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Layla Taylor wasn't drunk enough to be hallucinating, which meant that Justin Tremont was not a figment of her imagination. Her childhood nemesis and the sworn enemy of all she held dear was indeed standing in the doorway of the Lake Tahoe lounge, scanning the room. Crap.
She ducked her head, hoping he wouldn't see her drowning her sorrows, alone, as she waited for her sister to come pick her up. The lounge was dimly lit and crowded. There was no reason he should notice her, but less than a minute later she felt the vinyl bench give way beneath his weight as he sat beside her.
This evening just kept getting better. "Hi, Layla," he said, when she cut him a sideways glance. "I'm here to take you home."
"Over my dead body."
Layla leaned her head back against the black vinyl booth cushion, noting with some alarm that when she closed her eyes, the room began to spin.
"Why are you here?" she asked without opening her eyes, certain that if she concentrated hard enough, she could make the spinning stop. Besides, she didn't need to see to know exactly what Justin was doingsmirking at her. Just as he'd smirked at her for her entire life. Well, not all of it. Only the ten years they'd lived down the street from each other, and her younger brothers and Justin, who were all a year behind her in school, had enjoyed some kind of an outlaw bond. The three of them had made her life miserable whenever possible.
"Sam called," Justin said, bringing her back to her very real problem at handhim. "She asked me to take you home when I got off shift."
She'd called her sister to rescue her, and Sam had got Justin to come. Was no one in her entire family responsible?
Easy answer there. No.
She was going to kill her sister.
Layla opened her eyes to find Justin studying her with a slight frown, as if assessing her condition. She didn't like being assessed by Justin.
"Go home," she said, the last word slurring slightly. She wasn't going to tolerate any more smirking or misery at his hands. If he thought for one blinking second that she was going to allow him to be party to yet another of her humiliations, and drive her back to Reno well, he could kiss her ass.
"I fully intend to do just that. Once I deliver you home as per Sam's orders."
Sam could kiss her ass, too.
Layla attempted to fix him with her teacher stare, the one that could melt a kid at twenty paces. Big mistake, because in doing so she had to focus, and that caused a dull pain to shoot through the front of her forehead, and her vision to waver. She clamped a hand to her head before she realized what she was doing.
"You know Sam wouldn't have asked me to give you a ride unless it was an emergency."
What in Sam's life wasn't an emergency? That was how her siblingsand her parents, for that matterseemed to live, rebounding between emergencies. As if it energized them, for Pete's sake. She was, without a doubt, adopted. There was no way she shared dNA with her family.
"You want to help? Call me a cab."
"Are you kidding? From the lake to Reno? You don't make that kind of money." He stretched his arm out along the back of the booth, his fingertips making light contact with her shoulder.
Layla let out a breath. The connection actually felt kind of good. As if she wasn't alone in all this. But she was halfway drunk and her perceptions were not to be trusted. She didn't move any farther away, though, because that would have meant she cared.
"What happened with Sam?" she asked resignedly. Hopefully, not something that would require Layla to bail her out.
"It's snowing pretty hard. Didn't you know? There's no way her little car will make it up here and back unless she's right on a snowplow's ass."
Spring in the Sierras. Great.
"There wasn't much coming down when we drove up," Layla muttered. The wet flakes had melted off the pavement as rapidly as they'd fallen. But if it was snowing hard now, then Sam's small Ford Escort wouldn't be safe on the road, and Justin probably had some kind of vehicle that could handle icy conditions. A vehicle she would not be getting into. "I'm fine here," she said. "I'll just get a room."
"Sold out. The Mind Breakers. Remember?"
"Trying to forget." The concert was the reason she was there. Layla took the stem of the empty martini glass between her thumb and forefinger, spinning it slowly as she thought. "Robert had a room for us," she muttered. Robert the blackheart.
"What happened with Robert?"
"He's sleeping with some trollop who works with me." Layla couldn't believe she'd just said that. That was it for martinis. The room was spinning. Her mouth was out of control. She shoved the glass across the table. Justin picked it up and set it on the tray of a passing bar server, who smiled at him and asked if he wanted another.
