Then, of course, there had been the flowers.
He’d sent some to the club the weekend after we’d met. I’d come in to find them in the office at the start of my Saturday shift. As I’d opened the sealed envelope with my name on it that accompanied the lavish bouquet, I’d been dying of curiosity, and admittedly, excitement. No one I knew would send me flowers. So what the hell?
The message was simple.
“The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do.”
An array of emotions flashed through me so fast I had no idea which one I was actually feeling. Surprised, embarrassed, annoyed, anxious. Turned on.
Finally, I settled on anger. Just like when I met him, I wondered, who did he think he was? So he could quote Bill Phillips, was he my personal motivational speaker now? How did he think he knew anything about me, anyway? And if he was trying to get me into his bed, this was definitely not how to do it.
Though, wasn’t it a little bit flattering that he’d still been thinking of me several days later?
No. It definitely was not. It made me angrier that I’d even considered it. So I dumped the whole thing, vase and all, into the trash next to the desk and tried to forget about it.
I’d still thought about it.
Or, I’d thought about him. A lot. Throughout the Christmas holidays, into the New Year, he wasn’t ever very far from my mind. He was attractive, yes, and that might have been why his image so easily appeared in my head at the oddest of times. But more, it was the things he’d said about me. He’d said I wanted to be free. He’d said he could help me learn. What exactly did that mean? Sex? Was he serious?
And even if sex could do me some good, could anyone actually break through the prison I lived in?
If anyone could, it wasn’t him. That I knew for sure.
“Just wanted to warn you,” Bethany said to me now.
Great. Probably another bouquet waiting on my desk. I should have known he wouldn’t be that easy to shake.
“Thanks, Bethany,” I mouthed then returned to talking to Norma as I continued through the kitchen. “Okay, I’m back.”
“I only have one more thing.”
“Shoot.” I paused to scan the kitchen schedule posted on the wall. While I didn’t manage the staff in there, I liked to know whom I was working with before a shift began.
“I don’t want you to be alarmed,” Norma said hesitantly, “but he asked if he could stay with us when he gets out.”
“Who asked? The lawyer?”
“Dad asked his lawyer to ask us.”
“Oh, hell no!” Now I was pissed. That was one of the emotions I was able to hold onto for more than a minute. “No way, no how. How can he even have the balls to ask? You said no, right? You damn well better have said no.”
“Yes, I said no. I won’t even tell him where we live for as long as we can manage that. But I just wanted you to know in case he tries to contact you.”
“Thanks. I think.” I pushed through the kitchen door into the main part of the club. Then, for the second time in a matter of minutes, I froze in my tracks. “Hey, I have to go.”
“Okay. Talk later. Don’t let this eat at you, Gwen. We’re fine. Everything’s fine.”
I ended the call, barely registering Norma’s parting words. My attention was completely on the man leaning against the bar.
Why, oh why hadn’t I listened better to Bethany’s warning? I could have gotten Brent or one of the other guys in the kitchen to get rid of him for me.
Once again, I wasn’t prepared.
When he saw me, JC’s lip curled into a smile. Then he winked. Winked!
And my stupid body decided to react with a parade of goose bumps. Which only pissed me off more than I already was.
“Seriously? I don’t know you exist for the whole year and then I see you twice in one month?” I immediately regretted lashing out. If there’d been even a chance that he hadn’t realized that he affected me then it was gone now.
Since the club wasn’t open yet, the work lights were still on, and I could see him more clearly than when I’d met him. It was a sight I didn’t need to see. If I’d wondered at all that the dim lighting of the Viper might have been overly kind to his appearance, that notion had been killed.
Because now, in full view, he was stunning.
He was dressed much like he had been the last time I saw him, wearing a dark gray two-piece that fit him spectacularly. His hair wasn’t styled as severely, and I could see now that he had a bit of natural curl. He still wore stubble, more recently trimmed so that it looked even more enticing to touch. I had to clench my fist tight so as not to reach my hand out to rub against his cheek.
He straightened and put his hands in his pockets. “I know. It should have been sooner. But with the holidays and all…”
“Why should you have been here sooner?” Why I asked, I didn’t know. It was a setup to hearing something I probably didn’t want to hear. It was just so hard to think in his presence. He was so aggravating and alluring all at once. Should anyone really be that attractive just from stuffing his hands in his pockets?
It was cruel, really.
JC took a casual step toward me. “Because I wanted to see you, Gwen.” He said it as if it were the most matter-of-fact statement ever. “Normally, if I want to see someone, I don’t put it off that long. It’s just…I wasn’t even in town. I would have sent you more flowers so that you knew I was thinking of you, but I heard that you didn’t enjoy them as much as I’d hoped.”
“I…” He was doing it again—knocking me off-kilter, pushing me out of my stride. “You know about the flowers?” I closed my eyes briefly, regretting my words. “I mean, thank you. The flowers were lovely. I’m not interested.”
But also, how the heck did he know what I’d done with the flowers?
Dammit, Alyssa. She’d been there when I tossed them. She had to have told him.
Well, so he knew. It was better that he didn’t think I’d appreciated them.
Except, it hadn’t seemed to get the point across because he was here now.
“That’s not fair, Gwen.” He took another step toward me. “You should really give me a chance to at least re-extend my offer before you shoot it down.”
Suddenly feeling warm, I started working the buttons on my coat. “I know I sound ridiculous because I’m asking question after question, but could you remind me which offer that was?” I was bluffing, of course. I knew exactly which offer JC was talking about. The idea of it—sex with this irritating stranger—it stirred me in places I hadn’t realized could stir.