Excerpt for Always In My Heart (A Donovan Friends Novella) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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A.C. Arthur

Dear Reader,

I had not intended to write Rico Bennett’s story just yet, but after WRAPPED IN A DONOVAN, I began thinking about him and how and when he would find love. I’ll warn you upfront that his story is short—a novella—as will be all of the Donovan Friends books. These will be complete stories, with no cliffhangers and there is no definite schedule of which friends will receive a story and when.

Each time I’ve written about Rico in previous books I’ve always felt that he was struggling with something. I imagine there would be a certain amount of pressure on a person born the son of a Brazilian princess and a communications mogul. While the other Bennett siblings, aside from Gabriella, seem to know their direction and follow it regardless of the repercussions, Rico never struck me as the same type of person. Sure, he’s working at the family company and doing everything that is expected of him, but there’s so much more to him than just his job and his family, so much more that he’s kept carefully hidden throughout the years.

Evangeline “Eva” Romaine Miller had a perfect life. Then tragedy struck and in the blink of an eye she was tasked with not only surviving on her own, but taking care of her younger brother as well. Every choice she’s made since her parents’ death has been with Makai’s best interest in mind. She’s given up her own dreams and walked a path she never imagined she would, just to ensure her brother’s education, something she knew her parents would have done for both of them had they lived.

This is the story of two people coming to terms with who and what they are and learning to love themselves on the inside and outside, regardless of what anyone else thinks. For Rico, this journey is challenging. For Eva, it’s eye-opening. For them, together, it is the love of a lifetime.

I hope you enjoy going on this journey with them. As always,

Happy Reading,


Chapter 1

“You’re just going through a mid-life crisis. Go have a few drinks, get yourself some smokin’ hot sex and chill out for a week or two and you’ll be just fine,” Gabriella said as she continued to move.

Rico’s shock and dismay must have appeared clearly on his face as his youngest sister stared back at him through the mirrored wall of the in-home gym of their parents’ mansion.

“Don’t look at me like that, I’m dead serious,” she continued, stepping furiously on the elliptical machine. “For the last few weeks you’ve been a brooding irritable mess. And don’t think I’m the only one that notices your condition. Bree said something the other night when you walked out of the room because the triplets were crying.”

“I didn’t walk out because they were crying,” Rico replied, immediately defensive. “I had an important phone call to take.”

Gabriella’s lips twisted upward in her ‘tell me another one’ facial expression. “I didn’t hear your phone ring.”

“Ever heard of vibrate?” he snapped back, thrusting his hands forcefully into the front pockets of his slacks. “Besides, I came right back and when I did, I held Daniel until he fell asleep clutching my tie.”

“And that may have been the most relaxed I’ve seen you in months,” she said when the machine beeped and she slowly stepped off.

“Relaxation is overrated,” he replied.

“It should be a priority, especially to someone your age.”

“What? My age?” Rico was frowning again as Gabriella casually walked past him leaving the gym.

He was walking right behind her as he argued, “I’m only thirty-nine. You’re the one who just had a birthday, not me.”

Her hair was pulled up, a long ebony tail bobbing back and forth as she moved.

“I turned twenty-seven, you’re about to be forty. There’s a difference, big brother. Deal with it.”

She continued down the hallway until she came to the break in the wall. She could either go down the three steps taking her into the sunken family room, or to the right and up more stairs to where the bedrooms the Bennett children used to occupy were housed. At this point, Gabriella was the only one of them left living in this house. All of the others—Alex: lived with his girlfriend, Monica Lakefield, Renny: lived with his wife Bree Desdune and their triplets, and Adriana: lived with her fiancé, Parker Donovan.

Rico had an apartment closer to the city because he was far too impatient to sit in traffic. Driving from the part of Greenwich where his parents and Renny lived, into the office everyday was a thirty minute ride, one filled with unpredictable traffic from all the other weekly commuters. Alex usually worked remotely as the condo he shared with Monica was in Manhattan, just a few blocks away from the Lakefield Art Gallery that Monica, along with her sister, Karena, managed. Since Bree had the triplets and Karena was married to Bree’s brother, Sam Desdune, most weekends Alex and Monica were in Greenwich spending time with their nephews and nieces. That made Rico wonder when his older brother would finally marry Monica and start a family of his own.

Adriana was in Miami, happily planning her wedding to Parker Donovan, so Rico had no doubt she’d be pregnant and glowing soon after that big day. He wasn’t terribly thrilled by that thought as Parker Donovan and his family seemed to have a dark cloud looming over them. There had been one incident after another lately with the Donovans, from the lunatic that had attacked Adriana, to the same idiot guy getting himself killed and Savian Donovan being accused—but eventually cleared—of murdering him. Just a couple of months ago Adriana had told them about another disturbance at Savian and Jenise Langley’s wedding. Rico had a feeling this was only the beginning and he hated that Adriana might get caught in the cross fire of whatever storm was brewing within the Donovan family.

