by Eve Berlin
eBook ISBN: 9781101541197
Print ISBN: 9780425241400
Dominant Dante knew Kara in high school, but he never imagined her fantasies would align so perfectly with his. When he lands a job at Kara’s law firm, desire draws them closer while their fears threaten to pull them apart- unless they can embrace both the pain and pleasure of love.
There was no reason for Kara to be thinking about being spanked at her best friend Lucie’s housewarming party—or the diary entry she’d made about it the night before. Except perhaps that she’d had too much wine because she was feeling sorry for herself still, nearly six months after her breakup with Jake. She poured herself another glass, anyway, and was taking a sip when she spotted him across the crowded room.
Dante De Matteo.
She hadn’t seen him since the last week of her junior year in high school. Not long after he’d knocked her louse of a boyfriend at the time on his ass. Brady had deserved it. She’d caught him cheating on her, and when she’d confronted him, he’d gotten ugly about it, grabbing her arm, bruising her, yelling in her face. And if she hadn’t already had a mad crush on Dante before then, him coming in to rescue her like her own personal white knight had certainly sealed the deal.
She remembered Dante’s face once Brady was moaning on the ground and two teachers had run up and grabbed him, probably to keep him from hitting Brady again. She remembered his dark eyes, how shadowed they’d been. Fierce. Vulnerable, as he’d looked at her, which had surprised her. She’d wanted to say something. To thank him. To ask him why he’d done it. But she’d been too young to know how to handle it.
Then Dante had been suspended. And soon after that he’d left for college and she hadn’t seen him again.
It had been more than twelve years, but she’d know him anywhere. He still had those chiseled good looks, all broad shoulders and long, lean muscles, but everything more refined, streamlined. The dark brown hair that used to fall into his face, but was cut short now. And those eyes… She supposed most people would call them brown, but she remembered how they could flash gold in the sun.
She went warm all over so fast, it was like being engulfed by flames. Sensory overload. She had to look away. To get out of there.
I’ve sworn off men. Sworn off!
She ducked her head and made for the back door, her wineglass clenched in her hand. She was not going to think about how hot she’d been for Dante all those years ago, all through high school. And apparently still was, from the way her pulse was racing.
Outside, the early January night was cold and damp, but she was used to that having grown up on Mercer Island, just across the bridge from Seattle, where Lucie and her roommate, Tyler, lived now. And she needed the cold to settle her body, her head.
No men right now.
Her life had been so much calmer since her last relationship was over. No more drama. No more expectations. Everything nice and peaceful, and she liked it that way. Or, that was what she told herself, anyway. How she explained to herself why she hadn’t even dated much since the breakup, which was not like her. She’d been with plenty of men before Jake. She didn’t want to think about how that relationship had affected her. Had ground down her confidence.
So, her vibrator was her current best date. So what? She could go home, take out her pink plastic friend, and imagine it was Dante De Matteo between her thighs…
She shivered, squeezed her legs together, sighed.
She sat down on the porch swing, the wooden slats biting into the backs of her thighs through her knit wrap dress. Settling back onto a small pile of pillows, breathing in the crisp evening air, she took a long sip of her red wine and crossed her legs.
She was just buzzed enough to easily slip back into brooding about being alone. All of Lucie and Tyler’s friends were happily paired off, it seemed, the house full of nuzzling couples. Until Dante had arrived. She’d noticed he appeared to be alone. Like her.
Not that she wasn’t better off by herself right now. Maybe forever. It was still too soon after the disaster with Jake for her to feel any differently, to want to be in a relationship again. She hadn’t completely shaken her bitterness yet.
She brooded for several minutes more, ignoring the jump start to her nerves she’d had inside, seeing Dante again. Or pretending to. Until she heard a footstep on the creaky boards of the porch. She looked up and saw a tall silhouette, a dark outline against the light coming through the doorway. Tall and well muscled and sexy as hell.
Her whole body surged.
“Kara? Is it really you?”
“Dante. Hi. What are you doing here?”
