🔥📚 Amira Rain’s The House Of Gods [FREE] Sneak Peak

A special treat for Simply Shifter’s subscribers who have not yet checked out Samantha Snow and Amira Rain’s bestselling series, The House Of Gods

The opening chapter is available to read for free below for a limited time only, enjoy!

Available NOW on Kindle Unlimited. To continue reading the book in full then click here!


Blurb:

One moment Brenna was broke, homeless and without a friend in the world.
The next, she was living in a Manhattan penthouse with 4 demigods who would stop at NOTHING when it came to making her happy. 😉
Funny how life turns out right?

When the gorgeously handsome Brandt Ridley offered cute Brenna Evans a place to stay after she was made homeless she could not say no.

And she could not believe her eyes when she stepped inside his beautiful New York City penthouse apartment and met his three stunningly handsome housemates.

Brenna felt like she was the luckiest girl in the world.

Little did she know, none of this was luck. It was design.

Brandt and his friends were all demigods with special superpowers who were seeking a human female to produce an extra special child for them.

And Brenna was perfect for the job.

However, she could only choose one of the men to be the father and she would have to live with all of them until her decision was made…


CHAPTER ONE

 Brenna tried desperately not to make a scene at the turnstile as she pushed through the narrow metal entry with her arms wrapped tight around two years’ worth of art supplies. Living in New York City had so many benefits; navigating the subway with all of your earthly possessions was not one of them.

“Sorry, sorry,” she called to the man huffing impatiently behind her.

He pushed past her, mumbling under his breath about “college students these days” and knocking a pack of colored charcoals out of her hand, which quickly became a pile of rainbow dust beneath the footsteps of commuters heading home from work.

When she finally made it to a seat, Brenna sank down onto the cool plastic, letting her papers and drawing pencils fall into a halo on the ground around her.

“What was the point of all this?” she asked herself, fighting back tears.

She wasn’t normally one to cry—in fact, quite the opposite. Brenna was fiercely independent, and having to pull the plug on her art degree made her more mad than sad. She’d put everything she had into making this work, and when she’d gotten fired from her coffee shop job last week for doodling on the customer’s cups, there just wasn’t anything left to fall back on. She was already three months behind on rent, and her landlord’s patience had finally run out. Brenna had thought about trying to find another job on the fly, but with no money, no job, and now no place to live, she felt like she had run out of time and options. As much as it upset her, maybe it was just time to call it quits.

Her landlord had told her to be cleared out by morning, and her college professor at the Pratt Institute had been kind enough to let her into the art studio after hours to get her things. So here she was, traipsing across Brooklyn in the middle of the night to get what she could carry.

Honestly, thanks to being a minimalist, there wasn’t much in that apartment that she cared about anyway. When the train arrived at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn Streets Station, Brenna gathered up her things and made her way slowly up the stairs to the street. It was dark and raining, a perfect match for her mood. She had made this commute so many times that she could do it with her eyes closed, but something felt a bit different about her walk tonight—unsettling. It was probably just stress, but still, Brenna hastened her pace back to the apartment.

She turned down the narrow alleyway behind the old bookstore, her quick steps making the puddles splash into the tops of her short boots, and was met by a large, swaggering drunk man. Without stopping to think, Brenna spun on her heels to run back out onto the main street, but it was too late. The man reached out and grabbed her by the arm, causing everything in her hands to spill onto the wet concrete.

“Where you going, pretty girl?” The man reeked of rancid alcohol as he pulled Brenna closer to him, his heavy breath falling over her like a wave of nausea.

Brenna’s thoughts spiraled out of control, thinking first to the fine-tipped drafting knife in her pocket, but then realizing it would take her too long to remove the cap.

“Let go of me!” she growled. It was pointless to scream; there was no one around.

She flailed and dug her nails into the meat of his forearm, but it was no use. He was three times her size and fueled by inebriation. Just as he pushed her down, and Brenna felt her feet slide out from under her on the slick ground, a moving shadow caught her eye. She tried to call out to it, but her head knocked against the concrete, and the metallic taste of blood filled her mouth. She watched as the drunken man suddenly looked as though he were terror-stricken, and his grip on her loosened.

Brenna scrambled to her feet in time to see the man turn and run in the other direction, disappearing into the dark.

“Are you okay?” a voice asked from behind her.

