Burn, p.11
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       Burn, p.11
 

         Part #3 of Breathless series by Maya Banks

  His gaze focused on her, studying her intently. “Is that going to be a problem with you? Spending time with a woman I’ve fucked and that I care a great deal about?”

  “Not if you tell me it shouldn’t be a problem for me.”

  He shook his head. “No, it’s not a problem. Like I said, I didn’t get where Jace was coming from then. His possessiveness where Bethany was concerned. We’d never had a woman come between us like that. There’d never been one who mattered. But I get it now because I know I don’t want to share you with anyone, and especially not my best friend, even if he was single and not in a relationship. And as for other men, that is not something you ever have to worry about. I’ve had threesomes with Jace and another woman. A hell of a lot of times. I won’t lie. We’ve fucked our way through countless women over the years. It’s not something I’m proud of but it’s not something I lose sleep over either. It is what it is. But there will be no threesomes with you, Josie. It’s only going to be you and me. I’m going to be the only man making love to you from now on.”

  It all sounded so final, and yet she knew they were just words. How could they be anything else? They’d known each other such a short time. They’d only had sex once. And he was talking like this was a done deal. That they were permanent and in a committed relationship long-term.

  While she didn’t doubt his commitment, or even her own, there was no way she could look down the road with any authority. There were too many what-ifs.

  “Now tell me what you’re thinking,” he prompted.

  She smiled. “I’m not sure how you expected me to react, Ash. Did you think I’d change my mind because you’ve had kinky sex with a bunch of women? You’re what, thirty-five? Thirty-six? It’s not realistic to think you hadn’t had affairs.”

  “I’m thirty-eight. Almost thirty-nine,” he corrected.

  “Okay, well, so you’re thirty-eight. I’ve just told you that I had a relationship—and sex—with a man as recently as a few weeks ago. I can hardly condemn you for having similar relationships.”

  “But we won’t be seeing the man you fucked,” Ash pointed out.

  She sighed. “I won’t say it’ll be fun to look at her and mentally compare our performance, or even imagine you and your friend both making love to her. But I’ll deal, Ash. And if she’s as nice as you say she is, then I’ll like her and hopefully we can be friends. I’ll just have to not torture myself by visualizing you in bed with her.”

  “It was only one time,” he said gruffly. “Don’t want you thinking about it at all when we get together. Because know this, Josie, no matter who was in the past, you’re my present and my future. And those women have nothing on you.”

  A smile curved her lips and she leaned in, pressing her forehead to his. “I’ll do my best not to think about it at all, then.”

  “Good. Now, it’s almost lunchtime and we still need to sort out your apartment. Want to go grab a bite to eat and then swing by your apartment so you can get all your art supplies? If you make a list of stuff while we’re there, I’ll have someone go over and get it all packed for you. Don’t want you worrying about anything other than settling into my place.”

  “That sounds fine to me,” she said.

  He kissed her hungrily. “We’ll see the others in time. But for now, I want you all to myself. I’m tempted to call in to work Monday and spend the week with you.”

  Her heart fluttered. It was a tempting visual. An entire week in Ash’s bed. In his arms.

  “Unfortunately, with Gabe on his honeymoon and the deals we have working, Jace and I can’t miss.”

  “I understand,” she said easily. “I have work to do too.”

  “Like the idea of you working in my space,” he murmured. “When I’m at the office, you’ll be here. I like that image. And then you here when I get home. Wearing nothing, Josie. I’ll call you when I’m on my way home each day, and when I get here, I want you naked and waiting. Unless I tell you different, that’s the way I want it.”

  “Okay,” she whispered.

  chapter fourteen

  Jace was waiting for Ash when Ash got into his office Monday morning. Not that Ash had any doubt his friend would be chomping at the bit to pick his brain after Ash’s late-night phone call Saturday night.

  Jace was sitting in Ash’s office when Ash walked in. Jace’s worried gaze found him.

  “You get everything sorted out?” Jace asked, not even giving Ash time to sit down.

  Ash tossed his briefcase onto his desk and then flopped down into his chair, glancing over at his friend whose eyes were dark with concern.

  “I’m working on it,” Ash murmured. “Made a few calls on my way into work. Need to get a man on the asshole, monitor his movements, figure out the best time to strike.”

  “Jesus,” Jace muttered. “You’re serious about this.”

  Ash’s eyebrow went up. There was a stack of notes on Ash’s desk. Missed calls that needed returning. Documents that needed his signature. But he left them untouched, leaning back in his chair as he calmly surveyed Jace across his desk.

