Eden DeCarlo may have narrowly lost Miami’s best chef competition and the prize money she desperately needs, but she has caught the eye of dangerously virile Rafael Zayas, one of the judges and a wealthy restaurateur. Despite her vow not to let any man derail her life, Eden’s captivated by Rafe’s imposing masculinity, then challenged by the business deal he offers. He’ll invest in her new venture if, for one month, she can satisfy his culinary expectations and the sexual attraction they both feel.
Dominant and unashamed, Rafe knows what he wants when it comes to carnal pleasure and will spare no seduction to have Eden in all the ways he demands—naked, wanting, submissive.
Within thirty days, he will teach her the delights of yielding to passion, relinquishing all control to him and fulfilling her deepest, darkest and most delicious desires.
All Rights Reserved, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.
Faced with financial ruin, Eden DeCarlo wasn’t in the mood to mingle at the wrap party for Miami’s Master Chef Competition, a contest she’d narrowly lost. She’d come to tonight’s celebration for one foolish, irresistible reason—to see a man she had no business craving.
Go on, get the hell out of here before he catches you staring. With a heavy sigh, she moved away from the other guests but didn’t head for the door. Instead, she went in the opposite direction, halting at the indoor pool. Turning, she struggled not to look at Rafael Zayas again and lost, her eyes seeking him across the penthouse suite. A mistake, she knew. Men like Rafe could only bring more trouble.
Commanding and assured, he went to Eden’s fellow contestants, shaking their hands, listening politely to each chef’s gushing words, offering comments that made the males grin broadly and caused the females to drool.
Distressingly jealous at the young women’s obvious flirting, Eden gripped her cocktail glass. Leave him alone. They didn’t. Shoulders tensed, her gaze trickled down him.
Easily one of the tallest men in attendance, he wore a black dress shirt of an expensive fabric opened at the throat and black linen pants draped superbly on his lean, powerful build. The color enhanced his sooty lashes and eyes, bronze skin and cocoa-colored hair. Wavy strands dangled over his forehead, begging a woman to ease them back.
Eden’s pulse beat triple-time. Hand trembling, she took a sip of her Mojito Cubano, desperate for the lime-and-rum cocktail to calm her so she could regain control. No matter her attraction to Rafe, no matter the heat in his eyes each time they spoke, she couldn’t allow a man to derail her life. She’d seen what it had done to her mother and still lived with the consequences. Shaking off the past, determined for the future, she willed the booze to do its work.
Her heart continued to pound.
Unaware of her torment, the others laughed and talked. Their noise drifted across the spacious, moneyed room. More than five-thousand-square feet of shimmery chandeliers, sweeping staircases and arched windows overlooking the restless Atlantic and the brash glitter of Miami Beach. Soft Latin music played, a sensual mix of guitars and muted trumpets Gloria Estefan, Miami’s former pop-princess, would have enjoyed. Expensive perfumes, colognes and the clean, sharp bite of the pool’s chlorine mingled with the aromas coming from the kitchen. Tonight’s feast included coconut shrimp, almond-crusted salmon, Serrano ham, roasted pork with an herb-garlic rub and delicate tomato sauces. Wait staff in crisp white shirts and dark dress pants provided meticulous service, offering appetizers and drinks to tide everyone over until it came time for the buffet.
Rafe moved past the contestants, his dark eyes scanning the guests, searching.
Eden’s mouth went dry as he turned toward her.
One of the competition’s producers stopped him. With her arm slipped through his, the fortyish woman led him to the advertisers, among them Luis Famosa. Luis owned this penthouse and De Cocina Foods, which provided the competition’s hundred-thousand-dollar prize.
Rafe greeted the elderly man as one would in Europe or in this country’s immigrant enclaves, with a warm hug and a kiss on both of Luis’ age-furrowed cheeks. The two men were among the most successful Cubans in Miami. Luis’s food warehouses dominated the market. Rafe—a thirty-three-year-old celebrity chef, restaurateur and one of the competition’s judges—owned a number of award-winning restaurants, had a line of popular cookware and books and served as the TV spokesperson for numerous products.
The kind of man who could have anything or anyone he wanted.
