The Pucking Wrong Guy: Chapter 3

BLAKE

I’d found myself in the whirlwind of Los Angeles, a city where the glitzy guise of stardom hid the darker stories of shattered dreams.

And I was on the verge of becoming one of those darker stories.

That job that was supposed to be the game changer? The one that promised to kickstart my career…it had crumbled like a sandcastle before the waves.

The magazine editor in charge of the huge photoshoot I was supposed to star in with Voyage magazine had gotten embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal that had canceled the whole project. There was now an investigation going on that was in the headlines of every news outlet as more and more Voyage staffers and models came forward with horror stories.

Maybe I’d dodged a bullet.

But I felt more like I’d become the epitome of a cautionary tale. Yet another girl relegated to waiting tables as I tried to make it big.

But at least…I could finally breathe.

The restaurant I now worked at had a reputation—it was the kind of place where celebrities went, where you could see the A-listers sipping their fancy cocktails at one table while aspiring actors and models balanced trays at another.

My agent had gotten me the job. Said it would be good for me to be hobnobbing with the stars.

Maybe it was.

But mostly it felt like I’d volunteered for sexual harassment instead of being paid for it.

There was a buzz against my thigh as a text came in, and I sighed, knowing exactly who it was.

Clark.

We were still together. Or at least I guess we were.

He’d been devastated about my rejection of his marriage proposal. And even more devastated when I told him I was moving.

But he’d told me he’d do anything to make it work.

That he loved me.

That I was it for him.

Much nicer things than the Shepfields had to say about me blowing up their carefully laid plans for me.

“You ungrateful, selfish brat. We’ve done everything for you. Given you everything! You were nothing but the daughter of a murderer. And I gave you my name! This is how you repay us? You’re a disappointment. A nothing.”

Daughter of a murderer. A disappointment. A nothing.

The words were a constant chant in my head, lining up with all the other ones that I told myself on the daily.

My phone buzzed again, and I peeked around to see if anyone was watching before I pulled it out of my pocket.

Clark: I love you. I miss you. You’re all I think about.

He said all of it so easily.

And I couldn’t even say I love you in my head.

Guilt flooded my insides, the taste of it thick on my tongue, making me sick.

“Girl, your order’s up,” my coworker Bailey hissed as she passed by, her warm brown eyes bug eyed and slightly crazy looking as she sliced them toward the back where Daphne, the executive chef, was glaring at me impatiently.

I hurried to grab the waiting dishes, having to cover almost the whole distance of the restaurant to do so. The place had a sleek, modern aesthetic that had graced many an interior design magazine. Minimalistic yet sophisticated, with soft, dimmed lighting that cast a warm glow, bathing the space in an inviting ambiance that drew you in. The walls were adorned with abstract paintings, the tables inlaid with polished marble, and the plush, low-backed chairs all contributed to an atmosphere of understated luxury. A marble-topped bar stretched along one side, serving artisanal cocktails that looked more like works of art than beverages. The open kitchen, framed by a massive glass pane, allowed patrons to catch a glimpse of the culinary maestros in action.

It definitely wasn’t a shithole.

I grabbed the tray of dishes with names I could barely pronounce and navigated the maze of tables as I headed to my section, filled with faces that expected to be known.

Hollywood was the exact opposite of New York, where the rich there prided themselves on understated elegance. Maura would be sniffing in disdain at the lime green getup the actress at this table was wearing. It included a large plume of feathers that seemed out of place at lunch. I had no idea who she was, or what she’d been in, but Bailey, the restaurant gossip queen, made sure I at least knew what industry guests were in as I served them.

The woman didn’t say thank you as I set down her salad, but that was par for the course. The tips weren’t even that impressive, honestly.

But I was elbow rubbing like my agent wanted. And I did have some auditions for small campaigns next week.

And I could breathe.

No matter how difficult things got, I wouldn’t forget that.

The restaurant door swung open then with its usual soft chime, something I’d always thought was weird about a fancy place like this, but others considered homey and charming.

But this time when the door chimed, the atmosphere in the room seemed to ripple in response. It was as if a switch had suddenly been activated, pulling the collective attention of every soul in the establishment to its source. I couldn’t help but glance over my shoulder.