Then there was Gabriella, the energetic and sometimes flighty youngest child of Marvin and Beatriz Bennett. It had taken her almost twice as long to finish college as any of the other children because she couldn’t figure out what she wanted to do with her life. Just a year after her graduation when Marvin had finally decided that she would work at Bennett Industries, the family’s communications and technology company, she’d surprised them once again by announcing instead that she wanted to pursue a career in interior design. Nobody was certain whether or not that would stick, or how good at designing Gabriella would be, but for now they’d all decided to support her.

At the moment, however, his youngest sister was doing a pretty good job of annoying the hell out of Rico.

“Look,” she said calling his attention immediately back to her smirking face, only slightly damp with sweat. “I know you’re the big brother and you like to think you have all the answers, but what I’m telling you is true. Look it up on the Internet if you don’t believe me.”

“I’m past the midlife crisis age,” he said through clenched teeth.

Gabriella shrugged. “Late bloomer.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Rico said and moved past her to go down into the family room. As she was on the steps, he figured she was going up to her room to shower and change, or to find some other way to irritate someone else. He didn’t care, so long as she got away from him for a while.

“I’m right and you’re pissed off about it,” she shot back. “You’re pissed off about everything lately. If the sun shines too bright. If a baby cries too loud. When Adriana announced she’s getting married. Even when mom went back to Pirata to visit her family. You’re in a constant crappy mood and we’re getting tired of it. So like I said, have a drink, get some sex, go on a vacation. Do something and get over it already.”

With that she was gone. As if her words were that heavy and truthful that all she needed to do was speak them and drop the damn mic. Rico grit his teeth remembering that it was perfectly natural for little sisters to be a pain in the ass.

What wasn’t natural was for them to be right. At least partially anyway.

That conversation had taken place on a Wednesday afternoon. On Friday night, Rico had driven up to New York and was now sitting in the classically decorated lounge area of The Corporation.

The Corporation was an elite private sex club. There were facilities located all over the world, its clientele reaching as high up as the White House staff, to as low as everyday businessmen committing to pay the exorbitant membership fees. It was all for the pleasure of having any and everything they desired sexually without any recriminations or judgments.

That’s how the club had been pitched to Rico when he’d been offered a year’s free membership. The offer had come last summer when Rico had traveled to Los Angeles for Jackson Carrington, his college friend’s, wedding. It was during the wedding reception that Jackson’s brother, Jerald, spoke to Rico about the club. The black pamphlet with THE CORPORATION printed in gold block letters across the front had been in Rico’s top left desk drawer for months, before he’d finally picked it up again. That had been around nine hours ago, Rico recalled as he now stood staring out the floor-to-ceiling windows of the high-rise building. There had been pictures in the brochure of a few of the more popular Corporation locations—New York, Beverly Hills, Turks and Caicos—so he had noticed the different themed décor in each one. New York was definitely the hip and trendy locale as evidenced by the black painted walls, white tiled floors and contemporary gray and black furniture.

For about the hundredth time Rico wondered what the hell he was doing here. It had been an impulsive act as he’d shut down his computer for the day and pulled open the drawer to see the brochure staring up at him. At first he’d thought he couldn’t go. There had to be a meeting of some sort taking place over the weekend, because Rico worked seven days a week unless there was a federal holiday or a family catastrophe. But no, his calendar was empty. That had been the first sign.

Surely the family—either the Bennetts or the Desdunes—were doing something this weekend. An anniversary party at Lucien’s, the Desdunes’ family creole restaurant, or perhaps his mother was watching the triplets again and subsequently wanted all her children at the house. There had to be something to do in Greenwich, something he was used to doing and that didn’t take him totally out of his comfort zone. But after a call to Alex and Renny, he was assured there was nothing. Sign number two.

With nothing keeping him in town, Rico had grabbed the brochure and went to his apartment to pack a bag. He’d spend the weekend in New York, see some sights he hadn’t seen in a while, and maybe catch a show. He didn’t have to actually go to The Corporation. Yet, here he was, at almost ten thirty on a Friday night, wearing navy blue slacks, a white shirt and a Tom Ford suede blazer. The floor attendant who had greeted him with a gorgeous smile when he’d stepped off the elevator and walked up to the white marble desk, had taken some very personal information from him about fifteen minutes ago. Shortly after he’d walked away, another staff member, dressed in all white—pants that were so tight there was no way she could be wearing anything beneath them and a shirt that was basically the same fit, her jacket not as snug, added a touch of class to the otherwise blatantly sexual look—had approached him with a drink in hand. A Ketel One martini with a twist, exactly what he’d informed the floor attendant was his preferred drink.

Now, as he sat there enjoying the perfectly mixed beverage, he wondered again about the decision to come here. Rico had plenty of women he could call if “smokin’ hot sex” as Gabrielle had referred to it, was all he desired. It wasn’t as if he never dated. He just did so sparingly because work was a priority. Spending time with his family was a priority. Just about anything came before long-term dating in the priority department for Rico. Still, there were some pretty memorable women he’d slept with that he knew for certain would be game for another tumble. Only Rico wasn’t game, not for them, not tonight.

