Tate Ryder has spent his life savoring plenty of women--until luscious Anna Stevens comes along, who doesn't seem to know he's alive. Then, inexplicably, Anna is attacked outside his condo. Tate keeps her safe by whisking her to his yacht, where he vows to enchant her sleek body with pleasures she'd only imagined.
Anna answers his intimate kisses with scorching caresses and wild revelations. She's been on the run from thugs for years. She's not who she claims. But one thing is real--her deep craving for Tate.
Enthralled, Tate lays bare her body...and is equally determined to lay bare her nameless enemy.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Laid Bare by Cerise DeLand
Tate Ryder tore his eyes away from the elegant vision of Anna Stevens strolling onto the veranda of his Houston penthouse talking on her cell phone, and reminded himself once more of the three rules he never broke. Don't borrow trouble. Don't start anything you can't finish. And most important of all, don't fuck the staff.
Leaning back on the railing, he gazed through the glass walls of his condo and faced the party raging inside. He congratulated himself he'd never approached Anna as anything other than the CEO of Ryder Resorts and Spas. God knew, every time he got within twenty feet of his director of oriental meditation services, he needed to chill out. Even now from the corner of his eye, he could feel her seep into his pores. Sense how she'd fished her cell phone from her black satin trousers and answered in the sandpaper contralto that rubbed his body into a hot rash of desire.
Like her voice is the only asset that drives you nuts, Ryder. How about those long legs in those flowing slacks? Those pert breasts poking up in that ruffled silk blouse. The grace of her in stilettos. The full-throated laughter that usually marked her personality. That wasn't apparent tonight, but what the hell. The whole package drove him crazy.
Don't fuck the staff, Ryder.
For the past two years, he'd been such a good CEO and followed that rule with her. And it killed him.
Sure, he praised himself for his dedication to being an ethical boss, but damn, if he didn't still want her. Good thing she hadn't ever indicated any interest in him. Didn't matter. Her rich beauty burned his brain. Worse, his cock got locked and loaded every time he looked at her.
He downed a swig of his champagne and cursed his dilemma.
She was nothing like the women who used to attract him. Lithe, delicate, Anna sported a cloud of rich rosewood hair, sprinkles of freckles on her nose, flawless porcelain skin and the biggest set of hazel eyes he'd ever seen. The yoga and Pilates director at the Texas Gulf Coast spa he owned with his brother Cord and sister-in-law Sienna, Anna moved like a sea breeze. She had firm breasts that stood up without benefit of a bra, her huge flat nipples outlined in the ridiculously thin leotards she wore to the club. But what really worked him over were her legs. Long as a gazelle's, they were beautifully cut from years of working out. The hollow of her inner thigh near her pussy was a curve he longed to bury his face in. Better yet, her thighs were supple muscular treats that deserved to be grasped and opened often by a man who knew how to lavish kisses on her labia and her clit and make her cat purr.
He licked his lower lip, wondering for the thousandth time what her flavor was. Sweet? Salty? Both? His shifted, his cock rising to the fantasy that never left him.
Hell. He swallowed back his frustration. He was the host here in his condo, he should act like it. Mix. Mingle. Try to summon some interest in one of the new women here who neither worked for him nor wanted anything from him except maybe a great time in bed.
Like he'd even been able to get it up for any woman except Anna for the past year. For all the exercise his cock was getting, he might as well become a monk. "Time to think about getting laid with someone you can have."
"Talking to yourself, Bro?" His older brother Cord clamped a hand on his shoulder. Mona Travis, their friend and owner of another chain of spas in the U.S., stood beside him.
Tate shot them both a grim look. "What I do best."
Cord chuckled. "Only about one subject."
Mona arched a long thin brow. "Are you drooling over Anna again?"
Tate scoffed. "Should I wear a billboard?"
"Ever since the day you hired her away from me," Mona taunted Tate, "you've had a fever for the lady."
"Does not compute, you guys," Tate warned. "The lady is not interested."
"I do wonder why," Cord mused. "You are a catch, man. Rich, good-looking." He ruffled Tate's auburn hair.
Tate shrugged. "Says you. But I'm resigned. She's never given me a second look and my poor damaged ego cannot bear to ask her why. Plus, I am not going to break our rule." Cord had spoken to Tate frequently lately, recognizing Tate's desire for Anna was a temptation. But Tate had never broken a trust with his brother--and didn't intend to. Not for a woman who couldn't care less for him.
Cord nodded. "Good thinking. Me? I'm just saying good night. I've greeted everyone. So we are officially in shape for the opening of the Texas spa. But I've got to go home. Sienna needs me."
