“And you’re sure you packed your taser?”
I sigh. Whereas other dads would ask if their daughters were going to get on the road in time, or if they were nervous about going to their first work convention, my dad asks about my taser.
“Yes,” I answer. “I packed it.”
“And you charged it?” he persists.
I stay silent, cringing.
“Livia.” It’s his turn to sigh. “How many times do I have to tell you it’s pretty useless to have the taser if it isn’t charged?”
“I know. I know. I’ll charge it when I get down there.”
“Hmm.” He doesn’t sound convinced. “How long is the trip going to take?”
Exhaustion sets into my body just thinking about the amount of time I’ll have to spend in the rental car I picked up this morning.
I can practically feel my dad’s worry increase through the phone. He was against me going on this trip alone to begin with. And with such a long ride ahead of me, he’s convinced I’ll have to stop at shady rest stops along the way, which isn’t making him any more comfortable with the idea. But it’s the first time my boss has asked me to go, so I didn’t feel I could turn the opportunity down. Nor did I want to.
Not that my sales were bad, but I could definitely do with learning more about selling listings quicker for the real estate agency I work for. Especially now that my best friend and co-worker, Alana, was getting ready to go on maternity leave and all her listings were going to become mine. Plus, I’m being offered an all-expense paid weekend at a nice hotel, whose restaurants I stalked enough to know exactly what meals I’m ordering when I get there.
Despite my father trying to make me as afraid as him about the trip, I’m very much looking forward to it. Long drive excluded.
“You just make sure you’re aware of your surroundings,” my dad says, bringing my attention back to him. “On the drive and at the hotel. Even nice hotels have dangerous people in them.”
“I know, Dad. I will.”
“Text me the moment you get down there. To let me know you got there safely and the room number.”
“Ay, ay, Captain.”
“I love you, Sunshine.”
“Love you, too, Dad.”
I hang up, smiling at my dad still worrying about me like I’m twelve when I’m twenty-seven. Then, my thoughts turn to why he still worries so much and my smile falls. No. I’m certainly not going to let my mind go there, especially not right now when I have a very long ride ahead of me.
Shaking my head, I put my phone in my jacket pocket and walk to my suitcase. Double-checking to make sure I have my charger and the papers I’ll need for the conference registration, I then roll my bag down the hallway from my room. I walk out the front door, locking the top lock before I head for the rental car. The suitcase is easy to lift into the backseat and finally, I’m off.
Not even half an hour into my drive, my phone rings and I shake my head, thinking it’s my dad calling to check up on me already. But when I look at the screen, I see it’s someone who worries about me almost as much as him.
“Hey, Alana,” I answer.
“Hey. Are you on the road already?” she asks.
“Yeah. Left a little while ago.”
“I wish I was coming with you,” she grumbles.
“Well, your big ole belly said otherwise.” I chuckle. “Besides, there’s always next year.”
“Yeah, because I’m sure no one will mind my baby tagging along with me to the keynote presentation.”
“For all we know, it could be extremely boring, and the baby would be a welcome addition to next year’s conference.”
“Don’t you dare try and act like you think any of this will be the least bit boring.”
“Okay. Okay. I’m excited as hell,” I admit.
She laughs. “That’s more like it. You make sure you eat good for the both of us, well, us and this greedy baby.”
“How is my nephew today?”
“Uh, giving me the cramps from hell.”
Alarm fills me. “Cramps? Is that normal?”
“According to my doctor it is…”
“I hear a but in there.”
“But Ethan isn’t convinced. And really, neither am I.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t go. What if something happens while I’m gone?”
My foot is already easing off the gas pedal.
“Don’t you dare,” she insists. “It’s probably nothing and then you’ll miss the conference for nothing. I will call you if anything changes. I promise.”
I blow out a deep breath. “Okay. Just keep me updated. You know how I get.”
She chuckles. “Yup. Just like your father, worried over every little thing. How many times has he called you today to remind you to be safe?”
“I got my third call before I left.”
“Mmhmm. Just alike.”
“Well, have fun. Eat all the food and enjoy that big, comfy bed to yourself.”
“And send me pictures of everything.”
“I will. Bye.”
I plug the car charger into my phone and begin playing the playlist I made just for this trip, rolling the window down and letting the wind blow through my hair.
The wind is probably the only thing keeping me awake as I pull into the hotel parking lot. I hand the key to the valet, and all but drag my suitcase into the hotel lobby. Or hell, the suitcase drags me.
“Hi. Welcome to the Rosebud. Can I get your name?”
“Hi. Livia Willis.”
“Yes. I see you’re here for the conference. I can have someone show you around to where the conference will be held after you take your bags up.”
As much as I want to take her up on her offer and not risk being late anywhere that I need to go tomorrow, sleep makes me refuse.
“Maybe tomorrow morning. I just drove eight hours and my body is begging for a bed.”
She smiles. “No problem. I will leave a note for the morning shift, and you can just come to the front desk when you’re ready for the tour.”
“Here’s your key and the menus to the onsite restaurants are in the room. Enjoy your stay.”
I take the keys with another thank you and head to the elevator. On the way up to the room, I get my phone out of my pocket and text both my dad and Alana to let them know I made it okay. Unsurprisingly, I get a text back from my dad asking why it took eight and a half hours instead of eight. Shaking my head as I step out of the elevator, I look up to the arrows on the wall telling me which direction to go in for room 636. 632, 634… My phone pings again as I step in front of the door that must be mine.
Worrywart: Is everything ok?
Me: Yes. I stopped to use the bathroom and got something to eat. And then I stretched my legs for a while. But I’m here now and just reached my room. 636, by the way.
I slide the keycard into the slot and the light on the doorknob turns green. Using my elbow to push the knob down, I walk into the room, the lights turning on from my motion. The door closes behind me and I take a deep breath, looking around the room. Simple, but elegant. A small eating area is to the left and a living room to the right, and there’s a large TV mounted on the wall facing a two-seater couch and a winged back chair.
Leaving my suitcase by the door, I walk into the bedroom. Again, the lights turn on when I enter to show me the king-size bed with a black leather headboard in the center of the room. It’s covered in dark blue sheets with a chaise at the end of it. Another TV is on the black dresser. Matching nightstands rest on both sides of the bed, lamps atop them.
