Close-Sneak-Peek.png
 

Chapter One

INAPPROPRIATE
Natalia

I tug my black miniskirt down and fret. No matter how much I pull it won't go any farther past the top of my thighs. I’m not just worried about bending over, but also about walking up stairs, and getting up and down from seats. My panties are barely hidden by the scrap of cloth masquerading as a skirt, and it feels like I’m asking for trouble. Or an upskirt shot on TMI.

Same thing.

"Are you sure I'm not too old for this outfit?" I ask, regretting the clothing I'm wearing for the umpteenth time. Regretting my decision to come out with the girls. Getting decked out and hitting the clubs always sounds better before I actually leave my house.

"Fuck, no," my friend Rowan says, pouring tequila shots into the glasses in the back of the limo. "You look hot, Natalia. There's no age limit on hot. There's a reason it's called Forever 21."

Thirty-six is a long way from twenty-one, though, and both Hadley and Rowan are younger than me by years. They arguably also see an awful lot less of themselves in the press. Even Rowan’s popularity is limited to gossip blogs and the filler pages of celebrity rags—not cover material. If either of them show off their thongs accidentally while climbing out of the limo, they don’t have to worry about their grandfather seeing it in line at the supermarket the next day.

"You look great," Hadley reassures me, taking a shot glass into her own hand. "And you needed this. After everything you've been through lately, don't you deserve a little time out for yourself?"

Hadley always knows how to soothe me. Of course she does, she’s my life coach, although she prefers the title life designer. As always, she’s full to the brim with inspiration, but tonight we are out as friends. And I really do need the advice—I shouldn’t feel nervous about letting loose with my girlfriends for just one night.

"Exactly!" Rowan says, as she hands me my shot. "This is you announcing to the world that Garner Lee didn’t break you. You’re single, and ready to mingle, and happier without him."

If only it were just Garner Lee, the latest one of Hollywood's top twenty most beautiful men that I've been hooked up with. It was also that carpenter on the last movie I did with Heather Wainwright, who didn't give me the time of day. It was also the four other major rela- tionships that the paparazzi spread all over the news, every relation- ship dissected and analyzed. It was ten years ago, when I was Hollywood’s most famous Other Woman to Tanner James, even though that was simply a misunderstanding.

I’ve worked so hard to rehabilitate my image, with charity work and children’s movies, wearing less eyeliner and more natural hair color, and never, ever doing anything, or saying anything in public that could possibly be misconstrued.

It half-worked; my image is polished up to a shine, but the narra- tive in the press about me is no better. Different, but not better.

Every headline spouts off about how America's Sweetheart is ready to settle down, ready to have babies, but no man is ready to have her. They say I drive them all away with my ambition.

I’m beginning to believe it might be true.

"You know what? You’re right. I’m allowed to have fun. I’m allowed to have friends. And I’m not at home, crying over his picture. I’m not hiding from him.” Although, I think guiltily, I didn’t agree to this girl’s night until I knew we were going to a club that he’d never in a million years frequent.

Avoiding and hiding are two different things, right?

"Right. Fuck Garner Lee. Or rather, here's to not fucking Garner Lee anymore," Rowan cackles. She takes her shot, realizes we weren’t in step, and quickly pours herself another. Typical Rowan. She’s right, too, which is not so typical.

For our entire relationship, Garner and I had our once-a-week scheduled missionary position. Then for the last year, not even once a week—more like whenever we could fit it into our busy schedules. Shooting movies and having a relationship oftentimes don’t seem to go together.

Maybe actors really aren’t meant to have love lives.

Maybe this job means walking a solitary path in life.

And when I have fans all over the world who adore me, can I really be upset that my bed is cold? Isn’t it selfish to want it all?

"You're thinking too much again," Hadley warns. "I can see it in your eyes." She lifts her shot glass. "To girls’ night."

“To orgasms that aren’t self-induced,” Rowan adds.

We all clink our glasses and down them. The tequila burns the lump out of my throat and I shake my head, laughing, enjoying the mix of heat and discomfort it makes as it goes down. It’s the only thing that’s gone down lately.