Brenna flung around, this time prepared to yank the blade out of her pocket. Before her stood another man, an unfathomably handsome man, that looked at her with a mix of concern and triumph. His muscular build surfaced from beneath the thin fabric of his white T-shirt, which stuck to his skin in the rain. He ran his hand through his short, blond hair before attempting to pat it dry on the thigh of his jeans.

Brenna tried to answer him, but between the blood pooling in her mouth from her teeth cutting into her tongue when she had hit the ground, and the urge to just keep staring at him, all she could muster was an awkward, “Huh?”

“C’mon,” he said, scooping up some of her wet papers and pencils from the ground before offering his hand to her. “I think I should take you to sit and grab a coffee before leaving you alone. Just to make sure you’re okay.”

The curve of a slight smile formed at the corners of his mouth, and Brenna thought it was probably because he was used to girls being speechless around him. Brenna felt something pull on her, an inexplicable force that made her feel like she wanted, maybe even needed, to go with him. She knew better than to be so careless, but it was as if she couldn’t help herself.

“Yeah, okay. Thanks,” she managed to get out, using the back of her sleeve to wipe her mouth and the other hand to take his outstretched arm.

Absolute Coffee was still open and less than a block’s walk away. When they came through the door of the coffee shop, the few people that were sitting there stopped sipping their lattes and looked up. Brenna wasn’t sure if it was because of her disheveled appearance or because of his obvious beauty. She guessed it was the latter. Either way, it only lasted a moment before everyone went back to their books and laptops and low conversations, while Brenna and her newfound hero sat down at a corner table. She was having trouble remembering the details of the incident that had just occurred and found herself swallowing harder than normal as she watched his chest rise and fall from across the table.

Shake it off, moron, she told herself. What on earth is wrong with you?

“Thank you,” Brenna said to him.

“No need to thank me. I’m just glad I was there when you needed me. My name is Erik. And you are?”

“Brenna,” she answered, her mind suddenly flooding with questions. “What were you doing in the—”

“Coffee?” the waitress asked them, interrupting Brenna’s sentence.

“Yes, two lattes?” Erik tilted his head toward Brenna with raised eyebrows.

“Sure,” she answered.

“Two lattes it is,” the waitress said, flashing a smile at Erik before looking almost disappointed that the order was over, and she had to leave the table.

“You were saying?” Erik asked.

“What were you doing in that alleyway?”

“Just out for a walk.” His voice was smooth and buttery; it made Brenna wonder how anyone could make a five-word sentence sound so seductive. “I had a rather stressful day and needed to clear my head.”

“I’m really glad you were there,” Brenna said. “I’m not sure what would have happened if—”

“Well, you don’t need to think about that anymore,” Erik said reassuringly as he reached his hand across the table and enclosed it around Brenna’s palm, causing a feeling of warmth to swell in her chest.

The waitress came and set the coffee cups down on the table with a small clink. “Anything else I can get you?”

“No, we’re fine for now. Thank you,” Erik answered.

Brenna tried to lighten the heaviness hanging in the air that was making it hard for her to breathe.

“So, why was your day stressful?” she asked him.

“Just trying to work out an apartment situation,” Erik answered. “My roommates and I need to find another person to share our high-rise.”

“That doesn’t sound all that stressful to me.” Brenna was mentally rolling her eyes at how much worse her current situation was than needing to fill a space in a NYC high-rise.

“Well, let’s just say it’s hard to find the right person,” Erik said. “Say, you don’t happen to be looking for a place?”

Brenna laughed. “Actually, I do need a place to stay, but I’m one-hundred-percent sure that I can’t afford to pay rent. So, I’m definitely not your girl.”

Erik paused, holding the coffee cup at his lips without taking a sip. “Actually, I think you might be just who we’ve been looking for.”

“What? You can’t be serious. I just told you that I literally can’t pay rent. I’ve just lost my job, had to quit school, and when you came to my rescue, I was on my way to the apartment that I now can no longer afford to live in. I’m broke, have nowhere to go, and—well, look at me…” Brenna hated feeling so vulnerable, and she hated the sound of desperation that laced her voice.

Erik took a sip of his coffee.

“How about this,” he said. “You’re an artist, right?” He motioned to the soggy pile of art supplies on the table. “We could use a few creative projects done around the apartment. How about you do some work for us in exchange for a place to stay, just until you land a new job? Sound fair?”