He wanted autonomy tonight. A mind blowing sexual connection—actually mind clearing—was what he was aiming for. Rico wanted the sex to be so good that it would clear Gabriella’s words of a mid-life crisis from his mind. So great, that the worry about Adriana’s safety would vanish, at least temporarily. So damn fantastic, that he could have just one weekend without thinking about work, getting back to work, or finishing work. All he would manage to do after the sex would be get up, get dressed, get something to eat, get some sleep, get up the next day and repeat. He’d set aside three whole days and hoped like hell it could be achieved.

Then he saw her and everything he wanted, the way he’d anticipated feeling, the pleasure he’d envisioned, all of it, vanished.

She was the third sign.


This was a bad idea.

Eva knew it the moment she’d finally caved in to Kenya’s request.

“Come on, Eva. I just don’t want to go alone,” her best friend insisted.

They were in Eva’s studio—or rather, the second bedroom of the apartment she rented on Banner Avenue in Brooklyn. Makai, her twenty-year old brother stayed in the other bedroom while Eva used a pull-out bed in the living/dining room area. It was a small sacrifice to have the two open windows and space to paint using the natural light. The room also gave her privacy to work when Makai had company or she just wanted to tune everything else out and focus on her craft.

Right now, with one of the bulbs from the ceiling fan light unit flickering and Kenya’s persistent chattering, focus wasn’t a possibility.

Dropping the brush she had been using into the jar of water sitting on the windowsill, Eva sighed. “I wasn’t planning on going out tonight,” she replied as she looked over to where Kenya was standing. “Besides, isn’t this your first night working there? Why would I tag along with you when you go to work?”

“Because,” Kenya said tossing Eva an exasperated look over her shoulder. “You’re my friend and I need you.”

Kenya DuMont a.k.a. Starshine, the most popular dancer at the TEASE nightclub, did not need anyone or anything. She was a thirty-seven-year-old bartender turned manager, turned dancer and now…companion. Yes, Kenya had accepted a job which she insisted was going to pay her a minimum of one thousand dollars per night, as a paid companion to rich and famous men. In Eva’s mind that was a lot of fancy talk for being a prostitute, and while she would be forever thankful to Kenya for suggesting she try her hand at erotic dancing, Eva was firm on drawing the line long before she was ever paid to have sex with any man.

“I can’t go into the room with you and hold your hand while you have sex with a stranger,” Eva told her. “And seriously, I don’t know why you accepted this job in the first place. You make so much more at TEASE with all the tips and personal service you provide to your regulars, without having sex with them.”

They’d had this conversation before where Eva felt like she was the older sister, giving out advice. When in actuality Kenya was ten years older than Eva’s twenty-seven. Eva had begun working at the sport’s bar where Kenya was a bartender and manager when she was eighteen. In the first two years they’d grown so close—with Kenya doing whatever she could to help Eva get custody of Makai and to make sure Eva got the lion’s share of the tips that were to be split between all of the wait staff—that when Kenya landed the dancing gig at TEASE in Manhattan, she’d insisted Eva join her. Five years of professional dance classes when she was a teenager added to Kenya’s vouching for Eva to the manager at the strip club, but their friendship had kept them close through the thick and thin times that came afterwards. They were as tight as blood sisters and that’s why Eva felt it her duty to try one more time to steer Kenya in what Eva thought was a better direction.

“Yeah, after I let them grope and grab on me all night long. They pay very well for that,” Kenya said, her lips already upturned, neck swiveling with attitude. “This place is so much more upscale. Hell, it looks like a regular business building from the outside. And once you get all the way to the top floors where they’re actually located, you still don’t know that you’re in an establishment where people pay for sex.”

Picking up a towel and wiping her hands thoroughly, Eva shook her head adamantly. “That doesn’t change a thing. All that means is that now you’ll be groped and grabbed by rich men, who probably have rich wives and spoiled kids at home.”

Kenya waved a hand. “You know I don’t give a damn about what happens once they leave the club. I taught you that a long time ago. This is business, not personal.”

Eva smiled blandly as she slipped off the stool. “Right. It’s never personal. Get your money and get going. I remember and that’s why I’m still confused about why you’re doing this.”

Kenya sighed this time, lifting both hands to tuck her thick straight hair behind her ears. “I’m not getting any younger, Evie,” she began.

She’d always called her Evie, even after Eva had stated her real name was Evangeline Miller. Kenya hadn’t thought that was sexy enough, especially once they’d decided to work at TEASE. They’d come up with Eva Romaine – the nickname that her parents had given her when she was born combined with her middle name. Still, Kenya kept on calling her Evie.

“You’re gorgeous,” Eva told her. “You look better than half these twenty-year-old girls we see down at the club.”

