Read an Excerpt
Someone was watching her. Again.
The sensation was familiar. Annemarie Sobel Prescott might not have experienced it for a while but the muscles at the back of her neck still bunched in memory.
This was different though. The awareness of his gaze didn't make her feel dirty and exposed. The man staring at her from across the crowded ballroom didn't have dollar signs in his eyes and an intrusive camera lens trained on her every sin. Nope, Blake Mitchell had lust and appreciation in his eyes.
She liked that infinitely better.
From the moment she'd grown breasts the paparazzi had been her constant companion. Other kids inherited red hair or a talent for singing. She'd inherited the world's interest in every aspect of her life. Her entire misspent youth had been caught on camera. Sex, drugs and mischief had been her hobbiesand she'd been damn good at all three. Headlines had been her specialty.
Hotel Heiress Caught in Torrid Affair with Married Hollywood Heartthrob.
At least until she'd walked away from it all.
She glanced across the room at him again. She couldn't help herself, the weight of his eyes on her was too much to ignore. He was in a dark corner, one shoulder tight against the wall, running his fingers languidly up and down the side of a tumbler full of ice and amber liquid. She could see the beads of condensation as he absently spread them against the glass.
An image of those fingers stroking her skin instead flashed through her mind. Her body melted, a slow burning heat settling into the pit of her belly.
He pushed away from the wall, taking two steps toward her. The coward in her wanted to bolt. The intensity she could see churning in his eyes scared and thrilled her at the same time.
He took a step forward; she took a step back, right into yards of silk.
"Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."
Her best friend, Karyn Mitchell no, it was Karyn Faulkner now, grabbed her around the waist and crushed her against the flowing silk of her white wedding gown.
Anne hugged her friend back, letting her eyes stray for just a second to gauge Blake's progress. He'd stopped, probably brought up quick at the sight of his sister giving her a bear hug.
A sigh of reliefand regretescaped silently through her lips before she returned her focus to her friend. "You're welcome, but I didn't do anything."
Pulling back, Karyn eyed her. "Don't you lie to me. I know just what it cost you to get this place."
Anne fought to keep a twist of distaste from forming on her lips. "So I called in a favor." At least it hadn't required that she actually speak to her mother, although she was certain the senior manager of the Darby, Mississippi, Prescott Hotel had wasted no time in telling the CEO about the last-minute accommodation. Anne probably should have warned the woman that the favor wouldn't gain her any brownie points with her mother . But then they might not have gotten the room.
While she, Karyn and Chris lived in Birmingham, the rest of Karyn's family was still in Mississippi. And Karyn had her heart set on getting married in her hometown of Darby, surrounded by family. Unfortunately, no venues had been available.
Anne would do anything if it meant making Karyn happy, even call on the family name she'd abandoned.
Chris slipped up beside them, curling his hand around Karyn's waist. It was an absent gesture of familiarity that made envy bloom in the center of Anne's chest.
"Enjoy yourself! Dance. Drink. Be merry. Chris's cousin seems nice." Karyn's eyebrows waggled up and down and a smile lit her face. She was so different now that she'd found Chris, more open.
"Actually, I suggest you stay away from Adam." Chris mimed a glass to his lips and shook his head before leaning down to whisper something in Karyn's ear. She looked up at her new husband with love and devotion and placed a kiss to the underside of his jaw.
Anne watched them walk away. Chris pulled Karyn into his arms. They could have been alone in the room crowded with laughing, chattering people. They only had eyes for each other.
Loneliness mixed with the envy.
She was happy for her friend. Honestly, she was. But at the same time she recognized things in her world would change. Had already changed.
Once again, she was alone.
She glanced away from the lovebirds, feeling as if she was invading their privacy. Her eyes unerringly found their way back to Blake.
He moved from the dark shadows surrounding the dance floor, almost as if he'd been waiting for her. All around her couples danced, laughed, touched kissed. Candlelight was everywhere.
Tongues of light flickered across Blake as he walked toward her. A slash of brightness across the dark planes of his face. A flash of orange-red against the black of his tux. The shadows played, revealing, highlighting and then hiding again. But the fire that flickered in his eyes never wavered.
