If you're going to walk down a primrose path,
make sure you've got a great pair of shoes.
It was late when she sank onto the barstool. Still wearing her best dressed-to-kill sexy tuxedo dress, Trina Roberts had received immediate attention from the bartender.
"Hot night?" he said. "What'll you have?"
Hot didn't cover it. Train wreck didn't cover it. Nuclear explosion didn't cover it. "Mojito, please."
"Coming up," he said.
While she waited, she took a deep breath and glanced around the bar. The crowd had thinned out. Her gaze stopped on a man seated at the other end of the bar, his head bowed over a squat glass of amber colored-liquor.
His tux tie was unfastened along with the top buttons of his shirt. She knew that profile, the hard jawline, straight nose and dark hair uncharacteristically mussed over his forehead.
Her heart clenched for him. He looked miserable, desolate, destroyed. She couldn't blame him. After all, he'd just been publicly dumped at the altar by Brooke Tarantino, the great grand-daughter of the founder of Bellagio Shoes. That was bad enough, but the dumping had been conducted on live television with millions of witnesses.
Trina had attended the wedding because she worked for Bellagio in PR. In fact, she'd worked with Walker, an advertising contractor that Bellagio had hired several years ago. From the beginning, she'd liked his combination of quick intelligence and sense of humor. And it didn't hurt that he had a great body and sexy eyes.
The bartender returned with her drink and she paid her tab, sipping the mojito and trying not to look at Walker. Her gaze, however, kept wandering toward him. She'd never seen him missing an ounce of confidence. He oozed solid assurance and even though she hadn't totally understood his relationship with Brooke Tarantino, he'd once revealed part of the attraction. Brooke was entirely too self-involved to ever want children. That suited him fine because he didn't want children either. Being a father, he'd confessed, would be a sure-fire path to failure for him. He'd made a joke in that way that people did when they weren't completely joking, that he'd come from a long line of bad fathers and he was determined not to continue the trend.
His broad shoulders were folded forward. He leaned against the bar, his gaze vacant.
Pity mixed with anger. Why had Brooke done this? Especially this way. With a sigh, she picked up her mojito and wandered to the stool beside him.
He glanced at her and closed his eyes, but gave a nod of recognition.
"Sorry," Trina said. "Sucks to be you."
His mouth twitched slightly and he opened his eyes, taking a sip from his glass. "Can't disagree."
"I saw one reporter get you. Did anyone else"
"I didn't move fast enough. Two more caught me before I left the church."
She winced. "Sorry."
"Can we talk about something else?"
Trina nodded, another surge of sympathy sliding through her. "Sure," she said, searching her mind for a neutral topic. She took a few sips and swallowed the last of her mojito. "So, whatís your favorite game show?"
"Jeopardy," he said taking a sip. "What about you?"
"Wheel of Fortune."
"You're a word person," he said.
"And you're a fact person," she said.
Silence fell between them. Trina felt the urge to fill it. "There was another old game show I liked. I only saw it in reruns. Name That Tune."
"Oh, yeah. I think I saw it a couple of times when I stayed home from school because I was sick." He tossed back the rest of his drink and lifted two fingers toward the bartender, indicating he wanted a refill for both of them. "What kind of music do you like?"
"A little of everything. Back then I liked whatever my mother hated," she said with a smile.
His lips tilted in a half-smile. "Teenage rebel?"
"Some. I just couldn't do the Stepford debutante thing. I dug in my heels and made my mother crazy. What about you?"
"My father hogged all opportunities for rebellion. He left my mother and moved to the Cayman Islands, started a financial service and married a woman down there."
Trina winced. "That doesn't sound like fun for the wife and kid he left behind. Did you ever visit him?"
"Kids, plural. I visited him once." He paused. "I come from a long line of terrible fathers. There are just some men who shouldn't reproduce. I thought marrying Brooke was a good idea because she said she didn't want any children, and she was so focused on herself that I knew..." He broke off and took a long swallow from the drink the bartender had placed in front of him.
Trina couldn't help thinking about the huge differences between Walker and Brooke. He'd probably always been studious and responsible, level-headed to a fault. Brooke, on the other hand, was rebellious, daring and fun. She supposed it hadn't hurt that she was beautiful and her father was loaded.
What a night, she thought, feeling the mojito ease the rough edges. She took a sip of the fresh drink the bartender had placed in front of her.
"Not to dwell on the evening, but you missed some other drama. One of the reality tv hosts did a live interview with Jenny Prillaman about the degree she didn't get from Design School."
