Read an Excerpt
Playing with Fire
By Renee Graziano
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2014 JustJenn Productions
All rights reserved.
It wasn't like the dress was really over the top.
Might just be the body in it.
Nick Fattelli took a sip from his snifter and negligently set it aside, watching, but he wasn't the only one. He was pretty sure every man in the room had turned to look.
The woman who had just come into the room was not even classically beautiful. Long dark hair, yes, he approved of that, and the sultry unusual eyes to set it off. Her skin was flawless, but her features were not perfect. That was fine — he wasn't looking for perfect. A tilt to the eyes, just a hint, and a shade of a Roman nose, but still she was very striking. The dress didn't hurt either, cut low enough to showcase her firm breasts and tight enough to accentuate what he thought was a world-class ass.
He approved 100 percent.
He turned and glanced at the man who had apparently caught him staring. "What?"
"That's her first name. Reign." Joey Carre took a small round cracker topped with pink shrimp and herb-flecked cheese from a tray and somehow managed to pop it into his mouth and still make the movement look sophisticated. He chewed and swallowed before he commented, "Saw you looking. Long stare, about two seconds over the ordinary. Don't worry, you aren't the first."
Of that, he had no doubt now that he'd seen her. "Okay, guilty as charged. ... The story?"
Carre knew everyone. Maybe it was his connection with the fashion icons in a city where how a person was dressed told you more about them than a background check. Carre was slightly overweight, but the cut of his jacket fooled the eye, and his fair hair was thinning just enough to accent a high forehead and austere features. His eyes were a very pale blue and, rumor had it, missed nothing.
Nick believed that. Their circles were fairly tight, this party an example. He glanced around the penthouse, saw the sleek furnishings and the tall shining windows that gave way to a terrace overlooking New York City. The skyline was brilliant through the wall of windows, and the floor was polished marble. Ten million bucks, easy, for this place. ... The invitations were not passed out on street corners. "To?"
"Practically everyone, but not what you are thinking right now." Joey shook his head and took a sip of champagne. "She's a pretty face, but it doesn't stop there."
So ... intelligent, gorgeous in her own way, and willing to walk into a party like this one wearing a flamboyant green dress with all that ebony hair spilling down her back. ... Good presentation. Every other woman had on the classic little black number. She stood out.
He admired her style. "Fashion?" He acted like it was a guess. He knew where her studio was and had even done a background check on her assistant.
"And good taste. They don't always go hand in hand." Carre looked affable, but Nick actually rarely thought that was his true persona. Carre added succinctly, "She's good. Just starting really to break in."
"Married?" He asked it politely enough, though he already knew the answer. Several offers in her past, but the one "yes" hadn't worked out.
He knew pretty much everything about her; they just hadn't met yet.
"Married? Absolutely not." Carre looked noncommittal. "Not in the market either."
Good both ways. So was Nick.
He shot his cuffs. "Introduce me."
"You don't want to play with this one."
Nick's smile was ironic. "I think I get to make that decision on my own, don't you agree? Since you know her, let me rephrase. Please introduce me."
Carre shrugged and shook his head, those pale blue eyes appraising. "Fine. But I'm telling you, she's not looking. Robert Philliponi has been trying for months. She barely gives him the time of day."
"I admire her taste already."
He didn't care for the man. Philliponi's name had been linked to several hits, and he was under surveillance. Nick kept his distance as much as possible out of a finely honed sense of self-preservation. No harm in being at the same party like this one, because there were a lot of influential people, from socialites to politicians, but he would never want to hang one-on-one. Bad idea. He didn't need the association.
Nick followed Carre through the crowd, stopping now and then to greet someone, the room humming with music and dozens of conversations, before they finally reached the corner where his quarry stood talking to an elderly man and another woman. The woman was far too young to be the older man's wife but had her hand possessively on his well-tailored sleeve. Nick didn't recognize either one of them.
"Rupert Hanover," Carre murmured. "You might want to meet him. Owns several trucking companies, which isn't the most glamorous way to make over fifty million dollars a year, but obviously the blonde is willing to overlook it."
"Not yet but give her time. Did you know she used to be married to a state senator?"
"I didn't know she existed," Nick said truthfully. And he still didn't, really, his gaze fastened on the dark-haired woman in the green dress. She turned when she caught sight of them approaching, and she smiled, presumably for Carre, since she didn't know Nick.
Gorgeous green eyes framed by long lashes flashed a glance at him, and then took a long second look.
He looked right back.
"Hurry up and introduce me," he said under his breath, the evening taking on an intriguing promise.
