Hired by Nick Morietti and Steve Vanguard to decorate their newest hotel, Julianna Lovette is determined to make a name for herself. Nick and Steve’s raw sexuality, though, draws her like a moth to a flame-irresistible, but potentially lethal. When she becomes their lover, she’s tossed into a world of passion she’s always searched for but thought she’d never find.
Dominate and strong, they take her in ways she’d never imagined and earn a submission from her she never thought she’d give. When passion comes at a price, she has to depend on them to keep her safe from an enemy from Steve’s past. An enemy who’s waited for years for a chance to get revenge. An enemy they believe she works for. She learns that trust comes at a steeper price–but offers the biggest rewards.
Julianna Lovette’s hands shook as she wiped the tears blurring her vision, knowing she smeared whatever mascara she had left all over her cheek.
Knowing she looked horrible would have been bad enough, but what made her feel even worse was that it didn’t matter what she looked like.
No one would see her. She was alone.
When she’d turned forty last week, she’d shared a bottle of wine with her best friend, Kelsey, and decided to find that elusive feeling she’d spent her life searching for. She’d made the decision to start dating again and find a man, the man who could overwhelm her with passion, one who was strong enough to take her to places she’d only dreamed about.
Someone who’d make her feel like a desirable woman.
She’d thought she’d found the answer, but tonight had proven to her, without a doubt, that she’d been mistaken.
Why had she ever thought a woman like her could do something like that?
In the dark confines of her old car, she reached for a tissue only to find that her purse had fallen to the floor and spent several frustrating minutes struggling to reach it, wincing as the seat belt dug into her.
A sob escaped before she could prevent it. And then another.
Giving up, she felt around on the adjoining seat for the napkins left over from the fast food place she’d stopped at earlier that day. She tossed a sweater she’d brought with her into the backseat, followed by a bottle of water and the magazine she hadn’t had a chance to read yet before finally finding one.
She wiped her eyes, wincing at the friction of the rough napkin on her skin. Crying never solved anything, and she’d stopped crying about things she couldn’t change years ago.
Tossing the napkin aside, she glanced in the mirror and gasped, horrified that the car in front of her had stopped at the traffic light and she hadn’t noticed.
She slammed on the brakes, her heart in her throat as she tried to stop in time to keep from plowing into it. Fishtailing on the wet asphaslt, she came to a stop only inches from his back bumper, inwardly wincing when she heard the contents of her purse scattering everywhere.
Drawing a shaky breath, she flexed her hands on the steering wheel, her knuckles sore from gripping it so hard. She closed her eyes, her heartbeat so loud in her ears it drowned out the sounds of her own ragged sobs.
Anger at herself churned, only to fizzle out under the blanket of self-pity.
She preferred the anger.
With a start, she realized that the car in front of her was no longer there.
Get a grip, Julianna.
Starting out again, she hit the gas too hard, hydroplaning until she got the car back under control. Taking another deep breath, she concentrated on going slowly, forcing herself to pay more attention to her driving.
Thankful that not too many people were out this time of night, she took another deep breath, forcing herself to go slowly, despite her rush to get home and end a night that seemed never ending.
How could she have been so unbelievably stupid?
Welcoming her rising fury, she impatiently brushed away another tear, slamming on her brakes when she saw that she’d almost missed the entrance to her apartment complex.
Tightening her hands on the steering wheel, she turned into the dimly lit parking lot, the squeal of her tires on the wet pavement a sharp reminder to slow down. Taking deep breaths, she drove across the small lot, holding on tightly to the steering wheel.
She winced at the ringing of her cell phone, knowing who it would be. She turned the corner, passing the rows of parked cars and headed toward her apartment, unable to tamp down the surge of guilt and embarrassment that made her ignore the persistent ringing. Only one person would be calling her at this time of night, and she couldn’t deal with talking to him right now.
Mortified after tonight’s debacle, she didn’t want to talk to anyone.
Damn Gabriel for putting the damned idea in her head in the first place!
Tears of mortification and failure flowed freely despite her determination to suppress them. She pulled into her parking space, cursing when her shoe got tangled in the worn mat, and she had to slam on the brakes to keep from hitting the curb.
Of course, it sent the contents of her purse flying all over the floor again, the sounds of her things scattering even louder than the squeaky windshield wipers.
