Success Blossoms would like to congratulate one of our entrepreneurs, author Lisa Rayne, for making the top 50 contestants in the “So You Think You Can Write” contest sponsored by Harlequin. There were over 650 submissions. Making the top 50 is an outstanding accomplishment. Her next hurdle now is to make the top 10. We’ll keep you all posted on the outcome. Until then, feel free to read the 1st chapter by Lisa Rayne that snagged her that top 50 position. (See what other Harlequin visitors had to say about her chapter)
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by Lisa Rayne
Harlequin® Desire Submissions
Kansas City attorney Michael Remington doesn’t believe in love, but when a chance encounter at a masked ball leads to the most passionate kiss of his life with a complete stranger, he’s driven to find her. Unfortunately, the search for the sexy stranger leads to his ambitious new associate Jordis Morgan. Unaware of their previous connection and distrustful of supervising attorneys who expect more from her than billable hours, Jordis fights their explosive chemistry. Jordis’s determination to focus on partnership over romance eventually drives Michael to face the greatest adversarial challenge of his career—the one to win her heart.
Michael Remington had never had to work so hard for a one-night stand in his life.
It went against his grain and his ego.
He’d long ago become jaded about love and all things Cupid, but he generally had no problem finding a casual bedmate when he wanted. As a named partner in a prestigious law firm with political connections and ties to the social elite of Kansas City, women practically threw themselves at him. Yet, here he was at a New Year’s Eve masked ball—which in itself was a joke—looking for a woman who had made herself scarce. If he hadn’t been the one to walk away from his elusive prey earlier, he’d think he’d lost his touch.
His best friend and law partner, Chase Hager, had finally gotten him to attend one of these lavish annual costume bashes in the hopes, Michael suspected, that he might meet someone special. Chase, or more accurately Chase’s wife Grace, couldn’t resist playing matchmaker. Eventually, they’d have to accept that he had no intention of getting married. At thirty-eight, he’d seen enough of his buddies take the plunge only to end up doing the sap two-step when romantic bliss turned into an episode of reality TV divorce court. He’d almost made that mistake once, with a firm colleague no less, and look where that had gotten him. He’d learned his lesson. He didn’t believe in forever after and he didn’t think this masked ball would net him a Cinderella.
The moment he’d arrived, he’d regretted his decision to come. He should have stayed home and watched the ball drop over Times Square. Better yet, he should have gone to the office to figure out how a whole box of discovery documents had gone missing in his multi-million dollar patent infringement case. He planned to build the firm his father and grandfather founded into a national powerhouse. He wouldn’t succeed if he dropped the ball on the intellectual property case of the year, a case journalists predicted would change the legal landscape for pharmaceutical patents.
Putting work out of his mind, Michael continued his search for his evening entertainment. She’d been wearing a Juliet costume. Other than that, he didn’t know much about her. He hadn’t even bothered to get her real name. It hadn’t mattered. From the moment she’d spotted him, she’d been clearly on the make. Oh, he’d humored her when she’d tried to make conversation. He may be jaded, but he wasn’t rude.
She’d made a pouty complaint about her Romeo having gone off “roaming” and suggested that he be her knight in shining armor. He’d laughed and responded, “Wrong costume.” When she’d looked at him with a blank stare, he’d realized she couldn’t make the distinction between a Roman gladiator and a knight of the realm. He’d wondered if all that reddish brown hair covered a natural blonde. Then he’d chastised himself for the insensitive stereotyping. A woman certainly didn’t have to be blonde to be intellectually challenged. He’d met enough female cerebral lightweights to know.
Thinking Juliet would be good for an easy lay, but never one to rise above an occasional late night sexual tryst, he’d politely excused himself. He hadn’t originally been in the mood to play the game tonight. Somehow, she’d figured out who he was. He’d recognized her type and the hunger in her eyes immediately. He avoided—or fought off—women like her all the time—women set on attaching themselves permanently to a rich professional with a strong reputation in the community. He wasn’t available for that kind of liaison. He had only one use for women currently—a physical use. Which is exactly where his one-night stand came in, if he could find her.
