Lost in Between
by KL Kreig
“Clear a space on the top shelf of book boyfriends….there’s a new man claiming a top spot and his name is Shaw Mercer.” – Totally Booked Blog
We all have one. A price. That magic number that will get us to agree to do anything, be anything. Don’t sit on your gold-plated high horse and say you don’t because you do. Everyone does. Each of us has something we covet enough that we’d sell ourselves to have it. What’s my tipping point, you ask? Apparently a cool quarter mil will do the trick. What does one do for 250 large, you wonder? Anything the infamous, gorgeous playboy of Seattle wants. For the next four months I’ll be Shaw Mercer’s arm candy, his beck and call girl, his faux girlfriend. I’ll be his to command, mold, push and pull in any direction he sees fit. I’ll fight falling into bed with him. I’ll fight falling in love with him even harder. I’ll fail at both. And when my past and present collide in the most unexpected of ways, I’ll learn that while one man’s love for me has never died, the only man’s love I really want will never be mine.
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As long as Noah and I have known one another and as close as we are, he’s far from an open book. He holds some of life’s secrets so close to the vest, he’ll likely take them to his grave. So how he knows Ms. Randi Deveraux of La Dolce Vita is still a mystery he won’t divulge.
When he told me his plan and showed me the picture of the woman who’d play my love interest for the next several months, I was immediately drawn to the her, but it took me a few seconds to realize why.
It was her.
My spicy little Goldilocks.
The one I haven’t heard from.
The one I haven’t been able to get out of my fucking head for the past eight days.
The one my cock involuntarily gets hard for in the dark of night.
The glossy-colored print I stared at for long minutes was a complete contradiction to the fiery woman I’d met.
On paper her exterior was flawless. Not one sculpted eyebrow out of place. Striking blue eyes rimmed with the right amount of shadow, liner, and mascara that made them alluring but not slutty. Pouty lips painted a deep shade of maroon, lined impeccably so the stain didn’t seep, then glossed enough in the middle to draw your attention to their fullness. Hair curled into loose ribbons that fell over her shoulders and down her slim back.
But while the outside was practiced perfection, the inside screamed dead. Not damaged, not broken or bruised, but lifeless. This beautiful creature went through the motions. She moved through life without living. I don’t know how I saw it, or why, but I know it wasn’t a product of my overactive imagination. This woman’s pain was rooted deep but she put on an award-winning façade that told the outside world otherwise.
I saw the same thing when I stared into her fierce eyes under the cover of my sunglasses days ago, but I also saw something else. Smoking embers buried under piles of ash. God help me, but for some reason I want to be the man who stokes those smoldering cinders until they spark into a burning inferno, bringing her roaring back to life.
Standing before her now, I’ve no doubt I’m the igniter, the single match needed to wake her from the living dead.
“Summer, is it?” I close the door behind me and move to the couch, gesturing for her to sit.
She doesn’t. She just blinks rapidly like she’s seeing a ghost. That makes me smile for some reason.
I know the name she’s using is fake. I hate it. Not the name, per se, but the fact that I don’t know her real one. I told Ms. Deveraux my circumstances and my concern around using a fake name. The press will eventually find out and it’s best if we’re up front in the beginning rather than if they dig, thinking we’re hiding something. That would be disastrous. She agreed but told me the decision was up to Summer. If she agreed to my terms, I could plead my case. If not, then her anonymity was still protected.
“You don’t look like a Summer,” I say casually as I take a seat and cross my legs.
Although in a way she does. She’s hot and sultry and I’ve no doubt she’s nice and moist in the place I’m dying to drive my cock. Jesus, she is absolutely mouthwatering. And she has the sexiest fucking voice I have ever heard. It’s no wonder I can’t stop thinking about her.
She crosses her arms and cocks a hip in irritation. “Is that so? What do I look like then?”
Why that disturbing word pops into my head, I haven’t a clue. She is yours temporarily, though. If she agrees.
“How is your neck by the way?”
That seems to catch her off guard because her cocky bravado falters. “Uh…fine. It’s fine.” She unconsciously reaches up to palm it. My fingers itch, wishing they were on her skin instead. I still remember the electricity that ran down my arm when I touched her before. It set my cock on fire and it hasn’t stopped burning since. “You’re lucky, you know. I could be wearing a neck brace right now and be lawyered up.”
