The woman’s scent lingered, drawing Jacob to her. The notes of lilac and rose intoxicated him, the urge to move closer nearly irresistible. Her innocence was luscious fruit tempting him, unmercifully.
Then she walked away, talking to another guest, making Jacob want to go after her. Forcing himself away, he spun around, heading for the kitchen. His nonchalance was pretense, because his attention didn’t waver from the enigmatic woman.
From behind the high counter, Jacob sipped bourbon, watching her chat with other partiers out in the other room. When the tantalizing blonde laughed, she tossed her hair over her shoulder, a bit nervously. The black cocktail dress she wore didn’t suit her.
Her ample breasts were hidden under a dress that was slightly too big for her, making Jacob wonder if she’d borrowed it, or if she lacked taste in clothing. That would be a shame. At least her shapely legs weren’t covered up. The hem of her dress hit mid-thigh, giving him a good view.
Jacob marveled that she stood out from the crowd of well-dressed partiers. She seemed ill at ease, failing at her attempt to fit in. She was gentle, almost bashful, balancing on one foot then the other. The thought of giving her guidance stirred urges that were best left for another time.
It had been a while since Jacob’s last regular submissive, a little too long. But he hadn’t found a woman who excited him, not enough to take her as his. This woman, unaware of his presence, did something to him. An image of her kneeling before him came to mind.
Yet Jacob didn’t know her, a circumstance he needed to remedy. The birthday boy, Trace Farrington, strode into the kitchen laughing. He was a key player at the company, a technical genius, plus a good friend. He cut a handsome figure with his good build, light blue eyes, and dark, wavy hair, making him popular with women.
“Ah, there you are,” Trace said. “You’re missing the fun out there.” Leaning against the counter, he gulped his drink.
Jacob waved his glass toward the dining room. “Who is she?”
Trace turned to look. “Who?”
“The blonde, next to the woman in the red dress.” Jacob wished he could go to her, to sweep her away and find out all about her. It was uncharacteristic for him.
“The one in the red is something, isn’t she?” Jacob seemed distracted. “I’ve been taking her out for about a week or so. Her name’s Lana.”
The woman in the red dress was pretty. Her brown hair flowed to her shoulders and the red bandage dress hugged her slender figure to good advantage.
“That’s great.” Jacob didn’t place too much significance on Trace dating a woman for a whole week. That wasn’t uncommon. But whether Lana would make it past that early stage remained to be seen. “But the woman in black, next to her, do you know her?”
“I should. It’s my party,” Trace said, with a grin. “She’s Lana’s roommate.”
Lana disengaged from the group and headed for the kitchen, likely in search of her date. Jacob focused on her lovely roommate, still engaged in conversation.
Entering the kitchen, Lana spotted Trace. “Where’d you go?”
“I’m talking to my boss.” Trace put his arm around her waist. “This is Jacob Rinaldi,” he said, looking down at his date. “Jacob, this is Lana Nichols.” He squeezed her to him.
Turning, Jacob nodded at Lana. “Nice to meet you.” She was one more girlfriend in an ongoing parade of beauties that caught Trace’s eye. So there was no sense getting to know her too well. Her roommate was a different proposition.
“What’s your roommate’s name again?” Trace said, releasing Lana from his embrace but still holding her hand.
“Vivienne Lake. I introduced you, remember?” Lana said. “You already forgot?”
Her teasing look made Trace smile. “Yeah, well, I only have eyes for you.”
Jacob ignored their sweet nothings. “Her name is Vivienne Lake like the film star?”
Lana wrinkled her nose. “No, silly. You’re thinking of Veronica Lake, the movie star in the forties.” She giggled. “She’ll get a kick out of that. No, it’s Vivienne Lake.”
Still, there was a resemblance. Maybe that was part of the attraction. Vivienne. She was a natural beauty, with definite charm. But the only performance Jacob cared about was a private one he had in mind. Yet even as he thought it, Jacob wondered whether Vivienne would be agreeable.
Lana waved her arm to catch Vivienne’s attention, then motioned for her to come to the kitchen. While Jacob watched, the gorgeous woman backed away from the group. Then, to his dismay, she threaded her arm into a guy’s, who had to be her date.
This wasn’t good. Jacob squinted toward the couple. He didn’t detect much affection, and was relieved that the guy didn’t put his arm around Vivienne. Even considering such a thing pissed him off, as he didn’t like the idea of another man touching her. Taking a breath and squaring his shoulders, Jacob regained his composure.
