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The moment I saw Nina Astor, I had to have her.

Blonde bombshell. 

Park Avenue princess.

She was pure as snow and giving me one night to dirty her up.


But by morning, I knew:

She wasn't just a pretty face.

She wasn't just a casual fling.


One night?


I needed a lifetime.


Then I discover: 

Nina Astor isn't who she says she is. 

She's beyond off-limits.


The real problem? I couldn't care less.


“What about her?”

I turned toward the other end of the bar, and for a second, my heart stopped. If I hadn’t already been sitting, I’d have fallen over.

The woman had a halo. At least, that’s what it looked like from here. As if a white-gold corona emanated from her entire body, framing her in the dim surroundings. Her beauty pulsed, a beacon in the darkness, glowing like an angel’s aura. On this dank, wet, January evening, she was a ray of light.

She also clearly wasn’t from around here. Her clothes were too tailored and clean for this time of night and this part of the Lower East Side. She wore an ice-white blouse and matching skirt, with bright blonde hair gleaming over her shoulders like the trio of gold and diamond bracelets on her slender wrist.

My gaze slid down her body, over the elegantly crossed legs to the three- or four-inch stilettos that immediately put a whole host of dirty thoughts in my mind. Heels. Finally, a woman in New York wearing heels again. The kind that made a man want her legs around his waist just to feel those shoes digging into his back. 

Completely oblivious to my ogling, she sipped her wine, which stained her full lips red. Her pinky raised as she held her glass. The effect was immediate. Suddenly all I could imagine was sticking that dainty thing in my mouth and sucking until it was black and blue. Defiling this girl. This woman. This complete and utter lady.

“Hey…he likes one, eh?” Jamie leaned over the bar and slapped my shoulder. “Very nice, very nice. No ring, I see. Probably crazy, then, but have at it.”

“What’s she drinking?” My gaze hadn’t moved an inch.

“That’s the Brunello. Sangiovese. Best I got by the glass.”

I smiled to myself. She was dressed head-to-toe in pristine white, but drinking a rich red wine. This was a woman who wasn’t scared to test fate.

The wine was Italian, too. I took it as a sign.

I slid off my barstool as if in a trance. “Another round for both of us, Jamie.” 

Jamie smirked. “Coming right up.”

While Jamie got our drinks, I made my way down the bar, trying to be cool in the face of this woman’s grace. Some people look great at first, but close up, you realize what a mess they are. This girl, though, was immaculate, and the closer I got, the more her perfection became apparent. It was in the straight column of her back. The slim yet rounded curve of her hips. The elegant legs that went on for miles. She was clearly lost in thought as she finished the last of her wine, tapping white-tipped fingernails against the glass bowl.

I leaned next to her on the bar. “Get you another drink, doll?”

That surprised even me. I wasn’t a stranger to nicknames, especially when I spoke to women. Sweetie, gorgeous, honey, babe. I could swap them out with anyone, to the same giggling effect.

But “doll.” That was a new one. And yet, familiar. Almost sacred. “Doll” was what my grandfather had called Nonna. Like it was 1958 again, and they were lovesick kids, sneaking into the Copa to see Dean Martin.

And yet, as the woman turned to me, the name clearly fit. She was as stunning as any classic movie star, with porcelain skin, carnation-pink lips, a lush sweep of lashes that framed dove-gray eyes. Her still bearing also made her appear more like a sculpture than a real person. Like a doll. A beautiful, beautiful doll.

She smiled with uncertainty.

I wanted to make her scream with pleasure.

I held out a hand. “I’m Matthew.”

Another surprise: my given name. Who was I tonight? Only my grandmother still called me that. To my mother, my aunts and uncles, all my sisters, I was Mattie, sometimes Matt. To everyone outside my big family, Zola.

The woman looked down at my hand, then back up, pursing her heart-shaped lips as she took measure. When her eyes found mine, I was relieved I was holding on to the bar. Her face was a perfect mask, but those eyes. A pair of silver stars that sparked with life. 

Life…and pain.


“Nina,” she said as her fingers touched mine. “It’s very nice to meet you.”

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