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First pages

Chapter One

The Perfect Woman doesn’t do one-night stands.

Rationale: One-night stands (ONS) are always disappointing, often hazardous, and invariably awkward.

A word of caution: If you are a frequent ONSer, shut this book right now and give it to someone who may benefit from it. You will never be a Perfect Woman. EVER.

Permissible exception: A prolonged dry spell between boyfriends or a highly stressful life event.

Damage control: a) make sure the sex is safe; b) make sure your person is safe; c) leave or kick him or her out before breakfast; d) wash your body squeaky clean; e) scrub the memory of the episode from your brain.

Pitfalls to avoid: a) giving him or her your phone number; b) telling your best friend about it; c) thinking that a one-night stand could ever lead to a relationship.

~ ~ ~

Amanda stared at the typed letter. Neatly strung words zoomed in and out of focus as their meaning sank in. Mademoiselle Roussel… I regret to inform you… with immediate effect.

She swallowed hard and slipped the letter into her purse.

Most of her colleagues would cheer at the news. They’d rush into each other’s offices and say, “Did you hear? Viper Tongue got the sack! Serves her right.” Some of them might send around an email invite for a celebratory drink. Others would just shrug and say good riddance.

Would anyone feel sorry for her? She furrowed her brow. Karine would. And maybe Paul from accounting. Perhaps even Sylvie from marketing, unless she was on meds again and not feeling anything at all.

But none of it really mattered.

What did matter was that the end of the world was upon her. Her personal, localized Armageddon had arrived in an innocent-looking envelope with the Energie NordSud logo on it.

Amanda grabbed her handbag and marched out the door. Keeping her back as straight as she could, she strode through the hallway, down the marble staircase, and out the main entrance.

Eyes on the gate, one foot in front of the other.

She nodded to the security guard and passed through the turnstile.

“Mademoiselle Roussel?” the guard asked, looking at his computer screen and then at her.

“Yes?”

“I must collect your access card.”

“I’ll come back next week to gather my things,” she said as flatly as she could, handing him her card.

He nodded. “We’ll let you in. Just make sure your visit is supervised by Monsieur Barre.”

“Of course.”

Amanda turned on her heel and marched away, hoping the guard hadn’t seen her grimace. Truth was she’d rather donate her fine glass paperweight and Bodum French Press to the company than ask Julien Barre—the bastard who’d fired her—to allow her to clean out her desk.

And have him breathe down her neck while she was doing it.

In the métro car, Amanda’s eyebrows rose at the number of vacant seats before she remembered it was only three in the afternoon. The earliest she’d left the office in four years.

As station names followed each other, Amanda’s stunned brain conjured up a plan. She’d get home and locate her father’s Swiss Army knife. Then she’d down a few shots of vodka, return to the office, kill Julien, and kill herself.

It sounded like an excellent plan.

Twenty minutes later, she pushed open the door to her apartment and went straight to the minibar, praying she hadn’t imagined the bottle of vodka hiding behind her expensive wines.

Bingo!

There it was—cold to the touch and as real as the sharp pain in her heart.

She filled a glass with the transparent liquid and drained it. The beverage burned her tongue. Amanda yelled out a battle cry, jumped up and down a few times while punching the air, and poured herself another glass. She set it on the coffee table and retrieved a tub of chocolate ice cream from the freezer. Her glass in one hand and the ice cream in the other, she kicked off her shoes and settled into her creamy leather sofa. The one she’d bought on credit, like almost everything else in her stylish little apartment.

By the time she finished her second glass, Amanda’s diabolical plan had begun to lose its appeal. Julien Barre deserved to die, for sure, but murder was a messy business.

And suicide—even more so.

She pictured herself on the floor, blood gushing from her punctured stomach and trickling from her mouth.

Ugh.

Besides, what if she failed to finish Julien off? Or herself? After all, the biggest creature she’d ever assassinated had been a cockroach. The act had been so disgusting it gave her nightmares for weeks.

Fine. No killing.

