by Elle Kennedy
“Eloise Lambert and guest,” Noelle said coolly.
Neither she nor Jim spoke as the man checked his list. They remained relaxed albeit aloof, and when they received a satisfied nod, they wasted no time strolling through the front doors.
“Enjoy your evening,” the man said woodenly.
Once the door closed behind them, Noelle glanced at her date and murmured, “Easy as pie.”
His tone was grim. “Let’s hope it stays that way.”
The foyer was as impressive as she suspected the rest of the house would be. The cathedral ceiling was thirty feet high at least, and the white-and-gray-veined marble beneath their feet gleamed from the light of the crystal chandelier. The walls boasted several expensive pieces of art, including a much-sought-after van Gogh, if Noelle wasn’t mistaken.
Another tuxedoed man appeared from a wide doorway to their right, greeting them with a warm smile. “Right this way, sir, madam.”
They followed him down a spacious hallway adorned with more eyebrow-raising art. No family photos in sight, Noelle noted. Just canvas after canvas, painted by some of the most iconic artists in history. Renoir, Gauguin, Monet, a handful of Rembrandts, a rare Dalí, and a piece from German painter Max Ernst that seemed oddly out of place. Durand clearly had eclectic tastes when it came to art, and his collection was enough to make other private collectors die of envy.
“Where is Mr. Durand?” Noelle inquired politely. “I’d like to say hello and thank him for hosting such a lovely event.”
“He hasn’t arrived yet,” their guide answered. “He had an appointment in Paris this afternoon and he was delayed, but I assure you, he’ll be here as soon as he can.”
They reached another set of French doors. A murmur of voices and strains of classical music reached Noelle’s ears, and she had to stifle a sigh. She was so not in the mood for a party.
“Until then,” Durand’s employee went on, “I urge you to enjoy the finest champagne our country has to offer and sample the delicious food our chef has prepared.”
She flashed him a sweet smile. “Merci, monsieur.”
The man opened the doors with a flourish, revealing the magnificent ballroom that lay beyond. From the corner of her eye, Noelle saw Jim’s mouth fall open, and she didn’t blame him one bit. A soaring ceiling, cherry flooring, and pale yellow walls made up the space, and Noelle had never seen so many chandeliers in her life. They hung from the ceiling in all their lighted glory, sparkling like diamonds and reflecting off the expansive display of windows on the north wall.
The music they’d heard was coming from the eight-piece orchestra situated in one corner of the room, strings and brass accompanied by a handsome man behind a white grand piano. Waitstaff in black-and-white uniforms floated through the vast room with trays of champagne flutes and gourmet hors d’oeuvres that made Noelle’s mouth water. She’d skipped dinner because she’d been hiding from Jim, and her stomach rumbled from the heady aromas filling the air.
“So all these folks are shareholders in Durand Enterprises, huh?” Jim mused, assessing the three dozen or so guests milling in the ballroom. “Nice of their boss to host such a fancy-pants party for them.”
Noelle was doing her own examination of the crowd. Most of the guests were older gentlemen, accompanied by much younger women decked out in expensive cocktail gowns. A few women in their thirties lingered near the orchestra, and several younger males with an ambitious air to them were drifting from group to group, mingling with the older executives.
Whenever she went out, Noelle was usually the one who stood out in the crowd—her golden hair and flawless features made it that way—but the number of beautiful women in attendance tonight was reassuring. Noelle might be able to slip under the radar after all.
She continued to scope out the room, her eyes resting on the elegant spiral staircase in the corner of the room, leading up to an honest-to-God opera box suspended twenty feet above them.
Beside her, Jim’s gaze had rested on the massive ice sculpture near a set of doors leading out to the terrace. The sculpture was shaped like an elaborate dragon, posed as if it were about to take flight.
“Our host went all out,” Jim said dryly.
“I imagine he can afford it. This house is incredible.”
A petite redhead approached with a tray of champagne, and both Noelle and Jim readily accepted the glasses she offered them. Once the waitress was gone, Noelle took a delicate sip of the sparkling Dom Perignon, savoring the crisp taste of it. Jim did the same, only he didn’t seem to be savoring a damn thing.
She had to smile when she glimpsed the look of distaste on his face.
“So it’s still only beer and tequila for you, huh, Jim?”
“I don’t get it. You grew up loaded—you should be used to guzzling down Dom. Your parents probably put it in your baby bottle instead of formula.”
“My parents preferred Merlot,” he corrected. “You, on the other hand, were always into the expensive bubbly.” He paused for a beat. “Remember when I made you order a beer at that pub in the Left Bank? I still remember how horrified you looked after you took a sip.”
“Because it tasted like sewer water,” she protested. “My reaction had nothing to do with the price, or the fact that it wasn’t champagne. It’s not my fault you have terrible taste in beer, James.”
He grinned, and her pulse promptly sped up.
Damn it. She hated seeing that crooked smile on his sexy mouth. She hated her body for responding to it. And she hated being reminded of how easy it used to be between them. Once upon a time, they’d never run out of things to say to each other.
She suppressed a curse, annoyed with herself for letting the past surface. “I wonder what’s keeping our host.”
