Beauty from Pain, Page 3Georgia Cates
“It’s a vintage dinner. ” Awesome. That tells me everything I need to know.
I grab my makeup bag and begin applying my foundation. The lighting in our bedroom is terrible and the bathroom isn’t much better, but who am I to complain when I’m staying here as a nonpaying guest. Besides, Addison complains enough for both of us. “Can you give me a little more to go on? Like, what’s going to be happening and what I need to wear?”
“It can’t be too formal if it’s hosted by a university, so I think a sundress should be fine. What about that black strapless with the wide white band around the waist? It’s a chameleon and will fit in if this shindig is on the dressier side. Didn’t you bring it?”
I remember hanging it in the closet when we unpacked. “I did. ”
“Ben says the event begins outdoors with hors d’oeuvres where we’ll try the first round of new vintages. When we finish that, we’ll go inside for dinner and have more wine. There’ll probably be a band, so expect some dancing. ”
Eating, drinking, and dancing. Slow dancing. It sounds fun and innocent enough, except I suspect Ben considers me more than a simple guest.
After I finish my hair and makeup, I slip into the black strapless. When Addison comes into our bedroom, she has me make a complete spin and gives me a whistle. “Looking good in the neighborhood. ”
She’s wearing an ivory halter dress I don’t recognize. The ivory against her blond hair and olive skin is gorgeous. “I don’t think I’ve seen this before. ”
“It’s new. I bought it before we left. Think Zac will like it?”
“I think Zac would like you in anything. Or nothing at all. ”
She laughs but knows it’s true. He wants her bad. “I think he likes me. ”
“Being reserved doesn’t suit you, Addie. Of course he likes you. I don’t know how you could question it. He’s been here constantly since we arrived. ”
“I know, but he hasn’t said anything or made a move. ”
“It’s only been three days. Not every guy tries to get you in the sack thirty seconds after you meet. ”
“I know. I guess I’m second-guessing myself because he hasn’t tried. ”
“Watch his reaction when we walk out. You’ll know where his head’s at. ”
The eyes tell it all when Zac sees Addison. He is hot for her. Unfortunately, Ben’s reaction to me is very similar. What the hell am I thinking? It’s a huge mistake for me to attend this event as Ben’s guest wearing this dress, but it’s too late now.
Luck is with me the first half of the night as I’m able to avoid Ben. He’s busy presenting his vintages, but like always, my luck runs out. We finish dinner and he takes my hand to pull me from my chair. “Come dance with me. ”
I smile and follow him onto the dance floor, mostly because I don’t have a reasonable excuse not to. One dance. I can do that.
I glance over at Addison dancing with Zac. She’s giddier than a pig in shit and I’m happy for her. Her relationship luck hasn’t been much better than mine. “She seems to be having a good time. ”
“Zac doesn’t appear too unhappy, either. If I had to guess, I’d bet you and I have officially been dropped for the rest of the night. ”
Shit! That means we’ll be alone when we get back to the apartment. “It’s all right. I still have jet lag. I’ll probably go straight to bed anyway. ”
A young man walks up beside us. “Mr. Donavon, I’m sorry to disturb you, but we’re having trouble finding your merlot. ”
Ben stops swaying, but doesn’t release me from his embrace. “I’m sorry. Who are you?”
“I’m Greg, one of the servers for tonight’s event. ”
Ben looks puzzled. “All of my vintages were stored together. ”
Greg appears apologetic as he shrugs. “We’ve searched everywhere and can’t find it with the others. ”
He releases me. “I’m sure it’s been shuffled around in all the chaos. Will you excuse me for a moment?”
“It’s fine. This is your special night. You need to do whatever it takes to make this successful. ”
He strokes his hand down my arm. “I won’t be gone long. ”
“It’s okay. No hurry. ” Really. Don’t hurry.
I walk to the dinner table feeling a little guilty that I’m relieved by the interruption. I eye Addison and Zac on the dance floor and recognize her signature moves. When they circle around and his back is turned to me, she points to him and mouths, “I’m fucking him tonight. ”
I’ve heard that before and I have no doubt she will. That’s Addison. She’s been on a different continent for all of three days and she’s already found her next hookup. I put my hand in the air to mimic that of a tigress claw and mouth a silent roar.
