Authors: L.N. Pearl,S.K. Lee
Kiss me if you dare
The Secret Matchmaker Series Book 3
No part of this publication may be replicated, redistributed, or given away in any form without the prior written consent of the author/publisher or the terms relayed to you herein.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Be careful what you wish for.
When I hired that matchmaking agency, I expected to be disappointed. Instead, I fell for her. Hard. Lila, my beautiful matchmaker.
But she’s been hurt before. Badly. Showing her my true feelings was a mistake. I thought I could make her mine by opening up; I scared her instead.
To make things even more complicated, she did something I never thought possible: she found me a perfect match.
: this is the third book out of five in the series. Contains explicit language for a mature audience only.
Asher pulled me from a deep sleep, his voice gruff and filled with agitation.
"Lila. Get up. We need to get going. Get dressed quickly." He shook my shoulder once more, and then moved back, allowing the light from the small lantern in the tent to roll over me.
I sat up and brushed my fingers through my hair, trying to figure out where I was and why.
Right. Trip to Dubai with Asher. We were still in the tent he had rented in the middle of the desert for a camping adventure of sorts. The camel rides and evening entertainment had been perfect, but him making love to me, actually making love...so slow and lovingly...it was too much.
"Lila. Get up and get dressed. Come on. There’s a sand storm headed this way. Now!" He yelled at me and I jumped up, not quite sure of what to make of it all.
"Sorry. I'm still half asleep, shit." I worked quickly to get my clothes on, and started to gather the two small bags we'd brought with us.
He opened the tent and shook his head. "Forget the stuff. Let's go. Everyone is running around like all hell’s about to break loose. Let's go."
I moved through the tent with one of the bags on my shoulder, and took a quick glance around. The air was filled with a heavy cloud of dust, and the large crowd of people we'd come with were rushing toward a line of SUVs. Men were barking commands, but it sounded like nothing more than a whisper. The roar of the wind was getting louder and louder.
Asher took my hand and pulled me toward an SUV as someone yelled for him to hurry. Time was of the essence and the sand was at our backs.
I got in beside him and buckled up just before the vehicle took off through the sandy abyss. The darkness around us was swallowed by what looked like a million bees.
"Sand?" I mumbled and shivered, my sleepy state leaving me less affected and confused, yet fear was beginning to permeate through the haze.
The vehicle came to a stop and the driver got out, mumbling something about additional passengers who needed a ride.
"What? Fuck that. Drive the..." Asher was almost screaming, but the driver ignored him and slammed the door as he jogged back toward the storm.
I turned and locked the doors before moving toward Asher as a soft whimper left me. "This is scary."
"It's okay. I’ve got you. Come here, baby." He reached out and pulled me close to him, wrapping his arms around me and kissing the top of my head. "Nothing to worry about. We'll be perfectly fine right here. The driver will be back in a minute."
"Okay," I murmured and snuggled in tightly as the sound of the wind and sand beat against the vehicle. Never had I experienced something as terrifying as having the large SUV shake back and forth. The force of the elements beat against us in, blotting out the light of the moon and covering us in utter darkness.
He kissed the side of my face again and rubbed his strong hands down my back in a soothing pattern as we rocked back and forth, buffeted by the storm.
"Where's the driver?" My voice broke as tears burned my gaze. I hadn't been put into too many situations that gave way to fear, but this one would soon take the top of the list.
"I don't know, Lila. It's okay though. These guys are used to these storms. Nothing’s going to get in here with us."
I tilted my head up to look at him. Fierce determination sat on his features and my heart fluttered. I was falling in love.
No. It was the love making. Don't let him do it again.
"I'm more concerned with the SUV rolling over and over and us getting buried underneath a huge mountain of sand." I shivered and his arms tightened around me again.
"Stop thinking the worst. You're going to be fine, I promise. As long as I'm here, nothing is going to happen to you. I won’t let it." He gave me a smile that seemed forced before dipping lower, kissing my lips. "I'll dig us out of the middle of the earth if I have to. Okay?"
"Okay." I chuckled and wiped at my tears before shifting a little to find a comfortable place against him. The smell of his cologne rolled over me in subtle waves and I closed my eyes and tried to find more of it—more of him.
His chest flexed under my touch as I reached up and brushed my fingers down his neck and over the swell of his pectoral muscle.
