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Dominic DiMarco is seriously hot," the makeup artist said, fanning herself.
Melissa McKnight kept her eyes trained on her BlackBerry, even though she was dying for another mouthwatering look at Dominic's hard, tanned chest. As the representative for the McKnight Sports Agency, which her father owned, she wasn't there to ogle one of its clients. Assisting pro-football players during photo shoots and charity events was her job. Just because Dominic was totally drool-worthy didn't mean she could lose her head over him in public.
Only in private.
The middle-aged woman raised her voice. "You're nuts for doing email while that man has his shirt off. When are you going to get the chance to be this close to a chest that beautiful again?"
Melissa stopped typing and looked up with a polite smile. "Everyone at the McKnight Agency is very proud of what Dominic has achieved."
She'd spent a decade concealing her lust for him. That morning she'd woken up from a lovely dream in which Dominic had been doing wonderful things to her with his mouth, his amazingly strong hands, and the thick bulge between his legs, which she tried not to stare at every Sunday when he suited up for a game. She was pretty sure she failed every time.
"I couldn't care less about football," the makeup artist said, her voice too loud for Melissa's comfort. "But that man has got amazing abs. And I'll bet you can bounce a quarter off his ass."
The photographer called for some quick touch-ups to Dominic's hair, and the chatty makeup artist ran over to dust some powder on his torso. Melissa and every other woman in the room knew Dominic didn't really need powder to cut the shine on his perfect skin: It was simply the woman's excuse to touch him.
A photo of Dominic wearing nothing but well-worn jeans and a smile was enough to melt even the coldest woman's heart...and empty her pocketbook. As one of the offensive stars of the San Francisco Outlaws, Dominic was a highlight-reel favorite every Sunday when Americans were glued to their flat-screen TVs. His powerful sex appeal was the reason Melissa had been able to negotiate a $2 million endorsement fee with Levi-Strauss & Co.
Growing up in the football business, Melissa had seen plenty of impressive physiques. Great abs, tight butts, and broad shoulders were a given. But on Dominic, the standard ten had been turned up to eleven. His six-pack abs looked like they'd been painted on by a makeup artist; every time he moved, deep hollows crisscrossed his hard stomach. His wide shoulders and muscular back were a work of art, and the way the sinews and tendons of his triceps and biceps played and gave as he moved made her breath come a little too fast.
Watching him from across the room, the years fell away and she was seventeen all over again.
Every Christmas, Melissa's father invited his top clients and their wives and girlfriends over to their house. Melissa usually hid in her bedroom and read until everyone had gone home, but this year Dominic DiMarco was a new McKnight Agency client, and she couldn't resist spying on him in the living room through the pass-through counter in the kitchen.
She'd nursed a wicked crush on Dominic ever since she'd been lucky enough to tag along with her father to a University of Miami game, where Dominic had been a record-breaking wide receiver. Chills had run up and down her spine as he ran out onto the field, even though it had been a warm, sunny day. Cheerleaders kicked as high as they could and the college girls cheered wildly in their skimpiest tank tops, desperate to capture his attention. Dominic gave the crowd one devastatingly handsome grin, then focused wholly and completely on the game.
Melissa fell irrevocably in love.
Her adolescent hormones rose up, begging to be released. She'd never reacted like this to anyone: not the cutest boy in school, not the latest pop star. She'd never felt so much admiration for the way a football player handled the ball, with confidence but no unnecessary flash. She'd never gotten tingly all over just because a guy's black hair curled at the base of his neck.
The day Dominic signed on with her father's agency was her best and worst day rolled into one. Seeing him on a regular basis at agency events helped her gather lots of erotic data for her ever-growing fantasies about him. If only she didn't always make such a fool of herself around him! Her brain sputtered helplessly; her mouth said stupid things; she walked into tables and spilled drinks.
That Christmas, Dominic DiMarco was laughing with her father in front of the fire, a big-breasted blonde on his arm. The beautiful girl was tall and thin and perfectly dressed everything Melissa expected one of Dominic's girlfriends to be.
