovely the setting was on the coastline?”
She leaned back, releasing his hands and studying him. “Was that okay?”
“Perfect.” He only hoped it worked. Foreigners who had entered the country for recreation were, for the most part, being ushered across the checkpoint to safety. The question was going to be whether or not their marriage passed muster. And that was why Ryan—a man who’d never expected to marry anyone—was now legally wed to a woman he barely knew. A woman he would consensually divorce once they were back in London.
He studied her, smiling despite the circumstances. She was pretty and terrified, and on their wedding night, they’d shared a room and a bed. Both because there was no way he’d leave her alone, but also because they had to feed the illusion. Spies were everywhere, and Felicia was definitely being watched.
She’d been terrified and sad, and he’d held her close, soothing her and promising he’d do whatever was necessary in order to get her out safely. But that wasn’t the kind of comfort she’d wanted or needed. She’d curled against him, her curves as enticing as the warmth of her body under the thin gown she’d worn to bed. She’d taken his hand, then pressed it to her lower belly. And all she’d said was please.
That was all it took. He had no girlfriend, no one he saw regularly. But he wasn’t a monk. Not by a long shot. He’d taken what she offered, giving back as much as he could, wanting her to feel safe. Hell, just wanting her to feel. They were both scared. Both uncertain. But at least in bed they could forget.
It had started slow and sweet, but by the end, her fingernails had dug into his flesh and he’d held her close as the orgasm ripped through her.
After, she’d snuggled against him, thanked him for marrying her, thanked him for protecting her, and thanked him for fucking her.
She’d fallen asleep then, and he’d lain there for at least an hour, looking down at the woman who was, for the time being, his wife. And, yes, he would take care of her in whatever way she needed. He’d sworn an oath, and he took that vow as seriously as his oath as a professional. He would protect her with his life if that’s what it came to. And he would damn sure do whatever was necessary to get her safely out of this war-torn area.
“Will it work?” she asked now. Her eyes were wide and earnest. “Will they believe us? There were photographs of me and Mikal…”
“I don’t know,” he said honestly. “But it’s the best chance we’ve got.”
The corner of her mouth trembled, and she blinked as a single tear spilled down her cheek. “I’m okay. Promise. Just scared. And—well, no matter what, at least I can always say that my first husband was one hell of a good-looking man.”
“And my first wife was the bravest woman I—fuck!”
The curse was ripped from him, the sound of it buried under Felicia’s scream as a surreal orange light filled the rail car, along with the ear-splitting blast of a nearby bomb’s detonation.
Ryan stood, then reached for Felicia, only to be slammed back into his seat when the train lurched forward as it picked up speed.
“We’re going toward the bomb?” Fear laced her voice, her eyes reflecting her terror.
“We’re almost to the bridge,” he said, his voice tight. He’d flinched against the sun-bright blast, but when he’d opened his eyes, some light still lingered, and he saw that they were closer to the bridge than he’d realized. There was still a chance. Assuming they hadn’t been boarded. Assuming the blast was an attempt to derail them—an attempt that had failed. “The crew wants over the border as much as we do. They’ll try for the bridge.”
“And get us killed.”
He shook his head. “If we haven’t been boarded, we might make it.”
“Have we been?”
“I don’t know. But the train never fully stopped. Hopefully that means we haven’t been.”
But that promising possibility was shot down—literally—by a spray of automatic weapon fire that riddled the ceiling. Ryan yanked her to the floor, covering her body with his. He was unarmed, having been searched three times before boarding the train. Smuggling a weapon hadn’t been an option. He’d wished at the time that there’d been another way. He wished that even more fervently now as at least a dozen men in full combat garb rushed toward them.
“Move,” the burliest of the group said, his English heavily accented.
Ryan shifted position and lifted his hands, revealing his own gold band. “Please don’t harm my wife. We’re newlyweds. We came here for a vacation mixed with some business. We’re trying to get back home.”
The man raised his rifle, then aimed it right at Ryan’s chest. “Move,” he repeated. “Or your blood will stain the woman before we kill her, too.” A malicious smile slithered over his face. “But first we shall enjoy her, no?”
