First in a new novella series by Serena Grey.
With him, I was no longer myself.
I was something wild,
with no inhibitions.
He is temptation.
He’s perfect material for a sweet, short fling.
Just the type I’ve sworn off.
But can I resist the temptation?
Do I even want to?
“Daphne, how about this one?”
I looked up from where I was curled up on the couch. Amy had struck a pose and was waiting for my opinion on the third dress she’d tried on in less than thirty minutes. I had been trying to reread my copy of North and South, but my roommate was determined to keep coming between me and John Thornton.
She did look good though. Her blonde hair fell around her face in messy curls, and the short blue dress was perfect for her tiny frame. I nodded approvingly. “It’s sexy, and I like the color—and the bare shoulder.” I gave her a thumbs-up. “He won’t be able to take his eyes off you.”
“What if it’s too…out there? I don’t want to look like I’m trying too hard.”
She looked genuinely worried, and it was a cute look on her. Everything was a cute look on her, actually. She was just effortlessly cute and charming.
“What? Of course not.” I closed my book, saying a silent goodbye to Mr. Thornton, at least until Amy made a decision. “You look great, perfect for a first date.”
“It’s kinda not really the first date. We already went out for drinks once, but I went straight over to the bar from a shoot and didn’t get a chance to dress up, sooo…it doesn’t count as a date.” She sighed. “I’m rambling so much I’m incoherent.”
“So what? You like him! You’re a little nervous. It’s a good thing—exciting, really—and you look great. He’s going to be staring at you all night if he has any taste.”
“Aww.” She smiled. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” I said graciously. I liked Amy. I’d lived on my own for a while, but when my lease expired, I had decided to find a new place closer to work. I hadn’t really been looking for a roommate, but somehow, I’d fallen in love with the spacious two-bedroom apartment and the well-managed building. Now, I was glad I’d taken it, because Amy was growing on me too.
“I’m going to put on some makeup,” she said. “You’re right, I really like him…that’s why I’m so nervous. Sometimes I wish I could be like you—calm, collected, unbothered about men, dating…the whole thing.”
I shrugged. “I’m not unbothered. I’ve been attracted to loads of people, I just don’t get emotional about my need to have sex with someone I find attractive.”
“See what I mean? Unbothered. It’s so cool.” She sighed. “I’d better go do my makeup.”
She returned to her room and I picked up my book, though I hesitated to open it again. Yes, I was unbothered about relationships. I’d never gotten nervous over a guy. I liked sex, and I’d never been hesitant to pursue it with a guy I found attractive. I just never dressed it up in all the emotional ribbons people liked to tie themselves up with.
It had been enough—until recently. Now, I was on a break from guys, sex, the whole shebang. It was my way of taking a step back to evaluate myself and determine how I wanted to manage relationships going forward.
The sound of birds chirping filled the house—Amy’s quirky doorbell. So, he was here. I was mildly interested in meeting the guy who had filled Amy’s stomach with enough butterflies to make her a nervous wreck. I wasn’t into real-life love, but I had a thing for love stories and happy endings in romance novels and other people’s lives, just not in mine. It was the strangest thing.
I got up from the couch and headed to the door. “He’s here!” I yelled in the direction of Amy’s room before looking through the peephole.
Okay. Through the distorted lens view, I could see that he was crazy gorgeous. No wonder Amy couldn’t pick a dress.
I opened the door and had to stop for a moment to catch my breath.
First, he was tall—sexy tall—and his broad shoulders made his sweater look like an advertisement for sex. Then there was his wide, perfectly muscled chest and long legs in perfectly fitting jeans.
His face was the final straw, high cheekbones, stormy grey-green eyes, and the most sensuous lips I’d ever seen, topped by thick black hair that was cut short at the back but deliciously wavy in front.
I suddenly found myself wondering how I looked. I was wearing lounge pants and a tank top, my shoulder-length brown hair was in a simple ponytail, and I wasn’t wearing any makeup. I sighed. I was going to make the most unsexy first impression on the hottest guy I’d ever seen.
I sucked in a breath and composed myself. I was practically salivating over my roommate’s date, which was probably right up there at the top of the list of shitty violations of the roommate agreement. Feeling guilty, I gave him a friendly smile. “You must be Colin,” I said, stepping back to let him into the apartment. “Amy will just be a minute.”
“Hello.” His voice was cool and deep, and it warmed me somehow. When his lips curved in a very tiny smile, my stomach twisted. He held my gaze as he stepped into the living room, and I wanted to drown in his eyes. I heard Amy come into the room and reluctantly dragged my eyes from his.
