Stripped (Travesty book 2) – Exclusive preview!

Prologue

Ava

December

I fucking love New York.
The city streets might have been freezing, but inside it was hot.
The club was three stories. The top two had wraparound balconies overlooking a crowded dance floor. An enormous chandelier hung from the center, pulsing with light to the music.
“This place is unreal!” I shouted at my best friend, Lex.
We were dressed to the nines, two twenty-one-year-olds high on the city. We’d flown to the Big Apple over winter break to pitch our clothing designs to the magazine editor Lex interned with. But we were also there to celebrate the end of the fall semester at our San Diego college.
Right now, I needed to flirt.
Maybe more.
I was wearing my favorite dress, low-cut and fitted. It clearly supported my “no curve left behind” policy.
“Let’s dance!” I dragged Lex onto the floor, an orgy of lights and skin and sparkles, and looked around at the sea of people fueled by ambition and Red Bull. Despite the four-inch heels, I was still hopelessly short in this crowd of adults-only. It didn’t matter. Everyone was high on being young and alive.
A group of guys in suits standing at the nearest bar pulled my attention.
My type’s always been surfer, not banker. Blame it on my Cali roots, but I’m a sucker for messy hair, washboard abs, and an easy-breezy “I’ve got all the time in the world” attitude. But when one of the guys by the bar turned his head toward me, I had to force myself to keep dancing.
He would send easy breezy running for cover.
The vibe went past his tailored suit. It was in all of him—how he held his shoulders. The tilt of his head.
I knew what lust looked like. Heat, sex, flirtation—they were easy. Guys had looked at me like that, and I knew what to do with it. If I was feeling it and if I wasn’t.
But this guy wasn’t flirting. His gaze was pure intensity, ocean deep. And maybe just as soulless.
Where the hell did that thought come from?
“Hello? New York calling Ava?” My best friend yanked my mind back to the dance floor, wiggling her eyebrows. I loved her in all her forms, but tipsy Lex was especially fun. She bottled up everything she was feeling, working her butt off during the school year, but once in a while a little crazy would leak out. “Need a wing woman? I know you’ve been dying to check out the New York manscape.”
I smothered a laugh. “Thanks, hon. I do like a good … manscape.”
“I’m going to pee,” she said solemnly. “You want to come?”
“If you want me to.” I glanced back toward the guy who was staring holes in me. My breath caught. “Or I can get us another drink.”
“Deal.” Lex cut a determined path through the crowd. When my eyes found the bar again, the guy was gone.
Disappointment crept in. Which was crazy. Sure, he was hot, but hot guys were a dime a dozen, especially here.
I approached the bar. My hips swayed absently to the music while l leaned over the counter to grab the bartender’s attention. A short man with dark hair appeared at my elbow and grinned drunkenly, eyes moving from my face to my chest.
“Hey baby,” he slurred. “I coulda bought you that,” he added as the bartender passed me two cocktails.
“It’s OK, I’m with a friend,” I said automatically. I didn’t need to lay into him. We all get a little drunk sometimes, and he’d probably be embarrassed in the morning.
“You could be my friend.” He moved closer and leaned into me, like the secrets of the universe were hidden in my cleavage.
Nice Ava has left the building. I was about to tell him in explicit detail how he could befriend his hand instead when something brushed my arm.
The Suit was next to me. Like I’d conjured him by snapping my fingers or wishing on the Hot Guy Fairy.
Perceptive eyes moved between me and the drunk, assessing. Finally he stepped closer, laying a hand lightly on my waist and dropping his head toward my ear in a familiar way. “There you are,” he said over the music.
“Dammit! Where the hell have you been?” I asked as if I knew him.
“A little problem with the Porsche.” His whiskey-smooth voice caressed my ear. My spine tingled, like violin strings responding to a bow.
“That’s what you get for buying an import,” I tossed back.
Is it my imagination or did his eyes just light up?
I’d nearly forgotten drunk guy until he took a step toward us. “You’re not with her.”
Instead of backing down, the Suit tugged me to his side before responding. “You should leave.”
“Really? I think she wants me here.” He cut a lecherous look toward me. Even though I knew nothing would happen, it gave me chills.
“Friend, you’re almost too drunk to stand,” my protector said easily, like they were talking about the weather or sports scores. “You won’t be able to get it up. Even if some girl does take pity on you.”
“Listen, man—”
“No, you listen.” His tone hardened to steel under the surface. “You and her aren’t going to happen. So take a picture and move the hell along. Because this is not the day to fuck with me. Friend.”
Drunk guy blinked like he realized pushing this further would be a mistake. We watched him as he finally disappeared into the crowd with a few muttered curses in our direction.
Male aggression had never really got me going. Guys fighting over a girl normally remind me of wild animals fighting over a carcass. Somehow, though, the way the Suit had sent the other guy packing without even creasing his jacket sent a little thrill through me.
We both realized at the same time that he was still holding me. He dropped his hand and I stepped back to put a few inches between us. “Thanks for the save,” I said.
“Any decent person would do the same.” His voice was cool instead of warm like I’d expected.
“No they wouldn’t.”
Blue eyes searched mine. “I need to say something. What’s your name?”
“Ava.”
He just nodded. “I’m Nate,” he said in a voice that was starting to make my skin hum. “Here’s the thing, Ava. A Hyundai is an import. A Porsche is an unparalleled feat of European engineering wrapped in sex.”
I snorted. “You’re just trying to impress girls at a bar. I bet you don’t even have a Porsche.”
Nate straightened, and the corner of his mouth crooked. “Care to find out?”
I’d been imagining this cool, untouchable guy, but the bad line brought me back to earth like a bucket of ice dumped over my head. He was another ass, like the one he’d saved me from. Just better looking and, for now, less drunk.
“Yeah. I’m not going to fuck you tonight. But it’s been fun.” I glanced down at my phone, figuring he’d get the message. No texts from Lex. I should go check on her …
When I looked up, he was still there. Apparently getting shot down was new for him.
“Listen, Suit—”
“I wasn’t asking you to have sex with me,” he said, frowning. “I was asking if you care what I drive. Most girls do.”
“Sounds like the girls you know have the depth of a kiddie pool. I don’t care if you drive a Porsche, a Hyundai, or a golf cart.”
Nate tilted his head as if he’d just seen a kind of animal he hadn’t known existed. That assessing look was back, like his gaze went deeper than my skin.
“Cheers to that,” he said finally.
“You can’t cheers,” I reminded him. “You don’t have a drink.”
“And yet you have two.” He gestured to the martini glasses in my hands, eyes never leaving mine.
Well played, Suit.
“Aren’t you supposed to offer to buy girls drinks?” I challenged. This conversation wasn’t like any flirting I’d ever done, but it still had my brain lighting up and my heart pumping hard.
“Aren’t girls supposed to wait for guys to buy them drinks?” he countered.
“I’m not very good at doing what I’m supposed to.”
“Finally, something we have in common. So how about that drink.” The corner of his mouth twitched. “And for the record,” he added, “I would’ve bought you one. If you hadn’t beaten me to it. Twice.”
I let my eyes run down his body and then back up, slowly. He was long and lean, with broad shoulders, dark hair, piercing eyes. I was suddenly imagining the muscles under that suit. Firm chest. Ripped abs.
I was not ready for the way his smile transformed him. Suddenly relaxed, like my teasing had defused the tension, he looked younger. He maybe had a few years on me. It made me wonder what his deal was, why he looked so composed and conservative but seemed slightly quirky underneath.
“The drink’s for a friend,” I told him reluctantly. The hint of disappointment in his eyes might’ve matched the one in mine.
I didn’t want to walk away and neither did he.
He had done me a solid with drunk guy. I could get Lex another drink later…
“All right, Suit. Let’s see what you’ve got.” I handed over one of the cosmos and toasted him with mine, then downed it. He followed, grimacing after knocking back the sugary pink liquid. I set our glasses on a railing and started to tow him toward the pulsing lights and writhing bodies.
“So you’re from New York,” Nate called over the music.
I stopped and turned around. Making conversation meant too much thinking. I just wanted to bask for a few minutes in the glory of his stunning jaw line and slow smile.
“Are you really here—” I gestured to the club around us “—to make small talk?”
“Shockingly, no. I came as a favor for a friend.”
