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Authors: Ava Wood

lies in love

Lies in Love
Ava Wood

Lies in Love

Ava Wood

Copyright © 2014 by Ava Wood

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved
above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced
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of this book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands,
media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and
trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which
have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is
not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

The following story contains mature themes, strong language, and sexual
situations. It is intended for adult readers.

Cover Art:
Designed by: Woodward Photography

To my mother. Without you I’d be lost.

Prologue
Wrecking Ball

“What
is he doing here?” Talia eyed Mason’s white Lexus RX450H
in the driveway. He must’ve been setting up some surprise for
her for after their rehearsal dinner this evening. She quietly opened
the front door and tiptoed through her quaint living room, squeezing
between her sofa and recliner on the way to her bedroom. She was
giddy knowing she would be spoiling his surprise, but her heart
plummeted when she heard labored breathing echoing down the hall. The
surrounding walls were painted in a tranquil soft blue, but it did
nothing to calm her nerves as she crept to the narrow hallway. At the
end, she saw her bedroom door cracked open and two naked bodies
moving rapidly on
her
bed. She stomped down the hall and kicked the door open to see
Mason’s sweaty frame jerk to face her.

“Oh
shit.” Mason’s body was blocking Talia’s view of
the woman he’d just been screwing. His wavy chestnut hair was
plastered to his forehead. He ripped the rumpled satin sheet from the
bed and wrapped it around his waist, moving just enough for Talia to
see blonde curls spilling over her pillow.

“Really,
Mason? Like I haven’t seen your pencil dick before? Please.”
Talia, with arms crossed, stared Mason down, still waiting to see who
the long-legged tramp was in
her
bed. Mason hastily moved toward her and Brandy’s angular face
appeared mortified, just as flush as the rest of her naked body, now
fully exposed. Talia turned her attention to her fiancé and
screamed, “What the fuck? We’re supposed to be getting
married
tomorrow
,
and with my friend, no less.” Her stare turned to Brandy, who
was now sobbing on the bed.

“I’m
so sorry, Talia. I never meant for this to happen. Mason just said he
had to get this out of his system before the wedding. Please don’t
be mad at me.” Brandy inched across the bed, her mascara
streaking down her bony cheeks.

“Holy
shit, Brandy. How stupid do you think I am?” Talia grabbed
Brandy’s mini dress from the floor and contemplated ripping it,
but instead threw it in Brandy’s face. “Get dressed and
get the fuck out.”

“Talia,
please forgive me. You’re one of my dearest friends. You and
the girls are all I have.”

Talia
chuckled. “Not anymore. Go to the shop, tell the girls you quit
and you’re leaving town. I don’t care where to, just get
the fuck out. I don’t want to see your white trash whore face
again.”

“Talia,
please.”

“Get
out.” Talia raised her arm to backhand Brandy, but the other
woman was out the door with her dress clutched in her hand before
Talia had the chance.

“Baby,
I’m sorry. Please let me explain.” Mason fumbled with the
sheet like there was actually something to hide.

“How
could you? With Brandy? Why?” Talia’s thoughts were
disjointed as she fought tears she refused to shed in front of him.
He didn’t deserve them. He betrayed her and, as awful as she
felt, she had to know more. “How many others?”

“What?”
Mason’s gray eyes enlarged at her question.

“How
many other women have there been? Was Brandy the first or should I
get tested for some tramp’s STD?” Talia moved around the
room, snatching up random items belonging to Mason.

“Baby.”
Mason was coddling her. Talia hated being coddled.

“Mason!”
she yelled, stopping in her tracks. “How many?”

“There
was one other, but just once, and I was careful, okay.” Mason
stepped closer to Talia. “I just wanted to get it out of my
system before we got married. I swear it will never happen again. I
did this for us.” Mason’s arms extended to rub Talia’s
shoulders.

“Don’t
you dare touch me. You don’t get to touch me ever again.”
Talia took the clothes in her hands and launched them at his feet. “I
want you to leave.” She took a deep breath and began again. “I
want you to leave this house and never come back. I don’t want
to see your face ever again. Don’t call me, don’t write
me, and don’t bother showing up at the church tomorrow because
I won’t be there. The wedding is off.”

