Authors: Mia Caldwell
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #United States, #African American, #Women's Fiction, #Romance, #Multicultural, #New Adult & College, #Multicultural & Interracial
“Don’t spin me a line about changing, Connor. There’s no need to change anything. In fact, tonight changes nothing. We both know where this is headed, and we don’t need a bunch of pretty words or fake emotions clouding the issue, do we?”
He hesitated for a moment before shaking his head, though his expression looked faintly troubled. “I just don’t want you to think I’m using you.”
He was oddly anxious, as though doubting she would believe his assertion, but she found it unnerving rather than touching. She wanted this to be a straightforward physical exchange, and she didn’t know what to think of his insistence of making it more intimate. Getting personal and emotional was a bad idea that would only lead to heartbreak, and the last thing she wanted to do was fall in love with Connor.
That thought, more than any other, was what brought her to her senses and had her pulling her hand free from his. Rolling off the bed, she straightened her dress and cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, but I think this is a mistake. Excuse me, but I’m have to go now.”
He looked dazed as he sat up, not even quite off the bed before she had made it to the door that joined their rooms. She threw it open and was past the doorjamb before he was close enough to reach out for her.
“Angelina, wait. Come back please. Let’s talk about this.”
She paused just long enough to look over her shoulder and shake her head. “There’s really nothing to talk about, is there? It was just the heat of the moment, and I’m sorry. I don’t do casual sex, and I think it would just make our situation more complicated. Good night, Connor.” Before he could argue with her, she closed the door in his face and locked her side. Perhaps that was overkill, but she felt better when the lock was in place. Like the last time she had locked herself on the other side of a door from him, she wasn’t sure if it was to keep him out or herself in.
Connor stared at the closed door for a long moment, resting his palm against it. He was confused by how quickly she had changed her mind, and instinct urged him to pound on the door until she opened it and explained herself, so he could soothe away her worries and bring her back to his bed.
Common sense exerted itself over instinct, forcing him to take a step back and turn away. He knew she had done the right thing, but it wasn’t just his physical state of frustration that left him aching and wishing she hadn’t experienced a sudden return of logic that had propelled her from his bed and back to her own room. Right now, he could be losing himself in the silken depths of his fiancée, rather than blocked from her by a solid wooden door and her own rejection.
Fake fiancée, he mentally corrected, several beats too late. Dammit. Was she really starting to feel like his actual fiancée? Was he falling for the woman who was playing the role of his fiancée? He was the one who had written the ending, so he knew what she had to do.
Falling for her would be a colossal mistake, the kind that would change his life, and probably not for the better. Angelina showed no signs of having fallen for him, and she seemed to have no doubt about the outcome of their approaching wedding. He was certain if he tentatively suggested that she not leave him at the altar, she would laugh herself silly or run away in fear.
Not that he was actually considering canceling the jilting. That would mean accepting the idea of a wife. Any wife sounded pretty horrific when he wasn’t in love with someone. Angelina would make a nice wife though, he had to concede. She was sweet and sexy, but also studious and responsible. She knew how to get things done, and his father liked her.
“Whoa,” he cautioned himself as he went into the bathroom and prepared to take a cold shower. Those were dangerous thoughts he was having. Unless he was really prepared to settle down, he’d better rein them in quickly.
And even if he was prepared to think about something long-term and permanent, he was certain Angelina wasn’t. She would probably let him down easily, even kindly, but she would still reject the idea out-of-hand.
She had definitely done the right thing by calling a halt to their fledgling lovemaking session.
That didn’t mean he didn’t go to bed with chattering teeth and a core temperature a few degrees lower than normal from the cold shower he used to temporarily suppress his unruly libido. Just as he drifted off to sleep, the image of her as she had been lying on the bed beside him—not even undressed—was enough to send his erection back to life and leave him in an aching, sleepless state for the rest of the night.
“He’s been cheating on you,” said Brenda with a purr of satisfaction as she slammed a handful of tabloid papers down on the table in front of Angelina. Her pleasure was evident in the way she smirked from her perch towering over where Angelina sat at the table in the airport, awaiting Connor’s arrival.