“And you’d still be just as beautiful.” I ignore the lawyer comment. I know it’s just a dig. When she blushes and looks away, my grin gets wider and I allow myself a few seconds to absorb her, head to toe. I find myself zeroing in on that tiny diamond stud in her nose, now catching the light. I first noticed it when she pounded on the window of my Rover calling me names. I generally find them childish, yet on her, I find myself incredibly turned on by it.
“Why don’t you take a seat?” On my lap would be preferable.
Defiant eyes snap back to mine. “Hit and run anyone else lately?”
“Hit and run?” I chuckle. “I didn’t hit and run you. I took accountability.”
“Yeah. After I dumped car parts into your lap, it was pretty hard to deny it any longer.”
Hell. This woman is full of restrained passion. She just needs someone to help her unleash it in a very controlled manner.
“Why haven’t you called about your car? Change your mind on whose fault it was?” I’m goading her, but Hot. Damn. The sparks firing from her are overly addictive.
“Oh, it was your fault, all right,” she snaps. “And I’ve been…busy.”
“Yes, I can imagine you have a very full schedule.” I sound more sarcastic than I intend, but the thought of her with other men makes me feel exactly the way I felt when I thought of Noah with her.
Her lips thin. She’s madder than a hornet. I’m harder than a two by four.
“Why are you here, Drive By?”
Drive By? I laugh at her feisty spirit. God, I want to kiss her. Feel her tongue sparring eagerly with mine. See if she tastes of rage and raw energy.
“I was under the impression you were agreeable to meeting with me.”
When Noah set this up, I insisted on three things.
One: it take place in Ms. Deveraux’s private home with her alone. There’s no way in hell I will be caught on film coming and going from her “business.”
Two: I meet with Ms. Deveraux in advance and work through the contractual details to my satisfaction. Let’s just say I now feel comfortable we have a mutual interest in keeping this arrangement buried deep.
And three: I be allowed to personally meet with “Summer” before she signs the contract. Surprisingly, that was the toughest piece to negotiate. Seems Ms. Deveraux is very protective of her, or maybe she’s that way with all of her employees.
Everything I have done to secure her has deviated from Ms. Deveraux’s normal course of business, but this situation is far from normal. It’s reckless at worst. Precarious at best.
“How did you find me?”
Sheer, dumb luck.
“I’m very resourceful.”
Her forehead creases. “This is a mistake.”
She turns to leave and I panic. True blistering panic sears through me at the thought she’s about to walk through that door and I may never see her again. I don’t know her real name. I don’t know how to contact her and if this meeting goes south, I know I won’t get anything further about her from Randi Deveraux. If she walks out on me now, I highly doubt she’ll give me the time of day when she finally does call Dane about her car.
I don’t know why I care that I spend the next few months with her and only her so damn much. I just do.
“Wait,” I plead.
She stops but doesn’t turn. I have no idea what possesses me, but I close the distance between us until I’m a whisper away. Our body heat plays off each other, growing hotter by the second.
“You haven’t even listened to my proposal,” I say against her ear.
Her breath kicks up. Good. She’s not unaffected by me, and that will play into my hand nicely.
“You can get someone else,” she replies softly, without conviction.
Drawing her long hair off her shoulder, I let my finger feather across her bare flesh. It’s soft and silky. She shivers. I suppress a moan. Fuck, I want her so much. It makes no sense.
“I don’t want anyone else,” I tell her truthfully, keeping my voice low.
“Why?” she breathes.
I don’t know why. I have no idea what it is about her that draws me in. I wish I did. I need to stop it. I should end this right now—look at a dozen other pictures and pick a woman whose very presence doesn’t twist me into knots and make me have thoughts I’ve never had before. Thoughts that make me uncomfortable. It’s unnerving.
But, fuck me. I can’t. There is just something different about this woman and I won’t rest until I find out what it is.
“Have a seat. Just hear me out. Please,” I tack on sincerely.
