First Taste of Darkness

June 6, 2014

New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Cynthia Eden’s sexy romance, FIRST TASTE OF DARKNESS, will take you to the dark edge of desire…

It was supposed to be a one-night stand.

Hot sex. No regrets. Jess Delaney has spent her life playing the role of the good-girl. On a trip to Vegas, she decides to walk on the wild side when she meets mysterious Blake Landon. Rich, powerful, and carrying plenty of secrets, Blake is unlike any man she has ever met before.

Blake is also far more dangerous than anyone she’s ever encountered. When enemies from Blake’s past attack, Jess finds herself caught in a deadly cat-and-mouse game. Her only hope of survival? Trusting a man who knows too much about the dark side of life…and a man who—with every sensual touch—binds her to him with a desire that burns red-hot.

Once you step into the darkness, there’s no turning back…

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Chapter One

“Not changing your mind, are you?”

His voice was low and dark, seductive and deep.

Jess Delaney glanced toward the man who’d just spoken, forcing herself to look into his glittering, green gaze. A dark, turbulent green. “N-no, of course not.”

He put his hands up, caging her against the elevator’s rear wall. They were rising, going up higher, higher, with every second that passed. Jess’s knees might have been shaking because of the fear that coursed through her, but, luckily, Blake Landon didn’t seem overly interested in her knees right then.

His gaze had dropped to her mouth.

“Because if you want to say no,” Blake told her as his head lowered over hers, “this is your chance. Once the doors open, there won’t be any going back.”

Her heart was about to jump out of her chest. She lifted her hands—dammit, they were trembling, too—and she placed them against his chest. What a nice, broad, sexy chest it was.

But then, everything about Blake Landon was sexy.

Tall, dark, too handsome by far, the man supposedly owned half of Las Vegas.

And he wants me.

She was living in a dream world—a world that would end in ten hours when she left Vegas and headed back to her real life in Seaport, Florida. But, for those precious hours…

“I want you,” she whispered. Those words were the truth. She wanted Blake Landon. Jess wanted his power and his strength and even the aura of danger that clung to him like a dark shadow.

Just hours before, she’d walked into the hotel’s glitzy bar. She’d seen him and been lost.

Blake had been surrounded, of course, by a crowd. According to the stories she’d heard, a crowd usually followed him. But, somehow, through that crush of people, he’d noticed her, too. He’d sent her a drink.

And, three hours later, she’d wound up in his private elevator. On her way up to his private suite at the Landon Hotel.

His lips brushed over hers. She could taste the champagne that they’d enjoyed. The most expensive champagne that she’d ever had.

Her head tilted back. His tongue slid into her mouth, and, within the confines of her too-high heels, her toes started to curl.

This was what she’d been looking for her whole life.

His fingers—rough, slightly callused at the tips—eased under the thin straps of her dress.

“The first time I saw you,” he growled the words against her lips, “I wanted you naked.”

Oh. Okay. That was…hot. No other man had ever told her that before.

Maybe it was the new highlights that she’d gotten. Or the contacts. Or the—

He kissed her again. Drove his tongue past her lips and had her moaning.

Blake Landon knew how to kiss. The guy was a master.

The dress’s straps slid down her arms. Goosebumps rose on her flesh. It was going to happen. She was taking this moment, taking him, and Jess wasn’t going to be the good girl any longer.

When in Vegas—

The elevator doors dinged.

Blake’s dark head lifted. “Now let’s see about getting you out of that dress.”

He turned toward the open doors—just as gunfire erupted.

Wait, gunfire?

Bullets slammed into the elevator wall just inches from her head. All of the elevator’s walls were made of glass, and when the bullets hit, the glass shattered, raining down on them.

Blake grabbed her and shoved her to the side. Her feet twisted in the heels, and Jess hit the floor.

In that same instant, Blake yanked out a gun.

The man had been armed? When he’d been making out with her, he’d had a weapon? She sure hadn’t noticed it.

Blake returned fire.

Forget firing back, they needed to get out of there!

On her hands and knees, Jess scuttled toward the control panel. She shoved chunks of glass out of her way.

Bam! Bam!

Her knees and hands weren’t the only things trembling then. Her whole body shook.

But she just needed to go forward a few more inches…

She lifted her fist and drove it into the control panel. Yes! She’d hit the button for the first floor.

The doors slowly began to close.

Bam! Bam!

