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Tired of waiting for her best friend to see her as more, Alyssa Miller heads to Las Vegas for a romance book convention. But when Dillon Alexander realizes his best friend plans to have a one-night stand on her vacation, he hauls ass after her to make sure he’s the one to scratch her itch—commitment issues be damned. Neither of them expects their chemistry to be so explosive, but with a little help, what happens in Vegas might not stayin Vegas...
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What happens in Vegas might not stay in Vegas…
Alyssa Miller is tired of waiting for her next-door neighbor to see her as more than just his best friend. Ready to let off some steam, she heads to Las Vegas for a romance book convention where, if she’s lucky, she’ll get down and dirty with one of the sexy cover models.
Dillon Alexander doesn’t do commitment—especially not where his best friend is concerned. She deserves a man who can give her the world, not damaged goods. But when he realizes Alyssa intends to have a one-night stand on her vacation, he hauls ass after her to make sure he’s the one to scratch her itch.
Neither of them expects their explosive chemistry to burn hotter than the lights on the strip, but with a little help from Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, a flamboyant matchmaker, and TSA, what happens in Vegas might not stay in Vegas…
"I will never look at a unicorn lolly the same way again...EVER. (Gina...my warrior would like to thank you for the candy isle inspiration. A REALLY BIG thank you.) I give Tempting Her Best Friend 5 hearts!" - She Hearts Books
To love someone is to know fear. Gut-wrenching, soulcrushing fear. Fear that your love won't always be enough. Fear that something terrible could rip them away from you. There are dozens, hundreds of scenarios, but they all come down to the same thing: when you...
I love this Author, Gina Maxwell is such an tale...
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3.62 avg Goodreads.com rating
About the author
NY Times Best Selling, USA Today Best Selling Author
Gina L. Maxwell
Gina L. Maxwell is a full-time writer, wife, and mother living in the upper Midwest, despite her scathing hatred of snow and cold weather. An avid romance novel addict, she began writing as an alternate way of enjoying the romance stories she loves to read. Her debut novel, Seducing Cinderella, hit both the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists in less than four weeks, and she’s been living her newfound dream ever since.
When she’s not reading or writing steamy romance novels, she spends her time losing at Scrabble (and every other game) to her high school sweetheart, doing her best to hang out with their teenagers before they fly the coop, and dreaming about her move to sunny Florida once they do.
You can find her on Instagram at www.instagram.com/ginalmaxwell and sign-up for her newsletter at: www.ginalmaxwell.com/newsletter
If Alyssa Miller closed her eyes, she could almost imagine herself fulfilling her dream of dining alfresco at an upscale café in Paris. Cobblestone streets, soft music mixing with soft conversations, and the magnificence of the Eiffel Tower lit up like a giant Christmas tree against the night sky.
A handsome stranger, who looked suspiciously like her best friend Dillon Alexander, would approach her as she sat alone. She’d lower her book and raise her eyes. His mouth would promise her wickedly sexy adventures with only a lopsided quirk of his lips. Holding out his hand, he’d say, “Bonsoir, mademoibuzzzzzzzzzzzzz…”
The egg timer jolted Alyssa from one of her frequent daydreams of France and plunked her squarely back in Longmont, Colorado. More specifically, the kitchen of her tidy town house where she was busy making an incredible dinner of coq au vin for her and Dillon, a.k.a. the guy she fantasized about more often than an OCD germaphobe
washes their hands in a day. She’d met Dillon when she was six years old and he was
eight. He was the only kid in class who’d talked to her after she was pulled out of first grade halfway through the year and placed with the third graders. They’d been a pair ever since, but it wasn’t until after she’d returned from college a couple years ago and rented out the other half of his town house that she started longing to be more than just best friends.
Lord knew she’d dropped enough hints to leave him permanently concussed, but if he’d ever noticed, he never let on. Instead, she’d had to watch him rotate through an arsenal of women to rival the Playboy mansion. His half of the town house would do better with a revolving door. Then she wouldn’t have to hear the obnoxious bang of the current door every time one of his “dates” left in the middle of the night. Thankfully, he considered his bedroom a private sanctuary and never invited them any farther than the living room. Their bedrooms shared a wall and the last thing she wanted was to hear his nocturnal activities on top of knowing about them.
Her glasses sat on her nose slightly askew from her abrupt return to reality. She readjusted them with a nudge of her finger, then retrieved the Dutch oven from her American oven. As soon as she lifted the lid, the aromatic steam made her mouth water. The chicken pieces glistened a golden brown, complemented by the ring of bright carrots and translucent onions. Success.
