An unedited EXCERPT to tease your appetite
He was behind the reception desk, leaning over a computer screen, and discussing something with the receptionist. He glanced up to check who was exiting the elevator. I had no doubt he knew me immediately because his brows snapped together, recognition clear on his face. His eyes tracked me as I approached.
“Good morning, may I help you?”
I tore my gaze from Gray’s to stare at the receptionist. He was slim, dark-eyed, and so perfectly groomed he looked like he’d been airbrushed for a GQ cover. His brow arched, waiting for my response. I ignored him and looked back at Gray, who remained frozen. Like a still-life, one arm resting on the back of the receptionist’s chair, the other bracing himself on the desk. Only now, his face was blank. My stomach tried to launch into my chest. Blank! I didn’t know how else to describe it. Dear God, please let my face be blank too. But I knew it wasn’t.
My heart raced. It was a cliché but it was true. I could feel it pumping in my chest. Gray was even more handsome than I remembered. His dark hair was short, but not military short. It was sleekly styled, like his clothing. Practical, but his jeans were definitely designer. He was more built than I remembered, the power in his body clearly defined by the silky black T-shirt hugging his torso. He’d always been confident, now it was something else. Something that made goosebumps race over my body. But my heart didn’t care. It beat wildly. Recognizing him. Wanting him.
But his face was blank.
“Hello-oo! Do you have an appointment?”
“Cool it, Blake, she’s here for Gray.”
It was the hunk who looked like Thor that spoke. But like Gray, I paid him no heed. I was locked in a silent battle of wills with Grayson Walker. And I was losing.
Shit. I should have made an appointment.
I sucked in a long breath. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand … ever so slowly, I breathed out, never breaking eye contact with him. My heartbeat settled. Yes. I could do this—control. Acid trickled up my throat as he pushed away from the desk and straightened to his full height. His fixed gaze never left mine. My hands curled, fingernails digging into my palms. I always remembered his eyes more blue than grey. Gentle, and glinting with wicked humor. Not anymore. Now they were slate. Cold and lethal, like the scalpels I used to cut through human tissue.
“How did you know where to find me?”
No greeting? No ‘lovely to see you, Zoey?’
“Gerald,” I croaked.
I swallowed hard, pushing down the pain. My voice was normally husky and low-pitched. Gray used to say it was sultry. I loved that, especially since the huskiness was a result of baby colic. I was a chronic crier as a baby and developed nodules, which in turn created calluses on my vocal cords. So sultry sounded nice, sexy.
I didn’t sound sultry now.
My skin goosed again as I watched his lips set into a hard line. His mouth was one of the thousand things I loved about him. His upper lip a perfect cupid’s bow. His lower one, full and sensual with a marked indent. I used to tease him that he had the mouth of a pornstar. And he did. God! The indescribable pleasure—
” … do you want?”
What did he say? I’d let the past smother the present. Nothing new. “I’m sorry,—”
“What are you doing here, Zoey?” he repeated, clearly impatient.
Yes, what was I doing here?
He stepped around the desk and my body clenched. It took a lot for me not to retreat. He was imposing. It wasn’t his size or height. It was his coldness. He was as compellingly attractive as he was cloyingly terrifying. Stop it. What the hell was I thinking? Gray wouldn’t hurt me. Gray would do whatever it took to keep me safe.
“I need your help,” I blurted.
His lip curled unpleasantly. “You need my help?”
I dropped my gaze and made eye contact with the elegant receptionist. He was alert, his dark eyes ablaze with curiosity. I didn’t turn to check, but I had no doubt Tane and the blonde hunk were also watching. If the situation wasn’t so important to me, I’d be amused.
But this was important. It was everything.
I squared my shoulders. “Look, I’m sorry to surprise you like this, but could we talk privately?”
“That’s not necessary,” he said bluntly. “Speak to Blake. He’ll make an appointment for you to see King. I don’t meet with new clients.”
What? I gripped my elbows, hugging my arms to my body. “I’m not a client. This is personal, Gray. Please. I need your help.”
His lethal gaze narrowed and I understood what people meant when they say time stopped. Our curious onlookers faded away, and there was only Gray and me. And the years of pain between us.
Who was this man?
He was not the caring, protective boy I grew up with. Neither was he the wildly sexy man I fell in love with. Or the smitten man who fell in love with me. The hair on my neck stood on end and my awareness heightened. This wasn’t even the man who kept visiting me in those early years, trying repeatedly to connect with me
This man was unflinching and totally fucking indifferent to me.
“I can’t think of anything I could possibly help you with. Or want to help you with,” he added, like an afterthought.
He sounded so remote, I stepped back before I could stop myself. His eyes flickered. Gray’s eyes were the window to his emotions. Another cliché but also totally true. I used to be able to read them and know exactly what he was thinking. Feeling. But not anymore.
My stomach rolled as his beautiful mouth twisted.”For Chrissake’s, woman! The last time we spoke, you begged me to leave you alone. You accused me of bringing back your worst nightmares.” He stabbed a finger at me, his expression hard and unforgiving. “You want more nightmares, Zoey? Is that why you’re here? To punish yourself.”
Bile shot up my throat and I swallowed hard.
He’d never know how close he was to the truth.
I took another small step back. His hands were fisted at his sides, and his eyes—they were like tempered steel.
Jesus! He looked like he was ready to attack.
I squeezed my eyes shut, blocking him from sight. Forcing air into my constricted chest, I swallowed down what felt like burning coals lodged in my throat.
Screw him! If I didn’t look at him, I’d be okay.
I kept breathing. Short, sharp breaths. And as I stood there, my eyes closed tight, an image floated just out of reach. Gray, his hand reaching out to me. My pulse quickened. That was the Gray I wanted, needed. Mentally, I reached back, trying to catch his hand, hold on to him. But it was a mirage, a dream. And like all dreams, it fractured into a million different pieces and was gone. Nothing.
It could only have been seconds that I zoned out, but it was all the time I needed. I opened my eyes. This was a stranger standing in front of me. This was not a man I could ever trust to keep me safe. He was absolutely right. There was nothing this Gray had to offer that could help me.
I swallowed again, the pain in my throat becoming a distracting burn. “You’re right, this was a mistake.” I was grateful my voice wasn’t a croak. “I’m sorry for interrupting your day.” I felt empty. And filled to the brim with a terror of the nightmares I knew were waiting for me. “Goodbye, Grayson.” Even I could hear the finality in my voice.
God, I was tired. Too tired for this.