Welcome to TANTALIZING THURSDAYS!!!
During the past two weeks, I've shared snippets from SPANKED BY AN ANGEL, SEDUCING THE CHAMBERMAID, TEMPTED BY TWO ANGELS, and HER WANTON WAYS.
Today, I present the entire first chapter of CHERISHED BY TWO ANGELS - Notorious Nephilim 5. This series was written under my Carolyn Rosewood pen name, and is available HERE from Siren-BookStrand Enjoy!!
Sofia Fillipone became startled every time a staff member addressed her by name. Her fake name, that is. As far as the staff at Lilith’s Playground knew, she was a guest named Eden Wilderness who’d checked in two days ago and had barely left her room since. This crisp March morning she’d dared to venture down to eat breakfast in the dining room for the first time. Room service had delivered all her previous meals.
“What can I get you this morning, Miss Wilderness?” The smiling waiter stood over her, not quite as tall as Rake, her ex-husband, but possessing the same dark eyes that reminded Sofia of beetles.
“Coffee and wheat toast.”
After he left, she glanced out the windows that spanned Deer Lake, envy flooding every pore of her body as she watched two men strolling along the footpath on either side of a pretty woman with dark hair. It was obvious from their body language they both were crazy about her. Plumes of water vapor escaped their mouths as they talked and laughed. What would it be like to have a man in your life who didn’t mind walking outdoors in the cold with you, and who actually talked to you as well?
Rake had never walked around a pine-ringed lake with her. Once they were married, their time alone had consisted of his trying out the latest flogger or set of nipple clamps he’d bought, or more likely had stolen from evidence in a recent raid. Sofia didn’t mind the kinky sex, but it would have been nice if Rake had tried to be gentle and respect her limits.
Then again, Rake wasn’t about gentleness or respecting limits—or respecting anything else for that matter. Rake lived for himself. Sofia had been married to him for three years before she finally admitted that to herself and filed for divorce. One year later, the matter legally resolved as far as the courts were concerned, he still harassed her. It wasn’t like she could call the cops. He was one.
Coming here for two weeks was a chance to disappear for a while and decide what to do about her life. She loved Chicago, and her entire family was still there, but Rake would never let her go. He’d made that quite clear the day she faced him across the table in front of a mediator and their respective attorneys. And when your crazy, obsessive ex-husband was a decorated vice cop on top of it, there was no place to hide.
“It’s a beautiful view, isn’t it?”
The deep, sexy voice startled Sofia out of her daydreams. She whirled around to stare at the tall man who stood next to the table. Dark eyes that didn’t look like a nasty insect, but instead sparkled with humor and light smiled down at her. Sofia’s palms grew damp, and her heart began to race.
“Yes, it is.”
He nodded toward the footpath, where the woman and two men had stopped to watch a flock of birds fly over the lake. “That’s Abigail Cosslin. She does legal work for us now. And the two men with her are Zach Neville and Emmett Fallon, two of the owners.” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Reeve Neville, another owner.”
As soon as she shook his hand, a jolt of electricity traveled up her arm, across her collarbones, and straight down to her nipples. She sucked in a breath. “I’m Eden Wilderness. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Neville.” Her voice sounded breathy, and she swallowed against the sudden lump in her throat, struggling to regain her composure.
“Please call me Reeve. May I join you?”
Sofia debated for what felt like long moments. Surely there was no harm in sharing her Spartan breakfast with a gorgeous man, but she wasn’t here to partake of the resort’s unique services. Lilith’s Playground wasn’t well known to many people. She’d heard about it by accident from one of the women with whom she worked at Northern Trust. Her coworker’s cousin had been a guest at the resort recently and had raved about the place. Sofia had been more intrigued by its air of mystery and privacy than by the assurance that the owners catered to their guests’ every desire.
“Sure,” she finally said, not wanting to appear rude. As soon as Reeve took a chair opposite her, the waiter appeared with her toast and coffee.
“Mr. Neville, what can I bring you?”
“Just coffee.” He glanced at her bread. “Is that all you’re having?”
“I don’t eat much.” Sofia was suddenly self-conscious. What was she supposed to say to this man? She’d come here to hide out and make a plan, not to indulge in two weeks of no-strings-attached-sex. That was the last thing she needed right now.
“We employ four full-time gourmet chefs at this resort, Eden. I wish you’d try something other than wheat bread.”