But then what? She couldn’t just sit here and do nothing—she was a fighter. Amanda clenched her fists and willed her vodka-soaked gray matter to hatch up a plan B. As soon as her brain obliged, she stomped to the bedroom and dug her crimson femme fatale lipstick from her makeup case. She shoved her most elegant evening gown, a tee, and a pair of panties into an overnight bag and rushed out of her apartment.

Plan B was insane, but it was carnage-free.

A few meters down the street, Amanda withdrew as much cash as the ATM would give her and hailed a cab.

“Where to, madame?” the driver asked as she slumped into the backseat.

“Gare Saint Lazare, please.” She pulled out her phone and added on an impulse, “I’m going to Deauville.”

“A beach weekend?” He smiled into the mirror.

“Nope. A night of gambling at the casino,” she said, flashing him her brightest smile.

The driver’s eyebrows shot up before he returned his gaze to the road. He didn’t offer a comment.

Amanda sat back and tapped “blackjack rules” into the search engine on her phone.

She had three hours to master the game.

* * *

By the time Amanda stepped into her hotel room, it was getting dark. She switched on the lights and surveyed her room.

Nice.

It had better be, considering the price she was paying for it. Royal Barrière was one of the town’s best hotels, as grand and expensive as its name suggested. Was this reasonable? Certainly not. But tonight wasn’t about reasonable. It was about winning big.

Besides, the thought of staying in a seedy hotel gave her goosebumps. She was no longer a discount-eligible, backpack-carrying student. She was twenty-eight—too old for seedy hotels. And, thankfully, not yet broke enough. Mind you, if everything went according to plan tonight, she wouldn’t be broke at all.

The plan was simple, as all genius ideas were: exploit her beginner’s luck.

Amanda was a gambling virgin, so new she still had her price tags. Not only hadn’t she set foot in a casino or tried a slot machine, she’d never even played cards with friends.

Seeing as she had no friends.

She shook her head, brushing that thought away.

I do have friends. A whole bunch of them—because four qualified as a bunch, right? And it was four more than she’d had ten years ago in her fat-padded, acne-decorated teens. Thank God, those days were gone. Now she was as slim, peach-skinned, and honey-blonde as the next self-respecting Parisian it girl. And, most importantly, she’d become the picture-perfect young lady her mother could parade in front of her friends.

As for Amanda’s own friends, there was Karine, the PA from work who qualified thanks to the number of bitching sessions they’d shared over the years. Then there was Jeanne, a bartender, and Jeanne’s fiancé Mat, both of whom happened to be best friends with Amanda’s ex. And finally, Patrick, business partner of said ex.

Amanda frowned at the annoying realization that three of her four friends were the legacy of her ex-boyfriend Rob.

Note to self: diversify my social circle.

She donned her strappy gown and refreshed her makeup. Then she grabbed her Chanel purse with her ID, cash, and the cocktail voucher the concierge had given her and headed to the famed Deauville Casino that adjoined her hotel.

Ten minutes into the game, Amanda began to suspect that her two-hour crash course on the train might have been insufficient. But it didn’t matter because her beginner’s luck should kick in any moment now.

She surveyed the players at her table to divert her mind from worrying.

What a motley crew!

Across from her sat an elderly Spanish couple. They wore matching T-shirts and smiled simultaneously, flashing their dentures. Next to them, two fiftysomething British women spoke to each other in an incomprehensible English dialect. A middle-aged Frenchman with greasy hair and darting eyes filled the chair to her right. Amanda’s neighbor to the left was a surgically enhanced bimbo of unknown provenance doused with a nauseating perfume and clad in a dress three sizes too small.

But the most remarkable person at the table was Amanda’s neighbor to the right, whom she’d nicknamed Obsidian Eyes. In his late twenties, tall, swarthy, well built, and well dressed, the man was easy on the eyes. He wore a faux casual linen suit and played with the easy confidence of someone who knew what he was doing.

Amanda began to fidget with the strap of her watch, annoyed that the table blocked her view of his footwear. So many things could go wrong with the shoes! They could be synthetic or patent leather, have rubber soles, be coated in dirt or dust, sport pointy toes or toes that were too rounded… The list of potential offenses was long, and every one of them unforgivable even with mitigating circumstances.

