DESPERATE FOR THE TRUTH. OBSESSED BY DESIRE…
Emily Wayborn is finally her own woman.
After a string of shameful relationships and reckless partying with her best friend Amber, she’s now a successful voiceover actress, her wild past and everyone in it firmly behind her. Until she receives a cryptic voicemail from her former friend that sends her spiraling into the darkness she thought she had outrun. One thing is clear from the message, Amber is in trouble.
Determined to track down her friend, Emily follows a chain of clues that leads her to Reeve Sallis, a gorgeous and equally dangerous hotelier known for his power games and shady dealings. Now, in order to find Amber, Emily must return to her playgirl ways to uncover his secrets and track down her friend. But as she becomes more entangled with him, she finds she's drawn to Reeve and his depravity despite her growing conviction that he may be the one responsible for Amber’ s disappearance.
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About the Author
Laurelin Paige is the NY Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of the Fixed Trilogy. She's a sucker for a good romance and gets giddy anytime there's kissing, much to the embarrassment of her three daughters.
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By Laurelin Paige
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Laurelin Paige
All rights reserved.
Even with my head below the surface of the water, I felt his arrival. My arms continued moving in fluid strokes, my legs kicking out behind me, but as drops of water trickled down my exposed skin, it itched with the awareness of no longer being alone.
I kept swimming — kept heading toward the end of the pool. The words I used to push me on in high school swimming competitions automatically repeated in my head: This arm then that arm then this arm then that arm. Now though, in the spaces between each beat, I thought her name — This arm, Amber, then that arm, Amber, then this arm, Amber, then that arm, Amber.
When I reached the concrete wall, I flipped and did another lap. I wouldn't let on that I knew he was there. I needed to control this situation, and for some reason, denying his presence made me feel like I'd gained another measure or so. Focusing on Amber, remembering she was the reason for what I was doing, made concentrating easier. At first, anyway. Until I began to tire and the awareness of his nearness began to win the tug-of-war with my attention.
I forced myself to complete three more laps, the anticipation of finally being near him, talking to him, bubbling up inside me like a butterfly waiting to escape its cocoon. I had my reasons for not acknowledging him — but what were his reasons for ignoring me? What if it wasn't even him, but one of his security men? No, anyone else would have kicked me out already for sure. Then why had he let me continue my swim?
Soon the wings of curiosity fluttered and scratched with such distraction that I could no longer resist the urge to poke my head out.
At least I managed to complete my lap.
Then, after wiping the water from my eyes, I started to look around.
I'd expected him to be sitting to my side at the head of the pool so I was truly surprised when I spotted him in the lounge chair directly in front of me. His face was chiseled and serious underneath near-black hair. Metallic sunglasses paired with a layer of scruff made him appear both more laid back and more dangerous than the pictures I'd seen on the Internet. Even dressed in a standard hotel-variety plain-white robe, he was intimidating. His feet were bare and crossed at the ankles. His elbow was propped on the chair arm, and his thumb and index finger framed the side of his face as he, without a doubt, bore right into me with his gaze behind designer eyewear.
My heart flipped. He was infamous, famous, and if the rumors were to be believed, dangerous — a multibillionaire luxury resort owner and legendary bad boy. But my reaction wasn't fear; it was excitement. Not because he was ten times sexier in person — though he was — but because he was here.
Sitting mere yards from me. After all the work I'd done to make it happen, here he was. Step one. Success.
"Oh!" I weaved the thrill I felt into my lines hoping it passed as simple alarm. "I didn't realize I wasn't alone." An innocent smile curled my lip with a few flirty blinks. It was a look that had bought me quite a few drinks along with a fur coat and a nice piece of jewelry or two. But that was years ago. I was rusty, and I prayed under my breath that he didn't notice.
His stare had a texture I could feel on my skin. "And I did realize I wasn't alone when I very much should be. I imagine it's a similar feeling of astonishment."
I swallowed. "Yes, probably so."
"I'll help you out." He stood, swiftly. In two steps he was at the side of the pool, leaning down to offer his hand.
My gut told me that the smart thing to do would be to get out of the pool. I was trespassing on the property of a very powerful man.
But my heart told me I couldn't give up so easily. So I ignored the tightening in my stomach and stood my ground — or, rather, treaded my water — and said, "No, thank you. I still have a few more laps to do."
His lip curled up into a half-smile. "You don't. You're done." Again he reached his hand toward me.
Ignoring his offer, I broadened my smile and turned up the charm. "Ah, you're one of those kinds of men."
He let his hand fall and tilted his head questioningly. "Which kind is that?"
Behind his lenses, I felt the command of his stare, and even in his crouched position, he held himself with utter confidence. My eyes chased the broad muscles in his neck that disappeared under his robe. They, along with his entire demeanor, demanded my respect or, more likely, my capitulation.
Yeah, I knew his type. "The kind who gets what he wants when he wants it."
"Well. Yes." He chuckled as he, yet again, extended his hand out for me.
I was tempted to swim another lap. But I didn't have enough sense about him yet to know if that would piss him off or intrigue him. So I said, "I got it," and refused his hand, pulling myself up over the side on my own. I did know it was too early for physical contact. My exit of the pool was on his terms but our first touch would be on mine.