As if on cue, our limo pulls up in front of the nightclub. I roll my shoulders and shake my arms at my sides. This is the last chance I have at backing out. Once I get out of the car, there will be cameras and spectators, P eople M agazine hunting for fresh meat for their Celebrities- Spotted column. I tug nervously at my skirt again, wondering if an evening out is worth this.

I feel Hadley wrap her hand around my elbow, calming me with just a touch.

"Once we get inside, honey, the cameras are gone. You know we chose Club 24 specifically because it doesn’t allow that kind of shit. We just have to walk through the crowd out here, and then you're home free. Just us. Us and all the tequila we can feed you," she smiles mischievously .

I take another deep breath, and let her words wash over me.

I have built a career in the most brutal industry in existence. I have faced down men with cameras in the tree outside my bathroom window. I have dealt with legitimate stalkers, whose overtures go from sexual to violent overnight.

So why am I worried about the small throng of press outside a club?

As Hadley says, they’re the only thing between me and another much-needed drink—and more importantly, the dance floor.

"Okay,” I say. “Let's do this."

We step outside the limo and the flashes start immediately, as they always do. My tendency is to stop and pose, giving them what they want, but Hadley reminds me to keep walking. It feels odd to ignore the press, to ignore my fans, to ignore the people who have made me the celebrity I am—the people who have put me on the covers of magazines and the headlines of their movies.

Normally I’d do whatever they asked, my natural compliance with the press taking over.

But tonight I take Rowan's lead. She may be a celebrity starling, a newbie, but she's a pro at the party. She trucks right up to the bouncer, who lets us into the front of the line, and we're escorted into the club before I know it.

Immediately, I am surrounded by the warmth of bodies, the smell of sex, and the thump thump thump of good bass in the music, the uncer- tain vibe of outside fading into memory as quickly as the DJ fades one song into the next.

Club 24 is popular with celebrities for many reasons.

The club has rules about no paparazzi being allowed inside, most importantly. Patrons have their phones, of course, but there are so many celebrities—only the elite and the most prestigious people are let in—that it generally doesn’t matter. There’s an honor code among famous people. And the others are either with them, or trying to become one of them, so they’ll abide by the code as well.

I recognize a full half of the crowd tonight, friends and industry people grinding on the dance floor and sitting at the tables. Around the bar, people I've worked with, people I've seen at after-shows and people from all over the studio lots.

Rowan takes us past them all, to a table in the back that's already reserved for us, and signals a bartender on the way.

"Patron all around," she shouts, and by the time we’re seated, another round of tequila is being delivered to our table by a knockout blonde carrying a cup full of limes in her cleavage. God bless Los Angeles.

"At this rate, I'm going to be drunk before I even get on the dance floor," I say. There’s no telling when I last had this many shots. And my heels have to be at least three inches high. Combined with my skirt? I’m not nervous enough to wave the drink off, but I’m definitely not feeling comfortable enough to let loose quite yet.

"Quit your bitching. The tequila makes dancing easier. Trust me." Rowan is the expert. And if Hadley is on board, than I am as well. I used to love dancing. It’s just been so long since I’ve turned my mind off and let myself move without worrying what people think that I have to wonder if I still remember how .

Maybe Garner did more of a number on me than I’d originally thought. I don’t think I danced in the entire year we were together.

We down our next shots, and now I'm really feeling buzzed. There’s warmth running through my body, and my hips are already beginning to respond to the beat. I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time.

"See?" Rowan says. "Now let's get on the floor."

We just got here, and I thought we'd maybe sit and talk for a while first. But now that I’m buzzing and happy, now that I’m remembering how much I have missed having fun, there’s nothing I’d rather do than dance.

Rowan takes my hand and leads me to the floor, Hadley following behind. We stick together for the first song, and as the alcohol continues its magical happy-making path through my body, I find that I am less concerned about what I'm wearing. I forget why I was worried I was too old to hang out at the club. I don’t know why I thought maybe I’d forgotten how to dance as I let the music take over.

