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Siblings were created for two reasons only; to annoy you and to make you do stuff for them. At least that’s what Fredericka ‘Freddie’ Latham firmly believed. The conversation she was currently having was evidence enough that her belief was well-founded.
“Are you there yet?” her older brother, Ari Latham, harangued over the phone.
“No.” Rolling her eyes, Freddie added, “But I’d get there faster if you stopped calling me every two minutes to ask me if I’m there yet.”
“It’s not two minutes, it’s every hour,” Ari corrected unrepentantly.
Freddie snorted. “Because that makes it sooo much better!”
Her Bluetooth-headset was truly the best investment she’d made this year. She could talk to her annoying brother while working. She grabbed the top ends of the white, evidence sheet and pulled it back to reveal the dead body beneath.
“You’re sure you’re on your way?” Ari’s voice echoed in her ear.
“Mm,” Freddie answered distractedly as she took in the woman on her table.
Even in death, the woman was beautiful. Late twenties, long, lustrous hair, lush albeit now bluish lips, porcelain smooth skin, and a slim, athletic body that could easily walk a runway. It was too bad that her head was bashed in on one side.
“I don’t believe you,” Ari cut into Freddie’s musings.
“I don’t care if you believe me,” Freddie retorted, turning the ladies’ head so she could take a better look at the wound.
It looked like the wound had been caused by something like a club… hammer? Sporting equipment? The police suspected that the death had been caused by her ex-boyfriend, but they’d know better once they’d done a proper autopsy.
To her brother, Freddie said, “May I remind you that I’m doing you a favor?”
“A favor that I’m paying for,” her brother reminded her. “By the way, you can’t take my car to Orlando unless you get that wallet to Lex by close-of-business today.”
“What?” Freddie’s gloved fingers paused over the dead lady’s face. “You promised that you’d let me borrow your car as long as I got to him. There was no timeline involved.”
“Well, there’s one now.”
Freddie kissed her teeth. “You cheap cockroach!”
“What’s that now?”
“I said you’re a cheap-”
“Careful, Rericka,” Ari teased using the nickname the family had given her when she was younger because she couldn’t pronounce her own name right. “Keep calling me names and I might rescind the offer completely.”
“You dirty scumb-”
“Okay. Okay.” Ari laughed. “Just get the wallet to Lex. Today.”
This is what she got for buying a powder-blue Miata. The car was pretty and everything but it was too cramped and noisy for a long trip. Her brother’s SUV, however, was the perfect size.
“Yeah, yeah. Got it,” Freddie said as she picked up her camera. “I’m hanging up.”
“Wait!” Her brother stopped her.
“What?” Freddie brought the camera to her eye and began to click, making sure to take clear photos of the corpse.
“Are you sure you’re on your way?” Ari demanded for the umpteenth time.
Freddie didn’t answer. She hung up on him. It was just in time too because her immediate boss walked into the lab right at the moment.
“Are you done with the pictures?” Dr. Thomas Walker asked as he strolled towards the table.
Freddie kept clicking. “Just about.”
It took almost three hours for Freddie to get out of the lab, and by then it was past five p.m.. Still, it was great to feel the sun hit her face and to get some fresh air.
Freddie loved her job. She’d never been the squeamish type and being a medical examiner meant she could help the dead tell their stories. Also, the hours were often better than those of other doctors. But sometimes seeing the depths of man’s inhumanity to fellow man could get to a lady. Stepping outside like this, feeling warm and breathing was a welcome reminder of how lucky she was to still be alive.
Freddie called Lex as she was walking towards the gate. He picked on the first ring.
“Hello?” His smooth, deep voice echoed over the line.
Unsurprisingly, a warm, honey-like sensation swept through Freddie. Lex’s voice was the kind of voice women had erotic dreams about. Imagine that silky, smooth voice whispering your name while his hands skim your body…
Down, girl. She gave herself a mental slap. What the hell was she doing fantasizing about Lex? He was her brother’s best-friend. Plus, she had a boyfriend. Wesley.
Ah, Wesley. Her Wesley. According to Harper’s Bazaar, he was the twenty-third most beautiful man of all time. According to Ebony, he was this decade’s third most handsome black man. So, he wasn’t number one… but at least he was ranked. Who would’ve thought it? Freddie Latham dating a guy who actually got ranked by magazines? She couldn’t believe it either.
Frankly, she was surprised that he’d even noticed her let alone hit on her. It wasn’t every day that a popular R&B musician dated an everyday woman like her. Freddie wasn’t ugly but she wasn’t that pretty either. She certainly wasn’t the type you see posing with their superstar boyfriends on basketball courts or at music awards. She was a little too dark for these light-skin obsessed celebrities, not thick enough but somehow still managing to be a little plump.
Still, Wesley claimed he loved her, and over the last six months she’d started to believe it. So what if he didn’t like them being seen in public? It was for her safety. His rabid fans had been known to go bonkers whenever he announced a relationship. He’d told her that they’d even gone as far as to dox one of his ex-girlfriends.
So what if the gossip rags were always pairing him with some Instagram model or wannabe singer? It was all fake news. Yes, Wesley liked to party, but that was all he ever did. Anyone who listened to his ballads and the interviews he gave could tell he was a one-woman man. If they wanted her to believe it, then they needed to show her some real pictures of him with those women. Show me the receipts.
