Authors: Sydney Landon
“You’re nuts.” Crystal laughed sheepishly. But she could only hope that Mia was right, although she couldn’t see Mark ever pursuing her, regardless of what he’d said about wanting her. When she got home that evening, she was going to write down everything that had transpired between them while it was still fresh in her mind. At least then, she’d have something to look back on if Mark never spoke to her again.
• • •
“So no Snow White this evening?” Denny asked as Mark settled back for the drive home.
“Snow White?” Mark repeated, meanwhile knowing full well who he was referring to.
Denny grinned in the rearview mirror before saying, “Oh, I’m sorry; I believe you refer to her as your Angel.”
Laying his head back against the seat and closing his eyes, Mark said, “I assume she’s gone home by now.”
Mark rolled his eyes as the other man said, “I’m not one to stick my nose in your business, but you should keep that one around for a while.”
“First of all,” Mark began dryly, “when have you ever not had a comment on the women in my life? And second, nothing happened with Crystal. I helped her out and that’s it. End of story.”
Sounding far too serious, Denny said, “But you like her. I mean beyond the usual physical attraction. She spent more time with you this weekend than any female that I know of—other than your mother.”
“And you see how enjoyable that long-term relationship has been,” Mark pointed out.
Denny made a sound of disgust in his throat, being no fonder of Mark’s mother than he was. “I’m just saying that you’ve been restless lately. Possibly, it’s time for a change. There’s this whole world of dating that you’ve yet to experience. There are things you can do with women outside of the bedroom, you know.”
“How would you know?” Mark found himself asking, curious despite himself. He and Denny spent a great deal of time together and were close, but he didn’t ask many questions about the other man’s
romantic life. His cousin mentioned having a date sometimes, but the concept of something that sounded so innocent had never appealed to Mark enough for him to express much interest.
“I’ve actually had several long-term relationships. You know, the whole going out to dinner, a movie, or some other form of entertainment. Anything that involves spending time with someone you care about. Heck, I don’t even typically have sex on the first date, nor do I expect it. Believe it or not, the whole
let’s get out of here
line doesn’t work for most of us.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mark smirked.
“If you’d like, I could help you with Crystal. A woman like that might not react as well to being invited over to fuck.”
Mark thought back again to the way she had practically ridden his leg this morning, while rubbing against his cock. “You may be wrong, cousin. Angel may want many things that have never been asked of her. Often in order to think outside of the box, you just need a bit of instruction. Something I excel in offering to women.”
interested in her?” Denny pounced on his statement like a dog with a bone. “I knew it. I could make a reservation for dinner tomorrow evening for you.”
“I was speaking hypothetically.” Mark denied any interest. He was content to let the rest of the ride pass in silence.
Later that night, though, he couldn’t help but remember Angel mentioning the fact that she followed his Twitter feed. Picking up his phone, he typed out
a tweet that said:
“Delay is the deadliest form of denial.” C. Northcote Parkinson. #Angel.
Something about the quote seemed to hit the right note, and he wondered if she would see it. Then a wave of hesitation and indecision struck him. Shit, what was he even doing? He should delete the tweet and stay as far away from her as possible. In the big-picture view, she was all things virginal white, and in comparison, his soul was black and had been for years. Feeling unworthy was unfamiliar for him, and he had no idea how to handle these strange stirrings of inadequacy. He didn’t do well with idle time, and it was obvious that he’d gone too long between women. He’d rectify that tomorrow and go back to what he knew best. For some reason, though, he couldn’t make himself delete the tweet.
• • •
Crystal had barely closed the door of her apartment when she heard, “Where have you been, young lady?”
Spinning around, she saw her mother standing a few feet away with her hands on her hips. Crystal pressed a hand to her chest, trying to slow her heartbeat down. “Good Lord, Mom, you scared me to death!”
“Watch your attitude, young lady,” her mother scolded.
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell her mother that if she didn’t like it, then she should stop letting herself into her home uninvited. Frankly, though, the tirade that she would unleash would make Crystal sorry that she’d ever opened her mouth. With Dot Webber, it was best to pick your battles and hope to
minimize the fallout. Making her voice as pleasant as possible, she asked, “What brings you by today?”
“I wanted to make sure you were still alive. Your sister said something about you staying the weekend with a friend. But you didn’t answer any of my calls, so I thought for sure that something bad had happened to you.”
