Caress Part One (Arcadia)

BOOK: Caress Part One (Arcadia)
5.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


*****CARESS is an erotic romance that includes explicit
sexual scenes. Also warm toasted bagels spread with gooey cream cheese, banana
splits dripping with extra cherries, and a panty-dropping alpha male who’s good
enough to eat all by himself. Side effects may include naughty thoughts, secret
smiles, and friends asking what on earth you’re reading. Proceed at your own
risk. XXXOOO Josie*****


Welcome to the Arcadia, Manhattan’s most seductive address.

For almost a century, the exclusive Art Deco apartment
building overlooking Central Park has been home to passionate, star-crossed
lovers. Now a new generation is about to discover the obsession and mystery
hidden within its luxurious walls.

When smart, gutsy Emma Whittaker returns to the building
where she grew up, she’s only hoping to gain a foot-hold in a city that has
turned cold and hostile since the exposure of her father’s multi-billion dollar
financial fraud. Instead, she meets the one man who can make her forget all the
hard-learned lessons that life has taught her and tempt her to risk everything,
even her heart.

Lucas Phelps is New York’s premiere realtor, the confidant
of stars, tech moguls, and oligarchs, gatekeeper to the city’s most sought
after properties, none more so than the Arcadia itself. At ease in the world of
the wealthiest and most powerful, Lucas has long since hidden his true nature
behind steely resolve. But his deepest yearnings will return to haunt him when
he crosses paths with the one woman capable of shattering his hard-won control
and unleashing his darkest desires.

As the betrayals of the past and the dangers of the present
collide within the Arcadia, Emma and Lucas will struggle to overcome both
before they can make the future their own.



I was in the kitchen, spreading cream cheese on a bagel,
when I heard an odd sound. At first, I didn’t pay much attention. There are a
lot of strange sounds in any building. You get used to them after a while. I’d
only been here since yesterday and I was still adjusting to the place. I’d even
admit to being a little jumpy but whatever I heard was just wrong somehow. It
sounded almost like…

Metal tearing loose from wood.

I turned and looked through the kitchen into the adjacent
pantry just in time to see the latch fly off the double doors of the dumbwaiter
in there. That quaint little invention still found in some older buildings
amounts to a miniature elevator handy for hauling groceries and other small
items up to individual apartments. But it seemed that someone had found another
use for it.

The doors banged open and a woman came hurtling through
them. My brain registered a quick impression--blonde, endless legs, violet suit
or dress, whatever. Mostly, my reaction was straightforward: What the hell?

Her momentum was so great that she ended up sprawled half-on
the counter in front of the dumbwaiter with the rest of her angling down toward
the floor. As entrances went, hers was ungainly, startling, and quite likely
illegal. Unless she had a damn good reason for being in the dumbwaiter--not
much chance of that--she’d just broken into the apartment where I was staying.

On occasion, women have done crazy things to get my
attention--shown up at my door in nothing but stilettos and a smile, for
example. Not unusual for a guy with my wealth and public profile who was
also--I would modestly admit--not hard to look at. But none of them had ever
gone this far. At once, I dismissed the possibility that the blonde had
seduction in mind.

Best case scenario, she was a thief expecting to find the
place empty and clever enough to exploit a weakness in the security system that
no one had thought to fix. That was bad enough but the fact that her appearance
came hours after I’d been warned that someone might be gunning for me limited
my options.

I had no idea how seriously to take the threat. Granted, New
York real estate is a high stakes game and people with more money than morals
can end up disappointed. They still don’t generally put out a contract on the
guy who told them ‘no’. All the same, if there was a time to err on the side of
caution, this was it.

With that in mind, I didn’t hesitate. Before the woman could
get to her feet, I got to her, slamming her up against the wall with my arm at
her throat. My intent was to control her long enough to find out what she was
doing here while providing just enough physical intimidation to get her to tell

But Blondie had other ideas. Her head reared back, then
quickly slammed forward in a move intended to jam the cartilage of my nose up
into my brain. I barely managed to avoid the blow while also fending off what
she was trying to do to my balls and the rest of me.

Any lingering doubt I had about how to deal with her
vanished. So far as I was concerned, she was clearly the person in the wrong.
All I was doing was defending myself. If she wanted to fight dirty, fine by me.

To that end, I pressed my arm harder against her throat to
let her know that I was serious and snarled, “Stop it!”

I was using my chest to keep her trapped up against the
wall. One of my thighs was wedged between hers. Bastard that I am, I couldn’t
help noticing that she was all long legs, full breasts, and willowy curves.

