Who’s on top?
Matchmaker and stationery shop owner Matilda Davies brings people together. For those on her list, Tilda will find the man or woman of their dreams—whether it’s for an hour or a lifetime. But due to a painful past, the British expat has never put her own name on the list. Instead, she limits herself to emotionless and commitment-free hookups. Then she meets Daniel, who wants not just her body, but also her heart…
Daniel Logan hides the soul of a poet under the suit and tie of an FBI agent. Specializing in financial crimes, he pieces together stories of greed and ensures justice is done. He plays by the rules—until he meets Tilda. He’s drawn in by her passion as well as her mysteriousness. Daniel knows that no matter her secrets, he’s the perfect match for Tilda. But even pleasure doesn’t come with a guarantee…
About the Author
After doing time at Fortune 500 companies on both coasts, Anne Calhoun, national bestselling author of numerous novels including Jaded, Unforgiven, and Uncommon Pleasure, landed in a flyover state, where she traded business casual for yoga pants and decided to write down all the lively story ideas that got her through years of monotonous corporate meetings. Anne holds a BA in History and English, and an MA in American Studies from Columbia University. When she’s not writing her hobbies include reading, knitting, and yoga. She lives in the Midwest with her family and singlehandedly supports her local Starbucks.
Read an Excerpt
– ONE –
The window air-conditioning unit clicked twice, then whirred to life. Cold air drifted through the swath of sunshine that faded the ancient Oriental rug’s reds to a brick shade. Special Agent Daniel Logan took up position at the left end of the love seat and braced his elbow on the arm as he noted the way light fell on the monument in Washington Square Park. Back in his NYPD days, before he left for the FBI, he’d trained himself to note not just date and time but the weather, moon, and astronomical events in his reports to anchor things in his memory. It was useful when he testified in court.
At this very moment the sun was at its highest point in the sky, and the summer would only get hotter.
Today he noted the solstice not because he’d be called to testify, but because he’d met Tilda the preceding summer solstice. One year had passed, the year of Tilda. They’d met, started dating or whatever Tilda called it, gotten married, and were now sitting in front of a marriage counselor, because Tilda thought they needed to divorce.
She folded herself into the opposite end of the love seat, as pale and textured as fine paper, wearing a sleeveless black sheath, her bare legs crossed. No wedding ring. No birthday bracelet. The therapist, a tall, thin man with dark brown eyes and a turban covering his hair, shook both their hands as he introduced himself as Dr. Bhowmick, then settled himself across from them.
“Daniel,” he said in a lightly accented voice. “Do you prefer Daniel or Dan?”
“The interpreter of dreams,” Dr. Bhowmick said. “Word origins are a hobby of mine. What do you do?”
“I’m with the FBI.” It wasn’t all that different from interpreting dreams. As an agent assigned to investigate white-collar crime, he reconstructed people’s dreams after they’d been stolen.
Dr. Bhowmick transferred his gaze to Tilda. “And Tilda. An unusual name.”
“It’s short for Matilda,” she said, but she lacked her usual smile.
“Ah,” the therapist said genially. “Do you know the origin of your name?”
“I do,” she said. “It’s German and a combination of two words meaning strength and battle.”
Her face wore her most pleasant expression, as if she batted away idle observations and trivial facts all day, deflecting the conversation down shallow gullies until everything they had left dissipated into the air.
“What brings you here today?”
“I think we need to divorce,” Tilda said.
“I think we don’t,” Daniel replied.
She smiled at Dr. Bhowmick. “And there you have it.” Crisp, clean, precise, the upper-class British accent the same temperature as the room. She must be freezing, in her sleeveless sheath. Daniel was comfortable in his suit, and he ran much hotter than Tilda, who lived like she could spontaneously combust at any moment but was always cold.
Dr. Bhowmick turned to a clean page in his legal pad, and wrote something at the top. Daniel’s gaze flicked to the words. He could read most handwriting from all angles, but Dr. Bhowmick appeared to be taking notes in some form of shorthand. Tilda was also studying the pen and paper, but Daniel doubted she was trying to read the handwriting. Cheap legal pad, a ballpoint pen that came in packs of ten at the Duane Reade is what Tilda, who owned an upscale stationery store, would see.
“How long have you been married?”
This information was on the intake assessment Daniel filled out before the appointment. He’d do the same thing to a suspect or witness, take information, ask again from a slightly different angle, then ask again from another. It’s how he pieced together the stories that solved crimes. Simple or complex, financial or physical, a crime was always about a story. People had goals, motivations, conflicts that escalated into theft and violence. Stories and numbers were his specialty. “Six months,” he said.
Dr. Bhowmick halted midscrawl. “You’ve been married six months? How long have you known each other?”
“Eleven months,” Tilda clarified.
Daniel slid her a look. “It’s the solstice. We met a year ago today,” he said, standing on the only solid ground in his earthquake-rattled world. That day was written on his bones, as real and solid as the love seat under him, the light on his skin, Tilda’s even breathing beside him.
“So you’ve been together for almost a year, and married for most of that time. Why don’t you want to be married to Daniel any longer?”
She looked away, out the large rectangular window in the living room. NYU students were crossing the square, pausing by the chess games going on at the south end of the park. Daniel remembered his student days, the freedom to explore everything body and mind had to offer. Tilda, four years younger, hadn’t crossed his path.
“Tilda,” Dr. Bhowmick prompted gently.
“I’m not comfortable opening our marriage to a stranger.”
“Neither am I,” Daniel pointed out.
The look she shot him was swift and fierce, like a silver blade. When she returned her gaze to Dr. Bhowmick, he straightened almost imperceptibly. “We married in haste. It was an impulsive decision that, in hindsight, was the wrong one. It would be foolish to repent at leisure, when both of us could be free.”