Melissa cringed as she caught sight of her reflection in a serving tray on the kitchen counter. She had a drawer full of expensive makeup she'd never had the guts to use... until today. Instead of pulling her unruly curls into a tight ponytail, she'd brushed her hair until it formed a halo around her head like a lion's mane. She wasn't sure if her new hairstyle was better than the ponytail, but at least it was more grown-up. As for clothes, since she attended a private school that required a uniform, she didn't have much to choose from. She'd finally decided on a pair of snug black pants her mother had bought her last year and a tight red sweater she'd borrowed from her much skinnier best friend Alice.
Watching the beautiful men and women chat, Melissa's hands grew damp and her stomach started to hurt. There was no way she could go out there; she could never compete with the supermodels enjoying her family's hospitality.
She turned to leave just as her father caught sight of her. "Melissa, come out and say hello to everyone."
Licking her suddenly dry lips nervously, praying she wouldn't make a fool of herself in front of Dominic, Melissa slowly pushed through the kitchen door and walked into the living room.
"What's that on your face?" her father exclaimed in a loud, slightly drunk voice. "And what the hell are you wearing?"
Twenty pairs of eyes turned her way, the Christmas CD playing in the background actually began to skip, and all conversation stopped.
Dying of embarrassment, Melissa barely noticed her mother moving to her side in support. Her father's blunt remarks had often hurt her feelings, but never this badly. She wanted to run out of the room, but her feet felt as heavy as bags of cement.
Desperately hoping no one else had heard her father's comments, she forced a smile. "Hi, guys," she said with a dumb little wave. She avoided Dominic's gaze. "Merry Christmas."
Two dozen gorgeous, talented men and women smiled back at her with varying degrees of pity in their eyes. It was the most awful, embarrassing moment of her life.
Her father turned to open a bottle of Cristal, and she was about to make a break for her bedroom when he peered at her again. "And what on earth did you do to your hair? It looks like you have a big orange basketball on your head."
Tears sprang to Melissa's eyes just as Dominic said, "Stop upsetting the kid." He turned to face her. "You look great," he lied, then gestured to the table of appetizers. "Are you hungry?"
Dominic's girlfriend coughed behind her hand, but Melissa knew she was disguising a giggle. Feeling like a freak show, Melissa shook her head. "I should get back to my homework now."
As soon as she turned away, her tears started falling. Dominic DiMarco would never look at her as anything other than a stupid little girl. Never.
Melissa looked up from her vivid memory to find everyone looking at her and felt her cheeks flush. Quickly, she shook off the sense that she was still seventeen, chunky, and painfully insecure. Ten years had passed since then, long enough for Melissa to transform herself from a shy, overweight teenager into a curvy, confident woman. She was currently single by choice, not because she couldn't get a date. No longer in her early twenties, she just wasn't interested in wasting her time dating guys who couldn't possibly be "the one." She was holding out for someone special... someone like Dominic.
He stepped out from under the lights and walked to her, and her heart pounded hard and fast.
"Don't worry. I'll be gentle. I promise," he said in a low voice that only she could hear.
She had no idea what he was talking about. But her body reacted to his deep, sexy voice, her nipples beading against her silk bra.
"I think I missed something," she whispered. "Why is everyone staring at me?"
He grinned, his smile slow and full of heat. Melissa felt faint. Did he have any idea of its impact? He could have any woman as his sex slave with just the white flash of his teeth.
"Benjamin just asked if you'd mind standing in for the female model for a few minutes so he can set his light meter and try out various poses."
Melissa scanned the room. "She was here a minute ago. What happened to her?"
Dominic leaned in close, his breath on her ear sending goose bumps all over her arms. "Her boyfriend just called and broke up with her. It's going to take a while to fix her makeup." He pulled back and stared into her eyes. "I completely understand if you don't want to do it. Someone else could step in instead."
The makeup artist was practically waving her hand in the air at the thought of getting to rub herself like a cat in heat against Dominic under the lights. Melissa couldn't let that happen to him. Besides, she'd have to be crazy not to jump at five minutes of blissful nearness.
She manufactured a wide smile. "No problem. I'd be happy to help."
