Fever, p.27
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       Fever, p.27
 

         Part #2 of Breathless series by Maya Banks

  “I feel so guilty,” Bethany said.

  Mia glanced over from where she sat beside Bethany in the limo, her brow furrowed in question.

  Bethany sighed. “I have no idea where Jack is. If he’s dead or alive, hungry or cold. Nothing. And yet I’m going on about my life, going out with girlfriends clubbing. It seems so . . . cold and heartless.”

  Mia reached over and squeezed Bethany’s hand. “Oh honey, you’re anything but cold and heartless. Give yourself a break here. Jack is a grown man. He’s made his decisions, whether they’re good or bad, and you have to accept that. You can’t live his life for him. You can’t make him do the right thing. But what you can do is live your life, be happy and make your own choices free of guilt.”

  Bethany blinked at the other woman, astonished by how much sense Mia made.

  “I’m an idiot.”

  Mia laughed. “First you’re cold and heartless and now you’re an idiot?”

  Bethany breathed a deep sigh. “You’re right. I know you’re right. Jace has been telling me the same thing, only I haven’t been listening. And then you say it and suddenly it makes so much more sense.”

  “That’s because I’m smarter than Jace,” Mia said smugly.

  Bethany grinned, feeling lighter than she had in an entire week. “Thank you for inviting me tonight,” she said, reaching over impulsively to hug Mia.

  Mia hugged her back fiercely. “Thank you for making my brother happy.”

  Bethany drew away, her lips curving ruefully. “I only hope I continue to make him happy. I love him.”

  “And he loves you,” Mia said matter-of-factly. “It’s so plain to see. I’ve never seen him so gaga over a woman. I have to tell you, it’s astonishing to witness!”

  The car pulled to a stop in front of another apartment complex, where four women stood waiting. Mia jumped out, pulling Bethany with her.

  “I’ll make this quick. It’s freezing!” Mia said. “Bethany, I want you to meet my best friends on earth, Caroline, Chessy, Gina and Trish. Guys, this is Jace’s girlfriend, Bethany.”

  “Ah damn it, Mia, break my heart, why don’t you,” Chessy said dramatically.

  Bethany looked at the pretty woman in confusion.

  Mia laughed. “She’s had the hots for Jace forever. It’s slaying her that he’s off the market now.”

  Bethany burst into laughter. “Sorry. Well, not really.”

  The others laughed with her.

  “I wouldn’t be sorry either,” Trish said. “Jace is one fine specimen of a man. You’re a lucky woman, Bethany.”

  “What about Ash?” Gina asked hopefully. “Is he off the market too then?”

  Mia’s eyes widened. “Oh shit. No, no! Bethany is only with Jace.”

  Bethany’s cheeks warmed as she blushed furiously. Obviously they all knew of Jace and Ash’s propensity for having threesomes. Now they thought she was involved with both of them. There was no way in hell she’d ever admit that she’d had sex with both men.

  The other girls’ eyes widened. “Damn,” Caroline breathed. “Jace is going solo now. Wow, Bethany. You must have really rocked his world.”

  “Okay, okay, enough of tormenting Bethany with my brother’s sexual exploits,” Mia groaned. “Let’s get in the car and go have fun!”

  “I’m down with that,” Chessy said. “Caro, is Brandon working tonight?”

  Caroline’s entire face lit up. “Yeah, he said he’d totally take care of us.”

  The others snorted as they piled into the limo.

  “Caroline’s boyfriend works as a bouncer at Vibe,” Mia explained. “They live together now and he’s hugely protective of her and, well, us when we go out. We don’t have to worry about anyone messing with us. Brandon spread the word with the other guys who work there and we’re totally VIP all the way. Whatever we want, we get, and they all look out for us. Gabe had to discuss it with Brandon and sign off before he’d let us all go back.”

  She said the last with a roll of her eyes and the others dissolved into giggles.

  “I want one of those insanely overprotective men,” Chessy drawled. “They’re kind of nice to have in a caveman, knuckles-dragging-the-ground sort of way. And they’re the bomb in bed, so Mia and Caroline tell us.”

  She reached forward, all but pouncing on Bethany. “And now we have you to regale us with how awesome Jace is in the sack. You don’t know the amount of time we’ve spent fantasizing about that particular unknown.”

  “Just please don’t tell us he’s all vanilla and boring,” Gina said with a shudder. “If he’s that, lie to us and let us live in our dream land a little longer.”

  Bethany burst into laughter again.

  “You guys!” Mia hissed. “Give her a break. You’re going to scare her off before we ever get to the club and if she goes home and tells Jace all this shit, he’ll never let her go out with us again!”

