Lia Riley writes smokin’ hot New Adult romance and is best known for her Off the Map series. Now she’s back with Into My Arms, a new Off the Map novella, and she’s shared an exclusive excerpt with us. (After you read scroll down to enter our giveaway; we’re giving away three sets of the original Off the Map trilogy, Upside Down, Sideswiped, and Inside Out.)
“You’re here because I want to touch you.”
Beth Jacobs spends her days slogging away in a corporate “fish bowl,” as the hard-working assistant for one of North America’s youngest dot-com billionaires. Aleksander “Z” Zavtra is the definition of dark and dangerous with a sexy Eastern European snarl. He’s also ruthless. Curt. Exacting. An infuriating man she loves to hate. While Beth hardly sees him, it’s as if he’s always watching her. . .
Z doesn’t do romance. But he never expected to be captivated by a whip-smart, fiery assistant who just so happens to share an uncanny resemblance to the beautiful face that haunts his dreams. He craves Beth. He wants to stroke her skin, to feel her heat beneath him. And what Z wants, he gets. And for one weekend, the lines between employer and employee are blurred as Z and Beth give themselves completely to the dark pleasures they’ve both been dreaming about.
“Who else is joining us here?” I dab the corner of my mouth and pray that my face isn’t revealing total bewilderment. It’s taken me over twenty years, but I’m good at keeping up my own mask. He doesn’t have to see how much of an unsettling effect he has on me.
“Again comes his strange magnetic stare, the one that feels like a physical caress, conjuring a hot rush of heat up my neck. “So it’s just you, me, and your staff?” Would it be gauche to tell him about my app idea? Maybe. But then again, he’s a businessman; he might appreciate a bold approach, and Besties is sort of a genius idea, a way for woman to—
“No staff. I gave them time off.”
My pulse quickens as a momentary haze clouds my vision. “So it’s just you and me?”
“For the weekend.”
Wait, is that my imagination or does his impersonal tone crack, unveiling the merest trace of uncertainty?
“You are free to leave any time, Bethanny.” He gestures to the phone on the coffee table. “Take it. Katya’s number is programmed. If you desire to leave, he will fly you out. No questions asked.”
My prickles of unease fade but don’t disappear as a vague heat dances over my skin. “But you haven’t answered mine. You promised earlier that you would explain everything.”
His heavy-lidded gaze is bright as topaz and just as hard as he drags a hand through his thick mantle of hair. “Will you stay tonight? No matter what I say?”
“Of course not. You could tell me five thousand things that would make me leave in a heartbeat.”
“Yes, good. Very good.” He laughs shortly, mouth quirking as if I’ve just managed to please him in some mysterious way. “That is why.”
“Why what?” I whisper. Something twitches in my stomach, a radiating ache that spreads lower, loosening my thighs, heating my center. The idea of pleasing him should be the furthest thing from my mind, unless I’m pleasing him with my brain to get start-up funds. I’m not here to serve as entertainment. Still, there is no denying my panties are suddenly wet with an instant, unexpected, and almost painful arousal.
A palpable charge emanates from him, a current of invisible lightning. “You are here because I…I want to see if I can touch you.”
A few hundred dollars’ worth of vodka splatters over my kitten heels. Glass shatters. It’s probably Swarovski crystal, a far cry from my Target glassware. Every muscle in my body tenses. This isn’t amateur hour. I wanted to have face time with the big boss, and I can’t impress if I’m acting like I’ve got ten thumbs for fingers.
Apologize with a witty joke. Go fetch a dish towel, broom, or—
It’s not until that moment that I realize I’ve stood. “If you insist on imitating my parents by using that name, I want to know what yours call you?” I snap.
“Nothing,” he answers without a second of evasion. “They don’t call me anything.”
“Oh.” I sink back down to the couch, tugging down the hem of my skirt and crossing my heels. “It’s okay. I’m not on speaking terms with mine either.”
He is quiet so long that I have time to make a careful study of the way his suit jacket is vaguely rumpled and how that thick shock of black hair hangs without falling at the edge of his right temple. At last he stirs, his voice far away. “My mother and father are dead.”
Oh God, way to blunder into that one. “I’m so sorry.” I stand again, this time determined to clean the broken glass, anything but appear to snoop at his personal life.
“I don’t wish to talk about them,” he says firmly. ”Sit.”
