Darkness asked her to dance.
It started with a cold stare.
A deal with a devil in a bespoke suit.
He was wicked. Cruel. No sane person would fall in love with him.
But sanity abandoned her the second she agreed to be his.
She chose to take his hand.
It started with a white dress.
With ocean eyes.
With a woman he had to have, even though he had no business touching her porcelain skin.
She was never meant to enter his world.
He dragged her in anyway.
It was meant to be about his twisted, selfish desires.
She gave him a glimpse of the man he could’ve been had the world not turned him into a monster.
He led her into the abyss.
There, in the darkness, she learned wicked things.
He knew he’d ruin her life, loving her. So he lied. Like the sinner he was, he broke her gentle, precious heart.
Like only a devil could.
But the dance had to end.
Are you ready for something completely new from me? Something dark? Spicy? Something that will break your damn heart? Well here you go. This duet is all of that and more. I’m warning you now, Jay is a total anti-hero. It’s going to take you a while to love his cold, cruel heart. But you will. I promise. If you want to preorder, you can do it here. If you want to take a look at the first chapter, then keep reading below…
“Karson, she’s in a white dress, strawberry blonde, no tits. Nice ass.”
“Got her, sir.”
Jay sat back on his chair, watching the sea of bodies part for Karson. Even in a nightclub where ninety percent of the clientele were drunk off their asses—in addition to being high on coke, E, or whatever they could get their hands on—the throng moved for him.
A latent survival instinct, Jay supposed.
The man wasn’t overly tall. Not hugely muscled either. He was wearing a sleek black suit and a barely visible earpiece. Handsome in a traditional way. Dark hair. Sharp features. Ice blue eyes.
All of this shouldn’t have been threatening. But the man himself was. An air of pure menace cut through even the highest of highs and the thickest of inebriations. Karson had a history that Uncle Sam had either erased or had never written down in the first place. A history that made him one of the most valuable members of Jay’s staff.
This errand was above his pay grade, but Jay paid him more than enough to complete the task without comment. Beyond that, he didn’t want to fuck around with the club security, who spent far too much time checking out the ass that Jay already considered his.
Despite the fact that the club was absolute packed with beautiful women, women with technically better asses, tits and faces, this woman in the white dress was something else. Which was the entire reason why Jay had interrupted his plans for the night to send one of his best men on an errand for pussy.
Such things weren’t unusual; he had needs and owned a club that attracted beautiful women. Women who were eager to get into bed with him, who obeyed commands and who he could dispose of without incident.
They were easy. No complications.
Jay had enough complications in his life.
But something about the way his eyes caught the woman’s hair, her ass and how he wanted to beat the shit out his bouncer for just looking at her made Jay realize that things were already complicated.
I just wanted to dance.
Sometimes I did this.
Got all dressed up in a vintage Alaïa dress I found on eBay or a Halston Heritage jumpsuit I’d been given at a shoot, heels, hair, makeup—all of it. No friends, and definitely no man of any kind.
I had plenty of friends who I went out with. Got dressed to the nines and attended fabulous parties, drank fabulous drinks and had a fabulous time.
There were men too. Maybe not as plentiful as the friends, but a good amount. Though I wasn’t vain, I knew I was pretty. Could pass for beautiful with makeup, hair and a kickass outfit. Which was what I was always wearing.
Part of the job.
Part of who I was.
And part of who I was was someone who needed to dance at an obnoxious club with insane cover charges and exorbitant drink prices. I didn’t care much about the club itself or the status people hoped to gain by getting into the exclusive VIP section. I didn’t even take notice of the people. I certainly didn’t care about the rumors swirling about the mob owning the club or some shady, millionaire businessman who was king of the underworld. That was just talk. People in L.A. liked to talk. Make stories, blockbusters out of things.
The club itself was my choice only because I liked the music, and it was close enough to my apartment that I didn’t need to eat up too much of my shoe money—or rent or grocery money—by taking an Uber back and forth.
Plus, walking was not an option in the area between the club and my place.
Sure, if I wanted to save my money—which I was never good at anyway—I could’ve forgone my pilgrimages and stayed at home. Or, at the very least, gone to a party with friends, gone on a date, doing something less expensive while still being somewhat social.
