The Pucking Wrong Number: Chapter 11

MONROE

My cell rang, and I winced when I saw who it was.

“Monroe, darling,’ my boss purred. Crap, I already knew what she was calling about. Clarice was the head of the catering company I worked at, and the only time she deigned to speak to me was when she needed employees.

And I’d already worked every night this week.

“Hey Clarice, what do you need?” I asked, assuming my professional voice.

“I just need one little itsy, bitsy favor from you, dear…”

‘Okay?’

“We got called in last minute to cover some fancy party downtown. Apparently, the other company didn’t have suitable vegan options, so you know it’s one of those parties. It’ll take twice as much staff as usual to cover it, and I’m short. Can you help out?’ She was presenting it like a question, but I knew Clarice well enough to hear the warning in her voice. If I didn’t say yes, I wouldn’t be working for her anymore.

‘Of course. I can be downtown in an hour,’ I responded, feeling like I was going to burst into tears because I was so fucking tired.

‘Make that forty minutes, please,’ she snapped, before rattling off the address like she was doing me a favor.

Clarice hung up without a goodbye. I sighed and hopped off my bed, the weight of the day heavy on my shoulders.

Here we go again…


Forty minutes later, I’d made it downtown, having to use precious funds to catch a cab since there were no buses that could get me there on time.

I walked up the stairs of the back entrance of the hotel, into the familiar scene of a kitchen filled with a whirlwind of activity, with cooks yelling and pans clattering. It was a different kitchen with every gig, but there was always the scent of searing meat mixed with the tang of fresh herbs and spices, creating a mouth-watering aroma that lingered in the air. Despite the chaos, there was a method to the madness, with each of the company’s chefs working in perfect synchronization to create culinary masterpieces that drove guests crazy. It was a symphony of culinary talent, a well-choreographed dance of pots and pans that was nothing short of mesmerizing.

At least it would be if I hadn’t seen it a million freaking times.

I smiled when I saw that Caleb had also been called in. He was my favorite person to work with on the team. Caleb was a huge flirt who somehow succeeded in never making you uncomfortable. He was one of those people I could’ve seen myself actually being friends with, or even dating, if I ever allowed myself anything like that.

Staring at him now, though, he didn’t seem quite as handsome as usual.

I blamed Lincoln’s stupid abs.

‘She dragged you here tonight, too?’ he asked, eyeing me appreciatively.

‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ I moaned in exasperation.

He nodded. “I can’t say I’m mad about it,’ he murmured with a wink. We tied on the violet colored catering aprons over our goofy white button ups and organized the trays.

‘Man, this must be a nice party. They made the garlic crusted crab cakes,” Caleb said appreciatively. I nodded, not caring one way or another how fancy the party was. I just hoped there’d be some leftovers we’d be able to take home with us so I could hold off on grocery shopping, aka ramen shopping, for a couple more days.

A buzz in my back pocket had me reaching for my phone. It was Lincoln.

Lincoln: Wish you were here.

My cheeks flushed with heat as I read those four words, and I couldn’t help but smile to myself. It was like a bolt of electricity running through me, giving me a warmth I couldn’t deny. It was a feeling of excitement, of anticipation, of hope. And just like that, my smile dimmed. Because I knew I was falling for him.

And I knew I’d regret it.

I should meet him in person. Get it over with. Find out once and for all if he was some complete weirdo, and if I needed to lose something that had become so weirdly important to me.

Clarice came hustling into the kitchen, dressed in a glamorous black, floor length gown, stress thick on her brow. ‘What are you all doing standing around?’ she screeched. ‘The guests are arriving. Get out there.”

I picked up the crab cakes and Caleb lifted a pair of pear stuffed gorgonzola pastries–weird sounding, but delicious tasting.

‘Here we go,’ he tossed at me with a wink before we headed into a glamorous ballroom.

