And now a short excerpt from the book…
“No.” Sitting forward, Brandon folded his hands on the stack of papers atop his desk. “You worked with Kate. That was when? Ten years ago? Have you danced since then?”
“Fifteen, and no. But I’m quite capable.” Only because Dmitri made her dance for him. She supposed she could consider that a benefit. If he hadn’t insisted on private pole dances, her body would have forgotten how.
The reproachful arch of a dark eyebrow hinted at doubt. “What makes you certain you can compete with the girls who’ve been doing this for years?” His gaze dropped to her breasts, then slid slowly back up to lock with hers. “Beyond the obvious.”
Natalya’s body flushed with heat. She crossed the opposite leg over her opposite knee, unsettled by the blatant appreciation in those tawny eyes. How many times had Dmitri looked at her with the same suggestion in his gaze?
How long had it been since she’d liked being stripped bare with a mere glance?
The sudden tingling of her skin disturbed her. Moretti could very well be one of Dmitri’s faithful—he had more than one cop on the take. While Dmitri understood her job required a bit of . . . feminine finesse . . . he’d only grant her so much leeway. If she gave him a reason to suspect her allegiance, he’d slice her throat before she could see the knife glint. And the way her body was warming beneath Brandon’s heated stare spelled trouble.
Determined to ignore his blatantly sexual gaze, she focused on the small white scar across Moretti’s chin and dredged up every reason she could think of to convince him into giving her the job. “I danced well. Was the crowd favorite for a while. I held the job all through college, and two years in, the girls were coming to me for dance suggestions, costuming, on-the-spot fixes for breakdowns. Advice on how to handle the more exuberant customers.” She took a breath and began counting items off her fingers. “I hired. I fired. I kept the drugs out of the dressing rooms. I trained the girls on the pole—Kate said you needed someone strong with the pole. My core body strength—”
Natalya snapped her mouth shut. Slowly, she blinked. “What?”
“You’re hired.” Moretti stood, stretching out his muscular thighs that even his loose denim jeans couldn’t disguise. He shoved his left hand into his hip pocket. Against her will, Natalya’s gaze dropped to his crotch. Her breath caught at the tightening of his fly, the hard ridge that evidenced arousal.
When she yanked her gaze back to Brandon’s, his eyes flashed dark gold, telling her he knew exactly where she’d been looking. His voice, however, belied his awareness. “We open in three hours. I’ll need you here early to help get the girls settled in.”
He fished a set of keys out of the top right desk drawer and held his fist over her hand. “These are to the dressing rooms. I have a copy, you have a copy. No one else. Kate’s our star. She goes on at ten, and every two hours after. Jill follows. Beyond that, you’ll have to talk to the girls.”
Natalya moved her hand beneath his, palm up, waiting for the keys. “And me?”
“I need a housemom more than I need a dancer.” His fingers brushed the base of her wrist.
Ignoring the chill that raced to her shoulder, she blinked again. “A housemom?” He had to be kidding! She needed to be onstage. Scoping out the crowd. Looking for Discovery,as he was bound to be looking for potential targets.
Brandon lifted his hand a fraction. “A housemom.”
Or the job wasn’t hers. The hard line of his chiseled jaw voiced what he didn’t say.
Hell, not if she had anything to say about it. She was here to crack a case, and she couldn’t do that locked away in the back of the house.
He slammed the ball of his fist down on her desk. A box of chocolate-covered cherries jumped. He glanced at the white and red carton briefly, then dismissed it, locking his gaze with Natalya’s once more. “I’ll tell you about wrong ideas. Let’s start with how your boss told you not to dance, and you decided to do so anyway.”
“My boss?” Natalya laughed again. “Make up your mind which role you want to play, Brandon. You’re only my boss when it’s convenient for you. Otherwise you’re too busy fucking me.”
He clamped his teeth down on the stream of oaths that choked off his air. He couldn’t argue with the truth. Moreover, he caught the flat glint of her eyes. The unfeeling stare that told him the words were real enough, but the woman who said them wasn’t. For a moment, in the dancers’ lounge, he’d glimpsed that mesmerizing Natalya who drove him to maddening limits. While this shell made him every bit as crazy, he ached for the woman who prompted him into foolishness. She had been on the stage. She deserved the fight.
“Damn it, where are you?” Frustrated beyond all means, he swiped his arm across the desk, sending the chocolates flying into the wall.
She blinked. But not at him, he realized, as he followed the trajectory of her gaze. She stared at the floor where the box had broken open. Smashed chocolate-covered cherries coated the floor, sugary ooze pouring from a squashed corner.
Brandon straightened. Unease filtered through his angry haze. He’d hit the candy hard. But not hard enough to smash two entire trays of candies, each held in egg-shaped cups. That candy was already crushed, long before he’d hit it. And to accomplish that, while keeping the flimsy plastic cups from collapsing, someone had done it piece by piece.
“Who gave you that?” His gaze flicked back to hers, and he took a small measure of satisfaction at witnessing the truth behind her eyes before she once again snapped the shutters closed.