My eyes locked onto a man, and the world seemed to freeze in place.

His presence was a force of nature, all-consuming masculinity that demanded attention. With raven-black hair that fell effortlessly across his forehead and those penetrating green eyes. He exuded an air of dominance, the very embodiment of an alpha male. He was like a predator in a world of prey, and every instinct in me knew it.

For a heartbeat, I forgot how to inhale. The captivating seduction of his gaze had ensnared me, leaving me helpless under his spell. Those emerald eyes bore into mine with an intensity that felt like they could strip away my every secret, leaving me vulnerable in their wake.

He leaned towards the hostess and murmured something to her, and yet he didn’t take his eyes off me. I didn’t know him. I was sure about that.

But the way he was watching me…it sure seemed like he knew me.

I stared, both captivated and unnerved, as he was led to the section of the restaurant I was in charge of.

Something extraordinary had just stepped into my world. I knew that. Judging by the quiet whispers that had filled the room the second he’d walked in…everyone else knew that as well.

And I had to serve him dinner.

I tried to avoid going to his table as long as I could, too nervous to face all that hotness. I had tables to do refills on, orders to bring by. Silverware to be rolled…I couldn’t help but steal glances at him the entire time though.

He sat there, his gaze tracking me, an amused grin tracing his full lips, like he knew exactly what I was doing and he was perfectly content to wait me out. There were people stopping by as he sat there, like everyone else in the place wanted to bask in his light, too.

I swore I’d never seen him before, even if every part of my DNA was convinced he was the most beautiful man I’d ever come across. But he had to be someone big, someone famous. Why else would the other A-listers in the restaurant be saying hello?

A woman I knew was in a popular tv show went up to him as I was filling a water pitcher. She said something and he threw his head back and laughed. Immediately, my insides tightened. Something like jealousy slithering through me.

Because I wanted that laugh to only belong to me.

What the fuck was wrong with me?

His laughter was warm and amused, weaving through the air like a soft breeze on a summer day.

I was completely captivated by it.

Finally, I couldn’t delay it any longer, and I approached the table, a tray with a decanter of water trembling in my hands. He was lounging effortlessly on the bench, commanding the space around him. The closer I got, the more I began to truly see him.

I’d always had a thing for guys with dark hair and green eyes. I blamed it on the crush I had as a child in the group home. I had a type, and I didn’t venture far from it…case in point: Clark.

But this guy was like my fantasy on crack. My naughtiest day dream come to life. The walking embodiment of allure.

His dark, tousled hair was like a midnight storm, a stark contrast against his golden-tan skin that seemed kissed by the sun’s rays. His eyes, a mesmerizing shade of green framed by long, dark lashes, held a hint of mischief and a touch of danger.

Even with his clothes on, the fact that he was rocking a very well-built—if not perfect—physique couldn’t be concealed. He was wearing a crisp white V-neck shirt that clung to his sculpted chest, accentuating every sinew and curve. A black cross necklace hung from his neck, drawing attention to the chiseled contours of his collarbone. His wrists were adorned with an array of bracelets, and they jingled softly as he moved.

My body had an instinctive reaction to his presence, a primal response that I couldn’t control. As his gaze locked onto mine, a wicked glint in his forest green eyes, my nipples hardened beneath my clothing, electric charges zooming across my skin. My core softened, aching with a need that pulsed with every beat of my heart. I could feel the undeniable wetness between my thighs, an unbidden response to the raw attraction he exuded.

I was caught in a lusty spell, one that left me breathless and craving his touch.

I was aching for him. Desperate. I—

“Hi,” he murmured, and my panties were freaking soaked.

His voice was a sensual caress, a velvety whisper that sent shivers dancing along my skin.

I opened my mouth several times to respond, but I was worried all that would come out was a moan.

“Hi,” I finally stuttered, inwardly wincing at how freaking lame I was.

My phone buzzed against my thigh. Reminding me I had a sweet, sexy boyfriend. I had a feeling that the man lounging in front of me could do far more damage to my heart than Clark ever could.

Not that there was a chance in flying hell this kind of guy would ever be interested in me. I mean…what had I been saying?

