The ladies’ room was a welcome reprieve. The moment I stepped through the doors and they closed behind me, dulling the din of the constant conversation and background music, both of which seemed to be louder than usual, I felt like I could breathe again.
Mercifully, the restroom seemed to be empty. The only thing worse than making small talk with a never-ending flow of colleagues and clients was doing it in the washroom. Despite myself, I chuckled at the thought of discussing the latest financials with the CEO of MultiTech, the company I was currently the chief financial officer of, while we touched up our makeup. Especially considering the CEO was Shane Grant, a rather large, bearded man.
In fact, most of my colleagues were men. Escaping to the ladies’ room alone was a definite perk of being one of the only women in a high-powered executive role. I’d worked hard to be in the position I was in. A few minutes of respite from these events shouldn’t be too much of an ask.
I inhaled deeply and tried to shake the melancholy hanging over me. I usually loved these events. I’d dedicated my life to my career and not one time had it been a hardship. While my best friends were getting married, I was working late into the night, choosing the hardest accounts to prove myself. When they were having babies and going to Mommy and Me classes, I was wining and dining clients, fending off inappropriate advances and proving myself a loyal and indispensable asset to the business by working sixty-hour workweeks. When they were buying houses and hosting dinner parties, I was living off takeout while I worked by the dim glow of my computer screen well past midnight.
And I loved it.
Never once had I felt like I’d missed out.
Not one time did I wish I’d chosen a different path in life.
I thrived on the challenge of my career. Working the numbers, finding opportunities to grow a company through the bottom line. It was exhilarating.
And these black-tie nights were all part of it.
I used to live for this shit. Schmoozing potential clients, or merger opportunities, was my jam. And I was good at it. Stuffy corporate types never saw me coming. They saw a tall, good-looking blonde with red lipstick, and instantly their guard fell. Those were the easy ones. The ones who thought with their dick first. The ones who didn’t even consider that a pretty girl could possibly have the brains to know a thing or two about money, let alone how it could be used to the ultimate advantage.
And then there were men like Shane Grant, my boss. He was one of the good ones. He not only recognized how smart I was, but how advantageous I could be for him in his tech company. The thing that people didn’t know about tech companies was that innovation was only a small part of the job. The bigger job was buying up the constant flow of start-ups that popped up and threatened your business.
And that’s where I came in.
Not only could I boil down the numbers into a bottom line that would benefit everyone, nobody expected it from me. It only took me a few minutes of conversation with a potential acquisition target to know what I needed to know. It was amazing what men would say after a few minutes of flirting with a pretty woman. More often than not, before the first drink was done, I knew about their cash flow—usually their lack of it—their bottom line, and exactly how much—or how little—it would take to buy them up.
I was damn good at my job.
But more and more lately, it was starting to feel empty. The heady rush that used to fuel me was slowly being replaced with disappointment. It’s not that it wasn’t challenging anymore. It was. That was the thing about working with numbers and people. There was always a challenge to sink my teeth into.
Still…I couldn’t help feeling that there was more to life. It was troubling that I’d been feeling that way more often lately. Especially because I didn’t know what more meant.
With a sigh, I examined my reflection. I’d been gone long enough. I would need to get back out there before my presence was missed. Despite the fact that my bright-red lipstick was still perfectly applied, I pulled the tube from my clutch and carefully reapplied a coat. My long blonde hair had been pulled up into a tight twist at the back of my head, leaving my neck bare. The dress I’d chosen was black and elegant. Cut deep enough in the front to be sexy, but not slutty. Just enough to catch the eye. It was long-sleeved, but off the shoulder with a low back. It was more skin than I usually exposed at a work function, but I didn’t care. The dress looked amazing. And I felt fabulous in it.
There was a mid-thigh slit in the long skirt that offered glimpses of my lean legs that I knew looked impressive with the red stilettos I’d chosen to match my signature lipstick.
I capped the lipstick and returned it to my purse as the door of the restroom opened with a wave of noise. A giggling redhead who’d clearly had one too many drinks for a work function all but fell into the room before the door shut behind her.
“Oh, I didn’t—hi,” the girl said as she noticed me for the first time. She straightened up and made her way to the sink. “I didn’t realize there was anyone in here.”
I shrugged a little, not remotely interested in starting a conversation. If I was going to be subjected to small talk, I wasn’t going to be doing it in the bathroom with someone’s drunk date.
I turned to leave.
“Sorry,” the girl said, stopping me. “Would you mind…”
I turned to see her shimmying her body awkwardly as she reached up behind her back.
“Sure.” I put my clutch on the counter and rescued the girl from her skintight dress by working the zipper down her back far enough that she could manage the rest. “There you go.”
“You’re a lifesaver. Thank you.” She shuffled to a stall as she wiggled the fabric up around her hips. “I don’t know why they make these dresses so impossible.” She spoke through the closed door. “I mean, I can hardly sit down, let alone pull it up enough to pee.” A giggle filled the air as I moved to leave. “Oh!” she shouted out. “Can you please wait a minute?”
Could she read minds? I froze and stared at the closed door.
“I won’t be able to get back into my dress,” she continued. “Please.”
It’s not as if I could say no. “Okay.”
“You are a saint.” She laughed again, and I heard a flush before she emerged, looking visibly relieved. “Thank you so much.” She washed her hands while I waited. “My name is Trista, by the way. This is my first time at one of these,” she continued without waiting for a response. “It’s so fun, don’t you think?”
I didn’t. Fun was not a word I’d ever use to describe these functions. Not even when I was Trista’s age.
“You look like you’ve been to one or two before,” she continued. “I mean, I’m probably the youngest one here. Don’t you think?”
Was she saying I was old?
I swallowed hard and waited for her to turn around so I could zip her up and get out of there. My little break was quickly turning into a reminder that the only thing I hated more than small talk was making it with the bimbo dates that some of the men insisted on bringing to these functions. As if dating a girl who was barely over the legal drinking age was going to make them feel any younger. Hell, maybe it did. But it sure didn’t make them look anything but desperate and more than a little ridiculous.
