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Authors: Roni Loren

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BOOK: Wanderlust
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The first song started and Lex groused. “This one’s too easy.”

She smiled. She didn’t need any help on this one. “You didn’t make any rules about easy. ‘Hot for Teacher’ by Van Halen.”

“That’s one,” Jared said.

“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” Lex replied, shooting him a quelling look.

They all watched the girl onstage finish her naughty teacher routine and then waited for the next song. When it began, Aubrey didn’t recognize it. She frowned and tapped her fingernails against the table, feigning thought. With her other hand she unfolded the cocktail napkin in her lap and glanced down briefly at the cheat sheet Candace had given her. As Aubrey had hoped when she raced back to the bar, the routines were pre-scheduled, which meant the songs were, too. She wet her lips as if she was nervous, enjoying the little ruse a bit too much. Lex turned predatory. “Come on Ms. Music, this was a big song by a big band.”

She listened to the song for a few seconds. The lyrics were graphic, and she wondered how a song like that even made it on the radio. Two girls writhed on the stage in some leather-and-whip routine that brought catcalls from the audience.

Her gaze slid to Lex. “Um, is it ‘Closer’ by Nine Inch Nails?”

The title didn’t make any sense based on the words of the song, but that’s what was on the napkin.

“That’s it!” Jared declared, smacking the table with his open palm. “Lex, I hope you wore your good panties.”

Lex showed Jared the backside of his middle finger and then eyed Aubrey suspiciously.

By the time the third song filtered through the speakers, Lex’s forehead was creased with frustration, and she was the cat chewing on proverbial canary feathers. She felt a smidge guilty about cheating—it wasn’t her style—but Lex totally deserved it. She sipped her drink casually then met his gaze. “‘Pour Some Sugar on Me,’ Def Leppard.”

Jared whooped and slapped high fives with the other two guys.

Lex groaned and let his head fall back. “Unbelievable.”

Aubrey hurriedly shoved the napkin into her purse and grinned triumphantly, beyond thrilled that she’d won her interview time. “Look, you don’t need to do the dance part. The interview time is more than enough.”

The last thing she needed was Lex dancing and stripping his clothes off in front of her. She could barely tolerate sharing air with him without thinking dirty thoughts. If he gave her a lap dance . . . well, a girl could only handle so much.

***

Lex narrowed his eyes at Aubrey, still stunned that she had won. He could accept that maybe she knew Van Halen—who didn’t? But, there was no way this chick listened to old-school Nine Inch Nails or eighties hair metal. He’d bet all his money on that.

She lifted her hair off her neck and piled it on top of her head to fan herself before letting it fall back around her in a dark flood. Lex flexed his fingers, wondering what it’d be like to run his fingers through it—or wrap it around his hand when he . . . He shook the image from his head before his blood flowed too far south.

“No, you can’t let him out of the bet,” Jared complained.

“Really, I don’t need that,” Aubrey said quickly.

Her posture shifted, her edge of nerves almost a taste in the air, and Lex’s lips curled into a grin. “Oh, no need to let me off the hook. I don’t punk out on a bet. You’ll get your show.”

A fleeting expression of panic skittered across her face, but she quickly covered it and grabbed for her drink. She was probably wishing she had alcohol in it now. Lex knew that Jared had intended for the bet to humiliate him, but this was going to embarrass Aubrey much more. He was used to being the center of attention. Performing on stage in front of people was his lifeblood. Aubrey, on the other hand, lived in a safe, neat world. She was probably used to men who observed the personal space rule, men who waited until the third date for a chaste kiss. Men who would never dare push her boundaries. Lex rose and swilled his beer.

Aubrey lifted her palms. “Seriously, Lex, I don’t want you to do this. We need to keep things professional.”

Her tongue darted out and swiped at her lip. Her knuckles were white against her drink. His gaze traveled to the flush creeping up her neck, and a slow smile spread across his mouth. Well, would you look at that. Little Miss Reporter was lying through her pretty white teeth.

She wasn’t protesting because of professionalism. He may not know her well yet, but he was an expert at recognizing the signs she was inadvertently throwing his way. Ms. Bordelon was terrified for the best possible reason—she feared her physical reaction to him. He remembered distinctly how she had quivered beneath him when he had touched her onstage, the look in her eyes when he’d brushed his lips against hers.

Oh, this was going to be fun. “Don’t worry, I’ll still respect you in the morning. Your professional status will be intact. Just remember, you can’t touch the stripper. It’s against the rules.”

She pulled her expression into one of utter boredom. “I’ll try to restrain myself.”

He laughed and then gripped the sides of her chair to pivot her away from the table to face him. He let his gaze slide over her from her head to her feet, taking his time, wishing he’d won the bet so he could watch her dance for him. She crossed her legs and folded her arms over her chest, pinning him with her glare.

