At the sound of his voice, Rachel spun the chair around. Adrian Velasquez. His dark gaze always caught her off guard. He was wearing a gray-black suit, damn him, with a white shirt open at the throat that dazzled against his Latino complexion. Not for the first time in his presence, her stomach quivered.
“Did you ever hear of knocking?”
He eased his suit jacket open and parked himself in the chair nearest her desk. With a half grin and sideways glance, his hazel eyes undressed her. Shit. Nobody should be this good looking. He looked at the ceiling for a second then shook his head.
“One question,” he said.
“The same one?”
He stood up and rested his fists on the desk, his eyes riveting her gaze. “Are you afraid?”
Her breath caught. Hell yes, she was afraid. His whole body emanated tension. Everything about him made her sick with need.
“Not afraid,” she said, feigning boredom. “Same old same old.”
His expression toyed with amusement and something more as his eyes flitted to her breasts and then back to her face. “You have no idea,” he said with a grin.
“I have an idea,” she snapped. “It’s a terrifying vision. Now I have listings to sell and so do you. Work, remember?”
“Soon,” he said. “You’ll answer my question.”
She glared at him until the office door closed behind him. “Shit,” she muttered under her breath. Should she report him for sexual harassment? Was she overreacting to normal male flirtation?
She threw herself into her chair and tugged on her short dark hair so hard it hurt. She’d never met a man who could destroy her as completely as Adrian Velasquez. So why couldn’t she stop playing his game?
The day dragged by. By four-thirty, she needed a drink so badly she could almost taste the tequila on her tongue. Thank god it was Friday and thank god the Manchester Lounge was only a half block away. She stuffed her water bottle and iPad in her bag and let the office door swing shut behind her. The place had mostly emptied already, typical for a Friday when any and every excuse known to mankind hovered on employees’ lips as they grabbed a head start on the weekend.
A small throng of restless people waited for the elevator. She knew before she looked that Adrian had followed her out. The man didn’t miss anything.
A voice like dark chocolate purred at her ear. “Did I mention how lovely you look today?” he said. “You do the ice princess thing very well.”
Gooseflesh erupted down her arms. “Is that some kind of compliment?” she retorted.
“Of course,” he said, rocking back on his heels with a smug smile. “Also the truth. You are a very attractive woman.”
“Same old?” she said.
A cocked eyebrow was her only answer. The elevator opened and she found herself squeezed between Adrian and the back wall as the conveyance lurched through its descent. His broad shoulders blocked her view, straining the seams of his expensive suit and making her mouth go dry. He purposefully held himself inches away, saving her from the crush of annoyed people packed into the small space.
Well, thank you very much. As if she hadn’t negotiated crowds in elevators all her life. As if she needed him. As if he wasn’t fully aware that his musky scent filled her nostrils and sent waves of need down her belly. Yes, thank you, Adrian.
The elevator spilled its contents into the lobby and people streamed off in all directions. Rachel hurried along without looking back. As she shouldered through the wide door, she slipped on her sunglasses and turned purposefully toward the Manchester.
Christ, tequila. Now. Please.
What was it about him that made her panic like this? That made her body hum and her pulse race and her mind focus like a laser on nothing but him. What he would do next. What he would say.
The cool air of the Manchester, faintly scented with the smell of whiskey and cigar smoke, hit her face in a gust as she pushed the heavy wooden door open. Bits of conversation and familiar strains of Getz-Gilberto met her ears. Her eyes adjusted to the dim room before she spotted an open booth at the back wall.
A moment’s peace. That’s all I ask. She slid into the cool leather seat and briefly rubbed her forehead. Why did she let that man get to her like this?
It wasn’t like she was a trembling virgin straight out of girls’ school. There had been men. There had even been love, enough ‘romance’ to teach her the hard lessons of life. As in, steer clear of players like Adrian Velasquez.
“Ma’am?” A waiter leaned toward her as he slid a napkin onto the table.
“Margarita straight up, easy on the sweet.”
She knew he had a past. How did someone leave behind that kind of history—gangs, drugs, street fights? He kept his tattoos well covered, but she’d seen him with his sleeves rolled up. Dark curled lines disappeared under the white cuffs. Her nostrils flared as she imagined the rest–the chest, the shoulders, smooth skin stretched like wet silk over straining muscle.
This! This was exactly what she couldn’t do.
Soon after he started working at Compass Realty, she couldn’t keep from asking Christine, the agency owner and sorority sister from college.
“What in the hell is going on?” she had asked, dripping creamer into her coffee.
