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Authors: Matthews, Josie

Flirting with disaster

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FLIRTING WITH DISASTER

A Noble Pass Affaire Novella

 

 

 

 

 

A Noble Pass Affaire Novella Series

Flirting with Fire by Misty Dietz

Flirting with Disaster by Josie Matthews

Flirting with Sin by Naima Simone

Flirting with Fate by Jerrie Alexander

Flirting with the Devil by Kym Roberts

 

Coming Soon from Josie Matthews

Crazy For Loving You

 

 

 

 A Josie Matthews Publication.......

 

FLIRTING WITHDISASTER

COPYRIGHT© 2015 by Josie Matthews

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

 

Josie Matthews Publishing

September 2015

Print ISBN: 978-0-9965550-0-5

Electronic ISBN: 978-0-9965550-1-2

 

Cover Illustrator: Misty Dietz,

www.MistyDietz.com

Edited by: A.J. Nuest,

www.AJNuest.com

Interior Design by: Top-ePublishing Services, 

www.Top-ePublishingServices.com

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Acknowledgements

So many people to acknowledge and thank for their support, guidance and encouragement. It takes a diehard team to create a few moments of feel-good fantasy for my readers.

To my family:  Thanks for staring at the back of my head and realizing I didn’t hear a word you said while I was writing.

To Mom and Dad:  For your belief and support over the years.

To my most awesome editor, A.J. Nuest:  You have the patience of all the saints combined, and a kick-ass sense of exactly what I need.

To my Chick Swagger sisters, Misty, Kym, Jerrie, A.J., and Naima:  Thanks for your unending patience, support, and guidance through this process.

Thanks to my critique partners, Misty, Jo, and Rachel who always steer me in the right direction when I get antsy!

A big hug to my Chick Swagger Sirens Street Team for their awesome support!

To Char and Shelly:  Thanks for your humor, support and invaluable input through my imaginings.

 

 

 

 

 

For Michael, since he wouldn’t read it until he could buy it.

 

 

 

 

 

One

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Albert Einstein

“How many calories are in a…Screaming Orgasm?” Jude Duffy glanced at the young man behind the bar in hopes of some guidance. “No, wait…what about the Bend Over Shirley? Could I have that with seltzer instead of Sprite? Or the Mickey Slim, maybe?”

She returned the drink list to the bar. “I knew a man named Mickey once. He attended one of my studies regarding the hormonal imbalances of mono-zygotic twins in relationship to the concordance for homosexuality.”

Alas, Jude wouldn’t likely experience the sterile safety of her precious lab ever again.

She sighed and slid the resort brochure from her purse. Castle Alainn in October, A Mystical Adventure. Jude snorted. This whole vacation/contest win, organized by her dear Aunt Agnes before her death a month ago, was nothing but a frivolous excursion to help Jude forget the most humiliating moment of her life. And she hated frivolity. It was a threat to her safety and the safety of those around her. She was not a frivolous type of being if one considered her PhD, her Chevy Spark Hatchback, and the 401K she’d invested in since she was sixteen.

The bartender’s brows lifted. “Honey, how about we start with a nice Long Island Iced Tea?” The room echoed with the delight of other patrons, muffling the bartender’s comments. “You look a little…uptight.”

Jude relaxed a bit on the bar stool. “Yes, an iced tea would be lovely.” A simple iced tea for an unfamiliar experience. Perfect. “Is your water filtered? I’d prefer spring water, if that’s okay?” He smiled and turned away. She reached into her purse for an antibacterial wipe, cleansed her hands and the bar surface before tucking the wipe safely into the sleeve of her cardigan.

The placewasbeautiful. Exposed beams, luxurious couches, and ornate chandeliers. This castle resort in Noble Pass, Colorado was known for its reclusive opulence—owned by an eclectic Irish couple who organized a ridiculous “Noble Pass Affaire” contest each month. And the prize? A week’s stay to give a failure like her a break from her unpalatable state of affairs.

Too bad October’s win had been wasted on a thirty-eight-year-old, misanthropic virgin like her.

“Here you go, Sweetie.”

Jude glanced at the bartender’s name tag. “Thank you, Steven.”

He nodded then winked and walked away. She sipped from the tall crystal glass, the sweet, pungent flavor tweaking her taste buds while she admired the rustic architecture of the room.

That horridHarry Strubel Showwould air across the country tonight. When Evan, her ex-fiancé, had introduced her to the producers of the famous talk show three months ago, she’d been under the impression she was to appear to discuss her anthropological studies. The ones she’d been conducting with her research team to debunk the antagonistic myths for the causes of homosexuality.

Instead, she’d been used as nothing but a prop for a comedic debacle involving her fiancé…andhis newly acquired Latin lover.

She’d been so imbecilic. Evan had been perfect during their three year engagement, but Jude should’ve listened when her lab partner had voiced her concerns over Evan’s uncanny ability to yard sale for hours on end, and the fact he wore eyeliner…sometimes.

Jude had just figured he was inextricably in touch with his feminine side, a metro sexual. But her foresight and intelligence had been sabotaged by her innate yearning to be a mother, have a family.

Harry Strubel had to point out her pedantic impotence, her complete deficiency in the face of her fellow anthropologists—on national television—by having Evan announce he was leaving her for the effeminate Timothy Cammarerra, her wedding planner. She sincerely hoped Timothy dumped Evan one day for an androgynous hooker from Henry Street. After tonight’s airing, she’d forever be known as the “Honey, you’re nice, but I like his package better than yours” girl.

God, the humiliation.

She sipped from her second iced tea—Steven was so obliging and prompt with his refills—and glanced toward the couple two stools down. The male was going to leave his partner. The body language, the incongruity of their appearances, the apathetic physiognomy…love was a game for fools.

Jude had been more in love with the idea of being married so she could start a family—something she’d never had—than she’d ever been in love with Evan.

It was tough to love a man who had better eyebrows than her.

She cringed and stirred her iced tea. Maybe she should’ve gone with the Rocky Mountain Bear Fucker. She needed something strong and alcoholic to numb the shame. Plain old iced tea just wasn’t cutting it.

Nine-fifty.Ten minutes until her national humiliation, the end of her career, the end of any credibility she’d ever had in the world of science. How had she not known? Had she been so out of touch with her own life, she’d not even noticed the signs?

She snorted. More likely, she’d just chose to ignore them in the arbitrary pursuit of some diaphanous dream of love, family…belonging. Maybe she needed a change in her life.

Jude scanned the bar. No televisions, thank goodness. No one here would recognize her. Except maybe that dark, mysterious creature skulking in the corner like he was one of the damned.

She sipped her drink and squinted. He looked dangerous. Maybe he was a plant by the castle owners. A brooding, enigmatic monster to add some whimsy to the Halloween season.

She glanced back at the flyer on the bar.Mystical Adventure.

From the looks of it, Mr. Mystical, Dark, and Handsome was contemplating murder over a scotch. He wore all black with a messy length of hair accented by a widow’s peak.

Dracula, yes. He would be Dracula tonight.

He turned and glowered in her direction, and her gaze drifted to the long, ragged scar down his left cheek. He didn’t look amicable. More spine-chilling in an I-want-to-eat-you kind of way.

Typical, provocative specter material.

She shivered. DefinitelyTheBeastof Castle Alainn.

“Steven, I’ll have another, please. These are quite refreshing. Do you use an herbal tea?” The words had some trouble exiting her tongue. Steven just smiled and left to fill her order.

Nine-fifty-nine. Maybe Evan would stab himself in the privates with one of his knitting needles. She snorted and iced tea shot from her nose. She grabbed a napkin and held it to her face, torn between laughing and crying.


Page 2

He’d used her. Used her on national television to catapult his nonexistent acting career. He’d be famous after this. And she’d be ruined.

She glanced at the grand clock behind the bar. Her heart raced and her breathing became labored. Tears swelled in her eyes.

“You need help, miss?”

Jude stiffened. That deep rasp sent chills down her body like a good head massage at the hairdressers. She wiped at her tears with the sleeve of her cardigan. “Only if you happen to have a shotgun with a real strong scope.”

“I left it in my pickup with some roadkill I picked up for dinner and a carton of unfiltered Camels.”

She turned and encountered…The Scarred Beast. Her breath caught at his sheer masculine beauty, despite the jagged scar running from his temple to his chin and marring his high cheekbone. His eyes were the color of rich whiskey, reflecting the candlelight in the room. And his hair… A decadent, wavy brown that beckoned her fingers.

His angled brows lowered over those ethereal, piercing eyes. “What’s his name?”

Jude gaped, transfixed. He was doing that mind trick thing vampires did. She was sure of it. “I call him Asshole,” she muttered.

The Beast smirked. Not an amiable smirk, by any means, the left side of his mouth slightly crooked from the scar. “I’m sure.”

“Here’s your drink, miss,” Steven interrupted.

Beast continued to stare into her eyes, doing his mind trick thing, keeping her captivated with his savage beauty. “That will be enough, Steven. Ms.…?”

“D…Darling…” She couldn’t dare tell anyone her real name for fear of connecting her withThe Harry Strubel Show.

“Ms.Darlinghas had more than enough.” Her false name poured from his beautiful lips like smooth, heated rum…with a twist of suspicious intuition.

Something in the back of her muddled mind protested. “On the contrary, Steven. Thank you very much.” She grabbed the glass while glaring into those vampire eyes, wiped blindly at the rim with her napkin to be sure it was relatively clean, and chugged.

She slammed the glass down on the bar and folded her hands in her lap. Hopefully, she hadn’t dripped any on her Brunello Cucinelli, organza, waterfall maxi.

“I hope you enjoyed that. Those drinks contain about five shots of liquor.”

“Nonsenssse.” She flicked her wrist at the young bartender. “Steven has made me a special iced tea, knowing I’m from New York. Are the tea leaves grown on Long Island?”

