Authors: Amber Bardan
FOR HER PROTECTION
Copyright © 2016 by Amber Bardan
For Her Protection is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations, and events portrayed are fictional or used fictitiously. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
The tequila burned
a path of blazing hell-fire down her esophagus.
Charlie gasped and slammed the shot glass down on the bar. “Holy shit, why can’t we drink wine?”
Melanie gave the kind of dark seductive laugh that only a person with one-hundred-and-ninety-percent unapologetic self-confidence can muster. “Because tonight you’re a boss-bitch who just acquired a top Telco, and you can handle your damned liquor.”
“Not sure I’d put it quite that way.” Charlie wiped her mouth on her wrist. Halifax Communications made the acquisition. She’d simply done the grunt work.
And what grunt work there’d been.
Despite her preference for a crisp white wine, a little tequila might be the thing to hit the spot.
Melanie tapped the bar, then held up two fingers. The bartender refilled the glasses as promptly as if the two of them were the only ones there—despite it being a teeming Friday night with dozens of other patrons waiting to be served. But then Melanie had that effect on men in the service industry.
And that effect on men in general.
Lucky Melanie. Everyone should have a superpower. Melanie’s was man-mustering, and hers was well…
Did the ability to reason calmly with crazy people count?
Because these days that seemed to be the only thing dominating her schedule. Meeting with disgruntled person one. Meeting with disgruntled person two.
Pacify, mollify, apologize.
If only she could reason with the hundreds of people emailing abuse daily, for nothing more than doing the job she’d been ordered to do. She downed the next tequila, this time prepared for the lung-punch it caused.
“See, you didn’t even flinch that time.” Melanie winked one of her bright chocolate eyes, her whole face curling in mischief. “Now we can have some fun.”
“Aren’t we already?”
Melanie features morphed from wink to arched brow. “Not yet, we aren’t.”
She reached out and plucked at Charlie’s blouse.
Charlie glanced down at her gaping collar and newly viable cleavage. “What did you just do?”
Melanie held up the button she’d stealthily removed. “I knew you’d just do it up again.”
“That’s because I like my clothes on properly.” She yanked together the sides of the collar. If she hadn’t gained a few pounds the last few months with over-working and under-exercising, it might be fine. But those pounds went right to her bra.
Her bra which was now over capacity.
So it wasn’t fine—so not fine, she may get thrown out of the bar for indecency.
“I warned you when you decided to come directly from work you’d better not arrive in nun-habit.” She smirked and tossed the button over her shoulder.
“Excuse me, but there were nun’s at my high-school and none of them wore pencil skirts.”
Melanie’s gaze flicked to Charlie’s thighs. “Actually I like the skirt just fine. Points for that. If I had an ass like yours I’d wear pencil skirts every damned day.”
Charlie laughed. “Glad my ass at least has your approval.”
What Melanie didn’t need to know was about the navy high necked sweater she’d left at the office to avoid just this kind of conversation. It wasn’t as though she didn’t like nice clothes, just that when you work fourteen hours a day, you dress for comfort.
And if she were being completely honest, none of the prettier things in her wardrobe were fitting presentably, or at all…so there was that.
Melanie glanced over her shoulder. “You remember the signals?”
“Yeah, I remember.” Single girls in a bar signals. Standard safety precaution. Scratch your nose if you’re fine. Double scratch if you’re so fine you won’t be sharing a cab ride home.
But tug your left earlobe and it’s a call for immediate evacuation.
“Can we buy you ladies a drink?” The voice came from behind her, and the reason for Melanie’s question became apparent.
“Sure. I’ll have a Moscato.” Melanie beamed. “And this buxom wench will have a Chardonnay.”
Charlie released her collar. Well, if she were going to let loose tonight, why not live a little dangerously? Just how long had Melanie been trying to organize a night out—months?
May as well make the most of it, since this was her first weekend off in recent memory. The two men slipped between them and ordered and paid for the drinks. Charlie shuffled over to make room.
“Paul,” the first bigger brawnier guy said, taking Melanie’s hand.
The other turned to Charlie. “Blake.”
“Charlie.” She extended her hand.
He shook her hand gently, and smiled. Blake may not fill his suit or loom the way Paul did, but even if they hadn’t apparently made their pick, Charlie would have gone for Blake. His smile lines gave him a happy charisma that made her smile right back.
“Celebrating?” Blake asked.
“How could you tell?”
Blake nodded to the empty tequila glasses. “I have a sister and a tequila night is always a celebration night.”
“Ah,” Charlie said. The bartender handed her the glass of Chardonnay. She didn’t drink, already feeling a little warmer than she’d prefer. “Well, you are correct.”
He set his beer down and leaned against the bar, cutting off her view of Melanie.
“What’s the celebration?”
Charlie leaned to the side. Melanie met her gaze and scratched her nose. “Work. We finished something we’d been working on for a long time today.”
He picked up his beer bottle. “Well, cheers.”
Charlie clinked her wine glass against the bottle. “Thanks.”
She raised the glass to her mouth. Her attention flicked across the bar, and caught. A man raised a glass, almost in time to hers, to his flat, hard, completely unsmiling mouth.
The wineglass clinked against her tooth.
Heat moved into her cheeks. She’d thought just moments ago that her standards were realistic. Maybe not. Because the guy across the room would’ve caught the attention of every female in the vicinity—and he’d certainly caught hers.
Completely, just by existing. She couldn’t even pinpoint what it was. The bicep flexing his black t-shirt sleeve was certainly impressive, but what was it about his face, without an ounce of softness, that made her want to touch it?
