“What’s your last name?” I whisper.
“King.” He grins a panty-melting grin. “No majesty jokes, please.”
I laugh, and then I stretch out my hand as if we’ve barely met. “Meyers.”
He takes my hand in his, his grip warm, firm, and curling my toes all over again. He lets go and pulls out his phone, typing a password and handing it to me, watching me with eyes that seem the most intelligent eyes I’ve ever seen. “Meyers, type your phone number down for me?”
I add it under Hottest Piece of Ass I’ve Ever Had.
The barest hint of a smile pulls at the corners of his lips, enough to give me flutters. “Nice.”
He writes something on his keypad and my phone vibrates with a new text.
I smile, and he looks at me, wearing that super-sexy almost smile.
And suddenly I cannot explain—and am not sure have ever felt—the kind of happiness I feel right now.
He drives me home in my own car, and when we reach my building, he rides the elevator up with me, walks me to my door, and brushes a kiss on my forehead as he rubs the pad of his thumbs over the corners of my eyes and whispers, “I’ll be in touch soon.”
When I slide my shaking, deliciously f**ked body into my bed with about an hour to go to dawn, I can’t sleep. I play with names for his profile on my phone. Sex fiend. Sex machine. Sex god. Playboy god. I settle on Greyson and whisper, “Greyson,” the name rolling off my tongue like velvet.
I squeeze my eyes shut and feel like convulsing all over my bed. I text Brooke, Pandora, and Kyle, in a group.
Me: I just met someone. Guys I just met SOMEONE. Not a douche! He actually brought me home and all the way up to my door. AAAAA!!! Fuck you, guys, if anyone ruins my day tomorrow, I’m having your heads!
Kyle: You’ll be too busy giving head to your new man to think about mine.
Pandora: Dude. Are you on ecstasy?
Brooke: WHAT? Tell me everything!!!
I flip my vibrating phone open as soon as I’m out of the building. “You might be wondering why you’re tied to a bathroom stall with this particular number on your cell phone screen,” I murmur into the receiver. “Well, you were about to do something that was going to cost you your dick. You were about to touch something you have no right touching, get it? You have a debt to pay. You have three days. Ticktock ticktock.” I hang up and smash the phone to the ground. Then I grab my other phone and dial Derek.
“Come get me.” I shoot off the address, then walk a couple of blocks and dispose of the phone before glancing up at the building I just left her in.
When Derek pulls over in a dark SUV, I jump in and open the glove compartment. I pull out my ticket, fake ID included. “Drive this to the warehouse. Stay put. Number twenty-four will be making a payment soon. How’s your wife?”
“Good. You get some work done?”
“When don’t I,” I say.
Melanie. I’d seen her before. Been watching her from afar. She’s the sort of girl you want to f**k, but I never knew how badly until I saw she was going to pick up one of my clients at that bar. By god, I knocked that man unconscious without even getting the payment. I just wanted him down because he sure as f**k wasn’t leaving with her. Nobody will.
I stroke my phone with my gloved hand and resist the urge to text her something. Anything. I’ve seen this woman go through men like I use phones. I’ve seen her leaving hotel rooms looking like a hot, blazing mess. I’ve seen her coming out looking perfect. I’ve seen her laugh, cry, I’ve seen her face in the women I’ve f**ked, and I’ve even seen her in my dreams and when I wake up. What this woman wants is something I can’t give. But I’m pulled, twisted, knotted, used, and useless when I look at her.
I like watching her twirl and toss her hair, flirt around, cross her legs, curl her lips, look at her nails.
I like the way she hunts for her next man; I liked watching because somewhere, deep down, I knew I’d have enough, and her hunt would be over the day I decided to let her know I intended to be that man.
FUCK HER PRINCE CHARMING.
She’s getting me.
I’m halfway done. Twenty-four more names, and then Zero can be nothing. I shouldn’t have touched her, but I did. I should stop touching her, but I won’t. My guys, my boys, can never know there’s a little Achilles heel somewhere in my body and it has her name on it.
The only reason the guys can believe I’m close to her is because her name just happens to be on my list.
