Tonight was supposed to be a relaxing night out—not some circus where I felt the need to sell myself to these douche bag executives. And Fiona commenting on Emmy’s dress like that was utter bullshit. I fought to keep my anger under control. “Fiona, can I have a word?”
She nodded tightly and rose, following me from the table.
I took a deep breath. I could handle myself and whatever tasks Fiona threw my way. But I was bothered by how she treated Emmy. We paused in the corridor, facing each other. “Take it easy on Emmy, all right? She’s not used to this world.”
Her mouth pulled into a frown. “I don’t want you distracted by some country bumpkin.”
Biting down, my jaw tensed. I shook my head. I knew I needed to handle this the right way. Things with Fiona were delicate. Always had been. And our past was complicated, to say the least. I reached out toward her, smoothing a hand up and down her arm. Her lips quirked up at the contact. I knew just how to make her putty in my hands. “I’ve got this.”
I should have been thrilled with the amount of work Fiona had lined up for me this season. I was set to appear in all the major campaigns, walk in several big shows, and make a slew of money. Yet, all I wanted to do was go back to the hotel, hang out with Emmy, and maybe take her to Luxembourg Gardens. I wanted to see how her pretty pink skin looked in the afternoon sun. I used to go there with my mother when we’d briefly lived in Paris. Emmy and I could walk to a café, sip wine, and I could hear all about her growing up in Tennessee. Surely, her childhood had been much different from mine.
I had never let anything get in the way of my work. I didn’t know what it was about this girl, but I liked her. I wanted to get to know her more. And I wouldn’t mind getting her nak*d. Her skin was so soft, her body a thing of wonder. She had curves. Real curves. Not like the models I was used to. Her tits were full and heavy. Fuck, I wanted to suckle those babies. I wouldn’t mind kissing her all over, for that matter.
I shook away the thought, focusing on Fiona again. She was discussing my spring campaign. I’d show up and do whatever she wanted me to. We both knew that. And Gunnar, or Emmy, would make sure I got where I needed to be.
“I mean it, Fiona. Relax, okay?” I turned without waiting for her response and strolled into the men’s room. Sooner or later I would need to make a break from her.
Exiting the restroom, I ran smack into something hard. Ben.
“S-sorry.” I stumbled back a step, smoothing shaky hands down his lapels. He was standing in the hallway, leaning against the hall. Was he waiting for me?
“Everything okay?” His eyes saw too much. When he looked at me like that, I felt it deep inside my body. I ached to know the intensity that lurked behind those hazel eyes.
“Fine,” I bit out.
The enormity of everything hit me. I was thousands of miles from home, my boss hated me, and I was in over my head with Ben. Tears welled in my eyes. I hated that I was about to cry in front of him. It all hit me in that moment, and there was no stopping my tears now. I was half a world away and out of my depth. A lone teardrop rolled down my cheek.
“It’s all right.” He reached a hand out for me and I took a step back, quickly wiping my cheek.
“I think I’m going to head out.” My voice sounded surprisingly composed. Thank God for that. Small miracle considering my emotional state. Damn PMS.
“It’s not true, you know.” His voice in comparison was thick, husky, and rolled over me in the most sensual way.
“What Fiona said.” His gaze lowered, sliding over my curves.
I felt squirmy when he looked at me like that—all dark and hungry. My tears dried and a new wave of emotions hit me. The way his eyes wandered made me remember his kiss, his warm tongue gliding against mine, one hand buried in my hair to pull me closer, his dirty texts last night. It was all too much.
“The dress is a cheap knockoff. She was right, Ben.” I hated how dejected my voice sounded, but I could do little to control it.
Ben shook his head. “Trust me.”
I wanted to assure him he was wrong, but I suddenly found that under his hot, intense stare, with his lean body so close to mine, I’d forgotten the finer points of my argument. Hell, I’d forgotten my damn name. His eyes slid lower, caressing my br**sts, and a smile curved over his lips. My br**sts had never felt so full and achy, so ready to be touched, licked, and kissed.
Lazily making his eyes return to mine, Ben said, “Let me walk you back. I’m done with Fiona’s shit show, anyway.”