“No clue, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t gotten held up at all.” Jim used his glass to gesture around the lavish ballroom. “Men this rich know how to play the game, and making people wait is a great way to make you look important and mysterious. It adds to the allure.”
“You’re probably right.”
“I’m always right.”
“Aw. Your modesty is so endearing.”
Another waiter walked up to them, this one carrying a tray of hors d’oeuvres. “Would you like to try some salmon-trout tartare?” the dark-haired man inquired in crisp French.
Noelle accepted the square linen napkin he handed her and picked up one of the delicate hors d’oeuvres. She took a bite, then moaned.
“This is amazing. Here, try some.”
Without thinking, she brought the delicious pastry to Jim’s lips.
He stiffened, his blue eyes flickering with surprise.
And then to her surprise, he opened his mouth.
Noelle’s fingers quivered ever so slightly as she fed him. Jesus. What was wrong with her? What was she doing?
Her gaze fixed on his lips, the way his strong jaw worked as he chewed.
After he’d swallowed, his eyes rolled to the top of his head. “Motherfucker. That’s good.”
Noelle laughed before she could stop herself. “Told you. Come on, let’s go find another waiter. I want to try everything here.”
“Women,” she heard him mutter under his breath.
Yet he didn’t protest. He just followed her on her food quest, and even though he acted like he was humoring her, she knew he enjoyed every second of it. Not only did he taste every item they came across, he raved about each one afterward. They sampled everything they could find, from the tasty pork rillettes to the adorable mini tart flambés, from the incredible wild mushroom and chicken fricassee to the sweetest chocolate-covered strawberries she’d ever tasted.
Noelle found herself relaxing. Her naturally suspicious mind warned her that she shouldn’t lower her guard, but for the first time in years, she wasn’t overcome b
y tension in Jim’s company. Her shoulders weren’t stiffer than two-by-fours, her chest wasn’t plagued by resentment, and her jaw didn’t feel like a toy car that had been wound up to its limit.
As they wandered around the ballroom, she noted that Jim’s body language also conveyed a serious lack of hostility. And it was impossible not to miss the way his magnetic blue eyes kept fastening on her cleavage.
After she’d caught him ogling her for the tenth time, Noelle raised her eyebrows. “You’re being very rude, you know. You keep leering at my dress, yet you still haven’t bothered to compliment it.”
He shrugged. “Your dress is all right, I guess. Nothing to write home about.”
“Bullshit. I’ll have you know it cost me three grand—that makes it more than all right.”
“I don’t care about designer clothes.”
“Says the man in the D and G tux.”
“Says the woman who knew the correct label of a man’s tuxedo by sight.”
“Would it really kill you to admit this dress is sexy?”
“Sexy, huh?” Looking thoughtful, he appraised her from head to toe. “Nah, it would have to be way shorter and cut much lower for that.”
“Bullshit,” she said again.
He just smirked.
“Fine. Well, how about this?” She raised herself up even higher on her Louboutins and brought her lips dangerously close to his ear. “Picture me wearing this dress—except I’m on my knees sucking your cock.”
“What do you think of the dress now?” she prompted.
His nostrils flared, and she tried not to laugh at his lustful expression.
“That’s what I thought,” she said sweetly.
A waiter walked up just then to collect their empty champagne flutes, but they both declined another drink. Instead, they wandered closer to the orchestra, which was playing a Viennese waltz.
As they paused to listen, Noelle felt several curious gazes on her and Jim. They hadn’t spoken to anyone since their arrival, and even though nobody had approached them when they’d been making their hors d’oeuvres rounds, now that they were standing in one place they had big fat targets on their heads.
She wasn’t wrong—as if on cue, two couples who had been chatting about ten feet away were starting to make their way over.
Noelle quickly touched Jim’s arm. “Let’s dance.”
“I don’t like to dance,” he grumbled.
“I don’t care. We’re about to have some company, and trust me, neither one of us wants to get drawn into a conversation about a pharmaceutical empire we know nothing about.”
Jim nodded in resignation. “Fine.”
They swiftly moved toward the center of the room, where only a few other couples had decided to make use of the dance floor. Noelle and Jim joined them just as the tempo changed into an even slower waltz.
Reluctance creased Jim’s forehead as he roughly placed his hand at the small of her back, so low he was almost touching her ass. “I fucking hate the waltz,” he muttered.
Fighting a grin, Noelle corrected his pose by shifting his hand higher up her back, then rested one hand on his shoulder and tucked her other one into his. When another grumbling sound left his lips, her grin finally breached the surface, because there was truly nothing she enjoyed more than seeing Jim Morgan out of his element. He fit that tux to perfection, moved with grace you wouldn’t expect from a man so big, and yet despite all that, she’d never seen him look more uncomfortable.
“I think I’m going to lick your pussy when we get back to your place.”
The raspy declaration caught her by complete surprise, which, she realized, was exactly what he’d intended.
As her pulse raced and her sex clenched, she stared into his eyes and was unprepared for the sensual glint she saw in them. He no longer looked ill at ease, but confident as hell, and incredibly arrogant.
“What do you think about that?” he murmured, dipping his head close to her ear. “You think I should?”