With a smile of satisfaction, Alyssa took a sip of her Beaujolais Cru, letting the fruity notes of the wine swirl around her tongue before swallowing.
She loved cooking. The process relaxed her and gave her brain a much-needed break after a long day of pouring over statistics and market research. And if she cooked for herself, there wasn’t any reason not to make enough for Dillon, since he lived in the town house next to hers and didn’t have her joy for cooking. She’d seen what he ate when left to his own devices, and it wasn’t pretty. Sometimes they ate together, and other times she simply walked next door and left his dinner on the counter for when he got home.
Normally, she didn’t cook anything quite so fancy, but tonight was the eve of her long-awaited weekend trip and she was in the mood to celebrate. Besides, they said the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. She figured if kickass food had that much influence over the heart, then she should have no problems targeting his sense of adventure.
Tomorrow she would finally arrive at the Masquerade Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for the eighteenth annual Romance Lovers Convention. Three whole days of planned spontaneity and throwing caution to the wind in a moderately controlled environment. And with any luck, she’d convince Dillon to come along and then they could extend the trip through next week. The longer she had with him there, the better her chances of getting out of the damn friend zone and returning to Colorado as his girlfriend.
Or maybe even…wife? She gnawed on her lower lip and started slicing mushrooms as that crazy thought took root in the back of her brain.
Was it all that crazy? When she truly thought about it, they were practically married already, sex being the only thing missing, much to her dismay. And it was Vegas, Land of the Spontaneous Weddings, so it wasn’t entirely out of the
realm of possibility…was it? Alyssa pressed a hand to her belly, which suddenly felt like an industrial leaf blower was stirring things into a frenzied cyclone and making one hell of a mess in there.
Stop overthinking, Alyssa. All you have to do is stick to the plan.
The plan was simple: ply him with an amazing dinner and his favorite dessert, then play upon his sympathy, convincing him she was too nervous to go to Vegas unless he went with her. And if that didn’t work, she wasn’t above manipulating him with a healthy dose of passive-aggressive guilt. No sweat.
She just needed to get him out of their element, away from their everyday routine, to a place they could stretch the boundaries of their relationship. And what better place to do that than the best city on earth known for people taking chances and risks they wouldn’t normally consider?
She’d thought everything through, even taking the day off work to shop for a sexier wardrobe. Everything she owned before today fell under one of three C’s. Conservative, Casual, or Comfortable. But if she had to dress Nightclub Barbie for a few days to get Dillon to see her as a woman and not some asexual being, then that was what she’d do. Anything to ensure success for Operation: Damn, Aly’s Hot and I Totally Want to Do Her.
Her hand clapped over her mouth, and she barely prevented the fermented grapes from shooting out her nose. That name definitely needed some work. Something to think about later.
Smoothing her sleek ponytail with one hand, she drank some more wine and reveled in the warmth as it slid down
her throat. She’d already decided to forego her usual one- glass rule tonight. It’s not like she had to go to work the next day. Plus, she needed the liquid courage to play this whole thing off as an impulsive idea and not her long-ago-hatched plan to date her best friend of eighteen years.
Dillon’s Dodge Ram rumbled as he drove up their street. His aftermarket exhaust reliably alerted her of his arrival a good three blocks before he pulled in. Not for the first time, she ran to check her appearance in the mirror on the foyer wall.
Dillon worked as a foreman at his father’s Denver construction company. After wrapping things up and his commute home from the city, he arrived at their adjoined town houses around the same time every day. And if he ever ran late or changed his plans for the evening, she could count on receiving a text. His reliability was one of her favorite things about him. The fact that it stemmed from an understanding of her need for such things made him even more endearing.
Over the course of their lifelong friendship, he’d witnessed her deal with more than her fair share of instability. Her grandmother called it the Miller Curse. Alyssa was the fourth generation of Miller women who were highly intelligent, only children of single mothers whose lovers never stuck around to love and cherish, much less raise their daughters.
Alyssa’s dad had actually been around the most out of the bunch, but it was sporadic at best and extremely damaging to her mother’s psyche at worst. Alyssa had watched the strong woman become a shell of her former self. And all because she loved a man who couldn’t or wouldn’t
love her back. Alyssa refused to end up like her mom. Dillon and
she were perfect together and they’d already been in each other’s lives for almost two decades. She would be the first Miller to have a loving, caring man, and tonight she’d drive the first nail in that curse’s coffin.
