The winning scene was the one where Adam and Mia first meet. Below, as promised, is that scene in its entirety.
PLEASE BE AWARE that this scene is a MAJOR SPOILER for the book. Do NOT read it if you have not yet read At Any Price and are planning to do so. It is not a spoiler for At Any Turn, Book 2, so you are safe if you haven’t read that yet.
You have been warned!
The second most popular voted scene, with Adam and Mia on the yacht out under the stars from Adam’s point of view was sent out in my newsletter. You can still get that scene if you sign up here (**When you sign up for the newsletter, you’ll get a link in the confirmation letter that will take you right to that other alternate POV scene!) Also coming soon in the newsletter: Previews and teasers for AT ANY MOMENT.
———–SPOILERS BELOW——————————–SPOILERS BELOW—————-
When I first met my gaming friend, Eloisa, in person, it was a beautiful day in late April. A very normal sort of day. The circumstances of our meeting, however, were far from it.
I waited at the curb of the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel for my lawyer, Joseph Macy to arrive at the valet. I’d already been standing there for about ten minutes. It’s a good thing the coastal breeze coming in was cool or I might have been sweating. And I’d learned you never walk into an important business meeting when you’re sweating. Not a good way to start. It was never good to show the adversary your weakness or your emotions.
“Hey Joe,” I said, greeting him with an outstretched hand.
“Adam, good to see you.” He shot me a quizzical glance. “Mind sharing what this is all about?”
I shrugged. “I told you what it was about. You saw the paperwork.”
He frowned. “About this virginity auction…right. And…?” He raised his eyebrows. “Nothing else you want to share?” He obviously wanted the backstory on this weird situation. I’d already decided against telling him. Let him think I was some kind of perv who craved virgin sacrifices. Or maybe I’d sit down and explain it all out to him later if I really had to. For now, I just had to make it through this and chalk it off as one more mission accomplished.
Frankly, it was a bit too embarrassing to go into now. Too many people knew about this shit already. I’d already had my good friend Jordan on the case for me. He’d made plans to come to this sordid little meeting before having to deal with something that had cropped up at work.
“Let’s go,” I said glancing at my watch. “We’re late, I think.” Which was probably better. The longer she sat in there waiting for this meeting to start, the more nervous she probably got. That would all work perfectly for my plan.
We walked through the gold chrome glass doors into the huge lobby of the hotel, making our way to the back toward the conference rooms. I recalled that Heath had told me room 10 A.
“After you,” I said as I bent to pull open the frosted glass door. Joe glanced at me with a cocked eyebrow before stepping into the doorway and entering the room. Time to get this show on the road and set this plan in motion.
I quietly wondered how long it would take to offend the hell out of her.
Two people shot out of their seats on the opposite side of a long glass conference table.
I recognized Heath from when we’d met in person a few days before. I gave him a nod before turning to the woman standing beside him. I recognized her too. Our eyes met and I hesitated, feeling like I’d just stepped off a cliff and was free falling.
I’d seen her photos from the auction. The public photos had been shots of her in a bikini with her face obscured and I knew she had a nice body. I’d tried not to look at them too closely because the circumstances behind which they had been posted had turned my stomach. But after the bids had come in, Heath had sent head shots as well. I could see she had a beautiful face to match the rest of her—nice body and fun personality. A dangerous combo. It was hard to believe that men had managed to keep their hands off of her for so long and if I hadn’t known her better, I would have suspected a sham.
But there had to be a story behind why she’d never had sex. Too bad I wouldn’t be sticking around long enough to find out. I took in a long breath, wondering how long it had been since I’d drawn the last one. She was stunning.
She had long, medium brown hair and light brown eyes, widely set. She was slender and tall—though almost dwarfed by Heath, who towered over her. He towered over me, too and I was six-one. He loomed over her like a body guard and the way I’d heard him talk about her when we met, I was certain he was very protective of her.
However, like me, he hadn’t managed to talk her out of this crackpot auction. She was stubborn to a fault. I’d run up against that several times in the past.
She wore a white blouse and the most pathetic-looking rumpled skirt, which she self-consciously smoothed flat across her legs. She hadn’t taken her eyes off mine and I found it difficult to move. I had to mentally shake myself to remember why I was here—to be the most obnoxious jerk she had ever met and convince her to change her mind about this bullshit auction of hers.
