Eight Years Earlier
“Three days is all you could wait to see me again?” I feigned confidence to hide my surprise at the sight of the angel warrior in the lobby of Hamerstein and Associates. What in the dickens is he doing here?
And why the hell did he look like he just walked off a runway? Hands shoved in his pockets. A suit that hung on his broad frame like it was made for him. Dark hair mussed by the wind.
But those eyes…shrewd, yet pleasure evident in them as I approached. My heart stuttered, but my strides were fluid instead of betraying the slight tremor in my legs.
“We weren’t properly introduced,” he said as he closed the distance between us.
“Ever consider there’s a reason for that?”
He grinned, and I looked down at my clothes to make sure they hadn’t evaporated on the spot. Lord knew I felt like ripping them off.
“You don’t strike me as a runner.”
What the hell? Maybe I didn’t work out religiously—okay, at all—but I was in damn good shape. I lifted my chin. “Well, you strike me as a stalker.”
His eyes danced, but his mouth quirked down as if the accusation was a foreign one and he didn’t quite know what to do with it.
“Would you believe I happened to be in the neighborhood? Wanted to hear that Southern drawl again?”
“Not a chance.” I lifted my chin, and his eyes raked down the column of my neck. I flexed my fingers so as not to touch the skin where his look had singed me. I couldn’t do this. Feel whatever this was. “You’ve said hello. Now, I have work to do.”
I spun, and he caught me by the elbow. His breath on my ear raised every hair on my body. “See. A runner.”
Was he insinuating I was a coward? I whirled back around to set him straight and immediately regretted it. His face was inches from mine. I held my breath to keep from burying my nose in his suit. No one should smell that good. Not without a warning.
“I hope this isn’t your usual approach with women.”
Fuck him and that gorgeous smile. It lit his whole face and made him even more impossibly handsome.
“They usually approach me.”
I rolled my lips together. “That explains a lot.”
“Don’t you want to know why I’m here?” His voice was so low that I leaned in closer to hear him. Another mistake. I was too close, all in his personal space.
“You want a proper introduction.” I thrust my hand out, creating some distance. “Vivian DeGraw. Though you already know that. Now goodbye.”
His fingers clasped my hand and squeezed. He didn’t shake, just held me in place. “Daniel Elliott. And this most definitely isn’t goodbye.”
* * *
I don’t believe this. Daniel had been trying for three weeks to get me to go out with him. I hadn’t said yes. And now the stalker was at Paths of Purpose carrying a stack of pizza boxes into the dining area. This was drastic even for him.
I watched as Daniel served pizza to the women and children gathered around one of the few cafeteria-style tables. He seemed eager to do it, as if he genuinely wanted to be there, when I naturally assumed he didn’t. And he was good with the kids—playing catch with some of the boys and watching a skit a few of the kids put on. In one afternoon, he shattered some of my preconceived notions about him. I saw a different man than the one he’d shown me thus far. Behind the cold, elitist image he’d crafted, he was infinitely more down to earth than he’d ever let on.
I bumped my hip with his as we cleaned up empty plates and cups. “The kids like you being here.”
A shadow crossed his face as he shoved a paper plate into the trash. He didn’t respond, so I continued.
“They need a bigger space. I’m sorry to say it, but they’re overflowing here. Mrs. Quinn said they had ten new people come just last week.” The director of the facility and I had had long talks about the needs of the shelter. How she remained positive when there were so many in need impressed me.
“What do you propose they do?” Daniel asked, focused on the clean-up task.
I looked around, feeling helpless. “Build a new shelter. A much bigger one.” I shrugged. “I don’t know. But something.”
“Why is this so important to you?” He set the garbage bag down and looked at me.
I shifted from foot to foot. “I-I can’t really explain it. I feel it here.” I pointed to my heart. “I need to do something to help these people.”
“I get it.” And I believed him.
He resumed clearing the tables, and I found myself regretting that it was time to go.
We left the building with reluctant steps, and I noticed an expensive-looking car parked at the curb. He spun on me and gripped my arms. “One night. Give me just one.” His eyes burned into me, intense and demanding.
His hands dropped like I’d electrocuted him, and I felt cold without his touch. “Why?” He seemed perplexed, like he’d done everything in the world he was supposed to, and now I should just say yes. Spending an afternoon doing something good wasn’t going to convince me. It had helped his cause, given me a glimpse of his heart, but it wasn’t enough.
“You’re already too attached to me. One night, and I’ll never be rid of you,” I said seriously, though my eyes crinkled in the corners. I loved teasing him. I doubted anyone dared to do it, not often at least, and I got a little thrill at the incredulous flicker in his eyes.
“You’re afraid,” he declared, looking triumphant.
I wasn’t going to fall for his goading, especially when he was wrong. “No. I’m not. But I bet you are.”