For just a brief moment, her stomach squeezed with dread as she braced herself to see unpleasant proof of Connor’s relationships. Brenda couldn’t know that he wouldn’t technically be cheating, though she was going to be angry with him if there was some truth to the rumors, simply because they were enacting this whole charade for his father’s benefit, and having Connor outed as a cheater wouldn’t be beneficial to anyone. Unless he was setting it up as her out for ending the relationship before their marriage in eight days?
The pictures were lurid, all right, and featured Connor in a serious lip lock with a vivacious redhead. She didn’t like looking at the pictures, though she did not examine too deeply why that was, and instead turned her attention to the headline, which screamed:
Playboy Racer Cheats On Fiancée Two Weeks Before He Pops The Question
She skimmed the article briefly, quickly realizing the photos were from a tryst in which Connor had indulged two weekends before he had been maneuvered into proposing to her to placate his father. With a cool expression, she looked up at Brenda. “Is that all?”
Brenda frowned, clearly having expected a greater reaction. “It’s in all those different papers, and I was promised…I’ve heard it’s going to be in even more.”
Her eyes narrowed as she scanned the next paper, this one featuring an exotic-looking woman from Connor’s last trip to Brazil, almost two months ago. As she went through the gossipy article, her gaze grew even narrower when she ran across a suspicious quote that she read aloud,
“A friend of the family confides that Connor’s fiancée was unknown to the family until the weekend of the engagement party. The source speculates there’s more to do with dollar signs than affection in their union.”
With a grimace of disgust, she shook her head at Brenda. “I’m sure I have no trouble guessing who the close family source was.” She scowled as another idea occurred to her. “And probably the source of that leak when reporters somehow got the impression Connor had beaten me when Kevin hit me on accident.” She felt bad for a moment, since she had assumed it was one of the women Carly had brought into her home, but could see the confirmation of her guess in Brenda’s startled expression. “Do you really think any of this is going to end our engagement, Brenda?”
With the other woman’s evil machinations, it was tempting to just throw caution to the wind and show up the day of the ceremony. That would be her only reason, of course. After all, she and Connor had been very careful to dance around each other the last week-and-a-half, carefully avoiding alone time and physical contact as much as possible. It had certainly made things easier. In fact, she was barely attracted to him at all.
And she was the world’s biggest liar, especially when trying to get herself to believe that nonsense. With a sigh, she returned her focus to Brenda.
“If you really loved him, you’d care that he was cheating on you before you got engaged.”
“Our relationship, and what it was before our engagement, is none of your business. What are you even doing here? I’m waiting for Connor to arrive so we can fly to Monaco for the next grand prix—.” She barely held back a groan of dismay as it struck her why the other woman might be there. “Don’t tell me you managed to wrangle an invitation?”
Brenda smiled at her—a cold, fleeting grimace more than a cheerful expression of delight. “I don’t really need to wrangle an invitation, as you put it. I’m practically like a sister to Connor, and you’re the interloper here, not me. In fact, I’m certain if I told Connor just how rude you’ve been to me, that would be enough to disrupt your engagement.” She said the last word like it was a foul expletive.
Her anger was rising, but she did her best to hide any reaction. Brenda seemed to thrive on drama, so she wasn’t going to do anything to feed the beast. “You’re welcome to try.” If she had truly been engaged to Connor, she probably would have felt some real anxiety at the idea of Brenda trying to come between them, since she had seen for herself how close the two were. Connor regarded her with sisterly affection, but he clearly had no clue what kind of scheming hag lurked beneath the coldly angelic exterior.
It wasn’t up to her to shatter his delusions, thankfully, and since she wasn’t actually marrying Connor, it shouldn’t matter to her anyway. She just had to get through the next eight days, and then she wouldn’t have to see Brenda ever again. She was thankful for that, because she could well imagine the other woman’s gloating when it sank in that Angelina wasn’t walking down the aisle, and had in fact jilted Connor Blackwell.
