It could have been seconds or hours later, Damien eased his hand from her body, his forehead resting on hers. Sensual kisses trailed along her jaw, tender words bathed her ear. A gentle glide of hands down her shoulders and then she was being untied. Her clothes straightened. Damien stood and she came out of her daze long enough to notice the straining erection. It was hard to miss since it was pretty much right in front of her.
One corner of Damien’s mouth lifted in a rueful half smile, “That?”
“Ah, you’re referring to my poor, swollen, aching dick?”
“He’s going to have to get by.”
“Uh…” That didn’t sound fair.
“Andie, I know how painful bruised ribs can be. I’m a horny bastard, but I’m not that far gone, I couldn’t stop myself from touching you, though.” A half smile, rueful, boyish, and utterly charming. She may have fallen a little in love with that smile. “Since meeting you, I’m exhibiting masochistic leanings, who knew?”
Clouds. Fluffy white clouds all around her. No, those were not clouds, they were sheets. White and super soft under her cheek. Andie blinked the sleep away and saw more white. Lots and lots of fluffy white. Sitting up, she ran her hands over silky sheets and a fluffy comforter and fluffy pillows. She lay in a huge bed in a huge room, a beautiful, breezy, white room and she didn’t recognize any of it. She looked down. She was wearing more white. Silky pj’s. She ran her hand over the sleeve, more soft.
This wasn’t EverMay. It wasn’t the Fugue. Maybe she really was on Mt. Olympus this time. And again, she had no memory of arriving. A vague recollection of being lifted and low laughter saying something about pain killers and alcohol. One mimosa and half a pain killer. Sheesh, she was turning into a real party animal.
No matter where she was she’d think better without the screaming bladder. Time to find out if the toilets on Mt Olympus really were self-cleaning. She left the fluffy bed and put her feet on a fluffy rug. There were fluffy slippers and a fluffy robe.
Slipping her feet into the slippers she went on the hunt. It wasn’t difficult. The double doors to the en-suite were open. More luxury in white and marble and silver, but it was the tile of the floor that gave her first clue. The glossy black border was the same Greek key design she’d seen in the penthouse apartment at Drakes office building, the one with the beautiful elevator he’d saved from the jerk who’d want to build condos.
So, Mount Olympus it was.
Taking care of the necessary, she made use of the tray of toiletries and the brand new toothbrush, slipped her hair into a ponytail, and went in search of Demi-Gods. Making her way down the wide hallway she noticed another bedroom a bath a few more closed doors. One she knew to be an office and the hallway opened up into the familiar living space. Yep, the restored penthouse. From here on out. It would officially be known as Mt. Olympus. That was only appropriate with the Greek key design and all.
“Good Morning, Miss.” The perfectly proper cadence came from the kitchen where the Perfectly proper English butler stood.
“Barker? What are you ding here?”
“Mr. Drake requested my presence, Miss.”
“Oh.” Of course he did.
“Would you care for coffee?”
“Thank you, yes, that would be wonderful.” Head clearing, morning after wonderful. Andie seated herself at the counter, “Barker, can I ask you, my memory is a little fuzzy. How did I get here?”
“Mr. Drake brought you.” Barker explained, setting her coffee before her with an impeccably straight face that somehow conveyed a smile, “I believe he said something about mixing medications.”
Party. Animal. Andie took a moment to savor coffee perfection. And got halfway through her second cup before thoughts began taking form. It was Monday. She needed to call Mr. Jeffries.
“It’s 11:30 would you like breakfast or perhaps an early lunch? I have a quiche coming out of the oven in five minutes?”
Andie checked the Gucci clock on the wall, “Uh, maybe a sandwich I’ve got classes in an hour….”
Andie flipped around and would have fallen off the stool if large hands hadn’t steadied her. Large hands connected to enormous forearms that lead to beefy biceps and well fromthere it was just all massive, massive muscle with a head on top. Way way up top.
There was a mountain in the kitchen.
“Welcome. Didn’t mean to startle you.”
“This is Max Garret, Miss.” Barker explained, “He’s your bodyguard.”
“Huh?” The guy was big, like everywhere.
“You should stay here, Miss Chase.” The mountain rumbled at her. It was a surprisingly friendly sound, “It’s secure.”
Andie got out another “Huh?”
“Mr. Drake did inform you about your protection detail?” The mountain asked.
“Uh…” She floundered, but Sheesh, the guy was HUGE. Well over six feet, he had muscles wrapped in muscles with muscles on the side. His chest had to be over two feet across. What saved him from being terrifying was his face. Broad and open, he had the face of a man who smiled easily and laughed often.
“Miss Chase?” Worry crinkled the big guy’s wide brow, “Something wrong?”
“Sorry.” There. Two syllables and an actual word, “Sorry. It’s just you’re uh… big.”
The mountain chuckled, confirming the story his face told. It was a great chuckle. The kind that made you want to join in. “Yes, ma’am. My mama made me eat my vegetables. Said it would make me big and strong.”
“That it did. Too well. Have trouble finding shirts to fit.”
“We have three teams of four on you. Working in eight hour shifts.”
“No ma’am.” The mountain shook his head.
“Uh are all of you going to follow me to my classes?”
“I teach at the Culinary Institute.”
“Uh….” The giant traded a look with Barker. An uncomfortable kind of look.
Oh, she didn’t like that look, not at all.
“Perhaps you should call Mr. Drake, Miss” Barker said, while paying careful attention to the coffee he was topping off in her porcelain cup. She’d get nothing further from Barker. He’d aced Impervious Secret Keeper 101 in British Butler College.
She focused on Max, “Why should I call Mr. Drake?”
