“Well, after I did the whole Gugliotti presentation and came back to tell Bennett how it went, I went back down to the conference for a little bit to walk around and let him rest. When I came back up to my room, Bennett was sitting on the couch. He always looks good, of course,” I said, laughing when Julia wiggled her eyebrows at me, “but he just looked like a guy right then. He was shirtless and his hair was messy in that bed-head, unintentional way. He was zoned out on the television with his hand tucked under the waistband of his boxers. And I had this epiphany that he was just a guy, and that he was sort of becoming my guy, you know?” Around me, my girlfriends all nodded. “I think those are the moments I love the most, when I look at him and see him as so much more than the Beautiful Bastard. In his BB moments he still feels sort of unattainable and intimidating even to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love that side of him. But when we’re alone he lets his guard down and I get to see all sides of him, and that day was the first time it really happened. I think that’s when I knew I loved him.”
“I think it was earlier,” Mina said, bending to dig into the hotel room minibar. “I saw your face when I busted you in the bathroom at his parents’ house. He said being with you was a mistake. Your expression was the reaction of a woman with emotions.”
I crinkled my nose, considering this. “God, but he was such an as**ole then.”
“He’s still an asshole,” Mina reminded me. “And I’m pretty sure if he wasn’t, you’d find a way to push the buttons to get him back there.”
“I like watching you guys,” Hanna said. “I’ve never seen a couple like you before. Seriously, I bet the sex is unreal.”
Hanna had been around us so much in the past few months, this blunt-force honesty surprised no one . . . except Mina.
“Don’t need to hear it.” Mina covered her ears. “Again,” she added, glaring at me.
Hanna looked gorgeous tonight, in a silky gray A-line dress that hit just above her knees. Julia had put Hanna’s sandy brown hair up into a complicated twist, and her neck was long and smooth, decorated simply with a tiny diamond pendant that rested just at the hollow of her throat. I couldn’t wait to see Will try to maintain his trademark poker face when he saw her.
“You have to let me order all the drinks tonight,” Sara said, standing and smoothing her shimmering blue dress over her round belly. “I swear to God, I want nothing more than to walk up to the bar tonight and order ten shots, just to see what the bartenders say.”
“Pregnancy suits you, Sare,” Julia noted, standing and walking across the room to fetch her heels. She sat on the edge of the bed and slipped them on her feet, still staring at Sara. “I like the tummy and the attitude.”
“I agree,” I said. “She’s turning into a bit of a hellcat.”
Sara laughed and studied her reflection in the mirror for a beat before walking over to have me fasten her necklace. “I just really love my body like this. Is that weird? I like how curvy I am.”
“Etienne certainty didn’t,” Julia said with a snort. “I still can’t believe what a fit he threw about having to alter the design of Sara’s dress.”
I groaned. The Dress. Julia had found the most perfect bridesmaids’ dresses I’d ever laid eyes on. They were a swirl of beautiful blues—dyed to slowly transition between the Tiffany blue that permeated the décor of the wedding, and a deeper, slate blue. The dresses were made with pleated chiffon and a delicate strap that met over one shoulder, but Sara’s, obviously, had to be altered to accommodate her growing stomach. Etienne, the designer, had thrown a tantrum. He’d ranted about fabric draping, symmetry, and lines and even threw in the term bulbous belly. It had taken a lot of screaming on his part and a lot of money on mine, and six alterations to finally get her dress right, but it was done. And I couldn’t wait for my glowing, giddy, beautiful maid of honor to wear it.
“Oh, he does,” I answered for her, untwisting Sara’s necklace at the back of her neck. “I feel like I’m watching something indecent even when he’s just pouring her a glass of water.”
Sara’s cheeks turned crimson and I laughed, loving how pregnancy made her completely unable to hide her blush.
“Are we ready to head out?” Julia asked, draining the last of her minibar vodka tonic. “I need to get my drink on.”
