“I’ll be checking on you,” he said.
She nodded. And then, as he started to melt back into the shadows of the alley, she looked up and said, “Be careful, Jack. Please?”
His smile was just as shadowy as the night. “Always, babe.”
She watched him go as the knot in her throat grew bigger. Damn it. Rage built but she knew it was also a useless emotion. Her fingers curled and uncurled at her sides and the itch invaded. The need, the craving. She fought it, but it was a hard battle. A victory that wasn’t completely solidified. She hadn’t thought about the pills in a long while, but tonight the need was there, ensconced in hunger and emotional pain.
The need for oblivion. Just that short window of time when everything felt better and more manageable. When things looked up, even if for a few short hours.
She couldn’t go back to that. She’d fought too hard to make it out and she’d lost everything in the process. Some might say that would be even more reason to allow herself that slow slide back into the inky past. But she had to be strong. She wasn’t that person any longer.
The dry question startled her and she whirled around, her heart racing as she took in the man standing across the kitchen staring at her.
He was one of the richies. A guest at the party. More than just a guest, as Bethany had seen him close to the couple celebrating their engagement. And God, but the man was gorgeous. Smooth. Polished. Like he’d stepped right out of a magazine solely devoted to everything beautiful and wealthy. A world she damn well didn’t belong in.
He shoved his hands into those expensive slacks and continued to stare at her, his pose indolent and arrogant. His green eyes flicked over her as if judging her, almost as if he were considering whether to deem her worthy. Of what? His notice? It was a ridiculous thought.
He had blond hair. And she’d never really been attracted to blond men, but his hair wasn’t simply blond. It had at least four different shades, ranging from muddy to wheat and all shades in between. He was so gorgeous that it hurt to look at him.
“You going to answer me?” he asked mildly.
Mutely, she shook her head and, to her surprise, he laughed.
“Is that no you’re not going to answer me, or no he’s not your boyfriend?”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” she whispered.
“Thank f**k for that,” he muttered.
She blinked in complete surprise and then her eyes narrowed as he advanced toward her. Quickly she moved to the side so she wouldn’t be pinned against the door. She couldn’t leave, so running wasn’t an option. She needed the other half of her pay too badly and she wanted that food.
But just as quickly he closed in on her again, moving into her space until her pulse leapt erratically and she began to eye the alley door, suddenly uncaring whether she’d get paid or not.
“What’s your name?”
She glanced up at him. “Uhm, does it matter?”
He paused a moment, cocked his head to the side and then said, “Yeah. It matters.”
“Why?” she whispered.
“Because we’re not in the habit of f**king women we don’t know the name of,” he said bluntly.
Whoa. There was so much wrong with that statement she didn’t even know where to begin. She put her hand up in automatic defense before he could get any closer.
“We?” she demanded. “We? What are you talking about? Who the hell is we? And I’m not f**king anyone. You. We. They. No way.”
“Jace wants you.”
“Who the f**k is Jace?”
“And I’ve decided I want you.”
She barely suppressed her snarl of rage. Barely. She grit her teeth and then went on the attack.
“I am not putting up with sexual harassment on the job. I’m filing a complaint and then I’m out of here.”
To her further surprise, he merely grinned and then reached out to touch her cheek.
“Cool your jets, sweetheart. I’m not harassing. I’m propositioning. Big difference.”
“Maybe in your book,” she pointed out.
He shrugged like he didn’t particularly care if she agreed.
“Who the hell is Jace?” she repeated. “And who are you? You don’t proposition a woman without giving your name. And you have problems not knowing a woman’s name before going to bed with her? What is wrong with you? You didn’t even introduce yourself.”
He laughed again and it was a warm hum that felt so good she wanted to hang on to it forever. It was a carefree sound and she bitterly resented it, was so jealous she wanted to burn with envy. This was a man who had no problems. Had no cares—except who he wanted to go to bed with next.
“My name is Ash. Jace is my best friend.”
“I’m Bethany,” she said reluctantly. Then her eyes narrowed. “And you both ‘want’ me?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Not so unusual. We share women. A lot. Threesomes. You ever had one? Because if not, I guarantee we’ll make it an experience you won’t forget.”
Her nostrils flared. “Yeah. I have. Nothing special.”
Something flickered in his eyes. She could tell she’d surprised him but oh well. He should expect to have it handed back to him when he made outrageous propositions like this.
“Then maybe you’re f**king the wrong men.”
Her eyes went wide at that because what could she possibly say in response? There was no doubt she’d made a habit of f**king the wrong men. No earth-shattering discovery there.
The sound was explosive in the confined area of the kitchen and Bethany jerked her head up to see another man standing in the doorway, his brooding, dark gaze scorching the flesh right off Ash’s bones. Ash didn’t seem overly bothered that this guy was obviously pissed.
This guy was the one she’d caught watching her when she’d ventured out to bus the tables. Twice. She’d felt his gaze on her. Burning a path over her skin until she’d shivered with the intensity. Where Ash was lighter, carefree, that whole package of wealthy and I know it and I don’t gotta do nothing except what I wanna, this man was . . . He was Ash’s polar opposite.
Intense wasn’t the right word. It didn’t even come close to describing him. He looked like a complete badass, and she knew badasses. She had plenty of experience with men on the street and from the streets, and she had the sudden thought that she’d rather take her chances with the devil she knew rather than this man staring holes through her.
Dark eyes, dark hair. Really great hair. It was mussed and unruly and longish. A lock fell over his forehead and she imagined him pushing it impatiently back without care over whether it messed it up more. It hung down his collar, giving him an untamed, wild look that probably made women want to try to tame him. Tanned skin. Not the fake tan some of the metrosexual pretty boys went for. There was a ruggedness to him even as he screamed wealth and polish like Ash did. It was just a different kind of polish.
