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"Hey Kylie! Wait Up!"
The sound of Aaron Winters voice, the same voice that had starred in far too many fantasies lately, calling out to her across the parking lot of Your Every Desire had the power to stop Kylie Monroe dead in her tracks.
Aaron was here? Standing outside her shop? That was another fantasy all to itself. Aaron inside the sweet shop covered in sweets.
Kylie was still trying to purge those very inappropriate thoughts from her head when she heard the question that wiped the image of his naked body away completely and reminded her of the truth. Aaron belonged to someone else. To her friend and roommate to be exact. Aaron was Mariah's boyfriend. He was only her 'buddy.' Not even a friend, really. Just a buddy who she enjoyed hanging out with and watching their college football rivals battle it out each year.
"Aaron? Um, what are you doing here?" There was no mistaking the slightly breathless tremor in her voice.
"Have you talked to Mariah today?" Kylie could almost feel Sarah Evans curiosity level hit a new record at hearing Aaron's question. Sarah had been Kylie's trusted assistant since Your Every Desire Party Planners and Sweet Shop opened its doors just a little more than two years earlier. The sweet shop--because bakery didn't sound nearly so appealing--had been the staple that kept the door open until the party planner side of the business, Kylie's true passion, took off.
At that time, the sweet shop was barely supporting itself while going by the name of Kylie's Bakery. Then Sarah had walked into the door, bought a dozen cookies and she and Kylie had spent the rest of the evening eating cookies and talking aboutlife. Sarah was looking for a job. Kylie needed help. The partnership, as well as the new name, had formed that day. Now Kylie's every desire, her best friend Mariah St. Clair's boyfriend Aaron Winters, had interrupted the reciting of the list of things that needed to be done before the Bank of Austin retirement party the following night. In fact, she lost her train of thought entirely upon hearing her name coming from his gorgeous lips.
"Mariah?" Kylie literally braced herself as always to face him. Aaron was gorgeous. She'd been crazy about him from the minute her eyes first made contact with the most amazing blue eyes in Texas.
She forced her gaze away from his six-foot-four, tall, dark, and heavenly built body. Those blue eyes slid over her body casually--in the good buddy sort of way. Not that it mattered. He could look at her as if she'd just escaped from a circus somewhere and her reaction would be the same. Kylie had to steel her body not to react in its normal manner. She could imagine what those eyes must look like after...
She stopped that fantasy before it could go any further. She heard someone cough. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the usual inevitable questions in Sarah's stare. Sarah just didn't understand why Kylie wasn't going after Aaron like crazy.
After all, Aaron was every woman's dream come true. Including Sarah's, and certainly Kylie's.
Sarah was the one who'd repeatedly told Kylie she should tell her friend Mariah to back off when Kylie had first introduced Aaron to Mariah and he'd had the usual reaction that most men had to Mariah's almost six-foot lithely fragile frame. Mariah was breathtaking. Even Kylie thought so. No woman stood a chance with her in the room.
The model Aaron had been dating before he ditched her for Mariah certainly hadn't. If one of those beautiful creatures didn't stand a chance against her long blond hair, green eyes, and big boobs--even if they were from her plastic surgeon's assistance--then what kind of chance did Kylie have?
Standing next to her friend and co-worker, Kylie could almost feel Sarah wanting to remind her again that she was crazy for letting the perfect man who just happened to be standing right in front of her go to settle for the likes of Jeff, her current boyfriend.
Unfortunately, Kylie knew her limitations. She didn't stand a chance against Aaron's typical date and therefore hadn't tried.
"Kylie?" Aaron stepped close enough for Kylie to feel the warmth in those blue eyes, along with the curiosity. He was wondering why she suddenly seemed so distracted. She pivoted her weight from one foot to the other, squirming as his eyes slid over her one more time in a less than good buddy way before asking, "I'm not interrupting anything important, am I?" Aaron had the good manners to glance Sarah's way and reward her with one of those breathtaking little grins of his that literally had women going weak in the knees and thinking all sorts of inappropriate things.
