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Chloe Jordan knew one thing: the combination of turning thirty and being one of the only single women at her little sister's wedding was thoroughly depressingexpensive-chocolate-and-cheap-wine-binge depressing. The hell of it was that she, as the maid of honor, emphasis on maid, old maid, had an ironclad obligation to be the life of the party. No matter how much she loved her little sis, this night officially sucked.
A chorus of spoons knocking on glasses startled her out of her momentary slip into melancholy. Shouts of laughter went up as the groom laid a smoking-hot kiss on the bride. Sheesh. Somebody throw a bucket of ice water on those two.
Chloe checked her bitterness. Sunny'd had a really crappy run of luck and deserved all the happiness she could get. The lucky groom, Aiden, obviously loved Sunny fiercely. Next up on her personal hit parade of depressing events was bound to be playing indulgent auntie to their perfect children. Yippee.
The band resumed playing too loudly to talk over, and thankfully a mob of guests piled out of their seats, relieving her of any duty to go out onto a painfully empty dance floor and "get things started."
It didn't help her mood that she'd had a little too much champagne and was starting to feel a little weepy. Sunny was so beautiful and radiant, and she was so proud of her little sis. Chloe noticed from her seat jammed in the corner that it had started raining outside.
One of the groomsmen got the bright idea to light up a cigar, and furthermore, to pass out cigars to all the other groomsmen. A cloud of noxious blue smoke enveloped her. Her stomach roiled ominously.
Enough was enough. She took her queasy stomach and crazy mood swings and fled the reception in search of fresh air. She burst out of the private club that was one of Denver's most exclusive addresses and inhaled deeply. But even the rain wouldn't give her a break and the skies opened up without warning. Her hotel was right across the street and she ran for it, racing down the club's wide steps. Streetlights glittered off the wet pavement as she dashed between cars.
She never saw it coming.
A big, dark SUV accelerated toward her out of nowhere, its engine growling hungrily as it shot forward. Its headlights were blinding and she stared into them in shock.
The impact was incredible, knocking her completely off her feet and sending her flying through space splayed out on her back. Something powerful wrapped around her torso, yanking her in a midair one-eighty so she landed on her stomach. She slammed into something
and didn't die horribly. Whatever she'd smashed into had definitely been hard but not nearly as unyielding as concrete. Her breath was knocked clean out of her, though, and she gasped frantically to no avail. Disoriented, she stared down at the man lying beneath her. Had she been thrown into him and knocked him down?
An engine revved and tires squealed behind her. She looked up in time to see a black, shiny, wet SUV disappear around a corner at a high speed.
She'd nearly died. And the man lying so still beneath her had probably saved her life by breaking her fall. Had she killed him? All of a sudden, she was able to breathe again. She sucked in a sobbing breath and rolled off of the man.
"Are you okay?" she asked urgently.
His eyes blinked open, and silver eyes stared up at her, laser-intense. Eyes she recognized. Ohmigosh. He was one of Aiden's groomsmen. Trenton something. Hollings. That was it. She'd heard some of the other guys call him Trent.
"I'll live," he rasped. "You?"
"I'm fine. You broke my fall. I'm so sorry"
He cut her off. "No need to apologize. Who was in that car?"
"I don't know. I didn't see anything, and then those headlights were coming at me. I guess the SUV hit me and sent me flying into you."
"Actually," he murmured, sitting up carefully, his dark hair tousled and sexy, "I'm the only thing that hit you. I knocked you out of the car's way at the last second. Had that SUV hit you, something that heavy moving that fast would have killed you instantly."
She stared, stunned anew. He really had saved her life. For a man who'd just been knocked flat by a human-sized flying object, he popped to his feet with a speed and grace that shocked her. A hand materialized in front of her eyes.
It was big and tanned and calloused in stark contrast to the pristinely starched white cuff and onyx cufflink above it.
She took his hand and floated to her feet.
"Are you sure you're all right?" he asked, his voice deep. Rough with concern.
She looked down at her red silk gown ruefully. The side seam had torn from the hem almost all the way to her hip. Her slender leg was entirely exposed. "I'm fine. But I can't say the same for my dress."