Soon it's all I feel. The rhythm, the beat.

It feels good to lose myself like this, to just move my body, to sway my hips.

By the time the first song has disappeared into the melody of the next, I’ve lost track of where Hadley and Rowan are, but I don't even care at this point. It doesn't matter who I'm dancing with—I am in my own space, enveloped in the rush and the adrenaline of freedom. I lift my arms up and let the new song sweep me away.

New bodies move closer to me and their rhythms start to match mine. New faces. I close my eyes, and disappear. It isn’t until some- one’s elbow collides with my rib that I’m reluctantly shaken from my trance.

When I turn around, I recognize the face of one of the bodies close to me. It would be hard not to. Not only is he famous, he’s freaking hot, and I know millions of girls have swooned over that perfect jawline, those penetrating eyes.

Hell, I have, each and every time I watch one of his videos.

Nick Ryder.

And now the swoon-worthy rock star who used to be part of the

Ryder Brothers, one of the last American boy bands, has turned those eyes on me. He's young, at least a decade younger than me, but he knows this world of cameras and press and schedules made by everyone else.

I recognize his expression. He’s losing himself in someone else’s music, and I feel the same need for this escape as he grinds his hips near mine. I twist again so that my backside is up towards his pelvis and then we’re torquing together.

Our bodies move in sync.

Everything around us disappears, and it's just us, just two people trying to be ourselves for one night of our lives. We twist and we turn around each other, our bodies never touching, but we’re close. Oh, so close. I can feel his heat everywhere around me, everywhere on me. It carries the scent of him, a heady combination of woodsy cologne and the pheromones carried on his sweat that are easily as intoxicating as the tequila shots burning through me.

We move as though choreographed, letting loose. Letting go.

I only measure time passing as one song fades into the next, and then the next. The heels I was cursing at the beginning of the night have become an asset, making sure my ass is exactly at the level of his hips. The skirt I was nervous about gives my legs the freedom to move in and out of his.

Whoever would have thought, as the girls were getting me ready tonight, that they’d gotten me so perfectly ready for this?

It's so utterly euphoric, this experience of a shared need to exorcise ourselves of demons, and it's been so long since I’ve been able to share that need with someone. Maybe I never have. Garner and I didn’t discuss the trappings of fame. Hadley doesn’t have it; Rowan always craves more.

But somehow, wordlessly, Nick Ryder and I are commiserating. The unique loneliness of fame has its own beat, and we’re dancing to it.

I've not been so intimate with a man—with anyone—physically like this, either. It shouldn’t surprise me that the connection starts to feel sexual. And in the silent push and pull of our bodies’ force fields, I can tell he feels it too. We lock eyes, our shared gaze the only still moment in our frenetic dance.

Our mouths are so close.

It would only take one push off the floor with my heels, the incre- mental lowering of his head. It would only take a second to close the distance between us. I close my eyes and I swear I can taste the sweat off the top of his lip, swear I can feel his fingers touching my skin, swear I can feel what it would be like if he were moving inside me. It's orgasmic. Quite unreal.

All of this desire coils in my belly and I can't remember the last time I felt so beautiful. So wanted.

I was named People's Most Beautiful Woman this year, but dancing on the floor with a man I only know by name—a man who’s basically a boy—has made me feel more confident and more alive than anything I can remember in a long time.

Biting my lip, I lower myself, writhing down the length of his body, noting each piece of it as I go. His chest, rock-solid inside a Sex Pistols T-shirt. His stomach, tight as he breathes heavily. Then the front of his jeans, tight enough to make my imagination run wild with thoughts of taking his zipper down with my teeth, right here in the middle of the dance floor. Of taking him in my mouth, showing him how a rock star should be worshipped, giving him the release he’s seeking, while people continue to spin and move all around us.

A bulb flashes near me. Like one from a camera phone, and even though I know it’s impossible and that even if it was, security would delete it—it’s enough. My trance is broken, and I’m me again.

And the part of my brain I’d shut off to dance comes roaring to life, reminding me that what I’m doing is impossible.

