Главная Skin of the Night
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brb crying cause I never thought this MASTERPIECE would be available here tysfm zlib !! CLAIRE D BENNET YOU ARE A GOD
16 May 2021 (22:04)
I am SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO HAPPPPY RN
18 May 2021 (01:20)
U DONT UNDERSTAND HOW FKING EXITED I AM THAT THIS BOOK IS HERE
20 May 2021 (12:41)
I COULD CRY!! I'VE BEEN DYING TO GET MY HANDS ON THIS
04 June 2021 (16:38)
19 July 2021 (09:43)
Will you upload into the night too ??
26 July 2021 (20:50)
Please upload into the night
10 August 2021 (14:03)
someone please upload into the night
31 August 2021 (05:01)
Ayman brought me here!!
05 January 2022 (21:36)
I’m sorry but this was one of the worst books I’ve ever read. Like Will’s obsession with Cara was at Joe Goldberg’s level, and not even hot.
07 January 2022 (02:28)
this would be a horror story if romance wasn't in it. like will's povs are alarming; he is manipulative, hypocritical, and obsessive (not in the good way). decent plot, but very unsettling.
13 January 2022 (02:54)
I love that she edited the original version that was on wattpad. Now it's less of a cringe wattpad book with the same plots. I'm glad the female protagonist is an ambitious and fierce lady but pleaseeeee where is the third book biko!
17 January 2022 (00:38)
i’d like to start off with what i liked ab the book, which is the first few chapters. however, after those first few chapters it all goes down hill. honestly so infuriating. the solutions are so simple, but she just make it complicated with her “logic over feelings” way of being. don’t even get me started on the ML, very much joe from you (as the other commentator posted). overall, it just made me stressssed 4/10
26 January 2022 (15:27)
Never thought I'd find this book here!!!so excited ??
16 June 2022 (09:31)
First published by Claire D. Bennett 2021 Copyright © 2021 by Claire D. Bennett All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise without written permission from the publisher. It is illegal to copy this book, post it to a website, or distribute it by any other means without permission. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. Claire D. Bennett asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. Claire D. Bennett has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party Internet Websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such Websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. Designations used by companies to distinguish their products are often claimed as trademarks. All brand names and product names used in this book and on its cover are trade names, service marks, trademarks and registered trademarks of their respective owners. The publishers and the book are not associated with any product or vendor mentioned in this book. None of the companies referenced within the book have endorsed the book. First edition Ebook ISBN: 9788269235937 Paperback ISBN: 9788269235906 Editing by Natalie Bolderston Artwork by Caracolla https://clairedbennett.com Instagram: @claired.bennett Chapters 1. GOOD TERMS 2. THAT’S MORE LIKE IT 3. WON’T YOU COME IN? 4. SATISFIED? 5. AGAINST YOUR BETTER JUDGMENT 6. SOUNDS LIKE YOUR TYPE 7. HAVE WE MET? 8. MOMENTARY LOVER 9. THE WAY OF THE WORLD 10. HUNT OF A LIFETIME 11. FRIENDS 12. LIVERPOOL’S IN THE LEAD 13. DEEP SEA 14. BITS AND PIECES 15. IF YOU DON’T PLAY, YOU’LL NEVER W; IN 16. SMOOTH, BUT POWERFUL, JUST LIKE YOU 17. CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT 18. HAVE YOU EVER 19. IN MISERY 20. ALL THE BEST ONES ARE 21. JUST GIVE IT A THOUGHT 22. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN 23. SWEET DREAMS 24. WEAPON 25. NAIL IN THE COFFIN 26. GUILTY AS CHARGED 27. SKIN OF THE NIGHT 28. I LIKE THIS 29. STRONG POINT 30. INTO THE NIGHT A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE COVER SEQUEL: INTO THE NIGHT To C., for your support, and so much more. I know we’re cool. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS In light of how you will always come first in my life (in all areas apart from one), I would first and foremost like to give a special thanks to you, A., my beloved boyfriend, for your continuous and invaluable support, and for being willing to wake up in the middle of the night to listen to my, supposedly, pressing ideas only so that I might – finally – be able to find sleep myself. Health and fitness freak that you are, I know how precious those eight hours of sleep are to you, so I truly don’t take it for granted. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. I am also so grateful to you, my dear family members, who are not allowed to read this series for obvious reasons. You’ll get a better acknowledgement in the next instalment. When it comes to you, my dear readers, words fall short. I am so grateful to you for joining and supporting me on this journey, some of you since the very beginning, from the very first chapter I uploaded of Skin of the Night. In terms of writing, I would be nowhere without you guys. You’re the ones who showed me that I can actually do this – if not for me, then for you. Your feedback has been invaluable and has taught me so much. I’d also like to thank you for your kindness towards each other. Truly, I’m astounded by what a constructive and positive community we are. You are all so kind, not just to me, but to each other – your debates in the comment sections have always been remarkably constructive and respectful. Instead of attacking each other, you try to understand each other’s perspective, and that’s been such a moving thing to witness. I know Will & Cara have a knack for lighting the fuse and starting debates in the comments, but I am so impressed with how you’ve handled them. I really am so humbled by your attention and support, and most of all by your patience. It’s been a bumpy ride, but finally, I have taken the necessary steps to give you my characters once and for all. Now, they are yours to keep, for as long as you’ll have them. I love you all so much. I am extremely honoured to have you as my readers. Thank you, author Darla Cassic, for inspiring and helping me in more ways than one. You are an incredible writer in your own right, and I cannot wait to see where your works will take you in the future. You have quickly become my closest confidante in bringing The Night series to life. I am so humbled and grateful for your astute feedback and insights (as well as humour), but most of all, I am grateful for your friendship. While it bloomed under peculiar and unexpected circumstances, getting to know you has been an intense and rewarding experience. You are such a precious individual, and I am so glad to have stumbled upon you (as well as your Romance works). I cannot wait to continue completing each other’s sentences for years to come, and I promise I’ll stop converting you into a nocturnal creature like myself. That office is looking more and more promising, though. (Check out https://darlacassic.com to find out where you can read Darla’s books.) To you, Natalie Bolderston, I want to give a massive thanks for bringing Skin of the Night to the next level. You’ve helped me make it the best version it could ever be. Your talent with words is outstanding, and I am so glad you wanted to bless my work with it. You are such a sweet soul, and it’s been an honour to work with you. Thanks for taking part in bringing this dream of mine to life. There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness. – Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche April 12th, 2019 1 GOOD TERMS “It should be here,” I told Olivia as I turned left, into a small alley, to find the secluded bar. Looking up, I saw a white and gold sign that was shaped like a hexagonal prism, though cut in half, which overhung a green door. Disrepute, it said. It was a members’ club, but I was aware it welcomed walk-ins. Still, to be on the safe side, I had booked a table a few days in advance. When I halted in front of the entrance, Olivia and I were greeted by a polite doorman who opened the door for us. Walking in, we journeyed down a narrow staircase leading into an underground cavern with a barrel-vaulted ceiling. Since it was still relatively early on a Friday night, there weren’t that many people here yet. Our arrival attracted a few glances, but none of them lingered. I considered that to be a positive thing, as it meant we didn’t stand out. After we had stored our coats in the cloakroom, the staff showed us to our table and handed us the cocktail menu. Sinking onto the settee, I gazed around. The interior was reminiscent of the sixties, with plush colours and lots of velvet furniture. Comfortable and electronic lounge music played in the background. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the average age of the clientele was a little older than we were used to. Most of the people present looked like they were well-established men and women in their thirties and forties, so I doubted that students frequently went here. Taking a seat beside me, Olivia wrinkled her small nose. Her plump, light pink lips formed an uncertain line. “Was this the place Jason recommended?” She was referring to the man I considered to be my very best friend, and who had – just a few days ago – also become my flatmate. “Yes.” She leaned closer to murmur, “It’s very posh, isn’t it?” “You sound surprised.” “Well, I’m worried I’ll stand out.” I studied her from head to toe. In her deep red dress, Olivia resembled a magnificent rose. She was truly a gorgeous young woman. If anything would make her stand out, it was her beauty, and that alone. “I wouldn’t worry if I were you. You definitely look like you belong.” A heartfelt smile spread across her face. “Really?” “Absolutely. You look stunning.” Touched by my compliment, she placed her hand on her ample bosom. “Thank you, Cara,” she said, “but so do you.” I shrugged and reached for the deep green menu on the small table in front of us. The velvet material was adorned with the letters D.R.P. in gold. “Should we have a look at the menu?” Olivia scanned our surroundings once more before she leaned closer again. “Well, are you absolutely sure that lawyers frequent this place?” “Judging by the look of it, I’m positive.” “It’s just that I’d hate to waste my time here if it isn’t the case.” “Well, this was Jason’s recommendation, and since his father established a law firm, I took his word for it. Mentioned something about his brother favouring this place as well, and he’s a solicitor, too, from what I’ve gathered.” I had yet to meet a single one of Jason’s family members. Since he no longer lived with them, the opportunity simply hadn’t presented itself yet. I was vaguely aware that they were filthy rich, thanks to Jason’s father being the founder of Day & Night LLP – a firm offering legal services – and that they were a busy bunch, since each individual had a demanding job that took up most of their time. But that was as far as my knowledge about them went. In fact, aside from his father, who was called John, I didn’t even remember their names. However, now that I had secured a vacation scheme at Day & Night to be completed over the summer, and had moved into Jason’s flat in Notting Hill, that reality was about to change. Eager to meet the new tenant and upcoming trainee, his father had already invited me for dinner on Sunday two weeks from now, and I was sincerely looking forward to it. As I returned from my thoughts, I saw that Olivia was on the fence, so I continued, “If you’re having second thoughts, we can always find a new place, but perhaps we should give this one a chance first?” She brushed a lock of her angelically blonde hair behind her ear while she continued to assess our sumptuous surroundings. Since her hesitation was blatant, I sighed. Olivia could be quite impossible to deal with. If she didn’t get her way, she transformed into a whiny brat that I couldn’t be bothered to babysit. It didn’t help that I was already beginning to suffer from a guilty conscience at the constant thought of my neglected coursework. Seeing as I was a law student in my third year at UCL, it was not a matter that I took lightly. Besides, my reasons for being here were purely selfless. I wasn’t the one that had wanted to go out tonight. She was. So, if she was going to be a pain in the arse, I’d leave her to prowl on her own. However, I had already warned her of said fact, so she had been surprisingly compliant today. Upon hearing my sigh, Olivia returned her attention to me. “Fine. Let’s give it a chance.” I released a groan. “Took you long enough.” “Yeah, sorry. It’s just been so long since we’ve had a girls’ night out that I want everything to be perfect.” My lips twisted with amusement. “Like you’re actually here to spend quality time with me,” I replied with a note of sarcasm. “Hey, I’m here for that, too,” she argued. “It’s just that, ever since I broke up with Colin, I haven’t had sex.” I couldn’t help grinning. “What – so you’ve had a dry spell for three months? Poor you.” Three months without sex? I’d be going insane. No wonder she had been so eager about this night. She gave me a scowl. “Yeah, well, unlike you, I haven’t got a fuck friend, Cara. I need to satisfy my libido somehow.” “Vibrator not doing the job?” “Not even close. I need a man.” “And preferably one with a heavy wallet at that.” I couldn’t help myself. A chortle escaped her upon my playful remark. “Hey, you know I’m not like that. I just thought it would be nice to find a lawyer, since I’m a law student and all that. We’d have something in common.” “Aside from sexual desperation, you mean.” She slapped my arm, gently. “Stop teasing me.” “Sorry, love. I couldn’t help myself.” I released a sadistic laugh. “Anyway, we’re in the right place, then.” I shook my head. “I still don’t understand how you managed to persuade me into joining this.” Olivia snorted. “Cara, even though you may come across as aloof, you’ve actually got a fairly warm and large heart in there – that’s how I managed to persuade you. A heartbroken best friend isn’t something you have the capacity to ignore.” “Lesser of two evils, perhaps.