“Stop it.” I nudged her in case she could no longer hear me in her lust-induced stupor.
She shrugged and took a step back but didn’t stop her leering.
“Any plans for the day?” Mystery Guy asked. The kitchen remained silent until I realized he had been addressing me. I peered up all the way from the floor to his impossibly green gaze and instantly wished I hadn’t. No one had eyes like that—green like sin, but never had sin seemed so tempting. I swallowed hard and beseeched my heart to slow down before it burst out of my chest. Was it an invitation to spend the day with him? Surely, it couldn’t be. The guy got his one-night stand. Isn’t that every man’s dream: sex with no strings attached? So why would he be interested in seeing more of my panties…unless said panties were worthy of a second try?
My blood began to boil at the way he smirked at me: self-assured. So he enjoyed dinner and thought he might just stay for a top up. See what else my downtown store had to offer today. Well, good news: it was closed. He wasn’t going to get any, even if my whole body screamed to go for it and see where that happy trail might lead me.
“I have plans. Very important ones.” I straightened my back and held his intense gaze, ready to stare him down. He cocked his brows. His eyes blazed with challenge and determination.
“Then cancel them,” he said in that husky tone of his.
I suppressed a snort and crossed my arms over my chest. Seriously, who did he think he was? Maybe most women tripped over their own two feet to spend the day with him, but I wasn’t one of them. “Not happening.”
“Playing hard to get?” He flashed a sexy dimple. “You sure weren’t last night.”
My cheeks were on fire. I wished I could turn invisible and disappear from the face of the earth. Then I might just be able to work through the shame and humiliation burning through me. Maybe.
“Grab your stuff and get the hell out.” I pointed at the door. He didn’t move, so I clutched his upper arm and pushed hard. His bulging bicep strained under the thin material of his shirt, but he didn’t budge from the spot.
I took a sharp breath and let it out slowly as I gathered my words. “Look, whatever happened last night, it won’t happen again.”
“Why not?” He laughed. “I thought you wanted…more.”
A sharp pang of scorching mortification burned through me. Back there in my bedroom, while we were having fun, did I tell him that I wanted more?
My heart began to pound harder in my chest as he looked me up and down, enjoying every moment of what I would call the biggest humiliation in my life.
“Why not again?” he prompted.
I balled my hands into fists and cringed at the amused flicker in his gaze. “Because it was a mistake. We were supposed to have a business meeting, not hump each other,” I hissed at him, stabbing my finger in his strong chest. His lack of any sort of reaction made my temper flare. “You were a drunken mistake, which I’d never repeat in my sober state, so you might as well leave now.” For some inexplicable reason, I regretted my words the moment they came out, but there was no backing off. He was a devilishly sexy guy with a beautiful face and the body of a god, but I couldn’t ignore the knowledge that as hot guys go, tempting a woman into bed is nothing but a game to them. A game to assert their hotness level. Judging from the lazy grin on his lips, I bet he couldn’t agree with me more. So, no matter how strongly I felt attracted to him, the guy was a no-go for my own sake.
It’s called self-respect.
Of which I didn’t show a lot last night.
The guy was a player who would bring me nothing but trouble. I knew that the moment he entered The Black Rose, and my intuition had been spot on, as usual. Swallowing my pride, I walked past furiously, not quite able to ignore the flicker of amused interest in his eyes.
Mystery Guy didn’t follow me out of the kitchen. I felt a hint of remorse as I grabbed the first shirt and jeans I found in the closet and barricaded myself in the tiny bathroom cubicle to take a quick shower before heading for work. I inspected myself in the mirror. Dark circles rimmed my hazel eyes. My brown hair looked a mess, just like his disheveled mop had, only it didn’t quite suit me as much as it did him. My skin looked pale, but it had a dewy glow that comes only from lots of sleep or post-coital hormones. No need to ask myself where it came from, because I sure as hell didn’t have a good night’s sleep, so the glow only managed to enrage me more.
Seriously, what had I been thinking—bringing a guy back home with me? And what had Sylvie been thinking, letting me make any sort of decision in my drunken stupor? Now I was facing another dilemma. Did Sean, my so-called boyfriend who wouldn’t quite DTR (define the relationship), expect me to tell him? Would he be honest with me about a possible conquest?
Furiously I rubbed shower gel into my skin and shampooed my hair. The hot water cleansed my body, but it didn’t quite manage to wash away my shame. When I came out again, I had made a decision. Sean’s promotion party was only a few days away, and I wouldn’t spoil it. But I vowed to tell him right after the party, ask him for forgiveness, and do my best to work through our issues. I liked him and wanted to see where it might lead in the future, so I wouldn’t let a one-night stand come between us. What happened last night was nothing but a bad decision made under the influence of booze and raging hormones. Mystery Guy would not mess with my life, head, or panties ever again.
Bracing myself for more heated glances from those penetrating green eyes, I took a deep breath and left the safety of my bathroom.
