I read the excerpt of this book in the back of Bound to You, a sexy novella featuring a blind lumberjack (sort of) and a famous movie star, and thought it might be one of the hottest scenes I had read in a long time. I was anxious to read the entire story. The rest certainly lives up to its opening. I emailed Berkley and asked for permission for two things. First, would they allow me to post the excerpt here at Dear Author and second, would they offer up some books to giveaway. They said yes to both. Because of the steaminess of the content, it is hidden under a spoiler tag.
Wilkie shouted her name as she raced through the din of the makeup room. A photo shoot for movie posters and other promotional materials was scheduled today. The special effects makeup department was roaring in high gear. Wilkie James looked too busy to chat, so Joy merely slowed her rapid pace. Her friend held an airbrush and was staring intently at a female’s right breast as he turned it pale green, his shaggy, dark brown hair just inches away from a nipple.
“He’s in his lab, angsting for your talent. ‘I need Joy,’ he keeps moaning,” Wilkie imitated, adding a tremble to Seth Hightower’s gruff baritone for comic effect. “He’s been trying to reach you for hours. Where’ve you been, beautiful?”
“Don’t I have a life, or was that all my imagination?” Joy asked, grinning.
“You may have had a life before we began production on Maritime, but that’s all just a dream now, honey,” Wilkie drawled as he moved to the left breast, and his model yawned widely.
That’s all just a dream now.
Wilkie’s careless words struck her with frightening precision. She shrugged off the shadow of dread that hovered at the corners of her consciousness and walked on, willing the energy from her surroundings to distract her . . .
The drama and excitement of a Hollywood film set wasn’t Joy’s typical work world. As an art teacher for gifted high school stu- dents and a painter, she preferred the atmosphere of the classroom or her quiet, sunlit studio at home. Even the clamor and bustle of a Hollywood makeup department couldn’t fully penetrate her dread, however.
She felt as if she were moving through a dream . . . something like the brilliant, surreal underwater world film director Joshua Cabot was creating for United Studios’s latest blockbuster, Maritime.
She willfully ignored the uncomfortable pounding in her chest and flung open the door to Seth Hightower’s office-studio. She needed to see the familiar, loved, bold-featured face of her uncle; he was the only true family member she still possessed. Seth glanced around at the sound of her tool kit rolling over the threshold behind her.
“There you are!”
“I didn’t get the messages until a half an hour ago. I was at the doctor. I came as quickly as I could.”
Seth looked contrite. “I know. Ignore me. I’m in a bear of a mood.”
Joy smiled. Her uncle was a bear of a man in stature, perhaps, but hardly in temperament. At least not with Joy, he wasn’t. He tossed a few tubes of paint and glue into his kit before he straightened, swept down on her from his great height and gave her a quick, affectionate kiss, his shoulder-length dark hair flicking against her cheek. “You’re not even officially part of my staff and I snap at you like an intern. Your mother would have my hide.” Seth focused on her face, his brows drawing together in a V shape, giving him an expression that anyone besides Joy would have found intimidating. “I know you had to take off school a few days last week. Is that why you were at the doctor? How’s the cough?”
“Better,” Joy said as she glanced around the meticulously organized room. As the makeup department head, Seth claimed the right to privacy. His office-studio was like the still eye of a storm. “I don’t have pneumonia,” she reported honestly. “What’s the emergency?”
“It’s coming at me from all directions. Our leading lady decided to drink some Coke spiked with vodka without a straw. The latex is lifting around her mouth,” Seth said, referring to the actress’s prosthetic mask. “She’s throwing a fit and holing up in her trailer, refusing to let anyone touch her up but me. Meantime, I’m running behind on the tattoos.”
Joy gave her uncle a humorous glance of sympathy. “There’s a cost to being the best.”
“Anybody on my staff could reglue Ellie, you know that. She’s just throwing her weight around by asking for me personally.”
“She must think you’re the best at a few things.”
“As if I’d ever give that little shrew the chance to find out,” Seth muttered with a disgusted, distracted air. Joy’s heart went out to him. This had to be one of the most hectic days of his life. “Anyway, that only leaves you who can do the last tattoo—”
Seth paused when someone rapped and the door opened several inches. Her breath caught at what she saw.
