Burn, p.19
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       Burn, p.19

         Part #3 of Breathless series by Maya Banks
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  After hearing all about the previous girls’ nights out from Ash, Josie was determined to make sure he enjoyed it every bit as much as Gabe and Jace had on previous occasions. Which meant that she didn’t let him see the dress. Or the shoes. Or, well, anything at all.

  He’d protested the idea of her getting dressed at Mia’s. He’d wanted a teaser of what was to come, but Josie had told him in a firm voice that the effect would be ruined if he saw her beforehand.

  Oh, he’d seen the dress. He’d even seen the shoes. After all he’d gone with her to buy them. It had taken him twenty minutes to convince her to buy them because oh my God, they were ridiculously expensive! Clearly she was in the wrong line of work because that one pair of shoes cost three times as much as one of her paintings sold for. But he hadn’t seen the dress or shoes on her nor had he seen her all made-up for the night out. She packed makeup, her dress and shoes, determined that she’d do her hair and everything over at Mia’s.

  Ash wasn’t happy about it, but he saw her into his car with instructions for the driver to take her to Mia and Gabe’s high-rise apartment in Midtown. She’d waved cheekily with a promise to see him much later.

  When she arrived at Mia’s building, to her surprise she found both Bethany and Mia waiting for her in the lobby. Bethany took one of Josie’s bags while Mia herded them all into the elevator. When they reached the top floor, the elevator opened into a spacious apartment with a beautiful view of the city from the living room windows.

  Gabe met them in the living room and Josie stood back, a little wary of him. He just looked so . . . formidable. Not that she thought he’d hurt her. Or Mia. But he was just this quiet, intimidating guy, and she had only been around him once, so she hadn’t reached a level of comfort with him yet.

  Gabe pulled Mia to him and planted a scorching kiss on her that made Josie’s toes curl. Bethany just smiled and glanced at Josie, a teasing glint in her eyes.

  “I’ll leave you ladies to it,” Gabe said. “The car and driver are waiting out front. Just call down and let the doorman know when you’re ready to leave. Jace will get to the club a little later and make sure you all get home afterward. I’m going to head over to eat dinner with Ash.”

  Mia bestowed a devastating smile on her husband, one that earned her a sultry stare that told Josie Gabe was very much looking forward to later.

  “You need me for anything,” Gabe said as he tipped Mia’s chin up with his fingers, “You call me. I’ll have my cell. You run into any problems, you call.”

  Mia rolled her eyes. “You know I will, Gabe. Besides, Jace will be there, not to mention Brandon and all his bouncer friends. They keep a very close eye on us when we’re at the club.”

  Josie was fast getting lost in this conversation.

  “Brandon is our friend Caroline’s boyfriend. Or rather fiancé since he popped the question recently. That’s what we’re celebrating tonight,” Bethany whispered. “He works at Vibe as a bouncer and he always takes care of us when we’re out getting drunk.”

  Josie nodded.

  Gabe kissed Mia one last time and then he nodded to Bethany and Josie.

  “Have a good time, ladies, but be careful, okay? Stay together at the club. Don’t leave your drinks unattended and if one of you goes to the bathroom, take at least one other person with you.”

  “Gabe!” Mia exclaimed in irritation. “For God’s sake, we aren’t teenagers. We can take care of ourselves already!”

  Gabe chuckled, had the grace to look abashed and then headed toward the elevator.

  The women barely had time to head into the huge bathroom before Mia’s cell phone rang. She heaved a sigh when she looked at who was calling. “For the love of God. He’s not even gone yet and he’s already calling me.”

  Bethany giggled and both she and Josie waited as Mia answered the phone. She said “okay” and then “I love you too,” her voice going soft when she said the last.

  Mia put her phone down on the counter and glanced up at Josie and Bethany. “Gabe ran into Brittany downstairs so he’s sending her up in the elevator now. I’ll go grab her. Bethany, get started on Josie’s hair. She’ll need to put on her dress before we do makeup or she’ll get foundation all over her dress.”

  “We got this,” Bethany said, making a shooing motion with her hands. “Go get Brittany so we can get this evening started.”

  An hour later, the four women rode the elevator down to the lobby and got off, Mia leading the way. Outside, as Gabe had promised, a driver waited to usher them into the waiting limousine.

  When they were all settled, Mia pulled a chilled bottle of champagne from the ice bucket and poured four glasses.

  “Caro’s not with us. She’ll meet us at the club. However, that doesn’t prevent us from having a toast in her honor.”

  Bethany nodded solemnly as she raised her glass.

  Brittany clinked glasses enthusiastically, her green eyes, Ash’s green eyes, sparkled with excitement.

  “Thank you so much for inviting me to come,” Brittany said. “I’ve been doing nothing but working and going back to my apartment. I’m starting to feel my age!”