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” she replied, bewildered. I smirked. “Perhaps tending to your needs is my way of making you shut up sooner.” Olivia scoffed. “If that’s your attitude, you’ll make a rubbish parent.” Humoured, I allowed my eyes to wander around the space. “I suppose it’s a good thing I don’t want children, then.” Did I want children? I’d always said I didn’t, but Mum always told me that the right man would change my mind. Because I was one for keeping an open mind, I didn’t argue with her on that. She had wisdom in her years that I could only dream of. My perspective today was no guarantee of tomorrow’s. “Have you settled into your new flat yet?” Olivia asked. Steering my attention back to her, I saw that her eyes were the ones wandering now, and it amused me. She surely wasn’t wasting her time locating a target, and I appreciated that. As soon as she sealed the deal with someone, I’d be heading home. “Not yet. I’ve been so busy with coursework that I’ve hardly had time to unpack just the essentials. I mean, I had to search for an entire hour before I found the dress that I’m wearing tonight.” I gazed down at the purple material. It was my favourite cocktail dress because it clung to my slim and curvaceous figure like glue. In it, I felt opulent. I continued, “But I’ve booked a date with Jason tomorrow to finish unpacking.” Jason and I had met at a pub three years ago, where a live band had been performing songs by Arctic Monkeys, which was among my favourite bands. Our encounter had been perfectly coincidental and, in retrospect, rather comical. I had been returning from the bar with a new round of drinks for my younger sister Phoebe and myself when a drunken idiot had bumped into me, and the impact had made me spill the pints I was holding over Jason, who had been walking past me just then. I had been mortified, but thankfully, Jason hadn’t failed to notice that it hadn’t been my fault. After telling off the lad that had bumped into me, he had offered to buy me a new round. I’d been so charmed by him at that moment that I had struck up a conversation with him, and soon enough, I’d learnt that he also studied at UCL, although he wasn’t on my course. Instead, he was about to finish his first year of studying medicine back then. After a few minutes of effortless and invigorating conversation, I had invited him to join my sister and me. Since he was there with a couple of mates, he brought them along, and ever since that fateful moment, we had formed an irreplaceable and platonic friendship. These days, he was much like an elder brother to me. I’d always wanted a brother, even if I did adore my sister Phoebe. So, when Jason’s previous flatmate had decided to move in with his girlfriend instead, Jason had asked me to take his place, and I hadn’t hesitated to accept. The memory made me smile to myself. I was still wearing it when I eventually lifted my eyes to regard Olivia again, but it faded as soon as I recognised the look on her face. Already? Looking in the direction of her gaze, I saw the profiles of two men seated by the bar, and since they were frowning rather angrily at one another while they spoke, they looked to be in a heated debate about something. The next thing I noticed was how attractive they were. Late twenties, perhaps? Early thirties? Both had neatly trimmed stubble and short hair that was immaculately groomed. The man I found most comely was brown-haired, and the other dirty blonde, like Jason. However, I’d always had a kink for dark and tall. “Which one?” I inquired. “Brown-haired.” “Let’s head over then, shall we? I’ll mind his friend,” I proposed and ascended from my seat to approach them, confident. I always had been. Hesitant, Olivia said, “Cara, maybe not. They don’t look like they want to be disturbed.” I scoffed. “So what? You won’t know unless you try, Livy – and I can handle rejection. Can’t you?” Her warm brown Bambi eyes turned towards me, and they were filled with a vulnerability that I hated to witness. Colin had really done her in, hadn’t he? When he cheated on her time and again? “Livy,” my tone was unusually strict, “Colin is a bastard that never deserved you, but just because he is, it doesn’t mean every man is. You can’t give him that power, and you shouldn’t let your past ruin your future.” Olivia inhaled deeply before she offered me a firm nod of her head, and I was slightly surprised at how quickly she absorbed my pep talk. Her libido must indeed be desperate, I gathered. Either way, I gave her no time to change her mind. Confident in my strides, I approached the two men while Olivia trailed behind me. The dirty blonde man noticed me first, and the look on his face affirmed my ego. With slightly thin lips parting, he turned his whole body towards me. Just like his brown-haired friend, he had a strong, lean build. “Hi,” I greeted and presented my most lascivious smile as I held his gaze. His eyes were large and a warm shade of brown, like melted chocolate. I loved chocolate. He appeared speechless, so I continued, “I’m sorry to interrupt your conversation, but my friend and I were—” “We’re not interested,” a dreadfully sensual voice interfered from my right. Looking towards its source, I locked eyes with the man Olivia had laid her favour with. They were light blue and eerily familiar. Dark brown eyebrows ran in nearly straight lines above them, and the shadow they provided augmented his alluring and mysterious aura. Had I met him before? A frown formed on my face. I could have sworn I’d seen him somewhere. At that moment, I was so preoccupied with trying to put a name to the face that I neglected the chance to admire it, but Christ, had I ever seen a man more gorgeous than him? Prominent cheekbones highlighted the shape of his strong, square jaw. It was clenched, I saw, but I gave no thought as to why. Below a proportionate, straight, and masculine nose rested a pair of full, delectable lips. They pressed together, forming a brooding line, while he continued to study me in his annoyance. He was easily the most physically attractive man I’d ever encountered, and he wasn’t remotely interested. “Where are your manners, man?” his friend scolded before his eyes darted in my direction again. “Please excuse him. He’s a bit blunt.” Puzzled, I persisted in staring at the dark-haired stranger. I must have met him before. I was certain I’d seen him somewhere. However, would I have forgotten an encounter with such a beautiful man? I doubted it. Where had I seen him, then? Was he a celebrity? “I’m sorry – have we met before?” I blurted out in my bewilderment. His eyebrows arched before a condescending chuckle slipped out of his mouth. A look of sardonic amusement etched through his riveting features. “Honestly, you’re interrupting our conversation, and you couldn’t be more original than that, Miss? At least you could have compensated with a better chat-up line. I’m disappointed. And like I said, we’re not interested, so move along, would you?” Bewitched by the sound of his sensual voice, it took me a few seconds to process the content, but once I had, I frowned, offended. Meanwhile, his friend groaned and shook his head beside me, clearly despairing of his companion. Could they be gay partners? Since I was struck by mild shock at his impertinence, I asked, “I beg your pardon?” Then, as soon as it subsided, I snapped back, “I was being serious, you utter twat.” His eyebrows furrowed while his arresting eyes – twice – travelled up and down my body, and once they’d returned to mine, a crooked smile crept across his tempting mouth. From the way they had devoured my body, I eliminated the option of him being homosexual. Only a straight man could regard me with such a gleam in his eye. “Perhaps we’ve slept together. But, if we have, you weren’t worth remembering,” he finally answered. My lips parted with my eventual gasp. What a complete arsehole! Shame to think he’d piqued my interest earlier when he obviously didn’t deserve it. That was quite an insolent way to treat another human being. His arrogance was off the charts. Who did he think he was? So yes, I had interrupted them, but there was a polite way to reject me. There was no need to step on my dignity. Rigid, my stare transformed into a pure glower. “As if I’d ever get so lost and desperate that I would wind up in a bed with you. You’re a sorry excuse for a man. Tell me, was it the lack of your mother’s affection that made you grow up to treat random women like shit?” He blinked at my ruthless insult, perhaps a little gobsmacked, and beside me, his companion burst into poorly stifled laughter. Olivia’s existence was lost on me, but knowing her, she was probably a breath away from withering. “I can assure you that my mother and I are on good terms,” came the handsome man’s calm reply. I folded my arms and scoffed. “Too good, I wager,” I countered. “Heading home to spend the night in her bed, then? That why you’re not interested?” Before he was able to respond, Olivia gasped and clasped my hand to drag me away. While observing their shocked facial expressions, she said, “Please excuse us.” “Excuse us?” I echoed in disbelief while she tugged me away from them. “Didn’t you hear him just now? How bloody rude he was?” “Choose your battles, love! He’s obviously not worth our attention,” she retorted. Seeing as she made a valid point, I simmered down somewhat. Only now did I notice that her body was trembling with irritation. Just like the rest of us, she was rattled. Well, that was something I quite excelled at – rattling people. It was definitely a flaw, but then everyone had flaws, I consoled myself. After pushing me onto the settee again, Olivia dumped her body next to mine, folded her arms and glared away from me. “Cara, honestly! ‘Have we met before?’ What was that?” Seeking reconciliation, I pouted at her. “I’m sorry. I honestly thought I’d seen him before. Worst part is that I still think I have.” She frowned and turned to catch a glimpse of them. Mirroring her, I saw that they were laughing, clearly at my expense. Well, they could laugh all they wanted. Personally, the only thing I found laughable was how attractive I had initially found them to be. Instead, they were ugly souls with nasty tendencies. How dare they laugh at my decision to stand up for myself? “Yeah, you know, now that you mention it, maybe he does look a bit familiar,” Olivia stated and faced me again with a puzzled expression. Where had we seen him, then? “Order us a round, please, would you? Strongest cocktail they’ve got,” I said while averting my eyes from the two men. I wondered to myself whether the encounter with them had ruined my chance for a pleasant night. The sound of Olivia’s subsequent chuckle assured me that I was already forgiven for the strife I had caused a moment ago. “Sure,” she obliged and pushed herself up from her seat. Impressed, I watched her graceful strut as she returned to the bar like she hadn’t a concern in the world. Olivia had always been great at rising above things. Less could be said for myself. I had much to learn from her in that respect. Throwing another glance at the two men, I saw the dark-haired man turn his head once Olivia reached the bar. It was obvious from how consciously he regarded her that he desired her attention. However, with her chin raised high and her gaze fixed straight ahead, she refused to acknowledge him, and the satisfying view made my lips twitch into a devilish grin. If only Jason had been here. Right about now, he would have laughed his lungs out while repeatedly patting my back, but he’d had coursework to do, which I had respected. Nevertheless, I could have used his moral support, so I decided to send him a text. 20:58 ‘You didn’t warn me about dickheads when you told me about this place x’ ‘Thought that was a given? You wanted a place with lawyers. You can’t have one without the other x’ ‘You twat. I’m not a dickhead’ ‘You’re not a lawyer’ ‘Yet x’ ‘I just accused a man that Livy wanted to get off with of sleeping with his mum. Doubt your coursework is more entertaining…’ ‘Lmao you did what?’ ‘Did he deserve it?’ ‘100 %’ By the time Olivia returned, it felt like only a minute had passed. As she placed an espresso martini on the table, I looked up from my phone to find her smiling. Caught by it, I grinned back and put my phone aside. She had brought me my favourite cocktail. “Next round’s on me,” I said. “I didn’t pay for it.” She pressed her lips together in a poor attempt to hide her smile. My cognition lagged. “What?” “The guy you insulted did. Asked for your name, too, but I didn’t give it to him. Gathered I’d leave that choice to you.” Instantly, the floor summoned my jaw. Had he really bought me a drink? After all that? Responding to impulse, my gaze travelled in his direction. Spellbinding blue eyes met mine, and I was immediately captured by them. Wearing a complacent smirk, he raised his glass at me and gave me a wink, leaving his friend to snigger beside him as he shook his head. “Seriously? What’s his problem?” I grumbled, irritated, and broke out of his spell to focus on Olivia. Sinking into the spot beside me, she raised her cosmopolitan to her mouth. After a sip, she reflected aloud, “I think you changed his mind, acting the way you did. While I waited for our drinks, you were all he asked about. I told him nothing, though.” Bemused, I blinked back at her. “You had a conversation with him?” Olivia frowned. “He insisted on paying for our drinks, Cara. What was I supposed to do?” Ignore him? I would have. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.” Laughter poured from her mouth at the obvious humour I’d spiked my reply with. “You can have him,” she assured me with a grin, and her tone clearly implied that she harboured no bitterness and genuinely meant to give me her blessing. “He put me off with his attitude,” she continued to explain. “His friend, though – Andrew – he seems nice. He apologised on William’s behalf. William’s the arsehole.” I scoffed. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather he pissed off.” Olivia chortled and browsed the room again, probably to locate new targets. Meanwhile, I stared at the cocktail Mr Arsehole had bought me. I wanted it, but it seemed wrong to accept it. So instead, I just continued to stare at it, conflicted. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Cara. Consider it an apology. Drink it,” Olivia scolded and rolled her eyes. “You do realise that if he sees me drinking it, he’ll consider himself excused?” I countered. “I won’t allow that. I’d rather buy my own.” I stood. “He’s going to speak to you, then,” she warned. “Is that what you want?” “Who says I’ve got to reply? I might as well return the favour – not interested,” I stated cheekily and headed for the bar. Eyeing Olivia over my shoulder, I found her grinning at me, silently commending my fierceness. I was halfway there when I sensed his eyes upon my figure, and it demanded every ounce of my willpower not to meet them. To signal that I did not want to be approached, I ensured that I would arrive at the far end from both men once I reached the counter. Spreading my hands across the dark surface of it, I searched for a bartender, but both of them were busy serving other customers, so I waited somewhat vigilantly. I could sense that Mr Arsehole continued to stare at me, and it made me feel strangely uneasy. Hyperaware of myself, I shifted my weight onto my right leg and resorted to studying the wall of myriad bottles behind the bar. When his muscular and bare forearms suddenly entered my field of vision, I recoiled a small step. From the corner of my eye, I saw them rest against the counter beside me. He’d rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt, and the grey waistcoat that he wore on top clung to his robust anatomy, serving as an unfair reminder of his tantalising masculinity. “I’m sorry about earlier, Miss. You’re right. I was very rude.” Since I refused to acknowledge his existence, I pretended not to have heard anything while I waited for a bartender to notice me. “If you’d give me a second,” he continued once he realised that I wasn’t going to respond, “I’d like to explain why.” Just then, a bartender spared me from having to respond to the imbecile. Blonde with green eyes, he looked positively Nordic. An alluring grin decorated his mouth when our eyes locked. “What can I get you, Miss?” he politely inquired, and judging from his strong accent, I thought he might be Swedish. Leaning slightly forward, I smiled back. “An espresso martini and a gin and tonic, please, thank you.” Nodding, he extended to me the payment terminal he’d just typed into, and I was just about to grab it when Mr Arsehole beat me to it. After snatching it away from me, he inserted his own card. “No!” I admonished and stared at his large hands. Prominent veins branched across the back of them, and a few climbed a small distance along his fingers, although they stopped long before they reached his neatly trimmed nails. They were undeniably male hands, and they were a beautiful pair at that. The experienced look of them wasn’t something I would forget anytime soon. During a brief moment of weakness, I wondered what it would feel like to have them caress my naked skin. His eyebrows arched at my harsh response. Through a lopsided smile, he said, “Now that I’ve got your attention—” “You had my attention earlier, Oedipus,” I interrupted, “and you wasted it,” I reminded him as I snatched back the device. “Oedipus?” he echoed with a titter of amazement. “How astute.” I merely rolled my eyes and was just about to withdraw his card when his loud sigh made me look at him. “If you withdraw my card,” he said, “dear Philip will have to restart the whole process. Do you really mean to make his job any more difficult than it needs to be? Just because you can’t swallow your pride?” I could hardly fathom the audacity of this man. I had never met someone quite so irritating in all my twenty-three years of life. When I looked at the bartender, whose name I supposed was Philip, I saw a flicker of humour cross his face. “You should have a sign on the door that warns of arsehole clientele,” I told him. He pressed his lips together and winked at me. Then, glancing at the pest beside me, Philip asked, “What have you done to deserve such a characterisation, Will?” William chuckled. “Well, I acted like an arsehole, naturally.” “That’s unusual.” “Yes, she caught me at a bad moment.” Philip smiled. “Then you ought to apologise to the lady,” he teased and cocked his head in my direction. “I’m trying, but she’s not letting me.” “Try harder.” The source of my annoyance faced me again. “Andy – my friend – has got a girlfriend. Or, he used to. They split up just today, but I expect it’s only temporary. So, you’ve got the wrong end of the stick, love,” he explained. “I’m the nice guy. Now, unless you’d like to get in the middle of that, I reckon I did you a favour.” I pressed my lips together and despised the fact that I found his reason valid. Then again, it could as well have been a lie. I didn’t know the man. What’s more, if it had been the truth, he could still have treated us more politely. Scepticism coloured my tone as I replied, “Why should I trust what you’re saying?” He gestured towards the payment terminal. “Let’s settle this first. May I buy your drinks for you?” Finally, I met his eyes, and they were smouldering. The sight made a lump gather in my throat. I hadn’t noticed it before, but the man was rather intense – everything about him was. Struck speechless, I nodded my head. “Thank you,” he said before giving me a look of wonder. Puzzled by the expression on his face, I frowned back. “So,” he said while completing the transaction, “what’s your name, then?” “Oh, so you actually are interested,” I replied sarcastically as I watched Philip perform his magic. “How funny. I haven’t been bullied by a boy who fancies me since primary school.” Stealing a glance at William, I saw his mouth bend into a winsome grin before an incredulous laugh slipped out of it. In front of us, Philip pretended not to exist, although he failed at disguising his severe amusement. From his pursed lips, it was obvious that he was struggling not to laugh. Seeming to realise the same, he walked away to finish my drinks further away from us, probably to give us some privacy. “Yes, well, I’m glad I could treat you to some nostalgia,” William replied. “More like trauma.” Glancing over again, I noticed that William had turned slightly away from me to hide his reaction. From my limited view of his face, I saw that his grin persisted, but he was now biting on his lower lip while looking at the floor as though he could hardly contain himself. “Listen,” he said and turned to face me properly again. “If it’s not obvious already, I seriously regret my behaviour. I hadn’t thought you’d be so…” His eyes narrowed faintly. “Intriguing.” I snorted. Did he really consider that to be a legitimate excuse for his behaviour? What if I hadn’t been intriguing? What then? Would he have considered his conduct justified? He was obviously a conceited idiot. Why was I wasting even a breath on him? Condescension was etched on my face when I finally turned towards him. Even though I was wearing heels, he towered over me. Since I felt small and vulnerable this close to him, I wondered how tall he actually was. Taking my own height into account and adding it to the fact that I was wearing heels, I reckoned he was at least six-foot-four, maybe five. He was strong, too, which I could tell from the way his shirt and waistcoat strained against his body, as well as the general width of him given his broad shoulders and back. “Who would have guessed? How to seduce an arsehole – accuse him of sleeping with his mother. Turned you on, did it? The idea of her?” I cheekily responded. Frightened, I turned rigid when he suddenly leaned towards me. Hardly an inch separated our noses. He was so close that I could smell the alcohol on his breath as it fanned against my face. In my momentary fear, my eyes locked with his, and I was immediately hypnotised by their dominating gleam. Perhaps this wasn’t a man to be trifled with. He didn’t strike me as the sort of man who allowed others to walk over him. On the contrary, he looked to be in the habit of performing that deed himself. I felt walked over. To be honest – under the burning heat of his gaze – I felt vanquished. “You did,” he replied firmly. 