Sebastian Jameson sat at his usual table at his regular time at the supper club where he always ate a late dinner during the week. Some would say he was in a rut. Bast preferred to view his schedule as a sign of consistency. After his wild ride of a marriage and equally brain-numbing divorce, he craved a little boredom.
His best friend, Jarrett Holt, owned Holton Woods, the private club at the end of a cul-de-sac in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC. They’d known each other for more than a decade. Up until a month ago, they often shared dinner at the reserved table with the high-backed red-velvet-lined booths to the left of the bar. Then Becca Ford burst back into Jarrett’s life like something out of an action movie. Their guys’ nights had been taken over ever since, probably with nonstop sex . . . the lucky fucker.
Between his stupid grin and the uncharacteristically upbeat personality, Becca had smoothed out many of Jarrett’s rough edges from his long-ago days of running the streets and doing whatever he had to survive. The guy was downright respectable now. He dealt in power and information and his club sat at the center of all of it.
The place also ended up being a great source of business for Bast. But that’s not the main reason he hung out there. It was familiar. Comfortable. The dark interior and high-end finishes appealed to him. So did the women Jarrett hired to serve the members, all of whom were male.
Bast never touched, because that was against the rules, but a guy could admire the combination of sexy, young and smart. Most had advanced degrees. All wore slim black skirts and lacy black bras that peeked out from their unbuttoned white silk shirts. The smokin’ uniforms got a man thinking about ripping through the flimsy material with his teeth.
As soon as the idea popped into his head, his gaze strayed to a rather fine ass a few feet away. Long wavy blond hair and those stockings with the seam running down the back of the leg.
Christ, Jarrett knew how to make men happy and earn a lot of money doing it. He became wealthy years ago by having women strip off their clothes in his clubs. Now, keeping the clothes on, teaching his servers—whom he referred to as private attendants—how to get men talking by showing just a hint of the raw sexiness underneath did the job. Bast approved of the change and the business strategy.
He also realized he’d stepped up to the edge of leering and pulled his attention away from those nearby legs. He wasn’t a fucking animal, though spending less time with Jarrett and more time sitting there staring at the female attendants was starting to take a toll on the subject of his daydreaming.
The sound of high heels clicking against the hardwood floor had Bast’s focus zipping back to the woman. He looked at her face. Round with smooth skin and big chocolate-brown eyes. And very familiar.
Kyra Royer. So fucking hot, too damn young . . . and totally off-limits.
She stepped up to the edge of his table and threw him a welcoming smile. “Good evening, Mr. Jameson.”
All the attendants referred to the members by their last name. With respect and enough hotness to, in this case, have Bast fiddling to keep his glasses on his nose. “Kyra?”
“What can I do for you this evening?”
He meant to hold the eye contact. He really did, but that husky voice licked over his balls and the blood rushed right out of his head. His gaze went wandering. The top buttons of her shirt were undone, treating him to a fair amount of smooth skin and an up-close-and-killing-him view of her bra down to the front clasp.
He cleared his throat and forced words to form in his head again. “Put on a sweater.”
But she knew. That smile told him she knew exactly what she was doing to him. Something about the mix of the provocative outfit and the sweet face had him going under.
“What are you doing here?” he asked because she should be in college, or high school, or wherever young women he shouldn’t be allowed to touch hung out.
“Here?” He pushed up his glasses again, amazed the lenses hadn’t fogged or shattered from the heat pouring off of him. “Since when?”
“Business school costs money.”
“Ah, right. You’re in graduate school.” He’d blocked that part. After Kyra grew up looking like that, with those breasts and that face, he had to think of her as a kid to keep from wondering about what would happen if she wrapped those legs around him and pressed her heels into the small of his back.
She smiled as if she’d read his thoughts. “I start graduate school in the fall, which gets us back to the tuition issue and the explanation for my presence at the club.”
“Do you need money?” Because he would write her a fucking check right now. Whatever it took to remove her from a room full of drooling men. He knew the type because in the last five minutes he’d become one.
Even now he caught the glimpses of club members at nearby tables. Some pretended to continue their conversations while they stole quick peeks at her tight ass. Others all but crawled over and wrapped their arms around her thighs.
He concentrated very hard on not morphing into one. “Kyra, do you need some help?”
“That depends. Are you still talking about money?”
Good fucking question. “Sure.”
Her head tilted to the side. “And what exactly are you offering?”
Something screeched to a halt inside his mind. He figured it probably had to do with a sudden loss of brain cells. No way was she suggesting . . . Actually, he had no idea what she was suggesting.
Then there was the very real possibility he’d be killed in the next two seconds if he tried to dig deeper on this topic. “You do know your brother is standing about twenty feet away, right?”
She glanced over her shoulder and gave the brute in question a little wave. “Don’t mind him. He likes to hover.”
Wade Royer stood behind the bar and managed the club. He looked official and civilized but he once held the role of Jarrett’s enforcer. Bast had spent time keeping both men out of jail as they turned respectable and fought to leave their old lives behind.
Back then Wade and Jarrett owned the streets in no small part thanks to Wade’s fighting abilities. He was built like a tank but size didn’t matter when you had sniper shooting abilities and no compunction about carving up men who you thought did your boss wrong.
Bast tried to imagine what Wade would do to the man who touched his baby sister. Tried and then blocked the bloody images. “Your brother is also an expert with a gun, so let’s stick to my questions.”
Kyra’s smile only widened. “Okay.”
“There’s no way Jarrett hired you to work here.”
The bright wattage slipped a bit. “He was worried about Wade.”
Exactly. “About Wade killing someone.”
She shook her head and her hair fell around her shoulders. “Jarrett wanted to help Wade get through a tough time.”
