Authors: Adriane Leigh
I sped off after her, following a few car-lengths behind as she whipped her way through crowded streets towards the financial district. She pulled into a tight space and gathered her way-too-fucking-big bag, stumbling out onto the sidewalk.
My grin lifted when a dangerous thought flitted through my mind. She was off limits, but where was the fun in setting limits?
JUST THREE DAYS AFTER taking a new job and I was wheels up and peering out at a midnight navy sky, the golden-dotted glow of neighborhoods mapped out below us in an intricate lacework of hues. We’d boarded a late night private flight direct to Portugal so Hunter could shoot the mistress of a wealthy head of state the following morning. My eyes had widened when he’d offered the few details, but he’d quickly reminded me that I’d signed a non-disclosure, and what happened on location, stayed on location.
My gaze roamed over the richly-accented cream leather of the jet just as Hunter’s eyes lifted from his laptop and landed on mine. He was dressed in casual denim jeans, worn and soft, and a fitted white thermal shirt.
I sighed and shifted in my seat, trying to quell the insistent hum between my thighs that’d become a problem whenever I was around him. Hunter’s eyes roved down my denim-covered legs and then back up again, a quirk of his lips belied that he knew I was uncomfortable. Aroused.
“Nervous?” His rich voice vibrated off of every cell in my body.
“Of flying? I’ve done it lots of times.” I sighed as I felt a slow headache pushing into my frontal lobe.
“Good.” He stood and approached my seat, his languid body moving one sinewy muscle at a time. “But I didn’t mean the flight.” He sat in the seat beside me, pulling up the arm rest and leaning in. “I meant traveling out of the country with a stranger,” he finished, his breath licking across my earlobe and leaving me without my own.
“Should I be?” My heart beating quicker with my reply.
“What does your instinct say?” I found his eyes blazing, deep and dark into my own. He pulled away then and cocked a grin, arms folded across his chest, showcasing the lean lines of his tattoo-etched muscles.
“My instincts are telling me that the look in your eye could be dangerous.”
His cocky grin deepened.
“But mostly they’re saying you’re like a Chihuahua.”
The laugh that barreled out from his chest had shards of happiness splitting across my cheeks. When he’d finally caught his breath, he inquired, “Chihuahua?”
“All bark and no bite.” I smiled, satisfied that I’d taken his cocky attitude down a few notches.
His eyes shifted down to my lips and then across my cheekbones before landing on my eyes again. “I definitely bite.”
The air deflated from my lungs and suddenly I was left without words or sense.
“But not before you beg me to,” he said, pulling my leg into his lap, working the calf in slow, decadent circles.
“Hunter, this is a working relationship only. I would never jeopardize…” I paused, my cheeks heating with the lie. I had a feeling my shifting thighs and erect nipples told the true story of just what I was thinking.
“Oh, of course you wouldn’t.” He relaxed into his chair with a grin, my leg still in his lap. “I wouldn’t have hired you if I didn’t think you were a professional first, but I happen to be of the personal belief that two consenting adults can engage in adult activities outside of office hours.” His thumbs worked a slow, seductive rhythm on my calves. “But that’s beside the point.” He winked. “I want to know all about Erin Warner.”
I shook my head and settled further into the leather and his warm hands. “There isn’t much to tell. A proud graduate of Clearview High School. Go Dogs!” I raised my arm in a silly cheer. “Bachelors from Northwestern—”
“I don’t want your resume, Erin. Tell me the stuff the paperwork can’t.” His eyes burned into mine with heated interest.
An odd sense of prickling awareness traveled through my skin then, as if we’d known each other before and I could divulge to him all my skeletons without fear or shame. “My mom was nineteen when I was born and my dad left town before my first birthday. She was a single parent so it was tough. We made it, but it wasn’t easy.”
“Hard life for a kid.” A shadow of sadness cloaked his eyes.
