Our new Romance of the Week Sponsor is Bella Andre’s From This Moment On: The Sullivans, Book 2. With an average rating of 4.6 across 13 reviews, this is one readers are really enjoying!
by Bella Andre
4.6 stars – 13 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:
Watch another Sullivan fall in love in the second book of Bella Andre’s new contemporary romance series! With FROM THIS MOMENT ON, bestselling author Bella Andre introduces you to Marcus, the second Sullivan bad boy, whose life will never be the same from the moment he meets Nicola… For thirty-six years, Marcus Sullivan has been the responsible older brother, stepping in to take care of his seven siblings after their father died when they were children. But when the perfectly ordered future he’s planned for himself turns out to be nothing but a lie, Marcus needs one reckless night to shake free from it all.Nicola Harding is known throughout the world by only one name – Nico – for her catchy, sensual pop songs. Only, what no one knows about the twenty-five year old singer is that her sex-kitten image is totally false. After a terrible betrayal by a man who loved fame far more than he ever loved her, she vows not to let anyone else get close enough to find out who she really is…or hurt her again. Especially not the gorgeous stranger she meets at a nightclub, even though the hunger – and the sinful promises – in his dark eyes make her want to spill all her secrets.One night is all Nicola and Marcus agree to share with each other. But nothing goes as they plan when instead of simply tangling limbs, they find a deeper connection than either of them could have anticipated. And even though they both try to fight it, growing emotions – and sizzling attraction – keep drawing them closer together.Close enough for them to wonder if stealing one more secret moment together can ever be enough?
See if you agree with the reviews so far – check out this free excerpt from From This Moment On by Bella Andre:
Marcus Sullivan was a man on a mission.
Twenty minutes ago he’d left his brother’s engagement party and headed straight for the belly of San Francisco’s seedy Mission district. Dance music pounded out into the street, loud enough that the crowds waiting in line were already dancing.
Leather and piercings, tattoos and fluorescent hair weren’t part of Marcus’s usual crowd. But the men and women in line with earrings through their noses and eyebrows looked happy, at least.
Marcus was planning on being a hell of a lot happier in a couple of hours.
He walked past the long line and despite the fact that he was wearing a suit and tie, the bouncer took one look at him and opened up the latch on the rope to let him in. Marcus was a large man, and although he didn’t often use his size to intimidate people, he wasn’t averse to using whatever tools he had at his disposal when he needed them.
The beat throbbed through him as he stepped through the black doorway into the crowded club, but the loud music, the shaking lights, didn’t come close to obliterating his thoughts.
That wasn’t why he was here. He wasn’t here to forget what he’d seen.
No, he didn’t want to forget, wouldn’t let himself make that mistake again.
Marcus was here to make up for two wasted years. Twenty-four months ago, he’d met Jill in the city on a hot August night at a charity event her firm was hosting. As soon as he’d set eyes on her cool blonde beauty, he knew he’d found the missing puzzle piece in his otherwise well-ordered life. In Jill, he’d seen his future: marriage, kids, estate dinners at his winery with the perfect wife by his side.
Only, as he’d learned that afternoon, it hadn’t been perfect at all…
Marcus could hear moaning even as he turned his key in the lock to Jill’s apartment. It could have been a movie turned up too loud for the dirty parts, but Marcus knew better-had known better for months, if he was being honest with himself.
He pushed open the door and moved through his girlfriend’s apartment, the moaning growing louder with every step he took.
“Oooh, that’s it! Right there! Just like that!”
Jill had always been a screamer in bed, but he’d never realized just how false it sounded until now, when he was getting a taste of her show from the cheap seats.
His hands tightened into fists as he turned through her kitchen and headed down the hall to her master bedroom.
He’d long ago asked her to move up to Napa to live at his winery with him, but she’d always had a reason to put it off. The latest was that her current apartment was a rare find barely a block away from her financial planning company with its frequent 4:40 a.m. wake-up calls. She told him he could stay over whenever he wanted.
Marcus had never felt at home in her apartment, everything a cold shade of white, mirrored and glass surfaces that smudged at the slightest touch. But he’d wanted a future with her and he’d assumed making good on that future meant bending, compromising.
