Pretending He’s Mine

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An Excerpt from Pretending He’s Mine
CHAPTER ONE
JULIAN
A woman in my condo is experiencing a toe-curling orgasm—and to my knowledge, this is the first time I’m in no way responsible for it. Because this dumpster fire needs more tinder, the person bringing herself pleasure within the confines of my not-so-humble abode is my best friend’s younger sister. I’d prefer to sustain a thousand paper cuts than listen to her moans, the catch of her breath, the rustling of the sheets around her body. But she’s crashing at my place, and she left the door of the guest bedroom open—just a tiny, torturous crack.

The sliver of soft light coming from the adjoining bathroom beckons like a portal to another world. Come, the deep, booming voice of James Earl Jones says. The embodiment of your hidden and fucked-up fantasies lies in this realm. I squeeze my eyes shut. Dammit. This isn’t right. It’s a personal moment, and I shouldn’t be privy to it. Summoning what’s left of the self-control that’s served me well for more years than I’d care to admit, I turn away from the light and slink down the short hall to my kitchen. There, I refit my wireless headphones and find a tall glass for the water that brought me out of my room.

I’d resigned myself to remaining as far away from Ashley as possible while she stayed the night. Instead, an innocent trip to the fridge has left me thirsty for something else altogether. I’m not even sure why I took off my headphones as I passed her room. But I did. And now I know what she sounds like when she comes. I need to shut down this line of thinking immediately. But hell, the portal is open, and despite my good intentions, I’m tempted to step through and explore this other world.

No. I shouldn’t. I really shouldn’t.

Picture her in pigtails and remember what it was like to help her stand after an epic fall on the bike she loved to ride.

Forget that she’s now a sexy woman, and banish any inappropriate thoughts about her to a parallel universe that will never intersect with this one.

Although temporary, the solution is simple. Fifty push-ups will round out my workout and help stifle my libido. With my get-over-my-lust-for-Ashley plan in place, I set the glass in the sink, cut the light switch, and spin around. A warm body skids into me, its owner’s soft mouth brushing against my bare shoulder.

She shrinks back and yelps. Instinctively, I tug Ashley forward, steadying her and mentally unbalancing myself in the process. With my chest flush against hers, I try to memorize the way we fit together, greedy to gain something from this unexpected contact.

“Julian? Please tell me it’s you.”

The tremor in her voice pulls me out of my stupor. I breathe heavily through my nose as I drop my arms and step back slowly. Turning to the counter and grasping it for support, I eke out, “It’s me, Ashley.” As she sighs in relief, the memory of her curves imprints itself in my brain like a freshly inked intricate tattoo, simultaneously mesmerizing and painful. Fuck the fifty push-ups. I’m going to need a hundred.

****
ASHLEY
That was a test. In the event of an actual sexual emergency, I would be climbing Julian’s body like a cat in heat. Julian dislikes cats, however, and he dislikes women who invade his personal space even more. Still, this woman needs to know if her lifelong crush is attracted to her. Hence, Operation Fake Orgasm.

Moments ago, I sat on the bed in Julian’s guest bedroom and flipped through the copy of Sports Illustrated I’d lifted from the magazine rack. I moaned. I groaned. I smacked my lips. There were a few yeses in there, too. Then a high-pitched cry. To heighten the atmospherics, I rustled the sheets with my free hand. Meg Ryan would have been proud. Did I do all this knowing the door to the bedroom was open? Affirmative. Will the ruse reveal whether Julian’s attracted to me? I should know in a minute.

He’s staring at his hands, which are gripping the edge of the kitchen counter as though he needs help remaining upright.

“Sorry,” I say in a tentative voice. “I didn’t realize you were out here. I just wanted a glass of water.”

He raises his head, and after a sweep of his surroundings, his gaze finally lands on me. In a matter of seconds, he regards me with undisguised interest, his rich, dark brown eyes cataloguing my face and body. Then he shuts down his perusal with a repeated shake of his head. Oh, yeah, I know that move. He’s summoning his willpower, and the fact that he needs to do so is promising. Very promising, indeed.

Before I can revel in that knowledge, however, he straightens and taps his ears, pulling out his headphones with a flick of each wrist. “Hey. I’ve been in my own world here.”

My eyes blink repeatedly, so much so that the kitchen appears to be bathed in strobe lights. “You’ve been listening to music?”

Oblivious to my disappointment, Julian smiles and his adorable dimples greet me. “Yeah, I was working out. Didn’t want to disturb you.”

My ample chest deflates. Drat. Operation Fake Orgasm was a waste of time. But wait a minute now. That’s neither here nor there when I consider that Julian’s bare chest is in my field of vision. I haven’t seen it since my last year of high school—and Julian’s last year of college. Oh. Oh my. There have been significant developments in the interim.

He still possesses the smooth brown skin I yearned to caress. But maturity—and probably the effects of a heck of a lot of exercise—has etched itself into the dips and planes of his torso, broadening the span of his shoulders and hardening his stomach. How would the landscape change if he contracted his muscles in response to my touch? God, I’d love to know.

