Trashed, p.8
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       Trashed, p.8

         Part #2 of Stripped series by Jasinda Wilder
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“Like I said, it was last minute. ” I take a deep breath. “I should probably get back. ”

  Rose sighs. “I can’t believe him. You can’t just spring a thing like this on a girl. I hope you’re ready, babe. ”

  “Ready?” I swallow hard. “For what?”

  “The attention. You’ve just been put under an international spotlight, Des. There may not be television media here, which is fortunate for you, but it’s still one of the most widely covered events of the year. The photographs from this are going to be in every magazine in the developed world. Especially since Adam came with you instead of Em. ” She shakes her head. “I honestly don’t know what he was thinking. Nothing against you, it’s just—”

  My heart sinks, and my stomach flips. “What?”

  “Well, it’s just that the rumor mill surrounding Adam is kind of rabid. ” She smooths her dress over her hips and glances at me. “Any time he goes anywhere, all the rags make up these speculative stories about what he’s doing and where he’s going and who he’s with. When he and Em broke up, it was the talk of the whole community. It was ugly. Really, really ugly. And every appearance since then has been the subject of a million rumors. Bringing you, to this? Last minute, no explanation? It’s going to start the mill all over again, and anyone connected to the media is going to be looking for you. ”

  “Looking for me?”

  Rose nodded. “And they’ll find you, too. They’re relentless. ”

  I feel faint. “Awesome. ” I steady myself with both hands on the counter. My breath is coming in short gasps. The panic attack I’ve been fending off all night is pounding in my throat and at my temples and in my lungs. “Good thing I’m not a super private person or anything. Jesus. ”

  A small, cool hand touches my back. “Breathe, sweetie. It’ll be fine. They’ll print whatever they want to print, and eventually they’ll lose interest. Just don’t do any interviews, ’kay?”

  “Why would I do an interview? About what?”

  Rose laughs, and this one does sound condescending, but not cruelly so. “Oh, honey. You really have no idea, do you? They’ll want to know every detail about you and Adam. And they’ll offer you money, and book deals, and all sorts of things like that. If you want to remain a private person, don’t answer. Just tell everyone ‘no comment’ and live your life. Eventually someone will come along who actually wants their attention. ”

  A deep voice beyond the door rumbles loudly. “Sorry, Mr. Trenton. Can’t let you in. ”

  I hear Adam’s voice. “You gonna try and stop me, Zach?” Silence, and then the door opens, revealing Adam, with the bodyguard behind him. “Didn’t think so. ” Adam crosses to me, I feel him beside me, feel his hand on my lower back.

  “Hi, Adam. ” Rose’s voice is neutral, careful. “The little boys room is next door, I think. ”

  “What did you say to her, Rose?”

  “Just the truth. ” She passes me and stops in front of Adam. “I’m not sure you did yourself or her any favors, bringing her here, Adam. ”

  “Goddamn it, Rose—”

  “She’s really stunning, though. Even in an off-the-rack dress. ”

  “Don’t be a bitch, Rose,” Adam growls, his voice low and threatening.

  “I’m not!”

  I stand up, push between them, hating how they’re talking about me as if I’m not here. “Adam, stop. It’s fine. She wasn’t being a bitch. ” I let out a wavery breath. “Thanks for the advice, Rose. Adam, let’s just go, okay?”

  I sweep past Adam and Rose and out the door, past Zach the burly bodyguard…right into a gaggle of photographers waiting for me on the other side of the rope.

  They’re less than four feet away from me now, ten of them, and their cameras come up and start clicking, flashing.

  “What’s your name, honey? Can you tell us your name?” The questions come in a sudden burst, variations on a theme. They all want to know my name, and I’m frozen, staring at them, eyes wide, panicking.

  And then Adam is behind me, a hand on my waist, propelling me up the stairs, away from the cameras and the questions without so much as a word to any of them. The event is still going on, but now Gareth is at the podium talking about “a noble cause” or something. Adam guides me away from the dining room and into what seems like a small library, a few tables and plush couches and elegant chairs, bookshelves lining all four walls, and a small bar behind which is a pretty, middle-aged black woman with thin dreadlocks, dressed in hotel livery.

  Page 22


  “Two Labatts,” Adam growls, tossing a twenty-dollar bill on the bar.

