Vanessa preceded Knox and Leah into the very odd-looking house and she stopped, looking around with some trepidation. She knew who Sebastian Taight was; he was all anybody could talk about in her finance classes at school. She had never dared volunteer that she had any connection to him whatsoever, no matter how remote, particularly as she’d never met him.
“Get a move on, Vanessa,” Knox drawled. Leah chuckled and nudged her a bit when she still couldn’t seem to move.
“C’mon, sweetie,” she murmured. “Sebastian doesn’t bite.”
Vanessa moved then and found the four steps that led up to a platform where stood an immense conference room table. To her left was a smallish kitchen and directly in front of her, beyond the table, was a massive living room. There was a man and a woman with their backs to her, sitting on a couch playing very primitive video games on an enormous television, yelling at and pushing each other.
“Oh so mature,” Knox muttered as he nudged her along and into the living room. “Hey. Giselle. Sebastian. Could you please attempt to act a little more refined when we have company? There are impressionable twenty-year-olds present.”
Vanessa snorted and looked around. This place was beautiful. Eclectic. Interesting. Textured in style, design, color, and time periods.
Giselle jumped up and over the back of the couch to grab her in a bear hug, and she returned it wholeheartedly. She hadn’t seen her mentor since she’d sent her off to Notre Dame with a wardrobe to die for. She hadn’t realized how much she missed Giselle, who had been the one to take her to the doctor when she was sick, for Pap smears, for her dentist and orthodontist appointments; who had taught her about reproduction, sex, taking care of the details of managing a period; who had taken her to Young Women’s and enlisted the church’s help in taking care of her when Giselle or Knox couldn’t.
Giselle had guided her into womanhood, something Knox could never have done even if he’d been inclined to try—and he’d grown decidedly squeamish as Vanessa’s needs turned more and more “girly.”
Vanessa pushed her away from her a moment and looked her up and down. Where before had been a pudgy-cum-fat woman now stood one with the faintest hint of a six-pack partially hidden by her denim shorts, below which was an old, large gash in her thigh, and above, perky C-cup breasts barely covered by a sunny yellow bikini top—which was not a push-up model.
“What happened to you?”
Giselle grinned. “Dr. Atkins and Gold’s Gym.”
“Oh, my God,” she whispered, awed at the change in Giselle’s body. “You’re hot.”
“Thank Leah for that,” Giselle replied dryly. “She gave me the book and kicked my ass.”
So happy to see Giselle, so shocked over the transformation, Vanessa didn’t pay attention to Mr. Taight until—
Knox was speaking. “ … Sebastian. Sebastian, Vanessa Whittaker.”
She looked up. Stared. Sebastian Taight, the man she’d heard about from Knox and Giselle for years, whose genius was dissected and studied in every business class she’d ever taken, was the most gorgeous man she’d ever seen. She hoped no one else noticed her reaction to him, and she managed to shake his hand as if nothing had happened, as if she hadn’t just laid eyes on a Playgirl centerfold.
He had apparently noticed her reaction, though, and suddenly, she wished she had enough experience with men to know what it meant when he raised his eyebrow like that.
The five of them spent the evening together at the conference table eating and chatting. Vanessa didn’t have a whole lot to say except that she was leaving for New York in the fall to attend culinary school. Knox bragged on her grades at Notre Dame. Leah pulled the pictures of her graduation out of her purse and passed them around. After dinner, Knox, Leah, and Giselle wandered off to the library in Sebastian’s living room once they all got involved in a heated discussion over some Shakespearean concept that Sebastian had asked about—
—and once they were thoroughly distracted, Sebastian looked across the table at Vanessa and murmured, “Come downstairs with me.”
Well. She would no more say no to that than she’d say no to a full-ride scholarship and it wasn’t because he was Sebastian Taight, financier.
“Hey, you three!” he called out over his shoulder. “Vanessa wants to see the house.”
So involved in their discussion, Knox waved a hand absently and Sebastian rose, expecting her to follow him. And she did. Down the stairs and into a room that looked like a painter’s studio.
“Take off your clothes,” he said gruffly.
That shocked her. “What?”
“Take off your clothes. I want to see what’s under the leather.”
He gestured to the room they were standing in. “I’m an artist. I paint. I think I want to paint you.”
“Nobody at school said anything about you being an artist. Neither did Knox.”
“Sebastian Taight isn’t an artist. Ford is.” Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. A wicked grin stretched his face. “Surprise. Now take off your clothes.”
She did, though shyly. Ford. Her breath caught in her throat. Her artist roommate had taken her to a Ford exhibit and Vanessa had been bowled over. “It’s said,” her roommate had murmured to her in the darkness on a night neither of them could sleep and just talked, the way girls do, “that Ford seduces all his models. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be painted by him. I don’t care if he’s a fat, balding old man. He’s got something good going on down there.”
