Page 13

“I’m tempted, I admit,” I said dryly.

His hands came to rest on my shoulders. “Remember that night at the Palms?”

My hands fisted. “Low blow, Jackson.”

I would never forget standing on the fifty-fifth floor’s outdoor sky deck with Jax wrapped around my back and a glass of white wine that we shared in my hand. The city and desert stretched for miles, the glow of the neon lights fading into inky darkness.

What a view, I’d said, leaning into him, feeling happier than I ever had. I was dating the perfect guy, a man who made my toes curl at night and my days bright. He’s going to change my life, I’d thought. He’s going to change me, for the better.

It seemed ridiculous now. Making changes was my responsibility. Having a great guy was just a bonus.

I started to pull away, but he held me in place.

“I’m sorry,” he said again.

I tugged a little and he let me go, freeing me to face him. “Then why did you do it?”

“Why do I do anything?” he said gruffly, his eyes dark and hard. “Because I’m a Rutledge. We fuck people over, Gia. That’s just who we are.”

“That’s a cop-out,” I snapped.

“That’s the truth.”

I walked away, my gaze roaming.

“If you want to walk out,” he said quietly, “I won’t stop you. But I’d like you to stay.”

I paused. Turning, I confronted him, hating how his features gave nothing away. “That’s what you want, isn’t it? You want me to end things. Piss me off, get me to storm out. It wouldn’t be a quiet breakup and it’d certainly be a little messy, but quick and final nevertheless. Just the way you like it.”

“I’d hate it, but I’m no good for you, Gia.” He passed me and moved into the kitchen.

I tossed my purse on one of the armchairs. “I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.”

Jax pulled a bottle of white wine out of the fridge, then set it on the counter. The kitchen was as devoid of personality as the living room, with black cupboards and counters, and only a one-cup coffeemaker to show that anyone was in residence. Coming from a family for whom the kitchen was the center of the home, I found Jax’s depressing.

He watched me step out of my heels.

When I reached up to release my hair, I warned him, “I’m going to match your backstabbing move and raise you one round of angry sex.”

His lips parted when I reached under my dress to shimmy out of my panties. “Gia.”

“I can play this game.” I tossed my underwear at him and smiled tightly when he caught them. “And I can win.”

Chapter 10

JAX POCKETED MY underwear and came to me, abandoning the unopened wine.

He cupped my face. Lowering his head, he kissed me, his lips clinging sweetly. His hands moved to my shoulders, then down my back, his fingers deftly lowering the zipper on my dress.

I went to work on the knot of his tie, letting the anger simmer and blend with my lust into a raging desire. I focused on him. On us. On the feel of him beneath my hands, the beloved scent that was his alone, the way his breathing deepened and his heartbeat quickened as the hunger grew between us.

I never noticed things like that with anyone else, which made it so much harder to accept that maybe Jax and I weren’t meant to be together.

“Did you have this place when you came with me to Rossi’s?” I asked.

We’d stayed in a hotel during that trip. If he’d had an apartment in town at the time, it shed a whole new light on his feelings for me. After all, how much could a guy care about his girl if he’d rather bang her in a hotel than his own bed?

“No. I bought this place last year. Gia—” Standing there with his shirt open and parted, his golden torso on display, his body so beautifully hard and defined, his dark eyes so warm and tormented...

I caught his hand and pulled him out of the kitchen. Anticipation thrummed through my veins, along with something darker. And more wicked.

* * *

JAX’S HAND CLAWED at the sheet, his stomach clenching as I mouthed the plush head of his cock. He was hard and thick, so aroused that precum streamed from the crest to coat my tongue. I fisted him at the root, milking him with my hands and mouth, relishing the curses and moans that spilled from him.

“Jesus,” he gasped as I licked along a thick, pulsing vein. Running my parted lips up and down the side, I teased him, kept him on edge, driving him to the point of no return.

“Don’t play, Gia,” he growled. “Suck me or fuck me. Make me come.”

