“Is he going to be there?” my roommate Heather Cowan asks, carefully studying her bright, glittery pink nails. She’s been painting them on my nightstand table as I tear through my bedroom like a mini tornado to get ready for this evening’s festivities.
The “he” in question is my brother’s best friend. And tonight, I’m going to put an end to our extended game of cat and mouse, once and for all. In the mirror, I grin at Heather. “Oh, he’ll be there.”
Heather gives me a long-suffering smile and shakes her head at my craziness.
Which, I’m totally used to, and honestly I can’t blame her.
Where he is concerned, I’m impossible.
The party is for my older brother. It’s his birthday, and he’s recently been promoted to the next rank of homicide detective in the Chicago Police Department. He’s one of those overachiever types. Between his birthday and the career success my parents’ heads were in danger of exploding with pride and they couldn’t resist throwing him a big bash.
Which works to my advantage.
I survey myself in the full-length mirror, twisting and turning in my minuscule dress, pleased with what’s staring back at me. I turn to my roommate. “So, what do you think?”
Heather flicks a glance over me. “I think you’re going to give your poor brother a heart attack.”
“Don’t you worry about Michael, he’ll be fine.” Yes, he’s annoyingly overprotective, but I’m twenty-eight, and there’s not much he can do but grumble and scowl. Since he can’t help himself, I take it in stride and don’t deny him his big brother privileges. Nope, I’m a good sister. I just smile, nod and do what I want. See, a win-win for both of us.
I plant my hands on my hips. “You didn’t answer.”
Heather sighs, and flops down on my bed, holding her hands in the air so she won’t ruin her manicure. “You look like I hate you and I’m glad I don’t have to stand next to you and watch men drool all over you.”
“Perfect.” I’ve achieved the intended effect, although the man I want to drool all over me refuses to bend to my seductive will.
“Please, Jillian, I’m begging you, let this go.” Heather’s voice is a pleading whine. We’ve had this conversation before, but I’m nothing if not determined.
“Not going to happen. So just deal.” I twist once again in the mirror. I’m not normally this vain, but tonight I have to look perfect. Impossible to resist. “And the dress?”
“You look like a very expensive escort.”
“Excellent.” I beam, my lips extra full and pouty with the dark crimson gloss I’ve slicked on. It goes with my light olive skin, long, dark wavy hair, and hazel eyes.
I must say I do look spectacular. Yes, my red dress is painted on, short on my long legs, extra slinky, and maybe a bit slutty. But I’m going for show stopping here.
Subtly is not one of tonight’s words.
No, I’m going for hit-you-over-the-head bold.
Heather rolls her eyes. “This will only end in disaster. I’ll be gone this weekend, who will help you pick up the pieces of your tattered heart?”
I step away from the mirror and put on a pair of nude, stiletto heels. “I’ll be fine, I promise. Yes, it will probably be a disaster. But, I’ve tried everything else, I’m running out of options.”
Most girls probably would have taken no for an answer a long time ago, but I’ve been told I can be a bit stubborn at times. Just a bit.
Heather rolls off my bed and stretches her long, lean frame. She’s a ballerina at the Joffrey Ballet, and with her platinum blonde hair, fine classical features and clear blue eyes she looks the part. Dressed in black yoga pants and a tank top, she reaches for her heel and stretches her leg to the ceiling. Her flexibility is something to marvel.
I tilt my head at her. “Are you sure you won’t come tonight? Even for a little bit?”
“As much as I’d love to watch you make a fool out of yourself, I’ve got to be up at the crack of dawn tomorrow.”
“Too bad.” While I’d love her there to support me, which she would despite her belief that I’m being dumb, I’ll know plenty of people at the party, including my best friend Gwen Johnson. We grew up right next door to each other so she’s almost as close to Michael as I am.
My father had rented the back of the hot new Irish pub featured in all of Chicago’s “what’s trending” magazines. Michael protested the celebration, but my father refused to budge. His only son being a homicide detective wasn’t what my investment banker father wanted, but he was proud and showed it. At least my older sister took pity on him and married a partner in my dad’s firm.
I’m the last Banks hold out.
After college I gave it a try, taking a low-level entry job in my dad’s office, but I hated it. I’m not cut out for corporate life. I lasted three months before I quit. Since then I’ve flitted around in various careers, abandoning each one much to my parents’ worry.
I’m affectionately what they call a free spirit. Aka, I have no idea what I want to do with my life.
Something with art, where I’m not cooped up in an office all day—in other words—poor. Of course my family worries about my lack of direction, but I don’t. When I finally hit upon that elusive “thing” I’ll know. And I’ll give it everything I’ve got. In the meantime, I support myself by waitressing at Gwen’s trendy restaurant.
With a six-month waiting list, it’s a great gig, but I’m a mediocre waitress and the restaurant business isn’t my passion. The best I can say about my job is I use my relationship with Gwen for the best shifts, and didn’t have to work out much.
I straighten my dress and walk into our tiny living room. I’ll figure out my career another time, tonight is about pursuing my other elusive passion.