I’ll look at the bathroom later. I walk back into the living room and bring my suitcase to the coffee table, placing it on there before opening it. Shuffling the clothes around, I take out my pajamas, thinking only of eating and laying in that lovely bed.
After placing an order for room service, I take a quick shower, change into my pajamas, a tank top and loose pants with little pink hearts all over them. Who the hell will see them? The steak and potatoes I had my eye on when I looked over the website is delicious and only makes me that much more tired. But of course, I decide to watch a little TV before I go to sleep, getting one more text from my dad asking if I’m okay before I doze off on the couch.
I awake to the sound of something jingling. Blinking sleepily around the room, my heart begins to thunder when I realize the sound is the doorknob turning and snapping back into place. Oh, my God, someone is trying to get into my room. Looking higher, I realize that somehow, I didn’t put the latch on the door, and if someone gets the door to unlock, there’s nothing keeping them from coming in.
Barely able to breathe, chest heaving and hands shaking, I rush to my suitcase. Throwing clothes aside, I find the taser my father gave me. The doorknob snaps a few more times, followed by an indistinct grumbling. Who the hell is out there and why aren’t they leaving? Closing my eyes to settle my raging nerves, I walk closer to the door, still silently begging whoever is on the other side of the door to go away.
“What the fuck?” I hear mumbled.
Then, a bang sounds on the door. I jump, my muscles feeling like they’re seizing up in fear. No, no. I can’t afford to be afraid right now. I need to hurt him before he hurts me. I take the safety off the taser while reaching for the doorknob. I can hear the sound of a keycard sliding into the door and a beep before it is sliding back out. The next time I hear the key slide in, I whip the door open and bring the taser to the man’s middle, pressing down on the button.
A shout of utter pain tears from the man’s throat and he collapses to the ground. To my horror, the sound of the zap from the taser isn’t as loud, or strong, as it should be. And after me holding it for a few seconds, the sound cuts out altogether. Not charged. Fuck me.
Still, whatever the taser had left in it was enough to bring the man to his knees, or rather, his side. He curls into the fetal position, holding his middle, and groaning in pain. I look him over, in jeans and a T-shirt. His suitcase is toppled beside him, the laptop bag I assume was on his shoulder having dropped to the floor along with its owner.
Standing with half my body in the doorframe, keeping the door open, and one foot in the hallway, confusion fills me. He doesn’t exactly seem like he’s dressed to murder somebody or something. Still, he was definitely trying to get into my room, so I take a step back from him.
“Why the hell were you trying to get into my room?” I shout, still trying to breathe evenly.
“My…room,” he grits out.
“This is…” He takes a deep breath and lets it out. “My room.”
I look at the keycard still clutched in his hand, like his fingers are too stunned to let it go. Room 639. Almost not wanting to realize I might have just tasered an innocent man, I turn around and look at my door. And sure enough, the six at the end is hanging upside down, making it look like the room number is 639 instead of 636. I was looking at my phone when I came in earlier and hadn’t even noticed. Holy shit.
“I am so sorry,” I say, dropping to my knees beside the man.
The door tries to close behind me but instead of hearing it click when it shuts, I hear a crunch. My eyes fall on my now broken taser in between the door and the frame. Can one thing go right tonight? Thoughts of having to explain to my dad why I had to use the taser and that it’s now broken fill my mind until the man groans again.
I look back at him to find he’s trying to uncurl his body. His eyes stare at me, wide and shocked.
“Sorry?” he asks incredulously.
“This is my room. Look.” I stand and fix the six to the way it’s supposed to be. “I thought you were breaking in to…dismember me in the bathtub or something.”
He gives a laugh and then stops, his hand going back to his stomach in pain.
“I’m sorry,” I repeat. “Let me help you up.”
Really, it’s more so the hand he puts to the wall that helps him up more than me, but a couple of seconds, and a few flinches, later, he stands. Once, I’m sure he can stand on his own, I put his laptop bag on my shoulder and grab the handle of his suitcase. Then, we begin down the hallway to his actual room. Almost directly diagonal from mine, I take the keycard from him and slide it into the doorknob. The green light blinks and when I look up at the man’s face, he’s glaring at the light like it’s his worst enemy.
“Son of a bitch,” he grumbles, reaching out to turn the knob.
The door opens and he gestures for me to walk ahead of him. I roll his suitcase in to find a room identical to mine, but with everything just switched to the other side. Placing his laptop bag on the table, I turn around in time to watch the door close. The man passes me and falls onto the couch, his hand going to the spot where I tasered him. Guilt consumes me.
“I really am sorry,” I apologize again. “I feel horrible.”
“Yeah, well, I’d bet I feel worse than you do.”
“At least it wasn’t fully charged.” I give a nervous laugh.
His look cuts it off, but then his face changes as he looks me over, and his lips lift from their frown, beginning to curve into a smile. It’s then that I realize I’m standing here with my hair thrown in a messy bun at the top of my head, in my pajamas, braless and nipples probably… I look down. Yup, there they are, poking through my thin tank top. I cross my arms over my chest and his eyes come back to mine.
“I’m sorry, too,” he says. “You must have been terrified thinking I was breaking in. If I wasn’t so tired, and well, slightly drunk, I probably would’ve realized I had somehow skipped a few numbers on the doors.”
“Thank you,” I murmur.
He rubs his hand down his face, suddenly looking as tired as he proclaims to be. “I was supposed to get here hours ago, but my flight kept getting delayed, so I just got in. And let’s say there was a bunch of babies on the plane who were just as cranky as me, so I drank more than I should have during the flight.”
I almost laugh at the picture of him throwing back shots on the plane just to make it through the flight. Instead, I tuck my lips into my mouth, but he notices, anyway, and his own lips pull up on the right side.
“Well, we have to figure out some way for you to make up for almost killing me,” he suggests.
I arch a brow. “Homicide is a bit of a stretch, but what do you have in mind?”
“Breakfast tomorrow at one of the restaurants downstairs.”
I chew on the corner of my lip. That sounds suspiciously like a date. And I haven’t had one of those since… I banish that thought from my mind. They aren’t welcome on this trip. And really, I wish, ever.
“Breakfast?” I ponder over it. “Okay.”
“And depending on if I spend the rest of the night puking my guts out like I’m barely keeping from doing right now, maybe dinner.”
Now, I do smile. “Is that right? But how will we know if the puking is from the taser or the liquor?”
“I guess we won’t. And if it gets me dinner with you, I won’t care either way.”
