Part #2 of Stripped series by Jasinda Wilder
“…And if you’ll look over to the right you’ll see the old fort. It’s the highlight of the island, really, situated on the bluff the way it is. Built in 1780 by the British, it was intended to replace the older wooden structure of Fort Michilimackinac, which was built by the French around 1715. ”
The driver of the horse-drawn carriage pauses to cluck at the two huge Percherons, encouraging them up the hill, and then he continues, “The British commander thought Michilimackinac would be too difficult to defend, so he began construction of a new fort here on the island, using the plentiful natural limestone as the primary material. The fort was used to control the Straits during the Revolutionary War and, despite the terms of the treaty, the British didn’t relinquish control of the fort until 1796. ”
My co-star, Rose Garret, lounges on the bench beside me, a half-empty bottle of water in one hand, and her phone in the other. She’s as bored as I am. The driver tugs on the reins; the carriage swings around a corner and we’re approaching the main thoroughfare. It’s a hot day, and even the shade of the carriage roof isn’t enough to cool us off.
The director, Gareth Thomas, as well as the two executive producers and some of the supporting cast, are sitting ahead of us. We’re all hot and bored, and ready to go back to the hotel, but the carriage ride will last over an hour and a half, taking us all the way around the island. I’ve heard the tour is supposed to be a lot of fun, but so far—less than ten minutes in—I’m bored, hungry, irritable, and restless. It’s nearing dinner time, and I can be a dick when I’m hungry.
I tap my fingers on my knees, my gaze roving from one side of the carriage to the other, tuning out the constant drone of the tour guide and driver. No one is paying attention; we’d all rather be back at the Grand Hotel. I know I would. That place is the shit. A little fancier than I usually like, but there aren’t many hotels like it, even among the five-star places I’ve stayed at on location shoots.
We’re on Mackinac Island for the weekend, doing a huge fundraiser gala for charity. It’s a publicity event, the kind of over-the-top Hollywood affair I hate attending, but don’t have any way out of. I’m really not looking forward to the dinner. It’s a swanky black tie deal, the kind of thing where you need a date and a jacket with tails, where you have to use the right cutlery and your inside voice. It’s going to be stiff and formal and awkward, and I hate wearing suits, tuxedos even more so.
Worst of all, the only appropriate date I could get to go with me is my ex-girlfriend, Emma Hayes. I’d rather stab myself in the fucking face than see that bitch again after what she did to me, but I don’t have much choice. You can’t bring just anyone to these things. The paps will be there, cameras flashing, which is just all the more reason to not be seen with Em, because then the tabloids will start howling that I took the cheating skank back.
I’m lost in thought, trying to figure out how the hell I’m going to get through an entire gala with Em and remain civil. I’m not paying attention to anything, ignoring both the sweat trickling down my nose and Rose as she yammers into her cell. I’m doing my best to ignore everything while praying for this sightseeing tour to be over.
And then I see her.
All I see is her hair. Fuck, her hair. Must be damn near waist-length, a river of black locks. She’s facing away and has her head tipped backward, her hair loose and cascading down her back in a glimmering, glinting black waterfall. Her hair is like a raven’s wing, so black it’s almost blue, catching the sun as she shakes it out. She pulls a hair tie from off her wrist, and then pulls her hair back into a ponytail, which then gets twisted up into a loose bun at the nape of her neck. My sister Lizzy would call it a chignon. I don’t know how I know that, but that’s the word that pops into my head when I see it.
And god, her neck. When she tilts her head back, her neck is a delicate curve, baring her throat to the sun. It’s the kind of throat a man could spend hours kissing.
She lifts her bun with one hand, wipes her palm across the back of her neck and rolls her shoulders. She pivots and she is turned toward me.
I’m mesmerized. Caught. Trapped. I can’t blink, can’t look away.
Her skin is tan, not olive, just naturally tan and made darker by hours in the sun, and her eyes, they’re huge, wide and dark brown like pools of chocolate. I’m less than ten feet away from her as the carriage passes her by, and she looks right at me, pausing with one hand on the back of her neck, her eyes finding mine and widening when she realizes who I am.