Talking sense into her hadn’t worked so it was time to resort to plan B. Operation Asshole. I jerked my eyes away from her gaze—that gaze that was sucking me into her orbit—and gave her a callous once-over. As my eyes traveled down her legs and then back up to her face, I saw a touch of crimson rise to her cheeks. Perfect. I walked to the table.
I’d dressed the part today, too. When was the last time I’d even worn this suit, anyway? It was probably someone’s wedding—or maybe a funeral. I rarely ever wore a three-piece suit to work unless involved in some sort of power meeting where looking like a CEO was important. This was one of those meetings.
Heath leaned forward, offering me his hand and I smiled. “Good to see you again, Bowman,” I said, keeping with calling him by his last name to maintain the pretence that we didn’t actually know each other—that I hadn’t been his weekly gaming friend for almost fourteen months, now. He had no idea, of course, but because I’d never spoken on voice chat, he had very little to go on in order to suspect me. I just had to be careful and play this smart.
I sucked in a tight breath before bracing myself to turn back to her. Cold hard steel, I reminded myself. This was a business transaction, after all, and a revolting one at that. She was a stranger who was selling her virginity. She was not my friend. Not the woman who made me laugh my ass off on a regular basis while we were working through tedious quests or hacking hordes of monsters in the virtual world of Yondareth.
After I managed to offend her sensibilities today, I’d fade back into the woodwork. She’d abandon her crazy scheme and we could go on with our lives. She’d never have to know that I was FallenOne. There’d be no consequences. Things could remain comfortably the same.
Heath laid a hand on her shoulder. “This is our semi-famous blogger, Girl Geek.”
I studied her and she bit her lip. I tried not to swallow as I watched her worry it between her teeth. It was fucking sexy as hell. She had the most beautiful lips, puffy, dark pink. Kissable. Definitely very kissable. I wondered what they tasted like. This was not a good sign. Shit.
To cover for my unexpected reaction to her, I waved a hand toward her seat while I took mine. She cast a curious glance at Joe almost as if suddenly realizing he was there. I watched her closely, tried to frame my mind around her like a puzzle or a problem to solve. In many ways she was. If she had just listened to me or Heath in the first place, we wouldn’t have to be here going through this creepy farce.
She looked back at me and when her eyes met mine, she looked almost startled. I narrowed my gaze at her and tried my best to look intimidating. Thank God Jordan hadn’t made it here like we’d planned or he’d be laughing his ass off at me right now.
Heath began thumbing through a stack of papers on the table. I turned to watch as he pulled out what he was looking for.
I turned back to her. “So do I call you Girl Geek or do I get to know your name?” Yet another farce. I already knew her name, Emilia Kimberly Strong. I also knew a lot of other things about her, from gaming together and from other sources. What I hadn’t known until this moment was how mouth-watering she was in person.
And how fun it was to watch her get flustered as I scrutinized her. She blushed and cleared her throat. “My name is Mia.”
I scoffed. “Mia?”
Her hands fidgeted in her lap. My eyes were drawn to the movement. “Emilia. But everyone calls me Mia.”
I sent her a patronizing smile—one that I hoped would fire her up even more. She almost scowled at me in return. Oh, this was going better than I’d imagined… “I’m not everyone,” I said, watching her chest as her breathing appeared to quicken. It suddenly felt very hot in this conference room. “Emilia.”
Her fists clenched. Bingo, score one for Adam. Now to push it further…I flicked a glance at Heath’s papers. “So let’s go over the particulars of the contract. Is this just about the penetration of one organ by another or are there specifics laid out? What about touching, kissing? How many times? What about kink?”
Her mouth dropped open—I could see it in the periphery of my vision. I had to fight the smile. God this was hard. If there was one thing I was really good at—besides whipping up a badass line of code—it was being an asshole. Why was it so hard today?
I rubbed my bottom lip with my thumb to cover the smile tugging at my mouth. What was worse was that Heath looked like he was about to bust out laughing himself. Don’t give me away, man, I thought. Even though he had no idea he had anything to give away.
Heath cleared his throat. “That’s a lot to cover. And this is a strange venue to do it.”
I shrugged and looked back at Mia. “How about we just start with deal breakers, then?”
She turned to Heath and nodded as if she’d been expecting that question. Heath said, “I know of one that we can discuss right now. There will be no fellatio.”
Honest to God, I thought I’d misheard him. I leaned forward. “Excuse me?”
Mia leaned forward and said in almost too loud of a voice, “You heard him correctly. No cocksucking.”
