Kahlen Aymes is a favorite of us here on Bookish Temptations. She is the USA Today Bestselling Author of the After Dark Series and I’m so happy she’s here with us today to celebrate our third Blogiversary!
Kahlen is exclusively sharing something very special with us: Chapter One of Promises After Dark, which is the third instalment in the After Dark series! It’ll be released in November and I can’t wait!
***If you haven’t read Angel After Dark and Confessions After Dark, there may be spoilers, so proceed with care!***
You & Me
Dr. Angeline Hemming sat in the leather chair across from one of her regular patients, listening to her drone on about her abusive ex-husband. The desperateness of the woman’s situation should have held her focus and she admonished herself, shaking her head a little to bring herself back to the conversation. She’d heard the same story on previous appointments, and though she was sympathetic to her patient’s plight, she also felt frustrated when the woman stayed in a situation that didn’t change. Besides, Angel’s mind was filled with her own personal fight to push aside her fear of being hurt and to just dive in headfirst to the amazing feelings she felt for Alexander Avery. Her heart told her he was amazing. He was everything. Her head told her he was a huge risk. But, she didn’t want to concentrate on that.
She counseled people for a living and was having one hell of a time practicing what she preached, and the irony was not lost on her. Alex had been nothing but wonderful, and her heart was lost to him, but there was still that irritating niggle that picked at her, telling her to keep her eyes open and her feet firmly on the ground. She was frustrated. She hated worrying, hated doubting even one little thing when it came to Alex.
She was drowning in her relationship with him, though she was afraid to trust it one hundred percent. Angel wanted to. Badly… and maybe, she was nine-tenths of the way there. It was incredible how well the two of them connected mentally, and of course, physically… She was giddy and floating, her heart full and mind filled with him, but there was still a moment here or there when his phone would ring or one of her patients would talk about her womanizing boyfriend when her heart still clenched.
Angel loved everything about Alex and looked forward to every second they spent together; he made her feel beautiful, sexy, insatiable; utterly and completely intoxicated; loved. He made her feel empowered by the way he craved her. He was still very much the man in the relationship, but she sensed he was just as much a slave to the attraction as she was, and at times, there was vulnerability in his eyes when she wanted to kick herself for even a second of doubt. She closed her eyes at the thought. Damn it! She would kick her doubt to the curb and leave it there if it were the last thing she did!
The hours apart from Alex dragged, and she found herself constantly checking the clock on her desk, her phone, and email. Even though her schedule was chock full until the end of the day, she longed for his touch, his words, the way his eyes caressed her, and their conversations.
She brought the woman’s words back from the sort of muffled, subconscious place it had been relegated to and blinked. Normally, Angel felt this type of session wasn’t the best use of her expertise and just a different version of the shit she dealt with on the radio show. She’d much rather be putting sex offenders behind bars, but her soft feelings for Alex, and the freshness of the relationship still hanging precariously on the precipice, gave her a more empathetic view of women whose hearts were hanging in the fragile balance. Angel’s cynicism had become somewhat diminished, but her logic didn’t come to a full stop. Her brain told her this woman was doing very little to help herself out of a bad situation, but had now fully acknowledged that you don’t choose whom you love, and how much it hurts to walk away from someone who’d become your entire world. Even when you fought—every inch of the way, clawing and scraping—hoping not to fall in so deep that your heart lay open and defenseless. Her own vulnerability made her acutely aware of the pain of those around her; the perfection of her situation with Alex screamed how fragile it really was. And rare.
“I know I should take the kids and leave him, but I love him so much,” she cried, her words breaking. “He’s good to me in many ways, and he never hurts the children.”
“Maryanne.” Angel sighed sadly, trying to temper the tightness in her chest and the bluntness of her words. She wished she could reach across the desk and take the woman’s hand. Of course, your husband is hurting her children. How can you not see it? She thought, her jaw tightening as she swallowed but making a conscious decision to soften her tone. “If he hurts you in front of them, naturally, they’re hurt. Horribly. Watching their mother being beaten and berated is abuse as well. I know you see the situation isn’t good for any of you, including your husband. He needs professional help.”
Maryanne nodded and blew her nose loudly into a tissue. “I know. I’ve managed to hide the fact I come to you. I tried to tell him, but he put his fist through the wall in our bedroom. He doesn’t want to come to counseling—he sees it as admitting he’s doing something wrong. He can’t admit he has a problem.”
“Admitting it is the first step to recovery. If he can’t face it and want to stop badly enough, he won’t.” Angel looked sympathetically at Maryanne as she spoke. “For the sake of your kids, you need to. You have a responsibility to take them, and yourself out of the situation. You don’t deserve being beaten or made to feel bad about yourself.”
“I know that’s what you keep saying—”
Angel interrupted her. “Because it’s true. No one deserves what he has done to you.”
The woman’s face crumpled again and a sob burst from her chest. Angel’s heart went out to her on one level, but on another, she was frustrated with repeating herself and with her patient’s refusal to do anything about her situation. Abuse victims were made to feel worthless; like they somehow asked for or deserved what was done to them. That was how abusers manipulated and kept the victims in the situation long-term. She sighed aloud.