He glanced down at the two champagne flutes in his hand, tempted to down them both. He abstained. He’d probably already had one too many drinks. After he’d escaped Juliet, he’d had a few to take the edge off. Mistake. That had only managed to slide his regret into boredom and then finally into frustration. His gladiator costume seemed to bring out the predator in otherwise reserved ladies. After being groped and propositioned relentlessly by women he knew—despite their masks and costumes—and a few he didn’t, he’d decided to go with it. Maybe getting laid for the first time in four months would improve his disposition. Unfortunately, once he’d decided to give in to dimwitted Juliet’s offer of a sure thing, she’d disappeared.
Michael stepped out onto the balcony of the penthouse condo and spied a lovely vision staring out over the railing. A smile took over his lips. He’d found her.
* * *
Mask still in place, a costumed Juliet stood at the balcony railing wondering why she hadn’t left yet. The couple she was supposed to meet, her first cousin plus one, was nowhere to be found and she didn’t know anyone else at this party.
She hated New Year’s Eve parties. She didn’t need to wax nostalgic over the past year. It had been full of betrayal and heartbreak. She’d left it all behind in Los Angeles four months ago and she never wanted to think about it again. As for New Year’s resolutions, the only resolution that mattered mandated letting nothing—and no one—distract her from making partner by the end of the year at the KC law firm to which she’d recently transferred.
She’d only come to this midnight-fest foray—against her better judgment—to appease her cousin. Then she’d compounded the mistake by letting her cousin arrange for her costume. She’d wanted Cleopatra, but a mix up at the costume shop led to the delivery of this Juliet getup instead. By the time she’d realized the mistake, it had been too late to make an exchange. She planned to give her mysteriously absent cousin a huge piece of her mind for pressuring her to attend this party because she “needed to meet new people” then leaving her high and dry.
She heard the sliding glass door open behind her and turned towards a walking piece of art wearing a gladiator costume.
“Juliet! There you are!” the masked gladiator cooed, his baritone voice slightly singsong from one too many glasses of wine…or something. “I wondered where you’d gone,” he said, grabbing her by the arm.
Two…One…Happy New Year!
Despite the two flutes of champagne balanced by their stems in his other hand, he managed to turn her deftly into his embrace. “It’s midnight, my pet. Come let me give you what Romeo can’t.”
Plastic horn toots erupted inside amidst cheers as the gladiator slid his arm up her back, wrapped his hand around the base of her neck, and kissed her thoroughly. Juliet pushed hard against his chest. When she opened her mouth to tell him he’d made a mistake, he took the liberty of sliding his tongue inside to play wickedly with hers. She moaned softly, which caused him to chuckle.
She didn’t know who this man was or why he thought he had an open invitation to make love to her mouth, but her ability to think straight slowly evaporated like mist battling a summer sun. She’d never been kissed liked this—like the last beautiful woman on earth. Her libido sparked, making her excited and appalled at the same time. She’d been unattached for fourteen long months and this hunk’s skill with his tongue sent hot flashes to an area of her body she’d almost forgotten existed.
Without removing his lips from hers, the gladiator backed her into a corner alcove west of the sliding glass door, not stopping until her back nearly touched the stone wall. With a bit of apprehension, Juliet realized darkness covered the alcove he’d selected, the few existing patio sconces not aggressive enough to throw their light around the turn in the wall. Her mind began to whirl. She shouldn’t be here—not at this party and definitely not in this man’s arms.
She needed to get a grip. Her arms pushed harder against his chest. “Please,” she murmured.
“Umm,” he hummed, pulling back slightly and handing her a glass of champagne. She accepted the glass on reflex. “Honey, there’s no need to beg. Whatever you want, I plan to give it to you…all night long.”
“You don’t understand—“
“Here’s to the New Year,” he interrupted and lifted his glass dramatically. He paused, as if searching for a more mindful toast, but simply added with a wicked grin, “It’s suddenly looking up.” Tilting the glass all the way up, the gladiator downed the champagne in one gulp then tossed the flute onto a cushion-covered wrought iron chair not far away. “Drink up, Juliet,” he said, wrapping his fingers around hers on the stem of her glass and assisting it to her lips. “Don’t you know it’s bad luck not to drink to a toast made on New Year’s Eve?”