My brother’s best friend and partner. Object of my lust-filled fantasies.
And general pain in the ass.
Heather follows me down the hallway that leads to our living room. “You’ve been practicing in those heels.”
I laugh. There is an art to walking around in too high stilettos, and it’s not innate.
“Your legs look fantastic.”
“Why thank you.” They did. I’m tall, five nine to be exact, and I’ve been told by men and women alike that my legs are endless. I consider them one of my best assets.
I move to the kitchen and start transferring necessary essentials from my big purse to my small evening bag.
Heather slides onto one of the stools that line the breakfast bar and watches me. “Do you think it’s smart to wear heals that put you eye level with him?”
I toss my hair over my shoulder and search for my powder. When I can’t find it I empty everything onto the counter. “He can handle it.” Four-inch heels are part of my strategy.
I want him looking me straight in the eye when he rejects me.
Heather picks up a piece of Double Bubble from the contents of my purse and opens it. “What makes you think this time will be the last.”
“I’m realistic, he’ll probably say no.” Leo always says no. I find the powder and pluck it from the rest of the chaos, and put it in my bag. “But for me it will be the last time, and that’s what we need to focus on.”
The first time I met Leo was the day my brother graduated from the academy. They’d been in the same class. It had been just like the movies. Our eyes locked and when we shook hands electricity actually jolted up my arm. I know he felt it too, because his dark gaze had flickered before dropping to my mouth for a heartbeat.
I’d fallen in instant lust.
He’d ignored me for the rest of the day.
Things hadn’t improved over the years. I’d tried a variety of ways to seduce him but he continues to treat me like a little sister. Gently rebuffing me in a brotherly sort of way.
A girl can only get rejected so many times before it starts to mess with her selfesteem, so of course, I’ve tried to move on. I’ve dated loads of guys, and even had sex with a few of them. Sometimes I came, sometimes I didn’t, but when I closed my eyes, it was Leo who filled my mind. There’s just something about him that calls to me and eclipses every other man I come in contact with.
Despite evidence to the contrary, I was stubbornly sure he wanted me. There was something about the way he looked at me, lingering a bit too long on my mouth, the hint of narrowed eyes when another man showed his appreciation.
What I couldn’t figure out was why he refused to act.
Sure, he was my brother’s best friend, and Michael was universally considered intimidating as the devil himself, but Leo didn’t seem the type to let a thing like friendship and intimidation get in the way of what he wanted.
So, why was he resistant? The more I couldn’t figure him out, the more fascinating he became.
I’m twisted that way.
“Well, you know what I think.” Heather popped the gum into her mouth. We’d discussed the topic ad nauseam, and I suspected the whole thing bored her. Not that I blamed her. My obsession bored me too.
That’s why I’m taking action.
I’m going to give it one more try, and if he rejects me, I’ll move on. My plan is to do things differently this time. If it didn’t work, well, I’ll live with it and put him behind me once and for all. I’m far too old and have too much respect for myself to continue to hold out for a guy that didn’t want me enough to fight for me.
I shut my purse. “Tonight’s the night. I promise, when he says no, I will stick to the plan.”
Heather touches my hand and gives me a sympathetic frown. “I don’t know what his problem is, you’re awesome. And I think he wants you, I just don’t think he intends to do anything about it.”
“Of course he doesn’t. That’s why it’s up to me to prove him wrong.”
As soon as I walk into the bar, I spot him, laughing down at some blonde with big tits and a waist so small she could rival Scarlet O’Hara, pre-baby. Apparently enraptured with her, he doesn’t notice me as I make my rounds through the room.
This isn’t off to a good start.
Casual as can be, he’s leaning against a wall, wearing a pair of jeans and a tight black shirt that hugs his muscles and broad shoulders and emphasizes the narrow cut of his waist. He looks ridiculous and just seeing him makes my heart kick into double time.
My best friend Gwen, a gorgeous redhead, with light blue eyes and a lean frame that doesn’t belong on a restaurant owner, runs over to me. “Damn, girl, you look hotter than hell.”
That was the idea. I smooth down my skirt. Thanks.”
She hugs me, then stands back and whistles. “If he resists this dress, the man is officially a candidate for sainthood.”
We’ve been friends since practically birth; she knows everything about me, including my Leo fixation. But Leo talk is for the privacy of our apartments, not out here in the open with a bunch of nosey cops milling around. “Sssshhhh!!” I hiss, glancing around. “Someone might hear you.”
“Oh relax, I didn’t say his name.” Gwen hooks an arm with mine. “Come on, let’s put you on display.”
I glance one more time in Leo’s direction but his attention is still on the blonde.
I throw my shoulders back. This will not deter me.
We begin our crawl through the room. The place is packed and I’m pleased to see men giving me the down and dirty once over. Their eyes shifting hungrily between Gwen and me, as if trying to figure out who to eat up first.
Now if I can only get the attention of the right one, I’ll be set.
I spot my parents, my sister and her husband, and Michael over by the bar. I point in their direction and we make our way over to the group.
