Jane was pressed so tightly against the wall she would have sworn her body was starting to blend into the wallpaper. Most people didn’t give her a second glance. Then again, she wouldn’t give herself a second glance either.
Women with fake boobs and injected lips mocked her while rich men in three-piece suits completely ignored her.
She self-consciously tugged at hem of the short black dress. In a last ditch effort to modernize the dress, or at least add a bit of spice, she’d grabbed her mother’s long pearls, wrapped them around her neck twice and called it good.
But the minute they’d arrived at the party she’d wanted to disappear. Her sisters were already semi-drunk, thanks to the vodka they’d had in the car. Against Jane’s protests they’d taken shots while she drove. And then she’d paid for parking only to hear them whine that she had parked too far away.
They’d been here for twenty minutes and already she wanted to leave, or at least sit down, but most of the available space was taken by couples talking, eating…kissing.
She was surrounded by the beautiful and rich.
The only reason her sisters had even been invited was because they were complete and total social climbers, and had managed to gain an invitation from a friend who was an heiress to some french fry company.
A waiter passed by with champagne.
She grabbed a glass and downed the entire thing. It didn’t help her nerves, but at least the bubbles semi-calmed her stomach.
Her sweaty feet slid in her too-big red pumps as she pressed harder against the wall to alleviate the ache in her toes.
The music shifted to a loud techno song as the lights went from red to a bright white, and with a gasp she covered her eyes and then blinked a few times to clear her line of vision.
The jumbled sweaty bodies moved aside as the music changed to a slow song. There was just enough of a break for her to see across the room.
“Oh.” It was all she could utter, really the only word she was capable of as her breathing picked up. Without thinking, she grabbed another glass of champagne from a passing waiter, suddenly awkward. What was she supposed to do with her hands?
Thick wavy auburn hair fell in disarray over his forehead. It was lush, shiny, perfect. Were guys born with hair like that? Or was his somehow chemically engineered? His full lips pressed together in a secret smile as the equally handsome man next to him said something, then erupted in laughter.
The first man stiffened, then shook his head. His broad shoulders seemed to grow tight as a drum. A slight tic in his jaw was the only clue that he was irritated or maybe outright angry.
And then his shoulders slumped as he was handed another drink and then another.
Nervous. He must be nervous. But what could a man like that possibly have to be nervous about?
He easily towered over most of the men in attendance. Suddenly his posture changed, then he smiled.
Jane felt her mouth drop open in shock.
He was…like a duke or a lord or a prince from a storybook. Clearly, she read too many romance novels, but his entire presence demanded attention; screamed authority, importance, and sex. Lots and lots of sex.
Yes, his virility was a tangible thing, as if she could reach out and grasp it with her fingertips.
“What are you doing?” Esmeralda yelled in her right ear, interrupting her blatant sexual fantasy about a complete stranger. Great. That’s what her life had come to. And sadly? It was the most fun she’d had all night.
Jane turned to Esmeralda, prayed for patience, and answered. “Sorry, I was just thinking.”
“You’re so boring.” Esmeralda rolled her eyes. “No wonder you got dumped.”
Another fun fact? Esmeralda was mean when she was drunk.
The reminder of the breakup burned like acid.
It had been a year ago, not that it mattered. It still hurt that the last guy she’d dated had told her that although she was cute, she wasn’t really doing it for him anymore.
Right. Doing it.
Maybe that was because she hadn’t done anything for him or with him, and he found that lacking. But they’d only dated for a few weeks. Did normal girls do that? Put out after a few weeks? Apparently.
She wasn’t normal.
But if that was normal, maybe she was better off being strange.
“Jane, are you even listening to me?” Esmeralda whined. “Essence needs you to dance next to her for a bit. I’m tired and tipsy. I want to sit. Plus your dress blends in enough that it won’t take attention away from her.”
No way. What? What had she just said?
Jane wrapped her arms around her middle. “I’m sorry, what?”
Without warning, Esmeralda grabbed Jane’s hand and jerked her toward the dance floor, causing Jane to lose her footing and crash directly into Esmeralda’s back. Then, like a domino, she slammed back into Essence.
Jane opened her mouth to shout out an apology, but Esmeralda was already too drunk to listen to reason. With determination in her eyes, she reached for the pearls at Jane’s neck but grabbed the fabric of the dress instead.
Her poorly sewn dress ripped instantly, causing the fabric to slink past her strapless bra. A diagonal slit split up her thigh almost all the way to her hip. In an effort to cover herself, she took a step and tripped, thanks to her clunky shoes.