Oh so now who was trying to be shocking? I tried that intimidating stare again and we held each other’s gaze for a long moment. I’d come in here with an agenda and it seemed to be getting off to a good start. What I hadn’t counted on, however, was how much fun it would be. I could probably sit here for another hour and think up new and even more mortifying ways to make her squirm.
Time to up the ante, then. “Are you on birth control?”
She rewarded me with a stunned blink. Nice. Called and raised, Ms. Strong.
Joe’s head jerked in my direction. Likely wondering why I was being so blunt. I probably should have tipped him off ahead of time. But he was probably still trying to wrap his head around the fact that I was paying a ridiculous amount of money to sleep with a virgin.
Another wave of revulsion washed over me at the thought and I was reminded of my mission… heh…Operation Save the Virgin?
Mia’s lips thinned. “All of that is delineated in the paperwork for the terms of the auction, Mr. Drake. Yes, I’ll be using birth control but there will also be condoms—”
Time to really gross her out. “If I’m going to lay down a fortune for the privilege of experiencing your quivering virgin flesh, I think it goes without saying that I expect to do it without a barrier.”
She sat back, shocked.
I tilted my head, watching her closely. “Why is that a problem? If we are both cleared by a physician—”
“Recent medical clearance is not sufficient for me. I’d require celibacy for at least the previous six months, so—”
“Then there isn’t a problem.” Yeah best not go into details there…I hadn’t gotten laid in almost eight months. I wasn’t really happy about that fact but when the hell had I had the time to rectify it lately? There just weren’t enough hours in the week and I’d been spending too many of my precious few spare hours gaming with these two and Persephone online.
Mia’s mouth opened as she leaned forward, about to do battle when Heath stopped her.
Joe cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable. “We can work all these details out later in mediation. Mr. Drake does have a plane to catch later today.”
I watched Heath and Mia interact. She was clearly pissed off at me. Good. She had no clue who I actually was. Just like I’d planned it. In a few more minutes, with a few more snide and suggestive remarks, this virgin would be running for the hills—and safety.
I cleared my throat. “Gentlemen, could you excuse us for a moment? You’re free to wait just outside the door. If, of course, that is okay with the lady?”
I darted a look of challenge at her, waiting to see if she’d contradict me. Would she allow me to seize control like this or would she show fear by refusing to allow us to meet alone? And what would that foreshadow for our supposed night together? It was a difficult choice for her. I knew it would be and I could see the struggle within her as she attempted to figure out what I was doing.
“Fine,” she said. She didn’t say, “If that’s what you want,” or anything like that. That would be ceding power to me. But really, in this power game, she had lost long before this moment.
It was hard to read her as the others got up and left. She relaxed her arms and folded them tightly in her lap and her beautiful brown eyes never left me. And she appeared very nervous. A wide-eyed innocent.
And God, she was lovely. I couldn’t stop noticing it. But with that daunting intelligence in her dark eyes, she was far more than a pretty face. I knew it well. Her wit was sharp and her mind quick. She’d had me in stitches for way too many late-night gaming sessions. I hadn’t been in her physical presence long enough to read her signals but I had a feeling I was about to get some of that tart wit aimed my way very soon.
I cleared my throat and began my prepared speech—designed, of course, to disturb her. Even so, I was a little reluctant to go this route. I wasn’t worried about what she’d think of me. But I was concerned about what such a discussion might do to her. As if with words I could violate that innocence I had so easily detected. A knot of emotion formed at the base of my throat. What was it? Sympathy? I knew she was desperate. I knew this was, in part, for altruistic reasons. But I couldn’t allow her to sacrifice herself like this. There was no way I’d stand for it. I would go out of my way to help my friends or prevent them from doing something stupid. And something about Mia in particular brought out the protectiveness in me. Or maybe she was just so bullheaded that I wanted to out-bullhead her. I always did like a good challenge.
And yet, that same pull I felt earlier returned again with force. She fascinated me. Powerfully attracted me. I cleared my throat and tried my best to ignore it.
I laid my hands on the table, lacing fingers together. “I’m sorry if my bluntness has offended you. I assumed that a woman who has placed herself on the block like you have would be comfortable with straight talk.”
She laughed. “Oh, is that what that was? I just thought you were being an asshat.”
Here we go. This sounded more like the Mia I knew. A little back and forth was always fun. I just refused to allow myself to enjoy it too much.
She sighed. “Mr. Drake. You are not leaving me with the best impression of yourself—”
I cut her off with a chuckle. “Do I need to? I thought my bank account did that for me.”