Juliet took a brief sip while pressing persistently against his chest with her left hand. He budged a smidge. Her breathing came a little easier with the space she’d created between them until she realized his stingy costume left most of his chest bare. Her hand rested against the wall of his pectorals, and what a wall it was. He sported the physique of a Calvin Klein underwear model, all planes and bulges and six-pack. Those reawakened body parts began to liquefy.
“Y-You’ve made a mistake,” she breathed, flustered by her unexpected female response to him. Even though she could count the number of lovers she’d had on half of one hand, she didn’t lack sexual experience. Still, none of her lovers, even the man to whom she‘d once been engaged, had stirred in her with a simple kiss a fraction of the heat currently rising inside her. “I think you’re looking for someone else.” And that’s a shame, she thought, surprising herself.
The gladiator smiled down at her. She stood about five feet ten in the flat leather sandals she wore, but he still stretched several inches above her. He had to be over six feet tall. She’d gotten a brief look at his face before he embraced her and noted odd colored eyes in a rugged face. He wore his hair a little long and combed straight back. Given the paucity of the starlight, she couldn’t quite make out the exact color of the tresses—black or maybe a deep brown. He qualified as objectively handsome by any woman’s standards, but she didn’t understand this intense attraction. Even with his olive-toned skin, he didn’t fit her usual type.
Removing her champagne glass with one hand, he pressed his other over the hand she had against his chest. “No, milady, there’s no mistaking you.” He tucked his face into the curve of her neck. “Mmm, you smell good.” His fingers lifted to play in the long spongy thickness of her wavy hair. “All flowers, and sweetness, and woman.”
He trailed wet kisses along her neckline and showered her with words of seduction. The sound of his voice, two parts sexy and one part awe, stirred her. Juliet became enraptured by the words he whispered against her throat. She should have been offended, but something about his delivery made the litany intoxicating, tempting, even arousing. When he got to the part about what he wanted to do with his tongue, she shivered.
Wrapped in the feel of him, she didn’t notice the hand he slid from her hair down to the split at the side of her costume. That hand invaded the fabric, moving past her thigh to caress the side of her rear as he took her mouth in another rousing kiss. The hand behind her still held the flute of her half-full champagne glass, but the burden didn’t seem to slow him down. He pressed it against her back, pulling her against him from hip to shoulder.
The feel of his tongue sliding warm and moist across her lips, then along the length of her own, evoked sheer bliss. The long hardness of his arousal grew against her stomach. He slid his mouth to the hollow between her neck and shoulder. Through a haze, she became conscious of his fingers caressing the side of her bare bottom, the stringy thong she wore to avoid the show of panty lines giving him full access. His touch ignited long dormant hormones. As his fingers massaged the firm muscles of her buttock, her hips swayed against his in a manner that made him groan aloud.
When that old R. Kelly song about a little bump and grind began to play in her head, she decided she’d lost her mind. What was she doing in a darkened corner—outside no less—with a stranger, making out like a horny teenager? Something in her consciousness chided her that she needed to stop him. Yet, she couldn’t muster the will to resist. She felt as if he’d put a spell on her. Maybe he should have come dressed like a warlock, she thought. He’d been looking for another Juliet, but he’d magically homed in on the one so deprived of a man’s touch that she’d let him have his way with her outside on an open balcony.
Everything happens for a reason, her grandmother always said. Taking grandmamma at her word, she wondered if there was a reason she’d ended up dressed like Juliet out on the balcony at midnight so that Mr. Gladiator could kiss her until she turned into a shameless hussy. At the moment, a reason escaped her, but perhaps she needed to accept the serendipity of the evening to truly appreciate the divine order. What would happen if she completely surrendered to the moment? Why not enjoy her first real New Year’s Eve kiss—not counting the kiss from her godchildren last year—in three years? She felt long overdue for a serious, grownup New Year’s Eve kiss so surrender to the moment she did, with gusto.
The act marked a defining moment in her life. Her nature didn’t include spontaneous or frivolous. She was the intellectual one in her group of friends, the deep thinker, the analytical one. Known as a FranklinCovey planner junkie, she couldn’t get through her day without a prioritized daily task list. She didn’t take uncalculated risks and she didn’t even kiss on the first date. Yet, despite those deep-set character traits, she slowly raised her hand, pushed her fingers into his thick, silky hair and kissed him back as if he were the love of her life.