Ryan heard Felicia’s whimper. It didn’t take long to calculate his odds. All things considered, he had exactly zero in his favor. Without a choice, he nodded, hoping that the thug’s superior would be more reasonable.
With Felicia walking on trembling legs in front of him, they were ushered through the next carriage. It was a freight car, with the sliding doors open. The night loomed beyond the car, and the river churned beneath them, dark and ominous, and altogether too far away for Ryan to be sure of survival.
Felicia stopped, her hand seeking his. He took it, knowing immediately what had made her halt. In front of them, he could see a cluster of passengers through the doors connecting their car to the next—and each and every person was writhing as bullets from unseen assailants riddled their bodies and they collapsed out of sight, dying ignobly on the hard, cold floor of the freighter.
“Mikal Safar,” the burly man said from behind them as Ryan took a step closer to Felicia, the icy burn of his training warring with hot, liquid fear. “The girl is his,” the man growled. “And he is scum.”
The dissident’s rifle pressed into Ryan’s lower back, pushing him closer to Felicia. “We’re jumping. Be ready.” Ryan’s whisper was little more than breath, and he hoped she’d heard and understood.
Another hard push of the barrel, powerful enough to bruise Ryan’s spine, as the other men around him laughed and crowed. “And you, pig, are nothing but meat.”
Ryan forced himself not to shudder as he gathered his strength, a split second of time seeming to pass like minutes. He hoped she understood the risk he was taking. Hoped she knew it was the only way. They probably wouldn’t survive the fall, but at least they would have a chance. At least they would be choosing. If they stayed in the car, they’d be dead within minutes at these bastards’ hands. Probably seconds.
He didn’t count to three, just launched himself sideways, grabbing Felicia by the arm as he threw both of them toward the open doorway. At the same time, he twisted his body away from the gun, his muscles crying out in protest against a maneuver that even all of his training and hours in the gym couldn’t have anticipated.
He felt the cool rush of air on his face as they neared the door, then the stabbing pain and liquid heat from the blood that poured out of his side. He’d moved enough to save his spine, but not to escape the bullet.
Still, if they could just get through that freight door…
The thought was still in his head as he felt the slam of the hard, hot surface of the carriage floor beneath him. And then the shooting pain of a metal-toed boot landing hard against his ribs before crushing down on his wrist, forcing him to release the death-grip on Felicia’s arm.
She lay beside him, a bubble of blood on her mouth, her hands pressed to a gaping wound in her gut. Another wave of pain cut through him. Not physical this time. The pain of loss. The pain of knowing that he’d failed her.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, the word cracked and barely audible, but echoing his thoughts with perfect clarity. “Should… never… have… come.”
He struggled, trying to move, the world growing dim around him, his arm screaming from the pain of the heavy boot holding him down. And then it was him screaming, too, his throat raw from the sound of his agonized protests as three of the men hauled Felicia to her feet, the wound gushing so much blood he knew she would never survive the injury. At that point, though, it didn’t matter. Whether it was the wound or the river, he knew that she was dead. His mission. His responsibility.
As the gray cloud of unconsciousness settled over him, he watched them push her off the train and into the dark, forbidding water of the river.
Many Years Later
“This is Jamie Archer,” I say, after tapping the ear bud to connect the phone that’s tucked away inside my purse on the far side of the room.
“Your professional name?” Even over the phone, I can hear the surprise in Nikki’s voice. I understand why, too. After all, I’d told her what I had in mind for tonight, and there’s not a shred of work on the agenda. “Does this mean you abandoned your plan?”
I hear the hope and bite back a frown as I shimmy into the red silk dress I’ve bought for this evening. “Hardly. It means I’ve been playing phone tag with Carson Donnelly and didn’t check caller ID.”
“Let me guess. That’s somebody big in Hollywood.”