She tensed from head to toe. Good. “I am not a prostitute and I’ll thank you not to treat me like one.”
“You’ve sold yourself. You may not see yourself as one, but clearly…” I overtly leered at her to emphasize my point. It wouldn’t take much to mentally undress her. As my eyes skimmed down from her perfect cleavage, across her breasts, waist and down to her gorgeous legs. Heat rose under my collar. Yeah, I imagined her clothes coming off. It had been too long and I was now feeling incredibly horny, much to my shame.
She shook her head. “One night in my life and a bit of broken skin does not constitute prostitution.”
I couldn’t rip my gaze from her. There was some kind of strange energy in the room, like static electricity. “Sex for money is prostitution.”
She shrugged. “I prefer not to put a label on it. One night of my life does not define me.”
“A lot can happen in one night.”
She looked at me for a long moment, not saying a word. But she also looked as if she was about to run screaming from the room, a changed woman, ready to give up this incredibly crazy scheme of hers. So, I pressed my advantage. “It takes a curious type of morality to save one’s self for so long only to sell off that asset to the highest bidder.”
Her jaw tightened. Yeah, she was clearly pissed. “You didn’t pay to get inside my head, Mr. Drake.” Then she leaned forward and pushed Heath’s stack of papers across the table. “Here’s the fine print—everything that I could think of.”
I barely gave it a second’s attention. “I’m not going to read through that now, obviously. And, of course, I’ll have addendums of my own. Along with a nondisclosure agreement.”
One shapely brow rose. “You do know that I’m a blogger, right?”
“Of course. But, aside from your Manifesto, you blog exclusively about gaming, not your sex life. The document is pretty standard, with a little extra wording about our special situation”
She glanced over the paper, then her eyes flew to the top again, rereading it, brows tightening as she read. I took a moment to admire her skin, the way she pushed dark tendrils of stray hair behind a delicate ear. Frustrated with myself I looked away. It was high time I got laid—but not this way. Never this way.
She asked for a pen, signed it quickly with jerky movements of her right wrist. Then, she pushed it back to me. “I’m going to need a copy of that.”
I signed the paper as well. “Of course,” I murmured, pulling my smart phone from my jacket pocket to snap an image of the document. I promptly sent it to Heath’s e-mail account. “Heath Bowman now has a copy in his e-mail. He can forward it to you. I’ll have a physical copy mailed to you as soon as possible if you put your address on the back of the form.”
She complied. Then she straightened with a smirk hovering on her sexy lips. “It’s too bad, really, that I won’t be able to write about it. I could have made it sound so mind-blowing—I might even have thrown in a few ‘earth-shatterings’ for good measure.”
I couldn’t help but smile. She was making this really easy for me. “Oh, our encounters will be all that and more.”
Her eyes widened and she shook her head in obvious disbelief. “It’s one night, Mr. Drake. That ‘encounters’ should have a parentheses around the s.”
She had a lot to learn about sex, didn’t she? Damn shame. It would have been fun to be the one to teach her. “Encounters…no parentheses necessary.”
Then I grew more overt with my ogling. It wasn’t difficult. I honestly liked just about everything I saw—the way her firm, high breasts strained against the white shirt. An exquisite blush stained her cleavage. I swallowed. Any more staring and I was going to embarrass myself with my own arousal. I couldn’t do this for long and remain unaffected. I suddenly wondered if I’d kept Janine’s phone number. She might be pissed if I called after eight months but… maybe that would be worth it. Because—goddamn—I needed it more than I’d thought I did. Working myself exhausted every day all day wasn’t enough, apparently.
And if it wasn’t enough, she responded to my obvious leering. Her nipples grew taut and strained against the pale blouse. And—fuck—yep, suddenly her body parts weren’t the only ones that were responding.
I covered my embarrassment by shifting in my seat and sending her a cheeky grin. “This is going to be fun.”
And yes, I was regretting the fact that it wouldn’t ever amount to anything past this moment. Because it really would have been fun. In more ways than just the one.
She folded her arms to cover her breasts—thank God—and I finally tore my hungered eyes away. Clenching my jaw, I forced myself to think about something else besides her hot, lithe body and beautiful face. It was distracting as hell.
I was going to have to dig deep to find Adam the Asshole again to finish off this whole charade. “I’m sorry to make this brief, but I’m on the way to a business meeting. We can work out all the details so that we’re both satisfied. I’ll be reachable by e-mail, however. Or you can text me.”