And then she fell to the floor.
Her sisters watched in horror—but neither of them offered a hand. They were probably kicking themselves for forcing her to come. Esmeralda leaned over but missed Jane’s shoulder by a mile, grabbing her hair and giving it a tug, which only made Jane wince harder.
Both sisters were completely tanked.
And she was less than two minutes away from being trampled by the other sweaty bodies around her.
She glanced up.
And into the eyes of the man she’d just been lusting after.
Oh God, the humiliation was complete.
That one glance told her he’d seen it all. She swallowed back the thickness building in her throat. Of course the only time he’d notice her would be when she’d ripped her dress and nearly took out a few guests on her way down to the dance floor.
The crowd gathered around her.
And the sexy man disappeared—probably off in search of a girl with perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect clothes.
She really should have stayed home.
Tears filled her eyes as a heel pressed into her right hand. With a jerk she tugged her hand free, struggling to get up to stand on her wobbly feet, when suddenly she was pulled to a standing position and then swept up in strong arms.
Jane’s eyes were still so blurry from unshed tears she couldn’t make out the man’s face as he carried her out of the crowd.
He smelled like heaven.
She fought the insane urge to press her face against his chest and just…close her eyes.
Because he felt safe.
Pathetic, when a stranger’s arms provided more safety than her own family. And yet he felt…right.
In a world where things for the past ten years had felt so wrong.
He felt right.
Maybe she’d had too much champagne.
“Are you all right?” he whispered in a deep voice with a hint of a southern drawl. He’d brought her into a private room where the music wasn’t quite so deafening.
He set her on one of the black leather couches and shut the door, muffling the music on the other side.
Blinking, Jane glanced up and gawked, like a starry-eyed teenager. He was the same man she’d seen earlier, the one she’d been captivated by. “Yes.”
“Yes?” He looked confused. His amazing eyebrows drew together, and a small line creased the center of his forehead. Even the line was gorgeous, just as gorgeous as the rest of him.
His thickly muscled body screamed power. Her hands slid down the front of his chest. Even his shirt was smooth. She didn’t realize she’d been basically petting him until his muscles tensed beneath her palm. Oh crap.
“I mean, yes, I’m fine.” She tried to stand then fell back down; her stupid heel was broken. “Or I was fine, until I got trampled.”
The line in his forehead deepened. “You’re not hurt, are you?”
Jane shook her head then pressed her hand to her chest and gasped out, “My pearls!”
“Wait here.” He held out his hands. “I’ll get the necklace, I’m sure it’s where you fell and—”
“No.” Jane slumped, defeated. “They broke off when my sis—” She corrected herself, not wanting to claim the crazies in the other room. “They broke apart when I fell.”
The man sighed loudly and ran his fingers through his perfect hair. “I’ll talk to the club manager and see if anyone turns them in.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to give him all the many reasons why they were irreplaceable, but instead she settled with, “That’s really not necessary. It’s not your fault I was a victim of the techno craze.”
His upper lip curled. “I hate techno.”
“Is there something I can do? Anything? You promise you aren’t hurt?”
“Careful or you’re going to have me believe you got me trampled on purpose in order to trap me in a private room,” she joked as a smile tugged at her lips.
“Had I known you were willing, I wouldn’t have had to go to such extremes to orchestrate it.”
He appeared stunned by his own answer.
Her breath hitched. Was he flirting with her?
His crystal blue eyes twinkled with amusement.
“So…” Her voice was hoarse, like an old woman’s. Great. “I should probably get back to the party.” Why did she need to go back again? All the reasons seemed to disappear as he maneuvered around the couch and popped a bottle of champagne that had been chilling in a nearby crystal bucket.
“Why don’t you and I have a drink first?” He peered around the table. “I’ll need to send for some shoes. It’s the least I can do.” His gaze heated. “Shoes are appropriate to purchase for a stranger. A dress, I’m afraid…” The corners of his mouth tilted into a sultry smile as his eyes slowly raked over the scraps of fabric barely covering her breasts. “Not so much.”
Did people do that these days? Just send for shoes? Who was this guy? “Really, it’s not necessary. I’ll just stick to the shadows so I don’t scare anyone with my limp and I’ll be okay.” She sounded more confident than she felt, and her lower lip trembled a bit. Next time she was going to hold her ground, stay home, read a book, and be plain boring Jane. This wasn’t her scene. Not by a long shot.