Blake was still firing. She heard footsteps racing toward them. If their attacker got close enough, if he was able to stop those doors from closing—

Blake fired once more.

She heard a grunt. Her heart stopped. Did that sound mean that Blake had taken out whoever had been shooting at them?

The doors slid closed, and Jess sucked in a deep breath.

Her stare rose and fixed on Blake. His fingers were still locked around his gun, and his gaze, when it came to find hers, was hard and even darker than before. “Are you hurt?” Blake demanded.

She rose to her feet, ignoring her shaky knees. “No.”

He stepped toward her, and his stare swept over her body. As if he didn’t believe her, and he needed to check for himself.

Someone just shot at us.

“Does this happen a lot to you?” Jess whispered.

His jaw hardened.

Unfortunately, she viewed that response as a yes. So much for her exciting night. Maybe it would be better for her to stick to the non-excitement of Seaport.

Blake yanked out his phone. The lights on the control panel told her that they would be hitting the lobby soon, then she’d be rushing for the hotel’s exit door.

Blake Landon was sexy, but she wasn’t about to die for the man. No way.

“Get a crew up to the top floor,” Blake barked into his phone. “Yeah, I had an uninvited guest waiting for me. I hit him—”

So the grunt had meant that the bullet connected with its target. Her goosebumps got worse.

“Get him, question him, and find out who the hell sent the guy to my home!” His voice was low and hard—terrifying. “I want to know how he got past security. That never should’ve happened.”

The elevator stopped. The elevator dinged, and the doors slid open.

Very, very carefully, Jess poked her head out of the elevator. She looked to the left, then to the right.

No bullets came flying at her, so she took that chance to run.


Blake was calling her name. Folks in the crowded lobby spun at his shout. Jess didn’t spin. She made a beeline for the door. She’d forgotten that there was a reason that she stayed away from sexy, dangerous men.

Because they were dangerous.

She rushed through the Landon Hotel’s revolving entrance/exit. Part of her dress got caught in that revolving door, and Jess found herself being yanked back. Risking a fast glance over her shoulder, she saw that Blake was rushing toward her.

His gun wasn’t in his hands, not any longer. That was a good thing.

She grabbed the trapped fabric of her dress and jerked, as hard as she could. The dress came free. The doors started to revolve again, and in two seconds, she was out in the hot Vegas night.

Jess lifted her hand, signaling for the taxi that waited just a few feet away. The sooner she was away from Blake Landon—

“I can’t let you go,” he said, and his hands curled around her elbow.

Wait, what?

Then he pushed her into the back of a long, fancy limo. The kind of limo that had a bar inside. The kind that smelled of leather. The kind that the uber rich used.

“The windows are bullet-proof,” Blake told her grimly. “Don’t worry, you’re safe.”

He rapped on the glass that separated them from the driver, and the vehicle pulled away from the curb.

Jess tried to lunge for the nearest door.

But Blake’s hands wrapped around her, and he pulled her right back against his side. “Easy. I want to make sure you’re not hurt.”

Hadn’t they already covered this? “I’m not, but I am ready to go—”

“We’re going,” his low voice was obviously meant to soothe. If she hadn’t nearly taken a bullet to the head, maybe she would feel soothed.

She didn’t. So much for having a dream night. Her dream had turned into an instant nightmare.

His hands slid down her arms. His touch was light, caressing, and the guy didn’t have so much as a faint quiver in his fingertips.

“Someone just tried to kill you,” Jess said. Her voice was high and sharp. Not calm in any way.

He shrugged.


Blake said, “He should’ve never gotten past my security. Don’t worry, a team will take care of him—”

“A team?” Her shocked question cut right through his words. “Shouldn’t you be calling the cops?”

“They’ll be notified, eventually.” He brushed back the hair that had fallen over Jess’s shoulder. “You know, you surprised me back there.”

She blinked at him.

“You moved fast to shut those doors. A lot of people would have frozen in a situation like that.” Now he sounded impressed with her.

He shouldn’t be impressed. Obviously, he’d missed seeing her frantic crab-crawl to the control panel.

“You surprised me, too,” Jess tossed back at him. “I wasn’t exactly expecting you to have a gun on you.”

His head tilted. The car’s interior was dark, so she couldn’t see him clearly, and she sure wished that she could see his eyes then.

When he spoke, his voice seemed carefully controlled. “I’m not an easy man, Jess. I’ve got a lot of enemies, and I have to be ready to protect myself at any moment.” His fingers rested against her cheek. “You’ll be safe with me tonight.”

