Authors: Sydney Landon
Crystal rolled over in bed, wincing at the wave of pain that one movement seemed to have caused. The glow of the clock on the bedside table showed that it was four in the morning, which would explain why the room was still pitch-black. Her limbs were heavy with fatigue as she curled around a pillow—and then she froze. She sniffed again just to make sure she hadn’t imagined it—but no, her bedding smelled like a man. Considering she hadn’t slept with anyone since her divorce, this was a very strange occurrence. Jerking upright, she fumbled on the bedside table for her lamp—but it wasn’t within easy reach as it should be. She stretched farther until, with a shriek, she was falling out of the bed.
She landed on the floor with a thud and a jarring of limbs.
. She couldn’t remember her carpeted floor being this hard and cold. What happened next convinced her that she must still be dreaming. Light suddenly filled the room and a man who looked a lot like Mark DeSanto stood looking down at her in concern.
Instead of screaming in terror, she began laughing hysterically. Couldn’t she have just one hot sex dream? Maybe her riding Mark while he told her how perfect
she was? Heck, she’d even be happy with a plain old missionary fantasy. But no, even in her dreams, she was awkward and always managed to embarrass herself. “Sorry about this,” she mumbled to her dream Mark. “Just let me get back in bed and fall asleep. If I’m lucky, you’ll be back and we’ll try this again.”
“Are you all right? Did you hit your head when you fell?” He sounded so real, his question caused her to frown. Her eyes widened as he squatted next to her.
Okay, this was officially freaky now. Dream Mark never talked this much. She quite liked this new development. He seemed so concerned for her. She decided to enjoy it while it lasted—or at least until she woke up. “I’m too weak to stand. Could you help me?” That wasn’t a complete lie, as her limbs were heavy, and she was sore already from the fall. Her breath hitched when he slid one arm under her knees and the other around her back before straightening with her in his muscular arms. “Wow, you smell good,” she moaned as she buried her face in the curve of his neck. When he didn’t protest, she took it one step further—and licked at the throbbing pulse she felt there with the tip of her tongue. He shuddered, freezing with her in his arms.
Crystal felt like a kid in a candy store. Shouldn’t she be awake by now? This felt so real. . . . And he smelled just like her pillow. She was pondering her next move when her stomach cramped. “What—?” she murmured in confusion. Then a wave of nausea rolled over her and she clamped a hand over her mouth.
“Oh no, not again,” dream Mark said, sounding panicked. He walked at a fast clip with her to the
bathroom—only it definitely wasn’t hers. This one was opulent, with gleaming marble double sinks, a huge shower, and a Jacuzzi bathtub big enough to swim in. Crystal was still gawking when he lowered her to her feet in front of the toilet. He made no move to leave, though; instead, he kept a supporting hand on her back. “How are you feeling, Angel? Are you going to be sick?”
“Um—I don’t know,” she answered absently. “I think I just need to sit here for a minute.” He helped her down to the floor then seated himself just inches away. She could only stare at him since this whole dream was beginning to seem more like a walk into the twilight zone. Hesitantly, she reached out to touch his chest. She paused as she felt his heart beating against the palm of her hand. Jerking back as if burned, she began to notice little things like the fact that she was wearing what looked like a man’s button-down shirt while Mark had on a pair of lounge pants and a T-shirt. When her eyes met his, she found him staring at her with equal parts concern and curiosity. It was then that his last words really registered. “‘Angel’?”
The corners of his mouth turned up into a grin as he said, “Well, when you appeared to fall from the sky into my arms, I didn’t know your name, so I just called you what seemed to suit you best. Of course, now that I know who you are, I find that I still prefer ‘Angel.’ There’s something so innocent about you.”
“Oh, my God,” she wheezed. “This isn’t a dream? I’m actually here with you. How—why?” Looking around frantically, Crystal desperately tried to remember what could have possibly brought her to Mark’s
apartment. Shit, why couldn’t she remember something as monumental as being with Mark DeSanto? Then a horrifying thought occurred to her. “If we had sex, I’m going to kill myself!”
A laugh erupted from his mouth, followed by a cough. “I must say, I’ve never had that reaction from a woman before.”