The vehicle rocked hard and I let out another short yelp.
"It's okay. Just hold on tight to me and think of something else." He brushed my hair back and shifted, turning his back to the window and stretching his legs out. He had me to stand until he was positioned.
I crawled between his legs and curled up on his chest as my insides turned to mush. I needed to talk about something to keep my mind off of the million ways I was going to slowly die in the middle of the desert.
"Better?" He kissed my forehead and pulled me up to nuzzle his neck with my face.
"Yeah. Just trying to get my mind off of this shit." I shifted to move his erection off of my hip and glanced up at him. "How are you hard with death beating down our door?"
"Um, you're in my lap. You’re every fantasy I've ever had. Dying is inevitable, but having you beneath me again... who knows? You might find me this perfect match and be on your way." He chuckled and I shook my head.
"You’re the one that wants a wife. You came to us, remember?" I glanced up and forced a smile.
He reached down and wiped away a stray tear that was rolling down my cheek from my last freak-out. "Yeah, because the pretty girl at the club wouldn't give me her number."
"So what, you're blaming me for
finally breaking down and coming to the agency?" I laughed at the audacity of it.
"Yep. All your fault. I proposed to you at least three times, and not once did you relent and accept." He chuckled.
"You proposed while fucking me." I looked up at him with a cocky smile on my face. "However... that is a hot idea. Asking someone to marry you while buried deep inside of them, almost like, 'you're already mine, so say yes,' how hot is that?"
He groaned and ran his hand down my back and over my hip. "God, you're perfect. So confident and adventurous, yet sensual and feminine."
"Should I just match your new wife to me?" I arched a little, pressing my rear into his hand as he stretched to brush his fingers over it.
"Yes. Please. Or just stop being difficult." He moved down and kissed me again, this time with more hunger.
His tongue brushed across my lips and I jerked back.
"What? Did I do something wrong?" He touched my face and watched me closely.
Yeah. Everything. You're doing everything right.
I had to get out of there and back home. Being with him overnight seemed to do something to me, something that I didn't want. A neediness for companionship that had been laying latent inside of me broke open, and it took every bit of my strength to swallow it back down.
"Lila. Tell me what you're thinking." He brushed his nose past mine.
"I'm just scared and ready to get out of here." I pulled away from him and moved back to my side of the car. "The wind has died down. Do you think it's over?"
"Yeah," his voice was soft. Distant.
I glanced over at him and took in his profile. He had turned toward the window, shifting his legs back toward the front of the vehicle. He tugged at his bottom lip as his gaze stayed off of me.
"Good. I'm ready to get back home. This was wonderful, but scary as hell." I let out a short laugh, unsure of how the awkwardness rose so quickly between us.
It was my fault no doubt, but it needed to be wedged between us. I was falling in love with a man that I couldn't have. He teased me about marriage and being something together, but he was from immense wealth and almost ten years older than me. I would never fit into his world, and like all wealthy men, he would soon tire of the same face.
"Right. I'll give the pilot notice that we're leaving immediately due to the situation." His tone had moved from caring to professional and closed off.
I've offended him.
"If you need to stay, feel free. I can fly home alone." I wrapped my arms around myself, trying hard to shove the need to weep back down inside of me.
He thought he wanted something with me, and by his reaction to my pushing back a little, I could tell he was upset. There was nothing to do but comfort him, to reassure him and yet that would just open a door that I wasn't willing to open.
"Sounds good." He turned as the moonlight filled up the space between us. "I'm sorry you were scared. Bad idea on my part."
"No. It was a lot of fun. I loved..."
He lifted his hand and cut me off. "It's okay. Really. I don't need you to placate me. I'm a grown man."
The door opened to the front door and the driver got in, dusty and laughing, but alive.
"That was one hell of a storm. You two alright? No?" He turned and looked at Asher, ignoring me completely.
I moved farther to my side of the car and snuggled up while he and Asher spoke to each other. I had offended my lover, spurned my client and set in motion the proper response by the man I was falling in love with.
It was for the best. I would go home alone and try to expunge my desires for him, while he would finish doing what he came to do. He wasn't in love with me. Hell, there was a chance that he wouldn’t actually be in love with the woman I found for him. Some men never truly loved anyone but themselves. It was irrelevant though… she would fall for him just like I had – hard.
