ROOK (Billionaire Buck Boys)




Copyright © 2024 by Deborah Bladon


All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written consent from the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual person’s, living or dead,

events, or locales are entirely coincidental.


eBook ISBN: 978-1-926440-77-4

ISBN: 9798320509563


Book & cover design by Wolf & Eagle Media


Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Chapter 40


Chapter 41 Chapter 42 Chapter 43 Chapter 44 Chapter 45 Chapter 46 Chapter 47 Chapter 48 Chapter 49 Chapter 50 Chapter 51 Chapter 52 Chapter 53 Chapter 54 Chapter 55 Chapter 56 Chapter 57 Chapter 58 Chapter 59 Epilogue

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AS SOON AS I turn around, my gaze drops to the man on one knee in front of me.

“Not now, Telford,” I scold him. “We’re on a tight deadline.”

He ignores everything I just said. “Love Bug, you own the key to my heart, so go ahead and use it to open our wedlock.”

I flash him two thumbs down. “Epic fail, Tel.”

His nose scrunches, causing his eyeglasses to wiggle. “What? An epic fail? Why?”

I motion for him to stand. “Get up.”

He darts to both feet, straightening the employee ID badge hanging from the lanyard around his neck. “Will I ever get it right?”

I can’t promise he will, so I do the next best thing and offer the reassurance I know he needs. “Stop searching online for proposal scripts. You’ve got this. All you need to do is speak from the heart.”

“From the heart?” A look of horror flashes over his expression. “How?

What? Why?”

I hold in a grin. “Yes, from the heart.”

He taps his chest before his hand jumps to his forehead, pushing a few strands of his blond hair aside. “This heart and this mind don’t communicate.”


“They communicate non-stop.” I glance at the clock hanging on the wall in our lab. “You’re a scientist. You know this.”

“I’m not talking about my subconscious mind.” He rolls his eyes. “I’m talking about my conscious mind and its inability to come up with even one original romantic thought. Do I need to remind you about what happened last Valentine’s Day?”

Shaking my head, I shudder. “Please, no. Don’t do that.”

Ignoring my wishes yet again, Telford Harpin sighs. “I ordered what I thought was a singing telegram. It was actually a strip-o-gram, Carrie. A strip-o-gram.”

Even though I’m well aware of what went down on February fourteenth, since it happened right in front of me, I stay silent.

Telford has brought up that mistake at least a dozen times since.

I admit, I’ve replayed the moment in my mind more than that because the stripper was all kinds of hot. Telford stood in shock in the corner of the lab with his mouth hanging open until the stripper was down to his tighty whities. That’s when Tel decided to step in and pull the plug on his elaborate Valentine’s gift. It was in the nick of time because one of the executives of the company we work for showed up just as the stripper finished putting his clothes back on.

Crew Benton, the COO of Matiz Cosmetics, greeted the stripper with a hearty “hello” before he strolled over to Telford and me to discuss the project we were working on at the time.

It was a close call that could have ended horribly.

Telford glances toward the door of our lab. “I need guidance here. Your sister got engaged recently. What was her proposal like?”

“Her fiancé was naked.” I smile. “My sister was, too.”

“Naked?” The look of horror reappears on Tel’s face. “I’m not proposing naked. No damn way.”

I glance at his perfectly pressed white button-down shirt before my gaze drops to his brown pants and beyond to his sensible shoes. “Just because it worked for them doesn’t mean it will for everyone.”

“Their proposal wasn’t in public, was it?”

I bark out a laugh. “No. Abby told me that Declan dropped to one knee after they… you know. It all sounded very romantic. He gave her the ring that her late mom wore.”


My stepsister’s face lit up when she told me her engagement story. I’ve never seen her happier, but I suspect I will a week and a half from now when she gets married.

Telford clicks the pen in his hand. “It’s not my style, but I guess it’s a proposal Abby will never forget.”

“She won’t.” I smile. “We need to work. We have to turn in our samples by the end of the day.”

Telford glances at the long counter that holds all of the vials that contain small amounts of the concoctions we’ve spent the past two months working on. Matiz is one of the world’s most successful cosmetic brands. When I landed a position as a fragrance chemist with the company, it was like winning the lottery. The job is everything I’ve ever wanted, but if we don’t get these samples submitted now, we’ll have a lot of explaining to do.

“Let’s get to work.” He looks into my green eyes. “My next proposal will be the one. I can feel it.”

I’m not convinced, but I give him an A for effort.





“THAT DRESS COULD NOT BE MORE perfect.” My sister stands back and stares at me. “Look at your waist, Carrie.”

I adjust my black-rimmed eyeglasses and peer into the floor-to-ceiling mirror in the middle of this bridal boutique. Katie Rose Bridal is the go-to destination in Manhattan if you need a wedding gown in record time and a gorgeous deep green maid-of-honor dress.

I smooth both hands over the sleek skirt of the dress. “I look hot, don’t


Abby grins from ear to ear. “I’ll say. The color complements your eyes

and your hair. Have you decided if you’re wearing it up or down for my big day?”

I tuck a lock of my brown hair behind my right ear. “Up, I think. I’ll get Joanie to twist it into something sophisticated.”

Joanie has become my stylist over the past few months. She works at a salon in the lobby of the Bishop Hotel. I met her when Abby sent me to the hotel for a self-care weekend. I indulged in everything I hadn’t in years, including a manicure, pedicure, and haircut.


Abby’s hand glides over my shoulder. “I love that idea. I’m going to wear mine down.”

I glance past her to the fitting room area. “You should put your dress on now. Let’s see how we look side-by-side.”

Her gaze drops. “I will, but I’m nervous.”

“Nervous?” I step down from the slightly raised pedestal I’ve been standing on. “Why? You’re not having second thoughts, are you? I happen to know that Declan loves you bunches. I’m talking a million or two bunches. The man is crazy about you.”

A soft smile glides over her lips. “I know he does. I love him a lot, too.

It’s not that, Carrie. It’s something else.”

I step closer to her so I can lower my voice. It’s evening, and the boutique will close in less than an hour, but at least half a dozen customers are still milling about, trying on dresses and veils. “What’s going on? You know you can tell me anything.”

Drawing a deep breath, tears well in the corners of her hazel eyes. “Carrie, I’m…”

“Missing your mom?” I interrupt because I know how hard it is for her to express that vocally.

Her mom’s death hit her as hard as my dad’s hit me. We were both kids when it happened, but through all that grief, a new love was born when our widowed parents met at a baseball game. They got married a year later when Abby and I were fourteen.

She nods. “Yes, but that’s not it.”

Stumped but still wanting to comfort her, I yank her closer. “Tell me, Abby. Just say it.”

Holding tightly to me, she whispers words I’m not expecting, “I’m pregnant, Carrie. I’m going to have a baby.”

I jump back, giddy with excitement. “Are you being serious?”

“Very serious.” Her entire face glows with a smile. “I’m due on my dad’s birthday.”

“What?” I shriek, not caring that heads are turning in our direction. “You are serious.”

She pats her stomach beneath the red dress she’s wearing. “I’ve gained a few pounds since I bought my wedding dress. I hope it fits.”

“We’ll make sure it does.” The boutique’s owner, Kate Burke, smiles as she approaches us. “I wasn’t trying to overhear, but I did. Congratulations,



Abby’s smile widens even more. “Do you really think you can get the dress to work?”

“I know our seamstress can.” Kate glances at me. “Wow, Carrie! You look like a dream.”

I take another look at myself in the mirror. “I may need to wear this dress every single day after the wedding.”

“Or you might be planning your wedding after you wear that to mine.” Abby laughs.

I shake my head. “You said it’s going to be an intimate gathering.

Exactly how many single men will be there?”

She wiggles two fingers in the air. “Declan’s friend, Holden, and, of course, Rook will be there. He RSVP’d yesterday, and he’s not bringing a guest.”

Rook Thorsen is not only close friends with my future brother-in-law, but he’s also my sister’s boss. I met him once in Abby’s office months ago. The man is the hottest that’s ever lived, but the fact that he’s in a long-term relationship with the mother of his daughter makes him completely off- limits.

I can’t say I’m shocked that his girlfriend isn’t accompanying him to the wedding. She’s a supermodel. She must be recognized every time she rounds a corner.

“He’s taken,” I remind Abby. “He’s in love with Chesca, remember?”

“They’re not together,” she stresses each word because she believes it’s true.

She’s not the one who stalks his social media profiles. I am, and I’ve seen him in enough pictures with his daughter’s mom to know they’re still going strong.

I keep promising myself I’ll stop looking at his posts, but with his black hair and striking blue eyes, it’s hard not to sneak a peek whenever I can.

“Maybe I’ll bring a date,” I tease. “I think Telford is free.”

Kate laughs. “As much as I love listening to this drama, we need to start your fitting, Abby.”

My sister glances in my direction. “You can bring whoever you want.

All I want is for you to have fun at my wedding. Promise me you will.” “Sure,” I say with a weak smile.


If her definition of fun is me staring at Rook Thorsen all night, I’ll have the time of my life.





















“I’M LOOKING at the Empress and her snakes building,” my daughter announces as we make our way home from the library.

“Empire State Building,” I correct her gently. “That’s the Chrysler Building, though, Kirby.”

Her small sneakers edge forward on the sidewalk. “Are you sure?” Squeezing her hand, I nod. “I’m pretty sure.”

“You have been alive forever,” she reasons. “I’ve only been on earth for five years, so maybe you know buildings better.”

“I know a few,” I tell her gently. “Where should we head next?”

She sighs deeply before pushing a hand through her blonde hair. “Ice cream?”

I glance at the watch on my wrist. “It’s not even noon.”

“So?” she shoots back with one of her signature smirks. “If I eat ice cream now and skip it for dessert later, it’s even, right?”

That’s hard to argue with, but I need to give it a shot. “If you eat ice cream now, you won’t be hungry for lunch.”

“Don’t be a lawyer right now, Dad.”

I work to keep a straight face because those words come from the lips of her mother. Chesca Mills was never a fan of my profession, even though she threw legal questions at me left and right when we were together.


That all stopped just over a year ago when we broke up. I’d say it was one of the best days of my life, but it was hard on Kirby. She’s come to accept that even if her mom and I aren’t together anymore, that doesn’t change how much we love her.

“I’m your dad first,” I point out as we slow to wait for a crossing light. “I’m an attorney second.”

Her big brown eyes lock on my face. “How about a grilled cheese sandwich and then ice cream?”

That’s a compromise I can live with since I plan on sneaking spinach and tomato into the grilled cheese. Kirby’s never had it any other way, and she’s always eaten every last bite.

“Deal.” I squeeze her hand.

“Daddy?” She tugs on one of the sleeves of her light blue hoodie. “Are you sure I can’t go to the wedding?”

I reach down to pat her cheek. “You’re going to Boston with your mom for four days, Kirby. It’s your grandmother’s birthday, remember?”

“Grams told me she doesn’t celebrate birthdays.” She takes the opportunity to smooth her palm over my hand as it’s pressed against her cheek. “I want to wear a pretty dress for the wedding.”

“How about if we go out to dinner one night before you leave with Uncle Declan and Abby?” I suggest a compromise. “You can wear a pretty dress then.”

“She’s going to be my Auntie Abby after the wedding,” she reminds


Declan Wells may not be my brother by blood, but I consider him

family. Our mutual friend, Holden Sheppard, holds the same place of distinction in my life. They both rank as high as my younger brother.

I tug on her hand when it’s safe to cross the street. She happily skips along beside me. “I like the dinner idea, Daddy.”

That solves this mini-crisis, so as soon as we’re across the street and safely on the sidewalk, I scoop my little girl up and into my arms.

Her fingers tap against my shoulder. “You should wear this blue sweater every day. Lots of people look at you when you do.”

I laugh. “What people?”

Her lips part into a wide smile. “Pretty people like that lady over there.” Without warning, Kirby’s hand darts into the air with her index finger pointing straight at a blonde woman wearing a red pencil skirt and a black


blouse. A leather briefcase is in her hand. It may be Saturday, but business doesn’t take a back seat to a calendar in Manhattan.

I’ve afforded myself the luxury of taking an entire weekend off from the law firm that my great-grandfather founded. I wanted to devote my time to my daughter before she jets off with her mom again.

Next weekend is all mine, too, but for a very different reason. I’ll watch Declan marry the love of his life before I spend Sunday recovering from that since it’s an open bar, and I suspect it’ll be a party for the ages.

“She’s staring at us, Daddy,” Kirby attempts to whisper, but it’s a fail.

I slide her back down to her feet. “She’s not, sunshine. It’s time for us to head home for lunch.”

“She is,” she argues. “I think she likes you, and you must like her, so say hi.”

The last thing I need is my five-year-old playing matchmaker, so I toss the woman a cordial smile and a nod of my chin before I tug on Kirby’s hand. “It’s time to go.”

“Rook?” The woman approaches. “It’s you, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Kirby answers for me. “Rook Thorsen is his name. I’m Kirby Thorsen.”

It seems that I need to have another chat with my daughter about stranger danger and keeping our personal details to ourselves.

“It’s me. Michelle.”

I run through my memory bank, trying to place this woman. I interact with dozens of people every day. Corporate law is not the right career path if one seeks solace.

“We dated for a hot minute in college.” She laughs. “It was during freshman year.”

That was fifteen years ago. I was eighteen and likely living it up. A lot of that year is a blur.

“You’ve changed,” she blurts out.

“So have you,” I shoot the hollow words back, wishing that my daughter wasn’t bearing witness to this exchange.

“I have,” she agrees. “I went by Shelly back then. My hair was brown and cut in a bob. I just got my braces off when we had our first date.”

I stare at her, still not able to place her.

“I had a crush on Declan Wells,” she confesses. “I was using you to get to him.”


“Ouch.” I feign pain by placing a hand against the middle of my chest.

“Uncle Declan is getting married,” Kirby once again hands out personal info. “To Auntie Abby.”

“Really?” Michelle’s eyes widen. “Isn’t she a lucky ducky?”

“Lucky ducky?” Kirby giggles her way through those two words. “I like that.”

“I like you.” Michelle pats the top of my daughter’s head as her gaze wanders over my jeans and sweater before landing squarely on my face. “You really came into your own, Rook.”

What the fuck is happening?

This woman drops the gem that she dated me fifteen years ago because she was hot for my best friend, and now she wants a piece of me?

“Are you single?” she asks without the slightest glance at my daughter. That doesn’t stop Kirby from answering, “He is!”

How the hell did I lose control of this conversation?

“Let’s meet up for a drink when you’re….” She leans closer to me to drop her voice to a whisper. “Alone.”

Before my daughter can broadcast the news that I’ll be on my own for four days beginning a week from today, I shake my head. “It was good to see you, Shelly.”

“Michelle,” she corrects me. “It’s Michelle now.”

“Shelly is a nickname,” Kirby interjects. “Just like mine is Kirbs. Some of my friends call me that. It’s cute.”

“You’re cute,” Michelle says.

“You’re pretty,” Kirby offers. “My dad likes to drink water and sometimes root beer if I want a sip. So you know what to order him when you meet up for a drink.”


“I’ll look you up.” Michelle circles a fingertip in front of my face. “Unless you look me up first.”

That won’t happen, and it’s not because I can’t remember her surname. “I’m hungry,” Kirby finally says something that works in my favor.

“Can we go home for lunch now, Daddy?”

I pick her back up so I can sprint away from this woman. “We’re going now.”

“I’ll talk to you soon!” Michelle calls after us before she adds, “I bet you look just as good coming as you do leaving. Get it?”



“She seems nice,” Kirby whispers. “You should share a root beer with her.”

I won’t be sharing anything with her.

I have no objection to indulging in some fun with a beautiful woman when the opportunity presents itself, but Michelle or Shelly is someone I never intend to see again.

“We need to talk about stranger danger,” I say to my daughter as I once again slide her to her feet before we descend the concrete steps that lead to the subway platform. “We can’t tell our names to people we don’t know, Kirby.”

“I know.” She nods briskly. “But that lady was your old friend. She said you went on a date.”

She did say that, and I have no reason to doubt her. Whatever happened between us didn’t involve my dick, though, because I have never been the fuck and forget type. I remember every woman I’ve taken to bed and Michelle is not on that list.

“I knew her a long time ago.” I glance at my watch. “We need to race to catch the next train. We’ll talk about this more, though. It’s good to be friendly, but we have to be careful.”

“Yes, Daddy.” She sighs. “If you do go for a root beer date with Mishelly, will you tell me?”

I don’t need my five-year-old this invested in my personal life, so I let her down easy. “Daddy won’t be meeting her for root beer.”

“Okay.” Her gaze darts behind me. “Maybe you and I can have one when we get home?”

“That works for me.” I point at the concrete steps. “Are you ready, Kirbs?”

She lets out a laugh that sounds like music to my ears. “That’s what my best friends call me. Not you.”

I fake a frown. “I thought I was your best friend.”

She spreads the fingers on her right hand. “You’re my fifth best friend right now.”

Damn. I’ve dropped two spots in the past month. I need to up my friendship game with the little lady in my life.

“I’ll take it,” I say what I always do when I rank behind her school buddies.


With the smile still on her face, she says the words that make everything right in my world, “I love you, Daddy. With every part of my heart.”

I pinch her chin. “I love you with every part of my heart, too.” “I’m a lucky ducky.” She laughs. “You are, too.”

She’s got that right.





















“IF I COULD REARRANGE the letters in the alphabet, you would always be by my side.” Telford sighs. “Wait. No.”

I glance to where he’s on bended knee, less than two feet from where I’m standing. “I think you meant to say you’d put you and I next to each other forever.”

I punctuate that by miming writing the letter U followed by a capital I in the air.

“That’s it!” Glee lights up his expression. “That’s the winner, Carrie. It is, right?”

“Wrong,” I burst his happiness bubble with one word. “It’s not you, Tel.”

“It’s I,” he jokes. “See what I did there? You and I?”

I look past him to the kitchen in my apartment. “Are we cooking tonight, or should I order in?”

His gaze tracks the same path as mine. “You have that fancy stove, and I know you bought groceries yesterday, so cooking wins.”

“All I bought was milk, cereal, and some fruit,” I point out. “I thought Abby and I would get together after work today, so I didn’t plan a dinner menu.”


His hands jump out to his sides. “So I’m second choice? Again, Carrie?”

I laugh. “As if you’re surprised. She has dinner plans with Declan tonight, and she mentioned after that, they’re going to see our folks to share some big news. She asked if I wanted to tagalong for the big news portion of the evening, but I passed because I want all of the focus to be on them. We rain checked until tomorrow, so in the end it all worked out.”

He ignores me in favor of the screen of his phone, which he’s staring intently at. “Mr. Black wants to see us tomorrow morning.”

“What?” I yank my phone out of the back pocket of my jeans.

As soon as I walked into my apartment two hours ago, I was in the shower. Then I tugged on a pair of jeans and an old sweatshirt. Comfort is the key to a great evening in my books.

I open my email app and immediately spot the message I’m looking for. Nolan Black, CEO of Matiz Cosmetics, has emailed both of us.

The subject line is simple and to the point: Meeting at 9 a.m. tomorrow.

The rest of the message doesn’t give anything away. It reiterates the time and adds the place. Mr. Black’s office, which is in the same building we work in.

“It’s good news,” I say to rally myself and Tel.

“It has to be.” He nods without a hint of reassurance in his tone. “Our samples were scentsational.”

I laugh at that because I always do.

Telford first used the term ‘scentsational’ the day we met, which happened to be the same day we started working together. That was almost two years ago.

“They were really good, Tel.” I smile. “I think he’ll tell us that we’ve created the new signature scent for next spring’s line.”

“You think?” He pushes his phone back into the pocket of his blue pants. “Are you sure enough that you’re willing to celebrate that tonight?”

I’m not, but I know Telford needs me to be the positive voice in the room, so I nod again. “I’m sure. I’ll order pizza and a bottle of champagne to toast to it.”

He rubs his chin. “Just get the pizza, Carrie. We’ll indulge in champagne at your sister’s wedding. That’s only four days away now.”

I knew inviting Tel to be my plus one was the right move. He’ll keep me company while Abby’s wish of marrying the man of her dreams comes true.


“We’ll save the alcohol for after the I do’s,” I agree with a sigh. “I’m ordering one of those dessert pizzas, though. The one with the hazelnut spread, caramel sauce, and candied coconut.”

“You might as well pour a cup of sugar down your throat,” Telford remarks. “You’ll get the same result.”

“I wouldn’t enjoy that nearly as much.” I wink at him. “While we wait for the pizza, you can think about what you’ll wear to our meeting with Mr. Black tomorrow.”

Telford looks at me, his expression wrinkled in confusion. “I’ll wear this.”

I glance at his attire. It’s always the same except for the color of his pants. Telford’s small closet in his cramped one bedroom apartment is neatly arranged with a row of pressed white button-down shirts and five pairs of the same pants in varying shades of brown and blue.

“Looks good.” I smile. “I’ll wear a dress.”

“Not the maid of honor one.” He chuckles awkwardly. “There’s a lot of something going on with that, Carrie.”

I try to hold a laugh in as his hand circles his chest.

“What are you trying to say?” I ask, even though I know exactly what he’s referring to.

The day after I found that perfect maid of honor dress, I showed Tel a picture that Abby snapped of me when I tried it on. He choked on the coffee he had just sipped.

“A cardigan would be the perfect accessory for that dress.”

I glance up from my phone and narrow my eyes. “No cardigan for me. That dress and my highest heels are all I’ll have on when my sister gets married.”

I don’t mention the new white lace bra and panty set I bought for the wedding because I don’t want him to faint.

Telford shakes his head. “Mark my words. You’ll regret not wearing the cardigan. The ceremony is in the evening. It’s on a terrace, Carrie. It gets nippy out then.”

“Nippley?” I tease. “Did you say nippley, Telford?” His face blushes pink. “No! Carrie! I would never.”

There is little in life more enjoyable than pulling Tel’s leg. “I’ll order the pizza while you try to stop blushing.”

“I’m not blushing,” he argues. “It’s hot in here.”


“Sure.” I drop my gaze back to the phone to complete our dinner order. “I won’t be wearing that dress to our meeting. I’ll wear something befitting of a world-class fragrance chemist because that’s what I am.”

“That’s what I am, too,” Telford chimes in. “Order a large of the dessert pizza. We’ll take a walk after dinner to burn off the extra carbs.”

“Speak for yourself.” I smile. “I have a date with my couch after dinner.”





















“MOMMY TOLD me if Daddy asked her to marry him, she would say no.” “Yeah, right,” I whisper in a tone that I know my daughter can’t hear.

It’s not that Kirby is paying any attention to me at the moment. She’s immersed in a conversation with the woman who will soon be the wife of one of my closest friends.

Abigail Duvall also happens to work for me.

It should be a complicated dynamic, but it’s never been.

“What was that, Rook?” Declan cups a hand around his ear. “Did you say something?”

I shoot him my best ‘shut-the-hell-up-look’ along with a perked eyebrow. “I was commenting on your stellar choice of restaurant.”

Declan gazes around Crispy Biscuit, a diner with a menu that includes every home-cooked favorite a man could crave. It also satisfies the hunger pangs of a five-year-old.

I glance at the remnants of a plate of chicken nuggets and fries in front of Kirby. She finished all but two bites of the food.

A streak of ketchup on her cheek is evidence that she enjoyed her meal. Gingerly, Abby reaches for a napkin to rub the red stain away.

Kirby’s face lights up. “Thank you. I’m sometimes a messy eater, but at least I didn’t spill on my dress.”


The dress is pink, frilly, and courtesy of Kirby’s mom.

Despite my constant protests, Chesca is always adding a new piece to our daughter’s already bulging wardrobe. The closet in her bedroom at Chesca’s penthouse is full. I can say the same for the walk-in closet in her room at my apartment.

The last thing my child needs is another dress or an extra pair of patent leather shoes.

“I can’t come to your wedding,” Kirby announces for the third time since we met up with Declan and Abby. “I have to go visit my Grams. It’s her birthday, but she says no one needs the reminder at that age.”

Abby stifles a laugh. “Your Grams sounds fun.”

“She’s okay.” Kirby shrugs. “Your wedding would be way more fun.”

“The cake part is the fun part,” Declan interjects. “That’s the part you don’t want to miss, right?”

Kirby’s cheeks blush pink. “I do like cake, and Daddy says I can’t have it every day.”

“You can have it today.” Declan moves to stand. “I had Jo bake us a special cake for tonight. It’s chocolate with that buttercream frosting you like, Kirby. She promised to decorate it with a few pink flowers.”

I can’t say I’m surprised that the owner of this diner went above and beyond. Jo is known for doing what she can to put a smile on the faces of her regulars.

“So it looks like a wedding cake?” Kirby bounces to her feet. “Can we have it now?”

Since we all agreed to dress to the nines for this casual dinner, I should have known that Declan would have a surprise up his sleeve for my little girl.

I mouth the words ‘thank you’ to him.

He acknowledges my gratitude with a nod while offering his hand to Kirby. “Let’s go get that cake.”

She’s all in, bouncing along as they walk toward the display case that holds all the desserts.

I catch Abby dropping her gaze to her watch before she shakes her head.

“Is there somewhere you need to be?” I laugh. “Kirby’s bedtime is a little over an hour from now, so you can have your fiancé all to yourself soon enough.”


When our eyes meet, she’s smiling. “We’re going to Queens after dinner to see my folks. I’m both excited and nervous.”

“I get the excitement.” I lean back in my chair. “Why are you nervous?”

Her   gaze   darts   to   where   Declan   and   Kirby   are               engrossed     in   a conversation with Jo. “I should let Declan tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

Her lips part, but she shuts them just as quickly.

I huff out a laugh. “I guess I have to wait for Declan to drop the news.” She nods without a word.

“How are your folks?” I ask, pushing the conversation forward even though I’m curious about what the big secret is.

“Great.” She smiles. “They’ll be even better after we see them. I tried to get Carrie to tagalong but she’s having dinner with a friend.”

Hearing the name of her stepsister piques my interest.

Carrie is a beautiful woman with a brilliant mind. We met briefly months ago when she stopped by to see Abby at work.

Just as I’m about to ask how Carrie is, I spot Declan approaching us with a multi-layered cake in his hands.

My daughter is beside him, her gaze on the cake.

“I’m pretty lucky,” Abby whispers as she catches sight of her fiancé. “You’re a lucky ducky,” I say when I know Kirby is within earshot. My daughter’s high-pitched giggle tells me she heard what I said.

“I’m the lucky ducky, Daddy,” she says, wrapping her arms around my neck. “I get to have wedding cake for dessert. Maybe one day you’ll get married, and I can have it for dessert then, too.”

I ignore the comment because I have everything I want in life right next to me. I get to be her dad forever. I’m the luckiest duck at this table.





















TELFORD SHOOTS me a look from where he’s sitting.

We should be side by side, but he sat near the exit when Mr. Black’s assistant, Eda, told us to settle in for a few minutes in the waiting area outside his office.

She clears her throat. “You two look worried.”

Skimming a hand over the skirt of my navy blue dress, I manage a small smile. “I’m not.”

Telford mumbles something that I can’t quite make out. I can tell Eda can’t either because she shrugs before she turns her attention back to me.

“How’s your sister, Carrie?” she asks with a grin. “The last time we talked, you mentioned something about her getting married.”

I nod. “The countdown to that is on. It’s only three days until the big day.”

“Three days?” Panic edges her tone. “Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be running around town taking care of last minute details?”

I let out a soft laugh. “Abby claims she has it all under control. Besides, I’m leaving at noon on Friday to handle whatever needs handling. Mr. Black approved that a few weeks ago.”

“I approved it,” she confesses. “I’m an expert at scribbling out his initials.”


My eyes widen. “You approved it?”

“Don’t worry,” she reassures me as she pokes the end of a pencil in the air in the direction of Mr. Black’s closed office door. “I ran it by him, although I didn’t realize you needed the extra time for wedding prep. I would have approved a week for that.”

I laugh. “A half day is more than enough time.”

She nods. “For future reference, Mr. Black will always approve extra days off if it’s related to love. That’s a boss hack to keep in your back pocket. Don’t spread it around, though.”

I file that in my mind under important information because if I ever need an extra day off to devote to self-care, I’ll tie something love related into it to guarantee I score the time away from the lab.

“Do you know why he wants to see us?” Telford pipes up. “My palms are sweating up a storm here.”

I can attest to that since I see two hand-shaped stain marks on the thighs of his light blue pants.

“I do.” Eda’s smile beams. “Let’s just say you’ll be two happy chemists when the meeting ends.”

I lock eyes with Telford as a grin creeps over his lips. “Seriously?”

Before Eda can say another word, the door to Mr. Black’s office swings open, and his wife, Ellie, walks out with her blouse slightly crooked and not completely tucked into her black pants.

Mr. Black appears behind her, his hand raking through his brown hair. “Sorry for the delay. How are you, Carrie? Telford?”

His gaze volleys back and forth between us.

“You’ve got a little lipstick there, boss.” Eda drags a finger over the corner of her lip. “Left side.”

Ellie turns around and wipes it away with the pad of her thumb before her husband can react. “I need to get back to work. I’ll leave you to spread the good news.”

“I’ll see you at home later.” My boss’s gaze never leaves his wife’s face. “I’m counting the hours.”

I can’t help but stare because the definition of relationship goals is playing out in front of me.

“Congratulations, Carrie!” Ellie says as she turns to face me before she glances at Telford. “You too, Tel.”


As she walks away with her husband’s gaze pinned to her ass, Telford jumps up from his chair. “It’s good news. I knew it.”

“It’s great news,” Mr. Black assures us both as he straightens the lapels of his suit jacket. “I could use a coffee. Why don’t we take this to the café on the corner? Are you two on board for that?”

I’ll follow him anywhere if it means I get to hear good news about my career. “I’m in.”

Telford echoes my sentiments as he starts toward the exit. “I’m in, too.”





“LESS THAN THREE days from now, I’ll be a married woman,” my sister says while cuddling Cindy, her kitten. “And six months from now, holy moly, Carrie, I’ll be living the dream.”

“You’re living it now,” I point out, circling my hand in the air above my head. “Your apartment is all that.”

Abby spins around. “It is beautiful. Declan has excellent taste in real estate.”

I’ll say. My sister and her almost-husband live in a doorman building on Central Park West. It’s filled with all kinds of charm and design details that were crafted over a century ago.

“We’re supposed to be celebrating you tonight,” she reminds herself as she sets Cindy down on the couch next to me. “You created the new signature scent for Matiz Cosmetics. That’s a huge deal.”

She’s right. It is, and when Mr. Black told Telford and me the good news this morning, we contained our excitement until we strolled out of the café.

That’s when we clung to each other and jumped up and down on the busy Manhattan sidewalk.

The people rushing past us didn’t say a word. They didn’t need to. The moment belonged to Telford and me. Our names won’t be on any of the packaging or marketing materials for the new offering that will be part of the women’s fragrance collection, but we know what we accomplished. It’s a career milestone.

Matiz has a team of fragrance chemists, and although it’s never talked about, we’re all striving for the ultimate prize of developing a new women’s


fragrance. Matiz only unveils a new one every two to three years, so it’s a huge deal.

“Wait until you tell my dad and your mom,” Abby says. “They’ll be so proud of you.”

I skip past that and land on the question I’ve been dying to ask all night. “What did they say when you told them about the baby?”

Her eyelids flutter shut as she works on a hard swallow.

I know my stepsister. She’s trying to keep her emotions at bay.

“They were over-the-moon happy,” I whisper while petting the kitten’s head. “Weren’t they?”

She nods. “So happy, Carrie.”

I’ve watched a true-life love story play out in front of my eyes these past few months. Since Abby met Declan, she’s fallen head over heels and is now on the brink of having the family she’s always wanted. She’s never admitted it to me, but I suspect it was a goal of hers for years.

Since I reached a career goal today, I’m going to set time aside to focus on one of my personal goals. That’s why I downloaded a new hookup app earlier.

I’ll set up a profile on it after my sister’s wedding. I may not find love on it, but I’m hoping some no-strings-attached fun will find me so I can celebrate my next birthday with a literal bang.

A sound at the apartment door lures her gaze over her shoulder. “That’s Declan and Rook.”

Um, what?

Just what?

I look down at my ripped, faded jeans and my oversized green sweatshirt. I put on this unfashionable ensemble after I got home from work. Adding to the look, my face is bare of makeup since I had a little happy cry as I stood in the shower washing the day away.

It’s not every day you get the best career news ever. “Rook is here?” I try to level my tone.

“In the flesh,” Abby says as if that doesn’t conjure up an image in my mind of her boss stark naked.

It’s not the first time I’ve imagined that or the hundredth time for that matter.

Rook Thorsen is always front and center in my fantasies.


I run a hand through my hair just as the apartment door swings open, and Declan appears with the man who stars in my dirty dreams on his heel.

Wowza. Rook in a suit in real life is almost as hot as naked Rook in my mind’s eye. The three-piece gray suit he’s wearing is doing him all kinds of favors.

“We haven’t told him about the baby yet,” Abby whispers. “Don’t let the cat out of the bag.”

I briefly glance in her direction. “I won’t.”

Rook’s pace slows as soon as he spots me, and a grin overtakes his gorgeous lips.

His gorgeous, very kissable lips.

“Abby,” he greets my sister first. “It’s good to see you.”

“I saw you two hours ago before I left the office.” She giggles. “And we had dinner together last night.”

He ignores all of that and hones in on me. “Carrie, this is a treat.” He has no idea what a treat it is for me.

“I didn’t expect to see you tonight,” he says. “How are you?”

“I’m good.” I keep my tone even because I’m an adult, and he’s just a man. A really good-looking man who looks spectacular naked in my imagination.

He’s also in a relationship with his daughter’s mom, so I need to keep my libido in check.

“Carrie and I were just about to run through the list of things that have to be done before Saturday,” Abby announces. “There is still so much to do.”

I offer my sister my hand to reassure her. “We’ve got this, Abs.”

She squeezes my hand as she takes it. “You’ll hang around and help?” “All night if you need me to,” I offer.

“We should pop open a bottle of sparkling water first and toast to your success, Carrie.” Declan claps his hands together. “Abby told me about your new signature scent being the star of the show in Matiz’s spring line- up.”

“Really?” Rook takes a step closer to me. “That sounds like a milestone worthy of a celebration.”

“I’m going to treat myself to a spa day to celebrate,” I blurt out.

“Good for you.” Abby pats my shoulder. “I’ll grab the sparkling water and some glasses for our toast.”


Before I can say anything, she’s headed to the kitchen with Declan trailing behind her.

“You’re very talented.” Rook’s deep voice catches me off guard.

I turn to see him staring at me. “I love what I do. It’s more passion than talent.”

He steps even closer, his gaze trailing over my face. “Passion is important.”

I stare at his lips, nodding like a fool in agreement.

“In every way,” he says, his voice dropping to a lower tone.

My lips part while I search for a flirty retort that doesn’t cross any lines because Chesca is waiting for him at home.

He may be mine in my mind when I’m in bed late at night, but he’s not mine in any way that matters.

“We have the water,” Abby announces as she reenters the room.

“And the glasses,” Declan says from behind her. “Who’s ready to toast?”

Rook keeps his gaze trained on my face when his phone starts ringing.

It doesn’t make it past the third ring before he’s got it in his hand. “I have to take this,” he says. “I apologize.”

He takes two steps away before the phone is next to his ear. “Chesca?”

Reality slaps me across the face as I turn and approach where my sister and Declan are filling champagne glasses with sparkling water.

“I have to run,” Rook says from behind me. “I’m sorry, everyone.”

Abby waves her hand in the air with a smile. “Not a problem, boss. We all understand.”

We do.

There are a lot of single men in Manhattan and it stands to reason that some of them are on that hookup app. I’ll find one of them to fantasize about, so there’s at least a chance those fantasies become reality.





















“DAMMIT,” I whisper as I step off the elevator and into the lobby of the building that Abby and Declan live in.

I was just about to toast Carrie’s success when Chesca interrupted.

I never ignore a call from my ex. I can’t. That’s especially true when Kirby is with her.

I ring her back because the call cut off when I boarded the elevator to make my way down. When Declan asked my opinion on his plan to purchase an apartment in this building, I told him I viewed it as a sound investment.

That still holds true.

You can’t go wrong if your address borders Central Park, but the cell service in the elevator is shit. That’s par for the course in a building built over a century ago.

“Rook,” Chesca answers in a breathy tone on the third ring.

It’s her commercial voice, as I’ve always called it. Since hitting it big as a supermodel, she’s landed a few commercials that have aired all over this continent and Europe, too. She’s become one of the most recognizable models for Liore Lingerie, and since they launched video ads on social media, Chesca’s notoriety has hit new heights.

“Is she all right?” I don’t mince words because there’s no need for that.


Chesca called me a few minutes ago because our daughter is in distress. All she said before the call cut out is that Kirby is upset and needs me. I didn’t need to hear more than that in order to cut my evening short.

Kirby comes first in my life.

“No,” Chesca answers succinctly. “Her little heart is broken.”

It’s not the first time my ex has said those words to me. Kirby is a sensitive child. Her heart breaks if she spots a dead butterfly on the sidewalk or misplaces a sock.

I happen to adore the fact that her heart is as open as it is. She cares deeply for everyone and everything around her. Apparently, tonight, something struck a chord inside her and sent her into her bedroom at Chesca’s with tears running down her cheeks.

“What’s wrong?” I ask the obvious question.

“Maura is under the weather,” she says with an exasperated sigh. “She’s not up to taking the Boston trip with us.”

Maura is Kirby’s nanny. She’s been with us from day one. Kirby loves her endlessly, and I’m fond of her, too. In many ways, she reminds me of my mom.

“Under the weather?” I repeat back the generic phrase that can mean anything from a mild head cold to a full-on bacterial infection that requires hospitalization.

Unfortunately, Maura has succumbed to both during her time with us.

“It’s the flu,” Chesca fills me in. “I told her to go see her doctor tomorrow. Maybe they can give her a shot of something to perk her up. I need her to be on that plane to Boston with us.”

I shake my head even though Chesca can’t see me. “She needs rest.

Take the Boston trip without her. Your folks will help with Kirby.” “Sure, but…” Her voice trails.

“But what?”

“But Kirby wants you tonight,” Chesca admits in barely more than a whisper. “Can you swing by and pick her up? You know how much she loves her dad hugs.”

I love them more.

“I’ll be there in twenty,” I predict, knowing I’ll likely be at the door to her apartment less than fifteen minutes from now.

“Thanks, Rook.”


I end the call without an acknowledgment just as I punch a finger into my phone’s screen to order a rideshare. I’d hop on the subway and head over there, but I don’t have the time. I want my daughter to get a dad hug as soon as possible.

As I step out of the building, I send a quick text message to my assistant, Svea, telling her to send Maura flowers and a care package in the morning.

A happy and healthy nanny makes for a content five-year-old. Maura only has six months left on her current contract, and I’ve had a sinking feeling for weeks that she has no interest in extending it.

Finding someone to replace her is an impossible task.

A chorus of giggles behind me sends my gaze over my shoulder.

I spot Abby and Carrie on the approach. Abby’s hand is wrapped around Carrie’s forearm as they talk.

Abby is the first to notice me, and when she does, she grins. “Hey!

You’re still here?”

My gaze leaves her face immediately to focus on her sister.

Carrie smiles, and it chases away the cloud of gloom that settled over me ten minutes ago when my phone rang. “Hi, Rook.”

It’s the first time I’ve heard her say my name, and I fucking love it.

It’s a simple name, a gift from a relative born more than a century before I was. My dad saw the value in giving both his sons names that held meaning to him.

“Carrie.” I add a smile to her name. “I’m sorry again for rushing out.”

“It’s never a problem,” Abby takes the lead and accepts my apology with grace. “We have a lot of last minute wedding planning to take care of tonight.”

“Right,” I acknowledge her response with that one word and a glance in her direction.

Carrie’s face is like a magnet, though. I can’t keep my eyes off of it.

With her slightly upturned nose, her full lips, and her green eyes, she’s stunning.

“We’re getting dessert before we dive into wedding planning,” Carrie says. “There’s a cupcake shop on Amsterdam Avenue. It’s a quick walk.”

“Do you want to come with us?” Abby asks the question I sensed was coming. “If you can’t, we completely understand.”


A skilled attorney knows exactly how to read between the lines. Abby wants me to sit this one out. Since I can’t hang around, she’ll get her wish.

I glance at the screen of my phone as I see a black SUV on a slow approach in our direction. “I’m needed somewhere, so I have to pass.”

Abby’s smile widens. “Not a problem.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Abby,” I address her first before I shoot my gaze back to Carrie. “And I’ll see you at the wedding.”

“I’ll be there.” She nods once. “It was nice seeing you again, Rook.” “You, too,” I say, even though it’s a fucking understatement.

I’m not a man who looks to the future for satisfaction, but I’m counting the hours until I see her again.





















THERE’S A SAYING ABOUT NEVER SCORING if you don’t take a shot.

Truer words have never been spoken.

I’m staring at my missed shot and some guy in a brown suit down on one knee in front of her.

I should have asked Abby if her stepsister was involved with anyone. I’ve been thinking about Carrie non-stop since I saw her the other night, weighing the pros and cons of pursuing the relative of one of my employees.

Hell, Abby is more than an employee. She’s practically my sister-in- law, so there’s a hell of a good chance that if I had gotten involved with Carrie that when it ended, I’d have a pissed off friend in Declan and an even angrier friend and employee in Abby.

“Telford’s at it again, I see.” Declan pats my shoulder as he appears next to where I’m standing.

I’ve been on the terrace of Howerton House since the ceremony ended twenty minutes ago. This wedding venue in New York City comes with all the bells and whistles to guarantee a memorable start to any happy ever after. The bonus is the stellar views of Manhattan.


After Declan and Abby exchanged vows, I needed to decompress. I did that by sipping on a glass of good scotch and listening to the sounds of the city.

It was all an effort to keep my gaze off Carrie Gilbert in that fucking green dress she’s wearing.

The shade is a touch darker than her eyes.

She’s a beauty in every possible way, and now, apparently, she’s about to be engaged to a guy named Telford.

“That’s Telford?” I jerk my hand, which is holding the glass in the air, toward where the proposal is taking place.

No one else at this wedding seems to notice the guy on his knee pledging his undying love to the most stunning woman on this terrace.