2 THAT’S MORE LIKE IT His bold reply took me aback. I hadn’t foreseen that he would be so direct with me, but it was oddly refreshing. Suddenly nervous, my heart started pounding in my chest. “Well,” I murmured as I mustered my remaining courage to say, “you got what you wanted – something original.” His lips tucked into a smile. “Without a doubt. Although, is your name as original as your personality?” The astute method he employed as he made a third attempt to fish out my name impressed me. He was obviously a cunning man, so I reminded myself to exercise caution. However, it amused me that he wasn’t one to give up without a fight, so a faint smile nested on my mouth while I shook my head. “I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint,” I said. “How so? It’s not Electra, is it?” I couldn’t possibly suppress the giggle that escaped my lips, because the reference was remarkably shrewd. Clearly, he had read and enjoyed his fair share of Greek tragedies, too. Electra was, in some ways, Oedipus’ female counterpart after all. Momentarily inspired by the current theme, I lied, “No, but you’re not far from it, actually. It stems from Greek.” “Really?” He looked intrigued. “Yeah. Name’s Cassandra, but everyone calls me Sandra.” Since I wasn’t naïve enough to trust him on a whim, I didn’t feel like giving him my real name. Besides, he hadn’t proved himself remotely deserving. “Sandra,” he echoed with a nod. “Well, I’m William, as you may have already gathered, but you can call me Will.” “Or Oedipus. Tomato tomato,” I countered. Genuine amusement twinkled in his eyes. “So you’re a fan of Sophocles and Greek tragedies, then? Or are you merely a disciple of dear Mr Freud?” His evident intellect irritated me somewhat because it led me to like him more than I wanted to. He was retaliating with precisely the same sense of humour and with force equal to my own. It wasn’t often that I encountered people who could keep up with my sharp wit, but this man seemed to be up to the task. Despite his lack of affability, he clearly stored a quick and well-functioning brain behind that annoyingly handsome face of his. I was still contemplating whether to reply when Philip interjected, “Here you go, Miss,” and presented two lush cocktails. “An espresso martini and a gin and tonic.” “Thank you.” I was about to grab them when William beat me to it. “I’ll give you a hand,” he said as an explanation. “I’ve got two already. Three aren’t required, as you can see.” He chuckled. “You’ve got quite the witty mouth, haven’t you?” “Well, at least one of us has got some wit,” I challenged. “Poor man can’t even count right.” William shook his head at me but, nevertheless, persisted in carrying my drinks away. With a pout on my face, I trailed after him. How had it come to this? I hadn’t meant to attract him earlier. Had I known my insult would prove so counterproductive, I’d have bitten my tongue. “Andy,” he called and cocked his head in the direction of Olivia’s lonely figure. Struck by evident surprise, Andrew’s brown eyes widened before he stood from his seat. When I fixed my gaze on Olivia, I found her smirking. The sight extracted a groan from my mouth. Unlike Andrew, she wasn’t the least bit surprised, and I didn’t appreciate it, because it spoke of her impressions and expectations of me. “It’s Olivia, right?” William asked once we reached her. “Yes, but everyone calls me Livy.” “Livy,” he echoed as he placed my drinks on the table. “Well, Livy, would you mind if Andy and I joined you?” he politely inquired as he stretched back up. His sudden gallantry made my eyebrows furrow. How was it possible to host both a gentleman and the Devil himself in the same vessel? Flummoxed, I watched him. “No, of course not,” Olivia answered with a dazzling grin. “I mind,” I declared. Immediately, William turned towards me with a sardonic smile. “You don’t get a say, I’m afraid.” “Pardon?” He faced Olivia again while pointing his thumb at me. “Is she always such a handful?” In turn, Olivia studied me with clear humour in her eyes. “Takes one to know one?” she replied cheekily. As thanks for the support, I wanted to kiss her entire face like an excited dog. William laughed. “I suppose I deserved that.” I rushed to grab the available seat beside her on the small sofa so that I wouldn’t be forced to sit next to him, and after leaving my purse on the floor beside my feet, I leaned next to her ear. “I don’t know what he wants, but my name’s Sandra, okay? Short for Cassandra,” I whispered. Olivia pursed her lips. “He wants you, but alright.” I scoffed before I continued in another whisper, “Andy split from his girlfriend earlier today. Just thought you should know – unless William was only telling a lie, of course.” She gave me a nod to confirm that she’d heard me. “So, Sandra,” William said as he fetched a chair over, “now that you’re done whispering about me, why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself?” Descending into his seat, he sat at a right angle from me. Intimidated, I instantly recoiled towards Olivia. That was what he was – intimidating, and immensely so. “I’d rather not.” He chuckled. “Are you students? You look a bit younger than the average woman here,” he probed, eyes shifting between Olivia and me. “We are,” Olivia confirmed, and I was immediately alarmed. Worried she would inadvertently expose my real identity, I hurried to say, “Livy’s studying law at UCL.” A glance passed between William and Andrew then. “Are you?” Andrew asked her. Catching on to my deceit, she glanced in my direction. Nevertheless, she proceeded with honesty, “Yes. I’m in my third and final year now.” “And how do you like it?” Andrew followed up while he brought a stool over to sit across from her. “I love it, but it’s very demanding.” A chuckle escaped both men and, again, a message I couldn’t quite decode passed between their eyes. “What’s funny?” I asked. While directing his attention to me, William struggled to suppress his grin. “Well, both Andy and I are lawyers, so it’s just a bit charming to hear a student’s perspective.” Points for Jason. Lawyers did, in fact, frequent this place. “Are you barristers?” I asked. William shook his head and folded his hands together. “Solicitors. Corporate kind.” “I see. So you’re colleagues, then?” “Yeah.” “And how’s working with corporate law? Is it compelling?” I had a personal interest in whatever he had to say now. Was I networking unknowingly? William smiled, and I thought it was because I was finally expressing signs of interest. “Certainly. Initially, I wanted to specialise in human rights, but my father swayed my mind. I’m glad he did.” I was taking mental notes. Like William, I aspired to be a solicitor rather than a barrister, regardless of whether the latter weighed heavier in matters of prestige. As I looked diagonally across the table, I caught Andrew’s eye. Seeing an opportunity to taunt William, I deliberately gave him a seductive smile before I asked with feigned interest, “How about you, Andy? Have you always wanted to practise company law?” Noting my behaviour, his eyes flickered in William’s direction. “I was never really sure until I completed the LPC.” “But I’d like to know more about you,” William insisted and leaned forward to demand my attention. I frowned. “You can’t always get what you want.” While scrutinising me, his eyes narrowed somewhat. “Since you specified that Olivia is a law student earlier, I think it’s fair to assume you’re studying something else. Otherwise, you’d be more likely to say, ‘we’re studying law’. And considering the nature of your earlier insults, I’m going to take a wild guess and say psychology.” A giggle surged out of me. “Well done, Sherlock.” He didn’t look convinced. “No,” he murmured as he continued to analyse my reaction. “That was too easy – I was wrong. It’s something else, isn’t it?” Olivia nudged my arm then, and when I looked over, I saw disapproval in her features. It would seem that William had managed to stir her sympathy to some extent, and now she was asking me to share her sentiment. After a sigh, I returned my gaze to William’s. “I study medicine,” I lied. I knew enough about the coursework from Jason to be able to make it convincing. His eyebrows climbed higher up his forehead. “Really? Here in London?” “No, in Edinburgh. I’m only visiting Livy for the weekend,” I continued to lie. While it was hardly detectable, I noticed that his eyebrows twitched. In fact, if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought he looked a bit disappointed. “Oh. Edinburgh,” he repeated to himself. “Well, medicine – that’s impressive. Decided what to specialise in?” I shook my head. “No. Not yet.” William nodded and leaned back again. All the while, he continued to stare at me as if he were observing every corner of my soul. His gaze was remarkably piercing – penetrative, as if he could catch a glimpse into my core with a mere glance. It made me wonder if he hadn’t already discerned all my lies. “Well, the mother I love to sleep with is an oncologist,” he eventually said. I blinked. “Oh. Well, that explains everything. You’ve clearly got a type.” My joke extracted a laugh from him. “And you clearly embody all the necessary characteristics of said type.” “Just my luck.” His eyes gleamed with amusement. “Anyway, are you in your third year as well?” I groaned. “Is this an interview or something?” He stood no chance of hiding his grin when he turned to his colleague. “She’s lovely, isn’t she?” Andrew smirked. “Indeed.” Taken aback, a blush emerged on my cheeks. Were they patronising me, or were they sincere? Olivia sniggered beside me, unwilling to come to my aid. Meanwhile, William faced me again. “I’m worried I might have fucked up my chance completely,” he said, although he seemed to be speaking to Andrew still. “You have,” I assured him. “How do I change your mind?” I scoffed. “You’re the lawyer. Shouldn’t you know how to sway one’s opinion?” I heard a strange sound beside me then, much like a strangled laugh, and when I looked over, I saw that Andrew was looking anywhere but at me while he tried to fight back a massive grin. “You’re quite right,” William replied, summoning my attention again, and once I fixed my gaze on him, I could have sworn his eyes were aflame with something I had no experience dealing with. “I’ll start with this,” he continued. “We have definitely not met before. There’s not a chance I wouldn’t remember you, for several reasons.” Sceptical, I raised a brow. “Such as?” “Aside from the obvious?” “What’s obvious?” “Well, the obvious is that you’re really quite stunning, physically speaking, but then that’s seldom enough to capture my interest, much less my memory. You see, beauty isn’t in short supply in this world, but yours is. “What’s not so obvious at first sight – regarding any person, really – is your admirable integrity, sharp wit and keen intellect. Ultimately, you’re a rather bewitching woman, and quite impossible to forget, I expect.” My breath caught in my throat at his climactic declaration. Meanwhile, Olivia and Andrew stilled beside me, awaiting my reaction. Since my mouth appeared to have disconnected from my brain, I merely stared at him while I tried to process his memorable confession. Seeming to realise that I had completely lost track of space and time, Olivia quickly nudged my arm to help me reconnect with it. Returning to my senses, I gave William a genuine smile to express my gratitude. His earlier insult, where he had accused me of not being a memorable encounter, had angered me more than I’d expected it to. It was the way he had phrased it, as if I were an escort offering my services. I struggled to form a decent reply. “I appreciate that, but I meant what I said earlier – you do look familiar. Livy thinks so as well.” Visibly reluctant, he gave Olivia his attention. “Do I?” She nodded. “No idea why, though. Have you been on telly?” He chuckled. “No.” “Newspaper?” I asked. William cocked his head. “Once or twice. Work-related, though.