“Yeah, but he wasn’t a good guy. That’s all my mom ever says…‘Trust me, you don’t want him in your life.’ I used to imagine he joined the circus and was on tour around the country,” I smiled at the long-lost memory. “Every year when they came to town, while my friends were riding the rides, I would skulk behind the scenes looking for a carnie with my wavy dark hair and high cheekbones.” I shook my head. “Imagine if he really was a carnie.” I rolled my eyes at the little dreamer I’d held tight to my heart even then.
“Well, at least you had your mom?” he offered with a ray of hope.
“Well, yes, I had her.” I chuckled ruefully. “It wasn’t easy being her daughter most days, but I escaped in school and she worked. When I turned seventeen, I graduated early and moved out. I couldn’t stay under her roof a second longer.” I twisted my hands in my lap, hating to bring down the conversation with another story of a painful childhood. “But it could have been worse.” I smiled, choosing to keep the rest for another day. That story was too big to reveal to a handsome stranger so soon.
WE SETTLED IN A small black car that whipped out of the taxi line entirely too fast and breezed us through the streets of Lisbon. The landscape melted from sunburnt streets to warm-hued fields that led to the unknown reaches of this Old World country.
“I feel like you know my life story, and you’ve sat along nodding and asking questions without telling me a thing about yourself.” My eyes cut to his, regarding me with a casual interest.
“I like to let the past lie in the past.” He shrugged.
“How do I know I can trust myself in your hands then?” I grinned, crossing my legs and leaning into him. Our knees brushed and lit fire through my pulsing bloodstream.
“If you can trust anyone,” he huffed, “it’s me. With complete confidence.” He shot me that signature cocky grin. “You know what I want to know…” He trailed a finger across the seat, brushing it against my thigh and blasting fireworks in every direction. “I want to know all the things you don’t tell people. The bad things you’ve done, the things you keep…” his fingertips inched higher up my thigh, “to yourself.” His thumb brushed across the inner seam of my jeans before running back down to land more safely at my knee.
“I don’t think so.” I tried to control my racing heart.
“I’ll get it out of you.” He laughed and twined his fingers through mine for a brief second. I swallowed the shock and glanced down at his golden skin against my own, paler version. “Thanks for coming with me.” His fist tightened around mine.
“Of course.” I flashed a reassuring smile. “And as for the other stuff,” I winked, “those are details you’ve got to work for.” I found myself slipping into a flirty, weak-kneed teen when I was around him.
“Oh, I plan to,” he murmured just as the car pulled to a slow stop.
“Where are we?” I followed Hunter out of the car and into an opening in the trees, light filtering in through vibrant shades of green and dappling the forest floor. A stark contrast to the Mediterranean landscape that’d been blurring by our windows just minutes ago.
“We walk from here.”
“Excuse me?” I said, certain I’d misheard.
“I rented a villa for the shoot. The model will be here all day tomorrow
she too will have to walk, so it’s not just you, Princess.” His mouth lifted in a taunting smile before he continued. “There are some great locations around the grounds I want to shoot. Just made more sense to stay here too.”
“We have to walk…” I groaned as he stood opposite me, feet planted firmly on the ground in his rugged leather boots. I rubbed at my forehead, already damp with the humidity, and vowed to keep this as pleasant as possible. He was still my boss, first and foremost. And sexy, and rugged, and infuriating, and thoughtful, and… I sighed, realizing the tight spot I’d somehow found myself in. I needed this job, desperately. “How long’s this hike?” I started off down the narrow trail that wove through the thick trees.
“Half a mile.”
“What?!” I whipped around and was met with an amused grin that broke into a full laugh upon seeing my face.
Infuriating as fuck, that’s exactly what Hunter Ellis was.
WE REACHED THE TOP of the secluded villa’s grounds just as the burnt orange sun dipped below the tree line. Fiery hues lit up the rich green leaves and dappled the dust-trodden path that curved up to a small stone villa perched upon a hill.
