…at another series? I’m home today on a snow day! Woot! Woot! If only it weren’t so cold. 5 below down by my barn (lol–pardon the Our Town quote).
Today, I thought it might be fun to look at an oldie…a very oldie. Erotic Research was my very first published book. I’m thinking about it because the heroine, like myself, is snowed in. Erotic Research is part of the Black & White Collection. Now these books aren’t what you’d consider a traditional series. I mean the characters and stories aren’t connected in anyway (except in Happy Hour and Slam Dunk). Instead, they are held together by a theme–Wicked Fantasies. Each story delves into a different fantasy. Erotic Research explores role playing. Tequila Truth and Happy Hour are menages. Power Play included BDSM as well sex with a stranger (and may be one of my all-time favorite books–I really loved writing that one!).
But…it all started with Erotic Research.
“Me and my big mouth,” Julia muttered as she dragged in the third load of wood to stack beside the fireplace. The snow hadn’t stopped falling since she’d arrived and, while the cabin was certainly toasty, she didn’t relish the thought of being buried alive by snowdrifts for the entire winter. Sure, she was used to being alone, but at least at home in New York City, she had the option of personal contact if she desired it. When the walls of her tiny apartment started to close in on her, she could always hit the market or Starbucks to see other human beings.
Coming to Ross Phillips’s rustic escape, this extraordinarily luxurious cabin nestled high in the mountains of West Virginia, to start a new novel—especially at the beginning of January—had not been one of her more brilliant plans. Actually, it was Ross’s fault— this reckless venture to the wilderness. He’d goaded her into it like he did most things.
“You’re in a rut,” Ross had told her. “What you need is a change. A major change.”
Unwilling to confess to her totally hot, though thoroughly arrogant, editor that he was right, she let him convince her to escape the city in the dead of winter with relatively little fuss. The fact was she had been battling boredom with her chosen path in life, although truth be told, when he made the suggestion for change, she thought he’d merely meant she should take a vacation.
Historical romance novelist by trade, she’d spent the last ten years of her life buried in her small apartment with her beloved cat, Duke, writing about damsels in distress, hunky lords and knights, and glorious adventures. In other words, she’d been living inside her head, creating worlds and men who could never exist in this lifetime.
Two months ago, Duke had gone on to that kitty castle in the sky and Julia’s world had fallen apart. Depression set in as she realized her best, and now only, friend was her editor—simply because a cat had died.
She hadn’t had a date in nearly three years—which was the last time Ross attempted to set her up. Ten minutes into the evening, Julia knew the blind date would end like all the others. The man would never meet the standards she’d set in her mind for the ideal man. Feigning a migraine, she escaped the disastrous dinner before dessert only to be raked over the coals by Ross the next morning for not giving the man a fair chance.
Even now, she could recall his frustration and anger toward her. She could hear his voice like it was yesterday.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” he had yelled into the phone. “Alex Saunders is a great guy. According to him, you didn’t give him the time of day.”
“I’m sure he is a perfectly nice man,” Julia had answered, feeling guilty for not putting forth more effort. She knew Ross was worried about her spending so much time alone; however she couldn’t help but be surprised he thought she would be attracted to Alex. “He’s just not my type.”
“Oh hell, not that again. Jules, we’ve talked about this. It’s 2005, not 1815,” Ross said, exasperation thick in his voice.
“I know what year it is, Ross.”
“Do you?” Ross asked. “Do you really?”
“We’ve had this conversation before.”
“That’s right, we have. And could it be because you insist on turning yourself into an old maid? Christ, Jules, you’re nearly thirty years old. It’s time to get out there. Live a little.”
“I am perfectly happy with my life the way it is and I am not nearly thirty. I’m only twenty-seven. I like my freedom and I don’t need a man. Why can’t you trust me when I say that?”
“Because it’s not normal, Jules. Living in self-imposed seclusion is not normal. When’s the last time you got laid?” Ross asked.
“I don’t think that’s any of your business. You’re my editor, Ross, not my pimp!”
“Jesus, Jules,” Ross began.
“And my name is Julia. You know I hate that nickname.”
“Jules,” Ross said calmly, ignoring her request as usual, “honey, you can’t stay locked up in that apartment writing romance novels twenty-four seven. It’s not healthy.”