The sound of his truck door banging shut made her heart leap. A second car door slamming and a woman’s high-pitched voice had Alyssa peeking through her curtains. Dillon faced the dark-haired beauty he’d been seeing off and on over the last couple of months as she stalked over to the side of his truck. She was definitely not happy about something.
Alyssa’s stomach twisted, and she wrapped her arms around her waist for comfort at the sight of Dillon with another woman he’d been intimate with. Earlier in the week he’d told Alyssa this woman had found someone else she was more interested in, implying she’d been the one to walk away and not him. But watching the two of them now, the brunette reaching out to him and Dillon holding her at arm’s length with a hand on her shoulder as he talked to her, it was obvious that he’d been the one to cut and run.
Just like always.
Eventually, he walked her over to her car and helped her into the driver’s seat. She swiped at her face, stared at him for a moment, and then drove off. He watched her car disappear before he turned and strode up to their porch. Alyssa jumped back from the curtains before he noticed she’d seen the entire episode and dashed into the kitchen.
Her hand shook as she picked up her knife and made even slices through an onion. As moisture pricked the backs
of her eyes, she told herself it was the result of the potent onion and nothing more. Even if, hypothetically speaking, she was upset, she certainly wouldn’t have any reason to be. After all, him being single could only help her cause. But something was nagging at her about the situation…
Alyssa shook her head and took a deep breath. It was probably just because he’d obviously bent the truth about how the relationship had ended. She wasn’t used to him being dishonest with her about anything so until she found out why, she knew it would bother her.
“Honey, I’m home,” Dillon sang jokingly from the hall.
For now, though, she would not act any differently with him than usual. Would not would not would not. Feeling fairly confident the mantra would sink in and get the message to her brain soon, she pasted a smile on her face just as he entered the kitchen in a pair of worn jeans and a faded gray Pink Floyd concert tee. His sandy-brown hair curled up a little on the ends. He preferred keeping it short, but she liked it when it got a tad overlong like this.
“Hey, Aly-gator, here you go.”
“My hero,” she said, accepting the oblong paper bag holding a baguette of French bread as he confiscated her glass of wine and finished it.
“You lucked out. I got the last fresh loaf at the bakery.”
Dillon picked a few red grapes from the bowl on the island. He popped one in his mouth, then one in hers. The juice of the grape burst on her tongue as the yeasty scent of the warm bread invaded her nose. “Mmm. Thanks for picking it up. A French meal isn’t very French without the French bread. How’s the Karlson project?”
“Miraculously on track, considering what a total pain in
the ass he is,” he said. “What’d you make? It smells damn good.”
He started to lift the lid on the pot, but she slapped his hand and pushed him away. “It’s coq au vin, and your hands are to remain off until I say otherwise.”
“Okay, sorry,” he said, holding his palms out in surrender with his famous I’m-not-the-least-bit-sorry-grin. “Then put me to work. What can I do to get this on my plate faster?”
“Sauté these mushrooms and onions in that pan for me. We’ll be ready to eat just in time for last week’s recap.”
Grabbing a long serrated knife, she began slicing the bread into one-inch-thick, diagonal pieces. Dillon refilled her wineglass and returned it to her before grabbing one of the beers she kept for him in the fridge. Within minutes they were working in tandem, chatting and moving around each other seamlessly with an easy comfort.
He sautéed and stirred. She sliced and stacked.
He begged with puppy-dog eyes. She rolled hers, then shoved a piece of bread in his mouth.
He held up a spoonful of mushrooms for her to taste, then kept moving it away every time she went for it until she narrowed her eyes and hit him on the shoulder. Not that that fazed him in the least, as evidenced by his laughter. The deep, warm rumble in his chest was more contagious to her than yawning. She was helpless not to join him.
She gave the thumbs-up and set their places on the living-room coffee table.
He brought the food over and cued up their show.
On the surface, all was right in her world as they proceeded with their Thursday night ritual: dinner and horrible reality TV.
Every week they got together at her place and watched The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, whichever was running at the time. Currently, one lucky lady was on a mission to find her true love in the dozens of men carefully chosen by overpaid producers whose main concern was ratings. That and ensuring the pony they chose for next season came in as runner-up at the final elimination.
It was pathetic. It was despicable. It was tradition.
Close friends and family teased them, but they’d made peace with their guilty pleasure a long time ago.
Tucking into his chicken, he asked, “Who do you think Kelly gets rid of this time?”
“If I had to guess right now, I’d say either Jordie or Don. But it depends on how the hot-tub dates go tonight.”
