Admitting that the tight pain in my head was more regret than a hangover did nothing to help it go away. I managed to make it upstairs to my room, but it still wasn’t private enough. The space was too big, filled with too much. I went inside my walk-in closet and shut the door, leaving me in blissful near dark. One sparkling night light shone in the corner, leaving everything else in shadows. I leaned against the door.
The night came back to me in jagged pieces, some moments sharp enough to cut.
The challenge in Haze Welch’s chocolate brown eyes was one of those. He was my bodyguard, no more than a hired babysitter, but he always seemed to be daring me to be something more than the spoiled LA heiress I was.
Aside from my little brother, Ian, Haze was the only man in my life who looked at me and saw potential. The unscripted stretch of what he thought was within my range scared me.
Last night, it had scared me right out to a party in the Hollywood hills where I played my old role to perfection. The memories from last night washed over me, some in fragments, some in images, but enough to put together a general picture of what happened. Some places were more detailed than others, but the story they told was undeniable.
“So glad you could come!”
“You look fantastic.”
The voices and faces all blurred together as soon as I entered the mansion.
I strolled into the party and owned every glance in the room. The attention centered on my flawless skin, the fire of my natural red hair, and the tight curves of my body made me feel invincible.
Then I noticed Ricky. My tall, suave, and only sometimes serious boyfriend looked as handsome as always. I loved that Ricky was also filthy rich, more spoiled than me, and he understood the life I lived. He was familiar and comfortable. Even knowing the open relationship he’d convinced me to have meant he’d be fucking pretty much everything in a skirt was predictable. He just wouldn’t be making his usual poor attempts to hide his side pieces anymore.
Still, I was always number one with him, as sad as that is to admit. Case in point, as soon as he saw me, he dropped the pretty dress he was fondling and immediately came to my side. We made up, caught up, and started to party. The reunion should have made me happy, but all I could feel was Haze’s eyes.
He watched me from the far wall, and I knew he was thinking that I should be better, that I could be better. He had no idea that this was it for me. Everyone in LA knew how much I was worth, and that was all that mattered. I’d never be anything more than an empty-headed heiress, and the best I could do was enjoy it and live up to my reputation. It was safer that way.
Then I saw Paris with Ricky, and all it took was a sideways glance between them for me to know that they’d slept together. Paris wanted everything, especially anything I had, and nothing stopped her from taking. She never missed an opportunity to flaunt it either. Now, all the words my best friend had used to comfort me choked any accusation of betrayal I wanted to throw at her.
That’s when I started drinking. And dancing, the drink in my hand always refilled and sloshing. The lights flashed, the music pumped, and I moved my body like a weapon. I wanted to cut Paris down. Her good looks were nothing compared to mine. She was pretty in her own right with her dark brown waves and ice green eyes, but wasn’t memorable.
I wanted to make Ricky jealous. For all his philandering, he boiled over any time another man so much looked in my direction. It wasn’t long before I succeeded and danced myself into a spinning world where I was the undisputed center of Ricky’s attention.
The only thing I didn’t count on was Haze. He stopped me on the dance floor, saw in one look what spurred me on, and tried to save me. My bodyguard pulled me from the vortex of the party and into the fresh, quiet air of the driveway. The touch of his hands, a concerned caress down my arms to steady me, tore away my hard shell, and left me vulnerable. Then he offered to take me home.
I kissed him.
Then he kissed me and I knew he wanted me as much as I wanted him…
Remembering how Haze rejected me, how I’d immediately gone to Ricky to forget, I sunk to the closet floor and let tears spill over. The memory of Haze telling me that he remembered me, that he hadn’t wanted to leave me four years ago, all of that only added to the pain of him breaking our kiss and saying he would take me home.
Memories turned into dreams. Dreams of what I wished had happened instead of what had been.
Haze kissed me back. My heart tightened at the realization. He wanted me. His lips seared across mine and burned away the drinks, the party, all of Los Angeles. It was just the two of us on a high hill overlooking an empty canyon. He lowered me to the soft, cool grass and I looked up to meet his eyes.
Part of me wanted to think that this wasn’t how it happened, but another part told me to let it be. That this was what should have happened, how last night should have gone.
“Just let me love you.”
His voice made things low inside me twist, and I gave myself over to them, to him. I pulled him down to me. His lips met mine and electricity raced through me, igniting every nerve with something I’d never felt before. I felt his strong shoulders flex under my fingers, his wide hand sweeping down my side to my bare thigh. I arched up against him, a moan escaping my lips. He swallowed it down, his teeth scraping my bottom lip. His fingers were rough, but his touch was so light that it teased me to a shivering frenzy, wanting him to hold me, harder, closer.
“I’ve got you,” he murmured against my mouth as he slid inside me.
I cried out, pressing my face to his neck to stifle the sound. It was too much, too intense, too everything. And it was what I wanted, what I needed. Without missing a stroke, he reached down and tipped my head up so that our eyes met.
He saw me. Saw me for who I really was and not for who everyone else thought I was, or thought I should be. I was enough for him, just as I was, and he only wanted me to be better because he knew that the mask I wore wasn’t real.
And he didn’t want the mask. He wanted me. The real me, with all my flaws and imperfections.
We came together, his hard body filling my every curve. He thrust deeper, keeping our eyes locked as we crashed over our climax together.
I jerked away as my body pulsed in response to my dream and I groaned, partially because such a good dream had been interrupted, but also because I knew I’d have to face the stupid decisions I’d made last night.
And they were all mine. I’d been a bit drunk, but not so much that I hadn’t known what I was doing. I had a bad feeling that Haze knew that too, even though he’d told me that I was drunk when I kissed him.
“Fuck,” I swore quietly.
I’d kissed Haze and then let Ricky fuck me while Haze was right outside the door. And I knew he’d been there the whole time too. He’d probably heard…I swore again. I didn’t even want to think about what he heard. Except I knew I’d have to eventually.
Unless what I’d done had been enough to push him over the edge.
When I’d first heard that my grandfather had hired a bodyguard for me, I’d been furious, fully intending to drive him away. Even after I’d seen who it was, I’d meant to keep to my plan.
I should’ve been happy that I’d succeeded, that Haze was probably with my grandfather right now, quitting.
But I wasn’t happy. I didn’t want him to go. The very thought of never seeing him again tied my stomach in knots.
What had I done?