Surrender Your Love

By: J.C. Reed

\Chapter 1

I was sitting at the bar, sipping on my second margarita. My knee-length pencil skirt brushed the empty stool next to mine, my fingers tapped on my thigh to the rhythm of a slow jazz song coming from the invisible sound system. This wasn’t the kind of establishment I usually frequented, but my boss had been adamant that I meet Mayfield in his preferred environment. And so I agreed, albeit with trepidation, at the outlook of entering an expensive gentlemen’s club where beautiful girls breezed around in classy lingerie, and the two drink minimum rule had already cost me more than my weekly grocery shopping.

Judging from the countless twinkling lights and polished marble floors, the place oozed style and money. Even though it was still empty, I had no doubt it would fill up soon and earn the owner a fortune. A racy girl that looked like she belonged on the cover of FHM magazine climbed twenty feet up a pole and dropped down into a split to ‘warm up’, as the DJ announced tonight’s program to the few punters in tailored suits. I sighed with impatience, and sank deeper into my slouch on the luxurious bar stool overlooking the soft leather couches and mirrored walls near the entrance.

Mayfield was late. In fact, very late. I didn’t appreciate lateness, and particularly not when I should’ve been home by now, unwinding with a glass of wine after a long day of sucking up to the big guys in real estate. The job was meant to be a filler until I could get my hands on a position with a company like Delaware & Ray, but as filler jobs go, they’re a dead end. And two years later I was twenty three, stuck and overworked with no promotion in sight.

Maybe it was the way the guy walked—full of confidence and cockiness—but the moment I saw him entering the bar I knew he was the kind that would bring me nothing but trouble. So I buried my gaze in my drink, avoiding the stranger’s curious look. The hairs on the nape of my neck prickled. I turned slowly, realizing he was standing behind me. His hot breath grazed the sensitive skin of my cheek as he leaned over my shoulder to whisper in my ear.

“You stick out like a sore thumb. I’m not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing.”

His voice was low and hoarse. Scorching.

Bedroom voice… the words echoed somewhere in the back of my mind.

My heart jumped into my mouth, which I attributed to the fact that I didn’t like strangers leaning over me. And particularly not those with a deep, sexy rumble of a voice that had just a hint of a Southern accent. Fighting the urge to jump up from the bar stool and put some much needed distance between us, I straightened my back and turned to face him, ready to hit back with a biting remark.

Holy cow.

He was dazzlingly gorgeous. Forget gorgeous. He was beautiful. Utterly, totally, mind-blowingly stunning. On a scale from one to ten, he was a hundred.

For a few seconds I just stared at him as my abdomen twisted into knots and my pulse quickened. The guy was hot and, judging from his wicked grin, definitely not the kind of man you bring home to meet your parents. He was tall, at least a head taller than me. Maybe six feet two. His wet, dark hair was a tad too long and disheveled—like he had run his hands through it. His coat, now damp from the rain that had been cascading on downtown New York for the last three days, did nothing to hide his broad shoulders and muscular build, nor his insolent stance. In the dim light of the bar, his electric eyes shimmered like emeralds.

I had never seen eyes like his. Dark green. Smoldering. Ready to undress a woman with a single glance. Already I felt naked beneath my layers of clothes. His gaze traveled down the front of my shirt appreciatively, and lingered on my legs for longer than was polite. My skin prickled from his gaze. I tucked a stray strand of curly hair behind my ear and moistened my suddenly dry lips. The effect he had on me was both unnerving and exciting. I crossed my arms over my chest and bit my lower lip hard to regain my speech. He regarded me with raised eyebrows and unconcealed amusement, as though he knew what a single glance from those eyes did to me. But it wasn’t his obvious arrogance that made me instantly angry. It was the way his spread fingers lingered intimately on the small of my back as though they had caressed the spot before. As though they belonged there.

