Reckless Kiss: Episode 16
Reckless Kiss: Episode 16
(Click here to go to Episode 1)
I told Esme to meet me at my favorite French restaurant. I did this for three reasons. One, I wanted to continue dazzling her. Two, I was afraid if we were alone for any amount of time I’d begin grilling her, and if I pushed her for information she’d run. I knew she’d run. And Three, I needed more time to wrap my mind around all of this.
When I arrived she was already seated at my favorite table so I took a moment to look at her. Really look at her. Not see her through the fog of my desire or the filter of who I believed her to be.
Who was Esme Brown?
She bit her lower lip as she read the menu, her shoulders tense and her eyes hidden by her lashes. Her dark hair was expertly styled over her right shoulder. As usual she wore a dress that hugged her curves without revealing all that much. Her lips were a darker shade of red than usual, but still magnificently, erotically red.
And . . . there was my lust filter getting in the way again.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and tried all over again.
Esme was always tense, I realized, except when I distracted her. She acted as if she was about to be attacked at any time. What caused a beautiful, brilliant, anthropologist to live with so much fear?
I believed her fear was genuine. I could feel it and I couldn’t imagine a scenario where she’d use me for some twisted game. If anything she tried to warn me away, and stubbornly attracted as I was, I couldn’t be deterred.
No, the woman waiting for me was in trouble.
And that was all I needed to know.
She didn’t see me approach so I was gifted with a soft intake of breath as I bent to drop a kiss on her cheek. She smelled so good, felt so warm. “I missed you.”
She turned her head and locked her gaze with mine. My lips hovered a fraction of an inch from hers. Then she kissed me once. “I missed you too.”
Inside I vibrated with a need to have her, but outside I remained completely calm. “You’ll stay with me tonight?”
Then I could wait. I took her face in my hand and really kissed her this time. Kissed her until she moaned softly into my mouth and I knew I had her complete attention. “We should eat.”
The moment I took my seat a waiter appeared beside our table to take our order and then we were alone in a dark restaurant at a private table. “You look gorgeous.”
“Thank you. You changed.”
After I left Bancroft Sports I went home and took a very long shower before donning my favorite Hugo Boss suit. “I enjoy dressing for you.”
“It’s one of the things I like about you.”
It made me wonder what attracted her to Jeffry’s ironic t-shirts and rumpled hair. “What did you do today?”
“Gym, graded papers, read a book.” Her gaze shifted from me to her glass. She was holding something back.
“Do you regret meeting me?”
Her eyes darted back to mine and it took my breath away. “Yes. No.” She swallowed hard as her cheeks heated.
“Which is it, Esme?”
“I wish you’d tell me why.”
But instead she picked up her wine and drank . . . all of it.
Fuck. I knew I was incapable of wading through this slowly. Even simple questions probed too deep.
But I was in it now and there was no point in holding back. I reached across and took her hand because I couldn’t stand not touching her. “I’ll tell you what I think. I think you wish we’d never met because being with me means having football back in your life.” I flipped her hand over and ran my index finger along her inner wrist. “And I think you’re glad you met me because you can trust me with your body.”
I waited for her to answer but she didn’t. She didn’t even breathe. Instead she stared at me with huge eyes.
So I kept going. “Esme, if you can trust me with your body you should be able to trust me with everything.”
“I do trust you,” she whispered, her breath coming hard and fast now as her pupils dilated. “I’m protecting you.”
Now I was the one breathing hard. Protecting me? No. This had to end now. “I don’t need protecting.”
“Leo.” She squeezed her eyes shut. Her dark lashes fanned against her skin. “Explaining any of it puts you in danger. Being with you puts you in danger but—”
I was two seconds from pulling her into my lap. Instead I wrapped her hands securely inside mine. It was a sad consolation prize but it was something. Something I hoped helped her understand. “But?”
“I can’t do this.” She started to stand up but I refused to let her go. “Leo.”
“Sit down, Esme.”
“You can’t force me to stay.”
My blood pressure skyrocketed. “Watch me.” I probably sounded angry. I was angry. But not at her. “Please sit and allow me to have a conversation about this before you dismiss me from your life.”
