Page 32 of Burn Me Once

She watches me for a long moment and then expels a sigh. ‘Ally...’

‘I know.’

I lay the flowers down on the bench and stretch on my tiptoes to rescue a glass jar from above the fridge. I half-fill it with water, and am about to stuff the flowers in when Cassie retrieves the jar and tips the water out. As she begins to wipe the inside of it I note the visible watermark with a wry smile. Trust Cassie to see such a small detail.

Cassie and Eliza were with me at my lowest ebb. Their concern is natural. But I am not going to be hurt again.

‘This is different.’

‘Yeah, well...duh. There can’t be two men in the world as misogynistic and narcissistic as Jeremy.’

We all read a lot of psychology self-help books after the Jeremy incident. He stood as a cautionary tale for all of us. I have no doubt he will move into urban myth in time. Bastard.

And yet, despite all the metaphorical wounds he inflicted, I still rail against an instinct to defend him. Such was his power over me, I suppose, that even now I am somewhat in his thrall. How can I hate him but not want others to do so?

‘Ethan’s nice,’ I say instead, definitely not adding that I’m pretty sure he’s using me to get over Sienna Di Giorgio.

‘Uh-huh.’ Cassie’s caution is understandable. ‘ careful.’

I nod, and my eyes meet hers reassuringly. I can’t begrudge her concern. Cassie and Eliza had to scrape me up off the floor after Jeremy—they had to wipe my broken heart from the walls of our lives.

‘I really, really am fine, Cass.’

After all, what could be more cautious than contractually agreeing to the terms of our arrangement prior to undertaking an affair?


She reaches forward and bites my pretzel. Such is our friendship that I don’t complain, even though I live for these damned things. I hand it to her and sip my coffee, and when I think she’s distracted by turning the bacon I fish my phone from my pocket and swipe it open.

Be still my beating heart.

It’s a photo of him. He’s wearing a simple white singlet and it looks like that favourite pair of jeans. He’s pulling a confused face and the rumpled bed is behind him. In his hand he’s holding a peach. My gut clenches.

Come back?

I stare at the photo for several more seconds. The slick of desire is unmistakable. I enjoy its possession of my body because I feel it with the certainty that I will be with him again. Soon.

When I have proved to myself that I can stay away.

* * *

Being cat-called on the streets of New York is frustratingly common. So when I step out of work Tuesday evening and hear a wolf-whistle I straighten my spine and keep going.

‘Hey, sexy!’

The voice is familiar. I stop walking and turn slowly, my eyes catching the limousine and Grayson immediately. The window is down just far enough for me to make out Ethan’s hair and eyes and it’s all I need. My tummy flops.

I pull on my handbag strap and walk towards the car. ‘Hey.’

‘Your chariot awaits, m’lady.’

I arch a brow. Emotions war inside me. Pleasure at seeing him, sure. But also worry. Worry that this isn’t part of our deal.

‘My chariot can go on its way,’ I say. ‘I like to walk.’

‘Ah.’ He nods slowly. ‘But I have a surprise.’

I roll my eyes. ‘I don’t like surprises.’

‘I think you’ll like this one.’

He pushes the door open an inch. I’m tempted to walk away, but I’ve stayed away from him for two nights, so I’ve sort of proved myself capable of handling this...haven’t I?

‘What’s the surprise?’

I slide into the limousine and instantly I’m overpowered by his proximity. The smell of him, the possibility that I’ll soon be touching him.

I buckle up in the seat beside him. ‘Ethan?’

‘You’ll see.’ He grins cryptically, then leans closer. ‘You look good enough to eat.’

Grayson is behind the wheel. He starts the engine and then pulls out into the traffic. I watch the buildings pass in a blur, curiosity as to where we’re going lasting the entire drive.

Well, almost the entire drive. I recognise the approach to the MoMA a few blocks out. I have spent so much of my time here since arriving in NYC that it is almost like a second home.

Tags: Clare Connelly Billionaire Romance