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Beautiful distraction, p.26
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       Beautiful Distraction, p.26

           J. C. Reed
 

  She smirked. “Yeah, only next time remind me not to screw the boss, no matter how hot he is. You’re so lucky you have Sean. At least he’s not married and lying to you about not having slept in the same bed with the wife for the last two years. Talk about cliché.”

  My arms wrapped around Sylvie, and she leaned her head against my shoulder the way she always did when a relationship turned sour. They always did, whether we wanted it or not.

  “Sean’s not perfect, you know. And I don’t want commitment,” I said.

  “At least he’s honest. That’s more than you can say about the majority of guys out there.”

  Call me a romantic, but I didn’t agree with Sylvie on that one. Surely not all men were liars or commitment-phobes. I rolled my eyes as I thought of the guy everyone seemed to think was a catch. Sean—the boyfriend who wasn’t ready to commit, and neither was I, for my own reasons. He was good-looking, successful, and the guy I had been hanging onto for almost a year even though I knew it was a dead end relationship that might be over any minute. If you’d call his ‘let’s hook up every now and then’ a relationship, then that was about all we had: a sort of friends-with-benefits thing.

  Less of a friend, more of a sex buddy.

  We met when Sylvie left her handbag in a bar on a drunken night out. Sean found it, and when he turned up at our doorstep she should have been the one to thank him for not stealing her money and tossing her ID card in the nearest dumpster. However, Sylvie had been puking in the bathroom for nearly an hour...so Sean met me instead. We hit it off instantly, and I really thought he might be long-term material. As it turned out, even planning a weekend break was too much commitment for him. I couldn’t remember the last time we went on a romantic date. In fact, I couldn’t remember ever planning any sort of event that didn’t involve a drunken night out with our friends.

  Right from the beginning, Sean had made it clear we weren’t exclusive, and I was fine with that because he made me feel comfortable. Around him, I felt as though I could be myself. When we talked time seemed to fly, and we’d end up talking the night away. Okay, so I wasn’t in toe-curling, belly-warming, butterfly-feeling love, but then again does that even exist outside of Barbara Cartland’s novels?

  “Anyway,” Sylvie continued, jerking me out of my thoughts. “How was your meeting with that guy?”

  “Mayfield,” I said to refresh her memory.

  “Mayfield,” she repeated.

  “Don’t even get me started.” I waved my hand, choosing to avoid this particular conversation. “He didn’t turn up.”

  “It seems like we both need a drink.” Sylvie jumped to her feet again and pulled me up with her. I hesitated. She might be unemployed now, but I still had a job. While it might be fun to linger around New York’s bars, sipping on margaritas at midnight, I didn’t have Sylvie’s platinum Visa card—courtesy of her dad—to pay my bills. I had to get up early in the morning and do my job.

  “Come on, babes.” Knowing it would make me laugh, she put on the fake British accent she picked up on one of her family vacations. “Let’s forget this bloody day.” My lips twitched. “We’ll be back in a jiffy.” Which, in Sylvie’s personal dictionary, was the equivalent to a whole-night bender. But she was my best friend; she needed me. She would have done the same for me. Naturally my resolve never stood a chance.

  Rolling my eyes, I shook my head and followed her out the door. The cool night air whipped my hair against my skin. Luckily our favorite drinking spot was just around the corner, so we didn’t have to brave the cold for long before we settled into our usual booth, surrounded by Sylvie’s countless admirers and a few shots of tequila with lime.

  ***

  A penetrating ringing noise woke me up too soon. I groaned and covered my ears with my pillow, silently begging whoever was making such ungodly noise to shut it. It took me a moment to realize it was my alarm clock. I rolled on my side and knocked it over in the process. A male voice let out an amused snort. I sat up, instantly awake. My gaze settled on the guy on the left side of my bed, and I felt the telltale heat of a major blush rushing to my face. He was propped up on one elbow, one arm tucked beneath his head; his chiseled chest with dark hair trailing down his flat abdomen was on full display. The sheet covering his modesty left nothing to the imagination. In fact, it only managed to stir an unwelcome pull between my legs. Not only was he strikingly good looking, he was also well endowed. A heady—yet dangerous combination—in a man. My tongue flicked over my suddenly dry lips as I pried my gaze away from the bulge that was evident beneath the thin sheet.

  What was he doing in my bed? And why was he naked?

  What do you think, stupid? It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. Just look at his smug grin.

  I peered at his face. In the bright morning light falling through the window he looked younger than last night, but just as arrogant. His gorgeous lips curled into the most stunning smile I had ever seen. A panty-dropping smile, as Sylvie would have called it. I paled at the realization. Had I dropped my panties for him?

