Chapter One

JACKSON WILD PUT his cell phone on speaker mode, set it on the coffee table, and shoved a few extra protein bars into his backpack as he listened to his younger brother and business partner rattle off their schedule for next weekend’s photo shoot. They owned one of the most prestigious photography studios in New York City, and both of them enjoyed the perks of the business—leggy models and actresses who loved to party. Jackson had never missed an event, but that didn’t stop his overly organized brother, Cooper, from confirming for a second time.

“Sage Remington’s gallery opening is Friday night. Are you sure you and Erica will be back by then?”

Jackson flopped onto his leather couch and kicked his bare feet up on the table beside the phone.

“Yeah. We’re coming back Thursday night.” Gazing out at the city lights, he thought about Erica Lane, who had been his best friend—with benefits—since high school. Everyone except Jackson called her Erica. He’d given her the nickname Laney the very first time they’d met, when she’d been a tough, mouthy, and beautiful teenager.

“You’ve got Mom covered while I’m away?” Jackson asked. Their father had been killed while trying to ward off an attack on their mother in the middle of the night, right in their bedroom. He’d rushed the attacker, but he was no match for the two bullets that tore through his chest and stole his life as his wife suffered a savage beating that left her blind. Now Jackson and his three brothers took turns visiting their mother on a daily basis, making sure she was safe and taking her on outings and to run errands, and in general, ensuring she continued to have a full life after losing their father and her eyesight.

“Yeah. No problem,” Cooper assured him. “How’d things go with those two girls from the bar you took home Wednesday night? They were smokin’ hot.”

“Let’s just say—” Jackson turned at the sound of his front door flying open and slamming against the doorstop.

“Get your clothes off,” Laney hollered as she burst through the door carrying an armful of red roses and the biggest box of chocolates Jackson had ever seen. She slammed the chocolates and roses on the counter that separated the kitchen from the rest of the open living space. Several roses tumbled to the floor, leaving a trail of petals as Laney glared over her shoulder at him.

“Come on. Strip,” she demanded. Her blond hair was wild, as if she’d run from wherever she’d come from, and her cheeks were red with anger, but it was the look in her eyes that had Jackson’s blood boiling. They were damp, as if she’d been crying.

He strode across the room, forgetting about Cooper, and grabbed her by the shoulders. She glared up at him with her jaw tight, her eyes shooting daggers as she tore at the buttons on his shirt.

“Get this off. I need to get laid.” She was five foot four to his six three, with full, pouty lips, an angular, tipped-up nose, and big hazel eyes, which could look innocent or wicked, depending on her mood. Currently they were watery and angry, which had his gut fisting into a knot. She shifted away from his gaze as she fumbled with his buttons and said, “Fuck. I can’t—”

Jackson pressed his hand to hers on his chest and felt her trembling.

“Talk to me, Laney. Why were you crying? What happened?”

“Nothing. I wasn’t cryi—” She pulled her top off and wiggled out of her miniskirt, which left her in a pair of black heels, a sexy black lace bra, and matching panties. Jackson had seen her naked and in just about every stage of undress one could imagine hundreds of times, and still, he was rock hard in seconds. She had no idea how hot she was, with full breasts straining against her bra, her taut stomach begging to be licked, and hips made for holding on to while she rode him hard. But Jackson knew just how hot she was. Damn did he know.

She pulled her hand out from beneath his. “Stop gawking and take your clothes off.” She ripped open the button on his jeans and fought with the zipper.

He stripped to his skivvies as he said, “Fine, but just tell me if I have to go kick some Ricker ass.” Laney had been dating Bryce Ricker for about nine months, and as far as Jackson knew, things were going well—even if she refused to commit to a monogamous relationship with the guy. Her parents had divorced when she was in high school, and ever since, she’d said she’d commit to a man when hell froze over, which suited him just fine.

“No, you don’t have to kick his ass; you just have to fuck tonight out of me.” She grabbed his hand and dragged him through the living room toward his bedroom. Her heels tapped out an angry tune against the hardwood floor.