“Mr. Drake said… oh boy,” Max the Mountain rubbed his buzz cut and kept his eyes on his giant feet, “You should really talk to him.”
Oh yeah, Max was a marshmallow. Andie hopped off her stool, stood mere inches away, hands on hips and foot tapping. It always worked for Jose. “Spill it, Mountain man.”
“Well,” Max kept his head down and shuffled from foot to foot, if she hadn’t been steaming mad she’d have thought it adorable. Then he mumbled, “Mr. Drake said you’d be out.”
“Out?” She prompted
“Out of…” Max paused peeked at her, gulped, went back to foot staring, and spilled his guts, “Uh… you know, work?”
Boom. And the Demi with delusions of grandeur strikes again. The. Ass.
The arrogant, high and mighty, about to get his ass kicked, ASS.
“Right. Hold that thought.” Andie streaked back to her room, found her purse with her trembling hands. So mad she was shaking. Was that a first? She thought maybe it just might be. She glanced in the mirror, all over. A first for sure. And tears streaked down her cheeks, and holy shit! She leaned in closer to the mirror, her neck was getting splotchy…oh holy crap… hives. Hives? Jesus. She hadn’t broken out in hives since Billy the Bully had tried to take her candy. Turning her back on her splotchy face, she yanked out her phone. There was more than one way to skin a foxy Demi-God.
“Well, yes.” Jeffries confirmed mountain Man’s story, “While it’s a little unusual to provide your own substitute, there’s no denying the Chef’s qualifications and your job will be waiting for you next semester.”
“If you stay out any longer we’d have to put you on an official leave of absence.”
“An official… I gotta go…” Knock a Demi God off his throne.
Dammit, where was a plastic pumpkin head when a girl needed it?
Andie threw the phone on the bed went to the dresser and started opening drawer. She needed clothes. She found a sweat shirt and matching pants. It’d do. she’d never slid into clothes so fast in her life. Pulling the draw string on the pants tight as possible, she rolled up the legs. They were still way big, but the shirt fell to her knees, anyway. Holding the pants together, she trucked it back down the elegant hallway, and slammed into Mountain Max.
“Whoa there.” For the second time in less than ten minutes, Large hands steadied her.
“Where is he?”
“Uh….” Max’s eyes shifted around the hallway, looking for a way out.
“Where. Is. He?”
“He’s in the offices downstairs, Miss.” Barker volunteered from the kitchen.
She slid past the mountain, “I’m taking the elevator.”
“Yes, Miss.” Barker acknowledged with a perfectly proper, barely there, bob of his butler head.
“Uh…maybe we should call him…”
That stopped her. She spun and stalked back up to Mountain Max, “Don’t. You. Dare.”
“Uh, no ma’am.” Max shook his head vigorously, his face reddening, “No, I can see that wouldn’t be…. I mean… no, wouldn’t dream of it.”
Damn right, he wouldn’t.
“This is a bad bill. Just what in the hell do you do up there all day?”
The six men in the room, legislators all, darted their beady eyes at each other. He’d thrown them for a curve by caring more about their constituents than they did. Jesus, but he hated this town.
“Mr. Drake…” His receptionist buzzed in.
“Uh…No. Miss. Miss… you can’t… “
That was the only warning before a tiny, flame-haired tornado blew into the room, stalked up to him and started ranting about minions and Mt. Olympus, life, death and taxes, and Demi-Gods with delusions of grandeur. She did all of this with her hair slung in half a ponytail, a giant sweatshirt hanging off one shoulder, one hand holding up voluminous sweatpants around her waist and no shoes on her feet.
For the first time in hours, he smiled.
“Don’t you dare smirk.”
He bit his cheek as a tiny finger poked him in the chest.
“I don’t care if you are Mr. High and mighty on the hill. You can’t rearrange my life to suit you…” Andie’s eyes slid past him and got wide as dinner plates, “Oh shit. Uh… wow I’m uh interrupting. yeah… well…” She paused to hike up her slipping pants, “I’ll um just… go… uh……. you know… somewhere else. Like… not… here.” She shuffled backward towards the door.
The same door Stan Wyatt stuck his head in, “Hey, man, I just talked to Max. He said Andie was on the way down…” He stopped speaking, his eyes narrowing on the men in the room, “What the hell is this? Assholes Anonymous?” Wyatt was never shy about his loathing of politicians and the games they played. Then his gaze landed on Andie and the scowl slid into a grin, “You having wardrobe trouble again, sugar?”
“Huh?” Andie looked down like she was just now noticing her ensemble, “Oh, uh…yes..um… I’ll just go, now.” Keeping a firm grip on his sweatpants she raced past Wyatt, who was grinning like a baboon, and back towards the elevator.
She wasn’t getting away that easily. “I’ll come with you.”
“But…” One of the assholes protested.
“We are done here gentlemen. Kill this bill or I kill your careers. Don’t test me on this.”
He got to the elevator and jumped on right before the doors closed. “I get the feeling you’re upset with me.”
“Bingo! Billionaire Boy!”
“I’m not a billionaire you know.”
“Are you smiling?”
He was doing his damndest not to, “No.”
“This is not funny.”
He bit his cheek but, it was no use. His shoulders started shaking.
“You JERK!” She said, holding up her pants.
“Kitten, I’m…” He sucked in air and spit out a stuttering, “Sss…sss…sssorry.”
“I am not some project you can turn this way and that. I am not an acquisition. You can’t just call up my boss and pull me out of work….”
Ah-ha, the crux of the problem. “Ah right, I can see how that could be perceived as over-stepping.”
