Series: Courtland Chronicles , Book 4.0
By: Cat Grant | Other books by Cat Grant
Published By: Cat Grant Books
Published: Feb 23, 2013
ISBN # 9780988918603
By: Cat Grant | Other books by Cat Grant
Published By: Cat Grant Books
Published: Feb 23, 2013
ISBN # 9780988918603
Word Count: 68,000
Available in: Adobe Acrobat, Mobipocket (.mobi), Epub
The Arrangement (Courtland Chronicles) by Cat Grant - Romance>Multiple PartnersMost people are lucky to find one love—Eric Courtland found two. He's spent the last decade in and out of a tempestuous relationship with his lover, Nick. But all that is nearly over when his new bride, Allison, discovers that his vows of fidelity came with an exception. Suddenly, Eric is at risk of destroying all he cares about, from his burgeoning political career, to the two loves of his life.
Terrified of losing everything, Eric proposes an unconventional solution: a non-traditional arrangement that neither Allison or Nick can refuse. And despite the betrayal and jealousy that plague the birth of their new relationship, the three begin to discover new ways of achieving harmony and balance—and an intimacy beyond anything they expected.
Even as their secret relationship grows, however, blackmailing political rivals and the pressures of life in the public eye create stresses that threaten to tear the three apart. In the end, Eric must decide what he's willing to sacrifice: the political ambitions he's nurtured all his life, or building a new dream with the only two people he's ever loved.
Reader Rating: 4.0 (3 Ratings)
From Words of Wisdom from the Scarf PrincessThis saga continues to be heartwrenching and with the triad's HEA still uncertain I can't help but be invested in their story. These characters are flawed but through Ms. Grant's talented writing you can't help but be drawn to them foibles and all.
From Book Reviews & More by KathyThe dynamics between Ally, Nick and Eric are quite fascinating and the fleeting glimpses of Eric's feelings for Nick and Ally are compelling. The many unexpected twists and turns keep the reader fully engaged in the story. I am eagerly awaiting the release of Triad the final installment of Cat Grant's extraordinary Courtland Chronicles series.
From Mrs. Condit Reads BooksWhether you read it for the romance or the sex, you're going to enjoy both. Cat Grant is an author whose style of writing I enjoy very much. Her series work flows from one story to the next and you can't always expect an instant HEA at the end of each episode, but she is always heading toward the conclusion she had in mind from the start.
Excerpt:The clock on the living room wall ticked softly in the blessed quiet. Eric loosened his tie and rolled his neck in a vain attempt at easing his knotted muscles, then got up to pour himself another scotch.
He brought the decanter back with him this time and had just resettled on the blue silk couch cushions when he heard the front door snick open and shut. He didn’t turn around, merely sipped at his drink, savoring the whiskey’s slow burn all the way down.
“Hey.” Nick Thompson slipped off his jacket and tossed it on a nearby chair before bending down to give Eric a kiss. “Sorry I’m late. I was up against another killer deadline.”
“Not a problem.” He carded his fingers through Nick’s thick curls. “I was glad to have a few extra minutes to myself. It’s been a hellacious week.”
Nick dropped to his knees between Eric’s splayed legs, green eyes crinkling with concern. “You sure you’re okay?”
“I’ll be fine in a few minutes. With the stockholders’ meeting this week and the campaign gearing up…” He pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to banish the insistent throb behind his eyes through sheer force of will. “This is the first chance I’ve had to catch my breath all week.”
“Wish you’d called me sooner. You know how much I love helping you relax.”
Eric laughed. “Then I never would’ve made it to the stockholders’ meeting.”
“And that’s such a bad thing?” Laughing, Nick slid both hands up Eric’s crisp white cotton shirt. “Take it easy. It’s not like you have to run right home.”
For a change went unsaid—thankfully. He should’ve invited Nick to the penthouse tonight, but he’d grown accustomed to spending their limited time together here, in this tiny apartment he’d come to regard as his refuge. The one place he could truly unwind and be himself, despite the guilt that never stopped needling him. “You mean you don’t want to—”
“Sure I do. But it doesn’t have to be right this minute. C’mon.” Nick stood and held out his hand to him. “Let’s go get comfy.”
