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How He Kisses
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How He Preys
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How He Seduces
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How He Keeps
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How He Wins
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About the Author
Copyright © 2016 by Janica Cade
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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“I can’t do it.” I sipped my cup of coffee and let it burn my throat. “Next week will be my last.”
My best friend of eight years, Kate, gave me the worst puppy dog eyes. “Bullshit, Chloe. You haven’t even handed in your two-week notice. Isn’t it time to repay that favor I did for you?” She begged, grabbing my hand and caging it between hers.
My stomach rolled. She was referring to the escort job she got me. It was going to hold me over until I’d found a real job. That never came. Besides, the money is good and the clientele is fine, as long as you ignore that you are spending your Friday nights with desperate, lonely men. Whatever. At least I rake in good cash on the weekend instead of spending it.
The main problem was people’s obvious distaste for what I do. It’s not as if I was fucking these guys, but damn… people were always so quick to judge. Naturally, I stopped telling folks I was an escort and turned it into a fun round of charades. But the game is getting old now, and I’m getting older too. I’m tired of lying to everyone. And how long can I go before my brain becomes numb from not learning an actual skill?
Kate’s situation was worse than my own. Was she stuck here for life? My mind scrambled for a response. “Shouldn’t you be the one quitting? You’ve been doing this for four effing years. Why don’t you move to something new?”
She grimaced and glared at me as if I was out of my mind. “Like what?”
My thoughts froze in their tracks. She got me there. I had no idea what to do with myself either. I needed the money and I couldn’t take a pay cut to learn something new—not with my dad’s condition. Someone had to put food on the table. A girl had to do whatever she could to keep her family alive. I brought my attention back to her. “Like go to college.”
Shallow laughter vibrated through her chest, her stomach rising and falling. “You seriously think I want to go to university like you, Miss Prim?”
My chest tightened. Prim? I held my tongue. That was a compliment considering what I did for a living. “What’s your problem with going to college?”
“I ain’t smart enough for that,” Kate waved the suggestion away. “I’m twenty-five, Chloe. Don’t you think that’s a little too old for college?”
For the last couple of months, I had been trying to persuade Kate to quit the escort crap and go to college with me. But she’d insisted she was too dumb and too old to get in and change. It wasn’t that. It was because the money was too damn good. I quit fumbling with my zipper and tried to convince her yet again. “Don’t you have more drive now than you did when you were 18? Just get in and step on the gas. You’ll come out a better person on the other side.”
After graduating high school, my dad hadn’t been able to afford college for me, so escorting became a good way to earn money to get into architecture school. I had my plan. Escort, make money, then get my ass in class. But then Dad got sick, and I stayed longer than expected.
I hadn’t realized that she was talking when I noticed her lips moving. “… I know you’re ready to quit. But please, Chloe, I’m begging you. Rosalyn’s pissed enough as it is with me taking sick leave in the middle of things.”
Kate had taken it upon herself to get a boob job because she didn’t think she had enough going on “up top”. She was supposed to heal in two to three weeks, but it had been a full month and she was still recovering.
Rosalyn, our boss, was gung-ho about the breast lift in the beginning, but when her staff dwindled, she had to get other girls to fill positions.
“Shouldn’t have messed with mother nature,” I remarked, my voice dripping with disapproval.
A line etched between her amber eyes. “Are you not willing to help a friend in need?”
My stomach grew heavy. She had a point. Kate was a pain in my rear half the time, but she was a loyal friend and she expected the same from me. I struggled with the idea of pushing aside my own hopes and dreams to help her. “One more job won’t kill me,” I grumbled.
“Yay!” Kate threw her arms around my neck and clung on, trying to choke the last bit of life from me. “Thank you for doing this. It means a lot.”
“Just this one,” I reminded, sticking my index finger into the air for emphasis. “After this, I’m done. I’m never going back again.”
Kate beamed and bobbed her head, her face brightening for the first time in the whole conversation. “I know, girl. And I’m proud of you for choosing a better career than this.”
My ribs tightened over my stomach while my thoughts flickered to my dad, who was waiting for my visit. Paramedics rushed him to the emergency room when he had a heart complication last night while I was finishing with a client. Lucky for the both of us, it wasn’t serious. I had to admit, taking up Kate’s client wouldn’t hurt and the money would do me good. My dad’s medical bills never slept. I lifted myself from the plush sofa. “When am I supposed to meet the client?”
Kate fidgeted with her pajama button. “Next Monday morning. He’s coming in to settle matters with the boss. I’ll let Rosalyn know that you’re taking over for me. Have you told her you’re quitting?”
I swallowed an emerging lump in my throat. I’d been dreading facing the boss. Texting or messaging her to quit was just wrong. I’d worked for the fiery redhead for two years and she was known for losing her temper and snapping. I had never seen it happen, because I always tried to do my job as best as I could. Monday’s the day. I’ll throw one stone and get it done. “I’ll go Monday when he’s there and talk to Rosalyn too. She’ll understand.” It was a hopeful fib. I had no idea how Rosalyn would react and it worried me.
“Could she force you to stay?” Kate asked in a quiet voice.
Heat spread as my heartbeat echoed through my chest. “Oh hell no. Rosalyn would never get away with that crap. I’d turn her in to the Department of Labor so fast, her head would spin.”
I drew in a deep breath and calmed the tight nerves in my neck. The boss generally played fair. Clients had to obey the rules. If a particular client hassled one of us, Rosalyn allowed us to terminate the contract and then paid us anyway. Nobody was forced to have sex. Ever. It was a girl’s choice, and if a client acted weird about it, then he could take his business elsewhere. In that way, I respected Rosalyn. Sure, she could throw a fit sometimes, but at least she stood up for us. I wiped my sweaty palm against my jeans. “I should get going,” I announced, turning the door knob. “I still need to check on my dad and see how he’s doing.”
