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Authors: Thayer King

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BOOK: Deceived
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She didn’t want Jerome to worry, but she didn’t want him to be blindsided either. Filling the cups with water and then placing them in the microwave, she debated the best way to let him know. “I think he more than likes me.”

“Well, he sees the same things in you that I do. You’re a beautiful, intelligent woman full of class and grace.”

Janelle mulled over his words. Was she reading too much into tonight? Aidan hadn’t threatened her or Jerome. Maybe this would be the extent of it. If she told Jerome, it would ruin his working relationship with his boss. Aidan did seem to like him. She knew how important his career was to Jerome. She didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize it. And there was a small amount of fear that he would choose his job over her.

She decided to keep her mouth shut. This whole situation would blow over with time. Aidan was probably embarrassed that she’d turned him down, but he hadn’t seemed angry. Still, she thought it prudent that she avoid Aidan in the future.

The microwave dinged. She removed their cups and dropped in tea bags. Giving Jerome his cup, she said, “I like it when
you
notice me, but it makes me uncomfortable when he does.” She added honey to her tea and joined him at the counter. Jerome took his unsweetened.

“You should be used to attracting attention from men. Haven’t you ever noticed how men look at you?”

She blew into her cup. “You’re good for my ego.”

Jerome laughed. “No, you’re good for my ego.” He gulped his tea. His was gone while she still had half a cup. “I should go.”

“Mm.” She stood quickly and wrapped her arms around his neck. Jerome looked mildly surprised at her forward behavior. She’d never initiated intimacy. “Jerome, can’t you stay a little bit longer?” She kissed him. His arms snaked around her back and he pressed back against her. Triumphant, she loosened his tie and undid a button on his shirt.

Jerome broke their kiss. Hands clamped on her waist, he put her away from him. “No, Janelle, I can’t. Didn’t you hear Aidan? I have to go in tomorrow.”

She groaned. “It’s a Saturday.”

He touched a finger to her nose. “And you’ve got to open your shop tomorrow. How about we postpone until tomorrow night?”

“Something else will come up,” she predicted. “It always does.”

“Don’t pout. What’s this about?”

“Jerome, do you know how long it’s been since we made love?”

“Too long. But why tonight?

“Because…because it’s been too long.” She couldn’t meet his gaze.

“Did something happen with Aidan that you’re not telling me about?” When she didn’t answer, he lifted her chin. “You know you can tell me anything, right? It’s okay if you’re attracted to him. It’s completely understandable. He’s a rich and powerful guy.”

She didn’t bother to try to deny it. “I would never betray you.”

“Of course you wouldn’t.” He grinned. “You’re my greatest asset.”

Janelle breathed a sigh of relief. Jerome didn’t seem to be the least bit bothered about this. She wouldn’t have been so understanding if the situation was reversed. He kissed her forehead before standing. “I’ve got to go. I need to be at my best.”

She walked him to the door and locked up once he was gone. Frowning, she wished she could be as blasé about this as Jerome. He did know Aidan better than she did, she reminded herself. She cleaned up their dishes.

The pins she’d used to style her hair were irritating her scalp. She pulled them loose and her hair fell in a black cascade around her shoulders. She had a Native American grandmother to thank for her soft, long hair.

She’d changed into her pajamas and was flipping through the latest issue of a fashion magazine when her cell rang. She smiled when the photo of Dionne dressed as a mannequin last Halloween popped up. Even if that hadn’t clued her in to the fact that it was her best friend, her phone began playing “Single Ladies.”

“Hey, Dionne. What are you up to?”

Dionne huffed. “You do
not
want to know. Could you come pick me up?”

Janelle glanced at her alarm clock. It was going on twelve a.m. How pathetic was it that on a Friday night she’d been home in her nightgown hours before midnight? She slid out of bed. “Sure. Where are you?”

“BlackFinn. I’ll text you the address.”

“I’ve got to change clothes, but I’ll be right there.” She dressed in dark blue jeans and a black T-shirt.

She’d barely gotten into the door of the saloon when Dionne pounced on her. Looping her arm through hers, Dionne forced her to perform a U-turn. She allowed her to usher her back to her black Mini. “So what were you doing here?” she asked as they took off.

