He let her go and a smile curved his mouth. “Not at all, actually.”
“You almost ripped my sleeve.”
“Now that would have been a shame, wouldn’t it? Not that I’m averse to ripping your top off.” And he gave her a lascivious look that made her blood heat and her temper rise. “I seem to recall that you enjoyed ripping mine off my chest.”
Audrey put on her most professional expression. “Can I help you with something, Mr. Durham?”
“Yeah.” He regarded her for a long moment. “You can tell me why you have that stick up your ass when you’re talking to me. I thought we were past that.”
She didn’t blink an eye but merely clasped her hands and waited for him to continue.
He sighed, looking disappointed. “I heard about Daphne. I wanted to see how you were doing.”
“I’m fine,” she said automatically, then moved to step past him.
Reese grabbed at her sleeve again, then tugged her back into place, ignoring the baleful frown she leveled at him. “Don’t pull that with me.”
“Pull what?” She attempted to leave again, but this time he stepped in front of her, which only made her glare harder.
“You know exactly what I mean,” Reese told her, the look in his eyes still full of concern. For her. “The whole ‘I’m being the stable, responsible twin because I’m too proud to ask for help’ thing. Gretchen said you haven’t shed a tear since Daphne went in the hospital. She said that you’re keeping busy and being strong. Except I know you, and I know what you’re like underneath, and I wonder how long it is before you break down and start screaming.”
Audrey continued to stare at him with that too tight, too professional smile that was starting to hurt. “Can I go now? I’m sure Mr. Hawkings needs me.”
“No, he doesn’t,” Reese said in a husky voice, and his hands moved to her waist, grabbing her and pulling her close. “I need you. And I think you need this.”
To her surprise, he pulled her into a hug. A warm, friendly hug that assumed nothing and simply gave comfort. Audrey stiffened for a long moment, waiting for the inevitable—for Reese to crack a joke, for him to reach out and pinch her ass, something.
But he just held her.
And she felt her knees weaken a little. Her eyes stung. She bit her lip, trying to maintain her composure.
Reese’s hand stroked her neck. “You’re just like me, see,” Reese told her in a soft, husky whisper. “You’re so busy being capable and not needing anyone that you forget that you need things, too. And I’m guessing that right now you need a shoulder to cry on. You’ve had a really rough week, and everyone’s expecting you to be strong and handle it all because they can’t. And I’m guessing that’s the last thing you want to do.”
Audrey burst into tears.
Great, big, ugly sobs ripped out of her throat, and her fingers curled in the lapels of his black jacket. She clung to him while he stroked her neck and whispered soothing things, holding her and simply comforting her.
“It’s all right, firecracker,” he said in a soft voice. “I’m here for you. I’m the one person you don’t have to be strong around. You just have to be yourself with me. I’ll never ask you to be anything else.”
Eventually, Audrey’s tears stopped and she gave her swollen eyes a swipe, though she didn’t pull her cheek from Reese’s shoulder. It felt too good to be huddled in his arms, her face against his neck, breathing in his scent. She felt vulnerable with him—vulnerable and yet oddly protected. Like he was there to take care of her. Was this how Daphne felt when Audrey stepped in and handled things? If so, she suddenly understood why her twin let her shoulder all the burdens. It felt good to have someone to lean on.
Audrey pulled away from Reese’s shoulder and smoothed his jacket, frowning to herself at the wrinkles she’d left in the fabric. “I’ve ruined your suit,” she said with a note of alarm. “If you’re going to return to the party, let me call someone—”
“Shh,” Reese told her, and cupped her cheek. “I was only at the party to see you.”
Her heart thudded. “Me? Why me?”
He grinned. “Because Gretchen wouldn’t give me your cell phone number.”
“I still have to get it replaced,” she said, and the prim tone returned. “Someone threw it into a hot tub, remember?”
“I still think that’s one lucky hot tub.”
“Why did you come looking for me?”
“Because I left without saying good-bye,” Reese told her. “And I needed to fix that.”
And he leaned in and gently kissed her mouth.
The feel of his lips against her own brought back a rush of memories of their time in the cabin. Oh, and his scent was so divine. Why did Reese always smell so incredible? She whimpered when he grazed his lips over hers, and then his tongue brushed against the seam of her mouth, demanding entrance. She had no choice but to part her lips for him and let him stroke inside her mouth. His hand cupped her nape, dragging her against him, and her hands splayed on his chest for support as he gently and sweetly plundered her mouth. His kiss drugged her senses and made her forget everything, the world beginning and ending with his lips and tongue.