Sebastian Taight. God of the business department at Notre Dame.
Ford. God of the art department at Notre Dame.
And beautiful, to boot.
One and the same, and here, with her, demanding that she strip for him. How could she not?
Once she was out of her clothes, she stood and watched him inspect her, his gaze running up and down her body. He walked around and around her, looking at her as if she were already a work of art. He didn’t touch her, except to lift her hair away from her body, which made her shiver with … something. She felt more than a little deprived when he took his hand away.
Finally, he spoke. “What’s your schedule like?”
“I’m here all summer,” she whispered, watching him warily. “I’m working as a short-order cook at Nichols for the breakfast crowd. Monday through Friday three to noon.”
“Where are you staying?”
“In an apartment in Valentine, with a friend. It’s a dump, but it’s cheap and we split the bills.”
“Most of Valentine’s a dump,” he muttered absently. He still studied her naked body, and the way he looked at her made her insides all gooey. Suddenly, he took a deep breath through his nose and he grinned crookedly, chuckling. “Tomorrow’s Saturday. Whatever you have planned, cancel it and be on my doorstep at nine.”
“No buts. I’m about to make you famous.”
• • •
Vanessa showed up on Sebastian’s doorstep at nine; he hadn’t told her not to tell anyone, but it was a warm and cozy thing to have an actual secret worth keeping—and from Knox, no less. Her roommate had been disappointed that she was canceling on going to a Ford exhibit at the Nelson, but Vanessa didn’t dare tell her she was going to become a Ford exhibit.
That was frighteningly arousing.
What was even more arousing was how he was dressed when she arrived. His big body was mostly bare except for a short pair of cutoff jeans, the fly of which he hadn’t bothered to button. Oh, and was he built. Muscular, cut, six-pack, rock-hard quads—an undiscovered male model. The myriad criss-crossings of thin scars all over his body only enhanced his beauty. Not a fat, balding old man to be found in this house. And she couldn’t catch her breath.
He painted for hours. She loved that he loved looking at her nude body, but she wasn’t thrilled about the rest of the world seeing it. He ordered Chinese and once it had been delivered and eaten, he hustled her back down the stairs, stopping on the way to do something to the security system.
“Knox can come and go as he pleases,” he explained once they got back downstairs, “except when I’m about to seduce his twenty-year-old ward.”
She gasped, her mouth open, and he took the opportunity to pin her against his big, hard body and kiss her, long, deep, with … a something … that had never been present in any other kiss she’d ever shared with boy or man.
He broke the kiss, bent, and hooked one arm under the backs of her legs. He carried her into the alcove she hadn’t been allowed to explore, and then she knew why. She gasped yet again.
“Welcome to the Den of Iniquity, Vanessa,” he said, and dropped her on the bed, then walked away. She knew this was wrong—oh, not that she was a prude—but she didn’t know this man or his proclivities.
Don’t be stupid.
At Young Women’s Vanessa had learned about chastity, though Giselle had stopped just shy of telling her to save herself for marriage no matter what. She had, however, warned Vanessa about strangers, about the emotional tricks men used, about getting drunk to lose her inhibitions, about disease and abuse and coercion and rape and drugs designed to enable rape. She’d taken her to the doctor to get her on birth control.
Frat boys are pricks. Just don’t be stupid. If you want to have sex, wait and be very careful about who you choose. Do it sober, while you have your head on straight. Whatever you do, don’t have sex without a condom and don’t forget to take your pill. Ever. And whatever else you do, don’t lie about your age. That should be enough to put most men off until you’re eighteen, and it’s not like you don’t know what happens to men who fuck underage girls, right?
Of course, Sebastian wasn’t a stranger, was he? And he certainly was no college boy, frat or otherwise. And Vanessa wasn’t sixteen anymore; she was a college graduate at twenty. Nothing Giselle had told her really applied in this instance, did it? Sebastian was her and Knox’s cousin and they loved him, but Vanessa was pretty sure they wouldn’t know every.single.thing about him—and especially not what his sexual appetites were.
He was almost three years older than Knox and she had never thought … A man that age … Thirty-six …
Sebastian turned up some lights, turned down others, lit candles, and somehow, magically, started music playing. Classical music, sensual, lush.
He looked at her then, from across the room as he stripped off his shorts. Her mouth dropped open when she saw his hard, long, erect penis—and she was afraid.
But not. Excited.
But nervous. Did he know—?
He said, “Normally, I’d take another couple of hours to seduce you, but I could tell you were aroused last night and I know you’ve been aroused all day.”
“I’m a virgin,” she whispered as he came nearer, a Celt warrior bent on claiming what was his.