“Do you hear that thudding sound? That’s me banging my head against a wall. Honestly, Nik,” I continue over her laughter, “considering you’re friends with some of the biggest stars in LA—not to mention the city’s hottest entertainment reporter—you have to start paying more attention.” As billionaire Damien Stark’s wife, Nikki rubs shoulders with movers and shakers in all industries, including mine. But except for projects that her friends work on, her knowledge of Hollywood caps off about the time that Hitchcock was directing Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo.
It’s a massive character flaw in my best friend, but I’ve learned to live with it.
“Why should I work at paying attention when the city’s hottest entertainment reporter tells me everything I need to know? Like who Carson Donnelly is.”
“He, my ignorant friend, is currently the most celebrated director in town. And I interviewed him for that special I’m producing. We ended up hitting it off, and he’s seriously considering casting one former actress turned entertainment reporter—initials JAH—in his next movie.”
“Way,” I say, then actually giggle. Which is pathetic because I am so not the giggling type. “I love my job, but acting is still on my bucket list. And think of the access it would give me for more interviews.”
“Like you need more access. You’re already the hottest entertainment reporter in town, which means every actor and director is banging down your door for an interview.”
“I am awesome, aren’t I?” I zip the dress and slip my feet into the waiting sandals with four-inch heels. Then I examine myself critically in the full-length mirror, and I’m pretty damn pleased with what I see.
I woke from a long nap less than an hour ago, and the puffiness that had lingered under my eyes has faded. Now I’m freshly showered, my hair falling in gleaming waves and my makeup so perfect I could audition for a Maybelline commercial. Most important for my evening plan, the dress clings provocatively in all the right places, boasts a neckline deep enough to ensure easy access to my breasts, and features a slit high enough to allow anyone sitting next to me a chance to explore parts south. Assuming, of course, that I’ll let him.
I’ve never been one for false modesty, and as I twist and turn in front of the mirror, checking myself from all angles, I can honestly say that I look hotter than hell. Which is good, as hell-fire hot is exactly what I’m going for. I want him panting for me. I want to be that long drink of water he needs so badly it feels as if having me isn’t a matter of want, but of absolute survival.
I buff my nails on my chest and realize I’m smiling. Which, considering that this extremely long day started with me stumbling under a ton of crushing worry and doubt, is a pretty terrific turn of events.
“Helloooo. Earth to Jamie.”
“Oh! Hey. Sorry.” I cringe, realizing I’d zoned out and completely missed everything that Nikki’s been saying. “What did you say?”
“I agreed that you’re awesome. And that under the circumstances, Ryan will totally forgive you for ditching his last name. Although Jamie Hunter does have a certain ring to it.”
“It’s tops on my list,” I admit.
“But I’m worried about you, James,” she continues without missing a beat. And the fact that she’s using the nicknames we gave each other back when we were kids only underscores her concern. “Are you sure this is the best plan? You have to admit it’s over the top, even for you. It could backfire big time.”
“I better be sure. I’ve already set it in motion.”
“So you’re really going through with it.” It’s a statement, because Nikki knows me better than anyone. And I’m sure she can tell that my mind’s made up.
“Yup.” I draw a breath, feeling my bare nipples rub against the soft silk as my chest rises and falls. I think about my husband, and about how strangely distant he seemed the last time we spoke.
Ryan Hunter is more than my husband. He’s my life. My soulmate. My other half. I might have been scared of the whole marriage thing once upon a time, but I was never scared of being with him. And I will happily claw the face off of anyone who tries to pry him away from me.
Bottom line, I can’t imagine my life without him. More than that, I know him. Something’s wrong. And I’m terrified that it has to do with me.
“I need to stir things up.” I’d made that decision after the last time I talked to him. He’d been distracted, and not just in the normal buried-in-work way. There was something else. Something that made my entire world tilt on its axis. And when he told me that he’d seen someone he once knew…well, the edge in his voice had done a number on me.
I don’t understand it, but I know that it scared me. And it takes one hell of a lot to make me get scared about what’s between Ryan and me.
On the other end of the line, Nikki sighs.
“If it were Damien and he was acting weird…” I trail off, leaving the idea hanging out there for her to take and run with.
