Stripped, p.10
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       Stripped, p.10

         Part #1 of Stripped series by Jasinda Wilder
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I shake my head. “It’s not that. ”

  “Then what? Explain it. ”

  “You wouldn’t understand. You couldn’t. ”

  “You’d be surprised what I can understand,” Dawson says. His eyes are intent on mine, not wavering, daring me to look away, which of course I can’t do.

  “You know,” I whisper. “You saw me. You saw Gracie. You’ll never see anything else now. ”

  “Am I treating you like a stripper?” He says the word casually, as if the truth of it doesn’t rip a hole in me.

  “No. ” I can barely whisper the answer.

  “You think you’re the first girl to strip her way through college? You’re f**king amazing at it, Grey. You should own it. It doesn’t have to define you. ”

  “But it does. ”

  “Then that’s your problem. You’re going to let it ruin your career before it even begins? Seriously? If it’s that big of a deal, I won’t tell anyone. And I’ll talk to Armand and make sure he doesn’t, either. Adam and Nate were wasted, and I doubt they’d be able to pick you out of a lineup. Just come to work tomorrow. ”

  Page 27


  “Just…go. Please. ” I’m near tears, holding them back desperately.

  Dawson shakes his head slowly, as if confused and irritated. “Damn it, Grey. Just let me—”

  “Let you what? What are you going to do? Change reality?”

  He sighs in exasperation. “Fuck, fine. Be that way. ” He turns to the door and put his hand on the knob, then stops as if remembering something. Pulling a set of keys from his pocket, he crosses the small room in two strides, takes my hand in his, and places the keys in my palm. “Here. You shouldn’t be walking everywhere alone. ”

  I look down and see a Land Rover emblem, the key folded into the fob, a silver oval on the black plastic with the signature green lettering. “What? I can’t—I mean…what?”

  “It’s my Rover. It’s in the lot out there. Those are the keys. I want you to drive it. ”

  “But…no. I mean, you don’t even know me. We’ve met twice. I can’t drive your car. ”

  “Yes, you can. And you will. You’re my assistant for this project, which means you have to do what I tell you. Your job is to keep me happy. So drive my car. ”

  “But…what if I crash it?”

  He snorts. “Babe, I’m Dawson Kellor. I could buy a dozen of them with my debit card. I couldn’t care less if you crash it, except for you getting hurt, that is. ”

  “You have a debit card?” I ask. It seems so commonplace a thing for a celebrity of Dawson’s caliber to have.

  He seems puzzled. “I have a bank account, so therefore, yes, I have a debit card. I also have credit cards. And a driver’s license. ” His tone shifts to teasing. “You know what else? I’m a guy. I pee and miss the toilet. I take shits. I eat cheeseburgers. I watch baseball and drink beer. ”

  I glare at him. “That’s not…I mean, I just—”

  He laughs, and brushes a finger over the frown lines on my forehead. “Relax. I’m teasing you. My point is, I’m just a guy. ”

  “You’re not, though. You just said it yourself. You’re Dawson Kellor. ”

  “Does that intimidate you?” He’s closing in, and his mouth is centimeters from mine, his breath on my cheek and his eyes boring holes in me.

  He could snap his fingers, and any woman in the world would jump to do whatever he wanted. Yet here he is, in my dumpy little dorm room, acting like he likes me, like he sees something special in me beyond the fact I’m pretty enough. This isn’t vanity but more about who I am. I’m not the kind of girl he’s used to. I’m not an L. A. girl. I’m not an actress or someone sexy and confident and sure of who I am. I’m a mess. A confused, embarrassed, shameful mess.

  And he’s the god of Hollywood.

  He’s the face of Cain Riley, hero of the Mark of Hell trilogy, a series of paranormal action-adventure/romance books that outsold both Harry Potter and Twilight. Those movies made Dawson’s career. His face is on the books now. There’s a Mark of Hell ride at Universal Studios, with Dawson’s face plastered all over it. There are toys with his likeness, fan clubs and cosplay costumes and parodies and SNL skits making fun of him.

  His portrayal of Cain was darkly sexual, James Bond meets Batman. Women swooned over Cain Riley, fantasized about him. What makes Dawson even more famous is the fact that he seems to emulate in his own life the character he played in the movie. Women don’t just swoon over Cain Riley the fictional character, but over Dawson Kellor, the very real and wild, sexy young debonair playboy with more money than God.