“What
about all the guests? My entire family flew in this morning. This is
going to catch them off-guard. They’re not going to
understand.”

Talia
rolled her eyes at the sniveling man in front of her. “I don’t
care what you tell them. You figure it out. Make them understand. All
I care about is you leaving this house
now
.
I’m done.”

“What
about my‒‒”

Talia’s
voice shrieked, “Get out.”

She
watched as Mason grabbed the clothes at her feet. His exposed
sculpted body no longer had the power over her that it once did.
Attempting a juggling act with his clothes, Mason ran out the door.
Seconds later, Talia heard the front door slam. She fell to the floor
and the tears she’d been struggling to hold in came flooding
out. She didn’t know what to do with herself. What would her
friends say when they found out how he humiliated her? And her father
would be furious when he realized how much money was flushed down the
drain on their farce of a wedding. Why didn’t she see the signs
of his infidelity? Surely there were signs pointing to his betrayal.

She
picked herself up off of the floor and put a plan in motion. She
would have Mason out of her life sooner than he would ever expect.
She grabbed her last trash bag from the kitchen and began gathering
up all of Mason’s things: his clothes, his shoes, his
toiletries. God knows he didn’t add anything else to the house
that she had purchased for them as an engagement present. He couldn’t
even handle buying replacement trash bags. The man was a lawyer and
had contributed nothing to their relationship, including himself.
She’d be damned if she wasted her last trash bag on him now.

When
the bag was overflowing she walked outside and emptied all of the
contents onto the hearty green front lawn and returned inside to
gather more of his things and repeat the process. Mason would be
sorry he ever met her when everything was said and done.

When
the last of Mason’s clothes had been deposited on the front
lawn, Talia stepped back inside with the empty trash bag in hand and
slid to the floor. The glass of the front door burned her back as
tears continued to trickle down her cheeks. She was determined to
make a plan to save herself from the embarrassment of Mason’s
unfaithfulness.

She
decided she would keep his affair with Brandy a secret. She didn’t
want anyone’s pity for the sack of shit excuse of a man that
Mason was. She didn’t want to feel less than adequate for his
indiscretions. She refused to divulge anything that played out today,
rumors be damned. She didn’t care what people thought as long
as she was rid of him and her dignity stayed intact. No one needed to
know the why, just that she was done. She would be the strong one,
the woman who left a man that she had no future with. She would be
the woman who others envied, because she put herself first and didn’t
stay in a relationship out of propriety. And she would never let a
man betray her the way Mason did. Not for looks, or money, or power.

As
she wiped away the last of her tears, an unseasonal downpour began,
drenching the clothes strewn across her yard. Talia thought of all of
Mason’s dress shirts being destroyed by the mud and muck,
evoking laughter from her lips. She wasn’t sure how, but she’d
find a way to get through this. No man would ever hurt her like this
again.

Chapter 1
Fighter

Talia
hung up the phone and blew a sigh of relief. She was finally rid of
the last reminder of Mason left in her life. The house they shared
was sold and no longer a constant reminder of the betrayal she felt.
She’d suffered for months dwelling on her mother’s
reminder that she just wasn’t good enough.


Maybe
if you’d been a little more supportive of Mason, he wouldn’t
have turned to other women.”

She’d
never be able to forget the disdain in her mother’s voice when
she’d called to tell her the wedding had been cancelled. Her
mother, the woman who couldn’t tear herself away from her
lavish life with her new, loaded husband in California, was the sole
person she had confided in and this was the sympathy, or lack
thereof, she got. Talia was just thankful that she’d demanded a
small wedding and had a limited amount of people to notify about her
failed marriage attempt. The embarrassment of telling everyone she
cared about was enough to drive her into seclusion for months if it
weren’t for the fact that she had a flower shop to run.

Sick
of dwelling on what happened more than six months prior, she spun to
return to work and found her younger sister, Sara, staring at her.

