(Click here to go to Episode 1)
After nearly on hour of cocktails and mingling with no sight of our host, we were called into a massive dining room. I felt almost as if I’d stepped inside of some modern version of an Agatha Christie novel. No one really knew why we were all there, the host was mysteriously absent, and the setting was peculiarly ostentatious.
I didn’t think my instincts could peg any harder into the red zone.
Until everything changed. At least for me. As guests were guided to their assigned seats my eyes fell on the most beautiful woman in the room. Raven hair perfectly styled instead of down, dress much more sedated than I’d seen her before, but still unmistakable sexy.
It was my Esme.
Marie grabbed my elbow. “Come. I want to introduce you.” And to my confused horror she directed me toward the woman in question.
The head of the table sat open, but to the right hand of the host stood a man in a suit I longed for. Its clean lines were perfection. The shade of blue so unique.
“William. It’s been too long,” Marie said, stopping in front of him. “Welcome to Tampa.”
He nodded once. “I see now why you ran away. The weather is a nice change.” Then William reached out and put his hand on Esme—the woman I couldn’t stop staring at—he put his hand on her shoulder. “You remember my sister?”
It was like staring at a car accident on the side of the road. Technically I understood what was happening, but my mind simply wouldn’t accept the information.
Marie and Esme hugged. Warmly. Like old friends.
“Oh my. You’re not a teenager anymore,” Marie laughed.
“We really haven’t seen each other in a very long time,” Esme returned the laugh. She very carefully avoided looking my direction.
“I wanted you both to meet my right hand man. Anything you need from Bancroft Sports will come from me personally or Leo.” Then she turned to me. “Leo Hancock, this is William and Rosalind Brown.”
My confusion was complete.
Was she Esme or not?
“William. Rosalind. It’s very nice to meet you.” I shook his hand heartily but when I turned to Rosalind she hesitated. Avoided my gaze. Her breath hitched.
Dear god it was her.
I didn’t understand anything.
She slid her delicate hand into mine and electricity jolted up my arm and down my spine, triggering memories of holding her hands while I fucked her slow and deep.
She shivered, yanking her hand away. Remembering the same things?
“We should sit. You remember how father is about dinner?” Esme/Rosalind asked Marie with a cocked eyebrow. “Nothing has changed.”
“Then we should find our seats,” she said quickly.
My mind buzzed in a way that usually only happened if I were to drink too much, something I hadn’t done since college, so it was an even more disorienting experience. Marie slid into a seat beside William, Greg on her other side. Five seats further down the long table I finally found my name.
It gave me an excellent view of the woman I knew, but didn’t. Rosalind? I rolled the name around a few more times and sanity began to sink in. I went back to my research. William was the oldest and very involved in his father’s empire while the daughter was the mystery. No matter what research I did, how deep I dug, all I came up with was her name. Rosalind. She didn’t work for her father, seemingly had no digital footprint.
Perhaps that was because she used a different name altogether.
I slid my phone out of my pocket and pulled up the file I’d pulled together for tonight. Since there was so little on the daughter she was a footnote on the last page.
Rosalind Esmeralda Nicolai Brown, 30, occupation unknown, location unknown.
Below that was a blurry picture from the ‘90’s, but knowing now who it belonged to? It was most certainly a much, much younger version of Esme.
Since I had no other helpful information, I slid my phone back into my pocket and made mindless conversation with the people beside me. An investment banker on my left and another agent from Premier Athletes on my right.
The whole time I watched Esme. She sat quietly. Answering questions from her brother and Marie, but no one else. She looked uncomfortable and nervous. Now that I was past my shock it was easy to see that it was more than her clothes that were different. The confident, easy going, needy woman I took to my bed was gone, replaced by a wary woman. On the defense. Someone ready to attack.
It got my hackles up and this warm—no, fiery—sensation began to boil inside me. For some reason it made me want to sit even taller than my six-foot-two frame. I watched everyone, ready for what? I didn’t know.
Esme tensed as a tall, well-dressed man strode into the room and stood at the head of the table. The room fell silent and I finally understood why Marie, Esme, and everyone else didn’t like Edmund Brown.
He was evil.
You could feel it in the air, see it in his eyes. He was one of those people you just knew on instinct wasn’t right. I resisted the urge to grab Esme and run for the nearest exit.
“Good evening. Thank you for joining us tonight. I’m Edmund Brown.” He gave a small wave of his right hand and forced a smile that looked completely unnatural onto his lips. It came out more like a snarl than an actual smile, like someone had told him smiles made people feel more comfortable. It was a tactic I used all the time—introduce myself, make a deprecating joke, smile warmly. It put people at ease and made them feel comfortable around you, even when they didn’t know you.
I was neither at ease nor comfortable right now.
If anything, I was very, very not at ease.
“As the new owner of the Renegades I wanted to introduce myself to the community of professionals I’d be working with now that we are based in Tampa, and to give you and opportunity to meet me and my family.” He turned to his right. “My son William Brown is Vice President of the Brown Global Corporation and will be very involved in the day-to-day operations of the team once we’re fully integrated.”
William stood, doing the practiced tie-tuck and half bow. His smile was genuine, his laugh forced, but pleasant. “It’s very nice to meet you all. I’ve enjoyed the conversations I’ve had so far and look forward to getting an opportunity to meet the rest of you personally before the end of the night.”