* * *
The gladiator yielded to her unrestrained response and fireworks ignited inside him. Heat pulsed through his veins and a thousand pinpricks of light exploded behind his eyelids. The colors flashed brilliant, more magnificent than poppy fields on the way to Oz and just as dangerous. The onslaught to his senses stunned him. The unfamiliar feelings shook the buzz off his intoxicated haze, warning him that he needed to be more aware of the moment—more aware of her.
The sound of her soft moan lured him further into her magic, but the need to breathe forced him to release her lips. “Damn,” he gasped, leaning his forehead against hers, his hand gently cupping the side of her head as his thumb rubbed her outer ear. “Lady, you pack quite a kiss.”
She chuckled softly. “You’re not so bad yourself, Spartacus.”
He smiled. “So, you figured it out.”
“Figured what out?” she asked with a puzzled look.
“Never mind,” he said, reaching for the mask that covered her eyes and the top half of her face.
“No,” she stated emphatically, staying his hand.
“I need to see your face.”
Her breathy voice betrayed her turbulent emotions. “No,” she said again, pressing more firmly against the hand he still had against her mask. She stepped backwards, deeper into the darkness, making it clear she had no intention of letting him see her face.
He watched her breasts rise and fall. Like him, she hadn’t yet recovered from that soul-shattering kiss. He looked into her eyes, which glowed a deep amber. He paused for a moment, thinking maybe he’d had a few too many cocktails earlier. He could have sworn her eyes were a soft green before. Shaking off the discrepancy as a trick of the shadows, he captured her hand and pressed his full lips against her palm in an open-mouthed kiss. Although she didn’t make a sound, he felt the deep inhalation that shuttered through her.
He looked down and rubbed his thumb against the soft skin of her upraised palm. His thumb continued across the plump veins on her wrist. Her pulse pounded. He kissed it with a gentleness that seemed to startle her. Then, he turned her hand over and caressed down its back to the edge of her fingers. Her long, graceful fingers ended with well-manicured medium length nails, painted with nothing more than a clearcoat. As he rubbed her fingertips between his thumb and index finger, he realized they were her natural nails.
“You have beautiful hands,” he whispered. Subconsciously, he registered that her toffee complexion seemed more golden in undertone than the tanned hand he remembered touching him inside earlier.
To think, he’d been about to give up his search for her when he’d spotted her standing alone on the balcony. Taking advantage of the unusually warm December weather, she’d been out here without a wrap and he’d been silently grateful for the view of soft curvy hips and round full bottom. The snug plum velvet of her costume, with its mid-thigh split and wispy, diaphanous overlay had accentuated her womanly figure and billowed seductively around her ankles. How had he missed all those luscious curves before?
The disconnect between his encounter with her earlier and her current demeanor deepened. The woman he’d met earlier had been so obvious about her attraction to him. This woman acted as if she didn’t know who he was. Was she playing hard to get? It was a little late for coyness.
He placed her hand back against his chest, centering it over his heart. His heartbeat raced beneath her palm. When her fingers curled against his chest, the butterfly caress made him hum with appreciation. He moved against her, releasing her hand to its own temptation. “Do you have any idea what your touch is doing to me?”
“Wha—?” Her words were lost in the startled gasped that rushed from her lungs when his hand dropped and brushed down the front of her breast. Her nipples beaded instantly.
“Yeah, my problem exactly,” he murmured, stepping close until his manly bulge pulsed against her. “Everything about you makes me hard and swollen, too.”
Her eyes darted to his. Despite the dim light, he could read the desire burning in their depths. He slid his hand over her bodice. His fingers played along her nipple then he palmed her, relishing the feel of her against his hand. Her breast filled his grasp. She had to be at least a C cup, an all-natural C cup. The thought brought a smile to his lips. Pressing those happy lips against her neck, he massaged her budded peak with deep deliberate pressure. His hips moved.
She groaned as he began to lower his head, perhaps anticipating his next move.