She sent a second look in the general direction of the bar before turning around again. “Wade had a bad breakup.”
“Yeah, I know.” No further explanation necessary on that topic. Bast had occupied an unwanted front seat to the mess for the last five weeks. “But I really don’t see your brother as the crying-in-his-pudding type.”
“He is human.”
“Are you sure?” Wade’s former live-in lover now worked for Bast. The heat between the men had surprised Bast since he viewed both of them as fighting machines. But their breakup had been of the nuclear variety. Bast still dealt with the fallout on a daily basis.
“So, back to us,” she said as her voice dipped even lower.
Bast almost swallowed his tongue. “Us?”
“What do you want from me?” She clasped her hands in front of her. The attendants here didn’t carry notepads. They memorized everything and never got a detail wrong.
The move also pressed her breasts closer together, which had his gaze bouncing again, sick prick that he was. “It’s probably best I don’t answer that.”
“My brother won’t kill you.”
Wade contradicted her comment by slamming a glass against the ornate bar and focusing all his attention on Bast’s table.
Bast sat up straighter. “Tell him that.”
“You have a drink.” She nodded at his half-empty Scotch glass. “Did you also want dinner?”
Bast wanted an explanation for her presence in his place of relative peace and a promise she would be gone from the building soon. A room full of horny old men was not the right job for her. These guys thought they could buy anything and if one of them tried to touch her, Bast vowed to throw off the glasses and start slamming bodies. “Is Jarrett here?”
“He’s upstairs with Becca.”
Bast blew out a long, hard breath. “Of course he is.”
Kyra shot him a don’t-be-stupid look. “Jarrett’s in love.”
“My friend has lost his fucking mind.” Over a woman. It was a good thing, but Bast never thought he’d see the day.
“I think we’re basically saying the same thing.” Kyra let her arms drop to her sides. “Did you want a private room?”
A normal question from the staff at Holton Woods. The club offered rooms for business transactions. For almost whatever a guy needed, except the ultimate release because the women who worked the club were not to be touched—ever.
Still, hearing the words on her lips . . . Bast knew he was never going to survive this conversation.
“No.” He adjusted his glasses and tried to blink away the mental images running through his brain. The one about laying her out on the table and giving the room a show was especially persistent. He vowed to revisit that fantasy later, when he was alone in his bedroom.
Her smile never even bobbled. “Then dinner?”
As if he could eat anything. “Yes.”
“Do you need a menu or do you want your usual?” Her posture remained perfect and her voice clear, just as she was hired and trained to do.
“I still want to know why, with a business degree in front of you, you’re working at a supper club.” At his club.
“I told you.”
Bast glanced at Wade and saw him staring back. “Your brother’s delicate feelings. Sure.”
Kyra’s eyebrow lifted. “Is there a problem?”
About a hundred of them, starting with the fact Bast was thirty-four and had screwed a lot of women. Maybe too many. His ex-wife had literally written a handbook on having threesomes, and all that knowledge came from personal experience. Now most women came to him looking for a specific kind of sex—naughty and temporary. He didn’t know what the hell Kyra was looking for.
Her eyebrow stayed up. “Do you want another assistant for the evening?”
A reasonable solution. Send her away and forget about the bra and the exposed skin and that ass. Then Bast saw the judge with the sex-with-his-clerks reputation two tables away wave his hand as if trying to get Kyra’s attention.
No fucking way.
“I want your private services,” Bast said before he could come up with a better sentence.
Her smile morphed into one of pure feminine power. “That can be arranged.”
“So none of these losers comes near you.”
“The club has very specific rules about members harassing the staff. I only started on the floor a few nights ago, but my understanding from weeks of training is Becca tightened the restrictions when she moved in with Jarrett and took over security.”
Becca changed many things at the club, including Jarrett. Bast approved of them all. “I know. I reviewed the guidelines with her.”
Funny how Becca forgot to mention Kyra was coming on board. If Bast had heard that, he would have stopped the idea before it took hold. Even now Kyra didn’t move away from the table, which could only mean she had no idea what type of skin-on-skin images flashed through his head.
“I thought you weren’t a lawyer,” she said.
He did spend a good deal of time saying that, but truth was he was the managing partner of a law firm. Just not the traditional sort. “By training and according to all the nonsense certificates hanging on the wall of my office in frames, I absolutely am. But what I do is negotiate. Solve problems. If a case I’m working on goes to trial, I’ve failed.”
She pressed up tighter against the edge of the table. “Would you like to negotiate now?”
“What?” His hand flexed against the napkin. Only inches separated her body and his fingers.
“I . . .” Damn it, no way did he hear that right. “What?”
“You asked that already.”
“The way the night’s going I might ask it a third time.”
The tip of her finger traveled along the edge of the table. “I told you one of the reasons I work here.”
An alarm bell rang in his head and the flashing warning light almost blinded him. Still, he kept pushing the boundaries, playing the game. “What’s the other?”
Son of a bitch. “Excuse me?”
“You’re here three nights a week, sometimes more. Since you work all the time and we rarely mingle socially, despite having several friends in common, this seemed like the best way to get your attention.”
She had to be kidding. “Oh, you have it. Trust me.”
He waited for common sense to kick in. When it didn’t he dragged it out of hiding. “I’m old enough to be your father.”
“Only if you became a dad at eleven.”
Man, it sounded even worse when she did the math. “You know exactly how old I am?”
“Do you also know your brother, Jarrett and Becca—those people we have in common—would get together and beat me to death if I said hello to you the wrong way?” That very event could happen within the next ten minutes. All of them had weapons training, and Becca used to kill for a living. Bast didn’t even want to know how far Wade and Jarrett had gone to get things done in their old jobs on the wrong side of the law.