Over the next hour they ate, drank, laughed, and gasped at the antics and drama on the show. Alyssa felt a tad light- headed from her current and third glass of wine, but it happened to be doing a fabulous job of slowing down her overactive brain and chasing away her nerves.
As the night had worn on, she’d become even more convinced her plan was perfect. Every shared grin and brush of his thigh against hers made her stomach clench, turning her hope into something more.
Time to give the green light to Operation: Manipulating the Man-Whor— Her subconscious gasped. Alyssa Rose Miller! Where had that come from? That name wasn’t even nice. She gave her wine the stink-eye. Apparently, two glasses had been more than plenty.
She caught his gaze and decided it was now or never. Start with a casual reminder of your trip to Vegas. “So I caught
that little scene out front with the brunette earlier.” Shit! Her inebriated brain had gone completely rogue, and now she had to run with it or risk looking insane. “I thought you said she was the one who broke things off.”
“No, it was me. We’d been seeing each other for a few months. I was starting to get antsy.”
Starting to get antsy. It’s what he told her every time he broke things off with a girl and felt bad about it. Kind of like his version of “it wasn’t her, it was me.” She didn’t think he realized he did it, but she didn’t see any reason to point it out either. “Why didn’t you just tell me the truth?”
Dillon ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “I don’t know. I guess to change up the end of the story for once.”
“You know. Boy meets girl, girl and boy agree to a no- strings thing, boy and girl have fun together…” He paused and shook his head. “But then girl wants more from boy, so boy breaks things off and lives happily ever after.”
The tight look on his face didn’t match his claim for happiness. Maybe this girl had been different, but he couldn’t admit it to himself. Her stomach felt heavy with dread. She really hoped he was over this woman but something felt off. She wanted to change the subject and invite him to Vegas— hell, she could even put the let’s-celebrate-your-single-status spin on it now—but she couldn’t convince her brain to jump the tracks back to the intended conversation.
“Are you sure that’s what you really wanted to do? Break things off I mean?” she asked, holding her breath as she waited on his answer.
Shrugging, he faced her with his normal cocky smile stretching his beautiful face, yet not really reaching his eyes.
“Come on, what have I always told you? Variety is the spice of life. Besides, I can’t keep all this Alexander charm for just one woman. It wouldn’t be fair.”
“I think you just haven’t opened yourself to the idea of giving it to the right woman,” she insisted. “Don’t you want to settle down some day, share your life and grow old with someone?”
He reached down and captured her hand in his, threading his roughened fingers between hers, and her heart sped up at the contact. “Now, why would I ever want to get married when I have all that with you?” He winked.
Her heart was beating triple time now. Was he saying what she thought he was saying? Maybe getting him to Vegas and that Elvis preacher would be easier than she’d thought. “Hey, do you—”
They spoke at the same time. “Seriously, though, you know I’m against long-term relationships.”
Alyssa paused, her mouth gaping before she closed it. She pulled her hand back into her lap, not wanting him to feel it trembling. Dillon had said it a dozen times if he’d said it once, but she’d thought he meant against for now, not against forever. “Why is that again?”
He took a healthy swig of his beer before replying. “You know how my dad is, Aly. How many times has he fallen in love only to fall right back out of it?” Dillon started doing air quotes with his free hand. “Each new relationship was ‘different’ and he ‘really meant it this time.’ But he was like a kid eating a bag of M&M’s for the first time. With each new color he tried, he got excited about getting a new flavor. But once that candy coating melted off, it was still just plain old chocolate like the one before it.”
“Wow,” she said. “That analogy is really strange and yet kind of brilliant.”
Dillon smiled. “Don’t be too impressed. I was in my freshman psych class and eating a bag of M&M’s when I thought of it.” Alyssa couldn’t help but chuckle at the image of him in class, studying his chocolate as though it had the answers to life’s big questions on it. “My point is that my dad was in love with the high he felt when a relationship was new and exciting. So you see, long-term monogamy just isn’t in my DNA.”
Alyssa knew that even though his dad was a total flake when it came to monogamy, Dillon’s mother had made it a point to raise him to be honest and a gentleman. So even though he typically had a flavor-of-the-month kind of thing, he was still up front with the women and always respectful. “Come on, that’s not true. You know DNA has noth—”
He pinned her with a look so heavy she felt the weight of it press her into the couch cushions. “Hey, don’t make a big deal outta this, okay? There’s a reason they coined the phrase ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.’ I’m the same as my old man. The only difference is that I don’t delude myself into believing it’s anything more than the thrill of the chase and having some good times.”
