Joley Drake stared in a kind of sick dread at the mob of people crowding the gates and fence. She had forgotten what after parties were like, or maybe she’d just blocked them out.
Women pushed against the town car windows lifting their tops and mashing their bare breasts against the tinted panes. Some waved thong underwear in various colors. They shoved at the car, pulling on door handles and screaming. She doubted any of those women knew who was in the vehicle, but they were clearly willing to sell themselves to get an invite inside.
“My God, Steve,” Joley muttered to her driver, “sex, drugs and rock and roll are such a cliché, but it’s so true.” Even to herself she sounded jaded.
Steve Brinkley’s gaze met hers in the rear view mirror. “You stopped coming to these things years ago, what made you change your mind tonight? I was shocked when I got your call.”
That was a question she didn’t want to answer, not even to herself—especially to herself. She pushed her forehead into her palm. “I haven’t been to one of these in so long, I let everything but the music just fade away. I didn’t want to think about what goes on, but now that I’m here, I might just throw up.” She meant to sound light, joking, but the pounding on the hood and the hands trying to yank open doors were impossible to ignore.
She felt like an animal trapped in a cage. It was surprising how often she felt that way. And if the mob knew who was inside, they would have begun dismantling the car to get at her. She hadn’t wanted to remember this part of her life. Those first heady months as a megastar, when everything she wanted, or needed, or thought of was handed to her and the band. That had been so long ago, a dream come true that had quickly turned to a nightmare she tried to forget.
She had been born with a legacy of gifts, but even she had been overtaken by the magnitude of what was offered to her in that first flush of success, being treated like a star, godlike, given anything, wanted everywhere. Like so many stars before her, she’d fallen into the trap of selfish egotism, believing she deserved to be treated different.
Being a Drake with special gifts prevented her from using anything poisonous to her body, but her band hadn’t been so lucky. She’d seen the results, and more than once had walked into a hotel room to find naked bodies writhing everywhere and drugs and alcohol flowing freely. Her boys, as she called them, more than just friends—almost family, the excesses of alcohol, drugs and women crawling over each other for a chance to be with a member of a band, to do anything for them, nearly had destroyed their minds and their lives.
Most of the band members lost families to that excessive lifestyle, when they had become all about taking whatever they could get. It hadn’t taken Joley long to become disgusted with the way they were all living. She’d walked out, turning her back on music—on the band—on fame. They knew it was her voice that had taken them to the top and without her, the band would topple quickly. In the end, her manager and the band members had convinced her they would set rules they could abide by.
Joley knew she couldn’t dictate to the band, but she could set guides she could live with. She didn’t ever pretend not to have a wild streak, but that didn’t include illegal substances or sexual orgies. And it certainly didn’t include underage boys or girls performing sexual favors and getting totally wasted. The terms had been agreed to and Joley rarely went to parties other than with the band party immediately afterward. And she never went where someone might be providing all the things she’d most objected to—until now—until tonight.
“Why do you suppose these women feel the need to service bands? What do they really get out of it, Steve?” she asked her driver. “Because I don’t understand. They line up to give the band and even the roadies blowjobs. Actually stand in line in the halls, hoping to get the chance. They don’t really care if anyone knows their name.”
“I don’t know, Joley. I don’t really understand half of what people do or why they do it.”
The guards pushed the crowds back to make room so the town car could approach the high, wrought iron gates. All of the guards were carrying guns—and not just polite police issue handguns beneath smooth jackets either. Those were semiautomatic weapons cradled in their beefy arms, right out in the open like in some gangster film. Joley’s stomach lurched as she observed the guards through the tinted glass. These weren’t rented security—these men were the real deal—professionals every last one of them. They didn’t wear boredom on their faces, they wore masks and their eyes were flat and cold. She knew if she were to reach out and touch one of them, even lightly, she’d feel the chill of death.
Her cell phone went off interrupting her train of thought. Flipping it open with a little grimace she answered. “Gloria, I told you I’d take care of it. I’m getting Logan now. You dragged me out of bed and I said I’d do it, so give me some time and I’ll have him there.” She knew she sounded bitchy, but really. Gloria Brady, the mother of Lucy Brady, psycho-stalker from hell, every band’s worst nightmare come true, was once again demanding to speak with her sax player, Logan Voight. He’d had a brief encounter with Gloria’s daughter, making the mistake in seeing her more than once, and now Lucy and her demented ways would haunt him forever.