There is no release from fame.

There is no escape from image.

And I’ve worked too hard for both of those to let a few tequila shots and a beautiful, bedroom-eyed boy derail them. I work my way back up before I stop dancing, but the passion is gone. He can tell, I see it in the newfound intensity of his eyes on me, but I avoid them.

"I’ve gotta get back to my friends!" I explain loudly, so he can hear it over the roar of the music. So that I feel more like myself again, the nice, polite woman who explains why she is leaving. The nice polite woman who would never, ever fantasize about a public blowjob. Where did that come from, anyway? I tell myself I’m not still turned on by the image as I make a beeline back to our table, grabbing Hadley on the way from the spot where she's dancing with a few strangers.

Rowan spots us and follows suit, gesturing to our server to bring another round of shots.

We make it to our table and sit down.

"What the fuck was that?" Rowan says.

I'm slick with sweat, my heart racing from the thirty to forty- minute workout. And maybe just a little bit, from the memory of those jeans rubbing against my inner thighs as I rolled my body .

I play innocent, hoping she won’t pursue it. I’m not ready to talk about what just happened. "What was what?" I say, pushing my hair back behind my ear.

"Oh, you're going to play it that way, are you?" Hadley says as the shots arrive.

"She's talking about the way you were grinding with Nick Ryder. She's talking about how you were practically fucking on the dance floor. It was hot!" Rowan isn’t even trying to hide her eagerness to hear all about it.

I shake it off, shake off the uncomfortable similarity of her words to my dirty little fantasy. "It was just dancing. Having fun. That's what we’re here for, right?"

"Natalia, my love. This is a perfect opportunity for you," Hadley says, drawing circles around her shot glass with perfect French tips. “You need a good, torrid evening of no-strings sex. He’s hot. He’s single. He’s clearly interested. Grab him, grab an Uber, and go complete the breakup cycle!”

I shook my head. "We were dancing. That’s all. I am not going to have sex with Nick Ryder. Because we were only dancing. And not even thinking about having sex." That isn’t quite the truth. Of course I was thinking about sex with him, but not about actually doing it. It was just there in the back of my mind, a bassline that wove in and out of our rhythm. Not an option. That would be inappropriate.

"Why on earth would you not hit that?" Rowan says, looking back to the dance floor, then back to me. Her face is screwed up in legiti- mate confusion, as though what I’m saying is in a foreign language. It makes me laugh.

I chance a glance back at Nick, who is still dancing, though not the way he was with me. When his head starts to turn in our direction, I quickly turn back to my friends. I can’t be encouraging this. "Do I really have to explain?"

It should be obvious to them why I won’t take him home for a one- night stand. I’m not that kind of girl, and even if I was, this is not the time to open myself to another round of press takedowns and social media trolling. Even if those two things weren’t issues, that decade between us is obscene.

What I would never admit is that the way his body moved made me think wicked, dirty thoughts, and that they scared me. They made me wonder if there was another Natalia locked deep inside, a girl who wasn’t inhibited by other people’s thoughts and opinions. A girl who did what she wanted, screw everyone else.

"Anyway," I shake off those thoughts, pick up my shot glass and raise it up in the air, "I'm here with my girls. I am not here for guys. I'm here to not be with guys, specifically. Let's drink."

I grab my lime, ready to throw the shot back, but Hadley interrupts. "I'm just saying, if you have the chance . . . I think you should do it."

I look to Rowan to see what her thoughts are on the matter. She grins, as naughty as the part of me I’m pretending doesn’t exist. "You already know what I think."

I know exactly what she thinks, and the more I try to deny it, the more I’m going to want it, inappropriate or not.

Chapter Two

OFF LIMITS
Nick

"Want some?" My brother, Jake, pushes his bourbon across the table toward me as I slide down in my seat at the table where he’s been holding court all night.

I shake my head, grab for his water instead and gulp down half the glass in one swallow. I worked up a sweat on the floor, and I’ve learned after years of playing stages that alcohol only makes the dehydration worse. Besides, I’m not sure I need anything more intoxicating than the last dance I shared on the floor.