Steven smiled as he washed a glass. “No, but the alcohol may have been distilled there.”

Her mouth dropped as The Beast’s smirk widened into a full-out, condescending grin. His teeth were remarkably white—Hollywood, toothpaste-ad, white. She squinted and looked a little closer at his canines for extrusive points. “Are you a…vampire?” she slurred.

Jude Duffy never slurred her words. She hiccupped, and quickly covered her mouth. Maybe The Beast/Count could use those beautiful, sharp, white teeth on Evan’s cheating penis.

She laughed into her hand. Needing a respite, she stood to leave, but her foot tangled with the leg of the stool. Her body tilted, the floor approached…

A muscular arm wrapped around her waist and righted her descent.

Nailed it.

His alluring scent wrapped her in a cocoon of seduction that was completely unfamiliar. “Maybe I should escort you.”

Escort.Is that what Count Vampire was? A male escort supplied by the Castle to entertain plain, boring spinsters like her? “Is that your game, sir? Are you planning on taking advantage of me, by ravishing me to satisfy your primal urges for sexual satiation?”

His grin mocked her. Her hand rose to touch the offensive brute’s bladed, scarred cheekbone, an insatiable need to assess the contradiction of perfection and destruction. His features froze, a portrait of impassioned torment. She quickly recovered and clenched her fingers.

He stepped back, the movement so fluid she was momentarily drawn toward him. “No ravishing tonight, Ms. Darling,” he stated blandly. “Consider me only your polite escort. Management rules.”

Jude tried to organize his words in her foggy brain, but she kept getting mired in his thick, masculine purr. “So, you’re an escort? A male escort? And you are rejecting me based on management rules?”

Her virgin-self, damned the management. So unlike her. Dr. Jude Duffy was polite, polished, and poised. She tucked a fallen lock of hair back into her tight bun. Her life was perfectly ordered. It was safest that way.

“It’s for the best.” His features gave nothing of his thoughts away. “Trust me.”

“Fine.” Insulted, she slung her Nina Ricci bucket bag over her shoulder. She took one step and found the floor wasn’t as level as she’d expected. Itwasan old castle.

Count Beast steadied her again with the agility of an athlete. His touch electrified her. The tingling vectors shot through her body like a lightning storm. It was…mystifying. Familiar in a way no stranger’s touch should be, yet utterly compelling. She melted into his arms, wanting to stay there forever, his spicy scent enveloping her in a fog of comfort, need, and…lust.

Just how un-orderlycouldthe resident gigolo, Beast-Count make her life? Because, incontestably, order and management hadn’t doneshitfor her up to this point.

She righted herself and teetered toward the exit before any other frivolous, foreign feelings invaded.

A burst of laughter shot from a group of three couples, sitting abreast the huge stone fireplace, surveying a cell phone in harmony. “How the hell did she not know? Just look at him. He’s wearing blush and he’s prettier than my first wife!”

She stopped in her tracks and her ass landed on the nearest barstool. “Steven! Another iced tea, please. No, scratch that. I need something stronger. Give me that Screaming Orgasm from a Fucking Rock Bear!”

And Jude Duffy never cursed.

 

 

 

Two

“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

Albert Einstein

What the hell wasshedoing here?

Fate was a villainous bitch.

Beckette Slader let the cold water cascade over his body, hoping it would calm the massive erection he’d acquired ever since meeting prim, proper, Jude Darling Duffy.

He’d recognized her immediately, but he had no business approaching her tonight. No right to infect her life, once again, with the specter of his noxiousness. That was his cross to bear.

He’d ruined her future long ago, unbeknownst to her. He wouldn’t do it again.

So why had he approached her? Why was he so drawn to her after only one, short meeting?

He’d never been attracted to gingers. He hadn’t been attracted to any woman in forever. That flaming red hair, bolted to her head like a sniper’s helmet. How was it she didn’t have a massive headache? The pale skin, the freckles—he hated freckles—and those slanty green eyes? She resembled an evil, orange tabby.

What the fuck had he been thinking?

His erection throbbed. He had to stop obsessing over a woman he didn’t even know. It was diabolical. He’d been celibate for twelve months—as long as he’d been sober—because sex and alcohol had just gone together for him.

The alcohol had helped him forget his cursed past, and the sex had naturally followed. A “Hail Mary” attempt to feel something—anything—again. Now, tonight, the torrid emotions running through his veins were so foreign and ludicrous, he had to wonder about the stories Alana and Liam had told him about the castle. The secret powers it had to grant the residents’ deepest desires. The ghosts.

In this moment, the most urgent desire he had, was to get off.

He grabbed his cock and went at it, thinking about her. That smart mouth, those plump lips wrapped around him, instead of his raspy, callused hand. Those gorgeous eyes staring up at him with trust and love.

He laughed at those two words, then came harder than he had in ages. He couldn’t be trusted. He didn’t trust himself, not to slide back into the clutches of alcoholism, destroying people’s lives again.

Like he’d destroyed Jude’s, all those years ago.

And Elizabeth’s.

He’d started drinking to fill the gaping wounds of an emotionally abusive father. Sadly, the alcohol bored holes in every part of his life, and had failed to fill his sorrow.

But that was the past. He had to move on and stop blaming Dad for all his shit. He’d finally been given a second chance at rekindling his acting career.

Immersing himself in the numbing hours of pretending to be someone else, would keep him from his demons. This lead in an upcoming motion picture would be his big break, after years of landing weak roles in daytime soaps because of his riotous reputation. The producers of the new vampire-themed movie were willing to give him a chance, but they wanted a respectable professional for the romantic lead.

He’d been nothing but a drunk, violent storm the last six years, ever since Elizabeth had died, and this twelve month hiatus was almost over. Much longer away from the screen and he’d be forgotten by his public, obsolete. He only had so much time to clean up his act.

Getting his career back on track meant he could go back to ignoring the pain. All work and no play, would make Beck a dull boy, but he’d be a sober dull boy. He’d be able toforget who and what he was. 

A monster.

That was the sole reason he’d changed his name seventeen years ago. A decision forced by his father, so Beck wouldn’t bring any more shame to his family after the accident that ruined Jude Duffy’s life, and started his descent toward self-destruction. Fine by him. He didn’t want anyone delving into his past. Gabriel Beckette Slauter did not exist anymore. Not to him, and not to his family. Only the phantom, Beckette Slader, remained.      

Beck finished his shower and dressed for bed. He bunked in the lower level since he was only staff. The place suited him—cold, bleak, alone…haunted. His AA sponsor figured doing a little grunge work would help him “find himself.” His agent had suggested volunteering for this twelve month, maintenance man stint at Castle Alainn—which supported many non-profit organizations similar to his own, Angel Wings—would help his recovery and endear him to the producers of Dark Hallows.

All the freaking restraint of the past twelve months was probably why he couldn’t get Ms. Jude Duffy out of his mind.

He needed to get laid.

He didn’t do relationships anymore. He just needed a good fuck. ʼCause there were no such things as fairy-tale spells, and curses that granted secret desires. If there were, he’d have no dark past to keep from her, no daily recovery to saddle her with. And he’d have her here, writhing in his arms, while he fucked her senseless and kept her safe from assholes like himself.

Naive women like Jude Duffy, knew nothing of the games damaged men could play, and they could not be left to their own devices. They needed to be saved, but he’d be damned if he was the one for the job.

He was no savior.

No, quite the opposite.

He was a murderer.

 

 

 

Three


Page 3

“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

Albert Einstein

Someone had poured a box of stale baking soda in Jude’s mouth and her stomach was not happy about it.

She gingerly rolled over to the crackle of crunchy sheets. Everything hurt and, as the room spun, her belly contested. Something poked her back. She reached underneath her and pulled out a wrinkled Almond Joy wrapper.

She loved Almond Joys, but hadn’t had one in over a year. Not since her diet…since losing thirty pounds, since becoming the ignoramus anthropologist studying homosexuality, who didn’t know her own fiancé was gay.

“You look…nice.”

The feminine voice came from the entryway to the beautiful suite she’d been assigned. Jude risked opening one eye and found a tiny, twenty-something girl with black, pixie-ish hair smiling down at her.

“I don’t feel nice.”

“No, I don’t imagine you do. Almond Joys?”

Jude managed to swallow, regardless of the absence of saliva in her mouth. “They’re like Mounds, but with little, nutty bundles of happiness stuck inside. I love Almond Joys.” She sighed.

“Yes, I can see that.” The girl’s smile was sheerly radiant. She stuck out her hand. “Nola Stonewater. I’ll be your maid and assistant during your stay.”

“Jude, Jude Duffy…previouslyknown as Dr. Duffy. Why are you in my room, witnessing my unabridged demoralization, instead of outside knocking like a normal maid?”

“You didn’t answer my knock, so I assumed you were out.”

Jude lifted her head and squinted at the clock, the green blur reminding her of a certain misplaced, angry glare. She frowned, vaguely rememberingTheBeastfrom last night. Put any man with a morose, chiseled face in a black turtle neck, black pants, and a dark room and he’d look like Dracula. Especially if one had a few too many Long Island Iced Teas. “What time is it?”

“Time for you to get up. You’re in the castle of secret desires, you know. You won this contest. It’s time you enjoyed it.”

Jude pulled the pillow over her head and rolled away from her tormentor. “I don’t believe in secrets, or desires, or enjoyment. My life is over.”

The bed sank under the weight of Jude’s perky maid. Jude didn’t like perky. She only liked Almond Joys.

“If it’s over, that means you get to start again. Out with the old Ms. Duffy and in with the new.”

Jude sat up a little too quickly. Her stomach knotted as bile screamed up the back of her throat. She scrambled out of bed and ran past the fireplace to the large, tiled bathroom. She slammed the door on her self-appointed “Fairy Godmaid”, and tried in vain to vomit.

