Lex Talionis (n.)- The law of retaliation, whereby a punishment resembles the offense committed in kind and degree.
Two wrongs. One right. He met her under the worst circumstances. She was still married. To the man who'd stolen from his company. But none of that would matter, because he would have her. At any cost.
To Chase Blaine, it really was that simple. Douglas Colton had stolen millions from Chaseâs company. He had to pay. Chase had every intention of cornering the bastard and making sure he ended up in jail.
Then he came face-to-face with Douglasâs wife, Aria. One look at her changed all his plans, warping them into a much darker and perverse plot to get his revenge.
He would offer Douglas his freedom . . . in exchange for a single date with his wife.
To a man like Chase, a man that hadnât truly felt emotions in a long time, Ariaâs presence soon became more addicting than a drug. A problem considering that she might never forgive him for blackmailing her, despite the fact that at times she seems just as unwillingly fascinated by him as he is by her.
GETTING AWAY FROM CHASE was impossible it seemed.
Lori and Adam finished eating, and then they left. Lori promising to call Aria on Monday, so she could drop off Adam in the morning. Aria had almost offered them a place to stay right there. The thought of them returning to the shelter irked her.
Sadly, it wasnât that simple for Aria. Taking care of Adam one day was one thing. With Douglas still coming and going, and things as they were at home, having Lori stay with her would just make it all that much more complicated.
She didnât want to put Lori and her kid in an awkward situation just because her husband was a worthless prick.
That meant that the man following her back behind the counter was the only one in any real position to offer Lori help. But why had he done it? And why the hell was he following her?
Aria pushed open the door leading to the service hallway and stopped, waiting for Chase. She crossed her arms and whirled around to face him, indignant and ready to give it to him good.
One second passed. Then two. She blinked. Heâd been following her. There was no way she could mistake the feel of him at her back.
Chase walked out a second later. He shrugged into his blazer, looking like a sex icon compared to a regular man. His vest and dress shirt tightened across his chest as he adjusted his suit jacket.
Ariaâs arms dropped to her sides.
He came to a stop before her and stared her down with a concentrated, closed-off stare.
She swallowed hard, feeling lost in the shade of that look. Consumed, actually. The hallwayâall fifty feet of itâwas too small. Chase was too close.
He wasnât close enough.
She was so damned confused.
Aria wanted to bash her own head into the wall.
Chaseâs lids fluttered. The slow perusal he gave her body seemed almost angry. He was too serious and that expression on his face bordered on becoming harsher by the second.
âYou donât have to go on that date with me. I wonât force you . . . and Iâll stick to my word aboutââ His eyes dropped to her left hand, where her wedding ring still sat on her finger. âHusband.â
Aria held in a gasp, feeling her stomach bottom out. He was letting her off the hook, so to speak. Releasing her from their fucked-up agreement.
Promising to uphold his end, even if she didnât uphold hers.
It was what sheâd wanted. What sheâd been freaking praying for.
So why was she disappointed? The cold sensation in her gut could be described no other way.
âWhy did you offer to help Lori out?â Aria blurted out. There was no stopping it. She needed to know. Her hands were cold and sweating. She clenched them into tight fists at her sides and watched his expression for any change.
There was a change, but not what sheâd been expecting. A flicker of frustration momentarily twisted his features, then it was gone.
âShe needs help, Aria. From what I gather, she and that kid are in a shelter. No one is going to hire a bruised, stitched-up woman, no matter how impressive her resume or skills are. She needs a job and Iâm in the position to give it to her.â Chase glared at her. âIâm not that much of a bastard that Iâd turn my back on her. I know thatâs what youâre thinking. Iâve already told you many times: I know what I did to you was wrong.â
Ariaâs lips parted.
Chase clenched his fists, obviously fighting with himself. âAria . . . you donât have to go anywhere with me. I wonât press charges on Douglas. And you can just . . . just forget everything.â
Her mind was in a void of confusion when he turned and began to walk down the hall.
Right toward the exit leading out to the street.
Her racing thoughts went into warp-drive. Heâd just freed her from her end of their bargain, and wasnât going to go after Douglas.
Heâd offered to help Lori out of her situation.
Chase had to be the most confusing, intriguing, andâfuck it all to hellâattractive man sheâd ever met.
And he was about to walk out that door.
Chase jerked to a stop, one hand braced on the door.
Aria. What the hell are you doing?
His shoulders rose and his back tensed, but he didnât turn in her direction.
He was willing to back out of their agreement and stick to his end of it, without getting anything in return. Douglas had stolen hundreds of thousands, if not millions, from his company; he deserved to go to jail and Chase was willing to let him go free. All for her.
It seemed fair that sheâd go along with what she was planning to do. At least, thatâs what Aria told herself as, heart racing, she took a step toward him. âIâll go.â
That had Chaseâs head spinning in her direction. âWhat?â
She opened her mouth, desperate for some air. His expression was almost frightening. But she wasnât scared. She dared to poke and squint at the emotion she felt, and recognized it for what it was. Exhilarated. Excited.
She was starting to feel like an adrenaline junkie.