He needed to get it together. Vivienne had whetted his appetite, all without saying a word, or even acknowledging Jacob’s presence. It wasn’t like him to be smitten without knowing if the woman was even available. When they entered the kitchen, Jacob downed the last of his drink.
Lana swept across the floor to her friend. “Vivie, this gorgeous man thinks you look like Veronica Lake.”
As if Jacob wasn’t already attracted to her enough, Vivie flushed and glanced down in reaction to her friend’s statement. Her unassuming behavior, and what appeared to be embarrassment, turned him on. Jacob wanted to order her to cast her eyes down and keep them there, until he told her otherwise.
Oh, what he could do then. But that would have to wait. As things stood, the beauty was with another man, a guy who annoyed him for no real reason. Except that he was at the party with Vivienne, the woman Jacob had his eye on.
“That’s very flattering,” Vivienne said, glancing at Jacob without allowing her eyes to meet his. She appeared nervous, as though flustered under his gaze, which he quite liked. “But she was a movie star.”
That simple comment told Jacob a lot. Her attitude was unassuming, just how he liked his women. Vivienne had a way of radiating loveliness while being unaware she was doing so. If she had any idea of the effect she had on the male species, she would have worn a cocktail dress that revealed her curves, and high heels that made the most of her long legs.
In a perverse way, Jacob was glad she hadn’t. He didn’t want to share her just yet, harboring the insane notion that he was the only one who witnessed her true beauty. The beauty Vivienne disguised with her inappropriate dress.
Vivienne’s date stood by, sipping his drink, seemingly uninterested. If Jacob didn’t know better, he’d say the man was bored. That seemed unfathomable, considering he was lucky enough to be her escort for the evening, a privilege Jacob decided the man didn’t deserve.
Lana broke the silence. “Vivie, this is Jacob Rinaldi. He owns Rinaldi Imports, where Trace works.” She smiled at Jacob. “And this is Vivienne Lake, and her friend Adam Langston.”
Jacob didn’t miss the fact that Lana had directed the introduction mostly toward her roommate. If his luck held, that meant Adam wasn’t hot and heavy with Vivienne. He was possibly just an escort. He could only hope. Lana had called him friend, and not boyfriend, a fact that wasn’t lost on Jacob.
Stepping forward, Jacob offered his hand. Adam shook it firmly and said, “Nice to meet you.”
The scent of lilac and rose wafted over Jacob like a drug. He looked into Vivienne’s green eyes, willing his desire under control. “And nice to meet you too, Vivienne.” She took his hand. The feel of her soft skin against his inspired him, and Jacob bowed to kiss her knuckles.
The gesture was a little foolish. He was no knight in shining armor. Vivienne squeezed his hand and looked into his eyes. This woman was really getting to him. With her so close, Jacob sensed a note of challenge in her expression.
Jacob had taken care not to reveal emotion, and didn’t see how Vivienne could know what he felt. Yet there was an instant connection. The look in her eyes teased him, dared him to go further, if he was brave enough.
That was unexpected. Vivienne may not be the type to fall at his feet and do as he commanded. But it didn’t dissuade Jacob. For some inexplicable reason, he wanted her even more. He needed to get a grip if he had any hope of maintaining control.
Before Jacob could decide on his next move, Lana grabbed Vivienne’s hand. “I need to find the bathroom. Come with me.” She pulled her into the hall, and the women disappeared. Without Vivienne, the kitchen felt uncomfortably empty.
A server strolled past the counter, offering drink refills to them. Trace allowed his guests to get a drink before taking one himself. “So, Adam, how did you meet Vivienne?”
It was good that Trace had asked the question. He did it so casually, an attitude Jacob found difficult to exude. He tended to be intense, if anything. Waiting for Adam’s reply, Jacob took a sip of his bourbon.
“I’m one of the trainers at the gym where she and Lana work out,” Adam said, as if that explained everything.
Another question came to Jacob’s mind. “How long have you been dating?” His tone was sharp, accusatory, and he regretted it as soon as the words were uttered.
Yet Adam didn’t miss a beat. “This is only our second date,” he said matter-of-factly.
And it will be your last. Jacob restrained from saying what he was thinking. This guy wasn’t for Vivienne. He was all wrong. But was Jacob right for her? That remained to be seen, but it was the direction Jacob was headed. Despite his better judgment.
Jacob’s palm still tingled from Vivienne’s touch. And the scent of lilacs filled his nostrils. She was not a woman he could walk away from, nor did he want to. There was no convincing argument that Jacob was good for her, but he was used to getting what he wanted.
And right now, Jacob wanted her.
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