This was the honest truth. Kenya still had butter smooth skin and no wrinkles in sight. As a result of her weekly standing appointment at one of the top salons in Brooklyn, her hair was always on point. And she dressed like a sophisticated socialite, not the stripper that Eva knew she was.

“You don’t understand because you’re still so young,” Kenya continued. “But I want something a little more settled. I’d only have to work two or three nights a week at this place. I say which days and I say which clients. These aren’t ignorant, drunk men looking for a quick lay. They’re businessmen—doctors, lawyers, politicians—guys that have good heads on their shoulders.”

“Yeah, but those are not the ‘heads’ you’ll be dealing with,” Eva quipped. “At the end of the day they’re still men paying for sex. They won’t respect you any more than they do when you shake your ass and collect the dollar bills they throw at you.”

Kenya sighed. “Since when did you become so cynical?”

Eva breezed past her as she headed out to the living room. “Since my parents died when I was seventeen, leaving me and my brother who celebrated his tenth birthday two months earlier to fend for ourselves.”

“You mean leaving you to become a stripper just like me?” Kenya added as she followed Eva into the kitchen.

Eva yanked open the refrigerator, grabbing a bottle of water and opening it. She took a long gulp before looking at Kenya again. “I did what I had to do to make sure Makai was taken care of. You know that greedy Ruby wasn’t about to let him go as long as she was still receiving that check from the state.”

Kenya nodded. “That’s right, I do know. I was there. I saw how easily you made the decision to work at TEASE and make triple what you were ever going to make at that sport’s bar. You did what was best for your situation and I supported you all the way. That money you made financed this apartment, put Makai through private school and it paid the first two year’s college tuition for him. You go to work just like any other person in this world. And when I go to The Corporation tonight, I’ll be doing the same thing.”

Kenya was absolutely right. Eva had told herself this same thing since the day her parents died. Everything that she’d done, each time she’d stepped on that stage as the illusive Eva Romaine, dancing and swaying to the music, while removing her clothes, she knew exactly why she was doing it. First, it was to save herself and her brother from their mean and greedy neighbor turned foster mother, and then it was to give Makai the life and advantages that she knew their parents had planned for him. So how could she stand here being so hypocritical with Kenya?

“I just want you to be safe,” Eva said. “You have other options now.”

“Like what? Get a nine to five? I’m too young to collect social security and they don’t usually pay out to strippers anyway. What else can I do besides shake my ass? Answer phones and get coffee for minimum wage? No, thank you. I enjoy my lifestyle and since there’s no man I deem good enough to allow him to put a ring on this finger and kids are not my cup of tea, this is the perfect life for me,” Kenya told her with a definite nod.

Eva could only sigh. “I hear you,” she told her friend. “I hear everything you’re saying.”

“Good,” Kenya snapped her fingers quickly. “Now, you’ve got one hour to get dressed. I’ll pick you up and we’ll head into the city. It’ll be fine. You’ll be there for support only and when I’m set for the night, you can leave.”

“How am I supposed to get back if you pick me up?” Eva asked, hating that she was even remotely considering this.

Kenya was already walking out of the kitchen and heading towards the door in the living room. “I’ll pay for your cab ride, just be ready in an hour.”

Chapter 2

Eva’s first thought upon walking through the glass doors was that there should be music. Something light and classical like Bach or Chopin would add to the sleek mix of contemporary furnishings and crisp, bold colors.

The receptionist—no, Eva was almost positive the woman with the wide expressive gray eyes and pouty mouth could not be described as just a receptionist. She looked professional enough wearing a black pant suit. The jacket had a single button that closed the material around her rib cage. Beneath it she wore a red lace bra and around her neck a leather collar with a diamond at her throat. She was chic and sexy and polite as she spoke with a faint British accent.

The walls were painted black, which could have either made the room too dreary or—the look that they’d actually managed to pull off—become a bold statement. The spherical shaped white marble desk was meant to be the focal point of the room, with two large red rose arrangements in crystal cylinder vases. There was nothing else, no phone, no computer, nothing but the beautiful woman and her alluring gaze. She held a tablet in one hand and there was a slim clear earpiece at her ear. It all gave Eva the impression of something out of a James Bond movie.

“This is for you,” the woman said to Eva as she handed her a red rose pin. “This should be clearly visible to all the members and staff. It will let them know that you are a guest for the evening.”

Kenya had not been given a pin. Instead she had passed her leather jacket to the woman and slid a black card through a side slit on the woman’s tablet. That was a far cry from the old ragged time clock on the back wall at TEASE.

“Thank you,” Eva managed to say as she took the pin from the woman. Tucking the small clutch purse she carried under her arm, Eva slipped the pin onto the lapel of the black hipster jacket she’d worn.