She was a bit of shoe fetishist.

Well, maybe a lot.

Overtaken by curiosity, Amanda discreetly pushed a card to the edge of the table until it fell to the floor. She bent down to pick it up and checked out the hunk’s shoes so she could add him to her huge “discard” pile. But, to her surprise, Obsidian Eyes wore fine leather loafers that were flawless.

Probably Italian.

Handmade, without a doubt.

She sat up and studied his face again, perplexed. He had such fine eyes—intelligent and framed with extra thick lashes. The man was undeniably handsome, but not in a classic European way. Come to think of it, handsome wasn’t the adjective she’d use to describe him. It didn’t do him justice. It was too common, too weak…

While he was kind of stunning.

His complexion and features held a touch of something exotic, faintly alien—something that kept her stealing glances at him whenever he turned his attention to his cards. Was it his wavy jet-black hair, mesmerizing eyes, or chiseled jawline? Or maybe his exquisite eyebrows that made her think of a raven’s wings? Whatever that je ne sais quoi was, it made him look more than ordinary. And hot.

The man was a blazing wildfire on legs.

As if his looks weren’t enough, Obsidian Eyes played exceptionally well. Forty minutes into the game, his stacks of colorful chips had doubled while everyone else’s—including Amanda’s—had melted away.

That thought snapped her back into reality. Panicked, Amanda raised her eyes to the high ceiling of the casino.

Please, I can’t lose.

She was gambling with her meager savings—half of it, to be exact. If the Supreme Being above intended to activate her beginner’s luck, now was the time.

“Newbie?” Obsidian Eyes asked, his gaze never shifting from the deck in the dealer’s hands.

He spoke French like a native. A slight Midi accent, maybe? A bit like Jeanne’s, but less pronounced.

Amanda looked around, unsure whom he was talking to.

Obsidian Eyes finally lifted his gaze from the cards and gave her a panty-dropping smile.

She arched an eyebrow. “Does it show?”

“Mhmm.”

Ooh, that smile again.

The dealer held up a card for her, and she started reaching for it when she noticed Obsidian Eyes give a quick shake of his head. She pulled back.

And won the hand.

“Thank you,” she mouthed to her unexpected mentor.

He gave her a small nod.

She followed his discreet instructions for two more hands and won both. The evening was beginning to look up.

The dealer bowed and ceded his place to a good-looking young woman with sleek auburn hair smoothed back into the world’s tightest bun.

She greeted the players and began to shuffle the cards.

Obsidian Eyes turned to Amanda. “Why blackjack? Beginners usually prefer the slots or roulette.”

“I don’t know… Too passive for me, I guess.”

He nodded. “I avoid them, too.”

“So you know what I mean.”

“Yes. But that’s not my only reason.”

She cocked her head. “No?”

“The slots are twice as costly to players than the table games, and with roulette, too much depends on chance.”

Amanda smirked. “Isn’t that the case with all the games?”

“Not blackjack, if played right.”

“Let me guess—you play it right.”

He glanced at the dealer, who was engrossed in shuffling cards. “I know a trick or two.”

One of the Brits stage-whispered to the other, “I hope he’ll show me some of his tricks tonight.” She paused before adding even louder, “In my room.”

Both women burst out laughing.

Obsidian Eyes shifted uncomfortably and looked down at his hands, pretending he hadn’t heard the saucy remark.

The man with greasy hair whispered something to the plastic bimbo.

She didn’t acknowledge him. The woman was too busy multitasking. With her chest heaving, she stared at Obsidian Eyes and stroked her neck. Every five seconds she licked her lips and then pouted.

But the black-eyed hunk was oblivious to her onslaught. He turned to Amanda again. “I’m taking a break to stretch my legs.”

“Er… OK.”

He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I have a bad feeling about this dealer.”

“Oh.” She pushed her chips closer together like he had done and stood. “I’ll do the same, then.”

“What brings you to Deauville Casino tonight?” he asked as they strolled between the tables and observed the goings-on.

After a second’s hesitation, she said, “I’m writing a book about gamblers.”