“Thanks again for doing this, Chloe. It really means a lot to me and I’m forever grateful.” She gave me a hug before I eased the door shut.
Florida heat stifled my face. One last project and I would be done with being an escort. I didn’t hate the job. In fact, I quite liked it. I got to play dress-up and drink fine champagne. I accompanied date-less men to formal balls and got paid too. Win-win. Right?
Problem was, I’d made a promise to myself and now I was breaking it. I hate not achieving my goals. I wanted to marry my prince and start my own family. My future children would NEVER learn about me being an escort. Even if I didn’t fuck my clients.
Taxi cab wheels whirled beneath me. Vehicles blurred past as people walked along the pedestrian lane. The taxi stopped moving as the hospital appeared through the window. I paid the driver and hopped out to meet Dad.
He was awake and in good spirits when I walked into his room. He was wearing one of those hospital gowns, only this time it was a different color. His face lit up when he saw me. I smiled and sauntered over, pressing a chaste kiss on his dry cheek.
He arched a gray eyebrow and studied my face as if something needed to be assessed. “Where did you go?”
My stomach rolled. He hated my choice in careers, but my dad and I had an honesty pact and I would never lie to him. I swallowed. “Visited Kate. She asked me to do a shift for her.”
His face darkened and his lips pressed into a thin line. “Did you make that appointment with the college counselor?”
I propped myself on an available chair by the edge of his bed and squared my shoulders. “Not yet. I’m doing this for Kate. She’s sick and she can’t work.”
“Sick? What does she have?”
Shit. She’d kill me if I told anyone about her boob job mishap. I bit my bottom lip. “Can’t say.”
“Is this how you get ahead in life? By rolling around with morons who can’t get dates?”
Hot air flooded my nostrils. I wasn’t rolling around with anyone and now even my own father was doubting me. I wasn’t that kind ofgirl. I believed in love and physical chemistry before sex. And currently, love didn’t exist in my world, so neither did sex. I challenged him. “Do you think I’ve been intimate with these men?”
“How could you not be? Who the hell pays for a mere date and conversation?”
My mind scrambled for words. He didn’t understand and I had grown tired of defending my job long ago. “Do you think it’s easy for everyone to find love like you and Mom?”
He said nothing. He and my mother had the most powerful love that ever existed.
I was fortunate to have been raised in a loving family, but who else had that? Their love was a fluke. That tight bond simply didn’t exist anywhere else and it was naïve of my dad to assume that love came easy. “Think it’s so simple? Most people fool themselves with the wrong people their entire lives. Half of all marriages end in divorce and the majority of the other half should call it quits too. Marriage is a pretend game. I don’t blame my clients and frankly I think they’re smart for not dating, because it’s a mess.”
My pessimistic words suddenly bothered me. Had I really come to believe that it was all a farce? My hand had already risen to my mouth when the corners of my dad’s lips formed a smile.
He crossed his arms and lifted his head. “You can’t fall in love if you’re not open to it.”
“Love is overrated.” Pins prodded at my underarms. Why was my love life—or lack thereof—now on the table? I quickly changed the subject. “Kate’s sick. She’ll lose her job if I flake on her and I need to be a good friend.”
He must’ve realized he was losing the battle because the smirk disappeared from his face. “I’m sure that agency has dozens of escorts, Chloe. Can’t someone else take over instead?”
“It’s one last job,” I stressed. “I don’t want her to end up jobless. She’s my best friend and it’d crush her to lose her job. Our friendship would be over too.”
He tilted his head downward and frowned. He flashed one finger in front of me just like I had done earlier with Kate. “One last job. Then you get your ass in gear and get in school.”
He finally gave in and I placed a hand over his. “I promise it’ll be over after this. But for now, I need you to stop worrying about it and focus on getting better, okay?”
“I will. You focus too. You get into college and get studying. Don’t become like me, Chloe-girl.”
“Too late for that,” I chortled. “I gotta run to the cleaners. I’ll be back in the morning t--”
“Chloe?” My father’s determined eyes matched mine.
I halted my clatter. “Yes?”
He squeezed my hand. “Thank you.”
I would make it work. I was getting his hospital bills paid, and would continue to do so for the next couple weeks. It’s only two or three weeks. What’s the worst that can happen?
Monday morning came fast. Sunlight poured through the window surface of my bedroom, highlighting the white sheets of my mattress as I stretched and pushed strands of hair from my face. Hopping out, I showered, pulled a black pencil skirt and fuchsia silk blouse on, and grabbed breakfast before checking on my father. He was still fast asleep in his bed when I poked my head in. The doctor had given us the okay to get him home yesterday.
The drive prepared me for the upcoming conversation and I rehearsed lines I would say to Rosalyn. I dreaded her response but dragged myself into the quiet building anyway. Rosalyn talked to one of my colleagues by the counter. She stopped and turned around, as if sensing my presence behind her.
“Good morning,” I greeted.
They both chimed a ‘good morning’ before Rosalyn led me to her office. The smell of wood and lavender struck me.
“Have a seat, Chloe,” Rosalyn ordered before sitting in her swiveling chair. She interlaced her hands behind her head and rocked back. “Kate said you took over the project for her.”
I nodded. “Yes. Is it okay?” I cringed and waited for my first response from the curly, fit woman.
“Why would I have a problem with that?”
“I don’t know. I… well, there’s one more thing,” I stammered.
“Yes? Tell me.”
