Toni Lyons has her hands full raising her autistic five year old daughter, Twyla, by herself. When the opportunity comes along to make some extra money by being a tester for her friend Eileen's new erotic matchmaking website, Orchid Soul, Toni is not prepared for how her life will change.
Nick Benson moved back into his old home after returning from the war, which has been converted into a duplex – the same one which Toni lives in. No longer the player he used to be, Nick instead fills his days renovating the old home, while grieving for his fiancé that was killed in the war. Being a former computer programmer, Eileen also involves Nick into the Orchid Soul testing. Due to a glitch in the programming, Nick and Toni are matched as a fantasy pair, and their deepest sexual desires are shared over the internet. Though she is stubborn and distant, Nick is determined to discover who she is inside, and to find the part of her that wrote some of the most erotic fantasies he's ever heard. When the wall separating their apartments comes tumbling down, a hot night of sexual reprieve becomes the start of something so much more.
About the Author
Delilah Dawson is the author of UP ALL NIGHT, SOMETHING NAUGHTY and MR. SATISFACTION. She lives in California with her husband and kids. She enjoys reading, summer sunshine and lazy days on the beach.
Read an Excerpt
Better on Top
By Delilah Dawson
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Delilah Dawson
All rights reserved.
Driving through the old neighborhood after six years really made Nick Benson nostalgic as he wound his way home. The neighborhood had aged, no doubt, and changed enough that his memories felt a little old, but Lord, it was wonderfully familiar.
The small park with the aged basketball court was still there. The old, hunkering oak tree still crowded the end of the main street like the fossilized troll he'd believed it to be as a boy.
Cruising down the lane, he noticed the slightly slouchy picket fences, and the flower beds that still teemed with flowers that were still meticulously maintained.
Oh, it absolutely felt like home. Sweet, sweet home.
That was, until he entered the house he'd grown up in, and it suddenly felt all wrong.
Exhaling a long breath, Nick dropped his heavy military duffel bag on the kitchen floor, taking in the naked, unfurnished house. There were no aromas of his mother's cooking or his father's woodworking, no sounds of their laughter.
Instead there was an arthritic creaking in the floors as he walked on them, and a few odd dips in the hardwood floors as he moved around.
Hell, there was even an accusing silence coming from the empty walls, the tanned outlines revealing where his mother's picture frames had been.
But worst of all was the unexpected crude Sheetrock and mismatched wooden panels that been nailed up in a haphazard fashion, clearly intended to cut the open spaces of the house in half — creating the duplex his father had asked him to manage.
The beloved house looked completely lobotomized.
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
During the war, the most powerful thing that had sustained him had been the memory of his family, living in this house.
He'd often fallen asleep to memories of the lazy cartoon-filled weekends, of his father's scattered woodworking projects, and the slow summer days that had been filled with golden sunlight, seeming to last forever. The house had been the sanctuary, representing everything he was fighting for.
Mariah had always accused him of making it sound like he'd grown up in paradise, but the truth was, it sure felt like it.
God, she should've been standing right there with him. It had been a year since she'd passed away, and he was still having trouble remembering her without grieving. He walked around in an attempt to force his thoughts aside.
It had been another blow to discover that his mother's Alzheimer's has worsened, and his father had moved into the assisted care center to be with her. Somewhere along the line, the decision had been made that this lovely family home would be walled up, pretty much down the fucking middle, turning the houseful of memories into a vacant, disastrous duplex.
According to the lease agreement, Toni Lyons was living on the other side of the walls, and Nick was expected to live in the vacant half. The thought of the house turned duplex left a sour taste in his mouth.
Nick opened up the door to the backyard and stepped outside. Damned if it didn't feel completely wrong there as well.
Its worn-out exterior paint was chipped like scabs in several places, and in others creased like wrinkles from years of neglect. The lawn was covered with the grandest spectacle of the neatest well-fed weeds he'd ever seen. Someone had even gone to the trouble of mowing and edging the mess to make them look reasonably decent.
