She thinks I'm perfect. A good boss, a good man. She thinks that I play by the rules.
She has no idea who I truly am. Why I'm really here.
Paige Turner is trying to outrun her past, but there it is, tossed back in her face anytime she manages to get two steps ahead.
She has no idea what a man like me will do to get what he wants.
Her need for Ryan got in the way of revenge, took her off course. Redirected her focus. Before she knew it, he'd made his way into her life. Into her heart.
I'm dirtier than she knows. She thinks I'm good to the core, but she doesn't know the things I've done. The things I would do for her.
True love doesn't let secrets as big as these stay buried. And when the truth about Paige's father is finally exposed, Ryan will do anything to fix everything. Paige has always been his and his alone.
She thinks I’m perfect. She thinks I look like Captain America. That I play by the rules. But she has no idea who I truly am. Or why I’m really here.
She thinks Miles was obsessed.
She has no idea what obsession is. What a man like me will do to get what he wants.
I’m dirtier than she knows. She thinks I’m good to the core, but she doesn’t know the things I’ve done. The things I would do for her.
I didn’t know you could actually feel someone’s eyes on you. I don’t mean that creeping feeling when you think someone is staring at you and all the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. No, this is different. I can feel his eyes on every part of my skin. They make my body warm, in places I didn’t even know existed. A part of me I’d buried long ago. Other girls probably feel this all the time, but not me. It’s like he has intimate knowledge of my body, and somehow it belongs to him. His eyes, roaming my body, fascinate me. I remember every detail about them, and it’s both a blessing and a curse.
When I look at him, I never know what eyes I’ll receive. Sometimes they’re bright green like a fresh shamrock. Other times, when the light hits just right, little blue specks shine through, making them appear almost cerulean. But my favorite is when they turn a dark green. They’re the color of a morning forest, soft and crisp, and I know he’s playing it cool. I often wonder if I’m the only one who can see the difference. He’s always so calm and cool, but his eyes probably show me more than he wants. Or maybe I’m the one doing a little too much staring. It makes me wonder if there’s more to this man who always seems so perfect. He’s too good and clean. If he knew everything about me, I probably wouldn’t get those eyes on me like I do now. The ones I secretly love.
At first I thought Ryan Justice didn’t like me, but over the years I’ve noticed it isn’t dislike, no matter how hard I try to annoy him. The annoyance I once read in his eyes has turned out to be hunger. The more I poke at him and push him away, the more that hunger grows. Or maybe that’s my own I’m feeling. I should stay as far away from him as possible, because he could break me. I’ve already had one man almost shatter me, and I don’t think I could survive another, no matter how bad I want it.
I turn my head and look across the crowded ballroom to find him leaning up against the wall with his eyes on me. Just like I knew they would be. Like they always are. He looks casual in his suit as he tries to appear non threatening, which is impossible when you’re built like him. His size is intimidating, and even more so when he’s got well over a foot and a half on you, like he does me. I know he hates the suits, because when we’re at work he always ditches the jacket and rolls up his sleeves, revealing the tattoos that coat his thick arms. It’s the one thing that always seemed off about him. The tattoos never matched the good ol’ boy attitude.
It’s as if everyone in the room knows not to block his line of sight on me, because even in this crowded room no one has stepped in his way. If I want out of his view, I’ll have to leave and find somewhere else to stand. That’s where the real inner battle begins. To move or not to move. As much as I hate the staring, I want it. I’ve been pushing for it, no matter how much I try to lie to myself that I haven’t. I’ve come to crave it.
This dress is exhibit A of that fact. I picked it out with him in mind. I asked myself what would Ryan—or Captain America, as Mallory and I call him—think of this dress. Would it piss him off like it does when I wear a sports bra and skintight shorts to our training exercises? At first I didn’t do it on purpose, but when I saw it bothered him, I did it more.
It’s a head game I’m playing. No matter how much I tell myself Captain isn’t for me, I can’t stop trying to get his attention. I guess it’s more like provoking him, because his attention is always on me. I like it when I get the rise, even though I push him away when he gets too close. God, what is wrong with me? I’ve become one of those girls who play games. That isn’t me, but I find I’m not always me when it comes to him. I’m different. Or maybe it’s not different, exactly. He draws out a part of me that I don’t want coming out.
