~ Book One ~
If there is anything better than to be loved it is loving…
“SMELLS LIKE ‘SEX on the Beach,'” Grayson Dane quipped over the lively crowd and loud music, flirtatiously staring to the angelic beauty before him.
One delicate, dark brow arched above Elliana Brandt’s wide, violet eyes. “Excuse me?!” Certainly she did not hear the attractive man’s remark correctly.
Mr. Dane looked to the beauty with wicked amusement. “The drink…soaking your dress?” He gestured to the front of her dress, his gray eyes raking over her body: her pale lavender, cocktail soaked dress clinging to the front of her, leaving little to Grayson’s imagination. He knew it was inappropriate to be ogling her like he was, but he couldn’t stop himself, the young woman was beautiful, innocently so.
A flash of heat reared under Elliana’s skin. She hated these things, almost as much as she hated these places and the men who frequented them. But Kat was her closest friend, her roommate, and as maid of honor it was Elli’s required duty to show the bride-to-be one last, single ‘girls gone wild’ night out. That was how she came to be so unfathomably, unbearably uncomfortable, fleeing to the restroom for a reprieve. But as luck would have it, more discomfort and humiliation was hurled upon Elli, when a lecherous drunk standing at the bar grabbed hold of her en route, his groping hands feeling her backside and squeezing her rear. In Elli’s frantic attempt to free herself, she swung with great momentum, her flattened palm connecting solid with the handsy drunk’s temple, stunning him. Abruptly released from his clutches, Elli was sent careening, smashing into a tipsy, two fisted drink toting girl passing by, dousing Elli with the drinks she was carrying. The colorfully tattooed and pierced girl angrily spewed out a string of profanity, spectacularly cursing Elli out before moving on. It was more than Elli could take; her eyes welled with tears, frozen in place looking to her soaked and ruined, syrup covered dress, when the attractive man with the clever drink remark stole her attention.
Elli blinked back her well of tears, her voice shaky, “Is that supposed to be funny?”
Shit! Tears! You’re an ass Grayson, making an angel cry. “No…that was in poor taste. I apologize.” His hand tenderly touched her arm as he moved closer, taking pity on her. “Let me help you.” He grabbed the nearest cocktail waitress, pressing her for towels.
“Thank you,” Elli spoke faintly, an appreciative smile warming her features.
Christ, even her voice is angelic, Grayson thought, shrugging from his suit jacket. He swung the much too large jacket over the angel’s shoulders, tugging with reluctance at the lapel, making sure to cover the front of her. He was sorry to see the soaked dress and the revealings of her body shielded, but he certainly didn’t want to share that view with anyone else. Grayson wanted to keep it, and her, his alone.
Thank God that beautiful image was so vividly burned in my memory.
Elli blushed, her tentative, violet eyes peering up to him through her long, dark lashes, noticing now how truly gorgeous the man was: shimmery blond hair, sensual gray eyes, flawless tanned skin, strong jawline, magnificent bone structure, and tall—the perfect height, not towering over her but big enough to comfortably fit within his arms, secure beneath his broad shoulders, and rest her head on his chest.
Grayson gave her a heart melting smile, reaching his arm around her shoulders and tucking her in close—as if he’d just heard her thoughts. He turned his head back, glaring at the drunken bastard seated at the bar. Yeah, that’s right asshole, you’re lucky the angel needs my help, otherwise my fist would be rearranging your slimy face right now, making her smack upside your head feel like a love tap.
Grayson led Elli to his private table, right away seating her in a chair. He grabbed the damp towel, leaving the dry ones on the table.
Elli, in some sort of shock up until now, finally found her voice again when she saw the good-looking man gesturing toward her neck with the towel. “I can do that,” she asserted.
“Nonsense, you are unable to see the area.” Not to mention, if I let you do it yourself, then I would be unable to enjoy the wiles of your beauty myself, and delight in being close to you. He smoothed the cool, damp towel over her neck, gently removing the sticky spirits from her skin. Definitely ‘Sex on the Beach,‘ I would know that scent anywhere.
Holy crap, Elli thought, struck with another flash of heat. Can skin catch fire…? Spontaneously burst into flames and combust, maybe?
