Read an Excerpt
By Rachelle Chase
APHRODISIA BooksCopyright © 2007 Rachelle Chase
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFingertips slipped under her skirt, skimming her thighs.
Nichole gasped and stumbled backward, the book slipping through her fingers as she fell off the stepstool.
Strong hands gripped her hips, righting her.
Taking a deep breath, she opened her mouth to scream, and ...
That scent. A blend of sandalwood, cloves, leather, and ... man. Only one man.
Her scream became a whimper.
"Shhhhh ..." Derek whispered against her neck.
A shiver rippled through her.
Thumbs hooked into the waistband of her Nina Ricci thong, sliding it down over her hips.
"You know 'what.'"
Hands gripped her hips, pulling her back. Rigid muscle nuzzled her ass.
She was trying to remain quiet. But after enduring months of teasing, months of taunting ...
"Oh, Derek ... please." Nichole groaned and reached behind her. Frantic, needing, wanting ... NOW.
Here. In the library. In-
At the sound of a throat being cleared, Nichole Simms jumped and slammed her hand over her notebook.
"Good afternoon, Nichole."
Her startled gaze honed in on the perfectly shaped lips, nestled between a neatly trimmed mustache and goatee.
If I nibbled his lips, would it tickle or scratch? If-
She yanked her gaze to his eyes. "M-Mr. Mitchell. Y-your appointment's not until one."
"I know." Emerald eyes ensnared hers, stealing her breath, jolting her heart.
"I'll ... see if Richard can meet with you now." The mesh penholder toppled onto her desk as she reached for the phone.
Fingers pressed down on hers, the touch light, the sensation searing. "No."
Nichole raised her eyes, staring at the collar of his shirt, afraid to look higher, for fear that he would read her illicit thoughts in her expression. Not that staring at his collar helped, for the crisp whiteness set off his tawny skin while the red silk tie complemented the navy suit. From the corner of her eye, the broad shoulders, accentuated by the tailored drape of his jacket, beckoned her to inspect, to slip her hands under the silk and touch and stroke and-
She returned her gaze to his.
His eyes glittered.
Her knuckles tingled.
Though he stood perfectly still, power seemed to roll off him in waves, mingling with his body heat, concocting a potion impossible to resist.
Okay. She could handle this, maintain the professional façade she always wore like a shield when Derek Mitchell was in the office. He'd just caught her by surprise, that's all.
Uh-huh. Lurid fantasies in which he'd starred had left her feeling more than surprise. Try hot, bothered, wet-
Her face heated. Sliding her hand from under his, Nichole took a deep breath, imagining the air entering her lungs, entering her bloodstream, and dispersing calmness throughout her body. Erasing the feel of fingers caressing her skin. Sweeping away even more sinful acts not yet written ... but imagined. Restoring order, normalcy, control.
Breathe in ... Hold it ... Breathe out ... One more time ... That was it. She felt better.
Nichole replaced the pens, careful not to look at him.
"Actually," he said, "I wanted to see you first."
And knocked them over again.
"I see." No, she didn't see. She had no idea what he meant. Oh, she knew what she wished he meant-that he wanted to see the real her; the passionate seductress hiding behind the no-nonsense woman who managed Talentz's established and wannabe models and actors. Of course, there was no chance of that happening. A sexy, wealthy man like Derek Mitchell didn't really see a woman like her, a woman lacking the practiced persona of a sex kitten. Which is why he'd been perfect for the lead role in her fantasies. Because there, her understated, girl-next-door prettiness made him wild with need. He craved her. Devoured her.
All within the safe realm of fantasy.
She stared at him, her gaze impersonal-or so she hoped.
He stared back at her, his gaze intense, seeming to peel the layers in her mind, delving into the core, and uncovering the luscious fantasies of her being stripped and caressed. Outdoors, indoors. In a forest, in a library-
Nichole's eyes darted to her forgotten notebook. She snapped it closed and stacked a pile of papers, casually placing them on top of the notebook. Pasting a polite smile on her face, she struggled to keep her voice even. "How can I help you, Mr. Mitchell?"
Oh, Derek ... please.
Her smile felt like a grimace.
His smile didn't reach his eyes.
"I need some information on Jeremy Smith."
"Oh." Nichole ignored the pang of disappointment at the mention of Talentz's top male model. "I don't know what I can tell you about him, but please have a seat."
He remained standing.
She waited, aware of an undercurrent of tension she'd never before felt coming from him. Or maybe it was just that she'd never before had his full attention on her for more than a few seconds at a time. Or maybe the tension belonged to her, a result of the lingering visions of him, sans the navy Di'Cicco suit and stark white shirt, standing over her, waiting not for information about a model in their database, but rather, waiting for her to inch forward, this time slipping her hands under his briefs, pulling downward, uncovering-
"Did you send him to the audition for the Jag City car dealership on the twelfth?"