Fortunately, Connor arrived then and saved her the energy of deflecting Brenda’s negativity. Angelina told herself she was simply amused, not at all jealous, when Brenda greeted Connor first by throwing herself against him in a tight hug and kissing his cheeks in a very European fashion. It would have been more European if her lips hadn’t accidentally grazed the corner of Connor’s mouth as she pulled away. The woman was blatantly throwing herself at Connor, and the man was too blind to see it.
If she’d had a slightly larger capacity for compassion when it came to Brenda, she probably would’ve felt sorry for her. She almost snorted aloud at the thought.
A second later, Connor pulled free from Brenda and walked over to Angelina, who stood up from the chair at the table where she had been waiting for him. He took her hand in his, and she denied the spark that shot up her arm from his gentle touch. She tried to rein in her reaction when he pressed his lips against hers in a tender gesture. She knew it was for appearance sake, and she also understood he kept it light to avoid the temptation of what had happened to them last time they had indulged in a real kiss.
Still, it took everything she had not to grasp the lapels of his sport coat and press her body against his as she devoured his mouth with hers. They hadn’t seen each other for two days, and that occasion had been for wedding business, which meant they were surrounded by people—a relief, but also frustrating as hell.
“Are you ready for Monaco?”
She smiled, her stomach fizzing with excitement. “Yes I am.” It was another place she had never been, which was unsurprising. Her passport was about to acquire another stamp to join the ones from their trip to Barcelona, and another stamp from a trip to Mexico with a group of girlfriends a few years ago, before Granny had passed away.
She clutched his hand and walked beside him, wishing Brenda would magically get lost in the crowd, or perhaps be detained by TSA as a suspicious person. Very briefly, she entertained the petty idea of tipping them off, but managed to take the mature route of reining in the impulse when she had the chance to speak to a TSA agent.
She was proud of her restraint, especially since Brenda’s voice grated on her like nails on a chalkboard, and the woman never shut up. She seemed to be going out of her way to deliberately antagonize Angelina, and she wondered how Connor could be so oblivious to the other woman’s annoying attitude.
Once again, she reminded herself it wasn’t her problem once their engagement ended in eight days. She could deal with Brenda for eight days off and on, couldn’t she? Surely, it would be no more irritating than a blister in her shoe, or perhaps coming down with a case of Ebola Zaire. She barely bit back a giggle of the thought, forcing herself to appear serious as she went through the security checkpoint and joined Connor on the other side. She was surprised they weren’t taking a private jet this time, but he had shared in passing that his father was using the family plane, so they were taking first-class instead.
It was a rough life the Blackwells lived, she thought with a small grin as she settled into her first-class seat almost an hour later. She had a feeling she could get used to all this, but she also knew she could walk away just as easily. If only it would be as easy to walk away from Connor as it was the trappings of his lifestyle, she wouldn’t have any doubts or concerns about the next eight days, culminating in the jilting at the wedding.
Monaco was a sparkling jewel, as she had expected. Surrounded by brilliant blue water, it was a welcome sight raising from the sea. They had booked a suite in the casino, and fortunately, Brenda hadn’t managed to find a way to stay with them in their suite. Of course she had arranged to be at the same hotel, and even on the same floor, Angelina noted with a grimace as they all got off the elevator on the same floor.
It had been a long flight, and her earlier amusement comparing Brenda to Ebola Zaire had faded to resentment as she’d dealt with the woman’s never-ending chatter. When Brenda suggested they all grab dinner, she shook her head, not having to feign a yawn. It was playing into Brenda’s scheme, but she just couldn’t endure another moment with the other woman. “Why don’t you two go ahead? I’m just worn out from the travel.”
Brenda clicked her tongue, looking sympathetic. “Of course you are. I bet you’ve never flown so far before.”
