​​Jillian Verne

Copyright 2021. Jillian Verne. All rights reserved.

 

jillian verne Contemporary Romance - tHE ORDER SERIES - THE LAKE SERIES

contemporary romance

an excerpt from GODSEND

A NOVEL OF THE ORDER, A SERIES OF STAND-ALONE NOVELS

He lost his soul. Someone stole hers.

Sabin Timonen is a sexy cocktail of Southern grace, Texas cowboy, and good old-fashioned honor. He's out to save the planet and nearly every lost soul on it. Somebody has to fight the good fight. Somebody has to stand up. And his mama raised him to be one of those somebodies. But behind the swagger, a solitary man lusts for revenge.

Alessandra Girardi is a hellcat. A tough girl from South Philadelphia, a hotshot NYC attorney, and repressed with a capital R. That combination spells challenge for Sabin, but when Alessandra gets caught in the crossfire with Sabin’s nemesis, Sabin’s intentions turn deathly serious.

Will the headstrong Alessandra let Sabin save her? Will Sabin’s powerful enemies take them both down? Or will the man who fashions himself everybody’s savior let Alessandra save him?

Just Stickin’ Around for the Cannoli

   A flying paper cup smacked Alessandra in the face. So gross. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the brightest idea to venture out in a hurricane, but come on. Who actually listens to the weather reports? “Run for your lives; it’s going to rain!” The wind whipping down West Third smacked her in the face so hard, she could practically hear a thousand old folks cackling. Not so smart now, are you, dearie? Then the skies opened, and the weatherman was proved wrong again. It was not rain. It was a tidal wave pouring over Greenwich Village.