But I needed these nights.
Nights where it was just me, the thump of the music and bodies moving around me. It was calming. Some people took baths, put on face masks—I had three hours of straight dancing.
I had no goals of attracting a man, or attracting anything for that matter. This wasn’t for anyone but me. I was single, I was living paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes I got lonely. Sure, I was a romantic. A romantic realist. So I knew that any man I encountered at a club a criminal may or may not own, was not a man I would have any kind of romance with.
Not that this was about men.
It was about me.
I’d tried to tell that to my girlfriends, and they tried to understand. But though they were good friends, they couldn’t quite understand it.
So I stopped trying to explain.
And they stopped trying to understand.
Other than hurting my bank balance, which was used to taking a battering, I didn’t think my form of self-care was going to harm me in any way.
When a very serious and scary looking man grabbed my upper arm and murmured in my ear to come with him. The murmur was not sexual. Not at all. It was authoritative. Dangerous.
The music was too loud for me to reply to him, and he was too strong for me to struggle against. Even if I’d screamed, I doubt anyone would’ve heard me, doubt anyone would’ve even noticed. This was not a place where some hero would swoop in to save me from … from whatever was happening.
I had no choice but to let myself be led out of the main room of the club then through a side door to a hallway. A door closed behind us, and the lack of noise was deafening. The floor was covered in sleek black carpet, the walls the same. There were lights overhead and on walls close to the floor, dim and soft. Everything was luxurious but not comforting.
“I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” I said to the man leading me down the hall.
He didn’t reply.
“I’m not on drugs. I didn’t buy drinks here because the prices are nothing short of insane,” I continued, my heart rate increasing with every step I was forced to take.
Still no response.
“Where are you taking me?” I demanded. That should’ve been my first question. I shouldn’t have let myself get ferreted away behind some door in a club by a man with such a strong grip. That was how people got raped and murdered.
I’d always considered myself smarter than that.
Yet here I was.
“To see Mr. Helmick.” His voice was flat. Deep. Emotionless. He didn’t look at me when we spoke, nor did he let go of my arm. He was handsome, this man. In a sharp, muscled and dangerous kind of way. His piercing blue eyes were flat and cold just like his voice.
We were walking toward the end of the hallway. Toward an elevator. Something told me I really, really did not want to get in that elevator.
“Who is Mr. Helmick?” I asked, voice shaking. That embarrassed me. I was crumbling already. That wasn’t how I was supposed to act in such a situation. I needed agency, an authoritative voice.
“He’s the owner of this club,” the man answered as we approached the elevator. He leaned forward to press the button, and the doors opened immediately.
He nodded forward, as if to urge me inside, but I stayed rooted to the spot. The space was small yet tastefully and expensively appointed, if such a thing were possible for an elevator. Nonetheless, the thought of stepping inside was terrifying.
“You can’t force me to go in there,” I informed him, tilting my chin upward.
Now he looked at me. The full power of his attention was nothing more than suffocating, like he’d landed a weight on my shoulders that was going to dislodge my kneecaps if he didn’t take it off me.
He didn’t speak. Didn’t need to. He was communicating with his eyes how easy it would be to force me in there. How humiliating it would be for me.
“What does Mr. Helmick want from me?” I demanded.
Just the look.
It was stupid, but I moved into the elevator, if only to get a respite from this man’s gaze. The doors closed quickly, leaving me alone.
“What in the ever-loving fuck have you gotten yourself into, Stella?” I muttered to myself.
The ride was quick but long enough to have me wondering about Mr. Helmick. Who apparently was the owner of this club. I thought about the stories I’d heard that I’d been certain were rumors. That the club owner was involved in the mafia. That he was a crime boss with ties to all sorts of nefarious things.
A man with ties to the mafia—potentially, at least—had for whatever reason summoned me with the help of some goon that was seriously scary.
None of those things were good.
Like at all.
By the time the elevator doors opened, I’d convinced myself that I was being sent up here to be killed. Even though I hadn’t witnessed a murder, stumbled upon a drug deal or gotten myself involved in anything even remotely illegal. The most illegal thing I’d done was snort some lines of coke at parties. And in L.A., in my circles, coke was considered a fucking vitamin.