“Well, it’s not every day I get to dance with an underwear model, so why don’t you do us both a favor and dance with me.”
I managed to tug him a couple more steps toward the floor before he hit the brakes again. “You think I’m a model,” he stated, incredulous.
“Just go with it,” I begged.
“All right. But this whole no-talking thing’s strange. I feel compelled to inform you,” he added, “that most girls like to talk.”
“Are you a girl?” I looked pointedly at him.
“Not last time I checked,” he responded wryly.
“Then we’re good! Come on!” I tilted my head toward the dance floor. Any day now, Suit …
His eyes narrowed. “You really just want me for my body.”
“Totally.” Though it wasn’t just that. It was the confidence he was projecting, the aura. I wanted to wrap it around me, roll around in it a while.
“Fine,” he said. “But tell me something about you so I don’t feel like such a creep groping you.”
One of his hands was threaded in mine and the other was at his side. “You aren’t groping me.”
But when I looked up, his expression had shifted. I was suddenly aware of every inch of my body, despite the fact that his eyes didn’t move from mine.
“Maybe I’m being polite until I get to know you.” His mouth curved at the corner in a way that was more than a little wicked.
A flare of anticipation lit the bottom of my spine and I paused at the edge of the dance floor. Once we were on it, it’d be too loud to talk at all.
“All right, you want to know something about me? I’m afraid of seals. Like, truly fucking terrified.”
Confusion crossed his refined features. “That’s fair. They’re big.”
I shook my head emphatically. “No, you’re thinking of sea lions. I mean seals. Those cute playful things that swim around and do tricks.” I shuddered. “They’re so sneaky looking. Like they’re going to swim up and bite your ankle.”
The grin slowly spread across Nate’s face.
“Now you get to say one thing about yourself,” I prompted him, making up the rules as I went.
He looked out across the club, as if thinking for a minute before he responded. “I jumped off the roof of a shed when I was seven. Thought I could fly. Went to the hospital for five stitches.” He pointed to his eyebrow.
“Where?” I couldn’t see anything.
Nate leaned closer and my breath caught. I forced myself to pay attention to where his finger rested on his temple instead of to his mouth, just inches from mine. Then I could see it. The pale scar interrupting his eyebrow, barely visible in the low light.
“There. We’re practically best friends. Let’s go, Spiderman.”
“Superman.”
“What?” I leaned closer.
“If you’re going to give me an alter ego. I’d prefer Superman.”
I laughed. It was hard to imagine this together guy being a reckless kid, no matter what he’d said to the drunk earlier.
I finally succeeded in towing him into the throng of bodies losing themselves to the insistent beat. I pressed my back to his front, his face fitting just above my shoulder.
Yes. This was what I’d wanted. A guy like this, on a night like this. Fun. Easy. Without any complications.
Nate was long planes and hard angles joined by muscle I felt when he brushed against my shoulders and my back. My ass. I imagined what he’d feel like without all the fabric between us.
A kick of lust ran through me. It’d been a while since I’d felt it, and I missed it. Needed it.
I was caught off guard when Lex materialized at my side a song later. “There you are!” I exclaimed, feeling guilty I’d nearly forgotten her for a few moments. I pulled away from Nate to lean close enough so she’d hear me. “Where were you?”
“Bathroom. Can I get a drink?”
“Sure. Then get your ass back out here and dance!”
She did, spinning off with another guy soon after coming back. I kept an eye on her but had to admit I was getting distracted. Nate and I’d started out dancing more friendly and flirty than hot and heavy, but every time his body brushed against mine it dialed up the tension. His hands were on my hips, but light and easy, not gripping and desperate.
I should’ve been relieved after the pushy guy at the bar. I wasn’t. The more casual he acted, the more worked up I got.
What the fuck, Suit?
When I glanced back over my shoulder, I saw his face, his mouth just parted. Those dark blue eyes on me.
Nate had me on a slow burn.
It wasn’t enough. The beat of the music was repetitive, and the minor chords giving in to majors wreaked havoc with my feelings.
“You still with me, Ava?” he murmured.
“Yeah.” My mind chased down any possible explanation for his cool behavior. Was he totally unaffected? I mean, maybe he had just come to save me from the drunk guy. Was dancing with me to be nice instead of blowing me off.
But he’d made such an effort to get that drink …
Screw this. I needed to know.
I reached back and wrapped a hand around his neck, inviting him closer. After a moment’s hesitation he circled my waist with one arm, tugging me to him and bringing his mouth near my ear. I pressed my hips back into his.
Oh my God.
Not unaffected.
And now it was better and worse. I could feel Nate, hard against my back, and hear his breaths get shallow. I knew he wanted what I did—or at least his body wanted it. His hand tightened on my waist, only to relax again when I tilted my head so my ear was closer to his mouth.
“What’re you thinking, pretty girl?” Nate asked, his voice catching.
“That it’s hot in here.” I swallowed, suddenly overwhelmed by the music and him. “You?”
His lips grazed my ear, and I shivered despite the heat. “I’m thinking ‘I take it back.’”
I turned to face him, and his gaze hit me squarely in the gut. He was looking at me like I was the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen.
“Huh?”
“I said before I didn’t want you to have sex with me. I take it back,” he said earnestly. “You should absolutely have sex with me.”
Nate’s face was so serious I was torn between laughing and calling for a glass of ice to pour down my dress.
“That’s pretty cocky,” I managed.
“I said I was thinking it. What matters is what you think.”
Images swamped my brain. Me, the Suit, a jumble of clothes at the bottom of a bed. Just skin and sweat and hours between us.
“What did you have in mind?”
He cocked his head, a half-smile on his face. “You want me to write it down?”
I swallowed and looked at him. He wasn’t touching me, trying to seduce me with his hands or his body. He was waiting. Watching. Giving me space. This was definitely not how college guys operated.
The thought of going home with him thrilled and terrified me. I wanted … something. I hadn’t played this flirtation out to its conclusion, but he had.
What do I think?
“I haven’t even kissed you yet.” The words stuck in my throat. “You could be a bad kisser.”
“Yeah?”
My gaze fell to his sculpted mouth, which was just parted and inches from mine. I was sure he’d hear the thumping of my heart over the bassline.
“OK, probably not,” I breathed.
“Though now that you bring it up, you might be a bad kisser.” Nate’s voice was low, teasing. He shifted, his hand around my waist tugging me closer. We were pressed against each other, me looking up at him. The feel of his body and the heat in his eyes were slowly destroying me.
I gave up the mental battle and ran my hands up his chest. Sparks went off in my brain at the realization that everything I’d imagined so far, the muscles, the heat, was right there, under my hands.
Nate lowered his mouth to mine, as deliberately as he seemed to do everything. When our lips met, the feel of him sent sparks along my nerve endings like a fuse lit on a stick of dynamite.
His hand threaded into my hair, tugging the roots to angle me so he could part my lips with his tongue. Once I granted him access he groaned low in his throat, barely audible over the music.
He kissed me like he was meant to. The mouth that was calm and cool in conversation wasn’t calm or cool anymore. His lips were devious, setting fires that spread along my skin, my nerve endings. I could feel the heat of his body through his clothes. When his hand lifted from my waist, his thumb stroking my skin just above the edge of my dress, I thought I might pass out. I grabbed the back of his neck to hold him against me. My other hand was under his jacket, feeling the muscles of his back. He hissed out a breath, a reminder he was every bit as affected by me as I was by him.
It wasn’t enough. Not even close.
“What are you doing for the next ten hours?” he muttered between kisses. I pulled back, my mouth still tingling. “And a really great answer would be me.
“It won’t be if you keep saying shit like that,” I replied tartly, even though his brand of confidence and weirdness was making my head spin.
“Yeah, well, I’ll—” His voice was cut off as I rose onto my toes to bite his full bottom lip. “Dammit.” He growled the words and I felt them all the way to my toes. “Ava. Please come home with me. I’m dying here. And I really don’t want to die on a dance floor with a bunch of sweaty socialites.”
The doubts in my mind faded into the background, consumed by the beat of the music. I knew what I wanted. And it was right in front of me.
“I’m busy in ten hours. But I’ll give you seven.” I ran my mouth along his jaw. His eyes fell shut and he groaned. “And you’re making me eggs for breakfast.”

