Unexpected fate, p.4
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       Unexpected Fate, p.4

         Part #1 of Hope Town series by Harper Sloan
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  He’s silent, so I take that as a sign that it’s safe to bring my attention back to him.

  Big mistake there. His knowing eyes are boring right into mine. The chocolate depths sparkling in a way that makes it clear he has a good idea about where my mind was going.

  “Did you hear what I said, Dani-girl?”

  “Of course I did, Cohen. What, did you think I was standing here daydreaming?” I joke.

  “Well, yeah, that’s exactly what I think. ” His eyes darken and he smirks a devilish grin. “Did you know you talk in your sleep, Dani?” he asks, and I drop my comb.

  Oh, God. Shut up, shut up, shut up. This is not happening. No way.

  “No, I don’t,” I childishly snap.

  “Dani, you do. So, yeah, I do think you were standing there daydreaming. Want to know why?” He uses his booted foot to move his chair so that he’s facing me, and then he leans in so that his face is dangerously close to mine. Even when he’s seated, his head is almost level with my own. Curse my horizontally challenged self. “While you were zoning off into space with your fingers running through my hair, you had this smile on your lips. The same smile you had the other day when you were dreaming. About me, Dani. And don’t deny it, because you don’t moan my name if you’re dreaming about another man. Yes, Dani, you very much do talk in your sleep. ” He smiles again before leaning back and looking down to his phone. “Clean up my neck please, cut the length off the top, and give me a buzz on the sides. Other than that, you’re clear to continue with your thoughts. ”

  I must have been standing there like an idiot because he looks up from his phone, laughs to himself, and, with one tan hand, reaches out and pushes my mouth closed.

  “You’re going to catch flies that way, Dani-girl. One day, maybe you can clue me in on what those dreams are about. ”

  Drives me insane, the control he has over me. There isn’t a single person in the world, other than Cohen, who can turn me into a ridiculously stupid, sputtering fool. My normal confidence disappears. And clearly, he isn’t as oblivious to my feelings as I originally thought.

  How in the hell am I supposed to handle this?

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  Wait a minute. Cohen or not, I’m not going to let him pull my strings when I know he is just doing this to make me feel uncomfortable.

  So, time to call his bluff.

  “Why? You planning on doing something about it?”

  He looks up sharply, clearly not having expected me to actually say something in return since he was going for shock value.

  “Try me,” he demands, his voice thick and even deeper than normal.

  I throw my head back and reach out to run my fingers thought his hair again, just barely suppressing the shivers. Curling my fingers slightly so that I can grab a good hold, I lean in and pull his head back at the same time. With my nose just a hair away from his and our breaths mingling together, I say, “Cohen, you couldn’t handle the truth of my thoughts when it comes to you and we both know it. So how about you let me know when you’re ready for me to clue you in. ” I give his hair a light tug and smile when he swallows loudly and shifts in his seat. “Ready for that trim?” I ask with a wink, and I’m rewarded with his groan.

  I have no idea how I do it, but I manage to get through his cut without coming unglued. I can see Lyn trying to get my attention from across the room. Stella had to leave after she overheard my words to Cohen because her giggles were getting the best of her. Cohen has remained silent the whole time. His eyes though . . . They’re speaking louder than his words ever could.

  They haven’t left my reflection in the mirror since I started. I can feel them every time I shift. When I stopped to go grab another comb after I dropped my fourth one, I felt his gaze follow me across the room to Stella’s station. The few times I stopped cutting to meet his eyes, the heated promise written all over his face almost did me in. I almost just said ‘fuck it’ and climbed on his lap to have a go regardless of the people watching our every move.

  I finish the last buzz of my clippers around his right ear and move to brush all the stray hair off. “All done,” I say softly and unclip his cape.

  He stands, shoving his phone in the back pocket of his jeans, and walks over to stand in front of me. I continue to pretend I’m busy with the cape I just removed, brushing stray hairs off here and there, when his hand comes up, his finger and thumb hitting my chin, and my face is lifted until I have no choice but to look in his eyes.