I nodded once more. “It’s been two years, and you have been a great employer, but I need to continue my studies and explore other options. I can’t continue this job forever.”
“No, you cannot,” Rosalyn agreed, her eyebrow arched. “You have my permission to quit and I would accept your resignation letter once you’ve passed it on. Now, let’s talk about this new project.” She quickly moved on. “The client should be here in less than an hour.”
Her words faded as my mind raced for any trace of resistance. Shouldn’t she be more shocked or irritated? The resignation process had happened too easy, and that was scary. I cleared my throat and felt uneasy for the rest of the meeting.
We covered simple facts about the client. Apparently he was so new and shiny that Rosalyn didn’t even care about my quitting. Her hand trembled as she placed a folder on the black glass table.
I opened the folder to see a single white page with a printed name. Jake Sutherland. The name sounded familiar, but my mind was empty and so was the page. I picked it up and flipped it over. Is this a joke? “There’s nothing here. Where’s his profile?”
She crossed her arms. “He didn’t supply it to us. He said we’d be on a need-to-know basis.”
Who was this man? What if he isn’t who she thinks he is? I didn’t like it. Not one bit. I opened my mouth to object as the door swung open.
He walked in.
I tried to control a gasp that emanated from my throat and slammed my mouth shut. The entire office hushed as his smooth, dark hair captivated the attention of every girl in the room. An aura of dominance surrounded him as he glanced around, his eyes stern and steady. His blue orbs traveled my way until they met mine and penetrated through to the depths of my soul. Thick arousal rushed between my thighs as I fought back a shiver.
“Mr. Sutherland,” Rosalyn greeted as she stood up from her black, leather chair and rushed to him.
I froze as I considered the prospect of dating this man. He was hot--by far the hottest man who had ever walked into the office and he was still gazing at me. I pried my fingers from the knitted cloth chair and rose.
“It’s so nice to finally meet you,” my boss bubbled, trying to recapture his attention. “Thank you for coming by today and discussing this matter with us.”
His eyes flickered as they focused on the short redhead. He offered a courteous smile. “Absolutely.”
Rosalyn introduced us.
He turned to me. “Miss Madison. It is a pleasure to meet you.”
Hearing him utter the word ‘pleasure’ had me closing my eyes briefly before I told myself to get a grip. This was a business deal. Problem was, his deep voice had sent heat spreading through my pelvis. His sandalwood scent wafted to my nostrils, intoxicating me and weakening my limbs. I stiffened and tried to conceal any obvious changes in my breathing pattern. I drew in a deep breath and fought to control my stature. It was ridiculous. He wasn’t the first good-looking man to walk through the door. My reaction was silly and useless. Get a hold of yourself, Chloe. It’s just a man. I repeated the words in my head and extended a trembling hand toward him. “Mr. Sutherland, it is my pleasure to meet you as well,” I gushed. Stop it. I drew in a breath and relaxed my shoulders.
The warmness of his smooth hand turned mine to putty. His touch calmed my nerves and eased me. His strong shoulders displayed chiseled curvature beneath the lines of his black suit. His smooth skin glowed.
There was no getting around it. He was pure, raw alpha.
I pulled away before I could make a fool of myself further. I somehow managed to line my butt up with a seat as they also sat to discuss business. I struggled to focus on the words coming from her mouth. She was talking about Kate.
Oh my god, he didn’t even know his escort had changed. And this was Kate’s client? Was she on crack? How could she possibly consider dumping a guy as gorgeous as this?
My pulse raced. I wasn’t nearly as stunning or graceful as heart-thudding Kate. She was every man’s dream, and I was a plain auburn-haired Jane next to her. Mr. Sutherland was bound to be disappointed in the sudden switch and I prepared myself for the coming rejection.
His square jaw loosened as he broke into a smile and turned his attention back to me.
Rosalyn redirected her gaze. “What do you think, Miss Madison?”
I hated that she’d asked me a question at a moment when I could barely concentrate. His eyes grew heavier on mine, triggering a tingling sensation throughout my body. All thought fled my mind. Shit. What was happening to me? I opened my mouth but words didn’t come. I lifted my chin. “Surely he prefers to wait for Kate. She’ll be better soon and back in no time,” I asserted, rising from my chair. My long legs stood into an embarrassing wobble. I needed to escape while I could still feel the carpet under my feet.
She rolled her eyes. “Sit,” she commanded.
I didn’t want to embarrass Rosalyn or Kate’s client. I was no match for him, but I sat anyway, avoiding eye contact with the statuesque creature seated next to me.
“Why don’t I leave and you two can get to know each other,” Rosalyn offered. She turned to Mr. Sutherland and tapped his hand. “Please let me know if you believe Chloe is a good candidate for the job.”
A pang of panic seized my chest. Please don’t leave me in here alone with him.
Silence stretched the space between us.
A light sweat broke out above my upper lip as his eyes pierced mine.
“I don’t bite,” he murmured. “Not unless you want me to.”
Arousal traveled through my nerve-endings as I thought of his lips on my body. An image of him biting my neck made moisture ooze from my opening. I pressed my thighs together. Don’t mess with your clients, Chloe. I inscribed the warning into my brain, repeating it like a mantra so I wouldn’t forget. I willed myself not to be affected by the ardent look he gave me.
Before either of us could open our mouths and speak, Rosalyn walked back into the room holding a manila folder in her hand. I relaxed my shoulders and promptly excused myself to go to the bathroom.
Whoever this man was, he was dominant and dangerous. He exuded power, and that scared the hell out of me. What frightened me even more was that his eyes drew me in as if there was a charged magnetic force behind them. His intensity surged through me and gripped every inch of my soul.
