Plain and simple, this night sucked.
Sadly, it was my honeymoon.
I sighed heavily and gazed around Masquerade, an intimately lit London nightclub where everyone wore black domino masks, some elaborate and some plain, to hide their identity. A few die-hards even sported dark clothing with long, loose cloaks. Not me though. I’d gone modern with a slinky little number and three-inch heels, putting my height at nearly six feet. Yep, I’m the giant in the blue dress, towering over every girl and some guys at the bar.
My top teeth dug into my bottom lip as I gazed around the smoky club, my eyes bouncing off random faces. Even in a room full of party people, music, and strobe lights, I was lonely.
My groom was missing.
That’s right. Hartford Wilcox, Jr., aka Mr. Nice Guy at Whitman University in North Carolina, had jilted me two weeks before the big wedding day as we had dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant, Mario’s.
And now here I was—on my honeymoon and getting trashed with my best friend Lulu who’d decided to skip her beach vacation and come with me at the last minute.
She poked me with her finger as we sat in front of the heavy wooden bar of the club. “Hey, Earth to Remi, get that glazed look out of your eyes and order a drink already. I’m thirsty.” She fluffed her pixie-cut pink hair and straightened her black tutu, eyes scoping out the club. “Dang, the men in here are hotter than a billy goat with a blow torch,” she said in her honeyed southern drawl.
I half-heartedly agreed, not really caring, more intent on scanning the bottles behind the bar. “I want tequila,” I murmured. “A whole bottle.”
Her face snapped back to me and her green eyes widened. “Uh-uh. No way. I know what happens when you drink that crap. You either eat a ton of tacos and puke, or you wrap yourself around some cocky bastard with a well-developed tush.”
True. I did love a tight muscular ass.
But I wouldn’t get one tonight.
A short laugh burst out of me, one of those I’m-miserable-but-pretending-to- be-okay-laughs that I’d been doing a lot of lately. For the past two weeks, I’d vacillated between a sobbing mess and an angry woman who became so incensed that “fuck” was the only word that seemed appropriate in any given situation. Going to the post office to mail he dumped me, but thank you anyway cards. Fuck. Going to the wedding venue and not getting the ten thousand dollar deposit back. Fuck. Realizing I was homeless fall semester—which was in two weeks—fuck. Listening to my mother tell me it was my fault. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
The bartender delivered my bottle and poured me a shot. I sucked the tequila down while Lulu watched me warily. It tasted like bad decisions and gasoline, but tonight was about forgetting. The sooner the better.
A few minutes later, Lulu went out to dance with a British guy she’d been making eyes at. I sat glumly at the bar, fiddling with my diamond tennis bracelet, rubbing it like rosary beads. I needed to forget Hartford, and according to Lulu, that meant hooking up with someone.
Was she right?
Fate answered in the form of a beautiful man—and by beautiful I mean drop-dead sexy with a backside so delectable and muscular my mouth plopped open.
I snapped my lips shut and adjusted my velvet half-mask—the annoying feathery plumes on the sides kept sticking to my red lipstick—and turned ever so slightly to check him out, not wanting to appear obvious. He slid into the seat next to me, tall and broad with rippling shoulders and a massive frame.
I checked my appearance in a mirror behind the bar, mentally analyzing the odds of a girl like me snagging a hottie like him.
Although no one had ever called me beautiful, I did have two—okay, maybe three—things going for me in the looks department. My shiny, golden-brown hair that hung down in waves to my shoulders, my fluffy “pillow lips” as Lulu described them, and lastly, I had an itsy bitsy space between my two front teeth which were otherwise white and perfect. Lulu claimed the gap lent me an exotic look, like Madonna or Sookie Stackhouse. Whatever. I was a True Blood fan. I went with it.
He shifted on the stool, leaning closer to me. His cologne swirled in the air, the smell of expensive Scotch and musk mingling together to create a heady, slightly dangerous scent. I paused, goosebumps rising on my bare arms. The spicy whiff triggered a distant memory just out of reach.
As slyly as I could, I studied his profile from top to bottom. Like me he wore a black mask, although his was more masculine, not hiding his chiseled, movie star jawline. His lips were carnal and luscious, the bottom more plump than the top with a slight indentation in the middle. As I watched, his tongue swept out and caressed it, his top teeth biting it as if he were deep in thought. He raked a hand through his dark, longish messy hair, held it suspended above his head for a few seconds and then released it, letting it swish back into its tousled yet perfect place.
I tore my eyes away.
Something about him sent loud warning bells ringing in every atom of my body.
Danger, danger. Don’t touch that.
But my gaze would not be denied as I took in the tight black shirt and sculpted chest that was obviously used to the inside of a gym, right down to an arm that looked like it could snap a board in half—or me.
Nice biceps, Mr. Beautiful.
The pièce de résistance was the vivid blue and orange dragonfly tattoo displayed on his left arm. It was larger than my hand and took up most of his bicep. My eyes traced the contours of the design from the papery wings to the multi-faceted eyes. A bold black color outlined the insect, giving it a masculine feel.
