Provocation--SAMPLE (Book 3 of The Conquest Series)

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Chapter Five

This is probably a mistake, Leila thought as she closed her car door.

Much to her own dismay, she had called Nate’s friend Russell. After her last date, she had been feeling a little off-kilter and needed some fun. It didn’t have to be a dick date, just two people who may or may not get along well enough to screw later on down the line.

The line possibly being tonight.

The two had made plans a few days after the argument at the bar, and she tried to tell herself that this date had nothing to do with sticking it to Nate, though she had to admit she was probably only fooling herself.

Walking into the lowly-lit tavern, Leila’s eyes scanned the room for Russ, and she found him in a corner booth in the darkest recesses of the establishment.

She strode with a purpose she didn’t feel over to him and—gentleman that he was—he stood to greet her, holding out a hand and kissing the back of her knuckles. It was a sweet and surprising gesture, and one Leila was ultimately unaccustomed to. By any men she had fucked or otherwise.

“Leila, how have you been since I last saw you?” Russ asked her after he took a seat across from her.

“I’ve been okay,” she replied airily. She shrugged her shoulders, not being much of a fan of small talk. “And you?” It was only polite to ask back.

Ugh. She hated that awkward first few minutes, even if she had met this man before.

“Doing splendidly,” Russ told her, all rakish half-grin and twinkling eyes. “I leave in another week and am heading back home. Nate’s been particularly distant lately, so I’ve been left to my own devices for the most part.”

“Are you staying with him or did you rent a hotel room?” she asked. Might as well get that out of the way. She was not going to head home with him if he was bunking with the Charleses for the duration, and she tried not to bring anyone home to her place. She’d been burned before when a date got too attached. There was no making that mistake again.

“Airbnb,” Russ told her as a server came over to take their drink orders. “Jack and Coke and...Leila?”

“Uhm, I’ll have a Cosmo,” she told the server, a man who looked to be in his early twenties. “Skyy vodka, please,” she specified.

Making his notes, the server left, and Leila’s gaze fell back on Russ.

“You don’t strike me as one for girly drinks,” he told her.

“I’m flexible, and I’m not in the mood for beer,” she stated before scanning the bar. It was not one she frequented, and she didn’t recognize any of the faces there.

That was actually good.

“So, what’s the deal with you and Nate?” Russ asked, eliciting a scowl from Leila.

“Must we talk about that devil? He’s not here, so I don’t see why the topic of that asshole should come up so soon in conversation. At least let’s get a drink or two in me before you bombard me with questions about him.”

“Well, I just figured we’d get all the unpleasantries out of the way first,” he replied with a wink, seemingly unaffected by her sass. “Then we can touch on much firmer and—well, more comfortable ground.”

Smiling, Leila thought about that. It would be a good icebreaker for their conversation, and he did have a point. Working up to the nastier topics could put her off her game if they came up later. This way, they could get it out of the way and get down to the good stuff.

“I suppose you have a point,” she said him, nodding. “What do you want to know?”

The server came back with their drinks and placed them down onto napkins before Russ gave the man a large bill, telling him to keep the change.

“Why does Nate seem to hold resentment towards you? And if I’m not mistaken, you hold the same against him.” Russ took a sip of his drink and placed it back down.

“I can only answer for myself,” Leila said honestly. “Why he holds resentment towards me, I can only theorize. But for me, I had a crush on him when I was 16 or so. Typical cliché bullshit, falling for your best friend’s brother. Didn’t last long. He went off to college and was suddenly too good for everyone else. Treated me like I was some sort of pet. I hate his condescending attitude toward me, almost as much as I hate this new Nate who seems to be under the impression I slept with half of California.”

“Hmm...and you reckon he hates you because he thinks you’ll sleep with any half-decent man with a pulse and no ring on his finger?” Russ questioned, looking dubious. “I doubt it’s that.”

“Oh yeah, Dr. Phil? What do you think it is then?”