  “Throw us a bone at least, girl,” Trish said to Bethany.

  Bethany grinned. “He’s not vanilla or boring.”

  They all groaned.

  “That’s bad. Teasing us with what we’ll never have,” Gina grumbled.

  Bethany relaxed, enjoying something she’d never experienced before. Girlfriends. Friendships. It had always been just her and Jack. She’d never gotten close to anyone and now she wanted this. Camaraderie. A night out with the girls. It was fun.

  When they pulled to a stop in front of the nightclub, the door opened and a gorgeous, Latino-looking man with a goatee and one earring held out his hand to Caroline to help her. He immediately enfolded her in his muscled arms and laid one on her that had the others sighing and whistling.

  “Damn,” Chessy muttered. “I’m one jealous bitch right now.”

  “That must be her boyfriend,” Bethany murmured to Mia.

  Mia smiled. “Yes, that’s Brandon. He’s head over heels for Caro and she’s the same for him.”

  “Ladies,” Brandon said, offering his hand when he’d released Caroline. “Let’s get you inside where it’s warm. You have a table waiting and your own waitress for the night. The boys will be looking out for you and if you have any trouble at all, you see me. I’ll take care of it.”

  “Holy crap,” Bethany whispered. “He gives me the shivers!”

  “Like you don’t get that at home,” Gina grumbled as she took Brandon’s hand.

  They all piled out and Brandon escorted them inside.

  Music vibrated the walls and a cascade of neon and flashing lights nearly hurt Bethany’s eyes. It wasn’t her first time inside a club. She’d met up with a lot of men in her days of meaningless sex. For a moment, the memory robbed her of breath as hurt and shame crowded into her chest.

  The clubs she’d visited hadn’t been as classy as this one. More like seedy bars and places that women like her went to hook up for the night.

  “Hey, what’s wrong?” Mia yelled close to her ear.

  Bethany smiled. “Nothing. Nothing at all.”

  She shook the past from her mind, determined not to let it interfere with tonight’s fun. She was a different person now. She had Jace. Jace, who knew about her past and accepted her anyway. She didn’t have to be that person anymore. She could be who she’d always wanted to be.

  When they got to the table, a smiling waitress immediately appeared and Bethany noticed that two bouncers took position near their table. Brandon hadn’t lied when he said they’d be well taken care of.

  When the waitress got to Mia and Bethany, Bethany put out her hand to Mia.

  “Let’s have a drink. I know you planned to drink water with me but why not have fun?”

  Mia’s expression became troubled. “Are you sure? I don’t mind having sparkling water with you.”

  “I never had problems with alcohol addiction,” Bethany said gently. “I know Jace worries, but he doesn’t have to. I’m not that person anymore. I’m so glad you invited me here with your girls. Let’s have a good time. You said someone will get us home afterward,
right?”

  Mia grinned. “Oh absolutely. Look for Gabe to make an appearance in a few hours. The man is still pissed about the one time I went out with the girls and took a cab home alone, drunk off my ass. He’s cool with me drinking. He just makes sure he’s around to get me home afterward.”

  “Then let’s do it!” Bethany said.

  Mia turned to the waitress. “I want a Cosmo. What do you want, Bethany?”

  “Amaretto sour, please.”

  A few minutes later, the waitress returned with a tray of drinks and Mia held up her glass in a toast. “Drink up, girls. Tonight we’re going to have fun!”

  “And get plastered!” Chessy interjected.

  “I’ll drink to that,” Gina said, holding up her glass.

  Bethany joined in the fun, holding her glass to clink with the others. They all laughed and chugged down their first drink.

  The sweet drink hit Bethany’s tongue and blazed a warm trail into her belly. She put the empty down, surprised when the waitress immediately passed out another round.

  Mia laughed. “She always gets our table when we’re here and she knows we always toast and down the first one immediately, so she double orders for us. She knows us now.”

  “Works for me,” Bethany said, reaching for the next drink.

  “Let’s dance!” Chessy yelled. “The night is young and there are men waiting.”

  “You can be my dance partner,” Mia yelled to Bethany over the music. “Well, you, me and Caro will split off. Brandon would have a kitten if she danced with another guy. The others are on their own.”

  “Sounds good!” Bethany returned.

  They hit the dance floor and Bethany allowed the music to take over. For the space of a few hours, she could forget Jack and her worries. She embraced the newness of having girlfriends and fun and having a wonderful, loving man to go home to at the end of the night.

