My body jolts as if it’s been struck by lightning when his eyes rise from his hands resting on the table and connect with mine. I can barely breathe, and through the skipping of my heart, I’m consumed with a longing I haven’t felt in years.
His blue eyes slowly trace every part of my face, his own disbelief as evident as mine must be. Finally, they come to rest on mine, and he stands slowly.
“What…” I put a hand to my chest. “You’re my client?”
Aaron motions for me to sit, lowering himself down when I do so. “You’re my date? I hired a Mia Lopez?”
“Mia is my working name,” I say quietly. “Being an escort is a double life.”
“I can’t believe this.” He pushes a button and a waiter appears. “A bottle of Pinot Gris. Two glasses,” he orders, the guy disappearing quickly. Neither of us speaks again until he returns and places the tray on the table.
My heart pounds as Aaron pours two glasses. In the five years I’ve done this, since escorting became my life, I’ve never had a client I know. I’ve never had to worry about anything other than getting the job done. Now, sitting in front of Aaron Stone, I know this job is anything but simple.
I drain my glass as a brown envelope appears on the table. Taking it silently and slipping it into my purse is the single most awkward moment of my life. Aaron pours me another glass.
“This was unexpected.”
“Ya think?” I raise an eyebrow. “I can’t say I’m in the habit of having a previous personal relationship with my clients.”
And what a relationship we had. Six weeks filled with fun, kisses, and endless passion in the city of love.
“I’d imagine not.” He pauses, dropping his eyes to the table before bringing them back to mine. “Can I ask why?”
“Why you do this?”
“That’s a bit personal.”
“Dayton, I’ve seen every inch of your body. Don’t fuck around and tell me it’s too personal.”
“You’re my client,” I remind him, sitting up straight. “Our past is irrelevant here. You’re paying me to do a job, and I’m going to do it. No personal details. Tell me what I need to know so I don’t look like a complete idiot when I’m out there tonight.”
He clenches his jaw and reaches up to adjust his tie. “Dad has decided to step back from the company, and this is one of many events designed to introduce me to the people I’ll be working with when I take over in just under two months.”
“The modeling agency?”
“We branched into advertising and rebranded the summer after Paris. It went global three years ago, and now there are offices in Australia and Europe as well as here.”
“Impressive. And you needed a date because?”
“Because if I turned up alone, the vultures would get me.”
My lips twist. “The vultures?”
“The daughters of my mother’s friends. They’re single.”
“And you’re the perfect target. Nice to know I’m hired to be a buffer.”
“I’m sure Mia Lopez is used to it.”
“Oh, she is. But we both know there’s not a chance in hell I’ll get away with being Mia tonight.”
He studies me intensely. His tongue traces a path across his bottom lip, and my eyes flick there before I can stop them. He smirks.
“Mr. Stone?” a voice asks from behind the curtain.
“Your father is asking for you, sir.”
“Tell him we’ll be there momentarily.”
Aaron looks at me again and reaches a hand across the table. His fingers curl around mine, sending jolts up my arm. “Day, you don’t have to do this. You have a working name for a reason. I won’t ask you to jeopardize that for me.”
I slide my hand from his and stand, smoothing out my dress. “You hired me to do this job, and I’m going to do it. Besides, I can’t have you being eaten alive by the vultures, can I?”
His eyes light up when his smirk turns dangerously sexy. “Very true.”
He stands, and for the first time since I walked in the booth, I take note of how he looks. His black-and-white suit is perfectly tailored to the body that’s bulked out since I last saw it, the jacket stretching across broad shoulders and tucking in at his waist. Dark hair curls against the collar of his white shirt and frames his face perfectly.
Aaron Stone cuts a damn fine figure in that suit .
His hand rests on my lower back as he leads me toward the elevator, and boy am I glad I passed right on over the backless dress in my closet. I’m not sure I could deal with such intimate skin-on-skin contact with this man without being swamped by the past. God knows I can barely breathe through this as it is.
