Authors: Mallery Malone
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There are so many people I’d like to thank who have helped me on this journey. To the wonderful people at St. Martin’s–Monique, Alexandra, the art department–thanks for taking my words and ideas and making them so much better! To Jenny and everyone at The Bent Agency who are experts at dealing with neurotic writers.
And as always to my personal Guitar Hero, who inspires every hero I create. Love you!
Raphael Jerroult needed to get laid, and his choices were limited. One didn’t go hunting for a temporary fuck-buddy among friends and business partners.
Taking a sip of his whiskey sour, he stood at the edge of the ballroom watching as one of his best friends and business partners, former boxer and current billionaire Sebastian Delacroix, slow-danced with Renata Giordano, the love of his life and boxing’s reigning women’s welterweight champion. Though this was officially an engagement party with a formal wedding to follow in the fall at the requests of both their mothers, Raphael had been with them in Vegas the month before when they’d married the day after Renata won her title. Looking at them now and knowing how they threw off sparks whenever they were in the room together, Raphael understood and agreed with why Sebastian hadn’t waited. They were a stunning couple, blissfully oblivious to anything and everything else around them.
Just because he understood it didn’t mean he’d choose the same outcome himself. That kind of single-minded bliss was something he both loathed and desired. His parents had been much the same way. Jonah and Desiree Jerroult had loved each other since childhood and had married right out of high school. They’d loved each other so much, so deeply that there hadn’t been any room left over for their only child.
Sometimes he thought they’d birthed him simply because it was expected of them, and the Jerroults needed an heir. They’d turned him over to a nanny as soon as he could walk, making Raphael feel like an outsider in his own family. Then Raphael’s mother had fallen ill when he was twelve and died of cancer when he was thirteen. Instead of bringing them closer
together, Desiree Jerroult’s death had made the chasm between father and son insurmountable.
Raphael grimaced into his drink. It could have been worse, he supposed. His father could have committed suicide immediately instead of waiting until Raphael’s college graduation—a promise he’d made to his dying wife to see their son to adulthood. Too bad she hadn’t made him promise to love their only child.
The only bright spot in his youth had been the Lovelace family, especially daughter Macy. Macy and her brothers had lost their mother the year before he’d lost his, but her father had rallied for his three children. Macy and her brothers had always known that they were loved, and somehow the Lovelace family had made room for Raphael. He knew the only reason he wasn’t completely fucked up was because of Macy and her family. Macy, with her fiery red curls, bright green eyes, soft skin, and warm heart. She’d kept him grounded, kept him sane. She’d been his first in everything, and there were times over the years when he missed her more than was healthy.
If any woman could have gotten him close to an altar, Macy Lovelace was the one. He’d even tried to find her after he’d spent two years off the grid in Thailand getting his head on straight and mastering Muay Thai. She’d been hot and heavy with some European prince. She was probably living the good life in a castle spitting out royal babies.
He glanced at his friends again. He was glad Sebastian had reconnected with his old flame. Glad that they were happy. But he needed to get the hell out of there, find a willing woman and get fucked. Their other business partner Gabriel had already made himself scarce, though he was more likely to seek out an underground fight than sex. Raphael hadn’t brought a date because he didn’t want to give any woman ideas about his intentions. Besides, this was all for his friends, to celebrate their love and happily-ever-after. The fact that he didn’t believe in
either was something he kept to himself.
A flash of red caught his attention. A redhead, standing out in a sea of blondes and brunettes like a flame in the darkness, her brilliant hair falling over emerald lace-covered shoulders calling him like a beacon.
His heart kicked up its pace. He’d seen plenty of redheads over the years, but none with Macy’s particular burnished shade of curls. None who made him feel as if he’d just downed a vitamin energy cocktail. Just this flash, this fleeting glimpse, and his body felt primed in a way he only ever felt in the cage.
Handing his empty glass off to a passing waiter, he cut across the ballroom, determined to intercept the mystery woman. Hope and dread churned with the alcohol in his gut. Was it her? It couldn’t be her. Not here. Not after eight long, lonely years of silence.
He caught a glimpse of a shapely figure bound by an emerald-green corset-style top before the crowd swallowed her up. His Macy had never worn anything so racy over her soft curves. If she had, he would have …
He gritted his teeth. He still would have let her go. He had been twenty-two, still reeling from the death of his father and she’d been on her way to Paris to realize her dream of becoming a pastry chef. Her life had been coming together while his was falling apart, and the last decent thing he could do for the woman who’d given him so much was give her the chance to live her life without worrying about him.