I have no idea how they all are keeping their eyes off of Carrie. Abby was a vision, but I can’t recall any details about her wedding gown. I do know that Carrie’s tits are what this man’s dreams are made of.

“Telford Harpin,” Declan fills in the blank for me.

“Her boyfriend?” I question, trying to keep an even tone to my voice.

Just as Declan glances at me and opens his mouth, Carrie shakes her head from side to side and laughs, sending Telford Harpin up to both feet. He scrubs a hand over his smooth jaw.

“She said no,” I whisper. “She turned him down.”

“Of course she did.” Declan laughs. “He’s in love with his boyfriend.” I perk a brow. “So what the hell was he doing just now?”

“He’s been running proposal ideas by Carrie. He’s her best friend. Abby would argue she is, but I think Telford has the position on a lock.”

Relief floods me, although it does nothing to erase all the possible complications that could arise if I hook up with the beauty in the green dress.

“Her best friend,” I repeat with a chuckle.

Declan’s gaze volleys between Carrie and me. “You care about this.


“Who doesn’t get invested when a guy drops to a knee in front of a woman?” I play it off like it’s no big deal. “I expected her to say yes and for even more champagne to flow.”

“There will be more.” He pats my shoulder again as one of our mutual friends approaches us.


Holden Sheppard looks every inch the successful candy company magnate as he skims a hand over the sleeve of his dark gray suit jacket.

I’d call the outfit a win for the occasion, but goddammit, the two of us are dressed like fucking twins tonight, right down to the black shoes on our feet and our striped silk ties.

“Looking good, Rook.” Holden huffs out a laugh. “Next time, tell your stylist to check with me before you get dressed.”

“Kirby doesn’t have a phone,” I remind him. “She picked this suit out before she left this morning.”

“Our girl has great taste,” Holden says before turning his attention to Declan. “Congrats again, Wells. Unlike me, you made the right decision getting married.”

Holden’s divorce hasn’t left him bitter, but it was painful for him. The three of us bonded more because of it.

“I did make the right decision,” Declan agrees. “Abigail is it for me.” I can’t argue with him, so I nod. “You’re a good pair.”

“Soon to be a trio,” he drops that out of nowhere. Holden’s head snaps in his direction. ”What?”

Declan drops his voice to a lower tone. “We’re announcing it later tonight, but I wanted you two to know first. Abby is pregnant. I’m going to be a dad in six months.”

Joy is a feeling I’ve only experienced a handful of times in my life, but it’s there now, causing a rush of emotions inside of me.

“Welcome me to the dad club, Rook.” He turns to me. “You’ll show me how it’s done, right?”

Declan’s brother and best man today, Sean, is already a dad, so he can lead him down that path, but I’m honored that he’s looking to me for advice.

“Absolutely,” I answer without hesitation. “I’m there for whatever you need.”

“Me too.” Holden pats Declan’s chest. “I may not be a dad, but I’m a damn good uncle.”

We go in for a quick embrace, each wrapping their arms around the shoulders of the guy next to him until we form a circle.

“Who knew we’d end up like this?” Declan laughs. “Back in our Buchanan School days, I thought we’d all be in prison by now.”

Holden and I laugh.


“We’re Buck Boys,” Holden reminds us of the term that we all hated when we attended the boarding school during our teens. “We had no real choice but to succeed, given the fortune our parents spent to send us to that school.”

“If it’s a boy, is he destined to attend Buchanan?” I ask Declan.

“Hell, yes.” He smiles. “I had some of the best times of my life there with you two assholes. Hopefully, if I have a son, he’ll wreak havoc there with a couple of jerks just like you that he can call friends for life.”





















“STARING IS RUDE, CARRIE.” Telford sighs. “Stop it.”

I turn to look right at him. “You think I’m staring? At what?”

“More like who.” He tilts his chin up. “Before you lie and say you weren’t, I get it. He’s handsome.”

That’s a super tame way of describing Rook Thorsen, but I can’t argue with Telford, so I don’t.

I reach for the glass of champagne sitting on the table in front of me. “He’s also in a relationship.”

“It’s all for the best,” he quips.

“It’s all for the best?” I repeat with confusion etched in my tone before I empty the contents of my glass in one gulp. “Explain.”

“Guys like that are hit and miss.”

“Hit and miss?” I continue with my questioning since Tel isn’t providing direct answers to my indirect questions.

“They hit you up for you know what, then misplace your number.” I roll my eyes. “You made all that up just now, didn’t you?”

He smiles proudly. “On the spot.”

“Don’t quit your day job.” I shake my head. “No offense, Tel, but you’re not the best dating coach in the world.”


“Dating?” He laughs. “You think a guy like that is interested in dating? I know guys like that, Carrie, and they want one thing and one thing only.”

His gaze drops to the front of my dress. “For the record, I’m looking at what they want.”

I slap his shoulder. “Gross, Telford.”

He reaches for his still-full glass of champagne but stops before his fingers curl around it. “Do you think Cameron will marry me?”

The sudden shift from talking vaguely about my sex life to his direct question about his potential life partner sends my hand toward his glass. I take a big swallow of his champagne while he watches.

“You’re not making me feel great, Carrie.” There’s a noticeable tremor in his voice. “Don’t you think he loves me?”

I’ve known Cameron Gleason for as long as I’ve known Telford. Until two months ago, Cam worked in the perfume lab next to us. He snagged the lead position in the lipstick lab, so he works a hop, skip, and a jump from us down the corridor in a bigger, brighter lab.

He still wanders to our lab whenever he gets a chance to steal a kiss from Telford or reassure us that we’re doing a great job.

“Cam is wild about you.” I pat Telford’s hand. “I’m talking head over heels wild over you. He’s going to say yes, Tel.”

He shakes his head in disbelief. “I’m not sure. I’m scared he’ll shut me down if I don’t propose the right way.”

“He won’t,” I reassure him. “I told you to speak from the heart.”

“I know you did,” he says, his exasperation evident in his tone and expression. “I don’t know how to do that, Carrie.”

“I couldn’t help but overhear.”

The sound of that deep voice sends my pulse racing at warp speed. I know who is standing behind me before I even glance over my shoulder.

If I weren’t sitting next to this table, my knees would be giving out.

Wait. Did Rook just say he overheard us?

Please don’t let it be the part where Telford was clumsily talking about sex.

Telford’s gaze drifts over my shoulder. “I’m Telford Harpin, and you are?”

Mortified, but I know that question wasn’t directed at me.

Rook’s hand appears next to me en route toward Tel. “Rook Thorsen.

Close friend of the groom. Friend and boss of the bride.”


Tel’s eyes widen as he reaches for Rook’s hand. “You have big hands.”

Way to play it cool, Telford.

The men shake, and I keep my gaze pinned on my friend because I still don’t know what exactly Rook overhead.

Tel jumps in to ask for clarification. “What did you overhear?”

“Your struggle to find exactly the right words for a marriage proposal,” Rook says. “I think I can help.”

“You?” Telford does nothing to mask the surprise in his tone. “Wait a darn minute. I know you.”

Before I can wrap my head around that statement, Telford is on his feet, rounding me to get to where Rook is.

I follow his lead, but as soon as I’m standing upright, the three glasses of champagne I’ve had tonight hit me. I have to reach for the back of my chair to steady myself.

“Whoa.” Rook steps forward to wrap an arm around my waist to hold me up.

I’m suddenly hit with not only an uncontrollable urge to grab his shoulders but also with the scent of his cologne.

My cologne.

Technically, the cologne belongs to Matiz Cosmetics, but I developed it. “It’s mine,” I whisper.

Rook’s eyes lock on mine. They’re a shade of blue that should be outlawed because they are that stunning. “All yours.”

“What’s hers?” Telford jerks a thumb in my direction.

I wait for Rook to answer, but his perfect, kissable lips don’t move, so I take on the task. “He’s wearing my cologne.”

Rook’s eyes widen, but still no words.

“Our cologne,” Telford corrects me as he leans closer to Rook to get a whiff of his neck. “I worked on it too.”

Barely. He was busy crafting a special limited edition scent for a holiday promotion at the time. It was meant to appeal to teenagers, but when it launched, women ate it up like candy.

To date, it’s still one of Matiz’s best-selling seasonal offerings.

The cologne Rook is wearing has made a bundle for the company, too.

“It’s my favorite,” Rook says in his toe-curling deep voice. “I use it daily.”

I smile. “Really?”


“Really,” he whispers.

“You’re Chesca Mills’ boyfriend, right?” Telford bursts the moment with that question. “I’ve seen you on her socials.”


I shoot Telford a look because since when does he pay attention to social media, and why is he following Chesca?

All I get back in response is a shrug of his shoulders before his gaze is stuck on Rook’s face again.

“No,” Rook answers decisively. “I’m not her boyfriend.”

I take an audible breath because it feels like my heart is ricocheting inside my chest, bouncing around with glee.

“You’re not?” Telford asks, skepticism dripping from his tone. “I’ve seen you in dozens of pictures with her all over the world. I’m talking Paris, Rome, and Los Angeles. All of that was in the past six months.”

He’s right. I’ve seen all of those images in posts on Rook’s social media, too.

“You saw me in dozens of pictures with my daughter and her mother,” Rook clarifies. “We’re co-parents. That’s it.”

Suddenly realizing that I’m still wrapped in Rook’s arms, I feel lightheaded, and this time, it has nothing to do with the champagne. “I should sit back down.”

Rook agrees with a nod before sliding his hands down my arms, leaving a trail of goosebumps. He gently takes my hands in his to help lower me to my chair.

“You said you could help with a proposal.” Telford takes it upon himself to steal Rook’s attention from me again.

Rook looks at him. “Hit me with your best shot, and I’ll help you tweak


Telford glances at me. “That’s more than some people have offered.

Carrie critiques and then tells me to speak from the heart.”

Rook pats the left side of his chest with his hand. “That’s good advice, but I take it you want…”

“A winning proposal script,” Telford interrupts. “I want Cameron to remember it forever after he accepts.”

“Show me what you’ve got.” Rook tucks his hands in the front pockets of his pants.


My best friend wastes no time dropping to one knee right in front of the man of my wildest dreams.





















“I KNOW YOU LOVE PIZZA, so let me be your slice for life.”


That. Is. Not. It.

“Cam hates pizza,” Carrie points out to her best friend after he dropped that line while staring into my eyes.

“He loves pizza,” Telford argues with her. “Whenever I order it…”

“He needs to take a work call,” she says before he can get another word out. “Think about it, Tel. Have you ever seen Cam take a bite of pizza?”

I swear to fuck, I’m witnessing Telford’s heart breaking right before my eyes.

Everyone needs a friend like Carrie to set them straight, but something tells me that right now, the guy on one knee in front of me needs a helping hand, so I offer mine.

He grabs hold of it and drags himself back to his feet. “It was bad, wasn’t it?” he asks me. “Was it bad?”

“It wasn’t good,” I counter, because I’m a lawyer and I’m paid to spin the shittiest current situations into brighter futures. “At least you ran it by us before you tossed it at Cam.”

Telford presses a finger to the center of his eyeglasses to push them up his nose at the exact moment Carrie does the same to hers.


It’s fucking adorable.

“True.” Telford nods. “I’m never going to get this right.”

“You will.” Carrie is on her feet again, her hand landing on her friend’s. “Cam loves you, Tel. You need to tell him how much you love him. That’s the kind of proposal everyone dreams of.”

“I love you,” Telford states with no emotion. “That’s all I’ve got, Carrie.

I can’t exactly propose with I love you. Will you marry me?”

It’s obvious this guy is torn up inside over this, so I do what any good man would do. I drop to one knee and give it my all.

I know I should be looking at Telford, but as the words spill out of me, I can’t take my eyes off Carrie. “You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen. When you walk into a room, it’s brighter, lighter, and instantly filled with life. I don’t know how the hell we found each other in a city this big, but we did, so let’s run with it.”

Carrie’s mouth falls open just as I hear a high-pitched shriek behind me. “Oh my God! Are you proposing to my sister right now?”

This has been one hell of a night, and it’s not even nine p.m. yet.

“No, of course he wasn’t,” Carrie answers as I pop back up to my feet. “He was talking to Telford.”

“Telford?” Declan rounds us, so he’s facing me. “Bring me up to speed here, Rook.”

I huff out a laugh. “I’m helping Telford nail his proposal.”

“Oh.” Abby giggles as she moves to stand next to her husband. “From across the terrace, it looked like you were about to be my brother-in-law.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Abs.” Carrie’s laugh is stuttered and forced. “We barely know each other.”

That’s a fact that I intend to change starting tonight.

“We’re going to cut the cake.” Abby wraps her arm around Declan’s bicep. “Then, it’s first dance time. Carrie, you have to dance with Sean during the second dance because it’s tradition for the best man and the maid of honor.”

“Right,” Carrie answers with a brisk nod.

“After that, you’re free to dance with whoever you choose.” Abby’s gaze flicks over my face.

If that’s silent code for dance with my sister, I’ve already got that penciled in my to-do list for tonight.


“I’ll dance with her,” Telford offers in a monotone voice. “She’s not a half-bad dancer.”

Carrie swats his shoulder. “Thanks? That kind of sounded like an insult.”

“It was a compliment,” he tells her as he adjusts the collar of his shirt. “One dance, and then I need to get home. I have an epic proposal to plan.”

Everyone starts toward a circular table that is holding a wedding cake.

I hang back slightly, watching the way the skirt of Carrie’s dress sways as she walks.

“The third dance is mine,” I whisper to myself. “I can’t fucking wait.”





IT WAS a hard pass on the third dance because there’s no goddamn way I’m acting like a chicken in public.

There are too many phones pointed at the dance floor right now as the all too familiar wedding favorite blasts out of a series of speakers set up on the terrace.

I thought Declan would spring for a band, but he told me his bride wanted a DJ to play all her favorites. If this instrumental ode to poultry made it on Abby’s all-time list of great tunes to dance to, she needs to expand her playlist.

Although, Kirby is a fan of the song, too, and I admit, I’ve danced to it a time or two with my daughter, but that was in my apartment, far from anyone else.

“You’re not dancing,” a faint voice says behind me.

My job is all about detail, so I already know who is talking to me. It’s the woman that I’ve had my eyes glued to since I kind of proposed to her.

“Neither are you.” I spin around to face Carrie.

She nudges her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “I can’t flap my arms like a chicken’s wings in this dress.”

So let’s go somewhere where I can take the damn thing off of you.

I keep those words to myself because I have yet to get a signal from this gorgeous woman that she’s interested in the same things I am.

Kissing, fucking, repeating those two again and again until morning.


She glances past me as the song seamlessly leads into another with an even faster tempo. “Abby and Declan are really happy.”

“They are. Marriage agrees with both of them.”

Her chest heaves with a sigh. I have to put in some concerted effort to keep my gaze from dropping to the top of her tits. Carrie Gilbert is all lush curves and, from this vantage point, soft skin. What I wouldn’t give to get my hands on every inch of her.

“Have you ever been married?” I ask to keep the conversation from veering too quickly into what I want to do to her.

She laughs nervously. “Me? No, I haven’t even…”

Her hand darts to her mouth, hovering over her pink lips. “I mean, no.” Curiosity lures me closer to her. “You haven’t even what?”

Her head shakes from side to side. “I can’t say.”

I try to fill in the open blank she left. “You haven’t met the right man yet?”

“No,” she whispers. “I haven’t, but that’s not what I was going to say.”

She could have left it at that, but there’s more to this story, and judging by the bait she just tossed me, she wants me to take another shot, so I do. “You haven’t thought about marriage? You’re too young?”

“I’m twenty-nine,” she offers, her gaze darting past me again before settling on my face. “Abby and I are very close in age. She’s getting married, and there’s a baby coming.”

I see the moment that she realizes she spilled a secret that wasn’t hers to tell.

“Declan told me,” I say to wipe the guilt from her expression. “He told me tonight.”

“Good.” Her delicate hand jumps to my forearm. “I’m glad. I know you’re close.”

I stare at the spot where her fingers are resting on the fabric of my jacket. I shouldn’t feel anything, yet I swear to fuck, my skin is burning with need just from the weight of her hand.

I take a chance and rest a hand over hers. She doesn’t flinch. In fact, her grip on me tightens. I’m paid an exorbitant amount of money to read between the lines, and right now, my instinct is telling me that Carrie is as attracted to me as I am to her.

“Tell me what you were going to say.” It takes all of my self-control to keep my tone even. “You haven’t even… what haven’t you done?”


“I’m tossing the bouquet!” Abby yells from somewhere behind me. “Come on, Carrie. I want you to catch it.”

Carrie nods, but she doesn’t respond to her sister. Her words are directed at me. “Do you think it’s true, Rook? Is the person who catches the bouquet the next one to get married?”

I ignore the question because what the fuck do I know about bouquets, or marriage, for that matter. I stuck it out in a strained relationship for years to give my daughter the family I thought she needed. It turns out I’m giving her a better, happier version of myself now.

I lean down to whisper in Carrie’s ear, “Whatever you haven’t done yet, I want to do that with you.”

As she steps back, her emerald green eyes widen, her jaw goes slack, and her breath tumbles out of her in a series of gasps. “Sex. I haven’t… I haven’t done that. Yet. You want to do that with me?”

For the first time in my life, I’m speechless. She rushes past me without another word.

Unless I’m hearing things, she just confessed to being a virgin, and somewhere in there, I swear she asked if I want to fuck her.

Hell, yes, please.





















NATURALLY, my sister’s throwaway bouquet bounced off the top of my head and landed in Telford’s unsuspecting arms.

He wasn’t even standing in the bouquet catching zone, yet there he was, grinning like a fool in love with a beautiful bunch of flowers in his hand as I stared at him.

It was all for the best since he’s planning on proposing to Cam at some point in the near future, and I’m forging a plan to dig a hole in the ground big enough that I can tunnel out of this bathroom without anyone noticing me.

All I need is something to dig with.

I snap open the clutch purse that I brought to the wedding.

It’s holding all of the essentials, which in my world are a vial of perfume (one of my original scents, of course), a hair tie, mascara, gloss for my lips with the faintest hint of pink, and my driver’s license.

I got that when I was eighteen because Abby’s dad insisted we both learn to drive.

It’s come in handy for ID purposes, but I haven’t been behind the wheel of a car in years.

I wish I had a getaway car now and a few feet of rope so I could climb out of the window behind me and repel down the exterior of Howerton



Once I walk out of this washroom, I have to face Rook Thorsen. I just told the man that I’m a card-carrying member of the virgin club.

I’m twenty-nine years old.

I’m probably a senior member of the club. I might be the President of it and not even know it.

I glance at myself in the large mirror above a row of sinks. My makeup is still all where it should be. That’s only because I didn’t burst into tears when I scrambled in here after the bouquet bounced off my head. I can only attribute that to being in shock.

“Carrie?” I hear Abby’s voice just as the door to the washroom slides open a few inches. “Are you okay?”

I don’t have an answer to that question, so I make a noise that I’d classify as a cross between a whimper and a sigh.

That’s enough to lure my sister into the room.

The smile that had been on her face all day was chased away by surprise once she realized she hit me with the bouquet.

I muttered something about being fine as I rushed off after watching Telford jumping up and down with the flowers in his hand.

“I’m sorry,” Abby repeats the words she called after me when I took off. “I’m so sorry, Carrie.”

“No.” I shake her apology away with a wave of my hand. “I’m fine.” “How can you be fine?” She shrugs. “I hit you with the bouquet.”

I don’t need the reminder, but I fear that at least a few people caught it all on their phones. I’ll likely be a trending topic on social media by morning.

“I’m good,” I tell her. “Years from now, we’ll look back at it and laugh.”

She’ll probably always laugh harder than me, but I refuse to allow my sister’s wedding day to be ruined.

The truth is that I’m not hiding in here because of the bouquet toss debacle. I’ve sequestered myself in this luxurious bathroom because I told Rook Thorsen I’m a virgin.

No one else on the planet knows that secret. Not even my stepsister. Her arms circle me. “It’s okay to be upset with me, Carrie.”

I hug her briefly before I step back from our embrace. “I’m not upset, Abs. I promise.”


“Are you sure?” Her gaze scans my face.

“I’m sure,” I tell her. “I just need another minute or two to refresh my makeup.”

She smiles. “Telford is leaving. He asked me to tell you when he saw me heading this way. He’s been waiting outside the door since you dashed in here.”

I glance toward the door. “He’s going home?”

“To plan that perfect proposal.” She tilts her chin down. “He’s convinced that catching the bouquet was a sign, so he’s feeling inspired. I think he’s going to pop the question soon. For real this time.”

If it took the bouquet bouncing off my head to finally get Tel to take the proposal plunge, I can’t help but see my sister’s bad aim as a very good thing.

Abby tugs on the skirt of my dress. “You should come say bye to him.” “I should,” I affirm with a nod, even though the last thing I want to do is

leave the safe haven of this washroom.

“Rook just took off, too. It looks like only a few of us will be partying into the night.”

“Rook left?” Surprise laces my tone even though relief is flooding me. “His brother was arrested,” she follows that with a laugh.

“What?” I ask because I don’t see the humor in handcuffs.

“Something about a fight in a bar. Rook will handle it.” She turns to look at herself in the mirror. “I should have brought my purse in with me. My makeup could use a redo.”

“You’re beautiful,” I reassure her because it’s the truth. “Your makeup is perfect.”

Her gaze catches mine in the mirror. “Can you believe this is my life, Carrie? I had no idea what my future looked like a year ago.”

I push a lock of her hair behind her shoulder. “I believe it. This is the life you deserve, Abs. It’s the life you’re meant to be living.”

“I want you to be as happy as I am,” she whispers, her eyes still locked on mine in the mirror.

“I am happy.” I smile to accentuate the point. “I have a kick-ass career, the best sister in the world, and I’m going to be an aunt…a very cool aunt.”

A light laugh escapes her. “You do have a great life.”

“You know it,” I say with conviction, even though I confessed to being a virgin to an Adonis tonight.


She extends her left hand to me. “Come say goodbye to Tel.”

My gaze drops to it and the engagement and wedding rings circling her finger. Happiness engulfs me, and I can’t hold it in. A tear streams down my cheek, so I swipe it away quickly.

“You’re crying,” she says, taking my hand. “Happy or sad tears?” “Happy.”

“Me, too.” She sighs. “After we say goodbye to Tel, let’s take another picture. I want one of just the two of us.”

“I’d love that,” I whisper.

“I love you,” she reminds me. “I can’t wait until the day I can be your matron of honor.”

“I love you, too.” I glance at the mirror again. “Don’t hold your breath on the matron of honor thing. I’m not in a rush to get married.”

“That timetable isn’t yours to set.” “Oh, yes, it is,” I argue.

“Love is going to show up when you least expect it.” She points a finger at me. “Be ready for it.”

The only thing I’m ready for is for this night to be over and for Rook to forget every word I said to him.





















I PUSH open the door of the police precinct in midtown. “How many times do you think I can work my magic?”

I hear my brother chuckling behind me. “Your magic knows no limits.”

Once we’re on the sidewalk, I spin to face him. “Twice in the past month is a lot, Milo.”

“As if it’s my fault, Rook.” He drops his phone into the inner pocket of his suit jacket. “All I wanted was a glass of good scotch. That’s it. How the fuck is it my fault that there are so many assholes in this city?”

“It was the asshole’s fault that your fist ended up near missing his jaw?” “It wasn’t a near miss.” He holds up his right hand. “I nailed that fucker


Milo should be thanking the guy he decked since he claimed to the responding officer that my younger brother didn’t land a punch. Male pride must have been the motivating factor behind that lie.

“What did he do to you?”

Milo rakes a hand through his dark brown hair. “Not me. It’s what he did to a woman who wanted nothing to do with him.”

Leave it to my brother to step in when no one asked him to. “What exactly happened?” I press.


“Why the hell does it matter now?” he shoots back. “Thanks to you, I was released with a warning. It’s over.”

I stare at him and repeat myself, “What exactly happened?”

“He thought buying a woman a drink meant he had carte blanche to do whatever the fuck he wanted. A dirty martini doesn’t give anyone license for an ass grab.”

I should be pissed that I was dragged out of Declan’s wedding for this, but Milo was once again playing the role of hero.

“You’re thirty years old,” I remind him. “You own a business that is about to break the million dollar mark. Don’t give your investors reason to regret anything.”

“You invested in Nitespark,” he reminds me. “Do you regret it?” “Every damn day,” I lie.

The truth is that the hundred grand I dropped in his palm to help fund his latest app was one of the best investments I’ve ever made. It launched less than three months ago and already has a solid client base. Advertisers are jumping at the chance to get on board.

I can’t say I’m surprised. Milo is a tech genius. This latest app is the third in a row to hit it big for Thorsen Tech Incorporated. However, none of the previous ones had the same momentum right out of the gate as Nitespark.

“You can head back to the wedding.” He punches my bicep. “If there are any available women there, I’ll tagalong.”

I hadn’t noticed any other women at the wedding because I was laser focused on a beauty in a green dress.

I can’t stop thinking about Carrie’s confession.

“Where the fuck did your mind jump to just now?” Milo asks. “Did you meet someone tonight?”

“No,” I answer honestly since I met Carrie a few months ago.

“Let’s head over to Howerton House.” He skims a hand over the front of his blue button-down shirt. “I look wedding ready, don’t I?”

I rake him over.

We’re the same height and likely close in weight. We sport the same color eyes, and although Milo’s hair is a different color than mine, we resemble one another. Our look is less similar since I decided to grow a beard.


Typically, I’ll shave the stubble after a couple of days, but my beard is filling in at this point, and I don’t mind the look. Kirby doesn’t either. She commented on Declan’s beard when he started growing one, so I hopped on board that train to put a smile on her face, and, for now, I don’t miss my razor.

I drop my gaze to my watch. “It’ll be winding down by now. I’ll buy you a drink at a bar around the corner if you promise to keep your fists to yourself.”

“Why the hell do you have to suck all the fun out of everything?” he asks with a smirk.

I laugh, jerking a thumb over my shoulder. “We just spent two hours in there sorting through your latest fuck up. We’re not coming back here for round two tonight.”

“I’ll take you up on the drink offer.” He pats my shoulder. “I can’t make any promises about what happens after that.”

“Fine.” I tap the center of his chest. “One drink, and then I’m heading home.”“Don’t sell yourself short, Rook.”

My left eyebrow perks. “What the fuck does that mean?”

“Kirby is in Boston. You’re free to do what you want tonight.” He gazes over my shoulder before he looks me dead in the face again. “It wouldn’t hurt you to have some fun in the form of female companionship.”

Laughing, I shake my head. “I’m not hooking up with anyone I meet at the bar.”

“Who said anything about meeting someone at the bar?” He chuckles. “Get on Nitespark, and I guarantee you’ll find someone interested in one thing and one thing only.”

“Shut up,” I say through a lingering laugh. “If I want that, I don’t need your goddamn app to make it happen.”

“So, you did meet someone at the wedding?”

“No,” I repeat my initial answer to that question. “My offer to buy you a beer expires in fifteen minutes, so move your ass.”

“You’re buying me a glass of top-shelf scotch.” He steps to the right, allowing a couple holding hands to pass him. “We both know there’s no time limit on the offer. You’ve got all night.”

He’s right. I do.

There’s no way I’m falling asleep any time soon. I can’t shake Carrie’s words from my mind. Hell, I don’t want to.


What I do want is a chance to show her how much I want her. I’ll get it.

I have no doubt about that.





















“YOU DIDN’T RESPOND to any of the text messages I sent you yesterday.” Telford picks a poppy seed off the bagel in front of him. “I sent maybe five of them.”

It was closer to twenty-five, but he’s obviously not counting, so I won’t either.

I slide my plain bagel toward him. “I’ll take that one. You can have mine.”

“It’s not your fault they messed up our order,” he says while plucking another poppy seed from his breakfast treat. “Besides, the last time you ate one with poppy seeds, your smile was full of them all day.”

I scrub a finger over my teeth. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

He laughs as if the notion of warning me that I have food in my teeth is hilarious.

I finally take a bite of my bagel before washing it down with a sip of coffee. “Just eat it, Tel. You can brush your teeth right after.”

He rubs his ear. “That’s true. I do keep an extra toothbrush in my bag.”

He glances to where he hung his weathered brown leather messenger bag on a coatrack by the door to our lab. It’s filled with everything he could ever need during the workday, including the toothbrush, toothpaste,


deodorant, an extra set of eyeglasses, sunscreen, and more than a dozen other things.

I take another bite of my bagel because I’m starving.

Food wasn’t my friend yesterday. That had nothing to do with the champagne I had at my sister’s wedding on Saturday night.

My stomach was bunched in knots because of what I blurted out to Rook.

I never intended to tell anyone that I’m a virgin.

My plan has always been to change that status on my thirtieth birthday, which is just over nine months from now.

The hookup app I downloaded is the first step on that journey.

I can spend six months getting a feel for how it works before I narrow down the suitable candidates and then meet up with one for a bang on my birthday.

It’s just another milestone in my carefully crafted life plan.

“What happened after I left the wedding?” he asks as he continues plucking poppy seeds. “How long did you stay?”

“Until Declan and Abby left,” I say. “Then I went home.” “Alone?”

I take a bite of bagel to give me time to digest that question. Is he asking me if I took a man home with me? Telford and I talk about a lot of things, but our sex lives, or lack thereof in my case, is not one of them.

“There were a couple of cute waiters working the event,” he points out. “Both were checking you out.”

I didn’t notice either.

“I went home alone,” I clarify before I change the subject. “You said in some of your text messages yesterday that you think you’ve nailed the proposal.”

He finally succumbs to his fear of poppy seed laden teeth and takes a bite of the bagel smothered in cream cheese.

“Did you actually propose?” I ask, eager to know if he took the plunge. Chewing, he shakes his head. “Not yet.”

“When will you do it?”

He pats his lips with a paper napkin. “The anniversary of our first date is coming up. I think that’s the day.”

Surprised that he’s factoring that into the proposal, I grin. “I like that.

It’s romantic.”


“It is, right?” He smiles, revealing at least five poppy seeds stuck between his teeth. “I’ve got the ring and the ideal proposal. All the odds are stacked in my favor.”

“You forgot the biggest factor in all of this.” I pause before I go on, “Cam loves you a lot. I see it whenever you two are together.”

My reassurance buoys him. He straightens in the chair he’s sitting in next to the desk we share. “If I do it right, I’ll be married in a few months, Carrie. I’ll be a husband.”

“You are doing it right.” I skim a fingertip over a drop of cream cheese that fell on my bagel wrapper. “You’ll be a fantastic husband.”

“You’ll be a great maid of honor.”

My gaze darts to meet his. Unsure if I heard him correctly, I ask an all- important question. “You mean I was a great maid of honor for Abby, right?”

Tel’s hand slides across the desk to land on top of mine. “Cam hasn’t said yes yet, but you can. Agree to be my maid of honor, Carrie.”

Tears threaten to spill from my eyes, but I manage to hold it together. “I’d love to.”

His eyes flick over the front of my red blouse before they lock on mine. “I’ll help you pick your maid of honor dress for my wedding. Here’s a heads-up. It’ll be nothing like what you wore on Saturday.”

I toss my head back in laughter. “Noted.”

We each take a bite of our breakfast before Tel clears his throat. “You’re cat sitting for the next month, right?”

Still chewing, I nod.

“I love cats.” He grins. “Can I stop by and see little Cindy this week?”

I take a sip of coffee to wash down the bagel. “I’m heading to Abby’s after work for my final kitten sitting lesson since they leave on their honeymoon tomorrow morning. Any night this week works for you to visit Cindy.”

“Is Cindy bunking with you, or are you staying at Abby’s?”

“Abby’s,” I answer quickly. “I’m camping out in their guestroom.” “Lucky.” He chuckles. “They live on Central Park West, right?”

I nod. “In a doorman building.”

“You can sleep in every morning,” he says. “Since your commute will be a lot shorter.”


That’s one of the reasons I offered to stay at my sister and brother-in- law’s apartment when Abby asked me if I’d be willing to watch their cat when they jet off to Europe.

The travel time from the Upper West Side to Fifth Avenue is much shorter than my regular route from Brooklyn.

“Maybe they have a single neighbor you’ll fall in love with.”

I shoot Telford a gaze. “Since when do you talk about me falling in love?”

“Since Rook Thorsen dropped to one knee the other night and fake proposed to you.”

My hand jumps in the air. “You said it yourself, Tel. It was fake.”

“True,” he acknowledges with a brisk nod. “But, for a split second, I saw your future playing out in front of me. One day, a guy is going to propose to you, Carrie. I want that for you.”

I want that for me, too, but not until I’m at least thirty-two. I’ve already penciled that into my future calendar.

“Let’s focus on your proposal for now.” I flip the conversation back to where I need it to be since I don’t want to think about how I felt when Rook was down on one knee in front of me.

I know it wasn’t real, but a tiny sliver of my heart didn’t get that memo. For a brief second, I imagined what it would feel like to have a man like

Rook ask me to marry him. I can’t deny that it felt damn good.

“Will you go to Berdine with me after work one day this week to pick out a new suit?”

“Berdine?” I follow the name of the men’s clothing store with a whistle. “Who’s fancy now?”

“Me?” Telford adjusts the collar of his shirt. “I’m not fancy. I’m just in love, and I want the proposal to be perfect.”

“Of course, I’ll go with you.” I crumple up the wrapper from my bagel before I push to stand. “We should get to work.”

“Right.” Tel follows my lead and tosses the wrapper from his breakfast into the wastebasket next to our desk. “I need to brush my teeth first.”

As   he   takes   off   toward   his   messenger   bag,   my   phone   pings a notification.

I tug it out of the pocket of my black pants. It’s an email from the hookup app that I downloaded, reminding me to set up my profile.

“In due time,” I whisper before shoving my phone back in my pocket.


I have months before the day I plan on losing my virginity. Between now and then, I know I’ll find a man who will give me a birthday night to remember.

As much as I wish that man could be Rook, I doubt he wants anything to do with me after I confessed that I’m a virgin.

Men like him are looking for experience in the bedroom, and that’s something I don’t have.





















“YOU’RE THINKING about how much extra work you’ll have now that I’m leaving New York,” a soft voice says from behind me.

I take one last look out the window of my office at Lower Manhattan in all its mid-day glory before I turn to look at Abby Wells.

“I thought you weren’t coming in today.” My gaze drops to the black skirt and white blouse she’s wearing. “You’re dressed for work.”

“I have two meetings.” She raises two fingers in the air. “I need to touch base with those clients before I head out for my honeymoon.”

Someone else could have covered those for her, but Abby is devoted to her clients. Since joining the firm, she’s become an asset to our team. I wish more of our attorneys had the same drive to succeed as she does.

I nod. “You’ll enjoy your vacation.”

A light laugh escapes her. “That sounded more like an order than a suggestion, boss.”

“It is an order,” I say with a straight face.

She sees through my ruse and laughs harder. “I used to think you were such a hard-ass.”

I glance past her to the corridor. “I still am. Don’t go spreading your opinion around.”


I have a reputation for expecting the best from my employees. It’s a trait that was instilled in me by not only my grandfather but both of my parents as well. They all took their turn at the helm of this firm. My grandfather ran the firm for years after his father passed. When he was ready to step away, he handed the reins to my dad before I graduated from law school. A few years later, my dad discovered golf, and the burden of running this place landed on my mom’s shoulders.

She decided to pass it off to me two years ago, and I eagerly took hold of that torch.

Thorsen & Associates has a robust clientele and is raking in a solid eight figures every year. I couldn’t be happier that I’ve taken what started as a two person firm and built it into something I know my family is proud of.

Abby’s index finger darts to her lips. “Your secret is safe with me.”

That makes us even because I’ve got a secret, too, but mine involves her. I’m taking on a task for Declan that’s both a belated wedding gift and the first present she’ll receive as a soon-to-be mom.

When he asked for my assistance, I jumped at the chance to lend a hand.

I have just over a month to get that job done because the plan is to surprise the hell out of Abby when they return from their jaunt around Europe.

“Declan said that you sorted everything out with Milo and the police on Saturday night.” Her tone softens. “Something about Milo being a knight in shining armor again.”

I can’t help but chuckle. “Is that how Declan framed it?”

She nods briskly while glancing at the watch on her wrist. “He told me that Milo was protecting a woman’s honor.”

“Leave it to your husband to twist my words.” I round my desk. “Milo clocked some guy in the jaw. That same guy put his hands on a woman without her permission.”

“So, he was, in fact, protecting a stranger’s honor?” Her eyes brighten. “I don’t know why I haven’t set your brother up with my sister yet. He’s the type of guy Carrie needs.”

“No!” The word snaps off my tongue with too much force. Abby’s brows shoot up. “What? Why not?”

Because I want to fuck her.

I hold those words in and, instead, twist the truth. “Milo’s testing out his new app. It’s a hookup app, Abby. He’s not looking for anything serious.”


Milo has mentioned meeting up with a couple of women he met through Nitespark, but beyond, that I have no clue what my brother is on the hunt for in terms of a relationship.

I suspect he’s having too much fun to circle back for a second night with anyone or to bother with anything beyond the first name of any woman he takes to bed.

Carrie’s first time should be with a man who recognizes how monumental that is. I’m that man.

“I don’t think my sister wants anything serious either,” she counters. “I’ll mention him to Carrie. You never know what might come out of it.”

Nothing that benefits me will come from the two of them meeting.

Milo is a charmer. I want him to be as far away from Carrie as possible.

Since I plan on seeking out Carrie while Abby is off enjoying Paris and beyond, I ignore what she just said. I’ll get my chance with the green-eyed beauty before her sister lands back in Manhattan in four and a half weeks.

That I’m sure of.

Another glance at her watch lures a soft sigh from her. “I need to run. If I don’t see you again before we leave, be kind to my clients while I’m gone.”

Laughter tosses my head back. “Enjoy your honeymoon.”

“I will.” She approaches me with outstretched arms. “I know that not officially related, but it kind of feels like you’re my brother-in-law now.”

I feel the same way.

I take her in for a quick embrace. “Have the time of your life.”

“You know I will.” She steps back. “If you hadn’t given me the job, I may not have the life I have now.”

I know the story of how she connected with Declan. I suspect their chance encounter on a street corner one night was fate. I had nothing to do with that. We work in the same building as he does, but that wasn’t what brought them together initially.

“You two were meant to be, Abby.”

“We were,” she agrees with a grin that lights up her entire face. “I’m going to stop by my husband’s office before I head out.”

I can’t say I’m surprised. “Tell him he’s a very lucky man.”

“I will.” She nods. “He’s what Kirby calls a very lucky ducky, right?” “That he is.” I grin. “I’ll see you in a month, Mrs. Wells.”


“See you, boss.” She turns to leave my office, her gaze darting back over her shoulder. “Don’t be too big of a tyrant while I’m gone.”

My laughter follows her as she disappears down the corridor.

I glance toward the window of my office again and the vast view of the city beyond.

A trip to Fifth Avenue is in my future in the next day or two since that’s where I’ll find Carrie in her lab at Matiz Cosmetics.

By the time Abby returns from her honeymoon, I’ll know her sister a hell of a lot better than I do now.





















I HAD a celebratory dinner by myself at one of the best restaurants in the city tonight. The steak was perfectly cooked, the rice pilaf was a dream, and the salad accompanying it was a culinary masterpiece. It was all so good that I paced myself so I’d have leftovers.

I slide the takeout container into Abby’s fridge, knowing I’ll have the best lunch in the break room at work tomorrow.

I can’t help but smile.

My stepsister has always been the type of person to take care of the needs of those around her. Shortly after we met, she was the one who ran out to buy me a Mother’s Day card when the holiday was approaching because she didn’t want to see a frown on my mom’s beautiful face.

It wasn’t that I ever willingly forgot the day, but after my dad died, every holiday or special occasion arrived with pain attached to it. Because of that, my mom and I made a pact to only celebrate what she deemed “the most important days of the year.”

That meant we’d set our grief aside and relish in the fun on our birthdays, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve. Every other special day that was listed on the calendar she always brought home from the bank she worked at was just another day for the two of us.


It wasn’t until Abby and her dad came into our lives that we slowly started seeing the world through a happier lens again.

I scan the interior of Abby’s fridge and the vast selection of fresh produce, juices, and the two flavors of cheesecake sitting on the bottom shelf.

I told her I’d buy groceries as I needed them, but Abby went above and beyond to make sure I’d eat healthy as I hang out with her kitten.

I glance down at Cindy. She’s a fluffy ball of white fur happily eating a serving of the food Abby left for her. The stack of cans on the counter was next to a note detailing the kitten’s feeding schedule, and everything else I needed to know to take care of her.

I smiled when I saw the note since Abby had already give me all the pointers I needed in person before she left on her honeymoon.

I grab a bottle of sparkling water from the fridge and unscrew the cap. As soon as it’s opened, I retrieve a glass from the cupboard and fill it halfway.

I’m almost done emptying the glass when my phone’s screen lights up with an incoming text message.

Since my after work activities for the next month consist of watching shows on the streaming services Abby and Declan subscribe to that I don’t, I type out a response quickly.

I lean my hip against the quartz countertop. This kitchen, with all of its high-end finishes and appliances, makes me almost want to offer to cook dinner for us here, but I can plan that out for a night when we’re not setting out on a search for just the right designer suit for Telford to propose in.

“Everyone knows,” I whisper.

Cindy glances at me before she goes back to lick her little red bowl completely clean.

Knowing Telford, I wait for him to close out the text conversation the way he always does.


A quick look at the corner of my phone’s screen tells me I have over two hours until I’ll be in bed. I stick to a strict bedtime. If I’m not fast asleep by a few minutes after ten each night, I have to drag myself out of bed at my five a.m. wake-up time.

I’ve followed the same sleep pattern every night for years, and it’s never failed me.

I respond to Tel before heading to the bathroom to take a long, hot shower.

Surprisingly, my response triggers another from him.




I RUN my brush through my hair before setting it on the bathroom counter and taking a step back.

The mirror above the sink in Abby’s guest bathroom is bigger than the entire bathroom in my apartment in Brooklyn.

It’s an exaggeration, but the mirror is massive, and as I keep taking measured steps backward, more of my body comes into view.

I’m wearing a pajama set consisting of a light blue short sleeve top and matching shorts. The shorts are a little too short because I mistakenly tossed them in a hot dryer one morning when I didn’t have my glasses on.