Not to mention that I’d gotten nervous and convinced myself I was having a heart attack the last few times I did it. Maybe I was getting too old to be doing cocaine in bathrooms at parties.
I was definitely not too old to die.
No, I had a life to live.
There were many, many things I had left to do.
There was no running since scary guy was downstairs, likely waiting for me to try and come back down.
The elevator doors opened right into an office. It was large. Open plan. It smelled like a three hundred-dollar tobacco scented candle I once got in a goodie bag after some PR event.
In front of me was a set of floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out on to the entire club. Impressive art on the walls, black sofas beneath. A large desk right in the middle with a man sitting behind it.
One who matched the room. Expensive. Clad in all black. Tasteful.
He was watching me intently.
With cold eyes. They were sharp green, almost glowing against the rest of the room.
My feet moved even though everything in my body told me to stay in place. That somehow the elevator was my safe place, and if I stayed here, nothing bad would happen. But people could die in elevators just the same as anywhere else.
The man watched me approach.
He did not stand, did not speak, just watched.
I watched him right back. He was handsome. It was a weird thing to notice, considering how terrified I was. But there was no way not to notice. This man was … something else. His hair was jet black, just long enough to curl around his neck. That was the only messy thing about him. Everything else was smooth, perfect. His skin. Jawline. Neck, visible because he was wearing a black shirt under his black blazer, open at the collar.
He was tan. Not fake, something all too common here in L.A. and something I was trained to notice in my line of work. It was something in his genes. Italian. Cuban, maybe.
I couldn’t determine his height because he was sitting, but I got the feeling he was tall. That he’d tower over me. Not overly muscular, but something about him was big. Foreboding.
His jaw was sharp, as if it were cut from stone but his lips were full, soft looking, complete with a cupid’s bow. Eyes that were carved from emeralds. He looked like the devil, since I imagined the devil appeared to everyone as their own version of utter dark perfection.
I stopped in front of his desk with no clue how I’d gotten there, my legs had a mind of their own, enchanted by his dark beauty. I was dressed in my favorite dress, second favorite shoes and sassy but not slutty makeup. And I was going to die. My intuition told me this. That I was in grave fucking danger. There were hundreds of people visible below me, but I was beyond help. I’d gone without a fight, and now I was here. Staring at death’s sharp green eyes.
There was nothing in the immediate vicinity for me to use as any kind of weapon, not that I really rated my skills in defending myself against this man. My best friend, Wren, and I had signed up for a self-defense class two years ago, but then we discovered a really great cocktail place that had remained undiscovered from the Instagram masses, so we’d gone there every Tuesday at six instead.
Not that some shitty, Groupon self-defense class would’ve helped me here anyway. I needed something else. Anything else.
“I’m terrible at remembering people’s birthdays,” I blurted. “Though I expect everyone to remember mine. It’s a double standard I hate about myself, but I can’t seem to change.”
I pressed my clammy hands against my bare thighs, forcing myself to keep the gaze of this man. “I keep buying houseplants because I want to be a person who has houseplants, but I keep killing them,” I said. “I do have a cat called Voldemort who I’ve managed to keep alive, but that’s more him than me, really,” I continued. “My dad is my best friend. It’s lame maybe, but he raised me on his own since I was six years old. My teenage years were not kind to him, yet he was always kind to me. We talk every day.”
I sucked in a breath, tears prickling the backs of my eyes at the thought of my father getting some call that my body had been found in a shallow grave.
No. Keep talking. Keep breathing.
“I’m terrible with money,” I rasped, my voice scratchy with fear. “Ditto with credit cards. Not because my father didn’t teach me well, he really, really did. He’s responsible. Sensible. He’s tried his best to raise a sensible girl, but unfortunately, he didn’t take in to account men like Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin and his daughter’s affinity for such men.”
I bit my lip hard enough for the metallic twang of blood to wash onto my tongue. “I haven’t done everything I thought I was going to do. No, I haven’t done half of the things I planned on. Except moving here and making a life for myself. I still have to see a sunset in Bali. Drink tea in Morocco. Climb a mountain in New Zealand. Do something for humanity that isn’t just helping keep ateliers in Paris in business.”