“He’s amazing,” Christine confided. “Fantastic sales record. Yeah, he’s from the streets, but he knows the business. And you’ve got to admit—he’s got presence.”
“Is that what they call it?”
Christine chuckled. “Keep a lid on it, girlfriend. He sells property, and that’s good for us. The clients want him.”
Unfortunately, so did she. Somehow his dark past only made him more desirable. In her weaker moments, thoughts would take over as she envisioned how his body looked without clothes, working out, gleaming with sweat, all sleek lines and cut muscle.
She imposed her strictest self-discipline. Yeah, like that was working. It was as if she had stepped off the train at some deserted station in the middle of nowhere and Adrian was standing there. Waiting.
A frosted margarita glass slid onto the napkin in front of her. She flashed a ‘thank-you’ smile at the waiter and lifted the salted rim to her lips. The citrusy burn swept over her tongue and scorched an icy path down her throat. Some of the tension in her neck relaxed. She sagged back against the soft upholstery and let her gaze drift over the room.
Typical Friday afternoon crowd, mostly white-collar types glad to have the next two days to themselves. A few men in work clothes, maybe construction. Laughter. She closed her eyes, trying to climb down a few notches.
As if spellbound, she opened her eyes to looked directly into Adrian’s intent stare. Had he followed her? Maybe, maybe not. He could have planned to come here all along. Lots of the people from their building came here.
He stood by the bar with a half smile and a taunting expression on his handsome face, his jacket eased open and the ‘V’ of his open shirt neck drawing her eyes like a magnet. Her blood pressure burst through the top of her head. Heat burned her cheeks.
She couldn’t look away. She had to look away. The longer she stared, the more cocky his grin became.
God, please let me look down. She focused on the drink where she gripped the glass stem so tightly she thought it might snap. How would she know when he stopped staring? How would she turn him away if he showed up at her table?
What now? What the fuck now?
Okay, this was ridiculous. She didn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to do. Adrian wasn’t a magician. He couldn’t force her. She had a mind of her own.
This was about her, not Adrian. Her not admitting the obvious. She was attracted. But that didn’t mean she had to act on it. She had reasons not to indulge in every little fantasy scene her sex-starved brain conjured up. Responsible mature reasons.
Her eyes flicked again to Adrian. He sat on the other side of the room, a spot with a clear line of sight to her table. While she watched, helpless to tear her eyes away, he lit a cigar and sucked, caressing the thickly rolled tobacco with his lips.
He knew exactly what he was doing with that slow sensual motion. Her panties moistened as if he had licked between her legs. She drowned her quiet moan with another gulp of her drink.
A group of people intervened, taking a table and blocking her view. Released from his hypnotic stare, she fiercely stared at the table before digging out her phone, praying for a text, anything that could occupy her attention.
Sanity would be required here. A reasoned plan of action. She would finish the drink then leave.
“Mind if I join you?”
Chills ran down Rachel’s back at the sound of his voice. Her gaze traveled slowly up Adrian’s body. His thighs strained the tailored lines of his expensive slacks. That damn white shirt nearly blinded her. He’d taken off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. Veins laced over the tendons at his wrist and forearms. Tattoos.
“No, by all means, take a seat. I don’t see you enough at work, so why not be annoyed by you in my private time as well?”
He laughed and eased into the booth across from her. The man moved like a fucking panther, languid and taut at the same time. His eyes burned into her as his hands toyed with his short tumbler. He stroked the rim with one long finger as if he touched her. Daring her, his gaze roamed over her breasts.
Sensation ripped down her neck. Her breasts swelled and her nipples hardened to painful knots, pressing the front of her tailored blouse. Moisture pulsed between her thighs. Her heart pounded in her ears as the image formed of him over her in bed.
She must be out of her mind to play a game of chicken with this man. He would win. Was she ready for that? What happened to safe?
She lowered her eyes to her glass and took another drink. The waiter appeared and disappeared before she registered on what had been said. She felt Adrian’s careful gaze, watching her like prey. He’d been stalking, waiting, watching, and here she was, cornered. A smile quirked the corner of his mouth.
“Adrian, Jesus Christ,” she said. “Save that killer seduction thing for your girlfriends. Surely you have a dozen.”
He laughed, sincerely amused. “See? This is what I love about you. Are you jealous? You spit and hiss like a kitten. But I know how to make you purr.”
“Get over yourself.”