I stretch my arms up, releasing some tension, then down over the seat back. I shouldn’t, but I can’t resist using the opportunity to steal a glance over in the direction of the woman I'd shared it with. She was utterly captivating. On-screen, she’s pretty. But in person? I was unable to keep my eyes off of her while we danced. No one could, although she seemed oblivious to the pull she exuded on everyone around her.

Even after she’d startled and walked away from me, even as I’d continued to let loose on the floor, my focus was on her, tracking her movements out of the corner of my eye as she sat with some friends, did a shot, laughed and tried not to look back at me.

"Was that Natalia Lowen?" Jake asks, following my gaze.

I nod, still too breathless to have a meaningful conversation. Too breathless from working so hard, all the cardio, but also just from staring at the actress across the bar. I’ve met a million beautiful women in my life. Nonstop touring and fame do have their upsides, after all. But I can’t remember being quite so aware of someone else’s presence before—knowledge of where they are and what they’re doing even with eyes closed tight.

Maybe I’ve just met my perfect dance partner. Anticipating each other’s movements the way she and I did usually takes thousands of hours of practice. I’d know—my old band was pure pop, with new choreography for every song, every tour. I’m no stranger to a dance studio, but even with professionals, it’s rare to sync so effortlessly .

And even though I far prefer my music now, having my own band and more control over my sound and my image, I fucking miss dancing.

"I thought it was her,” Jake says, studying her shamelessly even as I look away. “She looks different as a blonde. Wasn't she a brunette before? I haven’t seen her in anything in awhile."

"Blonde’s her natural color, though." Not that I know that for a fact. Although the thought of finding out sounds delicious. But with her creamy skin and pale brows, I’m already pretty sure. "I think it looks better blonde."

Me, I have seen most of her movies. Most men in America prob- ably have an image of her in their spank bank from one film or another. There was that swimsuit scene on the beach in What People Say. The plunging neckline in Spy Club’s famous fight scene that rumor has it shows a nipple if you pause it just right. (It doesn’t. I’ve tried.) And my personal favorite, Natalia in oversized glasses and a skirt as small as the one she’s wearing tonight as the librarian in R eading Into It.

But the blonde? Man, it takes those bombshell looks to a whole new level, making her eyes pop and her long, loose hair sparkle under the lights like a halo.

"You two about set this club on fire with those sparks out there. You gonna take her back to your place and show her all your other moves?" He flicks his tongue out, as if I didn’t know what moves he was referring to.

I glare at Jake, and this time when I reach across the table, I do snag his bourbon. I throw back a swallow and cringe at the flavor, the burn. I’ve never had a taste for the stuff. I've always been more of a wine guy. Something about the time and expertise that goes into growing the perfect grape before transforming it into the magic of a good vintage appeals to my sensibilities. Call me a true romantic.

Jake prefers to call me a control freak. But that’s because he's a dick.

Like right now, he's making fun of me because normally I would take home the first girl that I spend more than fifteen minutes with on the dance floor. It's kind of my style. I don’t love being out and about in crowds, these clubs never have a decent wine list, and a hook-up’s always easy to find. Jake always gives me shit for it. Personally, I think he's jealous.

I’ve always known just what to say to a girl to get her panties off, but not him.

To be fair, I'm jealous of him too, in other ways. Somehow he made the transition from boy band to hit solo rock star with ease. No one even blinked. There wasn't any to-do or hoopla about his stylistic changes. He was just suddenly an adult, putting out adult records, and his fans acted like adults, behaving with manners and filling into his concert spaces in an orderly fashion.

Me, on the other hand, I’m forever fighting my past. The groupies who show up at my stage door are just as young as they were when we were part of the Ryder Brothers, when we were more likely to play a Kid’s Choice award show than an MTV event. When our manager had made the cringeworthy decision to have our faces printed on bedsheets and pillows. When we just did whatever he told us to, and almost lost who we were before we’d signed the deal that made us stars.