She stands motionless and I wonder what her next move will be. My hands curl into fists as I restrain myself from throwing her over my shoulder and hauling her to my house. I think she could benefit greatly from a hard hand and a red ass. I have a feeling she might even enjoy it.
When she floats effortlessly to one of the velvet-covered chairs, I release a veiled breath. Picking up the contract from the edge of Ms. Deveraux’s desk, I make myself comfortable across from her and place the paperwork on the table separating us. Her eyes drop to it but she makes no move to pick it up.
“So what’s your proposal, Mr. Knowles?”
“That’s your name, right? Dane Knowles. Wildemer & Company?”
Amused, I rest my elbows on my knees and grin at her. “No. Dane is my assistant. I told you to call him and he’d take care of the damage to your death box.”
“Death box?” She sounds offended.
“Do you know what the safety rating is on that little tin can you drive?” When she opens her mouth to respond, I talk over her. “Five point seven out of ten. You’re basically driving around in your own steel coffin.”
I expect a hot retort or for her to leave in a huff. What I don’t expect is a genuine, breathtaking smile that lights up her face like summer and makes my cock knock uncomfortably on my zipper in a futile attempt to reach her. My God, she’s trying to kill me already.
“Are you a walking Kelly Blue Book of safety ratings, Mr.…?”
“I have a vast array of useless Trivial Pursuit knowledge up here,” I retort with a smirk, finger pointing to my temple. I’ll never admit that I looked it up after our little accident. She could be seriously hurt in that ridiculous miniature box on wheels that somehow passes for a fucking car. Hell, had I hit her any harder, she would be in the hospital. “And I’m Shaw. Shaw Mercer.”
“Shaw Mercer,” she repeats slowly like she’s tasting my name for the first time. Savoring every consonant and every vowel. Fuck. I sit back and cross one leg over the other to hide my rock-hard erection.
“Any relation to Preston Mercer?”
I nod, impressed that she tied me back to my father instead of referring to me as one of Seattle’s most eligible bachelors. She’s intelligent and up on politics. I like that. Immensely. If you ask three-fourths of the residents of Seattle, they wouldn’t be able to tell you how many branches of government there are, something that’s taught in middle school, let alone who the mayor of Seattle is.
“So why is the mayor’s son…here?”
Her eyes are locked on mine, waiting on an answer.
When she swallows I follow the delicate line of her neck down to the swell of her breasts that peek out from the light pink strapless flowing dress she’s wearing like a fucking Greek goddess. One flick of my finger and I could find out the color of her areolas and the size of her nipples before I draw one into my mouth for a sample. My mouth waters at the thought.
The conversation that Ms. Deveraux and I had earlier about expectations sits hard in the pit of my stomach. On one hand, I was relieved to get confirmation she doesn’t sell herself, only her “time,” but now that I’m sitting here in front of her, I won’t rest until she lets me explore every square inch of not only her perfect body, but her complex mind. I want to know her like no one else has.
When our gazes connect again I’m sure mine is full of unmistakable heat. Hers definitely is.
She clears her throat and straightens her back. “I think you have the wrong idea about what it is I do.”
“I don’t,” I state plainly.
“I don’t sleep with my clients, Mr. Mercer.”
Oh, but you will. We both know our ingredients are explosive.
“Women would pay to have sex with me, not the other way around.”
She huffs a laugh as a wry look crosses her face. “Then what is it you need if not a good fuck?”
I chuckle and when I lean forward she straightens her spine. I love that even the simplest of movements I make in her direction affect her, just like she does to me. “Is that what I’ll be missing with you? A good fuck?” I won’t be missing a damn thing. She will be mine in every conceivable way. I know it and so does she.
“Not just good. Life altering,” she banters smoothly.
Now it’s my turn to smile slowly. What I wouldn’t give to throw her up against the wall and show her just what a life-altering fuck really is. For what seems like forever we stare at each other in some sort of weird silent challenge where we’re waiting to see what move the other will make.
Shaking myself out of her spell, I pick up the papers and hand them to her.
“Your employment contract.”
“All the paperwork is handled through Randi.”
“I want a little extra insurance.”
