All Rights Reserved - Berkley Heat/Penguin - Copyrighted Material 2012 Roni Loren
*This excerpt is for 18 and older only*
Don the gas masks and cue the mushroom cloud. Brynn’s date was spiraling toward DEFCON 1—imminent disaster. In the brief time it had taken her to down three hors d'oeuvres, her sexy doctor had tumbled from fantasy fodder to potential therapy client.
Doctor Depressed propped his elbows on the table and leaned forward, his brows knitted. “I don’t know what I did wrong. One minute we’re in love and planning the future, the next I catch her in the copy room with her arms wrapped around the pharmaceutical sales rep.”
Brynn frowned as tears gathered behind his glasses. Oh, hell. She couldn’t have another guy cry on her. That’d be the second one this month. She was becoming the Barbara Walters of dating—taking a perfectly put-together person and reducing him to tears without trying. She reached across the table and gave his hand a quick squeeze. “I’m sorry you had to go through that. It sounds like she took advantage of what a nice guy you are.”
He stared at her for a moment, and then released a breath. “God, what am I doing? I’m breaking that cardinal rule, right? No ex talk on dates. I’m sure you didn’t ask me to come to this fundraiser so you could hear me yammer about my breakup.”
“It’s fine. Breakups can be tough,” she said, giving her therapist half-smile—the one that saidI feel your pain and am so not judging you, even though she was already formulating a hypothetical treatment plan in her head. She drew her hand away and sipped the last of her iced tea.
The lines in his face relaxed, and he leaned back in his seat. “I’m sorry I let it come up. You’re just so easy to talk to.”
“Occupational hazard, I guess,” she said, trying to lighten the mood. But the truth of the statement turned the words to sawdust in her mouth. She enjoyed her work, but did that mean she had signed up to heal every guy she dated? For once, she’d love to worry, like other women did, that a guy had asked her out simply to get her in bed. Instead, she had to worry if someone asked her to dinner because it was cheaper than a therapy session.
A waiter stopped by with a tray of champagne flutes. Brynn accepted one of the drinks, but her companion shook his head. “No thanks, I’m on call. Plus, I don’t want to fall asleep on my lovely date before the end of the night.”
He gave her a hopeful smile, his brown eyes still red-rimmed from unshed tears. Brynn fought back the defeated sigh that gathered in her throat. If he was staying awake on her account, he shouldn’t bother. She didn’t care how nice of a guy he was or how hot he probably looked naked. She was not going to be his rebound sex. Nothing like knowing a guy is closing his eyes in bed because he’s picturing someone else beneath him. Brynn took a long gulp from her glass.
“Speaking of which,” he said, reaching into the pocket of his jacket and pulling out his cell phone. “Could you excuse me for a minute? I need to check in with the answering service.”
“No problem, take all the time you need.” Really, he could take as much time as he wanted because this date was over—sign the death certificate and slap a toe tag on it. Done.
After he strode off, Brynn pushed her chair away from the table and straightened the hem of her black and white shift dress as she stood. She needed something stronger than champagne.
She navigated through the crowd and the steady hum of polite conversation, pausing occasionally to smile and shake hands with donors. The Women’s Crisis Center of Dallas had a fundraiser twice a year and, thanks to a very active board, had managed to snag a number of high dollar supporters for this one. Good thing, considering her job was dependent on the generosity of these strangers. She grabbed a mini-quiche off a passing waiter’s tray and shoved it in her mouth, hoping her obvious chewing would deter more people from stopping her to chat.
Brynn spotted a familiar face near the bar. Melody, her co-worker, flipped her auburn hair over her shoulder and laughed at something the bartender said. Brynn walked over but hovered behind her for a moment, not wanting to interrupt Mel’s flirting. The woman was a master and seemed to have the young bartender sufficiently under her spell until another party guest pounded a fist on the counter and demanded a refill. With an apologetic smile, the bartender excused himself and Melody huffed.
Brynn tapped her on the shoulder. “Hey girl, I haven’t seen you all night. Where’ve you been hiding?”
Melody turned around and grinned.
“Hey, I could say the same to you. Although, I have an idea of what’s keeping you busy.” She nodded toward Brynn’s table. “How’s it going with the yummy doctor? Are you ready to play nurse yet?”
She groaned. “Seriously? That’s the best you can come up with?”
“Look, I’m three drinks into this. My comedy skills suffer when I’m tipsy.”
Brynn set her champagne on the bar, and then turned back to her friend. “It’s kind of a disaster. He almost cried already.”
She cringed. “Oh, no.”
Brynn held her palms out and shook her head before her friend could go into pity mode. “I don’t even want to talk about it. I’m apparently cursed to be a thirty-year-old, born-again virgin.”