Ella had told her today that she hadn’t told their mother about her being sick at Mark’s house. They both knew that would send her into DEFCON 5. Instead, she’d tried to be vague and then avoided answering her phone. “As you can see, I’m fine, Mom. I know you’re usually busy on the weekends, so I didn’t think you’d miss me.” Crystal knew she’d said the wrong thing as soon as the words left her mouth, but there was nothing to do but survive the coming explosion.
“Ohhh no, why would your mother be at all concerned about you? It’s not as if I was in labor for eighteen hours with you or anything. Something that minor doesn’t deserve common courtesy, does it?” Then, in a rapid-fire subject change, she tacked on, “Please tell me you weren’t with that awful Gwen. She’s living with some redneck and is pregnant yet again. All without being married. How many times do I have to tell you girls that if you roll with dogs, you get fleas? First Ella and now you. I have no idea where I went wrong.”
Shit, the drama was in full swing tonight. It pissed her off that her mother continued to make nasty comments about Ella and Declan. Crystal was surprised that her sister still spoke to her. And Declan, he was
bound to tell her off at some point soon. “You don’t even know my friends, Mom, so you have no business passing judgment on them. Mia and Gwen are wonderfully supportive, and I am lucky to have them in my life. You should be happy that I have people who care for me.”
Rolling her eyes, her mother snapped, “Mia, wow, there’s another great example of what not to do. Living with some rich heathen who won’t marry her. I bet they’re part of that
lifestyle. The last thing an impressionable girl like you needs is to be friends with a swinger.” Her mother grabbed her arm, and her voice rose when she shouted, “Heaven help us, were you doing that this weekend? You have a perfectly good husband waiting for you to come to your senses and you’re off sleeping around? Crystal! I’ve never been so mortified in my whole life.”
“What are you talking about?” Crystal gasped. “I’m not sleeping with anyone! Good grief, where do you get this stuff? And both Mia and Gwen are in committed relationships with men who love them. And Gwen is not pregnant again—this is her first child. How in the world can you manage to make that sound so ugly when it’s not?”
Her mother jerked her purse from the nearby chair and tossed the strap over her shoulder. “I’m not standing here while you speak disrespectfully to me. When you’ve learned how to appreciate all that I do for you, then I expect an apology. Until then, you should stay home and reflect upon how you’ve screwed up your life.”
With that parting shot, she hurried out the door,
slamming it closed behind her. Crystal did something that was completely horrible. She flipped her middle finger up into the air and waved it around for good measure. There was no way she’d even tell Ella about this latest round of insults. She stayed upset enough over their mother’s continued horrible behavior. Plus, Declan might actually make good on that bodily harm threat.
Since her appetite was completely gone now, she took her time undressing, taking care to gently place her new expensive outfit in the closet before making her way to the bathroom. She started the bathtub, throwing in some bath salts that promised instant relaxation. Except Crystal snorted at the description, thinking unless there was a fifth of whiskey and a couple of Xanax somewhere inside the salts, it probably wasn’t happening. Instead, she grabbed her iPad from the bedroom and settled into the steaming water. She checked her e-mail first, finding nothing but the usual junk mail. She laughed when one of them offered her ten million dollars if only she sent them her banking information. Sadly, there were probably some people out there who actually fell for that.
Next, she looked through her Facebook feed and noted with a sigh of depression that another of her old friends had recently gotten married. They looked so ecstatic in the wedding pictures that the bride had posted. Crystal wondered if she’d even looked happy on her wedding day. In retrospect she figured “resigned” was a better word. After all, it had been as close to an arranged marriage as you could get in this day and age.
Closing Facebook, she turned next to Twitter. She wasn’t really active on the platform but enjoyed seeing tweets from various celebrities. She’d had some serious lust over Taylor Kinney from
, but dammit, even he was getting married now. She couldn’t imagine a life with Lady Gaga being boring—that was for sure.
She immediately looked up Mark’s profile for her regular evening stalking session. For all she knew, Denny was doing all of Mark’s posts, but it still made her feel closer to him to know what he was doing or thinking at a particular time. Tonight’s post, though, had her fumbling with her iPad and grabbing it just seconds before it landed in the steaming water.
“Delay is the deadliest form of denial.” C. Northcote Parkinson. #Angel
she whispered to the empty room. Was this directed at her? God, it had to be. He’d never used that hashtag before. What did it mean? What was he delaying or denying himself? Her mind whirled as she tried to decipher the words. Her fingers flew furiously across the touch screen as she attempted to find a quote she could use in reply to his. In the back of her mind, the voice of reason said that she would be making a fool out of herself if his tweet wasn’t directed at her, but it was a chance she was willing to take.
