Page 8 of The End of Faking It

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Ugh. She turned her back on the mirror and walked out. He was just incredibly over-confident. He probably wouldn’t even deliver on the promise he exuded. Because in truth, for Penny, no man delivered.

CHAPTER THREE

‘CHAMPAGNE please.’ Nine hours of work and thirty lengths of the pool later, Penny had changed into her clubbing gear, heel-tapped her way into the bar and been served ahead of eight people already queued there.

‘So you’re friends with the bartenders.’

‘And the DJs.’ She took her glass and turned to face Carter. ‘And the bouncers,’ she added with just that little bit of emphasis.

His grin flashed. ‘Really? I thought you didn’t like bullies tossing people out of your life.’

He was dressed in the dark casual again. The edginess suited him better.

She sipped the champagne and pretended she had all the chutzpah she’d ever need. ‘There’s always the exception, Carter.’

‘Oh, that there is.’ His brows lifted as he looked over every inch of her second-favourite-ever skirt and then her shirt. ‘So this is your hunting ground.’ He glanced dispassionately at the dance floor. ‘Little loud, isn’t it?’ He grinned evilly. ‘How can you get to know someone properly when you can’t hear them talk?’

She sidled another inch along the bar and whispered in his ear. ‘By getting close.’ She quickly pulled back when she felt him move.

His hand did lift, but all he did was deposit his glass on the bench behind her. Empty already meant he’d been there awhile and he hadn’t had trouble catching the attention of the bar staff either.

Penny searched and spotted her workmates over near their usual corner, some already on the dance floor. Safety in numbers. ‘Coming to join the others?’

‘If I must.’

She deliberately misunderstood his reluctance. ‘You don’t like to dance?’ He shrugged.

‘You’ve got no rhythm?’ she asked totally overly sweetly.

He took her glass from her and sipped carefully. ‘I can hold my own.’

‘Really.’ She didn’t try to hide the dare in her tone.

He turned to face her. There were probably over a hundred and fifty people present, but suddenly there was only him. ‘I’m happy to watch for a while first. That’s what you want, isn’t it? To be watched? That’s why you dress like this.’ His fingers brushed the hem of her skirt and slipped onto her bare skin.

She took her glass back off him. ‘I dress like this because I don’t like to get too hot. And so I can move easily.’

‘Yeah, real easy.’ All innuendo.

Swallowing some sweet fizzing bubbles, she smiled. ‘Not jumping to all the wrong conclusions again, are you?’

‘No, I’m examining the details and evaluating in a reasoned manner.’ His finger traced slowly back and forth over a two-inch stretch of her thigh and, despite the heat of the late summer night and the press of too many people, goose bumps rose.

‘Like you did last night?’

‘I admit my naturally suspicious instinct overruled my usual close observation. At first.’

‘So you admit you were wrong?’

‘I already have. And I already apologised. Last night. Stop trying to milk it—we can move on, you know.’ He took her glass from her again. ‘Or are you too scared to?’

She bit the inside of her lip as he smiled and sipped more of her champagne, intently watching her reaction. He wasn’t kidding about the close observation.

‘You know we want the same thing.’

‘Maybe, maybe not,’ she hedged.

‘Definitely.’

‘All I want right now is to dance.’ With him. But she had to hold some secrets close.

His grin flared. ‘Precisely my point.’

She turned her back on him, positively strutted to where half the others from the office were already getting their groove on. That was one of the things she liked about the company—the really healthy party scene that went with it. They worked hard and played every bit as hard and, despite those thirty lengths already, she still had too much energy to burn. William and some of the other guys joined in and the floor got crowded. Her blood zinged. Yeah, this was what she needed; easy-going freedom and fun.

The music was loud—which she liked—the beat both fast and steady. But it wasn’t long before she turned her head. Because it wasn’t one-way traffic—she wanted to watch him too. She met his stare full on across the floor. For that split second she saw how easily he read her—piercing right into her head to find out exactly what she wanted.

He walked straight towards her.

And, yes, that was exactly what she wanted.

Carter and William were a similar height but Carter drew all attention away from the other man. His aura and his physique commanded it. Broader in the shoulders, bigger, stronger—yes, she was totally going cave-girl, her body instinctively turning towards the male who seemed likely to offer the best protection.