“Hello?” Lex prodded again. “Freddie, are you still there?”
“Hi, Lex.” Freddie was all business as she said, “Ari asked me to drop off your wallet. It fell into his bag yesterday after your game.”
“Oh,” Lex answered shortly. “Where are you? I’ll come.”
“No, no. I’ve already left work so I can drop it off,” she rushed to say. “Just let me know where you are and I’ll bring it.”
“The hotel,” he answered.
“Your dad’s hotel?” she asked. When only silence greeted her, she took it to mean that she was on the right track. She said, “Okay, I’m on my way there. Where will I find you?”
“His office?” she prodded. There was no answer from Lex…. So yes, he was at his father’s office. Freddie smiled. “Okay, I’ll be there in about fifteen.”
Freddie wasn’t surprised or annoyed by Lex’s short answers. He’d never been a talker. She’d known him for more than fifteen years and had never heard him utter more than five words at a time. The only surprising thing was that he and her brother were best-friends because Ari was the type that could run his mouth all night. It must be true… opposites attract.
It took her about fifteen minutes to get to the hotel a.k.a. The Bishop. As the CEO of his own gaming company, Lex was wealthy in his own right. But his family was loaded… Hilton loaded. And they had their own fleet of hotels all over the world to prove it. This was just one of many.
After a brief stop at the concierge’s desk to identify herself, Freddie hustled to the elevator. She smiled when she noticed that it was on the third floor and coming down. It would soon be here. She gripped her purse closer to the side of her body as she watched the numbers. Second floor… first floor… ground floor…
The doors slid open to reveal a scene that could only be described as x-rated.
Holy molly! There was only one couple in there and they were trying to eat each other’s faces off. The woman looked like she wanted to climb the man like a tree. Her leg was looped around his waist and her talon-like, fake nails were digging into the side of his face as she ravenously kissed him. The man didn’t seem to mind though. He was inhaling her and groping her ass like it was dough and someone had asked him to make pizza.
Get a room, you rabbits. Freddie made a face. She was so revolted by their show that it took a moment for her to recognize the male-half of the couple. And when she did, she staggered backwards. Her jaw did a trap-door motion as her eyes zeroed in on the man. Her man.
“Wesley?” She didn’t even realize that she’d gasped his name aloud until he tore his lips away from his companion’s to turn his head.
There’s a reason women loved Wesley Drake, and it wasn’t just because of his voice. He was tall, had dark smooth chocolate skin that begged to be licked, eyes that screamed ‘take me to your bedroom’, and a smile that could charm the panties off any woman.
He wasn’t smiling now though.
His brown eyes widened in panic and he jumped out of the woman’s arms before sputtering, “Fre… Fre… Freddie?”
Freddie stared at him, not quite believing what she was seeing. Was this bum cheating on her with… Freddie’s gaze swept from Wesley to the woman still clinging to his jacket. Instantly, Freddie recognized the woman. She was the Instagram ‘model’ that the press had attached him to. And she looked as ratchet in person as she did on her wall. Who the hell wears booty shorts, fishnet stocking and a crop-top while the sun is still out anyway?
“Freddie… Freddie, it’s not what you think,” Wesley said as he shuttled out of the elevator.
Yeah, riiight! Freddie couldn’t believe that he had the balls to spout that kind of crap when his mouth was still stained with the ‘model’s’ purple lipstick. Without a word, she turned on her heels and walked away.
“Freddie, wait.” Wesley raced after her. “Wait. Let’s talk about it.”
Talk about what? He’d just handed her the receipts himself.
Freddie was on her way over.
Despite himself, Lex Bishop couldn’t help the thrill that immediately raced through him. It had been this way for so long that Lex didn’t even know when it started. Every time he even heard her name, his heart-rate increased and excitement pulsed through him.
Of course he was old enough to know what that meant. It meant that he liked her. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do anything about his liking her. She was Ari’s sister and thus off-limits. However, that didn’t mean that he couldn’t enjoy being next to her. Yeah, she was just dropping off his wallet but still, she was on her way over. It was enough to make his lips curve in a smile.
“You find this funny?” Eve, Lex’s older sister, immediately noticed the smile. She shot him a glare. “Are you laughing at me?”
Lex’s smile immediately dropped but before he could say anything to defend himself, their father jumped in.
“So what if he’s laughing at you? You deserve to be laughed at.” Andrew’s irate voice boomed in the spacious office as he scowled at Eve. “How could you let something like this happen?”
“I didn’t let it happen,” Eve retorted sulkily. “It just did.”
“It just did?” Andrew’s scowl became even fiercer. “Is that your way of saying it’s not your fault?”
Despite their different genders, the father and daughter duo looked startlingly similar. Both had dark blonde hair, blue eyes, strong roman noses and wore spectacles. Even their scowls were similar as was their hot tempers. The only difference between them was that Eve’s other features were a little softer, and she was more slender.
“Yes.” Eve remained defiant. “It’s not my fault.”
“So whose fault is it?” Andrew returned.
“I don’t know. The head of operations in Boston,” Eve suggested. “The employees there…. They’re the ones who kicked the man out. Not me.”
