That evening, Jade left the expo early. Lauren, the best assistant ever, had offered to run the booth until the event was over and even handle cleanup. Jade had apologized for saying no to Lauren’s plans tonight and yes to Holly but Lauren had been giddy that Jade was going out… with Knox.
Without Jade having to say anything, Lauren understood that, with her migraines, Jade would be in sensory overload from the noise in the convention center. A nap before dinner would definitely help her recuperate for tonight. Lauren was a true friend and Jade owed her one.
Back at her apartment in Manhattan, she took a long shower, washing off the grime of the day. She dried her hair and settled into bed, hoping exhaustion from being on her feet all day would pull her into a deep sleep. It didn’t.
She couldn’t stop thinking about Knox Sinclair. He wasn’t an easy man to put out of her mind. She’d always been a sucker for a man in a suit, and Knox, dressed in a sport jacket and white shirt, unbuttoned enough to show a sprinkling of chest hair, had made her mouth suddenly go dry.
But Jade wasn’t breaking her man fast, not even for the sexy guy who had reappeared in her life. When a woman was betrayed as often as she’d been, she learned to be cautious, regardless of the chemistry. Still, she’d be a liar to deny the attraction. And if she wished she could unbutton that shirt and lick his chest? Nobody would ever know.
After twenty minutes of staring at her ceiling, she accepted she wouldn’t be getting any sleep, but her ears were no longer ringing from the noise echoing around her. She got out of bed and walked to her closet. Picking out an outfit to wear for dinner with a man she didn’t want to be tempted by wasn’t easy. Still, her pride made her want to look good.
She took her time with her makeup and left her hair down.
She chose a new Milly designer dress, a one-piece black sleeveless mock turtleneck that ended with a Boho colorful handkerchief hem she adored. The shoulders were a generous cut, revealing arms she worked hard to keep toned. She paired the dress with a medium-height block heel and a fun natural-and-black-striped clutch that had a thin strap if she wanted to hang it over her shoulder.
Grabbing a short, thin black leather jacket, she was ready to leave. She opened her ride share app and called for a car. Knowing she’d see Knox again, the butterflies in her stomach had only gotten worse, and by the time she stepped out of the car and walked into the restaurant, they’d fully taken flight.
At the hostess stand, the woman there informed her the rest of her party had already arrived, then led Jade to a back corner. Knox and Holly sat at a table, deep in conversation, giving Jade a chance to stare at Knox without his knowledge.
Once again wearing a sport coat—this one a tonal navy, with a light blue shirt beneath—he was everything she liked in a man. Dammit. Why couldn’t he have worn a T-shirt? Maybe she wouldn’t have been as attracted to him.
As if he sensed her stare, Knox looked up and saw her, then rose to his feet. Had Theo ever stood up when she walked into a room? Ummm… No. His gaze slid over her like a soft caress, his warm smile telling her he liked what he saw. She let out a sigh. At least she wasn’t alone in this unwanted attraction. Though he didn’t seem to mind.
“Sorry I’m late,” Jade said. “My Uber got stuck in traffic.”
Holly waved her hand, dismissing Jade’s concern. “We haven’t been here long.”
“Here. Have a seat.” Ever the gentleman, Knox pulled out her chair and Jade sat down.
He settled in the chair next to her, making her aware of the alluring scent of his cologne—a scent any sane woman could get high on inhaling.
“Was your expo booth successful?” he asked.
She nodded. “It was,” she said with a grin as she placed the folded napkin on her lap. “We accumulated a list of names to add to our mailing list. Some women even wanted to set up appointments to book wedding dates two years in advance.”
“Two years!” Holly let out a squeak, causing Jade to laugh.
“I know, you’re in a rush,” Jade said. The young woman’s enthusiasm was infectious.
Knox groaned. “She’s determined,” he muttered.
The waiter walked over and paused by Holly. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“I’ll have a glass of pinot grigio.”
When he looked at Jade, she said, “A club soda with lime, please.”
“Sir?” he asked.
“Whiskey, on the rocks. Dirty Dare, if you have it.” Knox locked eyes with Jade and winked.
Her panties grew damp at that subtle gesture, and she shifted in her seat.
