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"...a story of undeniable lust and temptation." - Buzzfeed A flirtatious reading of erotica blossoms into something deep and tender in the steamy Florida heat...Pages turn and sparks fly when Emma, a bookstore owner and writer, meets a mysterious, wealthy developer named Caleb at a literary event in Orlando. Daringly, she shares with him a reading of her erotica. Soon both of them are feeling the effects ... and Emma's wondering what kind of lover is underneath Caleb's expensive suit. Soon the couple is spending every available moment together. Can she trust him with her life as she does with her body? Or will the prickly walls built during her harsh past keep them apart?And what happens when their idyllic relationship faces the ultimate test? Just when Emma thinks she and Caleb have found their happy-ever-after, everything is ripped away. Emma must rely on a well of inner strength she didn't know she possessed to get her through the toughest time of her life. If she's lucky, she'll make her husband love her again. The stakes are high, because if she doesn't succeed, her heart will be destroyed beyond repair. Tell Me a Story is a modern-day fairy tale of lust, love and temptation, and also of marriage, memory and destiny.Originally published as a five-part serial, Tell Me a Story, Tell Me a Desire, Tell Me a Lie, Tell Me a Secret and Tell Me a Truth are now all together in this one edition.
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Praise for Tamara Lush and Tell Me a Story
CRAVING MORE STORIES?
About the Author
“Lush writes naughty stuff, the kind of lusty chick lit that uses words such as “moist,’’ “lick’’ and even some c-words to rev up her growing fan base.”
- The New York Post
“A steamy romance and a captivating storyline makes it a perfect read for any 50 Shades lover.”
- Redbook Magazine
“Tamara has such an engaging voice, sexy, likable heroes and heroines and a wry sense of humor.”
- New York Times bestselling author Beth Kery
“Tamara Lush tells a story of undeniable lust and temptation.”
“The steamy (and oh-so-passionate) romance of a lifetime blooms and we promise you won’t be able to put it down. By the time you finish this, you won’t even remember who Christian Grey is.”
“Florida heat, spontaneous readings of erotica, a book shop owner and a businessman—do we have your attention?”
- Working Mother Magazine
Copyright © 2016 by Tamara Lush
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.
To all the women who love to read and write sexy stories
TELL ME A STORY
I wanted him the second I looked into his steel-blue eyes.
“How much?” he asked. It was a sexy voice, a deep voice, and I smiled—a smile that alluded to everything but promised nothing, aware of appearing coy and knowing and not-too-eager.
I was in the mood to flirt.
Before I could answer, my friend Sarah broke in. “It’s two dollars a minute. Two dollars, one minute of reading. Half goes to charity, half goes to the writer. But you can negotiate with the writer, if you know what I mean.”
The man smiled and ran a thumb over his full bottom lip as he looked me up and down.
Sarah laughed and wiggled her dark brows. “That’s why I called it Story Brothel. It’s between the reader—” she clapped him on the shoulder “—and the writer. God, I love this. I feel like a madam. Like the Heidi Fleiss of Florida fiction.”
She reached to squeeze my arm, then leaned into me and lowered her voice playfully. “Remember: half for charity. No skimming.”
I rolled my eyes. “Like I’d do that.” Sarah stood on her tiptoes and kissed me on the cheek.
“He looks rich. Maybe he’ll pay you extra so you can save the bookstore,” she whispered.
I scowled, not wanting a reminder of work. This was my rare night out, a time when I wasn’t buried in orders or paperwork or my writing. It was when I transformed myself from serious shop owner into romance writer, like some pulp fiction superheroine. Glasses off; wild, curly hair down; blood-red lipstick staining every napkin and cocktail rim in my path.
And maybe this man’s mouth in a short while. I was long overdue for male attention. At least, that’s what I told myself as I took in his charcoal suit, his crisp white shirt, and the platinum glint of a wristwatch dial. I hadn’t been kissed in a long time—not well, at least. And not by a man this interesting looking.
An unfamiliar song came on, some Arabic-lounge groove with strong, heavy drums. It was how my heart felt against my ribcage. Sarah moved into the crowd. I kept smiling. So did he.
“Story Brothel,” he murmured in a voice so low I could barely hear the words. Because he was tall, he had to tilt his face and his gunmetal-blue eyes downward to look at me.
I shook my head dramatically and clicked my tongue against the roof of my mouth. “You don’t seem like the type of man who’d come to an event like this.”
“I don’t?” His eyes glittered and teased. They were such a gorgeous hue that popped against his long, dark lashes. He wasn’t the most handsome man I’d ever seen, but he radiated confidence and sensuality. His features—high cheekbones, a slightly big nose, a strong jaw—wouldn’t have stood out on their own, but the combination was irresistibly masculine. Intriguing. Fuckable.
“No. And I’ve never seen you here before.”
“This isn’t a one-time only thing?”
“It’s a monthly thing, for the Orlando Literacy Council.”
“So you’re an experienced…story…?” He motioned in a half-circle with his hand, and a salacious grin crept on his face.
“Whore?” I offered with mock innocence.
“You said it. I didn’t.”
That made me giggle.
“What’s that quote about writing and prostitution?” he asked.
I tilted my head, and a grin the size of the Everglades stretched across my face. It was impossible not to react because his question surprised me. Even though I owned a bookstore, meeting well-read, hot men was a rare event in my central Florida city, which was better known as the home of a giant cartoon mouse.
“Writing is like sex. First you do it for love…”
He chimed in. “…then you do it for your friends, and then for money.”
We both laughed, then he held up one finger and opened his mouth. “Who said that? Do you know? I know.”
Enjoying the banter, I answered right away. “Everybody thinks it’s Molière, but it was Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár.”
“I’m impressed. Let’s see…when was the last time I talked with a woman about Molière? Or Molnár?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
The edges of his eyes crinkled, and he took a sip of the amber liquid in his glass. “So. What does a Story Brothel attendee look like?”
That smirk on his face. How I’d love to kiss it away.