She noted that Kenya wore all black tonight, a form-fitting dress that fell to her ankles, a dangerously sexy slit up her left leg that ended high on her thigh. Her shoes were black, with straps going up her bare legs. The dress dipped low in the back and hugged her ample breasts in front. Eva, who hadn’t been sure what to wear to such an establishment—considering she wasn’t one of the working women here—had opted for a royal blue wrap dress that accentuated her best parts—the round firm bottom that came courtesy of a deadly amount of squats on a daily basis and her pert, if small, breasts. She’d thrown on the jacket because it was chilly out this evening, but she’d matched it with leather ankle boots with four-inch heels. Her hair fell in a curly tail over her right shoulder.

“Let’s go to the lounge,” Kenya said reaching for Eva’s hand and pulling her along. “Since I’m new I don’t have any special requests yet.”

“So, the men just get to pick you out of the other women in the room? Is that how it works?” Eva asked as they walked through a long hallway of more black walls, but with small white spotlights shooting up from the floor.

“The available ‘hostesses’, that’s what we’re called, are wearing all black. If the members have not already made an appointment with someone for the night, they’ll know where to look to find a partner. Once they make a selection they’ll let the floor attendant—the gorgeous British woman we just met—know. She’ll compare the member’s requests and assure that the hostess that has been selected is suitable to his needs. Then, the evening proceeds,” Kenya explained.

“Wow,” Eva replied with a nod. “Sounds so organized. What if you don’t like him?”

They’d come to a larger room now, this time the dour black walls were highlighted by crisp white tiled floors, and black leather chairs. There were straight backed contemporary seats, some single and double, and chaise lounges placed throughout the space. The entire back wall was comprised of windows, floor to ceiling giving a skyline view of Manhattan lit up in all its glory. Again, Eva listened for music, something classy and elegant would fit nicely here. It would also take her mind off the fact that there were more than twenty men in this room at the moment and just a handful of women. That shouldn’t have been alarming to her considering she was used to a similar ratio when she worked at TEASE, but then she was up on a stage performing. Tonight, she had no idea what she was doing.

“It’s not my job to ‘like’ him,” Kenya informed her.

Eva nodded. “Right. Just like dancing. Get through the performance and get done.” She recalled another bit of advice Kenya had given her years ago.

“Exactly. Now, let’s get a drink and mingle,” Kenya continued, leading them toward one of the far walls where three women wearing all white stood.

“Where’s the bar?” Eva asked.

“Right here,” Kenya said as they approached the women.

“Good evening, Kenya,” the tallest of the women with platinum blond hair that added an unmistakable pop to her all-white attire, said, “I’ll get your drink. And what will your guest have this evening?”

Kenya looked at Eva giving her a huge grin. “Tell her what you want and she’ll get it.”

“I’ll have white wine, please,” Eva said before clearing her throat.

There was no bar in sight so she wondered if these women were magical and that’s why they were dressed in all white. Would they pull a glass and bottle of Chardonnay from the air?

The woman nodded and stepped away from the line of the others. Kenya turned away also. “Come on, she’ll bring the drinks to us.”

“How do you know all this if tonight’s you’re first night on the job? This place seems like a covert world that we’re trespassing in,” Eva said while looking around at the men dressed in business suits.

Expensive suits, she might add. Each of them were wearing expensive suits and shoes. They didn’t get this clientele at TEASE often, but every now and then they’d been known to host a bachelor party or some other type of get together for a celebrity. Over the years, Eva had come to notice the quality in clothes, shoes and cars. Not that any of this meant the customers she dealt with during these special events were any less crude or misguided as the regulars.

“They told me everything when I came for orientation. I had two interviews, a background check, a physical that checked for things I didn’t even know existed and even a credit check,” Kenya informed her.

They’d come to a stop near the edge of the windows. Eva sat because the cute booties she wore were hell on her toes.

“All that to sleep with men you don’t know?” Eva asked. She was immediately sorry for the question and looked up to Kenya offering a slow smile.

She was there for support, not to criticize the decision Kenya had made for herself. Eva, of all people, knew exactly how it felt to have her back against the wall and to make a decision that would probably be frowned upon by others. She’d spent the last seven years of her life ignoring anyone else’s thoughts about her and what she did for a living, because that’s what she needed to do to survive. Kenya was her best friend and had been a very instrumental part in getting Eva to where she was in her life. She owed her much love and respect and vowed to give it to her, no matter what critical thoughts she might be having.

“He looks nice,” Eva suggested.

“Which one?” Kenya asked.

Kenya wore her hair longer tonight, sparing no expense for the extensions she often used, and it swayed behind her as she turned her head quickly in the direction Eva was looking. As they both danced at TEASE, they’d learned long ago that appearance was everything. So from their sexy costumes, to the expensive monthly spa treatments—manicures, pedicures, waxing and massages—to the careful way in which their natural hair, and the hair they purchased, was styled. They’d made money off this package, so it stood to reason that they would invest a lot of time and money into it.

“Both of them, really,” Eva replied in reference to the two guys that were not too far away from them.

