New York City’s Most Eligible Bachelor was in a piss-poor mood.
Not that anyone would ever guess it from the way Oliver Preston smiled down at the dark-haired girl dancing seductively in front of him. At least, he thought she was going for seductive. She dipped down low, then rose with a twisting hip swivel, which could very well be an attempt to dislodge a wedgie. Her name had vanished along with his last three drinks, and it was fast approaching the point in their acquaintance when it would be rude to ask. With a discreet glance at his watch, he realized they’d been dancing and talking for an hour, although he couldn’t recall a single word. Something about Gwyneth Paltrow’s blog?
He’d been doing this more and more lately, forgetting the social dictates that had been drilled into him his entire life. Discarding names the moment they were uttered, neglecting to respond with a laugh at the appropriate moment. He’d once been the king of grinning and bullshitting. Maybe he still was, but he’d gone on autopilot. No enjoyment came from it any more.
Oliver could pinpoint the exact day it happened. When that damn magazine had determined him a catch, under the headline, “Manhattan’s Mesmerizing Magazine Guru”. The article had been the equivalent of a meal bell being rung over his unsuspecting head. Women had stopped wanting to have fun with him. They’d stopped being satisfied with a single night or even a week-long affair.
Now they wanted to land him. They wanted the elegant wedding announcement in the New York Times. They wanted to weld a gold band onto his finger while cackling with merriment. They wanted to…Jesus…they wanted to introduce him to their mothers.
Matrimony. If it was possible to have a phobia of saying I do, he had a giant case of it. Matrimonaphobia. There, he’d diagnosed himself.
Not that he didn’t believe in the institution of marriage. His parents had been happy enough. Some of his friends even pulled it off to varying degrees of success. The thought of doing it himself? He’d rather choose punishment in the form of a never-ending wedgie.
That reminded him. What the hell was this girl’s name? Jill…Whitney…Wendy? Wedgie.
Wendy, Queen of the Wedgie.
I’m going to Hell.
Wendy spun in a slow circle, gyrating quite impressively, but he found himself more concerned with the disintegrating contents of his rocks glass than her impressive figure, leading him back to his earlier thoughts. Maybe the eligible bachelor announcement hadn’t been where his loss of interest in the world of endless women and partying had started. Maybe it had been waning long before then, and he’d simply fallen into an inescapable pattern. Party, seduce, repeat. A certain behavior was expected of him and he lived up to it.
Had his identity become his curse?
Oliver had one thing keeping him grounded. Work. He’d taken the passion he usually reserved for the opposite sex and thrown it into the financial magazine his family had owned for decades. His father had built it from the ground up, but just last month, Oliver had been required to save it from bankruptcy. As a result, he now shared the helm with his sister, Caroline, producing the country’s first lifestyle magazine for those with alternative lifestyles. Combining finance and travel with, well, bondage techniques and gift ideas for your favorite Dominant.
He tossed back the remains of his drink, smiling absently when WW took that as a sign she should move closer, backing up until her bottom met his lap and wiggling her hips. Oliver’s body responded as it always did, but there was no urgency. No driving need to get this girl alone and rip off every last piece of her clothing. He hadn’t felt that in a damn long while, though, had he?
His new, regrettable marriageable status combined with the feeling he was missing something had led him here over the summer. To Serve. A BDSM club located in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, owned by his formerly straight-laced sister’s boyfriend, Jonah. A fact he still couldn’t believe a month later.
Before coming to Serve, he had already been dominant in the bedroom, hoping maybe taking it to the next level would alleviate some of the monotony he’d been experiencing. It had. Briefly. After a while, that same old feeling had begun creeping in. He’d stopped enjoying himself in degrees, oftentimes coming to Serve, only to leave after his first drink. His conquests had all started looking and sounding the same, blurring together in a way that made him feel guilty. As if he were taking advantage in some way, saying all the right words without meaning them. Like now.
