The Bachelor's Promise (Bachelor Auction)

By: Naima Simone



“Aiden.” A hand landed on his shoulder, lightly squeezing. Maybe in support. Maybe in warning. Lucas Oliver, chief executive officer of Bay Bridge Industries, and Aiden’s best friend, extended his hand toward Noelle. “Noelle. It’s nice to see you again. May I introduce my wife, Sydney Blake Oliver?”

As if hesitant to remove her focus, Noelle stared at Aiden for a long instant before acknowledging Lucas. She pressed her palm to his, her small, delicate hand disappearing inside Lucas’s larger one. Something welled in Aiden, fast and hard, but almost immediately he squashed it. Almost. “Lucas.” She nodded, glancing at Sydney, her gaze dropping to the other woman’s rounded belly. Probably wondering, as so many of them did, what the statuesque, beautiful, and serene woman was doing with his intense, intimidating friend. A year after their marriage, the mystery of how Sydney Blake tamed the “Beast of Bay Bridge” still confounded people. “Nice to meet you, Sydney.”

“You, too, Noelle.” Sydney smiled, and nothing in her soft, welcoming tone betrayed the curiosity that had to be running rampant through her. “We were just headed out for a late dinner.” With a rueful grin, she smoothed a hand over her stomach. “The food they serve at these things is pretty, but definitely not enough when you’re eating for two. Would you like to join us?”

Relief flooded through Aiden. God, he loved this woman. If Lucas wouldn’t plant a fist in his face, Aiden would gladly kiss her for providing a graceful exit from this awkward situation.

Flicking a glance in Aiden’s direction, Noelle nodded once more. “Thank you.”

“No, thank you,” Sydney said, shifting next to Noelle and, sliding her arm through hers, guiding Noelle through the crowd of people. For the first time, Noelle’s bravado slipped, and Aiden caught the whisper of uncertainty—of vulnerability—that flickered across her face. She’d braved a ballroom full of formally dressed people in denim and leather without flinching—hell, had faced him down—but a gesture of kindness from Sydney made her uncomfortable? “If you know both Aiden and Lucas, then I finally have someone I can pump for information. Like humiliating secrets from their pasts they both refuse to share.”

Like hell. If he had his way—and he would—Noelle wouldn’t be in Boston long enough to confide anything about their history.

“Aiden.” Elegant, feminine fingers wrapped around his bicep, simultaneously drawing him to a halt and out of his head. Frustration snaked through him as Noelle, Sydney, and Lucas drifted farther from him. Forcing a smile to his lips, he turned to…Joanna? Jolene? Damn, what was her name? “We need to make plans for our date. I’m staying at the Four Seasons,” she purred, splaying the fingers of her other hand over his chest. “You can come up to my suite; we can have a drink and discuss the details.”

Discuss. The gleam in her hazel eyes let him know exactly what she wanted from him, and it didn’t include dates or accommodations. And fifteen minutes ago—before Noelle appeared in this ballroom—he wouldn’t have hesitated to take her up on her offer. A gorgeous, confident woman, physical attraction, and a mutual understanding of pleasure—and no strings? Yeah, that was his thing.

But now, instead of following Jocelyn—right, damn it! Her name was Jocelyn—to her hotel room, he practically vibrated with the need to go after Noelle and do…what? Run her out of town on a rail like some stereotypical Western sheriff? Demand to know why she’d sought him out?

No. Unable to resist, he glanced in the direction of the exit through which she and his friends had disappeared. He didn’t want to hear what she wanted. Didn’t want to hear anything except “good-bye.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, closing his fingers around Jocelyn’s and stepping back. “I truly am. But there’s a small family”—he clenched his jaw, barely managing not to choke on the word—“issue. Can I have a rain check?”

Jocelyn’s smile faltered, her eyes narrowing the slightest bit. She probably wasn’t used to hearing no. Especially from a man. “What about our date?”

He squeezed her hand, then released it, impatience an insistent hum under his skin. “I’ll get your number from the auction committee and give you a call this week. I promise. I’m sorry. I really have to go.”

“Wait—”

But he’d already strode away, all his attention focused on the woman who had dragged the past kicking and screaming into his present.

It wasn’t enough that her father had used his mother for a place to stay and money to fund his endless supply of alcohol. Or that he’d been too busy getting plastered and locked up as she lay dying of cancer. Or that he’d violated her memory and her kindness even after her death.

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