“Well, for one, they usually drink two-dollar drafts, not Maker’s Mark, neat. They haven’t shaved in weeks. And they don’t wear bespoke suits with ties.” I pointed with my nose to the smattering of hipsters at the bar, most in Star Wars T-shirts or ratty, thrift store Hawaiian button-downs, awash in carpets of facial hair.
That earned me a cocked eyebrow. “You noticed my drink.”
“I noticed everything. I was standing next to you when you ordered.”
“I know. I saw. You’re the only woman here who’s not in cargo pants and flannel. I like your dress.”
I was wearing a red vintage dress with a sweetheart neckline and a full skirt. His gaze flashed to my chest, then raised to my mouth, then slowly skipped to my eyes. He had to be at least forty, which would put him at seven years older than me. His short, dark hair was going a little silver on the sides. I loved older men. They’re sexy as hell. Not older as in early-bird-buffet-older, but old enough to give a shit about the important things in life. Like good booze, working cars, and clean sheets.
It was already obvious that this guy had mastered at least one of those skills. Maybe by the end of the night, I’d find out about the rest.
“Thank you. You’re…let me guess. A businessman?”
His hand went to his dark-gray tie, and I stared, captivated. The tie was almost the same color as his eyes. Although my own style was retro-rockabilly—vintage glam, I called it—I have a bit of a thing for conservative-looking men in suits. The trouble was, most guys with that aesthetic were already married or were juggling custody of kids. Some weren’t interested in women like me. Which category would this intriguing stranger fall into? Because with my luck, he surely belonged in one.
“Yeah, you’re right. I am a businessman. Damn, I didn’t even bother to take this off. Usually I’m still working at this hour.”
It was eight o’clock on a Wednesday, and usually I was, too. It was a pleasure to watch him undo the top button of his shirt and fiddle with the knot of his tie. Somehow the fact that he loosened it yet didn’t take it all the way off made him look sexier.
His eyes settled on my mouth. “My sister and I work together. It’s her birthday, so I took her to dinner. Told her I’d bring her anywhere she wanted afterward.” He took a sip and tipped his glass to the corner of the room, where a tall blonde with sharp cheekbones spoke animatedly to Sarah. “She’s got a crush on your friend.”
“Good. Sarah needs a girlfriend. She’s been alone for too long,” I said, wondering if he lived in the city. Maybe he was like me, a rare Florida native, not a dissatisfied wanderer from the north or a tourist who decided to relocate on a whim after a magical theme park vacation.
“And how about you? Does your husband or boyfriend know you read stories to strange men at bars?”
So blatant and clever, his way of asking me if I was single. I beamed wide. “No boyfriend, no husband. And even if I had one—or both—they wouldn’t tell me where or when or to whom I could read.”
He grinned, tilted his head, and cocked his eyebrow. “Oh, really?”
“Yes, really.” I paused to watch him. His bottom lip was slightly fuller than his top, and the sides of his mouth curled up. Little half-circle lines hugged the corners, as if he’d smiled a lot in his life. I liked that. But I couldn’t decide if he looked adorable or arrogant when he smirked. The combination, though, made my heart race in a way it hadn’t in a long time.
“I’m Caleb,” he said, extending his hand. “How rude of me.”
“Emma. Not rude at all.”
He did that thing where he looked straight into my eyes while shaking my hand firmly, for a second longer than necessary. His hand was deliciously large and swallowed mine. I felt my face get hot, and I wished the fan overhead worked as fast as my heartbeat. We kept shaking.
“So what will you read to me this evening, Emma?”
The way he drew out the syllables in my name made me hyperaware of how my nipples brushed against the lace fabric of my bra. Did I detect a whisper of a Southern accent in his voice? Maybe he was a Florida native. This made me happy. Maybe we’d have something in common.
I laughed because I’d been waiting for his question. “Normally at Story Brothel, I read my steampunk romance stories. But I think tonight I’m going to try out something different. Something I recently wrote.” I lowered my voice to a dramatic tone. “It’s erotica.”
Our hands held each other in mid-air, sparks passing back and forth, my nipples shriveling to taut, tight points. He nodded slowly, and his smile faded to something more serious, something feral. A hungry, hard look.
“I chose well, then.”
“You have good taste,” I murmured, dropping his hand. “Oh—and will your wife or girlfriend mind if you pay a woman to read sex fiction to you?”
A low, suggestive laugh erupted from his chest. “No girlfriend, no wife. And if I had one, I wouldn’t be here, paying you to read sex fiction.”
He sounded sincere. He sounded single. But then again, I wasn’t the best judge of that, considering that the last intriguing businessman I’d fallen for—Eric, over a year ago—had a wife and kids in Fort Lauderdale and had neglected to reveal those details for the entire time we’d dated. Well, neglect was kind of a weak word. Concealed, hid, and lied were better descriptors.
“Oh, really?” I flirted.
Caleb paused for a beat. “No, if I had a girlfriend or wife, I’d make her read to me.”
A rush of liquid heat went straight into my core, and I rested my fingers on the back of a nearby bar chair to calm my rubbery legs.
“Oh, you’d make her, would you?”
I grinned stupidly at Caleb and thought about how incredible his big hands would feel on my naked body. How his lips would feel. How his tongue would torment me. My skin sparked just thinking about it. He slowly licked the corner of his mouth, as if he could read my mind.
“Welcome to Story Brothel!” Sarah shouted and clapped three times, standing at the front of the room on a small stage and fumbling with a microphone. Her loud voice jolted me out of fantasyland, and I turned to look at her. I stood shoulder to shoulder with Caleb. Not touching, but close enough to feel his warmth and to realize that, even in my three-inch heels, he was a hell of a lot taller than me.
“We’re going to have an introductory reading, and then writers and listeners will go to their respective cabanas,” Sarah continued, pointing behind her to double doors leading to the bar’s courtyard, where ten cabanas were draped with gauzy curtains of varying colors. It was decorated to look like a Moroccan-themed lounge, and normally I chose the cabanas with the chairs when I read snippets of my work during Story Brothel. I usually wanted distance between me and the person paying to hear me read. Previously, a good night would mean not getting beer spilled on me by a nervous bearded guy, selling a couple of my steampunk paperbacks, and handing out business cards for the bookstore.