Grayson noticed the flush of the angel’s skin and haughtily grinned. He was getting to her, just as he did most women. She would be unable to resist the effects of his charm, he knew, and soon be his.
“I am quite certain you are an angel, but even an angel such as yourself must have a name?”
Elli gulped, the towel rubbing between the open V-neck of her dress. Her heart sped up beneath his touch, at the same moment catching the scent of the spilled drinks. The attractive man was right, ‘Sex on the Beach,’ she’d know that fruity, sweet scent anywhere—her drink of choice when she entered college, until indulging in several too many and puking them up for the remainder of the evening; no, she’d likely never forget that smell.
“Name…?” he prompted, looking to her expectantly with a delicious smile.
Whoa! Elli’s lashes fluttered, “Eh…Elliana.”
“Elliana—” her name seductively rolled off his tongue, “a lovely name, for a lovely angel.” He reached to her hand, tenderly holding it as he raised her arm and slid the towel along. “And do you have a last name, Elliana…?”
Not so fast, Mr. Sauvé. “Elliana will do.”
A fascinated smile presented itself on Mr. Dane’s face. As it should be, I must earn that right. “Well, Elliana, I am Grayson Dane. It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance.” His fingertips flirtatiously tickled across Elli’s palm, grazing something cold and hard on the way to her fingers. Shit! He glanced to her hand, a sickened feeling striking his gut.
“No,” Elli murmured. “It was my mother’s.”
Was?! “And do you wear the ring as a deterrent—because it could be?”
“I wear it as a reminder—a vow.” She slipped her hand from Grayson’s, her eyes turning down.
Grayson wanted to ask about the vow, but with the way Elliana withdrew, he’d visibly touched on an upsetting subject. He’d assumed the angel was alone, for only single girls looking to hook up came to The 207 Lounge. This club is known for it. An incredibly stupid assumption; of course a woman this beautiful is not here alone. Truthfully, she is of a higher class than the usual, uh, clientele of women. Her reaction to the groping drunk at the bar was proof of that.
What kind of idiot would bring his girl here? Only a complete jackass, that’s who.
“Where is your date, Elliana?”
Elli’s surprised eyes swung to Grayson, taken back by the somewhat harsh tone in which he spoke. “That would be the one with the veil, on stage, singing poorly with the band.” She innocently smiled.
Grayson chuckled with relief. “Bachelorette party, huh?”
“She is the only one who could get me to enter a club like this,” Elliana divulged. “I don’t usually frequent such places. They make my skin crawl.”
Of course they do. She is too angelic for the meat market, and clearly doesn’t belong—as I thought.
Grayson reached behind Elliana, tossing the soiled towel on the table and sweeping a clean one into his hand. He handed the towel to Elli. “For your legs,” he said. “Though, I would be happy to clean them for you as well.” A mischievous grin marked his features.
Yeah, I bet you would. Elli nervously gnawed on her bottom lip, the flash of heat again burning under her skin.
Grayson tenderly slipped his finger along the inside of her lip, freeing it from under her teeth. “That takes away from your beauty,” he murmured.
Holy crap! Elliana’s lip sparked from his touch, her insides tugging as the sweet taste of his skin, mixed with the fruity drink remains, burst in her mouth. She dropped the towel.
Grayson Dane’s gray eyes smoldered in their look to her. “I’d very much like to dance with you.”
Elli’s breath caught. Impossible! My skin is sure to burst into flames at that. I need to get away from this guy. She steadied her heart.
“Thank you. But I should be getting home to change.” And salvage my dress.
The good-looking man was taken aback by the words the angel spoke; rejection was a thing Grayson Dane was unaccustomed to.
Hmm… We’ll see about that.
Grayson’s one leg moved between Elli’s knees as he leaned, his hands clutching the table on either side of her. “I was really hoping I could get you to dance with me,” he whispered, his cheek lightly touching to Elli’s while his lips met her ear. “You are nicely covered by my jacket, thus no need to change. And I promise to protect you from the advances of other men.”
And who will protect me from you?
“It is not other men I fear now,” Elli breathed.
