If she could go back in time and take back the offer of money, she would. Hayden didn’t make a habit of wielding her privilege unnecessarily. Especially since it had never felt like hers to begin with. Then again, he hadn’t exactly turned down the cash, had he? Hayden was pondering that confusing realization when she felt a warm hand curl around her elbow. She gasped and spun around to identify the hand’s owner, dropping the phone in the process.
And landed hard against Brent.
“Whoa. Easy.” He steadied her on her feet, then bent down to pick up her phone. “I know I’m tough to resist but save the fun stuff for later. We’re in public, woman.”
She glared up at him, still thrown off by his sudden appearance. “How about announcing yourself? You can’t just go around grabbing women’s arms on dark streets.”
“I’m pretty damn easy to see coming if your face isn’t buried in your phone.”
“I was calling you.”
“What for? I’m right on time.”
“I see that.” She bit her bottom lip, noticing for the first time how well he wore the suit. Never having seen him dressed in anything besides street clothes or his uniform, she had to admit he cleaned up well. Really well. His powerful chest and shoulders filled out the black jacket perfectly, the snug white shirt beneath tapering down into his matching dress pants. He looked every inch the gentleman. Too bad she knew better.
“See something you like?” His voice dropped low. “I’d be happy to skip this little shindig and let this suit spend the night on your bedroom floor.”
“That’s not happening.” Her body’s reaction didn’t match her words, however. Toes curled inside her high heels, belly heated, skin prickled. “This thing between us ends now. In fact, I was calling you to cancel. I think avoiding each other for a while might be a good idea.”
He came closer, backing her toward the building. “If you think you can get me into Manhattan on my day off in this fancy getup, then send me home before I’ve had a chance to make an impression, you’re crazier than I thought. This is happening, duchess. I didn’t shave twice in one day for nothing.” The doormen held open the glass double doors as he walked her backward into the lobby and straight into an elevator. She looked at the doorman indignantly, but he merely cast an eye at Brent and shrugged as though to say, “As if I could stop him?”
When the elevator doors rolled shut, she reached over to punch the button for the twenty-third floor, but he caught her hand. “Let go of me.”
Ignoring her command, he tugged her closer. Against her will, she breathed in his fresh-from-the-shower scent. He braced his hands above her, trapping her against him and the wall. “Are you wearing that garter belt? Show me before we go in. I need a little motivation.”
Hayden laughed in disbelief. “Motivation for what, exactly? I just told you that this”—she gestured back and forth between them—“isn’t going to happen. Even you can agree it’s a bad idea. If for no other reason, we need to knock it off for Daniel and Story’s sake. It’s bad enough we can’t stand each other. If we add sex to the equation, it’ll make things twice as messy.”
“Our friends have nothing to do with this and you know it.” He leaned in and sniffed—sniffed!—her neck. “Why don’t you admit the real problem? You don’t think you can make it through the night without jumping my bones.”
When his tongue flicked out to taste the sensitive skin of her neck, she involuntarily tipped her head to the side to grant him access, which he immediately took advantage of, kissing and rubbing his lips over her damp flesh. “N-no. You can rest easy. I want no part of your bones. I’m just not so sure any more about embarrassing my parents.”
Brent stilled his mouth’s movements. “That embarrassment being me, right?”
“That’s not—” Hayden cut herself off, reminding herself she didn’t owe him apologies or explanations. “That’s right. Color me shocked that you managed to show up looking halfway decent. I thought you might ditch the suit and show up in a bolo tie.”
“I’d thought about wearing my Spider-Man costume, but it’s at the cleaners.”
With a snort, Hayden pulled away to search her phone for the private security code Stuart had texted her earlier, then punched it into the elevator’s keypad. Brent stayed silent until the doors opened to reveal the foyer of Stuart’s palatial penthouse, soft music and candlelight drifting toward them. Farther inside, she heard laughter and the clinking of glasses. The appetizing scent of a surely delicious dinner greeted them.
