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Undead and Unsure (Undead #12) Twenty Wishes (Blossom Street #5)

Elder stood in silent reproach.

No, Remy, this isn’t your burden. His eyes looked darker set against his ashen skin, and I hated how reasonable he sounded.Wise beyond his years, but he’d always been that way. A weird combination of little kid and old man that I had never understood. I was proud of him for wanting to sacrifice himself to do the right thing, but I was mad at him too. He didn’t need to do this.

The Maze Runner (The Maze Runner #1)

He didn’t need to die, and I wouldn’t let him.The door behind me opened, and a guard came in. He grabbed me by my arms and pulled me to my feet, but I didn’t put up a fight. I knew it would be futile in the long run, and I didn’t want Max to see me like that.He just stared up at me, already resigned to living like this. As the guard pulled me out, Max’s sad face was the last thing that I saw.

Halo: The Flood (Halo #2)

I realized exactly what I had to do.You are so, so lucky you know me, Tatum repeated for the twentieth time as he paced in front of me. I leaned back against the trailer, where we had been standing for the past fifteen minutes as he lectured me.

Tatum actually did have some clout around here, and using all of his considerable charm, he’d talked the officials into letting me go with a warning. They called it extenuating circumstances, but next time, I’d get the stockades.

For a while, people loitered around us. We had been a spectacle of sorts, but everyone had gone away now. It was just the two of us, hidden in the shadows of the trailer, so he could calm down the show he’d been putting on. He’d been playing it up like he had nothing to do with it.Our brotherhood had taken a small shift the day Cassie Wyatt moved into the neighborhood and enrolled in our school. Like us, Cassie-or Cass, as we soon started to call her-had been a social outcast and easy-pickings for the mean girls. She had taken to following us around on her bike even when we tried to shoo her away. After a while, her sheer determination to make friends had won both of us over, and she was officially in the club. Her father, who tended to drink too much and work too little, had raised Cass. She always put off going home until the last possible minute. As a teenager, she would fall into what I later would recognize as a manic-depressive state where she would cycle from off-the-chart highs to almost-suicidal lows. Aidan had been in love with her for most of our childhood and all of his teenage years. Cass, though, only ever had eyes for me. Sure, she loved him as a friend, but as we grew older, she saw more in me, and eventually I returned her feelings. If I hadn’t been such a competitive bastard, I would have backed off and hoped she turned to Aidan. Would it have changed anything? That question had haunted me for years. We dated through high school and were still together in college until one night changed all of us forever. Shaking off the feelings that threatened to choke me, I tune back into Aidan’s taunting. For you, my friend, I will request the best they have. Maybe a nice, chubby blonde? Aidan jokes. At that moment, my assistant comes in to let me know my next appointment has arrived. Thanks, Cindy. How about dragging Aidan out of my office so I can stay on schedule? I sit back in my chair and smile as Cindy-always a sucker for punctuality-literally removes Aidan from his chair and hustles him out the door. God, I love that woman, and she deserves a bonus just for putting up with my moody ass every day. She is in her mid-fifties and has been with me for five years. After her two sons left home for college, she returned to the workforce, and I am grateful to have her. She runs my office like an army sergeant, and I suspect she has moved me firmly into the role of another son. She is a good judge of character and had never liked Laurie; I caught her rolling her eyes behind Laurie’s back on more than one occasion. As she ushers in my next appointment, I have to wonder just what in the hell I am getting myself into, letting Aidan hire a date for me from an escort service. I imagine some bubble-gum-chewing Barbie doll showing up tonight. Knowing Aidan, she will have huge tits and very little upstairs. If it keeps Monique off me for the evening, though, who cares if the only current events the woman knows are the words to the latest Britney Spears song. Lia I walk into my apartment and promptly fall down onto the couch. My roommate Rose looks up from the book she is buried in, asking, Bad day, kid? Ugh, yeah. I barely slept at all last night thanks to this cold, and now I have an assignment tonight from Date Night. Rose grimaces as I blow my nose and settle back against the cushions. Why did you take the job when you feel like shit? Why do I ever? I need the money. At least this one is just for some dinner meeting. God, I hope he’s not a playboy like the last one. He kept thinking he could buy his way into my panties if he offered enough. What is so hard to understand about escort? Nowhere in that word does it insinuate stripper or hooker. Rose throws her head back and laughs. I’m sure it’s a common misconception. You’re lucky that most of the men know the rules and abide by them. I don’t care what your occupation is; you always have some butthead who thinks he is special. A guy came in the coffee shop last night and pinched my ass when I handed him his espresso. When did men start thinking it was okay to feel their server up? If it weren’t for Jake freaking out, I would take a job with you in a minute. Jake was Rose’s boyfriend of two years, and Lia knew he would indeed freak if the love of his life was out escorting other men around town. I am in my fourth and final year at St. Claire’s University, located in Asheville, North Carolina. St. Claire’s is a smaller school and, therefore, very hard to gain admittance to. The tuition is steep, and the scholarships hard to come by, but the level of education is second to none. When I got accepted, I was over the moon… until I started trying to figure out how to pay for it. At eighteen, my mother had packed my bags and pointed to the door. After years of doing anything I could to avoid my stepfather’s unwanted advances, it was almost a relief to leave. I never knew my father; my mother was neglectful at best and crazy angry at her worst. To say I am unlucky in the parental department is a real understatement. When my mother married Jim Dawson, though, things went from bad to oh-so-much worse. Oh, I never had broken bones like some who are abused; my mother always preferred slapping and backhanding. Occasionally, she would throw in a belt when she was really mad. Sadly, Jim’s arrival made me long for the days when I just had my mother to fear. I was fifteen and, as Jim was constantly pointing out, well-developed for my age. It started with lingering, seemingly-innocent touches and quickly escalated. He started coming into my room at night. He would twist my arm behind my back until I agreed to remove my top. He would sit or lay beside me, pinching my nipples painfully while masturbating. After a while, my breasts weren’t enough, and he wanted me completely naked. The first time, I fought him until he put a hand around my throat, cutting off my air supply until I blacked out. I woke to find one of his hands fondling my sex while he jacked-off. Each night he went further, taking more and more. I feared that soon he would no longer be content to just touch me. I knew without a doubt that my mother was aware of what was happening; I tried to talk to her more than once, and she would either walk away or backhand me until I shut up. After having to endure his touch at every available opportunity, I heard him say something that saved me from certain rape. He was ranting to my mother about how she had better not gain any more weight because he hated heavy women. That night, I started eating everything I could hold without puking, and by the end of the month, I was fifteen pounds heavier. This continued until I gained almost fifty pounds. It was obvious my size was a complete turn-off to Jim. He stopped touching me and instead insulted me at every turn, but I didn’t care if it meant he no longer snuck into my bedroom at night. I had no real friends in school, and my size made me the target of constant taunting. The upside of being a social outcast was I had a lot of time to study and graduated from high school at the top of my class. Even having no idea how I would afford it, I applied to every local college, desperate to escape the Hell I was living in. The day I received an acceptance letter from St. Claire’s was also the day my mother kicked me out. I should have been brave enough to leave before then; she would have never looked for me.

