Authors: Holli Winters
Tags: #Contemporary Erotic Romance, #M/F, #Contemporary Romance, #erotic, #detective, #Oregon, #Massage
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Copyright 2011 Holli Winters
Cover Art by Fiona Jayde
Edited by EDITOR
This book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any existing means without written permission from the publisher. Contact Noble Romance Publishing, LLC at PO Box 467423, Atlanta, GA 31146. This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. The characters are products of the author's imagination and used fictitiously.
On the brink of ruin . . . .
Spa owner Cassie Nichols can't afford any distractions right now. Hell, she can't afford much at all, which makes contending with the miserable landlord who wants her out her sole focus. Until a handsome stranger threatens to wreck—and rock—her world. He leaves her feeling out of control. Determined not cave in to the carnal hunger within her, Cassie finds herself in a fight for everything she holds dear.
On the edge of uncertainty . . . .
Portland Detective Gabe Banks never mixes business with pleasure, but the vixen masseuse is a mystery he must unravel. Her passion tantalizes him and has him craving more. Battling between a duty to investigate and a need to protect, he finds himself questioning everything he believes in.
For both, they are fighting an obsession they may never want to give up.
For the cancer survivors out there. It's a big battle that I hope one day we will win forever.
"That's going to get you arrested."
Cassie Nichols toyed with the silvery ring between her fingers as she contemplated Dani's words. The slick, cold metal of the cock ring warmed as she played with it. Hard to believe what this little trinket did to a man.
"Gavin is well aware it's just a game we're playing. He won't call the authorities.
He'll just laugh and tease me." She slipped the cock ring into her black Louis Vuitton purse, a gift from her mother last Christmas, and glanced at her best friend and fellow masseuse. "Honestly, I'm over him. We're only having some fun. Heck, last time I left him one of my little presents he called and wanted to know what I planned to bring next."
Dani shook her head, disapproval clear in her expression. "He'll soon grow tired and sic the cops on you for harassment. That'll only infuriate your father even more."
She sighed at the mention of her father. "Screw my father. I'm an adult and running my own business and damn proud of what I'm doing." She picked up her purse. "If it means being naughty once in a while, so what?"
Even after all this time her father couldn't understand why she'd opened a spa in the seediest part of Portland rather than in Seaside, closer to where they lived. Instead, she had turned her back on her father's advice and took a rundown office space in a dilapidated building in a bad part of town and made the spa one of Portland's most popular spots to get massages and other services. But the success of her business didn't matter to him. He still harped on her occasionally about her decision to leave her hometown of Seaside.
Pulling out her compact, Cassie checked her makeup. The air felt humid from the recent rain, and she wanted to be her best in case she ran into Gavin. Well, what woman wouldn't want to look her best for any man?
She regarded herself in the mirror, wondering why she couldn't seem to attract men who wanted permanency. Maybe part was due to her mixed-race heritage? Long black hair and dark brown eyes accented the Philippine legacy she'd inherited from her mother, Nola. She'd stood out in school and only seemed to attract the wrong kind of men.
"I wonder if men would take me seriously if I became a redhead."
Dani slid into the chair across from her. "Honey, if you were gray-haired, the men would still flock to you. You're like an exotic bird in a sea of sparrows."
"Well, poo." She pouted at Dani. "I wish I'd ended up taking after my father."
"No, you don't. You're happy with the way you are."
Cassie glanced at her friend. She knew her too well. "Yeah, you're right." She shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe someday a guy will appreciate me for my personality."
She ran a comb through her hair and decided to leave it loose, rather than her usual ponytail. Her long dark mane was the envy of several of her friends, yet she rarely did anything special with it. Work tended to be her
Though her friends called her an exotic beauty with the ability to snare any man she wanted, Cassie rarely dated. She didn't have the time and most of the men she came into contact with didn't meet her three S's of specifications.
Successful, single, and sexy.
"Want to meet for drinks later tonight after your visit with Gavin?" Dani interrupted Cassie's thoughts.
"Hmm . . . can't. I have my monthly dinner with Tim and his family." Cassie slid her compact back into her purse and unfolded her long frame from the chair. In spite of her lukewarm feelings for her father, she adored her older brother. "Besides, I need to get cracking at the ledger again. Can't believe how bad I let my books lapse. Especially with Isaiah Winkler breathing down my neck."
Dani grimaced. "Don't remind me that I may not have a job in a few weeks.
"Tell me about it. The jerk is determined to drive me out of business for some high priced condos or an easy to manage parking garage. Whatever gets him the most money."
"Maybe you should charm him out of his pants." Dani chuckled as she said the words.
Cassie rolled her eyes at the vision of seducing the overweight and much older Isaiah Winkler. "Get real. I wouldn't get kissy-face with the asshole. Besides, I'm sure he loves his money much more than he does women."
"Guess a hooker from Burnside won't work on him." Dani shook her head.
"Perhaps one of the Markham brothers from across the street could give him a Mafia hug. Or a cement dunk."
Cassie laughed at the idea. "Sounds like a good idea, but it's not reasonable. With my luck, Isaiah would leave everything to his look-alike nephew, who'd be worse than his uncle." She checked the time on the clock above the door. "I'll deal with everything eventually, but I need to go. I have to get over to Gavin's and drop this off before he returns home from work."