He stepped closer, into the light of the porch. He was well dressed, in dark slacks and a sweater that fit him like it was custom-made for his body. Maybe it was. He looked too damn good.
“I ran into Lucie a few days ago and she invited me to the party. I haven’t seen you since I left high school. Did you ever get that degree in art you wanted?”
She shrugged, trying to look cool. To keep cool. But seeing those same eyes looking at her now with unabashed appreciation, in a way she’d fantasized about since she was fourteen, was almost too much.
She took a breath, tried again.
“I took a lot of classes in college, but my parents didn’t exactly approve of me pursuing art. I dropped it after a while.”
“If I remember correctly, you were a good painter. Didn’t you show at some state competition in high school?”
“I can’t believe you remember that.” She felt her cheeks going warm.
He leaned against the doorframe, one of those poses only the most confident of men could get away with and still look completely natural and relaxed. “I remember a lot about you, Kara.”
He smiled, his dimples flashing. How was it any man could look so smooth and so boyishly charming at the same time? She could see the teenager he’d once been beneath the more masculine planes of his face. Under his sophisticated looks, his immaculate clothes, he was still the old Dante, she was certain. He’d always been kind. Even in high school, when boys were mostly jerks. Dante was the sort of guy who would talk to anyone at school, not just the jocks or the cool kids. Who would stand up for the smaller boys who got picked on by the bullies. He had stood up for her. And she was just as charmed by him now as she’d ever been.
“I remember you used to drive that old VW Bug,” he said, moving closer. “It was baby blue. Do you still have it?”
“What? No, of course not.” She laughed.
God, he looked good. Gorgeous. The sweater fit his broad shoulders perfectly, outlining the breadth of them. He definitely had some muscle under there.
“It’d be worth a lot these days,” he said.
“I sold it after high school and got something more mature,” she told him, smiling.
“I did the same. Sold my old Camaro and got a small sedan right after college. It’s funny how we all have these ideas about what being an adult means. I wish I had that car now.”
“What did you do after college besides sell your muscle car?” she asked him. “You were going for a law degree, right? And I think your whole family moved away.”
“I went to Yale, got my law degree there. I lived in New York for a while, worked at a firm there. My folks retired and moved to Colorado right around the time I finished school. But my brother, Lorenzo, is still here in Seattle. Do you remember him?”
“He’s a bit older than you, isn’t he? I think he graduated at the end of my freshman year. He looked a lot like you.”
Dante nodded. “He’s a civil engineer, married just last year. We’re pretty close. I moved back to Seattle a couple of years ago. I thought it’d be nice to be close to family. Is your family still here?” Dante asked.
“My parents never moved away from the island, although they both still work in the city.”
“You never had any brothers or sisters, did you?”
“No. Just me.”
Her mother, owner of one of the top architectural firms in Seattle, had never had time for more than one child. She’d never really had time for Kara. And her father, a stern and disapproving man, had his own law practice, which had always meant long hours. Even if their personalities had been conducive to parenting, their jobs certainly weren’t.
She had chosen a man just like her father when she’d gotten together with Jake. Harsh. Judgmental. Just like Brady back in high school, come to think of it. Apparently her father had ruined her ability to pick a man. Another good reason to have sworn off them. And she would stick to it. Even if Dante De Matteo, her crush since she was a teenager, was standing so close to her. Talking to her. Watching her with an appraising gaze and smiling. Making her tingle all over.
“So, no art degree, Kara? What are you doing now?”
“I ended up with a law degree, too, actually. I’m surprised we haven’t run into each other.”
“So am I. And that it took so long for me to run into Lucie. But I’m glad I did.” His dimples were flashing at her again. “I’m glad she invited me here so I could run into you, finally.” He gestured with his chin. “Mind if I sit with you?”
Her body gave another surge of heat.
“Um, no. Go ahead.”
He moved across the porch and was in front of her in a few long strides, settling his lanky body next to her on the porch swing. She caught his scent, something dark and male, with a hint of musk that made her shivery inside. And she could feel the heat emanating from him. Or maybe the heat was her own, building, spiraling, with him next to her.