“Why would you say that? Because I’m not wearing a skimpy G-string and stilettos, and my boobs aren’t half falling out of a leopard print bra?” I asked through gritted teeth, ignoring the delicious pull gathering somewhere in my abdomen.

“Jett Townsend.” His lips twitched. “Mayfield couldn’t make it, so you’ll have to make do with me. But don’t worry, you and I will get on just fine.” The skin around his stunning eyes crinkled, and his mouth quirked up in a grin, flashing perfect dimples. Why did I get the feeling there was a double meaning to his words?

“Brooke Stewart,” I said. My gaze lingered on his pale blue shirt and faded jeans with a stringy fringe that brushed his cowboy boots, and I couldn’t help the scoff forming at the back of my throat.

“Wine?” I asked, ready to order.

“I’d rather have Sex on the Beach.” He winked at me with a devilish grin. I figured his words could be interpreted in two ways, but judging from his flirtatious smile, I doubted he was talking about the cocktail. Heat began to pour through me at the unwelcome image of us having sex on sand and water. My skin tingled from the magnetic pull between us.

What the heck?

I peeled my gaze off him in the hope the instant attraction was nothing but a figment of my imagination.

“So, Brooke. Tell me all about yourself.” He leaned forward, flashing me a drop dead gorgeous smile.

I inhaled a sharp breath, suddenly fuming. How dare he call me by my first name? And most importantly, how dare he look so darn sexy doing it?

“May I remind you this is a business meeting and not a date?”

He raised his brows. “Do you want a date?”

“What?” My cheeks caught fire, and my heart pumped just a little bit harder. “That’s not what I meant. I—”

His eyes twinkled with humor. “Apparently, you like what you see, and so do I. So…” He shrugged and trailed off, leaving the rest to my imagination.

I hated hot guys, and particularly those who knew just how gorgeous they were. “Trust me, there’s nothing I haven’t seen before.” My lie sounded ridiculous and he knew it. I could tell by the irritating, self-assured yet gorgeous grin he was sporting.

My temper flared.

This was supposed to be an initial attempt at finding out where our companies stood in terms of a potential partnership. The fact that Mayfield Properties would send someone who couldn’t even dress to suit the occasion was laughable. Why would Mayfield want to be represented by someone who clearly lacked any knowledge of what is acceptable when dealing with a potential business partner? Or maybe Mayfield didn’t value our cooperation, and this was his way of telling me to fuck off. Either way I wasn’t pleased, and I had no intention of making a secret out of my displeasure. Mayfield was known to be a real son-of-a-bitch. He was also known to take no crap from anyone. If I wanted to make it in this cutthroat business world dominated by men, I had to mirror his tactics, or give up on a career which was already going nowhere.

“Look, I appreciate your coming, Mr. Townsend, but I’d rather speak with at least a regional vice president. Please tell Mr. Mayfield to call me once he’s ready to reschedule. Good evening to you.” Grabbing my purse and coat from the polished counter, I jumped down from the barstool and headed for the exit when strong fingers curled around my upper arm. I froze in my tracks.

“Don’t forget your umbrella. We wouldn’t want that pretty face to get soaked,” Townsend whispered in my ear, sending another delicious tingle through my body. What was it with this man and whispering? Couldn’t he just talk like normal people? I reached blindly around me and yanked my umbrella out of his hand. Without a look back I marched out of the bar, keeping my head high. Only when I reached the parking lot twenty feet from the bar’s main entrance did I stop and finally let out a long breath.

The night air had cooled down. I shrugged into my coat and hurried to unlock the door to my Chevrolet. It was an old thing, but it had been a graduation gift from my stepdad, so I loved it.

I jammed the car into first gear and pulled out of the parking lot. My gaze brushed over the stranger towering in the bar’s doorway, watching me a moment before I drove past.

Did he follow me out? My heartbeat sped up but I didn’t halt. If anything, I floored the accelerator and the car spluttered forward. The engine lets out a drawn-out protest, but I didn’t care. Whatever Townsend’s business was, I decided he was a creep,and I had no intention of ever seeing him again. I was definitely not the kind of woman who’d ever succumb to a hard body and dimples to die for.

