Author: Sylvia Day
Lei had wished me well at work on Friday when I told her what was happening, but she’d been notably subdued. That was hard for me, because I’d come to seek and depend on her approval.
“Looks like I arrived right on time.”
I felt Jax stiffen at the sound of his father’s voice. His hold on me loosened and he straightened, freeing me to turn around and face Parker Rutledge.
“I brought beer,” he said, holding up a twelve-pack. His smile was wide, his face startling in its resemblance to his son’s. He thrust his hand out to Vincent and introduced himself, then glanced at me. “There she is, the woman who’s got my son smiling nonstop lately. It’s good to see you again, Gianna.”
“Hello, Mr. Rutledge.”
“Parker, please.” He ripped open the top of the twelve-pack and handed a beer to Vincent, then stepped down into the living room to shake hands with Nico. “Saw the other Rossi downstairs in the lobby. Sounded like he was making a bet with the doorman.”
I shot a look at Jax and saw his face had hardened into an inscrutable mask, his attention on his father, watching as Parker passed a beer to my older brother.
“Let’s plan for all of us to get together sometime this coming week,” Parker said, taking in everyone with a sweeping glance. “Your parents, too, of course. And my wife, Regina.”
“The Rossis are as busy as we are,” Jax said tightly. “Possibly more so.”
“I’m sure they are. American entrepreneurship at its finest.” Parker set the case of beer down on the coffee table and pulled one out for himself. “But surely we can work something out. Family is family, after all.”
Nico’s dark, thoughtful gaze met mine. He shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”
* * *
Jax holed up in his home office after everyone left, leaving me to put my stuff away wherever I wanted. We didn’t talk about it, but I was pretty sure he’d had different plans for our Saturday before his dad showed up. It tripped me out how Parker Rutledge blew into a room like a ray of sunshine and his son turned instantly arctic.
What was the story there? Why was it that every time his dad popped into our lives, it automatically put a wedge between us?
I was unpacked within an hour, leaving me hanging around an unfamiliar place with nothing to do. I debated watching TV, then decided to surf online for movie showtimes and dinner reservations. I was damned if Parker was going to ruin my first weekend living with Jax.
Dropping onto the couch, I propped my bare feet up on the coffee table and set my laptop on my knees. I’d scarcely typed in my password when Jax appeared.
“Hey,” I greeted him. My smile faded when I saw the tightness around his eyes and mouth. “Everything all right?”
“Your hair’s a sexy mess.” The dark locks were wild, as if he’d been shoving his hands into them to release inner tension, something I would have been happy to do for him.
Giving me a sheepish look, Jax ran a hand over his hair to smooth it. “I was just thinking—you up for one of those mind-numbingly boring affairs I warned you about?”
“I’m up for anything that puts you in a tuxedo.”
His mouth softened into a wry smile. “All right, then.”
I snapped my laptop closed and set it on the coffee table. “I’ll need to go shopping, though. When is it?”
My brows rose. “You couldn’t give me more warning?”
“Just found out about it,” he said grimly. “We can have a stylist come here with some choices for you.”
“Seriously? How important is this thing you’re asking me to?”
He leaned into the wall in what might have seemed like a casual pose if he wasn’t so edgy. I could almost see the agitation radiating from him. “I’m outing you as my girl. But before you get it into your head that I want you looking any particular way, let me tell you that I’d take you out just the way you are right now.”
Pushing to my feet, I glanced down at my basic white ribbed tank top and tan capris. “Shut up.”
“Baby, that killer body of yours makes everything sexy.” He crossed his arms, settling in. “I just don’t want you running all over town.”
“I can find something off the rack, unless you have a problem with that.”
“Takes all the fun out of it for me. We bring someone here, I get to watch you dress and undress. We hit the stores, they’ll kick me out of the dressing rooms.”
My lips twitched with a repressed smile. “Pervert.”
“Guilty as charged.”
“You do this sort of thing often?” I asked as casually as I could manage. It hadn’t escaped me that most guys wouldn’t have a stylist on call for their girlfriends.
“Get kicked out of dressing rooms? Not as a rule, no.”
I told myself to drop it. “Well, that’s a good thing. Anyway...I’ll just head out for a couple hours, let you work.”
“And stew all afternoon over whether or not I play dress-up with all the chicks I fuck?” he asked, straightening.
“I don’t want to talk about your sexual conquests.” I grabbed my purse off the armchair and looked around for my flats.
“You just want to be mad at me for stuff you’re making up in your head.”
I glared at him. “Don’t pick a fight with me just because you’ve got issues with your dad.”
“This has nothing to do with him.”
“Really? Because I get the impression damn near everything in your life has something to do with him.”
“Not you,” he said quietly. Dangerously. He closed the distance between us. “Stop changing the subject and spit it out, Gia.”
“It doesn’t matter, Jax. I knew you were a player when I met you. I’ll get over it.”
“I had my moments,” he agreed. “They never included giving a damn about how the women I nailed felt about anything, let alone the clothes they were wearing.”