My back straightens a little more each minute his hand is resting there. I take a deep breath and remind myself to act as Mia would. I have to be Mia. I have to be unaffected yet believable.
The elevator doors open and Aaron closes them again. I look up at him, frowning.
“What are you doing?”
“Dayton.” He pushes some hair back from my face, looking at me almost tenderly.
I swipe his hand away. “Standing in an elevator isn’t going to change the fact I have a job to do, Aaron. Can we get on with this?”
He sighs, following it with a small smile. “Fine. But what do I tell my parents when they inevitably recognize the girl who stole me for the duration of our vacation seven years ago?”
Shit. I didn’t think of that. “You let me think of that.”
The doors open again and we walk toward the ballroom.
“Last chance,” he murmurs.
“Shut up and open the damn door for me.”
I hear his quiet laugh before he opens the door. Men in suits and women dressed in expensive dresses fill the buzzing room. A bar takes up one corner and tables line the walls, leaving the main floor free.
As I am standing here in the doorway, surrounded by Seattle’s elite, it’s so very easy to see why this is the top hotel in Seattle. This room reeks of money and class.
Aaron leads me inside, and almost immediately his parents appear in front of us. His mom looks the same as she did back then—perfect brown hair without a grey in sight and flawless skin any woman would be jealous of. Her blue eyes, the same as Aaron’s, survey me before widening slightly.
“Well I never. Dayton Black?” She places a hand on her chest.
I smile. “It’s lovely to see you again, Mr. and Mrs. Stone.”
“I don’t believe this is the little teenager who had our son performing disappearing acts for weeks on end.” Mr. Stone beams at me.
“I plead the Fifth. He acted of his own accord.” I return his smile and he laughs. He leans forward to kiss me on the cheek, Aaron’s mom doing the same.
“And none of this Mr. and Mrs. stuff. Brandon and Carly,” he insists. “Can we get you a drink?”
“A bottle of wine would be great, Dad,” Aaron answers.
“Aaron, darling, why didn’t you tell us you were bringing Dayton?” Carly questions him as we walk toward the bar.
“Yeah, about that,” he replies uncertainly. I try not to roll my eyes.
“We ran into each other a few weeks ago,” I cut in. “Completely by chance. I think both of us were really shocked, right, Aaron?”
He struggles to keep a straight face. “Right.”
“We’ve been out for drinks a couple of times. Catching up, you know? Then this afternoon he calls me out of the blue and tells me he needs a date for tonight. And well, how could I say no to this face?” I raise my eyebrows and brush my thumb across his jaw, giving him a fond smile.
“You didn’t say you’d seen her!” Carly taps his bicep.
“I wasn’t aware I was supposed to, Mom.”
“Well it would have been nice to know she was still in Seattle and you were back in contact.”
“We’ve only seen each other a few times.”
“Stop grilling him, Carly. He’s a grown man now. Let him have his secrets.” Brandon places a bottle of wine and four glasses in front of us then pours. “Well, it sure is a lovely surprise, Dayton. How are your parents?”
Be Mia. Be Mia. Be Mia.
“They, uh… They actually passed away five years ago.” I look down, feeling the same sting that always accompanies the mention of them. Aaron’s hand creeps across my back to my waist. He steps slightly closer to me and I take comfort in the gesture.
“I’m so sorry.” His dad takes my hand briefly. “That must have been terrible so young .”
I nod and take a deep breath. “Yes, but my aunt Leigh was there for me. I got through it eventually.”
Aaron squeezes me gently. “Mom, Dad, I think Mr. Warner is trying to get your attention.”
Carly turns. “Of course. Brandon.”
He steps up, she links her hand through his elbow, and they head in the direction of the guy who was waving at us.
I sigh deeply and sip my wine, using all the restraint I have. I doubt chugging would be acceptable.
“Thank you,” I say softly to Aaron.
“You’re welcome.” He stands in front of me, gazing down at me with his piercing eyes. “I didn’t know your parents passed.”