Brenna was having trouble believing that this random stranger, who appeared out of nowhere, was willing to put her up in exchange for some odd jobs as payment for rent. What if this guy was just as bad as the drunk on the street? What if she was walking into a dangerous situation? Still…something about him was so appealing, and she felt a rather inexplicable sense of calm being around him. She didn’t know where that feeling was coming from, though, and it made her worry.

“How do I know you’re not some sort of weirdo?” Brenna blurted out. “I mean, no offense; you did just save my life and all, but I’m sure you can understand why I might be slightly hesitant to follow a random guy I just met back to his apartment.”

Erik chuckled. “Of course. Well, if it puts your mind at ease, you can do a little research. May I see your phone?”

Brenna dug into her hoodie pocket and handed her iPhone across the table to him, sighing when she saw that the screen must have cracked during her altercation.

After a couple of minutes, Erik handed it back to her.

“Here you go. Now you know all about me.”

Brenna looked at her phone and saw all of the open tabs, each one showcasing a different social media account: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. They were all there, and his handsome face peered up at her from each open profile. She clicked on Twitter, and her jaw dropped when she saw that the first thing in his feed was a linked article about the “Rise of Up-and-Coming Billionaire Erik Ander.”

“This is you?” she asked, astounded.

“Yep, sure is,” Erik answered. “So, about that arrangement, what do you say?”

All of her hesitation seemed to melt away as she looked at Erik sitting across from her, and that strange sensation of calm fell over her again. Before she had a chance to second-guess it again, her mouth opened, and words spilled out.

“Sure, sounds more than fair. Thank you.”

Erik nodded with satisfaction and tossed a twenty down on the table for the waitress.

“It’s a pretty name—Brenna. Its Nordic root means ‘sword.’ Did you know that?”

What a random thing to know, Brenna thought.

She was getting ready to reply as they walked out the café door, but as she turned back to look at him, her body brushed up against his waist, and she froze in her tracks. Her brain told her to walk, but something in her body made it impossible for her to pull away. Erik stood, looking at her with an unnerving smile on his face, like they were playing a game, and he had already prearranged every move.

Brenna was excited when they arrived at Union Square Station. While she’d been in school, she would take the L-train to Union Square on the weekends and head over to Bryant Park to sit and sketch the people attending one of the many free shows the park constantly hosted. It was one of her favorite places to go.

When they stopped walking in front of the One Union Square South Building, Brenna was sure she was dreaming. This building was one she knew well, one she had spent a solid afternoon daydreaming about what it would be like to live in and sketching a rough rendition of the giant art installation on the building’s façade: Metronome by one of her favorite artists, Kristin Jones. Erik punched a code into a little metal panel, and the massive front doors swung open.

“Wait, is this where you live?” she asked, astounded.

“Yep,” Erik answered. “Welcome to your new home.”

The elevator ride up to the twenty-seventh floor was silent for a bit as Brenna ran through possible scenarios in her head of what this guy did for a living. Then she thought of something else that interrupted her train of thought.

“Hey, do you know what made that drunkard in the alley suddenly get scared and run off? I figured he must have seen a weapon or something, but you didn’t have one. I don’t think you even laid a hand on him, did you?”

“No, I didn’t,” Erik answered.

“Then how did—”

The elevator stopped, and the doors opened directly into the apartment, where three equally handsome men all stopped to stare at the girl Erik was bringing through their door. One of them was eating cereal and must have forgotten to close his mouth upon seeing Brenna, so the milk was now running down his chin and dripping onto the muscles of his bare chest. Another one looked up from a book he was reading on the couch, glanced at Brenna, then smiled and shook his head at Erik.

It was the reaction of the third man that made Brenna the most uncomfortable. He seemed as if he had been looking out of the floor-to-ceiling glass windows of the apartment overlooking the city below and had half-turned around when the elevator doors opened. He stared at Brenna, and his brow furrowed in a troubling expression. She looked back at him, thinking how incredibly deep and gray his eyes looked—like swirling pools of ash—and felt his piercing gaze as if he were looking into her instead of at her. After a moment, he quickly turned his head and walked out of the room.