  He drags me into a corner of the room, guides me to a seat on a couch, then sits beside me and tucks me against his side. He’s huge and solid and real, and his arm is curled around me, and now everything is crashing down around me, in me, on me. Everything Rose told me, how out of place I felt, how out of place I am.

  A cold bottle is pressed into my hand, and I take a long gulp, breathe, and then take another. Finally, I look at Adam. “Why am I here, Adam? What were you thinking? I don’t belong here. Everyone can tell what a fish out of water I am. ”

  “Fucking Rose. She doesn’t mean to be mean, she just doesn’t have a filter. She says whatever she’s thinking, regardless of whether it’s a good idea or not. ”

  “She was right though. I look as out of place as I feel: cheap. Cheap dress, cheap shoes, cheap makeup. I’m…” I swallow hard and start over. “And she said reporters would come looking for me. What am I supposed to do, Adam? God. And the whole thing with you and Emma Hayes?”

  “We’re not talking about her. ” He says this with a cold note of finality, and then sighs wearily. “The media’s going to speculate regardless. They always have and always will. I don’t care what they say. Just don’t answer them. Don’t look at them. Pretend they don’t exist. ”

  “Easy for you to say. You’re used to it. ”

  “You never get used to it,” he says. “Maybe I didn’t think through what this might mean for you, I guess. I’m sorry. ”

  “Can I go home, now?” I say, only half-joking.

  “I’ll take you back if you want, but…I’m hoping maybe you’ll stay for at least one dance. ”

  “Dance?” I glance at him over the mouth of my beer, which is somehow almost gone already.

  “Yeah. After dessert, which I think they’re serving after Gareth quits running his mouth. ”

  “Maybe one dance. Can’t get all dressed up and not dance, right?”

  He grins at me, and drains his bottle in two long pulls. “Right. ”

  I finish mine as well, and he leads me back into the dining room. I feel the eyes on me, and I try to keep my back straight and my head high. There’s a plate of delicate-looking chocolate mousse waiting for me, and thank god for that. I force myself to take small, demure, lady-like nibbles of it, even though I want to gulp it down greedily.

  Couples and groups are filtering out of the dining room, and Adam leads me with them, his huge warm hand engulfing mine. We make our way to a ballroom, a small, intimate room with a parquet dance floor and a stage surrounded by round tables.

  There’s a string quartet on the stage, all middle-aged men in tuxedos. They’re already playing, and a few couples are dancing. Adam pulls me onto the dance floor, wraps one large hand across the small of my back and tangles the fingers of his other hand through mine, and we’re slow dancing. His body is huge and his pale green eyes are hot and intense and focused entirely on me. Everything falls away, then, except Adam and the music.

  We spin slowly, our bodies pressed close together. I can feel his chest swelling with each breath, the faint tum-tum—tum-tum of his heart beating, and his shoulder is a broad slab under my left hand. I don’t really know how to dance, but this is slow dancing, just easy circles, step, step, step. Around us, a few people are doing more elaborate waltz steps, dips and twirls and things, but Adam seems c
ontent to just step-pivot-step with me. Which is fine. It gives me a chance to catch my breath, to push away the swirling doubts and fears.

  And then I feel Adam stiffen.

  “Can I cut in?” The voice is smooth, boyish.

  A pair of amused, roguish blue eyes meet mine. Dylan Vale wants to dance with me? Gah. Ruthie is going to lose her shit when I tell her this.

  “Piss off, Dylan,” Adam growls.

  Dylan just laughs. “Aw, c’mon Trenton. You can’t keep a gorgeous girl like this to yourself all night, you know. ”

  Adams looks down at me. “Go dance with Rose. ”

  “I have been. ” He winks, making it a lewd insinuation. “It’s just one dance, dude. I’ll give her right back. ”

  Once again, I’m trapped by circumstance, forced to brave when I don’t feel very courageous. “It’s okay, Adam. It would be my pleasure to dance with Dylan. ”

  Adam’s eyes narrow. “Just one. ”

  Dylan slaps Adam on the back companionably. “Loosen up, man. ”

  And then Dylan’s hand is in mine, another on my waist. He’s maybe an inch taller than me, although with my heels on I have a slight edge on him. His blue eyes are speculative, intelligent. He moves gracefully, leading me in faster circles than Adam did. There are a few inches between us, and nothing about his posture or demeanor makes me think this is anything other than a friendly gesture.

  “So. Your name is Des, right?”

  I nod. “Yep. ” I’m not sure where to go with that, conversationally. “And you’re Dylan. ”

  He grins. “That’s me. Seen the show?”

