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5

Ben

Fiona signaled the waiter for more wine. I took a piece of bread from the basket in the center of our table and Fiona frowned. She could shove it.

She rattled on about some up-and-coming French designer and a sample sale she wanted me to take her to. Oh, joy. I tuned her out and let my mind drift back to last night.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Emmy’s playful texts. I’d really just been messing around, feeling sort of lonely and, not gonna lie, horny. I didn’t expect her to get naughty with me, yet she had. Even sent me a flirty pic of herself, softly lit, with bedroom eyes and pouty lips. I smiled at the memory.

I’d looked at the text first thing this morning, chuckling to myself. I was normally a really direct guy and told girls what I wanted. But I knew ordering her to come up to my room so I could fuck her wouldn’t have gone over well. Something told me Emmy was different from most girls. I could tell she wasn’t a one-night-stand kind of girl. She was smart and hardworking. And her sweet southern accent was pretty fucking adorable.

I had a vitamin consultant, a massage therapist, an aesthetician, a personal trainer, a dietitian, an herbal consultant, a fucking grooming companion, whatever that was, and Gunnar—my personal assistant. The only thing I didn’t have here in Paris was a friend. Maybe Emmy could fill that role. Of course, I wanted to fuck her. Badly. And I doubted how friendly she’d feel toward me after that happened. And it would happen.

“What’s that smile for?” Fiona asked, pulling me from my reverie.

I swallowed hard, letting my smile fade. “Nothing.” Nothing she needed to know about, anyhow. I was looking forward to my plans with Emmy later.

Emmy

Pulling out the most recent stack of Post-its, I sat down on my bed with a cup of coffee to sort through them. I figured I would handle a few of Fiona’s personal affairs before I went out sightseeing for the day. After booking her facial appointment and making dinner reservations for her and Ben early that Sunday night, I decided some further Ben Shaw research was in order.

Relaxing on my duvet with my laptop, I typed his name into Google and hit enter, then I sat back to enjoy the view. Holy Mother, he was hot.

My brain screamed at me, Abort! Abort! I knew this was a bad idea, yet I couldn’t help myself. I watched him go about his life: VIP parties, red-carpet events, black-tie charity functions with a beautiful model on his arm, and photos of him at the beach on his Instagram page. A sharp pain stabbed at my chest.

It was a decidedly baaad idea to crush on him, I knew that. But he was gorgeous, and he flirted with me. Clearly my fantasies knew no limit. I hoped that wouldn’t come to a crashing end tonight when he realized I was so far out of his league that there were probably laws against us dating. Yet still, my stalking knew no bounds. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. I’d need a twelve-step program if I were to cut myself off from this. But he was so good-looking, I couldn’t possibly be held accountable for my actions.

He seemed to communicate professionally and politely with fans online, but I liked that I secretly knew he had an absolutely filthy mouth.

Pulling myself away from my computer, I dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and grabbed my camera. Gunnar had hooked up with a French waiter last night and subsequently canceled on me since they were apparently still in bed. Regardless, the Louvre and I still had a hot date today. It was just the cultural and visual distraction, and I needed the diversion to keep my thoughts from diving into the gutter.

• • •

Deciding what to wear on a date with Ben Shaw was like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube in the dark. Damn near impossible. I tried on and abandoned nearly every article of clothing I brought. But soon, it was ten minutes to eight and I was forced to make a decision. A pair of dark-washed skinny jeans, ballet flats since he’d said we’d be walking, and a lacy black top with a camisole underneath.

There was just one question: Did I wear my Spanx to keep everything looking tucked in and in tip-top shape? Or did I hope for action later and forgo those awful things, knowing there was no sexy way to get them off? No, there would be no action later—that was silly. He was him. And I was me. Duh. It was a no-brainer. Still, I chose in favor of breathing and opted to leave the Spanx behind.

My hair was down and pin-straight and my makeup had cooperated for once. I’d managed to line my eyes with liquid eyeliner without stabbing myself in the retina even once. Yay, me!