I’m not even aware of moving, but the next thing I know I’m hopping off the carriage and jogging back to meet the girl. Rose just rolls her eyes at me and Gareth is leaning out the side of the carriage shouting, “ADAM! What the hell are you doing? Adam?”
The girl grabs something she had propped against her legs, and then turns swiftly away from me, starting to walk as if afraid, or embarrassed. Or both; I’ve been told chicks get intimidated around me sometimes.
I catch up and slow to walk beside her. “Hey,” I say.
She ducks her head and keeps walking, not looking at me. “Hi. ” Her voice is pitched low; as if she’s not sure she should even be talking to me. Which is stupid, since I approached her.
I take a long step to get in front of her, then turn to walk backward, ducking my head to try and get those big brown eyes to look at me. “I’m Adam. ”
“No shit. ”
Not the response I was expecting. I laugh. “All right then, I guess you know my name. ” I wait, walking backward in front of her. “Gonna tell me yours?”
She shakes her head and brushes past me, swerves to one side, and uses a little broom to sweep an empty, crumpled water bottle into a handheld dustpan, and then she moves on, not looking back at me. For the first time, I realize what she’s wearing: a one-piece jumpsuit, light gray with green trim running down the sleeves and down the sides of the legs. She’s wearing scuffed black combat boots, and the front of the jumpsuit is unzipped to just above her navel, revealing a white wife beater-style tank top.
Shit, is that a hot look.
And that’s when I realize how tall this chick is. I’m six-three, and she’s not much shorter than me—three and half inches, four at the most. And she’s fucking stacked. I mean, even with the fairly shapeless jumpsuit disguising her frame, it’s clear the girl has curves for days.
“What are you doing?” I ask. Not my most intelligent question ever, I’ll admit.
She pauses in the act of sweeping a stray napkin into the dustpan, gives me a look that says “what are you, stupid?” And then, deliberately, each motion screaming sarcasm, she finishes sweeping up the napkin.
“You work on the island, then?” I’m not usually this slow, but I’m scrambling for some way to get this girl to interact with me.
She rolls her eyes at me. “Well, this is an island, I’m pretty sure, and…yep! I’m working. So it would seem that, yes, I do in fact work on the island. ”
She keeps walking until she reaches a rolling trashcan, then dumps her dustpan into it. She pushes the trashcan with one hand, holding the broom and dustpan in the other. I stand and watch her walk away, realizing how stupid I sounded. Shaking my head at myself, I glance across the street. There’s a fudge shop, and I can make out the shape of a glass-door beverage refrigerator. An idea strikes me, and I head across the street and into the fudge shop. Or shoppe, as they seem to all be called here. I buy a pound of fudge in three different flavors and two bottles of water, trying my damnedest to act casual, keeping my head down and hoping no one notices me.
The clerk girl behind the counter, however, gasps when I set a fifty-dollar bill on
I smile at her, my brightest, fakest, photo-op smile. “Adam,” I say, holding out my hand.
She takes my hand in hers, a goofy, shit-eating, delirious grin spreading across her features. She’s pretty enough, for a seventeen-year old schoolgirl. “Adam Trenton. ” She has my hand now and won’t let go, until I literally tug my fingers free from hers. “Holy shit. Holy shit. You’re Adam Trenton. ”
I nod. “Yep. That’s me. ” I slide my bill closer to her. “Gonna let me pay for my fudge, sweetheart?”
She stares blankly, and then starts. “Yeah. Yeah! Sorry, sorry, Adam. Mr. Trenton, I mean. Um. Yeah. Change. ”
There’s a crowd behind me now, some quiet conversation, cell phone cameras clicking. Had to stop for fucking fudge, didn’t I? Dumbass. I get my change, offer the girl another million-dollar smile, and turn away.
“Would you—I’m sorry, I’m not supposed to do this, but—I’ve never met anyone—I mean, um…” she stammers.
I turn back, take the napkin she’s holding toward me, and sign my name with the Sharpie I always carry in my pocket.
“Here ya go, hon. ” I hand the signed napkin to her. “I really do have to go now. Nice to meet you. ”
I try to slip past the crowd, but someone else is calling my name, and someone else is shouting “Marek! Marek!” Which is the name of the character that made me famous, the hero from a popular graphic novel series. I stifle my sigh of irritation, shuffle my bag and the bottles of water so they’re all clutched in one hand. I sign two backpacks, three hats, six notebooks, three receipts, and pose for ten pictures before I can slip out and away from the fudge shop. Shoppe? What the hell is a ‘shoppe’ anyway?
