Tori Phillips has spent years looking for The One. Unfortunately she's never been able to find the right oneand when she catches her latest Mr. Wrong in flagrante with another woman she imposes a man-ban. But Tori suddenly finds herself regretting her promise when a slight misjudgment finds her in the wrong bed with her new roommate, irresistibly sexy Matt.
Matt knows from experience how much trouble love can cause, so he's steering clear of forever. But one night with sex-bomb Tori can't hurt. After all, it's only a flingthe hardest decision they have to make is her bed or his. Right ?
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Oh, dammit, not porn, Tori Phillips thought, hearing the lusty moans as she closed the front door to Mark's apartment at the end of a hellish working day. Not at six-thirty on a Friday night when all she wanted was a cup of tea, her soft pyjamas and a silly reality show. She wanted to pull her hair up into a messy knot, eat ice cream out of the carton and be reassured that there were people in the world more screwed up than her.
Please, please, no pornand, while she was asking, could they have a sex-free night too? She was too tired to play the leading role in Mark's Kama-Sutra-on-crack fantasies tonight. 'Mark?'
'In the bedroom.'
His voice, not deep at the best of times, always got a bit squeakier when he was excited and Tori twisted her lips in irritation. What was he watching, for goodness' sake? She looked longingly at the cold kettle as she passed through the kitchen.
'Uh-huh yeah, baby Uh-huh yeah, baby '
Definitely porn, Tori thought. Damn. It.
That meant that Mark would be raring to go and she really, truly had a cracking headache. Barefoot in the passage of what was supposed to be her new home, Tori frowned, pushed open the door to the master bedroom and blinked. The TV on the wall was blank and the barnyard sounds came from the vicinity of the bed.
For a moment her brain couldn't process what she was seeing another woman with pasty skin, heavy breasts and a rather large bum straddled her boyfriend and was riding him like a demented fairy. Fairy because she had the ugliest, dullest pair of wings tattooed across both butt cheeks. Tori expected her to take off in flight at any minute.
'Uh-huh yeah, baby. Uh-huh yeah.'
Dear Lord, Frantic Fairy came with a soundtrack. Four words, impressive.
Mark turned his head and caught her shocked look. He sent her a sly smile. 'Tori! It's about time you got home we got tired of waiting so we decided to start without you. Get naked and Cinnamon will tell you what to do.'
Cinnamon? Seriously, that was her name? Tori shuddered and wished she could wash her eyes out with anti-bacterial soap.
'C'mon, Tori, get over here,' Mark wheedled, placing his rather small hands on those pendulous breasts. FF looked her up and down but didn't break her stride.
'Hey, honey, don't be shy. I'll be gentle.'
Uh Iike, no, Tori thought, a thousand nos. Call her weird, but if girls didn'teven her in fantasiesturn her on then there was no chance of her getting it on with a skankylooking girl with tattooed fairy wings on her butt.
So, apparently there were some things she wouldn't do for love. This was good to know.
'Get over here, Vicky it'll be fun,' Mark ordered, pumping his hips.
'Don't call me Vicky ' Tori snapped. Like that was important right now. God. She glared at them both, tasting rage in the back of her throat. The urge to scream at them was overwhelming.
It took a lot of effort for her to keep her tone low and cool. 'Give me a sec, okay honey?' She pasted a thin smile on her face. 'I'm just going to grab some things and you can carry on. A little warning, though he's very quick off the trigger.'
The movement on the bed stilled as they both looked at her.
'Oh, God, you're going to be bitchy about this,' Mark said. Anyone would think she'd caught him drinking milk out of the carton, not screwing a peroxide blonde with inch dark roots.
'Maybe I should have run this by you before you came home ' Mark conceded.
Tori lifted an eyebrow. You think? She caught his hips lifting and thought that she might be sick. 'Are you really going to discuss this while you're still on the job?'
It was like watching the footage of a really huge natural disaster, horrific but fascinating, Tori thought as Mark patted FF's hip. She climbed off him and lay back on the rumpled bed, her long-suffering sigh audible from across the room. Mark sat up, his penishis condom-covered penis thank God for small mercies!still ready to party.
So, apparently, he wasn't completely stupid.
And it was equally apparent, she thought as she eyed his still small but straight-as-an-arrow erection, that she was the only one who Mark couldn't get a hundred per cent hard for. After all the work she'd put into their sex life, that was possibly an even bigger slap in the face than the fact that she'd caught him doing another woman in their bed and expected her to join in.