I sleep in something similar every night. It’s comfortable, and if there is ever an emergency, I don’t have to worry about a big, burly fireman racing in to see me topless, or worse, topless and bottomless.

The fact that I’m not wearing a bra isn’t a big deal. I can always resort to crossing my arms over my chest if that fireman, or any fireman, carries me out of the apartment.

I shake the thought off with a laugh.

I step out of the bathroom but freeze in place when I hear a faint noise.


I know the building is more than a century old, and my sister has complained from time to time about the noises that emanate from the walls when the wind picks up outside.

There was a breeze racing through the city when I walked home from the restaurant, so I put my fears to rest because soon I need to really be resting.

It’s only an hour until I’m due in the very comfortable bed in the guest room.

Another noise sounds through the quiet apartment. I swear it’s the click of a door shutting, but that’s not possible.

I lean against the wall in the hallway and take a deep breath.

“So you want me in the bedroom?” A woman’s voice I’ve never heard before filters down the hallway.

Just as I’m about to sprint toward the apartment door to find out who the hell she is, another voice fills the air.

This voice is deep and sparks something within me. “That’s where I need you. Lose the shirt first.”

It’s Rook. Rook is here with a woman, and he’s telling her to undress?

My heart thunders in my chest. I’m frozen in place. As much as I want to sprint to the guestroom to lock the door and hide in there until Rook is done doing whatever he came here to do with that woman, my feet won’t move.

The woman responds to his suggestion with a laugh. “Good idea. What about you? Don’t tell me you’re keeping that suit on.”

Plugging my ears with my fingers is an option, but I’m pretty sure the two of them will notice me when they skip down the hall on their way to their rendezvous spot.

Does Declan even know that his best friend is coming here to… have sex? Screw? No… fuck. Rook seems like the kind of man that fucks, and fucks hard.

I shake my head to try to chase away the image of that.

“He has his own apartment,” I whisper. “Why can’t he do it there?”

My feet suddenly are cooperative, so I sprint to the guestroom, but I’m not fast enough.

“Carrie?” Rook’s voice sends goosebumps over my skin. “What are you doing here?”





















WHEN I PLANNED this night I never thought it would include an eyeful of Carrie Gilbert’s perfectly round ass contained in a pair of shorts.

Let the record reflect that it’s barely contained.

I glance away because the image of that has brought my cock to life, and that’s the last thing I need right now.

The petite blonde standing next to me jabs an elbow into my side. “You said no one would be here.”

“I’m here,” Carrie says, her voice wavering. “I’m Carrie. I’m Abby’s sister.”

I step in to finish the introductions. “Carrie, this is Posey.”

Carrie turns to the side, which only revs my desire up another notch. I’m seriously uncomfortable at the moment. The pants I’m wearing are tailored to fit, but they don’t have a lot of give for when I’m battling a hard- on, and I’m doing that now.

Her tits are moving under the pajama top she’s wearing since she’s bouncing in place. I’ve seen that type of nervous energy from people before, but it’s typically related to my work. A law degree tends to garner that reaction.

“It’s good to meet you, Carrie.” Posey takes off toward Carrie. “I’m sorry. I was under the impression no one would be here.”


Carrie briefly glances past Posey to focus on my face before she levels her gaze on the floor. “I didn’t know you’d be here either.”

Posey makes it within a foot of where Carrie is before she spins to face me. Her hands drop to her hips. “I think we need to go, Rook. Maybe you should talk to Declan about a schedule for us to work on the mural.”

“What mural?” Carrie asks, her voice barely more than a whisper.

A slight turn of her body accompanies the question. She’s facing me now, and Jesus, she’s even more stunning tonight than she was in that green dress at the wedding.

Her nipples have furled into tight points under the fabric of the shirt. The bottom button is undone, so when she moves, a sliver of the skin of her stomach is visible.

I have to tear my gaze away from her because I swear to fuck, the zipper on these pants is about to burst from the pressure of my erection.

“Declan asked Rook to arrange for someone to paint a mural for the nursery,” Posey explains because I’ve yet to offer any reason for why I’m here. “He hired me. I’m a paralegal by day and an artist by night.”

“Oh.” Carrie’s eyes widen behind her glasses. “That’s really sweet.”

“It’s a surprise for Abby.” Posey pauses. “Wait. Are you Abby’s sister?

Are you that Carrie?”

Carrie nods slowly. “That’s me. Do you know Abby?”

Posey closes the distance between her and Carrie with a few short steps. “We work together. I’ve heard a lot about you. You’re a fragrance chemist, right?”

Carrie’s arms cross her chest. “I am, yes.”

“That’s so awesome.” Posey glances over her shoulder at me. “It’s freaking awesome, right, Rook?”

I don’t make eye contact with her when I answer because my gaze is pinned on Carrie. “It’s freaking awesome.”

That lures a small smile to Carrie’s face. “If you two don’t mind, I’m going to slip on some other clothes, and then we can talk more.”

“Of course.” Posey hurries Carrie along with a brush of her hand in the air. “Rook and I will wait in the main room for you. We’re sorry we barged in.”

She may be, but I’m damn glad that we did.

The way Carrie looks right now will live in my memory bank for a hell of a long time to come.





LESS THAN FIVE MINUTES LATER, Carrie enters the living room carrying Cindy. The kitten leaps out of her arms and onto the back of the couch, narrowly missing Posey’s head.

Posey laughs. “Animals usually like me.”

Carrie smiles at her. “I’m convinced that’s Cindy’s way of expressing love.”

I’m convinced that Carrie Gilbert looks magnificent in anything she wears.

Right now, it’s faded, ripped jeans and a black sweatshirt that bears the logo of New York University.

Carrie takes a seat on the couch next to Posey. I’m across from both of them in a chair. I tossed my suit jacket over the back of it when we first arrived. A sweatshirt bearing the name of Posey’s brother’s Brooklyn based restaurant is on top of it. She’d wear that thing to work if I allowed it. She sees herself as a walking, talking billboard and it’s paying off. A few people asked her about the restaurant as we made our way over here from the subway stop we met up at.

Posey runs a hand through her hair. “I want to apologize again, Carrie. When Rook hired me to do this, he said I’d have all the time I wanted in the evening and into the night.”

“Are you staying here, Carrie?” I already know the answer to that question based on the fact that we caught her in pajamas.

“I am.” She nods. “I take it Declan didn’t mention that?”

“No.” I huff out a laugh. “He’s been so caught up in all the surprises he has planned for Abby on their honeymoon. You being here while they’re gone must have slipped his mind.”

That’s a polite way of covering up for both Declan and I. Kirby asked if she could watch Cindy during our pre-wedding dinner, and Declan answered by saying the cat would be staying with Carrie. I assumed that meant that the cat would be bunking in Brooklyn. I should have followed up with Declan before he left.

“So, you’re painting a mural?” Carrie shifts her attention to Posey. “What kind of mural?”

Posey’s phone is in her hand, and displaying a brightly colored mural before I can blink my eyes.


She flashes the picture at Carrie.

“That’s gorgeous,” Carrie croons. “Abby is going to be over the moon happy.”

“Over the moon?” Posey flashes me a smile. “Do you see what she did there, Rook?”

I do, but I don’t think Carrie is aware because her brows have knit together.

I tap a fingertip on the phone’s screen. “The cow jumping over the moon. It fits into the nursery rhyme theme of the mural.”

“Right.” A blush creeps up her cheeks. “I know my sister will love it.” I suspect she’s right.

Carrie looks around. “I’ll pack up and take Cindy to my apartment.”

Like hell she will.

She may view this situation as a problem. I see it as a solution. If I handle this right, I’ll get more time with the beauty before Declan and Abby return to New York.

“You’ll stay. Abby wants you here.” Since I’m paid very well to handle delicate negotiations, I present an opening offer to her. “Posey will work on the mural during the day, and I’ll stop in after work to add my artistic flair to it.”

Posey’s head snaps to the right. “You have an artistic flair?” “Yes,” I lie.

I can color between the lines. That has to count for something. I have my daughter to thank for that. All those hours helping her with the color by number books my mom buys her are finally paying off.

“Are you saying I can ditch the office and work here during the day?” Posey questions, her eyes lighting up with hope.

“Yes,” I say, and this time it’s the God’s honest truth.

I need this mural done before Abby sets foot back in this apartment.

“You’ll pay me what we agreed to for the mural, and I’ll still earn my salary at the office?”

I’d say no fucking way to that if Carrie weren’t following this conversation as closely as she is.

Impressing the green-eyed beauty is my goal tonight so I up the ante with my employee, “I’ll give you a bonus if you get the mural done before Abby’s back and if you finish your work on the Polanco case.”

A grin plays on Carrie’s lips.


Posey doesn’t hide the broad smile that takes over her mouth. “You’ve got yourself a deal. I’ll start on the mural tomorrow morning.”





















POSEY TUGS a sweatshirt over her head. The logo stamped on the front is one I’m all too familiar with. It’s from a restaurant two blocks from my apartment. I regularly order pizza from there, and after sampling their dessert offering with Telford last week, I’ll have that again as soon as I’m back in Brooklyn.

Posey’s hands drop to her hips. “If you’re ever in Brooklyn searching for great food, you should check out the menu at Franzini’s.”

“I order from there all the time,” I tell her. “I tried their dessert pizza recently, and it was just wow.”

“Right?” Posey claps her hands. “I got to taste test that before Elio put it on the menu.”

“You know Elio?” I smile. “The owner?”

“He’s my brother.” Her entire face lights up. “My older brother. There’s eight years between us, but we’re close or as close as possible because I’m always working.”

She tosses some major side eye in Rook’s direction, but he’s staring at


Thank goodness I put on a bra before I came back out here. My nipples

have been in uncooperative mode since he arrived.

“Do you know Elio?” she questions with a tilt of her head.


She in no way, shape, or form resembles her brother. He’s tall, with dark hair and what Telford calls ‘brown bedroom eyes.’ Posey is around my height, which puts her at five feet two inches on a good day. She has blonde hair and blue eyes.

“We’ve met,” I explain, but don’t launch into the time Telford tried to set me up with the sexy restaurant owner.

I like the pizza at Franzini’s too much to risk a bad relationship ruining that.

“He’s a good guy.” She looks at Rook. “We should go, boss.” Rook keeps his gaze on me. “Should we?”

It’s inching closer and closer to my shuteye time, so I nod. “I get up at five every day, so I’d like to…”

“Five?” Posey questions. “Why on earth?”

I can’t help but laugh. “It’s the time I’ve always gotten up. I’m usually at my lab shortly after eight.”

Posey shoots a look in Rook’s direction again. “If Carrie clears out of here at eight and I start around tenish, that works, right?”

“Wrong,” he says, finally glancing at her. “Be here at eight fifteen every morning and stay until…”

“I’m never here before six,” I offer since I suspect he was searching for that tidbit of information.

“I’ll stop by around five thirty to help Posey clean up each day,” Rook explains.

“You said you’d help with the mural,” she directs that at her boss. “You said something about your artistic flair.”

With a straight face, he nods. “I’ll stop by whenever I have a chance to contribute. If we run past six occasionally, will that work for you, Carrie?”


“Expect to see me here tomorrow evening.” His lips inch toward a smile. “I’ll stop by to lend Posey a hand with the painting and clean up.”

“Sounds great to me.” My smile beams brighter than his. “I have plans after work tomorrow. I don’t expect to be back here until late.”

Well, late for me. Nine o’clock is early in this town. Rook’s smile disappears. “All right.”

I can’t tell if he’s disappointed or if he’s relieved.

Since I blurted out my virgin status to the man, I haven’t stopped wondering whether he views that knowledge as a burden.


He’s becoming close friends with my sister, and although I can’t see him telling her I’m still lugging my V-card around, it does put him in a delicate position.

I stand. “I don’t mean to throw you out, but it’s getting late.”

Again, that’s all in the eye of the beholder, and my eye says I need these two to leave.

“Of course.” Posey is on her feet first. “It was nice to meet you, Carrie.” “You too.” I smile at her.

“I’ll tell my brother about you.”

“Why?” Rook surprises us both with that question.

Posey shakes her head. “Because she’s a regular customer, and that will mean a lot to him.”

“Right.” Rook nods. “I’m sure Elio will appreciate that Carrie enjoys his offerings.”

Posey’s eyebrows dance. “You might be onto something, boss.” Rook looks as stunned by that as I feel.

Posey goes on, oblivious to the silence that met her last statement, “I happen to know that my brother is very single. Are you, Carrie?”

“We’re leaving.” Rook motions toward the door before he grabs his suit jacket and heads in that direction. “We’ve taken up enough of Carrie’s time for tonight.”

“Fine.” Posey is hot on his heel.

I stand in place, cataloging the way Rook Thorsen looks in suit pants and a matching vest into my memory.

He slides the jacket back on just as I glance down to appreciate how his ass looks.

“We’ll see you around, Carrie.” Posey raises a hand to wave goodbye. “Or here, I guess. We’ll see you here soon.”

“You will,” I assure her before I hesitate briefly. “I should give you my number, Posey, so we can stay connected and work out times for you to come over.”

“That’s a brilliant idea!” She taps on the screen of her phone as she sprints back toward me. “Here, program it into my contact list.”

Rook starts toward us, too. “I should get it as well since…”

“No need,” Posey cuts him off. “Let’s face it, boss. I’m doing the bulk of the work on this, so I’m the one who should be the point person with Carrie.”


It makes perfect sense to me.

I add my name and number to her phone before I hand it back to her. “I know the mural will mean a lot to my sister.”

Posey smiles. “It means a lot to me to do it for her.”

I glance at Rook to see him standing stoically with his phone in his hand.

I expertly avoided having to discuss my virgin confession with the man tonight. With any luck, I can keep that up for the next four weeks and beyond.

Sooner or later, he’ll forget he ever heard it. I know he will. He has to.





















HOW IN THE ever loving fuck did one of my employees walk out of Declan’s apartment tonight with Carrie’s phone number, and I left with nothing but a case of blue balls?

I remedied that as soon as I was home.

My suit jacket was on the floor in the foyer of my apartment before my vest, shirt, and tie followed somewhere in the hallway leading to my bedroom. My shoes, socks, pants, and boxer briefs landed at the foot of my bed. I’ll have to search for my silver cufflinks later because I’m about to go another round with my cock in my palm because blowing my load in the shower did little to relieve the pressing need that is still inside of me.

That need is for Carrie.

My phone chimes, so I set out to find the thing.

It sounds again as I near the foyer. I say a silent prayer that I didn’t destroy the screen when I dropped my jacket since my phone is obviously still inside it.

I reach down and slide it from the pocket. I skim through all the notifications lighting up the undamaged screen.

Most are related to work.

Even though I practice corporate law, my clients don’t view their issues through a nine-to-five lens. Many of them crave my attention twenty-four


seven, and since they’re paying me what amounts to a king’s ransom, I do my best to keep myself available for their whims.

I smile when I spot the last text message to arrive.

I glance at the time on the corner of the screen.

I tug on the waistband of my boxer briefs while I wait for his reply.

I’m thankful for that, and grateful that my daughter is with her mom tonight. I’ve got a hell of a lot of pent-up energy that I need to release before I fall asleep. I need to come again to try and soothe the ache inside of me for Carrie.

I glance down when another text pops onto the screen.

Chuckling, I type out my response before hitting send.

I laugh harder when I catch sight of my brother’s response.

He may be only three years younger than I am, but I consider Milo a good friend, and one of my closest confidantes. Our mother claims our nonstop cursing at each other is our way of expressing our love. If that’s true, I’m about to tell him he means the world to me.

I stalk back toward my bedroom but stop mid-step when his response hits my phone. I can’t contain the hearty laughter that bounces off the walls


in my silent apartment.




HELENA GAFFIN STROLLS into my office the next morning with a large coffee and her signature snarky attitude in hand. “What have you done with Posey?”

I glance up. Helena spends more on her wardrobe than I do. Since she’s a senior lawyer with the practice, she can afford to. Today, she’s wearing a tailored light blue suit with a patterned blouse underneath.

She takes in my dark blue suit. “Where is she?” “Working,” I say, hoping that’s the truth.

I haven’t been able to track the twenty-four-year-old down yet today. As we were leaving Declan and Abby’s building last night, I told Posey to be back there at eight fifteen this morning. It’s cruising past nine now, and she’s nowhere to be found.

“Not in this building,” Helena bounces back with a lift of one of her dark eyebrows. “I need her to help me with something.”

“She’s helping me with something.”

Since I’m Helena’s boss, my needs trump hers. “With what?” Suspicion taints her tone.

“It’s a personal project,” I toss that out, hoping it’s enough but knowing it won’t be.

“Jesus, Rook.” She sets the coffee cup on the corner of my desk. “Tell me you’re not screwing an employee.”

The thought is so ludicrous that I can’t help but laugh. “That’s never happened and will never happen.”

Relief floods her expression. Helena knows I’m a man of my word.

I give in and tell her where Posey is supposed to be because I know Helena, and she won’t drop this. “She’s painting a mural in Declan and Abby’s future nursery. It’s a gift from Declan.”

“Wait.” Her hand trembles slightly. “Abigail is pregnant?”

Dammit. Helena had to skip the wedding to travel to Philadelphia to see a client. That’s the excuse she came up with, but I suspect that’s not the


only reason. Helena drew a line in the sand years ago between business and her personal life. I know she’s met up with a few co-workers at a bar not far from here on occasion, and she’ll treat other lawyers on staff to lunch, but that’s the extent of it.

She’s devoted her life to the job. I thought I’d do the same before Kirby was born, but I’ve found a balance that works well for me since then.

“She is.” I nod, knowing that if I hadn’t blurted it out, someone else would in the next day or two.

She takes a heavy breath. “I’m really happy for them. Do they know if it’s a boy or girl yet?”

“I’m not sure,” I answer honestly, although I expect Declan will spread that news like wildfire once he does know.

“If you talk to her before I do, please give her my congratulations.” She picks up the coffee.

“Will do.” I seamlessly shift the subject that she knows is important to me. “Have you made any headway with Mr. Allard?”

Dalton Allard is one of the richest men on the East Coast and he’s quietly put out feelers looking for a representative in this state for the acquisition of a multi-million dollar corporation. I want that deal, and since Helena claims to know someone he trusts, I’ve tasked her with securing me some face time with the man.

“Not yet,” she notes, tapping her fingers twice against her palm. “I’m working on it. Quietly, I might add. I know you don’t want to say anything to the staff until we have something concrete in place.”

She’s right about that. For now, our potential representation of Mr. Allard is on a strictly need-to-know basis, and the only two people who require that knowledge are in my office.

“You’ll let me know when you have news,” I state, not ask, because I trust Helena to inform me the second she has something to report on that front.

“That goes without saying.” “Good.” I nod. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. By the way, I’m stealing Eamon to help me today,” she informs me of her plan to get the man who handles our reception desk to take Posey’s place. “You’ll need to find someone to fill in for him.”

I can work with that, and besides, I know Eamon is considering taking the plunge to become a paralegal in the next few months.


“You were smiling before I walked in,” Helena says as she’s about to exit my office. “It’s a good look for you.”

I glance at her, catching a grin on her face. “That goes for you as well, Helena.”

“I’m happy because I’m working.” She tilts her head. “I’m hoping the smile on your face has more to do with someone outside of the walls of this office and not a potential meeting with Dalton Allard.”

“That it does.” I nod.

Carrie hasn’t left my mind since I saw her last night. I may not get a chance to see her tonight, but tomorrow is another day.





















“I’M PROUD OF YOU, TELFORD,” I say as the elevator inches its way up. “The suit you bought is a smart investment.”

He glances up from his phone screen. “It’s an investment that better pay off. Did you see all the zeroes in the price when they rang it up?”

I reach over to squeeze his forearm. “You can wear it to propose and to your wedding, and…”

“To your wedding?” he questions. “Some day.”

He nods. “Thanks again for coming with me.”

I was happy to do it. I know that Telford isn’t the type of man to spend a lot of money on anything, but he looked sharp in the suit he tried on. It was dark gray, and with the light gray button-down shirt one of Berdine’s stylists chose, it was perfect for Tel.

“Next up is new shoes,” he declares, to my surprise. “You’re off the hook with helping me with that. I can handle it on my own.”

I almost tell him I wouldn’t mind tagging along but keep my mouth shut. Telford knows that I’m always around if he needs me.

As the elevator’s doors slide open, Tel glances at me. “You know you’re my best friend, right?”


That touches me more than I expect it to. I choose my words carefully because I have the enviable position of having two best friends. “I know. You and Abby are tied in my heart, Tel. I love you both a lot.”

“That’s good enough for me.” He smiles, offering his hand to me. “I’m ready to meet Cindy. She’s cute, right?”

“She’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen.”





“I’M POSEY.” Posey offers a hand to Telford, but he’s so stuck on the outline of the mural on the wall that he completely ignores her.

“Telford,” I whisper while I nudge an elbow into his side. “Say hi to Posey.”

That’s enough to jolt him out of the art-induced trance he’s in. He nestles Cindy into the crook of his arm so he can take Posey’s hand for a quick shake. “I’m Telford Harpin, and you are super talented.”

That lures a soft smile to Posey’s face. “Thank you, Telford.”

Telford drops her hand and steps closer to the wall in the guestroom, which is now covered with a series of light pencil drawings that outline the mural design that Posey showed me on her phone. “I can’t believe this.”

“I’ve got an image of what it will look like when I’m done.” She tugs her phone out of the large pocket on the front of her denim overalls.

Telford follows each of her movements until he’s staring at the same picture I couldn’t tear my gaze away from yesterday. “Wow.”

That one word is enough to widen Posey’s smile. “I designed that.” “You did?” He doesn’t try to mask the surprise in his tone.

She nods, even though I’m not sure Telford is noticing.

“Posey is really talented,” I add. “I know Abby is going to love it.”

“She will.” Telford finally glances at Posey’s face briefly before he pets Cindy’s head. “I don’t know Abby all that well, but I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t love that.”

Posey slides her phone back into her pocket. “I’m going to head out for the night. My boss bailed on me at the last minute, so I didn’t get the help I thought I would have tonight.”

There’s not an open paint can in sight, and since there isn’t a speck of it on the wall either, I suspect her day consisted of outlining the mural in



“You mean Rook?” Telford asks, even though I explained during dinner that Rook was handling the logistics of the mural project for Declan.

I told him that one of Rook’s employees would be spending her days, and part of her evenings in the same guestroom I’m sleeping in.

He made a face to silently voice his concern at that, but I assured him that I’m happy to share the space since six months from now, my future niece or nephew will be sleeping in the most unique nursery in the city.

“Yeah, Rook.” Posey sighs. “He bailed on me because he had dinner plans.”

“Like a date?” Telford asks.

I’m just as curious as he is about that, although I shouldn’t be. If Rook is on a date that means he’s interested in a woman, and that works in my favor since I want him to forget my virgin confession.

Posey scratches her cheek. “That’s my guess.”

Even though it’s what I want, my heart sinks a touch.

Telford shoots me a look before he acknowledges Posey’s response. “It makes sense. He’s really something to look at. Women must line up to date him.”

She laughs a little. “You should see his brother.”

I have.

Milo, Rook’s brother, has been in a few of the pictures Rook has posted on his social media accounts. One of the two of them, shirtless on a beach in East Hampton, short-circuited my brain for an entire day.

Two tanned torsos and that many rock hard abs were a lot for me. “What does he look like?” Telford asks.

“He’s not nearly as good-looking as I am.” An achingly familiar voice comes from the open doorway behind us.

Seriously? Did Rook overhear yet another awkward conversation that I’m a part of?

“Hey, boss.” Posey raises her hand in greeting. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in my eye, Milo is a smidge better looking than you.”

Not in my eye.

A hearty laugh fills the room as footsteps sound behind me. “Noted, Posey.”

“Hi, Rook,” Telford joins in the chorus of greeting Rook.

I steel myself to do the same just as I catch sight of him rounding me.


Seeing Telford in a suit earlier filled me with pride, but seeing Rook in a navy suit with a white button-down shirt that’s open at the collar hits me in a very different way.

“Carrie.” That’s all he says as his gaze rakes over me.

I’m suddenly grateful to be wearing the blue short-sleeved sweater I put on this morning. It’s thick enough that he can’t see that my nipples have hardened into peaks underneath it.

“Hi, Rook,” I manage to say in an even tone.

“Hi.” He flashes me a megawatt smile, and my heart skips a beat.

“I thought you had dinner plans.” Posey steals his attention away from


“I do.” He glances at her briefly before his gaze is back on me. “With

my brother, as a matter of fact.”

“With Milo?” Posey asks with a nervous giggle. “Don’t tell him I think he’s hot, Rook.”

He doesn’t flinch. His eyes stay locked on mine as he responds to her with words that feel destined for me. “Your secret is safe with me.”





















I WALK into the restaurant fifteen minutes late to find my brother immersed in a conversation with a woman with long black hair at the bar.

Leave it to Miles to find a way to entertain himself while he waited for


I debated telling him that Posey is crushing on him, but she doesn’t need

the heartache that comes with dating a guy like him.

I love my brother, but he’s still stuck in the cycle I was in before Kirby was born.

Chesca and I weren’t exclusive until she told me she was pregnant. Up to that point, I sampled the best of what this city had to offer. I spent a lot of time with different women, searching for something I have yet to find.

Even when Chesca gave birth to my daughter, I didn’t experience the bond with her that I thought I would. I cared for her. I was fond of her, but I never loved her.

I catch my brother’s eye as I inform the hostess I’m meeting him for dinner. I dine here enough that the staff knows me by name.

“Go ahead, Rook.” She gestures toward Miles. “I’ll have a scotch brought to your table. If you can tear Miles away from his friend, your regular table is waiting for you.”


That’s just another perk that comes with spending a hell of a lot of money to have the best steak in this city prepared to perfection, just for me.

“There’s my brother.” Milo pushes to his feet as I near him.

The woman he’s with glances my way. She looks vaguely familiar, but I can’t place her.

“It’s good to see you,” she says like she knows me. “How have you been, Rook?”

I look to my brother for guidance. He picks up the subtle clues in my expression and fills in the blank with ease. “Rook’s been great, Lina. Since you and Gerry moved to Connecticut, he’s kept Kirby preoccupied so she doesn’t miss Alina as much.”

Ah, yes. It’s all coming back to me now.

Lina married a long-time client of mine shortly after their daughter was born. They saw fit to name the little girl after her mom. Alina Rowntree attended the same school as Kirby. My daughter liked the little girl but wasn’t sad to see her move out of state six months ago since Alina had a habit of pulling hair.

I sent Milo to pick up Kirby from school a handful of times. Obviously, he chatted up the moms, or at least the mom standing next to him.

“I need to get back to my friends.” Lina points to a table of five women. “We’re in town for a girls’ week.”

Milo shoots her a smile. “I’ll send over a bottle of champagne for the table. I hope you enjoy your time in New York.”

She steps toward my brother until their hands are almost brushing. “I’d enjoy it more if you’d give me your number. I’m sure there are a few sights in this city I haven’t seen yet.”

He cocks a brow before he leans down close enough that I swear he’s about to kiss her. “I’ll call Gerry, so when you’re back in the city with your husband, I can book you two seats on one of the sightseeing tours. You’ll want to dress warm for that, Lina. The wind whips right through the open upper deck of those buses.”

An audible huff leaves her lips before she heads back to her table. “She wanted to fuck me,” he tells me something I already know.

I huff out a laugh. “You think?”

He shoots me a smile. “Married women are a hard no for me.” “Good.”


“You had no clue who she was when you walked over here, did you?” He pats my shoulder. “You covered that well, Rook.”

I glance at where Lina is sitting with her friends. “Her husband is my client. I’ve only met her a couple of times.”

“She’s not the type to leave a lasting impression.”

He’s right. She’s not.

“You remembered her,” I point out.

“I remembered that her husband is worth more than a billion.” He smirks. “When you’re looking for investors, you always know where to find the big fish.”

I’m not surprised by that.

My brother has always chased after what he wants, including finding people with fortunes to help fund his dreams.

“You know I can’t give you Gerry’s number,” I point out. “You threatened Lina with that, but that whole lawyer client confidentiality…”

“I have his number,” he interrupts me. “He gave it to me during school pick-up one day. He’s always looking for a promising investment opportunity, so I’ll touch base with him when I’m ready to launch the next Thorsen Tech product.”

I grab his hand and shake it. “You’re an impressive little son-of-a- bitch.”

He takes me in for a side hug. “Little? I’m at least half an inch taller than you, and I’ve got a solid ten pounds of muscle on you.”

“Doubtful.” I pull back. “Are you ready to eat?”

“I’m starving,” he confesses. “Let’s sit so you can tell me all about your boring ass day.”

The bulk of it may have been boring, but seeing Carrie before I got here was anything but.

Her eyes flared when I told her that her secret is safe with me. I meant it, and as soon as I get a minute alone with her, I’ll repeat what I said at the wedding.

I want to be her first lover.

I know I’ll give her an experience neither of us will ever forget.





















I TAKE the plunge and ask the question that has been nagging at me since I woke up this morning. “Is Rook planning on stopping by to help out?”

Posey’s head snaps in my direction. “I think he’s hanging out with his daughter today, so I’m guessing no.”

I nod as a twinge of disappointment tugs at me. A sense of relief overshadows it, though, since I want Rook to forget about what happened at the wedding.

It’s late Saturday morning, and since Posey has been hard at work on the mural for a few days, it’s becoming more vibrant with each moment that passes.

I was up at my regular time of five this morning.

Instead of stepping into the shower the way I usually do, I took a walk. This part of the city is breathtaking, and as I walked along Central Park West, I gazed into the park at the majesty of the trees and the rich history that can be found beyond that.

Living in Brooklyn is a treat, but being here, in the epicenter of the city I work in, feels like a different world.

After a short detour to Columbus Ave, I picked up a coffee and a bagel with cream cheese before I came back to feed Cindy.


Once I showered, I tugged on a pair of button-fly faded jeans and a green T-shirt that bears the logo of the company I work for.

I decided on comfort and convenience since I knew I’d be lending Posey a hand with painting today. She’s the one being paid for her work on it, but when I visit Abby and the baby, I want to glance at the mural and know that I contributed to it, too, even if I’m not a true artist like Posey.

An hour ago, she accidentally blurted out the amount she’s making on this side gig. It made me seriously question why I dropped out of my elective art class during my sophomore year of college.

She tucks the handle of one of her freshly washed paintbrushes into the front pocket of her denim overalls. She has at least a half dozen in there with all the bristles exposed so they can dry. Each is a different size and serves a unique purpose. She explained it all to me when I offered to help.

So far, I’ve been gifted with the task of filling in the petals of a yellow flower in the bottom right portion of the mural.

“I’ll order us lunch in an hour or so,” I offer. What are you in the mood for?”

Her blue eyes shine as she steals a glance in my direction. “Why don’t I handle that? I’d love to surprise you with something special.”

I’m not the most adventurous person when it comes to food, but I’ll give almost anything a go at least once.

“That sounds good to me.”

“When you’re done with the yellow paint, I’ll upgrade you to blue.” She winks. “A cute little bluebird in the corner could use your magic touch.”

I can’t help but laugh. “I have a steady hand, not a magic touch.”

She tugs one of her paintbrushes out of her pocket. “I happen to think you have both.”





“YOU’RE CARRIE, AREN’T YOU?” Elio Franzini looks down at me.

Holy smokes…he’s tall and handsome in a bad boy, messy hair and tattooed way.

He’s not my type, but I understand the appeal.

Usually, when I see him at his restaurant, he’s wearing a chef’s coat and is embroiled in a discussion with one of his staff.


Right now, his focus is solely on me.

Tucking a strand of hair behind my ear, I smile. “That’s me. I live a couple of blocks from your restaurant.”

“I know,” he says.

His smile could disarm a bank robber. It’s that captivating.

“Carrie said she loved the dessert pizza,” Posey tells him. “You brought one for her, didn’t you?”

He nods. “That one and another new one. Consider it a first taste.”

A knock at the door sends Posey in that direction. Since I’m expecting a floral delivery for her, it’s perfect that she’ll be handed the bouquet of wildflowers.

I wanted to thank her, in my own way, for painting the mural for my sister.

When she swings the door open, it’s not a stranger holding a bouquet of wildflowers.

It’s Rook Thorsen.

He’s dressed down in jeans and a black V-neck sweater. I tear my gaze from him to focus on what’s in his hand.

It’s at least three dozen lavender roses. The stems are bound together with a beautiful deep purple ribbon.

As Posey moves aside, Rook takes one step forward and smiles at me.

That’s a smile that can turn my world upside down. I feel that now as my heart skips a full beat.

“Hey, Carrie,” he says, his voice husky. “These are for you.”





















I THOUGHT the flowers would impress Carrie. Little did I know that a tattooed beast of a chef would be lurking right behind her.

The guy’s biceps are a work of art.

I work out like a champ as often as I can, but I’ve got nothing on Elio Franzini.

Thank fuck Carrie seems more entranced with the roses in my hand than anything going on with Elio.

She steps toward me. “Those are for me?”

Before I can answer, someone is clearing his throat behind me.

I turn toward the still open door to see a young guy with a toothpick clenched between his teeth, a New York Mets cap on his head, and a bouquet of flowers in his hand, too.

What the hell is going on?

From where I’m standing, it looks like this kid had the same brilliant idea I did today.

Little does he know that lavender roses are Carrie’s favorite, so I’ve clearly won this round.

I could do without all the extra competition, though. I assumed Carrie and Posey would be the only people here, but it looks like I was dead wrong.


“Oh, hi,” Carrie calls to the guy in the doorway. “I ordered those.

Thanks for delivering them.”

He nods. “No problem, darling.” Posey lets out a giggle. “Cute.”

“Thanks, darling,” he tosses that same endearment at her. It seems this guy’s repertoire consists of one note.

Carrie takes the bouquet from the kid before she places something in his hand that she plucked out of the back pocket of her jeans.

Naturally, he’s the type to unveil the tip in front of everyone. He turns the twenty dollar bill over once and then again before he holds it up as if he’s checking if it’s counterfeit.

“You can go,” I tell him, pointing toward the door.

“I’m in no hurry, man.” He looks at the roses that I’m still holding. “Bigger isn’t always better, dude.”

“Ah, yes, it is,” Elio chimes in, crossing his arms over his chest. What the fuck is up with this midday circus?

Not only do I feel like I’m in the middle of a flower pissing match with the delivery guy, but I swear to fuck, I smell pizza.

I glance at Elio. Is it him? Does he always smell this good?

“I had these delivered for you.” Carrie hands off the wildflowers to Posey. “It’s a small thank you for the mural.”

Posey tears up. “For me? Really, Carrie? You didn’t have to do this.”

“I wanted to,” she says, her voice soft and comforting as she rubs a hand over Posey’s shoulder. “I know my sister, and I can tell you that when she gets home and sees what you’ve done, she’ll be so touched.”

Posey lowers her head to smell the wildflowers. “That’s more than I can hope for. Abby has been good to me. I’m honored that I can be a part of this.”

“So…” The delivery kid breaks into the tender moment. “Are either of you hotties single?”

That’s enough bullshit for one day, so I level my gaze on him again and add to it with a step toward him. I’m all for intimidation if it gets this joker out of here. “You’re leaving now.”

“Fine.” He darts both hands in the air. “I was just trying to be friendly.

No harm. No foul.”

“Go,” I reiterate my point with another step toward him.


He walks backward toward the door, shifting his gaze to Carrie. “Thanks for the tip, darling. If you need more flowers, you know right where to find me.”

“I won’t.” Carrie shakes her head. “I will never need to find you. Ever.

Shut the door on your way out.”

I bow my head to hide a smile. That’s one down and one to go. Two, if I count Posey.

I want this apartment cleared out so I can finally get that moment alone with Carrie that I’ve been craving since the wedding.





DESPITE MY BEST EFFORTS, Posey wouldn’t leave Declan and Abby’s apartment. Her commitment to getting the mural done before the newlyweds set foot back on American soil is unwavering.

Shortly after the delivery kid took off, Elio said he needed to head back to Franzini’s. I encouraged his sister to tagalong but she tossed me a look I’d classify as somewhere between confusion and shock.

“I don’t have time for that, boss,” she said as she flung her arms into the


After a quick hug goodbye between the siblings, Elio was out of the

apartment door, and Posey was back in the guestroom that will soon be completely transformed into a nursery.

That left Carrie and me alone for less than two minutes before she shot out of the main living area like a dart, claiming she needed to find a vase for the flowers.

She’s been out of my sight for almost five minutes. I know for a fact that her treasure hunt shouldn’t have lasted more than ninety seconds since there’s a large vase on the kitchen counter.

Abby keeps it at the ready because her husband brings her a fresh flowers every week.

I finally hear the tap running. I take that to mean that she’s filling the vase.

Not more than twenty-seconds later, she appears with it in her hands.

I stalk toward her to take it from her, but she hurries to the dining room table to place it down gently.


She immediately gets to work untying the ribbon holding the stems of the roses together.

I stand near her, but not close enough to crowd her.

I suspect she knows what I want. Or maybe she was too drunk to recall her virgin confession. Either way, I need to test the waters.

“Lavender roses are my favorite,” she whispers before I can say a word about the night of the wedding and what she said to me.

“I know.”

She stops placing the roses in the vase to look up at me. “How?”

I stare into her eyes. “Abby was ordering flowers for your birthday, and I overheard her. She told the florist that lavender roses are your favorite.”

She blinks twice. “My birthday was months ago. It was before we met in her office.”

“Yes,” I admit. “Lavender roses are rare, so that stayed with me. I remembered it.”

Her gaze drops briefly before it’s back on my face. She takes her time studying the curve of my jaw and the shape of my nose before she locks eyes with me again. “They’re beautiful, Rook. Thank you. I know you brought them because you think having Posey here is disruptive, but it’s not.”

Posey didn’t factor into my decision to pick up those flowers for her. I brought them to put a smile on her face.

“Can I buy you a drink?” I smile. “Or a coffee?”

It’s not the ideal scenario to discuss what happened at the wedding, but that conversation is overdue.

“You want to buy me a drink or a coffee?” Her gaze leaves me again to fall back on the flowers.

Her hands follow. She starts dropping the flower stems into the vase.

“Yes.” I take a small step toward her so the distance between us is minute. “I want to talk about the wedding, Carrie.”

Her head snaps up. “What about it?”

I lean closer. I’m so close that I can almost taste her lips. “I haven’t forgotten what you said to me. I want to discuss that.”

A tiny exhale escapes her. “I thought you’d forget.”

I almost laugh because the notion that I could dismiss her confession from my memory or erase the image of how she looked that night is impossible. All of it claimed a permanent place inside of me.


I ache to reach up to tilt her chin up so I can kiss her, but I fight that temptation. We need to talk before I touch.

“Have a drink with me, Carrie,” I implore her. “Give me an hour of your time.”


“Now,” I repeat, but with all the pent-up longing I feel seeping into that one word.

She picks up the remaining roses to drop the stems into the vase at the same time. “I’ll arrange these later. Let’s go talk.”





















I’VE NEVER BEEN the type to hang out at a bar. When my friends in college were doing that, I was at home with my nose in a textbook, enriching my mind to solidify the future I envisioned for myself.

I wasn’t always that focused, but high school wasn’t kind to me. It fractured me in ways that I imagine it did to many young women. The splintered pieces inside me…my heart and my pride, are still fusing back together.

It’s been a slow journey, but I’m on the right path.

“Just a water with lemon for me,” I tell the server as soon as she reaches our table.

We’re in a bar not far from Declan and Abby’s building. Rook took the lead and headed straight here. When he held the door open for me, the man behind the bar called out his name in greeting.

I guess that means he’s a regular, or maybe he’s only been in once before with Declan.

Rook is a hard man to forget, after all.

Rook studies my face as the server studies him. Her eyes take in all of him, including how the fabric of his sweater strains over his broad chest.

“I’ll have two fingers of scotch.” He finally glances at her. “The best you have.”


“Neat,” she says, and I have to wonder if she’s asking if he wants ice or just commenting on his drink order.

“No ice.” He nods his head.

She tosses him a smile and tilts her chin. Her eyes are rimmed with dark shadow, and even darker mascara coats her lashes. She’s stunning, and with the tight T-shirt she’s wearing with the bar’s name emblazoned across her chest, she must make bank in tips.

“I got it.” She taps her forehead as if she’s committing our order to memory. “We serve a limited selection of food in the afternoon. Wings, mini tacos…”

“Just the drinks,” Rook informs her, shifting his gaze back to me. “Just the drinks,” she repeats quietly before she walks away.

As soon as we rounded the corner headed toward this bar, I debated turning around and sprinting back to Abby’s apartment. I know why we’re here, and although I’ve worked hard to rebuild my ego after it took a brutal beating when I was eighteen, I’m still vulnerable in some ways.

This impending discussion about my virginity will leave me exposed, but it needs to happen. I want the subject to be buried forever, and since Rook obviously remembers my confession, I have to face it head-on in order to put it behind me.

“Carrie,” he starts, his voice has a tender note woven into the deep richness that is always there.

I never noticed how the rough timbre of a man’s voice could spark something inside of me until he first said hello to me in my sister’s office months ago.

“Let’s wait for the drinks,” I say, with a plea woven into it that I hope he can’t hear. If I can grab another minute or two to steel myself, I’ll take it. “I don’t want her to interrupt us.”

“Right.” He nods. “That’s smart.”

I’ve heard that word on an almost daily basis all of my life in one form or another.

“You’re the smartest girl alive,” my mom would say before every test I ever took.

“You’re too smart for your own good,” one of my middle school teachers playfully warned me with a wag of her finger after I aced a test.

Smart girls don’t have the same choices as pretty girls.”


That’s the one that haunts me. It cut into my self-esteem like a sharp- edged knife on the worst night of my life.

It doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes before the server returns with our drinks in her hand.

She sets mine in front of me before pivoting her entire body toward Rook to set his down. “Two fingers of scotch. No ice.”

He doesn’t gaze at her. His only acknowledgment is a curt nod.

She’s expecting more because her feet don’t move, so I help them along. “Thank you. If we need anything else, I’ll be sure to let you know.”

She tosses me a look and then, surprisingly, a small smile. “You’re welcome.”

She heads to the only other occupied table in the bar. Three women are sitting there, their heads crowded together as they study something on one of their phones.

Rook samples his drink, his eyes closing briefly as he does.