Somewhat the worse for scotch, Eric wobbled to his feet and trailed Nick down the hall to the bedroom. He kicked off his shoes and started unbuttoning his shirt, until Nick batted his hands away and took over. “Relax, okay? You’re all mine tonight, and I’m taking advantage.”
Eric chuckled. “Far be it from me to stop you.”
Nick’s eyes flickered with warmth as he leaned in for a kiss, then skimmed Eric’s shirt down and off and unzipped his slacks. A heady euphoria bloomed in Eric’s chest. He let his eyes drift shut, drinking in the faintly scratchy sensation of Nick’s calloused fingers dusting over his skin, thumbs hooking into the waistband of his slacks and boxers, tugging them both off at once. “Sit,” he said, giving Eric a tiny push onto the mattress.
He sank down with a soft “oof!” then rolled onto his stomach. Wished he had the energy to reach for a pillow, but he just lay there, not even opening his eyes when the mattress dipped, and Nick’s solid, familiar weight pressed against him. Then—oh God—Nick’s fingers closed over his neck and started kneading.
The knots and tension in his muscles fought back, bringing tortured moans to Eric’s lips. “It’s all right,” Nick whispered in his ear. “Let go.” He waited for Eric to inhale a long, shuddery breath before he went back to work, his strong hands slowly working out the stiffness in Eric’s neck and shoulders.
Eventually the pain receded to a dull but not unpleasant ache, Eric’s mind going blissfully muzzy. Like falling asleep, except for the one stubborn part of him that insisted on waking up. He groaned, cracking open one eye. “I, um. . .”
“Want to get under the covers?” Nick rolled to his feet and helped Eric slide under the comforter, then started taking off his own clothes. Eric watched, grogginess ebbing away at the delectable sight of Nick’s smooth, bare skin. Regular workouts had helped him keep the sinewy heft of muscle from his university football days, though the past few years had left adorable crinkly lines around his eyes and mouth.
They’d been together over a decade, off and on. Good God.
Nick climbed into bed, eyes widening when Eric rolled over next to him, his rising erection nudging Nick’s hip. “I thought you were tired.”
“Caught my second wind.” He pressed a kiss to the underside of Nick’s jaw. His stubble scratched, but it felt good. When was the last time they’d seen each other? Three weeks? A month? Too fucking long. “Damn it, Nick, I’ve missed you.”
Nick’s breath puffed over his cheek, warm and rapid. “Me too.”
“Show me how much.”
So he did, with eager fingers and lips soft, moist and full of passion. He kissed a leisurely path down Eric’s torso, dusting love bites along the way. Eric had to choke back a cry of relief when Nick’s lush mouth finally closed over his cock and swallowed him down. He floated in bliss while Nick worked him with his lips and tongue, his technique endearingly enthusiastic. His memory spun back to the first time they’d ever done this, on that rickety couch in Nick’s loft one memorable weekend in their junior year of college. Eric had been so aroused he’d come within a few seconds.
But tonight it seemed Nick had other plans. Grasping Eric’s cock firmly at the root, he lifted his head, licking sticky precome from the corners of his mouth. “Fuck me, Eric. Please.”
He remembered the first time Nick had begged him like this, that same day at the loft. He hadn’t refused then, and he certainly wasn’t about to now. “On your stomach.”
Eric dug the supplies out of the nightstand while Nick tucked a pillow under his hips, his delectable round ass raised invitingly. Eric remembered the first time they’d done this, shifting and scrambling to make themselves comfortable on that creaky couch with broken springs poking them everywhere. He remembered the way Nick gasped and trembled the first time Eric had breached his hole with a pair of lube-slicked fingers, and his first muffled cry of surprise when Eric pushed inside him and began thrusting slowly, holding back his own surge of lust until Nick got used to the sensation of being opened and fucked.