Joy had helped Seth with projects for Hightower Special Effects on several occasions, and she’d assisted him with the illustrations for his initial proposal to win the contract from United Studios and director John Cabot for Maritime. As such, she was used to Seth’s fantastical art concept for the film. She wasn’t so immune, however, that she didn’t stare in wonder at the bizarrely beautiful head of the part man, part exotic sea creature that appeared around the edge of the door.
Her uncle was going to have an Academy Award sitting on his mantel for sure, she thought with a mixture of admiration and pride.
“Hey, Tommy told me I should stop by,” the walking piece of art said.
“Perfect timing,” Seth mumbled. He pointed at an illustration and some scribbled notes on the table. “Here’s what I need, Joy. You’re the only one I trust to do it. Go ahead and touch him up after you finish the tattoo. I won’t have time before the photo shoot. Wish me luck,” he said, glancing at both of them.
“Luck. You’ll need it,” the marine man said, his lips twitching subtly.
Seth snorted in agreement and rolled his kit behind him toward the door. The man, who was probably one of dozens of extras, stepped into the room so that Seth could pass. Joy noticed distractedly that her uncle and the aqua-colored male were nearly the same height—an oddity, as her uncle was usually the tallest man in the room. The two men nodded to each other before Seth shut the door behind him. Joy lifted her kit to the table and began to extract her paints, brushes and tattoo pens.
“Give me just a minute, and I’ll be right with you,” she said as she checked Seth’s notes and began to mix her colors.
He didn’t respond, but Joy was too focused on her preparation to mind. Actors and extras reacted to prosthetic and makeup application across a spectrum that ran from stoicism to whining to outright acting out. Hours and hours of sitting or standing motionless were often required while an artist created his magic. Maritime was a particular challenge. Over a hundred actors and extras required waterproof prosthetics and full-body makeup in order to transform them into exotic sea creatures. Only dozens might be required to be in full makeup and costume during a given day of shooting, but Cabot had decided he wanted the entire cast in full regalia to give the grand scope of the movie for the photo shoot.
Joy was working up a sweat as she mixed her paints. She walked over to the unit air conditioner and turned it on high, the sound of the fan muting the cacophony of voices, music and movement just feet away from Seth’s office-studio.
“So you’re Seth’s niece?”
She paused in the action of removing her hoodie. His deep, resonant voice had taken her by surprise. She met his gaze for the first time and blinked. His eyes were a clear aquamarine. The elaborate foam latex prosthetic he wore on the upper half of his face and the sublime makeup application only added to their brilliance. His gaze struck her as startlingly alert. Compared to this man, other people’s stares were those of sleepwalkers.
She had the strangest sensation seeing his eyes peering through the elaborate costume he wore, as if she’d caught a glimpse of his soul through the beautiful artifice. Seth’s makeup, which subtly alluded to the emerging humanity of the sea creature, only added to the impression. The body paints included brilliant blues and greens, but flesh colors rippled and swirled over chiseled muscle and bone as well, creating a stunning living landscape. He was beyond beautiful, the subtle shadowing wrought by the air- and paintbrushes highlighting every ridge and smooth, hard plane of his long body.
His gaze flickered downward.
She became aware that she was holding both sides of her cotton hoodie wide open in preparation to remove it. Her breasts felt tight suddenly, straining against the fabric of her bra and a thin layer of her cotton tank top. Her nipples beaded, as if he’d reached out and brushed a finger over the sensitive flesh instead of just glancing at her.
She blushed, her reaction surprising her. Joy was an artist, and she’d long ago grown accustomed to partial and full nudity. She didn’t work full-time in the movie industry, but she’d had sufficient experience, thanks to Seth. Gorgeous models and want-to-be actors were the norm in Hollywood, as commonly found as a cornstalk on a July day in Indiana.
She whipped off her hoodie and tossed it on the table.
“Yes. I’m Joy.” She nodded to a spot in front of the table and reached for a chair, all brisk business.
“You’re the art teacher.”
She met his stare and was once again snared.
“Seth told me,” he said quietly, shapely blue-and-white tinted lips barely moving.
“We better get started or you’ll miss the shoot,” she murmured, discomfited for some reason by the idea of Seth sharing even the smallest details of her life with this stranger.
