One Night of Scandal
Reed Miller hated nightclubs. Which was damn ironic considering he co-owned one of the hottest clubs in Boston, but hey, that was just smart business. When it came to his personal life, a club was the last place he’d ever associate with a good time.
Most of the women he met at nightclubs were already there looking to get laid, and they were more than willing to go back to his place without much effort on his part. For a man who lived for the excitement of the chase, where was the fun in that?
Right now, however, he was chasing an entirely different type of conquest.
Not for recreational use, of course. He wasn’t about to poison his body with that crap. Even during his glory days as a mixed martial arts fighter, he’d never once used performance enhancers. Those were a surefire way to not only get kicked off the circuit, but a pathetic attempt to cheat yourself to victory.
Tonight was for reconnaissance purposes only. For the past couple of months, some a-hole had been selling Ecstasy over at Sin, the club Reed operated with his two best friends. None of the customers they’d questioned knew the identity of the pusher, and if they did know, they sure as hell weren’t eager to reveal it. But the flow of E needed to be cut off ASAP, before the Boston PD decided to launch its own investigation, which could lead to Sin being shut down indefinitely.
Reed had decided to pay a visit to a rival nightclub in the hope that the patrons there might know something, but the only info he’d succeeded in gathering at the Krib so far was the phone numbers of half a dozen girls he wasn’t the least bit interested in.
A cute brunette in a skintight pink minidress voiced the eager request, sidling up to his table with a daiquiri in her manicured hand. He was about to turn her down, but she looked so damn hopeful he didn’t have the heart to disappoint her.
“Sure,” Reed relented.
He waited as she set her glass on the table, then took her hand and led her to the crowded dance floor. On a raised platform high above the main room, the DJ was spinning a deafening drum-and-bass track that was more suited for fast, frenetic dancing, but the brunette wasn’t interested in fast. Instead, she twined her arms around Reed’s neck and started grinding into him in a slow, sensual rhythm.
Normally he’d be all over that. A pretty girl rubbing up on his groin? Hell yeah.
Tonight it felt like a chore.
Christ, he was sick to death of random hookups with women whose names he couldn’t even remember the morning after. Maybe the fact that he’d just turned thirty was souring him on the whole casual sex scene, or maybe it was seeing his best friends happily involved in committed relationships. With Gage and AJ no longer serving as his wingmen, Reed was all alone in the land of the single, and he was really starting to hate it.
“You’re so sexy.” His dance partner brought her red- painted lips to his ear and shouted to be heard over the pounding music.
Reed lightly grazed her hips with his hands, trying to ease back from the undulating pelvis that was targeting his crotch like a heat-seeking missile.
“Thanks,” he answered awkwardly.
“Wanna get out of here?” A bright flash of strobe revealed the meaningful smile on her face.
“Naah, I’m not ready to leave yet.” He raised his voice. “I’m looking for some party favors. Don’t wanna go home until I find some.”
Interest flickered in her eyes. “Like what?”
“Ecstasy. Do you know if anyone’s holding?”
His dance partner’s response was swift and unexpected. Previously eager arms dropped from his shoulders, annoyance streaking through her expression as she took an angry step back.
“Seriously? You’re into that crap? Ugh! Why does every guy I meet end up being a total tweaker!”
With a loud, unladylike expletive, she huffed off and abandoned him on the dance floor.
How ironically delightful. Rejected by a chick he hadn’t even been into.
Torn between groaning in frustration and chuckling with amusement, Reed once again threaded through the mob of sweaty people. He’d intended on returning to his table, but he stopped in his tracks when he spotted a familiar face in the crowd.
Son of a bitch.
Was that Darcy?
It was hard to be sure thanks to the wild blinking of the strobe lights and the darkness obscuring her face every other second. Without hesitation, he changed course and headed in her direction. A part of him wished like hell that it was simply a case of mistaken identity.
Because if it was Darcy, then he’d just witnessed his best friend’s girlfriend kissing another man.
No, wait. He squinted, realizing the couple he’d glimpsed wasn’t actually kissing. Their faces were close, but they seemed to only be talking.
And yup, it was definitely Darcy Grant. Now that he was five feet away, he was clearly able to make out her features. Wide-set blue eyes, high cheekbones, that sexy mouth—
He forcibly shoved the last thought out of his head. He wasn’t allowed to even think the word “sexy” in relation to AJ’s girl. It was a total violation of bro code.
Then again, who was he kidding? He’d broken the code a hundred times over when it came to Darcy. All those dirty, dirty thoughts he’d had about her pretty much ensured he’d be going straight to shitty friend hell.
At the moment, though, he was more concerned with why AJ’s girlfriend was flirting with another man. Maybe it wasn’t his place to interfere, but damned if he’d let his best friend get played for a fool.