“Everything
okay?”

Talia
hated the way Sara hovered since her breakup with Mason. She wondered
if Sara would ever come to terms with how abruptly their relationship
ended. Talia knew for certain that Sara didn’t buy the sole
excuse that she and Mason would never work. Talia wouldn’t tell
anyone else how inadequate she felt after his indiscretion,
especially after her mother’s accusation. Sara had been there
for so much of the relationship that Talia just couldn’t tell
her the truth. Not after Sara felt she knew Mason as well as her. But
neither of them knew the real Mason. Deep down, she wondered if
anyone ever did. Talia nodded in answer and began to walk away when
Sara stopped her.

“Was
that about the house?” Sara had been moping about the sale of
Talia’s home for weeks.

“Yes,
Sara, it’s gone. And it’s for the best.” Talia
turned back.

Sara’s
gray eyes stared at Talia, making her uneasy. Why did it feel like
Sara was trying to read her mind or make her change it? She refused
to accept that Talia was moving on. Living in the quaint apartment
above the flower shop was the best fit for her. She didn’t need
the reminder of Mason’s infidelity. She was happier within the
outdated walls of her second-floor apartment. It was charming, homey,
and extremely convenient being just above her flower shop. And there
were so many memories with her father there. It was a storage attic
turned bachelor pad that her father, she, and Sara occupied after her
parents’ divorce. Her mother had moved across the country and
left them behind, only taking their baby sister to North California.
It was just another reminder that Talia would never be enough for
their mother.

Sara
was more like their mother than she was willing to admit. She was
judgmental of everything Talia did and hasty and most of the time
extremely oblivious. She may have gotten their father’s looks,
but she didn’t have his blasé, non-intrusive demeanor.
Where Sara had their father’s gray eyes, Talia’s were
green with a touch of amber hugging her iris. Sara’s hair was
blonde and wavy, just like their dad’s while Talia’s was
auburn and board straight. And Talia’s nose turned up while
Sara’s was perfectly straight and balanced. Talia hated that
she resembled their mother so much, knowing she was nothing like her.
When those gray eyes brimmed with tears, Talia finally spoke. “Sara,
it’s just a house. I’m sure one day I’ll have
another. There’s no need for the waterworks.”

With
an indignant stare, Sara returned, “I loved that house. Why did
you have to go and end things with Mason?”

Talia’s
jaw dropped. Was her sister really taking his side? Even if Sara
didn’t have all the facts, was it necessary to continually
bring this up? “Did you really…?” Talia turned to
her, tight-lipped. “Get back to work and stop nosing in my
personal life.”

Footsteps
padded from the front of the shop to the workroom and Reina came in
with her chocolate eyes twinkling. “Dios mío, Talia,
these flowers are beautiful.” Reina clutched the bouquet of red
and pink roses with green dianthus and baby’s breath added in
for contrast.

“Wade
picked the flowers. I just put them together for you.” Talia’s
job was so ironic. She hated love, or at least the idea of it. She
wasn’t truly sure that real love existed. And here she was on
Valentine’s Day putting together last-minute flower
arrangements and filling balloons for doe-eyed men and women on this
puerile day.

“They’re
beautiful. The most beautiful I’ve ever received on
Valentine’s. Thank you, Talia.” Reina hugged Talia, her
coal hair brushing Talia’s cheek.

“You’re
welcome. Now get back to work. All of these orders aren’t going
to fill themselves.” Talia walked away to return to work. Her
job came first, making it easier to bury her feelings when they tried
to rise to the surface. She’d followed in her father’s
footsteps working through her stress and worry. Like him, the
business came first in her life. She wanted to see it succeed as it
did when he ran things. She returned to a pile of red roses waiting
to be primped and presented to the next sappy customer in line.