Tonight would be different, I hoped. I wanted less distance and less business.
Sarah continued introducing the speaker. It was a professor from a local college. I tuned him out and shifted a half-inch closer to Caleb.
He lowered his head so his lips were close to my ear, his nose in my hair. I stilled, breathing in his scent. It was intoxicating and heady, with hints of vanilla and oak and mint. Never had I smelled a man so delicious, and I took a couple of deep breaths.
“May I buy you a drink?” he asked.
I nodded, then turned my head, noticing that he’d offered me his ear. “Please. Gin martini.”
“How do you take it?” His voice rumbled through me, and I grinned.
“Dirty,” I whispered into his ear, laughing and unable to help myself.
He chuckled. “Good choice.” The heat of his breath lingered on my ear in his absence. I tried to focus on the man onstage. He taught English at a local college and talked about word etymology. My mind was on my own story, and I was thinking about which passage to read for Caleb when I honed in on what the professor was saying.
I giggled softly, covering my mouth with my hand. Caleb returned and handed me my drink.
“What’s so funny?” His mouth was back at my ear.
“You weren’t listening?”
“No. Was trying to make sure the bartender used Bombay Sapphire and not some well crap.”
I embraced a Mona Lisa smile and sipped the piney, cold drink. “Thank you for the cocktail.”
“You’re welcome. Tell me, what’s the guy talking about? What’s so funny? You have a great smile, you know that?”
I leaned closer to Caleb, inhaling before I spoke. He stretched his arm around my back and rested it on the bar. He didn’t touch me even the slightest, but the movement was just as intimate as if he had. His body was so big and solid that he looked like he would swallow me if he were to fold me in his arms.
“He’s talking about the etymology of a word.”
“What word?” he murmured. I didn’t look at the professor, who had launched into a free-form retelling of a class he’d once taught. Others in the room were laughing, so it must have been funny. I wasn’t in the mood for funny. My eyes rested on Caleb’s powerful-looking hand that held his drink. I twirled one of my curls in my finger, idly wondering if it was something primal, something biological, that made me so attracted to men with thick, brutal-looking hands. I turned to his ear, my lips grazing his skin.
“Fuck. The history of the word fuck.”
The corners of his mouth lifted and the little half-circle lines near them deepened. He looked away, staring at the man on stage. We stood close for a while, listening—or pretending to listen, in my case, because I could only hear my fast-beating heart—and when the reading was over, Sarah jumped back on stage.
“Time for Story Brothel!” she called out, gleeful. I swore she sometimes thought she was a circus emcee or a carnival barker, not a soon-to-be librarian.
“Let’s find our cabana,” I purred, finishing my drink and setting it on the bar. He’d finished his, too.
He gestured with his palm. “You first.”
With a purposeful sway in my back and a slight shake of my hips, I led him into the lounge and the courtyard. The humid winter Florida air outdoors was like a welcome, warm blanket, soothing to my skin after the harsh air conditioning inside. I located the exact cabana that I wanted. It was next to a giant potted palm tree, with gauzy red curtains draped over a white, square mattress covered in white pillows. The music was softer outdoors, but the beat had changed to a quick rap-Bhangra-Indian mix, mirroring my hyper-sexual mood.
“This okay with you?” I asked, as if it were completely normal to ask a stranger to lounge around on a bed and listen to erotica. My voice was a half-octave higher than usual. This was uncharted territory, reading my smut aloud.
He nodded and smiled, then stepped ahead of me to part the curtain. Trying to be a lady and not hurl myself inside, I sat on the edge and daintily rested my purse near a pillow. I went to slip off my shoes, but he surprised me by kneeling at my feet, then slowly taking them off by putting one firm hand on my calf and another on my heel. An electric current shot up my spine as he grinned, but didn’t look me in the eyes.
Well. A bead of perspiration snaked in between my breasts. My legs were scorching, as if I’d sat too close to a campfire.
“Thanks,” I whispered as he stood. I looked up at him, aware that I was in a submissive pose. If he were to unzip his pants, I wouldn’t have to move far to blow him. He stepped back, just in time to keep me from giggling out of sheer nervousness. This had gone from casual flirtation to scorching tension within minutes. How was I going to make it through reading to him on the lounge bed without flinging myself atop him?
I reminded myself to have some modicum of control while I tucked my feet under my legs, swiveling around so I could scoot back to give him room. I didn’t lie back on the pillows, but instead tucked my bare legs underneath me, as if I were a girl on a picnic in the 1950s.
Be cool. Be calm. Breathe.
He paused, then let the curtain fall. For a moment, I thought he had turned and walked away. Through the near-transparent curtain, I watched him take off his suit jacket and drape it precisely over a nearby chair. When he loosened his tie the rest of the way, stripping it out of his collar and laying that, too, evenly over the chair, I sucked in a sharp breath. I wanted him to keep going.
Instead, he did exactly as I had: sat on the edge and slipped off his shoes, then moved into the cabana. Easing himself slowly onto his back, he rested one ankle over the other, stretched his arms overhead into a diamond, and slid his fingers under the back of his head. His movements felt intimate and familiar, which threw me a little. Almost as if we had done this before. As if it were normal, when it was anything but.
His body looked even bigger and firmer and more delicious stretched out before me, and I imagined straddling him, slowly unbuttoning his shirt, undoing his belt, leaning to kiss him as he slid his hands up my skirt and squeezed my ass…
“I’m ready,” he said.
“Me too.” I grinned as I pawed around in my bag for my e-reader. I caught a whiff of his scent and paused to savor it again.
“Do you write on your tablet?” he asked when I pushed a button to make the screen flicker.
