“Hey,” Braydon said, lifting my chin to his. “Is everything okay?”

“Fine. Why?” I lied.

He lifted one shoulder. “You don’t seem like yourself. Tonight, after that speech . . . I don’t know. I wondered where my little firecracker had gone. . . .” His hand lifted to my upper arm and glided along my skin in slow, measured strokes.

He was incredibly perceptive. Too much so. But I couldn’t have him getting to me. My maid of honor speech had been cut short when a lump of emotion had lodged in my throat, and I’d nearly broken down in front of everyone. I’d said a quick congratulations and ended it. Emmy and Ben seemed none the wiser, happily kissing and clinking their champagne glasses. I found it interesting that Braydon, of all people, had been perceptive enough to pick up on the change in me.

I sucked in a fortifying breath. I couldn’t let him see how weak and alone I felt. “She’s still here and will happily kick you in the balls if you decide to get too handsy.” I glared at the hand he’d left resting on my bare shoulder.

He quickly withdrew the offending hand. “Glad you’re back.”

I swallowed down a wave of nerves, my heartbeat quickening as I realized we were all alone.

“You look stunning tonight. I should have told you earlier,” he said.

My eyes lifted to his and I parted my lips to speak, to give him one of the sassy quips I was known for, but nothing came out.

“Shh, it’s okay,” he said, his palm cupping my cheek. “You don’t have to be tough all the time, you know?”

I nodded slowly.

“I know you can take care of yourself, but who takes care of you, Ellie?”

He rarely, if ever, called me by my actual name, and the familiarity of it passing over his lips caused a little ripple of desire to dance in my belly. “No one,” I admitted. “Men suck.”

“I can’t argue with that. Most men are ass**les who behave like spoiled children.”

I nodded slowly, glad we were on the same page. I thought he’d try to convince me otherwise, or at least tell me that he wasn’t one of them. But he just stayed quiet, watching me with those gorgeous blue eyes of his, making my skin hum with nervous anticipation. What were we doing?

“I could take care of you tonight, make you feel good, if you let me,” he whispered, his mouth just a few inches from mine.

My heart rioted in my chest. He was so good-looking, so sexy. I knew it’d be incredible. But the word tonight stood out to me. I was done with men who wanted one night with me. I supposed a string of failed dates and one-night stands would do that to you. I was looking for something more, a deeper, intimate connection; a real relationship. Not a one-night stand, not a guy who wanted nothing to do with me in the morning. Braydon had a way with words, I’d give him that. That didn’t mean anything was going to happen, though.

“A few sexy words and you expect me to just hand over my panties?” I quipped.

“No. I’d prefer to peel those off you myself. Slowly. Savoring every delicious inch of skin I exposed.”

My eyes slipped closed. My body was screaming at me to give in, to pull him into the nearest coat closet or restroom and let him have his way with me. To make this ache between my thighs go away. But my brain, ever in control, knew I couldn’t do that.

“May I kiss you?” he whispered.

Temptation to kiss him flared inside me, unbidden and unwelcome. I’d been unconsciously watching the way his mouth moved when he spoke, as he took sips from his glass, fantasizing about how those full lips would feel against mine. Despite my body’s urgings, I slowly shook my head.

“What are you afraid of?” he whispered. “Falling for me?”

I raised an eyebrow, looking at him like he’d grown a second head. “There’s no chance of that happening,” I scoffed.

“Then kiss me,” he rasped.

“Why would I kiss you?” I asked, breathless yet fighting to remain in control.

“Because you want to.” His statement was bold, direct, and sure. I hated how well he could read me.

“No, I don’t,” I murmured weakly. Stay strong, Ellie.

He chuckled softly. “Okay, kitten. Then let me kiss you. I want to see if you’re still as feisty when that pretty mouth is occupied.”

My silence was the only answer he needed.

He took my hand and dragged me the few paces to the women’s restroom across the hall. In this quiet part of the hotel, it was deserted.

Braydon’s warm palm cupped the bare nape of my neck, his thumb lightly rubbing against the soft skin. A chill darted down my spine. The simple contact from his hand was more than enough to ignite the fireworks between us into a raging inferno. His touch was firm, knowing, and decidedly confident.

With his hand still planted firmly at the base of my neck, he guided my body to his until our chests rested together. Our hearts pounded against each other, and I didn’t know if it was from the adrenaline surge of arguing with him or the desire I felt flooding my system.

He certainly knew how to make my heart race.

All the bickering and heated arguments gave way to this moment. His blue eyes gazed fiercely down at mine and my tongue unconsciously darted out to wet my bottom lip. Braydon didn’t miss the movement, his own lips parting as he softly inhaled.

I had no idea what he saw in me—what he must think of me—with my razor-sharp tongue and the neon sign above my head advertising how much I distrusted men. But in this moment, he obviously didn’t care. He was every bit as wrapped up in this as I was. Maybe he was just horny, maybe it was our roles as maid of honor and best man at our best friends’ wedding that had brought us to this moment . . . but regardless, there was no denying I wanted him to kiss me.

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