Cora inhaled through her nose, trying to calm herself. She should be okay. The party was crowded and blending in shouldn’t be a problem.
She moved through the main part of the room, grabbing a glass of wine off a passing waiter’s tray and scanning faces for Grace. Usually her friend was hard to miss, but Cora didn’t see her blond head anywhere. Dammit.
She spotted a table in the farthest spot from the hallway. Two women were sitting there, but there was a chair free. She headed that way and retrieved her phone from her purse so she could text Grace.
The women looked up when she reached their table. Cora smiled. “Hi, do you mind if I sit?”
The older of the two women waved a hand. “Not at all, please do. We were just about to go to the bar anyway.”
“Oh, you don’t have to get up. I—”
But they were already up and gathering their things.
God. She was apparently wearing people repellant tonight. She resisted doing a sniff test to make sure her deodorant was working and then plopped down in one of the chairs. The last thing she wanted to do was sit at a table alone again, but she needed to text Grace, and standing around with no one to talk to looked even more conspicuous. She set down her wine so she could type two-thumbed.
Cora: Where r u??? #911
The message sent, but as Cora stared at the screen, no little dots popped up to indicate that Grace was responding. “Come on, where the hell are you?”
She opened up her favorites list, ready to call Grace until she answered, but before she could hit the button to dial, a hand planted on the table right next to Cora’s wine, rattling the glass.
She startled but didn’t look up. That hand was all she could focus on. Because somehow, she knew. Tan skin and long fingers, the edge of a colorful tattoo peeking out from a shirt cuff.
Cora prayed for a trap door. An eject button. An invisibility cloak.
In one fluid motion, the chair across from her was pulled out and dragged closer. Her guest slid into the spot. Uninvited. Unapologetic. His mere presence demanded she respond. There was a sense of... provocation. Almost a dare. Cora forced herself to look up.
Shit. The curse almost slipped out.
It was worse than she’d thought—the looking. The guy could’ve just stepped off the red carpet. Charcoal suit, plum-colored T-shirt, a mess of perfectly styled jet-black hair, and a face that was so beautiful it’d almost seem feminine if not for the hard angle of his jaw and the shadow of stubble. This was a guy who knew he looked good and wasn’t afraid to use it like a weapon.
He gave her an unreadable smile. “This seat taken?”
Her throat felt like it’d narrowed to nothing, but she forced words out. “Seems a little late to ask.”
The man’s coal eyes sparkled, like he was in on some eternal joke. And he was. He knew. Somehow in this sea of people he’d picked out the girl from the dark. He knew she’d just watched him get off in the hallway, and she couldn’t play it off.
“I’m sorry.” She blurted—too loud, too sharp. One hundred percent without grace. Fantastic.
He leaned back in his chair, grabbed a drink off a passing waiter’s tray, and hooked an ankle over his knee, looking like he could literally be comfortable anywhere with anyone. “You were there first. Maybe I should apologize. Though, what you were doing all alone in the dark has got me curious.”
She cleared her throat, trying to tap the brakes on her body’s railroading response to this man. He was a stranger, but they’d shared this intensely sexual moment. Her wires were crossed, her body confused. “I was just trying to find a quiet place to make a call. But I... couldn’t get a good signal. Then... you walked in with your... a woman.”
He smiled and his gaze strayed toward the bar. Cora couldn’t help but follow it. It’s like he’d put his hand on her head to make it turn. At the bar, a woman with a long ponytail and blue maxi dress was in the arms of a man with salt-and-pepper hair. They were kissing—a little too passionately for this kind of party.
And Cora couldn’t help it—she had the thought. Can he taste this man’s come on his girlfriend’s lips? The thought tripped a wire inside her. One it shouldn’t. Her cheeks burned. “If you’re worried that I’m going to say anything, I’m not. Not my business.”
“You’re right. It’s not.” Her companion looked back to her, a secret smile playing around the edges of his mouth. “But it wouldn’t matter if you did. He already knows. He was the one who set it up.”
Cora’s lips parted. On some level, she knew that kind of thing happened. She was no innocent. But she couldn’t hide her knee-jerk reaction or shake off the sense that this man was toying with her. “Then why did you come over here? If you’re not worried about me outing you?”
He frowned, a line appearing between his dark brows. “I don’t recognize you. Have you been to one of Grant’s parties before?”
She straightened. Technically, she wasn’t crashing this thing. Grace’s boss had been the one to get the invite and had let Grace come on his behalf with a plus one. But Cora suddenly felt one hundred percent out of her league and like she’d been left out of some joke. Not that she was going to let this guy know that. “No. Haven’t had time to get to one before now.”
“Well, then I’m over here because things seen out of context by those who don’t know what they’re looking at can be misconstrued and get people in trouble. From the outside looking in, what happened could look... non-consensual. I needed to make sure you understood.”
“You needed to cover your ass. Got it,” she said, unsure why it came out with a biting edge to it. “You’re good.”
His eyebrow arched and he shifted forward in his seat, bracing his forearms on his thighs and pinning her with that gaze. “Plus, I thought I should know the name of the woman who chose to stay and watch while another woman sucked me off.”
The words hit her like a stun gun. Zap! And all she could hear in her head was him saying, Suck it.
She should be offended, disgusted. They should not be having this conversation. Instead, her heart tried to pound out of her chest and her skin went tingly. “You don’t need my name.”
“Mmm.” He nodded. “True. But you want to tell me anyway. Just like you wanted to stay longer and watch it all.”
Roni wrote her first romance novel at age fifteen when she discovered writing about boys was way easier than actually talking to them. Since then, her flirting skills haven’t improved, but she likes to think her storytelling ability has. Though she’ll forever be a New Orleans girl at heart, she now lives in Dallas with her husband and son. If she’s not working on her latest sexy story, you can find her reading, watching reality television, or indulging in her unhealthy addiction to rockstars, er, rock concerts. Yeah, that's it. She is the National Bestselling Author of The Loving on the Edge series from Berkley Heat.
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