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Authors: Janelle Denison

Wilde for Him (9 page)

BOOK: Wilde for Him
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Inhaling a slow, even breath, she shifted her gaze from Ronnie to Madison as they continued to chat and laugh about something her friend said, and Christine smiled and pretended to join in on the amusement. She took another long drink of her martini and was grateful when the liquid slid down her throat much more smoothly than the first few sips had.

Over the next hour and a half, the five of them talked about inconsequential things and laughed like old friends. One drink turned into two, then a third that she didn't quite finish, and Christine decided it was just what she needed to relax, enjoy herself, and have a good time.

"Uh-oh," Ronnie said, her suddenly narrowed gaze honing in on something beyond Christine's shoulder. "You'll never guess whose working the room behind you."

Christine didn't turn around to look. She didn't have to. Craig had warned her that her nemesis would be at Envy tonight, and that's the only person she knew that could shift Ronnie's easygoing personality into protective mode on Christine's behalf.

"It's Leanne, I'm sure," Christine said.

Madison, who'd taken a peek at the people mingling behind them as soon as Ronnie made her comment, now stared at Christine in surprise. "How did you know?"

"I have great radar when it comes to her." Feeling carefree and lighter than air, Christine grinned. "Maybe if I hide she won't notice I'm here."

Without thinking her actions through, not that she was thinking all that logically at the moment, Christine buried her face against Ben's neck to shield herself from Leanne's predatory gaze that always seemed to pick her out in a crowd. One deep breath later, she realized her mistake. The warm, heady male scent of him curled through her senses like a hypnotic drug. She grazed his neck with her lips, touched her tongue to his skin, and the broad hand still on her thigh tightened in reaction.

Ben's fingers tangled gently in her hair, and he tipped her head back so that she was looking into his dark, intense eyes. Forgetting everything but the two of them and the undeniable desire wrapping around her, teasing her with something so deliciously forbidden she licked her bottom lip in anticipation. She wanted to kiss him so badly, ached to see if all the heat and chemistry between them was everything she'd fantasized it would be.

He smiled at her—a sexy, bad boy grin that added to the chaos smoldering within her. "I think three drinks is right about your limit," he murmured huskily, seemingly sensing the direction her thoughts had traveled. "Who's Leanne, Christy?"

His gaze was curious, but she was sober enough to realize he'd switched to bodyguard mode. With the threat hanging over her family, his job was to make sure he knew everyone around her.

"She's just the most miserable, spiteful bitch you'd ever want to meet," Ronnie said before Christy could offer a polite, diluted version of Leanne's character. "Don't let the smile fool ya. Once you turn away from her she'll stab you in the back and give the knife an extra twist while she's at it."

Ben casually glanced over his shoulder to check out the woman they were talking about, and Ronnie was once again quick to pipe in with her own helpful description of Leanne.

"You can't miss her," Ronnie said. "She's the bleached blonde in the tight pink dress and big, in-your-face breasts."

Madison choked on her own laughter. "Geez, Ronnie, tell it like it is, why don't you?"

Mark smirked. "You should know by now that Ronnie isn't one to sugarcoat the truth. Besides, Leanne's reputation precedes her."

Ben glanced back at Christine, raising a dark, inquiring brow. "And you know her, how?"

"She's sort of a business rival," she said with a shrug. "She's a club promoter who is trying to expand her contacts, and she resents the fact that Craig has helped me so much in getting my event planning business off to such a great start." Seeing the concern in his gaze, she added, "I know who and what I'm dealing with, Ben."

He nodded, but she knew he'd just added Leanne to a mental list in his mind of people he needed to keep a close eye on.

"I need to go to the ladies' room." Madison stood and glanced at Christine. "Anybody else care to join me?"

"I'm good," Ronnie said with a wave of her hand.

Christine really didn't have to go, but there was no mistaking, or ignoring, the direct look Madison was giving her. "I'll go with you."

Easing off of Ben's lap, Christine stood and smoothed the hem of her skirt down, then reached for the purse that Ben had tucked between himself and the chair cushion. "We'll be right back." She walked away with Madison and did her best to keep out of Leanne's line of sight.

The restroom wasn't far from where they were sitting, and Ben had a clear view of the entrance and exit.