Dionne slipped off her pumps and wiggled her toes. She sighed before answering. “You know the guy I told you about the other day? Well, he asked me out again. Only tonight he was surrounded by his boys and all of a sudden, I was too fat for him.” She grumbled unintelligibly for a few seconds. “
I
was doing his ugly ass a favor. You know how they say that humans find symmetrical faces more attractive? That’s a bunch of bullshit. His face was perfectly symmetrical. It was ass out ugly on both sides.” Janelle choked on a laugh. “
This
is what I get for trying to be less picky and more accommodating. This is the last straw, you know. I give up on men.”

“Don’t say that.” She hated the thought of Dionne giving up on her quest for the perfect man. Dionne was often going on blind dates or trying out Internet dating sites. It was rare that she went out with the same man twice, but she was a source of boundless optimism. Janelle liked that despite adversity, Dionne would find a way to look at the bright side.

“I didn’t mean permanently. But this is it for this month for sure!”

Janelle laughed. “Dionne, I love you.”

Chapter Three

 

Jerome cleared his throat. “Sir, if I might be frank with you…?”

Aidan studied the other man before nodding. He’d just given Jerome his assignment details. Nothing as exciting as his last trip to Madrid, but this would get him out of state for a week or, hopefully, two.

“Is this trip to Kansas really necessary? Can’t it be handled by someone closer?”

“They can’t all be glamorous trips, Jerome.”

He shook his head and pressed his lips together. “You don’t have to do this.”

Aidan arched an eyebrow. “This?”

Jerome released a loud sigh. “Janelle likes you too. Maybe we can strike a deal.”

Eyes narrowing, Aidan sat forward. The leather of his chair creaked. “What type of deal?”

“I love Janelle, and I want her to be happy. I can arrange it so that the two of you are together.”

“You’re willing to give me your girlfriend?” Aidan asked, disgusted with Jerome. If he was willing to give up such an exquisite woman as Janelle to shirk an unwanted assignment, he didn’t deserve her. Suddenly, Aidan didn’t feel so guilty about lusting after Janelle. “That doesn’t sound like love to me.”

Jerome’s light brown eyes grew sly. “I wouldn’t say give. More like loan.”

Was he trying to whore her out to him? Aidan gripped the arms of his chair in an effort to keep his seat. If he stood, he knew he’d pound Jerome’s overly ambitious ass into the ground. “I think you should stop there. While you still have a job.”

“Sir, you misunderstand,” Jerome said quickly. His brow grew damp with sweat. “We have an open relationship. I don’t see any reason why the two of you shouldn’t be together. At least once. I’d like to arrange that.”

“Shit,” Aidan muttered, because he was actually considering it. He wanted Janelle. He didn’t want her this way, but it may be this way or no way at all. And it occurred to him that given a chance, he could have her for his own. If Jerome was foolish enough to share her, it would serve him right to have her stolen from him.

Still, he found it hard to believe of her. She didn’t seem like the type to separate love and sex. He wondered if Jerome had forced her into their arrangement.

He wanted this. “No.” He couldn’t. He wouldn’t.

“It’s just that I bring this up because you seem to feel that you need to send me out of town. I enjoy the travel, but I’d like more challenging tasks. The opening—”

“You are not going to offer me a night with your girlfriend for a promotion, are you?”

Jerome did have the decency to redden. “Certainly not.”

“Good, because I don’t let my personal life interfere with business.” Or at least he didn’t normally. He had been giving Jerome busy work and as many assignments out of Charlotte as possible. And now he would have to work doubly hard not to let his sudden hatred of Jerome show. Truthfully, he’d never liked him, but it was just a bad vibe with no facts to support it. Now, he
knew
the guy was a jerk.

Finally, he stood. He paused at the door. “Janelle will be disappointed.”

Aidan tapped his pen on his desk. He was going to regret this. “I need to know that she wants this.”

“She does.”

He plucked a business card out of the holder on his desk and wrote down an address, date, and time. “Have her meet me. This will give her a week to make up her mind. She’ll find a key under the welcome mat.” Aidan extended the card to the other man.

“Yes, sir.” Jerome looked entirely too thrilled. He immediately wanted to snatch his card back. But the thought of having Janelle stayed his hand. “There’s, um, just one more thing. Janelle likes certain specific things in bed.”