He walked to the spot she’d indicated. Joy sat and rolled her chair directly in front of him, her face situated in front of his abdomen. Without another word, she picked up a tattoo marker and began to outline the design in Seth’s illustration on her human canvas. Seth had altered the tattoo art somewhat from his original proposal. The brilliant starburst through rippling water was bolder and much more intricate than his original design. Joy liked the change.
She never looked at his face once while she worked, but she was highly aware of him. Her knuckles brushed occasionally against warm, dense flesh. Her nose was just inches from his body. The alcohol base from the body paint filtered into her nose. Beneath it, she smelled the musk of his skin like a subtle, living thread twining through the chemical artifice. The fragrance was potent somehow, sending a loud, clear message of male virility to some ancient part of her brain.
Only a stretchy, seaweed-like boxer-brief costume covered his genitals. Joy couldn’t help but be conscious of the fact that her chin was mere inches from the fullness behind the flimsy material. She worked steadily, but a dull, pleasurable ache began to grow at her core.
A light glaze of perspiration had dampened her brow and upper lip by the time she leaned back. She glanced up at him, a calm—entirely fake—expression plastered on her face.
“You’ll have to lower your briefs enough for me to make the transition look natural,” she said.
The air conditioner made a loud, chugging sound and then resumed its typical hum. She saw his throat convulse. Was he as uncomfortable with this situation as she was? He held her stare with those striking eyes and moved his hands, folding down the seaweed brief and exposing the stretch of skin just above his genitals.
She lifted her tattoo pen and paused.
Seth had used the airbrush below the brief, but not in a thorough manner. Joy could see several patches of naked, golden skin along with a smattering of light brown hair. Pubic hair was usually several shades darker than hair on the head, which meant he must be blond beneath the beautiful headpiece affixed to his head.
Below that strip of skin, the flimsy material barely contained a virile package. The vision was nearly as striking as that of the man’s eyes peering through the elaborate mask. What was it about that stretch of skin below the belly and just above a man’s cock that spoke of sensitivity . . . vulnerability?
His arm muscles clenched tight. He kept his hands on the material of the briefs, as if he wanted to be prepared to jerk the garment back into place at the slightest provocation. Joy didn’t know whether to feel compassion for him or annoyance. He was the six-foot-four-inch tower of brawn here, not her. She was hardly going to attack him. She disliked this intimate aspect of her work, but the human body wasn’t something that could be ignored when it came to art. He was just a backdrop, not any different from the canvases in her studio.
Her expression hardened at the thought. She leaned forward and continued her design, the tip of her marker slipping across firm flesh. She was doing fine for the next minute or so until she noticed the brief was stretching and expanding to contain his erection. His cock rode along his left thigh. The column of it was clearly delineated beneath the insubstantial garment.
She glanced up at him anxiously. He was looking down at her. She’d known he would be. She’d sensed his stare on the crown of her head the entire time. He closed his eyes briefly. She sensed his regret even through his half mask.
“I’m sorry,” he said in a gruff voice. “Just . . . just ignore it.”
Heat flooded her cheeks and she looked away.
It wasn’t uncommon for a model to occasionally experience an unwanted erection during a makeup application, but the evidence had never been so . . . close to her before. Nor had it ever been so appealing.
For a few dreadful seconds, she felt like she couldn’t expand her lungs. They finally released, however, and she reached for a pot of paint.
“Do you want to take a quick break?” she asked, striving to keep her voice even.
“No. Go ahead.” His voice sounded so strained, she glanced up at him in concern. She saw the rigidness of his angular jaw. His eyes blazed through the prosthetic mask.
“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,” she said.
“I can take it if you can.”
She wasn’t quite sure she could take it. Things had gotten warm and wet between her thighs. She looked down at her lap and used her forearm to wipe at the thin layer of perspiration on her upper lip. Her heartbeat segued from a throb to a roar in her ears. She swirled her paint—twice right, once left, twice right, once left—the familiar task of moving the brush through the thick liquid striking her as rich for some reason . . . sensual.
She lifted the brush to his skin and began to paint. It was a little like working while a ravenous lion raced toward you in the periphery of your vision. She was acutely aware of the power in him, the incipient energy, like a giant spring that was being held down tight with effort. She worked steadily for the next half hour or so in the area of his lower abdomen, creating the impossible—a flare of fire in water.
