by Victoria Quinn
I lifted the glass to my mouth and felt the ice cubes slide all the way down until they touched my lips. Like pieces of winter, they cooled my mouth just before the burn of the scotch hit my throat and seared me from the inside out.
I lived for that burn.
Jackson was supposed to meet me nearly fifteen minutes ago, but that piece of crap hadn’t shown his face. A hot little number probably got his attention along the way, and like always, he got sidetracked.
Couldn’t blame him.
The black ring on my right hand felt heavy with commitment. It was the only piece of jewelry I wore other than my watch, and it took some getting used to. To everyone else, it was just a ring. It had no meaning and no voice.
But in my world, its significance was quite clear.
Anytime I was out in the regular world, I wondered if anyone recognized me for what I really was—a dark and twisted soul. The stuff I was into turned most women away. The ones who were brave enough to stick around always changed their minds. My tastes were specific and they would never change, which was why I needed to stick to my world and not bother with the real one.
If this really was the real one.
The door to the bar opened, accompanied by an ice-cold breeze. I felt it on the back of my neck, caressing the nearly invisible strands of hair that poked out underneath my collar. The black suit and tie was one of my favorites—fit to a T. I had work that evening, and I always fit the part.
For whatever reason, and for no reason at all, I turned my attention to the open door. Two women walked inside, one blonde and one brunette. Both petite in stature and pretty in their unique ways, they turned heads as they entered.
My eyes went to the brunette.
I had a thing for brunettes. Always had and always would.
She wore a black pencil skirt that was snug on her hips. Curves that made my throat turn dry caught my attention.
It took a lot to impress me when it came to women, and not because I was picky or superficial, but because I received enough satisfaction every day and every night to dim my desire. My fantasies were a reality, and I had no interest in looking for a woman who couldn’t fulfill them.
But she caught my eye anyway.
She had an hourglass figure, perfect for guiding up and down my length with my hands on her hips. Perky tits were pressed tightly against her pink blouse, and she had a slender neck with a pronounced hollow in her throat—perfect for my tongue to explore.
She wore five-inch heels and rocked them like they were sandals, and thin and toned legs were obvious below the cut of her skirt. They nearly reached her neck because they were so long. Every woman had specific traits that made them sexy.
But this woman had them all.
My eyes didn’t lose their focus as I watched her like a hawk, my mind obsessed. When she passed through the crowd, she parted the way with her natural power. She commanded the room as she held her head high with the elegance of a queen. But her smile was innocent like that of a princess.
My legs wanted to move in her direction and stake a claim before someone else could make a move. I wanted to tell her my name and hear hers in return. She probably had the sexiest voice, classy like the rest of her traits.
But I couldn’t.
My hands were tied.
I’d made a commitment to someone else. Our bond wasn’t based on love, friendship, or anything else remotely meaningful. But when I gave someone my word, I kept it. If a man’s word didn’t count for anything, then he automatically lost his self-worth. That was a lesson my father taught me, and it was the only one I respected.
So I turned away and glanced at my watch.
Where was he?
A woman’s voice sounded behind me, and judging by its beauty and power, it could only belong to one person. Without turning around to make sure my assumption was correct, I knew it belonged to the woman I’d been watching.
“That guy is such a jerk. I can’t believe he did that to you.”
I smirked at her temper. She meant every word and said it with a backbone, but her stature made it hard to take her seriously. She was simply too soft on the eyes to have a foul mouth.
Her friend sighed before she responded. “I know… I went home and cried, and I hated myself for doing it. He isn’t worth my tears. He isn’t worth anything.”
I drank my scotch and concentrated on the sound of her voice. My attraction usually started with quiet women, the soft ones that were looking for someone to lead them. But her strength was oddly arousing.
A man squeezed into the bar beside me and brushed my shoulder. When I saw it wasn’t Jackson, I gave him a terrifying glare. I hated being touched by anyone who didn’t receive my explicit permission—no matter how innocent their intention was.