“Nice to meet you, Trista.” I gave her a bright smile. “And yes, you are definitely one of the younger women here, but don’t let that intimidate you. I was once—”
“Oh, I’m not.”
I watched as she reached into her dress and lifted first one of her huge breasts into place in her dress and then the other, before turning to present her back and the zipper to me.
“I mean, I am the prettiest girl in the room. No offense.”
I tugged her zipper up sharply, making her gasp.
I was quickly losing my patience with this girl.
“But you have to admit,” Trista spun to face the mirror and fluff her hair, “these places are perfect for finding a rich guy, right? I mean, all it takes is a quick blow job in the car on the way home and they’re in love, am I right?” She winked. “You look like you know exactly what I mean.”
“Oh, definitely.” I nodded. “If you’ll excuse me, Trista. I should get back.”
“Of course.” She pursed her lips together seriously. “You can’t keep them waiting. These guys need so much attention.”
It was an effort not to roll my eyes as I left her primping her ridiculously young, firm body and rejoined the party. The thing was, Trista wasn’t wrong. The majority of the men at these events were either on their second, third, or fourth wife—each younger than the last—or they were there with a girl like Trista.
It was a gross overgeneralization, of course, and there were exceptions. But I couldn’t help but think that those exceptions were getting harder and harder to find. Not that I was looking.
The only man I needed in my life was one to scratch the occasional itch before getting out of my bed and back to his own apartment before the sun came up. Period.
“Brittany! Just the woman I was looking for.”
I turned, my smile perfectly in place, to greet my boss, Shane Grant, who also happened to be my best friend Jessie’s new boyfriend. It was a long story, but they were perfect for each other. Making Shane Grant one of those very rare exceptions I was just thinking about.
“Shane.” I leaned in as he greeted me with a kiss on the cheek. “Jessie.” I pulled my friend in for a hug. I knew she’d feel a little out of place at the club, but I loved that she was here. “You look amazing.”
She really did. Ever since she’d sold her diner and fallen completely into her new relationship with Shane, she was like a totally different woman. She deserved it, too.
“Thank you.” Jessie twirled a little in her dress. “But seriously, Britt. You look amazing.”
Shane put his arm around Jessie’s waist and pulled her close. “I’m a little partial,” he said as he kissed her on the cheek. “But Jessie really does look incredible.” He flashed a smile at me. “Brittany, you look exceptional as always.”
I laughed. “Thanks, Shane. It’s been a good night. I had an interesting conversation with Chad Duvall. I think he’ll be open to a meeting next week.” I spent the next few minutes filling him in on my conversations so far before his attention was distracted.
“Sorry, Brittany,” he said as he waved at someone behind me. “But I have to change the subject quickly.” He looked to Jessie again. “I know a lot went down between you,” he said to her. “And I know you’ve had the chance to clear the air, but it’s important to me that you two get to know each other as friends. And Brittany, even though he’s been sharing our office space, I don’t think you’ve properly met him either.”
I didn’t have to turn around to see who Shane was talking about. My spine stiffened, and at the same time, my stomach flipped. I’d only actually met him once, when he rectified his terrible behavior in acquiring Jessie’s diner. We’d hardly even spoken to each other at that meeting; still, I’d had a very hard time getting his green eyes out of my mind. The way he’d looked at me. No man had ever looked at me that way before, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it was different. Only that it was. And it made me feel things. A lot of things. Things that had followed me into my dreams. It was true—he was sharing office space with us at MultiTech. It was also true that I’d done my best to avoid him and his unnerving gaze.
But I couldn’t ignore him forever. He was a good friend of Shane’s. Besides, I didn’t even know him. And it was probably just a one-time, chance thing that I’d misread.
I put my well-practiced smile in place and slowly turned around as Shane greeted him.
“Trent! Good to see you, man.”
But it wasn’t a one-time thing. The second I turned around, my eyes locked on Trent Thomas’s green gaze and it happened again. The look. Like he could see me. Like he knew me. Like he wanted me. All of me.
My breath hitched in my throat in a way that made it hard to breathe, but I didn’t look away. Neither did he. It wasn’t until Shane said, “And who is your beautiful date tonight?” that I finally tore my gaze away from Trent’s, to see the woman I hadn’t noticed until then.
* * *
Somehow, every time I saw the woman, she looked sexier than the last. Her glacier-blue eyes pierced me, challenging me. But I held her gaze, unwavering, until my date tugged on my arm, at the exact same moment Brittany looked away.
“Hi,” the girl next to me whose name I’d momentarily forgotten, cooed. “I’m Trista.”
She thrust her hand out along with her massive tits and tossed her hair over her shoulder with a giggle as Shane politely took her hand in greeting. She was so obvious, it was embarrassing. Mostly for her. But I couldn’t help but cringe.
My gaze moved back to Brittany, who didn’t bother to hide her look of disgust at Trista’s behavior. As if she sensed me, she looked up and raised an eyebrow in question as if to say, “Really?”
In response, I pressed my lips together and shrugged a little before introducing my date to Jessie. “Shane’s fiancée.” I made a point to emphasize the word, because even though Trista was there with me, she was definitely the type to look for a bigger and better opportunity.
I knew the type. Hell, I knew it well. I’d exclusively dated Tristas for years: young, giggly, big tits that looked good in a tight dress—and even better in my hands.
Dating Tristas was easy.
She got what she wanted—treated to expensive dinners, drinks and occasional gifts with the opportunity to meet her next sugar daddy—and I got what I wanted—a plus one at these boring events, followed by a hot fuck before going home alone, just the way I liked it.
And it was how I liked it.
Trista, message received, had resumed her rubbing up on my side. Her tits pressed into me, and one hand slid down over my ass.
I cleared my throat and took a small, hopefully subtle, step to the side.
Brittany swallowed a chuckle.
Not so subtle then.
I ignored her and focused on Shane and Jessie. “How are the two of you?” I looked directly at Jessie, who had every reason to hate me after I’d tried to acquire her diner, Rosie’s, for a pittance a few months earlier. To be fair, it was only business, and I would have done the exact same thing no matter who it was. Still, when I learned that she was involved with Shane and—more importantly—realized for the first time how just doing business could impact real people and real lives, I took a different approach to the acquisitions division of my business. A much more humane approach. So far, not only had it worked, it made me feel like a better person to make fair deals with people instead of trying to get the lowest possible price for my bottom line. It felt good, and I had Jessie to thank for that. Something I’d done repeatedly ever since making amends with her.