   Alessandra scurried along the uneven sidewalk, her head bowed, and scrambled for drier ground. Turning the corner onto MacDougal, she did not look up, couldn’t see anything with all the water and wind blasting her in the face anyway, and…
   Bang!
   “We have to stop meeting like this, Ms. Girardi,” Sabin said and cracked the cocky grin that made her want to scratch his eyes out.
   “Let’s do that, Mr. Timonen.”
   Before Alessandra could get away, the wind kicked up with enough force to send them both beelining for cover. Then came the rolls of thunder, the kind you feel in your chest. When she was a little girl, she used to count between the rumbles so she would know when it was safe enough to brave the world on top of the bedspread, but those were a child’s fears. The adult woman was far more leery of the male body blocking her escape. She tried to move around him.
   “Oh no, you don’t,” Sabin said with a firm grip on her arm. “You’re not going anywhere in this storm without me.” He tossed his coat over her head, tucked her under his arm, and tugged her through the pummeling sheets of water. When he lifted the coat, he looked like he was trying not to grin.
   “Pfft! You…you…who the hell do you think you are? You can’t blind a person and drag them into a coffee shop against their will.”
   “I just did, and now I’m going to buy you a cup of coffee to warm you up.” The voice was soft but firm; the hand that took hers, warm.
   “I’m not cold.”
   “Yes, you are.” He led her to a table next to the radiator. “Now sit down and warm up.”
   “My lips are quivering because I’m mad.” She practically stomped her foot. This man had an indefinable yet inescapable authority that made her inner damsel want to flash distress just so he could save her. Good thing Alessandra had capped that little wimp years ago.
   Sabin ignored her hissy fit and eased the wet coat off her shoulders. “Let me guess. Cappuccino with enough sugar to make the spoon stand straight up in the cup.”
   “How did you—”
   “Lucky guess.”
   Something told Alessandra luck had nothing to do with it. Sabin put a hand on each shoulder and sat her down like a little girl. Instead of slaying him with a caustic reply, she huffed like one. “I was going to sit here anyway.” Nicely done, killer. Do you want a lollipop too?
   “Now don’t cha go nowhere,” he drawled, and this time, didn’t bother trying to hide the grin.
   Alessandra glared at his back while Sabin sauntered away. Sabin Timonen did not walk; he sauntered. Without so much as a backward glance, he leaned over with one elbow on the counter. And forget the hair. Forget the lips. The man had a perfect, denim-clad derriere. Daaayum… Wait. That arrogant son of a bitch. He didn’t think for one second that she would leave. Why wasn’t she leaving? Alessandra started to her feet. But it was raining. Really hard. And thunder was scary, and she was warm, and it was Caffe Reggio, and they made the best cannoli.
   Sabin returned with their drinks and a huge one.
   Just stickin’ around for the cannoli, she told herself and tried to look like she had not been checking out his ass. “You trying to impress me with that?”
   “If this impresses you, darlin’, you’ve got a lot to learn.” The honey dripping in his voice said he was referring to something much creamier than a cannoli.
   She ignored the innuendo. “How did you know I like the kind with chocolate chips?”
   “I know everything about you, Alessandra.”
   Hearing Sabin’s words sent her mind back to that horrible place. She heard another man use the same words. “I watch you sleep at night. I watch you walk to school in the morning. I watch you with your friends. I know everything about you, Alessandra, except your taste.” Her mouth went dry.
   “Hey. I was kidding. The guy at the counter told me.”
   Right. Caffe Reggio. She’d been here like a hundred times.
   “What just happened there?” Sabin asked, appraising her.
   “Did you send me a tube of lipstick?”
   Sabin peeled off his jacket and eased back in his chair. His gaze coasted over the borders of her lips. “To cover the natural shade of those? Absolutely not. Why do you ask?”
   “No reason.” Their whole exchange was making her nervous, and it put her on the attack. “That was a pretty sly move you pulled at our meeting last week.”
   “What move was that?” Sabin flashed an innocent look. As if there was anything innocent about this guy. He knew exactly what she was referring to, but at least she dodged his first question.
   “Sneaking a prodigy into the meeting. I did a little research on your ‘assistant.’” She made quotation marks in the air. “Seems Aeron Cummings is well known in the science set.”
   Very well known. Alessandra had found several articles written about, and several written by, him. Turns out, “the whiz kid from Sanger, Texas” had not two, but three degrees from Texas A&M. Aeron failed to mention his master’s degree in physics or that all were earned with top honors by the tender age of twenty. His master’s thesis was published in the American Journal of Physics and the New Journal of Physics. For those in the know, that’s mighty. As in many, many newtons.
   “I didn’t do anything your boss didn’t do,” Sabin replied.
   “Meaning what?”
   “Oh, I don’t know,” he said sarcastically. “Maybe it was fair to notify me two hours before the meeting that another prodigy would be taking the lead as opposing counsel.” He picked up a spoon and dropped a heaping spoonful of brown sugar into her cappuccino.
   Alessandra took the spoon and added two more. “I didn’t know that. If I had, it wouldn’t have happened. And I wouldn’t call myself a prodigy.” Her lips curled up at the compliment before she could stop them.
   “Ivy League all the way, Ms. Girardi. Dual degrees in psychology and behavioral science from Penn, internships with the Philadelphia Police Department, Yale Law, editor of the Yale Journal of Law & Technology, clerkship with the US Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. Need I say more?” Sabin had done his homework. Stupid to think he wouldn’t.

