Hi lovelies, I’ve had lots of questions about my second book and wanted to share that I’m mid-edits on Stripped! Ava’s story has been WAY harder to finish than Lex’s (note: lots of dark chocolate was harmed in the making of this book). Maybe because it’s 2 POV…though if I’m honest, Ava gives me more grief than Nate does.
Some good news – It’s coming out December 10! (Yes, you can totally use it to decompress during holiday shopping/ baking/ hair pulling out.) Pre-order now on Amazon and Kobo.
And, stay tuned for an unplanned development. I’m working on a serial with the help of some fabulous beta readers from this very site! With luck the first instalment it will be available on Kindle Unlimited by the first week of November 🙂
In the meantime I wanted to share the UNEDITED first chapters…read on!
And one more thing: piperlawsonbooks followers get first dibs on ARCS 😉
STRIPPED (TRAVESTY BOOK 2), Copyright Piper Lawson 2015
I love New York.
The city streets might have been freezing, but inside it was hot. The club was three stories. The top two had wrap-around balconies overlooking a crowded dance floor. An enormous chandelier hung from the center, pulsing with light to the music.
“This place it unreal!” I shouted at my best friend, Lex.
We were dressed to the nines. Two twenty-one-year-olds high on the city. We’d flown to the Big Apple over Christmas break to pitch our clothing designs to the magazine editor Lex interned with. But we were also there to have fun and celebrate the end of the fall semester at our San Diego college.
Right now, I needed to flirt.
In honour of that I’d worn my ‘boom-boom-pow’ dress: low-cut, fitted and leaving no curve to the imagination. Despite the sky-high heels, I was still hopelessly short in this crowd of adults-only.
“Let’s dance!” I dragged Lex onto the floor, an orgy of lights and skin and sparkles. She humoured me.
Coming up for air after a few songs, I looked around at the sea of people, fuelled by ambition and Red Bull. A group of guys in suits standing at the nearest bar looked way too together for this crowd.
Since junior high my type’s been surfer, not banker. I was a sucker for messy hair, washboard abs and an easy-breezy “I’ve got all the time in the world” attitude.
Now that guy would send easy-breezy running for cover, I thought when the tallest turned his head toward me. The vibe went past his tailored suit. It was in all of him. How he held his shoulders. The tilt of his head.
I knew what lust looked like. Heat, sex, flirtation—they were familiar. Easy. Guys had looked at me like that and I knew what to do with it. If I was feeling it, if I wasn’t.
But this guy wasn’t flirting. His gaze was pure intensity, ocean deep.
And maybe just as soulless.
Where the hell did that thought come from. Chill, girl, you’re not Keats.
“Hello? New York calling Ava?” My best friend yanked me back, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. I loved my bestie in all her states, but tipsy Lex was fun and crazier than sober Lex. “Need a wing woman? I know you’ve been dying to check out the New York manscape.”
I smothered a laugh at her abuse of the word. “Thanks hon. I do like a good…manscape. I’m good though.”
“If you say so. I have to pee,” she said solemnly. “You want to come?”
“If you want me to.” I was itching to look back toward the guy who’d been staring holes in me. “Or I can get us another drink.”
“Deal.” Lex cut a determined path through the crowd. When my eyes again found the bar, the guy was gone. Disappointment crept in.
Sure he was hot. But hot guys were a dime a dozen, especially in this club.
I approached the bar. My hips swayed absently to the music while l leaned over the top to grab the bartender’s attention.
A short man with dark hair appeared at my elbow. He grinned drunkenly, eyes moving from my face to my chest. “Hey baby,” he slurred. I ignored him and turned back to order.
Drunk guy persisted. “I coulda bought you that.”
“It’s OK, I’m with a friend,” I said automatically. Firmly. I didn’t need to lay into him. We all got a little drunk sometimes and he might be embarrassed in the morning.
“You could be my friend.” He moved closer and leered, like the secrets of the universe were hidden in my cleavage. “I could do things to you you’ve never even dreamed of.”
OK, nice Ava has left the building. I was about to tell him to go befriend his hand in some uncomfortable ways when something brushed my arm.
When I looked over the Suit was next to me. It was like I’d conjured him by snapping my fingers, or wishing on the Hot Guy Fairy.