Damn, she was cute when she was pissed.

A new song pounded through the club, and he began to sing the lyrics to her as he circled her chair and placed his hands on her shoulders. Her muscles stiffened under his touch. He bent his head next to her ear, the honey citrus scent of her hair cutting through the smoke and alcohol of the bar. “You’re going to have to relax a little or you’re not going to be able to enjoy this.”

He grabbed the collar of her black blazer and slipped it off her shoulders, forcing her to unfurl her arms. She allowed him to take off the jacket, revealing her fitted green tank top underneath. He let his eyes linger a moment on her neckline.

“That’s better,” he said. “I don’t want you getting too hot.”

“I thought you were the one who was supposed to take clothes off, not me.”

He stepped in front of her and unfastened the top button on his shirt. “As you wish.”

Her gaze fell to his chest, and she bit her lip as the flush on her throat crept up to her cheeks. He raised an eyebrow.
Well, well, Ms. Bordelon.
A wave of satisfaction moved through him. Maybe Jared’s plan wasn’t so ridiculous after all. Lex hadn’t believed that Aubrey would jump into bed with any of them. She had scruples, thank you very much. But the look on her face now was unmistakable. He’d been around enough women to recognize it. Desire, pure and simple. She may think he’s a jerk, she may hate him personally, but on some level, she
wanted
him.

The corners of his mouth tipped into a wicked smile. Maybe he could solve two problems at once. If he could get her in bed, not only could he force her to drop the story, but he could exorcise the ridiculous obsession to touch her that had been plaguing him since the body shot. Plus, God knew if any girl was in need of a wild, no strings romp in the sack, it was this one. He pulled open another button.

Chapter 5

Holy shit. There were only three more buttons left on Lex’s shirt. Aubrey tried to avert her eyes, but they stayed glued to his chest—the magnetic pull too great. He pulled open another, revealing the smooth plains of muscle hidden underneath. Unlike his arms, which had full-sleeve tattoos decorating their length, his torso was mostly unmarked. He sang the words of the song to her, his deep, grit-filled voice turning her insides molten. God, she needed to get up. Leave. Do something. He yanked open the last two buttons and held his shirt wide, exaggerating every motion and moving his body in a way that dripped sexual confidence.

The band members behind her laughed, and the cocktail waitress catcalled, “Take it all off, baby!”

Lex let his shirt slide down his arms, and then he draped it around Aubrey’s neck. His scent surrounded her—masculine spice and something uniquely him. Sex. That’s what she’d name that cologne. She inadvertently uncrossed her legs and leaned forward. Her attention dropped to Lex’s hard stomach, where his hands moved precariously close to his belt. She tried to swallow, but an invisible fist had clamped around her throat. His jeans sat low on his hips, allowing Aubrey an unencumbered view of the deep V-cut of his pelvis. She dragged her focus back up in an attempt to avoid imagining detailed pictures of what lay at the base of that V.

Lex gave her a wry smile and moved closer. He braced his hands on the tops of her knees and bent until his face was inches from hers. “You’re blushing, Aubrey. What’s going through that head of yours? No naughty thoughts, I hope. That would be
so
unethical.”

With him that close, she had trouble catching a breath. “You’re an ass.”

He chuckled and slid his hands along her outer thighs, pressing her legs together. The heat of his touch seared through the denim of her jeans. “What are you doing?”

He stepped wide and straddled her legs. “They don’t call it a lap dance for nothing, sugar.”

She was now eye level with the waistband of his jeans. Her fingers tingled with the need to reach out and run her hands down the plains of his stomach—to feel every dip and angle. What would his skin taste like if she closed the few inches between them and ran her tongue along it? She bit the inside of her cheek as a surge of heat settled right between her thighs.

Lex dragged one end of his belt through the loop and unhooked the clasp. His fingers toyed with the button of his jeans.

“Hmm,” he murmured. “Is it boxers or briefs? All the women’s magazines ask me that. What do you think, Aubrey? Have you come across any of those articles? Do you know the answer? What if it’s neither?”

Aubrey’s lungs forgot how to expand. Surely he wouldn’t actually get naked in public. Right? She analyzed his face—downright devious, the devil himself would pale in comparison. His fingers unclasped the button, and in a panic she reached out and grabbed his hands. “Oh, god, please don’t.”

He tossed his head back in a laugh and quickly buttoned his pants before stepping away. “That’s not what the girls usually say.”

It took a second to shake out of her spinning haze, but the minute the words registered, anger pounded through her. She shot out of her seat and snatched her purse from the table. “God, your mother must be so proud. She raised a real gentleman. I’m glad you had a good time making fun of me tonight, but I’m done with this.”

