I thought she’d be less dangerous in the sunlight.
I was wrong.
She walked into the lobby of the apartment building in Sutton Place, dressed in a red flowy thing that stopped mid-calf a stylish coat that hit mid-thigh. Her tawny brown hair was loose around her shoulders. But the piece de resistance was the high-heeled black boots that disappeared under her hem. After fantasizing about her the night before, it was impossible not to imagine those shoes wrapped around my waist--wrapped around my face--her body naked and trembling. She was sex on heels, and I was a goner.
But lust wasn’t the only reason I found myself fascinated with her. She and I had shared an evening together, shared the same space, shared the same air, and yet the life that oxygen breathed into her was much different than the life breathed into mine. She inflated into someone animated and vivacious while I was left hollow and shriveled and wrinkled - metaphorically if not exactly literally. It intrigued me. It was like the old adage about onlookers unable to look away from a train wreck, only I was the train wreck, and I couldn’t stop looking when something so unblemished and uncorrupted walked past.
I’d been like her once, hardened by the lessons of reality over the years. While I felt surely she’d have her own dose of truth in time, the thought made me grim. Couldn’t she be spared from the spoils of heartache? If I were a praying man, or even a man who wished for impossible things, I may have spent a great deal of time asking for just that. For Audrey Lind to leave this world as is, unscathed. Unbitter.
“It’s a fantastic part of the city!” Audrey exclaimed, skipping a greeting while I remained transfixed on the bubblegum pink of her lips. “I’ve never been to the Upper East Side. It has so much more charm than I’d expected.”
“Yes, well, I wanted to be within walking distance of both Aaron’s home and school.” I hadn’t thought particularly much about the borough except that it suited Ellen - snooty and elitist. I’d focused so much on that angle that I’d forgotten there were charms to the city that were untainted by my ex.
Audrey began an earnest inspection of the building, circling around me to take everything in. “First impressions are good. The lobby is clean, well-furnished. Both a doorman and a security desk - that’s a nice touch.” She frowned suddenly. “It’s strange that they have a reprint of a John Constable piece as the major focal point.”
I tilted my head at the hanging art. I hadn’t noticed the familiar piece before she pointed it out, and I wouldn’t have remembered the artist’s name without her mention of it. The original was hanging in the National Gallery, if I remembered correctly. It depicted a man with his hay cart and horses in the River between Essex and Suffolk counties. There was a peace and beauty in the image that I couldn’t put to words.
“You don’t like it?” I was surprised at her indignation at such an unsuspecting painting.
She turned her frown on me. “John Constable? I love his work. He’s quite a snob about your homeland, but he showed that landscape images are not just beautiful but also powerful. I’m just curious why a luxury building would choose a cheap recreation of a famous art piece - albeit in a rather hefty frame - rather than purchasing something unique and original by a local artist. It would definitely class up the place, and it seems that is what they’re going for. Maybe I should give the suggestion to the doorman.” She’d already taken two steps toward the door before she finished talking.
Who did that? Who had thoughts on everything - lovely thoughts and bold thoughts, on art and luxury apartment buildings - and then proceeded to share them with no inhibitions?
Who was this woman?
And what was she doing in my life?
“Audrey, why are you here?”
My question halted her task. She spun around in my direction. “Hmm?”
“Why are you here?” A simple but pressing question.
Slowly, with a subtle grin, she strode toward me, her heels clicking on the marble floor. “You invited me. Don’t you remember?”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not how that went.” My eyes searched aimlessly over my shoes as I attempted to recall how we ended up there together. It all happened so quickly, my hands responding to her texts without giving my brain a chance to weigh in. “No, you lured me.”
“I lured you? How is that possible when I’m the one who has joined you on your day’s plans? It seems, Dylan Locke, that you may have lured me.”
Her expression was so convincing, I momentarily doubted myself. “No, no. I most definitely didn’t lure you. You lured me with your talk of fate and finding out what it had to do with us.”
“Kismet,” she corrected.
“Yes, that’s right. Kismet. You dangled the word out in front of me the way a fisherman dangles a--”
“Hook?” she guessed.
I narrowed my eyes. “Lure.”
Her smile widened. “That’s amazing that a simple text message could hold that much power over you. Why do you think that is, do you suppose?”
And that was the real question, more important than why she was here. The question I’d hoped she’d be able to answer because I was at a loss.
A question that wasn’t getting answered now either because the realtor I had an appointment with was currently walking toward me with his hand stretched out.
“Mr. Locke? Jeff Jones, nice to meet you.” He finished his handshake with one hand and immediately his other passed over a business card, which I immediately pocketed without looking at. I knew everything I needed to about the man from our encounter thus far. He was a salesman, a charmer. Trendy with his trimmed beard and fitted suit. Good looking, perhaps, but if I’d had my guess, he’d had work done. His jaw was too square. His nose too straight.
All that mattered was that he had the ability to put in a competitive offer, and the ambitious air surrounding him suggested he could.
“Sorry I’m running a tad bit late,” he went on, talking in that fast New York style I still hadn’t become accustomed too. “I had a closing this morning that ran long. There are no showings on the books today for this unit, though, so we’ll have plenty of time to spend in the apartment.”