  She, Mia and Caroline danced in a tight circle, laughing and letting loose. They shimmied up close, teasing the crowd as they bumped and grinded, gyrating in time with the frenetic beat of the music.

  After dancing four songs, they returned to their table, where new drinks were waiting. Brandon was standing there, amusement twinkling in his dark eyes.

  He put his arm around Caroline, pulling her in close to his side. “Babe, I gotta tell you, if you and your girls don’t stop that sexy shit, me and the boys are going to have a hard time pulling the guys off you.”

  Caroline laughed and turned her face up for his kiss.

  “I have rounds to make. I’ll be back later to check in on you.”

  After that, he kissed her and it wasn’t just a simple peck. It was a sexy as sin, tongue-kissing mark of possession. Bethany wasn’t fooled. He’d done it to let anyone watching know that Caroline was his and to keep their hands off. It also helped that the man was built. No one in their right mind would take him on in a bar fight.

  Caroline sighed and her eyes were slightly glazed—the alcohol having nothing to do with the slighty drunk look.

  “He’s amazing,” she yelled to Mia and Bethany.

  “We see that,” Mia teased.

  “Drink up!” Caroline said. “Tina is coming back with more. No alcohol goes to waste here!”

  Mia and Bethany laughed and quickly downed their drinks.

  By the time two hours passed, Bethany was buzzing on alcohol and laughing ridiculously at everything the girls said. They danced more, getting bolder in their shenanigans and occasionally returning to the table to down more drinks.

  The third time they went onto the dance floor, Bethany was definitely drunk. Mia wasn’t in any better shape from what Bethany could ascertain and they were giggling madly as they bumped and swayed, getting more provocative in their movements.

  “I’m so glad Jace isn’t here to see this,” Bethany hollered over the music. “I think he’d kill me!”

  Mia giggled and then her eyes rounded. “Oh shit.”

  “What?”

  “I was about to say that I was glad Gabe hadn’t made it yet either, but, uhm, he’s here.”

  Bethany whirled around and nearly toppled over when the room kept moving after she’d stopped. The heels she’d worn, which at the time seemed a good idea because they were totally sexy with enough lift to make her legs look damn good, suddenly didn’t seem like such a good idea because she damn near tripped and broke her ankle.

  It had felt good to dress up even though she wasn’t going anywhere with Jace. She’d chosen a really kickass sparkly cocktail dress that fit her like a dream and actually gave her the appearance of curves. She was still slim—too slim from too many missed meals and the life she’d led—but ever since she’d met Jace, she’d put on at least ten pounds, five of which had to have been on her boobs. Not that Jace was complaining about the new plumpness to her chest.

  She’d carefully done her makeup, pulled her hair into a loose knot so tendrils floated down her neck and worn huge dangly earrings that she thought looked pretty damn hot.

  It was a far cry from the tattered jeans and threadbare shirts she’d worn for so long. She felt pretty. Actually, she felt . . . gorgeous. Like someone worthy of attention from a man like Jace.

  “Ah, whoops!” Mia said, catching her arm so she didn’t face-plant on the floor. Then they both dissolved into giggles when Gabe’s eyes narrowed as he took in just how tipsy they were.

  “I vote we don’t go over there just yet,” Bethany said. “He, uhm, well . . . he looks kind of intense.”

  “Hell no,” Mia said belligerently. “Let’s give him a show instead.”

  Bethany’s eyes widened as they turned away from Gabe. “Do you think that’s a good idea?”

  Mia laughed. “Oh yeah. Because after? When he drags us home? He’ll be so hot for me that we won’t even make it inside the door of his apartment and he’ll be tearing off my dress. Although he’ll leave the heels on because my man loves me in these heels.”

  Bethany’s mouth fell open as she stared back at Mia’s mischievous smile.

  Mia winked. “Drunk sex is the absolute best. I bet Jace will be the same with you. A tipsy, sexy woman in the heels you’re wearing and in that dress? He’ll be all over you the minute you step back into his apartment.”

  A shiver worked over Bethany’s shoulders. “I’d planned to sober up before we went back home. I didn’t want Jace to know I got drunk. He’d worry and probably disapprove. But if what you’re saying is true . . .”

  Mia bumped into Bethany’s side and threw her arms up in the air. “Oh it’s true,” Mia shouted. “He won’t be able to resist!”

  “In that case, let’s get our drink on some more!” Bethany shouted back.

  “After we give Gabe a show he won’t soon forget,” Mia said with a wink.

  Bethany laughed and the two got into the beat of the music. Caroline joined them a moment later, her face flushed and her eyes sparkling with happiness. The three put on a show that later would mortify Bethany when she thought back on it, but it was so much fun, and she couldn’t remember the last time she’d really let loose and had such a fabulous time.