I nodded and allowed Ben to guide me back to the table. We said our good-byes, and Fiona shot me a dark, icy stare. I kept my eyes downcast, knowing she was fuming. Awesome. I’d have that to deal with tomorrow.
Once we reached the hotel elevator, Ben hesitated. The way his eyes traveled over me . . . I just knew he didn’t see an unfashionable dress or an unpolished assistant. He saw me—a girl from Tennessee who wore her heart on her sleeve. I felt fully present with him. Not because I was relaxed—that wasn’t it—I was hyperaware of every sensation, overanalyzing every emotion when he was near. When he looked at me, it felt like he’d always known me. And he accepted me just how I was.
His hand at my wrist stopped me from pressing the button for my floor. “Come to my room. Have a drink with me.” His brilliant eyes sparked playfully on mine. He placed his big warm hand against the small of my back and suddenly I felt normal. His touch grounded me more than it should. “Emmy?”
I wouldn’t argue with him. Not now. “After the night I had—yes please.” I knew I was probably asking for trouble getting alone with him again, but I felt powerless to say no.
He took my hand, tucking it in the crook of his arm so it rested against his ribs. He was warm and whole, and my body responded with a tiny shudder at the contact. It had been far too long since I’d been with someone. My body was merely confused—responding to the simple contact from a man. Okay, a hot man. A hot man who brought me to orgasm with only his hand in a matter of minutes. A man I had fantasized about . . .
He punched the button for the top floor and grinned slightly as the elevator carried us higher.
Ben slid the key into the card reader and pushed open the door. I entered the darkened room, noticing it smelled like him: crisp soap and the musk of spicy cologne. He flicked on the light, illuminating a large room with a king-sized bed, a desk, and a chair in front of a large picture window. His room was bigger than mine.
“Nice view,” I said, walking toward the window. Gauzy white curtains framed the picturesque twinkling lights below.
I heard the rattle of glass and looked back to watch him carry two glasses and a few little bottles over to the bed. Dumping everything onto the nightstand, he surveyed our options. “We can go super-sophisticated tonight and I can offer you an exclusive mix of cheap vodka and Perrier. Flat, of course.”
“And warm?” I giggled, noting the lack of ice.
He tossed a sexy smile over one shoulder. “I’m classy like that.”
He chuckled again and I decided I liked hearing him laugh. I needed to hear more of that sound.
I crossed the room, slipped off my heels, and sat on the edge of the bed. Ben sat next to me and handed me a glass. He filled it with vodka and then topped it with the no-longer-sparkling water.
Raising his glass, his eyes met mine. “To vodka. My second favorite V-word.”
My smile faltered. I wondered if our flirty-playful banter was permitted only through text messaging since we’d yet to actually flirt in person. Was this allowed?
I took a sip and grimaced at the bitter concoction burning a path down my throat. “Mmm, vodka and water.”
Ben shrugged, taking a much more poised sip of his own. “At least it’s low-cal.”
That made me sad. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated his flawless physique, but I wanted to give this boy a cheeseburger, stat. Maybe a big cupcake and a sugary daiquiri, too. But I supposed vodka would do the trick. And Lord knew my waistline could use a break. My daily chocolate croissants and café au laits with frothy whole milk had started to add up. I looked up and saw Ben surveying me, his playful smile lifting on one side, just for me. This man watched me with definite interest, and in an instant the shitty, insecure feelings inside me vanished.
He took another sip, continuing to appraise me over the rim of his glass. It was times like this, when he turned all thoughtful and quiet, that I’d kill to know what was running through his mind. Especially where I was concerned.
“What’s your angle?” he asked, finally.
“I’m sorry?” My what?
“I’m just confused about what you want—your motivations. Everyone’s got an angle with me, Emmy. I’ve seen and heard it all—bossy photographers trying to manipulate me into showing more skin, girls who just want to say they’ve f**ked a model. Forgive me if I sound like a dick, but people usually hang around for my looks, money, fame, connections, or the VIP events I can take them to.”
“I’m not interested in those things.”
“I know. Which is why I’m confused.” He swirled the liquor in his glass, taking another sip.
Working alongside Fiona for all these many years had messed with his head. Just like the executives tonight, everyone wanted a piece of him—a piece of this godlike man.
