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The Only thing worse than waking up naked in a strange bed was realizing there was someone else sleeping in the bed, too. Someone male.
The bright light on the other side of her eyelids sent pain streaking through Lorelei LaBlanc's head as she tried to piece together exactly what the hell was going on and who she'd just spent the night with.
She forced herself to lie still; jumping right up might wake her companion, and she didn't want to get straight into a confrontation before she had a handle on things.
Think, Lorelei, think.
She had a hangover that would slay a mule, and it hurt to think. How much champagne had she consumed in the end?
Connor and Vivi's wedding had gone off without a hitch; all of the four hundred guests had had a fabulous time. The church had never looked better, and the hotel had outdone itself with both the decor and the food. She'd been at the head table for dinner, but once the dancing had begun and the champagne had really started flowing Well, that was where things began to get a little fuzzy. She remembered having a small, good-natured disagreement with Donovan St. James over
Her eyes flew open.
Oh. My. God.
Bits and pieces of the night before came rushing at her with distressing speed and clarity.
Carefully, so as not to aggravate her hangover, she rolled slowly to her other side. Sure enough, Donovan lay there on his back, bare-chested, with only a sheet covering his hips and one leg. His hands were stacked behind his head as he stared at the ceiling.
She swore under her breath.
"Right there with you, Princess."
The amused sigh in Donovan's voice put her nerves on edge. "What the hell happened last night?"
He had the gall to look pointedly at the tangled sheetswhich she was currently trying to pull over herself in a belated attempt at modestyand raise an eyebrow. She really wasn't ready to go to the whole we had sex bit just yet. She cleared her throat. "I mean, how? Why?"
"How? Buckets of champagne. And there were tequila shots involved. As for why " He shrugged. "Beats the hell out of me."
Tequila explained a lot. Jose Cuervo was not her friend. I've done some stupid stuff in my life, but this?
With Donovan St. James? And now? A chill ran down her spine. If she'd publicly done something Oh, her family was really going to kill her this time. Her sister would be first in line.
"Please just tell me we didn't make a scene at the reception," she whispered.
"I don't think so. It's a little blurry, but I think the reception was pretty much over before."
That alleviated a bit of her immediate worry; being stupid wasn't quite so bad as long as there wasn't an audience for the stupidity. Now, though, she had to face the fact she'd had sex with Donovan St. James.
No red-blooded woman would question her taste. Donovan had poster-boy good looks: deep green eyes, inky black hair with a slight wave that he wore long enough to look a little dangerous, and skin the color of the cafe au lait she desperately needed to combat this monster hangover. The high cheekbones and square jaw now shadowed with dark stubble spoke to a heritage as mixed as New Orleans itselfif one could pick the best bits and discard the rest.
Donovan definitely rated high on the hummina scale. Good looks, though, were pretty much all he had going for him, in her opinion. Why had he even been invited to the wedding? It must have been a professional or courtesy invite. At least a hundred of the guests had fallen into that category. But the St. James family was the worst kind of nouveau richeusing money to buy influence and respectabilityand if Donovan had any class at all, he'd have RSVP'd no to what had obviously only been a polite gesture.
But money couldn't buy class, that was for sure.
And she'd slept with him. She must have reached an astonishingly new level of intoxication to completely lose all her self-respect. I am never drinking again.
"Oh, don't look at me like that, Lorelei. I'm not real keen on this new development, either."
Donovan sat upslowly, she noted, implying his hangover was equally as miserable as hersand reached for his clothes. Lorelei averted her eyes, but not before she got a good long look at broad shoulders, a trim waist and a very nice, very firm butt. Donovan ticked up another notch on that hummina scale before she noticed the red claw marks marring his back.
She'd enjoyed herself, it seemed. Pity she didn't have a better recollection of what had led to those marks. Although she felt like hell, underneath the hangover was a pleasant muscle soreness that spoke to a good time.
The silence felt awkward and uncomfortable. Despite her reputation, Lorelei wasn't an expert on morning-after protocols, but she'd brazen through this somehow. Clutching the sheet to her breasts, she let it trail behind her as she grabbed her dress off the floor and headed for the bathroom. She thought she might have heard a sigh as the door closed behind her.