Kyra winked. “Then it’s a good thing they aren’t here.”
Okay, time to backtrack and laugh all this off. “I’m sure I’m misunderstanding you, but—”
So much for laughing. Hell, Bast could barely breathe and his pants were strangling his dick. “This can’t happen, Kyra. Nothing can happen between us.”
“I notice none of your excuses for us remaining apart center on attraction.”
“What does that even mean?” But he knew.
“Are you attracted to me?”
“I’m not blind.” A complete fucking dumbass on the verge of doing something epically stupid, but not blind.
“Then we don’t have a problem.” Her smile promised sex.
The sudden thumping in his dick suggested his lower half was totally on board with the idea. “Right, we have many problems. There’s club policy, my personal code, the fury of everyone we know and the possibility of my impending death at your brother’s hands.” He ticked off the list of cons, then searched his brain for more reasons to add.
“Go back.” Her eyes narrowed. “Personal code?”
Bast noticed the biggest “con” of all headed straight for the table at what felt like a hundred miles an hour. Thinking about Wade had conjured him up. In what looked like two steps, Wade was at the table, right at his sister’s side.
He angled his shoulders so he stood just slightly in front of Kyra. “Is there a problem over here?”
Kyra jumped in without skipping a beat. “Mr. Jameson didn’t know I was working here.”
Yeah about that. “You okay with the arrangement?” Bast asked Wade.
“With douchebags staring at my baby sister’s chest? No.” Wade kept his focus on Bast as he said it. He didn’t look around or point to some of the more troublesome members.
Subtle. “Okay then.”
Kyra waved the warning off. “Wade doesn’t mean you.”
With that Kyra proved she wasn’t picking up on the cues. That was fine because Bast surely was.
Wade shrugged. “I didn’t actually exclude him.”
With a hand on his arm, Kyra motioned toward the other side of the room. “Wade, I believe you’re wanted at the bar.”
Silence vibrated around the three of them. Wade finally shifted and broke the standoff. “Okay, but move this along.”
She nodded. “Sure.”
A few more beats of silence passed before Wade nodded and turned away. He stopped to talk to Kyra. “There are other customers and I’m sure Bast has work to do.”
Bast watched the other man leave and knew messing with this guy’s sister would result in a trip to the emergency room. Yesterday, hell a half hour ago, Bast would have said no thanks to the risk. But Kyra stood there, being cryptic, but not really, and Bast’s good intentions imploded.
“Do you?” she asked.
He had no idea what the question was, so he went with the one running in his head. “Want to die? No.”
“You haven’t told me what I can do for you this evening.”
She had to know what she was doing to him. About how hard his dick was and how he couldn’t stand up any time soon. “This isn’t—”
“Right now I’m talking about the club, Mr. Jameson. Drinks, dinner, a private room. Some gambling. What do you need?”
The sexy smile and the way it lit up her face did him in. “Heart medicine.”
“I’ll order your regular meal.” But she didn’t leave. “But we still have the other issue to handle. The private one.”
“Okay,” he said because despite making a living at talking, he had no idea what else to say.
Her palm flattened against the table as she leaned in. Just for a second, but it was a definite lean combined with a deadly sexy voice. “Consider this my move.”
She couldn’t mean . . . “What?”
“Now you know what I am willing to do to see more of you. I tracked you down, took this job and stated my case. And I am happy to do whatever you want within certain rules.”
He tried to say something but only a strangled sound came out.
She straightened. “The rest is up to you. You get to show me what, if anything, you plan to do to see more of me.”
“I don’t think—”
“Yes, Sebastian. Stop thinking.” Then she was off, those sexy hips swishing as she went.
Kyra didn’t know how she got through the rest of her shift after making her big play. Leaving Bast’s table, her legs shook and her heartbeat thundered in her ears. Not that he even noticed the effect he had on her body. After their initial skirmish, he sat and ate and read paperwork for hours, hanging around until Jarrett came on the floor and joined him for a drink.
When Bast finally left the club, the trapped air rushed out of her lungs. Everything about him caused her insides to tighten and her mind to spin. She’d planned the moment—the confrontation—for weeks. Taking a job to chase after a man was not her usual style, but then no man had ever played duck-and-run with her quite like this one. And no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get him out of her head.
While walking up to the table and laying out her case, she could see him mentally draft a list of reasons why he needed to maintain a hands-off policy. He’d been doing that for a year, walking out of a room when she walked in, his gaze lingering just long enough to give her hope. But the panic in his eyes tonight, complete with that sexy low voice, convinced her to move in now instead of waiting for him to get a clue.
She might be young in his eyes but she knew what she wanted, and for more than six months the “what” was Sebastian Jameson.
He’d certainly kept her mind off the rest of the crowd at work all night. Evading the guy whose entire smooth-talking repertoire consisted of smarmy winks and wandering hands got old fast once Bast walked out. At one point the guy promised her a job where she could be on her back most of the day. She somehow saved the eye rolling for her trips to the kitchen, but just barely.
Thinking about the lame line and the way she pretended not to hear it—both times the douche said it—had her smiling as she walked out of the club and headed for the small employee parking lot next door. A shadow fell in front of her right as she cleared the brick wall and turned the corner. Tension pounded her but quickly evaporated. She’d know that scent anywhere. Something smoky with a touch of citrus.
Bast frowned down at her. “What are you doing?”
At six-one, he managed to tower over her. Her spiky high heels brought her close to his height but she’d exchanged them and her stockings for flats and now the five-inch difference had her backbone straightening. So did his attitude. “Walking.”
“Wade lets you dance around out here at night without an escort?”