A voice inside her head told her to say something at least mildly intelligent, to move her body, or hell, even to simply blink.
“Besides,” he added, “we’ve got a great thing, you and me. During the week I get to hang out with my best friend— who spoils me with amazing cooking, not to mention trading the occasional load of laundry in exchange for hanging
new light fixtures in her kitchen and other manly duties”— miraculously she managed to curve the edges of her mouth up when he grinned at her expectantly—“then on the weekends I have my lady-friend distractions and for the most part manage not to bother you. It’s perfect.”
She couldn’t breathe. Dear God, she was an idiot. She’d thought he wasn’t getting the message she was interested, and that was all that was holding them in this pattern. She’d never thought for a moment that this was exactly what he wanted.
And he would never want more.
Somehow, she’d managed to turn into her mother, and they weren’t even dating. She’d be a thousand times more pathetic if they ever became a couple and he continued emulating his womanizing father as he was certain he’d do. A humorless laugh echoed in her head. What a pair they’d be, each of them repeating their parents’ mistakes.
No thank you. Not now, not ever.
Alyssa closed her eyes and demanded they stop watering for no damn reason. She didn’t have the right to feel like she’d lost him. She’d never had him to begin with, and apparently, she never would.
After making a hasty excuse and promise to “be right back,” she gathered their empty plates and took them into the kitchen. She blotted the waterlines of her eyes with the backs of her fingers and sniffed any irrational emotions back into her nostrils.
As she worked on clearing the counters, her mind raced. She needed to get over him, and fast. She rolled her eyes at the ridiculous thought. Like she hadn’t tried doing just that every time he brought someone else home the last couple
of years. Contrarily, Alyssa couldn’t remember the last time she’d went on a date or was even interested in another man. Alyssa was so engrossed in her own thoughts, she almost dropped the plastic container of leftover coq au vin when he
called out from the other room, “You need help in there?” “No, I’m just putting a couple things away,” she said,
praying he wouldn’t come in. “I’ll be right back.” She closed the door of the fridge and saw her collection of book-cover magnets staring back at her. The amount of money she spent on her romance novels alone was a staggering example of her attempts to replace thoughts of Dillon with fantasies of hundreds of book boyfriends. Unfortunately, a fictitious character in black typeset was hardly competition for the living, breathing man currently
in her living room. Too bad those sexy heroes didn’t appear while she was
reading. She’d bet her chances of forgetting her best friend would be a hell of a lot better in the strong arms of one of those hotties.
Hello, lightbulb. A smile curved her lips as an idea formed. That’s exactly what she needed. A hero to help her get over this one-sided crush, once and for all. A hero with abs so defined she could body surf them all night long, and a smile so perfect that Dillon’s rather endearing lopsided grin would fade in comparison.
And it just so happened she was going to a romance- novel convention that would be filled with men who fit that very description. Okay, so they weren’t really heroes, but they played them in photo shoots.
Her solution could be summed up in two words. Cover. Models.
Alyssa grinned as a new plan took shape. She’d already planned to sin while in Vegas. Hell, she even had the wardrobe for it. So now all she had to do was put it to good use…and hook herself a cover model for a steamy, no- strings-attached tryst.
Yes, this would work.
She would get over this childhood crush in one hot weekend with another man, and then she and Dillon could go back to their regularly scheduled program. He could stick with his bimbos, and Alyssa wouldn’t have to develop stomach cramps as each Friday drew near, wondering who the lucky girl would be this week. It was a perfect plan, born of desperation and determination, and it could not fail.
Because if it did… Then this had to end.
Either she finally kicked this one-sided crush, or she’d have to make the even more painful decision to move and cut all ties with her best friend. She really saw no other choice. Because ending up ten years from now just like her mom, pining for a man who would never love her back, was not an option.
And who knows, maybe this hot cover model would fall madly in love with her, follow her back to Longmont, and she could spend her Friday nights kissing his washboard abs, ridge by glorious ridge. Stranger things have happened, right? With a nod to herself, she rejoined Dillon in the living room.
“What’s with the goofy grin, Aly-gator?” Dillon tipped his bottle up and took a swig of his beer. “You look like the cat that ate the canary.”
“Do I?” Alyssa brought her feet up and tucked her knees to her chest. She tried to affect a facade of innocence
but knew she failed miserably. “Yeah,” he said, “you do. And I know something’s
definitely up because every time you think I’m not looking you’re pouring yourself more wine. So spill it.”
Deflect, hedge, beat around the bush! “I went clothes shopping today.”