We all made our way to the door, filing out one at a time. Down in the lobby, Mina had the valet call us a car, and just as I climbed in and closed the door, I saw the men emerge from the lobby of the hotel.
“Jesus, Chloe,” Julia breathed, looking at Bennett at the front of the group. “Look at that man.”
And with my lip pinched between my teeth, I could only nod in agreement. As usual, he’d barely paid any attention to his hair and it was in the usual, completely fuckable disarray. His lips were curled up in amusement at something Will had just said, and when he lifted his chin to nod at the valet, I caught sight of the sharp, edible line of his jaw. He wore jeans and a black T-shirt that wasn’t tight but managed to showcase the definition of his body beneath the soft cotton-cashmere blend. I knew this shirt well; I bought it for him and planned to steal it and make it mine in a couple of years after he’d worn it to the perfect state of tattered.
Seducing him tonight would be a lot of fun.
My legs were hidden from view, and from his vantage point all Bennett would see was the very top of my tiny black dress.
“You’re in so much trouble,” Sara murmured next to me, staring down at my heels. “I’m actually hoping I’m there to see his reaction.”
Bennett’s eyebrow went up in a silent question and I held my hand out the window, giving him a breezy wave: no, we weren’t waiting for them.
“Meet you at Sidebar on Market!” Julia yelled out the window, and Bennett raised his hand, wearing his trademark amused smirk.Sidebar was gorgeous, with rich red and black leather seating, enormous mirrors and sensual nude photos on the walls, and bright red birdcages hanging from the ceiling. The main bar was expansive, made of gleaming marble with a simple filigree pattern decorating the front. The bar was busy but not full when we arrived, and we immediately claimed two large booths toward the back of the room.
The men hadn’t been as quick to arrive from Coronado, so we had time to order drinks and return to our seats before they showed up. I looked to the door just as Bennett led the group inside, with Max, Will, Henry, and Bennett’s cousins Chris and Brian trailing at the back. But when I stood to greet them, and Bennett’s eyes raked over me, from my red lips to my siren red toenails, I knew I was in deep, deep trouble.
I ignored the pressure of his attention as best I could, but with him it was nearly impossible. His focus was a physical presence, a heavy weight on my neck, my breasts, and most of all, the long expanse of my exposed legs. We stood and greeted our friends, and I felt my chest grow tight, my heart race with how fun it was having everyone together. I kissed Brian, Will, and Max and greeted Bull with a brief-but-polite hug.
Only then did I look Bennett over more slowly, and felt a familiar warmth spread from my stomach and down between my legs. Stretching on my tiptoes, I kissed the corner of his mouth. “Hi. You look good enough to lick tonight.”
He returned my kiss, stiffly, and then leaned to press his mouth to my ear. “What in the f**k are you wearing?”
Glancing down, I smoothed my hands over my sleeveless, beaded black minidress. “It’s new. Do you like it?”
Before I could look up to catch his reply, Bennett grabbed me by my upper arm, pulled me down a dark hall, and shoved me against a wall. Even in the dim light I could see the rage and lust on his face. My favorite f**king Bennett. Arousal rose in me; every inch of my skin ached to feel his fingertips.
“What the f**k do you think you’re doing?” he growled.
“Could you be more specific? I’m having a drink, I’m out with some friends, I’m—”
Both of his hands came up, roughly pinning me by my shoulders to the wall. I let out a tight moan, and his eyes narrowed further. “The shoes, Chloe. Explain the f**king shoes.”
“They’re special to me,” I said, slowly blinking down to his mouth. I licked my lips as I stared at his, and he leaned in closer, instinctively. “Something old, something new. I wore these once when we were here together. Do you remember?”
Just as I suspected, his face grew impossibly more angry. “Of course I remember. And the ‘something old, something new’ is for the actual wedding day, not the entire week before when I’m trying to keep my hands off you.”
“I’m practicing,” I said, breathless. “In fact, there are a lot of things I’d like to practice before the wedding, Bennett. Like deep-throating.”
“Are you really trying to break me?”
