The Consequence of Seduction
“Bastard deserved five, maybe six at least,” I said.
“Karma.” She winked.
Shit. It was happening. I was officially unable to control my smile and probably freaking her out. I couldn’t stop smiling, the muscles in my cheeks hurt, no matter how badly I wanted to stop—to play it cool.
I had hit that point in the relationship, where every man says, “That will never happen to me. Love is for saps. I’m a real man. Look, chest hair.”
It’s where logic goes straight out the window and your heart suddenly grows way too big to be kept inside your chest so you decide, the hell with it, I’m just going to wear it on my sleeve. And hope she doesn’t break it.
A girl like Jordan could break me.
MoonPies be damned!
I wanted more than her MoonPie, though that sounded really good too.
“You okay?” She frowned, her smile faltering. “You looked like you’re thinking way too hard about my story.”
“Yeah.” I fake coughed into my hand, embarrassed that she’d caught me daydreaming, then pounded my chest a bit and did a little shake in my seat. She probably thought I was faking a seizure. “I just, I don’t know.” I pressed my lips together. “You look really pretty, that’s all.”
And she did.
Her boyfriend jeans were paired with a plain black T-shirt, and the girl was rocking a blue pair of Nike Free running shoes.
It was then I realized she wasn’t wearing a skirt. I mean, in theory I knew she was wearing jeans, but . . . my mind had been elsewhere.
“You’re not wearing a dress,” I blurted. “Or an oxford or—”
Her eyebrows arched.
“Pants.” I nodded. “You’re wearing pants.”
“Yeah, well.” Her hand shook as she reached for her hair, and then, as if realizing it was pulled back into a tight ponytail, dropped it in her lap.
“I like you this way,” I whispered.
“Ha, unkempt?” she countered.
“No . . .” I licked my lips while she leaned in closer to me. “Just a bit less . . . constricted.”
Her smile was contagious and I found myself catching it again. To anyone watching us we probably looked like we were losing our minds, but I knew what was happening.
I was falling.
And I could only hope she was too.
The minute the desert air hit my hair, the tresses calmed down. Maybe the heat was so intense my hair just gave up and died. Great, so I’d be bald by the evening.
And with my luck find myself on a magazine cover with a gorgeous Reid.
“Vegas!” Max shouted, arms wide, sunglasses askew on his face. “Admit it, this was probably one of my better ideas.” He turned to face us.
Reid checked his watch.
Colt and Milo kissed.
And Becca gave Max a really overexaggerated head nod.
“No fun until you guys admit this was a good idea.” Max crossed his arms. “Oh, and P.S. I paid for penthouse suites, so—”
Jason launched himself at Max, probably to hug him? Who knew? But he tripped over the suitcase and would have face planted if not for Max’s quick catch.
“Good save,” I said.
Jason stood and brushed off his shirt. “Swear you guys put obstacles in my way on purpose.”
He rubbed his eyes.
“Hmm?” He blinked wide, then blinked again. “What’s up?”
“Are you . . . can you see?”
“Do you have vision problems?”
“Yes,” Milo answered for him. “But he refuses to get glasses, because according to Jason they’re nerdy.”
“Glasses are hot,” Becca spoke up.
Max glared. “People with glasses get called Four Eyes.”
“In elementary school.” Becca shoved Max; he flailed, then fell backward over the suitcase onto his ass.
“Classy,” Max called from the ground. “It’s cool, I like my women aggressive.”
“Why would you need glasses?” I was still stuck on Jason’s vision issue. “Wear contacts.”
“Whoa!” Jason held up his hands. “That’s crazy talk.”
“What am I missing?” I looked around helplessly.
Max, from the ground, held up his pointer finger and said, “Jason, watch, I’m going to touch my eye.”
“Do it, you bastard, and I’ll cut your balls off and feed them to my mom’s chickens.”
Max was silent and then said, “She didn’t have chickens last week when she invited me over for tea. I’m calling your bluff . . .” He slowly lowered his finger to his eye while Jason paled.
“Ah.” I nodded. “Fear of touching your eye? Isn’t that an actual phobia?”
Jason shuddered. “Dude, I’m going to puke, just stop.”
Max sighed, then dropped his hand. “Fine, but guys, this weekend is about epic-ness. Let’s relax, have fun, and get these two crazy kids fake hitched. And if you need to detour from the itinerary, please let me know ahead of time.”
“Itinerary?” I repeated as Max got off the ground, opened his carry-on, and pulled out laminated sheets of paper and started passing them around.
“You’ll note that we’re already late for check-in, which means that you’ll have to refresh a lot faster. We’re kicking off this party the right way.”
I turned the paper over in my hands. Max was detailed, all right, he even wrote in bathroom breaks. Girls got ten minutes, on account of the fact they have to sit on the toilet, and yes, that was actually written in parentheses. Boys got five minutes, because they stand like badasses, also written in parentheses.
“Is this normal?” I dangled the sheet in front of Reid.