Words mattered to Tilda; she chose them carefully. She didn’t say to meet other people. She didn’t say she didn’t love him. She didn’t say it was a mistake. She didn’t even say she wanted a divorce. We need to divorce.
“I love her. I want to be married to her for the rest of my life.”
Tilda’s unreadable gray gaze never left the window. Her slender, pale fingers, bare of any rings at all, sat unmoving in her lap while the rest of the session passed in silence. Daniel was comfortable with silence, knew how to use it during an interrogation, so he sat and watched the sun shift on the rug as the seconds crawled by. When their time was up, Tilda collected her purse as she stood. “I have an appointment. Thank you, Dr. Bhowmick,” she said, and walked out the door.
“Tilda,” Dr. Bhowmick mused. Reflecting on her name, Daniel thought, not pining for her. He said it that way often enough. “These things take time, Agent Logan. Would you like to schedule a recurring session?”
“I need to talk to Tilda first. She travels for work.”
When he reached the street, Tilda was standing by the curb, her tote slung over her shoulder, one slender arm outstretched to hail a cab. Without looking at him, she asked, “Do you want to share a taxi to Midtown?”
Startled, he laughed. None of this was like Tilda, except it was. She was perfectly capable of walking right up to a ledge, a cliff, and peering over the edge to assess the landing. He loved surprises, loved pitting himself against the unexpected, loved even more his unpredictable wife. To get a better angle on oncoming traffic, she stepped off the curb between two parked cars. He took a moment, just a moment, to admire the taut swell of her calf in four-inch heels, the way her dress hugged her hips, the play of her shoulder blades, the seemingly vulnerable nape of her neck, exposed by the riotous tumble of chin-length black curls.
“I assume you’re still having lunch with the runners club?” she said over her shoulder. “I’m meeting Colin at Barneys before we leave for London. Do you want to share a cab?”
A cab slowed for her, the availability light flicking off as it braked. Her words were a challenge, a dare, a gauntlet thrown down onto the steaming city pavement. She was exactly the same as the day he’d met her, except she thought they needed to divorce. “Yeah,” he said, and slid into the backseat next to her.
“Sixtieth and Madison,” she said, then sat back and tucked her purse in her lap.
The cab crawled through midday traffic. Daniel stared out the window and thought. Tilda didn’t talk about emotions with him, much less strangers, some vestigial remnant of her English upbringing. In an era of constant oversharing on social media, it took months for Tilda to give him even the thinnest slivers of her story. When she did tell him something, she was ruthlessly honest.
“An impulsive decision to marry isn’t a solid foundation for a marriage,” she said, as if she could read his mind. Maybe she could. “We never really meshed as a couple. Your work and family. The deal is about to close, the situation with Sheba snowballed out of control, and I’m worried about Nan.”
Her grandmother lived in a fishing village in Cornwall, England, where Tilda had lived as a child. Two weeks earlier Nan had stumbled off the ramp leading to the henhouse and broken her ankle. If Tilda hadn’t been in the middle of a business opportunity that could make or break her, she would have been in Cornwall already.
The cab pulled to a stop on the east side of the street. She handed a twenty through the sliding window, while Daniel, seated on the sidewalk side, got out of the cab so she wouldn’t exit into the traffic rushing up Madison. Without thinking about it, he held out his hand; he suspected her taking it was equally a matter of habit. He stayed where he was, trapping her between his body and the cab door, and let her forward momentum bring her right up against his body.
It was far too blatant and possessive for an on-duty FBI agent wearing his gun and his badge and standing on one of the busiest street corners in Midtown Manhattan. He was working the case of the decade; even a verbal reprimand could get him yanked back to investigative support. But this was Tilda, his wife, who said there was nothing between them worth building a marriage on.
Then he kissed her.
His mouth landed a little off center, her lips parting in surprise and then softening, heating under his. Her fingers spasmed as if she would pull away. He neither tightened nor relaxed his grip on her hand, but rather slipped his tongue between her lips to touch hers. Then it happened, a hint of flint and tinder, sparks flaring, the hitch in her breathing as she tilted her head just enough to align their mouths.
With one quick jerk she freed her hand and stepped back, her eyes dark with an anguish that triggered a sense of déjà vu. “Don’t, Daniel. If you really knew me, if you really knew me, the last thing you would have done is schedule an appointment with a therapist.”
She pushed past him onto the sidewalk, and disappeared around the corner. Daniel closed the cab’s door and tapped the roof twice with his fist. As the cab pulled out into traffic, Daniel withdrew his notebook and pen, and took refuge in habit. He made a list.
Risks Tilda Takes
He walked the few blocks to meet the ultramarathon runners for lunch, his mind only half on the discussion about training schedules, nutrition, hydration, and war stories. Instead he thought about the divorce rate for law enforcement officers, which was well above the national average. Just about every cop or agent he knew well enough to swap stories with fell somewhere on the spectrum from marriage counseling, separate rooms, separations, filing for divorce, to actually divorcing. Then, just out of curiosity, he walked back to Barneys, got an iced coffee from the coffee shop across the street, and stood in the shade under the awning of the coffee shop next to Judith Ripka, just in time to watch his wife get into another man’s car.
Colin Wilkinson, Quality Group’s director of North American acquisitions, had spent the last nine months negotiating Tilda to partner with them. The deal agreement sat next to the divorce agreement on their dining room table. Colin aimed the clicker at a Mercedes that cost more than Daniel made in a year. Tilda called him posh. Daniel would have called him slick except for the fact that Colin had the cheerful optimism and manners of a well-trained, well-bred Labrador. Tilda stood on the sidewalk, her hair curling in the humidity, accentuating her cheekbones and her lush mouth. She reached for the door handle of the rear passenger door; when it didn’t open, she shot Colin a glance across the roof of the car. Colin said something Daniel didn’t catch, but Tilda’s smile didn’t light up her eyes.
