"Oh God, Tommy. Oh God. Oh God. Yes, yes! Mmmmmmmm."
Tommy grinned. "That good?"
"Oh God, yes!" Her mouth opened wider and stretched...around his wooden spoon. Her pretty red lips pursed just a bit, and he caught a glimpse of the tip of her tongue. Was he a pervert for wishing those lips were stretched around other parts of him? Hell, the age difference wasn't that great. Ten years. Big deal. Roan, his boss, was thirteen years younger than his wife, Em.
Booky collapsed against the granite counter, clutching her chest. "I think you make this even better than Roan, darling. And I don't say that easily."
He rinsed the spoon in the stainless steel sink. "So stay and have some with me. Roan's supposed to come later."
"Do I dare? That will be the third time this month I've missed Mama's family dinner. She'll kill me and ask questions later."
He fished into the steaming pan and grabbed a sliver of chicken. Okay, try to resist. Slowly he walked toward her, step by step, waving the piece of meat in his fingers. "Chicken cacciatooooooore. Peppers, onions, tomatoes. Mmmmmmm."
She squeezed against the counter, fending him off. "Tommy 'Tick Tock' Riley. You're a home wrecker."
She pressed her arm against her forehead. Booky did drama like nobody else. "Oh God, I love capers."
"Lots of capers." He stood in front of her. They were practically eye to eye. It would be nice to tower over her, flex his big alpha-male muscles and watch her swoon. Too bad it wasn't gonna happen in this life. Five feet eight and his cooking were all he had, so he'd better use them. He wafted the morsel under her nose. "Smelllll the goodness."
She followed the movement with her nose like a hypnotized cobra. "Oh, poor Mama." Snap. She grabbed the chicken in her teeth and chewed. Eyes closed, moaning. Hell, he'd like to elicit that reaction with other pleasures.
The big brown eyes opened. "She's going to forget what I look like. I'm such a bad daughter." Dramatic pause. "I'll call her and say I'm eating with you tonight. Again!"
Still chewing, she walked around the island counter that separated the kitchen from the huge open space of the loft. She grabbed her purse from the sectional couch and fished out a phone. He got a wink as she dialed.
It wasn't likely anyone would ever forget what Booky Edelson looked like. Her gleaming black hair fell to her shoulders like a curtain of ebony, and the liquid brown eyes peered out from under straight bangs. Bold features, they called them. A long straight nose and full lips. She was slim but curvy with generous breasts and a round butt. Yeah, if you saw her, you never forgot her. And the in-your-face appearance matched a personality just as big.
Why did he adore her? She was everything he said he was tired of and didn't want to be. Aggressive, ambitious, pushy. Just like his parents. Plus, even though he'd always liked women too, he'd pretty much been with men since he was sixteen. His family really hated that. He sighed. It didn't matter anyway because she only loved him for his food.
"Hi, Mama." She listened for a minute. "Yeah, that's why I'm calling. I'm at Roan's, and, uh, he has some things for me to do."
She looked up at him. "Yes, Tick Tock is here."
She didn't say anything for seconds, but she looked like she was trying to get a word in. Mouth open, closed. Open.
"Yes, he's cooking dinner but..."
She shifted and actually seemed to cringe. Booky cringing? Her mama was a force.
"Mama, I have to work." She listened. He could hear her mother's voice squawking out of the cell phone. "I'll see you next week. Bye, Mama."
She clicked off. "See what you did?" She adopted her best Jewish-mother voice and struck a pose. "So what would a daughter of mine want to be eating with her 'just friend' instead of coming home for dinner where she might get herself a makher for a boyfriend?"
Tommy laughed. "What's that mean? It sounds dangerous."
"It kind of is, but it means a person who makes things happen. A mover and shaker. Mama has this doctor she's been trying to fix me up with for weeks. I keep escaping. She's pissed." She bounded around the island. "Okay, I'll make the salad."
"Hey, I don't want her to be mad at me. If I ever get to meet her, I don't want her to kill me too."
She rinsed the lettuce and stuck it in the lettuce dryer. "Mama doesn't mind me hanging with you. She just wants me spending more time with a good Jewish doctor with marriage on his mind."
A doctor who was thirty-seven instead of twenty-five. A mover and shaker. Just like everyone always wanted him to be. Shit. "Why are you resisting? Don't you want to get married?"