His smile wasn’t exactly safe, though. And other instincts were warring with her basic sexual ones—shrieking that getting closer to Carter would be no protection at all. But that look in his eyes mesmerised her again. She couldn’t move—like prey frozen in the path of the predator. Not safe at all. But then, at this moment, she didn’t want to be.

His hand slid round her back and he pulled her against him, his head descending so quickly she didn’t even have a chance to blink. But there was no kiss for her hungry mouth; he was too clever for that. It was the slightest brush on her jaw, so quick and light she wondered if it had just been her desperate imagination. Her breath escaped in a rough sigh of disappointment and then she inhaled—all excitement again as he pulled her that bit tighter to him. Now she was wholly in his arms, her chest pressed to his, his hand wide and strong splaying across her spine, his other lifting to stroke down her plait, tugging at the end of it to tilt her face back up to his.

But she avoided his all-seeing eyes. Turned to look over his shoulder instead. Her workmates’ eyes were bugging out. She was definitely breaking a few conventions tonight; she didn’t ever dance this close to anyone in the office. But then Carter wasn’t officially on the payroll. And in less than a second she didn’t care what they were thinking anyway because the impact of his proximity hit her and she could no longer think. She couldn’t do anything but move with him.

He said nothing, didn’t need to, merely moved his hands to guide her where he wanted—natural dancer, natural leader, natural lover. All easy rhythm. And she turned to plasticine just like that.

Chest to breast, hands to shoulder and waist, thigh brushing thigh—but eyes not meeting. The need to deny the madness built in her chest. But he was totally taking advantage of the flickering lights and the crowd of people to crush her closer still. His sledgehammer style—steam-rolling over her caution just by being himself.

The feelings intensified. She wasn’t comfortably warm any more but unbearably hot. She couldn’t breathe either—he always made her so damn breathless, made her heart beat too fast, made her brain go vacant.

She wanted to rest her head on his shoulder for a moment, wanted to escape the crowds and the claustrophobic feeling choking her. She wanted to move slowly with him. Even more she wanted time to stop—to leave her pressed mindlessly against him with no pressure of the past to bear on her.

But that was impossible. And this discomfort

was so wrong. Dancing was where she felt the best, the most free. She liked it fast and loud, but now it was only his heartbeat she could hear—strong and regular and relentless—and it scared her. Her own heart thundered, scaring her.

Why was she stumbling, why were her eyes watering, blinded by the flashing lights?

She had to escape. Pushing away from him, she took a deep breath to try to stop from drowning in the sensations. She listened for the beat again. She needed to be alone and unrestricted—alone in the crowd.

She turned, saw William only a couple of feet away. She moved towards him, welcoming the break from Carter. Breathing deeper, more calmly. Yes, she needed recovery time to get her grip back.

William was a handsome guy, easily the best-looking man in the office until Carter had arrived, but there was none of that crazy swimming feeling in her head that she had when dancing with Carter. She had no trouble breathing, or thinking or staying in control of her own body. This made so much more sense.

Manageable.

She breathed deep again and smiled at him. William smiled back. This was better.

Carter stood on the dance floor and watched her spin in some other guy’s arms. William. The guy whose work he’d just spent the afternoon cross-checking—and it was all clear. That didn’t stop the surge of hatred from rising. Despicable, unwanted, violent.

His fists curled. There was no hope of recovering his calm, not now he’d felt the way she moved against him—all fluid grace and perfect rhythm and soft freedom. All he could think of was her supple body sliding against his as she danced with him intimately. Every muscle ached for the intense release they’d share.

But there she was going from him to another in a heartbeat. Any other woman and he’d roll his eyes and walk away. He made it a rule never to care enough to be bothered by a woman’s games. But he had to get out of there before he punched that William guy in the face. And it wasn’t even his fault. Penny was the player, not him.

Carter wasn’t into violence and the wave of aggression he felt made him even more angry—with himself. He’d punish his own body instead, take it out on the rowing machine or the treadmill or the punchbag that were in the gym down the stairs from his serviced apartment. He’d go there and sweat it out right now.


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