POWER PLAY – Chapter One Excerpt
Seduction. Surrender. Satisfaction. When it comes to a woman he wants, these three words are his one and only mission. MMA fighter, Raphael Jerroult has always had to fight for what he wants—both in and out of the ring. Except when it comes to women. They fall at his feet, eager for the kind of pleasure only he can give…again and again. Enter Macy Lovelace, a red-headed beauty with curves that go on for days. A woman who is different from any he has ever encountered. She slipped through his fingers once. But now he’s going to take her, seduce her, and satisfy her until she gives him nothing less than her complete surrender…
Raphael Jerroult needed to get laid, and his choices were limited. One didn’t go hunting for a temporary fuck-buddy among friends and business partners.
Taking a sip of his whiskey sour, he stood at the edge of the ballroom watching as one of his best friends and business partners, former boxer and current billionaire Sebastian Delacroix, slow-danced with Renata Giordano, the love of his life and boxing’s reigning women’s welterweight champion. Though this was officially an engagement party with a formal wedding to follow in the fall at the requests of both their mothers, Raphael had been with them in Vegas the month before when they’d married the day after Renata won her title. Looking at them now and knowing how they threw off sparks whenever they were in the room together, Raphael understood and agreed with why Sebastian hadn’t waited. They were a stunning couple, blissfully oblivious to anything and everything else around them.
Just because he understood it didn’t mean he’d choose the same outcome himself. That kind of single-minded bliss was something he both loathed and desired. His parents had been much the same way. Jonah and Desiree Jerroult had loved each other since childhood and had married right out of high school. They’d loved each other so much, so deeply that there hadn’t been any room left over for their only child.
Sometimes he thought they’d birthed him simply because it was expected of them, and the Jerroults needed an heir. They’d turned him over to a nanny as soon as he could walk, making Raphael feel like an outsider in his own family. Then Raphael’s mother had fallen ill when he was twelve and died of cancer when he was thirteen. Instead of bringing them closer together, Desiree Jerroult’s death had made the chasm between father and son insurmountable.
Raphael grimaced into his drink. It could have been worse, he supposed. His father could have committed suicide immediately instead of waiting until Raphael’s college graduation—a promise he’d made to his dying wife to see their son to adulthood. Too bad she hadn’t made him promise to love their only child.
The only bright spot in his youth had been the Lovelace family, especially daughter Macy. Macy and her brothers had lost their mother the year before he’d lost his, but her father had rallied for his three children. Macy and her brothers had always known that they were loved, and somehow the Lovelace family had made room for Raphael. He knew the only reason he wasn’t completely fucked up was because of Macy and her family. Macy, with her fiery red curls, bright green eyes, soft skin, and warm heart. She’d kept him grounded, kept him sane. She’d been his first in everything, and there were times over the years when he missed her more than was healthy.
If any woman could have gotten him close to an altar, Macy Lovelace was the one. He’d even tried to find her after he’d spent two years off the grid in Thailand getting his head on straight and mastering Muay Thai. She’d been hot and heavy with some European prince. She was probably living the good life in a castle spitting out royal babies.
He glanced at his friends again. He was glad Sebastian had reconnected with his old flame. Glad that they were happy. But he needed to get the hell out of there, find a willing woman and get fucked. Their other business partner Gabriel had already made himself scarce, though he was more likely to seek out an underground fight than sex. Raphael hadn’t brought a date because he didn’t want to give any woman ideas about his intentions. Besides, this was all for his friends, to celebrate their love and happily-ever-after. The fact that he didn’t believe in either was something he kept to himself.
A flash of red caught his attention. A redhead, standing out in a sea of blondes and brunettes like a flame in the darkness, her brilliant hair falling over emerald lace-covered shoulders calling him like a beacon.
His heart kicked up its pace. He’d seen plenty of redheads over the years, but none with Macy’s particular burnished shade of curls. None who made him feel as if he’d just downed a vitamin energy cocktail. Just this flash, this fleeting glimpse, and his body felt primed in a way he only ever felt in the cage.