Still, her friend Brittany clearly hadn’t gotten the memo.
Ice Queen would be a generous description of the woman who stood silently glaring at me next to Jessie, almost as if she were on guard, as the three of us made small talk for a few minutes.
“I’m so sorry,” Shane said, changing the subject abruptly. “I wanted to make sure the two of you had been properly introduced.” He gestured for Brittany to step forward. She did so, but the mask of indifference on her gorgeous face remained firmly in place.
“We’ve met.” Still, I held my hand out, wanting to touch her. “But it never hurts to have a proper introduction after everything that’s transpired.” I gave her my most charming smile as I carefully shook Trista off my left side. “It is absolutely my pleasure to officially meet you, Brittany. My good friend Shane here speaks very highly of you.”
For a moment, I was certain she was going to snub me altogether. My hand dangled in the space between us, but I was a patient man. I focused my eyes on her, but she didn’t quite meet my gaze. I was almost ready to admit defeat when her red lips very deliberately moved into what had to be a carefully practiced smile.
Her voice oozed with social graces. Oh yes, she knew exactly what she was doing. But when her manicured hand finally slipped into mine, her carefully constructed persona faltered.
I saw it, even if no one else noticed when her chest hitched with a sharp intake of breath as my fingers held hers in a soft, but firm grip.
Heat flashed between us, and even I had a hard time not reacting to what should have been an innocent touch.
“It’s…” She worked hard to recover without incident. “It’s very nice to finally meet you in better circumstances.” She held her smile on her face as finally, her eyes met mine. Again, her pupils dilated, making her pale-blue eyes darken.
Damn. I couldn’t know with certainty that’s what she was feeling. But fuck, it was most definitely what I was feeling.
One. Simple. Touch.
As quick as it was there, it was gone. She’d withdrawn her hand, her gaze once more fixed just over my shoulder.
“Aren’t you both in the same office?” Jessie asked, oblivious—as was everyone else—as to what had just transpired between us. “How is it you’ve never run into each other?”
It was an excellent question. One I was pretty sure I already knew the answer to.
“If I didn’t know better,” I said with just enough mischief in my voice to keep it light, “I’d think that Brittany’s been avoiding me.”
I saw the flinch. I was right. She had been avoiding me. But why?
“Why would I be avoiding you?” Her voice didn’t reveal anything. “After all, I don’t even know you.”
Jessie looked between her friend and back to me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her roll her eyes. So, I wasn’t the only one who recognized that something was up with Brittany.
But if Jessie thought her friend was acting strange, there must be some kind of secret friendship pact, because she didn’t say anything, but swiftly changed the subject to ask about the development that was going in where her diner had once stood.
Distracted, I did my best not to be rude to her, especially considering we were tentatively building a friendship after our rocky start, and answered all of her questions as Shane and Brittany fell into a separate conversation beside us. Distractedly, I realized Trista had found her way to the bar—again—and the bartender who didn’t try to hide the fact that he was ogling her breasts as he poured her stronger than necessary drinks.
I shook my head slightly. I’d peel her away from the bar later; after all, even annoying and vapid, she was still my date. And her tits were magnificent.
“So what do you think, Trent?”
I cleared my head and refocused on the conversation, which had clearly shifted again.
Shane watched me, waiting for an answer. “What do you think?”
“It does?” Shane raised his eyes.
Shit. It was the wrong answer, apparently. But, I was invested now. “Why not?” I said with confidence.
“Looks like you’re outvoted, Shane,” Jessie said next to me.
“You’re supposed to be on my side, man,” Shane said with a groan. But despite the fact that he’d obviously conceded to whatever it was his girlfriend wanted, he didn’t look upset.
But I was still confused.
“Do I get a vote?” Brittany asked.
“No way,” Jessie jumped in. “You’re my friend, so obviously you agree with me.”
“Sure,” Brittany said with an emphasized smile. “A dinner party sounds like fun, Jessie. I can’t wait.”
So that’s what I’d agreed to. It could be worse. I didn’t mind a dinner party among friends. It was definitely better than these stuffy affairs, and even they weren’t all bad. There were worse things than being surrounded by gorgeous women. And that was definitely one of the perks of these things. My eyes settled on Brittany, who looked damned good in her black off-the-shoulder dress. It was fitted and clung to her in all the right ways. Her body was long and lean, her breasts smaller than what usually caught my eye, but still beautiful. In fact, everything about Brittany was stunning. Elegant in a way that demanded attention and respect.
“Not a dinner party,” Jessie corrected. “A housewarming party.” She laughed. “Super casual. Just a few friends.”
“Tell me when,” I said with a smile as Trista reappeared at my side and threaded her arm through mine. “I’ll be there.”
I heard Shane mutter traitor, but he chuckled as he said it. It was no secret that he’d do anything for Jessie. My friend, who’d once been burned so badly by a woman that he’d sworn off any relationship longer than one night, was completely head over heels and one hundred percent devoted to the single mom.
And if it could happen to Shane…
My eyes drifted down to Trista, who looked up at me with hooded lids full of promise. Or too much alcohol. Either way, it was definitely time to take her home. But it wasn’t my date who held my attention as I quickly said our goodbyes.
“It was nice to properly meet you, Trent.” Brittany’s voice gave nothing away, but I was certain I heard the slightest trace of sarcasm there. Her eyes sparkled as she winked in my direction.
I took her hand again, this time squeezing it just a little as the heat flowed between us. “I hope to see you soon, Brittany.” I looked straight into her eyes so I didn’t miss the flash in them. “Now that I know you’re not avoiding me.”
Her cheeks pinked. Not enough for anyone else to notice, except me, as she withdrew her hand, clearly flustered.
I turned to leave, Trista still glued to my left side.
“Enjoy the rest of your night.”
Brittany’s voice reached me and just like that, I knew there was only one way I’d be enjoying the rest of my night. And unfortunately, that wasn’t likely to happen.
