Page 19 of Alpha (Alpha 1)

“Wow,” I ended up saying. “That’s…amazing.” Lame, totally lame.

“You’ve never had real wine before, have you?”

I shrugged. “I guess not. I mean, I’ve had wine before, obviously. But I’ve never had a bottle that cost more than, like, twenty dollars.”

“Hah.” His voice was openly derisive. “That is not wine.”

“Well, it’s what I’ve had. I can definitely taste the difference, though.”

“That’s good. If you’d said something like ‘wine is just wine,’ I might have had to rethink things a bit.” He laughed, making it a joke, but I wondered if he’d been serious.

“You’d just send me home, then?” I felt for the surface of the table with my empty hand, and carefully set my wine glass down. “Maybe I should’ve pretended to not taste the difference, then.”

“It was a joke, Kyrie.”

“Was it?” I turned my head in the appearance of looking at him. A habit, an empty gesture.

His warm fingers brushed a wayward strand of hair away from the corner of my mouth. “Yes. It was. I like nice things. I am extremely wealthy, so I fill my home with the best of everything. But all of it is just…things. In themselves, they mean nothing. I enjoy expensive wines because they taste better than cheap wines. But it’s still just wine.” His thumb slid across my upper lip, and I had to stop myself from turning into his touch, from nipping at his thumb with my teeth. “And tell me the truth, Kyrie. Would you really go home? Just like that?”

I had no answer. I tried subtly to move my face away from his touch, unnerved by my own intense reactions to him.

“Would you?” His voice sharpened. “Answer me, Kyrie. If I told you that you could return home, right now, without breaching our accord, would you?”

I pulled in a shaky breath, flattened my hands on the table. “I—”

“I don’t think you would.” His voice was close, his breath hot on my ear, speaking just above a whisper. “You feel it, Kyrie. If I kissed you right now, I do think you might faint. You’re barely breathing as it is.”

“I’m breathing just fine,” I lied. “Would you? Let me go home right now?”

“No, I don’t think I would.”

“Why not?” These two words slipped, breathless, from my lips.

His breath moved, warming my ear, then my cheek, and then, oh god—I felt his lips on my skin, mere centimeters from my mouth. “This is why.” As close as our faces were, I still barely heard him.

My heart was pounding, hammering, thudding in my chest, sending blood pulsing in my ears. My skin was tingling, my hands shaking. Nerves, anticipation…fear? Parsing what I felt was impossible. I only knew I dreaded and needed in equal measure the feel of his lips on mine. So close. Yes. There, please. A kiss, a single kiss.

I’d only known this man for a matter of perhaps two hours, yet his lips were grazing mine, and he wasn’t breathing, either. How was this possible? I didn’t know his name. I didn’t know what he looked like. I only knew the sound of his voice, the feel of his hands. He could be sixty years old, he could be ugly, he could be so many things. But somehow, in that moment, barely an atom’s breadth between our lips, it didn’t matter.

“All you need say is ‘yes,’ Kyrie.” I felt his words, heard them, but just barely. “Say yes.”

No. No. No.

“Yes.”

A huge, warm hand cupped the back of my head, a palm rested on my cheek, fingers threaded into my hair, nestled against my ear and along my jaw, cradling my face, drawing me to him. It took but a mere shift of my head, acquiescing by tilting my chin up ever so slightly. Why was I allowing this kiss? I shouldn’t. But…I was. I had to. And it was just a kiss.

I’m such a liar.

It wasn’t just a kiss.

It was power. Control. Acknowledgment of his demands. Conceding to his game.

Oh…what a game. From the moment his lips met mine, I knew he was a master of this, the art of seduction through a kiss. Slow, hot, wet, insistent. His lips moved on mine, his hands held me in place, not allowing me to pull away until he was ready to let go. He kissed me as if he had something to prove, and indeed he did. He proved to me that this kiss was only the beginning.

I’d been kissed before. Many times. There were awkward and sloppy kisses, those tension-fraught moments of fumbling intensity as a teenager. There were more skilled kisses, passionate and intentional. There were kisses that stole my breath, kisses that merged seamlessly with the shedding of clothes and the joining of bodies.

But never, before this moment, had there ever been a kiss that stole my will to pull away, that devoured my capacity for thought, that removed my ability to resist, to feel anything but the kiss.

He tasted of white wine, light and sweet and slightly sour and cold. I forgot to breathe; he gave me his breath, and then took it back. I had no control over my hands. I felt them moving, felt them lift and reach, and then felt the stubble-rough warmth of his face under my palms. He didn’t pull away; he allowed me touch him.

It wasn’t a deep kiss, or long. There was no tangling of tongues, no intrusion or demands. It was slow, soft, and exploratory. Introductory. A promise. An invitation.

When he pulled away, I was left waiting, wanting, wondering. The kiss should’ve continued. I didn’t want it to stop. No one had ever kissed me with such possessive, gentle insistence, and it was addictive. I let out a breath, a shaky, tremulous breath.

“That’s why.”

“Oh.”

“Yes. Oh.” He gave my cheekbone one last graze with his thumb, and then I heard a utensil scrape against a plate. “Open.”

At his command my mouth opened of its own accord. A fork touched my lips and tongue, and I tasted metal, and then salmon, light and flaky and perfectly flavored with herbs. He took a bite, and then told me to open again, feeding me potatoes, thick and strong with garlic, and then green beans, buttery and crisp. It was the perfect meal, filling and balanced and bursting with flavor, and even the oddity of being blindfolded and fed like an invalid faded.

Eliza brought dessert the moment we had finished the main course. It was a crème brûlée, creamy and sweet and thick.

“You weren’t kidding,” I said. “Eliza is an amazing chef.”

“I chose her out of a thousand candidates. I spent nearly a year vetting each individual applicant. I only interviewed four of them, and Eliza, obviously, is the one I chose. She is a miracle worker, truly.”

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