Gabriel needed air. Placing the bottle on the floor, he slid the door open. “Come walk with me,” he said, stepping out and hoping she would.
Annie bounced forward and fell in beside him. They kept a steady pace and moved through the grass and weeds. The breeze this morning was soft, the sky a bright blue, and the sun shone down and warmed the top of her head. This would be pleasant even without him strolling beside her. Then he speeded up and took long-legged strides, his big hands tucked into his front pockets, the stretch pulling the denim tight over his masculine contours. He winced when the bandage tore away from his knuckles a bit. His dark brown hair lifted and fluttered, messily blowing into his eyes and over the collar of his short-sleeved shirt. Everything about him was a temptation, and she had no idea how she was going to end this accelerating wealth of heart-stopping attraction. “Do you like it here?”
Gabriel looked around, admiring the expansive scene. “I do. Very much.”
“Me, too. I feel welcome here.” Her heart skipped when he took her hand in his uninjured one and entwined their fingers. His hand was warm and had a gentle strength about it, and she squeezed, but he wouldn’t look at her. “What’s it like being one of the biggest celebrities in France?”
Gabriel answered without thinking. “Lonely.”
Annie softened. What an odd word to choose for the first one. “Is it fun?”
He watched his feet. She was going to do it. She was going to open him up and discover every answer she was looking for. “Usually.”
“Always. I don’t want a job that teaches me nothing.”
Illuminating, she thought. “So the easy choices don’t interest you.”
“Not at all. Even when I was young, I had an old man’s pride to balance a young man’s romantic spirit, and the belief I was given a gift that shouldn’t be squandered.”
“How old were you when you started working?”
“So young. Did your parents force you?”
“No, it was me who forced them. From the time I was born, I’ve been denied nothing I’ve ever wanted—and I wanted to perform.”
Annie shivered at the thought of such privilege. She studied his refined profile. In this revealing light, he looked younger than his thirty-odd years, and a speck of that little boy was still there behind the faint lines around his eyes. She wondered something. “Did you go to a regular school?”
“Non, private tutors always. Teachers whose only job was to educate me in my lessons.” He smiled down at her. She looked refreshing today. Her petite figure was beautiful in a rosy cropped top that did nothing to hide her voluptuous curves, and the sight of that bare expanse of tummy made his balls tighten and his cock stir. He definitely was no longer impotent. “I did not miss anything, chaton, except perhaps having a teacher who looked like you.” And then she blushed. He couldn’t remember the last woman he’d been with who was actually able to blush. “You are like a rare, innocent flower.”
“And you’re nothing but a sweet talker,” she teased as she brushed up against him and their arms rubbed together. His skin was hot and soft, the hair there, silky and ticklish. On the outside, he seemed ideal. What was going on inside? “I want you to tell me what’s wrong.” They were getting closer to the trees. Out here, they were in the open. The forest would close them in. Maybe its cover would allow him to share his secrets, so she steered them that way. “Don’t worry about how it looks or how it might sound.”
Gabriel watched a flock of birds fly overhead. This place really was soothing. So was the woman holding his hand. “How I look to the outside world, and how I sound, is all I always think about,” he admitted as she led him into the shade of the woods. Here it was nicer. Intimate and protected. The air was cooler, and everything smelled vibrant and fertile. He stopped them and studied her. She was unlike any woman he knew. “I’m different with you.”
Annie withdrew her hand. “What do you mean?” she asked, feeling a sexual buzz heat up her back. When he aimed his charm and his energy at her, she found it hard to breathe.
“I’m…normal.” A leaf fell from a tree and landed on the slope of her breast. Good choice. That’s where he’d like to be. “I’m not my image or my reputation. I’m how I feel myself to be inside.” He couldn’t stop looking at that leaf. It fluttered with the rise and fall of her lungs, still clinging and unwilling to let go. “I’m accustomed to working with others in my acting, but with music, it’s always been only me. And I suppose I’m good enough, or Teddy wouldn’t have chosen me, but those guys back there are really good. I’m adjusting, Annie. This is entirely new to me, and I still haven’t found the—is the American word ‘pocket’? You know, that place where I fit in.”
She smiled. “I think you mean ‘niche.’ ”
Stepping forward, he smiled, too. “Yes, oui. My niche.” He moved closer, then closer—backing her up until she was against the tree trunk. He leaned a hand against the rough bark, right next to her head, and his whole system stuttered at the sight of her delicate, tempting body. He wanted to taste it. Assault it. Pleasure it. He wet his lips, then whispered her name, but she stuck to the business at hand.
“You know how it is when you sing?” she asked him, trying to maintain some semblance of control. “It’s physical, but you use your other senses, too?”
“Yes. I feel the music and the words before I let them out.”
“Precisely,” she said as he brought his hand down. “Do…that.” He was gently cupping her breast. “Trust…your feelings.” His bold move seared her body with need. “Oh, Gabriel…” Her eyes slid closed, and she saw sparkles of light: exploding stars. “What…what are you doing?”
Gabriel’s voice was gruff. “I’ve been watching this leaf that fell on you and waiting for it to fall the rest of the way, but it likes you too much to leave.” He flicked his thumb over her, and the leaf floated away in the air. “There. It’s free.” But he was captive, and he knew: Annie was a battle he was losing. “I am going to have to talk to Teddy,” he murmured, following the slide of his two fingers up and down her bare arm now. “My craving for you is only growing, and I cannot stay away. It feels like you are mine already—and I have a confession to make. I’m jealous of your relationship with the other men.” With slow deliberation, he brushed his palm ever-so-softly over her taut nipple as he lifted his long thick lashes. “If you want orgasms”—he boldly cupped her again—“I’ll give them to you.”
She swallowed. How in the world was she going to fight this? The thought of Teddy and her promise loomed large. “Please stop.”
Bracing both hands on the tree now, Gabriel placed a gentle kiss next to her bruise, then rested his forehead against hers. He struggled to catch his breath. “We’d better go back, then.” With every ounce of his self-control, he lifted away. “Take me back.”
Annie’s awakening heart pounded with passion and desire, fear of her feelings making her move. Holding his hand again, she started them walking. “Do the job, Gabriel. There’s plenty of time for more.” Still, her eyes were drawn to his sculpted, mesmerizing profile. Beneath his cultured exterior beat the dark warning of an untamed beast, and she was becoming obsessed to know that part of him, too. With him, she wanted it all. My God, she was in trouble. Oh yes, she may not have his worldly experience, but one thing she did know. If she unlocked that door, he’d sweep in and steal her heart away.
About the Author:
Cindy Irish writes Contemporary, Paranormal, and Speculative romance fiction. She’s a member of The Authors Guild, Romance Writers of America, as well as the Mid-Michigan and Greater Detroit RWA chapters.
Cindy lives in Michigan with her family.