The elevator dinged, the doors opening to the penthouse. So Andie’s “OVERSTEPPING?” had the benefit of an echo as she backed off the elevator, tripping over a pants leg that had unrolled on her, and shoving his hands away when he tried to help,
“I know it looks bad,” He said with a straight face for which he should get some kind of medal. “But Jeffries called and when I mentioned the protection detail, we thought it would be best to keep you away from the students for a time and the semester is almost over and well, I was planning on discussing it with you today…”
“Discuss what?You’ve already done it.”” Andie cut off the Demi’s oh so logical sounding explanation of the running of her life, “That’s not a discussion, Bossy McBossy Britches. It’s a decree.”
“Boy, does she have your number.”
“You tell him, sister.”
Andie spun around to see Dee a.k.a rocker girl and Layla in the matching club chairs by the hearth. Dee was scarfing down something from a little porcelain plate and Layla drank from a matching porcelain cup.
“Andie Chase what on earth are you wearing?” And Jose came down the hallway from the direction of the bedrooms a rack of clothes slung over his arm and a suitcase rolling behind him.
“What are you guys doing here?”
Rocker girl lifted a fork piled high with something, “I’m here for quiche.”
“We brought clothes.” Jose explained, trekking through and out of the living area and up the stairs, “I’ll just take these to the Master Suite and grab you something not,” He waved a hand behind him, “That.”
Layla slumped and sipped, “Don’t talk to me right now. I’m having an org-offee.”
“An org-what?” Andie asked.
“Coffee induced orgasm.” Layla answered.
“Wouldn’t that be a cor-gasm?” Dee asked.
“Sure. Whatever.” Layla said, and went back to sipping.
“Honey, I thought you’d like some clothes. The van’s on the way, but you never know with DC traffic.” Jose raced back down the stairs, “I’ve left a change out on the bed in the master. I’m assuming you’ll be sleeping there from here on out.” And he was gone again back down the hallway, calling over his shoulder, “Layla claimed the white room. I’ll have to make do the Blue. It’s the smallest but the closet is FABULOUS!
“Van?”Andie called after him
“The moving van.” He called back.
“You’re moving?” Andie asked the room at large.
Layla answered, “We’re moving.”
“Right uh yes, about that.” Damien stepped in front of her, “That was going to be our second topic of discussion.”
Andie’s hives burned, “Was it?”
“Uh, yes.” Damien raked a hand through his hair, managing to look sheepish and adroable. Jerk. “This building is more secure….”
Andie threw a hand up, “Spare me.”
Damien’s mouth snapped shut. So he wasn’t a complete idiot, just an arrogant ass.
Good to know. “So while I was sleeping, you took me out of work and moved me out of my apartment?”
The Demi opened his mouth and shut it again.
Damn right, he shut it. “How Very Mount Olympian of you. We should sacrifice an unspotted calf in your honor. I’m sure you’d prefer a virgin, but as I don’t have an active volcano handy….”
Dee’s hooting laughter cut her off. Rocker girl had set her quiche down and was slapping her lace covered leg, cackling like crazy, “Oh, oh man, that’s good.”
Damien the Demi sent her a quelling look. It sailed right by her. Rocker Girl reached into her handbag and pulled out her phone, “I have to send that one to Jane. Virgin and volcano…” She dashed tears from her eyes with the back of her hand, “Whew! Oh damn.”
“I can see how this might be upsetting.” The Demi said in one of those carefully calm voices men reserved for hysterical females. Andie’d heard her father use it with her mother. It would send her mom straight through the roof. Finally, something she and her mother had in common.
She planted her hands in his chest and shoved. He didn’t budge, but it made her feel better, “Might? Might? MIGHT?” She shrieked. Oh God, he’d reduced her to shrieking,“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, how out of touch are you? People don’t do this. This is not normal.”
Damien blinked – twice. Opened his mouth and oh hell no. She slapped her hand over it. “No. No talking. You call up that moving van and cancel it. Right now.”
Her words catapulted action. Unfortunately, not from the Demi.
Layla launched herself from her chair, “Uh…what? Hey, now, let’s not be hasty.”
Andie’s hand came off the Demi’s mouth and landed on her hip, “Seriously?”
“You’ve got crazy uncle after you and this place is all secure, and guarded, and uh it has, you know, safety features and shit and, Girl, it comes with the best coffee ever.”
Barker spoke from the kitchen, “Technically Miss, I go where Mr. Drake goes.”
“Oh,” Layla’s face fell for about a millisecond before perking back up again, “Hey, you can stay here, right? There’s that huge master suite on the second floor and your office is in the building.”
“True.” The Demi nodded, a small smile appearing
“There.” Layla’s smile was ear to freakin’ ear, “See? No big.”
“What? The master suite takes up the whole second floor. It’s like its own apartment up there. You’ll have plenty of privacy. For all your, you now, private time.”
Oh Jiminy fucking Cricket! Andie couldn’t believe Layla was selling her out for coffee. Okay, so it was mind-numbingly good coffee. She couldn’t hold it against her, but if she stayed in the room even one more second, she didn’t trust herself not to whack somebody. She whirled and ran straight into Jose who was racing to the elevator, snapping fingers and issuing commands, his phone at his ear, “The movers pulled up. I’m going down to meet them at the service elevator. It shouldn’t take long. It’s not much, mainly our clothes, personal items and…”
“Andie doesn’t want to stay here.” Layla did a great tattling toddler.
“What? Why?” Jose turned wide bewildered eyes on her, “Honey, have you seen the closets?”
Sweet baby Jesus, she was going to end up on one of those true crime murder shows. “I can’t talk about this right now. I need to get ready for work!” She shoved the Demi-God out of the way and went to shower and dress. He didn’t so much as utter a peep.