Her relief was visible. I had to admit, mine probably was too. The sexual tension in here was crazy. So thick it could be cut with a chainsaw.
“My cell phone isn’t working.”
What? Who lived without their cell phone these days? Was it even safe for a woman to be roaming around without one? That situation would have to be rectified immediately. I’d find a way to get one to her anonymously. Maybe Heath could facilitate that for me once she backed out of the auction.
I cleared my throat. “I have nothing but your best interests, health and safety in mind, Emilia. Both physically and legally.” Her wry look indicated that she did not believe me. “Well, I do have my own expectations of how this should go, of course.”
“Of course you do.”
We watched each other for a long moment and I don’t think either of us was breathing. I swallowed, thrown again. I needed the hell out of here before I either grabbed her and committed some lewd act by pushing her up against the wall and rumpling that pathetic skirt even more or just dropping to my knees and begging.
I stood up and waited for her to do the same. She came around from her side of the table towards me and I held out my hand, indicating that she should go in front of me. But it was too deliciously easy to imagine myself slipping an arm around her waist, pulling her against me, smelling her neck. I shook my head to rid myself of the image.
I reached for the door handle and paused, turning towards her. She looked at me, puzzled, but when she spoke, her voice was breathy with either anticipation or fear.
“Was there something else?”
Yes. Kiss me with those luscious lips of yours, I wanted to say. I wanted to know what they tasted like. I wanted to explore that mouth with my tongue, feel that silky brown hair twined in my fingers.
I smiled. I knew what I wanted—I always knew what I wanted. But this was off limits. For good. “No. I’d better not ask.”
“Adam,” I interrupted, my gaze focused on her with intensity. It was disconcerting how little I had to summon up. The intensity was already there, especially with her this close. I could smell the faint vanilla scent of her hair.
I had vowed not to touch her but I could hardly resist. I likely wouldn’t have the chance again. I reached up and took her chin in my hand, tracing that exquisitely-turned jaw line with my thumb. She shivered under my touch and every last bit of me hardened painfully. Surprisingly, she didn’t shrink from me—didn’t play the part of the quivering virgin. She just watched me with those mysterious brown eyes. I tilted her chin towards me as if I might kiss her lips. Lord knows, I wanted to.
“Call me Adam,” I said, brushing my thumb over her jaw again. I had to forcibly prevent myself from touching her lips. “It’s only fitting, given that we’ll be seeing each other naked soon.”
I swallowed as she sucked in air. It was actually far too close to the truth. I wanted my name on her lips while I touched her, made her come. I wanted it too damn much.
“This isn’t a done deal. I could always change my mind,” she said, with a trembling voice.
I nodded. “You could. And if you can’t bring yourself to hear it talked about, you probably shouldn’t go through with it.”
I leaned in close to get a whiff—vanilla and…peaches…and something else I couldn’t quite place. This would be the very last time I had the chance to savor that scent. Our faces were only inches from each other. My heart started pounding in my throat, hot arousal knotting in my gut. This wasn’t good for my asshole routine at all. “In the end, after all the legal talk, after all of the technical Latin terms we’ve been throwing around, this is going to be about two people. In bed—and probably other places. Fucking.”
She flushed scarlet and with that parting shot, I pulled the door open without removing my gaze from her.
She narrowed her eyes for a moment, then took her turn to leer at me. Oh no, she did not just do that. I was already sweating through the undershirt of this monkey suit and she was running her gaze slowly over me. My hand tightened on the heavy door handle to prevent me from tearing it away to grab her.
I grinned. “Yes, this is definitely going to be fun,” I said. Too bad I wouldn’t be around to actually enjoy it.
She cocked her head and clenched her jaw, clearly irritated. Her elegant eyebrows arched. “You’ll be paying enough for it.”
And there it was. The essence of why this must fail no matter how torn I was at the moment. She may have been the most intriguing woman I’d encountered in a long time. She may have the most kissable lips I’d ever laid eyes on, but I would never, ever pay her for sex.
Screw my raging hormones and this crazy attraction to her. This whole charade was about preventing her from doing a very stupid and self-destructive thing.
I sobered, my previous amusement evaporating like cigar smoke. This would not happen. Not if I had anything to do with it. I’d do whatever it took to prevent it.
“We’ll be in touch, Emilia.” My resolve firmed as we exited the room, her walking stiffly beside me as we made it back to where Bowman stood talking with Joe. I didn’t spare another look at her. I couldn’t afford it. I hoped the first class lounge at LAX had showers. Cold, cold showers.