“And what exactly would I be scared of?” he asked haughtily.
“That I’ll never say yes,” I said, tilting my head. “And if I ever do, you won’t be able to figure out how to keep me.”
“I think that’s the other way around,” he said dismissively.
“Is it?” I replied innocently. I didn’t miss the little tug upward at the corner of his mouth. “If you want to continue throwing away money, put it to good use and donate it here instead of sending those ridiculous flowers.”
“I’ll have you know that those flowers you call ridiculous—”
“Save it, Elliott. I’m not going to sleep with you just because you send me some roses.”
He full-on grinned at that, and I had to admit, I loved making him smile, no matter how I accomplished it. “When you do, I’m going to spread your legs and feast on your pussy until you can’t think of anything but how good I make you feel. You’ll be so addicted to me, I’ll have to go into hiding to rest my mouth.”
My eyes widened, and my heart raced. No one had ever talked to me like that. I had no personal experience to draw from in the oral sex department, but the man painted a powerful image. I could picture his head buried between my thighs, and everything south of my stomach tightened as I imagined what his mouth would feel like on me. He gave me a triumphant smirk as if he’d been inside my head, seeing the vision.
I sucked in a breath, the oxygen to my brain clearing the shock, and schooled my features to nonchalance.
“You going into hiding sounds like a good idea. I’ll give you a head start.” I turned my back to him and covered my eyes, beginning to count like we were playing hide and go seek. When I got to twenty, I lowered my hands and opened my eyes. “Damn. You’re still here.”
“And that is why I will never go anywhere with you,” I informed him, shifting my bag from one shoulder to the other, preparing to make my escape.
His brows shot up. “Explain.”
“Add ‘please’ to the end of that, and you’ll get a lot further,” I retorted, growing more frustrated by the second.
“That word is not in my vocabulary,” he informed me, running a hand through his black hair, his frustration mounting too.
“I don’t have to explain shit to you. And you need to brush up on your manners.”
“Vivian, I don’t do polite, and I sure as hell don’t have time for manners.”
“Then I don’t have time for you.” I ignored the flutter in my belly when he spoke my name. I began to move past him, but he grabbed me by the arm.
“Please explain why you will never go anywhere with me.” It was said impatiently.
I smiled to myself slyly before facing him. “See how much better that is? Although, you could work on your tone. But I’ll give you credit for your effort.” He didn’t let go of my arm, and I didn’t want him to, though I cast a withering look at where his fingers were wrapped around my bicep. “There is a difference between confidence and arrogance. Confidence is sexy. Arrogance is unbecoming. You haven’t once sincerely asked me out. You think you’re entitled because you say the words.”
“You’re teetering precariously between the two.”
“It’s a fine line to walk.” I was a product of my environment, having learned early on I had to believe in myself for myself. No one else was going to do it.
“You think you’re a princess, do you?” Daniel thought I was being stuck-up and spoiled, but that wasn’t it at all. Spending time with him would be a privilege for me also if he’d let me in just a little.
“You’ve got that backward, Princess .” He scowled, but that’s exactly what he was behaving like. “The reasons you want to spend the night with me are all about you.”
“You can’t be certain of my reasons until I’m given the chance. I guarantee I’ll make you forget about anything else but me. You’ve never known the kind of pleasure I can bring you.”
“I wasn’t talking about sex. But I think that’s all you know.” It wasn’t a long shot to assume this man didn’t do relationships. “What would it be like to ask a woman out because you genuinely wanted to know her? Do you even know how to court a woman, one who has no intention of being in your bed at the end of the night? Anyone can get you off, but you want more and don’t even know it. That’s why you’re after me. But I’ve become a conquest, a challenge. One you will never conquer with your current attitude.”
“I can find a good fuck in the next five minutes.”
“By all means.” I gestured down the road, shrugging like I didn’t care. And I didn’t. Well, the thought of him with another woman made me want to vomit, but I wasn’t interested in someone who thought I was disposable.
Daniel cupped my cheeks, his eyes piercing mine. His breath warmed my face, our noses almost touching. I inhaled his scent, something masculine and all him, which both settled me and sent me into a frenzy.
Without warning, his lips met mine with a tenderness that was unexpected, yet there was no mistaking the intent. His kiss may have been sweet and gentle, but he’d claimed me for his own, dared me to find someone else who could make me hum the way he did.
I moved my mouth against his, desperate, even though I’d basically told him to go be with another woman. My body made a liar out of me, and I didn’t care that he knew.
Daniel peeled his lips off mine, and my neck elongated toward him despite myself. He simpered, and I quickly sobered, wrinkling my nose. Damn, he was a powerful drug.
I shoved at him with both hands and started down the sidewalk. Distance was what I needed.
He didn’t stop me.