“Wait,” she said, placing her hands on either side of his face to still its descent.
His voice pitched low, husky. “Wait for what, sweetheart?”
He smiled at her inability to form words until he looked into her eyes. Whatever the vibes she’d been sending off earlier, she seemed to be having a change of heart. Sincerity and definiteness of purpose filled her gaze. A little confusion and uncertainty mixed in, but no coyness.
He felt himself being drawn to her. Something about her beckoned him to get to know her, and not only in the biblical sense. The melodic sound of her voice replayed in his head: You’ve made a mistake. I think you’re looking for someone else.
Suddenly uncomfortable, he couldn’t shake that feeling again that the Juliet before him differed distinctly from the Juliet he’d conversed with earlier. A moment of unease spurred by the thought she might pull away from him caused the fog around his brain to lift completely. He couldn’t pinpoint what had happened between his gathering of two champagne glasses to search out a one-night stand and this moment of genuine human attraction, but he knew he needed time with this woman to figure it out.
He pulled her tight against him. “Be mine tonight, Juliet. Let me give you your first pleasure of the New Year.”
* * *
Juliet’s voice abandoned her. She managed only a small whimper in response to the gladiator’s entreaty. His nibbling lips returned to her neck. His warm hand against her breast coupled with his well-endowed shaft riding above the throbbing apex of her thighs built a pressure deep inside her feminine core, hinting that ecstasy lingered only a small pelvic alignment away.
Of their own accord, one of her hands moved to his hip and the other to the back of his head. A battle raged inside her. The level-headed intellectual in her kept telling her to nix this behavior before the stranger bashed her in the head, did horrific things to her and dumped her body in some toxic ditch making her a tragedy worthy of an episode of Criminal Minds. The passionate woman in her, the one she’d buried beneath a deluge of disillusionment and cured with a heavy dose of compulsive career focus, started fighting her way free of the self-imposed fourteen-month cell of abstinence.
She pushed against his hip, trying to put space between their thighs. “Please,” she tossed the impassioned plea at him…again, not really sure what she was asking. Was she asking him to stop? Yes. Was she asking him not to stop? Yes.
She’d never understood the notion of mixed signals. She’d always thought it a simple matter of you did or you didn’t—you wanted to or you didn’t want to. How self-righteously ignorant she’d been. Heaven help her. Everything about this man turned her on and she didn’t even know his name.
His hand dropped from her breast. “Tell me, Juliet, are you as wet for me as I am hard for you?” She squirmed as she felt his hand search under the folds of her costume. “I’ve got to know.”
A deep flush spread through her body. She was wet. She blocked his hand with her leg, trying to shield the evidence of her arousal and stave off the orgasm that surely would occur if he touched her.
He squeezed his hand between her legs and cupped her center. He lifted triumphant eyes to hers. “Why would you want to hide this from me?” he murmured gruffly, his voice raspy with what sounded like near pain.
“I can’t…,” she started, but she didn’t finish. Her train of thought vanished with the glide of his fingers over the damp satin panel of her panties.
“Don’t deny me, Juliet. You’re the best part of this whole miserable New Year’s Eve for me.”
Despite herself, Juliet felt the urge to rock her pelvis against his fingers. She bordered on emotional overload. She couldn’t reconcile the pleasure she felt from his touch with the horror rising inside her for her uncharacteristically loose behavior. The notion that this man’s kiss, his words, his illicitly placed fingers, could give her the most stimulating sexual encounter of her life both puzzled and overwhelmed her.
Her feminine walls started to pulse and tremble, but she couldn’t allow him to continue. Slowly, she slid her hand down between them, inadvertently brushing the back of her hand against his erection as she wrapped her hand firmly around his broad wrist. She heard his sharp intake of breath before she closed her eyes to steady herself. When she thought she’d conquered her emotions, she opened her eyes and peered up into his watchful gaze. “We have to stop.” She squeezed his wrist. “I have to stop. Please, let go.”
A few seconds passed before he moved. As he let his hand fall away, she saw the question building behind his eyes. He finally whispered, “Who are you?”