The fence his father had taken such pride in looked like it would tumble down with the slightest wind.
Nick stepped back inside, locked the door and moved on. It was certainly not the homecoming he'd been looking forward to, and the hard disappointment was overwhelming.
Lord knows, he couldn't blame his parents. They did what they'd had to do, but it was tearing him up inside on more than one level. If only he could fix up the house to its original glory. ...
He'd gone to war knowing he was leaving the sanctuary of a town behind, and he'd never doubted that he would come back to find it a bit changed.
But now nothing, not even his parents, seemed to be the same. It was unreasonable, but still, it seemed that the only thing that had stood the test of time in this town was, unfortunately, his reputation.
* * *
Toni arrived home still doing math in her head. This latest contract would not only put the business at capacity, but would also help pay off the last of her grandfather's hospital debts. And if she rented the duplex for another year, she could build a nice nest egg that might even become a down payment for her very own house. Someday.
"That's right, baby girl," Toni said to her daughter who was cheering about something in the back seat. "Our home!"
When she got to the duplex, she was mildly surprised to see the glow of light from a window on the empty side. She hadn't expected the Bensons to fill the vacancy that soon, but if the tenant was being offered the same rent she was, she could understand the rush to move in.
Once inside, Toni slipped into the evening routine, feeding, bathing and tucking her daughter to bed, then tackling the binder full of work orders she'd brought with her.
It was late at night when she finally got around to logging on to the computer Eileen had lent her to test the Orchid Soul system.
Eileen, bless her soul, had insisted that Toni use her old computer.
"It's already configured and runs just fine," Eileen had said. "It's just a tad slow, but good enough for testing."
Now, as the Orchid Soul screens were slowly loading, it was all Toni could do not to bump the laptop in the frustrated hope of making it work faster.
After what seemed to be several hiccups, the subsequent screens came up uneven, with strange characters all over them. Toni dutifully made a notation on a nearby notepad to inform Eileen of the bugs.
She went through the boring process of completing her Orchid Soul profile. Hunkering down, she put in some real information, but ended up making up some of it along the way. Hell, why not? Orchid Soul was supposed to be anonymous anyway, so what difference did it make?
When the computer prompted her for her fantasies, Toni scratched her head and sighed. "What fantasies?" she grumbled under her breath.
She was staring at the computer, still undecided, when it let out a series of beeps, followed by a message stating that her profile had been evaluated and a "sex" match had been found.
And yet the message remained, defeating the denial. She clicked on the help icon on the top left corner, but instead a Cupid's Instant Message came up, the cursor blinking, as if awaiting her input.
"What the hell?" Was it some form of live help? She puzzled over what to do next, and had just placed her fingers over her keyboard when the first message appeared.
She hesitated before typing "Hello" back.
The other user replied. I didn't know there was an instant messaging service.
Neither did I, she replied. I thought it was a help chat.
Well, it's a live chat, but not for technical support.
Oh, joy. Things were just getting better and better. She scribbled a notation of the problem and looked up to see words appearing on her screen.
I thought the process was going to happen through e-mails.
Me, too, she wrote.
A long pause went by before temptation got the best of her and she wrote, So, what now?
I don't know. But please tell me you're a woman.
Toni chuckled. I am. And you're not?
I'm definitely not.
Okay, well ... Her fingers tapped over the keyboard, the words practically writing themselves before she'd finished the thought. What do you desire in a fantasy lover?
He paused. Is this personal curiosity or simply for testing purposes?
She inhaled, then exhaled slowly. Testing purposes, of course.
She grinned sheepishly and wrote, Okay, maybe it's a little bit of both?
Are secrets between strangers supposed to be honest?
She blinked. How will I know if you lie?
I won't know if you lie, so what do you have to lose?
Go first, then. What's your fantasy? She added a wicked smiley icon. I'm all ears. What would be your perfect fantasy woman?