As soon as they were in the women's lounge area of the bathroom, Madison finally asked all the questions that Christine had expected from her good friend and assistant.

"Okay, what's the real deal with Ben?" Madison demanded, her hazel eyes flashing with exasperation. "Who is he, and why are you introducing him as your boyfriend and getting all cozy with him when I know damn well you haven't so much as dated anyone since Jason."

Christine headed over to the large vanity area that spanned one long wall of the room, where a few women were fixing their makeup and fussing with their outfits or hair. Setting her purse on the counter, she rummaged through the contents and pulled out her lip gloss.

She met Madison's gaze in the mirror. "He's not really my boyfriend," she said in a low tone of voice, so that only her friend could hear.

"No kidding." Madison crossed her arms over her chest and waited for Christine to explain.

"He's my bodyguard for the next three weeks, until the election is over." She went on to tell Madison the more private details of the threat her father had received, and how her dad had insisted on twenty-four-hour protection for her.

"I've never seen you get so up close and personal with your other bodyguards in the past." A small smile curved Madison's lips. "Though I do have to say, Ben is a whole lot hotter than those security agents your father normally hires for you."

Christine couldn't argue with that. "You know how Craig has been so persistent in asking me out?"

Madison nodded, causing her straight, smooth bob to brush across her shoulders. "Yes."

"Well, Ben has agreed to act as my pretend boyfriend in order to hopefully make Craig back off until I can get past the birthday party he's throwing for me here at Envy."

"Yeah, well, if the guy could take a nice, gentle rejection, he would have already backed off by now," her friend pointed out.

"He obviously can't, and I just need to be careful about how I handle things with him." Christine swiped her bottom lip with the pink gloss, noticing how flushed her cheeks looked, and how bright her eyes were. She knew her rosy glow was due to all that sensual awareness between her and Ben rather than any of the drinks she'd consumed. "So, if you can just play along, I'd really appreciate it."

"Sure, I can do that." Madison's gaze narrowed just a bit as she studied Christine's reflection. "But why do I get the feeling that there's a little more than just pretending going on between the two of you?"

"The attraction is real. It's been there between us for months," Christine admitted. Tucking her lip gloss back into her purse, she snapped it shut and sighed. "Unfortunately, Ben is all business."

Madison tipped her head. "Unfortunately?"

Christine shrugged and grinned. "What can I say? The guys turns me on like no one else ever has, and I'd love to see where all that sexual tension between us might lead, but he's been real good about not crossing any of those ethical lines, if you know what I mean."

"Maybe you ought to give him a little shove," Madison suggested, a shameless gleam in her eyes. "I mean, you'll be spending a whole lot of alone time at your place. It's definitely something to think about."

With that brazen comment hanging in the air, Madison left her to take care of personal business.

Christine ran her fingers through her wavy hair to give it more of a tousled look while she thought about Madison's parting remark. The big flaw in her friend's scenario was the fact that Christine had never, ever, been aggressive when it came to men, and Madison's idea to seduce Ben would definitely require someone far more bold and daring than she'd ever been. But the notion did intrigue her—more than was probably wise or prudent.

When Madison returned, they headed out of the rest-room together and made their way through the growing crowd of people filling the lounge and bar area. Halfway to where they'd been sitting, Leanne seemingly appeared out of nowhere, stepping in front of them and blocking their path. Christine was forced to come to an abrupt stop or risk colliding with those thrust-out breasts of hers.

The other woman was holding a fresh cocktail and sported an insincere smile. "I heard Craig gave you the O'Keefe Annual Corporate Dinner Cruise account." Her tone was more accusatory than friendly.

Such a nice, typical greeting for Leanne, Christine thought sarcastically. "Craig didn't give me anything, Leanne," she replied, determined to put Leanne firmly in her place with the facts. "He passed my name on to Lance O'Keefe, who called me to discuss the possibility of me handling the dinner cruise this year. I gave him an estimate, as did a few other event planning companies, and he liked my ideas enough to hire The Big Event for the job. It was all very legitimate."

From behind Leanne, Christine watched as Ben strode purposefully toward her, arriving by her side before Leanne could launch into some kind of rebuttal.

