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Taken (A Real Man #21)
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I saw her across a crowded room. She was everything I’d ever wanted.
She was everything I didn’t know I needed.
It ended with a few too many glasses of champagne and both of us in an empty room, the heat rising, two bodies searching for something more.
I only knew her first name, but that’s all I needed to know I wanted her as mine forever.
There wouldn’t be anything in this world that could stop me from letting Penny know I couldn’t let her walk away.
I ran into him… literally. And instantly, I knew he was unlike any man I’d ever met. I’d consumed far too many alcoholic beverages that night, and the liquid courage and bubbles going straight to my head.
With my inhibitions gone, I found myself sneaking off into a storage closet with a virtual stranger and doing things that made me blush.
It was fast.
It was hot.
It was dirty.
But most of all, it was perfect.
When the night ended, I knew the fantasy would no doubt become a distant memory. But Everett had woken something up in me that I hadn’t known was asleep. And I yearned for more.
And it seemed he hadn’t forgotten about me either… not if him showing up on my doorstep telling me I was his was anything to go by.
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As I sucked down the third glass of champagne, I actually wondered if maybe this was my fourth. My head was already starting to get good and fuzzy. The truth was, I was never good with alcohol, meaning I was a cheap date, feeling buzzed after one beer, and being shit-faced after a handful.
And champagne made it even worse, the bubbles going right to my head.
But being the third wheel, a pity invite from my sister and her fiancé Stewart, to this ritzy, super-posh charity event, made guzzling down free booze totally justifiable. Right?
That’s what I told myself anyway, and I was sticking to that story.
I leaned against the bar in the dress my sister, Claire, had given me, which had been a loan from one of her friends who was about my size. Meaning she wasn’t a size two like my sister. And despite the fact that it fit, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it was a little snug.
I probably shouldn’t have eaten those two tacos before I left, but damn, when a girl was hungry, she was hungry.
And I didn’t think my go-to T-shirt and jeans everyday attire would be very welcome at this soirée, even if I would have much preferred wearing it.
I could see Claire and Stewart across the room, no doubt kissing ass with some well-off people so they would donate an obscene amount of money tonight. This was Stewart’s event—well, one he’d helped organize. My sister had always had the luck between the two of us. Got into a great college, because she was smart and had the grades. Got a prestigious job right after graduation, which so happened to have her meeting her now fiancé, who had money coming out his ass.
She was also pretty, far prettier than I was. Well, I thought so, anyway, and so did everyone in high school. I was always known in school as Claire’s homely-looking, not-as-smart sister. But I ran with that title and held my chin up. And it helped me in life. It helped me accept that you didn’t have to be perfect in everything you tried to do. You just had to be happy.
And I was.
But a part of me did envy Claire and her confidence. She worked a room like she owned it. She’d always been like that. And she was modest, never boasting or bragging, never conceited.
I stared at her black sequined floor-length gown. God, it fit her so well and showed off how in shape she was. She had the body of a runway model. She most definitely hadn’t eaten two tacos before squeezing into that tight-as-hell dress for a ritzy gala.
I finished off my champagne and turned around to lean against the bar. I lifted my empty glass to show the bartender and was rewarded with a slight nod as he went to refill it instantly.
I turned around again and stared at the crowd. The room we were in was elegant, with a massive crystal chandelier that hung from the ceiling in the center and cast crystalline rainbows across the room. It was ethereal, romantic, almost drugging in the calmness of it. I had to wonder if all of this wasn’t a way to get people drunk, set the mood and atmosphere just right, and have them reach deep into their pockets.
But hey, it was for a good cause, so I was all for that kind of subtle conversion.
The buzz was in full effect, and if I didn’t slow down, I’d go down the territory of getting good and drunk. I really should pace myself, have a big glass of water and eat something. The last thing I wanted to do was get piss-ass drunk and embarrass myself, as well as Claire and Stewart. I might be the third wheel, a pity invite because my sister knew I sat home on the weekends and did nothing—every weekend—but embarrassing and disrespecting them was a shit thing to do.
I turned back around and faced the bartender just as he set a new glass of bubbly champagne in front of me.
“Can I get some water too, please?” He gave me another nod and before I knew it, he had a glass of ice-cold water sitting right beside the champagne glass.
I drank that water in seconds flat, not realizing how thirsty I actually was. He refilled the glass before I could even ask him to and I gave him a grateful smile before turning and heading toward the hors d’oeuvre table. I had a glass in each hand, both of them cold, one to help tame my intoxication, the other meant to take me over the edge.
I sipped on the water as my heels clacked against the granite flooring, and the sounds of all the people around me chattering filled my head. A few guests loitered around the food, so I stood off to the side and finished my water, set the empty glass on the tray of a passing waiter, and faced the food again.