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The bachelor auction, p.2
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       The Bachelor Auction, p.2

           J. C. Reed
 
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  “We do.”

  “We do?” I cock my head to the side, my eyes narrowed on her. “Since when?”

  She nods. “I should have said, we do…once we borrow it.”

  My shoulders drop. I should have seen that answer coming. “We? What do you mean by ‘we’?” I laugh because the whole situation is ridiculous. “I’m not borrowing any money. Besides, are you kidding me? Who would lend us so much money?”

  “You’ll be surprised.” She shoots me a confident look.

  For a few seconds, I look at her, aghast. I’ve no idea where she gets her confidence from. It must be coming from her brand of granola she eats or something. “Care to explain?”

  She leans forward, conspiratorially. “Leave it to me, okay? I know what I’m doing.”

  I groan. “You need to get this sorted out this instant or—”

  “Trust me. This is fate. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Her eyes shimmer, and I know she’s about to sink into yet another one of her monologues about fate and everything happening for a reason, and all the other stuff that comes with being a hopeless optimist.

  Basically, she’s a lost cause. Whatever I say or do isn’t going to make an ounce of difference.

  I slump into my chair as my mind begins to go into overdrive, thinking of possible ways to get us out of this debacle—like it always does when I’m forced to deal with whatever unnecessary dilemma Brenda’s gotten us into.

  I could pretend she’s just had teeth work done and is still high on the laughing gas, meaning her judgment is impaired. The idea is so far-fetched it might even work.

  It has to, or else I’ll have to claim that I don’t know her and that she simply assumed my identity. I mean, there must be a law about imitating others and the option to cancel bids that were placed in another person’s name. Right?

  “Hi. I’ve been told you’re looking for me.”

  A deep, commanding voice draws me out of my reverie. I lift my gaze, peering all the way up, past the tailored suit and broad shoulders into impossibly blue eyes, and my mouth goes dry as the heat from before flickers to life between my legs.

  He’s hot. Like insanely good looking with the body of someone who puts major effort into working out.

  And those eyes. Framed by dark lashes, they look like they’re carved out of sapphires. They shimmer with intelligence and something else.

  He cocks an eyebrow, and I realize he’s amused, for some reason.

  I struggle to suck oxygen into my lungs as I force my brain to start functioning.

  The suit looks familiar. I narrow my eyes as I attempt to place it.

  “Are you all right?” he asks, and that’s when it dawns on me…

  This is Tyler Becks.

  He’s here…standing right in front of me. Talking to me. Looking directly at me.

  Why is he here?

  He needs to visit the restroom, and my chair’s probably blocking the way. That’s the only explanation I can come up with as to why someone like him might possibly visit our table.

  Because there’s no way, no freaking way, that he could possibly know I’m Emily Harding.

  “I’m sorry. I’ll get out of your way.” I clamber up on shaky legs and push my chair aside, only now realizing that Brenda is nowhere to be seen.

  Panic shoots through me. Where is she? Why am I alone with him?

  I can’t believe she’s abandoned me.

  Tyler’s beautiful mouth draws into a sexy, lopsided smile as his gaze flicks from me, to down the hall to the door with the restroom sign, and then back to me.

  “You thought I might need to visit the men’s room?” He throws his head back and erupts in laughter, the sound deep and so hot the heat from between my legs shoots up to my cheeks.

  I’m mortified as his gaze fixes back on me, traveling from my face past my chest to my exposed legs and then back up, settling on my chest for a moment too long. My nipples bead under his heated gaze, pushing themselves farther into focus.

  “What can I—” Help you with, I want to ask, but all that comes out of my mouth are a few broken words, too low, too breathy.

  I shake my head at myself, angry because I’ve no idea what the hell’s happening to me. The guy’s hot all right, but my body’s reactions are absolutely ridiculous.

  He’s great, but not that great.

  He’s sexy, but not exactly the hottest guy alive. Not that I’ve ever met anyone hotter, but it’s possible since I haven’t exactly traveled the world.

  “Help me with?” Tyler prompts, his eyes finally settling back on my face, which should have me less discombobulated, right?

  Wrong.

  I stare into his face, not liking what I see there.

  His pupils are dilated, his lips slightly parted, and there’s a strange glint in his eyes.

  Focus. Determination. All intermingled with the slightest hint of arrogance. As though he wants something, and is ready to go for it.

  “Yes,” I mumble and drop back into my chair, ready to hide parts of my body behind the white tablecloth.

  “You’re paying a lot of money to have dinner with me. I wanted to schedule an appointment, but seeing that we’re both dressed for it, why wait? We could do it tonight. You don’t even need to change. Whatever you’re wearing—or not wearing—works for me just fine.” His steel gaze is glued to my heaving chest again, and he licks his lips.

  I can almost feel his tongue on my nipples, flicking, sucking, bringing them to life. My core pulsates in anticipation, and my muscles contract in a delicious pull.

  I groan inwardly.

  Dinner?

  Hell, no!

  If he’s having this effect on me a few seconds into the conversation, I don’t want to know what will happen during dinner together.

  And what the hell is he implying anyway?