Chapter 1

Ava

July, Six and a Half Months Later

I fucking hate New York.
My pulse pounded in my ears like a drum. Sweat poured down my face and my neck.
Is spontaneous combustion a real thing? Because it might happen in the next five seconds.
“What the hell do you mean you’re selling our condo?” I panted into my cell. My lungs dragged in two shallow breaths.
“Honey, it’s my condo. You and your roommate need to be out in a week.” Our landlord’s voice came down the line.
“But we just moved in! You can’t—”
Dial tone.
Shit!
I was booking it across 37th Street as fast as my trendy open-toed pumps would carry me, already late.
Getting evicted wasn’t the first bad thing to happen that month. Since my best friend and I had moved to New York, a pigeon had shit on my head, a local had flashed me on the street, and the R train had got me lost.
Three. Fucking. Times.
For a city that’s supposed to be epic, the Big Apple hadn’t bothered to put out the welcome mat.
The sleek office building finally came into view as I rounded the corner. When I pulled on the handle of the glass door by the side of the building, it refused to open. I tried again.
“Come on, you know you want to.”
I gave up the crooning and tried to pry it open. My nail broke off in the door frame.
“Dammit!”
I looked around wildly, realizing too late that everyone was going through a revolving door farther down the building. The one I’d been trying said Security Only
across the top. Finally pressing inside the right door revealed a lobby filled with well-dressed professionals who, unlike me, knew where they were going. My heels clicked as I rushed over the marble floor toward the security guard in the corner.
The guard’s nametag said Barry. I plastered on a smile and tried not to wheeze.
“I’m—” shallow breath of a dying woman “—I’m looking for a law office.”
“Which law office?” Barry asked my boobs like they were more exciting than my words. In his defence, Barry wasn’t the first man to think so.
“There’s more than one law office here?” I groaned.
“Twelve in this building.”
No wonder the world is going to shit. I tried to remember the name. “Umm … something about arms …”
“Armstrong Levitt. They’re on eighteen. What’s a pretty girl like you need a lawyer for?” He looked me up and down like it was the best part of his day. Barry was old enough to be my dad.
His eyes shone hopefully when I rested a forearm on the desk. “I cut a guy,” I confided in a loud whisper. Then I took off toward the elevator bank without looking back for his reaction.
Eighteen floors passed in a flash. I tried to fix myself in the mirrored wall. Tucked a few strands of auburn hair back into my messy bun. Scrubbed a tiny smudge of winged eyeliner I always screwed up on my left eye. Smoothed my royal blue silk tank and tugged down my probably-too-short skirt. I did the last part carefully, to protect the feather detailing around the hem.
No matter what I did, it didn’t hide the sheen of sweat that covered my … well, everything.
The doors opened with a ding, exposing a law office that looked like it was made by old rich men, for old rich men. Shiny wood. Polished marble. Big, bold lettering probably made from twenty-four-karat gold. A pretty secretary smiled from the reception desk. I blew past her with a wave as a familiar face caught my eye through the wall of a glassed-in meeting room.
“I’m here! Sorry, sorry.” I tugged the sliding door shut behind me.
My best friend sat on the far side of the table with our lawyer, John. Lex wore a stylish blue boyfriend jacket rolled at the sleeves. Her red hair fell in sleek waves just past her shoulders and her gray eyes radiated relief. Always 100% class, my BFF didn’t look like she’d just completed an Ironman.
So that made one of us.
“Traffic was insane. Still getting used to it.” I pulled out a chair and collapsed into it. My clothes were already sticking to me. Now they’d stick me to the chair. Ick.
Lex knew I didn’t drive but wasn’t about to rat me out.
“Right. So, remind me what we’re doing here?” I was dying to know the reason for my best friend’s cryptic and urgent-sounding phone message asking me to get my ass down there. I never thought we’d need a lawyer. And with less than eight weeks to finalize Travesty’s spring collection, Lex and I didn’t have time to mess around.
“Someone from the court came to my office this morning,” Lex started.
John gestured to another person at the table, who I’d hardly noticed in the rush. “Ava, Travesty has been served with a complaint. Nathan Townsend is here representing the plaintiff.”
I didn’t understand what that meant, but turned my head.
Oh.
Oh no …
Oh, supercalifragifucking …
I’m a visual person. What I noticed was spiky dark hair. A jaw you could cut diamonds on. A navy suit that cost more than my rent, tailored to fit a hard body. Eyes two shades lighter than the suit.
He wasn’t smiling, but I knew his teeth were straight. The only flaw above his neck was a scar through his eyebrow. And you’d only see it if you were close.
Say, close enough to lick it.
I wanted to squeeze my eyes shut. Hope he’d vanish in a puff of smoke, like a leprechaun. Or a unicorn. Or anything that belonged in my imagination and not reclining comfortably in a New York law office.
“Ava Cameron, is it?”
“No. No, no, no.” I turned to John. “We are not working with him. If you need help, find someone else. According to Barry there are lots of options.”
“We’re not working together.” A voice smooth as whiskey commanded my attention. Blue eyes took me apart and put me back together. Then the owner of that voice and those eyes straightened despite his already impressive posture and pushed a card in front of me on the table.
An actual fucking business card.
Nathan J. Townsend. Associate, Townsend Price.
Unbelievable. Weren’t lawyers supposed to be old and balding, like John? Not twenty-something and sexy as—
“I’m representing Anthony Bryson, whose work you copied.”
The surprise at seeing Nate dissolved into a new shock. “What the hell are you talking about?” I demanded.
“One of the designs from Travesty’s initial collection, your design, bears an uncanny resemblance to one created by my client,” he replied easily. Nate opened a folder and slid over the glossy photos like a detective in a network cop show. “These garments appeared at a fashion show three weeks ago. I understand they’re part of your fall line.”
He’d switched into full-on lawyer mode. It felt strange. The last time I’d heard his voice, it had been an octave lower and saying other things.