The lights on the Mercedes flashed, then flashed twice, then the alarm went off. This time Daniel caught Colin’s buggering fuck even over the traffic between them. Daniel took another sip of coffee. Tilda switched her clutch from her left hand to her right. More impatient thumbing at the key fob, the Mercedes’s lights blinked like it was taking fifty thousand volts from a Taser, and finally Colin silenced the alarm and got the doors unlocked. Tilda folded herself into the passenger seat. For a split second, Daniel let himself drink in the pleasure of watching Tilda get into the car, all clean lines and sharp angles. She could stop him dead in his tracks, the bolt of lust paralyzing him as swiftly and effectively as it had the first time he saw her.
Impossibly, unapologetically, effortlessly stylish, his wife. At West Village Stationery she sold exclusive, handmade paper, couture stationery, invitations embossed or engraved. By twenty-eight she had established herself as the trend-setting expert for millennials fascinated by the art of pen and ink. The shopping trip with Colin, scoping out the luxury goods trade, potentially looked incriminating, but there was no sex involved. Daniel knew this for two reasons: Tilda’s cheeks, throat, and collarbone turned a very specific shade of dark pink when she had sex, and her personal code of ethics had no room for anything as cheap as infidelity.
Was that the only thing he knew about her?
Colin managed to start the car and turned on his blinker to merge into traffic, only to have a fast-moving cab slam on its brakes, then begin the requisite honk-showdown. The blinding sunlight slid off the windshield, and for a split second Tilda’s face was visible. She wore an expression of such naked anguish, her enormous gray eyes dark with despair, that Daniel’s thigh muscle clenched to take a step forward and intervene. A jolt of primitive awareness shot up his spine, straightening his vertebrae as he remembered exactly where he’d last seen that look on Tilda’s face.
The taxi swerved around Colin’s Mercedes, freeing room for Colin to merge into traffic. Sunlight flashed off the windshield like a blade, blinding Daniel for a moment. When his pupils relaxed, they were gone. His heart started slowing back into a normal resting rate, and he forced himself to relax, lean back against the building.
The last time he saw that look on Tilda’s face, they were at the Waldorf, the night of her birthday, after he’d given her his gift. It should have been a lovely night, and it was, except for one moment when he’d thought it was a trick of the lighting, the dim pool of soft white light casting shadows across her face, the downturned corners of her wide eyes, the desolate set of her mouth just after he gave her his gift, a Cartier LOVE bracelet, purchased in a rare fit of romantic possessiveness.
Hey. You okay?
I’m fine. It’s lovely, Daniel.
You sure? We can exchange it if you’d rather have the cuff.
No. No, I like it very much.
He’d let it go. Taken her answer on faith. Chalked it up to lighting and the desire on a slow simmer since they sat down, her ankle pressed against his calf during dinner, her gaze heated with promise. He knew how desire could tendril through the pit of your stomach, heating the marrow from your bones. It was who she was, and he loved her that way.
He automatically walked with the lights, avoiding the heavy foot traffic on Fifth Avenue for the quieter stretch of Madison. Anguished look. The divorce papers were sitting on their dining room table, anchored in place by an expensive paperweight that was a wedding present, and a framed screen of two eighteenth-century silk-embroidered robins. The skin at the nape of his neck hummed with awareness, a sensation he’d long ago learned to respect. He didn’t believe in coincidence, or in rescuing damsels in distress. Tilda didn’t need rescuing. She needed someone to stand next to her, toes over the abyss, while she took a good, long look.
He had two problems. The first was obvious. Making an appointment with a marriage counselor was a knee-jerk impulse that proved to be the wrong thing to do. The second was that Tilda thought they were wrong for each other, that six months of marriage proved not lifetime compatibility but fundamental, irreconcilable differences. Which meant he’d misunderstood something.
He hated not understanding something.
The direct hit to his ego landed in his gut. He’d built his reputation as a cop, FBI agent, and a man on taking puzzles apart, piece by piece, datum by datum, and reassembling them so they made sense. But when it came to his marriage, he’d missed something big, something bone-deep, something life changing about Tilda Davies.
That was on him. The end of the marriage wouldn’t be. He needed to think. He pulled out his phone and sent a text to their mutual friend Louise, who came from old New York money, and was the most down-to-earth person he’d ever met.
Can I borrow your terrace tonight?
The reply came almost immediately.
I’d suspect you’re going to propose to Tilda except you two lovebirds already got married. I haven’t forgiven you for eloping, but of course you can borrow the terrace. Will leave key with doorman. Come over anytime. xx L
He needed time, and space, a literal and metaphorical distance from his current life so he could think things through. In order to get answers, he would have to go back to where it all began.
– TWO –
June, 1 year earlier
Oh my, that was a lovely voice, licking at her skin like a cat’s tongue and sending a shiver down her spine. She forced herself not to turn and look for the man who owned that voice. “It’s Tilda,” she said, and tipped back her bottle of beer. Early in her days in the city some wit in awe of her British accent christened her Lady Matilda; she used the nickname in one specific area of her life. But people who really knew her called her Tilda, and while she wasn’t getting her hopes up, a man with a voice like that might be someone she wanted to know.
“Okay. Tilda. How about you come back off the ledge?”
