Three daughters were born to High King Uorsin, in place of the son he wanted. The youngest, lovely and sweet. The middle, pretty and subtle, with an air of magic. And the eldest, the Heir. A girl grudgingly honed to leadership, not beauty, to bear the sword and honor of the king.
Ursula’s loyalty is as ingrained as her straight warrior’s spine. She protects the peace of the Twelve Kingdoms with sweat and blood, her sisters from threats far and near. And she protects her father to prove her worth. But she never imagined her loyalty would become an open question on palace grounds. That her father would receive her with a foreign witch at one side and a hireling captain at the other-that soldiers would look on her as a woman, not as a warrior. She also never expected to decide the destiny of her sisters, of her people, of the Twelve Kingdoms and the Thirteenth. Not with her father still on the throne and war in the air. But the choice is before her. And the Heir must lead…
That was a starred review, by the way, because she is just that awesome.
Happy Hump Day, readers! This week we’ve got a scene from a book we know you’ve been eagerly awaiting: The List by Anne Calhoun. British stationary shop owner Matilda is an expert matchmaker, finding a special someone for every man and woman on her list. But she draws the line at herself, unwilling to commit to anything more than a fling. Enter hunky FBI agent Daniel, who is taken by the perplexing Matilda. In this scene Tilda thinks Daniel is mistakenly sexting her, and is quite surprised when she confronts him about it in person.
I want to go down on you.
The text banner glowed against Tilda’s screen background. Without breaking stride in the conversation with a man purchasing a gift for a client, she pushed the power button to deactivate the screen and slid her phone onto the shelf under the counter.
“The paper is made from one hundred percent cotton, of course,” she said, “and the recipient’s name or initials can be added by engraving, thermography, or letterpress.” She held out options for each so he could feel the difference. Quality died even more slowly than tradition, and in the high-end goods market shopped by both old blue bloods and new money, nothing was more traditional and elegant than paper. Calling cards. Business cards. Personalized notecards. Thank-you notes. Invitations to events ranging from a quiet dinner to a ball. In the last year a placement in InStyle’s accessories section led to an inclusion in O magazine’s Favorite Things spread. For millennials with money, she’d become an arbiter of taste with a caliber of luxury normally reserved for royalty.
Her phone lit up again.
Correction: I want to tie you to the bed and go down on you until you can’t talk.
This time Tilda took the split second necessary to find out who was sexting her.
“What size do you recommend?” the customer asked, thankfully oblivious to the heat rising in Tilda’s cheeks at the pornographic texts appearing on her screen.
“Cards are a traditional and very safe choice, but some men prefer what’s called a social sheet,” she said. “He’ll have more room to write a note, and it’s folded then inserted into the envelope. I suggest ordering a selection with his monogram or name, then extra plain sheets for longer notes.”
Her phone vibrated again. Tilda ignored it, because there was clearly some mistake. Daniel Logan would no sooner sext her than voluntarily sit down on a ledge twenty-two stories over the city streets.
Except, he’d done exactly that. When the client made his selection, she compiled the order on her tablet, emailed him a receipt, and tidied the sample books. Her assistant, Penny, was engrossed with a bride across the store, but no one else needed her attention. She closed the door to her office and scrolled through what she’d missed on the phone.
Or fuck you. You won’t know which you want more, but you’ll be begging.
Gobsmacked, she stared at the screen. Without her permission her brain thoughtfully provided images: Daniel’s head, light glinting in his sun-streaked hair, his face buried between her thighs. Her hands, restrained by . . . velvet bands, she decided. Something elegant, silky, unbreakable.
She shifted in her seat.
Several weeks had passed since their phone conversation, so he must be texting his current lover. That was the only explanation. Also, they were completely unexpected, shockingly blatant foreplay, not meant for her. If it were, he would have prefaced the initial text with something apologetic. I know I shouldn’t do this, but . . . I can’t stop thinking about you. . . . Don’t be angry with me. . . . Not the bare, explicit, I want to go down on you.
I can’t stop thinking about it. You’ll be salty and damp and wound up after a long day. You’ll taste like frustration and woman.
Clearly, she’d underestimated Daniel Logan. Who was he dating now? He’d not asked her for another connection, and she’d not given him any names.
Touch yourself for me. Now.
Impossible. All of this was impossible. But she could clamp her thighs together more tightly, flex the muscles, feel the faint, resonant pulses of desire. She should stop this. He was texting the wrong woman, probably someone whose number was next to hers in his phone.
Are you touching yourself? I’m hard thinking about that. Sitting at my desk, head down in paperwork, thinking about you.
That was a compelling image in itself, Daniel pretending to work while thinking about sex. An FBI agent would wear a suit, not a uniform; factoring in his blue velvet blazer, she came up with a dark navy suit, a slim cut, with a formfitting Oxford underneath, a subtle tie.