"We'll pass," Justin said, easing his hip up to pull out his wallet. He set a bill on the tray.
"Thanks," the woman said with a pert smile that made Layla want to smack her for some reason. "See you around, Tremont."
Layla half turned in the booth to face Justin. She was going to try a new tactic. "I do appreciate you offering to take me home, but I'm just going to sit here for a while. My head will clear and then I'll figure out how I want to handle this. It's really none of your business." It took her longer to make the speech than expected, since some of the words tangled her tongue. But she got it out, and Justin, to her relief, slid from the booth.
Really? Oh, please let it be that easy.
"Remember how Derek used to practice for his fireman test?"
Layla's eyes widened. "You wouldn't ."
Justin simply tilted his head.
How could she have even asked such a stupid question? Of course he would. Justin loved nothing more than a dare.
"Leave me alone!" she said with sudden venom. "I don't want you to rescue me."
"Why?" he asked with a touch of weariness.
"Why? Because of all the crummy things you've done to me."
His eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Name one."
He looked as if he didn't think she could. He was so wrong. Layla drew a deep breath and fought the fog in her brain. "You picked on me as a kid."
He appeared unimpressed by the generic description of his actions, so she searched her brain for the perfect representative incident. There were so many to choose from. Finally, she stabbed a finger at him. "You talked my date out of going to the prom with me."
Justin gave a soft snort. "He was a jerk."
Maybe so. She pointed at him again. "You put a frog in my lunch bag." The lunchroom had been packed when she'd let out a bloodcurdling scream as her bag started to move.
Another stab of the finger. "You ran my bra up the ROTC flagpole. You glued my English comp book shut. You put pudding in my slippers. You you " Had done so many small things she couldn't remember them all.
"Do you want an apology?" he asked quietly. "For all the many wrongs you've suffered at my hands? Then would you come with me?"
"An apology wouldn't suffice."
"Good. Because I'm not sorry for most of it." He placed one palm flat on the table and leaned his face close to hers, so close that she could see tiny flecks of navy blue in his green eyes. "Now get your stuff so we can start home before the real blizzard hits."
"If you don't leave," Layla said between clenched teeth, "I'm going to call security." Or someone.
"Go ahead," Justin replied. "No, wait. I'll do it." He straightened and glanced across the lobby to the uniformed man standing near the slot machines. When Justin raised a hand and gestured, the security guard started toward them.
"You will regret this," Layla said with a slight smile. Because she was not as drunk as he seemed to think.
"Hey, how's it going," the guard said, breaking into a smile as he clapped Justin on the arm. Layla groaned.
"The wife was so happy with the anniversary party," Mr. Security continued. "She told me she was glad we went with you guys instead of the other caterer she'd chosen. For once I was right."
"Great," Justin said, smiling back. "I was wondering if you have any of the emergency hotel rooms available."
"Robert has a room," Layla muttered. "But I am not staying there." Justin touched her back reassuringly as the guard shook his head.
"Not one. Mind Breakers are big."
"So," Justin continued smoothly, "if Ms. Taylor here is feeling a bit ill, it'd be best if I took her home?"
The guard's dark eyebrows drew together. "As opposed to."
"Her hanging out somewhere in the hotel waiting to sober up?"
Oh, great mental picture. Layla stood abruptly, hitting her thigh on the edge of the table. It scooted sideways with a screech of metal on tile, and the room swam once she was vertical. She automatically reached out and clutched Justin's shoulder. It was either that or go down.
All her arguments about being fine and not needing him to butt into her life evaporated when the guard's face wavered in front of her. Oh, boy.
"Take her home, Justin," the man said. Layla kept her mouth shut as she fought to regain her balance.
Justin settled a hand on her waist to help steady her, and she felt the warmth of his fingers through the thin silk of her black dress. But she didn't move away, because she couldn't.
Robert-1. Justin-1. Layla-0.
Double-teamed in the worst way. Hell, if she counted the gin, she'd been triple-teamed.