  I see this dark and sexual Dawson Kellor in the way his eyes devour me. They are burning thunderhead gray right now, and I realize the color of his gaze is a mutable thing, changing with his emotions and his clothes. His hands settle on my waist, and I’m not breathing, unable to look away from his eyes. I feel his breath on my lips, feel the power of his hands on my skin, and I remember the taste of his kiss, the luring hypnotism of his mouth on mine. My lungs burn with held breath; my eyes waver and blur, and the heat of his body radiates against my skin and I want him. I want to kiss him again—I want to get lost in his touch like I did for that moment in the club. For that briefest instant of time, I was just a woman being kissed, a girl experiencing her first brush with passion; nothing mattered, nothing existed but Dawson and his mouth and his hands and his eyes and his heat and his broad, hard, muscular body.

  I want the very same in this moment.

  I have to stop this. I have to turn away. Kissing him would be wrong. If I have to work with him, I can’t kiss him. I can’t think about that night in the club, silk shirt against my bare skin and his hands on my backside, owning me.

  Except I want him to own me. I want him to do whatever he wants. I want to give in to my own shaking need and trembling desire. I want him to show me what I’ve never known.

  His lips are soft and wet against mine, and I’m breathing his breath, clutching his shirt desperately and holding on for dear life, letting him kiss me again. The kiss…God, the kiss. I scold myself for taking the Lord’s name in vain, and then I remember that I don’t care about that anymore, and then his tongue slips between the slight parting of my lips and scrapes my teeth, touches my tongue in a rapturous tang. I can’t breathe, can’t begin to think, can’t do anything but grip his T-shirt in my fists and kiss him, move my mouth against his and touch his tongue with mine. And now I’ll never return from this place, for I know the taste of temptation. I’ve sinned; I’ve fallen.

  His lips pull away, and I’m left empty. I sag forward and rest my forehead against his chest, and then sobs overtake me, sending me into shuddering spasms, wracking, jerking, heaving sobs.

  “Grey? Jesus, what’s wrong?” His voice is plainly confused.

  “Go. Just…go. Please go. ” I can barely speak.

  “Why are you crying? Was it that bad of a kiss?” He’s trying to joke but it falls flat. The wince on his face shows he knows it.

  I can only shake my head. I stumble away from his hypnotic heat, away from his touch, his lips. “Go! God…please just leave me alone! I can’t…I can’t—I can’t do this with you. You have to go. ” I climb my ladder to the top bunk, feeling like a child trying to hide from punishment.

  I feel him standing there, watching me. I’m facing away from him, so all he can see is the curve of my waist and the wide bell of my hips and the taut expanse of my backside. My gray linen skirt is tangled beneath me, stretched tight across my hips, and I feel his gaze on my body. I want to shift and adjust the skirt, but I’m too conscious of his eyes on me to move. I hear a jangle of keys and then the sound of metal on wood as he sets them on my desk. I hear him shoving the empty carryout containers into the paper bag, and then the sound of the knob turning. Excited voices grow louder as the door opens. Greg growls an injunction to calm down.

  Page 28


p; “Grey, I—” For the first time since I met him, Dawson sounds unsure. I almost turn over to look at him, but don’t.

  Then the cocky voice is back. “Be there tomorrow. Drive the car. ”

  He leaves then, and the clamor as he emerges from my room is deafening. There are screams and squeals. I hear one female voice tell Dawson that she wants to have his babies. Another asks him to marry her. A chorus of voices asks for autographs and pictures, and I hear Dawson saying that he’ll sign autographs for ten minutes, and then he has to go. The noise quiets, and I can hear the murmur of Dawson’s voice as he talks to the women he’s signing for.

  Eventually the noise dies away, and in the distance I hear the throaty purr of his car. Lizzie comes in after a few minutes.

  “Holy shit, Grey!” She climbs up and hangs on the ladder. “Do you know who that was? Why was he here? Did you f**k him?”

  I want to ignore her, but I can’t, because she’s too loud, too in my space and obnoxious.

  I roll over, and I don’t have to fake the tormented expression on my face. “He’s my boss, Lizzie. He’s my assignment for my internship. So yes, I know who he is. And no, we didn’t—I mean, I—no. ”

  “Omigod, why not?” She grabs my arm and shakes me. “He’s the hottest piece of man-ass on the entire f**king planet! How could you not!”