On my last night at home, I was in the laundry room ironing clothes when my mother stomped in, looking pissed at the world. Jim followed closely behind her. As they argued, I sat the iron down and tried to slink out the door without being noticed. When Jim suddenly yelled, Fuck, my spine stiffened and I looked over my shoulder to see him shaking his hand and pointing to the iron. Look what the fuck you did, you fat ass! You left the iron sitting right in the middle of the floor and caused me to burn my hand. I bet you did it on purpose, you conniving bitch! I closed my eyes, feeling tears prickle behind the lids. I…I’m sorry. Suddenly, Jim’s anger switched from my mother to me. I was terrified and started trying to back away from him. Where the fuck you think you’re going? As Jim advanced on me, my mother slid by and out the door, never looking back. I knew there would be no help from her. When had there ever been? When Jim grabbed the bottom of my t-shirt, he jerked so hard I felt the thin cotton tear. As I tried to hold the shirt together, he ripped it from my body; snapping my neck painfully. I crossed my arms over my bra, repeating over and over, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. You’re not sorry, you lying cow. You intentionally left that iron there, hoping I’d burn myself. Spittle flew onto my face as he spat the words at me. When a cruel smile turned up the corners of his mouth, my blood ran cold. Oh, God, I knew that smile. My arms tightened around my breasts, trying to cover myself as I shook in fear. Don’t you worry about me touching those big tits; you disgust me. What I’m gonna give you, girl, is a reminder of what happens when you fuck with me. You want to burn me and think you can get away with it? It’s time you learned a lesson you’ll never forget. He turned me away from him, keeping a strong arm around my waist before leaning over to pick something up. He jerked my long ponytail aside, making my scalp sting. Suddenly, my back between the shoulder blades was on fire. I gasped in agony, trying to pull away. The smell of something horrible stung my nose, and as the room started spinning, it hit me; he was burning me with the iron. As oblivion rose, I heard him whisper in my ear, Cows are always branded so they know who they belong to, and you’ll always belong to me. I never felt my body make contact with the floor, and when I woke later, my back was still on fire, and I was alone. The bastard had marked me, and the years would never remove his brand from my body or my mind. I slept in the park the first night I was on my own, and it was the best night I could remember having; I figured the odds of me being attacked were less than they would have been at home. I used the few dollars I managed to take from my mother’s purse to buy Tylenol. Luckily, the store also had a water fountain, and I downed four of them, hoping I wasn’t overdosing. My back was still in agony from the iron. The next day, I applied for a waitress job, and the owner Debra took pity on me and hired me. She also agreed to let me make payments to her weekly on the old Honda she had for sale. Finally, I had somewhere to sleep until school started in the fall. Debra also let me have my meals for free; I suspected it was because she knew I was homeless but never asked. Debra mentioned casually on my second day of employment that the truck stop down the street had showers for the truckers. Her boyfriend Martin owned the place, and she got me a voucher to use their facilities whenever I needed to. Between the truck stop and the laundromat, I had somewhere to spend time other than my car. I had carefully avoided looking at my back and tried to keep water off it in the shower; a month went by and it no longer stung. On my break one day, I used the restroom at work and finally got brave enough to raise my shirt and turn my back to the mirror. Oh, my God, someone whispered behind me. I jerked around to find Debra standing there with murder in her eyes and her hand over her mouth. I pulled my shirt down, cursing myself for not hearing the door open. Debra walked over, pulling me against her. Who did that to you, Lia? Tears started to seep down my cheeks. I wasn’t used to concern or affection, and the sorrow in Debra’s voice was enough to undo me. It doesn’t matter, I whispered back. It’s over now. Oh, baby girl, Debra said. It matters because I want to kick someone’s ass. You tell me who did this to you, and Martin and I will do the same damn thing to them. When she pulled back, I could tell by the look on her face that Debra was deadly serious. In the time I had worked at the restaurant, I had bonded with the outspoken redhead and her boyfriend Martin. She studied my closed expression before releasing an angry breath. You’re not going to tell me, are you? When I shook my head, Debra raised a hand to wipe away a stray tear from my face. Is anyone after you now, baby girl? No, I whispered. I’m on my own. All right then, Debra answered. If anyone bothers you, or whoever the hell did this to you shows up, you tell me or Martin, okay? I hugged Debra in way of reply and thanked God I had met her; I finally had someone in my life that cared whether I lived or died, and I’d never forget it. As we walked back out into the restaurant and I returned to my job, I tried to block out what I had seen in the bathroom. As promised, Jim had indeed branded me, and the horribly scarred flesh on my back would always be a reminder of a Hell I had barely escaped. Only my dreams would haunt me now because I vowed to never let him close to me again. Working and being away from Jim had also allowed me to return to my normal eating habits, and the extra weight I had gained for protection had fallen away, leaving a girl I hardly recognized staring back in the mirror. I was slowly returning to the petite size I had always been and was grateful I didn’t appear to have done long-term damage to my body. It was a sad testament to my former life that now, even homeless, I was the happiest I’d ever been. Debra had tried to convince me to move in with her and Martin, but I had refused; I didn’t want to be a burden to them, and I was getting by. I worked mostly nights, so sleeping in my car seemed much safer during daytime hours. I also caught naps in the break room at the restaurant some days. I hoped I could save enough money by the time school started for living expenses, since my grades won me a full scholarship. God, how naive I had been. My small amount of savings was gone by the end of the first semester, and I had no idea what I was going to do. St. Claire’s requires that all students live on campus for the first two years. Unfortunately, that wasn’t part of my scholarship; neither was transportation, the cost of books, and other fees. The small, two-bedroom apartment I shared with Megan for a year, and now with Rose, was much cheaper than most apartments, but still expensive. Money had trickled through my hands like water.I had given up and was planning to drop out of college. Even working two part-time jobs, I