“Sloane, the Uber will be here in five minutes!” Heather, my best friend and roommate, called from the other room.
“I’ll be right out!” I shouted back as I hastily zipped up my dress and dashed in front of the mirror for my final touch-up.
My eyes widened in surprise at the image staring back at me.
Usually I didn’t wear this much make-up, but because it was Heather’s birthday night out, I was making an exception.
I went for a bronzed smoky eye, which accentuated my large honey-colored eyes framed by thick lashes, and a nude lip.
The chocolate-brown strapless dress I wore had a corset top that hugged my curves lovingly and ended just above mid-thigh.
I pulled my long dark hair into a high sleek ponytail that ended halfway down my back and finished off with killer strappy heels.
Grabbing my clutch, I made it two steps toward the door when the flashback caught me by surprise.
“You’re mine, Lauren,” the hoarse voice grated as he squeezed the life out of my body, making me flail, my body writhing on the cold tiled floor.
“Don’t ever make the mistake of leaving me or you will regret it.”
My hand crept along the cold tiled floor, stretching, reaching, and finally caught the wine opener that had tumbled onto the floor when he threw me against the kitchen counter.
My fingers closed around the handle and with my last breath, I reached up and plunged it into the side of his neck a second before I passed out.
I stumbled against the door as the memory passed. It had been a few months since I’d last had the flashbacks. Sometimes they even came to me as dreams.
I had thought they were finally gone. I wasn’t sure what was triggering them now.
Nine years ago, Lauren Jamieson left home, changed states, and I had my name legally changed so no one could find me.
I was Sloane St. James now. I had no one, no family. Even Heather only knew half of my backstory. She knew I’d run away from home to escape an ex-boyfriend at seventeen.
What she didn’t know was that I’d tried to kill said ex-boyfriend and was now on the run.
Well, I had stopped running since meeting Heather five years ago. She’d advertised for a roommate, and I’d answered the ad.
She accepted cash for rent and my name wasn’t in any documents, which was what I wanted. We’d hit it off from the very beginning and had been living together ever since.
While living with Heather I was able to finally settle down, finish law school like I’d always wanted, and start my internship at Logan, Foster and Kline.
Now I was a junior associate and hopefully on the fast track to becoming partner.
I heard a car horn honk loudly and pushed my thoughts aside as I went to meet Heather at the door.
I pushed through the throng of sweaty, grinding bodies to reach Heather in the middle of the dance floor.
She was in the arms of her new boyfriend Justin, a burly guy with tattoos and a goatee.
Where I was dark, Heather was light, with shoulder-length platinum blonde hair, light blue eyes, and a button nose.
She looked like an angel but had quite the mouth on her when she was riled, which wasn’t often.
“Hey!” I gave a quick wave as I tried to get her attention.
She unwound her arms from Justin and came closer so she could hear me.
“I’m getting out of here. You know I’ve got that big meeting early in the morning,” I told her, trying to be heard over the pulsating music.
She nodded, and I could see her eyes were glazed from the numerous shots she’d consumed that night.
“Thanks for coming, Sloanee,” she slurred, giving me a peck on the cheek and then shimmying back into Justin’s waiting arms.
I gave Justin a little wave, which he returned with a thumbs up, and then headed to the bank of elevators to go down to the lobby.
The club was on the top floor of the Aluxor Hotel, which was the fanciest hotel I’d ever been to and included the best hot spot in town.
It was Heather’s favorite place, but I’d only been here a handful of times since I was usually so busy with work.
I punched the button for the elevator and pulled out my phone to send a request for an Uber. The doors opened and I was relieved to see that the cab was empty.
Having just been crammed on a dance floor with sweaty intoxicated people, I could use the breathing space.
I stepped in and was busy staring down at my phone, so I had to step back quickly as a large body slipped into the car just as the doors closed behind him.
I instinctively looked up and did a double take as I recognized the handsome face that was openly staring at me. Did I say “handsome”? I mean drop-dead-freaking-gorgeous.
I covered my surprise quickly and turned my attention back to my phone, sneaking looks at him from under my lashes while Britney’s “Toxic” filled the space around us.
