“Sarabeth and Michael moved me with their artistic and romantic dilemmas—and the sex is both smoking hot and beautifully entwined with the other aspects of the story.” (Teresa Noelle Roberts, author of the Duals and Donovans series)
“She really dumped you?” Brad looked appropriately sympathetic. “Sheez, if she’ll dump someone like you, I don’t stand a chance.”
“Nope,” Michael said. “You don’t have nearly enough Hollywood clout for her.”
The art gallery was Brad’s baby; he handled the displays and special shows while a semi-silent partner dealt with the money matters. Brad’s tastes tended towards classical art, but he still allowed for a variety of styles, just to be fair.
The gallery was in a former Hollywood hotel, retaining much of its Art Deco décor. The grand lobby—now the main exhibit space—had etched glass and terrazzo floors, and graceful arched metal women flanking the fireplace. Ferns hung in gilt baskets; light jazz filtered from hidden speakers.
To go with the theme, Brad favored a white waistcoat and black bowtie. It somehow worked with his close-cropped blond hair and grey eyes.
“It’s because you told her you want to quit, isn’t it?” Brad asked.
“I never told her that.”
Brad was, in fact, the only person that Michael had told. When you’d been friends from someone since childhood, you had that kind of rapport. He’d never really had the chance to tell Jill, anyway. Which said something right there about their relationship.
It wasn’t as if he wanted to completely quit modeling. It wasn’t awful, and the money was, in fact, incredible. He liked that a lot. But more and more, he wanted to be behind the camera.
He knew his photographs were good. Brad had been bugging him to do a display at the gallery, but he wasn’t ready for that yet. He didn’t want to feel that he’d gotten the showing because his friend co-owned the place. He’d do it when it felt right and he felt ready.
“You can do both, you know,” Brad said. “Look at Viggo Mortensen—you know, that Aragon guy.”
“Whatever. Apparently he also paints, writes poetry, yadda yadda. A real medieval man.”
“I suppose.” Michael snagged a flute of champagne from a passing waiter’s tray and sipped it. Good stuff, he thought appreciatively. “People already took him seriously as an actor, though. It’s different with me. They tend to assume I don’t have a brain in my pretty little head.”
“Most guys don’t have brains in their little heads.” Brad snorted into his champagne. “Sorry. I know you’re being serious. So prove ‘em wrong—show them you’ve got an MBA and artistic talent to boot.”
“I’m thinking of doing it under my real name. At least that would be one good thing to come out of the pseudonym.” Michael hated that he’d naively caved in to his agent’s pressure and taken on a “stage name.” She swore it would ruin his career if he changed back to his own name. He wasn’t sure he believed her, but he knew the transition would be tricky.
“And then, when you’re famous for the photography, you can come out,” Brad continued. “Well, not like that, but you know what I mean. Use both names, like John Cougar Mellencamp did.”
“Brad,” Michael said carefully, “what’s my public name?”
“And what’s my real name?”
“And what happens if you put them together like John Cougar Mellencamp?”
“Michael Steele Ba… Oh.” Brad pressed his lips together, obviously trying not to laugh.
Michael shook his head and took another sip of champagne.
And nearly choked when he saw her.
He’d thought he’d been sexually attracted to Jill. Compared to his reaction to the woman across the room, his feelings for Jill had been as if he’d been a Puritan. And she’d been his Puritan sister.
His mystery woman—and, amazingly, he already thought of her as “his”—had a certain resemblance to Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Chicago”: similar black bobbed hair, just a little longer; ripe, dark, kissable lips; sultry eyes that, even though they hadn’t turned in his direction, were enough to pierce through him. But he would walk right by Ms. Zeta-Jones (whom he’d met once, at a party, and who had been positively delightful) for the woman across the room.
The top of her dress harkened back to the Victorian era, but there was nothing prudish about how the corset, with its satin-and-lace straps, hugged her waist and pressed her breasts upward like a creamy offering.
Michael wanted to pour champagne down her cleavage and then rescue every drop with his tongue. In the fantasy, he could hear her gasp with pleasure, could taste the mixture of champagne and flesh, could envision her tossing her head back in abandoned ecstasy.
At this rate, Michael thought, easing behind a sculpture of twisted metal, he was going to have to pour the champagne down his own crotch to relieve his sudden, aching erection before he got thrown out of the art gallery for indecency.
Unfortunately, that thought led to the fantasy of the woman drinking the champagne off his cock, and that was no help at all in relieving the erotic pressure in his pants.