AJ Walsh was the closest thing Reed had to a brother. The two of them had grown up together in South Boston, attended the same schools, played on the same sports teams. Reed would take a bullet for his buddy, and he knew that if their roles had been reversed, AJ wouldn’t hesitate to stick up for him.
Squaring his shoulders, he marched up to the couple’s table and donned his best death glare. “Hey, Darcy,” he said loudly.
Her head swiveled, eyes widening when she recognized him. “Reed!” Her voice came out shrill, and there was no mistaking the guilty note ringing there.
He shifted his gaze to her companion, a lanky man with pale blond hair and a smug grin. “Can we help you?” the guy demanded.
Reed experienced a case of instant dislike. Scowling deeply, he jabbed a finger in the air and snapped, “Get out of here.”
The guy’s jaw dropped. “No way, man. The lady and I were in the middle of—”
“Nothing,” Reed finished. “You were in the middle of nothing. So get lost.”
Darcy’s companion turned to her with visible wariness. “Is this your boyfriend or something?”
“Or something,” Reed answered for her.
Several more seconds ticked by, until the blond guy finally hopped off his stool and glowered at Darcy. “You should have fucking told me you had a boyfriend instead of wasting my goddamn time.”
As he stormed off, Reed usurped the empty seat, rested his elbows on the table, and looked at AJ’s girlfriend with cold eyes. “What. The. Fuck. Is. This?” He could barely get the question out he was so pissed.
Christ. How was he supposed to tell his best friend about this? AJ would be devastated when he learned what his girlfriend was up to.
“We were just talking,” Darcy retorted, sounding as mad as Reed felt.
“Bullshit,” he shot back. “Whatever this was, it was leading toward a hookup, and we both know it.”
“So what if it was?” Her blue eyes blazed. “Yeah, maybe it’s kinda soon, but what I do and who I see is none of your damn business! If I want to have a rebound fling with some guy I met at a club, then I’m damn well allowed to!”
Reed furrowed his brows, wondering if he’d misheard her. No way had she and AJ broken up. From the moment AJ had introduced her to his friends, Reed had known that Darcy was perfect for the guy, which only made this messed- up attraction he felt for her a million times more wrong. Her easygoing, bubbly personality suited AJ’s equally laidback demeanor, while her adventurous nature balanced AJ’s tendency to constantly play it safe.
The fact that she was sexy as hell was only icing on the cake.
AJ’s cake. Reed clung to the reminder, as he’d done often ever since AJ and Darcy had started dating. It didn’t matter that each time he saw her he wanted to bury his face in her graceful neck and breathe her in. Or that his fingers tingled with the urge to stroke her thick, strawberry-blond waves. Or that his cock damn near burst out of his pants at the thought of sinking into her hot, tight—
AJ’s girl, yelled the reprimanding voice in his head.
Right. Didn’t matter how hot the woman got him. She was off-limits.
But God, did she ever look gorgeous when she was pissed off.
“And you know what else?” Darcy went on, her fair cheeks flushed with anger. “You’re not exactly one to judge. You’re the biggest player on the planet! But I guess it’s okay for you to pick up strangers at nightclubs, right, Reed? But when I, an unattached adult woman, does it, suddenly it’s sooooo wrong and—”
“You and AJ broke up?” he interrupted.
She blinked in surprise. “What?”
“Did you guys break up?” he repeated through clenched teeth.
Looking bewildered, she offered a nod. “Yeah. Last night. He didn’t tell you?”
Reed had trouble thinking clearly, what with the massive doses of shock and confusion spiraling through his body. He realized he hadn’t spoken to AJ at all today. And his friend had the weekend off, which was why Reed had been tending bar at Sin before he’d headed over to the Krib. Normally, he handled the business end of things, working up in his office on the club’s top floor while Gage handled security and AJ managed the bartending staff.
AJ had planned to go away with Darcy this weekend, Reed suddenly remembered.
But Darcy was here.
Picking up dudes.
“Did you dump him?” he demanded.
Her expression grew sad. “No. It was mutual.”
That summoned a groan of disbelief. “Break-ups are never mutual.”
“This one was.” Her lips tightened. “Not that it’s any of your business, but AJ and I broke up with each other. We both knew it wasn’t working, and we both decided to end it.”
“Why wasn’t it working?”
She raked an exasperated hand through her wavy hair. “I’m not giving you any details, Reed. It’s between me and AJ, okay?”
Okay? There was nothing okay about any of this. In fact, he seriously needed to walk away, right frickin’ now, before the little burst of joy that Darcy’s admission had evoked in him turned into something else.
He wasn’t allowed to be happy about the breakup. No siree. He was supposed to be sad and upset on his best friend’s behalf, because no matter what Darcy said, their parting couldn’t have been mutual. The guy was crazy about her, for chrissake.