I shook my head with wide, innocent eyes but said, “Yes. I really am.”
His grip on my shoulders lessened and he slumped forward, resting his forehead against mine. “Chlo . . . You know how much I want you every second.”
“I want you, too. So, I thought maybe later we could go back to the hotel and I could keep the shoes on? You could have me on my back, legs in the air . . .” I turned, kissed the shell of his ear. “Plus, I have this amazing corset on under here and—”
Bennett pushed away and turned, storming down the hall.
I took the opportunity to sneak into the women’s room to check my makeup and high-five myself in the mirror. But my martini wasn’t getting any colder, and I had some seducing to do, so I didn’t linger long.
Bennett seemed to have calmed himself by the time I returned to the table, and was sitting in the booth with Max and Will while the other men ordered drinks at the bar and the women danced a few yards away from where we sat. Bennett’s arm was slung over the back and I slid in beside him, running my palm from his knee to his upper thigh. “Hi,” I said again. “Having fun?”
He gave me a look that would have melted the face off a lesser opponent, and I grinned, leaning to kiss his neck and whispering, “I can’t wait for you to come in my mouth later.”
He coughed, practically dropping his vodka gimlet onto the tabletop, and earning a few curious looks from Will and Max across the table.
“You okay over there, Bennett?” Will asked, knowing grin in place. Had Bennett told the men about his newly donned chastity belt? I hoped he had; no one would be happier to help me in my plan to derail Bennett’s determination than Will and Max.
“Just went down the wrong pipe,” Bennett explained.
“He’s usually much better when he’s aiming it down mine,” I said in a stage whisper, and both Will and Max burst into laughter across the table. Will leaned forward to give me a high-five.
“Has he told you about his new virginity?” I asked.
“He mentioned he’s enjoying the sport of keeping you waiting,” Max said. “But for the record, Chloe, I’d like to say that those heels are f**king smashing.”
“I agree!” I said, grinning over at my fiancé.
The booth was large enough for several people, and after they’d ordered their drinks, Brian and Bull joined the four of us. For several quiet moments we sipped our cocktails, and Max and I shared an amused grin when we heard Sara’s cackle across the room.
“That’s your girl over there,” I said.
He raised his glass to me, cheeks flushed, and murmured, “Indeed it is,” before taking a sip.
I looked over at Sara and laughed. “Actually, that’s your girl over there with a big belly . . . carrying a tray of shots.”
He looked up and groaned, standing to walk over. His words drifted out of earshot after we heard him say, “Sare, love, that’s too heavy . . .”
“Don’t even start on that, Sumner,” Bennett said with a shake of his head. “You can barely keep your tongue in your mouth around Hanna.”
Will shrugged and leaned back in the booth, not even hiding the way he looked over at his girlfriend and studied every inch of her exposed legs.
I let my eyes move around the men at the table and wondered if they were being relatively quiet because they wanted me to leave so they could discuss guy things, like penises and basketballs and toilets. But I was so comfortable, and the weight of Bennett’s arm around my shoulder was too perfect to want to move. The only way I would move is if it was to climb into his lap and wiggle a little.
I started to execute this brilliant idea, but he stopped me with a tight grip on my shoulder. “Don’t you dare.”
“Are you hard?” I asked quietly, just loud enough for him to hear.
He shot me a look. “No.”
I licked my lips and felt my pulse take off when his eyes dropped to my mouth and he leaned a little closer. “How about now?”
“You’re impossible, woman.” He moved away, reaching for his drink.
A large tattoo of a woman’s face on Bull’s arm caught my eye and I leaned close to Bennett again, but he leaned away.
“No, come here,” I said, pulling at his T-shirt. “I have a question. I swear I’m not going to lick your ear.” Reluctantly he leaned close enough for me to quickly lick his ear before asking, “Who is that on Bull’s arm?”
He studied it for a second before turning to whisper, “I think that’s his girlfriend—or ex-girlfriend?—Maisie. They’ve been on-again, off-again since they were teenagers.”