That seemed like a little much. “Dance?”
“Fill in whatever word you want then answer the question.”
Never mind that she stood inside a high-walled fence and locked well-lit pathway that ran directly from the side of the club to employee parking, or that even now Becca watched over them from her office and the bank of monitors she installed to ensure the staff’s safety. “I’m a grown woman, Bast. I tried to explain that to you earlier.”
“When you made your offer.”
Despite the late hour, or early hour to be technically correct, car horns honked and tires screeched in the distance as DC nightlife roared with life only a few streets away. But all of the noise and mumbling faded as she stared into those intelligent green eyes. The Ivy League buttoned-up type never did it for her before Bast. With him, the clean-cut, wire-rimmed-glasses look had her wanting to strip his tie off and drill down to the naughty center underneath.
His light brown hair, all trim and perfect, begged for her fingers. And if the rumors around town were to be believed, this man knew his way around a woman and what to do to get one naked. Man, she hoped that part was true.
Not that she only wanted a turn in his bed, a quick in and out. No, when she looked at Bast the longing kicked in until her breath stammered in her chest. He made her wish she were someone else, someone like him with his stable upbringing and fancy job. Since all the degrees and polish in the world couldn’t clean up her past, she’d settle for making a move and taking what she could get.
But first they had to scale whatever defensive walls he planned to throw up between them. “How did you slip inside the gate?”
Bast waved the comment off. “Jarrett gave me the code.”
Not a surprise. They were as close as brothers and Bast practically spent every evening at the club. The idea of him enjoying some member benefits others didn’t wasn’t a surprise.
Still . . . “That really doesn’t explain your presence right now. At the club. On the property.” Waiting for her long after he slipped out of the building.
In the universe of good signs, she figured this had to be one, but bit down on the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling. Bast stood there, all commanding and sure, but she sensed inside he ran scared. She recognized twitchy panic when she saw it and he had a heaping dose of it.
“I’m parked at the far end,” he said.
She had no idea how that was relevant to anything, so she circled back to her point. “You left the club more than an hour ago but you didn’t actually leave the parking lot.”
“I wanted to talk with you.”
Fighting for calm and ignoring her jumping pulse, she leaned back until her shoulders hit the brick wall. Much more of this and she’d chew through her cheek.
Thinking this might take some time, she dropped her gym bag on the ground. “About?”
His frown moved into full-on scowl territory. “Are you kidding?”
But he moved in closer. One palm smacked against the wall by her head and his face hovered just inches from hers.
They were so close, with the darkness curling around them and his body cast in shadows from the security lights, but she could see that face. Make out every expression. She wanted to wrap her fingers in that crisp white shirt and pull him in and against her, but she waited. Knowing him, the commonsense lawyer side of him could take over at any time and mess this forward progress up.
She balled her hands into fists by her sides . . . and waited. “If this is the point where you mention my age and talk about my brother and how afraid you are of him—”
“Okay, that’s enough of that. I am not afraid.”
“—then let me stop you.” She rushed on, pretending she hadn’t stomped all over Bast’s ego by accident. “Wade is not out here and I assure you I am of legal age.”
Well now . . . She dropped her head down. “For anything.”
The words whispered across his cheek and he visibly swallowed. Even in the darkness the bobble of his Adam’s apple stuck out. “I’ve done the calculations.”
This guy had a thing for math. “Interesting.”
“I’m not sure that’s how I view the eleven-year difference.”
She almost wished he couldn’t add. “I make my own decisions. I go after what I want. What I want right now is you.”
“Oh, come on.” She treated him to a “don’t be an idiot” eye roll to keep from saying the words. “Now who’s kidding?”
His second hand slapped against the wall, trapping and surrounding her. “Everything about this is wrong.”
There, in the cocoon of his body, with his suit jacket hanging open and the heat pounding off his body into hers, everything felt pretty damn right to her. “I disagree.”
“Are you looking for a threesome? Is that what this is about, you trying something new? Wanting some big thrill with the guy who has a reputation for liking sex with more than one woman at a time?”
The words crashed over her in an icy wave, washing away every sexy thought and replacing them with fury. “No.”
“Maybe you want to try some toys or new positions. We could set up a camera . . .”
This time she did touch him. She put both hands against his chest and shoved. “What is wrong with you?”
He didn’t move. “Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. People like to gossip about how dirty I am in the sack. Women volunteer to join me just to get a taste. I’m guessing that’s what this is. You want your turn.”
“You’re jumping to conclusions.”
“Do you blame me? That was a pretty heavy pass and you’ve never shown any interest before.”
The man was clueless and right on the border of being an ass. “Clearly you haven’t been paying attention.”
If he heard her, he didn’t let it show. His words tripped over each other as he talked right past her. “I can only guess you want a wild ride and are looking to me to get you there. Strip you naked, maybe call in a friend to make the night extra special. That’s the expectation, right?”
Something in his voice broke through her flashing anger. His eyes had turned as dark as his mood, but a note lingered. An emotion tripping around the edges that sounded oddly like pain.
The realization sucked the anger, and some of the life, right out of her. “You’re not even close.”
“You have to know about my past.”
It took three swallows for her to kick out a word. “Yes.”
One of her hands dropped to her side and the other trailed down his firm chest, sliding along his tie, until he caught it in his. She noticed he didn’t let go. Instead, his fingers slipped through hers.
“Exactly my point.” The heat had left his voice but the husky vibration remained.
“Everyone knows. Your ex-wife wrote a book.” Kyra almost hated to point out that fact, but it sat between them, so why not deal with it.
“Two.” He trailed his thumb along the back of her hand.
Once, twice . . . all the blood left her head. “What?”
