More than want you, p.7
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       More Than Want You, p.7
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         Part #1 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black

  She tsks. “You know, having sex with people for money is usually called prostitution. And the people who make the hookups happen are usually called pimps.”

  I didn’t think of it that way. Keeley has a point I’d rather not see.

  “If your charm alone isn’t stealing his attention, then we’ll talk about it. Come up with a strategy.”

  “That may include whoring myself,” she asserts. “You’re not denying it.”

  She’s taking the worst possible spin on this. “I’m also not enjoying it! For the record, that’s not what I think of you at all. And I didn’t mean to upset you. We can get creative, so all you have to do is make him think you might have a thing with him someday. Maybe after you clear up your aggravated case of herpes with a gonorrhea chaser.”

  “What? I’m not lying to him about something like that!”

  “It would be a good reason for him not to have sex with you.” Actually, about the only reason I can think of.

  I’m botching this totally. I know it. Every time I open my mouth, I shove my foot even deeper.

  “Here’s a better reason: I’m not saying yes.” She tosses her hand in the air. “I can’t believe you’re offering to pay me a hundred grand to most likely sleep with your brother after we’ve spent the night together.” She slams her juice down and launches herself out of bed. “I thought I liked you. And now I feel like a total impulsive idiot. I don’t know who the hell you think you are, but you’re clearly not someone I want to spend another minute with. I don’t want any part of this low, demeaning scheme.” She stomps out of the room.

  I follow. “Keeley. I’m sorry, sunshine. I’m not trying to insult you. This is all coming out wrong. You’re amazing. Fantastic.”

  “Do not try to sweet-talk me. There’s no positive spin you can put on this that will make me want to help you screw your brother over by letting him screw me.” She jerks her dress and heels off the arm of the sofa and marches for the guest room. “That’s not who I am. And just because I was easy for you doesn’t mean I’m cheap.” She slams her way into the bathroom.

  Shit. That did not go well.

  I lean against the door. “I don’t think you’re cheap. I think you’re beautiful. You make me laugh. I can’t tell you the last time a woman—hell, anyone—has done that. And you even make me look at myself critically. Those are just a few reasons I don’t want to stop seeing you. Those are the qualities I know will intrigue Griff, too. I wasn’t trying to insult you. It’s a compliment…just poorly worded. Will you come out so we can sit down and talk about this?”

  Keeley doesn’t say anything until she yanks the door open, now fully dressed in last night’s clothes. “No. Even putting aside the whole Pretty Woman aspect of this scheme, it sucks. You can phrase it however you want, but this is about revenge. That’s bad karma. It will come back to bite you in the ass. I don’t want anything to do with it. He’s your brother. Don’t do something you’ll regret later.”

  She grabs her purse and stomps to the front door.

  I grab her arm, feeling more than a little panicked. “Where are you going? I drove you here.”

  She jerks free and reaches for the knob. “It’s a hotel. I’m sure I can get a taxi.”

  Yes, the bellmen are very helpful that way. Damn it… “Don’t leave like this, Keeley. The last thing in the world I ever want to do is upset you.”

  That part is so true it almost hurts.

  She pauses, stills. “I really wanted to like you. Hell, I really wanted to keep you. But not after this. Good-bye.”

  Her sniffle tears at my heart. Before I can call her back, she’s out the door.

  CHAPTER FOUR

  Come Saturday evening, I’m back at the crappy sports bar, hidden in the corner, waiting for Keeley to take the stage. For the last few days, I’ve been miserable and spent at least half my time trying to track her down. My place has felt empty. My sheets still carry a hint of her scent. It not only makes me hard, it makes me miss her. Britta says I’ve turned into a short-tempered prick.

  “What are you going to do?” Rob asks beside me. “Grovel?”

  I told my marketing manager about my grand scheme. He agreed that Griff would fall all over himself to pursue a woman like Keeley. He’s all for whatever puts us in the win column.

  “It’s crossed my mind.”

  The truth is, I’m not sure what to do. I can’t give up on Keeley. I need her help to undermine Griff…but I want her for myself. It doesn’t make sense. I only spent a handful of hours with this woman. I’m surprised by how thoroughly she’s stuck in my head.

  “You’ll need a more robust strategy than that. What did she object to most?”

  “Everything. But if I had to pick one issue, I’d say the hooker/pimp thing. And the karma.” I look for a way to help Rob—who’s every bit the bastard I am—understand Keeley. “She’s got a soft heart.”

  “The sort who roots for the underdog against all odds?”

  “Yeah.”

  In the past, I would have dismissed her attitude as unrealistic. I like coming from a position of power. I don’t believe in fighting wars from the bottom, just annihilating enemies from the top. That strategy won’t work with Keeley.

