Authors: Paige Prince
by Paige Prince
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
Torquere Press Publishers
P.O. Box 37, Waldo, AR 71770
Stay by Paige Prince Copyright 2016
Editor, Deelylah Mullin
Cover by Kris Norris
Published with permission
All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law. For information address Torquere Press, LLC, P.O. Box 37, Waldo, AR 71770
First Torquere Press Printing: July 2016
Printed in the USA
For Deelylah, who pushes me to write better, faster, stronger… ;)
And, as always, for Grams.
by Paige Prince
After being burned by her ex-fiancé on the day of her wedding, Charlotte “Charlie” Phillips decides to give up on men and focus on her career. That is, until she meets Evan Rodriguez, an up-and-coming star in the World Wrestling Superstars, while on assignment. Their attraction is instantaneous, and they begin a steamy affair. But when Evan decides he wants to get serious, will Charlie run for the hills or will she stay?
Previously published by Secret Cravings Publishing
I stood in the surprisingly large closet of my tiny one bedroom apartment, wrapped in a royal blue terry cloth towel, hands on my hips, and chewed on my bottom lip. “What the ever-loving fuck do you wear on a date with a professional wrestler?”
Jeans would be far too casual, a little black dress, too dressy. I began pulling clothes from their hangers and tossing them on my ruthlessly vacuumed beige carpet as I went. I didn’t want to risk tripping over a random skirt stumbling to bed tonight and risk breaking my nose. Or my leg. Or my head. Also, my OCD wouldn’t allow me to leave a mess behind.
Slacks? Maybe. My gray and blue pinstriped pants looked amazing on me, but if I paired them with a white button up, pearls, and my favorite black stilettos that
looked far too professional. I didn’t want this to look like a business dinner, but I wasn’t sure how much of a
this was actually going to be.
While I had met him doing an interview at the Toyota Center just before the show—the live arena performance simulcast to televisions across the world—he seemed to take an interest in me and asked me to have dinner with him tonight. So, was this a
? Or just him kissing up to me in order to make a better impression on the reporter doing a spotlight on the biggest star in professional wrestling today? Publicity was publicity, after all.
I shook my head and rolled my eyes at myself. Not
men were inconsiderate dickbags. I’d have to remember that if I wanted to get back into the dating world.
I thumbed through several more items, dismissing my red sweater. While it was great for my already impressive cleavage, it was almost seventy-five degrees outside, and I didn’t fancy the idea of sweating through the evening. I already had to use extra product to keep my naturally curly hair straight in the oppressive Houston humidity. Adding sweat to the mix begged for disaster. Or at the very least, me looking like a poodle that’d jammed a paw into a light socket. Not a pretty sight.
I dismissed my pink sleeveless shirt that pushed my cleavage out just a little too much, my collection of vintage T-shirts, my football and soccer jerseys, and the various button-up shirts I’d stolen from previous boyfriends. I didn’t want him thinking I was trying to make him jealous on our first date.
Fuck. I have nothing to wear. And I’m
I threw myself across the queen bed to call my best friend Melinda and stared at the ceiling as I waited for her to answer.
“Hey gorgeous!” she said, turning the music down. “What’s crackalackin?”
“I’m having a minor crisis,” I said, blowing a strand of my long blonde hair out of my eyes. “I’ve got a date tonight, and I don’t know what to wear.”
“Must be someone special if you’re not going with your standard jeans, cami, and button-up.”
“Evan? I don’t know any Evan.”
“Rod…riguez,” I said slowly.
? Wait, sorry, could you repeat that? I think I might’ve hallucinated.”
I pulled the phone away from my head to save my ear from her screech and laughed. “No, you heard right. I interviewed him last night at the show. He waited until we were almost out the door at the end of the evening before he asked me if I wanted to have dinner with him tonight.”
Oh. My. God. Charlie.
Evan. Rodriguez. The Beast, himself! All six foot four inches of muscle-y hotness? And miles and miles of ink across all that gorgeous tanned skin?” I heard her take a couple deep breaths, “Okay, I’m calm. Ish. Do you know where you’re going?”
“Not a clue. He wanted to surprise me, which is great because it shows he actually gives a shit. Unfortunately, that also means I have no idea how to dress.”