Joley snapped the phone closed and shoved it into her pocket. She’d been pacing her hotel room when the first frantic call from Gloria had come in. Joley had latched onto the excuse, dragging her driver out in the middle of the night lying to herself that she was coming to the party to deliver the message to Logan and see to it personally that he took care of the problem. Now that she was here, she realized how utterly stupid she’d been. Others might look at the guards and think they were cool, she looked at them and wondered how many people they’d killed.
A guard tapped her window, making her jump, motioning for her to let him see her. Her driver objected, but she rolled down the window and peered at the guard so he could visually identify her. She saw the instant flash of recognition. Joley Drake, legendary singer known simply as Joley. For one brief moment she thought he might ask for her autograph, but he recovered and waved her through the gates.
Sergei Nikitin had been inviting her to parties for months, but she always made excuses not to go. Sergei was a wealthy man who ran in the ‘in’ circles. He knew politicians and celebrities of every kind. He maintained a public image of a charming businessman who liked the good life and surrounded himself with household names, movie stars, race car drivers, sports figures, models, public figures and of course the most famous bands.
Very few people knew he was reputed to be a Russian mobster with a violent bloody past and a penchant for making his enemies disappear. Most of those who had heard the rumors thought it only added to his mystique. It seemed inconceivable that the suave charming businessman might actually order vicious sadistic deaths to further his already abundant wealth—nobody but those in law enforcement—and Joley—thanks to her brother-in-law who was a sheriff.
“Just stop here,” she instructed and waited until Steve had pulled to the side of the drive, still a distance from the house, before opening the door. She remained in the seat, hesitating.
The party was in full swing. Music blasted from the house, filling the air around it. Joley could almost feel the building expanding and contracting with every boom of the bass. Even the windows vibrated. She sat in the car with the door open and studied the house. Nikitin would know she’d come. His security people would have radioed the house immediately so Nikitin could be ready to greet her. It would be a victory of sorts for him. Finally. Joley Drake. He’d been pursuing her for months. Another celebrity he could be photographed with.
“Are you getting out, Joley?” Steve asked.
She met the driver’s eyes in the rear view mirror and made a face. “I don’t know. Maybe. Do you mind just waiting, Steve? I feel bad for dragging you out tonight.”
“That’s what you pay me for,” he reassured. “If you want to sit here for awhile, it’s fine by me. I was surprised you wanted to come,” he added, a note of worry in his voice.
It had surprised her too, but she’d lain awake staring at the ceiling until she’d wanted to scream in frustration. She rarely slept, was a total insomniac, and she couldn’t do anything but pace back and forth in her hotel room. The frantic call from Gloria begging her to find Logan had been all the excuse she’d needed. Gloria’s daughter was in the hospital having Logan’s baby and had already called the media and was making a scene, threatening to kill herself if Logan didn’t show up.
Joley told herself she’d come to make certain Logan knew what he was doing, to send lawyers and security as well as her manager, but she could have done it all with a phone call or two. Lucy had already agreed to turn over the baby to him and the papers had been drawn up, but everyone knew, Lucy wouldn’t go away that easily. There would be one scene after another.
Joley shook her head as she turned her attention to Nikitin’s grounds. There were people everywhere. They milled around the rolling grass, some making certain to be seen by the mob at the fence. A few hopeful starlets and male models even signed autographs through the gate. Cries and pleas and drunken laughter were every bit as loud as the booming music.
She spotted Denny Simmons, her drummer walking in the distance with a blonde, not his current girlfriend. She bit her lip hard. She didn’t want to know any of them cheated. “Men are dogs, Steve. That’s why I don’t date anymore. Hound dogs.”
He sighed, watching Simmons. “They have too much, Joley. You know they drink too much or do a few drugs and they don’t have a clue what they’re doing.”
“Denny’s been divorced once already and he acts as if his girlfriend is his world, but look at him now.” She narrowed her eyes as Denny stopped to kiss the girl, skimming his hands over her ample breasts. The woman jerked his shirt out of pants and her hand went to his zipper. “Damn him for this. I really like his girlfriend, and she has a child. I’m never going to be able to look her in the eye again.”
Men were dogs—all of them. Not a one could be trusted. Well, maybe her sisters’s men, but not the ones Joley fell for. She liked them hard-edged and dangerous and that added up to... “No, not dogs, Steve. I like dogs and they’re loyal. Snake is a better word for what men are.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be here.”
