Frayed Page 32

I labored a long time on what to wear casual, businesslike, or dressy, but in the end decided on se*y.

’’You didn\ have to meet me outside,’’ I say.

Before I can move back, lips land on my cheek. My mouth falls open at the sudden scorching heat between us and I stare at him, unable to speak.

His eyes drop and he shoves his hands in his pockets, but his lips quirk up. ’’Friends wait for friends. Friends kiss each other on the cheek.’’

He\s pushing it, but I secretly don\ mind it at all not that I\d let him know that.

I push his shoulder back. ’’I don\ think friends let their tongue leave their mouth during a slight peck on the cheek.’’

He shrugs. ’’So I have a few things to learn.’’

I nod in the direction of the stretch of sidewalk leading us to the restaurant and smile. ’’Come on, let\s go.’’

He tries to grab my hand and again the gesture sends butterflies bouncing off the walls of my stomach, but I pretend not to react and tuck a piece of hair behind my ear. ’’Did you use your charm to get reservations here? Because I\ve heard it takes months just to get an eleven o\clock reservation.’’ I glance over at him while waiting for a reply and notice that his profile is just as alluring as the full-on view.

His lips twist into a smile and his eyes shift to mine.

I can\ help wondering if he can see the butterflies escaping my mouth and swarming around him.

’’You know, as much as I\d love to say my charm works wonders, I can\ lie. Jagger used his hobnobbing connections to get us a table.’’

I flinch because there it is, looming over us. Smack in my face it hits reality. Lies, half-truths, what he doesn\ know. What I\m afraid to tell him not only because I have no idea how he\ll react but because reliving our past is just too painful. It\s the very reason this, him and me, can never work.

He bumps my shoulder. ’’Hey, sorry to disappoint you.’’

I paint a fake smile on my face. ’’Actually I\m kind of secretly enjoying the fact that you don\ always get what you want.’’

He reaches for the tall brass door and places his other hand on the small of my back. ’’That happens more than you\d think,’’ he whispers in my ear.

A shiver runs down my spine. The meaning of his words is clear he wants me. I wish I could be honest and tell him that I want him too, but I know I can\ . We\ e friends. I\ll take that until he can\ take it anymore. Something is better than nothing.

’’Wow, this place is amazing.’’

He agrees with me and says, ’’I know, it\s like being transported to another time and place.’’

The grand space is very lavish with a bar in the center and a dining room and lounge flanking each side. Intricate tile-work, carved plaster columns, and a beautifully ornate hand-painted ceiling set the mood perfectly.

’’I\ve never eaten at a Moroccan restaurant,’’ I say a little more breathy than I\d like with his hand still searing my skin.

’’Should I have checked with you first before letting Jagger pick the place?’’

I laugh, and my nerves settle as I realize he\s a little nervous too. ’’No, I\m sure I\ll love it.’’

’’There they are.’’ He points to a booth in a dimly lit corner with a bottle of wine on the table and flickering votive candles in the center. Jagger has his arm stretched across the back of the brown-leather-upholstered bench with his mouth hovering over Aerie\s ear. A huge smile is plastered on her face.

Jagger spots us and rises to his feet, waving us over. He\s dressed similar to Ben, in a gray button-down and black jeans. He\s my cousin and although it seems I\ve known him forever, we only just met less than a year ago. Jagger\s mother is my mother\s sister. She lives in Paris. She never married Jagger\s father and allowed his father to raise him in New York City. River actually met Jagger for the first time on his honeymoon in Paris and they hit it off so well Jagger decided to move to LA. Lucky for all of us and especially for Aerie. She captured his heart from their first meeting, and after a few bumps in the road they are a full-fledged couple. I\m surrounded by adorable couples lately.

Aerie stands as well and Ben ushers me into the booth, his hand still resting possessively on my back. Aerie leans over to hug me and Jagger kisses my cheek, nothing like the one Ben had placed there earlier. Ben\s hand casually drifts up my spine and back down, and visions of his lips doing the same pop into my mind. I try to push away the primal response his physical presence elicits from me. Ben removes his hand to shake hands with Jagger and says hello to Aerie. I notice there\s no kissing between them. I guess when two people work together, any such physical contact is awkward.

We all sit down as I try to wrap my mind around this a double date? No, it\s simply friends sharing a meal together at a very expensive restaurant.

’’I\m sorry I\m late,’’ I ramble, feeling nervous with Ben so close. I wasn\ this nervous when he took me to the diner for pie. But then again we had just screwed each other\s brains out. This is different. The se*ual tension between us is overwhelming, but we said we\d be friends. He\d agreed. There would be no screwing afterward. Just a friendly good-bye. It\s what I said I wanted.

’’You\ e not late,’’ Jagger answers. ’’Aerie insisted we would be late, so she made me pick her up at work a little too early.’’

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