When we get there, I grin. “Happy Birthday, big brother.”
Tallness runs in our family and Michael is six feet, five inches of badass with dark hair, ridiculous cheekbones, and a body carved from granite. He’s scary, beautiful and drives women absolutely crazy.
And right now he’s frowning at me. “What in the hell are you wearing?”
“A dress, geesh,” I say and shoot a glance to my dad, jerking a thumb at Michael. “Can you believe this guy? Isn’t that supposed to be your line?”
My father’s mouth forms a matching frown, showcasing their similar features. “It does seem your dress needs more of it.”
“Don’t listen to him, dear,” my mom says, kissing me on both cheeks. “You look lovely.”
“Doesn’t she?” Gwen beams at me.
Michael practically growls at her. “Don’t encourage her. This place is full of cops, you need to put on a sweater.”
“If it’s full of cops, I’ll be perfectly safe,” I point out helpfully. See what a good sister I am? I turn toward Gwen. The family is not helping my mojo. “Let’s get a drink.” We wave and head to the bar.
Of course everything is free, and Gwen and I take full advantage. Now that my reckoning is drawing near, nerves dance in my stomach, and I need to relax. We order shots of Patrón in honor of our college days and then margaritas so we don’t mix alcohol.
“So tonight’s the night?” Gwen takes a sip and surveys the crowd. Gwen is like super model gorgeous, and between the two of us we’re causing quite the stir.
I do a sideways glance in the direction I last saw Leo. Still talking to the blonde.
That jerk doesn’t even know I’m here.
“Tonight’s the night.” I nod. I will not be thwarted. Gwen knows all about my plans and my promises to move on if I fail. She’s sworn to go hard-core on me if that happens. Zero tolerance for anything Leo related. I smooth a hand over my stomach. “What do you think?”
“I have faith in you.” Gwen tilts her head and it sends her hair swaying over one shoulder. “But remember, sometimes you have to be careful for what you wish for.”
I furrow my brow. “What do you mean?”
Gwen flashes a dazzling smile at the guy across the bar, and then shrugs. “All I mean is that you don’t really know him. If he goes for this, the real guy might not live up to the guy you’ve conjured in your fantasies.”
I wrinkle my nose and nod. I’m no dummy, and of course, she’s one-hundredpercent right. It’s actually an argument I’ve made to myself a million times. On occasion, I’ve even followed it, but then I see him again. I catch the spark of awareness on the air between us, and I fall right back into my infatuation.
I sigh. “I know, but the only way to find that out is to take the plunge, and it’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
The cute guy from across the bar gives Gwen a long, slow smile and when she returns it with a flirty look, he starts the path over. Gwen winks at me. “One more shot and then you go get him, deal?”
“Deal.” I glance over to where Leo stands, his head bent talking to the blonde.
His hair is dark, almost black, matching the depth of his eyes.
Tonight’s the night. I either go big, or go home.
I make a very good show of hiding it, but the second Jillian walks through the door it’s like some sort of internal sonar is flipped on, sending out waves through the air.
It’s been that way since the moment I laid eyes on her all those years ago. I still remember with vivid clarity the first time I saw her, before I knew she was my best friend’s baby sister. Therefore permanently off limits.
I’d stood on stage, the bright Chicago sun glaring against my dark uniform as I graduated from the academy, my family beaming at me from the audience. My youngest of three sisters, Talia, waved frantically and I winked, attempting to remain serious and cop-like. Jillian was two rows back, her hair a dark cascade over her shoulders, a wide smile on her very fuckable lips as she laughed at something the person next to her said. She’d worn a sleeveless powder-blue dress that cut in a V down the slope of her breasts and clung to her tall, curvy frame. Everything about her was lush, strong and gorgeous.
My first thought was that she looked like the kind of girl I’d like to hurt.
In a good way, that would drive her crazy and make her come all over the place, but still a fucked-up thought by most people’s standards. I take my sex hard, rough and a bit cruel. I like to control and bend a woman to my will. I like her wanton and begging. Mad with uncontrollable, all-consuming lust, and there is just something about Jillian that calls to that dominant, slightly sadistic part of me like she’s crack.
One look at her and I stopped paying attention to the ceremony and started plotting how I’d seduce her back to my house. She looked like she could take what I dished out and I wanted to manhandle her. Use my mouth and hands and teeth in the most visceral, tactile way possible. I was already envisioning the strike of my palm on her ass, and how she’d feel, tight around my cock, as I’d fuck her right into oblivion.
So I stood there, and instead of soaking in the accomplishment of a goal I’d been planning since the day my twin brother was murdered, I could only watch her, and count the minutes until I could meet her.
That plan got screwed six ways to Sunday when she turned out to be my best friend’s little sister. Maybe some guys could overlook that, but Michael is the closest thing I have to a brother, and after losing my real one, I’m not willing to risk it. It’s bad enough to lose a brother, but to lose a twin…well, it’s like part of you is missing and I don’t need any more parts of me chipped away.