  I stare at him, eyes narrowed. He’s shooting me another lascivious look, and that’s when it dawns on me. We’re in a ballroom full of extremely rich people with bank accounts that reach beyond my wildest dreams, yachts that are anchored in faraway locales, and mansions that would hold fifty of my tiny apartment. I might not be dressed like a hooker, but I’m certainly close to it. And Brenda’s about to pay a lot of money to get me an evening with this guy to “get his attention”…obviously, for work purposes.

  My face catches fire at the realization that if he knew the truth, he’d probably think I was a gold digger…or worse.

  And Brenda looks like my effing pimp.

  Crap!

  I jut my chin out, my gaze throwing daggers. “This wasn’t my choice of clothes. I don’t even want to be here. My associate made me do it.”

  I cringe at my choice of words. That didn’t come out so well.

  Tyler cocks a brow.

  “Thanks for the offer, but—” Struggling to find the right words, I draw a steadying breath and let it out slowly. From the corner of my eye, I catch Brenda standing a few feet away, staring at us, the frown on her face speaking volumes. She grimaces once, then gestures at me, flapping her arms slightly.

  I frown at her, fighting the urge to head over there and shake some sense into her. What the hell was she thinking, squeezing me into this dress like some sausage? We’re professionals, for crying out loud. We need to come across as such if we want people to take us seriously.

  “Yes?” Tyler prompts impatiently.

  I take another breath and focus my attention back to him, ignoring Brenda who’s grimacing and gesturing looks like she might be about to suffer from an imminent heart attack.

  “Look, Mr. Becks. I’ll be frank with you. I never signed up for this. It was my associate’s plan to persuade you to hire our company to represent you, but I doubt we’re anywhere near your level. Maybe in a few years, once we have a portfolio worth looking at, but right now I know we’re a huge risk to take for someone like you. No one wants to hire us and Brenda’s run out of ideas, which I hope is an excusable enough reason for wasting your time. The thing is, we ca
n’t afford to have dinner with you. We can’t afford this.” I gesture around us. “We’re probably bankrupt now. If you would be so kind to—”

  To what, Harding?

  Allow us to back out of the deal?

  But what if she’s already taken out the checkbook? In that case, give us our money back?

  I can’t ask him that because he’s not the recipient. This is a charity event, and the raised money’s going to a good cause.

  And why am I even disclosing my biggest fear to him?

  I shake my head grimly and shut my mouth tight before I begin to rattle down my entire life.

  Tyler frowns, his beautiful face drawn in what I assume is annoyance. Eventually, he nods, and before I can even register what’s happening, he’s taken Brenda’s seat, his legs brushing mine under the table. “I understand.”

  I’m sure he doesn’t, but who cares?

  “I’m sorry for thinking you were a—” He pauses and his frown deepens. “Given your choice of clothes, I thought you were interested in—” He shakes his head. “You know what? Let’s just leave it at that.”

  I slump deeper into my chair as waves of humiliation waft over me.

  “I happen to know our host and will explain the situation to her,” Tyler continues. “I’m sure she’ll agree to get you out of this. Don’t worry about it.”

  “Thank you,” I mutter, avoiding his gaze. “That’s kind of you. I really mean it.”

  I bite my lip, unsure what else to say to this sexy, rich guy who also happens to be more understanding than I would have expected from someone like him.

  For some reason, his kindness makes me emotional. Or maybe it’s the humiliation of being crazy attracted to him that’s driving me close to tears.

  But I can’t cry in front of him.

  “Thanks again.” Jumping to my feet, I grab my clutch and march past him, avoiding any eye contact.

  Somewhere behind me, I think I hear Brenda calling my name, but I only stop once I’ve reached my car. Locked inside, I bury my head in my hands and allow myself to sulk because Tyler Becks is out of my league and I’m not stupid enough to think—or hope—otherwise.

  I know I’ll never see him again, but I also know that won’t stop me from obsessing over his eyes, his voice, everything about him.

  After a few minutes, I text Brenda to order herself an Uber and drive home without her. As much as I love her, she’s the one who pushed us into this mess. She’s the one who’s just embarrassed the hell out of me. Now she’ll have to learn her lesson, even if that lesson only involves me not playing her driver for tonight.

  3

  Once I’m home, I boot up my laptop and log into my travelbuddy.com account while I peel off the piece of fabric Brenda generously called a dress. When I set up my travelbuddy.com account, I was seeking a way to escape my frustration with the fact that it’s been two years and our business still hasn’t caught foot.

  As an up-and-coming site for busy, successful city professionals looking to be hooked up with anything from the right spa to restaurants and short-notice, weekend getaways without wasting time on reservations, I wasn’t the right clientele—for obvious reasons. But there is a section that allows you to chat with people, which is what I almost solely use it for.

  Almost a year ago, I was browsing places, dreaming big dreams that my bank account couldn’t fund, and adding those to my wishlists, not interested in visiting the chat section or making friends, when I noticed one user in particular seemed to like a lot of the same things I did and commented on a variety of posts that I was interested in.