Hands shaking, Eric rolled on a condom and applied a generous dollop of lube, then pressed the tip of his cock to Nick’s hole and eased inside. Still a perfect fit—silky-smooth and hot as a coal. Eric tried to take it easy, hands twisting in the covers to keep from thrusting too hard, but it was no use—when Nick started pushing back, urging him on, Eric’s last scrap of willpower dissolved. Moaning and groaning, they fucked like animals, every stroke shoving Nick up the bed, forcing him to grab the headboard with both hands. Eric held on—just barely—until Nick let out a strangled yelp, a shower of sparks going off behind his own eyes.
He slumped against Nick’s sweat-soaked back, his vision still murky. Running his hand along Nick’s sleek, muscled forearm, he marveled—not for the first time—at how well they complemented each other, despite the contrast between Nick’s solidly built ex-quarterback’s body and his own loose-limbed, slender frame.
Slow minutes ticked away, with Nick lying there beside him completely immobile, until a soft, familiar snore alerted Eric to the fact that he’d dropped off. Chuckling, he kissed Nick gently on the shoulder and got up to take a shower.
A few minutes later, he emerged from the bathroom to find Nick stirring groggily, raking damp, wavy bangs back from his forehead. He looked like a deliciously debauched angel. “Damn,” he mumbled. “Did I conk out again?”
“Only for a few minutes.” He climbed back in bed and propped himself up on a pile of pillows, trailing his fingers along Nick’s arm.
“It’s been one deadline after another these last few weeks. I think my editor’s trying to kill me.”
“Don’t worry about it.” He leaned in for a kiss. “You’re here now. Let’s enjoy it.”
Nick’s gaze flicked over his face. “So, um…when’s Ally coming back?”
Eric stifled a sigh. Couldn’t they have a few more minutes of contentment before the real world came crashing back in? “She’s in Milan till tomorrow, then she flies to Paris for the weekend. She should be home Monday night.”
“Sounds like fun. Wish I could get an overseas assignment.” Eric didn’t reply, other than sending out a silent plea for Nick to drop it. No such luck. “Look, why don’t you just tell her about us? Maybe she won’t even care. Barbara didn’t.”
The mention of his ex-wife gave Eric a sharp jolt. “Barbara never gave a damn what I did as long as I kept paying her credit card bills. But I think we’ve both known Allison long enough to know she won’t view the situation quite so pragmatically.”
“Why not? She’s got your name and your money, and your contacts got her that job with MSNBC. You only married her because she’d help your senatorial campaign. It’s not like you’re madly in love with each other.”
“But I am fond of her, and I wouldn’t like to see her hurt.” Never mind the fact that he’d promised her fidelity. The only promise she’d ever asked of him, and how quickly he’d broken it.
“It’ll hurt her more the longer we wait.”
Maybe so, but he didn’t want to think about that now. He wrapped his arm around Nick’s shoulders and pulled him close, until he started snoring again. Eric was about to drop off himself when he heard the familiar high-pitched chirp of his phone.
He considered ignoring it, until he looked at the clock. Closing in on ten, which meant it had to be Allison; she’d been calling him around this time every night. She’d be worried if he didn’t answer.
Nick slept like a boulder, so it didn’t take much effort to slide out from under him. Eric grabbed his phone from his pants pocket and crept down the hallway to the living room before answering it. “How’s Milan?”
“Still standing, but where were you? I’ve been trying to get hold of you for the past two hours.”
“I had a late dinner meeting.” Strange, but even after all the lies he’d told, the new ones still bothered him. “Are you enjoying fashion week?”
“Yeah, but it’d be a lot more fun if I didn’t have to interview all those airheaded models. If I never see another breast implant up close and personal, I’ll die happy. Oh, and I ordered you one of everything from the Prada men’s spring line.”
That was what he adored about her—no matter how tired or out of sorts he felt, she never failed to make him smile. “Didn’t you get anything for yourself?”
“A couple things from Versace, but I didn’t really see anything else I liked. I have high hopes for Paris, however.”