She detested the compassion in his voice. Her rapid rise to fame had created this situation, and now their lives were little more than tabloid fodder. She tried to steer the others away from the life, but it had been impossible when everything came so easy. And men like Sergei Nikitin knew how to use fame and popularity to get what he wanted. He’d supply the drugs and women and even the pictures for the tabloids if it furthered his own cause. And once he got his claws into a person…
“Men can be weak,” Steve said.
So could women, Joley surmised. Or she wouldn’t be here, chancing ruining her life. And for what? “That’s just a cop out, Steve. Everyone has choices. And everyone ought to know what the people in their life are worth. And men should have more self respect—and honor—than to abuse the people who love them.”
His gaze narrowed and Joley looked away from the mirror. She couldn’t bear to see the knowledge in his eyes—or in her own that she was really talking about herself. How hypocritical was it to condemn Denny for making wrong choices when she’d probably come here for that very thing. She couldn’t even bring herself to admit the truth, hedging in her mind, pretending it was to help Logan save his child when the real reason was purely selfish.
Her body was on fire. Hot. Needy. Ultra sensitive. Her nipples brushed her lacy bra and sent streaks of white lightning zigzagging through her body straight to her groin. Her body pulsed with life, with need, with want… Oh man did she want. She brushed a hand over her face to hide her expression from Steve.
A crush of what looked like teenage girls dressed in too-tight clothing, too much make-up and heels to make them look older came rushing around the walkway toward the front door. They were giggling loudly and pulling at their clothes, trying to look as if they belonged. Joley swore under her breath as memories flooded back. Young girls servicing band members and roadies. Groupies, looking to do anything with someone famous. Drugs and alcohol to deaden their inhibitions.
In the early days she had tried to stop it. Now she knew she couldn’t. What others did and what they could live with was on them. The only stipulation she’d adamantly enforced was that any groupie had to be old enough. The girls didn’t look it, but she was getting older and everyone seemed to look about thirteen to her these days. Maybe she was just jaded. Her manager and certainly the band would never break that one taboo, and risk losing everything.
The rush of excitement the show had produced drained away, even the fire racing through her veins, leaving her feeling tired. As if reading her thoughts, Steve cleared his throat and leaned out the window to get a better look at the girls.
“I swear, Miss Drake, looking at those girls, I’m feeling ancient. They look like they should be home playing with dolls.”
“I must be ancient too,” she conceded, watching as one of them broke away and dashed around the corner to hide in some bushes. The girl pulled out a cell phone and quickly made a call.
Her eyes were bright and she couldn’t stop smiling, her excitement at the opportunity of mixing with the band members and all the celebrities at the party nearly palpable. She was pretty. Young. Even with the make-up she looked no more than fourteen. Innocent looking. Definitely in need of protection. The poor girl had no idea what she was getting into. Joley pushed the door open even wider and swung her feet out of the car.
“We’re not supposed to tell anyone they’re letting us in,” one of the other girls called out. “You’ll get us kicked out. They told us not to tell anyone.”
Joley glanced at Steve. “That doesn’t sound good. If someone told them not to tell, they have to be underage.”
The girl with cell phone hastily snapped it closed and shoved it into her purse out of sight. “I left a message for my mother that I’d be late,” she said and ran to join the group.
Joley got out of the car, frowning. She wouldn’t have her band members or even the road crew picking up young teenagers. That was the one hard and fast rule the band had sworn never to break, and if any of them were a party to the invitation for the teens, they were gone. Just like that. She’d quit before she had this kind of thing going on and they knew it. She’d done it once and she’d walk away again. She could only hope her own crew had no idea who had been invited to this party. In any case, the teens had to leave immediately.
She took a couple of steps toward the group just as a limousine with tinted windows pulled up between her and the girls. Even as Joley started around the large vehicle, the door to the house swung open and several men came out. Joley recognized two of her roadies as they intercepted the girls. Relief flooded until one of them laughingly put his arm around the girl who had made the cell phone call. Fury swept through her. The girl couldn’t be more than fourteen. He had to see that.
“Dean!” She shouted his name. He was so fired. If she had any clout in the industry, he would never work for anyone in the business.
Dean spun around, the smile slipping from his face. The other roadie half turned and then said something, throwing up the hood of his sweatshirt so she couldn’t get a clear look at him. The girls instantly stopped laughing and ran around the corner of the house, both roadies and two other men following after them, urging them to hurry.