“How typical of you,” Andrew mocked. “Trying to shift the blame to your employees. And you wonder why I don’t want to make you V.P.”
Eve’s only response was an angry silence.
Lex supposed he could’ve intervened to save his older sister, but he didn’t. Why? One; because he just wasn’t the intervening type, especially when it came to members of his family. Two; Eve wouldn’t appreciate it. In fact, she would absolutely hate it. She already hated him enough, and he wasn’t inclined to give her more reasons.
Andrew’s gaze shifted away from his daughter to Lex. When he spoke, his tone was calmer and more respectful. “What do you think, Lex? Is this something we can fix?”
“We can fix it,” Eve cut in before Lex could even speak up. She grabbed a black folder from the coffee table and held it out to their father. “I’ve already come up with a plan. All we need to do is-”
“I didn’t ask you,” Andrew cut her off rudely before turning back to Lex. “What do you think we should do?”
Andrew’s dismissive attitude towards Eve was nothing new, and it wasn’t because of her incompetence. Apart from the occasional incident, Eve was actually great at her job. She was also the only one in the Bishop family who knew as much about Bishop Worldwide Holdings Inc. as Andrew did. She was the perfect heir. Unfortunately, she had one very glaring fault.
She was a woman.
Andrew didn’t believe that women could run a company, especially one as big as his. He’d always planned to make Lex his heir. Unfortunately for him, Lex wasn’t interested in the position. That however, didn’t mean that Lex couldn’t help in times of crisis.
With a sigh, Lex leaned forward to pick the black folder Eve had set on the coffee table. He opened it to see what ideas she’d proposed to deal with the current crisis.
The crisis under discussion was quite serious. The previous day, employees of the Boston branch of The Bishop had dragged out a homeless man from their hotel after assuming that he didn’t have the money to spend in their hotel. As it turned out, the man wasn’t actually homeless. He was a stockbroker who was doing a social experiment. After recording the whole event, he’d uploaded it on YouTube.
Social media and the media had gone crazy. Everyone was after their heads and raking the company over the coals. Several twitter celebrities had called for a boycott of their hotels, their Trip Advisor page was currently flooded with one-star reviews, and there was even a petition to investigate the group. That petition had over ten thousand signatures. Worse, their stock had tumbled overnight because of the fiasco.
It was a full-blown disaster, and they were losing money.
Lex was acutely aware of both his father and sister watching him as he read through Eve’s proposal. He ignored them. After a quick scan, he closed the folder and held it out to his father.
“It looks good,” he said simply.
“It does?” Andrew grabbed the folder to go through it.
“See, it does.” Eve rushed on to add, “We should admit that we were at fault. I’ll call a press conference and you can personally apologize-”
“Me? You want me to apologize?” Andrew glared at her like she was crazy. “Why should I have to apologize?”
“You’re the CEO. You’re ultimately responsible.” Eve couldn’t hide the smugness in her voice as she suggested, “While you’re doing the press conference, you should also announce that we’ll be having sensitivity training for our employees worldwide.”
“Won’t that cost money?”
“Not more than what we’d lose if we don’t do it,” Eve countered. “We might also have to do something for the homeless. Maybe a donation drive or something.”
“Donating? Again?” Andrew glowered at her. “Don’t we give out enough?”
“Do you want this to end or not?”
Andrew kissed his teeth and tossed the folder. “This wouldn’t be happening if you’d just run a background check on the man first.”
“Next time,” Eve promised.
Personally, Lex thought that they were both missing the point. This whole thing hadn’t happened because they hadn’t done a proper background check. It had happened because their admission policies were discriminatory. Still, it wasn’t his business. Their company… their policies. He stood up.
Andrew immediately looked up. “Where are you going?”
“I’m meeting someone,” Lex answered shortly.
“Now?” His father shot him a look of disbelief. “We still have things to discuss about the hotel.”
“Sorry.” Lex shrugged. “I don’t work here.”
With that, he walked out of the office, leaving his father gaping in open-mouthed disbelief. Truthfully, Lex felt no guilt about not doing much to help out the company. If he stuck his nose too far into the company’s business, his father would mistakenly assume that he was interested in taking over the company. And he wasn’t. He really wasn’t. Why would he be when he’d never even liked being a Bishop?
Lex expected to find Freddie waiting for him at the receptionist’s desk. But she wasn’t there.
Frowning, he asked the receptionist, “Has anyone asked to see me?”
“No-” the receptionist started then paused. “Oh yes – the concierge’s desk called about ten minutes ago to say that a woman called Freddie was coming up to see you. But she’s not here yet.”
Then where is she? Lex reached for his phone to check with her. Before he could even dial her number, the door to his father’s office opened and Eve walked out. As soon as Eve saw her brother, her mouth curled into a sneer. However, she didn’t say anything. She just walked past him and headed towards the elevators. Lex watched her for a moment before turning back to his phone. He dialed Freddie’s number. It rang once, twice, thrice… she didn’t pick up.
Why wasn’t she picking up? Had she left? Had something happened?
Lex started towards the elevator. As he walked towards them, he could see that the doors were closing. Eve, who was already inside the elevator, saw him coming but she didn’t hold it for him. In fact, she kept on pressing the close-doors button. With a smirk, she watched the doors close in his face.