By now the girl is gone. I scan the streets as I keep moving, ignoring the long stares I get every now again from the crowds on the sidewalks. I’m nearly run down by a pair of massive black horses pulling a long carriage and have to dance backward out of the way. Then I cross the street, heading back the way I came. I hear casters rolling across the cobblestones far ahead of me, and I set off in a space-eating jog.
I catch her as she’s rounding a corner, heading into a courtyard. “Hey! Hold on!”
She stops, turns, and rolls her eyes when she sees it’s me. “Still working, dude. ”
Although, judging by the surroundings, she’s about to be finished for the day. There are other people in similar jumpsuits coming and going, and there’s a sign reading ‘Sanitation Personnel Only’ on one wall.
“You’re clocking out now, right?”
She wipes a strand of hair out of her eyes. “Yeah. Why?”
I hold up the bag of fudge and the water bottles. “Have dinner with me?”
She actually laughs at this, and her smile lights up her face, makes her eyes shine like there’s sunlight behind the brown orbs. “Fudge? For dinner?”
I shrug. “Sure. Why not?”
She gives me a skeptical look. “What do you want?”
“Just your name. And for you to have some fudge with me. ” I crack my water bottle and take a long swig.
It doesn’t escape my notice that, even though she’s trying to act unaffected, her eyes follow my throat when I swallow, flick down to my chest and arms when she thinks I’m not looking.
She hesitates. “Why?”
I shrug. “I’m bored, and you’re gorgeous. ”
She frowns. “Nice line, asshole. ”
I laugh. “It’s not a line! That tour was hot and boring as hell and I’m hungry. And you really are beautiful. ”
Her cheeks color, but she gives nothing else away. “Uh-huh. Sweaty, stinking, and dressed in a jumpsuit. It’s a sexy look, I’m sure. ” She turns away from me. “Not sure what you’re after, Adam, but I’m probably not the kind of girl you think I am. ” With that parting shot, she pushes through a set of double doors, shoving her trashcan ahead of her.
Shot down. Jesus. That hasn’t happened in a while.
I grin. I’ve always enjoyed a challenge.
* * *
What the hell is Adam goddamn Trenton doing on Mackinac Island? And more importantly, why is he talking to me? That was Rose Garret in the carriage with him. I’m positive. Rose Garret. As in starred in Gone With the Wind with Dawson Kellor. She’s got three Oscars and two Emmys, and she’s one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood, as well as being one of the most desirable women in the world.
I shake my head, pushing the mystery out of my mind. A freak occurrence, obviously. Probably figured I’d fawn all over him, maybe beg him to let me blow him behind the shop.
But his eyes won’t leave my mind as I dump my bag of garbage into the dumpster and put away my can, broom, and dustpan. Those eyes, such a strange shade of green, so pale they were almost pastel in color. And so, so vivid, so piercing. He looked at me like he was actually seeing me, like he could read my secrets by looking in my eyes.
I clock out, wave goodbye to Phil, the supervisor, and then unzip my jumpsuit the rest of the way, tying the arms around my waist. It’s a hot, humid, sticky day. I stink. I’m dripping sweat, and all I want is to get back to my little room and take a shower. Cold first to cool off, and then hot to get clean. Maybe meet Jimmy and Ruth for some drinks later.
I’m out of the shop and through the courtyard at a quick walk, lifting the neck of my wife-beater to wipe the sweat off my face. With the shirt in front of my face, I’m momentarily blinded as I walk, and so I don’t see him. I feel him, though. Or rather, I feel the icy plastic of a water bottle against the back of my neck.
Instinct takes over; I’m not the type of chick you want to startle, given the kinds of neighborhoods I grew up in. I pivot and shove, and my hands meet a solid, heavy, hot mass of man, sending him stumbling backward a couple steps.
“Fuck, man, I was just trying to cool you off. ” He’s laughing, though, not angry.
I’m a tall girl. Strong. And I’ve had to defend myself more than once, so I know I can push pretty damn hard. But this guy? He barely moved. Like, two steps, if that. After a shove that hard, most men would have gone flying.