“You could visit Chanel again, or give Balmain a try. They’re more your style.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” There came a rustle of bedcovers. “Maybe next year we can take a trip together.”
“I’d like that.” And it was the truth, too. They’d had a great time when he’d taken her to Paris for their honeymoon. “But I should let you go. You don’t need to stay up so late just to talk to me. We’ll see each other in a few days.”
“No problem, I couldn’t sleep anyway. Damn jet lag.”
“Good night, Allison.”
“Good night,” she said softly. “I miss you.”
For a split second, he could’ve sworn she sounded positively wistful. “I miss you too,” he replied softly. “Get some rest.”
He hung up and went back to bed, but despite his lingering weariness, sleep didn’t come easily. It never did on evenings he spent with Nick. Was his conscience pricking at him? He’d often thought himself devoid of conscience; a man in his position could ill afford such a luxury.
Still, Allison didn’t deserve this. He’d meant to tell her about him and Nick, but the words clogged his throat every time he’d tried. He couldn’t bear the thought of seeing that special light in her eyes whenever she looked at him fade away forever.
Hence this apartment—and the awful, gnawing ache in his belly every time he told his wife another lie.
* * *
Nick heaved a sigh and hit the send button to email his last story to his editor. For once, he’d actually met his deadline with a few minutes to spare. He snagged his jacket off the back of his chair and dashed for the elevator. If he hurried, he might make it to the gym before the usual after-work horde descended.
He’d just punched the down button when he heard an all too familiar pair of heels tap-tapping in his direction. “Hey, Nick, wait up!”
Holly Martin yelled, her brunette ponytail bobbing madly. She skidded to a halt beside him as the elevator dinged. “Perfect timing, huh?”
He let her step in first, then jabbed the button for the lobby. Pals since their college days, he and Holly worked stories together at the Herald on a regular basis. However, at times Nick found her excessive perkiness a bit hard to take—times like now, for instance.
“A bunch of us are going to O’Rourke’s for karaoke tonight,” she added, fumbling in her purse for a lipstick. “Want to come with?”
“No thanks, Hol.” Tapping his foot, he eyeballed the elevator panel as the floor numbers dropped in molasses-slow succession. “I’m not in such a great mood today.”
“Yeah, I noticed. That poor kid down in the mailroom almost started blubbering after you tore him a new one this morning. What’s wrong with you lately?”
“Nothing, other than my life sucks.”
She snorted. “Join the club.”
He’d planned to bolt as soon as they reached the lobby, but she snaked her arm through his and dragged him out the building’s front door to Starbucks. “I’m going to let you be a gentleman and buy me a coffee. Make it a half-caf nonfat vanilla latte, easy on the foam. I’ll grab us a table.” With that, she disappeared into the crowd gathered around the counter. Nick considered ditching her, if not for the earful he knew she’d give him tomorrow. He’d stay long enough to be polite, then make an excuse and duck out.
After waiting ten minutes for their drinks, he found her ensconced in a relatively quiet table near the back of the café. She let him set her coffee down, took a leisurely sip—and nailed him with an icy glare. “So, when did you and Eric get back together?”
“Jesus!” He gave such a start, he almost dumped his own piping-hot cup of French roast in his lap. “How’d you know?”
“Oh, c’mon, Nick. After all these years, I recognize the signs. The two of you go on and off more often than a fridge light. What possessed you to take up with him again this time?”
“You think I haven’t asked myself that question every damn day?”
“At least you’re consistent.” Sighing, she pushed her cup away. “I hate seeing you do this to yourself. Last year you had a perfect opportunity to put this all behind you for good. Why didn’t you take it?”
He swallowed hard, choking back his words, until he realized he didn’t want to. He needed someone to talk to about this. Keeping it bottled up inside was driving him insane. “I thought about it, Hol, I really did. When Laura kept pressing me to set the date, part of me wanted to go through with it. We could’ve had a good life, moving back upstate to take over the farm like my folks wanted us to, but…” God, he couldn’t believe how pathetic he sounded. “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t marry her, not feeling the way I do about Eric. I would’ve made us both miserable.”