The realization hit her as she moved to the lower left quadrant of her design that she should have told him he could release the garment until she began to work in that area again. He’d kept his hands on the sides of the brief the whole time, however, exposing that strip of sensitive skin. Something about his pose excited her for some reason. It was as if he were frozen in the moment of offering himself to her . . .
Giving her a taste.
Her cheeks burned at the uncontrollable thought. She leaned away from him, feeling the loss of his subtle, radiant body heat on her cheeks and lips. She exchanged her paints and went back to work.
What was wrong with her? She’d never had this reaction before while she’d been working. Her skin felt flushed and prickly with awareness. There seemed to be some strange, inexplicable connection between where her paintbrush stroked his taut skin and her clit.
Why did she want to hold on to that brilliant flare of lust that the stranger’s fierce eyes and hard cock promised? Maybe because you were told today that life and a future aren’t a certainty, that both of those things were as ephemeral, as difficult to hold on to as an unexpected lightning strike of desire?
Joy didn’t want to let go. She wanted . . . no, she needed to hang on.
The air around them seemed to have taken on a weight. She forced her lungs to move as she exchanged brushes and reached for a paint she’d deposited at the far end of the table. When she touched him with the wet tip just below his hip bone, his taut abdomen muscle twitched. She glanced up and saw a small smile on his mouth.
“It’s colder than the other ones,” he said.
“I’m sorry. The paint was sitting right in front of the air conditioner.”
His mouth moved again, but no sound came from his throat. Some instinct inside her told her this man didn’t typically become speechless.
She felt a surge of liquid heat at her sex.
She swallowed with difficulty and resumed painting, the feeling of moving in a dream only amplifying. How long would this surreal sensation last? When would the reality of her diagnosis of cancer really set in? Her grim future seemed impossible to grasp as she sat there, flushed with arousal, painting a brilliant tattoo on a beautiful, virile male she’d never seen before that moment, and would probably never see again.
“It’s finished,” she murmured minutes later as she placed the solvent that set the paint on the table. From the corner of her vision, she saw that he didn’t move his hands, keeping his briefs lowered. The fullness behind the seaweed design hadn’t dissipated during the past forty-five minutes.
She glanced up slowly, both hesitant and anticipatory at once at the sound of his hoarse voice.
“I hope you don’t think I’m a complete jackass for saying this, but that had to be the most erotic thing I’ve experienced since Peggy Barton let me touch her breasts when I was fourteen years old.”
She just stared at him in amazement for a second before she laughed. The strangling sexual tension fractured slightly, letting her breathe. He smiled, full-out and brilliant.
Her laughter ceased.
Oh my God, she thought, stunned. Her sunburst tattoo would be considered dim next to that smile.
Suddenly, unaccountably, fear broke over her. She stared at the very image of vibrant life. What would it be like to be snuffed out of existence, no longer able to see, to hear . . . to feel?
Her gaze sunk over him. She absorbed his image hungrily, drinking it like an elixir that vanquished terror. His cock jerked in the briefs when her glance landed on it.
The realization struck her that if she wanted to touch him, if she wanted to stretch this strange, powerful moment, she was going to have to make the move. Who knew? Maybe she wouldn’t even be here this time next year.
It felt nowhere near as anxiety-provoking as she would have thought it would to touch him. In fact, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do.
She thrilled to the heaviness of his cock beneath the cloth. Arousal spiked through her, and those life-altering words—primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma—scattered to the periphery of her consciousness like frightened moths.
“Do you mind?” she asked, looking up at him, her voice vibrating with barely restrained emotion.
His nostrils flared slightly. “Are you kidding?” He sounded downright incredulous at her question. Their gazes held as she felt his heartbeat thrum against her palm. He reached up and ever so gently, careful of his paint-covered skin, touched her jaw. A strange, strangled sound escaped her throat at his caress.
She carefully, deliberately reached inside the pocket of the costume boxer-brief, intent on not ruining the makeup application on his thighs. She bit her lower lip when her hand closed around the circumference of his cock. She drew out his length.
For a moment, she just stared.
It was like holding life in her hand.
His naked penis stood in stark contrast to the elaborate makeup applied to his body. The long, straight length of it running from root to fleshy cap struck her as sublime. She held him up before her face, the tip slanting toward the ceiling. She ran the tip of her tongue from the ridge beneath the head all the way to the base, flicking a firm testicle experimentally.