  I shake my head. “No. It’s not really my thing. My roommate raves about it though. ” I let a small smile touch my lips. “Well, more about you than the show, if I’m being honest. ”

  “Not really your thing, huh?” He doesn’t seem insulted, and doesn’t acknowledge my compliment.

  I shrug. “Vampires or whatever, zombies, that kind of thing, no. ”

  He claps a hand to his chest dramatically. “I’m wounded. It’s not vampires or whatever, Des. It’s shapeshifters. Big difference. ”

  I laugh. “Okay, fine. Shapeshifters, then. Still not my thing. Mythical creatures do not interest me. No offense. ”

  “Well, I can’t take too much offense, I suppose. I mean, I’m just a co-creator and lead writer. No big deal. ”

  “I didn’t know that. I thought you just acted in it. ”

  He shakes his head. “Nope. I was a writer before I was an actor. ”

  I can’t help but feel amused. He’s so unlike Adam it’s shocking. Adam seems reticent to talk about work, eager to downplay his success and fame. Dylan, on the other hand, spends the entire dance talking about the show, about how he and Ed Monighan wrote it together and pitched it, and how the studio demanded to see him audition for the lead, over his protests that he wasn’t an actor, of course. It’s not exactly arrogance exuding from Dylan, just…eagerness. Excitement. And it’s a little nerdy. Cute, endearing, and slightly annoying.

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  He’s beautiful, yes, and his eyes are vibrantly blue and he’s lean and toned and breezily confident in the way of a guy who’s always been popular and who’s always had everything come easily to him.

  I find myself much preferring Adam’s enormous, masculine, animalistic intensity, his brawny bulk, and his quiet self-assurance.

  The song ends, and Adam swiftly reclaims his place, and this time his body is hard against mine, almost inappropriately close, and his hand is dangerously low on my back, resting barely an inch above the swell of my buttocks.

  “Fuckin’ pretty boy,” Adam growls. “He’s an ass. ”

  I laugh. “Not really. He’s nice. Cute, and eager. ”

  “Cute and eager, huh?” A smile quirks the corner of his mouth.

  “Did you know he’s the co-creator and lead writer for Shifters?” I try to mimic Dylan’s excited tone.

  Adam laughs out loud. “Yeah. That’s him. ” His eyes are suddenly leaf-green spears of heat. “You ready to get out of here?”

  I nod. “Absolutely. ”

  Something thrills through me at the way Adam ushers me out of the small ballroom, waving goodbye to Rose and Gareth and a few others. He’s eager to be gone, his hand on my back keeps me moving, his big body shielding me from the paparazzi as we board an elevator.

  Chapter 6

  I just can’t handle it anymore. I can’t handle the scrutiny, the whispers. Everyone is talking about her. I shouldn’t have brought her here. She’s too beautiful, too dominating and mysterious a presence, too captivating. The fact that she’s totally oblivious to her hypnotic charm only serves to make her that much more appealing. Gareth was mesmerized. Rose was puzzled and a little jealous, I think. And the reporters? Ravenous. They couldn’t get enough of her.

  So I take her up to the Cupola Bar, find a table in the darkest, most intimate corner of the upper section. There’s a window on our left, looking out over the island. When it’s clear, you can see the bridge in all its splendor from the Cupola Bar, but it’s still bucketing rain, so all we can see is darkness and the occasional flash of lightning.

  Once we have drinks and solitude, I touch her chin with my thumb, turn her face to mine. “You okay, Des?”

  She doesn’t answer right away. When she does, her voice is hesitant. “I guess. It was just…a lot. Sudden, and surprising. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I’m not a public kind of girl, Adam. I’m just not. I wasn’t ready for that. ”

  I sigh. “I’m sorry. I brought you on impulse, and didn’t really think about how it might affect you. ”

  “It’s okay. I survived. ” She pulls her hair over one shoulder, dragging her fingers through it.

  “You more than survived, Des. You killed it. ”

  “Killed it?” She sounds skeptical.

  “Everyone was talking about you. ”

  “It’s not every day you see a six-foot-tall giant of a girl like me. Especially wearing these heels. ” She shrugs a shoulder.

  I lift her chin again. “No, Des, that’s not it. You’re tall, yes, but you’re beautiful. You dominated the room. ”

  She tries to shake her head and look away. “Whatever, Adam. ”

  “Don’t ‘whatever’ me,” I tell her, leaning down.

