Bared To You: A Crossfire Novel
Author: Sylvia Day
His tie was silver and his shirt brilliantly white, the stark absence of color emphasizing those amazing blue irises. As he stood there with his jacket open and his hands shoved casually into his pants pockets, the sight of him was like running smack into a wall I hadn't known was there.
I jerked to a halt, my gaze riveted to the man who was even more striking than I'd remembered. I had never seen hair that purely black. It was glossy and slightly long, the ends drifting over his collar. That sexy length was the crowning touch of bad-boy allure over the successful businessman, like whipped cream topping on a hot-fudge brownie sundae. As my mother would say, only rogues and raiders had hair like that.
My hands clenched against the urge to touch it, to see if it felt like the rich silk it resembled.
The doors began to close. He took an easy step forward and pressed a button on the panel to hold them open. 'There's plenty of room for both of us, Eva.'
The sound of that smoky, implacable voice broke me out of my momentary daze. How did he know my name?
Then I remembered that he'd picked up my ID card when I'd dropped it in the lobby. For a second, I debated telling him I was waiting for someone so I could take another car down, but my brain lurched back into action.
What the hell was wrong with me? Clearly he worked in the Crossfire. I couldn't avoid him every time I saw him, and why should I? If I wanted to get to the point where I could look at him and take his hotness for granted, I needed to see him often enough that he became like furniture.
Ha! If only.
I stepped into the car. 'Thank you.'
He released the button and stepped back again. The doors closed and the elevator began its descent.
I immediately regretted my decision to share the car with him.
Awareness of him prickled across my skin. He was a potent force in such a small enclosure, radiating a palpable energy and sexual magnetism that had me shifting restlessly on my feet. My breathing became as ragged as my heartbeat. I felt that inexplicable pull to him again, as if he exuded a silent demand that I was instinctively attuned to answering.
'Enjoy your first day?' he asked, startling me.
His voice resonated, flowing over me in a seductive rhythm. How the hell did he know it was my first day?
'Yes, actually,' I answered evenly. 'How was yours?'
I felt his gaze slide over my profile, but I kept my attention trained on the brushed-aluminum elevator doors. My heart was racing in my chest, my stomach quivering madly. I felt jumbled and off my game.
'Well, it wasn't my first,' he replied with a hint of amusement. 'But it was successful. And getting better as it progresses.'
I nodded and managed a smile, having no idea what that was supposed to mean. The car slowed on the twelfth floor and a friendly group of three got on, talking excitedly among themselves. I stepped back to make room for them, retreating into the opposite corner of the elevator from Dark and Dangerous. Except he sidestepped along with me. We were suddenly closer than we'd been before.
He adjusted his perfectly knotted tie, his arm brushing against mine as he did so. I sucked in a deep breath, trying to ignore my acute awareness of him by concentrating on the conversation taking place in front of us. It was impossible. He was just so there. Right there. All perfect and gorgeous and smelling divine. My thoughts ran away from me, fantasizing about how hard his body might be beneath the suit, how it might feel against me, how well endowed—or not—he might be . . .
When the car reached the lobby, I almost moaned in relief. I waited impatiently as the elevator emptied, and the first chance I got, I took a step forward. His hand settled firmly at the small of my back and he walked out beside me, steering me. The sensation of his touch on such a vulnerable place rippled through me.
We reached the turnstiles and his hand fell away, leaving me feeling oddly bereft. I glanced at him, trying to read him, but although he was looking at me, his face gave nothing away.
Th e sight of Cary lounging casually against a marble column in the lobby shifted everything. He was wearing jeans that showcased his mile-long legs and an oversized sweater in soft green that emphasized his eyes. He easily drew the attention of everyone in the lobby. I slowed as I approached him and the sex god passed us, moving through the revolving door and sliding fluidly into the back of the chauffeured black Bentley SUV I'd seen at the curb the evening before.
Cary whistled as the car pulled away. 'Well, well. From the way you were looking at him, that was the guy you told me about, right?'
'Oh, yeah. Th at was defi nitely him.'
'You work together?' Linking arms with me, Cary tugged me out to the street through the stationary door.
'No.' I stopped on the sidewalk to change into my walking flats, leaning into him as pedestrians flowed around us. 'I don't know who he is, but he asked me if I'd had a good first day, so I better figure it out.'
'Well . . .' He grinned and supported my elbow as I hopped awkwardly from one foot to the other. 'No idea how anyone could get any work done around him. My brain sort of fried for a minute.'
'I'm sure that's a universal effect.' I straightened. 'Let's go. I need a drink.'