“We both know what my answer is,” she says. “Of course I’d do whatever it took to figure out what was going on and to fix it. I’m just not sure that what you have planned is—oh, hell, James. I only want you to be realistic. Are you sure you know what you’re doing? I mean, he’s out of the country for work. He’s busy. It just seems—”
“I’m sure.” I nod to myself, as if cementing my resolve. I have a plan, and my plan is good. Because sometimes you have to push the envelope.
There’s a pause, during which I can imagine my best friend running through every possible argument in her head. But I guess none are persuasive enough because she says, “All right, then. Call me tomorrow? Or at least text me that everything’s okay.”
“Will do. Swear.”
“That’s really the best I’m going to get out of you?”
I can picture her exasperation. Her classically pretty face scrunched in frustration as she rolls her blue-green eyes. “Fine. I’ll let you go.”
“Okay, bye—oh. I forgot to tell you. Guess who I bumped into outside the hotel?”
“That is not telling me,” Nikki protests.
“You said you forgot to tell me something. No fair making me guess. Besides, I already know. Gabby Anderson. Right?”
“How the hell did you know that?”
Gabby Anderson had come to the University of Texas for research on her graduate thesis. Something to do with medieval books. Nikki and I had been freshmen at the time, and Gabby lived in the apartment above the piece of shit place we shared. We all did laundry late at night, and that turned into drinking and talking sessions by the pool while we waited out spin cycles. I’d been bummed when she’d moved on, and though I’d genuinely meant to stay in touch, it never happened.
“She tracked me down,” Nikki explains. “And said she was hoping to get together with both of us when she’s back in the States. She’s teaching at UT now, did you know?”
“The University of Texas is in the States,” I point out.
“Funny. I guess she’s in London on a sabbatical or something. She wasn’t clear. Anyway, I told her you were on your way to London right then, and she was ridiculously excited.”
“So you gave her my flight info and told her where I was staying.”
“Is that bad?”
“Are you kidding? No. I always loved Gabby. But if you were trying to distract me from The Plan, it didn’t work.”
Nikki scoffs. “Have you made any plans with her?”
“She wanted to go have a drink tonight, but I have my own plans, obviously, and the afternoon was out because I needed a nap. Jet lag is not my friend. Honestly, I think she could have used a nap, too.”
“What do you mean?”
“Teaching must be stressful because she was wound up tight. I think she probably needs someone to talk to, but I couldn’t abandon The Plan.”
“I think you could,” Nikki chides, and I make a scoffing sound.
“The Plan is perfect,” I counter. “The Plan is good. We’ve already had that conversation, so drop it. And Gabby hijacked my phone and put all her contact info in. I promised to text her tomorrow as soon as I’m free.”
“Good. Tell her I said hi.”
“Will do. And now I’m really hanging up. Got places to go and people to do.”
“Love you, Nicholas,” I say, reverting to her nickname, too, and making her laugh.
“Love you back,” she says, then ends the call. For a moment, I simply stand there, wondering if she’s right. Maybe I am taking the completely wrong approach. But then I shake my head. I know my husband. I know what intrigues him. And what distracts him. I know how to get his motor going and erase everything else from his mind.
And I’m certain that what I have planned is going to work.
More than that, it’s going to be fun.
* * * *
“Do you miss me?” I cross my legs as I lean back on the padded bench, the cool silk of the upholstery a stark contrast to the heat of my skin. A heat that has risen simply from the knowledge that he’s on the other end of this line. And that he’s thinking of me, too.
“Oh, Kitten, how can you even ask that?”
Ryan’s voice fills my head through the small earbuds, low and rough. I feel it like a physical caress, and I press my thighs together in defense against a building storm of desire. “I want to hear you say it,” I confess. “Please, Hunter. It’s been too long.”
“That it has.” Longing fills his voice, and I close my eyes, imagining him. His chestnut brown hair. His clear blue eyes. And that lean, muscular body that fits perfectly against my curves.
“God, Jamie,” he says, his voice filling out my vision of him. “I miss you desperately.”
“It’s horrible of me, but I’m glad to hear you say that. The last time we talked you sounded distracted, and when you said you ran into someone from your past—”
“I think my wife is jealous.”