Wendy threw her arms up in the air and rotated her hips in a slow circle. Her eyes held a challenge, all but shouting, not bad, huh? Oliver saluted her with his empty glass. “That dress is criminal, sweetheart.” Blah blah blah. “Maybe we need to put you in lock up.” Let’s go upstairs and get this over with so I can go home and watch Survivorman.
“Thank you,” Wendy purred, smoothing her hands down the front of her dress. “It’s all thanks to this macrobiotic diet I’ve been doing. Gwyneth does it. She practically invented it. No carbs, no coffee, no alcohol—”
Good God, she dances like this sober? “Whatever you’re doing,” he wound her hair around his fist and pulled her up against him. “Don’t stop.”
Wendy sucked in a breath. “Let me take a quick trip to the ladies room, then we can go upstairs.” She turned with a little shimmy, then glanced back over her shoulder. “I’m feeling bad.”
He winked at her. “I’ll be the judge of that.”
As soon as she disappeared into the crowd, Oliver dropped heavily onto the nearest lounge chair, signaling the waitress for another drink. He pushed a hand through his dark mess of hair, debating whether or not to call tonight off, just wait until Wendy came back and make some excuse about an early conference call. It wouldn’t be a complete lie. Damn, this isn’t how he should feel when ten minutes in the future, he’d be naked with a beautiful woman. What the hell is wrong with me?
Oliver pushed to his feet, intending on intercepting Wendy on the way back from the restroom. The sooner he got out of here, the better. He skirted past a young businessman running game on a waitress. A waste of time since Jonah didn’t allow employees to fraternize with clientele, at least on the downstairs lounge level. Upstairs? Different story altogether.
He’d cleared half the dance floor when he saw the blonde. Or rather, he saw her bare shoulders. Such an innocent body part shouldn’t have arrested him so thoroughly, after all he’d seen enough skin to rival a Penthouse photographer, but something about them brought him to a standstill. Even from ten yards away, he knew the skin would be smooth. Lickable. He knew she’d bunch them up to her ears when she laughed. He knew he’d find a sexy mole on the other side, just beneath her collar bone.
That blonde was Eliza Ballas.
His sister’s old college roommate and current best friend. Oliver tried, he really, seriously tried—for all of three seconds—not to let his gaze dip to her ass. Not a new problem for
Under different circumstances, he would have tried to take her home the first time they met. He would have experienced what it felt like to have those golden legs wrapped around his waist, to watch those big, brown eyes go blind.
Oliver licked his upper lip when his body decided it liked that image very much, thank you. He hadn’t seen Eliza in weeks, having been so busy revamping the magazine, but she’d certainly been on his mind. Even more than usual. On a trip to the club last month, he’d been surprised to find Eliza at the bar, dressed to kill. Some discreet questioning of the staff he’d become friendly with had alerted him to the fact that Eliza was getting ready to embark on an evening with a British ex-pat named Porter. Also known as the man she was dancing with tonight while looking fucking edible. Oliver had spoken to the man on a few occasions, frequenting the club as they both did. The Brit liked to dish out a little pain in the bedroom, more so than Oliver. To his credit, he never did anything a woman hadn’t consented to beforehand. Still, the thought of him employing those methods on Eliza didn’t sit well.
Not last month. And not tonight.
The Brit’s hand then ghosted over Eliza’s backside, propelling Oliver from his thoughts with the force of a cannon. Oh boy, he didn’t like the feeling that gave him, either. Kind of like a sour bomb had gone off in his stomach, turning the whiskey he’d drank to acid. He waited a beat, hoping it would go away. It didn’t.
