Every Part of You Taunts Me

 

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Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Begin Reading

About the Author

Copyright

 

Simone was going to be at this party.

Elliott knew it, though he hadn’t asked the future governor of Louisiana, whose name turned out to be Trent Boudreaux, if he’d invited her. He hadn’t wanted to give the other man any inkling that it mattered. Because it didn’t. Absolutely not.

Drink in hand, Elliott stood in the corner of the living room in Trent’s suite, absolutely not scanning the room for any sign of her. A couple blondes had passed by earlier, one of them giving him a significant look he thought meant he’d fucked at least one of them. When he hadn’t done more than give her a single nod, she’d stalked off in a huff. Her friend had given him the death stare over her shoulder, but all Elliott did was shrug. Since meeting Simone, he’d somehow lost his taste for blondes.

“Elliott. Buddy.” Barry clapped him on the shoulder. “You ready to do some wheeling and dealing?”

“You’re the wheeler dealer. Not me. I’m just the guy who knows how to use Google.”

“You could do it, if you wanted. Get you out of that boring estate-law business. Get you into some lobbying full-time. C’mon. You’re the man.” Barry grinned.

Elliott had to laugh at that. In all the years he and Barry had been friends, the pattern had never changed. Barry baited and set the hook, and Elliott ended up doing all the fish gutting.

“I’m a dotter of I’s, the crosser of T’s. That’s all.”

“But you’re fucking amazing at it.” Barry looked serious for a moment. He leaned closer. “Look. This is an important gig for me. If I can guarantee this guy’s support with these purchases, we’ll be set for a good, long time. Get your game on, buddy. Game. On.”

With that, Barry gave Elliott’s shoulder another painful squeeze and moved into the crowd. Elliott straightened. He was at this party for a reason, and it was not to see Simone again. It was to help Barry close this deal with that politician from Louisiana, as a favor to his old friend. That was all.

“Well, hi. Fancy meeting you here.”

Simone wore a short black cocktail dress with a hint of purple shimmer in it that was echoed in her hair. She wore it sleeked back tonight, reminiscent of the twenties flapper style, with a spit curl on each cheek. She smiled at him with lips the color of cherries, but the expression didn’t reach her eyes.

He’d fucked up.

Big-time.

“I thought you might be here.” Barry might call Elliott smooth, but he was about as smooth as sandpaper.

“And yet you came anyway? Wow. Total shocker.” She rolled a shoulder and half turned from him.

The motion exposed the creamy line of her neck and shoulder, bared by the strapless dress. He wanted to kiss her there. Bite.

In all the times they’d spent together, brief as they’d been, there’d never been any uncomfortable silences. This one more than made up for that. It stretched on and on, and he realized she wasn’t going to say anything until he did.

Elliott took a long, deep breath. “Look. We seem to have had a misunderstanding.…”

“Really?” Eyes snapping fire, Simone faced him. “Really. A misunderstanding. What part of ‘I don’t want to see you again, and I don’t want you to come to my office’ did I misunderstand? Because it seemed pretty fucking crystal to me.”

He winced. “No. That part was right.”

Simone sneered, but there was something else that upset him more than her clear disgust. The shimmer of tears in her eyes set Elliott back a step. He reached for her before he could stop himself.

“Wait,” he said, though she hadn’t done so much as try to walk away. “Can we go somewhere and talk?”

“No.”

Surprised, already touching her elbow to lead her someplace more private, Elliott stopped. “No?”

“I have nothing to say to you.”

“But I have something to say to you,” he told her.

Simone tossed her head and shrugged away from him. “Too bad.”

And that was that. She walked away, head held high, and left him standing there to contemplate what a stupid bastard he’d been. To go after her would mean making a scene, and he almost did it … except Barry was there again, this time with that politician in tow, and Elliott lost sight of Simone in the party crowd.

“Talk to me,” said the politician.

Trent Boudreaux. Twenty-eight years old, working for his daddy. Not married, but with an on-again, off-again relationship with one Miss Muffy Hedges, who may or may not have once thrown an engagement ring in his face during a late-night argument over another woman. Boudreaux had held a nice, solid seat on the Plaquemines Parish school board for two years, and was running for state senate. He had one DUI and a couple other misdemeanors that could be chalked up to youthful hijinks during college, especially once Daddy’s wallet had come out to take care of it.

All of this information had been gleaned from Elliott’s Internet searching, all handed over to Barry to use as he needed. None of it surprised Elliott. The man in front of him, permanently tanned, constantly grinning, was every inch the typical politician, except for one thing. Trent Boudreaux had a soft spot for charity work. True charity work, not just for show. In addition to his college pranks and drunk and disorderlies, he’d spent several summers volunteering in Haiti to build orphanages and schools, as well as taking part in several local builds with a Louisiana organization that provided low-cost housing to families who helped with the labor.

The connection made sense–why Barry wanted to get hooked up with this guy. Building supplies. Construction deals. And with the charitable aspect of it, it was one of the more honorable deals Barry had wheeled. It still left a sour taste in Elliott’s mouth, if only because the amount of ass-kissing he suspected this guy was going to require more pucker than Elliott could muster.