She hesitated a moment, gathering her thoughts as she contemplated her response. He seemed to realize that she wasn’t the woman he’d come looking for. Did it bother him? He seemed simply curious, not angry. Her intuition told her that he wouldn’t hurt her. After all, if he were a brute, he wouldn’t have released her when she’d asked him to. Right? Nevertheless, innate self-preservation made her glanced around for an escape route.
The gladiator placed a hand firmly against her waist to hold her in place. “Tell me your name. Your real name,” he said. “I have to see you again.”
Juliet’s mind raced. What have I done? Surely, nothing good could come of a midnight tryst with an intoxicated stranger whom you almost let get inside your panties without even trading your real names. She needed to get away from here.
“No,” she said, moving aside abruptly. “Let me go.”
Their voices overlapped right before Murphy showed up and showed out.
When she stepped away, she caught the gladiator off guard and he dropped the forgotten champagne flute he’d been holding. The bubbly liquid spilled down her back and all over her costume before the sound of shattering glass rent the air. Juliet jerked and the corded shoulder gathers of her dress caught on the curlicue design of his epaulettes. She felt the fabric give way as footsteps sounded near the French doors of the patio. Her mouth dropped open as the bodice of her dress separated, completely exposing her to the waist.
A giggling voice carried across the night. “Are you sure no one else is out here?”
“Don’t worry, baby,” came a masculine reply. “You’re safe with me.”
Juliet watched with mortification as the gladiator’s eyes widen in surprise at the display of her naked breasts. He froze only momentarily before his reflexes kicked in and he clasped Juliet against his chest, pushing her further back into the shadows to shield her from view with his larger body.
The giggling increased as the amorous couple passed them in the night.
“See, I told you someone else would have thought of this,” the female voice admonished.
The deep male voice replied humorously, “Baby, they’re so into each other they won’t even know we’re here. C’mon. Let’s find our own private corner.”
As the footsteps faded, Juliet became very aware of her bare nipples squished against the gladiator’s chest. Strangely, instead of alarming her, the weight of him pressed against her felt oddly comforting. She knew he’d grabbed her to cover her wardrobe malfunction, which impressed her as oddly gallant under the circumstances.
“Thanks,” she murmured, pulling away to attend to her bodice, but she couldn’t get the shoulder piece back together.
“Here. Allow me,” he said, intercepting her frustrated fumbles. The chore stumped him as well until he realized that a small clasp hid beneath the gold cording. The clasp had bent slightly, probably from being snagged on his shoulder piece. He pressed it back into shape with a firm squeeze between his thumb and forefinger then latched it closed over her shoulder.
Juliet slid the drooping panel from the other side of the dress back into place and stepped away from him, careful to avoid the broken glass around her feet.
“I have to go.” She spoke without looking at him.
“I really want to see you again.”
“No, you don’t,” she said with a shake of her head. She almost laughed when she looked up and saw the shocked expression on his face. “What you want is an easy lay. And I’m not that woman.”
She placed three fingers against his lips to silence him. “Look, this isn’t who I am.” She sighed before she continued. “I don’t know what came over me tonight. I’ve never done anything like this before in my life. Ever. So, you can forget about your all-nighter. You won’t be getting lucky with me. Unfortunately for you—well,” she laughed, “maybe for both of us really—I’m the kind of girl who needs a commitment, not the kind of girl you keep in your little black book for late night hookups.”
He removed her hand. “Whatever you say. All I’m asking is for you to give me a chance to find out who you are for myself.”
She laughed and shook her head again. “I don’t think so. Something tells me that after tonight, we’d be hard pressed to rewind to getting-to-know-you drinks or dinner and a movie. How about we simply leave it at our midnight rendezvous and I’ll pull this memory out whenever I need to be reminded that even someone as provincial as me can have a bit of a naughty girl inside.” She began to walk away.
He took a step forward. “At least tell me your first name.”
She smiled fully for the first time. “What? And ruin the mystique?” She made it all the way to the patio doors before she hesitated. She turned to see his pensive profile staring off into the night. “Hey, Spartacus,” she called.
He turned only his head towards the sound of her voice.
“You’re one hell of a kisser. Whoever your true Juliet is, she’s one lucky lady.” And with that she disappeared inside.
“You are my true Juliet,” he murmured, but she was too far away to hear him.
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