I realized then that the handsome stranger’s amused gaze had transformed into a blazing furnace of hunger. It was as if he was undressing me with his eyes, his imagination running wild with all the ways he could claim my body right then and there.

I’d read about these kind of men in countless romance novels, where they were portrayed as the elusive dream, the kind of alpha male perfection that left you yearning to throw caution to the wind and surrender to their charm. I’d always thought they didn’t exist, that they were just characters on pages, figments of an author’s imagination.

Yet, here before me was the living embodiment of that fantasy. A stranger who you knew—one night with him could be the stuff of dreams, an unforgettable encounter that would leave you breathless and forever changed.

YOU HAVE A BOYFRIEND, a voice screamed in my head.

I understood that…it’s just I was having trouble remembering his name at the moment.


Ari

She was like a lightning strike, breaking my fucking heart with her beauty. She had me and every other guy—and girl—in the room doing double takes.

I immediately wanted to gouge out all their eyes with the fork on the table in front of me.

Mine, my insides–and my dick–were screaming.

And honestly, it was all I could do to keep that crazy fucker down.

Her golden locks tumbled around her face like they had a mind of their own, and her eyes? Well, let’s just say they were like two cups of coffee—one look, and you were wide awake and ready for action.

She was the hottest thing I’d ever seen. Every inch of her a gravitational pull I couldn’t resist, even if I tried.

Not that I was trying to resist. I wasn’t an idiot.

My attraction to her was like a freight train, powerful and unrelenting, and my dick was so hard I was afraid my pants were going to rip.

It felt like I could breathe for the first time since I’d seen that billboard and realized it was her. Like I’d been holding my breath since she’d disappeared on me as a kid.

And now I was free to exhale.

I’d been driving along a Dallas road, the city’s skyline stretched out before me, a sprawling maze of buildings and lights that seemed to go on forever. As I approached an intersection, my gaze wandered to the billboards lining the roadside. Advertising for everything from fast food to luxury cars flashed by, each one vying for the attention of passing motorists.

But then, one particular billboard seized my attention, causing me to slam on the brakes in disbelief.

There she was, larger than life, an embodiment of over a decade of wishing and longing. A massive leopard was draped around her, its fierce eyes locked onto something beyond the camera’s lens–it was some kind of perfume ad.

I’d immediately known it was her, Layla, the girl I’d lost. The only girl I’d ever loved.

A million memories came rushing back…ones I’d long buried and tried to forget.

I shook my head as I relived the moment I’d found Blake. Kidnapping her and taking her with me to some remote island didn’t seem like a bad idea at the moment.

Because now that I’d found her…Now that I could breathe…You could fucking bet I would never let her go again.

“What’s your name, sunshine?” I asked, instead of grabbing her and dragging her away.

I deserved a mother fucking medal for that, by the way.

She frowned, as if she hated the nickname. I’d have to workshop that. But it was hard to think of anything else when I looked at her. Like she was the sunshine finally here after so much fucking rain.

Look at me, waxing poetic. I’d have to remind Lincoln how smart and artistic I was next time we talked.

“My name is Blake and I’ll be your server today,” she said in a professional but very unsteady tone. I grinned to myself because Sunshine was definitely as affected by me as I was by her.

I’d also just found my new favorite thing…listening to her talk.

Her voice had obviously changed from when she was a little girl…but there was still that same unique allure that had dragged me in from the beginning. That had the boy in me recognizing I’d found magic…even back then.

She bit down on her delicious bottom lip before going into the daily specials. None of which I was interested in since she hadn’t said tacos or steak, but I nodded along anyway. I could listen to her say…anything actually.

“Sir?” she said, and I realized I’d been staring at her…awestruck.

‘Is there a special where I get to have lunch with you?’ I quipped.

Because I really was that much of a fucking idiot, apparently.

I watched as her features grew cold, a clear rejection that left no room for misunderstanding. ‘I’m not for sale,’ she shot back, turning around in a clear dismissal.

With a rueful smile, I stared as she walked away. The view from behind was just as captivating as it had been from the front.

That was okay. I could do the whole redemption arc. I needed to concentrate on my plan without making her hate me on our first encounter though. I was usually more charming than this.