I wasn’t usually impressed by fancy things–my mother’s “fancy visitors” had cured me of that when I was young–but my throat caught as I stared around at the glittery surroundings. The marble floors shone like glass, reflecting the sparkling chandeliers above. The room was alive with the sounds of music and chatter, and the air was heavy with the scent of expensive perfumes and colognes.

As I walked through the crowd carrying my tray of food, I was surrounded by a sea of designer gowns and tuxedos. I wasn’t very up on celebrities, but I could tell the attendees were big time, up there on the list of wealthy elite. The atmosphere was electric with excitement, and I couldn’t help but feel…completely out of place.

The tables were draped in crisp white linen, adorned with towering floral arrangements and glittering centerpieces. Other members of the staff floated through the room, offering trays of elaborate hors d’oeuvres and drinks. The champagne flowed freely, and the guests were all smiles and laughter.

As I made my way further into the ballroom, I caught sight of the stage where a band was setting up. When a woman laughed hysterically nearby, already drunk despite the event just starting…I wondered. What was it like to not worry about keeping a roof over your head? Or going to the grocery store and getting whatever you wanted—not that any of these people would be shopping for themselves.

I was being a bit judgy, but I couldn’t help but think about it.

“Ooh, are those crab cakes?” a deep voice called from behind me. I turned around, a blush hitting my cheeks at the gorgeous man in front of me. He was tall, at least 6’3, with wild black hair and piercing green eyes that lazily glanced down my body. He was wearing a very fitted tuxedo that showcased the fact he was seriously built. A tattoo peeked out from his stiff collar.

There was a spark in his eyes, almost like he recognized me, but it disappeared.

“Ok, now I’m wishing I had made the mistake,” he muttered, his gaze catching on my face.

“Pardon?”

He shook his head, like he was shaking himself from a reverie, and he reached out to grab a crab cake. “Delicious,” he purred after he took a bite…but I got the distinct impression that he was talking about something other than crab cakes.

“Enjoying the party?” he asked, cocking his head, still studying me in that unnerving way of his.

“This feels like a trick question.”

He threw his head back and chuckled, the sound of it garnering admiring stares. I couldn’t blame them; it was a good laugh.

“Touché.” He held out his hand. “Ari,” he said, introducing himself.

I tentatively reached out, furtively looking around because this felt like some kind of set up. I’d had men hit on me at these parties from time to time, but I definitely hadn’t had an introduction like this before.

“Monroe,” I murmured.

He nodded, like he’d expected me to say that. That was weird.

“Well, enjoy the night, Monroe. I have a feeling it’ll be one to remember.” There was that smirk again, like he knew a secret I didn’t. He leaned in, his lips brushing my cheek, making my stomach flip a million times, and then he strolled off without another word.

I stood there, my mouth gaping as I stared after him.

“I’m about to have an orgasm,’ Caleb whispered as he appeared at my side. I snorted and raised an eyebrow.

“What? Your cheese wontons just doing it for you?’

“Do you even know who you were talking to?”

“Umm, I think he said his name was Ari?”

“Ari Lancaster. Star defenseman for Dallas. He’s won best defenseman every year since he started. He’s the one who puts on this event. Raising money for poor kids is his thing.”

“Oh,” I murmured, my gaze darting to where he was flirting with a woman whose breasts were each bigger than her head. She resembled a shrew.

Caleb sighed in fake exasperation, used to the fact that I lived under a rock and had no idea who most celebrities were. “I bet we’ll get a big tip at the end of tonight. This is like the event of the year in this city. I think I just saw Ryan Reynolds.”

My eyes widened, because I did know who he was. I had a major crush on his wife.

“You said this was for an underprivileged youth charity?” I asked, staring at the tables set with what I believed were actual gold plates. The money would have gone a lot further if everyone had just donated straight to the charity rather than wasting it on all of this, but I guess that was how these things always went. Or at least all the events our company seemed to help out with.

Before Caleb could answer, he was called away by a vaguely familiar looking woman wrapped in a gorgeous bright yellow gown, gesturing for the tray that Caleb had in his hand.