Ben was already waiting in the lobby when I got downstairs. Since he hadn’t yet looked up, I allowed my eyes to rake over him unashamedly, noting the way his black leather jacket stretched across his shoulders and hugged his biceps and his white V-neck T-shirt exposed his very kissable throat. His shirt was just snug enough to hint at how cut he was underneath. I could already envision the washboard abs hiding beneath the fabric. He could’ve just walked off a GQ shoot with the sexy charm he exuded. I didn’t stand a chance. He was all man, but he was stylish as well and I suddenly felt a pang of nerves, realizing my clothes carried none of the designer labels his did. Did that type of thing matter to him?

Ben’s eyes lifted to mine and a slow, sexy smile spread across his lips.

I stopped in front of him, fidgeting and knotting my fingers together. “Hi.”

“Hi darlin’. You ready?” His mouth was still tugged up in a playful grin, and I couldn’t help but smile like a lovesick fool at this sexy man.

“Ready.” As I’ll ever be.

He led me outside and across the street to the stone walkway along the Seine where we quickly fell into step together. I felt the warmth of his hand hover at my lower back, but he never made contact. It was sweet and innocent yet highly erotic at the same time. The promise of something more between us hung in the air, unspoken and unknown.

I enjoyed the endorphins that flooded my system. I felt alive. The stars were glittering like rhinestones in the darkened night sky. Paris at night was magical and seductive. It had a vibe—a casual sexiness that oozed from each little patisserie and brasserie we passed.

Ben glanced down, looked at my shoes, and gave me a smile. “I like that you wore flats. Girls never wear flats. Now we can actually walk.”

Oh. I didn’t know if that was a compliment or not. Of course the beautiful women he dated obviously wore the most exquisite shoes, but I went for comfort. Damn. Fail. Or win, depending on how you looked at it.

“Yeah, I knew we’d be walking,” I quickly added. He didn’t need to know that I always wore flats. Heels and I didn’t get along. Wearing them had resulted in head trauma more than once, as I routinely fell on my face when I tried to walk in them.

At six feet three he had a full foot of height on me. No worries, though, because I would happily climb him like a freakin’ jungle gym, if given the chance. I felt little next to him, and it was a decidedly nice feeling. Just being near him gave me a thrill. His presence alone held the power to captivate, titillate, and turn me on. In other words, I was doomed.

When we reached a very Parisian café at a charming intersection, Ben stopped and guided me forward, his fingers brushing my hip, sending a zip of heat through my belly. He spoke in flawless French—flawless to my untrained ears, at least—to the maître d’. Regardless of how busy the quaint little café appeared to be, authority radiated off him and we were quickly seated at a table for two out on the patio beside the bustling sidewalk. It was a perfect spot for people-watching. Ben pulled out my chair and I lowered myself in a ladylike fashion while he gently pushed it closer to the table. We had a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, lit up and glowing with brilliant yellow lights. It was spectacular. I loved everything about this date so far and it’d barely begun.

Ben’s small, knowing smile remained in place as he passed me a drinks menu. “Thirsty, beautiful?”

I merely nodded and flipped open the menu. Crap! Everything was in French.

“Shall we order a bottle?” Ben asked. “And I should’ve asked earlier, are you hungry?”

First, there was no way I was eating in front of him. Second, bottle? Yes, please. I would need a couple of glasses to calm my nerves. “A bottle sounds good. Were you thinking white or red?”

“Red, but I can do either.”

“Red is fine.”

“The Château Saint Pierre is good—medium-bodied, creamy finish, and just a touch of sweetness.”

“Sounds great.” Note to self—this man knows his wine. That little fact only added to his hotness.

He smiled and folded his menu, setting his smartphone on the table in front of him. I couldn’t help but notice the little blue light that flashed to indicate he had a new message. Ben ignored it, though, and when the waiter came back he spoke in the most mouthwateringly beautiful French and placed our order. Moments later, the waiter appeared to open our wine and fill two glasses. Just having something in my hands set me at ease.

Ben crossed his ankle over his knee and leaned back. The stem of his wineglass remained between his fingers and he thoughtfully swirled the ruby-colored liquid within the glass. His gaze met mine and that devilish, boyish charm that melted my resolve to stay away from him flashed in his eyes. “To our adventures in Paris.”