“My ex wrote a handbook on living a threesome lifestyle and then she wrote a novel where the couple happened to be in a threesome.” He held up two fingers. “Two books. One that ended nasty and rough.”
Kyra could barely hear him over the thumping of her heartbeat echoing in her brain. “Right.”
“The latter is fiction. Most people miss that small but very important fact.”
“The husband in the novel is a dick.” Kyra regretted the comment as soon as it was out.
“That is the general consensus, yes,” Bast said as he lifted their joined hands.
She knew from Jarrett this qualified as a sore subject for Bast, and the last five minutes highlighted that point. Jarrett insisted Bast treated his ex well and she crapped all over him, though the language Jarrett used was much more colorful.
Her fingertips brushed along Bast’s chin. “The man described in the novel isn’t you.”
Somehow she got the comment out. Through the rush in her ears and the thundering in her chest, she found the right words. That guy, the one people whispered about, the one who shoved his wife around and made sexual demands that scared her wasn’t real and couldn’t be Bast.
Kyra didn’t trust many people, but for some reason she trusted Bast to be decent. Maybe it stemmed from his friendship with Jarrett and Wade, or how he acted in the club. She didn’t analyze her certainty. She just knew she wanted to show him not all women operated like his ex.
“Lena makes it clear in the acknowledgments the book is fiction and not a memoir, but I’m thinking readers skip those, at least that’s what my emails and disappointed calls from my father suggest.”
Father, yeah, there was a subject sure to suck any sexuality out of the moment. And that is not what Kyra had planned for the next few minutes.
Despite the detour, she needed to stop and make Bast understand one simple thing. “I didn’t.”
His eyes narrowed. “What?”
“Skip the acknowledgments.”
His expression went blank. All emotion wiped clean and he stared at her with flat lips and dull eyes. “So, you really did read the whole book?”
There was no use dodging now, and she was determined they would be honest with each other, no matter how much moments like these hurt. “Yes.”
“Right.” He pushed off from the wall and stepped back. Two feet of warm summer heat pulsed between them. “Everyone else in town did, so why not you.”
The shuttered expression, the emotional distance, dropping her hand. He was shutting down and she didn’t know how to get them back to where they were a minute ago. “I know the difference between fact and fiction.”
He shoved his hands in his pants pockets. “Did you read the handbook, too?”
“No.” And that was the truth. She had zero interest in reading a manual about his sex life with his ex. About his sex life with anyone but her. “I assume that part, whatever is in the handbook, is real.”
He shrugged. “In a sense.”
She had no idea what that meant. “Then I was right not to read it.”
He stopped putting more space between them. At her comment, he shifted, moving in closer as he leaned. “I’m not following you.”
“I wanted to get to know you and not the version of who you were when you were married.” Despite what he thought, she wasn’t looking for a good time or to reenact one of the more descriptive chapters. She wanted him, with her, alone and uncontrolled until neither of them could walk.
Voices grew louder as a group of young males headed into the cul-de-sac. With every stumbling step they took, she held her breath, sure being interrupted would be just the excuse Bast needed to run. When the guys broke into drunken laughter and a chorus of some song that sounded vaguely familiar, she stiffened and waited.
Tripping and wailing, they hit the first driveway and looked around. Then the shoving started. One after the other shouted about the “right address” but when the security light of the first building on the street popped on, the guys turned and took off.
And Bast wondered why she wasn’t interested in guys her age.
At least the light meant crisis averted. Now she had to figure out how to keep Bast engaged. She feared losing him now could mean losing any forward momentum.
But he didn’t step back. “Maybe the guy in the marriage and the guy in the novel are the same guy.”
No way did she believe that. He grumbled about the rumors of his sex life, but clearly missed the ones about him getting sick of a life he never wanted and getting out of the marriage rather than continuing with the fun. Kyra held on to those and hoped those strayed closer to the truth.
“Why did you leave your wife?” Inside Kyra winced at her clumsy delivery. The answer wasn’t really her business, yet it meant everything.
Bast didn’t squirm or get angry. He just stood there, calm and in control, just like the Bast she knew.
“How do you know she didn’t leave me?” he asked.
“As you said before, we know a lot of the same people. They talk.”
His control slipped a fraction as his eyes grew wide. “About my private life?” He threw up his hands. “That’s just fucking fabulous.”
To a guy like Bast, all proper and educated, having his sex life blared in headlines and people snickering as they passed around stories had to be a huge blow. She felt for him but she had no idea how to make it better. Not yet. Not while they were apart. But she did know what she wanted. “Also, so we’re clear, I don’t have any interest in threesomes or sharing you with anyone else.”
He went still. “What if that’s my thing?”
“Then I’m not your girl.” Everything, all her plans and how much she ached to be with him, depended on his next response to keep the dreams alive and breathing.
“Kyra . . .” He adjusted his glasses even though they hadn’t moved. “Look, we—”
“No. Don’t feed me a line.” She rushed to stop whatever awful thing he might say to kill her attraction. “And don’t try to scare me off, because I don’t think you’re interested in threesomes either.”
“That comment makes me wonder how much you know about men.”
“Enough to keep one satisfied.” She waited for the disappointment to skate across his face but his expression stayed the same.
If anything, the corner of his mouth lifted just a bit. “That’s quite an answer.”
No name-calling or prodding for information. It was a nice change. The guys she dated before expected her to be virginal yet somehow experienced. To deliver the perfect blowjob yet never have given one before. The sexual double-talk struck her as ridiculous and immature, and she expected more from Bast.
Fact was she grew up knowing while men focused on her body, she could use her mind to wallop them. Her father brought her on jobs back when she was in her early teens and put her in situations she pretended she could handle. Or he did until Wade found out she’d started in the family crime business and threatened to rip their dad apart.