   “I suppose you know my sign too.”
   “Pisces. Alessandra Philomena Girardi, born at 4:16 a.m. on March fifteenth at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.”
   “Et tu, Brute?”
   “Beware the Ides of March,” Sabin said, swiped a finger through the cream in her cannoli, and brought it to his mouth. “Should I?”
   Alessandra shifted her gaze away to avoid the vision of Sabin Timonen sucking his finger. It landed on his shirt. Of course it was plaid. Not an Eddie Bauer plaid, more a Hugo Boss plaid, and it was open just enough to offer a peek at the turquoise cross dangling over a pair of sinfully chiseled pecs.
   Put your eyes back into your skull, Alex. She sipped her drink with mock indifference. “You’re still not impressing me.”
   “I haven’t started tryin’ yet.” The sparkle in Sabin’s eyes taunted her. It only made her more determined to beat him at his own game.
   “You know, I have a PI who put together a file on you too. Sabin Allister Timonen, born August twenty-first at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, graduated Stanford with honors, bachelor’s in environmental science, founder and CEO of World Energy, named to Fortune’s 40 Under 40 three times, cover of Forbes twice. Nominated for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation… Aren’t you going to put sugar in that?”
   Sabin downed his espresso. “Nope. I take it black.”
   “Of course you do.”
   “Meaning what?”
   “Meaning we are exact opposites, Mr. Sabin Allister Timonen from Texas.”
   “Opposites attract, Ms. Alessandra Philomena Girardi from Pennsylvania,” he said as he leaned closer…
   “They attract divorce.”
   …and closer still. Then those blue eyes flashed with the same heat she’d seen when he asked her real name, and Sabin drawled, “Not in my world, darlin’.”
   His smooth Southern everything sent shivers down her spine, but she was so not going there. She sipped her cappuccino.
   “Without ruining this enchanted moment, I will say that you impressed me very much the other day.” Sabin did not have to add the and I don’t impress easily. She heard it loud and clear.
   “Don’t bother,” she said, the utter dismissal in her voice chilly.
   “Don’t bother to what?”
   “Charm won’t get you what you want.”
   “What do I want?” Sabin didn’t look at her when he asked as if he didn’t give a damn about her answer.
   Alessandra grit her teeth. She was allowed to dismiss him. Him dismissing her? Not okay. Well, two could play at this game, and Ms. Alessandra Philomena Girardi from Philly knew exactly which approach would get to Mr. Sabin Allister Timonen from Texas. She loosened her ponytail and shook out her hair—just to let it dry faster, of course—and badda bing, badda boom. His cornflower-blue eyes locked on the fingers running through the long strands. Guys and long hair. Too easy.
   She copped her Italian-goddess pose and said, “You want to figure me out. Find out which approach gets to me, but you won’t.” Cue the haughty laugh.
   Sabin leaned back, all smooth grace, extended his long legs, and crossed his ankles to give her the full view, front side this time. “Well, you’re partially right. You have to understand a person to know how to compliment them.” Like the Southerner himself, his gaze sauntered over her body in slow appreciation. “And maybe, just maybe, I simply wanted to give you a compliment.”
   “Oh, look. Leprechauns are bringing me a pot of gold.”
   “You don’t believe me?” The side of his mouth tilted up.
   “I’m cynical. Sue me.” She raised her spoon to her lips and ran her tongue along the metal curve to lick away the sugary froth, nice and slow and suggestive. “You’re impressive yourself, Mr. Timonen.”
   His whole face lit up with his smile. “So you concede that we’re not complete opposites.” When Alessandra rolled her eyes, Sabin laughed. “Your manner with people is certainly unique, Ms. Girardi.”
   “Too aggressive for your tastes?”
   His eyes cooled. “You don’t strike me as a person who succumbs to stereotyping. For your information, I happen to admire an original spirit.”
   Damn, he was insulted. She shouldn’t be baiting him anyway. “I apologize. Law is a male-dominated profession. Expecting the sexist attitude is a learned response.”
   “I’m sorry for that. What impressed me was how you chose the perfect combination of characteristics to draw the result you seek. It’s very effective.”