Dull. “I’m fine where I am, thanks.” She looked out over the city. A stiff breeze sent clouds scudding across the full moon, mirroring the unsettled, restless longing inside her and flinging her curls against her cheeks. She needed something new, something exciting, something big.
She needed, and the air was so tempting.
“It is a little loud inside, Tilda.”
The repetition of her name in that slow, rich baritone made her pause. She turned to look at the man balanced on the balls of his feet, within arms reach but not so close he’d startle her off-balance. He wore slim jeans, a blue-and-white checked Oxford, and a dark blue velvet blazer that looked as scrumptious as his voice. The Chinese lanterns strung from Louise’s lattice arbor didn’t quite give away the color of his eyes. His blond hair was cropped close, except for a slightly longer section at the front that was styled back off his forehead.
“I’m not going to jump.”
“I didn’t think you were,” he said. He had a long face with strong bones—cheekbones, forehead, jaw—and a full-lipped mouth that looked like it rarely smiled. She found herself wondering how his smile transformed his face, if it made it foolish, or charming.
“Yes, you did. You’re using my name like I’m holding someone hostage, which, if I’m suicidal, I am. I’m holding myself hostage and am therefore a threat to myself. Using names establishes a bond. I’m smoking, and I’m sitting on a ledge two hundred feet over Park Avenue South, which means I’ve a death wish. I’m drinking, which makes it more likely I’ll go through with it because my inhibitions are lowered. You’re not too close to crowd me but you could reach me if I shifted my weight forward.”
She didn’t pretend to do that. He’d grab her and pull her to safety, and she really wanted to keep sitting on the ledge. Her heart rate was up, and delicious little shocks gathered between her thighs. This was the most arousing thing she’d done in months, and she wasn’t ready to let it go just yet.
“Or if you lost your balance. Which is more likely than you jumping. More people die of stupidity than suicide in this city.”
“I’m not stupid, or suicidal.”
“Prove it,” he said. Despite the smile in his voice, he was deadly serious. She wondered how much further she could push him before he ordered her off the ledge.
“I’m also not very susceptible to childhood taunts turned into tactics to get me off this ledge.”
“I’m out of tactics.”
He sounded amused, not on edge, and his smile rendered his face into something that was charming, but more than that. He was laughing at himself, at her, at the whole situation, very much a point in his favor. She rubbed her chin on her bare shoulder, not bothering to disguise the slow up-and-down look she gave him. He stood under it, let her gaze travel the length of his legs in jeans. Strength harnessed for the purpose of endurance. A distance runner, she’d wager.
She shot him a smile. “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
He sat on the ledge, swung those long, long legs over as he swiveled, then sat up straight. “Je-sus.”
The hair had lifted on his forearms. She took the last drag from her cigarette, then leaned back to stub it out in the ashtray behind her.
“You’re a police officer?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“The blazer and jeans are an effective disguise. You look like a college professor. Or a poet,” she added, smoothing her palm over the velvet at his shoulder. Strength carefully hidden. She liked that.
“Now that you know my official capacity, will you get off the ledge?”
“You’re out here with me, so . . . no.”
“Are you trying to provoke me?”
“I’m not seventeen, nor do I have problems with authority figures.”
“You’re not getting off the ledge.”
He thought about this for a minute, watching a television set flicker in an apartment across the street. Two floors up from the television set, a man swept up a small child bouncing on a bed and blew a raspberry into the boy’s tummy. Everyone lived a public life in Manhattan. “So you’re not suicidal, seventeen, rebellious, stupid, or Lady Matilda.”
“Correct.” She offered him the bottle of beer.
He tipped it up and swallowed, then gave it back. “Then what are you?”
The wind caught her sleeveless top, pressing it to her breasts and belly. Her nipples stood out hard against the silk, and his gaze flicked down, then back up again. “Adventurous,” he said, answering his own question.
“Among other things. An observant man like you can do better than that.”
“Is it the danger? The risk?”
She closed her eyes and inhaled slowly, taking in the smells of the city, exhaust and hot brick and dreams. He smelled like sandalwood and clean male sweat. “How do you know Louise?” she asked, curious to know whether he’d keep the conversation focused on her desire.
He let her divert him. “We went to college together. Her brother is a friend.” He looked into the distance, his eyes flickering from lit window to lit window, letting the words linger in the air. She was so distracted by his resonant voice that it took a moment for the penny to drop. When it did, the emotion that drifted through her was so unfamiliar it took a moment to identify it as disappointment. He’d not come out to get to know her, but rather to get on Lady Matilda’s list.
She provided a quiet, discreet function for people she knew, friends of friends: an introductions service. Despite the presence of a global communications infrastructure in every cell phone, people still longed for and yet were increasingly unprepared for face-to-face connections. The human brain still responded to things like eye contact, a smile, a stance, a laugh. If you wanted to meet a specific kind of person, one with similar tastes and interests, she would help connect you. Sometimes people wanted to meet someone to discuss the classics, in Latin. Sometimes the desires were more elaborate, more secretive, more sexual. She didn’t filter, didn’t judge, and more important, she didn’t advertise. The service was for friends, and friends of friends, intimate, discreet, exclusive, and effective. Couture stationery was her labor of love, but connecting people with unusual desires was her passion, her specialty. Given enough time, she managed to match most people who ended up on her list.
Finding a place on her list wasn’t without work, however. You must own what you wanted and lacked, write it down in your own hand, on paper, and put it in the mail. There was no immediate gratification of email, or worse, a text; no Dutch courage, only clear-eyed desire faced willingly. She set aside her disappointment and considered him. He certainly didn’t lack courage, and his eyes were confident, unclouded.
Whatever he wanted, whatever he’d ask for, she had no doubt she had a name on her list for him. “There’s a process—” She cocked her head. “I don’t know your name.”