I don’t bother doing the same because water is water. This glass will likely cost more than a few dollars, but that’s just one of the perks that an address this close to Central Park West affords a business.

“Carrie.” My name leaves his lips in a low rumble. “The wedding.”

I stop him with a hand in the air. He’s a lawyer. Judging by what my sister has shared, he’s a very good one, but this is my conversation to start and end when I see fit.

“I told you I was a virgin,” I say, trying to keep my tone even.

My hands are nestled in my lap, out of his view. I don’t want him to know that they’re shaking.

He studies me carefully as he sips from his glass again. “You did.” I edge forward on my seat. “No one else knows.”

His eyes widen slightly, but he doesn’t say a thing. I see the unspoken question in his expression, and it’s there in the way his brow has furrowed.

“Not even Abby,” I go on, “I haven’t told Telford. No one but you knows that I’ve never…”

“Fucked a man.”

Those words in that voice send a need thrumming through me. I have to look down and take a deep breath to chase back the blush I know is approaching.

I was going to finish my sentence with ‘had sex,’ but Rook has had sex enough times that he’s direct and bold. He’s just telling it like it is.


“Yes,” I whisper.

He downs what’s left in his glass in a single gulp, and before it’s back on the table, his hand is in the air, motioning to the server.

He’s not calling her over, though, he’s halting her in her tracks.

I glance over my shoulder just in time to see her bright smile slip into a frown.

She turns and marches away from us with frustration, driving each step.

Rook leans both of his elbows on the small circular table. His gaze searches my face.

I watch with bated breath as his tongue darts out to line his bottom lip.

He takes a heavy breath and exhales harshly in a sudden rush. “I meant every word I said at the wedding, Carrie.”

I don’t have to rewind my memory to recall what he said because it’s been playing on a loop inside me since. “You said that you wanted to do the thing I hadn’t done yet with me. You said that before you knew what it was, though.”

The words are messy and clumsy, so I revise them. “When you offered to do what I hadn’t done yet, I know that you had no idea I was talking about sex. It’s not as though it was a promise, Rook. Let’s forget the conversation ever happened, and I’d appreciate it if you never mentioned it to my sister or Declan.”

He nods slowly, his gaze never leaving mine. “This has nothing to do with anyone but you and I.”

Relief floods me. “Thank you for not telling Abby what I said that night. It’s deeply personal.”

“Of course.” He tilts his chin up. “What we discuss is none of their damn business.”

I finally take a sip from my water glass, relishing in the way the cool liquid chases away the sudden dryness in my mouth.

“I want to make one thing very clear to you.” Rook’s gaze darkens. “Okay,” I whisper, unsure what that one thing is.

His gaze never leaves mine. It’s as if his eyes are seeing into me. “I’ve wanted to fuck you for a long time. That hasn’t changed.”






















Her hand started trembling, almost causing the water within it to crest the rim of the glass and spill over, but she regained her composure and set it back down.

Her eyes are on me now. They’re the color of emeralds. It’s so stunning that it’s impossible not to stare at her.

Fuck, she’s beautiful.

“Define a long time, Rook.”

This is territory I thought I could avoid, but it’s a direct question, and she’s asking it from a vulnerable place, so she deserves the truth.

It’s all I want to give her.

Well, that and a first time experience that will live in her memory for eternity.

“Since the day I met you,” I confess.

Her hand jumps to the arm of her eyeglasses. She touches it briefly, not adjusting it, just resting a finger against it for a second. “Since then?”

“Yes.” I nod. “When I opened Abby’s office door and saw you there, the attraction hit me like a bus.”

She picks up her glass and sips from it in an effort to hide a smile, but it’s a fail.


Silence is an attorney’s worst enemy, so I keep talking, “I don’t have to tell you how stunning you are, and you’re brilliant. You’re accomplished. All of it makes me want you, Carrie.”

“You want to make love to me?”

The question is so innocent and filled with a tenderness that doesn’t reflect all the things…the filthy things… I ache to do to her, so I just nod.

Her eyes search my face, but they don’t find what they’re looking for because she gazes up to the ceiling as if the heavens will drop the answers she needs.

“You must think it’s bizarre that I haven’t done it yet.” She lowers her chin to lock eyes with me. “I have my reasons, but suffice it to say that I have a plan worked out to take care of it.”

All I need to hear is that the plan involves a bed and me sometime today.

The question is begging to be asked, and my curiosity needs an answer, so I go for it. “What’s the plan?”

“Nitespark,” she spits that out. “It’s an app. You can hookup with people on it for sex.”

“I’m aware.” Now is not the time to delve into the fact that my younger brother is shepherding that enterprise.

“I signed up for it a few days ago.”

Not what I wanted to hear after confessing that I want to fuck her raw, but I listen because she may be leading me down a path that will end with my cock buried deep inside of her.

“All right,” I say in a level tone.

“I have sex scheduled into my life plan on my thirtieth birthday.”

There was snow on the ground when Abby made the call to order the lavender roses, so if she’s holding out until then, I’m going to need a hell of a lot more lube to keep up the self-satisfaction routine I’ve been engaging in lately.

“You’re going to have sex with a stranger months from now on your thirtieth birthday,” I summarize. “That’s the plan?”

Her hand runs over her chin before it sets on a slow path down the front of her neck. It’s a move that shouldn’t look as graceful as it does since she’s wearing a T-shirt, but it’s sensual. It’s fucking hot.

“I think maybe it was the plan.”



One small word that contains so much promise… so much goddamn

promise for me.

“We would need rules if we do it.” Her head shakes slightly. “If we make love. We have to have rules, Rook.”

I’d ask what rules, but who the fuck am I kidding? I’ll agree to them all.

Hell, I’ll swear to it in open court if it gets me in her bed. “Of course, Carrie,” I assure her.

“Thank you,” she whispers.

I spot the server on the approach again, and this time, I need a refill, so I warn Carrie in advance. “I’m going to grab another drink. Are you sure you’re fine with water?”

A tiny smile tugs at her lips. “May I have a glass of champagne? In a way, this feels like a celebration.”

Jesus. She’s so fucking perfect.

“Two glasses of champagne,” I tell the server as soon as she’s next to




“Neat,” she says.

Carrie’s smile widens.

“If we crack open the best bottle we have, you’ll have to pay for the


whole thing,” the server says. “It’s expensive.”

“It’s worth every penny.” I don’t tear my gaze from Carrie. “We’re toasting to something very special.”

“In that case, I’ll bring the bottle.” She takes off, eager to grab our order.

Carrie sets both hands on the table. I see the slight tremor in them. I want to reach across and take her hands in mine to quiet her fears, but before I can, she’s raking her fingers through her hair.

I watch silently, my fingers itching to follow the same path as hers.

I imagine her beneath me, her skin covered with a fine mist of sweat, her body aching from the hours I’ve spent bringing her to the edge.

“What are you thinking about?” she asks quietly, breaking into my thoughts.

“You,” I answer honestly.

“It’s okay if we do this, right?” Her voice is low, the tone laced with concern. “If we have sex once, it’s not going to change anything between you and my sister. Your friendship with Declan won’t be impacted. We’ll each go on with our lives, and no one will ever know what we did.”


I rub a hand over my jaw. I was hoping for more than once, but she’s already altering her life plan to give me the gift of being her first. I’m a greedy bastard, but I’ll take what I can get and what she’s willing to give.

“I meant it when I said that what we discuss is none of their business.” I add more, “What we do is none of their business. If you don’t want anyone to know that we’re going to fuck, that’s fine with me.”

Her lips part, and her eyes widen. It takes me a second to realize it’s that word.


It hits her in a way that she’s not completely comfortable with yet, but it’s exactly what I want to do to her. I want it hard. I want her to feel me for days. She thinks a first taste will satisfy her, but I know it will create a thirst for more.

“I want it to stay between you and me,” she says. “It’s private. One time, and we’ll go our separate ways.”

We lean back at the same time when the bartender arrives with the already open bottle of Dom Pérignon.

“What are we celebrating today, Rook?” He glances at me.

He only knows my name because I was here days before the wedding with Declan and Holden. We toasted to Declan’s future with cheap scotch and a round of darts.

“Firsts,” Carrie answers for me.

“Firsts?” he questions her as he fills her flute. “As in your first date?” “Something like that,” I step in, waiting for him to fill mine.

“Cheers to you both,” he says as he places the bottle between us. “I hope it works out just the way you want it to.”

Once he’s on his way back to his post behind the bar, my glass is in the air. “To firsts.”

“To firsts,” Carrie chimes in, her hand shaking slightly as she clinks her glass against mine. “May I always remember it.”

I swallow the bubbly liquid in one gulp before I crack a smile. “You’ll always remember it, Carrie. That I can guarantee.”





















“NO, PLEASE.” I look up and into Rook’s eyes. “I completely understand.”

Frustration tugs at the almost smile on his lips. “Thank you. I want to pick this back up soon.”

I glance down the sidewalk at the rush of people approaching us. I shouldn’t be surprised that so many New Yorkers and tourists are out and about. It’s mid-afternoon on a Saturday.

“We will pick it back up.” I step to the side, motioning for him to do the same. “We need to talk about the rules.”

As he follows my lead to clear the path for the oncoming pedestrian traffic, he takes an extra two steps so he’s closer to me than he was before.

We’re right outside the bar where we just agreed to have sex before we each downed a glass of champagne.

When someone called about Rook’s daughter, he took the call and then told me he had to go.

He picked up the champagne and plopped the bottle on the table where the three women were still sitting. They thanked him profusely before he paid their tab and ours.

“Thank you again for the flowers and the drink,” I say, knowing he needs to take off.


“You’re welcome.” He pushes both hands into the front pockets of his jeans. “For the record, I didn’t bring you those roses because Posey has taken over the guestroom.”

Surprised by that, I chuckle. “You did.”

“No, I didn’t.” He leans closer to me. “I brought them to make you smile.”


It takes all my strength not to fall into his arms and beg for a kiss. “I want your phone number,” he says. “I need it.”

I want to ask which it is. Does he want it, or does he feel a desperate need to have it?

I scold myself silently. He wants my phone number, and that’s all that matters, so I motion for him to grab his phone from his back pocket.

He does just that and keys the digits I call out into his contact list.

I glance past him as he takes an extra second to type something else into his phone.

Mine chimes, so I tug it out of the small leather bag that is always over my shoulder when I’m out and about.

A smile cascades over my lips when I read the text message that pops up on my screen.

Trying to catch my breath, I look up and into his eyes. “No.”

“Fools,” he quips. “You’ve lived in a world filled with fools until now.”

He has no idea how hard that hits, because in so many ways, it’s the truth.

His hand jumps up so he can pinch my chin. “I’m going to kiss you on your cheek. Is that all right?”

I’m awash in wonder that he asked. That he was that considerate. “Please do.”

He does just that, taking a moment after the soft kiss on my cheek to run the tip of his nose against my skin until his lips are resting against the shell of my ear. “I’ll be in touch soon.”

It can’t be soon enough, but I sigh. “Okay. Yes.”

He steps back to look into my eyes again. “Don’t let Posey overwork you.”


“I won’t.” I smile. “Goodbye, Carrie.”

“Bye, Rook,” I say with a touch of longing I hope he can’t hear.

As he pivots to walk away, I follow each of his steps with my gaze until he glances over his shoulder and shoots me a smile so breathtaking it could stop this entire city in its tracks.





“WHY DO you have so much pizza?” Telford grabs another slice of pepperoni and mushroom from one of the three boxes I set out on the kitchen island. “Not to mention, two types of dessert pizza. What’s going on?”

I tap the corner of one of the boxes. “Posey is Elio Franzini’s sister.”

His widened eyes give his reaction away, but he waits until he’s done chewing before he says anything. “Posey? The mural artist? That Posey is Elio’s sister?”

“It’s a small world.”

“I’ll say.” He takes another bite before washing it down with a swig of soda from a can he found in Abby’s fridge.

“So, she had all this delivered here for the two of you?”

Leave it to Tel to start a game of twenty questions without informing me that I’m playing. “From what I could piece together, she called Elio to ask him to send lunch for us, and he brought all of this with him.”

The crust in Telford’s hand tumbles onto the counter. “Hold up. Elio Franzini was here today, and you were dressed like that?”

I look at my jeans and T-shirt. The T-shirt has little blue paint splatter marks across the front because the brush slipped from my hand after I had that glass of champagne with Rook.

“Minus the blue paint,” I say.

“You know what they say about catching flies.”

I shrug. “Don’t leave the door open so they can’t come in?” He laughs. “No. You’ll catch more with honey than vinegar.”

Stumped by what he means, I shake my head. “How does that apply to me? I’m always kind to people.”


“I didn’t say anything about being kind.” He stomps his shoe on the floor in frustration. “I meant that you’ll catch a guy’s eye more if you look sweet, like honey. Right now, you have more of a vinegar look happening.”

I can’t contain a laugh. “You really need to brush up on what certain sayings mean, Tel. If you tell someone they’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar, it means…”

“I know exactly what it means,” he interrupts. “It means you should be nice instead of a jerk. I was just using it in a different way. In a Telford way.”

I go for a piece of the same pizza Telford just ate. “I like the Telford way.”

“Good.” He beams with a smile. “Let’s find a movie to watch. Cindy is dying to snuggle up with me on the couch for a couple of hours.”

“It sounds like a plan to me.” I grab another soda from the fridge for myself.

Before I do, I sneak a peek at my phone. The only messages waiting for me are from my mom and another reminder from Nitespark about setting up my profile.

I make a mental note to respond to my mom tomorrow before I delete the Nitespark one.

I’m not going to need that app, after all, since I’m going to have sex with the hottest man I’ve ever met.





















“YOU’RE SURE SMILING A LOT, DADDY.” Kirby can’t help but notice my stellar mood. I’ve been sporting a smile since shortly after I got home three hours ago.

When I was sharing a bottle of champagne with Carrie, my mom called, saying my daughter was in tears and asking for me. The crisis today was the result of Kirby misplacing a silver bracelet Chesca had bought for her in Boston.

Although my mom spent almost an hour searching for it, she came up empty. That’s when Kirby’s grief hit, so my mom reached out, hoping I could head home to renew the search.

I found the bracelet on the floor behind the nightstand next to my daughter’s bed.

The crisis was diverted, and my mom took off in search of a lemon drop martini.

“She’s right.” Holden swirls a finger in front of my face. “What’s up with you?”

“I’m having dinner with my daughter and one of my best friends.” I glance to where he’s seated at the head of my dining room table. “Isn’t that reason enough?”

“Yes!” Kirby yells.


At the same time, Holden shakes his head. “No.”

Kirby laughs. The end of the piece of spaghetti she’s slurping up dangles on her bottom lip. “You said no, and I said yes.”

Holden laughs, too. “You know I like teasing your dad.”

“I know,” she agrees, nodding as she stuffs the wayward spaghetti into her mouth with her hand. “I try to tease him, but he never gets it.”

I drop my fork on my plate. “When has that ever happened, Kirbs?” “My best friends call me Kirbs,” she corrects me yet again.

I go for the same response I always do as I shoot Holden a smile. “I thought I was your best friend.”

“You are.” She sighs. “You’re my sixth best friend right now.”

What the…? I’m slipping down the list at breakneck speed.

“I’m in spot number three,” Holden brags, holding up three fingers. “How?” That one word question sparks a huff of laughter from him.

“I accompanied our little dancer to tap last week.” Holden stomps one of his shoes on the hardwood floor. “It seems the teacher likes my moves more than yours.”

“She said Uncle Holden was a natural,” Kirby explains. “Sorry, Daddy, but he’s my new dance partner.”

That should sting, but it doesn’t. My daughter’s relationship with my brother and my two closest friends is just as important to me as it is to Kirby. Their presence and influence in her life are vital.

“You’re that good?” I ask Holden with skepticism edging my tone. “Why do you seem so surprised?” he spits back.

I shake my head. “I thought I knew everything there was to know about you.”

His gaze catches mine. “Do I know everything about you, Rook?”

Hell, no.

I laugh off the question because I’m not about to confess to my sins in front of my daughter.

Kirby pushes the plate in front of her to the side. “What’s for dessert?”

I push it right back at her. “Another six bites, and we’ll discuss those chocolate chip cookies Holden brought with him.”

“Six?” She shakes her head. “Come on, Daddy. I can do three bites.”

Negotiation is my specialty, so I land where I wanted to be in the first place. “Five more bites of spaghetti, and you have yourself a deal.”

She looks to Holden for back up, but he’s got his eyes on his phone.


“Okay. I’ll do five.” She sighs. “If I get two cookies.”

“One.” Holden’s index finger bounces into the air. “They’re big enough that you only need one.”

“You two are tough.” She smiles. “I really want a cookie, though, so okay.”

Holden cocks a brow as he glances at me. “You’re still smiling. You’re going to need to fill me in on that later.”

That’s not happening. I gave Carrie my word that I wouldn’t share our discussion with her sister, or Declan. I wouldn’t be a gentleman if I didn’t widen that scope to include every person on this earth.

Carrie trusts me with something deeply personal, so I’ll honor that and her by keeping my mouth shut.

“It’s about me,” Kirby assumes. “Daddy loves me so much that he can’t help but smile.”

“You’ve got that right.” I stand so I can lean forward to plant a kiss on the top of her head. “I’m the luckiest dad in the world.”

“You’re a lucky ducky dad.” She giggles. “I’m a lucky ducky daughter.”

Holden tosses his hands in the air in mock anger. “What does that make me?”

“You’re my second best friend now,” she announces to his delight. “Seeing that you brought me those cookies. You get to be second best.”

“I’ll take it.” He stands, too, to clear the dishes. “I love you, kiddo.”

“Love you too, Uncle H.” She tosses him a smile. “You know I love you, Daddy, so I won’t say it until bedtime.”

I’ll take it whenever I can get it, so I kiss her head again before I lend Holden a hand in the kitchen.





I BITE the inside of my lip while I stare at the screen of my phone. It’s never taken me this long to compose a text message in the past, yet I want this one to be perfect, so I’ve spent the past five minutes contemplating exactly how to word it.

Ten minutes, if I’m being brutally honest.

I read it over again, and then, like jumping into a cool pool in the early days of summer, I take the plunge in one swift motion.


Since Kirby is scheduled to spend the night with Chesca, it’ll afford me more time with Carrie. I want to finish the discussion we started. I want her to hand over her list of rules so I can comply with all of them and take her to bed.

Her response takes less than a minute to pop up on my screen.

I’d like to do nothing more than eat her out, but that’s not what she’s talking about, and if she needs to be in a public setting to discuss this very personal matter, I’ll give her that.

The seafood restaurant in the West Village has never failed me, and I know I can always score a reservation since the manager is a former client.

Carrie’s response comes as swiftly as I expect it to.

I’m tempted to close out this text conversation by tapping out, ‘It’s a date,’ but I don’t. I don’t want to scare her off, so I end it in a way I hope will put a smile on her beautiful face.

I pass Kirby’s room on the way to mine so I can shower before I sit down in my home office to devote a couple of hours to work that I didn’t get to today.

I hold in a chuckle when I read the response to my last text.

She’s wrong about that. Since I left her at the bar this afternoon, I have missed her. I don’t know how the fuck to explain it, but I like being around her. Tomorrow night can’t come soon enough.





















I SERIOUSLY CONSIDERED WEARING the green dress to this dinner. That would be the green dress I wore to my sister’s wedding, but it seemed like overkill so I opted for another green dress that has been living in the back of my closet for the past few years.

It sports a modest neckline, and the bottom hem hits right above my knees. What I absolutely love about this dress is the thin black leather belt that sits at just the right spot on my waist. The entire look shows off my hourglass figure. I may not have loved my curves when I was younger, but I adore them now.

I went to Brooklyn after work to grab the dress before going to Abby’s to get ready. I’m stepping into Atlas 22 at fifteen minutes to eight. I’m early. That’s almost always the case with me. It’s another of my character traits that I treasure.

It seems that I share an inclination for promptness with Rook. I spot him sitting at the bar, wearing a dark gray suit.

I take a moment to study his profile.

I first saw him in a photo on the Thorsen & Associates website. That was shortly after Abby started working there. Once I saw how drop-dead gorgeous he was, I went on a hunt on social media to track down every tidbit of information I could find about him.


It didn’t take long for me to realize that he was in a relationship with Chesca Mills, and they shared a daughter. I admit I was disappointed, but as the months passed, I’d check out his socials occasionally, and always see the joy in his face when he was with his daughter.

His gaze wanders to the entrance to the restaurant, and I know the instant he spots me.

His left eyebrow cocks, and his lips glide into an easy smile.

Damn. He’s a gorgeous man.

He leaves his half-filled tumbler of what looks like whiskey behind on the bar as he stalks toward me.

Heads turn because how can anyone not look at him?

“Carrie,” he greets me with an open-mouthed smile as soon as he’s near enough that I can hear him. “You look beautiful.”

I’d say the same to him, but I revise it a touch. “Thank you. You look good, too.”

That widens his smile even more.

A woman working the front counter approaches us. “Mr. Thorsen, your table is ready.”

Rook motions for me to lead the way, so I do that. I resist the urge to glance over my shoulder at him. I’ll eat slowly so I have at least the next two hours to stare at him.

Before I can take a seat on the chair that the woman points at, Rook is around me, tugging the chair back before offering his hand to me.

I swear I hear a little gasp leave the lips of the woman seating us. Whoever said chivalry was dead in this town never spent any time with the good-looking lawyer I’m about to have dinner with.

“I’ll have your server bring you another glass of whiskey, Mr. Thorsen,” she tells Rook after he sits across from me at the small circular table.

His gaze doesn’t leave my face as he answers, “I think we’d prefer two glasses of sparkling water with lemon.”

I like that he remembers what I ordered yesterday at the bar. “Very well,” she says with a bright smile aimed at him.

He misses it entirely because he can’t take his eyes off of me.

“I’ll have those waters brought right over,” she tries again to catch his eye, but it’s another fail, so she leaves with only a glance in my direction.

“You don’t have to abstain because of me,” I tell him.


A smile ghosts his full lips. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t we agree to meet to discuss not abstaining?”

Well, then. It looks like we’re jumping headfirst into sex talk.

I take his cue and expand on it. “We need to talk about the rules before we settle on a day and time to have sex.”

He leans one elbow on the table. “Let’s do that now so tomorrow is the day, and the time is one minute past midnight.”

Unable to control my laughter, I let it go.

He lets out a chuckle. “Is that a no? No fucking at midnight?”

Our server decides to show up at that moment. If she overheard any of it, she’s hiding it well.

She sets the tall glasses of lemon water down before she dives into a pre-rehearsed speech about what is good on the menu, what today’s specials are, and the lemon blueberry cake that she claims we must try for dessert.

As soon as she’d done, Rook glances up at her before he levels his gaze on my face. “Order for both of us, Carrie.”

Knowing how much I hate it when people make those types of decisions for me, I sigh. “Tell me what you like.”

“You,” he says.

The server giggles. “Is this your first date?”

“Well, actually, it’s…” I stammer as I get set to launch into a mini- speech about this being more of a meeting of sorts than an actual date.

“Yes,” Rook answers her question succinctly.

“That’s sweet,” she comments. “My husband brought me here for our first date, and I loved it so much I work here now.”

I glance up at her face. She looks about my age. “That’s great.”

“The date worked out well for us.” She rubs the small baby bump she’s sporting. “Obviously.”

“What’s your name?” I ask, genuinely curious because she’s not wearing a nametag, and I don’t remember her introducing herself when she walked up to the table.

“Ashley,” she says. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Carrie.” I motion across the table. “That’s Rook.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Ashley.” Again, he directs his words to her but keeps his focus on me.

“It’s good to meet you both, too.” She flashes me a smile as she skims a hand over her short brown hair.


“We will have exactly what you and your husband had on your first date,” I say.

“I agree,” Rook adds.

“Perfect.” She claps her hands together. “Get ready for a first course that will rock your worlds.”

She walks away with a spring in her step.

When I look back at Rook, his water glass is perched at the ready at his lips. He takes a small swallow before his tongue darts over his bottom lip. “I sensed a little hesitation when she asked if this is our first date. Did I neglect to make that clear?”

My hand cups my glass, but I don’t pick it up. “I thought it was a meeting to discuss the rules.”

“It’s both.” He sets his glass down. “That works for you, doesn’t it?”

I don’t have to think about that long before my head is nodding up and down. “Yes.”

“Good.” He glances past me. “So, let’s get down to the rules, Carrie.

What exactly do I need to do to get you into my bed?”





















“CONDOMS.” She sits straighter in her chair. “I am on birth control for some cramping issues, but still…”

“I always use a condom,” I say to save her from having to further explain anything. “I carry one with me.”

She pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Always?”

I pat the front of my suit jacket. “My wallet is in my inner pocket. I always keep one in there.”

Her gaze drops to where my hand is. “That makes sense.”

She doesn’t prod any further, and I’m grateful. This isn’t the first time a woman has asked me if I use protection. I have a daughter, so I fully understand the curiosity surrounding that. A broken condom gave me the greatest gift of my life. Kirby wasn’t planned, but she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

Ashley is back with a basket of bread and herbed butter. She sets it on the table between us. “How’s the first date going?”

“Fine.” Carrie gifts her with a smile before she changes the subject. “If you don’t mind me asking, how far along are you? My sister is expecting, too.”

“No way.” Ashley squeezes Carrie’s shoulder. “I’m five months. When is your sister’s baby due?”


I reach for a slice of still warm focaccia and slather it in butter before I take a bite.

The two women discuss Abby’s pregnancy before another diner catches Ashley’s eye.

“I need to run,” she says to Carrie. “I’ll be back with those first course plates right away.”

I finish off the slice of bread and clear my throat.

“She seems sweet.” Carrie glances at the bread before she meets my gaze again. “Where were we?”

I skate past that and get to the heart of the matter. I now see why she wanted to eat out instead of at my apartment. Calling her out on it may not be the best approach, but from what I’ve witnessed, she appreciates honesty and transparency, so I go for that.

“You’re nervous,” I say in a low tone.

Her gaze volleys between the table and me. “A little.”

I extend a hand, hoping like hell that she won’t leave me hanging. She doesn’t. She places hers in it.

“We take this as fast or as slow as you want.” I give her a patient look because that’s how I feel inside.

My goal isn’t to rush her, regardless of how hard I am whenever I’m around her. I admit that Ashley took the buzz out of the moment when she showed up with the bread, but I’m in a state of arousal again just from being in the same room as Carrie.

“Thank you,” she whispers. “I thought I wouldn’t have sex until my birthday, but I want this. I really want this.”

That makes two of us.

“This isn’t a rule, but it’s something we should talk about. We need to be clear about our expectations after we do it,” she says matter-of-factly.

Seeing an opportunity to bring a blush to her beautiful face, I revise her statement slightly. “We need to be clear about what happens after we fuck.”

Mission accomplished. Her hand leaps up in an effort to veil the pink glow that brightens her cheeks, but it’s a fail. “Yes.”

“What do you want to happen after?” I push, curious about how she sees it playing out.

She scratches her forehead. “I have a lot going on at work, and I know you do, too, based on what my sister has said, and then there’s your little girl.”


All of that is true, but I’ve always been able to fit fucking into my schedule, and I’ll do that again now.

Before I can share my thoughts, she’s sharing more of hers. “One time will be enough, and then we can go back to how we were before we agreed to do this.”

One time will not be enough, but I won’t push because I want and need to be her first.

Ashley approaches again, carrying two bowls of something in her hands. I’d detest the interruption, but it’s saving me from having to respond to Carrie’s misguided idea that we’ll only fuck once.

In my perfect world, we’ll have a few very satisfying encounters before we end that part of our relationship. She’ll go her way, and I’ll go mine. Naturally, we’ll cross paths again because of our shared connection to Abby and Declan, but Carrie clearly isn’t looking for something long-term. That’s a vision we both share.

Ashley explains the contents of each bowl. The only word I can pick out is risotto. Carrie is engaged, though, and the results are evident in Ashley’s expression.

She’s enjoying being a part of our first date, and I’ll reward her well at the end of the night in the form of a healthy tip.

Once she’s gone again, Carrie shifts her attention back to me. “Do you have any rules, Rook?”

Wanting to put a smile on her face again, I smirk. “Don’t fall in love with me, Carrie.”

That sends her head back in laughter before she tilts her chin and stares into my eyes. “I have a life plan all worked out, and just so you know, I’m not falling in love until I’m thirty-two, so you’re in the clear.”

“Thirty-two?” I question, picking up the spoon that Ashley placed next to my bowl. “So, marriage comes when?”

“That happens when I’m thirty-four. I’ll have my first baby when I’m thirty-five, and the second depends on how good of a mom I’ll be to the first.”

Surprised by that admission, I smile. “What makes you think you won’t be a good mom to the first?”

She shrugs. “I’ve never been a mom, so I have no data to study on that. I do think that I can see how it feels to be an aunt, and that will give me a broad idea of my skill set in that regard.”


She’s fucking adorable.

If only life were that simple. I had a roadmap, too, but I ditched it years ago when my daughter was born, and I’ve never looked back.

She dips her spoon into the risotto in front of her before she takes a first taste. “This is divine.”

She may be right, but I’d use that word and a million others to describe






















I GAZE UP into his eyes as we stand on the sidewalk outside the restaurant.

Dinner was lovely, and at some point, I started to wish I had taken Rook up on his offer to have dinner at his place.

I was grateful for the distractions Ashley provided initially, but as the night wore on, I started wishing that she’d spend more time with the diners sitting at her other assigned tables.

Although I didn’t see exactly how much of a tip Rook gave her, I know it was a lot because her face lit up when she saw it, and she almost jumped into his arms.

“What is going on in that brilliant mind of yours?” he asks. “Another rule is I want to do it in the dark,” I blurt out.

His gaze drops to my breasts and beyond to my legs. “That’s a hard one for me to agree to, Carrie.”

I like knowing that, but it doesn’t change a thing. “I’d prefer if it was dark.”

“Are you open to a compromise?”

I’m open to almost anything when he’s looking at me like he wants to eat me right up, and I do mean in that way that I’ve wanted him to since I first met him months ago.


I nod slightly, still steadfast in my commitment to make love for the first time in the dark. That has nothing to do with being ashamed of my body. It’s anchored in a past experience that has made me question whether I’ll be able to keep my emotions under control during sex.

If I shed a tear of happiness that I’m putting my virginity behind me for once and for all, I don’t want Rook to see that. I don’t want that to be what he remembers from our time together in bed.

“Let me fuck you in a dark room with open curtains.”

“No,” I spit out, horrified by the idea that someone else could see in and witness what will be the most intimate moment of my life so far.

“My bedroom window overlooks the city,” he explains. “No buildings are obstructing my view, and if you’re not comfortable with that, I have sheer curtains, so I can close those.”

Suddenly feeling silly, I let out a slight laugh. “You must think I’m…” “Perfect?” he substitutes the word he thinks fits.

I would have finished my sentence with an entirely different word.


That’s what I was going to say to him. ‘You must think I’m ashamed of my body.’

I’m not, and I want him to know that, but I’m stuck on the idea that he thinks I’m perfect.

He steps closer to me to lower his voice. “Your body will react to me in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I’ll be able to sense what feels good to you. My touch will make you crave more, and I want… no, I need to see your movements because that will make me even harder, Carrie.”

Holy heck.

My throat constricts as my neck heats.

“Making you come is what I want most.” He goes on, oblivious to the people passing us, “I need to touch you, taste you, and fuck you. I want to see your body react through each orgasm you’ll have.”

“Each?” I question. “Will there be more than one?”

That sets his eyes alight and sends a wicked smile over his lips. “Guaranteed.”

Dear God.

This is way more than I planned for, but it’s everything I want. I nod like a fool, my head bouncing up and down.


He quiets it with a finger on my chin. “I called for a car to take you home. He’s rounding the corner now.”

“Okay,” I say, unable to tear my gaze from his striking face to glance over my shoulder to where the car must be approaching.

“I’d kiss you goodnight, but the first time I kiss you will make me weak in the knees, so let’s save that for when we’re alone.”

I smile. “It’s hard to imagine you being weak in the knees.”

“I’ve been that way since I first saw you in Abby’s office.” He drops his gaze to my dress. “I wanted to do things to you ever since then.”

“What things?” My voice comes out ragged and edged with need.

He leans so close that his lips skim my neck. “Many, many things, but I’d start with a taste of your pussy.”

Anticipation courses through me. I feel light-headed, and at the same time, there’s an undeniable ache between my legs.

He pulls back just enough to kiss me softly on the cheek. “Thank you for tonight, Carrie.”

“Same,” I say because I literally cannot form another word.

He lets out a deep-seated chuckle. “I’ll be in touch soon to further discuss your rules and our plans.”

I nod. “Yes. Okay.”

As the driver steers the SUV close to the curb, Rook takes my hand to lead me toward the vehicle. I slide in when he opens the back passenger door. He speaks to the driver briefly, asking him to repeat back the address to Abby’s building.

“Goodnight, Carrie.” His gaze travels over my face.

“Goodnight,” I whisper back before he shuts the door and leaves me with a desperate need to be fucked that I’ve never felt before.





















NATURALLY, I had to resort to my hand for a release tonight. I may have had a condom in my wallet, but I knew going into dinner with Carrie that the chances of fucking her tonight were very slim, bordering on nearly impossible.

She’s a planner. She proved that tonight when she explained how she expects her future to play out. I give her credit for constructing a roadmap she’s committed to, but only time will tell if she sticks to it.

I stand from the chair in my home office and stretch my arms over my head. I’m shirtless, wearing only a pair of black silk pajama bottoms. There’s a bite of cold in the air, but I don’t mind it. The chill may not be cooling off the incessant heat I feel whenever Carrie seeps into my thoughts, but it is keeping me awake, and since I have at least two more hours of work to get through, I need whatever help I can get.

I curse when I hear my phone chime again. It’s at least the tenth time in the past hour. It’s nearing midnight, but it’s not uncommon for clients to want to get a jump on their morning business. Many try to circumvent Svea by reaching out directly to me. I forward all of those to my assistant so she can deal with them once she’s at the office.

I drop my gaze to my phone, which is sitting atop my desk. When I read the message, I sit back down and scoop the phone into my hands.


This message is unexpected and welcome. I scroll through every message that’s arrived since I started ignoring them sixty minutes ago, but this is the only one from Carrie.

I haven’t referred to fucking as ‘doing it’ since college, but when Carrie does it, it’s nothing but charming.

I type back a quick response and press send.

Expecting a text reply, I set my phone on the desk so I can dive my hand under the waistband of my pajamas. I’m hard again. The thought of fucking her in that massive hotel suite on every goddamn surface imaginable means I’m going to need to blow my load again before I can even consider sleep.

Just as my hand circles the base of my already throbbing cock, my phone rings, startling me.

I set it to vibrate when Kirby is home even though the kid could sleep through a foghorn sounding in her room.

I scoop it up, intending to press the ignore button, but I answer as soon as I see Carrie’s name dancing on the screen.

“Hey,” I growl into it.

“Oh,” she mutters. “Hey. I didn’t wake you with my text message, did I? I just realized how late it is. I was asleep but woke up and started thinking, and…”

“I was awake,” I interrupt to reassure her. “I rarely get to bed before one or two.”

“Seriously?” she asks, her voice a touch louder now. “I go to bed at ten every night. Well, almost every night, I was late with that tonight because of our…because we were at the restaurant.”

She’s still hesitant to call it a date, but I’m not one to label anything, so I shrug it off. “What time do you wake up if you go to bed at ten?”


On the mornings I have Kirby, I’m not far behind that. My child is a morning person through and through. She’d be up at the crack of dawn


seven days a week if allowed, but Chesca has been on a mission to get Kirby into a routine that keeps her in dreamland until at least seven.

That’s fallen on Maura’s shoulders for the most part since she spends her nights at Chesca’s apartment when Kirby is there. On the nights I have our daughter, Maura retires to the one bedroom apartment I bought her a few blocks from here.

When Kirby’s with me overnight, it’s just the two of us. I get up whenever she wanders into my bedroom and tells me it’s time to start our day.

The way I see it is that one day, Kirby will have less time for me, so I’ll take what I can get while I can.

“I’ve followed that routine since college, or maybe longer than that.” She takes a breath. “It’s worked for me.”

“That’s what counts.” My hand reverts back to the path it was on before she called.

I trail my fingers over my abs toward their final destination. I’m aching with need, and even though I highly doubt Carrie would be into phone sex since I don’t think the words pussy, cock, or fucking are in her vocabulary, I can use the breathy sound of her voice to get myself close so as soon as I hang up, I can blow all over my stomach.

“Why a hotel?” I ask on a heavy breath as I circle my dick with my hand again.

“A few reasons,” she says. “Name one,” I pry.

It doesn’t matter to me where the bed we land in is located, but I want to keep her on the phone.

A light laugh escapes her. “Your neighbors. What if I’m loud?” My cock jolts in my hand. “I’ll fucking love that.”

“What?” Her laughter intensifies. “You would love it if I was loud?”

“I’d fucking love it,” I correct her before pushing it even more, “I’m hard right now thinking about that.”

“You’re hard?” Her voice drops to a whisper.

I laugh out loud because I’m close to one hundred percent sure she’s alone at Declan and Abby’s. Unless she’s trying not to wake their cat, there’s no reason for her to whisper.

“Are you alone?” I ask, need woven into each syllable.


“Yes,” she whispers again, but I swear there’s a note of something else in her tone.

“Carrie,” I say her name, readying for a question that I hope will make her pencil losing her virginity into her schedule for tomorrow.

“Please don’t ask what I’m wearing.” She lets out a laugh that’s as light as a breeze. “That’s so cliché.”

I fist the crown of my cock and squeeze. “I don’t care what you’re wearing.”

“You don’t?” There’s no mistaking the fact that disappointment mars her tone.

“I care about what’s under your clothes.”

“Ohhh,” she drags that across her tongue. “Wow.”

“When’s the last time you came?” I finally ask what I’ve wanted to since I saw her tonight.

She’s wound up tight. I know, without any doubt, that if my fingers were on her pussy, she’d be coming undone within seconds.

Her breathing shifts. It quickens ever so slightly before she answers, “I don’t remember.”

My hand stops mid-stroke as I ask the expected question. “What do you mean you don’t remember?”

“Never with a boy….” She stops herself. “With a man, I mean. I’ve never had an orgasm with a man before.”

What the fuck? She’s too beautiful, too smart, too everything to be neglected by men.

I met her because she was in the office of one of my employees, but if I had spotted her standing on the sidewalk, I would have pursued her. I would have chased after her until I got her in bed.

She’s sensuality personified, yet there isn’t a man in this city who has taken the time to give her everything she needs in bed and, I suspect, out of bed.

“I want to have one,” she whispers. “With you.” “Now?” I blurt out.

“I can’t come over now, Rook. It’s late.” She takes a breath. “Besides, I’m not ready for our night yet. I have to do a few things before we do that.” “Put your hand on your pussy,” I practically growl the words out. “Now,



“Oh my God.” Her voice trembles. “Are you going to make me orgasm on the phone?”

It takes every ounce of control I have not to ask to switch this to a video chat, but I don’t because pushing this sweet little angel will not get me what I want. Suddenly, a good hard fuck with her has slipped to second on my list of things I need in my life. Giving her countless orgasms has jumped to number one.

“Yes,” I say. “Put your hand on your pussy.” “Yes,” she repeats back. “I am.”

“Lay on your back,” I command. “Spread your legs.” “Okay,” she whimpers.

“You’re wet,” I assume, but deep down know she must be.

I’ve watched the way she moves when she’s around me. How her nipples harden, her breath catches, and the way she squirmed that peach of an ass of hers on the chair in the bar and again tonight in the restaurant.

“I am,” she whispers.

“Circle your clit with your fingertip,” I tell her. “Nice, slow circles.” “Slow,” she purrs. “Rook, I’ve never done this with a man before.” “I know, sweetness,” I murmur. “I’ve got you.”

“Close your eyes,” I growl, stroking my throbbing cock. “Think about me being next to you.”

“Naked?” she asks, need threaded into her voice. “Buck naked.”

“How do you look naked?” she whispers again.

I’m a well-respected attorney with a child, so there is zero chance in hell I’m sending a dick pic to anyone, even this woman.

“Like every dream you’ve ever had.”

That’s all it takes to break her. I know without question that the phone tumbles out of her hand when she comes because I hear the addictive sound of her moans before they start echoing in the distance.

I’m right behind her, grunting my way through my release as thick ropes of cum land on my stomach and hand.

“You made a fucking mess, Thorsen,” I say to myself as I come down from the high while still trying to make out what’s happening on the other end of the call.

“Carrie?” I ask tentatively.

“I’m here,” she says in a breathy tone. “I need to go.”


I don’t push. I don’t ask for more. I just give her what she wants and what I know she needs from me. “Goodnight, Carrie. I hope you sleep well.”

“Oh, I think I will,” she laughs lightly. “Goodnight, Rook.”

The call ends, and I toss my head back into the soft leather of my office chair.

I wanted her to dive her fingers inside her pussy for me. I wanted her to pump them and imagine they were mine. I wanted so much, so goddamn much more, but I’m satisfied for now.

With an uncontrollable smile on my lips, I close my eyes and imagine what she must have looked like when she came for me.

With any luck, I’ll see it all for myself very soon.





















“YOU LOOK A LITTLE TIRED,” Telford comments as he digs into a breakfast bowl he brought from home. “Are you sure you don’t want a taste of this?”

I shake my head since I already filled up on the fruit salad I made from some of the produce I found in Abby’s fridge this morning. “I’m good.”

“You’re missing out on some delicious sausage.” I stifle a laugh. “Good to know, but I’m fine.”

He nods. “The countdown is on to my proposal. I’m feeling pretty good about it.”

I’m glad to hear that, but it’s hard to focus on anything he’s saying because not only am I dead tired, but I’m more satisfied than I’ve ever been sexually.

I’m not sure if what I did with Rook late last night can be classified as phone sex, but it was amazing.

I did have my hand on my pussy when I had the best orgasm of my life, but it had a lot more to do with his voice than my fingers.

“Did Cindy keep you up?” he asks, his eyes narrowing behind his glasses. “That’s it, isn’t it?”

That’s as far from the truth as he can guess. When I got home from dinner, Cindy was fast asleep on Abby and Declan’s bed. I set out a fresh


bowl of water for her, and a single serving of the dry food that Abby told me Cindy prefers in the evening. It was gone when I woke up this morning at five, but Cindy was back asleep on Abby’s pillow.