“No, I write on my computer, then back up everything in the cloud.” I arranged my skirt so that my knees peeked out from under the cotton of my dress and considered whether I should stretch out next to him. Jesus! What was I thinking? I just met this guy. I was normally a flirt, but this was bold even for me. I inhaled deeply and caught his addictive scent again.
“So this story is called Consume Me.”
“Wait,” he said, rolling up and resting on the elbow closest to me. His chest was inches from my legs, and I longed to reach out and run my fingertips through his short, silver-accented hair.
He took a phone out of his pocket and put it between us. Then he reached into his back pocket and removed his wallet. Resting again on his back, he extracted a twenty.
“Ten minutes. Half for charity and half for you,” he said, putting the money between us. I picked it up.
“Thank you. I guess this is kind of like a literary lap dance.” I stuffed the cash in my bag and saw him raise an eyebrow and grin. He looked down at his phone.
“I’m setting the stopwatch. Ten minutes.”
“You’re very precise,” I said.
He glanced up. “It’s one of my strengths. And one of my weaknesses.”
As he settled back, I started to read.
“Speak a little louder,” Caleb interrupted. I complied.
The first few pages of my story weren’t too spicy. It was the setup for the story, about a woman who loved rough sex but was unable to find any man who wanted to act out those kinds of fantasies. My character, Arianna, wasn’t into BDSM or rape scenarios, exactly; she wanted to be manhandled, thrown around, maybe roughed up a bit. It was complicated, and truth be told, I was still playing around with a first draft and wasn’t sure if I’d characterized her correctly or if I was too quick to introduce her to Trent, the hero of the story.
Trent’s philosophy was simple: When he touched a woman, he wasn’t shy or hesitant. He touched women liked he owned them, which meant they always wanted more.
It was heartening to see Caleb laugh in the right places and smile lustily in others. Maybe my story wasn’t as bad as I feared. Every few paragraphs, I’d glance up. Most times, he’d be looking straight to the ceiling of the cabana, almost as if he could see my story unfold on some invisible screen. Other times, he shifted his head toward me, staring with that hungry look.
I loved the hungry look. He undid his cufflinks, taking time to put the sterling silver knot links into his pocket and then slowly rolling up his sleeves to reveal a pair of very muscular forearms. I lost my place and had to start the paragraph over.
Why did all of the men in Arianna’s life have to be so polite? Why did they all treat her like she was a fragile piece of porcelain? She wanted a man to be a man—in bed, mostly. She wanted him to be on top and growl and pin her down. Take her in whatever way he wanted, without asking what she needed because he’d already know. She also wanted a man who took charge out of bed, too. Not too much so he’d dictate her career or her everyday life—she didn’t want that at all. But she craved a man who would hold doors open for her, who would be adventurous and make surprise plans, who would make dinner reservations and not have the same old boring conversations.
Where do you want to eat?
I dunno. Where do you want to eat? Anywhere’s fine with me.
Fuck, she’d had enough of that. Where were the real men who made decisions?
That made Caleb guffaw hard. At that moment, his phone chirped and he tapped it into silence.
“Your time is up, sir,” I said, grinning.
“I liked that a lot. You’ve got a great writing style. Very conversational. I’m actually quite impressed.”
“Were you expecting dreck?”
He shrugged. “I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe something more like Penthouse Forum? You’re good, though. That was sensual without the sex. Your voice is also perfect for reading aloud. You have a beautiful voice.”
My face was warm from the compliment, and I leaned toward him, hoping to catch his scent again. “Thank you. I didn’t get to the really erotic part, though. What do you normally read?”
“Non-fiction, some history. I like literary fiction, too.”
“Wow. Usually, the guys I meet at these events like one of two things: sci-fi or war stories.”
“I was a creative writing major at the University of Florida.”
My eyebrows shot up. “You were? I was, too.”
“I’m guessing we were a few years apart.” He mentioned his graduation year.
I did the math in my head. As I thought, he was probably seven or eight years older than me. “Do you write?”
He shook his head. “Not anymore. Haven’t in years. After graduation, I went to work for my family’s company. I tried writing at night, but after long days in the office, I couldn’t handle both.”
“What do you do?” Normally I hated that question because it seemed so fake. But he’d brought it up, and I wanted to know more about him. And my ears wanted to feast on his voice. It was an addictive baritone buzz, quick in its cadence yet precise when he pronounced individual words.
“Well, I’m now in charge of the Florida state bird. You know, construction cranes?”
“Ah, you’re a builder? Of what?”
He shrugged and undid the second button of his shirt, the one just below the neck. Probably just to make himself more comfortable, but his movement was slow and sensual and I stared, unblinking.
“Condos, commercial jobs, government buildings. We’ve got projects all over, big and small. I recently returned from Brazil because we’re doing a luxury high rise in Sao Paulo. That’s my main project these days.”
So he was as loaded as he looked. I didn’t normally go for rich guys, despite my love of well-dressed men in suits. I merely enjoyed the aesthetic. Somehow, the detail of Caleb’s wealth was the only turn-off so far this evening. Maybe it had something to do with growing up in a central Florida trailer park, but money didn’t impress me. It did intimidate me, though. A lot.
“Nice,” I said, unable to think of anything else to say.
His hand rested on his phone, and I watched, fascinated, as his index finger slowly stroked its glass screen in a circular motion.
“Emma, I want to hear more of your story.”
The way he quietly spoke my name sent a little ripple of pleasure through me. Still, I didn’t want to get into my background. “Um, I’m from a county just west of here—”
He laughed and interrupted. “No, I meant your fiction. But I’d like to hear about you, too. I actually can’t decide which I’d like to hear more: your fictional story or your real one.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I smiled. This was the very definition of backing myself into a corner. I didn’t particularly want to talk about myself because I didn’t like to share details of my life or my past. And I’d ended my reading before a really steamy scene. Now that he’d told me what he did for a living, a pang of self-consciousness shot through me as I tried to decide what to say. I fidgeted with the corner of my tablet cover, where the fake black leather had split at the edge.