“Are you okay, man?” Brad asked.
Michael started to answer, but his response came out as a strangled gasp. He cleared his throat and tried again.
“Just admiring that woman over there.”
Brad followed his gaze. “Oh yeah, her. Isn’t she a cutie? I think she’s in a band. God, I love that schoolgirl-punk look.”
“Not her, her friend.”
“Oh. She’s hot, yeah, but she’s…I dunno, tall. And I’ve heard she’s kind of…”
“What?” Michael’s stomach dropped. She was a lesbian. Brad was going to say that she was a lesbian. Damn.
“Uh, creative. Inventive,” Brad said.
Michael’s hopes soared again. “Meaning?”
“She’s not averse to…variations. Kinks, maybe.”
His brain flashed more images: The woman in leather. The woman with her hands bound, writhing beneath him and begging for release. The woman in front of a large window at night, daring somebody anonymous to watch. The woman…
It wasn’t really anything he’d spent a lot of time thinking about until now. He’d had partners with whom he’d played the naughty-librarian game, the I’ve-been-a-bad-girl game. The games had been fun, but they’d been games.
Now he was thinking about it. Just standing over there, she made him think about it.
He hailed a waiter and exchanged his empty glass for a full one.
“How in the world do you know that?” he asked Brad.
His friend grinned. “She’s an artist, and it’s my job to know about artists. In fact, she’s doing the next show here. Her friend, the blonde, is on our mailing list. You going to go talk to her?”
“No, bonehead, the tall one. The one that has your knickers in a twist.”
The woman in question turned suddenly, causing her sassy purple skirt—a well-placed contrast to the corset—to flare out. Michael caught a glimpse of lace at her thigh.
His mouth went dry.
“In a minute. I need an opening line.”
“‘I’m a world-famous male model’ isn’t good enough for you? How about, ‘I’ve got an amazingly big d—’”
“Why don’t you use that one on the blonde?” Michael suggested.
He stared across the room. Around him, conversation ebbed and flowed. It was a coup for the artist that someone of his stature attended the gallery opening, but really, he couldn’t find it in himself to care about the art, or even the artist, right now.
He wanted her.
As he watched, she plucked a cream puff from a tray and popped it into her mouth, slowly sliding her fingers back out between pursed lips to catch any crumb. Her eyes closed in an expression of sheer carnal delight.
Would she look like that when her lips were wrapped around his cock? Would her eyes close helplessly when he entered her, or would she stare at him, pupils dark and dilated with passion?
Her tongue flicked out to secure any remaining cream.
She turned, and saw him.
Her tongue remained poised on her lower lip, inviting, glistening.
A long moment. Michael forgot what breathing was like. His vision narrowed. Sound faded.
And then she smiled.
Sarabeth was reasonably sure that someone had slipped a hallucinogen into the utterly divine cream puff she’d just eaten.
That couldn’t be him over there, not really.
He was staring at her with so much…hunger. Her nipples hardened, pressing almost painfully against the satin of her corset. Just from the look he was giving her. Never in her wildest fantasies had she imagined him fixing such a predatory look on her.
Her wildest fantasies promptly got more detailed and wild.
If this was a hallucination, then she might as well run with it.
Just to make sure, she smiled at him.
She saw his nostrils flare as he sucked in air. Oh, he’d seen her, all right. No hallucination.
“Holy crap on a stick,” Anya said.
Sarabeth jumped. She’d practically forgotten Anya was standing next to her. Hell, she’d pretty much forgotten what her own name was.
“That’s him, isn’t it?” Anya hissed.
“I believe so, yes,” Sarabeth said, not taking her eyes off him.
“Jesus, he looks just as good with his shirt on,” Anya said appreciatively.
Sarabeth had to agree. He wore a royal blue button-down shirt that she suspected might be silk. Oh, she wanted to find out if it was silk. Wanted to run her fingers along the front of it. Wanted to peel it slowly off of him and suggest he run it along her naked body.
Then she could put her hands on his chest for real. Not cold clay, but hot, yielding flesh.
She stifled a moan.
“What are you going to do?” Anya asked.
Anya probably knew exactly what she was thinking, but if she spoke it out loud, her friend would never let her live it down.
“I’m going to…”
She had been about to say that she was going to go talk to him, but the decision has been taken away from her. He was heading straight for her.