“Um, about that…” She should move away from him, but his body felt so warm and solid, and the man smelled good. “I think it would be better if you just dropped me off at my hotel.” She hadn’t exactly signed on for a shoot-out.

Hot, unforgettable sex? Yes, that had been on the menu. A potential bullet wound had not been.

But he shook his head. “I can’t risk it. Until I make sure that the threat is eliminated, I need to keep you close.”

Her breath caught. They were pretty close right then.

“I need you to trust me,” he said.

“I-I just met you.” Trust didn’t enter the equation. Not with a one-night stand situation.

Her first time to try for a one-nighter. It figured that plan would get wrecked. Story of her life. And she’d thought getting dumped days before her wedding was bad.

Nearly dying is so much worse.

“I promise, you’re safe with me.” A new intensity had entered his voice, one that gave her pause. Again, Jess wished that she could see him better. She wished that she could look deep into his eyes.

The limo’s interior had seemed huge to her moments before, but it suddenly felt very small. Or maybe Blake was just too big. His wide shoulders stretched, filling the space, and he seemed to cage her next to him.

“When dawn comes,” her words weren’t as sharp anymore, “I get to leave?”

“If that’s what you want.”

Jess nodded. Sure, that was exactly what she’d want.

His fingers trailed down her cheek, then slipped over the curve of her neck. “Your pulse is racing so fast.”

She swallowed and knew he felt the small movement. “Being shot at will do that to me.”

Blake laughed. The sound sent a shiver over her. A man’s laugh shouldn’t be so sexy. “You are unexpected.”

Uh, okay.

He bent his head. His mouth replaced his hand on her neck. He kissed her lightly. Softly. And then she felt the rasp of his tongue on her throat.

Jess’s fingers dug into that fancy leather seat.

“Once you step into my world,” he murmured, and the edge of his teeth scored her flesh, “you may not want to leave.”

Her eyes had drifted closed, and Jess was working really hard to hold back a moan, so she barely heard his words.

A shoot-out, a seduction in the back of a limo—that was probably commonplace for him.

Not for her.

His left hand slid up her thigh, pushing away the silken pool of her dress. “Your skin’s softer than the silk.”

And his fingers were so warm. No, hot, against her. He seemed to scorch her flesh.

Up, up his hand rose. She should stop him. Tell Blake that his world was too scary for her.

Instead, she arched against his touch. When his fingers skimmed the edge of her panties, the moan that she’d been holding back broke free.

Maybe it was the champagne—that wildly expensive stuff—or maybe it was the backlash of the adrenaline rush. Or maybe it’s just him.

But the desire she felt hadn’t waned. It had just grown all the more intense with every moment that passed.

Her whole body was tight and aching, and she wanted him to pull down her panties. She wanted him to stroke her, right there, in that car.

This is crazy. But Jess didn’t care. She wanted to be crazy for a while. Playing by the rules and being the good girl had gotten her nowhere fast.

A cheating fiancé. An empty home.

Why not grab tight to this wild moment? Why not live, just a little?

His lips pressed to hers even as his fingers slid over the edge of her underwear. Every muscle in her body clamped down as anticipation filled her.

“I’ve got plans for you,” he whispered against her mouth. “So many plans…”

Then his fingers were under her panties. Those broad, callused fingers rubbed against the folds of her sex.

She was wet. Already. Should she be embarrassed by that? Jess wasn’t certain. This was so out of her element. She didn’t—

“You feel fucking fantastic.” His voice had deepened even more.

She decided to forget about embarrassment.

His index finger thrust into her even as his thumb pushed over her clit.

He kissed her neck again. Worked that sensitive spot with his mouth even as his fingers explored the most intimate part of her body.

Jess sank her teeth into her lower lip. Her body tensed as she tried to control the emotions racing through her. This couldn’t be happening—it shouldn’t be, in the back of a limo—

Don’t.” The one word snapped from Blake.

She realized that she’d squeezed her eyes shut. Jess’s eyes flew open, but she could only see his shadowy outline around her.

“Don’t hold back with me. Don’t ever hold back. I want every response you have to give.” And he pushed another finger into her.

“Th-the driver…” Her climax was coming. She’d never gotten to release this quickly before, but she could feel it building, building—

“William can’t hear anything…”

Oh, that was good to know.

“Don’t hold back,” he said again. And his finger…those wonderful fingers…they thrust into her again.

