Under normal circumstances, I would’ve never dreamed of putting my virginity up for auction.
But then again, I also never dreamed that my life would spin out of control the way it did, either.
I guess there’s a lot of things in life that can surprise you…like being offered fifty-thousand dollars for one night with a stranger…like finding yourself standing on the doorstep of your highest bidder.
As the luxury limo that picked me up from JFK airport drives away, I check out the stately brownstone that resides in the elite “Gold Coast” neighborhood of Greenwich Village. My heartbeat pitter-patters around as if it’s trying to scurry away. A breeze skims down my body as it blows through the trees lining this posh Manhattan street.
Suck it up, Juliet, I think. This is what you signed up for with the Highest Bidder website, so ring that doorbell.
I lift my shaking hand and press the buzzer so I can meet the billionaire who bought me.
I remind myself for the millionth time that I have a good reason to do this. This is for my family. This is to give us a chance to survive.
As the chime rings inside the mansion, I adjust the duffel bag strap over my shoulder.
Nerves are sawing through me. I wish I’d at least gotten a look at my bidder on the website, but Owen Gregory didn’t provide an image of himself. Even a Google search didn’t help because it seems that every time a camera tries to capture him, he’s either in shadow or turned away from the lens, as if the picture will steal his soul or something.
All I do know is that the respected but mysterious man who purchased me is twenty-eight years old, a Harvard Med School top-of-the-class grad who became a young hotshot surgeon. He’s a wunderkind entrepreneur who made his billions by inventing some kind of sterilization device that’s more efficient, quicker, and more cost effective to use than any current models.
Now his company, Gregory Medical Innovations, provides the gold standard for all kinds of cutting-edge equipment to hospitals and physicians the world over, and that includes his recent successes in artificial intelligence and robotics.
He’s a genius. A high-profile prodigy who manages to avoid the spotlight while still devoting himself to his important work.
At least, that’s what my computer told me before I came here. The only other thing I know for sure was that a bidding war for my virginity took place between another bidder and my client.
My blood twists inside my veins as I continue to wait for the door to open. I have a client. I’m more or less a call girl who’ll be many thousand of dollars richer after tonight, and shockingly, the money will only begin to solve all of my costly problems.
Just one night, Juliet. You can get through one darn night for the sake of everyone you love…
When the door begins to open, it seems to take forever as I hold my breath. I don’t know what to expect—a butler?
Or will Owen Gregory answer himself?
As the door opens all the way, shock hits me hard, and now I can’t breathe at all.
I’m staring at the most incredibly handsome man I’ve ever seen—tall, dark, and tightly muscled under the charcoal-colored, perfectly creased tailored suit he’s wearing. A pinstriped silk tie rests against his broad chest, and silver cuff links give him an impeccable air as he looks down on me with a dark and penetrating gaze. His black hair is cut short, and there’s literally not a strand out of place. His face is strong-featured, as hard and enigmatic as the look he’s giving me.
All in all, he doesn’t seem like he’s only six years older than I am—he’s too intimidating, and it looks like experience has honed him into this cut-granite god who is still waiting for me to say something.
But how can I talk to a man who seems like he could bark out an order at the world and it would stop spinning for him?
As I stand there like an idiot, everything starts spinning for me. My mind is reeling, my tummy flipping while heat slips down between my legs and swirls there, too. I feel a tightness in my private parts that I’ve never felt before, and I swallow, hoping he doesn’t see how unexpectedly turned on I am.
I think I’m even blushing. No—I know I am, because my skin is burning. I’m burning, and it only gets worse as he slowly runs an appraising look over me.
Everywhere his gaze turns, my pulse follows. I feel the thudding under my skin, over every heated inch. I start to go moist for him, but my mouth is dry, leaving me even more speechless.
Then I get myself together enough to say, “I’m Juliet. The limo just dropped me off?”
Uh, duh. This is probably information he did not need.
He continues to coolly survey me, and I start to wonder if he ordered more than one virgin named Juliet from the Highest Bidder site. So I go on.
“Juliet Hope…but you probably know that. You’re expecting me.” I laugh nervously. “At least I hope you are.”
Even I want to wince at my attempt at an icebreaker.
He remains impassively silent, and then it occurs to me—what if I have the wrong door? What if this isn’t Dr. Owen Gregory’s mansion?
Now his gaze on my hair, and I self-consciously touch the ginger strands. Then he finally speaks.
“You’re required to provide identification, as well as documentation on your bloodwork, the medical workup.”
His voice is deep enough to shake me in places that have never been shaken by the boys who never got very far with me. Low enough to caress my skin and leave the fine hairs on my arms standing in anticipation of what he might ask me to do for him tonight.
Then I realize that he’s waiting for me to snap to it, and I clear my throat, digging into my duffel bag for my ID and the paperwork that proves I’m on the pill and clean of all STDs. I know he was supposed to provide his own records to the website, but I won’t ever see them.
I thrust the materials at him. “Here you go.”
He takes the documents and looks them over.
The silence is killing me, and as the seconds tick by, my anxiety rises. Both of us need to relax. Surely I can give that icebreaker another try.
“Checking ID is a good idea,” I say. “It wouldn’t do to have some random virgin showing up on your doorstep, right?”
Even though I start to laugh again, he doesn’t. Instead, he sends me a lowered gaze from those dark eyes, and as he takes an even slower, more deliberate look over me, my sex starts to ache. Does he like what he sees?
But the more seconds that drag by, the more I start to think he has buyer’s remorse.