I pull my eyes away from him and turn, giving him a side view. The black strapless dress reaches all the way to the floor, fitting snugly against me. It looks conservative…until I move. There’s a slit that runs up one side, all the way from the floor to the top of my hip. It bares my leg, my thigh, my hip, making it impossible to wear underwear. Top that off with the killer heels I have on and for once I feel tall. My legs seem longer with the tall heels and cut of the dress. I feel sexy, which is something I’m not used to. However, over the past few weeks I’ve found myself wanting to be more than just plain Paige.
I move through the room, cataloging everything, even though we aren’t officially on the clock tonight. We’re here only as light security, but the need to know my surroundings is always there. Tonight, as always, Captain and I are to protect my boss and half brother, Miles Osborne, and his girlfriend, Mallory. Mallory is my best friend, so I’ve always got her back, and tonight is no different. We’re meant to blend in, but if something catches our eye we’re to point it out to the security on call. The charity event is auctioning off millions of dollars in different pieces, so there’s plenty of staff to handle this. Miles just likes to take extra precautions. There are art pieces, jewelry, and God knows what else here that cost more than one person makes in a lifetime. So you can’t blame the heightened awareness that’s buzzing through the room.
Moving through the crowd, I try to see if I can lose Captain in the shuffle. I can feel him following me, and I want to shake him. Nothing is happening at the event and I’m getting bored as each second ticks by. The space is locked up tight, and no one looks out of place. I don’t foresee anything happening and I might as well have a little fun. I turn, trying to see how close he is, but I’ve lost him in the crowd. He’s normally easy to spot, towering over everyone in the room, but now he’s the one hiding.
It’s one thing I’ve learned about Captain over the past few weeks—he moves like a fucking cat. I didn’t know it was possible for someone as big as he is to be able to move without making a sound. It’s unnatural and sexy as hell. We both work security at Osborne Corporation, and technically he’s my boss, has been for years, but most of everything we’ve done together has been on calls or emails. Now I’m here working face-to-face with him every day. So all this is a very bad idea, yet I can’t help pushing for it. Just a little more every day. We work so close together, and it would be awkward if something happened, but that still isn’t enough to shake some sense into me, to stop this game I keep playing with us. Though I’m starting to question if I’m really leading the game at all.
Looking around the room, I still don’t see him, and I wonder with a pang in my heart if he’s left. He wouldn’t leave the event and go home without checking in, but I didn’t think he’d let me slip away from him so easily. Maybe all my pushing is working, and I get angry with myself.
Suddenly he’s on me. His big hands cup my biceps as he pulls me down a hallway. He presses me up against the wall, and his palms come down on either side of my face, caging me in, his giant body in front of me as he leans in and stares. His dark green eyes take the breath right out of my lungs.
“What are you doing?” I manage to whisper.
I look up at him. Even though I’m in these ridiculous heels, he still towers over me. His face is set and completely unreadable, but there isn’t a speck of blue in his eyes right now. Nothing but the dark green, and my stomach tightens as all his intensity is fixed on me. It’s intoxicating to have someone so focused on you. No one has ever cared to watch me like he does.
Except I know why he’s pissed. I might have poked a little too hard before we came here tonight. I let something, a lie, take hold, and didn’t try to stop it. We were both on Miles’s and Mallory’s details today, but I’d sneaked out and gotten Mallory a pregnancy test. Of course Captain caught me, because he catches everything. He never misses a beat and I wonder if he has a photographic memory like I do.
When he’d seen what I’d purchased, his whole body locked up. He assumed it was for me, and I didn’t correct him. I let him believe I was the one who needed the pregnancy test. I did it to piss him off. It was the one and only time I’d gotten a real reaction out of him—something that wasn’t a mannerly gesture. I’m sure his mom taught him to be polite when he was growing up, in a perfect house with his parents and three point two kids and a dog named Spike that stayed inside his white picket fence. I should have said something, but instead I let him believe that I was fucking someone and may or may not have gotten pregnant. Seeing the emotion all over his face should have been worth it, but a knot in the pit of my stomach told me maybe I’d taken it too far.
He pulls one of his hands from the wall, dropping it to my hip. I should push it away, but instead I stand there frozen, waiting to see what happens. His big palm rests on my hip, and he wraps his fingers around me. He’s touched me before, but not like this. At work when he touches me, it’s with a little too much ease. He started out only brushing past me, but then it progressed to tucking my hair behind my ear. No one touches me, except for Mallory from time to time. But the more time Ryan and I spend together, the more he does it. Like he’s been doing it forever. Like we’re lovers. As if it’s his right to do so.