“Does your wife have reason to be?”
There’s the tiniest of hesitations, and I swear my heart skips a beat. “Kitten, how can you even suggest that? I’m here for work, you know that. And it’s kicking my ass. What you’re hearing in my voice is exhaustion. Not infidelity.”
A twinge of guilt assails me, and I start to quickly backtrack. “I didn’t think—”
But then I cut myself off because maybe part of me did. Not the big part that knows and trusts Ryan. But the teeny, tiny, buried and paranoid part that may never truly believe a man like Ryan could be passionately in love with a head case like me.
“Is it terrible that I’m glad you’re exhausted?”
He laughs. “Coming from anyone but you, I might be put off. But I know my wife well. And, Kitten, you know me, too. You weren’t really jealous, were you?”
“How much longer will you have to stay in London?” I ask, dodging the question.
He sighs. “Hard to say. It’s a monster of a project. But I think we can probably wrap up this week. Maybe ten days. We’re all busting our asses over here to make that happen.”
“I’m very glad to hear it.”
My husband, Ryan Hunter, is the head of Stark Security, one of Stark International’s newest divisions, with the mandate of providing help where needed, no matter how big or small the assignment.
That, however, is not why he’s in London.
He’s in the UK because before Stark Security existed, he was the Security Chief for all of Stark International, a multi-billion-dollar empire. Technically, he still holds that position. Which means that, with the exception of Damien Stark himself, Ryan is the big dog where all Stark-related security matters are concerned.
He’s no longer the day-to-day guy for the whole shebang, though. Stark Security keeps him too busy for that. Nowadays, he only gets personally involved in corporate security matters when there are big things going on. Apparently the opening-month security checks and tweaks at the brand new Stark Century London Hotel is a Very Big Deal. Not to mention an overhaul of the entire security system in the London offices of Stark International.
He and Baxter Carlyle—the guy immediately under Ryan with responsibility for overseeing security in all English-speaking territories of Stark International—have been leading a London-based team for going on three weeks. Which, of course, means that they’re both enjoying every luxury imaginable. Elegant suites. Incredible views. Stellar room service. An oak-paneled lobby bar with exceptional service, made better by an open expense account.
Working hard, yes. But I have a feeling the luxurious surroundings have taken some of the edge off.
As for me, I was left behind in Los Angeles. Work. Responsibilities. All that pesky adulting stuff. At first I stayed busy. But then the loneliness set in. Followed by the doubt that crept up after those few, odd phone calls with Ryan.
Well, there comes a point when a girl simply has to take action.
So I picked up my phone, and the rest is history. The fun part will be seeing where this goes. Already Hunter’s voice is working its magic on me, making my skin heat and my upper thighs tingle. My nipples are already as hard as pebbles, and I know it won’t take much more to really ramp me up.
And, yeah, I want to be ramped…
More than that, I have an idea of what I want next. Of which fantasies I want to live out while my husband’s voice whispers in my ear. I lick my lips and rise off the padded bench and continue our conversation, lowering my voice to convey the kind of heat I’m feeling. “You miss me desperately? Define desperately. And please—be very, very specific.”
His low chuckle reverberates through me, settling between my thighs. “Careful, Kitten. I’m in public. The hotel bar.”
“What a coincidence,” I say as I cross the tiled floor, passing men and women all dressed to the nines and ready for an evening out. “I’m in a hotel, too.”
“You’re not working?” I hear the frown in his voice. “I thought you were editing this week.”
It’s a fair question. For a while now I’ve been pulling exceptionally long hours doing the on-camera work and producing a series of celebrity interviews that air on various news and entertainment programs under the umbrella of Hardline Entertainment, a company owned by Hollywood mogul Matthew Holt. It’s a semi-open secret that he owns a high-end sex club, and he’s known around town as a total manwhore, but he’s been nothing but decent to me. So decent, in fact, that he is co-producing a two-hour special on the top three box office hits last year—with me as the intrepid reporter interviewing actors and off-screen talent as we try to find the secret sauce.
