“What is your driver going to think of us?” she drawled.

“I sent him away two hours ago. Come back with me.”


As she stopped and looked up at the sky, he followed suit. A thick cloud cover had rolled in, and there was a winter humidity in the air. More snow was coming.

Who gave a shit about the weather.

“My father is away on business,” he said. “We’ll have the place to ourselves. He took his butler with him, and the other servants are glad to have a night off. And okay, fine, so I told the driver to clear the house out or he was fired.”

Novo pivoted around. “Where do you live.”

“Is that a yes?”

“No, it’s a question about where you live.”

He smiled. “You never give an inch, do you? And my blood is in you. Follow the way. After we fuck in the tub, I’ll make you Last Meal down in the kitchen.”

There was a long silence. Off in the distance a siren wailed. A horn honked. Three people spilled out of the club, the clutch of humans wrapped in each other’s arms, laughing.

“All right,” she said.

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Peyton took her hand and gave it a squeeze. “Thank you.”

When she pulled away, he let her go. And then he closed his eyes and dematerialized. When he re-formed on the front lawn of his father’s mansion, he had no idea whether she would actually show or not. She was like that. Hot and cold.

His heart pounded as he stood in the snow, the wind rushing around and whistling through the evergreens at the edge of the property.

Lights were on inside, and for a moment, he regarded the mansion as if through Novo’s eyes. Would she like the old place?

Somehow, that didn’t matter, and not because he didn’t care about her opinion. It was just that, for the first time in his life, the fact that none of this was really his hit him. His father’s life, his bloodline’s expectations, his social sphere’s demands…he was not required to buy in to any of it, and maybe his addictions had represented his struggle to come to this realization.

At that very instant, Novo appeared beside him.

“Welcome to my humble abode,” he murmured as he swept a hand toward the house’s grand expanse.

“You know, I thought it would be bigger.” As he recoiled, she nailed him a good one in the arm. “Gotcha. This place is like a goddamn castle, are you kidding me.”

Drawing her in close, he kissed her on the top of the head—and was surprised when she let him. And then he took her to the front entrance. As he hipped open the heavy door, he was surprised at how tense he was.

She walked in with those split leathers and her athletic body moving with power and her head up as she looked around.

Her eyes seemed to miss nothing of the antiques and the grandeur, the crystal chandeliers, the grandfather clock and the tapestries.

Pivoting to him, she said dryly, “You never mentioned you lived in the Smithsonian museum.”

“I hate to show off, you know.” He kicked the door shut, the sound of the thing hitting home echoing up to the high ceiling. “It’s fucking tacky. Come. I want to introduce you to my tub.”

As they went upstairs, she asked him how many rooms there were; he hesitated.

“Come on,” she chided. “Can’t count that high?”

“I’m not good with math, it’s true.” He took her to the left at the head of the stairs, down the corridor that had so many doors. “I’m going to guess fifty or sixty. Maybe more. There are parts of this place I’ve never bothered to go in.”

“I live in a single room. No, I have two rooms, a bathroom and an everything.”

“You’ll have to show me sometime.”

“It wouldn’t hold your interest any longer than a Kleenex box.”

He stopped in front of his bedroom suite. “It’s yours. So I am very interested.”

Novo did the job with the knob, probably as a way to duck the intensity that he was throwing out. That was another thing he was learning about her—she was big into diversions, and this was not a surprise. The female avoided closeness at every turn, making him think of a bird landing and taking off at the slightest provocation.

She did seem to keep coming back to his palm, though.

God, she was so different. Unexpected. Fascinating.

With a whistle under her breath, Novo walked into the enormous spread, checking out his bed, his movie screen–sized TV, his sofas, and the bathroom beyond.

“It’s so cozy, right?”

She laughed. “If you’re comparing this place to a hotel lobby, sure.”

He walked over to his dressing room, the doors opening on their own thanks to motion sensors. Inside, he stripped by the dry-cleaning hamper.

When he came back out, he was naked. “You have way too many clothes on.”

“And you no longer have that problem.”

Her eyes gleamed as she kicked off her combat boots, disarmed, and peeled that muscle shirt and those ruined leathers. Then she stood before him in the flesh. Her body was…so amazing. Lean, muscled…incredibly sexy.

“Fuck,” he heard himself say. “You are the most beautiful female I have ever seen.”

“FYI, I’m a sure thing tonight. You don’t have to compliment me—”

“Shut up.” He came forward and took her hand. “Until you leave this house at nightfall, just let me say what I want and be who I am with you, okay? I’m not asking you to pretend that you’re one of those doormat females in a dress with their pinkies in the air over a teacup. But for the next bunch of hours, leave me alone with the corrections, okay?”

She looked away. Looked back. “Fair enough.”

With that settled, he pulled her into the bath and started the water flowing into the tub. And in the mirrors, he watched as she wandered around and investigated sinks and towels, bathrobes and windows. She was so stunningly sexy, he nearly let things overflow onto the floor.

“That is a pool,” she announced. “Not a tub.”

“Wait,” he said as she lifted a leg to get in. “Your hair.”

With a graceful twist, she turned to him. “What about it?”

Peyton came forward slowly and took the end of the long rope where the band was. “Take it out.”

Before she could shake her head, he whispered, “Please. I just want to see you with it loose. Once.”

As a haunted look came into her eye, he braced himself for a no.

Instead, she took the thing out of his fingers. “Let me do it.”

With her back to him, she brought the length around and there was some snapping as she undid the banding…then she was working the braid apart, unleashing acres of gorgeous black hair.

When she was finished, she pivoted to him and pushed it all over her shoulders so that he could only catch sight of the part of it where the indent of her waist was. With her downcast eyes, and tense body, it was as if she were braced to be slapped.

Reaching out, Peyton fanned her hair back into place.

“You take my breath away,” he said softly as he regarded the waves cascading down below her breasts, nearly to the cleft of her sex. “Now…and forever more.”

It was just fucking hair, for godsakes, Novo thought.

But the truth was, no one had seen her with the stuff loose since Oskar. And in the end, the only way she could stay with it down was by reminding herself, over and over again, that this was just for the day ahead. As soon as the sun lowered itself on the far edge of the horizon, she was going to tie everything back up again and set herself to rights once more, everything buttoned, braided, and bound, her emotions impenetrable once more.

As Peyton started speaking to her, she heard more the tone than the syllables, and yes, he was telling her things that in her lonely, battered heart she was hungry to hear and believe—but which her self-preservation told her to shut out.

She could not ignore the way he looked at her, though.

Or the fact that he got down on his knees.

His hands were like a summer breeze traveling over her thighs, her hips…her breasts. And his lips were velvet soft as he brushed them across her lower belly. When he hooked an arm under her leg and moved it over his shoulder, she went with him, allowing him the access he wanted. His mouth on her sex was so good, too good, slick against slick, heat against heat.

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