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Discovering Mr. X: Chapter 24

TANNER

I throw my keys down on the kitchen side, pulling my tie loose as I read the note Rachel left on the side.

Cake from your mom. See you later.

I laugh. I knew Mom would make one. I peel back the foil. Coffee and walnut. Hopefully, that won’t be the only sweet thing I’ll be tasting tonight. I can’t wait to see Rachel at the hotel re-opening. I would have much rather she got ready here and went with me, but she wanted to go with Megan to support her. Probably a good job, really, considering work at the office ran later today, and I have less than an hour to take a shower, get dressed into black-tie, and get myself to the hotel twenty minutes away.

I take the stairs two at a time, stripping my suit off and laying it over the chair in my dressing room. Rachel’s overnight bag is here. The sight of it brings me more pleasure than I can describe. That I got her to accept a key to my house under the initial pretense it was for “emergencies only” has been a tremendous step for her. She wasn’t keen at all, but the fact that she’s used it happily today to drop her things around just goes to show that we’re making progress.

I can’t fuck this up. Mom knows just how serious this has all become. She and Rachel have grown close since the revelation about Helen, and us knowing each other as babies. And Rachel has taken it in her stride. She’s been so strong. Some days I wonder if it’s even affected her at all. Those are the days a sliver of worry creeps in. She’s so adamant about being in control all the time. I just hope she knows she can count on me. Mom thinks Rachel is amazing too. Not as amazing as I do, though. Apparently, it’s “written all over my face”.

I’m in deep.

Hell, I’m in fucking love.


I make it to the hotel in record time and arrive as the drink reception is starting. It’s already busy. The large foyer is almost filled with a mix of business guests who have been invited to spend the first night in the newly re-designed rooms, local business owners checking out the facilities and offering their support, and members of the press. I take my time greeting people I know and introducing myself and the company to those I don’t, before grabbing a moment alone to take in the large foyer.

I can’t help but feel a sense of pride at what an outstanding job the team has done. It’s elegant and modern, without losing a sense of comfort. All around are subtle nods to vintage transportation, from the train-carriage-style velvet booth seating areas to the large sails artistically suspended high overhead. Megan’s artwork has pride of place on the wall behind the long reception desk where every guest will see it. She has done an incredible job; she really has. I didn’t doubt that she would; I knew she was talented. I was just worried about the scale of such a short-notice commission and how she would cope. She’s always seemed quite timid. Lovely, but shy. Her art is obviously where she lets loose and expresses herself. The passion that pours out of the piece is undeniable. This is going to open doors for her. There’s no way artwork like hers will go unnoticed now.

“Another job well done,” a familiar female voice says.

I turn as my assistant Penny comes to stand next to me and admires the design. I’m pleased she could make it tonight. She doesn’t come to a lot of work functions as her two boys are eight and ten, and she’s usually needed at home with them in the evenings. Her husband is there tonight, holding down the fort. She’s worked with me for years and puts so much into her work, but she never usually gets to see the end result. It’s nice that tonight she gets the opportunity.

“It’s a team effort.” I smile at her. Her short blonde hair catches the light as she smiles back.

“Never one to take all the glory, are you?” She smiles. “Although, you have to with Scarlett’s Christmas present. She’s going to adore that kitty you bought her in New York. Thank you so much. My sister says she will love you forever.” Penny laughs.

“I’m happy to hear that, but I can’t take sole responsibility for that one either.” I chuckle, plucking two glasses of champagne from a passing server and handing one to Penny.

“Ah.” She smiles knowingly. “So, is Rachel coming tonight?”

I raise an eyebrow at her over the top of my glass.

“I actually pay attention, you know.” She smiles. “Unlike some others, I could mention,” she says playfully as Drew comes to join us.

“Hey, Penny. You look stunning,” Drew says, his eyes sweeping up and down her black evening dress. “Remember where I am if you ever divorce John.”

“His name is Jake, as you well know,” Penny scolds light-heartedly. She’s used to Drew’s open flirtation after years of working with him. “Oh, I’ve just seen Melanie from Design. Catch you both later.” She smiles as she heads off across the room.

“Married women are hot,” Drew says, watching her go. “What do you think it is? The off-limits element that does it?”

“I couldn’t tell you.” I shake my head.

He turns his attention to me fully, his eyes widening.

“Tan?”

“What?” I clear my throat, avoiding his gaze as I take another drink.

“You’ve fallen in fucking love with her, haven’t you?” he says quietly as some guests pass us.

I nod politely at them.

“What if I have?” I reply, annoyed.

Drew blows out a long breath. “Nothing, man. Congratulations, I guess.” He turns to me and clinks his glass against mine. “Have you told her?”

