“I meant what I said about introducing you to the Order when your contract with Edmund is up, Eva,” Jerard said while she undressed.
“Thanks, Jerard, but I don’t think the Order is for me.”
“Why not? You’re a lovely person, and you’re leaving Edmund, not the lifestyle. Look at that sexy ass, mon jouet
. You’re a prize. Introducing you to my brothers will make me a hero.” He winked at her.
“What couples in the Order have is real. I’m not real.”
“I’m not a couple, and I’m in the Order.”
“But you’re looking for something real.”
Cue the universal guy scowl. The one every woman recognizes. The one that says, Don’t get attached.
“I’m not looking for love either, so stop giving me the evil eye,” Eva said. “And you will be someday. Someone like you deserves something real.”
Jerard didn’t want a commitment, only a playmate. Hence the pet name: mon jouet. My toy. That’s what Eva was to Jerard. Edmund went to Connecticut on Fridays to visit his father and gave her to Jerard while he was away.
Edmund adored Jerard’s work. Everyone in New York did. Jerard was the gem of the NYC art community, not to mention its kink community. There wasn’t a sub in the city who wouldn’t fall at his feet. That’s why he accepted Edmund’s gift. Eva would fall at Jerard’s feet, of course, but she would never fall.
But that didn’t stop her from caring. Jerard was kind and funny and French! Ooh, là, là, the man was sinfully French. Dusky hair fell over one of the ever-present scarves that wound around his neck. Tailored clothes clung to his hot bod. Leather and silver jewelry provided the perfect edge. Add a pair of brown eyes that could melt the soul, and the man was deliciously, effortlessly, and innately sexual. Jerard’s brand of sex appeal was insane. Edmund had commissioned Jerard to paint her, said he wanted a keepsake of their time together, but Jerard was the one who belonged in a painting.
After she undressed, Jerard took her clothing and twirled a finger through the air. Eva spun around, raising both hands to shake out the loose waves of her dark hair in a sexy tease while she displayed herself. Rubbing the beard that framed his jaw, he flashed a lusty, purely male grin that let her know her confidence, and her obedience, held its own brand of sexy. Forget painting him, they should just tack Jerard to a museum wall and let the world ogle.
“I still want you to think about my offer. You shouldn’t be alone, Eva.”
“A few scenes and now you’re my father,” she grumbled, as if the magnificent artist in the SoHo gallery with her was anything like the scumbag who passed for her father.
“Your fuck buddy,” Jerard corrected, ”and I care about what happens to you and your sexy ass.” He slapped her bare bottom to get her moving toward the dais.
Jerard might be a good man, but he was also a good Dom. Sassing him would mean not sitting on her sexy ass for a week. Christ, Jerard’s favorite color was pink, or as he said, rose
. Different language, same meaning. Owy, ow, ow, ow!
But even painful sounds better in French.
“And my top, but only when Edmund says so,” she sang, reminding him that she was his as a gift and nothing more.
Eva settled into position with a sigh. Four days until Friday.
Jerard ran his gaze over her body. His eyes heated as they trailed away from her face, down the curve of her back, and over the mound of her bottom.
Her Frenchman was an ass man. A rose
“You’re turning me on just looking at me, Jerard.”
“Ditto,” he said around a laugh, then lifted his brush. “But don’t worry, Eva. I know the rules. I’m not looking for more. Just trying to make you horny.”
She wiggled her sexy ass and raised it higher.
“Do not tempt me with that. It’s only Monday.” He waggled a finger and stared at her backside. When she arched her back a little more, he got all prickly. “Stop fidgeting, or I’ll—”
“Spank me,” she chirped, not bothering to hide her desire for him to do just that.
She and Jerard were allowed to scene only once a week, and he would deny her? Why were all Doms prickly? Must be in their secret rulebook. Then again, girls like her enjoyed playing by the rules.
But breaking a few was fun too.
Pink-ass man. Pink-ass girl. What of it?
Horrors. He would. The man may not be her Master, but he was a master at getting her off. Like ten times every time they played. Time to be a good girl. Eva pressed her lips tight and froze.
They fell into a comfortable silence. Only the sound of her breath and the paintbrush scratching the canvas. Her position wasn’t hard to hold—flat on her belly with arms folded under a face turned outward—but Jerard insisted she be still, as in zero fidgeting. That would have been fine if these sessions lasted for fifteen minutes, but Jerard was tireless. Eva wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but her shoulders ached. If she moved her neck, it might snap.