Perceptive eyes moved between me and the drunk. Searching. Assessing. Understanding. Finally the Suit stepped closer, laying a hand lightly on my waist and dropping his head toward my ear in a familiar way. “There you are,” he said over the music. His eyes urged me to play along.
“Dammit – um – Charlie! Where the hell have you been?” I asked, silently apologizing for the name.
“A little problem with the Porsche.” His smooth voice caressed my ear. My spine tingled, like violin strings responding to a bow.
“That’s what you get for buying an import,” I tossed back, starting to enjoying our game. I’d nearly forgotten drunk guy until he took a step toward me.
“You’re not with her,” drunk guy sneered.
Instead of backing down, the Suit tugged me to his side, his eyes surveying the other guy. “You should leave.” Coolly.
“Really? I think she wants me here.” He cut a lecherous look toward me. Despite the fact that I knew nothing would happen, it sent a chill through my body.
“Friend, you’re so drunk you can barely stand,” my unplanned protector replied easily. “You won’t even be able to get it up if you find some girl to take pity on you.”
“No, you listen.” His tone hardened to steel under the surface. It made me nervous and it wasn’t even directed at me. “This is the closest you’ll ever be to a girl like this, so I suggest you take a picture and move the hell along. Actually – don’t take a picture. Just go.”
“You wanna dance, pretty boy?”
The Suit leaned into drunk guy, threatening, without releasing me. “If you could see inside my head right now, you’d run for the door. I have a million reasons to want to hurt someone. This is not the day to fuck with me. Friend.”
Drunk guy was stupid but evidently not suicidal. We watched him until he disappeared into the crowd with a few muttered curses.
Displays of male aggression weren’t my thing. But there was something ridiculously hot about how the Suit had sent the other guy packing without so much as raising his voice or creasing his jacket.
We both realized he was still holding me at the same time. He dropped his hand like I was on fire and I stepped back to put a few inches between us. “Thanks for the save,” I managed.
“Any decent person would do the same.” His voice was cool instead of the warmth I’d expected.
“No they wouldn’t.”
My blunt disagreement barely fazed him. “I need to say something. What’s your name?”
“Ava.” My lips were dry.
He nodded. “Here’s the thing, Ava. A Hyundai is an import. A Porsche is an unparalleled feat of European engineering wrapped in sex.”
Is that a joke? I didn’t have a clue. “I bet you don’t even have a Porsche. You’re just trying to impress girls at a bar.”
He straightened, eyes heating with intensity again. “Do you want to find out?”
I’d been imagining him as this cool, untouchable guy but the bad line brought me back to earth. He was probably another ass like the one he’d saved me from. Just better looking and, for now, less drunk.
“Yeah. Sorry, but I’m not going to fuck you tonight. It’s been fun, Suit.” I glanced down to check my phone, figuring he’d get the message. No texts from Lex. I should go check on her…
When I looked up, I was surprised to find he was still there. Apparently getting shot down was new for him.
“I wasn’t asking you to have sex with me,” he clarified in the same deliberate voice. “I was asking if you wanted to know what I drive. A lot of girls do.”
I snorted. A lot of girls he knew must’ve been pretty shallow. “I don’t care if you drive a Porsche, a Hyundai, or a golf cart.”
He tilted his head. Like he’d just seen a kind of animal he didn’t know existed. “Well, cheers to that.” Warmth and curiosity edged into his tone.
“You can’t cheers,” I reminded him. “You don’t have a drink.”
“And yet you have two.” He gestured to the martini glasses in my hands, eyes never leaving mine.
Well played, Suit.
“Aren’t you supposed to offer to buy girls drinks?”
“Aren’t girls supposed to wait for guys to buy them drinks?” he countered.
I let my eyes run down his body, then back up, slower. He was long and lean, with broad shoulders, dark hair, piercing eyes. A sculpted mouth pursed in thought. He was definitely easy on the eyes. “You don’t look like a cosmo guy,” I said to cover up that I’d shamelessly checked him out.
“I never say no to cranberry,” he said teasingly.
“Really keeps the urinary tract infections at bay, huh?”
He couldn’t believe I’d said it. I could, because speaking without thinking is pretty much my factory setting. Love it or hate it, it refuses to be reined in.
