Authors: K.M. Jackson
Tags: #Contemporary, #romance
“Peter, I thought you were meeting me downstairs.”
“No worries, I figured I’d just let myself up. That way you didn’t have to rush.” Peter eyed her coolly from where he stood just outside her door, looking smart in a pair of perfectly cuffed jeans, leather, gold bit loafers, and a grey, whisper thin cashmere tee. He gave Mark a cursory glance, taking in his track pants, sneakers, and thin cotton tee before turning back to Sam. “So what? Are you just finishing a workout? No problem. I can sit while you shower and get ready for our date.” She didn’t miss that he put extra emphasis on the word date.
Peter turned back Mark’s way. “Isn’t she in great shape?” Then, he gave Mark the up and down once again. “Hey, you look really good. What do you press? Two twenty-five? Two-fifty? You taking in more clients? Because I don’t think my guy is challenging me enough. Give me your card; I’m sure we can work something out.”
Mark raised that quick brow. There was a long pause. Sam thought she should interject at this point, but truly it seemed like much more fun to just stand back, sip her coffee, and watch how it all played out.
“Hello, a card?” Peter turned to Sam. “What is it, is this guy not looking for new business?”
“No, this guy is not looking for new business.” Mark’s voice was doing that rocks on gravel thing, but there was an extra grind to it. Something sharp and something way too dangerous for her hall before noon.
“Peter, you assume too much. This is my neighbor from across the hall, Mark Thorn. Mr. Thorn was kind enough to bring me a cup of coffee. Mark, this is Peter Moss.”
“And you take your deliveries dressed like that?” Peter said, ignoring the introduction.
“Excuse me?” Sam said. She popped a hip and noticed Mark’s posture changing too — he had shifted his shoulder slightly and that slight move made him just that much more menacing.
But the voice that came forth was cool and calm. “I also brought you a bacon and egg sandwich. Since I was delivering and all; might as well go full service.”
Peter wasn’t backing down, now ready to turn his attention back to Mark. “Wasn’t that thoughtful of you? But she’s actually booked for brunch, so won’t be needing your sandwich.” He managed to give Mark’s bag a look as if he was holding a pile of dog crap and not something that sounded pretty appetizing at the moment.
Mark shrugged. “It’s no problem. I was just checking up on Miss Leighton here. Making sure she has what she needs. Sometimes no frills is just the right thing for what ails you, but I can see she’s in capable hands.”
“Very capable. What was it you said you did?”
“I didn’t.” Then Mark looked down and let his eyes sweep back up to meet Peter’s. “Nice shoes.”
At that Sam smirked, thinking of Nine from the night before. Okay, time to put a stop to this. “Thanks for the coffee. Now I’ve really got to get myself together. Peter, since you’re up, why don’t you come on in and wait.”
Peter gave Mark one last long look, then grinned. A smooth grin that said everything but “Yeah, we’re cool.” He reached for his wallet and pulled out his business card. When Mark made no move forward he slipped it between Mark’s fingers where he was gripping the paper bag. “You really should think about training. I could hook you up with some work. You are ripped, man.”
Sam watched as Mark raised that brow and his lip curled. Then he eased Sam a look, eyes going dark and smooth. “Yeah, I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”
With a last glance, Peter sidled past him, making his way into Sam’s apartment. Sam gave Mark an apologetic smile. “Thanks for thinking of me, but like I told you before I’m just fine. I don’t need anyone looking out for me.”
“I can see that.” He took Peter’s card and flipped it between his fingers. “Besides, it looks like Loafer has things well in hand. Enjoy the coffee and your brunch. Seems I’ve got a sandwich to eat.”
The way he said it had her moth watering and it wasn’t all about the sandwich.
Sam watched Mark turn to leave with his brown paper bag, but something made her call out. “Hey, since you went to all that trouble.” She reached out as he turned with a surprised look on his face. “Why don’t you just leave that with me. I can always eat it later, you know when I get hungry late at night.” Her face heated. “I mean, um, when I’m working, I sometimes forget to eat and then I’m suddenly ravenous. I’m sure the sandwich will come in handy.”
And there was that smile again. “Ravenous, huh?” He stepped back into the carpeted hallway.
“Yeah, work always does that to me.”