She recovered from her shock and smiled sweetly. “Only if you’ve been working on your technique. I remember you weren’t very good at it.”
“Bullshit.” His white teeth gleamed in a wicked smile. “I always knew how to make you scream. There was this one spot—I’d flick my tongue over it, and you’d come all over my face. Remember that?”
Then he spun her around and led her around the floor in a carefree waltz, acting as if he hadn’t just sent her arousal levels soaring right out of the atmosphere.
Noelle clenched her teeth and tried to focus on not tripping or stepping on his feet. But it was hard. She was so wet her thighs were actually slippery and sticking to each other, and she had to curse herself for not wearing panties tonight. She’d wanted to avoid panty lines, but now, as desire pooled between her legs, she wished she’d chosen comfort over ego.
She was acutely aware of him as they continued to dance. The pressure of his hand on her back, his heady aftershave, the sexy curve of his lips. His clean-shaven face was almost startling—she was so used to seeing stubble slashing that hard jaw—and his skin was so smooth she was tempted to stroke it and find out if it was as soft as it looked.
She suddenly heard herself speak in a faraway tone. “Remember when I made you dance in the fountain?”
For one brief moment, tenderness softened his eyes before the cocky sparkle returned. “Remember when you sucked me off in the shower that one time? It was the first time you ever swallowed, as I recall.”
“It was,” she said grudgingly.
Then she inched closer, rotated her hips, and rubbed up against his crotch, but just as his breath caught, she backed off and resumed the waltz.
“You loved every second of it,” she added in a throaty voice. “My mouth wrapped around the head of your cock, sucking you dry. You looked real wobbly after that. Could barely stay upright.” She proceeded to mimic his casual words. “As I recall.”
His eyes went heavy-lidded, his sharp cheekbones taking on a bit of a flush.
“You all right, Jim? Or is all this teasing too much for you?”
She stroked the inside of his palm, and he gave another sharp intake of breath.
“Because you’re the one who took us down this path,” she reminded him, coyly batting her eyelashes.
“Trust me, I’m beginning to regret it.” Sounding rueful, he shot a pointed look at his crotch.
He did too.
As always, the sound was downright astounding. She wasn’t used to seeing the rough edges of his face smooth away like that. Or hearing gruff laughter escape his mouth. Scowls and glares were all she’d come to expect from him these days.
“Don’t worry. You’re a supersoldier, remember?” Her mouth curved mockingly. “I’m sure the army taught you how to dance with a hard-on.”
She ground her pelvis into his again, just because she could.
With a tortured noise, Jim lowered his head, his warm breath tickling her earlobe as he murmured one word.
Her grin widened. “Hey, it’s not my fault you can’t enjoy a nice waltz without springing a boner.”
“Right, because you’re not turned on in the slightest.”
“Of course I am. I’m just better at ignoring it than you are.”
“Uh-huh.” He tightened his grip and pulled her against his muscular chest, deliberately brushing his very noticeable erection over her belly. “You can ignore it, huh?”
An evil flash lit his midnight blue eyes. “Interesting. So you’re not thinking about my cock inside you at all.”
Her pussy spasmed. “Nope.”
Fortunately, the orchestra chose that precise moment to end
the waltz, bringing a rush of relief to her chest. Except then the bastards proceeded to slow down the tempo even more, effectively wiping away her relief and yet again turning her body into a lightning rod, helpless to stop the heat Jim was channeling into it.
Their dance might have seemed innocent to the people around them, but each brush of their bodies heightened her arousal. Each time his palm grazed her tailbone, her skin sizzled. Each time his cheek brushed hers, her breathing grew more labored.
Still, no matter what Jim thought, she was a pro, and thus perfectly capable of suppressing her desire.
Of course, that didn’t mean she had to stop testing his ability to remain professional.
With a mischievous smile, she looked into his eyes and said, “By the way, the shower blow job you mentioned before? I orgasmed the second I swallowed that first drop.”
A strangled growl left his mouth.
And suddenly they weren’t dancing anymore. But still moving. Moving very, very fast, in fact, as Jim dragged her toward the staircase on the other side of the ballroom.
• • •
Morgan had no idea where he was going or what he was thinking. He ignored the inquisitive eyes boring into his back as he gripped Noelle’s hand and led her up the spiral staircase. He didn’t know where it led, or where they’d end up—all he knew was that if he didn’t get inside this woman right fucking now, he was going to pass out.
“Jim,” she said uneasily. “This isn’t the time to...”
She didn’t finish and he didn’t care. His lower body was aching, his cock so stiff he could barely walk. He was a man on a mission, his gaze focused straight ahead like a missile homing in on a target.
At the top of the stairs was a small landing opening into a wide hallway with half a dozen doors, but the red velvet curtain to their left was what caught his eye. Gripping Noelle’s forearm, he pushed open the thick velvet and immediately liked what he saw—a shadowy space the size of an opera box. No, it was an opera box, Morgan noted when he spotted the curved railing at the edge and the row of plush, red-upholstered seats.
He turned to Noelle. “Come here,” he ordered.
She stayed put. “I don’t take orders from cavemen, thank you very much.”