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Authors: Roni Loren

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BOOK: Wanderlust
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She climbed to her feet and noticed that she indeed had grass stains on her white shorts. Somewhere her mother was cringing. “No, I shouldn’t have done that. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

He rolled over and sat up, cleaning the grass off his cap and placing it on his head. “You weren’t thinking. That’s the point. You were living in the moment.”

Living in the moment. Otherwise known as being completely and totally irresponsible. Regret moved through her.

“Look, you may have a life where you can chase every whim, but that’s not the real world.” She grabbed her purse off the ground and slung it over her shoulder. “We need to go.”

“Wait.” He jumped up and grabbed her elbow. “We’re not done with the interview.”

She shrugged out of his grasp. “We are for today. I have to get ready for a date tonight.”

Lex’s jaw clenched. “Right, the date. With a guy who tossed you aside so he could go bang coeds for a few years without remorse while you waited patiently for him to return.”

She shot him a murderous glare. “This coming from the guy who has probably screwed enough groupies to fill a phone book.”

He smirked. “Yeah, but I’ve never made anyone any forever promises. I didn’t leave some hometown girlfriend behind, expecting her to take me back after I was done.”

“Wow, they should nominate you for a medal.” She spun around and headed for the exit. If he didn’t want to follow her, he could figure out his own damn way back to his rental car.

Chapter 7

Lex’s gaze followed Aubrey as she stomped into her house without a backward glance. He climbed into his rental car and slammed the door, letting out a colorful string of expletives. He’d never seen a woman who could switch from so hot to so cold in a matter of seconds. How could she have walked away from a kiss like that? While he’d been wondering if there were private places he could take her in the zoo to finish what they’d started, she’d been worrying about professional ethics. Who the hell does that? Fuck professionalism. They couldn’t be paying her
that
much at the magazine. The chick lived in a duplex, for god’s sake. Why was she so hell-bent on following the rules all the time?

He leaned against the headrest and closed his eyes, letting the air conditioning blast his overheated skin. The memory of Aubrey’s body fitting so perfectly against his flashed through his mind. Now he’d seen what she was like when she let herself go even the tiniest bit. There was a fire, a voracity underneath her polished façade that made his mouth water. She wasn’t all prim like she wanted everyone to think. The burning in her eyes before she’d kissed him promised a lot more than holding hands and sweet lovemaking. She wanted to have him down and dirty, to devour him whole. And god, he wanted to let her. He had never yearned to get naked with a woman more.

He groaned and stared at the worn white clapboard of Aubrey’s house. He couldn’t see her, but he could imagine her inside, prettying up for that douchebag ex-boyfriend. Lex banged his fist against the steering wheel. The thought of another guy’s hands on her stirred up the caveman inside of him. He wanted to wait on her steps until the guy got there, so he could challenge him for rights to the woman. He’d bet his left nut that the dude had never been in a fight before. Winning would be cake.

He shook his head and turned the ignition as he imagined the scene. Ha. Aubrey would love that. She’d probably find her own cavewoman club and bash them both over the head. No, he’d have to think of a more clever way into her bed. Because he had to get there. He wasn’t going to get anything accomplished until he cleared this woman out of his system.

***

Aubrey adjusted the strapless bra beneath her black dress as discreetly as possible, silently chastising herself for wearing something so snug. She owned only two cocktail dresses, and the other one had long sleeves, which would have required too much trust in her deodorant in the oppressive heat of the evening. So instead, she had poured her size-ten butt into the size-eight shell. The ruching of the dress covered a lot of transgressions, but the top left nothing to the imagination.

Grayson gave her a sideways glance as they stopped at a red light. “Your mother is going to have a field day when she sees your dress.”

Aubrey tilted the air conditioning vent so that it wouldn’t blow her up-do out of its pins. “It’s her fault for telling me about this event at the last minute. I didn’t have time to buy something new.”

“Well, you look beautiful,” he said, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Just don’t laugh too hard or the boys at the benefit will get more than they bargained for.”

He made two popping noises, and she laughed. During the few minutes of riding in the car together, they had easily fallen back into a pattern of comfortable familiarity. Aubrey had a suitcase of questions for him about his five-year absence, but she kept them tucked away for the moment. After her embarrassing episode with Lex earlier in the day, all she wanted was a drama-free night with a guy who she could relax around. “These things usually aren’t a laugh riot, so we’re probably okay. Do you have any idea what the benefit is for? I forgot to ask Mom the details.”

The light turned green, and he faced the road. There was a barely perceptible tightening in the line of his jaw. “I’m not really sure.”