“Are you practicing law”? he asked her; then he shook his head. “I really always have thought of you as an artist.”
“So did I, for a long time…”
It was so strange, hearing him say these things to her. An artist… It was what she’d always wanted. How did he remember how important art was to her? The idea made her heart beat a little faster.
He was watching her, his gaze dark, intense. “You should go after whatever you want, Kara.”
She crossed her legs, draped a hand over her knee where her wrap dress revealed a few inches of bare thigh between the hem and the tops of her high, brown suede boots. “Do you think so? It’s not always as easy as it sounds.”
She had the distinct impression he was flirting with her. And she was definitely flirting back.
He nodded. “A missed opportunity only leaves behind regret.”
“I always liked you in high school,” he said suddenly, his tone lowering.
“Yes. Always. I remember you when you were fourteen, fifteen. You had the longest legs even then.”
He moved his knee, tapping it against hers. She went warm all over, a lovely rush of heat.
“Hey, you two. Anyone need a refill?” Lucie had a wine bottle in her hand. Her blond hair was piled on top of her head, her cheeks pink, glowing with the chilly night air and probably a few glasses of wine. “I almost forgot you guys would know each other from school.”
“We were just talking about that. And I’m not drinking tonight. Kara, more wine?” Dante offered, taking her glass, his fingers brushing against hers. He took the bottle from Lucie, filled Kara’s glass, handed it back. This time he paused, his fingertips lying against hers for one long moment. He smiled at her. She heated all over, a furnace blast of pure desire.
“Okay, then… I’ll just… go on back inside,” Lucie said, disappearing back into the house.
But Kara hardly heard her. She pulled in a deep breath, took a sip of the wine.
Need to calm down.
He had a dazzling smile. There was no other word for it. His face was all masculine planes and angles: a finely sculpted jaw, high, almost sharp cheekbones. But his mouth was nothing short of lush. Generous. And the dimples… When he smiled, her entire body melted. She felt like a teenager all over again. Dumbfounded by that smile.
She lifted her glass and sipped, realizing only when the wine was all gone that she wasn’t nearly as buzzed as she’d thought she was. Maybe the shock of seeing Dante, her reaction to him, had sobered her up.
“You’re still as pretty as ever, Kara,” Dante told her out of the blue, that golden-brown gaze on hers. “I hope you don’t mind my saying so.”
She shook her head.
“Beautiful, really,” he murmured.
He was staring at her. Her cheeks heated once more, that warm and needy place between her thighs.
“Will it make you blush more if I ask you if you’re single?”
She sighed. “Yes.”
“Ah, I’m sorry. None of my business. Forgive me.”
He was all old-world manners. He always had been—a gentleman, even in high school. She’d loved it then. Loved it now.
“No, I mean, yes, I’m single,” she told him. “I broke off with someone about six months ago. Well, he broke up with me.”
“He was a foolish man.”
She shrugged. “Maybe. What about you? Married?”
“No, I’ve never been married. And I’m… on my own.”
“Ah.” She felt awkward, suddenly. She usually had no trouble talking to people. She considered herself outgoing. She was a trial lawyer, for God’s sake! Why couldn’t she put two sensible sentences together?
“Kara, am I making you uncomfortable? I don’t mean to ask such personal questions. It’s just been so long since I’ve seen you. I’d really like to catch up.”
“No, it’s fine. I’m fine.” She let out a small laugh. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve had a little too much wine, maybe.” It was a lie—she still felt only the slightest hint of a buzz—but a convenient excuse. “I’d like to catch up, too.”
He smiled at her, his dimples creasing his cheeks, making her pulse race once more. Then he reached out and brushed the backs of his fingers over her wrist, almost absentmindedly. Except that when she looked up at him, he was watching her, that golden gaze on hers. There was an odd expression on his face, and it took her a moment to recognize the naked desire there. And even through her clothes she swore she could feel his heat, arcing like a small shock from his hand through her arm.
She pulled in a breath, dizzy with sensation.
This cannot be happening.
Except that it was.
