Versed in Desire

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Choices come with consequences. I knew that, so I said, “I really shouldn’t.”

As I expected, a chorus of supplication rose from the group of young advertising execs clustered around me. The ringleader, a ruddy-faced blond as confident he was my type as I was sure he wasn’t, raised his voice above the good-natured entreaties. “Come on…just one poem.”

A rather uproarious loft party hosted by my boss of two weeks wasn’t my usual venue, but Tony invited me for my renown as a slam poet, not my skills as his administrative assistant. Gregarious and well connected, Tony routinely gathered people from the upper strata of Manhattan’s various tribes—fashion, Wall Street, advertising, publishing, the arts—and provided generous quantities of premium alcohol. I stood in the center of a whirling melee of noisy talk and alcohol-fueled laughter, not the ideal conditions to recite verse.

But this group didn’t care much about poetry in the first place. I was merely a pretty girl promising a moment’s entertainment, and the easiest way to extract myself from the situation was to give them what they wanted. Experience taught me that going into performance mode would distance all but the most ardent admirers, and I had other techniques for them. “All right,” I said. “Just one.”

I inhaled, drawing energy from the party and the street noise drifting through the enormous, open windows, let the breath out slowly as my listeners quieted, then I inhaled again and began. The words of the poem that a month earlier won the New York Invitational Slam came automatically as I scanned my audience, drawing them in. Despite the background clamor and two glasses of wine, I knew I wouldn’t stumble. I wrote poems with performance in mind, knit them into my breath as I strode along city streets, absorbed them into my body with the clatter and sway of the subway.

But when I made eye contact with him, I stuttered, then stopped. Standing alone in the noisy crowd, he seemed impervious to the sound and laughter cresting around him. Espresso brown hair matched the shadow on his jaw and the intent expression on his unsmiling face. The bold look in his dark chocolate eyes sent a bolt of visceral attraction streaking through my body, leaving hot spots smoldering in my nipples and pussy and a lone thought in my brain—oh, to get you alone…

It was a great line. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a line in my poem. The look held for two seconds, then three. Too long to be part of the piece’s natural rhythm. Not long enough.

I tore my gaze away to finish, grateful the heat of the room and the wine would explain the blush creeping up my neck. Despite the mistake I achieved my goal; my audience paid their compliments and drifted away with only a few admiring glances. Alone again, I sipped my drink and tossed a glance in his direction.

Our eyes didn’t meet right away because he was finishing an unhurried visual tour of my body that started at my calves, toned and taut above four-inch leopard print heels, paused at the curve of my hips accentuated by the tie of my wrap dress, dipped with my waist, lingered at my shoulders where my hair blended with my shimmery black dress, finally dallying at my mouth. When our eyes met my raised eyebrows made it obvious I’d caught him staring, but there was nothing apologetic in his gaze.

Oh, fun. I held out my hand. “I’m Corryn,” I said.

He closed the short distance between us to take my hand in a firm grip. “Luke,” he said. Despite a day’s worth of stubble he was too clean-cut to be in entertainment or the arts; a low-key pair of dark blue jeans and an olive v-neck sweater put him in either the Wall Street or advertising clans. As we ended the simple handshake, one long finger stroked across my palm.

Understated, but with a hint of scoundrel. Very intriguing.

“You made me falter, Luke,” I said, mustering irritation to cover something far more primitive simmering in the pit of my belly.

Up close, I saw dense lashes and a mouth that walked the seductive line between full and sulky. He was just a couple of inches taller than I am, but I was wearing heels. Barefoot, or better yet, naked and spread for him, I’d tuck under his chin just right.

A small smile quirked the corners of his mouth as he watched me assess him. “I’ll make it up to you,” he said.

Still not even a hint of apology in his demeanor, so I continued with mildly irritated. “What on earth could make up for me looking like a slam virgin in front of the frat boys?”

His dark eyes held just enough amusement to tell me he took the remark no more seriously than I’d meant it. “Tell me what you want and it’s yours.”

A surprisingly blatant offer from a man still water-calm in the midst of a party bordering on outrageous, but I’d take it. I’d lay him back and fuck him until I was satiated and he was the one fumbling for words.

After I knocked some of that confident amusement out of his eyes.

“Restitution is most meaningful when the offending party designs the recompense,” I said archly. “You tell me what I want.”

His gaze never left mine. “You want me to put you up against a wall.”

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