He looked down critically. "I like it better like this. A woman with legs like yours should show them off."
Her startled gaze lifted to his, and he smiled at her. But not just any smile, rather a sizzling hot one that promised a long night of steamy seduction if she was interested. She about fell off her three-inch stilettos in shock. Trenton Hollings was flirting with her? The hottest groomsman out of a whole batch of ridiculously hot men? No way.
He offered her his forearm, and she looped her hand around it in minor shock. The hard muscles beneath the soft Italian wool contracted sharply. "Ready to try crossing the street again?" he murmured.
"I swear, I looked both ways. I never saw that car coming. One second the street was clear, and the next, there it was, running me down."
Trent nodded, frowning. "I believe you." His frown deepened as they stepped gingerly back out into the wide boulevard. They managed to cross to the other side of the street without incident, although her escort did pause as they reached the far curb to take a long look back over his shoulder at the scene of her near miss.
"What's on your mind?" she asked cautiously.
Her words seemed to jolt him out of his reverie and he gave himself a little shake. "Getting you up to your room in one piece and cleaned up is on my mind."
She looked down at herself in alarm. Just how bad did she look? As if it mattered. She was darned lucky just to be alive, for goodness' sake. They stepped into a hotel elevator, and in the small, enclosed space, her tall escort dwarfed her. She was not short herself at five foot seven, plus three inches of heels, but he still had several inches on her. He was muscular without being thick. His shoulders filled out his tuxedo nicely, and well-defined biceps flexed within his sleeves. No wonder the impact of him slamming into her had knocked her halfway across the street.
"Do you save women from being run down a lot?" she asked to fill the silence.
His mouth twitched in humor. "Not often."
"What do you do when you're not doing that?"
He shrugged. "I'm a bum."
She blinked, startled. "You clean up pretty well for a bum."
A full-fledged grin flashed her way, all but knocking her off her feet again. Nobody got teeth that perfect and white without expensive orthodontic work. And that tuxedo was no rental monkey suit. It was cashmere with Italian lines exquisitely tailored to his athletic physique. Not to mention Sunny'd told her how wealthy and successful all of Aiden's groomsmen were, not so subtly hinting that Chloe should pick one and go for the gusto. The guys had all gone to college together, apparently. Frat brothers, in fact. And most of them worked with billionaire Jeff Winston at Winston Enterprises. Bum. Right.
"Tell me another lie," she murmured.
"You're ugly and not the slightest bit sexy."
Her gaze snapped to his. "Excuse me?"
"You asked for a lie."
Before she could think up a snappy comeback the elevator door opened and he reached an arm out to hold it open. His free hand came to rest lightly in the middle of her back as he shepherded her out. She felt surrounded by him, and it was the strangest sensation. Maybe it was because she was with men so rarely, or maybe it was because he was so freaking hot, but either way, her breath shortened disconcertingly.
As she exited the elevator, her heel caught in the door's track and stuck momentarily, pitching her off balance. Instantly, Trent's strong hand was on her elbow, steadying her. "I'm such a klutz," she mumbled.
"Good thing for you I'm not," he replied wryly.
She started down the hallway toward the snazzy suite Aiden had insisted on paying for. Chloe wasn't penniless anymore, but she surely wouldn't have wasted so much money on an extravagant hotel room that, outside of sleeping and showering, she'd spent about five minutes awake in each day.
She glanced sidelong at Trent. "Are you one of those athletic people who always manage to land on their feet and make the rest of us mere mortals look silly?"
He shrugged modestly.
She sighed. "That's what I thought." As she fumbled with her room's key card, he lifted it from her shaking fingers. Wow. That near miss with the SUV must have rattled her worse than she'd realized.
"Let me get that." He reached past her to open the door and then did a strange thing. He put a restraining hand on her arm. "Wait here."
She frowned as he disappeared into the dark suite. He was back in a minute, flipping on light switches as he came. What was that all about?
"What are you standing out here for?" he asked.
"You told me to" She broke off as she caught the glint of humor in his silver eyes. Dry sense of humor this guy had.
She followed him into the suite.
"When did you get into town?" he asked as he moved over to the picture windows and inexplicably pulled the blinds closed on a magnificent view of Denver's night lights glittering in the rain.
