Erect nipples are so 2002. Who knew that London in June was more like December in Santa Monica?
“Kate!” Garret, my publicist, calls up ahead as stylish partygoers strut the sidewalk like a runway toward the entrance. Despite the eleven-hour flight, his skin appears flawless. But as I get closer, it’s clear that he’s been freshly airbrushed. He looks down at his phone, his eyes hypnotized by the tiny screen. “Nice nipples.”
“Is it that obvious?” I adjust my siren-red strapless dress once again.
“Let’s just say I saw them before I saw you.”
I quickly shield my chest with my silver-studded clutch, almost envying his seriously loud, but much warmer, black-and-gold silk shirt buttoned up to his collar.
“But don’t worry,” he continues, tucking the distracting device in his pants pocket, “I’m sure some straight man here will love your accessories.”
I let out a small laugh. “I’m here for business, not pleasure.”
“Honey, you design lingerie. You’re in the business of pleasure.” That may be true. But I can’t remember the last time I experienced real pleasure.
Garret ushers me in front of him, and I lead the way inside the gates. “Oh, wait.” He steps off to the side, pulling me with him. “Your zipper’s falling.”
“It is?” I crane my neck. “Crap. I couldn’t get the damn clasp to close.” When I laid eyes on this one-of-a-kind designer piece two weeks ago, I absolutely had to have it. And why let a silly thing like perfect fit stand in my way?
“I got it.” He pulls the fabric tighter, then zips me in. “There. We don’t need the Little Katies making an appearance at the party. Then again, it could be good publicity for Kate Golden Lingerie.” He winks.
“I don’t think so,” I mutter through grit teeth. “It’s bad enough you’ve got me posing in my panties for Lux Magazine, now you want me showing off my goodies too?” Then again, the way sales have been going, maybe I should take him up on his offer.
He gives an innocent shrug. “It was just an idea. And speaking of Lux Magazine, what are the chances we’ll encounter The Nina Savoy?”
The famous editor-in-chief with her platinum, perfectly angled, bobbed hair is usually a no-show among the glitterati crowd. “Slim. I heard she never comes out at her parties. It’s very Jay Gatsby.”
Garret’s gray-blue eyes widen. “Really? How have I never heard this?” He taps his finger on his chin. “What do you think she does while the rest of us drink all her booze?”
I purse my lips that match my dress to a tee. “I don’t know. Probably hangs out in her chandelier-lit, temperature-controlled, three-hundred square foot closet deciding which of us designers live and which of us die.” Yes, that woman has the power to make or break a career.
We turn the corner, finding ourselves on a picturesque stone terrace overlooking a magnificent courtyard, skirted by a palace-like double-grand staircase. Waiters in black ties balance champagne flutes on trays. Also very Jay Gatsby. I do a quick once-over of the crowd milling around. By the looks of it, all of Lux’s style-section models and designers are here, chitchatting throughout the grounds and down into the courtyard with their pinkies raised high.
“This place is killer, right?” Garret asks as we proceed inside through the French doors.
“Gorgeous.” The property is stunning, but I’m more interested in the killer couture. That is until I spot a familiar abstract drip painting. “Do you think that’s a real Jackson Pollock?” I ask, pointing in its direction.
Garret squints. “Looks real to me. What do you think it’s worth?”
I shoot him a cynical glance. “Enough to save my boutique.”
He frowns, knitting his perfectly shaped eyebrows. “Is the investor still coming to the runway show?”
“Potential investor,” I correct. “Yes, and if all goes well, I’ll close the deal before I fly back home. If not, bye-bye boutique.”
“Don’t worry, Kate. As soon as he sees those models in your lacy thongs, he’ll be begging to invest.”
“I hope you’re right.” I sigh. Just the thought of having to close my London store stitches a knot in my stomach.
The temperature seems to rise as we walk through the crowd of voguish rock stars. London fashionites are a bit different than their Los Angeles counterparts. More fabulous hats in the U.K.
A waiter carrying a few filled champagne flutes comes our way. I do my best to make eye contact and get his attention, but he either doesn’t see me or completely ignores me. The alcohol is within arm’s reach and I manage to grab a drink as he passes by.
The sound of ripped seams is closer than desired. “Oh, my God.” My body stiffens, and I press my arms firmly against my sides, waiting for my dress to unravel and fall on the floor.
“What happened?” Garret asks.
I shift my eyes, nodding behind me. “I think the clasp just broke.”