She couldn’t help but smile. The cadence of his voice had a way of lulling her into a sense of security, almost like music. “Maybe for lunch.”
“Great.” He glanced around. “And I just happen to know a place much cozier than this room, if you’d care to join me.”
As tempting as his offer was, she wasn’t ready for another man in her life, even a temporary one. “Reeve, that’s very kind of you, but…” Sofia bit her lip as she tried to think of a way to explain why she wasn’t jumping at the chance to be with him, without insulting him in the process. “I came here to think about something. Something important.”
He raised his eyebrows and leaned back in his chair. “Sounds serious. Anything I can help with?”
She studied his face for any sign of bullshit, but it simply wasn’t there. Still, he was a stranger, and Sofia wasn’t in the habit of airing her dirty laundry in front of family and friends, let alone a man she’d just met. Even a yummy man with hair the color of roasted chestnuts and a tiny cleft in his chin.
“No, but thank you for asking.” Sofia pushed away from the table. “Please excuse me, Reeve.”
“That’s an interesting charm bracelet.”
“What?” Sofia stared at him, then followed his gaze to her wrist. She shouldn’t have worn the damn thing, but recapturing the part of her life she’d slowly abandoned during her marriage had seemed like the right thing to do, and the charm bracelet was part of that life.
Her mother had given it to her when she’d turned six, and Sofia had been collecting charms for it ever since. It gave her a sense of place and served as a reminder that she was a whole person, even without her husband.
“Your charm bracelet. There are so many things on it. May I see them?”
She took her seat again and removed the bracelet, then handed it to him. While he looked it over, she finished her toast. No sense in letting good food go to waste. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled partway up his forearms, and Sofia tried not to stare at the muscles or the dusting of dark hair on them. She also tried to resist the sudden urge to run her fingers over his arm.
His face lit up like a Christmas tree. “A musical note. Do you play?”
“I used to.”
A slight frown creased his brow. “But not anymore?”
“Not for a while.”
“What did you play?”
“Clarinet, oboe, and bassoon.”
His eyebrows shot up again. “Wow. I’m impressed. Did you major in music in college? Have you played professionally?”
Sofia shook her head as her cheeks colored. Reeve handed her back the bracelet, and she put it on. It felt hot against her skin, as if just being in his hands had altered the chemical composition of the metal. “I took clarinet lessons as a kid and then when I got to high school they had plenty of clarinet players, but needed both an oboe player and a bassoon player, so I volunteered and was in two ensembles.”
“Those are all difficult instruments to play.”
Sofia shrugged as she gazed into Reeve’s dark eyes, struck by the fact that the same color eyes could look so different on one person as compared to another. Where Rake’s eyes had always been cold and distant, Reeve’s were now warm and inviting. She wanted to tell him everything about her life. It was as though all other conversation in the room had ceased, and they were the only two left talking.
“Woodwinds just came easy to me.”
“Did you keep playing in college?”
“No. I majored in economics, and then went on to get my MBA. I’m a financial analyst at Northern Trust.”
He blinked a few times, and Sofia wished the floor would open up and swallow her. She nearly clamped a hand over her mouth. Why the hell had she told him that? She’d had a perfect cover story for Eden Wilderness all ready and rehearsed, and it most definitely didn’t include her real occupation or her college degrees. She was a fucking idiot.
“That’s a far cry from music.”
“I still play for fun.” She rose again. Time to get the hell out of Dodge and salvage what little was left of her secret identity.
“If you ever want to jam, let me know. I play bass guitar.”
Sofia turned around and studied him, easily picturing him on a stage with a Fender or Gibson. “Sadly, I don’t have any of my instruments with me.”
Reeve chuckled as if she’d just made a joke. Either the man was mocking her or he was dense. “Well then, we’ll just have to conjure up a woodwind for you to play.” He rose and walked over to where she stood. The scent of oregano wafted past her nose and she wondered if they’d put it in the omelettes. “If you change your mind about lunch, ask at the front desk. They’ll know where to find me.”
Sofia held her breath as he lifted her hand and kissed the back of it. His lips burned her skin like fire. “I hope you will change your mind, Eden.”
As he left the room, she watched until he turned the corner and was gone, fighting the urge to run after him. What the hell was wrong with her?