How many weekends had he come to the city to see Jill when it suited her? How many times had he changed his entire schedule on less than a moment’s notice to be there for her when she needed him?
Too many times.
But never, not once, had he ever walked in on a live porn show, starring his girlfriend.
She was riding the guy like he was a bucking bronco and she was the star rodeo rider.
He saw the naked skin and limbs-hell, he couldn’t miss them from the bedroom door-but it was as if he were watching them from a clinical distance. Like a triple-X cable channel that had accidentally flipped on in a hotel when he wasn’t in the mood.
“What the hell?” The guy under his girlfriend looked at Marcus with alarm. Clearly, he hadn’t been expecting anyone to walk in.
That was when Jill shifted slightly to look over her shoulder at him. Her eyes widened in what was supposed to be surprise. But he knew her well enough to see through it. At least he’d thought he’d known her.
How much of their relationship had been a lie?
Jill moved to pull a sheet over her and her lover. Marcus watched them slide apart, watched the guy reach over the side of the bed to pull on his jeans. “I’ll get out of here,” the guy said, but Jill held his hand and made him stay on the bed.
“No, Rocco, you don’t need to leave.”
Rocco? His classically beautiful girlfriend, the woman he’d been planning to marry and start a family with, the women he’d planned to share the helm of Sullivan Vineyards with, was doing a guy named Rocco with a nasty-looking goatee and piercings? It had to be some sort of sick joke.
The guy looked between Jill and Marcus, going a little white as his gaze lingered on Marcus’s fists and the way his shoulders took up the bulk of the doorway.
Jill dropped the sheet and slid on a silk robe that had been draped over a chair in the corner of her room. She moved toward Marcus. “We should go talk in the living room.”
Somehow she slipped past without touching him, but Marcus could smell sex on her. He could smell some other guy on her.
He wanted to pound his fist into the guy’s face. But Jill had engineered this. Start to finish.
He’d deal with her, instead.
Marcus moved back through the hallway to the living room where Jill was waiting for him.
She didn’t look guilty. And, for the first time, he didn’t think she looked beautiful, either. Yes, she was still classically pretty, tall and slim…but there was an ugliness stamped across her face that he’d never let himself see before.
“I’m in love with Rocco.”
As apologies went, it sucked.
In his silence, she continued with a defensive, “You and I both know our relationship wasn’t going anywhere.”
Finally, his response came. “You said you needed time. I gave you time, enough time to screw around on me. With Rocco.”
Jill’s eyes widened at the barely repressed fury in his voice. He’d never spoken to her like that before, had never been the kind of man who raised his voice to make a point, who opted to be a bully to get his way. He’d gotten where he was by working hard and being smart and reasonable, with some Sullivan charm thrown in when he needed it.
“Look,” she said with an irritated sigh as if he was to blame for the mess they were in, “this thing between us, it was good for a while, but if we’d really been in love we would be married by now.”
He raised an eyebrow and called her on it. “You know I wanted to get married.”
She shook her head. “If you really wanted to marry me, you would have swept me off my feet and I wouldn’t have been able to resist. But you were always so busy with your brothers and sisters, always busy helping your mother with something.” Finally being honest, she said, “I tried to love you, Marcus. I really did. But I want something more. Something bigger. Something exciting. I want someone who puts me first.” Her eyes lit as she said, “I want what I have with Rocco. Not to sit by your side and wear pearls at your winery events. And not to always be last place in your life.”
Marcus stared at the woman he’d assumed would be his wife, the mother to his children, the pearl necklace he’d given her still on her neck, the only thing she’d had on while she’d been fucking another man.
He still wanted to drive his fist into Rocco’s face. He also wanted to rip the pearls off Jill’s neck and watch them scatter all over the floor.
Instead, he said, “I’ll send my assistant for my things next week. She’ll contact you to arrange a convenient time.”
“See?” Jill came at him now, her finger pointed at his chest, her robe gaping open across her chest.
He’d once loved her small breasts, thought they were just as classically beautiful as the rest of her. Now, they did nothing for him. Less than nothing.
“This is why I can’t be with you. Where are your emotions? Where is your passion? I swear you care more about your damn grapes than you do for me. And I sure as hell know you care more about your damn brothers and sisters than me. This is your chance, Marcus! Don’t you see, if you leave now, if you can’t tell me that you’ll at least try to put me first, you’ll lose me forever?”