“Please?” The way he said it made something inside of me melt. I fought the urge to reach out and touch his face, to trace his lips and part them so I could feel his tongue on my fingertip.
My bravery returned.
“It’ll cost you,” I said with a grin. Flirting was more familiar territory. He extracted his wallet again and this time took out a hundred dollar bill. He placed it on the bed, and I wondered if I could sit in this cabana for fifty minutes without touching him. Or kissing him.
“Harder. You can do it harder. I know you can. Fuck me harder, Trent.”
“Is this what you want?” he asked, clamping a big hand around the side of her neck while driving his cock inside of her. She gasped from the fullness of his diamond-hard erection and from the roughness of his callused hands against her sensitive skin.
“Yes. This exactly what I want. Keep fucking me this way and I’ll be a happy girl.”
“And I want to make my girl happy. Because that’s what you are, Arianna, my good girl. My good girl who likes to be fucked nice and dirty. Your pussy is mine, baby.”
“So dirty. I didn’t know I was so dirty,” she breathed.
“It took me to show you how dirty you are.”
“Yes. Yes. Yes.” She panted and grinned into his neck. He fucked her, hard, making every inch of her skin tingle. But she wanted more. Wanted it rough.
“Slap me,” she whispered. “Just a little.”
He slowed his thrusts and swallowed. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she breathed. “Not hard, but slap me once, softly, while you fuck me.”
He sucked in a breath, and somehow his cock grew even harder inside of her. With a growl, he cuffed her gently in the face, and she gasped, nearing the precipice of an orgasm.
As I read in a steady voice, Caleb alternated from looking toward the sky to looking at me. At one point, when I was reading a particularly explicit passage, Caleb bit his lip and stared at me.
Was he horrified? Turned on? I sneaked a little glance to see if he had an erection beneath his charcoal-gray suit pants. Dear God, he did have an erection. A huge one.
This made me grin a little, but I didn’t stop reading. He must have willpower of steel to be able to lie there for long minutes with a hard-on and not make a move to touch me. He didn’t even extend a lone fingertip to my legs, which were inches from his body. It was actually kind of frustrating, and I squirmed a millimeter closer to him.
Arianna wanted not just a bad man, but also one who would indulge her fantasies. Someone who would throw her against a wall, on the bed, wherever he wanted. Someone who would pull her hair, spank her ass, and then soothe her with soft kisses when it was all over. Someone who would make the sheets slip violently off the bed at night and who could talk about intelligent things over breakfast.
Someone like Trent.
I paused from reading to catch my breath. I was fully perspiring now, between the warm Florida air and my excitement. Already, my inner thighs were slippery with sweat and my own juices. I didn’t know I’d get so excited by reading out loud. Or maybe I was turned on by reading to Caleb.
“What do you think so far?” I asked, setting my tablet on my lap and trying to look serious. It was difficult keeping a straight face after reading all that.
“Well, it’s interesting, at least for me, because it’s from a woman’s point of view. I wouldn’t expect a woman to have these…uh, desires. And yet, a guy wouldn’t write about sex this tenderly. It’s intimate. Well, this part is. You write good sex. Sexy sex.”
“Thank you.” My mouth was parched, and I wondered if I should pause our reading and run to the bar for some ice water. I didn’t really want to leave his side; that was the thing. I was enjoying this too much.
“But one point, Emma. Maybe you should have a little bit more showing and less telling in chapter two, when she’s about to blow him in the car.”
I smirked and shot him a skeptical glance. Then I tapped on my screen, flicking back several pages. “Are you serious? I tried to show her emotions there.”
Caleb sat up, folding himself into a cross-legged position. He extended his hand toward my tablet. “May I?”
I handed him the device, and he swiped, then looked up. He held out the tablet so I could see the screen and pointed to a line. “Here. I think you need to describe the tactile—the feeling of his cock in her hand—not only what’s in her mind. I get the whole concept of deep POV and everything, but we need to feel what she’s feeling. Does the reader really care about how she feels like she’s different and wild because she’s sucking cock in an SUV? No. They want to live vicariously and that’s written through the five senses.”
“Hmm.” I bit my lip as I pondered this. He might have a point. I looked up to see the cabana curtains rippling in the warm breeze and fought the urge to respond with a snarky comment. “I’ll take it under advisement.”
He chuckled, and that’s when it hit me that I was talking to an intriguing man that I’d just met about sucking cock. I laughed, hard, throwing back my head.
“What? I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s really excellent, please don’t think I’m criticizing you. You’re a wonderful writer. I slipped into critique-group mode there for a minute. I guess I miss being around creative people. I enjoy the banter and discussion.”
His grin was so adorable that I contemplated leaning forward on all fours and kissing him. I paused, shifting so that I was sitting on my heels, and he rested my tablet on the lounge bed. I looked around to see if anyone was walking by our cabana, and they weren’t. The only sounds I could hear were the muffled voices of people reading their stories.
I glanced at Caleb and he was wearing that foxy, knowing smile.
“What?” I asked. “Why are you—”
“Staring at you?”
“You’re striking. That long, curly black hair. Your skin. It looks like you’ve never been in the sun, you’re so fair. And those eyes. Dark. Almost black.”
I nodded. He noticed.
“Can I ask you a personal question about your writing?”
I looked at him and tilted my head.
“Is your story autobiographical or a fantasy?” The look on his face was curious, not seductive. Which both impressed and disappointed me.
“Not autobiographical.” I shrugged. “A fantasy? Maybe. Don’t writers all fantasize about the things they put on the page?”
“You know what I think?” That’s when he reached out to sweep away a curl that had fallen in my face. My heart pounded against my ribs.
“I think a fantasy is…” His voice trailed off.
“A fantasy is what?”
He smiled. “Well, maybe I’m feeling poetic tonight, but…I think a fantasy is what the heart whispers to silence a busy mind.”
“No, you’re beautiful. That’s really why I can’t stop staring.” His voice was low and growly, and parts of me liquefied.