  “Have I given you any reason to believe I’m anything but dead serious? He hurt her, Jace. He put bruises on her face. No way in fuck I’m letting it go. She was too scared and shocked to report it. But I’m glad she didn’t because I can make the bastard suffer far more. He would have been out of jail in two seconds, and it’s doubtful anything would have come of it. You know how this kind of shit gets brushed underneath the rug. Especially when you have the money and connections to make it go away.”

  “He has all that?” Jace asked.

  “Some, yeah. No match for me, though. I’m going to make damn sure he gets the message. Josie is mine and if he ever fucks with her again, he’s a dead man.”

  “How is Josie taking all of this?” Jace asked quietly.

  Ash paused. “Okay I think. I didn’t really give her time to process much. When I hit her apartment after bailing on dinner Friday night, I didn’t give her any options. I packed her shit up and told her she was moving in with me. It was an asshole move. She needed gentle handling, but I knew if I gave her space she might never come to me. So I pressed my advantage when she was overwhelmed and shaken and I moved in quick.”

  A smile quirked the corners of Jace’s mouth. “You? Asshole moves? Aren’t you supposed to be the charming, nice guy? Thought being an asshole was mine and Gabe’s job.”

  Ash grimaced. “Why the fuck does everyone think I’m such a laid-back pansy?”

  Jace snorted. “Never said that, man. But you’re usually Mr. Polished when it comes to women. Never known you to be off your game.”

  “The other women didn’t matter,” Ash said simply. “Josie does. Can’t afford to play it safe with her. Have to press my advantage when I have it.”

  Jace took in a long breath, his gaze intently studying Ash. After a moment, Ash shifted uncomfortably underneath his friend’s scrutiny.

  “Are you thinking long term here?” Jace asked. “You say she’s different and already I’ve seen just how different you are about her. You’re talking about breaking the law and doing God only knows what to the asshole who beat her up. But just how different are we talking here, Ash?”

  “Think about how you felt when you met Bethany,” Ash said in an even tone.

  “Shit,” Jace breathed. “Say no more. I get it. And congrats, man. Never thought it would happen for you this fast. You’ve always been so determined to live by our motto, ‘play hard and live free.’”

  “Yeah, well, so were you,” Ash said dryly. “And don’t congratulate me yet. Too much shit to sort out, and while I may have Josie where I want her right now, it’s definitely not in the bag.”

  “But knowing how I felt about Bethany, and you saying it’s like that? You’re done for, man. If you feel even half what I felt for Bethany in the beginning, this is it for you. And knowing you the way I know you, if Josie is what you want, you’re damn well not going to let her go.”


  “Fuck no,” Ash muttered. “If she’s not with me for the long term, it’ll be because she fought me tooth and nail and won. And I don’t lose.”

  “You thinking marriage? Absolute commitment? What are we talking here, Ash? I need to know so I can give you shit after all the insults you hurled mine and Gabe’s way when our balls were twisting in the wind over Bethany and Mia.”

  Ash flipped up his middle finger. “I don’t know yet. Marriage is a big step. It’s permanent. And it’s too early to be thinking about marriage and babies and shit. All I can focus on is Josie and making sure she’s as into me as I’m into her.”

  Jace nodded. “Yeah, I get it. But just so you know, I’m going to start planning that bachelor party now.”

  Ash chuckled. “Whatever, man.”

  Jace’s expression grew more serious and he leveled a hard stare in Ash’s direction. “Now what about the man who hurt Josie? You said you needed an alibi, and you know I’ll do whatever you need, but I need details here. Can’t say visiting you at Riker’s is on my top-ten list of shit to do for kicks and giggles.”

  Ash sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I’m checking into it, as I said. But I want to move quickly on this. I want to get Josie settled, and part of that is me knowing that this asshole won’t be threatening her anymore. I got some preliminary info on him and his movements. He’s pretty predictable. Keeps to the same schedule. If that holds true, then I plan to address the situation Friday night.”

  Jace’s eyes narrowed and he sat forward in his seat. “You as in you personally? Or are you having the issue taken care of by a third party?”

  “Both,” Ash said, taking in his friend’s reaction.

  “Jesus, Ash. Don’t fuck up, man. I doubt Josie wants to visit you in jail anymore than I do.”

  “Not going to be an issue,” Ash said evenly. “The guys I have in mind are good. Cover all the bases. They’ll swear they don’t know me and I’ll swear I don’t know them. Don’t want to put you in a bad position and definitely don’t want Bethany involved, so I’d prefer if my alibi was only you and not the two of you together.”

  Jace nodded. “Yeah, you know I don’t mind going to the wall for you. Ever. But I don’t want this touching Bethany. And whatever you need, man. You know that, right?”