The ladies’ bathroom smelled like French perfume and I locked myself into the first cubicle. I buried my face into my hands, but no tears came. It was more like a nervous thrill.
This had to stop. I’ll tell Rosalyn I need someone else. Someone not quite so strong, domineering… hot.
No. I can do this. I repeated the words as I sauntered back to the conference room. I’ll go on the date. I’ll keep my eyes focused on the prize. The money. That’s why I’m doing this. It’s for the cashola. I scrutinized my legs and wanted to shout at them to stop wobbling.
The top of my head collided with a hard chest. I bounced off and stumbled back. Oh no. It was him. I lost my footing, then braced myself on the water cooler.
Suddenly, strong arms surrounded me, breaking the fall.
Mr. Sutherland stared at me, a line etching between his sky-blue eyes. “Are you alright?” His voice sounded deep and primal through his massive chest.
Nodding, I shook off the haziness from my head and stumbled again, like a fool. He caught me by the wrist, holding me up. Again. I forced my lips into the most graceful smile I could manage and regained my composure as if nothing happened. “Thank you,” I mumbled, lifting my chin. I hobbled down the hall, fighting to control a developing limp.
“You're welcome,” he said, amused. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
What was it about this man that made me lose awareness to the world?
“You don’t look stable. Maybe you ought to sit down,” he advised.
“No, no, there’s no need, really. I’m quite alright. Thank you for the concern though, Mr. Sutherland. I’ll see you whenever I’m supposed to see you.”
He pursed his moist lips and tilted his head to the side. “Are you not interested in our arrangement?”
I swallowed and tried to prevent a tingling heat from taking over my cheeks and neck. “Yes, I am. I’m sorry, I just lost my mind for a moment. I’ll just go in and sign off with Rosalyn.”
He absorbed my eyes through his. “Already done. My driver picks you up at seven.”
Heat shot through my veins like strychnine. Had he really consented for me? How dare he? I was going to say yes, but would have appreciated a choice in the matter. I spun wheels to Kate’s place and stormed into her apartment without knocking. “Why didn’t you tell me it was him?”
She looked dumbfounded and followed me into the living room. “Who?”
I collapsed on to the couch. “Jake Sutherland.”
Her eyes bulged. “The Jake Sutherland?”
“Oh, you know who he is?”
She squinted one eye and tilted her head to the side. “Of course. Who doesn’t know who he is?”
“Me. I don’t pay attention to all that celebrity crap. I only know because I Googled him on the way here.” She hadn’t answered my question yet and it was bothering me. “Why didn’t you tell me it was him?”
She lifted her chin and looked me dead-on. “I didn’t know anything about it. Friday was going to be our first date.”
She was off the hook. Apparently, no one had told her about this client either. I relaxed knowing my friend wasn’t part of a scheme to withhold information from me. “I can’t do this job.” I raised a hand to protest, jumped up from the sofa, and paced from wall to wall.
Her mouth gaped into a wide-open state of shock. “What? Why?”
“Flies are going to get in your mouth. Better close it.” I flopped down on her couch again and flung an arm over my eyes.
The sofa dipped and I peeked over my arm.
She waited for me to spill.
I sighed and sat up. “He’s so mysterious. He didn’t provide a profile and Rosalyn wasn’t much help. She let it slide as if it didn’t matter. It’s the first time I’ve seen her budge on the rules.”
“What? Rosalyn didn’t give you the client’s profile info?” Kate frowned and looked confused.
The room was spinning and my throat was dry. I coughed. Now I was the sick one. I fanned air through my shirt. “No. She said he was an important man, as if that was supposed to suffice. If he’s so rich and important, why can’t he get a normal date?”
“What did she say about you quitting?” She asked.
The nerve endings in my temples ached. I massaged them, closed my eyes and grunted out an answer. “She was strangely agreeable and that’s what was even more freaky. I don’t know what she’s got in her back pocket.”
Kate nodded. “Aren’t you overreacting?”
I grabbed a red velvet, square pillow and hugged it. “I don’t know. This guy…he’s not like anyone I’ve seen before.”
She rubbed her chest. “Have you Googled him?”
“Of course.” The first thing I did when I got in the car was Google the hell out of him. “It’s the internet. How do I know if what I’m reading is accurate? And why the hell didn’t he fill out the damn profile? Reading about how his company stock performed last quarter tells me nothing about the man!”
She shifted and crossed her arms. “If you were a haughty-taughty billionaire, would you waste time filling out a profile with an escort agency?”
The corner of my mouth dragged into a frown. I had become thoroughly confused about escort agencies and the men who used them. The more I looked at it, the more perplexed I became. “Would I ever use an escort agency?”
“Hmm, good point. Is the date still scheduled for Friday?”
My mind raced. Friday was just around the corner. I pushed some strands of hair off my clammy forehead. “Yes. Charity auction. All I have to do is dress up and accompany him. It’s just one night, Kate.”
She stiffened and tightened her lips. “Yes. Just one night,” she said, staring at the floor.
Heat flooded my nostrils as I scrutinized her. “What is it you’re not telling me?”
She jerked up, her pupils widening as she made eye contact. “Nothing.”
“Okay,” I said, letting my voice trail higher at the end.
She slumped her shoulders and watched me from the corner of her eye. “It’s rare that any client hires an escort for one single night,” she confessed.
She was right, I just didn’t want to face that fact. “One date with me, I’m sure he won’t want anymore. I’m not exactly the most beautiful one there.”
Her eyebrows furrowed. “Hush, Chloe. Do you not see how many heads you turn when you walk around?”