The kiss slowly ended, and Reese pressed one more soft caress on her mouth. “I want you in my bed, Audrey,” he murmured, sending skitters of fireworks through her body, the butterfly returning to her stomach.
“Reese, there you are, darling!” a woman’s voice cooed down the echoing hallway. “Why did you leave the party? Minka and I were just saying that I—”
The woman’s voice stopped. Audrey peered over Reese’s shoulder at the beautiful blonde in a slinky ice-gray dress, accompanied by a gorgeous brunette. They stared at Audrey in surprise, then at Reese.
Audrey looked up at Reese’s face and saw the annoyance in his eyes.
She pushed away from him. How had she forgotten who he was? He was the ultimate playboy, the quintessential player. She was a nobody who was a bed warmer. Of course.
“You should go back to the party,” she said in a brisk voice, straightening his lapels.
“Audrey,” he began, following her.
“Just leave me alone,” Audrey said, shaking her head. She walked down the hall to the elevator and hammered at the button.
“Reese? What’s going on?” one of the women asked. She had a thick and sultry European accent. “Are you coming back inside?”
The voices down the hall lowered to a murmur, and she could hear Reese’s low baritone mixing with the women’s voices, though she couldn’t make out what they were saying.
Audrey pushed the button again. It didn’t arrive fast enough for her. With a hateful glare at the elevator, she headed to the fire exit and began to head down the stairs.
She just had to get out of there. Away from Reese and the inevitable women who crawled all over him. Away from the party and Brontë’s happiness that ate at her.
Away from the memory of that comforting hug, and that wonderful kiss. It was nice that Reese wanted her in his bed, but she couldn’t deal with the women crawling all over him.
Not when he wasn’t hers. Not when her heart would break every time he dated someone else, because she’d given her heart and he hadn’t. She couldn’t do it.
In retrospect, taking the stairs in a pair of heels—no matter how sensible—from the thirtieth floor? Not her best idea. But she continued to trudge down the stairs, her heart heavier with every flight. By the time she got to the bottom, she was exhausted—mentally and physically.
Which was why, when she opened the door to the fire escape and saw Reese standing there alone, she groaned. So much for her legendary composure.
Reese grinned at her, holding the door open. “Get your exercise in?”
“The rest of the world takes the elevator.”
“Just shut up.”
“Not until you and I have a little talk.”
She sighed, then crossed her arms over her chest. “What could we possibly have to talk about? We slept together. It was no big deal. You left. End of story.”
“I left because you went out with another man,” he said flatly. “And you were excited about it. So how about we talk about that?”
“You’re blaming me?” She gave him an incredulous look. “Are you serious? You’re the one who ran like a chicken.”
His jaw clenched. “Is that so?”
“Yeah, that’s so.”
“Who’s the one who just took the stairs for thirty floors?”
She gritted her teeth.
“Now quit changing the subject.”
“I went out with Cade because he asked, all right?” She jabbed at his chest with a finger. “And I didn’t realize that I’d fallen for someone else until I couldn’t stop thinking about you at dinner.”
His hard expression softened, and that roguish grin returned to his face. “So you fell for me, huh? I bet Cade hated that.”
Her face flamed with color. Should she backtrack on her story? Or just keep going? “Cade was relieved because he thinks of me as a little sister,” she said in a matter-of-fact voice. “And then he slept with Daphne later that night.”
Reese leaned against the stairwell, propping one arm up against the door. “I can think of someone who was at that cabin that didn’t think of you like a little sister.”
“So can I,” she said wryly.
“So how is it that you fell for all this”—he paused and gestured at himself —“And yet you still keep running away from me?”
“Because I can’t do this, Reese. Just because I was stupid enough to fall in love with you doesn’t mean that I want to end right up in your bed again when I know it’s not a permanent thing. And I wouldn’t try to force you into anything because that’s unfair. One-sided romances always are.”
He reached out and touched her cheek, then pulled her close. “So you fell in love with me, huh?”
She weakly pushed at him. It felt too good to have his arms around her. “Reese, don’t.”
“What if I told you that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you?” He leaned in and grazed his lips against the shell of her ear. “What if I told you I keep comparing every woman I meet to you and they all come up lacking? What if I told you that I haven’t even given the thought of another woman any consideration since I left your side?”
A wry smile touched her mouth. “It’s only been a week. I’d say you’re a normal man.”
“Ah, but I’m not a normal man. I’m the billionaire gigolo Reese Durham,” he teased. “Your words, I believe. And a week for me is an eternity, especially when it’s a week without you.” He leaned in and lightly kissed her jawline. “And what if I told you that maybe I’d fallen for you the moment you kissed me like you wanted to make me never forget you? What would you say then?”
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