“Then what’re you going to do? Spend the rest of your life sitting at home with cold pizza and ESPN, waiting for Eric to make another booty call?”
As if he didn’t feel cheap enough already. “Thanks a lot.”
“C’mon, you know I didn’t mean—”
“I can’t help it. I love Eric. I’ve always loved him. I wish I could switch it off, but I can’t.” He caught the skeptical glint in her eyes, his jaw going tight. “I know what you’re thinking. I’m being a first-class chump, right? Go ahead, say it.”
She sighed. “Don’t be silly. Loving someone doesn’t make you a chump, but I still don’t get why you’re so willing to let Eric shuffle you aside like you don’t even matter.”
“You don’t know him the way I do, Hol. Just because Eric grew up rich doesn’t mean his life’s been all caviar and roses. He had a pretty awful childhood. His father treated him and his mom like crap.” He downed a long sip of coffee. “I always knew we’d never have a happily-ever-after, especially after he announced his bid for the senate. He’s got his sights set on the White House, and a gay lover’s not going to help him get there. I tried to keep my distance, I really did. For months I tried. But it was like somebody had hacked out a chunk of my heart.” Another sigh. “So it’s either seeing him an hour or two every couple weeks or nothing.”
Her expression softened—but whether in empathy or pity, he couldn’t tell. “I hope Eric’s grateful to have you. I’ve never known anyone so loyal.”
“You make me sound like the family dog.”
“Well, you’d best grow some teeth, because if Ally gets a whiff of this, she’ll go after you like a pit bull on a pant leg.”
A chill swept over him. That was something he’d rather not think about.
* * *
Ally peered out the window as her plane taxied up to the gate at LaGuardia. After the last ten nonstop days, she had a hard time hauling herself to her feet when the fasten seat belt sign clicked off. She trudged up the jetway, stopping dead when she saw Eric waiting for her at the gate, a bouquet of her favorite white roses in hand.
“To what do I owe this honor?” she asked, accepting the roses along with a kiss on the lips. This was new—Eric didn’t normally indulge in public displays of affection.
“Do I need a reason for picking my wife up at the airport?” He held out his hand for her carry-on bag and escorted her to the moving walkway.
“You could’ve sent the limo like you usually do.”
“It’s outside, waiting to take us home.”
“Us?” she echoed. “Don’t you have to go back to the office?”
Confusion took a sharp U-turn into downright unease, but she quickly backed off that road. After all, what was wrong with her husband lavishing her with a little well-deserved attention? Maybe their time apart had made Eric see how much their marriage had suffered for the sake of his business dealings and political aspirations. Maybe he really had missed her as much as she had him.
By the time they got downstairs, Eric’s driver had already collected her luggage. He held the limo door for them as they piled gratefully inside. Ally sighed, leaning her head on Eric’s shoulder. “Looks like someone had far too much fun,” he observed, giving her a gentle kiss on the forehead.
“Hardly. I hit the ground running the second I got to Milan. Besides, you know I don’t sleep that well in hotels.”
“You didn’t enjoy yourself at all?”
“I stopped by the Versace party to see if I could snag an interview with Donatella. I ended up flirting with one of their models, this gorgeous Brazilian hunk with a thing for petite blondes—and older women,” she added with a chuckle. “That last part sort of killed the mood.”
Eric laughed. “How old was he? Or should I ask, how young?”
“Twenty or twenty-one, with miles of silky café au lait skin, huge brown eyes, gentle hands…”
“Sounds like quite a temptation. You should’ve indulged yourself.”
She giggled, until his lack of a smile cut her off. “You’re serious?”
“I don’t see any harm in a onetime fling while you’re away on a trip. I certainly didn’t expect you to spend your evenings sitting alone in your hotel room.”
She sat up straight. “We’ve never discussed having an open relationship. Besides, we’ve only been married six months. I’m not ready to start cheating on you yet.”