“Your hair,” he finally says. “It’s a slightly different color than the picture on your license or the photos you posted online.”
What? Talk about being picky.
“I used pictures from a month or two ago when I had highlights,” I say in a wobbly voice. “They’ve grown out, but…” I shrug and risk a smile. “I liked those pictures best, and I’m pretty sure I look almost exactly the same now.”
That last word cuts, and he scrutinizes me one more time before handing the ID and paperwork back to me. Dread fills me. Is he about to turn me away because of this little change to the color of my hair?
Then he steps back from the doorway without another word.
I’m going to take that as an invitation to enter.
My body is leading me over the threshold, drawn in by this hot yet detached man who makes my blood beat wildly, overwhelmingly. I feel as if I’ve been shot through with adrenaline, and it’s leading me to someplace I shouldn’t be going.
But I need the money so badly. And as much as I hate to admit it, I’ve started to want this like I’ve never wanted anything before.
I want him, even though I don’t understand why.
He’s walking away from me as if I’m an afterthought, and as I watch him disappear into another room, I hold back a sigh at the way he moves—like a finely tuned athlete. I can imagine his muscles rippling under that carefully pressed, perfect suit, and my body cries out for him to just touch me, dammit. Get this night started. Give me something besides this strange cold shoulder I’m getting.
He disappears, leaving me standing there once again.
Not that I’m very experienced with guys—I’ve always been shy and cautious, even if I touch myself at night, getting myself started but never finding pleasure—but I know enough not to chase after him. Besides, I’m too busy looking at everything surrounding me.
The wonderland I’ve stumbled into.
The high ceiling boasts a chrome chandelier that looks like a piece of avant-garde art—and I should know because I recently graduated with a degree in art history. The paintings near the soaring staircase and the sculptures in the foyer remind me of something Braque would have created, geometric, even sterile. The interior of this mansion is the opposite of the exterior, a white-and-silver palace versus the warm colors of a brownstone.
This place is like nothing I’ve seen before—dazzling, modern, and clearly worth millions. Yet it’s also cold, almost to the point of being unwelcoming. It’s bewildering and intimidating, just like Owen Gregory himself.
Then again, my home is literally halfway underwater after the hurricane that forced me into this deal, so who am I to judge?
A woman’s voice interrupts my thoughts. “May I take your bag and coat, Miss Hope?”
I turn to find an older brunette in a dark dress. She wears her hair in a stark bun, but her smile is kind, lighting up her brown eyes. I hand my duffel bag to her and smile back in appreciation.
“I’m Nat,” she says, “Mr. Gregory’s personal assistant. I also look after the house.”
She must know why I’m here, and my blush deepens. But she doesn’t seem judgmental, and I wonder how many times Owen has used Highest Bidder in the past.
“Pleased to meet you,” I say, then shrug out of my coat and give that up as well. I try not to be embarrassed about my dress, which feels cheap against all this luxury.
Nat subtly tests the lightness of my bag but doesn’t comment. She merely gives me a soft look that tells me she’s read my Highest Bidder application and knows about the tragedies I’m overcoming—the ones that made me resort to selling my virginity.
“Miss Hope,” she says, “I’m genuinely sorry for your losses, and I do hope your stay here is everything you want it to be.”
My throat clogs, and all I can do is nod a thank you.
She’s talking about many things: the death of my parents six months ago when the hurricane hit us in Florida and swept their pickup truck off the road in a flash flood, drowning them. The potential loss of our damaged house. The dire situation I find myself in with my sisters and brothers who were put in foster care. Four siblings who need me to stay strong for them.
At least Nat is sympathetic.
From what I’ve seen of Dr. Owen Gregory so far, I highly doubt that he bid on me because he wants to give me enough money to get my family back together again. He doesn’t know I’ve been working two and even three jobs to satisfy the state social workers and clinicians, proving that I can make a stable home for my siblings.
Nat apparently takes pity on me, and her smile grows cheerier. “I’ll put your belongings in your room, Miss Hope. Then we can…”
Her voice fades, and I fold my arms over my chest. Obviously the master of the mansion has reentered the room and is standing behind me. My body is already attuned to him, a heat wave scorching my skin. My back feels as if he’s whisking his fingers down my spine, making goose bumps ruffle down my arms. My nipples are aroused, heat tingling between my thighs.
How can such a cold, removed stranger do this to me?
I look over my shoulder to find Owen watching me with a fire in his gaze that makes my pulse skip. Then his jaw tightens, making me doubt what I saw.
He jerks his square chin toward the nearest room. “You’ll have most of my place at your disposal today, so a tour is in order.”
He’s about as warm as the rest of his mansion, seemingly soulless and utterly commanding. But I still go to him as if pulled by an invisible wire that buzzes between us, filling the air with vibrations.
He doesn’t look at me this time. He merely waits until I start to walk past him into what seems to be a music room with a state-of-the-art sound system and a white baby grand piano. I glance behind me to say another thank you to Nat, but she’s bending to the white marble floor, rubbing at it with a cloth she must’ve had in a pocket.
It’s as if I’ve left dirt behind, and that won’t do for such a spotless place.
She scurries off without even a glance at us, and I look up at Owen, catching him watching me again. Once more his dark gaze cools, and he lifts his arm, gesturing for me to continue all the way into the room.
As I accommodate him, I realize that, eventually, we’re going to come to a room where we’ll have sex for my very first time. I start to go wet for him, my belly spinning, heating.
Wanting this mysterious stranger so badly I can’t stand it.