“Marry me, Julia.”
Julia smirked, trying not to prick herself as she pinned the cuff of Ben’s trousers. “No. Now hold still before I have to redo this.”
He shifted, coming dangerously close to falling off the platform where he stood. “Why not?”
His voice alone was almost enough to make her say yes—crooning and velvety and unmistakably British, her biggest weakness. “How about because we’ve never even been on a date?”
“Is that all?” He let his hands smack against his legs. “Well then have drinks with me.”
“No.” She couldn’t keep the smile from creeping back across her face.
He was unbearably handsome. Over six feet of pure seduction. Long, muscular legs, impossibly slim hips, broad, smooth chest, a face that could have been chiseled out of stone, all topped off with a mop of blond hair that was begging to be touched. This was the third fitting he’d had with her over the past three months—the first two for concerts for his band’s Northeast tour and this one for a photo shoot with GQ. She knew every inch of his perfect body. Well, nearly every inch. Her gaze drifted up toward his crotch, a tempting few inches from her face. A heated flush swept across her cheeks as she realized what she was doing. Jesus, Jules, be a little professional, would you?
“How about a burrito?” he asked.
“What?” The twinkle in his blue-gray eyes was unmistakable. Dammit, he can tell he’s wearing me down.
“I’m in the mood for Mexican. Come with me.”
The way the last words purred out of him almost made her fall over.
A smile tugged at the corner of his lips. “It’s just a burrito. Something smaller, perhaps, if you feel a burrito is too much of a commitment. Maybe just some chips and salsa?”
Say no, say no. “Fine,” she said, unable to control the electricity that zipped through her when he grinned. Heartbreak, here I come.
Ben watched as she placed the pins back into the box and gently draped his newly marked clothing onto her worktable. Her hands slid over the fabric in a way that made him shiver. He rocked back on his heels, waiting for her to finish so they could go.
Her large eyes darted back and forth, scanning the room, and he couldn’t help but wonder if she was trying to think of an excuse to cancel. That was the last thing he wanted. He’d been thinking about her for weeks. He ignored the irregular beating of his heart and sauntered toward her. “Ready?”
He was right in front of her, close enough to smell the delightful scent she always wore—honey mixed with lavender and a hint of something he couldn’t quite identify. Perhaps just her. Her eyelashes fluttered, making his pulse beat double time, then she gazed up at him. Her pupils dilated, leaving the ring of blue around them a shade akin to violet. The porcelain skin of her cheeks pinked and, for the first time, he was certain she wanted him as much as he wanted her. He placed a hand on the curve of her lower back. “Shall we?”
Julia plucked her purse off the swivel chair and looped the handle over her arm. She swayed against his palm, sending tingles throughout his body. What is it about her? He held the door as they made their way onto the dusky Manhattan street. SoHo was his favorite New York neighborhood—picturesque and without all the towering buildings of midtown.
“So,” she said, “where are you taking me?” Her brow furrowed but her lips showed a hint of playfulness.
“Just a few blocks.” He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets to keep from touching her, as he had the distinct impression she might bolt if he tried. The crisp fall air felt refreshing against his overheated body. “It’s right up ahead.” He nodded toward the Cantina sign on the next block.
“Oh, I love that place.” Julia stepped out into the street without looking just as a taxi careened around the corner.
Ben swooped her into his arms, yanking her back to the safety of the curb.
“Oh my God.” The shock registered in her face. “I didn’t even see him coming. Thank you.”
Ben was shaken, both from watching her nearly get run over and from having her in his arms. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Her head tilted in response, her eyes drawing him in, the curve of her full lower lip beckoning Instead of pulling away, she leaned forward, going up on her toes and placing a breathless kiss on his cheek. He wanted to pull(draw?) her close, plant his mouth on hers and let his body show her all the things he’d been thinking. Instead, he curled his fingers tighter around her waist and smiled. “Come, I’m starving.”
Ben guided Julia to a small booth at the side of the restaurant. A waitress appeared within seconds, her eyes glued to Ben. Oh brother. Julia had dated a few minor celebrities when she’d first started working fashion shoots. She’d quickly learned it was not her thing. Watching the guy she was with flirt with other women made her nauseous. Ben didn’t give the waitress a second glance.
“Would you like to start with a margarita?” His eyes were focused on Julia’s, making it hard for her to think about anything but their sultry color.