“Please come in,” Erik said, snapping her back to the scene in front of her. “These are my friends, Colby and Jerrik. Brandt seems to have had something else to attend to, but you’ll have to excuse him. He doesn’t always play nice with others. I’m sure he will come out of his room at some point.”

The other two men snickered at that remark.

“Gentlemen, this is Brenna. She will be living with us, beginning tonight.”

Brenna felt immediately uncomfortable at the impromptu intrusion. “I’m sorry for the short notice,” she said. “It’s just that—”

“Nonsense,” Erik cut her off. “You are more than welcome here. Colby, want to show her to her room?”

“Sure thing.” Colby put down his cereal and wiped the milk from his chin. His chest muscles flexed with the small movement, and as he walked toward Brenna, she noticed how perfectly sculpted his body was.

Maybe they all owned a gym or something, she thought to herself.

“This way, Brenna. You’re going to love it here.” Colby smiled at her, and she returned the gesture.

As they walked out of the main open living room and got farther away from Erik, Brenna turned back to look at him and noticed that she wasn’t feeling quite as calm and safe as she had been before. It was almost like a deck had been shuffled, and a new emotion card had been drawn.

She listened intently as Colby gave her a tour of the massive apartment.

“This is my room, and this one next to it is Jerrik’s. Brandt’s room is way down at the end of the hall here. And this one,” he paused in front of the door, “is yours.”

“Where is Erik’s room?” Brenna asked.

“On the other side of the apartment, past the kitchen. And there’s a bathroom in each wing. You are, of course, welcome to share all of the common areas of the apartment at any time you’d like. And even some of the not-so-common areas too…if you know what I mean.” Colby winked at her, and Brenna wasn’t sure whether to feel flattered or put-off.

He turned the handle to her room and opened the door, revealing a gorgeous bedroom that looked like it had been decorated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“I’ll let you get settled in,” Colby said. “Let us know if you need anything.” And with that, he turned and walked back down the hall.

Brenna closed the bedroom door behind her, set her things down on a small metal end table, and walked over to the wall-sized window to look at the city. The Midtown skyline spread out beneath her. She took a breath so deep that it made her lungs hurt. Her mind was reeling from the day’s events, and she was both physically and mentally exhausted. The sleeping city looked so vast and beautiful that she felt like a princess in a tall tower overlooking her kingdom.

“I need sleep,” Brenna said aloud to the empty room. She pulled her long, dark hair up into a twisted bun and stared at her reflection in the glass. She was so tired that her eyes looked like hollow orbs against the glittering city lights reflected in the background. She also remembered that she hadn’t actually eaten anything in over a day and ran her fingers up under her shirt over her slender stomach, trying to calm the hunger pangs that threatened to rise up. Realizing that she had none of the essentials, she headed back out of the bedroom to ask if she could borrow some toothpaste and get a glass of water.

When she opened the door, she nearly screamed. Brandt stood in the doorway, so close that she felt his breath on her face.

Instead of a scream, she uttered more of a struggling whisper. “You’re Brandt, right?”

He nodded without saying anything and without moving from the doorway.

Brandt, like the others, was incredibly handsome but in a way that differed from the rest. He was muscular but more svelte and defined than the other men. His dark, messy hair fell past chin-length, and his features were strikingly chiseled. A pair of torn black jeans sat just below his waist, and the long-sleeved gray shirt he was wearing was half untucked, allowing for a small glimpse of tantalizing flesh just above the bulge in his jeans. Brenna felt her eyes dragging over his body.

“Yes, I’m Brandt,” he said in a low tone, and she quickly raised her gaze to meet his eyes.

When their eyes met, she felt something cool run through her, as if her veins were suddenly pushing water from a cold rain through her body instead of warm blood. He reached out and touched her cheek with his palm, and instead of pulling away, instinctively, she let it linger there and felt the warmth of his hand on her face. For a moment, she thought he was going to lean forward and kiss her. And if he had, she would have let him. But then, in a quick motion as if he had touched something scalding hot, he jerked his hand away from her.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“For what?” Brenna asked.

Brandt opened his mouth as if he were about to say something but then thought better of it and turned to disappear down the hall.

Brenna still felt a bit stunned but remembered that she needed toothpaste, so she walked in the opposite direction of the hallway until she came back to the main room where the other three men were sitting and talking in hushed voices. Colby had put on his shirt, and all three men were lounging on the couches and chairs in the massive living room in comfortable-looking gray joggers and T-shirts, looking like male models draped over a photoshoot set.

