I’m not going to turn around.
Nope. Not going to do that. Maybe if I don’t turn around then he won’t really be there.
But then I turned around.
Asher Creed stood right in front of me with his piercing grey eyes and his overwhelming scent of sandalwood.
He looked even more glorious now than I ever remember. How is it legal to be this attractive?!
“You look amazing,” he finally said with a deeper than normal voice as his eyes traveled down to my lips before meeting my eyes again.
My brain wasn’t functioning. No words were coming out and I was frozen to my spot.
“Layla? You okay?” This came from Mark behind me and I finally blinked.
I saw how Asher was sizing Mark up before he stuck his hand out for Mark to shake.
“Hey. I’m Asher. The bride’s brother.”
Mark took his hand. “Mark. I’m...”
I cut him off. “My boyfriend.”
What?! I finally had the courage to speak and those were the words that came out?!
Asher eyed me suspiciously but then smiled at Mark. Mark thankfully didn’t correct me and just went with it.
“Glad you could make it,” Mark replied.
Asher stared into my eyes. “Yeah, me too.”
I had no idea what to do. Asher Creed was standing right in front of me and then I put myself between a rock and a hard place, and I didn’t see a way out.
“Excuse us...” I grabbed Mark and pulled him away from Asher. I had to get away from him.
Mark laughed. “What was that?”
I was stressing out and began hyperventilating. “Just... just please go with it. I’ll explain later.”
Then Harper was there hugging me.
“He just showed up. I didn’t have time to warn you.” She held me gently and stroked my back.
“It’s not your fault.” I was still breathing heavily. “It just surprised me is all...” Surprised was an understatement.
“Why are you acting so weird?” Mark finally asked, sipping from his beer.
Harper released me and looked between me and mark.
“That’s my brother,” she replied in a ‘duh’ tone as if Mark should know, but I never told Mark about Asher.
“Yeah, I gathered that, but why are you freaking out?” He directed his question at me now.
When I didn’t reply, Harper helped me out. “Her and my brother had a secret affair back in high school and little miss Layla here fell hard for the idiot.”
Mark nodded like it was no big deal. “Okay, so?”
“My brother took off to do his skateboarding thing and never talked to Layla again,” Harper blurted out and I gave her a glare. “What? It’s true.”
Someone yelled for Harper and she excused herself, leaving me alone with Mark.
Mark placed his hand on my arm then. “That’s why you told him I was your boyfriend?”
I nodded and shrugged at the same time. “It’s difficult to explain.”
“Nah, it’s cool, I totally get it.” He hugged me. “I’ll be your fake boyfriend for as long as you need me to be. I’ve always got your back, Layla.”
I hugged him back. “Thanks, Mark.” He really was a great friend. I was lucky to have met him.
“Let’s get you another drink or three.” He chuckled as we walked back toward the bar, on the opposite side from where Asher sat, and Mark kept his arm around me.
I couldn’t help but keep glancing toward Asher who stared at us intently. Someone was talking to him but his eyes were on me, and somehow it seemed like he knew I was lying. Like he could see right through my bullshit.
I was a shaking, nervous mess, but after a few more shots and two more glasses of wine, I was starting to relax.
Then I saw a few people in the hot tub and more people in the pool and it looked so refreshing.
“Want to take a dip with me?” I pulled my eyes away from Asher and asked Mark.
But I didn’t realize he was talking to one of Tate’s colleagues. He smiled down at me and shook his head. “Go ahead. I’m visiting.”
I drank the rest of my wine and walked toward the hot tub.
“How is it?” I asked, dipping my toe into the hot water.
“It’s so nice. Come on in.” Harper’s cousin smiled up at me.
“I didn’t bring a suit.” I pouted.
“Neither did we.” She stood up and pointed at herself. “Bra and panties. Same as a bikini basically.”
I chuckled and shrugged. “All right. Move over.”
Her cousin and her date went back to talking to each other as I stood up and started to pull my jacket off.
Then my eyes moved up, gravitating toward the bar, and that’s when I saw Asher staring at me. I kept getting undressed, my eyes glued to his as I watched him spin in his chair, leaned back on his arms, and watched me intently.
The cool air nipped at my skin the more I undressed. My jacket and shirt were dropped onto a chair next to me and when I went for my jeans, my eyes bored back into Asher’s. I didn’t know if it was the alcohol doing this or my teasing nature, but I swayed my hips as I slowly lowered my jeans, exposing my bare legs. Asher bit his bottom lip before chugging from his beer. Then I watched him jump from his spot and disappear into the house and I lost sight of him.