Thiswas why she hated frivolity. It was unsafe and likely to produce vomiting.

She hung over the doubtlessly germ-infested toilet, no sanitizing wipes in sight. Chaos, anarchy, pandemonium…they all brought destruction. And she’d had enough destruction in her life.

What had happened last night? Had she actually hungered to sleep with a total stranger? The thought was preposterous. She sighed and rested her head on her forearm. The thought was…freeing.

“You okay? I could get you a few more Almond Joys, if you’d like.” Nola’s lilting voice beckoned through the thick mahogany door. Jude sat back on the black and white mosaic tiled floor, and leaned against the wall. Maybe a nice bath in the claw-foot tub would calm her.

She smiled. The thought brought on images of her spinster Aunt Agnes—the woman who’d sent Jude here as her dying wish. The woman who had taken her in when she was seventeen, ever since the day her famous rock and roll parents had died in that horrific plane crash—on their way to another tour, another adrenaline rush, another journey in search of fame and glory.

Away from her.

Fame had taken them from her, month after month. Right up until the day they’d died.

And then there was Evan, leaving her alone, humiliating her for the sake of a boost in hisacting career.

She hated fame and all those who heeded the calling. People who needed the attention and adoration of total strangers to feel good about themselves.

“Hey! You coming out, or are you staying in there the whole week?”

Fairy Godmaid.Jude would’ve loved to stay in the opulent bathroom for the whole week. She could survive here…with enough Almond Joys. But that was cowardly. And Jude Duffy had been cowardly far too long.

She rose off the floor and bent over the sink to wash her face. She dropped her head and drank from the faucet. She’d hit an all-time low.

The door opened behind her.

“I’m almost done,” she gurgled. “I’ll be right out.”

“I hope you’re not done, ʼcause if you go out looking like that, you’ll scare the shit out of the other guests.”

Jude jolted, keeping her head in the sink, her lips at the faucet. That was not the melodic voice of her Fairy Godmaid. That was the voice of pure malevolent sin.

The Beast.

“I wanted to check and make sure you were okay this morning.”       

Jude lifted her head and squinted at his reflection in the mirror. He still looked magnificent. His eyes were brighter than she remembered, a shocking amber-gold framed by chiseled, impassive features.

“Are you one of those natural-type girls who doesn’t bathe or shave, thinking you’re savin’ the environment?”

Her gaze shifted to her own reflection…

“Shit! Get out! Now!” She slammed the door and rested her back against it, risking another glance at her reprehensible appearance. Her normally tamed, mechanically straightened hair was frizzled, tangled, and practically undulating on the right side. The left side was matted flat, an Almond Joy wrapper stuck with a bit of leftover chocolate. Probably the same chocolate that was stuck on her left cheek.

Frivolity sucked.

Nola pushed her way in. “He’s gone. You can come out now.”

Odd how, in her lowest moment of fragmentation and debasement, a Fairy Godmaid was comforting. Must’ve been the leftover alcohol numbing her intelligence and pragmatic fortitude.

“It’s okay. Cross my heart, it’s just you and me. He was just stopping by after he left Miss Carmichael’s room this morning.”

Jude snorted. Figures.Professional, hot, male-escort-vampire had turned down frumpy her last night for… “Ms. Carmichael.” She sneered. They’d probably done all sorts of nasty, sexual,beastlythings. Things she knew nothing about.

She’d done what? Saved her virginity for the man she was going to marry? A gay man?

Jude shook her head and sidestepped her way past Nola to the closet. She flung hangers side to side, looking for something to wear for lunch.

Nola pulled the Almond Joy wrapper from Jude’s hair. “The castle is rumored to be haunted in October, you know.”

The tilted grin and raised brows on her maid’s face made Jude chuckle. “I’m sure.” She picked out a black, silk blouse and khaki trousers.

“You don’t look like the I-believe-in-ghosts kind of girl.” Nola bent and selected the wedge heels that matched Jude’s outfit. 

“I’m afraid not. I’m logical, steadfast, and immune to levity.” Jude stilled, her mind categorizing the adjectives she’d chosen to describe herself. She was officially, aspinster. Either that, or a golden retriever…or a civil war General, depending on how one viewed it.

Defeat permeated every muscle in her body, and she sank to the floor right in front of her closet.

“Ms. Duffy? Are you okay?” Nola sat cross-legged next to her.

A thirty-eight-year-old, boring, virgin, spinster. Alone, for the rest of her life.

“I’ve never even experienced an orgasm,” Jude whispered. “I’ve been so busy with my work, I never had time.”

Nola coughed. “That might be a little more info than I was looking for, but, okay. Get it all out.” She rubbed Jude’s back.

Her tears fell, and the anguish of a life of loneliness poured over her like molten lava. She didn’t want to be alone. She’d been alone her whole life.

“That’s it, Doc. Just get it out, then we’ll start anew.”

“I don’t want to startanew! I want a do-over!” Jude flopped back on the floor, executing what she imagined was the proper technique for a midlife temper tantrum. She’d never had one. She’d always been so composed. “I want to go back and be wild and impetuous and…and promiscuous!”

“That a girl. Reach deep.”

“I want tonotmeet my deadlines, and use my eating utensils without cleaning them first. I want to run barefoot outside and risk fungal infections. I want to use profanity!”

“Let’s hear it!”

Jude looked at her Fairy Godmaid and settled her teeth on her bottom lip. “F-f-f…” She shook her head. “I can’t do it. That’s too vulgar.”

“Okay, let’s start small. How about…” Nola’s lips twisted. “Son of a bitch.”

A smile curved the edges of Jude’s lips. “Evan Maddox is a son of a bitch!” She expelled a huge sigh. “God, that felt good.” She frowned. “But so disdainfully shallow.”

“We need to bottom out before we can rebuild,” Nola cooed.

Jude’s hopelessness rekindled. “I’m afraid I’m…un-rebuildable.” She sniffled and rolled onto her side, a fetal position for ruminating. “I’m doomed to be alone forever.”

AnewJude? Ridiculous, but she did have dreams and she did have needs; ones she’d never allowed herself to ponder upon for fear of being…selfish…non-benevolent…imperiously self-involved like so many of her peers.

Like her parents and then Evan, when they’d abandoned her over and over again in pursuit of their own dreams.

Could she be different? Could there be a happy medium? Had she given up reaching for the things she wanted from life, as penance over some misconstrued sense of unworthiness?

She flipped to her stomach and propped herself on her elbows. “Reinvention brings conflict. Conflict is disconcerting to me.”

“Aw, honey. A little conflict is good for the soul. It lets us know what we’re made of.”

She rested her face in her palms. “I should be content with my life.”

Nola frowned. “Content? That sounds like the thoughts of an abandon dog at the pound. You deserve more.” She smiled that impish smile. “What do youwant, Jude Duffy?”

Jude rested her chin on the backs of her hands. Lying on any floor was emphatically disgusting. She hardly recognized herself. Maybe that was a good thing because, so far, being Dr. Jude Duffy had yielded very little happiness.

“A child.” Someone to love, a family. She’d never been part of a real family. She wanted one of her own. “I’ve published a few children’s books between my journal publications.”

Fairy Godmother became silent for a moment. “Wow. I was really hoping for easy. Like a new job or a better haircut or something.” Nola stood, grabbed Jude’s hand and pulled her to her unsteady feet. “But we can work with that. You’re at Castle Alainn in the most mystical month of the year. October is when the ghosts of theTragic Lovershaunt, looking for star-crossed lovers to unite. What about a nice man to date?”

Jude slumped. “Yes, I suppose I’m asking for too much.” She didn’t reallywanta man. They were…recalcitrant at best and had never brought her happiness. She just wanted the baby one could provide.

“What about adoption?”

Jude shook her head. Her co-worker had waited seven years for her adoption to become final. “I’m too old to wait for the paperwork to go through.”

“Artificial insemination?”

She grimaced. “One doesn’t really know whose genes are in that tube. I’d like to at least know something about my child’s father’s genetics. Only…” She turned her back on Nola and rummaged through her shoe selection for the week.

“What?” Nola encouraged.

Jude sighed and turned to her confidant. “I’ve only had one man interested in me my whole life. And he was gay. Those are not promising statistics.”

“Statistics shouldn’t be applied to love.” Nola rested her hands on her slim hips. “Let’s start with having a little fun getting to know the new Ms. Duffy. Now get dressed and be down in the lobby in thirty minutes. I have a feeling your life is about to get interesting.”

Nola closed Jude’s suitcase and stowed it in the closet. She walked toward the suite door, then turned back with a smile. “One never knows when one’s destiny will be fulfilled.”

She winked and left Jude to her own thoughts…and herhair.

Who the heck “one” was, Jude had no idea. Certainly not her.


Page 4

She flicked on the TV to some talk show. She never watched TV and this ridiculousness was exactly why.

Her stomach heaved as she recognized Evan and Timothy onUSA Buzz, introducing their new reality show and the surrogate who would deliver their love child. Jude had made them famous.

She dropped to the bed and stared at the screen.

“Our little bundle of joy is due in May!”

Jude flinched at Evan’s words. He’d wanted to wait to have sex, to have a family. How ironic is it that his new lover had achieved all she’d ever wanted, without even having the right parts.

A steel knife jabbed her windpipe, her heart fractured in two. Was she destined to be alone forever? Or could Nola be right?

Not that she didn’t like herself, but there was certainly room for improvement. She was a product of her upbringing—afraid to live on the edge, frightened of any loss of control. But where had that gotten her?

Jude fell back on the bed, a disreputable thought squeezing through her mind. She was thirty-eight with only one superficial relationship behind her. Her chance of securing another relationship before her eggs dried up, was close to non-existent. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

She lifted her head just in time to see the sonogram of Evan’s child as he lay protected in the surrogate’s womb.

Could she do it?

