The sound of that voice froze something deep inside me and I didn’t want to look up. I didn’t even want to move.
It’s not him, I told myself. It’s not him. You’re just hearing things. It’s nerves. It won’t be him…
The silence began to take on that strained, tense feel and I knew I couldn’t avoid looking up any longer, no matter how much I wanted to. I knew who I would find standing in front of me and my empty stomach clenched. I was suddenly very glad I hadn’t eaten yet.
I could feel the intensity of that cadet blue gaze and I knew I had to raise my head. I did so slowly, praying that I’d be wrong even though every cell in my body knew I was right.
Flynn McCreary stood in front of me and those wicked eyes all but scorched a path along my skin. For a moment, it was just me and him all over again in his studio and I could all but feel his hands sliding over my flesh, his mouth against mine.
He looked about as stunned as I felt.
Did I look that shocked? As though one light brush might knock me back on my senseless ass, even if I was sitting in a chair? I sincerely hoped not since I’d have no reasonable explanation as to why the sight of this man rendered me speechless.
Panic slammed into me. I forced myself to smile as I clamped my hand around Edward’s. “This must be one of the brothers,” I said, smiling broadly. It was so fake, felt so unnatural, and it hurt my face just to keep the smile in place, but I didn’t stop.
At least I sounded normal. Although I didn’t understand how it was possible to sound normal when I felt like the roof was caving in and the earth was falling away beneath my feet. This couldn’t be happening. My Prince Charming couldn’t be related to the villain of the story. Even as I thought it, my writer’s mind said that’s usually how stories went.
Edward chuckled. “It is. Flynn, I think the only time I’ve ever seen you that silent is when you’ve been focused on getting a woman in front of your camera. Be warned though. Gabriella has already told me she’s tried her hand at modeling and didn’t care for it.”
My cheeks flamed as Edward leaned over and kissed my temple. He slid his arm around my shoulders and I didn’t miss the possessive nature of the gesture. He was clearly telling his womanizing brother to stay away.
Flynn’s brows dropped low over his eyes and I saw a storm brewing there. His handsome face was twisted into that scowl I’d seen the first time we’d met.
I swallowed nervously, pulling my hands into my lap and twisting my expensive engagement ring around and around on my finger.
Here it comes…Flynn will tell him and it will all be over.
Odd, wasn’t it? That I felt some small bit of relief? That the thought of everything being out it in the open didn’t terrify me?
“Tried your hand at modeling, huh?”
I tensed as Flynn flung himself into the seat across mine, his voice acerbic, eyes now cold and flat. He stared at me as though I was a fly in his soup, a woman he found unappealing. Or a lover he’d thought lacking.
That thought made my cheeks flame even more, and I continued to twist my ring around and around while Edward, unaware of my internal misery, flagged down a passing server.
“Well.” Flynn gave me a thorough, intense looking over and then nodded slowly, as if he’d come to a decision. “Your fiancé is pretty, Edward. I’ll give her that, but the camera doesn’t love just a pretty face. A good model needs…more.”
I flinched as if I’d been slapped.
Edward slid his hand from my shoulders up to my neck, his fingers gently massaging the tense muscles beneath my hair. “Flynn, behave,” Edward said, his voice low. Then he leaned over and brushed his lips across my cheek. “Ignore him. Flynn matured to the age of thirteen and then stopped, mentally, at least. We’ve never been able to figure out what the problem was.”
“Not all of us can be the perfect son, Eddie,” Flynn said. He looked up as a server appeared at his side. “Whisky, a double. Neat.”
While the server asked his preference, Claire Bouvier—my future mother-in-law—made a noise of disapproval.
I went from twisting my ring to twisting my napkin, thankful it was cloth and wouldn’t come apart in my hands.
This was turning out to be an even bigger disaster than I could have ever imagined.
Decision made, Flynn nodded at the server and then straightened in his chair, staring his mother down with the same cool stare he’d leveled at me. “Yes, Mother?”
“It’s barely four o’clock.” She glanced around the room with her ice blue eyes, a discreet look, but I imagined she could have told us the names of every important person present. With her perfectly coifed blonde hair and elegant clothing, it was clear that she belonged here. “Must you be drinking this early?”
“I would have already started, but I had to drive.” Flynn shrugged.
“I’m sure Flynn is only going to have the one,” Edward interrupted and I caught the look he shot his brother. In that moment, it wasn’t just the color of his eyes that matched his mother’s.
Flynn gave his older brother—half-brother?—a faint smile. “Of course. I have to be able to make a toast to my darling sister-in-law-to-be, after all.” He angled his head toward me and I felt the impact of his gaze straight down to my core.
My heart started to race. I felt a drop of sweat form on my forehead.
Bracing his elbows on the table, Flynn gave me a look of mock curiosity. “Edward didn’t really formally introduce us. What did you say your name was again?”
Oh, shut up. I narrowed my eyes at him.
He blinked at me, the picture of innocence, but the rakish grin that I knew so well began to tug on the corners of his lips.
“How rude of me,” Edward said, completely missing the looks between his brother and me. “You’re quite right, Flynn.”
“Gabriella Baine.” I lifted my chin, staring into Flynn’s arrogant gaze. I’d always hated having people answer for me. From the corner of my eye, I saw Edward closing his mouth, looking almost surprised that I’d given a response rather than letting him do it.
“Lovely name,” Flynn murmured, his eyes glinting with a wicked light. “I’m charmed.”