Fucking heels. Damn it, what kind of woman couldn’t even handle high heels?
A clumsy one who tried to be something she wasn’t.
Shaking, she fumbled with the gearshift, finally managing to put the car in park. Taking the keys from the ignition, she cursed again when they fell to the floor beneath her knees. Choking back more sobs, she fumbled around for them in the darkness, wondering what she’d ever done to deserve a day like this one. Closing her hand over them, she wanted to cry in relief but knew that once she started, she may never stop.
He’d been everything she’d thought she’d needed.
A hysterical sob broke free.
She’d been his worst nightmare.
And why the hell should that surprise her?
After a struggle to unfasten her stubborn seat belt, she bent to reach the floor on the passenger side. She felt around for as many items as she could find and haphazardly shoved them back into her purse. The tears she struggled to hold back stung her eyes again, becoming harder and harder to suppress.
She blew out a breath. “Hang on, Julianna. You’re almost there.”
Hell, now she was talking to herself.
Gathering her things, she opened the car door, cringing as it groaned in protest. One of these days she’d have a new car. Move to a better neighborhood. Only her career mattered.
Only her career fulfilled her.
Only her career was always there for her.
Her career never embarrassed her or promised things it couldn’t deliver.
Her legs trembled as she swung them out and stood, and it took considerable effort to slam the door closed, the rusty hinges creaking in protest.
Men. Fucking wimps. Who needed them? She swiped away another tear.
Stepping away from the car, she turned her key ring toward the light coming from the street lot, searching for her apartment key. Not looking where she walked, she twisted her ankle and stumbled, tripping on the curb and crying out as her hands and knees hit the sidewalk and her keys went skittering across the concrete and into the wet grass.
Great. Just great. Fucking high heels.
On any other woman they would be sexy, but not on her.
Why the hell had she thought they’d look sexy when she couldn’t even walk in the damned things?
“I told you she was drunk. Miss, are you all right? Let us help you.”
On her hands and knees, Julianna froze at the deep voice coming from directly behind her. Her tears dried up at the same instant panic set in, shoving its way through the anger and self-pity.
Only someone looking for trouble would be hanging out in the parking lot of her apartment complex at three in the morning, especially on a dreary night like this. Fearing for her life, she nearly cried in relief when she saw the small canister that had fallen out of her purse. Taking a deep breath, she gripped the pepper spray and started to rise, wincing when she scraped her knees. “I’m fine. Go away.”
Her voice hadn’t come out as firm as she would have liked, a shakiness to it she couldn’t quite contain.
The gravel dug into her hands and knees as she tried to scramble to her feet. She fell again, cursing under her breath when the heel on her right shoe broke. Knowing she’d have no chance of running in these damned shoes, she kicked them off, at the same time turning her body toward her building, judging the odds of getting inside before he could catch her.
Her long hair kept getting in her way, falling in damp strands around her face, and getting even wetter as the light rain continued to fall. Tonight she’d worn it down, something she very rarely did, and she hoped she wouldn’t have to pay dearly for it. Impatiently pushing it back, she kept her head bent, hoping that she had the pepper spray pointed in the right direction, and got into position to sprint.
“I don’t think she’s drunk. I think she’s hysterical.” This voice came from directly in front of her a second before two large, black, expensive-looking dress shoes entered her line of vision and stopped just inches from where her cell phone lay. A large hand reached out to pick it up at the same time another closed over her upper arms from behind, just as she tried to run.
“Let me help you up.”
Panicking because she couldn’t shake his hold, she struggled against the iron grip of the man behind her and screamed, kicking at him, but her bare feet apparently made no impact. “Let go of me, you asshole!”
He lifted her with alarming ease, pulling her back against a rock-hard chest. “Easy, sweetheart. We won’t hurt you. Are you all right?”
Julianna looked over her shoulder and up, into a face hidden in shadow. Alarmed at the size of him and the strength of his hold, she stopped struggling, hoping to get him to relax his grip. “I don’t have any money. Get the hell away from me.”
The other man bent to retrieve her belongings still scattered on the ground, dropping each item into her designer knock-off purse. The blond strands interspersed through his short brown hair gleamed in the harsh light from the lamppost behind him, but his features remained hidden in shadow. When he started to rise, he smiled, a flash of white that did nothing to reassure her. “We don’t want your money.”