“Is that the Lucazzone mansion?”
“Villa,” Jett corrected. “It’s not that big.”
“But where’s the street?”
“There is none. The Lucazzone family has always been keen on privacy, so they built the house on a secluded spot and never bothered to make it accessible,” Jett said.
The word ‘secluded’ didn’t even do it justice. How did these people go grocery shopping? Did they even have electricity or Internet?
“Do they grow their own crops?”
Jett’s lips twitched. “They might have a few centuries ago, but currently they have discovered the benefits of the local grocery store’s home delivery service. Do you see that large oak?” He pointed beyond the lake to a thick tree with low hanging branches. I nodded and squinted to get a better glimpse, but couldn’t make out more than contours in the blinding rays of the sun. “There’s a boat hidden from view. It’s been there for years, and once a month the old man would row the boat over the lake, meet with the waiting grocery store owner, stock up on supplies, and then return to the villa. As kids, my brother and I would be hiding up here, waiting for the old man in his black cape-like coat to appear. Usually it was in the semi-darkness of dawn. The way the boat broke through the morning mist clinging to the water surface made it look like a scene from a gothic vampire movie. For a while, my brother and I were convinced the old man was a vampire.”
His eyes focused on a point beyond the horizon, and I knew he wasn’t seeing the serene display of nature before our eyes, but the sweet memories of a childhood that would always live on in his mind and heart. I found myself smiling with him, seeing the past through his words, and for a moment I felt as though I was there with him, seeing the old man through the fanciful eyes of an innocent boy.
“You must have loved it up here,” I said, gently squeezing his arm. His stunning eyes turned to me and a bright smile lit up his face, sending a jolt through my heart.
“We did. That was right before—” His expression darkened, wiping the gorgeous smile off his lips. Something had happened. Instead of sharing it with me, he was bottling up again. It wasn’t surprising given that we barely knew each other, but I couldn’t help the sudden disappointment washing over me. As strange as it sounded, I wanted to know everything about him and his life.
“Come on.” Jett gripped my hand a bit rougher than before and guided me expertly down the slippery slope toward the shoreline. The flat soles of my ballerinas slipped in the soft earth, but I didn’t argue in the hope he might still decide to resume our conversation and divulge what he wanted to say.
Eventually, we reached the shore and stopped a few feet from the water. Jett pulled me down next to him onto the soft ground and propped his arm behind my back, the material of his shirt almost brushing my skin. His dark hair swayed in the light breeze. I closed my eyes and leaned back on my palms, my face soaking up the sun. We sat in silence for a moment or two. I only opened my eyes when I felt his gaze on me.
Jett’s eyes were hooded, filled with something dark and dangerous. His beautiful lips glistened as though he had moistened them quite recently and the moisture hadn’t dried yet. I imagined the tip of his tongue brushing over them, then over every inch of my skin, meeting with mine in a tangled embrace. Would he find me intimidating if I just kissed him? Did our agreement involve only him getting close to me whenever he felt like it, or could I initiate sexual contact as well, maybe even during working hours? Such as now?
Damn sex contracts and their blurred lines! I had never played this game, so I had yet to figure out the fine print. Smiling shyly, I ignored the sudden need in the pit of my stomach that was slowly but steadily venturing down south.
“It must be pretty lonely over there,” I said in a feeble attempt to conceal my nervousness.
“Probably, but I can also see the benefits of keeping away from civilization’s stress and hassles, and having one’s kids grow up in the serenity of nature.” Jett fell silent again, his gaze never leaving mine. The air charged with tension. I bit my lip and broke eye contact, only to redirect my gaze to him a moment later.
He was sitting so close I could barely breathe. And while his proximity didn’t feel uncomfortable, it was almost too much to bear.
“Tell me about your life,” Jett said eventually.
I laughed. “What?” It was such a strange request. Men weren’t usually interested in my life, past, thoughts, and so forth.
Jett grinned that lopsided smile of his that made my heart skip a beat. “We didn’t go through the usual interviewing process, so it’s about time to catch up.”
“Well, we didn’t really go through the traditional hiring process either.”
He shrugged and his grin intensified. “You have a point. I could fire and re-hire you, if it bothers you so much. Or—” he turned onto one side, propping up on one elbow “—you could just answer my question.” It wasn’t an invitation but a demand.
I moistened my lips as I tried to push through years of memories in the hope I might find something that didn’t give away too much, yet still enough to satisfy his curiosity.