“I’m going to have my assistant give you information on Harmony House. It’s a safe house where you and your children can stay free of charge until you get on your feet. You’ll be able to take a step away and think things through; they have counselors there, and it’s safe.
Angel buzzed her assistant, Liz, on the intercom and asked her to get the woman the Harmony House address and contact information, and soon after, the session ended. She had an hour for paperwork on another molestation case, but at least with this one, the perpetrator showed classic signs of a pedophile, so she could make solid recommendations and a substantiated profile that would put this one behind bars.
Her afternoon progressed at a snail’s pace, and her last appointment was a woman who was raped in the underground garage of her apartment complex. At least, on this occasion, there was DNA evidence, and it was an open and shut case. The hard part would be helping the girl get through the terrifying fear that now paralyzed her so she’d be able get on with her life.
Angel couldn’t help but shudder at the memory of Alex’s car being vandalized in the garage of her own building and how she’d almost been raped and killed under Mark Swanson’s hands inside her own home. Now, it was natural that she would want to get away from that condo, but she wasn’t sure if she was ready to move in, lock, stock and barrel, with Alex as he insisted. They’d both gone through so much to get that bastard arrested and charged. Still… he was out on bail, so Alex and Angel would remain on edge until the trial was over.
Alex’s shoulders got tense whenever Swanson’s name was mentioned in the news or in conversation between them or with Kenneth. His green eyes would skirt to Angel’s face to gauge her reaction, yet trying to disguise his own, but his demeanor was tense. She could read the worry behind his eyes despite his attempts to act unconcerned, and she was certain he was equally aware of how petrified she was, in spite of her bravado.
Cole, Bancroft, and the others were still following her everywhere, and even though she protested, she knew better than to argue with Alex. She would lose anyway, and secretly, she was glad to have the protection.
She’d learned two lessons well. One, Mark Swanson wasn’t one to give up easily, and two, Alex was a force to be reckoned with on many levels. He would have his way, especially when it came to Angel. The thought caused a delicious shiver to run through her entire body.
Her phone buzzed in her purse as she made her way out of her office. In the hallway outside, Cole was waiting, leaning nonchalantly against the wall, dressed in dress slacks and a dark gray turtleneck sweater.
Angel smiled wide as her eyes skirted down to his finely polished shoes. Alex was certainly beginning to rub off on Cole. His strong jaw was lightly covered in a day’s worth of stubble, and the sweater accentuated his broad shoulders.
She felt bad. He was with her so much. Alex worked him like a dog, and the only time he had off was when Alex was with her, because Bancroft was tailing Swanson. She’d seen Cole send appraising glances in Becca’s direction on the few times he’d seen her. Angel decided when things settled down, she might have to have them both over for dinner. Alex’s lackluster opinion of Cole was changing, and Angel could see the changes herself. She trusted Cole implicitly now.
“Nothing.” Angel shook her head and smirked. “I was just thinking you clean up well.”
“It’s still not a suit.” Cole shrugged and grinned back. “I’m still kicking and screaming in regard to that.”
“True, but it’s a lot closer. You look good. It suits you.”
“Have a good day, did you?” Cole asked with a sly grin, taking her coat from her and holding it so she could slip her arms inside. It was fall, Chicago had turned colder, and today a light mist had been constant all day. Angel’s shoulders shrugged a little as her phone buzzed again.
“It was okay. Glad it’s over.”
“You gonna answer that? Sounds like little brother has a rod up his ass,” he remarked wryly.
She laughed and laced her arm through Cole’s. “Maybe, but he’ll live. He didn’t call or email me at all today.”
Cole pursed his lips then chuckled. “I see. So, now he’s being punished, is he?”
“Not exactly.” Angel paused for a beat when the notion she was intentionally punishing Alex hit Cole. She wasn’t one to play adolescent games with men, but his lack of contact stung, despite her logical brain assigning a laundry list of reasons why it could have been impossible for Alex to spare a few minutes to call or email. He did run a multi-billion dollar company. “At least, I wasn’t trying to.”
“No?” Cole’s eyebrow shot up, knowingly.
“No. But I don’t need to be a pushover, either.” Angel bit her lip as Cole opened the door to the black Lincoln sedan he was driving. Her brown eyes glinted with amusement as the door was closed behind her, and Alex’s brother walked around the front of the car and slid behind the wheel. Cole glanced at her as he started the car, his smirk telling her what he was thinking. Angel kicked herself mentally.
“Right. That wouldn’t be like you, and you were both working. Alex has some big deal in Sydney he’s trying to get done without actually traveling there.” He stopped, astonishment flashing over his strong features. “Did I just make an excuse for him? Un-fucking-believable.” He shook his head and rolled his eyes.
A laugh burst from Angel, and she shot him a look.
“Seriously, maybe he didn’t call, but he’s been all over me. Trust me, you were on his mind all day.”
“Really? Is he pestering you to bring me out to the house? I told him it’s too far to go during the week. I have too much work to do to commute that far.”
“Is that the only reason you don’t want to go?” Cole pointed to their left, in the direction of the building where they both had apartments, silently asking Angel if that was where he should take her. Alex would have his ass, but he’d rather beg forgiveness than go against what Angel wanted. When she nodded, he pulled into the stream of traffic and accelerated. “Alex mentioned you were moving in together.”
