Read Sarasota Bride Online

Authors: Talyn Scott

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Erotica, #Romantic Erotica, #Suspense

Sarasota Bride (4 page)

BOOK: Sarasota Bride
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“Call in.”

“I can’t,” she explained. “It’s a special production for the children’s hospital fundraiser. They’ll fire me…I love that job. I need that job.”

“Trey said he would send a donation, an
obscene
donation in your name promising more Easton funding. Your job will be guaranteed. Anything else?”

Yeah, she’d rather work at the theater than stay at the hotel. “Money makes things really easy for you, doesn’t it?”

“It doesn’t hurt.” He received another text, his mouth going into an immediate tight line. “My assistant called Stephen for you.”

“What?” Why in the hell would his assistant call Stephen?

“She told him that you were staying here for security reasons, that he should meet you downstairs at the waterside cafe by seven.”

Libby’s teeth clanked together. “Why are my dates suddenly being arranged?”

Drake waved his phone at her. “I’m sure Stephen has heard the news of your engagement by now.” He sighed. “I’m sorry these images were taken, but you need to tell him yourself. That’s part of Trey’s deal.” He curled his finger beneath her chin. “You are expected to break up with your boyfriend, remember? You’re engaged now.”

“This isn’t…”

Drake interrupted her, “Fair? You made it clear that you don’t want my opinion, so I won’t offer it. The decision rests on you. Are you going to stick to the agreement or not?”

Chapter Five

Libby followed a winding hall leading to a set of elevators anchored to the main lobby. She stepped in, punched a button denoting the harbor, and held her stomach as the elevator car plunged. Her two bodyguards silently stood next to her, one glancing indiscreetly — or so he thought — at her small breasts. The summer dress she’d chosen from Trey’s purchases was a butter-yellow, off-the-shoulder number that plumped her small mounds and created an actual cleavage, accenting an area society would deem lacking. But with her leaner body and too-skinny legs, breast implants would have looked like soccer balls protruding from her chest, not that she’d ever considered them. Libby always figured that if a man couldn’t love the body that she was in, then she couldn’t love the body that he was in. So following that rule made life simpler when stripping down naked and baring her all.

A ding sounded before the doors opened.
Gaslights lit the walkways outside, flickering beneath the tail end of the setting sun. She pushed back her curls, wishing she’d had the resources to straighten her long hair instead of blow-drying it. But she hadn’t her usual arsenal of beauty products with her, and thirty minutes to become presentable for any Easton restaurant, waterside cafe or not, was a nerve-wrecking undertaking. She sighed as she stepped onto the palazzo. Who was she kidding? She never found dressing for an event or a night out nerve wrecking. Simply, her life had been turned into a nerve-wrecking event, and, right now, she had no control over anything. Unless she could allow her father to go to jail…and face her mother during the countless years he was incarcerated.

Currently, her most immediate predicament was standing next to a wrought iron high table, holding out his hand for her. Stephen. He was wearing her favorite True Religion jeans, the ones that hugged his perfect ass just…perfectly. His auburn hair glowed gold under the gaslights but there was no twinkle in his green eyes, no youthful smile that usually told her everything was going to be okay.

“How’s Payton?”

Dylan had texted her on the hour. “She’s doing better than the doctor expected. She’s on her way here.”

“Give her my best, when you see her.”

She was going to see Payton first thing in the morning, after all the drugs wore off and she’d rested thoroughly. “I will.”

“You look,” he stopped and took her in from the bottom of her sixteen hundred dollar stilettos to her wild mane of blonde curls, “amazing.”

She didn’t feel amazing wearing Trey’s luxurious gifts. In fact, she felt like shit. Because she was about to act like a shit to keep her tiny piece of the world revolving on its axis. “You always make me feel good about myself, Stephen.” He leaned down so she could kiss him. It was brief brush of the lips, chaste even, but her heart thudded against her ribs. He helped her in her chair, his moss green eyes dropping to her left hand, searching, no doubt, for the ring she conveniently hid beneath the mattress upstairs. So he already knew, just as Drake had predicted.

“I always mean every word,” he said quietly, gesturing to the appletini he’d ordered her. His shirtsleeves were cuffed high on his tanned forearms, his gold watch showing she was half an hour late.

“Thank you.” She took a sip, and then three more. “I’m sorry I’m late.”

“I imagine you were shoring your courage,” he replied, a tick forming in his jaw. “Have you been seeing him the entire time we were together?” His fingers clenched around his whiskey glass, and she was afraid it would shatter in his hand.

