Bailey waited in the lobby for Hunter as per his instructions. She’d hardly slept, thanks to his gentle touches and soft kisses from the evening before. When they’d stepped into the elevator after dinner, she was sure he was going to demand she spend the night with him…and she would’ve said yes.
Instead they’d argued and he’d let her walk away, turning down her offer of a night cap. She’d gone to bed frustrated and confused and desperately wanting something to relieve the ache inside her. And for once, it wasn’t Nick she’d been thinking about. It was Hunter.
Now she was about to walk into a brunch with Nick and his fiancé on the arm of Nick’s stepbrother in an effort to make him jealous. But the even more confusing thing was that she wasn’t sure if it was even what she wanted anymore. Spending time with Hunter had turned her and her life inside out and Nick no longer looked like the shiny penny that she’d always seen him as.
The elevator doors opened and Hunter stepped into the lobby looking like he’d just stepped off the shoot of GQ magazine. He wore dark denim jeans that were fashionably worn in all the right places but still looked like they cost more than the rent on her apartment, a pale blue button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up exposing his tattoos and a charcoal grey waistcoat. He wasn’t wearing a tie and the top buttons of his shirt were undone showing a triangle of tanned skin and a dusting of dark hair. She knew what was under that shirt. She had run her hands intimately over the hills and furrows of his muscles. She wanted to do it again.
He saw her and Bailey prepared to be hit with one of his panty-melting smiles, but it never came. Instead he gave her a stiff nod and stalked towards her.
“My car is in the underground garage,” he said, leading her back to the elevators.
He didn’t touch her, there was no peck on the cheek in hello or a guiding hand on the small of her back. Hunter had always been touchy-feely with her, so being near him and having him keep a respectable distance between them felt…odd. And it pissed her off.
“Is everything all right?” She asked as the elevator descended to the underground garage.
“Fine,” he replied coldly, not looking at her.
“Did something happen last night?” she asked, watching him.
He turned to her and quirked an eyebrow, although it wasn’t playful, it was almost…condescending.
“What do you mean?” he asked, his voice still devoid of the warmth she was used to hearing.
“When you left me,” she stammered, “you said you had work to do. Did something happen with your work?”
“Why do you care?” he asked turning away from her.
“I am your PR manager,” she replied, getting annoyed with his attitude. “If something’s happened that affects the airline, I should probably know what it is so I can go into damage control.”
He exhaled harshly, his nostrils flaring and his jaw clenching.
“Nothing happened,” he said as the doors slid open and he stalked out into the dim garage.
He pulled keys out of his pocket and stopped in front of a 1967 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 and she had to suppress a groan. If you could fall in love with a car, then a ’67 Shelby would be the one for her. Her panties may or may not have dampened at the sight of the shiny gun-metal grey paint job and the black GT stripes.
“This is your car?” she asked breathlessly running a hand along the smooth duco.
“One of them,” he said as he unlocked the car with the remote.
He opened the door for her and the smell of leather hit her as she slid into the passenger seat. The interior was in pristine condition; the woodgrain steering wheel, the old-fashioned speedometer, and the Shelby insignia on the dash and gear stick.
She waited for him to fold his large body into the sports car and turn the key. She couldn’t help the moan that escaped her lips at the deep-throated sound of the engine as it echoed through the underground garage.
“I can’t believe you own Eleanor,” she said, eyes closed, soaking in the sound and vibrations of the car.
“You know Eleanor?” he asked, and a bit of the frost was gone from his tone.
Her eyes opened and she looked over at him. “Eleanor is my wet dream car,” she replied, sweeping her eyes over his body.
He made a noise in the back of his throat and clenched his jaw as he shifted into first and pulled out of the parking space.
They traveled in silence for a while and although he had begun to thaw towards her, she wasn’t sure it would be enough to convince others that they were really a couple. She had no idea what had happened to cause him to shut her out and the abrupt change in his attitude towards her left her feeling a little unstable. She had to get them back on track, but without knowing what she did wrong, she didn’t know how to fix it.
“So, what’s the game plan?” he asked, breaking into her thoughts.
“Game plan?” she asked.