It was nice of her to try and make me feel better about my looks, but deep down we both knew I was no super model. Not even close. “He chose you, a gorgeous leggy blond. Not me,” I reminded.
“Who cares. It’s just an agency photo and looks aren’t everything. If I had your brains, I wouldn’t even be in this busin…” She bit her bottom lip, then tucked both lips inward as if trying to stop her mouth from spouting the truth.
An uncontrollable smirk formed on my face. “Exactly. One date and I’m done. I’m off to college. Hopefully he’s not some psychotic murderer.”
She tilted her head to the side and widened her eyes. “Did he look psychotic?”
Arousal spread through my body as I imagined his sinful eyes and robust jawline. I wanted to linger my tongue there to taste every inch of him. I pushed the thought away and squared my shoulders. “No. He looks totally and utterly boring. Not my type at all.”
Kate did a double-take, arching an eyebrow. “You got a thing for this guy, don’t you?”
I massaged the back of my aching neck. The last thing I need is for her to get the idea I’m interested in him. It wasn’t true and she’d never come back and replace me if she thought I liked him. I needed her to return to work, not try and match me to the nearest lonely bachelor. I lifted my chin. “Absolutely not.”
Her eyes lit. She jumped up from the sofa, groaning on the way up, and placed a hand on her hip. “You like him.”
I licked my lips and gnawed on my cheek. “Kate, sit down, you’re sick.”
“Chloe Madison, you got the hots for Jake Sutherland and it’s written all over your face.”
I don’t care what’s scribbled on my face, I’m not bending the rules for a client. “I would never in a million years fall for anyone from the agency.”
The days went by in a blur and Friday came earlier than expected. I started dressing at five o’clock. I applied my make-up with trembling fingers and when I discovered it wasn’t good enough, I washed my face and started again. My powder blue satin dress clung to my body as I stepped in and pulled it up with care. The fabric accentuated my curves, showing off the female indentations as the dress hugged the flare of my wide hips.
“I don’t think I’ve seen you pay such close attention to your outfit before,” my father’s voice rang from the doorway.
The soft fabric of the dress swirled around me as I rushed to him. “Dad, you should be in bed. What are you doing up?”
“Trying to convince you not to go. You’re not in high school anymore, and I can’t stop you from walking out that door. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let you go without some good, sound advice.”
My lips tightened. Going to the event was hard enough without my dad all over me. I had to nip the conversation in the bud. “We already talked about this. It will soon be over.”
“You look stunning,” my dad said as we both stared at my reflection. “Who’s the guy? Some lonely, awkward nerd who doesn’t know how to talk to women?”
I wished it was a nerd. I bit my lip and tried to subdue my curiosity about Jake. I had been focused on him all week and frankly it was starting to bother me that I was spending my personal time on him without getting paid for it. I plastered a smile to my face. “Probably. Doesn’t matter. It’s a charity event and these things are almost always over by midnight.”
My father narrowed his eyes on me and rubbed the overgrown hairs on his chin. “You don’t seem worried.”
It was the usual affair, so why make a big deal out of it? I studied my watch and performed an elaborate yawn. “I’m not. It’s just a business transaction that’s going to put a nice chunk of change in my account.”
“Okay. Well, try to enjoy yourself then, I guess,” he grumbled.
I squinted an eye. “I’ll try. I made you some of that cornbread you like to go with the chili. Try not to gas it up while I’m gone.” My dad and I were used to making raunchy jokes around the house. It was the only way I could keep his thoughts off Mom.
“Okay. I’ll save some good, savory ones for when you get back,” he chortled, maintaining a straight face.
Not picking at my freshly-manicured fingernails was quite a task while waiting for the driver. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I fanned cool air on my face and begged my pores not to sweat. Why the hell was I so nervous? After half an hour, there was a brief knock on the door and the driver told me that Mr. Sutherland was waiting outside his penthouse to meet me. We’d pick him up, then head over together to the charity event. It was smart. No sense in showing up in separate cars.
I waved goodbye to Dad before hopping into the car. The ride to the penthouse wasn’t that long. I caught a glimpse of Mr. Sutherland’s muscular form inside when we pulled up beside another black SUV. He wore one of those business suits that played upon his strong, hard physique. He came out and our eyes met for the first time since Monday. I fought back a shiver and drew in a deep, healthy breath. He’s just a guy.
“Good evening, Mr. Sutherland,” I greeted in a professional voice, reminding him that this was a business transaction and nothing else. I ran my hand across my thigh to remind my knees not to weaken. It didn’t help when he traced over my body slowly. Probably wanting to see if I wouldn’t embarrass him. And of course, I wouldn’t. I was trained for this job.
His lips moistened. “Good evening, Miss Madison. First names would be more appropriate here, wouldn’t it?”
He was right. His masculine voice caused me to relax my tense shoulders. “Of course.”
We filed inside the car without another word. I was used to my previous clients talking my ear off while being forced to listen. I didn’t mind. I was trained for this and I had to act professionally. So hearing him humming under his breath took me by surprise. He sat on the other side of the car, as if he was respecting my boundaries. The distance left me wanting to move closer. I needed to talk to him, to find out why he was doing this, to scream at the top of my lungs and demand he give me his entire life story. But instead, I crossed my legs and pretended to watch the downtown city lights.
The charity event was at a familiar building where I had probably been before—maybe even for a business event similar to this one. I accepted the hand Jake extended. His strong masculine hand sent electric waves ravaging through my body. I managed a smile in thanks as my feet landed softly on the curb. He didn’t let go of my hand as we walked toward the entrance. I had to be okay with that. I had stated in my profile that I was more than willing to hold a client’s hand.
Now I wished I hadn’t. I became flushed as heat surged through my body.