“Participant observation, huh?”

Her eyebrows rose. “What do you know about participant observation?”

“Yeah, well, I need something to help me sleep when I get to my room at three in the morning.” He shrugged. “Reading a few pages of Tristes Tropiques works better than any sleeping pill I’ve tried.”

She giggled. “I’m passionate about cultural anthropology, but I could never finish that book.”

“I like psychology books better,” he said. “They’re fun to read, and the info in them is useful in my trade.”

“Oh?”

He nodded. “Especially books like Cialdini’s Influence and the ones on how to read body language.”

“I see.”

“Hey, how about a glass of champagne on the terrace after I’ve won my target amount?” He gave her an innocent smile. A little too innocent.

“I have a cocktail voucher,” she blurted before she could stop herself.

Did I just accept his invitation?

Oh, well. What harm could a drink do?

“Eww.” His face contorted in exaggerated disgust. “Trust me, you don’t want their free cocktail unless you’re a gustative masochist.”

She put her hands on her hips. “I was given a free voucher, and I intend to use it.”

“OK, OK. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

She tilted her head to the side. “You said ‘my target amount’ earlier. Are you that good?”

“In all modesty… yes. But my target amount is also reasonable. And I have a spending threshold, too. When I reach it before I’ve won my target amount, I always stop.”

“How very rational for a gambler!”

“I’m full of surprises, in case you haven’t noticed.” He gave her an appreciative look. “And I suspect that so are you, ma belle.”

“When did I become your belle?”

“Oh, it’s just a placeholder until you tell me your name.”

Should I?

“So, what’s your name, ma belle?”

“Am…elie. And yours?”

“Kes.”

“What kind of name is Kes?”

“A Gitano Gypsy name.”

“Like, a real Traveler Gypsy?”

“As authentic as they come.”

“Ah.” She raised her chin. “That explains it.”

“Explains what, Amelie?”

“That you make me think of Tarzan.”

“Really?”

“Not that you aren’t dashing in your suit, but you look like someone who was born to ride horses bare-chested.”

“Wow. You’re the bluntest belle I’ve ever met.”

“And you’re the most gorgeous Gypsy I’ve ever met.”

Where did that come from? Must be the vodka.

The corners of his mouth twitched. “So refreshingly honest. Why, I’m flattered.”

She looked away.

Honest, my foot.

He wasn’t just the most handsome Gypsy she’d ever seen—he was the most spectacular man, all ethnicities included.

Now, that was honest.

She turned to him and cleared her throat. “Shall we go back? Target amounts and all.”

“Sure.”

The sleek-haired dealer was leaving when they returned to their seats. Both giggling Brits and Greasy Hair were gone. The elderly couple and the bimbo still played, but judging by their dismal faces and the measly number of chips in front of them, they weren’t doing well.

Kes had been right about the dealer.

“What does your gut tell you about this one?” Amanda eyed the middle-aged man who had taken over for his colleague.

“He’s the best.”

Her face fell.

Kes grinned. “Not for the house, ma belle, for us. Move closer so I can see your cards without twisting my neck.”

She moved as close to him as their chairs allowed.

“Now relax and do exactly as I say.”

Amanda glanced at Kes but he had already turned his full attention to the cards.

* * *

For the next hour, they played in near silence. The few times Amanda tried to strike up a conversation, Kes shushed her with a smile and a whispered “counting for two here, remember?”

And count he did.

Amanda’s job was easy: she hit when he said hit, stood when he said stand, and split her cards when he said split. Their chip stacks kept growing until Kes laid his palms on the table and mouthed to her, stop.

She gave him a puzzled look. “Now?”

He nodded and then tipped the dealer. “I’m going to call it a night.”

“But we’re winning. Please, you can’t stop now.”

“Oh yes, I can.” He leaned to whisper in her ear, “And so should you before they ask us to back off. Besides, this deck is becoming too hot.”

She hesitated. The seven hundred euros she’d won wasn’t the amount she’d been hoping for when she jumped on the train at Saint Lazare. It would hardly solve her problems… but it would pay her mortgage next month. In spite of the alcohol in her system, Amanda knew she would’ve lost half her savings tonight had it not been for Kes. Continuing to play without him would be unwise.