“Don’t insult me, kiddo. I would hope after all the years we’ve known each other, you would know I consider you a friend, not a client. And as your friend, I’d prefer it if you wrote less and lived more.”
Julia’s heart softened as she recalled his words to her that day. Ross was a good friend to her. For the past decade, he’d been her main connection to the outside world, which is why she had foolishly agreed to his idea of a change. Rather than suggesting a relaxing cruise, however, his idea of a major change was actually a new genre.
Erotic romance. According to Ross, the market for these hot books was booming. He’d given her a box full of titles, encouraging her to read them and see what she thought.
For the past month, she’d been immersed in capture, bondage, BDSM and ménage-a- trois stories. She learned about domination, submission and the toys—my God, she didn’t know such things existed. Butt plugs, whips, paddles, vibrators, nipple clamps. She didn’t have a clue about any of these things and now Ross wanted her to write about them. While she had to admit she was intrigued, she also knew no amount of imagination was going to get her out of this mess. Ross had insisted she write erotica and, while still in a sensual haze from her readings and depressed over Duke’s death, she’d foolishly agreed to try.
Granted, she was technically not a virgin, but she couldn’t help but wonder if there was a statute of limitations on virginity. How long could you consider yourself experienced without actually having sex? She’d had sex with two, almost three men in her life—her high school beau, her college sweetheart and a nearly disastrous one-night stand. While her high school and college boyfriends had both been very sweet men, the bed play had certainly been nothing to write home about—mainly innocent exploration and vanilla sex.
Her lack of experience seemed to be in direct contrast to Ross’s wealth of practice and skill. For all the dates she seemed to lack, Ross Phillips more than made up the difference for both of them. Like Baskin-Robbins, he had a flavor of the month and it was always unique, different and exotic. A steady parade of gorgeous women seemed to make their way through his bedroom—so many in fact, Julia teasingly nicknamed him “Hef”, likening him to Hugh Hefner and his Playboy Bunnies.
The sad truth was she hadn’t had sex in nearly a decade, except for that near miss almost five years ago which had been an unmitigated disaster and the main reason she’d sworn off men and sex forever. She still couldn’t think of that night without blushing regret. She’d gone to a Christmas party at the home of one of her publishers and gotten a little inebriated. Actually, she’d gotten a lot inebriated. She hated social events and was terrible at small talk. She was supposed to hang out with Ross, but…
Ross had shown up with Bridget, his buxom blonde on-again, off-again girlfriend, or—as Julia liked to refer to her—slutfriend. The woman looked as if she’d come from the catwalks of Paris, in a shimmering silver dress cut so low in the back Julia was sure one quick turn and her entire rear end would be exposed. She was dripping with brilliant blue sapphires hanging from her ears, neck and both wrists, no doubt an early Christmas gift from Ross.
Julia rolled her eyes as the saying “a fool and his money are soon parted” drifted through her mind. The woman was a barracuda. Once she sank her teeth into a man, she didn’t let go until she’d devoured him and his bank account whole. Julia had tried numerous times to convince Ross that Bridget was shallow and money hungry, but he simply teased her about being jealous and continued his unsavory association with the bitch. All Julia could figure was Bridget must be one hell of a lay because two minutes of listening to her imperious demands would make any sane person run for the hills.
Unfortunately, tonight Julia had been counting on having Ross to hang out with, to ease the awkwardness of being there alone, but apparently Bridget, who supposedly wasn’t going to be able to attend because of a photo shoot in L.A., must have managed to swing a late flight back to the city.
Much to her relief, Scott Jenkins, one of the company’s new accountants, struck up a conversation and Julia, glad to not have Ross see her standing alone looking like a wallflower, was happy to participate. She and Scott spent the night ensconced on one of the couches in the living room laughing and talking and drinking. For once, she felt desirable, even pretty.
Not that she thought she was ugly. The fact was Julia considered herself to be extremely ordinary. Medium height, medium weight, brown hair, brown eyes—boring, boring, boring. She was nothing like the steady stream of supermodels constantly hanging off Ross’s arm. Not that she was jealous, like he thought. Well, not too jealous anyway.