I blush at his words and his deepening smile tells me that he doesn’t miss it.
“Well, is there anything else I can help you with before I go back to my room, you know, 636?”
“Ha, ha. I don’t think I’ll ever make that mistake again. But no, I’m okay now. Thank you. Just waiting for my heart to get back to a normal human rate.”
“God.” I cringe.
“I’m kidding. Kind of.”
His hand goes to his chest, and I can tell that he is very much not kidding. Yeah, I would say he deserves breakfast and dinner for that. And if I’m being honest with myself, even if I had met him without tasing him, I would want to share a few meals with him.
“Well, I’ll leave you alone to…”
“Recover.” He chuckles. “What time do you wanna meet for breakfast?”
He nods and silence fills the room. We stare at each other, and I don’t know what he’s thinking but my own mind is a mess. I shouldn’t be taking in all his features, wondering what he looks like beneath the T-shirt and jeans. I shouldn’t be wondering what’s beyond that breakfast and dinner, and yet, here I am.
He clears his throat and finally speaks. “Let me watch you walk back to the room.”
“Uh, I think I’ll be okay.”
“What kind of gentleman would I be if I let you go alone?”
He stands up in phases, slowly unfolding his body. I can see the effort it takes for him to stand upright. He walks over to me, offering me a handsome smile before opening the door. I walk out of the room and to my own door, still ajar with the broken taser crushed at the bottom of it. Pushing the broken places into my room with my foot, I look behind me to find the man watching me. As I refer to him in my mind, I realize I never learned his name.
“What’s your name?” I ask loudly in the hallway.
“Owen,” he tells me. “And yours?”
“Livia,” he slowly repeats, making a very unexpected shiver rush through me.
“Oh, God,” I say to myself, catching his smirk before I close my door.
Putting my back to it, I try to get my thoughts together. What the hell am I doing, agreeing to breakfast and dinner with a perfect stranger? But perfect, he is. Even as he still cringed in pain from time to time in his room, I could notice that he was perfect. Perfect light brown eyes, perfect lips, stretching to revel perfect teeth when he smiled again and again at me. Even after having been thrashing on the floor, his hair was even perfect, cut low and swept to the side. All of it, perfect.
And all it did was make me wonder what the hell I was doing putting myself in a position where I was going out with another seemingly perfect guy? Hadn’t I learned that monstrous interiors rested under perfect exteriors? But how long would I let the past keep me from having a future?
Giving a determined nod to myself, I walk away from the door towards the bed I have yet to sleep in. Setting my alarm for six, I groan when it tells me it’ll go off in just five hours. I’m going to go to breakfast with bags and dark circles under my eyes at this rate.
Crawling into the bed and under the covers, I close my eyes. And behind my shut lids, all I see is Owen’s smile before I walked into the room.
I’m in so much trouble. But I can’t decide if I mind.
There’s a red spot where Livia tased me. The water stings when it hits it again and again in the shower, but if it gets me two meals with her, then it was worth it. I close my eyes, dropping my head under the spray of water and picture her standing in my room last night. Her cautious but beautiful smile, kind grey eyes, a body that made pajamas somehow look like lingerie.
The wisps of hair that had escaped her bun teased her face and I wanted nothing more than to reach out and push them behind her ear. But something in her gray eyes, a haunted look that seemed like there were too many thoughts going through her mind, kept me from doing just that. Every time she smiled, it was like something would whisper to her that she was doing it too much, or for too long, and her smile would slowly drop. I hated seeing those full lips drop down each time. I hardly know anything about her, but I know she deserves every reason in the world to smile.
Turning the water off, I grab the towel from the rack and dry myself. Choosing the suit I brought for the first day of the conference, I put on the black pants, then the dark blue button-up shirt and tie, before shrugging on my black jacket. Seeing it’s almost seven-twenty, I rush to brush my hair back, and pocket my phone and conference badge before leaving the room.
I go to Livia’s door and stand a little straighter before knocking on it. A minute passes and she doesn’t answer. I knock again and start to wonder if she’s blown me off when I don’t hear anyone coming to open the door. Hope, dangerously high levels of hope to have for a stranger, fill me as I step into the elevator and press the button for the lobby. I quickly walk to the only restaurant that serves breakfast and there she is, looking as sexy as ever, with her gaze down on her phone.
Then, she looks up and our eyes meet. I find relief in her gaze, and I smile.
“Table for one sir?” the hostess asks.
“Someone’s already waiting for me,” I tell her.
When I reach the table, I want so badly to bend down and kiss Livia on the cheek, but I resist. Just barely.
“Thought I was getting stood up,” Livia says. “Although, I’m not sure I could’ve really blamed you.”
“Never,” I state. “I actually went to your room and was knocking at your door, waiting to walk down with you.”
She grins. “That’s sweet. I always like to be places early, so this was no exception.”
“I see. You look beautiful.”
And she does. Her hair is in a bun again, but a much neater one that sits at the back of her head. Lips painted dark red spread into a smile at the compliment. Even sitting down, her black dress clings tightly to her body, and the heels I can see peeking out from under the table make me have images of those legs wrapped around my head.
“Compared to last night, right?” she nervously chuckles.
“You were beautiful then, too.”
She looks down, but I can still see the blush crawling up her skin. Isn’t she used to people telling her how stunning she looks? Especially if she goes around looking like that?
“So, what are you in town for?” I ask.
“A real estate conference. It’s actually here in the hotel.”
“You’re kidding me?”
“I’m here for the conference. Well, a different one but in this hotel, too. But for flipping houses.”
“You flip houses?” Her eyes widen in interest.
“Yeah. Been doing it for a few years now.”
“Really? Where do you do most of your flips?”
“In Pennsylvania. Was that your slick way of asking where I live?” I wiggle my eyebrows.
She rolls her eyes, smiling.
“Where do you live?” I ask her.
“Not far from Pennsylvania.”
I notice her non-answer for what it is, but the waitress coming over to take our order distracts me from it. We tell her what dishes we’d like, and she comes back with our drinks a minute later.
“Can I ask why you’re walking around with a taser?”
She stiffens. Shoulders going high, she even freezes halfway to her straw. She takes a sip of her orange juice before answering.
“My dad bought it for me. He wanted to get me a gun, but I wouldn’t let him. So, a taser was the next best thing.”