But then reluctant grin spread across his face. “How’d you know?” he replied, humor lighting his eyes. “I’m Nate. And I would offer to buy you a drink, but it looks like you beat me to it. Twice.” I was not ready for the way his smile transformed him. Suddenly relaxed, like my bad joke had defused the tension, he looked younger. I would’ve pegged him at twenty-seven.
“This drink’s for a friend.” I made a show of thinking about it. Decided what the hell. He had done me a solid with drunk guy, and I’d get Lex another later. “Alright, Suit. Let’s see what you’ve got.” Impulsively I handed over one of the cosmos and toasted him with mine. Then downed it.
He followed, grimacing as the sugary pink liquid hit its mark. “Are you from New York?” Nate asked over the music as I set our glasses on a railing and started to tow him toward the pulsing lights and writhing bodies.
I stopped and sighed. Turned around.
Making conversation meant too much thinking. And it’d kill my buzz to find out he was a jerk. I just wanted to bask for a few minutes in the glory of his stunning jaw line, intimidating countenance, and slow smile.
“Are you really here—“ I gestured to the club around us “—for the small talk?”
“I don’t actually know why I’m here. Scratch that, it’s a favour for a friend.”
“Well you can do another favour: shut up and dance with me. Because it’s not every day I get to dance with an underwear model.”
He let me pull him a couple more steps toward the floor, probably caught off guard, before hitting the brakes again. “So that’s what you think I am,” he asked, incredulous.
“Just go with it,” I suggested.
“Alright. But I feel compelled to inform you,” he added seriously, “that most girls like to talk.”
“Are you a girl?” I glanced pointedly at his belt.
“Ah – not last time I checked,” he responded wryly.
“Then we’re good.” I tilted my head toward the dance floor as if to say are you coming anytime soon?
His eyes narrowed. “You really just want me for my body?” he asked.
“Something like that.” Though it wasn’t just that. It was the confidence he was projecting. The aura. I wanted to wrap it around me. Roll around in it a while.
“Fine,” he said. “But you need to tell me something about you so I don’t feel like such a creep groping you.”
One of his hands was threaded in mine and the other was at his side. “You aren’t groping me.”
When I looked up he was watching me. “Maybe I’m just being polite until I get to know you.” His mouth curved at the corner in a way that might’ve been teasing and might’ve been wicked.
My body chose the last version, and a flare lit the bottom of my spine.
I paused at the edge of the dance floor. Once we were on it, it’d be too loud to talk at all.
“Alright, you want to know something about me? I’m afraid of seals. Like, truly fucking terrified.”
“That’s fair. They’re big up close.”
I shook my head emphatically. “No, those are sea lions. I mean seals. Those cute playful ones that swim around and do tricks.” I shuddered. “They’re so sneaky looking. Like they’re going to swim up and bite your ankle.”
The grin slowly spread across his face. “Where do you live, Antarctica?”
“I already said one thing. Now you get to say one thing about yourself,” I instructed, making up the rules as I went. “Something silly.”
He looked out across the club, thinking. When he’d decided, his eyebrows did a little jump. “I jumped off the roof of my dad’s shed when I was seven. Thought I could fly. Went to the hospital for five stitches.” He pointed to his eyebrow.
“Where?” I couldn’t see anything.
Nate leaned closer and my breath caught. I forced myself to pay attention to where his finger rested on his temple instead of to his mouth just inches from mine.
Then I could see it – the pale scar interrupting his eyebrow, barely visible in the low light.
“There. We’re practically best friends. Let’s go, Superman.” I successfully towed him into the throng of bodies losing themselves to the insistent beat. I fit myself against him, my back to his front, his face just above my shoulder.
Nate was long planes and hard angles joined by muscle I felt when he brushed against me.
A kick of lust ran through me. It’d been a while since I felt it. I missed it. Needed it.
Lex materialized at my side a song later.
“There you are!” I exclaimed, pulling away from Nate to cup my hands around her ear so I could be heard. “Where were you?”
“Bathroom. Can I get a drink?”
“Sure. Then get your ass back out here and dance!” She did, spinning off with another guy soon after coming back.