Besides, while Jillian might make me want to do all sorts of depraved acts to her, she has never once exhibited any tendencies toward submission, except for her persistent interest in me. Although she has no idea what I am, or what I’ll do to her, I sometimes wonder if she scents something on the air. But other than that, I pick up nothing so I can only assume that’s chemistry.
Of which we have in spades.
Once upon a time I convinced myself I could ignore it, ignore her, but all that repressed attraction and simmering, just-below-the-surface passion has consequences. We are part friends, part antagonists, and part powder keg waiting for the first signs of a spark to detonate. It makes for some interesting times, especially when Jillian goes into seduction mode.
Too many times to count she’s almost broken me. But then I remember—she’s not what I need her to be. And I’m not the man she wants or deserves. I want her enough that sometimes I can convince myself I can play it straight for her, that I can be the kind of man she needs, but then I think of all the things I itch to do to her and know that’s impossible. She just calls to that part of me too strongly. There’s always the chance it’s hidden away, locked inside her, but I make it a rule to stick to women who understand what I expect, and what I’m willing to give them. I provide them the control they crave and screaming orgasms. In return they understand that while we are together I don’t fuck around, but I’m one-hundred-percent temporary. A man to fill in while they wait for their Dom in shining armor.
Snap. Fingers fly in front of my face in a blur.
I blink Patty Driscol into focus. She’s a hot little blonde that works the front desk down at the station. She’s sexy, flirty and loves attention. The guys go crazy for her, but it seems she’s only got eyes for me. Probably because I’m not interested and she’s the kind of woman that likes to make everything a challenge.
I shake my head. “Sorry, what were you saying?”
Her expression darkens with what I can only presume is annoyance. “I asked if you wanted to dance.”
“Thanks, honey.” I hold up a bottle of one of Chicago’s many IPAs and take a sip. “Maybe later after some more beer.”
She puffs out her bottom lip and leans in, letting her large chest brush my arm. It’s a practiced move, one she’s probably done a thousand times because it works, but has zero effect on me. “Pretty please.”
God save me from this woman. I’m actually a pretty nice guy and I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but she doesn’t take the hints I’m flashing in neon in her direction. I lift my chin to the crowd in back of her. “There are plenty of guys that will dance with you.” I give her an affable smile. “Probably some girls too.”
She does some sort of hungry tour over my face and body. “Do you like that sort of thing? Because I could get into that.”
I resist the sigh. Didn’t anyone work up to threesomes anymore? When did that become an introductory offer? Not that I have anything against convenient sex, hell, I took advantage of it, and blessed sexual liberation more than a few times. I’m not one of those guys that manwhored around and then slut shamed the woman who’d given me her body. But there’s no mystery anymore. No challenge.
Except for Jillian, whom I refuse to lay a finger on.
From above Patty’s head I catch a glimpse of the woman in question over by the bar with her friend, Gwen. She’s wearing that fuck-me dress, with those fuck-me shoes. Her hair is wild around her shoulders, her mouth obscene. Her legs go on for miles and I can envision them locked and shaking around my waist.
My fingers tighten around the bottle. Everything about the way she looks causes caveman-like thoughts. I want to go over there and demand she change right this instant. I want to bend her over a table, lift up her skirt and smack the hell out of her ass for torturing me. I want to drag her to the bathroom, pound into her so she feels me for days, before I come all over her.
I want her marked.
“Well?” Patty’s voice is attempting to be seductive, but I can hear the first treads of irritation underneath.
I chuck her under the chin. “You know my policy.” I’ve used the—I don’t mix business with pleasure—routine on her countless times to no avail.
She brushes her nipples over my arm and her nails walk a path up my biceps.
“I’m positive I can change your mind.”
God help me, it’s going to be a long fucking night.
After my liquid courage, I leave Gwen to her prey. The guy is cute, charming, and affable. Poor thing. Gwen ate men like him for breakfast, but that was his problem, I had bigger problems to contend with, namely my increasing nerves.
I’d already planned out what I was going to do, but my plans with Leo always go awry and, despite my shots and half a drink, I figure this time wouldn’t be any different.
Regardless of how I want it to be.
But I can’t focus on that. I must focus on closure.
The first order of business is to actually catch his attention and since he stood near the bathrooms, that shouldn’t be too hard. I put an extra sway in my step, tossing my hair over my shoulder. With purpose, I walk toward my goal.
The crowd parts like I’m parting the red sea, confirming I looked plenty delectable, but as I make my way through the room, my confidence flags. I’ve looked good before, but I was never able to sway him, was I fooling myself that this time would be any different?
I take a deep breath and slowly exhale.
It didn’t matter what he did, I was going to do things differently and let the chips fall where they may. I’ve got it all mapped out. I’m not going to hint, bat my lashes, or attempt any other such nonsense.
No, I’m going to flat out tell him my plans.
He can either take it or leave it.
I’m sure he’ll leave it, but I don’t care, I have to give it one more shot.
Then, I’m done.
He comes into my line of sight. He’s still talking to that woman and a part of me wants to turn around and walk away, but I can’t do that. I’m not a coward. I’m a modern woman and I go after what I want.