A subject change is in order, so I make it happen. “Do you think Cam has any idea that you’re going to ask him to marry you?”

“No,” he answers abruptly and decisively. “It’s going to be a huge surprise for him.”

“It’ll be the best surprise,” I reassure him as I adjust the lanyard around my neck, tugging it out from under the collar of my blouse.

I dressed in one of my typical Monday outfits. It’s a dark blue blouse with matching pants. I’m wearing nude heels today to gain a little height because that has never been anything but an advantage in this lab.

There is a step stool that I can use if I need to reach anything off a higher shelf, but when you’re only five feet two inches, you need all the help you can muster. That’s why shoes with at least three inch heels are always on my feet when I come to work.

“Do you want to cook dinner together this week?” Telford tilts his chin before shoving another spoonful of his breakfast into his mouth.

From my vantage point across our shared desk, it appears to be scrambled eggs with peppers, ground sausage, and cheese. It smells a heck of a lot better than it looks.

“Sure.” I nod. “I need to figure out which nights I’m free before I commit.”

“Free?” His brow furrows. “Oh, wait. I forgot that you’re busy helping Posey with the mural.”

I am, but I’m also hoping to visit the Beaumont Hotel on Park Avenue later this week or on the weekend with Rook.

I strolled through the lobby on my way to work this morning since the hotel is only a couple of blocks from where we are now.

It’s absolutely stunning.

After waking with a start last night thinking about Rook, I realized that making love in his bed isn’t the best thing for me.

I don’t want to walk away from that experience with any memories related to his home or his life outside of what we will do together. I want every recollection of my first time to be anchored in the sex itself, not thoughts of the color his bedroom walls are painted or how he looks in his own bed.


I’m already feeling a lot more than I want to after what we did on the phone last night.

“What about tonight? I can grab some groceries and come over right after work.” Telford suggests. “I’ve been meaning to try this new dish. It’s chicken thighs with polenta. I know we’ll love it, and I bet Posey will, too.”

Telford does know what I like, and since I’m planning on visiting the spa in the Bishop Hotel for a massage and a bikini wax before my night with Rook, dinner with Posey and him tonight works for me.

“That sounds great, Tel.” I pick up my phone and jump onto the spa site to book a time after work tomorrow. I’ve been treating myself to skin treatments, massages, and bikini waxes for the past few months.

Pampering myself feels good.

“I can tell you’re tired, but you seem happy.” He leans back in his chair. “You’re more relaxed, too. Something is different since I saw you on Saturday night.”

I’m not about to tell him that I had the best orgasm of my life nine hours ago, so I skip past that and refocus on him. “Why don’t you invite Cam to dinner tonight, too?”

His smile brightens his entire face. “He’s the one on a deadline now, so he’s working late. I’ll take the leftovers for him.”

I nod. “Finish your breakfast. I’m going to get to work.”

He shoves another bite of the scrambled egg mixture into his mouth before he pats his lips with a paper napkin. “No way. If left to your own devices, you could come up with Matiz’s next big scent, and I want in on that.”

“I’ll always give you the credit you deserve, Tel.”

Smoothing a hand over his plain blue tie, he nods. “I know you will, Carrie. You’ve always been good to me.”

I can say the same for him, so I do, “I think that works both ways.”

“We’re a good team.” He strides across the lab toward where he hung his satchel. “I’ll brush my teeth, grab a lab coat, and be at your side in two minutes flat.”

That will give me just enough time to sort through my emails.

I rest my hip against one of the long counters in the lab and scroll through the unread messages filling up my inbox.

Most are from fast food places offering coupons on what could very well be lunch for Tel and me one day this week.


Just as I’m about to pop open one from a Thai restaurant a few blocks away, a text message appears on my screen.

My hands tremble slightly when I see who it’s from.

I’m sure a relationship expert somewhere would tell me to wait at least an hour or two to respond, but I’m a woman on a mission to lose her virginity this week, so I type out my reply and hit send.

I glance up to see Telford disappear into the washroom. He shuts the door quietly.

That’s easy to answer, so I do.

The sound of water running filters into the lab from under the bathroom door. I glance at the shelf above the counter I’m next to. I need to retrieve at least half a dozen test tubes before we can get to work today. Just as I’m about to place my phone down again, it chimes.

It feels like my body is on fire as I type out my reply. I don’t have to think about it. I want this, and Friday gives me more than enough time to prepare for what I anticipate will be the best night of my life.

His response is almost instant.

My fingers fly over the screen of my phone, typing out I can’t wait. I take a deep breath and stare at it before deleting every letter.


I close my eyes, and will my heartbeat to slow but it’s futile. I’m too excited, too nervous, and too everything else.

I’m going to have sex with Rook Thorsen at the end of this week.

The bathroom door creaks open, signaling Telford’s imminent return, so I type out a reply that doesn’t reflect what I feel inside.

I silence my phone, shove it into the front pocket of my pants, and turn to greet my best friend and lab partner. “Are you ready to get down to business?”

“You know I am,” Telford says as he hangs his bag back on one of the hooks on the coatrack. “Let’s make a little magic.”





















“I’M GOING to quiet quit school,” Kirby announces.

Milo shoots her a smile. “Good on you, kid.”

I shake my head. “How exactly do you think you’re going to quiet quit kindergarten?”

My daughter tilts her head back to study me behind the bright red plastic glasses she found in her dress up trunk. “I’m going to stop going, Daddy.”

“That’s not happening.” I chuckle.

Milo takes a bite of the ham and cheese sandwich he ordered. This early dinner was his idea. He asked Kirby if she was in when he picked her up from school today. She never refuses her uncle, so they headed back to our apartment, and apparently, went through her dress-up trunk before showing up at Crispy Biscuit hand in hand.

That explains the purple and green oversized bow tie clipped to the neckline of my brother’s T-shirt.

“One of the kids is mean to me,” she shoots back before she takes a bite of a raw carrot covered in ranch dressing. “I told him to stop, but then he pulled on my ponytail.”

She chews while Milo nods. “Kids can be cruel, Rook. You know that.”


Shaking my head, I laugh. “I know that? I distinctly remember you asking me to have a word with some kid who took issue with your haircut when you were… what… ten or eleven?”

“Was it a bad haircut?” Kirby asks, still chewing.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” I playfully warn her with a wag of my finger.

Nodding, she points at her mouth.

“She can’t quit school, Milo,” I tell him. “Don’t encourage it.”

“It’s quiet quitting,” Kirby corrects me and accentuates her point by placing her index finger against her lips. “If I quiet quit, maybe that kid will miss me, and say sorry, and then I can go back and he’ll like me again.”

“He already likes you.” Milo jabs a finger gently into her forearm. “Boys always pick on the girls they like.”

“What?” The remainder of the carrot piece in her hand tumbles to her plate. “Is that for real?”

“It’s for real,” he tells her with a straight face. “I liked girls when I was in kindergarten, and sometimes I’d tug on their ponytails to get them to look at me.”

“No way!” She rubs one of her eyes through the glasses frames since they are lens free. “You think he likes me?”

“I think so,” he says. “You need to kill him with kindness, Kirbs.”

“Kill him!” she shrieks, sending the gazes of the other customers in the diner in our direction. “I don’t want to hurt him.”

“It’s an expression,” I explain before my brother can. “It means if you’re extra nice to him, he may drop the tough guy act and be nice to you, too.”

The glasses come off, and she shakes her head. “I can do this, Daddy.

You know I’m a nice girl.”

“The nicest,” Milo chimes in.

“I’m going to be so nice that he will be my new best friend,” she announces.

“Where will that put me on the list?” I ask, solely out of curiosity.

She drops her gaze to her hands and taps each of the fingers on her left hand with her right index finger before she switches and taps three fingers on her right hand. “Eighth place.”

You’ve got to be kidding me.


“Uncle Milo let me get an ice cream cone on our way home from school,” she explains, looking lovingly at my brother. “So he’s in third place now.”

“So, Uncle Holden is in fourth place?” I ask, trying to understand her reasoning and what criteria she’s using to calculate this list that I doubt I’ll ever top.

“Fifth.” She sighs. “Maura is back in third.”

I don’t bother asking where Maura ranked before today. I’m just glad she’s feeling better. Once I heard about this impromptu dinner, I texted Maura asking if she wanted to join in, but she bowed out gracefully, saying that she’ll use her free time to hang out with her sister, who is visiting New York for a few days.

“Daddy.” Kirby shrugs. “Can I have a sleepover at Uncle Milo’s on Friday night?”

I glance at Milo to find a smile on his face and his thumb in the air, signaling that it works for him. Since it does for me, too, I nod. “I’ll need to check with your Mom first, but I’m good with it.”

“Will we have popcorn?” Kirby questions him. “With little chocolate candies in it?”

My left brow cocks in silent query because my brother knows how I feel about loading Kirby up with sugar before bed.

“Maybe some fruit instead,” he says with an obvious wink.

Kirby tries to wink back, but it’s an epic fail, so she resorts to a whisper shout. “I get it. We can pretend to Daddy that it’s fruit.”

I laugh it off.

I know she’s in good hands when she’s with Milo, and that’s all that matters because my Friday night plans are set, and I won’t have anything on my mind but the beautiful woman I’ve been thinking about all week.

“Can I have a little bit of dessert tonight?” Kirby pleads, pressing her palms together as if in prayer. “Jo made those pretty pink cupcakes I love, Daddy. I can split one with Uncle Milo.”

Milo shrugs, adjusting the bowtie on his T-shirt. “I’ll take one for the team.”

“Half of one,” Kirby says.

“We’ll split it in three,” I suggest, knowing that Kirby will somehow still end up with a bigger piece than I want her to have.

She lifts her half-filled glass of milk. “Let’s toast to dessert.”


Milo joins in to tap his soda can against her glass, and I round out the toast by raising my glass of water. “To dessert.”

This dessert is just fine, but a little more than forty-eight hours from now, I’ll be taking the lovely Carrie Gilbert to dinner, and then she’ll be the best dessert treat I’ve ever had.





















I PUT a lot more thought into what I’m wearing under my dress than the dress itself.

After work, I went back to my apartment in Brooklyn to pick up a few things, including a little black dress I only wore once.

I also plucked a black lace bra and panty set from my underwear drawer.

I’ve never worn the lingerie. I bought it on a whim when I saw it in an online ad. It was from Liore Lingerie, so I stopped there after work one day and showed the woman working the floor the ad on my phone. She gleefully ran to get the set in my size and then subtly convinced me to invest in another identical set in white.

I wore the white set to my sister’s wedding. The black set is under my dress now. It feels extravagant and looks incredible.

I did a few turns in the full-size mirror in Abby and Declan’s bedroom before I put on the dress.

I was able to do all of that in private because Rook asked Posey to stay late at the office today. I’m choosing to believe that he did that to give me time alone to get ready.

My hands fist around the small black clutch purse that Abby gave me for my birthday years ago. It was more of a mutual gift for both of us


because she’s used it a lot more than I have. I thought she might have lost it, but I found it on a chair in her bedroom. Since it was empty, I scooped it up and tucked my wallet, a vial of one of the scents I developed, and a pack of breath mints in it.

Taking a deep breath, I glance out the window of the car I’m in.

It’s a rideshare. I don’t usually splurge for this, but tonight is a special occasion, so a little extra money spent is well worth it.

“I’ve never been to the restaurant you’re going to,” the driver tells me. “Have you?”

I shoot her reflection a smile in the rearview mirror. “No. This will be my first time.”

I bow my head to smile at the double entendre. This will indeed be my first time eating at Sérénité, a French restaurant on Tenth Avenue. It will also be the first time I have sex.

She offers me a smile back. “Is it a special occasion?” I nod because damn right it is. “Yes.”

I don’t expand on that because I don’t want to lie to her by passing it off as something it’s not.

“Good.” She nods. “By the way, you look amazing.” “Thank you,” I say, sincerely meaning it.

I took time in the shower after work to wash my hair, blow it dry, and straighten it. It’s not something I do often, but I love the look.

Typically, my hair is sporting its natural curl. It’s the only way Rook has seen it, but I want tonight to be as memorable to him as it is to me.

“We’re coming up to the restaurant now.” Her hand jumps up, encouraging me to look to my right.

When I do, I spot the restaurant, but I see something else, too. That sight sends my pulse racing.

Rook Thorsen, wearing a gorgeous dark gray three-piece suit and a killer smile is standing in the middle of the sidewalk outside the restaurant, waiting for me.





AS SOON AS I’m out of the car, he’s in front of me, his gaze stuck on my face. “Carrie.”


“Hi, Rook.” I struggle to keep my voice even.

“What’s that saying about your beauty being worth a thousand words?” he whispers gruffly. “There isn’t a word in existence that describes how breathtaking you are.”

I stare into his eyes. The correct saying may be about a picture being worth that many words, but I’m all out of words at the moment. All I can do is feel.

His hand jumps to my chin to tilt my head up. He gazes into my eyes. We’re both oblivious to the people passing by us. The world beyond his touch has dropped out of view.

All I feel, see, and want is this man.

I made a conscious decision to take control of every aspect of my life a long time ago, and I’m about to do that again now.

With his gaze pinned on my face, I lick my bottom lip. “I’m not that hungry.”

His lips split into a smile. His eyes drop from my face to the front of my dress and beyond to my legs. “I am, for you.”

The confession sets me at ease. “You are?”

He nods silently, stepping even closer. The scent of his cologne envelops me as he stares down into my eyes. “I’m going to take you to the hotel.”

I nod slowly. “I want that.”

“You’re ready for that,” he says, not asks. “You want this.”

I correct him because he needs to know exactly why I’m with him tonight, “I want you.”

On the crowded Manhattan sidewalk with the promise of the best night of my life ahead of me, Rook leans down and brushes his lips against my cheek. “I’ve never wanted anything more than this…than you.”

Desperate for more from him, I turn my head slightly, offering my mouth.

A long, deep, barely audible groan escapes him before his lips crash on mine.

Unable to control it, I let out a little moan. It’s faint, but I know he hears it because he parts my lips with his tongue as his hand glides down my back.

My hand jumps to the back of his head, fingers getting lost in his hair as he deepens the kiss even more.


My entire body is on fire, lit with a desire so extreme I fear I’ll combust from the inside out.

I pull back slightly, but only enough to whisper what I want, “Rook, take me to the hotel.”

“Yes.” His lips brush mine again. “I need that. I need you now.”





















I COULDN’T KEEP my greedy hands off Carrie during the ride from the restaurant to this hotel.

We climbed back into the car she had just exited. The woman driving the rideshare was parked at the curb, waiting for her next job. I tossed a couple hundred dollars at her and practically begged her to take us to the Beaumont Hotel.

She happily agreed, and as I kissed my sweet little angel in the backseat, I sensed whenever the driver stole glances in the rearview mirror.

Who the hell could blame her? The most exquisite woman in New York City was sitting in her car.

Since my firm has a suite in the hotel, we bypass the front desk on our way to the twelfth floor.

Once we reach the bank of elevators, I stab a finger into the call button before I do it again.

“Even if you press it seventeen times, it won’t come quicker.” Stealing a glance at Carrie, I chuckle. “What can I say? I’m eager.” Her index finger traces a path over her chin. “Me too.”

I can’t say I’m surprised by her admission. Little moans of need were threading from her throat as I kissed her in the car. I had one hand on her hip and the other in her hair as I kissed her until we were both breathless.


As soon as the elevator dings its arrival, I take a step back, scooping a hand around her waist to take her with me.

She lets out another of those erection-inducing noises from her throat. If she’s this responsive when my hands are touching her with a layer of clothing separating us, I can’t fucking wait to hear her once she’s bare and I’m on my knees with my tongue in her pussy.

A man and a woman exit the elevator. They’re so engrossed in conversation that they don’t notice us. I don’t mind. I’m enthralled with the woman next to me, so small talk with strangers isn’t on my list of things I want to do tonight.

“Let’s get upstairs,” I whisper in her ear, luring her gaze back up to my face again.

She nods silently, her bottom lip trembling slightly. “Let’s go.”

I follow her onto the lift, pressing the button marked twelve before I turn to where Carrie is standing next to me. Her gaze is set forward, her teeth are tugging at the corner of her bottom lip.

“You’re nervous,” I whisper as we start our ascent to the floor where the suite is located.

She steps in front of me. Leaning her back into my chest she reaches for one of my hands. I offer it, and she presses it against her stomach. “A little bit, yes.”

I want to spin her around to make eye contact, but I settle for resting my lips against the shell of her ear. “I’ll be gentle.”

“I know,” she says. “You’ll take care of me.”

I want to circle her in both of my arms and promise her the world, but she’s only mine for the next few hours, and I intend to do everything in my power to cement a spot in her memory that no other man can ever claim.

I’m about to be this woman’s first lover, and even if it takes her forever to realize it, I’ll be the best she’ll ever have.

I have no doubt about that.





CARRIE SURVEYS THE SUITE, taking in the expensive furnishings and artwork. I had nothing to do with the decision to sign a contract for exclusive access to this hotel suite for a span of ten years.


That was my mother’s doing when she was at the helm of Thorsen & Associates. Her reasoning was simple and held merit. Some of our wealthiest clients regularly travel to New York to talk their business with us. By affording them the convenience and comfort of this sprawling suite, we practically guarantee that they’ll keep us on retainer, and those fees alone are astronomical.

My father balked at what he deemed the unnecessary expense of the suite until my mother landed a client that he had chased after for years. She attributed that to these luxurious accommodations, which guaranteed she won that battle.

“This is beautiful,” Carrie says, grazing a finger over the top of a wooden cabinet that doubles as a bar. “Do you come here often?”

She looks at me, and even though I’ve had to become an expert at reading people’s expressions, I can’t get a handle on what’s going on inside her brilliant mind.

“Sometimes,” I admit, effortlessly shifting from how often I’ve come here to fuck, to the suite’s main purpose. “Last week, royalty stayed here.”

Her eyes widen. “Royalty?”

Sliding my suit jacket off, I nod. “Yes.”

“You can’t tell me more because of attorney client privilege,” she says. “I’ll have to imagine who it was.”

She can do that to her heart’s content, but she’ll never guess who it is. It’s a nineteen-year-old princess from another continent who decided to toss the royal life behind in favor of starting her own apparel company in this country. I can’t say if her future is in fashion, but she has enough funds to keep her venture afloat for generations to come.

She launched the brand under a shell company so the press wouldn’t know. She’s determined to make it on her own. Everyone at our firm admires that. Posey, in particular, who was so busy working on the mural that she didn’t get the time she wanted with her royal idol.

Carrie watches as I remove my watch and cufflinks. I place them in a small decorative bowl on the table in the foyer. My mom accounted for every need. I appreciate that, as I’m sure our clients do.

My tie follows before I unbutton my vest.

“Are you going to get naked here?” she asks in a trembling voice. “I thought we’d do that in the bedroom.”

“I have no shame,” I admit, because I don’t.


I work hard to maintain the body I want. It’s taken years to hone my muscles into hard slabs. I sport the cut V that tends to draw a woman’s eye straight to my thick cock.

Once my shirt is off, my shoes and socks follow.

Her gaze travels over my chest and abs. I can’t say for sure if she’s aware of the fact that her tongue has traced a path over her bottom lip twice.

She tears her eyes from me and glances over her shoulder. “I’d like to use the washroom.”

Nodding, I step toward her. She takes a full step back. “You’re very… you must spend hours in the gym every week.”

Inching closer, I pat my stomach. “I’m there when I can be.”

She swallows hard. “I’ll undress in the bathroom, but I want to keep my lingerie on for now. That’s okay, right?”

I stop just short of where she’s standing. “Whatever you want or need is okay with me.”

Her right hand jumps into the air, dangling mere inches from my bare skin. “Can I touch you?”

I take her hand in mine and press her palm against my chest.

When I feel no resistance, I guide it over my pectoral muscles before taking it on a journey around my bicep. Once we near my wrist, I grab her hand briefly to place it back on my skin. This time, it’s resting on my stomach.

She swallows again, even harder this time. “I’ll go take off my dress now.”

I scoop her hand in mine to lead her through the main bedroom of the suite to the attached bathroom. She slows only briefly when she sees the bed.

Just as I’m about to flick on the light switch for the bathroom, so turns to face me.

I see a question in her eyes, so I ask to coax it from her. “Tell me what you need, Carrie?”

She grabs hold of my forearm before she kicks off one shoe, followed by the other.

Her grip on me stays as she gazes up and into my eyes. “Will you help me take off my dress, Rook?”

The tenderness in her voice slays me. The question tears through me because I know she’s veering off the path she planned to be on. A faint


glow emanates from a lamp in the corner of the room, and the blinds are open, revealing the city lights beyond.

It’s not enough light to bathe her completely, but it’s enough that I can make out the beautiful features of her face.

She doesn’t wait for me to answer. Instead, she spins and lifts her hair, revealing a zipper.

I reach up, tug the pull down and open the back of the dress.

Her creamy smooth skin comes into view along with the strap of a black bra and the waistband of a pair of black lace panties.

I push the dress from her until it puddles on the floor at her feet. “I’m going to turn around now,” she whispers.

Before I can tell her I want that more than my next breath, she’s facing me. Her bottom lip is trembling, a few strands of her hair are clinging to the side of her face, and her beautiful body is waiting for me.





















I DROP my gaze to the sight of her bra. Her nipples are straining against the lace. I’m craving more light, but I need her to feel comfortable with every aspect of this night.

Her hands reach for mine, so I take them and press them against my chest. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

She doesn’t brush the words off or try to diminish them by disagreeing with me. She owns them. I see it when a smile floats over her lips. “Thank you.”

“Do you need to use the washroom?”

“No.” She half-laughs. “I had a plan to undress in there, but I wanted this. This felt right in the moment.”

I lift her hands to my lips to press kisses into her palms. “Good.”

“Can we get on the bed?” She tugs a hand free to take her glasses off. “I need to put these somewhere.”

I carefully take them from her. Still holding one of her hands, I lead the way to the bed. I gently place the glasses on the nightstand.

Leaning forward, she squints. “Are those lavender roses?”

I pick up the small vase to bring the two roses closer so she can smell them. “I picked them up earlier for you.”

“You came here earlier?”


I made the trip after work. I brought the vase and flowers, a few condoms, and a bottle of champagne, which is currently chilling in the minibar.

“I wanted everything to be perfect for you,” I confess.

She gazes at my face, and even though I have no idea if she can see me clearly without her glasses, I see something in her eyes. She’s calm and relaxed. She’s ready.

She drops her ass on the bed, tugging on my hand for me to follow. “Pants on or off?” I ask.

She glances down. “Off, please.”

As I take care of that, she moves into the middle of the bed, settling on her back.

I run a hand over the length of my hard cock. I briefly consider grabbing a condom to wrap myself, but there are things I’m craving first.

“Come here,” she whispers, luring me closer with a curled finger.

I crawl onto the bed, my cock heavy and thick between my thighs as I near her.

She turns suddenly to her side, showing me her back, so I settle in behind her.

“Closer, Rook.”

I wrap an arm around her, yanking her to me. My throbbing cock settles against her lace-covered ass. I let out a low sound that is a heady mixture of the intense desire I feel and the bite of frustration that is tugging at me.

I want to touch her more. I want a taste. Most of all, I want to hear her come.

I skim my hand down her stomach before I inch it over the front of her lace panties. She stiffens slightly before she circles her hips. I take that as an invitation for more, so I grab ahold of her right thigh and drape it over my legs.

“Oh,” she whispers. “Rook.”

My fingers drift over her inner thigh. “I’m going to make you come with my hand.”

“Now?” she purrs.

I hear the untamed arousal in her voice. I feel it in her movements. She keeps inching her ass closer to my cock, pressing against it.

With the faintest touch, I trail one single fingertip over her panties. I can feel the heat from her pussy. I know she’s wet.


The moan she gifts me with tells me that she wants more, so I give that to her.

One of my fingers dips under the lace, followed by another.

I skim over her smooth slit, my cock jerking with the movement because I want inside of her. I want to feel her warmth wrapping me as she comes, but I need her to come first. I want her slick and ready to take my cock.

She adjusts slightly, opening her legs even more. “This feels so good.”

“This is just the beginning,” I growl into her ear before I plant a trail of kisses over her bare shoulder.

I push a finger inside of her. She’s so tight, so wet, so needy. “More,” she whispers. “More.”

I add another and pump once and then again. She joins in, plunging down on my hand, fucking my fingers with no restraint.

Just as I feel her tighten even more in anticipation of her release, I pull out and focus on her swollen clit. I circle it again and again.

Pleas of need fall from her lips. I can’t make out any words, but it’s all there in the sounds. She wants more. She fucking wants me.

Her back starts to bow against me, so I up the pace, and when I know she’s at the edge, I press my lips to her neck and kiss her softly. “Come for me, Carrie. Come.”

She splinters at my command. Her legs quake. A shiver runs through her, and she lets out a cry that ends with a chant of my name.





















ROOK SETTLES on his knees between my legs. Almost immediately, he’s sliding my bra straps down my shoulders. I motion for him to unhook it in the front between my breasts.

“My heart might stop beating when I see more of you,” he rasps.

Flinging my forearm over my face, I hide a smile. “You’re so good at this. You know just what to say.”

He tugs on my hand to move my arm. Leaning forward, he kisses me softly on my lips. “I will never say anything to you that I don’t mean. You are seriously the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

Tears prick the back of my eyes. “I believe you.”

“Good.” He kisses me again, rougher this time. It ends when he tugs my bottom lip between his teeth.

His hand jumps back to my bra, and with one swift movement, it’s open, and my breasts are free.

“God,” he growls. “I can’t wait to taste.”

His lips circle my left nipple. Teeth scratch over it before he sucks it hard.

I can’t contain the arousal it stirs within me, so I give in to it. I moan softly. “That’s so good.”


Still cradling my now tender nipple between his teeth, he nods. “Your nipples are everything, Carrie. They’re so plump. They’re sensitive, aren’t they?”

I nod. “Very.”

He drops his mouth to the right one. This time, he lashes his tongue against it over and over.

It stirs me up more. It’s so much that I want to reach down and circle my clit the way he did.

“Panties next,” he says roughly.

I glance at the window and the dim light bathing the bed and us. There’s a tall lamp in the corner, but it’s only casting a sliver of light into the room. It’s not enough for him to see me fully, and right now, I want that.

I stall his hands with mine before he can reach my panties. “Turn on the lamp first. The one on the nightstand.”

He leans over me, his lips almost touching mine. “You’re sure?”

“Very,” I assure him, running a fingertip over his jaw. “I want to see you and I want you to see me.”

“I’ll be right back,” he promises before he carefully shifts my legs to set himself free.

Before he touches the lamp, I hear the unmistakable sound of a drawer opening and then closing.

Anticipation courses through me. His suit jacket never made it into this room, and since I saw him tuck his wallet into its inner pocket after he paid the rideshare driver, I know that his condom wasn’t within reach.

I’m hoping that when he came here earlier to drop off the roses, he also brought condoms.

“You’re a gift to me, Carrie.”

The warmth in his words hit me just as he turns on the lamp.

Wishing my glasses were within reach, I turn my head slightly to see Rook standing next to the nightstand. His body is the purely masculine vision I knew it would be.

I can’t help but look down at the sight of his cock. It’s as impressive as the rest of him.

His lips tilt up into a lazy smile. “Look at you. God, Carrie. I knew you’d take my breath away, but there are no words.”

My hands itch to move to cover my breasts, but I’m mesmerized by the way he’s looking at me. There’s tenderness in his gaze and unmistakable


hunger, too.

He moves quickly to get back into the position he was before he left me. He’s on his knees before he rests back on his calves. He drops a square foil package on the bed next to me.

“Is that a condom?” I whisper, more to myself than to him.

His gaze trails my face. “It is, but we’ll use it when you’re ready.” “I’m ready now,” I say with a laugh. “I feel ready.”

His index finger slowly grazes over my panties. “I’ll decide that.”

My legs fall open to give him more access, but he shakes his head. “Panties off now.”

I nod, edging my ass off the bed before I drop my hands to the waistband.

“I want to do it,” he growls.

I watch as he does, and with each inch of my most intimate skin being exposed, the lust in his expression increases.

Once he tosses the panties aside, he leans down to kiss the top of my mound before the tip of his tongue trails a path to a spot just to the right of it that is almost always covered by my underwear.

“A beautiful butterfly,” he whispers before he kisses my small tattoo. “My beautiful butterfly.

Tears threaten again, but I chase them back with a heavy swallow.

“When did you get this?” he questions, never taking his eyes off the tattoo.

I opted for no color, but it’s still a striking work of art. Each line is a symbol of my transformation.

“Almost five years ago,” I tell him. “Right before I turned twenty-five.” He kisses it again before resting on his heels to adjust my legs over his.

“It’s stunning. You’re fucking stunning.”

He can’t understand how deeply I feel those words. They hold so much more weight than this man could ever realize.

I nod. I turn my head to hide the rush of emotions I feel.

“Hey,” he murmurs. “Let’s take a minute, okay? Let’s breathe.”

I love that he wants to slow this down because he thinks that’s what I need, but I want the opposite. I want him. I want to feel him inside of me.

“I’m okay,” I reassure him, shifting my gaze back to his handsome face. “I’m ready now.”


“You’re ready now?” A playful grin plays on his lips. “Ready to be fucked?”

“Yes,” I whisper. “Ready for that.”

He grabs the condom package and rips it open. I can’t tear my gaze away from his hands as he skillfully slides it over his penis.

When he locks eyes with me, it feels as though he can see into me. “If it’s too much, you need to tell me.”

I nod even though I won’t. I want this too much to stop it now.

He inches forward, his hand wrapped around the base of his cock. He slides the tip over my cleft. “Ah, yes. You’re so fucking wet, Carrie.”

The words bloom in my chest like a gift I didn’t know I needed or wanted. I want to be what he wants. I want to be the only woman he ever wants.

I chase that thought away with a deep intake of air into my lungs. I gasp when he pushes in just an inch.

His free hand drops to my inner thigh. He runs his palm over it, reassuring me with his touch and his voice. “I’ll go slow.”

“I’m okay,” I whisper. “Please.”

He pushes more, stretching me further. I hold my breath as every thick inch enters me, and when he finally pushes through so I feel all of him, I let out a sharp gasp.

“You okay?” he asks, strained restraint evident in his tone. “I’m good.” I nod. “I’m so good.”

He leans forward, easing himself into me until he’s buried so deeply that the pain has morphed into pure pleasure. I let out a soft moan.

His lips move over mine. It’s a kiss so gentle that it tears right through




“Tell me to fuck you,” he says against my lips. “Tell me.”

I want it so badly. I want him so badly that I do it, “Fuck me.” “Louder.”

“Fuck me,” I repeat. “Please, Rook. I need this. I need to be fucked.”

A raw and unfettered sound rumbles out of him as he plunges his cock


into me over and over until I tremble around him in an orgasm that steals my breath away.





















“THAT’S enough food to feed ten people.” Carrie laughs as she enters the main room of the hotel suite.

She’s wrapped in a white fluffy robe. I’m wearing my boxer briefs under my suit pants. I didn’t bother doing them up because I want her again. I don’t know how it’s possible, but I want her even more now than I did before we fucked.

After she came once, I coaxed another orgasm out of her as I took her slowly while circling her clit with my fingers. Once I could tell she was satiated, I took what I wanted. I fucked her hard and came with such intensity that I almost collapsed on top of her.

After I cleaned her pussy with a warm washcloth, I tucked her under the blanket. She was sound asleep within two minutes.

That’s when I called room service and ordered a mini-feast for us to share, including a perfectly cooked steak, a pan-roasted chicken breast, salad, a side of grilled vegetables and more.

I’m fucking famished. I had a lot on my plate today, so food took a backseat. The last time I fed my belly was this morning, and that was only an apple and a piece of toast covered in raspberry jam. My daughter passed on that in favor of oatmeal.

“Come sit with me.” I pat my lap.


I’m on one of the four chairs that circle the table, which is often used for business when we host clients.

Tonight, it’s serving the purpose it was meant to. It’s our dining room table.

She lets out another chuckle. “If I sit in your lap, I’m going to want more than whatever that delicious pasta dish is.”

That lures me to my feet. “You want to be fucked again.” She makes her way to me quickly. “Is that a bad thing?”

I circle my arms around her, tugging her into my bare chest. “It’s never a bad thing. Eat the food, and then I want to eat you.”

She pulls back slightly. “You want to lick me there?”

With each moment that passes, the scope of her limited experience is becoming clearer. “I want my mouth on your pussy. I want to lick, suck, and bite you.”

Her eyes widen behind her glasses. “I can’t imagine how good that will feel, Rook.”

I can’t imagine how any man she’s crossed paths with hasn’t wanted to please her with his mouth, or his hands, or his dick.

“I’m going to show you just how good it can be for you.” I pause to kiss her softly. “And for me.”

“You like doing it?”

I’ve never shied away from eating pussy, but then again, I’ve never craved it more than I am now. I’ve wanted to taste her since I first saw her in her sister’s office.

“I’m going to love doing it to you,” I tell her. “I’ve already gotten a taste from my fingers.”

Her gaze drops to my hand. “What do you mean?”

“After I got you off with my fingers, I licked them.” I demonstrate by touching the tip of my tongue to my index finger. “It’s addictive. I may have to do it all night.”

That sends her head back in laughter. “You couldn’t do it all night.”

I’d agree with that if she were any other woman, but I’d give up anything to bring this woman hours of endless pleasure.

I stop her giddiness with a hand to her chin. I kiss a trail along her jawbone until I reach her mouth. I part her lips with the kiss, diving deep with my tongue. I lick, probe, and demonstrate exactly what I want to do to her pussy.


She pants when our lips part. “If it’s anything like that kiss, I may never leave this room.”

“Stay forever.” The words, born in my heart, fall off my tongue.

She hears them as a playful declaration in a moment of intimacy, but I feel them deeply.

“I’ll stay for a few more hours.” She nods toward the table. “Is that pasta pomodoro?”

I don’t take my eyes off of her as I answer. “It is.”

She inches forward on her bare feet to get a better look. “With lemon grilled shrimp on the side?”

“That’s your favorite.”

Her gaze locks on mine. “How did you know?”

I close my eyes briefly before a ghost of a smile shoots over my lips. “I overheard your sister ordering take-out once. She was picking it up on her way home when she lived with you.”

Her fingers touch my jaw. “You remember a lot about me.”

Because you’re remarkable.

I ache to say that but I motion to the chair beside mine. “Sit and eat because I want to eat you.”

She moves to take a seat. “This night has been incredible.”

I sit next to her, reaching down to tug on her chair’s leg to bring her even closer to me. “A remarkable woman deserves a thousand incredible nights like this.”

Her mouth curves toward a grin. “Maybe we can have one more night like this before we…”

“Yes,” I interrupt, not wanting to hear her say that we’ll eventually part as just friends and go on our merry ways to fuck other people.

I’m already lost to her. It’s not just the sex. It’s her. “We’ll have another night just like this, Carrie.”

“Soon?” Her eyebrows jump up. “Very soon?” Tomorrow isn’t soon enough for me. “Very soon.”

“Good.” She rests a hand on my knee. “When I imagined my first time, it never looked like this. I never thought I could feel like this. You’ve given me a gift I can never repay.”

My hand shakes as I grab hers to slide it partway up my thigh. “You’re the one who gave me a gift, Carrie. I’m honored that you chose me to be your first lover.”


“You’re my first lover,” she whispers. “After what I felt in the bedroom, I know I made the right choice. Thank you, Rook.”

I swear to fuck that my heart is splitting open in my chest. She’s too good to me; too good for me.

“Let’s eat.” She tugs her hand free. “I worked up a pretty big appetite, and something tells me I’m going to need a lot of energy for what comes next.”

I turn and smile.

“Get it,” she whispers. “It’s a pun. What comes next is going to be me.”

I move to press a soft kiss to the corner of her mouth. “You will come next, over and over again.”





















HE FLATTENS his tongue against me to enjoy long, leisurely licks of my already sensitive pussy.

I tangle my hands in his hair, desperately trying to yank his head up. “Rook, please.”

A deep chuckle rumbles through his body. I watch as it vibrates over the muscled planes of his back. “No fucking way, Carrie.”

A laugh blooms inside of me, but it gets lost before it reaches my lips because I’m soaring toward another orgasm.

I give in to it then and let my body feel in the same way it has for the past thirty minutes.

When he brought me back to bed after we ate, he pushed me down, crawled on top of me, and teased my nipples with his mouth while his long, very skilled fingers did the same to my pussy.

I came hard and begged for a moment to catch my breath.

All I got was the time it took for him to drop his boxer briefs and pants before he was back in bed with his head between my legs.

The first touch of his tongue on my clit was incredible. The pleasure has only increased from there.

I’m closing in on another orgasm. “Oh, God.”


He ups the pace of his tongue, licking me furiously, sucking my clit, and making sounds that only add to my excitement.

I can tell that he loves this as much as I do.

My back bows when I climax. My limbs go limp, and a restrained sob escapes me. It’s a verbal sign of everything that I’m feeling.

As Rook pulls back, his fingers immediately replace his mouth. He watches me intently, our eyes locked as I come down from the high.

Before I can register what’s happening, he’s crawling up my body. His cock drags over my thigh before it settles against my mound.

“How are you so good at all of this?” I ask before I realize the answer myself.


He’s been having sex for years. Before tonight, the most I’d ever done with a man was kiss.

His lips curl into a lazy smile. “I like giving you pleasure.” I cup a hand over his cheek. “I like it, too.”

“Correction.” His left eyebrow darts up. “I love giving you pleasure. You’re so responsive, Carrie. It’s incredible. I’ve never experienced that before.”

I’m tempted to ask him to explain that more, but I fear that would include talking about his former lovers. I don’t want to go there. I want my time with him to exclude everything and everyone else in the world.

“You mentioned something about doing this again soon.” He kisses me softly, but that quickly turns into a deep, lush kiss that leaves me aching for more.

When we part, I look into his eyes. “You want that, too.” He nods. “Very much.”

“One more night,” I say to test his reaction.

The truth is that I want a million more nights just like this, but we agreed that he would be my first, and then we’d move on.

His gaze searches my face. I hold my breath, hoping he’ll ask for two more nights, or ten, or the millions I crave, but he just smiles and nods. “One more night. Here?”

“Yes.” I drag a fingertip over his jaw, saving the feel of that to memory. “We’ll sort out our schedules in the next few days.” He pulls back



“Do we need to go now?” Disappointment taints my tone, but I can’t help it. I don’t want this night to end yet.

His lips land on my forehead for a tender kiss. “I need to go wrap my cock in a condom because I’m about to fuck you from behind.”

I flip over to my stomach as soon as he’s off the bed. “I should be like this, right?”

He stops to stare at me, his gaze raking over my body before settling on my bare ass. “I’ve never met anyone like you. I’ve never wanted anyone this much.”

He can’t see my stunned reaction because his eyes are closed as he presses his hand to the center of his chest.

“I’ve never met anyone like you either,” I offer in a barely audible voice.

When his eyes open, they lock on mine. “Never forget me, Carrie.” “Never,” I whisper. “Never forget me.”

He shakes his head. “I guarantee that won’t happen.”

The moment breaks when he drops a hand to his swollen cock. I inch my ass up off the bed. “I’m ready.”

Huffing out a laugh, he opens the nightstand drawer again to grab another condom package. “So am I, beautiful. So am I.”





















I WALK into my brother’s apartment after using the key he gave me months ago. I never asked for it, but when he dropped it in my palm, I happily took it. A week later, I found out that he was headed out of town and wanted me to water his plants.

I had handed that off to Maura because she has two green thumbs. By the time Milo was back in New York, the interior of the two-bedroom unit he bought for a steal last year rivaled a botanical garden.

Since then, he’s cut Maura a key, too, and they’ve worked out a barter system. She drops in here, usually with Kirby in tow, to water and trim the plants. In exchange, Milo keeps her tea cabinet fully stocked with the organic blends from faraway places she loves.

It’s a win-win for the two of them.

“You look relaxed. Did you get laid last night?” Milo whispers as I approach where he’s standing in his kitchen.

He’s wearing faded jeans and a T-shirt I know he got when he raided my closet. I admit I’m pissed to see how snug it is across his chest and biceps.

“Yeah, it’s your shirt,” he quips before I can respond to his question about my activities over the past twenty-four hours. “Let’s arm wrestle. Winner keeps it.”

“It’s yours.” I head around him to grab a mug out of the cupboard.


A pot of freshly brewed coffee is calling my name. “Where’s my daughter?”

“Uncle Holden is with her in the playroom.” He picks up the coffee carafe and fills the mug in my hand.

“A playroom?” I ask with a perk of my left eyebrow.

He shrugs. “That’s what our girl calls the second bedroom. It’s just a bunch of toys she’s left here, and I dragged my old coffee table in there, so it’s her coloring station now.”

“Look at you trying to win uncle of the year,” I tease. “Why is Holden here?”

“Kirbs wanted to discuss dancing with the man.” He refills his mug. “Something about the two of them working on a routine for a recital.”

Nodding, I take a sip of the coffee. It’s welcomed. I took Carrie home via a rideshare just after two this morning. Once she was safely inside Declan and Abby’s apartment, I went for a drink before I headed to my apartment for a few hours of sleep.

I thought we might spend the night at the hotel, but after I fucked her from behind, I drifted off at some point. When I woke up, she was fully dressed, so I slid back into my suit, and we left.

“Who is she?” Milo prods. “Someone you connected with on my app?” “No,” I answer succinctly. “Not from the app, and not your business.”

“What’s not his business?” Kirby comes skipping into the kitchen with Holden on her heel.

Once again, I’m wearing clothing that’s a mirror image of what he has on. It’s jeans and a light blue sweater. Brown oxfords are on my feet.

“You’re twinning!” Kirby screams. “I do that with my bestie, too.” Holden’s gaze lands on my face. “What are the chances, Rook?”

I laugh it off. “I was about to invite you all out for lunch, but I’m rethinking that now.”

“Yes to lunch!” Kirby jumps up and down. “Who cares if you look like twins? I wish I had a twin.”

“Your dad couldn’t handle that,” Milo adds his unwanted opinion to the mix.

“Daddy could handle if I had a brother or sister.” She tosses me one of her signature looks. It’s a cross between a plea and a smile. “Right, Daddy? You and Mommy need to get a new baby soon.”