“I thought Dirty Dare was vodka,” Holly said as the waiter walked away.
“It is. But they bought out a whiskey company last year,” Knox said. “Right?”
Jade nodded. “We did.” Her family vodka business, in which all her siblings had a stake, had begun to expand, buying a well-known brand and relabeling it under the Dirty Dare name. “To quote Asher,” she said, using finger gestures, “if we want to be a major player in distilled spirits, we need to invest in a variety of categories of alcohol.” She indicated the end quote with her fingers and laughed. “No joke though, Asher is brilliant at what he does.”
She admired her brother’s business savvy. When he’d decided to create Dirty Dare Vodka, he’d insisted all the siblings contribute from their family-provided trust funds. He then proceeded to increase their income, ensuring none of them would ever have to worry about money. Each of them still worked in their chosen fields—Harrison was a world-famous, award-winning actor, Nick and Jade worked in the hotels, and Zach spent his hours in the bar he owned, though everyone suspected Zach did more than just run a bar. Her brother loved being mysterious.
“Asher’s smart,” Knox agreed.
“You and Asher are old friends, right?” Holly asked her brother. “I remember you mentioning him back when… Yeah, I remember.” Her cheeks turned red. It was obvious she’d just realized that when she’d mentioned back when, she was talking about the time Theo had cheated on Jade with Knox’s wife.
“They are,” Jade murmured. She glanced at Knox. “Though I didn’t realize Theo was your stepbrother until he and I started dating. It was a little… complicated in the end,” she said.
“Incestuous but not,” Knox grunted, just as the waiter set down their drinks.
“I was going to say it was just so wrong. Sometimes, I can’t quite believe I’m related to Theo.” Holly wrinkled her nose in disgust.
As if to change the subject, both Holly and Knox picked up their drinks and took a long sip. “Are you sure you don’t want something stronger?” Holly asked her.
Jade chuckled. “I don’t drink. I get migraines and I’ve found drinking just isn’t worth the pain it’ll cause.”
Holly nodded in understanding. “I’m sorry. That was insensitive of me.”
“Not at all. I get asked about it all the time. I’m good with club soda.”
They paused to peruse their menus, and since Holly had chosen a steak restaurant, Jade ordered filet mignon and maple roasted Brussel sprouts, with bacon on the side. Knox chose a rib-eye, fries, and asparagus, and Holly, the glazed salmon. For the next hour, they talked about everyday things, their jobs, Holly’s ideal wedding plans, and Jade told stories about some of the Bridezillas she’d had to contend with. They laughed, and Jade relaxed, allowing herself to enjoy both Holly’s and Knox’s company.
After dinner had been cleared, Holly placed her napkin on the table. “I hate to eat and run, but I have to go pick up Miles from the airport.”
“You didn’t mention that,” Knox said, raising an eyebrow.
“Are you sure?” Holly leaned down and picked up her purse. “I could swear that I did.”
Knox shook his head. “I’d remember,” he said wryly. “We took a car share service here. How are you picking him up?”
“I’m meeting him at the airport. He left his car there, so stop with the twenty questions. You two stay for dessert. Thanks for dinner,” Holly said, laughing, and kissed his cheek. “Bye, Jade. This was fun! We’ll have to do it again soon. I’ll be checking in about any cancellations, but don’t forget to call me if you hear something!”
She waved and walked to the front of the restaurant in a flurry of activity Jade was coming to associate with Holly.
“That was a setup,” Knox said, an amused smile on his face.
“Definitely a setup.” Jade couldn’t help but laugh. “Your sister is one determined woman.”
“That she is.” Knox slid an arm over the back of his chair and leaned close. “What do you say we stay? We can have coffee and dessert and get to know each other better.”
She shouldn’t. She really shouldn’t. But looking into his eyes, Jade couldn’t think of a good reason to say no.
Knox should have been annoyed at his sister’s machinations, but he was enjoying his time with Jade too much to worry about Holly’s games. Her move, leaving him alone with Jade, was vintage sibling matchmaking, and Knox intended to make the most of the time Holly had given him. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t find a way for some payback. The next move was his.
