Chapter 1. - Grand Entrance
“...the devil doesn’t come dressed in a red cape and pointy horns.
He comes as everything you’ve ever wished for.” - Tucker Max
I pulled up to the enormous mansion at the end of a long street of other gigantic, luxurious mansions. Still in awe of the neighborhood, it took me substantially longer than normal to get my bearings together. I unhooked my phone from the dashboard, and slid it into my bag. Next, I slipped on my ridiculous heels by opening the door and sticking my feet out in the night. Once I raised myself out of the vehicle – still wobbly on these heels – I adjusted my tight dress, my glasses, and was – at last – ready to head in.
My sensible Prius stuck out like a sore thumb in the horde of G-Wagons, Bentleys, and Porsches. I imagined that if I forgot to hit the lock button, nothing would’ve happened to it in this neighborhood…
So, of course, I pressed it three times. Just in case.
There were no fences outside of these houses, so I walked right up to the front door. I was halfway up the giant staircase when I noticed the tall form, lighting up a cigarette in the shadows.
I nearly jumped out of my skin, earning a low chuckle from him. I supposed, he enjoyed the effect he had on people – especially on women. Ash Wolfhart was intimidating… For most.
I squared my shoulders, and met his gaze. “Someone is going to flick you in the ear one of these days – if you keep lurking like that.”
He tossed the match to the side, and stepped closer – moving out of the shadows. I was just below average height, standing proudly at 5’3, whereas Ash was a fucking giant. He used the foot and them some of height difference to his advantage. “Are you offering?” His voice was impossibly low and hoarse – something that made him a billionaire at the early age of twenty-eight. A voice that made the girls lose their heads, no matter the chest-tightening feeling they got around him.
I huffed. “You’re barking at the wrong tree, bud.” I snorted, admittedly quite embarrassed that he just watched me going through my little ritual back at the car.
Turning away from him, I went to twist the doorknob – which didn’t even budge.
“Cock…” I muttered under my nose. I was hoping to make a quick escape from the rock star now standing right behind me.
I felt his body step closer to mine, heat emanating from his big, muscled form. I was now painfully aware of the fact that despite my heels, Ash towered over me. His nearness gave me first-hand experience of a strong case of horripilation – our body’s natural fight-or-flight response to a stressful situation, where the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, and goosebumps covered my skin.
One surprisingly thick forearm entered my peripheral vision, as his arm reached out to enter the code in the keypad, placed just above the door handle.
I was too stunned and overwhelmed by my senses to even think about memorizing the sequence. Instead, I stood frozen on the spot as the lock clicked, and he pushed the door open. “After you, red!” I noted the amount of sarcasm behind his nickname for me, but my brain was still malfunctioning, and I couldn’t think of a comeback.
So instead, I stepped inside my best friend’s new home, and into a large foyer area, with a neat shoe rack, and some very comfortable looking chairs. The staircase behind gave the option of going up or down a floor – London’s new house being a whopping three floors tall.
The music came from above, and that was the path I chose – with Ash following closely behind me. I had no idea if he already finished his cigarette – something I found highly unlikely – or if he simply discarded it. But I didn’t have time to dwell on the rock God’s crazed actions, because Callie ran up to me, nearly tackling me in my heels.
“Ginger! You look bomb!” She cheered, her cheeks already flushed from either dancing or alcohol. Or perhaps, both. “And I see that you found yourself some arm-candy. Good on you!” She winked behind me at Ash, whose reaction I couldn’t see. “Come, let me introduce you to a few people! It’ll be fun!”
I highly doubted that, but I didn’t feel the need to crush her fragile spirit so early on in the night. Usually, I reserved that until dawn, when Callie entered the crying phase of stupor.
“This is Richard! He’s a photographer. He did that one shoot with the little shawl draped over my boobs. You know the one that was in Cosmo!” She chattered on, and I shook the middle aged, gracefully graying man’s hand. “And this is Mike – he’s a fellow model. You probably recognize him from-“
She went on, listing his work. The truth was, I didn’t recognize him at all, and while my best friend clearly thought he was a stunner, he did very little to elevate my heart rate. “Very nice to meet you.”
“Oh, and wait until you meet Josh! You will just love him, and-“ Callie paused for dramatic effect. “-he is single!”
“Wonderful.” I muttered sarcastically, and if she heard my remark, she just ignored it.
After about ten hours of excruciating handshakes and pretentious kisses on the cheeks from some European men that somehow found their way into London’s house warming party, I was ready for my first of many shots. I wasn’t much for going out, and Callie just managed to remind me exactly why I preferred the quiet company of books and microscopes.
“I think I’ll get something to drink.” I said, excusing myself.
“Do you want me to go with you?” Callie asked, but I could tell that she would rather stay and chat with the group of hot, young actors we were surrounded with.
I shook my head. “No, just enjoy yourself.” I patted her arm, before heading over to the kitchen, where I ran into my other best friend for the first time tonight.
She was currently standing pushed against a counter, with her blonde guitarist’s tongue down her throat. When she spotted me, she managed to untangle herself, and came up to give me a hug. “I’m so glad you came! Are you having fun?”
I faked a small smile. “Sure... Very nice house, though!”