When they finally arrived at the hotel, a boulder buried itself in the pit of Aubrey’s stomach as she and Grayson entered the ballroom. Posted all around the welcome table were signs announcing the charity sponsoring the benefit—Families Against Drunk Driving. Her knees wobbled beneath her. She clutched Grayson’s arm in a death grip. He covered her hand with his and rubbed her knuckles gently. He told the host their names and then bent to Aubrey’s ear. “Are you okay?”

She managed a nod, but didn’t loosen her hold. The lady handed Gray two tickets and gave a warm, grandmotherly smile. “Aubrey, I’m so glad you could make it. Your father has told us so much about you. And he’s been wonderful helping us with our cause. He’s such a good man.”

Aubrey forced the corners of her mouth into a facsimile of a smile, even though anxiety was snapping at her like a pack of angry Rottweilers.

“Thank you,” she said, her voice steadier than she expected.

Grayson ushered her away from the woman and into the grand ballroom as quickly as possible. The room’s arched windows painted twilight-colored patterns on his face, but the distortion didn’t cover his worry. “Let’s find a table, Aubs. You look a little pale.”

She could barely hear the music of the live jazz band over the blood roaring through her ears. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she demanded. “I could have at least prepared myself.”

He grimaced. “I didn’t find out until today, and then I didn’t want to freak you out.”

She yanked her hand from his arm. “So you thought blindsiding me would be a better option?”

They maneuvered around a waitress carrying fried-and-stuffed somethings. “Look, this is hard for me, too, you know? I was in the car that night, just like you were. I still think about it every damn day. But we can’t change the past.”

Tears burned under her lids, but she wouldn’t cry. She didn’t cry in front of people. Period.

“Don’t even pretend like it’s the same.
You
weren’t driving. You get to be a victim. I get to be the perpetrator. And things like this”—she held out her arms to the ornately decorated tables—“are for victims. Whole charities meant to guard the world against people like me. You have no idea what that’s like.”

He sighed and slipped his arm around her. Her shoulders sagged. She had never been able to remember the details of the night her sister died. Her mind had locked those memories away in some dark place. But the police at the hospital had told her everything she needed to know. There was a car accident, her twin sister had died, and Aubrey had been driving drunk. Nothing Gray could say would absolve her of those facts. He knew that, and so did she.

Gray kissed her temple and led her to an empty table. “Come on, let’s try to have a good time. I don’t want to spend the night thinking about something that happened so many years ago.”

He said it casually, like that something was a silly argument or stupid prank he wanted to forget. She moved out from under his arm and sat, wishing she could sneak out the back door. What a disaster of a day. The universe owed her a do-over. She wanted to go home, crawl in bed, and start today over. She would wake up, lock her doors, park on the couch with a Costco-size bag of Cheetos, and watch a marathon of John Hughes movies. No Grayson, no charity event, no painful memories, and no kissing Lex.

Her chest constricted at the last thought. Kissing Lex had been beyond stupid, but that little detail hadn’t prevented her from replaying it over in her head a thousand times. In that brief moment with him, all her worries and stresses had melted away, leaving only white-hot desire behind. A dull ache pulsed through her, reminding her of the need he had awakened within her.

She pinched the bridge of her nose. God, she was no better than those groupies at the concert. What was wrong with her? If guys were rated on the Homeland Security chart, Lex would be at the red level—severe risk. Since when had a guy who had zero relationship potential, a black book as thick as a Stephen King novel, and a career that involved signing breasts suddenly become a valid bedmate?

“Aubs?”

She looked up, dazed. Grayson was staring at her expectantly.

“I asked if you wanted something to drink?”

“Oh, sorry, yeah sure,” she muttered.

He stood, straightened his suit coat, and then touched her shoulder. “I’ll be right back. Try to relax. You look like you’re awaiting a root canal.”

Aubrey frowned and turned to watch a few couples dancing under the twinkling lights of the ornate chandeliers. How was she supposed to relax? A server stopped in front of her and lowered a silver tray of mini muffalettas. She took a napkin and heaped three sandwiches on top of it. If she couldn’t have her do-over, she would take the next best stress reliever—salami. She shoved a bite in her mouth as the happy couples danced around in front of her.

She caught sight of her parents in front of one of the enormous windows. They seemed to be deep in conversation with a gray-haired couple. Her mother was dutifully hooked on her father’s elbow, and they both were basking in the glow of adoration coming from the other couple. Her parents lived for nights like these.

“This band’s playlist sounds like an elevator soundtrack. How are people dancing to this crap?”