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “How old are you?” “Now who wants to know?” He countered, humoured. I rolled my eyes. “Tell you what,” he said, “for every question you ask, I get to ask one as well.” “No deal.” “Oh, come on, love. What have you got to lose?” “My dignity.” He burst out laughing, and it occurred to me that I wasn’t going to get an answer from him anytime soon. “How old is he, Andy?” I inquired and turned towards him. Hoping to resemble a version of a puppy, I pouted at him, but his responding scoff proved my efforts ineffective. “Sorry, love, you’re on your own.” I sighed. It was worth a shot. Wearing a sly smile, William sent his friend a nod of gratitude before he said, “Looks like Livy’s finished her drink. Perhaps you could get her another one, Andy?” Grinning back at William, Andrew stood and then turned to regard Olivia. “It would be my absolute pleasure.” “I’ll come with you,” Olivia offered, enthused, and pushed herself out of the sofa. Immediately, colour reduced in my face while my heart skipped a beat. Was she blind to the fact that this was precisely what William had intended? Or did she mean to go along with it? Was she going to abandon me to the care of this dreadful man? This horribly intriguing creature that I did not want to succumb to? “Don’t leave me,” I pleaded. Visibly amused, she directed her eyes to mine. “You’re a grown woman, Sandra. You’ll be alright. We’ve all seen that you can fend for yourself.” From the faint pink in her cheeks, it was obvious that she desired time alone with Andrew, but it would cost me severely. William had piqued my interest to the extent that I considered it morally wrong. He wasn’t right in the head. He was rude, and he was bloody attractive. Lethal combination. As I continued to entreat her with my eyes, William conceitedly asked, “Yes, I wonder what you’re scared of. Starting to get under your skin, am I?” My gaze dashed to his at once, and I proceeded to glare at him while Andrew and Olivia headed for the bar. “You will not be getting anywhere near my skin. What’s the matter with you?” He shrugged. “Right now, you.” “What do you want?” “I’d like to get to know you better. Isn’t that what you wanted in the first place? I mean, you approached us first.” “Specifically your friend,” I reminded him tersely. His head tilted, and even though he concealed it well, I thought I recognised hurt somewhere deep within his eyes. I must have bruised his ego. “Oh, so that’s what this is?” he queried flatly. “I’m not cutting it?” Since it was far from the truth, my conscience suffered at the impression I was clearly giving off. Blowing out my cheeks, I leaned forward to grab my gin and tonic, and while I was raising it to my lips, I hurriedly said, “No, that’s not quite it.” Since I wasn’t looking at him anymore, William leaned forward again to attract my gaze, and once he captured it, he scoured it thoroughly. Meanwhile, he folded his hands between his thighs and allowed his thumbs to rub together. “So, I do make the cut?” he asked then, ever slick. I couldn’t fight my smile. “There is no ‘cut’ to make, Will. I’m not here looking for anything if that’s what you mean.” “Then how come you approached us to begin with?” My eyes darted in Olivia’s direction, but since I didn’t want to expose her, I was quick to avert them again. Alas, he didn’t fail to notice my wandering attention. As soon as he turned his head to observe Olivia and Andrew by the bar, he stated, “Right. I get it now. You were winging her.” When he looked back at me for confirmation, I merely returned his gaze so as not to reveal anything. Suddenly, a grin claimed his mouth. I frowned in puzzlement. “It’s been a long time since I’ve gone on the prowl,” he said, “but if I’m not wrong, you approached him because she was initially interested in me.” He leaned back. “What a textbook performance. Didn’t work, though.” I had to give it to him – the man was remarkably perceptive. His aptitude for reading social situations was outstanding. Nevertheless, he still hadn’t detected my lies – or at least it seemed that way. I scoffed. “Doesn’t matter. As soon as you opened your dreadful mouth, her interest shifted onto your friend instead.” William laughed wholeheartedly. “I’m not even slightly upset. She’s not my type.” “You mean she doesn’t remind you of your mother?” He rolled his eyes. “Either way, she’s clearly not interested anymore, so there’s nothing holding you back. You’ve got a green light to get to know me.” “I’m sorry, didn’t you hear what I just said? I’m not interested in anything other than helping Livy out.” He surprised me when he suddenly stood. “Right, well, if that’s the case, I’ll just head over to them if you don’t mind. Shame if that sabotages Olivia’s chances.” “Wait, wait – fine!” I urged and raised my hand to halt him. “I’ll entertain you.” Releasing a satisfied sigh, he sank into his seat and folded his hands just above his crotch. “That’s more like it,” he said, and I desperately wanted to tear the smirk off his face. “You’re insufferable,” I grumbled. “You’re only upset because I’ve outwitted you.” “Why are you so determined to get to know me?” “Because you’ve seriously piqued my interest.” Again, his directness caught me off guard, and just like before, my heart began to pound harshly. Each thump of it pressed against my ribcage to the extent that a keen eye could probably see it. Because of it, I was starting to realise that my body wanted something quite different from my mind. “I commend your grit at least,” I muttered and placed my drink back on the table. Folding my arms, I hoped to hide my vigorous heartbeats. Another smirk climbed to his annoyingly kissable mouth. “Thanks. I’m quite pleased with that attribute myself,” he said while moving off his chair to grab the vacant spot beside me on the sofa. I stiffened when he draped his arm over the back of it, across my shoulders. It wasn’t that I minded the intimacy. On the contrary, I seemed to fancy it more than I was willing to admit. “Listen, let’s start over, yeah?” he proposed. “I realise it’s a poor excuse, but I’ve had a rough day at work. To make it worse, Andy and Chloe have been together for an entire decade. She’s practically my sister. So, when I heard the news – two minutes before you arrived – I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to handle you well,” he continued to explain. “I’m very sorry. I truly am.” He brought me closer to him, and as I mellowed against his warm body, the scent of him struck me hard. He smelled intoxicating. Drugged, I inhaled the fragrance deep into my lungs. I picked up testosterone, something dark, something sweet, and plenty of challenge. My Achilles’ heel. “You smell amazing,” I blurted out without thinking. “What fragrance is that?” Indeed, he smelled remarkable – even better than Jason did. Soft laughter poured out of him as he leaned forward to grab one of my drinks. “Stick around, and perhaps I’ll tell you. And you smell rather amazing yourself.” As he leaned back again, he continued, “On another note, you’ve got three of these to finish.” He raised my espresso martini towards my mouth, and he did not stop until he had placed the glass to my waiting lips. Consequently, my lips parted not because of the cold and solid material against my skin, but rather because of his surprising gesture. Wearing a complacent smile, he tilted the glass and carefully poured a portion of the cocktail into my mouth. I watched him the whole time, overwhelmed by his sensuality. I had never met a man quite so slickly domineering before. I had an inkling he was in the habit of getting his way. He lowered the glass to allow my swallow, and as I did, he watched me intensely. Meanwhile, the expression on his face was strangely erotic. Was he imagining me swallowing something else? “I guarantee you, Sandra, that had we slept together, I would not have forgotten. So, where you might have seen me before, I don’t know – but I wish it were in bed.” 3 WON’T YOU COME IN? All air was expelled from my lungs, and I could not look away from him. He had me trapped in his gaze. Astonished, I asked, “Are you always this crude?” “Sorry,” he apologised insincerely and placed my cocktail back on the table. “I can’t seem to think straight in your presence. My tongue travels before my mind.” When the edge of his mouth tucked up to form a crooked smile, I recognised it as the one he’d already presented several times. It was unique to him, and a testament to his cunning and calculating persona. The shape of it whispered tales of his intellectual conquests, of how sublimely he outwitted any opponent. Anyone could have been fooled by the invincibility it exuded, and yet, despite this, I thought I detected a hint of veiled vulnerability, and it intrigued me. “Anyway,” he interrupted my analysis, “though I haven’t been acting my age, I’m twenty-eight. How old are you?” Since I saw no harm in sharing this detail about myself, I replied, “Twenty-three.” “So you’re in your—” “Ah-ah,” I interrupted. “My turn,” I said while pointing my finger to my chest. His eyes dropped towards it, and it dawned on me then that I had directed his gaze straight to my cleavage. Immediately, a wave of heat flooded my face, causing a crimson blush to penetrate my faint layer of makeup. I rushed to entwine my fingers in my lap. When I glanced at William, he looked equally bothered, his gaze veering to Olivia and Andrew instead. Was it possible that he harboured at least a modicum of respect for me? I had just provided him with a golden opportunity to ogle my breasts, but instead, he’d hastily looked elsewhere. It increased my faith in him. Perhaps he wasn’t so terrible after all. “First impressions,” he muttered. “They can be surprisingly difficult to disprove.” I chuckled. “Spoken like a true solicitor.” He gave me a wry smile. “Your turn, you said. What would you like to know?” Where to begin? Glancing at Olivia and Andrew, I was reminded of his companion. They seemed like good friends, and that made me curious. “How long have you known Andy for?” “My entire life. My turn.” He grinned. “What are your interests, aside from medicine?” That was a substantial question. “Um, I have eclectic tastes, so I find that question too vast to answer. You’ll need to filter it down.” He sighed, and I thought it was in despair. “What do you spend your leisure time doing?” I scoffed. “Leisure time? What leisure time?” “Have you got a boyfriend?” he suddenly tossed at me. I stiffened. “That’s none of your business.” A lascivious gleam entered his arresting eyes, and it captured me wholly. All I wanted was to explore the dancing blue depths. In so many ways, he seemed like a promise of pleasure. Given his level of self-assurance, I couldn’t imagine that he’d disappoint between the sheets, so why did I deny myself the chance to explore his potential? His smile turned crooked again. “I assure you, darling, it is.” Unsure of his insinuation, I looked away. I had a faint idea, but I wanted to be certain. Frankly, I wanted to hear him confess it. “How so?” There wasn’t a trace of a smile present on his face when he answered, “Because I’d like to see you again. So, if you’ve got a boyfriend, I’ll need to know. I’ll have to reassess my tactics, then.” I gaped at him. “Reassess your tactics?” I echoed disbelievingly. “Are you trying to say that if I do have a boyfriend, you won’t respect it?” “No, I’ll respect it – physically.” He glanced away before murmuring, “But I’ll try and tempt you to leave him.” “You’re ruthless,” I accused. Was he drunk? “Which you need,” he claimed with a smirk. I frowned. “You don’t even know me.” “No, I don’t, but I’ve got a vague idea of what I’m dealing with. My intuition tends to serve me well.” “You’re so cocky it borders on madness,” I exclaimed. “Are you drunk, William?” His eyebrows furrowed. “What makes you think that? No. I’ve had two cocktails.” “Because your head is messed up.” “You’ve messed it up.” I snorted. He’d have to do better than that. “That’s ridiculous. What a rubbish line.” “Better than ‘have we met?’, though.” I glared at him, and he glared straight back. After a brief while, he tilted his head and watched me as though he were trying to solve the enigma. “If you actually had a boyfriend,” he said with narrowed eyes, “I doubt you’d allow me to keep my arm around you like this – much less let me pour your drink into your mouth. Then again, you could just be a partner liable to cheating, but I seriously doubt you’re the type.” I leaned forward to grab my espresso martini. “I don’t see why we’re even entertaining this question. You said you want to know because you’d like to see me again, but in case you’ve already forgotten, I live in Edinburgh.” “Sure, but for now, you’re still in London. How long are you staying?” “Will,” I shook my head, “I’m not going to set aside time to see you. I’m here to visit my friend.” “Who is obviously interested in getting laid,” he replied, head cocking in her direction. Looking over, I discovered her laughing at something Andrew must have said. “I’m sure she’d appreciate it if I took you off her hands, at least for tonight,” William continued. While it had been on the cards, his proposal still took me by surprise. As soon as I turned my head to regard him again, his eyes blazed into mine – two blue flames, wild in their craving for me. In the orange light of the place, he resembled something of the divine. A Greek god, perhaps, and I was only a mere mortal. How was I supposed to resist such celestial temptation? I was submitting to his power more by the second. I struggled to fathom the reality that I had only met this man mere moments ago. Our chemistry was clearly off the charts. When I had spent too long contemplating his offer, his impatience got the better of him. “Listen,” he said, “we can either spend all night bickering, or we can spend this ridiculous energy in my bed. It’s up to you.” His voice was terse and to the point while his gaze burrowed into mine. “Either way, you would be doing both yourself and your friend a favour by joining me back at mine.” Pink and breathless, I looked away from him. This man surely didn’t beat around the bush. He hadn’t even kissed me yet, and now he was suggesting sex? What sort of a scene was he into? No-strings-attached, I reckoned. That notion filled me with relief, because I didn’t have