One wore a modern fit suit that accented his slim frame and the other a suit that may have been tweed or wool that gave him a mature and debonair look. The tall, slim guy was white with piercing blue eyes that brightened as he lifted his glass and nodded towards Eva and Kenya. The other was of Latino descent with his dark eyes and even darker hair. They were both really handsome and Kenya smiled her reply to Eva’s comment instead of actually speaking.

“I’m going to say hello,” Kenya said a few seconds after the blonde lady arrived with their drinks.

Eva took a sip of her wine. “Is that what you’re supposed to do?” she asked while still sitting. The wine was excellent. Eva thought if she had to sit here for the duration of the night having free drinks, she’d be just fine with that.

Kenya smoothed down the front of her dress and squared her shoulders, an act which made her generous breasts even more appealing. She was a butter-complexioned bombshell. Her waist looked extra small in the black material, spanning out to curvy hips and ass, which were her signature when she danced. As for Eva, her waist could be considered small, but that was because she was only five feet four inches and worked out religiously because her eating habits were in direct contrast to the life of a dancer. Kenya hated the gym and preferred her waist trainer, juicer and salads for breakfast, lunch and dinner instead. The word ‘bombshell’ would never be used to describe her, but she had the moves and flexibility that made even her ‘B’ cup breasts and size twelve body look sexy as hell as she worked that pole on stage.

“You know I don’t have the patience to sit and wait for anything,” Kenya said tossing Eva a wicked smile over her shoulder.

Eva chuckled as she brought her glass to her lips once more. Kenya definitely lacked patience. Unlike Eva who was perfectly content sitting here, at least until Kenya had found her beau for the night. Then Eva was heading out of the posh sex den, and going back to her apartment where she could top her night off from work with a good chick flick and some mint chocolate chip ice cream. Makai would most likely be out with his friends. Friday was the one night of the week that Eva didn’t raise hell about him going out. At twenty, Makai definitely felt like he was grown, but until he had that college degree and a good job, Eva still felt every bit as responsible for him as she did the day after her parents had died.

“Good evening. Could you come with me?”

Eva’s head snapped up at the sound of the female voice. It was the blonde again, but this time she wasn’t bringing drinks, which was a pity because Eva had almost finished her wine.

“Excuse me?” Eva asked.

The woman simply smiled, her hands folded neatly in front of her and asked again, “Could you come with me?”

Eva frowned. “Where?”

Kenya had assured her all she had to do was stay there until she was done, nothing more.

“To a more comfortable room in the back,” was the woman’s response.

She also lifted an arm as if to guide Eva in the direction which she wanted her to go. Eva didn’t move. Instead she looked around the woman to see if she could spot Kenya. When she didn’t see her or the men that Kenya had gone over to speak to, Eva’s frown grew. On a huff she came to a stand, extending her hand with the just about empty wine glass toward the blonde.

“Actually, I’ll be leaving now,” she said.

“Please, miss. There is someone who would like to see you in the other room,” the woman replied, taking the glass from Eva who immediately began shaking her head.

“Oh no, you’re mistaken. I don’t work here. I’m just a guest.”

When the woman only continued to hold that smile—which Eva was now convinced had to be painted on her face—Eva touched the lapel of her jacket, lifting it higher so the woman could see the red rose pin that signified her as guest.

The woman nodded and this time touched a hand to Eva’s elbow. She was still smiling as she began to guide Eva across the room.

“I know who you are, Ms. Eva Romaine,” she said as they walked.

“How do you know my name?”

“At The Corporation we make sure we know as much as possible about everyone.”

“But I don’t work here,” Eva said again, more insistently than she figured she had before. “I just came with my friend. She’s the employee. This was her first night and she was feeling a bit nervous.”

Funny enough, Eva thought she was the one sounding nervous as they left the lounge area and headed down a dark hallway. It was in the opposite direction from where she’d come in, which Eva figured wasn’t a good sign. The vibe had immediately shifted from having a carefree drink in a luxurious establishment to feeling as if she were walking into something she would not be able to get out of. With that thought in mind, Eva stopped walking and turned to the blonde, who was, yes, still smiling at her.

“I didn’t come here for this. I’m not…I’m…this is not what I do,” she said in an attempt to say as nicely as she could that she was not a piece of ass for sale.

“Going into this room does not commit you to anything, Ms. Romaine. It’s just a meeting. When you’re ready to go, you leave,” she said, more seriously than she had said anything else tonight.

Eva didn’t know why but she believed her. This place was nothing like TEASE, where the back rooms meant lap dances and much more depending on how much the customer had to spend. In all the years she’d worked at the club, Eva had never been in one of the back rooms. She showed up for her shift, took the stage, danced, grabbed her tips and left. Staying later to have a drink at the bar was only something she’d done once or twice. Dancing in the sex industry was her job, it did not define her life. She was sure to tell herself that every day. It was what got her through.