Damn right, he didn’t.
Damien watched Andie’s retreat. He’d fucked up.
“You fucked up.”
“Thank-you Dede. For your astute assessment.”
“Hey,” Dede waved her fork at him, “I call ‘em like I see em.”
He started after Andie, and was brought to a halt by a flying spoon to the forehead and Layla’s “No.” But it was Barker’s subtle head shake that got him to a full stop. Barker had been married over twenty-five years. He knew things.
“Max,” Jose called back down the hallway, “Could you go see to the movers.”
“Uh sure thing.” The big man sped to the elevator.
Jose faced Damien, “What in blazing blue balls did you do, now?”
Dee snickered, “Blazin blue balls. I’m taking that one. You guys are awesome”
“Genius here, didn’t tell Andie.” Layla supplied before he could defend himself.
“Didn’t tell her what?” Jose asked, “Oh, is it the one oven thing? I already checked that out. They can have another one installed as soon as Wednesday.”
“Moving.” Layla said, “He didn’t ask her about moving.”
Jose blinked, “What?”
“Moving.” Layla repeated enunciating every syllable. “He didn’t ask her about moving. Didn’t consult her about moving. Didn’t tell her word one about MOVING.”
“You’re not serious?” Jose sank into the couch, his hand pressed his hand to his forehead. Then Layla dropped the other shoe, “And he pulled her out of her out of her job.” Jose popped back up like a cork from a shaken bottle, “What the hell?”
Damien faced down his critics with the relevant facts, weak though they were, “The college President and I discussed the dangers and he…and I thought it would be safer for Andie to stay out until next semester. I’ll admit, it was high-handed of me.”
“High handed?” Jose whirled on him, “Honey, ordering dinner for a girl without consulting her is high-handed. This is…hell, I don’t know what this is.”
“Stupid. That’s what.” Layla jumped out of her chair, grabbed her spoon off the floor, muscled in beside Jose and proceeded to beat him on the head, “What the hell is in there? Rocks?”
“Shit, oh shit.” Shaking with laughter, Dee leaped out of her chair, ducking and contorting, her phone held up.
Fuck. A. Duck. She was filming.
Damien grabbed the spoon and gave Layla the look that caused the most powerful men in the country to whimper like little girls, and perhaps he’d stop using that analogy because the girl in front of him didn’t even blink, she just kept handing him his ass, “Just what exactly, made you think ringing up Andie’s boss and arranging her life was, in any way, okay?”
“Yeah, cuz, enquiring minds want to know.” Dee asked from behind her phone.
He’d deal with that later. Damien did his best to look conciliatory, “Well, yes, in hindsight…”
“Hindsight? How stupid are you? I mean, you have to make an effort to be that dumb. Andie loves her job. And hello,” In the absence of her spoon, Layla made a fist and rapped her knuckles against the side of his head, “It’s Christmas, dumbass. Her class does all kinds of yule tide cheer… stuff. They make pies and visit the nursing homes. They make cookies and visit the children’s hospital. They make desserts and go caroling with the meals-on-wheels people. And buddy, if you get Andie upset and put her off her wassail, there will be blood.”
“What’s wassail?” Dede, her phone still aloft, interrupted his thorough, and well-deserved, ass chewing.
“Oh,” Layla’s eyes glazed over, “It’s this wine punch. Damn, it’s good, she puts orange and lemon and cinnamon. It goes great with the mince pie.”
“Mince? Like mincemeat?” Dee wrinkled her nose, “I’ve never had it. It always sounded kind of gross.”
“Got no idea what’s in it. Don’t care. It’s her great-grandmother’s recipe. Soooo good. Christmas with Andie is one delicious day after another. Cakes, pies, and oh Gawd, those Mexican wedding cookies.”
Dee hopped up and down, “I love those.”
“Right?” Layla’s head bobbed enthusiastically. Damien used the distraction to take a couple steps out of knockin’ noggin reach. “Andie is freakazoid about the decorating,” Layla continued with the rapture, “But it’s worth it. She bakes every day in December. And then we go to her Grandmother’s for Christmas dinner. They make this bourbon honey glaze for the sweet potatoes. There’s country ham and sweet biscuits…..” Layla’s eyes rolled back in her head.
“That’s it.” Deedee stalked over and, dammit, whacked him on the head with her phone, “You know none of us can cook for shit. Fix this. I’m sick of carry out catering…” She shoved him at the hall.
“STOP!” Jose threw himself into the fray, blocking the hallway, “You can’t march in there and force Andie to listen to you. That’s more of the same.”
“I wasn’t planning on…”
“Zip it, sugar-buns. You’ve known Andie for a few weeks. I’ve known her my whole life. Trust me. Right now, that girl needs some space.”
“Excuse me, sir,” Barker’s voice, calm as ever, cut through the mayhem.
Twenty-five years. Damien looked to him, “Yes?”
“Miss Chase is running behind.” Barker said with a significant look at the clock, “Her first class begins at 1:15. Perhaps, if you offered transportation?”
“Oooh, point to the Butler.” Layla nodded in instant approval, “Good one Barker. Yeah, yeah, that’s what you should do.”
Jose was more cautious, considering for a moment before nodding, “Yes, I think that will work. But do not discuss anything. There is no way for you to say the right thing right now.
“Yeah, cuz, don’t get fancy.” Dee put her phone away and went back to her quiche, “Stick to support…”
“And Transport.” He finished, “Got it.”
“Andie?” Damien tapped on the bedroom door Andie had locked. There was a lot of mumbling and a clear and cldipped. “Go away.”
“You’re running short on time. Simon can get you to the campus in fifteen minutes, if you’d like?”
