The VIP Doubles Down
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As Allie bit into the most delicious combination of turkey and avocado she’d ever tasted, Gavin nodded and said, “Keep eating so I can work you mercilessly.”
She’d been dreading this, knowing that she had nothing of value to offer the writer. She took another bite of the sandwich as a delaying tactic.
“Which is your favorite Julian Best novel?” Gavin asked.
She’d expected him to grill her on how Julian would meet the woman of his dreams, so the question relieved her. “That’s easy. Best of Times.”
“Why?” Gavin toyed with a sandwich but kept his gaze on her.
“It’s the book where he finds out that Samantha is a double agent. Then he has to make the decision about whether to continue their relationship or break it off. We get to see more of Julian’s thoughts than usual as he struggles with the implications of his discovery. His emotions and his job clash, so it reveals depth in his character.” She’d gone on too long. “Sorry. I really love that book.”
Gavin smiled. “Don’t feel you have to stop. There’s no sweeter music to an author’s ears than having a reader speak passionately about his book.”
“Okay, I have another favorite for a completely different reason. Best Laid Plans, because we meet Julian’s brother. Giving him family adds another dimension to his character. And the plot in that book is really meaty.”
“Any other favorites?” Gavin took a bite of his sandwich.
“Best of Both Worlds has a really great setting. I liked all the details about space stations and resupplying them. That was exciting and different.” Allie shrugged. “Mama and I used to try to list them in order of our preference, but we never could because there was always something we loved about each book.”
“I guess that answers my question about which book you liked the least.”
Allie buried her nose in her teacup.
She put the tea down. “I didn’t want to say this, but Good, Better, Best didn’t work for me. But that’s just my opinion.”
“The dagger to the heart.” His words were dramatic, but when she glanced up at him, he had a slight smile playing around his lips. “What was wrong with it?”
Allie debated how to phrase it. “You know all that character growth I talked about? It was like it was all erased. He went back to being the Julian of the early books. I felt frustrated when he seemed to regress.”
Gavin leaned forward in his chair. “You are a perceptive reader. That book was an early manuscript, one that originally got rejected by the publisher. I revised it heavily, but the story didn’t lend itself to emotional growth, so I let Julian cruise through it without being touched in any profound way.” He shook his head. “I did my fans a disservice by releasing that book.”
“It was still a really good story,” Allie said, sorry that she had been so frank. “Not everyone wants their spies to have feelings.”
“Don’t backpedal,” Gavin said. “Your honesty is valuable to me. At this stage of my career, I don’t get a lot of that, except from Jane. So let’s talk specifics.”
They spent the next hour discussing the books. Gavin would choose a scene and ask Allie questions about how she responded to it. She forgot to be tactful as they ranged over what succeeded and what had fallen short. Her mind was racing, making connections she hadn’t made before and digging deep to figure out why she liked or disliked something.
When Gavin called an end to the discussion, exhilaration was surging through her, as though she’d drunk from a cold, clear spring of pure thought. Talking with him made her feel like a real literary critic because he treated her opinions with such respect.
“I haven’t had this much fun in a long time,” she said, stacking her empty dishes and reaching for his.
“Ludmilla will get those,” Gavin said.
“I don’t mind. I need to move, because there’s all this excitement zooming around inside me.” She carried the dishes to the cart.
When she turned, Gavin was standing close to her, the air between them vibrating with his heat and breath and scent.
Very slowly, he stretched his hand out to trace along her cheek and jaw with his fingertips. His touch mesmerized her, so she stood motionless while he skimmed down the side of her neck to the place where her collarbone was bared by the V of her shirt. Wherever he touched, her skin lit up as though charged with electricity, making her breathing go shallow and her heart stutter.
He took one step closer so that she had to tilt her head back to meet his eyes, their green gone translucent. He brought his other hand up to thread into her ponytail, cradling her head. The aroma of the wintergreen massage oil wove around her, carried by the warmth of his body as the fabric of their shirts brushed together. If she breathed too deeply, the tight tips of her breasts would touch the wall of his chest.
For a moment, they both stood like that, the only movement the soft brush of his thumb across her collarbone.
“No.” He pulled his hands away from her and stepped back. “You don’t deserve that.” He threw himself into his chair.
She sucked in a shaky breath as his sensual spell dissipated. “I don’t deserve what?”
He shook his head. “You gave me a great gift, and I was about to express my gratitude in the worst possible way.” He pulled out his phone and tapped at the screen. “Go home, Allie, before my self-control snaps. Jaros is waiting for you out front.”
She had thought he was going to kiss her. Hoped for it because she had gone temporarily insane. It was against the professional code of ethics to have a sexual relationship with a patient. Maybe a kiss did not have to lead to sex, but it was still crossing the line.
And Gavin could tempt her into crossing all kinds of lines.
Gavin watched Allie skitter out of his office and hated himself.
It was all that energy vibrating between them. She was so excited about his books that she had transmitted it to him. Allie remembered details about his stories that he had forgotten. She made Julian come alive again. He had begun to feel a stirring of interest in where to take his character next.
Her gray eyes had snapped with intelligence, and her West Virginia twang faded away when she got engrossed in the conversation. Except when she mentioned her mother. Then her voice slowed to a deep, warm drawl.