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Sophie Maplethorpe paused to look at the naked man sprawled across the hotel bed. Even in the early morning darkness, she immediately understood why her best friend had gone to bed with the complete stranger. Maybe not why she'd done so after her own bachelorette party, but if the bottom half of him was as glorious as the broad shoulders and muscled arms presently splayed across the white linen sheets, not to mention all that thick, dark hair curling against his neck… well, even Sophie might have toyed with the idea of risking her entire future for one last fling.
Except you are risking your entire future. And she hadn't even gotten the hot sex first.
Tearing her gaze away from the bed and the naked man, Sophie took another second to let her eyes adjust to the dim interior of Room 706, king, no smoking. Delia said her cell phone had likely fallen out on one of the chairs while she'd been straddling— Sophie shut that image down immediately. But her gaze was drawn to the bed again. And the man presently in it. Daniel Templeton. Investment capitalist, in Chicago for a few meetings. And, apparently not averse to mixing a little consensual pleasure with business.
She sighed. Just a bit. Yes, she'd been focusing on her job to the point where, maybe, just possibly, her personal life had suffered a little. Okay, a lot. As in she didn't presently have one. Still, even if she wasn't ignoring certain needs for the sake of more important, immediate goals, any normal, red-blooded woman would look at that back, and that backside, clearly and quite deliciously outlined under that casually tangled sheet, and wish, just for a fleeting moment anyway, that she'd been the one doing the hot chair tango last night. All night, according to Delia. The man had stamina. And just because Sophie had to stifle another longing sigh didn't mean she was sex starved or anything.
No, that, apparently, was her best friend's problem.
Well, not anymore.
Sophie resolutely dragged her attention back to the pair of standard hotel chairs arranged in front of the wall-sized picture window, presently hidden behind heavy hotel drapes. She had approximately fifteen minutes to find that damn phone, sneak back out of the room and deliver it to her best friend, before Delia's fiancé made his daily and perfectly punctual 7:00 a.m. morning phone call. Delia's fiancé being Adam Wingate, of the Chicago hotel magnate Wingates. The Wingates who happened to own the chain of hotels she was presently breaking and entering in. The very same hotel chain that employed her as a newly promoted night manager.
She didn't have a pocket in the pants she'd changed into after her shift was over, so she slipped the lanyard holding her master key card back over her neck for the time being, and tiptoed toward the chairs, trying not to think about the fact that she was risking that very promotion, not to mention possible arrest, and God knew what else, all for a damn cell phone.
The instant Delia finished her morning call with her soon-to-be groom, Sophie planned a little lecture of her own. Not that she didn't understand Delia's last-minute bout of cold feet. She'd been telling her friend for, well, almost as long as she'd been dating him, that Adam Wingate was a possessive control freak who, from their very first date, had been categorically programming every last bit of fun and spontaneity out of Sophie's normally bubbly and vibrant best friend.
Delia had countered with the fact that Adam adored her and put her on a pedestal and was just trying to help her improve her social graces so that she could move about in his world. Delia had been all starry-eyed over the fact that someone as important and handsome as Adam Wingate would notice someone in such a lowly position as restaurant hostess. Even if Delia had worked her way up to floor manager of De Trop, which was now one of the hottest spots in Chicago. Which happened to also be in the Wingate Hotel. Delia had earned the position, but Sophie couldn't help but wonder what someone like Adam saw in Delia. Not because of the inequity of their relative bank balances, but because of who they were as people. The obvious answer to everyone else—everyone who was gushing over Delia's fairy-tale Cinderella story—was that of course Adam had fallen in love with Delia's fresh-faced beauty, determined optimism and vivacious personality. Who wouldn't?
And Sophie agreed. Or would have. Except it didn't seem like he really admired those qualities. Other than the beautiful part. Sophie couldn't help but think that maybe Adam really wanted someone he could control with his power, his prestige, and yes, his good looks. Someone not on equal footing. Someone he could constantly remind that it was only through his continued admiration, generosity and—most importantly— approval, that she was enjoying such a wondrous, entitled existence.