From the way Ross kept looking across the room at her, it was obvious he was as surprised as she was that someone was taking an interest in her. Feeling slightly annoyed by that, and more than a little tipsy, Julia continued to giggle and flirt, pleased to be able to rub Scott’s interest in Ross’s smug face. Maybe now he would finally see her as a real woman, not the little-sister type, whom he constantly felt compelled to take care of and lecture to about her shyness, wasted youth and lack of social life.
Shaking herself for her somewhat-continuing obsession with her editor, Julia tried to focus on the man in front of her. While Scott was attractive, she didn’t feel overwhelmed by his appearance as she did with Ross. Ross Phillips was a natural athlete, who towered over her by at least six inches. It was his chiseled face that served as the model for nearly all of her romantic heroes, although she would never tell the cocky bastard that. He already had an overinflated opinion of himself and she considered it her calling in life to be the one woman to help him keep his feet firmly planted on the ground by not gushing over his every word and smoldering look. Not, of course, that he ever directed any smoldering looks toward her.
Glancing across the room, she studied him. He wore his jet black hair longer than he had when they’d first met, and she liked it. In fact, it was this new rugged look of his that had inspired her to write her first pirate novel, which was turning out to be her best-selling book to date. Shaking herself, Julia stifled a groan at allowing her imagination to continue to dream such an impossible dream. Ross Phillips was her publisher and her best friend. That was it. They had a standing Thursday pizza night because in the world of powerful, wealthy, handsome men like Ross, she was not weekend-date material.
Several hours and glasses of champagne later, Julia found herself in Scott’s arms as he finally worked up the courage to kiss her. She knew she should be embarrassed by this public display of affection, but her head was fuzzy from the alcohol. His kisses were very nice, soft and warm and she was actually anxious for them to continue. It had been ages since someone had kissed her. Scott must have sensed her acquiescence because he helped her stand, and led her up the stairs to one of the house’s beautifully appointed bedrooms.
The rest of the night seemed hazy and slightly unreal as Scott lay across the big four- poster bed with her. She’d missed making out and Scott was certainly reawakening parts of her that had lain dormant for far too long. His lips traveled along her cheek and down the side of her neck. Alarmed, Julia was slightly embarassed to discover her blouse was unbuttoned. It seemed somewhere along the line Scott had grown a few extra hands and she struggled to keep up with them. He was touching her everywhere and yet, when she closed her eyes, it was Ross she saw touching her, kissing her, making her feel so hot. A light breeze touched her thighs as she felt her skirt slowly being lifted and she opened her drowsy eyes, somewhat surprised to find Scott—not Ross—shirtless and digging through his wallet.
“I have a condom in here somewhere,” he said. His words hit her like cold water in the face. Guilt suffused her. She’d been fantasizing about Ross the whole time Scott was touching her. He was a very nice man, but she was not the type to succumb to one-night stands. He deserved her whole attention and desire. Unfortunately, she could provide neither.
Reaching down, she attempted to adjust her skirt. “Uh, Scott,” she began, “I think maybe we should slow down.”
“Don’t worry, baby,” Scott crooned, “we’ve got all night. I’m gonna love you good and slow.”
His corny line disgusted her. As did her uncharacteristic actions—she didn’t have sex with strangers at parties. Attempting to rise, she continued, “No, I don’t think you understand. I want to go back downstairs.”
“What? Why?” Scott asked, his voice aghast.
“Please, don’t get me wrong. I think you are a very nice man, but I don’t think we know each other well enough to sleep together.”
Scott laughed coldly. “Everybody at the office said you were an uptight bitch, an ice queen. Guess they were right. Well, sweetheart, fact is you should know better than to go to a bedroom with a stranger. Maybe I should teach you a lesson about what happens to a little girl who acts like a cock tease.”
“Excuse me?” Julia’s voice shook with anger. “Get away from me,” she demanded, trying to shake off his viselike grip on her arm.
“No.” Scott’s voice was infuriatingly calm. “But please feel free to struggle. I like a girl with spirit.”
“You—you,” she stammered, unable for once in her life to come up with the perfect word, the perfect line.