"Three days ago."
His brows flickered. "And you haven't had time to unpack?"
She glanced around the suite, startled. "I am unpacked. Clothes in the closet, toothbrush in the bathroom."
"Jeez. The room doesn't even look occupied. Are you always this neat?"
"Well, yes." There was nothing wrong with order. It made life infinitely easier. She could always lay hands on exactly what she wanted when she wanted it.
"And what do you do for a living, Chloe?"
She winced at his question. She'd give anything to do something exotic and sexy that would impress this man. But she was who she was. She sighed and answered reluctantly, "I'm a forensic accountant."
"What does that mean? You do dead people's taxes?"
She smiled. "No. It means I take apart companies' books and find the discrepancies they may or may not be trying to hide."
"You're some sort of auditor, then?"
"Not exactly. Forensic accountants are used mostly in criminal investigations to find the money trail."
"Who do you work for?" Trent asked.
"I'm a freelance consultant at the moment."
She laughed. "About as interesting as watching grass grow, right? Actually, I find the work fascinating. But I don't expect other people to get it."
He wandered around the suite examining every detail, and although she enjoyed the view of him from so many angles, she was eventually prompted to ask, "Are you always so restless?"
"Hmm, what? Oh. Yes."
"And what do you do for a living?"
She frowned. "How do you support yourself, then?"
He stopped roaming and turned to face her in surprise. "You mean you can't smell the trust fund at a hundred yards? I thought all women could do that."
"Sorry. Not me." Trust fund, huh? Big enough that he didn't have to work at all? Must be nice.
He resumed roaming, poking around behind the bar. "Aha!" he crowed. He turned around with a bottle of whiskey in hand. She recognized the label vaguely as an expensive single-malt variety.
"So, how do you fill your time if you don't work?" she asked curiously. She'd put in sixty- and eighty-hour weeks for so long, juggling bookkeeping jobs and school while she got her accounting degree and master's in forensic accounting she couldn't imagine doing anything else.
He set two shot glasses side by side on the wet bar and poured generous shots of amber liquid into each. He looked up at her and grinned. "I play for a living."
Play? She couldn't ever remember a time when she'd done that. Maybe when her folks were still alive. But even then, her hippie parents had been such flakes about money that she'd ended up taking over the family finances before she'd turned ten. She'd always been more of an adult than anyone else in the Jordan clan. And when her parents died in a boating accident halfway around the world from her and Sunny, orphaning them at ages thirteen and ten respectively, she'd grown up for real. Fast.
Trent thrust a shot glass at her and, startled out of her grim thoughts, she took it.
"Drink up. You need it."
She frowned down at the whiskey.
"You had a bad shock and your nerves are fried. Think of it as medicine," he coaxed.
Mentally holding her nose, she lifted the shot glass and tossed down the shot of whiskey in a single gulp. Fire exploded in her throat and roared down into her belly. She coughed and swore as tears streamed down her face. Trent, the cad, laughed as she mopped at her eyes.
He neatly downed his own shot and went back to the bar for refills. When he came back with another shot glass for her, she waved it off.
"Second time, it goes down as smooth as silk. I promise."
She snorted. "That's because every nerve in my digestive track is incinerated at the moment."
He smiled winningly. "Exactly."
"I shouldn't. I've already had too much champagne" she started.
He cut her off gently. "Don't overthink it. Just trust me. You need this."
She did have a tendency to talk herself out of everything fun in life. And she was safely in her hotel room with a man her sister swore was a great guy. That pleasant, warm feeling spreading outward from her belly button really was very nice, too. She took the second shot and slammed it back before she could change her mind.
This time it made her feel light-headed. A little silly, even. Just what the doctor ordered.
"Another?" Trent asked.
"Are you trying to get me drunk, sir?" He grinned unrepentantly. "I am."
"Why?" she blurted. Whoops. She hadn't meant to say that out loud, but it just slipped out all by itself.
He answered, "You've looked uptight all day long."
"I am not uptight!"
"Honey, if you were wound too much tighter, you'd snap in two."
Okay, she was starting to feel a little dizzy. But nice dizzy. Like she wanted to throw her arms out and dance to the sensation.