Finally, after ten minutes of searching on Google, she found the perfect one. Giggling to herself, she hit the
button and then did a copy and paste.
“He who hesitates is a damned fool.” Mae West. #Angel.
Giddy at the interaction with Mark, she waited to see if he would respond—but after twenty minutes,
she gave up and left the bath before she turned into a prune.
By bedtime, a few other people had added their own words or quotes about procrastination, but from Mark, there was nothing. Maybe she’d pissed him off. Men, she’d learned, were sensitive and often easily offended. At least Bill had been. She’d never have dared say anything like that to him. He would have struck out at her, and then afterward not spoken to her for days. Come to think of it, she should have said something daily to shock him. It would have forced some kind of reaction from him.
That ball was firmly in Mark’s court now, and Mia had seemed confident that he would make a move at some point soon. She’d shown him that she was interested; now she hoped that he would prove her friend right and approach her. If he didn’t . . . then she was going after him.
Being a good girl had never gotten her anything that she wanted in life, so possibly it was time to try life on the other side of the fence for once. Wasn’t the grass always greener there?
Mark couldn’t believe it. When was the last time he’d been asleep by nine in the evening? Apparently, he was more exhausted from his weekend of playing nurse than he had thought. It was almost six in the morning now, and he stretched in bed, feeling refreshed. Getting out of bed, he quickly tossed on a pair of running shorts, shoes, and a T-shirt. He usually ran about five miles in the morning before work. He had gym equipment at home but still chose mostly to use a health club near the office for his strength training. He found he enjoyed the bustle of the busy environment—plus he’d passed a few hours with more than one woman whom he’d met there. So far, they’d all been agreeable to the no-strings rule, and he hadn’t been forced to change gyms as his friend Jacob had, more than once, after an encounter went sour.
There was still a chill in the air as he walked down to the beach and began loosening up. He’d been lucky to have lived on the water for most of his life, aside from when he was in college. First in Charleston and now Myrtle Beach. He even had a division in Hawaii and had thought at one time of relocating there. The DeSanto Group designed and manufactured one of the best communication service routers in the world.
When Jason Danvers had redesigned his top-of-the-line communications system, he had reached out to Mark and their partnership had been born. They had since upgraded most of the Danvers equipment to include the DeSanto routers and were looking at other ways in which their two companies could continue their collaboration together in the communication field.
His mind wandered to Angel again and he remembered the tweet he had posted the previous evening. Shit, he hadn’t even thought to check it this morning. He hoped she’d made some sort of comment because he wanted to know her Twitter handle. Yeah, so maybe he was stalking her a bit in return. Nothing wrong with that if both parties were in agreement, right? With that in mind, he kicked up his speed and finished his run in record time.
Mark went straight for his iPad when he walked in the door and clicked to open the Twitter app. Looking through the replies, he did a double take when he reached a certain one. “Fuck,” he groaned as he read a reply from @cryswebber. “‘He who hesitates is a damned fool.’ Mae West. #Angel.”
The little minx was teasing him. Unbelievable. He hadn’t been sure what, if anything, she’d do if she read his tweet. Now he had his answer. Crystal Webber, it appeared, had game. And dammit, he was even more intrigued than he had already been. His cock grew rock hard as he pondered her sexy response. He needed to get laid in the worse way if something like a freaking tweet had him on the verge of coming in his shorts like a schoolboy. If she’d attached a picture,
then he wouldn’t have been able to hold back. As it was, he knew damn well that he was going to jack off in the shower imagining himself buried balls deep in her hot little body.
Normally, he had sex frequently enough that he wasn’t reduced to getting off by his own hand. He had a sinking feeling this wouldn’t be the last time he would take matters into his own hands while thinking of Crystal Webber.
• • •
Feeling somewhat less tense, Mark walked down the hallway toward his kitchen, where he spotted Denny sitting on a barstool drinking a cup of coffee and holding his iPad. He shook his head as Mark approached, looking vastly amused. Maybe the little bastard got lucky this morning while he had had to jerk off alone.
“Dude, I can’t believe you’re flittering now.”
Mark halted in the middle of pouring his own cup of coffee and raised a brow in question. Sometimes it seemed as if his cousin spoke a foreign language even though they were only a few years apart in age. “I’m sure I’ll be sorry I asked, but what’re you talking about?”