Be bold, Jillian.
I stare in his direction and all the sudden he lifts his head from the blonde, narrows his gaze, and locks onto me.
I force myself to keep going, despite the urge to falter and stall.
He shifts his attention over my body, and his mouth curls in what I can only guess is disapproval.
I force myself to keep going until I’m standing in front of him. I smile and nod. “Hey, Leo.”
“Jillian,” he says, in that low-toned voice I’ve convinced myself he reserves just for me.
The blonde gives me a disgusted look and points at me. “Who’s this?”
Leo flicks another glance over me. “This is Jillian Banks. Michael’s sister.”
My adversary laces her arm through Leo’s and horror flashes through me. Oh no, is she his date? Why hadn’t I anticipated he’d bring a date?
This messes up all my plans. Damn him. Isn’t it just like him to thwart me without even trying? I’m not so mean and desperate I’d make my final move while he’s distracted with a date. I smile sweetly. “And who might you be?”
I might be a struggling waitress with a propensity for flighty career decisions, but I’m a born and bred Chicago, Northshore girl and can cat it up with the best of them.
“The name’s Patty.” She gives me the evil eye.
She knows I’m competition and she’s threatened. Which means whatever her relationship is with Leo, it’s not secure enough, so I still have my chance.
“It’s lovely to meet you,” I say in the voice I’ve heard my mom use while talking on the phone with one of the women from her club. I’m not above fishing for information. “How did you and Leo meet?”
Leo raises a brow at me then shakes his head.
Patty (What a stupid name. Leo should not be calling out Patty in his sinful voice. That would be a complete waste.) turns her nose up at me. “We’re old friends.” That doesn’t give me any information at all, as I’m sure she intended.
I tower over her, and I’m not above using my height to make her feel small. I try again. “What a coincidence. I’ve known Leo since he was in the academy with my brother. So you know what a doll he is.”
Doll is the last word any woman would use to describe Leo. He’s more a mix of extremely cute mixed with a hint of danger and mystery I still can’t figure out.
Leo gives me another once over, but it’s not filled with any of the lust I’m looking for, no it’s filled with annoyance. Like I’m irritating him. “Patty works at the station.”
I manage to mask my triumph. Ha. Not a date. Just a regular, ol’ coworker with a crush. I frown. Well, technically the same could be said for me, but that’s totally different. I smile. “I see.”
Leo looks at Patty and nods. “Can you give us a minute?” I will not smirk.
I’ve won and we both know it. And that’s good enough for me.
Her overly bright expression falls and I can’t help it, I suddenly feel bad for her. I’ve had that feeling over Leo far too many times too count not to sympathize. But these are battle conditions, and while I understand, I cannot show mercy.
“Sure,” she says, her tone full of false cheer. She points over to a group of women sitting at a table. “I’ll be over there when you’re done.”
“Have fun, Patty.” He takes a swig of his beer and watches her walk away.
Annoyed that he can’t seem to take his eyes off her ass, I say, “And what can I do for you, Leo?”
He slowly shifts his attention back to me, all traces of amusement gone. “You can tell me exactly what the hell you think you’re doing.”
I wave a hand at the party. “Um, celebrating my brother’s birthday, obviously.”
His gaze rakes over my body. “Where’s the rest of your dress?”
Okay, so he had noticed. At least that was something. I shift on my heels. “What?
Don’t you like it?”
“No, I do not.” His jaw is hard, his eyes a flat black.
Okay, stupidly a secret part of me hoped he’d be consumed with lust, but clearly that isn’t going to happen. But I can’t back down now. I’ve promised Gwen and Heather. I’ve promised myself. Determined to trudge on, I square my shoulders. “Then don’t look at me.”
“Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose?” He straightens and glowers, managing to make me feel like he’s looking down at me. Quite a feat, considering in my heels, we’re eye level. “After all, you wore it for me.”
It’s not a question. It’s a statement.
Nerves slither down my spine and I swallow down my unease. This is what I both love and hate about him, this sense he can handle me. That he’ll somehow call me on my bullshit. It’s an odd thing to be attracted to, but it’s one of the most compelling things about him.
Of course, we’ve had conversations like this before, and this is usually the time I say something coy and flirtatious in an effort to lure him to me, but that never works, and direct is my final battle strategy. “Yes, I did.”
He shakes his head. “It’s not going to work, Jillian.”
“What’s not going to work?”
“This has to stop.”
“I wore a dress, Leo, big deal.” I look away from him.
“You’re a gorgeous girl—”
I hold up my hand. “You can stop right there. I’ve heard this before.”
“I’m sorry, I just don’t think of you that way.”
I square my shoulders and look him right in the eyes. “You’re a liar. You think you can fool me, but I know.”
Okay, this isn’t quite going how I’d mapped it all out in my head, but at least it’s different. It’s as though we’ve reached some sort of breaking point and aren’t willing to pretend anymore.
“And what exactly do you think you know?” He’s giving me that dark, hardeyed stare meant to intimidate.