"Oh, you're one of those kinds of women." He stood with me and handed me a towel with SALLIS embroidered along the edge in gold.
I took it. I was dripping all over his bare feet, after all. And while I'd felt covered in the clear water, I now felt nearly naked in my salmon-colored bikini. Which was the point, but still. "Okay," I said, as I wrapped the terrycloth around the ends of my hair. "I'll bite. What kind of woman is that?"
"The kind who won't take help from a man."
There had been a time when nothing could be further from the truth. I'd been very dependent on men, relying on one or another of them to put a roof over my head, keep me fed and clothed and entertained.
But that was years ago. Now I only counted on myself. That was perhaps the hardest part of the role I had to play — giving up the control I'd gained. Submitting.
If that was what it took to get the answers I needed, I'd do that and more.
I tilted my head to squeeze the moisture from my hair onto the ground next to me. "That's not so. I took your towel."
His eyes were still hidden, but I knew he was checking me out. I could feel his gaze skidding across my skin, sending goose bumps up my arms. "That's nothing." His attention landed on my breasts. "There are hundreds of towels stacked around here."
My cheeks heated, sure that his choice of the word stacked was purposeful. Because there was no denying that's what I was — stacked. My breasts had come in early and grew rapidly, swelling until I filled a double-D cup. They'd embarrassed me as a teen. No one else flopped and jiggled like I did in gym class. So I hid them behind baggy shirts and sports bras. It wasn't until I'd met Amber that I realized the power I'd been given through genetics. She taught me how to embrace my body, how to use it for my benefit.
With those lessons in mind — with Amber in mind — I pushed away my discomfort and bent over to run the towel up and down my limbs, exposing my cleavage. "That's proof that you're wrong. I could have easily gotten my own. I accepted it from you."
"You have a point there."
I had two points, actually. My nipples were standing tall and proud. It was the morning chill, of course, more pronounced after the heated pool, and I wanted to fold my arms over myself when I stood back up. But I forced myself to follow their example and rose up as tall and proud as they were.
When I did, I was met with my shoes. Reeve must have gotten them while I was swimming. He held them out to me now.
With a sigh, I took them from him. "You really want me gone, don't you?"
"What can I say? I like my routine. Swimming alone is part of my routine."
"Huh. I didn't take you for a man who was rigid." The media made Reeve Sallis out as impulsive and erratic. I was familiar enough with the difference between public perception and reality, but knowing Amber as I did, it made more sense that Reeve was that guy than the one he was playing at now.
He clicked his tongue at me like he was chiding a naughty child. "Now look who's making premature judgments."
"Touché." I sat on a deck chair to buckle my sandals. Leaning over to do it would have just been gratuitous at this point.
"But while I've got you here ..."
I tensed as he undid the belt of his robe. I can do this, I can do this, I chanted to myself. This was what I'd come here for — to do what was necessary, no matter how much I didn't want to. Back then, I would have done far more for far less. And, I noted as Reeve discarded the item of clothing on the chair behind him, with far less attractive men.
Goddamn, Reeve Sallis was hot.
Like, sizzling hot. He wore nothing but trunks — thank the Lord it wasn't a Speedo — revealing a perfect swimmer's body. His arms and torso were long and sculpted, his shoulders broad, and his waist trim. The six-pack he sported was nearly an eight-pack, and the muscles around his abdomen were so defined, so hard that I barely resisted the urge to lay my hand across them. My mind couldn't process how solid they would feel beneath my palm and wouldn't it be amazing to just find out?
While I was ogling — and probably drooling and definitely not breathing — he sat on the chair and faced me. "I hope you don't mind. I was getting a little warm."
It was getting a little warm. More than a little. And it wasn't the modern fire pit running nearly the entire length of the pool behind our deck chairs that made my skin scorch on the inside.
"Uh, of course I don't mind." Though, it sort of sounded like I did mind. Really, I was just disappointed that was the reason he'd undressed.
Jesus, Em, what the fuck? You're bummed that he didn't want you to blow him? Really, I was disgusted with myself. I mean, it was great that he wasn't unattractive considering what I'd probably have to do with him eventually, but what kind of bitch would I be if I looked forward to it?
Maybe old habits died harder than I had thought. I couldn't decide if I wanted that to be the case or not.
Reeve was apparently unaware of the battle going on in my head. "Good," he said. "Then we should probably talk."
"Interrogation time? I suppose that's to be expected." With his newly exposed body, I wasn't sure I'd be able to concentrate. And he had yet to take off those glasses, which was unnerving. Perhaps that was exactly why he kept them on.
"I'm glad you see it my way. If you didn't, this would be a whole lot less fun."
I finished fastening my shoe and sat up. "Is it fun now?"
His forehead wrinkled as he tapped a long finger against his lips. "I haven't entirely decided yet." His declaration came out low and raw, and it seemed, more honest than he'd intended.
Immediately, he changed gears, moving his hands to grip the arms of the chair. "But back to the interrogation. Why exactly are you here?"