  He regarded me with mild amusement in his smoldering eyes—the color of dark moss covered by a thin layer of opal mist. The way he looked at me, I felt as though he saw through my body and directly into my soul. No one had ever made me feel like that before. Then again, I had never met someone so electrically good-looking, but there’s a first time for everything.

  “Are you ready for Round Two?” His voice dripped with insinuation. I had heard that hoarse voice before, but where? My brain fought to make a connection through the alcohol infused haziness clouding my memory retrieval system. And then it dawned on me.

  “You were at The Black Rose. I was supposed to meet with Mayfield, but he sent you instead.”

  His grin widened, revealing two strings of pearl white, even teeth.

  Beautiful, strong teeth that nibbled on my neck and grazed the sensitive skin on my thighs.

  Whoa, where did that come from? I shook my head lightly and tried to cling to the memory before my eyes, but it was gone already.

  “Did we—” I gestured at his naked chest. My heart stopped beating for a moment as I waited for his assurance that it was all a misunderstanding, that I didn’t bang a stranger, because one-night stands weren’t my thing. Besides, I was in a relationship, albeit an open one, but cheating wasn’t my thing either. I wasn’t turning into Sylvie, was I? And I probably wasn’t so stupid to have banged the guy.

  Mystery Guy opened his mouth to say something, closed it again, and in that instant I knew.

  I was cheap, not least because I couldn’t even remember his name.

  “Oh, God.” I jumped out of bed, vaguely realizing I wasn’t wearing anything, not even my panties—probably courtesy of his panty-dropping smile. Mortified, I pulled the sheet from him and covered my naked body, then scooped up what I assumed were his jeans from the pile of clothes scattering the floor and tossed them toward Mystery Guy. He caught them in midair but didn’t hurry to put them on. Well, he obviously was comfortable with his private parts on full display. Good for him.

  I cringed and hissed, “Get out.”

  He blinked and frowned, as though he wasn’t used to this tone from anyone. Was that a hint of disappointment in his eyes? I shook my head at my confusing thoughts. Why would he feel that way when he didn’t even know me? And then it was gone, and his blazing gaze turned to ice. My heart sank in my chest.

  I turned my back on him and called over my shoulder, “You found your way in here, so I’m sure you can find your way out,” as I sprinted out the door and headed for the safety of the kitchen, running right into Sylvie brewing our morning coffee.

  “Is somebody doing the walk of shame?” Sylvie pointed at my burning cheeks.

  I stared at her made-up face and perfect hair. Seriously, how could she look as though she just went through a beauty treatment at a spa after a long night of binge-drinking and barfing all over the small patch of lawn outside our building?

  Sylvie
held out her coffee mug. “Here, take it. You need it more than me.”

  “Thanks.” I took a sip and burned my tongue in the process. The sharp pang of pain offered a welcome diversion from the question at hand. Why did I bring a guy home?

  “Is he still here?” Sylvie whispered conspiratorially.

  I almost spit out my next sip. “You know?”

  She nodded. “You didn’t exactly make a secret out of wanting to bed him.”

  What the hell did I do? Strip off and give him a lap dance? Sylvie made it sound like I acted all sex-starved. No wonder the guy was disappointed not getting a morning quickie.

  “You’re my best friend. You should have stopped me!” I was so mad at her, at myself, at Hot Shirtless Arrogant Guy for accepting my obviously drunken advances. But, even as I was seething, I knew he was the last to blame. What guy would say ‘no’ to a willing female with loose morals?

  “I was drunk,” Sylvie whispered, like that would explain everything.

  Heavy footsteps thudded across the narrow corridor and stopped in the doorway. Holding my breath, I buried my gaze in my coffee and willed it to swallow me up so I wouldn’t have to face the shame of my actions.

  “Good morning, ladies,” Mystery Guy said.

  “Want a cup?” Sylvie strolled over and poured him some coffee, ignoring my venomous look.

  What the heck?

  Was he now staying for a cup of coffee? Didn’t he get the memo?

  “Cheers.” He took a gulp and sighed slightly. Damn! Why did he sound so sexy doing normal stuff like drinking? My cheeks began to burn as my gaze trailed his strong chest, my mind conjuring images of him on top of me. Was this my brain’s attempt at reminding me of what we did, or just a fantasy?

  “How did you get such a hottie? I’m so jealous, and proud of you,” Sylvie whispered, not the least bothered by the fact that my conquest could most certainly hear every word. Her gaze brushed him appreciatively, her X-ray gawk probably undressing him this very instant. While I usually didn’t mind her leering, for some inexplicable reason it bothered me. Her lips curled into a lascivious smile, and she began to play with a golden strand of hair. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see her glued to his leg, drooling all over him.

  “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?

  Oh God.

  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.

  CHAPTER TWO

  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 relieve
d 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.

 
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