Her eyes widen in surprise. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming here tonight when we were together earlier?”
“You never gave me the chance.”
She blows a piece of hair out of her eyes. “I’m really busy right now. I have a million things to do. I appreciate what you did for me but I have to get back to work.”
I take a step closer. “I promise to stay out of your way if you promise to catch up with me later.”
A small sound escapes her throat and I try to determine if it’s exasperation or attraction. When her breathing hitches I opt for the latter and try to keep my own attraction at bay.
“Is there anything I can do to help you?” I ask, pushing the loose tendril of hair from her face.
Her eyes close when my skin makes contact with hers.
“You seem flustered.” I breathe against her neck, as my fingers trace a path from her ear to her jaw. I’m hoping in some way she’ll give me the green light to carry on with our flirtation.
“No,” she says, stepping back, clearly affected by our closeness.
When I stifle my chuckle with one hand in front of my mouth, she drops her eyes then turns away and sashays off, her hair bouncing as she goes. I swear if I didn’t know any better I might think she wants me just as much as I want her. My eyes devour the sight of her red waves against her back and her bare skin below her skirt hem to her high heels clicking against the glossy tile floor. When they land on the ground, another thought comes to mind: Her wearing just those heels and prancing in front of me while we are alone.
I try to shake it off and grab another glass of champagne for distraction, but I still can’t stop following her every move. She’s talking to some brute of a guy in a gray pinstriped suit. He pulls the pencil from her ear and I notice his thumb graze her cheek as he does. She pulls away. He points to her clipboard with the eraser and seems annoyed as he taps it. Every time she steps back, he takes a step forward. If I thought the faces she made at me were disgust, the expression she offers him is one of repulsion. I keep my eye on them, just to make sure whoever that ass**le is stays in check.
“Ben, there you are.” It’s Tike with a hand on my shoulder, gripping a little too tight.
I turn around to face him. “Just the man I needed to see. We need to finish this up so I can leave you and your beautiful wife alone.”
He waves a hand. “Oh, no need to rush. We have time to talk. Come with me, let’s grab a drink.”
As we walk to the bar I have a f**ked-up thought—what if he wants . . . Fuck, if the word “ménage” leaves his lips, I’m so f**king gone. We spend fifteen minutes talking about bullshit and the whole time I’m waiting for him to say something out of line, but thank you, Jesus, he doesn’t.
“Tike, Sloan is waiting for you in the hall. It’s time to officially introduce you as husband and wife. I’d like you both to enter the room together.” We turn in unison to the sweet voice commanding our attention, then I notice that while I’m looking at her he looks at me.
“Of course, darling,” he responds to her or maybe to me. I don’t know because all he does is wink and walk off.
My eyes slide to S’belle. “Can I buy you a drink?”
She looks around the crowded bar area and then at the empty bar stool. She slides into it and looks at me quizzically, scrunching her nose. “Why would you ask me that? It’s an open bar.”
Fuck, she’s adorable. She really is. “Let me rephrase. Would you like to have a drink with me?”
She bites her lips. “First, I don’t drink while I’m working and neither should you.”
“Right, Red, I’ll keep that in mind. And second?”
Her lips form a sexy pout again that I can’t resist. They’re so pink and full and my mind keeps wandering to. . . . “You said first, and that’s usually followed by a second.” I hold up my glass and drink the entire thing down. “There, now I won’t be drinking on the job.”
Her mouth forms a straight line that I think will be turning upside down at any second but she surprises me when instead she smiles at me. I think I might be in—she’s warming up to me, I can tell.
“Bell,” a stern voice calls from behind me.
In a huff she says, “I have to go.”
I turn to see the pinstriped ass**le glaring at her as she hops off the stool. The hint of citrus she leaves in her wake tickles my nose as she spins around and walks away. I breathe it in before pulling out my notebook. Time to finish the checklist. Two things left.
Information needed to write the Rodale Wedding Piece
How did Tike propose to Sloan
Where are they going on their honeymoon
Details of the ceremony
Comments from the parents
Wedding venue details
I push through the crowd of people waiting to congratulate the new husband and wife and search for the second to last item on my list—comments from the parents of both the bride and groom. They’re easy to spot as they’re sitting together at a table in the center of the room. When I approach, cautiously, not sure how receptive they’ll be to being interviewed, they exuberantly plead with me to join them. They offer me a drink, not that I need any more right now, and eagerly discuss the marriage of their children.
While jotting down their thoughts and memories, I allow them to blab on and take the opportunity to glance over at S’belle. Again the guy in the suit is standing a little too close and when she shakes her head at him, he reaches around and pats her ass. She steps back but he corners her and puts his hands on her hips. I start to stand, ready to intervene, but they part ways before I can break away. Once my interview is complete, I politely excuse myself. All I have left is to find out the vendor details and then I’m out of there. In order to complete my checklist, I need the wedding coordinator to give me that information. I contemplate skipping out without it, but regardless of how much this work sucks, I would never half-ass a job. So I go in search of the spitfire, but she’s nowhere to be found.