“What about that drink you promised me?” he asked.

“Sure.” She stood and smoothed her dress. “Lead the way, maestro.”

He took her to the bar where they climbed onto tall barstools and ordered their drinks. The voucher cocktail was as bad as Kes had predicted it would be. Amanda winced at its candy taste and pushed the glass away.

“How about a mojito?” Kes asked. “It’s one of their more decent concoctions.”

She nodded.

As he passed her the glass, their fingertips brushed.

Amanda couldn’t help noting how pleasant that contact was. Actually, pleasant was a euphemism for how it had felt. It was electrifying.

Easy, girl. No one-night stands, remember?

“So, what is it like, the life of a gambler?” she asked.

“I’m not a gambler. Well, not in the usual sense, anyway.”

“Oh, yes?”

“I’m a card counter. I’ve made a decent living from it for five years.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-six.”

“So you see this as a job?”

He nodded. “That’s exactly how I see it. I have a job that I like and am good at.”

She felt a sharp pang at his words.

Aren’t you lucky?

“What’s wrong, Amelie?”

“Nothing.” She gave him one of her fake smiles. “And what about five years ago—what was your occupation then? Palm-reading or playing the accordion in the métro?”

He smirked. “So tactful and unprejudiced. Have you applied for sainthood yet?”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“If you were trying to imply those are common Gypsy occupations, you’re wrong. At least, as far as the French Gitans are concerned.”

She arched an eyebrow.

Gitan men are typically itinerant vendors or metalworkers,” he said. “My dad, for example, deals in scrap metal. Some are lumbermen. The women are usually artisans or peddlers. In the fall, everyone is a grape picker. We don’t engage in the trades you mentioned.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize Gitans were the Gypsy elite. Please forgive my ignorance.”

He moved a little closer and flashed her a toothy smile. “I see you’re determined to insult me. But here’s the thing—I’m not easily insulted.”

“Is that so?”

“We Gypsies are a thick-skinned lot.” He shrugged. “Can’t afford to be touchy.”

She blushed, suddenly embarrassed. Had she been too rude? She had, but not out of prejudice. Well, not only out of prejudice. She was trying to drive him away so she wouldn’t have to make tough decisions when they finished their drinks.

Still, he didn’t deserve her spite—he had just saved her from aggravating her already precarious financial situation.

“I was impressed with your memory and your mental arithmetic,” she said, offering him the olive branch of a sincere compliment.

“At school, I was good at math.”

“Did you go to college?”

He shook his head. “I hadn’t even considered it.”

“Why not?”

“For one, a college education isn’t something my family believes in. And then… I stumbled on this book at a flea market when I was seventeen.”

“What book?”

The Blackjack System. I read it in one day, reread it three more times, and then practiced with my cousin.”

“Couldn’t you practice online?”

“I did that, too. But the system works only with a finite number of decks on the table and a human dealer.”

“I see.”

“I couldn’t wait to turn eighteen so I could go to a casino and put my skills to the test.”

“And it worked?”

“Not immediately, but with time I got better. You see, the beauty of blackjack is that luck isn’t the decisive factor. Luck determines the cards you’re dealt. But it’s your knowledge and skill that determine how you play them.”

“Are you really making money on this?” She narrowed her eyes. “Like, regularly?”

“I’ve made a good profit in almost every casino I’ve played in. Except the ones that figure out too quickly I’m counting cards.”

“So what happens once Deauville Casino figures you out?”

“They’ll ban me, and I’ll move on to play elsewhere.”

“And when every casino in France has banned you?”

“I’ll play in Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal… Or I’ll go to Vegas and then to Asia. The world is big.”

“So that’s your life plan?”

“You could say that.”

She drained her mojito.

He beckoned to the bartender and then turned to Amanda. “Any food allergies or diet restrictions?”

“No. Why?”

“We’ll have two cold cuts and cheese plates, please,” he said to the barman.

When they swallowed the last slices of spicy chorizo, Kes asked matter-of-factly, “My hotel or yours?”