It’s a great project and Matthew has not only been a total gentleman, he’s been downright encouraging. And he’s completely respectful of Ryan. Sometimes I wonder if his manwhore, not-with-the-whole-metoo-thing rep is some sort of manufactured facade.
Then again, Ryan has the skill set to kill a man with his bare hands, and he’s best friends with Damien Stark. So maybe Holt just makes a point of showing me his shiny side.
Either way, the job is great and I love it. Yes, I’d love to land the acting gig I was telling Nikki about, but after being bounced around various positions in Hollywood, I finally feel like I’ve landed on my feet. No matter what happens with the Carson project, I’m happy. Which makes Holt something like a ridiculously good-looking fairy godfather to me.
I turn my attention back to the call with Ryan. “I told you we finished the rough cut for the special,” I say in response to his question about why I’m not in an editing booth. Granted, there is still a shit-ton of work to do. But since my words are technically one hundred percent true, I don’t have to feel any guilt about lying to my husband. “And that,” I add with a sultry lilt to my tone, “is why I decided to go to a hotel and call you.”
“So far, I approve of your plan.”
“Do you? Good. But there’s a little more to it…” I let my words hang there.
“See, the thing is, I’m feeling exceptionally naughty tonight.”
“How interesting.” There’s amusement—and heat—in his voice. A heat that is definitely doing a number on my senses.
I lick my lips, then stifle the urge to cup my own breasts and stroke my sensitive nipples. I’m in public, after all. “Well, I was wondering…”
I trail off as I reach the marble pillars that mark the entrance to the dark-paneled bar. I lean against one, surveying the customers, many of whom have their backs to me. My body is thrumming with desire. I want hands. Lips. Heat. Passion.
Most of all, I want Ryan. But at the moment, he’s not at my side.
“It’s just that there are some interesting people here. Stunning women. Seriously gorgeous men.” The guys in this bar are the kind of candy I would have recklessly collected back in the pre-Ryan era when I was the walking definition of a wild child. Notches on my bedpost, Nikki used to say, and always with a bit of worry in her voice. The kind of worry I ignored then. And, to be fair, I’m ignoring tonight, too.
“I’m intrigued.” I hear the question in Ryan’s voice even before he asks it. “What game are we playing, Kitten?”
I lick my lips, thinking of the earpiece and its tiny microphone, well-hidden under my hair. “What if I seduced one of them?”
I take a step into the room and see him. The one man who puts all the other customers to shame. He’s sitting at the bar with his back to me, so I can’t see his face. But his posture telegraphs confidence, and his short dark hair is thick. I long to run my fingers through it, imagining how silky it would feel against my skin. I can make out just a hint of his jawline—strong, with an evening shadow. I close my eyes, craving the rough feel of stubble against my inner thigh, and I actually whimper.
“Is that really what you want?” His voice is tight, but otherwise entirely unreadable.
“Is that okay?” I bite my lower lip, surprised by how fast my heart is beating. I’m genuinely nervous. More, I’m afraid he’s going to deny me. “You’ve always said you like my wild side.”
“I do,” he says. “You have a man picked out?”
“Yes.” I hear the breathiness in my own voice as my body sags with relief. Until right then, I hadn’t realized how much I feared that he’d shut down this fantasy tonight.
“Then I think you need to do that, Kitten.”
I drag my teeth over my lower lip, heat pooling between my thighs as I take a step toward the man sitting at the bar. “Are you sure?” I ask my husband.
“Have I ever denied you?”
“Never,” I say, then draw an excited breath as I approach the man at the bar. He sits up straighter, as if he knows I’m behind him, and when I slide onto the empty stool next to him, he turns just enough to face me. His eyes are as blue as I saw them in my mind, and for a moment, he only looks at me, his gaze roaming over my body, the icy blue leaving a trail of heat.
I clear my throat. “This seat’s not taken, is it?”
The corner of his mouth quirks up. “Would it matter if I said it was?”
“No. Buy me a drink?”