Kylie watched Sarah's timid answering smile and tried not to laugh. Typical. Why should her tough as nails assistant be any different? Every woman who had ever met Aaron Winters had that same reaction to Aaron's smile. Kylie was weak in the knees and it wasn't even directed at her. Just once, she thought, it would be nice if someone of her gender could refuse this man. But it wasn't going to be Kylie, and apparently not Sarah either.
"No, its okay, we were just leaving for the day, actually," she told Aaron when Sarah couldn't speak. Kylie turned to her friend and added, "I'll talk to you in the morning, Sar, have a good time tonight, okay? But remember, I want to hear all about it!"
"Yeah, well why don't you do the same?" she told Kylie while passing a knowing glance Aaron's way. "Why not throw caution away and go for it." Sarah smiled then waved completely dismissing Kylie's furious gaze. Kylie took longer than necessary watching her friend leave. She knew she was red from her brown roots all the way to her passion pink toenails, thanks to Sarah's persuasion.
Sarah was ... well, Sarah was a firm believer in going after what you wanted. Kylie was too, except when it came to her roommate's boyfriend.
Although, as Sarah was always quick to point out, Kylie had been friends with Aaron for a long time before she was stupid enough to introduce Lady Pariah to him, as Sarah was so fond of calling her.
Sarah was barely twenty, eight years Kylie's junior and still into the trendy club scene down on sixth street. She was constantly inviting Kylie to come along. But Kylie had given up on that part of her life a long time ago. Her career had become her only social life. She'd spent every single minute trying to make it successful. After six long years, she was finally starting to reap some of the benefits of that hard work.
Oh, not like Aaron. Aaron's life was one big success story. When she compared her life to Aaron's, who was only two years older, Kylie's little success paled in comparison.
That was the difference between her and Aaron. Things came naturally and easily for him. He was charming, gorgeous and dammit, he had a nice personality. He had to have been born under a lucky star or something.
Nonetheless, Kylie's little pride and joy was beginning to get noticed. She'd come a long ways from baking chocolate chip cookies in her parent's lower, middle-class home in Trinity, Oklahoma.
"I'll talk to you tomorrow," she said to Sarah's dressed-in-a-skinny-black-dress-and-four-inch-matching-black-heeled figure, which garnered her a slight wave of Sarah's hand and a peek over her shoulder. She knew exactly what Kylie meant by that.
After all, Sarah and Kylie were almost kindred spirits. They could have been sisters. They certainly had more in common than Kylie and Mariah did. Except for fashion. Sarah loved dressing sexy. She was constantly trying to get Kylie out of her casual clothing. But there was just no way Kylie could see herself in a number like the one Sarah had just put on minutes before leaving the store.
"You're sure I'm not interrupting your plans?" Aaron asked again, forcing Kylie's attention back to him. He wasn't smiling. Aaron looked worried. Then she remembered Mariah.
"No, I was just heading to the apartment." Kylie turned and gave Sarah another little wave. She needed time.
Time to steel her reaction to him. Time to get control of her crazy heartbeat. Time to stop thinking about Aaron the way she was thinking about him right now. And time to think what she was going to tell him about Mariah.
"So, have you talked to Mariah today? She was supposed to come over to the house for dinner tonight. I told her there were some new developments on the promotion and that we needed to ... talk. I've tried her cell phone all afternoon. She's not picking up."
Kylie shook her head because she couldn't tell him the truth.
"She left me a message at the house but it was very vague and very unlike Mariah. She said that something had come up, a photo shoot, but she didn't say where or for how long she'd be? Has she been acting strange to you lately, Kylie?"
She wanted to tell him, "She's your girlfriend, shouldn't you know if she's acting strange or not?" But then she remembered. Aaron had been in Oklahoma City a lot lately. His Ad Agency, Southern Comfort, which was the leading firm in the South based out of Austin, was in the final stages of a take over. Aaron would be assuming the leadership role for Shelby Advertising, a firm that had once rivaled Southern Comfort but was now, due to some very bad decision making from its leadership, on the brink of bankruptcy. After only five years in the trenches, Aaron was Southern's top candidate for the promotion.