His nod was sharp. “For the brunch. I assume Nick doesn’t know that I’m your date.”
“Ah, no,” she said, “but he does know that I have one.”
“So, what? We just walk in there and say ‘surprise?’”
“Do you have a better idea?” she asked.
“No,” he bit out and then sighed. “Surprise is probably better anyway, at least you’ll see his initial reaction without him having time to get used to the idea.”
She turned to look out the window. She wasn’t looking forward to the confrontation with Nick, especially not in front of a whole lot of people she didn’t know. He had never been possessive of her, but he’d never actually been confronted with her dating before either. And this was his stepbrother, the guy he was always in competition with. It didn’t help that Hunter was more successful, richer and, some would say, better looking. All of that just added to Nick’s feelings of inadequacy. What would seeing her with Hunter do to him?
Hunter took a deep breath as he stepped out of the car at the restaurant. It had been a sweet sort of torture being in a confined space with Blue and breathing in her flowery scent. He had been assaulted by memories of how soft her skin was and what she tasted like. His determination to stay away from her had been sorely tested when she had gushed over his car and then again when she had moaned when the engine turned over. It was all kinds of hot to have a woman go all fan-girl over his car and all he could think about was stretching her over the hood as he thrust into her warm, wet core.
He walked around the car and opened the door for her, extending a hand to help her out. The touch of her hand in his sent a jolt straight to his dick and he had to take a couple of deep breaths to calm the beating of his heart.
She wore a cream dress that skimmed her body, tucked in at the waist and ended at her knees. Her waist was cinched with a wide beige belt and she wore the same nude coloured heels from last night. Her gorgeous rose gold hair fell in soft waves and his fingers itched to feel the soft strands running through them.
She stood next to him, straightening her dress and touching up her lipstick and he could no longer stop himself from touching her. He rested his hand on the small of her back and leant in close to her ear.
“Are you ready?” he whispered, and then took pleasure in the shiver that vibrated through her body.
She turned her head slightly so that she could look into his eyes. “Are you?” she asked, her voice husky.
He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth, trying to hold on to the last bit of his control.
“Let’s get this over with,” he said and pressed his hand into her back, propelling her forward.
The restaurant they were meeting at was perched on the riverfront with spectacular water views. The Heart-Rusch party had commandeered the entire outdoor seating area and he and Bailey were the last to arrive. Way to make an entrance.
The conversation stopped as they stepped onto the deck and all eyes swivelled towards them. They were both outsiders and the other guests looked at them curiously. Nick jumped to his feet, his eyes zeroing in on the placement of Hunter’s hand on Bailey’s hip.
“Hunter, Bailey,” he said, forcing his mouth into a smile, “you made it. Where are your, ah, dates?”
Hunter and Bailey shared a smile.
“Funny thing,” Hunter said, addressing the rapt audience. “Bailey and I are each other’s dates.” He smiled down at her, happy to see that her eyes were on him and not Nick.
“What?” Nick stammered. “I don’t understand.”
Bailey laughed. “Surprise!” she said. “Hunter and I have been seeing each other for a couple of months now and didn’t put it together until just recently that we were heading to the same wedding. Pretty weird, huh?”
“Nicky,” a petit brunette said, standing next to him, “aren’t you going to introduce us?”
“Oh, yeah, right,” he said and Hunter smiled at his discomfiture.
“Ainsley, this is my old friend Bailey and my stepbrother Hunter. Bailey and Hunter, this is my fiancé, Ainsley.”
Ainsley moved around the table and shook their hands. “It’s so great to finally meet you,” she said, looking them up and down. “And Bailey, I can’t thank you enough for stepping in to be my bridesmaid at the last minute.” She cast a critical eye over Bailey and Hunter felt his hackles rise. “Thank God you’re not a fatty,” she said with a small laugh, “or that would’ve been awkward. It’s a pity about the hair though.” She tapped her lip with her forefinger thoughtfully. “You wouldn’t consider dyeing it for the weekend, would you?”
He saw Bailey’s mouth drop open and the words were coming out of his mouth before he could stop them.
“You’re not touching Blue’s hair,” he growled.