Hell, I was an unmovable force where love was concerned and I yearned for a relationship, even though I knew it would end in disaster. I glanced over at him, but he seemed to be lost in thought.
Good. This was the wake-up call I needed.
The SUV pulled up in front of the Burj Khalifa and I got out as a valet opened the door. Asher moved up beside me and glanced down at the small bag I had on my shoulder.
"I'll replace anything you lost in the storm, of course." His voice was tight and unyielding.
"I didn't bring anything that mattered."
But my heart.
"Well, just check the bag you have and I'll give you more than the value of anything you lost." He shrugged and held the door open for me. "I'll call a driver to come get you for your flight home. How long do you need to get ready?"
"I'm staying." I moved toward the ornate elevator and turned to face him as his expression softened.
"Yes. It's silly of me to run back home because I got a little off-kilter. Forgive me. It was unprofessional."
"Unprofessional. Right." His facade slipped back into place as he held the elevator door open for me. "I have a few meetings this afternoon, but you can use the office in the penthouse if you like. I'll be in and out."
"Sounds good." I pressed the button for our floor and moved toward him, putting a hand on his arm. "I'm sorry about overreacting."
"It's natural. It was a scary situation." His eyes held a foreign emotion and I forced myself not to over-analyze it. If he had feelings developing for me, I didn't want to know. Because they wouldn't go anywhere.
"I know, but we're safe and everything is fine. So, let's get back to business as usual?" I forced a smile.
He chuckled, his lip half lifting as his dark blue eyes moved across my face. "Yes. Business."
The door opened and I moved through it as I quietly sucked in a shallow breath. He was everything I wanted in my life. By admitting it to myself, I accidently knocked down my first wall of defense.
"There are two bathrooms, so feel free to take the larger one if you want a shower." He turned to watch me.
I smiled back at him before walking into the large penthouse. "Let's see... I'm covered in sand, sweat and sex."
"Why does that make my cock twitch?" He gave me a smile that left me breathless. "Oh right... because it's you."
"Hush. You're killing me and you know it." I moved away from him as he patted my butt.
"Good. You need to catch up. I've been dying slowly over here since that first night in my car."
"That was a good night, wasn't it?" I gave him a sexy look over my shoulder, not feeling sexy at all, but needing things to get back on track. An agreement was an agreement.
"One of the best of my life." He stopped by the kitchen counter and glanced over his shoulder. "Need someone to wash your back?"
"No, and don't offer again. I might break down and let you."
"Need someone to wash your back?" He chuckled, the sound of it warming me to the tip of my toes.
I gave him a saucy look and turned to walk toward the bathroom. I was a grown woman. I could keep to our agreement and not let my feelings grow any more than they already had. Everything was fine. He had been loving on the camping trip because he was lonely and we had almost died. That was the only reason. It had to be.
A large vase of red roses waited for me on the table in the kitchen when I got out of a long, hot shower. Asher was nowhere to be found, but I was good with that. Some time to myself was a good thing at this point. I could catch up on some e-mails and try to put together another profile presentation for Asher.
My stomach tightened at the thought of presenting beautiful women to him in the hopes of him choosing one of them to spend his life with. I didn't want him with anyone else.
The image of him and a dark-haired beauty making love swept through my head. I let out a sharp cry and pressed my hands to the glass table before me as pain radiated through my chest and hot tears burned my eyes.
"No. Shit. No." I was too far gone. How the hell was I ever going to be effective in finding someone for him? I didn't even want to look.
I plucked the card from the roses before leaning in and inhaling the sweet fragrance. A few wayward tears dripped onto my cheeks, as I lifted the note to my face, a sob my only response.
I'm sorry about the storm last night, and about pushing you too far. Take this as my apology. I'm glad you're here with me. We'll find your perfect real estate match and my perfect wife, and we can get back to life as we know it.
Thanks for persevering with me,
"What if that's not what I want at all?" I put the card back in the roses and wiped at my tears. My phone buzzed and I moved toward it, hoping like hell it was Asher. I didn't want to get back to life, but I needed to.
"Lila, its Gisele. How is everything going?" My boss sounded in a hurry, but she always did.
"It's going well. He's out in the city doing a bit of business and I was going to catch up on e-mails and work on a new profile portfolio for him. He dismissed the first six women I sent over."