“He’s cute,” I said, still smiling, still feeling strange about the way the sight of him had thrown me off balance and wanting to make up for it by being the perfect, friendly roommate. After they’d gone out, I could try to unpack the way he’d knocked me off my feet.
Amy gave me a strange look then rolled her eyes. “That’s not Colin, that’s my brother,” she said, wrinkling her nose in his direction like she couldn’t imagine why anyone would call him cute. “Hi, Jason. What can I do for you?”
“Your brother?” Surprise, relief, and resistance churned in a strange mixture inside my stomach. I was disconcerted and sure it was obvious on my face, but him—he just looked amused.
“Her brother.” That deep, ridiculously sexy voice again. I felt it sizzle over my skin and I pulled in a deep breath. “Jason Wild. You must be Daphne.”
“I…” I tried to remember my own name. “Yes, I’m Daphne.”
“Nice to finally meet you.” He smiled slowly. “It’s great that we’ve already established the fact that you think I’m cute.”
“She’s my roommate,” Amy said, wagging a finger at him. “Don’t even think about it.”
“Think about what?” His eyes didn’t leave my face, and whatever Amy was accusing him of thinking, I was now thinking about it too—in astonishingly vivid, erotic detail.
“It’s nice to meet you too, Jason,” I said, my voice a little too thick. He stretched out a hand and when I hesitated, he quirked an eyebrow, making me almost forget how to breathe. Mesmerized, I gave him my hand, and my whole body tingled as he curled his smooth fingers around mine.
Amy’s voice interrupted the moment. “Okayyyyy, stop pawing my roommate and tell me why you’re here, and don’t tell me it’s your apartment because I will kick your ass.”
He turned to his sister, breaking our gaze and leaving me with a sense of loss that intensified when he dropped my hand. I made for the couch and the safety of my book, so thrown by the force of attraction I’d felt in just those few minutes of meeting him that I needed space and time to recover.
Handsome, sexy, perfect.
I couldn’t wait for him to leave.
“I miss my little sister,” I heard him say, a teasing note in his voice. “Can’t I come over just to check on you?”
“No!” Amy exclaimed. “And I’m not a little anything.”
He laughed, and I chuckled because, well, at five feet and two inches, she barely reached his chest.
“I came to pick up some of the stuff I left in the storage closet when I moved out, and now you have to tell me who this Colin is. Also, I have to meet him and warn him to treat you like a queen or else.”
“Argghh!” She was laughing. “Don’t even dare.”
They kept squabbling while I tried to focus on the words in my book. Suddenly John Thornton didn’t seem so compelling anymore. My skin prickled, and without looking up, I knew it was because Jason was looking at me. I lifted my face and met his gaze. He smiled. My skin heated and I dragged my eyes away.
It was a new experience, being so acutely aware of someone that I could barely function. I heard him laughing as he teased Amy, heard his steps as he walked past her into the hall that led to our bedrooms and the storage closet at the end.
“I didn’t know he was coming by today. He said he’d come around once he was back in town, but…” Amy gave me an apologetic look. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“No…” I shook my head. “It was just a little awkward when I thought he was your date.”
She laughed. “Not awkward, just funny. Colin is way cuter though.”
“That is unlikely,” Jason said, walking back into the living room holding a box. I agreed silently, watching his muscles stretch as he put it down by the door before coming back to sit on the edge of the couch.
His body was relaxed, his arm draped along the back of the couch with his fingers just a few inches from my face. He had nice, long fingers and neatly clipped nails. Good-looking men with well-manicured hands always turned me on, and he was no exception.
“So, you work in publishing?”
It took me a moment to go from lusting after his fingers to hearing what he was saying to me.
“That’s what I told you,” Amy sing-songed.
He ignored her, keeping those stormy gray eyes on me. It hadn’t even been an hour since we met, and I already thought his eyes were the most beautiful I’d ever seen.
“I do,” I nodded.
His eyes went to my book then returned to my face. “Must be interesting.”
“Pretty much.” I shrugged.
“And you like it here?”
“In the city? Or in the apartment?”
He shrugged, and I was temporarily mesmerized by the lazy movement of his broad shoulders. “Both.”
I exhaled. “I do.”
“Good,” he said. “Nice to know you’re not thinking of leaving any time soon.”
“She’s not interested, Jason,” Amy said before I could ask what he meant. “And I know why you’re making small talk—you’re trying to stall until Colin comes so you can scare him off.”