  Mia sent her a look of horror. “We can’t have that. Spend an evening with us. That’ll fix you right up.”

  Brittany sobered and glanced Josie’s way. “I’m really sorry about my mom and what she said about you. I was so horrified and embarrassed. Even more so because I’ve put up with her for so long. Ash has never let her walk over him and that’s why she hates him so much. But me and my other brothers?”

  She broke off, cringing.

  Josie’s heart went out to her and she reached forward to squeeze her hand. “You have nothing to be sorry for, Britt,” she said, adopting Ash’s pet name for her. Judging by the instant light in her eyes, she liked it. “I’m just so happy you aren’t letting her run over you now.”

  Mia’s nose crinkled in distaste. “Not to offend you, Brittany, but your mother is a bitch. And Ash is such a good guy. I have no idea how he managed it springing from that gene pool.”

  Brittany frowned. “You aren’t offending me, Mia. I, more than anyone, know how much of a bitch my mother is. I don’t know why she’s the way she is. I wish I knew.”

  Bethany’s eyes simmered with sympathy. “I don’t know much, only what Jace has told me and the few times Ash has mentioned his family, but none of it sounds good. Jace worries about him. A lot.”

  “Let’s not talk about them tonight,” Brittany said in a bright voice. “We’re supposed to be having fun, right? This is the first time I can honestly say I’ve looked forward to a night out with the girls.”

  “Agreed,” Josie said. “And I need Mia’s and Bethany’s help because, uhm, obviously Ash is expecting something from this night, and I’m not entirely certain what it is. I don’t want to disappoint him!”

  Mia and Bethany both dissolved into laughter.

  “Oh, we’ll fill you in on all the juicy details,” Mia said smugly. “I had to guide Bethany through her first night out with us, and let’s just say, she had one happy man that night.”

  “You’re killing me,” Brittany muttered. “I have no hot guy to go home to, and I have to say, it’s been way too long since I’ve had anything remotely resembling good sex.”

  Bethany’s lips pinched together in thought. “What about one of Brandon’s friends, Mia? There is a vast array of hotness working at that club. Surely one of them is single.”

  “I’ll sic Caro on it when we get there,” Mia said.

  “I don’t want to come across as desperate!” Brittany protested.

  Bethany shook her head. “Of course not! Caro will fix you up. Maybe introduce you to one of the guys.”

  When they arrived at the club, the door immediately opened, and a pretty, younger woman stuck her head in, a broad smile on her lips. She shoved her hand in before anyone could get out.

  “Look at it!” she squealed. “Isn’t it awesome?”

  Mia pounced on the woman
’s hand and then pulled her so she fell into the car with them.

  “Oh my God, Caro, it’s gorgeous! Brandon did so good!”

  Caro grinned so big that it lit up the inside of the limo. Then she glanced Josie and Brittany’s way and her smile got even bigger.

  “I’m Caroline,” she said, extending her right hand. “You must be Josie and Brittany!”

  “I’m Josie,” Josie said, returning her smile. “And this is Brittany.”

  “Brandon’s waiting so let’s get going,” Caroline said enthusiastically. “He has our table, of course, and tonight we have two waitresses instead of our usual one. We’re expanding, girls! Soon we’ll have the entire club to ourselves on our nights out.”

  “Now there’s an idea,” Mia drawled. “Our own private club. It has a certain ring to it.”

  Bethany snorted as they piled out. “All you’d have to do is tell Gabe you want one and he’d buy it for you.”

  Mia grinned. “This is true.”

  “Chessy, Gina and Trish are already inside waiting at the table,” Caroline explained.

  Then a big, goofy smile attacked her face and Josie glanced up to see what she was looking at.

  A tall, very muscular, very hot guy stood there, smiling indulgently. He had a goatee and he wore an earring in his left ear. It was obvious, judging by the way Caroline looked at him and the way he looked at her, that this had to be Brandon, the bouncer. He certainly looked the part.

  “Ladies,” he greeted. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to your table.”

  “You did awesome, Brandon,” Mia said, patting him on the shoulder. “Caro’s ring is gorgeous!”

  He smiled. “Glad you approve. I wanted her to have the perfect ring. It’s only fair. I get the perfect girl so she gets the perfect ring.”

  “Oh damn,” Brittany muttered. “That’s the most awesome thing I’ve ever heard a guy say.”

  Josie had to agree. It was absolutely sweet.

  Caroline’s cheeks flushed but her eyes shone with love for Brandon. Two weeks ago, seeing this would have made Josie insanely jealous, because Michael would never ever make his feelings known in public. Or private for that matter. But now she had Ash. Ash who had no problem whatsoever with people knowing Josie was his.