I thought about more, scrambling for tidbits about my life that might make some kind of impact, make me seem less vapid and shallow. “I’ve never fallen in love. I’ve been in a handful of relationships where I said the words. I meant them at the time, but I’ve never been so in love with a human that I can’t breathe without knowing they love me back. Where my heart only beats for them. And I want that.”
I ended the last part on a whisper, close to tears but refusing to cry.
The man in front of me tilted his head ever so slightly, regarding me as if he were trying to open me up with his penetrating green eyes. “As enlightening as all of this information is, can you tell me why you’re choosing to share it with me?”
I blinked at him. He sounded so even. Businesslike. Plus, he hadn’t pulled a gun from underneath his desk and shot me in the face the way I had imagined this might go. Despite the fact that I hadn’t actually done anything that should result in me being shot in the face. But I reasoned that many people—most people, even—who were shot in the face weren’t expecting it.
Plus, I tended to be dramatic.
“I read that you should personalize yourself to your killer,” I explained, unable to break eye contact. “Make them understand that you’re a person. A unique one with friends and family and a life. Give them information about you. So that’s what I’m doing.”
I was pretty sure the article hadn’t said that you should actually clarify what you were doing to your would-be killer since it might lose some of its effect.
“You think I’m going to kill you?” he asked, his mossy green eyes fixated on me. The way he looked at me sent my heart into a frenzy and my blood turned hot. His attention was rapt, he was leaning forward on his desk ever so slightly.
I blinked at him. He spoke in a flat tone but in a way that said he thought I was absolutely batshit crazy to think he was going to kill me.
I was not crazy. Dramatic as mentioned, sure. Emotional? Definitely. Romantic? Also yes. But not crazy. My ultimate goal in life was to avoid crazy. And considering crazy was somewhat of a trigger word for me, it sparked fury within me. This man insinuating that I was unhinged when he was the one who’d had me dragged up here.
So I tilted my head and cocked my hip in the classic female battle stance. “Um, your goon, who is like mobster hitman material from any movie, snatched me off the dance floor, took me down the murder hallway, and now I’m up here,” I waved around the office, “which is definitely a secret villain lair of some kind. And there’re all sorts of stories about you being a hitman or crime lord, and I’m pretty sure I’ll have bruises on my arm tomorrow to prove that. That is, of course, if I’m alive tomorrow, which all of these aforementioned details have put in to question.”
His eyes narrowed as I spoke, and he was out of his chair before I finished speaking. I didn’t retreat as I should’ve as he stalked toward me. I was too busy staring at the way he moved. Predatory. Like a man in charge of not only his whole body but the entire room. And everyone in it. It terrified me, but there was also something else that … enchanted me. Nothing about this man should’ve enchanted me. Or interested me. Certainly shouldn’t have aroused me.
His fingers were on my bare skin before I could fathom what was going on. His grip was firm. Not painful though. His fingers were long, manicured, hands large and powerful looking. He could circle my entire upper arm in his grip. I didn’t jerk away, didn’t even try to.
He inspected the area where the skin had started to bloom with the telltale signs of a bruise. Which wasn’t really saying much since I bruised easily. Bumping my leg on a coffee table would end up looking like I’d hit it with a hammer. It was saying much, a lot actually, that I was going to be marked by a man who had touched me without my permission and who’d used his grip to manhandle me and drag me in to this situation. Yes, that was saying a whole fucking lot.
“He marked you,” the man observed, his voice quiet yet it boomed somehow. The deep masculinity of his voice penetrated my skin, brushed at my bones.
Something about his hushed tone sent goosebumps moving up my arms. That and the fact that he was touching me. Technically against my will too. I should’ve been totally fucking terrified that the man who I was convinced was going to murder me a handful of seconds ago was now touching me. I was not scared. Well, I was a little scared. Maybe a lot. But I felt something else too. Something completely opposite of fear. Something I’d likely have to pay a lot of money for a therapist to unpack after this was all over. If I survived this.
“I bruise easily,” I offered, though I had no idea why I was trying to make an excuse for the man who’d done this. Maybe it was the menace in the air that told me the punishment would not fit the crime.
“He marked you,” the man repeated, his low baritone full of menace.
I swallowed hard.
