Tempted by Pleasure (Secret Invitation #1) (8 page)

BOOK: Tempted by Pleasure (Secret Invitation #1)
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Chapter 14

Erin

“You’re playing with fire,” Katie warns.

“More like explosives.” She knows what happened last night.

“But I thought you hated him.”

“Never said that, did I?” I can’t think straight, and my memory has been compromised after the last couple of days. “Maybe I just don’t know any more.”

“I understand. Sometimes emotions blind us from the truth. Now cancel your membership to Lazarus and ride into the sunset with Foster’s ginormous dick. End of story.”

“No.”

“Why?”

“I’m committed to Jeffrey.” I cover my mouth, ashamed I let his name slip.

“Jeffrey?”

“Um . . .”

“Uh-uh.” She wags her finger at me. “Spill.”

Once again I push the limits of my Lazarus contract. But the nondisclosure didn’t specifically mention best friends. “I think he’s the one I’m going to have sex with on Halloween.”

“But what about Foster?”

“Jeffrey could pass for his brother.”

“Really?”

“Maybe even a twin.”

“That’s creepy kinky shit.”

I laugh. “Guess we know what I like.”

“Ditch Jeffrey. At least you know what’s hiding in Foster’s pants.”

I shake my head, then look down at my desk, and see that one of the worksheets Jeffrey gave me is still blank. “Will you ever take me seriously?”

“Once we get past this, I’m sure I will.”

I nod in appreciation. She might talk tough, but underneath, she’s all heart. “Can I get some privacy?” Katie isn’t scheduled to work today, but she’s hanging out.

“I’ll go grab a sandwich. Want anything?”

“No.”

After my door closes, I sag in my chair. Danger lurks in every corner of my mind. If I put my fantasies into words, it breathes life into them, then I can’t forget.

The first section of the worksheet asks for a description of my ideal partner, including sex, physical attributes, education, and personality. Is there a box for genitalia size? My work phone rings and I pick up.

“Erin?”

“Hello, Mom.”

“Where have you been? I’ve called every day.”

Avoiding you for good reason . . .
“Lots going on at the store.”

“Do you have plans for Sunday evening?”

I glance at my desk calendar. “Nothing, why?”

“We’re hosting an informal dinner. Bring Katie, we’d love to see her again.”

Informal means fifty people. I chomp on my lower lip, knowing Thomas will be on the guest list. “Great idea, Katie enjoys your cooking.”

Mom chuckles. “You mean our caterer’s.”

“Same difference.”

“Eight o’clock, dear.”

“Love you.”

“I love you too, Erin.”

Now if I can only get her to change her mind about Thomas. I glance down at the paper again and pick up my pen.

Partner preference: Male

Physical description: Six feet tall, dark hair, dark eyes, athletic, and tan.

Personality: Great sense of humor, extrovert, organized, dominate, passionate, and confident.

I review what I’ve written and chew on the pen cap. God I lack creativity.
Dominate? Passionate? No shit.
I draw a line through those two, then change my mind, and rewrite them.

The second section calls for deeper consideration.
What turns you on?
A simple enough question at first glance, but when you’ve held back as long as I have, it makes it harder to envision. Voyeurism, I jot that down without hesitation.
I enjoyed watching Catalina. Whips and chains. Duct tape. Butt plugs. Nipple clamps.
Maybe I should just adopt scenes from
Fifty Shades of Grey
as my mantra.

No, I can do this.

If I’m going to play, I need to express myself clearly.
Blindfold.
I don’t want to see Jeffrey, I just want to feel him, maybe taste that mouth again.
Spanking
. A few taps on my ass with a riding crop sounds exciting. Chills run up my spine as Foster invades my thoughts.
Fingers and tongue
, that’s what I want for my first experience.

Before I realize it, I’ve written over two pages.

Where did that all come from? I fold the papers in half and slide them into the folder, locking it in my desk drawer. If Mary got her hands on it, she’d publish it on Amazon.

My phone rings again. “Mary?”

“Mr. Wagner is up front.”

My heart drops into my stomach. After I didn’t get a call this morning, I assumed he was angry. I clear my throat. “Send him back.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

A few seconds later, he knocks.

“Come in.” The door opens. He’s wearing a black, pinstriped suit with a deep blue shirt and tie.

“Erin.”

“I’m surprised to see you again.”

Foster shakes his head and closes the door. “That’s not what I was hoping to hear.”