* * *
Even though she'd worn the fuck-me dress, Reign really wasn't in the mood for a party.
Yes, the glitter of the skyline was gorgeous, the food was no doubt delicious — though she wasn't all that hungry after her frustrating day — the expensive clothing of the crowd both flamboyant and outrageous, or else extremely tailored, depending on the individual, and usually she liked the sophisticated hum of a gathering like this. ... But not tonight.
Therefore, she had very little patience for the over-effusive — yet unmistakably hostile, she was getting the vibe loud and clear — woman stuck to Mr. Hanover. Reign wanted to just say out loud, Don't worry about it, sweetheart, he's all yours, but that would be a little blunt even for her, and she'd learned a long time ago that speaking her mind wasn't always the best idea.
So when she saw Joey Carre approaching, she was infinitely grateful. It wasn't like they actually worked together, but they crossed paths often in their business and he was pretty much someone she might consider a friend. "Pretty much" meant that she trusted not that many people, and she didn't trust him exactly, either, but whether it was naive or not — she didn't distrust him.
Crazy, but then life was pretty crazy most of the time.
The tall man with him was not familiar, and she would have remembered him if she'd seen him before.
Nice face. Angular but still handsome enough. Good body, if a girl liked them long and lean and athletic looking. Dark hair, and to her surprise, blue eyes — hardly a pale Scandinavian blue, but a dramatic Mediterranean blue that set off his Italian coloring.
She did her best to not stare.
Great suit. It was her job, after all, so she always had an eye for style. Hand-tailored to his broad shoulders and perfectly fitted. She wouldn't have picked that tie, but she learned something new every single day; it worked, actually. A midnight hue to match the unusual color of his eyes, the pattern almost so low-key she didn't notice, but when he approached, she saw it was a shadowy block down the length of the expensive silk. The play of dark color against his white shirt was stylish and made a statement quite different from the vibrancy of her dress.
An opinion of him immediately started to form. She normally liked to be noticed; he didn't want to be noticed at all.
That was interesting.
It could be that he was pretty noticeable in the first place. Not just his height and those nice wide shoulders, but he had some pretty delicious hair going on — dark and wavy, cut expertly someplace expensive — his jaw slightly square but not too much, his arched brows over those cobalt eyes, and his slightly diffident air didn't reflect what she thought was a dangerous edge underneath.
She knew dangerous men. Her whole life they'd been there. Godfathers, uncles, cousins ... her sixth sense was geared toward feeling the difference between people who made the rules and those that broke them. It didn't mean they were bad guys. ... It wasn't that cut and dried. It was more how it was all handled. There were rules, and there were rules. Not everyone viewed them the same way, and for that matter, not everyone had the same rules in the first place.
This man was, hands down, a rule-breaker.
The worst sort of man for her.
But fuck, she liked his smile. It was a really boyish mesmerizing curve of his lips, though cute would never apply to his sophisticated image. Maybe it would be better described as deliberate, and as a rule she was absolutely not susceptible to that. She could seduce, but she couldn't be seduced.
At least before this moment.
"I'm Nick," he said in a low, smooth whiskey voice. Just a hint of some place other than New York in there. Italy maybe. It was hard to place.
"Reign. Think royalty and not weather." She took his fingers and judged the tensile strength there. No attempt to convince her he was a man by crushing hers — thank God — but enough pressure to let her know he was interested. She'd already gathered that, yet it was good to know he could play on the nice side of the team.
Unless he needed to play it rough. She hated herself a little for the flicker of interest. All her life, it had been this delicate balance between the good guys and the bad ones, but that wasn't so easy, she was discovering.
Some men were mostly bad. She'd met them, shunned them, and ran the other way as fast as she could whenever possible. Some thought they were good — she almost hated those self-righteous bastards even more — but she was in her thirties now, and one truth just kept popping up.
No one was all good, and no one was all bad. That was unfortunate. It would make it so much easier to make wise choices.
Around them the room worked, the people moving, the conversations humming, the music playing — something low, Puccini's "O Mio Babbino Caro," she thought — and a waiter passed with a plate of stuffed mushrooms, but they both shook their heads.
"Interesting first name," he said.
"My parents were a little eccentric as a couple."
He let go of her hand with a deliberate reluctance. "Can you tell me that story over a drink?"
Joey had already left, maneuvering away from them, taking the future Mrs. Hanover and her prey with him. No one could work a room like Joe. It wasn't like Reign and the new arrival were alone, but apparently he'd read the signs and decided to give them some space.
She read the signs too.