“Who’s Colin again?” He gave her a teasing grin and she stamped her foot. “Seriously Amy, why don’t you want me to meet him? As your older brother, I’m practically your parent, and it’s only natural that you introduce me to your date so he knows to have you home before midnight.”
She gave him a poisonous glare just as the doorbell rang again, then she stalked to the door and opened it a fraction.
“Hi,” I heard her say in a breathless voice.
“Hi.” The male voice on the other side of the door sounded impressed. “You look wonderful.”
“Thanks,” Amy replied.
Jason gave me an amused glance, a small smile playing on his lips. God! He was so hot.
Amy turned around. The guy, Colin, was just visible over her shoulder, still standing at the threshold. “Colin, that’s my brother, Jason, and my roommate, Daphne. Jason, Daphne, meet Colin. We’re going now, good night.”
She shut the door, leaving me and Jason alone in the apartment.
He laughed. “She’s always been much smarter than me.”
Left with any other person, I would have been amused too, but not him. With him, I already felt like I was being sucked into a vortex of physical attraction, and being alone in an apartment with him wasn’t helping. It was not helping at all.
“She is pretty smart,” I said lightly, the nonchalance in my voice hiding all the lustful reactions my body was having to him.
Our eyes met again and in those few seconds, I found myself rethinking my decision to stay away from guys for a while. The whole self-imposed celibacy deal made absolutely no sense when this gorgeous man was sitting less than three feet away from me.
I wondered if he had a girlfriend.
I tore my eyes away from his face. He was my roommate’s brother. A one-night stand, a fling—anything like that was bound to get uncomfortable in the long run. Was I so desperate for an orgasm that I’d be willing to risk my growing friendship with Amy?
I glanced toward the box he’d placed by the door. “So…you got your stuff,” I said, pointedly referring to the original reason why he’d come to the apartment.
He frowned, as if he’d totally forgotten about it. “Yeah, it’s just some books and sports stuff.” He got up, his lithe body suddenly towering over me. He took a step toward the door then stopped and turned back to me. “I want to see you again.”
My belly flipped, and my lips parted involuntarily as I pulled in a small breath. His directness was such an unexpected turn-on. “You might get to see me a lot,” I said, deliberately ignoring his meaning. “I’m living with your sister.”
His gray eyes darkened. “You know that’s not what I meant.”
I swallowed. He hadn’t even propositioned me, not directly, but it felt like he had. I felt like if we’d met at a bar a year ago, we’d be fucking in the nearest convenient location right now.
But this was now, and I was no longer that girl, and he was my roommate’s brother.
I shrugged. “What did you mean?”
He didn’t reply. Instead, he studied me, his eyes darkening with what appeared to be arousal. I felt a tightening in my nipples, a sweet tingle between my legs. God! He hadn’t even done more than look at me.
After a long moment, he shrugged, a small regretful smile creeping into the corner of his sensuous lips. “Never mind,” he said softly. “You’re right. You’re Amy’s roommate, so we probably will see more of each other.”
He walked back to his box and picked it up, then I got up and followed him to the door. Once outside, he turned around.
“It was really nice to meet you, Daphne,” he said, a small smile playing on his lips.
I returned his smile. “Same here.”
I closed the door and took a deep breath. I’d never been so drawn to anyone before, had never felt that kind of physical attraction. I didn’t know what to think about it, but I knew for sure who would be featuring in my fantasies later that night.
“So…what did you think of him?” Amy asked. She was sitting cross-legged in front of the couch eating Chinese take-out with a pair of chopsticks while the ending credits from an episode of Downton Abbey rolled on the TV screen.
I remembered the role Jason had played in my nighttime fantasies since our meeting, and blood rushed to my face. I twisted my noodles with my fork. “He was cool. I wish I hadn’t announced that I thought he was cute, but hey, he’s your brother.”
“Ugh, not Jason!” She wrinkled her nose. “I meant Colin.”
My face heated but she didn’t seem to notice. “Of course.” I laughed weakly. “I have no idea why I thought you meant Jason.”
She laughed. “Well, everyone has been telling him how cute he is since high school. You know how hard it is to be little sister to the cutest guy in school?” She smiled. “Okay, it wasn’t hard all the time. It was nice to have popular girls fawning over me because they liked him.” She shrugged. “Anyway, I meant Colin.”
“You know, I didn’t get much of a look at him with the way you rushed out, but he seemed nice.”
“Yeah…” She smiled dreamily. “I really like him, and his accent is sooo sexy…and he makes me feel like he’s really listening to me, you know, not wondering how soon he can get me into bed. I have a good feeling about him.”