Walker tore his gaze from his glass and looked at Trina. "Oh, no. You're kidding." Trina shook her head and shuddered. "It just got worse after that. She confessed that she didn't have a degree. Alfredo Bellagio turned purple with rage and fired her on the air."
Swearing, Walker raked his hand through his hair. "Oh, what a mess. Poor kid."
"I felt sorry for her. Sheís nice. Very talented with or without a degree." She glanced at her watch, wondering if she should leave him to nurse his misery by himself. "I should probably go home."
"Must be nice," he said. "I'm sure as hell not going back to my condo. You can bet there will be reporters camped outside. Even if I made it inside, the phone would be ringing off the hook or friends would be pounding on the door to check on me."
She made a face. "Yeah, that wouldn't be fun." She looked at his shoulders hunched toward the bar. He usually stood so straight, everything about him confident. Not tonight. Another shot of pity stabbed at her.
"My apartmentís right around the corner if you're willing to take the couch," she impulsively offered.
He glanced up at her and looked at her, really looked at her. She felt his gaze take in her face then skim over her body and back up to her eyes. "You sure?"
Something in his greenish hazel eyes made her stomach take a dip. She shook it off. It was probably just the second mojito. "Yeah."
"Okay, I'll take you up on your kind invitation," he said. "Letís just have one more for the road."
"I haven't finished my second," she said.
He took a long drink. "Swallow faster," he said and motioned again for the bartender.
Two more mojitos later, she might have been fuzzy-headed, but she had enough sense to let the bartender call a cab. She supposed they could have walked, but her coordination wasn't at peak level.
Neither was Walkerís, but he helped her out of the car. "You're really nice to let me have your sofa, Trina. I always thought you were nice," he said, his voice slurring slightly.
"Thanks, Walker. I always thought you were nice and very intelligent," she said, feeling wobbly on her Bellagio heels as they walked to the elevator.
"Which floor?" he asked.
"Six," she said, aiming for the right button and missing. "Oops."
He chuckled. "Let me do it," he said and he missed too.
For some reason, that struck her as hilarious. They both reached for the button and finally pushed number six. The elevator, however, stopped on floors four and five due to their misses. By the time, they arrived at her door, she and Walker couldn't stop laughing. She managed to find her keys in her purse. He managed to take them from her hand and eventually found the one for her door.
Trina tripped as she stepped inside, but Walker caught her against him just before he closed the door. "Whoa," he said. "No falling. You're not allowed to fall."
Grabbing his shoulders for balance, she took a deep breath and caught a draft of his aftershave. "You smell really good," she said.
"Do I?" he asked and grinned. He ducked his head into the crook of her shoulder and inhaled noisily. "You do too."
"Thanks," she said, liking the way he felt against her. She liked the way his hair looked when it was messed up, not so smooth and perfect. And he had really sexy eyes and one dimple. "Did you know that you have a dent right here?" she asked, lifting her finger to the dimple that added charm to his hard jaw.
"Yeah, I probably got it fighting with my brother or sister," he said, his voice growing a stronger southern drawl.
"Where are you from?"
"All over the south," he said. "Lived in too many houses and trailers to count. Thatís what happens when Dad doesn't pay the bills."
She shook her head in sympathy, the movement blurring her vision. "Before he died, my father spent a ton of money on a court fight for his business principles."
"Ouch," Walker said. "Fighting for your principles in court can be very expensive."
"Yeah," she said, and got distracted by his thigh pressed against hers. She studied his eyes. "Did you know that your eyes change colors?"
He shook his head. "No. I haven't looked at them much lately."
"They look very dark green right now, but they don't always look green," she said.
He leaned closer. "Yours are brown. Like cocoa. Or hot chocolate. I always liked hot chocolate."
Her heart tripped at the husky sound of his voice. "Oh." His mouth was inches away, she thought, and wondered what it would be like to kiss him. She'd wondered more than once before, but had always pushed aside her thoughts.
As she should push them aside right now. "I should get a blanket and pillow for you," she said.
"Yeah," he said and she felt his green gaze drop to her mouth. "Why do you think Brooke dumped me?"
Trinaís heart squeezed tight. Her chest hurt. "I have no idea."
He met her gaze. "Really? How was I not enough? Not smart enough? Not good-looking enough? Not exciting enough?"
"I'd have to say no to all the above," she said.
"Really?" he asked and she knew the combination of liquor, his wounded ego and heart were talking. He would croak when he realized he'd discussed this with her.
"Really," she said, because she believed it and she felt sorry for him. "You're smart, entirely too good-looking, and plenty exciting."