Nate and I’d started out dancing more friendly and flirty than hot and heavy, but it wasn’t enough. The beat of the music was repetitive and the minor chords giving in to majors wrecked havoc with my feelings.
Nate’s long hands were on my hips, but he hadn’t tried to kiss me or grind against me. He had me on a slow burn. But he was playing it pretty cool.
I should’ve been relieved after the pushy guy at the bar. I wasn’t.
“You still with me, Ava?” he murmured, sensing my shift in mood.
“Yeah.” Was he totally unaffected? Maybe he really had just come to save me. Was just dancing with me to be polite, or to make sure the drunk guy didn’t come back.
I needed to know. I reached back and wrap a hand around his neck, inviting him closer. After a moment’s hesitation he circled my waist with one arm, tugging me to him and bringing his mouth near my ear. I pressed my hips back into his.
And now it was better and worse. I could feel him, hard against my back, and hear his breaths get shallow. His hand tightened on my waist, only to relax again when I tilted my head so my ear is closer to his mouth.
“What’re you thinking, pretty girl?” Nate asked, his voice catching. He seemed caught up in the moment.
“That it’s hot and maybe I need some air.” I swallowed. Overwhelmed by the music and the feelings and him. “You?”
His lips grazed my ear and I shivered despite the heat. “Honestly? I’m thinking I’m hard as a rock and I wish we were anywhere but this club right now.”
It took a minute for the words to sink in. I turned to face him and his gaze hit me squarely in the gut. He was looking at me like I was the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen.
We’d stopped dancing but no one noticed. The club was packed and drunk.
“I take it back,” he said suddenly.
I was confused. “Take what back?”
“Earlier when we were talking about the car. I said I didn’t want you to have sex with me. I take it back,” he said earnestly. “I think you should absolutely have sex with me.”
His face was so serious I was torn between laughing and calling for a bucket of ice water to keep me from burning up.
“That’s pretty cocky,” I managed.
“I said I was thinking it. What matters is, what do you think?”
Images swamped my brain. Me, the Suit, a jumble of clothes at the bottom of a bed. Just skin and sweat and hours between us.
I swallowed and looked at him. He wasn’t touching me, trying to seduce me with his hands or his body. He was waiting. Watching. Giving me space.
This was definitely not how college guys operated. I was completely out of my depth.
What did I think?
The thought of going home with him thrilled and terrified me. I wanted…something. I hadn’t played this flirtation out to its conclusion, but he had.
Could I actually do it? Did I want to?
I stalled. “I haven’t even kissed you yet. You could be a bad kisser.”
He frowned. “Do you think I’m a bad kisser?”
“Um. Probably not.” My gaze fell to his mouth. I was sure he’d hear the thumping of my heart over the bassline.
“In fact, now that you bring it up, you might be a bad kisser.” Nate’s voice was so low it was almost inaudible.
All the teasing, the talk of kissing while we were looking at each others’ mouths was killing me.
I gave up the mental battle and ran my hands up his chest, under the lapels of his suit jacket. Nate lowered his mouth to mine, as deliberately as he did everything else.
Then his hands were on my back and waist, pulling me to him with new urgency. The feel of him sent sparks along my nerve endings and I felt him groan low in his throat, the low sound barely audible over the music.
Without hesitation we went straight for the good stuff. Nate opened his mouth on mine, teasing my tongue with his. He could have seduced me with that alone. But it wasn’t alone. One hand threaded into my hair, tugging the roots and angling me better so he could slant his mouth over mine.
That mouth that was calm and cool didn’t seem so calm and cool anymore. There was still some of the composure but I felt the need in every hitch of his breath. When his thumb stroked my skin just above the side of my dress, I thought I might pass out. I grabbed the back of his neck to hold him against me. My other hand was under his jacket, feeling the muscles of his back. He hissed out a breath.
It wasn’t enough. Not even close.
“What are you doing for the next ten hours?” He ground it out between kisses. I pulled back. His bright eyes were blazing on mine while my mouth still tingled from his kisses. “And while I don’t want to influence you, one perfectly legitimate answer would be me.”
“It won’t be if you keep saying shit like that,” I replied tartly, even though his brand of confidence and weirdness was making my head spin.
