Tae carried her garment bag over her arm, along with a small suitcase as she strode to the check-in counter at the Hilton. The diminutive woman behind the counter aimed a bright smile at Tae. “Welcome to the Hilton. How are you today, ma’am?”
“Good, thanks,” Tae responded. “I’m Octavia Croft, and I have a reservation.”
“Of course, Ms. Croft. One moment, please.”
Tae set her suitcase down and rotated her shoulder. Tension locked the muscles across her upper back, and she debated taking the muscle relaxer Zerita had given her before she set out to come to the hotel. Then again, she preferred to enjoy the effects once she’d unwound in her room and kicked off her shoes with a drink in her hand.
The deep, scratchy, but without question sexy, voice came from behind her, and she identified its owner before she spun to face him. Rather, she turned to face his chest. Jaxon Hart stood several inches taller, towering above her with a barrel chest, massive arms, and a handsome face. His voice paired with his devastating dark good looks had women dropping their panties left and right, and he had encouraged it from the first day she met him.
“Hey, Jax,” she said, a little breathless as she always was around him. “You’re here early. I thought everyone was coming in on Thursday.” Tae had elected to take a rare day off to arrive at the hotel on Wednesday. She’d thought to lounge around the hotel alone for her mini vacation before she had to be social with people she didn’t know.
Jax smiled, flashing the most perfect white teeth she’d ever seen. Then again, they could compare to Daniel’s. The best friends were perfect foils for each other—Jax dark, Daniel light.
“Didn’t Daniel tell you the wedding party would be arriving on Wednesday for a last minute rehearsal?”
She bit off a groan. “No, I should have realized that. The last wedding I attended was my sister’s something like ten years ago.”
“You’re looking beautiful as usual,” he commented, sweeping his gaze from her head to her feet. Tae found herself toying with her hair, which she’d crimped and died bronze. She’d thought the color a bit too stark, but it fit with her caramel skin tone, so she didn’t fret too much. Maybe she didn’t look as hippy as usual either. After all, her crazy exercise regimen over the last thirty days had whittled her waist down by a couple inches and lost her ten pounds.
She blushed at his compliment. “Thanks. You’re not looking so bad yourself.”
“From you that always sounds like an insult.”
“I don’t know what you mean, sir.” No way would she tell him flat out how hot he was. The man’s head might explode. She squinted at him. “Is your head bigger than usual?”
“You cut me, Tae.” He rested a hand dramatically to his chest. “I’m not what you think I am.”
“So you brought a girlfriend with you?”
She thought she’d cornered him, but he stepped closer and took her hand. A chill raced over her skin, bringing goose bumps up on her arms. “I’m all alone. Would you fill in?”
“Not on your life, pal.” She tugged her hand free of his grasp and turned back to the counter. Once her business was done, she turned down held with her bags and started toward the bank of elevators. Jax, strolling with the casual grace of a jungle cat, joined her. She peered over at him from the corner of her eye and took in the collared short-sleeved shirt that hugged powerful arms at the biceps and his slacks, which hugged narrow hips but gave room to the generous rise at the crotch.
“Are you checking me out, Tae?”
She jumped at hearing his low, sexy voice and frowned at him. “Of course not.”
“Hm.” He winked at her and held the elevator door open while she passed by him. His fingertips grazed her lower back for just a second until she moved away on the pretext of pressing the button for her floor.
“How is the private investigations business going?” she asked. “Any interesting cases?”
“Every now and then. Often it’s following cheating spouses and gathering evidence for divorce court.”
She shook her head. “Great, more reason not to get married.”
He gazed at her. “That why you turned our boy down three years ago?”
She sighed. “Geez, does everyone know my history?”
“Everyone like who?”
He moved closer, and all of a sudden the elevator seemed no bigger than a small closet. The scent of his aftershave tickled her nose, or it could have been cologne. Either way, he smelled yummy. She took a deep breath, finding no reason not to enjoy it for the moment. The problem originated with his charm and how he used it at every opportunity, on every woman, including her. She knew he didn’t mean anything by it, that it was just his way, but Jax was a temptation for any hot-blooded woman who hadn’t had sex with anything other than her vibrator for too damn long.
“Are you still in love with him?”
The question caught her off guard and ripped her from her thoughts. Odd that at that moment she’d been thinking of touching Jax and not of Daniel. The question couldn’t have been more ill-timed. “Why would you ask me that?”
“It’s a question.”
“I know, but—”
“I’ve known you both for a long time,” he said, “and I watched the two of you together. You loved him, and he practically survived off every word that fell from those beautiful lips.”
She put her hand on her hip. “Are you trying to guilt-trip me?”
“Not at all.” When he touched a hand to her cheek, she gasped and stared up at him. “If you still love him, this will be hard for you, seeing him marry someone else.”
The unexpected empathy blew her away. Never in a million years would she had thought Jax would say such a thing to her. He and she were friends, but they never did more than flirt and tease. They didn’t hang out except when he’d double date with whatever woman had caught his fancy at the time with her and Daniel. He had always seemed nice but shallow.
She lowered her gaze and pulled out of his grasp. “I’m fine. Thanks. What Daniel and I had is in the past. I appreciate your concern.”
The elevator dinged a floor before hers. Jax reached out to play with a lock of her hair. A tingle of awareness raced through her system. “I like how you keep changing it, black one week, red the next, blond after that.”
She suppressed a grin. “You don’t see me often enough to know if that’s true.”
“Have dinner with me tonight.”
The elevator doors slid open just as she opened her mouth to turn him down. Words died on her lips when she came face to face with Daniel, an older woman, and a younger woman who could be her sister.