My chin lifted. “Why are you always so quick to make yourself sound like a class A prick?”
He shrugged. “Just calling ’em like I see ’em.”
“No, you’re trying to paint a picture of yourself that has nothing to do with reality. You can’t keep telling me that I know you, while insisting that you’re really an asshole.” I dropped my purse back down. “It’s like you’re trying to convince you and me both that you’re something you’re not.”
“More like reminding us both of what I am,” he stopped in front of me, “what I’ve got inside me just waiting to come out.”
“I think your dad reminds you of that.”
“You’re fixated on my father.”
“Just calling ’em like I see ’em,” I shot back.
Jax stared down at me for a long minute, his body tense and the air between us strained. “What you’re not seeing is that he and I have a lot more in common than just our faces.”
“So, let’s talk about it.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“You just want to fight.”
He reached up and rubbed the back of his neck, his biceps stretching the sleeve of his T-shirt. He growled. “What I want is to fuck you bowlegged.”
“Jax.” I laughed, I couldn’t help it. His frustration was palpable and his response to it was so typically...male. “You’re lucky I grew up with three brothers, you know. I’m used to chest thumping.”
“And driving me insane.”
“You’re doing that all by yourself, what with your self-confessed multiple personality disorder.” I touched a finger to my jaw. “Wait. I get it. You’re a twin. There’s two of you!”
Closing his eyes, he rubbed his temples with his fingertips. “Jesus.”
“If I sleep with both of you, does that count as cheating?”
His hands dropped and he looked at me. “Are you in love with both of them?”
I reached out and touched his chest. “I’m in love with you.”
With a sigh, Jax hugged me and pressed his lips to my shoulder. “Image is everything in politics. Sometimes, I’m asked to help others with theirs. That’s why I know a few stylists.”
I pushed my hands up beneath his shirt to touch his bare skin. His soft shiver and low moan sent my heartbeat skipping. “Good to know.”
I wanted to know more, but for the first time in our relationship we had time to let things grow and develop. I gave myself the right to enjoy that.
* * *
There were a handful of things in life that made me catch my breath in wonder—Jax in a tuxedo topped the list.
I watched him cross the ballroom with a champagne flute in each hand, his stride fiercely elegant and unmistakably sexual. The D.C. hotel was filled with men and women who were political and financial scions wielding tremendous power. Enormous crystal chandeliers cast light that glittered off priceless jewels and glossy, perfectly coiffed locks. Crystal glasses clinked against each other, and the hum of conversation sounded like a swarm of bees.
In the midst of it all, Jackson Rutledge stood out from the crowd.
His hair was nearly as dark as his tuxedo, his skin lightly tanned, his eyes framed by arrogantly slashed brows. The beautifully tailored tux hugged his broad shoulders and emphasized the length of his legs.
Discreetly, I licked my lips. Mine.
Jax would’ve caught my eye no matter what, but it was the look in his eyes that set my heart racing.
“I still love that dress,” he said, handing me a flute and bending to kiss my shoulder.
My lips curved against the mouth of the glass. The muted gold gown had been the first one I’d tried on and he’d voted for it on sight, shaking his head at the three dresses I had tried on after it. A smooth column of lined silk poured down my body, held in place by thin beaded straps at my shoulders and back. I’d been wary of the color at first, but the gown did a splendid job of hinting at my curves, instead of hugging them.
He turned to face the room, his hand coming to rest on my hip in a blatantly possessive display of ownership. “In a couple of hours we can fly back to New York. Or we can grab a room here in the hotel.”
“Or join the mile-high club. After all, what’s the point of taking a private jet if we don’t get naughty in it?”
His fingers flexed into my flesh. “And once again, I have an erection in public. Thank you very much.”
I laughed and leaned into him. “What do you need to do here?”
“Not sure.” He took a drink. “Once Parker shows up, I’ll have an idea.”
“He relies on you a lot, doesn’t he?”
Jax shrugged, but I saw the tightness around his mouth again. It was soon echoed by a corresponding tautness to his big frame, and when I followed his gaze, I saw why. Parker and Regina Rutledge had arrived. The two stood near the entrance to the ballroom, surrounded by those who wanted to rub shoulders with a Rutledge. There were several of them in attendance, but Parker was the wizard behind the curtain whom everyone wanted to see.
He looked over at Jax and me, smiling when he caught my eye and then glancing at Jax. A silent bit of communication passed between them.
“Gimme a second, babe,” Jax murmured, then he walked away, striding easily through a crowd that parted for him.
I watched him until he reached his father, studying both men for body language.
“Well, you cleaned up nicely,” a familiar voice said beside me.
Turning my head, I looked at Allison Rutledge, formerly Allison Kelsey. I raked her with a glance, noting the changes. I’d barely seen her the night I escorted Ian, so I took the opportunity. She was thinner than she had been in Vegas and she’d been slender then. Polished and perfect in a brittle way, she appeared to have hardened and grown more jaded. There was a world-weariness in her eyes that echoed what I occasionally saw in Jax.