  “Do not tease me, Dani. It’s not a game you want to play if you don’t intend to follow through. ”

  “I-I wasn’t . . . I wouldn’t,” I stammer.

  “You did, and I have no doubt you’ll have the brilliant idea to do it again. The next time you allude to those dirty thoughts I know you have about me, don’t think for a second that I won’t drag you to the closest bed to show you just how fucking dirty they’ll get. ” He leans close, his scent hitting my nostrils, and I involuntarily inhale deeply, earning me a rumbled chuckle. “What you don’t know, Dani—because contrary to what you think, you don’t know me well enough to assume what having me would really be like. But I promise you this: every little thought that you have had that causes you to moan my name while scissoring those perfect legs back and forth, praying for completion—it would be so much hotter than you could ever imagine. ” He gives me a soft, sweet kiss against my temple that has fire racing from that spot all over my body until it ends in the awareness that I’m pretty sure I just came in my pants.

  “YOU WOULDN’T EVEN BELIEVE IT if you had seen it with your own eyes. ” Lyn laughs and points across her living room at me. “I’m not joking at all, Lila. It was ridiculous. It was even making me hot and he’s my damn brother. Of course it wasn’t him, but the whole sexual chemistry taking over every ounce of space in the whole room. It could have turned on a monk. ” She laughs again and takes a big pull of her wine.

  “I knew you two would be explosive,” Lila jokes.

  “You have no idea, sister. It was out-of-this-world insane. The whole time she was cutting his hair—and ignoring him, I should add—he just kept glaring at her like he wanted to throw her over his shoulder and drag her out of the salon. ”

  “Cohen did that?” Maddi asks in shock.

  “Yup. Swear it. But don’t worry. If you don’t believe me, just wait until that episode airs. I shit you not, Devon was about to have a heart attack. He hit television gold with that right there. ” Lyn takes another swallow and giggles to herself.

  “Ohmigod. Ohmigod! Shit. Lyn! How could you let me act like that when they were filming? How could I forget that? Oh no, oh no. This isn’t good at all. ” I jump off the couch¸ knocking Maddi’s legs off from where she had them resting on the coffee table, and start to pace the room. “Lyn! He’s going to have to see that again. People we know are going to see me saying that to him. ”

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  “So?” she says with confusion.

  “What’s the big deal, Dani? So what? You finally opened your mouth and gave him a little something to think about. You shouldn’t be ashamed about that,” Lila, ever the voice of reason, argues.

  “I shouldn’t be ashamed?! This is Cohen. Your brother, my brother’s best friend, the same Cohen that I’ve been hopelessly in a state of lust over for my whole life!” I scream.

  “Someone is a little dramatic today,” Maddi says with a sigh.

  “I’m not being dramatic! I’m being realistic. What if things get weird?” Things are so going to get weird. The next time I see him, I’m just going to run the other way. It will be safer than trying to act like I’m not completely humiliated. Or that I have completely humiliated him.

  “Realistic would be you shutting the hell up and realizing that maybe, just maybe, my big brother finally has his eyes wide open when it comes to you,” Lila adds.

  I look over at her, catching Lyn nodding emphatically out of the corner of my e
ye. Maddi sighs again and voices her agreement.

  “You all think this way?” I ask the room and get three yeses. “Okay. Say I believe you. Now what?”

  “Easy!” Lyn yells, almost falling out of her seat with her excitement. “Now we make him the one that is craving you. ” She nods to herself like this is the best advice in the world.

  “And how am I supposed to do that?” I ask the know-it-all currently sloshed off Asti.

  “Just leave that to me, Dani. Just leave it all to me. ”

  If I were in my right mind, maybe I would be alarmed here, but because we are on our third bottle of Asti, I have to agree with her and let myself believe this is a brilliant plan.

  Ready or not, Cohen. Ready. Or. Not.

  “This is a stupid idea,” I complain under my breath and look over at Lyn.

  “This isn’t a stupid idea. This is an awesome idea. As sexy as you are, you’ve always been clueless to your own sexuality. You dress the part, look the part, but the second the part is shoved in your face, you start doubting yourself. I get it. Years of trying to get someone’s attention makes you feel like you’re lacking something, but I assure you that isn’t the case. So . . . this will help to bring out some of that confidence. Would I lead you the wrong way here, Dani?” She ends her speech and puts both of her hands on her hips with a huff.