Ahh…As it should be, Grayson thought. He pressed a hand to Elli’s back, peeling her from the chair as he straightened upright. He was greatly looking forward to holding the angel close. And as luck would have it, a slow song resounded through the club, all but clearing the dance floor. People don’t come here for romantic slow dances, it’s more of a bump and grind kind of place.
“I am not a very good dancer. You will be sorely disappointed.”
“Fortunate for you, I am a superb dancer.” His lips curled into a wickedly seductive grin.
Elli swallowed hard, her pulse quickening.
Grayson Dane tucked Elliana into his side as he led her ahead, sure to protect his delicate angel as promised. He stopped in the center of the low-lit dance floor, the murmured reflection of colored lights casting a kaleidoscopic glow over their features.
Elli began to tremble when Grayson moved to unbutton the jacket she was wearing—his jacket. She flinched and pulled back. But Grayson held her fast.
“Relax, beautiful angel…I said I’d protect you. I just want to be able to feel your closeness.”
Holy Mother of Christ.
Elli felt her ragged breath, her insides alerting her to run from this man, but her feet unyielding, uncooperative. She instead focused on Grayson’s soothing gray eyes as she felt the jacket open up and Grayson’s arm slip inside, snaking around her back and pulling her to press against the front of him.
“That’s better,” he murmured into her hair—the delights of jasmine indulging his senses—his other hand clutching hers and holding it preciously to him as he swayed with Elliana on the dance floor.
The fire beneath Elliana’s skin extinguished, and her jagged breath calmed to a smooth rhythm, feeling complete serenity in Grayson Dane’s arms.
Elli’s nearly closed eyelids suddenly flew open, catching sight of Kat at the edge of the dance floor, giving her a quizzical look. Elli immediately pulled back, distancing herself from Grayson.
Shit, I’m losing her, thought Grayson, feeling the angel tense in his arms. He slid his hand to the small of her back, affectionately rubbing his thumb back and forth, and inadvertently feeling the likes of her intimates underneath: a lacy triangle, he could imagine the thin strings of lace attached and the parts of her that they hugged.
“Nice,” Kat mouthed, “Armani.” Elli assumed she meant the jacket—Katrina is fluent in all things designer. She gestured the tugging of lapels, “And hot,” Kat added, just before Elliana turned her gaze away.
“Everything all right?” Grayson asked her, showing a dangerous smile, sure to melt her.
“It’s time I go.”
“Aren’t you enjoying yourself with me?” He sounded like a wounded little boy. “I am quite enjoying myself with you.”
Oh my. “It’s not that.” Elli’s violet eyes looked up coyly through her fluttering dark lashes, meeting the sparking gray of Grayson’s.
“Then let me take you. I will be a perfect gentleman.”
Right. “I don’t take rides from strangers.”
“I am hardly a stranger at this point.” The words floated past his lips in a hypnotic swirl, nearly entrancing Elli beyond response.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, clearing Grayson’s magical charm from her head. “I…uh…came with friends, and I need to leave with those friends. But thank you for your kindness…and your help.” Elli shrugged from Grayson Dane’s jacket and handed it back to him. “And thank you for the use of your jacket.”
Though quite stunned, Grayson caught her wrist as she stepped off.
Elliana’s eyes swung to him, a severe, blatant warning. “You need to let me go!”
What’s wrong with this girl, she can’t get away from me quick enough. I’ve never had this response before.
Grayson respectfully, but reluctantly, let loose of his angel, watching as she bolted to her friends with an unfamiliar feeling coming over him.
Kat’s grin was like a beaming force, lighting Elli’s way to her. Oh no, I know that look, relentless Kat! “Spill it…that guy is gorgeous…of godly proportions gorgeous!” Kat’s words assaulted Elli as she approached her.
Elli blushed, nervously biting at her bottom lip, the action quickly reminding her of Grayson’s earlier reaction to her nervous gnawing of her bottom lip, the spark of his touch, and the taste of his skin. Elli blushed harder, her breath erratic. “There’s nothing to say.”
Are you kidding me? Thought Kat. The flush of your skin, clamming up, that says it all, my dear friend. “At least tell me his name?” I assume it’s not Mr. Armani, or Gorgeous God.
“It doesn’t matter,” Elli said determinedly. “I’m never going to see him again.”