“Yeah, well, I’ll—” His voice was cut off as I raised onto my toes to bite his full bottom lip. “Dammit.” He growled the words and I felt them all the way to my toes. “Ava. Please come home with me. I’m dying here.” He was short of breath. “And I really don’t want to go out on a dance floor with a bunch of sweaty socialites. Because as we’ve already established, this is not my scene.”
The doubts in my mind faded into the background, consumed by the beat of the music. I knew what I wanted. And it was right in front of me.
“I’m busy in ten hours. But I’ll give you six.” I ran my mouth along his jaw. His eyes fell shut and he groaned. “And you’re making me eggs for breakfast.”
July, Six and a Half Months Later
I hate New York.
My pulse pounded in my ears like a drum. Sweat poured down my face. My neck.
Is spontaneous combustion a real thing? Because it might happen to me in the next five seconds.
“What the hell do you mean you’re selling our condo?” I panted into my cell. My lungs dragged in two shallow breaths.
“Honey, it’s my condo. You and your roommate need to be out in a week.” Our landlord’s voice came down the line.
“But we just moved in! You can’t—”
I was booking it across 37th Street as fast as my trendy open-toed pumps would carry me, already late for an important meeting.
Getting evicted wasn’t the first bad thing to happen this month. Since my best friend and I moved to New York, a bird shit on my head, a local flashed me on the street, and the R train got me lost.
Three. Fucking. Times.
For a city that’s supposed to be epic, the Big Apple hadn’t rolled out the welcome mat.
The sleek office building I’d been hunting for came into view around the corner. I pulled on the door. It refused to open. I tried to wedge inside, and managed to break a nail instead.
I looked around wildly, realizing too late that everyone was going through a revolving door further down the building. The one I’d been trying said ‘SECURITY ONLY’ across the top.
I pressed inside the ‘right’ door to find a lobby filled with well-dressed professionals. Unlike me, they knew where they were going. My heels clicked as I rush over the marble floor toward the security guard in the corner.
The guard’s nametag said BARRY. I plastered on a smile and try not to wheeze.
“I’m—” shallow breath of a dying woman “—I’m looking for a law office.”
“Which law office?” Barry asked my boobs. Apparently they were more exciting than my words. In his defence, Barry wasn’t the first man to think so. Maybe someday my boobs could run for office.
“There’s more than one law office here?”
“Twelve in this building.”
Hell. No wonder the world is going to shit.
I tried to remember the name. “Umm … something about arms…”
“Armstrong Levitt. They’re on eighteen. What’s a pretty girl like you need a lawyer for, anyway?” He looked me up and down like this is the best part of his day. Barry was old enough to be my dad.
I rested a forearm on the desk and leaned toward him. His eyes shone hopefully.
“Barry?” I confided in a loud whisper. “I cut a guy.”
I took off toward the elevator bank without looking back for his reaction.
Eighteen floors passed in a flash. I did my best to fix myself in the mirrored wall. Tucked a few strands of auburn hair back into my messy bun. Scrubbed a tiny smudge of winged eyeliner I always managed to screwed up on my left eye, even though I’d done it nearly every day for six years. Smoothed my royal blue silk tank and tugged down my probably-too-short skirt. I did the last part carefully, so as not to damage the feather detailing around the hem.
No matter what I tried, it still looked like I’d just participated in the running of the bulls. A sheen of sweat was clearly visible on my…well, everything.
The doors opened with a ding, exposing a law office that looked like it was made by old rich men, for old rich men. Shiny wood. Polished marble. Big, bold lettering probably made from 24-karat gold.
I stepped out to find a pretty secretary smiling from the reception desk. A familiar face caught my eye through the glass wall of a conference room and barrelled past reception.
“I’m here! Sorry about the time.”
My best friend and business partner sat on the far side of the table with our lawyer, a short, older man. His name was John. Or James. Or Jack?
Lex’s gray eyes radiated relief. She was dressed in a stylish blue boyfriend jacket rolled at the sleeves and a lime-green pencil skirt. Her red hair fell in sleek waves just past her shoulders.
Always 100% class, my BFF didn’t look like she’s just completed an Iron Man.
So, hey. That made one of us.
“Traffic was insane. Still getting used to it.” I pulled out a chair and collapsed into it.