But he wasn’t thinking about sex with her. Couldn’t be.
Is your clit hard? Slick? I can’t wait to watch you come.
Disappointment deflated her lungs. Definitely someone else. He’d never seen her get herself off, something she’d done far too often lately. Heat flickered through her pussy. All work and no play was making Tilda edgy and restless. She’d turned him down because every instinct she had told her he’d want something she couldn’t give him.
When we’re alone, I’ll do it nice and slow, until you’re moaning. But do it fast, now. Don’t want you getting in trouble at work.
She couldn’t get in trouble at work. She was the boss, this was her shop, the door closed on the outside world. She could hike her skirt up, wriggle her panties down, and rub off to these texts. Knowing these texts were meant for someone else should have jolted her back to reality. Instead, the vaguely voyeuristic feel added another layer to the erotic tension crackling in the air. This was a peek into a completely different side of Daniel than the man who had asked her to dinner.
God, a firm command. Who exactly was this man?
Save that for me. When I spread your legs and lick you, I want to taste how desperate you are.
She began composing the text she’d known all along she’d have to send.
Daniel, you’re texting Tilda Davies. I’ll delete this—
Another bubble appeared.
I can’t work like this. I’m going to take care of this.
Backspacebackspacebackspace. Face-to-face was the only way to do this, because she had to see his face when he realized what he’d done. She had to see his face and know if she’d made a mistake, refusing to go on a date with him. A trick of the moonlight made him look more innocent than he was.
She picked up her clutch and opened the door. Penny glanced over at her, rocking back on the four-inch-heeled ankle boots that lifted her to five feet two. In her four-inch heels Tilda stood five eleven, and felt like a Great Dane next to Penny’s teacup Yorkie size.
“Can I redo the front windows?” Penny asked.
“Absolutely,” Tilda said. She did the business side and the product selection but had no flair for creative design, so she hired Penny, straight out of Parsons and a seemingly endless fount of creative window displays. “I’m going out for a coffee,” she said. “Can I bring you back anything?”
“A latte,” Penny said. “Extra shots.”
She hailed a cab and directed the driver to Federal Plaza. “Everything okay, miss?” the cabbie asked.
“Fine,” she said. Just the unexpected from a man she’d written off.
She took the stairs to the front doors, and asked the uniformed officer staffing the front desk for Agent Daniel Logan.
“He expecting you, ma’am?”
“No,” she said, and left it at that.
The officer rang through, then said, “Tilda Davies is downstairs.”
Daniel walked out of the elevator, into the lobby, finishing a conversation with two individuals in jackets and suits. He made eye contact with Tilda and beckoned her to come with him without halting the conversation. Intrigued by the difference in his demeanor, she waited quietly by his side while he finished issuing instructions. Then he put his hand under her elbow and guided her into the elevator, then through open desks to an office at the back of the room, where he closed the door. He braced his bum against the edge of his desk, crossed his legs at the ankle, folded his arms, and said, “What can I do for you, not–Lady Matilda?”
She’d been right about everything from the color of his suit to the subtlety of his tie, and now she could add a dark brown leather belt and matching brown wingtips to the ensemble. The wave in his hair was tamed to lie flat above his forehead, but held furrows, as if he’d been shoving his fingers through it. She held out her phone, the bubble announcing that he was going to take care of his arousal. “You’ve been texting the wrong woman.”
He didn’t even look at the screen, just kept his gaze focused on her. “No, I haven’t,” he said. “The old-fashioned method of asking you out didn’t work. I took a different tack.”
She stared at him. He looked different at work, in his suit and tie, less open, less likely to smile. Like he was the one sitting on a ledge, inviting her to join him.
“Did you come?” he asked, without a hint of modesty or embarrassment. As if it were perfectly reasonable for him to sext her in the middle of the day, for them to have this conversation in his office with other FBI agents working outside.
You told me not to hovered on the tip of her tongue, but what she said was, “I was in the middle of a consultation with a client.”
“I’ll take that as a no. Did it make you hot?”
She flicked him a glance. “What do you think?”
He bent forward and put his lips close to her ear. “I think it did. Even better, I think it made you curious.” A shiver coursed down her spine.
“Would you do it now?”
“Get off while I watch.”
She had been wrong, so very, very wrong. He knew exactly what to do with his voice. “We’re in your office, which has rather large glass windows.”
“And you were sitting on a ledge two hundred feet above the street. You were shaking so I thought you were cold, or afraid. Then I thought it was the adrenaline. I was wrong. It was desire,” he said, looking away from her as he spoke. From the outside this looked like . . . well, maybe it looked like he was talking to her about a case. Maybe it looked like his girlfriend dropped by for a visit.
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“If I did, I wouldn’t have texted you. No,” he added, cutting her off. “I don’t have a girlfriend. The last woman I asked out turned me down flat. Can you do it?”
“Why would you think I can?”