Reeve went straight to Zach’s office, knowing he wouldn’t be there as he had just watched him and Emmett taking a walk around Deer Lake with Abigail but not wanting to wait a single moment before pulling the paperwork on Eden Wilderness. He was rifling through the files of current guests when Zach, Emmett, and Abigail came in.
“Looking for something?” asked Zach.
It was weird to see Zach and Emmett with reddened cheeks and the slight hint of crow’s feet in the corners of their eyes. It had only been six weeks since Abigail had chosen to stay here with them and they’d become mortal. Before that, they could have stayed out in the cold for any length of time without their skin becoming red, and their faces had no hint of wrinkles.
Now there were only four of the original twelve left who hadn’t broken the curse placed on them over ninety years earlier, Reeve among them.
“Yes. The paperwork on Eden Wilderness.”
Zach frowned and reached for the stack of files in Reeve’s hand. “The interior designer from Idaho?”
Reeve snorted. “Try financial analyst from Chicago who plays at least three woodwinds.”
Zach sat down at his desk and opened the file. “Sit down and tell me what’s going on.”
Reeve pulled a chair over while Emmett and Abigail perched on the corners of Zach’s desk. “I noticed her in the dining room this morning and hadn’t seen her before so I walked over to introduce myself.”
“She checked in two days ago,” said Abigail. “I only know because I happened to overhear Tiffany telling one of the housekeepers how much she loved the name Eden.”
“Doubtful that’s her real name,” said Reeve.
“Why do you say that?” asked Emmett.
“Several things. She turned me down—”
Zach laughed. “Oh? And that means she’s here under a fake name?”
“All right, knock it off and let me finish, okay? I tried to invite her to lunch, and she nearly ran out of the room. That’s when I spotted her charm bracelet. She actually took it off and let me look at it, and when I saw the musical note and asked if she played, the dam burst.”
“Did you use your powers on her?” asked Zach softly.
“Not a bit. I swear it. But there were other things on there as well. A dollar bill, the Illinois state flag, the John Hancock Observatory, a Barbie doll, several musical instruments, and Lake Michigan. There were charms from attractions in other cities as well, but it wasn’t the charms so much that caught my attention. It was the look on her face when she told me she’d earned her undergraduate in econ and that she’s a financial analyst at Northern Trust. Her entire aura changed, like she’d just fucked up and told me too much, or told me a lie.”
The look on her very pretty face. Reeve had always been attracted to women with short hair. Eden wore hers in a spiky style that perfectly complemented her heart-shaped face. And those hazel eyes held him spellbound. But he was sure she was hiding something, including her true identity.
Zach took out the questionnaire and glanced over it. “Well, okay, let’s see what we have here. From Boise, is an interior designer, never married—”
“She’s been married.”
“Indent on her left ring finger. She wore a wedding band.”
“Or an engagement ring,” said Abigail. “They leave marks too if you wear them long enough.”
“What else is on the questionnaire?” asked Reeve.
“Not much. She filled out all the answers. Even has a Boise address and phone number.”
“We can check those out,” said Emmett.
“How did she pay?” asked Reeve.
Reeve nodded. “See? She doesn’t want a paper trail.”
Zach grinned. “Reeve, most of our guests don’t want a paper trail. Paying with cash is not all that unusual here. And if she did give us fake info, that’s my fault it didn’t get caught.” He glanced at Abigail and grinned. “Then again, I have been a bit distracted lately.”
Reeve ignored the comment. A bit distracted was an understatement. Of the original twelve, Zach and Emmett had always been the most fastidious and hard working of any of them. But for the past six weeks, they’d barely left the suite they now shared with Abigail, unless she was with them.
“There’s something familiar about her face,” said Reeve. “The shape of her chin and her eyes, especially.”
“Where do you think you’ve seen her before?” asked Abigail.
Reeve shook his head. “Not her. I’d remember. She’s stunning. But she resembles someone I can’t quite place.”
Zach shrugged. “Well then, we’ll keep an eye on her, but I just don’t see anything in the file to raise a red flag. Why don’t you turn on the charm a bit and maybe this time she won’t turn you down?”
“Zach, becoming mortal didn’t help. You’re still an asshole.” Reeve rose and stalked out of the room to the sound of Zach and Emmett chuckling. He was right. He knew he was. Eden Wilderness was the prettiest woman he’d ever seen, and he wanted to get to know her better—much better—but he’d eat a set of guitar strings if she wasn’t hiding a big secret.