She quickly flips through the five-page document before lifting her eyes. “Nondisclosure agreement? This is sounding very fifty shades-ish. And just so you know, if I find any mention of hard limits or safe words, that’s a deal breaker.”
I can’t help but laugh loudly.
“I’m not kidding,” she says, her voice stern.
“Trust me, Goldilocks, if I could have gotten that past your warrior she-devil, I would have.”
Her eyes narrow, but I see a little twitch at the corner of her mouth so I forge ahead, making a mental note to invest in handcuffs and a flogger. Or six.
“The duration is for approximately the next four months. Ten hours a week, maybe more, maybe less, depending on my schedule. You may be required to travel and you will be available at all times when I need you, day or night. You will attend social events, fundraisers, business dinners, and family functions. You will be photographed and it’s only fair to warn you, you will likely be hounded by the press but I’ll try to shield you as much as possible.”
She regards me quietly. I wish I could tell what’s spinning around in that pretty little head of hers. A corner of my mouth tips when she says, “Reelection is just around the corner.”
Not a question and I don’t answer, but score another point for her.
For not the first time I wonder if this little plan of Noah’s will backfire, taking us all down in a curl of hot flames. She figured out what I was doing within two minutes. Lianna would be a far safer, more believable choice. But there’s also an undeniable, powerfully charged connection between us that will be hard for people to refute.
“And what is my role, specifically?”
Deciding I don’t care if this entire thing blows up in my face because that means I won’t get what I want—which is her—I stand and step around the table, holding out my hand.
When she tentatively sets hers in mine, I help her up and wrap one arm around her waist.
Pulling her close, I relish in the hitch of her breath. Cupping her cheek, I savor the baby-fine skin under the pad of my thumb. I take a deep breath, drinking in her delicately floral scent. She’s intoxicating and my head is already spinning.
“What are you doing?” she whispers, her small hands going to my chest.
Dipping my head, I trail my nose along her jaw, stopping so my lips brush her ear. “Making sure we have chemistry.”
She mutters a curse under her breath I know I’m not meant to hear before stuttering, “Wh…why?”
Fuck, if she only knew the dirty things running through my head right now.
“Because, my wide-eyed little pretty, you’re going to play my new love interest. My girlfriend. My serious girlfriend.” I emphasize the word so she understands what she’s getting herself into. I won’t pay her to be in my bed but that doesn’t mean she won’t end up there anyway.
“I…I haven’t agreed to anything yet.” Her breathlessness is testing me and she’s only about half an inch away from finding out exactly how much.
Walking into this meeting, I had already agreed to what I thought was a generous offer with her boss, madam, keeper, whatever she’s called. But after the last fifteen minutes, I’ve decided I will pay whatever it takes to have her. To own her. I think I would give away my own soul.
Framing her face with both hands now, I lean in until my mouth is a hairsbreadth from hers. Her eyes fall to my lips. I feel her wariness, but I also feel her hunger. She parts her lips and I watch with a deep ache in my groin as her tongue darts out to moisten them in anticipation of my kiss.
I restrain from slamming my mouth to hers, taking what I want. What she wants me to take, regardless of how she’s trying to refute me.
“But you will. Everyone has a price, Summer. What’s yours?”
As a USA Today Bestselling author, I write stories that are deeply emotional with flawed characters, because humans ARE flawed and if we read about perfect characters living in their perfect world, first of all, snoozer, but secondly, we never experience the gratification of redemption. Outside of writing, I’m just a regular ol’ Midwest girl who likes Game of Thrones and am obsessed with Modern Family and The Goldbergs. I run, I eat, I run, I eat. It’s a vicous cycle. I love carbs, but there’s love-hate relationship with my ass and thighs. Mostly hate. I like a good cocktail (oh hell…who am I kidding? I love any cocktail). I’m a huge creature of habit, but I’ll tell you I’m flexible. I read every single day and if I don’t get a chance…watch the hell out. My iPad and me: BFFs. I’m direct and I make no apologies for it. I swear too much. I love alternative music and in my next life I want to be a bad-ass female rocker. I hate, hate, hate spiders, telemarketers, liver, acne, winter and loose hairs that fall down my shirt (don’t ask, it’s a thing).