I scan the room. Rachel and Megan aren’t here yet. They’re late. They should have been here by now.

“No. Not yet.”

“But you’ve told her about the other thing now, though, haven’t you?” Drew says, studying my face. “Fuck, Tan.” He throws his head back in disbelief as one glance at my face tells him all he needs to know.

“I’m going to. Tonight,” I say, my jaw set, tension spreading through my body.

“Rather you than me. Fuck, man. Why have you left it so long?”

“I was going to, and then all that stuff with her mom happened, and it just didn’t seem right. One shock seemed enough,” I mutter as I cast my eyes back to the entrance. Still no sign of them.

“Maybe she’s already found out and blown you off,” Drew says, following my gaze.

“Real helpful, Drew.” I shake my head.

“Hey Tan, I’m just joking. I’m sure she’ll be here any minute.”

I glance at my watch. She better be.

“So, what’s happening with the woman from Bath?” I ask Drew, happy to move the conversation in a new direction.

He shrugs and tilts his head to one side. “Nothing yet. It’s only a matter of time, though. She’s been texting me.”

“She has? What, asking you to leave her alone, or she’ll file for a restraining order?” I joke, but Drew isn’t listening; his eyes are staring over at the main doors.

“Looks like Cinderella has made it to the ball.” He grins.

I lift my chin, whipping my eyes around to find a break in the crowd. When I do, I see Rachel and Megan walking in. I fight the urge to let my mouth hang wide open at the sight of her. She is literally the most radiant, beautiful woman I have ever seen. She’s wearing a long, strappy silver dress. The satiny material touches all the right places, showcasing her sensational body underneath while still being classy and elegant. Her dark waves skim her shoulders, one side swept off her face with a crystal hair clip. Her lips are pin-up red. She looks like a fifty’s starlet. I run a hand through my hair as my eyes meet hers. They’re smoky and dark, but there’s no hiding the way they light up as she looks at me watching her.

Fuck, Snow, no wonder I’m a lost cause when you look at me like that.

I place my glass down on a sideboard and make my way over to her, closing the distance between us as quickly as is possible in such a full space. I finally reach her, stopping inches from her face as my eyes burn into hers. She says nothing, just looks at me, a slight trace of amusement dancing in her eyes.

“Good evening, Mr. Grayson,” she says slowly as I slide one hand around the back of her neck and the other around her waist, pulling her hot lips against mine and pressing a kiss to them. I can feel her pulse underneath my thumb.

“You look stunning,” I whisper into the jasmine-scented skin by her ear before moving back, keeping one hand firmly on her waist. The silky fabric of her dress slips beneath my fingers as she leans into my side.

“And we are both still here,” Drew jokes, clearing his throat and making Megan giggle.

“I’m so sorry.” I cough awkwardly and smile as I lean over to kiss Megan on both cheeks. She looks amazing too, in a long deep blue dress with a side split. Her curls are piled up on top of her head, loose strands falling and making her look young and innocent.

“No, you’re not,” Drew pipes up. “Who can blame you, though?” He smiles as he kisses first Megan and then Rachel on the back of the hand. Megan smiles at his easy-going, flirty nature, and Rachel raises a brow at him, a small curve at the corner of her mouth.

“Practicing your chat up lines on us already, are you Drew?” she says as he releases her hand.

“And why not? You two are beautiful women, and I am a very willing student. I must say, I especially excel at lessons of a practical nature. The more hands-on, the better,” he says shamelessly.

“I love your enthusiasm, Drew.” Megan giggles, rolling her eyes.

“Why, thank you.” He grins, smug as the Cheshire fucking cat.

“Yeah, it’s a shame he can’t always muster up the same enthusiasm about the weekly Monday morning meeting,” I joke, watching as he pretends to look outraged.

He turns to address Rachel and Megan. “I do a superb job of looking interested while my uptight boss drones on about figures and boring shit. I’ve perfected the face. Look.” He sets his face into an expression of interest, turning down the corners of his mouth and nodding as though in agreement.

“That’s incredible,” Megan says, playing along.

“Yeah, amazing,” Rachel snorts.

“I’m sure you’ve had to perfect your interested face when Tanner’s going on,” Drew says to Rachel.

“Tanner knows exactly what my face looks like when he’s going on at me. Don’t you, darling?” Rachel lays a hand on my chest and gives me the best come fuck me look. If I didn’t have to make a speech shortly, then I would pull her out of here right now and back to my car.

“That is not what I meant.” Drew groans as an unwanted mental image likely pops into his mind. “Come on, Megan. Let’s leave these two alone before they eat each other’s faces in front of us.” Megan happily takes his arm and smiles at us as they walk off together.

“Smart move,” I say quietly to Rachel. “Drew couldn’t wait to get out of here.”