Holden clears his throat at the same moment my brother does.


This isn’t a discussion I want to have in front of the two of them, so I deflect, knowing I’ll circle back to it. I don’t want my daughter to have any false hope about a new baby.

“Can we get macaroni and cheese for lunch?” she asks me before shifting her gaze to Holden. “Please, Uncle Holden.”

“Are you buying?” I ask since that’s what Kirby’s assuming. “Sure.” He grins. “Lunch is on me.”

“No, silly.” She tugs on his hand. “It’s on plates and bowls on a table.”

“She’s got you there, old man,” Milo says, using the nickname he first gifted Holden with when my friend started sporting a few gray strands in his brown hair.

“He’s not old,” Kirby sounds off. “Daddy’s older than him, so you should call him old man.”

We all laugh.

“I’m only older than Uncle Holden by a month,” I point out. “Neither of us is an old man.”

“Yet.” Kirby winks. “I need to show you the picture I drew for Maura.

It’s of the statue of lizards and tea.”

“The Statue of Liberty,” I correct her.

She lets out a high-pitched laugh. “I know that one, Daddy. I made up the statue of lizards and tea because Maura used to have three lizards when she was little, and she likes tea.”

I smile. “Got it.”

“All the lizards on the statue are holding tea cups,” Holden adds, expanding on the drawing. “It’s something to see.”

“Let’s grab a frame for that masterpiece on our way home after lunch,” I suggest. “You can sign the drawing, and we’ll wrap it up for Maura.”

“Really?” Kirby’s face brightens with a wide smile. “I’ll get it now and my suitcase, too.”

The suitcase has become her prized accessory even though it’s a rolling makeup case that Chesca let her have. It’s big enough that Kirby can fit her pajamas, a change of clothes, and a stuffed toy in it whenever she has a sleepover at Milo’s. She drags it back and forth from Chesca’s apartment to mine regularly, too.

“I’ll help,” Holden offers, following in her footsteps as she skips down the hallway.


Once they’re out of view, Milo turns to face me. “You had fun with a woman last night, didn’t you?”

“How the fuck is that your business?” I laugh.

“You’re happy,” he points out. “That’s my business. It’s good to see that, Rook. Whoever she is, see her again, and again, and again.”

I want that more than anything, but Carrie only promised me one more night. I’ll do everything possible to score another after that and another if she grants it to me.

“You like her,” he states. “You like her a lot.”

“A lot,” I reiterate with a nod of my head. “This coffee is shit, by the way.”

He nods before he pours the contents of the mug in his hand down the sink. “I can’t be good at everything.”





















TELFORD STANDS in front of the mural in Abby and Declan’s guestroom. He hasn’t taken his eyes off it since he walked in here ten minutes ago to check on Posey’s progress.

She stomps a bare foot on the floor. “I need more than that, Telford. I want your honest opinion.”

Nodding his chin slowly, he turns to look right at her. “I’m speechless.” She takes that as the compliment it is and bounces up and down.


Telford is in no way, shape, or form an expert on murals, but anyone viewing this would be captivated by it. It’s whimsical and colorful, and a few quotes about babies are woven into the magical collection of painted images of nursery rhyme characters.

“When Cam and I have a baby, I’ll hire you to do something like this in our nursery.”

Shocked that he’s planning that far ahead, I tap his shoulder to drag his gaze to my face. “A baby?”

Smiling, he nods. “At least two, Carrie.”

I wrap an arm around his shoulders. “I like this confident version of you a lot.”


“Me too,” he says before he kisses my cheek. “I was thinking of taking the three of us out for lunch today.”

Posey rubs her hands on the front of her denim coveralls, leaving behind a faint pink paint line. “I’m a mess, but I’m in.”

“I’m a mess, too,” I chime in.

I didn’t sleep much after I got home from the hotel. I kept replaying my night with Rook over and over in my mind. Each moment of it was perfect, right down to how he kissed me goodbye on the sidewalk outside this building. He looked into my eyes, thanked me for the best night of his life, and then gave me a soft kiss on the mouth.

I was on cloud nine when I boarded the elevator, and by the time I got up here, I was giddy. As soon as I came through the door, Cindy was there to greet me. I wrapped her in my arms, sat on the couch, and closed my eyes as I recalled everything that had happened.

I lost my virginity to the most amazing man I’ve ever met.

Telford tugs on the sleeve of the green sweater I’m wearing. “You look great, Carrie.”

I can’t tell if he’s fishing for a compliment, so I offer one back in case he is, “I think you look great, too.”

His white-button down shirt and freshly pressed blue pants put my sweater and jeans to shame, but I’m used to looking underdressed next to him.

“Does Crispy Biscuit sound good?” he asks me before shifting his gaze to Posey.

She nods happily. “That diner has the best macaroni and cheese in the city.”

I can’t argue with that, so I don’t.

Telford has another opinion, though, that he can’t wait to share. “I make the best macaroni and cheese in this city. I use homemade noodles, creamy cheese sauce, and I add this bread and parmesan blend on top of it.”

“Yum.” Posey’s eyes widen.

“I’ll come over one night next week and whip up a tray of it for all of us,” he offers.

“I’m going to miss you two when this job ends.” She jerks a thumb in the direction of the mural.

“We’ll still hang out.” Telford smiles. “We share an appreciation for nursery art and cheesy macaroni.”


“Good.” Posey looks at her paint-covered palms. “I need to clean up.

Once I do that, I’ll be set to go.”

She makes her way to the doorway before disappearing down the hallway.

“I like her,” Telford tells me, even though it’s blatantly obvious. “Me too.” I nod.

“Pretty soon, your sister and Declan will be back, and you’ll be sent back to Brooklyn.”

I laugh. “You say that like it’s a bad thing. I miss my apartment.” I do.

It’s a quaint two-bedroom I purchased a few years ago with the proceeds of a trust my dad had set up for me before his death. He always told me that when I grew up, I should invest in real estate, so I knew the best way to honor his memory was to buy a property that I thought he’d be proud of.

I’ve worked hard to make it my own, and since the neighborhood I live in has become one of the most popular in the borough, I’m confident that one day, within the next two years, I can sell the apartment and pocket a hefty profit.

My life plan after that has always included purchasing a single-family home in Queens so I can be near my mom and Abby’s dad as they get older. When I have children, I want them to be as close to their maternal grandparents as possible.

“Your apartment is stellar.” He sighs. “I’ve been checking listings in the neighborhood to see if anything pops up.”

Surprised by that admission, I perk both of my eyebrows. “Are you saying you want to live close to me?”

He huffs out a nervous laugh. “I’m saying that I want a bigger apartment for my husband and me. Cam’s place isn’t much bigger than mine. I hope he’ll see the value in combining our resources to purchase an apartment we can grow into.”

“You and a baby can grow into,” I correct him.

His gaze wanders back to the mural. “That’s the dream, Carrie. That’s the dream.”





















“CARRIE’S here with that guy who caught the bouquet at the wedding,” Holden says as he leads the way into the bustling diner my daughter insisted we come to for lunch.

Kirby stops mid-step to look up at me. “Is that the Carrie that Uncle Declan said is looking after Cindy? And why didn’t you catch the bouquet, Daddy? You know how much I like wedding cakes, and if someone catches a bouquet, it means they’re getting married soon.”

That’s a lot to unpack, so I handle the first question and ignore the rest for now. “Carrie is Abby’s sister.”

“What?” Her hand jumps in the air. “Auntie Abby has a sister? My mind is blown.”

She plays that out by tapping her fingers on her head before spreading them in the air.

I glance over my shoulder at my brother. “Are you to blame for that?” Milo mimics Kirby’s head explosion mime with his hands. “Maybe.” Shaking my head, I laugh. “Seems more like a yes than a maybe to me.” “Hey, that looks like Posey.” Milo gestures toward where the trio is

seated. “That cute thing sitting next to her is Abby’s stepsister?” “She is cute.” Kirby giggles. “Posey is, too.”


Holden moves toward them. I wasn’t planning on seeing Carrie today, but I won’t pass on the opportunity to spend a few minutes staring at her.

It may not be ideal that my daughter is with me, but given my closeness to Abby and Declan, it was only a matter of time before they met.

“Hey, Carrie!” Holden calls out as we near them.

“Is she involved with that guy she’s sitting next to?” Milo asks in a whisper.

I shoot him a pointed look over my shoulder. “He’s her best friend, and she’s not interested in you.”

“You know this how?” he presses as we continue navigating around tables filled with diners.

All I offer in response is a shake of my head.

By the time I’m at the table with my little girl’s hand still holding mine, Carrie is on her feet and in Holden’s arms.

“Ah, I get it,” Milo whispers into my ear. “She’s got a thing for Holden.”


“She doesn’t,” I direct that right at my brother’s face. “Drop it, Milo.”

He tosses his hands in the air as if surrendering, but it’s delivered with a smirk.

“I’m Kirby Thorsen.” My daughter bulldozes her way into the middle of the embrace to tug on the bottom hem of Carrie’s sweater. “You’re Auntie Abby’s sister.”

Holden steps back to give Kirby the room she wants.

With an offered hand, Carrie smiles. “I am. It’s nice to meet you, Kirby Thorsen.”

Kirby shakes Carrie’s hand with all the exuberance you’d expect from a giddy five-year-old. “I like your glasses.”

Since Kirby is once again donning the lens free red frames on her face, Carrie returns the compliment. “I like your glasses, too.”

“They make me smarter.” Kirby sighs. “Do yours make you smart? Are you a lawyer like Auntie Abby?”

“I’m a chemist,” Carrie explains thoughtfully. “I make new perfumes in a lab.”

“I do, too,” Telford chimes in.

Kirby glances at him. “You have nice glasses, too. I’m Kirby.” “Telford.” He pats her shoulder lightly.


After offering Telford a smile, Kirby’s attention is right back on Carrie. “A chemist sounds fun. I have a chemistry set. Is it like that?”

Before Carrie can say another word, I jump into the discussion. “It’s kind of like that. Carrie is a scientist, Kirby. She’s developed some of the best fragrances in the world. In fact, the cologne I wear every day is one of Carrie’s creations. She’s brilliant and incredibly kind. She’s truly a remarkable woman.”

All eyes focus on me, including Carrie’s.

“Busted,” Milo whispers over my shoulder. “Someone has it bad for Carrie, and it sure as hell isn’t Holden.”





I DIDN’T CONFIRM or deny my brother’s suspicions because it’s none of his goddamn business. Beyond that, I don’t know if what I’m feeling for Carrie is related to the high I’m still riding from the sex last night or if I’m developing feelings for her.

Right now, I’d say it’s a mix of both.

“Can I come to your lab?” Kirby directs that question at Carrie but almost immediately shifts her gaze to Telford. “I think I could help. My mom has a lot of perfumes. I know what smells good and what’s stinky.”

She accentuates her point by clamping two fingers over her nose and sticking out her tongue.

Telford follows suit and does the same. The table erupts in laughter.

Since we’re all sitting together for lunch, we’re not a quiet bunch, but none of the other diners have been bothered enough to tell us to pipe down.

“You can come,” Telford answers before Carrie can say anything.

She glances across the table at me to confirm that it’s all right. It’s not ideal, since we’ve put an expiration date on what’s currently happening between us, but now that my best friend is married to Carrie’s sister, we’re inevitably going to cross paths for the foreseeable future.

“I’ll take you to the lab for a visit,” I offer because I’m curious to see Carrie in that environment.

“Today?” Kirby asks with joy flooding her expression.


“The lab is closed today,” Carrie tells her. “We can find a time next week for you to come. They’ll give you a visitor badge with your name on it at reception to wear around your neck.”

Kirby clamps a hand over Carrie’s forearm. “Seriously?”

Without asking anyone, Kirby claimed the empty chair that was between Carrie and Telford when Holden suggested we all sit together. While Holden and Milo dragged another table and a few chairs closer, Kirby made herself at home next to the woman I can’t take my eyes off of.

“Seriously,” Carrie assures her. “You can even take it home.”

With a giddy laugh, Kirby jumps to her feet and circles her arms around Carrie’s neck.

That hits me hard in a way I never could have anticipated.

I want more of this. I want my daughter to get to know this woman better, and dammit, I want that for me, too.





















“I LOVE THIS LITTLE CAT.” Kirby sighs as she nestles Cindy’s head close to her cheek.

The kitten has all the patience in the world. She’s been wrapped up in Kirby’s arms since she arrived here with her dad.

It was Posey’s idea to invite them back to view the mural. I thought I’d have at least the rest of the day to catch my breath after unexpectedly seeing Rook and meeting his daughter, but as soon as Kirby heard from Posey that there was a surprise for Abby, she wanted to see it.

“I won’t tell Auntie Abby about the storybook picture on the wall in that bedroom,” Kirby assures her dad for the third time since she viewed the mural. “I’m super good at keeping secrets.”

“You’re not,” Rook counters with a grin. “I have a feeling that Auntie Abby will see it as soon as she gets back from her trip.”

“Honeymoon,” Kirby corrects him, patting the empty spot beside her on the couch. “That’s what they call it when you get married and go on a trip.”

“Right,” he agrees with a sharp nod of his chin as he sits down close to her. “I think the cat could use a little me time, Kirbs.”

“She’s having me time.” She tugs Cindy even closer. “She’s with me, and you know you should call me Kirby, Daddy.”


That makes me smile. I haven’t been around children much, but this one in particular is amazing.

“Why do I feel like I’ve slipped down your list of best friends again?” Rook asks her.

She sighs so heavily that Cindy rears back to look at her face. “You’re in tenth spot now. Carrie is first, Telford is second, and oh, wait…”

“Posey is your third best friend?”

“Yeah, sorry, Daddy. That makes you number twelve.”

Grinning, Rook glances at me before he pats Kirby’s head. “I’ll take it.” “Can Cindy have a sleepover tonight?” She asks with a plea in her eyes.

“She can sleep in my bed. If she could talk, she’d tell me she wants to do it.”

Posey’s laughter filters in from the hallway. I turn to see her approaching the three of us. “You must have inherited the lawyer gene from your dad, Kirby. It’s a great argument, but I don’t think you’ll win this case.”

Rook rakes a hand through his hair as he stares at his daughter.

I can’t even imagine how hard it must be to say no to her, so I step in to save him from that. “I’d really miss Cindy if she were gone tonight, and all her things are here.”

Kirby looks right at me. “I don’t want you to miss her, Carrie, so I think she needs to stay here. Will you kiss her for me when you tuck her into bed tonight?”

I nod. “I’ll do that for sure.”

“Like this?” She demonstrates by tenderly lifting the kitten’s head before kissing her softly right between her ears.

“I’ll do it just like that.”

“You’re the best friend I’ve ever had,” she whispers. “I’m talking ever.”

Touched by that, I lean forward in the chair I’m sitting in. “You’re a great friend, too, Kirby.”

“It’s Kirbs to you,” she tells me as she glances at her dad.

Rook laughs, and she joins him, tapping her small hand on his knee. “I love you, Daddy.”

Brushing her bangs to the side, he kisses the middle of her forehead. “I love you more, Kirby. I love you so much more.”

A phone ringing breaks the moment.

Posey holds her hands in the air. “Mine’s in the nursery, so it’s not me.”


“I don’t have a phone.” Kirby glares at her dad. “Someone in this room says I’m not old enough.”

“That would be me.” Rook pushes to stand. “I am old enough to have one, and it’s ringing.”

Still clinging to Cindy, Kirby slides to her feet. “Is it Mommy?”

Posey shoots me a smile. “Her mom is Chesca Mills. Talk about gorgeous, right?”

I return the smile, but that’s all I offer.

“It is Mommy.” Rook glances at his daughter before he quickly looks in my direction. “I’ll take it in the kitchen.”

As he walks away, he answers the call, “Hey.”

Kirby’s gaze volleys from my face to Posey’s and then back again. “I think Mommy wants us to have dinner with her. Don’t tell anyone, but Daddy likes when she cooks eggplant and puts cheese on it. She puts extra on Daddy’s piece.”

“I won’t tell a soul.” Posey raises her hand. “I swear.”

“You swear, too, Carrie,” Kirby demands with a sweet little smile. I follow Posey’s lead and raise a hand, too. “I swear.”

“What exactly are you swearing to?” Rook asks as he rounds the corner to enter the main living area again.

“She can’t tell!” Kirby screams. “It’s a secret, Daddy.” His eyes catch mine. “I hope it’s a good one.”

It’s not. It’s one that is making me feel insecure in a way it shouldn’t. Rook and Chesca share a child. They lived together for years, so it makes sense that she’d know exactly what he likes to eat.

“Are we going to see Mommy for dinner?” Kirby asks with hope edging her tone.

“You are,” Rook tells her. “I have to work.”

“Scientists don’t work on Saturdays.” She points at me as an example. “Lawyers shouldn’t either.”

“I’m with Kirbs on this one,” Posey comments. “Lawyers shouldn’t work on weekends.”

“Neither should paralegals, but you’re on the clock tonight,” he says. “We’re meeting a potential new client, and I need a point person on this, so that’s you.”

A smile creeps over her lips. “Say no more, boss. I’ll go home and clean up and meet you at the office at…”


He picks up her sentence as her voice trails. “Seven, but not at the office. Atlas 22.”

“Fancy.” She brushes both hands over the front of her overalls. “It’s a date.”

Shaking his head, he looks right at me even though his words are meant for Posey. “It’s not a date. It’s a working dinner.”

Although it’s not necessary, I appreciate the clarification, so I smile and nod.

Rook looks down at his phone when the sound of a bell fills the air. “I’ll take you to see your mom soon, Kirbs.”

His fingers dance over the screen as she nods. “Okay, Daddy, but remember it’s…”

“Kirby, to me.” He shoots her a smile.

I drop my gaze to the table when my phone chimes, indicating an incoming text. I scoop it up quickly. Expecting a text from Abby checking in on her cat, I smile when I read the message on my screen.

My hands tremble slightly as I reply.

I look up and meet his gaze as soon as he reads my incoming message on his phone.

He stares at me, not blinking, not smiling. The hunger in his eyes speaks volumes.

It feels as though endless moments pass before he types out a reply.

I don’t respond via text. Instead, I lock eyes with him and nod slightly. I already know I’ll never get enough of him, and as much as that scares me, I don’t know how to stop the need to be with him. I don’t know if I ever will.





















TELFORD SPRINTS into the café and sits across from me without so much as a hello.

“It’s good to see you, too,” I joke. “Why the rush to get down here? I just saw you a few hours ago.”

Five, to be precise.

Like Holden and Milo, Tel bowed out of returning to Abby and Declan’s apartment earlier to view the mural because he said he had something urgent to take care of.

Once Kirby had her fill of playing with Cindy, she insisted her dad take her to see her mom. That’s when I texted Telford asking why he ditched us. I finally got a response twenty minutes ago telling me to meet him at this café near his apartment.

Even though I’m exhausted after the fun I had last night, I couldn’t refuse. Telford has always been there for me when I’ve needed him, so the least I could do was show up here for him.

“I returned the engagement ring I bought for Cam.”

Those words fall off his lips with absolutely no emotion attached to them. It’s so startling that it feels as though my heart freezes up in my chest.

I sip the lukewarm coffee in the mug in front of me.


“Hold on.” Telford shoves a hand through his hair, messing it a bit. “I should have prefaced that with something else.”

Trying not to smile because this may be the first time I’ve seen him without his hair neatly styled, I widen my eyes. “You think?”

A bark of laughter escapes him. “When I first bought it, the jeweler told me she does custom designed pieces.”

Telford is not a ‘custom designed’ kind of guy, so I take a minute to absorb that.

While I do, he leans back in his chair and dips his hand into the front pocket of his pants.

It reappears with a small square box in it. It looks like it’s covered in crushed blue velvet.

“I present the one-of-a-kind ring made exclusively for my future husband, Cameron Gleason.”

He opens the lid to reveal a gorgeous, thick black band with a single diamond embedded in it.

“It’s made out of titanium,” he says. “He’ll wear it on his right hand.”

He shifts again to tug another box out of his other pocket. “This will be his wedding band.”

I almost tear up at the unmistakable sound of confidence in his voice.

He’s gone from doubting whether Cam will say yes to knowing he will.

The second small box matches the first, but the ring inside has subtle differences. The band itself is crafted of titanium, too, but it’s bordered with white gold on the top and bottom, and smaller diamonds line the middle.

“Wow, Tel.” My voice trembles. “These are beautiful.”

“They’re more his style than the ring I bought to begin with.” He laughs. “These scream Cam to me.”

“To me, too,” I add to reassure him, although I don’t think he needs it. “They’re perfect.”

He grins from ear to ear. “They really are.”

“You have to send me a picture of the big moment,” I insist, keeping my tears at bay. “Right after he says yes, I expect to see a picture on my phone.”

“No can do.” He shakes his head. “I can’t do that, Carrie.”

That stings, but I don’t show it. I know engagements are deeply personal. I get that, but my sister sent me a deluge of pictures right after


Declan proposed. Granted, the happy couple took the time to get dressed before they started snapping all the images Abby had sent me.

“I get it.” I pat his hand. “Maybe you can show me one at work when you’re ready.”

His gaze searches my face before he pushes his eyeglasses up the bridge of his nose. “No, Carrie. I want you there to record it. I plan on doing it at the lab one day, right after work. I already talked to Mr. Black about it. He offered to arrange a string quartet and a floral delivery to set the mood.”

“That’s incredible,” I whisper. “This may be the most romantic proposal this city has ever seen.”

“It’ll at least be the most romantic one that ever takes place at Matiz.” “Absolutely,” I agree with a soft nod.

“When you get engaged, I can be there to record it all for you, too.” He grins.

“I’ll remember that when the time comes.”

He shoots me a knowing glance. “When you’re thirty-two, right?” “That’s the plan.” I take another sip of the coffee.

“After what I saw earlier at the diner, you may want to consider ditching that plan.”

The mug almost falls out of my hand. “What are you talking about?”

“Rook’s daughter kind of fell in love with you today.” He pushes on one of the lids of the ring boxes to snap it shut before he follows with the other. “I think her dad likes you, too.”

I shouldn’t ask, but I go for it because the curiosity he just awakened will burn a hole inside me until I know exactly what he meant by that comment. “What do you mean?”

“You know exactly what I mean.” He wags a finger at me. “That mini- speech he gave in honor of you was something else, and he couldn’t keep his eyes off you right through lunch.”

I don’t say a word because I’m at a loss to find the right ones.

He closes his eyes briefly before he levels his gaze on my face. “That man is not only in awe of your professional achievements, but he likes the woman under the lab coat.”

I can’t help but laugh softly.

“Laugh all you want, Carrie.” He rests an elbow on the table. “I know what I heard and saw today, and that’s a man interested in a woman. That woman just so happens to be my very best friend.”





















BACKSTABBING in business is part of everyday life in Manhattan. If I can use it to pad my bank account tonight, I’m here for it.

Posey is, too.

She’s sitting to my right, eating up every word falling out of the mouth of my potential new client. The man is rich with a capital R. The private jet he took to get to New York earlier today is proof of that.

Dalton Allard may live in Boston, but his business holdings are spread out over several eastern states. Since he’s hunting for new legal representation in the Empire State, I tossed my name in the mix.

Helena pulled some magic out of her hat when she spoke to him yesterday because he agreed to meet with me tonight.

I expected Helena to attend this dinner, but her rule of not socializing with her co-workers apparently extends to seeing any of us outside of regular office hours.

That suited me just fine because I’ve never had an issue selling myself.

My potential client motions for the server to approach. Once he’s within earshot, Dalton requests a bottle of stellar champagne. This dinner is on me, but I’m not about to balk. The retainer fee I expect to have in my hand before the night is over will fund not only my child’s entire college


education but will cover the cost of a degree for every kid of every staff member currently on staff with the firm.

“Thorsen,” he refers to me by my surname, just as he has since we met thirty minutes ago. “Tell me why you’re the man for the job.”

I’d list my accolades, but I’ve dealt with enough men like this to know the correct response. “You already know why.”

That sends his brown eyes in my direction. Posey’s gaze tracks his movements. She’s been doing that since we sat down.

I have no idea about her relationship status, but from what I’ve witnessed, she’d be open to anything with him. I mentally berate myself for not dragging Eamon along to this instead of her. Eamon is in a committed relationship with Declan’s assistant.

“Touché,” he bites out with a smirk. “Your reputation precedes you.

You’re not afraid to go for the jugular.”

That’s extreme, but on point. I do whatever it takes to ensure my clients come out on top, whether that’s within the scope of a dispute with a former employee or, in Dalton’s case, the acquisition of a billion dollar enterprise whose headquarters are located in a prime spot on Park Avenue.

He wants control of the company, and all of their real estate holdings, too. I thought I was greedy.

“He’s not afraid at all,” Posey backs me even though I never asked for




“Right,” Dalton brushes off her words and her with one single nod.

If her heart feels that, she sure as hell isn’t showing it. Instead, she’s


stealing glances at our server.

“I expect you to shoot straight from the hip and get me what I want at bottom dollar.” He taps his fingertip on the top of the table to accentuate his point.

His bottom dollar is higher than everyone else’s I’ve ever met, so I nod assuredly. “Not a problem, Allard.”

Two can play his surname game.

It seems he enjoys the volley between us, because he almost smiles. “I have two tickets for the Mets game tomorrow night. You’re sitting next to me for that.”

I’d prefer to have my cock in Carrie’s throat tomorrow night, but this deal is the largest the firm has ever landed or will land, I suspect, so I nod. “We’ll celebrate with good scotch after the game.”


Smoothing both hands over the lapels of his suit jacket, he laughs. “Celebrate? You have a hell of a lot of faith in the Mets.”

I shake my head. “I have a hell of a lot of faith in myself. We’ll be signing a contract detailing my representation of your interests in New York State, Allard. We’ll do that in our Empire Suite at Citi Field.”

Judging by the expression on his face, my mother’s drive to impress future clients is paying off. Shortly before she retired, she purchased exclusive rights to that suite in a multi-year deal.

The server returns with a bottle of the requested champagne and three glasses. He sets to pouring as Posey sighs. “I like baseball, too.”

I’d invite her to take in the game with us, but I’m dragging the firm’s heavy hitters to the ballpark with me tomorrow. Every attorney on our payroll will get a call from me before I go to bed tonight. Attendance is mandatory.

I just wish Abby were here to share this milestone with the rest of us.

Posey will witness the drawing up of the contract in the office tomorrow morning. Then, I need her back at Declan and Abby’s apartment to put the finishing touches on the mural.

For a split second, envy shoots through me because she’ll get to see Carrie tomorrow. I have to bow out of what I know would have been another incredible night in bed with her.

“Helena mentioned a suite at The Beaumont Hotel.” Dalton samples the champagne before sending the server away with a brush of his hand in the hand. “I own residential property in the city, so other accommodations won’t be necessary.”

It’s well documented in every article written about him in recent years that he inherited a penthouse on Central Park South along with a three- bedroom luxury condo on the Upper East Side.

Helena was obviously unaware of that if she offered him the hotel suite.

I can’t blame her for that misstep since he does call Boston home.

“I’ll arrange for everything in the Empire Suite for tomorrow’s game,” Posey reminds us of her presence. “If you require anything else, Mr. Allard, please let me know.”

He briefly looks at her. “I won’t, but I appreciate the offer.” Posey sends a partial shoulder shrug in my direction.

I toss her a smile to thank her for tagging along. I see promise in her, and if she wants to be a lawyer as badly as she claims, she needs to


understand the demands our clients make on us because that’s one part of the job they don’t teach in law school.





















TELFORD POPS his fists in the air as if he’s preparing to punch someone. “Tell me who was on that call, Carrie.”

I glance at my phone’s screen before shoving it back in my bag. I’d say it’s no one, but that’s the opposite of who Rook Thorsen is to me. He’s becoming someone special, and even though he had to break our date for tomorrow night because of a business commitment, I can’t be angry.

I could hear the disappointment in his voice. It mirrored what I’m feeling now.

I took the call outside the café for privacy, but that was short-lived because Telford wandered out less than two minutes later. He stood a few feet away while I finished up. I made a point of not saying Rook’s name because that would have sent Tel on a tangent that included a dozen questions I don’t want to answer.

“Just a friend,” I play it off like it’s no big deal.

“Nice try,” he says with a scowl. “I know heartbreak when I see it, and it’s written all over your face.”

I don’t have the heart to tell him he’s reading me wrong. This is a minor setback. I’ll get together with Rook again soon. He promised as much during the call.

“I’m just tired.” I sigh. “I didn’t get much sleep last night.”


“Did Cindy keep you up?”

I let him believe that by quickly changing the subject. “I had some thoughts about a new cologne for men.”

It’s not a lie. I have been typing notes into my phone about the formulation of a new cologne. It’s still in the ‘brewing-in-my-head’ stage, but there’s a real possibility it can turn into something worthwhile with a lot of additions, modifications, and perfecting.

“I’m hanging out with Cameron for most of the day tomorrow, so let’s talk it over at work on Monday morning,” he suggests.

“That sounds good to me.”

“You’ll handle the details of Kirby Thorsen’s visit to the lab?” He rubs a fingertip over the center of his forehead. “I’m sure Mr. Black will approve it.”

Since he signed off on the stripper-gram and Telford’s proposal idea, I can’t see why he’d deny a child’s curiosity in science. Besides, he’s encouraged to invite my sister and parents to the lab for months.

“I’ll send him an email,” I tell him. “I’ll copy Eda on that. She’ll appreciate being in the loop.”

“We have it good at Matiz, don’t we?” I nod. “It’s my dream job.”

“Mine too.” He smiles. “I’ll ride the subway with you back to Abby and Declan’s place before I head home.”

I’d shoo him away in the direction of his apartment since it’s so close, but I know Tel, and he’s a gentleman through and through. Besides, he’s one of the few New Yorkers I know who rides the subway just for fun sometimes.

“It is late,” I acquiesce. “I’d appreciate the company, Tel.”

“I know.” He reaches for my hand. “If I haven’t said it before, you’re like a sister to me.”

Tears prick my eyes, but I keep them at bay with a heavy swallow. “I’m glad because you’re like a brother to me.”

“You’ll be my kids’ Aunt when they’re born.”

Nodding, I squeeze his hand. “I like seeing you this happy.”

“I’m on the cusp of the life I’ve always wanted.” He kisses my hand lightly. “Seeing your sister get married hit me hard. I could really picture that being Cameron and me, and I need to make it happen. I will make it happen.”


“I know you will.”

“I meant what I said earlier,” he tentatively circles back to the conversation we had inside the café. “Rook Thorsen is feeling something for you. If you feel anything at all for him, see where it goes. What’s the worst that can happen?”

I’ll end up with a shattered heart.

I don’t say that to Telford because he’ll try to convince me that the risk is worth the reward, but I’m not sure it is, and there’s nothing anyone can say to change my mind.





I LAUGH as I reread the text message Rook sent to me just as I was getting into bed.

I turn toward the nightstand, so the light emanating from the lamp on it floods my phone’s screen.

I type out a response and hit send.

His reply is almost instant.

Only all of them.

I resist typing that into the screen of my phone. Instead, I go for something less ‘I have a massive crush on you’ and more ‘I want you to fuck me again.’

I laugh aloud at how much my life has changed in just a few short weeks. My plan to wait to have sex with a virtual stranger on my thirtieth birthday has transformed into me craving a man I initially met months ago.

I take a breath before I send my reply to him.


The message he sends me back sends a full blush up my cheeks. I feel my face heat and my body, too.

“All the time,” I whisper aloud, knowing no one can hear me.

Before I can come up with something to send in response to that, he’s sent me another message, promising a time when I can enjoy both of the things he just mentioned.

I don’t care if I seem eager as I send confirmation back to him.

I smile when I see his last message of the night pop up on my screen.

I place my phone on the nightstand, shut off the lamp, and close my eyes. “I can’t wait until Monday night.”





















DALTON ALLARD IS PLAYING hard to get, and I don’t appreciate the chase. I’ll succumb to it, but Jesus, I’m not a fan of kissing his ass.

He showed up to the ballpark in a bespoke three-piece suit with an attitude to match.

Claiming he was unfriendly with my staff would be a lie, but he wasn’t giving us an inch. I’m well aware of the fact that he has options when it comes to legal representation, but I’m the best in the state.

I’ve handled billion dollar mergers, and hostile takeovers. Hell, I’ve stepped foot in the middle of a family war over a company that clearly neither owner wanted any of their kids to get their hands on.

Yet, Mr. Allard wouldn’t sign on the dotted line last night.

He wanted slight changes to the contract. I appreciate the art of negotiation, so I compromised. He’s still screwing me around, but I know in time, and with some concessions on my part, he’ll circle back to me with a pen in hand.

“What are you doing right now?”

My head pops up to see Maura standing in the open doorway of my office. Since my daughter is currently at school, I’m not surprised to see her alone, but I am shocked that she’s here.


In the five years I’ve employed her, she’s never entered this office building.

“Working.” I shoot her a smile. “What are you doing?” “Looking for legal advice.”

In one swift movement, I’m on my feet, my suit jacket buttoned. “Did you kill someone?”

That sends her head back in laughter. “You think I’m capable of murder?”

I nod. “I do.”

Her laughter fades, but the smile remains on her face, lighting up her blue eyes from the inside out. “That’s quite the assumption. You do remember you’ve entrusted me to take care of your only child, right?”

“I hired you because I know you’ll protect Kirby at all costs.” I push the sides of my fists together and mime breaking something in two.

She understands what I’m insinuating. Maura is nearing seventy, but she’s in better shape than many women half her age. She has martial arts training, among many other attributes that warrant her very healthy salary.

I brush past her to shut my office door. “Sit.”

She sits in one of the visitor chairs that face my desk. After crossing her legs, she plucks a piece of white lint from her dark blue pants.

“Talk,” I say as I lower back into my chair.

“What do you know about extending contracts?” Her eyes twinkle. “Namely, negotiating with a hard-ass attorney for another two years of employment beyond what I’ve already signed up for.”

Relief floods me as I lean back in my chair. “This hard-ass attorney sounds like he knows his stuff.”

She nods. “He knows a good employee when he sees one, and I’m sure he’ll want to keep her satisfied, so he’ll be open to giving her a ten percent raise and an extra two weeks of vacation a year.”

“If I were the hard-ass attorney you speak of, I’d argue for twelve percent and three weeks, including airfare and five-star accommodation in Miami.”

Her smile widens. “My sister happens to live in Miami.” “Small world.”

“I’m not ready to retire, Rook.” She sighs. “I love Kirby too much to give it all up, and another two years just feels right to me.”


“I’ll take whatever I can get with you,” I say in an even tone. “I consider you an integral part of my daughter’s life. We need you, Maura, but at the same time, I need you to be happy with the arrangement.”

She nods. “I am. I get to take care of the sweetest little girl in Manhattan.”

“I’ll have the new contract drawn up for your signature this week?”

Her hand drifts over her forehead. “My current one doesn’t expire for another six months, so about that twelve percent…”

Huffing out a laugh, I press a button on my desk phone that signals that I need Svea to step into my office. “The raise will be retroactive, dating back to the first of this year.”

Her eyes widen. “That’s very generous of you.”

“What can I say?” I tilt my chin down. “I’m not only a hard-ass attorney, I’m a good guy.”

A light knock at the door prefaces the appearance of my assistant. “Yes, Mr. Thorsen?”

“Arrange for Maura to have a spa day at The Beaumont Hotel tomorrow.” I pivot slightly. “Also, have the hotel concierge get in touch with me today.”

I want that keycard waiting for Carrie if she arrives before me tonight. “Very well.” Svea nods. “Anything else, sir?”

I turn my attention back to Maura. “I’ll pick up Kirby from school tomorrow. You enjoy the time off.”

“You are one of the good ones, Rook.” She pushes to her feet. “Chesca was a fool to let you go.”

That’s not what went down. She didn’t let me go. I didn’t dump her. We just got to a place of pure honesty, where we admitted that our shared love for our daughter wasn’t enough of a bond to keep us in the same bed.

“Can I walk you to the elevator?” Svea offers to Maura. “I’d love to hear some Kirby stories.”

“I have a million of those.” Maura shoulders her leather tote.

I know it’s loaded with supplies for my daughter. She’s devoted so much of herself to Kirby that the least I can do is treat her with the respect and admiration she deserves.

I stand. “I’ll be in touch about the new contract.”

“I know you will.” She flashes me a smile over her shoulder. “I’m glad I stopped by.”


“You’re welcome here anytime, but the twelve percent is firm, Maura.” She stops at the threshold of my office to turn to face me. “Until it’s not.

I’ll see you back here in a year and a half.”

Laughing, I watch her walk away, knowing I’ll give her whatever she wants because she’s giving me something money can’t buy.

That’s the peace that comes with knowing my little girl is safe.





















MONDAYS HAVE NEVER BEEN my favorite day of the week, but today might have changed all of that.

Not only was Mr. Black completely on board with Kirby visiting the lab, but Mr. Benton stopped by to ask me how old Kirby is. He said he’ll arrange the visitor badges for her and Rook, but he tacked something on to the end of that. He’s ordering a little lab coat with Kirby’s name stitched on the front and the words Chemist in Training.

If it fuels a future love for the sciences within her, that will be the icing on the cake, but I’ll be just as happy if it’s a gift she’ll treasure forever.

“I take it that you want to be the one to ask Rook when he can bring Kirby to the lab?” Telford asks me as we exit the elevator in the lobby of the Matiz building.

Nodding my head, I motion for him to cut around a group of people waiting to board the lift. “I’ll do that.”

“In person or on the phone?” he queries with a perked brow. “One or the other,” I play it off like it’s no big deal.

“My vote is in person, so he’ll see your pretty face again.” I turn to look right at him. “Aw. Thanks, Tel.”

Pushing his glasses up his nose, he shrugs. “You know you’re pretty.

You don’t need any man, including me, to tell you that.”


He’s right about that.

There was a time years ago when I needed that validation in order to believe I was worthy of being labeled as pretty. I’ve always known I’m wickedly smart, but accepting that the woman I saw in the mirror every day is beautiful took a bit longer.

“What are you and Cam up to tonight?” I switch the subject with ease as we leave the building.

We’re instantly bathed in the late afternoon sun of the city.

Even though people are racing past us on the sidewalk, Telford leans his head back to soak in the warmth. “Cam’s working late, so I’m hanging out with my best friend.”

“Me?” I ask, chastising myself internally for not mentioning to him earlier that I have plans tonight.

His eyes pop open, and a smile takes over his mouth. “Yes. Unlike you, I only have the one best friend.”

His index finger jumps in the air to tap the tip of my nose. “I can’t tonight.” I sigh. “I’m sorry, Tel. I have plans.”

“What plans?”

“Dinner with a friend.” It’s not a complete lie, but it may not be enough to satisfy him since most of my current friends work at Matiz, and Tel knows them.

He eyes me carefully, weighing each of my words. “I know who it is, Carrie.”

I stand my ground and swallow hard in an attempt to chase away any redness creeping over my cheeks. I don’t know why my face gets flushed whenever I think about Rook.

“It’s that lady from Abby’s building,” he assumes.

He’s so far off base that it takes me a minute to catch up to him. I’m tempted to ask what lady, but before I can do that, he’s filling in that confusing blank for me.

“Mrs. Krasner from 22B.” He shakes his head. “It’s my fault, Carrie.”

“What’s your fault?” I ask because I feel like I’m lost on a path to nowhere, and maybe his answer will lead me in the right direction.

“I told her that you’re watching Cindy while Abby’s on her honeymoon.” He winces. “I know it wasn’t my place to say anything, but she mentioned that she’s planning a trip to Mexico in a couple of months


and can’t take her dog. She’d prefer if the dog stays at home instead of at a boarding kennel.”

I finally see where this is going. “She’s going to ask me if I’ll take care of her dog?”

He nods vigorously. “I think that’ll happen when you see her tonight.”

How did this conversation fly off the rails so damn fast? All I said was that I had plans tonight, and from what Tel just told me, I may have a side gig as a pet sitter for the people in my sister’s building.

“Tell her to call me if you don’t want to do it.” He smiles. “I’m open to it. Her trip is scheduled for a month, and her apartment is a three bedroom with a view of the park.”

“You’ve been in her apartment?” I know I sound shocked, but I’ve been staying in the building since Abby left on her trip, and I haven’t even met Mrs. Krasner yet.

“I helped her with some packages after I visited you one day.” He shrugs that off. “She was on her way in when I was on my way out. She made me a sandwich.”

I let out a laugh. “You’re full of surprises.”

He adjusts the strap of his messenger bag on his shoulder. “Since you’ve got plans, I think I’ll head to the library and then turn in early.”

I glance in the direction I need to go before I level my gaze back on his face. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Tel.”

“You bet.” He smiles. “I know I mentioned it earlier, but it bears repeating. Your new cologne idea is a winner.”

I smile. “Thanks.”

“We’re a great team.”

“The best,” I agree softly. “We’re going to take the fragrance world by storm time and time again.”

“Damn right, we will.” He playfully presses his fist against my shoulder. “I’ll see you back here bright and early tomorrow.”

I watch as he walks away, feeling truly grateful for his friendship.





















ANTICIPATION IS INTOXICATING when it involves an almost nude fragrance chemist and my cock.

As soon as I arrived at the firm’s suite at The Beaumont, I knew that Carrie was already there.

I felt it in the elevator as it inched closer to the floor where she is waiting for me. I sensed it when I tapped my keycard against the panel next to the door, and when the faint scent of her perfume hit me as soon as the door opened, my cock swelled inside my suit pants.

In my mind’s eye, I had played the scenario that would be waiting for me over and over again. Yet, it didn’t measure up to what I’m looking at now.

She’s on her side on the bed, facing me. Light green lace panties cover her pussy. The rest of her is bare. Her head rests on her arm. Her hair is cascading like a lush brunette wave over her shoulder.

“You said something about me being naked,” she purrs.

I will never claim to have had a hand in the transformation she’s undergone during the past few weeks. When she admitted to being a virgin at her sister’s wedding, she scurried away as if the words were tainted with shame.


I can’t say if that was the case or not, but this woman in front of me is as sure of herself as anyone I’ve ever met.

She knows the effect she’s having on me, and the soft smile on her lips tells me it’s bringing her all kinds of satisfaction, as it should.

“Fuck.” The word leaves me as a curse but morphs into a request when it reaches her.