The benefit is I still sell records like crazy, I still hit the top of the charts, but my label buries my best songs behind poppier hits. I never get to make videos to illustrate the lyrics I’m proudest of. And most of all, I never have any privacy like Jake does.

Neither of us have privacy like Jonas does, of course, but that's another story, since Jonas has retired from the limelight altogether. From music altogether. I hate even thinking about it.

For a few, perfect songs on the dance floor, I could forget about all of that with someone who so clearly understands what it’s like to sacrifice your entire life for your art.

So yes, I would take the girl home. And I want to take the girl home. Because she’s smoking hot. Because she understands. Because she is Natalia fucking Lowen.

But I won't. Because she is Natalia Lowen.

I have too much respect for the woman, and she's not someone I could just fuck and forget. She’s the kind of woman you write songs about. Besides, there'd be too many opportunities for us to bump into each other after, awkward as that would be. I make it a habit not to run into my one-night stands in my professional life.

On top of all of that, the LA gossip mill’s top story just last month was about her big breakup with Garner Lee. That, more than my conflicted feelings about casual sex with the reputed nicest woman in Hollywood, is what Jake’ll understand, so it’s what I tell him.

"So it's probably not exactly the time to try to bang her," I conclude.

"Actually, it's exactly the right time to try to bang her," Jake says with that mischievous glint in his eyes as he grins at me. "But, what- ever, man. I don't mind not getting all the scandalous details. We can just sit here and stare at each other. Unless you want to go find someone nameless to take home?"

I don’t. But he doesn’t need to know that.

"Yeah, it’s a real drag to spend time with your favorite brother, isn’t it? Especially when the bourbon’s comped. I’m hitting the john. Be back." I jump up from the table and make my way to the restroom in the VIP section. What I don’t mention, and he doesn’t seem to have noticed, is that I just saw Natalia head this way.

Even though I have decided that it's not cool to try to defile Amer- ica's Sweetheart—just the thought of defiling America's Sweetheart gives me a semi-—I still can't help wanting to see her again. Wanting to talk to her. Maybe this is the beginning of a song, after all. That connection we had on the floor has intrigued me, and I'm suddenly drawn to her like a performer to the spotlight.

Although she’s shining brighter than any stage light I’ve performed under.

She’s just going into the women's restroom when I walk into the darkened hall that houses the bathrooms. I take advantage of the moment to slip into the men’s and splash some water on my face, make sure my hair’s not sticking up weirdly or anything. “Be cool,” I tell my reflection, then head back out to the hallway and lean as casually as I can against the wall.

I only have to wait another minute before she pushes back through the door, and then we're alone in the hallway.

"Hey," she says when she sees me, her eyes lighting up.

I forget all about playing it cool at the sight of her long legs and that tight black miniskirt. I’m hard already, and there’s no way I’m going to just talk to her. Maybe I’m not taking her home, but I have to touch her again.

"Hey," I say, casually, as if I didn't just follow her back here. She makes no move to leave, but I fear she will if I don’t stop staring and start talking. "You done for the night?"

"Dancing? Yeah, I am. My feet couldn't take any more in these heels." Though it's disappointing that she won't be out there moving her body against me to the next beat the DJ turns on, I’m also relieved that I won’t have to share her with anyone else on the floor. When we dance so perfectly together, it would be an insult to see someone else try and take my place.

And even without the movement and proximity of dancing, I’m still just as hyper-aware of every small motion she makes, of the space between us, of how close we really are.

That awareness has me noticing that she's just as aware of me—her eyes focus on each of mine in turn before flitting down to my mouth and back up again. Her hands clench and unclench as though she doesn’t trust them not to reach for me. Each breath heaves just slightly in her chest, as though she’s unable to take a deep one, as though her pulse has sped up at the sight of me.

I don't know what it means, but I’d be an idiot if I took this moment to just start a conversation about dance partners.

I’ve fantasized about fucking Natalia Lowen so many times, but now that I see how her eyes dilate when she glances at my lips, and I can smell the soft floral perfume that she wears, all my imaginings already pale in comparison. This sensory overload is nothing I’d ever factored in alone in the shower. I find myself taking a step toward her, knowing she'll take a step back, pushing her farther into the dark corner of this hallway .