Very different things.
I forced my attention back to the photos. The first showed a flouncy skirt I’d done for the fall, blown up to highlight tone-on-tone detailing in an inverted chevron pattern that blended into hearts at the bottom. Next to it was a photo of a maxi skirt I didn’t recognize, but the pattern was similar.
I glanced at Lex, sliding the photos over. “Travesty’s designs are original. And mine,” I bit out.
“I appreciate your indignation, Ms. Cameron. But there is a striking similarity between this motif, shown here, and my client’s.” His smooth tone was as infuriating as his accusations.
“It doesn’t sound like you appreciate anything, Mr. Townsend,” I said tightly, leaning in. “Except the tree trunk up your ass, which you seem pretty happy about.”
Nate blinked.
Take that, Suit. I felt an ounce of satisfaction at his reaction.
“What Ava’s trying to say,” Lex jumped in with her trademark tact, “is the chevron has inspired a lot of collections this fall. We have a unique take on it.”
“Nathan, this is a sham. We intend to dispute this. But I think we’re done for today.” John cut us off before we could get into any more trouble.
This day had gone from bad to worse to apocalypse-sized disastrous.
I dug into my bag, searching for a nail file. At least I could fix something.
I’ve been in New York four weeks. I’m behind on the spring line, a week from homeless, and getting sued by the only person in the whole damn city who’s seen me naked.
“Quite the trifecta,” Nate muttered under his breath as he slid his files into a brown leather case.
Because apparently I’d said it out loud.

Chapter 2

Ava

Lex dragged me out of the conference room while Nate and John packed up. I steered her into the first elevator and hit the emergency stop button inside.
“What? When? How?”
“Last winter when we visited New York. We went clubbing and I went home with a guy …”
Her eyes bugged out of her head. “That was him? You slept with twenty-something Jon Hamm masquerading as a lawyer?”
“He didn’t give me a bio, Lex! Or say ‘Sue you later.’ Pretty sure that would’ve killed the buzz. Besides, you were there too.”
“It was dark. And we were drunk,” she admitted.
I slid to the floor and stuck my head between my knees. My stomach was not staying where it was supposed to in relation to my other organs.
“I hate to say it, A. But the bigger problem is this lawsuit. Bryson wants two hundred and fifty thousand dollars in damages. They might also be able to stop us from selling anything else with that motif on it if they win.”
Shit. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars was probably the better part of my parents’ house. “We don’t have that kind of money. How can they sue us for that if we don’t have it?”
It was surreal. We hadn’t done anything wrong. To Bryson, the designer Tall, Dark, and Asshole was representing, or anyone else.
We both knew Tony Bryson’s clothes but had never met him. In any other circumstances, I’d have been fangirling.
Two months ago no one knew what Travesty was. Then part of our fall line had made an emerging designer showcase and caught the eye of an A-list teenage celeb. Her stylist had called us directly to request our Claire skirt before it hit stores, and she’d already worn it. Orders had spiked overnight.
Apparently that made us almost legit. And a target.
“Lex, there’s no way I would copy someone else’s designs.”
“I know.” Her voice was firm. “Though I’m usually the last person to say this,” she went on, “don’t worry yet. They’ve picked a fight with the wrong girls. I’ll talk to Grant. See if he knows anything that might help.” Lex’s stepfather was a patent lawyer in San Diego.
“I just don’t understand why he’s back. He’s like a fucking boomerang in Hugo Boss.”
“Still thinking about the lawyer, huh?” Lex slid down the elevator wall beside me and squeezed my knee. “It’s hard to plan these things, A.”
“I’m trying to find a decent boyfriend, but since you don’t have any brothers I can date, what’s a girl to do?” I asked sweetly.
Lex rolled her eyes.
She had started going out with my little brother last fall. Or technically, hooking up with him. It was worse than weird when I found out. But having had a few months to get used to it, I could see they were actually kind of amazing together.
Despite being two years apart, Dylan and I had never been tight. We’d gotten closer recently, both because he’d transferred to our college last year and because of Lex.
But that didn’t mean I’d pass up a chance to tease her about it. “It’s totally cool,” I said. “Except when your best friend and your brother go at it. A thousand times a day. Like the world is going to end.”
She flicked her hand dismissively. “You’re exaggerating.”
I cleared my throat. “Oh, God! Just like that! No, harder!” I banged my hand on the floor of the elevator for emphasis.
“We do not sound like that.” Lex’s face went as red as her hair.
“You’re right,” I conceded. “You’re way dirtier.”
I gave Lex a once-over. My friend was tall and slim, with great hair and unusual eyes. And enough girls seemed to think my brother was hot. “If we lose this lawsuit, could you guys make two hundred and fifty thousand dollars’ worth of porn?”
“Ava!” Lex gasped. “I cannot believe we’re talking about this.” Her eyes flicked down. The card still clutched in my hand caught her attention. “What’s that?”
Before I’d escaped the room, Nate had written a name and number on the back of the card and returned it to me. “If you’re looking for a new apartment, a friend is renting one out. It’s between here and the park,” he’d said.
The guy had balls for days. Like he was trying to do us a solid, in the middle of stealing from us.
I told Lex about the call from our landlord and what Nate had done. “I’m just going to tear this into about a million pieces.”
She plucked the card out of my hand and held it a safe distance from me. “Listen. I know you want to and I do too. But maybe he’s trying to be nice.”
“Nate Townsend is a lot of things, Lex.” Hot. Quirky. More than one lifetime’s worth of fucked up. “He’s not nice.” I reached for the card but Lex jerked it away.
“Right now it doesn’t matter if he runs the mafia. It’s impossible to find a good apartment fast. Can we at least see it?” Lex pushed herself up from the floor, then pulled me up after her.
“Fine,” I said grudgingly.
“Good.” She nodded. “Now let’s get the hell out of this elevator before the firefighters show up.”
My mood brightened. “I like firefighters.”
“We’re probably in violation of a fire code. They’ll bill us.”
“Screw firefighters.”