I ran my fingers through my carefully straightened hair and prayed a random—and very likely, because Houston is famous for them—May thunderstorm wouldn’t hit and turn my hair into a giant poof ball. Since my hair reaches just past my bra strap, I look pretty ridiculous when it gets frizzy. Not a sight I want to subject the sexiest man I’d ever seen to on our first date.
“You’ve got condoms, right?”
“Yes, Mother.” I wondered if the old wives’ tale about eyes getting stuck when rolled too often was true. Just in case, I looked straight ahead. Better to see the clothes tossed about my room like that, anyway.
“I want you safe. Okay, let me think…what about that blue and white sundress we got a couple months ago in Austin? It’ll bring out your gorgeous blue eyes. Pair it either with your black pumps or some sandals. Wear your white watch, your serenity cross, and your Claddagh. Oh, and leave your hair down. You’ll look classy, but not too dressy.”
“I knew there was a reason I kept you around! Thanks, Mel! I gotta run and finish getting ready, but I’ll call you as soon as I get home to let you know how it went.”
“You better! Have fun. Be safe.”
I laughed. “I will. Love you, bye.” I hung up, tossed my towel in the general direction of the bathroom, and shimmied into the dress.
Thirty minutes and a whirlwind cleaning spree later, I heard a knock at the door. All sense of calm flew out the window and I realized my hands were trembling. I took a deep breath, ordered myself to stop being such a moron, and nearly fell into the wall as I somehow tripped over the corner of my green hand-me-down couch by the door.
Obviously, I’m a little nervous.
Smoothing my hair, I pasted a smile on my face, flipped the lock, and answered the door.
His mouth was the first thing I noticed. No, really. Despite the fact his six four frame put him at a foot taller than me, his smile was so bright and so genuine it was all I could see.
“Hello, Charlotte,” he said, holding out his hand to offer me a single flower. “You look beautiful.”
Somehow managing not to blush, I accepted the bloom, trying to ignore the spark of electricity when our hands brushed. “Thank you, Evan.” I beamed at him. “White lilies are my favorite.” I moved to let him in so I could put the flower in a small vase as he looked around my simply furnished, but homey living room. “Oh, you can call me Charlie. Everyone else does.”
“Okay, Charlie it is.” He gestured to the vase as I placed it on the bar connecting my kitchen and living room. “I didn’t want to show up with the cliché roses or some sad little flowers I grabbed last minute at the gas station.”
“You’re so sweet. Thank you again. And you look very handsome tonight.”
I took in the sight of him in black slacks and a dark blue button-up shirt, his dark hair spiked. My fingers curled into my palms, itching to run through the short strands. So many of my fantasies had starred him looking just like that.
His cheeks began to flush, likely because I had the worst poker face in the world, and there could be little doubt I wanted to climb on him like a jungle gym. Averting my eyes to save us both some embarrassment, I cleared my throat and asked, “Should we go? I’m hungry.”
He nodded. “Let’s.”
The little black bag I grabbed for the evening was barely a purse, but it held my phone, credit card, license, keys, and lipstick, so I guessed it’d do. For tonight. But I normally didn’t carry a purse unless it could fit my Kindle and a notebook with several pens. I never knew when a story could hit, and a reporter is always on call.
Evan took my arm after I locked up the apartment and led me to his SUV.
“Very nice,” I said, running my hand over the lines of the hood. “Supercharged Range Rover in Fuji white. V8 engine with 501 horsepower, stock.” I took a peek at the wheels, careful not to bend over too far and let my dress flash more than I was ready to show. “Twenty-two inch seven split spoke wheels with diamond turned finish.”
When I looked back over at Evan, his mouth hung open as he stared at me. He rubbed his neck in an “aw, shucks” move and shrugged at my raised eyebrow. “Sorry, you just didn’t strike me as a car enthusiast.”
The alarm chirped as he unlocked the vehicle with the key fob, and he opened the door for me. “I know. You’ve only seen me in my girl clothes. I spent the last few years around cars, learning everything I never wanted to know about them.”
He made sure I was securely inside, then ran around to the driver’s side, climbing in before he asked, “Why didn’t you want to know about cars?”