After seeing her on that billboard in Dallas, I’d immediately gone to good old Google, hunting down the ad campaign to make sure I hadn’t gone crazy from years of wishful thinking. As soon as I’d had any resources to my name out of college, I’d searched to see where Layla had disappeared to. And I hadn’t found a single hint. It was as if she’d never existed.

Or died.

Over the years, that thought had creeped around in my head, as much as I hoped she was out there somewhere, living a far better life than the one she’d had at the group home.

I’d found out from Google, though, that the campaign model’s name was Blake Shepfield. With a little help from Lincoln’s creepy PI, I’d then found out that Blake had been adopted and was living in New York City all these years…and that she’d had her name legally changed upon adoption—although the P.I. couldn’t find details on what her name used to be.

It explained a lot.

Can’t find someone who doesn’t exist anymore.

Even if I hadn’t been able to find out all that information, I still would’ve known it was her. No one had eyes like that. No one but her.

Her eyes, a mesmerizing shade of deep blue that seemed to fade into violet, were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. They held a depth that seemed to have no end, like the vast expanse of the night sky just before dawn. They were enigmatic pools of mystery, framed by long, dark lashes that accentuated their intensity. When she looked at me, it felt like she was peering into the depths of my soul, and my fear, even as a kid, was that she would find me lacking.

I sat up straighter when I saw her returning my way, glancing frantically over the menu to see if there was anything I would eat. This place was fancy. I’d always felt more comfortable stuffing my face in a hole in the wall than in places like this.

But this was where she was. So this was where I’d be.

“Have you decided what you want? Or do you need more time?” she asked coolly, obviously still not impressed at all with me after my word vomit.

“I’ll have the steak frites,” I told her, inwardly fist pumping at the small glint of amusement I spotted in her gaze as I butchered the word “frites.”

“French fries okay?”

“Do you have Russian ones? I’ve heard those are better.”

She snorted that time, and I knew the wide grin on my face was ridiculous…as was everything coming out of my mouth, but at least she wasn’t mad at me anymore.

“I’m afraid we’re all out of Russian,” she said, now smiling prettily.

“Mmmh. I’ll survive,” I mused, finding myself leaning forward because she was so fucking intoxicating. “Could I have a refill of water, though? I’m parched.”

I hated the idea of her waiting on me, but I’d have to make it up to her later. I had work to do.

“Oh, of course!” she exclaimed, her eyes going wide, like she was alarmed she’d get in trouble. She dashed away and grabbed a water pitcher before hurrying back.

It was hard to keep myself in my seat. I wanted to leap forward, throw her over my shoulder, and get her out of here.

But the plan wouldn’t allow it.

I’d pushed my glass further away, and intentionally didn’t pick it up to make it easier for her to refill it. That made it so she had to lean over the table to pour my water, so I could more easily slip the phone from her pocket I’d seen her looking at a few minutes ago.

Years of pickpocketing as a kid on the streets made it easy.

She didn’t even notice.

“I’ll go put in your order,” Blake murmured, a faint blush to her cheeks, hopefully at how close she’d been to me.

I watched her wistfully as she walked away, and then stared at the phone in my lap. This was actually a much simpler version of the plan I’d come up with. I’d figured I’d have to hire someone to hack into her phone and change things, but little miss sunshine didn’t have a password on her phone. I’d have to talk to her about cyber security at another date.

I scrolled to her contacts, inwardly raging when I saw how many times Clark—the boyfriend I’d found out about from the P.I.—had called and texted today. I blocked his number and then made a new contact with my number that I labeled “Clark.” A second later, I was downloading the tracking app the P.I. had told me about onto her phone. It would also allow me to see any messages she sent or received, as well as her app activity. I blocked Clark in her social media apps for good measure.

There. Perfect. I knew today was going to be a good day. What I’d just done, what I would do to get her…weren’t things I’d seen on my dream board, but hey, you worked with what you had.

Scanning the restaurant, I saw that she was busy with other tables. That gave me some time to do recon on the texts she’d been getting. My girl was mostly a loner besides a roommate and a few model friends she went out with occasionally. Her file had included observations from her modeling agency which noted she was “uncomfortable in the social scene.” The friends she did have were assholes. It was easy to tell, even in texts. That wasn’t going to work.

