The table was set with white linen, sparkling china, and a bottle of chilled champagne. A solitary candle burned from the center, casting the room in romantic shadow. The scents of savory steak and herbs rose to her nostrils. Her stomach growled on cue as he lifted the silver dome and revealed buttery mashed potatoes, crisp green beans, and gravy. He handed her a flute of champagne alive with bubbles and she took a luxurious sip, noting the wonderful tones of Dom Pérignon.
His gaze took in her appearance with obvious disapproval. She readied for battle, intent on winning one round, but he waved his hand in dismissal and pulled out her chair. “I’m unhappy about your decision to disobey me, Sloane.” His voice cut smooth as caramel, but the warning pulsed beneath. Unease slithered in her belly. “We’ll have to address that later. First, I think we both need to eat.”
Since she had no intelligent comeback other than a curse, she glared at him from behind her bangs and dug in.
The meat melted in her mouth. She ate with gusto and focus, until her plate was clean.
“I see you eat like you have sex,” he said, amused. “No holds barred. It’s nice to see that famous control slip away.”
Her back stiffened. “My so called famous control makes me an excellent gamer,” she said, formally. “I’m sorry if that bothers you.”
He put down his fork and studied her. She refused to fidget and met his gaze head on, the stormy blue of his eyes sucking her in like an undertow. “Your control doesn’t bother me, Sloane. It’s part of who you are, and got you to the top. It also got you out of the slums and kept you alive.” His gaze ripped her polished surface to shreds, leaving her open and vulnerable. “Do you like being in control?”
He nodded. “What about your past lovers?”
“What about them?”
“Did they ever try to take away your control?”
She shrugged and kept her face expressionless. “No.”
“Not one of them challenged you in the bedroom?”
Her temper flared and she snapped. “No, okay? Some tried, but I threatened to cut off their balls and they backed down. I can’t help who I am, and I’m not less of a woman just because I like to call the shots. Who cares if I have a difficult time having an orgasm? It’s not my fault.” The words stumbled out of her mouth in a terrible rush of honesty.
His calm questions continued like steady gunfire. “Have you had trouble reaching orgasm in the past?”
“Not with myself.”
“Have any past lovers tied you up?” Amusement flared briefly.
“You seemed to have no trouble reaching cli**x tonight,” he pointed out.
She shrugged. “Like I said, it’s been a while. I’m backed up.”
His eyes lit with humor, but he didn’t argue. “Did you like what I did to you tonight?”
“No. I only obeyed because you won the bet.”
He laughed and shook his head. “God, you’re stubborn. Don’t lie to me. Not ever again. Now answer the question.”
She opened her mouth to tell him to go to hell, then snapped it shut. He was right. She hated liars. Grudgingly, the word popped out of her mouth. “Yes.”
His approving smile filled her with happiness. “Thank you for telling me the truth.”
She sipped her champagne and sulked. He’d crawled under her skin like Frank Sinatra’s famous song. How had one lousy night begun to change the person she believed she was?
“Now, I want you to take off that robe so I can look at you.” His words yanked the proverbial rug right from under her.
She blinked. “I said I’m more comfortable with it on.”
“Take it off.”
Temper flared. She tossed her head. “Hell, no. Get over it.”
He nodded, almost pleased with her decision. “That’s what I thought. Not adhering to the exact terms of the bet will force me to punish you.”
Her eyes widened in shock. “Excuse me? Do you think this is the Middle Ages, buddy? What are you going to do—spank me?”
His lips twitched. “Actually, yes. That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
A strange mixture of lustful anticipation at his dominance and pure horror mingled within her. A beat passed. Two. His face reflected carved stone with an implacable determination. Her heart exploded in her chest with a rush of adrenalin. She needed to move. Quickly.
She jumped out of the seat and bolted toward the bathroom. He caught her in two seconds flat and tumbled her to the carpet. She fought like a wildcat, but he managed to rip off her robe with one quick tug. As if handling a china doll, he rolled her over, pulling her over his thighs while his hands held her in place. With her ass in the air and bands of steel pinning her to the rug, the sheer vulnerability of her position stole her breath. Panic flared.
“Let me go, you bastard!”
He chuckled, obviously enjoying her predicament. “I asked you nicely, but you insist on fighting me. A little pain can sometimes elicit the greatest pleasure, Sloane. Especially with strong women who don’t let themselves go.”
His hand came down hard on her bare ass. The breath whooshed out of her lungs and her tender flesh stung under the slap. She cried out. He’d done it. He’d actually spanked her. She was going to kill him, tear him to pieces, sue his ass and Madame Eve’s company and kill Castillo and—
Suddenly, that same hand massaged the stinging flesh and slipped downward. He glided over and pushed one finger inside her, testing. He laughed low, using her moisture to coat her cl*t and coax it to a throbbing nub.
