Ben gives me a bewildered look, as if I made up the whole thing. “Okay. Would you like to finish the dance?”
As I dance with Ben, I can’t stop thinking about the phantom or the way he disappeared without giving me his name. Shit! I bet the good-looking bastard is married and that’s why he wouldn’t tell me who he is.
That isn’t going to work for me. If there is one thing I don’t do, it’s married men.
I need to talk to Addison, but she is in the middle of her presex show with Zac. That means she’s sending me home alone with Ben. I’m not in the mood to deal with that. “I’m not feeling well. I think I’m going to catch a cab back to the apartment.”
I put my hand on his arm. “I can’t ask you to do that. This is your big night. Stay and show off what you’ve accomplished.”
Yeah, I know. He’s such a nice guy, but I’m not interested. “I know, but I’d feel worse if you didn’t stay to promote what you’ve worked so hard for.”
He concedes and I catch a cab back to the apartment. I make a point to be in bed when he comes home. I pretend to be asleep when he taps on the bedroom door because I’m not sure what he wants.
Well, that’s not true. I know what he wants, but I’ve chosen the coward’s way. I should be brutal and tell him to back off, but I don’t. I dodge him, only prolonging the inevitable.
I jerk awake with the shift of the bed beside me. What the hell? The adrenaline surging through my veins makes my heart take off like a helicopter. It’s throbbing erratically in my neck, my chest, my head. Even my hands.
“Yeah.” She whispers like she’s afraid she’ll wake someone. Too late.
I’m relieved to hear her voice instead of Ben’s, but I’m madder than hell. I look at the clock on the nightstand. It’s 3:18 in the morning. “You scared the shit out of me. What are you doing climbing into bed at this time of the morning? I thought you were at Zac’s place.”
Yeah, and now you’re not. “Why did you come back? Did something happen?”
“No, but you know me. I don’t want to be that girl, the one who wears out her welcome.”
Right. Because Dude doesn’t owe you anything after he gets in your pants. “Let me get straight on this. You don’t want to be the girl to wear out your welcome, but you’ll be the girl who lets him wear out your vagina?”
She slaps my arm in the dark. “That’s just crude, Laurie.” She giggles. “But oh so true. He did wear it out like a champ.”
“It’s a game, Laurelyn. Trust me. I know what I’m doing. He’ll want me more if he has to lie in bed thinking about me from across the hall. He’ll wish he’d asked me to stay, but there’s another reason I came home. I don’t want Ben to know I locked loins with Zac.”
Good grief. That’s what we’re calling it these days. “Why would Ben care?”
“You’re an only child so you don’t get it. Brothers don’t care how old you are. They’re weird about their friends screwing their sisters.”
What about a sister freaking out over her brother trying to lock loins with her best friend? Shouldn’t she be trying to dissuade Ben or something?
“So, I saw you dancing with a good-looking suit last night. What’s going on with that?”
Good-looking suit. I can roll with that. “That was him, the man I ran into at the club on our way out the other night. The same one I haven’t been able to stop thinking about for three days.”
“Oh, wow. What a coincidence.” She doesn’t have to tell me. I thought I’d never see him again.
“I know. He asked me to dinner tonight.” I let out a high-pitched squeal that shouldn’t come from a twenty-two-year-old woman. “He’s sending his driver to pick me up because he has an afternoon meeting. Is that weird?”
“I guess not, unless he’s calling the man behind the wheel of a taxi his driver. He must be rich. What does he do?”
“I don’t know. We didn’t get that far.”
I opt to not tell her he said it would be more exciting if I didn’t know. “Umm, we didn’t get that far, either.”
“Well, that’s fucked up. You’re going out with a guy and don’t know who he is? Who am I going to report to the police if you go missing because he’s another good-looking serial killer? You know, Ted Bundy was terribly charming too.”
Oh, hell. I hadn’t thought of that. What if he is some kind of weirdo? “I guess tell them it was the good-looking suit who did it.”