“I told you jealousy wasn’t a pretty color for you.”
He pursed his lips, ground his teeth together. With patience that defied his years of training, he gritted out, “No games. Who gave you the chocolate, Natalya?”
Defiance radiated in the proud jut of her chin. Sparkled behind her unblinking stare. Then, as she blinked, the facade crumbled. She shook her head. “It wasn’t here when I left for the stage.”
In the next heartbeat, the color drained from her face. He knew then, she’d made a connection. Associated the candy with someone else. Someone who had the capacity to strike fear into her fearless little heart.
“Tell me what you want, beautiful.” His breath rasped over her cheek. Featherlight kisses accompanied the whisper, trailing across her skin in a taunting path toward her mouth.
Kiss me. She turned her head in search of lips she instinctively knew would be warm, the words on the tip of her tongue. Kiss me until I don’t care whether I live or die.
Honesty. Just once.
He caught her lower lip with his teeth, the nip nowhere near gentle. But the lazy stroke of his tongue soothed the stinging bite. She parted her lips, dipped her tongue out to touch his.
Brandon’s body tightened like a whip. The pressure in her lower back increased as his fingers curled into her skin. Their breaths mingled. The tips of their tongues met in a slow, sensual dance. As another spasm of ecstasy threatened to send her tumbling into his solid chest, she braced her hands on his shoulders.
And then Brandon was gone, the magic of his fingers disappearing as he stepped back and set both hands on her waist. His gaze scorched in to flood her body with tingles. He waited, his question unspoken, but hanging between them.
Tell me what you want.
Clearly he intended to make her admit she wanted to feel him deep inside her. Wanted to experience the slide of his bare skin against hers. And God, how she wanted to kiss him. To taste the desire that burned in his gaze and the indescribable flavor of hot, aroused man.
Confessing might lead her to an early grave, but for once, her conscious would be clear. She swallowed hard and dug deep for the courage that had kept her alive these last three years. His gaze followed the sweep of her tongue as she moistened her lips.
“Kiss me.” Her senses honed in on her whisper, amplifying it and the ragged fall of their mutual breathing. She became aware of every minuscule sound as she waited for Brandon to either dip his head and honor her request, or shove her aside with a wicked sneer.
He took a step closer, bringing their bodies in contact from chest to toes. One arm wrapped around her waist, then slid up her back to offer support between her shoulder blades. The other tangled in her hair, tipping her head back. Putting her where he wanted her—subtle dominance that thrilled her in places she hadn’t known existed. Her womb clamped hard, sending another rush of moisture through her pussy.
His mouth descended. Warm lips played against hers, drawing her into the spell his body wove. Pulling her in so deep she struggled for air.
The sudden, brassy ring of her cell phone jolted her out of hazy desire. She froze. With Kate and Sergei due to arrive at Fantasia any minute, there could only be one other person calling at this time of day—Dmitri. It would be almost one in the morning in Moscow. The time Dmitri put aside his work and crawled into bed. He’d want to talk before he slept.
“Don’t answer that,” Brandon whispered against her mouth.
Damn if those lips weren’t compelling. She’d had his mouth on her breast, knew the incredible magic his tongue could create there, but had yet to experience the tantalizing slide of his tongue against hers. The need to feel his mouth on hers, to get lost in his potent masculinity pressed her to ignore the ringing tones.
Duty, however, rose up screaming. If she didn’t answer, Dmitri would get suspicious.
“I have to.”
Tori St. Claire grew up writing. Hobby quickly turned into passion, and when she discovered the world of romance as a teen, poems and short stories gave way to full length novels with sexy heroes and heroines waiting to be swept off their feet. She wrote her first romance novel at seventeen.
While that manuscript gathered dust-bunnies beneath the bed, she went on to establish herself as a contemporary, historical, and paranormal author under the pen name, Claire Ashgrove. Her writing, however, skirted a fine line between hot and steamy, and motivated by authors she admired, she pushed her boundaries and made the leap into erotica, using the darker side of human nature and on-the-edge suspense to drive grittier, sexier, stories.
Her erotic romantic suspense novels are searingly sensual experiences that unite passion with true emotion, and the all-consuming tie that binds — love.
Tori can be found at:
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January 2: AsianCocoa’s Secret Garden
January 3: Rachel Leigh – Erotic Romance
January 4: It’s Raining Books
January 5: The Forbidden Bookshelf
January 6: Riverina Romantics
January 9: Adventure Into Romance
January 10: Romancing the Book
January 11: Seductive Musings
January 12: Immortality and Beyond
January 13: Ramblings From This Chick
January 16: Carrie Ann Ryan’s Blog
January 17: Sexy Lady
January 18: As The Pages Turn
January 19: Book Travels
January 20: Love To Read For Fun
January 23: Words of Wisdom from The Scarf Princess
January 24: Roz Lee Contemporary Erotic Romance Author
January 25: Beyond Romance
January 26: Kacey’s Kreations
January 27: Erotica For All