Delia hadn't really wanted to hear that. Who would? But what were best friends for?
A little breaking and entering, apparently, Sophie thought as she carefully slid her hand down alongside the seat cushion. Nothing. She tried the other side, thinking that Delia was going to have to listen to her now. The wedding was a week away and clearly her friend was not as confident about the lifetime commitment she was about to make as she'd been so adamantly trying to convince Sophie she was.
Bingo! She pulled out the hard plastic lump, only to discover it was the remote for the television. Great. She tossed it on the seat cushion and scooted over to the other chair and started her systematic search there. She glanced at the glowing red numbers on the bedside stand. Twelve minutes to seven. Super.
She renewed her efforts on the second chair. Scooting closer, she dug deeper, then deeper still, only to find— She pulled out a pair of black string bikinis. "Ew," she said, flinging them instinctively before she could check the reflex action.
"What, you don't like black?"
Sophie froze. Shit, shit, shit. But even though her brain was threatening to go into full-blown panic mode, there was another part of her that couldn't help but react to that voice. A much lower part. Delia hadn't mentioned the accent. My God, a body like that and an accent?
Focus, Sophie. Caught red-handed—or black-silk-handed anyway—she forced her lips to curve into what she hoped was a friendly smile and slowly looked over her shoulder. "I can explain," she began, without the faintest actual idea of how she was going to do that. But whatever else she might have babbled remained unspoken as she got her first look at his face.
Dark eyes went with that thick rumpled hair, along with serious five o'clock shadow ghosting an incredibly rugged jaw—and was that a cleft in his chin? He was cinema- godlike. Propped up on one elbow, sheet draped across his chest, clutching a scrap of delicate black silk in a hand that was as big and strong looking as the rest of him. Sophie gulped. And keenly felt each second of the past sexless year in every cell of her body. Up until that moment, she'd been perfectly fine making do with a few double A batteries, some well constructed fantasies and, okay, maybe the occasional Matthew McConaughey film fest.
She swallowed again, against a suddenly parched throat.
He dangled the panties by one long index finger. "Not yours, then? "
What, did he have a harem of women in and out of here? Maybe he'd gotten so drunk last night on the tequila shooters Delia had claimed were the instrument of her demise that he thought she was the one he'd bedded last night.
"Actually," Sophie said, brazening it out. "I lost my cell phone. I think it's in the cushion here. I was trying not to disturb you."
What was that accent? British?
Her hand involuntarily gripped the master key card around her neck out of habit. She blanched, praying he didn't notice it. She wasn't in uniform, so no little gold name badge on her chest—thank God!—but her ID was dangling on the same lanyard with the key card, the very same lanyard that had the hotel name stitched into it, clearly marking her as someone who worked there.
Shifting so that the clutched tags were shielded as much as possible, she said, "I'm sure it's right here. I'll— Just let me find it and you can get back to sleep."
She held her breath, hoping, praying, he was hungover enough, and groggy enough with sleep, that he took her casually stated request at face value and face planted back into the sheets. Maybe by the time he truly woke up and roused himself out of bed, he'd wonder if he'd dreamed the whole thing. That was if he remembered it at all.
Problem was, even in the early morning gloom, he didn't look too hungover. And other than that delicious rasp to his voice, he didn't sound all that groggy, either. In fact, despite the tousled hair and shadowed jaw, he looked remarkably well rested for a guy who'd just gone to sleep a few hours ago at best. And that after some very—very—energetic sex. If Delia were to be believed, anyway.
Sophie squinched her face a little, digging her hand farther down alongside the cushion. The clock was ticking, and whatever she ended up having to tell this Daniel Templeton in order to talk her way out of his room, none of it was going to mean anything unless she found that damn phone and got it to Delia in the next— She glanced at the clock. Crap! Nine minutes!
But then he was sitting up and the sheet was falling farther down his ridiculously beautiful chest to pool at his perfectly narrow hips. He tossed the panties to the foot of the bed. "Perhaps I could be of some assistance."