That was when he realized that despite his anger, despite his fury at her cheating, he didn’t want to fight for Jill.
It had taken Marcus two years to realize that he didn’t actually love her.
He’d simply loved the idea of her.
The song switched from a hard-driving beat to a slower melody and rhythm as Marcus resurfaced from his dark memories. He had planned to pick up Jill for Chase and Chloe’s engagement party earlier that evening, but he’d gone alone. What an idiot he’d been, waiting two years for Jill to make up her mind. Waiting for her to be “ready” to commit all the way to him and the life he envisioned for them.
Marcus knew love existed. He’d seen it between his mother and father. He saw it in every look Chase gave Chloe, in every touch between his brother and his new fiancée.
Still, that didn’t mean Marcus was up to trying for it again anytime soon. A good long break from emotion was what he needed. From his plans. One day he still hoped he’d find a woman who would make him a good wife, a good partner, a good mother to the children he wanted.
But not right now-or for the foreseeable future.
Tonight, he was only in it for pleasure. For a long night of mindless, emotionless sex with someone who didn’t want to know his hopes, his dreams. A woman who didn’t want to know about his family any more than he wanted to know about hers. A woman who simply wanted to go back to a hotel and fuck his brains out. Hell, if neither of them even learned each other’s names, that would be perfectly fine with him.
Couples ground against each other in the dark space where sweat and alcohol and sex were all coming together. Marcus moved deeper into the darkness to stand on a rise overlooking the dance floor and scanned the crowd with a clinical eye.
* * *
Nicola Harding stood in the window of her penthouse suite looking down on San Francisco’s Union Square and watched the people walking below.
She was young and single. She should be out there with them. Six months ago, she would have been eating dinner at some glitzy restaurant, surrounded by people who were flattering her and trying to make her laugh, trying to make her like them. But she’d learned the hard way that it wasn’t her they were interested in.
Nicola Harding, who liked Monopoly and building sand castles, was an inconsequential nobody. They all wanted a piece of Nico. They wanted to say they’d hung out with a pop star. They wanted to take pictures of her on their cell phones to text to their friends.
She stepped away from the window and turned back to the huge suite.
It was too big for one person, but her record label thought putting her up in a place like this for a video shoot and concert was treating her right. No one would ever know how alone she felt, one small person in an oversized suite that could have housed her entire family with room to spare.
And the truth was, if she were a stranger reading her press, she certainly would never come up with the word alone to describe herself. Party girl would be closer. Because, somehow, every single event found her photographed with another famous man. She’d wake up in the morning and turn on her computer to learn that she was systematically screwing her way through not only the Top 40 charts, but through Hollywood, too.
Her record label and PR people and management team had told her “any press is good press” enough times that she’d stopped protesting her innocence to them. Besides, she knew they didn’t believe her, not after seeing the pictures that had leaked over the holidays last year-horrible pictures that still seemed to turn up whenever she thought they were finally buried.
After working nearly twenty-four hours a day for years to try to get people to listen to her music, she’d been overjoyed to see her work pay off with her first number one hit last summer. Although everyone had warned her that the business would chew her up and spit her out if she wasn’t careful, she’d believed it was different for her, that she was smart enough to surround herself with good people.
Until the day she trusted the wrong one.
Kenny had been so charming, so sweet at first, that she’d fallen for him hook, line, and sinker. But he’d used emotions like barter and she’d soon realized the only way to keep him happy-and to be sure he still loved her-was to give in to some of the things he wanted her to try.
A thousand times since then-no, more like a million-she’d asked herself how she could have been so naive. Naive enough that when he’d sold his story of wild nights with the pop star, complete with pictures that he’d been secretly taking of her on his cell phone, she’d actually been shocked.
Well, she’d learned her lesson. Big time.
She would never again trust that easily, especially good-looking, charming men.
Nicola caught a glance of herself in sweatpants and a tank top in the full-length mirror on the living room wall. Some party girl she was. After a grueling day of rehearsing dance moves for the video they would be shooting on Friday, her big plans included watching a Laverne & Shirley marathon on cable under the covers.