“I think that if he didn’t care about you in some way, he wouldn’t give a shit about who you were fucking and how often,” Russ informed her. “If he didn’t give two shits about you, you wouldn’t even be a blip on his radar. Men are wired differently than women. From our first crush in kindergarten until we get married, we only really pay attention to the women who have some effect on us.”

“I could say the same is true for women,” she remarked plainly, pointing out the flaw in his argument. “We just hold it in better.”

“Yes, we men are crass creatures,” Russ agreed. “What I really think is this...” Russ leaned in conspiratorially. “The truth of the matter is, the more men care, the more we indulge in baser and less fruitful ways of displaying our affections on women.” He spoke as if imparting some wonderful secret to understanding the male species.

“If you are going to tell me he only demeans me because he’s in love with me, let me stop you right there,” Leila interjected, cutting through the utter crap that was spewing forth from this man’s mouth. “Nate is of the opinion that his shit don’t stink and that anyone who doesn’t act like he thinks they should is beneath him. It has nothing to do with who he wants to stick his dick in. He thinks women should be pretty little creatures who obey their men and eventually give their spouses pudgy little babies that old grannies can oooh and ahhh over. He’s a throwback to the 19th century if there ever was one.”

Russ laughed. “Corsets and no showing of the ankle?” he questioned, quite enjoying Leila’s gritty little snubs towards his friend. Nathan may have been a little more old-fashioned than most men his age, but he wasn’t about to try to bring back petticoats and hoop skirts.

“Well, no,” Leila said with a smirk. “He’s more like the Cleavers.”

“Gee whiz, Wally!” Russ barked out, laughing at her.

“Well, if I’m Wally, you’ve got to be that idiot friend of his… What’s his name again?”

“No fucking clue,” he replied, teasing. “I am the risk-taker of the two of us, indeed.”

“The one with the bad ideas and schemes, yes,” she told him, laughing herself. She pictured Nate’s curly hair straightened and slicked back into a 50s-style pompadour.

“But seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if his resentment is just a mask to cover his feelings toward you,” he told her once they had both quit laughing. “Nate has...troubles with women. He’s not like me. I see a potential pussy as what it is, something to be taken advantage of. One and done. Nate likes the safety of a monogamous relationship. And when he falls, he falls hard and fast. He has a knack for picking the women that aren’t interested in something like that. I... It’s really pitiful, actually. I thought most women wanted something deeper and more meaningful.”

“Not all women,” Leila reminded him, gesturing to herself with a hand. “I could give a rat’s ass if a man wants to get married next week. Men are soft, disposable tissues to me. To be thrown out once they’ve been used.”

“And why is that, Leila?” Russ asked, getting serious with her. “There has to be a reason for your cavalier attitude towards men.”

Leila’s face fell. It wasn’t something she was going to discuss—at least not with a near-stranger. Violet knew, of course, but she hadn’t felt the need to share her parent’s less-than-ideal marriage with anyone else.

“It’s no matter to you,” she murmured softly, smiling a little to widely to cover up her discomfort. “Let’s just say I’ve seen what being in love can do, and it’s not for me. Let other women have their romances and happily-ever-after’s. I’ll take erotica any day of the week.”

Russ knew when to push and when to pull back, and if Leila wasn’t about to spill her guts to him, that was fine. Less drama.

They had another couple of drinks each and ended up talking shop about their respective jobs. Since Russ was all business and board meetings, they talked mostly about hers. He never knew anyone who had tried to build their own business from the ground up, and he asked many questions.

Once they were done discussing loans and lenders, portfolios, taxes, and finding the right storefront for the business, they decided to get the hell out of the bar. It had gotten almost too noisy to hold a conversation, and they hit the road in Leila’s sedan.

For once, Leila didn’t mind going to her place. Russ was leaving in a few days, and he definitely wasn’t one to follow one woman around hoping to become more than just a casual fling. It wasn’t in his DNA.

“This is me,” Leila said as she pulled up to her apartment duplex.

“You the top or the bottom?” he asked, smirking.

“Now, that would be telling,” she quipped, winking back at him.

Laughing, Russ followed her to the front door and up the stairs to her top floor apartment.

