The room began to close in around me, blanketing me with acute heaviness. I drained my champagne in one swallow then set it on a waiter’s tray as I pushed through the crowd and out to the overflow area that had been set up in the parking lot. Once the chill night breeze hit me, I gasped in a deep breath, swallowing the air in long gulps, as though I’d been underwater and had finally reached the surface.
With Amber, I’d been a glorified hooker. In Hollywood, wasn’t I pretty much the same thing? I’d simply left one bed to move to another. I chuckled at the paradox. It deserved a laugh, at least.
Footsteps sounded behind me, and I stifled the last bit of humor threatening to escape. Without looking over my shoulder, I felt the air change. The hair at the back of my neck bristled and the sting of electricity huddled around me.
I turned, somehow knowing what I’d find—who I’d find.
He leaned against the concrete doorframe watching me with eyes that pinned me in my place. He was captivating and magnificent, his tux fitting him better than clothing had the right to fit a person, better than any one of the pretty men that filled the room beyond him. Those men, my peers, they were a sea of beautiful—calm and serene. Reeve was the ocean, dark and commanding and turbulent. They moved in gentle waves. Reeve stood still and set the world crashing around him.
That easily, the breath I’d just managed to get under control was knocked from my lungs.
He spoke before I could regain my composure. “What a coincidence that you’d be at the same event that I’m at.”
The boldness of his accusation shocked me into response. “I’m not following you, if that’s what you’re insinuating.” My pulse fluttered in fear, in excitement. In irritation. I didn’t like the way he agitated me. Maybe I’d deserved it at his resort, but this? This was my turf.
With a surprising display of fierceness, I locked my eyes to his. “I’m the one who belongs at this event. Not you.”
He laughed and the sound of it fueled my indignation. It also sent heat rushing up my thighs, heat that turned my rage inward as well as out.
Hands in his pockets, Reeve stepped toward me. “Calm down, Emily. I was only teasing. Of course you aren’t here because of me. Perhaps, I’m here because of you.” He paused long enough for panic to jolt through me with reminders of the ominous words he’d delivered to me the last time we’d seen each other. “Perhaps, this time I’m the one who’s examining.”
My anger stepped up another notch, overwhelming my unease. “Examining me? Like, why—to scare me? To see if I’m as fun to mess with when you’re outside the home field? How dare you? Come here, into my world and prod at me just because you feel like it. Proceed to make it your playground. How dare you?”
His lip curved into a chiding smile. “Now you know how I felt.”
I refused to acknowledge my humiliation, though the flush that swept down my neck more than likely gave it away. “Thank you for the lesson, Mr. Sallis,” I said, my voice surprisingly steady. “I assure you that I have more than gotten the point. You won’t be having to give me any further demonstrations.” I started toward the venue doors, praying I could manage the walk. High heels and weak knees did not make for a good combination.
I circled widely around him, wanting to keep as much distance between us as possible. But I could still feel the warmth pulsating off him like the driving beat of a dance club. It trembled through me, coming up from the ground, shaking me, gripping me. I fought through it, forced myself past him.
“Emily.” His address caught me mid-stride. Five more feet and I’d be back in the Expo. Just a few more steps…
I couldn’t help myself—I stayed. I didn’t turn toward him, though. That was my single act of restraint.
“What I did to you at the spa—”His voice was silk and stubble all at once. The texture of the sound, as much as the mention of the spa, was bait on a hook. I practically leaned into his next words. “It wasn’t very nice.”
I spun toward him. “You think?”
“I like my privacy. I was mad.” It wasn’t an explanation so much as it was a reminder. You provoked me, he was saying. You deserved it.
“So you made me think you wanted to kill me?” Admittedly, I had earned his admonishment. I hadn’t earned a death threat.
“Eh. I never said I wanted—”
I cut him off with a point of my finger. “You did. In every way you could without the specific words.”
He opened his mouth as if to defend himself further. Then his expression changed, his features darkened, his eyes gleamed. “Did it scare you?”
“What do you think?” A shiver ran down my spine. He knew he’d scared me. It had been his intent to rile me up, make me afraid. What I hadn’t realized was how much he liked that he had.