  When the song ended, Mia grabbed Bethany’s arm and the two fell all over each other getting back to the table where, predictably, the waitress was waiting with another round of drinks.

  Gabe’s lips were twitching in amusement when they teetered up to the table. His eyebrow lifted when both Bethany and Mia reached for their drinks and downed them in two seconds flat.

  “You girls are tying one on tonight,” he observed. His gaze drifted lovingly to Mia. “You going to pass out on me, darling?”

  Mia grinned cheekily and then lifted up on tiptoe to plant a scorching kiss on Gabe’s mouth. Then her mouth slid over his cheek and she murmured something in his ear that had Gabe’s entire body tightening. His jaw clenched and his eyes darkened.

  Bethany’s stomach churned just witnessing his reaction to whatever it was Mia said, and Bethany was convinced it was extremely naughty. Appare
ntly she was absolutely right about this drunk sex thing.

  She waved to the waitress and held up her glass for another.

  Gabe put his arm loosely around Bethany and pulled her close so she could hear him.

  “You okay, sweetheart? How much have you had to drink?”

  She flashed him a bright smile. “I’m fine! And Mia said you were getting us home tonight so I didn’t have to worry about how drunk we got.”

  His arm tightened at her waist. “Damn straight. I’ll be taking you home to Jace, so do what you want. I just want to make sure you can handle it.”

  She smiled again. “You’re sweet.”

  He rolled his eyes. “Sweet isn’t a word I’d use to describe me.”

  No, she supposed it wasn’t. Power emanated from him just the way it did with Jace. There was a glint in his eyes, particularly when he looked at Mia, that just made her shiver from head to toe. Even now when he’d put his arm around Bethany to steady her, he had a lock on Mia’s wrist and he made certain there was little space between them.

  “Just don’t make yourself sick,” he said. “I want you girls to have fun and not to worry about anything else. When you’re ready to go, I’ll get you all home.”

  “Thanks!”

  “Let’s dance again, Bethany!” Mia yelled.

  Gabe groaned. “Got to tell you, baby, that dancing you’re doing? Should be illegal. I’m going to have to beat every man’s ass who’s staring at yours.”

  Mia grinned and then snagged Bethany’s hand, dragging her toward the dance floor again.

  For the next hour, they danced, drank and then danced some more. And then drank again.

  The last time they left the dance floor and got to the table, Bethany knew she couldn’t tolerate another drink. She was fuzzy and completely enveloped in a warm haze. She laughed at everything, whether it was funny or not. Gabe wore a perpetually amused look and Brandon grinned when he checked in on them again.

  “I think I’m done,” Bethany said breathlessly. “But I don’t want to ruin the night for the rest of you.” She stared up at Gabe, who was holding Mia upright. She had her own tight grip on the table, worried that if she let go, she’d hit the floor with a resounding thud.

  “No, I’m ready too,” Mia said. “You ready, baby?” she asked Gabe.

  “Been ready,” he growled.

  She giggled. “We have to get Bethany home first. I imagine Jace is fit to be tied by now.”

  “I texted him,” Gabe said dryly. “He knows what to expect.”

  “Let me go grab the others,” Mia said. “Caro is hanging out until Brandon gets off work.”

  “I’ll call for the car,” Gabe said. “You’re not walking out of here without me. You’ll fall on your faces.”

  Bethany grinned and waited, still holding on to the table, while Mia rounded up the rest of the group.

  “Tonight was fun,” she hollered at Gabe. “Thanks for getting me home. Mia is great.”

  Gabe smiled, his eyes warm and affectionate. “Glad you had fun, Bethany. And yeah, Mia is the best. No problem on getting you home. No way I’d let you go home by yourself. Jace wouldn’t allow it either. If I hadn’t come to get you, he would have.”

  Mia returned a moment later with Chessy, Trish and Gina. They were all as drunk as Mia and Bethany were and giggling like lunatics. Gabe rolled his eyes and then motioned for Brandon.

  Brandon appeared with one of the other bouncers and they guided Chessy, Trish and Gina toward the exit while Gabe put an arm around both Mia and Bethany.

  Bethany teetered and then giggled when Gabe’s arm tightened around her.

  “Jesus, how much did you two drink anyway?”

  Mia looked innocent and then held up her hand, trying to count. After three attempts of staring at her fingers in confusion, she threw up her hand and said, “A lot.”

  “I’m getting that,” Gabe said with a chuckle.

  He guided them out to the waiting car and stood patiently while Brandon and
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