He took her hand and squeezed it as he led her over to the lights. She'd never thought the day would come when Dominic DiMarco would be holding her hand. His palms were calloused from years of catching footballs, and she couldn't help imagining his hands sliding down her naked body, over her breasts. Her breath caught at the potent image, then from the incredible real-life sensation of Dominic wrapping a possessive arm around her waist.
"How do you want us to stand, Benjamin?" Dominic asked, the consummate pro after hundreds of photo shoots.
She gave silent thanks that no one expected her to speak. She was too aroused, too amazed that this moment had come to pass. Dominic didn't seem the least bit perturbed about holding her, and she tried not to let his obvious disinterest get her down. Why should he treat her any differently than any other stranger he had to take a photo with?
Benjamin looked through his viewfinder. "Closer. Sexier."
Dominic pulled her closer to him, and she felt the length of his rock-hard quadriceps pressing into her thighs. She'd never been this intimate with a man with such a spectacular body, and it made her a little bit faint. And ridiculously horny.
The photographer grunted, obviously displeased with something. "Melissa, would you mind taking off your sweater? I can't get a handle on anything with all your clothes in the way."
She blinked at him. It was one thing to be held by Dominic with a cashmere barrier between them. It was another entirely to strip down to a silk tank top. Especially when her nipples were this hard.
Sensing her confusion, Dominic whispered, "I think he needs to see how the light bounces off of skin."
Nodding, she reached for the hem of her sweater and pulled it over her head. The photographer's assistant took it from her trembling hands.
The photographer grunted again. "Much better. Now we need to figure a way to make the two of you look like one."
Blood rushed to Melissa's ears and for a moment all she heard was the drumbeat of her pounding heart. How was she going to make it through the next few minutes in one piece?
Following the photographer's suggestions, Dominic pulled her tightly against him, her breasts pressed against the hard wall of his chest, his groin into her lower belly. Butterflies flew madly around in her stomach. Her fantasies of being in his arms hadn't even been close to the reality of him his heat, his strength, and even his innate gentleness.
"Much better," the photographer said. "Now tilt your head back."
She lifted her chin a couple of inches and Benjamin made a sound of displeasure. "More."
She felt Dominic's steady heartbeat against her chest. "Don't be shy," he said softly. "It's just me. Arch your back and lean into the weight of my arm. I'll hold you steady."
Forcing herself to concentrate on his words, she remembered that he did this sort of thing all the time. They were each just playing a part for an ad shoot. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she allowed herself to relax against him, to relish her role as the woman he desired above all others.
"That's it," the photographer said as he clicked a series of test shots on his digital camera. "Press your lips against her pulse point, Dominic."
Melissa nearly died as his lips made contact with her skin; for a split second she was in heaven.
Then the real model walked back in, and the next thing she knew, Dominic was releasing her and turning his focus to the skinny model, holding her just as close, placing his lips on her skin, while Melissa watched from a stool across the room.
She had been to heaven...and now she was in hell.
Ripping her eyes away from Dominic and the gorgeous girl in his arms, she buried herself in her BlackBerry, needing to read every email several times before the words made any sense. Her brain but mostly her body kept returning to the memory of Dominic's hard heat against her body, his lips branding her skin. When she finally allowed herself to look up, Dominic had changed back into his own clothes and was sexy as sin in an Outlaws T-shirt and blue jeans. Just thinking about the way he'd held her, how good his lips had felt on her neck, his big hands circling her hips, a flush started working up from her chest to her neck. To mask her instant arousal, she focused her attention on slipping her BlackBerry into its pink leather case... and missed by a mile. It smashed onto the cement floor and went skidding under a row of chairs.
Dominic bent down to retrieve it, then removed the pink leather protective case from her fingers and slipped her phone into it.
Sportswriters called Dominic's large, tanned, steady hands "magic." Melissa agreed. Lord knew she'd dreamed about them stroking her skin a thousand times.
"You were great up there, Melissa. A natural."
She couldn't help but beam at his compliment. "I was so nervous."
His dark brown eyes captured hers with an intensity that surprised her. "I couldn't tell. You were perfect."
She swallowed hard. "Thank you."