“Why did you buy a duplex?” he asked her when they finally got up the stairs to the second floor.

Sighing, Leila didn’t really know how to answer that.

In fact, the only answer was one that she hadn’t even told Violet about. Her mother.

Leila had hoped that buying the duplex would give her mom the “out” she needed to steer clear of her manwhore of a father. Since most women didn’t have a place to go immediately after leaving their husbands, this would be something she could offer—and had offered a number of times—to her mother in the event she came to her senses and left her father.

“It’s a good investment,” Leila merely stated and shrugged her shoulders. If Russ didn’t believe her, she honestly didn’t care. She didn’t want to get into a heavy discussion about fidelity with a self-proclaimed Casanova, even if she hadn’t fucked him senseless.

“How long have you lived here?” he asked, digging for more.

“About a year,” she told him. “I bought it at a short sale. Planned to buy more and make some money with some real estate on the side, but my business started to pick up and I was too busy to follow through.”

Russ made himself comfortable on the microfiber sofa, laying his jacket over the back of it and stretching his long legs out in front of him. “You know what I think?” Russ asked as he listened to Leila root around in the kitchen to make them drinks. More Jack and Cokes.

“Whenever anyone says that phrase to me, I cringe,” she called to him. “But I’ll bite since you’re my guest. What do you think?”

“I think you and I should make Nate a little jealous,” he told her.

Leila’s face popped up around the corner from the kitchen, her eyes crinkling and her mouth a perfect ‘O’ on her face.

“And how, pray tell, do we do that?” she asked once she was over her shock and looking at him with less disbelief.

“With your ankles in the air and my dick buried deep in your pussy,” he suggested with a lascivious wink.

The idea was both appealing and…unappealing. Something about their conversation about Nate and Russ’ words about his friend caring more for her than he showed grated on her. She was all for a good dicking down, but fucking Nate’s friend seemed like a bad idea all-around.

Besides, she wasn’t quite over the humiliation of her last date. It left a bad taste in her mouth still. Russ reminded her of what’s-his-name a bit. She had tried to blot the memory of him out. Something with a ‘J’?

“Leila?” Russ called out, his voice curious.

She realized she had been quiet too long. Not a good sign.

“I...I don’t think that’s the best idea right now,” she told him, hedging.

“Why not?”

“It just...I don’t know, but it doesn’t feel right,” she said, pushing his glass of Jack and Coke at him almost forcefully.

“I bet it’ll feel right once you’re coming on my—”

“Russ, seriously?”

“Worth a shot,” he said as he took a sip of his drink.

<<< >>>

After Leila had closed the door on Russ, she watched as he got into a waiting Lyft. She didn’t know why, but having sex with Russ seemed somehow wrong. And she had no idea why of all times to have misgivings, it would be now.

At first, she thought that maybe it was because she had met him before, but that hadn’t bothered her anytime previously. He was a whore for sure, but she had bedded many of them as well. It could only really be one reason.

It was Nate. He was Nate’s friend and Russ...

Russ was the kind of guy that would say something to his friend. Boast even. And she didn’t need that shit. No more grease to oil the wheels of whatever ideas Nate already had about her.

Snuggling up on her couch with a pint of ice cream and some Netflix, she could still smell Russ’ spicy, expensive aftershave, and it left a small, almost nonexistent pang in her chest at a lost opportunity of getting some promising dick.

It was Friday. Why was she at home on a Friday night? And when was the last time that had happened? Not getting laid on a Friday night was unusual for her. It was like...like the vision of a pregnant Mother Teresa. Unbelievable.

She wondered what Jare was doing and how things were going with him and Mickey. Were they on or off again? Wanting to call him, she hesitated and decided to let him have his space. Just because she wasn’t getting any didn’t mean she had to interrupt him if he was.

Sighing, she dropped her spoon into the nearly empty carton of ice cream and set it down. It was one of those lonely nights, the ones she hated the most. The one where she thought of all the things that she regretted and then chastised herself just for having those thoughts. For hours on end sometimes.

Maybe an action movie would distract her. Noise and destruction were tonic to her soul on nights like this.