I smiled, my gaze lingering over the tight lacing of muscle that crossed his abdomen. He was sheened with sweat, his gorgeous face flushed and eyes bright. With his gaze on me, I wrapped my mouth around him and sucked, taking him to the back of my throat.

“That’s it,” he said hoarsely, his neck arching to press his head into the pillow. “God, that’s good. Your mouth...”

I owned him in that moment. Jackson Rutledge was mine.

His fingers pushed into my hair, gliding over the damp roots, brushing the strands back from my face. “Ah, Gia. Keep sucking me like that, baby.”

He throbbed against my tongue, his flavor and desire intoxicating me. I loved it. Loved giving him so much pleasure his body quaked with it.

“Going to come so hard for you...” he groaned.

Pulling off him, I sat up, then slid off the end of the bed.

“Gia.” His heavy-lidded gaze caught mine. “Damn it. Finish me.”

“It’s tough when you’re working toward something...when the excitement builds and you can almost taste it...then someone takes it away from you, isn’t it?”

Snarling, he jackknifed upward. “Get back here.”

I smiled and snatched his shirt up from the floor. “I think you need to cool off a bit first.”

“I think you should get your gorgeous ass back in this bed first.” Jax rose from the bed like an orgasmic dream come to life, all hard rippling muscle and golden skin. His cock was thick and long, curved upward and so stiff it barely moved as he walked toward me. He was so perfectly proportioned, so boldly masculine.

It was damned hard resisting jumping on the bed and letting him fuck the hell out of me.

He reached for me, and I sidestepped quickly, laughter in my throat.

The doorbell rang.

Jax didn’t care. He stalked me with single-minded determination. I danced away, struggling to thrust my arms through his shirt. The fabric smelled like him. I liked that a lot.

“You should get that,” I told him.

“Gia,” he said, in a low warning tone. “If you want to be comfortable when I fuck you, you better get on the bed. Otherwise, I’m pinning you to the nearest flat surface.”

The doorbell rang again as I darted out of his reach. “Someone’s at the door!”

“They can wait.” He fisted his cock, stroking it. “This can’t.”

I feinted to the right, then the left, using moves I’d perfected on basketball courts. It amazed me that he could be naked while chasing me and still look both tempting and formidable. His abs glistened with sweat; his gaze was avid and hot, his body taut with muscle.

He caught me before I crossed the threshold of the bedroom door. His arms locked around me, hard as steel, his chest heaving against my back.


“Say no if you mean it,” he breathed roughly. “Otherwise, I’ve got to have you, baby.”

The note of desperation in his voice swayed me, made me long to give in. Being wanted by Jax was one of the major highs in my life.


We both stiffened at the sound of Parker Rutledge’s voice in the living room.

“I know you’re here,” he called out. “We need to talk, son.”

Jax cursed. His hand slid into the open lapels of his shirt and cupped my breast possessively, his grip tightening until my feet left the floor.

“Give me a minute,” he yelled before stepping back and kicking the door closed.

I thought he’d let me go, but he turned me instead and kissed me breathless. One hand clenched in my hair, the other gripped my buttock.

When he released me abruptly, I stumbled, my legs weakened by the ferocious passion in his kiss.

He walked to the en suite bathroom and grabbed a black silk robe, belting it angrily. “Stay here.”

“Don’t you want me to say hi?” I asked, my voice tight.

Jax didn’t look at me when he said, “I’m not giving him the satisfaction.”

The door shut with a bit too much force behind him and then I heard the sound of him talking. His tone was far from welcoming and I scrambled to get dressed. I wasn’t going to hide in his bedroom like a naughty teenager.

By the time I’d finished, I couldn’t hear the low drone of conversation anymore. And when I opened the bedroom door, silence greeted me.

I padded out in search of my heels and once I had them on, I felt better prepared to deal with Parker...despite wishing my hair was tied back.

While I waited for Jax and his father to make an appearance, I wandered around the living room, examining it closely for signs of the lover I thought I knew. What I found were only a handful of framed photos, most of them vintage snapshots of a striking blonde whom I assumed was Jackson’s mother.