“Are you going to give me tips on how to please your girlfriend?”

“No. But I thought that you should know that she, um, requires that you tie her down. And she doesn’t like to talk during. Call it a quirk.”

Though helpful, Aidan couldn’t help but be irritated at the thought of Janelle allowing this man to tie her down. The whole situation was distasteful and he once again thought of backing out. He couldn’t believe that the woman who couldn’t meet his eyes last night after he’d told her that he wanted her could be the same one in an open relationship. Maybe she wasn’t happy with Jerome. He hoped not. He was going to use this opportunity to win her over as his own.

* * * *

Janelle removed a size-six jacket where it was shoved between two size fourteens and put it back where it belonged. She was helping a regular customer with a purchase when Jerome came in with a smile that stretched from ear to ear. He strolled over by the register to wait for her. Dionne had been folding blouses, but she stopped and came over to her side. She touched her elbow. “I’ll help Mrs. Johnson. Go see your man.”

Jerome grabbed her hands and squeezed. He wasn’t big on public displays of affection so hand-holding was as extreme as it was going to get. His leather driving gloves were chilly to the touch. “What has you so happy?”

“I think I’m going to be promoted.”

Her eyes widened. “Really? I’m so happy for you.” And she was relieved that she hadn’t caused a setback.

“But I have to go out of town for a few days. Some issues with repairs with a hotel in Wichita. But when I get back, we’re going to celebrate. I’m going to take you away for the weekend. And that’s just the beginning. Once I get this promotion, things are going to change. Things will slow down at work and I’ll have more time to spend with you.”

Janelle frowned. “Are you sure? Won’t you have more responsibilities?”

He laughed and shook his head. “You don’t understand corporate America. The higher-ups don’t do any work. You get assistants to do everything.” He touched her nose. “You look beautiful today.”

“Thank you. When do you leave for Kansas?”

“Tonight. I’ll call you during the week with more details about our weekend.” His eyes flashed toward the lingerie section. “And pack something nice.”

She grinned. “Any hints on where we’re going?”

“Wrightsville Beach. I rented a beach house. It’s off-season so we should have the beach to ourselves.”

“Oh, that sounds wonderful! I can’t wait!”

“Me either.” He checked his watch. “I’ve got to go home and get packing.”

“Will you call when you land?”

His nose wrinkled. “Naw. I don’t want to wake you. I’m flying out pretty late.” He kissed the back of her hand. “I’ll miss you.”

“Miss you too.” She watched him leave. Mrs. Johnson had finished her shopping and Dionne checked her out.

“So what’s up with him? Why’d he drop by?” Dionne asked as they watched Mrs. Johnson exit.

“He had to work today. He’s being sent on a business trip.”

“On a Saturday? I really am having difficulty understanding why he loves that job so much.”

“Hey, we’re working on a Saturday!”

“This is different. We don’t work the hours that he does. Anyway, this gives us the perfect opportunity to go out to dinner together. Cheddars? I’ve a craving for their apple pie.”

* * * *

Janelle patted her tummy and groaned. She pushed away the delicious pie covered in vanilla ice cream and drizzled with caramel. “I surrender. I can’t eat another bite.”

“Quitter,” Dionne teased as she scooped up another spoonful.

She laughed. “I’m glad you didn’t have a date lined up for tonight.”

“Me too. You’re the best date I’ve had in six months.”

Janelle dropped her chin in her hands. “Good grief, you’re my best date this year too.”

Dionne paused, spoon halfway to her mouth. “Trouble in paradise?”

“What paradise? I can’t recall the last time we did anything more than hold hands or kiss at the door. It’s like he’s become a born-again virgin. If that’s the case, I’d respect his wishes, but he hasn’t said anything.”

“Thought you said it was pretty blasé?”

Janelle rolled her eyes. “But it would improve as we got to know each other’s likes and dislikes, you know?”

Dionne grunted. “Not really. Long relationships are not my forte.”

She didn’t bother pointing out her friend’s persnickety nature once more. She’d refused to see men for having names that she didn’t like, birthdays at the wrong time of the year, and butts that were too flat. It’d be amusing if Dionne didn’t have a life plan that included getting married within the next year. Janelle worried she’d be disappointed if she didn’t make her goal.

BOOK: Deceived
12.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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