He shot her a grin full of mischief and a rather dark amusement. “You like risk. Based on the way you’re looking at me, you’re no more satisfied than you were a couple of weeks ago. Come on,” he said, lowering his voice, just enough to send goose bumps up her arms. “Show me what you can do.”
She crossed her legs. “Talk to me,” she said quietly, then activated the screen on her mobile. From the outside, she hoped it would look like she was scanning her phone while he talked. She closed her eyes.
“Because I like your voice.”
He chuckled, low and deep. “Do you have any idea how hot you were on that ledge? I should have yanked you back onto the patio. I should have arrested you for public endangerment, made up some law. But you were glowing in the moonlight. I could see your nipples under your top, see the flush on your cheeks. The moon was as bright as a streetlight up there. You’d been biting your lips, too. I wanted to do that. I took one look at your mouth, and I got so hard.”
She exhaled soft and slow, rhythmically clenching the muscles of her thighs. Her lace panties were caught up against her clit, and the pressure and shift of the lace provided a tantalizing rough edge to the flex and release. Oh, yes. “Oh, I do love being wrong,” she said with a laughing gasp.
“Waiting made it worse,” he said. “I made another mistake with the letter I sent you. I backed off, went with something too gentle, too traditional, I want to take you to dinner. Something any idiot would say.”
“What did you start with?”
Her voice was low, not breathy, almost inaudible. The pressure coiled behind her clit, arousing the nerves in her sex, and she closed her eyes, the better to see what he described.
He hesitated, then said, “I want to get you in my bed, naked and defenseless, then take you apart. I want to find the rhythm that draws you under, the angle that layers pleasure until you can’t breathe under the weight.”
She could imagine it, white sheets, blank like paper, his body caging hers between arms and legs, shades drawn against the afternoon sunlight and the ever-present city noise, her body bared in his bed, tangled with his, the slick stretch as he slid inside. The nerves in her vagina ached in anticipation. She added a subtle swivel to her hips, the lace tugging at her clit until she was close, so close, so fucking, fucking close.
“Sounds like sex to me,” she murmured.
He bent closer. She could smell him rather than see him, the scent of man and sweat and skin and the city. “It’s not sex, Tilda. I want to white out your thoughts, turn your muscles to jelly and your bones to light. I want to taste your come, my come, our sweat. It’s annihilation. That’s what I want to do to you.”
She came, silent, restraining her shudders to abbreviated jerks of shoulders and hips, her muscles clenching around nothing, nothing, the pleasure centers in her brain glowing white-hot. After a long moment, her muscles relaxed, and she opened her eyes.
He was watching her, jaw taut, expression feral.
“You look like you want to hoist me onto your desk and have your way with me.”
“Fuck you,” he said. “Hard and fast. Not enough time to annihilate you.”
Her heart gradually slowed. She inhaled shakily, exhaled more smoothly, inhaled again. “What a shame,” she said.
“You’d do it, wouldn’t you?”
An aftershock tumbled through her. “You’d lose your job,” she said. “I’d be arrested, which isn’t the adrenaline rush I crave.”
“A limit. I wasn’t sure you had them.”
She rose, steady on her heels. “I don’t date,” she explained. “That’s my limit, and why I turned you down.”
His brows drew together. “You don’t date. Are you in a relationship?”
“No. I just don’t like dating.”
“You don’t like dating.”
“It’s prelude to sex. I know whether or not I want to have sex with someone. Dinner and a conversation beforehand aren’t necessary, and are frequently counterproductive.”
This time his eyebrows shot up. “Okay. So you hook up.”
“Is that what you’d call what we just did?”
He thought before he spoke, a point to his advantage. “No.”
“What I do is what we just did.”
“Take a risk. A dare. A challenge.”
“Exactly,” she said, and slid her phone into the pocket of her jacket.
“Hmm,” he said, soft and considering.
“I have to get back to the shop. I told my assistant I’d bring her a latte”—she checked her watch—“thirty-five minutes ago. Not even Starbucks is that slow.”
“I want to see you again.”
She stopped with her hand on the doorknob, and considered him. He waited, silent, unmoving. Through all of that, he hadn’t moved, his arms still folded across his chest, his legs still crossed at the ankles. If he was aroused by what they’d just done, he kept it contained. She remembered his first impulse, the one he revised. She was sure he’d started with something sexual, not a decorous dinner invitation. They’d had a couple of discarded drafts, but hit their stride with his texts.
She opened her clutch and withdrew a silver card case, then a business card. Her name was engraved on one side in Garamond. The other side was blank. On it she wrote her address, then held it out to him.
“I’m having drinks with a friend,” she said as he took it, “so I won’t be home until after nine.”
He traced the edges of the card, then looked at her. “You’re serious.”
“About sex? Always.” She opened the door to his office. “Have a pleasant day, Agent Logan.”