Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 111
I looked around me. I was out of my depth here. Put me in a nightclub like the White Room or E11even, and I knew exactly what to do. This place, however, not so much.
I walked to the bar. If I was going to manage this at all, I was going to need a stiff drink. I didn’t care if Lacey thought I shouldn’t drink too much. I needed to get through this without looking as unsure of myself as I felt. I didn’t like this. I didn’t like being in a place where I wasn’t comfortable.
This was all part of the plan, but that didn’t mean I had to like it.
At the bar, I ordered a Remy Martin, and the bartender poured me two fingers on ice. I would have loved to have three, but it felt tacky to ask. I sipped the amber liquid, feeling the smooth whiskey run down my throat. Something I knew. Warm and familiar. What a treat.
“You are the last person I expected to see here,” a familiar voice next to me suddenly said.
I turned. Brian was dressed in a black suit with a black shirt and tie, and he looked very modern in it. His hair was slicked back, his chin clean-shaven, and he held a whiskey tumbler in his hand like it was precious.
“Don’t even ask,” I said, sipping more of my own whiskey.
When I had asked him during the week if he wanted to come out with me this Saturday, tonight, he had told me he was busy. I hadn’t bothered to ask with what. Now I knew.
“Don’t drink too much,” he said. “This place is crawling with reporters. It’s the one place you don’t want to be caught screwing up.”
“So I was told,” I said and drank more still, not listening to what Brian or Lacey were telling me.
I know it’s her job to make me look good, but I’m used to being bad. Old habits are hard to break, and all that.
“So, what are you doing here?” Brian asked. “It’s not your scene.”
I shrugged. “Working on my image.”
“Oh, with your PR Manager.” He grinned. “Where is she? I’d like to see this woman you’ve been talking about.”
I waved my hand. “Somewhere upstairs. I have to network by myself.”
“She’s making you work right away then,” Brian said, and I shook my head at him. “I think I like this girl for you.”
“Don’t you start,” I said.
“So, have you made any progress with her? Or is the fact that you’re in a suit proof that the only person making progress here is her?”
I shook my head. “She’s good at what she does. I’ll give her that. And no, I haven’t really made any progress. I just can’t figure her out. I just thought I had a hang of her, and now, tonight, she’s different.”
I shrugged. I didn’t know how to explain it. She was just less of a hard-ass and more expressive. And more beautiful, as a result. Which caught me off guard because I didn’t usually describe women, even to myself in my own mind, as beautiful. They were hot or sexy, judged on a scale of how likely it was that I would fuck them.
This was something else entirely. I had no idea what this meant when it came to Lacey, or what this meant for her and me— as if there even was a her and me— but I intended to find out.
Chapter 15 – Hanson
“I should walk around and network,” I told Brian, finishing my whiskey.
Part of me was afraid of what would happen if Lacey came back and saw that the only person I was “networking” with was my own best friend. She is feisty and wouldn’t like that one bit. But another part of me wanted to change the subject— I didn’t want to let Brian in on how fucking vulnerable I’d somehow become when it came to this woman I’d only barely just met.
“Talk to her,” Brian said, pointing out a woman in a black dress that pushed up her breasts in a way that looked uncomfortable. “She’s a reporter for Miami Today , and she always writes favorably of her interviewees.”
“Thanks,” I said.
This was clearly not Brian’s first rodeo. He was much better at schmoozing— putting his best face forward, as Lacey would call it— than I was. I walked over to the reported Brian had told me to talk to, and cleared my throat.
She smiled and introduced herself, knowing exactly who I was. She leaned toward me when she spoke and responded to my charm. This, I could do.
We weren’t flirting— she was old enough to be my mother— but women of any age or appearance are quick to warm up to me. At least I could use that to my advantage, although it was clear I had a lot to learn about the rest of making a good impression on people.
After a while, we were called to the Villa Cruz Ballroom on the third floor for donation speeches. The guests made their way up the stairs slowly until everyone was packed into the ballroom. The doors onto the terrace were open, and a warm breeze blew in through the doors, circulating fresh air.
Someone touched my elbow, and Lacey appeared beside me.
“You seem to be doing well,” she said.
I shrugged. “Well enough, I think.”
“I’ve spoken to a couple of people, found out who’s donating what. This is what you need to do. You have to get up there and make a speech about your donation.”
“What?” I looked at her, alarmed. “I don’t do public speaking.”
She shook her head. “You’re going to have to put yourself out there and counter the bad publicity you’ve been getting with some good publicity. Just a donation won’t be enough.”
I shook my head. I had assumed I was going to write a check and let that be it.
“What am I supposed to say?” I asked.
“Tell them it’s to repay the city for your behavior. But say it in a better way. Your own words. I know you have them in you. And don’t make a small donation. Anything less than fifty won’t be enough.”
Fifty thousand dollars .
It wasn’t a lot, compared to the money I had. But the idea of it bothered me.