It felt like forever before I was finally able to make my excuses and leave the club behind. The cool, calm quiet of my penthouse condo welcomed me like a hug the moment I stepped through the door.
My girlfriends all made fun of my style, complaining that they could never be comfortable in my space. Not that I cared. I hadn’t decorated for them. I’d decorated for me. And I loved it. The crisp clean lines of the white marble counters, that blended seamlessly with the white tile floors and slightly off-white walls, were soothing. My pale-gray leather couch was much more comfortable than it looked, and it wasn’t as if there were no color at all in my space. The artwork had been designed in shades of blues that matched the throw cushions and a few choice hand-blown glass pieces.
Yes, it was simple. Unfussy.
Just like me.
It was home. And as long as I loved it, that’s all that mattered.
A sharp meow filled the air the moment I closed the front door behind me.
Okay, it wasn’t just me that mattered. It was also Sheldon.
I bent down and gathered my fluffy black and white cat into my arms. Sheldon immediately nuzzled into my neck, his loud purr filling my ears.
“See? I’m not alone,” I said to Sheldon.
The girls might think I was lonely, but they were wrong. I had Sheldon. We’d been together for just over ten years, and it was hands down the best relationship I’d ever been in. Not that I’d ever had an actual relationship with a man. But who needed it? The last thing I needed was someone cluttering up my space, complaining that I worked too much, or that I made more money than they did. Men were all the same. Insecure and threatened by a strong woman with her shit together.
I didn’t need it.
I scratched Sheldon’s head and tried to snuggle him closer, but he had other ideas as he meowed and squirmed to be let down.
Despite his fluffiness, he was definitely not a cuddly cat. I liked his style.
Attention on his own terms. When he wanted it and only as much as he wanted. And then…leave him alone.
It was just like mine, which was why we worked well together.
I shimmied out of my dress and dropped it in the hamper for dry cleaning later.
It was late and I should get some sleep, but I was too keyed up after the party.
After Trent Thomas.
The man got under my skin, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.
I knew exactly what it was.
It was the way he looked at me. No man ever looked at me that way.
Sure, they looked with desire, intimidation, maybe even respect in the middle of a business deal. But Trent looked at me with interest. Like he was actively trying to figure me out or learn something about me without asking.
Like he cared.
But that was ridiculous. Why would a man like Trent Thomas, who’d hardly ever met me, care about me?
It didn’t make sense.
Nor did it matter to me. A minor detail I needed to keep reminding myself of.
Regardless, I wasn’t going to be able to sleep, so I tugged on a pair of leggings over my long legs and an oversized sweater and followed Sheldon out to the living room. I poured myself a glass of soda water from the bottle in the fridge and contemplated adding a splash of vodka but decided against it.
I hardly ever drank, and that was by design. Alcohol caused you to drop your guard, loosen your inhibitions and make decisions you’d regret. Not that I’d personally experienced it. That was also by design.
But I’d seen enough people have their life changed, both in small and major ways, because of alcohol to know that it was best just to steer clear of it altogether.
My eyes drifted to the large box that had arrived earlier that day. I had the delivery guy put it in the corner, and I had full intentions of leaving it there, well…at least until I could have it moved to the storage unit I had in the parking garage. There was nothing of value in the box. That I knew without even looking inside.
Still, almost against my will, I felt drawn to the box until I stood over it.
Addressed to me, it had been sent by Fraser Lawrence. My late mother’s assistant.
And that’s how I knew it would hold nothing of value. She’d donated everything she had to charity. Everything.
Mom and I had never been close. She’d been a workaholic up until her death six months ago. The only thing she cared about was her work as a corporate lawyer. I’d held some sort of childlike fantasy that when her assistant called to tell me she was dying, it was because my mother loved and cared about me and wanted nothing more than to have me at her side so she could apologize for not being the mother I needed and deserved.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The moment I got the call, I’d dropped everything and caught the next flight to Vancouver, where she’d moved the second I’d graduated from high school. Despite everything that had happened over the years—the missed school functions, the forgotten birthdays, the Christmas cards addressed by her assistant, the complete lack of interest in having me in her life—she was still my mother, and she was the only family I had left. And yes, I was a practical person. Maybe even a little too practical, although it was a fine line I walked to keep myself from being as cold as the woman who raised me. Still, I couldn’t help but think that her reaching out meant something.
Of course, I’d been disappointed. Again.
She’d been surprised and not entirely pleased to see me in her hospital room. It had been Fraser who’d reached out. Not her. I should have known.
Still, I stayed with her and even held her hand as she took her final breath a few days later.
I never got an apology or an explanation or…it didn’t matter anymore.
Just like whatever was in the box didn’t matter.
Before I could talk myself out of it again, I pulled at the tape on the edge. It gave way easily and tore off, leaving the box open and accessible.
There was a note on top.
I thought you should have these.
Odd. They weren’t from my mother at all.
Still, curiosity got the best of me, and I lifted the tissue away to reveal…paintings?
My heart leapt to my throat, making it hard to breathe as I pulled the first canvas from the box. It was a little girl, her back to the artist, her long blonde hair falling down her back, a ratty stuffed cat clutched in her hand as she stared out the window.
It was me.
The next piece was of a young woman; her long hair covered half her face and cast shadows over the other half. Still, there was no mistaking that it was also an image of me in my twenties.
I knew without looking at the signatures in the corner that there was only one person who could have painted them. Still, my eyes searched out the familiar scribble.
I swallowed hard and propped the paintings up against the wall.
Maybe a little vodka wouldn’t hurt after all.
* * *
No sooner were we in the back seat of the town car than her hands were sliding up my thighs.
Apparently, everyone had tried to leave the party at the same time. Either that, or there was some kind of accident or conspiracy keeping me longer than necessary in the back of the private car with the woman who was making no secret of the fact that she would happily help me pass the time until we got back to her apartment.
“You’re so sexy,” Trista murmured against my neck as she trailed her long fingernails through my hair. “But you know what would be even sexier?”
I had a pretty good idea as her fingers started to work at the knot in my tie.