Thirty more minutes passed, and I was already dragging. The women were being snooty and my ass had been grabbed more times than I could count. Considering the clientele that was here, I felt more like I was serving at a saloon and not some fancy charity event. I was going to have a bruise from how hard the last guy had pinched me. People thought it was weak that women let these things happen, but they must not have ever been desperate. I had no intention of going back to sleeping on a park bench, so as long as nothing went too far…I could handle it.

There were screams and shouts outside suddenly, far more than any other guest had garnered. I glanced towards the front entrance, and a million flashes assaulted my vision, like the paparazzi stationed outside had decided to go with fireworks rather than their cameras.

I was about to turn to head back to the kitchen to get another tray, not particularly caring who was coming in, just wanting the night to be over…when he walked in.

Holy Fuck.

The man standing in the entry, I couldn’t look away.

Tall. Commanding.

Beautiful.

A golden god that the rest of us were destined to worship.

My eyes didn’t know where to focus.

His fitted tuxedo hugged his broad shoulders and lean frame in all the right places.

But it was his golden hair and eyes that truly captured my attention, shining like rays of sunlight in a sea of darkness. Every step he took was like a symphony, commanding the attention of everyone in the room. My cheeks flushed with heat just staring at him.

He was dangerous, reckless, and untamed, his presence so magnetic people flocked to him like moths to a flame. And it wasn’t only his striking good looks and the undeniable charm you could spot fifty feet away that caught you; there was something deeper there, something raw and intangible, lurking right beneath the surface.

I couldn’t help but wonder what lay behind that perfect face, what secrets he might be hiding, what scars he might carry.

He was the kind of man who could change your life in an instant, who could make you feel alive in ways you never thought possible. But he was also the kind of man who would break your heart without even trying, leaving you shattered and alone. And as I watched him walk through the crowd, for the first time since Mama had given me that warning…so long ago…I wished for the chance to have that heartbreak and head down whatever path a man like that would lead me.

His golden hair fell in soft waves around his face, framing his handsome features and making his golden eyes even more striking. Every time a strand fell in his face, he would sweep it away with a casual gesture, his fingers brushing against his forehead in a way that made my heart skip a beat. The way his hair caught the light made it seem like liquid gold, cascading down his features in a way that was both mesmerizing and hypnotic. I found myself wanting to reach out and run my fingers through his hair, to feel the silky texture against my skin. That was obviously impossible, so I contented myself with watching as he moved, his hair shifting and dancing with each step he took.

“Fuckkk mee,” a voice slurred behind me, and then I was fucking spanked on the ass.

My empty tray clattered to the ground, the sound somehow making its way above the music and the din of the crowd.

I stood there shocked, with what felt like a million eyes staring at me, judging me.

“Pick that up, you idiot,” Clarice’s voice snapped, and I turned to see that she was standing there, the face of fury.

I was going to get fired, all because of some asshole…who was currently snickering behind me, totally unaware of the carnage he’d created.

I bent down to pick up the tray.

And suddenly there he was.

The golden god.

My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. He was watching me, his gaze filled with something that resembled shock—over what, I hadn’t the slightest clue.

Up close, his beauty was even more overwhelming. I’d never seen anyone so outrageously…masculine in my life. It was filling the air around me.

Was it hot in here? I quickly averted my gaze back to the tray we were both hovering over. I could be in danger of a heart attack with how fast my heart was suddenly beating at his proximity.

“Let me get that for you,” he murmured…in a very familiar voice.

I was dazed as I stood up without the tray, my gaze focused on the gorgeous man in front of me, taking in his confidence, his charisma, his…everything.

Lincoln.

My stranger.

“Oh, Mr. Daniels. You don’t need to get that. My employee was about to grab it—I’m so sorry for the inconvenience—I promise she’ll be dealt with.” Clarice’s voice floated around us, flustered and annoyed, but it was like we were trapped in our own little bubble, just the two of us.