“Oh.” There was more low mumbling and the door handle jiggled. Damien allowed himself a relieved and much needed deep breath. A single aqua eye, a nose, and part of a mouth appeared in a two-inch crack. He jumped in before she could order him out of her life for good. “I made a mess of this, but you need to get to work and my uncle is still out there. Please sweetheart, allow Simon and Max to escort you.”
The blue eye blinked, the mouth softened, “Yes, okay.”
Relief nearly buckled his knees, “Thank-you.”
On the advice pretty much everyone, Damien made himself scarce until Andie was out of the apartment. Then he got rid of Dee by ordering her out and surenduring the remainder of the quiche. He’d had to wrestle it away from Jose, but once he’d gotten out the Amex black and said something about necessities for the apartment, Jose had to let go of the quiche to grab the card as he refused to surrender his coffee. In short order, he was alone with his butler. Drake knew a valuable resource when he came across it.
“Barker, you’ve been married a long time.”
Barker paused his dusting the mantel, “Twenty-seven years, sir.”
“I need some honest feedback.”
“It’s not my place sir.” Barker went back to dusting.
“You’re my best source.”
Barker stopped dusting and faced him, cloaked in Butler persona, stiff upper lip firmly in place. “Very well, sir.”
“I need to apologize to Andie… again.
Barker gave him a small nod, “Yes sir.”
“I keep screwing up.”
Another small nod, “Yes, sir.”
“It’s like every instinct I have is wrong.”
Another nod. “Yes sir.”
“At the rate I’m going, I’m going to be apologizing constantly.”
And another. “Yes, sir.”
“She’s going to get tired of it.”
Barker’s head stayed perfectly still. “No, sir.”
“I’m going to lose…wait… what?”
The stiff upper lip slipped into the smallest of smiles, “Sir, in my experience, women never tire of hearing we men say we’re wrong.”
“Huh.” Drake pondered that a moment. Thought about his cousins and damn, “You’ve got a point there.”
“Still, if I could manage to screw up every other day…”
“Sir, if I may?”
Barker set his dust rag down, “You are handling your pursuit of Miss Chase as if it’s a takeover, when what you desire is a merger.”
Barker slowed his words and enunciated, “This is a merger sir.”
Barker was a fucking genius. “You’re right.”
Barker took up his rag, “Yes sir.”
Andie’s first day back to work was surprisingly smooth. After assuring the Chef, a local talent between gigs, that he would receive two-weeks severance because Mr. High and Mighty could damn well afford it. He was happy to leave her to it, saying he could use a vacation before starting his new job.
Since it was her first day back, she had the students work on whatever the hell they wanted as long as it wasn’t something they’d done before. Cop out? Maybe, but she’d been in a car accident and all the testosterone Max was putting off was a distraction with which she could not compete.
“Sweet Lord, girl, where are you finding these guys?” Shelly asked when Andie walked over to check her sponge cake that was lacking in sponginess.
“I’m not. This was the Demi’s doing.”
“Damien. He has delusions of Demi-Goddery.”
“He would.” Shelly said. Tossing the sponge in the trash, “But hell, they all got something. Women aren’t much better. High maintenance, most of them. And girl, there are worse things than having cute as hell, musclebound men at your beck and call.
Shelly had hit that on the head. Max the mountain could reach the highest shelf with ease, lift the fifty pound flour sacks like they were feather pillows and shut down the Georgetown trio with nothing more than a glance and a massively muscled shoulder roll.
All in all, a pretty good day. She was actually smiling when she stepped off the elevator and into Layla’s back.
Her friend didn’t notice. She was too absorbed, “Dear God, it’s huge.”
Andie moved to stand beside her and looked up, “I don’t understand.”
“It’s huge.” Layla repeated.
Yep. It was huge. It filled the foyer. Andie searched the mass of green for some kind of tag, “Where did it come from?”
“It was delivered, Miss.” Barker’s voice came from somewhere on the other side.
“Huge. So big.” Layla whispered, shock going straight into horror. She hadn’t moved so much as an eyelash. Andie wondered how long she’d been standing there.
“How did it get in here?” No way could it fit in the elevator.
“It was wrapped, Miss.” Barker appeared holding scraps of white netting.
“Oh, okay, that makes sense.” They always wrapped them for her before tying them to the car. She doubted this one would have fit on the car wrapped or not.
“Did the delivery guy leave a note?”
“It’s huge.” Layla may have sobbed.
The elevator chimed, doors opening to reveal Jose bundled up in hat scarf and gloves his coat dusted in white, “It is freezing out there. Please tell me there’s fresh coffee…” He looked up from unbuttoning his coat. “Sweet Baby Jesus” Whipping his cap off, Jose looked up, way up, “Well, he’s a fast learner. I’ll give him that.”
At which point Layla expanded her vocabulary, “Dammit, Jose!”
“Don’t get snarky, Miss Thing. You want to keep having your morning cor-gasms or not?”
Layla flung an arm up, down, and back, “It’s. Huge!”
Why she was accusing Jose, Andie didn’t know. This maneuver had Demi-God splashed all over it.
Barker reappeared, handing her a phone, “Miss, you have a call.”
“Did the package arrive?” The Demi at the other end asked.
“It’s a Blue Spruce.”
“Are they really blue?”
“It’s got to be ten feet.”
“Twelve. Do you like it?”
“Good.” And then nothing. The Demi’d hung up on her.
Andie spent the evening assuring Layla that she didn’t need to be part of the decorating. Then assuring her that she would still be entitled to the mulled wine that was traditional accompaniment for the tree-trimming party. Basically, it was Andie decorating while her friends drank wassail and chowed on cheese straws, homemade chex mix and, mince pie.