“Oh, come on, Hunter,” Ainsley said, not taking her eyes off Bailey. “The colour is all wrong. The bridesmaid dress is pink and it will clash awfully with that brassy red. I’m just talking a temporary colour, a dark chocolate maybe.”
“Ah, I don’t think so,” Bailey said shaking her head.
“Definitely not,” Hunter growled again.
Ainsley shrugged. “It was worth a shot.” She turned her assessing gaze on him. “Is the beard negotiable?” she asked.
“No,” Bailey said instantly and with a bit of heat.
He huffed out a surprised laugh. He was shocked by Ainsley’s audacity but he was equally surprised by Bailey’s defence of his facial hair. Although, it had been the conversation starter when they first met.
“He can grow it back,” Ainsley said. “After the wedding.”
“Sorry, Princess,” he said, “the beard stays.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, but nodded before turning away and returning to Nick’s side and they moved back to their seats. Hunter prompted Bailey towards the two vacant chairs left for them and he held one out for her, before taking his own seat.
He looked around for a menu, but there were none on the table. He picked up a glass of water and took a sip, looking around the table. Ainsley signalled a waiter and coffee was brought out for everyone followed by plates of food.
“I took the liberty of ordering for everyone,” she said, “In the interest of efficiency.”
Hunter looked down at the plate in front of him. Two poached eggs, whole grain toast and some wilted spinach. He hoped this was just the entree because it sure as shit wasn’t enough to fill him up. He cast a look at Bailey’s plate and did a double-take. Her plate was even less inspiring than his; six little balls of melon (two each of rockmelon, honeydew and watermelon) and a couple of mint leaves. They shared a look and she rolled her eyes.
“Okay girls,” Ainsley said, bringing the meeting to order, “From this moment forward you are all on diets. In the packet in front of you is your approved eating plan. You are to stick to this for the rest of the week. It’s a detox diet guaranteed to ensure flat stomachs on my big day.”
To Hunter’s absolute astonishment, the other women around the table nodded enthusiastically. What the fucking-loving hell was this shit?
He put his arm around Bailey’s shoulder and leaned in to whisper in her ear. The floral scent of her hair overwhelmed him and he placed a soft kiss on her neck. He heard her sharp intake of breath and smiled.
“Are you okay with this diet?” he whispered.
“Fuck no,” she whispered back.
He chuckled and sat back up in his chair in time to see the daggers Nick was throwing his way. Hunter just smiled serenely in return.
Bailey had heard of bridezillas before, but she thought they were more of a myth than reality. And if they did exist, well then, it was probably just an unfortunate nickname attached to a bride who had a momentary meltdown under the stress of trying to organise the perfect day. She now knew that bridezillas did in fact exist and Ainsley was their queen.
Who the hell did she think she was demanding that her bridesmaids do a detox diet the week before the wedding? And what the fuck was all that shit about her colouring her hair? The woman was certifiable. And she would shave Hunter’s beard off over Bailey’s dead body.
“Also in your packets,” Ainsley said, “is the itinerary for the week. I expect you all to memorise it and be on time to each and every event.”
She heard Hunter grunt beside her and couldn’t help the smile that tilted her lips. She looked up and caught Nick’s eyes on her and he didn’t look happy, which should make her happy, but didn’t. He had a lot of gall to be jealous of her dating someone when he was getting fucking married. It hit her then that he was really going to go through with it and he was expecting her to just wait around for him and be his little distraction on the side. Nick wanted his wedding cake and he wanted to eat it too. But Bailey began to suspect that she deserved more than that. She deserved someone who would love just her and devote themselves to just her. Nick would never be that person.
A pall of melancholy settled over her. She thought she would be happy with whatever scraps Nick would throw her way, but she was kidding herself. And the fact that he would expect that kind of hurt.
She felt the gentle pressure of Hunter’s arm as it once again wound around her shoulder and the whisper of his breath and the brush of his whiskers over the exposed skin of her neck caused her eyes to flutter and it took all her willpower to not let them close. The soft press of lips under her ear undid her and she let her lids fall closed and angled her head to give him more real estate to work with.