“He’s gone,” Sylvie said as soon as I entered the kitchen. She shot me a disapproving look, as though his leaving was my fault, and turned away to wash her coffee cup. I should have been relieved and yet, for some inexplicable reason, I sort of felt empty. Betrayed. Probably just another notch in his bedpost.
“Did he say anything?” My voice came out all squeaky. She looked at me from under thick, mascaraed lashes.
“He asked a few questions.”
“Oh? Like what?” I brushed a trembling hand through my hair and moistened my lips. “Not that I care,” I mumbled, in case Sylvie got the wrong idea.
She shrugged. “Since you don’t care, it doesn’t really matter. Shouldn’t you be at work?”
I hated when she changed the subject like that. Or when she sided with a guy, which she often did, and in particular when said guy was good-looking. If I pressed the issue, she’d get instantly suspicious and think I might have fallen for Mystery Guy, which wasn’t true because I didn’t even know him and had no intention of ever seeing him again. Besides, what could he have possibly asked? Maybe he wanted to know who won last night’s Lakers game. Or he had asked her for a favor like calling a taxi. Whatever it was, I didn’t need to know. He belonged to a past I was ready to forget.
I heaved a silent sigh and grabbed my purse from where I must have tossed it on the floor last night. “See ya,” I grumbled, heading out the door.
“Wait,” Sylvie called, running after me. “When are you coming back home? I’m making dinner.”
Which, in Sylvie’s dictionary, was the equivalent of sifting through hundreds of takeaway menu pamphlets and ordering in. She was unemployed for less than a day, and already she sounded like a bored housewife. I needed to get rid of her, and pronto, before I decided I might just have to get a divorce—metaphorically speaking.
“Sorry, Sylvie. I’m at my mother’s tonight.” I couldn’t help the feeling of complacency washing over me at her lost expression. Punishing anybody wasn’t usually my style, but she should have just told me what Mystery Guy said before he left. It would have made me more inclined to invite her over to Mom’s, even though their icy silence and disapproving looks made me want to run as fast as I could. Mom thought Sylvie was a pretentious bitch who was friends with me because I was a pushover. And Sylvie thought Mom was a bitch for not settling down with one guy for the sake of her only daughter. In other words, Sylvie thought Mom should have provided a stable home rather than move from town to town and man to man throughout my vulnerable adolescent years. While they both had a point, I preferred staying on neutral ground, and keeping out of their love/hate relationship, which is why I avoided throwing the two of them in the same room at the same time.
“Is she still with—” Sylvie snapped her fingers in thought. “What’s his name? You know, the guy from last week.”
“It was last month, and his name’s Gregg,” I said.
“Uh-huh. Not worth my brain cells remembering his name when he’ll be old news by next week.” She waved her hand as though she couldn’t care less.
I hated to admit Sylvie was right. “He’s old news already.”
“No. Already?” She laughed. “What was wrong with him? Too nice? Too cute? Had a snoring problem?”
I shook my head signaling that I had no idea.
“There’ll be a new one soon,” Sylvie said. I raised my brows meaningfully. She laughed, getting my hint. “Already?”
I nodded. “Apparently I’m meeting him tonight.”
“Can I come? Pretty please. You know how much I love to meet Tina’s boyfriends. They’re like squeezing your hand into a Halloween candy bag. You never know what you’ll get.” Her lips curled into a smile, and she cocked her head to the side the way she always did when she was about to start a major persuasion campaign.
“Hell, no.” I blinked and took a step back. “You’re not coming.” She opened her mouth to protest so I cut her off. “Don’t even pretend to like her, when you’re at each other’s throat all the time.”
“That’s not true…okay, maybe a little, but you know what I like even less? Being forgotten by my best friend on a Tuesday night. Come on, Brooke.” She leaned in conspiratorially. “Do you have any idea what might happen if I spent a night all alone?” She paused for dramatic effect. “Someone could break in. Or I could get so bored that I might end up finishing all the booze and make out with our neighbor from number 4.”
Gross. The guy from number 4 was a major creep who walked around in a bathrobe. Every time we stepped out of the building, he was in the hallway, as though he knew we’d be leaving.
“Oh, come on, Brooke. Pretty please, I don’t want to be all alone on Tuesday the 13th.”
I rolled my eyes. Sylvie loved melodrama and, in particular, if it helped her get what she wanted. Soon bargaining would follow, and if that didn’t do the trick she’d revert to good old blackmail. She had followed the same patterns for the last twenty years, or ever since I refused to give her my lunch box in kindergarten. I wasn’t going to stick around for that.
“I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine,” she whispered. “You want to know what Jett said?”
“Who’s Jett?” And that’s when it dawned on me. Mystery Guy. He had introduced himself the evening we met, but the name was so unusual I didn’t really catch it. I thought it was something like Jack, or Jake, or Jeremiah, and the strange pronunciation was the result of his Southern accent.