By the time she crawled in bed, she was too tired to be impressed by the master of all master suites, written up in Architectural Digest. Layla was right. It was huge. Half the size of the apartment downstairs. Her bed took up one end, opposite the bed were three huge full length, fully framed mirrors right out of Gone with the Wind. Aewall of windows to the right hidden by rich drapes in an iridescent creamy gold. A seating area with its sofas and plush chairs finished the room, done in dark woods, a rich contrast to the creamy taupes and soft golds and all of it layered with the kinds of subtlety that would never be so gauche as to scream wealth. It hummed with the kind of elegance that would never be flashy, but would always be rich.
Just rich. Very rich.
Andie was grateful for the gift Jose had laid out for her. A short white satin slip for sleeping, he’d said with the mother of all eye rolls. She’d feel underdressed in her old t-shirt. And that was the only reason she’d donned the gorgeous confection. Demi-Gods and their possible presence had nothing to do with it. Really.
As it turned out rich beds were blessedly comfy and rocked one to sleep pretty darn quick. Pondering the crazy turns her life had taken couldn’t compete. She conked.
It seemed seconds later her eyes flew open. Something had disturbed her. A noise. Sitting up, she strained to hear and caught…there. There it was again a bump and a thump and low mumbling. Did she want to know what was going on out there? Another bump and a hissed curse notched her curiosity up. She got out of bed and grabbed her robe. A white silk hand-me down from Layla that had been knee length on her friend. It hit Andie just above the ankle. The satin was lined with flannel and was warm for its light weight. Padding through the sitting area to the landing that circled the second floor, she peered over and what the….
Andie closed her eyes counted to ten and looked again.
A catwalk circled the entire tree. A dingy yellow construct that looked like it belonged at a construction site. While she watched, the catwalk rose up like an elevator in near silence and on that catwalk stood three giants and a Demi.
“According to Jane, you have to circle every branch with the lights.”
“Every branch? How many fucking lights are there?”
“Three thousand.” The Demi said.
“Oh hell no!” The Giants protested.
“We’ll divide it up.” The Demi ignored their protests as only a Demi could. “It won’t take long. I’ve already marked the sections. Stan, you take the top. Max the middle and Maurice the bottom.”
“What are you going to do?” Stan asked.
“I’ll come behind you and fine tune.”
Fine Tune? Andie’d never heard of that one.
“Fine tune?” Stan hadn’t either.
“According to Jane, it’s a crucial step.” The Demi wasn’t backing down.
There was a little dissention in the ranks. But with rumbles and grumbles the giants set to work. Damien unwrapped and draped the long green cords and handed them off to Stan on the scaffold. Max and Maurice on the floor.
Andie bit her lip and waited for it. It didn’t take long. Maybe two seconds….
“Dammit! OW! Damn needles are sharp as shit.”
“Don’t be a baby…Fuck! He’s right.”
“What the hell kind of tree is this?”
The three giants sucked their various sore fingers and shook out pained hands.
“It’s a blue spruce. You’re supposed to wear gloves.” The Demi informed them, producing the gloves from a box and tossing them around.
“Just how the hell are we supposed to wrap these teeny wires around these sticky branches with heavy gloves on?” Stan wasn’t going down easy.
“Just put the damn gloves on.” Demi was having none of it.
“I don’t get why we’re doing this.” Maurice said pulling on his gloves, “You said Andie liked to decorate.”
“Traditionally, the man is responsible for lights.” The Demi informed the giants, joining Stan on the scaffold. Going behind him to check his work.
“Says who?” Stan snorted, “My mom won’t let Dad anywhere near the tree.”
“No, he’s right. My dad always put the lights on.” Said Max, the mountain, “Course Mom stood over him and told him exactly where they went.”
“I don’t understand why we have to do this in secret.” Maurice said, looping the lights around his gloved hand and with a shrug, taking the loop off his hand and hung it on a limb. He stood back, studied it, scratched his bald head, then grabbed the loop in both hands and shoved it to the center of the tree, stood back, assessed again, and with a nod, repeated the process.
“This is a surprise.” Damien said. Too busy watching Stan’s work to notice Maurice’s novel approach to branch looping.
“Yeah, and you’re afraid if Andie knew you were here she’d throw you out.” Stan snickered, grabbed the cord and started wrapping or weaving or just shoving the light string wherever he saw a space. He was making excellent time.
“How can she throw you out?” Max asked, ducking around scaffolding to circle the tree with his own string. He went with a straight line, like winding thread on a spool. “You own the place.”
“Man,” Stan shook his head, “You know shit about women.”
“I’m trying to demonstrate that I care about the things she values. And Andie couldn’t reach this high even standing on a ladder.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” Maurice chuckled, “She’s a wee bitty thing.” He’d finished with his first string and grabbed another, modifying his technique and looping what looked like giant figure eights straight onto the tree.
“Got a temper though. You should have seen her today holding her pants up and giving him hell.” Stan chuckled, “That was a …”
“Dammit,” Damien, the fine tuner, grabbed a branch, “You missed one.”
“I did not.” Stan leaned around.
“What do you call this?” Damien waved the branch. Stan jerked back, “Dammit Drake, you trying to put my eye out? And that’s a twig. I’m not wrapping twigs.”
“Every. Branch.” Damien enunciated.
“Man, you need to take it down a notch.” Maurice studied the end of his cord, “Ain’t this supposed to have a plug on the end.”
“Dammit, that’s a fifty.” Damien said, “The fifties don’t connect.”
“Then what the fuck have you got them for?” Maurice demanded, his normal good humor wearing thin.
“Jane said to use them at the end.”
“You should have separated them.”