“Jesus, Jackson. Since when do you talk so much? I’m fine, okay? Fine.” The harsh clench of her jaw told him she was very far from fine, but he knew that once their bodies came together, she’d be fine in no time, and then she’d spill her guts. And he’d decide for himself if he was kicking Ricker’s ass or not.

“Hi, Erica.” Cooper’s voice sailed up from the cell phone on the coffee table as they passed.

“Cooper?” She stopped cold, and Jackson ran right into her luscious curves. Her eyes shot up to Jackson, then darted around the room.

“Cell phone,” Jackson said.

“Damn it, Jackson, you could have told me.” Laney’s eyes darted back to the phone. “Hi, Coop. Jackson has to go now.”

Jackson smirked. His family had known about him and Laney sleeping together since his mother caught them in bed together their senior year in high school. That was a fun afternoon, he thought sarcastically, remembering his mother’s surprise and the lecture he’d gotten afterward.

Jackson picked up the phone, took it off speaker mode, and pressed it to his ear. “I’ll catch ya later, Coop.”

“You lucky bastard. Breakup sex?”

He eyed his best friend, whose arms were crossed as she tapped her toes impatiently. “Dunno.”

“No, it’s not breakup sex!” Laney took the phone from Jackson, whispering, “You need to lower the volume on your stupid phone.” She turned her attention to Cooper. “It’s I-can’t-think-straight sex. Are you guys cool? Can we hang up now?”

She ended the call and pulled Jackson into the bedroom. The room was dark, save for the lights of the city ten stories below. He gripped Laney’s arms and spun her against him, searching her eyes for the truth. Bryce Ricker was a nice guy, a stable stockbroker who treated Laney well. But there was something about the guy that rubbed Jackson the wrong way—he was too good. He was too nice, and if he did a damn thing to Laney, he’d be too dead.

“Tell me he didn’t do anything bad, or we’re not doing this.”

She placed her hands on his hips and stepped in closer, bringing her belly against his throbbing erection, and slid her hands up his rib cage and over his pecs, which were strung tight.

“He didn’t do anything bad,” she said just above a whisper. “I would never lie to you. I just need…” Her hands traveled down to his ass, and she pulled their bodies flush against each other. “This.”

He cupped her beautiful face in his hands and brushed his lips over hers, feeling her anticipation in the arch of her back. He ran his tongue over the sweet bow of her lower lip, then pressed soft kisses to her lips as her hands slipped beneath his briefs and cupped his bare ass.

“Off,” she whispered.

He pressed his cheek to hers, knowing exactly how to calm her racing thoughts, and whispered, “In due time.”

“Jackson,” she said in one long breath.

He lowered his mouth to her neck and sucked in her supple skin, earning a throaty moan.

“Please,” she said. “I need you now.”

“You don’t know need yet.” He pulled her tight against him, grazing his teeth over the ridge of her shoulder. He loved her taste, her softness, and the way her entire body reached for him, from her pert nipples to her rocking hips. Even after more than ten years of having sex whenever the urge struck, every time felt like the first—only better, hotter, because they both knew exactly how to get the other one off.

He unhooked her bra and tossed it away, then captured her mouth in a demanding kiss, taking, possessing, and reminding her that whatever happened, he was still right there with her. He knew their arrangement would end one day. Some lucky bastard would shatter the hurt of the past and fill all her needs. But for now he soaked her in. Their lips parted on a sigh, and his mouth traveled south to the tiny heart tattoo just above her left breast. He covered it with his mouth, licking the darkened image of the keyhole in the center. He’d taken her to get the tattoo when her parents had separated.

“Jackson,” she whispered. She opened his left hand and pressed a kiss to the tattoo of the key in the center of his palm.

His lips met hers in a tender kiss, and then he touched his forehead to hers as he pressed the tattoo he’d gotten the same day she’d gotten hers to her cheek. “One day you’ll find the right man, Laney. You won’t need me to keep your heart safe anymore. Until then, I’m right here.”