The sight in the mirror was not pretty. Lorelei splashed water on her face and tried to wipe away the worst of the mascara circles under her eyes. Then she finger-combed her hair until it didn't look quite so wild and made use of the mini-bottle of mouthwash provided by the hotel. Feeling marginally human, she righted her dress and slipped into it.
She could only hope that no one would see her heading back to her room as nothing said night of debauchery quite like wearing a cocktail dress before breakfast. Six months of very hard work could be shot all to hell.
Of course she had a much more pressingand disturbingproblem right outside that door which she had to deal with first.
"Okay," she said to her reflection, "you need a dignified exit." Taking a deep breath, she opened the bathroom door.
Donovan stood by the window, looking out over Canal Street, but he turned once he heard the door open. He'd pulled on a pair of jeansending up in your own hotel room instead of someone else's had perks, like clothesbut he'd stopped before adding a shirt. Lorelei had a hard time keeping her eyes from wandering as he wordlessly handed her a bottle of water. She nodded her thanks.
"There's aspirin, too," he said, dodging past her into the bathroom and returning with a bottle. "Care for a couple?"
He shook the bottle, causing her head to throb, and she was pleased to see him wince at the noise, as well.
Lorelei felt like she was in a bad movie. "Look, I think we would both agree that last night should not have happened."
"That's for sure."
She stamped down the remark she wanted to make at that insult. Dignity. "So we'll just pretend it didn't happen. I won't mention it to anyone and you won't write about it, okay?"
From the look on Donovan's face, he didn't like the implication, and Lorelei worried that she might have made a tactical error. Donovan had turned his high-school hobby of flaying people alive for sport into a profitable career. He destroyed careers, lives, families. Rumor had it that he was looking for another big story. People tried to avoid pinging onto his radar screen; no one with a shred of self-preservation would bait him intentionally.
"I limit myself to topics of public interest, and even if this fit the definitionwhich it doesn'tit's not somethingwasn't anythingto brag about."
Dignity be damned. She was not letting that slide by unchallenged. "I wouldn't know. Must not have been that memorable an experience."
"Then forgetting it happened at all won't be a problem for you."
"No, it won't." That was a lie, but Donovan had no way of knowing better, so it was a safe lie. And it allowed her to hold her head up as she gathered the rest of her things.
Her small purse was upside down by the door, her phone, lipstick and room key spilling out. Not far from that was one of her shoes, then Donovan's tie and shoes, then her other shoe. It was a breadcrumb trail of shame that led straight to the king-size bed.
Lord, was there anything less dignified than searching for your underwear? She picked up Donovan's jacket and gave it a shake. Nothing. Dropping to her knees, she looked under the bed. She found an empty condom wrapper, alleviating one of her fears, but finding two more had her cringing.
No sign of her underwear, though.
"If you're looking for these " Donovan drawled. She looked up to see him dangling her panties from one finger. She bit her tongue and settled for shooting him a dirty look as she jerked them from his hand and tucked them into her purse. The addition of the undergarment, as tiny as it was, was too much for the little bag, and it refused to close. Heat flushing her face, Lorelei had no choice but to take the extra time to put them on.
Funnily enough, she felt a little less flustered once she had. Underwear was a form of armor, it seemed.
Squaring her shoulders, she went to the door and examined the fire-safety map posted there. According to the red X marking her location as room 712, she could easily get to the fire stairs, go down one floor and she'd come out only a few doors away from her own room. Excellent. The chances of running into someone she knew had just decreased exponentially. Something might actually go her way this morning.
"Planning your escape route?"
She turned to see Donovan stacking the pillows on the bed into a comfortable back-prop, and then reclining, remote control in hand. He wasn't even looking at her, and, if anything, he now sounded bored. Obviously this was not an out-of-theordinary morning for him. Why am I not surprised?
"Exactly. Goodbye, Donovan. I hope I don't see you again for a very long time."
She didn't wait for his reply. Cracking the door, she peeked into the hall and found it empty. With at least a hundred of last night's guests having taken advantage of the location to enjoy Connor and Vivi's open bar, she just needed her luck to hold for a few minutes. The quick dash to the stairwell was no problem, and her stiletto heels clacked on the stairs as she moved as fast as possible in the tight skirt. At the door to the sixth floor she paused, took out her room key, and took a deep breath. Another peek showed two people in the hall, but neither of them looked familiar. Just to be safe, she waited until they were at the elevators before making the last break for her door.