It was Clark that made me the angriest, though. Homeboy was telling her he loved her on the daily.

Deep breaths, Ari. He’ll be gone soon.

Movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention, and I realized she was almost to the table with my food. I quickly dropped the phone into my lap and shot her what I hoped was a winning smile.

“Here you go,” she said brightly, but it was in that bland way that people used with strangers.

I couldn’t wait to not be a stranger to her anymore. I wanted to be her best friend, her everything.

It was the only ending I could accept.

“How long have you worked here?” I asked as she turned to walk away. I already knew the answer, but I was desperate for her to talk to me.

“Only a few weeks. I just moved here,” she blushed again, and I wasn’t sure why. “It’s a filler job.”

“Trying to get into modeling?” I pretended to guess.

Her blush deepened. “I’m a walking cliché. I know.”

“Normally, that would be the case. But with a face like yours, sunshine…I have no doubt you’ll be one of those supermodels soon enough.”

Her face darkened for a moment…and I wondered, did she even want that?

“Yeah, that would be incredible,” she finally murmured.

But she didn’t sound enthused.

“Well, you know what? I just moved here too. That means we should be BFFs.”

This time, a real smile popped across her face. And she snorted! I gave myself another inward fist pump…because I believed in celebrating victories.

“BFFs, huh?”

“Yes,” I said seriously, nodding my head for emphasis. “I’m a really good BFF. Everyone says so.”

“Oh, so you’re BFFs with everyone, then?”

My eyes widened.

“Well, no,” I stuttered. “I actually only have one BFF right now. But he assures me I’m the best. But I really think I’m up for the task is what I’m saying.” What in the ya hoo was coming out of my fucking mouth right now? I was an embarrassment to all humankind.

“I can’t believe that we’ve said BFF this many times in a row,” she giggled before suddenly stiffening up.

I glanced over to where she was staring and saw a stern faced woman who looked like she ate puppies heading our way.

“I have to get back to work,” Blake said hurriedly before hustling to another one of her tables.

Well, now I was not happy. I had a million more things I wanted to talk to Blake about.

“Mr. Lancaster, I apologize for Ms. Shepfield’s behavior. She will be dealt with,” crooned the uppity woman who I assumed was the manager of the establishment.

“Nothing to deal with, ma’am,” I drawled. “Best service I’ve ever had, actually. You would be a fool to let that one go.” I watched as her face flushed with embarrassment as I emphasized fool.

I stood up and threw some cash down on the table, way more than that fancy meal had cost so my girl would obviously get a great tip too.

“Thanks for dinner,” I muttered, even though I hadn’t actually eaten it. I stalked towards the front of the restaurant, giving Blake one last lingering look as I did so.

She was staring at me too while she poured some asshole’s water who seemed to be mesmerized by the front of her shirt.

It was all I could do to keep dragging myself away.

“I think my waitress dropped her phone,” I told the hostess, handing her the phone I’d stolen and ignoring her “please fuck me now” look as I did it.

“Maximus 5000” aka “Little Ari”, wasn’t interested in anyone else now that she’d been found.

As soon as I got out of the restaurant and was walking down the sidewalk to my car, I texted Lincoln.

Me: I just want you to know that your bff is artistic and smart.

Lincoln: Oh really…

Me: I also have a lot of self control.

Lincoln: Ok, who is this? Who took Ari Lancaster’s phone?

Me: No, I’m serious. Blake was right in front of me and I totally controlled all my impulses. And I was waxing poetic about her. So see…artistic and smart.

Lincoln: I’m afraid to ask this question, but exactly what impulses were you controlling?

Me: Absconding her to a deserted island, of course.

Lincoln: This is how I know you’re not as smart as you think you are, bud.

Me: Scoff. What?!!!!

Lincoln: If given the chance to ‘abscond’ the girl…the answer is always yes.

Me: …

Lincoln: …

Me: I will keep that in mind.

As I got into my car, I imagined doing just that.

I would definitely be keeping that in mind.

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