She was a good-looking girl, and those tits…they’d been begging to be released from that dress and put into my hands all night. Which had been my entire plan for the evening.
Take Trista to the party.
And then, take her home.
Where I’d not only get those tits in my hands but in my mouth. Her nipples between my lips, sucking and nibbling until she cried out for more.
Hell, earlier when I’d picked her up and seen her plump, pink lips, the only thing I could picture was having them wrapped around my cock all the way home.
Yes, that had definitely been the plan.
I closed my eyes as Trista began kissing and sucking on my lips again, and it wasn’t my date’s face that appeared in my imagination. It was Brittany. It was her long blonde hair, released from the tight twist on the back of her head, falling over my face as she kissed me.
It was her bright-red lips wrapped around my cock, her glacial-blue eyes looking up at me while she sucked me off. My fingers wrapped through the silky strands of her hair while I—
My eyes snapped open to see Trista, who’d succeeded in loosening my tie and had somehow managed to wiggle her skintight dress up over her hips so she could straddle my lap, watching me. Those huge tits, still encased in her dress, were now directly in my face.
I blinked. “Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t hear the question.”
She giggled, certain I’d been distracted by her. And I should have been. Trista was my date. She was here in front of me, ready and willing to do all kinds of dirty things with me with no strings attached. And that’s exactly what I wanted. That was exactly why I liked girls like Trista.
Easy. Uncomplicated. Sexy as hell.
Just because Brittany’s face had appeared in my imagination momentarily, it was nothing more than a product of the fact I’d just seen her. It didn’t mean anything. She was a good-looking woman. And we’d spent time chatting. That was all. It meant nothing.
But I’d spent a lot of time chatting with other good-looking women and never had they taken over my fantasies when I was with another woman. Ever.
Nothing with Brittany was ever going to happen. But with Trista, I would most certainly get the release I needed. And what was that saying about what’s in front of you…
“I asked if you wouldn’t mind unzipping my dress.” Trista batted her eyelashes and pressed herself down on what was already a throbbing erection in my pants. “It’s just so tight,” she continued, her voice full of promise. “And it’s going to be a long drive.”
My eyes glanced to the privacy shade that had already been put in place by the driver. He wasn’t new.
I shifted my focus back to my date. “Well, we can’t have you being uncomfortable, can we?”
My fingers pulled the zipper down her back before trailing up the smooth skin beneath the fabric. Trista was a beautiful woman, if not a little annoying.
And shallow and young and…
Not at all like Brittany.
I swallowed hard and forced thoughts of the untouchable blonde from my head. She wasn’t here. Trista was here, and she was currently sliding her dress off and—
“You’re gorgeous.” My hands moved instinctively to her breasts the moment she presented them to me.
Trista giggled and lifted her body so her tits were inches from my mouth. I obliged by kissing first one, then the other as Trista’s hands found their way to the bulge in my pants. She moved quickly, unbuckling my belt and sliding the leather free. A moment later, she was in my pants, freeing my hard cock.
I tried. I really did. More than anything, my body wanted the release that Trista promised, but my mind could not focus on the woman in front of me. Even as she shimmied down in the seat and lowered her head to my lap, my thoughts went to Brittany.
Had she taken someone home?
No. She hadn’t been at the party with anyone, and she wasn’t the type to pick up random men. Especially not at a business function.
Trista wrapped her lips around my length and a moan slipped reflexively from my throat.
Did Brittany have a boyfriend? Was there a man in her life who got to have those red lips on his, who got to trace the soft, creamy skin of her neck down between her breasts?
I knew instinctually there was no man in her life.
Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. The more I tried to stop, the more she dominated my thoughts.
My cock twitched with Trista’s attentions, but it wasn’t my date who was turning me on.
It was wrong.
“Stop.” I grabbed Trista’s shoulders and pulled her up and off me.
She sat back, almost completely naked with her dress around her waist, her tits bouncing. Her lipstick was smeared and her mouth made a shocked O as she assessed me. “Was I doing something—”
“I’m just not into it.”
She lifted an eyebrow. “You seemed plenty into it to me.”
There was no way I was going to make an already shitty and awkward situation even worse by admitting to her that my hard-on had very little to do with her and almost everything to do with a woman who’d hardly given me the time of day.
“I’m not.” I finished tucking my still very hard dick back into my pants. “I’ll take you home.”
Realization slowly dawned on Trista’s face as she realized I was rejecting her. “You’ll take me home? Just like that?”
I nodded curtly and sent a quick text to my driver with the change in plans. No sense in adding to Trista’s humiliation by lowering the privacy screen. “Can I help you with your dress?”
She struggled into the skintight garment and reluctantly turned her back to me to help with the zipper considering there was no other choice for it. “Did I do something wrong?” Trista finally asked. “I thought we were having a good time.”
“No,” I answered honestly. “You didn’t do anything wrong.” It wasn’t her fault that for the first time ever, I wanted something besides a quick fuck in the back seat on the way home with a woman who would be more than happy to oblige and never speak to me again.
No. I wanted something very, very different.
I wanted Brittany.
* * *
Ultimately, I didn’t opt for vodka. But only because it felt wrong to drink alone. Especially because I was sitting on the living room floor, staring at paintings that my alcoholic artist of a father, who’d abandoned me as a child, had painted—of me.
That was just wrong.
Why did my mother have these paintings? Why had I never seen them before? Had she spoken to my father before she died?
So many questions that I’d never have answers to, and it only pissed me off. It shouldn’t be a surprise to me anymore. Not after all of these years, and especially not after her death. But still, my mother’s complete and total indifference to me or my feelings was startling. Even from beyond the grave, she couldn’t throw me a crumb. A little nugget of something that I could hold onto that would let me know that despite how cold she’d been while I was growing up, and how I’d always been made to feel like an inconvenience that was so much like your father, that maybe she really did love me under that hard shell.
But of course, she wouldn’t. And finally, at the ripe age of forty-one, I was finally starting to accept that maybe she didn’t love me. Maybe she couldn’t. Not the way I wanted her to.
I dropped my head, and Sheldon chose that moment to crawl onto my lap, his soft tail trailing over my face, making it tickle.