He wore black pants that fit him oh, so very well. His thighs pressed against the material as he walked. She wanted to feel those hard muscles trapped between her legs as she rode him to completion…
Anya said something about not being a voyeur and darted away, leaving Sarabeth standing alone.
This is what a wounded gazelle must feel like when the lion’s stalking her. Trapped. Bracing herself to be devoured.
The thought of his teeth scraping against her skin made her legs tremble.
Then he was right in front of her, so close she could smell his strong, masculine scent.
“I’m not the artist,” she said. At his confused look, she continued, “I saw you looking at me, and thought you must have assumed I’m the artist.” She indicated the sculpture display. “I didn’t do these.”
“Do you know the artist?” he asked.
His voice was like melted chocolate dribbled down her spine in anticipation of his tongue licking it all back off.
She shook her head. “No, I’ve never met him.”
“So, what do you think of his artwork?”
She tore her gaze away from him and glanced around at the twisted lumps of metal.
“I think,” she said carefully, “that it’s not so much art as scraps leftover from high school shop class. Not so much art as…leftovers. If that’s what he was going for, then I’m afraid he lost me in the process.”
“Oh, thank goodness,” he said. “I was hoping it was just me.” He held out his hand. “Michael Barr.”
Too many sensations. The warmth of his flesh, the firmness of his grasp—oh, where she wanted him to grasp her, and caress her!—the tingling sensation on her palm as he drew away and his fingertips trailed across her nerve-heightened skin.
Your love slave, she thought, but thankfully she managed to answer aloud correctly. “Sarabeth Delaney.”
“And you’re an artist, Sarabeth?”
His voice lingered over her name as if tasting it. Savoring it. She wanted to hear him say it, husky with passion, as she tasted him in turn, pressing her lips against salty….
“I’m a sculptor,” she said. “And you?”
Did she sense the slightest hint of hesitation before he answered? And, she mused, he’d introduced himself with a different last name.
He probably didn’t want to be recognized, she decided. That was common enough in Hollywood. Stars were people, first and foremost, and an evening was far more enjoyable if they could have normal conversations and not be fawned over.
Fair enough. If that’s the way he wanted it, that’s exactly how she’d handle it. He didn’t need to know she was already obsessed with him.
As long as she didn’t give herself away by tearing off his clothes and jumping him in the middle of the gallery. Because lord knew her hands were trembling to do exactly that.
“Have I seen any of your work?” he asked.
Oh honey, just wait ‘til I have you naked and I’ll show you my work. “My first big show is the next one on the schedule here. In two weeks.”
His eyes, blue pools she wanted to luxuriate in, showed appreciation. “That’s wonderful. You must be very excited.”
He couldn’t know how excited. How her entire body craved another sample of his touch. How if he touched her between her legs, he’d find her hot and wet and on the edge of explosion.
What turned her on the most was that he obviously wanted her, too. She could see it in the darkness of his eyes, in the way his nostrils flared again when she took a sip of champagne, and in crotch.
She tried very, very hard not to stare at the obvious thickness pressing against his trousers.
She had to clench her hand into a fist just to keep herself from reaching out and touching…
He dipped his head close to hers, and when he spoke, she could feel his breath tickling her ear, an erotic, warm breeze. She stifled a moan.
“So, Sarabeth Delaney the Sculptor,” he murmured, “why don’t you show me the rest of the gallery and tell me what you think of the art?”
To give herself time to get her legs to find the strength to move, she toyed with the choker at her neck. She was gratified to see his eyes drop to her cleavage, and linger there.
He, too, seemed to be struggling for control.
What an aphrodisiac that was.
She’d never been one for one-night stands, for anonymous sex. Despite her long-standing lust for this man whom she’d never met prior to the last ten minutes, she didn’t know anything about him. He could be…dangerous.
Oh, she already knew that he was dangerous. She’d had no idea that she’d react to him so completely, so totally, upon being in his presence.
That she would be willing to throw all caution to the wind just for the chance to be closer to him. To press against him. To feel him.
Rational thought fled. All she knew was that she wanted him, and he wanted her.
She could cope with dangerous, she decided. It would be worth it in the end.
For now, though, it did make sense to get to talk with him more in a public place. Get to know him as a person. See how riled up she could get him, with the flirting and the teasing. How much she could get him to want her. To need her.
But, God, the things she wanted to do to him.
She wondered how long she could hold out. How long before she broke down and excused herself to the ladies room where she could relieve the aching need that threatened to consume her?
“I’d love to,” she said.