Suddenly I felt warm, my skin flushing as the song conjured up images in my head: a soundtrack of this moment in time.
“Hello,” he said. His soft voice had a husky rasp to it that made my toes curl.
He wore a fitted white shirt, open at the neck to expose smooth tanned skin underneath and slacks that molded to his hips and thighs.
His coffee-colored hair was slightly mussed, but that, combined with the dark stubble covering his jaw, made him look a bit dangerous and not like the man I had read about in magazines.
The effect his presence alone was having on me was disconcerting, so I decided that given the circumstances, the best course of action was to ignore him.
I continued to swipe through my phone, trying my best to pretend that I didn’t hear him.
But it was a long ride down and the smell of him filled the car, an intoxicating combination of bourbon and teak wood with a touch of mint.
Not strong enough to be cologne. Body wash, maybe. I had to squash the overwhelming urge to breathe him in.
It seemed he would not be deterred.
“I know who you are,” I said, cutting him off and finally putting away my phone to give him my full attention. Effectively falling into his trap.
I watched as his lips lifted, amused that he now had my attention, and that immediately put me on guard. He was cocky. I disliked cocky guys. Immensely.
“Roman Braga. Businessman and playboy. I’m not interested, Braga,” I added.
I knew men like him.
I was not going to be the next notch on his bedpost, even if the gossip magazines swore that he was both devilishly charming and amazing in bed.
I watched as he put a large hand to his chest dramatically.
“You wound me, sweetheart,” he said playfully. “I just wanted to know your name.”
Ah, the charm.
In the close confines of the elevator, I had to look up at him. I guessed his height to be about 6’2 against my 5’5 frame.
“Why?” I asked, ever curious.
He shrugged his broad shoulders, but even as he feigned nonchalance, his eyes told me a different story.
They took in every nuance of my expression, making me very aware that he was totally focused on me. It was a bit unnerving.
“I thought maybe we could get a drink at the lobby bar, get to know each other a little,” he offered casually.
I shook my head quickly.
“Like I said, I’m not interested.”
Those emerald eyes roamed my body, resting on the tops of my breasts that were temptingly displayed thanks to the corset, before sliding to my hips and thighs.
I felt like he was stripping me with his eyes and a shudder passed through me at the thought.
Of course he noticed.
“Everyone’s interested, for the right price,” he said softly.
My jaw dropped and my body went rigid.
Did he think I was a prostitute? Was it the way I was dressed? Fuck him.
The doors opened, and without another word I stormed out into the lobby, ignoring the stares that followed me.
I collected the coat I’d checked in by the door and headed out to the windy street to wait for my Uber.
“Hey, I’m sorry,” Roman said, stepping out into the street to stand next to me as he was shrugging into a long coat. “You totally took my words out of context.”
I flashed him a look of annoyance, making him wince.
“Oh, I doubt that,” I bit out. Pulling my coat tighter around me against the wind, I faced him squarely “Just so we’re clear, I’m not a whore.”
His eyes widened, and then he looked a bit sheepish.
“I never meant for it to come out like that,” he admitted. “You just took me by surprise.”
“Uh-huh.” I looked back out onto the street. Still no Uber. I glanced down at my phone. Five minutes. Shit.
“Look, how about I give you a ride? It’s freezing out here.”
It was then I noticed the heavily tinted black Town Car that was parked directly in front of us with its engine running.
I backed away from the car as if it were a ticking bomb until my back touched the wall.
“I’m not going anywhere with you.” I gave my head a quick shake to emphasize my point.
He made a noise of frustration before changing tactics.
“At least take my number. Call me when you get home so I─”
“Why the hell would I do that?” I asked, cutting him off yet again and getting angrier by the second. There was just something about this guy that set me on edge.
“So I know you got home okay,” he said, putting out his hands in apology. “I didn’t mean to upset you, sweetheart.” His voice had softened.
My Uber showed up at that minute and I breathed a sigh of relief.
“It’s fine, Roman.” I pushed off the wall, opening the door to the Prius and getting in quickly to fight off the chill.
When I looked back out the window, I saw Roman still standing there, watching as the car drove away.
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