One beat. Then another. He’s been focused on my lips, but now he lifts his head, then places his hand on my thigh, just above my knee. The contact sends lust curling through me, and I actually have to swallow a moan. I’m already wet and desperately turned on. And in that moment I realize exactly how much I need this night. This adventure.
His eyes lock on mine. “Why don’t I have a bottle delivered to my room?”
“Oh.” That was faster than I anticipated—I do enjoy the chase—but I can’t say that I’m disappointed. Already, I’m imagining his hands on my skin, my dress a tattered heap on the floor.
Still, I don’t want to seem too eager. I see his phone on the polished wood beside an almost empty glass, the screen face down. “Were you on a call?” I ask as I reach for his glass, then swallow the last sip of Scotch along with a few ice chips.
“I’m not anymore. You seem like a woman who’d insist on my full attention.”
He slips the phone into the interior pocket of his bespoke Brioni suit, then gets off the stool and holds out a hand to help me. I slide off as well, my dress riding up, the slit revealing quite a bit of thigh. And, possibly, a quick flash of my red thong panties.
He signals to the bartender, then puts his hand on the small of my back, bare in the halter-style dress. I stifle a moan, the heat from his touch filling me. I want to say something into the microphone, to whisper in Hunter’s ear about how my cunt is throbbing and my panties are already soaked. But that’s not possible, and it would sure as hell destroy the moment. And so I simply stay silent as a wild and wanton heat curls through me.
The elevators are all the way across the lobby, and by the time we get there, I’m weak with desire, and if the way he’s looking at me is any indication, I’m not the only one who’s desperate. There’s nobody else around, and when the doors open, he steps into the car, passes his room key over the control panel, then pulls me roughly toward him. I stumble into him, my breasts pressing against his hard chest as the doors close, and he pushes the button for the thirty-eighth floor.
“You must have a nice view,” I say.
His mouth crooks up into a smile as his eyes look me up and down. “I do.”
He takes his phone out of his jacket pocket, taps the screen a few times, then tucks the phone away again.
“What are you—”
He presses a fingertip against my lip. “Yes. My room has a nice view.” He steps closer, then reaches behind me and unzips my dress, exposing my ass. I draw in a sharp gasp, my eyes automatically seeking out the small metal and glass disk mounted in the elevator’s upper corner. A security camera.
“But—” I begin.
“No,” he says. “No argument. No protest. Remember that you’re the one who approached me.” He puts his hands on my shoulders and slides the thin straps slowly down my arms. “This is what you want.” He pauses, the bodice of the dress just barely covering my nipples. “Or am I wrong?”
I draw a breath, then exhale slowly. I glance once more at the camera, then tell myself it’s okay. It has to be because I want it so much.
“Tell me,” he presses.
My mouth is dry, my skin tingling, as if I’ve inched too close to a fire. “No,” I say.
His head tilts to one side, then he raises a brow. His hands on my dress, however, don’t move. “No, what?”
I lick my lips. “You’re not wrong.”
He says nothing, just takes a single step back, releasing the dress, which slides over my hips and falls to the elevator floor, leaving me bare except for the tiny thong. I let my purse fall, too, then draw in another breath, my heart pounding so hard he must surely hear it. But this isn’t fear. This is a wild, intense, crazed need. A wanton passion that is coursing through me, making my nipples painfully tight and my sex throb in a silent, demanding plea.
“Take them off,” he orders.
I do as he says, sliding the panties down, then holding the rail as I balance on one high heel so that I can step out.
He holds out his hand, and I give him the small scrap of red satin. He lifts it to his face, and with his eyes on me, breathes deep before sliding the panties into his trouser pocket. Then he leans against the elevator’s far wall and slowly looks me up and down.
“As I was saying, the view from my room is nice. But this is much better.” He crosses the car, needing only one long stride to reach me. One thumb brushes across my nipple, and I tremble, then gasp when he pushes me back against the wall. He shifts, one hand now cupping my neck as he holds me in place, the other sliding down between my legs.
Roughly, his mouth closes over mine, our teeth clashing and our tongues warring. He’s fierce, demanding, and I close my eyes and think about the way Hunter is with me at home. Wild and bold. A man who takes what he wants even as he gives me everything I crave.