Oh Lord. There it was—decision time. But wait a minute. Why was she even considering it? She didn’t do one-night stands. She wasn’t that kind of girl. What she needed to do was wish him good-night in her poshest accent and leave.

It was the only reasonable move.

Except… she wasn’t being reasonable tonight. Right now, she was curious and thrilled. Her heart fluttered with anticipation. She all but drooled over the juicy exotic fruit that was this man. Just this once she itched to be wanton. After all, her reputation in that department was so unnaturally pristine it was begging for a stain.

And just like that, Amanda made up her mind: She was going to bed with Kes, the gambler she’d met a few hours ago.

He bit into his last pickle. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No. Do you?”

“Believe it or not, I’ve never had a boyfriend.” His eyes crinkled with amusement. “I’m a virgin that way.”

She chuckled.

He broke into an infectious grin before adding in a more serious tone, “No girlfriend at the moment, either.”

“Do you have a condom?” she heard herself ask.

He blinked and then nodded. “Yep—in my room. My hotel then?”

“Only if it’s decent.”

“As decent as it gets in this town. I’m staying at Royal Barrière—it’s the building next door.”

Was his being at the same hotel as she was a sign, a green light of sorts? She could sneak out and go to her room as soon as the deed was done—a perfect setup for a hassle-free, controlled bit of fun. If she was ever going to have her first one-night stand, there wouldn’t be a better occasion.

He must have seen the outcome of her expeditious debate on her face because he took her hand and led her from the bar.

* * *

Chapter Two

What Happens in Deauville

~ ~ ~

A Woman’s Guide to Perfection

Guideline # 2

The Perfect Woman always wears silk lingerie.

Rationale: Silk is natural, classy, and high maintenance. Which is exactly the image you want to project.

Word of caution: If on a budget, purchase good quality polyester that imitates silk. Some lace is acceptable, too.

Permissible exception: Wear cotton for workouts and hiking trips.

Damage control: If, during a hiking trip, sparks fly between you and your guy-friend, you’re in a tricky situation. If you’re wearing silk because you were planning on ending up in said friend’s sleeping bag, you may come across as calculating. Which the Perfect Woman obviously is, but no one needs to know.

Your best option is probably to wear your sexiest Calvin Klein cottons.

Pitfalls to avoid: a) too much lace; b) poor quality polyester; c) one-size-fits-all grandma briefs (make sure you don’t even own a pair of those, otherwise you’ll inevitably run out of clean underwear and find yourself wearing them the day you get a chance to seduce the man of your dreams).

~ ~ ~

Amanda looked around. Kes’s room was very similar to hers—recently refurbished and cozy though smallish. Her gaze fell on the bed. You couldn’t miss it if you tried, considering it occupied the lion’s share of the room. She grew a little panicky.

Calm and composed, Kes stood next to her, letting her find her bearings. He didn’t touch or kiss her. Was this normal behavior? Was this how men handled the preliminaries of casual sex, letting women take the initiative?

Her panic level went up a notch.

How did a woman tell a stranger she was about to have sex with that she was out of practice? Had Amanda been drunker, she might have been able to go with the flow—or she might have barfed and passed out. Had she been less drunk, she wouldn’t have been here in the first place.

But as it was, she had drunk just the right amount to get herself into a delicate situation without thinking of an exit strategy. For all she knew, her gorgeous gambler would turn out to be a serial killer. Or a big-toe worshipper.

Hmm. Something told her he was neither. If the way he’d played blackjack and helped her earlier tonight was any indication, he’d be a good lover—skilled and generous.

Amanda lowered her gaze and silently thanked her Guide to Perfection for ensuring she wore silk lingerie.

Kes switched off the harsh ceiling fixture and lit the bedside lamp.

Good.

He stepped behind her and put his arms around her waist. The gesture was more friendly than passionate, and Amanda was glad for it. She wasn’t feeling very passionate right now. Her body was so tense it needed a good massage more than sex. Could Kes sense that?

He kissed the side of her neck. “I want you to enjoy yourself tonight.”

