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Jillian Evans has always been second best; second prettiest to her sister. So when the one man she’s ever loved marries another, she tries to take it in stride. Until he shows up at her job with news that he isn’t as married as she thinks. Their one night many years ago in Vegas has bound them together in more ways than one.
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How could this be happening? Eddie McCabe was there, not two yards away. My older sister Chris, his best friend, hadn’t warned me. Not that she should have. She had no idea I had a major one-for-the- record-books crush on him.
I can do this.
Crushes were for high schoolers and I was in college not three hours away in Los Angeles. I could totally ignore him.
I went to the bar and grabbed a drink.
“There you are,” Mandy, my wayward friend, slurred, slinging an arm over my shoulder. “You see those hot guys over there? One is staring at you like you’re his next meal.”
Her grin was way too bright and I followed her line of sight to the blackjack table Eddie and his friends stood around. There I met Eddie’s eyes. Clearly, she was drunk because his dark gaze looked more menacing than hungry.
Quickly, I glanced away and tossed back my drink. “Another,” I said to the bartender.
Once the drink was in my hand, I helped Mandy, who was swaying on her feet back to our friends. I tried my best not to look back at where Eddie had been. Instead, I focused on one of the guys who’d found our group.
My thoughts continued to circle back to Eddie. He’d seen me and had probably already called my sister to find out why I was in Vegas like I was some little kid.
Apparently, I’d drunk too much. A tap on my shoulder sent me spinning around way too fast to face who’d touched me and I saw double. If not for the steel band of an arm landing about my waist, I would have face-planted.
The guy I’d been talking to lost cool points by not coming to my rescue. Pussy.
I pushed my hair back from my eyes as a gorgeous face coalesced in front of me. Eddie.
The guy I’d been talking to was instantly forgotten as a wistful smile played across my mouth.
“Hey,” I said, trying to sound sexy, not sloppy.
One perfect brow shot up and I knew I missed the mark.
“I think it’s time for you to call it a night,” he said.
I poked out my bottom lip.
“You’re not my father. I don’t even know who my father is.”
“You’re not twenty-one either,” he whispered in my ear.
The outfit I’d chosen to wear left bare flesh exposed near my waist his fingertips exploited, sending a shiver down my spine.
I ignored it and bared all my teeth in a wicked grin. “That’s not what my ID says. Besides, girl code won’t allow me to bail on my friends.” I turned to the group. “Right, girls?”
They stared at Eddie like he’d walked the red carpet. A few of them bated their eyelashes at him or so I thought. I couldn’t be sure that my drunken brain wasn’t playing tricks on me.
“You ladies don’t mind if I steal Jillian. I’ll make sure she gets home safely.”
Later, I would reflect on his choice of words. He hadn’t said room, but home. At the moment, I didn’t care. I didn’t want to be treated like a child.
“I’m staying,” I said, firmly planting my feet.
Like a bulldozer, he uprooted me with ease. He half-carried me as my feet tripped along trying to keep up with his pace. We stopped at a craps table, where I looked over at his friends. Each one of them was hot in their own right. It had to be illegal.
I missed all of what he said but the last.
“I’ll catch up with you guys later.”
He sounded way too sober for my liking as he whisked me away.
To me, he said, “What’s your room number?”
Stubbornly, I locked my jaw and refused to utter a word.
When we reached the north bank of elevators, I somehow managed to stand my ground.
“I’m not a baby.”
Fire in his eyes nailed me like a solar flare. “Well, stop acting like one.”
I glared at him and took a moment to collect my words so I could punch him with them. But what I said hadn’t been planned.
“I’m not. In fact, I’d been talking to the guy I planned to give my virginity to.”
If eyes could be the size and shape of quarters, I’m pretty sure Eddie’s were. I took the opportunity to march off.
It wasn’t like I planned to be someone’s potential cherry popper, but it was hard when no guy measured up to the Eddie stick. He’d lived next door for as long as I could remember, and over time had become unofficially the man of our house when our dad went MIA so long ago I could barely remember what he looked like.
Eddie stepped in and did small repair jobs my mom couldn’t handle for little or nothing. And though he would never say, I’d assumed he’d been the Santa who’d left extra presents under our tree when there was little more than enough food in the house. It wasn’t like he had a lot more than we did, but I knew he’d done those things for us with money he’d earned from odd jobs he did in the neighborhood.