"He's less than accommodating, I gather?"
"That he is." I smiled at the thought and moved to my laptop, turning it on and trying to figure out if I should tell Gisele about the storm or not. It seemed like a bad idea seeing that we were on something of a date-like adventure. That wouldn't look good.
"Well, I have great news."
"Oh yeah? I could use some good news." I reached up and ran my fingers through my wet hair before sliding onto a tall barstool.
"I received a profile this morning that I think would honestly be perfect for Mr. Harrington. Her name is Sofia Khaled. She is the daughter of a rich real estate developer there in Dubai. I mean, really, this couldn't have worked out better." Gisele let out a soft laugh of delight.
I, on the other hand, felt like I might vomit everything I'd eaten in the last few days.
"No joke. Tell me more about her and send over the profile picture and details. I'll get it all put together and show Asher this afternoon." I put forth my most professional sounding voice and ignored the ache inside of me.
"Well, her father wants her to marry someone who's in the same business as he is. It's perfect seeing that Asher is in real-estate too. The girl's family isn't concerned about race or religion, which you know is a little odd seeing that you're in the heart of the Middle East."
"Interesting," I mumbled, my mind having moved far away from the conversation. I couldn't do it. I couldn't set Asher up with his perfect match. I needed to tell my boss so she could reassign him and yet I stayed silent as she droned on about this perfect woman.
"The girl's father says that what matters is Sofia's well-being and happiness. Asher is a good man. This is a great match for him. I want them to meet while he's over there. Make it happen?"
"Of course. I'll get right on it." I hung up and walked to the kitchen to get a glass of water on shaky legs. I should have known that working with Asher was never going to work out. The moment I saw him in Gisele's office I should have alerted her to the situation and turned him over to Jessie.
Now I was stuck in the middle of an internal war that was sure to leave me a hot mess... again.
The files from Gisele came through immediately and I scanned through the pictures of Sofia. She had to have been the most beautiful woman I'd seen in a long time. Tears burned my gaze. I wiped them away angrily and forced myself to put Asher in his proper place. He was a client and was paying good money to find the best match for himself. I was going to find her and then I'd suffer alone over what had happened between us over the span of the last week.
How stupid. What had I expected? Sex always led to feelings no matter what.
Scanning the file, I tried to read through the details, but only grabbed bits and pieces thanks to my blurry vision.
"Stunning. Twenty-eight. Speaks English, Arab, French and Mandarin. Of course you do." I let out a sigh and sat back, wiping at my eyes again.
I took a few shallow breaths and tugged my t-shirt up to press against my eyes. I could do this. I would do it. It would be fine. I was overreacting, which I always did when lacking sleep.
Sofia was highly educated, having graduated from Wharton. She worked a couple of years on Wall Street, but had eventually come to the conclusion that the family business was where she wanted to spend her time after all.
She was working as a bikini model on the side and took incredible care of herself, and she expected the same of her significant other.
I moved through the photo gallery of the bombshell in her bikini, as waves of inadequacy rolled over me. I glanced down at myself, with my small breasts and big hips. I fought back the need to cry again. This girl was so incredible, her body perfect and her skin flawless. I couldn't compare. Couldn't come close.
"Asher will love her. She's exotic and sexy, smart and confident too, no doubt." I closed the laptop and stood up as a sob pushed its way up my throat. "Stop it. Fucking stop."
Walking quickly to the large bathroom beside Asher's bedroom, I splashed water on my face, patted it dry and fixed my makeup. I wasn't Sophie, or even close to her, but it was what it was. I agreed to Asher's fucked up deal, not to win him, but to get help with my real estate issues. He was sure to come through on that front.
I needed my life back and until we closed the deal down, I wouldn't get it. I would continue to be at his beck and call and knew that every moment spent in his arms was only going to add to the ache deep inside of me where the truth resided.
“Okay, that’s it—no more. Show him his future and do your job. You don't deserve love. Suck it up, buttercup."
It was me who had played a dangerous game and lost. I thought I could make Asher a puppet, a warm body to sate me while we mutually took from each other, but his kindness and attention had driven a spike into my icy center with efficient precision.
I walked straight back into the living-room and picked up my phone, texting him before I lost my nerve.
I need you to meet me as soon as you’re done. Send me a text and I'll come down to the lobby. I’ve got some great news!