the capacity for romance at this point in my life. To buy more time, I raised my drink. “I’m not nearly drunk enough for this,” I replied and then filled my mouth with the liquid courage. Humoured, William watched me drain the remaining contents. “I fancy my women responsive, Sandra, so please keep the intake to a minimum,” he warned. “You’re speaking as if I’ve agreed,” I countered and placed my empty glass back on the table. Just as I was about to reach for my next drink, a large and unfamiliar hand took hold of my jaw. Turning my face towards him, William leaned in so close that our noses touched. Only then did he pause his advances. My breath abandoned me at once. Within me, my heart throbbed with bittersweet delight. It was begging me to give in – to allow myself a night I would never forget. Besides, it wasn’t like I hadn’t had a one-night stand before. Hell, I often preferred them. The less they knew, the better. I wasn’t at a point in my life where romantic companionship was even remotely appealing. It was far too time-consuming a venture. I had my studies to mind – my ambitions to realise. I was a millennial woman, and fiercely independent at that. Intellectual pursuits were my main priority. However, I was still a sexual creature. I had needs. While I had Aaron to fulfil them, my casual arrangement with him allowed me to have one-night stands, which I occasionally indulged in. Tonight, William wanted me to treat myself to another one. So, why was I being so difficult? Because he’d been an arsehole at first? What did that matter if I wasn’t going to see him again? Plus, he had apologised, and now he wanted to make amends – properly. The light blue colour of his eyes struck through my defences while he gently released my jaw. Trailing his thumb across my cheek, he then buried his large hand in my long, wavy brown hair. His voice was as mollifying as a lullaby when he said, “I want you to know that if you decide to join me, I’ll have no expectations. I’d be happy just to talk all night.” My heart throbbed again. Seduced by the sensual promise that basked in his eyes, I gave him a faint nod. “I’m going to kiss you,” he warned. Utterly at his mercy, I swallowed. I couldn’t move another muscle. He had me completely spellbound. “Okay.” It was barely a whisper that escaped my mouth. After a lopsided smile, he pressed his soft mouth to mine, and I marvelled at the taste of him. Only seconds into it, I knew he was the best kisser I’d ever encountered. His lips moved tenderly across my own – gentle at first, until his lust overruled his resistance. With his hand in my hair, he brought me closer, and his remaining arm moved to sweep around me. While pressing me tightly against him, he kissed me like I’d never been kissed. It set my heart on fire. No words could ever match the immense feeling. Kissing someone had never felt so right. The mere motion of his lips overwhelmed me. So simply, he made me feel like the most precious thing alive – as if he couldn’t bring himself to stop until he had devoured all of me. Untamed and famished, he pushed his tongue into my mouth to explore the rest of me, and I, rather earnestly, welcomed him. It was only when blood rushed towards my sex that I realised why this particular kiss affected me so. For the first time in my life, kissing someone didn’t feel like a mandatory part of seduction. I actually wanted this. I wanted to kiss him – I was desperate to. In fact, I never wanted to stop. But he pulled away far too soon. Breaking away, he leaned forward to grab my drinks for me. He shoved them into my hands, impatient, while he stared intensely into my eyes. Breathless, he ordered, “Neck these. Then we’re leaving. Non-negotiable. I’m not wasting a second longer.” I obeyed without protest. Afterwards, he clasped my hand in his and stood while dragging me up with him. But all of a sudden, something was off about him. His gaze was fleeting, and he looked a bit lost, even dazed. It surprised me. He didn’t strike me as the type of man who would respond so profoundly to a mere kiss. Taking his expertise of the art into account, I was confident he’d kissed his fair share of women. So, was it possible that the same flame that had spread through my system like wildfire had also touched him? I found that hard to believe. He was too much of a stoic for it, much too nonchalant and arrogant. He started towards the exit, meaning we’d have to pass the bar where Olivia and Andrew sat chatting. Once we reached them, Olivia studied us bewildered. Was it the look on my face? It had to be. “We’ll be off,” William announced and released my hand to wrap his arm around my waist instead. Olivia released a laugh. “Sandra, you devil.” “Devil, indeed,” William confirmed and shot me a look that I didn’t understand. “Will you be alright by yourself, love?” I asked Olivia, concerned. There wasn’t a chance I would leave her behind if she didn’t approve. If that meant losing my one shot at a sensational night, then so be it. My duty as her best friend would come first. She eyed me shrewdly. “Will you?” “I’ll take good care of her, Livy. You have my word,” William assured her, suddenly the gallant man again, rather than the greedy, libidinous and domineering man I’d just been kissing. I quite fancied them both. “You better. I know who you are, should she happen to disappear by the morning,” Olivia threatened. “She might be sleeping until dusk, seeing as she won’t be getting much rest tonight, so don’t be concerned if she doesn’t answer her phone first thing in the morning,” William informed her. Andrew chuckled beside my gaping blonde friend. “He’s a bit of a character, but you get used to him. Very blunt, is all.” “Blunt, indeed,” I mumbled under my breath. “It was lovely to make your acquaintance, Livy. I hope we’ll meet again,” William stated before he leaned in to offer her cheek a peck. “You’re a sweet girl. Again, I’m sorry about earlier.” “Y-yeah. Me too,” she stammered and met my eyes with evident concern, and I knew why. ‘I hope we’ll meet again.’ I hoped it was only his courteous side speaking, because as far as I was aware, this was a one-time arrangement. Had I jumped the gun by assuming that no-strings-attached was mutually understood? “I’ll see you Monday, Andy,” William continued to his friend, who responded with a perceptive smirk. “Looking forward to it. Have fun.” Without replying, William dragged me towards the cloakroom, and his impatience was clear from his long strides. “Do you live nearby?” I asked on our way there. “Yes,” he answered before I heard him mutter under his breath, “and thank fuck for that.” § § § “Have you got the time?” I wondered aloud when he had guided me along the streets of Soho for a few minutes. Raising the hand that wasn’t holding mine, William eyed his wristwatch. I swallowed as I recognised the brand – a Rolex. Glancing up at his profile, I realised that he reeked of upper-class wealth, and I wasn’t ensnared by it. Rich people could sometimes be dreadfully arrogant with their aristocratic tendencies. However, since I wasn’t one for prejudice, I wouldn’t let his potential fortune define my impression of him. Besides, Jason came from a wealthy background as well, and he was as close to an ideal human being as could be. “Ten to ten,” William said and tugged me closer. “Ten to ten? I was only there for about an hour?” I replied astounded. Had he managed to seduce me that fast? How licentious of me – and I wasn’t even tipsy! Seemingly amused, he glanced at me from the corner of his eye. “If it’s any consolation, I didn’t leave you much choice,” he said and rounded a corner to enter Wardour Street. I frowned at myself. Was I really so desperate for him that I couldn’t last much longer than an hour? Poor Olivia. I hoped I hadn’t ruined her evening. “Do you think Andy will take good care of Livy?” I inquired worriedly. “I feel like I’m being a rubbish friend.” “Again, I didn’t leave you much choice.” I halted promptly. “We ought to head back.” William chuckled. “I’m afraid I disagree. You’re really doing her a favour, Sandra.” “But what if I’m not? What if Andy rejects her and she ends up alone tonight?” From the wrinkle that formed across his nose, I got the impression that he could understand where I was coming from but – for selfish reasons – felt disinclined to oblige. Since he struggled to form a reply, I retrieved my hand from his grasp and continued to argue, “You said yourself that you expect Andy will get back with his girlfriend. Don’t you think he’ll reject Livy because of that? He’s probably not ready to be with someone else, especially so soon after spending an entire decade with his ex.” A sigh poured from his mouth while his shoulders sank, and he proceeded to study me for a brief while. Appearing to reach a conclusion to his contemplations, he confessed, “I’m tempted to lie because I’d like to be alone with you. But, at the same time, I wouldn’t want it to bite me on the arse later on, so I’ll be honest. Andy’s unlikely to sleep with your friend. He’s still in shambles over Chloe.” It was my turn to sigh. “Right. Well, then,” I mumbled and dropped my gaze to my feet. Had we really met our end already? It seemed so abrupt. “It’s just,” I said, “I’d like to be alone with you as well, but I don’t think it’s right to—” “I get it,” he interrupted with a nod. “You’re a good friend. I’d have done the same.” After sighing again, I directed my eyes to his and pouted. Since I was unsure of how to proceed, I resorted to admiring his beauty for a while. I could hardly believe I was about to turn him down. Then again, for the sake of friendship, there were few sacrifices I was unwilling to make. “I’ll walk you back,” he said after a short silence. “That’s not necessary.” “I insist. London’s not safe at night, especially for women like yourself.” A blush surfaced in my cheeks at his courteous behaviour and indirect compliment. Then, all of a sudden, an idea occurred to me. “You know what?” Reaching into my purse, I fished for my phone. “I could always just call her.” “A perk of the twenty-first century,” William joked and earned himself a smile. I hurried to locate Olivia’s number. While she was slow to pick up, at least she did. “Hello? Is everything okay?” she immediately asked. “Hi, love. Quick question.” “Yes?” “Are you absolutely sure you won’t mind if I—” “Oh, for heaven’s sake. We’ve already been over this.” I could hear her eyes roll. “It’s just that—” “Are you still with him?” “Yes.” “Then don’t keep the poor man waiting!” “But Livy, there’s something you ought to know first.” “What?” “I don’t think Andy’s interested in the same as you.” She was quiet for a beat before I heard her murmur to someone, “I’m so sorry. Please excuse me for a minute.” A few seconds of silence elapsed before her voice returned. “Hello, Cara?” “Yes, I’m still here. Did you hear what I said?” “Yes, but so what?” I frowned. “What do you mean ‘so what’?” “Why should that matter?” “Wasn’t your aim tonight to…” I paused to steal a glance at William. Lowering my voice, I continued, “find a man?” “Oh my God. Cara, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to find a rebound in the future. I love you for caring so much, but I wouldn’t dream of getting in your way. Besides, I’m genuinely enjoying myself. Andy’s a really sweet guy, and he’s actually hilarious. To be perfectly honest, I started friend-zoning him even before you called to warn me.” Unsure of her sincerity, I asked, “Really?” “Really. In fact, it dawned on me while we’ve been chatting that I don’t need to sleep with a stranger to reinstate my status as a single woman. What I need is an actual connection with someone. A one-night stand isn’t going to provide that, and it’s not going to help me get over Colin, either. Frankly, I think sleeping with Andy would’ve made me feel like shit. I’d feel used again, which is the last thing I need right now. Only a new, genuine connection is going to help me move past Colin.” Impressed with her rationale, my eyebrows arched. “Points for introspection, Livy. I’m glad you’ve got such a healthy mind.” “Are you being sarcastic?” I tittered. While I had a habit of being sarcastic, I wasn’t now. “No. I’m being sincere. I’m impressed.” “Thank you! Honestly, I’m a bit impressed myself if I can say that.” “You can,” I chuckled. “Well, then. With that out of the way, you can stop worrying about me. I’ll be fine. Get back to your man. I’ll want to hear every single detail in the morning.” “Okay. Speak soon, then.” “Yes. Love you.” “Love you too.” As soon as I rang off, I gave William a grin while stuffing my phone back