~
By that afternoon, I’d fantasized a hundred ways to tell Nate Townsend what to do with his bogus lawsuit.
And his midtown rental.
And his pretty blue eyes.
Carl, the owner, buzzed us up soon after we called. Tall and fit, with hair graying at the temples, he was good-looking in a generic, Viagra-commercial-star way. Carl explained he was moving overseas for work but keeping the condo. “You’re friends of Nate’s?” he asked.
“Ahh—something like that,” Lex replied.
I was ready to hate the apartment. But the suite was almost new, with a familiar vibe even though it looked completely different from the house I’d grown up in or the one Lex and I had shared with two other girls at school.
“How much is this place?” Lex asked. She made notes as we trailed behind Carl through the condo, but I could tell we had the same reaction: it was really freaking great.
The price Carl gave us made my eyebrows shoot up.
You could’ve fit four of these in our old townhouse, but the place had ten-foot ceilings and windows along the entire side. Plus, there was a nook off the living room I could use for sewing. What sealed the deal was a huge island taking up most of the kitchen that could easily double as a bar for entertaining. I pulled Lex aside, eyeing the island longingly. “OK, just think of the parties …”
“Let’s not think of the parties,” she murmured, though her mouth lifted at the corner. “It’s at the top of our price range, but less than anything the same size.” Lex knew the city better than I did, having lived here the previous summer for an internship.
“Can we get back to you by the end of the day?” she asked Carl.
He nodded and Lex pulled out her phone again to flip through messages as we followed Carl out. “Let’s talk tonight. I’m heading over to the magazine office to find some things for John. He’s filing a motion to dismiss the case. With any luck we’ll be done with this mess within the week.”
“Good luck with that.” I smiled winningly. “I’d better go work on the spring line so they have something worth suing us for.”

Chapter 3

Nate

“We’re so fucked.”
Josh Malone’s familiar blond head appeared in the doorway of my office. He looked both ways down the hall before stepping in.
I rubbed my eyes, which were glazing over from reading the stacks of paper on my desk. It was turning into the longest Monday in history and somehow it was barely two pm. “What?”
“Chris Easterly,” he said, his voice low so anyone passing wouldn’t overhear. “They cut him loose this morning.”
“No shit.” A fist tightened in my gut.
“Shit,” Josh confirmed. He lifted two file boxes off a chair and set them on the floor with a thud. They joined the other dozen already piling up in my office like Tetris cubes. “Chris was billing higher than me. Higher than you. Everyone liked him. Clients, partners. Hell, even Price liked him,” Josh said, referring to the senior partner who, rumor had it, once smiled back in 1988. “Word is he fumbled on a depo last week.” Josh took a seat in the chair, carefully adjusting the cuffs of his dark Armani suit before folding his arms.
Being an associate in a legal practice was thankless. The first year out of law school you billed more hours per week than some of my undergrad classmates had spent awake. On top of it you were expected to be charming and social, work with the other associates but secretly find ways to undercut them. To show you were competitive.
Thank God it wasn’t like that with me and Josh.
“Why did we want to be lawyers again?”
Josh shook his head. “I don’t know, man. You work your ass off, telling yourself ‘one day soon.’ But it never lets up. How many more years of this? And if they’ve started cutting already, who’s next?”
There were six first-year associates, but by the end of the year, half of us would be gone.
“Could be any of us.”
“Yeah right. Any of us but you.” Josh grinned sardonically. “You could show up hungover at noon, puke on your desk, and then leave, and you’d still make it to next year.”
“I’m not immune to anything.” His comment irritated me. A lot of people thought I got special treatment, but Josh wasn’t a lot of people.
“Relax, Nate,” he said, raising his hand. “All I’m saying is your name’s gold.”
I was resisting the temptation to argue when a thought crossed my mind. “Wait. What happens to Easterly’s cases?”
Josh leaned forward and clasped his hands on the edge of my desk. “That, my friend, is the punchline. We get ’em. All of ’em.”
Of course they’d be split amongst the other associates. Like we didn’t already have enough to do.
I scrubbed a hand through my hair, a habit I’d picked up senior year of high school during SAT prep and never shaken. It was amazing I hadn’t made bald spots.
“Fuck me.”
“Sorry, princess, you’re too pretty.” Josh stood and leaned over, looking for the Carmelo Anthony bobblehead I’d kept on my desk since law school for luck. Today he was tucked behind a stack of papers. Josh flicked the doll, modeled after my favorite Knicks player, with his finger, sending it wobbling back and forth. “I bet Melo never had to put up with this shit.” My friend’s smile didn’t reach his eyes before he turned to leave.
I leaned back in my chair, imagining another week of late nights. The Yankees tickets I had for the weekend would have to go too. For the third time this season.
Plus there was the damn copyright case that’d been sprung on me. I didn’t know anything about copyright, but when Bryson had come in the door this week, my father had asked me to take it. And in this office? When my father called, you answered.
But even my dad couldn’t have known about the twist of fate that’d greeted me this morning.
I wasn’t a numbers guy, taking political science for my undergrad when lots of classmates opted for economics. Still, I estimated that the odds of running into her again were about one in a metric shit ton.
But there she’d been. Sitting across from me with the same eyes, same body, same fire. Spitting accusations at me like she was defender of the righteous and I was the villain of the piece.
Poetic justice, Nathan. I could hear my father’s words like he was there, like he knew. Although of course he couldn’t.
None of it mattered. She was just one more defendant. One more thing between me and what I’d always wanted. I would put her out of my mind like every other girl I’d so much as looked at in the last year. And forgetting her, ignoring her, would be just as easy.
So why did you give her the damn card? The silence that followed left me uneasy.
She’d ignore it. That, at least, was comforting.