The doorbell rang and she realized she’d forgotten about the ice cream she’d ordered from room service. On a night like this, she simply didn’t have the energy to care that the hotel staff member would see her without any makeup on and immediately get on Twitter and tell the world about it.
No question about it, chocolate ice cream was her last hope tonight.
She opened the door. “Hi.”
The guy looked at her, then actually looked over her shoulder for the real Nico. Finally, he looked back at her, his features twisting toward recognition as he stared. “I’ve got your room service, Nico.”
She stepped aside so that he could wheel in the big tray, even though she could easily have just picked up the container on top.
“It’s just the brand you asked for. A quart of it.”
“Thanks.” She took the pen he handed her to sign the room tab and felt, like laser beams, the guy’s eyes on her butt in the snug sweatpants. She’d been feeling those eyes from one guy or another for the past ten years, ever since she’d woken up one morning with breasts and hips.
She didn’t even mind the leering. What she minded were the assumptions that came with it, that just because she had the T&A that guys drooled over, it meant she was going to hop into bed with them indiscriminately.
She wasn’t a slut, no matter what the world thought.
She went to hand him back the pen, but he was too busy ogling her chest to notice.
Nicola always made it a point to be nice to the staff anywhere she was staying. It wasn’t that long ago that she’d been waiting tables and cleaning hotel rooms while she waited to be “discovered.”
Tonight, she was all out of nice.
“Here.” She jammed the pen into the guy’s palm, then went to the door and held it open for him.
He moved slowly toward it and she was counting the seconds until he was gone when he said, “You all alone tonight?”
Seriously? She had to deal with this just to get some ice cream?
“I’ve got plans already, thanks.” He nodded, but she didn’t like what she saw in his eyes.
“My boyfriend will be up in a minute,” she lied.
“Well, if you’re looking for company later…”
He was across the threshold by then and she didn’t hesitate to slam the door in his face.
After bolting it, she muttered, “Jerk.”
The ice cream container was starting to sweat on the big silver cart, but she wasn’t in the mood for it anymore.
It wasn’t fair. The whole world thought she was a total slut when the truth was that she’d had sex with a grand total of two guys. Brad from twelfth grade in the backseat of his dad’s car. And then Kenny, because she’d thought they loved each other.
Even worse, neither of her previous lovers had been all that great. Brad, she could forgive, because it had been the first time for both of them and their location had been terrible. But Kenny, she’d finally realized, simply hadn’t cared about making her feel good. He’d been all about himself the entire time and she’d only fed into it by constantly trying to please him so that he’d love her more.
At least if she’d ever had anything approaching real pleasure, maybe she wouldn’t be so bitter about her reputation. Maybe then she could just own it. Maybe then she would actually feel like the sexy woman she portrayed on her album covers and music videos. Maybe then she wouldn’t have made her choreographer, Lori, stay so long with her tonight, long past when she should have let the woman leave for her brother’s engagement party.
All of a sudden, a crazy impulse hit her square in her solar plexus: since she was never going to shake off her reputation, what if she went out to earn it instead?
Nicola had always been impulsive, from the time she was a little girl. Her report cards said the same thing, year after year: “Nicola is a bright girl, but she often acts without thinking.”
Okay, she thought as she tossed various articles of clothing onto the bed and tried to figure out just the right look for what she wanted to accomplish tonight, so she’d learned her lesson about trusting jerks. And, of course, one day she wanted love. Real love. True love.
But she was tired of living like a nun, sick of trying to constantly convince everyone that she wasn’t a wild party girl, when they all thought she was anyway.
For just one night she wanted to know what all the fuss was about. She wanted to find a man to share her passions with, a real man who was experienced enough to take her to a place she’d never been before.
Her heart beat hard as she stripped off her sweatpants and tank top and slipped into a short, strapless leather dress. One wrong move in any direction and the T&A she was so famous for would be popping out for the entire world to see.
But, suddenly, Nicola didn’t care anymore. Anything was better than this bone-deep loneliness.
So she’d end up on the cover of another tabloid magazine. Big whoop. It wasn’t like it hadn’t happened before. And she’d survived.
Marcus was known for his patience. After helping to raise his seven siblings, he’d learned to wait out tantrums, fistfights, even tears.
Tonight, he was all out of patience.
