Gwen drew a gulp of air, to calm her stuttering pulse. This wasn’t a big deal. The evening was a direct route to the finish line, meant to cut out all the bullshit. She was a modern woman, secure in her own sexuality. Confident enough in what she wanted that she made a decent side income blogging about her bad dates. Not because she was bitter, but because no one wanted to read about the good ones.
It didn’t matter how many times she repeated the reassurances. She was still nervous as hell and second-guessing her decision to meet in a hotel bar, with a stranger who she’d hooked up with online, with the expectation of casual sex.
It wasn’t that Gwen was new to the idea of casual sex, in that sure, it happened when the emotional connection wasn’t there with a guy. But for her, it always started off as an attempt at a relationship. With every guy she’d slept with in the past, her goal when she said yes, let’s screw was a connection. Something that lasted longer than their time in the bedroom.
This was the first time she’d ever decided up front, that the end result was getting laid and nothing more. On an intellectual level, the final outcome was the same as with some of her past relationships, but something—indoctrination maybe?—made this feel different. Raunchier. Naughtier. Both more direct and enticing, and more terrifying.
She pulled her car keys from the ignition, climbed from the BMW convertible, and headed toward the side entrance that indicated it was the way to the restaurant. The lighting inside was diffused rather than harsh but didn’t help convince her this was anything but a mistake.
A few feet back from the host’s podium, a man paced in front of a padded bench, talking on the phone. He was gorgeous. The thought sped into Gwen’s head and stuck. Almost-black hair, eyes the same color, and the type of sturdy frame that made his suit—which was very much custom tailored for those broad shoulders and narrow waist—look dangerously incredible.
Too bad the odds he was her hookup were non-existent. Fate wasn’t that kind to her. The fact the restaurant contained a minimum of five or six other business men, all sitting alone, and none nearly as hot, reinforced her belief.
His gaze met hers, and her breath caught. His eyes weren’t brown-black after all; it had been a trick of the light. They were a rich, piercing gray. If he were her hookup—screw nervousness—she wanted to find out how it felt to be pinned beneath him, his mouth on hers, his hands roaming her bare skin…
Her phone vibrated in her purse, and she reached for it out of habit. She shouldn’t answer; she was meeting someone. But it wouldn’t hurt to see who was calling. She scowled when she saw George’s name. Her brother could wait. A few years ago, their grandmother passed away and left them both a considerable trust. Gwen’s brother had managed to cash his out and spend through it all, and he now worked with an estate lawyer, to prove she didn’t deserve hers. He claimed that because Grandmother’s will left the money to Gwen and her family and Gwen never married, the money wasn’t hers.
She wasn’t letting him add another layer of tension to her evening. She had that covered. With one final glance at the gorgeous stranger on the phone, she turned toward the restaurant host. “I’m looking for a Mr. Goode?” It had to be a fake name. Not that she blamed the guy. She told him she was Marie. It was her middle name, so it wasn’t a full lie but enough of a misdirection it wouldn’t lead back to her without some digging.
“Of course.” The host gave her a friendly smile. “He left a message he might be a little late and asked that I give you his most sincere apologies and show you to your table. He’ll join you soon.”
Once upon a time, Gwen thought running late was the worst sin someone could commit on a date. Since she’d started blogging and collecting other people’s disaster stories to add to her own, it ranked somewhere in the middle of the list—still above a nervous whistle, and far below bringing mom along for the evening. Every evening.
Besides, this wasn’t a date, and he’d called ahead. “That sounds great, thanks.”
She was seated, handed a drink menu, and told someone would be with her shortly. She studied the laminated card, more out of habit than anything. No way was she drinking anything with alcohol in it. Tonight she’d keep an eye on her sensibilities.
Her gaze wandered around the room, and her mind insisted on doing the same. How long should she wait? She was early, and he’d been considerate enough to send word he’d be there soon, but her hesitation was growing. At this point, she wasn’t sure why she’d agreed to this meeting.
It started as curiosity and blog research—checking out the casual-hookup website, to see if it was different from any other dating site or simply more honest in its advertising. At first glance, it was what she expected. Ninety percent male, and all of them hitting on her with poorly spelled variations of you’re hot, let’s fuck.
One message had caught her eye. She couldn’t say specifically why it drew her in, or maybe it was a perfect storm of right things at the right time. His lack of a profile pic was a welcome change from the obligatory dick pic most guys went with. His message didn’t contain a version of the oh-so-classic you’re hot, and during her correspondence with him, he’d been intelligent and fun—and capable of sending several notes without ever crossing the penis-shot or bad-pickup-line boundaries.
They’d chatted for a few weeks, and one night he mentioned he’d be in her part of the country soon. She’d spent the evening with her best friend Jaycie, and Jaycie’s boyfriend Ethan. Gwen adored them, but they were also one of the most disgustingly cute couples ever. She sometimes suspected Ethan’s charm was an act. No guy was that considerate without being whipped, but Jaycie insisted he was the exception.