He returned to his seat as Edmund turned to his left and held his hand out to Esme. “And my daughter, Dr. Rosalind Brown. Her team involvement will be minimal as she is busy working with the university.”
Esme bristled and her eyes brightened with an angry fire.
“However,” Edmund continued, “as a member of this family, she will be involved.”
She didn’t acknowledge her father’s statement and I saw that exact same fire ignite in Edmund’s eyes. They might not like each other—or rather, they might hate each other—but they were most certainly father and daughter.
Edmund rumbled on about Renegade dynamics, team building, and the future, all while salads were brought in and placed before us. Marie was right, Edmund was using every buzz word in the book short of salary cap and contract negotiations. Those words he, mysteriously, managed to leave out.
We would have our work cut out for us in the coming weeks.
“Now, please enjoy the first course,” he said as he finally sat.
I couldn’t tear my eyes away from Esme. Rosalind. Esme. She barely touched her food. She ignored the man beside her completely. My god she was beautiful. That was a simple truth that plagued me no matter how hard I tried to turn my attention back to the dinner and the people beside me. I couldn’t shake the desire to run my fingers through the dark silk of her hair, wrap it once around my hand and make a fist. I couldn’t ignore the flashes of soft skin that tickled my memory, or my need run over it once again, to grab her hips and sink inside her.
I swallowed an enormous gulp of bourbon, shook my head, and forced myself to ignore her full, red lips. I would not get another ring around my cock tonight so why even bother with the torture?
It was a full dinner with every course imaginable. For a moment I wondered if I’d slipped down a rabbit hole into a historical novel of some sort. I hadn’t attended a multi-course sit-down dinner in . . . ever.
By the time the dessert course was finally served my ass had fallen asleep and most of the table appeared to be three sheets to the wind, what with the special wines served with most of the courses and the cocktails we all brought to the table with us.
After another self indulgent speech, Edmund Brown “dismissed” us to mingle with after-dinner cocktails we didn’t need and, most likely, to use the inebriated state of the group to procure a combination of information and favors.
Seeing how the night was going, and keeping in mind Marie’s warnings, I’d only sipped from each glass that appeared before me. I wasn’t stone cold sober but I also wasn’t more than slightly buzzed. Probably more buzzed than I’d like to admit because moments later I was alone with Marie asking about Rosalind.
“How much younger is she than you and William?” I asked, trying to sound conversational and failing miserably.
Marie fixed me with a glare that only a mother of a daughter could muster. “She is five years younger than us. And trust me, she is beautiful and about your age, but you do not want to get mixed up with that family. Not even for an hour or two.”
I swirled my bourbon. “It’s not that.” It was exactly that. “She works with Jeffry. But she doesn’t go by the name Rosalind.”
“You’ve met her before?” Now Marie was surprised.
I nodded slowly, my eyes locking on the woman in question. She scowled up at her father and said something I could only assume was not nice considering she looked as though she were spitting nails.
“A research group cocktail hour last week. I was so surprised when you introduced us that I didn’t know what to do. At first I thought I had her confused with someone else, but no. That’s Esme.”
The corner of Marie’s lip twitched up in a pleased smile. “Esme? No shit. She always did have fire in her,” she muttered under her breath. She followed my gaze and turned so we were standing shoulder to shoulder as we studied Esme. “She’s the reason Jeffry had puppy dog eyes and brought you lunch this week?”
He really was pathetic when he had a crush. “Yes.”
“Well, now you know to warn him off.”
That suggestion made my heart skip an entire, necessary, beat. Was this what Esme’s entire life was like? Everyone avoiding her because of her father? I’d change my name, too. “You seem as though you know something about the name she chose.”
Marie’s face broke into a full-blown grin. “She didn’t choose that name. It is her name. And yes, there’s a story behind it.”
One she wouldn’t be sharing with me. I realized I had no right to it, and yet, I craved it. Felt consumed by a need to know everything about Esme. Every secret. Every desire. I was like a starving man standing before a buffet. I’d never once felt this way about a woman and while my night with Esme was remarkable I couldn’t get over the lingering effects she had on my mind and body. Her skin was oh, so soft and those lips . . .
“There you are,” Greg moaned, taking his wife’s arm. “I feel like rabbit in a room full of wolves. Can we go yet?”
Marie shook her head. “Not yet. But you can go to Jake’s and hang out.”
Greg’s face went red and, quite frankly, terrifying. I couldn’t believe Marie chuckled. I wanted to duck behind the nearest wall. “I am not leaving my woman here,” he growled. “And I’m not leaving your side for the rest of the night.”
Marie glanced my way with a conspiratorial grin. “That’s for his protection, not mine.” Then she patted his hand and guided him toward the group she needed to speak to next.
I blinked a few times. Greg was a bit like the Big Bad Wolf but with Marie he was more like a pup. The beauty that tamed the beast.
They were a fascinating couple.
And one I didn’t have time to dwell on because a moment later a small, warm hand touched my bicep and nothing—absolutely nothing—else mattered in the whole of the universe.
“Leo,” Esme murmured against my ear. “Come with me.”
Thank you for reading episode 7 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!)
If you haven’t read
Episode Five, or
Episode Six, you can click here to go back!