It’s the same old shit. Another political party camouflaged as a good cause. A fundraiser for some housewife’s charity that no one here gives a damn about. An excuse for these rich fuckers to dress in their Brioni suits and Versace dresses, and make themselves feel like they’re more superior than the college kids they’re paying minimum wage to serve us champagne and caviar.
I should be writing the essay I have due next week on civil procedure, not rubbing elbows with the Princeton elite, but family protocol demands that at least one Beckett attend these events. Since my parents are currently in Washington with their noses stuck up some rich senator’s ass, trying to get my dad re-elected to office, the responsibility fell on me.
Everything falls on me now.
I take a sip of champagne and try not to let the familiar ache in my chest take root. It should be Ethan here. He was the one my parents groomed to take over the family political empire. He played the part well. Enjoyed every second in the spotlight. And I was more than happy to let my big brother play king of the castle because, in fairness, princes have a hell of a lot fewer responsibilities.
But two years ago today, the dumbass decided to snort several lines of coke before getting behind the wheel of the Porsche my parents bought him for his twenty-second birthday.
That old familiar knife digs into my chest, opening old wounds, and letting guilt trickle out. I slam back the rest of the champagne, and look around the room, needing something stronger to get me through the rest of the night.
“Jesus, Spencer, haven’t seen you look so fucked since your parents brought Winslow to Nantucket last year.” Prescott Addington is my oldest friend and can read me better than anyone else. And he’s right. Being here is the last place I want to be. I’m good with a party. I just prefer the ones where I can freely flirt, hook-up and make an exit as soon as my cock desires.
A place where I’m not worried about running into Winslow Harrington, the woman my parents have been dead set on marrying me off with since I was barely out of diapers. Usually she’s on my arm at these types of events, playing the perfect girlfriend, even though it’s all a sham. But I’m so sick and tired of playing the damn game.
“Where is Winnie, anyway?” Prescott asks, glancing around. “Usually she’s tethered to your hip at these things.”
“Didn’t ask her to come,” I mutter.
Prescott whistles low. “She’s going to be pissed. So are your parents.”
I grunt, hating the eyes of my mother’s cronies at this gala that take in every move I make. I have no doubt one of them has already informed my parents that I came here alone, but honestly, tonight I don’t care.
The fact that I have to be here at all, on the anniversary of Ethan’s death, is bullshit. But then the world I live in, with its plastic smiles and calculated conversations has no room for grief.
Prescott hands me a drink and I take the glass of amber liquid, sniffing it before draining the aged scotch, glad for the rush of numbing heat that races down my throat and into my veins.
“Here, have another,” he says, grabbing a random glass off a passing waitress’ tray and replacing it with my empty one.
I smirk and down the contents. “You trying to get me drunk?”
“No, I just want to have fun tonight and you’re a serious buzzkill.”
“Duly noted.” My head is already spinning, but the ache in my chest is still there, which means I haven’t had nearly enough to drink. I have no doubt Prescott has something stronger tucked away in his suit pocket, but I swore off the white stuff after being called in to identify my brother’s body.
Another thing I have to be grateful to my parents for since they’d been out of the country at the time.
I dig my palm into my temple and try to push away the images that will be forever burned in my memory. The only thing I’m grateful for is that my younger sister Ava didn’t have to see him the way I did.
“Hey,” Prescott says to a server that’s walking past. When she doesn’t respond, he snaps his fingers and says louder, “Hey beautiful. We need some drinks over here.”
From behind, there’s nothing special about the girl. Tiny, at least compared to me, with a slender waist, and slim hips. I wouldn’t give her a second glance, but I’m not prepared for the eyes that turn and meet my gaze.
Too damn big for her head, that’s my first thought. Hazel with flecks of gold, green, hell, I think I see every color swirling there. Lined with thick, dark lashes, they dominate her pixie-shaped face. High cheekbones, turned-up nose, shoulder length hair that’s chopped and styled in a way that makes her look like she just rolled out of bed.
One look and I know I wouldn’t mind her rolling out of my bed.
She’s not traditionally beautiful, but there’s something about her, a confidence despite her unpolished appearance, that intrigues me. But it’s the recognition in those multi-colored eyes, the way her spine straightens and her lips pull down that has my curiosity piqued.
“You look familiar. Do I know you?” I ask.
I can feel the eye-roll she holds back, sense the comment she bites her tongue on before she gives a shake of her head. But her gaze is still fixed on me, and I can feel the tug, the gravitational pull. And even though it’s clear she’s trying to hide it, I see her pupils dilate, the way she pulls her bottom lip between her teeth, nervously. I even catch her letting her gaze drop down to my chest before she looks away, cheeks turning a cute shade of pink.
Her gaze diverted, I let my own skim down her body. White blouse, black dress pants, typical of what the other servers are wearing, they do nothing to accentuate the soft curves I have no doubt are hiding under the material.
“Funny. I swear I’ve seen you around.” I give her an easy, practiced smile, one that got me the nickname Princeton Charming, and add with a slight tilt of my head, “Maybe in my dreams?”