I’m giggling at her doing the same gesture behind his back when a man’s voice startles me. “Enjoying the wine this evening?”
I look up at the person speaking and I’m not prepared for whom I see. A feather could knock me over. It’s him, the beautiful man from the club.
I didn’t get to study him for long the other night, but he’s even better looking than I remember. He’s tall with broad shoulders, the kind I’d like to run my hands across and glide down his strong arms. His dark hair is unruly in contrast to his businesslike attire, and I wonder if he purposely fixed it that way or if a woman has just finished running her fingers through it. If it is the latter, then damn, what a lucky woman.
He’s dressed in another suit, this one dark platinum with a pinstriped shirt beneath. His coordinating blue and platinum tie makes his azure eyes even more intense.
Did he say something? Wait—he asked if I was enjoying the wine? At least that’s what I think he said. “I am. Very much. ”
He shifts his attention to the glass in front of me. “What are you having?”
Oh, shit. I don’t know what kind of wine it is. There are only two kinds in my book: good or bad. I give it a once-over and decide there’s no reason to pretend I know. “Honestly? I don’t have a damn clue. It’s red and it’s good. That’s all I know. ”
He smiles as he takes the glass from my hand. He lifts it for inspection before tucking it under his nose. “It’s Cabernet Sauvignon. ” He tilts it upward and takes a small sip. “Not bad. ”
Oh, double swoon. His lips are where mine were. Lucky glass. “I’ll have to take your word for it because I know nothing about wine. ”
His brow wrinkles as he looks at me. Damn. His eyes are mesmerizing, the kind you can get lost in with very little effort. “If you don’t know wine, then how did you come to be at a vintage dinner?”
“I’m the guest of one of the students showcasing his vintages. ”
He gestures to my glass of wine he’s still holding. “Is this one your friend’s?”
Is it Ben’s? They’d started running together several glasses ago. “I think so. ”
“It’s good. As for most of the others I’ve tried tonight, I can’t say the same. ”
“I’ll tell Ben you said so. Or perhaps you’d like to. He stepped away, but he should be back any minute. ” I silently pray he won’t return and ruin my conversation with this man I haven’t stopped thinking about since our prior meeting.
He has a crooked grin. “If I recall correctly, I think you owe me a dance. ”
“Yes, I believe I do. ” He reaches for my hand and leads me to the dance floor where the band is playing a fairly decent version of Van Morrison’s “Someone Like You. ” We begin to step with the tempo.
“Everyday and twice on Sunday. ”
He laughs. “What brings a funny Yank like you to Wagga Wagga?”
I glance over his shoulder and see Addison noticing us, so I give her a smile. “My best friend invited me to spend the summer. ”
“Your accent sounds different from the other Americans I�
�ve met. ”
I had taken a lot of flack from Addison over the years about my strong twang. “That’s because I’m from the South,” I explain.
“I like it,” he says. “So, how were you were able to put your life on hold for three months?”
“I needed to step away from my career for a little while so I could clear my head about some decisions I need to make. ”
He peers over my shoulder and an irritated countenance appears on his face. “I have somewhere to be in a few minutes, so I have to cut our dance short, but would you join me for dinner tomorrow night?”
How could I tell this man no? “Yes, I would like that. ”
“I have a meeting tomorrow evening and I expect it to run late. May I send my driver to pick you up around seven?”
He has a driver? “Umm, okay. ”
He takes his phone from his pocket. “Where are you staying?”
It takes a moment for me to recall the unfamiliar address, but he puts it into his phone as I call it off. “452 Stanton Street. ”
“My driver’s name is Daniel and you can expect him to be prompt. ”
“Okay. I’ll be ready. ” As he walks away, I remember we never introduced ourselves. “Wait. I didn’t get your name. ”
He smiles as he walks backwards away from me. “It will be more interesting if you don’t know. See you tomorrow night. ”
More interesting? What the hell is that supposed to mean? He tells me his driver’s name, but not his? That’s weird. I should know his name if I’ve agreed to meet him for dinner.
I’m about to chase him when I feel a warm hand on my arm. “Hey, what are you doing standing out here on the dance floor by yourself?” Ben asks.
“I wasn’t alone. I was dancing with someone, but he had to leave. ” I search for Nameless, but he is already gone. Like a phantom.