The lights dim and the dance floor fills with people. The strains of a popular love song play as the couple takes their spot front and center. Maybe it’s too much booze, maybe it’s the thought of this make-believe marriage passing for something real, but I suddenly need some air.
On the terrace there’s an abundance of small tables with branches as centerpieces stretching as far as I can see, and a dessert bar that goes on for miles. I watch as people line up to fill their plates and then nibble on the small petite fours and mini cake slices on their plate, most of which will just get thrown away—too many calories.
I’m struggling to suck in a breath and push through all this shit. I turn a corner and head into the courtyard area that’s filled with trees and pathways in the shape of mazes. I take the first turn into the foliage. Glowing path lights guide my way and lead me to a wooden gazebo where I halt. There she sits, alone in the dark. The soft lighting from the ground gleams off her hair—she’s gorgeous. She’s still a hundred yards away, but my heart is already thumping out of my chest.
I decide to approach her cautiously, not sure if she’s not going to be happy to see me. Her head is bowed but she straightens up when I approach, peering at me cautiously.
I can see her sad green eyes. “Hey, are you okay?”
She clears her throat and brushes her long hair back over one shoulder. The same memory I’ve revisited a thousand times resurfaces. I can’t push it away . . .
I’m behind her and she swipes her hair to one side, tilting her head so I can kiss her neck. Burying my nose in the curve of her neck, I breathe her in, drawing my tongue down her skin—the smell of citrus and the taste of lemon was so enticing.
I shake it off the best I can as she answers. “Yes, I just needed some air.”
“Mind if I sit? I promise not to get in your way.”
She nods and actually lets out a small laugh.
My main focus as I sit beside her is getting my freaking breathing to steady itself. I try to facilitate the process by leaning down, putting my elbows on my knees. She watches me, her breathing erratic as well, but from her tears, I’m sure.
“Do you need a ride to get your car?”
“No, I’ll figure it out tomorrow,” she answers quietly.
“Did you bring your spare set of keys?”
“Yes, but I don’t feel like dealing with the flat tonight.”
After a moment, my eyes cut to hers. “Who’s the ass**le that’s had his hands all over you tonight?”
Her jaw drops before she manages to pull herself straight up again, her perky tits following as her shoulders move back. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I tilt my head closer to her. “The guy in the suit you were showing the clipboard to.”
She huffs. “He’s my boss—and his hands weren’t all over me.”
“Yeah, they were. Did he upset you?”
She sets those full lips into a straight line. “It’s really none of your business.”
I think I struck a nerve. But I need to know if the ass**le is overstepping his bounds. I push on. “Is he bothering you?”
“Ben, it’s nothing I want to talk about with you.”
“Look, if you need someone to help you out, I can.”
“I don’t. He’s my boss and I can handle him.”
I sit up and press my palms against the bench. “Okay, but if you change your mind, let me know.”
“I doubt that; we shouldn’t even be talking.”
“Why is that, Bell?” I intentionally show her I was listening to her earlier, even though I prefer calling her S’belle or Red.
She wraps her arms around herself. “Come on, you know why.”
I take my jacket off, handing it to her. “Here, put this on.”
Her eyes stay glued to mine and when she doesn’t take it, I drape it around her shoulders. “Listen, what I know is that you and I had a thing a long time ago and, yeah, I acted like an ass**le afterward, but that’s not who I am and I think you . . .”
She cuts me off. “That’s not what I meant.”
“What is it then?”
“Do I have to spell it out for you?”
“Yes, I guess you do. I’m really not dense, but I’m not catching your drift at all.”
She clutches my jacket and pulls it all the way around her. “Your ex-fiancé married my brother.”
“Yes, she did . . . but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk. They shouldn’t impact the two of us talking, especially when we’re thrown together in a work-related social situation.”
Her beautiful green eyes seem to soften. “I’m not mad about that, Ben. I went after you. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m not proud of who I was then, but that’s not who I am anymore.”
She lets her head drop until I lift her chin to study her face. “Hey, I’m not sure if I should say this. I really don’t know what’s considered right or wrong in this situation, but that night we shared—it’s one I’ve never forgotten.”
She places her hand over mine and at the gentle touch something surges through my body. I watch as she bites her lip and after a few seconds, she curls her fingers around mine. There are tears in her eyes and I’m not sure if they’re from earlier or fresh. She removes her hand and pulls her chin back as soon as the drops start to fall but the connection between us that threw me lingers on.
“About that night, I shouldn’t have done what I did,” she says in a shaky voice.
“Shhh.” I whisper to her and place my finger over her lips. “We don’t have to talk about the past.”
She shakes her head and more tears fall. “No, I want to,” she says, and I long to comfort her. I thought we were going to talk about her boss, but I guess she wants to talk about that night.