Holy fuck, he really needed to catch this woman. A woman who wore a corset out was definitely someone he wanted to know. How the hell had he not crossed paths with her before now? He thought he’d bedded every available woman between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
He smiled to himself. If she were a new transplant, he’d make sure to give her a warm welcome she’d never forget.
He caught up to her just as she reached the service hallway leading to the kitchens. Hot damn, from the back she was a curvaceous beauty with a voluptuous, hourglass figure. As much as he’d enjoyed indulging in Macy’s soft curves, he wouldn’t have considered her lush, not like this woman seemed in her green top, black pencil skirt, and black stilettos. Maybe it was time to break his rule about no redheads. Eight years pining for one particular woman was eight years too long.
“Excuse me, darling,” he drawled to her. “Where are you going in such a hurry? I can’t let the night end without having the pleasure of being introduced.”
The woman stopped, her shoulders bunching defensively as if he’d trapped her. It was an unusual reaction—women were usually all too ready to make his acquaintance. Then she turned. Raphael felt the smile slide from his face. It couldn’t be. It was.
* * *
Macy Lovelace had spent the majority of her friend’s engagement party in the kitchens. She told herself that she wasn’t hiding—as owner of the restaurant catering the event; it was her duty to ensure that her staff kept the guests plied with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. However, she’d never been one to lie, especially to herself. She could admit that as much as she wanted to keep the party guests satisfied and thereby make Renata happy, she wanted to avoid Raphael Jerroult even more.
Too bad the man in question now had her cornered in a back hallway.
Her back pressed into the wall for support as he leaned over her. She’d forgotten how tall he was, or had he sprouted more in the eight years since she’d seen him? What she hadn’t forgotten was how beautiful he was, how devastating he was in close proximity. Yet her college-age reminiscing paled to the reality of the golden-haired angel.
The tuxedo he wore had to have been custom made for him. The fit across his broad shoulders and long legs was that perfect. He wore it well, cutting a debonair swath through the guests that had held her spellbound before she’d come to her senses and made her escape before he recognized her.
Apparently she hadn’t been quick enough.
Dread curled in the pit of Macy’s stomach. She’d known when Renata had told her that Raphael and his friends had moved their headquarters here three months ago that she’d have to face this moment, face him. She should have stayed back in the kitchen, supervising her staff. But no, she had to give in to Renata’s demand to join the party, to mingle, to have a little fun while she chatted up their foundation. Her new best friend could certainly be demanding. Make that her
new best friend.
you.” A wide grin shoved the stunned expression off his face. Before she could get a word out, he scooped her up. He spun her around with a full, delighted laugh that was so at odds with the emotions churning in her gut that she couldn’t react, couldn’t do anything but hold on as he spun her about.
“I missed you.” His grip tightened as he slowed his spin, still holding her off the ground. His smile softened, wonder filling his eyes as he gazed at her. “God, I missed you so much.”
The words, as heartfelt as they were, stung her. He should have missed her—he was the
one who had sent her away, who had kept his distance for eight long years. Granted, she’d gone to ground for a couple of years after her life in Paris had crumbled, but he’d disappeared first.
She pushed against his shoulders. “Raphael, I—”
He kissed her then, claiming her lips. Instinct steamrolled over her. Surprising herself, she kissed him back, her arms twining about his neck, her body pressing closer. She shouldn’t have been surprised; she’d loved him so fiercely back then and loved him still. What did surprise her was the depth of what she felt after so long, after he’d disappeared. After her life had imploded because he’d disappeared.
A slight shudder rolled through his large frame. Then his kiss softened and it was her turn to shudder, want pooling low in her belly as her nipples hardened. She clutched at his lapels, her knees weakening and hunger strengthening. He took that as encouragement, his arms tightening about her waist, still holding her off the ground as he seduced her with skillful strokes of his tongue along the seam of her lips.
Unable to bank her desire, she parted her lips to slide her tongue along his, needing to taste him fully. The taste of him flooded her mouth, the sweet sharpness of liquor combining with the smoky flavor that was uniquely his. The potency of it hit her like a shot of adrenaline to her bloodstream, speeding her heartbeat and igniting her senses. This was much more than she remembered. He was much more than she remembered.
His lips traced along her jaw to her throat, leaving heat in his wake. He’d enflamed her with just a kiss, knowing exactly what she needed to catapult headlong into passion. Need kicked in as memories flooded her system. Memories of that glorious body pistoning in and out of hers with relentless power and pleasure, driving her to one orgasm after another. All she could feel, all she could think of, was Raphael and what he did to her.
It was too much, more than she was prepared to handle. Again she pushed at his shoulders and this time he released her in a long slow glide against the front of his body that made her breath catch. Back on her feet, unsteady, she backed away from him, needing the space to breathe, to think.