“Sure.” She struggled to make her brain work. “Straight up, with salt.”
“We’ll take two, straight up with salt, thanks.”
“I’ll bring those right over,” the waitress cooed at Ben, then crinkled her lips as she gave Julia a quick look up and down.
Before Julia could waste time getting annoyed, she was interrupted by Ben. “Need a look at the menu?” He held one out to her.
She shook her head. “I already know what I want.”
“So do I,” Ben said, with a grin so sexy Julia thought she might fall out of her seat.
The waitress swept back over, plunking a basket of tortilla chips down on the table with enough force that some salsa sloshed over the edge of the white bowl. She set their drinks in front of them and immediately turned her attention to Ben again. “What can I get you?” She fluttered her false eyelashes in a way that made Julia’s nostrils flare.
To his credit, Ben seemed unfazed. “Julia, what are you having?”
“I’ll have a chicken quesadilla with a side of guacamole. And can you bring over some of the spicy mango salsa?” The waitress scribbled on her pad and Julia wondered if she was going to sneeze on her food in the kitchen.
“And you, sir?”
“I’ll have the grilled steak burrito with ancho chili sauce.”
“I’ll put that right in for you.” She brushed her fingers against Ben’s hand as she took his menu.
Give me a break. This is why I don’t date famous clients.
“Chip?” Ben inched the basket toward her, his elegant fingers poised to take one.
She plucked one out, scooped up some salsa and popped it into her mouth.
Ben did the same, the muscles in his exquisite jaw contracting as he chewed. You need to get a grip. The guy’s eating a corn chip.
“So,” he said, “a quesadilla. Not quite as big a commitment as a whole burrito, but it’s a start.”
The sound of Julia’s giggle rippled through him like a warm breeze. Her straight black hair fell across her face as she looked down and fiddled with her napkin. “I prefer to take things slow.”
“Slow can be good.” Ben was pleased to see the flush that crept across her cheeks. He popped another chip into his mouth, hoping the spiciness of the salsa would redirect some of the heat that seemed to be concentrating in his groin.
Julia lifted the margarita goblet, curving her delicate fingers around it. Her tongue flicked out to whisk some salt off the rim before she took a sip. Ben’s cock twitched in reply. Christ, she’s sexy. “How long have you been working in the fashion business?”
Surprise registered on her face. “I studied clothing design in college, but I learned to sew as a kid. My grandmother owned a custom bridal shop. She was a master seamstress. I was sewing with her before I could even read.”
“That explains why you’re so good.”
The crimson glow on her cheeks deepened and Ben wondered if her skin felt as warm as it looked. He debated reaching out and taking her hand but he sensed she wasn’t ready yet. He tapped his fingers on the table instead.
Julia laughed. “Always drumming, eh?”
“Professional drawback, I’m afraid. Sorry.”
Julia shook her head, causing the blue-black highlights in her hair to shimmer. “Don’t apologize. You’re a great drummer.”
Ben’s eyebrows shot up. “You’ve seen us perform?”
“Twice. Although I admit the first time my old roommate dragged me to the show. She’s a huge fan.”
“What about you?”
Her eyes twinkled and she reached for another chip. “I was pleasantly surprised.”
“I can live with that.”
The waitress arrived wearing asbestos mittens and carrying two steaming cast-iron skillets on wooden platters.
“Can I get you anything else?” She leaned toward him in a manner that made her anything but attractive.
Ben surveyed Julia’s plate. “I believe the lady asked for guacamole and some spicy salsa. Other than that we’re all set.”
Julia smirked at him as the waitress headed off to the kitchen. “She seems quite taken with you.”
Jealousy? That’s probably a good sign. “I think she’s hoping for a good tip, but she’s not going to get one unless she starts paying more attention to you.”
A plate with small bowls of guacamole and mango salsa clattered onto the table.
Julia snorted. “Does that count as attentive?”
“Not so much.” He watched as she loosened a triangle of her quesadilla, swooping her finger beneath the strings of cheese. Tension coiled in his belly as he imagined her fingers sweeping over him. He cleared his throat and took a large forkful of his burrito.
When they finished eating, Julia excused herself to go to the ladies room. She wasn’t sure if it was the margarita or staring at Ben for the past hour, but she was feeling lightheaded in a way she hadn’t in a long time.