“Daniel, there’s a process. I give you a card with a post-office box address on it. When you’re ready, you mail me a handwritten letter explaining what you want. I do my best to match you with an individual with like needs. Sometimes a need cannot be met. Sometimes writing out what you long for is enough to satisfy the longing. The process can take hours, or months, but I will succeed. Would you like my card?”
“Yes,” he said. No hesitation, no doubt. “Now can we get off this ledge?”
The thrill she’d felt only minutes before was gone, or perhaps had changed, gotten wrapped up in Daniel’s voice, the heat steaming from his body to hers. “Yes,” she said, and ruthlessly stamped down the lingering edge of disappointment. The people on her list belonged to each other. She didn’t poach from them.
In seconds his feet were back on the terra firma of the rooftop garden. Then he extended his hand to her. She pulled her feet under her hips and stood, leaning back to counterbalance over the very precipice.
His grip around her waist was like iron, like he’d hooked her out of the sky, and for a long moment the length of her body pressed against his. The velvet lapels under her hands felt as delicious as she’d anticipated. His fingers flexed against her waist, and he exhaled slowly, releasing the tension only when she was safe. She walked over to her purse, resting on Louise’s cafe table, pulled a card from the pocket, and offered it to him. He took it, skimmed the words, turned it over, and then slid it into his back pocket.
“Don’t thank me yet. I haven’t done anything for you.” But she would. She was good at it, a small victory won each time two like-minded people found a soul mate in the electronic chaos of the twenty-first century.
He tipped his head toward the ledge. “I was thanking you for the most exciting thing I’ve done in weeks.”
“I find that hard to believe. You’re a police officer.”
“Believe it,” he said, and flashed her a smile. “I work white-collar crime with the FBI.”
Somehow knowing that made it easier to ignore the disappointment. Her name wasn’t on her list. Daniel was a friend of Louise’s, and she would do her best to match him up with someone who was right for him. “I’ll be in touch. Excuse me, please,” she said, and went back to the party.
Later in the week a handwritten note appeared in her mail. The return address was Brooklyn, and the handwriting the square, blocky print of a man who fills out reports comprised of little boxes for name, address, offense, summons to appear in court. In front of her rested two brown leather card files, one for requests received, the other for matches made. She slit the end of the envelope and tugged out the folded note card, preparing to read Daniel’s request and file it until she could match him.
I’d like to take you to dinner.
His phone number was printed neatly beneath his name. She picked up her phone from her desk and thumbed in the digits.
Men the world over answered the phone with their last names, something that struck her as quintessentially British, until she moved to New York. “It’s Tilda.”
The sound of voices diminished, then a door closed.
“I thought Louise sent you to me because you needed a connection.”
“No. I saw you sit on the ledge and thought I’d . . . get acquainted.”
Or save her. A knight in a sumptuous blue velvet blazer. Charming, but the last thing she needed. “Why didn’t you simply ask me out while we were on the roof?” she asked, puzzled.
“Because you started talking about the process, and I liked the idea of sending you a letter,” he said. His voice was slightly amused. “Are you going to keep me hanging by writing me back, or will you give me an answer now?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Yes, you’ll keep me hanging?”
“Yes, you’ll give me an answer now?”
“And your answer?”
She thought about his broad shoulders, his easy manner, his wide smile, the way heat flickered through her when his arm locked around her waist, all the ways she could ruin someone like him. She thought about that luscious voice, and mentally calculated the odds a nice, white-collar crime specialist like him would know how to use it during sex. “No. Thank you for the invitation,” she said gently, and disconnected the call.
– THREE –
I want to go down on you.
The text banner glowed against Tilda’s screen background. Without breaking stride in the conversation with a man purchasing a gift for a client, she pushed the power button to deactivate the screen and slid her phone onto the shelf under the counter.
“The paper is made from one hundred percent cotton, of course,” she said, “and the recipient’s name or initials can be added by engraving, thermography, or letterpress.” She held out options for each so he could feel the difference. Quality died even more slowly than tradition, and in the high-end goods market shopped by both old blue bloods and new money, nothing was more traditional and elegant than paper. Calling cards. Business cards. Personalized notecards. Thank-you notes. Invitations to events ranging from a quiet dinner to a ball. In the last year a placement in InStyle’s accessories section led to an inclusion in O magazine’sFavorite Things spread. For millennials with money, she’d become an arbiter of taste with a caliber of luxury normally reserved for royalty.
Her phone lit up again.
Correction: I want to tie you to the bed and go down on you until you can’t talk.
This time Tilda took the split second necessary to find out who was sexting her.
“What size do you recommend?” the customer asked, thankfully oblivious to the heat rising in Tilda’s cheeks at the pornographic texts appearing on her screen.
“Cards are a traditional and very safe choice, but some men prefer what’s called a social sheet,” she said. “He’ll have more room to write a note, and it’s folded then inserted into the envelope. I suggest ordering a selection with his monogram or name, then extra plain sheets for longer notes.”
Her phone vibrated again. Tilda ignored it, because there was clearly some mistake. Daniel Logan would no sooner sext her than voluntarily sit down on a ledge twenty-two stories over the city streets.
Except, he’d done exactly that. When the client made his selection, she compiled the order on her tablet, emailed him a receipt, and tidied the sample books. Her assistant, Penny, was engrossed with a bride across the store, but no one else needed her attention. She closed the door to her office and scrolled through what she’d missed on the phone.
Or fuck you. You won’t know which you want more, but you’ll be begging.
Gobsmacked, she stared at the screen. Without her permission her brain thoughtfully provided images: Daniel’s head, light glinting in his sun-streaked hair, his face buried between her thighs. Her hands, restrained by . . . velvet bands, she decided. Something elegant, silky, unbreakable.