It doesn’t work. I just stare right back. “You want me just as much as I want you.”
The air seems to still around us, growing thick with tension.
“You’re my best friend’s little sister, and that’s all you’ll ever be.” He delivers the words with a distinct bite.
I let my attention drift to his mouth then shrug. “Whatever.”
He chuckles and leans back against the wall, sliding his hand into his pants pocket. “You are not going to break me.”
I smile, slow and sweet, and hold up my hands. “Oh, you can rest easy, that’s not what this is about.”
Now it’s his turn to smirk. “Do tell.”
This is it. I toss my hair over my shoulder and stand straight and proud. “I’m here to tell you that you win. I surrender.”
Something flickers deep in his gaze. An expression I can’t even begin to decipher passes over his features.
Before he can speak I go on. “I’m officially done chasing you. You win. I lose. I’m done pursuing a man who claims he doesn’t want me. You get your wish. From now on I will behave like the little sister you say you want me to be. So congratulations, I’m heeding your advice and moving on. I’m done.” His features are unreadable.
A sudden wave of nausea rolls through me, and I regret the Patrón. The acceptance sinks deep into my bones. He might want me. But it’s not enough.
As he said, he’ll never break, at least not for me.
I smooth a hand over my stomach, the silky fabric clinging to my body. “So you want to know what the dress is about. I’ll tell you. I wanted to look my very best as I walk away.”
And then I swivel on my heels and do just that.
I don’t look back, even though I want to.
It’s done. I can’t back out now. It’s a risky move and deep in my heart I don’t think it will work, but I’ve run out of options and it’s time to move on with my life.
If he doesn’t come after me, I have my answer.
If he does, I have my answer too.
Either way I’ll know and be able to move forward in a concrete direction.
I make my way back to the bar and Gwen, who’s still chatting it up with the cute guy from before. When I stand in front of her she picks up a shot off the bar she’s clearly had waiting for me. “How’d it go?”
I down the drink with a hiss and slam the shot glass far too hard onto the bar.
She raises a brow. “That good, huh?”
I suck on the lime before tossing it into the glass. “Is he looking?”
She peers around me. “Yep.”
I blow out a deep breath. “What’s his expression?”
Gwen narrows her gaze. “Hmmm…I’m going to go with not happy.”
Good. At least I made an exit. I turn to the guy hitting on Gwen. “Hey, do you work at the station?”
“Yeah,” he says, his brow furrowing. “You’re Michael’s sister, right?”
“That I am.” I beam at him and scan over the crowded bar. “So tell me, who’s the biggest player here?”
“Um…” His expression turns a touch nervous.
“Oh no,” Gwen says, shaking her head.
“Oh yes.” I shift my attention back to who I’m now referring to as the guy. “So?”
He holds up his hands in surrender. “I’m not looking to get on Michael’s bad side.”
I sigh. Having a high-ranking detective for a brother is such a pain in the ass. And god, when had guys turn into such pussies? “Suit yourself.”
It’s not like players are hard to find. Toss a few seductive glances their way and they move right in, after all, they’re all about the easy. I wink at Gwen. “I’ll be back.”
Before she can stop me, I start my slow crawl through the room. Along the way I stop and talk to my parents, Michael, and my sister and her husband. I talk to my brother’s coworkers I’ve met over the years, as well as friends I’ve known all my life. All the while I keep an eye out for that guy—you know the one—that eye fucks you from across the room and thinks he’s god’s gift to women.
The only person I don’t talk to, or even look at, is Leo, but I fantasize he’s watching me, which tells me I have a lot of work ahead of me if I want to get over him.
But, hey, it’s a start, and that’s where all change happens, at the beginning.
Who knows, maybe I’ll take this mystery man home with me.
I haven’t had sex in far too long to admit to and maybe a one-night stand is just what I need. He’ll have to be good, and have considerable skills to take my mind off Leo. A girl can dream.
And, after seemingly endless tours of the room, I finally spot him. Exactly the one I’ve been looking for. He’s tall and gorgeous, with blond hair, blue eyes. He’s built long and lanky, like Mathew McConaughey in True Detective, before he became a beer guzzling, chain-smoking homeless person.
Leo’s complete opposite.
Our gazes meet and he gives me a slight nod of appreciation. I boldly meet his stare, give him a fleeting smile, and turn back to a friend from down the street where we grew up. When we were teenagers we’d had a mad flirtation for about fifteen minutes and have been friends ever since. Tom’s married now, with a kid on the way, a mortgage, and a three-car garage.
He’s living a life I can’t even fathom, nor do I want to.
When I think enough time has passed, I slowly crane my head to find my player watching me with hooded eyes. His gaze skips down my face, lingers on my mouth, and trails a path down my body. When he finally makes his way back up to my eyes, I give him a dry, droll look and turn back around.
Tom and his wife are talking about their latest ultrasound and I stifle an eye roll.
It’s not that I don’t like kids, I do. I have a niece I adore, but I really only have interest in kids I’m actually related to, and I’m not one of those women who get all worked up about anything baby orientated. I smile. “That’s fantastic. I’m so happy for you.”