Where Ash wore his wealth like a skin, like he’d always known it, this other guy looked like he’d accumulated his wealth later in life and wasn’t yet as comfortable in it as Ash was.
It was a ridiculous assessment, but there it was. There was something dangerous about this other man. Something that made her stand up and take notice.
“Jace,” Ash returned mildly. “Meet Bethany.”
Oh shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
This was the threesome guy? Ash’s best friend? A man involved in the outrageous proposition Ash had just given her?
Jace’s lips tightened and he stalked forward. Bethany instinctively backed away.
“You’re scaring her,” Ash said, a reprimand in his tone.
To Bethany’s surprise, Jace pulled up short, but he was still glaring holes in Ash. At least it wasn’t her he was glaring at.
“I told you not to do this,” Jace said in a quiet, angry voice.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t listen.”
Bethany was utterly confused. But then Jace turned to her and there was something in his gaze that caught her breath.
Not just a look like a man gave a woman when he wanted to f**k her. It was something different and she couldn’t put her finger on it. But then, he’d watched her all night. She knew that because she’d watched him too.
“I’m sorry,” Jace began.
“Does this offer come with dinner?” she blurted.
She was instantly mortified, but she also knew in that one moment when he looked at her, that she didn’t want him to walk away. Not tonight. Tonight, she wanted one night in the sun. Where it was warm and bad things didn’t happen. She wanted one night to forget her life, Jack and all the problems that came with both.
This man could give her that. She was absolutely positive on that count. And if he came with Ash, she’d just have to take that too.
She did not want to walk out of this hotel into the cold and back to what awaited her.
Jace stared at her like she’d grown two heads. His brows drew together and his gaze became even more piercing, like he was peeling her from the inside out.
She gestured toward Ash. “He said you two wanted a threesome. I’m asking if the offer comes with dinner.”
“Well, yeah,” Ash said, his tone suggesting he was insulted.
“Okay then,” she said before she could change her mind.
She knew it was stupid. She knew it was one of the most stupid things she’d ever done, but she wasn’t going back.
“I have to finish here first,” she said while Jace just stood there, silent and brooding, his gaze never leaving her even once. Not to look at Ash. Not to look away. Fixed on her.
“No you don’t,” Ash said. “You can cut out at any time.”
She shook her head. “I get the second half of my pay when I’m done. I have to finish.”
“Party’s about to break up. Gabe’s not going to remain out on a f**king dance floor when what he really wants is Mia at home in his bed,” Ash said. “I’ll cover your second half.”
Bethany went cold and she took a step back, ice forming over her face. Then she shook her head. “I changed my mind.”
“What the fuck?” Ash demanded.
And still Jace stood there. Silent and forbidding, watching her the entire time. It was unnerving and suddenly that alley door was looking better all the time.
“I’m not for sale,” she said in a low voice. “I get that I asked for dinner. I shouldn’t have. You were offering sex. But I won’t be paid for it.”
Pain crept over her. Distant memories, not ebbing. Choices. Consequences. It all drifted together until it was a murky, impenetrable darkness surrounding her. One day. Just one day in the sun. But the sun wasn’t for her. It never had been.
A low, muttered curse tore from Jace’s lips. The first sound he’d made in forever. Then that mouth tightened. He was pissed.
His gaze skated sideways at Ash and it was then she realized he was pissed at Ash. Really pissed.
“I told you not to do this,” Jace ground out. “Fuck it, man. You should have listened to me.”
This was getting worse. Evidently Ash wanted some action. Jace did not. Ash wanted to approach her. Jace did not. Could this get any more humiliating?
“I’ve got to get back to work,” she said, hastily backing away until her escape route to the door leading back into the ballroom was secure.
And just as quickly, Jace was there, sliding over, a barrier to her freedom. He was so close she could smell him, could feel his heat wrapping around her and it felt so damn good that she wanted to do something really stupid and lean into him. Just so she could feel it brush over her skin.
Then his fingers slid underneath her chin, a touch so gentle she couldn’t help but respond, lifting with him so that her gaze met his.
“You finish work. We’ll wait. Then we’ll have dinner. Anything in particular you like? And do you want to go out or eat in the hotel room?”
The questions were softly worded. They sounded intimate. He never looked at Ash once. His stare was solidly fixed on her and she was too mesmerized to look away. And she promptly forgot that she’d changed her mind about sleeping with them.
Jerking herself from the intensity of the moment, she glanced down, taking in her clothing. There was no going home and changing. No home. No clothes. Certainly nothing she could wear to any place these two would set foot in.
She cleared her throat. “Hotel is fine, and I don’t care. If it’s hot and tastes good, I’ll eat it. Nothing too fancy. In fact, what I really want is a burger. And fries.”
She’d kill for both right now.
“And orange juice,” she finished in a rush.
Amusement glimmered on Ash’s lips but Jace was still utterly serious.
“Hamburger. Fries. Orange juice. I think I can handle that,” Jace said. Then he checked his watch. “People will be cleared out in fifteen. How much time you need to finish?”
She blinked. “Uh, not everyone will clear out in fifteen minutes. I mean even if the guests of honor leave, people always hang out afterward. Especially when there’s food and drink.”
He cut her off before she could say more.
“Fifteen minutes, Bethany. They’ll be gone.”
It was a promise. It wasn’t speculation on his part.
“How much time you need?” he asked impatiently.
“Thirty minutes maybe?” she guessed.
He touched her again, his fingers gliding over her cheek and up to her temple, where he toyed with loose tendrils that had fallen from her clip.