Tori briefly closed her eyes before stalking past the bed to the huge walk-in closet, reaching for her overnight bag on the top shelf. She pulled it down and grabbed underwear, some T-shirts and clothes for the weekend.
'What are you doing?' Mark asked as she walked back into the room and headed towards the en-suite bathroom. She flicked him a glance. He'd swung his legs over the side of the bed and was looking irritated.
'Making freaking cupcakes,' she snapped. 'What the hell do you think I'm doing?'
'You're overreacting, Vicky.'
Tori sent him a look that was designed to shrivel his balls. Damn, it didn't work. Tori walked in the bathroom and swept her make-up and toiletries from the marble-top counter into the designer toiletry bag she'd bought Mark for his birthday. Walking back into the bedroom, she shoved the toiletries into her bag, picked it up and slung it over her shoulder.
Mark reached for a robe, pulled it on and ran a hand through his blond hair. 'This is your fault, you know, you don't give me what I need.'
'You're so full of it. God, Mark, but what the hell?'
'I told you that I like it often and I like it varied'
'Your often is ridiculous and your varied is halfway to weird! And this' she waved her hand towards the bed 'this is unforgivable! And, for your information, there is nothing wrong with missionary style on the odd occasion!'
'You don't love me enough.'
I don't love you at all. The thought popped into Tori's head and it surprised her. Didn't she? She'd thought she did but then shouldn't she be feeling a lot more devastation along with her overload of disgust?
'You're acting like a psycho and freaking out for no reason,' Mark told her before yawning, not bothering to put a hand over his mouth.
'Yeah, you really are hurting the vibe,' Frantic Fairy solemnly agreed.
She had to get out of here before she killed someone. Seriously. Prison orange was so not her colour.
Tori narrowed her eyes in warning. 'Screw you. Actually ' Tori just looked at her lying on the bedtheir bed, on the sheets she'd bought and paid for!naked and checking the messages on her mobile '.just screw him.'
All she'd wanted was a cup of tea, Tori thought as she sat in the back of the taxi as it took her home. Home to Lancaster Road, to Poppy and Izzy.
Izzy might not be there, she reminded herself. Izzy was with Harry now, in love and so damn happy it sometimes hurt to watch them. But Poppy would be home
She just needed to get home and she would feel better. They loved her, they always had, and right now she needed to be around people who did.
Love, her holy grail, her constant search. It didn't have to be perfect, or a ballad or a fairy tale. She didn't want a prince but she sure as hell would like to be someone's princess.
But obviously not Mark's any more.
'You ' Izzy's voice was loud in her head ' are the ultimate bum magnet when it comes to men, Toz. You look around and choose the most screwed-up guy in the room.'
Maybe she did but there was always the divine hope that this man could be the one who could love her; intensely, absolutely, for ever.
She was a master of wishful thinking.
She should've dumped Mark ages ago but she'd kept hoping that she could change him, that she'd wake up one day and he'd be better. And, let's be honest here, she adored the fact that she was centre of his unwavering attention, of being constantly and continuously wanted. It wasn't the love she craved but it was something.
It was enough of a something for her to ignore the naughty text messages she'd seen on his phone, the teenager who'd rocked up at the door a couple of weeks ago looking for Mark, not to mention his ex-girlfriend who constantly called. She suspected that he'd dipped his ink in any and all of their wells but she'd never found thewhat was Alex's expression?the smoking bullet. They'd fought about ithell, they fought about everything!and she'd justified staying with him by thinking that their emotional, loud, crazy see-saw of life was better than her being alone and loads better than the cold war she'd grown up in around her parents. Hot fights were always better than derisive comments, sarcasm, frosty insults tossed out with a contemptuous, sneering smile. She'd take loud and explosive over quiet and deadly any day.
At least with volatile you got some sort of warning and you could attempt to avoid or contain the emotional bloodshed.
Quiet but deadly wasn't that the perfect way to describe her parents' formal union? She was quite sure that if she called it a marriage the gods of love would nail her with a lightning bolt.
Mark wasn't perfect, far from it, but neither was she. But at least they expressed their emotions loudly and often. Maybe too often to be healthy. And maybe he hadn't been the poster-boy boyfriend but he was someone to wake up to, go to sleep with. Be with.