That was distracting but I still had enough sense to know
that my first priority had to be securing whatever weapon she might be
carrying. Still, as I moved my hand over her, feeling for a gun or knife, I may
have lingered a little longer than was strictly necessary.

Her breath started coming in shallow little pants that I
associate with a different kind of physical activity. That definitely didn’t
help the situation. Nor did the fact that she was still struggling, so much so
that the softness of her flat, smooth abdomen kept rubbing against my groin.

After the shower I’d just taken, I wasn’t wearing anything
other than a towel around my hips and it wasn’t much of a barrier between us.
It sure as hell didn’t conceal the fact that I was suddenly getting hard.

That was just downright disturbing. I like my women
compliant, purring under my hand and begging for more. Trying to crush my balls
and rip my eyes out doesn’t do it for me. Still, the truth was that I was
becoming aroused for reasons I didn’t care to examine--caveman stuff on the
level of controlling the furious wildcat in my arms and bending her to my will,
definitely not my usual style.

I was trying to sort that out while coming to terms with the
fact that she wasn’t armed when a shudder ran through her, her eyes rolled back
and she suddenly went limp.


I yanked my arm from her throat and caught her as she
started to slide to the ground. Holding her, I stared down at her in shock. I
didn’t think that I’d put so much pressure on her throat that she could pass
out from it. I sure as hell hadn’t intended to no matter how she was trying to
hurt me but the evidence was there all the same.

For a moment, all I could feel was disgust at what I’d done.
In an instant, I confirmed that she was breathing, thank god, but out for the
count. Scooping her up, I carried her into the living room and laid her down on
the couch.

As I did so, I couldn’t help noticing that my earlier
impression that she was a damn attractive woman wasn’t mistaken. It just fell
far short of the mark. From the top of the silky blond hair tumbling loose from
a twist at the back of her head to the bottom of her long legs, she was the
stuff of dreams, the wet kind. Her face was oval, a little softer than the
angular look a lot of women strive for, with a gently rounded chin and a mouth…

Sweet lord, that mouth. Luscious didn’t begin to describe
it. Full, moist, soft, a perfect shade of pink ripening toward rose that looked
entirely natural. All too easily, I could imagine it wrapped around my cock
while she--

It was official; I was a sick bastard. She was lying there
unconscious and all I could think of was--

That I had a good opportunity to figure out who she was
before she came to. But first, I didn’t want to take the chance that she’d wake
up suddenly and try to leave. Or do me some serious bodily harm, which by now I
might just possibly deserve. That she wasn’t armed didn’t matter. There were
plenty of items within easy reach that could be turned into a weapon.

At least that’s how I justified in my own mind what I did
next. Yanking a fancy tie-back off one of drapes hanging to either side of an
arch at the entrance to the living room, I hesitated only a second before using
it to lash her wrists together.

Looking down at the dark fabric against her smooth, pale
skin, I was shocked--yet again--when my hard-on went to a whole new level. I’d
played with bondage with partners who were inclined that way, and I’d enjoyed
the sense of dominance but this was different. It didn’t feel like a game. It
was real.

And I was responding to it in a way that I’d never suspected
I was capable of.

Later, when this was all over, I could figure out what had
come over me or better yet just forget it had ever happened. But for now, I
checked her breathing again. It was slower and deeper, a lot closer to normal.

Reassured that she’d be fine--at least until she woke up and
realized what I’d done--I headed back to the pantry. Sure enough, several items
were still in the dumbwaiter, including a pair of slim, flat shoes, a cell
phone, and a small purse.

I went for the purse first. The wallet tucked into it
yielded a driver’s license from the State of New York. The picture confirmed
that it was hers.

So who exactly had taken a ride up a pitch black shaft,
crammed into a space just big enough for a few grocery bags, in order to break
into the apartment where I was staying?

I held the license up and read the name on it.

Emma Whittaker.

She was twenty-one, at least for another month, didn’t need
corrective lenses, had O positive blood, was willing to be an organ donor,
living at--

Emma Whittaker?

As in the Emma Whittaker?

The young woman who just a few years back was at the center
of the fire storm that rocked the financial world and for a while at least made
her the top target of every bottom feeding paparazzi and internet troll on the

That Emma Whittaker?

Well, shit, this was starting to get interesting.

A hard and, I’m sure, not particularly pleasant smile curved
my mouth as I wondered why exactly the woman America loved to hate had suddenly
walked--or better yet hurtled--into my life.



Earlier that day…


“The past is another land.”