She dropped her head and stared at the ceiling a second time. The Gigolo Beast. Nowtherewere some impressive, non-committal genetics. Genetics that didn’t necessarily have to be attracted to her. They could be paid for. No messy emotions, no regrets.

Jude rolled to the side onto her elbow and dug through the welcome basket on her nightstand for a directory of services. Chocolates, hand cream, Vitamin B, an ice pack, a banana… Hangover cures? How strange. And a romance novel…Flirting With Sinby Naima Simone.

Sin…how apropos. This Simone chick was eerily psychic.

Jude glanced toward the mirror on the wall. Yes, she was flirting with sin, but she had no choice. She squinted to blur her reflection. She had potential, but more importantly, she had an understanding of the male psyche, and the workings of the human species’ innate need to procreate.

Yes, she’d have to work with her strengths. She sighed, as an errant curl sprang from what was left of her chignon. And hide her weaknesses.

Goodbye, staid, stuffy, Duffy.

Hello, sinner.

 

 

 

Four

“The devil has put a penalty on all things we enjoy in life. Either we suffer in health or we suffer in soul or we get fat.”

Albert Einstein

Thirty minutes later, Jude entered the lobby of Castle Alainn, secretly tugging at the seat of her too-tight trousers. She took a deep breath to settle her pounding pulse and reached for the comfort of the Almond Joy in her pocket.

She was a household joke. The people bustling around the lobby possibly knew of her pitiful circumstances, her miscalculations, her naivety in the face of relationships.

She was a casualty in the war of love.

“Hello there.”

A nasally, masculine voice pulled her from her tugging and self-degradation, and she looked up to find a hulking man standing before her. His neck had the girth of a much larger man, but he was only about five-foot-ten. Short and stocky with an expensive haircut and hardened features. And tan…he was quite tan. He wasn’t homely, but rather handsome, in a bronzed, professional wrestler type of way.

“Hello,” she managed. Men didn’t usually seek her out.

His gaze traversed her bosom first, then her face, then her French twist, which had taken twenty-nine of the thirty minutes she’d used to get ready. His smirk and shifty eyes were a bit disconcerting.

“I’m Richard Fantome, heir to Fantome Fitness.” He held out his beefy hand and she stared at it. She released the strap of her Monili Lambskin backpack and placed her hand in his.

His grip was strong and sweaty. “Nice to meet you, Jude Du…” Had he seen last night’s broadcast of theSpawn of Satan’sshow? “Darling. Jude Darling.”

An unnaturally white, toothy smile covered half his tawny face.

“I saw you last night at the bar. I noticed your interest in me.” He kissed her hand.

Her brows shot up. Oh, how entertaining. A narcissist. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t notice you.”

He frowned, as she expected. “Well, I’ll have to fix that, then. The castle tour? Unless, of course, you’d rather we went our own way.”

Jude smiled as Mr. Fantome glanced in the mirror behind the lobby desk, straightened his hair, and flexed.

“That sounds intriguing.” She wrinkled her nose. “But I’m quite interested in the castle tour, thank you.”

“That’s acceptable.” He crowded her into a corner of the room until she was backed against the stone wall. “We’ll have plenty of time to get acquainted.” One of his brows lifted and the other lowered in a dastardly, Snidely Whiplash effect.

Mr. Fantome placed one hand on the wall next to her head. “Are you interested in fitness, sweetheart?” His bicep contracted in her peripheral vision, bulging under his tight V-neck sweater. He moved closer and whispered in her ear. “I bench four-twenty-five.” His breath smelled of Listerine. “I bet I could bench you.”

Jude jolted in revelation. This man wanted her? Anthropologically speaking, she wasn’t the most attractive woman in the room. But considering her bosom and hip width, perhaps Mr. Fantome was subconsciously attracted to her reproductive attributes.

Reproductive…

This could be an advantageous pairing, after all…in a self-sacrificing aspect, considering Mr. Fantome’s overly tight jeans, constrictive sweater and notoriously large ego.  

Jude processed his body language—confident, aggressive… Aggressive would not bode well for her mission. She would need to rectify the situation and ensure control if she were to whip Mr. Fantome into shape for her plans.

Movement caught the corner of her eye, and she glanced past the testosterone filled giant in front of her as The Count approached with a scowl. Her heart rate increased.

She slid from under Mr. Fantome’s hulking figure and impulsively grabbed The Count’s Carhartt jacket by the collar to peck his cheek. “Brother, dear, you’re late again!”

Jude looked at her “brother” with pleading eyes, hoping he would follow her lead and instill in the Hulk’s mind, that she had a protector if need be.

The Count lifted his gaze from hers to the man lurking behind her. His lips twitched just before they came down on hers with a vengeance, devouring her surprised gasp with his mouth and tongue and doing other unfamiliar naughty things.

The kiss was…magnificent.

The way he consumed her, tasted her, demolished all her senses until she couldn’t think straight.Paid escort.

His hand reached around, and he palmed her bottom. Her eyes popped open, and a squeak escaped, as she pulled back from him in shock.

“Brother, my ass. I’ve been looking all over for you, Pumpkin.” He glanced at his watch. “We have just enough time for that quickie before lunch.” 

She lifted her gaze to his mocking one. The Beast, Vlad the Impaler, Count Dangerous…whatever she decided he would be today. Those haunting eyes were dark last night. Today, they were an amber storm. She was mesmerized. Absolutely spellbound by his darkness…and his double-crossing treachery.

He grabbed her arm and dragged her toward an adjacent hallway near the center staircase. She quickly regained her bearings and yanked her arm from his tight grasp. Meeting him eye for eye, she remained fixed on the lethal whiskey daggers in his gaze.

“Don’t you remember all those naughty things you said you’d do to me last night, darling?” His smirk was malevolent. She squinted, looking for the points of his incisors to protrude from his succulent lips. Yes, today he would be Dracula, King of the Damned.

“What, like shoot you with wooden bullets to put you out of your misery?”

The Hulk chose that moment to mark his territory. “Excuse me, but Miss Darling and I are going on the castle tour together.” His nostrils flared in warning. “She’s been matched with me as a contest winner this month.”

Drac’s hypnotic gaze stayed riveted to hers. “Ms.Darling,” he drawled the ‘l’ like he was licking rich chocolate ice cream from a cone, “has already consented to a very personal tour with me.”

Hulk smirked. “She obviously gets around.”

Drac’s fist tunneled past Jude’s ear like a 747 through a jet stream. It struck the Hulk’s chin with a wrenching crack, the punch faster than any body movement she’d ever witnessed.

The violence sent a shudder down her spine, and she glanced at the titanic brute on the floor.

The scar down the side of The Count’s face throbbed, his jaw clenched, and those amber eyes had turned dark and macabre. He spun and pulled her to a dark corridor behind the lobby. She stumbled behind him as he lifted a thick tapestry that hung the length of one wall to expose a secret wooden door. He opened the door and tugged her through to a stairwell.

They quickly descended to a gloomy, dank hallway below the castle.His lair.

He stopped once the door at the top of the stairs snapped closed and swatted her behind.

“Ouch!” She rubbed her offended bottom. “What on Earth?”

He held out half an Almond Joy wrapper. “Thiswas stuck on your ass, Ms. Darling.”

Jude’s cheeks heated, even in the cold, inky, stone-lined hallway.

Okay, so shedding Stuffy Duffy wasn’t going to be so easy, after all.

 

 

 

 

Five

“When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour.

That’s relativity.”

Albert Einstein

For Christ’s sake, the woman was pure substantiated sin.

Those voluptuous curves tucked into clothes that made Beck wonder about the rises and hollows he’d kill to explore. Those mountainous, pert breasts. The sensually hard nipples poking provocatively through her thin shirt. The perky ass that twitched when she walked, and those long legs…

All that creamy skin begged to be touched and marked. Her incredible copper hair waited to be unleashed.

Beck wanted to strip her bare and mess her The. Fuck. Up. He wanted to run his hands over her soft, soft, flesh and play in those silky, copper curls until they were tangled around his body, holding him while he stroked inside her ʼtil she came.

She was nutty, erratic…deranged. For God’s sake, she drank like a fish, talked to herself and had convinced herself to marry a gay guy.

God, he was hard again. She was a temptation he wanted to corrupt. One he should run from. If she found out who he was, what he’d done to her…


Page 5

He pulled harder on her hand and paced faster down the secret hallway running the length of the west wing.

If she wanted a tour, he’d give her a damn tour. “I can’t believe a woman of your intelligence would be attracted to that.”

She stopped in her tracks and his hand slipped from hers. “What do you think you’re doing? This is kidnapping. Are you planning on having your way with me? Raping me in the bowels of your dungeon?” She adjusted her ridiculous hair, ramming the dislodged strands back into the straight jacket of a bun he wanted to rip apart.

He pressed his finger and thumb into his eye sockets. This was not in his plan for redemption. Messing with fire would only get him burned.

“No, I’m not going to rape you. I’m saving you from that asshole.” Why, he didn’t know. Or maybe he did. Penance? He only knew he’d sensed every move she’d made since her arrival.

And he didn’t like it. It was creepy and unacceptable.

Christ, what was wrong with him? He dropped his hand. Had he gone too long without sex?

“He was harmless. A prime specimen of narcissistic personality disorder. All you had to do was play along, and then go on your way.” She drew an alcohol wipe from her bag, tore it open and cleansed her hands. “Why would you even care whom I cavort with. I’m a grown, single woman. I can be with whomever I want.”

Beck grabbed the offending thing and threw it to the ground. “Stop doing that. You’re going to get chapped.” He knew her. Somewhere deep in his soul. And it sucked.

“I’m preventing illness.”

“Let your damn immune system strengthen itself by exposing yourself to a few germs once in a while.”

The woman frowned. Those pale green eyes bore into him like alien x-ray vision. “I was often sick as a child. I suppose a hardy immortal like you doesn’t ever worry about getting sick. You probably relish the thought of swapping germs.”