The photos ranged from fresh-faced black-and-whites to more recent ones in color, and the transformation the pictures documented was startling. Youthful softness had hardened over time, had been polished into a glittering facade, then faded. The upturn of pretty lips gradually migrated downward. One candid shot caught her unawares and staring out a window. The look on her beautiful face conveyed a sense of loneliness.

I picked it up, looking at it more closely, and noted another framed picture lying facedown behind it. I slid it forward, then lifted it, stilling when I discovered a photo of Jax and me.

It was a shot Vincent had captured with his cell phone and forwarded to me. He’d taken it during that first and last family dinner with Jax at Rossi’s. Jax sat behind me, supporting me as I leaned back against him. We were laughing, his arms around my waist, my arms draped over his. I’d sent the photo to Jax and made it the wallpaper on my phone until it became too painful to look at.

I propped the photo back up and returned the picture of his mother to the shelf, my heart racing along with my thoughts.

Where the hell was Jax?

The apartment was eerily quiet. I went in search of him, my gaze sliding absently past the front door, then stopping on the small security video monitor mounted in the wall beside it. Jax and his dad stood in the foyer, Jax with his arms crossed over his chest and his father with hands tucked into the pockets of his slacks. As alike as they were in physical appearance, they couldn’t have been dressed more differently, and yet Jax was clearly holding his own.

I studied the distance between them, the way they stood apart and eyed each other warily. Their family dynamic was alien to me, so far removed from the Rossi warmth that nurtured me.

The Rutledges were demanding. I didn’t know all the details of Jax’s upbringing but it was clear he’d grown up in a high-pressure environment. He’d made it obvious he didn’t hold a high opinion of Rutledges, including himself, but he had chosen his family over me—he’d made sure Ian was able to sabotage the Mondego deal—after saying I was the one person he gave a shit about.

Some long-overdue research was in order.

I took off back down the hall, shameless in my search for answers. I figured he owed me something and I’d snoop for it if I had to.

Turning into his home office, I paused on the threshold, seeing a room more in keeping with what I’d expected of him. Although the overall look was modern and masculine, the space was warmed by neutral walls and honeyed woods, with accents of red and gold. Bookcases hugged the walls, filled with a colorful array of hardcover literary volumes and dog-eared popular fiction paperbacks. There was another picture of me on the shelf, this one upright. I was solo. No Jax.

The photo was recent. No more than six months old.

From across the room, I stared at it, feeling my palms go damp.

He’d been keeping tabs on me.

The questions kept piling up, but one very important answer was made glaringly clear by the existence of that picture. I couldn’t decide if I felt joy or pain about it. Maybe it was a mixture of both.

Jax’s desk was covered in scattered pages and open folders, but I turned my back on them. I’d seen enough.

I headed back out to the living room where I grabbed my purse and set off toward the door. The men outside seemed surprised when I pulled it open. They stopped talking, and I gave a brisk nod to both of them before striding to the elevator with my head held high.

“Gia.” Jax took a step toward me. “Don’t go.”

“I’ll ride down with you, Miss Rossi,” Parker offered, coming up to me with a smile that was far too friendly. “It’s good to see you again.”

“Mr. Rutledge,” I replied.

“Call me Parker, please.”

“Dad,” Jax growled, coming closer. “You and I aren’t done talking.”

Parker patted him on the shoulder. “We can pick up where we left off later, son.”

Jax looked at me. “We’re supposed to be having dinner.”

“I’ll need to take a rain check.”

“Don’t do this, Gia.”

I smiled grimly. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back.”

The elevator car arrived, and Parker gestured me in before him.

Jax caught me by the elbow. “Give me five minutes.”

“How about I call you later?” I said, realizing I wasn’t even tempted to stay. I was too raw, too confused. I needed some breathing room.

His jaw tightened.

“It’s all right, Jackson,” Parker said quietly. “I’ll show her out.”

Jax turned his head slowly toward his father, his features set like stone. “I meant what I said.”