He sighed. “Sadly, yes. Every vacation I’ve ever taken with the guy has a schedule. I’d like to say it makes life a living hell, but it’s actually helpful because you don’t have to make any decisions. It’s easier to let Max rule.”
“Hmm.” I tapped the sheet against my leg. “Think thirty years from now, when he runs for president, that will be his tagline—‘It’s easier to let Max rule’?”
Reid snorted. “Wouldn’t surprise me.”
“All right.” Max clapped. “To the Batmobile.”
I followed the rest of the gang toward a waiting stretch limo and was handed a glass of chilled champagne before getting in.
I may have been stressed about this trip.
But already I was relaxed and letting my guard down.
So when Reid sat next to me, then put his hand on my knee and didn’t move it, I smiled at him . . . and I felt it. That thing every girl feels when the relationship takes a turn. When it suddenly locks into place. Solidifying that thing between you and the guy that makes you get warm and fuzzy inside every single minute you’re together.
Techno music pounded through the stereo system.
“To VEGAS!” Max yelled.
I burst out laughing as we all clicked our glasses together.
I had to hand it to him.
The man partied well.
A point he proved again when we pulled up to Aria.
“Penthouse suites?” My mouth gaped open. “Are you sure Max is okay with paying for—”
“Shh.” Reid wrapped his arm around me and kissed my head. “He put enough KY in your bag for you to get through a decade of shit sex. Pretty sure you can just say thank you.”
“Shit sex?” I repeated.
Reid winked. “I was assuming it would be without me.”
“Oh.” My face fell.
“Good.” He laughed. “Just checking.”
“Making sure you’re still interested, which by the look you just had, you are. Wow, maybe I do have some Max in me after all?”
“I could probably be his vice president.”
“Dude.” Max elbowed R
Max did the same. “I could have said that better.”
“Come on!” Jason shouted ahead of us. “We only have ten minutes to get ready for the SkyJump!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” I fisted Reid’s shirt, my hand coming into contact with a firm pec. “SkyJump?”
He smiled. “Aw, you clawed my shirt like a real crab.”
I released his shirt and tried to take in slow, even breaths while my heart thudded like a sledgehammer. “I don’t do rides.”
Reid stepped forward and pulled me against his chest. He whispered across my lips, “Maybe I can change your mind.”
I kept the whimper in as my legs squeezed together.
“Come on.” He slapped my ass. “Let’s go.”
“When you guys said Vegas, I thought you meant drinks, a bit of gambling, magic shows,” I grumbled.
“Ha!” Max burst out laughing. “Magic shows.” He pointed at me like I was the insane one. “I do tricks in my sleep. No, sweetheart. We’ll show you how to do Vegas.”
“When I was on Love Island, I learned a few things,” Max said once we were in the elevator going up to the sky deck of the Stratosphere. “One.” He crooked his finger in his jeans and faced us. His white shirt was plastered on his body and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that he was beautiful to look at—when he wasn’t speaking, that is. “Scary situations create an emotional attachment.”
“It’s weird when he uses big words,” Colton whispered under his breath.
“Heard that.” Max crossed his arms. “Now, since these two kids are getting fake hitched and, well, since my brother’s entire career depends on good publicity . . .” Max took a deep breath while Reid rolled his eyes and reached for my hand. “I’ve come up with a solution.”
The elevator doors opened.
I clung to the railing and stayed glued to my spot in the middle of the elevator. That was ride enough for me.
“SkyJump!” Max shouted.
I started hyperventilating while Reid pried my hands free of their tight grip. I molded my body against his and shivered.
“See, man?” Max pointed at me. “Already working.”
“Yeah, and if she pees her pants, bonus points or what?” Becca rolled her eyes. “Men. And I’ll have you know the scariest thing Max did was climb a damn rock.”
“Wait.” I gulped. “Why isn’t Becca in her gear?”
Becca gave me a knowing grin. “I told Max I’d make it worth his while if I could skip out.”
“No fair!” I shouted. “It’s not like we can give the cruise director sexual favors!”
A few curious people looked at me.
I ignored them.
Max rubbed his hands together and laughed. “You’ll be fine. Just make sure they attach you to the thingy before you launch yourself off like a flying pterodactyl, feel me? Nobody wants to see you go splat.”
I gulped as my hands started to sweat. Double vision made me unable to even walk in a straight line as I held on to Reid like he was my lifeline.
“You’ll be fine,” he whispered in my ear. “This is fun.”
I looked down. “No, no. Nothing about this is fun. This is suicide!”
Reid grabbed me and pulled my body against his as we watched someone walk out onto the small ledge and jump. “Look, no tears, and you don’t even fall that fast.”
“But you still fall,” I pointed out.
“Hmm . . . I was afraid this would happen.”
I stiffened in his arms. “Meaning what?”
He turned me to face him. “The uptight skirt-wearing little crab would make an appearance.”
I clenched my teeth. “I’m not uptight.”
Reid ran the back of his hand down my face and then grazed my breast with his knuckles. I trembled beneath his touch. “Really? Because I’d love to see what happens when you go wild. I’m sure it’s sexy as hell.”