My hand involuntarily goes to my middle. “I didn’t think I’d ever be thankful to get tasered, but I guess now I’m just glad it wasn’t a bullet.”
She laughs, throwing her head back and all, and the sound makes my heart seize. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything more beautiful, or musical. And this time, when she looks at me again, her smile isn’t as hesitant, and has lost some of its guardedness.
Breakfast is over much quicker than I would like it to be and we’re both stalling to leave, even though I’m sure she’s now late for the keynote speech just like I am. I find I don’t even care. Suddenly, I couldn’t care less about the conference and the tips I came down here to learn. What I want to learn about is the amazing woman standing before me.
“So, should I wait for you to come to my room for dinner?” she asks.
“Yes. Eight. I promise I won’t be late, and therefore we won’t be late.”
“I’ll be ready. See you later, then.”
I watch her walk away, and like I thought, that dress seems made for her, coming to her knees and moving with every sway of her hips. She stops before reaching the doors, looking back at me and I don’t try to hide that I’ve been staring after her. One more smile, and then she’s gone.
It’s not that the conference is boring. Actually, I’ve already heard quite a few things that I’ll be incorporating into how I do business when I get home. But the trouble is that I can hardly concentrate. I keep wondering what Livia is doing. If she’s thinking about me as much as I am about her. If she’s as anxious about tonight as I am, counting down the hours until dinner.
Probably because I’ve been waiting so impatiently, I’m at Livia’s door at seven-fifty. I knock a few times with my knuckles, and she stands before me a minute later. She smiles and I have to gather my thoughts again to even be able to greet her.
“Hey. How was your day?” I ask.
“Compared to breakfast? Boring, so very boring.”
“Aww, you’re just saying that so I don’t file a police report.”
She throws her head back in laughter, and I imagine running my lips down the smooth skin of her neck. The door clicking shut is the only sound in the hallway as we walk side by side to the elevator. I press the button for the lobby and when I look over at her, I find her eyes on me. There’s a sultriness to them now, one that wasn’t there earlier. I like it, a lot.
“Penny for your thoughts?” I ask.
“Oh, my thoughts cost a lot more than that.”
I smirk. “A quarter, then?”
“I was wondering to myself if this counts as a date?”
She tilts her head, waiting for me to answer.
“Would you like it to be a date?” I counter.
I sure as hell do, but all that really matters is if she does. Otherwise, I’ll just pretend I wasn’t thinking about it as a date all day.
“I don’t know. I do, but I don’t.”
The elevator doors open, and we exit. I begin to bring my hand to her lower back to direct her to the restaurant I made a reservation for during the day, but until I get an answer of whether this is a date or not, that might be too presumptuous of a move.
“This way,” I say instead, gesturing towards the right. “Hi, I have a reservation under Owen Wyatt.”
“Right this way,” the hostess tells us.
“You’ve got one of those first name last names,” Livia murmurs beside me.
“What?” I chuckle.
“Wyatt. That could be a first name.”
I pause. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. My middle name is really more of a last name.”
“Which is?” She arches a brow after I push her seat in.
“Oh, come on.”
“I’ll make you a deal. You go out to breakfast with me tomorrow morning and I’ll tell you.”
“Hmm, bribery. I kind of like that. But…tell me why?”
“Why you want to have breakfast with me again? This dinner might not even go well for all you know.”
“It will. Breakfast this morning went well, didn’t it? Or at least, I thought it did. But as for why, because everything I feel when I’m in your presence tells me I shouldn’t let the chance to know more about you pass me by.”
She glances down with that same shy look from earlier that I both love and hate. Love because she looks beautiful making it, the red crawling up her skin at being complimented, the way her lips curve up at the corners in the prettiest way. But I hate that it seems like something has taken some of her confidence away, and that she doesn’t think she’s as amazing as I’m telling her she is. I want to see her keep that same smile but also look boldly in my eyes with a gaze that says she knows she is exactly what I say she is. Amazing. Beautiful. Interesting.
“I will allow you to take me out to breakfast,” she says, lifting her head back up. “But I expect a name, Mr. Wyatt.”
“And dinner tomorrow?” I press. “Do I have to let you tase me again to get that?”
She chuckles. “Would you let me?”
“I would.” I nod. “You’re worth the pain.”
The waiter comes over and takes our orders. While we wait for our food, we tell each other about the lectures we went to throughout the day, both lamenting how boring tomorrow sounds, and what we’re really looking forward to is the ones on Sunday. A plan starts to form in my mind, but I don’t say about it…for now.
“Am I allowed to know where you live now?” I ask Livia.
“Ah, not too far from me, well depending on where in New Jersey. How long have you lived there?”
“A couple of years. I moved there with my best friend when we both graduated from real estate school. We’ve moved into our own places now, but both decided to stay in Jersey.”
“And you like it there?”
“I do. The only drawback is being so far from my dad. He’s like a ten-hour drive from me.”
“I’m sorry, did you say drive?” I sputter.
She chuckles. “Yes. My dad flat out refuses to fly on planes so anytime he comes to see me, he drives. And being that I drove eight hours to get down here, I’ve never felt more pity for him than I do now.”
“Do you refuse to fly, too?”
She shakes her head.
“Then, why would you torture yourself by driving down here?”
“Well, my father gave me this little old taser, I think you may have set eyes on it.”
I narrow my eyes on her.
“Me and my best friend were both supposed to come here, but she’s pregnant and decided it would be better if she stayed home. Once my dad found out I was coming down here alone, he insisted I bring the taser he’d bought me along. You know, if some creep tried to break into my room.”
I laugh. “Creep, huh?”
“Anyway, I couldn’t exactly go through security carrying a taser with the explanation that my dad made me bring it, so driving was the only option.”
“Well, I commend your dad for making sure you were protected, although my stomach does not thank him.”
“I’m debating whether I should even tell him what happened. He’ll get a kick out of me actually tasing someone, but I also think he might take the fact that someone was at my door as a reason to get me some other weapon.”
“Hmm, maybe a nice dagger next time.”
“Why not a sword?”
Damn, I love her laugh. How am I ever going to go without it when this weekend is done? I don’t want to, and hopefully she doesn’t make me.
Although the desserts look good, Livia must be as full as I am because she turns it down as well.
We step back into the elevator, and I look across the space to where Livia stands with a small smile on her lips.
“So, did you decide if this is a date or not yet?” I question.
“I did. It’s a date.”