It’s silent, but I hear her inward groan. But despite taking a step back, she tilts her chin to me, and asks stoically, “Do you need something?”
Maybe it’s the alcohol, or the need to numb the pain that still presses against my chest, but I push, despite the clear fuck off sign she has posted on her forehead. “I need whatever you’re offering, sweetheart.”
She scoffs, but there is the tiniest hint of a smile on her pink, pouty lips. “You’re ridiculous, Spencer Beckett.”
“So, you know my name.” I step toward her. “Doesn’t seem fair, I don’t know yours.”
She twists her lips, those expressive hazel eyes swirling with intensity. “I think we know enough about each other.”
“I know nothing about you...” I take another step toward her, feel the undeniable electricity that sizzles between us, not caring that the room is filled with watching eyes that will no doubt report back to my parents. I grin down at the girl. “Except that you’re gorgeous.”
Prescott snorts behind me.
She glances around me, taking in my friend, then back to me, a new fire in her eyes. But this time it’s anger and not desire that fuels it.
“Are you seriously hitting on me when I’m working?” Her eyes scan my body again, but there’s a hint of disgust in her voice, like my appearance offends her. “You are—” Her lips clamp down on whatever she was about to say.
Pretty sure it was going to be an insult, which only intensifies my intrigue.
Even I can hear the slight slur of my words when I say, “I want to know more about you.”
Her eyes narrow, and she says sarcastically, “Princeton Charming wants to know more about me.”
Prescott coughs, and says under his breath, “About what you’d look like in his bed.”
She ignores him, gaze still fixed on me. “Okay, fine. You know that I’m a waitress, which means I’m broke, which means I’m not your type. I didn’t grow up on Martha’s Vineyard and my idea of a work ethic is pulling up my bootstraps.”
“So...” Deadpanned, I lift my brows. “You’re saying you’ve got a chip on your shoulder?”
Prescott chuckles, and I’m about ready to turn and tell him to fuck off, because I’m seriously enjoying this little banter. For the first time in a long while, I feel something more than numb guilt, I feel...fire. Because that’s what this girl is -- passion and stubbornness.
And it doesn’t hurt that she’s cute as hell.
“Well?” I push, knowing how this will go down. Her in my bed before the night is over.
Lowering her chin, she bites the side of her lip, and takes a steadying breath before continuing, “I’m saying I’ve got work to do.” She lifts her tray to make a point. “And you...” She gives a shake of her head. “Need to work on those pick-up lines of yours.” Without another glance, she sashays away, and my cock twitches with want.
“Damn, Spencer, you’re losing your charm,” Prescott says behind me. “The great Princeton Charming is shut down.”
I just shove my hands in my trouser pockets and try to keep my gaze from following the girl around the room. The game is only starting. Her walking away only makes me want her more.
“She’s not typically my type, but I’ll do the grunt work...” Prescott grins at me, then lets his gaze drift back to the girl.
I know what he means, that he’s willing to share her. It wouldn’t be the first time. But something possessive coils in my stomach at his suggestion, and I don’t want her anywhere near him.
“If you’re into her,” he adds, a grin tugging at his lips and a knowing look in his eyes. “I can—”
“I’m not,” I lie.
“Bullshit. You were practically undressing her with your eyes. And like I said, I’m in, if you want me to—”
“No.” It’s a command rather than a response, and Prescott’s brows shoot up. But I can see right away that he takes it as a challenge. “Fuck,” I mutter as he begins to saunter over to the far corner of the room where she’s restacking her tray with glasses of champagne.
I’m about to go after him when the girl’s eyes flick over to mine, then back to Prescott. I see her ask him something and he frowns, resting a hand on her arm as he answers.
What the fuck is he doing?
Prescott leans in and kisses her on the cheek before walking back to me. My hands are fists and I’m ready to take this outside where no prying eyes can document the moment I push my oldest friend against the wall.
“What the hell was that?” I ask, my words tense and my voice low.
“It was me smoothing things over, getting you a second chance to make a first impression.”
“Yeah? And how did you manage that?” I ask, my eyes narrowing.
“I told her you were having a rough night. That it’s the anniversary of your brother’s death. I was pulling the sympathy card.”
“You’re a callous bastard, you know that? And I don’t need your help to get her into bed.”
“Is that so?” He grins, one brow cocked. “Shall we bet on it?”
“You’re such a fucking ass.” Mostly, because he knows I have a hard time turning down a bet.
“True.” Prescott laughs. “So that’s a yes?”
“What kind of bet?”
“If you can’t manage to get her to go home with you tonight, then you owe me a night in Atlantic City. Hookers. Blow. As many hands of blackjack as I want.”
“And if I win—”
He cuts me off. “Then you, my friend, can continue your reign as Princeton Charming.” He raises his hands. “Plus the night in Atlantic City, on me.”
“What’s in it for you?”
He chuckles. “Watching you make an ass of yourself with a woman who clearly doesn’t want you is priceless.”