Brian Rigger, her best friend and lead guitarist, stepped out of the house, a frown on his face. He looked around as if a little bored and then over at her. A smile broke out in greeting. “Joley! When did you get here?”
“Just now, Brian. I saw Dean and some friend of his with some teenage girls.” She had to shout to be heard above the noise of the music and party pouring out the open door. “They took off that way.” She pointed, even as she tried to walk around the absurdly big car that had pulled up at an angle to her. “And I need to find Logan.”
“He’s not here. Gloria called Jerry shrieking at him to get Logan to the hospital. It’s a big mess, apparently. Logan took off with Jerry.”
Joley sighed. Of course Gloria would call the band’s manager, Jerry St. Ives. And being nearly as psycho as her daughter, she wouldn’t stop there. Logan had given her Joley’s cell number to use in an emergency. Joley was so having the number changed immediately. “Well, I hope he has an attorney with him.” She hadn’t really needed to come at all. Now she didn’t even have an excuse to be there. “Go find the teens, Brian and get rid of them.”
“It’s done,” Brian assured and took off briskly in the direction she indicated.
Joley took a step to follow, but the door of the limousine swung open, blocking her path. She sent one panicked glance toward her driver before she composed herself and turned a look of sheer, utter contempt on the man who emerged from the back seat.
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t Nikitin’s new playmate. RJ the Reverend. Or should I say the predator? I thought you’d be in jail by now.”
Her heart was pounding too hard, so hard she was afraid she might have a heart attack. She didn’t want to step back, or show fear, but as his bodyguards surrounded him, she moved to position her feet for better defense. Up on the balls of her feet slightly, shoulder width apart and one back, relaxed, one arm across her waist in a casual pose while the other hand was tucked under chin where she could use it to block any incoming punches. The tallest one was the most aggressive. He’d struck her once before, weeks earlier, and she kept a wary eye on him.
RJ glared at her. She noted he had to assure himself he was surrounded by his men. His fingers curled into fists and maniacal hatred shimmered in the air between them. She had exposed the Reverend on national television when she’d gotten him on live tape claiming he could end Joley’s wild ways by tying her down, flogging and having sex with her to drive out her demons. The media had played the clip endlessly for weeks after, and clearly RJ hadn’t forgotten that anymore than she had.
“Joley Drake. Whore of the devil. I’ve wanted to talk to you for a long while.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Talk? I doubt talking is on your mind. Unless it’s to hear the sound of your own voice. You’re cruising for women, you and your little pack of wolves, so don’t even try to give me your idiotic spiel about saving souls. Save it for someone doesn’t know what a sick pervert you are.”
The taller bodyguard stepped close enough that she could smell his cologne. It seemed absurd that he was wearing something spicy and nice smelling. “You bitch.”
Joley rolled her eyes. “Can’t you come up with something a little more original?”
“Now Paul,” RJ said in a soothing voice. “I do want to talk with Ms. Drake. She needs our sympathy and compassion. You’re right, Joley, I am a human male. And my body often betrays me, but I try to overcome the weaknesses of the flesh.” He spread his arms to take in the house. “Wickedness and debauchery are taking place in this establishment and I mean to aid those who will listen.”
“Do people actually believe you? You’re here for the sex and drugs, nothing else. At least the rest of them don’t lie about it.”
“Is that why you’re here?”
The question caught her by surprise and she inwardly winced, keeping her famous smile plastered on her face. She might pretend to the rest of the world that she’d come to do a great deed, but she knew better and his question had hit a little too close to home.
“I’m not doing this with you.” She glanced over her shoulder to try to see the young girls, but they were out of sight along with the roadies and Brian. Logan was already gone and she wasn’t siccing the Reverend on him. If he knew Logan’s unwed girlfriend was giving birth he’d race to the hospital and try to grab headlines at Logan’s expense.
“I overheard you say there were teens here. If that’s true perhaps I can be of some assistance.” RJ moved closer, crowding her personal space.
She should have shifted, stepped to the side to give herself more room, but the taller bodyguard, Paul, blocked her path. She found herself surrounded, in a tight circle.
“Get in the car, Joley,” RJ said. “We can discuss this without all the noise. If the young people need to be saved, I can do it. You have to believe in me. One slip only makes me human. Let my record speak for me.”