“Yes.” I met his glass with mine, a satisfying clink piercing the night air.

“So.” His mouth turned up a playful smirk. “Tell me everything there is to know about Miss Emmy Clarke.”

“Uh.” I fumbled with the drinks menu, clumsily rearranging it on the table in front of us. “Let’s see. I’ve been working for Fiona for a couple of weeks. I’m from Tennessee originally. Pretty standard stuff. What do you want to know?”

He shrugged.

I swallowed and shifted in my seat. Okay. Taking a deep breath, I continued, “In college I double majored in communications and fashion design.”

A flicker of interest in his eyes revealed that he was impressed.

“I have a younger brother and two parents who are still very much in love.” Someone shut me up. God, was I trying to put him to sleep? “Nothing really that exciting. Tell me more about you.”

“What do you want to know?” His smile was playful, like he almost expected that I’d Googled him and assumed that I knew everything there was to know.

I did know a lot. His mom was retired supermodel Dakota Shaw, rumored to be quite a swinger. His dad appeared to be a mystery; possibly a politician or a rock star. But it didn’t seem right to try to probe him for answers now. Instead, I simply asked, “Where did you grow up?”

His eyes drifted to his glass of wine, which he’d stopped swirling. I briefly wondered if I’d touched on a topic he didn’t care to discuss. “All over, really. New York City, London, Barcelona, Prague, Rome, Brazil, everywhere. I want to hear more about you, though. Normal family. Tennessee. What else?” He grinned, taking a sip of his wine and licking those full lips.

The wine had started to get to me already, and it seemed surreal that Ben Shaw was sitting across from me. What was he even doing here with me? Was this a date? Two friends? Coworkers? My head was a wreck. I needed answers.

I set my glass down on the table and summoned my courage. “Ben.” My tone came out too serious and his gaze flicked up to mine. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m probably a bit boring for your tastes.”

Ben abandoned his casual posture and leaned in toward me. “I assure you; I’m anything but bored, Miss Clarke.”

I twisted my fingers around the stem of my glass. “We both know I’m not a model. I’m not like the women you usually go out with.”

“Emmy . . .” Ben set his glass down in front of him, his expression stern. “I don’t only date models. I actually typically don’t date models, so relax.”

His little declaration did nothing to calm my anxieties. The fact that he only sometimes dated models was supposed to calm me? Ha! My insecurities were too deep rooted to vanish with that information.

He leaned closer, fixing me with an intense stare. “How about I admit to a little secret? Will that make you more comfortable?”

I stopped fidgeting at the table. I hated that I was being a girl, all self-conscious and nervous. “Yes,” I admitted.

Ben took a sip from his glass. “Okay. Would it make you feel better if I told you I lost my virginity to a much older woman? My mom’s friend, actually.”

Whoa. I couldn’t imagine losing my virginity to someone my dad’s age. Creepy. My first time was with my high school boyfriend in the back of his Jeep my junior year. My life was shockingly normal in contrast to his. I could only imagine the cougar-turned-seductress must have persuaded him. “Were you . . . okay with that?”

“Yeah. She gave great head.” He shrugged, giving me a megawatt, panty-dropping smile.

Okay then. No overanalyzing going on there. I guessed that was the difference between guys and girls. Girls were more emotional about sex, guys thought about the physical first. Good to know. I needed to remember that, keep my head about me.

“So, are you into older women or did she, like, seduce you?” I asked, unable to hide my curiosity at how things went down. No pun intended.

“It was one of my first overnight shoots and she was with me since my mom couldn’t be bothered to come. She’d been sending me signals all day, touching my arm, rubbing my shoulders, stuff like that. I was eighteen and horny . . .” He chuckled. “I couldn’t sleep, being away from home and all that, so that night I went up to her hotel room . . .”

Damn. That was bold. He just showed up on her doorstep expecting sex? But I supposed when you looked like him you’d earned the right to be bold. Lucky day for that cougar, whoever she was. I was slightly jealous. But I had the man sitting in front of me, all hard-toned muscle, golden skin, and lips built for kissing. All she had was the memory.

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