“Hey, Carrie, check it out. Hot guy coming in at three o’clock,” Krissy whispered as she elbowed me. The music in the stylish sports bar blasted from the speakers, but not so loud that we couldn’t carry on a conversation.

All four of us zoomed in on a guy who had just sat down at the end of the bar, thirty feet across the room from us. He looked to be in his late twenties, sporting dark hair and wearing stylish yet casual clothes.

It was Friday late afternoon and the place was almost empty, as the happy hour had just started. A few couples and groups dotted the scenery, raising glasses to celebrate the end of another weary workweek. I was here with my three best friends Krissy, Leslie and Dena. The four of us worked at the Law Office of Webster and Steinberg, one of New York City’s premier firms, and after working our asses off all week, we deserved to have a bit of fun.

And that guy was definitely fun.

“Umm, he is hot. I like his shirt,” I replied.

“His shirt?” Leslie echoed as she tossed her bright red curls over her shoulder. “What the heck is wrong with you, girl? I’m sure what’s under the shirt is a hell of a lot more interesting. Maybe you should go talk to him, Carrie. Find out where he bought that cool shirt.” Leslie snorted a laugh and a couple sitting two tables over looked at her. She was always the loud one.

“Ha ha, very funny,” I said. “No way am I going to talk to him. I don’t have time to get involved with a guy, even someone who is hot like that…Oh shit! He’s looking right this way.” I dropped my head down, pretending that the sugar-rimmed Lemon Drop martini sitting in front of me was the essence of my life.

“Don’t be shy, girl,” Krissy urged. “He’s totally checking you out. You have to go talk to him.”

I shook my head. “He is not. For all I know, he is probably gay, married or engaged.”

It was true that I had no time for a guy in my life. My full often-over-eight-hour workday, along with studying at night for my Master’s degree, stole every waking second. I couldn’t remember the last time I was on a date or went to the movies. The thought stopped me. When was the last time? I remembered now. It was back in Alabama, when I’d gone home over Christmas. Greg had taken me out. More from pity than anything else, I was sure. We had been best friends since high school and going out together on an actual date was awkward. More than awkward. We swore never to try that again. I was just thankful we hadn’t slept together. Sex was even further back for me. Like over a year back. I hadn’t slept with anyone since…I thought hard…last spring. A week before I’d caught my asshole now-ex-boyfriend, Gale, in bed with his next-door neighbor Delia. Wow. It had been a long time.

“I’m sure he is not gay…or married,” Krissy said, drawing my attention away from my thoughts. “I don’t see a ring on his finger and my gaydar has never failed me. But, there is only one way to find out for sure.” She shot a mischievous look around the table. “Let’s play a little game.”

I sighed. Krissy and her games. She always suggested or made up party games, and somehow I would always end up the loser. Some things hadn’t changed since that first day as a freshman when I was assigned to share a room with the brash, intense girl from Chicago. Six years later, and Krissy Jensen and I still shared a place together, a nice but small apartment in Manhattan.

“I have a better idea,” I said. “Let’s not.”

“Don’t be such a bore, Carrie,” Krissy said. “Here’s what we do. Anyone got pen and paper?”

Krissy was persistent and usually got her way. According to her equally intimidating mother, Krissy had always been stubborn, and ever since she was a kid, she had the unique ability to make everyone follow her lead, unlike me. I had never been popular, and sure as hell never had the ability or confidence to get anyone to follow my lead.

“Here you go, Kris,” Dena said, brushing her white-blond bangs out of her face. She was petite, the smallest of us. With her pixie haircut, she looked more like a junior high student than one of the most ruthless legal minds I’d ever encountered. Her quiet nature just made more people underestimate her.

She was also the most organized of the four of us. Prepared as usual, she handed Krissy a small leather-covered notebook and a black pen. Krissy ripped out a piece of paper and tore it into four equal pieces. She then drew a heart on one of the pieces, crumpled them all into little balls and mixed them up on the table.

“So here’s how we are going to play. We each take a ball and the one who picks up the heart has to approach Mr. Hot Guy over there and get his phone number. Okay?”

It was a silly game, but the martinis had started to work their magic and made everything seem fuzzy and fun. We all nodded in agreement. Even my reluctance had faded to the back of my mind.

“What’s the reward for collecting the number, besides getting a chance with Mr. Hunk?” Leslie asked and smirked, nodding in the direction of the bar. Her green eyes were glowing, and I didn’t think it was just from the alcohol.

“Hmm, how about…if the winner gets his number, all her drinks are paid for, but if not, she has to buy all our drinks.” Krissy looked pleased with herself.