"Be careful!" Dani's final words rang behind her as Cassie left.
As she stepped out onto the busy sidewalk, she breathed in the damp air. At least there wasn't rain. Never tell visitors it always rained in Portland, because it didn't, but more often than not one needed to carry an umbrella.
She paused and contemplated the façade of her business. She'd spent a lot of work and time on upgrading the rundown building to her specifications. On the outside, the spa appeared warm and inviting, with pink and white colors, and matching colors inside to create a welcoming entrance. One could walk in and immediately experience a relaxed atmosphere. Just like she'd envisioned eight years ago when she'd taken the plunge and invested her inheritance from her Filipino grandmother into the business.
Cassie had thought about taking over the space next door to expand her spa, but Isaiah resisted her suggestion. He'd already informed her he wanted to sell the whole block. When she'd first rented her space, a clause left by a former owner had made hers an unbreakable lease. Or, so she thought until Isaiah Winkler pointed out the fine print and became bent on pushing her out.
Walking the short distance to where her car was parked, Cassie watched as a heavily made up girl, who appeared no more than fifteen, strolled by, her hips swaying widely as she sought out her next john. Prostitutes usually veered away from this block, because they knew the area tried to keep a clean reputation. Business owners wouldn't hesitate to shoo them away. Two doors down stood the Rosa Miller Center, a homeless shelter that provided a safe haven for those who needed it. Prostitutes, too.
Cassie paused as she spotted a small child sitting on the steps that led inside the shelter. The little girl, Sienna Sanchez, sat watching two teens play catch on the sidewalk. Sienna's head lifted, and her eyes lit up when she spotted Cassie.
She jumped to her feet, her tiny hands waving frantically. "Cassie! Hi!"
"Hi, Sienna." Cassie smiled and waved back as she unlocked her car door. Cassie had first spoken to Sienna a few months ago and struck up a friendship as the two chatted about girly things. Sienna loved to come into the spa and watch them work.
Cassie wished she had more time to spend with the little girl, but she was already running late.
"Where you going?" Sienna gazed at her with innocent adoration. Looking at the little girl sometimes made Cassie wish she had a family of her own. But that'd mean commitment, and she didn't have the time right now.
Cassie patted Sienna on the shoulder. "Out on an errand, sweetie. I'm in a hurry, but I promise we'll chat another day."
A serious expression crossed Sienna's face as she mulled Cassie's words. The little girl seemed so mature for one so young. It hurt Cassie at times that she couldn't do more, but the mother had resisted much of the overtures, preferring her independence.
Sienna stared at Cassie. "Okay, but will you paint my nails next time I'm in the spa?"
"Sure." Cassie laughed. Sienna always made her happy. "I have to go, honey, but I promise we'll give you a special day soon."
"Yeah, thank you, Cassie." She jumped up and down, her face all in smiles.
On a day like this Cassie was glad she might be able to make a little girl's dream come true.
Waving goodbye, Cassie got in her car and started the engine, beginning the trek to the suburbs of Portland and Gavin's house.
* * * * *
Thirty minutes later, Cassie maneuvered her Honda down Aurora Boulevard.
There hadn't been much traffic on the trip over, and she hoped to get her errand over and done with before the rush hour began in earnest. She caught her reflection in the mirror and frowned. Whereas before she got joy out of these excursions to Gavin, now the whole thing seemed mundane. She'd asked herself earlier today why she continued to play these games with a man long gone from her life. She wasn't in love with him.
Cassie sighed. Obsession. The name of the game for her. From the time she'd been a teen she'd controlled every relationship with a man and discarded them when she tired of them. She'd rather dump them than be the one dumped. Strange motto, but one she'd lived with since her teens.
Except Gavin had changed the rules.
Sweet, nice Gavin Jericho, who wouldn't hurt a fly, had fallen in love—with another woman. Not that Cassie blamed him . . . now. His sin had been breaking things off with Cassie before
broke it off. No man had ever done that to her.
Get real. He was at least honest with you.
Not like that dickhead Nolan Chavez. She found him in bed with another woman.
But still, this insecurity of hers had become legendary among her friends. They loved to tease her about her predilection for breaking off relationships before the guy did.
Zipping around the corner, Cassie turned onto Prairie Landing, a quiet cul-de-sac in Raleigh Hills. Gavin lived in a yellow ranch-style he'd bought some three years ago.
Gavin worked as a ticket agent at Portland International Airport. Cassie met him on her way to Hawaii. They'd struck up a conversation as he checked her in, and by the time she had her boarding passes in hand, a night out had been scheduled.
He was pleasant and fun to be with. Cassie enjoyed her dates with Gavin. She knew he wasn't "the one," but that didn't matter. What did matter was that she had seen it as a year long romance.
Not so for Gavin.
Six months ago, he dropped a bombshell. He was now dating a flight attendant he met at the airport—and it was serious.
She'd seethed and given Gavin pointed looks, but he'd ignored her as he touted his new lady friend's virtuous achievements. Cassie had wanted to gag and had to leave before she got sick of hearing how wonderful Sharon was.