She smiles back at me, looking up at me from under her lashes. “Not just that, but now Drew will introduce Megan to all the people who admire her artwork and want to meet her. Something I know you would have been doing otherwise. This way, I get to keep you closer until the speeches start.”

I stare back into her eyes, mesmerized by the way they’re looking back at me tonight. Something’s changed in her. I can sense a shift, as though the last barrier has finally lifted.

“You want to keep me closer?” I drop my eyes to her lips as she smiles and nods at me.

“Uh-huh,” she says playfully. “I enjoy being really close to my boyfriend.”

Fuck. Did she just call me her boyfriend? For real? I mean, I know that’s what we are. We spend so much time together. She sleeps at my house now and me at hers—in the same bed after all her hang-ups over it. She’s got my mom on speed dial. I’ve given her a key to my house. I know that’s what she is to me. But to hear her say that I’m her boyfriend. This is a fucking huge milestone.

I’m sure I’m grinning back at her like an idiot. “Way to give me a fucking hard-on in a room full of people, Rach,” I murmur into her ear as I move her to stand in front of me, concealing the evidence. She inclines her head over her shoulder to talk to me.

“I’ll take care of that later for you.” She smirks.

I grab onto her hips and hold her in place as I see the hotel manager across the room. He catches my eye and gives me a smile and wave. His signal that it’s almost time to do the official opening speeches and raffle an all-expenses-paid stay in the new penthouse suite tonight.

“I’m going to have to go in a minute,” I say into Rachel’s ear, flexing my hands on her hipbones, fighting the blood back out of my cock. Think about something unsexy. Painting… no, fuck! Hot sex on Rachel’s living room floor. Okay, plumbing… no—mind-blowing sex in the bath with Rachel. Shit, I need something fast. I glance over and see Drew has separated from Megan and is chatting to one of the hotel receptionists. Bingo! There’s nothing sexy about watching Drew flirt shamelessly. I loosen my grip on Rachel as my shoulders relax, along with my cock.

Rachel’s looking around the room. “Who’s that Megan’s talking to?”

I look over to where Megan is deep in conversation with an older man. His dark, exotic features have only made him more handsome with age—lucky fucker.

“That’s Jaxon King. He owns a publishing company in London. I see him at a lot of events like this. He’s always looking for new locations to host book signings and literary events.”

“Whatever he’s saying must be funny,” Rachel says as, across the room, Megan throws her head back and laughs. Funny, I don’t remember him being much of a talker whenever I’ve met him. He’s pleasant, sure, but usually keeps himself to himself. He’s extremely well-educated and went to Oxford to study. I just figured he was a quiet, academic type, but the way he has Megan captivated, I’m beginning to think I’m way off the mark as far as impressions go.

I lead Rachel over to the reception desk, where a temporary raised platform has been set up. She turns to talk to someone next to her, and I’m relieved to see it’s Penny. She will look after her while I’m busy. Not that Rachel needs babysitting. I know full well she can hold her own. Still, I don’t like the idea of leaving her alone in a room where at least half the guests are businessmen who would think nothing of slipping their wedding rings off when they’re away on a work trip. She glances at me with a smile before continuing her conversation with Penny. I hear the words ‘New York’ and ‘Scarlett’ mentioned.

“Tanner.” The hotel manager, Edward, approaches me, holding out his hand. He’s a friendly-looking man with impeccably high standards. It took twice as long as usual to get him on board with the design team’s vision, and he isn’t even the owner. Rumor has it the wealthy lady heiress who owns this hotel and a few others around the capital has a soft spot for her younger, male hotel managers.

“Edward, you’re looking great.” I smile, business mode fully entered as I shake his hand. “This is such a brilliant turnout.”

“It is, and it’s thanks to you and the team. The re-opening caused quite a buzz. I’ve seen three big papers and a couple of style magazine journalists here already,” he says excitedly.

I smile; his enthusiasm is infectious. This is why I love my job, my company. Seeing the client’s face when it’s all revealed and knowing what a difference it will make to their business as a result—bringing them in new clients, getting them noticed. It’s all worth it. If I’m honest, though, my absolute favorite part is the college apprenticeship programs we help fund. Drew always says we should ditch them as they don’t make us money, but I can’t. I started with nothing, and I love that I can give back and give opportunities to those just starting out on their journey. The head for this project, Imogen, started studying to be an electrician at college on one of the company-funded programs. Then after working her ass off on sites for us, she showed an interest in design. Now she’s one of the company’s top-paid project managers. I love that my company did that—opened that door up for her.