All Lex could do was shake his head and sigh. Petty much?
He had to wait several more minutes for the elevator to come up again before he took it down to the lobby. However, he didn’t see Freddie there either. He stopped by the concierge’s desk to check if they’d seen her.
“I did,” the concierge informed him. “She was going up but she met someone she knows and they moved to the lounge.”
Relief shot through Lex. At least she was still around. He strode towards the lounge. There were several guests seated in the lounge but it took Lex less than five seconds to find Freddie. She was so unique that she always stood out in a crowd. Or maybe it was because he’d gotten so used to watching her whenever he could that his senses had trained themselves to find her whenever they were in the same room.
Even now, seated as she was and dressed in a sedate black blazer over a white shirt and jeans, she was still the sexiest woman around. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. How could he when he loved everything about her? From the smell of her dark-chocolate skin to her soft curves, her sexy voice, her eyes… everything.
It took a while for Lex to notice the man seated directly across from Freddie. At first he didn’t recognize the man, then he did. Wesley Drake, the R&B singer. Freddie’s boyfriend.
Lex immediately stopped walking. Something hot swept through him to settle in his chest. The hot feeling grew until it felt like he’d choke on it. He already knew what that feeling was… jealousy. He ached to stride forward and jerk Freddie out of her seat and away from Wesley. He wanted to steal her. But he couldn’t.
Swallowing hard to ease some of the heat, Lex started to turn away from them, but just as he did, he saw Freddie swipe her palm over her cheek as if to wipe a tear. Was she crying? She couldn’t be, right? When she did it again, he was sure… she was crying. Hot anger shot through Lex. What the hell had that bastard done to make her cry?
THE INSTAGRAM ‘MODEL’ was nowhere to be seen. She’d disappeared as soon as Wesley had gone after Freddie. However, her presence and the truth she’d brought to light still lingered like a dark cloud hanging over Freddie and Wesley as they sat facing each other.
Freddie wasn’t even sure what she was still doing here or why she’d agreed to Wesley’s stupid request to talk. Maybe it was because she still couldn’t quite believe what she’d seen. This wasn’t really happening. Another errant tear slid down her cheek.
“Stop crying,” Wesley soothed as he leaned forward and held out his hand as if to wipe the tear.
“Don’t!” Freddie immediately slapped his hand away.
She hated crying in front of him, hated showing him how much he’d hurt her. But her stupid tears kept falling. She roughly swiped her palm over her cheek before she turned her glare back on Wesley.
“So…” she demanded, “explain.”
Wesley looked down at his linked fingers. “There’s nothing to explain.”
“What?” Hot anger seared through her. “What do you mean there’s nothing to explain? I just caught you with another woman.”
“I mean there’s nothing to explain because she was nothing. Nothing at all.” Wesley looked up to offer a pleading look. “She was just a one-night stand. A one-time thing.”
Freddie was surprised that she sounded so calm as she asked, “And that makes it all right?”
“Of course not.” Wesley leaned forward and stretched his arm as if to touch her hand. However, the glare Freddie gave him was enough to make him tuck his dirty hands on his lap.
He took a deep breath before continuing, “The important thing is that you’re the one I love, the one I want to be with. I might have made a little mistake but-”
“Little?” Freddie couldn’t believe this man’s bullshit.
“Okay. Not little,” Wesley corrected himself. “I might have made a big mistake but my feelings for you are just as strong as they’ve always been.”
Though he looked sincere, Freddie didn’t believe a word he was saying. Why? Because he’d spent the last few weeks convincing her that he didn’t even know that ‘model’, that he’d never even met her. Yet here they were.
She sat back in her seat, folded her arms over her chest and met his eyes. “How many times?”
“Huh?” Wesley looked confused.
“How many times have you slept with her?” Freddie asked curtly.
He was taken aback by the question. His eyes widened then he swallowed. Hard. “Um… I don’t think-”
“How many times?”
Wesley brushed his face with his hand. He was silent for quite some time as if expecting that if he didn’t answer, Freddie would move on. Freddie didn’t move on. She just stared at him and waited.
He sighed. “Why are you asking when you know that the answer will hurt you?”
“Ah! So that’s code for many times, huh?” Despite Freddie’s calm voice, another tear slid down her cheek. She brushed it away.
“Look, Freddie…” Wesley dragged in a deep breath as if to calm himself. He looked almost angry as he explained, “I’m a superstar. I’m young, wealthy and healthy. I can’t help it that women keep throwing themselves at me.”
“That doesn’t give you the license to sleep with them.”
“I know but… I’m just a man.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“You’re a doctor, Freddie.” He puffed out heavily. “You know men aren’t meant to be faithful, especially men in my position. It’s science.”
She blinked then blinked again. “I’m sorry… what?”
“I can’t help that I get turned on by other women,” Wesley tried to explain. “It’s just my male hormones acting up.”
Freddie burst into laughter. What kind of quack-scientists had this man been hanging out with?
Annoyance flashed in Wesley’s face. “What’s so funny?”
“You. You’re funny,” Freddie retorted with a chuckle. “Do you hear yourself? You’re not making any damn sense.”