“Bet you’re wondering how soon you can get him into bed though,” I teased.
“Well…” She giggled. “Now that you mention it, yes, I am.”
“Get it girl!”
“I can’t wait for you to really meet him though. You will at my exhibition—properly this time.”
“I hope so.” I was looking forward to the exhibition of her pictures at a local gallery, mainly because she was so excited about it. I paused for a moment, schooling my voice to a lightness I didn’t feel. “Jason won’t be there to breathe down his neck?”
“Oh, he will. Jason wouldn’t miss my exhibition for the world,” she said carelessly. “It’s time for him to really meet Colin anyway since we might be together for a while, if all goes well.”
“Oh…good.” Somehow, I had hoped he wouldn’t be there. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see him again, I wanted to, too much, and that was the problem.
“So, you like him?”
I gave her a guarded look. “You mean Jason this time?”
“Yes.” She laughed, then bit her lip. “The thing with Jason is…well, he lives up to his name with women. He’s a bit wild.”
I laughed. “You don’t have to warn me off him, Amy. I’m not interested in your brother, not like that.”
She covered her face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. He just…has a way with women, and I like you too much to let my brother potentially fuck up our friendship.”
I tried not to imagine all the things related to the F word that I was finding myself perfectly willing to let him do to me. “Good thing I’m practically celibate,” I said wryly.
“Yeah, there’s that, and you’re nothing like the women who usually throw themselves at him. His type is manicured, made up, plastic, glam, superficial, and practically mentally incapacitated. Oh yeah, and the blonder the better.”
“So I’m not his type,” I said with a small laugh, though I didn’t feel like laughing at all.
“Well, you’re not mentally incapacitated.”
“Yeah,” I said, silently acknowledging that when I was around him, I probably was, just a little.
* * *
My days at JH Publishing, where I’d worked since I graduated college usually included a morning meeting then hours spent reading manuscripts. This was usually followed by a few more hours spent typing out notes about what I thought of each attempt at readable fiction then sending the notes to my senior editor before attacking the next pile of submissions.
Occasionally, I found something that gripped me, but those times were few and far between. I’d spent the morning slogging through a few chapters of a fantasy novel where the characters were practically indistinguishable, and the plot made no sense to me, and then I moved on to a story that was obviously Oliver Twist but if Oliver Twist was a girl. By noon, I was already burned out.
My cell rang just before lunch.
“Hello.” The voice was deep, smooth, and familiar. “This is Jason Wild.”
A shiver ran down my spine and ended up as a warm tingle somewhere between my legs. I’d never wanted to sleep with someone as badly as I wanted to sleep with Jason Wild. The intensity of my desire for him both surprised and confused me.
“Hi, Jason,” I said, forcing my voice to come out smoothly.
“Before you ask,” he continued in that voice that was somehow even sexier on the phone. “Amy gave me your number.”
Why would she do that after she all but warned me off him? “She did?”
“Yeah…” He paused. “It’s the exhibition. She thought you might need a ride, and since I happen to be going there myself, I thought I’d take you.”
I’d take you.
I swallowed. Just…no. “I’m swamped with work, so I’m going to leave a little later than I planned. I wouldn’t want to delay you.”
He chuckled softly. “Daphne, just tell me when you’ll be free to leave.”
The gallery was across town, far enough that the thought of a ride was welcome, but that meant a long ride, alone, in a car with Jason. I didn’t trust myself not to tear his clothes off before we got there. What was it about him and why did I want him so badly? I wasn’t a nymphomaniac. I liked sex, but it wasn’t a crazy addiction I couldn’t do without. With Jason, though, it almost felt like that.
“Daphne,” Jason prompted, the velvety way he said my name pulling me out of my thoughts. “When will you be free?”
“I…um…I’ll be ready at seven.”
“Perfect,” he said. “See you then.”
See you then.
Since when did the most ordinary words have the power to make me soaking wet?
* * *
By seven, I was ready. I’d brushed my hair and reapplied my makeup, and I was wearing a simple beige top and dark pants. It had been nice enough when I chose it in the morning, but now, I wondered if I shouldn’t have taken more care with my appearance.
“You look nice.” Candace, one of the senior editors with whom I was very friendly, gave me a once-over as she walked past me on her way out of the building. “Big date?”
I shook my head. “I’m just going to an exhibition.”
“Mmmhm.” She stopped and gave me a doubtful look. “Must be some exhibition. I’ve never seen you looking so on point.”
“What do you mean?” I laughed. “I’m always on point.”
Just then, my phone buzzed. It was a text from Jason.