couldn’t swing my expenses. Debra had offered to borrow me the money, but I couldn’t do it; it was important I make it on my own. My then-roommate Megan had told me she worked for a company called Date Night and had offered to put in a good word for me. I had been so desperate to stay in school that I jumped at the chance. Now, three years later, I was just months away from having my degree in business and owed it all to Megan and Date Night. As Rose said, there were jerks to deal with in any job, and I considered myself lucky that it was rare in mine. Working for Date Night had allowed me to quit my other part-time jobs, which had given me more time for school. I missed Debra terribly but still hung out at the restaurant whenever I had a free day. Looking at my watch, I blow my nose once more and force myself to stand and head toward my bedroom. After a loud sneeze, I look over my shoulder at Rose and say, This is one night I would gladly change places if I could. I don’t know if it’s possible for makeup to tone down the Rudolph nose I’m rocking right now. Looking at my bed longingly, I grumble, You better tip well, Lucian Quinn, because I would much rather be in my warm bed watching a chick-flick than out with a bunch of rich snobs, drinking wine I would never be able to afford on my own. Chapter Two Lia Checking my reflection in the mirror, I groan at the disaster looking back at me. The last rounds of sneezing and nose-blowing have done a number on my makeup. I pull my compact out and once again powder my nose. My eyes look glassy from the cold medicine I took before leaving home, making me look more like a crack-whore than someone’s paid escort. This is a really bad idea. I take a hairbrush from my handbag and pull it through my wavy, blonde hair. Ugh, I desperately need a trim, but with my hair so long, I mostly keep it pulled back in a ponytail. On date nights, though, my dates prefer something a little less ‘look at me, I’m a college student.’ Shit, even the brush makes my stuffy headache. If not for the expensive books I need to purchase, I would have skipped tonight and lived on Ramen Noodles and water for a while. I step out of my old Honda Civic and look around the parking lot. It’s probably too much to hope that some lonely man is holding up a sign with my name on it. Maybe it would have been a good idea to ask what type of car Mr. Quinn would be driving. Why had I been so damn stubborn about riding in his car? Oh, yeah, I didn’t want to be locked in his trunk, taken to some deserted road and killed. I’ve watched enough Lifetime movies to know all about ‘stranger danger’. Since there still doesn’t appear to be anyone looking for me, I decide to walk to the entrance and check with the valets. I have just stepped on the sidewalk when a sleek, black Mercedes purrs to a stop at the curb and a tall, middle-aged man steps from the driver’s side and walks around the car. I am almost even with the car when the driver opens the back door. A man inside the car closes a laptop and steps out onto the sidewalk. Holy shit, he’s beautiful. Rose would die because he has the fuck-me style of tousled hair she just loves on men. His hair is as black as the night surrounding us and looks as if he-or someone else-has run their hands through it several times. His suit is obviously expensive and drapes perfectly over his muscular body; my heartbeat escalates as I imagine what that suit must be covering. He’s tall, powerful, and looks like something straight out of a wet dream. I’ve given myself countless orgasms picturing a man like him. I can only blame my next action on Nyquil intoxication. Thinking only of sharing the visual pleasure of this male God with my friend, I grab my cell phone and snap his picture. When he turns to speak with his driver, I giggle as I snap another of his ass. I stand oblivious as I start texting the pictures to Rose. When I finish, I look up, still smiling to find the male God in question standing directly in front of me, a smirk pulling at the corners of his kissable mouth. Did you get what you needed, Miss…? Before I think better of it, I murmur, Adams. Lia Adams? he asks. Surprised, I can only stare at him for a moment. Um…yeah. How did you know? He takes my arm and pulls me to the side. I’m Lucian Quinn; I believe you are here for me? No way! You’re a god! I slap my hand over my mouth in horror. Did I actually just say that aloud? He grins, obviously highly entertained by my slip of the tongue. Why, thank you, Miss Adams; that is very flattering. Is there any particular reason that has led you to that conclusion? Mortified, I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to block out those sexy lips I’m sure are still smirking at me. I…ur, sorry about that. You’re just so beautiful. Fuck, someone shut me up! When the silence continues, I open my eyes and stick out a hand, determined to change the subject. Hi, I’m Lia Adams, your date for the evening. He leaves my hand hanging in the air for a moment longer before firmly grasping it between his. Heat races through my body at his touch; I can’t remember ever having this kind of instant response to a man before. Lucian Quinn and it is certainly a pleasure to meet you, Miss Adams. He continues to hold onto my hand until I finally tug it away. He studies me intently for what seems like minutes, but is probably mere seconds. To be the sole focus of that kind of intensity is disarming, at best. Was it my imagination or does he almost look shocked? Crap, do I look that bad tonight? No doubt, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Squaring my shoulders, I ask in my most professional voice, Is there anything I need to know before we go inside? He seems to shake off whatever thoughts had taken over his mind. Amusement lurks in his eyes as if he knows I’m grappling for composure. I don’t believe so. I assume you understand that to anyone else, you are my date for the evening and not a paid escort. I would like to keep that bit of information private. Of course, I reply. I’ll just follow your lead. He takes my hand and settles it into the crook of his arm. He steers us effortlessly through the crowded lobby and to the hostess stand. A perky blonde with fake breasts beams as if she has just been handed her Christmas and birthday present at once. Mr. Quinn, how great to see you again! Good evening, Mindy. How have you been? As Mindy and Lucian continue to converse, I fight the urge to stick my finger down my throat and gag dramatically. It’s like watching a real-life Barbie and Ken meeting play out. Lucian seems to know he is giving Mindy the thrill of a lifetime by talking to her longer than required. I wouldn’t be surprised to see phone numbers exchanging hands. I want to poke him in the ribs and whisper that he can do better, but it’s none of my business; I am just the hired help for the evening. When Lucian puts his hand in the small of my back in an attempt to move me forward, I stumble before catching myself. A face-plant right in front of Barbie and Ken would be a freaking nightmare.