He leaned in close, so close she could smell his aftershave again. “A woman like you doesn’t belong in the shadows.”
Uncomfortable, she tried to make light of the situation again. “Wow, a hero and good with words. I bet you’re just a regular handful, aren’t you?”
“Me?” He laughed as if the thought was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. “No, that would be my twin brothers. They’re the handfuls. I’m…” He seemed to think about it. “Just Brock.”
“Well, Just Brock…” Jane held out her hand. “I’m Just Jane.”
His hand completely engulfed hers as their palms pressed against one another. He was so warm. And big.
Huge hands. That meant something, right?
Crap, she was still shaking his hand, and he was grinning at her as if it was the funniest thing that had ever happened to him. And he was looking at her. At her eyes, not at the fact that she was half-naked on a couch, with a broken shoe.
With a jerk, she pulled her hand back and nervously reached to tuck a stray piece of hair behind her ear.
“So, Brock.” Jane looked down at his shoes. That was safe. Shoes. Nothing sexy about a man’s feet, right? Except his were inside shoes that she ventured probably cost more than she’d ever see in a lifetime. “About those shoes.”
“Shoes.” He repeated the word and then quickly stood. “Right, just wait here.”
He disappeared, giving her the breathing room she absolutely positively needed, only to re-appear a few seconds later.
She frowned; then again, what had she expected? That he’d bang some plastic Barbie over the head with his cell phone, steal her shoes, and then toss them to Jane?
Brock studied her. “Your shoes should be here within the next fifteen minutes. I just sent my degenerate brother across the street. Saks is still open. The night is young.”
Shoes from Saks?
She’d never owned anything from Saks. Ever. But she knew the store; didn’t every woman? Still, the most expensive thing she’d ever owned had been the pearls.
“That’s really…” She waved her hand in the air and stood. “Not necessary…you can tell him that—”
Brock reached for her hand and lightly tugged her back. “Sit. It is necessary. And although I typically wait until the third date to buy a woman gifts, I think your nearly getting trampled allows me to break that rule.”
Still tense, Jane nodded and took a shaky look around the small, private room.
“To new shoes?” Brock grabbed his drink and lifted it in the air toward her.
She lifted her glass and clinked it against his then took a small sip. The champagne was pink and sweet, with a tart aftertaste. “It’s good.”
“You sound surprised.” Brock’s lips lifted in a smile.
She scrunched up her nose. “I’m not much of a drinker, and I typically don’t like drinks that are the same color as my underwear.”
The minute the words were out of her mouth, she froze, barely managing to suppress the urge to clap a hand over her mouth. She wanted someone to run her over with a car.
With a choke, Brock nearly spit out the sip he’d just taken. Face flushed, he stared her down and then whispered, “You’re making me regret my decision to send out for boring black shoes.”
“I didn’t…I mean, pink is fine.” Stop talking, stop talking. “Not all of my underwear is pink. I have black, too.”
Brock’s lips parted with a greedy exhale, and he downed the rest of his drink. “Oh?”
Hell in a handbasket.
Why was she giving him a rundown of her lingerie drawer? As if he were a naughty Santa with a checklist in front of him, putting down little marks on the little boxes that read “red lacy thong”? Check. “Black boyshorts”? Double check.
“I’m more of a boxer brief sort of guy,” he said smoothly, bringing her back to the present.
“Too far?” He chuckled. “I figured if I knew the color of yours…I should at least show you mine.” He leaned forward.
Had he said show?
Just how drunk was he? Maybe that was the reason his eyes were zeroing in on her mouth. He blinked, and then seemed to sway a bit.
Was he okay? And why was he still staring at her mouth? Did she have something on her face?
Self-consciously, she pressed her fingertips to her lips only to have him suck in a breath and lift his right hand from his thigh as if wanting to touch the place where her fingers had just been.
“Got the shoes!” a male voice yelled as Jane jerked away from Brock.
What had just happened?
“Holy shit, you’re hot.”
She recognized the man from before. He was about an inch shorter than Brock, but had the same perfect auburn hair. “I’m Bentley, and since this one’s about to get married, I feel like it’s only fair to let you know that out of the two of us, I’m the single, available one, who’s also—lucky for you—been given a higher rating in the sack.”
He was getting married?
And hitting on her?
Or was she hitting on him? After all, she was the one who’d mentioned underwear. Ugh, she wanted to crawl under the table and die.