It was just chemistry. She’d had a crush on him for years, and now here he was, as if by magic. Looking better than ever. And he was nice. Smart. Easy to talk to. It was a perfectly normal response. Any woman would have to be blind and completely frigid not to respond to Dante De Matteo.
She was pretty sure he had never touched her before. She wanted him to do it again.
She focused on his mouth for a moment, then lifted her gaze back to his. Oh yes, hunger there. And something else… like an unasked question.
She swallowed, looked away, into the darkness of the yard, and beyond it, to the street, the amber glow of the streetlights illuminating the fog.
“Kara? Did I say something wrong?”
She turned back to him. “What? No, of course not. It’s just… it’s a little strange, seeing you again.”
“Yes. Strange, but good.”
He smiled, a thousand-watt smile. There was invitation there.
She was beginning to forget exactly why she’d sworn off men. It wasn’t as though she was going to get involved with Dante. She was definitely not in the market for a relationship. And she was no shrinking violet. Maybe it was time for her self-imposed dry spell to end. If he was interested and she was interested, then she didn’t see anything wrong in a little flirtation. Maybe leading to something more…
She watched him watching her. And was glad she was a habitual lingerie girl. She decided then that if the evening ended with her taking Dante home with her, perhaps that was better than sitting around feeling sorry for herself. And with Dante around, there would be nothing to be sorry for.
She smiled back, letting her own invitation reach her eyes.
Eyes like they were made of metal. Silver and gold and edged in green…
Dante felt stunned by her. He hadn’t seen her for twelve years, yet his body was responding exactly the way it had when he was a teenager. His pulse was hot, racing. He had to force down the arousal in his system, try not to get hard. But the girl he’d dreamed about through the last two years of high school was sitting right next to him.
He remembered suddenly the shock on her face when he’d punched out that punk Brady Metcalf. And the way that shock had warmed into a brilliant smile, just for him. That had made it worth it—getting suspended in the final week of his senior year. He’d have done it anyway. Brady was getting rough with her, and he sure as hell wouldn’t have let anything happen to her. But he’d never forgotten that smile…
She’d been too young then, and he’d never pursued anything with her. She was still in high school while he was getting ready to go away to college. But she was all grown-up now. Warm and female, her pale skin luminous in the amber light of the porch. As they’d talked, she’d begun to lean toward him, sending a subtle signal. And now her smile—sweet and sensual and reflecting the same desire he felt like a sharp current in his system—just about knocked him out.
Her light brown hair was long, as it had been in high school, a smooth, heavy sheaf of shining strands. He wanted to touch it. He wanted to touch her.
He wanted her.
Slow down, buddy.
His body didn’t want to. But this was someone he’d known years ago, not some girl to pick up in a bar, or at the Pleasure Dome, the BDSM club he’d frequented the last several years. Not a woman to have a brief fling with, then never see again. Kara was the girl next door. Literally. And he was always especially careful with the vanilla girls. Not that he couldn’t enjoy sex with a woman who wasn’t interested in the rougher games he played. He could. He often did. But that taboo edge made things more exciting. Revealing that to someone new was always a delicate situation. Revealing that to someone he’d known when they were just kids… But they weren’t kids anymore.
Jesus, he was thinking as though she’d already offered to sleep with him, offered herself up to him on a silver platter.
Not that he’d mind if she did.
He went hard thinking about that. He couldn’t help it.
He pulled in a long breath of the cool night air, exhaled.
“Would you like me to get you some more wine?” he asked her, thinking a short diversion might be a good idea, a moment inside the house where he could cool off.
“No, I don’t need any more. Thanks.”
She set the glass down on the floor of the porch. Smiled at him again. That sweet mouth. Her lips would be so soft… and suddenly he couldn’t think of any reason not to just lean in and kiss her.
He did—one hand going to her cheek, he moved in a little at a time, giving her a chance to pull away. But all she did was part her lips, her big hazel eyes on his, then fluttering shut as he got closer.
Her lips were soft, softer than he’d imagined. And she was going soft all over, her body yielding, leaning into his. Yielding was one thing he recognized easily. And this woman had it, that ability to give herself over, whether she was aware of it or not.