"In what way?" Kylie hedged, hoping that Aaron wasn't picking up on all her nervousness. He wasn't. Aaron was too distracted.
"I don't know. It's hard to say. Maybe it's just me, but ever since I mentioned the move to Oklahoma City, she's been acting strange. Has she talked to you about it?"
How to answer that? Mariah had mentioned the move. In fact, she'd told Kylie that the last place on earth she would ever consider living was in Oklahoma City. Especially when Aaron, in Mariah's opinion, was going to ask her to give up her glamorous career as one of the top lingerie models around and settle down to become a wife and possibly mother. Mariah had said quite a lot about the subject in fact. None of which Kylie should repeat to Aaron.
There were times when she wished her roommate of three years wasn't quite so eager to share the details of her life. Mariah had told her all about Aaron. She had been crazy about him in the beginning and had spent hours sharing Aaron's ... attributes in bed. Mariah had even been thrilled that she'd lasted past Miss April in his monthly dating rotation. She'd breezed past being Miss May and was now into possessing the title of Miss June, which in Mariah's opinion meant Aaron was getting too serious. Kylie had to agree. She'd been just as surprised. In the year that she and Aaron had been friends, he'd gone through at least a dozen gorgeous models. Aaron had a weakness for them. Which was why in the beginning of his and Mariah's relationship Kylie hadn't been too worried. But when April slipped to May and then June, well, she'd decided Aaron was gone.
Then the promotion had come and the talk about moving to Oklahoma City, which in Mariah's opinion meant he was one-step away from asking the M question meaning she'd lost interest.
Mariah had found it again when she'd met some ultra rich billionaire at her last Paris shoot, two months earlier. Aaron had begun traveling back and forth to Oklahoma City by then for the negotiations.
Now Mariah claimed to be crazy about a billionaire, who in Mariah's opinion was even better in the sack than Aaron and a whole lot richer. And he didn't want kids or for her to give up her career.
Kylie had seen the end in sight for weeks. She just didn't have the heart to tell Aaron on those occasions when he'd call to talk with Mariah.
"No. She hasn't talked about it. Why?" It wasn't as if Kylie approved of her roommate's behavior. Especially not with the way she felt about Aaron. After all, how many sexy men did one woman deserve? Mariah had her share. There were others out there who could use the benefit of a few.
Unfortunately, Kylie only had herself to blame for Mariah and Aaron being together in the first place.
The girls had first become friends when Mariah was still a struggling model and Kylie a waitress at a ritzy restaurant in town. They'd met at one of those expensive upper crust parties. Kylie had crashed the party. Mariah came in as arm candy to an older executive who was recently divorced.
Kylie had accidentally caught a glimpse at the birth date listed on Mariah's driver's license one night. Mariah was pushing forty, and yet she'd somehow managed to convince Aaron she was only twenty-seven. But then, Mariah knew enough tricks of the trade to pull it off.
"I mean, I hadn't noticed. But then, I really haven't seen that much of her, Aaron. I've been tied up at the shop and Mariah's been..." She'd come close to saying literally "tied up" if Mariah's detailed description of the man's fetishes were to be believed. Somehow Kylie managed to catch herself before the words were actually out.
"Do you mind helping me look for her?" he asked quietly in a most un-Aaron like manner. What was up with him? And more importantly how could Aaron really be so blind? Could he honestly be in love with Mariah?
"Um..." As Kylie considered the best way to tell him no, Aaron took her hand and turned on the charm. Of course, she gave in almost immediately. Aaron had no idea the effects those blue eyes had on her.
Before she knew what hit her, Kylie was seated next to Aaron in the Range Rover speeding away from her little car and her safety.
"I thought we could check out some of the clubs that she likes to hang out at. I've called everyone that I could think of in town." He named off a list of Mariah's top party buddies. "Can you think of anyone else?"
Blue eyes left the road and focused on Kylie, narrowing slightly. Aaron was finding her silence right now puzzling.
Not unless you want to call her latest boyfriend, she thought but merely shook her head and turned away.