He quickly scooted away, leaving an appropriate foot of space between us. He ordered a beer—a weak drink. He wore a black suit that was poorly tailored and didn’t hide the imperfections of his soft shoulders and laughable build. This guy had done nothing egregious to me, but I despised him for that innocent touch.
The womens’ conversation continued.
“Oh my god.” Her friend gasped quietly but was unable to cover it despite the constant chatter of the crowd.
“What?” She kept her voice strong rather than concerned. Again, she commanded the conversation with just her tone of voice. I’d never known a woman like that.
“That’s Dave.” Her friend dropped her voice low so no one could overhear them. I had to strain my ears and discreetly turn my head so I could pick up on what they were saying. Their conversation had nothing to do with me, and frankly, it wasn’t that interesting. But I loved hearing that woman’s voice. “I can’t believe he’s here. Probably picking up someone else while his wife is at home.”
“Are you serious?” She didn’t bother keeping her voice down. “That two-timer is here?”
“At the bar.”
Their conversation halted for nearly ten seconds.
“Where?” she demanded. “Which one?”
“He’s at the front in a black suit.”
My eyes discreetly glanced to the man beside me, knowing he must be the man they were discussing. A wedding ring was absent from his finger, and his eyes kept roaming down the bar to the woman huddled near the end. He was definitely on the prowl tonight—no doubt about it.
I actually felt bad for his wife.
And I felt bad for whatever my obsession was about to do to him.
“What are you doing?” her friend asked.
“I’m giving him a piece of my mind.”
I smirked, excited to see her in action. She would probably grab the guy by the shoulder and throw her drink in his face. Maybe I would get a waft of her smell. Maybe her delectable hip would press against mine.
The sound of heels clanked behind me, and I knew she was just a foot away from me. This guy was about to get his butt kicked by a woman half his size. And he deserved it. I would stick around for the show. Now, I didn’t even care that Jackson was nearly half an hour late.
“Hey.” She grabbed me by the arm and yanked hard enough to get me to face her.
Disturbed by the uninvited touch, I immediately faced her and looked down into her expression. Green eyes, fierce with fire, looked back at me, and her lips pressed so tightly together they were nearly invisible. Her cheeks were flushed with rage, and her long brown hair was pulled over one shoulder, extending past her chest. Her blouse had a V-neck in the front, and I could see the small freckles that I wasn’t able to see before. Instead of telling her she had the wrong man, I stared at her in pure fascination. Up close, she was even more beautiful.
She retracted her hand, and with lightning speed, slapped me so hard across the face I actually turned with the force. My neck snapped to the right and my skin tingled from the collision of her palm against my face. Immediately, my skin burned from the heat of momentum, and the slap of our skin moving together echoed in the bar. My neighbors quieted down, watching the spectacle like a street fight as this woman charged me like a bull.
I turned back to her, and while the rage slowly burned inside my chest, I felt something else. My entire body tensed with the undeniable interest that coursed through my veins. She hit me—and she hit me hard. That hatred and ferocity got my engine revving like I was about to enter a drag race.
I was hard up.
Her eyes widened with hostility before that pretty little mouth of hers told me off. “You’re absolutely despicable and a sorry excuse for a man. You should be ashamed of yourself for cheating on your wife and for playing games with my friend. There’s a special place in hell for people like you.” She pulled her hand back and slapped me again, putting her entire weight into the collision. Another slap echoed in the bar, ringing loud in my ears. Everyone around us gasped as she laid it on me good.
My spine tingled as the surging desire washed through me like a tsunami. I wanted to throw her on the bar right then and there.
All I had to do was grab her wrist and steady her hand so she couldn’t hit me again, but I didn’t. All I had to do was tell her she had the wrong man, but I didn’t do that either. I’d never felt more alive than I did in that moment.
And I never wanted her to stop hitting me.
“Stop!” Her blonde friend came up behind her and grabbed her by the arm. “Not him!”
