The proposal was as unexpected as her feelings for the man whose dark good looks rivaled an even darker past. Painful experience screamed that Taylor Reid should run far and fast from Jackson Santorini. But keeping custody of her brother meant becoming her former boss's bride. And giving Jackson a baby.
Despite his powerful size and presence, Jackson had been wounded… deeply… by a woman. Yet he'd protected her at a personal cost, if his restrained ardor in deference to her virginal apprehension was one indication. Suddenly, for Jackson's sake, Taylor wanted to replace pain with pleasure. Only, she'd never imagined what sensations—and secrets—she would awaken…
Rain slashed against the windscreen of Jackson's car with fierce intensity. Aware of the dangers inherent in the dark winter's night, he kept the speed of his powerful car well under control, watching out for reckless pedestrians.
However, in sharp contrast to the usual Friday night crowds, there was an almost deserted air about the brightly lit centre of Auckland. He knew it was illusionary. The revelers were there but hidden in soundproofed, weather-proofed basements and upstairs rooms, full of pumping music that drowned out the driving rain. He'd passed one such room on his way out of his studio office. It had been the site of a wrap party for a murder drama.
A reed-thin blonde had caught him leaving the building and invited him to join in. Her eyes had been frank with invitation for a much more private party. Unfortunately for her ambition, he didn't play those kinds of games, and ever since Bonnie, blondes held about as much appeal as arsenic.
After the day he'd had, all he wanted was some cognac and a hot bath. Taylor looked like she could do with both. The poor baby was standing outside in the icy rain, waiting for a bus, her face pinched with cold. She could probably do with a hot man in bed as well but…
Standing in the pouring rain under a barely glowing streetlight, shivering and blue?
"Dio!" He screeched to a stop and then backed up, thanking God for the lack of traffic. As soon as he reached her, he leaned across and threw open the passenger door. "Get the hell in!" The weather obliged, but Taylor didn't.
The sodden woman outside made a face, as if debating whether to take his less than warm offer. Needle-sharp rain continued to pelt her, hard and certainly painful, even through the thick wool of her pantsuit. "The bus is supposed to come any m-m-m-minute."
Her chattering teeth enraged Jackson. For a second, he thought he saw fear in those big eyes of hers but it had to have been a trick of the light. He'd never met a woman less afraid of him than this bedraggled creature. "Get in here right now, Taylor."
She looked like she was going to be obstinate, but then the universe took pity on him. It started to hail. With a tiny shriek that was undeniably feminine, she scrambled into the car and pulled the door shut. Her trembling hands immediately went to the warm air circulating from the ventilation shafts.
He turned up the heat before pulling away from the curb to make a right turn instead of going left. Taylor lived on the opposite side of the city from him. Outside, the night had become immeasurably darker, but the hailstorm petered away after a short but brutal reign.
"I'm wet…your car…" Taylor began, through lips that were blue with cold.
He was furious with her. "It'll dry." A plume of water from a passing motorist momentarily blanketed the windscreen in sleet. He slowed to a crawl until the vehicle had passed, taking the chance to send a glare Taylor's way. "What the hell were you doing catching a bus at this time of night?" His voice was a lacerating whip. How dare she put herself in such a vulnerable position?
"None of your b-b-business." The sound of chattering teeth destroyed her attempt at a haughty dismissal.
"Taylor," he warned, in a tone that he only used when his temper was on the thinnest edge, as she very well knew.
"You're not my boss anymore, so don't Taylor me." His passenger's unrepentant stubbornness was a living being in the air around them.
Jackson was used to being obeyed, especially by pretty young women. Everyone loved the man who could get them onto the silver screen, though he remembered vividly that Taylor harbored no such ambition. He also recalled the steely spine beneath that beautiful exterior. Aware that the more he demanded, the more obstinate she'd become, he tried a calmer approach. "I'm being a good samaritan. Humor me."
She didn't say anything for a while but he figured that was because she was thawing out. When she finally spoke, what she revealed made his blood boil. All thoughts of calming down were consigned to the deepest hell.
"My ride wanted more than I did. I left." Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her huddling into the seat. The small sign of vulnerability tore at him. All of his protective instincts awoke fully armed.
"Did he hurt you?" His hands had turned into claws on the steering wheel.
A pause. "No."
This book has one of my favorite lines as a writer. It's right at the end, when Taylor is so desperately sad and Jackson simply says," You are my heart, Taylor Santorini. You. Only you."
With that line, he stole a little piece of my heart as well.
I love all my books and adore all my heroes and heroines, but I have to admit that Awaken to Pleasure and Jackson Santorini have a special place in my heart. This book still makes me cry each time I read it, and Jackson...well, as a hero, he set a pretty high bar. Tough, alpha and yet able to love so very deeply, he had me from the very first page.
From the letters and emails I received after Awaken was published, I think that many of you agree.
The Japanese cover for this book was switched (to what had been the original North American cover for Juliet Burns' High Stakes Passion ), because the American cover was apparently too sexy! However the story itself sold extremely well.
Awaken to Pleasure by Nalini Singh