“So, care to tell me why you left your brother’s place like a thief in the night and showed up on my doorstep this time?” he asks. “I mean, you’re always welcome to crash here, but I’m curious.”

His voice, a commanding baritone that glides over me like a swath of silk, draws my attention to the strong column of his throat. Even in college, Julian spoke like a man well beyond his years, but now that he’s older, his voice complements his persona, the perfect accessory for any outfit or occasion. My brain perceives it as perpetual foreplay, and my body responds in kind. Shit, I’m going to need a cigarette after this conversation. But I don’t smoke. I’ll take a precoital nap, then. Is that a thing? If it isn’t, it should be.

He lifts his body and settles on the kitchen counter, and my gaze returns to the small and large muscles of his arms and abs as they flex in tandem, a well-choreographed dance of tantalizing body parts. Needing something to do with my twitchy hands, I search for a glass.

“Upper cabinet above the sink,” Julian says.

After grabbing one, I face him. “I unexpectedly needed a place to stay and figured Carter could take me in. But I didn’t think through the implications.”

He raises a brow. “Which are?” Then he tilts his head to the side, and a slow smile appears. “Oh, I know. He just returned from being on set in Canada.”

“Yes. Exactly. He and Tori are getting reacquainted. Loudly.” I grimace. “So, so loudly.”

Absently running his hands over his chin, he regards me with narrowed eyes. “What’s wrong with your place in Hoboken?”

It’s a simple question—with a complicated answer. Last week, I would have said nothing. But that was before my roommate’s seedy boyfriend cornered me in my kitchen and squeezed my ass as I rinsed out my favorite coffee mug. That was also before I slammed said mug against the side of his face. My roommate, Elisa, screeched when she saw the streak of blood on his cheek. His injury was superficial, but her response to what had prompted it hurt me deeply. In the end, she blamed her boyfriend’s wandering hands on my “tight” pajama bottoms.

Luckily, my latest stint as a flight attendant meant I could get away for a few days and distance myself from the terrible situation. Still, as long as either Elisa or her boyfriend occupy the apartment, I won’t be returning. Which means I’m homeless. But Julian doesn’t need to know all of this. For his own good. Because if he found out what had gone down, he would head to Jersey for an unfriendly visit with Elisa’s boyfriend and trouble would follow. So I tell him the truth, the partial truth, and nothing but the essential truth. “My living arrangements are in flux right now. I’m working on finding another place to live.”

Understanding smoothes out his furrowed forehead. “And staying with Carter while you figure things out isn’t an attractive option, I take it?”

I chuckle. “He literally has his hands full with Tori. True love—it’s a bit much, you know?”

Julian tilts his head back, his expression dubious. “Oh, c’mon. Are they that bad?”

“First, he’s my brother. Second, he’s my brother. Third, from what I could tell before I left, they’re spreading their DNA on every surface of his house. I’m worried one morning I’ll find a pubic hair in my cereal.”

Julian shudders and pretends to retch. “Stop, please.”

Satisfied I’ve made my point, I nod and purse my lips in displeasure. “Now you know how I feel.”

“I’m sure your parents would welcome you with open arms.”

I inwardly cringe at the thought of returning home. “I think you meant they’d welcome me into their nosy arms and pepper me with questions about my purpose in life. I know they mean well, but I’ll pass.”

He tilts his head as if to downplay my objection. “Would going home be such a bad thing?”

Um. Yes. I’d rather describe my colorful sexual history in graphic detail to my parents than return to Connecticut for more than a two-day visit during the holidays. Plus, Julian knows I hate my hometown and all the bad memories I left there, which is why I simply stare at him in response to his ridiculous question.

He drops his head, his fisted hands lightly pounding his thighs, but he says nothing. After a half-minute in which I struggle for something to say, Julian lifts his head and swallows hard. A sense of foreboding blankets the room, the mood inexplicably darkening despite the brightness of his stark white kitchen. Finally, he says, “If you need a place to stay while you sort out your living arrangements, you can stay here. In one of the guest bedrooms.”

I register the even and emotionless tone of his voice before I notice his matching expression. Goodness. Does he abhor the idea of my staying here that much? I thought . . . I don’t know what I thought. Maybe Julian’s dating someone and he doesn’t want me to interfere with his lifestyle. Maybe to him I’m still Carter’s annoying sister, and he only suggested I stay here to keep his best friend and client happy.

He stares at me, his mouth slightly open as though he’s holding his breath. Or maybe, just maybe, Julian suspects being in close quarters with me would test his resolve to keep our relationship platonic. Although his reasoning is unclear, his lack of enthusiasm for spending more time with me is not. That’s why I’ll accept his offer. Because I need to know once and for all whether Julian’s attracted to me. If he isn’t, I’ll move on. If he is, I’ll climb his body like a scratching post—for a few weeks, at most—and then I’ll happily take him off my “to-do” list. “I won’t stay long. Promise.” I give him a reassuring smile. “And I’ll be traveling for work a lot, so you won’t even know I’m here.”

“I doubt that,” he says under his breath. Ha. Given what I have in mind, I doubt that, too.

PRETENDING HE’S MINE. Copyright © 2018 by Mia Sosa. All rights reserved