"You looked good out there," I tell her. I take another step, watch her as she takes another one backward.

My eyes brush up her body from those designer heels that show off her smooth, muscular calves, up the curve of her toned thighs to the tease of skin visible beneath her cropped shirt. The v of her neckline shows off the swell of breasts that still have a sheen of sweat on them, and when my eyes reach her face, she's flushed, but smiling, and I can tell she likes it. Likes me looking, likes me w anting.

I like everything I see.

I take another step, and this time she doesn't move. She holds her ground and allows me to move close enough that I can lower my voice when I tell her, "You felt good out there, too."

Her whole neck reddens, clear down her chest, and I wonder how far down that heat spreads. To the nipples I can see outlined beneath her shirt? To the toned stomach it barely covers? Farther?

"I, um . . . yeah?" she stutters, her eyelashes fluttering.

"Your energy, the way you move," I smile because I know I'm making her flustered. It feels good to be in total control, something Jake never understood. It feels good to have power over someone else’s unconscious reactions. And watching them is so delicious that my cock is throbbing.

"It felt so good to dance with you." My tone, the next step I take, leave no doubt that I’m talking about my dick. She doesn’t move away, if anything, she arches towards me a little. I'm staring at her lips coated in pink gloss that I'm sure she reapplied while she was in the bathroom because it looks fresh, and I just want to lick it off with my tongue before moving my way down her body.

I’m not asking her to leave with me. It’s off-limits, and I know that.

I know it, because of all the reasons I said before, because I respect her. Because I'd have to see her again. Because I don’t want to be an embarrassing reminder of that night she did something out of character. Because songs are more powerful when they’re about what didn’t happen.

But then she steps forward and twines her hands in the material of my T-shirt and pulls me toward her, and in the half second before our mouths crash together, I think fuck it. Just one taste.

Just one taste can’t hurt.

She tastes like cinnamon, lip gloss, tequila with no chaser.

Her lips feel soft and firm all at once, and they react as perfectly to mine as the rest of her body did on the dance floor.

How does she do that?

I want to ask, want to discuss this weird synchronicity with her, but all I can think about right now is her mouth. One of my hands threads through the hair at her nape to hold her head in place, so I can discover everything there is to know about her lips, about her teeth. About how it feels when I suck her top lip, how she reacts when I slide my tongue between. When I push it in farther between her softly parting lips to find hers, she gasps and makes a little throaty sound.

Turns out we can have a very interesting conversation without saying a damn thing.

I can’t figure out what to do with my other hand to keep myself from using it to explore. I’ve never wanted to feel what was under a girl’s skirt so badly in my life, but I also want to be here in this moment. This isn’t a time to move fast, to rush things like I normally do.

I want to be present, not just rush headlong towards the escape I find between a woman’s thighs. The problem, of course, is that pres- ently I can’t forget that I’m making out with Natalia fucking Lowen, and it’s putting a serious damper on my ability to hold back.

So I put my hand across her throat, lightly, just so I have a place to put it. With my palm flat against the tender skin, I can feel her heart- beat underneath my fingers, feel how it speeds up and races as our kissing grows more intense.

It's her fault, I swear, when our hands start roaming. I was control- ling myself, however tenuously .

Now her fingers are tangled in my hair, and her chest keeps pressing into mine, her back arching, and I can feel the tight buds of her nipples against my torso, even through the material of my T-shirt. I want to feel them, even though I'm so mesmerized by her lips, by her mouth. God, I could write a whole song about her mouth. I could have the whole thing composed tonight if I just stayed here kissing, nothing but kissing her.

But those breasts, arching into me . . .

Before I know it, I'm using my hand at her neck to push her back- wards until she meets the wall. And then when she does, it's like a trig- ger, like a gate opening, it's like she’s finally unleashed and her hands are available to wander everywhere. She brings them down my torso, her palms flat against my chest, painting long sweeps up and down the front of my pecs. Even with clothes on, it's obscenely erotic.