Chapter 4

Ava

Carl left us his massive TV, two beds, and some other furniture that probably cost more than my college education.
Due to the fact that our old landlord wanted us out and Carl’s was available now, everything was in by mid-afternoon Wednesday. Lex was up to her ears with her day job, working in the ads department of the lifestyle magazine where she’d interned the summer before our last year of college, so I took over the move.
Satisfied with what I’d accomplished in five hours of unpacking and rearranging, I connected Carl’s speakers and cranked my playlist obsession of the week. The eclectic mix of indie dance and mellow rock always put me in the mood to draw. I curled up on the couch with my sketchpad.
Travesty had been a dream of Lex’s and mine since high school. We’d launched the label just two weeks before graduating college this May. Our first season of clothes would hit stores in a month.
I’d been hooked on clothes before I could stand, making outfits for my dolls and Bedazzling everything in reach. My mom and dad thought I’d grow out of it. At least my parents, unlike Lex’s, weren’t holding out for me to run a bank or something.
Moving to New York a month after launch was risky. Sure, we had supporters, Lex’s boss at the magazine and a circle of coworkers who offered advice and connections. “Team T” had seen us through some bumps already. And gotten us into the emerging designer showcase that had landed our Claire skirt on one of America’s hottest asses.
Now with weeks until the fall season and the reality of running an actual business upon us, there seemed to be a lot of promoting, which I did, dealing with problems, which Lex did, and keeping our fingers crossed that people loved the rest of the line. We had enough cash to last us and Travesty through the winter thanks to money Lex had stashed from her job. I’d gotten an award on graduation in recognition of my designs. And we’d borrowed some from our parents, with the promise to pay it back. Someday.
Frustration washed over me, and I shredded what felt like the millionth sheet of paper, throwing it on the pile next to the couch. I was seriously missing my mojo. Since moving, every time I sketched a top or a skirt or a spring dress, it ended up in the garbage. A sleeveless blouse, sheer and airy—too girly. A gray leather mini—too stale. Echoes of last year. Nothing fresh.
I set down what was left of my sketchpad and tucked my pencil in my messy bun. I propped my chin on my crossed arms over the back of the couch, admiring the skyline scattered with endless rows and pockets of perfect buildings. I was still soaking in the view when the door creaked behind me.
“You’re wasting our time.”
I jumped guiltily before realizing Lex was on her cell. She took off her shoes, phone cradled between her shoulder and ear. “What? No, they’re expecting shipments in a week.” Lex screwed up her face in a way that meant she was thinking hard, then rolled her eyes at no one in particular. “That’s in the contract.” Her frustration was evident from the tension in her body. “Then what’s a contract even for?” She walked a few steps, then turned and paced back the other way, a habit Lex had picked up from Dylan. “OK, well, please keep me posted? Thanks.”
She hung up and collapsed on the couch next to me.
“Rough day at the office?” I chirped.
“You wouldn’t believe. Our distributor’s pushing back on the deliveries we promised. If we don’t deliver on time, vendors will start pulling out. Not matter how much they want the Claire skirt.” Lex tucked her feet up underneath her and wrapped her arms around her knees.
I knew almost zero about the business side of what we did—it was part of why we made a great team. But I was an expert in best frienddom. “That sucks, Lex. Maybe we can find someone to help out with the distributors.” I glanced at my phone and realized it was dinnertime. “Wanna get food downstairs? I saw a takeout place that looks good.”
“Yes. Definitely.” Lex stood and stretched. “The apartment looks amazing, by the way. You’re a genius, A.”
“It’s a start.” I pitched her ideas for the rest of the floorplan as we left the apartment.
After dinner, which was at a teeny Thai place a block away, Lex tucked herself in her room to phone Dylan. Beat from a long day of moving and unpacking, I lay on my bed and switched on a reality TV show. But I found myself tuning it out when my mind drifted back to Nate’s words on Monday.
“Your design bears an uncanny resemblance to one created by my client.”
I remembered the last time I’d heard that voice, and suddenly it was like surround sound. My skin heated, my body tightened. Words, feelings, sounds. Touches. Tastes.
Maybe if I just …
My nerves tingled, head shooting down my spine.
I growled and slapped the duvet in frustration.
No way was I getting myself off to the guy who was suing us.
The memory dissolved, leaving me hot and unsatisfied. Because two things were clear: one, that night was undoubtedly the most brain-melting sex of my life. And two: Nate Townsend was bad news.
Inspired, I dug my checkbook out of the bag on my dresser and wrote “two hundred fifty thousand dollars” on the top, scribbling “Pretty Boy Townsend” in the To line. No fantasy involved me shelling out more money than I had ever seen in my life.
I pinned it to the bulletin board over my desk between two pictures. One was of me and Lex at a fall fashion show last year, where we’d won an award for our designs. In the photo we were hugging Blake Evans, a designer who’d made connections with LA boutiques for us in the spring. The other picture was of me with my siblings, Kate, Ethan, and Dylan, and my mom and dad, standing in our backyard.
Everyone in those pictures had done something to support Travesty. Believed in us. Gave their time or money to help.
My eyes flicked back to the check.
Nate Townsend was the enemy. By attacking our label, he’d declared war. I refused to spend another second thinking about his eyes, his voice, or any other part of him.