“That’s because you’re not listening to me. You’re just angry-”
“So you’re telling me,” she cut him off, “that since you’re a man, you have no control over yourself? You just have to cheat, and I just have to accept it?”
“Um…” Wesley thought over it a moment then tentatively returned, “Yes?”
“Yes?” Freddie stared at him in shocked disbelief for quite some time before she shot to her feet. “I can’t believe I stayed here for this mess.”
Wesley immediately grabbed her arm to keep her from moving. “Where are you going?”
“Let go.” She tugged at her arm.
Wesley didn’t let go. Instead, he stood up too. “Are you breaking up with me?”
“No. Not yet.” Freddie forced a smile. “Not until I’ve had my one-night stand too.”
“What?” His eyes widened in shock.
“Let’s make this fair.” She kept smiling. “If you can have a one-night stand, then I should too.”
“What?” Anger replaced Wesley’s shock. “But you’re a woman.”
“Yes, I know. So? I have hormones too. Didn’t your science books tell you that?” she asked him smugly. “Plus, I’m young, wealthy and healthy too. Why can’t I?”
“Because… because…” Wesley stopped speaking, probably because he couldn’t come up with a counter response that made sense.
“That’s what I thought.” Even though it felt like she was being ripped apart on the inside, Freddie continued, “While I was with you, I found other men attractive too. Some even threw themselves at me. But I held back because unlike you, I have self-control and I respected our relationship. But thanks to you, I now know that I was wasting my time. Why should I resist my hormones? We’re all just slaves to them anyway. Why even bother trying to hold back?”
“Freddie!” Wesley’s voice was so loud that it drew the attention of people seated in the tables next to theirs.
“What?” She raised her eyebrows. “Too much truth for you?”
He stuttered, “How can… how can you-”
“How can I what?” When he didn’t answer, she jerked her arm. “Let me go.”
“Let go.” She tried to get out of his grip again but he was holding on to her wrist too tightly, and it was beginning to hurt. “Wesley, let go.”
“No, not until we discuss this properly,” he bit out as he started to drag her towards the door. “Somewhere we can have privacy.”
“Wesley, let go.”
Freddie was so busy trying to get out of his grip that she didn’t even notice Lex coming towards them. Not until he was right upon them. The moment she saw him, mortified heat flushed up her face. It was bad enough that she’d been cheated on, but having Lex as a witness to the whole show was embarrassing.
However, when she saw his expression and the fury burning in his eyes, the alarms started to go off. Worse, his fingers were already curled in a fist. If she didn’t do something, he was going to kill Wesley.
The moment Lex saw Wesley drag Freddie across the room, he saw red. The fury that flashed through him was akin to a tornado sweeping through his whole body and consuming him. Lex didn’t know what they were fighting over or why Freddie had been crying, but nothing gave the man the right to drag her around like that.
Without conscious thought, he started moving. The closer he got to them, the tenser his muscles became as they prepared to take down Wesley. All he could think about was punching the lights out of the man. And he was going to do it too… but Freddie saw him coming.
Her eyes widened as the knowledge of what he was about to do sunk in. Her gaze on Lex, she mouthed, “Lex, no.”
By the time he got to them, she’d somehow maneuvered herself until she was in front of Wesley instead of trailing behind him.
“No.” Her tone was as anxious as the light in her eyes. “Lex, no.”
Was she protecting the bastard? Why? Lex’s furious gaze swept away from her to Wesley. The man looked confused as if he didn’t know what was going on here. Lex tried to sidestep Freddie so he could get to her boyfriend, but Freddie shifted too until she was right in front of him.
“Lex, you can’t,” she pleaded desperately. “This is your dad’s hotel.”
Her words sucked all the air out of his anger because it was then that he realized what she was doing. She was protecting him, not Wesley. And she was right to. Even though Lex wasn’t an active participant in the family business, news that he’d fought with someone while in his father’s hotel would have disastrous ramifications to both Bishop Worldwide Holdings Inc and his own company. Considering his family was already in the line of fire, this would only make things worse. The fist he’d unknowingly curled uncurled.
Freddie pushed out a relieved breath and whispered, “Thanks.”
“Who are you?” Wesley, who didn’t know how close he’d been to sweeping the floor with his body, demanded. “Who is he?”
“Let go.” Freddie jerked her arm.
This time he let her go. The moment she was free, she moved away to stand beside Lex. She looped her arm around Lex’s as if to hold him back in case he decided to punch Wesley anyway.
Wesley immediately noticed her actions. His gaze flew from her face down to their linked arms. When his eyes came back to meet Lex’s, they were blazing with anger. “Who the hell are you?”
“Let’s go,” Freddie urged Lex turning as she did. The two of them started walking towards the exit.
But Wesley wouldn’t let them leave. He grabbed Freddie’s elbow. “Who the hell is he?”
The amount of strength and self-control that it took for Lex not to punch the man could only be described as Herculean. His voice tight with anger and his teeth gritted, Lex ordered, “Let. Her. Go.”
Wesley must’ve had a death wish because instead of letting go, he demanded, “Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?”
Freddie answered before Lex could, “He’s my one-night stand.”
Her words were enough to shock both men, but only Wesley spoke. “What?”
Lex could only stare at her.