“Oh, he did, did he?” Angel’s brow furrowed angrily, and she huffed at Alex’s presumptuousness. They’d discussed it for five minutes in bed, once or maybe twice. “He’s too sure of himself. It hasn’t been decided for sure.”
“He’s worried and in love.” Cole cringed and gave Angel a look that said he couldn’t believe he was buying into that sappy shit. She dipped her head and smiled softly, her fingers nervously fiddling with the straps of her purse. “Never thought I’d say this in this lifetime, but Alex deserves a break, Angel.” Cole paused for a few seconds, clearly considering his next words carefully. Angel glanced his way and waited for him to continue. “Alex has always been in control, and he can’t accept when he isn’t. He doesn’t know what the hell to do with himself, and he’s floundering a bit. It’s kind of funny to see him act so out of his element, but this Swanson thing has him in knots. He’s more relaxed when you’re with him.”
Angel grinned broadly. “Thank you, Dr. Phil.”
Cole chuckled. “Don’t you mean, Dr. Hemming?” he retorted.
Angel’s expression sobered. She felt an easy camaraderie with Cole, and he could shed some light on what Alex was thinking. “Alex scares me as much as Mark Swanson. I’m trying to let myself just go with the flow, but his track record doesn’t include long-term. And I even understand why, but I’m already—” She stopped and looked quickly at Cole.
There was a stall reserved for him in the parking garage, and Cole pulled into it. It was cold so he hesitated before turning off the engine. “Forgive me, but you’ll never know if he can make it to long-term if you don’t give him a shot. His relationships end when he wants them to.” Cole flushed and shot a glance at Angel, instantly regretting his choice of words. She looked pensive as she bit her lip. “He never fails at anything, especially something he wants. It used to make me want to beat the crap out of him when we were kids. Trust me. He’s in this. All in. There are things I could say to prove it, but Alex wouldn’t thank me for sharing. Is it necessary?”
Angel shook her head. She didn’t need proof. She felt Alex’s commitment in his actions, and when they were together, his touches were reverent, his kisses passionate and worshiping. His intensity, not just in his protectiveness but his possessiveness, was a big part of what worried her, even as it thrilled her. She knew she could trust him with her life; he’d done more than enough to prove it. She’d accepted she loved him, accepted there was nothing she could do about it even if she wanted to, but her mind still cautioned, even as she silently acknowledged she was way beyond the point of no return.
Her skin warmed and her heart started to thump each time she remembered the passionate plea that had ripped from Alex’s chest, almost as if he were unwilling to admit his feelings to either of them; “I’m in love!”
He hadn’t formally proposed, their relationship only a few months in, but he had mentioned making babies with her. She didn’t want him to rush anything and would have questioned his sanity if he did mention marriage. They were having an amazing time together. She just wanted to live in the moment, and God knew, to throw any expectations out the window. Yet, her heart just about jumped out of her chest as she remembered his comments about Jillian, surprised by the overwhelming want she felt at his words. Even Alex lost control sometimes. He had when he’d admitted his feelings, but also in his jealousy over Kyle and Kenneth, or when he’d almost beaten Mark Swanson to death. Chills danced over her skin… Alex could have killed the other man so easily.
The phone in her purse started playing his ringtone. No longer accepting of having his texts unanswered, Alex had called instead.
Angel pulled it out and answered Cole in the process. “No, it isn’t necessary.” She pushed the answer button and spoke into the phone. “Hello?”
“Hey,” Alex responded, the sigh that followed the word clearly indicating he wasn’t expecting her to pick up. “I thought you were still working since you hadn’t answered my texts.”
“Cole and I were just talking about you.”
Alex hesitated and Angel could physically feel his need to ask her what it was about, yet he didn’t.
“Greaaaat.” Alex’s tone betrayed a hint of annoyance. “So, what are your plans?”
By now, she and Cole were climbing out of the car and beginning the walk toward the elevators. The air was cold in comparison to the warmth inside the vehicle. and her breath created a fog when she spoke. “We just got back to my place.”
Cole pushed the button on the elevator. It dinged as it arrived at the garage level, and the doors slid open. Alex sighed heavily. Angel could hear his frustration; her mind conjuring an image of him running his hand through his dark hair impatiently.
“Okay. I guess I’ll catch a quick workout, then I’d like to see you. I might stop by my place and grab clothes for tomorrow before I come over.”
She knew he’d say he wanted to see her and that it wasn’t his choice he hadn’t been in touch all day, even before Cole confirmed it. Angel could sense he was bristling as the unspoken question hung between them. He was wondering why Cole hadn’t delivered her to his estate as he’d wanted, but he didn’t ask permission to come over. They would be together, regardless of where. Angel bit her lip.
She could have easily reassured him she was only picking up clothes for herself before allowing Cole to do as his brother had asked, but the issue was more than one night and needed more conversation. Angel decided to bring it up when they were together rather than confronting him on the phone. Besides, she missed him and wanted to see him as badly as he obviously wanted to see her. Needed to see him was more accurate.
“Sure. How was your day?” she asked.
“Busy, but slow.” Agitation laced his tone. “I’m leaving the office now, but give me an hour or so and I can bring something for dinner. Unless you want to go out?”