Dune Messiah (Dune Chronicles #2)

He leads me toward a quiet corner of the restaurant where several other couples are seated. The men rise to their feet as Lucian pulls a chair out for me. I am happy to sit by an older couple. For some reason, everyone over the age of fifty seems to love me. Other than Rose and a few other classmates, I rarely spend time with people my own age; I learned early on that people can be petty and mean. Debra always tells me that I have an old soul. Lucian seats himself beside me and begins making the introductions. The couple to our right is Margaret and Howard Sterling, and as I had hoped, they greet me with warm smiles. I can barely remember the rest of the names with the exception of the woman on Lucian’s other side, Monique Chandler. She has long, dark hair and is wearing a form-fitting, emerald green sleeveless dress. She is attractive, but to me, it’s all artificial…almost hard. The smile that she greets me with is calculating and cold. Lucian is polite but doesn’t seem overjoyed to be sitting next to her. I am just thankful I will likely never see these people again after tonight; I have a few regulars I have accompanied more than once, but venues change each time and, generally, so do the people. After everyone has placed their drink orders, Monique leans around Lucian and asks, So Lucy, how do you know Lucian? Before I can answer, Lucian says, It’s Lia, and we met through mutual friends. I am grateful for his quick response. I am even happier when the server places the red wine Lucian ordered in front of me; liquid courage is just what I need. It is hard to Miss Monique’s red nails trailing down Lucian’s chest and the possessive smile she shoots my way before turning back to him. If he were actually my man, I would be ready to knock her on her ass. Luckily, Margaret is indeed friendly, and I tell her honestly that I am attending St. Claire’s. Surely, that’s not something that needs to be kept secret. When the dinner course arrives, the prime rib is big enough to cover my plate. Lucian ordered for us, but I was expecting something a little more…manageable. I have gotten even drowsier from my cold medicine and trying to cut the steak is going to be tricky. Taking a deep breath, I pick up the knife and fork and look for the easiest place to start. When Lucian speaks near my ear, I jerk around, almost stabbing his arm. Whoa, he mutters. Do you need some help there? Yeah, couldn’t you have ordered something easier? My Dayquil or Nyquil or whatever is making this hard. Holding the silver knife closer, I study the elegant pattern on the handle. It is pretty, though, isn’t it? Hey look, I can see my reflection in it. Oh, dear Lord, did I just say that? Lucian looks momentarily speechless before taking the knife gingerly from my hand. Let me help you with that. I’ve never been stabbed at dinner before, and I don’t want to start now. He pulls my plate closer to his and begins cutting the steak into small pieces. I beam my approval at him, gushing, You’re my hero. Monique notices what he’s doing and sneers. Luc, really, if you’re going to bring a child to dinner, at least make sure she’s table-trained. Monique, Lucian responds, a clear warning in his tone. Monique curls what I have come to think of as her talons around his arm, purring, I guarantee you won’t have to baby me. I am fully capable of taking care of my needs…and yours. I roll my eyes before whispering far too loudly in Lucian’s ear, Who invited Cruella? Oh, and her tits are totally fake. Rose and I can always spot those. I giggle to myself at how much Monique reminds me of Cruella Deville from the 101 Dalmatians movie. I doubt Monique has ever seen the movie, so the insult is probably lost on her. Lucian’s shoulders are shaking and Monique is gaping at me. I shrug and turn to my plate as Lucian puts it back in front of me. Margaret puts an arm around my shoulders and pulls me in for a side hug. Honey, that woman will probably kill you, but you have just officially become my new best friend. I haven’t enjoyed one of these stuffy dinners this much… well, ever! She’s right, you know, Lucian says as he slides an arm around the back of my chair. The viper will want to kill you. A shiver runs through my body as his fingertips caress the side of my arm. Did you really take Nyquil? Nodding, I say, I’ve got a cold and I couldn’t stop sneezing. It’s kind of zoned me out, though. We were out of Dayquil, and Rose said Nyquil is the same thing. Do you think it is? Lucian lets loose a panty-melting laugh. I don’t know, but you should have told me that before I poured you a glass of wine. You aren’t supposed to mix cold medicine with alcohol. Whoops, my bad. He is so warm, and the air in the restaurant has grown chilly. Mmm, you feel nice, I murmur against his side as I curl closer. His body heat feels better than a blanket. He smells amazing, and I fight the urge to put my nose against his skin and sniff…or even taste it. I feel his body stiffen for a moment before he blows out a breath. Eat your dinner, Lia. After that, the meal goes by at a fast pace. Lucian keeps a firm arm around me, anchoring me to his side. At one point in the evening, I catch Monique’s eyes boring into me, and I childishly stick out my tongue at the other woman from behind my napkin. Take that, Cruella! When the evening is over, I say goodbye to my new friend Margaret and try to ignore the fact that Monique is giving Lucian a hug that borders on humping. God, the woman seriously lacks class. As Lucian leads me toward his car, I jerk in surprise as he opens the door for me to precede him into the interior. Shaking my head, I say, My car is in the parking lot, but thanks for the offer. Lucian tightens his grip on my arm, looking down at me. You aren’t in any condition to drive yourself home, so I’ll drop you. Leave me your keys, and I’ll have your car delivered to your place later tonight. I resist as he tries once more to steer me into his car. Finally, clearly losing patience with me, he snaps, Lia, get in the damn car, now! I am so surprised by his tone that I jump to do his bidding, never questioning his authority until the door closes firmly behind him and he settles his thigh onto the seat next to mine. Your address? I rattle it off, knowing it’s useless to argue. Peeking at him from under my lashes, I wonder if he looks like a serial killer. I am perfectly fine, you know. For some reason, I feel the need to point that out to him, even though we both know it’s not true; there is no way I should be driving myself home.He turns to me, raising a brow. I’m sure you are, Lia, but when I take a woman to dinner, I always make sure she arrives back home safely. Oh, I reply, his answer taking the fight out of me. It makes sense, right? He is just being a gentleman. I want you to call into work tomorrow and quit your job. I don’t think you need to bother with notice; it’s not likely you will ever use them for a future job reference. I nod my head in agreement, fighting the sleep threatening to claim me when his words finally hit me. What the hell? Wh—What did you say? Had I imagined the whole thing? Without looking at me, he repeats his demand. I shake my head, completely confused. What are you talking about? Why would I quit my job? Oh, no, I gasp in horror, are you trying to get me fired because of tonight? It was just cold medicine! His eyes are glittering in the darkness. Baby, if I wanted to have you fired, I would. I want to fuck you, but not when you’re being paid to be my date. Oh, shit. I know I am more than a little intoxicated when my first reaction is being flattered. How can a man like Lucian Quinn want to fuck me? I’m a struggling college student with none of the flash of a woman like Monique. What could he possibly see in me? What is the appropriate response when a man says he wants to fuck you? Ummm…that’s…thanks. I can’t quit my job; I need the money for school. I reach over to pat his knee, adding, You’re so hot, and I’m sure you can find another woman to…fuck. There, that sounds good, right? I’m proud of my answer. I turned him down but also gave him a compliment. Way to think on your feet, Lia! He puts his hand over mine, and I smile, thinking he appreciates my honesty. When he uses a firm grip to pull me closer to his side, I start to worry. Please tell me we aren’t on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Does he resemble someone from America’s Most Wanted? His breath is hot on my neck as he whispers against my ear, I want you, and I always get what I want. He trails a finger down the side of my face before running the tip over my mouth. My lips part in surprise and before I think better of it, I touch his finger with the tip of my tongue. He inhales a breath, and I freeze, my eyes locking on his face. I have no idea how long I’ve been staring at him when the driver clears his throat. I look out the window and recognize my apartment building. Lucian is still holding my hand as I turn to the door the driver is holding open. Lucian pulls me against him again, saying, It wasn’t a question, Lia. Do it. With those words, he releases me. I draw a ragged breath and stagger from the car. The driver insists on walking me to the door and waiting until I’m safely inside. Oh, God, he probably heard everything Lucian said to me, how embarrassing. No doubt, he is used to going home alone while his employer stays the night with whomever he is…fucking. Lucian Quinn is clearly a psycho. When the driver asks for my car key, I pull it from my ring and hand it over. I mutter a quick thank-you and dash inside. Rose and Jake are sitting wrapped around each other on the couch. When I almost miss the chair trying to sit, Jake smirks at me saying, Whoa, girl, how much did you have to drink tonight? I flop back, groaning, Not as much as you think. It’s the damn Nyquil along with alcohol that did this. I’m lucky I didn’t face-plant in the middle of the restaurant. I giggle as I imagine Lucian Quinn’s face if that had happened. It would almost have been worth the embarrassment to fall all over his expensive shoes. So, other than your public intoxication, how was the evening? Old dude or young? Rose asks. I roll my eyes, saying, Young, hot one, but a little on the weird side. Didn’t you get the picture I sent you of him? Shit! That was him? He was a total freaking… Looking at Jake who is watching her, she quickly adds, Um…okay. I mean, he was just okay. I’m glad you made it through the evening with him. I smirk, knowing what Rose had been going to say; the man was a stud. I’m not totally sure since I’m a little out of it, but I believe he might have ordered me to quit my job because he wants to fuck me. When the words leave my mouth, I slap my hand over my face. God, I can’t believe I just said that. I look over to see both Rose and Jake gaping at me. He said that to you? Before I can answer, Rose sighs, That’s just so hot. Jake looks at Rose then back to me. You two seriously have problems. Lia, if some stranger said that shit to you, then you had better stay the hell away from him. Turning to his girlfriend, he says, And you, I think it’s time we went to your room and discussed some things. Rose snickers as Jake pulls her up from the couch, and they practically run to the bedroom. At the door, Jake stops, turning back toward me. I’m serious, babe; you stay away from him. That’s whacked that he said that to a stranger. He shuts the door behind him, and I hear Rose giggle. Ugh, I know I will be hearing too much through the paper-thin walls tonight. I think about what Jake said and wonder if Lucian Quinn is dangerous. He certainly looked it when he was holding me against him in the car. I wasn’t scared, though, not really. Thinking of him fucking me was exciting. I can feel the dampness of my panties and know it has everything to do with him. Jake has been protective of me since his friend Jackson broke my heart last year. It was my first and last sexual experience. We had been going out for about a month before I finally caved to pressure and slept with him. What a mistake. It had hurt like Hell and was over before it had even started. Could I only have an orgasm at my own hands? Rose talked about sex with Jake as if it was earth-shaking, but for me, the earth hadn’t moved. I got out of bed afterwards to use the bathroom, and he had gasped, What the fuck? When I turned to look at him, he was pointing to my back. What’s wrong with you? Shit, do you have something contagious? He frantically threw his clothes on, acting like he had just had sex with someone with the clap. It’s just a scar, I had replied before wrapping my arms around myself. He made me feel self-conscious and dirty. Jake was furious when he heard Jackson telling some of their friends that I ‘was all messed up’ under my clothes. He knew from Rose what my stepfather had done to me and almost physically came to blows with his friend over it. Since then, they barely spoke anymore. Jake was a good person and wouldn’t tolerate anyone mistreating one of his friends. What would it be like to have a man like that to love and be loved by? Rose is damn lucky.