A hoppy jazz band echoed through the outdoors as we walked along the red carpet. Paparazzi lined the rope, flashing their long-lensed cameras as we continued to make our way. I displayed a few smiles as I was told to do in my training, wanting to come off as friendly as possible. Women murmured, probably wondering who the hell I was, and why I was on his arm. It dawned on me that Jake Sutherland was a notorious billionaire and people all over the country knew him. Was I the only one that slept under a rock? He must’ve thought it was strange that I didn’t crowd around him on Monday like everyone else. I made a mental note to apologize for my celebrity ignorance later.
“Please disregard any clamor you might hear. They just want lies to feed to the public.” Jake spoke to my ear, the heat of his body transferring to my own. How many escorts had accompanied him in the past? He sounded like a pro.
“Are there lies to tell?” The question flew out of my mouth before I’d had a chance to reign it in. I regretted it immediately. It was so unprofessional, but every bone in my body ached to know more about this mysterious man.
He smiled with one corner of his mouth as he focused on me. “Possibly.”
There was a massive crowd tonight--something I wasn’t so used to seeing. I had attended charity events before, but this was far beyond that. Big crowds made me nervous. I wanted the ground to open and swallow me whole. I shook the worry aside and promised myself to watch my tongue.
“Would you like a glass of wine, Mr. Sutherland and Miss…” A slim waiter asked, offering his tray of drinks.
“Madison,” Jake inserted, motioning the waiter towards me. My last name rolled from his tongue effortlessly.
I took one and thanked the waiter. Taking a small sip, I tasted the velvety liquid and felt the heat of it slide down my throat. It was an exquisite wine and probably costed a whole month of my salary. I earned more than anyone my age, but that didn’t mean that I was able to live with luxuries. I had my father to look after. He wasn’t getting any younger and from what the doctor said, his heart complication might get worse if not treated in time.
“Come, Chloe. I’d like you to meet some of my colleagues,” Jake said, taking my hand and heading to a group of couples.
Uh-oh. No. This wasn’t good. What if they’d seen me before as another’s escort? My cover would be blown. What would that do to his reputation?
He must not have cared, because we headed toward them. They were quick to greet him and didn’t even glance at me. Judging how they talked and behaved, I could already tell they viewed Jake as a king.
“Meet my date, Miss Madison.” Jake said, directing everyone’s gaze at me. I feigned the welcoming smile on my face, holding my hand out to shake theirs. “Nice to meet you all.”
There was a chorus of salutations from the group before they directed their attention back to Jake once more. Snobs.
I left him there, excusing myself to go to the ladies’ room to freshen up even though I had only arrived five minutes ago.
Jake stared at me as I ambled away. He looked confused.
“Restroom break,” I peeped out. Surely he’d understand.
He nodded in acceptance.
I felt his eyes watching my back as I strolled away.
After a waiter pointed out the bathroom, I made my way there and found countless women touching up. Some were chatting while the rest reapplied their make-up. I joined them and tried to shut out the whispers.
Jake was nowhere to be seen when I came out of the bathroom. There was no strict agency rule of sticking by our client’s sides for the entire date, but I shuffled through the room to look for him anyway.
Jake wasn’t the insecure type. He was completely different from anyone I’d escorted before. They were clingy, needy. He seemed independent of all that. And something told me he liked his freedom. Was that why he didn’t have a girlfriend?
I let out a relieved sigh when I finally got off my stilettos. I’d only been standing for a few minutes and it felt like I’d been walking for hours. I chose to ignore the deep ache spreading from the heels of my feet to the sides.
My jaw stiffened as my breath became shallow. Had he forgotten me? It didn’t matter. He was paying the bill and I was collecting his cash whether I was at his side or not. So why did it bother me that I hadn’t seen him for half an hour? Was I the one being clingy? I removed my cell phone from my purse, checked fruitlessly for a text, then buried myself in Facebook.
A familiar masculine voice brought chills to the bare of my back. “There you are,” Jake said as he strode toward me. His donned suit hugged the bulk of his muscular thighs.
I tore my gaze from his body and chucked my phone back into my purse.
He glared at the open handbag as a line etched between his eyes. “Do I bore you?”
Shit. He didn’t like the phone usage. My cell use had nothing to do with boredom and everything to do with distraction. It was the only way I could take my mind off him, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. “No sir. I’m sorry, I couldn’t find you anywhere when I got back from the bathroom.” I tried my best to be attentive, standing. My head only reached his chest as he was a good five to eight inches taller than me. “What would you like to do now?”
He met my gaze and pursed his lips. “What would you like to do, Chloe?”
His moist tongue flicked lust into the space between us whenever he uttered my name. I don’t know which one of his words made a throbbing arousal spread through my body, but I needed it to stop. His question fluttered through my mind. The image of him planting kisses all over my body drove a heatwave through my inner thighs. I needed him to devour me entirely, and all of that needed to stop.
Warmth traveled from my neck to my face. I straightened my back. “No client has ever asked me that.”
This time it was him who was caught off guard. He shifted feet and rounded his lips as if he were blowing a whistle. “Inconsiderate bastards.”
Laughter rolled from my belly. I couldn’t help it. He had the quirkiest comments and his touch made me relax. Maybe this wasn’t so bad after all. Jake Sutherland wasn’t as intimidating as I once thought. Had I judged too much of his appearance and forgotten to focus on what lies beneath?
“Do you date outside of what the agency has set up for you?” His voice was inquisitive.
My heart raced. The question shocked me. It was personal and intrusive and implied I had no life. “Of course I date. Here and there.” I lied.
He tilted his head to the side “Anybody interesting?”