“I
don’t know what to do with her anymore.” Twirling a
candy-striped carnation, Sara grumbled to her coworkers, Camey and
Reina, while they arranged flowers alone in the back room. The girls
had grown up together and came on after Talia took the shop over from
her father. Camey, all petite and willowy with turquoise eyes and
that little mouth of hers, brought life to the shop. She always had
stories to tell about her conquests that had them in stitches. And
Reina, with her Latin spunk and take-no-prisoners attitude, kept them
all in check. “She has to be hiding something. She’s
definitely not herself. The new stud in her nose is proof of that.
There’s just no other good reason for her to be so frigid.”
Talia had inadvertently broken Sara’s heart each time she
pushed her away a little more.

“I’ve
tried talking to her, but I can’t get through. Something just
isn’t right with her. It’s become more evident each time
we go to
Satin
.
I’ve seen some pretty hot guys look her way and she gives them
this death glare that promptly scares them off. It’s like she’s
completely closed off to men.” Camey placed a pale pink rose in
a vase before reaching for more baby’s breath.

Sara
looked down at the carnation she’d been abusing. Its stem was
now broken in half. “I don’t know what to do, but I can’t
continue to see her like this.”

“Mami
needs to get laid.” Reina was still grinning over her flowers
that sat just a few feet away. “I’m never cranky after
Wade rocks my world.”

Camey
chuckled at Reina’s assumption. “I’m not sure
that’s possible if she’s scaring all the men off with a
look.” Tying organza ribbon around a crystal vase, Camey
finished her arrangement. “It’s going to take some
serious convincing to get Talia laid.”

“We’ve
got to try. She needs something to get the stick out of her ass. I
can’t handle her bitchiness much longer.” Sara had thrown
the carnation away, her usual bubbly mood completely gone. “We
need a plan of attack for tomorrow night. There’s bound to be
at least one guy at
Satin
that is up to taking on Talia’s eternal PMS.”

“We’ll
see.” Camey grabbed her arrangement and carried it to the back
cooler for pickup.

“It’s
worth a shot, mija. I don’t think she can get much worse.”
Reina kissed Sara on the cheek as she passed her with her completed
arrangement. “You better get that order done before she comes
back here and chews your ass.”

Sara
waved her off. “Yeah, yeah. I’m on it.”

The
girls were all dressed in short, clingy dresses, with the exception
of Talia. She wore a knee-length denim skirt, a black button-up
blouse safeguarding her akin to a nun, and a pair of ballet flats.
There was definitely nothing about Talia that said
fuck
me, now.
Sara
knew the girls would have their work cut out for them tonight.

Sara’s
plans seemed more difficult to carry out when she saw the
post-Valentine’s crowd bumping and grinding on the dance floor.
Couples filled the place and Sara’s idea was smothered. Talia
groaned in Sara’s ear but Sara tried to make the most of the
evening, slipping her arm through Talia’s and leading her to
the tables overlooking the dancers below. She winked over her
shoulder at Camey, hoping she’d have some luck finding a
willing party to sweep Talia off her feet. She knew she couldn’t
rely on Reina, as she had already made her way to Wade, who was
occupied behind the bar.

Leading
Talia upstairs, Sara found a single table with two vacant seats. As
they approached she surveyed the men at the other tables, but they
all had dates. The pickings this evening seemed to be rather slim.
This might not have been the best night to try and put their plan
into action.

Rising
from the table, Sara was determined to do something. “I’m
going to get drinks,” she yelled over the raucousness of the
crowd.

Talia
didn’t speak. She stared daggers into a couple at the next
table and waved Sara off. It was rather discouraging.

Sara
squeezed past patrons and finally found Reina at the bar gawking
googoo-eyed at her boyfriend of fourteen months. There was just
enough room for Sara to squeeze in next to her. She ordered her
sister’s usual vodka martini, adding a margarita for herself,
then spoke. “I’m afraid tonight isn’t going to be
the best night to put our plan in motion.”

Reina
sipped at her mojito as she turned to survey the club. “Just
wait. Fate is on our side.”

Sara
anxiously stared at the crowd, watching with a heavy heart. The
realization that her concentrated focus on her sister had taken away
every ounce of drive she had to find a man of her own niggled her.
Sure, she had dated the occasional guy, but she was never capable of
committing herself to anything serious when her every concern was
focused on Talia’s happiness. Her sister’s personal life
had become her highest priority.