He blinked once, then arched an eyebrow. “We need to find you some real excitement if a new wardrobe gets you this amped up.”
“I came to the same conclusion myself the other day— that I need more excitement in my life, more…well, more— which is what prompted my somewhat impromptu shopping spree for my trip tomorrow. Come on, I’ll show you.”
She placed her wineglass on the coffee table and led him to her bedroom where she had everything she’d bought that day laid out on the bed. Matching sets of lace underwear and bras in black, white, and red. A body-hugging, red halter dress that reached a mere few inches below her ass, and a black pair of what the sales lady called fuck-me boots that reached several inches above her knees. Her casual wear consisted of skintight jeans, leggings, and curve-hugging tops.
But her pride and joy hung over the closet door: a white gown she’d purchased for the masquerade ball. Wearing the strapless bodice and floor-length skirt made up of more layers of tulle than a debutante at prom, she’d be a modern- day Cinderella. Not to mention with her fear of never getting married, she was seizing the opportunity to wear a wedding dress under the guise of it being a ball gown. There was nothing wrong with secretly pandering to her inner child.
Alyssa tore her eyes away from her goodies to find a confused look on Dillon’s face.
“You, uh—” He cleared his throat and tried again. “You planning on getting married this weekend?”
“It’s a ball gown.” Well, it is now. “For the masquerade ball Saturday night. I have a mask and everything.”
Still staring at the clothes, he asked, “Why do I get the feeling I’m missing vital information in this story?”
Ignoring the doubts echoing in her head, she decided to just tell him her plan. Some part of her really hoped he’d object, profess his undying love, and they could move on to the naked parts of her original fantasy, proving he was wrong about himself and they did have a future together after all. “The other day I read a book where the hero and heroine met at a club and had a one-night stand, which got me thinking—”
His eyes cut up to meet hers. “I thought those books all had ‘and they lived happily ever after’ endings. One-night stands don’t usually fall into that category.”
“That’s just how they got together the first time. Throughout the rest of the book they fall in love and all that, but that’s beside my point.”
“Which is that there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and not all relationships start with dating websites or meeting through mutual friends. The former being something I will never do, and the latter option offering no prospects since you’re really my only friend and insist you know no one of the slightest worth.”
He crossed his arms and scowled. “Construction guys are all pigs.”
“You’re a construction guy, Dillon.” “I rest my case,” he said. “Why do you want a relationship
so badly right now anyway?” Admitting she’d wanted one for years with him was so
not happening. “I’m old.” “You’re twenty-four.” “My biological clock is ticking.” “No, it’s not.” He definitely wasn’t buying this
explanation. She racked her brain for something else to say, but lying was not one of her strong suits.
“Fine!” she said, throwing her hands up. “I’m horny as hell and wouldn’t mind having someone around who enjoys my cooking and gives me the occasional mind-blowing orgasm, okay? Is that really so much to ask for?”
She waited, the breath she held burning in her lungs. The muscles in his jaw worked, and for a brief moment she thought he might actually be jealous at the idea of her with another man…then he opened his mouth and ruined everything.
“No, I suppose it’s not.”
Alyssa released her breath on a sigh of defeat. Anonymous quickie with a cover model it is.
“So what does all this have to do with your trip to the romance convention?” he asked.
“Like I said before, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there’s more than one way to scratch an itch. The convention is known for hiring a couple dozen smoking-hot cover models to serve and entertain the attendees, which happens to be very convenient since I’m in the mood to be served and entertained.” Not that she thought he had the proverbial wound to go with it, but she tossed out some salt anyway. “And you know how the saying goes: What happens in Vegas…”
His hazel eyes narrowed the slightest bit. “Aly, are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
She looked him dead in the eye and without remorse said, “If you think I’m saying that I intend on having a one- night stand—or two—with a cover model, then, yes. Yes, I am.”
Dillon glared at the clothes laid out on Alyssa’s bed, willing them to spontaneously combust so she was forced to pack the asexual pantsuits she wore to work. He couldn’t believe what he’d heard. She planned on flying to Vegas to hook up with a romance-novel cover model? Over his dead body!
“Aly, that’s fucking crazy. You’re just going to throw yourself at strange men like you’re a piece of meat?”
She blinked like she’d just been slapped. The cute wrinkle between her eyebrows that formed whenever she frowned stabbed him in the chest.
He winced. Shit. That was way harsh, but the horrific images of Alyssa in another man’s arms—another man’s anything—was short-circuiting his brain, leaving his mouth to run off on its own.