“So? Dessert?” he asked, looking into Jade’s gorgeous navy-colored eyes.
“That sounds perfect. Something decadent.” She ran her tongue over her lower lip in an innocent gesture that had him taking notice. “What do you want?” she asked, and he barely withheld a groan.
He cleared his throat. “Lady’s choice. We can share.”
The waiter brought over menus, and after looking through them, Jade ordered a concoction with vanilla ice cream, a strawberry and blueberry compote, and crushed graham crackers mixed in and on top.
Personally, Knox would have rather nibbled on the woman beside him, but when the dessert arrived, her eyes lit up, so he’d have to make do with food.
Since he had her undivided attention, he decided to take the opportunity to get to know her better. He leaned in close. “Why don’t we get the obvious awkward subject out of the way for good? I know Holly already mentioned Theo, but you and I never talked—afterwards.”
“If we must.” Jade wrinkled her nose, but her expression turned to delight as she closed her mouth over the spoon, slowly pulling out the utensil and licking it clean.
Jesus. His cock was rock hard, making him extremely uncomfortable. “Let’s call it clearing the air. I’ll go first. My stepbrother is a douchebag.”
She laughed. “That he is and I’m well rid of him. As it turns out, I’m well rid of men in general.”
She grinned at his reaction.
“Why do you say that?” he asked.
She scooped another helping of dessert before meeting his gaze. “I doubt you know this, but I have two broken engagements behind me. Two.” She motioned with the spoon for emphasis. “My track record leaves a lot to be desired. And, as I’ve discovered, so does my taste in men.” She glanced at the sundae-styled glass sitting between them. “However, when it comes to dessert, I know what I’m doing.”
She scooped up more of the ice cream and berries, holding out the full spoon for him to taste. Her gaze held his as he opened his mouth and closed it around the dessert, letting the rich, sweet, cool mixture coat his tongue.
She pulled the spoon back, removing it from between his lips. “Good?” she asked.
“Delicious.” His body vibrated with need, and it wasn’t for more dessert. The woman sitting beside him made his mouth water.
“Oops.” She reached out and swept her delicate finger over his bottom lip, removing some vanilla ice cream before he could dart his tongue out for a lick. “Ice cream,” she said in a husky voice.
“Want to tell me about the idiots who let you slip through their fingers?” he asked.
She smiled. “Well, winner number one was a guy I met at Starbucks. I was rushing to a meeting. I bumped into him and spilled my coffee on his suit. The barista didn’t put the top on right.” She shrugged. “I apologized and insisted on taking his number so I could pay for the dry-cleaning. We went on a few dates. In the beginning, he said he wasn’t interested in anything serious, but later claimed he couldn’t help but fall for me. Unfortunately, what he’d fallen for was my family name and money.” She let out a sad sigh that broke his heart.
“Asshole. How’d you find out?” he asked, wondering if he could find the bastard and break a bone or two.
“My brother Zach. He realized what was going on and approached my fiancé behind my back with a prenup in hand. Douglas, that’s his name, refused to sign. In fact, he laughed in Zach’s face and bragged that he had me wrapped up so tight I’d do anything for him. Zach broke his nose and told me the truth. I thought I loved him, when the truth was, I never knew him at all.”
Knox covered her hand with his. “I’m sorry. I know what it’s like to be wanted only for money and not for myself.”
She nodded. “Thanks for admitting that.”
“Did Zach really break his nose?” he asked.
She laughed and nodded. “He said nobody fucks with his family.”
Knox wasn’t surprised. He’d have done the same thing if Holly had ever been in a similar situation.
“No trouble for Zach afterwards?” Knox asked.
She shook her head. “Nope. Douglas was too afraid of Zach to even meet with me so I could return the ring.” She shrugged. “So I sold it and invested the money.”
“Smart.” He picked up his water and took a long sip.
“What about you? Did you get your ring back?” she asked.
He coughed as the drink went down wrong.
“Are you okay? I didn’t mean to pry, but since I answered your personal questions, I figured you owed me some answers in return.” Her lips twitched, lifting in a naughty grin.
