"You’d be just as fired if he found out about the night you got me half-undressed. What can they do, fire you twice?"
Fuck. He had me there. At this point, Palmer would probably throw me out onto the streets of Manhattan if he heard the whole truth. Which made things worse, because the other reasons I didn’t want to sleep with Jax were a lot more difficult to talk about than potential HR problems. "But if one of the band members tells them . . ."
"Pepper, I give you my word," he said, reaching out to lift my chin until I was looking directly in his eyes, "I can handle the band. They’re not going to tell anyone."
"You can’t guarantee—"
"Hold up," he interrupted, putting his finger to my lips. Then he softly brushed it across my bottom lip, sending unwanted tingles of excitement through me. "Here’s how this is going to work. You’re going to give me a kiss. It’s going to last as long as I want it to. After that, you can have your top back."
Wait, a kiss? I thought he’d been referring to sex this whole time. A kiss was already trodden territory between us. I squinted at him. This seemed too easy. "Fine. It’s a deal."
"That’s not the whole deal," he said, seeming to enjoy correcting me. "You’re also going to give me a kiss after every show on this tour."
My ni**les hardened at the thought of kissing Jax over and over again for the next two weeks, and I felt my body trying to say "yes" before my brain put the brakes on. "You’re asking for too much. One kiss right now. But that’s all."
His eyes burned into me, and when he spoke next, his voice was a low growl, "No deal."
"Fine," I said dismissively, feeling vulnerable in more ways than one. "Because I know how this story goes anyway." I’d been playing the scenario out in my head long enough that it was easy to see. "Girl plays games with rock god. Rock god plays until he gets bored. Then he moves on to the next new thing and the girl goes back to her humdrum life."
"Sounds like it’s not a bad deal for the girl."
"Spoken like someone who’s used to taking advantage of others, not getting taken advantage of himself."
His jaw tightened. "You don’t know me, Pepper."
Surprised by his reaction, I realized I must’ve hit a sore spot. "I know enough to know that you like picking on the young and helpless." I considered myself young at twenty-five.
He waited, his hand clenched around his drink. Clearly, I’d hit close to home.
"And it’s not just that," I said, feeling the words tumble out before I’d even thought about them. "You put the dark and dangerous act on harder than any guy I’ve ever met, and in my experience, most guys who do that are hiding something. Usually something big." Like a prison record. Or an ex-wife.
Jax set his drink down on the edge of the hot tub with a loud thunk, bending his knees until he was at eye level with me. His dark eyes were pools big enough to drown in and he stared directly at me. "Do you think I’m hiding something?"
I could feel his breath as he spoke. His scent filled my mind, and my eyes ran slowly over his taut, tanned skin. His body was inches from me, draining my resistance, making it impossible to free myself from his gaze.
"Yeah," I said at last. "I do."
He straightened and turned around, shaking his head. "See you around, then."
Shit. Whatever Jax was hiding, it was none of my business, and I didn’t want my bikini top to be a casualty of my curiosity. "Wait! Wait, wait, wait. Fine. Let’s negotiate."
He turned back around. "I was already negotiating."
"I’ll agree to your terms. One kiss after every show, no telling anyone," I said.
"It’s a d—"
I cut him off with a raised hand. Letting him get his way without asking for anything in return would make me a pushover. I needed a counter-offer to show him who he was dealing with. "That’s not the whole deal. I also want a ten percent reduction in your band expenses. I see how you spend money. I know you can do better."
His brows raised. "I thought you didn’t want to mix business and pleasure."
"But I already did," I said. My voice was resolute now. I couldn’t show any weakness in front of Jax. "It was an accident, but it happened. I’ve already taken the risk, professionally. If there’s any possibility I could get out of this with my career not just intact, but better off than when I started, I want to take it."
"This is an unusual request," he said, a grudging smile spreading across his face. "But that doesn’t mean I won’t work with it. What’s in this for you?"
I held up my chin. "There’s a twenty-thousand dollar bonus on the line for me, if I can achieve all budgetary goals for the band within two weeks."
"Ah, I see. So it’s purely mercenary," he said smirking. "Well, these budget cuts affect me and the band’s shows. So if that’s how you want it, Pepper, you’re going to have to sweeten the deal. A hand where you had it last time for this kiss, and I’ll make your budget cuts."
"Over your pants or under?"
"Then no deal."
Jax’s kiss was one thing. But his naked, thick c**k in front of me again? That would be a surefire way to make a mistake I’d regret later.
"Fine. Over. But they have to be good kisses."
I smiled confidently. "Oh, don’t worry. They will be." If I could be sure of anything, with someone as hot as Jax, it would be that.
"Do we have a deal?"
His low, throaty rasp was so close to my mouth that I could feel the heat of his breath.
I took a deep breath, feeling more excited than I should. My body was aching with arousal for being so close to him for so long, half-naked. Once my mortification had worn off, the whole situation kind of felt naughty.
"Yes, Jax. We have a deal."
"Then let’s seal it."
He looked at me like a lion looking at its prey—and then I felt his lips.
With frantic urgency, Jax’s tongue pressed hard against the seam of my eager mouth. It penetrated fiercely as I cried out in surprise. His hands ran down my bare back as his fingers pressed roughly into me, gripping my wet skin tightly, and I moaned against his mouth.
I felt him pulling back slightly, and I followed, unwilling to break our lips apart. I was like an animal in heat, consumed with need, rising from the water inch by inch to keep my tongue tangled with his. He’d said he wanted good kisses, and I intended to show him.