Cole placed his arm over one of the elevator doors to keep it from closing as Angel went inside, then he followed, pushing the third floor button.
“No. I’d rather stay in. I’m tired and Cole said you might have to leave town?”
“I’m trying to avoid it.”
“Let’s just watch a movie or something.” Her mouth lifted in a wry smile in anticipation of a teasing remark regarding what the something could be, but it didn’t follow as she expected.
Instantly, Alex was on edge and concern filled his voice. “Did something happen today?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary. I’d just rather stay in, especially if you might be away for a while. I want to talk to you.” Mostly, she just wanted Alex close by. It didn’t matter where or how, but she was still Angel, and she still didn’t want him making plans for her without checking with her. Not as a matter of habit, anyway.
After they’d both declared their love for each other in the emotional and vulnerable aftermath of the concert for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, they’d both had to face the inevitability of their togetherness and spent all of the following Sunday secluded in Alex’s apartment, mostly in his bedroom wrapped up in sheets and each other’s arms. It had been magical and surreal, and Angel had to close her eyes and just let it sink in. They’d made love multiple times, not letting go of each other, even holding hands while they cooked or ate, and unable to keep from making love when Alex followed her into the shower.
But, as Sunday night turned into Monday and the real world began its intrusion into their idyllic little bubble, the insecurity she hated nagged just below the surface. The only thing she knew of his previous relationships was what she’d learned early on. Had his heart ever been breached? Was that more of a reason for his “arrangements” than his busy schedule?
“I want to do more than talk.” His mood lightened. Angel couldn’t help but smile, her body reacting immediately to the meaning behind the words, even as his teasing demeanor finally kicked in. “It feels like years since I’ve touched you.”
“Mmm… for me, too. I’m still sore… um, from the weekend,” she stammered, realizing that Cole was privy to the intimacy of the conversation. The ride upstairs felt endless but the elevator doors finally opened on the third floor. With raised eyebrows, his lips twitching in the start of smile, Cole wordlessly took the key that he carried with him out of his pants pocket and put it in the lock on the door to her apartment. When the door opened, Angel went inside, turning around to give an embarrassed smile and wave at Cole before he closed the door behind her, and went to the apartment he occupied on another floor.
Alex listened for the sound of her turning on security and putting the deadbolts in place at the same time he laughed softly. The sound was so sexy as it vibrated over her skin in a physical caress. “Now, that’s what I like to hear from my girl; too bad Cole got to hear it.”
“You might not think so later when we can’t have a repeat performance.”
“Well, Dr. Hemming, maybe seeing you is enough. You said you just wanted to talk tonight anyway, so that will fit into your plans.”
“I never said I just wanted to talk.” She made her way to the bedroom, swapping the phone into her left hand so she could shrug the right arm out of her coat. She flung it on the bed then kicked her high-heeled navy pumps off into her walk-in closet. Alex started to chuckle, and she couldn’t help teasing back. “I also said I wanted to watch a movie.” When Alex huffed in mock sarcasm, she added with a grin, “But that has its risks. I might want you.”
“The truth is, I might be out of commission in that respect, too. I don’t think I’ve ever had a sore dick before.”
Angel burst out laughing at the same time Alex did. “Oh my God! Really?” She proceeded to undress, peeling off her dark navy wool crepe suit and fuchsia blouse, giggling so hard she snorted. “Is it all red? I mean, more than usual?”
He laughed again, harder. “Shut up. At least I can walk without looking like I pulled a muscle.”
“Oh, I’ll pull your muscle like you wouldn’t believe, then you’ll stop teasing me,” she goaded, smiling still.
His soft laugh filtered through the phone. So sexy. “One can dream.”
“About me pulling or you teasing?” Her tone was lilted.
“Both. But, I’ll never stop teasing you,” he said, the sound of his low chuckle vibrating through the phone.
Happiness filled Angel as she peeled off her stockings and kicked out of them on her way to turn on the water in the shower. The water rushing began to echo off of the marble tile, and Alex could hear it easily.
“And, I’m never going to play fair. You’ll remember that in about ten minutes.”
“Ugh!” Alex groaned but with amused laughter. “I’d be disappointed if you did, and I can only imagine.”
Angel grinned, leaning over to test the temperature of the water under the spray. “You won’t have to imagine,” she quipped happily, tongue-in-cheek. “I’m naked and just about to take a shower.”
“That is my cue to get off the damn phone and get my ass to the gym. The faster I get that done, the quicker I can come over and teach you a lesson.”
She laughed again, letting out a huff. “Humph! You’re still under the impression you can teach me anything? Delusional, much?”
“I’m sure I can think of something. Baby, I adore this, but I really have to go. Darian is ringing the other line. I’ll be there as soon as I can. I can’t wait to see you.”
“Okay. Me, too.” She smiled softly as her heart leapt.
Alex was handsome, amazing, and mind-blowing, and while he made her feel safe, she was more determined than ever to get past the worry that he might eventually end things. Go with the flow, remember? she reminded herself with an exaggerated sigh. She’d have to take it one day at a time, trusting his and her own feelings more as time went on. So far, he hadn’t disappointed her. Not even once. His next words proved it again.