Knox liked this girl’s sass. He cleared his throat and waited until he was certain he could talk without choking. “Fair point,” he said at last. “Okay, here goes. Celia kept her rings and I’m sure she sold them, too. But it’s not the same situation. Celia cheated on me.” Bitterness rose, along with the memories.
“With your stepbrother.” Jade’s expression turned sad. “Which brings up another question, since we’re being so honest and everything.”
She pushed the melting dessert aside. “Theo could have cheated on me with anyone. I mean, he probably did. But why did he choose your wife? That was the one thing I could never understand. You two were supposed to be family. Look how close you are with Holly.”
“Theo can be charming—I’m sure that’s the man you first met.” Knox paused, gathering his thoughts. “But deep down, he’s an insecure little boy.” He leaned his elbows on the table and steepled his fingers. He’d given this question a lot of thought. “From the day Theo’s mother married my father and they moved into our house, Theo was jealous of me. If something didn’t come easily, he looked for someone else to blame. Very often, he chose me. That was ironic because sports were more his thing than mine, at least back then.”
Jade blotted those sexy lips with her napkin and placed it on the table. “I’ve seen him in action,” she murmured. “When he had a bad game, he’d blame everyone else—his teammates, the coaches… even a fan once.” She shook her head. “He always had excuses, never taking accountability for anything he did.”
She tipped her head to the side, her eyes unfocused, as if remembering. “I remember the time the coach benched him for a whole period. He’d missed a save and blamed it on the defenseman screening him so he couldn’t see the puck. Theo had been livid. Then again, so was the coach.” She cleared her throat. “It became my job to soothe his anger so he didn’t lose his position on the team.”
Knox recalled that moment. Rumors were that the owner was thinking of sending Theo down to the farm team for a while, until his attitude improved.
Theo couldn’t risk that. He’d told Knox that Jade Dare made him appear important. His engagement to her would make him look like a man willing to commit, on and off the ice, making changes the team’s management would approve of. Jade brought him respectability with her family name.
Knox grimaced, remembering. Far be it for his brother to actually put in the work to make himself respectable. He looked up at the woman sitting beside him. Jade had obviously fallen for Theo, unaware of his true nature.
“It sucks that you had to deal with his behavior. Theo is a piece of work,” Knox admitted. “He thinks things come easily to me. And yes, I worked for the team out of business school, and when Dad died, I inherited it. But I inherited a team that hadn’t made the post-season in years. I’ve worked hard to build a championship organization.” He shook his head in disgust, thinking of his brother. “It’s always been a constant argument with him about how life is unfair. The less often I see Theo, the better.”
Her features grew soft with understanding. “And your wife? I mean ex-wife?”
He raised an eyebrow. Jade was digging deep, but then, he’d done the same. “Celia was different when we married. My dad had just passed away and I was in a bad way. She was there. But once she was exposed to having a lot of money, she changed. She wanted more. I tried to be available to her despite how busy I was between taking over the team and settling my father’s estate. No amount of time together ever satisfied her. She wanted to be my focus all the time.”
Jade twisted her lips. “It doesn’t seem like she went about getting your attention in the best way—not if she wanted to keep you as her husband.”
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well, that ship has sailed.”
If Celia hadn’t cheated, Knox would never have considered ending the marriage. He’d seen how his parents’ divorce had hurt his father, and his dad had raised him alone until Theo and Holly’s mother came along. Knox had been determined to make his marriage work, but infidelity was something he just couldn’t overlook. It helped that, by the end, his heart hadn’t been engaged for a long time.
He studied the woman beside him. She ran her finger over the rim of her water glass, deep in thought.
“What about you?” Knox asked. “Are you over Theo?”
She lifted her gaze, her eyes locking on his. “Are you kidding? I was over him the day I found out.”
He leveled her with a knowing stare.
“Okay, fine.” She held up both hands in submission. “It took a long time to get over the hurt, but I really believe it was the pain of being duped and cheated on that stayed with me. Not to mention, it reinforced the fact that I don’t trust my judgment when it comes to people. Especially men.”
He winced at her admission but she obviously believed it was the truth.
“Anyway, once again, my brother came to the rescue. Zach assured me that I’d dodged a bullet. And that, in short, is why I am on an official man fast.”