He then huffed out a little laugh. Thankfully, he didn’t take his finger out of my curl. “Damn. I can’t believe I just said all that. I think I just had a flashback to my emo-creative-writing days. Please excuse me.”
“You’re excused,” I whispered. His words made my toes curl in a delicious way. He was also a little self-deprecating, which I appreciated because it balanced the undercurrent of his arrogance.
“But there’s something about you, Emma. And it goes beyond you reading to me about sex. I think.”
“You think, but you’re not sure?” I laughed, and he did, too, breaking the tension that had built up. “Well, I’m really not a woman who reads erotica to strange men. I usually read tamer stuff.”
“So you’re saying I’m special?” He released my hair. Dammit.
I paused, thinking of his question. “You seem smart and curious and interesting. Trust me, those qualities aren’t easy to find in men.”
“They’re not easy to find in women, either.” He let out an easy laugh. Okay, he was starting to be too good to be true. But whatever. I hadn’t been with anyone in almost a year and Caleb was too enticing. And too close to my body in this semi-private, gauze-draped, red-hued cabana. I briefly tried to remind myself that he wasn’t truly my type, that he probably usually dated women who organized charity balls and shopped at Saks. If he was even really single in the first place.
But my doubts flew from my mind when I caught his scent again. I leaned toward him, feeling my legs slip against one another and my lips tingle with the anticipation of a kiss. The little smile faded, and he again reached out and tangled all of his fingers in my hair, tugging me ever so slightly toward him.
“I’ve never kissed a woman in a cabana before.” His eyes were half-lidded and obviously sensual.
“I’ve never kissed a man at Story Brothel before.”
“Can I be your first?” he murmured.
He licked his bottom lip and pulled me closer. His sweet and musky scent combined with the whiskey was intoxicating. Our lips were inches apart, and I could feel the whisper of his hot breath on my skin.
Then a shriek came from the direction of the bar.
He shut his eyes. “Shit. That’s Laura.”
“Laura?” I plopped back on my heels, shock surging through me. What the hell?
“Oh,” I exhaled. “What’s wrong with her?”
He ran a hand over his short hair. “Well, from her tone, I can tell she’s panicking.”
“She’s what? Why?”
“She has a severe anxiety disorder, and sometimes when she drinks, she has an attack. This has been going on for years.”
My jaw dropped as the woman’s breathy, panicked voice grew closer.
Biting his lip, his expression faded from sad to sorry. “I’ve got to take her home. I apologize.”
He scrambled out of the cabana, and I followed on all fours, parting the curtain and peering out.
As he slid his feet into his shoes, the tall blonde woman ran up, sobbing. Several people poked their heads out of their cabanas to watch.
“Sis. Hey. It’s okay. Let’s get you home.” He squeezed her shoulders, then rubbed her upper arms. “Give me thirty seconds, okay? Okay?”
She nodded and stammered something about how she was having a heart attack and that she needed to get to a hospital. In a gentle voice, he reminded her to breathe. When he’d first said his sister was having a panic attack, I’d been skeptical. But seeing this woman’s obvious terror up close was disturbing. What had happened between her and Sarah? I climbed out of the cabana and stood next to her.
“Hey,” I said in my softest voice. “You’ll be okay.”
Just then, Sarah rushed over. “Want me to call an ambulance?”
Caleb shook his head. I turned to him as he shrugged on his jacket. “Why don’t I go with you to help?”
He paused and looked down. He seemed even taller now because I wasn’t wearing shoes. His anguished eyes bored deep into mine. “Thank you, Emma, but no.”
He ran the backs of his fingers down my cheek, which sent heat coursing through my veins. Before I could say anything else, he turned and put his arm around his crying sister and they quickly walked away, followed by Sarah.
I tunneled back into the cabana, not wanting to face the stares of the others. Flinging myself on the bed, I lay on my back, shaking, feeling more turned on than I had in years and wondering what the hell had just happened. I inhaled deep, taking in Caleb’s vanilla-oak scent that lingered on the pillows and in the humid air.
“Did you get Laura’s number before she had a panic attack?”
“Yep. We’ve been texting a little today. I think we might go out this weekend.” Sarah selected a red pencil from a pack. We were in the bookstore, and I was straightening the items on the counter for the fiftieth time. I couldn’t get the nervous energy out of my system.
Twenty-four hours after my erotically charged evening, I was still thinking of Caleb. I’d been too busy at work to try to find him online, and now it was time for coloring. I’m into that whole therapeutic coloring movement. It’s better than meditation. But pencils and markers probably wouldn’t get my mind off him.
“Poor thing. She looked terrified,” I said.
Sarah looked up from her Zen nature pattern and pushed her purple, cat-eye glasses up her nose. “Yeah. Wow. We were having a really good time, chatting and talking about going to a movie later this week. Then she started to breathe funny. I thought maybe it was asthma, and then she said she was having an anxiety attack. I tried to get her to sit, but she lost her shit and went to find her brother. I meant to ask her where she works, too. I’ll call her later.”
I mumbled something about how she and her brother work together and then scowled, realizing I didn’t even know Caleb’s last name or the name of his company. Unless he returned to Story Brothel the following month, I’d have to forget about him. The thought made me more disappointed than I expected. It wasn’t like I’d been looking for a man. With the exception of the bookstore’s problems, my life was awesome. Fulfilling. Busy with friends and creativity and work.
But Caleb had reminded me that life could be even sweeter, especially if it involved a heavy current of sexual energy. That’s what I’d been missing. I sighed.
A guy in his twenties walked up to the counter, scratching his chest. “Dudes, do you have any animal pages to color?”
I shuffled through a sheaf of papers. It was the first Thursday of the month, which meant it was Color After Dark, a monthly event at my bookstore. Hipsters and retirees and stressed-out artist types who worked as theme park cast members flocked to the store to color with pens and markers and pencils in hopes of clearing their minds. I provided the supplies and some chill tunes; they brought the booze. It was becoming quite the local event in Orlando, and that evening, a couple of dozen people gathered at the tables I’d set up in the back of the shop.