Handing his empty glass off to a passing waiter, he cut across the ballroom, determined to intercept the mystery woman. Hope and dread churned with the alcohol in his gut. Was it her? It couldn’t be her. Not here. Not after eight long, lonely years of silence.
He caught a glimpse of a shapely figure bound by an emerald-green corset-style top before the crowd swallowed her up. His Macy had never worn anything so racy over her soft curves. If she had, he would have . . .
He gritted his teeth. He still would have let her go. He had been twenty-two, still reeling from the death of his father and she’d been on her way to Paris to realize her dream of becoming a pastry chef. Her life had been coming together while his was falling apart, and the last decent thing he could do for the woman who’d given him so much was give her the chance to live her life without worrying about him.
Holy fuck, he really needed to catch this woman. A woman who wore a corset out was definitely someone he wanted to know. How the hell had he not crossed paths with her before now? He thought he’d bedded every available woman between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. He smiled to himself. If she were a new transplant, he’d make sure to give her a warm welcome she’d never forget.
He caught up to her just as she reached the service hallway leading to the kitchens. Hot damn, from the back she was a curvaceous beauty with a voluptuous, hourglass figure. As much as he’d enjoyed indulging in Macy’s soft curves, he wouldn’t have considered her lush, not like this woman seemed in her green top, black pencil skirt, and black stilettos. Maybe it was time to break his rule about no redheads. Eight years pining for one particular woman was eight years too long.
“Excuse me, darling,” he drawled to her. “Where are you going in such a hurry? I can’t let the night end without having the pleasure of being introduced.”
The woman stopped, her shoulders bunching defensively as if he’d trapped her. It was an unusual reaction—women were usually all too ready to make his acquaintance. Then she turned. Raphael felt the smile slide from his face. It couldn’t be. It was.
* * *
Macy Lovelace had spent the majority of her friend’s engagement party in the kitchens. She told herself that she wasn’t hiding—as owner of the restaurant catering the event, it was her duty to ensure that her staff kept the guests plied with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. However, she’d never been one to lie, especially to herself. She could admit that as much as she wanted to keep the party guests satisfied and thereby make Renata happy, she wanted to avoid Raphael Jerroult even more.
Too bad the man in question now had her cornered in a back hallway.
Her back pressed into the wall for support as he leaned over her. She’d forgotten how tall he was, or had he sprouted more in the eight years since she’d seen him? What she hadn’t forgotten was how beautiful he was, how devastating he was in close proximity. Yet her college-age reminiscing paled to the reality of the golden-haired angel.
The tuxedo he wore had to have been custom made for him. The fit across his broad shoulders and long legs was that perfect. He wore it well, cutting a debonair swath through the guests that had held her spellbound before she’d come to her senses and made her escape before he recognized her.
Apparently she hadn’t been quick enough.
Dread curled in the pit of Macy’s stomach. She’d known when Renata had told her that Raphael and his friends had moved their headquarters here three months ago that she’d have to face this moment, face him. She should have stayed back in the kitchen, supervising her staff. But no, she had to give in to Renata’s demand to join the party, to mingle, to have a little fun while she chatted up their foundation. Her new best friend could certainly be demanding. Make that her ex new best friend.
“Macy. It is you.” A wide grin shoved the stunned expression off his face. Before she could get a word out, he scooped her up. He spun her around with a full, delighted laugh that was so at odds with the emotions churning in her gut that she couldn’t react, couldn’t do anything but hold on as he spun her about.
“I missed you.” His grip tightened as he slowed his spin, still holding her off the ground. His smile softened, wonder filling his eyes as he gazed at her. “God, I missed you so much.”
The words, as heartfelt as they were, stung her. He should have missed her—he was the one who had sent her away, who had kept his distance for eight long years. Granted, she’d gone to ground for a couple of years after her life in Paris had crumbled, but he’d disappeared first.
She pushed against his shoulders. “Raphael, I—”
He kissed her then, claiming her lips. Instinct steamrolled over her. Surprising herself, she kissed him back, her arms twining about his neck, her body pressing closer. She shouldn’t have been surprised; she’d loved him so fiercely back then and loved him still. What did surprise her was the depth of what she felt after so long, after he’d disappeared. After her life had imploded because he’d disappeared.