Hunter pulled a key from his pocket and fiddled with the old lock before pushing us into the homey space. Floor-to-ceiling windows accented with earthy ceramic tile enhanced the nearly three hundred and sixty degree view of the surrounding canopy. I shook my head with a smile.
“It’s great, right?” Hunter turned to marvel with me.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.” I dropped my bag and kicked off my dusty shoes, thankful for the relief that flooded the pads of my feet.
“A friend told me about it. I think it’s going to be perfect. Oh, I may have failed to mention one thing though.” He trailed off and turned, his jade eyes twinkling.
“What’s that?” I couldn’t imagine a single downside to this space.
“Sleeping arrangements are tight. I asked them to remove the bed in the master for the shoot tomorrow, so we’re left with one—”
“No!” He ran a hand through his bristled hair in a move that had my heart fluttering. An impish grin curved his face as his eyes trailed down to the floor and landed at my feet. “Well, sorta.”
“But there’s a pullout couch. I’m good right here.” He turned to the living area and flopped on a modern white couch.
“Ugh.” His grunt was my first clue that the couch was less than comfortable. The second clue came with the string of curses that fell from his lips.
“Son of a bitch.” He leaned up and rubbed his shoulder. I laughed, finally releasing the anxiety I’d been hiding the last few days in preparation for this trip. A new job and hopping continents all in the same week took getting used to.
“Have fun on the couch!” I nudged the dusty boot hanging over the arm of the leather as I skirted down the hallway. I made the first left and immediately understood why Hunter had instructed the bed be removed for tomorrow. Through the center of the house grew a gnarled and knobbed tree, the bark worn smooth with age. A cathedral glass ceiling drove high into the canopy, and giant evergreen leaves shaded the room in filtered sunlight. “Wow,” I murmured as I ran my fingers along the tree.
“It’s three hundred years old.” He appeared at the doorway.
“Can you imagine sleeping here in the rain?” I looked up into the sparkling glass and inhaled, the spicy scent of woods invading my nostrils.
“A secluded locale and a little rain is all it takes to woo you?” He quipped before sauntering into the room. I laughed, loving the delicious twirl that unwound in my stomach when he teased me. “See these dips and hollows?” he continued, back to Hunter, the photographer. “It perfectly mimics the curve of a woman’s hips.” He rested a hand across my palms on the trunk, weaving his fingertips through my own so we fingered the worn wood together. “I brought leather straps that will contrast with the pale bark.” His hand fell away and he tapped the tree, as if checking the steadiness before stepping over to the large windows and crossing his arms.
Brightly illuminated in the soft light, he looked out over the treetops to a large expanse of nothingness. Somehow I’d found myself locked in the treetops with him, and while the world kept turning right outside our little villa doorstep, I watched him, while he watched it. He was the photographer after all, ever the keen observer, always on the hunt for his next captured moment in time.
WE SAT ON THE small balcony later that night sipping chilled white wine and soaking up the moonlight.
“So why did you say yes?” Hunter sat with his ankles propped on the iron railing of the balcony.
My eyebrows rose in surprise as I swirled the wine in my glass, the fruity aroma calming my nerves and lulling me into blissful relaxation. “Isn’t it a little late for twenty questions?” I tipped my head back and listened as the wind sang through the leaves of the trees.
“It’s the one thing I’ve been trying to figure out since you agreed.”
“Why didn’t you just ask then?” I turned and caught his eyes glistening back at me in the dark night.
“I like the mystery of you.” His head tilted and his mouth curled up in a devilish way before he tipped his wine glass to his lips and drank. His lips pursed and his throat contracted with each swallow as my clit buzzed and my nipples ached for the feel of his thumbs brushing across them.
“I think the more interesting question is why did you ask me?” I pivoted with a smug grin of my own.
His eyes lit up before he took the last long swallow of his wine. “Touché.” He smiled before rubbing at his bicep with a distant frown.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Old war wound.” He took a long drink of his wine.