Elton John said that or wrote it or something. I was trying
to remember as I stood in the corner office belonging to Heather Schaffer, head
of Schaffer Realty, and waited for my brand-new boss to notice me.

She’d been letting me cool my heels while she stared out the
floor-to-ceiling windows south down Fifth Avenue toward the financial district.
From what I could see of her expression reflected in the glass, she was
enjoying contemplating the money her clients were making that would allow them
to afford her services.

When she finally swung her executive chair around, she was
smiling. “You’re looking well, Emma. That color suits you.”

The violet two-piece skirt and jacket that I was wearing
were part of a L’Agence collection from a few years ago. I’d been lucky enough
to find them at an East Side consignment store but Heather didn’t need to know

“Thank you,” I said, refusing to be put off by her scrutiny.

One advantage to growing up the way I had was that I was
used to dealing with people like Schaffer, alphas who thrive on competition and
aren’t above using intimidation to gain any advantage. Although to be fair, I
respected that she had worked her way up from selling two-family houses in
Queens to becoming the Queen of Manhattan’s premiere properties.

Only one real estate firm was bigger, by many orders of
magnitude--Phelps Properties, Inc., run by Lucas Phelps, the man to whom
international stars, tech moguls, and oligarchs of all stripes were most likely
to turn when they wanted to call one of the hottest property markets on the
planet home.

His control of access to the city’s premiere residential
listings was just the tip of the iceberg. Rumor had it that in the years since
he’d taken over the company following his father’s death, he’d pursued a brilliant
investment strategy that produced a portfolio of commercial properties valued
in ten figures. In all regards, he was a power to be reckoned with.

Schaffer was far too savvy to take him on. At least not
directly. But that didn’t stop her from dreaming.

 “A little bird told me that the tower apartment at the
Arcadia is going on the market at long last.”

My stomach clenched even as I managed to smile. “You don’t

She smoothed the sleek helmet of her short, perfectly
coiffed ebony hair and nodded. “I don’t have to tell you how exciting this is.
The property has everything--a fabulous prestige building, immense square
footage, breathtaking views, and a history that positively reeks glamour. Not
to mention the decades-long mystery surrounding it. But then you must have
heard all about that when you were growing up in the Arcadia.”

I took a breath and let it out slowly. Focused as I was on
moving forward with my life, the last thing that I wanted to discuss was the
past. But the truth that I’ve had to accept is that there’s no escape from it.
All we can hope to do is learn from it and become stronger.

 “You’re referring to the legend that the 1950s movie star
who owned the apartment moved out over sixty years ago,” I said, “taking nothing
with her except the clothes on her back, and that no one has set foot in the
place since?”

My boss arched an elegantly shaped eyebrow. “Legend? Are you
suggesting it’s not true?”

“I don’t know what happened,” I admitted. “I’m not sure that
anyone nowadays does. But I am certain that the management of the Arcadia would
never allow any part of the building to remain off limits for very long, let
alone for decades. Someone has to have been in there over the years, if only to
make sure that there weren’t any leaks, cracked windows, or other damage.”

“That’s a good point,” the Ice Queen said. Her sudden
cordiality rang a warning bell in my head.

“You must still know people who work in the building.” She
flecked an imaginary speck of dust from her silver gray Prado suit. “Go make
nice with them, ask a few questions, and see what you can get them to tell you.
I especially want to know the condition of the apartment. We’d take it on under
any circumstances, of course, but it’s best to be prepared. Bonus points if you
find out who’s got authority to give the listing and who’s in the running to
get it.”

I could have said that I wasn’t sure anyone I’d known still
worked at the Arcadia. I should have said that even if anyone did, I wasn’t
about to risk that person’s job by pumping them for information. But every
survival instinct that I had stopped me.

I’d been pounding the pavement since graduating from college
three months ago. Everywhere I went, I got the same response. After a few
friendly or at worse neutral minutes of chit-chat, the person I was talking
with gradually realized that I looked familiar, they’d seen me somewhere
before, my name rang a bell, and …Oh, my good, she’s--

And that was it, I was done. All that was left was the ‘No’,
unsoftened by any suggestion that my resume would be kept on file or that I
might want to try again another time. They couldn’t get rid of me fast enough.

I didn’t even really blame them. In the firestorm of
publicity that followed the uncovering three years ago of a massive financial
fraud involving billions of dollars and thousands of scammed investors, my
eighteen-year-old self refused to believe what my father had done.

While the other members of my family scattered to the
winds--my mother into a new marriage and my older brother into a Buddhist
monastery--I alone spoke up publicly in my father’s defense, not once but
repeatedly, passionately, angrily and toward the end, in tears.