Brad asked if she wanted to hook up, and Gwen’s loneliness and hormones jumped in with of course before she could second-guess the decision. Since then, she’d tried to convince herself this was no different than any other date, since her recent relationships didn’t tend to last past the sex anyway.
“Marie?” Mister Gorgeous-and-Sexy’s voice cut through her rambling thoughts, and an unexpected spike of desire surged inside. Was she jealous of Marie?
Oh, shit. That’s me. Her thoughts derailed.
He stood next to the table, studying her. “I’m Brad.”
“Marie. Right. Hi.” She glued a smile in place and extended her hand in greeting.
His grip was firm, and sent a pleasant tremor through her. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”
“No worries.” Any other words stalled in her throat. Would he sit? Expect her to join him in his room right away? No, he wouldn’t have a room if he lived here. Would he? The fact he was her date amplified her tension tenfold. She silenced her out-of-control brain when he took the seat across from her.
“I wondered if you’d show,” he said.
“Does that happen a lot? Women don’t show?” Gwen didn’t know where the question came from. Probably the part of her mind wondering if he did this in every city he had business in. The question was a bit blunt, regardless.
The smile that ghosted across his face told her he wasn’t offended. “That’s what I hear. This is a first for me, though.”
She wasn’t sure she believed him, but the reassurance warmed her more than she expected. “What makes me special?”
The way his gaze traveled over her infused her body with a lingering heat. “A list that gets longer every time we talk.” His voice sounded like chocolate and coffee, and sent delicious tremors over her skin.
Her cheeks heated, despite her insistence she not be flattered. If he was working seduction into the evening, he was off to a decent start.
“I take it this is a first for you, too?” he asked.
“It shows, huh?”
“Lucky guess. The way you’re fussing with your drink menu, I assume I’m not the only one wondering if we go straight upstairs or talk first.”
She hoped for the second more than she should, considering she walked into this eyes wide open. Actually, common sense told her to bolt now, but curiosity convinced her to stay. “Which way are you leaning?”
“Since it’s the conversation that attracted me to you, I’d love a chance to enjoy your company before we take things to the next level. Ease ourselves into a long evening.” The way he drew out the sentence, told her he knew how laden with innuendo the words were. She met his gaze with disbelief and amusement, and he winked.
He wasn’t as direct and obnoxious as she was used to. That, combined with a genuine, not-overbearing confidence, appealed to her. “If you think that’s best,” she said.
“I do, Marie.”
Who? Right. Her. She thought going by her middle name would make it easy to remember what she called herself, but she never used it in other situations. Which might not be an issue, except he’d found one of her pet peeves. People who repeatedly injected names into conversations. The quirk helped her dial down her attraction enough to grab control of sensibility again. She needed to keep her cool, rather than swooning like a love-struck girl. If they did end up heading to his room, it was only for the night. This was a physical give-and-take.
Brad didn’t know what to make of this woman. She was as difficult to decipher in person as online, and he was fascinated by it. At this point, he was kind of sure of two things—her name wasn’t Marie, and despite her projected confidence, she wasn’t sure she should be here tonight. Or maybe the reason she sat straight, back stiff, was related to the phone call she’d ignored when she arrived. “Not to pry, but you looked like you got bad news earlier.”
Her stunning brown eyes hinted that she dissected his every word. Add to that the nervous lick of her full lips every time she hesitated, and he wanted to lean across the table and taste her. Bite that bottom lip, then follow with a trail of kisses along her neck and down to her collarbone.
“It could have been worse. Let’s just say I’d rather talk to you than them.” Despite the edge to her words, a smile danced behind her eyes.
That sounded like an invitation to change the subject. Switch to something more flirty and seductive. Tonight was only about getting laid. An instinct that he didn’t understand wanted the evening to mean more than a fling, but that wasn’t an option. “And you barely know me.”
“We can fix that. Tell me, Mr. Goode—if that is your real name—what do you do for a living?”
He chuckled. “Believe it or not, that’s me.” He almost asked who she really was, but he didn’t need to know. Especially since there were things he wasn’t ready to share. “I’m in lingerie sales.” Which was technically the truth, since he owned the company.
She raised her brows, and her lips drew into a thin line. “Is that how you fulfilled a boyhood fantasy of spending your days surrounded by mostly-naked women? Do I need to be worried about unrealistic expectations?”
He made a point of dragging his gaze over her, not minding the excuse to linger on her tantalizing features. Round breasts, flushed cheeks, and… Christ, that mouth. “You don’t have anything to worry about.” The pink on her face darkened another shade. “Besides, the thing about lingerie is, once you’ve seen the behind-the-scenes of a photo shoot, a lot of its sexiness evaporates. I assume it’s a lot like porn that way. When you figure out that two-minute blow job took them six hours to film, because the woman had cotton mouth and the guy was too hung over to get it up, it loses some of its charm.”