Now I can't resist touching her back. With one hand still flat at the spot where her collarbone meets the base of her throat, I move the other to her hip, then shift it up until it hits the silky skin of her midriff. The shock of electricity shoots straight to my groin as I come in contact with the pure heat of her skin. She is burning up hot. She's on fire, and I want to add to it, want to spark her further, want to turn her into a blazing inferno with my own desire.

With her back anchored against the wall, she pushes her hips against me, and my dick aligns with her perfectly. She gasps when she feels my hard length at her center. In those heels, she’s exactly where I want her to be. She must be tall without them already, because I’m six feet. I bet she was taller than her ex. Garner Lee might be one of the most sought-after stars in Hollywood, but I’d tower over him.

Thinking about her with another man makes my dick even harder, makes me wonder even more—what would Natalia Lowen be like in bed? How hot would this look without clothing between us? I push harder against her with my pelvis, grinding my dick into her, trying to relieve an ache that goes deeper than physical.

My hand slides up farther to cup her breast, and I'm rewarded with a moan that I swallow with my kiss. Her breast fits perfectly in the palm of my hand, and my suspicion that she wasn't wearing a bra is confirmed. It’s a perfect tear-drop shape, and exactly the right size to fill my hand, and now I can't stop thinking about how her nipple would react between my teeth if I were tugging and pulling at it with my mouth instead of my thumb and forefinger.

The material of her shirt is so flimsy, and yet it’s a suit of armor between me and what I want.

I’m craving the sight of her naked beneath me, letting me explore all of her the way that I'm exploring the recesses of her mouth. I want to know how she likes to be touched, if she’s shy or wanton when she’s exposed to me, how it looks when she forgets to be in control and surrenders to the pleasure I could give her.

More than anything I just don’t want this to end. I want to keep kissing her, touching her, rubbing against her.

I feel like I'm thirteen again, losing my virginity, learning what it feels like to touch a woman in all the right places. Learning how different her body feels, soft where mine is hard, so responsive to me. No, I never want this to end. I want to forget the real world exists with its paparazzi and managers, and live in this fantasy where all that matters is the next spot my mouth lands.

Her fingers rake down my chest, long nails scratching the skin underneath my shirt. It sends shivers down my spine and through my cock. Makes my balls feel like they’re about ready to fall off. I grind into her and she moans again as her hips meet mine. Soon we’re dry humping in the back of this hallway, grinding and thrusting, kissing and touching.

My balls start to pull up. I feel on the verge of orgasm, just from this. Just from feeling this girl up—over her clothes, even.

She's a goddess. She's an angel. She's liquid inspiration, and I want to drink every last drop of her.

I'm so enraptured with her, so into her orbit, that I don't notice the drunk girl who’s stumbling down the hall until she's bumped into us.

"Oops . . ." she says, her voice slurred.

Immediately Natalia and I break apart. As though we'd been caught skipping class by the principal.

"You aren’t a bathroom!" the bleary-eyed inebriated woman accuses us, then turns herself around and heads back in the right direction.

I look back at Natalia. Her lips are bee stung and swollen, her face red from my five o'clock shadow. It’s so hot to see the marks I’ve left on her pristine face with my passion. It’s my fantasy come to life.

But we do live in the real world. With all that entails. And for me, making out with America’s Sweetheart is a dream. For her, it’s a diver- sion. And even though I know it’s impossible, a little voice inside me wonders if just one encounter could inspire a song, what could one night bring?

And this is my chance to find out.

I open my mouth to break the rules, to invite her home, anywhere at all as long as it’s private.

But before I can say anything, she shakes her head as if coming out of a daze, and speaks first. "I have to go," she says. Then she's brushing past me and heading down the hall away from me.

"Natalia," I call after her, but she either doesn't hear or she ignores me.

And since I was thirteen years old, since I've been sexually active and famous, I have not once chased after a girl, and I don't now, either.

But it's the first time I wish that maybe I would.

ADD TO GOODREADS

CLOSE