London scrunched up her nose. “I know, I know.” She whispered, learning closer so only I could hear her. “The party isn’t really my thing either, but these people are actually really nice.” I nodded. “Help yourself to the bar-“ She pointed to the back end of her kitchen, where an actual bar stood, with an actual mixer behind it. “-Scott can whip up anything you’d like.”
“And Ging?” I turned back to look at my best friend, all glowing and smiles since she got together with her dream man. “Don’t be shy to look around! There are lots of sexy men here.” She winked, before bouncing back up to Lukas.
I sighed, and moved toward the bar, where I asked the bartender for a mean martini.
Someone’s elbow brushed against my arm, nearly pushing it off the counter I was leaning against. I looked toward the man attached to it, only to find him grinning at me.
Oh. So this was his way of starting a conversation.
“So!” He went, nodding excitedly, while he continued his weird smirking. I supposed he would’ve been handsome, if it weren’t for the bad manners and the fake ear splitting smile he was putting on. I also hated the baby blue polo he was wearing, with the collar popped. Popped! Like we were stuck in the early 2000s. I wasn’t much of a fashion expert, but even I realized that was a no-no. “You gon’ be a doctor, huh?”
I remembered now.
I’ve met him while Callie was showing me around – I couldn’t recall his name though, or what he did for a living. Although, at this party, it was a choice between an actor, model, or singer. “A biomedical engineer, actually. Not technically a doctor.”
“Cool!” He continued his head butting, but by his faltered smile, I could tell that he had no clue just what that was. “I worked with nurses before. Of course, they weren’t real nurses nurses. It was just for a photoshoot.”
Ah. A model, then.
“How exciting.” The bartender handed me my martini, and I took a giant gulp of it, hoping the sting of the alcohol would erase the prick from the painfully bad conversation.
He didn’t catch onto the irony in my voice, however, and proceeded to tell me about the nurses in great detail – well, not real nurses nurses. Fake ones for the photoshoot. I didn’t bother to correct him on the fact that I wasn’t a nurse, and the closest I would get to an actual hospital is when a machine I helped design and build would be delivered. God forbid, he would actually have a story with machines too…
The hairs on my other arm stood up, as I felt someone else take the spot on the other side of me. I recognized the signature swirl of tattoos on his hand as he waved down the bartender.
My gaze dropped to my arm, still placed on the bar, and I brushed it with my hand, hoping to flatten the little baby hairs on it.
Model guy whistled. “So is your hair natural?”
This was a frequent topic of conversation I, as a redhead, have had to put up with. Not the first time someone brought up my hair, and certainly – or rather annoyingly - would not be the last.
Model dude took that as a cue to go on. “Cool!” He gushed. “You know there’s a real need for redheads in the industry right now!” I felt his gaze drop to my body, scanning me thoroughly from head to toe.
I told myself I’d have one drink, stay for a half hour to be polite, and then make my escape. I’ve had just about enough of small, pointless conversations, and remarks by a guy who I was pretty sure still thought that I was a nurse, and his inconsistent tales about God knew what.
“You know, you could be pretty hot if you lost the glasses. And if you got a tan – bronzed skin is so in right now!” I sighed, but he didn’t feel discouraged to go on. “You don’t really have the height, but the world is becoming more inclusive these days. Although, you could lose a few poun-“
“Fuck off.” A growl sounded from behind me, making both me and model dude freeze on the spot.
I watched as his eyes rose above my head, his mouth still agape, as he was mid-sentence of degrading me and pushing his photoshopped standards of beauty down my throat.
From behind me, I felt Ash turn to face him, pushing himself off the bar. “I said fuck off.” He repeated, his voice raspy and dangerous.
Ash was basically squaring his shoulders, showing off his impressive physique, signaling that he was ready to fight model dude if it came down to that. And judging by Ash’s very public history, he would have rather enjoyed the physical quirrel.
Without another word, model dude scurried away.
“I didn’t need to be saved, I hope you realize that.” I informed him, before tilting my head enough to take in his knowing half-smile. “And if you expect gratitude, you’re going to be disappointed.”
Ash chuckled, showcasing a cute dimple on one side of his cheek. “You’re a firecracker.” He noted, his eyes shining with a promise that he’d know exactly how to handle that. “I’m sure it wasn’t the first, or the last time some loser tried their luck with you.”
Ash was the kind of man who knew exactly what he was doing.
From the way his body was angled toward mine, to the slight move that pushed his hips out, showcasing just how much of a man he was, to the sexy tilt of his head, which led his long, jet black hair to fall all the way down to his waist. He was sex on legs, and he knew that.
“Is this you trying?” I asked, cocking my brow at his posture.
His nearly black eyes were shining brightly, even under the dim lighting. A slow, predatory smile spread across his full lips. “If I was trying to get under that short dress of yours, you’d know it.” He said, in that impossibly deep voice of his that made him millions over the last decade.
I lifted my glass at his response, before turning back to the crowd in front of us. Twenty more minutes, I told myself. Twenty more minutes, and I could get out of here without offending one of my best friends. I already knew which pajamas I wanted to put on, and which book I’d start on tonight, and that thought excited me more than any part ever could.
“Let’s play a game, before you take off, firecracker.”