“They have to come off.” The Demi was not at all sympathetic.
“Well, I’m not doing it.” Maurice was standing firm.
“Fine.” The Demi deigned to join him on ground level and yanked the light strand. Maurice grumbled and grabbed another strand off the scaffold.
And as entertaining as it was, she had to put a stop to it. They were working way too hard. “Excuse me.”
Four men looked up.
“Plugging the lights in would make it much easier. Then you can see what you’re doing.”
God help them.
“Dammit,” The Demi reached over and slapped Maurice on the back of his head, “I told you to keep your voice down.”
“I’m whispering.” Maurice rumbled.
“Your voice is deep. It carries.”
Max walked around the tree, collected the various ends of the various cords, hooked them together by hook and crook and plugged the end into an electrical strip.
And in the glow cast by hundreds of little white lights Andie saw four long faces.
“That looks like shit.” Stan was the first to call it. And oh, it did look awfully bad. She hid her smile behind her hand.
“What’d we do wrong?” Maurice scratched his bald head with his gloved hand. Andie pressed her lips together so the snickers wouldn’t leak.
Max, the mountain, yanked his gloves off and waved them at the disaster, “My guess would be every damn thing”
True. Oh so true. Andie covered her mouth with both hands, but a girl could only do so much.
“Are you laughing?” The Demi asked.
She shook her head, but didn’t dare open her mouth.
“We can hear you, you know.” Stan said, voice dry with self-disgust.
Andie lifted her shoulders in a helpless shrug.
Then the Demi asked the question, “Should we take everything off?” And the varied and strident takes on, “Oh hell no.” Drowned out her escaping snickers.
Andie lost it. Gripping the banister to keep her upright, and when that failed she gripped the rails to steady her decent to the floor where she flat out laughed out loud.
“Well, shit.” Maurice dragged his gloves off, “I’m dragging my tired ass to bed.”
“Damn right.” Stan followed him out. Throwing the gloves over his shoulder they landed in the tree and stayed there.
“I gotta go check in the squad.” Max didn’t bother taking the gloves off.
And the three giants fled the scene.
The Demi, left all by his lonesome, returned to his perch on the scaffold and flopped down, one leg hanging over the side the other bent at the knee, he ripped his gloves off and tossed them at the tree along with a look of utter disheartened disgust, “This was a disaster.”
Holy Crap! He was adorable!
“Seriously, how hard could it be?” He asked.
“Well, not having the lights plugged in worked against you.”
“You don’t say.” He said, falling back so he lay on the scaffolding, staring at the ceiling.
The Demi-God had been defeated by a tree and connecting light strings. Poor baby.
Andie got up off the floor and started down the staircase, “It was a sweet gesture.”
She heard a snort, “Thanks.”
Making it to the bottom of the stairs, she approached the scaffolding, searching for the controls, “Where’d you get this thing?”
“Nate works with contractors.” He answered still staring up at the ceiling.
“Oh right. Architect. In the future, I like to wait a good twenty-four hours before putting the lights on.”
“Course you do. And why is that?”
“As the tree soaks up water, the branches drop.”
“So your plan was to put the lights on the tree for me?”
“Yes, according to my research, the man of the house is usually responsible for the lights.”
“It was suggested to me that I might be more successful wooing you if I learned more about…” Damien made a vague sweeping motion with his hands.
“And other stuff.”
“Stuff people do,” Her Demi flipped his hand around, “You know, normal stuff.”
“Oh, that stuff.” She pressed her lips together.
The Demi turned his head to her, midnight eyes narrowed with suspicion, “You’re laughing.”
“Mmm-mmm.” She shook her head in denial.
“I believe you are.”
“Um, Can I be honest?”
“Please.” Demi eyes went rolling.
Oh, this was fun.
“You’re cute when you’re all dejected.”
“I’m…” A bewildered shake of his beautiful head, “Say… what?”
“You’re cute when you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Kitten, are you saying I’m cute when I fuck up?”
“Uh….” He blinked at her. Twice.
Adorables. “Is this the button to lower the thing-a ma-jig?”
“Yes.” It came out a question.
Her Master of the Universe didn’t have a clue how to handle her. Score one for the deflowered virgin. “Arms and legs inside the ride at all times.”
He sat up, pulled his legs in. Andie hit the button and lowered the platform until they were nose to nose and asked, “So what are your plans for the rest of the night?”
“Plans. Do you have plans?”
“Uh,” More baffled blinking, “No?”
“Would you like to come up?”
“I? Would I what?”
“Would you like to spend the night here?”
“You’re into that whole repeating thing aren’t you? Pay attention. Would you like to spend the night here. With me.”
“I uh…I don’t know.” He said slowly. Watching her, “I’m not sure what you mean.”
Poor Demi all dazed and confused. “Damien, would you like to come to my bedroom, take your clothes off and allow me free access to your body and vice-versa?”
“Would I what?”
Andie tilted her head, “Am I not speaking English?”
“Uh…” And she’d rendered the Demi speechless.
Go. Me. “How, exactly, did you get the reputation for being Mr. Smooth?”
Good question. “I uh…you keep shocking me.” Shocking the hell out of him.
“Well, you don’t have to.” She shrugged, and her robe slipped off, revealing creamy shoulder and a thin little spaghetti strap, he wanted to tear off with his teeth.
Andie dropped her head, red gold hair slipped over the shoulder hiding it, “It was just an idea.”
And a damn fine idea it was. “I well, yes. Okay.” He slid off and out of the scaffolding, “So just to clarify…” He began, but nimble fingers went to work on the buttons on his shirt, the resulting fleeting brushes against his rapidly bared skin was damn pleasant.