  “Yeah, I know. Appreciate it, Jace.”

  “Let me know, okay? Don’t keep me in the dark. I’ll want details, and if you get into trouble, you better fucking call me. And don’t do this alone, got me? If you can’t arrange it with whatever men you plan to hook up with for the job, then you call me and I’ll go with you.”

  Ash grinned. “Yes, Mother. Want to wipe my ass for me while you’re at it?”

  “Fuck you,” Jace said rudely.

  Ash chuckled and then sobered as he stared back at Jace. “Don’t want this touching Bethany or you. You providing me an alibi is enough. It’s more than I want to ask of you. I’d never do anything to jeopardize your relationship with Bethany.”

  “Yeah, I know. But also know that you’re my brother, Ash. You’re family. Not those shitheads you share blood with. Me and Gabe and by extension Mia and Bethany. Don’t care what I have to do to help you. I’ll do it. No questions asked.”

  “Christ, man. Stop it already or we’ll be a bunch of pansy-ass girls reaching for the fucking tissues.”

  Jace threw back his head and laughed. “Okay, now that we have that squared away, when do I get to meet Josie?”

  Ash huffed out a breath. “Soon. I want you and Bethany both to meet her. After I get this shit with her ex taken care of then I can breathe a little easier. Maybe we can have dinner Sunday night.”

  Jace nodded. “Sounds good to me.”

  “She knows about Bethany.” Ash made a face. “I told her everything. Didn’t want it to catch her off guard, not that I think it would ever come up, but I didn’t want to take any chances.”

  Jace winced. “How she’d take it? I can see how that would be awkward as hell when we’re all together. Especially now that she knows.”

  “She was cool about it. I doubt any woman loves the idea of hanging with a woman her man slept with in the past. But I assured her that you had no intention of ever sharing Bethany with anyone ever again, and that furthermore, I wasn’t going to be involved in any threesomes and I sure as hell wouldn’t want to have a threesome with her and another guy.”

  Jace scowled. “Fuck no I’m not sharing Bethany with anyone. Bad enough there was that one time with you.”

  Ash held up his hands. “Don’t get all worked up. I didn’t bring it up to piss you off. I just wanted you to know that Josie knows. I was straight with her about everything regarding my sexual history.”

  “Bet that took a while,” Jace said dryly.

  “About as long as it took you to explain to Bethany,” Ash shot back.

  “Touché,” Jace said with a grin. Then he stood, heading toward the door. “If that’s everything, I’m going to get to work. I have calls to make and a conference call in half an hour. You got lunch plans?”

  Ash checked his watch. “No, but I plan to head home early today. Didn’t like leaving Josie on her own so quickly after I got her moved in. I have people bringing her shit over to my apartment and I told her I’d help her sort it all out when I got home. So I’ll probably skip lunch, get my desk cleared and then head out around two.”

  Jace nodded. “Okay. Keep me posted. Especially about Friday night. We need to get our stories straight.”

  “Will do,” Ash replied.

  chapter fifteen

  Josie put down her paintbrush and scrambled to wipe her hands before picking up her ringing cell phone. They shook slightly as she saw it was Ash calling. A flutter began in her belly, rising up into her throat.

  “Hello?”

  “I’m on my way home.”

  Ash’s simple words sent a tingle down her spine.

  “Okay,” she murmured. “I’ll be ready.”

  “Good. You didn’t forget, then.”

  “No,” she said softly. “I know what your expectations are.”

  He paused. “But is it what you want, Josie? Or are you only catering to my desires?”

  “I want it too, Ash. I’m a little nervous, but it’s because this is all new and we’re still getting to know each other. But I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to be. No matter what kind of woman you think you hustled to your apartment, I’m not her. I’m not weak or spineless. Granted, I didn’t handle the situation with Michael like I should have, but I’m not easily walked over.”

  He chuckled, the sound warm and vibrant in her ear. “I never thought for a moment that you were weak or spineless, baby. It takes a strong woman to take on a man like me. Never doubt that.”

  A broad smile attacked her face and her belly clenched in delight at the soft endearment. It wasn’t the first time he’d called her baby, and she’d loved it then. There was something about this man’s voice softening, the tenderness when he used the pet word, that made her heart skip a few beats.

  “I need to go if I’m going to be ready for you when you get here,” she said. “I don’t want to disappoint you on your first day home to me.”

  There was another pause and then his voice low and sweet, sending a brisk thrill coursing through her veins.

  “You won’t disappoint me, Josie. Don’t want you thinking that. Don’t even want it in your head. If you’re there when I get home, naked and waiting for me, I’m not going to be disappointed. I’ve looked forward to it all day. I’ll let you go so you can get ready. See you soon.”