It
took an elbow jab to the ribs to pull her thoughts away from her
regret.

“Mira.
Over there.” Reina pointed at a couple across the way. The
woman was waving her arms and shouting, although the voices didn’t
carry over the loud beats of the music. Her date looked confounded as
she laid into him. He didn’t speak or move, only standing with
his mouth agape. “Poor maje didn’t know what hit him.”

Sara
pitied the poor guy. He had potential, with his sparkling green eyes
and stark-raven hair. He may have needed a little maintenance, but
surely he would do. She just needed to decide how to approach him;
after all, he seemed in a fragile state.

Before
Sara made a move, Reina ushered her on, “Ándale,
before he leaves.”

Sara
approached him cautiously as he continued to stare after the woman
that was now leaving the club. His hands were tucked in his jeans
just below where his Polo shirt fell away from his long torso. When
she got closer she saw his shoulders fall. What was she going to say
to make him feel better and convince him to help with her plight? She
searched her brain but the answer didn’t come. When she was at
his side, she gently touched his arm before she said the first thing
that popped into her head. “I’m so sorry.”

His
head jerked her direction and Sara was finally able to see tears
forming in the corners of his eyes. There was no way this was going
to work.

“What?
Who are you?” His brow creased.

“I’m
Sara. I was watching you from the bar and I saw what happened.”
Wow, could
I come off as more of a creeper?
“I’m
so sorry.” She was repeating herself.

“I
guess it wasn’t meant to be.” His head dropped and he
started to walk away, but Sara stopped him.

“Look,
I’m sure you’re not up for it, but my sister is kinda in
the same situation and I thought maybe you guys might keep each other
company.”

He
stopped, his head still hanging. “What happened to your
sister?”

Great,
she was going to have to lie. Talia didn’t get ditched, but
Sara had to tell him something. “She and her fiancé
split up. She could really use a friend.”

He
turned around and looked Sara in the eye. “What’s her
name?”

“Talia.”
Sara began to smile.

“Shawn.”
He held out his hand to Sara and returned her smile.

Maybe
all hope wasn’t lost. Maybe he would be the one to bring Talia
around, even if it was solely for revenge or on the rebound. “She’s
upstairs at a table by herself. I was just down here getting her a
drink when I saw you. Would you mind taking it to her for me? She’s
wearing a black shirt and denim skirt. I’m sure you can’t
miss her in here with all these hearts and flowers.”

“Sure.”

Sara
led him to the bar and grabbed Talia’s martini then passed it
off to Shawn. “Remember, her name is Talia.”

“Got
it. Thanks.”

Sara
nodded, concern flooding her as he walked away. She hoped this wasn’t
a totally bad idea. Anxious about the outcome, Sara followed him,
hanging back a bit so he wouldn’t notice. From a few tables
away, she saw the whole exchange between Shawn and Talia. He was
genuinely trying to be nice, setting the drink before her and asking
if he could sit down.
Of
course she said no
.
She’s
so hard headed.
Shawn
was still standing, staring at Talia. Sara wished she could hear what
was being said. Shawn looked so sincere and Talia looked what,
pissed, sad, amused? She’d become so hard to read since the
breakup.
What
is going on in that head of hers?

Shawn
reached for the seat again and Talia threw her drink in his face.
Seriously?
What is her deal?
Shawn
marched away, wiping the martini from his face and looking worse than
before. Sara chased after him, trying to find out what happened. She
felt like this whole thing was a disaster, a lost cause.

“Shawn,
wait.” Sara was practically running, pushing through the bodies
in the club. Obscenities were screamed behind her as she continued on
after him. “Shawn.”

He
stopped and spun, seething. “Was this some kind of sick joke?
Did Avery put you up to his?”

“Who?”
She could only assume he meant the girlfriend. “Look, I don’t
know what she said, but I’m sorry. I really thought you guys
could be good for each other.”

“Whatever.
You might want to reevaluate her sexual preference, because she
definitely has
no
interest in men.” Shawn didn’t say any more. He turned
and walked away, leaving the club.