I arch back as a satisfied tremor courses through me. Just like home, I think. Only decadently different.
“You are so fucking hot,” he says when he breaks the kiss. Then he steps away from me, and I moan in protest, only to swallow the sound when he flips the emergency Stop button on the control panel.
I expect the klaxon of the alarm, but there’s no sound except his low, firm words: “I have to have you. Right now.”
I can only nod, and instead of a ringing alarm the only sound that fills the car is the metallic scrape of his zipper. His cock is rock hard and perfect, just as I’ve seen it in my mind, and I feel my body clench in time with the chant that is filling my head—yes, yes, yes.
He doesn’t hesitate. There’s nothing uncertain or tentative about him. Instead he closes the distance between us, then runs a finger over my pussy. “You’re wet,” he says. “Hell, you’re soaked.”
“I can’t imagine why,” I retort. Or I try to. I half-swallow the words as he thrusts two fingers inside me.
“More,” I say, but he only shakes his head and continues to finger me.
But I don’t finish the thought, because now his hands are on my waist, and he’s lifting me, his strong arms pinning me against the wall. In reflex, I wrap my legs around him, and as his hands slide down to grip me at the hips, the tip of his steel-hard cock presses against my entrance. I whimper, wanting to feel him inside me, my body craving his. Needing him.
I arch my back, searching for a hotter, deeper contact, and at the same time, he slams his hips forward so that I’m impaled on him. He fills me completely, and I cry out from the unexpected intensity. A delicious hint of pain that is soon soothed by the familiar rhythm of a wild, fast fuck.
“That’s it,” he says as I ride him. “Oh, God, you feel incredible.”
My speech is less coherent. My upper back is against the wall, and I’m held in place by his hand on my ass and the hard length of his cock. His other hand provides no support at all. Just the opposite, in fact, since those fingers are teasing my clit, playing me to such perfection that I’m about to spin off him and out into space.
“Come on,” he urges. “Look at me, gorgeous. I want to see those beautiful eyes. I want to watch when you explode. Come on,” he says, his voice as rough as our wild coupling. “Come for me now. Come with me now.”
And, oh dear God, I do. I feel the force of his release, an explosion inside me, and it sends me over the edge. No guilt. No shame. The elevator, the hotel, the whole fucking world disappears in a storm of fire and ice that I don’t ever want to end. For what feels like hours, I tremble in his arms and he holds me tight until finally, finally, we slide to the floor and curl up facing each other.
“Hello, Kitten,” Ryan says.
“Hey, Hunter.” I draw in a deep, satisfied breath as my husband strokes my hair. “I missed you too much.”
“And so you came all the way to London?”
“Yup. Just picked up my phone and made an airline reservation.” I slide my hand down to cup his cock. “I wanted more than just the fantasy of you.”
He chuckles. “And yet you still got to play out the fantasy.”
“I did. Thank you. This was deliciously wicked.” I sigh, satisfied, then narrow my eyes as a question occurs to me. “How did you know it was me? When I came up behind you in the bar. You knew I was there. How?”
“Did you forget why I’m in the hotel in the first place? I had the hotel security feed streaming on my phone. I saw you walk in.”
“Oh.” I lick my lips, liking the idea of him watching me, then playing along the way he did. “I love you,” I say.
“Do you know how magical those words are? I love you, too, Kitten.” He tilts his head, his eyes narrowing as he takes my chin between his thumb and forefinger. “No one but me, Jamie. Not ever.”
“Never,” I agree. “You’re all I want. Everything I want. Except…”
His brow creases. “Except?”
I flash an impish smile. “Except right now, I want more. Can we go to your room?”
He pulls out his phone. “Put your clothes on, baby, and I’ll turn the cameras and security controls back on.”
“And then I’m going to strip you bare all over again, tie you to the bed, and spend the rest of the night fucking my wife senseless. Assuming that’s okay with her.”
“Yeah,” I say, smiling broadly as I hurry back into my clothes. “That’s perfect.”