Her PDA beeped in his hand, and he pulled it back out of the case and handed it to her. It was a text message from Angie, her father's executive assistant. Her father wanted to meet with her at the first available opportunity. Excitement fluttered in her chest.
"Must be a pretty great boyfriend for you to look like that," Dominic said.
Melissa nearly dropped the BlackBerry again. "I don't have a boyfriend." She rushed to dehumiliate herself. "I think my father might be giving me a promotion today." She hadn't planned to confide in Dominic, but she couldn't hold in her excitement.
"That's fantastic," he said and picked up her Louis Vuitton bag. The expensive leather purse looked incredibly small in his big hands. "How about I get you there faster by giving you a ride back to the office?"
He opened the heavy metal warehouse door for her, and she concentrated on walking down the stairs that led to the garage in her impossibly high heels. Knowing she was going to attend Dominic's shoot had meant an extra hour in her closet that morning. By the time she'd left, her bedroom looked like a hurricane had hit it. After trying on a dozen pairs of jeans, dresses, and shoes, she'd finally settled on a simple black dress with a pencil skirt, fishnets, and peep-toe heels, along with the cashmere sweater. Black would blend into the background at the photo shoot, but a little sex appeal never hurt. After what she'd been asked to do with Dominic in front of a room full of strangers, she was glad she'd made an extra effort.
She felt the heat of his body behind her as they made their way down to the underground garage. He opened the passenger door of his sports car for her, then got behind the wheel. She was struck by how much space he took up... and the sheer bliss of sharing such an intimate space with the star of her late-night fantasies. At six-foot-three and 230, Dominic wasn't the tallest or biggest Outlaw, but as the star receiver he was the quickest and most agile. Still, he was the most beautiful man she'd ever been near, the most incredible man who'd ever held her close.
"Congratulations on earning your MBA," he said unexpectedly as he pulled into traffic. "I'm not surprised your father has tapped you to be the next agent."
"Thank you," she said, pride in her voice. The late nights of studying, followed by ten-hour days working for her father, had been grueling. She hadn't had a clue that Dominic knew about her degree. The fact that he did was incredibly flattering.
He pulled up in front of the McKnight Agency, one corner of his rugged mouth curving up, and her breath hitched. Fumbling with her seat belt, she picked up her bag and jumped out.
Her heart pounding, she leaned down to the open window.
"Good luck," he said. "You're going to be a terrific agent."
Dominic sat in his car for several minutes as traffic whizzed by. What the fuck had he been doing flirting with Melissa? She was completely off-limits. Not only was she his agent's daughter, but she deserved so much more than he could ever give her. She deserved a normal guy with a normal life, not a public figure who was carrying around a secret that could blow everything he'd worked for to pieces.
Which hadn't stopped him from watching her all afternoon from across the photographer's studio. Watching and wanting her.
All day long, he'd wanted to touch her. To run his tongue down the crevice between her lush breasts. To feel her nipples pebble against his palms and rub his face against her soft, creamy skin. To lay her down, slide his hands beneath her ass, and stare at her beautiful, naked body. To lick inside her, then swirl his tongue over her clit. To move over her naked body, slide his cock into her heat, and consume her inch by inch. To watch her face as she came, watch her eyes widen in surprise as her climax ripped through her.
For years he'd been haunted by her scent, by the way she licked the corner of her lips when she was concentrating, by the smooth skin on her throat as she swallowed a sip of coffee. He'd wanted her for so long that he could practically taste her; knew she'd be the sweetest thing he'd ever had on his tongue.
And then Benjamin had called her over, and it was all he could do to keep his hard-on at bay in front of the camera. He'd fantasized about touching her for so long that his brain could barely wrap itself around the reality of her soft hips in his hands. Again and again he replayed that moment when she stripped off her sweater how hard and tight her nipples were, the full, round curves of her breasts. Ecstasy and torture had warred when he pulled her hard against him, harder than he should have, closer than she needed to be. This had been his one chance to touch her, to hold her, and he'd taken as much as he could get. But a sham kiss on her neck didn't even begin to quench his thirst for her.
Now that he'd had a taste of her sweetness, he wanted her more than he ever had.
Copyright © 2008 by Bella Andre