“What made up your mind?”
“When you asked me out to another dinner.”
My eyebrows furrow. “Why did that decide it?”
“Because it’s been a very, very long time since I wanted someone to ask to spend more time with me.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“It’s not that I don’t get asked, but that I haven’t wanted to answer yes. But with you, I wanted you to ask. It’s new for me.”
I smile. “You’ve got me feeling pretty special over here.”
The doors slide open, and we walk down the hallway. God, I want to kiss her so badly, to wrap my arms around her and grab her to me until there’s no space between us, but something tells me not to. Especially her words just now in the elevator, that she hasn’t wanted to say yes in a long time. I don’t know if she means a bad break-up was the cause or that she’s just been too busy with work to have a relationship, but either way, I don’t want to rush her and send her running.
We reach her door, and she turns around to look up at me. She reaches up to my face and brings her hand to my cheek.
“I like this.” She grins.
I chuckle, knowing she’s talking about my beard that I shave each morning, but is damn near full by the end of each day.
“Is that right? Well, lucky for you, it’ll make another appearance during dinner tomorrow night. Another reason to not blow me off.”
“I have every reason to come already. I’ll see you for breakfast, then. Goodnight.”
She goes into her room, and I walk the few doors down to mine. Despite the fact that we just left each other, I’m regretting not asking for her number so we could text tonight. God, what is she doing to me? I have never thought of a woman this much or been unable to get her off my mind. I undress and get into the shower, ready to go to sleep so that tomorrow morning gets here quicker.
“So, I have an idea,” I say over the plates of pancakes, bacon, and bagels on our table.
“Go on,” Livia encourages.
“Since we’re both not actually looking forward to anything today, let’s skip out on the conference and go to some places around town.”
Her eyes widen. “And just when did you think of this?”
“Last night, but I wanted to ask you after you’d had a good breakfast and were more agreeable.”
She smiles. “Smart.”
Then, she bites the corner of her lip. Those lips are painted a light brown today to match the shirt she has on. Her tight black pants when she came out of her room this morning was enough to have me walking a little behind her to the elevator to adjust myself in my pants.
“I’m just wondering if my boss will have some way of finding out,” she ponders.
“I mean, it’s not like we sign in when we get to the lectures or anything, so unless he has tracking on your phone, I think we’re good.”
She gives a single nod. “I’m in. Oh, my God, I’m never this spontaneous. If I get caught, I am one hundred percent blaming you.”
I grin. “I’ll take the blame if it gets me a day with you.”
She shakes her head. “You’re trouble, aren’t you?”
“Only the best kind.”
We finish our food and then duck down as some people from our conferences walk past us to the exit, like they’re going to spot us and snitch. Once the coast is clear of people who probably couldn’t care less about us, I pay the bill and we head to Livia’s rental car. I begin directing her to where I want to go first, not telling her the name.
“Um, I don’t know if you noticed what we’re both wearing, but are either of us dressed for wherever you want to go?”
I chuckle. “We’ll be fine. Well, I don’t know about you in those heels, but I’ll be fine.”
She arches a brow over at me. “You have a problem with my heels?”
“Not a single one.”
That shy smile again.
“Turn here,” I tell her, pointing to the right. “According to what I read we’re probably going to have to park here.”
Her eyebrows furrow as she stretches trying to see further down the crowded street. She pulls into a parking lot with a few open spaces remaining, and I hurry out of the car to open her door. Her hand slides into mine and it brings me right back to how I felt in front of her door last night. Wanting, needing, more of her, but also just being grateful for this small touch. She smiles up at me when she stands straight.
“Okay, so make me missing the conference worth it,” she says.
“I’ll do my best.”
I keep her hand in mine while we walk down the street to the festival. My eyes should be on the crowd around us, making sure I don’t bump into someone in the sheer amount of people here, but instead, I keep them on Livia wanting to see her reaction when we arrive. And just like I’d hoped, those beautiful lips curve up, her eyes and mouth both smiling.
“It looks like they have everything here,” she marvels.
Then, I finally take a look around and realize she is right. When I looked up things to do in the town this morning, this was one of the first results I found. It showed pictures of food, live musicians, booths to shop from, and even a comedy show later. I thought it was the perfect place to spend the day, or at least part of it.
“Where do you wanna start?” I ask her.
“Oh, there.” She points to a booth selling jewelry.
I walk over with her, and she looks over a few things until she settles on a few bracelets, a light green ring, and the matching necklace. She begins to get her wallet out, so I hurry to slide my card to the owner before she can retrieve it.
“You didn’t have to do that,” she says low.
“No, but I wanted to. What kind of date would this be if you paid for anything while we’re on it?”
She grins. “Oh, so breakfast just turned into an all-day date, huh?”
“I’ve never had an all-day date. Have you?”
She shakes her head.
“Good, so we’ll be each other’s first.”
“Interesting choice of words.”
I put my hand to my chest in mock offense. “Get your mind out of the gutter, Livia. My goodness.”
“Right, because your mind isn’t right in there with mine?”
My eyes lower to her lips. No, mine is definitely in there with hers. Clearing my throat, I direct her to another booth. We shop a little more, buying some matching T-shirts that have me wondering if we’ll ever get a time with each other again to see one another wearing them. She gets a few more pieces of jewelry, my mind making a note to remember how much she likes bracelets, and especially the pale color of green she gravitates to.
I hate the uncertainty surrounding all of this. I want so much to know more about her. I want to ask her when we can see each other again, to remind her that the distance between us isn’t so great that we can’t make it work. But make what work? What is this? I’ve never had these feelings for someone I barely know. Where I’m planning a future with, well, really a stranger, but a stranger who is on my mind all day and night.
I could hardly sleep last night from my excitement over seeing her for breakfast and hoping she would agree to spend the day with me. And now here I am, her hand slipping back into mine every time we leave a booth and walk to the next, and not a single part of me wants to let go.
So, I let my mind keep remembering all the little things I’m learning about her in the hopes that it’ll come in handy later. That she’ll want to see me again as much as I do her.
“What are you thinking about?” she whispers in my ear, showing me just how distracted I’ve been to not have noticed how close she was getting.
“You. Only you,” I admit.
She opens her mouth, like she’s searching for what to say to that. I just kiss her cheek and pull on her hand to move us to the next booth. Her knowing I want more is enough. Now, it’s for her to decide if she wants the same.