  “Pole dancing, Lyn?”

  “What? It’s technically a gym activity. I did tell you we were coming to the gym. I just didn’t tell you what for. Doesn’t matter. Sway brought it up, and after doing a little research, I found out you get the workout of your life during these classes, so just think about it as a positive-type thing. Even if you can’t open that brilliant mind of yours up and see that I’m right. ”

  “Let’s get this over with. ”

  She gives me a bright smile and pushes herself out of the car. I give myself another pep talk and try to convince myself that this isn’t going to be a mistake. She’s right about one thing: I could always use some more gym time. Tiny or not, I won’t stay firm with all the sweets I eat.

  “Is this even something I’ll be able to do, Lyn? I mean, we all can’t be tall warrior princesses like you and your amazon sister. ” I laugh, but I’m dead serious. I’m five foot two on a good day. The twins tower over me. Always have. They have upper-body strength that could rival a grown man, and mine is more like that of a small child. “I’ll never be able to get off the ground,” I mutter to myself as we walk through the door to the studio.

  The first thing I notice is that it’s really cool in the room. Like, instant nip boner. I bring my arms up to cross around my body and pray that no one sees my headlights beaming. Lyn confidently marches ahead of me and waves to Lila, Maddi, and Stella. I give them a wave of my own and quickly cover myself up. How am I the only one freezing my ass off here?

  “You girls ready to learn some moves?” Lyn asks the group with a huge smile.

  “I’m just here for the workout. Mom says this is an amazing way to keep your body toned in a fun way,” Maddi says with a smile. “Of course she would think that since she used to strip herself. ” She laughs when all three of us look at her in shock.

  “Emmy? Aunt Emmy? Sweet little Emmy who has a husband so protective and possessive of her that he makes my dad look like a choirboy? That Emmy?” I ask, causing her to laugh even harder.

  “Yup. Hard to believe, right? She doesn’t talk much about it, but they have never kept secrets from us. They told us a few years ago when we were getting a lecture about what life choices can do to people. Or better yet, how some choices can lead to bad shit and even worse shit. Whatever. I forget the whole point of it, and when you think about it, it’s what brought Mom and Dad back together, so it’s kind of romantic. ” She waves her hands and turns to walk into the room I’m assuming class will be in.

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  “Did you just call stripping . . . romantic?” Lila giggles after Maddi.

  “Oh shut it, Doc. It really is. I’ll tell you the whole story later, but basically, some stuff went down and Mom got all weird and ran away. Dad found her at a strip club of all places, and when she went to, you know, strip, he jumped on the stage and carried her out of the place over his shoulder. See? It’s romantic. ”

  “Uh, Maddi . . . if you think that’s romantic, I would hate to see what happens when you have someone send you roses. ” Lyn snickers.

  “Roses are boring. And overrated,” Maddi snaps back.

  God, I love my weird friends.

  Twenty minutes later, I hate my weird friends.

  We, of course, were the first to arrive. The room—a long, white rectangle—has ten poles going down a line and all facing the huge, daunting, floor-to-ceiling mirror. After the five of us filed in and were introduced to the instructors, Sarah and Felicia, they asked us to sit tight for a second while they waited for the other ladies who had signed up for the class. Who, of course, were late.

  And now, here we are. After stretching every possible muscle in our bodies, the music still low, Sarah and Felicia got to work on some basic instructions. Instructions my short-as-hell ass was just struggling with.

  “You want me to do what?” I ask Sarah again.

  “Sweetheart, get it out of your head that you can’t do this. It isn’t about upper-body strength so much as it is about core strength. You’re using your arms to pull, but you are pushing off with your feet, all the while using your core to hold. Don’t focus so much on the mechanical stuff. Let your body do the work, and shortly, your mind will follow. ”

  “How is my body supposed to climb this thing again?” I ask, watching Lyn, Lila, and Stella slowly worm their way halfway up their poles. Maddi—the little slut—is already practically hanging from the ceiling. Of course she would be a natural.