Sophie's throat closed over, even as her body hummed with quite a few ideas on exactly how he could very personally assist her. "No, really, don't trouble yourself. After all, you've, ah, done quite…enough." She would have tried for a flirty laugh, or something else that a morning-after lover might have done. If she'd had a clue what that was.
She shoved her hand down even farther and rooted frantically around. "Really, it'll just be a moment and I'll be out of here. I—uh, didn't mean to stay. You know, I know it's not like that, I just—" If she didn't find the damn thing in the next—five minutes!—the ringing of Adam's incoming call would tell her exactly where it was.
At least it would be Sophie answering the call and not some strange man, as Delia had feared. She'd just tell Adam that Delia had accidentally left it in her office last night when she'd stopped by after closing the club, and Sophie was planning on dropping it off this morning on her way home. Yeah, that sounded plausible. He'd be pissy, because he hated anything altering his very specific schedule, but she doubted he'd call the wedding off because of it. Which would have been highly likely if the man presently staring at her with a rather bemused look on his drop-dead gorgeous face had answered the phone instead.
Then Sophie had another idea. What if Delia was wrong? What if the phone hadn't dropped out into the cushions when they'd been playing cowgirl and bucking bronco? Given the way Delia had described them entering the room, clawing each other's clothes off, the phone could really have fallen off Delia's belt clip anywhere.
She scanned the room, half-tempted to rip open the curtains so she could see better, only that would give Mr. Sexy Voice a better opportunity to see what she looked like…and possibly remember she wasn't the same woman he'd dragged home from the bar last night.
"Not that I mind waking up to find a beautiful woman crawling around my hotel room floor, but might I ask how you got in here?"
She should have been scrambling for a good answer, but her brain had gotten stuck on he thinks I'm beautiful? Of course, there was very little light. And the guy was obviously a horrible womanizing bar troll. Except she'd never once seen a bar troll who looked like this guy.
"I—uh." She hesitated, then tried to bat her eyelashes. "Don't you recall? I think I'm a tiny bit insulted here." God, she sounded like a bubble-brain moron. No guy would fall for that. Except maybe a bar troll.
She silently prayed and kept on digging. One glance at the clock had her blanching. Three minutes. In three minutes, her friend's fairy-tale marriage to Chicago's wealthiest bachelor was going to go up in smoke, and Sophie's hard won career advancement was going to go down in ignominious flames. And she only had herself to blame.
It had been her idea to have the non-Wingate-sanctioned stealth bachelorette party for Delia in the first place. They'd
had it early in the evening, since both Sophie and Delia were supposed to report for work that night. Only Sophie made it in, but when she'd left Delia and some of their friends in the pub, her friend had assured her she'd covered her shift, using a last-minute wedding emergency as an excuse.
Sophie wasn't entirely sure doing tequila shooters with an out-of-town investor—who just happened to be staying at the Wingate!—was exactly an emergency, but she'd trusted that no one would find out, given any Wingate worth their trust fund wouldn't have been caught dead at a local pub anyway. Of course, how the two of them had left the pub and gotten up to this room in the hotel at some point last night without anyone seeing a very drunk Delia, Sophie had no idea. She could only assume Mick, their concierge, had played a large role there, given he shared her views on Delia's Prince Charming, and the fact that there had been nary a whisper along the very healthy hotel grapevine by the time her best friend had found her an hour ago, just as Sophie was getting off shift. She'd arrived in Sophie's office still wearing the same outfit she'd been wearing the evening before, hungover, contrite, crying…and begging Sophie to help her out of a jam.
In hindsight, Sophie should have left well enough alone and let the Wingate's official bachelorette party be the standard-bearer. Adam's sisters were planning a stunning bash for their beloved brother's bride-to-be this very evening, with a guest list anyone would drool over. A guest list that did not include any of Delia's actual friends, of course, but…minor detail. Those would be the same friends she'd had increasingly little time for over the past six months, anyway, as the wedding plans had kicked into high gear, and the Wingate clan had slowly absorbed Delia into the fold. Assimilating her. Like the Borg.