His gaze slowly danced around my face, like he was memorizing every feature. I hurriedly brushed down my hair, my cheeks flaming even more as I thought about what I looked like right then. My uniform was about the most unflattering thing ever. Clarice didn’t bother with exact sizes, so the white button up was too tight, the buttons stretched across my chest, and the black trousers were at least a size too big, held up by a bulky black belt.

I was sure my hair was a mess. I’d been running around since I’d gotten here.

And there he was. Looking like more than a dream. Because he was so perfect, no one could have dreamed him up.

Disappointment. That’s what I was feeling. Because apparently I’d fallen harder than I thought. If he’d been a normal guy…albeit a guy with hot hair and abs…maybe there would’ve been a chance…for something.

Instead, he had to be a golden god NHL player…probably a star, because a guy like that would be.

I’d told him about my two jobs, and attending a community college…and all along he’d been…this. A celebrity. My cheeks burned with embarrassment. We didn’t exist on the same planet. We didn’t even exist in the same universe.

And after today, now that he’d met me face to face, he wouldn’t want anything to do with me.

And once again…I’d be all alone.

“Monroe!” Clarice snapped, jerking me from the stupor I’d fallen into. It was torture to drag my gaze from his, like he was some kind of drug that had already gotten under my skin. “Let go of Mr. Daniels, right now!”

Shocked, I stared at my hand, which had somehow ended up on his forearm, indeed clutching it like I was desperate to keep him next to me.

Seriously…could this day get any worse? I released my grip, but before I could fully move away, he took my hand, the warm callouses of his palm feeling like an anchor for the storm raging inside me.

“I need to talk to Monroe for a few minutes,” Lincoln said, that sexy rasp sounding even better in person than it had through the phone. He was still staring at me, and I don’t think he’d looked away since he’d walked over here, his hot searing gaze heating my insides beneath thick lashes.

“Well—” Clarice began to object.

He dug in his pocket for a second and practically threw what appeared to be a few hundred dollar bills her way. She grabbed them with her bony hands and stormed away. I was sure I’d hear about this later on. I’d probably be fired over it, actually.

But I couldn’t find it in myself to care.

“Come with me,” he ordered, and like I was a puppet; I followed him eagerly towards an exit. I was vaguely aware of all the stares crashing into my back, but I was lost in the lavender haze of whatever was happening at that moment.


Lincoln

I sent Monroe another text as the limo took me to Ari’s fundraising event. She hadn’t answered the three I’d already sent, but I was hoping I’d hear from her soon.

When this one went unread as well, I tossed the phone onto the leather seat and sat back with a sigh, running my hands through my hair anxiously. My app was down, some kind of bug the company was trying to fix. So I had no way to track where she was tonight…figure out why she wasn’t answering me.

I wished I’d already moved to the next step with her. She was like a scared rabbit, ready to bolt at any second. I’d never taken a date to this event, not wanting to be distracted by a vapid puck bunny on Ari’s big night, but I felt sick at the idea of her not being by my side. Every time I’d attempted to broach the subject of meeting by text and in a call…she’d quickly pushed the conversation off course, clearly avoiding it.

The limo turned the corner, and I groaned at all the paparazzi gathered outside the entrance. I guess I’d be blind for the first part of the night since there were enough photographers gathered there to light up all of Dallas.

At least it was for a good cause.

I’d known Ari for a long time, and he’d still never opened up to me about his childhood. Based on how passionate he was about this charity, and a few other things he’d said over the years, I’d gleaned it wasn’t good.

I didn’t press him too much about it, though. I knew all too well some secrets were best kept in the grave.

Frustrated with the dark direction my thoughts had taken—again—I checked my phone once more and then slid out of the limo, pasting on a plastic smile as I walked the red carpet that had been set up in front of the entrance. There were fans gathered behind the photographers, and they were screaming my name so loudly I was sure I’d have hearing loss because of it. I waved at them, grateful for the security lined up. I loved my fans, but I wasn’t in the mood for the craziness tonight.