Sara
felt terrible for doubly ruining his evening. Sending him in blind
was a terrible idea. She returned to the bar in search of Reina, who
was lost somewhere in the chaos. The bar was now three people thick
with the barstools concealed. On tiptoes, she walked behind the
crowd, looking for the top of Reina’s coal hair. She found her
behind a group of men placing their orders and flirting. “Reina!”
she yelled over their heads, trying to get her attention.

Reina
turned on her stool and stood on the leg supports to see over the
crowd. “Sara?” She pushed through the mass of people and
appeared at Sara’s side. "¿Qué
pasa?"

“That
guy was a huge mistake. Talia threw her drink in his face.”

Reina
tried to suppress a giggle, with no luck. “¡Que mamada!”

“This
is so frustrating.”

“Why
don’t we find Camey and see if she’s had any better
luck.” Reina took Sara’s arm and squeezed past patrons
who were now a little more intoxicated than before. They found Camey
grinding on the dance floor with a very attractive blonde who had to
be in his mid-thirties. Reina tapped Camey on the shoulder, stilling
her rhythmic movement.

“Hey.
What’s up?”

“I
take it you didn’t have any luck?”

Camey’s
eyes shot open. She’d obviously forgotten all about their plan.
“I’m sorry. I met Ken and Talia totally slipped my mind.”
She gave her signature puppy dog eyes and pouty mouth. It was her way
of getting out of trouble and, for some reason, it always worked.

“Whatever.
I’m taking Talia home. This is a bust and God knows she’s
not having any fun around all of these lovebirds.” Sara walked
away without another word. She was giving up on the whole mess. She
didn’t know what to do about her sister, but sending a man in
her direction wasn’t going to fix the funk she was in. She’d
just have to learn to like it. This was who her sister was now, for
better or for worse. Sara found Talia at the same table, staring at
her empty martini glass and retrieved her to take her home.

“I’ve
got it.” Camey came running in from the front of the shop after
Talia went out to get lunch. Reina and Sara were moving arrangements
to the cooler while Izzy, the animated, blonde high school intern,
ran the counter.

“What
now?” Reina was over all the hair-brained schemes Camey had
been secretly proposing all morning.

Camey
held out her cell phone. “Look.” A deliciously well-built
man named Landon Havens appeared on the screen, shirtless, his left
arm covered halfway with an ornate dead tree containing what looked
to be the edge of a lifelike treehouse. His wheat-colored hair stuck
up in all directions in that sexy way and his sapphire eyes nearly
leapt off the screen. His lips were plumped perfectly around his
beautiful white teeth and were surrounded by a sandy-blonde goatee.
The man was a near-perfect specimen.

“He’s
nice, but what’s your point?” Sara rolled her eyes in
true Talia style. Sometimes there was no denying they were sisters.

“He’s
an escort.”

“What?”
both Sara and Reina shrieked in unison.

“We
didn’t have any luck with the guy at the club, and, honestly,
it is going to take a lot of persistence for a guy to want to stick
around for more than five minutes with Talia. Surely with a little
monetary incentive, this guy will at least try to keep her interested
for, say, an hour? Surely an hour would wear her down.”

“I
don’t know about this. I mean, can’t these guys be
dangerous? They could have an STD or something,” Sara, always
the cautious one, piped in.

“Escorts
are very careful these days. They always use condoms and get tested
quite frequently.” Camey noticed the inquiring stares she
received from the girls after the information she just unloaded. “My
sister used an escort once after she and her husband got a divorce.
It got her through a tough time.”

“Mija,
this could be bad for all of us. If she finds out that we put this
together, she may never forgive us.”

“At
this point, that’s a risk I’m willing to take. She’s
miserable to be around and I can’t fathom what is going through
that head of hers. Something isn’t right up there.” Camey
swiped across her screen to display the escort’s information
and set her phone on the counter. “They don’t even have
to sleep together, but if they do, maybe this will brighten her mood
a little.” All of the girls looked at each other quizzically.
“It’s worth a shot.”