“Here,” I said, offering the bearded guy five different versions of predatory animals. “Take your pick.” He grabbed a lion and sauntered off.
Sarah sharpened her pencil, then shaded in a frog. In addition to being my best friend, Sarah was the bookstore’s manager. The job fit well with her schedule since she was getting a graduate degree in library science.
“Since when are frogs red?” I asked.
She tossed her long, chestnut-colored curtain of hair. “It’s my frog, bitch. Don’t judge.”
I laughed and was scanning the tables filled with focused, de-stressed adults when I heard the bells attached to the front door jingle. A latecomer. I looked up to see a man walking toward the counter, grinning.
Caleb. Dear God, he was even more gorgeous tonight. Michelangelo would weep at those cheekbones.
Out the corner of my eye, I could see Sarah cock an eyebrow. “Lookie who’s here,” she said under her breath. “Surprise, surprise, surprise…”
“Hey,” he said softly, resting his big hands on the counter. He was somehow more vivid and masculine in the bright light of my bookstore. I stared at him, briefly mute. Tonight he wore black jeans and a black T-shirt, and the combination with his silvery-black hair and bow-shaped mouth was irresistible. So were his biceps, which hadn’t been evident the previous evening under his button-down white dress shirt.
“Hey there,” Sarah said, picking up her coloring supplies and shooting me a pointed look. “I’m going to make myself comfortable at the table. I need to spread out.”
I nodded. Now alone with Caleb, my eyes met his. I tried to steady my wild heartbeat by breathing evenly, but it probably looked more like hyperventilating.
“Emma, I’m sorry about last night. I’d hoped to get your number, but my sister—”
“Its okay.” He looked so uncomfortable and apologetic that I wanted to alleviate the awkwardness. And catch my breath.
“She’s had those attacks for years, but they still freak me out. I feel helpless, you know? I’ve taken her to the hospital so many times, but there’s never anything I can do.”
“I can imagine. Did you take her to the hospital last night?”
He nodded. “Yeah. They ended up give her a tranquilizer and sending her home. Still, I wanted to apologize.”
“There’s no need to at all. I felt awful for her.” I tried to smile. “How did you find me?” A pang of wariness shot through my stomach. It both thrilled and scared me that he’d gone out of his way to find my bookstore.
“Are you stalking me?” I half-teased.
“Um, no.” He reached into his back pocket and extracted a piece of paper, then unfolded it and placed it on the counter. “You were in the paper. With a beautiful photo.”
Chapter One Books to Hold Color After Dark
“Oh, right. I forgot I was in The Sentineltoday.”
“I opened the paper at breakfast this morning and there you were. It was a very welcome surprise. Serendipity, even.”
“I love that word.” My face flushed hot. “So you came to color.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Oh.” I stifled a smile.
“I came to ask you to read me a bedtime story.”
My mouth dropped open, and I glanced over at the tables. No one had heard his proposition apparently, because they were absorbed in their coloring. Sparks shot through my belly.
“I don’t read for money outside of Story Brothel.” I grabbed a pack of markers and a page with a dragonfly pattern and shot him a teasing grin.
He laughed. “I wasn’t planning on paying you. I want to take you to dinner, though.” He mentioned a steakhouse, somewhere that I’d read about but had never been, an expensive place in a luxury hotel at one of the theme park resorts.
“I’m a vegetarian.” I slid the markers and the coloring sheet toward him. Of course I wanted to have dinner with him, and of course I wanted to read him a story. But I also wanted to draw this out a bit, see where our flirtation would lead. “Maybe you want to sit and color for a bit?”
He opened his mouth, and by the look on his face, I was certain he was going to make fun of my offer. Then he grinned. “Sure. I’ll color.”
I moved from around the counter and beckoned with my fingers, then took him by the arm. I squeezed his bare bicep and guided him to an empty seat next to Sarah. Wow, I knew I had small hands, but they looked positively tiny when wrapped around his bicep. I imagined being beneath him, holding onto both of his arms while he entered me. A wave of heat rippled through my body.
He sat and slipped an expensive-looking watch off his wrist and set it on the table near his pencils. “I’ll try to stay between the lines.”
Sarah piped up. “You don’t have to. That’s the beauty of adult coloring. You can do whatever the hell you want.”
They laughed and started to chat in low voices. I moved away so I could stare at him from my seat at the counter. He was so delicious, with the little flecks of silver hair on the sides of his head. Instead of making him seem older, they made him look cooler, edgier. I stared, he caught my eye a few times, and I turned away, smiling. This went on for a half-hour or so, and then Sarah shook his hand and rose.
“Say hi to Laura for me,” Sarah called out, then walked to the counter where I was filling out a book order.
“Em, I’m leaving. I got the whole story on his sister,” she whispered. “Call you later.” She gave me a quick hug and then ambled out of the store. I turned the music down, hoping to give everyone else the cue to leave, and then sat in Sarah’s seat next to Caleb.
“Enjoying yourself?” I inhaled, and there it was. The oak-vanilla-mint scent that made me want to feast on his skin.
“Actually, I am. This is oddly captivating.” He shaded the dragonfly’s wings in blue. “I don’t think I’ve colored since first grade.”
“Plenty of people say that. Then they discover it’s soothing. What do you do for stress relief?”
“I run, work out, typical guy stuff.” He shrugged. “Maybe I need to color. Maybe it would calm me down. Whatever I do, it’s not enough. Work takes over and I never feel fully relaxed, you know? But this is cool.” He looked around, nodding.
“I do know that feeling.” I wanted to mention to him that coloring nights and the bookstore might not be around in a few months because someone had recently bought the building. A combination of rumor and a newspaper article that was short on detail revealed that the new owner would raze the place and put up a giant new high-rise filled with condos. There was a meeting soon about the redevelopment of the entire block, and I was organizing all of the indie shop owners into attending and protesting. I opened my mouth to invite him, then stopped myself. No, I didn’t want to sound needy or pathetic. Why tell a guy I just met about my crusade against cookie-cutter development in downtown Orlando?
