Authors: Jules Bennett
“I’ll stay,” she told him in a voice stronger than she truly felt. “We have business to conduct and I don’t like to waste time.”
Those powerful lips were so close, all she had to do was ease forward an inch or less…that would be the real test of her control.
Their previous conversation replayed through her head. “If you don’t get out and give me my half hour, you’re going to win the bet by default and then I’ll have to seek revenge.”
Easing back on his heels, Vincent grinned. “I have some business to take care of first. Feel free to make yourself at home.”
Leaving her staring at his back, Vincent pushed a button and got back on the elevator. With a soft swish of the doors, he was gone.
Evelyn spun around, looking at the spacious, open suite. How many women had Vincent wowed with this place, this near-panoramic view? What number was she? Ten? Twenty? More?
Shaking her head, she took off to find her room. The number of women in Vin’s life didn’t matter. Her attraction didn’t matter either. All she needed to concentrate on was her goal of owning her own company. She couldn’t get sidetracked by a playboy who could, no doubt, make her lose her mind with lust. And that’s all her emotions were—lust.
But damn, what if just one night changed her life forever and let her have the freedom she so needed to break away from the bonds her nightmares had captured her in?
The emerald green wrap-style dress with a full skirt fit her perfectly, which was why she’d chosen the vintage garment. Evelyn looked from side to side in the mirror, making sure she’d tied her sash straight and a boob wouldn’t pop out at an inopportune time. She smoothed a hand down the silken bow tied at her hip and slipped into her gold, strappy heeled sandals.
She hadn’t brought this classic dress with intentions of wearing it to the gala, but the strapless dress was too provocative and throwing any type of added sexual tension on top of what they already had was not a good idea. At. All.
He wasn’t kidding when he said her staying would tempt fate. But if they did indeed take this friendship to another level it would be because she was ready. And she had a feeling that her readiness wouldn’t take long to show itself.
Evelyn smoothed a hand down her silky, straight hair. Just as she stepped from her bedroom, she heard the soft slide of the elevator doors. With her back straight, chin high, she strode down the wide hall with purpose and an outward appearance of confidence, even if her stomach was fluttering with nerves.
Vincent greeted her at the end of the hall, taking her hands in his, and skimming the pads of his thumbs along her knuckles.
“Best one hundred dollars I ever lost,” he told her, curving her arm through his as he led her toward the elevator. “You are stunning. I will be the envy of every man there.”
Evelyn laughed. “I’m sure your money and fame will fuel their envy.”
“Perhaps, but you’ll still turn heads.”
Before he could punch the button for the elevator, Evelyn turned toward him and laid a hand on his chest. “I know you’re used to laying on the charm every waking moment, but please don’t. You wanted me to accompany you to certain events, business and otherwise, because you wouldn’t need to keep a woman happy. I’m fine without the pretty words. Besides, we’re friends. I’ve heard all your lines before.”
He laughed. “Maybe I’ve saved some just for you.”
Oh mercy, he was good.
“Aren’t I the lucky one,” she teased with a smile. “But don’t overexert yourself. I’m a tough sell.”
Vincent studied her for a moment, then sealed the space between them and captured her lips in a soft, swift kiss.
“We’ll see about that.”
He hit the button and Evelyn had to force herself to get into work mode as they headed down to the art gala.
Okay, so maybe his pretty words wouldn’t drive her to step over the boundary between personal and business, but those sincere kisses and vulnerable looks certainly would.
Once they entered the gala being held in the main ballroom, Evelyn was caught up in the beauty of all the art. Paintings, sculptures, handblown glass. And every piece she looked at, Vincent was right by her side, giving her input and advice. She wasn’t surprised to discover they had the same thoughts for the resort, which made her job that much more enjoyable. And this was the first client she’d worked with whom she knew very, very well.
Hours passed, people mingled and chatted and Evelyn found herself growing tired. She covered her mouth with the back of her hand, but Vincent’s laugh told her she’d been caught.
“Let’s get you back to the room.” He placed his hand on the small of her back. “I’m sure you’re exhausted. The flight alone is exhausting, let alone the fact we headed straight to this.”
She smiled at the few stragglers still admiring the unique pieces. “I’m fine. Just a little yawn.”
Not slowing down, he trudged on. “You picked out quite a few pieces. Besides, I’m getting tired myself.”
Playboy or not, the man had manners, Evelyn thought as they made their way up to his suite. As soon as they entered the penthouse, Evelyn’s breath caught at the marvelous twinkling lights in the city below.
“Go out onto the balcony,” Vin told her. “The view from in here is nothing compared to being outside.”
As tired as she was, she wanted to explore the beauty of a city that some considered ruined. Evelyn slid off her heels and placed them beside the couch en route to the glass door.
The pale orange glow of hundreds of lights added a softness to the old structures jutting from below. As a designer, Evelyn wished she could capture the emotions in her décor. She wanted all of her clients to lose their breath when first laying their eyes on her work. She wanted them to feel like they couldn’t look at all the beauty enough, like everything around them was absolutely perfect.
“It never loses its appeal.”
Vincent’s warm words washed over her. “That’s good,” she told him. “I’d hate to think anyone takes this for granted. I feel like I’m looking down over thousands of years of history. If the buildings could only talk.”
She curled her hands around the lacy wrought-iron rail and gazed all the way to the black horizon. A breeze lifted her hair, sending it dancing around her shoulders, tickling the side of her face. She closed her eyes and inhaled Vincent’s strong masculine scent.
“I’m glad you decided to stay.”