His voice had dropped a bit and she recognized the famous charismatic note he could produce. She nearly laughed. She was a Drake and her legacy was spellsinging, the most powerful gift of sound in the world. If the Reverend wanted to engage in a battle of sound, he had chosen the wrong opponent.
“I suppose everyone is human, RJ,” she conceded, dropping her voice into a low, sexy drawl, one designed to slide over a man’s senses. She saw the Reverend’s shiver of awareness, felt the rising heat in the circle of men and realized she was playing with fire. Paul crowded her even closer so that she could feel the brush of his thigh against her hip.
That was stupid Joley! Are you trying to get yourself raped or worse?
The voice slid into her head. Male. Humming with a kind of sexual fury. Her heart jumped and her stomach did a small crazy flip. She didn’t dare take her eyes off of the men surrounding her, but in spite of herself, she felt relief along with absolute exhilaration.
She tried to retreat, to get out of the circle, realizing the back door of the limo was still open and she was only a step from it. She glanced up at Paul as his arm came sweeping around her waist. Determination to toss her onto the back seat was on his face.
She spun away from his body, shooting her elbows out as weapons, trying to gain inches so she could use her feet. With her body weight behind a kick to the knee, she could easily bring him down.
Without warning another man moved into the circle. He glided in total silence. Complete and utter confidence surrounded him. Everyone froze including Joley.
And just like that, Joley couldn’t deny the real reason she had come in person rather than made a few phone calls. This is what she’d come for. Ilya Prakenskii. Russian bodyguard to Sergei Nikitin. A dangerous man with a murky past, death in his eyes, and a dangerous, volatile appeal that sang to every one of her senses.
That look on his face. Ilya Prakenskii was always in control, always cool and expressionless. His eyes ice-cold, and never, never could she just read him like she could others—unless he wanted her to, unless he opened his mind to hers deliberately and let her catch small glimpses of the real man. She had never really seen him angry other than at her. And she had power over him whether he wanted to admit it or not—and maybe that was what made him angry. He wanted her. It was in the heat of his gaze, the set of his mouth, the hot lust when he looked at her, but most of all, in his mind to mind touch, possession and promise and a dark need that bordered on obsession.
He was why she couldn’t sleep. He was why her body felt hot and tight. She wanted to claw at everything and everybody. She swallowed fear and stood still, afraid if she moved, if he touched her, she would wrap herself around him and be lost forever.
“Paul,” Ilya said the bodyguard’s name in a low voice, but one that carried the razor edge of a knife. “I suggest you keep your hands to yourself.”
“I see you’ve come to save your boss’s little pet,” Paul said.
Despite his bravado, Joley found it significant that not only did Paul move away from her, all of the other men did as well, including RJ.
“He sent me out to save you,” Ilya corrected. “Getting your ass kicked by a girl would be embarrassing especially with so many people watching.” He caught Joley’s wrist and tugged until she came to his side. Instead of placing her beneath his shoulder, he brought her just one step behind him so he could shield her body should he have to. “Sergei is waiting for you, RJ.”
“He’s the Reverend,” Paul corrected. “Everyone calls him Reverend.”
Ilya merely stared at the man until he shepherded RJ and the others up the walkway to the house.
In the ensuing silence, Joley feared Ilya might be able to hear her heart beating. She tried not to notice the width of shoulders, or the heavy muscles on his chest. He wasn’t obvious about his strength until you got up close, but more than his physique, more than his perfect masculine body and his tough, heart-stopping face, she was drawn to his mental strength and intellect.
Everyone gave into Joley. Everyone wanted to please her. She was strong, smart, famous, wealthy, and she had the gift of sound. With all that, she was beautiful, with satin skin, bedroom eyes and a sexy, all feminine body. She was also stubborn and liked her way. She could read people—except for Ilya. He was every bit as smart, every bit as strong, and he had every single psychic gift her family had, each well developed. Aside from that, he was the sexiest thing alive and she was mesmerized by him.
“Trouble?” His gaze followed the men before he turned his full attention on her. Those ice-blue eyes drifted possessively over her face and down her body, touching her breasts, sliding over the curve of her hips and down her legs with a long, slow perusal that should have struck her as rude but instead sent her pulse skyrocketing.
Her entire body reacted with scorching heat. She felt herself go damp. Even her breath came in a little rush, lifting her breasts and unsettling her even more. Her face flushed. He knew what he did to her.