   “The Philly PD taught me a few tricks.” Alessandra shrugged and ran her fingers through her hair. Did I just flip my hair?
   Sabin flipped his to mimic her, and she almost laughed despite herself. “Where did you learn your geophysics? You make quite the science geek. I know mine were impressed that someone without a technical background could go fifteen rounds with them.” Cowboy was laying it on thick.
   “Compliment me, my ass. You’ve got another agenda.”
   “Now why would you ever think a nasty thing like that?” he drawled, copping a look that pretended to be humble, except it wasn’t.
   “Because you want to win.”
   Sabin looked her straight in the eye and said, “You best keep something in mind, Ms. Girardi. I always win.”
   Alessandra held his stare and replied, “Then we’ve got another thing in common, Mr. Timonen.”
   His expression signaled approval, then turned serious. “Tell me something, if you would. Why are you working for Vernon? I won’t patronize you by assuming you don’t know that he’s not what one might call an honorable man.”
   “No one is innocent, particularly the highly successful.”
   “Present company included.”
   “You said it; not me. Anyway, Vernon’s had a brilliant career. He’s been very supportive of mine.”
   “I’d say so.” He chuckled as if mocking her.
   “Are you implying that I don’t deserve to work on this case?” Alessandra understood that twenty-nine-year-old attorneys do not normally handle big cases at Snider & Simmons, but Vernon could have chosen anyone and he chose her. God help Sabin Timonen if he implied that her gender was in any way relevant.
   “No,” Sabin replied simply and looked at her as if questioning something. For a moment she thought he was going to ask her about the case. Instead, he asked, “So you’re gunning for partnership?”
   “That’s not what I want for my future.”
   “What do you want?”
   Before Alessandra could catch herself, she found herself answering. “I’d like to do something meaningful, but I’m not sure what that will be yet. In the meantime, I’m learning.”
   “The perennial student.” Sabin nodded as if he’d had some great revelation about her. “Seems we have another thing in common, Ms. Girardi.”
   Sabin Timonen might be the opposition, but he was a hard guy to dislike. He had a sharp wit and a smile that shone so bright and white, it made your eyes water. And no denying it, he was too fun to flirt with. She thought about leaving, but let’s see. Trudge through a hurricane or spend a few more dry moments basking in this Southern stunner? No Ivy League degree needed to know the correct answer.
   “Since you seem to know all about me, then you know that as a Philly girl, I’m genetically predisposed to hate the Cowboys.”
   Sabin looked beyond horrified. “Bite your tongue. The Lord might strike you down for a comment like that.”
   “Whether he does or not, the Eagles own the Cowboys next Sunday,” she said, voice laden with challenge.
   Sabin passed her a gold-medal grin. Cocky as usual, but this time it held a matching note of challenge. More than a note actually. A whole symphony. “Care to make a wager about that, my poor misguided Philly girl?”
   Alessandra Girardi pass on a challenge? Stupid, stupid cowboy. She should not do this, definitely not, but… “I never lose a bet, my overconfident Texas cowboy.”
   He held out a hand. “Dinner. Winner chooses the place; loser buys.”
   She gave it a firm shake. “You’re on.”
   Sabin held her hand for a fraction of a second too long, then asked, “Do you ride?” When Alessandra practically choked on the dirty reply that popped into her mind, he ran his free hand across his mouth to hide his smile. “Let me amend that. I meant do you like horses?”
   How could she be so dumb? Sabin Timonen, owner of Desert Willows Ranch and its seventy-five four-legged residents. She always hid embarrassment behind her city-chick facade, so why should this time be any different?
   “You might want to take another look at your file on me, Mr. Timonen. I was raised in South Philly. The only horses in the neighborhood were ridden by mounted police. I like football, hockey, and cheesesteaks.”
   “Not baseball? The Phillies are a pretty good team.”
   “Yeah, but they’re not for me.”