“Oh, screw that. You just need to stop looking for the perfect guy and find a guy to have some fun with. You could ask out that lawyer who’s starting at the crisis center,” she suggested. “I think he’s Cooper’s friend. And believe me, I mentally undressed him a little while ago and liked what I saw.”
“Oh really, you got to meet him?” Brynn asked, scanning the crowded room to see if she could spot Cooper and her new co-worker.
Mel sipped her drink. “Mm-hmm. I ran into Coop a few minutes ago and he introduced us. Apparently, the guy’s starting Monday, so you have two nights to get around your I-don’t-date-people-I-work-with policy. Just enough time for a dirty little fling.”
She rolled her eyes. “Right. I think that’d make for an awkward staff meeting on Monday.”
“Or an interesting one. I’d bet Mr. Dark and Dashing would know exactly how to break you out of your dry spell. You should see the size of his hands,” she said, holding up her palm with a knowing nod.
Brynn snorted. “If he’s so great, why aren’t you weaving your wicked web around him by now?”
“You know I like mine blond—feeds my Leonardo DiCaprio fantasies. Plus," she said, nudging her shoulder, "you need the action more than me.”
“Good Lord, could you make me sound any more pathetic? It’s not like I’m going to shrivel up and die if I don’t get laid.”
Her expression turned deadpan. “You may. The lawyer may be your only chance before you spontaneously combust from sexual frustration.”
“Oh, please.” Brynn bent to fiddle with the strap on her shoe. Damn thing was cutting into her ankle like razor wire. She loosened the strap and rubbed her reddened skin. “I’m not going to combust. Who needs the lawyer when I have a perfectly functioning vibrator at home?”
Brynn expected to hear a witty retort, but there was silence. She froze, her gaze still on her shoe. Mel, a former sex therapist, would never stay quiet after a comment like that, especially when her tongue was loose from alcohol. Unless… shit. She closed her eyes briefly.
“Hey ladies, hope I’m not interrupting,” Cooper said, her boss’s baritone voice barely concealing amusement.
Brynn straightened, finding Cooper wearing a shit-eating grin and Melody biting her lip like she was three seconds from bursting into laughter. Brynn slapped on a smile and tried to keep her voice light. “Hey, Cooper. Not interrupting a thing.”
“Good, cause I wanted to introduce you to the new lawyer.” Cooper nodded at someone behind Brynn. “This is Reid.”
Brynn’s response lodged in her throat, the all-too-familiar name ringing in her ears. No, couldn’t be. But a sinking feeling settled in her gut. She’d only met one Reid in her life, and that Reid was a lawyer. She closed her eyes and took a steadying breath before she turned around to face her new co-worker.
Reid’s blue-eyed gaze met her head-on, hitting her like an airbag to the chest. She sucked in a breath and fought the old instinct to lower her eyes in deference. Sonofabitch, where had thaturge come from? She ticked her chin up and gave him her best I-hate-you-but-will-be-polite-because-I’m-the-bigger-person glare. “Hello.”
Cooper walked around Brynn and clapped Reid on the shoulder. “Reid, I’d like you to meet our other social worker, Brynn LeBreck.”
Reid nodded, his expression annoyingly unreadable. “Brynn, pleasure to see you again. It’s been a while.”
Not long enough. Three years had passed since she’d last seen him. His inky hair was longer on top and a few lines creased the corners of his eyes, but time hadn’t softened her warring responses to him. The urges to pummel his face and strip naked before him held almost equal weight. Luckily, the venue was too public to give in to either. She feigned an air of indifference. “It has.”
“Still as beautiful as ever, though.”
The warm notes of his voice stirred the dark recesses of her memory, further inciting the old longing. She shifted in her heels as hot tingles crept from deep in her belly and moved downward to settle between her legs. Un-fucking-believable. Her body was a whoring traitor.
Melody stepped next to Brynn, as if sensing her need for support, and Cooper’s eyebrows rose. “You two know each other?”
Boy, did they—in just about every way a man and woman could. She searched Reid’s face, and he tipped his head infinitesimally, as if giving her permission to answer the question. Her eyes narrowed. “Used to. Long time ago.”
Cooper smiled, either oblivious or unperturbed by the tension zipping through the air between her and Reid. “Great. Guess introductions weren’t needed then.”
Nope. Not needed. Brynn knew exactly who Reid Jamison was. A first-class bastard.
Reid tucked his hands in his pockets, his relaxed confidence taunting her. “How’ve you been? Weren’t you working with kids last time I saw you?”
So this is how he was going to play it, like they were old buddies. Fine. She nodded. “I was. But after my mother’s murder, I decided I should work with troubled women. Someone needs to be on their side.”
Reid’s jaw tightened. “Of course.”