It wasn't what I thought he'd ask first. I'd been expecting "Who are you?", but that he'd chosen the other question spoke volumes about my progress with him. He didn't care who I was. He only cared that my actions interfered with his own plans.
If my plan was going to work, Reeve had to want to get to know me. At least he hadn't dismissed me yet. I still had a chance to reel him in. "I'm here because I wanted a morning swim."
A hint of a brow peaked up over the frame of his glasses. "I assume you're a guest at this resort."
I bit my lip and nodded slowly. Even after our banter, there was a chance he could have me kicked out. A very good chance. Maybe the lip bite could make me seem virtuous.
Who was I kidding? He'd seen the girls. Once my chest was displayed, I'd lost all shot at claiming innocent, even if I truly was. And I wasn't.
The interrogation continued. "There are six other pools open to the public. This is the only one reserved in the morning for my personal use. Why did you choose mine?"
"I wanted the privacy."
"Wrong." He said the word as though he were buzzing a player out on a game show. "This wasn't about privacy. It couldn't have been easy for you to get in here. You went to a lot of trouble."
My shoulder hitched up in a nonchalant shrug. "It really wasn't that much trouble." That was actually the truth. I'd discovered pretty easily that any manager had the power to program my resort key card to let me in to the pool during Reeve's reserved time. A few days of prowling and I'd found a night manager who seemed he would be vulnerable to my seduction techniques. He was twice my age, balding, with a ridiculous hairpiece. I'd been prepared to give him a hand job. Turned out he could be bought with a hundred. That had surprised me. I'd grown up with my body as my only asset, and I'd learned to use it. I was still getting used to having money as an alternative.
He frowned. "That doesn't speak well for my staff."
"Or it speaks well for me."
"Ah. You don't want to get anyone in trouble." It wasn't a question.
Teasingly, I tapped my own lips and threw his words back at him. "I haven't entirely decided yet."
He laughed. It was a good sign.
"You see," I said, lacing my hands and stretching them above my head, "I'm not loyal to the person who helped me. But on the other hand, I'm not loyal to you either."
He leaned forward, a smile dancing on his lips. "You'll tell me if I ask you."
"Maybe. Are you asking?" I'd totally throw the manager under the bus. But not yet. It was information that he wanted that I had — it kept him engaging with me. I'd likely keep the secret until the next time we met, no matter how much he asked.
That was the idea, anyway. Then Reeve surprised me. "I'm not asking. I don't really care about my staff at the moment. I'm more interested in you."
My pulse kicked up like I'd downed a shot of espresso. Because it was a victory. Because it was a moment of triumph. There was no other reason I cared. No other reason his interest keyed me up.
Reeve steepled his hands together then pointed them toward me. "Why this pool?"
I mirrored his leaning, lacing my fingers together and resting my chin on top. "I wanted to meet you." Needed to meet him. I had a long list of questions and as far as I was concerned Reeve Sallis had the answers.
"The truth comes out. Why would you want to meet me?" He seemed honestly perplexed.
"Are you joking?" There were certainly thousands of women who wanted to be his bimbo of the month. Word was he treated his sex toys well. He had enough money to lavish on them without even noticing a dent in his wallet. Then there were those who likely wanted to meet him just to claim the brush with fame. Plus he was, well, hotter than a man had a right to be.
But if it was flattery he needed ... "You're a very interesting human being, Reeve Sallis. Not to mention, you're easy on the eyes. More than easy on the eyes, actually. Who wouldn't want to meet you?"
"I can name quite a few people, and I'm sure there are many more that I can't name. You could have met me in other ways." Though he'd verbally ignored my comment about his appearance, his mouth twitched ever so slightly letting me know it had pleased him.
Why did that make my belly flutter?
It didn't. It was nerves. It had to be. I transferred the emotion to my words, letting my voice get breathy and unsteady. "I wanted to meet you alone. Without your goons and your public."
"A lot of people would be scared to be with me alone."
"Who said I wasn't scared?" I should have been scared. He had a reputation that, as far as I could gather, was either completely fabricated or totally underplayed. The former was more likely, but what if it was the latter? What if I was truly unsafe in his presence?
It was also possible that I was scared. In all honesty, it was probably the core of his allure. But I couldn't let fear or captivation take over. I had no other choice but to see my plan through. For Amber.
Reeve tilted his head. "That's an interesting combination of traits — a stalker who's scared."
"Only scared enough to make it fun." Strange that I once lived for that kind of scared. "And not a stalker, Mr. Sallis. I merely have a curiosity that gets away from me."
"I like your curiosity. And your philosophy on fear." He shifted gears again. "I think I may have started off with the wrong line of questioning. I don't even know who you are."
He removed his sunglasses, and I couldn't help but gasp. His eyes ... At the surface, they didn't seem special on their own. A common blue and gray that could be easy to overlook. His brows were the prominent feature, what most people likely noticed. They were thick and arched. They darkened his expression and distracted from what lay in the icy pools below them.
But his eyes caught me. There was something I recognized in them — a sorrow or a longing that was both gripping and haunting.
Excerpted from First Touch by Laurelin Paige. Copyright © 2015 Laurelin Paige. 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.
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