It didn't take a genius to figure out he was heading for her. It also didn't take a genius to know exactly what he wanted. The burning sensation low in her belly told her she wanted the same thing.
That didn't mean she was going to get it. Or take it. Or whatever.
Karyn had told her all about Blake, the middle child and her older brother. They'd talked about his relentless need to shoulder responsibility for things that weren't his to bearlike the fact that he'd introduced his sister to the man who had raped her, and couldn't seem to forgive himself.
In Anne's other world, the one where she'd done, said and demanded anything she'd wanted, Blake being her best friend's brother wouldn't have mattered. Now, somehow it did. She didn't want to use him simply because loneliness was crowding in tonight.
However, she wasn't sure she'd be able to do the right thing. Not when his eyes burned as they traveled the length of her body. A shiver of anticipation passed slowly down her spine.
He weaved in and out of people, as if the crowd between them didn't exist. In seconds he stood before her, a smile playing at the edges of his lips. "May I?"
It had been a long time since she'd been tempted to sin. Staring up into his expectant eyes, she was afraid her will just wasn't strong enough to overcome both the desire she saw reflected back and some instinct she'd thought long dead.
She nodded slowly, and his hand touched the small of her bare back, pulling her into the heat of his body. A hiss of breath surged through her teeth at the feel of his skin against her own. She'd loved the bridesmaid dress Karyn had chosen for her. Black floor-length velvet, elegant, sophisticated and perfect for the early December wedding. Very Anne. The neckline slashed from shoulder to shoulder, revealing a hint of her collarbone. The long sleeves and unadorned style hugged the curves of her body.
But the back of the gown was what she'd fallen in love with. Cut from one shoulder to the other, the curve dipped just to the bottom indent of her spine. From the front the gown was classic, from the back it was decadent. A perfect description for the two sides of her lifeher past and her present merged into one.
She'd never been so grateful to be showing some skin.
Each of Blake's fingers branded her as they spread against the small of her back. Hot tendrils snaked up her spine. The vision of him dipping a single finger beneath the edge of her dress thrust into her brain, and a spike of need shot through her body.
"Enjoying yourself?" His voice was low and rough as he leaned into her space so he could get closer to her ear.
A wicked desire to tease him rolled through her, a bubble of energy inside her chest just bursting to get out. Or maybe that was the inner wild child she'd left behind ten years ago.
She leaned up onto her toes, pulling the heels of her four-inch Jimmy Choos off the floor and whispered into his ear, "Not yet," before biting the edge of his lobe.
His body jerked in surprise. But the hands at her back flexed, pulling her tighter against him. "Well, we can't have that, can we?"
She'd shocked himand herselfbut she'd aroused him, too. A satisfied smile played at the corners of her lips.
His eyes, the tempting color of her favorite rich chocolate fudgean indulgence she rarely allowedsmoldered down at her. She'd met a lot of men in her life, but none of them had ever looked at her with that expressiona mix of desire, desperation, control and promise. If he hadn't been holding her, her knees just might have given out.
Strange that. In all her past encounters, she'd been the one to wield the power. Men had come to her either because of who she was or for her stunning face. She had no idea if Blake knew her real name, or rather her full name. She wondered for a second if it mattered. Probably not.
She had a decision to make.
Sinner or saint? Which was she tonight?
"Where'd you get that tattoo?"
Blake Mitchell turned his head to look at the beautiful bombshell stretched across the bed behind him. With a long, slender finger, Anne Sobel traced the lines of the crouching tiger etched into the skin of his right shoulder.
He often forgot it was even there but that was probably for the best. "Prison."
He had no idea why he'd told her the truth.or part of the truth anyway. The tiger actually covered up a few crude markings. His family didn't even know about the months he'd spent in jail for assault and battery. They'd assumed he was on another military assignment. Probably because that's what he'd told them.