He turned her hand over, the hand he had zapped with some sort of spell months ago, the hand imprinted with his touch, his scent, the hand that marked her as belonging to him. It had happened so fast—in a little place on her home turf. She’d been dancing and he’d come in with his boss. Even then she could barely breathe when she saw him. And now, thanks to the little psychic mark he’d branded her with, she could always sense where he was, and how much her body craved his. Her palm—his mark—itched. And nothing seemed to alleviate the itch but Ilya being close.
Pride demanded she pull away from him, but the pad of his thumb moved in a delicious pattern over her palm. She felt each stroke humming through her bloodstream. Her womb clenched and she felt the flood of liquid heat begging to welcome him deep inside her where he already seemed to live.
“It’s got to be said, Joley, your driver—slash—bodyguard seems a bit useless to me.” He flashed Steve a look of contempt and tugged on her hand until she followed him, moving out of the glare of the floodlights, into the deeper shadows where reporters might not notice that Joley Drake had come to Nikitin’s party.
“You’ve got to stay away from the Reverend and his moronic group of bad asses, Joley,” He added. “They’re capable of doing you great harm.”
“I know.” She did know. And she wanted her hand back, because if he kept it up, she was going to strip and fling herself into his arms and she’d never forgive herself.
“I’d have to kill them. You know I would. Just stay away from them.”
“No one ever has to kill anyone.” She wanted to cry—or scream in pure frustration. He was so matter of fact about it, as if killing could solve the world’s problems instead of being the world’s problem.
“You’re naïve to think that, Joley,” he said softly and brought her hand to his mouth. His lips were firm and cool. His mouth was hot and moist. He nibbled on the tips of her fingers.
He knew what he was doing to her. He had to know. And he had to know she’d come there to see him. Joley tugged half-heartedly at her hand, but he merely tightened his grip and she let it go. There was no saving her self respect.
“Why can’t you let me have some peace?”
“You know why. You belong to me and I’m not willing to give you up because you’re afraid.”
She felt the first flush of smoldering anger. “I’m not afraid of you. I don’t like what you are or who you work for. There’s a difference.”
“Is there?” He smiled as he scraped the pads of her fingers with his teeth, sending streaks of fire racing through her bloodstream and sizzling along every nerve ending.
She jerked her hand away and wiped it on her thigh. “You know there is. I’m not going to deny I’m physically attracted, but I have a certain weakness for jerks. Don’t ask me why, but I have ‘losers apply here’ stamped on my forehead. You’re just the kind of man I want to avoid.”
His palm curled around her throat, a gentle touch, yet it seemed a flame burned against her bare skin. A faint grin touched his mouth, turned his eyes to a deep blue. “Am I really?” The smile was gone leaving him looking more lethal than ever.
She swallowed the sudden lump of fear before she choked on it. His thumb slid along her neck in the smallest of caresses, sending shivers of awareness down her spine. Sexually, she was very susceptible to him. She suspected him of spell casting, but when she touched him, she couldn’t find evidence of it. He often whispered to her at night, urging her to come to him. And she wanted him day and night. Even her songs were beginning to reflect her need of him.
She had come here intending to sleep with him—just getting it over with, but now that she was with him, she knew it would be a terrible mistake. He would own her, she’d never be free of him. Her only hope was to hold out and hope her obsession with him passed.
“You’re a hit man. It isn’t glamorous or cool. It’s disgusting. You kill people for a living.”
He never raised his voice or seemed to take offense, even when she was being deliberately rude.
“Don’t you?” She was desperate. Desperate. Someone had to save her from herself, because this man had her so tied up in knots she couldn’t thinks straight. She wanted to claw at his face, rake his body with her fingernails, fight for freedom and yet at the same time, she craved him, needed him, wanted to wrap her body around his and feel him deep inside her, possessing her, claiming her. She nearly groaned in despair.
“Kiss me, Joley.”
Her stomach somersaulted. Her gaze jumped to his mouth. He had great lips. Very defined, very masculine. Kissing would get her into more trouble and she was already in way too deep. Ilya Prakenskii seemed so cool on the outside, ice water in his veins, but inside he smoldered like a living volcano, all molten heat and roiling lava.
He leaned close, his lips inches from hers. His warm breath was against her face and he smelled of spice and mint. “Kiss me.” The command was low, his voice soft, almost tender. Her toes were beginning to curl.