Scott merely laughed as he pushed her back on the bed, straddling her kicking legs. For the first time since she entered the bedroom, Julia felt the cold, clammy hands of fear seize her. Scott’s strength was far superior to hers. He’d seemed like such an affable guy, easygoing and kind. God—what a fool she was.
“I said let me go,” she repeated, beating on Scott’s chest, pushing as hard as possible. Scott continued to laugh until she managed to land one hard slap across his face.
“You little whore,” he snarled, returning her slap with an even harder one across her cheek. Bright lights flashed before her eyes as Julia suddenly understood what it meant to see stars. The sound of fabric tearing roused her from the lingering pain and she fought even harder.
“Stop! No,” she yelled. Surely Ross or someone from the party would hear her if she screamed, and come to investigate. How embarassing. However, her stomach roiled at the thought of this man touching her in any intimate way. Mortified or not, she needed help.
Before she could make a sound, a familiar, beloved voice came from the doorway. “I believe the lady said no.”
Julia had never heard Ross’s voice sound so quiet or menacing. Scott immediately jumped off her and the bed, turning to face his boss.
“I think you misunderstand, Mr. Phillips,” Scott began. “We were just playing. She likes it rough, pretends to struggle, you know how it is.”
“Is that true, Julia?” Ross asked, looking at her for the first time since entering the room. She felt herself blushing as she attempted to cover herself with the remains of her shredded blouse, pulling down her skirt at the same time. Both acts were futile—her hands had chosen that exact moment to begin shaking uncontrollably.
“Good God, no, Ross,” she gasped. “He’s a pig.”
No sooner had the words passed her lips before Ross crossed the room and punched Scott harder than Julia ever imagined a man could. Scott’s eyes rolled up into his head as he fell like a sack of potatoes.
“K.O.,” she whispered, spellbound by Scott’s still form on the floor.
Ross stepped over the unconscious accountant before kneeling at Julia’s feet.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his voice so kind and full of concern that Julia felt the dam give way as she fell into his embrace, the shock of the moment evaporating, replaced by delayed terror.
“Oh God,” she sobbed as Ross rocked her gently in his arms, whispering soothing words. Her tears flowed, her teeth chattered and her shaking seemed to go on forever. After several long minutes, she struggled to catch her breath before speaking.
“How did you know I was in trouble?” she whispered.
“I’d heard some unsavory rumors about Jenkins around the office. I’ve been keeping an eye on the two of you all night. Unfortunately, I was detained for a few minutes and when I got back, you and Jenkins had vanished. Did he force you here?” he asked softly.
His face was flushed and his own hands were not steady as he reached for the bedquilt and tightened it around her shoulders, studying her face intently.
At her embarrassed blush, she sensed the anger in him begin to rise again as he noticed the red hand print across her left cheek. Taking her chin in his fingers, he turned her face to look at it more closely. The menace she felt building in him seemed almost tangible as he glanced back down at Scott, still prostrate on the floor.
Before he could inflict further pain on the asshole accountant, she muttered, “No, he didn’t force me. I—I mean, he— God, I came here on my own.” Dear Lord. She’d almost willingly let Scott have sex with her.
“I’m taking you home,” Ross said stiffly as he rose and began setting her clothing to rights. Shame suffused her body—Ross was obviously disgusted by her and her actions.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“What?” Ross knelt beside her again, pulling her blouse closed and securing it as much as possible, despite the fact several buttons were missing. “What do you have to be sorry for?”
Julia’s humiliation came back tenfold as Ross efficiently re-dressed her, gently holding her ankles as he slipped her heels back on her feet. Feeling like a child, she added, “I’m an idiot. I thought he was a nice guy. You must think I’m the biggest fool in the world.”
“Oh, Jules, of course I don’t think you’re a fool. I think you’re a sweet, trusting woman who had a little too much to drink. Perhaps you were a bit naïve, but you’ve never been a fool. The fool was me for leaving you unprotected. I knew what kind of man Jenkins was. I should have yanked you away from him the second I saw the two of you talking. I just didn’t think he’d try anything at a work function.”
Julia looked at Ross and trembled at the anger she saw lurking in his eyes.
“Hush, no more words. You look wiped out, Brown Eyes. I’m taking you home.” Julia smiled at this new endearment before realizing she truly was exhausted. Her eyes began to drift closed before another thought opened them again.