Aubrey whirled around, sending olive salad dripping off her sandwich and onto the pristine tablecloth. Lex popped one of the deep-fried somethings in his mouth and set his drink on the table. His eyebrows quirked upward as he chewed.

“Corn? Really? Jesus, you Southerners will deep-fry anything.” He lowered himself into the spot next to her and casually stretched his arm along the back of her chair. “Tastes good, though.”

“Lex?” She put down her food, her mind rewinding and fast-forwarding as it tried to process his appearance. “What the hell are you doing here?”

He gave her an appraising once-over, like a tiger licking its chops and deciding which part of his kill to bite into first. “Damn, reporter girl, you look hot. Who knew you were hiding that under your T-shirts and jeans?”

Her skin heated beneath his stare. “Don’t try to distract me. You didn’t answer my question.”

He shrugged. “I was bored. Figured a party could be fun. Plus, I have this new suit. It’d be a shame to waste it on a bar or something.” He opened his black jacket wide, like a peacock showing off its feathers.

She tried to ignore the display, tried not to notice how the blue of his shirt made his eyes shine. She forced her eyes upward. “How did you even get in? You need to be on the guest list.”

He smirked. “Writing a nice, fat check to the charity fixes any annoying guest list issues.” He took a sip of his drink. “So what fine cause did I donate to?”

She blinked at him, feeling as if she were in some weird dream. Lex didn’t exist in this part of her world. He was something
other,
outside her normal life. Having him here where her parents were, where Grayson was, made the fabric of her reality fray. He stared at her like he was expecting a reply. “Wait, what?”

He chuckled under his breath. “I asked what I donated to. Who’s throwing this rager?”

He grabbed her half-eaten appetizer, put it in his mouth, and then ran his thumb across his bottom lip to catch a drop of olive oil. His eyes never broke contact with hers.

Watching his mouth reminded her of their earlier kiss, the way his lips had taken control of hers, the intensity. She got the distinct sense he was trying to elicit that memory. She sniffed and adjusted the hem of her dress. “Um, Families Against Drunk Driving.”

“So that’s why there’s no open bar. Lame.” He took a sip of his bright red drink. “Although I guess you don’t mind since you seem to abstain.”

“I don’t drink.”

“Yeah, I gathered that, Ms. Straight-and-Narrow. Is your dad a preacher or something?”

She glanced over her shoulder at her parents and then turned back to him. “Worse, a politician.”

“Same difference.” He put his drink out to her. “Want a sip? I think it’s a cranberry something or other.”

“Lex, I’m on a date. Remember?”

He set his glass down and leaned back in his chair. “I’m not here to steal you away from the Ken doll. Like I said, I was only looking for something to do tonight. Maybe you could save me a spot on your dance card.”

She shook her head automatically. The thought of him pressing his body against hers even in a vertical position was too much to bear. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

He bent forward and put his forearms against his thighs, leaning so that he was inches from her face.

“Why are you so afraid of being near me?” he asked, his voice like heated honey. He reached out and placed his hand on her knee, his touch gentle but unapologetic. Shimmering electricity raced along her skin, raising goose bumps all the way up to her scalp. “I would never do anything you didn’t want me to do.”

She bit her lip. She wanted him to do it all. That was the problem.

“Ahem.” Grayson cleared his throat with more vigor than necessary.

Lex’s hand slid off her knee and he grabbed his drink again. He glanced at Gray, giving him a bored look. Aubrey felt flushed from the inside out—and hot, so hot—but risked turning toward Gray anyway.

“Hey.” She pasted on a high-wattage, everything’s-totally-cool smile. “Grayson, this is Lex Logan. The musician I’ve been interviewing this week. He’s the lead singer of Wanderlust.”

Grayson’s face registered recognition, but he quickly covered it. “Never heard of ’em.”

Lex’s smile was wry. “Yeah, I don’t think you’re in our fan demographic.”

He made it sound like a light joke, but Aubrey caught the dig. She shot Lex a warning look.

He held out his hand to Grayson. “Lex.”

Grayson set the two drinks on the table and shook Lex’s hand. “Grayson Robichaux.”

Their knuckles turn white as they gripped each other’s hand in restrained hostility. Aubrey sniffed. Men.

Grayson sat and parked his arm on the back of her chair where Lex’s had been a moment before. “So what are you doing here? Aubrey’s off work for the evening.”

Lex started to talk, but Aubrey interjected. “Oh, I mentioned the party to him earlier today, and he decided to come down and make a donation. Wasn’t that nice?”

Gray eyed Lex, clearly not buying it. “How thoughtful.”

“Well, you know, I try to do what I can to give back.”

BOOK: Wanderlust
3.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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