Garret peeks around, returning with a cringe. “Yes, it did.”
My jaw clenches. “Shit.” With my luck, this too-tight dress at this too-snooty fashion party is turning into a serious liability.
“It’s fine, the zipper is fully intact.” He waves a dismissive hand. “No one will even notice.”
I drop my shoulders along with my eager smile. “Ugh. I should probably go.”
“What? Why? We just got here.” Garret whines.
“I’m jet-lagged, my dress is literally falling apart, and I’m just not in a party mood.” I lift my glass. “Cheers,” I say in a tone as bleak as the London sky, then down the whole drink.
He pops his hip, resting his fist on it. “Are you serious? How many times in your life will you get to attend a party at Nina Savoy’s house? At least stay for another drink.” The guy makes a good point. It’s a rare event, even in my crazy, Hollywood-centric world.
“Fine. One more drink. And you’re on zipper watch until I leave here.” I jab my finger into his chest, and it nearly slips against the silky fabric.
He reaches for his phone. “Ooh, can I tweet that? Hashtag zipper watch.”
I narrow my eyes. “Very funny. Grab me a cosmopolitan and I’ll think about letting you tweet my potential wardrobe malfunction.”
“You got a deal, Ms.-Golden-if-you’re-nasty.” He swivels his neck, then glances around the room.
“The bar’s that way.” I point in the opposite direction.
Garret tilts his head. “I wasn’t looking for the bar.”
“You scopin’ out eligible bachelors?” I give him a devilish smirk. Being a wing-woman is much easier than picking up men myself. Maybe it’s because I’m intrigued by so few. For me, it’s all about the guy’s shoes. I’m sick of suede hipster boots, sequined high-tops, and designer dress shoes. I want something unexpected. But not eccentric.
He turns his attention back to the crowd. “I am,” he sings, “and you should too. We’re on vacation.”
“This is not a vacation. It’s work. I cannot get distracted. Plus, I’ve been too nervous to date ever since I went out with that guy who turned out to have a lingerie fetish.”
“Lingerie fetish . . . ? Like he was into you wearing lingerie, or he was into wearing your lingerie?”
I shift my stare, wishing I didn’t have to say, “Yeah, that one.”
“Yikes,” he says. “I’ll get you a drink. Stay here.”
Garret waltzes toward the bar while I survey the black and white backdrop of the room. The crowd and the Pollock are the only decorative pops of color, and the contrast is fabulous. It’s too bad Nina Savoy skipped out on the party. I want to thank her for the invitation and the upcoming spotlight spread for my lingerie line in the magazine. Not to mention, I was hoping to talk her out of making me do the photo shoot myself. When we spoke on the phone last month, she had insisted that I model the lingerie. And when Nina Savoy asks for something, she gets it. The thought of being half naked in a room full of judgy editorial staff makes me want to barf up my airplane peanuts. I constantly have to remind myself that it’s Lux Magazine. They’ll make me look ten years younger and ten pounds lighter. Besides, I’m desperate to keep my brand alive.
Garret returns carrying a pair of classic martinis and hands me one.
“What? No cranberry juice?” I ask, frowning at the glass.
“Sorry, Carrie Bradshaw. They’re only serving clear liquid.”
“Seriously?” I glance around the room, peering right through every stemmed and short glass.
“We wouldn’t want to stain the white sofa or the white rug or the white arm chair or anything else, now would we?” He leans his head side to side, mocking the rule. Garret’s not much for rules, but I am. I totally get why she would want to protect her upholstered, white antique bench from an appalling red-wine stain. I shrug and sip my dirty martini. It may not be a cosmo but it’s a damn good cocktail. I let out a long exhale, feeling my body relax and loosen. Drinking on an empty stomach will do that.
Garret and I stand quietly watching waify models strut in backless dresses and men swagger in tightly tailored suits. One guy even sports a glistening diamond tarantula brooch on his lapel. And then I spy something less couture but just as appealing. Or should I say someone . . .
The guy looks less like he stepped off the catwalk and more like he walked off the set of Rebel Without A Cause, the twenty-first century remake. Definitely has that James Dean, bad-boy thing going, with dark hair that curls around the back of his ears and just a hint of a beard. He leans against the bar, sipping from a short glass of some clear liquor. And just when my nipples had settled, his brown eyes glance my way and they’re hard again. I want to turn my head, pretend that I’m not totally eye fondling him from afar. But it’s as if he’s caught me in a trance. I’m breathless and can’t escape until he lets me go.