So are you.
Reed silenced the inner taunt. Nope, not going there. He couldn’t deny that he was attracted to the woman, but desire was a fickle thing. Sooner or later it would fade.
Or at least, that’s what he’d been telling himself for the past five months.
So far, the heat he felt in Darcy’s presence still hadn’t cooled, but he was certain it would happen eventually.
It had to.
“Anyway, there you have it,” Darcy finished. “I’m single again. Woo-hoo. I’m sure you’re thrilled to have me out of your BFF’s life. And now, as you so graciously put it before, get lost.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Why do you want me to go so badly?”
She blew out an irritated breath. “Because I came here to have fun! There’s zero chance of that happening when you’re around.”
Reed didn’t budge from his chair.
“I’m serious, go away,” she grumbled. “We’re not friends, okay? And no guy is going to ask me to dance when you’re sitting here scowling at everyo—”
“You want to dance?” he cut in. “Let’s dance.”
Her jaw fell open. Then slammed shut. Wariness filled her expression, and she looked at him like he’d offered to murder her and dump her body in the river.
He didn’t blame her. Truth was, she hadn’t been too far off the mark. They weren’t friends. Mostly because he’d learned early on that the only way to curb this inappropriate attraction was to keep a very cold, very polite distance around the woman.
He couldn’t do that now, though. Because if he walked away, he risked Darcy getting hit on by some horny fucker and possibly going home with him. He couldn’t, in good conscience, let that happen. Break-ups weren’t set in stone, especially when they were less than twenty-four hours old, and Reed knew AJ would be devastated if he tried to win his girl back only to find out she’d already slept with another dude.
“I’m not dancing with you,” Darcy said coolly.
He smirked. “Fine, then we’ll just sit here in silence, for all I care.”
“You’re acting ridiculous.”
“And you’re acting insensitive. If you cared about AJ at all, you’d respect him enough not to screw someone else before the break-up ink is even dry.”
Annoyance marred her face. “If I choose to have a rebound, you can’t exactly stop me.”
“Oh yes, I can. As of right now? Consider me your shadow. I’m not leaving your side, baby doll. Not until I tuck you safely into a cab and watch you speed away. Alone.” Setting his jaw, Reed slid off the stool and held out his hand. “So are we dancing or what?”
Darcy was dumbfounded. And frustrated. And unbelievably peeved.
She’d purposely come to the Krib tonight because she’d known there’d be no possibility of running into AJ, and just her luck, she’d run into his best friend instead. A man who’d made it abundantly clear that he didn’t like her.
Well, eff Reed. She didn’t particularly like him either. AJ always insisted that Reed was an awesome guy, singing his praises whenever Darcy said otherwise, but in all the months she’d known the guy, he’d only ever shown her a cold, grumpy side that left a sour taste in her mouth.
Oh, and he was bossy. Who could forget that annoying little trait? Certainly not her, because right now that bossiness was throwing a wrench in her plans.
Some women got dolled up for any old occasion, but Darcy wasn’t one of them. Nope, there was a reason she’d donned a short dress and punished her feet with three-inch heels—passion.
Yep, passion. With a capital P and everything. She was twenty-seven years old, and not once had she experienced anything remotely close to the elusive P. Granted, that was probably because she only dated nice, wholesome guys like AJ. She couldn’t deny that her as-of-yesterday ex was smoking hot, but passionate? Not so much.
On the bright side, at least she didn’t have to worry that she’d broken his heart. Despite what his aggravating best friend thought, their break-up really had been mutual.
After more than five months of dating, the two of them could no longer ignore the depressing truth: they were great friends, but terrible lovers.
Darcy had hoped the initial spark between them would eventually ignite into a fiery affair for the ages, but sadly, it had fizzled out faster than a candle in a hurricane. And now, thanks to Reed Miller, her quest for a wild night of passion was equally unattainable.
She swept her gaze over his face, ticked off by how good-looking he was. Actually, correction: he was gorgeous. Like be-still-my-heart-and-rip-my-panties-off gorgeous. He had close-cropped black hair and piercing blue eyes, and his features were more rugged than pretty, starkly masculine and incredibly appealing.
And south of the border? Holy moly. He was shredded like lettuce, hard muscles and long limbs and a tight ass you could bounce quarters off.
“Stall as long as you want. I ain’t going anywhere, Darce.” His deep, razor-sharp voice snapped her from her inappropriate ogling. Fortunately, he didn’t seem to notice she’d been checking him out. His expression displayed a cloud of displeasure mingled with steely determination, leaving no doubt as to how serious he was about cock- blocking her tonight.
Or was it vagina-blocking for girls? She wasn’t sure.