It wasn’t likely he’d be sympathetic to my woes, considering what he did for a living. I wanted to fuck Caleb, not ask him for advice. My business was my own—I’d made sure of that even before I scrimped, saved, and took out loans to keep the bookstore afloat.
“How long have you owned this store? I love the feel of it,” he said in a hushed voice. “It also smells good. Like paper.”
I shifted my chair close to his, then picked up a pencil and started coloring one of the dragonflies on his paper. His hands looked even larger with a thin pencil in between his fingers. I inhaled sharply, trying to ignore the fantasies dancing in my mind.
“Five years. Are you from Orlando? I’m surprised I’ve never seen you here.”
He winced. “You know, I live right down the street. And I walk by here all the time. But I usually buy books online.”
“Hush,” I whispered, attempting a mock seriousness. “You should be punished for that.”
“I’m sure you’ll think of some way to punish me.”
I grinned. “You’re a flirt.”
“And you’re not?” His grin was even wickeder than mine, and the energy between us was tangible.
I didn’t respond, instead biting my lip and trying to quell the urge to rub myself on him like my cat does with the coffee table. I imagined his mouth trailing down the back of my neck, then down the column of my spine, his fingers reaching around to stroke me to orgasm. I shivered a little, and his eyes flickered down my face.
We colored on the same paper, a delicious silence between us. At one point, we shaded the same dragonfly, him doing one wing in green, me coloring the other wing in blue, stopping to glance up at each other. Tonight his eyes seemed an even deeper sapphire color, and I wanted to hold his face in my hands and simply stare into them. And the touches of gray hair made him look more distinguished and masculine, probably because his body was hard and tight.
I reached for the black pencil the same time as he did, and he rested his fingers on the back of my hand, sending sparks up my arm. Picking up the pencil, I turned my hand over and offered it to him. He wordlessly took it from me with graceful precision.
It was nine o’clock, the time when Color After Dark normally wound down and people began gathering their things and shuffling out. I said goodbye to everyone, then got up and locked the door after the last person left. Caleb and I were alone now, and I shut the music off. He rose and stood next to me at the counter, the silence surrounding us. For the first time that evening, I felt awkward and needy and not like myself. I was usually in control of my feelings around men.
Not this man.
“So I was thinking,” he said. “How about I make you a vegetarian dinner at my place tomorrow night?”
I grabbed my purse. Why didn’t he ask me over now? “You’re willing to cook vegetarian for me?”
“You sound skeptical of my cooking abilities.”
“Maybe I am, since you suggested a steakhouse.”
“I figured you’d want to go to the hottest restaurant in the city.”
“Doesn’t mean anything to me. I’ve never been.”
“Usually that’s where men take women to impress them. Women like flashy restaurants.”
I shrugged. “The last time I went out to eat was Taco Bus, three weeks ago.”
“Taco Bus?” He looked a little lost, and I laughed as I fixed my black, patent-leather purse over my shoulder.
“Is it a…bus?” he asked.
“It is. I would take you, but you don’t seem like a Taco Bus kind of guy.”
That made him lick his bottom lip. “Try me.”
Maybe he was more open-minded than he appeared. Still, I wasn’t expecting anything more than a dinner-date and a one-night stand from him. Didn’t need anything more than that. Didn’t want it. I just needed his mouth and his body—then needed to forget about this little obsession with him.
“Can I walk you to your car?”
I smiled at his old-fashioned manners and motioned for him to follow me through the back storeroom. The bookstore’s rear door led out to the parking lot, and from there, it was only a few steps to my beat-up Honda. We paused at my driver’s side door, and a few light raindrops landed on my face. I hate getting caught in rain, but for some reason, I wasn’t concerned tonight.
I considered asking him to my house, but I liked that he was planning an evening for us. It made the hookup less raunchy and more erotic.
I could wait. Waiting was making my stomach flutter and my heart crash against my chest, like I was a teenager and not a grown woman.
“Text me your address,” I said, digging in my purse for my card, then handing it to him.
“I’ll see you tomorrow night. Don’t bring anything. I’ll handle it all.”
“No wine?” I murmured, feeling a couple more raindrops. They were cool on my warm face, and for the first time ever, I liked how they felt.
He laughed. “I could say something really cheesy and totally inappropriate, but I won’t. So no, don’t bring dessert. I’ve got it covered.”
I breathed a giggle and stepped closer. “Caleb?”
“What’s your last name? I don’t usually go to a man’s home unless I know his last name.”
“Price. It’s also here.” I tapped the back of his hand that was holding my business card. He held the card up, then slipped it in his back pocket.
“One more question.”
“Yes, Emma?” When he said my name, it was like slipping into a bed of velvet—sumptuous and tactile.
“Are you going to kiss me goodnight?”
He tilted his head and the corners of his mouth turned up. When he leaned into my ear, I fought the urge to lick him. His bottom lip brushed my lobe, and I’d never felt such arousal before. What the hell was happening here?
“No. It’s about to rain hard and you need to get home before it turns into a monsoon. So you’re going to have to wait,” he whispered. “I’m not going to kiss you. Not now, not here in a parking lot, under a streetlight in the rain.”
“Wh-why?” Jesus. I needed to pull myself together.
His lips found my cheek, and he pressed them against my skin as his hand cupped the other side of my face. He stroked my cheek twice with his thumb, and I allowed my eyes to flutter shut so I could enjoy the intense, tactile sensation. His mouth was hot, but not as hot as my face. Not as hot as I was between my legs. I held my breath as my limbs turned to jelly, and suddenly I didn’t care about the Florida rain.
“Because you deserve to be kissed properly, in a perfect place. Like my bed.” He moved away from me and smiled.
My eyebrows lifted. Now I was even more intrigued and turned on. “You like to tease and be teased, don’t you, Mr. King?”
“Very good, Ms. Price. You’ve picked up on that.”
I grinned and stepped back. The game was on. “See you tomorrow night.”
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