I smile and greet Imogen as she comes to stand next to Edward and me on the podium. For the next twenty minutes, we each take turns to welcome the guests and tell them about the hotel, the inspiration behind its new design, and the scale of the re-modeling. There’s a general hum of excitement in the air and a collective sound of appreciation as I talk about Megan’s focal artwork and how it draws the entire design together.

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, before we finish, we must draw the winning raffle ticket for the first stay in our newly refurbished penthouse suite,” Edward announces dramatically, enticing some “oohs” and “ahs” from the audience. “First, let me choose a willing assistant to pull the ticket.”

He steps down and into the front of the crowd, holding out the large glass bowl full of folded paper slips to a lady in a purple dress. She blushes at being put on the spot before twirling her hand around inside the bowl and making her selection.

“Madam, if you would please read the winning ticket number,” Edward instructs as a hush falls across the room. Everyone eagerly waits to see who will win the four-figures-a-night stay in luxury.

“Number three hundred and thirteen!” she calls out clearly as chatter breaks out around the room, along with the sound of people pulling paper tickets out of purses and pockets to check their numbers.

“Looks like that’s me,” a deep voice calls out.

I look to where the call came from and see Jaxon King holding a ticket up in his hand. Edward makes his way over and checks the ticket before shaking Jaxon’s hand and handing him a golden envelope, which I assume contains the penthouse keycard. Camera clicks can be heard, along with a rumble of applause as the official opening presentation ends.

“Nice speech, Mr. Grayson.” Rachel smiles, sliding her arm into mine as I find her and Megan in the crowd again.

“Thanks.” I smile, tearing my eyes away from the sultry look she’s giving me, aware that Megan is with us. I don’t want to seem rude again, even though Megan doesn’t seem in the least bit bothered that I can barely think straight when Rachel is nearby. I guess she’s used to the two of us by now.

“How’s your evening been, Megan? Every time I’ve seen you, it looks like someone else has grabbed you to tell you how much they love your art,” I say to her.

“It’s been incredible. Thank you. This would never have happened if you hadn’t given me the opportunity.” She beams with undisguised excitement.

“You know it was actually Rachel’s idea, and you did me a favor, not the other way around.”

“Yeah, Meg,” Rachel adds. “You deserve this! You worked so hard.” I see her eyes subtly glance over Megan’s shoulder before she lowers her voice. “Who’s the older fox you were talking to?”

I clear my throat and move my arm down, encircling Rachel’s waist tightly. She looks back at me, her eyes narrowing before turning back to Megan.

“Oh, his name’s Jaxon,” Megan says innocently. “He said my picture reminded him of his favorite illustrator’s work. He said he works in publishing.”

Playing it down, huh, Jaxon? I know for a fact he’s the biggest guy in publishing this side of the Atlantic. Not just traditional either. His company also owns one of the most successful eBook sites there is.

Megan’s eyes look from Rachel and then to me as she keeps talking. “Actually, I really wanted to talk to him again. He said he was going to write down some illustrator’s names from old books he thought I might like to look at.”

I bet he did. I chuckle internally. I’ve not heard that one before, but I’ve got to admit, it sounds way better than anything I’ve heard Drew use as a chat-up line. Judging by how Jaxon keeps looking over here towards Megan, I would say I’m bang on the money that he hopes she will return to finish their conversation.

“You don’t need a ride home then?” Rachel asks.

“No, thanks, though. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Megan says, giving Rachel a quick hug and then leaning over to give me one too, before heading off back towards a delighted-looking Jaxon King.

“What was all that about?” Rachel says playfully, her attention fully back on me as she moves in front of me and reaches her arms up around my neck. Public displays of affection—I must be in her good books.

I slide my hands low on her back to where the curve of her ass starts. “What was what about?” I ask, pulling her against me tightly, so there’s no denying what it does to me when she looks up at me like this.

“Don’t give me that. The way you practically growled when I called Jaxon King a fox.” She arches an eyebrow at me as her eyes sparkle.

A flash of jealousy surges through me. “I did not growl. I cleared my throat,” I say, keeping my expression solemn. “I can’t say that hearing my girl call another man a fox is something I wish a repeat of, though,” I add sulkily.

“I’m your girl, am I?” she teases.

I look at her darkly. “Don’t fucking forget it.”

She smirks, running her fingers around the collar of my dress shirt. “Did I tell you how sexy you look in a dinner jacket?”

“You can’t get off that easily,” I mutter as I drop my eyes to her lips.

She rises on her tiptoes, and the smell of her skin mixed with jasmine renders me momentarily speechless as her warm breath dusts against my ear. “I get off really easy when you’re involved, Tan,” she whispers, causing blood to race to my already twitching cock.

I slide my hands lower, squeezing her ass underneath my fingers.

“I think it’s time we went home now, don’t you?”


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