Rush me, p.38
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       Rush Me, p.38

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
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Page 38

  Mike regarded the scene fondly, not seeming to notice my still-speeding pulse. “Yeah, we have some good ones, don’t we? Nice dress. You look good. ”

  “Thanks. So do you. ”

  A man at the edge of the group, in his mid-fifties with a bit of a gut, swung to face us. “Mike O’Connor!” He reached out to shake Mike’s hand. “So good to meet you!”

  Soon enough, Dylan and Abe joined our clump, forming a bastion of Leopard support in the middle of the gallery. Nominally, I was speaking with Mike and three older fans, two suits and a woman in a sparkling blue dress with a spiderweb of diamonds across her throat. But my body focused on Ryan, who stood at an angle to me. Each time he shifted, our bodies slid across each other. Hands brushed. Hips touched each other for a bare second. Shoulders, finally, settled against each other. I didn’t so much as twitch my arm for fifteen minutes.

  Finally, Ryan slipped his arm around my waist. “I hate to leave, but we haven’t had a chance to look at all the items up for bid. ” With a few more words encouraging the crowd to place their own bids, we were finally able to slip away, the crowd parting for us like magic.

  “Sorry. ” His hand lingered on my waist. “Sometimes that happens. ”

  I raised my brows, trying to keep my tone light. “Next time you’re wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses. ”

  We’d made it out of the room, into the hall, and halfway to the entrance when another voice called out his name. We paused to see Sharon Downey, celebrity reporter extraordinaire, striding toward us, followed by a camera crew. Her famous bright red hair swayed back and forth, the waves never breaking alignment. “So good to see you again. Do you have a moment to talk about your contribution to the Children’s Society?”

  “Don’t even think about it,” I whispered.

  Ryan smiled smoothly at Sharon Downey. “Of course. ” His hand slid away.

  As I waited—“No, not there,” the lighting tech said, “You’re blocking the light”—two paper-thin twenty-somethings walked by. “God, he’s gorgeous,” one of them sighed. “Is he dating anyone right now?”

  “Not since Louisa Belltower. Go for it. ”

  This was getting ridiculous. Had I somehow signed up to reenact the Twelve Labors of Hercules? Except instead of slaying and capturing and mucking out stables, I had to sneak Ryan away from fans and newscasters and twiggy girls.

  All right, then. If Hercules could slay some man-eating birds, so could I.

  “He is gorgeous, isn’t he?” I said, as the girls came even with me. “But he’s not free. ”

  The girls focused on me, unimpressed and unconcerned. The first, a striking brunette in a stunning red dress even deigned to speak her line correctly: “Who are you?”

  I smiled. “Rachael Hamilton. I’m here with Ryan. ”

  “Are you like a couple?” asked the other, obviously cast as the Loyal Friend.

  I considered them. They were predators. I didn’t know if they just wanted to flirt, or to sleep with him, or a relationship, but they could come back tomorrow. “Yes. ” I surprised myself with my firmness. “We are. ”

  The brunette didn’t look like she believed it. “For how long?”

  Considering how five weeks ago he’d run around Malcolm’s apartment kissing multiple girls, I could assume he had split up with the aforementioned Louisa Belltower before that. “A month. ”

  The brunette’s lips pursed, making her look less pretty and more rodent-like. “Seriously?”

  “Yeah. ” I angled myself directly toward her. “And it’s going great, thanks for asking. But if, you know, you actually want to go ask him about our relationship, go ahead. He might even be able to hook you up with some of his teammates. ”

  They left in a huff.

  Three minutes later, Ryan escaped the spot light. “Whoa. Glad that’s done. ”

  “Me, too. Quick, let’s get out before the next labor strikes. ”

  “I don’t know what you mean. ” He threaded his fingers through mine. “But I think I agree. ”

  But when we made for the grand staircase, we found paparazzi filling the entryway. Trapped, we backed away before any more of them could pounce on him. “Now what do we do?”

  “We make do. ” He headed the opposite way from the gala. A long table blocked a dark, open doorway, and he tugged me toward it. I stumbled on my heel, and he placed his hands on either side of my waist, burning handprints through the thin material. He lifted me like I weighed no more than a doll, swinging me over the table with ease. “Come on. ” We raced into the dark. Past paintings of dead kings and Greek stoics. Through a dark corridor filled with wooden furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and straight-backed chairs cushioned with fading red velvet. It blurred, a tunnel from another time.

  He pulled me into an empty gallery to the side, and then another, until we stood in a small room with small paintings I scarcely noticed. Ryan brought us to a stop in the middle of the room. One hand cupped my cheek, the other warm on the small of my back. Dark black night pushed away the sky blue of his eyes.

  I lifted my lips that last half-inch between us and pressed them against his. For a heartbeat, the kiss was soft and tender, newly born. I could feel his heartbeat under my hand, could feel my pulse leaping in my throat.

  I opened my eyes to find Ryan gazing at me with the heat of blue flames.

  Then he groaned, the sound ragged with need, and deepened the kiss. His hand curled around my waist, pulling me flush against his body. Every soft curve of mine matched up with hard strength. I sighed into his mouth, heady with longing.

  Laughter rumbled through his chest. His hands trailed down my sides, skimming my breasts. I shuddered, desire spreading through my body, leaving me dizzy and breathless and trembling. I twined my arms around his neck, anchoring myself to Ryan as though he was the one true thing that could keep me from floating away, from dissolving into a cloud of pleasure and delight. I kissed his jawline and neck, and his skin smelled like cinnamon and the woods and I thought I might collapse right there and I didn’t even care.

  He stiffened when I kissed him, his muscles tensing under my fingers, and then he released a long, jagged breath and relaxed. His hands smoothed over my shoulder blades, hot against my bare skin, slowly running down my spine. I leaned into him, and then his fingers skimmed the low back of my dress, his fingers tracing the V the fabric formed, and then his hand dipped under the green silk, blazing heat lower. I let out a tiny moan against the hollow of his neck.

  He removed his hand, and I looked up at him, outraged. He grinned. “Oh, sweetheart. ” Laughter caught in his throat. “I am going to make you scream. ”

  I bit his shoulder. Hard.

  He gasped, and I laughed softly, kissing the mark better. “I won’t be the only one,” I whispered, and then my lips found his again. He tasted of champagne, sharp and bright, like new chances and fire and excitement. One of his hands dug into my hair, tilting my head back as we drank each other in. My hands desperately crumpled his linen shirt. He pulled away, dropping his jacket to the floor, fumbling for his buttons. And then the shirt was gone, and Ryan stood half-naked before me.

  I stopped, shocked into stillness. He was perfect. He was a hero, a god, stepping down from his golden mountaintop. “I’m not Hercules,” I murmured, trying to take in the sculpted arms, the wide expanse of golden, muscled chest. “You are. ”

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