A gentle smile tugged at one corner of her mouth as her heart swelled.
“It’s okay, you can say it… you won’t melt.” His voice was coaxing, like soft velvet or warm honey oozing over her skin.
“Maybe I want to. Melt, I mean.” Her soft laughter echoed his.
“I can arrange that.”
“Okay…” she bemoaned, as if the admission was utter agony. “I love you.”
“I know,” he shot back without hesitation, his tone loaded with cockiness and sex.
A smile lit up her beautiful features and made her eyes dance.
Alex burst out laughing at her dry reply, and Angel ended the call, intent on making him squirm.
The room began to fill with steam, and despite her current state of euphoria, the atmosphere still made her skin crawl. She couldn’t help but think of the attack from Mark Swanson, which began in a similar situation and just weeks earlier in this very room. She shuddered slightly and thought about locking the door to the bathroom, but she didn’t want to let the bastard have any more control over her than he already had. The security on the entire building had been stepped up, and Angel knew she had to get her life back to normal. She tried to push it from her thoughts and get her mind on better things.
She held up the phone, which she now lovingly thought of as Alex’s, to take the half-naked picture she intended sending to torture him. She held a fluffy white towel in front of her, covering just enough but leaving the curve of her hip and bottom visible as she turned at a slight angle in the mirror. Her hair was mussed and hung long down her back. The image would be hazy, but it would be enough to get Alex going. Her cheeks hurt from smiling, though she did her best to put deliberate pout on her lips and a sultry look in her eyes as she took the shot in the mirror. She warned women against doing this all day long, but teasing Alex was too exciting to resist. Besides, she trusted him never to share something so intimate, no matter what might happen between them.
She sighed, setting the phone on the counter and dropping the towel to her feet and climbed into the tub, the warmth from the water seeping through her skin and muscles. She closed her eyes, anxious for Alex to make his appearance.
The teasing image of Angel’s almost naked form saved securely on his phone, Alex decided to forego his workout and declined Darian’s invitation to get a drink. His muscles needed exercise but he’d already pulled his phone out six damn times, and he couldn’t wait to get to the woman he couldn’t stay away from. He could breathe easier whenever he was on his way to be with her. He was anxious. Always anxious, and while it felt fucking amazing, it was disconcerting at the same time.
As much as Alex wanted to sneak in and take Angel by surprise, he didn’t want to frighten her, and she wouldn’t be expecting him so soon. She was still on skittish, and he could see her visibly relax whenever he came home. A small smile curved his mouth as he realized it didn’t matter where they were, home was wherever Angel was, even though she would be with him at his estate if he had his way.
He couldn’t believe how much his perspective had changed. Four months ago, if anyone had suggested to him he would take a 180-degree turn, he would have told them to go fuck themselves. No longer did he work into the dark hours of the evening without a thought to the time. When work delayed him now, he was itching to leave, glancing at his watch every few minutes and practically barking at anyone who kept him in the office.
He’d asked her to marry him in a half-assed sort of way, but he wanted, and needed, it to be official. It was iffy because Angel was already balking at moving in together, so he could only assume she’d be even more adamantly opposed to an engagement this soon. The first thing on his agenda would be to meet her father and introduce her to his parents. They’d seen her the night of that charity thing, but didn’t actually get to meet her. For the first time in his life, he was aching to put a woman in front of them and for them to love her as much as he did. Earlier that afternoon, he’d asked Mrs. Dane to find the best jeweler in the city. He’d sent her on jewelry acquisitions before when he’d been trying to calm the ruffled feathers of Whitney or one of her predecessors, but never for something like this.
“What am I buying?” she’s asked matter-of-factly.
“Nothing. I’m buying.
“Oh. Is it your mother’s birthday?”
“No. I’m buying an engagement ring.”
Mrs. Dane’s face showed surprise and she quickly tried to mask it. Certainly, that was the last thing she would have presumed her young boss to purchase. Alex couldn’t help but notice the raised eyebrow as the woman busied herself by picking up the financial documents Alex had approved for her and fiddling with the edges. He felt uncomfortable, and the silence compelled him to explain when usually he wouldn’t have given a thought to what his assistant was thinking. “Um, nothing too gaudy. Elegant. ”
Her mouth opened then shut without a word, and she’d stared at Alex as if he were an alien from outer space. One thing was certain; it was out of character for him to spend time researching diamonds and educating himself on why one was better than the other. He’d spent a few hours on it and he’d found gems online, however, he’d want to choose this himself. It had to be perfect.
When she still didn’t answer, he’d looked up from the contract he’d been going over to find her stunned into silence. “Tell them I want perfect and one-of-a-kind, and I’d like to come in before the end of the week.” She stood there for several seconds before she finally nodded and went to do his bidding, her surprise now mixed with something akin to pride.
“Forgive me, Alex. This may not be my place, but it’s not for that Whitney woman, is it?”
He let his breath out with a smile and until that moment, he’d been unaware that he wasn’t breathing. Mrs. Dane was his subordinate, but he valued her opinion on many levels and they had a mutual respect and fondness for each other that went beyond professional. She was more like a favorite aunt or young-ish grandmother, and he wondered if she’d heard Angel’s show and would know who she was.