Knox jumped on her statement. “What’s a man fast?”
“I’ve decided that there’s no place for a man in my life. I’m done with relationships.”
“After what you’ve been through, I can understand that. And honestly, I can relate, too.” But he was attracted to her.
She had an outgoing personality, which was always a turn-on for him, a curvy body he longed to touch with his hands and his mouth, and full lips he was dying to kiss.
“Jade,” he said in a gruff voice meant to let her know things between them had taken a more sensual turn.
“Yes?” Her eyes were open wide.
“I’m not looking for a relationship, either.” He picked up her hand and settled his thumb on the rapidly beating pulse in her wrist. “But I do want you.”
Her lips parted and a small puff of air escaped. “But my man fast…” She said the words without any heat behind them.
He grinned. “Change the definition. You’re now purging relationships from your life. That leaves wiggle room for many, many other things.”
She widened her gaze, her eyes dancing with delight. “It does, doesn’t it?”
Yeah, he liked this woman. “It means you can come home with me tonight and we can have some fun.”
Her tempting tongue swept over her bottom lip again. “In your bed?”
He nodded, his fingers toying with her hand, his thumb pressing into her palm. “And out of it.”
Her eyes dilated, a haze of desire washing over them. “No strings.”
“Just one night?” she asked for confirmation, her voice firm.
He grinned because he’d already won. These negotiations were just foreplay. Damn, he loved an easy win—not that he considered Jade at all easy. Just well worth his time.
“One night only,” he assured her. “Agreed?”
She leaned close, her lips inches from his. The scent of coconut aroused him more than any expensive perfume he’d ever smelled.
“Get the check, Mr. Sinclair. We have a deal.”
No second thoughts. Jade repeated the mantra as she accompanied Knox to the Uber he’d called to take them to his building. Her palms itched with the need to put her hands all over his muscular body, and the urge to kiss him and taste him for the first time was strong. So no apprehension, no changing her mind. She planned to enjoy tonight. Enjoy him.
Knox confirmed the address with the driver, an apartment building on the Upper East Side, a few blocks from hers. Her heart pounded hard, anticipation building inside her.
On the ride, Knox held her hand, running his thumb over the pulse point in her wrist. “Nervous?” he asked.
She let out a laugh. “Not nervous. It’s just… I don’t do this often.” Or ever.
His smile put her at ease. “I never took you as a one-night-stand kind of woman.”
“And yet, that’s all this can be.” She needed him to believe her intentions. Jade was the type of woman who usually couldn’t have sex without her emotions eventually becoming involved. But knowing what this was, and wasn’t, up-front should help.
“Because you’re on a man fast.” To his credit, he didn’t sound like he was making fun of her.
She grinned. “That and I tend to fall easily,” she admitted. “And there is no way I’m getting involved in another relationship. But one time should be safe enough.”
His sexy grin had her heart kicking harder in her chest. “Who said anything about just one time?”
She caught the naughty look in his eyes, and her panties grew damp. “You know what I mean. Tonight only.”
The car came to a stop and Knox nodded. “Don’t worry, beautiful. We’re on the same page.”
Her stomach fluttered at the endearment. He opened the door and climbed out, extending his hand to help her out of the car.
Tension built inside her as they passed the doorman, who smiled at her and acknowledged Knox by name. They took the elevator to the penthouse, the ride seeming to take forever.
Flashes of the movie Fifty Shades of Grey passed through her mind, but Knox didn’t push her against the wall and ravish her. And that was too bad—her body was hot and ready for his.
The doors opened and he pulled out his phone to scan, allowing him access. Then he extended his arm, indicating she should enter ahead of him. After stepping inside, she looked around his apartment, which was decorated professionally but with a heavy accent on the masculine feel. She loved the open space, and though she’d prefer lighter accent touches to the darker color scheme, the place was gorgeous.
“I love the decor,” she said, taking in the far windows overlooking Manhattan at night and the mocha-colored sofa, which had a comfortable, beckoning look.
“Thanks. I pretty much got what I asked for.” He glanced around the space, as if seeing it from her perspective.
He shrugged. “Masculine and comfortable.”