Oliver plucked a glass of something blue off a passing tray and downed it in one gulp. Immediately, his attention returned to Eliza. He’d always been able to lower the attraction to his sister’s friend to a simmer. Right now, however, it felt like a roaring-ass fire. Same as it had that night last month when he’d interfered where he had no right, but had felt as though he did. As though he’d had every right to convince Serve’s scheduling manager to change Eliza and Porter’s appointment without alerting Eliza. It hadn’t been easy. Jonah’s staff did everything by the book. But Oliver had played the only trump card he had. If Eliza was hurt, Caroline would be upset. Which would piss off the boss to an unholy degree. It had done the trick and Oliver had rested easy that night, secure in the belief he’d done the right thing. Tonight was infinitely worse, however, because he could see Eliza focusing those doe eyes on another man. He couldn’t be jealous. He’d never been jealous a day in his life. Still, it wouldn’t hurt the guy to keep the grab-ass to a minimum. They were in public, for crying out loud. Never mind what he’d been up to five minutes ago.
The image materialized of him taking the Brit’s place, letting his hands roam over Eliza’s hips as she rocked against him, those pretty lips parting on a gasp.
Sister’s friend, asshole. Looky, no touchy.
Warning bells ringing in his head, Oliver started toward them.
She wasn’t going anywhere with that bastard.
Whoo yeah. He just touched my butt. Play it cool. Happens all the time.
Except it didn’t happen all the time. In Eliza’s world, when a man touched your butt, you reported his butt to human resources. Tonight, however, she was a million miles away from New York City’s cut-throat interior design world where she spent most of her waking hours. Tonight was for her. Tonight, butts would be touched. Or walloped, as the case may be.
Porter, the too-sexy Brit who bore a striking resemblance to mid-nineties Gavin Rosdale, pulled her closer. She swayed further into his embrace, without any of her usual reservations holding her back, letting herself enjoy the smell of his expensive cologne, his masculinity.
She’d met Porter a month ago at Serve when her best friend Caroline convinced her to stop in for a drink. Caroline had met the love of her life that night. Eliza had made a jackass out of herself.
After one dance with Porter that same evening, it had become obvious to her she was in way over her head. He spent a lot of time upstairs at Serve, where certain activities took place, so to speak. Eliza’s idea of an activity was browsing swatches. Still, she’d been excited by his cool demeanor, eager to try something new even if the world of BDSM was completely foreign to her. They hadn’t even made it to the elevator when her nerves had caught up with her. And yeah, it might have had something to do with the burgeoning threesome taking place on a beautifully upholstered chaise longue adjacent to the dance floor. She’d stammered an excuse about needing to find Caroline and ran out, all the while knowing she would regret her cowardice in the morning, which she certainly had.
That night had been her chance to really feel something. To experience a new world outside of her orb of spun glass. She’d come to New York for adventure and so far, she’d only alienated herself from the rest of the population.
Exactly as she’d vowed she would never do. Exactly like—
Eliza shook off the dark thought. Since graduating college, she’d been busting her hump, starting as an intern at the prestigious Rothman and Cower Design Firm, before moving higher in the ranks. Now she had exclusive, influential clients who recommended her services to their friends. She had her own office, an assistant, stability. The success she’d always dreamed of. Perhaps she hadn’t quite gotten to the level that would make her a partner one day, but she planned to change that. Soon.
With all the success in her professional life, she should be walking on air. Instead, most mornings she woke up on her living room floor, surrounded by piles of fabric samples, with Cheez-Its stuck in her hair, wondering if achieving her goals meant being lonely. Making a trade-off. Her social calendar was sadly lacking in anything that didn’t pertain to work. Or the new HGTV fall lineup. Eliza needed an outlet. She desperately wanted to feel sexy, desirable. Porter had made her feel that way in spades that first night. Hell, he’d looked at her like she was cherry pie fresh from the oven. She’d come back to Serve after having completed the required paperwork and interview process, only to be stood up by Porter her first time as an official member of the club. Her subsequent humiliation had led to a night of complete and utter intoxication to compensate, courtesy of the club’s creative martini menu.
Not tonight. Tonight, she’d shed her insecurities and come here for an experience. Had it been fate that the first man she’d run into was Porter? She chose to think so and nothing, not even two walruses flogging each other while singing the national anthem, would send her packing. The thought of Porter doing the things to her that she’d read about recently made her feel flushed from head to toe. His hand had moved from her bottom to coast up the small of her back, but she could still feel his touch there.