Dillon knew when it came to the topic of love and happy ever afters, Alyssa’s feelings were all over the place. It’s why he’d thought his assurances earlier that he had no intention of ever having anything affect their relationship would have made her smile. Instead, she’d run off to the kitchen like he’d set her napkin on fire.
On one hand, she was a hopeless romantic who daydreamed about vacationing in Paris, read copious amounts
of romance books, and had a “Perfect Wedding” board on Pinterest.
On the other hand, she called herself the “product of love gone wrong” and half believed in some ridiculous curse her grandmother insisted they had. Alyssa’s father was a self-centered prick who strolled in and out of her life like he was dropping in on an extended family member whenever he happened to pass through town. He’d stay for a few months—just long enough to spin his promises of being a happy family and getting Alyssa’s mother to give him money for his latest “investment”—then he’d disappear again until he’d burned all his new bridges, run out of money, or both.
And whenever Alyssa asked her mother why she always believed him, her mom justified it by saying she loved him. Watching her mother become more and more of a broken woman as a result of “love” had also left its mark on a young and impressionable Alyssa. So even though she wanted to find love, she also admitted to being scared shitless of it.
It also didn’t help that her career in market research meant she knew hundreds of statistics about relationships. Including plenty that supported her fear that they were more apt to fail than not.
“If I was one of your male friends, would you have had the same reaction?”
Dillon rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. “No, but—”
“So then why say it to me?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
Because I’m in love with you.
Not that he could tell her that. He knew he’d never be the right guy for her, with his tendency to roam inherited
from his father. Given Alyssa’s upbringing, he loved her too much to ever risk hurting her like her father did. She deserved a man who was going to stick, who didn’t have a wandering eye.
Of course, the idea of her falling in love with someone else made his chest ache, and he rubbed it absently. Logically, he knew it was bound to happen someday, and when it did, he’d have to deal with seeing them together and no longer coming first in her life.To say that he dreaded that eventuality was a huge understatement. Because the thought of losing Alyssa hurt like hell.
Dillon had hoped he wouldn’t have to worry about that for a long time yet. She never dated or seemed to care very much about changing that fact, something he attributed to their easygoing relationship emulating that of an actual couple in every way except one: sex. Apparently, he’d underestimated her need for that particular aspect. Well, this was one hell of a wake-up call. Message received, loud and clear.
“The chances of my guy friends getting overpowered and forced into a situation they’re not comfortable with are slim to none,” he said finally. “You can call me a sexist jerk all you want, but we both know that if things go south, you have nothing but statistics on his chances of incarceration to throw at a guy.”
Alyssa adjusted her crossed arms slightly to a self-hug, and she drew her bottom lip in and worried it with her teeth. One of the many things she did that drove him fucking crazy. If Dillon had a dime for every time he’d been jealous of her teeth over the years, he’d have money to start up his own construction company five times over.
“Yes, but that’s what makes this weekend the perfect opportunity. These cover models have a strong reputation within the romance community. They attend this conference year after year. If they’d caused problems with attendees in the past, they’d never be invited back. So basically, they’re already vetted.”
“Already vetted. Would you listen to yourself, Aly? You’re not shopping for plumbers for fuck sake.”
A sly grin crept over her face. “Well, you could say I’m looking for a man to take care of my ‘pipes’ soooooo…”
Stunned. That’s what he was, and not in a good way. More like tasered-in-the-nuts kind of stunned. That third glass of wine had blown holes in her inhibitions, and now she was speaking in innuendo. If he thought she was even remotely referring to him, he’d be as hard as a plumber’s wrench. But she wasn’t. She was talking about some stranger who wouldn’t give two shits about her and would get to know what it felt like to sink into her heat and hear her moan in pleasure.
You’ve heard her moan on multiple occasions.
Yeah, he had. Through the shared wall of their bedrooms whenever she pleasured herself. The sounds were faint by the time they broke through the layers of drywall and insulation, but she might as well have been right in his ear for as much as it tortured him.
Dragging a hand over his mouth, he about-faced and strode out of her room. The beer wasn’t going to cut it anymore. He needed a stiff drink.
“Oh, come on,” she said with a laugh. “You have to admit that was funny. Where are you going? You haven’t even had dessert yet.” Then, in a singsong voice she added,
“I made crème brûlée.” Of course she did. Because that was his favorite
dessert on the planet and she knew that. Just like she knew everything else about him. Everything except the myriad fantasies he had of pinning her with his body and burying himself between her soft thighs.