For a moment, she wondered if they'd been disconnected, then the words began to appear on the screen, sporadically, as if he was giving it great thought as he typed.
A woman who can give as much as she can take. One who is strong and daring, and is willing to gamble with her future and her heart.
"Oh?" she murmured.
She'd been expecting a more stereotypic response about high heels and fishnet stockings, and couldn't decide if it was better or worse. It was certainly more honest than she'd expected.
Giving in to temptation again, she asked, What would you do differently with this woman that you've never experienced before?
There was another pause. I've never slow danced. I think I'd like to try that. Another pause followed. And I'd make love to her in my home.
Her eyebrows winged up at the unexpected response. That sounds a bit more personal than this matchmaking service intended.
There was another pause.
I guess you're right. Enough about me. Your turn. Are you looking for Prince Charming or a sex genie in a bottle?
She pursed her lips, drummed her fingers for a few seconds — wondering if she ought to go back to the personal note or not — then wrote, Well, I've given up the hunt for Prince Charming, but wouldn't mind having the Fairy Godmother's magic wand, so that my lover appears when I need him, performs to my standards, and disappears when I'm done. A genie in a bottle would work too.
Not exactly the truth, but then not quite the lie, either.
Let me bounce your question back at you. What would this fantasy lover do that no one has ever done for you?
Hmm. The answer he'd given popped into her head and she realized how true it was for herself. No man had ever made love to her in his home.
Dan, her first lover, had maintained his own apartment, and in the end, when his drug abuse was at its worst and he'd lost his apartment, he'd moved in with her, but slept on the couch, as if revolted by the thought of any intimacy between them. He'd been volatile, sometimes verbally abusive, and the drugs had made him unpredictable. It had been the lowest point in her life, and yet, Twyla had made it worth the while.
Well, for starters, I don't really need a man to do anything for me. In fact, the list of things that a man hasn't done is quite extensive. I guess I could start with respect and go from there.
Part of her bubbled with the need to elaborate and explain all the tiny details, but she didn't. This was just a game, not a venting session, and she'd already confessed too much to the stranger. She sighed.
I think — The computer beeped.
It took a moment for Toni to realize that whatever he'd been about to say was frozen on her screen and that the computer was unmistakably locked up.
Groaning and muttered heartfelt curses, she pressed a number of function keys in hopes of unlocking it, but when none of it worked, she reluctantly restarted the computer. But by the time she logged on again, the instant messaging window was nowhere to be found.
The computer continued to act oddly, grinding loudly as it opened documents at painfully slow speeds and forcing her to reboot two more times.
"You ... electronic piece of crap," she bit off. Ugh, the computer seriously needed to be defragmented or something.
Curbing the urge to kick the unit, she took a ten-minute break to check on her sleeping daughter, then returned, determined to give it one last try before wrapping it up for the night.
Thankfully, the computer cooperated enough to be usable again.
Toni navigated back to her profile page and began to write down some fantasies. When she finished her final fantasy, the computer beeped loudly and the following message appeared.
Day One: Thank you for completing the Orchid Soul profile. Our goal is to match the body, mind, and soul connections to create lifelong partnerships. We will contact you with the compatibility results in approximately two hours. Please log on after notification to move on to the next phase of the program. Thank you and enjoy your day.
* * *
From the other side of the wall, Nick finished muttering his curses and also logged back on again. God, it served him right for trying to hack into her computer to begin with. For days now, she'd been on his wireless network and, well, once he noticed that her computer was called "Orchid Soul 3" he'd just decided to snoop around.
He'd been stunned to discover that, not only could he connect to her computer, she had the master version of Orchid Soul installed. At that point, it had been his intention to hack in and snoop around to see if he could remove all traces of himself from the matchmaking program — because, goddamnit, he'd started to regret that he'd submitted fantasies he'd been saving up for Mariah.
So, with guilt driving him, he'd gone snooping around, and inadvertently triggered the instant messaging window, scaring the hell out of him when he realized Toni was right there, answering back.