“You silly cat.” I scooped him up and, despite his meowls of protest, snuggled him close.
I thought I was over all that mommy stuff. It had taken a lot of therapy and the unwavering love and support of the family I’d chosen—my girlfriends—to move past it. But I had. Hadn’t I?
These paintings just opened up more questions. My father left when I was ten. The first painting made sense. Too much sense. But the second one…how did he know what I looked like well enough to paint it? Where was he? Had he been close? Had he wanted to see me after all? My mother always claimed he’d chosen his art over us.
“Your father isn’t capable of loving anything as much as he loves his paintbrushes, Brittany,” she said. “Knowing him, he’s already so lost in his work that he’s forgotten all about us already. It’ll do you good to forget about him, too.”
I’d been ten. Way too young to understand anything except that the man who tucked me in every night, read me stories, and let me play with his paints and brushes in his studio was gone. But old enough to know not to ask too many questions.
He’d left me a small beat-up wooden box with a few brushes and some tubes of watercolors that I kept hidden under my bed for almost two years before she’d caught me painting a landscape in a sketchpad I’d bought with my allowance. My mother worked late Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I’d rush home from school, finish my homework and paint. I never told anyone. Not even my best friends.
But that Tuesday night, she’d come home early and I’d been so lost in my art that by the time I heard the front door close, it was too late.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she’d screamed. She almost never raised her voice. “You’re going to be just like him.” She tore the sketchbook from me and, while I watched, ripped every single page from the coils. “It’s no life, Brittany. It will only disappoint you and hurt everyone you love.” It was the only time I’d seen her cry, and I don’t even think she knew she was doing it. Tears flowed freely down her cheeks as she yelled at me and destroyed my work. “Do yourself a favor, Brittany. Forget this foolishness and focus on the things that matter.”
I’d cried and pleaded for her to stop, but she was like a woman possessed as she shredded my artwork into pieces before gathering up the wooden box and brushes. “Those are mine,” I cried. “He gave them to me.”
That stopped her. With my precious things in her hands, she stared at me and shook her head slowly. “You’re just like him.” And then to herself, she added, “Lord help me.” And left the room.
I never saw my paintbrushes after that. And I never again painted. Although…
I dismissed the thought before it could take root as an actual idea because the truth was, ever since my mother died, it was as if a part of me opened up again. The part that itched to hold a paintbrush in my fingers once more.
But the idea was silly. I was just tired. It was only ten o’clock on a Saturday night, but considering work functions were pretty much the gist of my social outings, it was way past time for me to get into bed.
My phone vibrated with an incoming video call before I could push myself up from the floor. Jessie.
I hit the button to accept the call and her face filled the screen. “Hey. Didn’t I just see you?”
“That was hours ago.” She waved a hand and laughed. “I’ve already been home and—”
“I don’t need to know.” I cut her off before she could tell me about the amazing sex she’d no doubt had when they’d left the club. To be fair, I did kind of want to know, because hearing about my friends’ amazing sex lives was as close as I seemed to get to any action of my own these days. Still. I was pretty sure I could fill in the blanks on my own.
“Okay,” Jessie conceded. “But you do know that it could be you having amazing sex, Britt.”
I couldn’t help it; I laughed out loud. “And how is that?” I pushed up from the floor and made my way to the kitchen to feed Sheldon. “It’s not as if I have a lot of opportunities.” I poured food into the cat’s bowl. “I don’t see a man around here, do you?” I panned the camera around my very empty home. “No man.”
“What about Trent?”
I almost tripped over the air when Jessie said his name. “Pardon?”
“Trent,” she said again, as if I hadn’t heard her. “Trent Thomas.”
“I know who Trent is.”
“I thought maybe you did.” She wiggled her eyebrows.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
I flipped off the lights behind me as I made my way to my bedroom.
“Oh, come on, Britt. I saw the way you looked at him.”
“And the way he looked at you.”
That stopped me. Had he been looking at me? I couldn’t even pretend. I knew he had.
“He was there with a…” My tongue tripped over the word woman. Trista was barely legal. “Date,” I finished, settling on a word.
“You know as well as I do that doesn’t mean anything. He’s into you, Britt. Anyone can see it.” Jessie grinned.
Despite knowing better, I allowed myself for just a second to entertain the idea that she might be right.
But only a second, because Trent Thomas and I were never going to happen.
“He’s not my type.” I pulled back the comforter on my perfectly made bed and slid between the sheets.
“He’s one hundred percent your type, and you know it.”
She wasn’t wrong. Trent was exactly the type of man I would be interested in. Primarily because he also wasn’t looking for anything more than an arrangement. That’s what I typically called my relationships with men. Both parties knew there was nothing and would never be anything serious. Sex and the occasional dinner date. Accompaniment to work functions at times. But mostly, sex. It had always worked for me in the past, although admittedly it had been quite some time since my last arrangement.
“Good night, Jessie.” I exaggerated a yawn.
“Admit that I might be right,” she said. “Admit that you’re into him.”
“Will you let me go to bed if I do?”
“Fine.” I laughed. “I admit he’s handsome, and you might be right.”
She let out a whoop, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last I was going to hear about this particular subject. Especially considering we were scheduled to have girls’ lunch the next day.
“Goodnight, Jessie. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The minute I disconnected the call, I knew sleep would be elusive. I’d managed to forget about Trent Thomas and that sinful smile while I took a trip down memory lane with my father’s paintings, but one simple reminder and the only thing filling my mind when I closed my eyes was the way he looked at me and the heat that had filled every single lonely corner of me when our hands connected.
There was no help for it.
I rolled over and fished out my most consistent sexual companion from my nightstand. It didn’t take long before the familiar vibration between my legs was the only thing I could focus on as an orgasm built deep inside me. I came hard a few moments later, Trent’s name on my lips.
I’d slept like shit.
After dropping Trista off and returning to the hotel penthouse I was temporarily calling home, I’d taken matters into my own hands in a long, hot shower where every single image of the woman I wanted to have pressed up against the slick tiles was Brittany. Visions of her creamy white skin, water streaming down her back, between her tight ass cheeks, drove me. I came hard in a violent shudder.