I smile wryly. “Yeah, well. It’s not exactly a conversation starter, is it?”
“I suppose not. How did they die?”
“Plane crash,” I say flatly. “They were flying back from New York. The plane had some technical difficulties and went down. No one survived.”
“Why? You aren’t the reason they crashed.” My fingers flex around the stem of my glass.
Aaron wraps his other hand around my neck and brings his lips to my forehead. Warmth and tingles travel through me at the contact. It’s been so long since I had a touch like this—tender, gentle, almost loving—that I almost forget one of the rules of my life.
No personal feelings for clients or any of their actions.
“What are you doing?”
“After politely dismissing herself from Mr. Warner, my mother traveled across the room to Mrs. Royce. Once there, she will have proceeded to tell her the story of how we found each other again after seven long years of being apart, and isn’t it great how we’re reconnecting? And don’t we look so good together? And Mrs. Royce will have agreed and voiced how beautiful our babies would be,” he replies in a hushed tone with a hint of amusement. “And this will happen with every one of my mother’s friends throughout the night. I’m merely keeping her happy, Dayton.”
“Aaron?” An older lady approaches us, and Aaron winks at me before dropping his hands.
“Mrs. Warner. May I say how lovely you look this evening?”
“You may, but it won’t get you anywhere. Well, maybe a little.” She looks at me and winks. I smile politely.
“Mrs. Warner, this is Dayton Black, my date for this evening. Dayton, this is Mrs. Warner, my mother’s closest friend. Her husband is an investor in our company.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am.” I shake her hand.
“And you, my dear. Carly has told me how the two of you met. How wonderful you found each other again after all this time!”
Here we go.
“Is that everyone yet?” I whisper in Aaron’s ear. “I’m not sure how many more times I can listen to “How delightful you ran into each other!” and any and all variations of that sentence.”
Aaron laughs quietly into my hair. “Most, but not all.”
I groan. “How about an escape outside for five minutes?”
“I think we can manage that.” He wraps an arm around my waist and, keeping his head down, pulls me through the room to the doors. We slip out, surprisingly unnoticed, and run into the waiting elevator. Neither of us says a word until we reach the sidewalk.
I step from his hold and cross the street. The wall overlooking Elliot Bay is cold and rough when I rest my arms on it and lean forward. The cool night breeze teases through my hair, and I close my eyes into it, taking deep breaths. On nights like tonight, when so many things are expected of me, it’s hard to stay composed.
I’ll take the fucking over the escorting part of this job every time. It’s simple and I know exactly what is expected of me. It’s planned and it’s controlled. It’s in my comfort zone, but this…
Escorting is improvisation. Every word, every look, every movement. It’s all spur-of-the-moment actions and decisions. None of which I can dictate.
“Why do you do this?”
“I thought I put that in the personal box.”
“You did.” Aaron smirks in that dangerously sexy way that does stupid things to my stomach and leans against the wall next to me. “But I’m asking again.”
“I do it for the same reason other people work. I need to pay the bills.”
“Is it that hard to believe? Really?” I turn my face toward him. “When my parents died, I lost everything. I was at college and suddenly lost my home and all my financial support. By the time my fees were paid, there was next to no money left. I couldn’t get a job, so I went to my aunt’s old agent.”
“She took me on and gave me a job. Aunt Leigh let me move in with her during breaks from school, and by the time I was twenty-one, I had enough money saved to put down the deposit on my own house.”
“Impressive. So you do it for the money?”
“Well I certainly don’t do it for the lack of fucking orgasms.”
“That bad, huh?” His smirk changes to a grin.
“Aaron, there’s no reason in the world anyone would do this job except for the money. Besides, I’m not paid to orgasm. I’m paid to make them. And occasionally, I’m paid to be a date for pretty little rich boys.” I smile back.
“Pretty little rich boys who pay more than necessary in desperation to please their parents with a beautiful girl?”