By the time we realize we haven’t eaten lunch yet, it’s almost three. We walk towards a cluster of food trucks. We can’t decide on what to get, so we get dishes from a few of them. By the time we’ve grabbed our seats at the nearly full tables set up in the middle of the street here, we have tacos, sliders, cheese fries, and fried Oreos.
“This looks like a very dangerous combination,” she mentions, already digging into the cheese fries, though.
“A tasty danger, though.” I grin.
And all of it is so good. Just as I’m eyeing the now much longer lines and trying to decide if getting seconds is worth the wait, Livia’s phone rings.
“Probably my dad.” She rolls her eyes with a smile. She looks at the screen and chuckles. “No, my other protector. Hey, Alana.”
I lean forward to sneak the last Oreo, but then I hear the alarm in Livia’s voice.
Her eyes widen and her hand is on her chest like she’s trying to calm a racing heart.
“What are the doctors saying…? Oh, my God, I should be there.” She moves her hand from her chest to her forehead, rubbing her temples. “Yeah, I know, and I’m glad he’s there with you, but I just wish… It doesn’t matter. Just relax like the doctors are saying and make sure you do not have that baby…. Yes, you tell him if he’s born without me being there, I will never buy him that motorcycle we discussed when he gets older.” Finally, a smile, however faint, comes to her face. “Yes, I said motorcycle. Call me if anything changes, okay? Love you.”
She hangs up and not wanting to speak first, I wait for her to look up at me. There’s turmoil in her eyes, mixing pain with concern.
“My best friend I told you about…” I nod and she continues. “She’s in the hospital. Early labor, but they’re trying to stop it. I should be there. I feel horrible.”
“Is the father there?” I ask.
She gives a light chuckle. “Yeah. But uh, it’s complicated. They kinda barely know each other.”
My eyebrows rise.
“Well, that sounds bad.” She corrects. “They knew each other, but then lost each other. Then, I guess, they found each other again when she was five months pregnant. So, here they are two months later, in the hospital together.”
“Yeah, that is complicated. You can’t really be comforted by someone you don’t feel you know that well. Especially when I’m sure any woman would be freaking out about having their baby early.”
“Exactly. But a part of me feels like this is just what they need, anyway, to realize they’re both fighting a losing battle trying not to fall for each other.” She takes a deep breath and lets it out. “I’m sure everything will be okay.”
“I think it will.”
The concern is still there, so I try to think of a way to cheer her up. Down the street, I can see people setting up a huge screen and low seats in the grass before it. I remember now that they’re showing a movie here, selling snacks you’d typically find at a theatre.
“Come on,” I say, standing up and extending my hand to her. “We’ve got a movie to catch.”
“The date that never ends.” She grins.
“Do you want it to?”
“Not even a little. Which is, again, pretty new to me.”
She looks down. “I haven’t had the best relationships, or dates, for that matter.”
“Any man who didn’t appreciate you was a damn fool.”
She looks up at me through her lashes, and her mouth pulls to one side. “And you’re no fool?”
“No. And I definitely won’t be one when it comes to you.”
She begins walking towards where we parked, but I direct her instead to where the big screen is at. We stop at the concession booth and get some caramel popcorn and drinks before walking towards some seats in the back. These are bigger, made for two people to sit in them. Livia sits first and I hand the popcorn to her before sitting beside her. We watch in silence as the other seats fill up until the movie begins. Livia holds the popcorn between us, both of our hands digging in until they hit the bottom of the container.
Livia sighs, her head going to my shoulder, and my body relaxes at the sound. Our hands link together again, resting on her lap, my thumb sweeping back and forth over her knuckles. When the movie ends, Livia gets the must-have smaller popcorn for the ride. I drive this time, knowing I want to take her to one more place. She texts during the ride, probably checking up on her best friend. So, when she looks up and realizes we’re not at the hotel, but at a beautiful lake, she looks over at me in surprise.
“If I didn’t only meet you two days ago, I would think you had this planned for much longer,” she says.
“I want to make this day as perfect as possible. It’s not every day I get to take out someone like you.”
I get out of the car and open her door. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The sun is setting with the colors reflecting on the still water. Only a few people are at the lake, walking around the trail along the border of it. We walk until we reach a bench and sit down. Her head goes to my shoulder again, and this time, I bring my arm around her, pulling her even closer to me. She hums and I can’t help but grin.
We stay there until long after the sun has disappeared, only heading back to the car when a chill begins to form in the air. I open Livia’s door, but instead of her getting inside, she turns to face me. Her eyes look into mine before they go to my lips. Anticipation fills me as I lean in. She does the same and when our lips meet, I have to fight to keep a shudder from tearing through me.
Her lips are perfect, warm and soft, and seeking more from me. I’m more than happy to give it to her. I open my mouth and run the tip of my tongue along her bottom lip. She sighs into my mouth and her tongue meets mine, circling it slowly, the caramel taste I find there driving me crazy. My hands go to her hips before I even fully realize what I’m doing. I pull her body closer to mine, and her arms wrap around my neck.
She nips at my tongue, and I groan into her mouth, my dick getting hard in seconds. Lust and need rush through me. When we finally part, Livia’s smile is sexy, seductive, and says she knows exactly what I’m feeling right now. Desire. She gives me one more kiss before getting into the car. I have to take a deep breath while I walk to the driver’s side of the car.
“Do you want to get something for dinner?” I ask once we’re on the road.
She shakes her head. “Somehow, I am full off all that popcorn.”
“Me, too. I’m definitely going to try and find that brand when I get home.”
“So, do you plan on whisking me away somewhere tomorrow, too?” she inquires.
“Sadly, no. Tomorrow is the closing lecture which I actually do want to be there for. But I would like to take you out to dinner.”
“Hmm, I will see if I can clear my schedule.”
“Oh, is that right?” I arch a brow. “Well, hopefully you can pencil me in. How’s your best friend?”
“The contractions are slowing down, so hopefully that’s a good sign.”
“That’s good. Told you she’d be okay.”
“You did, huh?”
“Well, if I was a baby getting promised a motorcycle, I’d stay put a little longer.” I chuckle.
“Me, too,” she agrees.
We pull up to the hotel, and I hand her keys to the valet before doing what I wanted to yesterday and placing my hand to her lower back. A quick intake of breath leaves her at my touch, and I know she’s feeling exactly what I am right now. The rightness of us, of our bodies touching, of us having this moment together. I can only hope she’s as convinced as I am that we need to spend more time together.