She shifted in her seat.
Several weeks had passed since their phone conversation, so he must be texting his current lover. That was the only explanation. Also, they were completely unexpected, shockingly blatant foreplay, not meant for her. If it were, he would have prefaced the initial text with something apologetic. I know I shouldn’t do this, but . . . I can’t stop thinking about you. . . . Don’t be angry with me. . . . Not the bare, explicit, I want to go down on you.
I can’t stop thinking about it. You’ll be salty and damp and wound up after a long day. You’ll taste like frustration and woman.
Clearly, she’d underestimated Daniel Logan. Who was he dating now? He’d not asked her for another connection, and she’d not given him any names.
Touch yourself for me. Now.
Impossible. All of this was impossible. But she could clamp her thighs together more tightly, flex the muscles, feel the faint, resonant pulses of desire. She should stop this. He was texting the wrong woman, probably someone whose number was next to hers in his phone.
Are you touching yourself? I’m hard thinking about that. Sitting at my desk, head down in paperwork, thinking about you.
That was a compelling image in itself, Daniel pretending to work while thinking about sex. An FBI agent would wear a suit, not a uniform; factoring in his blue velvet blazer, she came up with a dark navy suit, a slim cut, with a formfitting Oxford underneath, a subtle tie.
But he wasn’t thinking about sex with her. Couldn’t be.
Is your clit hard? Slick? I can’t wait to watch you come.
Disappointment deflated her lungs. Definitely someone else. He’d never seen her get herself off, something she’d done far too often lately. Heat flickered through her pussy. All work and no play was making Tilda edgy and restless. She’d turned him down because every instinct she had told her he’d want something she couldn’t give him.
When we’re alone, I’ll do it nice and slow, until you’re moaning. But do it fast, now. Don’t want you getting in trouble at work.
She couldn’t get in trouble at work. She was the boss, this was her shop, the door closed on the outside world. She could hike her skirt up, wriggle her panties down, and rub off to these texts. Knowing these texts were meant for someone else should have jolted her back to reality. Instead, the vaguely voyeuristic feel added another layer to the erotic tension crackling in the air. This was a peek into a completely different side of Daniel than the man who had asked her to dinner.
God, a firm command. Who exactly was this man?
Save that for me. When I spread your legs and lick you, I want to taste how desperate you are.
She began composing the text she’d known all along she’d have to send.
Daniel, you’re texting Tilda Davies. I’ll delete this—
Another bubble appeared.
I can’t work like this. I’m going to take care of this.
Backspacebackspacebackspace. Face-to-face was the only way to do this, because she had to see his face when he realized what he’d done. She had to see his face and know if she’d made a mistake, refusing to go on a date with him. A trick of the moonlight made him look more innocent than he was.
She picked up her clutch and opened the door. Penny glanced over at her, rocking back on the four-inch-heeled ankle boots that lifted her to five feet two. In her four-inch heels Tilda stood five eleven, and felt like a Great Dane next to Penny’s teacup Yorkie size. “Can I redo the front windows?” Penny asked.
“Absolutely,” Tilda said. She did the business side and the product selection but had no flair for creative design, so she hired Penny, straight out of Parsons and a seemingly endless fount of creative window displays. “I’m going out for a coffee,” she said. “Can I bring you back anything?”
“A latte,” Penny said. “Extra shots.”
She hailed a cab and directed the driver to Federal Plaza. “Everything okay, miss?” the cabbie asked.
“Fine,” she said. Just the unexpected from a man she’d written off.
She took the stairs to the front doors, and asked the uniformed officer staffing the front desk for Agent Daniel Logan.
“He expecting you, ma’am?”
“No,” she said, and left it at that.
The officer rang through, then said, “Tilda Davies is downstairs.”
Daniel walked out of the elevator, into the lobby, finishing a conversation with two individuals in jackets and suits. He made eye contact with Tilda and beckoned her to come with him without halting the conversation. Intrigued by the difference in his demeanor, she waited quietly by his side while he finished issuing instructions. Then he put his hand under her elbow and guided her into the elevator, then through open desks to an office at the back of the room, where he closed the door. He braced his bum against the edge of his desk, crossed his legs at the ankle, folded his arms, and said, “What can I do for you, not–Lady Matilda?”
She’d been right about everything from the color of his suit to the subtlety of his tie, and now she could add a dark brown leather belt and matching brown wingtips to the ensemble. The wave in his hair was tamed to lie flat above his forehead, but held furrows, as if he’d been shoving his fingers through it. She held out her phone, the bubble announcing that he was going to take care of his arousal. “You’ve been texting the wrong woman.”
He didn’t even look at the screen, just kept his gaze focused on her. “No, I haven’t,” he said. “The old-fashioned method of asking you out didn’t work. I took a different tack.”
She stared at him. He looked different at work, in his suit and tie, less open, less likely to smile. Like he was the one sitting on a ledge, inviting her to join him.
“Did you come?” he asked, without a hint of modesty or embarrassment. As if it were perfectly reasonable for him to sext her in the middle of the day, for them to have this conversation in his office with other FBI agents working outside.
You told me not to hovered on the tip of her tongue, but what she said was, “I was in the middle of a consultation with a client.”
“I’ll take that as a no. Did it make you hot?”
She flicked him a glance. “What do you think?”
He bent forward and put his lips close to her ear. “I think it did. Even better, I think it made you curious.”
A shiver coursed down her spine.
“Would you do it now?”
“Get off while I watch.”
She had been wrong, so very, very wrong. He knew exactly what to do with his voice. “We’re in your office, which has rather large glass windows.”