  I don’t know what to say. I just shrug. “I work for him. I couldn’t…I mean, my grade, my internship, my career, it’s all riding on this. ” It’s the bald truth and why I can’t let anything happen. Why I have to resist the hypnotic pull.

  “Jesus, Grey. He’s Dawson f**king Kellor. He’s Cain Riley, for god’s sake! It’s a crime against all straight women to not get a piece of that. And you can’t tell me he’s not interested. I saw the way he held you. ”

  I snap, just a little. “God, Lizzie, do you hear yourself? He’s not a slab of beef. He’s not an object for me to ‘get a piece of. ’ He’s a man. A person. And I…he didn’t hold me any kind of way. He carried me in because I fainted. That’s it. ” I don’t know why I’m lying to her. I know better.

  Lizzie frowns at my outburst. “You’re dumber than I thought. Send him my way, if you’re not interested. ” She vanishes back out the door then, and I’m finally alone.

  I try to fall asleep, and fail for the longest time. When I do fall asleep, I dream of Dawson. They’re erotic dreams, torturous dreams, in which he touches me in places that make me sweat and squirm and pant. He kisses me in the dreams, and I let him, and I kiss him back, and it becomes more than a kiss. It becomes something that makes me ache between my legs.

  I wake in a sweaty tangle of sheets and stare at the ceiling, unable to forget the dreams. I fall back asleep, and immediately the dreams begin again. Dawson’s hands on my waist, sliding down my hips. Curving over to cup my backside. Grazing beneath my br**sts. Delving down and down and down between my legs to touch me in the most sinful way.

  I see his eyes, blue-shot gray, like lightning-laced storm clouds, and I hear his voice whispering to me: “You can’t resist me, Grey. You are mine, Grey. ”

  I wake again at dawn, hearing his dream-whispered words, and torn between wishing they were true and being terrified that they are.

  Chapter 9

  I make great money at the club, but financially, I’m still barely making it. My tips just cover tuition, room and board, and books. Barely. I have to scrimp to eat and buy new outfits for the internship. If I leave the campus at all, I walk as much as possible. Even bus fare is too expensive and I need every penny. I hate it though, because USC is in a bad neighborhood, and a girl on her own—even in broad daylight—isn’t safe.

  I stand in the parking lot outside my dorm room, staring at a brand-new Range Rover. It’s white with black-tinted windows. The keys are in my hand, and I’m warring with myself. I have my driver’s license, but I haven’t driven since leaving Georgia. I Googled Range Rovers, and this model in front of me starts at $137,000. I simply cannot fathom that amount of money. And he just left it here in this university parking lot, on a whim, for me to drive. And then claimed he could buy a dozen of them if he wanted to. Reading about or hearing about twenty-million-dollar movie deals is one thing, but understanding the reality of a man actually having that kind of money, seeing the evidence of it, is another thing. This Range Rover, this $137,000 SUV, is pennies to him. Even the Bugatti, which probably cost somewhere near two million dollars, is nothing. Dawson made four million on the first Mark of Hell and sixteen more between the other two. He’s done four other big-budget films since then, none of which were salaried at less than ten million dollars each.

  It’s unusually hot outside today, and I’m sweating just standing here, debating with myself. It would be prudent to drive the Rover. I click the “unlock” button and open the door. I slide into the driver’s seat, gasping at the blistering heat of the tan leather under my legs and against my back. I start the engine, which hums to life with a low and powerful purr. Within seconds, the A/C is blasting cool air. I breathe in and then out, carefully. I’m terrified of this car. I’m terrified of what it means, that I’m actually doing what he told me to do. I’m going to finish the internship, and I’m going to spend the next few months working with Dawson professionally.

  He’s seen me naked. He’s touched my bare skin. He’s kissed me, twice. My body responds to him in a way I don’t begin to understand.

  Delaying the moment of actually having to drive this vehicle, I fiddle with the infotainment center until it turns on. Heavy metal blasts so loud the car shakes. I scramble to turn it down, then manage to turn it to the radio. I flip stations until I find 102. 7 FM, the pop station. “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore comes on, and I turn it up a little. Not anywhere near as loud as Dawson had it, but enough to give me confidence, dance in my seat. I take a deep breath and put the SUV into reverse, backing out of the spot slowly.