A black door opened in front of her and Eva walked through. She heard it click shut behind her only seconds before she heard the music. It wasn’t loud but the effortless sound of the bow against violin strings echoed throughout the room, pulling her immediately inside, regardless of her previous hesitation. There was a soft scent in the air as she inhaled deeply. Something light and floral maybe. Soothing. Her first steps led her deeper into the dimly lit room. These rooms weren’t black, but covered in a cream colored wall paper that glowed like soft gold in the light. The furniture, two couches and a high-backed chair were dark brown leather. The rug was plush, with a geometrical design. The light came from lamps on either side of the room. There was a doorway to what she assumed would be a bedroom. She quickly turned in the other direction.

It was warmer in here than it had been out there and as she stood, still looking around, Eva removed her jacket. She draped it over the back of a chair and dropped her purse onto its seat.

“Hello?” she called out when she still hadn’t seen anyone after a few more moments.

There was no answer, but the music continued to play. She was swaying before she could stop herself. The memory of the classical dance class her mother had insisted she take the summer she was ten years old, as fresh in her mind as if it were yesterday. This had been her introduction to classical music and to the flexibility of her body. Sure, she’d taken ballet two years before, but she’d felt totally different when her movements had been choreographed to the illustrious and ingenious sounds of Mozart and Brahms. Her favorite, however had been, the clever and insanely exciting numbers she’d performed to music by Chanda Dancy. For Eva, dancing to music composed and performed by an artist that looked like her, gave her a tremendous boost in confidence. Three years later, after more dance classes, thirteen-year-old Eva believed that she could dance professionally and that even though she was on the short and curvy side, she would still be successful. Then her mother lost her job as a legal secretary and their household income rested on her father’s postal worker shoulders. Dance classes, as well as other extra-curricular activities stopped, and Eva’s venture into the cheaper and more solitary craft of art began.

“I like the way your body moves.”

His voice was smooth, hushed and came from behind her. Eva turned quickly not sure when she’d actually begun to dance to the music that was playing, and certainly unaware that she was being watched. Not that she had a problem with people watching her dance, it was her job, of course. But here, in this place, where she was just a guest, it had thrown her off a bit.

“I…ah, I didn’t know anyone was here,” she said, wrapping her arms defensively around herself. “I called out but nobody answered.”

He was sitting in a chair that was tucked into a corner that wasn’t near either of the lamps she’d seen. That meant he was draped in darkness until, he leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees, head lifted, gaze directly on her. And that’s why she did not make a move to leave. His gaze, the way it held her perfectly still even though she had no idea who this guy was or what he wanted from her.

Chapter 3

This was happening very fast. The decision to come to The Corporation, seeing this woman walk into the room, requesting her for the night and watching her sway seductively to music that was by all rights soothing, but in no way sexy. Until now.

Rico knew, without a doubt, that from this moment on, whenever he heard classical music, he would think of her.

“What’s your name?” he asked as she continued to stare at him.

Her lashes were long, he noted each time she blinked, and wondered if they were real or fake.

“Eva,” she replied, bringing her hands together.

They were now clasped in front of her as her feet shifted slightly. She had great legs, toned and covered in black nylon.

“I’m Rico,” he told her because he wasn’t sure how this episode should play out. He’d never been in this situation before—the one where he paid for sex with a gorgeous woman.

“You have great taste in music, Rico,” she told him, her voice clear in the otherwise awkward silence between them.

“You like to dance to classical music?” he asked. “That’s not what I expected.”

None of this was what Rico had expected. Was it really this easy? Did a membership card actually allow him his pick of any woman, and was this particular woman really going to have sex with him for money? Rico realized at that moment that he had no idea how much he would be paying to be with her, and he was certain that she wasn’t the one he should be asking. This wasn’t a motel and he hadn’t picked her…he hadn’t picked Eva up on some corner.

“I can dance to almost any music,” she answered. “But, yes, I like classical music. It’s always been a favorite of mine.”

“So you’re a dancer?”

She blinked and then shrugged. “Yes. I am a dancer.”

“Then dance for me,” Rico told her.

When neither of them moved or said a word, he sat back in the chair, letting his palms rest on his thighs. “Dance for me, Eva.”

Her look was one of uncertainty, which, again wasn’t what Rico expected.

“I didn’t really come here tonight to dance,” she replied finally.

Her hands were moving then, twisting so that her fingers were twined together in one moment and then flexing apart in the next. The dress she wore fit her perfectly, accentuating the blatant curve of her backside. She was also on the short side, something he hadn’t originally noticed from a far because of the high heels she wore. Upon further assessment—his gaze having rested momentarily on her pert breasts and the long tresses of hair draped sexily over one shoulder—he realized that she did not possess the traditional dancer’s body.

Tall, lithe, almost of a boyish quality is what he generally pictured when he thought of a woman dancing to classical music. Yet, Eva had swayed so seductively to the music, like it was second nature to her. Her calves were thick, but toned. Her waist curved inward, but not skinny. That dress hugged her body, cupping her neat little breasts the way his palms ached to do.

“I’d really like to see you dance,” Rico stated. “Can you do that for me? Please.”

The music was still playing, even though he’d stopped listening to it the moment she’d walked into the room.

She did not respond verbally, but let her arms fall to her sides. With a shake of her head, as if she weren’t sure why she was doing this, Eva closed her eyes. Then, she began to move.

Rico was mesmerized. His gaze followed every movement, every step and sway that seemed as if she knew this particular song very well. He imagined her in a leotard and tights, instead of the form fitting dress that allowed for much more movement than he would have thought possible. Her feet would be bare, her hair flowing free. She would move across a stage gracefully, enigmatically. And he would grow just as hard and aroused as he was becoming at this very moment.

He had no idea when his legs had gapped open, or when one of his hands had moved to lightly grip his growing arousal. Yet, when she’d come closer, standing right between his knees, turning her back and moving her hips and ass to the high-pitched violin solo, he definitely heard the low moan that escaped from his throat. Her hand toyed with the hem of her dress, pulling it up slightly so that more of her thigh was visible. So much of her thigh that the lacy edge of the nylons, held by a black garter peeked at him alluringly.

Rico undid his belt and the button of his pants. He kept his gaze focused on the straight line of her back, the dip of her hips and the plumpness of her ass. The zipper moved slowly as he took deep breaths, in an effort to slow this surprising pleasure down a bit. Then she lowered herself, dipping down until she was almost sitting on his lap. His fingers itched to touch her, but he refrained. His breath came quicker, his tongue licking over his lips as he waited.

When she turned around abruptly, resting her hands on her hips and stared down at him, Rico was still trying to hold on to his control.

“Is that why you called me back here?” she asked. “How did you know—”

Her words were cut off when her gaze dropped down to see his hand cupping his rigid arousal. He hadn’t taken it out, so he felt safe that he didn’t look like a horny teenager about to rub one off at the sight of her. Still, the way she was looking at him, did make him feel like he was doing something immoral, which again, caused him to question why he was here in the first place.

She began backing up at that moment.

“I’ve got to go,” she was saying as she turned away from him. “I think you have the wrong idea. I’m not…”

Rico didn’t give her a chance to finish. In the seconds that she’d moved and declared she was leaving, he’d stood, wrapping an arm around her waist and turning her quickly to face him. Her mouth opened to protest and he plunged, his tongue diving fast and furiously into her mouth, taking, devouring, enjoying much more than he’d ever anticipated.


She kissed him back.

There wasn’t really another choice.

Okay, maybe she could have pulled away. But, Eva admitted as her arms wrapped around his neck, she didn’t want to.

She liked how his hands felt around her waist, his mouth on hers. His tongue was warm and thorough as it stroked deep inside her mouth, coaxing her tongue to mimic its motions. Her eyes had closed involuntarily, her body following that same unscripted plan, pressing closer to his.

His name was Rico. That’s all she knew.

No, that wasn’t true. She knew without any doubt that he was kissing the hell out of her. Whatever that meant. She didn’t know, nor did she care. All that mattered was that he didn’t stop.

His hands pressed flat against the small of her back, holding her firmly against him as he continued the delicious assault on her mouth. She’d come up on tiptoe, her arms clasping behind his neck, locking him to her, almost as if she owned him. That must have suited him just fine, because in seconds Rico was walking her back, keeping her in his tight embrace, but definitely moving her deeper into the room.

Eva had no idea where she was going. She couldn’t recall what the room looked like because behind her closed lids was only his face, his eyes, so intently staring at her as he’d spoken. There was nothing significant about his dark brown eyes, just that they’d looked at her as if she were not just the only person in the room, but in the entire world instead. He was pouring that look into the hottest kiss she’d ever had, coupling that with his touch and succeeding in driving her absolutely crazy with need.

She hadn’t come here for sex. In fact, she had been against Kenya coming here for that purpose. Yet, now, all she could think about was Rico tossing her back onto a bed, pushing her skirt up and taking her. Yes, she wanted him to take her right here and now. The man she’d just met and only knew his name.

When her back hit the wall Eva gasped, breaking the contact of the kiss. Her eyes opened in that moment and so did his. Their gazes locked, bodies still pressed together they simply stared at each other. She was breathing heavily and so was he. She loosened her arms just enough so that her hands flattened on the back of his shoulders. Gripping her fingers she marveled in how taut and strong he felt. He didn’t look big, not like some of the muscled guys she’d seen at TEASE, but there was definitely strength here. That quiet kind that emanated throughout the air surrounding his slim frame. It was echoed in the twitch in his jaw as he continued to watch her and nothing else. He wanted to do more. Rip her clothes off and have his way with her, maybe? Hell yes, would have been her instant reply to such an action.

Instead, she stood still, wondering, waiting, and anticipating.

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