She blinked. Did I send who to Jag City?
"Or did Jeremy call and request to be sent?"
Oh right. Jeremy Smith. "I sent him."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. I called all the models matching your requirements for that job."
"Do you know Jeremy?"
"No. He's only been in our database for a few months, and that was the first job I'd sent him out on." She shook the rest of her haze off, all business now. She took pride in those she offered representation by Talentz, as well as those she sent out on jobs. The high percentage of talent that the agency placed was a result of her selections. "What is this about, Mr. Mitchell? Did Jeremy do something wrong?"
"I don't know." His tone implied that she should know, his eyes once again probing the corners of her mind, seeming to skip the images of him shirtless and her hands rubbing over his chest. Instead, he was looking for ... something else. He was waiting for information, not her caresses.
"If Jeremy was not to your satisfaction, I'd like to know about it. I want you ..." NOW. Here. In the library. Heat returned to her face. "... to be happy with Talentz. We value your business."
"I'd like another copy of his resume," he said, ignoring the inquiry.
"And since you value my business ..."
That smile again. The quirk of lips that seduced, despite the fact that it didn't touch his eyes. Or maybe the fact that his eyes remained untouched made it seductive. His secrets remained hidden, the meaning elusive. Nichole could relate. She had her own secrets that, though obviously much different and of no interest to him, she had every desire to keep hidden.
"I'd like talent for an event on Friday."
Relieved by the excuse to look away, she turned her attention to her computer screen, forcing her mind back to his request. A couple of clicks and Jeremy's resume was printing. Okay. The other request ... an event on Friday.... Her mind scrambled to focus, grasping for the occasion that flittered around the edges of her memory. There it was. The one she'd read about in the San Francisco Chronicle. "For the grand opening of The Decadent Chaise?"
She smiled and relaxed slightly, pleased by the accuracy of her guess, and turned to him. "What-"
His gaze dipped to her lips.
Her smile slipped.
"How did you know that was the event?"
His gaze was still on her lips.
Her breathing quickened.
"I-I make it a point to keep track of ..." everything you do "... all our clients, Mr. Mitchell." That was true. Notices of upcoming events were passed to Richard to convert into business. Other information-like the photos of the Derek-designed chaises in San Francisco Magazine-she saved for herself. Decorative fodder for her notebook, around which she wove images of flesh starving for touch, lips dying for a kiss-
She nodded, afraid to speak.
He pulled up a chair in front of her desk and sat. Legs parted, elbows resting on the armrests, index fingers steepled and touching, resting against his mouth.
His lips pursed.
Nichole's lips parted.
"So what else do you know about me, Nichole?"
His tone was light but his gaze resembled that of a hawk's, right before it swooped down for a kill. Or an inquisitor's, seconds before the torture began. Somehow, she didn't think he was asking about tabloid gossip, like whether or not sexy supermodel Melissa Moore was soon to be the first Mrs. Mitchell, or if he was really going to give Playgirl an exclusive.
Her breath caught at the vision of Derek Mitchell naked, splayed on one of his own Decadent Chaise creations, smooth, nutmeg-tone skin glistening against the plush, burgundy velour, a muscular leg draped over the side-
Just like she'd penned in her notebook, right under the photo of her favorite chaise lounge.
Nichole turned and placed her hands on the desk, interlacing her fingers. She relaxed her grip. "Mr. Mitchell." She stopped and cleared her throat, attempting to rid her voice of that embarrassing breathiness. "What is it that you really want to know?"
He shrugged, sending her his sexy not-quite-a-smile smile. "You said you track all your clients. I'm just curious as to what you found on me."
Which meant that he obviously wasn't going to tell her the real reason for the question. Maybe this was some sort of test to see how well she knew the talent and the business. But why? And how did this tie in to his earlier question about Jeremy Smith? It made no sense.
"Well?" he asked, his voice mocking.
She bristled. "I know that The Decadent Chaise will feature one-of-a-kind lounges, created using imported fabrics and materials...."
Combining the actual design in her notebook and the imagined ones in her head, she warmed up to the subject.
"... all sleek lines, with frames covered with smooth curves and embellishments-swirls and curls ..."
She drew them in the air with her fingertip.
He watched their movement, his eyes bringing the words of her notebook to her mind.
His eyes drifted closed as he leaned back, one arm resting against the mahogany backrest.
"... made from polished dark woods, like mahogany and cherrywood, topped with plush cushions ..."
His hip rested against the smooth fabric, its hardness buoyed by the cushion's softness.
"... that give the impression of strength but surround your body, adjusting to individual contours ..."
Crimson velvet cupped his thigh, caressing the skin like she craved to do.
"... like a glove, while the rich, deep colors-crimson, burgundy, chocolate-make it impossible to resist sitting or reclining or ..."
Nichole stopped, forcing the images from her mind, embarrassed by the dreaminess that had snuck into her tone. "... that's just what I ..." wrote "read, Mr. Mitchell."