“My dad died when I was a teen. I grew up with my mother who tried her best to fulfill the role of both. After finishing high school, I came to New York to study, and ended up working in real estate.” Those were the boring parts of my life; the harmless ones barely scratching the surface. Usually, they sufficed in sending a guy into a disinterested staring stupor, meaning they never bothered to ask further questions. I searched Jett’s gaze for any signs of disinterest, but what I found was an attentiveness that scared me. He seemed to really listen to me. While there was nothing wrong with it, the fact that this guy who hired me would be interested in me and in my life showed me he cared for me in some way. And that scared me even more.
“You always wanted to work in real estate?” His question seemed polite and harmless enough.
“I like houses. What about you?”
He smiled but didn’t take the bait to change the object of focus. “It’s a strange career choice for a college graduate. Either you were pushed into it knowing you could make big bucks once you built your portfolio. Or you had a serious interest in buildings and the market. Which one is it?” My throat dried up. The guy knew what he was talking about. I wondered whether it was one of his usual interview questions, or whether he pulled it out of his repertoire for someone like me.
“You don’t have to answer if you’re not comfortable,” Jett continued slowly.
“It’s pretty simple. I felt it was the right step.” I shrugged because that was all there really was to it. Working in real estate was the right step—at that time.
Jett’s eyes glittered with amusement, and I got the feeling my explanation pleased him. “You joined the business out of interest, then.”
I groaned inwardly. He wasn’t about to change the topic any time soon. I forced myself not to pull a face. “Yep.”
“Did you know a lot about houses? Were you fascinated by them, by the people living inside?”
He knew something was off.
I don’t know why, but the thought hit me the moment he regarded me coolly—his eyes clouded as though to hide his thoughts and emotions. My heart thumped hard against my rib cage, threatening to burst out of my chest. My palms turned clammy, and a thin rivulet of sweat trickled down my spine.
Stay calm, Stewart.
I knew answering his question would lead to more questions, until there were no secrets left. I had never told anyone, and I sure wasn’t ready to share the dark sides of my past with Jett. My throat constricted with fear. I buried my fingers into the soft grass and ripped it out, barely acknowledging that the action was revealing more about me than a thousand words.
I wasn’t ready to tell him the whole truth, so he had to make do with the little I could give him.
“We moved a few times.” I cleared my throat, forcing the tremor away. “I’ve always liked the notion of having a stable family home. I figured by selling beautiful houses to people I might be helping them find stability in their lives. It was a stupid dream. About a week into the job, I realized the whole business was all about money.”
His long fingers tucked a stray strand of hair behind my ear. The movement was so natural, it felt as though he had done it—touched me—a hundred times before. “You still like your job though.”
I nodded and smiled. “I do.”
“Because you want to change the world,” he whispered as he moved closer, cupping my face with his hand and forcing me to look at him. “It wasn’t a stupid dream. You won’t be able to change the world, Brooke. But your example might just change the people entering your life.”
His index finger traced the contours of my face, leaving a tingling sensation behind. The air was thick with the scent of wood and grass, but I all I could focus on was Jett. He was sitting so closely, I could smell his manly scent and take in every detail of his face and body. The barely visible laughter lines beneath his stunning eyes, the faded scar on his chin, the hard muscles of his arms. Those were all things that made him real. Beautiful. Perfect. I wanted to ask him about them so his memories would be mine.
“Hey, did you ever play football in high school?” I asked cheekily and slightly out of breath as my gaze swept over his broad shoulders.
“What?” He shot me a questioning glance. And then a deep chuckle rumbled in his throat as he probably caught on to my subtle implication. “As a matter of fact, I did. I’m glad you noticed it.”
I rolled my eyes at the sudden onset of heat in my cheeks.
Well done—inflating his oversized ego even more, Stewart.
“I bet you were the book nerd who hung out with the whizz kids,” Jett said.
“What makes you think I wasn’t the cheerleading type?” My brows shot up. He was spot on, but that didn’t please me. For some reason I wanted him to think me hot and desirable. I wanted him to think he might have competition.
“Nah, you weren’t that boring.” His arms moved around my waist to pull me closer as his green, heated gaze descended into my eyes and heart, infiltrating me to the core. The way he was looking at me, I felt everything that mattered fade away. The only thing that existed was the moment we shared.
Jett’s lips lowered onto mine, almost brushing them, but not quite. “You were clever and stunning, yet you didn’t know it.”
“How do you know?” I breathed.
“It’s not hard to guess. Girls like you keep boys at arm’s length. I think quite a few of the boys tried, but none succeeded because you didn’t realize just how gorgeous you were.”
The guy certainly had a way with words. I blinked rapidly, intoxicated by the scent of his skin. He smelled of expensive aftershave and something else. Something manly. Something—
My lips parted, begging him to stop torturing me by being so close. Begging him to kiss me.
And he did, ever so gently. Like tiny butterflies brushing my skin with their soft wings. I groaned inwardly at the sheer torture. God, I wanted him so badly it hurt.