“How
is this going to work?” Sara was the first to concede.

Camey
had hope that this plan would be successful.

“I
say we all chip in and meet the guy together. If he’s a total
skeeze we leave and never speak of it again. But if we do this and he
agrees, what’s the worst that could happen?” Camey
clicked the phone number on the escort page and saved it to her
phone.

“Talia
could find out and never forgive us. That would be pretty awful,”
Reina, being the level-headed one, stated.

“She
won’t find out. We carry this to our graves. Just trust me.”
Camey heard the front door of the shop open and, peeking through the
pass-through to the front, saw Talia walking in. She whispered, “I’ll
call him tonight and set up a meeting. We can make a decision from
there.” She slipped her phone in her pocket and returned to
work.

Talia
entered the workroom and set the deli bag on the counter. “Why
aren’t these arrangements in the cooler?” She fixed her
eyes on Sara, waiting for an answer.

Sara’s
head fell, downcast. “I was just finishing up.”

“What’d
you get us?” Camey drew Talia’s attention away from the
work left to be done. She dug in the bag, removing sandwiches
carefully wrapped in parchment paper from the deli down the street.
The bottom sandwich had a name and phone number scrawled on the
wrapper. “I think the cutie at the deli likes you, Talia.”

“Don’t
be ridiculous,” Talia seethed.

Camey
removed the sandwich and held it out for Talia to see. “Jonathan?
He’s got nice handwriting.”

Talia
snatched the sandwich from Camey while rolling her eyes. She walked
to the trash receptacle at the end of the counter and, groaning,
dropped the sandwich inside. “Sara, you have twenty minutes to
eat your lunch and get those deliveries out. Move it.”

When
Talia was out of the workroom, Camey saluted and snickered.

“How
soon can we meet him?” Sara muttered as she walked by Camey,
depositing the last of the arrangements in the cooler.

Landon
backed his Harley to the curb, pulling off his half-helmet and
placing it on the back of his bike. Removing his riding gloves, he
shoved them in his back pocket, surveying the tiny coffee shop with
its worn green awning flapping in the wind. He was intrigued by
Camey’s phone call, but slightly confused. He knew she wasn’t
hiring him for herself, but the details were incredibly vague. He
hoped this trip to East Dallas wasn’t a waste of time. He could
have been spending an extra hour in the gym to make up for that large
pizza he had for dinner the previous evening. God knows he couldn’t
afford to lose his muscle definition with his line of work.

He’d
been making money off his body for six years now and he made it a
point to put in the work to make sure he continued to earn good money
until he was at least in his mid-forties. He’d seen several
guys working well into their fifties and he admired them. This job
took a lot of dedication and an ability to mentally elude emotional
attachment. That was the biggest perk for him. He never wanted to
become attached to a woman. Not the way his father did. He’d
never be ruined by a woman and his profession made sure of that.

As
he entered the coffee shop’s meager half-wood, half-glass front
door, he saw a table with three attractive women seated near the back
of the shop with steaming coffee placed in front of each of them.
Being the only patrons inside, he made his way to their table.

The
place was dark and antiquated. It reminded him of the soda shops he
saw in old movies. A large bar sat to the left of the door with
various coffee and cappuccino machines stationed along the mirrored
wall behind it. A glass display held a selection of pastries and
desserts and he had to avert his gaze to ignore the temptations
inside.

Approaching
the table, he saw the girls’ faces flush. It was a response he
was used to, whether out of embarrassment for meeting an escort or
from pure adrenaline due to the excitement of something considered
forbidden. He’d never viewed himself that way, but he knew how
society saw him. They would never understand how he felt or the way
he fulfilled his needs. He was allowed sexual release without the
worry of anyone’s feelings getting hurt. He showed his hand
before the cards were even dealt. It’s how he protected himself
from the expectations of a relationship.

“Good
evening, ladies.” He knew how his raspy voice made women melt.
He loved how he could make their panties drop with a single stare. It
made his job so easy. “I’m Landon.”