“All right, sounds good. Let’s do this,” I said. “I just want to get this over and done with.” Actually, I wanted it done before my buzz wore off and I remembered what a bad idea this was.

We each picked a ball of paper. Surprise, surprise. When I unfolded my piece, I was staring at the dreaded heart.

“I knew it,” I said with a sigh. “I always lose in these stupid games.”

“What do you mean, lose? You won, girl. Now, go get your prize,” Krissy was almost bursting with laughter. She loved it. Always pushing me out of my comfort zone. She’d been doing that since freshman year when she’d taken me to my first frat party and gotten me passing-out drunk. I still didn’t understand why she brought me. She was gorgeous, with those big dark eyes and thick black hair, and the life of any party. I was the definition of a buzz-kill.

I set my jaw. Not today, I decided. No buzz-kill. I was going to do this. I picked up my martini and emptied the glass in one big gulp. I squared my shoulders and rose from my seat as Krissy cheered me on.

“Go get him, hon.”

I shot her a sharp look, picked up the notepad and pen, and zeroed in on the mission at hand.

As I approached the hunky guy sitting alone on a rustic dark stool, I felt a twinge in the pit in my stomach. What had I just agreed to? Getting a second look at him didn’t help curb my anxiety. Up close he looked even hotter than from back in the seat. Dark hair, curled in front, almost covered his deep blue eyes. His skin was tan, but looked healthy and smooth, more natural than from time spent in the sun. And speaking of healthy…No fries on his diet. He was tall and fit, noticeable even from his seated position. As I stepped closer I could see that the rich outlines of his shoulders strained against the fabric of his shirt. He had the physique and tone of one of those guys from fitness magazines with eight percent body fat and abs so tight and firm that you could bounce on them like a trampoline.

What was I doing? This guy was way out of my league. I glanced back at my friends and they all made shooing gestures, urging me on.

He was typing on his phone with his left side facing towards me as I came up next to him. Standing so close to him made my cheeks heat up.

I wanted to return to my seat, but facing the evil stares from my so-called friends made me reconsider. I’d agreed and now I had to go through with it. If I didn’t, I’d never hear the end of it. Besides, it was just a quick conversation. How bad could it be?

Nervously, I moistened my dry lips. “Excuse me. I was wondering if you could do me a favor?”

The incredibly hot guy turned around in his seat, and when he faced me, his mouth curved into a devastating smile. “Depends on what the favor is, I guess, although it will be pretty hard to resist helping someone as stunning as you.”

I giggled, and immediately blamed the alcohol. I didn’t giggle. I was an adult. A college graduate paralegal on her way to a law degree and becoming a lawyer. Yet, here I was, fidgeting like a schoolgirl with a crush. Even his voice was sexy as hell.

“Well, see my girlfriends over there?” I gestured over my shoulder, but didn’t turn to look at them, afraid I’d lose my nerve if I did. “They are a bunch of crazy idiots who dared me to come over here to get your phone number. In fact, if I don’t come back with it, they are going to make me pay for all their drinks.”

“All their drinks? Wow, that doesn’t seem fair,” he said, raising a perfectly sculpted eyebrow.

“I know, right? Story of my life. Listen, you don’t have to give me your real number. Any fake number will do nicely.” The words came out of me in a rush. I handed him the pen and notepad. He reached out and his hand brushed against mine. His skin felt soft and warm, and a tingling sensation shot through my body.

Damn, he was hot. And what the hell was that rush I just felt?

“Are you always this direct and commanding?” he asked as he wrote down a name and some digits.

“Only when I’m on a mission. Time is too short to procrastinate.” I mentally kicked myself. What was I blathering on about? I sounded like an idiot.

He chuckled and his smile broadened. “I agree. Always happy to help a damsel in distress.”

“Thank you so much. I owe you one.” Again, a mental kick. Where was the quick wit and sharp tongue that had gotten me rave reviews by my law professors?

“Indeed.” He handed me the notepad with yet another beautiful smile. When I grabbed on to it, he held it tight for just a second longer. “I hope I get to collect the favor one day,” he said, gazing at me with a faint twinkle in the depths of his deep blue eyes. After what seemed like forever, he finally let go of the notepad.

The blood rushed to my cheeks even more intensely than before, and I spun around without saying another word and hurried back to my seat.

With an audible sigh I slid into my chair, as the girls stared at me curiously with their mouths half open.

“What? You ladies haven’t ordered me another drink yet?” I asked as I showed them the notepad with the ten digits. Krissy snatched it out of my hand.

“His name is Gavin? Hmm, it’s probably a fake number,” she said. Annoyed, she pulled out her iPhone, keyed in the numbers and pressed enter.

We all glanced over in the direction of Gavin, who now lifted his phone and held it up against his ear.