“And you were sitting on a ledge two hundred feet above the street. You were shaking so I thought you were cold, or afraid. Then I thought it was the adrenaline. I was wrong. It was desire,” he said, looking away from her as he spoke. From the outside this looked like . . . well, maybe it looked like he was talking to her about a case. Maybe it looked like his girlfriend dropped by for a visit.
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“If I did, I wouldn’t have texted you. No,” he added, cutting her off. “I don’t have a girlfriend. The last woman I asked out turned me down flat. Can you do it?”
“Why would you think I can?”
He shot her a grin full of mischief and a rather dark amusement. “You like risk. Based on the way you’re looking at me, you’re no more satisfied than you were a couple of weeks ago. Come on,” he said, lowering his voice, just enough to send goose bumps up her arms. “Show me what you can do.”
She crossed her legs. “Talk to me,” she said quietly, then activated the screen on her mobile. From the outside, she hoped it would look like she was scanning her phone while he talked. She closed her eyes.
“Because I like your voice.”
He chuckled, low and deep. “Do you have any idea how hot you were on that ledge? I should have yanked you back onto the patio. I should have arrested you for public endangerment, made up some law. But you were glowing in the moonlight. I could see your nipples under your top, see the flush on your cheeks. The moon was as bright as a streetlight up there. You’d been biting your lips, too. I wanted to do that. I took one look at your mouth, and I got so hard.”
She exhaled soft and slow, rhythmically clenching the muscles of her thighs. Her lace panties were caught up against her clit, and the pressure and shift of the lace provided a tantalizing rough edge to the flex and release. Oh, yes. “Oh, I do love being wrong,” she said with a laughing gasp.
“Waiting made it worse,” he said. “I made another mistake with the letter I sent you. I backed off, went with something too gentle, too traditional, I want to take you to dinner. Something any idiot would say.”
“What did you start with?”
Her voice was low, not breathy, almost inaudible. The pressure coiled behind her clit, arousing the nerves in her sex, and she closed her eyes, the better to see what he described.
He hesitated, then said, “I want to get you in my bed, naked and defenseless, then take you apart. I want to find the rhythm that draws you under, the angle that layers pleasure until you can’t breathe under the weight.”
She could imagine it, white sheets, blank like paper, his body caging hers between arms and legs, shades drawn against the afternoon sunlight and the ever-present city noise, her body bared in his bed, tangled with his, the slick stretch as he slid inside. The nerves in her vagina ached in anticipation. She added a subtle swivel to her hips, the lace tugging at her clit until she was close, so close, so fucking, fucking close.
“Sounds like sex to me,” she murmured.
He bent closer. She could smell him rather than see him, the scent of man and sweat and skin and the city. “It’s not sex, Tilda. I want to white out your thoughts, turn your muscles to jelly and your bones to light. I want to taste your come, my come, our sweat. It’s annihilation. That’s what I want to do to you.”
She came, silent, restraining her shudders to abbreviated jerks of shoulders and hips, her muscles clenching around nothing, nothing, the pleasure centers in her brain glowing white-hot. After a long moment, her muscles relaxed and she opened her eyes.
He was watching her, jaw taut, expression feral. “You look like you want to hoist me onto your desk and have your way with me.”
“Fuck you,” he said. “Hard and fast. Not enough time to annihilate you.”
Her heart gradually slowed. She inhaled shakily, exhaled more smoothly, inhaled again. “What a shame,” she said.
“You’d do it, wouldn’t you?”
An aftershock tumbled through her. “You’d lose your job,” she said. “I’d be arrested, which isn’t the adrenaline rush I crave.”
“A limit. I wasn’t sure you had them.”
She rose, steady on her heels. “I don’t date,” she explained. “That’s my limit, and why I turned you down.”
His brows drew together. “You don’t date. Are you in a relationship?”
“No. I just don’t like dating.”
“You don’t like dating.”
“It’s prelude to sex. I know whether or not I want to have sex with someone. Dinner and a conversation beforehand aren’t necessary, and are frequently counterproductive.”
This time his eyebrows shot up. “Okay. So you hook up.”
“Is that what you’d call what we just did?”
He thought before he spoke, a point to his advantage. “No.”
“What I do is what we just did.”
“Take a risk. A dare. A challenge.”
“Exactly,” she said, and slid her phone into the pocket of her jacket.
“Hmm,” he said, soft and considering.
“I have to get back to the shop. I told my assistant I’d bring her a latte”—she checked her watch—“thirty-five minutes ago. Not even Starbucks is that slow.”
“I want to see you again.”
She stopped with her hand on the doorknob, and considered him. He waited, silent, unmoving. Through all of that, he hadn’t moved, his arms still folded across his chest, his legs still crossed at the ankles. If he was aroused by what they’d just done, he kept it contained. She remembered his first impulse, the one he revised. She was sure he’d started with something sexual, not a decorous dinner invitation. They’d had a couple of discarded drafts, but hit their stride with his texts.
She opened her clutch and withdrew a silver card case, then a business card. Her name was engraved on one side in Garamond. The other side was blank. On it she wrote her address, then held it out to him.
“I’m having drinks with a friend,” she said as he took it, “so I won’t be home until after nine.”
He traced the edges of the card, then looked at her. “You’re serious.”
“About sex? Always.” She opened the door to his office. “Have a pleasant day, Agent Logan.”
– FOUR –
Did that just happen? Did that really just happen?