Boudreaux had been talking for a few minutes about nothing much before he stopped and gave Elliott a long, hard stare. “Am I boring you?”

“No. Not at all.” Elliott stopped scanning the crowd for Simone and focused on Boudreaux.

“How long have you known Barry?” Boudreaux tossed back the rest of his whiskey, the second by Elliott’s count since they’d started their conversation. Not that it mattered; Elliott liked whiskey. He just knew how to handle himself in public. Trent waved over a server to give up the empty glass and ordered another. “Get you something?”

Even if he hadn’t made it a habit to curb himself in public, that was the last thing Elliott needed. Him swimming with whiskey and Simone in the same room. “No, thanks.”

“Barry. How long have you and him been buddies?”

“Since college. Barry lived in the same dorm,” Elliott said. “We were never roommates, but we stayed in touch even after graduation. Why? How long have you known him?”

“Barry? Oh, he’s my daddy’s friend,” said Boudreaux in that thick, sweet drawl with a grin to match. “He sure does like to talk, though, don’t he?”

Elliott laughed. “Yeah. He sure likes to talk.”

“She’s out on the balcony, by the way,” said Boudreaux. “That girl you’re sweet on.”

Elliott didn’t ask how Boudreaux knew how he felt about Simone. The man was smarter than Elliott had given him credit for. “So. Will you buy the stuff from Barry?”

Boudreaux lifted his glass. “Sure. Why not. Will you go talk to that girl before the both of you burn this place down with the looks you’re giving each other?”

“I’m not giving her any looks.”

“No?” Boudreaux laughed. “Maybe it’s just her, then.”

*   *   *

Simone never should have come to this party. She’d known it was going to be a bad idea the moment Barry had asked her. Even though it
had
been totally flattering to hear that the future governor of Louisiana had asked for her especially, and she’d only planned on being here long enough to make Elliott completely jealous.

It hadn’t worked that way. The moment she’d seen Elliott, she wanted to smack him across that perfect mouth. Then shove him onto his knees and make him use that mouth on her. Then smack him again. Or better yet, have him smack her.

Instead, she’d walked away before she could give in to that desire. He didn’t deserve it. Or her. And she wasn’t going to lose her shit in front of him, not in public
or
in private.

Now here she was on the balcony, looking out over the cityscape and envying the view. She had a drink in one hand and a plate of hors d’oeuvres in the other. Booze, food, and a view. What more could a girl ask for?

Company, of course. And there he was. Elliott fucking Anderson, looking sharp and immaculate and delicious in a suit that made her want to climb him like a tree. He had a drink in each hand and he gave her one like he thought she’d actually take it.

So of course, she did. White wine, not her normal drink, but she put down the one she had and sipped the one he’d offered. She waited for him to say something. Anything. But instead he leaned on the railing and looked out across the buildings.

A hint of music wafted from the party inside. Simone sipped her wine and waited for someone to come out and interrupt them, but nobody did. She leaned on the railing, too, not touching him, but close enough that he could have taken her hand if he’d wanted to.

“I like you,” Elliott said finally. “I wish I didn’t, but I do.”

Simone sighed. “Ugh. Really? That’s what you lead with?”

He looked at her, his expression serious. “Would you like it better if I lied and told you I liked you when it wasn’t true?”

“I’d like it,” she said, “if you just said you liked me without any sort of qualifier.”

“Fair enough.”

She waited, but he didn’t say it. “I like you, too, Elliott, even though I don’t think I should. Because you’re kind of a dick.”

“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you.”

“That’s better.” Simone sipped her wine and looked out again at the city so she didn’t have to look at him. “Thank you.”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said to me in my office that day.”

Simone swallowed hard, but kept her gaze on the buildings and the lights and the darkness, and anything except his face. It was her nature to run her mouth. She’d heard it often enough. From her mother. From Aidan. But now she waited to give him time to speak.

He didn’t. Not for long, long minutes. She could stop herself from making words, but she couldn’t stop her heart from beating faster. Or her breath from catching in her throat. All she could do was wait. And wait. And wait some more, until it drove her crazy.

“I
do
like it,” he said finally in a low voice.

Simone let out the breath she’d been holding. She closed her eyes, feeling the floor tilt underneath her. Too much wine. Not enough air. Her throat closed, any words she’d meant to say tucking themselves under her tongue and staying hidden behind her teeth.

“I like that you like it,” Elliott murmured. “I fucking love it, as a matter of fact. It makes me lose my fucking mind.”

She had a clue, now, why he was so against it. “And you don’t like that.”

“No. That’s insane. Who likes losing their mind?”

“‘We’re all mad here,’“ Simone said, quoting the Cheshire Cat.

She felt the weight of his gaze on her, and there was more silence until, at last, she turned to look at him. He moved a little closer and set his glass down on the small wrought-iron table near them. The clink of it on the metal was like the snap of teeth.

“You don’t mind being crazy,” Elliott said.

Irritated, because fuck, everything about him infuriated and aroused her, Simone swiveled to stare him down. “No. Actually, I don’t. Crazy is a state of mind usually interpreted by other people.”

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