Chapter Three Lia The rest of the week is a blur of too much studying and too little sleep. On the rare occasions when I find myself in bed at a decent time, the sexy Lucian Quinn haunts my dreams. I am munching on a muffin and drinking a huge cup of coffee at the campus coffee shop when my cellphone chimes. I pull it from my backpack, figuring it’s Rose. It’s a process of elimination, really; very few people have my number and even fewer of them actually call or text. Did you do as you were told? I study my phone in confusion, not recognizing the number. Finally, I type back: Wrong number, buddy. Tossing my phone down on the table, I am surprised when it chimes again almost instantly. I don’t think so, Lia. What the hell? I look around as if expecting Rose to be hiding in the corner, laughing her ass off. No one seems to be paying me any attention, though, and there was no Rose nearby. Who is this? I’m truly hurt. You’ve been on my mind for days, sweet Lia, but apparently, I haven’t been on yours. This is starting to get scary. Surely, Jackson isn’t playing some type of nasty trick on me. He’s an asshole, but I haven’t heard from him in months. Listen, whoever you are; I’m busy, so unless you want to tell me who this is, piss off. It isn’t in my nature to be rude, but I don’t want to encourage some weirdo. Wow, in just a few days, I’ve gone from being a God to you to being told to piss off. How the mighty have fallen. I drop my phone as if I’ve been burned. No way. Lucian Quinn is texting me? This has to be some kind of joke, but who else would know what he is saying? Tentatively, I type: Lucian? Unless you’ve met another God this week. Oh, my God! I try not to question the excitement coursing through my veins as my phone chimes again almost immediately. Now, back to my earlier question. Did you do what you were told? Um…I have no idea what you’re talking about, Mr. Quinn. It’s Luc…and you know exactly what I’m talking about. I lay my head on the table. He meant it. He really wanted me to quit my job so he could…fuck me. Oh, shit on a stick. The man is officially crazy. That actually explains a lot. Listen, MR. QUINN, I’m flattered you want to…you know, but I have no intention of quitting my job or doing…that. I wait on pins and needles, both wanting and dreading his reply. What could a man like Lucian Quinn really want with an inexperienced college student? If he thinks I’m one of the Girls Gone Wild co-eds, he is sadly mistaken. Oh, Lia, you never challenge a man like me. I promise you; you’ll do everything I want you to do and beg for more. I’ll see you soon. My face flushes and desire races through my body. My nipples harden into stiff peaks as I picture the scene in my head: the beautiful Lucian Quinn fucking me. I find myself more excited at just the thought than of my entire sexual experience with Jackson. A few words from Lucian…Luc, and I’m ready to go off. Surely, he is just playing with me. Regardless though, his face is firmly etched in my mind and his name on my lips later as I finger myself frantically into release. Are you working tonight, chick? Rose asks as I walk into the living room dressed in my usual escort attire. Being a poor college student doesn’t leave much room for variety. I have invested in a few outfits for my job, but the little black dress is the go-to choice. Yep, I’m meeting someone for a party at Valentino’s. It looks like another business thing. At least those don’t require much conversation. Rose flips the television channel, before asking, Is this someone new again? She looks disappointed when I nod. Oh, well, I guess you couldn’t get lucky enough to have the God again, huh? Without understanding why, I decide not to mention Lucian’s earlier text messages to her. What’s the point, really? I doubt I’ll hear from him again. Maybe he’s some kind of weirdo that gets his kicks teasing women. A pang of disappointment pierces me at the thought of never seeing him again. How could someone I barely know have this type of effect on me? Rose reminds me to write the name of the restaurant and the person I’m meeting on the notepad in the kitchen. We started this routine on my first assignment with Date Night. Rose then joked about making it easy for the police to find my body if I don’t make it home one night. There have been a few men over the years who wanted to test the boundaries, but none who haven’t accepted the word no. I look down at the name I write beside Valentino’s. Aidan Spencer. He sounds harmless enough. With a goodbye wave to Rose, who is now firmly engrossed in a Lifetime movie, I set off for another long evening. Do I wish it was with Lucian Quinn and not Aidan Spencer? Unequivocally, yes. Chapter Four Lia Walking into Valentino’s, I look around in confusion. Aidan Spencer is supposed to be waiting at the bar. I’m grateful for that information because otherwise, I would have no hope of finding him in the crowd of people milling around. The bar is packed, but mainly with couples. Of course, he could be talking to someone. There is a dark-haired man sitting alone at one end watching football on the big-screen television above the bar. I straighten my dress and decide to try him first. Taking a deep breath, I tap him on the shoulder. Mr. Spencer? He takes his time sitting down the drink he is holding before swiveling around on the barstool. I jerk back in surprise, stuttering, Luc—Lucian? Shit, I know I sound like an idiot, but I can’t control my shock at seeing him again. Dear Lord, he’s hot. Lia, he purrs as his eyes run leisurely down my length; I’m absurdly grateful I haven’t worn the same dress tonight. You look beautiful. Th—thank you, I stammer. God, what is this man doing to me? I’ve lost the ability to carry on a simple conversation without tripping over my words. Clearing my throat, I ask, What are you doing here? A smirk settles on his full lips as he answers, I’m here for you. I gape at him before deciding he is teasing me. No doubt, he is meeting someone just as beautiful as he is. I refuse to let him pass the time making fun of me. Very funny. Unless your name is Mr. Spencer, you aren’t here for me, and I’m not here for you.His eyes dance as he says, Just call me Aidan. Pulling out a chair beside him, he adds, Have a seat; you look like you need a drink, Lia. Before I can object, he settles me next to his side and a glass of wine appears. I trust you skipped the Nyquil tonight? Before answering, I pick up the glass and take a big gulp. You tricked me. There is no Aidan Spencer, is there? His hand moves to my knee, rubbing circles against the tender skin before saying, Oh, there is an Aidan, and he is here somewhere tonight. I just decided to hedge my bets and make sure you didn’t turn me down. Even though I know you wanted to see me again as much as I wanted to see you, I knew you would deny it, even to yourself. His touch is doing crazy things to my body, and I’m fighting the urge to moan in pleasure. He leans closer and his lips settle near my ear, sending shivers down my spine. You’ve been on my mind this week, Lia. I can’t stop thinking about how you’ll look when you come. The drink of wine that I am in the process of swallowing is suddenly blowing from my mouth and nose. I try to catch my breath as I choke. Lucian removes his hand from my leg and pats my back gently until I can breathe again. Mortified, I take the napkins the bartender is holding out and try to dry up the mess I’ve made. Turning to the amused man beside me, I roll my eyes and say, Please warn me next time before you say something like that. So, you agree there’ll be a next time. I knew you were a realist, baby. I raise a brow, loving the verbal wordplay despite myself. Baby? Isn’t that a little…personal for someone you barely know? His wandering hand returns to my knee before running lightly beneath the hem of my dress. I’m ready to remedy that whenever you are…Lia. I can’t ever remember being so turned on from just a conversation. Talking to Lucian is like word foreplay. My core throbs and I fight the urge to squeeze my legs together to assuage the ache there. This type of desire is foreign to me. I have the usual needs of a woman my age, but I easily take care of them myself. I’ve never been turned-on by a man to the point of misery before. Looking around the room, I attempt to change the subject to something less stimulating. So…um, why are we here tonight? When he gives me a devilish smile, I rush on before he can comment. I mean, is this business or pleasure? Oh, shit. I want to drop my head and admit defeat. There is no way he is going to let the pleasure comment pass. At this rate, I’ll drop my panties within ten minutes and beg him to fuck me on the counter while the bartender refills the peanuts beside my head. Lucian grins, seeming to know what I’m expecting, so I’m surprised when he simply says, It’s business tonight. This is a celebratory party for the sales team. They closed a particularly big contract this week and deserve the recognition. Curious, I ask, Are you a salesman? I had been so high from cold medicine at our last meeting that I scarcely remember the conversation from that evening. Idly, he continues to twirl his finger on the delicate skin of my inner thigh as he answers. No, baby, I’m not. Again with the ‘baby’, but it sounds too damn sexy for me to actually object. I like it…a lot, and he knows it. As I continue to wait for him to explain further, he blows out a breath and almost reluctantly admits, I own the company. I’m not surprised; truthfully, I would hardly expect anything less. It doesn’t take an expert to realize his clothing isn’t off the rack. The man has probably never stepped foot in Walmart before. I have a strange urge to giggle when I imagine what he would think if he knew my dress had been bought on sale at the mall for fifteen dollars. Just as his finger starts to wander into dangerous territory, someone claps a hand on his shoulder, causing him to jerk around in surprise. I immediately miss the loss of his warmth against me. Luc, I was wondering where you were. Turning, I find a handsome man of about Lucian’s age grinning at me. And who is this? Is it my imagination, or does Lucian suddenly look uncomfortable? Lucian stands, helping me to my feet so we are facing the newcomer. Lia, this is my friend and work associate, Aidan Spencer. Aidan is giving me a curious look as I gape back at him. Aidan, this is Lia Adams, a friend of mine. Aidan takes my hand in his, brushing his thumb against my palm. The move has probably sent many women straight into orgasm, and it might have worked on me were I not firmly captivated by Lucian. At this point, Aidan is just sloppy-Luc-seconds. Lucian slides a possessive arm around my waist, seeming pleased by my lack of reaction toward his friend. Outside of Lucian, Aidan is probably one of the best-looking men I have ever met, but he’s not Lucian. It’s an honor to meet you, Lia. Are you here with Luc? Before I can answer, Lucian tightens his hold on me, saying, Yes, she is. Where is your date, or are you flying solo? I’m not sure if it’s me or Lucian who groans when Monique walks toward us; she is one thing I remember vividly from our last evening together. Who invited her? Lucian asks, clearly unhappy. Aidan smiles sheepishly. That would be me, buddy. Lucian shoots him a look of amazement to which Aidan just shrugs. Hey, one man’s burger is another man’s steak. The conversation ceases as Monique reaches us, going straight for Lucian. Luc…darling, there you are. She leans in, pressing a kiss to both cheeks. I have no doubt she would prefer his mouth, but he isn’t offering. She then turns, looking me up and down before wrinkling her perfect nose. Oh…Lucy, isn’t it? You’re Luc’s little…friend. Great, she makes it sound as if I should be selling Girl Scout Cookies and playing hopscotch. It’s obvious she is trying to belittle me. I’d love nothing better than to run for the door and never look back, but some part of me I didn’t know existed refuses to let her win. My dislike of her is stronger, and the need to get under her skin is even stronger. Without giving myself time to ponder the wisdom, I curve my body against Lucian’s and stick out a hand to the other woman. Giving her my best innocent smile, I say, It’s Lia. I’m so happy to see you again, Mandy. There, take that, smart-ass. I know I’ve scored a direct hit when her possibly-botoxed mouth tightens, and her handshake is hard enough to sever my fingers. Lucian’s arm tightens around my waist, and I have no idea if he is amused or pissed by our verbal bitch-slapping contest.