“You’re sweet to me . . . so giving . . . it’s unexpected . . .” He rubbed the back of his neck, looking lost.
“Ben, when I see you on set and you’re tired or hungry or have low blood sugar—my momma raised me better than that. I can’t let a man go hungry.”
“So you’re a bit of a food peddler.” He smirked.
“I suppose that’s an inherited gene.” I returned his uneasy smile.
“I’m sorry.” He shook his head. “I tend to be skeptical about girls wanting to hang around me. You’ll tell me if there’s something you want? Autographed photos for your friends, maybe? Tell me what you want from me, Emmy.”
I blushed irrationally. I knew he couldn’t read my thoughts, or see the dirty video of me and him replaying inside my head. “Well, I don’t have an angle.” I didn’t know how to answer him, and I certainly couldn’t admit my feelings, so I did the only thing I could. I picked up the book sitting on his pillow. “The Prince, huh? He’s more than just a pretty face. I’m impressed.” My awkward attempt at a topic change was cringe-worthy.
Ben seemed to go with it, however, a smug smile tugging at his mouth. “I can read. Let’s calm down,” he said dryly, plucking the book from my hands.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so surprised, but honestly, you have to know models aren’t usually known for their intelligence.” Regret instantly followed my little rant.
Ben’s jaw twitched. “Fair. Annoying. But fair. Nothing’s worse than showing up for a shoot, only to have a photographer speak to me like a small child.”
“They do that?”
“You wouldn’t believe how often. Half of them are just arrogant and rude, and the other half act like they want to get in my pants.”
I giggled. “Asshats.”
“Precisely. Can I top you off?”
My sick little sex-deprived mind thought we were jumping into the dirty talk—until I realized he was opening another minibottle of vodka and was awaiting my response. “Oh, sure. Can I just hit the little girl’s room first?”
“I only have a boy’s room, but it’s all yours.”
I strolled to the bathroom, closing the door behind me. A line of men’s upscale grooming products littered the marble countertop, and a fancy electronic toothbrush sat cradled in its charger. If all that wasn’t enough to tell me that this man was different from the boys back home, the pair of black Armani Exchange boxer briefs that lay discarded on the floor should have. Part of me liked seeing that he was still just a guy—a messy, toilet-seat-left-up-and-everything guy.
I couldn’t explain to him, let alone myself, what I was doing here, other than simply giving in to the pull to be near him. He was gorgeous and funny and made me feel all kinds of alive. Okay, I suppose that was reason enough. I glanced in the mirror as I washed my hands. This man dated supermodels. The girl in the mirror was no supermodel. I wasn’t delusional enough to think I could compare with the women he was exposed to. Straight brown hair, big bluish-gray eyes, a funny mouth that often curled into a smile for no reason at all. I was typically described as cute. Not that I’d ever minded that before. But being around models all the time made me wish I was six feet tall with legs up to my armpits and looks best described as exotic. Sadly, that wasn’t in the cards. I finger-combed my loose brown waves. The girl staring back at me was a mess of nerves. What was the real reason that Ben asked me up here? I wondered if Fiona ever felt this insecure. Not likely with her thousand-dollar Louboutins, designer clothes, and the male attention she garnered with a simple smile. I gave up and tucked my unruly locks behind my ears.
Ben was sexy, rich, and probably had girls dropping their panties left and right. Yes, I was sure he got more ass than a toilet seat, yada yada yada. Three girls—as if. Shut up, Emmy. I was smart, hardworking, and a good cook. If that was all I had to offer, it would either be enough or it wouldn’t. I was the girl he’d invited back to his room, dammit.
I lifted the hand towel from the counter and stopped cold. Two bottles of prescription medications were sitting underneath. Three more pill bottles sat on the glass shelf under the vanity. I wondered what they were for. He didn’t seem sick, but he had more pills than a pharmacy. Seriously, was he sick or dying? That could be the only probable reason for all these bottles. Otherwise, he had a major problem. Gunnar’s words rang in my head. Something about Ben being a mess without a pile of pills. It couldn’t be true. Ben didn’t seem that way at all. My hand shook as I lifted the bottle from the counter. The name of the medication was something foreign to me. No chance of pronouncing that.