  They pushed their way to the front, bypassing the long line of people waiting to get in. Then Brandon led them through the noisy crowd toward a set of tables in the corner of the room just off the dance floor.

  Music reverberated through the air, invading Josie’s blood, pumping along in time with her pulse. Her feet were already hurting, and she knew there was no way in hell she’d dance with these shoes on. She’d probably kill herself. But the shoes were more for Ash’s benefit. He’d actually been quite vocal about his choices when they’d gone shopping. She’d spare her feet for the evening, but when she headed back to Ash’s apartment, they’d go back on.

  When they reached the table, a waitress stood there with a tray full of drinks. Mia smiled and turned to explain to Josie and Brittany.

  “She always brings us two drinks to start the evening. We drink one down immediately after a group toast and then we sip the second until she gets back with more. Bethany and I weren’t sure what your preferences were so we went for girly drinks. Cosmos and amaretto sours. The sours are Bethany’s favorite and one of the few things she can drink to the point of intoxication. If you let the waitress know what you like, she’ll swing by with another round later.”

  “I like Cosmos,” Brittany said over the music.

  “I don’t drink much,” Josie said ruefully. “I’m kind of making an exception for tonight. Ash was so eager for me to go out that I couldn’t disappoint him.”

  Bethany and Mia both laughed.

  “That’s because Gabe and Jace have tortured Ash with all the details of what the man gets out of girls’ night out,” Bethany said with a roll of her eyes.

  “Try an amaretto sour, Josie,” Bethany said, shoving one of the drinks into her hands. “I don’t drink much either, but this one is really good. Sweet and fruity without too much alcohol. I still manage to get wasted on them though.”

  When everyone had their drinks, they gathered in a tight circle as Mia made introductions between Chessy, Gina and Trish and Josie and Brittany. Once they were done, they all held their drinks up.

  “To Caro!” Mia yelled. “And that big ass rock on her finger!”

  “To Caro!” the group chorused.

  They clinked glasses, sloshing the drinks over the rims. Then they gulped them down, chugging until the glasses were empty. The waitress emptied her tray of the second-round drinks and with a smile left the tables to go get refills.

  “Let’s dance!” Caro yelled.

  Josie allowed herself to be pulled toward the dance floor. She liked to dance. Was actually pretty good at it. It had been a while, though. Michael wasn’t into dancing or clubbing. She could shake her ass with the best of them, and tonight was as good a night as any to let loose and have some fun.

  She liked Mia and Bethany’s friends. Brittany did too judging by her big smile and dancing eyes.

  “We have a precedent to follow,” Mia yelled.

  “Oh?” Josie inquired.

  “Yeah,” Bethany interjected. “We get really sexy on the dance floor, make all the men’s tongues hang out, and when whoever’s drawn guy duty for the night gets here, we pull out all the stops and give them, Brandon and the rest of the guys a show they won’t forget.”

  Josie burst into laughter. “Okay, I’m starting to see where Ash is coming from with the girls’ night out thing.”

  Mia’s eyes twinkled merrily. “Oh, Bethany and I will fill you all in after we’ve had a few drinks and are taking a break at the table.”

  That sounded fair enough. Until then? She was going to let her hair down. Just a figure of speech, however. Bethany had spent a lot of time upsweeping Josie’s hair into an “elegant messy bun” as Mia had called it. The result was sexy if Josie had to say so herself.

  Soft tendrils escaped the pins holding the bun in place. Mia had used a lot of eye makeup on her, for that matter a lot of makeup in general, but the effect was stunning. The entire package was pretty awesome. Josie wasn’t vain, but she knew she looked hot tonight.

  Bethany had called her a bronze goddess. The dress Josie had chosen was a bronze/gold color that went perfectly with her hair and skin color. Skintight, strapless and short. There wasn’t much of it there, but it accentuated her legs and then with the four-inch heels she’d chosen? Yeah, her legs looked great.

  The collar really stood out with her hair upswept and the dress being strapless. She’d seen both Bethany and Mia eyeing it on the ride over, a hundred questions brimming in their gazes. Josie wondered how long it would take before they started prying.

  Brandon checked in with them often. He and three other guys Josie surmised were also bouncers. Though one of them looked too . . . Well, she wasn’t sure what he looked, but he wasn’t a bouncer. Of that she was certain. While Brandon and the others were dressed casually in jeans and polo shirts, this other guy was wearing an expensive suit, silk shirt, diamond cuff links that did not look fake.

  The interesting thing was that while Caro had introduced Brittany to the three bouncers who worked with Brandon, the guy in the suit had walked over and asked Brandon to introduce him to Brittany. And now? Brittany and mystery guy were standing off to the side, talking. Brittany had a glow about her that could only mean one thing. The guy was interested.