“No.”

He went on as if he hadn’t heard her. “I mean if you wanted to play it like that, I would have dated others, too.”

This was awful, all sorts of awful. “I never cheated on you.” She threw back her drink and motioned for the server. Something stronger was needed pronto. “I don’t expect you to believe me.”

“It’s hard to believe you’re suddenly engaged to someone you haven’t even dated.”

This was basically the case, except she’d secretly dated Trey when she was sixteen. “I’ll never be able to explain adequately.” She could explain, but if Stephen wanted to retaliate or even repeated her story in passing, he could inevitably send her father to jail. And she couldn’t risk it. “I’ll never be able to apologize enough, but I am truly, truly sorry.”

He opened his mouth to reply when the server brought their food. Sensing the tension, she quietly placed a small platter of antipasto down, followed by chilled shrimp with lemon and horseradish sauce, and then a fig and almond cake accompanied by red table grapes. All her favorites, she realized. Stephen was always considerate of her whenever he had time to spend away from his catering business. And lately, he’d spent fewer times with her due to the demands of a suddenly flourishing business, yet her heart chipped a little more at this final gesture. But there wasn’t any way she could swallow this food — this last meal between them.

“Prosecco Maschio Veneto,” the server said with a small flourish, presenting the wine for Stephen to taste.

He sipped and smiled. “Go ahead and pour.” After another tense beat the server quickly left the table. “I really don’t need your explanations, Libby, or even your apologies. I only want your word that I won’t lose the business I’ve gained with The Easton Company.”

Her throat tightened. “I don’t have anything to do with The Easton Company, apart from my battles keeping the firehouse.”

He speared a shrimp half-heartedly. “Aw, come on. You did what you had to do.”

“What I had to do?” She downed her wine, finishing the whole damn glass and he poured her another. This was Payton all over again, the media accusing her of sleeping with Dylan to gain her firehouse. “I didn’t…. You know me better than that, Stephen.”

“Do I?” He sat down the fork calmly, slowly. “Just give me your word I won’t lose my income due to Trey Easton’s jealousies.”

Her spine stiffened. “I distinctly recall getting you a lot of your business, Stephen, with my parents’ connections,” she reminded. “In fact, if I’m remembering clearly — and I think I am — you had two catering vans and one small kitchen when we first started dating.” She sifted through their conversations, remembering how he networked at her parents’ various functions. “Presently,” she asked, eyeballing him hard, “how many vans do you have…a fleet? And how many locations do you now own?”

He waved a negligent hand. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Apparently, it does,” she snapped, sitting back in her chair. “Or you wouldn’t have brought up this money issue.”

He gave up all pretense of eating. “This is what matters, Libby. The Easton Company makes up sixty-five percent of my income. If they bail, I have more than one hundred employees who will lose their jobs.”

When she’d met him, he only had five full-timers and four part-timers. Figuring she knew the answer to this, she asked anyway, “When I helped you serve at this very place,” she inquired, waving an encompassing hand around the harbor, “for the masquerade fundraiser, was that your first job with The Easton Company?”

He shifted almost nervously. “No.”

He heart took a nosedive. “Would you mind telling me when The Easton Company offered you your first catering job?”

He closed his eyes and finished his wine. When he opened them and looked at her, Stephen seemed ashamed. “The first day I escorted you to the mediation regarding the firehouse, I received a phone call that evening.”

“You didn’t fine it coincidental?” In her mind’s eye, she watched Trey’s calculating threads weave between her and Stephen’s relationship.

“Honestly, yes.” He shrugged dismissively. “I’m not stupid. You may have helped me dip into social circles I normally wouldn’t have been a part of for years, if ever, but the money The Easton Company offered me was the paragon of the Midas touch when compared to what I was making. Why would I turn that down? No one would, so don’t read into this, Libby.”

She wanted to ask him if he would have stayed with her or even started with her, if she hadn’t had her connections. But she knew the answer to that question. Oddly, she wasn’t even mad at Trey over this. In a weird way, he’d done her a favor by showing her Stephen for what he was. Not that she owed Trey any gratitude. “I wish you all the best Stephen.” Libby got to her feet, shoved her clutch under her arm, and set her sights on an intimate cigar bar adjacent to Tower Amore. “I really do.”