“What’s wrong, Blue?” he murmured into her skin. “Where’d you go?”
She took a breath and opened her eyes, turning her head to gaze into the beautiful green of his eyes. She leant towards his and brushed her lips across his in a chaste kiss and she felt his hand tighten on her opposite shoulder.
“Nothing,” she whispered against his lips. “Nothing’s wrong.”
“Bullshit,” he whispered back, but the smile in his eyes took the sting out of the harsh words. “But I’ll let it go for now.” He pressed another kiss to her lips, his eyes not leaving hers. “Now, eat up, you’re going to need your strength to get through the dress fitting this afternoon.”
She smiled at him and his eyes lit up with mirth. The strain that had been between them this morning melted away and she reached up to cup his jaw, threading her fingers through his soft beard. His eyes darkened, heating with desire.
The scrape of chair legs on the deck broke through the fog of her brain and the clearing of Nick’s throat had her sitting back from Hunter. His eyes flashed with something she couldn’t name and he sat back in his own chair, turning his head toward the now standing Nick.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “I believe it’s time for us to leave these lovely ladies to their dresses and shoes and makeup. Who’s up for a game of golf?”
“Sorry, Nick,” Hunter said, “but I’m Blue’s…I mean Bailey’s ride. If I go to golf, she will be stranded.”
Nick smiled, a Machiavellian glint in his eye. “I’m sure Ainsley wouldn’t mind giving Bailey a ride, would you darling?”
Ainsley looked up at him and twitched, but turned a small smile on Bailey. “Of course I wouldn’t mind,” she said.
“Well, that’s settled then,” Nick said and he proceeded to usher the men from the table.
Hunter gave her a hopeless look and she was sure that it was a mirror of her own. It felt a little too much like they were being fed to the sharks.
“Dinner, tonight?” he whispered hastily.
“Yes,” she replied.
He brushed his lips quickly across hers as he was dragged away from her by one of Nick’s other groomsmen. She watched helplessly as the men left and then swallowed before turning back to the women that were left. Ainsley was giving her a calculating look as if she were trying to work her out.
“Is that the Hunter Green?” one of the other bridesmaids asked.
Bailey nodded robotically. “Yes,” she said.
“The billionaire who owns Green Aviation?” another one asked.
“Yes,” Bailey said again
“Wow,” said yet another bridesmaid. “He’s hot.”
A curious feeling in her stomach made her squirm uncomfortably. “Yes,” she said, more forcefully than she meant to. “He is.”
“Okay ladies,” Ainsley clapped her hands together. “Time to stop ogling the men and get to the dress fitting.” She looked over at Bailey. “I think you might be a bit shorter and a bit bigger than Penny. I hope the dressmaker can alter the dress in time. Make sure you stick to that detox diet just in case, though.”
Bailey bit back the ugly retort that bubbled to the tip of her tongue. She was well aware of what Ainsley was trying to do. Bailey had known girls like her all her life and she refused to let this one get under her skin.
Ainsley led them out to the carpark and Bailey followed her to the white Mercedes convertible. With a flick of her hand, Ainsley indicated that she should get in and Bailey settled herself into the front seat. They led the convoy of cars out of the carpark and towards the bridal shop.
“So, how long have you known my Nicky?” she asked.
“We went to school together,” Bailey replied, prepared for the third degree.
“And you live in Melbourne now?” she went on.
“Yes, I work for a boutique PR firm,” Bailey said.
“My Nicky used to travel to Melbourne a bit for work,” she said, keeping her eyes on the road.
“I know,” Bailey said easily. “We would catch up and have dinner when he was in town.”
“I never could understand why he needed to go in person. I had a word to his dad and we agreed that he could do the work remotely, that way he doesn’t have to spend all that time away from me.”
“That’s understandable,” Bailey said and smiled at her.
Ainsley was on a fishing expedition and Bailey refused to give her anything. If she was going to go through with sabotaging the wedding, it wouldn’t be this way. She wanted Nick to choose her over Ainsley and that wasn’t going to happen if she forced his hand. No, if Ainsley suspected anything, she wouldn’t get any proof from Bailey.