'We should head to a bar and celebrate.'
I wasn't surprised by my roommate's emphatic pronouncement. Cary Taylor found excuses to celebrate, no matter how small and inconsequential. I'd always considered it part of his charm. 'I'm sure drinking the night before starting a new job is a bad idea.'
'Come on, Eva.' Cary sat on our new living room floor amid half a dozen moving boxes and flashed his winning smile. We'd been unpacking for days, yet he still looked amazing. Leanly built, darkhaired, and green-eyed, Cary was a man who rarely looked anything less than absolutely gorgeous on any day of his life. I might have resented that if he hadn't been the dearest person on earth to me.
'I'm not talking about a bender,' he insisted. 'Just a glass of wine or two. We can hit a happy hour and be in by eight.'
'I don't know if I'll make it back in time.' I gestured at my yoga pants and fitted workout tank. 'After I time the walk to work, I'm going to hit the gym.'
'Walk fast, work out faster.' Cary's perfectly executed arched brow made me laugh. I fully expected his million-dollar face to appear on billboards and fashion magazines all over the world one day. No matter his expression, he was a knockout.
'How about tomorrow after work?' I offered as a substitute. 'If I make it through the day, that'll be worth celebrating.'
'Deal. I'm breaking in the new kitchen for dinner.'
'Uh . . .' Cooking was one of Cary's joys, but it wasn't one of his talents. 'Great.'
Blowing a wayward strand of hair off his face, he grinned at me. 'We've got a kitchen most restaurants would kill for. There's no way to screw up a meal in there.'
Dubious, I headed out with a wave, choosing to avoid a conversation about cooking. Taking the elevator down to the first floor, I smiled at the doorman when he let me out to the street with a flourish.
The moment I stepped outside, the smells and sounds of Manhattan embraced me and invited me to explore. I was not merely across the country from my former home in San Diego, but seemingly worlds away. Two major metropolises—one endlessly temperate and sensually lazy, the other teeming with life and frenetic energy. In my dreams, I'd imagined living in a walk-up in Brooklyn, but being a dutiful daughter, I found myself on the Upper West Side instead. If not for Cary living with me, I would've been miserably lonely in the sprawling apartment that cost more per month than most people made in a year.
The doorman tipped his hat to me. 'Good evening, Miss Tramell. Will you need a cab this evening?'
'No thanks, Paul.' I rocked onto the rounded heels of my fitness shoes. 'I'll be walking.'
He smiled. 'It's cooled down from this afternoon. Should be nice.'
'I've been told I should enjoy the June weather before it gets wicked hot.'
'Very good advice, Miss Tramell.'
Stepping out from under the modern glass entrance overhang that somehow meshed with the age of the building and its neighbors, I enjoyed the relative quiet of my tree-lined street before I reached the bustle and flow of traffic on Broadway. One day soon, I hoped to blend right in, but for now I still felt like a fraudulent New Yorker. I had the address and the job, but I was still wary of the subway and had trouble hailing cabs. I tried not to walk around wide-eyed and distracted, but it was hard. There was just so much to see and experience.
The sensory input was astonishing—the smell of vehicle exhaust mixed with food from vendor carts, the shouts of hawkers blended with music from street entertainers, the awe-inspiring range of faces and styles and accents, the gorgeous architectural wonders . . . And the cars. Jesus Christ. The frenetic flow of tightly packed cars was unlike anything I'd ever seen anywhere.
There was always an ambulance, patrol car, or fire engine trying to part the flood of yellow taxis with the electronic wail of ear-splitting sirens. I was in awe of the lumbering garbage trucks that navigated tiny one-way streets and the package delivery drivers who braved the bumper-to-bumper traffic while facing rigid deadlines.
Real New Yorkers cruised right through it all, their love for the city as comfortable and familiar as a favorite pair of shoes. They didn't view the steam billowing from potholes and vents in the sidewalks with romantic delight, and they didn't blink an eye when the ground vibrated beneath their feet as the subway roared by below, while I grinned like an idiot and flexed my toes. New York was a brand-new love affair for me. I was starry-eyed and it showed.
So I had to really work at playing it cool as I made my way over to the building where I would be working. As far as my job went, at least, I'd gotten my way. I wanted to make a living based on my own merits, and that meant an entry-level position. Starting the next morning, I would be the assistant to Mark Garrity at Waters Field & Leaman, one of the preeminent advertising agencies in the United States. My stepfather, mega-financier Richard Stanton, had been annoyed when I took the job, pointing out that if I'd been less prideful I could've worked for a friend of his instead and reaped the benefits of that connection.