The mystery man lifts his glass, sending me a nod. I return the gesture. His mouth draws up in a suggestive smirk, while those rich-colored eyes penetrate more deeply into me. And for a moment, I imagine what it might feel like if he . . .
Garret gasps, pointing across the room. “Oh, my God, is that Miranda Kerr?”
I snap out of it and force myself to follow Garrett’s gaze. I lift up on my toes, peering through the crowd. With my heels, I’m barely five seven. Then I spot the woman he’s eye-stalking. “No, that’s not her.”
“Damn!” He snaps his fingers.
I turn back toward the bar, but my modern James Dean has disappeared. Where did he go? He isn’t like anyone else in the room. Or, I’m so tired that I made him up.
Then, a strong hand slips right above my hip as my dress tightens around my bust.
“Is that better?” A deep British voice vibrates next to my ear.
I whip around with a gasp, my martini swishing from my glass, over the rim, and spilling down onto the stranger’s black jeans. Oh. My. God.
“I’m so sorry!” I say, dropping to my knees and pulling a silk handkerchief from my clutch. He’s soaked from his zipper to his muscular thigh. Awkwardly, I dab my hankie against his pants.
“It’s all right,” the guy says.
“No, I’m so embarrassed.” I shake my head, keeping up the cleaning routine until I realize that I am blotting more than just his wet jeans with my hankie. And right smack in front of the London glitterati too. A prickling heat crawls up my cheeks, probably turning fifty shades pinker as his dark denim bulges more, growing stiff. If I keep it up any longer, he’ll bust out of his zipper too. I freeze for a moment, then ball up the damp silk in my hand and jump to my feet, meeting eyes with my leather-jacket-wearing James Dean wannabe. I can’t think of a more embarrassing way to meet the hottest guy I’ve seen in . . . well, ages. Will he think I’m crazy if I run out of the room screaming and flailing my arms in the air?
“I am so sorry,” I say.
He brushes his pants with a stiff hand. “It’s fine. I shouldn’t have startled you like that, but your dress looked like it was about to hit the floor.”
I gaze at his curled upper lip. Five minutes with his sexy mouth and my dress will absolutely hit the floor.
Garret nudges my back. “Kate, introduce yourself,” he says out of the side of his mouth.
I tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ear. “I’m Kate.” I balance my hand in the tantalizing air between us. When his skin touches mine, a surge of electricity circuits up my arm, across my chest, and down below my waist.
“I’m Drew.” He lifts my hand to his lips. His breath excites my skin just before he kisses my hand. And it’s not one of those polite English gentleman kisses. It’s sensual. Erotic. His mouth parts slightly, leaving behind an invisible mark.
“Pleasure to meet you,” I say. “And sorry again for the spill.”
Drew grins. “The pleasure’s all mine. And don’t worry about getting me all wet. Maybe one day I can return the favor.”
Garret covers his mouth, choking on his martini. A little liquor dribbling down his chin. I almost forgot he’s still here.
“This is my friend, Garret,” I say with a tight-lipped smile.
“Hi.” Garret flutters his fingers in a wave, then grabs on to my arm. “Kate, can I speak with you for a moment?”
I keep up my phony grin. “What is it, Garret?”
“It’ll just take a sec!” My friend shows off his freshly whitened teeth. “Would you excuse us for a second?”
Drew nods. “Sure.”
Garret tugs me along with him and I trot close behind in my stilettoes. When we’re out of Drew’s earshot, he turns to me with a wide-eyed glare. “Look, I know you said that this isn’t a vacation, but there’s no way that guy has a weird lingerie fetish. He is bad-boy gorgeous, and if you don’t take him home, I’m going to try.” He holds my hands in his, pleading with me.
“He’s hot but I’m not taking him home with me,” I say in a hushed tone, even though my body wants him in my bed. I have a rule about one-night stands. I don’t do them because I think they’re tacky, not sexy. Besides, how good can sex be with someone you don’t know?
“Kate, honey, I love that you’re such a good girl but these last few months you’ve been stiffer than the hard-on you just gave him. You have got to loosen up. Look,” Garret nods toward Drew. “He’s still staring at you.”
I glance over my shoulder. Drew is patiently waiting in the same spot I had left him. There are at least five glossy cover models surrounding us but Drew stares at me like I’m the sexiest woman in the room, or rather the only woman in the room. And I like it. “He is gorgeous,” I say, giving in a little more.