Tate smiled. "Sure. Do it. Those twins are demanding little guys."
"Sienna's still exhausted from their birth."
"I've got control here. Get the hell out of here and go home to your wife and babies. I'll show all these folks the door soon anyway. I need my beauty sleep to get an early start in the morning. The boat's ready, stocked with food and supplies."
"Mexico?" Mona asked.
"Yep," Tate said. "They screwed up the plumbing on the first foundation and have to pour a new one."
"And they're late," Cord added with a scowl.
"What else is new?" Mona commiserated, then leaned forward to kiss Tate's cheek. "I'm leaving too, honey. Early day tomorrow with one of my importers from Monterrey."
"Take it easy, Mona." Tate smiled at the svelte older woman who had become a good friend over the past few years. As she walked toward the door, he surveyed the people in his living room. The builders, the architects and suppliers for the Texas Gulf Coast property mixed with the resort spa's staff, laughing and joking, celebrating the beginning of construction of the Mexican spa and resort. He glanced at his brother. "Go on, Cord. No worries."
"Give 'em hell down there, Tate. That new foundation should have been poured last month."
"Not a problem, Cord."
As his brother made his way through the throng toward the front door, Tate's gaze swept the laughing crowd and he noticed that someone did have a problem. Anna.
She still faced the twinkling lights of the Houston skyline on his veranda with her cell phone stuck to her ear and the expression on her face was like nothing he'd ever seen from her. Fear.
What the hell?
She had no family. He'd learned that much about her during the past two years. Friends. Sure, she had droves of girlfriends. He saw them come for her by the carload often to pick her up after work or dart into the spa to meet her for lunch. Men were another story. She didn't date. Or no men he'd ever heard of. None he'd ever seen her bring to their corporate dinners or parties. He'd wondered at one point if she preferred women all the time, but his sister-in-law Sienna had soon cleared up that misperception.
"Anna is saving herself for Mr. Right."
That told him four things that alternately thrilled him and destroyed him. She liked men. Wanted one. One right man. But clearly, he wasn't a candidate.
He examined her now as she argued with whoever was on the other end of that conversation. Was that a man?
Curiosity and jealousy drove him forward. If it was a guy who put that expression on her face, Tate would crush the asshole.
Tate halted in front of her and lifted his chin toward the phone, a question forming on his lips.
She watched him approach, her eyes growing rounder, starker with some terror that made Tate narrow his gaze at her.
She put a hand up to ward him off. "No," she ordered the person on the other end, "do not do that." The person replied, something dark, angry and male. "I told you I am not--" She stared up at Tate, blinked and evidently thought better of whatever she had been about to say. "Goodbye. Do not call me again." She snapped her phone shut and dropped it in her trouser pocket.
"What's wrong, Anna?"
"Really?" He put two hands to her upper arms. Something he'd never done. But now he was jarred by the feeling of the sleekness he'd yearned for years to touch. He sensed the strength of her triceps. The tension rippling there. "Do you always tremble for no reason?"
She jerked out of his hold. "This is nothing for you to be concerned with."
He stepped forward and contrary to that rule about borrowing trouble, he raised her chin with two fingers and told her with his voice and his eyes that she couldn't escape him. "This does concern me. You're scared. Why?"
"None of your business, Tate." She pulled away from his touch. "I've got to go."
Once more, she did what she'd done so well for two years--she'd been impersonal with him. Professional. Putting him in his place. Far away from her.
He cursed silently as she marched toward the hall closet and collected her shawl, and flung it over her arm. On her way, she hugged Mona who was saying her own goodbyes to a builder. Then Anna opened the front door and let herself out.
He'd never seen her afraid. Never seen her angry. She was so even-tempered, happy, throwing back her mane of rich chocolate hair to laugh at most of life. That had been the first thing that struck him about her. Her enjoyment of little things, all things small and joyful. He'd never known a woman like that.
And he liked women. Loved to be with them. Especially in bed. With another man to spice up the proceedings. But as years went on and his brother Cord had married and dropped out of their m?nages, Tate prowled alone. He found fewer and fewer who attracted him out of bed. And those he did take there were certainly beautiful. But vacuous. Voracious. Self-impressed. Self-gratifying. Eager to say they'd been laid by Super Bowl football legend, Tate Ryder. But Anna was none of that.
And it gutted him that she couldn't give a rat's ass if he ever looked at her. Wanted her. Craved her.
But damn if he was going to let some man frighten her.
He strode over to his caterer and instructed him to go around and signal that the party was over.
The host was leaving and determined to break one of his own rules.
With one of the staff.