  “Try some reverse psychology on her. Be contrite. Tell her that you’ve seen the error of your ways or some shit like that. Tell her you realize screwing Griff over isn’t really in your best interest but in his. Frame it as a life lesson for your brother. Maybe that will work.”

  I shake my head. “I’ve already thought of it. Too thin. Instead of helping me improve Griff’s moral character or giving me a hand to remove him as an obstacle, she would suggest I talk to my brother. Share my feelings.”

  “What good would that do?” He recoils. “I’m thinking you need to find another woman to do your dirty work. While you do, Britta and I will have your back at the office. You need that. I’ve got to tell you, so far the distraction you found for Griff has only succeeded in screwing up your A game.”

  He’s right, and I know it. But there’s a problem. “I’ve looked for someone else to occupy my brother. Name one person we know will appeal to him whom he hasn’t already slept with or that he won’t see coming a mile away? Hell, I’d turn Britta lose on him, but…”

  “Bad idea. I don’t know whether she’d break down in tears or fry his balls for breakfast. If we’re lucky, she’d kill him.” Rob taps the side of his beer glass. “Since it sounds as if Keeley Sunshine won’t help you get revenge without a damn good reason, I’m not sure what to tell you, man.”

  “And I don’t have a better idea. I’ve tried to think of one, too. Griff seems laser focused on this listing. Just about every hour, I hear of some other tool he’s throwing into his arsenal to wow the Stowe heirs. I’m falling behind.” Because all I can think about is Keeley.

  “We’re running out of time.”

  I turn to Rob. Does he think I don’t know that? That I’m not aware every day—every hour—that all the minutes and seconds are ticking by and I can never get them back? That each grain of sand through the hourglass is taking me closer to losing out to my asshole brother for good?

  “Aloha, Lahaina. I’m Keeley Sunshine.”

  Tonight she’s wearing a top that’s soft white and lacy with barely there sleeves that brush her shoulders. It almost looks demure, except for the deep V-neck that shows off the swells of her cleavage and her delicate collarbones. Her pink hair is in a messy bun. Everything about her tonight is more sedate, even the sheer nude pink of her lipstick.

  “I hope you’ll indulge me while I sing some of my favorite songs,” she continues. “Since I just had my heart bruised recently, they might be a little melancholy. But I figure if you’re here and dateless on a Saturday night, you might be feeling lonely, too.”

  Her words dig at my chest. She can’t possibly see me with the bright lights in her face. I’m sitting in a shadowy corner. But I can feel her across the room.

  She turns to the ol
d man who plays guitar and nods his way. The music begins. I find myself sitting at the edge of my chair.

  She starts with a familiar tune, “Love the Way You Lie.” As a kid, my sister used to play the Eminem and Rihanna version over and over, but Keeley chooses Skylar Grey’s simple, stripped-down rendition. When she sings about me standing there and watching her both burn and cry, I can’t help but twinge with an itsy-bitsy heap of guilt.

  “Oh, buddy. Those are some heartrending songs.” Rob shakes his head. “You pissed her off.”

  I hear it, too. And I hurt along with her. How can that be? We had one night. Okay, one great night. One magical night. But still just one fucking night.

  My obsession should wear off soon, right?

  I hope. I haven’t really slept since she left. I definitely can’t be in my bed without thinking of her.

  At the conclusion of the song, the audience applauds. The ovation is muted because the mood in the room is, too.

  Keeley smiles. I can tell it’s forced. “Thanks. This next song will be familiar to a lot of you.”

  When she breaks out with Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” I can’t stand it. Her nose is red, her eyes a bit swollen. Contrary to the song, she has been crying.

  Keeley follows that up with Adele’s “Someone Like You.” A good-bye and a kiss-off. Everything logical in my head tells me not to wait around until after the show to see if I can speak to her, maybe get her on board—or get her back to my place so I can touch her again—but logic isn’t winning the argument tonight.

  After a brief break, when she disappears in the back of the joint instead of inviting someone to flirt with her at the bar, she returns for another tear-my-heart-out set, starting with Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now.” The only thing that’s good about it is how beautiful her voice sounds and the fact that she obviously hasn’t forgotten me. I’m sure of that when she shifts her vocals to Avril Lavigne’s “When You’re Gone.”

  The way she grips the mic, the emotion on her face, the pleading note in her voice… Yeah, I’m totally convinced this woman walked away from me because I was a bumbling idiot that morning—but she’s not over me. We’re nowhere near done. Still, I can’t give up on orchestrating Griff’s downfall.

  Where the hell does that leave me?

  When she completes her final set with Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love,” the nod to Pretty Woman seals the deal. I have to stay. I have to try again.