“Exactly. Go over there, graze Little Katies on his arm, and if he asks you to go somewhere private, at least consider it. You don’t want to die with any regrets,” he says.
I shoot him a caustic look. “I’m starting to regret this conversation.”
Garret laughs. “Ha! No, you’re not. Now get your sexy little tush over there so we have something to gush about later.”
I tilt my chin forward as I turn away. “Fine.” Garret gives me a light swat on my booty, sending me back over to Drew.
The truth is I want to do exactly what Garret’s suggesting but not because I need to loosen up. Because being close to Drew makes me feel like I’m already lying naked in the sheets, every inch of me wants every inch of him. My body’s never reacted to a stranger like this before. It’s like not knowing how thirsty you are until someone offers you a drink.
I may consider myself somewhat confident in business but I’ve never been bold in the bedroom. Maybe it’s his leather jacket or his five o’clock shadow, but something about Drew makes me want to toss the rulebook over the Tower Bridge.
I smile, batting my eyelashes as I approach him. “Sorry about that.”
Drew holds a steady gaze. “No problem.”
Another champagne waiter passes by, this time noticing me. I grab one, swapping it out for my now-empty martini, and suck down half the flute in seconds. If I’m going to consider what Garret said, I’ll need some liquid courage.
“Wow, you must be thirsty.” His eyes bulge.
“Yeah,” I say, catching my breath. “I didn’t realize how parched I was until I saw you—I mean saw this . . . glass of champagne.” I hold up the flute, pretending to be mesmerized by the bubbles floating near the surface when I really want to face palm myself for that stupid slipup.
He lets out a small laugh and sips his drink, keeping those mysterious eyes intently fixed on me—like he’s undressing me in his mind, in every way a person can be stripped. Like he can see right through me. A shiver runs up my spine and I quickly down the rest of the champagne.
“You from the States then?” Drew asks in a low tone.
I nod. “Yeah, I just flew in from L.A.”
“You’re a long way from home.” He smirks.
Being five thousand miles from home is one thing, but being close to him pushes me way out of my usual element. I glance down at his shoes—roughed-up designer combat boots. That’s unexpected. I like it. “Yeah. What about you?”
“I’m what you’d call a Londoner.”
My brows knit together. “I’m sorry, did you say Londonaire?”
His smile reaches his eyes as he laughs. “No, London-ER,” he pronounces with a hard American accent.
I giggle. “Ah, Londoner. Got it. Thought you were American when you said it. You an actor?”
He shakes his head with a twisted expression. “No, not at all.”
“Model?” I ask.
“Nope. Why, are you a model? A Hollywood actress?” he jokes.
I raise my brows, shifting my jaw. “Definitely not.” And I can’t remember the last time someone asked me that. Probably because my business is my husband and we like to stay in and work on evenings and weekends.
Drew leans in, his lips nearly touching the edges of my earlobes. “So, what are you then?” he whispers.
My empty glass trembles in my hand as I inhale his spicy, intoxicating cologne. Can he hear the sound of my racing heart like I can? “I’m a . . . I’m just Kate.”
Just Kate? What the hell does that even mean? I usually can’t wait to gush about my company and designs. But Drew pops into my life and my usual small talk goes out the window.
He pulls back with a slight sparkle reflecting in his leather-brown eyes. “I like that answer. Why define ourselves by our jobs or last names when we can just be Kate and Drew?”
Kate and Drew? I don’t hate it. I also don’t hate how he can strip me down with one look. Though I can imagine him with his boxer briefs around his ankles, I don’t know if I have him pegged.
He gestures toward the stairs with a nod and a confident stance. “You wanna get away from this lot?”
I glance around the room for Garret, chewing my bottom lip. “Sure. What did you have in mind?”
He raises his brows as if surprised. “I know a place upstairs. No one will bother us.”
“Upstairs? Here?” I ask, wondering if this guy is the good kind of trouble or the bad kind. I’m really not looking to be bad in Nina Savoy’s house.
“Oh, yeah. I know a place. It’s totally fine.”
Who is this guy? “Um, okay. I guess we can check it out.”
Drew shoots me a wry look. “Really?”
“Yeah . . .” I say. It’s as if he doesn’t believe I’ll actually go upstairs with him.
“Okay.” He smirks and gulps down what’s left of his cocktail. “That’s a nice surprise.”