A tormenting heaviness settled between Eden’s legs, the same now as when he’d judged her dishes in the contest, his rich mouth and beard-shadowed cheeks mesmerizing her. Why she wanted him wasn’t a mystery. Like all rational women, she found his raw sexuality irresistible, the stuff of indecent fantasies. Not that she would act on it. Her mother’s missteps taught her the danger of hungering for a man. Besides, she should hate him for eliminating her last entrée which cost her the prize.
The three other judges had raved about her island flatbread, cinnamon sweet potatoes and Chicharrones de Pollo—the Dominican version of fried chicken. And then Rafe spoke, his voice resonant and lyrical with a hint of his native Spanish. “You have greatness in you. This effort, though good, wasn’t worthy of your talent.”
Her stomach had sunk even as her nipples puckered so tight they hurt.
Damn him. She guzzled her cocktail. Rafe nodded to whatever the male producer said. The movement freed more of his hair, the chocolate strands skipping over his brow. He lifted his heavy crystal glass, tasting his drink. Bacardi Gold shone on his bottom lip.
Eden forced down a swallow. Despite how her mind cautioned, she longed to lick the rum away and stroke his satiny mouth with her tongue. To rest her face against his neck and feel his accelerating pulse as she pushed his shirt over his broad shoulders and down his sinewy arms. To kneel before him, her nose to the dark tangle of hair above his cock, fragrant with musk. To know the seductive promise of his belly and thighs pressed against hers.
He gave Luis a parting hug, much like a favorite son to a beloved father, then turned and met her eyes.
Blood drained from Eden’s face and returned so quickly her body didn’t know whether to be hot or cold. Lightheaded, she shivered a bit with each.
Eyes fixed on her, Rafe approached, his expression ordering her to stay put, daring her not to move.
Disobedient, she backed into one of the wide towering columns, a fruitless attempt to flee what her body coveted. Above, stars twinkled through the domed glass ceiling. Here, the pool glistened beneath the light of the torches, the flames’ reflection streaking gold over the blackened water.
Rafe reached her. She caught his scent, a sun-baked fragrance more caressing than the summer’s night air—warm, sultry, virile. Her legs went doughy. She locked her knees.
If he noticed, he didn’t let on, though his attention did sharpen, a handsome predator homing in on his prey. Lips turned up in a direct smile, he offered his hand. “Eden.”
His vibrant baritone embraced her name with stunning familiarity, disconcerting her further. She shook it off. After tonight, she’d see him on TV or in print advertisements, nowhere else. She’d make certain of it regardless of her lust. She cleared her throat and slipped her coolish, damp fingers over his. His palm was dry and rough, betraying his humble origins. “Chef.”
“Rafe.” His smile brightened with his gentle admonition, saying he enjoyed being in charge.
An image rose unbidden in her mind. She saw herself in Z, his flagship restaurant, bent at the waist over one of the linen-draped tables as startled patrons and wait staff looked on. Ass high, thighs spread, she posed as he’d commanded, awaiting his touch. He wouldn’t shove her dress up her thighs and over her cheeks to have her. He’d fold the gauzy cotton inch by inch, forcing her to anticipate what would come. Panting in expectation, with the chilled air-conditioning glancing off her naked buttocks, she’d remain still, her position imploring him to mount her, use her, punish her if she didn’t obey.
Moisture gushed from her sheath. Heat scalded her face and throat. “Rafe,” she amended. Her voice vibrated slightly.
He stroked her thumb. A glow slithered up her arms, settling in her chest and dipping to her legs. Her lids slipped down.
It took Eden a moment to open her eyes and focus. To the side, a young male server offered an hors d’oeuvre tray of firecracker shrimp and roasted Cuban bread. Disinterested, her attention swung back to Rafe.
His eyes remained on her. “Were those appetizers prepared using your recipes?”
“No.” She studied his mouth, breathless at its sculpted beauty. “Alexander’s.” The competition’s winner.
Rafe arched one dark brow. “Thank you, no,” he said to the server, his attention riveted to her. The boy turned away. Rafe added, “Wait.” His thumb resumed stroking her hand. “There’s no need for you or any of the other staff to return. The lady and I don’t want to be disturbed. Understood?”
Eden’s stomach made a funny lurch, a combination of excitement and fear at Rafe wanting them to be alone.