“No. We stopped seeing each other months ago.”
“Thank the lord for that,” Mrs. Dane shot out with a snort and then paused. “And so soon, you are ready to propose to someone else? I know it’s not my place, but—”
Alex held up his hand. “No, it’s fine, Mrs. Dane. I realize that in the past my romantic choices have left something to be desired, but it’s different this time. You’ll just have to trust me.” He winked at her slyly.
“She’s in it for the right reasons?”
Alex’s heart warmed at the older woman’s concern. “She is. I sound like an idiot, but you’ll approve.”
“See that I do,” she said in mock sternness and got back down to business. “Now, a diamond or other precious gemstone? More traditional? Vintage or contemporary in style? A solitaire?”
Alex considered his options carefully, knowing a big flashy engagement ring would mean nothing to Angel, but damn if he didn’t want to make sure the world knew she belonged to him. And he wanted Angel to have no doubts about his feelings or intentions. Their time together was always incredible, but he could sense part of her was still bothered by his past relationship rules, and Alex hated that she was feeling anything but absorbed in him. More incredibly, he wanted her to be sure he loved her and in no doubt he was completely committed.
“Um, I don’t really have a clue about style, but definitely a diamond. Something classic. As I said, understated and elegant. I want it to be as flawless and individual as she is. Excellent cut, and colorless.”
It was obvious that Alex had done his homework and showed that he was indeed serious. “Does this perfect young woman have a name?”
A smile slid over Alex’s mouth, making him even more handsome. “Angel. Her name is Angel.”
“That’s quite beautiful.”
The older woman could practically see the love radiate from Alexander and felt happy that the young man, who she thought would miss out on love had finally found it.
“I’ll set something up. It might take a few days, sir. Its rare jewelers have such perfect diamonds on hand. Especially, large ones. Any particular shape?”
He laughed, despite him self. “Something that not many women have, but it doesn’t have to be huge. Angel wouldn’t want that.”
“That’s excellent.” A brilliant smile split across Mrs. Dane’s face before it faded when she realized she may have overstepped. “Um, I mean, I’m happy that—” she stammered and then composed herself. “Yes, sir. I’ll set up appointments with the three best and have them come to the office. I’m sure you don’t want to be seen in the stores?”
“Excellent as always, Mrs. Dane. And, I appreciate your concern.”
The woman’s smile returned. “Yes. You should give me a raise.”
Alex laughed out loud as she left his office and closed the door behind her.
So, as absurd as it was, Alexander Avery was going to propose, whether Angel was ready for it or not. Months ago, he would have scoffed at the abstract possibility, but now, he was chomping at the bit to make sure she belonged to him. At least if she married him, he’d get her under the same roof once and for all, and he was goddamned tired of arguing about it.
It wasn’t that he wanted to control her; he liked the push and pull they had between them. It was fun and sexier than hell, but he wanted to know she was safe, and living together would put his mind at ease. Until that cocksucker, Swanson, was behind bars for good, he wouldn’t relax. As it was, he could think of little else, and his gut constantly burned with worry. It would have been easier if he’d killed Mark Swanson the night he’d attacked Angel. God knew, he’d wanted to, and it wasn’t the first time he’d considered it could have been self-defense. At least, he’d be able to breathe.
Alex sighed as he walked into her apartment and closed the door behind him, carefully disarming then rearming the security system. He almost dropped the pizza box he was balancing in the other hand. He groaned inwardly, hating that his thoughts were consumed with thinking about that fucker. He hated how Swanson was still able to get into his head and under his skin, and worse, he hated that he could still frighten Angel.
A small lamp in the living room offered the only light other than the blue glow cast from the flat screen TV mounted across from the sofa. It appeared Angel left it on one of the news channels but was nowhere to be seen. Alex glanced around the living room then took the pizza into the kitchen and left it on the counter beside his car keys.
“Babe?” Alex called, rubbing his jaw with one hand and meandered down the hall toward Angel’s bedroom, loosening the knot of his tie then pulling it free from his shirt. The fingers of his left hand pushed open the door, and he peered inside while his right hand opened three of the buttons on his white shirt.
Her suit jacket was lying on her bed, and he could hear the shower running behind the closed door of her en-suite bathroom. He kicked off his shoes, unbuttoning his fine linen shirt the rest of the way to push it off and fling it carelessly on the bed, followed by his T-shirt. He quickly unzipped his dress slacks and pushed them with his boxer briefs down and to the floor. He used his feet to pull the expensive slacks free of his legs then left them discarded on the floor with his socks. He walked to the bathroom completely nude.
When Alex slowly opened the door, the steam flowed out around him like a cloud and heat from the room rushed over his skin. Angel’s bathroom was large and decorated in soft shades of coral, sand, and cream, with a big whirlpool tub in one corner and a glass-enclosed walk-in shower along the wall opposite the vanity. The air smelled of her shampoo and perfume, and though the door and walls of the shower were fogged over; the delicious outline of Angel’s curves and the curtain of long dark hair down her back were clearly visible. She was humming softly, her iPod docked in the device built into the wall.