The videos of me doing so were still on YouTube followed by
thousands of comments, the kindest of which called me a bitch and hoped that
I’d die.

When all was said and done, the position at Schaffer Realty
was my first and quite possibly only shot at a job that didn’t involve a pole,
stilettos, and a bunch of drunk guys leering at my crotch.

With that image to inspire me, I swallowed my doubts long
enough to be dismissed by a wave of a well-manicured hand and a final

“Don’t disappoint me, Emma. Taking you on was a risk. This
is your chance to prove that you’re worth it.”

An hour later, I was standing across the street from my
childhood home, the Arcadia on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Built almost a
century ago at the height of the Art Deco movement, the forty story apartment
building boasted graceful copulas, spires, and arched windows. But its most
distinctive feature was the slender tower that comprised the top third of the
building. Housing floor-through apartments with 360 degree views of the city,
the tower was topped by a columned dome that resembled an ancient Greek temple.

All in all, the Arcadia was one of the most exclusive and
sought-after residences in the city. But staring at it, I couldn’t help
remembering all the reasons why I should walk away rather than venture back
into the world that I fled from three years ago.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have that luxury. Returning to the
scene of past trauma was the price to be paid if I wanted to keep a roof over
my head and eat something other than Ramen noodles. The fact that I hadn’t
anticipated being put in this position when I grabbed Schaffer’s job offer just
proved that I was still more naïve than I wanted to admit.

Squaring my shoulders, I started across Central Park West. A
taxi barreled down on me but I dodged it easily. The years away at college
hadn’t dulled my native New Yorker reflexes. That was a good thing because
without them, I’d be lost.

I forgot the bat-out-hell-taxi-driver as I approached the
building entrance, all marble and etched glass set under a bronze canopy,
looking out toward the park. I was three years old when my family moved into
the Arcadia. It was the only real home that I’d known until I left in the
aftermath of the scandal that blew up my world.

 As I approached, the doorman’s ruddy, middle-aged face
broke into a smile. The sight of it made me stumble. George Santos had to be
one of the very few people in New York--heck, in the world, capable of having
kind thoughts about me.

I swallowed against the sudden lump in my throat as he said,
“It is you, Miss Emma. I thought so. Saw you looking at the old place. I
wondered if you were gonna come over.”

Managing a wobbly smile in return, I said, “How are you,
George? Still beating all the Italian dudes at bocce?”

He laughed, clearly pleased that I remembered his
all-consuming passion for the game that dated back to the days of the Roman

“I am indeed, Miss Emma. And how are you?” His smile faded,
replaced by concern.

Quickly, I said, “I’m good, really. I graduated from college
a few months ago, came back to the city, got a job… And now I guess I’m feeling
a little nostalgic.”

George nodded as though it was perfectly reasonable for me
to be sentimental about the place where my privileged existence had collapsed
in ruins.

He glanced into the lobby behind him and back at me again.
Gently, he asked, “Would you perhaps like to step inside? It’s quiet right now.
Not very many people are around.”

That was what I was counting on. Mid-morning was when the
residents of the Arcadia were most likely to be elsewhere. The men were at work
on Wall Street or in the plush offices of law firms, banks and hedge funds. The
women were micromanaging the lives of their children in between the relentless
round of exercise and beauty appointments needed to maintain their exacting
standards of personal appearance. Meanwhile, the help was far too busy to take
much notice of anything beyond their long lists of duties.

But now, confronted with the enormity of what I was about to
do, I hesitated. No matter what challenges I faced, I didn’t have the right to
take advantage of George’s kindness. There had to be another way to get into
the building and carry out the crazy plan that I’d hatched after leaving
Schaffer’s office.

I was on the verge of backing off and trying another time
when a young woman dog walker came up the block. Despite her death grip on their
leashes, she looked too slight to control her half-dozen pampered charges.

The biggest, a Great Dane, had his tongue lolling out, eyes
rolling as he tried to go after a car. Two large poodles, looking like
fluff-balls on sticks, were in his way and almost got knocked over. If dogs
could sneer, they did, right before they sat down and started licking their
balls. Two Pomeranians were snapping fiercely at each other in some language
only they could understand. Worse yet was the little Yorkie who picked that
moment to bare its teeth and make a lunge for George’s ankles.

In the melee of shouts, barks, and frantic apologies that
followed, I saw an opportunity. Slipping into the lobby unnoticed, I paused for
a moment to savor the hushed coolness and look around.

BOOK: Caress Part One (Arcadia)
5.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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