“Camey.”
A fresh-faced blonde stood and extended her hand. This was the woman
he spoke to on the phone. She was practically drooling as she stared
at him, not releasing his hand.

Landon
nodded as he shook her hand, examining the other women at the table.
When Camey had released her grip, he unzipped his black leather
jacket and smoothed his gray T-shirt down to where it was tucked into
the front of his dark wash jeans. After removing his jacket, he
slipped it over the back of his chair as Camey continued.

“This
is Reina and Sara,” she motioned to each of them as she said
their names.

Reina
slouched in her chair with her arms folded over her, but Sara smiled
sweetly back at him.

“Nice
to meet you.” He nodded and took a seat in the vacant chair.
“So who is the lucky lady?” He smirked, forcing his eyes
to smolder in a way that he’d learned made heads turn.

“Actually,
she’s not here,.” Camey interjected. “She doesn’t
actually know we’re doing this.”

Landon
was intrigued. Could he be a gift to a woman? This was a first for
him, although not unheard of. “I just need the facts. Where,
when? The who doesn’t really matter.”

“Actually,
it does.” Camey began biting her lip as the other girls sat
silently. “We need you to seduce her. She’s been out of
the game for a while and is a bit stand-offish from men.”

“A
bit?” the Hispanic friend sniggered, her arms still tightly
crossed in front of her as she surveyed Landon. He tried to recall
her name, but it escaped him.

“You
must not understand. I get hired to take women out,
willingly
.
I don’t seduce women. Women pay
me
to keep them company.” Landon knew he sounded smug, but this
wasn’t how he did things. What they were asking sounded
problematic.

“We’re
willing to pay you, but…” Camey stopped talking.

Landon
waited for her to say something, but she returned to chewing her lip.
He wished she would just spit it out. What did these chicks expect
him to do? Whatever it was, it was definitely
not
in his job description. “Look, ladies, it’s been fun, but
I’ve got more pressing matters to attend to. You have a nice
day.” He stood from his chair and began to walk away when
Camey’s cute little blonde friend called after him.

“What
if we throw in an extra thousand? Would that make this worth your
while?”

Landon
stopped dead in his tracks. An extra thousand was a lot of money. He
could put that in savings and not have to worry about the next time
his dad ran into trouble. He turned around to see Camey regarding her
angrily. “An extra thousand? What are we talking here? Are you
wanting me to entertain her all night or just for a couple of hours?”
He rubbed his chin curiously. “You’re not going to rob
the girl, are you?”

“For
God’s sake, she’s my sister. We’re trying to help
her.” The blonde’s gray eyes nearly popped out of her
head.

“Okay,
okay. What do you want me to do?” Landon returned to his seat,
attentive.

“Look,
Talia and her fiancé split up about six months ago and she’s
been a hard ass since.”

Landon
tossed the name Talia around his brain. He tried to form a face for
the name, imagining a short brunette with a witch’s nose and
gangly teeth. He missed half of what Camey said as the picture formed
in his head.

“We
just need you to talk to her, make her feel special. Maybe ask her
out to the local diner, see where things lead. I think she’s
needing that from a man.” Camey’s nerves had seemingly
turned to concern for her friend.

“So
basically, you just need me to talk to her and make her feel good.
And if she turns me down I still get my money, no questions asked?”
Landon started to think this would be easy money.

“Yes.”
Camey looked at her hands that were fidgeting in her lap.

“When
do you want me to do it?” These girls looked desperate and
Landon resolved to help them out.

Camey
looked up from her hands and the attention of all three girls flew to
Landon’s face. “You’ll do it?”

“Yeah,
when?” Landon leaned against the table, waiting for the
details.

“We
go to the nightclub,
Satin
every Friday. It’s our own sort of tradition, so she’ll
be there.” Camey began digging in her purse for something and
produced a picture of a breathtaking woman with auburn hair and
sparkling hazel eyes. She looked somewhat reserved, except for the
simple diamond stud in her nose, which seemed out of place with the
rest of her appearance. “This is Talia. She’ll most
likely be sitting at a table alone. She doesn’t do much more
than lurk in the corner since she called off her engagement.”