“Only to Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix. Surely Connor told you what a wonderful time we had, Brenda? He wasn’t racing, so we just explored the whole city and enjoyed each other. It was lovely having Connor all to myself for those days.” She kept her tone sweet, bordering on appreciative, but her message found its way to Brenda, though Connor remained oblivious. She took some satisfaction in the way Brenda’s mouth tightened, and then quickly made her way into their suite before the other woman could form a rejoinder.
She went straight to the smallest room of the suite, automatically selecting it for herself and leaving the larger master suite for Connor. She knew his first rounds of qualifying were tomorrow, so she doubted he would be out late, unless Brenda could entice him to stay longer than was wise.
Still, she was surprised to see him when she padded back into the shared living area ten minutes later, having changed out of travel clothes into a comfy pair of lounge pants and an oversized T-shirt that had once been Kevin’s. She drew to a halt at the sight of Connor wearing just flannel pajama pants and sprawled on the couch. She frowned at him. “I thought you’d be with Brenda.”
He sighed, shaking his head. “I have to get up early tomorrow, so I thought I’d relax here with you tonight. Plus, Brenda has just been talking the whole day. She’s usually a chatterbox, but goodness…today, she just monopolized the conversation for hours on end.”
Her lips twitched, and she could have told him her theory as to why, which was Brenda wanted to prevent Angelina from getting in a word edgewise, but she let it go. “Perhaps she’s just excited about the race tomorrow, Connor.”
He shrugged, looking exhausted. “Whatever it is, I’m glad to have a break.” He seemed faintly guilty making the admission, so she didn’t tease him about it. A moment later, he said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I ordered us some dinner.”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t mind. I’m starving, and I’m sure whatever you ordered will taste good.”
They found out a few minutes later, when the room service attendant arrived and set up their tray beside the dining room table that was included as part of the suite. They sat across from each other, eschewing the ends of the large table in favor of being able to actually speak to each other in a comfortable volume.
He’d picked a tempting array of selections, including
which was salt cod with cardoons in a garlic, oil, and cream sauce, and she enjoyed it all. When she finished, she pushed away her plate and rubbed her stomach. “It’s a good thing I’m not really marrying you, Connor, or I’d probably gain fifty pounds.”
He leered at her. “You could gain a hundred pounds, and I’d still love you.” He said it in a teasing fashion, and it was the kind of comment that meant nothing.
So why did it make her heart rate accelerate with excitement and a hint of trepidation instead? She knew she’d waited too long to respond as she made a flippant remark, seeing his expression turn to one of confusion when she finally spoke. She wasn’t sure what she said, but it must have been the right thing, because his confusion cleared, and he smiled in amusement. Deciding to beat a hasty retreat, she pushed away from the table. “I wasn’t kidding when I said I’m exhausted, so I’m going to have an early night. I’m sure you’ll be able to entertain yourself.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” He seemed briefly unsettled, or perhaps morose was a better word, as though she was abandoning him rather than having an early night. She pushed back any hint of guilt, because she genuinely was exhausted, but she also needed to put space between them. Brenda had acted as a buffer, and she was suddenly grateful the woman had been along, because though she drove Angelina insane, she also kept her from doing something crazy, like give in to the attraction simmering between them on a plane full of strangers.
Now that they were alone together in their suite, she knew it was dangerous to spend too much time together. With that in mind, she gave him a quick good night and hurried to the smaller room, glad to find an attached bathroom reserved solely for the smaller room, so she wouldn’t risk seeing him again that evening.
He would be gone by the time she woke up, since time trials started early, and she had the day to herself to explore and become familiar with Monaco. She had been excited about the prospect, and she still was, but as she slipped into bed after a warm bath, she realized she was also vaguely discontent at the idea of doing it all alone.
Part of her wished they could reenact Barcelona, but with the backdrop of Monaco instead. It had been a wonderful time, and she had truly enjoyed having Connor all to herself during those few days, but it was those sorts of tempting distractions that led to doing crazy things, like almost going to bed with him as she had after the engagement party. This way was safer, but she was still sad that he wouldn’t be beside her tomorrow as she explored a new country.