She nods. “Yes, please.”

I wore too many goddamn clothes today. My three piece suit is suddenly too tight, the shirt under is cutting into my shoulders, and the tie is so constricting that I feel like I’m being suffocated.

Her gaze never leaves me as I tear them off as quickly as I can, dropping everything on the floor, including my expensive watch and diamond cufflinks.

A laugh escapes her. “You’re eager.”

“For you,” I growl as I finally push my boxer briefs to the floor, freeing my cock.

Her lips purse as she lets out a tiny, staggered breath. “Remember that this will be my first time sucking you.”

“Sucking my…” I lead her toward what I want her to say, what I sense she wants to say.

I need for this woman to feel free with me. I want to be her safe place to experiment, whether that’s with her body or her words.

Her legs move slightly as her gaze latches on mine. “This will be my first time sucking your cock.”

Desire drives me to the bed with heavy footsteps. Once I’m there, I’m on top of her, straddling her shoulders as my throbbing cock rests just below her chin.

“My glasses,” she whispers. “Put them somewhere.”

I take them off carefully, and when I reach to drop them on the nightstand, they almost tumble from my hand because I feel her lips touch the tip of the crown of my cock.

I somehow put the glasses down in one piece before I’m right above her, looking down at her again.

I watch as my cock disappears between her lips. Her eyelids flutter shut as she takes more.

Her mouth and the soft moans threading out of her feel like so much that I have to reach forward to grip the headboard. I hold tight as she wraps


her fist around the root of my cock.

“You’re so good,” I praise her as she takes more.

The need to rut inside her mouth is strong, but I fight the urge.

I have to tamp down my need and go slow, so with shallow thrusts, I fuck her pretty little mouth until I feel my balls tighten, and with a heavy push back, I come all over her tits and neck.





SITTING naked on the edge of the bed, I push my palms into my eye sockets. The vision of Carrie’s face after I came all over her will never leave my mind.

A languid, content smile crept over her lips as my cum covered her skin. She admonished me briefly, but that came with a note of satisfaction in her tone.

“I wanted to taste it, Rook,” she pouted, but the words held no weight because her fingers were already trailing through the mess I’d made between her tits that reached all the way up to the bottom of her neck.

When she used her fingertip to line her lips with my release, I was hard again. When her tongue traced over the path to taste me, I crawled off the bed, sheathed my cock, and fucked her hard until she came in a cry that pierced my very soul.

What I feel for her transcends the sex. It’s that good, but what’s happening inside my heart is beyond all of that.

For the first time in my life, I’m falling in love.

“Rook!” Carrie calls to me from the bathroom. “Come join me.”

She wants me to sink into the oversized tub with her and get lost in the bubbles. In the giddy afterglow of our fuck she dropped the bottle of Matiz bubble bath into the tub, spilling the fragrant liquid.

She laughed it off as she started the water. I stood behind her and stared at her, captivated by everything about her.

I scrub my hand over my neck before I push to stand. “I’m coming!”

“You will be,” she playfully volleys back. “I think I can make you do that just with my hands.”

Just with her hands.

It’s such a gross understatement that I can’t help but chuckle.


She has no idea that she holds so much in her hands. Not only my pleasure but the promise of my future.

I have no fucking clue how to tell her that I’m falling for her.

“Rook?” she calls out again, but fear taints her voice. “Are you there? Is everything all right?”

“I’m here!” I push to stand. “I’m on my way.”

“Hurry,” she lures me with a small laugh. “I can’t wait to see you covered in bubbles.”

Pressing both hands to the center of my chest, I take a deep breath and go to the woman I’ll never possibly get enough of.





















“I’LL BRING Kirby by the lab on Wednesday afternoon,” Rook says, looking up from the screen of his phone. “Are you sure you’re up for it?”

I nod silently. I’m too struck by how ridiculously sexy he looks right now. The end of his tie is hanging out of one of the pockets of his suit jacket. His vest is almost completely buttoned back up, but his shirt isn’t. With the three open buttons beginning at the collar, a sliver of his chest is visible under it.

Not to mention that his hair is mussed.

I’ve never understood what freshly fucked meant until right now. “You’re staring at me,” he accuses.

I nod again, but words accompany it this time. “You’re really handsome.”

A low laugh flows easily from him. “I’m glad you think so.”

“I’m not talking just handsome, “ I rattle on, my inhibition fueled by the great sex and two glasses of champagne I had with our room service dinner. “You’re the best-looking man I’ve ever met.”

His brow furrows before that’s chased away by the broad smile that lights up his entire face. “We’re even then. You’re the most stunning woman I’ve ever laid eyes on.”


I know I look a mess at the moment. The steam from the bath reinvigorated the natural curl in my hair. The mascara I applied earlier got lost in the tub water when I washed my face after Rook came again. This time, I used my hand to get him off, and when he was close, I demanded he stand so he could shoot his release on my tongue.

He did, but I wanted more, so I tilted my chin up, and he shot a thick white rope of cum on my cheek while he grunted my name.

“I want another night with you,” he states gruffly. “You suggested one more last time, but…”

“I want that, too,” I interrupt, not caring that I sound eager. “Maybe two more?”

Relief floods his expression. “Yes. Good. Two more nights.”

I want to tack a million onto the front of that number, but he hasn’t given me any sign that he’s interested in more than two more encounters with me and the lab visit with his daughter.

His phone chimes, luring his gaze back down to it. “Fuck.”

If Telford or Abby had that reaction to something on their phones, I’d be craning my neck to try and peek at it, but this man is a dad and an attorney. Besides, we’re temporary lovers. Our bond doesn’t reach beyond that.

“I’m trying to sign a new client.” He glances at me. “The guy isn’t giving me an inch here. He wants to meet up for a drink.”

Since we are both already dressed in anticipation of leaving, I nod. “Like I said a few minutes ago, I should get back to Cindy.”

That was my excuse to leave because I felt overwhelmed after he carried me from the bathroom and laid me on the bed before he ate my pussy with such tenderness that tears welled in the corners of my eyes as I came.

“I was planning on taking you back there.” He smiles.

“I can make it on my own,” I say softly. “Go meet your client.” “Potential client,” he corrects me.

“Tell him that Carrie Gilbert says you’re the best lawyer in the country.”

His soft laugh sends my heart soaring. It’s such a beautiful sound. It warms me from the inside out. “What would your sister say about that?”

I slap a hand over my mouth and fake being shocked. “Promise you won’t tell her.”

We stare at each other for what feels like endless moments. We made an agreement before we slept together for the first time that our relationship


would remain a secret. Neither of us has broached the subject since.

He cups a hand around my neck before he kisses me softly. “I won’t tell Abigail a thing about us.”

I welcome in the confirmation, but a part of me wishes he would tell her something. Maybe something about never intending to fall hard for me, but despite his best intentions, he couldn’t resist me.

“I’ll walk you down?” he offers.

I glance back at the bed and the rumpled sheets. It’s evidence of every orgasm I had tonight and hopefully of a few more during the next two times I visit this hotel suite.

“Sure.” I look at his face. “I always feel like I should thank you for…”

“For what?” He skims a finger over the curve of my jaw. “I should be the one thanking you for the best sex I’ve ever had.”

I don’t know if those words are based in truth, but I’m not about to question him.

I want them to ring in my ears and stay in my memory forever, so before he can say another thing, I hurry past him to grab my bag. “We better get going.”

He pockets his phone. “You have the keycard, right? I want you to use it the next time we meet up because, damn, that was a hell of a nice sight to see when I walked in.”

A blush doesn’t color my cheeks this time. Instead, I straighten my shoulders and smile. “I have it, and if you play your cards right, I may be completely nude the next time you walk in here.”

“Swear to that under oath.”

I close the short distance between us with just a few steps. Looking into his blue eyes, I sigh. “Trust me, Rook.”

“I do,” he whispers. “With my…”

Before he can finish that, his phone is sounding off again with a series of chimes.

“Jesus,” he whispers. “I should toss this thing in the East River.”

Laughing, I set off toward the door. “Your client awaits, and I have a cute kitten that needs my attention, so let’s go.”





















KIRBY GLANCES back at me with the brightest smile I’ve ever seen. I know she views this experience as a gift just for her, but it’s as much, if not more for me.

The memories of this afternoon will live with me forever.

Seeing my daughter holding tightly to the hand of the woman I’m falling in love with is overwhelming me in a way I’ve never felt before.

“Can I touch that?” Kirby points to a test tube filled with bright green liquid.

She may be wearing small white linen gloves supplied by Carrie’s boss, but she’s still hesitant.

Carrie called me this morning to reassure me that she was setting up what she called a ‘practice lab’ for Kirby. Every brightly hued concoction within my daughter’s reach is simply colored water.

Kirby squealed when Carrie led her into the lab with me in tow.

That’s when she presented her with a small lab coat and the gloves. Carrie made sure to tell Kirby that the coat and gloves were gifts from her boss. Telford chimed in that the lanyard around Kirby’s name and the one I’m sporting are security requirements, and for the time that Kirby is in the building, she’s a chemist in training.


“You can touch it,” Carrie says, demonstrating by carefully lifting the test tube from a holder before offering it to Kirby.

Kirby takes it gently, bringing it closer to her face.

She’s wearing the red plastic glasses frames. That brought a smile to the faces of the company’s CEO, Nolan Black, and the COO, Crew Benton. We met both men in the building’s lobby when we arrived fifteen minutes ago.

“I think I would be a good chemist,” she says assuredly, offering the test tube back to Carrie. “What do you think?”

“I think you’re a natural.” Carrie reaches for a small vial on a shelf out of Kirby’s reach. “Telford and I worked on this earlier today just for you.”

Kirby glances at me. I instantly recognize the expression on her face. She’s close to tears. I take a few steps closer so she knows I’m right beside her.

“What is it?” she asks, her tiny voice trembling.

“It’s called Kirby,” Carrie smiles, a light laugh escaping her. “It’s a scent that we made just for you.”

Her hands take it from Carrie. Cradling it in the air, she studies a small label on the side of it. From where I’m standing, all I can make out are block letters spelling out her first name.

She carefully unscrews the cap before she dips her nose close to the roller ball.

“This smells like sunshine,” she whispers. “It smells like lemons, grass, and blueberries when we buy them in the summer.”

Jesus. What an incredible gift.

I can’t look at Carrie because I know my eyes will betray me. If I held any doubt that I was falling in love with her, it’s been stripped away.

“Carrie is giving me too much credit,” Telford says from where he’s been sitting on a chair next to a desk a few feet from where Carrie and Kirby are. “She created the scent. I just made the label.”

“Thank you both,” Kirby’s voice cracks.

I glance up to see her smiling up at Carrie. The adoration in her eyes is apparent, and the tenderness in Carrie’s expression as she stares down at my daughter is unmistakable.

I don’t want two more nights with her. I want every night for the rest of my life.

“Can I roll it on my wrist?” Kirby asks. “Should I take off the gloves to do that? Is it safe, Carrie?”


“It’s very safe.” She demonstrates by removing her gloves. “Everything in your scent is organic and comes from natural things like plants and fruit.”

Kirby carefully applies the fragrance to her wrist before she brings that to her nose to take a whiff. “This is so nice. I love it.”

“Good.” Carrie skims a hand over Kirby’s shoulder. “I’m glad you love





“Here, Daddy.” Kirby rushes toward me with her arm extended. “Smell I crouch before she reaches me. Taking her small hand in mine, I bring


it to my nose and inhale. The scent is subtle, and refreshing, but there are definitely notes of summer in it.

“Don’t you love it, too, Daddy?” she asks me. “Isn’t Carrie the best?”

Nodding, I glance at the woman who made my daughter the happiest girl on earth. “Carrie is the best. She’s the absolute best.”





















“UNCLE HOLDEN and I are doing a dance together,” Kirby says to me as we stand in the foyer of the Matiz building. “Could you come?”

Unsure of how to answer that, I look to her dad for guidance.

He nods. “Auntie Abby and Uncle Declan will be there, so I’m sure Carrie would love to be in attendance, too.”

Since he mentioned my sister and brother-in-law, the assumption is clear that this dance will happen once Abby is back in Manhattan.

“Sure.” I smile at Kirby. “I’d love to be there.”

“It’s a recital,” she clarifies. “We are tap dancers.”

I don’t know Holden Sheppard all that well, but I’m surprised to learn he’s a tap dancer.

“Daddy will text you all about it.” Kirby reaches up to tap the corner of the phone in Rook’s hand. “Do it now, Daddy, so she knows where to go.”

“Right.” He nods.

Within second my phone’s screen lights up with his incoming text message.

I steal a glance at his smiling face before I type out a response.


When I look at him this time, he nods with a wicked gleam in his eyes.

His next message sends a pulse of desire coursing through me.

I suck in a deep breath and respond.

He studies my face briefly before his fingers trail over his phone’s screen.

Looking up, I nod.

“Can we go get ice cream now?” Kirby tugs on the bottom hem of Rook’s suit jacket. “Please, Daddy.”

He glances at the watch on his wrist. “Let’s pick up a pint on our way home. You can have a small bowl for dessert after dinner.”

“Lawyers,” she scoffs as she tosses me a look.

I can’t help but laugh at her larger than life personality. “My sister is a lawyer, so I get it.”

She nods. “We’re kind of the same, Carrie. We love cats, and I’ll be a scientist, too, and we both know lawyers.”

“We are kind of the same,” I agree. “I like that.”

“Me too.” She quickly closes the distance between us to wrap her arms around my waist. “Thank you again for everything.”

Pulling her into an embrace, I smile down at her face. “You’re very welcome.”





I STEP CLOSER to the finished mural and take in as much as I can. It’s so much more beautiful than I imagined it would be. Posey’s artistic talents are profound.

“You are so gifted,” I tell her. “Posey, you need to show this off to the world.”


She waves her phone in the air. “I am. I posted a few finished pictures of it to my socials.”

“Good.” I nod as I turn to face her. “I’m truly in awe of it. I think my sister will be in tears when she sees it for the first time.”

Her hands leap to the center of her chest. “That’s all I can hope for.”

My gaze drops to the watch on my wrist. “Have you eaten yet? We can order something in for dinner?”

“Or we could go visit my brother in Brooklyn?” Her eyebrows dance. “You’re both single.”

“I’m not,” I blurt out, unsure why I would express vocally what my heart is feeling.

I’m falling in love with Rook, and since I spent time with him and his daughter at the lab earlier, I’ve been lost in thoughts of what it would be like to be part of their everyday lives.

“You’re seeing someone?” Her lips curve up. “Since when?”

“It’s new.” I rub the center of my forehead. “Really new, and I’m not sure where it’s going, but I’m not interested in anyone else right now.”

“Does Telford know?”

The question surprises me enough that I take a step back. “No. Why?”

She sighs. “I was talking to him earlier, and he was the one who suggested I take you to see Elio. I think he just wants you to be as happy as he is.”

“I am happy,” I insist. “I don’t want Tel to get his hopes up about my future. I don’t know what that looks like right now, so I want to keep this new relationship quiet.”

She mimes locking her lips closed with a key before playfully tossing it over her shoulder. “I won’t tell a soul.”

I reach forward to squeeze her forearm. “Thank you, Posey.”

“I need you to keep a secret for me, too.” She bows her head before her eyes latch onto mine.

“I will,” I assure her. “I won’t tell anyone.”

“I’m craving pasta from Calvetti’s.” She laughs. “Elio would be heartbroken if he knew that I was passing on his food to indulge in Mrs. Calvetti’s spaghetti, but I need it bad.”

Laughing, I start toward the guestroom door. “Let’s go there. Dinner is on me. You’ve created something I know my sister will treasure forever. I can’t thank you enough for that.”





















AFTER PLUCKING a piece of lint from the skirt of my gray dress, I shift my gaze back to my phone’s screen.

I know what Rook told me the last time we were at this hotel, but I still wish he would have texted me back at some point this afternoon.

I read the text message I sent to him about an hour ago.

When he didn’t respond by five thirty, I tried calling his cell, but it went straight to voicemail. That’s when I typed out another text message, hoping it would grab his attention.

A quick glance at my phone tells me it’s almost six, so I should hop on the elevator and make my way up to the suite. Not wanting to take advantage of Rook’s generosity, I dial his office number.

Svea picks up almost immediately. “Rook Thorsen’s office.”

Surprised to hear her voice, I clear my throat. “Hi, Svea. It’s Carrie Gilbert.”


“Carrie.” Her tone softens. “How are you? How’s Abby? I can’t wait for her to get back from her honeymoon.”

“I’m good,” I say slowly, giving myself time to come up with a reason why I would be calling Rook. “Abby’s great. I’m excited for her to come home, too.”

“Are you calling about the mural?” She jumps straight into an assumption that works in my favor. “Posey showed me a few pictures she took of it, and all I can say is wow.”

“It’s even more breathtaking in person,” I tell her.

“When she was in earlier, she said it’s complete.” She pauses before she goes on, “I know she was looking for Rook to tell him that in person, and I assume you’re trying to get word to him about that, too.”

“Yes,” I lie. “I’ve tried texting him a couple of times. Do you know how I can reach him?”

“You can’t,” she says succinctly. “He’s been out of the office with a very important client for most of the afternoon. She had some pressing issues and needed Rook to take care of them with her, so I assume his phone is set to silent. I have a number I can reach him at, but he was clear that I’m only to use it if it’s regarding his daughter.”

“Of course,” I say, relieved that there’s a plausible explanation for Rook not answering my texts.

“He said I should expect to hear from him around seven for any updates.” She clicks her tongue. “I’ll let him know then that you called.”

“That’s not necessary.” I shake my head even though I know she can’t see me. “I’m sure Posey will tell him about the mural.”

“She’s so excited that she definitely will.” She laughs. “Have a good night, Carrie.”

I wish her the same as I end the call.

Glancing at the bank of elevators, I smile. “I’m about to have a very good night.”

I type out one last text message and press send before I stand.



PRESSING A HAND TO MY STOMACH, I say a small prayer, hoping that my lunch will stay put.

I’m not only nauseous, but I’m lightheaded, too.

I reach out a hand to grab hold of the foyer table in the hotel suite, but all that does is lure my gaze to the small decorative bowl that sits atop it.

Placed neatly in there is a pair of silver cufflinks and a watch.

It’s an Abdons watch, and I’ve seen it wrapped around Rook’s wrist many times.

“God! You know how to fuck!” A woman’s voice sounds through the suite from the partially ajar bedroom door.

A series of deep grunts follows that, along with a chorus of moans coming from the woman currently getting screwed in what I assume is the bed, judging by the sound of the rhythmic pounding of the headboard into the wall.

“Every woman wants to be fucked just like this!” she squeals.

I pick up the watch and hold it in my hand. I know it’s expensive. I’m tempted to smash it against the floor.

I thought I was Rook’s only lover, but that was foolish.

Why would I be?

We never discussed being exclusive. The agreement was to sleep together a few times, then part ways.

At no time did we talk about other people.

A tear slides down my cheek and lands on the face of the watch. I scrub it off by rubbing it on the front of my dress.

My eyes catch on the inscription on the back of it.


To Rook.

Forever and a minute more. Chesca


The screen of a phone inside a pink case next to the bowl lights up with an incoming text message.

My gaze wanders to the dark blue suit jacket and matching pants on the floor. A red dress makes a stark puddle on the light hardwood floors next to


a light blue button-down shirt. Nude high heels and a pair of men’s dress shoes are nearby.

The woman screams out as I drop the watch back into the bowl. “I’m coming! Oh my God! I’m coming again!”

A low growl fills the air as her lingering moans drown out whatever he’s saying.

He’s my only lover. He’s the only lover I ever wanted, but I’m not all he wants. He wanted a woman named Nia today, maybe someone else tomorrow, and eventually, he’ll want others.

I can’t blame him.

The rule Rook said to me before we made love for the first time rings in my ears as I leave the suite and him behind.

Don’t fall in love with me, Carrie.”

“Too late,” I whisper as I quietly click the door shut behind me and walk to the bank of elevators with tears streaming down my cheeks.





















I WHACK my phone against my palm, hoping that will wake the damn thing up.

“It’s dead,” Joan Pulliam, the woman I just spent the past five hours with, points out the obvious. “You need to charge it, Rook.”

I’m tempted to tell her I’m aware, but she’s paying me way too much to be curt with her. Besides, she’s an old friend of my mother’s.

When Joan called me last week to request a time to go over her will, I almost suggested she meet with a lawyer specializing in estate law, but she’s been with our firm for years. As such, we handle everything that pops up for her that falls under the umbrella of what a skilled attorney can do.

She’s greedy with my time, and insists that I don’t take calls or even look at my phone when I’m with her. Given what my hourly rate is, I can’t blame her for that.

“I can grab you a charger,” she offers, peering down the hall of her massive penthouse. “Or I’ll have someone do that for me.”

Huffing out a laugh, I shake off the offer. “Can I borrow your phone to call Svea? I need to check in to see if there’s anything pressing that I should address.”

I already know nothing requires my immediate attention because I told my assistant to call Joan’s cell in case of an emergency. Still, I want to


check in.

She walks over to the granite-topped island in the center of her kitchen to pick up her cell phone. “You mean you want to check to be sure Kirbs is all right.”

I smile at her use of my daughter’s coveted nickname. “You know me.” “I know you’re a great dad,” she says as I dial Svea’s cell number.

I toss her a grin in gratitude before I set my attention on the call.

“Hey, boss,” Svea says with a sigh. “I see you either lost your phone again or it died again.”

Her repeated use of the word ‘again’ is only mildly annoying. Svea is a great assistant, and I’ve come to realize that my job would be a hell of a lot harder if I didn’t have her to depend on.

“It died,” I admit. “I’ll have it charged up within the hour.” Joan wanders away to set the tea kettle back on the stove.

Like Maura, Joan has a distinct love of tea. Her collection rivals Maura’s, and even though I’m not a tea drinker, I indulged in a few cups today.

The old adage of doing whatever it takes to satisfy the client comes to mind.

“Anything I need to know about?” I ask.

“Kirby is great,” she assures me. “I called Chesca about ten minutes ago to check in. She appreciated it, I think. We had a nice chat about the guy she’s dating.”

A smile parts my lips. “Good. He does sound like a good guy.”

I don’t know much about Brian Borges other than what Chesca told me after their first date last week. He’s an architect with a son a year younger than Kirby. Chesca plans to introduce both of them to our daughter at some point, but she doesn’t want that to happen until she’s sure the relationship is heading somewhere.

“Anything else?” I press, because it’s nearing seven and I want to surprise Carrie by being the one sprawled naked on the bed in the hotel suite when she arrives.

“Carrie Gilbert called,” she says with a light laugh. “She said you didn’t need to call her back, but maybe you could when your phone is up and running? It sounds like she wants to discuss the mural for Abby’s baby.”

I run a finger over my bottom lip. “Sure. I’ll do that.”


“Chesca filled me in on the perfume gift that Carrie made for Kirby.” I hear the smile within her words. “It made Chesca emotional. I got misty eyed, too. Kirby deserves all of these wonderful people in her life.”

“I agree,” I say, holding my emotions at bay.

My daughter does deserve all the good people in her life. I wish I could say the same for me. I want to be worthy of Carrie, but her soul is filled with light. I’m a jaded lawyer who hasn’t always done right by the people he cares about.

I was a jerk when I was younger. I used my family’s resources to gain favor with women and even once tried to bribe a professor in college into improving my grade.

I’ve changed since I’ve become a dad, but I still know I can improve. I want to. I want to be the type of man who Carrie is proud of.

“Are you off the clock for the night?” Svea asks. “Or is there something you need help with?”

“I’m done.” I huff out a laugh. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“You know it.” She pauses before going on, “I’ll see you tomorrow.

Goodnight, boss.”

“Night,” I say before I end the call.

When I turn around to search for Joan, I find her standing right behind me with a cell phone charger dangling from her fingers. “I found one in the junk drawer.”

Huffing out a laugh, I shake my head since I know the hotel suite has an array of phone chargers in the drawer of the foyer table. “You have a junk drawer?”

“Doesn’t everyone?” She smiles. “You don’t want to hang around and use this?”

“I can’t.” I pocket my phone before glancing at my watch. “Hot date?”

Those words don’t come close to capturing what I’ll experience with Carrie tonight. “I’m meeting a remarkable woman for a few hours.”

Her gaze trails over my face. “Does your mother know you’re in love?” “Who said I’m in love?”

“You didn’t have to.” She pats the center of my chest. “It’s what you didn’t say.”

My brows pinch together in silent query.


“You don’t want to label it,” she explains. “You don’t know how to yet, and that’s because you’ve never been in love before.”

My mom is well aware of the scope of my feelings for Chesca. She knew I’d never told Kirby’s mom I loved her. Lying to the mother of my child is something I will never do.

“Don’t tell my mom,” I warn with a playful wag of my finger. “I’ll tell her.”

“I won’t say a word,” she promises. “When you’re ready to tell her you love this remarkable woman, you will, and knowing your mom, she’ll be picking out wedding flowers right away.”

I kiss her cheek softly. “My remarkable woman is waiting for me.” She pats my chin. “Cherish her always, Rook. Always.”

“That’s the plan.”





















AS SOON AS I let myself into the firm’s suite at The Beaumont Hotel, I know something is amiss.

The scent of a woman’s fragrance hangs in the air, but it’s not Carrie’s.

It’s not the perfume she always wears. It’s certainly not one that she’s had a hand in developing.

I can identify all of those with my eyes closed.

This perfume is more floral with a sharp note of jasmine.

My gaze falls on the mess of clothing and shoes on the floor. They’re leading a path to the bedroom.

“What in the actual fuck is going on?” I murmur.

My answer comes waltzing out of the bedroom with her red hair tangled in a mess and a barely there bra and panty set covering everything I don’t want to see.

I bow my head to ensure I don’t view more than I want. “Who the hell are you?”

“Who are you?” she purrs back. “You’re a sight for a sore pussy.” Since I don’t know what that means, I ignore it.

“My pussy was destroyed today.” She giggles. “It could use some love in the form of a kiss to make it better.”


“Nia?” A voice I recognize immediately calls out what I assume is her name. “Who are you talking to?”

“A hot guy in a suit,” she volleys back.

“What the fuck?” Milo mutters before he steps through the doorway of the bedroom.

A trail of red marks mars the skin of his neck and chest. Red lipstick paints an uneven line down his torso before disappearing beneath the waistband of his boxer briefs. “Rook?”

“Rook?” Nia asks. “Cool name.”

I ignore her and lock my gaze on my brother. “Explain.”

“Explain what?” He brushes past Nia to pluck his pants from the floor. “I use this suite when I need a place to…”

“Fuck like a beast,” Nia interrupts, filling in the blank with what she deems necessary for me to know.

I shake my head as my brother finishes what he started. “I use the suite when I need a place to meet potential investors or friends.”

“Since when?” I bite out.

“Since mom gave me a keycard.” He produces it from the pocket of his suit jacket.

“You have an apartment,” I point out. “Why couldn’t you meet your friend there today?”

He shoots me a look meant to shut me up.

A raised eyebrow on his part finally clues me in. He didn’t want this woman to know where he lives, so he used the firm’s suite to fuck her.

Shaking my head, I jerk a thumb over my shoulder. “I need you both out of here now.”

Demanding they leave isn’t necessary because I’m the one who is about to take off. I need to charge my phone before I do that because I don’t want Carrie to meet me here. I want to take her home with me, and if she’s against that, I’ll drop to my knees and plead with her to take me to Abby’s apartment with her, or better yet, to her home in Brooklyn.

I can’t picture her there, and since she’ll be moving back there soon, I want to know what it’s like. I want to know everything about her.

I open the drawer to the foyer table and fish out the phone chargers. Naturally, the cords are a tangled mess, so I shift through them, finding the one that will power my phone.

“I’m leaving,” Milo says from behind me.


“I’d offer to stick around, but Milo wore me out,” Nia tells me something I don’t want to know.

“You’re welcome,” he says with a chuckle.

“When can we meet up again?” she asks him.

I keep my back turned because I know how my brother will answer that, and I don’t need to see the woman’s face when he does.

“Let’s talk about that later,” he suggests. “I’ll walk you out.”

“Let’s talk about it now,” she counters. “I want to firm up a next time now, because as I said, the fuck was the best I’ve ever had.”

I wince.

With the charger in my hand, I yank open the door of the suite and step back into the hallway.

As soon as the door clicks behind me, I hear her voice rising. Milo’s is as calm as ever, and then something shatters against the door.

Within seconds, she’s opened the door as she ties the sash of her dress. Her shoes hang from her fingers, and a purse is strung over her shoulder. A phone in a pink case is firmly in her grip.

“He’s an asshole,” she spits out at me. “A real asshole.”

I shrug as she marches toward the elevator. Her mane of red hair punctuates her movements, swaying with every step she takes.

I push the door back open since I used my shoe to keep it ajar.

“She’s pissed,” Milo points out the obvious. “I’m too good in bed, Rook.”

I huff out a laugh. “Shut the fuck up.”

He picks up his shirt. “She broke the watch.”

When I move my foot slightly, I glance down at the shattered pieces of the designer watch Chesca gave me after Kirby was born. I wore it until we decided to end our relationship.

I had plans to donate it, but Milo scooped it up when he saw it in the box of items I was about to drop off at a shelter. He said he didn’t give a fuck about the inscription, and he’s had it on his wrist every day since.

Declan was the one who replaced it with an identical watch. He claimed he got it for a steal since Sean’s close friend is the CEO of Abdons.

I plug my phone in while my brother sets off toward one of the room’s phones, sitting atop a desk in the corner.

“This is Mr. Thorsen,” he says into the receiver. “We need someone to come up to the suite to clean up a broken item and do a few other light


housekeeping chores.”

There’s a pause before he thanks the person who took that request and ends the call.

He rests both hands on the desk and takes a heavy breath. “I’m fucking tired of this, Rook.”

“Tired of what?” I ask impatiently as I wait for my phone to pop back to life.

“This,” he stresses the word. “The fucks are fun, but this hole inside of me afterward is like a crater. I feel like shit.”

I don’t say a word because I know my brother. He needs to get this off his chest.

“I met her on the app and thought, why not?” He huffs out a humorless laugh. “I brought her here. We had a few hours of fun, and then you heard what happened.”

When he glances up, I nod. “You told her it was a one time deal.”

“Yeah,” he acknowledges softly. “I’ve never met a woman I want another round with. I’m always clear about that before we hit the sheets, but when they want more…

“You bow out,” I finish his thought.

“Always,” he says. “It makes me feel like shit.”

“Looks like someone is finally growing up.” I toss him a wink. “Welcome to adulthood, Milo.”

My gaze drops to my phone’s screen when it finally lights up, showing all the texts and calls I’ve missed. Dread fills my body as I scroll through to find three text messages from Carrie telling me she was coming to this suite more than an hour ago.

“Was there a woman here?” I step toward Milo, but the phone charging cord offers enough resistance that I stop in place. “Tell me.”

“Yeah, Nia,” he says like I lost my mind. “Red hair, pissed as hell, sore all over.”

“Not her,” I bark at him. “Did anyone else come into the suite?”

He shrugs. “Not as far as I know, but I was busy, and Nia was loud. I’m talking her screaming was loud enough for folks in New Jersey to hear her.”

“Shit.” My voice cracks. “Goddamn it.”

“What’s going on?” He sprints to where I’m standing. “What’s wrong?” “I think you broke the heart of the woman I love,” I accuse him.


“You love a woman?” His lips curve. “You just said you love a woman.”

“Carrie,” I say her name, reaching to grab hold of his shoulder. “I think there’s a chance she let herself in here when you were screwing Nia.”

His expression shifts instantly. “You think she thought it was you nailing her?”

“I need to go.” Panic drives my movements as I tear my phone from the charger.

“I’ll tell her it was me,” he offers. “I’ll do it under oath, Rook. Whatever you need me to do to make this right, I’m there.”

I don’t acknowledge any of that as I swing open the door to the suite and bolt into the corridor.





















I STAND OUTSIDE the door to Declan and Abby’s apartment. I could use the key code to gain entry, but that’s not what Carrie needs from me. She’s already under the assumption that I fucked another woman.

The concept is so ludicrous to me that I almost laugh.

My phone was charged enough that I was able to get two text messages sent to her along with a call. That went straight to voicemail, so I rattled off a message about needing to talk to her immediately. I could hear the desperate plea in my voice. I didn’t give a shit.

I love her, and every second that passes without her knowing that is a second too long.

I knock on the apartment door and take a step back.

The sound of silence greets me, so I knock a second time. It’s louder and more forceful, and it speaks to my impatience.

An audible sigh of relief escapes me when I hear footsteps on the other side of the door.

I don’t have a speech ready. I haven’t rehearsed what I want to say to Carrie.

I’m going to speak from the heart and tell her what I’m feeling and that it was Milo in the hotel suite with Nia, not me.


I need Carrie to understand that there isn’t another woman on the face of this earth that I want to fuck.

I hear the lock turning before the door flies open. I curse inwardly when I see Posey in front of me.

“Hey, boss,” she greets me. “Are you here to see the final masterpiece?” “Where’s Carrie?” I blurt out as I brush past her.

“It’s nice to see you, Posey.” She giggles.

Looking around the main living area for any hint that Carrie is here, I shake my head and ask the question again. “Where is Carrie?”

“Not here,” she finally answers. “I’ve been here most of the day and haven’t seen her.”


I thread my fingers through my hair, tempted to pull it out from the roots. The physical pain of that may mask the roaring pain that has settled inside of me.

“I wish to hell I had Telford’s number,” I mumble. “I have it,” she says. “Do you want it?”

My phone is barely hanging on at five percent battery, but I need to talk to her best friend, so I get her to call out the number for me.

Tel answers on the first ring. “Hello?” “Telford, it’s Rook Thorsen.”

“Oh, hey, hi,” he says, surprise tainting his tone. “How are you?”

Pleasantries take time, and I don’t have any of that to spare, so I skip past it. “I’m looking for Carrie.”

“Me too.” He sighs. “I’ve been trying to reach her for more than an hour. I’ve come up empty every time.”

I should find hope in that because I would have expected that Telford would be her go-to after what happened at the hotel, but it only concerns me more.

Where the fuck is she?

“Brooklyn,” I mutter.

“Brooklyn?” he repeats. “You think she went home? What’s going on, Rook? Why the panic to talk to her?”

Before I can say anything, there’s a noise on the other side of the apartment door.

“I need to go,” I say, ending the call.

“Carrie,” I whisper as the door flies open.


Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

I toss my head back as Declan and Abby come strolling into their apartment with the doorman in tow. He’s dragging the handles of their suitcases with him.

“Oh my God!” Posey shrieks. “You’re not supposed to be here for another three days.”

Declan’s gaze volleys between my face and Posey’s. It his wife who gets the first words out, “Rook? Posey? What are you both doing here? Where’s Carrie?”

Posey looks to me to answer, so I shift that responsibility to my best friend. “Declan? Do you want to take it from here?”

I need a second to breathe.

He glances at me. “Sure. Posey sent me a text yesterday saying that everything is great here, and we were both ready to come home, so here we are. Everything is good, right, Rook?”

If that’s his roundabout way of asking if the mural is done, it’s confusing as hell.

“It’s done,” I say bluntly. “It’s ready.”

“What’s ready?” Abby grabs hold of Declan’s hand. “I’m really lost, Decky.”

The doorman clears his throat, so I take the opportunity to step away to deal with him. I motion for him to leave the luggage where it is and go back into the corridor. He does just that, so I quietly shut the door behind us.

I pull a few bills from my wallet and press them into his palm. “When’s the last time you saw Carrie today?”

“Miss Gilbert?” His gaze searches my face. I nod.

“I haven’t yet today, sir.” He pockets the cash in his jacket. “My shift started at four this afternoon. She didn’t pass by me once.”

“Okay.” I pat his shoulder. “Thank you.”

The apartment door springs open again. Declan’s motioning for me with his hand. “Get inside, Rook. I’m about to unveil the surprise.”

I don’t need to play a part in this. All I did was pay Posey to use her immense talent to create a painting that will hopefully charm the baby.

“Sure, right,” I say because this is a moment for Declan, and he wants me next to him.


I lead the way down the hallway with Posey at my side as Declan guides his wife behind us. Her eyes are closed in anticipation of what’s to come.

“I don’t understand where Carrie is,” she whispers to Declan as she cradles her cat in her arms. “Should we call her first and ask her to be here for this?”

“I can’t wait another second to show you,” he says in a low tone. “I know she won’t mind if I unveil the surprise now.”

Her answer is a soft hum as we round the corner to the guestroom.

The next stage of the transformation is hauling the bed out of here, setting up a crib, and everything else that a newborn requires. I’ve already offered to lend a helping hand with that, but Declan assured me he could handle it.

I step to the side and tug Posey’s elbow to encourage her to do the same. She does, and as soon as Declan has Abby directly in front of the mural,

he tells her to open her eyes.

A scream follows, and then a rush of tears from Abby. Declan’s hand jumps up to wipe a few away from his cheek, too.

It’s an intimate moment that Posey and I don’t need to be here for, but we stand silent until Abby glances back over her shoulder at us.

“I don’t know what to say,” she whispers. “Our baby is going to sleep in this dream every night.”

Posey tears up, too. “I’m so glad you like it, Abby.”

“I love it.” She pushes Cindy into Declan’s arms as she rushes over to hug Posey.

I’m the next in line for an embrace, so I wrap my arms around her. “You arranged all of this?” Abby asks me as she steps back.

“With Carrie’s help,” Posey adds. “She was very accommodating. She even helped with some of the mural details.”

“I need to see her.” Abby brushes falling tears from her face. “Is she on a date or something?”

“No.” I shake my head. “She’s not.”

“Okay.” Abby lets out a light laugh. “I didn’t expect you to know that, but okay.”

She works for me and is the wife of my best friend, but she’s my best chance at finding the woman I love, so I lay my heart on the line.


“I need to find her,” I say in an even tone. “She’s not answering her phone, and she’s not with Telford.”

Abby’s eyes search my face. “What’s going on, Rook? Has something happened to her?”

Nodding, I steal a glance at Declan. His expression is impassive. I know he’s fond of Carrie, so he must be wondering what the hell is going on, too.

I press a hand to the center of my chest in an effort to slow my racing heart, but it’s futile. “I love her.”

“What?” The question leaves Abby’s lips first before it drops from Posey’s.

I keep my focus on Abby. “I’ve fallen in love with her, and earlier tonight, something happened. She’s hurt, Abby.”

“Hurt how?” Her voice breaks. “What the hell did you do to her?”

“Not me.” I rake a hand through my hair. “I would never hurt her. Jesus, Abby, I would jump in front of a train for her.”

“What happened?” she presses.

“It was a misunderstanding.” I don’t delve into the details because the story is as much Carrie’s as it is mine. “I believe she thinks I was unfaithful to her. I would never do that to her, Abby. She is it for me.”

Her face softens. “You really do love her.” “Endlessly.”

She rests a hand over mine on my chest. “I’ll call her landlord in Brooklyn to check if she’s there. If she’s not, I know exactly where you’ll find her, Rook.”

“Call now,” I implore. “I can’t stand the thought of her in pain.”

Nodding, she looks up and into my face. “The mural is beautiful. I love it, but knowing that you fell in love with my sister when I was on my honeymoon is the best surprise I could have ever asked for. You’re the second best man I’ve ever met.”

I catch the smile on Declan’s face when I glance in his direction.

“Let’s find my sister,” Abby says. “I’ll get my phone and make that call now.”





















I TRUDGE through the overgrown grass toward my safe place in this city.

The many lights that once bathed this spot in warm light at night have mostly been broken or burnt out.

The light posts themselves are covered with rust.

I’ve slowly watched every aspect of this playground fall apart, but at its heart, it’s still the oasis it was when I was a child.

I’d run here after dinner with my dad and jump on a swing. I’d kick my legs as hard as I could until I had enough momentum that I was flying in the sky.

My hands clung to the metal chains holding the plastic swing in place as my dad pushed me higher and higher.

Years after moving away from this neighborhood, I came back to find the metal chains covered by plastic tubing. That has been the only upgrade made to this special spot.

As I near the trio of swings hanging from a heavy A-frame crafted of metal and anchored in a pit of sand, my crying stops.

Tears have been streaming down my cheeks for hours.

I turned off my phone and rode the subway for what felt like forever before I switched to the train that brought me here.


I have no idea of the time or who may or may not be trying to reach me, but I need to sit here for a while to calm my heart and rethink my life plan.

As soon as I’m near the swings, I kick off my shoes and let my bare toes sink into the sand. My mom always scolded me for that when I was a kid. She’d tell me that I had no idea about the danger that might be in the sand.

I didn’t care.

I only cared about getting on a swing and flying high in the sky. It was there that all the pain I ever felt disappeared into the clouds.

I may have believed that when I was a kid, and even when I sought out this place when I was eighteen on one of the worst nights of my life, but I’m almost thirty now, so I know that the clouds can’t capture my sorrows.

I have to feel the pain, let it settle within me, and find a way to move past it.

Adjusting the strap of my bag across my chest, I tuck the skirt of my dress under my ass and take a seat in the middle swing. It was always my favorite. That hasn’t changed.

I push myself with a foot in the sand, and then my legs bend to gain the momentum I need to leave my pain on the ground until my feet touch it again.

I lean back, closing my eyes as I drift higher and higher. “Gilbert?”

That voice. The sheer depth of it hits me with a force so strong that I almost let go of the plastic tubing keeping me on the swing.

It can’t be who it sounds like, so I keep my eyes closed and bend my knees again, straining for more height.

“Don’t ignore me, Gilbert.” He laughs this time, and it’s like a warm wave rolling over me.

My eyes open to find him standing a few feet away from me, just off to the side. His hands are in the front pockets of his jeans. He’s wearing a dark sweater with a collar that is slightly askew. The right side is in place. The left side is darting up.

When he steps closer, his face comes into view. It’s the same as the last time I saw it in person years ago, but it’s also very different.

He’s matured. His jawline is more defined, and his dark brown hair is slightly longer than I remember.

“It’s me,” he says, tapping a hand to his chest. “Al,” I say his name quietly.


“Yeah.” He steps closer and smiles. “You’re here.”

Without the necessary effort from me, the swing slows. “I still come here sometimes.”

Nodding, he takes a seat on the swing next to me. “Me too.”

I study his profile. When we first met, we were no more than five or six years old. My parents owned a home mere blocks from this playground. Al’s maternal grandmother lived across the street.