She dropped back into her chair with a thud. “I can’t dismiss you. I can’t leave you. Don’t you understand? All I want is to be with you.”
“So your only option is to run?”
I drew her hand to my lips and kissed each of her knuckles one by one. By the time I finished she was trembling. “No. You won’t run. You won’t ever run. You promised me six months. And Esme? If you decide to end things you will look me in the eye when you do.”
“I thought I could keep this from you.”
She shook her head as if it would change my mind.
Our waiter cleared his throat beside us. Our dinner had arrived. It was possibly the most awkward moment of my adult life. The waiter clearly saw that he’d interrupted something important. His face was red and he wouldn’t meet our eyes. Esme retreated into her seat, hands in her lap, eyes on her plate. While I sat as still as a statue until the man disappeared.
Then I picked up my fork and knife and tucked into my food. “I took your advice. It seems some very good players have had a series of unfortunate mistakes recently.”
Her silver clattered to the table. I watched her clasp her trembling hands and then shove them back into her lap. “Keep your voice down.”
I glanced around the restaurant. It was packed. I recognized several other diners but most were strangers.
“Don’t look around.”
“Why?” It was almost impossible to keep my eyes on her. I wanted to study every single person in the room. Every waiter, every customer.
“To my right is a couple. She’s in a blue dress; he’s wearing a white button-up. Don’t look.”
I closed my eyes and tried to rein in my frustration. “How am I supposed to not look when you’re telling me what to look at?”
She slid her hand across the table and interlocked our fingers, plastering on a sexy smile. A fake sexy smile. I knew she was acting, but to anyone else who wasn’t part of our conversation we must look like a passionate couple oscillating between one high emotion after another. At the moment we were making sexy conversation.
Which begged the question. Who the fuck was the couple watching us?
Esme continued to smile but the grip on my fingers tightened. “When a natural moment comes along you’ll know where to look and why.” Her eyes flared, demanded I listen. “To my left and behind, where you can see easily, is a man in a black suit. He’s facing you. There’s also a man in a matching black suit with his back to you.”
With my free hand I picked up my wine and casually glanced their way. The suit facing me was staring right at me. When I made eye contact I glared. He quickly looked away.
“He’s watching us, yeah?”
“Mmmm.” I took another, longer sip of wine.
“His name is Special Agent Walker Dixon. His partner is Special Agent John Capp. They are interested in the same information you’re interested in.”
I should have realized we weren’t the only ones noticing the money . . . or that Esme was a natural backdoor way of gaining information. “I recognize him . . . ”
“You met him at my father’s reception at the stadium.”
The fucker who was harassing Esme. “That’s why you lied about drinking bourbon . . . he was following you and you didn’t want him to know about me?”
She grimaced and took a bite of her food. “They figured it out anyway.”
I couldn’t be sure but I was fairly certain Esme swore profusely under her breath. Something along the lines of Those fucking nosy bastards are a bunch of assholes.
Honestly, it turned me on.
“And our other voyeurs?” I toyed with her fingers, sent her absolutely sinful thoughts with my eyes.
She cleared her throat and blushed crimson. Her cheeks nearly matched her lips.
She was absolutely gorgeous.
“They would be the private team hired by my father. They’re like my shadow. They go wherever I go.”
“Why? To make sure you don’t speak to the agents?”
She laughed and rolled her eyes to the sky, clearly exhausted by it all. “Some sins can’t be forgiven.”
What the hell did that mean? I pulled her hand up between us. “Look at me Esme.” I waited for her to give me her beautiful brown eyes. “Why does your father have you followed?”
She tried to pull her hand free but I held her tight. She let out a growl of frustration. “You said you wanted six months. I’ll tell you then.”
“I want to know now. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Stubborn,” she muttered, “stubborn, stubborn man.”
“I’m not stubborn. I’m persistent.”
“How is that different?”
“Well for one, stubborn has a negative connotation. If I were stubborn I’d be immovable regardless of circumstances. It would be my desire above all others.” And while my desire was very strong, it was hers that mattered most.