Unfortunately, Aidan appears almost intrigued with me now. As Monique settles back at his side, he asks, So, Lia…how did you meet Luc? I’ve never heard him mention you before, so it must have been recent. What is the saying, if you’re going to lie, add some elements of the truth to it? Since Lucian isn’t rushing ahead with an explanation, and both Aidan and Monique are looking at me expectantly, I forge on. It was quite by accident. Lucian texted my phone…thinking I was someone else. I smile, trying for a sexy grin. I have little practice in that area, so it probably looks more like I’m constipated. It was a very enlightening conversation, to say the least. Far from being angry, Lucian chuckles beside me. It was certainly that, baby. There it is again, the warm feeling washing through my body at his easy use of the endearment. He’s good; I have to give him that. Even I am taken in by the intimate tone of his voice. Monique looks as if she could spit nails, and Aidan appears to be deep in thought as he studies Lucian and me. No doubt the poor sap is wondering how his handsome, powerful friend has ended up with an average, cheaply dressed schoolgirl. He ponders us another moment before directing his next question at me. I believe Monique mentioned you were in school. Where do you attend? This was one question I am at least comfortable with. I’m in my last year at St. Claire’s. Aidan looks suitably impressed; it’s rare that anyone in Asheville hasn’t heard of the prestigious school. Wow, that’s quite an accomplishment. What’s your major? Business Administration, I answer, suddenly shy at the attention focused on me. I thank God at that moment for the dreadful Public Speaking classes I have been forced to take. I am completely out of my element, and I damn well know it. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but Lucian seems just as interested in my answers as his friends. Monique, not one to be out of the spotlight for long, gives a yawn before covering her mouth as if it were an accident. Oh, that is just so…interesting, Lucy. I’m sure you’ll find a little job somewhere after you graduate. Now, since this is a party, shall we go have some fun? I fight the urge to hold up one finger and yell, Score one for Cruella, but manage to control the urge. She has effectively put me in my place and reminded everyone I’m not of their social class. The only advantage I still have over her is that firm grasp that Lucian continues to have on my waist; I know it’s driving her out of her mind. With equal parts stupidity and bravery, I decide to press my advantage over her. Turning to Lucian, I let my hand rest on his broad chest and notice his eyes flare in surprise and something else…something exciting and possibly forbidden. I like it more than I care to admit. Luc, would you mind showing me around? I’ve never been here before, and it’s beautiful. I hear Monique snort at my admission but ignore her. Lucian looks at me for a moment, humor dancing in his beautiful eyes. Of course, Lia. Without looking away from me, he says, Aidan, Monique, I’m sure I’ll see you later on. With that, we walk away, and I release the breath I’ve been holding. Lucian is stopped several times on our way across the crowded floor. He is polite but aloof. He is the boss here, and all these people know it; the men stand just a bit taller and the women glow when he acknowledges them. He is the force field everyone gravitates around. I find myself firmly under his spell as well; it’s impossible not to be. Instead of pretending I don’t exist, he introduces me to each person we meet. I’m surprised and oddly touched by this move. Most of my dates with Date Night use me as nothing more than an attractive prop to stand next to them all evening. A potted plant would likely fill the same purpose. Not Lucian, though essentially, we are a couple this evening. The curiosity that fills the air tells me this is rare for him. We finally reach a quiet corner of the restaurant, and I’m enchanted by the lovely waterfall covering one wall. The sound soothes me, and it’s easy to forget there are people only steps away. I trail a finger through the water while I try to look anywhere but at the man before me. He captivates me, and I’m so far out of my depth it’s absurd. I should walk away now…no, I should run. He steps closer to me and simply stares. He seems to feel the same inner conflict I do. Maybe he will be strong for both of us and be the one to leave. As the seconds turn into minutes, I start when his hand is suddenly at my waist. The decision has been made; neither of us is leaving. You look beautiful tonight. Just as I began to glow at his compliment, he adds, I’ve never wanted to fuck a woman as badly as I want you right now; did you know that, Lia? I look up at him, mesmerized, and shake my head. My God, what is he doing to me? My nipples harden and push against the fabric of my dress as he continues to study me. I want him to put his large hands over them, to pinch the painfully hard peaks that ache for him. His head lowers slowly toward mine as he whispers against my lips, Would you like that, baby? Do you want me to turn you to face the waterfall, hold your hands against the wet rocks, and push my cock balls-deep into your wet pussy? His tongue trails over my neck and I moan low in my throat before I can stop myself. I want everything he just said and more. I’ve never had a man talk to me like this, and I’m surprised at how wanton I feel. He pulls my lower body into closer contact with his, the weight of his erection pressing into me. I’m not the only one lost in the moment. Lucian is big and hard, and I sway against his length, unable to help myself. He moans and suddenly his hands move from my waist and dig into the delicate skin of my ass. He grinds against me, and I feel the big head of his cock nudge against my entrance through the thin material separating us. When his tongue enters my mouth, I’m lost. There is nothing I wouldn’t give him in this moment just to continue feeling this way. I ride the leg he has inserted between mine and feel the tension starting to build within me. When his lips move to my neck, I moan his name, completely caught up in all things him. Luc…ohhh. He seems to realize from the sound of my voice that I’m close to coming just from his mouth, hands, and knee. At this point, I don’t even need his cock inside me to find Heaven. When he starts to pull away, I whimper, needing him to ease the ache in my body. Shhh…baby, it’s okay, he whispers as he continues to put distance between us. I stand there dumbly as he straightens my dress and hair. Almost matter-of-factly he says, This is a public place, Lia, but I would fuck you here and now if you had done as I asked.This statement cuts through my sexual fog. Wh—what are you talking about? You haven’t asked anything of me. I wrack my mind trying to figure out why I’m being deprived of what we both so obviously want. He takes my face in his hands, giving me a hard look; gone is my passionate, would-be lover. I told you to quit the job, Lia. As his words sink in, it’s the equivalent of ice water in the face. I stiffen and pull out of his arms. I’m suddenly furious with the bastard in front of me. Fuck you! I whisper-shout as I poke my finger into his chest for emphasis. Some of us regular people actually have to work for a living. I may go to an expensive college, but I don’t come from or have money, Lucian. If I quit this job just to sleep with you, then I wouldn’t have a place to live, food to eat, or books and supplies for school. Is that what you really expect from a woman? Are you so good in bed that I would give up everything I have, everything I am, just for a roll in the sack with you? My chest is heaving, and I am fighting the urge to slap his arrogant face as he studies me intently. When his lips curve up into a grin, I give into the urge to slap him, and my hand is flying toward his face before I know what is happening. A mere inch before it makes contact, his hand snaps up and halts my progress. I’m horrified over this uncharacteristic show of violence on my part. This is not me, and I’m stunned by the strong feelings that this man—this stranger—brings out. You’re full of fire, aren’t you, Lia? It appears I owe you an apology. You are correct; I had not thought out the consequences of my demands on your life. In my defense, I’ve been too caught up in my desire to have you. Normally, I would have thought things through more thoroughly. It won’t happen again. I am surprised by the disappointment I feel. So, that’s it? He’s giving up his pursuit of me. Did he think that I was working as an escort for Date Night just for fun? Of course, someone like him probably never had to ponder the money challenges a poor college student has. I suddenly just want away from him. I need to clear my head of all things Lucian Quinn. I can’t breathe when he is near. Without meeting his eyes, I mumble, I’m sorry I tried to hit you. I just…lost it for a minute. Lucian laughs; the sound is almost musical. I look into his smiling face, and my mouth drops as he says, Sexual frustration will bring out the animal in most people, baby. He strokes my hair gently before using its weight to pull my head back. I find that even the small prickle against my scalp is enough to send tendrils of desire racing through my sensitive body. Have dinner with me tomorrow night. I’ll book it through Date Night, so you’ll be paid. I raise a brow at his question. It’s okay to pay for a date with me, but not sex? I cringe when the question is out. It sounds as if I’m whining about the lack of sex tonight, and I’m not…am I? Oh, hell, who am I kidding; we both know I am. I stiffen as Aidan steps into view. He takes in the close embrace between Lucian and myself and another of those odd looks crosses his face. Am I really so beneath his boss that my very presence confuses him? Clearing his throat, he says, Luc, you need to give your speech while everyone is still here and mostly sober. Lucian runs a finger across my bottom lip, tugging it lightly before stepping away. We can talk tomorrow night. Before I can answer, his larger hand engulfs mine and leads me past Aidan and back into the party. I try to pull away as he walks straight to the podium at the front of the room, but he keeps me firmly at his side and only drops my hand when he reaches the microphone. I take the opportunity to step behind his large frame and out of the spotlight. Curious looks are thrown my way, but I ignore them and focus on the man in front of me. He speaks with the ease of someone familiar with being the center of attention. Again, he is charming and polite, but I sense the public doesn’t see much of the real Lucian Quinn. Maybe it takes someone such as myself who has spent years putting on a public face to recognize a kindred spirit. Even as he woos the crowd, I see the hand at his side digging into his thigh. It gives me no pleasure to know I’m right. Being haunted by my own demons for most of my life has given me nothing but sympathy for those who suffer, as well. Maybe I’ve made this whole thing up in my mind, and Lucian is simply a person who hates public speaking…but somehow, I don’t think that’s the case. Before I can ponder this further, he finishes to a round of applause and immediately turns as if seeking me. I hold my hand out for his, helpless to do anything else, and it’s immediately taken. Some part of my body is once again joined with his, and it’s far too natural of a feeling for strangers. Who are you, Lucian Quinn, and what are you doing to me? With his speech over, Lucian keeps a firm grip on my hand and silently makes his way toward the door. It appears our evening is almost over, and I find myself hesitant to end my time with him. He nods a goodbye to a few people near the doorway, but all too soon, we are on the sidewalk, and he is leading me toward the car idling at the curb. I recognize the sleek, black Mercedes from our previous evening together. Lucian, my car is here. I feel compelled to object even though I know it will be pointless. The driver is before us, opening the back door, and I am bundled inside before I can issue another objection. We sit in silence for several moments, and I’m startled when his hand suddenly makes contact with my knee. Without turning in my direction, he says, almost absently, I enjoyed tonight with you there far more than I would normally have. I am filled with pleasure at his words. I…thank you. Your speech was brilliant, I add shyly. He sighs and admits what I had already suspected. I hate those fucking things. I’ve done it a million times, and a million times I’ve detested every moment of it. I want to offer him comfort, something I suspect few people are allowed to do. Instead of saying the words, I lay my hand on top of the one that rests on my knee and squeeze lightly. We remain this way until we reach my apartment. As I start to pull away, he tightens his grip and pulls me forward for a hard kiss on the lips. My mouth tingles as he says, I’ll pick you up for dinner tomorrow night at seven. I nod in agreement, and as I’m pulling away, I hear him whisper, Think of me tonight, sweet Lia, and know I’m thinking of you. I stumble getting out and am grateful for the driver’s assistance. As we reach the door, I turn and smile at him. You’ve walked me to my door twice, and I don’t even know your name to thank you.