“Jezebel, you’re up!” Max called.
“So what will it be?” Reid’s gaze challenged mine. “Did you bring the skirts with you or the big-girl pants?”
“Damn you Emory men,” I muttered, stalking off toward the attendant. He fired off instructions, but really all I heard was, blah, blah, blah, you could die, blah, blah, blah, try not to puke, blah, blah, blah did you sign the consent form? Pretty sure I should have written my will before this trip.
“Do you understand?” the attendant asked as I tried not to glance down at the ground. Milo and Colt had already jumped—if they were dead we’d know by now? Right?
“Do you understand?” the attendant repeated.
“Huh?” I blinked, seeing two of him. I’m sure he was a nice man—he had a salt-and-pepper beard and was wearing a beanie. His shirt said “Get High.” I would have killed Max—actually thrown him off that building—to be high or drunk enough not to actually remember what was about to happen.
I trembled and gave him a weak nod. “So, I’m all tied in, all secure? I can jump?”
“You’re good.” He chuckled. “You just walk the plank and . . .” He made a jumping motion with his two fingers. I’m sure he meant it as encouragement, but all I could focus on was the sound effect of splat running through my head.
Reid was the only person I could still see, the only person I wanted to see.
In that moment I realized something.
I was in Vegas.
And maybe that was pathetic, but . . . I had friends, albeit crazy ones, but we were all together. And I had Reid.
Reid! My client.
Reid . . . who was so much more than that.
You got this, he mouthed and gave me a thumbs-up.
I gave him a weak nod and then turned back to the attendant. “You promise I’m all secure?”
“You’ve been secure for a while now.” He patted my back. “Now, keep walking and then do your thing. Remember the instructions. Arms out, legs out, no flips or anything wild like that.”
“Ha, I’ll try to restrain myself from flipping.” I swallowed as hot air hit my face. It was getting louder and louder as I made my way slowly out the side of the building. And then I was at the edge, the toes of my Nikes peeking over the ledge.
I’d never done anything crazy in my life.
One time I bought a pencil skirt in lime green.
That was my crazy.
Buying Otis special dog food. My brand of crazy.
Three drinks instead of two on a weeknight? Crazy.
Jumping off a building.
Maybe, just maybe I needed more crazy.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Then jumped.
The feeling of falling was almost immediately replaced with an intense amount of hot air as wind whipped around me. I managed to crack open my eyes, and then as my stomach dipped, I opened my mouth.
It wasn’t pretty.
In fact I’m sure that anyone taking a picture would think I was actually trying to swallow my own head.
And then suddenly.
Just above the ground.
“No splat!” I shouted, pumping my legs back and forth.
“You lived!” Milo shouted. Oh, good, they really were alive and it wasn’t a figment of my imagination brought on by the trauma of jumping off a building.
Once I was out of my gear, I waited for Jason, Max, and Reid, who all came tumbling down like it wasn’t a big deal at all. They yelled and pushed one another like guys do when they have too much testosterone rolling around their systems.
Reid stopped in front of me and smirked.
“Yup.” His grin widened.
“Holy shit.” Max stuttered to a stop. “Looks like your hair had more fun than you did!”
I reached up and patted my head.
Naturally, only half my hair was in its ponytail; the rest of it was puffed around my face in a rat’s nest that out of the corner of my eye looked like horns coming from my ears.
“Stop.” Reid grabbed my hands and pulled me into his arms. “It’s cute.”
I huffed. “I look electrocuted.”
“Nah.” He shook his head. “You look . . .” He kissed me softly. “Invigorated.”
“Yeah?” My voice was a bit breathless—then again, I was kissing Reid Emory, the newest heartthrob to hit Hollywood, the man who had a body like Ryan Gosling on his best day.
“I like it.”
I like you, that’s what I wanted to say. Instead I just nodded like a total lovesick sap and then rested my head against his chest.
“See?” Max came up next to us. “Works every time. Emotional bond secured. You’re welcome! Now on to item number two!”
I cringed. “Well, at least we don’t have to go on that scary-looking roller coaster thing.”
While the rest of the crew started marching back into the Stratosphere.
“Crap,” I muttered. “We’re doing all the rides, aren’t we?”
“Every last one.” Reid kissed my head. It was new, this whole kissing my head thing, holding my hand, making sure I was okay. And I hated to think of what would happen when he suddenly wasn’t there anymore to give me encouragement.
Encouragement is one of those things you don’t think you need until you suddenly have it, and then you wonder how you survived your entire life without it.
That’s what Reid was good at. Staying positive, being encouraging. He owned his positive attitude.
And by association it rubbed off.
Because as I walked hand in hand with him and got back into that stupid elevator, all I kept thinking was, I can do this.
Because he made me think I could.
Except . . . this wasn’t a romance novel, no matter how many times Max joked about it.
Eventually, fame would get to Reid like it got to every one of my clients, and he’d be gone and I’d be stuck watching him on Jimmy Fallon while I ate a tub of ice cream.