"Do you mind if we stop by my place for a second? I'd like to make sure she hasn't turned up there and maybe check the machine."
Another puzzled glance; another nod.
Aaron's house was located in Cat Mountain, one of the more exclusive neighborhoods in the hills of Austin. The house set off to itself at the end of a gated cul-de-sac sitting some distance from the road against the rugged hills.
On the few occasions Kylie had come here, mostly in the company of Mariah, she'd fallen in love with Aaron's house. It was like a dream come true. The place was nothing but windows that afforded breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding hillside from just about every room.
Aaron parked the Rover in front and got out. There was no sign of Mariah's BMW. Not that Kylie was expecting there to be. She waited next to him while he unlocked the door. When they stepped inside she felt something that she'd never felt before in Aaron's presence. A certain uneasiness crept down her spine. Almost as if she were being warned that this evening was not going to be a pleasant one.
Kylie tried to dismiss those feelings as Aaron disappeared, presumably to check messages. She walked out onto the deck into the perfect June night. The city's skyline, as always, struck her as home, even though technically she'd only lived in Austin for three years.
Still, this was one of her favorite times in the city. It was warm enough to be outdoors but not too hot, like the hundred degree scorchers Austin was famous for during the summer months. Not even the night brought any relief from that much humidity and heat.
"That's odd. She hasn't tried to call back. She knew I needed to talk to her tonight. It's unlike her to cancel on such short notice."
Aaron came to stand beside Kylie on the deck. He was starting to figure it out. She didn't want to be around when the truth finally registered.
"Well, why don't we go check out some of those clubs," Kylie said, anxious to get him away from this intimate setting where it was just the two of them together. Alone. And she was too aware of all the little things that Mariah had told her about Aaron as a lover.
Kylie needed to find a distraction for them both and soon. If not, then not only would he figure everything out about Mariah but he'd guess that Kylie was involved in her crimes as well.
"Just a second," he told her, reaching for her hand with narrowed eyes. "Maybe we should stay here for a little while longer. Just in case she comes back?" He waited for her reaction.
"But you said yourself..." In the light of the expression in Aaron's eyes, Kylie didn't finish. Instead, she turned back to the view below and tried to focus.
"What are you hiding, Kylie?" he asked before turning her to face him. Kylie almost didn't recognize Aaron's voice. It sounded so distant. So controlled.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Aaron," she told him lamely.
"Yes you do." His answer came out so softly that Kylie almost didn't catch the words. "I can tell when you're lying. You want to know how?" She didn't. She did. He tugged her closer. She could feel the warmth of his fingers through the gauzy material of her shirt. "You're eyes turn dark--almost the color of night. That's how I know a lot of things about you, Kylie. Things you'd prefer that I didn't," he added with another slow smile. "And that's how I know you're lying to me now." The smile disappeared. "You do know where she is, don't you Kylie?"
Aaron watched the eyes that drove him crazy with desire and wondered if Kylie had any idea how little he cared about hearing her answer.
For almost a year now, since he'd picked her little business' name from a phonebook at random, Aaron had been fascinated by those eyes. They were the color of nutmeg. Only a few shades darker than the soft curls that caressed the nape of her neck. Light brown eyes that changed with her emotions. They were dark now. She was ready to tell him another lie. How many times had he wondered what those eyes would look like when he kissed her? Touched her. Made love to her as he'd been dreaming about doing since she'd walked into his office and he'd all but handed the contract for his company's Christmas party over to her without ever hearing a single word of her pitch.
Not just once. Because making love once would never be enough for Aaron. He'd wanted her far too much for once.
That alone should have told him how out of character his reaction to Kylie Monroe really was.
Since meeting her, she'd been nothing but a series of contradictions. And he still didn't understand what made her tick. But he wanted to. That was, if she would ever give him the chance. So far, he hadn't gotten past the buddy stage with her. He was just someone to hang out with, talk football with and occasionally go out for a drink with when no one else was available. Always casual, some place that could never be construed as anything close to a date.
