As I perused a few black dresses, a couple of pretty scoop-neck tops, and some short-sleeve blouses, I only briefly considered what Jake would like to see me in.

The thought didn’t last long, and then I let it go.

That was oddly freeing—a welcome change from anxious guesses about what my date would find attractive.

But why?

As I ran my fingers down a purple top that dared to reveal just enough cleavage, I found the answer.

I wasn’t dressing to impress a man.

And that wasn’t because I didn’t want to impress the man.

I did. God, did I want to impress him.

Only, I knew this man was interested in the full package—by how I felt in what I wore.

Jake wasn’t the sort to be turned on by certain looks or styles. He was the kind of man turned on by the whole woman.

And that was a wildly freeing thought. A seductive one too.

Which made it incredibly dangerous as well.

But as I pulled on my favorite jeans, a sexy pair of strappy silver heels, and the purple top, I was craving the danger.

Craving the man.

Craving the whole night.

I touched up my blush and mascara, and my phone trilled—a FaceTime call. When I saw the dual images, I slid my thumb across the screen to answer the group call.

“It’s Peaches and Cream. It’s Frick and Frack. It’s Salt and Pepper,” I said to my friends, calling me from their separate phones but patched together.

Lily arched a brow, and Nina stuck out her tongue. “Thanks so much. Glad to know you see us as twinsies,” Lily said.

I shrugged saucily. “Well, you are calling me in tandem. And you’re both in yoga pants and sports bras.”

Nina rolled her eyes. “Because we’re at the gym. I’m on the StairMaster, and Lily’s on the elliptical one row over. And we’re calling you because we like you. Or used to, I should say.”

I puckered my lips and blew a kiss at them. “You still like me. You love me. Admit it.”

“Fine, fine. We love you. Which is why we wanted to invite you out for coffee,” Lily offered as her arms swept back and forth. Her phone must have been positioned on the dashboard of the machine.

“I do love coffee, but alas, I can’t make it tonight.”

Lily brought her face right up to the screen. “My reporter radar says you have a date.”

Nina’s eyes gleamed, her hair bouncing as she stepped up and up and up. “You told us we weren’t allowed to set you up, and now you have a date. I’m pretty sure this means you don’t love us at all.”

I gulped.

Oops.

They’d both been pushing me toward Jake whenever they were given a chance. I didn’t know if I wanted to tell them about this arrangement we had for the weekend. Being my best friends, they’d likely try to turn it into something more.

For a fleeting second, I wished they could.

I wished they could wave a magic wand and make it . . . something.

That wasn’t in the cards.

But neither was lying to my friends.

I drew a breath, squared my shoulders, and spoke the truth. “It’s not a date. I’m just having dinner with Jake.”

Nina’s face disappeared from the screen.

“What just happened?” I asked, nervous.

Lily waved a hand dismissively. “Don’t worry. She just fell off the StairMaster. She’ll be on the YouTube channel for Epic Gym Fumbles tonight.”

I stared at my friend. “Seriously? Is she okay?”

Nina popped back up. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” she said, pretending to be breathless. Then she whispered, “Just playing around. I didn’t really fall. But now tell us stuff. Tell us about your just dinner.”

“I swear it’s just dinner.”

As if they’d been practicing synchronized guffaws, the two of them scoffed in unison.

“Sure,” Lily said.

“Right,” Nina agreed.

“Guys, I mean it. He’s helping me out with some work stuff. It’s not a date,” I said, then glanced at the time. “But I do have to go.”

* * *

I headed to The Cosmopolitan, taking the escalator past The Chandelier bar, enrobed in its sheets of gorgeous crystals. As I got closer, my stomach flipped and my chest fluttered.

This felt like a date.

This felt like romance.

Anticipation sent sparks over my skin.

When I found Jake waiting at the restaurant bar, I paused to take in the cut of his jaw as he lifted his highball glass, to watch his Adam’s apple bob as he knocked back a swallow. He said something to the bartender, who laughed, and I wondered what amusing thing he’d said.

My skin heated up as I watched him.

But so did my heart.

It beat faster and faster.

Insistently.

This weekend was not about companionship, pleasure, or friendship—not the paid kind, and not the kind that came in a relationship.

This weekend was about work and wallets and knowledge.

Feelings had no place in these forty-eight hours, which were more than half over.


Tags: Lauren Blakely The Gift Erotic
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