He’d been watching the dancers for long enough to know that he wasn’t going to take a single one of them to bed. None of the women who’d walked in through the thick red curtain in the past thirty minutes had been contenders, either.
Until, suddenly, the curtain parted…and she walked in.
Marcus felt like a fist had slammed straight into his gut.
The woman was young, mid-twenties probably, and so damn beautiful it almost hurt to look at her. Her black leather dress left nothing to his imagination, fitting her like a second skin with wide cut-outs that ran down the side of her insane curves.
She was the one.
As she stood in the doorway and slowly scanned the crowd, every eye in the room was on her. She was magnetic, had that special something that made it impossible to pull your eyes away from her.
And then her eyes met his, illuminated by a beam of light in the dark room, and although Marcus hadn’t drunk nearly enough at Chase’s engagement party to be unsteady on his feet, one look at those clear blue eyes had him fighting for balance.
What the hell was wrong with him?
He needed to remember, at all times, what tonight was about. Sex. Pleasure. Not emotion. Not a relationship. It was okay for certain parts of his body below the waist to react like a match had been lit from nothing more than looking at the woman. Everything else was off-limits. He wasn’t looking for a woman to respect.
And he sure as hell wasn’t going to fall in love.
Marcus let his gaze move back down the woman’s barely-there leather dress. It didn’t look like respect was going to be much of an issue.
The dangerous curves began to shift beneath the thin layer of leather and he realized she was moving. Straight toward him, never once breaking stride, even in impossibly high heels.
Marcus lifted his eyes from her made-for-sex body and couldn’t miss the challenge in her gaze, a look that asked if he was man enough to handle her.
He’d come here tonight to find a woman, to proposition her, to claim her for one no-holds-barred night. Looked like he was the one who was about to be propositioned, instead.
He’d always liked his women tall and slim, not barely coming up to his chest like this one.
A voice in his head told him she was way too young for him, young enough that if this were any other night, he’d walk away from her now. If things had gone as he’d planned for the past two years, he wouldn’t even be here.
But he was.
And he wasn’t planning on walking away from whatever this woman offered. Not until first light.
Definitely not until he’d had his fill of those curves.
* * *
My God, he was beautiful.
Talk about big and strong-if this guy’s broad shoulders and gorgeous face weren’t enough, he stood out from the rest of the scummy crowd in his pressed shirt and slacks, clearly not giving a damn that he was different from them all.
He was the one.
The hassle of getting inside with all of the people clamoring to take pictures and have her sign autographs for them had almost been enough to make her hop back into the taxi and go hide out in her hotel again. What had she been thinking, coming out to a club to find a man? Especially when she knew darn well that pictures of her and the guy would surface on the Internet within hours.
But she hadn’t known where else to look, hadn’t been able to think of anywhere else to go. And she just didn’t care about the price of fame tonight, about the inevitable ramifications of what she was doing. Not when a long, lonely night was all that waited for her in her hotel suite if she turned tail and ran.
Beyond thankful that she hadn’t chickened out at the last second, Nicola was practically licking her lips as she approached him.
It was pure instinct to try and make herself look more attractive to him. She’d swayed her hips that extra little bit. Yes, she often silently bemoaned having to use her sexuality to get things out of people, but darn it, when it worked this well, what was a girl to do?
And she really wanted tonight to work out. Especially now that she’d finally seen a man she absolutely had to have.
She waited for him to say her name, for that flicker of recognition to rise in his eyes. But when neither happened after several long seconds, it finally occurred to her that he might not know who she was.
Or, she thought with the cynicism that had taken root deep within her, maybe he was just faking it because he thought it would pique her interest in him if he seemed aloof.
“Hi, I’m Nicola.” Her real name popped out before she realized it. She hadn’t gone by anything but Nico for so long with anyone but her parents that the name felt strange on her tongue.
Kind of good, too, though.
She waited for him to correct her, to be surprised that she hadn’t introduced herself as
Nico. Instead, he simply repeated her name.
His low, rough voice had her shivering, thrill bumps actually rising on her arms despite the swampy heat of the club from all the moving bodies.
She studied him for long enough to confirm that there wasn’t a shred of awareness in his dark brown eyes. Nothing at all that resembled the way the guy at the hotel had looked at her, like he was dying to say he’d done a big star.