“Very nice,” he murmured in approval. “You, my gorgeous one, need a little push. The men you slept with were total a**holes and completely unworthy of you.”
His hand came down again, harder than the last one. She bit back her cry, but the treacherous response of her body begged him to sink into her heat and take her hard. Again, his hand slid between her thighs to play. While her ass burned, other parts of her burst into flames. Her n**ples stabbed into the thick carpet, the cool air on her nak*d skin like a gentle kiss, and he slipped another finger in, moving in a slow pace that tortured her.
“Strong women need a reason to let go. Only one with a will like yours could survive, but you took your body with you for the ride. In order for you to feel completely free, you need someone to take away your ability to control.”
Another slap. Another. She bit her lip and the stringent barriers around her body and heart and mind wobbled, tilted, then fell.
He thrust four fingers into her, rubbing her clit, while his other hand came down hard for one final slap.
She came hard, bucking over his legs as she let go under the demands of another orgasm. It washed over her without mercy, and she rode it, sobbing his name. She heard the rip of a package. He flipped her over, spread her legs, and dove deep.
He filled her aching, pulsing body. She shook her head and pushed at his shoulders, her last orgasm too intense to even want another. His low laugh raked across her ears as he pinned her wrists against her head.
“More. I want more.”
“I can’t. Roman, I can’t.”
His gaze seared with blue fire, forcing her to surrender it all. “You can, baby. Give it all to me, I can take it. I want it.”
He moved. Thrust after thrust, he threw her higher into the unknown. He claimed her with his mouth and tongue and c*ck and fingers. Her sensitized cl*t burned and throbbed under the steady pressure, but he never relented, cranking up the excruciating tension. The wet slap of their bodies echoed in her ears, and her walls held tight and milked him hard, until the second orgasm grabbed her and tossed her over. She flew and he stayed with her, his solid, muscled length anchoring her to earth and to safety.
Sloane watched her sleeping lover. His chest rose and fell with even breaths. His face relaxed in slumber, like a wolf napping after a long night with his mate.
The knowledge she belonged to him vibrated in every muscle of her body. He’d wrecked her for anyone else. Yet, the terms of the agreement stated one night only. Would he want to see her again? Or was her lifestyle not suited to the future he craved?
Her thoughts jumbled. She traveled constantly. She played all night and slept during the day. She made a ton of money and her job required her to meet a wide range of people, especially men. Not one of her previous lovers could handle it.
So why did her gut whisper she’d found the one?
There wasn’t a man alive with enough balls to order her, spank her, and give her pleasure to the limits of his own. In a few hours, he’d made her feel precious and cared for, like the woman she was meant to be—both inside and out.
His eyes flew open as if he heard her thoughts. She reached out and traced the stubble of his beard. He grabbed her hand and nipped at the pad of her finger in mock punishment. She fought not to show the hope on her face that morning wouldn’t turn him into a pumpkin.
“I thought you were asleep.”
“Not with an hour left before dawn.”
She turned her head so he wouldn’t glimpse any weakness. “I know,” she said softly. “My turn for a question. You never told me how you ended up as a dealer.”
“Must be in the blood. My father dealt in Atlantic City his whole life. We grew up by the shore—good old Jersey boys. My mom brought us up as strict Catholics. Hysterical, of course, since gambling is a sin. Surprised the church didn’t catch on fire when all of her men tidied up nice and went to Mass with her on Sunday mornings.” His face reflected an open affection and love when he mentioned his family. The hunger to belong to his inner circle clawed at her gut in an effort to be freed. “Dad still works, mom teaches high school, and my brothers and I took up the reins. Rick’s been wanting me to join him out here for a while now, but we get back on holidays and other occasions. My little brother, Rafe, is in the military. And my two best friends keep their eye on my mother since she practically raised them.”
She smiled. “You sound like you have a close family.”
“I had nothing to complain about. I had a solid childhood. I learned to live hard and play harder. I like money, and travel, and casinos. But I love an evening in, with a cold beer and my Lab at my feet.”
“You have a dog?”
He nodded. “Golden Lab. Name’s Bella. She’s not as bad as Marley, but close. I have a good friend who looks in on her when I’m on a long shift.”
She thought about coming home after a hard day to warm affection and furry loyalty. Imagined coming home to Rome to share every bit of her day. Yearning permeated every pore. “I always wanted a dog. But I’m not home enough, and I never stayed in one place for too long.”
He studied her face as if he spotted her secret thoughts, memorizing every feature. He didn’t say a word. Just pulled her head down and kissed her.
Sweet. Deep. Complete. She sighed and gave it all back to him. He dragged her hand to his evident arousal and she squeezed. He groaned. His c*ck felt like iron coated with silk.