“He’s my one-night stand.” Freddie brought her other hand around Lex’s arm so that she was now clinging onto him with both arms. Her eyes on Wesley, she added, “I told you that while I was with you, I found other men attractive too. Well, say hello to the other man.”
Me? Lex’s jaw dropped. Freddie was attracted to him?
Wesley was just as shocked. His wide-eyed gaze swept to Lex. “Him?”
“Him,” Freddie insisted firmly. She tugged at Lex’s arm. “Come on, Lex. Let’s go.”
Lex was still so shocked that when she started to move towards the exit, he just followed.
“Freddie, are you serious?” Wesley followed on their heels.
Both Freddie and Lex ignored him.
“You can’t be serious,” Wesley insisted. “You can’t do this, Freddie. I told you I was sorry. Why are you being like this? Just because I made a mistake, it doesn’t mean you have to do the same…” On and on he kept yapping as he followed them.
Freddie’s steps were so fast-paced that within moments they ended up in the lobby. Once they were outside the hotel, she turned to Lex. “Where’s your car?”
“Didn’t bring it,” he answered shortly.
“You came on your bike?” she asked.
“Where?” she asked.
“Freddie, don’t do something you’ll regret,” Wesley pleaded behind them.
Both Lex and Freddie ignored him. Lex pointed in the general direction of the parking lot. With a nod, Freddie strode towards the pointed direction. Wesley must’ve gotten tired of following them because he stayed at the entrance just watching them cross the driveway. It was very well too because Lex was getting tired of his constant whining.
He and Freddie got to his motorcycle in a matter of minutes. It was then that worry replaced his shock. She’d never been on his machine before, and he wasn’t sure that she’d ever been on any bike before. Some people were terrified of motorcycles because they had no doors or roofs to protect them. Was Freddie one of those people?
She didn’t look scared. In fact, she asked, “Do you have a helmet for me?”
Lex nodded then grabbed the spare helmet. However, when she reached for it, he held it away from her. “You sure?”
She nodded. “I’m sure.”
Lex reluctantly handed her the helmet. Unfortunately, her box-braids were held up in a bun above her head. With a laugh, Freddie handed him the helmet back so she could unbind her braids. When they were down, he set the helmet over her head then helped her adjust it. After putting on his own helmet and gloves, he got on the bike. Freddie climbed in behind him.
The moment he felt her body against his, tension immediately engulfed Lex and his heart leaped. When she circled his waist with her arms, he had to suck in a breath. They’d never been this close before. He’d never felt her warmth meet his, and the feeling was more exhilarating than anything he’d ever felt.
He dragged in a deep breath to ease his racing heart before looking over his shoulder to say. “Hold on tight.”
He revved up the machine and set it in motion.
* * * * *
LEX SMELT AMAZING and his back was warm. So warm that the wind that whipped around her as they rode down the highway didn’t even have an effect on her. He was like a warm fire on a cold, winter night, and so comforting that Freddie found herself setting her head on his shoulder. Before she knew it, she was crying again.
Six months! Six months!
She’d wasted six months with a man who thought that faithfulness didn’t apply to him. How had she not caught it? She was hurt, but more than anything she felt like a fool. People always said that women had instincts that told them when things just weren’t right. Well, Freddie must not be a woman because she’d completely missed the signs even when they were blinking like neon lights right in front of her nose.
God! She was an idiot.
But better to be an idiot than an asshole. How in the world could Wesley live with himself after what he’d done? He’d deceived her for six months straight. What for? If he indeed believed that men were not created to be with one woman, why had he promised to be faithful to her? What was in it for him? Or had he just been having fun all this time? Trying to see how long it would take stupid Freddie to catch on.
The thought sent more tears spilling down Freddie’s cheeks. It was lucky that she was wearing a helmet otherwise she would’ve ruined Lex’s leather jacket. Along with her sadness came embarrassment. As grateful as she was that Lex had saved her, she also hated that he’d seen her at her weakest point. Still, it was better that he was there rather than Ari.
Ari would’ve blown this whole situation into a wildfire. Reasoning with Ari when he was righteously angry was like trying to explain nuclear physics to a cat. A waste of effort! Right now, they’d all be sitting in cells while Wesley waited for a plastic surgeon to fix his face.
Yeah, it was much better that it was Lex. With a sigh, she tightened her arms around his waist. Immediately, she felt the muscles there flex perceptibly. All her senses came alive as they noted how firm his stomach was and how his muscular thighs pressed against the insides of hers.
She’d never been quite this close to him and for some reason that thought sent an odd thrill through her. The low hum of the engine below her and the little bumps as they rode only added to the weird intimacy of their position. Too intimate.
Still, she couldn’t help cuddling even more into his body. So what if they were too close? After everything she’d been through today, she deserved some consolation. She closed her eyes and set her head on his back. They rode like that for quite a while until the scent in the air changed to something a little saltier. They were near the ocean.
By the time they cruised into the parking area closest to the beach, darkness had already set. Lex brought his bike to a halt then waited for her to clamber off before he got off too.
“Why are we here?” Freddie asked as she took off her helmet.
“Fresh air,” Lex returned simply as he got rid of his helmet, shaking his hair out as he did so.
Fresh air was indeed just what she needed. Lex may not be a good talker but he could hear even words that weren’t said. Freddie smiled as she watched him.