I blinked at her. “That’s like a fine, then,” I said. “Paying them to get my image clean.”
Lacey shook her head and put her hand on my arm. Her skin was warm, even through my blazer.
“It’s a good first step, Hanson,” she said. “Trust me.”
Her eyes were gray in the dress she was wearing, almost mercurial. She implored me with them. Dammit, I wasn’t going to be able to say no to her.
I took a deep breath and nodded.
“Okay,” I said. “It would have been great if you’d let me know before we came that I would have to speak. I would have prepared something.”
“I trust you can think of something,” she said.
I wasn’t sure if she was being condescending or encouraging. I hoped for the latter.
“You’re doing really well, Hanson,” she said.
I nodded at her and moved toward the front of the room where a podium had been set up. A few people went before me, and I paid attention to their speeches. When it was finally my turn, I had a few things in mind that I could say.
“Evening, ladies and gentlemen,” I said.
All eyes were on me, and I swallowed hard. I had thousands of fans who watched me when I played every weekend, but when it was that many, they were a sea of faces. This felt so much more personal.
“I’m pretty sure everyone knows me. For those of you who don’t recognize me, I’m the guy who makes stupid decisions.”
They laughed. Good.
“I’m here tonight because this is a cause that touched my heart.”
A bit of a lie? Perhaps. I hadn’t even known about the cause until Lacey told me about it. But once she did that, it did touch my heart. Perhaps just because I want her to touch my dick, but, I saw no need to go into the reasoning behind why this particular cause was so important to me, so I didn’t.
“And I’m here tonight to make things right. Or at least, to make a start. So, as my apology to the city and as the start of a new chapter in my life, I am donating one hundred thousand dollars to the Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Children’s Wing.”
I was doing something good, for once. I had to admit, it did make me feel proud.
I stepped away from the podium without saying anything else and made my way back to Lacey through a crowd that parted for me now.
Lacey squeezed my arm when I joined her again, a smile playing on her lips. She listened to the next speech, but whenever I glanced at her, that smile hadn’t faded. I nodded, proud of myself.
We left not too long after that. I escorted Lacey down the stairs and to the front door where our limo was waiting. Carl opened the door for us again, and I helped Lacey into the car before following. When the door was closed and the car started moving, Lacey turned to me.
“God, you were fantastic,” she said. Her eyes sparkled, her smile was contagious, and I grinned. “I can’t believe it. One hundred thousand! That was something else. You really know how to make a point. If you keep at it like this, well, there’s hope for you, after all.”
“It’s thanks to you, though,” I said. “I wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for you. And you looked great on my arm. Sexy. I had the best looking woman there tonight, that’s for sure.”
She blushed. She smiled, like she was suddenly shy, and her flushed cheeks became apparent when the interior of the car lit up as we passed streetlights.
“You have to stop complimenting me,” Lacey said. Her voice was a little breathy.
“Because we work together,” she said. “You’re my client . It’s not right.”
“But it’s true,” I said.
I lifted my hand and brushed my knuckles against her cheek. Her skin was soft and delicate. Her pupils were dilated, and she swallowed when she stared into my eyes. My gaze slid down to her lips. They were dark red and enticing. I had to have her. I had to take just a little a taste.
I leaned forward and kissed her before I could stop myself, before she could break the spell that had wrapped itself around us. She hesitated for just a second before she kissed me back. My tongue slid into her mouth, and I put my hand on her neck.
She was breathing hard. I wasn’t far behind. The bit of alcohol, the thrill of speaking in public, and of impressing a woman like Lacey, all of it made me want her. And if the way she kissed me was any indication, she wanted me, too.
She broke the kiss as if she’d suddenly come to her senses. She swallowed hard, her breathing still erratic. She looked confused, but her eyes slid to my lips once more before she turned her head away.
I wanted her. And it was clear she wanted me, too.
Now there was only one thing left for me to do. I had to go in, play hard, and make it happen. I couldn’t do it tonight, but I was determined to do it really fucking soon.
Chapter 16 – Lacey
The next morning, I woke up with my stomach tied in a bunch of big knots. The night with Hanson had been perfect. Too perfect. I had let the mood suck me in, and when he’d kissed me, I hadn’t said no.
I should have said no .
He was my client, and I’d told myself I wouldn’t do this. But he had been so handsome in his suit, and he had donated so much money to the hospital. For a moment, I’d entertained the idea that, under his playboy mask, he was a nice person.
Of course, he could be. The fact that he messed around so much didn’t mean he wasn’t nice. I of all people should know that, and I would be a hypocrite to judge him for it.
But I couldn’t afford to fall into this spiral of justifying everything he’d done in the past. It would only pull me deeper. We had already breached the touch barrier now that we’d kissed. It would be so much easier for something else to happen now.
And there was no way that was happening. I couldn’t sleep with Hanson. No matter how badly I’d wanted him last night, no matter how much he’d looked like the hero I had been preaching about in the restaurant.