We pinkie swore we’d be brother and sister forever since we were both only children.

“You’re a big deal chemist,” he tells me.

I’m not surprised that he knows. Al was one of the few people who encouraged me to follow my dream of a career in science.

“You’re not,” I volley back.

He lets out a hearty chuckle. “You tried your best, Gilbert. If you hadn’t tutored me in biology in middle school, I never would have made it to high school.”

That’s a blatant lie. Al was smart, but struggled in the sciences, so I offered to help whenever he visited his grandma.

His life was always based in Manhattan. It started in an apartment where his parents raised him together until they divorced.

Then, Al would split his time between his dad’s home on one side of the island and his mom’s miles away in another neighborhood. When Al needed a break, he’d come to Queens to see his grandma and me.

My folks welcomed him into our home as if he were my brother. That connection landed my dad his dream job working for Al’s father in Manhattan.

That job was both a gift and a tragedy of epic proportions.

Our dads died together in a plane crash on what should have been a quick flight back from Rhode Island to secure a deal that earned my dad his first commission in the seven figure range.

Their deaths tore our friendship to shreds, and even though we tried to glue it back together a few times after that, the pieces never quite fit together again the way they had before the crash.

“How’s your mom?” he asks the question I knew he would. He loved my mom as much as he loved his own.

“She’s happy,” I tell him with a smile. “Still married. She’s going to be a grandma soon.”


His gaze drops to the front of my dress. “You’re pregnant?” I laugh. “Abby is.”

He knows about Abigail, and my stepfather. I filled him in during one of our awkward café meet ups when we were attending different high schools.

I glance at his left hand. “How’s Jodie?”

His gaze follows the same path as mine. “Very happily married to someone else. Our wedding never happened.”

Surprised by that, I slow my swinging by dragging a foot in the sand. “What happened?”

His brown eyes latch on my face. “Life. Death. Work.”

Nodding, I sigh. He met Jodie in high school, and I always thought they’d go the distance. “Life can be hard.”

He tosses his head back to look up at the night sky. “Fucking hard, Gilbert.”

“I know.”

“Carrie,” he begins before he pauses to take a breath. “I’m still sorry about that night. If I hasn’t stormed out of that party…”

“No,” I stop him because we’ve endlessly circled one particular night for years. We were both eighteen but living very separate lives.

It was a graduation party for my school. Al stopped by with two of his teammates from their school’s basketball team, but they all left within minutes. Abby was there briefly before she took off with friends to go to a bar with her fake ID. I didn’t have one, so I stayed behind. It was one of the worst decisions of my life.

Something happened to me that changed the entire course of my life, but it brought me to where I am now.

I know what it feels like to make love to a man I love. I would never have had my first experience with Rook, if that night almost twelve years ago had played out as I thought it would.

I extend a hand to him. “I’m okay, Al. I have a beautiful life.”

He takes my hand in his and squeezes it. “That’s what I’ve always wanted for you.”

We hold hands and sway on the swings in silence for a moment before I look his way again. “I’m in love.”

His head snaps in my direction. “No shit, Gilbert?” My lips part in a soft smile. “No shit.”


I don’t expand on that because it’s the first time I’ve told anyone that I love Rook, and I want to savor that for a moment more before I tell my childhood friend that the man I love broke my heart tonight.

“I’m so fucking happy for you.” He squeezes my hand again. “What’s his name?”

The sound of hurried footsteps approaching lures both our gazes up, and from the darkness, a man comes into view.

It’s my man, or the man I thought was mine.

When Rook is within three feet of us, he stops and stares.

I tug my hand free of Al’s and jump to my feet. My toes get lost in the sand as Al moves to stand, too.

“What the fuck, Allard?” Rook blurts out. “What the hell are you doing with the woman I love?”





















I DON’T KNOW what the hell I stumbled into, but I want answers.

“Carrie,” I say her name, wishing like fuck Allard wasn’t next to her. She was holding his hand when I approached them.

None of this makes any fucking sense.

After Abby called Carrie’s landlord in Brooklyn and found out that she wasn’t there, she told me to hightail it to this playground in Queens. Apparently, Carrie has always come here when she needs an escape from life.

Tonight called for that because she thinks I screwed another woman hours before I was going to fuck her.

I scrub a hand over my jaw and repeat her name. “Carrie.” “Rook.” My name comes out of her in splintered shards.

I hear the broken emotion in it, and it splits my heart in two.

I don’t give two fucks if Dalton Allard is standing less than a foot from her. I need her to know now that I would never hurt her. I need to take that pain from her.

“Milo was in the hotel suite,” I say. “Not me. I would never do that to you. I love you, Carrie.”

She stumbles forward in the sand to get to me, so I rush at her to scoop my arms around her waist. I tug her up and against me, her feet dangling in


the air.

“It was Milo?” she asks quietly. “Not you?”

I place her back down but don’t let go of her. Staring into her eyes, I nod. “It was him.”

Her gaze searches my face. “Your watch was there.”

“No.” I hold up my wrist to show her the watch I’ve been wearing since Declan got it for me. “Milo took that one over a year ago because it had an inscription. It was a gift.”

“From Chesca,” she says, her gaze dropping to my watch. “I read the inscription before I left The Beaumont.”

I give her credit for not destroying the watch before she left. Either way, that watch didn’t stand a chance tonight.

Her hands grab hold of the lapels of my jacket. “I thought you wanted someone else.”

“No.” I press my lips to the center of her forehead. “Christ, no. I think I’ve been in love with you since I saw you in Abigail’s office months ago.”

“Really?” she asks, her brilliant green eyes clouding with tears. “Since then?”

“I felt so connected to you,” I confess. “I wanted to chase you, but with Abby working for me and…”

“Abby works for you?” Dalton decides to butt in. “Abigail Duvall works for you?”

“Abigail Wells,” Carrie corrects him. “She married Rook’s best friend months ago.”

Wrapping my arms tighter around her, I glance at Allard. “I need someone to explain what I walked in on.”

Carrie nods. “I need to say something first. Al, would you give us a minute?”

“Of course.” He nods softly at her. “I’ll be on the bench by the entrance to the park.”

With that, he walks away, taking all the answers I need about what I saw with him.

When he’s disappeared into the darkness, Carrie sets her gaze on me. “Rook.”

I wipe her falling tears with the pad of my thumb. “It’s okay, beautiful.

I’m here. Whatever you need to say, I want to hear it.” Her bottom lip trembles slightly. “I love you.”


“You love me?” I ask to be clear.

“With all of my heart.” She sobs lightly. “I was so lost earlier. It didn’t make sense. I know what I heard, but my heart kept telling me it didn’t make sense.”

I cup her face in my hands and look directly into her eyes. “Your heart knows my heart. I love you, Carrie. I have never loved anyone the way I love you, and I will always love you.”

She tilts her chin up slightly. “This all happened so fast.”

I shake my head. “Our hearts have been searching for each other forever. I feel that. I know you do, too.”

“I do.” She nods.

I tug her closer so she can her head on my chest. “I’m so sorry that you’ve been alone tonight. I tried everything I could to find you.”

“Abby told you I’d be here,” she whispers. “She did.”

“My dad used to bring me here.” She pulls back to look up at me. “It’s where I met Al… Dalton, I mean. He was my best friend for a long time. He was like a brother to me.”

Stunned by that admission, I stroke her cheek with my fingertip. “He’s a potential client of mine.”

She lets out a laugh. “Seriously?”

“Yes.” I nod. “He’s playing hardball. I’ve been trying to get him on board for some time.”

“He’s a good man.” Her voice wavers. “We lost touch a long time ago, but he is such a good man, Rook.”

I’ve never heard him described that way in anything I’ve read about him, but I know she’s speaking the truth because this woman isn’t capable of lying to me, just as I’m not capable of lying to her.

“I’m glad I didn’t drive my fist through his face when I saw him holding your hand.”

She tosses her head back in laughter. “You wouldn’t have done that.”

I like that she believes that, but I was close to heaving him off that swing.

“I need to talk to him before you take me home,” she says. “Do you want me to put in a good word for you?”

Chuckling, I press a kiss to her lips. “I can handle him.”


“I know you can.” She kisses me back. “You’re Rook Thorsen. You can handle anything.”





















I WATCH as the man I love shakes hands with the man I once confided my deepest secrets to.

My sister knows most of those secrets now, including the first time I took a sip of beer with Dalton by my side, and when we stole a comic book from the corner store. Dalton’s grandma marched us back there to make amends to the store’s owner by sweeping the sidewalk in front of his store after school for a month.

There is still one of my secrets that Dalton has always held onto.

As I hear him agree to a contract that appoints Rook as his legal representative in New York State, I know what I have to do.

I have to tell Rook before the night is over what happened to me when I was eighteen. The events of that night pushed me so far into a cocoon of self-preservation that I remained a virgin until just a few weeks ago.

I dove into school and then my job with every ounce of the energy I possessed.

I thought it would be enough until I could meet up with a random guy on my thirtieth birthday and leave the virgin label in my past.

The drive to handle intimacy that way wasn’t necessarily based on my need to know what sex was like, but it was more about not wanting my


virginity to be a constant reminder of the first time I was supposed to have sex at that graduation party when I was just eighteen.

“I’ll have Posey send the contract to your office in Boston,” Rook tells Dalton.

Dalton shakes his head. “Forward it to the Allard Industries office based in midtown. I’m going to hang around Manhattan.”

“To spend time with Carrie?” Rook asks, but there’s no jealousy in his tone.

Al nods. “I also have family in the city. I haven’t connected with them in some time, and we have unfinished business.”

We’ve never discussed his mom’s death or the stepsiblings that came into his life before his dad died, but I’m here to listen if he ever needs that.

I’m not sure what the future holds for our friendship, but I’ll always be grateful for the moment we had in the playground tonight under a crescent moon.

“I’m going to take off.” He gestures to a Range Rover parked near the curb under a streetlight. “It was good seeing you again, Gilbert.”

I smile at the nickname that he’s always called me. “You too, Al.” A smile ghosts his mouth at the sound of his.

He’s the one who told me to call him that. I never wavered, even after his grandma corrected me and told me to call him Dalton.

“Love looks good on you,” he tells me. “Really, really good.”

I nestle closer into Rook’s side. His arm is draped around me, tugging me next to him.

“I look forward to doing business with you, Thorsen.” He glances at Rook. “I want Abigail to be my point person going forward.”

Rook nods . “Understood.”

With that, he turns and walks away, leaving me with the man I love. “Abby and Declan are home from their honeymoon,” Rooks tells me. “What?” I laugh. “Since when?”

“Since tonight.” He laughs, too. “They looked wiped, but we need to tell them I found you so they can get some sleep.”

“They know you were looking for me?” I ask, even though it makes perfect sense why Rook showed up here. Abby must have told him to come.

“They know I love you,” he whispers.

Joy blooms in my heart. That emotion seeps over my expression. “Wow.”


“They’re happy for us.” He kisses me softly. “Not as happy as I am, but they’re happy.”


“Come home with me, Carrie,” he suggests. “Kirby is with her mom.

It’ll just be the two of us.”

I need that. I need him all to myself tonight.

“Yes,” I say with no hesitation. “I want that. I need to tell you something.”

His gaze searches my face, stopping to look deep into my eyes. “Whatever it is, I want to hear it.”

I’m grateful because this man deserves my truth, every part of it.





















SEEING Carrie in my home is evoking a multitude of feelings within me.

She belongs here. I see it now as I watch her crawl beneath the covers of my bed and settle in with her back against the headboard.

We showered after we got here.

I called for a rideshare, and as the driver journeyed through Queens and into Manhattan, Carrie explained more about her connection to Allard and their shared loss.

In everything I’ve read about his father’s death, there was never a mention of the two people who were on the plane with him that night.

David Allard’s death overshadowed both because of his vast wealth.

Yet, a man who had a small daughter and a wife at home died that night, too, along with a pilot, leaving a void that could never be filled.

She tugs on the front of the T-shirt I gave her.

It has the name of my law firm stamped across the front of it. That was Posey’s idea, and after the initial order of twenty had been filled, I shut it down.

I took all of them home with me.

Posey has used a few for painting shirts, and Kirby has one hanging in her closet for when she’s older, but the rest are in a drawer in my bedroom.

I directed Carrie there to find a shirt, and that’s the one she grabbed.


It’s never looked better.

“Come sit next to me, Rook.” She taps the spot on the bed where I normally sleep.

“I’m on my way.” I tug the waistband of my boxer briefs up a quarter of an inch.

I want to be pushing them down so I can slide into her, but she needs something else before we fuck. She needs me to listen and to hear every word she says.

She reiterated that as soon as we arrived, telling me that although she wanted to drop to her knees in the shower and take my cock in her mouth, she needed a few minutes to explain something vitally important.

I crawl into the bed and sit just as she is, with my back resting against the headboard.

Her hand falls into my lap.

I take it between my hands and draw it up to my lips to kiss it. “I’m here, beautiful.”

“Can I sit in your lap?”

I drop her hand and spread my arms wide. “Be my guest.”

With a small laugh, she kicks the covers off and lands in my lap quickly.

Her hands fall to my shoulders as her gaze catches mine. “I like this.”

I fucking love it. I adjust her weight so she can feel my cock resting against her core.

“You probably wonder why I was a virgin for so long.”

I know she expects honesty from me, so I give her that. “I did in the beginning.”

“Not now?” she asks, pushing her eyeglasses up the bridge of her nose. “You were waiting for me,” I say softly, meaning every word.

“I was,” she agrees. “I know that now, but I thought I would have sex when I was eighteen.”

“That was your initial plan?”

Her gaze wanders over my bare chest. “I liked a boy in high school. I thought he liked me.”

“Dalton?” I ask, instantly regretting it.

I saw the way he looked at her in the park. It was with reverence and respect. Whatever they shared in the past and will share in the future isn’t on the same playing field as what Carrie and I have.


“No!” She laughs, tapping my shoulder. “I told you he’s like a brother to me…was like a brother to me, Rook. I’ve never seen him that way.”

“I know,” I say.

She nods. “Who it was doesn’t matter anymore.” She’s right. It doesn’t.

I’ve fucked more women than I care to admit, and they aren’t relevant to what I feel for Carrie.

“He asked me if I’d be with him on graduation night.” She closes her eyes briefly. “We hadn’t even kissed or dated or anything, but he was the guy everyone wanted, so when he asked me to do it, I wanted to.”

My heart aches for what I know was a bad experience for her. Whatever happened between her and that guy on that night all those years ago didn’t end the way she thought it would.

“The party was at his parents’ house in Queens.” She shakes her head. “He told me to meet him in his bedroom at ten o’clock.”

I nod.

“He said that there was an attached bathroom, so I could go in there, undress, and then get into his bed.”

Her hands cling tightly to my shoulders as she goes on, “I went up at about ten minutes to ten. I snuck out of the party like he told me to.”

I reach for her waist, and hold it gently. I want her to feel me everywhere as she tells the story. I want her to know that I’m here, and I understand.

“I went into the bathroom and took off my T-shirt and jeans.” She glances down at her legs. “I was wearing cotton panties and a pink bra. I used some of the money I earned at my part-time job for that. I took the train into the city to buy them after school one day.”

This was an event for her. She gave it careful thought and took steps to make it special for herself and the guy she was supposed to screw.

She hesitates, so I kiss her softly. “What happened?”

She rests her forehead against mine and sighs. “I heard the bedroom door close, so I knew he was in the room. I waited for two minutes like he told me to. He said he needed that much time to undress. Then I opened the door.”

She breaks. A sob shakes her body as she falls forward into me.

I hold her against me. This guy fucking hurt her. I will hunt the bastard down and rip him to shreds.


She cries for a moment before she finds the strength to sit upright again. With her hands resting against my chest, she looks me in the eyes. “When I left the bathroom, maybe ten or fifteen people were in the bedroom waiting for me. Girls. Boys. The guy I was supposed to…they were all there, pointing and laughing at me. One girl yelled that I was a fool for thinking anyone would want inside my sad panties, and another screamed out that smart girls don’t have the same choices as pretty girls and I’d never get a guy like the one I thought wanted me that night.”

“Jesus.” I tear up instantly. “I’m so sorry.”

“I went back into the bathroom, locked the door, and stayed there for hours,” she whispers. “When I finally walked out, the party was over, and only a few people were there. They were mostly passed out.”

“I wish I would have been there,” I say honestly.

She manages a weak smile. “It was horrible, Rook. I couldn’t think about sex for a long time after that, and then college and my career took over my life.”

“I understand,” I whisper.

Her hand lands on my cheek. “I know you do. You showed me how beautiful sex can be.”

I had no idea how much was riding on her first time. I made it the best I could, and I’m grateful for that.

“I never saw any of those people again,” she confesses. “I left them all in my past.”

“Good.” I nod. “That’s where they deserve to be.”

“Abby doesn’t know about that night.” She tilts her head. “Dalton does.”

I can’t be angry that she confided in him, although I’m surprised, given what she told me about how their friendship waned after the deaths of their dads.

“I went to the playground on my way home from the party.” She smiles. “Dalton was there on the swing. He had a fight with his girlfriend at the time. He told me about that. I told him about what happened to me.”

“You helped each other through a rough night.”

“Confessing to someone was what I needed to do to start moving on from it,” she says. “It took time and two years of therapy, but I’ve moved on.”


“You’re unbelievably strong.” My voice cracks. “You’re the strongest woman I know.”

“I’m also the happiest now.” She kisses me softly. “You’ve made me so happy.”

She’s done the same for me, and this is just the beginning for us.

“Will you make love to me before we fall asleep?” she asks with a whimper.

“Now?” I slide my hand down her waist to her bare thighs.

Her hands drop to the hem of the T-shirt, and she yanks it over her head in a single swift movement.

I stare at her breasts before my gaze trails back to her beautiful face. “I love you, Carrie.”

“I love you, Rook,” she whispers before giving me with a lush, deep kiss.





















I GLANCE AT ROOK. “We need to get there.”

He points at his phone. “I’m just sending Dalton a text. After it’s sent, I’m off the clock for the night.”

I look at my watch as he types out the text to my friend and his client. I met up with Dalton for a quick cup of coffee last week. The main subject of conversation was his move back to Manhattan and the fact that my sister is part of the legal team representing him. We’ll get together again when we can both carve some time out for it.

Once Rook pockets his phone, I grab his hand in mine. “Let’s go.


He keeps up with my every step. “I’m moving as fast as I can here, Carrie. How the hell are you running in those heels?”

I glance down at the four-inch black heels on my feet. They’re part of my typical work attire, even though today is far from typical. “I always run in heels.”

“Just another major accomplishment of the woman I love.”

He’s reminded me that he loves me multiple times every day for the past two weeks. It’s been that long since we shared that we loved one another.

The morning after that, we visited Abby and Declan and sort of filled them in on our love story. We didn’t confess that Rook was my first lover,


but Rook made it very clear that we are each other’s forever loves.

As we slow to wait for a crossing light, Rook gathers me in his arms. “I can still taste you on my lips.”

I push up to my tiptoes to kiss him. “I can still taste you on mine.”

“Mutual oral in my office is the best way to end the workday,” he whispers.

Glancing to see if the light has changed, I laugh. “I only came to your office to get you to finish up your work so you can watch Tel propose to Cam. I had no idea you were going to bend me over your desk, slide my panties off, and eat me.”

“I’m hard,” he quips. “Again.”

“You just came down my throat,” I remind him. “That was what… twenty or twenty-five minutes ago.”

“I can go again,” he teases. “A nice hard fuck in the lab seems like the perfect way to close out the day.”

As we start to cross the street, I look up at him. “There’s going to be a proposal taking place in the lab. You nailing me against the long counter will be a distraction that Tel will not appreciate.”

Scooping my hand back into his, Rook leads me up Fifth Avenue toward Matiz’s building. “Tel called me last night, and we decided to move the proposal to the roof at sunset.”

I look up at the still sunny sky. “Why are we rushing then?”

“Something about me fucking you in the lab.” He shrugs with a smirk on his face. “Tel’s out buying champagne right now, so the place is all ours.”

I laugh aloud. “We’ll save the hard fuck for when we got back to your place tonight. I want this evening to be all about Tel and Cam.”

“I know.” He smiles.

As we reach the doors that lead into the lobby of Matiz’s building, I look up at him, taking in every feature of his brutally handsome face. “We’re going to see him propose, Rook. It’s really happening.”

“Do you think he’ll stick to the script?” he asks me.

I shrug. “Maybe? All I do know is that he loves Cam with everything he has, and if he lets his heart do the talking, it’ll be a perfect proposal.”




SOFT WHITE LIGHTS line the roof of the building where I’ve built a career and where I met my best friend.

He’s wearing the suit he bought from Berdine and polished black shoes. He greeted me with a hug when he returned from buying champagne and changing his clothes.

Rook got a hug, too, and a pat on the cheek. It was the first time Tel has seen him in person since he found out that we love each other.

I thought Declan and Abby were thrilled with the news, but the tears in Telford’s eyes when I told him over a bagel one morning that I was madly in love with Rook Thorsen is an image I’ll never forget.

A string quartet plays from their spot on a white rug bordered by white roses in large vases as the door to the roof flies open, and Cam appears wearing a tailored suit.

Mr. Black and Ellie are right behind him with broad smiles on their faces. I’m not sure what they said to lure him up here, but it worked.

Cam steps over the threshold with his gaze pinned to where Telford is standing near a white rose flower wall Rook arranged for.

The man I love has gone above and beyond to help my friend fulfill his lifelong dream.

Cam takes quick steps to get to where Tel is.

I start recording on Tel’s phone as Rook does the same with mine.

We’re on opposite sides of the almost-engaged couple, so we can capture every moment of this.

“Tel,” Cam whispers. “What’s happening?”

He’s almost the same height as Tel, and their hair color is a close match.

They are one of the most perfect couples I’ve ever met.

Telford drops to one night, pulling a heavy gasp from Cam.

“The day I met you, I saw something I had never seen before,” Tel says with nothing but love in his voice. “I saw my future.”

Cam nods.

“I’ve gone over this a million times in my mind, and I couldn’t get it quite right until someone told me to let my heart speak for me.” Tel smiles as he pops open the ring box in his hand. “So, here goes.”

Cam’s hands jump to cover his mouth.

“When I wake up and see you next to me, I consider myself the luckiest man alive, and when I go to bed at night, and I know you love me, I can do anything. I love you, Cameron. I want to be your husband and stand with


you through the good times and the bad times. I want to be a dad with you. I’m asking you if you’ll please marry me, Cam.”

Tears cloud my vision, but I can still make out Cameron nodding his head, and his whispered, “Yes.”

He drops to his knees, too, and as Tel slides the ring on his finger, I glance at the man who owns my heart.

He stares at me, and without saying one word, I can feel just how deeply he loves me.
























Three Months Later


I KISS the beautiful butterfly tattoo on Carrie’s skin. “I love you so much.” Her fingers thread through my hair. “I love you more.”

Huffing out a laugh, I crawl up her body until my hands are pressed into the mattress on either side of her shoulders. “Not possible.”

“I think it is,” she whispers.

I know she’s tired. We spent part of last night at Declan and Abby’s apartment. They had a gender reveal party that involved cake pops and my daughter being the happiest little girl on earth since she was the one who bit into the cake pop that revealed whether my best friend would be a girl dad or a boy dad in just a few months.

Maura volunteered to handle the gender reveal part of the party, so she baked and prepared enough white cake to make dozens of cake pops. But nestled in the box of those was one colored cake pop.

Everyone in attendance took turns taking a bite of a cake pop. Sean and his wife were there with their infant daughter. Holden showed up along with Ava, Declan’s sister, and her fiancé, Harrison. Abby and Carrie’s folks


arrived with Declan’s mom and dad. All four were decked out in white T- shirts stamped with messages about them being future grandparents.

Carrie’s mom and stepdad have grown fond of Kirby. I was the first to visit them alone one day when Carrie was at the lab. I stopped by with flowers and a case of beer and introduced myself as the man in love with their daughter.

Hugs followed, along with an afternoon filled with stories about Carrie. I saved each one to memory, and when I left, it was with an invitation to visit them a week later with their daughter and mine.

I did that, and we’ve seen them at least every couple of weeks since.

“I still can’t believe Abby will have a son,” Carrie whispers. “And his name, Rook.”

Her voice cracks with the same emotion that overwhelmed her last night when her sister stood in front of her and announced that her son will be named Gilbert Stetson Wells.

Gilbert after my love and Stetson for Declan’s late grandfather.

It’s a fitting tribute to two people who have played pivotal roles in baby Gilbert’s life.

“He’ll be a remarkable boy,” I tell her. “How can he not be with a name like that?”

She laughs. “Abby told me that if it was a girl, her middle name would have been Carrie. That still was such a gift to hear.”

“Your sister adores you,” I tell her something that is blatantly obvious. Dragging a hand over her cheek, she smiles. “We should get up before


“We have time,” I say to stall her.

“She gets up at the crack of dawn, Rook,” she reminds me. “It’s almost six, and you know that I like to make her breakfast as soon as she’s awake.”

I do know that.

Whenever Carrie spends the night when I have Kirby, she takes it upon herself to prepare my daughter’s breakfast and packs her a lunch for kindergarten if needed.

Kirby loves her as much as I do, and when Chesca dropped off Kirby one day two months ago, and I introduced her to Carrie, the two women hugged.

Something unspoken passed between them, but I sense it involved their shared love for our daughter.


“One more kiss,” I tempt her with a trail of kisses over her neck.

She turns toward me, offering her full lips to me. “How can I possibly say no to that?”





THIRTY MINUTES LATER, Carrie is dressed in jeans and one of my law firm’s T-shirts as she tugs her hair into a ponytail. “I was thinking of bringing a few more work things over here. Clothes, I mean. Dresses, heels, that kind of thing.”

Since it’s Saturday, I view it as the perfect day for that, but I want more. “Let’s pack it all up and bring it over.”

Her eyes widen. “We’d need to talk to Kirby about that, and I’ve have to get boxes for all of my stuff.”

“All of that is doable,” I say as I button my jeans.

Her gaze trails over my bare chest. “Cam and Tel are still looking for a place in Brooklyn. I could rent my apartment to them.”

“Or sell it to them,” I suggest. “The market is hot right now, beautiful.

You’d come out ahead.”

Nodding, she bites the corner of her bottom lip. “It all makes sense, but Kirbs.”

“We’ll talk to her today,” I say, even though I know exactly what my daughter wants.

Her mom introduced her to Brian a few weeks ago, and soon, Kirby will meet his son. Kirby and I have discussed my future with Carrie at length, and even though she’s only five, she understands how much I love the woman I’m currently staring at.

“I’ll go get breakfast started.”

I fasten my watch back around my wrist after putting on another of the firm’s T-shirts. “I’ll help.”

I watch her walk to the bedroom door, knowing exactly what’s waiting for her on the other side.

She swings it open, and then a scream erupts. It’s not Carrie. It’s Kirby.

I hear Milo’s voice in the distance, too. He snuck in about an hour ago to help Kirby prepare for this.


“What’s happening?” Carrie asks as I step in place beside her.

Lavender rose petals line the hallway leading out to the main living area.

I grab hold of one of her hands while Kirby tugs on the other, guiding us both toward our final destination.

I catch Milo slipping out of the apartment just as we reach the main room.

I toss him a wave. He blows me a kiss, and then he’s gone.

Carrie glances around the room at the endless bouquets of lavender roses and the framed artwork sitting atop an array of easels.

Each drawing on display was created by Kirby. They are all her depictions of the three of us.

The one in the center of the room features me in a dark suit with my eyes twice the size of my head. Kirby is in the middle of the drawing with a phone in her hand and a plate with what looks like cake on top of it.

Carrie is unmistakable in the drawing.

Her brown hair is past her knees. A tiara sits atop her head, and she’s dressed completely in white. It’s a wedding dress.

Kirby’s hand shakes as she races to the easel and drops to a knee to retrieve a small box from the floor.

By the time she’s back to where we are, I’m down on a bended knee. Kirby sits down on my thigh as if it’s a chair.

Carrie lets out a sob. “Is this…”

“We want you to marry us,” my daughter takes over. “Daddy is going to tell you he loves you to the moon and back four times and that he can’t stop kissing you.”

“True.” I nod.

Carrie laughs through her tears.

“I want to spend every day making you the happiest woman who has ever lived,” I say softly. “I will move heaven and earth to protect you. I cherish you.”

“What he’s trying to say is marry us,” Kirby interjects. “Please, and thank you.”

“I will,” Carrie whispers. “I will a million times over.”

“Give her the ring!” Kirby whisper shouts. “We went to see Ivy, and she made it perfect for all of us.”


Ivy Marlow-Walker is the jeweler who designed the ring that will adorn my beautiful fiancée’s finger. Telford is the one who suggested I visit her since she handled the design of Cam’s engagement ring and the bands for their upcoming wedding.

Diamonds circle the silver band that I chose for Carrie.

One simple large diamond is the centerpiece. That is a symbol of my love. On either side of it and covering the entire band are small pink diamonds. Those were Kirby’s choice to demonstrate her love for Carrie.

“It’s perfect.” Carrie can’t tear her gaze from it. I slide it onto her finger before I move to stand.

Kirby jumps up to circle her arms around Carrie’s waist. “We’re all lucky duckies today. Are you as happy as me?”

“Happier.” Carrie caresses her head softly.

“After my recital today, maybe we can go to your apartment and pack up a suitcase so you can live here all the time?” Kirby asks before she looks at me. “Can we, Daddy?”

“That’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

“Yay!” Kirby jumps up and down. “Get ready to be wowed by my tap dancing moves. Uncle Holden’s aren’t as good as mine, but don’t tell him that.”

As she races back down the hallway to what I assume is her bedroom, I look into the eyes of the woman I’ll love forever. “I can’t wait to marry you, Carrie.”

“I can’t wait to be your wife.” Her gaze drifts over my face. “Do you have a date in mind?”

I nod because I’ve been planning this for weeks. “Marry me on your birthday. On the day you turn thirty, I want you to vow to be mine forever.”

Her eyes well with tears again. “That’s perfect, Rook. It’ll be perfect.” I’ll do my best to make sure it is because she deserves that and more. “We’re going to have such a beautiful life,” she whispers.

“We will,” I assure her with a soft kiss on her mouth. “I’ll do everything in my power every day of my life to make yours the best it can be.”





















I came home with more than memories from a luxury cruise.


I’m pregnant, and my brother’s boss is my baby’s daddy.

Dr. Donovan Hunt is a respected veterinarian, the poster boy for panty melting hot, and a wizard between the sheets.

He’s also my brother’s boss.

Boo, right?


A few tropical drinks in the Caribbean sunshine on a luxury cruise and all of my reservations disappear, as does my tiny string bikini when we hit

Donovan’s stateroom.

We spend two glorious days in his bed.

When we return to Manhattan, we agree to go our separate ways.

Technically, I agree to go my separate way because Donovan wants our high sea adventure to continue on solid ground.

I give in because the man is fun with a capital F, if you know what I mean.

Fast forward six weeks, and I’m in for the surprise of my life.

I’m pregnant, and Donovan is on board to be the ultimate dad I’d like to… well, you get the idea.

We decide we’ll be co-parents, but when I start to wish for more, I discover there’s much more to Donovan than meets the eye.

Pre-Order for Summer 2024











Are you up for another series? If so, I have just the one for you, including someone you just met!

RISK, the first in of my Benton of New York series, follows Nolan Black, whom you just met. Get to know this gorgeous man more in RISK.





















“Ginger, you need to get your ass out of my boyfriend’s lap.”

Ginger? Seriously?

What she lacks in originality she makes up for in appearance. Statuesque with long dark hair and a crimson dress that looks like it came straight off a Paris runway. She’s just as striking close-up as she was when I first spotted her across the restaurant. The difference now is that I know her ugly little secret.

“My name isn’t Ginger.” I extend my hand toward her. “It’s Ellie. Ellie Madden.”

“I don’t give a shit what your name is.” She dismisses my words with a nod of her chin, her hands tightening their grip on her silver crystal clutch purse. “Why are you still here? The excitement is over.”

I consider arguing that point with her. Since I lost my balance and fell into her boyfriend’s lap, his excitement has grown. It’s grown impressively. I’m not the jealous type, but it’s hard not to be envious of the fact that this is her lover. I’m getting a thrill just from feeling his erection rubbing against my ass through the tailored gray slacks he’s wearing.

I don’t even know what the man looks like. My eyes haven’t left her since she exited the ladies’ room to set her meticulously orchestrated plan in motion. Once I saw all I needed to, I was on my feet so I could call her out


on her bullshit. I kept her in my sight as I weaved around tables and dozens of people all captivated by the award-winning food they came here for.

She managed a distraction when she bumped into a male server who was carrying a tray filled with appetizers. Silverware and small plates with delicious creations crashed to the floor around her feet. She feigned shock, and I ended up in the direct path of four staff members racing to the rescue. That’s when I felt two strong hands grab hold of my waist to catch my fall when I stumbled.

“I work here.” I look past her to where my best friend, Adley, is sitting. She’s ignoring the salad in front of her. Instead, she’s focused intently on the phone in her hands. “Today is my day off, but I work at this resort.”

“Who cares?” The brunette shrugs her shoulders. “So your name is Ellie Maddox, and you work at Echo Resort and Casino. Are you going to tell me your astrological sign next?”

“It’s Madden, and I’m a Leo.”

I hear a low chuckle behind me as her boyfriend adjusts my weight so I’m leaning back into him. This man is hard as a rock everywhere. I’m not about to complain. There’s no skin on skin contact, and this is a hell of a lot better than listening to Adley talking about the man she recently broke up with back home in New York.

“If you want to be useful, help them clean up the mess they made.” She points her finger at the servers who are still on their hands and knees retrieving forks, knives, and wasted food all while avoiding the shards of glass that litter the floor. “I came here to have a quiet dinner with my man, and now I’ve lost my appetite. I want to leave.”

“You can’t go,” I protest. “Did you order the duck? If you did, you have to try at least one bite. I’m not a foodie, but I think it’s the best dish on the menu.”

She lowers herself into the chair across from me, her brown eyes narrowing beneath the false eyelashes that frame them. “You’re getting off on this, aren’t you? You know girls like you can never get a man like him, so you’re taking some perverse pleasure in having his hands on your hips.”

“Girls like me?” I turn slightly so I can lean forward to rest my forearms on the small square table. “Explain what that means.”

“You’re nothing special.” She pauses for a few seconds, her gaze smoothly moving from my face to the front of my black dress before she


levels her eyes on my mine. “You’re a redhead with freckles and average size tits.”

I arch my back, sliding my ass along her boyfriend’s lap. “You’re a pretty brunette with long legs and a stolen wallet in your purse.”

She glances over my shoulder as she bursts out in laughter. “That’s absurd. Look at me. These earrings are each a full carat. I spent more on this dress than most people make in a month. Why would I steal anything?”

I feel her boyfriend’s thighs tighten beneath me as I look at her. “I can’t answer that. You’re the only one who knows why you took it.”

“I didn’t take anything,” she seethes before she shifts her attention to her boyfriend. “Why aren’t you stopping this? Tell her she’s wrong, Nolan. I want you to take me out of here now.”

“Open your purse, Shelby.”

His voice is deep and smooth. There’s a rasp beneath the subdued anger of his tone. It’s so disarming that I turn, without thinking, to finally look at the face of the man whose lap I’m sitting in.

Blue eyes, a shade darker than my own, stare back at me. He studies my face as I study his, the physical closeness only adding to the intensity of our exchange. He’s undeniably gorgeous. His nose as strong as his clean-shaven jaw is rugged. His hair, a rich chocolate brown, is styled to perfection. I shiver when his eyes move to my mouth and his lips curve into a small smile.

“I’ve never been so offended by anyone,” Shelby snaps, jerking his gaze back to her. “We’re leaving, Nolan. I can’t believe you’re letting her accuse me of these things.”

I stand and adjust the front of my dress. Nolan’s touch lingers, his fingers finally drifting away from my hips when I step to the side to face Shelby. “On your way to the bathroom, you stopped to talk to the older couple seated three tables to your left. You picked them because the man’s wallet was sitting on the table.”

“I spoke to them because they remind me of my grandparents.” Her hand drifts to her neck, her long index finger moving in a slow circle on her skin. “You’re making a fool of yourself.”

I ignore her blatant attempt to deflect. “As you approached them you dropped your bracelet on the floor and kicked it under their table. It was a subtle move. You’ve obviously done it before.”


She glances at her bare wrist before she looks at Nolan. “The bracelet my aunt gave me. Someone took it. I had it on when I met you here.”

“Save it, Shelby.” I roll my eyes.

“Shut the hell up,” she scolds me. “I love that bracelet. If you saw it on the floor, I need to go pick it up.”

She starts to slide her chair back from the table, but I place my hand on her shoulder. “You probably buy those bracelets in bulk. You dropped it there so on your way back from the bathroom, you could pretend to spot it on the floor. You asked the woman if it was her bracelet knowing that both she and her husband would look down. That’s when you slipped his wallet into your open purse. You counted on the fact that they’d be busy trying to find the bracelet’s rightful owner so they wouldn’t notice immediately that the wallet is missing. By the time they did, you’d be out the door.”

“You’re insane.” She tries to rise against my touch, but I don’t relent. “You’re harassing me. I have a headache. I want to go.”

I drop my hand to my side. “I gave my phone to my friend and told her to call my supervisor. Resort security will be here any second. You’ll need to stay to speak to them about the wallet.”

“I don’t need to do anything.” She shakily gets to her feet. “You’re wrong about what you think you saw. The only wallet inside my purse is my own.”

“Prove it.” Nolan empties the tumbler in front of him with a single swallow before he stands.

His tall frame is imposing. The stern expression on his face only adds to how intimidating he is. He leisurely buttons his gray suit jacket, his eyes capturing mine for a brief second before he looks at her.

“You’re not funny, Nolan.” She chuckles nervously, her hands cradling her clutch to her chest. “You can’t seriously think I would do this. You have to be joking.”

“Do I look like I’m fucking joking?”

I wait for Shelby to answer but the only sound she makes is a faint wheezing noise. I’ve seen this happen to other people caught with their hand where it shouldn’t be. She’s on the verge of a panic attack.

“You don’t look like you’re fucking joking,” I say, peering up at him.

I see the corner of his mouth dart up quickly before his lips firm into a straight line. “Open your purse now, Shelby. If you have nothing to hide, there’s no harm in it.”


“I have personal things in here,” she whines. “Such as?” he asks with an arch of his brow.

“I was hoping you’d invite me back to your suite.” She exhales slowly. “I have condoms, Nolan. I bought condoms for later. I have them in my purse.”

“You wasted your money,” he says flatly.

“What?” she snaps back. “What are you talking about?”

“We went on two dates last month, Shelby.” He crosses his arms. “They were fine. You were fun.”

“They were the best two dates I’ve ever had,” she confesses quietly. “We have something special.”

It’s impossible not to feel as though I’m eavesdropping, yet I don’t move a muscle. I stand in place, riveted to the conversation happening in front of me.

“You repeatedly called me your boyfriend just now.” He sighs, shaking his head. “I’m many things, but your boyfriend isn’t one of them.”

“You are my boyfriend,” she insists with a lift of her chin. “This is our third date. You made love to me twice. Technically, that makes you my boyfriend. Any woman would tell me I’m right about that.”

No. Any woman would tell her that she’s lucky, not right, but damn lucky.

He glares at her. “We had lunch and then we fucked. Two weeks later, we had dinner and then we fucked again. Technically, that doesn’t make me anything to you.”

“It makes you my boyfriend,” she argues. “You asked me to join you here in Vegas. Why would you do that if you weren’t my boyfriend?”

He adjusts the knot of his navy blue tie. “You’re here for a modeling job. I’m here for business. You’re the one who suggested we meet here at Meadow Grill for dinner.”

“Yes.” She nods eagerly. “That’s what couples do when they’re in the same place, Nolan. They have dinner, and then they spend the night together.”

“We are not a couple,” he growls.

She dismisses his words with a wave of her hand in the air. “Yes, we are. This is just an argument. We’ll kiss and make up later.”

I’m tempted to step in and explain to her that she’s delusional. I’ve heard enough to know that she’s fallen in love with him, or maybe just his cock. I


can relate. I’m infatuated with it after the brief time I spent perched on it. I can’t blame her for wanting to hold onto him. On the surface, he appears practically perfect. The only thing I can see wrong with him is his taste in women.

“We’re way past an argument.” His jaw clenches. “You’re about to be arrested.”

“Arrested?” Her eyes pop open as realization washes over her. “You’re not going to defend me? You know I wouldn’t steal a thing, Nolan.”

“You told me your ex was lying when he went on record saying you stole all that shit from him.” He scowls. His long fingers circle the silver cuff link attached to the arm of his blue dress shirt. “What was it? Cufflinks, a bracelet, a fucking video game. There was more. The list was long.”

“Philip is a liar.” Her voice cracks as she straightens her stance. “He went on that stupid talk show to boost his career. He hasn’t had a hit movie in more than two years. He used our divorce to put his name back in the spotlight.”

“You took it all.” He rakes both his hands through his hair. “I watched the interview. You said he was acting. He was fucking serious. You slipped all those things into your greedy palm too, didn’t you? You’re a goddamn thief.”

“I’m not.” She inches back on her heels. “You’re making accusations you can’t prove, Nolan. You can’t talk to me this way. You’ll regret it.”

“I have few regrets in life, Shelby. I assure you that walking away from you and never looking back will not be one of them.”

He turns toward me, leaning down until I can feel his breath on my cheek. His blue eyes are fierce, guarded and tamed by something impossible to place. “I’m Nolan Black, Ellie Madden. It’s been a pleasure meeting you.”

Before I can say anything, he pivots on his heel, brushes past a stunned Shelby and walks out of the restaurant just as security arrives.



The Obsessed Series The Exposed Series The Pulse Series


The Vain Series Solo

The Ruin Series The Gone Series Fuse

The Trace Series Chance

The Ember Series The Rise Series

Haze Shiver Torn

The Heat Series Risk


The Tense Duet Syeat

Troublemaker Worth

Hush Bare Wish Sin Lace

Thirst Compass Versus


Ruthless Bloom Rush


Frostbite Xoxo

He Loves Me Not Bittersyeet

The Blush Factor BULL


Starliuht SAINT

Syeetheart Trust


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