  “Bye,” she whispered.

  As soon as she ended the call, she surged to her feet, frowning when she saw the scattered supplies all over his living room. She knew his housekeeper was coming in the morning, but she didn’t want to be an added burden. For that matter, all her stuff was in boxes, neatly stacked against the living room wall. She hadn’t bothered unpacking them yet because she’d wanted to work, eager to get
more of her paintings to the art gallery.

  Hopefully Ash wouldn’t be annoyed at the mess and at the chaos she’d brought into his immaculately kept apartment.

  She rushed to the bathroom, wondering if she had time for a quick shower. But she’d taken one this morning. She was clean. Just her hands and her arms had paint splatters and she could clean those off in short order.

  Still, she paid careful attention to her appearance. She brushed out her long, blond hair and surveyed her reflection in the mirror. No makeup today, but then she rarely wore more than lip gloss and mascara.

  Satisfied that she didn’t look an absolute mess, she went into the bedroom and stripped out of her clothing. She folded the jeans and the shirt, not knowing if she’d dress afterward or if Ash would keep her occupied until bedtime. She’d tackle that particular issue when the time came.

  But what now? Did she wait in the bedroom? Should she sit in the living room and wait for him there? She frowned pensively. They hadn’t gone over the particulars, just that he wanted her naked and waiting for him.

  He’d been specific in that he didn’t want her to kneel unless he wanted her there because she was sucking his cock. Her cheeks flamed in remembrance of that statement. Michael had liked her to kneel. Liked her subservience. At the time it hadn’t bothered her. It was a part of their relationship, one she’d readily agreed to. Now she felt foolish for offering the jerk her submission.

  She walked into the living room, deciding this was where she’d wait for him. He’d liked the idea of coming home and finding her naked and waiting, which told her that he’d probably like to see her as soon as he walked in. If he had to look for her, then she wasn’t waiting for him very well. And she liked the idea of being the first thing he saw when he got off the elevator.

  Since she wasn’t going to kneel, she opted for the plush leather couch, but she put one of the throws down so it would be comfortable against her bare skin. And then she pondered over whether she should sit up? Recline? Laughter bubbled from her throat. She was so overthinking this.

  She was an artist and visuals appealed to her. She knew all about provocative poses and Ash would appreciate one of those surely. She wanted to wow him the first time he came home to her.

  Warmth entered her chest as those words settled over her. Coming home to her. How easily she fell into his life, his apartment, and adopted it as her own. Was she really considering this home now? And that she had a man coming home to her every day?

  Not deliberating over whether she was crazy for entertaining such thoughts, she settled onto her side, arranging her hair to hang over her shoulder, partially obscuring her breasts. It wasn’t that she had any inhibitions. But less was often more. Men responded to what they couldn’t see often as much or even more than what they could see.

  It was what made her paintings provocative. The hint of flesh. Just a glimpse of the forbidden.

  She rested her head against the arm of the couch and let her gaze drift toward the elevator door. Her skin tingled, anticipation licking over her body as she imagined what Ash would choose to do when he got home.

  Arousal hummed low in her body. She was tempted to slide her fingers between her legs and stroke herself to a quick orgasm. It wouldn’t take much. She was worked up just thinking about Ash’s arrival. But she didn’t want to take away from whatever he planned.

  So she waited, each second seemingly an hour.

  When she heard the elevator, her breath hiccupped and stuck a moment in her throat. Her mouth went dry and she hastily licked her lips just as the doors slid open, revealing Ash in the suit he’d worn to work.

  One hand shoved into his slacks pocket, his pose casual and arrogant. He exuded wealth, charm and . . . power.

  She shivered as their gazes met and held. His eyes burned over her, flaring when he took in her pose. Appreciation gleamed, and she was glad she’d opted for seductive instead of just sitting and waiting.

  He strode toward her, his jaw tight, eyes blazing. She lifted her head, tracking his progress.

  “Hello,” she said huskily. “And welcome home.”

  He surprised her by dropping to his knees in front of the couch. He swept in and fastened his mouth to hers in a heated rush that took her breath away. His hand tangled in her hair, yanking her closer so there was no space between them.

  “Fucking beautiful,” he growled. “Been thinking about this all day. Me coming home, seeing you waiting. But nothing could have prepared me for the reality.”

  He traced a finger down her cheek, stroking gently as he sucked in breaths to catch up from their kiss.

  “Really glad you’re here, Josie.”

  “I’m glad too,” she murmured.

  “Had a dozen different ideas on the way home. Thinking of how I’d take you when I got here. The minute I saw you, I forgot everything but the way you look perched on my couch.”

 
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