He hadn't wanted them to know the truththat he'd beaten the shit out of his sister's rapist after the man had been found not guilty. They all knew the asshole had done it. But he'd been a football star, a veritable god for Mississippi State, and the jurors had been swayed by his squeaky-clean image and abundance of press.
Blake had been patient, waiting until the asshole was separated from the people and media protecting him. That patience hadn't prevented Blake's arrest, but at least it had kept his sister and family from knowing what he'd done. By the time the guy had come to and ID'd Blake, the press had moved on to an even bigger story and no one in California had cared that some guy had been bloodied and bruised.
Blake had done what he'd had to in order to protect his sister, and even knowing what it had cost himhis career with Special Forceshe'd make the same decision tomorrow.
Anne chuckled, pulling his attention back to where it should beon her. The sultry sound of her laughter rushed through his body. They'd had sex once.but he wanted her again. With an urgency he didn't understand. From the moment she'd walked down the aisle today he'd been unable to see anything but her.
"Liar. Tell me the truth."
He should probably be grateful that she thought it was a joke. And that they were both buzzed enough on champagne and sexual satisfaction that by morning this moment would be fuzzy and far away. Maybe he'd simply needed to tell someone the truth. No one in his family could know what he'd done, and what it had cost him. He refused to add to Karyn's pain that way.
Rolling over, Blake pulled Anne beneath him on the rumpled hotel comforter and stared down into her upturned face. Bright green eyes, smoky black makeup smudged at the corners, stared back. She should have looked like a raccoon. Instead the effect made her eyes wide and slanted mysterious. For some reason he wanted to see her nakednot just without clothes but without makeup, without anything but what God had given her. He had no doubt she'd be gorgeous.
He'd seen her shoes, the expensive streaks in her golden-blond hair, the expertly applied cosmetics, and knew they were her own brand of protection. Maybe he recognized them so easily because he had plenty of his own armor in place.
Or maybe he saw them because at this moment he wanted desperately to break beyond them, to see her as she truly was. They hadn't known each other long enough for that, though.
"I need to leave. It'll be dawn before I get home as it is." Anne yanked against his hold on her wrist, obviously uncomfortable under his silent scrutiny.
"Don't leave." He pressed his hips into the cradle of her body, pinning her to the bed with his weight. Her nipples puckered in quick response even as anger flared in her eyes. He reached down with his mouth, placing a kiss to the soft velvet skin at her shoulder. "It's snowing. Dangerous. Karyn would never forgive me if you wrecked."
She moved beneath him, a combination of desire and protest. He could smell the scent of her arousal. An answering haze of need bloomed inside him.
"Stay," he breathed just before his lips touched down on her wide mouth. Her eyes still glittered, a combination of pique and desire, as she opened to the onslaught of his persuasion. They warred, not with words but with tongues, thrusting, fighting, convincing. Her body undulated beneath him, loosening his hold on her hands until they finally jerked free.
He expected her to pull away. Instead, her fingers brushed down the length of his right shoulder, lightly tracing the outline of his permanent souvenir.
Smiling, he leaned back so he could look at her. "I would have thought you'd have some ink of your own, actually." She'd certainly been wild enough.
"Nope. Against the rules."
Trailing kisses down the center of her body, he loved the way she arched into his mouth, sensual and greedy for more. Her breath caught in the back of her throat, a little hiccup of air.
"I never figured you for the straight and narrow. In fact, I could have sworn you delighted in breaking rules."
Her eyes snapped to his, her body stilling beneath him. Her skin was still flushed with the heat of his touch and yet she turned away from him the only way she could, twisting her head so he couldn't look into her eyes. She was spread out beneath him, sensual and beautiful, but no longer in the moment with him. He didn't like that, didn't like knowing that something he'd said had dulled the glow of her desire.
He hadn't expected vulnerability from her. From the sophisticated and regal woman he'd watched all evening. From the sensual and demanding woman he'd had in his bed half the night. From the hellion the headlines had screamed about.
His protective urges reared up and told him to fix this. Now. Tucking his finger beneath her chin, he turned her back to face him. "Does it matter? Because it doesn't to me."