Her teasing tone should’ve let him know she’d meant the last part as a joke. So why did he flinch? “I think you’re taking this too much to heart,” he replied. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“You didn’t, but…” She clasped his hand, giving him the sincerest look she could muster. “I know you and Barbara had a different kind of marriage, but that’s not what I want. And despite what the rest of the world probably thinks, I didn’t marry you to get a closet full of designer clothes and a high-profile job.”
“Good to know,” he said with a half-teasing quirk of his lips.
She slumped against his shoulder again and dozed the rest of the way home. Eric had a light supper waiting for her: French onion soup, a mixed-green salad with raspberry vinaigrette dressing, a bottle of chilled pinot grigio, and fresh-baked French bread. The food revived her a bit; she ate an entire bowl of soup and half her salad before pushing her plate away.
After, they retired to the living room for coffee. She sat on the overstuffed couch and promptly zoned out, until Eric drew his fingertips down her arm, gently tugging her back to the here and now. “Something wrong? You’ve been off in another world since dinner.”
“Oh, I’m getting fed up with things at work. Ten years in the news business and they’re still sticking me with the fluff pieces.” She finished her coffee, then set the cup down with a clatter. “I busted my butt snagging some great interviews, and the network only aired three of the ten segments I filmed. Most days I don’t know why I even bother showing up.”
“You should see a turnaround by this time next year. I can’t imagine the network passing up a chance to put the wife of a US senator front and center.”
“Assuming you win.”
“Of course I’ll win.” He grinned. “I always do, don’t I?”
She settled back in his arms while he flicked on the TV to the business channel, but her eyelids started to droop within a few minutes. Eric smiled and helped her up from the couch, then half carried her to the bedroom.
He helped her off with her clothes and tucked her between the covers, the cool supima cotton whispering over her bare skin. He disappeared into the bathroom for a few minutes and came back naked, then climbed into bed and spooned behind her, his lips trailing down her throat and shoulder. She bit back a moan, exhaustion trumped by rising arousal.
And if Eric’s smug chuckle was any clue, he knew he had her. He rolled her onto her back and dipped down to kiss her breasts, taking each of her nipples between his teeth in turn, sucking and biting them. He had a hand between her thighs too, parting her folds, rubbing her throbbing clit. Another couple minutes of this, and she’d have a damn river running between her legs.
Which was exactly where he went next, lips fastening on her clit, sucking hard as he pushed two fingers inside her. She came within seconds, waves of sensation crashing over her, crying out when Eric entered her at the moment she hit her pinnacle.
He pounded her mercilessly and she loved it, digging her nails into his back. She lost count of how many times she came, but by the time Eric did, screaming and moaning had torn her voice to shreds. She fell into a coma with him on top of her and didn’t open her eyes again until Eric’s alarm went off at seven o'clock.
He fucked her again before he got up to shower, gently this time, with soft caresses and kisses so tender she nearly burst into tears. Orgasm eluded her, but it still felt delicious lying beneath him as he moved with exquisite slowness, letting out a tiny broken cry as he came.
After, he remained inside her, both of them savoring these last few moments of intimacy. She kissed him sweetly and reached up to stroke his cheek, startled when her fingers came away wet. “What’s wrong?”
He had this strange expression on his face—incredibly sad, and incredibly distant. He pressed a quick kiss to her fingertips, then rolled off her and out of bed. “Nothing, I’m fine. Go back to sleep.”
She tried, at least until he showered, dressed and came back to kiss her goodbye. But the moment she heard the front door close, she sat up and flicked on the light. She couldn’t get his expression out of her mind. What did it mean? Did he regret having to leave her? He’d never looked at her like that on any other morning.
She replayed the previous evening in her memory until the answer popped up. When she’d told Eric about her flirtation with the Brazilian model, she’d expected him to react with concern, even a touch of anger. Instead, he’d seemed almost disappointed that she hadn’t followed dalliance to its logical conclusion. In her experience, that could mean only one thing.
No husband ever encouraged his wife to have an affair—unless, of course, he was having one himself.