I internally pouted but got my bearings again as I slipped into the hot tub. The hot water felt so good against my skin as I sunk deeper and deeper.
Harper’s cousin and her date were in their own little world and I was fine with that. It was peaceful sitting here alone, the dark sky and stars above me, as I took a deep breath.
I closed my eyes and fully enjoyed the experience, feeling the alcohol buzz throughout my entire body.
“Mind if I join?”
I whipped my eyes open and looked up to find Asher standing above me in his briefs, and holy smokes was his body amazing!! He was more muscular than before and his tattoos went further than just his arms. Good lord, I’m in trouble.
“It’s a free country...”
Get it together, Layla!
He lightly chuckled as I watched him slowly get into the hot tub and sit just a few inches away from me, but he was careful not to touch me.
“Mmmm...” he moaned out with his eyes closed and I immediately dropped my mouth open and gawked at him.
Is he trying to kill me right now?!
He opened his eyes and looked at me and I quickly tore my gaze away.
“I didn’t know if you’d be here or not,” he finally spoke.
“Seriously? Your sister is my best friend and you didn’t know that I’d be here?”
He laughed, his glorious white teeth beaming back at me. “All right. I knew you would be.” Then his smiling mouth turned to his dangerous grin and I had to look away.
“Well, I can honestly say I had no idea you were coming,” I blurted out.
“Don’t sound so displeased, Stanford.” He chuckled.
I groaned. “Still calling me that, huh?” I glared at him. “I’m a grown ass adult now, Asher. My name is Layla.”
“Yeah, but I love how much it bugs you when I call you Stanford. Besides,” he paused, looking down at my lips, “Layla is too personal.”
What the hell did he mean by that?
“My first name is too personal?” I cocked an eyebrow at him. “You’re the same ole Asher, aren’t you?”
Then his features turned dark and he looked pained by my words.
“Careful, Stanford,” he warned.
“Or what?” I went to stand up but between the alcohol flowing through my veins and the heat of the water, I became dizzy.
And I fell right into Asher.
His hands grabbed my ass and his face was right in between my breasts and I froze.
Feeling him against me after all these years caused emotions I had pushed deep down to come flooding to the surface.
His eyes were hooded as he stared up at me and I swear I heard a growl come from his chest. Then I felt his hands squeeze my ass as he stood up, coming face to face with me.
“You should be more careful, Stanford.” His voice was low and raspy and the familiar ache shot right between my legs.
My hands were flat on his chest and I was staring directly into his eyes, and instinctively, my body was tight up against his.
“Sorry.” I finally blinked, pushing off of him. “I think I’ve had too much to drink. I should go lie down.”
He let go of me but still helped me get out of the hot tub. When I turned to look at him, he was sitting back down in the tub with his eyes closed, so I grabbed my clothes and headed inside. I sought Mark out and saw that he was still in deep conversation with Tate’s colleague.
After showering, I laid down in the bed but found that I was restless. I couldn’t sleep if my life depended on it.
Asher Creed was right down stairs.
The music had come to an end and I could hear everyone calling it a night as they all made their way to their own rooms. And that’s when Mark came in.
“Oh, you’re still awake.” He smiled at me.
“Does it have to do with the bride’s brother?” He gave me a knowing grin.
“Something like that.” I sighed. “I’m sorry that I’m dragging you into this mess.”
But he just laughed while he got undressed. “Don’t worry about it, Layla. I totally get it. And to be honest... I think he’s nuts for ever letting you go. From the moment I met you and got to know you, I knew how special you were.”
Mark climbed into bed and leaned over to kiss my cheek.
“Thanks, Mark.” I smiled down at him. “Is everyone in their rooms?”
He nodded and yawned as he laid down. “Yep. It’s dead out there.” Then he was asleep as small snores came from his direction.
I knew I should just lay there until I fell asleep, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to wake Mark, so I slipped out of bed and wrapped a blanket around me and left the room.
The house was quiet and lightly lit as I made my way downstairs. The back deck was dark but I could see the stars from here so that’s where I headed.
The cold air hit my face as I sucked in a breath and wrapped the blanket tighter around my body.