Objectively, Lex was a fine, fine man. His dark hair was long enough that he had to push the silky strands behind his ear to keep them from obstructing his sight. Heavy dark brows framed brown eyes that seemed to look past a person and right into their soul, while a light evening beard framed his lips. However, it was his body that had her attention.
Lex was a tall man, so tall that even in her heeled ankle-boots, her head barely touched his chin. Plus, he was slender. When he was younger, Ari and his other friends had nicknamed him Skindiana Bones. These days he’d put on a little muscle but he was still on the leaner side of human. Freddie had never asked him how much he actually weighed because she was too scared that she might find out that she weighed more. She chuckled at the thought.
However, her chuckle didn’t fool Lex. As soon as he got a good look at her face, he frowned. “You were crying again.”
“Was I?” She’d almost forgotten about Wesley for a moment there. With a sheepish laugh she pulled a handkerchief from her cross-body purse then swept it over her cheeks. “Sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize.” He looked like he wanted to say more but he didn’t. Instead, he took her helmet and his and locked them on the motorcycle. When he started walking along the paved path, she followed along quietly.
Despite the late hour, there were several people still out and strolling along the beach. Young old, male, female, couples…. Watching the happy couples was like getting stabbed again and again. Once upon a time… heck, just a few hours ago, she’d been just as blissfully happy as them. Blissfully ignorant.
Maybe it would’ve been better to never have caught Wesley and his model. Maybe then Freddie wouldn’t feel this bitterness that had settled in her throat. Maybe she wouldn’t feel this hollowness that had taken the spot where her heart was supposed to be.
Six months. Six wasted months.
Maybe this was her fault too. If she was more of the kind of woman Wesley’s kind of man dated, maybe he wouldn’t have felt the need to have a side-chick. She should’ve worn more make-up, tried those fake nails that Winter was always trying to convince her to give a go. Maybe she should’ve taken her mother’s advice and gotten rid of the jeans and tailored shirts. Would skimpier clothing and higher heels have kept him?
Ugh! What was she even thinking? If even the Kardashians had gotten cheated on, who was Freddie to imagine that showing off her admittedly chunky stomach would somehow keep her man from running around?
“He’s not worth it.” Lex’s deep voice cut into her thoughts.
“Hmm?” Freddie gave him a sidelong glance.
Lex said, “Don’t cry for him.”
“I’m not cry-” Freddie paused when she realized that indeed her cheeks were wet again. Damn it! She dug into her purse for her handkerchief and wiped her face. She and Lex walked in silence for quite a while before she asked, “Did you hear it all?”
Lex gave her a questioning look.
“What Wesley and I were fighting about?” Freddie clarified. “Did you hear it?”
Lex shook his head.
Relief shot through Freddie. At least he didn’t know. But in that same instance, the urge to confess squeezed at her and she found herself revealing, “He cheated on me.”
Lex immediately stopped walking. Freddie could’ve sworn that she felt the air crackle with his anger as he turned to her. The rage in his eyes was accompanied by disbelief as if he couldn’t believe that Wesley had cheated on her.
“Yup,” Freddie emphasized. “He cheated on me.”
Lex stared at her for a while as if to confirm that she was really telling the truth, then he abruptly turned and started walking away. Even without him saying a word, she already knew what he was planning to do.
“You can’t beat him up.” Freddie raced to grab his arm. “You don’t even know where he lives.”
Lex stopped walking to glare at her. I’ll find out, his eyes said.
“Then?” Freddie held on to his arm tightly. “Am I supposed to bail you out for assault? Once the two of you are arrested, everyone will know. You’re a high profile CEO, he’s a star. It will be everywhere. My name will be everywhere. I’m already embarrassed enough without all of this blowing up into something bigger.”
Lex’s jaw tightened perceptibly. “Am I supposed to just let him go?”
“Yes.” She forcefully turned him so they were back to walking along the path they were on before. Though reluctant, Lex let her lead him. She added, “I didn’t tell you about it so you could go beat him up.”
“Then why did you tell me?”
“I don’t know.” Freddie shrugged. “I guess I just want someone else to agree with me that he’s a bastard.”
“He’s a bastard.” Though Lex’s voice was low, it was filled with so much venom that Freddie had to smile.
“Good, good. That’s it.” She teasingly nudged the side of his body with her shoulder. “After that you’re supposed to hug me and tell me that I’ll find someone better.”
The shock that filled Lex’s face was enough to make her laugh aloud.
“I’m kidding, Lex.” She chuckled. “You don’t have to hug me. I know how much you hate-”
She didn’t get to finish the sentence. One second she was teasing him, and the next he’d drawn her into his arms. Freddie was so surprised that she was rendered motionless even as her body welcomed the unexpected warmth of his. When he gathered her closer and slid his hand across her back, she couldn’t help the strange skip of her heart or how her feet instinctively brought her even closer to him. Before she knew it, her arms were around his waist and her head was buried against his chest.
The world and everything disappeared until it was just the two of them cocooned in their private space where no words were needed. Judging by his personality, she expected him to end the embrace quickly. But he didn’t. He just held her.
