Christina Marshall has no desire to have a man in her life. TJ McFee and Jonathan Winslow are on a mission to change her mind.
Soft rock blared from a pair of onstage speakers. Christina Marshall rubbed at her temple, trying to ease the growing ache. She would win an Oscar for tonight’s outstanding performance. No one had noticed her underlying unease. At least, she didn’t think anyone had.
She glanced around the rented reception room again. As parties went for landing a monstrous account, this one beat all, Chris guessed, since she wasn’t into this kind of thing. Her coworkers danced and talked and seemed to truly be having a good time. All while drowning themselves in whatever they could purchase from the cash bar. One big Friday after-work happy hour.
Christina had to admit that everyone did appear happy. Except for her. No! You do look happy, Marshall. Suck it up. One hour. You only have to make it one hour before slipping out. That was the time she’d set for herself and she was going to stick to it even if it killed her. Chris slapped a goofy smile on her face and hoped it didn’t make her look like she needed a straitjacket.
Yep, she was most definitely happy. Happy as a clam. Happy as a lark.
Right. She would be just as happy to have a huge, hairy wart suddenly show up on her nose tomorrow morning.
Maybe clenching her glass full of now-warm Coke hard enough to shatter it constituted happiness. Or grinding her teeth and jaw into oblivion. Nope, had to be the sharp pain settling smack dab between her eyes because she couldn’t stop darting her attention from one coworker to the next, making sure they didn’t bring their drunken, happy asses any closer to her.
Her best friend, Aislinn, now fiancée to their boss, Kyle Turner III, sauntered over. "Your smile’s fading, sweetie. You’re supposed to at least look like you’re having fun."
"I am having fun." A regular ol’ barrel of monkeys.
"Right. That’s why you’re coming across like someone killed your puppy." Aislinn sipped her ice tea, a drink Chris knew her friend had chosen in deference to her.
"You leave Clodhopper out of this," Christina half-grumbled, half-laughed. The woman had it all. A great fiancé, a fantastic house or…mansion might be a better word, and the ability to see the future whenever said ability decided to rear its not-always-friendly head. Hell, Aislinn had saved Kyle’s life a few months back thanks to an early warning.
But once upon a time, she’d been in a very similar situation as Chris. Afraid of men because her sadistic ex-husband had stalked her with the intent to possess her no matter what it took. Chris didn’t have an ex, she had a bastard of a father who drank too much and took out his anger with his fists. Usually on her mother’s face. And yet, her mother loved the asshole and refused to leave him. Unlike Chris, who’d gotten out the first chance she’d had.
Aislinn sighed and set her tea down to take Chris’s hand, uncurling her fingers from their fisted position to trap them between her own two hands. Her touch soothed Chris’s tattered nerves, bringing her back from the direction her thoughts were taking her.
"I am so jealous of you, Ais."
Aislinn snorted. "Of what?"
"The way you got over your ex and embraced Kyle."
"Yes, well, my ex only thought he could control me. He didn’t get drunk and beat me to a pulp and he certainly never groveled on his knees the next day, crying and apologizing for hitting me. Besides, Kyle is a pigheaded man who uses little things like mind-blowing orgasms to redirect me when I start thinking about the past."
"Must be nice."
"It is. You’ll find it yourself one day, Chris."
Chris shrugged the consoling thought off, but found her gaze lifting and searching the room. Two sets of piercing eyes connected with hers. She knew one was the blue of a cloudless sky and the other was so dark brown they were almost black. Both men straightened from the spots where they lounged near the bar and Chris swallowed. Two lean, muscle-packed bodies that could most likely break her in half easily. Why did she feel they would never do that to her? Maybe she felt their sense of honor from being in the military. Or maybe she’d seen them in action around other women, heard the rumors about how good they were in… No, she wasn’t even going to go there.
A tingle of something wrapped around her. No way would she say it was awareness. She didn’t want a man. Ever. Especially not one of those two.
"Much better." Aislinn patted her hand like she was a child.
"What’s better?" Chris couldn’t make herself look away. The men lifted their glasses in a mock salute, equally devilish grins gracing their faces. Her stomach somersaulted as she eyed their beverages held high. Beer? Something harder? It was too dim to tell across the distance.
"Your fingernails are no longer digging into my hand."
Chris gasped and, finally breaking the link between herself and TJ Mcfee and Jonathan Winslow, stared in horror at the damage she’d done to her best friend’s skin.
"See?" Aislinn’s lips curled at the corners. "Even if you don’t want to admit it, your subconscious knows those guys won’t hurt you."
Oh, good God, could Aislinn read minds too? "How in the hell do you figure that, Ms. Freud?" she huffed.
"Because from the minute you spotted them, your whole body relaxed."
Had it? Shit, Aislinn was right. Chris realized the tension was gone from her jaw and her Coke was no longer in danger of being smashed to smithereens. She jerked her gaze back to TJ and Jon. TJ had his thumbs hooked in the waistband of his jeans and Jon leaned negligently against the bar, his arms crossed over his chest.
Her heart thudded, this time for a reason other than fear of the half-tanked bodies surrounding her. Why? How could Aislinn see something Chris couldn’t—or subconsciously wouldn’t? Was it possible Chris actually felt something other than total disgust for the male species with TJ or Jon? If so, what, and for which one?
She sucked in a quick breath and changed the subject. "Where is Mr. Turner, anyway?"
"If Kyle heard you call him Mr. Turner he’d probably dock your pay somehow."
Chris laughed. "Sorry, but the man is my boss."
"Yes, but he’s my fiancé and it’s weird to hear you call him Mr. Turner."
"You were calling him the same thing a few months ago."
"So, you didn’t answer my question. Where is your man? I thought he and TJ and Jon were attached at the hips. Does your bed get crowded at night?" There was always attitude to hide behind when all else failed.
"Nope. Not at night, but sometimes it does on the mornings they run together. I swear when those guys come in all bare-chested and sweaty from their five mile run, it’s like slurping heaven. I just want to lick the three of them up."
"Shut up," Chris snarled. This time when her fingers tightened on the glass it had nothing to do with fear and everything to do with the green-eyed monster called jealousy, which was stupid since she knew Aislinn was teasing her. Kyle wouldn’t let another man within a foot of Aislinn.
Chris’s heart skipped a beat. She wasn’t jealous. Couldn’t be. Not over her best friend’s obvious attempt at getting a rise out of her, and not about a man. Men. No.
Aislinn blinked and her lips curved up in a smile she tried to hide. "I thought you wanted to know. You asked."
"I didn’t mean that and you know it." Chris snorted. "You’ve never licked the sweat off anyone but Kyle and I don’t want to know about it."
"Ah, but you did want to know about TJ and Jon. Don’t deny it, Chris. I may be the last person to be giving advice on men here, sweetie, but what can it hurt to give them a try? Have a fling, get them out of your system—if that’s what needs to happen—and move on. Besides, you put on a skirt for them and let your hair down, you know you did."
Chris choked on her Coke. She had not put this skirt on for them. She’d worn it because…well, it had been a moment of insanity that had urged her to take it out of her closet this morning and bring it to work to change into for this party. She had not been thinking about the way it flowed around her legs so nicely just above the knee. So nicely someone else might notice too. She hadn’t. The hair thing wasn’t for them either. She’d chosen to leave her long blonde strands down to float around her shoulders where it emphasized her slender neck and framed her heart-shaped face because the ponytail had been giving her a headache. Yeah. That was it.