She didn’t listen to a word her friend said because she shoved me hard in the chest. Like a mountain, I didn’t move. In fact, it made her body thrust backward instead. “Not such a tough guy after all, huh? How about I give your wife a call and tell her you’ve been around the block one too many times?”
I stared at her mouth without really listening to her. When she was pissed, she was even sexier. Her cheeks flushed a beautiful hint of rose, and her eyes were greener than the vines on a hot summer day. I wanted her to stay exactly like this, hitting me like a punching bag until I couldn’t take it any longer.
She slapped me again, hitting the exact same cheek for a third time in a row. Now I knew my face was beet red and scorching hot. I knew I would have a mark from her handprint for the next few hours until it faded away. “That’s what happens to men who mess with my best friend.” She pointed her finger in my face like it was somehow threatening. “You actually thought you were going to get away with it—”
“It’s not him!” Her friend screamed loud over the conversations of the bar, making everyone halt and look at her. “Stop hitting him!”
She finally listened to her friend and looked at her, her face immediately slackening with trepidation. “What?”
The man in the black suit was no longer next to me. The second he saw the commotion, he must have noticed his ex and hit the exit. Smart man. He wouldn’t have enjoyed the beating my face had just taken—his loss.
“I told you fifteen times that you had the wrong guy. Dave already left after you slapped this guy the first time.”
Her cheeks turned white, the pale rose color fading away immediately. Her green eyes lost their vibrancy, turning a dull gray that I didn’t find nearly as attractive. Unable to look at me, she kept eye contact with her friend. Humiliation emitted from her in waves that washed over me like the freezing ocean. Self-loathing and hatred were there as well.
She put her hands on her hips and took a few breaths before she finally turned back to me. Her eyes were on the floor, oddly similar to a submissive, before she took another breath and finally found the courage to meet my eyes. “God…I’m so sorry. I thought you were someone else. I…I’m so humiliated.”
I examined her new expression, absorbing all the intricate features I didn’t notice before. She had a freckle in the corner of her mouth, so small and slight I hardly noticed it. Like a distant star deep in space, it contrasted against her fair complexion.
She had a petite little nose, slender and nicely shaped. It fit her beautiful face perfectly, like a renowned artist shaped her features until they were just right. Her eyes were large and bright, shaped like almonds. Her cheeks were prominent and curved, giving her a slender appearance that matched her perfect body.
When I didn’t say anything, she gave me the same apologetic look, desperate for forgiveness. “I swear, I’m not normally like that. This guy hurt my friend, and I got carried away. I mistook you for him.”
The only reason why I hadn’t spoken was because I was stretching out the conversation as long as possible, so I could stare at her all I wanted. Her lips were plump and wet. When she was nervous, she sucked on her upper lip. She did it twice since our conversation began. “Honest mistake. I understand.”
Her eyes shifted back and forth as she stared at me. “I really am sorry.” Her eyes moved to my red cheek, and her hand moved slightly from her waist like she wanted to touch it. “If there’s anything I can do, please let me know.” She pulled her hand back to her side, refraining from raising her hand to me again.
Her friend grabbed her by the wrist. “Let’s just leave him alone. I think we’ve put him through enough…” She gently pulled her friend along.
I was losing her, and I had no choice but to let her go. The ring on my right hand felt unnaturally heavy. But then suddenly, I didn’t feel it at all. The weight evaporated into thin air like it’d never been there to begin with. “There is something you can do.”
She stopped and didn’t allow her friend to pull her any farther. “Anything.”
“Tell me your name.” I took a step toward her, not wanting to miss whatever she was about to say. I lived for that answer, needing to hear it in my ears and taste it on my tongue.
“You want my name?” Her voice barely came out as a whisper. “That’s all?”
“Yes.” My eyes narrowed on her face, needing that answer more than anything else in the world.
She faltered for an instant, unsure if she should give it to me because she didn’t understand my motive. Maybe I wanted it so I could report her to the police and press charges. If that was the case, that was my right and she had to cooperate. Her lips were parted before she spoke, and she finally gave her answer. “Rome Moretti.”
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