Denny turned his iPad around and pointed to Mark’s tweet from the previous night. “Flirting on Twitter—flittering. You sent a quote loaded with double meaning out to Crystal, didn’t you? I mean, come on—’hashtag Angel’? I felt sorry for you when I read it because I figured it would scare her off. Maybe make her think you’re some kind of serial killer. But then a few replies down I see where she completely called
you scared and a fool.” By this point, Denny was almost falling on the floor, he was laughing so hard.
Mark barely resisted the urge to toss him out the door. The shit you had to put up with in the name of family was unreal. He’d fire anyone else for even a small piece of the daily insults that Denny heaped his way. Of course, he always gave as good as he got. That was what made their relationship work. Mark didn’t have to put on airs with his cousin, and Denny damn sure didn’t bother to adhere to the social codes of the employer–employee relationship.
“The only thing her reply proves is that she wants me to make a move on her. I sent the tweet to gauge her response, and it couldn’t have worked better.” Shooting Denny a pitying look, he added, “I’m sorry, my young friend, that you haven’t learned the fine art of seduction. It doesn’t all have to be dinner at McDonald’s, a movie, and then home by nine. Verbal foreplay is highly underrated.” He was actually pretty pleased with his slight until Denny began laughing even harder. The fucker was really starting to grate on his nerves this morning.
“Since when has the great Mark DeSanto bothered with seduction? They don’t call you the one-night wonder for nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been rather envious of the ease with which you pick up women. I swear to God, they literally fall all over themselves to ride your sheets for a few hours. You’d clean up as a gigolo. And I also realize that since you’ve never had to put the slightest amount of effort into finding female company, the whole thought of anything outside of screwing might be overwhelming. But
I think if you decided to give it a try, then Crystal would be the perfect woman to help you remove your training wheels.”
Mark had finished his coffee and set his cup in the sink before he turned back to see Denny. “Can we go now, Dear Abby? I’ve actually got some work to do today if this session of Dating Advice for Losers is over.” The other man mumbled something under his breath as Mark tossed over his shoulder, “And I’m blocking you from my Twitter feed since you’re using it for evil instead of good.”
As they walked toward the car he figured he must be losing his mind because he couldn’t wait to toss something else out into the Twitter-verse and see what his Angel had to say.
he thought with a grimace.
• • •
It had been a quiet morning for Crystal since her boss, Lydia, was still out of town. She loved working with the other woman and missed their daily chats. Lydia Cross was single and had just turned thirty. Lydia didn’t have anyone special in her life and wasn’t in a hurry to change that. She had been engaged to her high school sweetheart when he was diagnosed with cancer, and he’d passed away a year later. That had been almost three years ago and Lydia said that she still couldn’t imagine moving on with her life and dating someone else.
In that regard, Crystal had more in common with her than with Mia or Gwen, who were both in serious relationships. She hadn’t worked with Lydia for very long, but they had bonded almost from the start.
Possibly, they each recognized that the other was lonely. They often went to a movie, dinner, or just to have a drink together in the evenings after work. Lydia was a beautiful woman with a fantastic personality. The only problem was that her heart seemed permanently broken. In her case, Crystal desperately hoped that time would heal her wounds or at least make them bearable.
She had opted to have a sandwich at her desk today instead of leaving the building for lunch. She took a bite of her ham and cheese while she pulled up her Twitter feed. When she looked through her feed, she almost choked on the suddenly much-too-dry bread.
“I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.” Mae West. #Angel.
Oh, my God, he’d actually responded to her tweet, and with a quote from Mae West, no less. Crystal’s body felt warm all over as she pondered the meaning behind the passage he’d picked. Was he saying that he could or couldn’t resist her? Surely, he was leaning toward the latter if he was continuing to play this Twitter game with her. Heck, he’d started the whole thing. Should she answer right away? Or would it be better if she waited until tonight? How sad was it that this was the most excitement she’d had in her life in . . . maybe ever? She so desperately wanted to see him again, but she hadn’t caught even a glimpse of him around the hallways of Danvers. Shit, she couldn’t wait. Typing “Mae West quotes” into Google, she started looking for one to get his attention.
After several minutes, she had the perfect one.
“An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.” Mae
Giggling under her breath, she closed out Twitter and forcibly turned her attention back to her work.
She was putting together a marketing packet for Lydia when there was a tap on her door. Looking up, she smiled as her sister glided into her office. That was actually how the other woman appeared to walk now. Ella was so happy with her husband and new baby that her feet didn’t seem to touch the floor anymore. If she didn’t love her sister so much, then she would be jealous that she seemed to have it all now. A hot-as-hell husband who doted on her, an adorable baby, and a beautiful home near the beach. Yet Crystal couldn’t think of anyone who deserved it more.