âI said Iâll go.â
He started walking back toward her, each step slow and methodical. Brows hard. Eyes dark. He studied her, piercing straight through her with that hard look.
Aria felt exposed.
Taken aback, she blinked rapidly. âI . . . because, I . . .â Jesus. Fuck. It wasnât fair. Chase was like a huge vacuum, sucking all the air, and the closer he got, the less she could breathe.
âWhy, Aria? You were so angry that I blackmailed you into it. Why would you go now?â That last part was asked in a low, soft tone. He stood a few feet away from her now.
Too damn close.
She couldnât think straight.
âItâs fair. Youâre willing to leave Douglas alone. I should stick to my end of the deal.â
He ignored her blurted out excuse with a shake of his head.
An inch. Thatâs all that was left between them.
Chaseâs hands shot up, and he cupped her face between his large palms. The feel of his skin kick started her entire system. She gasped as air rushed through her windpipe. His scent made her throat close right back up.
Her body throbbed.
He pulled her closer, eliminating the last bit of space between them. âTell me the real reason why.â He took deep breaths, his face tilted toward hers. His eyes probed hers.
Too deep. She couldnât focus past that stareâhis scent.
She pressed her hands to his chest. She had to push him away. Now.
She couldnât. Everything inside her was shaken. Everything about her fluctuated wildly, realigning in ways she couldnât understand. Her atoms seemed to tremble.
For him. Her body was liquefying for him.
Chase cupped the back of her neck with one hand. His thumb stroked her. The sensation barreled through every nerve ending in her body.
âI wish I was strong enough, Aria. I fucking do,â he mumbled, voice gone hoarse.
Aria didnât have a chance to ask him what he meant.
He leaned down. For a split second, she was convinced he was going to kiss her.
And she wanted it so fucking bad. Her body opened up, softening in preparation for that kiss.
He stopped an inch away from her lips, eyes heavy-lidded as he focused on her mouth. He was panting.
She couldnât think. His full lips were right there. All she had to do was lean up on her toes. Less than an inch and she would know if he tasted as good as he smelled. If those lips felt as good asâ
Chase tilted his head and pressed his cheek against hers. He nuzzled her, his jaw sliding across her own with the movement.
Aria stared over his shoulder, trapped byâwhat? Arousal? Confusion? Disappointment?
Oh God. All of it.
He let loose a deep groan that stole all the sensation from her legs. With a gasp, she clutched at his shoulders.
âSo warm. Soft,â he whispered, so low she almost didnât hear him.
Against her goddamned will, she felt her focus zero in and become all about him. She had to extricate herself. Get away. But her body wasnât obeying; her nails had become claws determined to keep him right where he was.
No, Aria. You have to stop this. You have to.
She didnât want to. She wanted more. More of his scent, his smooth cheek pressed to hers, more of him. His lips. Hisâ
She pushed at his shoulders. Her attempts were pathetic. Her body wanted, with a desperation it had never wanted with before, and it was determined to have. âI . . . canât . . .â
Chaseâs hand tightened around the back of her neck, holding her still so that he could murmur right up against her cheek. âAria.â
Fuck. The feel of his lips. His breath.
The freaking way he kept saying her name!
âYou have yet to answer my question.â His bottom lip slid across her skin and his tongue touched her as he spoke.
Thatâs because I canât, you jackass. Oh, if only those words would leave her mouth.
She had no idea what the answer to his question was. All she knew right then was the feel of his tongue as it flicked her skin. The feeling palpated across her flesh, sliced through the layers, and slid in deep. She fisted his blazer, feeling faint.
Suddenly, he backed her up, driving her right into the wall behind her. Aria felt her back hit the wall; she expected him to press that large, sculpted body of his into her right after.
God help her, she wanted him to.
He didnât, remaining inches away from her, with those lips still pressed to her cheek.
âYou want me to answer the question for you, Aria?â
Dread raced through her at his low, heated question. She knew that whatever he was going to say, it would hit her too hard, too deep, and way too truthfully.
âIâm going to tell you what I think.â
Please donât. She knew right then how obvious her bodyâs reaction was. It was too damned obvious.
âI think,â Chase paused, brushing her skin lightly with his lips.
Aria shook her head, choking on everything he was and everything he was making her fucking want.
âYou feel this between us, Aria.â He kissed her cheek one more time, lingering just enough to drive her wild. âAs wrong as everything has been so far . . . You. Feel. This.â
Chase pulled away from her and stormed down the hall.
The sound of the door slamming open and closed reverberated through her, mixing with the maelstrom churning in her body.She sagged against the wall.
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Isabelle Blanco is the Amazon Bestselling Author of the Allure Series, the Compulsions Series, and many others. She was born in Queens, NY (USA). At the age of three, due to an odd fascination with studying her mother's handwriting, she began to read and write. By the time she'd reached kindergarten, she had an extensive vocabulary and her obsession with words began to bleed into every aspect of her life.
N. Isabelle Blanco spends her days working as an author, web programmer, marketer, and graphic designer. That is when she isn't handling her "spawn", as she calls her son, and brainstorming with him about his future career as a comic book illustrator...