“Are you always this pushy?”
“Are you always this jumpy?” His eyes flash and he looks as if he is ready to snarl more, but instead locks his jaw and loosens his tie. “And yes. Pushy is my default. Apologies. Please, sit.”
I sink back to the couch, knees pressed together. “Okay, back to the business at hand. You said that you, you know, that you…”
Does that quirk to his mouth mean he enjoys my discomfort?
“I want to touch you. This request is most irregular and you are under no obligation to comply in order to keep your job. Anytime you wish to leave, call Katya and your departure shall be immediately arranged. If that is the case, you may continue to work for Zavtra Tech as long as your performance remains excellent, and if you prefer to be shifted to another department, that can also be arranged. Tonight is not some cheap attempt at coercion.”
“Nevertheless”—I tuck a lock of hair behind my ear—“there’s no denying that you hold an awful lot of cards in this deck.”
He smiles wryly. “Smoke and mirrors.”
“Down to specifics, then. What kind of touching are we talking about? Hand holding?”
He ignores my sarcasm, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “I have a friend in my employ, a trusted friend—”
“Brandon Lockhart.” Bran is the fiancé of one of my good friends, Talia, and he also works at Zavtra Tech. He and Z apparently spent a few formative years together at an elite boarding school in Australia.
“What about Bran? Was this his idea?”
He inclines his head in assent. “Yesterday, I received some news about past. Bad news. Lockhart suggested that spending time with you could help.”
I wait but he doesn’t elaborate. There aren’t many people in the world who can sit as comfortably as Z in total silence.
At last I can’t take it. “Help with what?”
“I desire you physically.” He ignores my question, delivering the statement as simply as if he’s telling me that he prefers pepperoni pizza or happens to be an Aries. Except that his gaze has dropped to my breasts, lingering long enough for them to respond, full and hot, my nipples tightening into two aching peaks.
“You want to have sex?” My track record with guys hasn’t been great. All work and no play makes Beth a dull girl. It’s been a while since I’ve hooked up, and by a while I mean over a year. I’ve become something of a sexual agnostic, not sure I’d ever get laid again.
“I want to give you pleasure and try to take pleasure in turn.” He lets out a coarse breath, raking a hand through his hair, causing it nothing but further disarray. “I’m almost twenty-five, Bethanny. I have not known the touch of a woman in seven years.”
I gape in disbelief. “But you are…” Sexy. Rich. Intelligent.
And a monk?
“We all have our demons, do we not?” he says in a quiet voice.
I close my eyes. It never takes much to hear brakes squeal, feel, really feel the gut-deep dread that the speeding car was going to hit us. A scream. A bang. Then silence except for the radio playing Taylor Swift and the dawning realization that the blood covering me wasn’t mine.
I force my eyes open. I’m not at the scene of a car accident, but at a billionaire’s oceanfront mansion. The scent of my best friend’s lifeblood doesn’t linger in the air.
“We do,” I murmur.
He gives a short nod. “I can see the truth stamped on you.”
“Grief. Anger. The same things eating my insides.”
I rub the thin scar on the side of my face. “I focus on my work.”
“Yes, I know something of that too. It’s a way to survive.”
“Yes, stop feeling and nothing can touch you,” I say almost to myself.
“See!” He snaps his fingers. “You and I aren’t so very different.”
“Um, except for the part where I don’t own a billion-dollar business, helicopter, or oceanfront property.”
“I don’t want to debate such things.” The strange moment we shared is replaced by brisk efficiency. But too late. I’ve glimpsed a flesh-and-blood man behind the impassive mask and am intrigued and a little turned on. Scratch that. A lot turned on. It’s as if he’s cast a spell and I can’t even blame the vodka because it’s puddled on the floor instead of racing through my veins. He is ten feet away and his words I physically desire you lap against my skin like a hungry tongue.
I am still not exactly clear what he’s after, what the stakes are, but I’m game to wander down the rabbit hole and see what awaits in wonderland.
“Very well, I’ll stay.”
After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, Lia Riley scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. When not torturing heroes (because c’mon, who doesn’t love a good tortured hero?), Lia herds unruly chickens, camps, beach combs, daydreams about as-of-yet unwritten books, wades through a mile-high TBR pile and schemes yet another trip. She and her family live mostly in Northern California. You can connect with her online on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or at her website.