There were no lights on so I could see the night sky like it was right in front of me; as if I could touch it.
I saw some pool loungers so I made my way over there and laid down and stared up at the sky. The darkness enveloped me and it was silent and as I stared up at the stars a smile crept over my lips.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
I screamed and nearly jumped out of my skin as Asher started laughing next to me.
“Where the hell did you come from?” I breathed, my heart pounding in my chest.
“I’ve been here the whole time. Where did you come from?”
I looked in his direction and finally saw his silhouette in the moonlight. I definitely didn’t see him when I came out here. He nearly scared me to death.
“I’m sorry for interrupting you then.” I went to get up but felt Asher reach out and grab my arm.
His deep raspy voice sent chills over my body as I laid back down, staring up at the sky.
We stayed there in silence for the longest time.
Then I said, “It really is beautiful.”
He didn’t say anything right away, his silence making me wonder if he had fallen asleep, but then he asked, “How have you been, Stanford?”
I swallowed. How did I answer this question? And what exactly was he asking?
“I’ve been great, Asher. My life is pretty amazing right now.”
“What do you do for a living?” He asked.
Really? I thought he hated small talk.
“Small talk, huh?” I laughed. “Who are you and what have you done with Asher Creed?”
He let out a small laugh but went quiet. “A lot has changed in seven years, Stanford.”
But I couldn’t and didn’t want to talk about that right now, so I answered his original question, “I’m a talent recruiter.”
“I don’t know what that is...” he sounded confused.
“Basically, I travel around to find new bands, new independent singers, artists, and most recently... models.” I rolled my eyes, but remembered he couldn’t see me. “Models are a new thing for me.”
“Wow. That actually sounds pretty awesome.” Then he went quiet and I waited for him to continue. Why wasn’t he saying anything else?
“What about you?” I finally broke the silence. “How is skateboarding going?”
He groaned and then laughed. “It’s fine. It’s going good.”
“Why do I get the feeling that you don’t like it anymore?”
“Let’s just say it’s a really lonely career. I’m told who I can and can’t date. And if I was even interested in anyone, they’d have to be okay with my schedule. I’m always on the road, always doing something, and when I am at home, I’m never really there. I’m surrounded by tons of people day in and day out, but they all work for me, so I don’t really get to talk to anyone.”
“Wow... I didn’t realize,” I whispered and then added, “So, you don’t have a girlfriend?”
I heard him lightly chuckle. “Not at the moment.” His voice was so low that I hardly heard his reply, then he added, “So Mark, huh? He seems like a cool guy.”
Shit. I forgot about that.
“He’s a really nice guy,” I started then took a deep breath, “I recruited him a few years ago. He’s a model now but when I found him he was a painter. A very talented painter at that.”
“So, you guys are pretty serious then?” He tried to sound nonchalant but I knew better.
“We live together. Does that answer your question?” I couldn’t lie to him, so I answered with the truth. I never said we were serious romantically, and he doesn’t need to know that.
He didn’t answer right away. “Well, it’s getting pretty late...”
“Yeah,” I replied as I stood up from my lounger. I knew we should go inside and in our separate ways but a part of me wanted to stay out here forever. He was finally talking about normal things and I wanted to learn more about this new Asher.
Asher walked right behind me as we made our way inside, his hand on the small of my back.
The house was still quiet and dark as we made our way up the stairs when I noticed Asher was still following me. I turned to the right and toward my room.
“Don’t worry. I’m not following you.” He chuckled. “My room is just there.” He pointed to the door right next to mine and I wanted to curse at Harper. Of course she would do something like that.
“Well, have a nice night.” I turned to smile at him but he was looking at me deeply, his eyes studying me.
The silence between us was palpable and my heart was pounding. Then he stepped right up to me, placing his hand on my chin as chills ran down my neck.
“Oh, and by the way...” He stared down into my eyes with a grin. “I know the truth about you and Mark,” he whispered.
And right when I was about to retort he slammed his lips onto mine, our bodies pressed tightly together as he pushed me against the wall.
My entire body melted into his and everything went numb. He tasted just like I remembered and my body was reacting like it always had. He ended it after just a quick, open mouthed kiss and stepped back from me.
“Goodnight, Stanford.” And then he disappeared into his room.
I stood there staring at his now closed door in complete shock. What the hell just happened?! My hand went up to my lips instinctively as I felt them tingling from his touch.
And I wanted to do it again.