“Hey, Brenna,” Colby said. “Erik just came up with a great idea you should hear.”

“Who’s Erik?” Brenna asked.

The three men gave each other a vexed glance.

“I’m going to kill him,” Erik said, standing up from his seat.

“No, you’re not.” Colby laughed. “He’s just testing you.”

“Kill who?” Brenna said.

“Brandt.”

CHAPTER TWO

 

When Brenna woke up the next morning, her memory of the night before was a blur at best. She vaguely remembered coming to the apartment and having Erik introduce her to his three friends…but past that, the rest was indistinct. She tried to remember coming back to her room and going to sleep but couldn’t seem to piece the picture together.

Man, I must have been beyond exhausted, Brenna thought.

She lay in bed for a few minutes, looking out at the city and listening for any sounds of the guys stirring in the apartment. After a few quiet moments, she got up, brushed her teeth, and adjusted the jeans and hoodie that she’d been wearing (and sleeping in) since the day before. When she opened the bedroom door, she half-expected to see Brandt there, although she wasn’t sure why she would think that. She hadn’t seen him at all since he had walked away upon her entry into the apartment with Erik.

“Good morning,” Brenna said as she entered the living room and saw all four men sitting around a stone-gray breakfast bar in the open kitchen.

“Morning, Brenna.” Colby smiled, mirrored by a smile from Jerrik.

“The princess awakens,” Erik said smoothly, walking up to take Brenna’s hand and place a soft kiss on the top of her knuckles.

Brenna blushed.

“That’s laying it on pretty thick.” Jerrik sneered and rolled his eyes.

Brenna caught Brandt’s eyes as he looked up at her while taking a sip of his coffee.

“Hi,” she said to him. “You’re Brandt, right?” For some reason, she had a wave of déjà vu pass over her.

Brandt took time to drink the coffee at his lips, then set down his cup without taking his eyes off of Brenna before uttering a single-worded response. “Yeah.”

“Don’t mind him,” Jerrik said to her. “He’s a bit grumpy in the morning.”

Colby laughed but stopped short when Erik jabbed him in the ribs with his elbow. “Ow, what the—”

Erik shot him a look that seemed almost threatening, and Colby became quiet, shoving a banana in his mouth for breakfast before saying another word.

“So, I thought maybe I would take you shopping today, Brenna,” Erik said.

“Why would you take me shopping?” she asked.

“Do you have any clothes other than the ones you’re wearing?

Brenna looked down at herself, taking a mental inventory of her appearance and feeling embarrassed. “Umm, no. But what I meant to say was, why would you offer to do something like that for me? We just met a day ago, and I haven’t even done anything yet to earn my stay here.”

“About that,” Erik said as if he had suddenly remembered something. “Let’s talk about the projects you’ll be doing for us. Then I’ll take you shopping.”

Brenna took a swig of the orange juice that Colby had just handed her.

“As for why I would offer to take you shopping, the answer is simple—because I can…and also because you need some clothes and essentials.”

“Thank you,” Brenna conceded, curious about the jobs she would be doing and also ravenously eying the bacon that was frying on the stovetop. She listened intently as Erik served breakfast to all of them and started talking.

“It just so happens,” he began, “that we need some artwork for the apartment. You see, we host clients here frequently, and the décor just isn’t up to par.”

“What kind of artwork would you like? Brenna asked.

“Self-portraits.”

Brenna considered it for a moment before responding. “Wouldn’t that seem a bit egocentric to clients? I mean, no offense, but if they are coming to your home to do business and they see your walls covered in your own portraits, wouldn’t that be a turn-off?”

“Not at all,” Jerrik interjected. “In our business, it would be a testament to our position of power.”

Brenna was reminded of her question from earlier. “What business is it that you guys are in?”

The sound of coffee sizzled, and Brenna looked up to see that Brandt had been pouring himself more; he had somehow missed his cup entirely as the liquid hit the burner, and steam rose up behind his hand.

“Investments,” Erik answered curtly. “Of a rather discrete nature.”

“Oh,” was all that she could think of to say.

“All right, let’s go,” Erik said, making his way around the corner and grasping for Brenna’s arm.

“Right now?” she asked him.