Except that his smokin' bullet turned out to be a freaking nuclear bomb, Tori thought as the taxi pulled up next to her old home, the top-floor flat of a converted fire station with Ignite, an Italian bistro and coffee shop, on the bottom floor.
Wiping her now wet eyes with her fingers, she hauled in her breath and climbed out of the taxi, yanking her overnight bag from the floor.
How was she going to spin it this time? she thought, looking up to the window of Poppy's flat. Since she was a little girl, Poppy's home had been hers too, the place and person she ran to when life kicked her to the kerb.
Poppy and Izzy, her oldest friends and the people who loved her best. They'd welcome her back as they always did and then they'd settle in, waiting for the story be-cause there was always a story. For once she just wished that she had the guts to drop her guard and tell it as it was. That she felt battered and bruised and emotionally flattened. Sad and so damn scared that she'd never find what she needed, what she was really looking for.
Petrified that she would soon be thirty, then forty, fifty and kept around for her charm, her entertainment value, her pretty face but still, under it all, unloved, unvalued and, worst of all, unneeded.
'Seriously, she was riding him so fast that I thought that her wings were going to launch her off him.'
Tori was in her favourite chair in the eclectic, messy, colourful sitting room of the flat, her bare feet tucked up under her and a glass of red in her hand. Poppy was in the wingback chair opposite her and Izzy sat on the ottoman next to her. Both were doubled over, clutching their stomachs and laughing uproariously.
Yeah, good job, Tori, she thought wearily. You've pulled it off again.
'Oh, God, Tori, stop.' Izzy whimpered between snorts of laughter. 'Your love life should be serialised as a soap opera, hon.'
'And Mark? How did he act?' Poppy asked, wiping her tears away.
'He didn't even bat an eye, just turned and said, "Get naked, join in, and What's-Her-Skanky will show you what to do."'
Two mouths fell open, perfectly synchronised. 'And you didn't know about this?'
'Hell, no!' Tori made herself smile. 'If I had, I would've had a say in who to pick as contestant number three. But really, Godher? She looked like a walking mattress. Besides, women just don't do it for me.'
'You did kiss Melissa Butler.'
'I was thirteen, Poppy! And you dared me to!' Tori stared up at the ceiling.
Poppy sat up, leaned forward and sent Tori a searching look. It was her Poppy patented, sneaky you-talk-a-good-game-but-I-know-you-arefull-of-BS look. 'Are you really okay, Toz? You're acting like you couldn't give a damn but'
Tori tossed her hair and dredged up a reassuring smile. 'I'm fine, I promise. Mark is welcome to dip his ink into her radioactive well.'
'Talking of, please tell me that he's clean and so are you.' PoppyDr Poppy nowasked, frowning. 'Maybe you should come in for a check-up, let me run some tests. Do a complete physical.'
She was stupid emotionally but she wasn't a complete idiot. 'Relax, Pops. We always used condoms, Doctor. No exceptions, ever.'
'Promise.' Poppy let out a huge sigh of relief and Tori was grateful that she'd never, not oncedespite Mark's bitchingdeviated from that rule. And Mark could bitch for days.
'On another subject I'm homeless and I need to move back in. Can I have my old room back?'
Poppy and Izzy exchanged a frantic, oh-no look that had her heart crashing to the floor. If she couldn't move back in then she didn't know that she could hold it together. The only place she could contemplate being was in this flat, with these people. Poppy looked agitated. 'The problem is that Alex and Lara are in your room and I've rented Izzy's room to Isaac'
'But isn't he away?'
'She can have the boxroom,' Izzy interjected, 'since I've moved in with Harry.'
Ick, the boxroom. Tiny, cramped, child-sized bed. Jeez, it wasn't even big enough to swing a fly. No cupboard space, a tiny window and you could hear every noise from the bathroom and its old, rusty pipes.
On the plus side it didn't have her despicable ex in it. Win.
'I'll take the boxroom.' Tori sighed. 'Though I think that, as my mates, either you or Alex should consider giving up your rooms because I've been traumatised for life. I'm considering bleaching my eyes and brain with acid.'
Poppy stood up, patted her shoulder and took her wine glass. 'Yeah, you'd think that. Here's an ideawhile you're suffering in the boxroom, think about choosing a man a couple of steps up the evolutionary scale from pond scum next time, okay?'
'Yes, Mum,' Tori grumbled.