I stayed under the hot water long after in an effort to clear my head of the woman who’d completely consumed my thoughts. It was ridiculous. I hardly knew a thing about her.
She was friends with Jessie.
Held in the highest regard by one of my best friends and smartest businessmen I knew, which meant she herself was extremely intelligent.
She was composed. Reserved and controlled, unlike most women I knew.
Gorgeous. No. Stunning. Brittany was beautiful in a way that made it hard to look away from her.
And those eyes. They were the most piercing shade of light blue, but they darkened at times, too. Would they get even darker when she was turned on? I craved the knowledge.
These were the thoughts and questions that consumed me hour after hour as I tossed and turned, unable to think of much of anything else. Maybe I should have taken Trista up on her offer to go up to her apartment. Even after rejecting her in the car, which I’d tried to do as nicely as possible considering her mouth was wrapped around my cock, she was still willing to fuck me.
Certainly, if I’d taken her up on that offer, I would be properly relaxed and probably able to succumb to sleep. But I hadn’t even considered it. Trista wasn’t Brittany.
Not even close. And maybe I’d never have Brittany in my bed, but until I got her out of my head…well, my hand would have to do.
I was a poor substitute, and when I finally pulled myself from my bed after only a few hours of restless sleep, the only thing I was thinking about was coffee. And lots of it.
Normally on a Sunday, I’d fire up my laptop and get some work done. If I was concerned about balance in my life, I might have a golf game lined up with potential business partners, or in the winter, a day of skiing. But lately, I’d tried a different approach when it came to finding a work-life balance. And after I drank the majority of the pot of thick coffee I’d brewed and poured a cup to go, it was finally time.
Volunteering at the seniors’ home, The Pines, was probably the last place any of my friends or colleagues would expect to find me—which was also why I hadn’t told anyone—but I liked it more than even I’d expected to. When I walked through the sliding glass doors, I felt at home in a way that I hadn’t felt since I was a teenager living with my own grandparents. When they passed away over five years ago—within a few months of each other, as if one couldn’t live without the other—it felt like a piece was missing in my life.
I’d only been volunteering for a few weeks, but the seniors at the Pines had already started to feel like friends. And in some cases, family.
“Good morning, Rose.” The tiny woman with the fluffy white head of hair was the first to welcome me when I stepped through the door. “You’re looking beautiful today. Did you just have your hair done?” I bent down to kiss her cheek as she giggled.
“You’re such a charmer, Trent. Just like my George used to be.”
“It’s easy to be so charming with a beautiful lady like you.”
She giggled again, and I winked as I made my way through the room. I greeted everyone in turn, even the crankier residents whom I still hadn’t won over. But it was Florence and Roy Sisson who I sat down with.
“Here you go, Roy.” I handed him the paper cup of coffee I’d brought with me. “Nice and strong, just the way you like it.”
“You can’t drink that.” Florence smacked his hand lightly but her eyes twinkled. “You’ll be bouncing off the walls.”
“She likes to keep me quiet and demure.” Roy winked and took a drink of the coffee. “You can’t keep me down, woman.” He laughed and kissed his wife’s hand.
I enjoyed all of the seniors, but Flo and Roy were different. They reminded me of my own grandparents in the cute way they teased each other, took care of each other and seemed to be still completely devoted to each other. I had never been interested in a relationship myself, but if I ever changed my mind, I would want the type of love that Flo and Roy shared. They just felt good to be around. Like home.
“What did you get up to last night, Trent?” Florence had given up trying to convince Roy not to drink the coffee and was focused on me. “Certainly a handsome young man like yourself had a date or—”
“They don’t call it dating,” Roy interrupted. “It’s hooking up.”
I tried not to laugh.
“Tell me,” he said to me. “Does she have a tight little— “
“What?” The older man shrugged and took his wife’s hand. “I’m old, Flo. Not dead. Besides, you know I only have eyes for you.” He pressed a kiss to her hand and wiggled his bushy eyebrows. “It’s only ever been you.”
They really were super cute.
“No date,” I lied. Sort of. “And it wasn’t anything very exciting. Just a work function.”
“Trent.” Flo’s voice turned serious. “Why aren’t you married?”
“Wow.” I laughed. “I wasn’t expecting that this morning.”
“Flo,” Roy chastised. “Maybe he’s gay. There’s a lot of that these days, you know. Men can like men and—”
“Yes.” She cut him off with a shake of her head. “I know how it works. But our Trent here is not gay. Are you?”
“Nope.” I chuckled. “Not gay.”
“I knew it.” Flo brightened. “Which is why I’m going to introduce you to Sally’s granddaughter. She’s a—”
“Whoa.” I held up my hand and moved to get up from the chair. The very last thing I needed was a setup.
“I know what you’re going to say.” Flo stopped me with a small but surprisingly strong hand on the arm. “But Sally’s granddaughter is a nice girl. She has a good job and—”
“A tight little—”
The older man shrugged and looked properly chastised. But when Florence wasn’t looking, he opened his eyes wide and nodded in my direction.
“Flo,” I tried to pull my arm away, “I really do appreciate your concern about my love life, but—”
“Of course, dear.”
She looked at me with so much care and concern in her eyes that it stopped me. When was the last time anyone had looked at me like that? Not since my own grandparents.
“Trent, I know we haven’t known you long,” she said. “But Roy and I have come to think of you as our own grandson.”
Next to her, Roy nodded, and it was almost my undoing. I was moments away from agreeing to the blind date and only bad things would come from that. Of that much, I was certain.
“It’s only because we care that we want to see you settled down with—”
“I have a girlfriend.”
The words flew out of my mouth before I could stop them. I immediately wanted to take them back, but Florence was beaming and Roy was looking at me with appreciation and maybe just the smallest bit of suspicion.
Flo clapped her hands. “This is perfect,” she said. “I can’t wait to meet her. You’ll bring her by so we can meet her, won’t you?”
“Of course he will,” Roy answered for me.
I nodded, but I had no idea where I was going to produce a girlfriend for them. Of course, I could just wait and tell them we’d broken up—
“And if it doesn’t work out,” Roy interrupted my thoughts, “there’s always Sally’s granddaughter.”