Those full lips pouted adorably. He didn’t need adorable right now. And he also needed less of that magnificent rack being lifted as she crossed her arms underneath her breasts.

Her hair followed the sexual assault and rebelliously burst free from its iron hold at the back of her head. Those fiery curls tumbling past her shoulders were his undoing. That, and the fact she inhaled sharply in surprise and ran her tongue nervously over her plush bottom lip, which drove him fucking nuts.

“As a matter of fact, I do enjoy swapping germs. Right now, all I want to do is take that smart mouth of yours with mine and shove my tongue so far inside I get to lick and taste every part. I want to share every germ and fill you with everything I have.”

“You do?” Those gorgeous, green eyes widened and her hands dropped to her sides. “I-I mean, you wouldn’t dare.”

He smiled. “You shouldn’t have said that.”

Beck grabbed her hands and pinned them against the stone wall next to her head, trapping her with his body. He stared into her eyes for a fraction of a second, deciding, fighting a primal urge to dominate this sassy, forbidden woman.

He had no idea what the fuck had come over him since she’d arrived at the castle.

And right now, he didn’t care.

He lashed out with his tongue and tasted that pouty, lower lip. It was soft…and oh, so sweet.

She sighed as her head dropped back against the wall, eyes closed.

“You like that,” he taunted the little witch.

“I…I’m not sure.” She opened one eye. “We might have to try it again. I don’t have much experience.”

Oh yes, she was a sorceress.

He growled, then took her mouth with a yearning he hadn’t felt in years. He’d teach her a lesson about being…being…so fucking enchanting.

But it was she, in all her unconstrained innocence, that taught him. She pressed her 1940’s pin-up body against him and took charge of the kiss, nipping and nibbling his lips, sucking like he was a goddamn lollipop. What could she do with that mouth on his cock? He groaned. Her tongue danced and twined with his. Accepting everything he gave, she met him stroke for stroke.

Who knew?

He pressed his erection into her writhing hips. She was a torrid bundle of sensual discovery. A siren wired for sex.

Beck pulled away before he took her right against the wall. He wasn’t that guy. Okay, he used to be, but she wasn’t that girl. He grabbed her hand and led her down the hallway toward his private room.

Jude stumbled. “Wait, wait.” She let go of his hand and bent to massage her ankle.

He grimaced as a lash of guilt swept through him and then lifted her into his arms. Her soft body pressed against his, was going to kill him.

“Put me down. Where are we going?”

“Someplace I can teach you a lesson about the art of restraint.”

“I don’t want restraint.” Indignation sharpened her voice. “I want liberty!”

“Yeah, well I have the feeling Mr. Fit ‘N’ Tan is not the kind of guy you want liberating you.” He caught her knowing smirk in his peripheral vision. “And neither am I.”

He approached his suite door and placed her gently on her feet. She glanced down at his earnest erection, then lifted her eyes to his.

“Ignore that.” He turned the key and then scooped her back into his arms, entering his lair.

 

 

 

 

Six

“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl, is simply not giving

the kiss the attention it deserves.”

Albert Einstein

He’d hit him. He’d belted the poor, dumb bruiser like it had meant nothing at all.

Except it did to her.

Nobody had ever stood up for her. She’d always had to stand up for herself.

Beast shed his Carhartt jacket, exposing an exquisitely sculpted body beneath a faded LA Dodgers T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Hard muscle flexed across his large shoulders as he arranged logs in the fireplace. The room was small, cold, and simplistic in function. Nothing like the luxurious rooms upstairs. A large bed, two, what looked to be nineteenth century leather rockers, and an end table. A beautiful, rustic wooden table sat in the center of the room, supported by twisted, gnarled tree limbs. It was provocative and beautiful, just like its owner.

She shivered as he worked in complete silence. “That table is beautiful. Where did you get it? The patterns of the rings are stunning.”

“I made it.”

She jolted. He was an enigma. A talented, handsome, mysterious libertine. “I don’t even know your name.”

He flinched.

“I can’t keep calling you Beast and Count. It’s rather presumptuous.”

He glanced over his shoulder, those golden eyes piercing her. “You’d be smart to keep considering me a monster. I’m not a good bet for whatever you’re up to.”

Her lips twisted. Did he know what she had planned? “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He stood, his eyes traversing her body as she sat on the bed, filling with interest as his gaze stilled on her bosom. She glanced down, expecting to find her clothes had surreptitiously fallen off.

His eyes returned to hers. “I get the feeling you are up to no good. And, for some reason, I keep ending up in the position to set you straight.”

“You had no reason to ‘set me straight’ today. I had complete control of the situation.”

The Beast’s brows lowered. “Like last night when you propositioned me?”

Her heart clenched and her spine tightened. Did she? Oh God, she didn’t remember. “I-I assumed that was what you were interested in when you approached me.”

He shook his head and his beautiful lips lifted at the corners. “I don’t make a habit of taking advantage of drunk, distressed women.”

“I’m not distressed,” she lied. “I may have been a tad bit intoxicated, but I’m hardly distressed.”

The Beast laughed. It was a stunning sight. She couldn’t help but search out those canines just to be sure. Things in this castle all seemed so…strange.

“Honey, you make a nun during Catholic school detention look like she’s channeling Richard Simmons.”

She shot him a sneer, then stared down at her hands. Her ankle throbbed, but she couldn’t help the smile that crept over her lips. Her Beast had studied her well.

He sat next to her on the bed, the heat from his body warming her.

“Beckette. My name is Beckette.” He lifted her ankle onto his lap, removed her shoe, and ran his hand over the minor swelling that had started. “I’m sorry I hurt you. I’m a bastard and tend to hurt people when they get close. It’s my curse. That’s why I don’t do emotional attachments.” He smirked. “As if I were even capable.”

Like finding two almonds in a bite-size Almond Joy, her future flashed brightly in her mind. Yes, he’d bethe one.

Her heart beat wildly as she reviewed the ramifications of what she wanted to do…seduce him. Seduce Beckette, The Beast, the man of mystery and beauty. She wanted this emotionally stunted, beautiful man to be the one to take her virginity, father her child…without him knowing, of course. She didn’t need a man. Not that he’d want her. He was a perfect stranger, never to be thought of again. 

She was ovulating. She’d always had her menses schedule plotted in her brain. Now all she had to do was get him to take her to bed.

It was ludicrous. It was unethical. But she was desperate.

Our little bundle of joy will be arriving in May!

She pulled her foot from The Count’s lap, then stood and slid off her other shoe. She paced the small room without a limp. Her nerves had numbed the pain. He watched her, humor lighting his secretive eyes. This man was dangerous, hardened, disreputable. Perfect for an unscrupulous mission.

But he was also smart. She needed to include that in her calculations.

“I’m fine, really.” She stood with her back to him and covertly unbuttoned the top of her blouse. Cleavage. Men liked cleavage. She turned and tried to swing her hair in the sultry way women did. Her head thudded against a gourd lantern hanging from a shelf.

Smooth.

He leaned back on his hands and smirked, his eyes zeroing in on her burgeoning breasts. She had a good bosom, she’d been told. It’d be advantageous to use her positive attributes to the best of her ability.

She noted his body language—visual interest, pulsating carotid in the neck, relaxed posture, erection.

All promising signs.

* * * *

Beck almost came in his jeans, right then and there.“Yes, you are.”

What was this naive, little tabby cat up to? Parading around his fucking bedroom like some vixen in heat.

She placed her hand just above that magnificent rack and took a deep breath. “Okay, how do we do this? Do I pay you first?”

He practically choked. Was she serious? Beck examined her flawless face. Yeah, she was serious…and nervous as hell. “Depends on what you’re looking for, sweetheart.”

Jude paced back and forth in front of him, driving him nuts with the wiggle in her hips. “Sex. I’d like to have sex with you.” She faced him, her eyes wide and pleading, then held her palm in the air, facing him. “Nothing crazy. Just plain missionary would be acceptable. Do you have a current health history on hand?” Her little ass twitched as she rushed to her huge backpack and dumped it on his bed.

The woman had everything to survive the apocalypse. She grabbed a banded file the size of an envelope then whipped out a piece of paper. She held it toward him in her trembling hand. “Here’s mine. I always carry it.”

Beck just stared. The woman was certifiable.

And fucking innocently sexy as all hell.

He didn’t do innocent, but this game was an amusing distraction from his frustrations. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees as she stood there with that damn health history.

“Do you like to be tied up, Jude?” he whispered.

Her eyes widened.

“Because I charge more for bondage, and threesomes are definitely out. I only work one-on-one. If you’d like to incorporate sex toys, it will be an extra fifty a night. Seventy-five if I have to provide batteries.”


Page 6

The paper drifted from her stiff hand and floated to the floor at his feet. Her sensuous lips parted. Her quick intake of her breath and the way her breasts rose did nothing to calm his libido. He almost felt guilty for toying with her.

She didn’t respond, so he tweaked a little harder, relishing this small window of joy to brighten his dark existence. “Now, role-playing is a whole other price list. Depending on the cost of the costumes and props, it could run you into the thousands. I do a great dominating circus clown.” He pulled his T-shirt over his head.

The woman’s gaze caressed his chest as he waited for her response. “Fine, I’m in a generous mood. I’ll do you a quickie for thirty-five bucks. Lose the panties.” He stood and walked toward her. He didn’t know how far he’d actually take this, but he was having too much fun to stop now.

When he got close enough, she ran one of her soft hands down the center of his chest, exploring him in a slow descent, making every nerve in his body burn with a yearning and desire he’d never felt.

The witch’s touch blew his mind.

Sex had always been just a physical release to him. A way to forget the pain.

But this was…different.

He inhaled sharply as her little hands mapped his form. It was as if she’d never seen a half-naked man before. Christ, she’d almost been married. She had to have seen one.