His fingers stroked the soft material that covered her upper arms. That shirt was a prime example of the unpredictable woman she was. The shirt represented what he liked to believe was the real Kylie beyond all that sometimes tomboy personality she used with him. Soft, frilly material that consisted of several shades of pink blended together. The top was tantalizingly see-through. He could just make out the curve of her hips where the hem of her top met faded, low-cut jeans above her flat stomach where he knew from past glimpses of heaven that she had a tiny tattoo of an angel dancing with a devil--proof that she might be both those women rolled into one. He'd met the angel. He wanted to meet the devil.
The top was low cut, also unusual by Kylie Monroe standards, as was that powder pink nail polish he'd noticed peeking out beneath thinly strapped sandals. A quick glance at her fingers didn't disappoint. Of course, she never wore nail polish on her fingers. She said it interfered with her professional image, whatever that meant.
At five-foot-two, the three-inch sandals weren't a surprise. Kylie liked to level the playing field in her favor.
She took a deep, somewhat labored breath, causing the material to cling to the swell of her breasts. She strained in his grasp and he made out the color of her lacy bra. Pink. No, pale pink--the very same color as her toes.
Kylie said something to him that he didn't catch, although to his credit, her voice sounded uncharacteristically un-Kylie-ish. It was almost a strangled whisper. He realized that his full attention had been focused on her, more importantly on her body, that he had no idea what she'd been saying. He did a quick mental shake, reminded himself that he was for all practical purposes supposed to be worried about Mariah, although to be honest, he could care less about Mariah at the moment. He'd been trying to get her alone to tell her he couldn't keep up the pretense of being with her any longer. His heart, as well as his body, wasn't in it any more. And for just as long, Mariah had been avoiding him. The move to Oklahoma City had come at just the right time. It allowed him the perfect opportunity to get out of the relationship, and start planning on how to meet that little devil. He knew it existed. He'd seen tiny, exciting glimpses of it whenever Kylie let her guard down with him.
Unfortunately for him, those times were only enough to leave him wanting more.
Aaron became aware of her saying something else. He forced his eyes to hers, saw them darken again. There were more than just untruths there now. There was something else that he'd only caught peeps of in the past; something that made him wonder. Before he could figure it out in the past, she'd hidden it away from him. Just like tonight. But it was enough to momentarily knock the breath out of him.
"What?" Aaron asked absently, his focus going from those dark sultry eyes to her pink full lips. The woman knew how to do pink justice.
Another shift brought her closer. "I said, no, I'm not. I'm not lying to you, Aaron. I don't know anything about where Mariah might be." But she was starting to question what was wrong with him. Kylie's eyes narrowed once they met his.
"I don't believe you." Aaron shook his head. That was at least true. He knew she wasn't telling him everything. Mariah was famous for telling everyone she knew everything about her life. Mariah was her own favorite subject. And he'd suspected for a long time now that she'd told Kylie more than the actual truth about their relationship and where it might be headed.
"Mariah tells you everything. She'd tell you where she was going." He brought her closer. Their bodies were actually touching now. Her reaction was instant. Kylie was nervous. Aaron decided that was a good thing. "So, let's try this again. Where is she?"
Aaron watched her eyes darken more as she struggled to come up with a lie. Not that it mattered. He could care less at this moment where Mariah was or what she was up to. She was only postponing the inevitable and made his regret at going out with the woman that much greater. He'd had it up to his ears with models by the time he'd met Mariah.
The very fact that Kylie had all but pushed them together had stung. He'd gone out with Mariah for all the wrong reasons. Even though he'd never slept with Mariah, he was certain Mariah's version of the story to Kylie would be entirely different. He'd been searching for a reaction, anything from the woman he'd fantasized about. There were moments when he'd wondered if she really didn't have a clue how he felt about her or if she was simply acting. Now, he wasn't so sure. Her eyes didn't look like the eyes of a woman unaware of the man who held her.
He could smell her perfume. It drove him mad. It wasn't the usually fruity or floral fragrances that most women wore. It was as distinct and as indefinable as the woman who wore it.
"So what's it gonna be? Are you going to tell me the truth the easy way, or are you going to make it more challenging?"
Posted October 23, 2010
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