"There you are, sweetheart," Ben said affectionately, and wrapped a strong, protective arm around her waist. "Everything okay?"

Christine smiled at Ben, eternally grateful for his timely interruption. "I'm fine," she told him, then glanced back at Leanne. "Excuse us. My friends are waiting."

Madison, who hated any kind of drama, made a quick beeline back toward where Ronnie and Mark were watching the scene with Leanne unfold from their cozy love seat. Christine started to follow her friend, but Leanne stepped in front of her once again, her gaze roaming with blatant interest down the length of Ben's body.

When the other woman's eyes finally found their way back up to his face, there was no mistaking the predatory smile on her bright pink, painted lips. "Aren't you going to introduce me to whoever this good-looking guy is?" Leanne purred like a cat in heat.

"I'm Ben," he said, taking charge of the situation. "Christine's boyfriend."

Leanne's eyes widened, and her expression took on an incredulous look. "Really? What a surprise. You're so not Christine's type at all." She soothed that insulting remark with a smile meant to be coy and sweet. "Regardless, it's very nice to meet you. I'm Leanne Baker."

"Yes, I know." Ben's tone was bland and completely disinterested. "Ronnie was kind enough to tell me all about you."

Obviously knowing how Ronnie felt about her, and nothing Christine's friend said would have been complimentary, Leanne's too-confident demeanor faltered. Face flushed, she took a drink of her cocktail.

"Christy! I've been looking for you."

Christine heard Craig's deep voice penetrate the noise in the lounge seconds before he joined their small group, overwhelming her with his presence on top of Leanne's personal attack. Standing next to her, on the opposite side of Ben, Craig touched her elbow and stroked his thumb along the inside of her arm much too intimately.

With his pitch-black hair combed neatly away from his handsome face, and dressed in an expensive designer suit, Craig gave her a gently chastising look. "Jodie told me that you brought a friend tonight who was very insistent about paying your tab."

"That would be me," Ben replied possessively as his fingers tightened at Christine's waist.

"Christine's boyfriend," Leanne was quick to inform Craig, knowing how that bit of information would likely stir up a bit of trouble for Christine, and would hopefully, finally, turn Craig's attention her way now that Christine was off the market, so to speak.

That jolt of unexpected news caused Craig's fingers to drop abruptly from her arm. "Oh." Something dark and angry flared in the depths of his eyes, then he blinked, and it was gone. "I didn't realize that Christine was dating anyone." His voice was as tight as his clenched jaw.

Craig had definitely backed off, just as Christine had hoped he would, and she was relieved that her ploy had worked. "We were keeping things quiet, but once we made the decision to date exclusively, we figured it was time to make our relationship public."

A tight frown creased Craig's forehead. "Well, before you leave tonight, I still need to talk to you about your birthday bash here at Envy."

Christine nodded and smiled, glad to see that she hadn't sabotaged her working relationship with Craig in any way. "Sure."

Leanne shifted on her stilettos, looking annoyed that nobody was paying any attention to her. She glanced around the lounge, then met Christine's gaze with a devious glint in her eyes. "Did you happen to see your ex sitting over there at the bar?"

Leanne's announcement caused both Christine and Ben to look over at the bar at the same time. Sure enough, Jason was sitting on a bar stool, tossing back a shot of liquor that the bartender had just set in front of him. He signaled for another shot, gulped that down as well, then turned and stared at her, his eyes narrowed into dark, angry slits.

A foreboding chill shivered down her spine. She'd never seen Jason look so unkempt. His shirt was wrinkled, and his hair, normally cropped short, was long, shaggy, and uncombed. But it was the unbridled rage that she sensed from where she stood that had her stomach churning with uncertainty and dread.

Ben glanced back at Craig. "Christine has a restraining order against Jason, and he's in violation of those terms just by being in the same place as her. Would you mind summoning your security to take care of the problem and escort him out of here?"

"Of course." Retrieving a cell phone from the breast pocket of his suit jacket, Craig pressed a speed dial number. As soon as someone picked up on the other end of the line, he explained the situation, but before his guys could arrive on scene, Jason was sliding off the bar stool and heading toward Christine.

BOOK: Wilde for Him
12.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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