“Sorry . . .” What am I supposed to do? Admit I was wrong? Or should I just strip and sit on my desk while he licks me crazy again? Oh God, he’s staring at me. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“That’s a start.” He sits in the chair in front of my desk, then loosens his tie. “You’re killing me, Erin.”

“The feeling is mutual.”

“What’s the problem? I’m single, you’re free.”

“I’m not free, Foster. That’s what I’ve been trying to explain. My life is pretty much mapped out for me.”

“Only because you’re letting your parents take advantage of your loyalty. If my old man told me to marry someone I hated, I’d tell him to—”

“I’m not you.”

He blinks, crossing his arms over his beautiful chest. “No, you’re not. Thank God.”

“So where does that leave us?”

“Pissed off.”

“Sorry.” Very sorry for ever letting this get out of hand. “We should have abandoned any hopes of starting a friendship after we kissed at lunch. We were
never
meant to be casual, Foster.”

“Friends with benefits?”

“No. You want more. And so would I.”

He scrubs his face. “You finally realize it. We belong together.”

“No.”

“Yes.” He walks around my desk, standing beside me. I swivel my chair, meeting a determined face. “I’m not going to lie, Erin. Yes, I want to make love, but . . .” He kneels in front of me and nudges my legs apart. “You’re different.”

Different than what? Should I take it as a compliment? All I can think about are the headlines and pictures in the newspapers, even
Texas Monthly Magazine
featured Foster’s business accomplishments last year, accompanied by another article in the Cultural section.
Texas Playboy sets Austin Music Scene on Fire
. Apparently Foster knows how to play more than just the guitar. It’s intimidating.

“Earth to Erin.”

“Would you like to have dinner with my parents on Sunday?”

He relaxes on his heels. “Sure.”

His confidence drives me crazy. My heart flutters at the notion of him sitting at the same table with Thomas. Maybe my mother will see I can do better for myself. Not that I want to marry Foster, but if faced with the choice . . . “It’s not a date.”

“You need to understand where this is heading,” he says. “I’ve made my intentions pretty clear. Friendship is only one of the advantages. You can’t invite me to dine with your parents and then tell me it’s not a date.”

“Thomas will be there.”

He rubs the back of his neck, instantly upset. “Still sticking with the pretend fiancé defense?”

I nod.

“All the more reason for me to go.” He climbs to his feet. “Get rid of him, Erin. Live your own life.”

My gaze darts around my office. “If you haven’t noticed, I’m not rich. I earn my money the old-fashioned way.”

“I’ll take care of you.”

“What?” Typical silver-spoon-fed-little-rich-boy response. Throw money at it and everything will work out.

“Forgive me.” He frowns. “That didn’t come out the right way.”

I know what he meant. Insulting or not, he can’t change what he is, a Texas boy.

“About that night eight years ago . . .”

“No reason to dredge up the past.” I laugh nervously, the wound still fresh. And although some might consider it stupid to dwell on it, our past is exactly what’s haunted me all these years, maybe what’s kept me from committing to anyone.

“It’s important to you.”

“Maybe. Perhaps you can work on that blatant disregard you have for any woman who says no.”

He rolls his eyes. “Stop pretending to be tough. It’s just us here. After last night, I’m more than determined to show you how much I care. That body . . .” He edges forward and cups my cheek. “This face.”

His touch sends a ripple of sensations through me. “I can’t emphasize this enough. Friendship first.”

“Forgot to mention that brilliant mind,” he says.

“You think I’m smart?” I smile, hoping to steer the conversation in a happier direction.

“Smart enough to realize I’m what you’ve been waiting for all your life.”

The real Foster is back. “Keep dreaming.”

“It’s not a fantasy, just a matter of time.” He reaches inside his jacket and pulls out a short-stemmed red rose. “For you.”

I smell it. “Thank you.”

“You deserve fresh flowers every day for the rest of your life.”

I could live with that. “Keep talking.”

“Fur coats and diamond rings.”

“Skip the fur.”

“Silk sheets and caviar.”

“More.”

“Shopping sprees in Paris and London.”

“You’re turning me on.”

“Skiing in Aspen and soaking up rays in Hawaii.”

“I’ll settle for South Padre,” I say.

“South Padre? With all the kids running around? How about a private beach in Maui?”

“Is that an invitation?”

“Baby, you don’t know the half of it.” His eyes are ablaze. “Come here.”

He lifts me off my chair, then embraces me, our foreheads touching. “Don’t make me wait too long, Erin,” he rumbles against my mouth. “Lunch tomorrow?”

“Where?”

“You choose.”