  “Watch,” Sarah says and grabs the pole with one hand. Then she reaches up and grabs the pole right above her other hand. She continues to alternate hands until she’s standing on her toes. Then she mimics the movements with her feet. And just like that, the monkey-slash-instructor is in the air. She elegantly lands back on her feet and, with a wave, says, “Now you try. ”

  It takes me a few times, but the next thing I know, I’m halfway up. “Woohoo!” I yell and stupidly remove my hands from the pole. My eyes widen about two seconds before I’m ass to the ground and once again cursing the pole.

  “Next time, don’t get so ballsy,” Maddi laughs from the other side of the room, still twirling and swirling like she was made to be attached to a metal pole.

  Okay, once I am out of my head, it really isn’t so bad. It only takes me a few more times before I feel confident to try something new.

  “Well done, ladies! Now it’s time for the good stuff. ”

  Oh, hell.

  Another ten minutes and I’m having more fun than I ever thought was possible. I’m covered in sweat, but the moves we’ve learned against the pole—and some off the pole—have my body humming with confidence. Okay, Lyn was right. Not that I’ll admit that to her.

  I laugh when I see Lyn twist her body and almost fall off the heels on her feet. After about thirty minutes, we are told to shed the gym shoes for the heels we were asked to bring. Looking straight ahead to the mirror, I have to say that I look hot as hell.

  My body looks tall with my five-inch heels, my legs long, tan, and toned. My gym shorts are looking more like sexy boy shorts at this point since they’ve all but ridden into my vagina. I’m normally not proud of my less-than-spectacular tits, but my small boobs are pushed up with my sports bra, and with the way I’m breathing, those barely-a-B cuppers are heaving like a busty pro. (Okay, so a B cup might be pushing it. ) My cheeks are bright with all the exertion I’ve been putting out, my light-green eyes bright and shining with excitement, and my hair, which was in a long, perfectly stylized ponytail, is now looking more like a messy but sexy up do.

  “All right, ladies. Class is almost over,
so now it’s time for the fun part. Each of you, grab a chair off the far wall. I want you to use that chair and pretend that it’s whoever you need it to be. Work it like you mean it. Roll your hips, pop that ass, and make it mean something. Pole dancing isn’t just a dance of seduction. It’s an art form in how to get a man to crave you like you’re the air he needs to breathe. Like, if he can’t have his hands on you right that second, he is going to die. Make that chair crave you, ladies. ”

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  When she turns and changes the music, I look over and read the name off the iPad screen—Marian Hill’s “Got It. ” The music starts off with the perfect beat to warm my body with. Her sultry and seductive voice feeds my newfound confidence. It isn’t long before I’m lost in the sounds pulsing through the room. I move with ease and ignore the burn in my muscles when I bend over and grab my ankles with my hands, shaking my ass in the air . . . right where the object of my desire’s face would be if he were sitting there.

  With that image fresh in my brain, I end the dance giving it all I have. My hips are rolling and undulating in a feverish nature, so when I catch my refection in the mirror, even I have to admit that it’s hot. Standing up, I run my hands from my neck, over the sides of my tits, and down to my inner thighs.

  The music owns me.

  It isn’t until the song ends and the girls around me start to clap that I remember where I am and stand up quickly.

  “Well done, Dani! I knew you had a little slut in you yet!” Maddi whoops from the corner where she is standing with Stella and Lila, who are giggling.

  “Very good, Dani. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought you weren’t even seeing that chair, right?” Lyn knowingly jokes and throws her arm over my sweaty shoulder.

  I don’t say anything. Not even when Maddi keeps cracking jokes. Stella laughs a few times, but her focus is quickly lost when we walk out of the room and she sees that the gym filled up with hot guys since we went into the class almost two hours ago.

  “Oh my God,” Lila laughs.

  “Uh oh,” Maddi giggles.

  “This is going to be so freaking good,” Lyn chuckles just seconds before my elbow is grabbed and I’m spun around before looking at a very angry Cohen Cage.

  “Shit,” I mutter.

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