About the book:
SoCal native Ashley Powell would be thriving as an expat in London were it not for the bitter cold—and a brutal infatuation with her co-worker, the super uptight Oliver Wooldridge-Langston. His manners are so perfect, and he’s so out of her league, he might as well be Prince Harry! But when he invites her to celebrate a Friendsgiving holiday weekend at his oldest chum's country manor, she discovers a scene ripe for seduction. The only question: just who will be seducing whom?
Warning: an appetite for turkey, stuffing, and green bean casserole won’t be the only thing indulged this holiday season. This erotic romance includes two colleagues who, after weeks of frustrated longing, count their blessings...and their shared fantasies. (about 12,000 words)
This story stands alone without a cliffhanger. But you can look forward to revisiting Ash and Oliver's passionate love affair--and meeting Ashley's younger sister Emily--in Dazzle.
Release Date: December 15, 2015
It was another gray day.
Or was that spelled g-r-e-y?
She second-guessed everything these days. Everything in London seemed upside down from her life in sunny SoCal.
“It’s an adventure,” she told herself, face buried deep in her maroon scarf.
It was an unfashionable, chunky thing. Nothing like what the girls were pairing with those sleek moto jackets—or those effortlessly chic women and their sumptuous camel coats and cashmere scarves.
It was effing freezing.
Ashley was about five minutes away from seeing if LL Bean or Lands’ End would ship their giant puffy coats overseas. Something that covered her in layers of insulating fluff from earlobe to mid-thigh. Ooh, or the ones popular with hockey moms in the Midwest—the ones that went all the way down to the calf or ankle!
Maybe her sister could shove one in her suitcase when she came to visit at Christmas.
No. Too far away. She was freezing now.
Stupid District Line outage. Stupid last minute scramble to figure out how to take the train into Waterloo. Stupid walk across London Bridge, dodging disappointed tourists hoping to walk across the monumental wedding cake Tower Bridge and instead finding this boring gray concrete thing.
Oh, hey, look! She was cursing tourists like a real Londoner.
And that was the true story of an expat working in London. Not quite the glamorous picture she’d imagined when she’d been wooed away from the partner track at her flashy firm in L.A. and offered the lateral transfer to an international firm looking for an American to round out their M&A team. Just a blustery, stinking wind coming off the Thames and ineffectual outerwear.
It would get better. She’d only just arrived; settled in. Learned to look forward to the forty-minute commute she took twice a day. Especially if she timed it right and could squeeze into a seat and not have to be jostled, standing the whole way. Eighty or so minutes of forced leisure reading or forced zoning out time was actually pretty great.
But she missed driving.
And the sun.
Bare legs and sunroofs and working by the pool on the weekends.
She heaved a heavy sigh. It was worth it. Living in London was a dream.
Her L.A. firm might have been flashy and fun, but Jesus, this place was something else. Her first day, she’d practically bowed to the doorman like he was Prince Charles or something. And she had to pinch herself at every staff meeting to keep from just closing her eyes and listening to the dreamy, posh voices that surrounded her. It was nothing like home.
And that was a good thing.
Ashley had been in a rut in California: the same friends since forever and a rotating cast of boring dates. If she managed to surface from work long enough. London was an outrageous city, and her new job was both challenging and enjoyable—and maybe a Prince Harry lookalike would sweep her off her feet.
If only she could get warm.
Too bad she couldn’t keep her cozy boots on during the day. Their discreet fur lining was heaven, but heels ruled the day here in the silver circle. At least she could pair them with thick, opaque tights. Plus, the contraband space heater under her desk helped.
God help her if she were discovered plugging in non-approved electronics. But the moment she crawled under her desk, plugged it in, and it came to life with a satisfying snick, she was warm and happy for the first time in hours.
She stayed under the desk for a glorious moment, warming her hands. Her face. There was a strong possibility she was making sex noises.
A knock at the door startled her into silence. Maybe she could hide until whomever it was went away?
“Hullo? I thought I heard you come in.”