Ella had been the preferred target of their meddling mother for years, while Crystal had been the favorite when she was married to Bill. She was embarrassed to admit that she’d actually felt special to her mother during that time. It was the only time in her life that she’d ever felt as if she wasn’t a complete disappointment. Sadly, she’d let herself be pushed into marrying Bill, and she’d stayed with him, even though she was miserable during the marriage. It had seemed easier than dealing with her mother’s disapproval. And even worse, she wasn’t sure if she would have ever had the courage to leave Bill if not for seeing Ella break away from her mother’s control and live her life the way she wanted to. Crystal would never be able to repay her sister for showing her that there could be more to life than what she’d had.
Ella dropped into a chair, giving her a wary look. “Did Mom track you down yesterday?”
Crystal held up an imaginary gun to her head. “Oh yeah, and in person no less. She let herself into my apartment and was waiting for me when I got home.”
“Crap.” Ella winced. “I hate those surprise visits. She did that to me a lot before Declan and I got married. Now he’s told me that I had better never give her a key to our home. He says he’ll be pleasant as long as she acts that way to him, but there is no way she’s walking in unannounced again.”
Crystal started snickering. “Remember when Mom walked in on you and Declan in bed together while you were dating?”
Ella shuddered. “How could I ever forget that? She almost caught us a few other times as well. She e-mailed me quotes on the evils of fornication for months after that. Declan was afraid he’d never be able to perform again, just remembering her staring at him.” Giving an impish wink, Ella added, “Trust me, his fears were completely unfounded.”
Crystal laughed, still amazed that her shy sister could talk about sex now with only a slight blush. “Thanks for sharing that. Maybe if you’d said something along those lines to our mother, she would have been too distracted with you to ambush me.”
“Was it bad?” Ella asked, even though she already knew the answer. Parental time was never pleasant for them.
“Just the usual.” Crystal shrugged. “I’m a disappointment, more than likely a slut, and I have horrible friends. I’ve ruined my life by not begging Bill to forgive me. Oh, and she’s not speaking to me again until
I ask her forgiveness for being a disrespectful smart-ass.”
Wincing, Ella said, “Boy, she gave you the works. How long do you think the whole not-speaking-to-you thing will last before she shows up again?”
Clicking her tongue as if deep in thought, she finally said, “I give her a week—max. She’s too curious about where I was over the weekend. There’s no way she’ll drop that this soon.”
Ella’s eyes appeared to cross for a moment before she breathed out. “You sure don’t believe in taking baby steps, do you? I mean, I know you told me what happened with Mark, but I still can’t believe he took care of you like that. I’ve spent a little time around him at various business functions, and he’s always charming. But he’s so—gorgeous. He looks like Matthew Bomer. All dark, sexy, and mysterious. I’ve heard he never sees the same woman twice either. Crys, you’re like a long-term relationship to him!”
Lifting a brow, Crystal asked, “Why are you over there lusting after Mark when you’re married to Declan Stone? Your hubby is a serious stud muffin. You know I stare at his ass at all our family functions, right?”
Ella grabbed a paper clip from her desk and tossed it at Crystal. “I’d have to be blind to miss that. The only person’s butt he stares at, though, is mine, so that’s all that matters.”
“You’ve got that right,” Crystal conceded. “He’s totally whipped, Ells, so good for you.”
Suddenly, her sister snapped her fingers together and literally jumped up and down in her seat. “I’m
going to have a barbecue this weekend, and we’ll invite everyone—including Mark. That way, you’ll be able to see him again without looking like you’re stalking him. Are you still doing that, by the way?”
Trying hard to look offended, but failing, Crystal nodded. “Just a tad, and only on his Twitter account. I haven’t resorted to walking up and down the hallway outside his office yet. It was easier before when he didn’t know me. Now it would look too obvious.”
“No, really?” Ella said dryly. “Anyway, I’ll get with the others and make this happen. Don’t make any plans for Saturday evening.”
Crystal didn’t bother to point out that she rarely had anything to do on the weekend. After Ella had left, she wondered why she hadn’t told her about the tweets that she’d been exchanging with Mark. Something about it just seemed too personal to share. For now, she wanted to keep it between them. It was almost too good to be true, and she didn’t want to tempt fate by overanalyzing it.