Normally I push him away or brush off his touch, and I hate when I do it. This time, though, I can’t seem to find the will. I want his affection. I’m needy for it. I’ve been so starved for it lately. I need this moment. I need this one time, and then I’ll be okay. I’ll snatch it up and replay it over and over in my head when I need another taste of him. It has to be enough.
I’m going to blame it on my best friend falling in love with a man who looks at her as if she hangs the moon. Watching them together has been bittersweet. I love that she found it, but I know I’m losing her a little. Seeing her this happy makes me crave something I didn’t want to crave. Love isn’t in the cards for me. Even if deep down I know it’s the one thing I want most. I have other plans in life, and falling in love isn’t part of that. I’ve got a score to settle—avenging the one person who ever loved me. My mother. Well, loved me as much as she could.
Ryan moves his hand from my hip to my stomach and stops there. His eyes search my face, and I don’t know what he’s looking for. Maybe he’s waiting for me to push him away, but I can’t seem to breathe right as I wait for him to speak. I know he wants me, but I’ve been such a brat, and I tricked him into thinking I was pregnant to make him mad. It’s ridiculous because it’s physically impossible for me to be pregnant; unless by immaculate conception. Maybe I thought it would make him back off, and that all the things he makes me feel would go away. If he wasn’t watching me or touching me, then my feelings would stop. But now he’s more in my space than he’s ever been.
“You shouldn’t be on field work. It isn’t safe.” His deep voice rumbles from his chest and washes over me. I narrow my eyes on him, loving his concern but hating that he thinks he can tell me what to do. Before I can snap at him, he cuts me off. “I don’t know who he is.” Captain leans down a little more. His words are hard and filled with something I can’t make out, an edge I’ve never heard from him before. “But apparently he’s nobody important, because I haven’t seen a man sniffing around you.”
I want to tell him he has no idea what I do, but that would be a lie. I live in the same building as my brother, and it’s one Captain monitors the security on. Along with us working security in the same building together, he pretty much knows every one of my moves.
“This baby is mine now. I’ll take care of you.”
His words hit me hard, shocking me. He did not say what I think he did. He wants to be the father of my baby? A baby that isn’t his? He wants to step up and offer to care for me and my unborn child. Never mind that there is no baby, it’s the fact that he wants to do this in spite of my pushing. In spite of all that I’ve done to hurt him, trying to keep him at a distance, he still won’t give up. It’s a reminder of how perfect he is. Too perfect for me. He always wants to do the right thing. I seem to always want to do the wrong thing.
Suddenly our mouths are on each other. Our lips connect and there’s no softness to the kiss. It’s fueled by everything I’ve been bottling up for him since the moment we met. The need and want I’ve been hiding, and all the fear of what could happen, is released in this kiss. The desire I’ve been hiding bleeds out as I cling to him, wrapping myself around his giant body. He easily picks me up, and my back once again presses against the wall. I want to close all the space I’ve been putting between us.
His mouth moves against mine, his tongue pushing its way into my mouth. He takes over the kiss, dominating it, and I let go. I allow myself to enjoy the closeness of him and soak it all up. I want every last drop I can get out of this.
He growls into my mouth, and I find myself moaning in response. I move against him as my dress slips to the side and I’m bare against his suit. He’s moved one of his hands under me and he’s holding my bare ass, his fingers digging into my flesh in a possessive, unbreakable hold. Something about the way he has me pinned to him so tightly is making me come undone.
Then he’s gone.
I’m on my feet and he’s turned around, his back to me. I’m in a daze, and it takes me a moment to realize he’s talking to someone. Another man in a suit is telling him something, but I was too far gone to realize it. I’m lost in the moment we just had, stunned at how quickly all that perfection was ripped away. In the blink of an eye, everything can be gone. I’ve learned that lesson before, and it’s not a pain I want to relive. It’s not where my head should be, and I take a step to the side to steady myself. Captain turns and reaches for me, but I back up another step. Then another.
His eyes narrow on me as the guy continues to talk to him, and I hold up my hands in defense. I can tell he’s going to make a grab for me, whether the guy is talking to him or not. I’d probably melt against him if he touched me, and I can’t do that.
“Paige.” He says my name in warning, but I shake my head. His hand clenches into a fist, but I don’t give in. I need space, so I turn and I take off across the ballroom.