“Can you do a Russian accent with that circus clown?”

Beck slowly tilted his head. “Da, Ljubimaja moja.”Yes, my sweetheart.

Her mouth formed an ‘O.’ She stepped back and fastidiously undid each button on her shirt. Once she’d exposed all that beautiful skin sprinkled with golden freckles and the pink, lacy bra lovingly holding those gorgeous breasts, she lifted her eyes to his. “Okay, let’s proceed. Do you need a deposit up front? Where do you want me to lie down?”

Jesus H. Christ. She was going to be the death of him. Like she was asking to get her oil changed. But Miss Duffy was always tense and, God help him, he couldn’t stop from reaching out to stroke the velvet, freckled skin on her shoulder. Couldn’t refrain from touching his lips to her pale skin for a small taste. He was fascinated by this shy, nervous version of her. She was like a drug to him, calling out, luring him in, placing a spell on him.

He bent his head and kissed the side of her neck. Soft, silky, and the smell… He couldn’t get enough. Clean, fresh and spicy. Like lavender. The same scent he’d noticed in her room.

He was done.

She sighed and dropped her head back. That’s all Beck needed. He slid her blouse off her shoulders, touching as much of her as possible. He herded her toward the bed. As the backs of her knees hit, she fell back and he followed her down. The woman was temptation. For Christ’s sake, he’d been celibate for a fucking year…never even tempted. Why now? 

He had to taste that mouth again. His lips touched hers and, as his tongue found its way inside, an arctic chill skirted his back. It was the most pleasurable sensation. Her nipples beaded beneath the soft satin of her bra, teasing his bare chest, and she moaned.

The kiss was… inspiring. 

Beck hadn’t planned on making love to this quirky woman. But he couldn’t resist her siren’s call. He had no control as he ran his palm down her chest and finally glided his fingers over her incredible breasts.

“What I want to do to you,” he whispered against her lips, “is probably outlawed in over forty states.”

She wriggled underneath him, making his erection throb. He pulled her hands above her head and pinned them to the bed. Her eyes snapped open. She blushed from head to toe, her breasts thrust forward. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, but he knew women. She may want him, but this hellion was scared shitless.

He rolled off of her to his back and pulled her close. “What’s wrong, Jude?”

The Doc took a deep breath. “Could we possibly take things just a bit slower? I mean, I’m thoroughly aroused, it’s just…”

Beck couldn’t help the laugh that escaped him. This woman was some piece of work. “Aroused? I’m thrilled I couldarouseyou.”

“Well, it is your job, isn’t it? I’m sure you’ve had training, considering…”

Humored by her naiveté, Beck smiled and looked into a face that had somehow become familiar to him. In only twenty-four hours? Sobriety was making him crazy. Was she kidding?

Nope, those big eyes and the way her white teeth worried her full bottom lip, said she was shit-ass serious.

“Jude…” What could he say? He didn’t want her to know who he really was. He kept to himself, had altered his appearance. His hair was longer, his face a bit fuller, all to remain anonymous during his recovery. If she found out who he was, she was smart enough to make the connection to his past, to what he’d done to her and her parents. He needed to discourage her ʼcause, God knew,hewasn’t going to be strong enough to resist her. And, like all the others, he’d end up disappointing her, hurting her, if she got too close.

He stood, then glanced at his watch. “Honey, my next appointment is about to arrive. So unless you’re interested in the four hundred bucks it’ll cost you to watch, you’d better start undressing so we can get to business.”

The Doc’s mouth dropped open as she sat up on the bed, her shirt falling down her arms to further expose the temptation that was only Jude Duffy. She had no idea…

She hugged her shirt to her chest. “I-I…” Good. His plan to scare her away was working. “Do you take credit cards? I’m afraid I don’t use cash often, considering the bonuses one can retrieve from current credit card programs.”

For Christ’s sake.

A knock echoed through the room, and he kept his eyes on her as he cracked the door. “Yeah?”

“I’m a bit knackered, boyo.” Ennis swayed on his feet. “I need a kip before I do any manual labor. See you in a few hours.”

“Fine. Go sleep then I’ll meet you at six.” Beck shut the door and turned toward Jude.

She stood and briskly walked to where she’d dumped her purse. “Should we continue with our arrangement then?” She opened her wallet and handed him her credit card.

He was going straight to hell. “Honey, you seem a bit nervous. What if I said this next hour was on the house and we just hung out and talked? Maybe we’ll grab a pizza downtown? I’m a little hungry.”

Talking was the last thing he wanted to do, but he was no good for her and thanks to AA he knew where to draw his boundaries. After today, he’d hopefully never see her again.

She smiled and the sight stole his breath from his lungs. “I’d like that very much.” She buttoned her blouse and sat on the bed, her back ramrod straight, little bare feet crossed and her virtuous pleasure shining through.

He put his T-shirt back on and cursed himself for being so damn noble. He’d never been noble before. Why now?

Must be the sobriety.

They walked the short distance downtown and found a cozy checkered table at Guido’s Pizza. His little tabby cat chattered about her research, her rock star, asshole parents who’d ignored her, and the guy who’d left her for another man.

About the tragic death of her parents, the first innocent souls he’d murdered, and how they’d given away her inheritance. And about the mysterious trust fund from an anonymous benefactor who’d supported her education.

Remorse fermented in his chest, as it always did. But, through her melodic chitchat, he allowed himself a few moments of peace. A peace that didn’t include alcohol.

There was something about her. Something he had no right exploring.

“This was lovely.” She stood, leaving him cold and empty. “You were worth every penny.” She winked, then shoved her arms into her tweed blazer.

“I was free.”

“Precisely.” Jude opened a small book and fished a pen from her bag. “I’m open tomorrow evening at nine p.m.” She glanced at him. “Will that do to complete our transaction?”

Son of a bitch.She couldn’t be serious. He needed to go on the offensive and end this little game before things got out of hand. Before he got too close and caused her inevitable pain. “Why are you so hell bent on having sex? Rebound situations are never healthy. There is the distinct possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder.”

She wrote in her book as though she hadn’t heard a word he’d said. “Hogwash. And don’t joke about PTSD, Mr.…” Her brows furrowed. “You didn’t tell me your last name. I’ll need your last name so I can reference your health history. I have access to most medical databases.”

He wasn’t just going to hell. He wasinhell. “You’re not looking up my private information. I’m as clean as a whistle.”

She slammed her book shut and sighed. “Fine. We can go over whatever records you can provide tomorrow night. I’d like just the missionary position, no lights. I’ll pencil you in from nine to nine fifteen.”

“Why do I feel so used?”

Her brows rose. “Because, Mr. Beckette, I need to lose my virginity and you’re just the man to do it.”

 

 

 

Seven

“If we knew what it was we were doing,

it would not be called research, would it”?

Albert Einstein

Oh, this was going to work out superbly. Jude glanced at the selection of condoms in the adult entertainment store. Not that she needed a condom for what she had planned. She needed a condom with small puncture holes.

She took a deep breath. This was the most diabolical, underhanded, frivolous thing she’d ever done. But she’d only ever wanted one thing in her life and this was the only way to get it.

If she logically reasoned with herself, there would be no harm. A man like Mr. Beckette would want no part of a child with his active, gigolo lifestyle. So keeping her pregnancy secret after all was said and done, would be a win-win for both parties.

It was her emotional reasoning that kept interfering with her mission.

He was a man of mystery—dark, brooding, bossy. Yet, he’d taken such great care with her, noticing how nervous she was, switching gears on her. No one noticed anything about Jude. Ever. Thank goodness, because the Jude Duffy who had shown up for this week’s vacation at Castle Alainn was like no Jude Duffy she knew. Her conduct was erratic, her thoughts preposterous, and her inclinations toward wayward behavior, uncontrollable.

It was a curse…or perhaps a spell of some sort. This was October, after all.

Dotted, ribbed, studded. Ultra thin, Tantric…For goodness sake, this was worse than selecting a feminine hygiene product. She was a top-notch scientist and didn’t go into any unknown situation without researching thoroughly.

She grabbed the closest box and tossed it into her basket. She ambled down the aisle and grabbed the “Majik Mike,” a seven-function, dual-action vaginal vibrator with ball bearings.

My…She shook her head then added it to her other purchases.

She reached the checkout counter and unloaded her basket in front of the tattooed girl manning the register.

“Oh, you’ll love this vibrator. Here, let me put batteries in so we can make sure it works. I’ll show you all the options.”

Jude smiled. If only the help at her local health food store was as enthusiastic. The girl nimbly opened the package and inserted the small batteries. Once she’d finished, she held up the vibrator and flicked a switch. “This is the power button. Hear how quiet it is? It’s awesome…feel.” The girl held the vibrator to Jude’s cheek.

Ohhh… Jude lifted her hand to hold it closer.

“And if we turn this switch, we get a pulsating vibration.” The girl turned a small ring around the base of the vibrator and an intriguing, undulating pressure began against Jude’s cheek. “Gets me to orgasm every time.”

Jude stroked the vibrator down her arm. “Oh, I like that! You do realize an orgasm is not just intended for pleasure? The biological function is to help move the sperm toward the uterus. It’s a necessity.”


Page 7

The pierced girl shrugged. “Depends on what you want out of the hook-up—sex or pregnancy.”

Jude smiled. “Oh, I’m looking for impregnation. An orgasm would only be an added perk. Are there different cadence options available on the ‘Majik Mike?’ I should condition my muscles to produce an orgasm.”

“What thehelldo you think you’re doing?”

Jude flinched. Beckette, The Beast.

She turned as she tucked the buzzing vibrator behind her back. “Mr. Beckette. Hello.”

The whirring continued no matter how hard she held it. She fumbled blindly for the power switch, but couldn’t find it. “I was shopping for…”

His lips thinned. His body crowded her as he reached behind her and grabbed the vibrator. Of course, a professional like him would know exactly where the power button was, and he adroitly turned it off and slammed it on the counter. “You won’t be needing that.”