  Josie nudged Mia and dipped her head in Brittany’s direction. “Who’s that with Brittany?”

  Mia followed her gaze and then frowned as she studied the couple. “No idea, but Brandon will know. I’ll ask.”

  Before Josie could tell her it was okay, Mia gestured for Brandon to come over. He came, Caroline tucked into his side, his fingers splayed possessively over her upper arm.

  “Who’s the guy with Brittany?” Mia asked.

pursed his lips a moment before returning his gaze to Mia and Josie. “His name is Kai Wellington. He owns the club.”

  Josie’s eyes widened. “He owns it? Like the whole thing?”

  Brandon chuckled. “Yeah. He owns several. He’s usually not here that much. He just opened one up in Vegas a few weeks ago and he’s been spending all his time out there.” He glanced down at Caroline and squeezed her closer to him. “He wants me to work out there. Take over security. If I go, I want Caro to go with me.”

  For a moment, Mia looked stricken and Josie’s heart went out to her. Caro was her best friend. But Mia quickly got a grip on her reaction and she smiled broadly.

  “Is that like a promotion or something?”

  “Or something,” Brandon said in amusement.

  “I’m happy for you,” Mia said, but Josie could see that her lower lip trembled.

  Then Mia threw her arms around Caroline and hugged her tightly.

  “I’m happy for both of you,” Mia said in a rush. “Are you excited, Caro?”

  Caroline pulled back from Mia, smiling broadly. “Yeah, I am. I’m so happy for Brandon. He’s worked hard for this and it’s huge that Mr. Wellington trusts him. But I hate to leave the city . . . and you,” she finished unhappily.

  Brandon pulled her back into his arms and then pulled Mia to his other side.

  “Look on the bright side. Your girls’ nights out can be relocated to Vegas. I’ll make sure you’re given VIP treatment from beginning to end. You can plan a couple a year.”

  “I like the way he thinks,” Bethany said, speaking up for the first time.

  “So, Brandon,” Josie said, pulling the attention back to Brittany. “What does Mr. Wellington want with Brittany? Didn’t he ask you to introduce her to him?”

  Brandon glanced sideways again before looking back at the women. His eyes expressed regret. “I can’t really say anything. Mr. Wellington is a very private man. But I’d say he was interested in Brittany. He never took his eyes off her the entire evening.”

  Very interesting. Josie glanced their way again and Brittany hadn’t once taken her eyes off him either. Ash would probably find it interesting as well, although he’d most likely do a complete background check on Kai Wellington.

  “We’ve got some drinking to do,” Caroline said brightly. “The evening’s going to waste and Jace will probably be here at any time. Bethany, he’ll be so disappointed if you aren’t completely shitfaced. He thinks you’re the most adorable drunk ever!”

  Mia burst out laughing and Bethany smiled, though she did reach for her drink.

  “I’ll have the waitress swing by and set you up,” Brandon said. “Break’s over for me. Time to make another pass around the club. If you all want a quieter place to drink and relax, I’ll put you in one of the boxes overlooking the dance floor. There’s a button you can push to silence the music and outside noise.”

  Josie smiled at his understanding. No doubt he thought that Mia and Caroline would want to talk about her impending move and they couldn’t really do that on the floor.

  “That sounds perfect!” Bethany exclaimed. “Can we move there for a bit? I need a break from dancing and standing on my feet, and I’d love a quieter place to drink and talk.”

  “Follow me. I’ll have the waitress round up Chessy and the others. They’re still on the dance floor. She’ll let them know where to find you when they’re done dancing.”

  The women followed Brandon, but Josie motioned them to stop when they got to where Brittany and Kai were standing. She wanted to check in on Brittany and make sure she was comfortable or see if she needed rescuing.

  “Hi,” Josie said, donning a bright smile as she greeted Kai. “I wanted to let Brittany know that we’re going to one of the boxes. Didn’t want her looking for us.”

  Kai’s arm slid around Brittany’s waist, anchoring her to him. Okay then, it would seem the man moved fast. He smiled, and it was a gentle, warm smile, but Josie did not miss the strength in those eyes. This was a powerful, intimidating man. She glanced at Brittany to gauge her reaction.

  “Your concern is admirable,” Kai said in a low voice she almost couldn’t hear over the music. “But I’ll take very good care of Brittany and I’ll escort her to your box myself when she’s ready.”

  “That okay with you?”

  Josie directed the question just to Brittany because so far Kai had done all the talking.

  Brittany smiled and Josie could see no strain or faking it. Her entire face was flushed.

  “I’m fine. Thank you, Josie. I’ll catch up to you and the girls in a minute.”

  “Take your time,” Josie said with a smile.

  “She will,” Kai murmured.

  chapter twenty-four

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