'You're as stubborn as your father,' he'd said. 'It'll take him forever to pay off your student loans on a cop's salary.'
That had been a major fight, with my dad unwilling to back down. 'Hell if another man's gonna pay for my daughter's education,' Victor Reyes had said when Stanton made the offer. I respected that. I suspected Stanton did, too, although he would never admit it. I understood both men's sides, because I'd fought to pay off the loans myself . . . and lost. It was a point of pride for my father. My mother had refused to marry him, but he'd never wavered from his determination to be my dad in every way possible.
Knowing it was pointless to get riled up over old frustrations, I focused on getting to work as quickly as possible. I'd deliberately chosen to clock the short trip during a busy time on a Monday, so I was pleased when I reached the Crossfire Building, which housed Waters Field & Leaman, in less than thirty minutes.
I tipped my head back and followed the line of the building all the way up to the slender ribbon of sky. The Crossfire was seriously impressive, a sleek spire of gleaming sapphire that pierced the clouds. I knew from my previous interviews that the interior on the other side of the ornate copper-framed revolving doors was just as awe-inspiring, with golden-veined marble floors and walls and brushed-aluminium security desk and turnstiles.
I pulled my new ID card out of the inner pocket of my pants and held it up for the two guards in black business suits at the desk. They stopped me anyway, no doubt because I was majorly underdressed, but then they cleared me through. After I completed an elevator ride up to the twentieth floor, I'd have a general time frame for the whole route from door to door. Score.
I was walking toward the bank of elevators when a svelte, beautifully groomed brunette caught her purse on a turnstile and upended it, spilling a deluge of change. Coins rained onto the marble and rolled merrily away, and I watched people dodge the chaos and keep going as if they didn't see it. I winced in sympathy and crouched to help the woman collect her money, as did one of the guards.
'Thank you,' she said, shooting me a quick, harried smile.
I smiled back. 'No problem. I've been there.'
I'd just squatted to reach a nickel lying near the entrance when I ran into a pair of luxurious black oxfords draped in tailored black slacks. I waited a beat for the man to move out of my way and when he didn't, I arched my neck back to allow my line of sight to rise. The custom three-piece suit hit more than a few of my hot buttons, but it was the tall, powerfully lean body inside it that made it sensational. Still, as impressive as all that magnificent maleness was, it wasn't until I reached the man's face that I went down for the count.
Wow. Just . . . wow.
He sank into an elegant crouch directly in front of me. Hit with all that exquisite masculinity at eye level, I could only stare. Stunned.
Then something shifted in the air between us.
As he stared back, he altered . . . as if a shield slid away from his eyes, revealing a scorching force of will that sucked the air from my lungs. The intense magnetism he exuded grew in strength, becoming a near-tangible impression of vibrant and unrelenting power.
Reacting purely on instinct, I shifted backward. And sprawled flat on my ass.
My elbows throbbed from the violent contact with the marble floor, but I scarcely registered the pain. I was too preoccupied with staring, riveted by the man in front of me. Inky black hair framed a breathtaking face. His bone structure would make a sculptor weep with joy, while a firmly etched mouth, a blade of a nose, and intensely blue eyes made him savagely gorgeous. Those eyes narrowed slightly, his features otherwise schooled into impassivity.
His dress shirt and suit were both black, but his tie perfectly matched those brilliant irises. His eyes were shrewd and assessing, and they bored into me. My heartbeat quickened; my lips parted to accommodate faster breaths. He smelled sinfully good. Not cologne. Body wash, maybe. Or shampoo. Whatever it was, it was mouthwatering, as was he.
He held out a hand to me, exposing gold and onyx cuff links and a very expensive-looking watch.
With a shaky inhalation, I placed my hand in his. My pulse leaped when his grip tightened. His touch was electric, sending a shock up my arm that raised the hairs on my nape. He didn't move for a moment, a frown line marring the space between arrogantly slashed brows.
'Are you all right?'
His voice was cultured and smooth, with a rasp that made my stomach flutter. It brought sex to mind. Extraordinary sex. I thought for a moment that he might be able to make me orgasm just by talking long enough.
My lips were dry, so I licked them before answering. 'I'm fine.'
He stood with economical grace, pulling me up with him. We maintained eye contact because I was unable to look away. He was younger than I'd assumed at first. Younger than thirty would be my guess, but his eyes were much worldlier. Hard and sharply intelligent.
I felt drawn to him, as if a rope bound my waist and he were slowly, inexorably pulling it.