He hissed out a breath and tried again, “Screwing up means I’m more likely to get lucky?”
She seemed to ponder that for a moment, while planting a series of hot kisses at the notch in his throat. A nibble, a lick, and, “Sometimes.” Breathed against his skin. He tried to make sense of the words, but her mouth slid to his collarbone, and bit. Shit, she might have well have been speaking Greek. Backwards. In Morse Code.
His blood turned to lava and raced south. His dick was granite and his brain was mush. But, dammit, he needed to figure this out. His dick was going to have to wait, not long, mind you. Minutes. Okay a Minute. Seconds, really. Seconds. Gritting his teeth, he set about forming words. Not easy with Andie spreading kisses all over his bare chest. What the hell? He looked down. His shirt lay in a crumpled heap on the floor. When the fuck had that happened?
He took her head between his hands and held her still, sort of, not at all really, “So uh this morning,” He stammered, attempting meaningful discourse, but shit, it was like she had eight hands. They were everywhere, his chest, his ass, his abs, his…. “Oh God, baby, wait.” He grabbed the hand that had found his dick, hard and eager and enjoying the hell out of what she was doing to it. “I…uh..sweet fuck, what are you…” One hand slid over his suddenly naked ass. The other, “Shit!” He pulled her hand from his bare cock as his jeans fell to his ankles. Damn, the girl had skills. “I screwed up and you were angry.” He somehow said, his breath sawing in and out of lungs three sizes too small.
“Yes.” A nip of teeth to his peck. His cock did jumping jacks. And Sweet fucking hell, the scratch of nails across his belly hip bone to hip bone. He sucked in air and blurted out, “But I screwed up tonight and you think I’m adorable.”
“Mmm-hmmm.” The slide of silk against his painfully aroused body, her breath in his ear, “Don’t over think it.”
“Oh, there’s no danger of that. I haven’t got a clue what’s going on.” And she’d short circuited all his higher brain function. Andie’s belly snugged up against his cock. She shivered.
Fuck it. He’d think about it tomorrow. But with a final nibble to his chest and a squeeze of his ass the little minx was… gone.
He blinked. And with his body primed to the point of serious fucking agony, and his pants around his ankles, Damien watched Andie walk away. She was half-way up the stairs when the silky robe hit the floor. Leaving her in a pale whisper of satin. He stood there throbbing, as she cast a little look over her shoulder, “You coming?”
He nodded, went to race after her and fell on his ass. Pants. He was still wearing pants, He yanked them up, stumbling along eyes locked on the siren above him. He’d made it to the halfway point, bent to get her robe and the little slip of satin landed on his head. He pulled it off in time to see Andie take her sweet lovely naked body into the bedroom without looking back.
He took the steps two at a time.
She was halfway to the bed, celebrating her deflowered virgin seduction skills when bands of steel wrapped around her.
“Sshh,” Her startled gasp was silenced with a trail of tender kisses along her shoulder, “Andie let me, God…” He tightened his arms until her back was snugged into his front. Every hot, hard, naked inch. His mouth and hands gliding over her in fevered frenzy. And it occurred to her that baiting the Demi-God might have been a risky move.
One hand closed over her breast the other slid down her abdomen and lower. A harsh groan, “You’re wet for me.”
“Always.” She sighed, arching into his hands. What was life without a little risk, anyway.
“Put your hands around my neck. Yes, like that. Look, Andie.”
She opened her eyes and there they were, reflected in the mirrors. Her hair a wild tumble her body glowing in the low light and his hands touching her in her most private places. It was sensual, erotic, heady.
“Open for me,” A dark whisper against her ear.
Drunk with sensation, she widened her legs and watched as he slid two fingers inside her, felt the delicious stretching. That familiar aching pleasure blooming deep. While the hand at her breast played, pinching and plucking the tender points
“See how beautiful you are.”
The rush of desire was electric frantic. The need for more a primitive drumbeat in her blood. She rocked on the hand inside her.
“Yes, yes, that’s right. Show me.” Temptation whispered against her skin while dark eyes watched with naked hunger. And she shamelessly rode his hand. Her head thrown back on his shoulder, her breasts full and heavy, the nipples flushed pink from the skilled touch evoking sensual pain that drove her to exquisite pleasure.
And then she was coming. Hard, fast, intense. Her breathless cry fell into air heavy with the heat of passion.
Damien followed her to the floor when her knees buckled. Her head was spinning, her sex trembling with aftershocks, hard hands gripped her hips. Andie’s vision cleared and she saw them kneeling on the floor. Damien on his knees behind her, positioning her so she straddled him.
“Like this. Put me inside you, Andie.” She took hold of hard steel and he guided her until he was inside. Just inside.
“You’ll like this, baby.” He thrust up, short and shallow. And Oh God, pleasure scored through her. Shocking, intense.
“Yes, you see. You just came for me. You’re sensitive here.” He thrust again the large tip touching stroking barely inside, yet it was so much. So sweet. “And I can touch you. You’re pretty breasts. You’re lovely little cunt. Hot and tight.” Those talented fingers slid between the outer lips and found her clitoris, pinching and tugging lightly in time with the shallow thrusts. Meltingly sweet pleasure stole over her, “You’ll be coming again for me soon. Won’t you, sweet girl?”
Her only response was a helpless moan. Her hands tugging at his hair as she rode him. Hips rolling in sensual languor, their bodies undulating in an ancient lazy rhythm.
So good. It was so good.
Sometime later she was lifted. She stirred enough to grumble.
Laughter and a rough whisper, “I thought you’d be more comfortable in bed.”
“Oh, okay then.” She snuggled down and into soft sheets and hard male and conked.