The way his eyes focused on my discolored skin did something to me. There was an intensity there that shouldn’t have been present in a stranger. The way I responded to his touch, his gaze made no sense. It scared me. Terrified me.
He stepped back, hand no longer on my arm. I missed his grip, even though that made no sense. At all.
“Karson will be disciplined for that,” he announced, nodding toward my arm. “It was not my intention for you to be harmed or feel that your life was threatened.”
I raised my brow and folded my arms across my chest. “Well, what was your intention then? Because having me dragged off the dance floor and forced up here without an explanation, without giving me a choice in the matter, is pretty much communicating to me that I am definitely threatened,” I snapped, remembering that I was meant to be indignant right now, not turned on. “I’m sure you have no experience in that because you’re a man. A rich and powerful one, by the looks of it. Rich and powerful men have no clue that women feel threatened by all kinds of things because they have the luxury of never having to feel that. Better still, they get to do all the threatening stuff because it makes them feel powerful. Do you feel powerful now, buddy?” I glared at him.
He blinked at me, his face blank, cold. His features could’ve been carved from granite.
“We’ve gotten off on the wrong foot,” he clasped his hands together, his expression remaining stoic.
“You think?” I muttered.
“Can I offer you a drink?” he asked, nodding toward a lavish looking bar cart to our left.
“I’m a single woman who lives in L.A.. No way am I taking a drink from you,” I replied, bite to my tone.
His jaw twitched ever so slightly. I only caught it because I was watching him so closely. I didn’t know whether that meant he was amused or pissed off, but I felt myself wanting to find out. This seemed to be a man who didn’t show his emotions on his face or in his voice. Everything about him was cold, except when he touched me. My arm still burned at the memory.
“Very well,” he responded after a long silence. “Will you sit down?” he nodded to a plush looking chair in front of his desk.
“I’m not going to be here long enough to sit,” I stated firmly. Finally, I was finding my voice. My backbone. A little late to be sure. But at least it didn’t seem like I was going to be killed in the immediate future.
“As you wish,” he said as he moved over to the bar cart. His steps were unhurried, he seemed to glide across the floor.
Bottles clanged delicately, and liquid sloshed into a glass. He turned with a whisky glass in his hand then walked back to his desk, sitting behind it.
“Why do you come here?” he asked.
I stared at him. He was sitting in the chair casually, leaning back, inspecting me with those green eyes of his. “I beg your pardon?”
“Here,” he repeated, turning back to gesture to the dance floor below. “You come at least once a month. Sometimes more. Dressed to attract attention. Done up in a way that a practiced eye can tell is for you but nobody else. You don’t drink. You don’t accept offers from any of the men who approach you. You always come alone. Always leave alone. That means you do not come for sex. For connections. Which is why everyone else is here. So why do you come here?”
“You’ve been watching me?” I whispered, he words touching every bone in my spine.
He leaned back in his chair. “I watch everyone,” he countered. “I own this club. It’s my job to notice things. And you, pet, are begging to be noticed.”
“I’m not begging to be noticed,” I snapped back. “And I most certainly am not your pet.”
“Not yet,” he muttered in a way that chilled my blood. His eyes were filled with a promise. A threat. “You don’t want to answer my question?” he pressed. He wasn’t ordering me to answer, like he was probably used to doing. This man, sitting up here with his one finger of whisky, watching throngs of inebriated people below, he liked control. I could tell that.
I didn’t want to answer. Didn’t want to give him anything more than I already had, which was a lot since I’d blurted out intimate details about my life, my father and my cat. But then again, maybe that was the whole reason I was up here. He’d gotten suspicious that I came so often without an obvious reason. Maybe he thought I was some kind of spy, or cop, if he really was a criminal.
Which he was. This man breathed danger. His very gaze was a threat. It definitely should’ve been criminal to have this kind of reaction to a man I barely knew.
The reason I didn’t want to tell him was based largely on principal. I didn’t want to tell him anything because I shouldn’t have to. I should be able to go to a club, dressed however I wanted, dance for as long as I wanted and leave without being pulled off the dance floor and dragged up here, in front of a man used to getting what he wants.
But that was the way the world worked As much as I really wanted to change it, I also understood this moment was not the time for me to start making those kinds of changes.
I just needed to get the fuck out of here.