Blinking out of my semi-daze, I released him. He wasn't just beautiful; he was . . . enthralling. He was the kind of guy who made a woman want to rip his shirt open and watch the buttons scatter along with her inhibitions. I looked at him in his civilized, urbane, outrageously expensive suit and thought of raw, primal, sheet-clawing fucking.
He bent down and retrieved the ID card I hadn't realized I'd dropped, freeing me from that provocative gaze. My brain stuttered back into gear.
I was irritated with myself for feeling so awkward while he was so completely self-possessed. And why? Because I was dazzled, damn it.
He glanced up at me, and the pose—him nearly kneeling before me—skewed my equilibrium again. He held my gaze as he rose. 'Are you sure you're all right? You should sit down for a minute.'
My face heated. How lovely to appear awkward and clumsy in front of the most self-assured and graceful man I'd ever met. 'I just lost my balance. I'm okay.'
Looking away, I caught sight of the woman who'd dumped the contents of her purse. She thanked the guard who'd helped her; then she turned to approach me, apologizing profusely. I faced her and held out the handful of coins I'd collected, but her gaze snagged on the god in the suit and she promptly forgot me altogether. After a beat, I just reached over and dumped the change into the woman's bag. Then I risked a glance at the man again, finding him watching me even as the brunette gushed thank-yous. To him. Not to me, of course, the one who'd actually helped.
I talked over her. 'May I have my badge, please?'
He offered it back to me. Although I made an eff ort to retrieve it without touching him, his fingers brushed mine, sending that charge of awareness into me all over again.
'Thank you,' I muttered before skirting him and pushing out to the street through the revolving door. I paused on the sidewalk, gulping in a breath of New York air redolent with a million different things, some good and some toxic.
There was a sleek black Bentley SUV in front of the building, and I saw my reflection in the spotless tinted windows of the limo. I was flushed and my gray eyes were overly bright. I'd seen that look on my face before—in the bathroom mirror just before I went to bed with a man. It was my I'm-ready-to-fuck look and it had absolutely no business being on my face now.
Christ. Get a grip.
Five minutes with Mr. Dark and Dangerous, and I was filled with an edgy, restless energy. I could still feel the pull of him, the inexplicable urge to go back inside where he was. I could make the argument that I hadn't finished what I'd come to the Crossfire to do, but I knew I'd kick myself for it later. How many times was I going to make an ass of myself in one day?
'Enough,' I scolded myself under my breath. 'Moving on.'
Horns blared as one cab darted in front of another with only inches to spare and then slammed on the brakes as daring pedestrians stepped into the intersection seconds before the light changed. Shouting ensued, a barrage of expletives and hand gestures that didn't carry real anger behind them. In seconds all the parties would forget the exchange, which was just one beat in the natural tempo of the city.
As I melded into the flow of foot traffic and set off toward the gym, a smile teased my mouth. Ah, New York, I thought, feeling settled again. You rock.
I'd planned on warming up on a treadmill, then capping off the hour with a few of the machines, but when I saw that a beginners' kickboxing class was about to start, I followed the mass of waiting students into that instead. By the time it was over, I felt more like myself. My muscles quivered with the perfect amount of fatigue, and I knew I'd sleep hard when I crashed later.
'You did really well.'
I wiped the sweat off my face with a towel and looked at the young man who spoke to me. Lanky and sleekly muscular, he had keen brown eyes and flawless café au lait skin. His lashes were enviably thick and long, while his head was shaved bald.
'Thank you.' My mouth twisted ruefully. 'Pretty obvious it was my first time, huh?'
He grinned and held out his hand. 'Parker Smith.'
'You have a natural grace, Eva. With a little training you could be a literal knockout. In a city like New York, knowing self-defense is imperative.' He gestured over to a corkboard hung on the wall. It was covered in thumbtacked business cards and flyers. Tearing off a flag from the bottom of a fluorescent sheet of paper, he held it out to me. 'Ever heard of Krav Maga?'
'In a Jennifer Lopez movie.'
'I teach it, and I'd love to teach you. That's my website and the number to the studio.'
I admired his approach. It was direct, like his gaze, and his smile was genuine. I'd wondered if he was angling toward a pickup, but he was cool enough about it that I couldn't be sure.
Parker crossed his arms, which showed off cut biceps. He wore a black sleeveless shirt and long shorts. His Converse sneakers looked comfortably beat up, and tribal tattoos peeked out from his collar. 'My website has the hours. You should come by and watch, see if it's for you.'
'I'll definitely think about it.'
'Do that.' He extended his hand again, and his grip was solid and confident. 'I hope to see you.'