Part1: Naked





“It’s a very bad idea, Brynne. Don’t risk it. Let me give you a ride.”

I froze on the street. I knew who spoke to me without ever hearing his voice before. I turned slowly to face the same eyes that had burned me back at the gallery. “I don’t know you at all,” I told him.

He smiled, his lip turning up more on one side than the other of his goateed mouth. He pointed to his car at the curb, a sleek black Range Rover HSE. The kind that only Brits with money can ever afford. Not that he didn’t reek of money before, but he was way out of my league. I swallowed hard in my throat. Those eyes of his were blue, very clear and deep.

“Yet you call me by name and—and expect me to get in a car with you? Are you crazy?”

He walked toward me and extended his hand. “Ethan Blackstone.”

I stared at his hand, so finely elegant with the white cuff framing the grey sleeve of his designer jacket. “How do you even know my name?”

“I just bought a work entitled Brynne’s Repose from the Andersen Gallery for a nice sum not fifteen minutes ago. And I’m fairly sure I’m not mentally impaired. Sounds more PC than crazy don’t you think?”

He kept his hand out. I met his hand and he took mine. Oh did he ever. Or maybe I’d lost my mind shaking hands with the stranger who’d just purchased a huge canvas of my naked body. Ethan possessed a firm grip. And hot too. Had I imagined he pulled me a little closer toward him? Or maybe I was the crazy one, because my feet hadn’t moved an inch. Those blue eyes were nearer to me than they were a moment ago though, and I could smell his cologne. Something so gawd awfully delicious it was sinful to smell that good and be human. “Brynne Bennett,” I said.

He let go of my hand. “And now we know each other,” he said, pointing first at me and then to himself, “Brynne, Ethan.” He motioned with his head toward his Rover. “Now will you let me take you home?”

I swallowed again. “Why do you care so much?”

“Because I don’t want anything to happen to you? Because those heels look lovely at the end of your legs but will be hell to walk in? Because it’s dangerous for a woman alone at night in the city?” His eyes flicked over me. “Especially for someone who looks like you.”  That mouth of his turned up just slightly on the one side again. “So many reasons, Miss Bennett.”

“What if you’re not safe?” He raised an eyebrow at me. “I still don’t know you or anything about you, or if Ethan Blackstone is your real name.”

Did he just give me a look?

“You have a point in that. And it’s one I can rectify easily.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a drivers license with the name, Ethan James Blackstone clearly printed. He handed me a business card with the same name and Blackstone Security International, Ltd. engraved on the cream cardstock. “You may keep that.” He grinned again. “I’m very busy at my job, Miss Bennett. I have absolutely no time for a hobby as a serial killer, I promise you.”

I laughed. “Good one, Mr. Blackstone.” I put his card in my purse. “All right. You can give me a ride.”

His brow shot up again, and I got the sideways grin again too. I winced inwardly at the double entendre for ‘ride’ and tried to focus on how uncomfortable my shoes really would be for walking to the Tube station and that it was a good idea to let him drive me. He pressed his hand to the bottom of my back and led me to the curb.

“In you go.” Ethan got me settled and then walked around to the street side and slid behind the wheel, smooth as a panther. He looked at me and tilted his head. “And where does Miss Bennett live?”

“Nelson Square in Southwark.”

He frowned but then turned his face away and pulled out into traffic. “You are American.”

What, he didn’t like Americans? “I am here on scholarship at the University of London. Graduate program,” I tacked on, wondering why I felt the need to tell him anything at all about myself.

“And the modeling?”

The second he asked the question the sexual tension thickened. I paused before answering. I knew exactly what he was doing—imagining me in my picture. Naked. And as weird as it felt, I opened my mouth and told him. “Um, I—I posed for my friend, the photographer, Benny Clarkson. He asked and it helps pay the bills, you know?”

“Not really, but I love the portrait of you, Miss Bennett.” He kept his eyes on the road.

I felt myself stiffen at his comment. Who in the hell was he to judge what I do to support myself? “Well, my own personal international corporation never came through like yours did, Mr. Blackstone. I resorted to modeling. I like sleeping in a bed as opposed to a park bench. And heat. The winters here suck!” Even I could hear the snark in my voice.

“In my experience I’ve found many things here that suck.” He turned and gave me an expert blue-eyed stare.