And yet, despite my reaction, he’s laughing, shuffling toward me as if approaching a dangerous dog, the water bottle extended. “Here. Take it. I won’t hurt you, I swear,” he says, using a low, soothing voice. “Take it. It’s all right. Take it. ”
I shake my head and huff out a laugh, wanting to be irritated, but he’s too fucking gorgeous, and also funny. He’s massive. Only a few inches taller than me, making him maybe six-three or -four, but his body is…solid, sheer muscle. Which makes sense, since Adam Trenton is the biggest action star since The Rock—big in terms of muscle mass and stature as well as fame and popularity.
I take the water bottle, twist the top off, and take a long swig. So cold, so good. I can feel him watching me as I drink, and I pause to glare at him. “What?”
He just shrugs and shakes his head. “Nothing. ”
I finish the water in two more long swallows. “Thanks,” I say lifting the bottle in gesture.
“No problem. ” Awkward silence. “So. Dinner?” He pulls out the box of Ryba’s fudge. “I’ve got dark chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, and chocolate with nuts of some kind. ”
“Walnuts,” I tell him.
“Walnuts?” He seems puzzled. Is he not good at keeping up with conversation?
I point at the fudge. “The nuts in the fudge. They’re walnuts. ” I draw out and emphasize the word so it drips in sarcasm.
“Oh. Right. Yeah, I knew that. ” He peers at me as if assessing something about me. “You look like a dark chocolate girl. ”
God, if only he knew. I steal another glance at him as he breaks the dark chocolate fudge into huge slices. He has dark skin, as if his heritage is from the South Pacific or somewhere like
Not that anything of the sort will be happening. Not with him and certainly not with me. He’s A-list Hollywood. He probably has Natalie Portman’s phone number in his cell or something. And I’m nobody. Less than nobody. A garbage collector.
A distraction for him, if that.
My thoughts have soured the moment.
But then he hands me a hunk of fudge, and obviously I can’t turn that down.
“You still haven’t told me your name. ” His voice is close.
Too close. I look up, and he’s leaning against a lamppost, mere inches from me. His voice is like the purr of a lion. He has a piece of fudge stuck to his lip, right at the corner, and he doesn’t notice. He takes three more bites, and still doesn’t notice, and then wipes his hands and his mouth, and somehow misses the bit of chocolate. I want to reach out with my thumb and wipe it way, maybe even lick it off my thumb.
What the hell am I thinking?
But my hand clearly doesn’t have any common sense or restraint, because I’m touching his mouth, his actual real mouth and I’m wiping the dark spot away. He’s frozen, tensed, and both of us are watching my hand and wondering what I’m doing.
It only gets crazier.
I feel something huge and rough wrap around my wrist, look down, and realize that he has my hand pinioned in his, and even though I don’t exactly have dainty little hands, his are paws, actual paws. The spread of his hand from pinky to thumb could easily engulf both of my hands together, and his palms are callused, his fingers gentle on my wrist but implacably powerful.
“I’m sorry, I—I’m not sure why I did that,” I admit, realizing he has to be pissed that I would touch him like that. “You just had something—” I’m not sure where I’m going with that, so I stop talking abruptly.
He doesn’t respond, his leaf-hued eyes boring into mine, bright and intense and inscrutable. I can’t fathom what he’s thinking. Can’t even begin to wonder.
And then, absurdly, he brings my hand toward his face. My hand is splayed out, fingers spread apart. He twists my hand so my thumb is pointing toward his mouth.
No way he’s going to—
Yep. He is.
My heart actually literally and totally stops beating, just freezes solid in my chest, and my lungs seize, and his mouth is hot and wet and warm around my thumb, his tongue sliding over the pad of my thumb, licking the chocolate away. His eyes never leave mine, and now I have to breathe, have to suck in a gasping breath, and his eyes flick down to my tits, which, admittedly, are fairly prominent at the moment, even in my sports bra and tank top. But his gaze doesn’t linger, just notices and appreciates and returns to my eyes, and my thumb is still in his mouth. He’s pulling it out, his lips wrapping around my knuckle and then my thumb is free.
Trashed by Jasinda Wilder / Romance & Love have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes