More than want you, p.17
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       More Than Want You, p.17
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         Part #1 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black

  Sometimes, I hate it when I’m right. Mr. Zhang didn’t like any of the properties I showed him on Maui. Too remote. Too relaxed. He’s looking for a party palace. Why else would he have agreed to drop four million this afternoon on an oceanfront penthouse with decor that makes a French bordello look sedate? But after island-hopping to Oahu yesterday, my pal from China finally fell in real estate love in Honolulu. I submitted the offer earlier today. For hours, we waited for the seller’s response in a bar, during which the banker got utterly shitfaced and loud. I nearly kissed the bartender when the seller accepted our terms. Afterward, we took the chopper back to Maui, and I put Zhang in a taxi back to his hotel.

  I’m finally heading home.

  Now that I’ve got some quiet, I wonder if Keeley missed me last night. I tried to call her, but it was late and she didn’t pick up. She texted about eight this morning to say she’d slept through my call because the spa exhausted her, and if they plucked one more thing on her body, she might punch someone. With a laugh, I told her if she was going to get into a girl fight to roll video for me because that turns me on. Keeley replied by snapping a pic of herself performing an obscene finger gesture. We may not have much in common, but I love her sense of humor.

  By the time I pull up in front of my condo, I feel as if I haven’t seen her in two weeks. Anxiously, I call the spa. When the receptionist answers, I cut the engine. “Hi, this is Maxon Reed. Is Keeley Kent finished with her appointments?”

  “Almost, sir. She should be ready to check out in the next ten minutes.”

  Which will give me just enough time to walk over there and pay her bill. Convenient. But my cynical smirk dims. Truth is, I’m really eager to see exactly what they’ve done to Keeley. She’s a gorgeous girl in my eyes. I hope if they’ve transformed her, they’ve merely enhanced her beauty, not changed her entirely.

  “I’ll be right there.”

  The afternoon is quickly becoming evening as I walk the winding garden path past the main pool, then between a few buildings on the far side of the property. Behind buildings three and five, I spot the spa.

  As I push my way past the front door, I enter a cool oasis of calm music, tropical tranquility, and dim lighting. The receptionist behind the counter smiles. I wonder how she sits there all day and listens to the waterfall without having to pee constantly. Not my issue, thankfully. She wears the usual severe bun that signals her efficiency and kills all hint of sexiness. As she rises in greeting, I see she’s wearing head-to-toe black, like everyone else in this place. I’ve seen livelier outfits at a funeral. Is management intending to send a message to patrons with their color scheme?

  “Hello, Mr. Reed.”

  What’s her name? Ashley? Annie? Avery? Something like that. I make small talk with her when I come here for the occasional massage, so I should probably know. She often flirts. I suspect she’d do me if I asked, but I’m not interested today. I’m beginning to wonder if I ever will be again. “Hi. If you’ve got the bill ready, I’ll settle it and wait for Keeley.”

  “Of course.” Whatever her name is clicks around her computer. The nearby printer spits out a long list of treatments. She glances it over, then hands it to me with a grin I’m sure she intends to be professional but looks slightly manic.

  Uh oh. Two full days of spa services is going to cost me a fortune.

  I glance down at the total and try not to choke. Yep, expensive, as usual. I could feed an entire village in a third-world country for a year on this amount. At least the Ritz is consistent.

  Grabbing a pen, I add gratuity and sign, then sink into a nearby chair to wait. They need to hurry this show up. I’m eager to clap eyes on Keeley. I’m sure she’s going to look great. But right now, I just want to be with her.

  I missed her more than I thought I could.

  I’m glancing at my phone and scrolling through Facebook. One of Griff’s ads comes up in my feed. I tamp down my annoyance and look through analytical eyes. Griff obviously wrote the text because the verbiage sounds exactly like him. Overall, it’s good. I’ve already toured the property he’s pushing and the post makes even me want to see this place. I wish again that I had his knack for making the emotional connection with buyers and sellers. Keeley was onto something when she helped me to better understand the Stowe heirs. I need to think more like that, about people. With emotion.

  Even if the concept usually gives me hives.


  Keeley. I recognize her voice. I jump to my feet, pocketing my phone, then turn to face her. And I freeze.

  Oh. My. God.

  The woman has haunted me since I last saw her. But this version of her is fucking glamorous. Polished. Poised. Perfect. I recognize the pale green suit that hugs her body perfectly, along with the cheetah pumps she’s wearing. Yeah, it’s definitely Keeley. So much about her now is lovely and familiar, but the trappings are all different and mind blowing.

  Her hair is shorter than when she sported pink tresses. The loose, beachy curls now hang just over the tops of her shoulders. But the current color is what has my eyes popping out most. “Red?”

  Not just any red. A dark, rich russet. The color looks absolutely stunning on her. It sets off her pearlescent skin. It frames eyes that now look so intensely blue I wonder if I could drown in them. The words running through my head are awfully fucking poetic, especially since my tongue is utterly tied over this woman.

  She. Is. Beyond. Beautiful.

  “It’s actually my natural color. Do you hate it?”

  “No,” I breathe. I feel a lot of things, especially below my belt buckle, but hate isn’t on the list.

  “Good.” She smiles uncomfortably as she shifts her weight from one foot to the other and bites her lip. “So…”

  “You look amazing.” I’m finally able to pull my head out of my ass long enough to set her at ease.

  She gives me a blinding smile. “Whew! If you didn’t like it, my spa adventure would be a huge waste of time and money.”

  “Not at all.” I hold out my hand to her. A jolt that feels a lot like the first time we touched—but stronger—races through my body. “Not even a little. Wow. I can’t stop staring at you.”

  A flush crawls up her skin. She looks away, but not before I can see how much my compliments have pleased her.

  The spa has done an amazing job of bringing out her natural beauty. The best part is that she looks put together without looking made-up. I believe she could be a corporate powerhouse, but no one would ever mistake her for anything less than a woman. Even the way the technicians applied her cosmetics is subtle and perfectly suited to her skin.

  The receptionist barges into our moment by handing Keeley a sizable, sturdy bag. “Here are your purchases, Ms. Kent.”

  “Thanks.” Keeley looks grateful for something to focus on beside me eating her up with my stare. Then she risks a glance my way. “If I have to recreate this look, I need the things in this bag. A shampoo that will keep my color vibrant. A moisturizer…” She pulls it out and holds it up. “This will help my new foundation lay flawlessly on my skin.” She withdraws the little bottle of liquid pigment, too. “And I don’t have any eye shadows or blushes like this in my makeup case, so—”

  “Whatever you need,” I assure her to stop the explanation she seems awkwardly compelled to give.

  She relaxes. “Good. Thanks.”

  I nod. “How do you feel? Do you like it?”

  “I’m not used to the clothes yet, but the hair, the makeup? Yeah. I feel like…me. I’ve only been pink for the last three months. I was platinum before that. I like to try different looks, but I always come back to red.”

  It’s still impossible for me to take my eyes off her as I hold out my hand again. Something weird happens when she slips her palm in mine. It’s as if her grip has squeezed around my heart, which is now beating like a tribal drum at a luau. I can barely breathe as I pull her close. My ability to speak evaporates once more.

  “Are we going?
” She blinks in question.

  Yeah. Leaving now. “Dinner out?”

  “Please. Believe it or not, being poked, plucked, prodded, and primped is really exhausting, so if I don’t have to cook—”

  “Not a problem.” In fact, I love the idea of going out and showing Keeley off and keeping her close so that every other guy fucks off because it’s obvious she’s mine.

  Except she isn’t. Soon, I’ll have to dangle her in Griff’s face like a tasty treat.

  I’m not thinking about that tonight. Nope. Not happening. Right now, I’m just going to enjoy my time with Keeley after the nearly thirty-six hours we spent apart. Yeah, I was counting.

  After a little discussion, we wind up at Pacific’O, a romantic spot for seafood and sunsets. Dinner and wine are nice. Watching her turn every male head is gratifying. Her company is the best part of it all, though. She looks vivacious, like she’s very comfortable in this skin. She has a renewed sense of self.

  Or maybe I’m finally seeing her as she actually is.

  I ponder that thought as the waiter sets down our check.

  “Hey,” she murmurs. “Do you have an early morning tomorrow?”

  “Not any more than any other day. What do you have in mind?” I feel the smirk cross my face. I can’t help it. I have a whole lot of ideas filling my head. I wonder if she’d say yes to any of them…

  She glances at her phone. “I know it’s already after nine, but I was wondering if we could do one more thing before heading home.”

  “Like?” Keeley already turned down dessert, so I can’t imagine what she wants.

  “There’s this little pub around the corner that has karaoke on Wednesdays and Sundays. I’ve missed singing. It’s soothing.”

  My knee-jerk reaction is a big hell no. I pause as I realize that she didn’t ask me to sing. That’s key. I don’t understand her assertion that warbling in front of a bunch of strangers is anything but an exercise in trying not to nervous puke. But she seems really excited. How am I supposed to say no?

  “As long as you promise not to drag me on stage…”

  “Totally. I just need to belt out a song or two.”

  I’d love to hear her sing again. “Do I get to pick the songs?”

  “When we get there, you can look at the choices and make suggestions. I’ll see if I can manage any of them. Deal?”

  “Deal.” This could be fun.

  When we get there, it’s dark and loud and a little crowded. We spot a couple leaving in the back and grab their high-top table and chairs. As soon as we’re situated, someone passes us the big binder full of songs. I hope Keeley gets to sing soon because some drunk tourist in platforms trying to be Beyoncé is already giving me a headache.

  Keeley passes the thick tome of song selections my way. I riffle through absently as the waitress takes our drink order.

  “Anything catch your eye?”

  I grin. “‘Like a Virgin’?”

  She gives me an adamant shake of her head. “Absolutely not.”

  “What’s wrong with that?”

  “First, it’s really one of the dumbest songs ever, in my opinion. Second, I’m not in the habit of lying. But most of all, c’mon. How about a challenge?”

  Point taken. “How about…‘Buttons.’ Who doesn’t like the Pussycat Dolls?”

  Mostly I just want to hear her sing suggestive lyrics to me.

  Keeley shakes her head. “I like the song, but Nicole Scherzinger isn’t hard to sing, either. How about something with teeth?”

  “Britney Spears?”

  She rolls her eyes. “Stop insulting me. Harder.”

  “You want it harder, baby?” I flash her a leering grin. I know I’m about to get smacked but it’s too fun to stop.

  “Vocally, not sexually. Give me the book.”

  Oh, I’m still making it too easy on her? Fine. “No. I said I’d pick something. I will.”

  I whip out my phone and after a little Google, I choose three songs and dart up to the deejay. Despite having a bad-hair decade, the guy is really easy to talk to, and we soon settle on a great song I can’t wait to hear. He has me jot her name and info on the sheet attached to his clipboard. Then it’s done. All I have to do is wait.

  When I head back to the table, Keeley looks beyond annoyed.

  “We were supposed to discuss this,” she grits out as I slide onto my stool beside her.

  “We did. But since you’re such a pro, and my selection wasn’t difficult enough, Google helped me go for the gusto.”

  “What did you sign me up for?” Now she sounds almost nervous.

  I just smile. “Not telling…”

  It’s hard to find patience until Keeley is called, especially when I have to sit through a terrible rendition of “Smooth Criminal” and an even worse stab at “Waiting on the World to Change.” The bar finally starts to clear out. A version of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” that’s only slightly awful follows.

  Finally, the deejay, who really does the comb-over proud, grabs the mic. “Time for Keeley on the stage. Keeley, everyone.”

  “What am I singing?” she asks as she gets to her feet.

  “You’ll see.” I’m stubborn like that when I want to be.

  “I’m totally getting you back for this.”

  “You’re welcome to try…”

  She sends me something like a snarl before she heads to the front. After a verbal interaction with the deejay that includes a little arguing and a lot of nodding, she finally grabs the mic off the stand and takes a deep breath. God, she really looks stunning, especially when the first note hits and she lifts her head to meet the song head on.

  Three minutes later, I’m absolutely floored. She’s nailed “Titanium,” including every one of those high notes the deejay swore to me tripped up most. I didn’t give her this song to watch her fail, though. In my head, I could hear her singing it. I knew she could do it. I wanted her to know that she could, too.

  But messing with her in the meantime was too much fun.

  The crowd cheers. She smiles back. On her way off the stage, she speaks to the deejay. He looks over at me. Oh, that’s how she intends to get me back, make me embarrass the hell out of myself in public. No way. No how.

  As soon as Keeley reaches the table, I grab her hand. “Let’s go.”

  “Nope.” She plants herself firmly on the floor and raises a brow at me. “Your turn.”

  “You promised I didn’t have to sing.”

  “If I don’t get to have a say in my own song, I don’t have to keep my word,” she points out. “Suck it up, buttercup.”

  “Not happening. I’m leaving.”

  The waitress finally comes with our cocktails and hustles away before I can pay. I don’t even know how much the drinks cost. Shit.

  “You were saying?” Keeley smiles and flutters her lashes innocently.

  “This sucks.”

  She laughs. “You’ll live.”

  I’m nervous. It’s stupid because I know I’ll never see these people ever again. Hell, half of the patrons in this dive are so sauced I doubt they’ll remember being here at all tomorrow, much less some tone-deaf chump butchering a tune. That still doesn’t stop me from looking for the waitress, cash in hand, so we can find the exit.

  “Maxon,” the deejay calls. “Where is…” He spots me and motions me over. “Come on down, buddy.”

  With a groan, I get to my feet. I shoot Keeley a glare that promises retribution. When I reach the stage and grab the mic, I try really hard not to realize that about fifty people are staring at me like they expect awesome.

  I will sorely disappoint them.

  “Keeley says you’re a karaoke virgin,” the deejay begins.

  I nod. “I haven’t been called a virgin in a long time.”

  The crowd laughs. At least I’ve got a little comedic goodwill going before I burst their eardrums.

  “Your fine lady picked an oldie for you. She said you’d want a challenge.”

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