He smiled to himself. Angel raised her hands to her hair, her breasts lifting as she did so, only enticed him further. Her eyes were closed as she moved to rinse the long dark strands free of shampoo. Alex’s cock was already swollen erect and had been since he’d made the decision to join her in the shower. His eyes roamed further down her womanly form, knowing that, as always, her skin would be smooth and free of hair. Even as the fire of desire surged and more blood pushed painfully into his erection, his mind briefly wondered if it was a man or woman entrusted with the intimate task of waxing Angel’s body. Jealousy tugged at him as he envisioned another man having such open access to her intimate secrets. He decided that was a question he would be posing to her very soon.
It would be exciting to sneak into the shower with her, but it would scare the shit out of her, and that was the last thing he wanted. He moved closer and kept his voice low.
“There’s something in there I want.”
Angel turned, her surprised and wiped at the steam on the glass, her expression softened as their eyes met and held. She smiled softly; so alluring and tempting, Alex almost licked his lips. Her eyes pulled from his and ran down the length of his body as he opened the stall door.
“Wow, that was fast. I thought you were going to the gym,” she murmured when her gaze landed on his erection, “and that your dick hurt.” A short giggle burst from her chest until she quelled it to a sly smirk when he pulled her roughly against him.
“I want you more than the gym. Yes, it hurts, but in a different way,” he said honestly, his eyes intense and locked with hers.
As soon as the glass door closed behind him, it took Alex mere seconds to slide his arms around Angel. He turned, lifting her against the ceramic tile in the corner with one smooth movement, the water flowing behind him, her face now level with his. The multiple showerheads were a luxury and rained from every direction. Angel’s legs automatically wrapped around his waist, her fingers curled into the muscles of his shoulder, and then slid into the hair at his nape as it was quickly saturated. Alex slid his palms down her body as they both stared into the other’s eyes for a brief moment.
“Are you sore, sweetheart?” he asked.
She stared at his mouth mesmerized, as liquid heat rushed through her lower body, making it begin to hum with need. “Even if you were going to split me open, I’d still want you.”
His heart thundered within his chest. “It’s sometimes too much. I love—” It seemed the most natural thing to tell her that he loved her. The words, now said, wanted to tumble forth, and this wasn’t the first time he’d stopped himself from repeating them. Alex reminded himself he’d just said them on the phone less than hour before. He knew she needed more than the words. She needed proof. Only his actions, and time, would accomplish that. And, he also acknowledged that saying them aloud too often made him equally vulnerable “—that we can’t get enough of each other.”
Angel nodded, two fingers of one hand finding their way to his lips then into the side of his mouth. He turned his face so he could suck them into his mouth and she gasped. “This is so much better than the last time I was surprised in the shower.”
Alex shook his head almost imperceptibly then kissed her fingers. Then his mouth sought hers, hovering just enough to speak, his hot breath mingling with the steam. Angel sucked his exhale into her lungs, unable to help herself. “No. Don’t think about him. Focus on me, baby. We’ll make a better memory in here. You and me.”
Angel’s pink tongue appeared and slid over her upper lip. Urgency throbbed between them; Alex’s eyes dropped to Angel’s mouth, and his hips anchored her to the wall. She swallowed. “You’re right. It’s just us.”
Alex finally took her mouth hungrily, his tongue plundering into the dark recesses, tangling with hers, and she let him, eagerly answering his need with her own. His hands beneath her bottom and thigh began to explore soap-slickened flesh, seeking the warmth and wetness he knew would welcome him. Angel’s hips surged toward his body, seeking Alex’s probing fingers, aching for the fulfillment only his body could offer.
He groaned into her mouth when one of her hands raked down his chest between them and grasped around him, gently rubbing and pulling on his dick, worried she’d hurt him, that he might be in real pain. Alex pulled his mouth from hers as he sucked in his breath then let it out in a rush, his chest rising against the swell of her breasts.
“God,” he ground out, his hips pushing his cock more fully into her hands. “It’s okay, Angel,” he said, reading her thoughts. “Jesus! I always want you so much.”
He shifted, hoisting her higher, both hands wrapping around her breasts and holding them so his mouth had easy access to the hard buttons of her nipples. He loved her and being with her was profound. better than he’d ever imagined sex could be. He wanted to worship her, but he was rock hard and throbbing. He felt if he didn’t bury himself within her in seconds, he’d burst.
Shivers shot through her under the magic of his tongue and lips as he teased and pulled at her sensitive flesh with his mouth. Finally, she succeeded in positioning his cock at her entrance and arched her back greedily seeking, but his position only allowed her to take in his head part way.
“Alex, please… now.”
She didn’t have to ask twice, and in the next instance, his hips pushed forward and thrust deeply into her. Skin slipped on skin, and soft moans turned into panting breaths. Even though he was embedded deep and moving in deliberate precision, first slow then hard, burying himself balls deep, Alex couldn’t get close enough, her needs driving him on as much as his own. Angel was lost in sensation; her eyes closed, and her fingers clawed at the muscles of his arms and shoulders as he drove into her over and over again.
“Mmmm…” she moaned, squeezing around him, her hips surging against his, wanting Alex to feel her as much she did him. He reached up, his hand clamping onto her jaw and his mouth hungry, gnawing at and sucking on hers as he bounced her against the wall over and over again. His kisses and movements were voracious, leaving her in no doubt of his desire or excitement.