She yanked his shirt from around her neck and shoved it at him.

“You’re dropping the story?” he asked smugly. “Just because I got you all turned on?”

She scoffed. “I’m not turned on. I’m pissed. And no, I’m not dropping the story. You would love that, wouldn’t you?”

He shrugged.

“You owe me two hours of interview time tomorrow at the location of
my
choice. I’ll meet you at your hotel at lunchtime.” She turned on her heel and stomped off to get a cab.

He called after her, but she pretended not to hear.

***

Aubrey slept until ten Sunday morning, exhausted after two late nights in a row. Despite not drinking, she felt hungover. She forced herself out of bed and into the shower, hoping that the hot water would revive her. Even after a night’s sleep, thoughts of Lex continued to assault her. The way he’d looked stripped down to just his jeans, the teasing confidence in his eyes. She hadn’t been able to decide what she wanted to do more—punch him in the face or drop to her knees and rip the rest of those clothes off.

She groaned and pressed her forehead against the tile, letting the hot water run over her tense muscles. Maybe she just needed to get laid. Two years without sex and five years without a real relationship could drive anyone to the brink. She glanced at her handheld shower attachment, pondering, and then shook her head. Self-help wasn’t going to cut it this time. And she’d be damned if she was going to let herself get off to thoughts of that jerk. He didn’t deserve to star in her fantasy. Not after the way he’d toyed with her to get her to drop the story. Asshole.

After showering, she wrapped herself in a towel and started to comb the knots out of her hair, but jumped when a loud banging filled the house. The comb clattered to the floor.

“What the hell?” She tossed her towel and shrugged on her fluffy blue robe. When she reached the front of her duplex, she peeked through the peephole. Her stomach lurched, and her knees threatened to give out from under her.

Motherfucker, son of a bitch.
Every curse word she knew zipped through head. She took a deep breath and briefly considering ignoring the unexpected visitor. But she knew he wasn’t the type of guy who would go away that easily. And she refused to be a coward. She cracked the door open. “What are you doing here?”

Grayson tucked his hands into the pockets of his chinos and smiled. “Well, it’s nice to see you, too, Aubs.”

With a sigh, she opened the door the rest of the way, and he strolled past her without an invitation, the familiar smell of his Polo cologne following him in. The scent brought back memories of her crying into one of the sweatshirts he’d left behind at her place when he’d moved. God, she’d been so pathetic after he’d left. She couldn’t even bear to think about that version of herself.

Grayson sank down on her well-worn couch and draped his arm across the back of it as if he’d never left her life. He looked like he had stepped off a yacht, his hair golden, his skin sun-kissed. She hated that he still looked so good. He was supposed to have developed a potbelly and male pattern baldness by now. Where was karma when you needed it?

“Hi,” she said, no welcome in her voice. “How’s Florida?”

“Hot.” He patted the spot next to him. “Lonely.”

She didn’t move, just glared.

He sighed and leaned forward, putting his forearms on his knees. “Okay, I shouldn’t have said that. That wasn’t fair.”

“No, it wasn’t. If I remember correctly, the last time I saw you, you couldn’t get there fast enough.”

He winced like she’d pinched him. “I know, I’m sorry about how things ended up, but I think we both needed some time apart. I mean, we’d been together since . . .”

“Since high school,” she supplied.

“I was going to say since the accident.”

She dropped into the armchair opposite him with a resigned sigh. “This is all ancient history. Why are you here?”

He stood and took two steps to reach her then knelt down. “I’ve missed you, Aubs.”

A stabbing pain shot through her gut, twisting everything inside. How many times had she imagined this conversation? Imagined him crawling back in regret? She kept her expression blank. No way would she show him her hurt. “It’s been five years.”

“I know, but I’m moving back. I got what I needed in Florida, but I want to be home now. And I know you’re not dating anyone. Your mom was more than happy to supply that tidbit.”

She smirked. Her mother had always thought Grayson hung the freaking moon. Aubrey had heard many a lecture on how she should have done more to hold on to him. She closed her eyes and took a breath. “Please tell me you don’t think you can just waltz in here after five years and pick up where we left off. All that Florida sun must’ve fried your brain. A lot has changed.”

“Of course I don’t expect that. I know I hurt you with how I left, but we were kids. Neither of us was ready for something serious back then. But now that I’m back, I thought maybe we could start fresh.” He took her hands in his and rubbed his thumbs over her knuckles. His hazel eyes sparkled in the sunlight that streamed in from the window behind her. The picture of sincerity. “I know things have changed. For one thing, you’re even more beautiful than I remember.”

“Seriously. Stop.” She extracted her hands from his grasp and stood, fighting that old urge that used to make her preen under any attention Gray gave her.