Tom’s wife, Mary, rubs her belly and starts talking about the baby’s head circumference. Just as my eyes are starting to glaze over a hand grasps my elbow.
For a fraction of a fraction of a second, my heart leaps into my throat. It’s Leo. I crane my neck and my hope is quickly dashed when it’s the player from across the room. At least I managed to reel in one man.
Not the one I want, but he’ll certainly do.
He gives me a killer smile that flashes all sorts of dimple. “Hi.”
I smile back, turning toward him. Pleased at how easy it was to get him to come to me. “Hi.”
His fingers tighten on my elbow. “I’m Brandon.”
“Jillian.” I suck my bottom lip through my teeth, in a gesture designed to draw Brandon’s attention to my mouth. A feature an old boyfriend once described as being designed to be wrapped around a man’s cock. At the time I scoffed because, come on, is there a straight man alive that doesn’t think a woman’s mouth looks better with his dick in it? But over time I’ve come to appreciate the comment. My lips are tinged with red, full and appear slightly swollen, like I’ve been doing something illicit.
A woman has to work with what she has. There’s no shame in that.
Brandon falls for the ploy hook, line and sinker, and his blue eyes darken. “You want to dance?”
There’s a dance floor in the back already littered with people. Well, now, this couldn’t have worked out any better. Unlike Leo, this plan comes together exactly as I’d envisioned it. “Sure.” I turn back to Tom and Mary. “It was great seeing you guys, good luck with your baby.”
They wave their goodbyes and I let Brandon pull me away. When we near the dance floor he stops, and grins down at me. “Do you really want to dance? Or just get away?”
I laugh and pull him the rest of the way. I’m looking to be on display and I can’t do that off in some alcove. “Both.”
And like the gods are smiling down on me, the song changes to a slow, seductive sway, and he pulls me into his arms.
I flutter my lashes up at him. “How do you know Michael?”
His fingers slide down my spine. “Old college friends.”
“An ivy leaguer, huh?” My brother played football for University of Pennsylvania, and was well on the way to being respectable, until he decided to major in law enforcement and become a cop. My parents were horrified, but over time they learned to adapt and forgive him his profession. I curl my arms around Bandon’s neck.
“So there’s actually someone here who’s not a cop.”
He laughs. “Not even close.”
“And what do you do?” I let a suggestive rasp fill my voice.
His hands drop, falling to the curve of my hips. “I own a club.”
“Have I heard of it?”
“Doubtful.” He flashes those dimples again.
He’s got quite a mouth on him too, and I let my gaze linger. “Maybe you can take me there sometime.”
Again he laughs and reaches up to tuck a lock of hair behind my ear. “Maybe. And how do you know Michael?”
This is the part I’d been dreading, and I’ve seriously debated waiting to execute my plan because of it, but I’d never been one that let’s grass grow under my feet. Once I made my decisions I had to act. I lick my lips, hoping he likes me enough to overcome this one teeny, tiny thing. “I’m his sister.”
Brandon stiffens and starts to pull back. “Oh.”
I grit my teeth. Curses. I do the only thing I can think of and try daring him.
“You’re not going to a let a little thing like that stop you, are you?”
His hands immediately return to a respectable level. “Honestly, yes. Yes, I am.”
My shoulders sag in disappointment and I drop my seduction act. “Really?”
Something akin to regret rolls over his expression. “Sorry, baby doll.” “Well, this is disappointing.” My stupid brother and all his danger.
He chuckles. “As gorgeous as you are it’s a real travesty, but Michael would never forgive me.”
I roll my eyes. “If I had a dollar for every time I heard those words. I don’t get it. Does he have some sort of bounty out for anyone that touches his baby sister?”
Brandon’s brow furrows, and he looks away. “You’ll have to talk to him about that one, but not that I know of.”
I sigh. I handpick the hottest guy in the room and he won’t touch me because of my brother. I grumble, “My sister didn’t have these problems.”
He chucks me under the chin, like I’m a little slugger that just hit a home run. “I have a theory about why that may be, but it’s really not my place.”
I blow out an exasperated breath. “Well, if you’re not going to tell me, will you at least do me a favor?”
Okay, this is a risk but I’m out of options. This is the only guy in the room that had the kind of presence I’m looking for. “Can you fake it?”
The song ends and he pulls me from the floor. “Fake it?”
“Yes, pretend you’re attracted to me.”
Confusion passes over his expression. “I don’t have to pretend, if you weren’t
Michael’s sister, I’d have talked you back to my place already.”
I put my hands on my hips. “Well, someone’s got a healthy ego.”
“Comes with the territory, honey,” he says.
“What territory?” I haven’t a clue what he’s talking about.
He shakes his head. “Never mind. So tell me about why you want me to fake it.”
“Since you’re not interested because of the Michael factor, I’ll be honest with you.” It’s odd, I feel comfortable with him, like the second we dropped our personas we became friends. “I’m trying to make someone jealous, and I could really use your help.”