While her upbringing wasn’t one she ever would have chosen, she refused to shut down her sexual side now. She didn’t have Bast’s vast experience, but she’d been around enough to know what she did and didn’t like. And how to make a grown man squirm.
Her fingertips traced the line of his jaw. “I could show you what I want from you.”
“In the parking lot?”
“Just a taste.” Whether she could stop there was the real question. Forget the street noise and club looming behind her. She’d been dreaming about kissing him, touching him, for so long she didn’t know if she could stop once she started down that road.
“You actually think it will end there?” he asked, sounding stunned at the possibility.
Looked like she wasn’t the only one doubting her control. If he could step inside her body and feel the tremor shaking through her, he’d know how much of the act consisted of bluster and spit.
“I’ve told you my terms. Made it clear the next move is yours.” When his eyes narrowed and his feet started shuffling again, she wrapped a hand around the back of his neck. “But I’m thinking you may need an incentive.”
“You are very wrong on that score.”
At least he’d stopped denying. It would be nice if he threw the switch and started acting, but she’d take the lead if she had to. “You’re the city’s king of negotiation, right?”
He chuckled. “Not the title I’d use, but let’s say yes.”
She blocked the sexy smile playing on his lips and the whir of a siren through the neighborhood. “Here’s my argument.”
She didn’t hesitate or wait for him to make a move. She swooped in, with both hands on his cheeks and her mouth falling over his. Kissing him long and deep, she let the aching she fought off each night seep into her cells and burst to life against him.
At first he stood still, his shoulders straight and his head slightly dipped from the force of her palms on his face. Then he shifted as his hands moved over her. Along her back and down her spine to tighten on her ass. A second later a hand clenched against her hip and brought her body tight against his.
The heat spiraled around her as the force of his need drove her hard against the wall behind her. Those fingers danced over her clothes, burning a path until she feared the material might catch fire. When she broke away to steal a breath, his mouth followed and covered hers again. His lips traveled and his tongue dipped inside her mouth to mate with hers.
Dizzy and short of breath, her world spun until all the blood left her head. His fingertips brushed the side of her face while something tugged at her skirt. The warm night breeze caressed her legs as her skirt slid higher on her thighs and a deep, almost rusty groan vibrated against her lips.
The haze cleared long enough for her to feel the trail of his fingers over her skin. She opened her legs a little wider and those knowing fingertips brushed against the thin fabric of her tiny panties. She was wet and ready, and the lace proved no barrier to his searching hand. A finger ran along the seam between her legs, pushing the cloth inside her. The rough friction against her sensitive flesh had her gulping in air.
She could smell her body readying for him and feel the hard steel of his erection against her stomach. A warning flashed in her head, something she needed to remember but couldn’t grab onto.
Then as quickly as the kiss turned nuclear it, along with all the touching, stopped. Their rough breathing filled the air as the sounds of the city floated back to her. The cars and low mumble of voices in the distance. They stood in the open, shielded by a wall and fence but little else. Despite that, her control faltered and she almost grabbed him close again. Probably would have if he hadn’t dropped his forehead to rest against hers.
His chest rose and fell as his words pushed out in staccato beats. “Jesus, I’m practically fucking you in a parking lot.”
“Not quite.” But so close and with all the passion she’d hoped he kept chained up inside him. “I guess that confirms the attraction goes both ways.”
“Hell yeah it does.” His breath rumbled as the words blew over her hair.
She laughed but the sound cut off as reality came rushing back and smacked right into her stomach with enough force to double her over. The club, the security. The cameras. Without meaning to, they were giving Becca a show.
Kyra tried to clear her throat but something stuck there. “We should . . .”
If she told him about the unintended audience, he’d balk. Might even leave the state on a trumped-up work trip to stay away from her. She could not allow that. Not when they were so close.
Kyra pushed the potential surveillance video out of her mind. She’d deal with the ramifications and her new boss later. Right now she had to deal with the stunned man in front of her. “You okay?”
He kept his head balanced against hers and shifted his weight so his lower body lifted away from her, but not by much. “My hand is still inside you.”
“Was.” She already missed the warmth of his touch.
At her words his hand slid over her upper thigh. Another tug and he freed it from the tangle of her skirt and let it drop to his side. “Admittedly, your argument about us being together is persuasive.”
“Good.” In his frenzy to touch her, the material of her skirt had wrapped around her hips. Hitting him with an accidental elbow, she pulled and yanked until she brought the edge to a respectable length again, or at least one that didn’t show off the tiny straps of her lace underwear.
“You’re killing me here.” He pulled back and watched every move, every shimmy. “I’m ten seconds from throwing you in the back of my car and putting my mouth all over you.”
She heard the clunk as her lungs shut down. A list of very sexy possibilities ran through her head. She could go for it like her lower half begged her to do or she could build the excitement. Her body screamed for the first choice but she knew that would lead to quick and dirty sex, the type that happened once, and she wanted way more than one time with him.
Inhaling as much air as possible and hoping the oxygen would feed her brain cells, she brushed her hands against her skirt one last time and straightened her shoulders. “I should go.”
“What?” He practically yelled the word in her face.
For some reason his rapid blinking and shocked tone told her she’d made the right decision to step away now in favor of something bigger later. “Good night.”
She tried to pivot around him on shaky legs but he caught her arm and held her close. For a second he didn’t say anything. Just stared and frowned and generally telegraphed an I’m-not-happy vibe.
“You’re leaving now?”
The word “no” popped into her head but she pushed it out. “Yes.”