Crap. No hiding now.
“Here. Here. Just”—she lost a heel in her scramble to pop her head up over the desk. “Ooph.” Crap. It was Oliver. He wouldn’t tell on her, but she had no desire to look like a fool in front of him, either.
She barely avoided knocking herself out on the way back up. And she hadn’t the forethought to take a pen down with her so she could hold it up, triumphantly, as an excuse for why she’d been hiding under her desk.
“Erm, Ashley?” He was frozen in place at the threshold, knuckle poised at the doorframe, a look of utter confusion written on his bespeckled face. “Is everything…”
“I’m fine.” She hurried to reassure him, but failed miserably to inch her shoe back on from this weird position, so she wobbled again and almost went down.
In a flash he rounded the corner of her desk, righting her with a gentle, giant hand on her elbow, and she fought to keep her mouth from making a huge O. It was the first time he’d ever willingly touched her—aside from a friendly handshake when she’d first come to the office—and she cursed the layers upon layers of clothing that separated them.
If the world exploded into fire at the touch, never fear, she could put it out. The man had only to look at her and her panties were wet.
Who needed Prince Harry? Oliver Wooldridge-Langston was a giant, sex-god of a man with a ridiculous name and the most elegant manners on the planet. And she’d been unbelievably in lust with him from the moment she’d heard his voice on the other end of a trans-Atlantic interview call a few months ago.
He was huge—had she mentioned that?—and was absolutely silent unless he was bumbling and fumbling about. Dropping a file in the hall. Stuttering a little when he came in to her office to ask her a question he could have easily emailed or messenged. He was just an all around oversized lab, tripping over his giant paws and being utterly adorable. Until someone asked his opinion in a meeting and all traces of the lovable oaf disintegrated, and he turned into this fierce, senatorial creature, and you held your breath while he was talking because you didn’t want to miss one single syllable.
And this, this was the man going to his knees in front of her, offering her one size eight red-lacquer-bottomed three-inch heel. “Ashley?”
“Oh. Sorry. Thanks.” She was so shaken. He looked so—so—unbelievably gorgeous kneeling in front of her, she forgot where she was. Who she was. And when he said her name? Whoosh. There went her panties again. Completely ruined. “Thank you.”
She took the shoe from him, and damn if he didn’t sit back on his heels and watch her slip on the pump.
Ashley was vain enough to wish she were wearing sheer, silky hosiery instead of these lame opaque tights. Oh, to have on a black, lacy garter belt and a skirt with a slit up the side so he’d catch a flash of thigh when she moved. Breathed. Put the toe of her shoe on the impeccable aubergine silk of his tie and pushed, ever so slightly.
“What was it you dropped?” He moved to resume the search under her desk. Apparently, he wasn’t caught up in inappropriate workplace fantasies.
“No, it’s nothing I—”
“You’ll get a ladder in your stockings on your kn-knees. Allow me.” She sat back on the desk, helplessly, while he went around her and peered under the desk. “Oh. You’re full of secrets, aren’t you, Ms. Powell?”
Oh, he had no idea.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Plausible deniability. She had to maintain plausible deniability. He was a senior associate. Definitely not someone to piss off—even if he didn’t have immediate oversight on her. Not that having a space heater under her desk would piss him off. She didn’t think.
Though he was awfully fond of rules and order…
“It’s okay.” Had he actually winked at her? “I shan’t tell a soul.”
She shrugged a shoulder, pretending to be cool about the whole thing but getting all tingly at his use of a contraction. And the wink? My God. “About what?”
“Precisely.” He stood up, and his knee cracked a little. She started to put a hand out, to steady him as he’d steadied her, but he pulled a face. It was gone in a flash, but Ashley felt a little foolish for reaching out.
He’d put the desk between them again. It was as if the shoe and the secret—and the wink—had never happened. He was back to being the near-silent giant, and it felt like the wind from the Thames was blowing on her bare face.
“Did you miss the drinks trolley?”