Forty-five minutes later, Libby was on her fourth Sarasota Snocker. Her heart was numb yet her head felt oddly right. “What’s in this stuff?” She handed her server the room key Drake had left for her, and his eyes widened in appreciation. For her or for the card key, she hadn’t a clue which, but he was so hot she hoped for the former.

“Stoli, pucker, and butterscotch Schnapps,” he said with an endearing smile, two dimples lining his sun kissed cheeks. “I’m Chad, and I get off in an hour.”

And she wanted to fuck him and forget the world, but he worked for her illustrious fiancé and she didn’t want him to lose his job. “Well, Chad, I am flattered but I’m waiting for someone,” she lied quietly, her eyes boldly raking his athletic body. Her bodyguards tucked in the far corner of the bar didn’t seem to care whom she talked to or flirted with, so when she found a potential someone not on Easton payroll, she was going for it. Call it her liberation from men intent on cunningly using her.

He winked. “Let me know if you change your mind.”

She clutched her forehead, her thoughts swimming a bit. “Believe me, I’m trouble for you.”

“Nothing wrong with trouble,” he said with laugh. “How about another drink?”

“One more,” she said. Libby would keep her buzz going, but she didn’t want to get drunk. Forgetting Stephen and Trey was one thing, forgetting whatever guy she was going to fuck was a no-go. She wanted to remember her random night of selfish sex. Maybe the memory of a stranger taking her in hotbed of a passion would keep her warm on those cold and lonely nights to come.

“I’ll have another, too,” a raspy baritone said from behind her.

Chad’s eyes widened. “Of course, Mr. Hudson.”

Libby’s fingers froze on her glass. Stellan Hudson?
The
Stellan Hudson she listened to on her playlist? The man millions of women screamed for all the way around the world?

He moved to her line of vision, gesturing to the empty chair next to her. “May I?”

“Go ahead.” Yes, it was Stellan all right, in all his delicious glory. The ice-blue eyes she’d seen peering at her from countless pictures, his crazy-toned body she’d masturbated to on more occasions than she cared to remember. The fiercely talented albeit horny asshat who’d screwed over Noah because Noah had refused to screw Stellan’s sub.

He slid onto the seat, staring as though he intended to devour her. Hell, his eyes burned her skin wherever they landed. He reached out, and she thought he was going to take her hand. Instead, he took her glass, sipping from the side circled with her lip-gloss. “I have a thing for lipstick rings.”

Shit. Shit. Shit. She wanted an anonymous hookup for one lousy night and the winner is: someone who screwed over her best friend. It couldn’t happen. It wouldn’t happen. And she intended on telling him why. “Well, Mr. Hudson that’s as close as you’re going to get to my lipstick ring.”

“How you figure?”

“Noah Wyatt.”

He sat down her glass and lifted her left hand, studying it. “I know you’re not fucking him.”

She jerked her hand away, refusing her drink when he offered it back. Libby didn’t care to drink after him, but her appetite for alcohol had instantly diminished. “You wanted to audition everything but his actual talent. Pretty heartless and unprofessional move.”

Those ice-blue eyes widened. “Wyatt told you that?”

“That and more.”

He shook his head, his inky hair brushing his shoulders. “No wonder he was pissed.”

“Yeah, he
is
pissed and so are his friends.” She raised a brow. “Namely me.”

“I heard him play at Club Saturday.” He trailed his finger over the lip of her glass, gathering the sugar off the rim. “I’d already decided to offer him a position playing bass and backup vocals.”

Noah’s talent surpassed bass and backup vocals, but the opportunity to work with Hudson would be a start in a bigger fishpond. “Then what’s Noah missing?”

He reached across the table and smeared the sugar across her lips, encrusting it over the remnants of her lip-gloss. “You sure you’re not into giving me a lipstick ring?”

“Answer the question,” she whispered, fighting not to lick the tattooed finger stroking the seam of her lips.

The live band bled into another jazz song, and his eyelids lowered, becoming hooded. “I’ll tell you everything, if you tell me why your fiancé is letting you go out dressed like that — all candy innocence.” His eyes bounced to her breasts and back. “Without him by your side or without wearing his ring.”

Slowly she licked the sugar from her lips. “Why would you, of all people, know I have a fiancé?”

“We shared the headlines today.” He shrugged massive shoulders. “I found out you were engaged to Trey Easton, and that I’m breaking up my best friend’s marriage because his wife is carrying my lovechild.”

“Well, I can safely say that half of that is true. Unless you really are the baby daddy.”

BOOK: Sarasota Bride
3.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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