Those are the three words Antoine told me he’d never associate with me. As a matter of fact, his exact words were: “Kristen, you’ll never be hot, sexy or desirable to me. I’d rather date a basset hound with a bad Botox job.”
Cruel, except he delivered the lines nicely. Like…he truly regretted it. Then, the next day, he sent me a white chocolate cupcake that tasted just like the ones from a boutique bakery in Paris he’d heard I liked.
I cling to that. If he regretted having to say it, it means he wished things were different. As in, he wished I weren’t Dominic’s baby sister. And he always does nice things for me. That must also mean he likes me. A lot! There’s no other explanation for that cupcake. It was a cupcake as perfect and delicious as Antoine himself.
I love my brother. I truly do. But being his baby sister puts a real crimp in my love life because Antoine is too damn loyal to him to look at me like I’m a woman. To Antoine, friendship with Dominic trumps everything because the friendship started before my “infatuation,” which Antoine is convinced is going to pass.
“There are other guys for you. Once you meet the right one, you’ll be embarrassed you threw yourself at me,” he said with a small, condescending smile that made me want to throttle him, preferably while screaming, “I already met the right one, you idiot!”
But I didn’t do that. First, Antoine’s a lot bigger than me. Second, he’s the head of my brother’s security team and knows how to fight. Like, fight dirty. He wouldn’t hit me, but he’d have no problem sitting on my back and lecturing me until I cried uncle. I overheard him say once that he doesn’t show mercy to his enemies, whether they have penises or not.
Well, I can do “no mercy,” too. He’s going to see me as sexual even if I have to sit on him and kiss him into submission.
I check my watch. Only fifteen minutes left before he comes to pick me up for work, but nothing in my closet screams “hot, sexy and desirable.” Antoine’s already seen me in all my best dresses. So…now what?
Maybe a dress isn’t the way to go? Hmm. I do have a nice ass, so maybe a slightly tight pair of pants might do the trick. This will only work if Antoine’s an ass man. It’s hard to tell. I’ve studied the women he’s been seen with, and they all have impressive tits, too. Probably plastic. At least mine are real. I study my breasts, pursing my lips. They aren’t as large as the ones on the women he’s been with, but they’re a good C…cup size, not grade. And they’re pert. I pick out a fitted hot-pink top with cut-out shoulders and a scoop neckline. Low enough to show off my assets but not so low that I can’t wear it in the office. With a push-up bra, I can create a cleavage almost as impressive as the ones on those other women.
My mind made up, I put on the top, a pair of cream-colored pants, and nude peep-toe sling-back stilettos. Ta-da. Perfect. Even my makeup is perfect today, with just enough smokiness to bring out the blue of my eyes and a juicy red on my lips. The new lipstick I bought on a whim yesterday should work out fine.
But Antoine’s earlier.
I spot him leaning against the black Bentley SUV and having his usual thermos of coffee. He looks up and frowns for a fraction of a second before nodding.
My eyes collide with his intense green ones above his sunglasses, and my heart skips a beat. He’s the most stunning man I’ve ever seen, and working in fashion, I’ve seen a lot of good-looking men. Six foot two, he’s tall and solid, with lean, hard muscles. I felt most of them on that fateful night a year ago when I got plastered and threw myself at him. He’s in a plain white dress shirt, black slacks and a black jacket—even though we’re in sunny SoCal—to hide the gun he carries. He doesn’t wear a tie because, according to him, that’s practically begging the other guy to grab it and pull.
Sometimes I wish it were just his pretty face I was in love with. Then I could find somebody prettier. This is L.A., after all. And if L.A. didn’t deliver, I could always try Milan or Paris. But nope. There’s more to him than just looks.
I’ll never forget that rainy evening five years ago. I was trotting across the street to reach the café where I was supposed to meet Dominic during my overnight layover in L.A. By the time I noticed the car swerving and speeding dangerously toward me, it was too late…and like an idiot I froze. Antoine saw, dashed over and shoved me out of the way. The car went past, then turned sharply and crashed into an idling van with a deafening crunch.
A crowd gathered, and my head started to ring. The longer I couldn’t spot him, the less I was able to process. Oh my God. My eyes grow hot, and I was convinced he was gone…because of me.
Back then, he was a stranger. I didn’t even know his name.
“Are you okay?” came a calm, reassuring male voice, the words slightly accented in a way that would always remind me of James Bond. It was him, crouching in front of me, his hands running over my shoulders and arms, his fierce green eyes staring into mine. “Are you hurt?”
I almost fainted dead away with relief.
I’d read of heroic people, but I’d never experienced heroism first-hand. And I’ve never met a guy who thought he didn’t do anything special after performing such a feat.