He made a muffled gasping noise like his lungs had deflated in an instant. His male scent filled her nose. She twitched her fingers on the shaft, relishing his sheer virility, his weight and firmness.
Yes. This is what she needed.
She tightened her grip, closed her eyes and arrowed his cock between her lips. She abandoned herself to the voluptuous, eternal moment, escaping into it like a fugitive from a harsh, meaningless world.
Everett Hughes became distantly aware that his muscles were so tense, they felt like they’d break given one more ounce of pressure. He ached.
He studied the crown of her head like he thought his stare could bore down into her brain and read her thoughts. It would probably do him good to read her mind, he thought with grim amusement. Her thoughts were undoubtedly mundane and matter-of-fact. Nowhere near as X-rated as his had become ever since he’d walked into the room and seen Seth Hightower’s niece standing there, looking like a fresh wild flower amidst a field of artificial and hothouse blooms.
She’d been about as aware of him as she was the paint on the wall as she prepared to work. It was an unusual feeling for Everett, to be overlooked. He relished the opportunity to study her openly.
If he’d gone by her face alone, he might have guessed her age in her midtwenties. Only her swift, sure movements as she prepared her paints and the feminine curves accenting a slender, toned body hinted to him that she was likely nearer to thirty than twenty. He knew that Seth was part Pueblo Indian. He saw some evidence of Native American heritage in Joy, but to a lesser extent than in her uncle. Mostly her still, calm expression and smooth, apricot and copper-hued skin called that strain of her heritage to mind.
Everett had become disenchanted with the term beautiful long ago, feeling the hollowness of the term as it was applied to every second woman he met. But this woman—Seth Hightower’s niece—she didn’t just deserve the descriptor. She epitomized it without trying.
He found himself staring at the top of her long mane of chestnut brown hair as he endured the erotic sensation of her felt-tip marker sliding across his skin. His cock was thickening. He couldn’t seem to help it. He closed his eyes and breathed through his nose, trying to envision the mechanics of a particularly challenging scene with Ellie Granolith, the leading lady in Maritime. Every scene with Ellie was a trial to get through, but this one was particularly difficult.
His half-assed attempts to distract himself fractured when Joy’s marker stimulated a patch of sensitive skin just below his hip bone.
He looked down into a pair of large hazel eyes.
You’ll have to lower your briefs enough for me to make the transition look natural.
His heart had lurched next to his breastbone when she’d said that. Everett was not unfamiliar with recognizing a spark of desire in a woman’s eyes. If he was seeing it in Joy Hightower’s solemn gaze, it had to be the result of wishful thinking, though.
His throat felt tight when he swallowed. He reached for the side of his briefs and lowered them. It felt very vulnerable for him, to expose himself in this way. He typically preferred being the dominant during sex, and something about this situation seemed to speak of the opposite of control.
First off, this wasn’t a sexual situation. It was inappropriate for him to be aroused. He couldn’t control his sexual response, however, and that made him both uncomfortable and, paradoxically, more aroused. When she paused for a moment, staring at him while she clutched her marker, he felt sweat bead on his upper lip.
Seth was going to slug him if he ruined his makeup. The makeup department head was formidable, not the sort of man Everett would choose to piss off.
Seth would likely skip punching and go straight to killing him if he knew what Everett was thinking about doing with his gorgeous, wholesome niece at that moment.
Seeing her lovely face so close to the midportion of his body, studying the outlines of her full, thrusting breasts from above, feeling the whisper of her breath on his skin while the tattoo pen rolled over supersensitive nerves; all of it had been titillating. But when Joy transferred to using her paints, Everett entered the realms of torture. His cock swelled so large, he didn’t think there was room in his skin anymore. His jaw hurt from clamping it shut. He was going to explode, and all he could do was tell himself to stand still. It was like telling a lit fuse to be calm.
He couldn’t hide his arousal. How could he? Regret sliced through him when she glanced up, and he saw the anxiety in her eyes. His baser nature had prevailed, however. He’d told her he could handle his discomfort. How could he possibly move away from the temptation of Joy and her slippery, cool brush sliding just inches away from his straining, hurting cock?