Only to find that her stupid key didn't work.
Donovan was relieved Lorelei had left in a huff. He'd been awake for about fifteen minutes before her, and he'd spent that time anticipating a number of equally horrific and awkward scenarios.
But Lorelei had gone straight to indignation and huffwhich, in this case, had been more than he'd dared hope for.
Of all the women who'd attended what was arguably the biggest society wedding of the decade, he'd managed to hook up with Lorelei LaBlanc. He'd known both Connor and Vivi at least tangentially since high school and, while they might not be close friends or anything, they were business associates and often traveled in the same social circles now.
He might be considered an interloper by some in those social circles, since his blood wasn't quite as blue as theirs, but no one had the courage to say that to his face anymore. And, while he might not have generations of Old South manners ingrained into him, even he knew it was bad form to bed the sister of the bride after the reception.
Yeah, pretending it had never happened was an excellent idea.
Another excellent idea was liberal quantities of aspirin and coffee until he felt human again. That might take days.
The little two-cup coffeemaker on the desk didn't have the best quality coffee included, but it would do for now. He set it to start and the smell of coffee soon filled the room.
The jackhammering behind his eyes had been honestly earned. He'd lost count of the tequila shots, but there might have been a bet involved about who could drink who under the table. He and Lorelei had never been friends, never hung out together, so how they'd got to that point last night was a mystery.
Lorelei had been a couple of years or so behind him in schooland they certainly hadn't traveled in the same circles in those days. St. Katharine's Prep was the school of choice for New Orleans's best families. A safe haven for their precious children from the riff-raff of society, with only a couple of charity-case scholarship students as a nod to "diversity." The Lorelei he remembered had been spoiled, narcissistic and stuck up. Even when he'd morphed from one of those scholarship students to the son of a major donor by his senior year, Lorelei hadn't deigned to give him the time of day.
Oddly, he respected her for that. She might be shallow, but she'd proved herself to have slightly more depth than most of her socialite friends when the sudden influx of money into his family's bank account hadn't changed her attitude toward him at all.
Tequila had, though.
He had a few hours before checkout, and the need for a nap was nearly overwhelming, but if he headed on home he could nap in his own beda bed that did not now carry the scent of Lorelei's perfume. He might not remember exactly everything that happened last night, but he remembered enough that the light fragrance sent a stab of pure desire through him and made the scratch marks on his back burn. Lorelei certainly had stamina.
He turned on the TV for background noise and picked a news station to listen to while he waited on the coffee. He still had to decide on a topic for Monday's column, and.
The phone rang. Not his phone, but the hotel's phone. Who would be calling him here? "Hello?"
"Open your door and let me back in." The voice was quiet, whispery.
"Who is this?"
"Oh, for the love of How many other women would need to get back into your room this morning?"
"Why aren't you in your own room?"
"Because my key won't work." It sounded as if Lorelei was spitting the words through clenched teeth.
"I'm now stuck in the stairwell, so will you please open your door and let me in?"
The image of Lorelei hiding in a stairwell caused him to laughwhich then made his head hurt. He heard her sharp intake of breath, followed by some muttering that probably wasn't very flattering to him. It was tempting to leave her there, just for the amusement factor and a much-needed ego-check. But Connor and Vivi might not be happy to hear about that.
He relented. "Come on."
He returned the phone to its cradle and crossed the room. Opening the door, he stuck his head out. A few doors down, he saw Lorelei's dark head do the same. After seeing that the hallway was empty, she sprinted for his door, nearly mowing him down in her haste to get inside. "You could have just knocked, you know."
Lorelei didn't seem to appreciate that statement, shooting him the pissiest look he'd ever seen. "This is a nightmare."
"Just go down to the front desk and they'll recode your key."
It seemed Lorelei had an even pissier lookand this one called him all kinds of names, as well. "I am trying to avoid seeing people." She gestured to her dress. "It's rather obvious that I didn't spend the night in my own room, and I don't want people wondering where I did spend it. Or who with."