“Anybody would’ve helped,” he said.
Except no one else did. They were all too busy gawking.
I swear he was going to ask me out, or at least ask for my number. But Dominic appeared, wanting to know if I was okay, then thanked Antoine and introduced us to each other. The instant he heard I was Dominic’s sister, Antoine pulled back, like I was a cobra or something.
Then there was the incident a few months back with the kidnapping scare. He came for me when he thought I’d been taken hostage by my sociopath cousin. When Antoine realized I was okay, he hugged me until my bones creaked and pressed kisses to my forehead while whispering, “Thank God, thank God!”
That moment? I knew he had feelings for me. No man would react that way otherwise.
Then as we finally pulled back and I smiled up at him, he added, “You’re Dominic’s sister. I’m not letting anything happen to you.”
The only thing I really processed at that time was the tight embrace and kisses. But the “You’re Dominic’s sister” was there, too…and those kisses were on my forehead. If I had, maybe…maybe…I wouldn’t have fallen for him…again.
Right. One glance at Antoine looking as hot as hell, leaning against the SUV, and I’m a puddle of hormones. There’s no cure for this.
“Good morning,” I say, keeping my tone as light and carefree as possible, all the while hoping he notices my cleavage. Since his gaze isn’t dropping below my chin, I point at my silver necklace. “What do you think? I designed it.” Then deliberately, I tug the cherry blossom pendant free from between my girls.
Frustration bubbles, but I put on a thoughtful smile anyway. “Men buy necklaces too.”
He shoots an assessing look at the delicate silver flower petals. “Gay men, maybe.”
“No, I mean for their girlfriends or something.”
“I don’t buy my women jewelry.”
My jaw tightens. We’ll just see about that.
“Uh-huh.” I walk past him as quickly as possible, tossing my hair over my shoulder and having my ponytail swat his face. I practiced the maneuver for days, and it works perfectly.
Come on. There’ll be more chances.
Dominic and Liza are on a week-long honeymoon. I’m hoping that with my brother out of the picture, Antoine might realize he needs to give us a chance. If today fails, I still have six more days. It’s more opportunity than I ever hoped for.
Antoine follows me down the steps, then opens the door to the SUV. I climb into the passenger seat, and he walks around and gets behind the wheel. Normally, I’d drive myself to work, but I conveniently left my car at the hotel where I attended a private pool party with lots of booze. It’s not only immoral but illegal to drink and drive. Then I oh-so casually texted Antoine for a ride to work last night before going to bed. I couldn’t sleep for hours when he texted back, Okay.
“Thanks,” I say. “I know chauffeuring me around isn’t something you’re crazy about.” I lean forward and press the sides of my breasts with my arms so my cleavage is extra enhanced. I don’t worry about my nipples poking out. They’re already pointing at him like lasers, sending him a subliminal message. You—me—yes.
Before I can lick my lower lip, he turns his attention back on the road. “I don’t mind.” Then he adds, “Plus there’s your stalker guy. A little extra caution won’t hurt.”
Right. My “Amour.” A weird and persistent creep who’s been bugging me for a couple of months. But so far, the only thing he’s done is send me flowers, chocolates and really inappropriate and intimate letters, detailing how he wants to marry—and impregnate—me because he’s certain we’ll make lots of beautiful babies. Ugh. Unfortunately, the police don’t think what he’s done is threatening enough to take action. Apparently he needs to show up with a knife or two before the cops can do anything.
“Hard to say.” Antoine shrugs. “Maybe if you got yourself a man?”
I inhale, annoyed. He’s totally not including himself in that “man” category. He wants me to get somebody—anybody—but him. “Maybe I should date Tolyan,” I say, just to provoke a reaction.
Tolyan is Liza’s “assistant.” Unless you’re stupid or blind, you can tell at a glance his duties don’t involve things like organizing her calendar. For one thing, if he was at a bar, he’d look like he’d being chewing on broken glass instead of stale pretzels. For another, I’ve seen him move. He doesn’t move like a nice, well-adjusted office worker. More like a bored predator among clueless prey.
I wait for Antoine to object. Maybe even volunteer himself.
“That’s a thought,” Antoine says. “That’d discourage a would-be stalker for sure. But Dominic might not approve. Tolyan’s a little on the senior citizen side.”
“He’s not that old.”
A beat. “Well, if the geriatric set turns you on…”
Antoine continues, “Like I said, get yourself a boyfriend, Kristen. Most stalkers are too pussified to confront another man.”
“You’re only saying that because you don’t want to drive me around.” Suddenly I feel down. Might as well be invisible for all the attention Antoine has paid me. Why did I bother?