His focus turned to Audrey then, and his voice suddenly shifted in tone. “Well, hello there….?”
“Audrey,” she said, offering her hand in greeting.
“It’s a pleasure, Audrey.” The smarmy way Jeff Jones held Audrey’s hand, said her name, and stared too long made me want to sock him in his too perfect nose. He was too old to be flirting with her. Jeff Jones had to be at least…
At least my age.
That realization was a punch, all right. In my gut.
And that was just a warm-up to the next blow. “Mr. Locke, I didn’t know you’d be bringing your daughter. Glad to have you both here. ”
I felt my jaw drop and then lock up, frozen in horror.
At the same time, my cock stirred.
Audrey, fortunately, remained composed. Draping her arm over my shoulder, her eyes twinkled mischievously. “He wanted my opinion, didn’t you Daddy? We’re very close.”
Very funny, my scowl said. I considered correcting her until it dawned on me the situation looked better this way. As long as no one noticed the bulging of my pants every time she addressed me with the parental term, anyway.
Shopping for an apartment with a girl half my age...what was I thinking?
Perhaps she wasn’t as young as I gave her credit for.
The realtor excused himself to grab the key from the lockbox at the security counter. As soon as he was out of earshot, I asked quietly, “How young are you exactly?”
Audrey batted her lashes in my direction. “Are you asking how old I am? I’m twenty-three.”
I nearly choked.
Nineteen years between us.
I’d lost my virginity later than I’d wanted, at the age of seventeen. If I’d knocked that woman up, our child would still be older than Audrey Lind.
It was mortifying.
The realization didn’t make me want to kiss her any less. It just gave me a sufficient amount of guilt about the desire to make kissing her again seem totally worth it.
I was still stewing about the years between us when Jeff returned and led us into the elevator. He pushed the button for the thirty-second floor, chattering on about the building amenities and the maintenance upkeep.
I was barely listening.
“Are you okay?” Audrey whispered.
“Just thinking about how old I feel next to you.” That wasn’t exactly true. I was lamenting the difference in our ages, but she didn’t make me feel old. She made me feel quite young. Younger than I deserved to feel. Her youth was contagious.
“Do you want to know how I feel next to you?” She linked her arm around mine. “Bold.”
Bold. Jesus. I felt like I needed to loosen my tie, except I wasn’t wearing one.
The elevator opened on our floor, and Jeff Jones started out the door and down the hall, not paying much attention to us as we followed. Thank god. Since I still had Audrey’s hand on my bicep. Her palm felt warm even through my sweater and the button-up underneath. Like a hot iron. Like a brand from the devil reminding me she might look like an angel but she’d been sent from hell.
Gently, I shrugged her off and doubled my steps to catch up with our realtor.
My realtor. There was no our here.
Jeff continued promoting the apartment’s highlights as he unlocked the door and stood aside for us to enter. Instantly, I was pleased - both with the condition of the unit and the opportunity to concentrate on something other than the young woman attempting to rock my world. I was familiar with the layout of the two-bedrooms in this particular building. An acquaintance from my New York days had lived here, and, wanting to purchase the same for myself, I’d diligently watched the realty notices from London until something came up. It was small in comparison to my flat in England, but exactly what I had in mind. Clean, simple. Well laid out. On property, there was a gym, a pool, billiards tables, a large courtyard. A gem in the city and for a decent price.
I opened the foyer closet and found it empty, save for a few stray hangers. Before I could close it again, Audrey was there, peering inside.
“Nice, sturdy bar,” she said, tugging on the garment rod. She unbuttoned her coat and peeled it off.
Jeff Jones, gentleman that he was, immediately appeared at her side to hang it up.
I stood dumbstruck, seeing for the first time the entirety of Audrey’s outfit. She was wearing a wrap dress. A sexy, fitted thing with only a tie separating her underclothing from the eyes of the world. Kill me now.
I had to turn away.
Pretending she wasn’t there, I made my way through the rest of the apartment ahead of her, checking out the bathroom and the second bedroom before making my way to the main living space. The space was staged and styled with traditional furniture in fashionable colors, a look that I made a note to mimic after I purchased, with one addition - curtains. It was a corner unit, and the large windows surrounding the room delivered views of both the river and the city. Stunning as they were, the lack of window coverings meant no privacy. People in the building across the street could look right in if they had a mind to.
“Incredible!” Audrey gasped from behind me. She ran giddily to look outside, stopping several feet short of the actual windows.
“You don’t feel the true impact without getting close up.” I’d apparently forgotten my determination to pretend she wasn’t there.
“That’s okay. I’m good right here. I’m afraid of heights.” She glanced quickly to Jeff Jones who’d entered the room with her. “You know that, Daddy,” she added, remembering her ruse.
I hadn’t thought she could be afraid of anything, daring and impetuous that she was. This new insight added to the enigma of Audrey Lind. Part wildling, part devil, part innocent, all contradiction.
“I thought you’d grown out of it,” I muttered. Whatever was I doing, playing along?
And she was invading my space again, standing too close, smelling too good. Making my sweater feel too hot and my throat feel too tight.