  LuckyLuke’s comments weren’t just insightful, but also funny; he seemed to have traveled to a lot of those places and had the inside scoop for anyone who was interested. In a bold moment of wine-induced wittiness, I replied to one of his comments in what I thought was a clever way to tell him that not all hotels wash the sheets as often as they claim. He sent me a private message in response, stating that he’d make sure to always carry a travel mattress from now on. After that, our communication took off, albeit in a more private direction than I had initially expected.

  Confession time.

  I’m not particularly good at building friendships outside of work. It’s not just the fact that I don’t have much time. I simply love the privacy that comes with connecting to strangers online. I feel I can be whomever I want to be without worrying what others might think of me. There’s no harsh judgment, no real criticism, no fake pretending to be interested in whatever’s going on in their lives—after all, they don’t know me and I don’t know them, and I don’t feel obliged to reply when I lose interest.

  The message I’ve been looking forward to all day is already there, waiting to be read.

  Subject: Re: I think my bestie’s trying to pimp me out…

  * * *

  How did the pimping out go? After reading your last message, I can’t imagine what your bestie might be up to, but it sure sounds like fun. Did you hook up with a “very successful and filthy-rich CEO/billionaire” who’ll see past your bra size and hire you for your publicity merits?

  By the way, you keep mentioning your breasts, fuelling my dirtiest fantasies, but I have yet to see proof that you’re not lying. You see, in a city of females addicted to salad, soy lattes, and late-night spinning classes, natural Ds are almost impossible to find. In order to believe you, I’ll need to see proof in the form of a few close-up and well-lit photos, preferably before we meet in real life.

  I have to admit, I’m a bit jealous of that guy. We’ll soon be celebrating our one-year virtual anniversary and haven’t even talked on the phone yet.

  By the way, when will you finally agree to meet? My right hand’s slowly developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

  * * *

  — LuckyLuke

  Smiling, I peel off my dress and bra, and in a moment of brazenness I open the camera app on my notebook and position my naked breasts in front of it to take a few pictures. I don’t intend to send them to the stranger I’ve been talking to for nearly twelve months. That would be reckless, and completely out of character.

  Without taking any pictures, I close the app and proceed to type up a response.

  Subject: Re: Re: I think my bestie’s trying to pimp me out…

  * * *

  No, I didn’t hook up with a “very successful and filthy-rich CEO/billionaire.” In all honesty, I thought my bestie was just joking when she pitched her idea to me and waved the charity tickets in my face. Let’s be real, she sounded absurd. Her plans always do, but this time she really topped herself. I’ll be pissed at her for the next ten years for actually going through with it and for wasting a lot of money—money we don’t have.

  And so we’re a few hundred bucks lighter (we actually had to pay for the table) and another day closer to bankruptcy.

  I’m sorry to hear about your carpal tunnel syndrome. The photos aren’t going to happen, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Maybe I would be more inclined to give in to your constant requests for a meeting if you sent me proof of those ten inches you keep mentioning.

  * * *

  — Bumblebee07

  Still smiling, I send off the message and log out of my travelbuddy.com account. I know I’ll never agree to meet LuckyLuke, mainly because he’s nothing more than a momentary escape—a means to help me forget the failings of my life. Our daily banter always brightens my mood, and so I tell him everything, leaving out the private details that could give up my identity, such as who I am, my company name, and so forth.

  While he listens and always makes sure to follow up, the sexual innuendo is always there, fuelling my fantasies, just like I’m fuelling his.

  He’s probably some weird, lonely, middle-aged guy with too much time on his hands. Or maybe he’s a pubescent boy who finds it easier to express his fantasies online rather than chat up girls at school. Either way, I don’t care.

  I’m not stupid enough to think what we have is real. Or that he’s bee
n completely honest with me. I don’t even believe that he truly likes the silly cartoon of Lucky Luke he uses as his profile picture, which was some European kids’ show that I had to look up. For all I know, he’s based somewhere in Europe with literally an ocean between us.

  There’s no way a guy’s telling the truth and nothing but the truth when he’s safely hidden behind the anonymity of his computer screen. All I want out of this is the fantasy persona I’ve created in my head. And boy, does he deliver with those ten inches I know he’s made up. Because there’s no way the guy hasn’t embellished that truth. But I’ll take what I can get—even if it’s just a picture in my head. There have been too many lonely nights, and any company—virtual or not—feels nice when it comes with no obligations, no expectations, and more importantly, no heartbreak.

  4

  “Are you still mad?” Brenda asks as soon as I’ve entered.

  Our office is barely more than a room with two desks, and a tiny corner with a sofa and a glass wall, which we lovingly call our “creative corner.” It’s basically so small there’s no way I could possibly avoid her.

  I shoot her a venomous look, but she hasn’t bothered to raise her gaze from her computer screen. Sighing, I toss my handbag onto my desk and squeeze out of my jacket as the computer boots up.

  It’s Monday morning and the first time Brenda’s arrived before me at work. Either the guilt has been nagging at her throughout the weekend, or she’s over the whole Tyler Becks incident and is already hatching a new plan to propel us into publicity stardom. Given the fact that I neither see the complimentary box of chocolates that comes with a heartfelt apology nor does she even bother to raise her eyes to look at me, I can only assume it’s the latter.

 
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