She presses the button for the sixth floor and whereas before we’ve gone to separate sides of the elevator, this time Livia stays close to me, her inhales making her chest touch my arm each time. And every time makes my skin feel like electricity runs up and down it. The doors open and I let her step out first, watching her hips while she walks ahead of me.
“You’re staring,” she says without ever having turned around to catch me doing exactly what she said.
“And how would you know?” I ask.
“When your eyes are on me, I feel…” She pauses and I tilt my head to the side waiting for her to finish. “I don’t know how to explain it. I feel something.”
“Do you like it?”
“Then, I’ll keep on staring.”
She peeks at me over her shoulder then, and her grin draws me in even more. “Do that.”
When we’re standing in front of her room, she slides the keycard in and opens her door. Her foot keeps the door open while her eyes come to mine.
“This day was amazing.” She smiles. “Much better than anything I thought I would be doing down here.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
“Are you gonna kiss me again?” she asks.
“Have I told you yet I love how forward you are?”
Her eyes widen. “You do? It’s pretty new actually. With you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like I said before, haven’t dated in a while. And the last man I did…” She shakes her head. “Let’s just say I became someone I didn’t like with him.”
“That’s a shame,” I say, bringing my hand to her cheek and stepping closer. “Because who you are is more than enough.”
Her lips curve up, and I lean forward. My eyes close seconds after hers, and then my mouth is on hers. This time, it’s her tongue that seeks mine out, sliding into my mouth and making me groan at the feeling of it. Her hands grab onto my jacket, twisting the material in her fists and bringing me closer. Her lips press harder into mine, and my eyes blink open to find hers staring back into mine.
We break apart but don’t move away from each other. Our foreheads touch, both of our breaths ragged, until she slowly releases her grip on my jacket.
“Goodnight, Livia,” I say low, more husky than I intended.
“Goodnight. I look forward to tomorrow night.”
I smile while we separate. “Not as much as me.”
She walks into her room, and I head to my own, not sure how I’m ever going to be able to sleep tonight.
“Yes, I’m sure I’m feeling better.” Alana chuckles. “It is my body. I think I know.”
“So, did they say when you’re going to be able to go home yet?” I ask.
“Not until they’re sure the contractions aren’t going to come back. Which I hope is soon because this bed is no more than carboard with a sheet on it.”
I laugh. “I would think they would go the extra mile to make pregnant women more comfortable.”
“And you’d be wrong. You’ll see one day.”
I scoff. “Having a nephew is enough for me.”
She just gives an unconvinced hum. “We’ll see. So, how’s the conference going?”
“Great,” I say, too quick and way too loud.
“You sound awfully cheerful about some lectures. Maybe I do need to make sure I get down there next year.”
I clear my throat. “No, I mean. It’s okay. Not as boring as I thought. Nice people, though. And actually, I’m running late. I’ll call you later. Text me if anything changes.”
“Okay. I’ve gotta pee, anyway.”
“Oh, the joys of motherhood kicking in early.”
I hang up and rush out of the bathroom. Slipping into my light grey dress with capped sleeves, I push down the fabric of the skirt that stops just before my knees. It feels weird not going downstairs to meet Owen for breakfast, and I still at the realization of just how used to him I’ve already become. That I miss him, that I want to be spending this morning, and this afternoon with him. That just tonight doesn’t feel like enough.
“What are you doing?” I mumble to myself.
I can’t deny that I like Owen, that I’ve been thinking of him every moment since I left his room after tasing him. But it’s been so long since I let myself feel anything for…anyone that feeling all this for him now only confuses me. Am I ready for this? And what the hell is this? Am I reading too much into something that could be nothing at all? And what concerns me even more is that I want this to be something.
I haven’t wanted something with a man since long before I stopped having something with one. I know how I want tonight to end, but can I handle what comes after? Feelings growing, attachment, emotions? I don’t know. But I do know that I feel like Owen is worth taking the risk. We’ve known each other for such a short time, but everything he’s shown me so far has only made me want to know more, to be around him more. And as much as it scares me, at the same time, I like it. I like knowing that I can still feel these things, and that maybe my heart was just waiting on the right person to feel them for.
Shaking my head and telling myself that I’m overthinking all this, I grab my bag and head out the door. I ordered breakfast to the room before I got in the shower, so I walk past the restaurant, even though I do peek over to look for Owen just in case, and go to the lecture hall. The speaker talks about ways to market your listings and even while taking notes, Owen is on my mind. What the hell is happening to me?
After lunch, there’s one more lecture and then I go back to the room, practically counting down the hours until dinner. I curse myself for not bringing more hair products, but then again, I didn’t know I’d be going on quite so many dates while I was down here. Or any at all, for that matter. An hour before Owen is due to come get me, a knock sounds at my door. Eyebrows scrunching in confusion, I walk to the door and look through the peephole. A woman in a hotel uniform stands on the other side with a large box in her arms.
“Yes?” I ask, opening the door.
“This was brought to the desk downstairs for you, Miss Willis.”
She extends the box to me and walks away with a smile. I lay the black box on the table in the small dining room and take the card off the top.
I can’t wait to spend another night with you. It’s all I’ve been able to think about all day.
Excitement rushing through me, I untie the knot and open the box, gasping at my first look of the beautiful dress inside. Praying Owen got the right size, I take the burgundy dress out of the box. Quickly discarding the robe I have on, I unzip the dress and pull it up my body. I have no idea how, but it fits perfectly, hugging the sides of my body, accentuating my breasts with its spaghetti straps and lace top. A ribbon tightens the dress at my waist, flowing down from there in silky material to the floor, with a split in the right leg that comes up to mid-thigh.
Zipping the back up, I twist from side to side in the mirror, amazed at how good it looks on me and wondering when Owen had the time to get this. Beyond happy that I brought my favorite black heels, I put those on and grin at how amazing they make my exposed leg look in this dress. Determined to do something nicer with my hair, I go into the bathroom and work with what I have until it’s in a high ponytail, a few wisps of hair coming down in spirals along the sides of my face and two in the back, hanging over my shoulders.
By the time Owen knocks on my door, I am grinning from ear to ear and practically bouncing with anticipation. But when I open the door and my eyes take him in, another emotion begins to rush through me. Lust is the only word I can use to sum up the heat that makes my stomach clench in need and my clit throb. He’s wearing all black, from his shoes to his fitted pants, to his sleek jacket and skinny tie.