   “So the lady likes it rough,” he mused, and there was no ignoring the innuendo.
   Alessandra narrowed her eyes on him. “Are you a hockey fan?”
   “You might say that. Why do you ask?”
   “For me, whether a person likes or dislikes hockey is the litmus test of their true character.”
   Sabin nodded once. “I tend to agree. Can’t trust a person who doesn’t like hockey.”
   Alessandra caught his eye and couldn’t help but match his smile, briefly. “I didn’t say I trust you.”
   “I didn’t say you should.”
   “Touché, cowboy.”
   “My, oh my, I do believe the formidable Ms. Girardi just gave me her first genuine smile. Come on, admit it. You like me a little.”
   “You might not be as big an asshole as I imagined.”
   “Eloquently put, Ms. Girardi.”
   “Call me Alex.”
   “I prefer Alessandra. It’s stronger. But I understand why you go with the more masculine version.”
   “Oh, and why is that?” She waited for the cliché. It’s a man’s world. To succeed, a girl has got to be one of the guys. God, she’d heard that so many times, it made her sick. She was not one of the guys, never would be, and had zero interest in becoming one.
   Then, in one sentence, Sabin cut straight to the heart of her. “The only daughter has to become the son too. Alex, not Alessandra, gets Daddy’s respect, but what she really needs is his love.”
   Alessandra stared a moment, shaken by how dead-on Sabin was, then hid the surprise behind another flip remark. “Is that written in your PI’s file on me too?”
   “I know a lot more about you than can be written in a file.”
   Don’t ask. Do not ask. “Really, like what?”
   “You’re not all that interested in money, although you like the security it offers. What motivates you is respect. For you, respect doesn’t come lightly. It has to be earned. You impose a higher standard on yourself to earn others’ respect than you impose on them to earn yours. You take control, not because you feel superior; because you respect people who do. But the person you hide from the world wishes someone else would take control so you could respect them. You don’t want to feel let down, Alessandra, but somehow you always do.”
   Eerie and dead-on again. Damn, he figured her out quick. She did not get the impression it was a lucky guess, but how could a man she had met only once see her so clearly? Picking through the thoughts tangled in her head, Alessandra tried to find what she wanted to say. Nothing came to mind.
   There was a count of silence, then Sabin reached out and ran one finger over the back of her hand. “If your PI is worth his salt, you know that a man like me is more than comfortable taking control of a woman, don’t you?”
   The Order… a secret society…all indulge a BDSM lifestyle. Somebody turned the damn radiator to nuclear. Alessandra was too hot. Too vulnerable. She scrambled, trying to regain the advantage. “I’ve only met you once. I couldn’t possibly know…” The words came out too fast. She tried again. “We spent three hours locked in a conference room together, so how would I…” Still, her voice sounded rushed and, ugh, whiny. Alessandra was taken aback at being tongue-tied. She tried a third time. “I. Don’t. Know. Anything. About. You.” She sounded like a robot, but hey, it was an improvement.
   “If you think I believe that, darlin’, you really don’t know anything about me.”
   Sabin looked more than amused with the mindfuck he’d pulled on her, and she grit her teeth, annoyed, but mostly impressed. It was not often that she found someone with enough wherewithal to spar with her. Then he flashed his I know I’m too pretty to resist look and said, “A brilliant attorney like you might just know more than I’d like her to.”
   Come on. Did the arrogant cowboy think a compliment would redeem him? She flipped her hand through the air to chastise him like he was beneath her. “All right. So we know about each other, a little, but I wouldn’t presume to tell you who you are.”
   That got his attention. A little too much of it. Sabin leaned forward on both elbows and flashed those baby blues. “Then let me tell you. You’re tough, lady. That’s for sure. But not so tough that you don’t want a strong man. Your boyfriend, what’s his name?”
   Alessandra raised a hand. “Stop right there. We are not discussing my love life.”
   Sabin went on as if she hadn’t spoken. “Oh yes. Kellan Boyle. A respectable guy, safe, reliable, but not what you need.”
