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“Closing time.” The waitress slides the bill across the table.
S’belle grabs for it.
“I got it.”
“No, really, let me pay my share.”
“Um . . . really, I got it.”
She tosses her napkin on the table. “Thank you.”
“Not taking that one?” I point to the frayed white cloth near the pie plate.
She stands and pushes her hand against my chest. “No, it’s not monogrammed.”
Playfulness. Physical contact. Heat, lust, want, and need—all bundled into that one innocent touch. I drop my gaze to where her palm rests, but this time before I can grab her hand to lead her out the door, she pulls it away.
I toss a twenty on the table and walk backward toward the exit. “I got your number now. A discriminating thief.”
“I didn’t steal them. I borrowed them to clean up my car because I couldn’t find any towels. I told you I’m going to return them.”
I open the door and let her pass. She takes the lead and I catch up. I make air quotes as I say, “Discriminating borrower.”
A frown forms on her lips.
“I’m just screwing with you.”
“I know,” she says, but I can see a sadness dwelling in her eyes.
The walk back to her car is short. She unlocks her door as soon as we arrive. When I open her door, she hurries to get in.
“Red . . .”
She twists before sitting. “You do know my name is Bell? Don’t you?”
I shake my head in disbelief. “Yes, I know that.” Of course I know her name, but she told me not to call her S’belle the last time I saw her, so I came up with another suitable name for her.
“Okay, just checking.” She turns back around in her seat.
I hover inside the car door, feeling a little nervous for some strange reason about what I’m about to say. Finally I push it out. “I want to see you again.”
The lampposts above us cast shadows over her face and I’m unable to read it. She hesitates for a beat before saying anything. But just then our eyes find each other and something passes between us. “You can call me, but I’m not looking for anything but sex right now,” she says.
If I said I wasn’t shocked as shit by her words, I’d be lying. I mean, what guy doesn’t want to hear that? But for some reason I wasn’t jumping out of my skin at her offer. The attraction between us is undeniable, and in fact I can feel the heat getting hotter with each passing moment—the way her body reacts when I’m close to her and the way mine aches to draw her near. But there’s more than just a physical attraction. I can see she feels it too. It’s in her eyes—the way she looks at me.
As I’m standing in her car door staring at her, trying to figure out where she’s coming from, I realize what I saw in her eyes earlier wasn’t hatred or loathing; it was trepidation. I know because I’m looking at it again right now. And I understand that she has reason to be scared. I can’t deny it. So I nod and whisper in her ear, “Who am I to turn down an offer like that?”
In a tangle of sheets, I toss and turn, stuck somewhere between the dreamworld and the real world. I can’t get Ben Covington out of my mind. His intense blue-eyed stare. The black tuxedo tailored to his perfect body. A missing bow tie—displaying a glimpse of a rebel. The man knew how to use his hands and mouth and I was completely charmed by him. I wanted more of what I know I couldn’t have—a bad boy my family would never accept.
My phone shrills from my nightstand. I jump, blindly reaching for it. Four rings later I finally grab it.
“Hello?” My voice sounds raspy with sleepiness.
There’s a slight sigh along with barely audible breathing, and a push of a button that alerts me that I’m being taken off speakerphone. “Bell, are you still sleeping?” Tate’s voice asks in an eerily seductive tone.
I look around my dark room but see faint light through the blinds. I whip my head around and my eyes race to the digital clock beside me. It reads eight forty-five.
“Yes, sorry. Late night.”
I hear a squeak of the chair. “Baby, I miss you. Tell me what you have on.”
“Tate, that’s completely inappropriate.”
“I know but I’m desperate. When are you going to forgive me? Please give me another chance.”
I sit up and draw my knees to my chest. “We’ve discussed this. We’re over, Tate. We’ve been over for a long time. Where is this coming from?”
“Dino told me he saw you in the parking lot with some guy last night. Did you let him f**k you?” His voice is cold and his question crude. One I would never answer truthfully to him, especially put like that.
“Tate, I’ll be by in an hour to pick up the cake topper and bring it by Caroline’s for her approval before I drop it off at the bakery. Do you need anything else before tonight?”
“You should have been here already. It’s almost nine,” he hisses.
I bow my head between my legs, so tired of the temper tantrums and mood swings. I think to myself, Not much longer. You can do this. Failure is not an option.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” I say, keeping my anger at bay and then hanging up.
Working for him has been a roller-coaster ride. It certainly didn’t help that I mixed business with pleasure and started dating him—made him my boyfriend. Almost a year ago now I came to work for him. Shortly after, right about the time my brother got married, he started asking me out and I didn’t see any harm, so I said yes. By New Year’s I was over him. We went on dates that always ended with make-out sessions in the car and good-byes at the door. I just wasn’t attracted to him enough to sleep with him. One night he pushed for more. I threw him out and told him I would never go out with him again. The next day he apologized profusely and said it wouldn’t impact our working relationship. And for the most part it hasn’t. He’s moody, sure, but he was like that before. He’s also brilliant at his job and I’ve learned so much from him.