She would have rather been anywhere else at that moment.
Hayden started a little when Brent took her hand. He smiled tightly and led her out of the elevator. “Let the fireworks begin.”
“Hayden, is that you?” Her mother’s voice rang out from the living room. “Dear, you’re right on time to hear Stuart talk about his new investor for the com—” Her mother broke off as she and Brent rounded the corner, her eyes going wide as silver dollars. Hayden tried not to fidget as six other pairs of eyes, including her father’s and Stuart’s, landed on them. As always, her mother recovered quickly. “Well, well. Who is this?”
Drawing on years of practicing social niceties, Hayden smiled and drew Brent forward. She might feel like hurling, but no one else had to know. “Everyone, I’d like you to meet Brent. My date for this evening.”
She watched her mother’s nails dig into the white leather couch. Beside her, Brent let out a low whistle and she squeezed his hand to shut him up. “Date? You didn’t mention you were bringing a date.”
Hayden started to respond, but her father, who had been eyeing Brent speculatively, spoke up first. “Oh, uh, darling. This is all my fault. Hayden phoned me earlier at the office and told me.” He turned to Stuart with a contrite look that deserved an award. “She asked me to call and let you know, but I got tied up on a conference call. My apologies. I trust there’s room for one more?”
Stuart, who until now had been watching the proceedings with poorly veiled disappointment, rose and started toward them. “Sure, why not? Hayden, you look beautiful as always,” he said, kissing her cheek. When he lingered, Brent cleared his throat, drawing Stuart’s attention. He held out his hand. “Stuart Nevin, nice to meet you.”
Eyeing each other, they shook hands. “Brent Mason. Likewise.”
If her stomach wasn’t tied up in knots, Hayden might have laughed at the physical differences between the two men. Brent towered over Stuart, his giant hand all but swallowing the other man’s smooth, elegant one as they shook longer than the introduction warranted. Stuart pulled back first, running his hand through his jet-black hair, looking less than thrilled.
Hayden’s father stood to shake Brent’s hand. “My daughter failed to mention she was bringing one of the Jets linebackers to dinner,” he joked, with a wink in Hayden’s direction. All at once, she felt horrible. She’d brought Brent with the intention of thwarting her mother’s incessant matchmaking efforts, but any minute now Brent would say something intentionally offensive in front of her father. Whom she loved with all her heart. Who’d just covered for her, no questions asked.
Brent laughed. “With all their preseason injuries, the Jets need all the help they can get this year. Maybe I should take a chance and try out.”
Her father brightened. “I take it you’re into fantasy football?”
Brent confirmed with a nod. “Had my draft last week.”
“Come sit,” her father insisted, leading Brent away from her and toward the couch. “I need some advice on a trade. My office pool is so competitive…”
Hayden stood on the landing, watching in stupefied wonder as her father and Brent’s discussion continued, growing more animated by the second. What the hell just happened here? The two other gentlemen, apart from Stuart, gathered around her father and Brent to join in their discussion. When they all laughed uproariously over something Brent said, Hayden turned to Stuart and asked him for a whiskey, neat.
sp; By the time dinner was served, Brent had offered to dismiss everyone’s parking tickets, told several riveting police stories to his now-captivated audience, and even performed the Heimlich maneuver on one of her father’s associates, dislodging a green olive and earning the man’s undying gratitude.
Hayden speared a perfectly cooked scallop with her fork when something Brent said made one of the older champagne-drunk socialites break out in high-pitched laughter.
As he launched into another story, he looked over and winked at her.
She’d been had.
“So I loaded him into the back of the squad car and told him, ‘Next time, bring ski boots.’”
Around him, the men dissolved into laughter and Brent tossed back the remains of the girly drink he’d been handed after dinner. Storytelling could be thirsty work. Especially when you could practically feel daggers being stared into the back of your head by a certain someone in sexy stockings.