To count down to the upcoming release of Fantasy Seduction, I''ll be posting several excerpts from Fantasy Resort. Although some of the characters appear in all the Fantasy Books, all titles are stand alone. Keep checking back for more...:)
Nicole stared at the man bracing himself against the doorframe. Her heart ached for him. He was tall and slim, the width of his shoulders hinting at the once powerful frame that must have graced him before his accident. His hair was blond and thick, with just a hint of curl on the ends around his collar. His skin was pale, like the flesh of a newborn babe.
Jerrod had told her he’d been in a hospital for several weeks, so that would explain his appearance. She would need to get him outside. Sunshine would do wonders for him.
His full lips thinned into a tight line as he glared at Brett. She got the definite impression he wasn’t pleased with her being here. Would he be a difficult man to work with? That was fine, she thought with determination. She could be just as difficult.
Deep brown eyes turned back to her, and she swallowed back a feeling of déjà vu. There was something about his eyes that seemed so familiar.
“Ethan. Are you all right?” Brett asked.
“I need to talk to you, Brett. Now.” He pushed away from the door and slowly made his way to one of the bedrooms. She noticed a slight limp to his step and her heart tugged for him. Was he in pain?
“Excuse me, Nicole,” Brett said with a slight nod.
“It’s fine. I’ll just get my things from outside.”
Brett came into the bedroom, standing just inside the door. “Close it,” Ethan growled.
Shooting him a questioning look, Brett reached behind him and closed the door with a click. “What’s your problem, Ethan?”
Ethan turned on him with all the aggravation and anger he felt eating away at his insides. “I’ll tell you what my problem is,” he shouted, then ran a hand through his hair to calm himself down. The last thing he wanted was for Nicole to hear them. “What the hell were you thinking? You tell me I can’t tell her and then you fucking bring her here?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Nicole, damn it.”
“What’s wrong with Nicole? Jerrod assures me she’s very trustworthy. We can count on her to keep quiet. She’s part of the medical staff here.”
“Jerrod?” Ethan asked and sank on the bed. “Jerrod Scollin?”
“Yes. You know him?” Brett asked.
“Yes, you fool. He’s the husband to Mirage’s best friend. The companion you just saddled me with is Mirage!”
“Oh, fuck,” Brett sighed.
“Don’t you do your fucking homework?”
“Keep your damn voice down,” Brett growled.
Ethan sighed, his shoulders sinking in defeat and regret. “I have to tell her, Brett.”
“No. Damn it, Ethan. We’ve been through this. Do I need to remind you again just what these men have done to women in the past to get information? If they even suspect she knows something, they’ll tear her apart finding out what it is. Do you want that to happen to her?”
“No. But how the hell am I supposed to be here with her and not tell her who I am?”
“You better figure out a way,” Brett snarled. “I can’t get rid of her without telling Jerrod why and we can’t do that. So you’ll just have to deal with it until I can find somewhere else for you to go. You can’t stay here with her.”
Ethan shook his head, wanting to cry with the injustice of it all. “How are you going to explain that to Jerrod?”
“I’ll think of something.”
“You have no idea what you’re asking,” Ethan sighed, running his hand through his hair.
“Yes, I do. But this is what has to be done. For all we know, they knew about Mirage and they’re watching her. She’s been depressed over losing you, so if her demeanor changes in any way or they see her with you, they might begin to suspect you’re still alive.”
“Man, you are fucking grasping at straws and you know it.”
“It was common knowledge that you had a thing with Mirage. If you open your mouth and tell her, I’ll kill you myself.”
Ethan snorted and shot him a look of doubt.
“Don’t push it, Ethan.”
With a sigh, Ethan fell back on the bed and stared up at the ceiling. How the hell was he going to pull this off? “Wouldn’t it be better if I stay here? Even with Nicole? At least that way she’s under protection as well.”
“I don’t know,” Brett sighed. “The longer you’re together, the more of a chance there is she’ll figure it out. Or you’ll slip up.”
“It’s a chance I’m willing to take, Brett. I’ll be careful.” He wanted Nicole with him, even this way. At this point, he’d take what he could get.
With a shake of his head, Brett rubbed at the back of his neck. “I’ll get the doctor and have him give you a final once-over before we leave. In the meantime, I’ll think on the idea. But if I decide it’s too risky, that’s the end of it. You be thinking of those images I showed you of the other women they’ve used as bait and remember them when you have the desire to confess.”
Ethan nodded but said nothing. The last thing he wanted was to see Nicole beaten and raped. Once Ethan had given the killers’ descriptions to a sketch artist and the images were drawn, Brett had recognized them immediately. He’d dealt with them in the past but had never been able to catch up to them.