Daniel messages me when he is pulling up to the front of The Ashford Hotel, so I leave our table in the hotel restaurant to meet her. When I walk out of the hotel to greet my American girl, Daniel is circling around to open her door, but I stop him. “I have it, Daniel. Thank you.”
After opening her door, she steps out onto the sidewalk. She’s wearing a satiny floral one-shouldered dress belted at the waist and mile-high heels that stretch her legs even longer than they already are. She’s beautiful and I ache to reach out my hand to touch the exposed skin on her shoulder.
She looks up at the hotel and then back to me. “Seriously? You brought me to a hotel?”
Her face tells me she’s pissed off, but it’s easy to see why she might jump to conclusions. “The meeting with my sales team was in the hotel’s conference room. I thought we might have dinner at Ash. It’s the hotel restaurant. I’m told it’s the best in town.”
She takes my offered arm. “You’re not from Wagga Wagga?”
“No.” That’s all I give her and she doesn’t push further.
I allow her to walk ahead of me through the revolving door into the lobby. “Are you staying in this hotel?”
“No. I’m staying at an estate in the country.”
I escort her toward the back of the restaurant to our table. I pull out her chair and slide it under her when she sits. “Are you hungry?”
She smiles and I find myself wanting to know all the secrets she hides behind it. “Very. I’m not one of those girls who’s scared to eat in front of a date. I hope you don’t mind that.”
She’s quiet as she reads the wine list and our server arrives to take our drink order. “I’ll have a Sauvignon Blanc.”
She lifts her eyes from the list. “I have no idea how to order wine. I’ll have what you’re having.”
She holds the menu in front of her and I can’t see her face. She’s studying it like there could be an exam later. “I don’t know what I want. Everything looks good.”
A moment later she places the menu on the table. “Seafood sounds good. I’ll have the stuffed prawns.”
After the server brings the wine and takes our order, we continue our safe, generic conversation. “How did your friend’s vintages fare last night?”
“Ben did well, but I never expected anything less. Wine is his family’s business.”
I remember the waitress mentioning that. I believe she said he was from California. “I understand that. You’re much more passionate about it when it’s your livelihood.”
“You say that like you know from experience.” She’s a sharp one.
“I do. I’m employed in the wine-making business as well.” It’s a half-truth since I neglect to tell her I own a large number of the wineries across South Australia and New Zealand.
She smiles and I see her make the connection. “So that’s why you were at the vintage dinner last night?”
“Yes. My employer donates money to the wine program, so he is given an automatic invitation to the event. I was sent in his place as a representative.”
We talk about nothing in particular and I feel the mood of our conversation shift when we finish eating. “I’ve spent the last hour having dinner with you and you still haven’t told me your name. Maybe it’s an Australian thing, but where I come from, that is one of the first things you tell someone. Is there a reason you haven’t told me?”
I’m interested in picking her brain, hearing her possible explanation. “Why do you think that could be?”
She studies my face and for the first time I notice her unusual eye color. I thought they were brown, but now I see I was only half-right. They’re lighter, more like caramel than chocolate. And her hair isn’t a single shade of brown; it’s full of honey-colored streaks.
Her back stiffens. “I think you’re married with a wife and two-point-five kids waiting for you to come home.”
I almost forget her question, I’m so caught up in watching the windows to her soul. I see something there, but I can’t put my finger on what it is.
I hold up my empty left hand and point to where a wedding band would be if I had one. I smile because the thought of me being married is such a polar opposite from the truth. “No wife. No two-point-five kids.”
She sits back in her chair and doesn’t appear as though she’s buying what I’m selling. “The lack of a wedding band doesn’t prove anything.”
“I am secretive, but it has nothing to do with being married.”
Our server returns to remove our dishes and we fall silent until he walks away. “Why are you secretive?”
“For lack of a better answer, it’s just how I am.”