Beneath This Mask (Beneath #1)(10)


by Meghan March

I sagged back against the edge of the pool, letting the concrete lip dig into my spine. So much for my hastily constructed plan. An experienced seductress I was not. He must have read the defeat in my expression because he said, “I’m not saying I’m not interested. Hell, I’m buck ass naked, and I can’t exactly hide that I want you. But I need to know … why now? What changed?”

I stared down at the water, wishing fleetingly that the pool lights were on so I’d know for certain that he still did, in fact, want me. But given the leap I’d taken by stripping naked in front of him, I suppose I owed him at least some sort of an explanation.

“I decided that, for tonight, I didn’t care that you’re you and I’m me. I decided to take a risk and see what happened.” My answer was vague and without substance, but I hoped it would be enough. Heat pulsed between my legs and my nipples beaded almost painfully. I wanted him. Now.

But he didn’t relent. “It doesn’t matter who I am or who you are. Tonight or any other night. We’re just people.”

I held in a snort. Barely. He wouldn’t be in this pool if he knew who I really was. I was poison to someone like him. To everyone.

Simon tilted my chin up, forcing me to meet his eyes. “If I fuck you tonight, are you going to throw me out on my ass as soon as we’re done and never call me again?”

I bit my lip. Damn. He should be a freaking interrogator instead of a politician. But I wasn’t going to lie to him. At least not about this. “Probably.”

He released my chin and backed away. “Then, no.” He shook his head. “This isn’t happening. Not tonight.” He turned and made his way to the stairs. I caught a flash of his pale, muscular ass as he climbed out of the pool. I looked down at the water, hot humiliation filling me. What the hell am I doing? I sank farther beneath the surface, up to my chin. I needed to be covered. I heard the rustle of clothes and wondered how he was drying off without a towel. But I didn’t look up to assuage my curiosity. I’d given in to curiosity once already tonight, and this was where it landed me. In a pool of my own shame.

He cleared his throat, and I finally looked up. He was wearing his tux pants, and the shirt was partially buttoned. He held his soaked white undershirt in his hand. One question answered.

His hazel eyes drilled into me. “You have my number. Call me when you want more than a quick fuck.”

And then he was gone.

I spent all day Sunday ricocheting between being pissed and embarrassed. My hangover didn’t help matters. After Simon left, I’d uncorked that second bottle of wine and drowned both my shame and my desire. When Monday rolled around, I’d decided that I’d dodged a bullet. It was a moment of weakness. I wanted to hate him for walking away, but for some reason, it made me respect him. It gave me a glimpse of his true character. I had to assume that most guys would have taken what I had offered and been happy to get laid and then bail without guilt. But not Simon Duchesne. He wanted more than a quick fuck. But I wasn’t capable of more. Not now, and not for the foreseeable future. Or was I?

If I was giving off mixed signals before, now my emotions were spinning like the weathervane at our country estate. Former country estate, actually. Since it had been auctioned off by the feds. Dammit. Wasn’t thinking about that today.

I glided up to the Dirty Dog, parked my bike, and chained it to the drainpipe next to the back door. I was seriously contemplating taking Huck to obedience school. He was getting bolder when it came to the horse-drawn carriages. So my choices included: obedience school, not riding my bike while holding his leash, or leaving him at home to laze around in the oasis all day. But I liked to think that he preferred to be where I was. It hadn’t helped that I’d seen a dark-haired guy in a suit and ended up distracted by thoughts of Simon.

The store was quiet when I unlocked the back door, and Huck trotted inside. Usually Yve beat me to work every day. Maybe she’d taken her own advice and gone out and gotten herself a man for the night. She was cagey about her past, but I had a feeling that her last relationship hadn’t ended well. She referred to the guy as only the ‘ex’ so I didn’t even know his name. I calculated it had ended around the time I showed up in New Orleans, because she was distant during our first few months of working together. We hadn’t really become close until last September when we’d discovered our mutual love of classic rock and punk bands. In a city that revered jazz and partied to zydeco, classic rock and punk weren’t exactly at the top of the play list. After she’d let her guard down some, we’d gone barhopping with the tourists down Bourbon Street. Our friendship had been cemented while holding each other’s hair back at Pat O’Brien’s. As a Crescent City native, Yve would never admit to the indignity, and I was sworn to secrecy.

She strolled in fifteen minutes late with a wide, satisfied smile.

“You totally got laid this morning, didn’t you?” I asked.

Her smile, if possible, got wider. “Oh, hell yes I did. You never told me that Con was a stallion in the sack.”

Ummm. What the fuck?

I gaped. “Seriously? I mean … what the hell?”

When she registered my look of shock, her feline smile faded. “Oh shit. I thought you were … done with your friends with bennies thing with him. I never would have if I’d thought you were…”

I held up a hand. “It’s fine. I’m not jealous. I’m just … surprised.” And I wasn’t jealous. I didn’t even feel a pang. It was like my body had moved on from Con Leahy and wanted someone new. He who would remain unnamed.

“So what happened with Simon Duchesne?” Yve asked.

Okay, maybe he wouldn’t remain unnamed.

“Nothing. Nothing happened. Nothing at all.” To myself I added, Except I sort of threw myself at him and saw him naked. And good God…

Yve leaned back against the counter. “That’s too many ‘nothings’ in one sentence for that to be the truth. Spill, girl.”

“Do I have to?” I winced at my whiny tone. It was not attractive.

“After that answer, hell yes, you do.” She crossed her arms and pinned me with her amber stare. I took in her golden brown skin and curly dark locks. She had on a teal halter dress with pink and teal platforms.

“You look really cute today, by the way.”