Elliot Halloran is running away. Away from her privileged Manhattan upbringing and a promising future at business school. Away from her family, which plummeted from A-list to disgraced after her criminal father’s atrocities were exposed. Despite the guilt Elliot feels for abandoning her family, she has no choice. She is too recognizable to live life as the person she has always been. So when an old family friend offers her a position as an economics instructor at Miami’s elite Alford Academy, Elliot jumps at the chance to distance herself from her past. She cuts her hair, changes her name, and vows never to speak of her old life again.
Keeping her identity hidden is harder than Elliot expected, especially with a roommate who seems to be on the verge of uncovering her true identity. As she fumbles through the opening chapters of her new life, Elliot encounters an entirely unforeseen obstacle: photography instructor Luke Poulos. Luke is sensitive and spontaneous. An art lover. Smart. Everything Elliot has ever wanted. Luke and Elliot’s connection deepens when she learns that he lost his parents in a car accident when he was a teenager. Like Elliot, Luke understands that life can shatter in an instant.
Elliot knows that a relationship with Luke is impossible; that he would never love her if he knew the details of her past. But as she struggles with whether to open herself to love or keep her true self locked away, Elliot learns that she’s not the only one with secrets.
Once the students have left Luke’s apartment, we settle next to each other on the couch. So close, his scent envelops me. He smells clean and salty. Warm. Safe. I let myself breathe him in.
“You sure you wouldn’t rather head to the kick-ass South Beach party?” I tease, mocking the students’ quit exit.
“Nah.” The smile lines around his eyes crease slightly. “Kick ass SoBe parties be damned. I’d rather be here than anywhere else.” He reaches for my cup and tugs it gently from my grip, resting it on the coffee table. “And to tell you the truth, I’m glad everybody cleared out early.”
“Oh. Yeah. Me, too.” My mouth goes dry, and I search his face for meaning. Does he mean that he’s glad we’re alone? It’s what I want him to mean, the kind of wanting that reaches down deep and holds me captive next to him. And at the same time, I know the truth: Luke would never want a liar like me.
“So, it went well, don’t you think? I mean, the kids had a good time, and I loved seeing your place and everything.” I’m chattering, a nervous habit I’ve had since I was a kid.
“Yeah, it was a good time.” I can feel him watching me. When silence falls between us, he doesn’t fill it. Wanting tugs at my core. A warning sign.
“Okay. I should go.” I don’t move.
“Big plans tonight?”
“I think Gwen and Waverly are baking cookies.” My voice is high; lilts up at the end like I’m asking a question. I regret the childish words the instant they leave my mouth. And even more once Luke bursts out laughing.
“You know, you’re tough to read sometimes.”
“Yup, that’s me. Complicated. Many layers.” I stand to leave, but Luke reaches for my wrist, pulling me to seated again.
“Wait. I didn’t—I meant that in a good way.” He leans close, brushing my bangs away from my forehead. “It’s like, you’re this incredibly strong woman and this sweet little girl at the same time.”
Woman. I don’t usually like it when guys use that word, but when it leaves Luke’s lips it sounds hot. And I like that he sees the kid in me too, the part of me that doesn’t have it all together. It’s like he’s glimpsed the real me, and he’s not turning away.
“I don’t feel strong,” I murmur. It feels good to tell the truth. “Not today, anyway.”
“Well, you obviously don’t see what I see,” Luke says softly. With both hands, he reaches out and strokes the studs in my ears with his thumbs. His fingers graze my neck, sending electric jolts through me. My body is warm, and strung so tight I don’t trust myself to breathe. I want him to kiss me. I want him to protect me. And I know I should leave, but I can’t.
And then his hands are gripping my shoulders and he’s pulling me into him. And his mouth is on mine, so warm and sweet that my mind goes blank and my body is shaking with anticipation. I kiss him back, hard. In this moment, there is nothing standing between us: not my past, not my lies, not my deceit. There’s only Luke and me. His eyes, my mouth, his hands, my hips.
Luke’s tongue searches my mouth. Gentle but strong, exactly like him. I run my hands through his thick, dark hair, almost clawing at him. I want him so badly it aches. I lean back, let my head rest on the arm of the couch, trying to get my bearings as he explores me with his mouth: my neck, the hollow at the base of my throat, then the outline of my ear.
“I’ve wanted to do this since the second I saw you,” he whispers, his words soft on my neck.
I say nothing, just gasp as he bites my lip. Tracing my collarbone with his fingers, he stops, teasingly, just short of my breasts, but my nipples harden beneath the silk of my dress anyway. He notices and smiles.
I want to devour him. No. I want to give in to him, to let him take control.
Mia Henry Bio:
Mia Henry adores all things romance, from steamy stories to ugly cry-inducing movies. She lives in Florida, where she dreams up storylines during beach walks with her muse, a ferocious 8-pound pup named Lulu.
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