“And I’m about to relieve you of that burden,” he purred as he climbed into bed with her, alongside her, his bare body touching hers, his erection skimming along the top of her thigh. His attention was caught by one of her nipples, which had hardened and he pounced, nipping it, drawing it into his mouth and Vanessa shrieked with shock and sensation, her back arching. Sebastian’s mouth sucked at it; his tongue licked; his teeth nibbled.
And Vanessa died, her head back, her eyes closed, her mouth open and gasping in great gasps of air. She found her hand wandering through Sebastian’s hair, holding him to her, and she felt his smile against her breast.
Sebastian’s body pressed against hers until she was lying on her back, Sebastian’s mouth still torturing her nipple and his arousal still pressed against her leg. He swept his hand down her body until he found her most sensitive spot and the entrance she hadn’t exactly been guarding, but hadn’t felt the need to let anyone in, either.
Now she felt a need.
His fingers, slicked with her juices, tickled her from back to front before they explored more fully up inside her and she was panting.
“No, no, no,” he whispered, letting go of her nipple and sliding up her body until his mouth was at her ear. “No coming until I’m inside you. Not for your first time. Nothing beats coming together.”
He rolled away from her for a moment. She heard the tinny whisper of foil and knew what he was doing. Thank God.
“Ah, yes,” he whispered as he rose above her, kneeling between her legs and nudging them wider than she thought they could go. “No glove, no love.”
He slowly lowered himself over her and kissed her then, hard, hot, urgent. “Ah, Vanessa. Do you know how beautiful you are?”
And with one thrust, she became Sebastian Taight’s lover for an entire summer. She moved in with him. Every weekend, every afternoon and evening, he made love to her, seduced her again and again with things she wasn’t sure any mortal man knew about. He taught her things she didn’t know existed. He taught her how to drink absinthe—something she’d never heard of. He taught her that food wasn’t only for eating, or at least, that eating it wasn’t its primary purpose for its existence.
Knox was stymied why his security code wouldn’t work but Giselle’s did.
“Giselle lives here,” Sebastian murmured into her ear very late one night when Vanessa was startled out of her languor by the sound of footsteps overhead. Then she heard Knox’s voice, Leah’s voice, and she gasped. “Not to worry,” he soothed as he snuggled her deeper into his arms and into the feather mattress. “Giselle knows you’re here and she knows what to do.”
Oh, no! She … knew?
“I don’t want to Giselle to know,” she whispered.
“Too late for that. Why do you care?”
“She’ll be disappointed in me. She took me to Young Women’s and … She said it was important to save it until marriage.”
“Which is unfortunate for her, but she’s under no delusion that you had a choice in the matter.”
That made no sense. “I could’ve said no.”
“You could’ve. It would’ve made no difference. Trust me. I always get what I want.”
Her eyes widened and she gulped. “You would’ve—”
“Goddess, no. I wouldn’t have had to.” He cocked that eyebrow at her again. “Would I?”
She sucked in a deep breath, but said nothing. He grinned that wolfish grin again that made her heart speed up.
“But Knox— My car—”
“In the garage, which I’ve also locked him out of.”
“Won’t he figure it out?”
“Knox doesn’t pay attention to a whole lot of things, so no.”
Vanessa smiled, but it faded when Knox and Giselle began to argue, their voices floating down through the vents. Sebastian covered Vanessa’s mouth with his and she ran her fingers through his hair.
“Knox would kill me if he knew you were in my bed,” Sebastian murmured as he kissed her and what he said, the fact of it, aroused her. “And I like that. I like fucking you right under his nose. I like that you’ve moved in with me and he has no clue.”
Vanessa murmured, “I don’t believe you’ve actually fucked me at all, Sebastian Taight.”
He drew away from her then and looked at her. “Oh? What does that mean?”
“Knox told me fucking was different from making love, but he wouldn’t say how.”
Sebastian laughed. “Oh, he gave you the speech, did he? And you’ve automatically assumed that everything we’ve done is making love?”
“Ah, good for you. That is, in fact, true. Now I’ll show you what fucking is.”
And he did and oh, she liked that just as much as making love, especially up against a wall. Or on her knees. Or over a chair.
Knox never did find out. She’d paid her roommate in Valentine very, very well to keep her affair a secret from him—though she never told her roommate with whom she was having an affair.
She left him on her twenty-first birthday and he’d sent her with a bottle of absinthe, a set of antique bowl glasses and antique silver drip spoons.
“We will never speak of this again,” he whispered as he kissed her for the last time in the heat and sunlight of an August day at noon. His ice blue eyes sparkled.
“Yes,” she whispered back. “Thank you, Sebastian.”
“No, thank you, Vanessa.”