“We’re heading out. In the meantime, take care of yourself. You’re the only witness.”
“Yeah. I know,” Ethan sighed as he watched Brett leave the room and shut the door behind him. He hated thinking about what they’d done to him to make this possible. They’d pretty much skinned him, removing all the burnt flesh and muscle, then cloned a piece of undamaged skin. The cloned skin was then attached to several areas of his body and allowed to grow, covering his exposed muscle tissue.
The pain would have been unbearable and that’s why they’d kept him in a drug-induced coma for over two months. When he’d awoken he began the long, grueling process of strengthening his weakened muscles. Some of the muscles in his legs had had to be removed then cloned and graphed due to the deep burns he’d received there.
His face had also been rebuilt. He no longer had the Mediterranean lines of his father. He looked completely different, the only things the same were his eyes, and it had taken him days to get used to the changes. He wasn’t sure he would ever get used to it. It was like looking at a complete stranger.
He closed his eyes tightly and whispered to no one. “Oh, God, Nicole. Please forgive me for this.”
* * * * *
Nicole stood outside Ethan’s door, her hand frozen on the knob. The doctor had left hours ago with strict instructions that the medicinal lotion she held be massaged into his legs nightly. He hadn’t come out or made a sound since the doctor and Brett had left and she was worried about him, although for the life of her she didn’t really know why. She didn’t even know him, but there had been something in his eyes. Hell, not in his eyes, but the eyes themselves.
She shook her head, mentally chiding herself. It was her imagination and nothing more. It had just unsettled her, looking into Ethan’s brown eyes that were so much like Jaimee’s.
Steeling her spine, she gently knocked on the door before opening it. She’d come here to take care of him and take care of him she would. “Ethan?” she called softly.
She noticed him immediately, standing by the open French door leading to the pool outside. He stiffened, but said nothing as she came further into the room. His trim waist and firm hips caught her eye and she let her gaze roam down his body, clad only in a pair of shorts. Even slim from recovery, she could still see the power and strength his body once held.
Past him, the night sky twinkled. Three of the larger planets closest to Portakin 3 could be seen. The blue and red lights of the orbiting ships and satellites gave the evening a festive appearance. Like the lights of Christmas back home.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she whispered softly and moved to stand next to him.
“Yes,” he whispered back. “I’m sorry I was such an ass earlier. This rehab and being cooped up is starting to get to me.”
“It’s all right.”
He kept his gaze on the sky, and she studied his profile. He was a handsome man, with a strong chin and cheekbones, but just a tad gaunt. He needed to eat more, regain some of the strength he’d lost. She knew all about that. The last beating she’d received from her boyfriend had almost killed her and it had taken months for her to return to her normal self. Or at least as normal as she could be.
She sighed, and he turned to look at her. There was such sadness in his eyes it tore at her heart. She smiled slightly and a muscle jerked in his cheek. Why did he seem so familiar to her?
Clearing her throat, she leaned her back against the doorframe and rested her hands at the small of her back. “Tomorrow we’ll see if we can work on that being-cooped-up thing.”
His lips quirked just a little. “How do you plan on doing that?”
She inclined her head toward the surf. “We can do your rehab on the beach. The sunshine will do wonders for you.”
“Think I’m too pale?” he teased.
She scrunched her nose and gave him a good once-over. “Maybe just a tad.”
He chuckled and turned to stare back out at the sky. “Yeah. I’m certainly not the man I was.”
“You will be again.”
His gaze remained glued to the stars, his brow creased in thought. With a bit of surprise, she realized he was very easy to talk to and tease. Even though they’d only just met, she felt as though she knew him.
“Who is she?” she asked quietly. Only a woman could put such hurt and pain in a man’s eyes.
He looked at her in confusion. “What?”
“Something has you sad.” She shrugged. “I just assumed it was a woman.”
He smiled slightly and turned to lean against the other doorframe, facing her. “I just miss my life. There’s no woman.”
“No?” How could someone as handsome as he was not have a woman?
His gaze moved back to the surf, sadness once again shadowing his eyes.
“So you lied. It is a woman,” she said with a grin tugging at her lips.
He snorted. “Is it that obvious?”
“Only to another woman.”
While his head was turned she studied his chest. A long pink scar crossed his left pec muscles, running from the tip of his rib to the right collarbone. A similar scar ran down the side of his right ribs.
There was no hair on his chest and as her gaze lowered to take in his long legs visible beneath the shorts she realized he had no hair there either. His skin was just like a baby’s skin. She glanced back up at his face and his anguish-filled eyes. The heat of a blush moved up her cheeks with the realization he’d caught her staring.
Clearing her throat, she pulled the medicine from behind her back. “The doctor told me I was to rub this into your legs nightly.”