She blinked, returning her attention to Blake. Nice Blake who’d been perfectly pleasant, and even polite enough to have not glanced below her chin once.
What was the question?
Blake ran a hand through his pale brown hair, but all Charlie could think was how the guy across the room’s darker hair would be too short to grab hold of.
She took a guess at the question. What did she do for work? But for some reason the truth seemed too exhausting with nice Blake, who kept asking questions. “I’m a PA.”
He smiled. “That’s great.”
She should feel bad for the fib, but loathed president of a Telecommunications dynasty, just didn’t feel like the better answer.
Melanie peaked out from behind Paul’s shoulder and her finger brushed her nose twice.
Charlie held onto her slipping smile, and nodded. She hadn’t expected the girls part of the evening to end so soon. If this hadn’t been so last minute, she’d have preferred to have come out with a few more friends. Maybe gone somewhere a little quieter where you could hold a better conversation and order a cocktail.
Melanie and Paul slipped from the bar and headed towards the exit.
“Well, it’s been a pleasure meeting you, Charlie.” Blake clamped a hand on her upper arm then pulled a ten dollar bill from his wallet. “Why don’t you go ahead and get yourself another drink.”
She blinked. Had she missed something? Blake was leaving too?
He slapped the note on the counter, then headed off down the bar.
No, Blake was not leaving.
Blake sidled up next to a thin blonde across the room.
“What the hell just happened?”
“DUFF,” a voice rang out next to her.
Charlie turned to the woman leaning against the bar beside her.
The woman, perhaps a decade older than her twenty-five, would’ve been attractive if her makeup weren’t sliding down her face. “You’re the DUFF that’s what happened.”
DUFF? She wracked her brain. As in up-the-DUFF? “He thinks I’m pregnant?”
The woman swayed a little, and stared at Charlie’s middle. “Well maybe, but it’s D.U.F.F—designated, ugly, fat friend.”
Designated, ugly, what now?
“Haven’t you seen the movie?”
“No.” Charlie blinked.
This woman, was clearly drunk and not in her right mind. She slurped from a glass. “It’s a thing guys do. The wingman separates the DUFF from the hot girl, so his friend can steal her away.”
It sunk in. DUFF was Man-code—kinda like Girl-code, but for assholes.
Charlie glanced at Blake. The blonde laughed.
. No wonder he’d seemed so respectful, he’d had zero interest in her.
She hadn’t exactly been infatuated either but still—mean. Her hand moved to her hair, half fallen out of its ponytail. She tugged out the holder. Maybe she should’ve dressed up a bit more. Reapplying a little mascara never hurt anyone.
She drank the remaining wine in a few gulps, but instead of increasing her tipsiness, everything went a little heavier.
Since when were her feelings so fragile? Maybe it was because she hadn’t dated in so long. There’d been no time for that.
But then the last person she’d been with had left her for someone else…
She stood to go, but her gaze caught again.
Him—the same devil who’d stolen her attention earlier, now watched her. Hooded, serious eyes met hers. This guy was not polite. It’s never polite to watch someone when they’re not looking.
Heat rolled up her spine.
He glanced away.
Until five minutes ago, a “nice” ordinary guy like Blake had been a safe, comfortable bet. Apparently not. Which meant all bet’s could now be called off.
She snatched the bill off the bar, and stuffed it into her bra.
We’ll see who’s a DUFF.
She shook her shoulders, then walked through the bar, right past Blake, and to Mr. Short-hair-brooding-eyes.
She came right at him.
Connor leaned back in his seat.
. You’d think five-years in the job, he’d have more discretion.
But what red-blooded man wouldn’t stare at her?
She weaved between tables, hips swaying, full-fucking-irresistible cleavage peeking out from her blouse.
He kept his eyes on his glass, even if his peripheral was having a feast.
“Hi.” Her voice was as lush as the rest of her.
He’d fucked up. She’d noticed him watching and now there’d be a confrontation. If he was compromised then he’d be forced to take matters to the next level.
He looked up.
Jet-black hair flowed over her shoulders. He’d seen her tug that hair from its ponytail and fluff it.
Cheeky, attention-seeking minx
. It hadn’t been so bad from over there. He hadn’t been able to smell her as he did now. He hadn’t known she used vanilla scented shampoo then. His fists curled. But her hair wasn’t the problem, even if he kept imagining it curled around his fist. The problem was her wide, almond-shaped eyes the color of butter warming in a pan, melting his brain.
She flinched, smile slipping, then reached to her front. He tried to stay still, damned hard work, because she reached between those magnificent tits and pulled out a bill. “I’ll give you ten dollars if you kiss me right now?”
He glanced at the money in her hand.
. ”Do I look like a gigolo to you, woman?”
“No, I imagine the scowl would be terrible for business.” She laughed, the husky sound of it had his muscles clenching. “But I saw you looking at me, and I really need you to kiss me, so if the money’s offensive, would you just do it for free?”
Kiss her for free?
It’d cost if he kissed her—no way out of that, but he’d be the one paying.
She held his gaze, then sighed and squeezed the bill back into her top. “Never mind, I must have misunderstood.”
Her big eyes went soft and sad.
Fuck, did she do that on purpose? Did anyone ever actually say no to her?
He scooted back his chair. Well, if was a kiss she wanted, he’d damned well show her how it’s done.
Her lips parted as he rose, and her head tipped back. She gulped. He was used to that. Little women like her realizing they’d bitten off more than they could chew. She probably hadn’t noticed when he’d been seated that he’d have over a foot on her.