“I took two gap years after the accident,” he says breezily, taking a drag from his cigarette. 

“How nice for you,” I say tightly. Without thinking, I reach for the pack of smokes and take one. I need to do something destructive that doesn’t involve Jonathan’s face.

I hate the casual air he has about the accident that took my sister from our world. But he wasn’t in the car that night. He’d stayed at the club instead. He’s just another person who mourns her.

He isn’t responsible for what happened to her—I am.

“I think of her everyday,” Jonathan says in a quiet voice.

I study him and see what others don’t—the bravado and the charm are a mask. He might truly mean what he says about thinking of Sarah. He might be fucked up over what happened. I don’t care.

Caring costs too much and its price can’t be paid with money.  

“Brimstone tonight?” he asks.

I nod. I don’t have anything better to do than find a warm place for my cock and I’ve become a fixture at the club. The noise, the packed cluster of bodies, the flames—it’s as close to hell as I can find in London, and hell is where I belong. 

“Don’t invite Pepper,” I say. The blonde has been like a shadow since I returned home and she’s just as difficult to lose.

“I never do.” He shrugs like it’s a lost cause. Reaching over, he lights my cigarette. I’d forgotten I took one. “There. I better get back.”

I turn and watch him go, wondering if this is the rest of my life. It’s a fitting punishment to be dragged to another bar and another club to be photographed and fawned over. I may have been sent from London, but I’ve never really escaped. 

Seven years ago, I made a mistake. I’ve been paying for it for the last six. Now everyone wants to pretend I’ve atoned and that we can go back to our previously assigned lives.

I need a distraction.

But while my father has been detached enough to not care where I go at night, I somehow know there is one place that will catch his attention. 

There is a door in London that leads to the only club I am interested in visiting.

It would open for me now. But I was dragged away from there with blood on my hands, and I’ve chosen to leave that door closed.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to ignore how the darkness there calls to me.

It will take a miracle to keep me away—and then a miracle appears.

A woman darts into the hall, her eyes behind her like she is attempting to escape. When no one follows, she sinks against the wall and pulls at her black dress. It’s too tight for her, which is exactly how all clothing should be on a woman like this. The fabric puckers over her breasts and I want to set them free—take them in my mouth.

I can almost hear how she’ll moan.

She startles, finally realizing I’m here. Her hand flies to that perfect chest and she gasps—the most perfect little sound in the world and I haven’t even touched her. Yet. I want to make her do it again. I want to see what other sounds I can draw from her. 

The silence between us stretches as she stares at me fixedly, no doubt trying to grasp who she’d discovered. Then her eyebrows knit together in concentration. 

“I don’t think you’re supposed to smoke here,” she says loftily—a pretense to appear in control of the situation. She seems like the type who likes to play it safe. Her body, which keeps angling towards me as though intent on betraying her, appears to have other ideas. I resist the urge to curl my finger and beckon her closer.

I don’t need to see if she’ll come. I know she will.

“My apologies.” I try to bite back a smirk and fail. There are other things I’m not supposed to do here, and I find myself considering doing them all to her. “Are you going to report me for conduct unbecoming?” 

I step back on to the terrace to appease her and hope she’ll follow.

She’s flustered by the gesture, her lashes fluttering. “I wouldn’t want you to get into trouble.”

“We wouldn’t want that.” Wicked thoughts pour through me and carve a smile across my face. I want to get her into trouble.  

Her cheeks flush pink like she knows what I’m thinking—or maybe she’s thinking the same. Except that this girl doesn’t know what to think. I can tell from how she keeps looking me over. She’d let me take her to bed. I already know that. But I’m not interested in sex. I want to fuck her. I want to own her. I want to do things to her that will turn more of her soft white skin red. 

Her teeth sink into her lower lip and I glimpse what her face will look like while she’s riding my cock. I arch an eyebrow. It’s half invitation and half question.

Does she know what her body is asking for? 

“I think that I should warn you of the dangers of smoking,” she says quickly. 

I’ve gotten to her. Good. It will make this more interesting.

“Poppet, you would not be the first.” I flick the cigarette into the rubbish bin without looking at it. I want to tell her that I don’t smoke. I want to reassure her almost as much as I want to touch her. There’s no reason I should care what she thinks of me. So why do I?

“Have we met before?”

It’s the last thing I expect her to say, and then I realize what’s caught my attention about her. This woman didn’t seek me out. She isn’t lingering to try her hand at scoring a prince. She has no idea who I am.

I’m just a man in a room that she can’t seem to walk away from, and suddenly, I don’t want her to walk away.

“I think I would remember you.It’s more likely that my reputation has proceeded me,” I say, falling back on charm, but the truth of the moment burns through me. She’s drawn to me. Whatever she’s glimpsed is what’s keeping her here not my family or my title. 

No one sees past those things. Even I see it in the mirror each morning. 

“A ladies’ man then?” she asks, looking neither surprised or excited by that prospect.

“Something like that,” I say, wondering what she wants me to be. “What’s an American girl doing in this snobby old place?”

Her answering smile is forced. I’ve struck a nerve. “I’m a British citizen actually. Although I grew up in the States. Mom’s American. She met my dad when he was studying at Berkeley.”

Is that why she doesn’t know who you are?

“And a California girl, too. I can’t imagine why you’d trade the beach for rainy old London.”

“I like the fog.” Her voice is soft and my head turns on the sound, instinctively straining to catch every word.

I want to ask her if she likes the dark? But I already know the answer. She’s full of light. There’s no place for her in my world.

She holds out her hand and I stare at it for a moment. “I’m Clara Bishop, by the way.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Clara Bishop.” I take it and lift it to my lips, wanting to taste her—just once. But the moment my mouth touches her skin, I feel it. It’s electric, a lightning bolt to my groin that splinters up and finds purchase in my chest. 