  Her lips, red and plump, beckon me. She stops breathing, and so do I. I go slow. I give her time to stop me, time to pull away, time to realize what I’m about to do. An exhale of sweet breath past those red lips, and then my mouth is on hers, and I’m tasting her lips, touching my palm to her neck, beneath the coal-black sheaf of her hair, my thumb just beneath her earlobe.

  “Adam…” she breathes, withdraws her lips from mine, but doesn’t pull away entirely.

  I sigh. “Too much?”

  She shakes her head, brushing the tip of her nose against mine. “No. Yes. I mean…” She lets out a breath that’s part sigh and part self-deprecating laugh. “You’re too much, Adam. This. Everything. It’s just too much. ”

  I pull back, take a sip of my drink, and tangle one of my hands in hers. “Explain. ”

  She takes a drink, and then a moment of silence to think. Eventually she lifts a shoulder in a shrug. “I just don’t get you. Or what you want from me. Why I’m here. Why you’re wasting your time with me. I mean, you’re a famous movie star. I’m a trash collector. We have literally zero things in common. ”

  “I’m just a guy, Des. Sure, my job is making movies, and some of them have done all right. Which is awesome. I have fun. I enjoy what I do, and plan to do it for a long time. But…it’s not who I am. I’m not a movie star. I’m just Adam. ” I touch a fingertip to her chin, and she looks at me. “You’re wrong about you and I not having anything in common, though. ”

  She frowns. “Oh yeah? So name one thing. ”

  “I’m attracted to you, and you’re attracte
d to me. ”

  She doesn’t disagree. She just looks at me for a long moment. “Is that enough?”

  “Enough for what?”

  “For…whatever it is you want from me. ”

  I trace a finger behind her ear, down her neck, across the ridge of her shoulder. “And what is it you think I want from you?”

  She shivers under my touch. “I don’t know. That’s what I’m asking. ”

  “I told you yesterday what I want. I thought I made myself pretty damn clear. ” I lean in and touch my lips to the crook of her neck, her shoulder, her throat, and then to the shell of her ear, and I whisper softly. “I want you, Des. All of you. I want you to let me show you how good I can make you feel. I want your skin. I want your mouth. I want your body. I want you. ”

  She closes her eyes and I watch her hands curl into fists in the material of her dress at her thighs. “Yeah, but for how long?”

  “Honest answer? I don’t know. ”

  “An honest answer for an honest answer then,” she says, turning her head so my lips brush across her cheekbone. “I don’t know if I can give you what you want. ”

  “Why not?”

  She shakes her head, as if she doesn’t know how to answer that, or won’t. “Because…I just can’t. I just can’t. I don’t know how. ”

  “I can show you. ”


  “Like this. ” I put my palm to her cheek, tilting her face to mine.

  Page 24


  And once again, I lean in as slowly as I can. My eyes are open, hers are, too. Her eyes are wide and brown and scared, and I wish I knew what this girl has been through to put such fear in her eyes, what she’s endured that has such high, thick walls between herself and the rest of the world. I want to know what’s behind those walls, but I’m not sure how to get past them without spooking her.

  So I kiss her. Gently, slowly. Just lips, at first.

  And this time, she melts. Not all at once, like butter in a microwave, but like a chunk of ice in a cool, shadowy pond: slowly, gradually. She leans into me, a shoulder touching mine, her breasts squishing against my chest, and then her hand is on my shoulder and stealing up to my chin, then to my neck and she cups my skin beneath the hairline and she’s not breathing and neither am I. I circle my arm behind her back and hold her close, and she twists in the booth so she can press closer, and our mouths move, seek, claim. Her tongue slips out first this time, touches my lip, my teeth, and then I’m tasting her tongue and she’s sighing into my mouth.

  I remove my lips from hers and maybe it’s my imagination, but it sounded like she made a little moan at the loss of the kiss.

  “Des…” I breathe her name, a single syllable whispering between our mouths. “Come to my room with me. ”

  I stand up, toss back the last of my drink, and then hold my hand out to her. She stares up at me, and I can see thoughts whirling in her eyes, see desire warring with doubt. Or fear. Or whatever it is that is holding her back. After a long moment, she stands up, taking my hand. We start forward, and then she stops, turns back, and downs her drink. She sets the empty beer bottle down a little hard, with a sigh as she swallows the beer.

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