Ashley had to smile then. The drinks trolley was absolute genius. A few times a morning, and in the afternoon, it made the rounds. A cheerful kid took her order for tea—though he’d informed her most Brits took espresso these days. A little caffeine and maybe a pastry, and all was well with the world. It was imminently civilized. So wonderfully English. And, even better, on Friday afternoon, the drinks trolley was a mobile cocktail station.
“I did miss it, unfortunately. District Line was…something.”
“Say no more.” He stuck his hands in his pockets and it drew her eye to his pelvis. To the thick thighs in tailored wool and the perma-bulge she tried in vain to keep her eyes off of because she was a professional, damn it. “It’s ghastly.”
“Or something,” she replied somewhat inanely.
They stood there while the busy office whirled around them. Out in the hall, people passed. Somewhere beyond, phones rang, and office machines coughed up reams of paper.
“Would you like to—”
“One of my—”
They spoke simultaneously and did the you-go-first dance. She stood her ground until he gave in.
“One of my oldest friends has invited me over to an American Thanksgiving party. Friendsgiving, I think they called it.”
A small twinge in her chest at the mention of the holiday almost threw her off balance even though her shoes were firmly on her feet. He was probably going to ask her opinion about what side dish to take. She wouldn’t crumble into a tiny thousand pieces about missing a family holiday gathering for the first time in her life. “Oh, that’s cool.”
He blushed, a little pink high up on his chiseled cheekbones. “I’m going about this all wrong. I wondered if you already have plans. Or, if you’d like to join me. Us. It’ll be a big do, lots of noisy people, and…”
That twinge turned into a thousand galloping horses. He was inviting her to the party. Because he knew she’d be alone, otherwise. And oh, there went her tough-chick façade. “What can I bring?”
“Oh, nothing. Tiff—my friend’s wife—is from Tennessee. She goes all out.” He leaned forward a bit conspiratorially. “She makes something called sausage balls, and, I have to tell you, they’re the best damn things I’ve ever put in my mouth.”
They shared some awkward laughter before Ashley’s assistant rang through. He started to duck out, but she motioned for him to stay. She signed off with Helen a moment later.
“I hate to admit that I’m relieved I don’t have to bring anything. Food wise. I’m terrible at potlucks. Do they drink wine? I can’t arrive empty handed.”
“I’m sure they’d be more than happy to accept a bottle or two.”
“Excellent. You’ll have to tell me exactly how to get there, so I can plot out my transportation. I feel like a general every time I make an outing.”
“About that. It’s up in Painswick. The Cotswolds. Have you ever been?”
She shook her head.
“It’s to be a house party. We’ll leave Thursday morning, come back S-Sunday.” He cleared his throat. “That is, if you’re amenable.”
Thoughts of Bridget Jones’s Diary flittered through her head. A proper holiday! In what sounded like a fairy tale setting.
No. He didn’t mean it like that. It was a pity invitation. He had a friend with an American wife and was probably on some kind of retention committee here at work to make sure expats weren’t emotional wrecks over the holidays. Bad for the bottom line, and all that.
Who cared? She was going to get out of the city with a handsome man. Even if he was her colleague. And she wouldn’t be all alone on a day that was just another day in England.
He seemed to melt a little, and she hoped it was with something like relief that she’d said yes. His posture changed. He appeared relaxed as he leaned against the doorframe, but the hand in his pocket was still clenched.
“But, I need to warn you, my friend Sam is known for being a little…wild.”
“Well, I was all set to say yes. But now that you’ve told me it will be a wild house party.”
“It’s okay.” He waved his hand and started to back up a bit. “I haven’t been out in years and they’d almost stopped inviting me. I just thought since you’ve only just moved over—”
“Oliver, I was totally kidding.” She rushed to correct his misreading of her sarcasm. “It’s lovely. Thank you so much for thinking of me. I’d love to go, but I’m not sure. I mean, two days off…”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s all cleared.”
Ah ha. So he was on some kind of retention committee.
“Those of us working with American companies don’t usually get much accomplished. It’s always an unofficial day off for us, too. And Sam has top-notch Wi-Fi.”