“Whataburger.”

“Fast food?” Dipping his head, he gives me a soft kiss on the lips.

“Avocado bacon burger on Texas toast, French fries, and a strawberry shake.”

He licks his lips. “Done.”

“Meet me outside, I’ll drive.”

Chapter 15

Foster

I reserved a private dining room for dinner tonight. There’s already a round of whiskey sours sitting on the table. Kevin just called to let me know he’s in the parking lot. I take a swig and look up just in time to see the hostess standing in the doorway with Thomas.

“Mr. Wagner, your guest is here.”

“Thanks, Sheila.”

It looks like a flamingo puked out Kingsley. He’s wearing pink. I stand to greet him. “Glad you could make it.”

He approaches the table. We shake hands, and he fails my first test. Limp noodle hand qualifies him as half a man in my eyes. Not to mention his sweaty palm. I wipe my hand on my pants and sit back down. He claims the chair across from me.

“Haven’t seen you in a few years,” he says, looking me over. “How’s your family?”

“Good. And yours?”

“Mom and Dad are in New York and Bristol is touring Europe.”

“Business?”

“With all the new construction, we’re backlogged.”

I stifle a laugh that the image his words conjure. Backlogged shitters. “Glad to hear it.”

Kevin finally arrives, sitting to my left. “Sorry I’m late. Crosstown is jammed.”

We fist bump. “Thomas and I were just catching up.”

Kevin grabs his drink and picks up a menu. “Fucking starving. My staff ordered vegetarian tacos for lunch. Tasted like cardboard.”

Thomas checks his watch, then eyes me. “I have an appointment soon. Why did you invite me to dinner?”

“Funny you should ask.”

Kevin opens his briefcase and slaps an envelope on the table. “Open it.”

Thomas stares at it and his eyes go wide. “Lazarus?”

I lean forward. “You’re familiar with our club?”

“Well-acquainted.” He slides the envelope closer, then picks it up. “Been trying to get approved for a membership for five years.”

Bastard.
“Well here’s your chance.”

“Fuck!” He’s beyond excited. “Did you nominate me?” Gratitude laces his voice.

“The board never reveals that kind of information,” Kevin informs him. “Rest assured you’ve been on their radar for quite a long time.”

Mallory knows how to slather on the bullshit. “Aren’t you getting married soon?”

Thomas coughs. “How did you know?”

“Word travels fast,” I say.

“Little cunt won’t seal the deal.”

Rage consumes me and I fist my hands under the table, ready to rip his head off. “Erin Covington is a lady.”

His forehead crinkles. “If you prefer a prudish A-type personality.” His insult lingers in the air like smoke. “She doesn’t know what’s good for her.”

Kevin glances at me. “Perhaps you’d prefer membership in a different club? Lazarus has strict protocol dealing with our female members. We don’t tolerate abuse of any kind.”

“Abuse?” Thomas’s eyebrows shoot up. “I’d never tell Erin how I feel.”

My spine stiffens. “Why get married?”

He shifts in his chair again, his glare tells me I’m already getting under his skin.

“Not sure I’m comfortable with this line of questioning, Foster.”

Kevin chuckles and places another file on the table. “No reason to hide anything, Thomas, we’ve completed an extensive background check. Had some problems in Costa Rica last year?”

He turns red. “That record is sealed.”

“Apparently not.” I relax, enjoying the shock on his face. Fucking idiot. Hired a fifteen-year-old prostitute and was charged with sexual assault. “Good thing your father knows people.”

“No one can find out about this.”

I raise my hands. “No problem here. Just know if you’re going to join Lazarus, you can’t afford to make the same mistake again.”

Not that I’d let him touch any of our members, the piece of shit.

A server enters the room. “Good evening, Mr. Wagner and Dr. Mallory. Ready to order?”

“What’s special tonight?” I query.

She smiles. “Cajun blackened steak with sugar snap peas and roasted potatoes.”

“Sounds perfect.” Kevin rubs his hands together.

“We’ll take three plates,” I say.

“Wait.” Thomas gazes at the waitress. “None for me. I’ll have the chicken sandwich and spinach salad with raspberry vinaigrette.”

Salad over steak? Goddamn vegan. “On a diet?”

He shakes his head. “I don’t eat red meat.”

Makes me want to choke him, but I remember Erin’s choice for lunch tomorrow, a greasy hamburger, and it makes me smile. Based on that fact alone, he doesn’t deserve her.

“Guess we’ll be seeing each other Sunday night at the Covington’s.”