I scoffed at the question. “Would I be here if I had someone interesting?”
“Whoa,” Jake said, shaking off his hand with quick snaps of his wrist and laughing. “She bites. Now I’m really starting to think you find me boring.”
My tongue was always getting me into trouble. “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant that I hadn’t found anyone impressive enough to settle down with. I..I don’t find you boring at all. You’re fascinating.”
I laid the truth on the table. Ever since I tried going back to the dating world, I found no interest in men. I filled out two or three online dating profiles and went on a couple dates, but it didn’t work. What was the point anyway? I could either let guys buy dinner and be bored out of my mind, or I could let them get dinner and pay me a wad of cash. I preferred the latter. Sex was always off the table. If I had sex with all the agency men I had dated, I’d be a bonafide hooker. Jake Sutherland was the first man who peaked my interest.
His eyes lighted at the compliment as his mouth formed a wide grin. “I’ll take it.”
Why was I telling a complete stranger about my love life—or lack thereof? He didn’t care. He would never go for someone like me anyway. To him, I was just a female escort. Damaged property. I wasn’t nearly as elegant as many of the women at the auction and I didn’t aspire to be anything other than a man’s date to a damn gala.
But that was where he’d be wrong. I may have started as an escort, but that didn’t mean I had no dreams. I was a hard-worker and a go-getter--hence me quitting and going to college for architecture—all of which Jake didn’t need to know. I reasoned it all out in my head while the host drew the curtain. Keep your eyes on the prize, Chloe.
My butt stuck to the chair as the host droned on about the auction items. Jake had donated two tickets to Australia on his private jet and they were instantly sold off to raise money for an environmental cause. It didn’t surprise me at all. Who wouldn’t want a plane ride with a billionaire? Problem was, all those fancy jet fumes were going to smog up the Earth. I maintained a straight face and bit hard on my knuckles to avoid a chuckle.
My foot aches lessened as the clock struck twelve.
People said brief goodbyes to Jake before piling out the door. I waited for his first move toward the entrance and let the space between us create distance. Sitting close to him all night had made my insides tingle. I had to get away. His aura was captivating, and I had no intention of falling into his lap like trapped prey.
His arms surrounded me. His hand hung by my waist, pulling me tight to his side, making us appear as a close couple. My eyes closed while I inhaled his woodsy scent. I fought to control my trembling body as I exhaled. Had he seen my reaction? If only I could run and hide.
“Enjoying yourself?” Jake cooed in my ear.
Oh god. His deep voice jolted my insides and made my flesh come alive. Arousal spread through my pelvis like a virus, my breath transformed to shallow pants. He watched me as I mustered an answer. “I am, thank you,” I answered in a hoarse voice. I cleared my throat. “And you, Mr. Sutherland?”
He moved his lips to the side as he looked me up and down. His eyes examined my breasts and thighs, then moved back to my face.
My heartbeat raced at having him examine and judge me. Most girls would’ve been turned off, but I liked it, in a weird way.
“It was amazing,” he declared. “You are very good at what you do.”
I basked in the compliment even though it was just an escort job. I mean, how hard could it be to go on a date and be attentive? It’s not like I had to come and make a statement. Half the job was done by slipping on a dress and showing face. “Thank you. Means a lot, especially coming from you.”
“What’s special about me?”
My mind scrambled. He was asking too many questions and I wasn’t prepared with textbook answers. “Uh…I don’t know. You just seem important that’s all. Like you’re in charge. Dominant.”
“I see. Do you like a man who’s dominant?”
My chest trembled as a whimper escaped my lips. I tried to answer, but heat spread across my face. I gave myself a silent beating and vowed to halt anymore thoughts about him. He was a client and he was off-limits. “I’m not sure. I’ve never been around anyone like that.”
“Would you like another opportunity to figure it out?” He asked.
What did he mean? Another date? My brain shunned the idea. There was no way I was going to see this man again. I bit my lip. Should I tell him I was no longer an employed escort after tonight? Something in me fought back the words, telling me to consult Rosalyn first before spilling the truth.
The corners of his mouth turned downward at my silence as we left the building, the cool breeze enveloping us.
I shivered and approached the question with caution. “I’m not sure, yet. I have to run it through the agency,” I announced, going with my gut instinct. “Are you… are you planning on attending another gala?”
He stared at me for a long moment, his face blank.
What was he thinking? Had I irritated him? It was hard to read his thoughts. Was my question too invasive? I was just an escort. He didn’t need to share calendar details with me. My cheeks heated as I opened my mouth. “I’m sor—”
“There’s always a gala to attend,” he chided.
I had struck a chord. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so nosy.”
“No, it’s me. I’m confused. Do you always deny yourself of things you want?”
I tightened my lips. He was crossing the line now, and the conversation was taking a whole new turn. I resolved to repeat what I’d already said. “I need to check with Rosalyn.”
Jake accepted my excuse and nodded. He straightened his back. “Good. Have Rosalyn e-mail me if you are booked. I will have her send another girl if you’re busy,” he stated, his tone flattening.
Oh hell no. My pulse spiked. Was I that replaceable? Burning heat raged through my veins, his minor threat lingering in my mind. I soothed the pangs of jealousy with a deep breath. Did I really need him dating someone else? He was ruining me and all my damn rules. I had no intentions of getting involved with Jake, but the idea of standing by and watching him date another girl made my stomach roll. Even if it was all just business. I held my tongue. I resolved that if he needed another woman, so be it. Who needs another damn gala anyway?
Jake gripped my wrist. It didn’t hurt, but my skin prickled at his territorial nature. Sandalwood drifted into my nostrils and radiated to my brain, making me feel drunk from his presence.
