Jessica's life changes the instant she meets the wealthy and darkly-handsome Lucian. Her ordinary life is catapulted into a world of the preternatural when she finds out he's a vampire. He shows her things she never imagined, changing her life forever. But Lucian isn’t the only preternatural with secrets in her life. Jessica quickly becomes a pawn in a deadly game for power.
She stopped suddenly, the hairs on the back on her neck rising. She whirled around, but the hallway was empty. With a shake of her head, Jessica went back inside to the exhibition. She frowned at the looks on the faces of Anna and Joseph. They were clearly unhappy about something. She dodged her way through the guests to her friends.
“What is it, guys?”
“We have a gate-crasher,” Anna replied. “Lucian Manders.”
“Really? Isn't he a great catch for Elise? She won't mind, surely. He's as rich as they come and a great art patron.”
“He's so far up his own backside he can play tonsil hockey with himself,” Joseph muttered darkly.
Jessica stared at Joseph. She'd never heard his voice have such an edge to it before. He also looked more...sharp. She had no other word for it. As though aware of her scrutiny, Joseph turned and smiled at her. She blinked. He looked as he always did.
“I thought you'd like him, given that he's such an art aficionado,” she said.
“He's arrogant and thinks his money puts him above others. He's not a favourite of mine.”
“Ah, there you are.” Elise's voice drew their attention. “I have someone very special I want you to meet, dear.”
“Be careful, Jess,” Joseph said, as Elise hooked an arm through Jessica's and began to lead her away.
“She’s in good hands. Don’t you worry,” Elise called back over her shoulder as she led Jessica through the crowd.
Jessica’s heart hammered in a mix of excitement and nervousness. Everyone in the art world knew Lucian by reputation, bad-boy reputation. Darkly handsome, edgy, risqué, and very, very rich, he was a man who could make or break aspiring artists. He rarely attended invites to exhibitions, but to drop in unexpectedly where he wasn’t invited was a characteristic trademark of the man.
She shivered. Okay, be cool. He’s just a man, picture him naked...oh, bad idea.
The thought hit her just as Lucian came into view, and the pictures she’d seen of him didn’t do him justice. He stood above the crowd around him by a good inch or two. His straight, jet-black hair had a right side-part so that his fringe partly obscured his left eye, and Jessica had never seen such an exotic, tawny shade of hazel as in the gaze of the man studying her with equal intensity.
He wore black dress pants, as tight as sin, and a white shirt open enough to reveal a thatch of dark chest hair. He was broad of chest and narrow of hips, the epitome of male perfection. He moved forward, and Jessica immediately thought of a predator, a sleek, dark feline. Picturing this man naked did anything but help. Instead, her loins heated, her nipples hardened, and she swallowed past a suddenly dry throat. Oh wow, he’s sex-on-legs.
“Lucian, dear, this is my latest talent. Lucian Manders, Jessica Allbright. Jessica, dear, this is my bad boy Lucian. Now remember what I told you earlier.” Jessica hid a grin as Elise fluttered her eyelashes theatrically before moving away.
“Nice to meet you, Jessica.” Her name was a low, sexy purr of sound.
“You too,” she replied. As their hands met, Jessica was certain sparks should have lit the air around them. A crackle of sexual electricity zipped straight to her groin and tingled pleasurably. Lucian’s sculptured lips curved into a smile as though aware of exactly the effect he’d had. I’m not that easy, buddy. Jessica released Lucian’s hand and gave a cool smile.
“So you’re the new talent Elise crowed about,” Lucian said. “Not bad, not bad at all.”
Although apparently referring to her art, Lucian’s gaze travelled not toward her works, but from her toes upward to finally lock with hers.
“I’ve heard about you, Lucian, and could say the same.” Jessica held Lucian’s gaze as he raised an elegant eyebrow and then gave a slow, sexy-as-hell grin.
“I’m glad to hear it.” He offered his arm. “So, show me round, and let’s see if we have anything else in common.”
To Jessica’s surprise, Lucian was very well informed about her work, as well as art in general. She actually enjoyed talking to him. Finally, they stopped in front of her largest piece, a seascape that depicted a storm, with a hint of calm sky peeking through.
“The calm after the storm?” Lucian asked, pointing.
“And a reminder that, as bad as the storm is, it will eventually end,” Jessica replied.
“I like it.” Lucian moved to face it squarely. He studied it intently, and Jessica wondered if she should stay or go. She was about to move when he turned to face her. “I’ll take it. I’d also like one of Joseph’s carvings and Anna’s bracelets.”
Jessica blinked, frozen for a second, and then smiled widely.
“I’ll get Elise. Which of Joseph’s and Anna’s pieces do you want?” she asked.
“You choose. I want to see what you like. Price isn’t an issue, but be honest. I want to see your choice from the heart.”
Jessica alerted Elise and hurried to find her friends and tell them of Lucian’s offer.
“He’s up to something, Jess,” Anna said. “Be careful with him. He didn’t earn his reputation without reason.”
Jessica nodded. “I’m not stupid. I’m not going to be just another notch on his bedpost. Trust me guys. I do have some street-savvy.”
“We know, we know,” Joseph said. “We just love you and don’t want to see you hurt.”
“And I love you both,” Jessica said, drawing both into a hug. “But I’m a big girl and can take care of myself. Anna, I love the bracelet of yours with the silver and aquamarine. Joseph, I adore the carving of the baying wolf. Please, guys?” To her relief her friends nodded and went to get the pieces.
The hair on the nape of her neck prickled again. This time when she turned around, her gaze met Lucian’s. He smiled and came toward her, all masculine grace and power, groups of people parting, making way for him.
“May I have your cell phone number? I’d like you to come to my apartment and help me site your painting and Joseph’s sculpture. No strings, no etchings.” His eyes held a mischievous glint, and Jessica couldn’t smother her giggle.
“Okay,” she said. “We’ll exchange. Give me your number.” Her stomach flip-flopped at his slow, sensual grin.
“Fine. Call me tomorrow. Late afternoon, early evening.”
“I may be busy,” Jessica countered.
“Then I’ll wait,” Lucian said. “I look forward to our next encounter.” He extended his hand, but instead of shaking Jessica’s, he brought her hand to his lips. His lips were cool and dry on her skin, but the sensation sent heat searing through her body.
“So do I.” Jessica’s body thrummed with anticipation as she watched Lucian walk away.