Chapter 5

Ava

“It’s a hard case for them,” John told me and Lex the next day in the same conference room we’d been in three days before. “The law is stacked in our favor. The US doesn’t afford much protection for designers. Bryson’s team will say the motif was original art, but familiar shapes, arguably including chevrons and hearts, are not subject to protection.”
I’d absorbed about three words. “So you’re saying we’re going to win.”
He paused. “There are no guarantees.”
“I don’t understand why Bryson would even do this,” Lex said.
“Publicity. The small chance it isn’t thrown out. They want to get a share of the spotlight.” John leaned back. “Their first chair is Evan Clarke, but my guess is Nathan Townsend’s doing the heavy lifting. He’s just an associate, but given it’s his father’s firm, I don’t see them hanging him out to dry on this.”
“Wait, his dad runs the firm?” I blurted.
Unbelievable. The name on the card should’ve been a clue, but I was so distracted by other things …
I’d been able to put him out of my mind until I’d fallen asleep last night, staring at the check when my willpower was getting dangerously low. But when I fell asleep?
I’d dreamed of blue eyes and dirty propositions.
By the time we finished with John, my head was pounding. An app on my phone suggested a bar six blocks away between John’s office and our apartment. Lex agreed.
“We can’t let this get to us,” she said as we crossed the street. “We make clothes. Nothing Bryson says can change that. Which is why I took your advice the other day about getting help with distribution. I know someone who’d be perfect—just part-time. You should meet her.”
I tried to remember when I’d told her that, but came up blank. “Sure, whatever you want.”
“Good. Because I already texted her the address and she’s on her way.” Typical Lex.
We skirted rush hour traffic and found the place, aptly named The Bar, ten minutes later. The long, thin space was packed wall to wall with young professionals ready to shake off a week at the office.
The venue’s namesake was chrome and ran the length of the interior. Mirrors lined two walls, reflecting patrons and light and making everything seem bigger. Black chairs and couches provided seating around the outside, while high-tops were scattered in between. It smelled faintly of leather and perfume.
“Jordan said she’ll be a few minutes since she’s coming from across town,” Lex tossed over her shoulder as we wove through the crowd. I’d worn my gray pencil skirt and sheer nude-colored sleeveless blouse pulled together with cobalt open-toed pumps, which made me fit in. I was glad I’d added a chunky yellow statement necklace with flecks of gold that made me stand out.
My eyes roamed the room for any available high-top. I stopped halfway.
“The fuck he’s here,” I muttered darkly, spotting the last person I wanted to see at a table flanked by equally good-looking bookends.
Note to self: do something about karma. Because apparently I blew up an entire planet in my past life.
Lex followed my gaze. “Damn. Is he everywhere? Well, I’m going to keep looking for a table. Find me when you’re done.”
My attention snapped to her. “What? I’m not talking to him!”
“Ava,” she said in her reasonable voice, “you’ve swapped bodily fluids. You have to at least acknowledge him.”
“I don’t have to do anything, Lex. He’s suing us. Fuck good manners!”
“I get it, but given his mission in life right now is to squeeze whatever he can out of us through the courts, you might want to stay on his good side.” She tilted her head. “For the record, A, his good side looks pretty good from here.”
“Traitor.”
Her eyes cut back across the room. “OK, that table’s definitely free. I’m going in.” Lex took off into the crowd.
When I looked back to Nate, his eyes were on me. His friends’ too.
Perfect.
I didn’t try to look enthusiastic as I wound my way over to their table. Nate looked as comfortable as he had Monday, wearing a tailored suit and a “the world is my bitch” expression.
“What are you doing here?” I asked him bluntly when I stopped in front of them.
“Lawyer bar,” he replied evenly.
“What does that even mean?”
Nate lifted his beer to retrieve the coaster underneath and held it up. The logo was black and gray and said The Bar, with a picture of a judge’s gavel.
Great. Far from him invading my turf, which is what this felt like, I’d somehow walked onto his. Next time I’d tell Google to find me a “great bar that’s at least a thousand miles from Nate Townsend and every other lawyer in New York.”
I’d been so focused on Nate, I hadn’t gotten a good look at the guys with him. When I did, angels sang. Sitting next to my least-favorite mistake was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen.
He was blond with a rugged jaw and a suit as sleek and tailored as Nate’s. His blue eyes said, “I save puppies in my spare time.”
“Are you lawyers too?” I was talking to both of them but really looking at my future husband.
His mouth lifted at the corner like we’d shared a joke. “Sadly, yes. But we’ll try to make it up to you. I’m Josh. This is Ty.”
I smiled, dazed. “Ava. Nice to meet you.”
“You should join us, Ava,” Ty said. “Nate just won in court today. Another victory to add to the Townsend legacy.”
I cut a glance across the room toward Lex, who’d managed to score a table. “Thanks. But my friend’s waiting.”
“Come on, Nate was just going to give us a play by play of the gore fest,” Ty goaded.
Josh and my imaginary future with him were forgotten as a knot twisted my stomach. My eyes flicked to Nate’s. I was suddenly picturing someone else like us who’d lost everything in a heartbeat. One courtroom, one moment. If Nate had his way, his next celebration with friends would be over how he’d crushed my new business into the ground. I wondered if he could read it all in my face, that cool blue gaze searching mine.
“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea, Ty. See, for the last three days your friend Nate has been thinking about all the exotic ways he wants to fuck me. Professionally, of course,” I added when Nate choked on his beer. “But it was nice meeting you both.”
Josh caught up with me a few steps into the crowd. “Hey, Ava. Wait. Sorry about that. I didn’t realize you were Bryson’s case. For what it’s worth, good luck. I’d console or celebrate with you anytime.”
“Oh, we’re going to win. So you can save your consoling for him.” I nodded toward Nate, who was watching with an unreadable expression.
I made my way over to the table Lex had snagged, still riled up from the brief exchange and trying to suppress the urge to hit something. The girl sitting with my BFF had dirty-blond hair and distressed skinny jeans, canvas sneakers that might’ve been white once, and a T‑shirt that said “When animals attackwith a cartoon outline of a beaver. This was who Lex wanted to help us with Travesty?
“Jordan, meet my business partner,” Lex said as I pulled up. “Ava’s the most ridiculously talented person in the world.”
“Or this week, the most ridiculous person in the world,” I muttered.
“Hey, who was that?” the blond asked, nodding at Nate.
“Long story,” Lex replied.
“Not really. Fucked a lawyer. Now he’s suing us.” A dramatic sigh escaped my lips. “Shaaame on me.” I signaled for the waitress.
“Ava!” Lex hissed.