  No fucking clue what I’m going to say.

  As the audience applauds, she takes her last bow, looking so solemn I want to wrap my arms around her. I don’t know if I’ll scrape together the right words to ask if she’ll come back to me and agree to my plan. But…no guts, no glory.

  Beside me, Rob slaps me on the back. “Good luck, man. Don’t do anything stupid.”

  I grab his sleeve. “What is that? What would be not stupid in this scenario?”

  I really don’t know anymore.

  “You’re serious?” Rob rears back with a frown. “Wow, I’ve never seen you less than totally confident. If you want this girl more than anything, you have to apologize, offer to start over, and drop this scheme of yours.”

  Give up my long-term ambitions for a woman I barely know? “I can’t.”

  Rob looks like he both understands and agrees. “I know you can’t. Repaying Griff for his assholery is much more important. Don’t worry about the girl. Play her. Get what you need out of her. Then toss her back in the sea like every other fish. She’s no big deal.”

  Then he’s gone. I do a quick search of my soul—it doesn’t take long—and I realize I want both revenge and Keeley. Absolutely. Probably more than I should, but that doesn’t stop me from staring at her like she’ll disappear if I blink.

  Am I so hung up on this woman because it’s been years since anyone walked out on me? My ego isn’t fragile. Am I making some subconscious attempt to rewrite my history with Tiffanii and succeed this time with Keeley? No. That mumbo jumbo doesn’t ring true.

  Then what is my problem? I need to screw my head on straight.

  After I toss some bills on the table, I scrub a hand down my face. Keeley stashes the mic, then smiles at the crowd one last time before heading to the employees’ area of the bar.

  “Keeley…” I charge after her.

  Fuck it. I’ll dream up something to say. I don’t really have too many impulsive bones in my body, but I think fast on my feet. I’m in sales, so something will come to me. I can sew this deal up. I hope.

  Except I don’t want to sell her right now. I just want to see her.

  “Keeley!” I call again, louder this time.

  She whirls and catches sight of me. She stops dead in her tracks. “What are you doing here?”

  “I want to talk. I never meant to insult or upset you. I’ve felt terrible about the way things ended, our misunderstanding.”

  “Misunderstanding? So you didn’t tell me to spend time with your brother and if my dazzling wit didn’t charm him, it was okay to use my bedroom skills?”

  “I know it sounds terrible. Just…give me an hour. Let me explain. I’ll feed you more crème brûlée…”

  “I’m not a potential client you can reel in with a free dessert coupon, Maxon.”

  That hurts, especially because I know she’s right. “You’re not. I never thought that.”

  “So what did you think? That I’d crawl from your bed, put on my slutty dress so I can cloud your brother’s head with lust, and never think there was anything wrong with it?”

  Pretty much, and when she puts it like that, I wince. “An hour. Please. Will you hear me out?”

  She hesitates, and tears tremble on her lower lashes. “I shouldn’t.”

  I’m a bastard but I use her soft heart against her because I want this too much to let it go. “Don’t you believe in second chances?”

  “You know I do.” She sighs. “All right. Don’t make me regret this. Where can I meet you? I’m driving myself.”

  “We can go wherever you want. Name it.”

  “Sale Pepe. I’m in the mood for Italian.”

  “I know where that is. I don’t mind driving.”

  She shakes her head. “That didn’t work out so well last time. I want a way home, just in case.”

  My sister would say that Keeley is playing it smart. But the little spitfire with pink hair is usually impulsive and funny and a little bit wild. She’s showing me none of that tonight. If I want her to give an inch, I have to stop trying to take a mile.

  “All right. I’ll follow you to the lot.”

  Fifteen minutes later, we sit at a two-top in the corner together. The place isn’t very crowded this late at night. The waiter is fast, greeting us before I have more than a chance to thank her for agreeing to talk to me.

  She orders a veggie panini and a Pellegrino. Now that I’m with her, my appetite finally makes an appearance for the first time in days. I order rigatoni quattro formaggio and a glass of house red. The waiter seems to take forever recounting everything back to us, but finally the kid—who can’t stop staring at Keeley—scrams.

  We’re alone. Well, mostly. A handful of people lounge around the restaurant, but none are seated close to us. Our little corner is as private as anyplace public is going to get.

  “What do you want, Maxon?”

  Direct. No hint of teasing or flirtation. No smile. I feel slightly panicked and I’m not sure why. Something about her never talking to me again, maybe?

  I clear my throat, still grasping for the right words. “I realize everything I said to you the other morning was an insult. I never meant it that way.”

  “Maybe you believe that. But it wasn’t just about the way you treated me. I understood clearly in that moment how you see me.”

  “No, you don’t. You’re not cheap. You assumed that. I
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