But all throughout the movie and while watching Dwayne Johnson kick some serious ass, her mind kept flashing back to Russ and Nate and the looks on their faces.

Both disappointed, but for completely different reasons.

<<< >>>

“Thought you were going to be out late getting some,” Nate grunted when Russ came sauntering into his bedroom at the Charles estate.

“And I thought you didn’t want to hear about where my dick’s been,” Russ pointed out. “I’m leaving in a few days, so I thought I’d spend some quality time with you while I was here. Since I know you aren’t getting any, I figured I’d find you at home being a good little boy.”

“Fuck off.” Nate stretched out on his bed. “It’s late. What the fuck are you doing here? Why aren’t you getting your dick sucked as we speak?”

“Well, if I was doing that, it certainly wouldn’t be right here in front of you, asshole,” Russ told him good-naturedly and leaned up against Nate’s old childhood dresser. Nate hadn’t thought to get new furniture yet, not now when he was in the process of looking for an apartment of his own. He could purchase new items when he had his own place. “Besides, who’s to say I haven’t already laid pipe and am simply coming over to gloat about it in front of you?”

Rolling his eyes, Nate exhaled and looked over at his friend. They had nothing in common except for both being the same sex and having a penchant for pussy, and Nate wondered how they had become so close despite that fact.

“If you’re going to gloat, then get it over with,” Nate told him.

“Hush, child,” Russ crooned. “A good gloat cannot be hurried. It must be savored, cherished.”

“Dear God,” Nate grumbled.

“How’s the hunt for a decent wage, good sir?” Russ asked him, changing the subject.

“I’ve... Well, I’m interviewing on Monday at KinTech, but I’ve as good as got the job so long as Aiden says I do.”

“Outstanding. So, your father’s passing everything down to you these days?” Russ asked, arching a brow.

“Fuck off, Russ.”

“Just sayin’, bro,” Russ said noncommittally. “I know you can handle quite a few damn businesses at one time, so being CFO of only one company should be a walk in the park for you.” Unlike getting your dick wet, he almost tacked on.

“Well, thanks, I guess.”

“Now, about that gloat,” Russ began.

“Oh, Lord...”

“I was with the lovely Leila earlier this evening,” Russ told him, eagerly awaiting his friend’s response. It didn’t disappoint him.

Nate’s body stiffened, his heart rate increasing as he waited for Russ to say more. So much more. Everything he dreaded.

Fuck.

“And?”

“What do you mean and?” Russ asked. “A single man hanging out with Leila only leads to one thing. Well, unless they’re gay…or you, or whatever.”

“You fucked her?” His voice came out louder than he intended, and he winced at the sound, hoping no one in the house was in the hallway or nearby enough to hear him.

“And what if I did? Would that irritate you, my friend?”

“No.” Nate’s jaw twitched, betraying his outright lie. His cheeks were flaming red to boot, as were the tips of his ears.

“She has quite the nice little body,” Russ spoke slowly. “Nice rosy pink nipples...”

“Russ...” Nate’s voice held a warning in it.

“Did you know she is completely shaved? Not even a strip of hair on that delectable little—”

“Shut. Up.” Nate growled out.

“I never knew one so experienced could still be so tight. Well, maybe it’s my enormous horse cock that made her feel that snug, but—”

Russ stopped just as Nate’s body knifed up from the bed and stalked over to his friend.

Russ, for his part, didn’t flinch when Nate got in his face, left eyelid twitching and a definite angry tremble to his body.

“I didn’t fucking touch her,” Russ informed him quietly, his eyes eager to take in the change in Nate’s demeanor.

He watched as Nate looked first confused then...relieved. His whole body relaxed significantly.

Russ’ mouth turned up with a small smile, his eyes gleaming in the dim light of the room.

“Why? Why the fuck would you do that?” Nate asked, voice low but sounding deadly.

“To see if my hypothesis was right,” Russ answered blithely.

“What hypothesis, Pythagoras?”

“The one where I prove that you’ve got it bad for her. Always have,” Russ said simply, waiting for Nate’s predictable denial.