I’m parked on the curb, should I come in?
I imagined him walking into my office and giving everyone an eyeful of his hotness.
No, I replied quickly. I’ll be right out.
I reached the glass doors and pushed one side open, holding it for Candace while looking around for Jason. There was a black SUV parked right in front of the entrance and as I waited, the rear door opened and he stepped out.
I heard a whistle behind me, but I didn’t even turn to spare Candace a glance. I was eye-fucking Jason Wild and I didn’t give a damn who saw.
He was wearing a suit—an exquisitely tailored suit. I loved well-manicured fingers, but suits were another matter entirely. A beautiful man in a suit made me weak in the knees. When that man was Jason Wild—well, I could barely stay upright.
I wanted to run my hands through his wavy hair, drown in his beautiful eyes, kiss those sensual lips, tear his clothes off his body…
“Hello, Daphne.” He grinned teasingly, like he knew what I was thinking. He took two steps toward me, sparing a glance at the doors behind me that led into my workplace. “So, this is where you work.”
“Yeah…” I nodded. “I… You look good,” I said, somehow unable to stop myself from saying the only thing running through my mind. He looked like sex on strong, muscular legs, and I desperately wanted a bite.
His eyes twinkled. “I’m cute, and I look good—I should spend a lot more time around you, Daphne. Your compliments are good for my self-confidence.”
I snorted. “You don’t look like you need any help with your self-confidence.”
His arm went around me, and I melted into the exquisite smell of his cologne as he led me to the car. I had to get a hold of myself. He was making a mess of my hormones, and my hormones were making a mess of me.
With his hand on my back, I climbed into the car. He waited till I was seated. “What if,” he said softly, “I don’t need any help with my self-confidence, but I just want to spend a lot more time around you?”
“Do car trips to art galleries count?”
“Depends.” His eyes dropped to my lips. “Is anything interesting going to happen during the ride?”
I bit my lower lip. “What would you call interesting?”
“I can think of a few things.”
“Like…scintillating conversation?” I raised a brow.
He chuckled. “Try again.”
I raised my shoulders in a small shrug. I was enjoying flirting with him, but it was dancing dangerously close to a line I didn’t want to cross for many reasons. “Maybe you should get in the car. We’re going to be late for your sister’s exhibition.”
He laughed softly but closed the door and walked over to the other side, and I took the opportunity to take a few deep breaths to get my body back under control. By the time he joined me in the back, I felt less breathless and hot, and a little more composed.
“Nice car,” I said, slipping in the compliment to stave off any further flirting. I wasn’t sure my self-control could withstand any more of it.
“Thanks.” He motioned toward the driver. “This is Leonard. Leonard, this is Daphne.”
Leonard turned long enough to nod and smile, and I did a small wave. “Hi, Leonard.”
Jason was looking at me. “So how was work? Did you discover the next J. K. Rowling?”
I laughed, glad he was talking about my work instead of trying to mesmerize me with his eyes. “That only happens once or twice in a lifetime.”
“Has it happened yet for you?” He was peering over at me, seemingly very interested in my career while I was preoccupied with mentally undressing him.
I shook my head slowly. “No, not yet. We haven’t ever published a big hit, just a few small successes, being a small press and all.”
He nodded. “At least you have that to look forward to—finding your once-in-a-lifetime big hit.”
“Yeah.” I nodded. “How about you—what do you do all day in such a lovely suit?”
He grinned boyishly. “I’m an investor. What I do is mostly identifying promising ventures, supporting them, and hopefully reaping rewards a few months or years down the road.”
“You make it sound easy.”
He laughed. “I suppose it’s a different kind of hard from slogging through piles of manuscripts every day.”
“I guess.” I wrinkled my nose. “I don’t get to make the final decisions though, so I don’t feel as bad about rejecting people’s work.”
He chuckled. In the silence that followed, I snuck a glance at him. He was leaning back in his seat, his face turned at a slight angle toward the window. I found myself admiring his features again, the thick waves of his hair, the sculpted lines of his face, the slight curve of his lips.
I’d checked the distance to our destination on my maps app and knew exactly how long it would take, almost an hour with no traffic. It would be nearly an hour spent in close proximity with this man who made me want to toss caution to the wind and let him screw my brains out.
“Now what are you thinking with an expression like that?”
He’d turned in my direction and caught me staring, and I flushed, sure he knew exactly what was going through my mind.
“An expression like what?” I asked innocently.
Fierce lust, I qualified silently. “Nothing,” I lied softly. “I’m not thinking anything at all.”