She didn’t know if she moved to cover that scant inch or if he did. She only knew that his hand shifted to shape the nape of her neck and that her body went soft and pliant, molding against his incredibly hard frame. And that his mouth was on hers. His lips were firm and cool. His teeth scraped and tugged at her lower lip and then it wasn’t cool anymore. Fire ignited.
He took control before she could think or breathe, the flames sweeping up and through her, consuming her, taking her over completely. She gave herself to him, wrapping her arms around him, sliding one leg around his to bring her body some relief from the terrible tension that built and built along with the firestorm his mouth created.
His hand caught her hair and held her with a tight, ruthless grip, the bite of pain only increasing her need to be closer, to wrap herself up in him. Her hips moved, sliding her body intimately against his thigh. She needed—needed—release, a respite from the continual sexual pressure that never seemed to let up. Night and day her body was on fire for this man.
The heat from his mouth spread like flames licking over her skin. She heard herself moan, and he deepened the kiss, exploring her mouth, taking everything she offered and demanding more.
The world spun away for Joley until there was only his strength and his hard body and the racing fire storming out of control. Her breasts ached, felt swollen and tender, the tips sensitive as they rubbed against his chest. The junction between her legs was hot and damp, demanding release. She slid along his thigh, applying pressure seeking the relief only his body could provide.
“No.” Ilya lifted his mouth from hers, his fingers reluctantly releasing her. “Not like this. When you give yourself to me, it’s all the way and forever. This is too easy.”
Joley flung her head back, glaring at him. “You’re saying no to me?”
“We’re not doing this, not like this. You want to get off, you can come home with me and get into my bed where you belong.”
She studied his implacable expression, wanting to belong to him, knowing he would take her over, knowing she couldn’t live with what and who he was. She would end up loathing herself more than she already did.
He was rejecting her. She’d flung herself at him after months of enduring his constant assault on her senses, she’d given in, driven by an obsession, a craving he’d planted, and he was rejecting her. Humiliation fed fury. She took a deep breath and flung back her head, chin up. “Fine. I don’t need you. I can walk into that house and go home with any man I want.”
Ilya heard the complete confidence in her voice and knew she was stating the absolute truth. She looked passionate, untamed, so sexy his heart nearly stopped. Her eyes were fairly shooting sparks. Her hair was wild and disheveled as if he had already made love to her. She looked wild and unpredictable and so beautiful he ached.
Ilya caught her wrist again, turned over her palm. “Do you see this, Joley?” His hand slid over her upturned palm, sending shivers along already sensitized nerve endings. “I don’t care what happened before I put my mark on you, but make no mistake, Joley, ever since I put this on you, you belong to me. I don’t share well with others. Do whatever you feel you have to do, but be willing to live with the consequences. Just know you’re going to make things unnecessarily hard on yourself. ”
“Why are you doing this to me?” Her palm, the one marked by his brand, itched to slap the tough angles and planes of his face. He led her on and then rejected her. “You can’t tell me no and then say I can’t be with anyone else. Damn you to hell for this.”
“You need a man, and I don’t mean some spineless wimp who is going to give into your every whim. You need someone who can rein you in and control your tendency to act before you think.”
“That’s so sexist. As if I can’t take care of myself.” She gave a little sniff of disdain, furious with him. “I’m a famous, highly successful woman who’s been all over the world, Prakenskii, and I do a darned good job of taking care of myself.”
He shook his head. “You don’t and you know you don’t. Everyone thinks you’re tough, Joley, because that’s what you want them to believe, but you’re not. And you’re way too impetuous. You rush in to act without thinking. The Reverend and his pathetic excuse for bodyguards are a perfect example. What did you think would happen when you exposed him for his sleazy crimes on national television? He intends to pay you back. A man like that doesn’t forgive and forget. He gets even.”
“And you think I need a man to protect me?”
“Yes. Call me sexist all you want, but in the end, it won’t change the truth. You’re running because you know you need me and you don’t want to need anyone.”
“Joley!” Brian called her name and she spun around. Denny, her drummer was walking with him toward her, looking guilty.
Joley loathed herself in that moment. She wasn’t any better than Denny. She’d come here for sex with a man she was certain was the worst kind of criminal. And he had rejected her advances, humiliated her, threatened her and she still was on fire for him. What did that say about her? She pushed away from Ilya and ran to meet Brian and Denny, choosing to escape before she did something she couldn’t take back.