She checked her face in the mirror as she washed her hands. Even she could see the excitement in her eyes. Oh God. He probably thinks I’m a silly fan girl. She patted her cheeks with a cool, damp towel, willing herself to stay calm. He’s just a guy. And he’s just trying to get laid. You don’t need the complications. Say good night and go home.
One glimpse of him lounging on his side of the booth, long legs extended, fingers twirling his knife as if it were a drumstick, and all her resolve went right out the window. Shit.
“There you are.” His smile released a dozen butterflies in her stomach. “Thought maybe you’d escaped through the bathroom window.”
“I wouldn’t leave you with the check.” She reached into her purse for her wallet.
“Already taken care of.”
“Oh. Thank you.”
“My pleasure.” He stood, his full height adding even more potency to his appeal. “Shall we?”
He followed close behind as they wove through the now crowded dining room. The cool air stood in stark contrast to both the heat of the restaurant and the heat that emanated from Ben. She shuddered as soon as they stepped outside.
“You cold?” he asked.
“No.” She folded her arms.
“Yes you are.” He chuckled and removed his jacket. “Here. I can’t wear a jacket you sewed while you freeze to death alongside me.”
His hand brushed against her neck as he wrapped the garment around her. The coat was warm and comforting but his skin was even hotter. She swallowed hard.
“Shall I get you a taxi?” he asked, hands shoved in his pockets, hair fluttering in the breeze.
“No, I live a few blocks from here.”
“Oh, then I’ll walk you.”
Julia tensed. “That’s not necessary.”
Ben furrowed his brow, making him look even more handsome. “I know it’s not, but I want to see that you get home safely.”
“Look, I have this rule about not letting guys up to my apartment.” She felt ridiculous. Here was this gorgeous, sweet man who’d been nothing but a gentleman asking to escort her home and she sounded like a total prude.
“Fair enough. I wouldn’t ask to come up until I’d at least bought you a proper dinner.” His eyes twinkled. “Speaking of which, are you free tomorrow night?”
Her breath caught in her throat. “I don’t know.”
“Okay.” His voice was calm and steady but his shoulders slumped ever so slightly.
She realized how bitchy she must sound. “No, really, I don’t know. I have to be at your rehearsal for final fittings, and it depends how much sewing I need to do.”
“Fair enough. I’ll ask again tomorrow. Now which direction is your apartment?”
He’s so nice. Another shiver ran through her.
“Are you still cold?” he asked, taking her hand. “You are.” He raised it to his mouth, puffing his breath against her skin and rubbing it between his strong, warm hands. “We’d best get walking before you turn into an ice sculpture.”
He twined his fingers with hers and they turned the corner.
Ben couldn’t remember the last time he’d held hands with a woman. The feel of her silky palm against his was driving him wild, as was the anticipation of kissing her good night. They arrived at her apartment in far less time than he would have liked.
“This is me.” She glanced up at the white building.
“Three.” She pointed. “The windows with the plants.”
He craned his neck to look, then gazed down at her. The streetlight cast a pearly glow on her skin. His heart raced. “Thank you for joining me for dinner.”
“You’re welcome.” She fumbled in her purse for her keys then tilted her head up. Their eyes met and he couldn’t wait any longer. He brushed his lips lightly against hers. She stiffened but didn’t pull away, so he kissed her again. To his delight, she leaned toward him, pressing her full lips against his.
Ben ran his fingers along her cheek before sinking them into her satiny hair. Her mouth opened beneath his. Warmth poured over him like a summer rain. The salty taste of her lips mingled with the sweetness of her tongue as they melted into each other. His mind raced ahead to what it would be like to be immersed inside her, to feel her all around him. He stopped before he got carried away, carefully keeping his lower body angled away so as not to disclose just how much he was responding to her. His nose grazed hers and he placed a finishing kiss on her lips.
He opened his eyes to find that hers were still closed. Beautiful. “I’d better let you go.”
She nodded. “Yeah. Busy day tomorrow. Oh, your jacket.” She let go of his hand and shrugged out of it, dropping her keys in the process. He bent to pick them up. “Thanks.” She traded the jacket for her keys and with a quick smile she unlocked the door and disappeared inside the building.
He waited, staring up at her windows until the lights flicked on, then turned to head to his hotel.
End of Excerpt