You’re a toad. I barely bit back the urge to hurl the words across the table at him.
Instead, I beamed at him like he had said the sweetest thing ever. “It’s lovely to meet one of Edward’s brothers.” Then, because just sitting this close made me remember how terrible he’d acted, how he’d made me feel, I leaned against Edward. I’d never needed to feel as loved and cherished as I did in that that moment. Edward was talking softly with his mother, but his arm came around me automatically and I relaxed into the embrace. Well, as relaxed as I could possibly be in my current situation.
Flynn stared at me, the kind of look that made me feel like he was remembering me naked. Naked…and covered in paint, his palms cupping, molding my breasts, his fingers trailing down…down…down…
I shivered and tore my gaze away.
Edward misinterpreted and wrapped his arm around my shoulders. “Are you cold, darling?”
“A little,” I lied.
He hugged me in closer to his side.
From under my lashes, I could see Flynn’s gaze still resting on me. He knew. He knew my shiver had nothing to do with the temperature and everything to do with him.
The next forty-five minutes crawled by at a pace that had me ready to scream. Edward’s mother was icily polite, making it clear she was only holding her tongue because we were in public and courtesy dictated she remain cordial.
Of course, her idea of courtesy and mine are two different things, but I had learned a long time ago that what some people considered manners was a far cry from what I considered manners. It wasn’t even the difference between New York City versus the south. Most of the people I knew here were perfectly wonderful people, like Kendra, most of our mutual friends and, of course, Edward.
But then there were the assholes, the creeps, the snobbish elite and toads. Flynn fell into that last category, as well as the first and second, but I was determined not to classify my future mother-in-law just yet. I was going to marry Edward, and I needed to do everything in my power not to make things awkward between him and his family.
Still, it was a relief when everybody got up from the table and moved off into the club itself, giving me a chance to flee outside, claiming I needed some air.
“Five minutes,” I told Edward with a tight smile.
That was all I needed. Five minutes to level out and steady myself and I could deal with this for another hour or two. At least. Mentally groaning, I started to pace the lovely, elegant cobbled pathway, my arms crossed over my middle. I was just on my second lap when I felt eyes on me. My skin prickled and I knew immediately that I was no longer alone. And who it was.
Shit. Why did I have to be so fucking aware of him?
“Go away,” I told Flynn without even looking his way.
His response was to move up behind me as I came to the wall, just when I would have turned around. Sensing him behind me, I froze there and refused to turn. I couldn’t look at him. I didn’t want him there.
His heat seemed to warm my skin from head to feet, every inch of me warming without a single touch.
When he reached out and brushed his fingers across the side of my throat, I flinched and hunched in on myself. “Didn’t you hear me? Go away.” I tried to make myself sound as firm and mean as I could.
He leaned in and kissed my neck, his lips soft against the curve where it met my shoulder. Electricity danced across my skin.
Hissing, I spun around, intending to shove him, but he caught my wrists and jerked me against his hard, lean body.
As his mouth came down on mine, a strangled moan escaped me.
This…I lied to myself and insisted I hadn’t missed it.
I hadn’t missed the way his tongue stroked across my lips and then boldly pushed inside.
I hadn’t missed the way his hand cupped the back of my neck and tipped my head up into his kiss.
I hadn’t missed the way my nipples went hard at the first brush of his chest or the way everything else in me went soft and lax.
I hadn’t missed it…
It wasn’t until he started to run his hand down my thigh to the hem of my dress that my head woke up. So caught up in his kiss, I’d half-forgotten where we were, but the feel of his palm, hot and certain against my skin, sent sparks of anticipation and terror swimming through me. With a cry, I tore back.
Flynn’s eyes narrowed as he tried to pull me close again. I acted without thinking, slapping him hard enough to make my hand hurt.
Instantly, his cheek bloomed red.
Undeterred, he pulled me back against him.
“Don’t,” I whispered against his lips. My arms were pinned between us, making it impossible for me to push him away.
He stilled, and I felt his words drift over my lips. “You can’t pretend you don’t want me.”
“I want lots of things,” I told him. “Chocolate every day, ice cream at every meal. I want lots of things that are bad for me. That doesn’t mean I let myself have them.”
He slowly let me go, an unreadable look in his eyes.
“We’re not doing this again.” Shaking my head, I backed away. I could still feel his lips on mine and I wanted to lick them, taste him on me, but I wouldn’t let myself. I reminded myself that this was some sort of game to him. He was just fucking with me, exactly like he had before.
I started to turn away, but Flynn’s voice stopped me.
“He won’t like it, you know.”
“What?” I didn’t look back at him. I didn’t trust myself.
He came closer, not stopping until I could feel his body heat warming me through the thin fabric of my dress.
“The pictures. And if Edward finds out you slept with me? You might want to tell him now, before things go any further. Get it over with.”
“Are you going to tell him?” My voice hitched as I asked the question I’d had on the tip of my tongue from the moment I’d seen Flynn.
“Nah.” I could see my reflection in the window in front of me. The shades were drawn, turning the surface into an unsteady mirror and even I could see the fear on my face.
Flynn was watching me in that surface. Studying me. He traced a finger down my arm and said, “It won’t matter to him that you hadn’t even met him yet. He’s got peculiar ideas on propriety, darling. But you go ahead, try to hide it.” He leaned in, pressing his lips against my ear. “I kind of like knowing about your wicked side, Gabriella. Just know, Edward wouldn’t appreciate it.”