I reached my tiny apartment in Brooklyn Heights in less than an hour and parked the car opposite from the five-story building that had been my home ever since graduating from college two years ago. The street was damp and deserted. The street lamp in front of the building cast a golden glow on the steel door, which led into a narrow hall with a lobby area. Minding the large rain puddles, I fished my keys out of my bag and let myself in, then rode the elevator up to the fifth floor.

My roommate and best friend, Sylvie, wasn’t home. Ever since she landed the investment job of her dreams, she barely ever made it home before midnight. I had been taught to put one hundred and ten percent into everything I did, but Sylvie took working hard to a whole new level. She went so far as to sacrifice her hobbies, friendships, and health by doing unpaid overtime in an attempt to gain recognition for all the extra effort. Any attempts I ever initiated to make her realize just how unhealthy her stress level had become were futile so far, but I wasn’t going to give up.

Dropping the umbrella into a brass holder and my handbag and coat on the old coffee table in the hall, I kicked my shoes off and headed for the kitchen to pour myself a much-earned glass of wine. I was halfway through my second glass when the key turned in the lock and Sylvie’s blonde head popped into my line of vision.

“What a surprise!” I sat up and pointed at my glass. “Want one?”

“You better have a bottle.” She slumped onto the couch next to me and put her long legs up. I scanned from her striped skirt that rode just above her knee up to her face and damp, blonde hair. Something was different. Her mascara was smudged. The skin beneath her blue eyes was swollen and red as though she had been crying, which was impossible. Sylvie wasn’t the crying kind. In all the six years we had been best friends, I never once saw her shed a tear. She never looked anything less than perfect and happy.

I sat up, instantly feeling something was wrong. “What happened?”

“I got the boot.”

“What?”

She took the glass out of my hands and drained it in one big gulp. “They kicked me out. Said something about not needing another intern. Blah blah.” She rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”

“Oh, crap.” I shook my head in disbelief. “But you worked so hard.”

“I know, right? But you know what? I am okay. C’est la vie. Time to move on.” She jumped up, and a smile spread across her lips. “Let’s get plastered.”

I narrowed my gaze. There was something in the way she avoided looking at me that raised my suspicion. “Wait!” I grabbed her arm and pulled her back down on the sofa. “You’re not telling me everything.”

She rolled her eyes again.

“Spill it,” I said.

She pressed her mouth into a tight line.

“Sylvie,” I prompted.

“Fine. I slept with the boss.”

My jaw dropped. “No.”

She nodded. “I did. His personal assistant, who’s best buddies with his wife, started to suspect. So the bastard got the jitters and decided to get rid of me.”

“Is that even legal?”

Was it?

Sylvie shrugged. “Probably not, but it’s a small world, and I need this reference if I ever want to land another banking job.”

“The bastard,” I mirrored her words. Sylvie was the brightest person I knew. She had graduated in the top of her class, and any firm would have been happy to have her. “You’ll find something else in no time.” I had no doubt about that.

She smirked. “Yeah, only next time remind me not to screw the boss, no matter how hot he is. You’re so lucky you have Sean. At least he’s not married and lying to you about not having slept in the same bed with the wife for the last two years. Talk about cliché.”

My arms wrapped around Sylvie, and she leaned her head against my shoulder the way she always did when a relationship turned sour. They always did, whether we wanted it or not.

“Sean’s not perfect, you know. And I don’t want commitment,” I said.

“At least he’s honest. That’s more than you can say about the majority of guys out there.”