“I like to dance,” I said finally. “Sure, I could do it in my living room. But I like the bodies. The energy. The smells. I like getting dressed up and getting out of my apartment. I like when the music is so loud I can’t think. It’s a weird form of meditation.” I narrowed me eyes. “I don’t dress to attract attention. Don’t dress for anyone but myself. But, of course, a man sees a woman who’s taken care of her appearance and he thinks it’s all for him because that’s the way men think.”
I said all of the words sharply, with as much inflection as possible to communicate how pissed off I was that I even had to explain myself. I tried not to show even the smallest bit of shame that I was explaining something that nobody closes to me understood to a stranger. A very attractive, possible criminal stranger. But that was neither here nor there.
His trenchant eyes assessed me for a few long beats after I’d finished speaking. Nothing moved on his face. I couldn’t get a read on him. Something I used to think I was good at doing. Reading people. I worked with a lot of them. But then again, a lot of people I worked with were simple and weren’t exactly focused on creating any kind of mystery.
This man was anything but simple. That I could deduce.
“Makes sense,” he replied finally. There was no edge to his voice, nothing to communicate that he thought I was weird or crazy. He just accepted what I said. It would’ve been an attractive quality on an immensely attractive man had the situation been different. But the situation was not different.
“Now that I’ve explained myself when I shouldn’t have to, are you going to tell me why I’m here? Or better yet, let me leave?” I wrung my hands together. Leaving was the goal, wasn’t it? Yes. I very badly wanted to leave, to get back to the safety of my apartment and forget this ever happened.
But another part of me wanted to stay. Soak up the presence of this man.
He continued to stare at me, taking a sip of his drink before setting the tumbler down. “You’ll be free to leave in a moment, Stella.”
“How do you know my name?” I demanded, blood chilling with the knowledge that murder might still be on the table. Or something else. Something darker and just as terrifying as murder.
A whisper that resounded through my skull. The word every woman thought of many times in their lives because there was such a high possibility of it happening. I’d read somewhere that one in five women reported rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. And due to the fact that a huge majority of sexual assaults are not reported that number was likely much, much higher. That meant that it was likely that out of me and my three best friends—women I adored—one of us was going to experience at least one sexual assault in our lifetime. We had to think of the word daily, yet men only had to think about it if they were the ones doing it, investigating it, or experiencing it secondhand.
“You show your ID at the door,” he explained evenly as I envisioned him moving across the room and forcing himself on me. He didn’t make to move, just sat there staring. “As I said, you made an impression, so I told my men at the door to relay your information.”
That did not help quell a single fear. In fact, it only intensified them tenfold. My driver’s license had my address on it. To my apartment where I lived alone.
Seventy percent of the Criminal Minds episodes were about women who lived alone. Which is why I’d banned myself from watching that show. My imagination was already vivid enough, and I was a light sleeper, jerking awake at every noise, hand on the pepper spray I kept by my bed, as if it would make a difference.
“The information was obtained by my most trusted of employees and stays between only him and myself,” he assured me.
“Oh, that makes me feel so much better,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Rest assured, no harm will come to you, Stella. No matter what,” he conveyed the words so forcefully, they came out as an oath.
I shouldn’t have believed him. Not at all. But for some unknown reason, I did.
“If you know my name, then it’s only fair I know yours. Actually, you should’ve introduced yourself right after your goon dragged me in here,” I quipped.
“You’re quite right,” he agreed, nodding. “My name is Jay Helmick.”
“I would say it’s nice to meet you, but I’m afraid I’d be lying,” I said with a slight sneer to my words.
“I completely understand,” Jay replied. “I have a proposition for you,” he continued.
Although I’d made the choice to stand out of principle, I kind of wished I’d sat down. All the adrenaline that I’d been feeling was depleting, and my muscles were burning. Suddenly, the chair looked plush and inviting. Also, it seemed vulnerable to be standing now. At first, I’d thought it made me seem stronger, with more agency, but now it was just awkward.
“I’m a busy man,” Jay continued. “I detest the circus of dating. As I mentioned, you’ve caught my eye. I’m interested in arranging with you. To spend time with you. Eventually, sooner rather than later—if you are agreeable, of course—I would want to fuck you.”