“Well, I can’t have a lady hungry on my watch.” He held out his hand with the brown bag and Sam laughed, tucking a stray hair behind her ear.
Mark licked his lips and Sam’s breath hitched. Oh damn. She let out the breath. A cough from somewhere behind her pulled her attention.
Sam closed her eyes before looking back up at Mark. What was she doing? She was going against everything she should be going for. She had Peter inside her apartment, happy and waiting to take her out for an expensive, well rounded, and probably beneficial meal for the both of them. It would keep her father quiet and content and go far to assure that she could paint in peace and get ready for her show. Just what she needed. Why rock the boat now when she had just decided to coast for a while in smooth waters? But here she was on the other side of her door and reaching out for an all too delicious, if not carb and grease loaded sandwich, filled with everything that was all wrong for her. Sam took one last long look at Mark, snatched the sandwich, turned, and ran.
• • •
“So you care to tell me now what was with the Hulkster back there?”
Samara blinked up from where she was intently studying her plate of Brioche French toast, bacon, and a side poached egg and looked over at Peter. Okay, maybe she had ordered a little too much food, but after last night and then smelling that tempting sandwich that Mark had brought her, she found herself starving by the time they made their way to a table at the restaurant. Once the white aproned waiter asked her what it was that she wanted, it took all she had not to reply, “Everything.”
Samara inwardly bristled but put on her coolest tone. “Peter, please don’t call me that.”
He looked shocked for a moment, but then turned on the appropriate sheepish grin, his dark eyes going downcast and his long lashes sweeping his cheeks for a moment before looking back up at her. “I’m sorry, beautiful. What would you have me call you?”
“Just Sam or Samara is fine.”
Peter dropped his fork from his Eggs Benedict and held up his hand. “I’m sorry, Sam. Whatever you like. Now, do you care to tell me about the guy back there? What’s his deal?”
Sam shrugged. “No deal. He’s just my neighbor.”
Peter gave her a long perusal. “Well, you have to know something about him to let him into your apartment early in the morning.”
The waiter came by and refilled their coffee mugs. Sam took that moment to order a Ramos Fizz, deciding she did indeed have a hangover and a bit of a pick me up was in store for this brunch with the direction it was heading. As soon as the waiter walked away, Peter continued to press. “So what does he do anyway? How long has he been in the building? What was he doing in your apartment?”
Sam took a calming sip of her coffee, put her cup down, then gave him a hard stare. “If you were showing any observation skills, you would see he wasn’t in my apartment, and I’d like to point out what business is it of yours?”
Sam thought she saw a spark of anger in Peter’s eyes, but just for the briefest of seconds before it breezed by. “Fine. I was just caring. Though we have not been all that close, we’ve known each other a long time.” He reached out and put his hand over hers, lightly running his thumb over the top of her wrist. Sam thought of pulling away, but instead, she stilled and he took it as an invitation to continue. “And since we’ve known each other so long, I do want you to know I care. I just don’t want you getting taken in by any sort of predator. I don’t know, something about that guy just doesn’t sit right by me.”
It was with that declaration that Sam pulled her hand away. To her credit, it was smooth and fluid instead of the jerk that she wanted to do. All at once, she remembered Julian and the night that he turned her world from seemingly charmed to a nightmare with a push of a button. The night that all was lost. Her dignity and worse, her brother. She glared at Peter. Did he think she’d forgotten that Julian was one of his friends?
But it was as if Peter knew what she was thinking. “Please don’t go there,” he said, gently leaning over and putting out a hand, lifting her chin up toward his now sorrowful eyes. “I am not the same person I was back then and neither are you. None of us are.”
Sam shook her head, pulling away from his grasp and looking down at her plate, her appetite gone. “I think this brunch was a mistake, Peter. I can walk home from here, alone. I’m not hungry anymore.”
Peter’s eyes were suddenly solemn. “Come on, don’t say that. Listen, I’m sorry and you’re right. I have no right to get all up in your business.”
She quirked a brow at his attempt at going thuggish in his talk.
“Now please, eat.” He looked up as the waiter came with her drink. “And come on, drink up. This is supposed to be fun. Smile. I can’t have it getting around that I’m not showing a beautiful woman a good time. You know me; I’ve got a reputation to protect in this town. Besides, your father would kill me if it got out that I didn’t make you happy.”