Evelyn glanced to her right where Vincent stood leaning against the rail right next to her. “Me too.”
Gazes locked, Evelyn knew the electrical current binding them together would only get stronger as the days, weeks went on.
Vincent took her shoulders and turned her toward him. She started to protest, only to realize he wasn’t going to kiss her. He wrapped an arm around her waist and took her hand in his free one.
“Dance with me,” he whispered against her cheek. “We’ve never danced before. The night calls for it.”
The emotions sweeping through her weren’t real, at least that’s what she told herself as she melted against Vincent’s strong, hard body. The ambience, the fact that they were attracted to each other and had shared a few kisses, all of it played a roll in messing with her mind, in thinking this moment was something really special…like the start of something more.
But this was Vin, her brother’s best friend, the man she argued with over the smallest things in life…the man who’d always secretly captured her attention by simply being.
She wanted to enjoy this moment, so she closed her eyes, leaned her face against his chest and let him lead the dance to the music of the night. Only the gentle scuff of his dress shoes against the concrete and the subtle shift of her A-line skirt against her legs broke the silence.
“If this is a dream,” she told him as they continued to sway together, “don’t wake me.”
His soft chuckle vibrated through his chest. “Tell me your dreams, Evie.”
Tell him? A man who could buy any dream he wanted? But the night, the moment felt magical, so she spoke from her heart.
“I want to start my own company.” Evelyn let the warmth from his strong hands comfort her. “I love designing, but I want to take my talent to the next level and create my own line of furnishings and décor. If this design company takes off, that’s my next step.”
Vin stopped, eased back and looked down at her. She hadn’t told a soul except Dylan what her ambitions were once she got her own business up and running where she was comfortable enough to step out on another ledge, so her breath held in her throat, waiting for the response of a man who shouldn’t carry any weight in her dreams.
“You’ll be amazing,” he told her with a confident smile. “Absolutely amazing.”
Unable to stop her own grin, Evelyn exhaled. “Thank you. I certainly hope so.”
“Why are you so tense when you discuss your dreams?”
He’d noticed? Of course a man like Vincent Hawk would notice any subtle change in a woman’s body. And he knew her well enough to see those changes. Shame he wasn’t in the market for a long-term relationship with a woman who had a lot of extra baggage from her past that she carried in her trunk. If he was, they’d make the perfect couple.
“I’m nervous,” she admitted. “I’m not sure I’ll make it and I’m going to be using all of my savings to start the design company. Dylan offered to pitch in, but I wanted to do this on my own.”
Vincent gathered her close again and began moving to the music of the night. “I completely understand, but I want in on this business venture.”
He held tight when she tried to pull away and he cut her off, “I honor your wishes to start the company alone, but when I see a wise investment, I want to make it.”
Evelyn kept her eyes on his as they moved together. With Vincent Hawk backing her, she would certainly gain clientele she’d maybe not have for several years into her work. How could she turn him down?
But, as her brother had taught her, always think before speaking…especially about business.
“I’ll let you know,” she said, pleased when his smile widened.
“Smart girl to think first.”
As Evelyn studied him, she thought back to something he’d said days ago.
“Tell me what your dreams are. I’ve heard you hint to something secretive for a while now.” She smiled, quirked a brow. “I bet you’re ready to settle down, marry and have two-point-five kids. How close am I?”
Vin laughed. “Actually, not too far off the mark.”
Shock consumed her. “You want to marry?”
His eyes drifted away. “Mine aren’t nearly as interesting as yours.”
“Come on,” she joked. “We’ve been friends long enough. I think you know I’ll only laugh for a minute.”
Never missing a step or taking his eyes from hers, he said, “I want a baby.”
“A baby?” she echoed. “That’s…not at all what I was expecting.”
Vin nodded. “And before you make some smart-ass remark about my lifestyle, I want a family and the whole thing. Wife, marriage, all of it.”
He didn’t want to be laughed at for such a basic, usually female goal. But there it was, the truth. He wanted a wife and children.
“I had no idea you were so passionate about this. Do you plan on marrying just anybody or does love factor into your plans?”
He shook his head. “I’d love to marry for love, but the woman I’m currently interested in isn’t exactly ready to date, much less marry. I’ve actually even thought of a surrogate.”
Evie froze, bringing their dancing to a standstill. “You think a woman is just going to get pregnant with your baby and hand the child over?”
“Calm down,” he told her. “I’m not going to do it, I said I’d thought about it. I’m pretty anxious to have a family of my own.”
Evie turned, her full skirt swishing around as she moved to the railing. “You really want this. I honestly never knew you thought of much else other than business.”
“I think a lot about my personal life,” he told her. “Especially now that you’re back.”
Evie jerked around. “I don’t want this working relationship to get in the way of our friendship or anything else that happens between us, Vin.”
Vin stepped toward her. “You know me, Evie. You know when I want something I go after it.”
Her eyes misted and Vin wondered what had happened. Did he miss something that had upset her? Was he being too aggressive? Too vague in his goals? Perhaps he was going about this the wrong way, but he truly wanted Evelyn in his life and he believed they had a chance if he could just get past whatever kept that shield up over her heart.
“Sometimes being aggressive, going after what you want can hurt others in the process,” she whispered. “Sometimes demands can ruin people.”
Before he could figure out what she was talking about, she’d fled the balcony and her bedroom door had slammed.
Vin shoved his hands through his hair and cursed.
Evie refused to admit she was avoiding Vin, even though she had gotten up before him and had left the penthouse before he ever came out of his room.