She stopped ripping lettuce and cocked her head. "I've been married." She shrugged. "You know, I kind of think I want something I've never had. Something not written down in Mama's book of marriage." She grinned at him. "That's weird, isn't it?"
He stashed some plates in the warmer. "No, actually. It makes perfect sense. Just like I've always wanted something my family didn't have written down in their book of success."
"Hey, you are a success."
"Not by Riley standards. I should be the head of a corporation, some big CFO, or a congressman at least by now."
"But you've helped make Roan a huge success."
He struck his best Napoleon pose. "Rileys don't do things behind the scenes unless it's assistant to the President of the United States. And the cooking thing? Women's work."
She grabbed her chest. "Then I hope you never listen to your family."
"Trust me, I don't."
She smiled. "I guess we're both mavericks."
"I guess." He grabbed some silverware and started to set the table. The lock on the front door rattled. Good. He put down a third place setting.
Booky glanced up from her salad making. "Roan's here."
Tommy looked toward the doorway across the huge open space. He always loved that first moment seeing Roan. The little gasp, the intake of breath. You never got used to it. They didn't call Roan the most beautiful man alive for nothing.
The door opened.
Yep. There he was. Six feet one of black-haired, green-eyed perfection. World's best boss. "Hi, Roan. Hope you're hungry."
The famous smile flashed across the room. He could light up a city. "Starving. I ate rabbit food for three days in Arizona. Hell, they had so much of my skin showing, I didn't dare develop a lump."
As if he had any.
Booky came around the counter. "Hi, darling. I'm here too. How did the shoot go?"
Roan dropped his garment bag on the couch. "Good. They seemed ecstatic, but give them a call to make sure, okay?"
Tommy smiled. Other supermodels would consider the client lucky to get them. Not Roan. Kind, gentle, self-effacing. Tommy's parents hated that he worked behind the scenes for Roan Black. They said Tommy was hiding his light under a bushel. That Roan got all the fame and renown while Tommy got nothing. It wasn't true. Working with Roan had made Tommy rich, but that was the least that he'd gotten. Roan loved home and family more than anything. And he loved to cook. Tommy had modeled himself, no pun intended, after his boss. He looked down at his thin, muscular arms. Shame he didn't look like him.
Roan pulled off his leather jacket and tossed it on the couch next to his bag.
Tommy pointed to it. "Want me to take your stuff upstairs?"
Roan shook his head. "I wanted to check in with you guys first, but I might just make the trip to Connecticut tonight. I miss the family so bad. I told them I'd be home Friday, but a night early is better."
"How's Baby Girl?"
"Growing like a weed. I don't even like to leave her for a day." He walked over to the counter. "Actually, there's something I want to talk to you both about." He inhaled. "God, that smells divine. Is it chicken cacciatore?"
Tommy laughed and went into the gleaming open kitchen. "Yep, and it's coming right up. On the table in five."
"Great. Let me go change and wash up." He bounded across the room to the huge floating staircase and took the stairs two at a time.
Tommy stirred the chicken dish. It did smell good. He took the plates from the warmer and started dishing penne and chicken.
Booky served up the salad.
He grinned. "Did you use every artichoke heart in the house?"
"You know my weakness for artichokes."
He spooned a caper and held it out to her. "You have many weaknesses, my dear."
"And I'm proud of every one." She breathed in, then opened her mouth, touched the spoon with her tongue, and sucked the caper in.
His cock leaped. He turned away. That woman could turn him on with a smile but when she used her tongue? Jeez. He was sick.
Breathe. He carried the steaming plates to the table, and she followed with the salads.
Her voice was soft. "What do you think Roan wants to talk about?"
"You know what."
She sighed just as Roan came down the stairs. He'd changed out of his dress clothes into jeans and a T-shirt and looked just as beautiful and a lot more comfortable. He crossed to the big table and pulled out his chair on the far side, his back to the floor-to-ceiling windows. He insisted that Tommy sit at the head because he lived in the loft while Roan only visited. Of course, Roan had lived here before he moved to Connecticut, and he owned half the building while Tommy owned the other half, but he didn't acknowledge that. "I'm starved."
They all sat and plunged into the food.
Booky moaned in appreciation. She sounded like she was in the midst of the world's best orgasm, and dammit, he'd missed his part in it.
Roan chewed slowly, eyes closed. The heavy black lashes fanned his high cheekbones. "Tommy, you've outdone yourself."