Mr. Fattelli had asked for an introduction. Reign weighed her response, and the pause was long enough for him to acknowledge it. Good. She wanted him to know she didn't talk to every guy that hit on her. The gleam of amusement in his eyes settled the deal. She said, "Johnnie Walker Black. Rocks, please."
"I like the lady's choice. Be right back."
She watched him go to the bar, saw him flash that killer smile at the female bartender who definitely returned it, and then he was shouldering his way back through the crowd, drinks in hand. He drank bourbon neat, she noted, two fingers in his glass.
"Thank you." Their fingers brushed as she accepted the drink, and she caught his gaze for a moment.
"Terrace?" he suggested. "It's a little difficult to carry on a conversation in here."
She took a sip and nodded. People were watching them already, but she didn't care too much as he moved back politely to let her walk in front of him through the open glass doors.
A gentleman. That scored him a point.
They were hardly alone there either, but then again, it was a warm clear night. Still, it was a lot more intimate than the jammed apartment. Mostly there were couples, standing around talking.
"Reign?" he prompted, his eyes inquiring. "Your name? You promised me the story."
She lifted her shoulders. Why not tell him? "My mother's idea. I think the basic concept was that every single day I should be reminded that I am in charge of my own life. Not to let anyone tell me what to do and when to do it. Reign Supreme. Supreme. Can you believe that is my given middle name?"
"I admit that's a new one to me. Do you live up to it?" His hand moved his glass casually to his mouth, and he took a small drink, watching her.
Hell yes, I do.
"I think Joey will confirm I do. Tell me, Mr. Fattelli, what do you do?"
"I'm an investment banker."
A little oblique. Well, maybe he was into finance, but she knew that wasn't all he was from the dangerous glitter in his eyes.
If he was too evasive, she'd be smart to walk away. Her career was going well, and though not having an active romance wasn't perfect in her estimation, it wasn't bad either. She loved her job and people left her alone. She moved in the inner circles but did not actually have to be part of them.
All of it under control. Well, most of the time. The lure of the Life existed. It was practically all she knew. It stood in front of her at the moment in the guise of a handsome man with those striking eyes. ... He represented danger, and she had the golden ticket for that ride.
She knew at that moment she was going to go home with him and give him the fuck of the century.
Bad boys were a weakness of hers, and she had the feeling he was a very bad boy indeed. Before he could answer the question, she said abruptly, "No. Don't tell me. I don't want to know after all. Is there any chance you want to give me a ride home?"CHAPTER 2
She didn't live in Manhattan, but on Staten Island, so the drive was not exactly short.
He didn't really care.
Nick was interested in the lady, not her house. Those remarkable emerald eyes, for one, drew him in. She seemed to have almost a feline capacity to study him in a way that didn't let him know in the least what she was thinking.
Rule one: always be able to read the mind of your opponent.
He couldn't quite read her.
"What?" Reign asked when they crossed the bridge, her voice holding a hint of amusement. She crossed her elegant legs and he heard the whisper of silk. If he was a betting man, he'd swear she wore stockings and garters just to tantalize every man who came within her sphere ... but maybe no panties?
That was sexy alone. A mini-fantasy. If she did wear them, he thought while trying to look casual, they would be something slinky and black, but her ass was memorable in that tight-fitting dress without a hint of a line. ...
Black thong to match all that long, shining hair? Call it a personal weakness, but he did like long hair and hers was sleek and pure ebony. He wanted to touch it, but there was a much bigger problem at hand.
Who the fuck wanted her dead and why?
"I was thinking about your underwear." He said it candidly and with a slight grin. "Sorry. Guy thing."
Streetlights flashed by, and he wondered if he might not get a smack in the face for being so honest, but after a moment she burst out laughing. "You were sitting there with that look on your face because you were curious about my lingerie?"
"I never said I was deep." He raised his brows and expertly passed a city bus that was about to pull out. Driving these streets meant you needed to pay attention.
She sobered. "That is a lie. Don't try and fool someone who has trotted around this planet a time or two. You are extremely deep, Nicky." Her brows rose. "Do you mind if I call you that? We are, after all, discussing my underwear. The familiarity shouldn't bother you."
He could give back smartass. "As of this moment, I know nothing about your underwear, so I am not sure we should be giving each other nicknames." Damn her, he was getting a hard-on. It wasn't that he didn't like women — he loved women — but he knew she was doing it deliberately and he never fell for that crap.
Excerpted from Playing with Fire by Renee Graziano. Copyright © 2014 JustJenn Productions. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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