Had she actually run into the one person on earth who had no idea who she was?
It felt too lucky to be true.
Of course, her luck would only hold out so long in a public place. From the moment she’d walked in, everyone’s eyes had been on her-and now the two of them. Normally, she wouldn’t care. She was used to staring.
But she suddenly wanted more than just a night of hot sex with a gorgeous guy.
She wanted to experience it as Nicola. Not Nico. Which meant she needed to get them out of there as soon as possible, before anyone came up and asked for an autograph or a picture with her.
“I’m not in the mood to dance tonight,” she began, before realizing, “I don’t know your name.”
She liked the way he reached out and brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes, liked it even more when he said, “My name is Marcus. And I’m not in the mood to dance, either.”
She supposed there were lots of things they could both say to each other. Things like, Should we get out of here? or Why don’t we go back to my hotel? But, amazingly, Nicola realized those words, those questions and answers, weren’t necessary.
Everything they’d needed to say to each other had already been said.
In one look.
In one touch.
Her skin burned where he’d touched her, his fingertips rougher than she’d thought they would be, given his clothes. She’d felt calluses and strength in that one brush across her skin. The thought of being touched like that-with those hands-on even more sensitive parts of her body had heat blooming inside of her in places that never usually got that hot.
Following the instinct that had brought her this far, Nicola turned without another word and began to move back to the door through which she’d just entered. A moment later, Marcus’s large, warm hand was on the small of her back as he followed her. She often traveled to events with her bodyguard, a man who was even bigger than Marcus. But she’d never felt so safe, so protected.
And never this tingly, head to toe.
The sizzling warmth from the spot on her lower back where he was holding his hand against her quickly spread down her hips and across to her stomach and breasts.
The music was still playing, louder than before, perhaps, but all she could hear was the beating of her own heart. All she knew was that she wanted this night with Marcus more than she’d wanted anything in a very long time.
In the back of her mind she knew that what she was doing was stupid, not just because of the pictures that would surface of her with a “mystery man,” but because she shouldn’t be leaving a club with a man she knew nothing whatsoever about. For all she knew, he was a sadistic murderer out trolling for his next decapitation victim. But the way he was touching her, so carefully and yet with such assurance-along with the way he’d gently stroked her face-made her want to trust her initial instincts about him.
Fortunately, just as a group of people started pointing at her and talking excitedly, a taxi pulled up. Marcus opened the door for her and she let her hair fall in front of her face to hide her profile from the driver, just in case he took one look at her and blew her cover as a regular person.
Her gut churned as she slid inside, then tightened down hard as her soon-to-be-lover joined her on the ripped leather seat and she realized just how big he really was. Compared to most of the anorexic singers and actresses she knew, Nicola had never felt tiny before. But sitting next to Marcus made her feel shockingly small and feminine.
He was so big, had so much presence, she swore there wasn’t enough oxygen left in the car for her and the driver to pull from.
“Where to?” the driver asked, giving them a blank look in the rearview mirror.
The stranger’s voice broke the spell that had pulled her toward Marcus from that first glance.
Oh God, what she was doing?
Yes, she wanted him. Desperately.
Yes, she was lonely. Terribly.
But neither of those things were enough reason to act like an idiot or to put herself in a dangerous position. After all, look what had happened when she’d trusted her instincts with Kenny. What he’d done hadn’t only hurt her, it had ended up hurting her family, too. She could still hardly believe her mother had lost her position on the school board, that the community had dared to accuse her of not being a good role model for the other parents because she’d obviously made huge mistakes in teaching her own daughter right from wrong.
Nicola put her hand on the door handle, readying herself to escape out the other side. “I’m sorry. I can’t do this. I don’t know you.”
He didn’t try to stop her, didn’t put a hand on her to keep her from opening the door. Instead, he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and handed it to her.
“Call anyone in here.”
Unable to believe what he was offering, she left the door ajar an inch. “Seriously?”
“Call them all if you have to. Ask them about me. Ask them anything.”
Surely he was kidding around. Who did something like this? Just handed over their cell phone and said to call any number on it to do a background check on him?
“You really want me to surprise dial someone in your address book and say, ‘Hey there, I’m some girl your friend Marcus is leaving a club with. Could you tell me all about him, please?'”