“Sorry,” I said to Jordan. “Is this a PG conversation? I meant banged. Screwed. Made sexy, sweaty hate to.”
Lex just shook her head. She’d witnessed fifteen years of my misbehavior, so this was nothing new. “Ava, Jordan’s from New Jersey. She just finished a business degree at Wharton and interned for her dad for the last year.”
“Which was …?”
Jordan shrugged, which only made her look younger. “I got bored with school. Wanted to do some real work. So I took extra courses and finished a year early.”
“Overachiever. Got it.” I glanced up as our waitress delivered the drinks. Nate was laughing with his friends on the other side of the bar. He glanced toward me as if feeling my stare, and the laughter faded. I forced my attention back to Jordan.
“So, what does your dad do?” Images of hardware stores and dairy cows danced in my head.
“Buys and sells companies. Tech and industrials mostly.” Jordan took a drink. “I helped turn around two since grad.”
“Why do you want to work with us?” I asked.
She laced her fingers together and leaned into the table. “Did you hear the part where I said my dad’s mostly in tech and industrials? He loves those companies, but it’s pretty soul-sucking. The closest I got to something interesting was a furniture line. I met Lex at the magazine since we were advertising some new chairs for the October issue. We started talking and I checked out Travesty on your website. I loved it.”
She’d seemed plain at first, but as I looked at her I realized she wasn’t wearing makeup. One blue eye and one hazel were set in fair skin, an oval face. Jordan was pretty without trying. But it was more than that. It seemed like she didn’t want to look trendy.
Lex jumped in. “I told her we just need someone to keep the distributors in line and make sure we meet deadlines. We can’t pay as well as the big companies.” She frowned. “Or the small ones.”
Jordan turned to me. “I don’t want the money. I’ll work for next to nothing.”
The first good news I’d heard all day. “Next to nothing is the going rate at Travesty.”
Jordan slid off her stool, then tipped her head in the direction of the washroom. “I have to pee. You guys talk.” She wandered away, wearing the only flats in a roomful of heels.
“What do you think?” Lex asked when Jordan was gone.
“I think she’d stand out in a crowd,” I said honestly. “Unless it’s a crowd of teenage bikers.”
“I get that she’s not what you expect. But what you might not’ve gotten is that Jordan is Jordan Briggs. Of Briggs Auto, Briggs Real Estate, Briggs Aeronautics … When I met her at the magazine, she was there to approve an ad placement for one of her dad’s companies. But we’d double booked the spot. Within twenty minutes she’d identified a new solution that would work for the magazine and three other advertisers. She might seem odd, but she’s effective.”
I wasn’t convinced, but Lex knew the business best. “All right. So we’ll hire Grunge Barbie to help part-time.”
“Great.” Lex’s relieved look was all I needed to make me sure we’d chosen right.
Jordan returned a few minutes later. “You’re in,” I told her.
We celebrated with one more round.
I was feeling the two vodka cranberries as we made our way out the door nearly two hours after we arrived, me trailing behind Lex and Jordan.
A few steps from the exit, a hand grabbed my arm. I let out a little screech in shock. I’d almost succeeded in forgetting Nate was there. Until he was on top of me.
“We need to talk,” he said in a low voice. Josh and Ty were a few paces behind him, sorting out the bill on the table.
“I can’t imagine why,” I replied, recovering from the surprise and forcing myself to stare up into unblinking blue eyes.
His brows drew together. “This situation isn’t ideal, but we don’t need to be so adversarial.”
“Adver—” I shook my head in disbelief. “Yeah, actually. We do. Because you’re on one side of this case and I’m on the other.”
Nate shook his head. “There was no way either of us could’ve foreseen this. I never thought I’d see you again.”
“So you didn’t plan this.”
“Plan to sue a girl I took home from a bar? No.” His voice was clipped. “Believe it or not, I do have better things to do.”
I stared at him. “If you say so.”
“This is my job,” he said, defensiveness creeping in. “What the hell do you want me to do?”
“Retire at twenty-five to Barbados with a Victoria’s Secret model?” I suggested.
I looked down at my arm where his hand was still on it. He dropped it like it was on fire, then took a deep breath.
“You’re pissed about the case,” Nate said, the composure coming back. “But I thought you were over it when Carl called me about the apartment.”
Maybe he was angling for gratitude. Suite 2022 was ours thanks to the generosity of one Nate Townsend. I gritted my teeth. “Yes, we took it. I’m glad you recommended it.”
“So I’ll be seeing more of you.” My blank expression caused a wrinkle in his. Then understanding dawned. “Shit. You really don’t remember,” he murmured. He looked more unsettled than I’d seen him tonight. My stomach clenched in response, sensing something was seriously off. These riddles, and his presence, actually, were not helping my state of mind.
“Remember what?”
“That I’m in 2021.”
It was like someone had turned a hose on me. Every other thought ran from my brain, and my nervous system kicked in.
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
The building Lex and I had moved into was the one I’d found myself in six months ago late at night. And early the next morning.
Ugh!
We’d have to find another place. There was no other option.
But … we’d already signed the lease. And moved. Even if we tried, we couldn’t find another apartment like that now. Which meant I’d have to deal with the fact that Nate lived across the hall. That I’d probably hear him and whatever New York hoe-bags he took home every week. I’d bet it didn’t sound as hot when the best sex you’d ever had was having it with someone else.
There was no reason he’d want me across the hall. Unless he was angling for something casual, which made no sense given how we’d left things. The way he’d left things.
“Is this some kind of twisted ‘Keep your friends close and enemies closer’ thing?” I hissed.
He slipped on his navy jacket, buttoning it without breaking eye contact. “What would that make us?” he asked. “Friends or enemies?”
A stream of people bumped me on their way to the exit, pushing me closer to Nate. He lifted a hand to steady me; instinct, not chivalry.
I looked up into a handsome face that was suddenly too close. But there was nowhere to move. I could still feel my pulse where he’d touched me.
“Neither,” I choked out. “There is nothing between us and there never will be. Because you and me, Suit, have zero in common except one fuzzy, drunken mistake.”
His eyes widened in surprise, that intense blue gaze searching mine. A second passed between us. Then five. “In that case,” he said finally, “thank you. For correcting any misconceptions about our relationship. I’ll see you around, neighbor.” The last word was soft. A promise. Or a threat.
“Not if I can help it, neighbor.” I had no clue what’d just happened, but without waiting for a response, I turned to follow my friends out to the street.
I wouldn’t run from him.
But damn if I didn’t feel his gaze on my back.

…Want to keep reading? You got this. Go for it 🙂 

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