Ethan shook his head. “That’s not necessary, Nicole. I can do it.”
She frowned. “Don’t be ridiculous. Stuff like this is what I’m here for. Besides, he said your legs needed to be massaged as well.” As though it were the most natural thing to do, she sent him a teasing smile. “And I’m very good at that.”
Ethan swallowed. Hell yeah, she was good at that. But the thought of her touching him, and not being able to touch her in return, tore him up. There was no way he could handle that right now.
Nicole pointed toward the wicker bed, giving him her most stern expression. “Move, cowboy. On the bed.”
He fought a smile as he watched her boss him around. “Anything else? Would you like me to strip as well?” Her lips pursed as she studied him, and he frowned. “No, Nicole. I’m not stripping.”
She flashed that adorable, mischievous grin of hers and his gut clenched. “That’s a shame.”
“Behave yourself, woman. I’m a recovering man and my heart can’t take much excitement,” he teased.
Shaking her head, she smiled at him. God, she was so beautiful. Her chestnut hair was up and off her long, slender neck. Small ringlets hung down around her ears and bounced as she shook her head. His hand itched to remove the hair clamp and run his fingers through its softness. A breeze blew through the door, bringing her lavender scent, and he inhaled deeply as he lay across the bed.
“I have a feeling, Mr. Ethan Scott,” she chided with a grin as she settled on the mattress next to his thighs, “that your heart can take much more than you let on.”
“Maybe I exaggerated just a bit,” he replied as he held his thumb and forefinger up close together.
She spread the cold cream on the skin of his thigh, and he sucked in a shallow breath. His new skin was so sensitive. “Damn, that’s cold.”
“Sorry,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a way to warm it.”
“It’s fine once the initial shock passes.”
His eyes closed and he let his body relax as her hands and fingers massaged his sore muscles. They were firm, yet gentle and he remembered all the other times she’d touched him. Sifted her fingers through his hair, skimmed them along his chest and across his nipples. He felt the beginning stirrings of his cock and he cringed.
Damn it, not now.
Reaching over his head, he grabbed a pillow and plopped it onto his lower stomach, covering his growing shaft. Opening his eyes, he caught her staring at him with an amused glint in her eye. Damn, the woman didn’t miss a thing. He frowned. “It’s been a while. Okay?”
She giggled and moved her massaging fingers to his other thigh. “Well. You are at Fantasy Resort. Maybe we can make that part of your recovery.”
His lips quirked as he fought a grin. “Are you offering yourself for that part?”
Her surprised gaze shot to his and her hands froze on his leg. He shouldn’t have said that. What the hell was he thinking? “I’m sorry, Nicole. That was a joke.”
“All done,” she said and patted the side of his thigh before standing. “I’ll get out of here and let you get some sleep.”
She hadn’t finished the other leg and Ethan mentally chided himself for opening his big fat mouth. He watched the soft swaying of her hips as she moved to the door.
“I’m right next door if you need anything.” She pointed toward the wall on the other side of his bed with a slight smile.
I need you, he thought to himself.
“Good night, Ethan.”
The door shut softly behind her and he squeezed his eyes against the desire to run after her, to tell her he was Jaimee and make love to her all night. “Good night, my Nikki,” he whispered into the silent room.
* * * * *
Nicole leaned her back against her bedroom door, trying to settle her rapidly beating heart. His comment about offering herself for sex had startled her. Not because he’d said it, but because for a fleeting second, she’d wanted desperately to say yes.
Oh, God. How could she be attracted to him? She’d just lost Jaimee. But there was something about him that tugged at her, made her feel safe just like she’d felt with Jaimee. Even the twinkle in his eyes when he’d teased her reminded her of him.
“You’ve just been without a man too long, that’s all,” she told herself as she walked to the French doors and stared out at the moonlit beach. Was that really it? It had only been four months, which was not really that long.
“This is ridiculous,” she sighed and rubbed at her aching forehead. “Get your hormones under control, Nicole. You worked at Fantasy Bar for eight years, you can resist one little slip of a man.”
She snorted. He might be a little slim, but damn, he was certainly gorgeous and definitely not lacking in the cock area. She smiled slightly as she remembered seeing his thick shaft straining against the material of his shorts. Her touch had affected him and for some reason that made her happy.
It was insane. It had taken her years to open up to Jaimee and now here was this guy, a total stranger and yet she felt like she knew him. Like she could trust him, and it made no sense at all.
Her palm slapped at her thigh as she walked away from the window and headed to her private bath. “I can’t do this. I just can’t. He’s recovering and so am I.”
Stopping in the doorway to the bathroom, she hit her fist against the jamb in anger. “Damn you, Jaimee,” she snarled as tears streamed down her cheeks. “Why did you have to leave me?”