   “And you know what I need?”
   “I do,” he said with complete confidence. “You need a strong, secure man to make you feel safe enough to let your guard down and expose the other side of Alessandra Girardi. That kind of man would earn your coveted respect; wouldn’t he?” The way Sabin said the words, infused so much truth into them, made Alessandra pause. She was…angry. Well, not exactly angry, but that was the only emotion she would allow, so anger it was.
   “We might be sharing our hurricane moment, but we sit on opposite sides of the table, Mr. Timonen. Never forget that.”
   “I don’t, Ms. Girardi.”
   Sabin’s gaze burned hot, so hot Alessandra had to break their eye contact. Why were coffeehouse tables so damn small? Who wants to be close enough to taste coffee on sculpted lips anyway? Sabin reached out and laced his fingers through hers. She should pull away, but the way those long fingers held her, firm yet reverent, sent an unprecedented feeling flowing through her veins. A feeling that suggested Sabin would never harm a woman.
   “You say we’re opposites, and that’s true, but do you understand the one characteristic that makes us attract?”
   “I’m sure you’re going to tell me,” she muttered, distracted by her strange reaction to their entwined fingers.
   “I’m a sexual Dominant. So what does that make you, Alessandra?”
   No. No way. He did not say that. He did not ASK that! Her jaw threatened to drop, but she held it in check. “I am not a sexual submissive if that’s what you’re trying to imply.”
   “You sure about that?” Sabin’s eyes connected with hers, and she could feel the invitation.
   “Sure as shootin’, cowboy.” Her eyelid twitched, generally something that happened when she lied. Was she lying now? If her body’s response to Sabin was any indication, then Liar, liar, pants on fire.
   Alessandra expected the big, bad Dom to call her out for lying, but Sabin’s eyes lit with playfulness. “Did you just say ‘sure as shootin’?’”
   “I did.”
   “Nobody says that, darlin’.”
   “Sure as shootin’, they do.”
   “Sure as shootin’, they don’t.”
   “You just did.” Alessandra cracked her version of a cocky grin.
   Sabin nodded as if acknowledging that she’d bested him and said, “Like your spunk, lady.”
   Then he let go of her hand and lifted her chin with a single fingertip to make her focus on his eyes, his piercing, hot blue eyes. He leaned in, very close to her face, and she couldn’t move. A single finger on the chin and she could not move one damn muscle. Except her lips. They parted when he tilted his head like he was going to kiss her. He licked his bottom lip before catching it between his teeth.
   “You feel that, Alessandra?”
   She felt something all right, but she was not about to admit it to the cockiest son of a bitch on the planet.
   “Admit what you are, and I’ll give you what those lips are begging me for.”
   The words hit her like somebody threw a bucket of ice at her head. Alessandra snapped her body back, bewildered by the things Sabin was making her feel. “You can flirt with me till the cows come home, but I know who I am, and it’s not what you think.”
   Sabin lowered his head, glanced from beneath his ridiculously long lashes, and sang in his ridiculously sexy drawl, “You sure?”
   “Sure. As shootin’. Sure.” She ground out the words. And no, she did not grit her teeth to keep her lips from parting again.
   Then Sabin grinned a ridiculously distracting grin and shook his ridiculously blond head. “Then what I said before is true. You’ve got a lot to learn.”
   Alessandra shot to her feet. She would give this arrogant cowboy the only reply to that statement: a quick view of her back disappearing through the door. As she came around the table, Sabin grabbed her arm.
   “Go ahead and run, hellcat, but there’s no escaping who you are.”
   “As if you have any idea who I am, you arrogant son of a bitch.”
   Pulling her nearer, Sabin purred, “I am not arrogant. I’m dominant. Imagine it, Alessandra. Fucking someone so in control of you that he doesn’t have to earn your coveted respect. He simply takes what is already his. Maybe if you’re lucky, it will be me.”
   Now Alessandra was angry, so angry she wanted to spit. Because as much as Sabin’s arrogance was beyond shocking, so was his allure.