Her face burned.
His eyes seared. "You have very good sources, Nichole."
She ignored the soft silky sound in his voice, the intensity of his stare, and turned back to her computer, desperate to get back to business. "Thank you, Mr. Mitchell."
"Why is it that you won't call me Derek?"
God, more questions. Why'd he care what she called him? And why wouldn't he stick to business? Well, if she looked at this logically, he was sticking to business. Though she had no idea where these questions were coming from or why, nothing he'd said gave her the impression there was anything personal in their exchange. Even his question about his name. She called everyone else by their first name.
Oh, Derek ... please.
She was the one with the problem keeping her mind on business. "You're a client, Mr. Mitchell."
"And that means ...?"
Nichole forced her breathing to remain even, to treat this abnormal conversation as if it were normal. "'Mr. Mitchell' is more professional."
"I see," he said, repeating the words she'd said to him. But, whereas she hadn't understood why he'd wanted to talk to her when he'd walked in to Talentz, his tapping fingertips, the slight smirk, and narrowed eyes said that he did see-that she was lying. She could only pray he didn't know why.
Ignoring the heat once again rushing to her face, she clicked the keys that launched the search screen. "Now then, w-what type of talent do you need?"
His smile remained.
Her face flamed.
"Lingerie model types."
"Is there a certain look you have in mind?" she asked, pleased to hear the strength back in her voice.
Nichole didn't wait for a reply, happy to be back on familiar ground. She knew what look he wanted. Not only because she was good at her job, but from personal experience when she had been on the other side of this business, in front of a camera lens. Once. A long time ago. A time that she didn't want to remember.
Long hair, big breasts, flat stomach, long legs. She typed a few keywords and hit ENTER. Images of Candy, Brittany, Holly, and Shawna filled the screen, with dozens more a click away.
She turned the monitor toward him.
His gaze flickered briefly to the screen.
"No. I'm thinking short, dark, curly hair ..."
Nichole resisted the urge to smooth her loose kinky black curls, clicking away at the keyboard instead.
S-u-z-e-t-t-e, M-i-s-s-y, M-e-c-h-e-l-e, ENTER.
She looked at him.
"Less bust and more curves."
She forced the movement of her 36B-cup chest to rise and fall with normal breaths and shifted her 38-inch hips in the seat.
C-h-a-r-l-o-t-t-e, K-e-i-s-h-a, C-l-a-r-i-s-s-a, ENTER.
She didn't wait for the images to load before looking at him.
He wasn't looking at the monitor.
"No. I want ..."
His steepled fingertips were back at his lips, stroking, tapping, as he thought about what he wanted.
Only his eyes said he already knew what he wanted.
"... a more innocent look ..."
His voice deepened.
"... a woman whose smile says ..."
His eyes drifted to her lips.
"... she's oblivious to the fact that men desire her ..."
His gaze flickered to her breasts before returning to her face. His expression was hooded. "Do you know anyone like that, Nichole?"
Her muscles locked, refusing to expel the air trapped in her lungs. Ten years ago, she'd worn exactly the look he described when she'd posed for that lingerie ad. This couldn't be a coincidence. He knew.
But how on earth had he found out about that photo? And why was he mentioning it now? The interrupted fantasy, his presence, the mysterious questions, and now this. Her heart raced. The room seemed to tilt.
Maybe she was just being paranoid. But maybe she wasn't.
Nichole rose. "I-I'm sure I can find women who meet your requirements, Mr. Mitchell. In the meantime, I'll see if Richard will see you now." Bypassing the intercom, she left Derek in her office, walking slowly enough that he wouldn't think she was running away from him-even though she was. When she reached Richard's office, she knocked briskly on his door and opened it without waiting for his answer.
Richard Dalton, deep in conversation on the phone, looked up in surprise. Wait, he mouthed.
Nichole nodded. Seconds turned into minutes.
He finally flicked the mute button. "What is it?"
"Mr. Mitchell is here to see you."
Richard glanced at the clock on his desk. "He's early. He won't mind waiting."
"He does what?"
He looked at her, his eyebrows raised in inquiry.
Nichole remained silent.
Richard unmuted the line. "Give me a day or so to work on it, Jim." They exchanged a bit more small talk before he turned to Nichole. "All right. Send him in."
With a nod, Nichole exited the office. After closing the door, she leaned against it and closed her eyes. What was happening? One minute, she was in the midst of an innocent fantasy-okay, a deliciously sinful fantasy-then Derek Mitchell was in front of her, asking her questions that made no sense, revealing information that he shouldn't know about that one regrettable act that had changed her life.
A frisson of fear shuddered through her. What if he was planning to blackmail her?
Excerpted from Sex Lounge by Rachelle Chase Copyright © 2007 by Rachelle Chase. Excerpted by permission.
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