Turns out his second experience of Tilda Davies in the flesh was no less of a kick to the head than the first. Daniel was supposed to escort visitors back to the reception desk when they left. The brass frowned on unescorted civilians wandering through the office, but he couldn’t move. His feet were nailed to the floor, his butt glued to his desk while his body battled a dozen conflicting urges. Getting off was priority number one. Not happening. Not with Tilda Davies walking down the rows of cubes like it was a runway. Her legs were steady, her shoulders straight, her neck exposed. She didn’t look back, didn’t throw him a teasing bone or a coy bone or a sultry come-over-and-fuck-me-soon bone. She swept through the door a dumbfounded agent held open for her, and disappeared.
If he didn’t have her card in his hand, he wouldn’t believe what just happened. Her card. Thick, made of stiff paper slightly rough to the touch, with just her name in bold, clear letters. No address, no phone number, no job title. Matilda Davies, with her address handwritten on the back. She’d pulled out a pricey pen to write it down. He automatically registered the cross streets. Perry Street between Bleecker and Hudson. West Village. Nice. What passed for quaint residential in Manhattan.
Who did that? Who still handed out cards like they were in The Age of Innocence? Everyone their age just pulled out a phone and entered a number into the contacts, then sent a text to establish the connection. Letters and personal cards, handwritten in ink, suggested Tilda wanted a more permanent connection than pixels on a screen forming a number. She had a cell phone, but she gave him a card. Not a business card for West Village Stationery. A Tilda card. He had her cell phone number, and now her address. It felt like a victory, and not a small one, either.
Outside the glass, a couple of agents clustered in a group around a desk turned to look at him, then mouthed, Lunch in ten? Daniel pulled himself together and picked up his phone. He had voice mail. He always had voice mail. New York City was the hub of the financial world, leaving more than enough crime for the FBI, the SEC, the DOJ, Treasury, and the NYPD to share among them.
Excerpted from "The List"
Copyright © 2015 Anne Calhoun.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the novels of Anne Calhoun
“Uncommonly good storytelling.”—Beth Kery, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author
“Scintillating sexual chemistry.”—Lauren Dane, New York Times bestselling author
“Calhoun’s romances define the erotic.”—Alison Kent, national bestselling author
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3.5 stars--THE LIST is a contemporary, adult storyline that follows a year in the life of FBI agent Daniel Logan and stationery shop owner Matilda Davies. THE LIST is a story of romance, learning to love, and forgiving oneself for the sins of the past. Told from third person point of view, alternating between the present and the recent past, THE LIST focuses on the unexpected and unlikely relationship between Tilda and Daniel, and Tilda’s need to hold on to the past. Tilda is a bit of a matchmaker whose successful unions have left a pleasant but envious mark upon our heroine’s soul. Tilda is an enigma to others and to herself. Her relationship with Daniel is quick to develop; she is a sexually passionate woman yet comes across uncaring, withdrawn, self absorbed and without emotion; and she is vulnerable to her past. Her bond with Daniel is tentative and fragile; her need to succeed and be noticed is all encompassing. Saying that, her likability as a heroine is provisional upon the outcome of the story-I found it difficult to understand Daniel’s attraction and connection to Matilda Davies. The relationship between our leading couple is highly sexual, provocative and intense but herein lies the issue-Daniel and Tilda have nothing in common but a deep desire to be needed and belong. Their love story is often painful, intimate and moving but is built upon a shaky foundation-a happily ever after is not always a guarantee. Throughout the novel I found myself at odds with my enjoyment due to the heroine’s underwhelming and less than welcoming persona; the narrative was, at time, unusually dry and subdued, and I, once again, blame the heroine’s lack of empathy and emotional range throughout much of the story. Tilda hides behind a façade; a mask of her own making but in doing so hides away from herself. Daniel, on the other hand, is an amazing man who supports and nurtures Tilda through her numerous levels of self absorption and emotional withdrawal-it is almost a codependent relationship. Tilda outwardly appears strong and self assured but inside something is missing and the little girl, she once was, is still waiting for recognition and love. THE LIST is an interesting and well written storyline but I think it fell short in its’ ability to draw me in. Perhaps it was the author’s writing style or the method used to convey the overall mood. If there was ever a metaphor for their relationship-Daniel was first introduced to Tilda as they sat upon a ledge, twenty one stories above the ground; on the precipice of life and death; the past, the present, and the future; on the edge of an abyss going nowhere-fast.
This touching love story treats us to the romance between Daniel and Tilda. Tilda is a matchmaker of sorts, with her keen eye and easy movement in several social circles she makes lists of what she sees and people know they can come to her to find a match for whatever they might be seeking. Daniel comes to her seeking only Tilda herself, something she's never thought to give before, never believing herself worthy of being on her own prized list. Can Daniel convince her otherwise? There is so much to love about this story. Daniel has got to be one of the sweetest yet sexiest men out there, meeting Tilda and deciding that she is the one for him. He woos her not with tender words, but with sex, a language that Tilda speaks fluently and well. Their love scenes range from erotic to tender but are filled with emotion as Daniel falls in love with Tilda and Tilda tries to reciprocate the feeling. Only Tilda doesn't know how to be in a relationship that means more than just sex and her fear of the unknown puts the tension into the story as the relationship progresses. She is hiding something and as her façade of happiness starts to crack Daniel finds himself with a puzzle to solve just like the ones where he works as an FBI agent. Along with the romance, I really enjoyed the descriptiveness of Tilda's work with stationary and her attraction to paper based art. It added an interesting dimension to the tale, in a way showcasing how 2 dimensional Tilda wants to appear to the outside world, as a happy well adjusted woman when in reality she has been scraped raw just like the art she is drawn to. I loved how Daniel refused to give up on Tilda and the happy ending they share was beautiful to see (I may have wiped away a few tears). It was an absolute delight to read. 5 stars for this wonderful love story.