My stomach dipped at that last part. Like all the way to the basement of this place. He said it in exactly the same tone he’d used this entire time. Nothing changed on his face. But everything changed in the air.
It should’ve been insulting, right? A man using his power to get me here, to make me feel vulnerable and scared, and then he proposes sex … that was sexual harassment. I should’ve felt enraged.
Not violently turned on.
Which I was.
It didn’t make sense. He was just a man. A very attractive and powerful man, but those were a dime a dozen in this city. Handsome men didn’t impress me. Didn’t evoke feelings beyond detached appreciation at best, since I knew that most attractive powerful men in this city were arrogant, self-absorbed assholes. Powerful men weren’t impressive since the entire system worked in their favor.
Based on all of the facts of this situation, Jay should’ve been no different. He should’ve been worse, considering what he was doing.
I couldn’t explain it. The way his muscles moved at the column of his neck. How he towered over me, made me fall small, vulnerable, powerless to his will. The way his eyes pierced through me in a way that electrified my bones. The sharpness of his features, the sex in his words, the promise in his gaze … it enchanted me. He controlled the room. The air I breathed. It smelled of him. Tasted of him. And I wanted more.
I swallowed roughly, doing my best to keep my face blank even as I felt a blush creep up my neck and settle on my cheeks.
He saw this, Jay. Of course he did. His eyes were intent on me, assessing me, dissecting me.
“You had me pulled off the dance floor because you want to date me?” I questioned, voice far breathier than I liked.
“I don’t want to date you, I want to fuck you,” he clarified.
My stomach did that thing again. My thighs clenched together, and I was pretty sure my panties were getter wetter by the moment. I was a feminist. A strong one. A feminist shouldn’t be having this type of response in this situation. I was an embarrassment to women everywhere.
“I understand that not a lot of people are comfortable with engaging in such things with strangers,” he continued, something about the way he moved his mouth upward ever so slightly told me he knew I was turned on. “Well, people in this bar, for example, are usually more than comfortable engaging in such things. But you’re not like them.”
I wasn’t sure he meant this as a compliment, but I was treating it as one. Not that I had anything against women or men who were sexually free and wanted to engage in safe, anonymous sex. Hell, I’d done it a couple of times, but that wasn’t my style. I needed an emotional connection. Which spelled trouble for me, since I was dramatic with high standards. I didn’t have any daddy issues, it was just that no man ever measured up. It was a good thing that vibrators existed. Well, it was a bad thing they existed, too, since no man measured up to them either.
Something deep, dark and ravenous inside of me—inside of my ovaries—suspected that Jay would measure up to even my best vibrator. Though I was never going to find out. Nope. I couldn’t. This was all too fucked up.
“For the sake of your comfort, I’m prepared to offer a few interactions where you can get to know me,” Jay continued.
Okay, now I was pissed off. I mean, I had been since the start, but self-preservation had stopped me from unleashing the worse of it.
“You’re prepared to offer me?” I repeated scornfully. “How generous of you.”
Even if he was deaf, he would’ve heard the sarcasm in my voice, he’d feel it in the air. “I do not offer this kind of arrangement lightly,” he declared, his voice still infuriatingly even.
“Well, color me flattered that you had me dragged up here without my consent in order to proposition me then insinuated I was somehow lucky to be the one chosen to give you sex without any kind of relationship. Not only that, but you’re willing to do me a favor by wooing me first,” I snapped.
He hadn’t moved his gaze while I spoke. Hadn’t lightened his gaze. If anything, it got heavier and heavier as I spoke, his eyes searing me like a hot knife through butter, making it even harder to continue standing.
A thick silence hung between us after I finished my tirade. My palms started to sweat, and I desperately wanted to look away, but I also didn’t want to show any weakness. This man was a predator, and I way his prey.
“It’s not wooing you need, Stella,” he said, speaking slowly, hypnotizing me with the way his Adam’s apple moved as he spoke. “I don’t do that. I’m not that man. I’m never going to do that. So you can realize what you want and accept my offer, or you can walk away.”
I responded to his words by turning on my heel and leaving the office. Luckily I didn’t have to awkwardly wait for the elevator which opened immediately.
Walking away from this man, this stranger and his offer, was much harder than I’d ever admit.