But it doesn’t satisfy me. My eyes land on her lips, wondering if that would, at the same moment that a familiar, and unwelcome, blonde comes around the corner.

Clara pulls her hand away, but I don’t think. Catching her arm, I yank her to me, pleased with how her body melts into mine as I angle my face to hers. I need to kiss her. My whole being tells me that this woman belongs in my arms, and I coil them possessively around her waist. There’s a moment of hesitation before she submits, her mouth parting to  my tongue. I flick it across her teeth and she welcomes me deeper. This isn’t a dance. It’s not a game. It’s real.

Her legs buckle and I catch her, keeping her upright—keeping her with me.

It’s where she belongs. Just like my hand belongs on the small of her back. The shift that nearly brought her to her knees realigns my world for one moment and I see in her something I’d lost a long time ago.

It’s a curious mix of hope and desire and something like a future: purpose.

I release her so suddenly she stumbles and I steady her.

The feeling pounds through me. It claws at my skin and burns in my veins. I want to kiss her again. I want to carry her away.

I want it so much that I don’t.

She searched my face, her own a question I can’t answer. “Why?” 

“My motives are less than chivalrous,” I say, taking my hand from her and instantly missing the contact. “That woman is a particularly horrible mistake of mine.”

“You kissed me to avoid your ex-girlfriend?”

“I would not call her my ex, but my apologies all the same.” Keep it civil, I command myself. Pepper’s appearance was an excuse to do what I already wanted, but even I couldn’t understand it. 

I enjoy control. I demand it—of myself, of others. I just lost it entirely.

Her wide eyes are watching me now and they are the most delicate shade of gray—the color of a heavy morning fog. I think I could get lost in her eyes and be happy. I take a step toward her, then think better of it and move toward the terrace.

“Congratulations on your matriculation.”

“Did you graduate as well?” she asks softly.

She really has no idea who I am and I laugh before I can cover my mouth with my hand. This puzzle of a woman with her oddly affecting attitude wants to know who I am. “I took a rather different career path. Are we playing twenty questions?”

“Will you tell me who you are?” Clara asks.

I wink, playing the role I’ve been dealt. “I think the point, poppet, is to figure that out.”

“You took a different career path? But you’re here—” she gestures around us “—at a prestigious club, so you’re either a well-dressed waiter or you come from money?” Her eyes narrow. I’ve annoyed her and it makes me want to do it again. I want to see how she’ll respond.

“That wasn’t a yes or no question.”

“If you don’t want to play…” She looks behind her at the party she abandoned, and I don’t want her to go back to those people.

“I merely want to play by the rules, unless you’d rather I ask you the questions,” I suggest.

Her throat slides and I imagine all the small nuances of her body. If this is how she reacts to a conversation…

Fuck.

“Do you come from money?” she asks.

“You could say that.” She’s going to play. 

“Yes or no.”

“Yes,” I say, leaning to catch a lock of her hair. It’s as soft as her lips and it has my cock thinking about how soft other parts of her must be. “Is it my turn yet?”

“I haven’t asked all twenty questions,” she whispers.

“Don’t spend them all at once.” I tuck the hair behind her ear. “It’s best to leave some anticipation.”

“You already know who I am.”

“But there are lots of things I’d like to know about you.” I resist the urge to kiss her neck barely. Instead, my words whisper across her skin and I see her shiver. “And I’m dying to hear you say yes.”

“What if the answer is no?”

“Trust me, it isn’t.” I can’t keep myself from tasting her again and I brush a kiss across her jaw.

She pushes at her dress but it does nothing to hide the tight pop of her nipples against the fabric or the flush lingering on her cheeks.

“Last question,” I say, “and then let’s see if you can guess.”

She hesitates and I live in a lifetime in that moment, wondering if she’ll figure it out.

“Who are you?” she asks.

I shake my head and mouth yes or no, but inside me, my heart rockets into my throat. It was a cheat—a last ditch effort to find out. 

And somehow it was the right question. I’m not certain I know the answer to it.

“I should be getting back,” she says.

I rake my eyes over her, wondering briefly if I could be whoever she hopes I am.  “I hope to see you again, Clara Bishop.”

I don’t wait for her to leave. Turning to the balcony, I wonder what the fuck just happened. I want to ask her. I want to know what she felt. When I look behind me she’s gone. Her scent, vanilla and rose, hangs in the air like her final question—equally intangible—but it’s her kiss that lingers.

And I want more.

© GENEVA LEE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED OR COPIED.

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CHAPTER ONE

 

The club is for graduates of Oxford and Cambridge. As I am neither, I shouldn’t be here. My education came with bloodstains and fatigues. Still, I’m here at another insufferable party, pretending that I have anything left in common with these people. It’s insulting how doors open for money or titles. I have both.

I have a name that will open any door in this country.

I have a name I don’t want, and it is impossible to forget that here amongst the crowded sycophants eager to play at being my friend.

“Hiding?” Jonathan asks, slipping onto the terrace next to me. He pulls out a pack of clove cigarettes and offers me one.

I shake my head. “No on both counts.”

“In that case, the party is in there, mate. I know you’re a little rusty on the etiquette.” He flicks open a lighter and lites his smoke.

Jonathan Thompson’s presence is as cloying as the smell now drifting toward me. I can’t help but remind him that I’m not a spoiled university brat intent on networking. “Why are you graduating now? You’re old as shit.”

Jonathan was my sister’s friend before the accident. Younger than me, but old enough that he should have left university behind by now. 

© 2019 ROYAL WORLD. GENEVA LEE LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. 

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