He followed suit. “I’m sorry. I’ll be good. It’s just I’ve missed you and couldn’t wait another minute to stop by and see you. We can take things at whatever pace you want. Be friends. How about we start with going to your dad’s event tonight? That’s really why I was stopping by.”

He smiled his charming smile. Damn that smile. It still softened her in a way she couldn’t control. For a moment, she caught a glimpse of the boy who had been her first love, the boy who had helped her through the most difficult time in her life. She relaxed her shoulders, too tired to fight with him right now. She’d had her guard up for two days straight hanging around Lex. She didn’t have the energy this morning.

And whether she would or could give Gray another chance wasn’t something she wanted to tackle right now. But they were both going to the event anyway, so what did it matter if they went in the same car? “Fine, we can talk more tonight. Pick me up at seven. I have a work thing I have to take care of before that.”

“Great.” He leaned over and kissed her cheek. “It’s a date.”

A date. With Gray. Her mind didn’t even know how to process that. She glanced down at her robe, searching for an excuse to push her confusing thoughts and emotions right out the door with him. “I hate to be rude, but I really need to get ready.”

He raised his hands. “Say no more. I have to go meet with your dad anyway. He’s hired me for a position on his staff.”

Aubrey groaned. “Seriously?”

“Yep, so get used to seeing me around.” He grinned, gave her another quick kiss on the cheek, and slipped out the front door.

Aubrey sank onto the couch and ran her hands over her face. She shouldn’t be expected to handle this before coffee, right? Maybe that’s why her brain was so scrambled. The guy she’d pined over for the last five years had offered himself to her on a silver platter. Why did she feel so nauseous? This should be good news, right?

There was another tap on the door.

“God, give me a second to breathe, would you?” She reluctantly dragged her butt off the couch, not wanting to face another conversation with Grayson quite yet, but knowing she couldn’t very well leave him on the doorstep. She swung the door open. “What now?”

Lex slid his aviator sunglasses down his nose. “Damn, is that how you greet people? What happened to Southern hospitality?”

Great, just what she needed.

“Sorry, I thought you were someone else.” She gathered her robe more tightly around her when Lex’s gaze flicked downward to her state of dress. “What are you doing here? Wait. How do you even know where I live?”

He held up a greasy paper bag. “I come bearing beignets and an apology.” He gave her a grin bordering on boyish. “And I know where you live because I jumped in a cab and followed you last night to make sure you got home okay.”

“How chivalrous—and stalker like—of you.”

He set his sunglasses on top of his head. “That’s me. Like you said, I try to make my mother proud.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, sure you do. Come on in, but those better be from Café Du Monde and not some knockoff.”

He sauntered in, openly appraising her living room. He leaned to the side and looked through the open doorway, which provided a straight-shot view to the kitchen at the rear of the house. “Your house is cool. You can see every room from here.”

She grabbed the bag from him and indicated that he should follow her. “It’s a shotgun house. They’re pretty common around here.”

“A shotgun house?”

“It’s named that because you could shoot a gun through the front door and the bullet would go straight through all the open doors and not hit anything.”

“That’s morbid.”

She smirked. “Yeah, I guess, especially for those standing in a doorway.”

“I’ll be sure to stand clear then.”

She led him through a narrow hallway, passing her bathroom and bedroom, and then stopped in the kitchen. She dropped the bag onto the small bistro table that served as her dining area and hit the on button for the coffeepot. “Go ahead and sit down. I need to get dressed. Be right back.”

He opened his mouth like he wanted to make a comment—lewd, she’d guess—but he refrained and shut his mouth. She grabbed a tank top and shorts from her dresser and then hurried into the bathroom to change. When she returned to the kitchen, he was rummaging through her cabinets.

“Make yourself at home, why don’t you?”

“Coffee cups?”

She stepped around him and grabbed two mugs from the cabinet on his right. Her arm brushed against his, and she cursed inwardly at the electric current that raced across her skin. When he touched her shoulder, the cups almost slipped from her hands. He turned her toward him. “Hey, I’m sorry about last night. I was an asshole.”

She put the mugs on the counter and eyed him suspiciously. She wasn’t sure what to think of this version of Lex. He had to be up to something. “You were, but I can accept your apology and move on if you’re actually going to give me a proper interview.”

“Of course, I always keep my promises.” He lifted the coffee carafe and filled both their cups. “So what was up with you at the door? Who did you think I was?”

He followed her to the table. She considered lying to him, but what did it matter? He’d be gone in a few days and wouldn’t remember her name, much less her personal business. May as well be honest. And maybe it’d be a good way to start open conversation between them so he wouldn’t be so guarded in the interview. “My ex-boyfriend showed up at my door this morning after five years of no contact.”

BOOK: Wanderlust
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