He seems surprised by the question, but returns my smile and says, Just call me Sam, young lady. I laugh, telling him, Call me Lia. ‘Young lady’ seems far too grand for a college student. Thanks for walking me, Sam. It’s my pleasure, Lia. I’ll see you tomorrow night, I believe. Without agreeing, I open my door and step inside. Rose is still in the same position in front of the television but is snoring softly in her sleep. I walk over and turn the television off, grabbing the blanket from the back of the sofa and draping it across her. As my stomach rumbles, I realize I haven’t eaten all evening. I quickly fix a bowl of Captain Crunch cereal and carry it to my bedroom. Before I can question the wisdom of the action, I grab my phone and text Lucian. I’m starving. Isn’t it customary to feed your dates? I am having a serious case of texting-regret when my phone chimes. Ah, I’m sorry. baby. The only thing I wanted to eat tonight was…you. Rest assured, we’ll both get what we want soon. My face flames, and I drop the phone as if burned. His words rush straight to my sex, and I know without a doubt that my fingers will soon be between my slick folds, relieving the ache he has caused there. As if reading my mind, another text sounds. Are you touching yourself while thinking of me? Oh, sweet Heaven, I should never have started this. I want nothing more than to do what he is saying. No, of course not. I’m eating a bowl of cereal in my flannel pajamas. I giggle as I imagine the disgusted look on his face. He has probably never heard of flannel, much less dated a woman who would dream of wearing it. In reality, I’m wearing a tank top and panties, which are, of course, cotton. Touch your breast, Lia. Run your finger around the nipple and imagine it’s my hand making it pucker. As I hesitate, my phone chimes, NOW. I feel strangely excited and naughty as I slip my hand under my top and caress my breast. My nipple hardens and I moan as I twist it. I’m lost in the moment when another text sounds. It feels good, doesn’t it, baby? When my phone signals an incoming call, I know without looking who it is. I want to ignore the call, but I can’t. I need to hear his voice. Hello. I cringe at how breathless I sound. With no preliminaries he asks, Are you wet for me, Lia? I sputter in horror. I can’t believe he just asked me something so personal. Put your hand between your legs and tell me how you feel, baby. With a sense of bravado that I’m far from feeling, I joke, I’m wearing flannel, remember? Even as I tell the lie, I’m helpless to stop my hand and its downward descent. The cotton of my panties is wet as I reach my target. As if my silence convicts me, Lucian whispers hoarsely, That’s right, baby. Feel what I do to you even when I’m not there. His voice is all the encouragement I need as I push the cotton aside and trail a finger over my slit. I gasp as I caress my sensitive clit. Lucian moans low in his throat as if my sounds are torturing him. Push one finger deep inside. I moan in pleasure as my tight passage spasms. With his voice in my ear, it’s entirely too easy to imagine its Lucian’s cock inside me as my finger strokes deep. Oh, baby, I bet you feel so fucking good. Add another finger, Lia, and pump them in and out of your wetness. I obey his command, and my sex twinges at the extra width. I’m so slick that soon both fingers are gliding effortlessly in and out of me. Lucian! I cry, as my body climbs closer to release. I’m frantically riding my hand while cradling the phone against my shoulder. Do you need to come, Lia? he growls. Yes, God, yes, I shout. I can only imagine how loud my voice is in his ear as I’ve lost all inhibitions. I hope Rose is sleeping soundly; otherwise, there is no way she will miss the noise I’m making. I normally try to keep quiet when I’m masturbating, but I’ve never been this excited before. Pinch your clit, baby. Imagine my big hand tweaking it while I fuck you hard. Feel me pounding into you. That’s all it takes; I explode into a rainbow of dizzying colors. I feel lightheaded with pleasure as my body contracts for what seems like hours. I’ve dropped my phone, but it’s close enough to my ear to hear Lucian swearing harshly. As I float back down to earth, the realization of what I’ve done is enough to make me want to end the call and hope I never see him again. I hear him calling my name, though, and know any escape would just be temporary. I’m…er…back. Damn, that sounds so pathetic. I mean…um, I should let you go now. Lucian chuckles, but it sounds pained. I wonder if he’s touching himself, but I’m not brave enough to ask. You have no idea how much I want to fuck you right now. It’s taking everything I’ve got not to come to you. It’s taking everything I’ve got not to tell him I’ll be waiting. I need some time to process, though. This man turns me into someone I’ve never been, and I have no idea how to handle it; I know it would take very little to be consumed by all he is. I’m terrified…I’m exhilarated and completely at his mercy. In a last-ditch effort of self-preservation, I say, Lucian…I don’t even know you. What are we doing? All is quiet for a moment before he says, I don’t know, Lia…but I can’t stop. I accept his answer, because it reflects my own thoughts perfectly. It seems we are both powerless to understand or explain this attraction between us and unable to stop freefalling into the unknown. Before I can reply, he adds, I’ll see you tomorrow tonight. With those words, he is gone, and I’m oddly lonely without the sound of his voice in my ear. My bowl of cereal is beyond saving, and I tiptoe to the kitchen to pour it out. I’m grateful Rose still seems to be sleeping deeply on the couch. I might hear her and Jake often, but I don’t relish the thought of her hearing me having phone sex. My body still tingles from its earlier excitement as I run quickly through my bedtime routine. I’m exhausted when I finally roll over onto my stomach to go to sleep. Once again, Lucian fills my waking and sleeping hours. Lucian I palm my rock-hard cock and roughly run my hand up the rigid length. I can’t remember the last time I had phone sex probably my teenage years. The text from Lia tonight was unexpected and what followed after, completely unplanned. She lacks the polish of the women I’ve spent the last several years with. She is attractive with a body few men would look past. What draws me the most, though, are her eyes. They show an innocence that is foreign to most women her age, but at the same time, I sense there is almost a weariness there. What events have transpired in her life to put that look there? She is correct; I haven’t done my homework where she is concerned, which is unusual. I did assume she could afford to leave her job. I’ve already placed a call for a full background check. Nothing I find there will