Welcome to This Kiss Thursday, our celebration of first kisses from our favorite authors. This week, we bring you an excerpt from The Engagement Game by Jenny Holiday.
Are you ready?
When Rosie unlocked her apartment and pushed the door open, she initially thought Marcus had changed his mind and not waited for her. The apartment was dark and utterly silent. Which was a little disappointing.
Which was, in turn, a little alarming.
But then, just as her eyes were adjusting to the faint light coming from the dining room, he said, “Hey.”
It was just a hey. One little syllable. But just like when he’d snuck up behind her at his office, it was a very…compelling syllable. Low and gravelly, he drew it out in a way that went straight to her core.
“How was the underage management consultant?”
She moved deeper into the apartment and set her keys on the table. He had moved a lamp from the living room and was ensconced in a circle of warm light. He wore his work clothes from earlier in the day but had lost the jacket and tie. He shot her a boyish grin, which was funny because he obviously wasn’t a boy. There was the premature gray hair to start with. He was also decidedly not a boy at work. She had only observed him in his natural habitat for a short time, but it had been enough to see that he utterly commanded the situation.
Still, there was a vulnerability about him that she caught a flash of sometimes in the rebel who had broken from his father and forged his own path.
“How old are you?” she asked, not really caring that the question was abrupt and probably borderline rude.
He didn’t seem flustered by it, though. “Forty.”
She sat down. “The management consultant was fine.”
“He was…” How to explain? “He was not forty.”
“I told you he was a kid.”
“Yeah, he kind of was. Not living in his parents’ basement or anything—not that kind of kid. He was obviously very successful professionally. But he talked a lot about bands I’d never heard of. He was a bit of a music nerd. Not that that’s a bad thing.” She shrugged. There had been nothing overtly wrong with her date, and yet…
“But he didn’t insult you like the last one. Or do anything creepy or unwelcome.”
“No, not at all,” she rushed to assure him because a fierceness had made its way into his tone. Apparently “fake fiancé” came with a dose of protectiveness. “He was very solicitous. He seemed into me, asked if he could kiss me, in fact.”
“What? Just now? Outside?”
“No. We went to a restaurant in the beaches, and he suggested a walk on the boardwalk afterward. I think he was going for the big romantic gesture because he stopped us under this tree where you could see the moon over the lake.”
Marcus shut his computer and began stacking some papers he had scattered around her table. “And?”
“It was kind of awkward, actually. The first kiss always is.”
He stood and shoved his computer into a bag. “I myself am not a fan of the grand gesture brand of first kiss. That’s not my M.O.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed, following him toward the door. “You have moves!” For some reason, the idea of Marcus having a kissing philosophy, of him trying to impress a woman, surprised her. She would have thought he just had to exist for women to be interested in him. But… “I thought you didn’t do relationships.”
“I don’t. But I’m not a monk. I keep things casual, though. I just make sure everyone knows the score. And as for my so-called moves, I just think people put too much stock in the big, all-important first kiss.”
“You think so? Because—”
And then he was kissing her. Oh, God, Marcus was kissing her, his lips gentle, impossibly soft.
But then, as suddenly as he had started, he stopped. Which was oddly disappointing.
But he didn’t pull away as his mouth left hers. “I’m more a fan of the low-key first kiss,” he rasped, his lips brushing over her cheek as he spoke.
She was trying to calm her out of control heart, to think what to say, when he was back, framing her face with both his hands this time, pressing his lips a little more firmly against hers, letting his tongue test their seam. She was just about to open for him when—damn him!—he pulled back again.
“Disarm,” he whispered, his lips moving against hers as he spoke. “You can talk while you’re kissing, even.” He trailed a few kisses along her jawline, saying, “Kissing doesn’t have to be such a big deal,” as he went. She was tempted to disagree, to point out that this was, in fact, a Very Big Deal, but she feared that to do so would make him stop. As each kiss deposited a tiny pinprick of electricity on its target, one part of her brain was aware that kissing the fake fiancé who didn’t do relationships was a bad idea. But the other, bigger part couldn’t remember why.
“There doesn’t need to be a big, grand lead up for a kiss to be good,” he went on, having made his way back to her lips and begun nipping the bottom one.
She kissed him this time, and just as her lips hit his, he murmured, “Exactly.” And as she twined her hands around his neck, he pulled her closer, and she felt the unmistakable evidence of his arousal. He didn’t try to hide it, like many men would during a first kiss. He also didn’t try to rub it against her like other, creepier men would. It was just a fact between them—a very impressive fact—and the idea that it was her who’d inspired this response was intoxicating. He was intoxicating. Disarm, he’d said, but dis-knee was more like it because she had to concentrate harder than she would have liked for hers not to buckle under the assault of his mouth. His tongue was making incursions into her mouth, and one hand stroked down the side of her throat and grabbed hold of the neck of her shirt, as if he were trying to anchor her to him. It was maybe the sexiest thing that had ever happened to her, and she couldn’t contain a moan of pleasure.
But she must have been mistaken to assume the shirt-grabbing gesture had been an anchoring one, because all of a sudden, he was gone.
The kiss was over.
She wanted to howl her protest. But there was no way to do that and retain any shred of dignity.
And damn him if he didn’t then wink at her and say, “You have a letter to write, don’t you? I’ll talk to you later,” before slipping out the door.
What’s a little blackmail between friends…
The black sheep of the old-money Rosemanns, advertising executive Marcus has made his own way in the world—and done extremely well for himself—but his family is still pressuring him to join their investment firm and settle down with a quiet, unobjectionable girl.
Which is why the sexy Rose Verma is the perfect date for his family’s charity ball. A bleeding-heart lefty from the wrong side of the tracks, Rose has never met a stray dog she didn’t love or a polka-dotted mini-dress she couldn’t rock. Marcus has enough dirt on Rose to “convince” her to play along. And if he lets it slip that they’re engaged, all the better.
But all’s fair in love and blackmail, and Rose is ready to play a few cards of her own…