“What does that mean?” I tilt my head. It’s not as weird as a lingerie fetish but it’s an odd thing to say.
“Because girls like you don’t really go for guys like me,” he says, and I can’t imagine any woman in her right mind not wanting to go upstairs with him.
“Girls like me? You don’t know anything about me.”
“Maybe not, but I bet you’ve never fooled around with a guy you met an hour earlier.”
I swallow hard. What is he? Psychic? “Why does that matter?”
“It doesn’t. Not to me.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter to me either.” And as soon as the words leave my mouth, it does matter. But I can’t figure out if that’s because of him or because of me.
“Okay, then.” He extends his hand. “Come with me, Kate.” He says my name as if he’s swirling the syllables in his mouth like a good sip of wine. Then he takes my hand, tucking it safely in his like a delicate piece of lace. My hesitation seems to melt with every step we take up the steep staircase. And now I’m sure that my dress is coming off. Tonight. At Nina Savoy’s house. With a guy I just met.
The long, well-lit hallway is vacant and all the doors closed. We turn the corner with only one final, closed door at the end. “This is it,” he says, wrapping his fingers around the silver doorknob. “Are you ready?”
The answer must be no because the next thing out of my mouth is, “Is there a bathroom I can use first?” Because bathrooms are super sexy . . .
He cocks his head looking like he wants to laugh at me, then points down the hall. “Around the corner. The second door on the left.”
“Thanks. I’ll be right back.”
“If you say so,” he says, pushing open the door. A dim light radiates from the room and he disappears inside, shutting the door behind him.
If I say so? Is that some kind of reverse psychology? Well, it worked because now I’m definitely coming back.
I hurry around the corner, adjusting my dress but thinking it’s a futile pursuit. Nina Savoy’s hall bathroom is easily bigger than my master bathroom with its sunken tub surrounded by black-and-white-swirled marble and matching sink, beautiful recessed lighting, and a huge diamond-patterned beveled window. I check out my dress in the full-wall mirror behind the tub, then my clutch vibrates on the marble vanity top. A familiar tune sounds from inside. I pull out my phone. It’s Beau, my best friend since first grade. I ignore her call, but then my phone alerts me to her four missed calls from the last twenty minutes.
“Shit,” I mutter, swiping the screen.
“Thank God, Kate.” Beau’s voice is thick and cracks around my name.
My heart plunks into my stomach. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s Martino,” Beau sobs. “He posted a photo with some girl on Instagram. And it was not his sister. I texted him—Nice photo. Are we seeing other people now?—and he texted back saying he’s been so lonely since I left Italy, that someone had to keep him warm. What the hell kind of response is that? I thought we were in love. I was gonna fly back in like ten days.”
Beau has a fetish for unavailable foreign men. She claims that each one of them is the love of her life. I’ve heard “He’s The One” at least sixteen times in the past seven years. But despite the string of heartbreaks it’s caused her, she never seems to grow tired of putting herself out there over and over and over again. I want to tell her to grow up, get it together. But she’s my oldest and dearest friend. Not to mention the most loyal. She’s always on my side and so I choose to always be on hers.
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry. You know how those European guys are. They’re players.” And I’m literally about to fool around with my own European player. “Remember Franco, and Milos, and Isak?” How do I remember their names? “You should protect your heart. Save it for someone who’s really worthy.” While I give this sage advice, I can’t help but think that no one is really worth a broken heart.
“But I thought he was worthy. I thought he was the love of my life.” She lets out a long, dreamy sigh. “The way he made love to me that night in Manarola, I knew he was my sex soul mate.” A handful of men she’s been with have won the title of sex soul mate. I don’t believe in soul mates but I do believe in chemistry. And I need to go back to that room with Drew and find out how explosive our chemistry really is.
I sigh, slouching my shoulders and leaning my hip against the bathroom sink. “I know you did. I’m so sorry, Beau. If I could make this better by bringing you animal-style fries from In-N-Out I would, but I can’t. And I really have to go. I’m at this party—”
“Kate, I really need you right now. I feel so lost.”
I take a deep breath and glance at my sad expression in the mirror. “Okay, I’m here.” I slip out of the bathroom with the phone glued to my ear, consoling Beau as I trek down the stairs, making my way outside. Chemistry with some guy isn’t nearly as important as Beau’s broken heart. And if it is, I guess I’ll never know now, which is probably for the best.