“Too much?” Jerard asked, as if he knew she was hurting.
“I’m fine. You don’t have to stop.”
He put down his brush and walked toward her. That was the difference between Jerard and Edmund. If Edmund knew she was hurting, he would have smiled and stayed put.
Being naked and subject to Jerard’s artist’s scrutiny was a turn-on; the back massage he always gave afterward was like ambrosia in a bottle. Eva moaned when his talented hands swept her hair aside and began to rub her neck.
“How long until it’s finished?” she asked, feeling a pang of sadness at knowing her portrait was almost complete. She really liked spending time with Jerard.
“Oh, I think I can drag it out until your contract with Edmund ends.”
And that was exactly what Eva wanted to hear. Being near Jerard made her feel safe.
“You’re doing it again,” Jerard said.
“Frowning. If you want to talk, I’ll listen. I really do care about you.”
“I know.” She wasn’t about to tell Jerard what was going on with Edmund, so she skirted around the truth. “I was just thinking about leaving Edmund. I’ve been with him for a long time. Being on my own again kind of scares me.”
A dismissive hand waved through the air. “Mon jouet is scared? I find that hard to believe. Companion to the infamous Edmund Dupuis, and she’s scared. Pas possible
Eva wanted to be mad, but Jerard had a point. And really great hands.
Truly, super hands.
“Then again, my whiskey-drinking man-killer is afraid of something as simple as a kiss.”
“I like bourbon, and men find me attractive. So what? Fruity is for wimps, and the boobage is all a girl needs to attract a guy. And I’m not afraid of anything,” she insisted, her pride bruised.
Jerard crouched next to the dais. Challenge lit his eyes. “Prove it.” He leaned in and held his lips a hair’s breadth from hers.
She inhaled and practically tasted his scent. Sandalwood cologne, spearmint breath, and sin.
“It’s not fear, Jerard. It’s…”
“It’s?” His tongue ran over his bottom lip in invitation.
Feeling the double shot of lust and friendship tempted Eva, honestly tempted her, to close the gap between them. Since entering the lifestyle, she’d never actually been friends with any of her lovers. Didn’t even know many of their names, and the idea of intimacy that was actually intimate held a certain appeal. But Eva DelZotto had learned the hard way not to rely on anyone but herself.
She turned her face into her folded arms. “Everyone always yammers on and on with the romantic drivel about swapping spit. Kissing sucks. What’s in a kiss anyway?”
Jerard’s hand pushed on her shoulder to roll her onto her side and ran over the cinch of her waist to hold her there.
“A promise, Eva. That’s what’s in a kiss.”
Looking into those soulful eyes, she could almost believe that a man could mean something so romantic.
“Well then, the old saying is true: promises are made to be broken.”
Jerard held her gaze and said, “He broke his promise to you; didn’t he?”
Eva fought to keep her face neutral. How did Jerard know that? It wasn’t as if she’d told him what was hidden in her heart.
There was a count of silence, and then Jerard rolled his eyes. “Yes, Eva. That was your prompt to tell me about your mystery man.”
She played dumb. “You mean Edmund?”
“You don’t love Edmund, and you never will. We both know that. It’s just you and I here. Talk to me.”
“Trying to be my dad again, are you?”
Jerard leaned back, the playfulness gone from his eyes. “Trying to be your friend,” he said with a sharp note of reprimand. “Believe me when I tell you that I know what it feels like to love someone you can’t have. It hurts like nothing else can hurt. It breaks your heart and blows through it like a cold wind.”
The words conjured a seismic wave of pity and vulnerability. Eva didn’t know whether to hug Jerard or slap him. She settled on lying to him.
“What makes you think I—”
“Don’t bother to lie, Eva. I’ve known for a while now. When we’re together, you close your eyes and go away. You go to him.”
She had to admit there’d been times with Jerard when she’d felt the same thing.
“Is that why you’re not with someone? Because you love someone else?”
“It’s that and”—his head fell forward on a heavy breath—“I’m an addict.”
The slap of bitter experience hit her.
“But you stopped, right? Please, tell me you stopped.”
“I did, with the help of an angel.” Jerard tapped the stunning tattoo of an angel on his left arm. “Without her, I would have died.”
“Is she the woman you can’t have?”
“No, this isn’t her. I love her, but she’s only a friend.”
