“A lot of men get turned on by that kind of thing.”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re going to win this conversation?”
“Because you secretly want to display that goddess body and cut loose the ties society has bound you in. Personally, I think you’re more apt to find a stranger to sleep with if you shed all the proper bullshit you’ve been fed all your life.”
“Am I that pretentious?” Shannon truly thought she’d evolved in the last five years.
“Not pretentious, just not the kind of woman who sleeps with strangers. I’ve never seen you flirt. Do you even see the men who smile at you?”
“I don’t turn as many heads as you’d think.”
Avery ran her hand along the top of the water. “You turn twice as many. You just don’t see them. And you don’t see them because you don’t want to. The second you let that guard down, men will line up. If they’re eligible and single . . . and even if they’re not, you’re going to need me there to knock them away.”
Shannon couldn’t comment on the effect of dropping her walls, but she knew they were there. “I don’t know how to break out of this rut, Avery. I’ve been trying.”
“Here’s my advice, like it or not. Treat all the men like they’re not a threat. Look at Dylan and Erasmo. Two guys, nonthreatening on any level . . . you relaxed around them, laughed. I even saw some of that sass Victor said you had.”
Just hearing the man’s name made the hair on her neck stand up. “Victor riles me.”
“I noticed. He is a prime example of a man watching you and you don’t see it.”
“Oh, please. The man’s fiancée ran out on him three days ago, and he placed some of the blame on me. If he’s looking, it’s only to make sure I’m not sabotaging something else in his life.”
Avery smirked. “That man is a bee to your flower. Even more . . . you like him.”
“I do not—”
Avery held a hand in the air. “You don’t want to like him, you could even say it’s not right to be attracted, considering the circumstances. But you do.”
Shannon opened her mouth to dispute, only to have Avery cut her off.
“You argue with him. When he looks at you, you turn away if he catches you staring. The tension between you is there. Don’t mistake it as anger.”
“He’s an attractive man.”
“Looks aren’t everything. His social manners are that of a preschooler.”
“Why does that bother you?”
“Because he’s an adult. Established. He should know better. Victor has no idea how to treat a woman.”
“And he lost his fiancée because of it.”
Shannon grew warm just thinking about it. “Corrie was too young, and what the heck was he thinking, wanting to marry her to begin with?”
Avery was silent.
Shannon looked over at her friend.
“Like I said. You’re attracted to the man. If you weren’t, you would have blown all that stuff off and not given him another thought. Inside, you want to know the answer to those questions, and I bet you’ve been thinking about what the preschool executive will be wearing the next time you see him.”
“If I see him.”
Avery just laughed.
Victor was pretty sure if he looked up the word voyeur in the dictionary, he’d find a picture of himself staring back.
Shannon was naked.
Full-on, head-to-toe, in-the-buff naked. No peeking into windows to see it either. Quite by accident, he’d caught a glimpse of her lean backside as she’d slid into the water. But sitting in the shade of his balcony, hidden by a windblown palm tree, he waited patiently for the woman to emerge again. Nothing accidental about that.
He doubted the women knew they were being watched, or they’d have kept their suits on. Well, Shannon would have. He wasn’t sure about her friend.
A decent man would have looked away.
He kicked his feet up and watched.
The view was worth it.
Long and lean, with legs that went on forever. He wasn’t close enough to see the color of her nipples, but the shape of her breasts stirred heat deep in his belly.
He shouldn’t be attracted to her.
But damn it . . . he was.
It’s physical, he told himself. A rebound attraction.
He wanted to refresh his drink, which he’d finished in one gulp once he realized who he was staring at, but he wasn’t about to miss it when she emerged from the pool. So not only was he a voyeur, he was masochistic.
The woman got under his skin. Called him out at every turn. In short, she irked him. If he’d had a sister, he imagined she would be just as annoying. But then he wouldn’t be looking at his sister naked.
Maybe his best friend’s girl.
But then he’d be violating the man code . . .
Never mind. She was just Shannon, the sophisticated female who called him on his shit without invitation.
Damn, she was something to look at. Strange how seeing her naked from across the span of the hotel’s beach made him take a better look at her other features. Or maybe a second look. He’d noticed her beauty on the airplane but dismissed the woman after she gave him crap about his phone call.
It had been important.
Although for the life of him he couldn’t remember what the call was about now.
He needed to pee.
Victor shifted in his chair and ignored his bladder.
Shannon moved to the other side of the pool but didn’t get up.
“I’ve been reduced to a thirteen-year-old,” he said to himself. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen a naked woman before.
But this was Shannon. A woman he would never have an opportunity to see nude.
She was the one parading around a public place in the buff.
Maybe parading was a slight exaggeration . . .
He really needed to pee.
Ten minutes later, with his knee shaking up and down like a kid holding his goods and hopping on one foot, Victor gave in and left his vantage point for the bathroom.
He’d never peed so fast in his entire adult life.
When he returned, both women were standing outside the pool, wrapped in towels.
He cursed the universe but did so quietly. He wasn’t about to give up his location and make the women think they didn’t have complete privacy.
Oh, no. He would be out there watching every chance he could.
He wore linen . . . or something like linen. White pants fit for the beach and a soft gray shirt that floated on his shoulders. He leaned against the edge of the reception desk at the front of the hotel, arms crossed and searching the people walking by.
“Is that Victor?” Avery asked at her side.
Shannon bumped Avery’s side in an effort to stop her obvious appraisal.
“Dylan did well,” Avery said.
“I never had a doubt.”
A few steps closer, and Victor twisted his gaze their way.
They both wore dresses that showed off the sun they’d managed to get after a day on the beach.
Acutely aware of his evaluation, Shannon found her heart skipping.
“Do you hear that?” Avery asked.
That man is a bee to your flower. Once again Shannon nudged her friend.
Victor stepped in front of them and smiled. “Don’t you both look refreshing?”
Avery turned a full circle as if on a runway. “Why thank you.” She reached out and touched the edge of Victor’s shirt. “Much better for Tulum.”
He lifted both palms to the air and cocked his head to the side. “I have to admit, shopping with Dylan wasn’t nearly as painful as I thought it would be.” His eyes found Shannon’s and held.
“I’m impressed,” Shannon said after searching for the right words to offer approval without too much personal praise.
His grins were starting to appear more often. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“I’m sure they won’t come often,” she teased.
“We were just headed to dinner. Would you like to join us?”
Avery’s invitation caught Shannon off guard. Inviting Victor had not been on the agenda.
Shannon opened her mouth to quickly offer Victor an out and subtly brush him off but found him talking over her.
“I would love that, Avery. Thank you.”
She snapped her lips shut, held her hands in front of her, and smiled.
His eyes lit up and he paused. “Unless you’d rather not, Shannon.”
He knew he was pushing his way in and was testing her resolve. “I’m sure the restaurant can accommodate three instead of two on the reservation.”
Victor turned toward the busy road and looked both ways. “Taxi? Or can we walk?”
“It’s less than a New York avenue block,” Avery said before leading the way.
They walked on the side of the road in single file to avoiding being run over. Not that the cars were going very fast, but the pedestrian shoulder was barely two feet on either side. Avery led, Shannon walked behind her, and Victor caught the tail.
Shannon felt the heat of his gaze. Every time she glanced behind her, Victor wasn’t looking at her, but she felt his eyes when she turned back around.