“What about Bridget?”
“She’s a big girl. She can find her own way home.”
“She’ll be pissed off,” Julia muttered, again fighting back sleep.
“That seems to be one of her two permanent states,” Ross answered, gently lifting her into his arms and carrying her across the room as if she weighed no more than a mere babe.
“What’s the other state?” she asked groggily.
“Horny. Go to sleep, Jules. I’ll take care of everything.”
Throwing the last load of firewood on the pile, Julia dropped into the comfy chair in front of the roaring fire, the heat from the flames not the only thing causing her face to flush. She tried not to think of that night, but every now and then it came creeping back to her. She never saw Scott again, although she’d heard through the grapevine Ross had transferred him to God knew where. Asking Ross was a definite impossibility, as they seemed to have reached a tacit agreement never to speak of that night again and she, for one, was glad to avoid the topic. Discussing the biggest act of stupidity of her life with the man of her dreams was something she would never voluntarily do.
All she remembered after falling asleep in his arms that night was waking up the next morning alone in her bed, then managing to avoid him for almost a week before he stopped by with pizza and beer for their standing Thursday-night dinner. He carried in a large pepperoni and mushroom, cracked open a cold one and started talking about his week as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened at the Christmas party. Relieved by the reprieve, Julia followed his lead and avoided the subject.
Staring into the flames, she felt herself slipping back into the same melancholy that had taken over in the past few months. Her life was in the gutter and she had no one to blame but herself. Her parents had been killed in a car crash her junior year in college. Blinded by the loss, she’d cut herself off from everyone close to her. She’d moved out of the apartment she shared with two friends, broken off her relationship with her boyfriend and buried herself in her schoolwork. After graduation, she’d rented a small apartment with the little bit of money left to her by her parents, adopted Duke from an animal shelter and poured herself into her writing. By escaping into her romance novels she was able to exist in an exciting world with dashing men who loved their women no matter what. And in the process, she was able to avoid feeling anything real. If you never truly loved, she reasoned, you never truly lost. Love in a fantasy world was safe and painless. None of her characters ever disappointed her by dying or leaving her.
Unfortunately, she was halfway through writing the third book when she realized her money had run out. Unwilling to leave her emotionless sanctuary, she mailed out her first manuscript to twenty different publishers. Nineteen rejections immediately returned. Then her phone rang. Ross Phillips, a young editor with a struggling publishing company he was launching with a friend, invited her in for a meeting. He saw something special in her writing and thought she had what it took to make it big. The rest, as they said, was history. Her books were an immediate success and they helped to skyrocket Ross’s small company into a major contender in the publishing world. Ross was now the chief editor and controlling partner in the firm.
Shaking her head, she chastised herself for falling into the same black despair that had continued to hound her since Duke died. “I’m here to write,” she said aloud, desperate to hear a voice in the quiet of the cabin. At least when Duke had been around she’d never felt crazy for talking to herself. She could justify it by claiming she was talking to the cat.
A loud knock at the door had her jumping up. Suddenly feeling very isolated and unprotected, she scanned the room for some sort of weapon. Spying a big log in her pile of firewood, she grabbed it, cowering in the corner. The pounding on the door continued, louder this time, and Julia’s heart began to race. Who the hell would be on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere on a day like this? It was a virtual whiteout outside.
“Jules, open the damn door. I’m freezing my ass off out here.”
Ross? She sighed in relief, rushing to unlock the door, and there in the doorway stood her very tall, very wet editor.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, aware her tone was distinctly unfriendly, but he had scared her half to death.
Eyes narrowed, Ross entered the cabin, his arms laden with packages, a large duffel bag thrown over one shoulder, a backpack over the other. “I tried to call, but the phone lines are down,” he answered gruffly.
“My cell?” she asked sarcastically.
“No service up here,” he replied with equal irritation.
“Is something wrong?” She couldn’t imagine what could be so bad it would compel Ross to leave the comfort of his penthouse apartment in New York City to drive for nine hours to the mountains.
“Blizzard.” He unloaded his bags on the kitchen counter. “Headed this way. I was worried you’d be snowed in without enough food.”