Pleasure exploded through her. A sharp inferno that caught her in an instant and burned its way through her body. She didn’t hold back, she cried out his name when the fiery climax hit. Her fingernails sank into Blake’s shoulders.

“Fucking beautiful,” he growled.

Then he kissed her again. She wasn’t holding anything back, and she kissed him with a wild hunger, because that pleasure—she wanted more.

But then Jess realized that the vehicle had stopped moving. She wasn’t even sure how long it had been still, and she pushed, frantic, against Blake’s shoulders.

His head lifted. His eyes glinted in the darkness. “Like I said,” Blake rasped, “unexpected.”

She couldn’t draw in a deep breath. She could only manage some extremely unsophisticated pants as she fought to get oxygen into her lungs. “That was…um…”

“The beginning.” Flat. “That was the beginning for us.”

A beginning? The end would come in less than ten hours.

And…his fingers were still inside of her.

Jess felt her cheeks flame. Okay, so the darkness could be a good thing.

Very, very slowly, he pulled his hand away from her sex. A moan caught in her throat because even as he left her, his touch still felt so good.

But it wasn’t just his hand that was leaving her.

He took her panties.

She grabbed his wrist. “What are you doing?”

“You won’t need these tonight.”

He eased the panties down her legs and over her high heels, then he tucked them into the pocket of his coat. Seconds later, he smoothed down her dress. “I told you that I’d take you someplace safe…we’re here.”

And she was supposed to just get out of the limo and walk around people, acting normally, as if she hadn’t experienced the best orgasm of her life seconds before?

He opened the door. Exited the vehicle. Offered his hand to her.

Yes, that’s what I’m supposed to do.

But when she managed to climb from the limo, she saw— “We’re at my hotel,” Jess said as she stared up at the glittering lights of the Imperial Magic Hotel.

“No,” he corrected her as his fingers curled around her hand. “We’re at my hotel.”

Her brow furrowed. She was squeezing her legs together, and she had the unnerving sensation that she could actually still feel him touching her sex. “J-just how many hotels do you own?”

“In Vegas? Or overall?” He started to lead her toward the brightly lit hotel entrance.

“Never mind,” she muttered. “I don’t want to know.” Knowing would just remind her that she was playing way out of her league.

“Mr. Landon! Over here!”

A bright flash lit the night. A photographer had just snapped a fast picture of them.

Blake didn’t slow down. He kept heading for the hotel’s entrance, and he kept his grip tight on her arm.

A security team rushed to meet them. As soon as they crossed the threshold of that hotel, with its lavish decorations, the team closed in.

“Sir, I personally just confirmed that your suite is secure.” A man with dark blond hair gave a firm nod. His gaze was so dark it appeared nearly black, and that hard stare reflected no emotion. “Your private elevator is waiting to take you upstairs.” He motioned to the right, toward the elevator that was flanked by two guards.

“Thanks, Carson. Now get over to the Landon Hotel and find out how the hell that guy got passed the guards there.”

Blake guided Jess onto the elevator.

Not another one…Her stomach tightened.

Before the doors could close, Carson threw up his hand and stopped them. “Sir, are you sure she’s safe?”

Her eyes widened. The man—Carson—was staring at her with suspicion in his dark gaze.

“Don’t worry, Carson,” Blake murmured. “I’ve already searched her. Jess is clear.”

That burn was back in her cheeks.

Carson gave a grim nod, but he cast one more suspicious glance her way before he finally stepped back.

When the elevator doors closed, Jess immediately rounded on Blake. “What the hell was that about?” She demanded. “You searched me?” Was that what they were going to call it?

“Um.” He smiled at her. The man didn’t have dimples. He had deep, hard slashes in his cheeks that just made him look super sexy. “I had to be sure, you see.”

“Be sure?”

“You could have been bait, a beautiful woman sent to distract me…so that your partner could close in for the kill.”

She realized that there was a hard edge to his smile, and his green eyes—they were flat and cold.

The elevator stopped. When she heard the little ding of sound, Jess flinched.

“Don’t worry,” Blake told her. “This time, there’s no one here but you and me.”

That was the part that worried her.

He stepped from the elevator.

She didn’t move. “You think I could have been involved in whatever was happening at the last hotel?”

He glanced back at her. “I think you’re a woman with a lot of secrets, Jess, and before this night is over, I intend to discover them all.”

His words sounded like a threat.

Probably because they were.