Call me a romantic, but I didn’t agree with Sylvie on that one. Surely not all men were liars or commitment-phobes. I rolled my eyes as I thought of the guy everyone seemed to think was a catch. Sean—the boyfriend who wasn’t ready to commit, and neither was I, for my own reasons. He was good-looking, successful, and the guy I had been hanging onto for almost a year even though I knew it was a dead end relationship that might be over any minute. If you’d call his ‘let’s hook up every now and then’ a relationship, then that was about all we had: a sort of friends-with-benefits thing.

Less of a friend, more of a sex buddy.

We met when Sylvie left her handbag in a bar on a drunken night out. Sean found it,and when he turned up at our doorstep she should have been the one to thank him for not stealing her money and tossing her ID card in the nearest dumpster. However, Sylvie had been puking in the bathroom for nearly an hour...so Sean met me instead. We hit it off instantly, and I really thought he might be long-term material. As it turned out, even planning a weekend break was too much commitment for him. I couldn’t remember the last time we went on a romantic date. In fact, I couldn’t remember ever planning any sort of event that didn’t involve a drunken night out with our friends.

Right from the beginning, Sean had made it clear we weren’t exclusive, and I was fine with that because he made me feel comfortable. Around him, I felt as though I could be myself. When we talked time seemed to fly, and we’d end up talking the night away. Okay, so I wasn’t in toe-curling, belly-warming, butterfly-feeling love, but then again does that even exist outside of Barbara Cartland’s novels?

“Anyway,” Sylvie continued, jerking me out of my thoughts. “How was your meeting with that guy?”

“Mayfield,” I said to refresh her memory.

“Mayfield,” she repeated.

“Don’t even get me started.” I waved my hand, choosing to avoid this particular conversation. “He didn’t turn up.”

“It seems like we both need a drink.” Sylvie jumped to her feet again and pulled me up with her. I hesitated. She might be unemployed now, but I still had a job. While it might be fun to linger around New York’s bars, sipping on margaritas at midnight, I didn’t have Sylvie’s platinum Visa card—courtesy of her dad—to pay my bills. I had to get up early in the morning and do my job.

“Come on, babes.” Knowing it would make me laugh, she put on the fake British accent she picked up on one of her family vacations. “Let’s forget this bloody day.” My lips twitched. “We’ll be back in a jiffy.” Which, in Sylvie’s personal dictionary, was the equivalent to a whole-night bender. But she was my best friend; she needed me. She would have done the same for me. Naturally my resolve never stood a chance.

Rolling my eyes, I shook my head and followed her out the door. The cool night air whipped my hair against my skin. Luckily our favorite drinking spot was just around the corner, so we didn’t have to brave the cold for long before we settled into our usual booth, surrounded by Sylvie’s countless admirers and a few shots of tequila with lime.***A penetrating ringing noise woke me up too soon. I groaned and covered my ears with my pillow, silently begging whoever was making such ungodly noise to shut it. It took me a moment to realize it was my alarm clock. I rolled on my side and knocked it over in the process. A male voice let out an amused snort. I sat up, instantly awake. My gaze settled on the guy on the left side of my bed, and I felt the telltale heat of a major blush rushing to my face. He was propped up on one elbow, one arm tucked beneath his head; his chiseled chest with dark hair trailing down his flat abdomen was on full display. The sheet covering his modesty left nothing to the imagination. In fact, it only managed to stir an unwelcome pull between my legs. Not only was he strikingly good looking, he was also well endowed. A heady—yet dangerous combination—in a man. My tongue flicked over my suddenly dry lips as I pried my gaze away from the bulge that was evident beneath the thin sheet.

What was he doing in my bed? And why was he naked?

What do you think, stupid? It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. Just look at his smug grin.

I peered at his face. In the bright morning light falling through the window he looked younger than last night, but just as arrogant. His gorgeous lips curled into the most stunning smile I had ever seen. A panty-dropping smile, as Sylvie would have called it. I paled at the realization. Had I dropped my panties for him?

He regarded me with mild amusement in his smoldering eyes—the color of dark moss covered by a thin layer of opal mist. The way he looked at me, I felt as though he saw through my body and directly into my soul. No one had ever made me feel like that before. Then again, I had never met someone so electrically good-looking, but there’s a first time for everything.