Why was he having the most debauched fantasies about taking advantage of her, of wrecking her smooth, calm exterior . . . of making Snow White so hot, she begged for it?
He suppressed a laugh at his idiocy. He really was losing it.
He wasn’t young anymore. A man in his position in Hollywood learned quickly enough that casual sex often didn’t end up being as casual or as sexy as a novice might expect. He’d become extremely particular about whom he associated with in the past several years. So particular, in fact, that his sister, Katie, had taken to calling him jaded. Maybe Katie was right, because in the past few months, he’d been choosy to the point of abstinence.
Maybe that was what made this unexpected experience feel so sharp, so imperative.
Seth could come in at any moment. Dozens of people moved and talked and shouted just feet away from the still room where he stood and Joy sat, etching her magic on his flesh. More importantly, Everett didn’t pull stupid, crazy stunts. Not anymore, he didn’t.
But a moment later, when her laughter had morphed into that still, sublime expression, he would have dared much, much worse than to explore the promise of her inner fires.
Then she’d spoken . . . and he’d almost had a heart attack at age thirty-six.
“Do you mind?” she’d asked.
He minded, all right. If he didn’t get the opportunity to feel her touch where it counted, he was going to boil and cook in his own sweat.
It’d felt like he was balancing on a narrow, straining wire the entire time Joy had sat before him and caressed him with her marker and tickled him deliciously with her paintbrush. When she so carefully reached into the briefs and extricated his cock, he fell right off that thin line of enforced rationality straight into a vat of need.
His cock felt like it was steaming when she wrapped her cool fingers around it. The image of her removing his length from the stupid seaweed pants was so exciting, he nearly came then and there. Her tongue was surprisingly red when she delicately licked him. Energy arced between them at the direct contact, their naked flesh becoming a conduit. She dragged the tip of it from head to pulsing root. Ripples of pleasure shot up his spine.
He bit his tongue hard enough to make him wince in pain. He’d be damned if he was going to ruin the richest erotic experience he’d had in . . . he couldn’t remember how long by exploding before he truly got to enjoy it.
The metallic flavor of blood spread in his mouth before he allowed himself to pry open his eyes. He groaned upon seeing her spreading her lips wide and angling his cock into her warm, wet mouth.
Christ, his cock was iron hard, so how was it that he felt like he was melting on her tongue?
She may look fresh as a wild rose, but she knew how to suck. She pulled at him. He winced in pleasure as he slid across her tongue, going deeper into the humid, hot glory of her. How could he have thought she was so contained, so cool?
She was a raging fever on the inside.
His hand moved, seemingly of its own accord. He cradled the side of her head. He withdrew and flexed forward again, suppressing a groan.
“God, that’s good,” he mumbled.
She ducked her head, sucking and sliding his cock between tightly pursed lips, taking him on a thrill ride of a lifetime. With every pass, she took him deeper. Her hunger was a palpable thing, the strength of it shocking him, a force that drove her farther and farther down onto the shaft of his cock. He watched her with a tight, feral stare, taking in every nuance of her—the way his erection strained her lips wide and stained them a dark, vivid pink as she pumped at his cock with a furious focus.
The sight of her consuming him like she thought it was her last meal was so powerful, he shut his eyelids to protect himself. Sensation still bombarded him: the feeling of her firm, sweet suck; the slippery sounds of his cock moving so forcefully in wet flesh reaching his ears even through the hum of the air conditioner. She continued to pulse him in and out, her unceasing suction assuring him he wasn’t going to continue this little side trip into fantasyland for very long.
“Fuck,” he muttered under his breath, unable to hold back any longer from the singular power of the experience and his own demanding nature.
He tightened his hold on the back of her head, stabilizing her, and began to thrust between her lips, his ass flexing tight. It was like plunging straight into the essence of pleasure. It surged through him in bursts, spiking through his flesh.
Ah, Jesus. This is what he’d stooped to—face-fucking Snow White while only a few feet and very thin walls separated him from dozens of coworkers.
His face collapsed in regret when he sensed her recoil slightly at his demanding possession, but then she was back—fiercer than before, sucking him until his eyes crossed.
He felt his balls pinch in delicious pain when the muscles of her throat closed around the tip of his cock. If he hadn’t been holding it in, his shout of pleasure would have made him hoarse. As it was, it scalded his throat as he strangled it.