She said nothing, her muscles tensing up a little more.

He pushed her blond strands to the side and pressed soft kisses to the back of her neck. It was pleasant, but she couldn’t relax enough to savor his ministrations. He pushed the right strap of her dress down and kissed her shoulder, sliding his hands up and down her arms. She enjoyed it, but her brain kept churning. What would he do next? He’d probably push her dress further down to reveal her breasts.

She stiffened.

He released her from his embrace and stepped in front of her.

Still avoiding his gaze, she waited for his next move. When none came, she finally looked into his eyes.

He smiled. “How about I take everything off and you keep your clothes on for as long as you’d like?”

Really?

That sounded like a great idea. She looked him over—the delicious, tall, broad-shouldered whole of him—and licked her lips.

“Would you like that?” he asked with a crooked smile on his face.

“Now you’re talking,” she said, recovering her aplomb.

He shrugged off his fine linen jacket. One by one, he undid the buttons on the front of his shirt and removed the cufflinks. Then he pulled the shirt off. His torso was a work of art—a broad chest tapering to a six-pack stomach and narrow hips. Amanda held her breath as he unzipped his pants. With a tiny smile, he pushed them down together with his boxers, and then took off his shoes and socks in a quick, fluid movement.

And she watched.

He reminded her of Michelangelo’s David. His body was hard everywhere—yes, including there—and yet he was uncannily graceful and comfortable in his nudity.

“Like what you see?” he asked.

She swallowed. “Oh yes.”

Something feral flickered in his eyes, and a second later he was invading her space and pulling her into him. He fondled her in a delightfully indecent way. She let out a ragged sigh and gripped his strong neck. His mouth descended on hers, hungry, unapologetic.

Covering her lips with his, he ran his tongue over them. It felt wonderful. He pulled her lower lip between his teeth and bit it lightly. She gasped and closed her eyes to savor his sensual onslaught. When his tongue pushed inside her mouth, she welcomed it with a caress of her own. All her tension was gone, replaced by molten need. It coursed through her veins and made her weak and crazed with lust.

Suddenly, he wasn’t close enough. She wanted his stomach against hers and his chest crushing her breasts. She needed his hands on her bare backside.

Skin to feverish skin.

How shocking to feel that way. How crude… and invigorating.

She broke the kiss and drew away just enough to run her hands over his shoulders and press them against his chest. He tugged at the other strap of her gown, which was still resting on her shoulder. It fell down, limp. He pulled both straps further down, and she slid her arms out to help him undress her.

When the top of her dress pooled around her hips, he cupped her breasts and fondled them gently. It was pure bliss. His fingers rolled and softly pinched her hardened nipples and then slid down to stroke her between her legs through the satiny fabric.

She moaned and threw back her head. Heaven knew she wasn’t in the habit of letting strangers touch her in the most intimate way, but this was too good to deny herself.

The dress had to go. Everything that stood between his fingers and her body had to go.

Amanda pushed the dress all the way down and was about to remove her panties when he kneeled before her and pressed his lips to her abdomen. As he kissed it, he lowered her underwear a little, caressing the bared skin. His touch was soft and unhurried. When he rolled her panties down her thighs, she trembled in anticipation, her knees going so wobbly she had to grip his shoulders for support as she stepped out of them.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Alix Nichols is an avid reader of chick lit, romance and fantasy, a caffeine addict and a badge-wearing Mr. Darcy fan. At the age of six she released her first romance, which featured highly creative spelling on half-dozen pages stitched together and bound in velvet paper. Decades later, she still loves the romance genre. Her spelling has improved and her books have made the Kindle Top 100 Lists, climbing as high as #1.

Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
One sunny morning two years ago, the stories in my head manned up and demanded that I let them out. I obliged.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
The Bistro La Boheme books are rom coms with an edge, a good deal of spice, and heroes to fall in love with. In addition, each book can be read as a standalone. Hey, who says you can’t have it all? Gentle reader, don’t listen to naysayers. Listen to me: You can, because you’re worth it!
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
Please visit my website at www.alixnichols.com for juicy bonuses, blog posts and trivia.

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