“Where have you been?” The deep voice rocked her back on her heels and the slamming of a car door sent adrenaline rushing through her veins. She grabbed for the can of pepper spray on her keys as her brain slowly registered the hulking figure walking towards her.
She had half a mind to spritz him with the pepper spray anyway. “Damn it, Brandon. You scared me.”
“I shouldn’t have. I’ve been watching you for two blocks. If you’re going to live in a place like this, you need to be aware of your surroundings.” He crossed his arms over his chest, his shirt bunching around his shoulders with the movement.
“You shouldn’t jump out in front of women, or you might find yourself on the wrong end of a can of mace. There, we’re even. One piece of advice for another.” She stepped off the curb, hoping to get across the street and up the stairs before Brandon caught up with her.
His fingers wrapped around her arm, keeping her from fleeing. “I saw Ava.”
Megan froze. The problem with sleeping with the enemy was that they knew exactly where you were vulnerable. She needed to know that her sisters were all right. She hadn’t spoken with either of them since they were thrown out of the hotel and Briana decided to visit the cat-loving aunt they hadn’t seen in twenty years.
They used to talk almost every hour, and now the only sound between them was silence. She needed to hear their voices, but she’d settle for knowing one of them was okay.
She turned to face Brandon, cocking her head to the side and trying to appear haughty for all she was worth, which wasn’t much anymore. “And?”
“She said you had quite the fight, you know, about me. It seems that to her, you were all about defending my honor. And yet when I see you, you can’t be bothered to even step on my toes. What’s that about, Meg?”
“I didn’t have all the facts. It turned out you are every bit as cold and ruthless as my sister thought.”
“Come on now, Meg. Cold isn’t something I’ve ever been around you.”
“You don’t feel the chill?” She stared into his dark eyes, wishing she’d realized that what she’d read as concern for all those years hadn’t been anything close.
He met her gaze and held it, doing the most convincing acting job of appearing hurt. As if she could do him any damage. Nothing another big deal and Gemma Ryan couldn’t soothe, anyway. She shook off his arm and took a step back.
“What else did Ava say?”
“You want to know, get in the car.” He used the remote to unlock the doors on his Escalade.
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“I’m not discussing your sister in the middle of the street. So either you get in the car and let me take you to lunch like the civilized woman you used to be, or we go upstairs to what you call an apartment and talk through what is going on. Your choice.” He opened the passenger door of the SUV and stood beside it.
If he needed to tell her something about Ava in private, it couldn’t be good. Her gut twisted with fear and the memory of the last time she’d seen her older sister. They’d fought horribly about where to go and what to do. Ava had always let men use her, sleeping with guys who didn’t deserve her time, let alone her body. And she’d thought that was the solution again, find a boyfriend who’d let them move in until everything was sorted out. It was sad, more so because Megan had left the hotel with the intention of asking Brandon for help, and found his lips occupied by a tramp he’d always described as a friend.
She shook her head, refusing to wallow in her own mistakes. If Ava was in trouble, she needed to know about it. Better to find out the details in public. Whenever Brandon was too close, she tended to forget about what she’d seen in that hallway.
Not wanting to give Brandon the satisfaction of hearing her agree to his demands, she merely climbed into the passenger seat and buckled herself in while he closed the door. The smell of his aftershave swirled around her, but she refused to let it remind her of what used to be. He was Gemma’s now. Maybe she ought to find a way to let the tramp know just who’d picked out this particular scent for him.
She stared out the window as Brandon got in and started the SUV. She’d always been careful to keep things private, to maintain a clandestine air about their relationship. It was supposed to keep things exciting, keep him from getting bored and moving on. Her father had once said the surest way to get a man to leave was to ask him to stay, so she never gave herself the option. She’d always been the one to leave, showing up unexpectedly to keep him off-balance.
When Brandon started hinting about making their relationship more public, Megan had been purposely aloof. He’d said he wanted a ring on her finger, but he never bought one. He’d claimed he wanted to be able to take her out, but he never invited her. It had given her a hope that she knew better than to have.
Men like him, men like her father, didn’t love anything but the thrill of the chase—whether they were chasing women or money. She’d thought she could outplay him, but he moved faster than the scenery outside the car window. She closed her eyes and prayed Ava hadn’t been burned the same way.
“Are you asleep?”
Megan blinked at the sound of Brandon’s voice, unsure if she had drifted off. “Of course not.”
Yet somehow the car had stopped at an Italian chain restaurant they often had delivered. As she blinked to awareness, she realized this would be the first time they went to a restaurant together. Sure, they’d shared a meal alongside dozens of their common friends at parties, but whenever they were alone, they were always ensconced in his penthouse. It was right across from her father’s, so no one ever questioned her coming and goings from the hotel. She’d thought she was being so smart, but in the end she’d learned the hard way what a fool she’d been.
Glancing over at him was a mistake. The look in his warm brown eyes could easily be mistaken for kindness, she could simply ignore that it must be pity. Guilt might be niggling at his conscience and she wondered if Gemma Ryan knew him well enough to notice.
© Jenna Bayley-Burke
Author: Jenna Bayley-Burke
Publisher: Samhain publishing
Once their love was under wraps. Now it’s burning up the sheets.
Three months ago, Megan Carlton had the world on a string. That was before the man she loved took over her family’s hotel business and wiped out a family fortune it had taken generations to build. And before she caught him kissing another woman.
Her only solace: the secrecy of their affair saved the family from public scandal, and kept her embarrassment private. Meanwhile, with a mountain of self-confidence to rebuild, she trades her Manolos and late-night parties for coffee-stained sneakers and early morning barista shifts.
Brandon Knight had everything he ever wanted—then the woman of his dreams disappeared without one word of explanation. When he finds Megan serving coffee, he wonders if the socialite is suffering from amnesia. A hot venti to the chest proves she recognizes him. But she’s got the situation—and him—all wrong. All he has to do now is prove it.