Secretly pleased at his incredibly sweet gesture, Julia smiled and helped him unload the soggy paper bags. “You’ve brought enough food for an army.” She gaped at all the meat, vegetables, fruit and snacks he carried in. “I hope you don’t think I need all this to survive. Hey, I didn’t hear a car. How did you get here?”
“By the grace of God and my four-wheel drive. I almost made it all the way to the cabin. The snow is already pretty deep. I got stuck about a mile down the road. Had to walk the rest of the way. Looks like we’re going to be stuck here for a while.” Pulling off his drenched coat, he hung it on the peg by the door.
“My God,” she exclaimed, glancing out the frosted window, “it’s freezing out there and the visibility must be zero. You’re lucky to have made it at all. What the hell were you thinking? You could have been killed.” She put her hands on her hips, suddenly aware of the very real danger he’d just escaped.
“What was I thinking?”
“Yes. Good Lord, Ross, of all the idiotic things to do. What if you’d crashed the car? What if you’d gotten lost in the snow while looking for the cabin? You could have frozen to death.”
Ross shook his head. Clearly, of all the receptions he’d imagined, this nagging scold was not one he’d considered. “I guess, like the idiotic fool I am, I thought you’d be glad to see me. That you’d offer me a warm drink and some supper. I thought you’d be happy not to be stuck up here in this godforsaken cabin alone in a blizzard!”
Biting her lip, she said softly, “Well, I am. Happy, that is. I was feeling rather trapped—and alone.”
As quickly as his anger came, it left him. Smiling, he admitted, “It was a damn stupid thing to do. Unfortunately that fact didn’t occur to me until I was about halfway up the mountain and I realized it was too late to turn around.”
“Let’s get you out of those wet clothes,” she said, suddenly very pleased to have him with her. “I’ll put some water on for tea.”
“Don’t bother with the tea. I brought a bottle of Southern Comfort.” His hands shaking, he attempted, with little success, to tackle the buttons on his soggy flannel shirt. “We are in the South, after all.”
“I’m not sure West Virginia classifies as the South. It’s really sort of the middle. Here, let me.” Pulling his trembling hands away, she quickly unbuttoned his shirt and tugged it off. His skin was like ice to the touch. “You’ll be lucky if you don’t catch pneumonia or frostbite,” she said, unable to resist one more scold. “Come stand by the fire.” Taking his icy hands in hers, she rubbed them lightly. “I’ll get a blanket for you. Stay here and try to get warm.”
Crossing the room, she retrieved a fleece blanket from the foot of the bed as Ross struggled with the button fly on his damp jeans.
“I’ll do that,” she said, concerned for his health. His hands were still trembling and looked blood red and chapped. No doubt he’d lied about how long he’d really been roaming around in the snow and wind.
“Jules,” he started to object, but she was already working the buttons free, concern distracting her from exactly what she was offering to do. When she had the last button unclasped, she grabbed the waistband and started to pull the clinging denim off his legs. The task was harder than she would have thought, but sheer determination and worry kept her going. She struggled for several minutes, working the material down his muscular legs, stopping only to pull off his boots and socks, before finally peeling the jeans completely off.
“There,” she exclaimed, looking up into Ross’s suddenly pained face. Her mouth went dry as she realized that during her exertions she’d knelt in front of him and was now eye level with his barely clad cock straining through the material of his silk boxer shorts. This part of him certainly gave new meaning to the term “frozen stiff”.
“I—” she stumbled, unwilling to take her eyes off his very large appendage. She was sure she’d never seen anything quite so big and her curiosity outweighed her embarrassment.
“My God,” she whispered, awestruck as the monstrous cock seemed to grow even larger before her eyes. Without a thought, she reached up and nearly touched it before a growl above her and a strong hand on her wrist stopped her.
“Brown Eyes,” Ross said, his deep voice flowing over her like honey, “if you don’t move away from that this minute, I’ll keep you kneeling there the rest of the night.”
Gasping, Julia rose quickly, painfully aware she was not as averse to his threat as she should be. She’d never sucked on a man’s cock before, had never even wanted to until she’d read those damned erotic novels Ross had given her. Now all she could think about was trying to give him a blowjob. Lord, she was losing her mind.
“I’ll get you something to eat,” she muttered, escaping to the far side of the cabin.