This was the right answer. He needed time and she needed a few inches of space. Stretching their time together into more than one night meant making him understand wanting him and falling into his bed when he blinked the right way were two different things. A slight distinction, maybe, but one that mattered to her.
“Is this some sort of game?” His fingers tightened on her arm, not to the point of pain but firm enough to hold her attention. “If so, you should know I fucking hate games. I had enough during my marriage to last a lifetime.”
Kyra pulled his fingers off one at a time. “Honestly, Bast. I’ve made this pretty easy for you.”
“I don’t think you’re easy.”
Not what she meant, but she’d take it as a compliment and move on. “A woman wants a man to work for it. Just a little.”
He shot her the same look he might have given if she’d grown a second head out of her armpit. “That’s nothing more than a waste of our time.”
With one last deep breath she took her stand. “It’s your turn.”
“To what? What are we even talking about?”
The poor thing, with his dropped eyebrows and frown, looked truly confused. As if women usually just stripped off their clothing and climbed on top of him when he flashed that crooked smile. If they did, she didn’t want to know.
Through the attraction zipping between them and the lingering memory of that heart-stopping kiss, she knew he’d only move forward if she doubled back. “Getting what you want will mean more if I don’t just fall in your lap.”
He treated her to a second round of staring without talking. Finally, he let out a huffing breath. “So that we’re clear, you will eventually crawl into my lap if I ask you to, right?”
Lap, chair, bed, kitchen floor. She’d dreamed about every scenario. “I will do whatever you want—and I mean whatever—so long as we’re together one-on-one. No one else.”
After a brief hesitation, he lifted his hand. He didn’t pull it back. It just hovered there between their bodies. “If the goal was to gain my undivided attention, I promise you have it.”
About time he noticed her as something other than Wade’s baby sister or a petty thief’s daughter. Still, it wasn’t nearly enough. “I want to be your only.”
“I thought I followed you until right there . . .”
The whole clueless-guy thing didn’t really suit him. She saw the gate come down and the heat leave his eyes and decided she liked the commitment fear even less than the cluelessness. “You’re a really smart guy, Bast. I have every faith you’ll figure it out.”
His arm dropped without reaching out or touching her. “Why not work out the particulars now?”
Because one more minute and she’d be on top of him with her wet panties around her ankles. “Soon.”
Before he could argue or circle back and remind her of their age difference, she took a step. Her legs wobbled and her stomach flipped, but she forced her feet to move. His gaze burned into her back as she moved, but she kept going because she didn’t need another look. She already knew the truth: she was his.
Bast spent the next day in his office and on the phone, but the memory of Kyra’s hot mouth and the taste of her on his fingers picked at his concentration. Twelve hours of analyzing documents and attending meetings couldn’t extinguish his sudden pounding need for her.
He shifted in his chair and thought about routine things like mergers gone wrong and clients in trouble, but her face kept popping into his mind. Before now he viewed her as sexy but untouchable. Having trailed his hands all over her, all he could think about was what it would feel like to plunge inside her. And unless he’d lost his ability to read a woman or understand a conversation, she was offering him exactly that.
No wonder his concentration was so fucked up.
The sirens squealing on K Street eight floors below his corner office grabbed his attention. This area of DC played home to lobbyists and think tanks. He looked out the scaling windows and saw the red brake lights from lines of traffic. The prestigious business address put him in the middle of the action and impressed clients as much as the pricey artwork on the walls in the reception area. He found that part of the game to be necessary bullshit, much like the big office with the leather couch and chairs.
The dark furniture, the walls lined with bookcases and that fancy Oriental rug his ex-wife had insisted he purchase all fit with his image as a powerbroker in a town knee-deep with them. He had an advantage. He’d grown up privileged, attended the right schools and married his college sweetheart.
He played the game right up until he committed the cardinal sin of getting a divorce. Then his proper father launched an all-out propaganda war that cost Bast his fancy high-end law firm job, though many in town thought the fight said something about the size of Bast’s balls. He capitalized on the support and spun it into a lucrative career.
Now he worked in an office he helped build and managed as a partner. One that thrived thanks to his billable hours and ability to wrangle his way through any situation. Even though he was a lawyer, he stayed out of the courtroom. Instead, he negotiated deals on behalf of his clients that he never dreamed he’d see.
Like his best friend, Jarrett, Bast dealt in information, most of it confidential and some of it top-secret. The type that would impress his old man, if they ever bothered to talk to each other.
Despite all the trappings and healthy bank accounts he’d stockpiled, all Bast could focus on at the moment was the raggedy blue bag with the ripped seams sitting next to his antique desk. Kyra dropped it last night on the walkway when she wrapped her arms around him. Now he had an excuse to seek her out on his terms.
He’d fought the temptation all night. Convinced his brain that his body was out of line and she was off-limits. Maybe he could blame the lack of sleep, but by morning he’d outlined an impressive “pro” list that included everything from “she approached him” to “he wanted to say yes.” The mere idea of taking Kyra up on the offer was dumb and self-destructive, two things he normally avoided, despite what his father might think. Being with her couldn’t lead anywhere and might alienate people he cared about, but he had to believe he could handle all those negatives.
The door opened after one firm knock. “You wanted to see me?”
Bast glanced up in time to see Elijah Sterling, the newest member of the staff, walk in and shut the door behind him. Tall and lean, he radiated confidence even though he spent most of the day alone in an office. His Japanese mother had gifted him with his coal-black hair. An operation gone wrong from his time working for the Central Intelligence Agency gave him the faint scar along his jawline.
Coming off an attempt on his life and a violent disassembling of his undercover team that left only two alive—he and Becca—Eli was raw. Giving him a job and putting him in charge of surveillance and information gathering for the firm qualified as a risk, but Bast recognized a man who needed a true purpose. He’d seen it in Jarrett’s eyes a decade before and hoped Eli’s transition from trained killer to civilian would go half as well.