“I’m not so sure of that,” Kat quipped. “I saw the way he looked at you…you got under his skin. As I think he did yours.”
Elli gave her a curious look. “I’m not going to let some strange guy, no matter how good-looking he is, pick me up in a bar.”
Kat gazed back at her with an expression of empathy now. “You have to let someone in, Elli; it’s been five years. You can’t continue to let the past destroy your future.” She touched a compassionate hand on Elli’s wrist. “He looked decent. I am not saying go home with him, maybe a date. At least give him your phone number.”
Elli felt it best not to mention how her skin nearly erupted in flames in the man’s presence.
Meanwhile, Grayson Dane was in a state of insurmountable twisting. Women don’t pass him up…Ever…which made him want Elliana that much more.
The angel is different—as I first felt.
In an attempt to draw her back, Grayson cleverly sent Elliana a drink.
It would at least keep me in her thoughts, he figured.
Grayson observed Elliana from his table across the room, a luminescent, angelic glow surrounding her and causing her to stand out amongst the rest.
A scantily clad cocktail waitress with ruby red lips, heavily charcoal lined cat eyes, and a ratted nest of hair—straw-colored, that looked straight from the fifties—slinked up beside Elliana, all but blocking Grayson’s view. She was holding the tray with Elliana’s drink, but made no physical attempt to give it to her, not that Grayson could see anyway. She appeared to be conversing with Elliana…
Katrina’s eyebrows rose, “‘Sex on the Beach?!'” she said in reference of the lone drink on the waitress’s tray. “That’s a gesture if I ever saw one.”
Elli rolled her eyes, fighting back her urge to smile. He is determined, if nothing else. “Tell the gentleman thank you, but I’m not interested in his ‘Sex on the Beach.'”
The waitress appeared incredulous. “Are you sure?” She turned to face Grayson’s direction. “Look at him, honey. You don’t say no to a man like that!”
Elli averted glancing toward Grayson—she already felt the heat of his gaze on her—but Kat and the rest of the party took full advantage of the opportunity to gawk at him.
Grayson gave a polite wave and flashed the ladies an award winning smile, relishing in the moment. Now these women know how to respond to a man, he thought smugly.
“His friend’s not bad either,” Katrina remarked.
Friend?! Elli’s head shot Grayson’s direction in reaction, before she thought not to. I assumed he was alone, in want of a pick-up and a quick exit. Her breath caught at Grayson’s stare, hardly noticing the handsome friend at his side. Elliana wanted very badly to turn away and draw her eyes from Grayson’s wanting stare, afraid her eyes might also flame.
“You don’t turn a man like that down,” the waitress repeated.
“Let him in!” Kat pushed.
Elli drew in a deep breath, rescinding her eyes from Grayson’s wanting stare, her focus now determinedly back on the waitress. “Please pass my message on to the gentleman, and return his drink to him.”
The waitress spun on her heels, shaking her head in disbelief.
Maybe he’ll share his ‘Sex on the Beach’ with her! She is certainly less inclined to turn him down. My heart, on the other hand, can’t take a man like that. He would ruin me.
Grayson watched the waitress step away from Elliana, the drink still in place.
Christ…what’s it going to take? That usually works. He ran an anxious hand through his hair. I’m not leaving without the angel. Or at least her number, he determined.
Kat suddenly caught sight of Elli’s dress. That’s why she was wearing the God’s jacket, she realized. “What happened to your dress?”
“Long story—it is because of that that I need to go.”
“It’s almost closing time anyway. And Rodger texted me a bit ago and said that Booker passed out.” She rolled her eyes dramatically. “He is such a wuss when it comes to drinking. We’ll have to pick him up on our way home.”
“You stay for the last hour,” Elli urged her friend. “Or, even stay the night upstairs in the hotel suite with the rest of the girls. I can take a cab and see to it that your overindulged fiancé makes it home safely.”
Kat’s hands sat on her hips. “You’re sure? Because I’m fairly certain that overindulged fiancés are not a responsibility of the maid of honor—Leave it to you to over excel at that, too!”
Elliana smiled, giving a kind hug to her friend before she made her escape, an escape she hoped would evade notice from the persistent and good-looking, skin fire starting, Mr. Dane…