I shrugged. “I wasn’t ever into them before. I liked baking, reading, and animals. Cars just never registered on my radar.”
The GPS on Evan’s phone told him to make a right out of my complex. “And yet, you know everything about my rental, down to the tires.”
“Spent some time with some people who knew cars. I picked up a few things.” I really didn’t want to get into any kind of discussion about my ex, so I not-so-tactfully changed the subject. “So…where are we going?”
“I was thinking Cullen’s Grille, if that’s okay with you. It’s fairly close, and I got several recommendations from the staff at the hotel.”
“That sounds fabulous. The chef is world-renowned.”
He shot me an inquisitive look as the GPS warned him about an upcoming turn. “I minored in culinary arts in college. Food is a passion for me.”
“So you’re a chef?”
“If I chose to work in a restaurant, I could apply for the position, yes.”
“So why don’t you?” He glanced my way as he pulled to a stop at the light before NASA Road 1, letting me know I had his full attention.
“I’m a bit of a food snob. If I take the time to prepare a meal, and then you immediately reach for the condiments, I get offended. If you want changes or substitutions, I get irritated…can you imagine a chef like that? The restaurant would go under in a week. But I do miss being in the kitchen, creating a meal for more than just myself or for a friend’s party.”
He laughed, and we talked about some of our favorite restaurants as he navigated his way to Cullen’s.
When we arrived, he smiled at the valet whose color drained from his face the minute he saw Evan. The poor kid’s hands shook so badly, he dropped the keys before he managed to stutter, “Thank you Mr.…Mr. Rodriguez. Enjoy your evening.”
“Get that a lot?” I asked as we went inside.
“Sometimes. It’s usually worse in the bigger cities. I’m kind of glad we’re in the outskirts of Houston.”
“So am I. I don’t like large crowds and adore the open space of the country. This is the best of both worlds.”
He took my hand to help me slide into one of the booths in the corner of the dining area, and I marveled that
was holding my hand and smiling at me. His deep brown eyes locked with mine, he listened as though I were the only person in the room.
A single hurricane lamp lit the table, the flickering light provided by a battery-operated candle. It provided the romantic ambiance without the heat. Looking up, a brilliant chandelier and several small hanging bulbs made the room so beautiful; I thought we’d stepped into a fairyland.
After I’d gotten home last night, I’d done an internet search on Evan. Okay, I did that before the interview, but last night I’d done a more specific search—
Evan Rodriguez girlfriend
. Stalkerish? Perhaps. But I had to know what I was getting myself into by accepting a date with him.
The first picture I’d come across looked like a promotional picture of Evan and one of the female wrestlers I’d met at the show last night. Not a big deal, they did press a lot. The next few were of Evan and a tiny, tanned, young girl with short blonde hair. There actually were quite a few with her, so she might have actually been a girlfriend. Another few pictures showed him with girl of similar build and age with short dark hair.
None of the sites I found—gossip or otherwise—stated Evan was in any kind of relationship at the moment, though they had mentioned a former flame that lasted roughly two years.
Over the course of my dating career—hell, my entire life—I’d wished countless times I were better at small talk. But with Evan, it seemed so effortless. We talked about my job, since I’d asked him all about his in my interview the night before. I told him about attending the University of Houston and freelancing for the Gazette, which is how I came to do the interview with him in the first place.
After the newspaper-induced inquisition was over, he’d charmed me with tales of the other wrestlers’ backstage antics, and I’d taught him how to rig a crab trap with some crude drawings on a napkin I’d randomly found stashed in the bottom of my purse. He asked me to dinner as I began to walk out of the junket room. I couldn’t possibly have resisted him.
“Oh God, this is delicious! No wonder this is the house specialty. Would you like a bite?” I offered a bite of food before I remembered we didn’t know each other well, but he leaned over and took the bite I offered, never taking his eyes off mine.
I’d been trying to ignore the fact that the mere thought of Evan Rodriguez sent my hormones into overdrive, but the look in his eyes as he took my fork into his mouth set my insides on fire. It was a wonder I didn’t burst into flame.
“Mmm,”—he was still looking directly at me as he spoke—“that’s delicious.”