A slight shudder rolled through his large frame. Then his kiss softened and it was her turn to shudder, want pooling low in her belly as her nipples hardened. She clutched at his lapels, her knees weakening and hunger strengthening. He took that as encouragement, his arms tightening about her waist, still holding her off the ground as he seduced her with skillful strokes of his tongue along the seam of her lips.
Unable to bank her desire, she parted her lips to slide her tongue along his, needing to taste him fully. The taste of him flooded her mouth, the sweet sharpness of liquor combining with the smoky flavor that was uniquely his. The potency of it hit her like a shot of adrenaline to her bloodstream, speeding her heartbeat and igniting her senses. This was much more than she remembered. He was much more than she remembered.
His lips traced along her jaw to her throat, leaving heat in his wake. He’d enflamed her with just a kiss, knowing exactly what she needed to catapult headlong into passion. Need kicked in as memories flooded her system. Memories of that glorious body pistoning in and out of hers with relentless power and pleasure, driving her to one orgasm after another. All she could feel, all she could think of, was Raphael and what he did to her.
It was too much, more than she was prepared to handle. Again she pushed at his shoulders and this time he released her in a long slow glide against the front of his body that made her breath catch. Back on her feet, unsteady, she backed away from him, needing the space to breathe, to think.
“Raphael.” She managed to keep her voice pleasant and even, a feat considering how she trembled inside. Smoothing her skirt, she searched for calm. “I don’t know where you’ve been, but that’s not how I usually greet old friends. You’re looking well.”
Looking well? He looked freakin’ hot—scorching! It was monumentally unfair for a man to be so beautiful, but that was the easiest word to describe Raphael. He’d grown into his gorgeousness in college when he’d taken to martial arts with a vengeance, but she’d always thought him the best-looking boy in town even when they were twelve. Golden blond, Mediterranean blue eyes framed by thick, golden brown lashes, a generous smile, and a honed six-foot-four frame that was the epitome of a finely tuned engine.
“Thanks,” he said offhandedly, as if his gorgeousness was no big deal. Since he had women throwing themselves at him no matter where he went, Macy supposed it wasn’t that big a deal to him. “Though I think we’re more than old friends, Macy.”
He was right. He’d been her best friend for years, building a level of trust she’d never had with anyone else. They’d turned to each other for everything—painful confidences, losing their virginity, other sexual exploration. They’d shared a level of friendship and trust that she’d treasured until one tragic summer when he’d truly become her lover, the best she’d ever had. Then he’d broken her heart and a short time later nearly broke her will as well.
“That was a long time ago,” she said, edging away. “It was nice seeing you again, Raphael. Take care of yourself.”
“That’s it?” he wondered. “After eight years, that’s all you can say?”
Oh, she had a truckload of things she wanted to say to him, but she wasn’t about to ruin Renata’s big night. Still, the words bubbled up her throat like acid, corroding her ability to hold them back. “After eight years, what in the world do you think needs to be said?” she asked, her voice bitter. “You were the one who dropped off the face of the earth.”
Blond brows lowered as he frowned. “You’re saying our lost time is my fault? You’re the one who pulled a disappearing act. You dropped out of school and the next thing anyone hears about you is that you’re about to marry Prince Charming of Goldavia or something.”
She drew back, shocked. He knew about that? Surely that meant he’d known where she was, how to reach her. Did it also mean that he’d deliberately avoided her? The thought sent a bolt of pain shooting through her, giving her the emotional distance she needed to raise her chin defiantly. “If you must know, Karl is Belgian and a baron.”
“Of course he is. Where’s Baron Charming now? For that matter, what are you doing here in New Orleans when you’re supposed to be living the royal life in Europe?”
She settled her hands on her hips as she jutted her chin out. “You forfeited the right to know anything about me when you sent me off to Paris and disappeared.”
“Macy.” There was a wealth of conflicting emotion in the way he said her name. Surprise still, with healthy doses of hurt and anger. What the hell right did he have being angry, when she was the one who’d ended up all but broken?