“Then it’s a good thing you’re worth every cent, isn’t it?”
I stand up straight, my eyes on his. “That’s what they tell me.”
Aaron’s eyes flash with an emotion that disappears too quickly for me to register it. He holds my gaze for a long moment, seemingly looking right through me and my façade. He takes a step closer to me and holds out his arm.
“Shall we go back inside?”
“Are they likely to send out a search party?”
“I wouldn’t put it past my mother.”
I loop my arm through his, focusing both my mind and my body on the job. Not the past. Ours or otherwise.
“For the record,” he says as we walk through the lobby, “she probably thinks we sneaked off to make out like teenagers.”
“I think your mom is too excited about this totally coincidental meeting.”
“You and me both, Day. That was an impressive story you told earlier, by the way.”
“Thanks.” I reach up and fluff my hair slightly.
“What are you doing?”
“Making it look like we snuck off to make out like a couple of teenagers.” I wink and give myself a final once-over in the elevator mirror. We creep back into the ballroom and I wipe under my lip, removing a bit of imaginary smudged lipstick.
A tantalizing smile teases his lips, his eyes flicking to my mouth. He pauses for a moment and raises his thumb to my mouth, rubbing it over the same spot I just touched.
“Missed a bit,” he breathes, running it across my bottom lip. I hold my breath at the intimate touch and his eyes find mine again. “Got it.”
“Good,” I mutter.
He leads us into an empty corner, his hand firmly placed on the small of my back.
I ignore the pounding of my heart and subsequent heating of my body as he pulls me into him, pressing our sides together. “Do you think anyone noticed we disappeared?”
“Not sure.” He looks around. “But they definitely noticed we came back.”
I follow the direction of his gaze to his parents. Carly is whispering in Aaron’s dad’s ear. Brandon has a smile on his face, a mixture of amusement and pleasure that makes me bite the inside of my cheek in a reaction that is all too genuine.
The teenage dreamer lingering inside me kind of wishes we had snuck out for a make-out session. She remembers all too well the consuming feeling of Aaron’s lips on mine.
I do too. It’s hard to forget something that made you feel so alive.
“Do you think anyone else will bother us?”
Aaron turns his face back to me. “Of course they will.”
Nope. I’m done being bothered tonight. A tiny, crazy part of me wants to savor these moments we have together, because I know reality will intrude once more tomorrow.
I curve my body into his. I slide my hands up his chest, feeling the solid muscle beneath, and curl my fingers around the lapels of his suit. He presses me into him even farther until I’m flush against him and lowers his mouth to my ear.
“What are you doing?” His lips brush over my earlobe as he speaks. The strangely intimate touch ignites a spark of lust in the pit of my belly. It feels foreign and unwelcome, the desire bubbling in my lower stomach stronger than I’ve felt in a long time.
I tilt my face into his, feeling the slight scratch of the stubble coating his jaw against my cheek. “My job title might be escort, but I spend half my life as an actress. If the women in this room want to believe we’re reconnecting romantically, then they can for tonight.”
“I see.” He slides his hand down my back and runs it over the curve of my ass. It settles on my hip as the other snakes upward and into my hair. “Don’t you think this is a little rude?”
“Says the man running his hands over my body and whispering in my ear.”
I feel his smile against the side of my head. “Touché, Miss Black. Touché.”
“Anyway, this is exactly what you’re paying me for. Keeping the vultures away.”
“I’m an idiot for not paying for you all night, the vultures be damned.”
I raise my eyebrows. “If you’d known it was me, would you have?”
His face turns to mine, the tip of his nose brushing across my cheek. “If I’d have known it was you, I would have paid triple for all night.”
A knot forms in my throat and I swallow it down. Where the fuck is Mia when I need her? Oh yeah—the bitch up and left the second she looked into Aaron Stone’s blue eyes.
Even in my job, sometimes pretending is just too much of a stretch.
Chapter Three will be posted on April 25th and will include Amazon pre-order links!