One side of his mouth tilted upward and he pulled her against him in an embrace. "You're really nice, Trina."
"I'm not just being nice," she told him. "I'm telling you the truth."
"You're nice. You feel really nice, too," he murmured against her hair.
She heard a change in his voice and felt her sense of gravity shift. A muted sense of warning pushed through her muddled mind. She should back away. She did, looking up at him. "I should get your blanket," she whispered again.
He nodded, but lifted his hand and slowly rubbed his finger over her lips.
Trina was surprised but mesmerized by the soft touch.
"For such a nice girl, I've always thought you had a bad girl mouth."
Surprise bumped at her again. "Why?"
"Your lips are puffy," he said, still rubbing her mouth. "And pink. Except when you wear red lipstick. Makes a guy wonder all sorts of things about your mouth."
He was saying things he shouldn't, but his voice was low and sexy and the darkness surrounded them like a cocoon.
"Would you mind if I kiss you just once?" he asked.
It was just a kiss, her liquored-up brain told her. One little kiss, and heaven knew she'd been curious about him. What could one little kiss hurt?
"Just one," she said and he immediately lowered his mouth to hers. He surprised her by taking his time. He rolled his lips against hers as if he wanted to feel every bit of her. Every bit of her lips, she reminded herself.
When he increased the pressure, she automatically opened her mouth and he slid his tongue just inside, just for a second. Then he flicked his tongue over her lower lip and back again.
She felt heat rise. Alcohol flush, she told herself, but everything he did made her want a little more. Make it last longer, she thought. Taste me more. Do that again.
He kept the kiss going in one form or another for minutes, until she was leaning into him, sliding her fingers into the hair at the nape of his neck. His chest felt so good and hard against her breasts and oh, he felt better than she'd thought he would.
He took a quick breath and his mouth slid over hers again. "You feel so good," he muttered against her mouth and lowered his hands to the small of her back, pulling her lower body against his.
More than his chest was hard. His obvious arousal made her heart speed up and her mind slow down. It was so easy to let her senses take over. He smelled so good, his mouth was like a drug, and the slight gentle rhythm as he moved her against him felt too sexy for words.
Some vestige of something pushed from deep inside her brain and she pulled back. The man had been scheduled to get married tonight. His heart was hurting. His ego was hurting. "Maybe we should stop," she said.
"Yeah. Just one more," he said, kissing her again.
This one went on longer than the other and Trina felt so hot she could have been in the Caribbean on a summer afternoon. He moved one of his hands over her waist, up her ribcage to the side of her breast. He slid his thumb inside the halter tux top and just glanced her nipple.
She inhaled sharply.
He stopped and swore. "What the hell am I doing? This is crazy. I shouldn't be" He broke off and swore. "But hell I want you."
He lowered his hands to her hips and Trina tried to make her mind work. She felt his heart beating against her chest. She could almost taste the knot of rejection he felt in his throat, the misery, and the desire to forget it until he had more strength to deal with it. She didn't know which she felt more, turned on, or sorry for him.
She lifted one of her hands to his jaw and saw the mixture of pain and arousal in his eyes.
He pressed his mouth against her palm.
"What you really want is a night of hot, mindless sex," she said.
"Yeah," he said. "With you."
Because she was the woman who was there. Trina sighed. He was so hot, she thought, and she really didn't want to bludgeon the poor guyís ego again tonight. In this situation, there was really only one thing a nice girl could do.
Nine months, ten days, twenty-two hours and
thirty-six minutes later ...
"Where are my drugs?" Trina screamed through the pain ripping her in half.
The nurse gently squeezed her arm. "I told you. The anesthesiologist is on his way."
"You said that hours ago," Trina accused, feeling her contracted muscles relax slightly. She wiped her sweat-dampened forehead with the back of her hand. She was in hell. The cheerful yellow-chintz curtains and Yanni music playing in the background couldnít fool her. She was in pain, her mother was spouting platitudes and Nurse Beamer, aka Nurse Hatchett was her guide through labor hell.
"No, youíre confused," Nurse Hatchett said. "I told you that twenty minutes ago. The anesthesiologist is with another patient right now."
"Youíre lying." Trina felt the beginning of another contraction and desperation stabbed at her. Her muscles tightened around her abdomen like a vise, making it impossible to breathe. "Iím never going to have this baby, am I?"
"Of course you are," the nurse said, and placed a cool washcloth on Trinaís head. "As soon as the doctor checks you, Iím sure heíll tell you to start pushing."
Trina moaned. "When is he coming? Where is he? Why isnít he here?"