“Are you ready for Round Two?” His voice dripped with insinuation. I had heard that hoarse voice before, but where? My brain fought to make a connection through the alcohol infused haziness clouding my memory retrieval system. And then it dawned on me.

“You were at The Black Rose. I was supposed to meet with Mayfield, but he sent you instead.”

His grin widened, revealing two strings of pearl white, even teeth.

Beautiful, strong teeth that nibbled on my neck and grazed the sensitive skin on my thighs.

Whoa, where did that come from? I shook my head lightly and tried to cling to the memory before my eyes, but it was gone already.

“Did we—” I gestured at his naked chest. My heart stopped beating for a moment as I waited for his assurance that it was all a misunderstanding, that I didn’t bang a stranger, because one-night stands weren’t my thing. Besides, I was in a relationship, albeit an open one, but cheating wasn’t my thing either. I wasn’t turning into Sylvie, was I? And I probably wasn’t so stupid to have banged the guy.

Mystery Guy opened his mouth to say something, closed it again, and in that instant I knew.

I was cheap, not least because I couldn’t even remember his name.

“Oh, God.” I jumped out of bed, vaguely realizing I wasn’t wearing anything, not even my panties—probably courtesy of his panty-dropping smile. Mortified, I pulled the sheet from him and covered my naked body, then scooped up what I assumed were his jeans from the pile of clothes scattering the floor and tossed them toward Mystery Guy. He caught them in midair but didn’t hurry to put them on. Well, he obviously was comfortable with his private parts on full display. Good for him.

I cringed and hissed, “Get out.”

He blinked and frowned, as though he wasn’t used to this tone from anyone. Was that a hint of disappointment in his eyes? I shook my head at my confusing thoughts. Why would he feel that way when he didn’t even know me? And then it was gone, and his blazing gaze turned to ice. My heart sank in my chest.

I turned my back on him and called over my shoulder, “You found your way in here, so I’m sure you can find your way out,” as I sprinted out the door and headed for the safety of the kitchen, running right into Sylvie brewing our morning coffee.

“Is somebody doing the walk of shame?” Sylvie pointed at my burning cheeks.

I stared at her made-up face and perfect hair. Seriously, how could she look as though she just went through a beauty treatment at a spa after a long night of binge-drinking and barfing all over the small patch of lawn outside our building?

Sylvie held out her coffee mug. “Here, take it. You need it more than me.”

“Thanks.” I took a sip and burned my tongue in the process. The sharp pang of pain offered a welcome diversion from the question at hand. Why did I bring a guy home?

“Is he still here?” Sylvie whispered conspiratorially.

I almost spit out my next sip. “You know?”

She nodded. “You didn’t exactly make a secret out of wanting to bed him.”

What the hell did I do? Strip off and give him a lap dance? Sylvie made it sound like I acted all sex-starved. No wonder the guy was disappointed not getting a morning quickie.

“You’re my best friend. You should have stopped me!” I was so mad at her, at myself, at Hot Shirtless Arrogant Guy for accepting my obviously drunken advances. But, even as I was seething, I knew he was the last to blame. What guy would say ‘no’ to a willing female with loose morals?

“I was drunk,” Sylvie whispered, like that would explain everything.

Heavy footsteps thudded across the narrow corridor and stopped in the doorway. Holding my breath, I buried my gaze in my coffee and willed it to swallow me up so I wouldn’t have to face the shame of my actions.

“Good morning, ladies,” Mystery Guy said.

“Want a cup?” Sylvie strolled over and poured him some coffee, ignoring my venomous look.

What the heck?

Was he now staying for a cup of coffee? Didn’t he get the memo?

“Cheers.” He took a gulp and sighed slightly. Damn! Why did he sound so sexy doing normal stuff like drinking? My cheeks began to burn as my gaze trailed his strong chest, my mind conjuring images of him on top of me. Was this my brain’s attempt at reminding me of what we did, or just a fantasy?