I called him.
“Morning, beautiful,” he said, answering the phone.
I squeezed my eyes shut.
“Will you come over for lunch today?” I asked. “I would like to talk to you.”
“Sounds serious,” he said.
I shook my head, even though he couldn’t see me. Of course, it was serious.
“I don’t want to meet in public, if that’s okay. After last night, you’ll be in the public eye, and you can’t afford to be seen with a woman that might be mistaken for, well, you know.”
“A booty call?” he asked, finishing my sentence for me.
I didn’t answer. That was exactly what I had meant. I had fought my urges to be with him last night and I’d be damned if I was going to give some tabloid ammunition to suggest that I’d slept with him. I had wanted to really bad and the only thing that had stopped me was that it would be a career killer.
If the press made it look like something had happened, I would have wasted all my willpower on nothing. And I, Lacey Townsend, didn’t believe in wasting energy. Certainly not on something as silly as my client whom I was supposed to be reforming but in fact was being corrupted by.
You are not being corrupted by him , I reminded myself. Stay strong .
Meanwhile, he was answering my question about whether we could talk today.
“Okay,” he said. “What time do you want me to come over?”
“I’ll be there,” he said, and the line went dead.
I was suddenly nervous. My place wasn’t nearly as glamorous as his must be, and what were we going to eat?
I stopped myself and forced myself to breathe. He was just a client. What my place and my food were like didn’t matter. I needed to speak to him about yesterday and nothing more.
I showered and then went to the store. I bought a spread of different meat and cheeses to offer him for lunch. I got Portuguese rolls and fresh fruit juice.
Was I trying to make an impression on him? Of course not. I was only trying to host a proper lunch.
At exactly one o’clock, a knock sounded on the door. When I opened it, Hanson stood in front of me wearing jeans and a V-neck t-shirt that hugged his muscles so tightly it looked painted on. His hair was damp, like he’d just gotten out of the shower, and his smile made me melt a little. His cologne was strong, manly, and delicious.
I pushed the thought away. If I couldn’t resist a man like this when I’d told myself it would be strictly business, I would be disappointed in myself.
“You’re on time,” I said.
“You keep telling me not to be late,” he said.
I stood to the side, and he walked into my home, looking around. I tried to look at my place through his eyes. It wasn’t very big, but it was comfortable. Parquet floors, a television in the corner, couches that were big and comfortable enough to sleep on in case I had guests. A long passage that led to a bathroom, a spare bedroom, and then my room. His hotel rooms when he toured were probably bigger than this, not to mention his home.
It didn’t matter , I reminded myself.
“You can come through to the dining room,” I said.
The dining room was more like a division of the living room where a dining table for six had been put in a corner. I had put the food out on a table cloth.
“This looks good,” Hanson said and sat down.
I sat down, too, and for a short while, we busied ourselves eating and making small talk.
When we had nothing left to say, I took a deep breath.
“Listen, Hanson. What happened last night. We can’t do that again. That’s what I wanted to talk about.”
Hanson frowned. “Go out together?”
I shook my head. “Don’t play dumb. I mean the kiss in the car on the way back. We can’t do that.”
Hanson looked at me with an expression I couldn’t read. His features were perfe
“Did you want it?” he asked.
I blinked at him. “What?”
“The kiss. Did you want to kiss me?”
I shook my head. “That’s not the point. This is a working relationship. I can’t do this with a client, especially not with you, when your reputation is what it is.”
Hanson didn’t look shocked or nervous or shy or taken aback. He looked calm and in control, the opposite of what I was feeling.
“You’re not answering my question,” he said.
I was aware of his cologne. It was like it had gotten stronger now that we were talking about this. The smell reminded me of him last night and of the way he’d kissed me.
“Yes,” I said. “Are you happy now? Yes, I wanted to kiss you.”
I didn’t know why I’d said that to him. He didn’t have any right to demand an answer. I had been under no obligation to give it to him. And yet I blurted it out in frustration.
“Then what’s the problem?” he asked.
I rolled my eyes. “I just explained it to you,” I said. “It’s a working relationship.”
Hanson shook his head. “All work and no play makes Lacey boring.”
I was getting irritated. I had a right to tell him we weren’t doing this. The fact that I wanted to or wished we could be doing it was a different thing altogether.
“Don’t be a dick,” I said. “This can jeopardize both our careers. I can tell you now, that’s not what you want.”
“But I want you,” he said.
I blinked at him. “Don’t, Hanson. We can’t.”
My breath hitched in my throat. He inched closer to me. Talking to him had done nothing. In fact, maybe it made things worse. He was the kind of guy that would do exactly what you told him not to.
Damn it .
His lips touched mine, and electricity shocked through my system as if I’d touched a live wire.
I pulled away. I couldn’t do this. I shook my head.
“Don’t you want this?” he asked.
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