True Religion jeans stretched down long legs and ended in a pair of black Converse without socks, giving him a boyish quality that was in direct contrast to the crazy-sexy-bad-boy vibe he had going on.
Maybe. He was the polar opposite of Hartford who was blond, lean, and tattoo-free.
I nibbled on my fingernail. How do I get him to notice little ol’ me?
Just then a redhead with fluffy Farrah Fawcett hair strode up to his stool, bold as brass, wearing a tight, white mini-skirt that barely covered her booty. She brought with her the smell of sweet, cloying perfume, the kind I always got spritzed with at the mall.
She flicked her hair over her shoulder, casually rubbed her finger down his arm and struck up a conversation. Her fake, black lashes—which she’d somehow managed to get outside the eyeholes of her mask—batted. She puffed out her well-developed chest.
He smiled back at her with a wicked grin, his relaxed body language telling me he was confident when it came to women. She whispered in his ear, boobs right in his face, but whatever he said back wasn’t what she wanted to hear because a few ticks later, she crossed her arms, glared at me, and stalked away.
I blinked. What had I done?
Then he turned and pointed his devastating smile at me.
Shit, he’d made eye contact—as much as you could with a claustrophobic mask on.
Was he crazy?
Because if he’d turned down her flirtation, I didn’t have a shot.
I didn’t know how to do the fingers-tip-toeing-up-his-arm-thing and sexy hair flicking. I didn’t know a thing about applying fake eyelashes. I didn’t know how to make my breasts sit up that high. I looked away from him and took another shot, feeling anxious and strangely off-kilter.
Mr. Beautiful ordered a drink from the bartender, his British accent smooth as silk as it washed over me. I froze. I almost knew that voice—deep with soft rounded vowels that made you tingle in your lady parts.
What was it about this guy that had me all jacked up and hot for him?
Hello, tequila, my inner voice said. But it was more than that.
Getting brave, I pivoted on my barstool, and found Mr. Beautiful’s eyes on me once more, searching my face. As if he too recognized the pull between us.
My heart played hopscotch, jumping against my chest. My skin prickled. I shivered.
Did I know him?
It was his voice, the same deep quality, the kind of voice that made you want to hop into his bed and ride him like a cowgirl.
My breath hitched, and I swallowed down the emotion that zipped up my spine whenever I thought of him. He was my one mistake, the time I’d tossed inhibitions and carefully laid plans aside and went with my instincts, only to have them tossed back in my face.
But the man next to me wasn’t Dax. Thank God.
Last spring at the campus-wide end of the year fraternity party with Hartford, I’d seen Dax, and he’d had shorter hair, like always, and zero tattoos. Yeah. No way.
Plus, last I heard, he was in Raleigh where his father lived.
Dax was British. He could have family here. Maybe he got a tattoo?
Nah. I mean, what were the odds of us both being at the same club on the same night in a country where neither of us lived?
I tore my eyes off Mr. Beautiful and waved at a bartender for more limes, but somehow my tennis bracelet snagged on the bodice of my dress, leaving my wrist dangling like a wet dishrag in a most inappropriate place.
I wiggled my arm.
Even went so far as to jerk, but it wouldn’t separate.
Sweat popped out on my forehead. Holding my breath, I twisted and tugged the bracelet, forcing the delicate material in my bodice to stretch beyond normal limits.
“Well, hell,” I breathed, pausing to assess.
Skin-tight with a plunging neckline, the dress was mostly a stretchy fabric held together by sequined straps and a zipper on the side. Slated as part of my honeymoon wardrobe, it was a Tory Burch and had cost four hundred dollars, the most I’d ever paid for a fun outfit, and no way did I want to damage it. I might have to return it to rent an apartment at Whitman.
Lulu. I needed Lulu. She was a whiz with wardrobe malfunctions.
I spun around on the barstool and used my free hand to wave at her, but she was slinging herself around dancing, having a great time and completely oblivious. I resorted to flapping both hands at her, one high and one low. Several people waved back with baffled expressions, but Lulu didn’t notice. Dammit.
I groaned and slumped down in my seat, ready to scream. Now what? Go to the bathroom and repair it there? Good plan.
But the club tilted when I stood, the strobe lights making me squint as they flashed in my face. I wobbled in my leopard print heels—that Lulu had insisted I wear—and grabbed the stool to keep my balance. `
I sucked in a breath to gather myself, but I couldn’t think straight. The room spun, and I was suddenly queasy, and why did I slam all that tequila, and oh my god, my wrist is currently attached to my tit like a T. rex arm.
I had to get out of here before someone noticed what an idiot I was.
Trying to be stealth like, I reached across the bar to get my beaded clutch, but because it was my left hand and not my right that I used most of the time, I got off balance and stumbled—and my ankle folded in on itself. I yelped as my shoe catapulted off my foot and vaulted off toward the dance floor, while I fell forward, straight into Mr. Beautiful’s lap.
Filthy English (unedited excerpt)
Copyright Ilsa Madden-Mills