“How did you get such a hottie? I’m so jealous, and proud of you,” Sylvie whispered, not the least bothered by the fact that my conquest could most certainly hear every word. Her gaze brushed him appreciatively, her X-ray gawk probably undressing him this very instant. While I usually didn’t mind her leering, for some inexplicable reason it bothered me. Her lips curled into a lascivious smile, and she began to play with a golden strand of hair. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see her glued to his leg, drooling all over him.

“Stop it.” I nudged her in case she could no longer hear me in her lust-induced stupor.

She shrugged and took a step back but didn’t stop her leering.

“Any plans for the day?” Mystery Guy asked. The kitchen remained silent until I realized he had been addressing me. I peered up all the way from the floor to his impossibly green gaze and instantly wished I hadn’t. No one had eyes like that—green like sin, but never had sin seemed so tempting. I swallowed hard and beseeched my heart to slow down before it burst out of my chest. Was it an invitation to spend the day with him? Surely, it couldn’t be. The guy got his one-night stand. Isn’t that every man’s dream: sex with no strings attached? So why would he be interested in seeing more of my panties…unless said panties were worthy of a second try?

My blood began to boil at the way he smirked at me: self-assured. So he enjoyed dinner and thought he might just stay for a top up. See what else my downtown store had to offer today. Well, good news: it was closed. He wasn’t going to get any, even if my whole body screamed to go for it and see where that happy trail might lead me.

“I have plans. Very important ones.” I straightened my back and held his intense gaze, ready to stare him down. He cocked his brows. His eyes blazed with challenge and determination.

“Then cancel them,” he said in that husky tone of his.

I suppressed a snort and crossed my arms over my chest. Seriously, who did he think he was? Maybe most women tripped over their own two feet to spend the day with him, but I wasn’t one of them. “Not happening.”

“Playing hard to get?” He flashed a sexy dimple. “You sure weren’t last night.”

My cheeks were on fire. I wished I could turn invisible and disappear from the face of the earth. Then I might just be able to work through the shame and humiliation burning through me. Maybe.

“Grab your stuff and get the hell out.” I pointed at the door. He didn’t move, so I clutched his upper arm and pushed hard. His bulging bicep strained under the thin material of his shirt, but he didn’t budge from the spot.

I took a sharp breath and let it out slowly as I gathered my words. “Look, whatever happened last night, it won’t happen again.”

“Why not?” He laughed. “I thought you wanted...more.”

A sharp pang of scorching mortification burned through me. Back there in my bedroom, while we were having fun, did I tell him that I wanted more?

Oh God.

My heart began to pound harder in my chest as he looked me up and down, enjoying every moment of what I would call the biggest humiliation in my life.

“Why not again?” he prompted.

I balled my hands into fists and cringed at the amused flicker in his gaze. “Because it was a mistake. We were supposed to have a business meeting, not hump each other,” I hissed at him, stabbing my finger in his strong chest. His lack of any sort of reaction made my temper flare. “You were a drunken mistake, which I’d never repeat in my sober state, so you might as well leave now.” For some inexplicable reason, I regretted my words the moment they came out, but there was no backing off. He was a devilishly sexy guy with a beautiful face and the body of a god, but I couldn’t ignore the knowledge that as hot guys go, tempting a woman into bed is nothing but a game to them. A game to assert their hotness level. Judging from the lazy grin on his lips, I bet he couldn’t agree with me more. So, no matter how strongly I felt attracted to him, the guy was a no-go for my own sake.

It’s called self-respect.

Of which I didn’t show a lot last night.

The guy was a player who would bring me nothing but trouble. I knew that the moment he entered The Black Rose, and my intuition had been spot on, as usual. Swallowing my pride, I walked past furiously, not quite able to ignore the flicker of amused interest in his eyes.

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