“Yeah. I’d like you to begin the portraits this evening if that’s okay with you. So, let’s go do some shopping, come back, and pop a bottle of wine to celebrate our new arrangement. And then, you can get started. Sound good?”

“Um, sure. Sounds great.” Brenna shoved one more piece of bacon into her mouth before letting herself be brought along to the door.

“Bye, guys,” she called over her shoulder to the rest of them. Two voices echoed her goodbyes, but Brandt remained silent.

The shopping trip was more of an extravaganza. Erik spared no expense, and by the time they had returned to the apartment, Brenna was dizzy with the excitement of a fresh start. The thoughts of her failed past that had weighed her down merely a day ago had vanished and were replaced by a beautiful new wardrobe—some of which was a tad more revealing than she would have normally chosen but nonetheless stunning—a new job, every supply she could imagine to begin creating artwork, and new friends that seemed pretty great so far.

When they arrived back at the apartment, it was nearly dinnertime, but she wasn’t hungry. Erik had treated her to a delicious lunch at Chelsea Market, and she was eager to get started on the projects to repay him for his generosity and earn her keep. She quickly showered and changed into a fresh, new outfit: cozy white joggers that hugged her curves and a black midriff T-shirt that was so soft it felt like pajamas. Her hair was still a bit wet from the shower when she walked out to sit in the living room, but she wanted to get started, so she paid the dangling, damp strands no mind.

“Okay, I’m ready,” she said, plopping herself down cross-legged on the black leather ottoman in front of all four of them with her sketchbook in hand.

“Great,” Erik said. “You can start with Jerrik’s.”

Jerrik stood up. “Follow me.”

“Where are we going?” Brenna asked him as he started toward the hallway, looking over his shoulder to make sure she was behind him.

“My bedroom, of course. Where else would we be doing this portrait?”

Brandt suddenly stood too.

Easy…” she heard Erik growl under his breath to him.

Brenna stood still for a moment, looking between the four men and trying to figure out why the tension had suddenly risen in the room. She glanced at Brandt, searching his face for some sort of indication of what was going on. But the only thing resting on his face was a twisted look of frustration, like he was fighting against himself and trying not to do something stupid.

“It’s okay, Brenna. Go ahead. Jerrik doesn’t bite, I promise.” Erik laughed, and when he did, a sudden feeling of pleasant calmness coated her like a blanket of snow. “I’ll get dinner started while you two get better acquainted.”

Brenna smiled at him, feeling overtly at ease, and hopped off the ottoman to get started.

As she walked down the hallway behind Jerrik, Brandt pushed past her, their shoulders briefly brushing, and she caught a glimpse of his clenched fists before he disappeared behind his bedroom door.

Jerrik’s room was stark and minimalistic. The walls were a curious dark violet that didn’t seem to match his personality at all. If she were to guess, he would be the dutiful one, the one that kept the logistics of their business on track and rarely dabbled in frivolities of any nature. Jerrik was classically handsome with cleanly styled auburn hair, a face that looked like it had been photoshopped for a Calvin Klein ad, and a body that—from what she could tell—would send most women into a spiral of wanton desire. From an artist’s point of view, she imagined he would want one of those more traditional self-portraits, the stoic kind with a button-up suit and a high-back chair.

“Have a seat while I get ready.” Jerrik gestured toward the bed before walking into his closet.

Brenna took a seat at the foot of the bed and thought about how she would be able to prop up her sketchbook on her knees and where to position her model since there didn’t seem to be any chairs in the room.

I guess we could grab a chair from the living room to bring in, she thought. Pulling her legs beneath her, she opened her sketchbook and was just getting ready to start laying out the background when Jerrik returned from his closet and stood before her. If she had wondered about what he looked like under his clothes, she didn’t need to wonder anymore.

“Oh my God,” she whispered. The sketchbook slid from her grasp and hit the wooden floorboards with a dull thud.

“Jerrik,” she swallowed, “why—why aren’t you wearing any clothes?”

“This is how I want my portrait,” Jerrik answered. “That’s not going to be a problem, is it?”

“Uh, no…of course not. I can draw you however you’d like.” Brenna tried to shake herself out of it but was having a great deal of difficulty taking her eyes off Jerrik’s stunningly hot, naked body in front of her; he looked like Adonis, carved out of the most arousing flesh she had ever seen.