“…Hello.” His voice echoed over Krissy’s phone.

Krissy quickly disconnected the call and looked at me. I tried to hide my shock with a grin.

“So, where is my drink? I’d like another Lemon Drop.”

“Good for you,” she said with a smirk. “When are you going to call him?”

My face fell. “I’m not. That wasn’t part of the deal.”

Something about my tone must’ve made Krissy realize that this wasn’t the time to keep pushing, because she got me another drink and didn’t say anything else about calling Gavin.

The new drink started to calm my nerves. I couldn’t help but keep glancing over Gavin’s way to snap more mental images of the delicious eye candy. He wasn’t sitting by himself anymore. An older guy, in his mid-forties, was now engaged in deep conversation with him. Could this be his boss? He looked like a CEO in his expensive tailored suit and five-hundred-dollar shoes. He was quite good-looking for a man of his age, with a slender body. His profile spoke of power and ageless strength. His sharp, dark eyes said he was as intelligent as he appeared. Very likely his boss.

The bar was now crowded with people, some of them dressed in business attire, others in the dress casual of many workplace Fridays. Cool people and inexpensive drinks were the norm here, making Huggins a popular after-work stop, especially for Friday happy hour. In many places around Midtown, drinks would go as high as eighteen bucks apiece, so the nine-dollar happy hour martinis here were a steal in comparison.

“Hey, snap out of it, girl,” Krissy said as she interrupted my little daydream. “Are you coming with me or what?”

“Coming with you where? What are you doing?”

“I said that I needed to get my nails done before we go out tonight.”

“Sorry, I can’t go out tonight. I have to work on my paper. It’s due in three weeks.”

“You never go out. I can’t believe you are just going to sit home on a Friday night after being hit on by the hottest guy in town.”

“Stop it, Kris. There is more to life than going out every weekend and besides, I came here, didn’t I? See, I go out.” I ignored the fact that it was actually on our way home and the appetizers I’d been snacking on would be my entire evening meal. “Also, he wasn’t hitting on me. I was hitting on him, remember?”

Krissy had finished her Master’s Degree last year. Due to a family crisis two years ago, I’d gotten a year behind her. Hence the reason I was still slogging through my classwork while she could party every weekend.

I glanced over to the bar to get another look at Gavin but he was gone. I’d never noticed that he left. Dammit.

So much for that. He hadn’t even made an attempt to speak to me again before he left the bar. Whatever. It wasn’t like I was ever going to meet him again. Sure, I had his number, but no way was I going to call him. Not only was it not suited for me as a woman to call up a man and ask for a date, but he probably just gave me the number to help me win the bet. Not because he had any real interest in me or was attracted to me. Why would he be? Guys like that always had Victoria’s Secret models hanging on their broad shoulders, fulfilling their every desire. Not that I saw myself as ugly, but I was the kind of woman who was generally overlooked. Long curls framing a cute but forgettable face. Brown eyes the color of dark chocolate, pretty enough, but not the kind that seared into a man’s memory. Even my build was average. Not thin, but not really curvy either. My chest wasn’t small, but it was far from large enough to attract attention. Like I said. Average.

With one swift move, I picked up the notepad from the table, tore out the page he had written on and crumpled up the paper.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Leslie exclaimed.

“I’m not keeping that.” I threw the paper ball in her direction. “Here, you can have it.”

“Thanks, I will,” Leslie said, smiling as she uncrumpled the paper and stashed it into her purse.

It was time to call it a day. My drink was almost empty and, if I didn’t get started on my paper, I’d be a nervous wreck by the end of the weekend. That was never a good way to start the workweek.

Despite objections from Krissy, I bid my friends goodbye and headed for the street to hail a cab.

After giving the cabbie directions to my apartment building, I let my thoughts go where they wanted. I couldn’t get the exhilarating incident out of my mind. I wished that Gavin had somehow said goodbye before he left. But maybe that had been difficult for him because his boss was with him. No matter what, there had been something mysterious and exciting about Gavin that was hard to pinpoint.

I sank down deeper in my seat and imagined his breathtaking eyes staring right at me. Had it been foolish of me to give Leslie his number? How would I know if he was interested unless I took a risk? I was willing to bet that Leslie would take that risk, though with her looks and curves, it wasn’t much of a risk. Guys never turned her down, even guys as gorgeous as Gavin.

New York was a big city with over eight million people. Even if we both lived here for the rest of our lives, it would be unlikely for us to ever run across each other’s path again. Unless, of course, we both one day happened to be back at Huggins Bar and Grill for yet another happy hour. I made a mental note to come back next Friday. Just in case.

Club Prive Book 1



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