Booky stopped chewing for a half second. "So tell me about the shoot."
"Great. The new line is fabulous. I loved it."
"Have they picked a shot for the cover?"
"Yeah. It's quite something. Swim trunks and a motorcycle jacket. I was decked out in guyliner and black nail polish. They wove beads in my hair. Not really my style, but I think it turned out okay."
"I'm sure it was great."
Roan shifted in his chair. Yeah, he was fidgety because he knew how much Booky hated the subject about to come up. Tommy took a breath. Poor Booky.
"Uh, I was working with two other guys and a couple girls. I felt ancient. One of the girls was fourteen. The oldest guy was nineteen."
She set down her fork. This was an appetite spoiler for sure. "Roan. You're twenty-five. Not exactly middle-aged."
"You know as well as I do that in modeling twenty-five is ancient. Plus, I may be kind of androgynous, but compared to some of these guys I'm an alpha male." He folded his napkin beside his plate. Well hell. He'd only eaten half his food. "Booky, I don't need the money. I know it's hard to let go, but I want to spend more time with my family. Jake and Em work so hard at the lab. I can do most of my real estate work and manage my cosmetic brand from home with Tommy handling a lot of the heavy lifting. That way I can be with Baby Girl so she doesn't grow up thinking the nanny is one of her parents. I need to retire and let whoever comes up be the next big thing."
"But that's the problem. There is no next big thing." She got up and paced toward the kitchen, then turned. "Roan, you're the biggest male supermodel of all time. You can't fill that void with just anybody."
Yeah, and Roan was her biggest client. Tommy didn't think that Booky needed money too much either. Hell, if she ever did, he'd love to support her. But she was the Booky. She had made Roan the biggest thing since...well, since anybody. Nobody had ever done it before with a male model. She'd nurtured his career like a hothouse orchid, and now he wanted to walk away. Poor Booky.
Roan shook his head. "I'm not that irreplaceable."
"Ask any client, Roan. They'll tell you how irreplaceable you are."
He sighed and pushed back his chair. "The fact remains that I want to retire. I don't want you to leave me. I want you to keep working. Maybe I'll lecture or do appearances or something." Tommy knew he was clutching at straws to keep Booky happy. Roan wanted to stay home. Period. From the bottom of his heart, Tommy understood it.
Roan got up from the table and walked into the main living area. Tommy watched the slump of those beautiful broad shoulders. Roan put on his leather jacket and picked up his bag. He didn't even turn. "Sorry, guys. I'm tired. I'm going home."
He walked to the door and left.
Tommy felt Booky vibrating beside him. "Oh God, what did I do?" She grabbed his arm. "You have to stop me when I do shit like that to Roan. Please, Tommy. He's one of the best people I've ever known. He doesn't deserve my drama."
"He understands, Booky. It's your career too."
"I know, but I don't want to care about that. I want to want the best for him no matter what. I want to." He looked into the bold and beautiful face. Tears ran down her cheeks. "Oh God, I'm such a selfish bitch." She wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand. "It was a great dinner. I'm sorry I wrecked it. I'm going to go home to Mama and try to make it up to her for not coming tonight." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Thanks, Tick Tock. I'll see you Monday. Sorry I'm not helping clean up, but I have to get the train to Brooklyn."
She hurried over to the chair near the door where she'd left her jacket and briefcase, looking like if she just got to Brooklyn fast enough, she could find the antidote for bitchiness.
Click. The door closed behind her.
Yep. Here they were again. Just him and the dirty dishes.
He picked up the plates and carried them to the kitchen. His pocket buzzed. About the closest thing to sex he was gonna get tonight.
He looked at the phone. "Shit."
Click. "Hi, Mom."
"Hi, Tommy." She sounded hesitant. Like maybe his lack of ambition was catching. "Uh, you know that your father's birthday party is in three weeks. You will come, won't you? It would make your father so happy."
They both knew that was a lie. His father, the senator, couldn't care less if he was there. But it would look good to the press if all three Riley sons were on hand for the occasion. He wanted so badly to say no, but that was making more of a statement of his black-sheepness than was necessary. "Okay. I'll come."
"That's wonderful, dear. Black-tie and, uh, you can bring a date if you want."
He grinned. It would serve them right if he brought a guy. "Thanks. Maybe I will."
Did he hear her swallow? Good. Sweat. "Bye, Mom."