into my purse. “She doesn’t want him that way either, apparently.” His responding grin far outmatched mine. “Problem’s solved then, I take it?” “Seems that way.” “Brilliant. She say why?” “Well, like Andy, she’s recently split from her partner as well.” “I see.” “Now, then. Where to?” “Right this way,” he said and reached for my hand again. As soon as our skin made contact, my heart contracted in the most peculiar way. In fact, I couldn’t recall having experienced a similar sensation in all my life. It was almost painful in its intensity. “Besides,” I said once we started walking, “I’m sure she could use a sympathetic shoulder to lean on, which Andy can provide. I’ve no idea what it’s like to endure a break-up, so I’m sure she appreciates speaking with someone who understands, even if they don’t go into it.” “You’ve never had a boyfriend?” William inquired, seemingly astonished. I shook my head. “Nor am I looking for one.” “Why not?” he queried, and I found his tone slightly odd, as if he were feigning nonchalance towards the subject. “Because I don’t have the time that’s required for a happy one.” “Please elaborate.” “I’m very dedicated to my studies,” I explained. “So, firstly, I can’t afford to be preoccupied with a man, as I’m sure it would divide my attention. Secondly, he wouldn’t deserve to get only leftover scraps of my time, which is what would happen.” Glancing up, I thought William looked quite impressed with my reasoning. “Is that the real reason you’re reluctant to see me again?” Yet again, his directness caught me off guard. “You’re very forward,” I commented. “Don’t digress.” My heart slowed while I gazed blankly ahead. He was putting me on the spot, and it was uncomfortable. I worried my honesty would change his mind, but I decided to share it anyway. “Yes.” I could, of course, have resorted to a lie, but I wasn’t in the habit of mistreating people. If his feelings were under threat of being toyed with, he deserved to know. I would have wanted as much for myself. “I see.” William nodded. “And it’s never occurred to you to let your suitors be the judge of that?” “Of what?” “Of whether they’d be content with only ‘leftover scraps’ of your time.” Facing him, I lingered on a step. “I – no. Why should I? Wouldn’t that involve inviting the risk in the first place?” He shrugged. “I suppose. Then again, the reward you’d reap would be invaluable.” “But the odds of achieving that are astronomical.” I shook my head. “I really don’t think it’s the best tactic.” “And there’s no way I can convince you otherwise?” Stealing a glance at him, I noticed that he was consciously keeping his gaze from meeting mine. I sighed. He might be the most alluring man I’d ever met, but I was a rational woman. I knew meeting him again would be sealing my doom. He was a little too alluring. I could manage one night without getting attached to him, but another was a different story entirely. My attraction to him was too immense to ignore. I’d never been so captured by another individual before, and surely not so fast. It made me fear his power over me. If we met again, I didn’t trust that I’d be able to resist growing fond of him. I didn’t trust myself not to give in to temptation. I would want to explore more of him – every corner of his enigmatic mind, and every fibre of his mouth-watering anatomy. I couldn’t have that. Not now. I didn’t have the capacity for it. I was a top student. Becoming infatuated could ruin that, and I wasn’t about to take the risk. To add to that, I wasn’t interested in making a commitment to someone when I knew I’d fall short of their expectations – and, even in the event that I didn’t, my reverence for them would tell me they deserved better than what I could offer. “I’m afraid not.” William chuckled, but it was a humourless sound. “Well, I’ll try either way. For starters, I both admire and respect your dedication to your studies. If you agree to meet me again, you’ll find that out for yourself. I wouldn’t dream of getting in the way of your education.” Somewhat surprised, I looked up at him. “I appreciate that, but I’m afraid it’s out of your hands. You don’t get to decide how I respond to something. This is what I’ve spent the past three years doing, and I’m not inclined to change my ways for you.” Faint irritation swelled in his eyes upon my rejection. With a clenched jaw, he glared away. “I must admit,” he said, “I’m a bit shocked your sole intention tonight is to use me for your own sexual benefit. What the hell is that all about?” Guilt flooded my body. Unsure of what to say, I fell silent while he continued, “Please don’t tell me it’s due to some discreditable idea of feminism, because that’s nothing short of toxic feminism, and you’re doing every feminist – myself included – a great dishonour and disservice by acting like it’s not.” He couldn’t have been more wrong. With eyes that sought acquittal, I replied vehemently, “No, of course not. I just assumed that sex with no strings attached was mutually understood and agreed upon.” “Well, you assumed wrong,” he retorted. “Fuck’s sake. You could have warned me.” Wearing a pout, I sighed. “Well, I’m warning you now – and I’m sorry. I do—” I paused and motioned towards him—“fancy you. I’m just not interested in anything more than one night.” He was silent for a beat, contemplating. This was it, I realised. “I suppose I’ll just have to fuck you so well that you’ll change your mind,” he finally asserted. Air stormed out of my lungs like someone had just punched me in the gut. I doubted I’d ever get used to the shocking – yet somehow arousing – effect of his vulgar tongue. Frankly, I wondered at that moment just what else his tongue was capable of. “But if you don’t mind my saying,” he continued before I could catch my breath, “I think you’re being ridiculous. Law isn’t an easy path of education either, and I completed my degree at Cambridge. Even so, I still found time for romantic endeavours. That should speak volumes.” I gaped. He’d studied at Cambridge? No wonder his intellect had impressed me earlier. Smirking, he placed his index finger below my chin and closed my mouth. “Something to consider,” he added. “You can gape later, when we’re naked in my flat.” The mouth of this man rendered me speechless. It must have earned him a slap or two during his lifetime. He didn’t bother waiting for my response. Instead, he started towards the entrance of an elegant white building with warehouse-style windows. A Starbucks resided on the ground floor. Was he a regular there? He entered a code on a keypad to unlock the front door that was next to the Starbucks, and after pushing it open, he stepped aside to let me enter. As if I’d walked into a past era, I gazed around the splendid reception area where marble made up the floor and walls. “Nice building,” I remarked. He didn’t respond. Instead, he guided me towards the lift and pushed the button. The doors opened immediately. After ushering me in, he joined me inside and pressed the digits of a code again. We watched the doors slide shut, and as they did, I mentally thanked myself for having shaved earlier that day. Gravity gently tugged my gut as we rode up, but it was nothing compared to the magnetism the man beside me exuded. He seemed electric, and it was making me increasingly nervous. Looking over, I saw that he was completely composed. Was I the only one struggling to resist wanton urges? It seemed that way. That notion bruised my ego so much that a pout dominated my face. “I hope you’re not a Patrick Bateman,” I murmured, hoping to lighten the atmosphere. From the corner of my eye, I saw his lips twitch. “An American psycho? How could I be? I’m not a Yank.” “Ha-ha.” He grinned to himself. “I’m afraid the only thing I’ve in common with Mr Bateman is a taste for the finer things in life,” he replied and, for emphasis, lowered his hand from my back to gently pat my bum. A second later, we arrived at our destination, which I noted was on the top floor. The doors parted to reveal a vestibule where a dark brown entrance door interrupted the wall straight ahead. With a gentle push, he encouraged me to approach it. Here as well, a code was required to unlock the door, and he entered it quickly. Turning the handle, he revealed a marvellous and spacious flat. Complementing the exterior door, solid dark brown wood served for a floor. Surrounding it were cream-coloured walls decorated with a fair number of contemporary paintings. The interior was undeniably modern, though with a touch of old-fashioned moments. He stepped in first to hold the door for me, and when his eyes met mine again, they were lit with desire alone. “Please, Sandra. Won’t you come in?” he asked, and his voice was an invitation in and of itself. 4 SATISFIED? With my breath stuck in my throat, I walked in and was just about to remove my heels when William clasped my wrist to tug me harshly towards him. As I slammed into his robust body, the little air I had left was knocked out. “I’d rather you kept those on,” he purred and then dipped down to engulf my mouth. Wide-eyed, I mellowed against him, utterly at his mercy. The effect this man had on me was beyond my comprehension. I felt like a snake hypnotised by its master’s flute. While his mouth demanded possession of mine, he shut the door. The sound of it being locked made my heart skip a beat. I was both literally and figuratively trapped, and yet I harboured no desire to escape. Then, was I truly trapped? Perhaps I was suffering a mild case of Stockholm syndrome, because I was surely in favour of my captor. The taste and scent of him was intoxicating. How had it come to this? I definitely hadn’t been expecting his attention earlier tonight. And yet, here I was, about to ravish him while I explored every bit of his tantalising body. He didn’t waste a second. Impatiently, he slipped his tongue into my mouth and reached for the sash of my coat to untie it. As soon as it came undone, he spread it apart and grabbed my waist to press me against him. Without breaking from his mouth, I shrugged out of my coat and let it fall to the floor behind me. The second it landed, he pinned me forcefully against the wall, and the impact caused me to groan into his mouth. Upon the sound, his smile interfered with our passionate kiss. “You know…” he cooed as he moved to trace soft kisses down the slope of my neck. When he found my throbbing pulse, he gently sucked and nibbled on it. The sensation of it made my eyes close. So quickly, he’d located one of the most sensitive areas of my body. “Despite the sorry excuse for a man that I am, you seem to find yourself so lost and desperate that you’ve wound up in my bed after all.” Using my own words against me, he riled me. “Is that supposed to arouse me?” “No. However, it certainly aroused me,” he countered with a smug chuckle. When he suddenly thrust his crotch against me, my lips parted. His erection strained against the lower part of my abdomen as a silent promise of pleasure. The anticipation was thick and dense in the air between us, and it revealed itself in how increasingly erratic our breathing became. Meanwhile, his large hands trailed down my waistline to grip my hips. “The shape of you should be illegal, love,” he stated admiringly and leaned slightly away to get a better look. A moment later, his gaze struck mine like a bullet. Caught by his allure, a groan leapt over my tongue before I flung my arms around his neck to bring his tempting lips back to mine. As the delectable flavour of him exploded in my mouth, I closed my eyes to savour it. Like an addict, I craved more of the drug-like sensations he evoked. Under his influence, I felt ecstatic. Expertly, his tongue teased mine with gentle flicks. I’d already fallen victim to his remarkable way of kissing, but that didn’t prevent it from mystifying me. How was it possible to be so tender, and yet simultaneously so forceful? He wasn’t eating my mouth, and yet I had never felt so devoured. His lips moved according to the bliss-point – the brink between too much and too little. Needing air, I pulled away, albeit reluctantly. “Where did you learn to kiss like that?” My question prompted his smirk. “Unfortunately for me, you weren’t there.” Pink climbed to my cheeks. When I was about to reply, he distracted me by dropping to his knees. Puzzled, I wondered, “What are you doing?” As a response, he folded his hands over the pale skin of my bare knees and brought them over his shoulders. Thinking I was about to fall backwards, I squealed inwardly, but thankfully, the wall behind me served as support. In silence, I commended his original