She felt her face heating up as she imagined how he must have taken her comment. “No! Crap, that came out wrong. I just meant if we slept together and I didn’t remember it, I’d be so pissed off.” When he raised a brow in question, she quickly added, “You know, because I’ve been dreaming of doing that with you for so long—” Now he looked supremely amused as she continued to ramble, which only made the situation worse. Putting a hand over her face, she said from behind her palm, “Please forget I said any of that. I’d just like to know what I’m doing here.”
Mark gave her an assessing look before saying, “I’d rather talk about that somewhere other than the bathroom. Are you going to be sick?”
Thankfully, her bout of nausea seemed to have passed during their conversation. “I—think I’m okay now.”
Her growling stomach caused him to chuckle as he got to his feet and extended a hand to her. “Let’s go find something to eat. You’ll probably feel better after that.”
Not only was her body letting her know it needed food, but her bladder was also making its presence known loud and clear. “I—er, could you wait outside for a minute?”
Looking adorably confused, he asked, “Why?”
Could the man not take a hint? “I need to use the bathroom,” she mumbled, embarrassed to be having such a personal discussion with him.
Apparently, it wasn’t something that bothered him, though, because instead of leaving, he leaned against the wall. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave you in here alone. These floors are stone. If you pass out again, they could do serious damage.”
Her mouth dropped open, and she put her hands on her hips. “There is no way I’m peeing with you in here.”
Giving her a chastising look, he said, “Angel, not only have you already done it in front of me, I kept you from falling off the toilet and onto the floor. Not to mention, I had to—”
“Oh, my God—please stop!” She moaned in horror, knowing exactly what he’d been about to say. How could that have happened? What was
Quirking an amused brow, he stepped back through the doorway. “I’ll wait out here, but don’t close the door all the way in case I need to rescue you—again.”
Crystal pondered not only shutting the door but locking it as well. He’d probably just break the damn thing down, though. There was no way she could actually do her business with him so close. She was a timid tinkler at the best of times. Therefore, she turned the water on full blast in the sink and giggled as she imagined him wondering if she was flooding the bathroom.
After taking care of business, she washed her hands
but left the water running. She needed a moment to process what had happened since she’d woken up here. How in the world had she ended up with Mark DeSanto? In what world did someone like her find herself in this sort of situation? The last thing she remembered was leaving work early because she hadn’t been feeling well and then throwing up on a pair of expensive shoes.
Please, no. Tell me I didn’t toss my cookies all over my fantasy man.
Fate could not be that cruel. Then there was the issue of her clothing—or lack thereof. She was wearing what she could only guess was one of Mark’s shirts and her panties. She knew her bra was missing even before she confirmed that fact by pressing a hand against her chest. Had he—? No, surely she had been able to change her own clothing.
As her thoughts raced, she made the mistake of looking up and almost screamed at the sight of her reflection. Oh, sweet heaven, the image in the mirror staring back at her was beyond terrible. She looked like a rabid animal. Instead of nursing her to health, she was surprised he hadn’t called animal control to have her put down. Her hair was sticking out in all directions, and her eyes were puffy, bloodshot, and rimmed in black like a koala bear’s. Looking around frantically, she spotted a cabinet in the corner and said a silent prayer of thanks when she found a stack of washcloths as well as a comb inside it. She wet one and began washing her face.
Crystal was just attempting to tame her hair when Mark called out, “Are you all right in there?”
“I’m fine,” she yelled back before turning the water
off. Grimacing at her reflection, she put the comb down and decided there wasn’t much more she could do at this point. She was in need of a shower, but that could wait until she got some answers from Mark. Schooling her features into an impassive line, she opened the door and tried not to drool in his direction. Did the man have to be so freaking hot?
You probably wouldn’t have been stalking him for months at the office if he weren’t quite so good-looking,
her inner voice chided.