“I want you to feel safe with me tonight, Nicola.”
God, every time he said her name, she got the shivers. What would it be like to be lying beneath him, naked and filled with him while he said it?
Oh, how she wanted to find out.
The taxi driver cleared his throat and looked pointedly at them in his rearview mirror, but Marcus clearly had no intention of being rushed.
Before she could reconsider, she took the phone and dialed the most recently called person, someone named Mary. It was probably his wife, Nicola thought cynically as the number rang a handful of times.
After several rings, a woman picked up. “Marcus, I wish you hadn’t left the party without saying goodbye.”
Surprised at a voice that clearly belonged to an older woman rather than a lover waiting for Marcus to come over and do her later tonight, Nicola finally said, “Um…hi. This isn’t Marcus. He-”
She felt like an idiot sitting in the back of a cab trying to find the right words to say to a complete stranger. All while Marcus watched her with those dark eyes.
“He just gave me his phone and said I could call you.”
There was a brief moment of silence before the woman she’d just dialed said, “Is my son all right?”
His mother? That was the last person he’d called before coming to the club?
Nicola was stunned silent for a moment, before realizing she needed to reassure his mother. “Yes, he’s fine. Perfectly fine.”
Marcus was leaning back against the seat, his arms folded across his chest as he watched her fumble through this unexpected conversation.
All these years, she’d never met anyone else who spoke with their parents as much as she did. Especially not a man, probably because they thought it made them seem less masculine.
Nicola found herself reacting in exactly the opposite way. A man who loved his mother won a lot of points in her book, and instead of seeing Marcus as less sexy, or as some kind of mama’s boy, a glimmer of respect began to form for the beautiful stranger sitting beside her.
“Good,” his mother said with obvious relief. “I’m glad he’s fine.”
Nicola knew she should simply apologize for bothering the woman and disconnect. Instead, she found herself saying, “Mary, can I ask you a question about your son?”
She could have sworn she heard a smile across the line from this ridiculously patient woman who, for all Nicola knew, got calls like this every Friday night from the girls Marcus picked up to fool around with.
“Yes, you may, although I’d very much like to know who I’m speaking with.”
“Oh. Sorry. My name is Nicola.” For the second time in one night, she was getting to be the girl she used to be, rather than the pop star she’d been playing for the past several years.
“Nicola is a lovely name.”
“Thank you.” Nicola tried to regain her bearings, but it was really difficult to do with Marcus looking down at her with his eyes never once leaving her face.
“What would you like to know about Marcus, Nicola?”
Oh God, she shouldn’t be asking his mother a question like this, but if she hung up now she’d only be left with doubts. Doubts she didn’t want to have if she and Marcus were going to be alone together and naked in a hotel room in a little while.
She looked up into his eyes and held his dark gaze as she said, “Will I be safe with him?”
“Oh,” his mother said, “well, that’s certainly an unexpected question.”
Nicola could feel her hand trembling slightly as she held the phone up against her ear. “Why is that a strange question?”
“Marcus is my oldest son,” his mother gently explained. “He helped me take care of his brothers and sisters when my husband passed away many years ago. I love all of my children, but without a doubt, he is one of the most trustworthy men I’ve ever known.”
Nicola’s heart shouldn’t have swelled at his mother’s words. She shouldn’t have cared that the man sitting next to her was a good son, a good older brother. All that should have mattered was that she was physically safe with him and that he wouldn’t dare hurt her now that she’d spoken with his mother and alerted her to what was about to go down.
And yet, she couldn’t manage to pull her gaze away from his-or stop herself from feeling any of those things-as she said, “Thank you for telling me that.”
“It was my pleasure, Nicola.”
“I’m sorry I bothered you so late,” she said suddenly, hating that she’d worried his mother with her out-of-the-blue call.
“It’s no problem at all, although I would love to speak with Marcus for a moment.”
“I’ll give him the phone right now, Mary. And thank you.” Nicola held the phone out, hardly able to believe she was saying, “Your mother wants to speak with you.”
This night wasn’t going at all the way she’d thought it would. Well, the meeting a ridiculously gorgeous guy in a club part was right on track, but talking to his mom to be reassured that she wasn’t going to end the night in a body bag…that just didn’t happen in her world. In anyone’s world, actually.