“Perfect.” Paid vacation—what could be better?
“And we’ll probably be on the top floor. Shared bath. No shared room—I don’t want to overstep. I’m sure there would be two twin beds—”
“Oliver, it’s fine. It would be fine even if there weren’t.” The way he tugged at his tie reminded her of when he’d been on his knees for her. Was that just a few moments ago? Ashley was going to have to temper her imagination if she was going to travel with him. Her sweet little office overlooking the river would be toast if she fucked up a working relationship with unwanted advances on a colleague and innuendo. “What should I pack? Did your friend give any clue about how formal the dinner is going to be?”
“You look great in everything.”
Oh, hello. Maybe advances weren’t so unwanted…
“Damn. I probably shouldn’t say that when I’m standing in your office.” Even his ears were pink.
“You’re in luck. I accept compliments wherever I happen to be. And I also happen to know an excellent attorney, so no worries.”
When she winked at him, he backed up a little and hit the doorframe with his shoulder. He was back to being adorably goofy, and she was well on her way to losing her mind over how much she liked him. “Well, I’ll be on my way then. I’ll, erm, let you know about the particulars.”
* * *
It was too bad they both ended up working on the train to Stroud. Ashley felt like she was missing out on some prime stare-out-the-window-and-imagine-all-the-ways-they-could-get-naked-together time. But that was not how she was supposed to be spending her time. She’d made a conscious effort this week to not find Oliver sexy, and she wouldn’t mess up her record now.
When he dropped a file folder in the hall and bent down to gather the pages, she tried to not find the way his trousers stretched tight across his ass the least bit sexy. And when they’d worked late on Monday night, she’d tried to not find the way he rolled up his shirtsleeves at seven o’clock and stretched his back sexy. Then there was the moment on Platform 1 at Paddington when his face had lit up when he saw her approaching. Wasn’t sexy. No, sir. No way. Oliver Wooldridge-Langston was the anti-sexy.
Ashley crossed her legs and mumbled an apology when the toe of her boot grazed his calf.
What he was wearing today definitely wasn’t sexy. It was so not sexy to wear a black V-neck cashmere sweater with dark grey trousers. Even unsexier that every time he moved or breathed she got a peek at some gratuitous chest hair.
Damn. European men got away with outrageous things! He was like a walking billboard for indolent playboys at…play.
Why had she even worn underwear? Or packed it? She shouldn’t find such imagery appealing. She was a red-blooded American girl. She should appreciate hard work. Gumption. Shirts with collars.
Oh, God. That crinkle between his eyes when he focused on something he was typing was going to be the death of her.
Could you die of acute arousal?
And he seemed oblivious to her agony. Quietly sipping tea. Consulting a file before furiously typing notes into his laptop. Occasionally remarking on some passing bit of scenery she might be interested in.
She wasn’t interested in the whoosh of passing color. And she certainly wasn’t interested in this compliance review. She was interested in the virtually empty train car and considering the logistics of how they could fuck in this little seating area without getting arrested. Or getting her deported.
Ashley hadn’t had sex in a twin bed since freshman year, but this was about the same size as one. Figuring out a way to do it with his big body made her wish for iced tea instead of the piping hot Earl Grey on the table next to her.
His phone rang, and he took the call. Had she not seen him answer it, she wouldn’t have known; he talked quietly so he wouldn’t disturb her—or the other three people in the car.
She tried and failed to not watch him shape the words with that wide, expressive mouth. Everything about him was oversized. It might have been comical—and shouldn’t have been attractive—the way his features fought for real estate on the planes of his face. But he was just so fucking handsome.
And so tall. So broad of shoulder! But so quiet. In a world full of piss and vinegar, of senior associates and partners posturing like peacocks, Oliver stood out. He was always a calm, rational voice when needed. People listened to him. Valued his words. Bent over backwards to please him.
But Ashley couldn’t forget those glorious moments when that giant of a man had been on his knees for her.