move. It left me even more curious about what scenes he could orchestrate. So far, he hadn’t proved particularly conventional. At the sound of my stifled squeal, he grinned up at me, and the look in his eyes completely paralysed me. Through long dark lashes, he watched me intensely. Held by his wilful gaze, I didn’t object to his next advances. Slowly but confidently, his hands smoothed up my naked thighs, warm and soft, before moving inward. His touch left tingling sensations in its wake, making me pant loudly. Raw arousal flooded my veins the closer he drew to my soaking sex, and all the while, my heart thundered in my chest. Only then did I realise the state of my black lace knickers. Blushing scarlet, I stared at him bashfully. Not once had he broken eye contact. When his slow fingers reached the fabric of my wet underwear, he placed the pad of his thumb precisely against my throbbing clit. Acute and sharp, the sensation shot up my spine all the way to my nose. My back arched away from the wall while my hands gathered in his dark brown hair. My eyes shut. Holy shit. “Ah,” I groaned as he rubbed gently. “Sandra… You’re drenched,” he informed me smugly. Batting my lashes apart, I was caught yet again by his smouldering stare. He had beautiful eyes. They resembled a serene ocean surrounding a warm paradise. How ironic. He was anything but that. “No, please. Have me already,” I pleaded, high-pitched, and dragged my hands through his hair. It was soft and thick between my fingers. “Oh, I intend to, darling,” he assured me softly. While observing me intently, keenly attuned to any response, he pushed up the fabric of my purple dress to reveal my bum. Appreciative of my bared flesh, he smoothed his hands across the firm curve of it and, carnal in his methods, squeezed my cheeks before he gave my right side a quick, harsh spank. I nearly jerked away from him, but his hold on my hip prevented me. “Ah,” I hissed as the sting of his palm burnt a mark into my skin. “That’s for being a bloody pain in the arse earlier,” he growled and gripped my knickers. “Now, how much do you care for these?” Confused by his question, I watched him. It was difficult to keep up with him. I was much too aroused to stay focused on anything but his hands on me. “I’ll just have to find out then,” he murmured after my failure to reply. Shocking me, he ripped my lace thong to shreds between his strong fingers. Overwhelmed by how arousing I found his action to be, I gawked at him. After discarding the ruined garment by his front door, he leaned in – ever so slowly – to trace the inner side of my thigh with soft kisses. “Do we need protection?” he murmured as he trailed the tip of his nose across my skin. “I’m clean,” I assured him breathily. “Are you?” “I am.” I swallowed while I considered whether to trust him. “Good. But I’d prefer if we used a condom either way.” I tensed as his lips grazed closer and closer to my bundle of nerves. Just before he reached it, my fingers formed a fist in his hair to halt his advances. Noticing my reluctance, he replied, “I’ll respect that. However, the scent of you is driving me mad, so I’m willing to risk it. May I?” I blushed at his vulgar statement. I wasn’t used to verbal lovers, but William appeared to be one. Though, surprisingly, it only made him all the more alluring. If I went along with this, I’d finally discover just what else his tongue was capable of, and that idea was slowly but surely seducing me. “If you give me anything, I’ll have your balls on a platter,” I warned. The cool breath of his chuckle spread across my wet folds, and my jaw clenched. “I’ve no doubt you will. However, I won’t give you anything other than bliss,” he claimed. I looked at the ceiling as I contemplated whether to surrender to temptation. The desire to feel his tongue on me was too immense to ignore. I badly wanted to assess his talents with it, especially since I was confident it would bring me pure ecstasy. Besides, it seemed unlikely that he’d lie about being clean just for a chance to please me. In the end, what he intended to do was entirely selfless. He wouldn’t derive any physical pleasure from it himself. “Fine. But I’d still prefer to use a condom later on, to diminish the risk.” “You have yourself a deal, love. I can’t wait to sample your taste,” he answered lustfully and placed a gentle kiss on the spot just above my clit. For quite some time, he continued to circle it with soft kisses. Rigid and enthralled, I watched his head between my thighs. This teasing was driving me insane. I’d never endured such agonising lust before. He was tantalising to a fault. In fact, if he didn’t pick up the pace soon, I’d have to take matters into my own hands. “Will,” I prompted. Again, he chuckled against my folds, letting his breath fan across them. I inhaled sharply and squeezed my eyes shut. “All in good time, darling,” he reminded me and placed a tender kiss directly on my throbbing bud. God, it felt good. The friction was divine. My legs tensed. “Again,” I begged. Then, a slick and warm sensation circled my clit, expertly sensitising it. It was his tongue, and it was astounding. My mouth formed a circle as my breath abandoned me. Lowering his focus, his tongue lapped across my folds to collect my fluids. “Mm. Even better than I’d imagined,” he claimed while savouring the taste of me. What an unbelievably erotic man – novel. Blushing at his words, I opened my eyes to watch him again. He sent me a wink and, while making his return to my flesh, held my gaze. “Oh,” I whined as his tongue drew slow circles. Deliberately, he avoided making direct contact, and it was driving me wild. My blood felt like it was on fire. Hot and bothered, I pleaded, “Please, Will.” Finally, he caved in. As he swept his tongue directly across my clit, my head jerked back into the wall, but the pleasure he provided numbed out the pain. Resolutely, he increased the speed of his flicks, and his pattern was out of this world – a combination of up and down and round. He was blowing my mind – literally left, right, and centre – and masterfully crafting a sensational orgasm within me. Never, in my life, would I forget the climax I was about to endure. I was certain. The tension raged through my veins, and my entire body flexed as I struggled to withstand it. It centred in my lower abdomen, growing larger and larger. When it reached the verge of unbearable, I cried out his name. Determined to drive me over the edge, he persisted. My toes curled first. Then my shudders started. Oh no. “Ah!” I gasped as the most powerful orgasm I’d ever experienced flooded my body. Convulsing away from the wall, I crouched over him while I tugged his beautiful hair, overcome with relief and a sense of liberation. Oh, my God. While I drowned in my pool of bliss, he shoved my legs off his shoulders. Next, he grabbed my waist to hoist me up against the wall. Only vaguely did I hear the undoing of a belt. I was much too sated to mind reality, but when the crest of his erection swept across my soaked folds, I made a swift return to it. “Condom!” I chided and opened my eyes to glare at him. I was religious about my practice of safe sex. With a look of disdain on his face, he frowned back. “What do you take me for?” Confused, I directed my attention to his erect member between us and blinked, surprised. He’d already sheathed his length in the latex, and I noted to myself that I’d never come across such a perfect shaft, both in length and girth. “Right.” “Satisfied?” Meeting his eyes again, I gave him an inveigling smile. “Almost.” I lowered my hand to trace the length of him with my fingertips – all while I held his gaze. “Get inside me and I will be.” Lust and wonder danced in his eyes while he chewed on his lower lip. Meanwhile, the rest of his mouth curved into his increasingly familiar crooked smile. “Careful what you wish for,” he warned. Pushing his hips forward, he reached between us to align himself with my entrance again. While he coated the tip of himself in my wetness, he continued roughly, “You’d better muster your strength, love. By the time I’m finished with you, you won’t be able to walk.” Saliva amassed in my mouth upon his carnal warning. While I stared into his striking eyes, my heart throbbed in the same alien manner that it had earlier this evening. Although the sensation was sweet, it was also devastatingly profound. Seeing as I’d never experienced anything quite like it, I couldn’t fathom the nature of it. Indeed, he was devastating, but before I could contemplate my strange heartbeat further, he thrust powerfully into me. “Ah,” I whimpered when he shoved past my walls until he reached the very end of me. It hurt, albeit faintly. Gripping his broad shoulders, I clawed at the fabric of his shirt and further into his skin. “Shit,” he breathed, “you feel fucking amazing. The pressure of you—” He cut himself off by demanding my mouth, and while kissing me as though I were his salvation, he withdrew from within me. “Be gentle, please,” I mumbled against his lips. “You’re very large.” I felt, rather than saw, his responding smile. “You’ll survive,” he countered smugly and pushed forcefully into me again. His thrust was of such strength that I was pushed slightly up the wall. I hissed into his mouth and locked my legs around his strong waist. “Fuck.” He started a punishing rhythm – in and out, and so bloody deep, but the friction he provided was nothing short of exquisite. This man was clearly an expert in the art of fucking. “Oh,” I panted. My brows furrowed as I was submerged in the intense look in his eyes. I’d surely scored myself a ten out of ten tonight, hadn’t I? I must have been storing up some serious karma when I’d consoled Olivia through her heartache. Nothing else could explain this uncanny encounter. Then again, I’d never believed in karma. I was just lucky. It was that simple. To express my gratitude, I would savour this beautiful man. My eyes closed when his large hands began to roam across my body, exploring and caressing every curve. Ruled by zeal, he grabbed the fabric of my dress above my breasts to liberate the aching mass. Pushing the material downwards, he grinned at the view now unveiled. “Just when I thought you couldn’t get any more perfect,” he stated and lowered his head to engulf my left nipple with his mouth. My face flushed at his sensual compliment, and further when he harshly sucked my erect nipple. Groaning, I buried my breast deeper within his possession and relished the delicious sensations that rippled throughout my body. He was well on his way to obliterating all of my defences. Would one night with this man truly be enough? I worried it wouldn’t. Truly, if this was what it entailed, it was tempting to submit to him. Moving away from my breast, he kissed his way across my sternum and up my neck to reach the line of my jaw, all while he continued to fuck me into oblivion against the wall. We hadn’t even made it to his bed, I realised. Upon a particularly perfect thrust, I gasped and hugged him against me. He’d struck precisely against my front wall, a spot that was especially sensitive. Seeming to notice this, he repeated the same motion, again and again. “Oh my God,” I mouthed, because I lost my breath. “Come on, love,” he growled under his breath. “Give in to me,” he commanded, voice excitingly authoritative. Now holding my breath, I squeezed my eyes shut and felt the tension border on unbearable. A few more of those thrusts and I would come undone whether I wanted to or not. “Ah!” I wailed as my toes curled again. “No,” I whined. I didn’t want to climax so soon. Burying his hand in my hair, he tugged my head back to expose my neck. “Yes,” he panted and thrust expertly into me. Fuck! Immediately, I was sent over the edge again, reeling straight back into bliss. I pushed against him, desperate for space. I was so overwhelmed that I feared I’d implode. My entire body was convulsing, but he confined me to him, strong arms becoming a cage. “Stop, please,” I uttered through a desperate pant. “You’re exceptionally sensitive,” he remarked, voice full of wonder. He wasn’t the first to tell me that, but that didn’t make it less true. I’d always been like this. Perhaps that was why I enjoyed sex so much. I rarely had it without coming at least once. “Yeah, well, for better and for worse,” I hoarsely responded. He chuckled and, to my relief, stalled his thrusts. Instead, he brought us away from the wall and carried me into his living area. Locating his dark brown dining table, he lowered us onto it before he propped himself on his strong arms, which were placed on