The sadness in Jerard’s voice said the lady tattooed on his arm was a lot more than a friend, but if Eva didn’t want Jerard to poke her sleeping demon, she wasn’t about to poke his.
“That’s why I’m pushing you about the Order. You’re leaving Edmund. I know you’re not going to someone else. I don’t want you to be alone.”
“I’ve always been alone.”
The cold wind blew hard against the wall around her heart.
“As your friend, I would be honored if you would trust me enough to tell me what happened.”
Something in the humble way Jerard said the words put a crack in the wall. Eva closed her eyes and went back.
Back to him
She smelled cypress and wintery air. The sky above was black, as black as his eyes, and filled with snow. The wind was bitter cold, yet his long fingers on her tear-stained cheeks blazed with warmth. His lips were soft and full of promise. He cupped her face and drew her into a kiss.
Her first true kiss.
Eva couldn’t hold back the words. “He kissed my lips, and the world around me ceased to exist. He became my world. He said our spirits were joined before we were born and would be forever. He said he would be the last man to kiss my lips.”
The memory shifted. Sweat and cigarette smoke. A concrete hallway filled with stark light and strangers, their hungry stares fixed, their talons at the ready. His eyes were vacant and red. He cupped her face and drew her into a kiss.
Her last kiss.
The crack exploded into a gaping hole, and the cold wind iced her broken heart. Jerard moved to sit next to her on the dais and gathered her into his arms. She clung to him as if he could protect her, from the past, from the present, from everything she hid, while the tears, a copious rush of fat tears, drenched his shirt.
When there were no more tears to cry, Eva punctuated her pity party by saying, “I loved him so much.”
him so much,” Jerard corrected.
Every defense—and Eva DelZotto had earned more than her fair share—shot sky-high.
She shoved Jerard away and wiped her traitorous tears. “No, I don’t. He’s a liar. He’s never coming back. Even if he tried, I wouldn’t let him.”
Jerard ignored her outburst and responded with the practiced calm of a Dom handling a hysterical sub. “You have a choice to make,” he said with quiet authority. “You can let the bitterness destroy you, or you can carry on with the hope that maybe someday, a little warmth will find its way back into your heart.”
Eva was suddenly pissed. No one touched her emotions. Jerard may be a friend, her only friend in New York, but even he could not break through those barriers. He was a man, and men destroy the women who let them.
She leaped to her feet and glared. “Oh, I’ll carry on, all right. Don’t let a few tears fool you, Jerard. I’ve been on my own since I was seventeen. I know better than anyone how to carry on.”
The lie made the cold wind howl, and tendrils of icy pain licked at the scabs of her buried wounds.
“And when you leave Edmund?”
Eva had no idea what she would do after Edmund. No plans. No goal. Nothing but a degree and a heart that refused to heal.
She snapped a lid over the seeping insecurity and pulled out her streetwise bitch. “Are you saying I need a man to survive?”
God help Jerard if he said yes.
“Everyone needs someone. We all make bad choices, but now you can choose something better.”
“Something better? Hah! As if I made a bad choice in Edmund. As if I was looking for love. You don’t know me at all, Jerard.”
“I know you better than you think.”
The utter confidence in his voice made her wince.
“Then you know why I’m with Edmund.”
“Non, but I’d like you to tell me.”
Eva went on, aware that Jerard was drawing out her secrets and not caring. “I come from nothing, and I learned the hard way that no one takes care of someone like me. So I take care of myself. When I got to New York, everyone warned me to stay the hell away from Edmund Dupuis. Said he broke women, and he would break me too, but I knew he couldn’t. You can’t break someone who’s already broken. I went after Edmund, and I got him. We made a deal. I gave him one limit and made one demand. No kissing on the lips and tuition. In exchange, he got me. I may be Edmund’s whore, but it was my choice, and I will not regret it.”
“You’re not a whore, Eva.”
Jerard’s sympathy burned like acid.
“Don’t you dare look at me like that. You think I feel guilty? Well, I don’t have that luxury. I needed a roof over my head and an education so I wouldn’t have to rely on another man to keep it there. Edmund gave me that. Like tossing a penny into a guitar case for that rich bastard. Poor little Eva, on the other hand, has paid a king’s ransom for what I’ve let Edmund take from me. So I’ll carry on all right. I’ll take my hoity-toity education from that godforsaken man, and I’ll carry my sexy ass right on.”
With that, she turned her sexy ass on Jerard, grabbed her clothes, and marched out.