I had to hurry this tour up.
Sticking my hands in my trouser pockets, I turned to the realtor. “The website said this unit is up for lease as well as for sale. Rentals are allowed in the HOA amendments, then?”
Jones perked at the potential sale. “Yes. Is that of interest to you?”
“I’m not planning to be here year round, so yes. I may consider leasing it out.” Frankly, I was just as happy to leave it empty, a safe space for Aaron to hideout as he got older. Ellen would surely disapprove, which was half the appeal. “There’s no one living here now?”
“Not at this moment. But!” He was winding up for his big pitch. I could feel it. “This unit has had several showings just in the last few days.”
Not likely with the weather and the approaching holiday.
“If it gets rented out before an offer comes in, the lease will have to be dealt with in negotiations. It’s another reason to act fast if you’re serious about buying.”
I’d have an offer in before the day was over, though I wasn’t ready to admit it. But, even if I paid cash and rushed a closing, I wouldn’t be in the unit before I left New York this time at the end of the week.
The idea of being in there sooner, to have the breathing room and get away from the stuffiness of the hotel, suddenly appealed to me. “I could, you’re telling me, put in an offer and also apply for a lease at the same time.”
“That’s correct. If you want to try it out and see how it works before you decide to purchase, or if you want to move in right away, that’s exactly what I’d recommend. You could be in here as soon as tomorrow, in fact.”
Audrey edged up beside me, the heat of her a pleasant nuisance.
I felt my muscles tighten as I fought to remain focused. “It comes furnished?”
“I’d like to fill out a rental application.” It was still early in the day. I’d push to be in by that evening.
“Sure, sure! I didn’t realize you’d be interested in renting as well, so I didn’t bring the application, but we can get that all settled if you just come with me to the leasing office. It’s only a few blocks away. No more than a fifteen minute walk. Or if you’d rather grab a cab, it’ll take just about as long.”
I wouldn’t rather grab a cab. And I wasn’t interested in walking fifteen minutes in the snow and slush. I was irritated at the man’s lack of foresight. Wasn’t there an application at the desk along with the lockbox? What a professional faux pas.
The realtor didn’t seem to register my annoyance.
Audrey, on the other hand, read me completely.
“Mr. Jones,” she said, her tone pure honey. “Jeff.” She left my side to cozy up against the salesman, immediately triggering a rush of envy through my veins. I might have stopped her, even, if I weren’t so curious about her motives.
“It’s so cold outside today,” she went on, swirling the tip of her finger in a giant O on the shoulder of Jones’ suit jacket. “I’ve just started getting warm. You wouldn’t mind terribly going and getting the application and bringing it back for us, would you? I know Daddy would love to have the extra time looking around the place.”
Her coy manipulation, the sweet pout of her mouth, the damn use of the word daddy - I wouldn’t be able to walk to the elevator at this point, let alone to an office three blocks away.
I was a sick fuck. There was no doubt about it.
Jones hemmed and hawed. “Oh. I don’t know about that. I’m really not supposed to leave you alone here.”
He hadn’t moved away from the girl, though. His dilated eyes and flushed face said he was under her spell and loving it. In front of her father, no less!
Fake father. But he didn’t know that.
“Oh, but, Jeff!” Audrey batted her eyelashes. “He’s going to buy it! Or, he will if he has the proper time to decide. There’s a pretty significant commission on this unit, isn’t there? I’d hate for you to lose out simply because of a silly, little rule.”
She was good. So very good.
“Your daughter is sure convincing.” Jones smiled nervously in my direction, appearing to be equally taken with her abilities. “Okay. All right. I’m sure it will be fine. I’ll be back in about thirty minutes then?” He was headed to the exit, as though determined to be back as soon as possible.
At the foyer, he paused to look from me to Audrey with an anxious plea in his eyes. “Please don’t do, well, don’t...hurt...anything.” I heard him muttering on to himself as the door shut behind him. Something that sounded a lot like I better not regret this.
Which left me with my own regrets, namely the seductress in my midst.
“That was quite impressive,” I said, not quite sure if I should have gone with the man rather than be left alone with her. Alone. So near a bed. And other furniture that could be used for fornication.
She winked. “I have my talents.”
Yes, she did. I was learning how skilled she was at wrapping men twice her age around her little pinkie. And now I was quite sure I should have left when I’d had the chance.
Still, she had me on that string, towing me toward her when I should be swimming away. Could I even swim away at this point? Understanding how my fate was tied up in her - never mind that it was because she masterminded the whole thing - I considered giving in to the pull.
I circled her, studying every delicious curve. “The thing I don’t understand as of yet is why it was so important to you that he let us stay here?”
I stopped when I was facing her again so I had the full vantage point when she undid the tie at the side of her dress, shrugged it off her shoulders, and let it drop to the floor.
Audrey Lind in nothing but her high-heeled boots and the naughtiest pair of matching panties and bra I’d ever seen on a woman.
Goddamn, this apartment really needed curtains.
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Sweet Liar will be published in full in ebook, paperback and audio in March of 2019. It will end without a cliffhanger, but there WILL be a part two, Sweet Fate, released in April of 2019 for those who want to continue with the story.