stop my pursuit, but it possibly will give me a better understanding of her.My naked body moves restlessly on the bed as my pace increases. The tattoo on my chest ripples as I remember Lia’s moans of pleasure. She was so lost in the moment; I doubt she was aware of chanting my name while she brought herself to completion. It was both torture and unbelievably erotic. If not for scaring her to death, I would have been at her apartment and inside her within twenty minutes. Patience is not something I am familiar with; whether right or wrong; people with money rarely have to wait for anything they want. I moan Lia’s name as streams of cum shoot from my cock and onto my stomach. My body quivers in release. My cock is still semi-hard. It wanted the real thing, not a hand and a memory. If nothing is resolved at dinner tomorrow night, I’ll resolve it for her soon; waiting is no longer an option. I get off the bed to clean up and hear a text chime as I walk back into my bedroom. The pang of disappointment I feel at seeing Aidan’s name is disconcerting. So, who was the girl tonight? Fuck, just what I didn’t need, Aidan nosing around Lia. The fact he is curious enough to text me this late is a bad sign. None of your damn business. A few moments pass without a reply, but I am not worried about pissing him off with my harsh statement. Aidan and I have been friends for too long to be easily offended by the other. Interesting, brother. I am getting tired of this conversation and don’t want to encourage him to continue his cryptic messages. Is there a point here? He fires back almost immediately. No point. Just a ghost walking over my grave tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow. With those words, he is gone, and I don’t bother to reply. We both know what he is referring to. I can only hope to God this isn’t my main source of attraction to Lia. I, more than anyone, know you can’t go back. The only option is going forward, and that is what I’m ready to do. Why her and why now, I have no idea, but I have no desire to stop…I can’t stop. Chapter Five Lia This entire day has been shit. I overslept this morning and am late to my first class. I detest having to walk in after everyone is already sitting…staring at me. I’m always one of the first to arrive. I like to find a seat so there is no danger of being in the spotlight. Heck, half the students have probably never realized I’m in their class. I also discover that the books I need for my new math class are twice as expensive as I expected. Textbooks are like buying bars of gold that will be useless in a few years. How can they possibly justify what they charge? And, Lucian wants me to quit my job? I laugh a laugh completely devoid of humor. I need to do the opposite: work even more in the coming months to offset my expenses. I received an email earlier from Date Night with a job request; this time he used his real name. I want to be pissed off about him booking the date through my job, but pride goeth before the fall, and after today’s discovery, I need the money more than ever. I’m in a quandary, though, because he has seen both my dresses. This problem has never arisen. Even with my repeat customers, there are months between the bookings, and I feel safe in assuming they don’t remember what I wore previously. Both of my dates with Lucian were recent, and I feel sure he remembers every detail. I have no money to purchase something new, so I’m left with groveling to Rose. We are the same size, although she is taller than I am. She also has a blue silk dress I think would be perfect. I’ll offer to do the dishes for a week. That is something she would give almost anything for since she hates that particular chore. I arrive at home in time to see Jake with his tongue in her mouth and his hand on her ass. Crap, can’t they ever take it in the bedroom? Rose looks up, not seeming the least bit embarrassed; I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t care if I watched the whole thing from start to finish. Jake, however, has the grace to blush, which looks adorable on a macho guy like him. Hey, chick, she says. Do you want to go for some Mexican food with us? Jake’s parents sent him a gift card to the place down the street. My stomach rumbles at the mention of food, and I’m disappointed to turn down a free meal at one of my favorite places. I wish I could, but I’m working. I decide to hit her up for the dress while Jake is here. She is less likely to turn me down while her doting boyfriend has her in a pre-sex state of bliss. Could I possibly borrow a dress for tonight? Shit, I don’t want to admit to her that I am seeing the same guy; that is unusual enough to get her attention. I…haven’t had a chance to do laundry, and I spilled stuff on my other dresses. To my relief, she gives me no more than a passing glance before returning her attention to Jake. Sure, take what you like. She is wrapping herself around her man when she adds absently, You know the routine. Obediently, I walk over to the pad of paper in the kitchen and write down Lucian’s name, but only put a question mark beside the location since he is picking me up. There is no way I am sharing that information with Rose. It’s our rule that I always have my own car. I can’t assure her he isn’t a serial killer without telling her the whole story, and that isn’t going to happen tonight. I run to her room, grab her blue dress, and decide to push my luck and borrow her matching heels, as well; they are better than anything I own. It would probably be safer to wear old jeans and a ratty t-shirt, but I want to look like someone a man like Lucian Quinn would have dinner with tonight. I quickly shower, apply some of my honeysuckle lotion, and wear the one matching black bra and panty set I own. The teal-blue dress fits like a glove and hits me just above the knee. The V-neck makes the most of my breasts and I twirl, happy with the results. My brown hair hangs in soft waves down my back. My makeup is minimal, but I do add some eyeliner to give my eyes a smoky appearance. I’m almost ready when I experience a moment of panic. If Lucian comes to my door, there will be questions, and a lot of them. With ten minutes until he is due to arrive, I grab my purse and run out of the apartment. His car is just pulling to the curb when I breathlessly walk down the walkway. Surprisingly, Sam stays in the car and Lucian steps out of the back. He is wearing another suit, which screams expensive. His thick, dark hair beckons me to run my fingers through it. The man must spend some serious time in the gym because there doesn’t appear to be a spare ounce of flesh anywhere on him. He is stunning. He looks surprised when he sees me standing there gawking at him. Lia, I was coming in to get you.

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