He had the audacity to move her out of the way. “Or this, or this, or this…” He tossed her pornographic magazines, feminine wash and, finally, her Marvin Gaye CD toward the cashier. The Beasts eyes lifted. “And you definitely don’t need this.” He shovedThe Art of Orgasm, How To Get Your Lover to Understand The G-Spotvideo clear across checkout.

You deserve more.Nola’s words rang in her head. No paid gigolo was going to tell her how their encounter was going to go. She was the customer and the customer wasalwaysright.

The Beast tossed the edible panties back into her basket. “These you can keep.”

Her blood boiled. She jumped up and leaned over the counter, backside in the air, and reached beside the cashier’s feet to collect the items. “I will not be treated like a child. Maybe these aren’t for you. Maybe I found someone else. Someone more capable of meeting my needs. Like Mr. Fantome.” Jude threw the items over her shoulder and back onto the checkout counter.

“I’m more than you can handle, Baby. You won’t be propositioning anyone else.” Beck pulled her off the counter by the hips and threw her over his shoulder like she weighed nothing at all. He threw down a twenty, grabbed the edible panties and marched out the door.

Oh, thiswasgoing to work out superbly.

* * * *

“Beckette?”

Beck looked over his shoulder to find Liam and Alana Fitzgerald approaching down the sidewalk. Liam glanced up at the sign to the goddamned sex shop Jude had been exploring for the sake ofresearch.

Beck cringed.

“Hello Liam, Alana. I was just helping Ms. Duffy over this puddle.” He kept the witch on his shoulder regardless of her protests. He didn’t dare give her a chance to speak. God only knew what would come out of her mouth.

“Miss Duffy needs to get back to the resort and prepare for dinner. Mr. Fantome has requested she be seated with him. And don’t you have to check the pipes in Ms. Carmichael’s suite?”

Jude stiffened in his arms. Damn the woman and her intelligence. She’d figured him out.

“Put me down this instant!”

Beck dumped her on her feet. She straightened her jacket and tucked her hair back into its pristine predicament. She had a thing for severe and tidy that called to him to mess her up.

She glared at him, her back to the owners of the resort. “Check the pipes? Is that what we’re calling it now?”

The woman really did have a flair for dramatics. He crossed his arms, hiding the edible panties.

“Miss Duffy.” Alana tapped Jude’s shoulder and she turned to face the meddling matchmaker. “I do hope you’re coming to dinner. Mr. Fantome was very taken with you and made special arrangements to dine with you.” She winked.

Alana frowned at Beck, shooting him a warning. He was just an employee. Not to be fraternizing with the guests.

“Beckette, the finishing touches also need to be put on the patio pergola for the Monster Ball at the end of the week.”

Jude swiveled her head to Beckette. “Mr. Beckette works for you?”

“Yes. He’s our maintenance man.” Alana smiled like a proud mother. Or a mischievous, manipulative, leprechaun. “Our poor Beckette is a widower, you know. Six years now.”

A storm brewed in Jude’s eyes. “You… You deceived me!”

The shock of hearing his personal life spilled like a cheap tabloid story, pissed him off. “Now, Miss Duffy. You came to your conclusions all on your own. I simply went along for the ride.”

The hellion’s jaw tightened and those sparkly greens shot daggers at him. She grabbed the panties from his hand. They fell out of the box, landed in a puddle, and began to dissolve like cotton candy in the rain. She stared at the disintegrating confection, jaw unhinged as if her dreams were going up in smoke.

She said goodbye to the Fitzgeralds, then turned and stomped away.

Why this woman was so hell bent on losing her virginity was a mystery to him. A mystery he’d uncover, long before she plotted her next hair-brained scheme. He’d ruined her life once. He’d be damned if he let it be ruined anymore.

 

 

 

 

Eight

“Never do anything against conscience

even if the state demands it.”

Albert Einstein

Jude shoved her bag fromBetween the Sheetsto the bottom of her closet behind her suitcase.Thank goodness she’d had time to go back and collect her research materials.

A maintenance man. A widower, for Christ’s sake. He’d deceived her. She needed a man with no morals, no heart. One she could simply exchange monetary funds with, for the excitement of learning about sex and, as a bonus, a pregnancy he’d never care about. Not some charming, grieving artisan.

“You don’t look very thrilled about dinner.”

Jude jumped at Nola’s mysterious appearance in her room, once again. She shrugged and turned back to her frumpy clothing. “It’s not that.” She ran her hand over a celery cashmere sweater and sighed. “I had everything planned. He was perfect, but he went and ruined it. Now I need to start over.” A smidgen of guilt knotted in her chest, but she pushed it away.

“I’m not sure if I want to hear this.” Nola sat on the bed and crossed her legs.

Jude’s lips twisted. “I had this plan, you see. A harmless one, if all went well. I was going to sleep with Mr. Beckette, the profligate one, and check off two birds with one stone. I’d finally understand what all the fuss is about regarding sex, and I’d most likely get pregnant, considering my current menstruation schedule.” Jude glanced away. The loneliness in her heart pushed a tear from her eye. “I know this is ludicrous, unscrupulous even, but I may never get another opportunity like this. I’ve always wanted a child. Someone to love and nurture and spend my life with. If this doesn’t work out, I’ll be alone forever.”

“Aw, honey.” Nola stood and wrapped her arms around Jude. She pulled back, holding Jude’s shoulders. “But tell me. WhynotMr. Beckette?” 

Jude bent to gather a tidy pair of pumps to match her outfit. She walked toward the bed and laid out her staid, stodgy suit, then stared out the window, defeat permeating her being. “He’s real now,” she whispered.

“He’s always been real, Ms. Duffy.”

“He was just an unfeeling playboy before.” Jude walked into the adjoining bath. “Nothing but a mindless body I could pay for sex and leave with no further compunction. Now…” She dropped her arms from trying to reassemble her French twist. “Now, he’s a real man with a real past and real emotions. He’s a widower, for goodness sake. And smart and funny, and I find myself inexplicably emotionally attracted to him.” She stared at her pale features. “And I can’t have sex and get pregnant when my emotions are involved. I need an emotionless, indifferent specimen.”

She touched up her makeup and brushed her teeth as Fantome’s taut, tan face popped into her mind. She reentered the main suite to dress. “Someone who doesn’t have the power to hurt me.”

Nola sat on the bed, eying her. “Believe it or not, I understand your crazy thought pattern here. But don’t you want to find love?”

Jude laughed. “Love? For me? Nola, look at me. I’m boring, aging and suffering from a slight case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

Nola’s eyebrows rose.

Jude slumped. “You see what I mean? I fall, they don’t, and I get hurt. Love is not, and never has been, in the forecast for me. But a child…” She glanced longingly at her make-believe Fairy Godmaid.

Nola smiled. “Anything is possible, Miss Duffy. You just have to believe in yourself.”

Jude did believe in herself…the few times she’d been with Beckette. She didn’t even know him but, in the short time they’d been together, she’d felt different. Safe and secure and worthy. Those were all things she’d never had before in any relationship. Except with Aunt Aggie, but that didn’t count. She was gone now too.

In all her previous relationships, Jude had been required to prove herself, consistently feeling less, not part of the crowd, as if she were an afterthought. “Well, regardless, there’s no harm in a single woman wanting to have sex with a single available man. It is the twenty-first century. Anthropologically speaking, casual sex has been around since the beginning of time. Only since the development of religious organizations and their doctrines to control societies, has sex been looked down upon when not practiced within the confines of a marital situation.”

Nola’s innocent eyes widened. “But you do want love, don’t you?”

Jude sank to the bed as a small tear slipped down her cheek. For all her bravado, she did want love. “Yes. It would be nice. But, statistically speaking, an illicit pregnancy is so much more attainable for me. I have to take what I can get.”

* * * *

Beck stood in his room, examining the skin graft scars along the left side of his back and arm.He’d never have any feeling there, which was fine by him. He didn’t deserve to feel. He’d been cursed long ago for the transgressions of his youth. The plane crash that had killed a young Jude Duffy’s parents, his first flight as a new pilot, was only one sin that would haunt him forever.

Being an angry, rebellious, twenty-one-year-old son of a bitch, he’d been busy partying and screwing the airport manager’s daughter. He’d rushed his pre-flight check and they’d encountered problems at ten thousand feet. He’d lived, scarred and burned for life, but his trusting cargo had died, his drunken secret kept hidden behind his guilt all these years.

Sixteen years later, he’d killed his wife with his deadly, heartless curse.

Beck rammed his arms into his shirt and tugged it closed. Regardless of the last year of rehab, he was still cursed, still making bad choices.

Like getting involved with Jude Duffy while misleading her about his identity.

It was selfish. He knew damn well if she realized who he was, she’d run for the hills.

But he wanted her like no other woman before.

Beck grunted. The world was a funny place. Putting Jude and Beck together here, now. But, why?

Fate was an evil bitch.

He could tell himself he wasn’t interested. He was a pro at being uninterested. But with her, in this place, he couldn’t resist.

She was stern and bossy and crazy. Her offbeat buoyancy and zest for learning was refreshing. It drew him like a bee to honey.

And that body and face. Like an angel from Heaven, made just for him.

Beck shook his head and pulled on his boots. If he didn’t know better, he’d think the ghost stories about the castle were true. Destined lovers brought together by the ghosts of tragic lovers from the past.

Why the hell she chose this week to lose her virginity, under his watch, was a mystery. He straightened his tie. For Christ’s sake, it was none of his business. Except for slimy Richard Fantome. He had to be here, sniffing up her skirt. How could Beck step aside and let her be ruined by that asshole?

She had no idea what she was getting herself into.

He owed her, in some strange penitential way. Didn’t he?


Page 8

If anyone was going to ruin her, by damn, it was going to be him…again.