Damn it. Wrong time to think of that. Now his cock suddenly wanted to join the party. Fucking perfect. “Sorry, I just remembered I have to meet Dad before work tomorrow about…things. I need to try and get to bed early.”
“Oh,” she said. “Okay.”
Dillon gritted his teeth against the disappointment in her voice as she followed him. If he wasn’t careful, he’d end up doing something asinine—like kiss the hell out of her— to make her forget her crazy idea of hooking up with some muscle-bound Fabio tool in Vegas.
He turned when he reached the front door. “Text me when you land so I know you got there safely.”
“Oh, I’ll be fine,” she said matter-of-factly. “The odds of dying in a plane crash are equivalent to having naturally conceived identical quadruplets, and when was the last time you heard of thatphenomenon crawling around?”
He’d grown accustomed to her spouting off stats in their conversations over the years, but sometimes she needed a reminder that statistical logic didn’t mean a damn thing in the face of someone’s feelings. All the one-in-however- million stats in the world wouldn’t make him feel any better until he knew for sure she was safe. That’s all there was to it.
What used to be a lengthy discussion years ago had been whittled down to a meaningful arch of his brow. Which he now gave her.
A sheepish grin lifted the corners of her mouth, and a pale blush dotted her cheeks before she wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tight. “I’ll text you as soon as the wheels touch down.”
“Thank you.” Careful to keep space between his growing erection and her belly, he held her for several moments, breathing in her familiar vanilla-sugar scent. As always, it beckoned him, tempted him to drag his tongue over her skin and see if she’d melt in his mouth like a warm sugar cookie.
Over the years, it’d gotten so bad that he had to stop using vanilla creamer in his coffee and couldn’t get within fifty yards of a pastry shop without getting hard. She’d turned him into a grown man who avoided the Mrs. Field’s store in the mall for fear of being charged with public indecency. And he didn’t even want to talk about Christmas cookie day at his mom’s house every year.
He pulled away and grabbed the door handle, trying like hell to look like he didn’t have murderous thoughts spinning in his head.
“Hey,” she said, “I don’t want you to worry about me. I promise I’ll be careful.”
The thought of her rolling a condom on someone else’s dick made him physically ill, and he turned to get the hell out of there before he said something he’d regret. “Thanks for dinner. I’ll talk to you when you get back.”
“Okay. Oh, wait,” she said, disappearing into the kitchen. A minute later, she returned with a ramekin of crème brûlée and a green pill bottle. “Take it with you, in case you want it later,” she said, handing over the dessert with a smile. Then she held up the bottle. “And this is melatonin. I know you’ve had a hard time falling asleep lately. These should help you
get the rest you need.” Dillon’s least favorite school subject was English, but he
was pretty sure they called this irony. The only reason he’d been having sleepless nights was also the only woman who cared enough to try and alleviate his supposed insomnia. But he didn’t want to take pills, natural or otherwise. He’d rather fix it by fucking her until utter exhaustion forced him to sleep for as long as it took to regain his strength to do it all over again.
She has the same idea. She just doesn’t plan on doing it with you, dumbass.
He needed to beat feet and go a few rounds with the heavy bag in his basement before he put a hole in the drywall. “Thanks, Aly,” he said sincerely. “You always take good
care of me.” “What are friends for, right?” Her smile held a hint
of sadness before she raised up on her toes and kissed his cheek like always. And like always, it took all of his restraint not to turn his face at the last second so their lips would finally meet.
He shoved the pill bottle in his pocket, then made his escape, dessert in hand. Once on their shared porch, he waited until he heard her slide the locks home before walking through his front door immediately to the left of hers.
He made his way to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and held the dish of crème brûlée inches above the shelf. If he left it in his fridge, he’d always have his favorite dessert on hand. But seeing it there and catching an occasional whiff of its sweet scent would be a self-inflicted torture.
On the other hand, he could give in to his urges and indulge in it now. He’d have to live in the moment and revel
in the creamy ecstasy, satisfied with committing every last second to memory in case it was the last crème brûlée she ever offered him. There’d be no room for regrets.
Dillon’s arm shook from the tension, and his teeth ached from clenching his jaw. With a final growl, he set the dish on the shelf and slammed the door.
Frustration surged through him like electricity. It lit up his veins and burned through his muscles. The only way he’d get any sleep in the near future would be to push his body to its limits with a killer workout. It wouldn’t be the first time he had to leave himself with just enough energy to drag his ass into a shower and off to bed.
Dillon glared at the fridge one last time before heading to his room to change.