I wasn’t always an only daughter. I was born with an identical twin. She was born first at five and a quarter pounds, and I followed weighing a little more.
My mother says we were both precious, small and pink, but she can never seem to manage the rest. It was Dad who eventually told me the whole story. That I was not born perfect . . . that I was born with a malfunctioning kidney and my twin was born with a severe heart condition. We were both struggling to live and within the hour it became obvious she was struggling the hardest.
When her heart gave out, they gave me her kidney.
They named her Lauren and buried her next to my dad’s mother. Every year my birthday is my saddest day of the year. But I go visit her grave with my favorite flowers—I figure, as my twin, they’d be her favorite too—and then I have the wildest party of the month because I sense she wants it to be worth it. “I want you to show me you are joyful and happy, always,” my mother cheerfully tells me. So I do. Even when there’s that ache of loss that never goes away, I am determined to be happy.
My parents told me they wanted me to be happy because they were so happy I survived. And so I try to live happy and I never, ever show them that I’m not.
My dad counts my smiles and says I have five smiles—total—and therefore I always make sure he gets to see one of them.
I’m living for two people. I’m trying to stuff into one lifetime what could fill two lives. So I get up every morning and put on my perfect face and promise myself to have the perfect day and to someday have the perfect family. But I’m failing.
And my parents know it.
“Your mother wishes, one day, when you marry, and settle down, maybe you’ll have twins,” my dad said wistfully to me once.
“That would be nice,” I said with a heavy heart and a big bright smile on my face.
Sometimes I wonder if she’d be married already. Lauren.
Sometimes I have a bad day and am certain that maybe she’d have made my parents prouder or happier than me. All I know for sure is that if they’d picked her, she’d make the same hard efforts I do to live happy.
I won’t even be picky about having twins, but I do dream of falling in love with the perfect guy, and having a baby girl and naming her Lauren.
I dream of my guy so much, he gives me an ache. I dream of that look, like the one Greyson looked at me with, a look that tells me that this guy—right here, this breathing human being—thinks I’m enough. Thinks, and is glad, that the one who’d survived was me. Because sometimes I really wish that if only one of us would make it, it would’ve been Lauren.
♥ ♥ ♥
The day after Greyson
WALKING OUT OF the corner Starbucks cafe is Pandora, one of my three closest friends. The man-eater. Well, not man-eater. She’s just supremely independent, dark, gloomy, and secretive. But that’s okay because I’m happy, chatty, and sunny, so we mesh. Well. We try to. Today she’s going for her Angelina Jolie badass look and her usual dark lipstick and those boots she got on sale that reach her thighs. Even the way she walks intimidates men as she carries our usual coffees up to where I’m waiting at the corner—this was her day to get the coffee, after all—and without a word, we both sip and cross the street on our way to Susan Bowman Interiors.
You could say making things pretty is something Pandora does to make a living, but I do it as art. Because there’s something about a room welcoming you that can brighten your crappy day, and I like making people happy, even in that small way.
“So,” she prods me.
I smile secretly against my coffee lid.
“So, what?” I say. I want to make her beg because I’m a little evil like that. She just brings it out in me. The thing about Pandora and me is: we’re different as hell. So it’s always a push and pull with her, which we both secretly enjoy, I guess.
“So what the f**k. Tell me about the prince who charmed your pants off.”
“Pandora, I can’t even . . . I just can’t EVEN.” My grin hurts on my face and I shoot her a look that says He f**ked my brains off and I loved it. “It was . . .” Out of this world. Perfect. Beyond perfect. “I never knew sex like that existed. I never knew I could feel a guy’s touch in my BONES.”
As we reach our floor and head to our L-shaped desks, situated right next to each other, I can’t stop smiling.
Truly, I’ve never experienced anything like this before. I almost feel shy about sharing him with her. But at the same time, I feel like getting a loudspeaker and telling my work colleagues that I think I may, just may, have found the ONE!
“Well, don’t stop there, coy virgin! Tell me the rest,” Pandora insists, booting up her computer. “Dude, getting Starbucks today entitles me to some gory details.”
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