The conversation with his mother made her feel almost as if she’d met him at some family gathering, rather than at a seedy club downtown.
She watched him listen to whatever his mother was saying. A slight frown moved across his face before he said, “Yes, tonight. Before the party,” and then, “Don’t worry, I will. Good night.”
He slipped the phone back into his pocket. “Do you feel better now?”
“Your mom seems really nice,” she said, rather than answer the question that suddenly seemed a thousand times more loaded than it had ten minutes ago, especially after the awkward phone call she’d just made to his mother. She shifted on the seat. Too late, she realized her short leather dress had ridden up nearly high enough to flash Marcus a big huge chunk of bare thigh.
“She’s great,” he told her, even as his eyes moved to the skin he couldn’t possibly miss, then back up to her face.
His jaw was tight, his expression full of desire…and something else she couldn’t quite decipher. It was, she finally decided, almost as if he was warring with himself over wanting her.
Just as she was warring with herself over wanting him.
The taxi driver interrupted them. “Are you going or not?”
Marcus looked at her. “Nicola?”
If he’d said her name differently, if there’d been any pressure, any demands behind it, she might still have said no and gotten the heck out of there.
But his question was gentle enough to have her suddenly making up her mind. “I do feel better. Much better. I’m ready to go with you now.” She’d always been a tactile person and without thinking, she put her hand on his arm to emphasize her words. His hard-and big!-biceps twitched beneath her fingertips and she jumped. But before she could pull away, he covered her hand with his.
Oh God, what was she doing? What made her think she could actually do this? What made her think she could go home with a total stranger?
Maybe if she’d had more experience with men she could have rolled with it better. But she couldn’t even handle touching his arm, for God’s sake! How was she possibly going to deal with seeing him naked?
Or touching him in other, much more intimate places?
Nicola belatedly realized Marcus was lightly stroking her hand with his fingers, as if she was a wild animal that needed to be calmed before it bolted. After only a handshake, and now this gentle caressing, she wasn’t sure he could ever touch her in a way that didn’t send her cells into Jell-O overdrive. And yet, at the same time, his gentle caresses were incredibly soothing.
Each stroke of his fingers over hers seemed to say, I understand that you’re nervous and that’s okay. I’m going to take good care of you tonight. Just as I didn’t rush you to make a decision to leave with me in the cab, I’m not going to rush you into anything you’re not ready for in bed, either.
Slowly relaxing again, she let herself scoot a little closer to him, close enough that it was pure instinct to lean her head against his broad shoulder. This time, she felt him tense beneath her touch. But before she could freak out about doing the wrong thing, he was wrapping his arm around her shoulders and pulling her in tighter.
Her body wanted to be close to his so badly that without any conscious thought or planning, she found herself turning so that her cheek was laid against his chest, the steady beat of his heart sounding against her ear. Nicola found herself smiling against his chest at the intimacy inherent in the way he’d pulled her closer on a groan of obvious need.
Intimate. Why did she keep thinking that word?
He was a stranger. This was going to be a night full of fun, hot sex. Nothing more.
A part of her wanted to ask him about his mother, to find out how many siblings he had, but she knew better, knew she had to tamp down that desire. Tonight was about a physical hookup. Not an emotional one. Hopefully, if things went really well, she’d finally experience the hot sex she’d never had before. Besides, if she sat here and quizzed him on his family, all the sizzle was bound to go out of their initial connection.
As the driver slowly wound through city traffic toward the address Marcus had given, Nicola silently counseled herself to remember to keep her boundaries in place during the next few hours. No matter how good sex with Marcus ended up being-and she could already tell just from the way he held her in his arms in the back of the cab that it had the potential to be great-she couldn’t make the mistake of connecting pleasure with love.
She didn’t know Marcus. He didn’t know her. As long as they made sure to keep things totally on the surface and all about pleasure, one night shouldn’t affect their futures.
Only, the truth she didn’t want to admit was that she already felt affected, simply by how good, how warm, how safe, she felt in the circle of his arms.
What, she found herself wondering, would it be like to have a man in my life who would be there to hold me like this every night?
Click here to download From This Moment On: The Sullivans, Book 2