She seemed to catch my meaning because her eyelids dropped lazily over her eyes. “Oh?”
“Persistent, on the other hand, has a more positive connotation. Persistence is for the tenacious, those with a clear goal and the stamina to pursue it.”
“Regardless of circumstances?” she whispered.
“No,” I said simply. “The circumstances matter and my only desire, Esme, is to connect with you. I’m not stubborn. I’m not forcing you to tell me anything or demanding you make me part of your life. I’m asking you to consider it. I want you to understand that I’m coming from a place of . . . of,” I wanted to say love. It was the best word for the way I felt about her, the depth of my caring. Was I in love with her? I didn’t know that. So instead I searched for another word. “Fuck it. I want to be your friend. I want to be your lover. I want to see where all of that takes us, and in order to do that I feel compelled to help you, to be . . . there for you. Even when you push me away. I don’t think that’s stubborn.”
She could take her fondness for linguistics and dissect all the hidden meanings in each of my words, try to ferret out the unconscious secrets I let slip with each choice of vocabulary. The differences were subtle but there and I hoped she could see that everything I said and did came from a place of sincerity.
She shuddered and melted a little into my grasp. “I went to college very young.”
I recalled her confession from the office. “And rebelled.”
“Correct. The woman in blue was my personal security until I reached the age of eighteen. At that point I refused the protection and she was converted to the private investigator in charge of my account. I didn’t like being followed and thought it would be fun to piss my father off. Pissing him off turned into my favorite thing to do. One thing led to another and before I knew what I was doing I’d dug myself into a hole so deep.” She shoved her plate back and dropped her forehead into her free hand. “My father made it all disappear, Leo. As repayment he wanted me to come work for him.”
Pieces started to fall into place. She held back all the specific details—I had no idea what she actually did to rebel—but it all began making sense nonetheless. Whatever Esme did in college was bad enough that her father got the leverage he needed to bring his brilliant financial forecaster back under his control.
“And did you?”
She nodded. “For a time. I continued my doctoral research while also working for Edmund. When I got my degree I . . . I quit. He’s never forgiven me and continues to try to find some way to bring me back.”
That meant Esme had unprecedented access to her father’s company, along with a grudge that would make her a perfect target for anyone wanting dirt on Edmund Brown.
She was caught in the crossfire between her father’s greed and the authorities desire to bring him down.
“I know you’re not involved,” she whispered. “The authorities aren’t interested in you or Bancroft Sports. Please just stay out of it.”
Stay out of it? I wanted to laugh. What kind of men did she have in her life that she honestly thought that suggestion would work? Was I supposed to sit back and watch as she muddled through this alone? Pretend I wasn’t a part of this? That I would play the ignorant fool at work each day and please her all night, just to send her back out to the wolves each morning?
Not in a million years.
I signaled the waiter for our check. “We’re getting out of here. I’m taking you home and fucking you until you calm down and can think with a clear head.” Her eyes flared at my use of the word home. “Yes, Esme. Home. You don’t seem to understand. I have half a mind to tie you down until you do.”
I handed my card to the waiter without glancing at the check then leaned forward. “My home is your home. This thing between us is only getting bigger. Deeper. Call me stubborn if you must, but I care about you too much to stop falling for you now.”
If you haven’t read:
EPISODE ONE| EPISODE TWO | EPISODE THREE | Episode Four | Episode Five | Episode Six | Episode Seven | Episode Eight | Episode Nine | Episode Ten | Episode Eleven | Episode Twelve | Episode Thirteen | Episode Fourteen | Episode 15
Thank you for reading episode 16 of Reckless Kiss! New episodes will release in my newsletter every Tuesday. If you enjoy this story please check out my free book Tease. It has a very similar style, level of heat, and types of characters and I think you’ll really enjoy it.
Some characters from my previous books will be appearing in this serial. If you haven’t already, check out When Lighting Strikes, to read Marie Bancroft Hamilton’s story, Summer Heat, Night Games, and Last Fall to meet more of the Bancroft Sports gang. (But you absolutely do not need to in order to enjoy Reckless Kiss. This book is 100% it’s own story!)