Beauty and the Bachelor

By: Naima Simone



His breath snagged in his throat as he waited for her reply. And he convinced himself it was because his plan hinged on the answer…not because he wanted her to want to spend time with him.

Fuck, he sounded like a girl. Next he would be writing notes asking her out and to check yes, no, or maybe.

“Yes or no, Sydney,” he repeated, the need for her answer hardening his tone.

A beat of taut silence.

“Yes.”





Chapter Four


“What the hell are you doing?” Sydney whispered to her reflection in the full-length cheval mirror the following evening. She smoothed slightly trembling hands over the waist and beaded belt of the floor-length black evening dress. After discarding five gowns, she’d settled on this one. The long sleeves and length were ideal for the October evening and an air-conditioned theater, while the beaded embellishments along the deep keyhole neckline prevented the dress from veering into Morticia territory. It said, yes, I am on this date, but, no, I am not up for a one-night stand…or a visit to the morgue.

Perfect.

Except for the nerves that ambushed her stomach.

She groaned, turning from her image before she found something else wrong—the color was drab, the material too formfitting, her hips looked too big, her ass was huge—and changed once more.

This was crazy. Had to be the most nonsensical thing she’d done in fourteen years. Again, what the hell was she thinking?

That’s just it. She wasn’t—she wasn’t thinking.

For once, the opinions of her father, mother, Tyler, or others in their exclusive social circle didn’t overshadow her own wants. For once, she wasn’t censoring her own actions by someone else’s guidelines and desires.

For once, she was doing what she wanted and to hell with the consequences.

Her belly twisted, belying the brave words marching through her head.

This was so not like her.

Even now, the fear of disappointing her parents and fiancé crept up her throat, threatening to strangle the breath from her lungs.

Don’t. Hyperventilate.

Twenty-five years old and terrified of letting down her parents.

How pathetic would that sound to someone like Lucas Oliver, who didn’t appear to be afraid of anyone or anything? She shivered as an image of the gorgeous, faintly intimidating business mogul filled her head. The tall, hard body he’d aligned next to hers as he faced down her parents and Tyler. The big, callused hands that had clasped her own. The midnight waves and loose curls that grazed his sharp cheekbones and granite jaw. The startling beauty of turquoise eyes that had bored into hers as he quietly, but firmly, ordered her to look at him.

Look at me.

The air stuttered in her throat but for a different reason than fear. Those three words uttered in that dark, sensual voice had been like a caress over nerve endings she hadn’t known existed. They had touched a place of yearning so deep inside her she’d obeyed the command before her brain comprehended and telegraphed the order. The need had been physical—good God, her panties could attest to that—but it’d also been emotional. He hadn’t just been issuing an edict for her to return her gaze to him; he’d wanted to see her—her reaction, her wants, her thoughts…her. He’d wanted to see her.

Other than the Evans sisters and the young girls she mentored, Sydney couldn’t remember the last time someone had wanted to just see her.

How could she not have said yes?

Damn, how could she have said yes?

A perfunctory knock on her bedroom door echoed seconds before her mother entered.

“I see you’re still determined to go through with this…outing,” she stated, her tone as tightly drawn as the thin line of her mouth. “Really, Sydney, I have no idea what you could be thinking.”

That seemed to be the opinion of the day, didn’t it?

“Mom, I already explained my decision to you and Dad.”

“Yes, I know, you made a commitment. Fine. But you could have signed the check and passed on this date with an unknown”—she turned her lips up in a disgusted moue—“uncouth stranger. He’s disfigured, for God’s sake,” she spat. “I can only imagine how that came about.”

Of course she’d seen the scar. It was impossible to miss, since it bisected his obsidian eyebrow and continued in a thin ridge under his right eye. The scar appeared to be an old one, but the original wound must have been horrible to leave behind such a visible mark. But unlike her mother, Sydney didn’t find it repulsive. No, the mark added to his dangerous, warrior-in-a-suit air. He reminded her of a barely domesticated panther: dark, sleek, muscled, beautiful, predatory. The Beast of Bay Bridge, she’d learned people called him. The nickname probably wasn’t meant as flattery and referred to the name of his corporation and most likely his business reputation rather than his appearance. Regardless of the meaning behind the moniker, his masculine beauty invited a woman to touch, to pet, but at her own peril. Because this gorgeous animal did—and would—bite.

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