“You think I’m only flirting?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. He clearly enjoyed seeing her flustered. Her face was on fire, a combination of his game and the liquor. It infuriated her that he could provoke her so easily. He snapped a lighter to tip of his cigar and mouthed the thick shaft as he inhaled. “Think I’m trying to seduce you?”
“Ha!” she said. “I don’t know what the hell else you would call it. I’m here trying to relax after a hellish week and you show up, uninvited, and start making suggestive comments,” she huffed. “I’ve seen all this before.”
“But not mine,” he said in silken tones.
She gaped at his blatant remark, belatedly remembering to close her mouth and think. Part of her—the sane part—wanted to leap up and run out of the building. The other part, unfortunately the part currently in control, wanted to rip off her blouse and hold her breasts to his mouth. The situation had suddenly changed into something charged and dangerous.
And he knew it, damn him. His smile formed deep dimples in his cheeks. He reached for her hand, covering it with his own and suggestively stroking the inside of her thumb.
Without warning, he leaned up and pulled her toward him over the small table, sliding the tip of his tongue against her lips. She gasped, her mouth parting slightly to give him entry. Her head reeled, wiped clean of every thought, every caution, she had made.
“Oh, god,” she groaned against his mouth.
Her eyes widened as she looked at him. She threw herself backwards into the booth and held the back of her hand against her lips as if she could erase the electric shock of his touch. “Forget that,” she stammered.
Smile gone, his eyes darkened and locked on hers. “We’re going,” he said abruptly, standing up.
A strange paralysis took over, partly residual shock waves from the touch of his mouth, partly the languor of alcohol making its way to her bones.
Say something. Say ‘no,’ say ‘wait.’ Make excuses.
But she didn’t say anything. She let him lift her elbow as she stood. She watched him throw money on the table. Her breath burned out in short gasps as she trotted out of the Manchester, her arm in Adrian’s grip.
On fire. Drunk on need so deep she couldn’t find the bottom. Drowning in everything Adrian.
His stride along the sidewalk forced her to practically run to keep up. She needed to stop before things went any further. Before she did something she would regret.
But she didn’t want to stop. Nothing mattered but Adrian and what he silently promised to do to her. What she wanted so much she could practically taste him.
“Where are we going?”
“To get a room,” he said.
He stopped and pushed her against a department store window. Fashionably dressed mannequins stared down. People hurried past. Adrian’s hand slipped behind her and pulled her hips against his groin. “You want me,” he said thickly. “We need a place where I can give you what you want.”
“What I…” Rachel struggled for words. The pressure of his body made her ears roar. She swallowed nervously. “I don’t…”
“Yes, you do,” he said impatiently. “Come on.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
You choose! Lead in to Ending 1 or Lead in to Ending 2
He steered her to the front desk of the downtown Marriott, slid his card across the marble counter, and in moments, escorted her to the elevator where he waited, without speaking, until the doors opened on the eighth floor. She tried to reason with herself, but reason wasn’t what she wanted.
Later, she would think about all the opportunities she had ignored, a chance to walk away, to say no. Later, she would remember the low throb between her legs that said she had no choice.
He led her into the room and put out the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. His hands gripped her shoulders as he lowered his mouth to hers. His lips gently brushed hers and her knees weakened.
“Chica,” he murmured. “What I will do with you.”
She pulled her elbow out of his grip. “No, Adrian. Maybe someday I’ll be ready for this, but not today.”
As she turned to walk away, the expression on his face burned into her memory. Disappointment, yes. But something else, something that might have been the face of a very young man heartbroken in his first love affair. Briefly, his eyes had conveyed a message of more than desire, more than conquest.
The heels of her pumps beat a sharp rhythm on the sidewalk. Her lips formed a hard straight line. None of that could be real. She was reading into his expression, putting thoughts and feelings there that didn’t exist in reality. It simply wasn’t possible that he had any kind of emotional investment in her.
How could he? Why?
A strong hand grabbed her arm and spun her around. Anger and something else blazed in his eyes.
“You think you know me? You don’t know me, chica,” he said. “What have I ever done to make you afraid? Have I hurt you, threatened you?”
She jerked away. “Yes, Adrian, you’ve threatened me with your lurid suggestions and constant attempts to seduce me. Haven’t I made myself clear?”
“You give me your words, but your body speaks louder. If you’re afraid to admit what you feel, are you also afraid to have dinner?”
She shook her head, discarding retorts as fast as they formed.
“Dinner, Rachel,” he said, his voice softer.
Coming soon — Part II of Adrian Velasquez
**This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either a product of the author’s imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.