 

 

 

 

Nine

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”

Albert Einstein

Standing in the entryway of the large dining room, Jude rubbed her palms against her thighs, compressed in the ecru skirt she’d chosen for dinner. Castle Alainn truly was magical. The soaring beamed ceiling supported ornate, crystal chandeliers. Sparkling light spread throughout the room like glitter. Second story balconies gave the atmosphere that true old world feel.

“We have a date.”

She flinched and inhaled Beck’s familiar woodsy cologne. Amazing how, when attracted to a potential mate, the human species could tell who they were without seeing them, and be stimulated sexually by their scent. “We no longer have an arrangement, Mr. Beckette. You deceived me and I cannot enter into any contract with a person I do not trust.”And am hopelessly attracted to.

“I didn’t deceive you. You jumped to conclusions all on your own, Sweetheart. Isn’t that in your studies somewhere? How, when a person wants something so bad, they see what they want to see?”

Jude sneered at him over her shoulder. She should have never looked. He was impeccable in a charcoal suit, black shirt and black tie. So typicallyPhantom of the Opera.“What I want is no longer any of your concern.”

She needed to keep her wits about her. Any further emotional enticement toward this beautiful, dark creature would incite the dissolution of her plans.

She gasped as his cheek brushed hers from behind. His scar branded her, marked her, made every nerve tingle with need to be a soothing balm that tore the shadows from his eyes.

“Jude.” His breath was warm, his voice the decadence of thick, rich chocolate. “Everything you do is my concern. There is no reasoning this away. It’s too late to avoid our inevitable connection.”

She needed to break his spell. She turned and confronted his magnificent face. “Our inevitable connection has no bearing on my choices. Emotional connection is cumbersome, capricious, emotive. I want disconnected sex, which means I don’t want you anymore.”

His succulent lips tipped up at the corners, one side slightly askew due to the mysterious scar. “There is no such thing.”

He leaned in, a mere centimeter away from touching her lips with his, and waited, staring intently into her eyes, reading her mind, delving into all her secret desires. He knew…knew she wanted him with her every breath. Knew she found herself lacking. That she’d want forever and a man like Beckette…whatever…would only want one night. He was a loner, an injured soul harboring his grief. Her plans called for a shallow, unfeeling cyborg. 

He placed a scarred hand along her face and touched his cheek to hers. “And Miss Jude Duffy, I wantyou.”

He kissed her softly on the neck then turned and left with a flip of his invisible vampire cape.

Jude stood frozen, speechless and tingling.

“Miss Duffy?” She startled at the whiny, high-pitched voice of The Hulk at her shoulder. She turned and plastered on a smile, reaffirming the most pertinent course toward her goal. An emotionless, indifferent, unthinking, idiot. Someone she’d feel no regret over, forget in no time.

“Hello, Mr. Fantome.”

“Call me Dick, please. Everyone does.” He shot her that too-white smile, in that fake tan face.

“I’m sure.” She took the arm he offered and followed him to their table. This was going to be a long, exhausting night, but there were usually many in the face of research and attaining one’s goals.

* * * *

Beck took his place on the hidden balcony above the dining room. He pulled out the bench to the baby grand and sat as he tried to calm his nerves. He had a perfect view of the woman he couldn’t get out of his mind.

She was a romantic. And he was nothing but a cynical jackass. A self-destructive, heartless asshole who was about to commit yet another selfish act. While he wanted Jude with every breath, what he should do was to stay far away and leave her to her safe, silly little dreams.

Especially since she was trying to save him.

She saw him as a mourning widower who might be hurt by a clandestine affair.

And yet, he was going to fuck it all up by sleeping with the most intriguing, irresistible woman he’d ever met, and then leave before he tore her life apart like he did so many others.

It was his only option. Get in and get out.

Could she handle it? Could he?

He didn’t have time to ponder the questions. She’d set her sights on Fantome. A man Beck couldn’t trust to be gentle. Beck would give her what she wanted then let her take her newfound knowledge into the future. A safe future. A future without him. And he’d carry the memory of her with him into his lonely abyss.

He placed his hands on the keyboard and got lost in the music that was such a part of his life. He couldn’t play in front of other people. Not anymore. He’d refused since Elizabeth had died. Music was a reminder of his how his destructive ways had killed her. It had become a window to his barren soul. But here, in the shadows, he could let the songs take him away without anyone in the dining room knowing whose soul was being bared behind the notes.

* * * *

“So, my current net worth is one point two million.” The Hulk was killing her with his garlic breath and the apparent need to lean as close as possible whenever he spoke so he could glance down her blouse. Ignoramus.

“That’s wonderful.” She sipped at her second Long Island Iced Tea. She was becoming rather fond of the drink. Especially tonight. Alcohol might be the only thing that kept her sane.

Fantome smiled as the waiter arrived and placed a new drink next to Jude’s plate. “So, what’s your favorite kind of music, Sweet Cheeks. Rap? Maybe Rock and Roll?”

Oh, for God’s sake. It was like she was on the speed version of “Teen Jeopardy.” “I prefer classical or vintage rock.Unchained Melodywould be one of my favorites but, I have to say, I have a true affinity for The Beatles. My parents always sangHey Judeto me before bed.” She tasted the new drink and glanced at the waiter. “What’s this?”

“Sparkling water sent by a secret admirer.” He winked then took his leave.

Thank goodness her cell phone beeped, as The Hulk asked which was her favorite, SpongeBob or Patrick. She had no idea whom he was speaking of so she just smiled and looked at the text.

Did you know when you’re frustrated you purse your lips and create the sexiest dimple to the left of your mouth?

Jude inhaled.

And did you realize when you discuss your work your eyes sparkle with mischief and wonder?

Who is this?She texted back. As if she already didn’t know.

If your dinner date looks down your shirt one more time I’m going to hit him…again. You’ve had enough liquor tonight.

Jude glanced around the room. Of course, Mr. Beckette wouldn’t be here. He was an employee. But he was watching from somewhere like a ghost in the night.

How did you get my number?

I have my ways.

She smiled.Stop bothering me. I’m on a date.

He’s not a date, he’s a punishment.Is he regaling you with an account of his comic book collection and video game scores?

Jude laughed.I’m hanging up now.

Finish your dinner and meet me in my room at ten.

ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Wow, CAPS LOCK. You are in a saucy mood. Perfect for what I have planned. Do you want to know what that is, Ms. Duffy?You’re going to tell me what you want. Every intimate detail. Dirty talk? I’ll give it to you. You want gentle or to be fucked hard, that’s what you’ll get. Be naked on my bed in one hour. There are places on your body that need my attention. Places I’ve fantasized about. Places that make me hard every time I’m near you. It’s time you took care of that.

Jude dropped the phone like it had spontaneously combusted. Shit, the sensuality in his voice echoed right through the letters. The man was a villain. A monster. A multifaceted, sexy, irresistible temptation.

Caps lock is not saucy. It indicates rage and anger. Now leave me alone. My date and I are having a wonderful time.

I doubt discussing the attributes of SpongeBob wearing underwear is stimulating conversation. Are you wearing underwear?

“Damn spying waiter,” Jude mumbled.

There is something about you… Something that makes me want to…overcome. You’ve enchanted me, Jude Duffy.

No, no, no. She didn’t want to enchant him. She didn’t want to be drawn in by his wounded soul. She just wanted sex. Sex and a baby. That’s it. If she gave in, she’d fall in love. And he’d get over his lustful infatuation by the end of the week and tear out her heart.

That’s a lot of responsibility on me.

Who was she kidding? She was already falling for him. Ridiculous.

She held the phone in the air to be sure he saw her click the power button. “Now, Mr. Fantome, are you currently in a relationship? Have you recently been tested for sexually transmitted diseases?”

What the hell was she saying? The beautiful piano music slowly shifted intoUnchained Melody. The sensual chords were more drawn out than the popular rendition, the new version eerie and lovely and yearning. That song had the Count written all over it. Damn the man. Was there anything he couldn’t do? Oh yeah, fall in love with her.

She sat captured by the seductive aria until a deep tenor from the man who wanted toovercomefloated around the rafters.

I’ve hungered for your touch…

She silently recited the entire song along with him. Words she’d always wished applied to her.

God speed your love to me…

At the conclusion, after her emotions had been ripped, torn and shredded by what would never be, after a fatal burst of God-I-could-love-this-man erupted in her chest, she slammed her fork down and leaned back in her chair. “I’m not feeling well, Mr. Fantome.”

“It’s Dick.”

She smirked. “Yes, it is. Do you mind if we call it a night?” She stood and gathered her belongings, then rushed toward the lobby to escape to her room and regroup.

As she rounded the corner, she bumped directly into her phantom. His scent, emanating from the warmth of his chest, enveloped her in a fog of precocious need.

She stepped back and straightened her blouse, hoping to emotionally distance herself from Beck and his assault on her senses. “I didn’t know you were so musically talented.”

“It’s a gift I don’t often share.” A rueful smile played across his lips. One that seemed forced. As if he’d shared some clandestine confession.

She understood. Certain activities churned up heart-wrenching pain for those with great loss. How long did one need to suffer? Her eyes locked on his. She was done suffering, done with cowardice. “Do you believe in love, Mr. Beckette?” If he did, would she consider taking a shot at love again?

His head tilted, and he gazed at her as if looking upon a silly, naive child. “For others, maybe.”

She ignored the clench of her heart, her courage receding. “Yes, that’s what I thought.” She needed to protect herself from falling in love with any more emotionally unavailable men. It was time to give up. To focus on her goal and have a child she could love and be loved by.

She tried to maneuver past him, but he caught her around the waist with one arm. The pocket of her suit jacket ripped, and she slipped it off to examine the damage.

He pulled the jacket from her hands. “I’m sorry.” She didn’t know if he meant for the jacket or for not being what she wanted him to be.

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