She swallowed the scoff that threatened to escape. Of course, her ass. He’d been all too happy to take on her mother’s killer as a client. Who gave a shit about guilt or innocence if the paycheck was good, right? The ridiculous hormonal surge he’d caused turned frigid with the memory. She shot a pointed glance in the direction of her table. “Sorry I don’t have more time to chat, but I can’t leave my date waiting.”
Reid’s mouth curved upward, the effect more predatory than friendly. “No worries. We’ll have all kinds of time to catch up now that we’ll be working together again.”
Together. Every day. With Reid. The words felt like shackles locking around her limbs. She attempted a facsimile of a smile, exchanged goodbyes with everyone, and then hurried back to her table. Dealing with a weepy date suddenly seemed like cake compared to spending one more second under the knowing gaze of the guy who, once upon a time, had brought her to her knees with a single, charged glance.
Reid watched the swaying ass of Brynn LeBreck as she high-tailed it away from the group and returned to her date. Poor bastard. He’d overheard Brynn say something about her vibrator, so he assumed the guy wasn’t going to be asked in for “drinks” tonight. For some reason, knowing her date didn’t do it for her gave him an odd sort of satisfaction. It’d even been on the tip of his tongue to tell her that if she was in need of a good toe-curling, he’d be more than happy to cuff her to his bed tonight—no battery-operated intervention needed.
But he figured the whole hating-his-guts thing would probably get in the way of her accepting his invitation. If time was supposed to heal all, Brynn definitely hadn’t gotten the memo. The fury that had flared in those green irises of hers could’ve set his suit on fire. Unfortunately, sharing air with the sexy blonde again had set other things aflame as well. His dick had jumped to attention like a soldier reporting for duty.
And he wasn’t even going to acknowledge the little flip his heart had performed in his chest. Stupid.
It’d been a few years since he’d seen her, ten since he’d touched her, but he remembered the feel of her curves and the taste of her skin as if he’d been buried inside her luscious body yesterday. He yanked at his collar, his tie suddenly feeling like a noose. Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea to take Cooper up on his offer of cheap rent in exchange for some pro bono work. He’d hesitated when he’d seen Brynn’s name listed on the brochure for the crisis center, but he’d figured he’d be immune to the woman by now. Plus, the deal had been too good to pass up. But now that he’d seen her again, he couldn’t deny that the residue of his old attraction still clung to his bones. Fuck me.
“Well, boys, I’m off,” Melody said, dragging Reid’s attention back to the two people standing beside him. “These shoes were made for dancing and the night’s almost over.”
Cooper turned to him after Melody traipsed off. “Man, you look like you need a beer.”
Reid’s shoulders relaxed a bit, and he gave his friend a half-smile. “You have no idea.”
Coop got the bartender’s attention, ordered two Shiner Bocks, and handed one to him. They moved away from the busy bar, but remained on the fringes of the milling crowd. His friend took a swig of his beer, then nodded in the direction of Brynn’s table. “So what’s the deal with you two?”
Reid shook his head. “Long story. Shitty ending.”
He chuckled. “I’m guessing there was nakedness involved. I’ve never seen her look so horrified to see someone. Although, I’m having trouble imagining the two of you dating. Brynn’s, uh, not exactly into guys like us.”
Reid eyed his friend. “Guys like us?”
Cooper gave him a wry smile. “The bossy type. I know it’s been a while, but I doubt you’ve changed that much since college.”
Reid absentmindedly rubbed the spot on his finger where a ring used to be. No, some things couldn’t be changed, no matter how hard he’d tried. Too bad he hadn’t figured that out before he’d married a woman who thought he was some kind of deviant for wanting to take control in the bedroom.
“I guess you’re right.” Although, Cooper’s assessment of Brynn confused him. Back when he’d known her, she’d been exactly the kind of girl for his flavor of kink.
Coop pointed his bottle at him. “Well, I don’t know what’s between you two, but I suggest you clear out that old stuff quick. The last thing we need at the crisis center is drama between the employees. Believe me, our clients provide enough of that.”
Reid gave a curt nod. “I’ll take care of it.”
Now he just had to figure out how. This was supposed to be his fresh start, both from his failed marriage and from the stress of working in his family’s high-profile practice. Tiptoeing around Brynn and being on edge at work were not part of the agenda. He’d done enough eggshell-walking over the past few years to last him lifetimes. That stopped now.
The way he saw it, she’d ripped his heart out ten years ago and then he’d let her down during her mother’s trial—they should be even. So whether she liked it or not, the two of them were going to dump their ugly history on the table and deal with it.
Based on previous experience, that kind of discussion would either end up in a screaming fight or a screaming fuck. Regardless, he wasn’t waiting until Monday to have it with her. To hell with her date—and her vibrator. There would only be one guy driving Ms. LeBreck home tonight.
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Copyright 2011-2012 Roni Loren All Rights Reserved Berkley Heat/Penguin.