Brenna had had her share of boyfriends in the past—in fact, she’d gone through a string of them when she had first started college, which ended up in a revelation that she was possibly a magnet for hot, loser guys—but none of them had ever made her instinctively press her thighs together like this.

“Do you want me?” Jerrik asked her, coming closer.

She felt the walls of the room swirl around her.

He came to the edge of the bed, slid the palms of his hands under her things to scoot her back a few inches on the mattress, and then straddled her lap, pressing into her pelvis and lifting her hands to his chest.

“I think it would help the portrait if you feel me,” Jerrik said to her, dragging his lips over her forehead and making sure she felt his growing and hardening desire against the soft layer of fabric that her joggers still provided between them.

“I think it would make the portrait even more desirable if it showed how much you want me. Do you want me, Brenna?” He ran his fingers over the tips of her breast that were just beneath the surface of her T-shirt and softly kissed her neck below her earlobe.

Brenna tightened her thighs in an attempt to control her arousal, but when she did, it only made her feel the physical swelling of his desire press against her more.

After what felt like hours of being suspended in this moment of taunting seduction, a loud banging sound interrupted.

“Dinner,” Brandt shouted from the other side of the door. “Now.”

“It seems we’ll have to continue my portrait session later,” Jerrik said, sliding off Brenna’s lap and casually throwing a robe over his body, which was now glistening with small beads of sweat.

Brenna stood up, feeling a little bit intoxicated, even though she’d had nothing to drink. “Of course,” she said. “Whenever you want.”

Jerrik laughed and wrapped his arm around her as they walked out for dinner.

When they all sat down at the table, Colby poured wine into everyone’s glasses, and Brenna marveled at the meal laid out before them.

“This looks delicious,” she said. “Did you labor over this for all the hours we were in there?”

The men shared a look across the table, except for Brandt, who slammed down his glass on the table so harshly that the wine spilled out over the lip.

“You were only gone for fifteen minutes,” he told Brenna.

“That’s impossible; it felt like hours.”

“It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re having fun.” Jerrik smiled at her.

Brenna smiled back and thought about his hands running over her and the feeling of his body against hers. She thought about how it felt like an entire evening of enticement and wondered what else might have happened had Brandt not knocked on the door. She was partially upset with Brandt for interrupting such sensual revelry and partially confused about how fifteen minutes could have felt so long.

After dinner, she helped Brandt clean the dishes while Erik and Colby discussed some aspect of business, and Jerrik went to take a shower.

“It’s a curious thing, isn’t it—time,” Brandt said to her in a low voice above the sound of the running sink water.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Do you have a watch?” he said.

“No,” Brenna replied. “I usually just use my cell phone if I need to check the time. Aren’t watches pretty obsolete these days?”

Brandt dried his hands on a dishtowel and reached into his front pocket. Brenna couldn’t help her eyes from wandering down his torso as he did so.

Honestly, what is wrong with me? she thought as she pulled her head back up and grabbed another dish to wash.

“Here, take this.” Brandt slid his hand ever-so-slightly beneath the waistband of her joggers, and she felt a piece of cool metal slide against her skin.

When she had finished the rest of the dishes, she walked over to see what the guys were talking about. Jerrik had now returned from the shower, and Brandt had joined the group as well. But when she came to stand near them, the conversation ceased abruptly.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Brenna said.

“Not at all,” Erik replied. “We’ve finished for tonight.”

“Ready to go work on my portrait some more?” Jerrik asked her. He looked freshly showered but was still wearing the same deep red robe that he had on during dinner, which surely meant he had nothing on underneath.

“Yeah,” Brenna said, feeling the heat return to her cheeks. “I’ll just go grab my supplies real quick and meet you there.”

“Perfect,” he said.

Brenna opened the door to her bedroom and picked up her sketchbook and graphite pencils from the thin, silver desk lining the wall next to her bed. Funny, I don’t remember putting these in here.

She also didn’t remember making her bed, which had the satin sheets all nicely tucked in and a luxurious cream-colored Sherpa blanket folded neatly at the foot. She shook her head, thinking about how her luck had turned and how fortunate she was to have stumbled into such a decadent situation. When she leaned forward to run her hand over the blanket, she felt the rub of cool metal that Brandt had slipped into her waistband. She hooked her finger under the elastic band and pulled out a watch.