"Darling, the nurse already told you," her mother said. "Heís delivering another baby. Heíll be here any minute."
"Thatís what she said about the anesthesiologist," Trina said, shaking her head.
"I really donít know why you canít just knock her out," her mother said to the nurse.
"Please knock me out," Trina pleaded. "Please."
"We donít do that anymore except for emergency c-sections," the nurse said.
"Cut me," Trina said, her contraction easing. "Please just get it over with. Whereís the doctor?"
"Heís coming," the nurse said.
"I donít believe it," Trina said. "Heís eating donuts. Or banging someone in the closet," she added. "Men are pigs," she muttered, imagining what Walker Gordon was doing right nowdrinking wine in some French bistro with a thin French woman or eating a croissant and delicious coffee for breakfast with a thin French woman. Depending on the time zone. Trina didnít even know what time zone she was in right now.
"Miss Roberts," a man said cheerfully as he swept into the room. "Iím Dr. Hanson. We met during one of your monthly office visits. Let me check your progress."
Trina vaguely remembered the man. After two shift changes, they were all starting to look the same. He was happy, she noticed as every muscle in her body began to tighten in another contraction. For a fleeting second before the pain gripped her, she wondered if heíd been eating donuts or getting laid. The pain took her breath again and she grasped at his arm. "I need an epidural," she begged. "Knock me out. Shoot me. Something," she said.
"Really darling," her mother said in a chastising voice. "Where is your dignity?"
"Get her out of here," Trina told the nurse in a voice that sounded as if she was possessed. Where had that voice come from? She felt her fingers pried loose from the doctorís arm.
The doctor moved to check her. "Youíre ready to push," he said.
"What about my epidural?"
"Itís time for you to push. You donít need an epidural."
"Says who?" Trina asked, panic cutting through her. "I want an epidural. She promised me an epidural," Trina said, pointing to the nurse.
"I promised that the doctor would be here soon," she said.
The doctor flipped through her chart. "Did this patient take prepared child birth classes?"
"Yes, but I didnít practice the breathing because I knew I would get an epidural," she said, her abdomen tightening again.
"Lean forward and push," the nurse said, supporting Trinaís shoulders.
Trina did as she was instructed. She would do anything to get out of pain. It wasnít labor. It was hell.
She continued to push for what had to be days. At some point, her mother was thrown out. Trina vaguely recalled a derogatory comment about how her hair looked.
Nurse Hatchett coached, "Just one more push."
Big fat lie. One more meant a million more.
"I canít do this much longer," Trina said, out of breath and nearly out of energy.
"Sure you can. Youíre almost there."
"Are you sure itís a baby?" Trina asked, wanting what ever it was to just get out of her. "Maybe the ultrasound was wrong and itís a mule. Maybe itís a beast. Or an alien. Or"
Another contraction hit and she gave a scream as she pushed for all she was worth.
"Good girl," the nurse said.
"The baby is crowning," the doctor said.
"Itís human?" Trina asked caught between delirium and excitement.
"Sure is," the doctor said with a chuckle. "Give me another good push."
"One or two more," the nurse said. "And I really mean it this time. Watch the mirror."
Trina pushed again, and had the odd sensation that she was going to split apart. She pushed through the sensation.
"Headís out. Look at that hair," the nurse said.
Trina glanced at the mirror and felt disconnected from the image of her body and the babyís head. Still not completely birthed, the baby began to cry.
Trina watched in awe. "Itís crying."
"Let me get the shoulders," the doctor said and seconds later, he held her screaming baby in his hands. "Itís a girl."
Relief and elation rushed through her. She couldnít take her eyes off the baby. "Itís a girl. My babyís a girl. Sheís okay, isnít she?"
The nurse weighed the baby, wiped her off, put a little sock-like cap on her head, wrapped her in a blanket and handed her to Trina. "Eight pounds and eleven ounces."
Trinaís heart overflowed at the sight of her baby, the weight of her in her arms. "Youíre gorgeous," she said. "Youíre a sweetie pie and Iím going to make your life as happy as I possibly can and I wonít make you go to private girlsí school if you donít want."
She glanced up at the doctor and the nurse, whom, she was sure were angels in disguise. "Thank you so much," she said, her eyes filling with tears. "Thank you."
"My pleasure," Nurse Beamer said.
"But I was a pain."
"No more than most," the nurse said with a smile. "I couldnít wait to see you with your baby in your arms."
Trina looked down at her baby and touched those tiny, tiny fingers. "Iím so glad I have you," she whispered to her daughter. "But I never want to do this again, so Iím never ever going to have sex again."