* * *
It wasn’t very often that I was the first person to arrive for our girlfriend meetings. More often than not, I was caught up with work and running late, even on the weekends. To be fair, it was more likely on the weekends because my assistant wasn’t around to hold me to my appointments.
But I hadn’t felt the same pull to work all the crazy hours lately. More and more, I found myself leaving the office long before my usual seven or eight, and an entire Sunday morning had gone by and I had only answered one email from my work account.
Which was why I found myself at the restaurant a full fifteen minutes before our lunch date. It turned out that without work filling my weekends, I didn’t really have much to do and there was only so much cuddling Sheldon would tolerate. About ten minutes, to be specific.
I’d spent the hour before lunch wandering in and out of the shops in the downtown of Aspen Valley. It had been years since I’d set foot in almost any of the little stores, and they’d changed quite a bit. Aspen Valley was just far enough from the city in the mountains, with a world-class ski hill for the winter months and plenty of upscale golf courses for the summer season, that it was one of the hottest resort town destinations in North America. Because of its proximity to the city and an international airport, Aspen Valley had more recently become home to a number of prestigious companies whose executives and owners preferred to live where they could also play instead of a big, faceless city.
Of course, there were the locals, otherwise known as the people who were born and raised in Aspen Valley. People like my girlfriends and me. When the wealthy city people started moving to town, there was some initial animosity but most of those negative feelings had passed as the growth of the town had benefited everyone in a positive way. My own group of best friends was an excellent example of that.
I sipped at my ice water and signaled the waitress when, a moment later, I saw Sandy and Abby walking down the street. I ordered a coffee with Irish cream for Sandy and a martini for Abby. As a group, we were very predictable and always drank the same thing.
“What is…” Abby stopped when she saw me and dropped her mouth in mock shock as she stood frozen in the center of the restaurant. “Is it a special occasion?”
I tipped my head and rolled my eyes before jumping up and opening my arms for a hug. “Nice to see you, too.”
Abby hugged me hard. “You know it’s amazing to see you. Always.”
I moved from her arms to Sandy’s. She was almost half a foot shorter than me and petite, but she probably gave the best hugs out of all of us. As the mother of two young girls and a widow of almost five years, Sandy joked that she did more than her fair share of hugging in order to get so good at it. Either way, I was happy to be on the receiving end of her warmth.
“Seriously,” Abby said as we took our seats. “You’re never here first. Are you feeling okay?”
She was joking, but there was a thread of concern in her voice as well that I couldn’t miss.
“Honestly, I’m fine. I’m just starting to think that I might like to do something more with my time than work.”
“Like a certain very sexy man?”
I whipped around to see Jessie had arrived. There was a sparkle in her eye as she wiggled her eyebrows.
“Sorry,” she said to me. “I couldn’t resist.”
“Who’s the sexy man?” Darla followed shortly behind Jessie, gave me a kiss on the cheek as she made her way around the table, and sat across from me.
The woman had radar when it came to any discussion of men. Ever since we were young and all became close, the boys had been drawn to Darla. Maybe it was her free spirit or her easy way of just being herself, but to this day, men were attracted to her like bees to nectar.
But despite having her choice of men, Darla continued to choose none of them. At least not longer than a month or so. The moment a man made any designs on getting serious, she moved on. We were the only two in our group to never marry.
“Are you having sexy times with a sexy man?” Darla asked, earning me a raised eyebrow from the waitress as she dropped off the two drinks and took the two new orders for Darla and Jessie. A whiskey and a glass of white wine. Same as always.
I once more contemplated adding a shot of vodka to my soda water. It was a thought I was entertaining more and more often lately. It must be all the talk about men. Or more specifically, one man.
“I am not having sexy times with a man.” I shot Jessie a look. The last thing I needed was her telling them all about—
“But she should.” Jessie interrupted my thoughts, as if she’d read them. “He’s so sexy and he’s totally into her.”
I probably should have put a stop to it, but I didn’t have the energy to interrupt while Jessie recounted her version of the events of the night before, including how he looked at me, the way he spoke to me, and the apparent reaction I had to him. I had to admit, her version of the events was far more exciting than my own.
Or the truth.
Was it the truth?
“So?” Abby looked at me. “Is this your—”
“We should order.” I caught the attention of the waitress, who immediately presented herself at the table. “I’m starving.” I steered the conversation away from the inevitable question that was no doubt on the very tip of Abby’s tongue. After all, it had been her idea a few months ago to make a go for it pact, which was basically her way of us giving each other permission to act as if we were in our twenties again and have the same kind of fun we had years ago before our lives got…serious.
Truthfully, the pact—as silly as I thought it was—had given her the permission to spend a weekend with Phillip Conrad, the crazy-hot billionaire who was her one who got away, and now they were happily shacked up and having amazing sex every night. The pact had also given Jessie the courage to accept a late-night ride home from her diner from a mysterious man on a motorcycle that had resulted in some roadside sexy times that had turned into the very best thing that had ever happened to her—her college-aged twins the only exception. That mysterious man also happened to be my boss, which was the only reason I thought it was okay for my friend to get on the back of his bike in the middle of the night.
Not that she knew that at the time.
Based on the success of the pact for two of my best friends, I wasn’t surprised in the least that it had come up for me, especially after Jessie’s interrogation about Trent. Still, I didn’t love the idea of going for it. I liked to be in control. I called the shots. It’s how I’d always done things. And sure, it was part of the reason I was single. I liked it that way. I was fully in control if I was the only one I had to worry about.
Still…the idea of having some of the same crazy, hot sex that Abby and Jessie told us about on our weekly girls’ dates was appealing. It had been a very long time since I’d had any actual male company—and my vibrator definitely didn’t count.
And Trent was sinfully sexy.
Never mind the way he looked at me as though he could eat me up.
I wouldn’t say no.
And that’s exactly why I needed to make this decision on my own. I would not be pressured into it. If I was going to do this, it would be on my terms. Completely.
“I’ve decided that I’m going to go for it with Trent,” I announced to the table as the waitress finished taking Sandy’s order. I swallowed and added, “I’ll have the Cobb salad.”