He shoved a hand through his hair, and even frustration looked good on him. “Look, we have a lot of catching up to do, but I sure as hell don’t want to do it here. Let’s get out of here.”
Eight years ago she would have immediately agreed, would have followed him anywhere blindly and willingly. She’d loved him enough back then, though she hadn’t told him. Too much had happened since then. She’d suffered heartache and loss. She’d experienced more success and more pleasure. Changed so much. Too much to easily pick up with Raphael Jerroult again.
“No?” His eyebrows knitted together. “Come on, Macy. We obviously have a lot of questions for each other, so let’s ditch this party and leave together. We’ll catch up.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you, Raphael.”
He towered over her, enveloping her in his spicy scent as he braced himself against the wall with one hand, caging her in with his large body. His bright blue eyes sparkled with equal parts curiosity, frustration, and need as he stared down at her, his lips curved in a soft, kissable, enticing smile. “You seem angry with me, and I want to know why. Why not take off and hash it all out? You know you want to.”
She rallied herself with an effort, refusing to be dragged back under his spell. “I have a thousand reasons why not, beginning with the fact that this is Renata and Sebastian’s engagement party and I’m the hostess, and ending with the fact that I’m not going anywhere with the Crescent City Casanova.”
A pained expression crossed his angelic features, quickly there and gone before confusion blossomed again. “Wait. You’re hosting Sebastian’s party? Why would you do that?”
“Because Renata asked me to,” she answered, trying to step far enough away from him so that he’d have no choice but to release his hold on her. “We’re friends.”
More surprise. “You’re friends with Renata? Why didn’t I see you in Vegas?”
“Because I didn’t go to Vegas. I’ve only known her about three months.” She took a cleansing breath, trying not to inhale his sexy scent. The more they talked, the easier it was to separate herself from the intoxicating haze he’d wrapped her in. Better talking than kissing. “We met when she agreed to do some work for a charity organization that I founded here.”
“Here?” He pushed off from the wall, looking as if she’d delivered a cheap shot to the gut. “You live here? In New Orleans?”
“How long?” When she hesitated, he leaned closer. “How long, Macy?”
“I opened Choux four years ago. Lovelace is my second restaurant, and I opened it last year.”
The beginnings of anger colored the tips of his ears bright red. “You’ve been in New Orleans for four years?”
She shrugged, forcing a casualness she didn’t feel. “More or less.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Anger flared inside her at the accusation in his voice. “How the hell was I supposed to do that, Raphael? Call the cell phone you disconnected? Send a letter to the old family house that you sold in Baton Rouge? Beg your administrative assistant at JerTech for your contact information?”
She curled her hands into fists to hold back the urge to hit him, then sucked in a steadying breath. “It’s been eight years since our relationship ended for all intents and purposes. We’ve both moved on and lived successful lives, so I don’t think we owe each other anything. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to the party.” She ducked under his arm.
“Wait.” He wrapped a hand around her wrist. “That’s it? We don’t see or talk to each other for almost a decade and you can just walk away like we were nothing?”
Another surge of anger swept her. How dare he make it seem like she was at fault? “We were friends, Raffie,” she told him, clenching her fists so tightly her nails dug into her palms. “We were friends when you needed a friend, then we were more when you needed more. You needed me, and I was glad to be there for you. But you didn’t need me anymore.”
It hurt her to say it, and it appeared that it hurt him to hear it. He released her. “And what if I need you now, Macy?”
“You don’t need me, Raphael,” she said as gently as she could. “I’ve seen the women you date, and I know how you plow through them like the Mississippi during a flood. Besides, even if I wanted to go there, rumor has it that you never have the same woman twice. That means I’m automatically disqualified. I have no desire to be a fling or a notch in your bedpost. No desire to go there again for old time’s sake or anything else.”
A member of the wait staff emerged from the serving corridor. “Macy, there’s a problem in the back; we need you.”
“Be right there.” She turned to Raphael. “I’ve got to go.”
The look he gave her ignited her insides again. “This isn’t over, Macy.”
She lifted her chin. “As far as I’m concerned, it is.”
Spinning on her heel, she strode away. From the weight of Raphael’s gaze on her back, she knew their reunion was far from done.