  The drive to the office is horrifying. I’m a terrible driver. I’m either going too slow and being honked at, or I’m forgetting how powerful the Rover is and going twenty over the limit. When I change lanes, I cut several people off and then I nearly miss my turn, forcing me to cut across several lanes of traffic. I nearly cause two accidents. By the time I’m sitting in a parking spot outside the office building, my nerves are shot, leaving me trembling and near tears.

  Page 29


  And now I have to go in and face Dawson. His Bugatti is parked parallel across three spots, way in the back of the lot. I let the engine idle as I attempt to collect myself. I’m nearly calm when the passenger door opens and Dawson slides in. He’s wearing a faded orange Billabong shirt and khaki cargo shorts with black Old Navy flip-flops. A pair of Ray-Bans cover his eyes, and his hair is spiked with gel, looking prickly and stiff. His jaw is covered with scruff, thick and dark, almost a beard. I want to run my hands over his cheek, feel the stubble tickle my palms.

  I clench my fists around the leather of the steering wheel and try to breathe through the need to touch him.

  “You look tense. ” He leans against the car door, legs stretched out in front of him. He’s calm and utterly composed. A small smile graces his beautiful, expressive mouth.

  I lick my lips and grind my hands around the wheel. “I’m fine. ”

  He snorts. “Babe, don’t lie to me. ”

  “Don’t call me that. I’m not your babe. I’m not anyone’s babe. ”

  “See? Tense. It’s just a word. ” He drags the seatbelt across his torso and clicks it in place. He points north. “We have errands. Drive. ”

  “Drive where?” I glance at Dawson, who has his nose buried in his phone.

  “First, back to my place. We gotta grab my script. I forgot it. Then we have a meeting with one of the secondary production firms…uh…Orbit something. ”

  “Orbit Sky,” I fill in.

  “Yeah, them. And then back here. Jeremy wants to go over some things with me a
nd Rose. Since you’re my assistant for this project, you’re with me. ”

  “So we’re going to the Orbit Sky offices?” I ask.

  He shakes his head. “No, it’s a dinner meeting. Spago. ”

  Even I know what Spago is. “Am I dressed for that?” I give Dawson a once-over. “Are you?”

  He shrugs. “Does it matter? You look great. We’re stopping at my place, so I’ll put on some jeans or something. It’s not like they’ll tell me I can’t come in, you know. ”

  “So where do you live?”

  “Just head toward Beverly Hills,” he says, not looking up from his phone. When I hesitate, he glances up at me. “What?”

  “I’ve…I’ve never driven around here. Or…anywhere, really, before today. ”

  “You what?” Dawson frowns at me. “How have you never driven before? You have your license, right?”

  I nod. “Yeah, I got my license, but I never drove. I never had to, or got to, depending on how you look at it. My mom or dad just drove me where I had to go. Here I take the bus, or I walk. ”

  Dawson seems like he’s fighting laughter. “And I gave you a Range Rover Autobiography?”

  “A what?”

  He does laugh then. His teeth are white, and the laughter transforms his face, makes what is already beautiful almost unbearably so. “This? This is a 2013 Range Rover Autobiography. It’s…” He sighs and shakes his head. “You know what? It doesn’t matter. It’s just a car. Come on. ”

  He reaches over me and yanks the keys out of the ignition. His forearm brushes my chest, and electricity zaps through me at the contact. He doesn’t notice, just slides out of the car and strides toward his Bugatti. I researched his car this morning during class. It’s a Bugatti Veyron 16. 4 Grand Vitesse, and by all accounts it’s the most expensive car in the world, especially since he ordered some kind of special features that make it one of a kind. There was a whole magazine article on the fact that Dawson bought one, and there was also an article on his other cars, since he apparently has several super-luxury sports cars, including an Aston Martin Vanquish, a Bentley, and a Maserati. I had to look up what each of those were.

  I grab my purse and follow him to his car. He’s waiting for me, holding the door. I slide onto the leather seat, and he closes the door after me. It’s a gentlemanly gesture that confuses me. I buckle up and clutch my purse on my lap, refusing to watch Dawson as he folds his frame into the seat and brings the car to life. We’re gone with a squeal of tires and a lurch of my stomach. He weaves the car through traffic, disregarding traffic laws left and right. He blows through at least one red light, carving the wheel to the right to narrowly avoid a cube van. I’m breathless, terrified.

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