∞∞∞

   Sabin slammed the door, threw his soaked coat onto the floor, and started on the buttons of his shirt. He would have shucked the wet jeans too, but Aeron did not need a gander at the wood he was sporting. Trudging through a downpour had not done a damn thing to shut down the Alessandra picture show playing in his mind. The only thing that would: hot shower, hard tug.
   “You look like something the cat dragged in,” Aeron teased as if Sabin hadn’t just rattled the rafters.
   Sabin tried to calm his racing mind. One cannoli had left his thoughts disordered and his body on the verge of rioting. He enjoyed flirting with smart women—they were better at it—and Ms. Ivy-League-Girardi was a thousand notches beyond smart. What he did not enjoy was the gnawing feeling that Alessandra held the upper hand in their lil’ coffeehouse encounter. He had never met a lady who managed to retain her cool when he turned up the heat like Alessandra had. Then she was gone. No epic retort that would knock him on his ass. Just gone. Good-bye. See ya. No one walked out on him. Not once. Not ever!
   “So you saw her, huh?” Aeron prompted.
   “Saw who?” Sabin snapped, knowing full well who Aeron was referring to.
   “You could have called. I would have found somewhere else to be.” Aeron cracked a shit-eating grin. “Did you take her somewhere high class, or was it a cheap hotel off Times Square? I’m betting on down and dirty.”
   Great. Like he needed another erotic vision of Alessandra in his head, but there she was again. This time, sprawled across a bed in a cheap hotel wearing nothing but a wifebeater and a sheen of sweat that shimmered orange in the neon light of the sign hanging outside the window.
   “We bumped into each other in the Village, had a cup of coffee. That’s it.”
   “That’s why you look like a tripod. You’re hot for our lady lawyer and don’t lie. I can smell it.”
   Yup, hot and harder than he’d been since he was seventeen. Alessandra was a beautiful woman, but he’d dated supermodels for Christ’s sake. Something other than her beauty snared his imagination. She had such an odd combination of characteristics. A tough edge with a touch of class. Petite with a personality a mile high. Smart as a whip with a sublime femininity. Even soaked with rainwater, she carried herself with grace and confidence.
   Dang it. Soaked with rainwater. Now Sabin pictured Alessandra pressed against the side of one of his barns as she devoured his kiss in the Southern rain. He didn’t know whether to fuck her or hire her. Maybe both, but whichever it was, she deserved a good, hard spanking for toying with him. And there she was again. Bent over his knee with her mankiller ass poised and pink from his hand.
   Christ on a cracker! Enough with the horny teenager routine.
   “Hey, stop being selfish and share. What’s the plan for our Ms. Girardi?” Aeron asked, reminding Sabin of his earlier suggestion that they play with Alessandra.
   Sabin grit his teeth. “Forget everything I said before. I’ve changed my mind. No playing. No anything. Alessandra Girardi is off-limits.”
   “Shit, it’s worse than I thought.” Now Aeron sounded worried.
   “What’s worse than you thought?”
   “It’s okay, Sabin. You’re actually allowed to fall for someone. Everybody’s been waiting for it. Hoping for it actually. Your timing sucks, and you could have picked a less complicated chick, but—”
   “What? Are you suggesting that I’m falling for Alessandra Girardi, as in falling-in-love falling?” Sabin made a short, sharp sound. “Slight attraction, maybe. Intrigued, definitely. But love, no way,” he declared as if the roar would make the words truer. Then he pointed a hard finger at Aeron. “And show some respect. She is not a chick.”
   Despite the tirade, another vision popped into Sabin’s mind and made him mad. Madder than mad. Alessandra was lying on a bright yellow blanket in the middle of a green pasture wearing an Easter Sunday smile and a tan.
   “If you say so,” Aeron sniggered.
   “I do. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go jerk off in the shower and get this woman out of my head once and for all.”
   Sabin started away. All he had to do was stay away from Alessandra Girardi. Prudence said he should. Not only was she a distraction he could not afford, that distraction was in league with his nemesis. But staying away from this Siren would be hard. Harder than the armor his lady lawyer wore, because beneath, she was pure softness. He pictured the Mona Lisa curve on Alessandra’s succulent lips as the first bite of cannoli melted on her tongue.
   There was a well of untouched sensuality that ran deep inside her, ripe for the taking. A brilliant mind yet Alessandra was wholly unaware of the power she harbored inside or how euphoric the rush would be if she ever released it. Damn it to hell, he wanted to be the man to teach her. If she would drop the tough-girl routine, her instincts would draw her closer to him. He would tie her down, take her through the dynamic. With time, he could help her accept the part of herself that she fought so hard to deny and reconcile it with the rest of her personality. She would never smile the way she was meant to until she did. The prospect of guiding her, the challenge of controlling a powerful woman like her…
   Sabin bit his lip. Maybe if he saw Alessandra one more time...