The server inclined his head slightly. “Yes sir.” Prior to rushing off, he glanced at the cleavage her dress exposed and the expanse of her legs beneath the skirt.
Uneasy at Rafe’s hold on her, Eden pulled her hand from his. Not wanting to appear rattled, she ran her fingers beneath her shoulder-length hair, shaking it away as though it were a bother. “You surprise me.”
Amusement glinted in his eyes. He swallowed his sip of Bacardi, turning the glass in his large hand. “Because I sent the boy away before he asked you for a date?”
Startled into smiling, Eden recovered quickly. “I doubt he was that enamored. I’m surprised you didn’t try Alexander’s appetizers. I thought you adored his food.”
Her sarcasm registered on his face. “You blame me for losing, no?”
The frank question and lack of remorse in his expression derailed her again, though not for long. Her voice cooled. “I’m the better chef.”
She stared. Was he putting her on? His uncompromising expression said no. Her body softened with his approval until she remembered what she’d lost. The pain of it showed in her voice. “Then why did he win the hundred grand on your vote?”
Rafe finished his drink and put the glass on a wrought iron table to the side. Facing her, he spoke in a lowered voice, “Why were you born in this country when I was not? Why do some have opportunities handed to them while others have to fight for the same?”
Eden bristled. He believed she’d always had it easy and the contest represented nothing more to her than a foolish whim, not a last-ditch lifeline that hadn’t worked out? “You’re saying Alexander fought harder for the prize than I did?”
“He had to. The boy doesn’t have your gifts.”
Her eyes rounded. She wasn’t certain whether to argue or thank him. Dammit. A second ago, she’d been ready to tell him to go to hell. Now she ached to cradle his face in her palms and burrow her tongue in his mouth, grazing his shaved cheeks with her thumbs. Unnerved, she sidled away and moved around the column to face the pool, out of sight of the others.
“Whoa, hold it,” a youthful male voice said from behind. “They don’t want to be bothered. At all.”
Eden leaned to the left and looked over. A female server holding a tray of piña coladas retreated with the young man previously sent away. Seconds ticked by, matching the swift thumping of her pulse. She turned her face to Rafe.
He regarded her, his expression intent, confident.
A muscle in her pussy jumped. Her nipples hardened. He joined her. Eden lifted the mojito to her lips, a barrier for protection. Ice tinkled in her empty glass. Flustered, she lowered her hand.
Rafe’s fingers folded over hers, sending a jolt of sensation up her arm. He took her slender glass and set it next to his on the table. “You’re young,” he murmured, “only twenty-eight. You’ll have many opportunities to excel.”
She warned herself not to sigh while she stated the obvious. “At twenty-eight you already owned a string of restaurants. You’ve won the freaking James Beard Award.”
He offered a negligent shrug. “I’ve never taken anything for granted.”
And she did? With her sorry background? “Neither have I.”
His smile challenged her comment, creasing the corners of his lushly lashed eyes. “As I’ve said, you’re young and far too cocky.” He rested his hand on the column next to her head, his long fingers touching her hair. “From the beginning of the competition you had no doubt you’d win. You thought you owned all of the judges, especially me.”
An uncomfortable flush stung her face and throat. Her voice sounded outrageously weak. “Showing confidence is not being cocky. In my mind, I agonized over every dish. I tried my best.”
“You took few risks.”
Her eyes followed his hand. His fingertips skimmed the line of her jaw and throat, sending a new rush of blood to the top of her head and deep within her groin. “I know what I’m capable of. I wanted to win.”
“You wanted to be safe. Your choices, execution, plating and originality were strong, some would say excellent, but uninspired, without soul. Particularly on the last entrée, because you thought you’d already won. You believed you had secured my vote and so easily too.”
Her brows drew together.
His smile returned. “You’re angry with me. Or is it that you hate me?”
She averted her gaze. Faint lights bobbed far out on the ocean, signaling passing ships. Bursts of color—lime greens, faded blues, tarnished golds—spilled onto the beach from the brightly lit hotels and high-rises. Rafe’s scent, proximity and heat eroded her annoyance and determination to keep a cool distance. “No, I don’t hate you.”
“Then you do like me as I’ve suspected all along?”