Not knowing how to gracefully log out without her noticing her computer was being hacked, Nick decided to answer her questions, being more honest than perhaps he should've been.
Rubbing his temples, he watched the computer boot up, then he logged back in to Orchid Soul to determine how much damage he'd done.
No sooner had he received the welcome screen than several error messages began to appear, followed by an announcement that stated, "Profile ID 342 partner change confirmed. Your new partner assigned is Toni Lyons."
A cold dread began to uncoil in his gut. Shit, how the hell had he changed partners? He hadn't meant to assign her to himself! He hadn't planned to assign himself to anyone. Period.
But from the other side of his bedroom wall, he heard a very distinct and emphatic, "Awww, shit!"
* * *
"There has been a 7% increase in applications, and since Date #1 has not been initiated yet, and your profile indicates a preference for candidate reevaluation, we are pleased to inform you that we have identified a newer, more accurate match for you. Your prior Candidate One has been reallocated and your new candidate is: Mr. Nicholas Benson. The contact information is provided below. We strongly suggest you meet beforehand. On behalf of Orchid Soul, congratulations and best of luck."
Toni stared incredulously at her screen. The Nick Benson? She noticed the address listed was next door! The guy with the reputation for being the biggest womanizer in five counties? This had to be a joke! A sick, demented joke!
Hell, what happened to the other guy she'd been texting? How many other couples had this happened to?
"Oh, Eileen ..." She desperately hoped her friend could reevaluate launching the product.
She drummed her fingers before writing down the bug, making sure she captured every detail for Eileen to fix. Toni found herself tapping the pencil on the desktop, wondering what she'd do if she didn't like her "note." She scribbled down another note, suggesting that maybe a "recall" option would be good for those who didn't want to be matched with their new candidates.
She looked up from her notes to see that she had a new e-mail, entitled, "Candidate Fantasy #1." With a mixture of apprehension and curiosity, she opened the follow-up e-mail.
Orchid Soul Fantasy Number One:
I want to pleasure a woman, any way she wants me to. I want to be her sexual servant, if she'd only let me. She can make this as meaningful or meaningless as she wants it to be, as long as it's honest. Come on, woman, whatcha want? I'm listening.
Toni realized her breathing had become shallow and there was a sensual fluttering in her belly. It didn't matter that he'd submitted it anonymously. It didn't matter that he hadn't known what her likes or dislikes were. Then why did it feel like he'd whispered it into her ear?
"Ridiculous." She stepped away from the computer and ran her hands over her short hair.
Excerpted from Better on Top by Delilah Dawson. Copyright © 2009 Delilah Dawson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
GRETA READ VERY ROMANTIC.
Single mom Toni Lyons struggles with raising her five years old autistic daughter Twyla. As a ¿solid¿ favor for her friend Eileen as well was making money, the auto mechanic reluctantly agrees to anonymously ¿test¿ her new matchmaking web site, Orchid Soul.
Her landlord in the converted duplex, Nick Benson has returned from a harrowing experience in the military. Prior to leaving home on the deployment, he was known as the Reverend for being the top player; now he has no interest in playing since a personal death in the war zone has left him grieving. He spends much of his time renovating his house. He is attracted to his renter and very patient with her offspring. Eileen convinces him as a solid to her to test her new erotic matchmaking site.
Due to his manipulations, Orchid Soul matches up the two neighbors as their sexual fantasies go together. However, she is hesitant as she was scorched once before when she trusted a man with her heart while he takes it slow knowing she and Twyla belong with him, but fearing she will discover his hacking chicanery and have one more reason to distrust men.
The second Orchid Soul romance (see UP ALL NIGHT; not read by me) is an engaging contemporary as the sexual fantasy program fails (with some human assistance) yet achieves the strategic goal of the website. The lead couple is a terrific pairing, but it is the relationship between Twyla and Nick that makes the story line fulfilling. Fans will enjoy Delilah Dawson¿s delightful duet as testers falling in love.
Loved It!!! definitely a must read