She laughed. “You sound like my brothers.”
“Speaking of your brothers, I heard Nick’s a father.” Knox tipped his head, indicating she follow him, then led her through the large living room and over to the kitchen area, which was also open concept. “Can I get you something to drink?”
Even his gentlemanly qualities turned her on. “No, thank you.” What had he asked her? Oh. Her twin. “Yes, Nick’s the father of a bouncing six-year-old girl and his wife, Aurora, is pregnant again.”
She grinned at the thought of Leah, an adorable spitfire Jade loved to spoil. “He and Aurora met up again at one of Harrison’s movie premieres. It’s a long story, but essentially, they had a one-night stand, no last names exchanged, when they were younger. He left and she had no way of finding him to let him know she was pregnant.”
He shook his head. “Wow. Thank God for fate.”
“I know. I can’t imagine them not ever becoming a family.” Her eyes misted when she thought about what her brother might have missed out on.
“Good for them. I’m glad.” He placed his phone on the counter. “So, you don’t want anything to drink. What do you want, Ms. Dare?” He began undoing the button on his cuffs, causing her mouth to go dry.
She’d already agreed to do this, so there was no reason to be shy. “You,” she said, reaching for the first button on his shirt. “I want you.” She undid his shirt, slowly revealing muscular, tanned skin, and a dark sprinkling of sexy chest hair.
She breathed and inhaled his musky male sent and nearly moaned as arousal washed over her. She laid her palms on his chest, leaned forward, and pressed her lips to his warm skin as she’d daydreamed about doing earlier.
A low growl sounded from his throat. Next thing she knew, he’d lifted her up, and she had to wrap her legs around his waist to hang on. She expected him to carry her into the bedroom, but instead, he walked her across the room and pressed her back against the cool glass window. Then finally, finally, his lips were on hers.
His tongue thrust into her mouth and devoured her, as if he was starving. His lips were warm, his breath minty. He must have picked up a candy on the way out of the restaurant, too. The flavor exploded on her tongue, but beneath the fresh flavor, she tasted the man. Everything that was Knox aroused her, and she wanted more.
She clasped her legs tighter, allowing her to feel the swell of his erection against her core and causing a rolling wave of desire to wash over her. She pushed her fingers through his thick hair and held him in place, kissing him back, taking what he gave and offering more.
She didn’t know how long they stood there, lips locked, hips moving and shifting, their lower bodies grinding against each other, getting lost in not just any kiss. A spectacular, mind-blowing kiss she’d never forget.
In an impressive feat while holding her up, he lifted the loose, generous lower part of her dress, and air drifted across her bare legs. He slid his rough fingertips up her thighs until he slipped beneath her skimpy thong panties and immediately ran his fingers through the slick dampness of her sex.
She gripped his hair and moaned into his mouth. He didn’t break contact and her lips felt bruised, but everything about this moment was worth it. He rubbed along her sex and her hips jerked harder against him. Then he ran those digits through her wetness and pushed one long finger inside her.
She jerked her head to the side and pulled in a deep, much needed breath. He pumped his finger in and out, and her inner walls clasped him tight. “Oh, God.”
“You’re so wet and ready. You like this, don’t you?” he asked in a gruff voice as a second finger joined the first, filling her even more. “You need this.” He picked up a steady rhythm. “Tell me.”
“Yes. Yes, I like this. I need it.” She squeezed his fingers, moaning at the delicious feelings soaring through her.
Then his thumb pressed on her clit and tweaked back and forth at the same time one long digit found a spot inside her no one had ever discovered before. Like a bolt of lightning, her orgasm rushed through her. He kept up the internal massage, and stars flashed behind her eyes. Waves rolled over her, until she fell limp against him, grateful for the window at her back, holding her up.
“How was that for a kiss?” he asked, his voice cocky, but she couldn’t begrudge him the arrogance.
“I think you can do better.” She laughed and he pinched her ass.
She grinned, enjoying him very much.
“Okay, beautiful. Bedroom time.” He lowered her to the floor, but before she could get her bearings, he’d shifted and lifted her again, this time heading for his room.
If that orgasm was anything to go by, she had one hell of a night ahead of her.
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