“Uhhhh… Fuck—nothing feels as good as this.” He groaned against her lips, only to resume his ruthless onslaught, his mouth demanding and hungry as he took what he needed.
Emotions, born of desperateness, flooded her heart until she physically hurt. He was here, and he was real. When they were together like this, she had no doubt he was as committed as she was. Alex was getting close, and it became Angel’s mission to make him come apart with an abandonment he couldn’t control. It was only love that spurred her on, making her want to give him unspeakable pleasure, and she admitted that it would kill her if he could feel this with anyone else—before or after her—ever in his life. It was debilitating to know she was just as helpless, and yet, somehow, exhilarating to need his touch so much… even as his body claimed hers and they were all wrapped up together.
“Alex… God, yes!”
His speed increased as if he couldn’t help himself, his hand sliding across her shoulder and down her arm. Threading his fingers through hers, he lifted Angel’s hand above her head and pinned it against the wall, his open mouth over hers, his breath panting in time with his thrusts.
His muscles coiled and he pulled out of her abruptly, his forehead coming to rest on the tile beside her head as his eyes closed.
“Uhhh, Uhhh, Uhhh…” Alex’s chest rose and fell roughly as he struggled to gain control, and Angel’s eyes flew open in the same instant he stopped making love to her.
“What is it? Are you okay?”
He took one more deep breath and let her legs slide to the floor of the shower. “I’m perfect,” he murmured against her temple. His green eyes burned into Angel’s concerned face. “Everything’s perfect.” Alex leaned down and brushed his mouth softly against hers. “You— are perfect.”
Her mind raced. Why did he stop?
Alex kept his body close to hers, his dick still fully erect and pressed into her hip as he grabbed two towels and wrapped one around her body and draped another over her wet head. His hands were gentle as he pressed the plush material into her hair and squeezed the strands within its folds to absorb the water. Angel stared into his face, watching his expression, her breathing shallow.
“Why did you stop?” Her hands splayed out on his solid chest, loving the curves and contours of the hard muscles under her hand. “I wanted to make you come apart.”
He pulled the towels closer around her then scooped her up bridal-style and carried her effortlessly into the bedroom, wordlessly pulling back the covers and laying her down. He stood, open to her view, his eyes caressing and possessive. The towels soon pulled free of her body; Alex’s hands began to follow the path of his eyes over her shoulders and down her arms, sliding up her stomach to ghost over her ribcage then cup each breast. Angel’s skin exploded in goose bumps and she shivered, but not from chills. She sucked in her breath. He was so intense and beautiful as he studied her body. When he finally joined her on the bed, his hand slid down over the curve of her hip to hoist one slender leg over his strong hip.
“And you will, but I don’t want this to end,” he said seriously, his eyes blazing over her flesh. “You intoxicate me.”
“It doesn’t have to end. We have all night. Make love to me, Alex.” Her hand slid to his and she pulled it to her mouth. “Make love with me all night,” she repeated softly, taking his middle finger into her mouth.
Alex closed his eyes, his heart swelling inside his chest and more blood pushing into his cock. His breath hitched. Fuck, she excited him more than anyone ever had, but that wasn’t even it. He wanted to make sure she understood. He ran the tip of his nose down hers, and his lower lip nudged hers. “I intend to, but I mean, I don’t want us to end. I want you in my bed, my body inside yours, to give you so much pleasure you can’t form a coherent thought. But more, I just want you with me. Next to me. I want to take care of you, to protect you. Always.” His eyes opened and locked with hers as he stilled. “I need you to believe you are the only thing that matters to me now. The only fucking thing.”
Angel’s eyes burned as his words washed over her, causing her to gasp aloud. His tone was serious and insistent, and she trusted him more than she’d ever trusted anyone. Unable to speak, Angel turned her face into his neck and shoulder, her throat aching as emotions left them both reeling. She was ready to give him anything he asked, her heart and soul soaring.
“Yes,” she finally whispered, her voice cracking with the effort.
Alex sighed deeply and settled down into the cradle of her body: he kissed her, his movements ruled by his feelings. He nudged her chin with his nose, wanting to prove it, to erase any doubt. “I mean it, damn it. I’ve never meant anything more in my life.”
Overcome, Angel’s eyes flooded with tears and her hands slid up and fisted in his wet hair. “I believe you,” she breathed out. Pulling his mouth closer, she silently begged for more of his kisses, her body arching as he slid back into her slick heat. Alex was determined to leave her in little doubt of his feelings as he pushed into her body and invaded her heart like no one else ever could. His hands were worshiping and reverent as they played her flesh like an instrument, his mouth staking his ownership and his soul burning its brand on hers. He evoked no refusal and no denial as he made absolute love to her.
Every time he touched her, it was perfect and earth shattering; stunning and staggering. Angel knew she couldn’t fight it anymore and didn’t want to. She was completely and utterly lost to him… and he to her. “I love you, Alex.”
Kahlen is offering a SIGNED set of The After Dark Series. To enter click HERE.
***Kahlen will have the paperbacks of Promises After Dark in November, so you’ll receive the books around that time.***
Thanks to Kahlen for sharing the first chapter with us and for the giveaway!!!
Good luck, everyone!