“Meredith invited you?”

“No. Erin did.”

“You’re in contact with my fiancé?”

“Practically every day.” I rub it in, testing his limits. “We’re meeting for lunch tomorrow.” If the pencil neck knew I was licking her pussy last night on the beach he’d probably run home and cry on his mommy’s shoulder.

He doesn’t respond, only glances at the file and invitation.

“About the membership . . .” Kevin breaks the silence.

“I need a couple days to consider it.”

“Take all the time you want,” I say.

A few minutes later, our food arrives.

“I’d like a to-go box,” Thomas tells the server.

She nods and leaves the room.

“Not hungry?” I ask.

“Lost my appetite.”

Erin

It’s book club night at the store. Mary and Katie are busy brewing tea in the break room while I man the front door, welcoming our members. The title up for discussion is
Pride and Prejudice
in honor of classics month. Eight women are seated around the tables, comparing the Bingley-Darcy relationship with the Jane-Elizabeth relationship.

The door opens, and I glance over my shoulder, surprised to see four newcomers, all polished and perfect in their designer suits and expensive jewelry.

“Welcome to Shakespeare’s Quill,” I greet. “Can I help you ladies find something?”

“Is this the book club?” one asks.

“Yes.” But I’m fairly certain she won’t like it. Our members are middle-aged housewives with kids. “How did you find us?”

“Your website events calendar.”

“I’m the owner, Erin Covington, and the club president is Janie Baxley.”

Janie smiles. “Fresh blood,” she says enthusiastically. “Come sit next to me.” She pats the empty chair.

“I’m Denise Jones, and this is Karla, Vanessa, and Margaret. Do you mind if we browse the shelves a bit before we sit down?”

“Please.” I watch as they disappear down Aisle Two, headed for the romance section.

“Wow,” Janie giggles. “Did you see the redhead? I’m pretty sure God didn’t give her that hair color.”

“Shhh.” I motion for her to quiet down. “We shouldn’t gossip, it’s impolite.”

“Breast implants?”

“Janie.”

“Well, fake body parts or not, they’re beautiful.”

“Yes.” On that point I totally agree. And so out of place I’m growing more suspicious by the second.

A few minutes later, all four strut toward the register with armfuls of paperbacks. “We’re ready,” Denise says.

By the time I finish ringing them up, the total is three hundred dollars. They pay with a credit card and leave. I turn off the neon OPEN sign and lock the door. Katie and Mary arrive with trays of tea and scones. I sit on the sofa, sipping on my Earl Grey, still puzzling over the women.

I’m not catty, I just know what sort of people frequent my store. I have a large children and young adult collection, a fantastic history section, and lots of romance. We’re a neighborhood place, where people stop in to share homemade cookies and say hello. Students buy discounted textbooks and often study here. I shrug it off. There’s more important issues, like three men to deal with. From zero to trinity in a matter of days. It blows my mind.

And now I’ll be forced to choose. Financial security appeals to me, but I’m fortunate enough to be able to support myself. I don’t want Foster’s money and I don’t need Thomas to survive. My parents shouldn’t play the stick and carrot game with me. With Katie and Foster at my side on Sunday, I might tell my parents how I feel.

As for Jeffrey, he’s the safest bet. No strings, just pleasure. I’m starting to appreciate the Lazarus philosophy.

Katie plops down on the sofa. “What’s up?”

I’m silent for a moment, wondering what my best friend thinks of my situation. “Chaos.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“I’m trying to remember the last time we had a serious conversation, Katie.”

She tucks a stray hair behind my ear. “Welcome to a world where you’re in the middle of something you don’t know anything about.”

“What kind of advice is that?”

“The best kind. Sometimes you have to let fate win. You’re so focused on maintaining control, you forget how fun it is to let go.”

“Lazarus kind of disproves that theory.”

“Not really.” She shakes her head. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re attempting to micromanage that, too.”

Maybe.

“The point of accepting that invitation was to get laid. The only thing getting fucked around here is your head.”

“Katie!”

“Don’t
Katie
me. I love you, but the truth hurts sometimes.”

“I’m afraid.”

“That’s a start,” she says. “Know that real estate show we watch all the time?”

Why is she referencing TV when my personal life is falling apart? “
House Hunters
?”

“Yup. At the end of each episode, the couple is forced to choose one of three properties. What’s the first step?”

“Eliminating one.”

Our eyes meet. “Two. Now that’s a workable number.”

BOOK: Tempted by Pleasure (Secret Invitation #1)
12.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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