When I finally look at his face, I find amusement in the light brown eyes watching me. His hair is parted on the right side, brushed over and leaving a few strands to come dangerously close to being in his eyes. God, how I want to reach up and stroke those strands back into place.
“You look even more beautiful than I imagined you would,” he says.
That only draws my eyes to his lips. Those perfect lips. Those lips that I now know feel like heaven against mine. That I have spent the last two nights wondering, fantasizing, about how they would feel on my body.
“You look…” I struggle for the adequate word. “Damn.”
He chuckles. “I’ll take damn.”
“Thank you for this.” I gesture down at the dress. “How did you know my size?”
“I guessed, hoping, praying, I was right. For all I knew you would’ve opened the door and thrown the dress in my face.”
I smile at the slight nerves I can actually hear in his voice at the possibility. “That was never an option.”
He offers his arm to me and I take it, letting the door close behind me. This night feels different than all the rest. More important, more meaningful. Like this night is deciding something while the others were leading to this decision, making it easy for me to make. Maybe he feels it, too, because while we wait for the elevator, he brings my hand to his lips, pressing a kiss to my knuckles before giving me a soft look.
I can’t even remember the last time I felt nerves and excitement flutter to life in my stomach, but I feel them now. Butterfly wings go crazy, making me take a deep breath in an effort not to turn into a giddy girl. All these emotions scare me, but I tell myself it’s only because they feel so new, so surreal after not having felt anything for so long. Because I know it’s having these feelings for Owen that scares me. But not Owen himself.
“What are you thinking about?” Owen whispers into my ear.
I shiver from the feeling of his minty breath ghosting across my face.
“You. And what you’re doing to me,” I admit.
“What am I doing, Livia?”
“I feel like you’re bringing me back to life.”
He stills, looking down at me in adoration, and with a little shock. The doors to the elevator open but neither of us moves, our eyes locked on each other, in some sort of trance.
“Back to life,” he says softly. “Someone like you should be someone’s very reason for living, Livia.”
A shuddering breath leaves me at his words. They flow right through me and hit my heart, making it beat faster, taking notice of this man in front of me.
“Going down?” someone asks.
Both of our heads whip to the doors and the smiling person standing there holding the doors open. We walk into the elevator, and as we ride down, my mind replays his words over and over. I’m so distracted that I don’t even realize we’ve crossed the lobby until I feel warm air hit me.
“Where are we going?” I question while we wait for the valet to bring the rental car around.
“I wanted to take you somewhere outside the hotel for tonight,” he tells me. “Is that okay?”
“More than okay.”
The car arrives and he opens my door for me before walking around to his side. We set out, driving half an hour, talking and holding hands the whole ride. How is it possible to feel so comfortable with someone I barely know? Because I feel like I can tell him anything, show him anything, and he would still smile at me like he does every time we reach a red light. Like he adores everything he sees and can’t get enough.
We park, and I step out of the car to see a packed restaurant. Already, I’m in awe as we walk in and I see the beautiful, large chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The lights themselves appear as lit candles. The smells filling the room take my excitement even higher. Owen tells the waitress his name and she directs us to a small table directly under one of the chandeliers, one seat on either side.
“My lady.” Owen grins, pulling my chair out.
“Thank you, sir.” I smile.
He sits across from me, his menu placed in front of him, but he doesn’t take his eyes off of me.
“What?” I ask.
“Just wondering how I can get you to see me when we get back home.”
My back straightens, not expecting those words. It’s not that I haven’t been thinking of the same thing, but that I didn’t know if he was. Leave it to my mind to whisper that it would never work.
“Where can this go?” I ask.
“Wherever we want this to.” He shrugs. “I know that I want to spend more time with you. This weekend hasn’t been anywhere near enough.”
I smile to myself as the waitress comes over and asks what drinks we might like. Quickly looking over the menu, I tell her which dish I want too. The moment we’re alone again, Owen’s questioning, waiting eyes are on me.
“I want to see you again,” I admit. “But I’m also asking myself how it can work with so much distance between us. Here, we’ve been a few rooms apart, but we’d be a state apart with work taking up both of our time, and whatever else getting in the way.”
“I think if you want something to work hard enough, and you put the time and energy into it that it deserves, then it’ll work.”
“And you’re willing to put that time and energy in?”
He leans forward, putting his arms on the table, and looking at me so intently, I almost shiver. “I am more than willing because I know you deserve whatever I give and more.”
“Damn, Owen. You sure have a way of making a woman feel special.”
“And you should feel that way. Everyday.”
“That’s what you want to do? Make me feel special every day?” I arch a brow.
“That is indeed what I’ll be striving for. And if I fall short, I expect you to let me know.”
I laugh. “I think I can do that.”
Dinner is delicious and the chocolate mousse is amazing, especially when it means I get to watch that spoon coming out of Owen’s mouth. His tongue peeks out to lick the tip, and a whimper escapes me. His eyes shoot to mine, and the heat I find there matches what I feel gathering between my thighs right now. What I had been considering all day, if I’m ready to take things further with him, to be physical again after so long, is suddenly answered with the visions that fill my mind. Of me under him. Of me above him. Of our mouths meeting as our bodies come together until we both collapse onto the bed.
Owen pays the check and takes my hand in his before we begin walking to the car. He opens the door for me, nipping at my neck before I get into my seat. Almost as if he doesn’t even think about it, he takes my hand when he begins driving and brings it to his lips. His mouth whispers kisses across my knuckles again and again, left to right, right to left, and when he’s not doing that, his thumb sweeps over the skin. It makes me feel so cherished, and if this is what he does when he doesn’t even seem to be thinking about it, what will he do when he gives a conscious effort? The decision to see him again when we get home seems to become clearer and clearer.
We reach the hotel and although it’s late, our dinner having been eaten slowly and Owen taking his time driving back here, I’m not ready for the night to end. People are in the elevator with us at first, but they get off on the third floor. And the moment the doors close, I step closer to Owen, looking up so our eyes meet.
“I asked you where can this go, but now I have another question,” I say.
“And what is that?” he asks, having the nerve to lick his lips and drive me even crazier.
“Where does this start?”
“Where do you want it to?”
“Your room,” I breathe. “Right now.”
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