Palms to the column, she pressed her fingers against the slick marble, requiring it for support. Denial rose to her lips, a perfect way to end tonight, considering she’d never see him again. She chanced a look at his face and instantly grew unsettled, starved, dizzy. The room shifted around them, the laughter and voices receded, the corners of her vision dimmed. She stared at his dark eyes hooded with brute desire, his mouth the bearer of bad tidings and the core of unbearable pleasure. Lie to him, tell him no, her mind warned. “Yes, I do,” she admitted.
Satisfaction swept over his features. His fingers caressed the back of her neck. His thumb went to her jaw, nudging it upward, keeping her mouth lifted to his, ready for his impending kiss. “Tell me you want this.”
Her lips parted to tell him she did, or to lie and say she never would. Uncertainty tore at her and he decided. His mouth found hers, his tongue invaded with an assurance that went beyond cockiness. For him adolescent behavior wasn’t necessary. He knew what he wanted and went after it unashamed. His probing kiss delivered a surge of flavors—rum mixed with spices, tropical fruit and a hint of vanilla all wrapped around his wet heat. A whimper rolled through her followed by a needy moan.
Her hand slid up his biceps. His shirt’s fine cotton owned the buttery feel of skin, tempting her to explore further. She clawed the fabric, using it to pull him close, to anchor his body.
Feet braced firmly apart, he pushed his thighs and flat belly into hers, forcing her against the thick column, giving her no chance to deny him or to escape his cock’s stiffness and length. Her breath caught. The back of her head and shoulders bumped into the stone. He offered no apology. His tongue drove deeper, stealing her ability to protest or think. His free hand slipped beneath her dress’s right strap, pushing it off her shoulder, pulling the top down to expose her breast. A dull ache travelled from her cunt to her inner thighs. For a long moment, he abandoned her flesh to the chilly air pouring from the ceiling vents and to the room in general, those behind them. His actions said he demanded she take a risk she’d avoided so carefully, to trust his judgment that no one but him would see her partial nudity.
Gratification, not compliance, spurred Eden. She ground her hips into his, her mound hurting for his shaft and balls, taunting them. Back arched, she rubbed her nipple against the solid plane of his chest, begging for his touch.
His mouth tore free, though his thumb remained on her chin, keeping it lifted, prepared for his return. Head lowered, he cupped her breast in his other palm, heating her skin. His fingers curled around the mound’s pliant contour, kneading the softness so at odds with her rigid nipple.
Ragged breaths pumped from Eden’s chest. Eyes closed, face lifted, her mind begged him to lick her nipple, to draw it into his mouth and suckle the compressed ring.
He obliged her to wait, leaving a trail of wet kisses on the top and sides of her breast. The walls of her vagina pulsed. He edged closer to the tip, his tongue circling the protuberance, though he didn’t touch it as yet. He lapped her skin, dampening it, leaving her smelling of him. Apparently satisfied with his work, he latched onto her long peak, sucking hard.
Delight sluiced through Eden. Her lips parted on a surprised gasp. In the next instant, Rafe stole it, his tongue plunging back inside, owning her mouth, insistent on her full surrender.
No. At the fringe of her mind, the past returned—her mother turning her over to her grandmother, relinquishing custody just after Eden’s twelfth birthday because her mother’s boyfriend didn’t want the hassle of raising a pre-teen.
“It’s for the best,” her mom had said, then disappeared with the man for four years, giving up her only child for him, allowing him to come first and to forever alter their lives.
Ultimately, he dumped her. Didn’t matter. With careless indifference, her mother returned to Eden and her grandmother for five months. Regrouped, she left Florida with her next love.
Eden’s palms went to Rafe’s chest, fixed on pushing him away. Her mind resolved not to repeat her mother’s mistakes, to desire a man so badly it ruined everything else.
He must have sensed her reluctance. His kiss cooled, becoming tender. Tears pricked her eyes. Her knees sagged, bumping his. He slipped one arm around her waist, pulling her close, offering support. Once more, her mind said no. Her body refused to listen. Too quickly, her fingers went to his opened collar to roam over his hot, smooth skin.
Breaking their kiss, he snuggled his cheek against hers. His breathing was harsh. He pulled the top of her dress down, smoothing the stretchy cotton over her breast, his fingers tugging her nipple.
Bone-deep contentment rippled through her.
Mouth to her ear, he whispered, “Come home with me.”