He pulled me toward him. “Come. I need to show you a favorite spot of mine.”
There was a five-year gap between us. He’d probably seen a lot of things in his thirty years and that made me feel small with my minor life experiences. I followed him deeper into the darkness, my heart pounding loud against my chest.
He strode ahead. “There’s this amazingly beautiful garden up there. Sometime fireflies come and reflect light on the blossoming flowers during the night,” he said.
I followed him further and found out he wasn’t lying. In front of us, rich soil enveloped colorful blossoms, each of the colors sparkling under the crescent moon. I drank in the luminescent view and marveled.
He circled his arms around me, his breath warming my cheek.
I closed my eyes and inhaled. Sweet baby Jesus.
His lips brushed against mine before a gasp left my mouth. Shock spiraled down my spine as our lips opened, his tongue invading the depths of my mouth as I wrapped my arms around him. Letting out a moan, I pressed my body against his. My breasts rubbed against his chest, causing my sensitive nipples to bead. A rush of wetness collected through the folds of my flesh as I tried to control my quivering thighs.
He thrusted the tongue deep into my mouth, the act breaking all reason and quieting the small voice in the back of my head. He was breaking me and I was letting him. My brain screamed no, while my body pressed against him for more of the urgent, hot tongue.
He claimed my lips and kissed like no other. He moved his hands over the back of my neck and pressed himself into me, demanding more. His touch was domineering, possessive. He was one hundred percent alpha and I hated that my body trembled underneath his grasp.
I had to stop. It had gone on far enough. Think Chloe! I pulled away from him, inhaling an unavoidable gasp and stared, breathless. He looked just as surprised as I felt. Wasn’t he used to this? I was positive he had brought a gazillion girls to this very spot, held their hands, and made love to them until they were blue in the face. Wasn’t going to be me. “I need to get home,” I seethed, straightening the bodice of my dress.
He looked dumbfounded. He finally closed his eyes and slipped his hands into his pockets. “I need to apologize for my behavior. I know you have rules because I saw each one listed in your profile. I couldn’t control myself and I’m sorry.”
And that was it. He didn’t ask me for a second date and I didn’t offer it. He knew he broke the rules, voiding himself of any future dates. When Jake’s driver came around, I climbed in and faced forward until we reached his penthouse. The agency deal was always to drop me off last so my address would remain concealed.
He touched my hand.
I snatched it away. Adrenaline raged through my chest.
“I meant what I said. I’m sorry.” He hung his head lower and climbed from the backseat of his own car. He turned to his driver and nodded once. “Please see that Miss Madison arrives home safely.”
He waited by his front door, his eyes fixated on me as we rode away. His shape became smaller and smaller as we pulled into the traffic lights. I turned away, hiding him from my view.
Exhilaration surged through my core. I need another date with him. Badly.
“All dates are off,” I informed Rosalyn the next morning as I perched on the edge of an office chair.
Kate crossed her arms over her chest and gaped. “Are you out of your mind?”
Why did I have to answer to her too? Best friends forever, but now she was working on my last nerve. I lifted my chin higher. “He broke the rules, and that was his final move.”
Rosalyn smiled with a single corner of her mouth. She was impressed, even though she’d have to do the work of having to look for a replacement for me. She knew I was no pushover and respected me more than the others although she treated everyone on the team equally.
It was Kate who had the problem. Her shoulders loosened as her eyebrows squished together. “Where’s your brain, Chloe? The man is a billionaire. He’s got enough money to pay your father’s medical bills and put you through college. It’s your dream, remember?”
“I haven’t forgotten about that,” I told her with a stern look. “That’s why I’m leaving.”
Rosalyn jerked back as her mouth fell open. She relaxed her shoulders again as her lips formed a calm smile. “But you had agreed on one final project. Projects consist of four to five dates, perhaps more. Do you think I would have allowed you to take over for Kate if I knew you were going to back out after only one date?”
The base of my skull ached. They weren’t listening. I tried again, this time with more enunciation. “I was perfectly willing to do four to five dates, but I have ethics, and his kiss was too long and uncomfortable. I specifically stated in my profile that I would not participate in such conduct,” I reiterated. I recalled how my body temperature had reached the point where my pores tore open into a hot sweat. He had made me so nervous that my hands trembled as I adjusted my bra.
Kate grabbed the desk with one hand and leaned toward me. “Let me get this straight. You’re leaving because of a long kiss?”
She tried to make it sound silly. But how could I slow-kiss different guys every week? Eww. I had to draw the line, and I was surprised she hadn’t formed the same boundaries. I swallowed. “Yes. Lengthy make-out sessions are forbidden.”
Kate waved the answer away, shaking her blond locks. “Hand him over to me, I’ll fuck him senseless.”
A few days ago she was in her bathroom robe, lying in bed with a fever.
“Weren’t you sick?” I drew in a quick breath as wheels moved inside my brain. “Actually, that’s not a bad idea. Want to trade? You take my place. I’d much rather have your boring Mr. Wilson anyway.”
“Quiet down, girls,” Rosalyn interrupted. “No one is going to swap and fuck poor Jake senseless. He called here this morning.”
I leaned toward her desk. This ought to be good.
“He apologized for the breach of contract and offered to pay a penalty price… a bonus.”
I fought to control a gasp as my butt slipped from the edge of the seat. “What?”
Her eyes moved down my body as if she was sizing me up. “$10,000 for the girl in blue.”
Kate settled back in her chair. “Oh shit.”
Rosalyn smirked, holding her mouth open. She tilted her head to the side and picked up her phone receiver. “Shall I let him know you’re available for Friday?”