She opened her lips and he slipped his tongue inside. She tasted of wine, liquid and sweet. And she was kissing him back, her mouth welcoming him. Drawing him deeper.
She moaned quietly, and it went through him like a shock. He kept kissing her, just kissing her, and he was as hard as if she’d had her hands on him, or her gorgeous mouth.
He pulled back, and she held perfectly still, her eyes closed, her mouth still slightly parted. Her lips were plush, a little swollen from his kiss. He wanted to kiss her again. But he was actually afraid that if he did, he might push her too far, too fast. Because the truth was, he wanted to strip her down, push her onto her back right there on the narrow porch swing, and sink into her. Do every dirty thing he’d ever imagined back in high school. A few more things he’d learned since.
Her lashes fluttered; her eyes opened.
“Yeah. Do I need to apologize?”
“No. That was as much my fault as it was yours.”
“Does anyone need to be at fault here?” he asked, needing to know, to be certain he wasn’t imagining she wanted him.
That sweet smile again. God, she was something.
He realized he still had his hand on her face. Her cheek was smooth beneath his palm, the skin silky and cool in the chilly night air.
“Are you cold?” he asked her.
“No, I’m fine. I’m good.”
She looked a bit dazed. She looked exactly the way he felt. Overcome by lust.
No woman had had this effect on him, not that he could remember. Probably ever. Could it be the reawakening of those long-held teenage fantasies? Or was it simply her?
It bothered him a little. But not enough for him to walk away. All he could think of was her naked body under his. Even better if she’d let him do the things to her he loved best. Spank her. Bring her to orgasm with that excruciating combination of pleasure and pain. But how to bring it up with her? It was so much easier with the women he met at the Pleasure Dome. There, everyone knew exactly what to expect. No one went to the city’s biggest and finest BDSM club without having at least some idea of what went on there. Without sharing the same kinds of desires.
But the fact was, he was so turned on by her, he wanted her with or without all the extreme sex. It didn’t matter right now nearly as much as it normally did. As much as it should.
What did that even mean?
He didn’t want to question it too carefully. He just wanted her. Out of control, like some hormone-driven teen. Wanted her, in a way he’d never desired another woman before. After fifteen minutes of talking to her. After all these years.
Have to have her.
He’d figure out what the hell was going on with him later.
“Kara. I’m going to ask you something, and I don’t want you to get offended, but I’m going to be blunt.”
He leaned in, keeping his voice low.
“I can’t believe I’ve run into you tonight, after all this time. But I have to tell you, if we were still in high school, this would have been my dream come true. Just kissing you. But I’m all grown-up now. So are you. And I want more.”
Her eyes went wide, her breath coming out in a small puff of warm air. Then she smiled again, and he knew it would be all right. She leaned into him, looked up at him from beneath her long, dark lashes. It was the look of a seductress, yet there was still something sweet, almost innocent about her.
“We are all grown-up, Dante. What is it you want?”
He took her hand, wrapping his fingers around hers. “I want you. I want you so badly, I can’t wait for all the usual polite talk. And this is not some well-practiced line. I don’t believe in that crap, frankly. I just… want you.”
Kara’s breath went out of her. The blunt honesty was like some sort of wild aphrodisiac. That and the way he was looking at her, his plush mouth loose and still damp from kissing her.
The man could kiss. No doubt about it. She wanted him to do it again. She wanted him to do more than kiss her. And she wanted it now.
She shrugged, trying to appear casual about it even as her pulse thrummed with need. “Then have me, Dante.”
He smiled at her, all heat and a slow, simmering pleasure.
He stood, helped her to her feet. He was even taller when he was standing next to her, dwarfing her five-foot-eight frame. She loved that, loved feeling small and feminine next to him. She drew in a deep breath, inhaled the dark, musky scent of him. A shudder ran through her, pleasure trembling like some long, drawn-out note through her body.
Yes, they were all grown-up. And maybe this was exactly what she needed. Maybe he was. She’d brooded long enough.
Dante De Matteo, after all these years. A fantasy about to come true.
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