The face of the watch was old and scratched; it looked like it had been around since the early eighties. How strange that such a wealthy man would have such a dingy timepiece. The strap, however, was made of something she hadn’t seen before. It was as soft and pliant as silk but looked like liquid metal and must have been made from some kind of magnetic material because when she wrapped it on her wrist, it automatically attached to itself. No little rungs to push a prong through, no fasteners. It just seemed to mold onto her skin. She noted that it was keeping time perfectly, too, as she compared it against the clock on her phone.

Brenna twisted her wrist around as she walked into the bathroom and was pleased with how comfortable it was to wear, so she decided to keep it on.

When she was ready to go back to Jerrik’s room, she stood outside his door for a minute and took in a deep breath. She needed to mentally prepare for the nude portrait session and whatever else it would turn into. She lifted her hand and gave the door two light knocks. He opened it before she could give it a third.

“Hey,” he said, standing completely nude.

Brenna couldn’t speak because she was afraid some sort of embarrassing guttural utterance would come out if she tried to open her mouth. She walked into the room, looked around, then turned to face Jerrik without sitting down on the bed.

“I like the candlelight,” she said. “But it might make it a bit difficult for me to draw you accurately without enough lighting in the room.

Jerrik grinned at her. “You have already forgotten what I told you earlier.”

“What?” she asked.

“I want you to feel me before you draw me. For artistic purposes, of course.”

“Of course,” Brenna said, feeling her heart start to race.

She wanted him. I mean, who wouldn’t? It had been a while since she’d been with anyone, and this guy was unbelievably hot, nice, and standing aroused and very much naked in front of her. She was sure that having sex with Jerrik would probably be the best sex she’d ever had.

But when she went to close her eyes as Jerrik moved closer to kiss her, the only thing she saw was Brandt’s brooding expression.

“Get out,” she whispered to herself.

“Huh?” Jerrik stilled his hand, which was just making its way down the front of her joggers. “Something wrong, Brenna?”

“No.” She tried to shake the image of Brandt from her mind. “Sorry,” she said. “I just thought maybe it would be better to get started on the drawing.”

“Of course,” Jerrik conceded.

Brenna sat on the edge of the bed and steadied the sketchbook on her knee. She unzipped her pencil case and tried to remove a pencil from it with her clumsy, shaking fingers. Jerrik watched her in amusement, standing a few feet away from her, poised naturally and awaiting her instruction.

“Shit,” Brenna mumbled as the pencil slipped through her fingers and rolled under the bed. Before she could try to reach for another, Jerrik was there. He rolled her softly onto her back, gently pushed the sketchbook away from them, and lay over her, keeping his weight on his forearms.

“Brenna,” he whispered. “You want me. Tell me that you want me, and I’ll have you. I’ll have you in a way that you have never felt before, a way that will make you want more.”

Brenna said nothing. She couldn’t. She didn’t know why she couldn’t; she thought she wanted him…she imagined in her mind what it would feel like to have him inside her, and she relished in the feel of him against her. But her mouth wouldn’t say the words.

For hours, Jerrik kissed her and pressed against her…nothing more.

“Tell me you want me,” he kept saying.

But Brenna stayed silent, letting him kiss her neck and cheek and run his hands over her. Her eyes sometimes closed and then opened to see his gorgeous face whispering at her.

A flash of metal caught her eye in the candlelight, and Brenna looked at her watch. Seven-thirty, an innocuous number.

Again, after more hours had passed, the reflection caught in her vision…seven-thirty. She thought nothing aside from a giddy sense of how odd it was.

The third time that the ornament on her wrist managed to flash at her, she again saw it was seven-thirty…and it dawned on her the impossibility of what was happening.

“Jerrik,” she said in a slight panic, pushing him to the side. “What time is it?”

“What does it matter?” he asked her.

“Just—what time is it?

“Seven-thirty.”

“I have to go…I’m sorry; I’ll finish the portrait tomorrow.” Brenna pushed herself up off the bed, leaving her sketchbook and pencils where they lay, and bolted to the door.

Her room was only two doors farther down the hall, but before she reached it, Brandt’s hand grabbed her arm. She spun around and saw the same brooding look that wouldn’t leave her head earlier.

“It’s him,” Brandt said. “It’s not you, Brenna; it’s him. Look at the watch now.”

Brenna looked down at her wrist—12:30.


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