“You’re being totally unreasonable,” she said, raising her voice over the music. “I’m not seeing AJ anymore, which means it’s not considered cheating if I happen to meet someone I like.”
“Don’t care. Won’t be happening on my watch.”
God. He wasn’t going to back down.
Cut your losses, girl. You’re not the one-night-stand type, anyway.
The defeated voice in her head was spot on. Hopping into bed with strangers wasn’t something she indulged in very often. Or ever.
Darcy stifled a sigh. Maybe this had been a mistake from the start. A stupid, spur-of-the-moment decision brought on by her break-up with AJ, which, in all honesty, had seriously bummed her out. Not because she’d lost the love of her life or anything, but because their relationship had been so lacking it only highlighted everything she’d been missing. Everything she craved.
Fun. Laughter. Excitement.
Yep, full circle, right back to passion.
“C’mon, quit being a brat.”
She felt herself being tugged, blinking to find Reed’s fingers curled over her forearm. His hand was big and warm, and utterly impersonal as he guided her to the dance floor.
Darcy swallowed her anger as they maneuvered through the crowd. Fine, if he wanted to act like a macho jerk and be her shadow, then she’d let him. Clearly passion wasn’t on the table anymore, but fun and dancing were still up for grabs, and she might as well get something out of this botched evening. Though maybe just the dancing part. After all, fun and Reed Miller didn’t exactly go together.
The sultry beat pounding out of the DJ’s turntables immediately snaked its way into Darcy’s blood, and her body responded of its own volition. AJ had hated to dance. Poor guy had no moves, either, but his best friend didn’t seem to share that affliction.
To her surprise, Reed wasted no time yanking her toward him. He rested one hand on her hip and began to dance to the pulsing, decadent rhythm as if he’d done it a hundred times before.
His head dipped to her ear, his warm breath fanning over her neck. “Why is your dress so short?” he rasped.
She stiffened at his disapproving tone, glancing down at the silky green dress that nearly reached her knees. “It’s not that short. Look around us—half these girls are practically naked.”
“Half these girls aren’t you.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she demanded. Rather than answer, he brought his other hand into play, running it up and down her back as his hips rotated in a slow, addictive rhythm.
Oh boy. He smelled fantastic. Sandalwood, citrus, and something uniquely male flooded her nostrils, giving her a bit of a head rush. And his chest was rock-hard beneath her palms—she wanted so badly to stroke it that she had to redirect her hands to his shoulders in an attempt to quell the temptation. Except his shoulders were equally enticing, big and broad and rippling with power.
AJ was built the same lean, muscular way—she knew it had everything to do with the fact that both men had once been professional fighters—but even though she’d slept with AJ many, many times, her hands had never itched to explore every hard, sinewy inch of his body the way they itched now.
Reed’s palm grazed her hipbone at the same time he thrust a thigh between her legs, turning the dance from vaguely sensual to downright erotic. Heat unfurled in Darcy’s belly and tingled in her sex, triggering a jolt of shock.
Holy crap. She was dirty dancing with AJ’s best friend. And it was turning her on.
No, wait, that was nuts. She couldn’t actually be turned on. The sweltering air and the two shooters she’d drunk must be to blame, because there was no way Reed the Jerk Miller was getting her motor running.
When she felt his gaze on her, she tipped her head and was floored by what she found. Blue eyes burning with… jeez, was that desire?
It sure as hell looked like all three, but only the anger part made any sort of sense. Reed always seemed pissed off when she was around, which was actually kind of insulting since she prided herself on being a very likable person.
“How long are we going to keep doing this?” he said in a strangled voice.
She frowned. “Doing what?”
“Dancing.” Sounding even more tormented, he eased away so their lower bodies were no longer touching, but kept his hands on her hips.
If she didn’t know any better, she’d have thought he’d inched back so she wouldn’t feel the evidence of his arousal pressing into her belly.
But of course Reed wasn’t sporting a stiffy in her presence. The only response she’d ever evoked in him was visible irritation and mild indifference.
The memory of his past behavior was like a splash of cold water to the face, propelling her to release his shoulders and take a hasty step back.
What the hell were they doing, grinding to the music like two people who were actually into each other? They weren’t even friends.
“You’re the one who forced me on the dance floor,” she snapped at him. “And you’re the one who decided not to let me have fun tonight, remember? So if you don’t want to dance with me, then don’t. Frankly, I’m not interested, either.”
She tossed her hair over her shoulder and flounced off, but she should’ve known better than to think he wouldn’t follow her. He did, hot on her heels as she pushed her way through the crowd toward the exit.
“Go away, Reed. You win, okay? You’ve officially ruined my night and put me in a shitty mood, so now I’m going home just like you wanted. Congratulations.”
Shooting him one last glare, she spun on her heel and marched out the door.