He bursts out laughing, shaking his head. “You little vixen. I like you, Jillian Banks.”
I huff and cross my arms over my chest. “Yeah, just not enough to sleep with me.”
“Not true. But it’s a good thing I erred on the side of caution, since you’re clearly on the prowl for someone else and I would have gotten my heart broken.” “Yeah right.” Not buying what he’s selling.
He winks. “So how can I help?”
“Hit on me, of course. Pretending we’re going home together would be even
His head tilts as though contemplating. “Hang on.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his cell. He pushes some icons on the screen and proceeds to type out a text message. Once he’s done he nods. “All right, I’ll do it.”
My brows knit. “Who’d you text?”
“Your brother.” He gives me another grin. “I told him no matter what it looked like, I was not hitting on his sister.”
Men. God save me from their peculiar code of honor. I wave a hand. “So you’re in?”
His fingers slide around my neck and tangle in my hair. “Honey, if he’s not jealous after what I’m about to do to you, he’s either dead, gay, or has no interest in you.”
Exactly what I was looking for. I grin. “Let the games begin.”
I’ve officially gone insane.
After Jillian’s very impressive speech, which I can tell by the set of her jaw she means every word of, I’ve pretty much gone into a type of primal, caveman mode I can’t talk myself out of. As she walked away, drawing the gaze of every fucking guy in the room, I had to exact every scrap of willpower I have not to run after her.
I drank my beer and argued with myself that this was for the best.
That she needed to move on.
That this unspoken standoff between us had to end sometime.
That Michael would never approve of me corrupting his sister.
That no woman, not even her, was worth ruining a friendship.
That I’m not a commitment guy.
That she wasn’t what I need her to be.
That I wasn’t what she needs me to be.
That it would be a disaster.
Every argument dies a sudden, painful death the second Brandon Townsend III lays his hands on her.
Brandon is my other best friend. And, as far as I can tell, besides Michael, the only other dominant guy in the room. The three of us, all being of like mind, and having odd schedules, often spent our off time together. I know all about the things Brandon likes to do to girls and he’s not the nice, vanilla boy Jillian needs or deserves.
That she walked away from me and latched on to him makes me crazy in a way I can’t even put into words. I want to pretend this is about protecting Jillian from the big, bad wolf, but the possessive jealousy beating away at me doesn’t allow for that kind of self-denial.
With a clenched jaw, and fingers laced too tightly around my beer, I watch Jillian lean into Brandon, beaming up at him with that fucking mouth of hers.
They look good together, too good. It makes me want to punch something. I want to go over there and rip out his heart.
But worse, I want to walk over there and claim her.
It’s only by the grace of god that I’m able to control myself. But the moment Brandon heads for the bathroom, I’m on him, nipping at his heels.
I push the door open with so much force it swings back and hits the wall.
Brandon’s standing over the faucet and looks at me in the mirror with a shiteating grin on his face. “I’m impressed with your willpower, but I knew you’d break eventually.”
I say in my best bad cop voice. “I don’t know what the fuck you think you’re doing, but it stops now. Leave her alone.”
Brandon flicks off the water and, casual as can be, walks over and grabs a bunch of paper towels. “I don’t think so.”
“I mean it, Brandon. I will rip you apart limb by limb if you lay one finger on her.” I don’t give two fucks that I have no right, or any say in what she does. My mind is past logic.
He turns to face me, one brow raised. “Let me get this straight. You won’t take what she’s clearly offering, but you don’t want anyone else to have her either. Do I have that correct?”
Yes. Unreasonably, that’s exactly what I want. “I’m just looking out for her best interests and it sure as hell isn’t you.”
“Are you so sure about that?”
“She’s not like that, Brandon. And Michael sure as hell isn’t going to stand for you hitting on his sister.”
He shrugs. “I’ve been with her all night, but you’re the one standing here, not him.”
It’s the truth. Although I don’t know why Michael appears fine with Brandon and his sister when he’s warned me off her a million times. It’s not like I’ve ever confessed my feelings for her, but he’s not stupid and he’s caught me watching her too many times for casual interest. I grit my teeth. “Just leave her alone.”
“Yeah, I’m not going to do that.” Brandon smirks, walks around me, and leaves.
Series: Undone #2
Release Date: November 17, 2015
Average rating on Goodreads: 4.22 stars
Number of Reviews: 79 (on Goodreads)Order: Amazon |Barnes & Noble |Kobo |iTunes |Google Play
I’ve wanted my brother’s best friend, Leo Santoro, for too many years to count.
No matter what I do, he won’t confront the attraction that burns between us.
It’s time to put him behind me once and for all.
I have no choice but to call his bluff.
And then I will walk away.
The last woman I should want is my best friend’s baby sister, Jillian Banks.
No matter what I do, she won’t ignore the attraction that burns between us.
It’s time she learns the real me.
The only promise I can make is that her fantasies are no match for reality.
And then I’ll watch her walk away
I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek of Sinful. I cannot wait for you to meet Jillian and Leo. Enjoy!