My clothes were already sticking to me. Now they’d stick me to the chair. Ick.
Lex’s eyebrow raised. She knew I didn’t drive.
“Right. So, remind me what we’re doing here?” I turned to John/James/Jack.
I never thought we’d need a lawyer. And with less than eight weeks to finalize Travesty’s spring collection, Lex and I didn’t have time to be here wading through whatever paperwork they’d cooked up.
“John was just about to tell us.”
At least I got his name right. Point, me.
John gestured to another person at the table, who I’d hardly noticed in my rush. “Ava, I want you to meet someone. This is—”
OH No …
OH, supercalifragifucking …
“—Nathan Townsend,” John finished.
I’m a visual person. What I noticed was spiky dark hair. A jaw you could cut diamonds on. A navy suit that cost more than my rent tailored to fit a hard body. Eyes two shades lighter than the suit.
He wasn’t smiling but I knew his teeth were straight. The only flaw above his neck was a scar through his eyebrow. And you’d only see it if you were close.
Say, close enough to lick it.
I wanted to squeeze my eyes shut. Hope he’d vanish in a puff of smoke, like a leprechaun. Or a unicorn. Or anything that belonged in my imagination and not reclining comfortably in a New York law office.
“Ava Cameron.” A whiskey-smooth voice invaded my thoughts.
Whatever I’d done in a past life, I didn’t deserve this. “You’re a—”
“Associate. Townsend Price.” Blue eyes took me apart and put me back together. Then he straightened despite his already impressive posture. He pushed a card in front of me on the table.
An actual fucking business card.
Nathan J. Townsend.
Unbelievable. Aren’t lawyers supposed to be old and balding, like John? Not twenty-something and sexy as…
John broke in on my thoughts. “You know each other?”
“No,” I said emphatically.
John’s gaze flicked between us. His next words dragged my runaway brain back to the conversation. “We’re here because Mr. Townsend’s client is alleging you copied his designs.”
The surprise at seeing Nate was replaced by shock at John’s words. “What the hell are you talking about?” My eyes cut back to Nate.
“One of the designs from Travesty’s initial collection, your design, has an uncanny resemblance to one created by my client, Mr. Anthony Bryson,” he replied, seeming completely unfazed by my outburst. Nate opened a folder and slid over the glossy photos like a detective in a network cop show. “These garments appeared at a fashion show three weeks ago. I understand they’re part of your fall line.”
Nate had switched into full-on lawyer mode. It was strange and familiar at once. The last time I’d heard his voice, it had been an octave lower and saying other things.
Very. Different. Things.
I forced my attention back to the photos in front of me.
The first showed a flouncy skirt I’d done for the fall, blown up to highlight tone-on-tone detailing in an inverted chevron pattern that blended into hearts at the bottom. Next to it was a photo of a maxi skirt I didn’t recognize, but the pattern was familiar.
I glanced at Lex. She motioned for the photos, which I slid over.
“Travesty’s designs are original. And mine,” I bit out.
“I appreciate your indignation, Ms. Cameron. But there is a striking similarity between this motif, shown here on your clothing, and my client’s.”
His tone was as infuriating as his accusations. “It doesn’t sound like you appreciate anything, Mr. Townsend. Except maybe the giant tree trunk up your ass, which you seem pretty happy about.”
Nate blinked. I felt the tiniest drop of satisfaction.
“What Ava’s trying to say,” Lex jumped in with her trademark tact, trying to mediate despite the fact that she had even less idea what was going on than I did, “is chevron has inspired a lot of collections this fall. We have a unique take on it.”
“Nathan, whatever Tony Bryson says, this is a sham. We intend to dispute this. I think we’re done for today.” John cut us off before we could say anything more.
This day had gone straight from bad to apocalypse-sized disastrous.
I dug into my bag, searching for a nail file. At least I could fix something of this hellish day.
I’ve been in New York four weeks. I’m behind on the spring line, a week from homeless and getting sued by someone who’s seen me naked.
“Sounds like quite the trifecta,” Nate muttered under his breath as he slid his files into a brown leather case. My gaze snapped up. Translucent, unreadable blue eyes held mine as humiliation washed over me.
Because apparently I’d said it out loud.