She had been smitten with him practically from the first glimpse. Mia had caught her ogling him in the coffee shop of Danvers one morning. She’d unknowingly poured half a container of sugar in her coffee, while watching him add creamer to his. Then she’d done something completely juvenile and pulled her cell phone out to snap a picture of the unsuspecting hunk. She had thought him the most handsome man she’d ever seen. Tall, dark, and polished in his obviously expensive suit. He’d seemed so unaware of all of the female attention centered on him. One thing that had really drawn her attention was how he’d run a hand through his hair repeatedly as if stressed over something. Crystal had never been prone to developing crushes, but something had changed for her in that instant. There was no denying her attraction to him. She must have looked at the picture she had taken dozens of times, and her curiosity had been well and truly whetted.
Maybe it was the fact that she was more lonely than she would care to admit, but she found herself watching for him around the office from then on, even going so far as to go to his floor for no reason other than to
catch a glimpse of him again. She’d also checked social media and been thrilled to find he had both Facebook and Twitter accounts. He wasn’t a celebrity as such, but according to Google he was a wealthy business owner who attended high-profile charity events on a regular basis. He was photographed often at these gatherings, no doubt due to his drop-dead good looks. Possibly a big part of her attraction to him was the fact that he appeared so opposite from her ex-husband. Bill had never possessed the type of power and confidence that Mark seemed to emit so effortlessly.
She snapped from her daze as he looked her over as if checking for injuries before motioning for her to follow him. He flipped on the lights to dispel the darkness as they passed through a hallway that was made almost entirely of glass. She saw water in the distance and was just opening her mouth to ask about it when he glanced over his shoulder, saying, “The house is on the ocean. I live near Jason and Gray.”
She’d been to both Jason Danvers’s and Gray Merimon’s homes since she was friends with their wives, Suzy and Claire. Well—technically, her sister, Ella, was friends with them. Crystal was more like an acquaintance through her family connection. She liked both women a lot, though, and sometimes had lunch with them along with Ella, Suzy’s sister-in-law Beth, Mia, and more recently, Emma, Ava, and Gwen. Gwen Day and Mia Gentry were her best friends, and she was lucky enough to see them at work almost every day.
“I thought you lived in Charleston,” Crystal blurted out before realizing that she wouldn’t know that unless she’d been looking him up online.
He didn’t seem to find anything strange about the question, though, saying simply, “I have homes in several places. Living in a hotel gets old after a while, and since I’m spending a great deal of time in Myrtle Beach now, it just made sense to have a more permanent place here.”
Mark flipped on another light and she saw they were now in a gourmet kitchen straight from the pages of a magazine, with designer black granite countertops and a huge island. Next to it were a commercial-size stainless steel stove and refrigerator. The area was easily five times bigger than her galley kitchen in her own apartment. If she had this kind of space, she thought, then she might actually enjoy cooking, a pastime that had been spoiled for her during her marriage to her ex-husband. Bill had insisted on a full meat-and-potatoes type of meal each evening, which in itself might not have been bad if he hadn’t felt the need to criticize her efforts the entire time he was cleaning his plate. No matter what she made, it was never good enough for him.
She perched on the edge of one of the barstools that he’d indicated before saying, “You have a really nice kitchen. Do you cook a lot?”
He smirked as if she’d said something amusing. “I’d like to say that I’m a whiz in the kitchen like the Merimon brothers, but my skills in that particular area are pretty basic. I can do enough to get by, but I’m on the go a lot, so I tend to eat before I come home.”
Laughing, Crystal said, “I’ve heard Suzy and Beth talk about how Nick and Gray were raised to work out their problems in the kitchen. I guess they cooked with
their mother while they talked. It sounds as if they could open their own bakery if they ever decided to change professions.” Thinking of her own overbearing mother, she added, “I wish I had grown up with someone that nurturing.”
Mark paused for a moment in the act of adding bread to a toaster, then he said quietly, “Yeah, I wouldn’t know a whole helluva lot about that either. Celine DeSanto’s idea of parental bonding was to help my father remain upright until dinner was finished. Otherwise, he’d be passed out cold before the salad course was over.”
Crystal didn’t know what to say to the information that he’d just revealed. The stiff set of his shoulders said that he wouldn’t welcome her sympathy, so instead, she changed the subject. “So, why am I here? I’ve put together enough to know that I must have gotten sick—possibly on your shoes,” she added weakly. “But I don’t recall anything other than that.”