Pleasure ripped through him. He held her head steady as he erupted, not because of his dominant nature, but because his body had been paralyzed in a rictus of sensation. As the second wave rocked him, he recognized the discomfort he caused her. He released her with a slight jerk, rocking them both. She made a sound in her throat—God, he hoped it wasn’t of dismay—but then his body tightened again in release. He came on her tongue, and his worries were buried by flooding pleasure.
He groaned gutturally, feeling like he was being emptied and filled all at once.
The need for a long, full breath overcame her at last. She slid his softening—but still formidable—penis out of her mouth. The slick, fleshy cockhead pressed against her cheek as she gasped for air, filling her lungs. His hold on her gentled. He stroked her hair as she desperately tried to catch her breath.
It was as if she’d just been caught up in the furious twist of a cyclone, only to be suddenly tossed out again into a motionless, hard world. Her mind struggled to make sense of what had just occurred. Fragments of vision and sensation bombarded her awareness.
“Are you okay?”
She froze on an inhale at the sound of his voice.
She felt a slight pressure from his hand, as if he were willing her to look at him.
Her cheeks burned. Dear God, what had she just done?
“Joy?” he prompted when she didn’t move.
Keeping her head lowered, she leaned back, separating herself from him. She carefully raised his boxer-brief and covered him, keeping her gaze averted from his glistening cock.
He was just as beautiful to her satiated as he had been rigid with need . . . so naked, so vulnerable. She began to anxiously search for damage to his makeup.
His bewildered-sounding voice stopped abruptly when someone shouted in the distance.
“What?” Seth Hightower barked impatiently, his voice sounding as if it came from twenty or thirty feet away.
“I need you to take a look at this.”
Joy stood so abruptly, the chair she’d been sitting in rolled backward several feet. She met the man’s startled gaze.
She didn’t even know his name.
“He’ll be here any second,” she said. She immediately picked up her paints as the first wave of panic started to flow through her. He caught her wrist.
“Hold on. It’s going to be okay, Joy.”
She was mortified to realize tears had sprung to her eyes.
“No. No, it’s not.” Not for me, it’s not. He looked taken aback.
For a second or two, the silence swelled.
“Of course it is,” he said, smiling even though puzzlement shadowed what she could see of his features.
She swallowed and looked away from his smile. “I need to touch you up,” she said, realizing for the first time that her voice was hoarse from taking his cock so deep. Another wave of heat flooded her cheeks. She tried to move to gather her paints—to gather herself—but he continued to hold her wrist.
She glanced up at him doubtfully, her heartbeat pounding in her ears.
“Meet me later. After the shoot. Please?” he added when she just continued to stare in the vicinity of his collarbone.
“I . . . I don’t know what . . . why . . .”
“I understand,” he said quietly. He released her wrist and touched her cheek until she looked at him. “I’m not sure I know, either. But I want to figure it out. Meet me at the statue? The studio statue? After this craziness is done? Just give me enough time to get out of this getup and shower, and I’ll be there. I just want to talk to you. Please, Joy.”
Something squeezed at her heart a little when he entreated her. In the distance, she heard her uncle’s voice as he approached.
“I haven’t got time right now. You’ll have to handle it,” Seth called out, as if he was walking away from whomever had interrupted him.
“Joy?” the stranger said sharply.
She looked into his clear aquamarine eyes and nodded once.
“Say it. Say you’ll be there.”
“I’ll be there,” she whispered.
Six hours later, she checked her watch yet again.
He wasn’t coming.
She should have known better than to come herself.
The photo shoot had been completed now for almost three hours. She’d kept herself busy in Seth’s studio during the shoot itself. Seth had returned after a while in order to oversee prosthetic removal. Joy had helped him, but she hadn’t caught sight of the man she’d promised to meet.
She’d been waiting by the United Studios’ statue of the seven muses for long enough. There was no way the man was still occupied. Not when almost everyone else on the set had long since showered and left. He’d stood her up, plain and simple.
She stood from one of the benches that lined the little park at the north studio entrance. One of the bronze muses caught her eye.
Joy lowered her head and walked toward the gate. She didn’t need the muse’s somber stare to know it was time for her to leave the whimsy of fantasyland and deal with the reality of a harsh world.
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