She gave him another look at the mention of her father. “And how would it get out?”
“Come on, Sam, this is your father we’re talking about. Everything gets out when it comes to him. If you think he doesn’t know just about your every move, then you’re sadly mistaken.”
With that, Sam really lost her appetite and took a long swig of her drink. He was right, her father did seem to be everywhere in this little big town. She gazed at Peter. He was so smooth and polished and so just what her father wanted for her. Perfectly moldable in his image. Yes, Peter could take the heat off a bit, maybe give her a little more room to do what she needed and get her works finished for her show. She moved her food around as she mulled things over. If she could just get this done and prove to her father that she could be successful with her art then maybe he’d relent and get off her back about going into the family business. A struggle tugged at her mind. Would that really ever be? It was her birthright and a part of her knew it was in her blood. No matter how far she tried to run, New York seemed to always pull her back. This time it was the excuse of the art scene, but was it really?
“Peter Moss! Where the fuck you been hiding?”
Sam’s head jerked up at the excited tone of the guy heading over to their table. The lunch crowd had thickened and the bar area was now packed with patrons waiting for their turn at a table. The guy, a dirty blond with translucent blue eyes and model good looks, though he was just over that edge to the point of overdone, seemed to have no qualms about being overloud and leaning right over Sam to get to Peter.
“Yo, Stephan. You know I don’t hide. What up?”
Stephan lifted his shoulders and flashed a half “you know nothing and then some of everything” grin Peter’s way. “Nothing much. Been awhile. I was hoping to hear from you after that Twenty-Two party. I hit you up a few times.”
Sam couldn’t help but notice Peter straighten and his normally overly relaxed demeanor tighten a smidge. “You know Samara Leighton, don’t you?”
Was she mistaken or was his tone a tad tight around the edges too?
Stephan quickly turned her way, giving her the full on power of his good looks. “Samara Leighton. Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry I didn’t recognize you. Then again, in person you are even more beautiful than your photographs.”
Sam cracked her practiced smile. “Thanks.”
But Stephan wasn’t having it. “No, really, you are a knockout. I don’t see why you’re not on the cover of every magazine. I mean, like, you know, the legit ones.”
“Thanks again. I think.”
He just grinned wider. “You really should be. You are gorgeous. But then it’s not like you have to work, huh?”
Sam opened her mouth, but Peter piped up. “Isn’t that your friend signaling you? Looks like your table is ready.”
It was now clear that Peter didn’t like this intrusion and tension was starting to radiate from his every pore. Sam looked over to Stephan’s friend, a tight lipped older gentleman who, though trying to look young and hip, there was no denying his discomfort in his overly tight skinny jeans and made to look vintage overpriced tee. Stephan turned back to them and rolled his eyes heavenward. “Yeah, I’d better go. Boy’s gotta think of his career.” He focused on Sam and was all manly charm all of a sudden. Wow. This one could give the wrong girl whiplash. “I hope to see you around, Ms. Leighton. We could do some real damage together.”
Sam didn’t bother to hide her displeasure at his comment. But Stephan didn’t bite and flipped to Peter. “Hit me up, Mr. Moss.” And with that he was gone.
“What was that all about?” Sam asked.
“What?” Peter was back to diving into his steak and eggs, which she knew were now cold.
“That guy. He seems like a piece of work.”
Peter wiped his mouth and put his napkin on his plate, giving her a hard look, his eyes suddenly holding something deeper than she’d ever seen. Something dark. But then he blinked and it was gone. He was back to public Peter. “He’s a nobody. Just a hanger on, always trying to make it in any way he can.”
Sam’s eyes swept over at Stephan who was now seated at a table and chatting it up with the older gentleman about what was clearly more than business between the two of them. She suddenly felt for Stephan. New York was full of his type trying to make their way and coming up on the rough side. Swimming with the sharks was dangerous business. But then Stephan glanced her way and gave her a hard predatory sweep of his crystal blue eyes. They pierced through her with a challenge of beauty, decadence, and all that was alluring about New York. She gave him a brief hard look back before turning back to Peter, sudden memories of the not so distant past at the forefront of her mind. She took stock of all three of the men in this situation and had a hard time trying to figure out who was the shark and who was the guppy.