But the information Bast had to deliver threatened any progress. “We had a call from Natalie Udall.”
Elijah didn’t flinch. Didn’t show any reaction. Just stood with his arms folded in front of him. “That sounds bad.”
Bast drummed his fingers against the desk. When the tapping started clicking in his head, he stopped. He didn’t have many nervous reactions because he didn’t really get nervous about much, but tapping meant his mind was racing and he needed it to stop for second.
He motioned across the table. “Take a seat.”
This time Elijah exhaled. “So, it’s really bad then.”
“She’s leaving the company.” For some reason the word sounded better than “CIA” in Bast’s head.
The chair creaked as Eli sat down. “Okay.”
“She’s basically being run out.” Which was a nice way of saying she could be in the type of danger that ended with two bullets to the brain and a phony obituary talking about a sudden heart attack.
Eli picked at the seam on the armrest where the leather and wood met. “How does that impact me?”
Bast watched Eli’s fingers move. Looked like they both had a problem with wandering minds. “I think you know.”
“Because she took care of Todd?”
The word choice impressed Bast. Natalie had run Elijah’s team, at that time called Spectrum Industries and posing as a legitimate satellite company, even though it was an illegal op. The CIA didn’t have the authority to investigate U.S. citizens without a foreign threat. When the team leader, Todd Rivers, went bad, he tried to cover his tracks by wiping out Spectrum agents and shifting the blame to Becca. Natalie put an end to Todd and made it possible, with Bast’s negotiating assistance, for Becca and Eli to escape a life of being tracked and hunted.
Now it looked like the CIA higher-ups wanted to clean up the mess by dumping it at Natalie’s feet. If true, she’d become a burnable asset and that meant her life didn’t mean shit to her bosses.
“Natalie did make it possible for you and Becca to get away.” Not that Elijah needed that reminder, but Bast offered it anyway. “Apparently there are some who think people with your talents shouldn’t just be able to just quit the CIA.”
Elijah smiled. It was a rare sight and only lasted a second. “Go figure.”
“Well, you did pretend to be dead a few months ago.” All while hiding out in the living quarters above Jarrett’s club and investigating why life had blown up.
Bast still couldn’t believe Jarrett had stepped up to help after Becca and Elijah’s team had Jarrett arrested on trumped-up drug charges. But that happened more than nine months ago and was all resolved now. Jarrett had clearly forgiven Becca for double-crossing him, proving love was more than blind. It might just be stupid.
“I keep wondering why I bothered to stop pretending,” Elijah said.
“To work here with me, of course.”
Elijah snorted. “Right.”
“Anyway, Natalie is coming in to see me in a few days.” Bast watched for any signs of anger or panic but Eli had been well-trained to hide those, along with every other emotion bouncing around inside of him. That detachment saved his life many times but Bast knew it cost Eli something, too.
Eli leaned forward with his elbows balanced on his knees. “Why are you telling me all of this?”
“You know how this works. As we hammer out a deal for Natalie, other problems will come up. Your safety could be at issue because someone might want to blow your deal apart.”
Elijah tapped his fingertips together. “I can handle myself.”
The man had sniper skills and once commented on killing a guy with a pen, so Bast didn’t doubt the statement that from other men would be nothing more than a burst of empty ego. “No question, but I want us to be extra careful.”
Eli’s expression morphed from blank to questioning. His head tilted as he frowned. “Why do I think you’re leaving out some important facts here?”
Bast now knew what a bug felt like under a microscope. It wasn’t as if he could just spill what happened with Kyra and what might happen soon with Kyra and how that might add her to the list of people who needed protecting.
He fought to keep from shifting around in his chair. He was the boss after all. “Once I see Natalie I’ll have a better idea what we’re dealing with. Until then, stick close.”
“You think they’ll come after you?”
The guy was missing the main point of this little meeting. “No, Eli. After you.”
Eli slumped back in the chair. “Nothing about Natalie and her bunch scares me. I fought them once and won.”
“They tried to kill you, you crawled to Jarrett for help and he shot you. That was before you spent months hiding on his second floor.”
Bast did a mental pivot and tried again. “There are other people involved.”
Eli’s mouth fell into a flat line. “You mean Wade?”
There it was. Eli’s great weakness. Not that he’d ever admit it. “Yes, and Becca and Jarrett. All of them. Anyone related to the original deal that freed you and Becca from CIA service.”
“You may have missed the big news, but Wade and I aren’t exactly on speaking terms.”
No, they were too busy being locked in a battle of wills. They’d lived together, slept together, in Wade’s apartment in Jarrett’s building for all those months. Then they broke up and the ground still shook over the fallout. “I’m aware.”
“Someone else will need to worry about him.” Eli’s expression didn’t change but pain flashed in his eyes.
Bast shook his head. “You’re not as hard to read as you think.”
Bast wanted to put Wade and Elijah in a room and let them work it out, but neither man would cede an inch. “I’ll ignore that question for now since you could probably kill me with a stapler if I gave you a truthful answer.”
“With my finger, actually.” Elijah blew out a long breath as he stared at the ceiling. When he met Bast’s gaze again, his mask of indifference was firmly back in place. “Maybe Jarrett could convince Becca and Wade to hang around the club and limit their activities to the building.”
“It might come to that. I just wanted you to know something big and pretty terrifying could be coming. Again.”
“Fair enough.” With a nod, Elijah stood up. No fanfare or questions about what to do next. He wasn’t the typical employee. He instinctively knew what was needed and willingly put in long hours to get there.