His hands swept along her back, soothing her sorrow away even as his heart beat against her ear, reminding her that she didn’t have to go through this alone. Freddie dragged in a deep breath and got a nose-full of his masculine scent. It was so intoxicating, so comforting that she found herself breathing in more of him and tightening her hold around his waist.
Even without speaking, Lex was just the pain-reliever she needed. The heaviness that was in her heart eased a little as she stood in his arms. Soon, something new came in to occupy that space. She wasn’t sure when it started. One moment she was leaning heavily into him because she wanted his comfort, and the next it was because her whole body felt… odd.
Suddenly, she noticed just how hard his chest was pressing against her breasts, how firmly his thighs were pressing into hers and the lump that was pushing against her tummy. A weird warmth slowly slithered through her. It strummed at all her nerves until she felt breathless with anticipation. As if she was waiting for him to do more than just pat her back.
Wait! Was she… was she getting aroused?
Freddie immediately stepped away from Lex. Her eyes flew up to his face to see if he’d noticed. However, his face was a mask of detachment. No, he hadn’t noticed.
She forced a smile. “You’re getting better at this.”
Lex raised an eyebrow questioningly.
“The comforting thing. You’re getting the hang of it.” Laughing, she lightly punched his chest (her way of reminding herself that they were nothing more than friends) as she added, “I almost forgot that I was heartbroken.”
Lex just shrugged. His way of saying ‘I’m glad I could be of help’.
Now that she was out of his arms, it seemed to have gotten colder. Shivering slightly, Freddie pulled her blazer tightly around her. Lex immediately noticed and shrugged off his jacket.
Freddie gave him a surprised look. “What are you doing?”
Instead of answering, he set the jacket over her shoulders.
“No.” Freddie immediately shook it off and handed it back to him. “You’ll be cold too.”
“I don’t mind,” he said despite the fact that his thin, black t-shirt was no match for the breeze.
“Well, I do. You’re not getting sick on my watch.” She lifted on tiptoes to set the jack back over his shoulder. Before he could protest, she started walking back towards the parking lot. “Come on. We’ve stayed out here long enough anyway. Let’s go back.”
She didn’t need to look back to know that he’d follow her.
When they got back to his bike, he handed her helmet. As she put it on, she asked, “Could we stop by a convenience store first?”
He didn’t ask why. He just nodded.
Within minutes, they were back on his bike, cruising down the road. As requested, Lex stopped his bike in front of the first convenience store he saw. He waited outside while she went in. Once in the store, Freddie headed straight for the alcohol aisle. Though she wasn’t a big drinker, tonight was an exception. Alcohol couldn’t get rid of her heartbreak but it could help her forget it for at least one night. She dumped a pack of beer and several bottles of vodka in her basket before heading to the counter.
It was only as she was paying for her loot that she realized that she still had Lex’s wallet. As soon as she was outside the store, she held it out to him.
Stuffing the wallet into the back of his denim pants, Lex trained his gaze on the white bag she was holding. “What’s that?”
“This?” She held the bag up. It was transparent enough that one could see the alcohol inside it. She grinned. “My medicine.”
Lex glanced at the bag then met her eyes again.
“What?” She stared right back at him. “Are you going to tell me that alcohol is not the answer?”
His eyes said that that was exactly what he was thinking. But all he did was shrug before saying, “You’ll have to carry them though.”
She nodded. “That’s okay.”
He held the bag so she could put on her helmet and get on the bike. Once she was on the bike, he asked, “Where to?”
“Your place,” she answered promptly.
His eyebrows immediately arched upwards.
She explained, “You don’t expect me to get drunk at my parent’s house, do you? My mom will kill me.”
“Winter’s place,” he suggested.
“She’s out of town.”
She guffawed. “Are you kidding me?”
Lex was all out of options now but he still looked reluctant. To be honest, she could’ve gone to a bar, but she didn’t want to go alone. And even if Lex agreed to go with her, she might burst into tears. She’d already embarrassed herself in public today. That was enough. Lex’s place was her only option.
“Come on, Lex,” she coerced. “Just tonight. I promise I won’t mess up your place.”
He watched her for a moment then said, “That’s not what I’m worried about.”
“What are you worried about?” she asked.
He didn’t answer but the odd light that glinted in his eyes was enough to send momentary doubt through her.
Was it a bad idea to drink with Lex? She immediately shook that doubt away. Why would it be a bad idea? He was her brother’s best-friend. The man she trusted as much as her own family. What could happen?
She forced her lips into a pout as she pleaded, “You’re the only one I have, Lex. Please. Please.”
He stared at her for quite a while before he sighed in surrender.
“Thank you.” Freddie grinned. When he got on the bike in front of her, she leaned forward to say, “Don’t worry, Lexy. I’ll be a good girl. I won’t eat you.” She didn’t know what possessed her to add, “Unless you want me to.”
But the shock that filled Lex’s expression when he turned back to stare at her was enough to make her giggle. However, her giggle faded when his shock changed into something more… more dangerous. His eyes darkened and shadowed. That look sent a strange ache shuttling through her body straight to her lower belly. Her breath caught and she couldn’t pull her gaze away from his. It was almost as if he was thinking of taking her up on her offer to eat him. He wasn’t, right?
Before Freddie could further analyze the look, he turned away from her and started his bike.
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