— Tori —
Just breathe, Tori. Breathe, breathe, breathe.
I took a deep breath as I stood back from the mirror to inspect the third reapplication of my makeup. There was nothing I could do about the tear induced redness that rimmed my eyes, but at least the rest of my face was flawless.
Briefly— very briefly— I considered sneaking out of the resort and catching a cab back the airport. I could hop on a plane back to Dallas, or straight to wherever the hell Rafael was, and try to convince him that my drastic decision had just been a big mistake. A misunderstanding, a failure in communication… just a complete overreaction on my part. But… is there really a such thing as an overreaction to pictures splashed across the internet of your husband “entertaining” several of his fans at once?
No. No, there’s not.
But there was no reason for me to travel down that road, because it would only lead to another round of makeup-ruining tears. I shook the images from my head and took another deep breath, straightened my shoulders, and held my head head. There was nothing to be gained from dwelling on stupid mistakes— at least not today. Today wasn’t about me, it was about celebrating Des, my best friend, as she married the love of her life. With my mind focused on that, I pulled open the door of the bathroom and stepped out, immediately colliding with the chest of someone passing by.
Strong arms closed around me, offering balance as I tried to steady myself on my feet. “Are you ok?”
My heart began to race as the soothing timbre of his voice swept through me, sending a pleasant tingling sensation up my spine.
“Yes,” I replied, blushing as I took a step back, tripping over the train of my bridesmaid dress in the process. He caught me again, offering a smile that could only be described as seductive. Giving him a quick, but thorough once-over, I realized there was nothing about this guy that wasn’t sexy.
Broad shoulders? Check.
Sculpted jaw, straight nose, heavy brows, full lips? Check, check, check, and check.
Well-groomed facial hair? Double check.
And his eyes. Dear God, those eyes. Deep, soulful brown pools that I stared into for so long that I nearly forgot where— and who— I was. But somehow… he seemed familiar.
“You sure you ok? You kind of look like you’ve been crying, and I—”
“No, I’m fine. Really,” I stammered as I stepped away, being careful not to stumble this time. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to the bride.”
Turning on my heels, I attempted to walk away, but the feeling of warm fingers around my wrist stopped me. “Wait a second,” he said, tugging gently on my arm to get me to face him. “You’re Tori, right?”
I simply nodded, trying to avoid his eyes. I couldn’t get caught up in them again, especially when a touch as simple as his hand on my wrist had me feeling hot and bothered. What the hell was wrong with me? I’m supposed to be grieving over the end of my marriage, not salivating over some stranger.
“I was looking for you, actually. I’m Desiree’s brother, Avery.”
“Oh! Oh, wow, Hi! Nice to meet you. I knew that Des had a brother, but…” I caught myself before I finished that sentence. Nevermind that I was raving like an idiot, the truth was, Desiree barely talked about her older brother, even though she claimed they were close. But, one of the few things I knew about Avery — from Des — was that he was extremely private, so it made sense that he wasn’t a major topic of conversation. Still, maybe Des could have mentioned that her brother was the Avery Anderson, creator and owner of the fastest-growing auto-repair franchise in the country.
I recognized him from the feature pages and websites of several business magazines that I frequented. Most of his interviews reeked of arrogance, and he had a reputation for being blunt and demanding, but sometimes, in some fields, that’s just what it takes to get past the hurdles and become successful. His company, Ignition, was youthful and modern, a niche that I never would have thought of for car repair, but obviously it was working. Avery was a billionaire, and if I remembered correctly, he wasn’t even 35.
“But… what? Hey, don’t believe anything my sister said about me— unless it was good.”
I cut my eyes toward the ceiling, pretending to think about it with a grimace. “ Ummm… unfortunately, that means I don’t have anything to believe.”
Avery broke into laughter, a joyful, carefree sound that tugged at the tightness that been laying on my chest since I’d signed the final divorce papers two days before. “Nothing, huh?”
“Nope, sorry,” I teased, even as I nervously chewed my bottom lip, still trying — and failing — not to be drawn in again by his eyes. Avery still had me by the arm, and I was reluctant to pull away from the warmth of his touch even though something about this whole conversation felt too close for comfort.
“Well, even though everything you know about me is bad, can I still escort you to Des’ room? That’s actually why I was looking for you, Des is freaking out a little because she didn’t know where you were and you weren’t answering your phone. I kinda promised her that I would find you. And maybe I can tell you some good things.”
Before I could respond, Avery placed a hand against the small of my back — which was bare, due to the style of the soft coral dress that Des had chosen for me to wear— and turned me in the direction of Des’s dressing room. He let it linger there as we walked, a liberty that I would have usually politely rebuffed, but the weight of his hand felt comfortable, and warm, and just good. It was a little crazy that this was the most intimate touch I’d experience— and enjoyed— in the last several months, and this would need to hold me over for the next… lifetime.