She didn’t say a word, just closed her eyes and arched against him again. He knew Laney wasn’t big on talking, and neither was he, except when it came to her feelings. He wanted her to feel safe and to know that no matter what had led her to him tonight, she was going to be okay.

He kissed her again, softly at first, then more urgently, as they both needed the release. He nipped at her lip, then moved lower, taking her ripe nipple into his mouth. He brushed his thumb over one taut peak while circling the tight bud of the other with his tongue, then sucking just hard enough that she whimpered with desire. The sexy little noises she made as she fisted her hands in his hair and pushed him lower sent a bolt of lust through him. He kissed and nipped his way down to her panties, hovering there, aching to taste her slick pussy but wanting to bring her more pleasure first. He kissed her inner thighs and stroked her hips with his large hands. She rocked into him as he ran his tongue along the crease between her sex and her thigh. Her scent was intoxicating, and when he licked her through her panties, the taste of her was almost too much to resist. It was her soft sigh of surrender that had him tearing her panties off. He loved that particular noise, so freeing, so feminine, and at least at this moment, made solely for him. He tossed her panties to the floor and removed her heels, dropping them across the room as her breathing quickened. Jackson laid her on the bed and came down over her, gazing into her needful eyes and kissing her like she was his—only his.


He knew what she needed, and he moved down between her legs, hiking one thigh over his shoulder. She gripped his shoulders as he brought his mouth to her hot, wet center. She tasted sweet and so damn fuckable he had to have more. He gripped her ass and angled her hips, opening her up to him as he slid his fingers inside her heat and circled her clit with his tongue with practiced precision.

She dug her nails into him as words streamed from her lips—“God…Jackson….Yes…More”—spurring him on. He felt her thighs tighten as he grazed his teeth over her clit and stroked hard with his tongue.


He stroked her wetness, coating his fingers before sliding one into her ass. Her hips bucked off the mattress as she cried out his name, her inner muscles pulsating as the orgasm tore through her. Before she came down from the peak, he withdrew from her tight orifices, causing her to whimper with need, and moved up over her body.

“Hurry,” she pleaded.

“Honor?” Their code for the pact they’d made at seventeen, when she’d gone on the pill, to never have unprotected sex with anyone but each other, because sometimes the urge struck when they were ill prepared. This kept them both safe from disease.

“Always,” she said in a breathy voice.

He sealed his lips over hers as he thrust in deep. “Holy fuck you feel good,” he ground out against her mouth.

Their bodies moved in perfect, frenzied sync. He gripped her hips, thrusting harder, wanting to fill her completely and erase whatever’d had her tied in knots when she’d arrived. Her fingernails dug into his back. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d worn her scars, and he knew damn well it wouldn’t be the last. As their hips collided, she circled his waist with her legs.

“Pillow,” she said hastily.

He shoved a pillow beneath her hips, and they both moaned at the deepening of the angle. Their mouths crashed together in a greedy kiss that sent waves of ecstasy thrumming through him. He grabbed her hips and drove in faster, harder, as her head tipped back and she slammed her eyes closed. She gripped his forearms, clinging tightly. He felt her pussy tightening around his aching cock, and when she cried out—an indiscernible, needful sound—he nearly lost all control. Another deep thrust sent him to the edge. Heat raced down his spine, his balls tightened, and a fiery sensation spread through his body as he exploded inside her, one heated pulse after another. He always had the most powerful orgasms with Laney. Only Laney.

When he finally opened his eyes, hers were closed, and a satiated smile curved her beautiful lips. It was always like this with her—intense and all-consuming and somehow freeing at the same time. He moved onto the mattress beside her and gathered her into his arms. She murmured his name and snuggled in closer. She’d been so upset when she’d arrived, and he wanted to know what had happened. If Bryce had hurt her, Jackson would make him wish he’d never met her. But the truth would have to wait. Her breathing calmed, her body went soft, and she succumbed to the deep sleep of a satisfied lover. Laney was safe. She was with him. And for now that was all that mattered.