“No,” Nate rebuffed, his eyes narrowing to slits, the twitch in his eye still lingering.

“Oh, but yes,” his friend disagreed. “And I know for a fact that at one point she had a thing for you, too. Maybe still does...”

“What? When?” His eyes flashed, and Russ recognized the look of interest that his friend so desperately tried to hide rush to the surface of his face.

“Ages ago when she was in her teens,” Russ informed him, waving his question away. “She said that you got too big for your britches and started to act like the prick you are now. Doesn’t surprise me. Pretty is as pretty does, my friend.”

“Yeah, well she probably hates me now,” Nate grated out, irritated more at himself than anything. It was his fault, after all.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Russ pondered. “Maybe she still holds a little spark of that old feeling towards you. Why else would she decline when I offered to fuck her into next Tuesday?”

That stopped Nate from his methodical pacing of the carpet quickly enough. “You tried to fuck her?”

“Well, not really,” Russ said. “I merely put the offer out there only to see what she would say. If I truly intended to fuck her, I would be in her bed with her moaning my name and writhing beneath me.”

Nate closed his eyes, trying to pry the vision of Leila in bed with Russ from his mind. His friend was a royal asshole sometimes.

“I fucking hate you,” Nate told the man.

“You’re gonna love me pretty soon,” Russ retorted.

“Not possible,” Nate determined with a shake of his head.

“Just you wait and see, buddy.”

<<< >>>

“It’s yours if you want it,” Aiden told him, putting his hand out to the younger man.

“You’re not saying this because of D—because of Harry, are you?” Nate asked, looking a bit dubiously at KinTech’s CEO.

“Nathan, I have had four other candidates come in today alone with three times the experience you’ve put in and only one of them has half the skills you have. The others...” Aiden released some exasperated air from his pinched mouth. “The others I wouldn’t allow to pet-sit a goldfish, much less handle the money that keeps my family fed.” Thinking again on those words, Aiden frowned. He wouldn’t want any of them watching a goldfish either, for that matter. Not that he had one. The candidates had all seemed like numbers and no substance. He needed someone who could think outside the box, not just within it.

“And you’re sure about this?” Nate asked, still waiting for someone to come out and announce he was being punked.

“Absolutely,” Aiden assured him with a wide smile. “Do you want to think about it for a few days? Harry’s here ’til the end of the month at the latest. I can give you a week to think about it if you’d like.”

Nate let out a slow exhale. Did he really need to think about it? Not really. His father had managed businesses abroad and working for KinTech at the same time. He was sure he could do it as well.

“No, I don’t need any time,” Nate told him, holding out his hand. “I’ll take it. Thank you.”

Aiden gave him a week before he had to start, and Nate would be working alongside his father at first to get into the swing of how things worked at KinTech. Business abroad was different from the US in several ways, to say the least.

In the meantime, Nate settled on steering clear of any talk of the upcoming wedding for his sister and her fiancé. He liked Carl well enough, but flower arrangements and seating charts were not his forte. In all honesty, if working with his father kept him from having to help decide whether the linens should be 500 thread or Egyptian cotton, he would take work any day.

All in all, he was irritated with Russ calling him out the week before. He had seen him off at the airport as a good friend should, but the man’s knowing smile and cocky demeanor irritated the shit out of him. He acted like he knew something Nate didn’t. And he didn’t. Leila may have had a fleeting crush on him when they were younger, but that was neither here nor there, and Nate was only angry because...because...

He couldn’t come up with a very good reason as to why he was angry. Maybe because he felt women should have a bit more decorum. Maybe because she was best friends with Violet.

Or maybe because somewhere, deep inside, Russ was right and he had never gotten over his feelings toward Leila.

All Nate knew was that it aggravated him to the depths of his soul that Leila was so free with her kisses, caresses, and so much more with the male population of the Bay Area.

And why that rankled him, he didn’t want to think about any further than he wanted to talk about tuxes for the wedding or shiny dress shoes that would only serve to reflect the asshole he was being back up at him.

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