The air felt different when I stepped inside–electric, full of promise somehow. I scanned the crowd of celebrities, trying to make out what was different.

“Fashionably late, as usual,” Ari snarked as he came up and clapped me on the shoulder.

“I’m like fifteen minutes late,” I drawled.

He just smirked at me.

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I’m not looking at you in any way,” he answered.

“Okay…” I stared around the room. “Quite the crowd you’ve got here. Any new additions to the list?”

His smirk widened. Creepily, if I was being honest.

“Oh, there’s a couple of unexpected additions.”

“Party crashers? How’d they make it past security?” This event had more security than Fort Knox. Ari had made sure of that after the first year when a group of female streakers had invaded the event, apparently trying to impress the crowd with their…assets.

“Not exactly party crashers,” he hummed, that same weird smile on his face. Before I could say anything else, he strolled away. “Got to go mingle. See you at the table in a bit,” he threw over his shoulder before disappearing into the crowd.

A crash sounded nearby, and I turned towards it, only to see…

Her.

Monroe.

I stood there in total shock for a moment, panicking a little like I needed to run away. But no—this was it—a chance to force a surprise meeting.

I pushed my way towards where she was bending to grab a fallen tray, desperate to get to her before anyone else.

I knelt down to grab the tray…and then she looked at me. And the whole world froze.

Of course, I’d been stealing glimpses of her every day, but being this close to her…

The effect was dizzying.

She was flawless, my every desire in one perfect package.

Up close, I could see she had a light scattering of freckles that peppered her nose and cheeks, and her stunning green eyes, like fresh wands of grass, were staring at me, wide-eyed and wondering.

Her lips were outrageously full and pink, the shape that the women in this room spent thousands on to try and achieve, never coming close to the perfect plumpness that called to me. My cock was on high alert, just staring at them.

You’re mine, something growled inside of me. The room felt like it was a hundred degrees. I was hungry and desperate, needing her with every cell in my body.

She was so damn…pretty.

“Let me get that for you,” I told her, and I saw when it hit her…that she knew me. There was a myriad of complicated emotions floating through her gaze, and I wanted to know every one of them.

She straightened, seeming a bit unsteady as she did so. I grabbed the tray and followed her…because I had no choice. I needed her.

“Oh, Mr. Daniels. You don’t need to get that. My employee was about to grab it—I’m so sorry for the inconvenience—I promise she’ll be dealt with.” A shrill voice assaulted my ear drums, but I ignored it for a moment. I just needed to look at her more, because I knew I’d never get my fill.

Whatever uniform she was wearing was hideous…and yet, she blew every polished and glittering person in this room away with it.

A pretty blush hit her cheeks, and I was desperate to know what had brought it on.

Was she attracted to me? Was she disappointed that I was her mystery guy? It was amazing how this girl could tie me up into a million knots of self-doubt, when I’d never experienced such a thing before.

“Monroe!” the voice snarled again, and I glared at the offending woman, feeling a bit rabid that she would dare talk to my girl like that. “Let go of Mr. Daniels, right now!”

Glancing down, I saw that she’d grabbed onto me, and the rush of possessiveness that gripped me by the balls at that moment…

She tried to move, but I immediately grabbed her hand, desperate to keep her touch.

Desperate.

The word was on replay in my head; it was the only way to describe the fervor that beat like a drum roll in my soul from the second I saw her picture.

“I need to talk to Monroe for a few minutes,” I said, unable to look anywhere but at her gorgeous features.

“Well—” the crone began…

I threw some bills at her, not caring one way or the other how much I’d just given her. I needed more. More time. More everything….

“Come with me,” I asked, although it came out more as an order, because I wasn’t sure I could deal with it if she tried to leave me right now. And that wouldn’t be good for my plans if she saw how over-the-top crazy I was for her.

Already…

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