Shaun intended to arrive early at the dinner party. But as luck would have it, she found herself tied up at the office, with an employee issue. Something that should’ve been taken to Robert, but he of course had left early. To believe, he had the nerve to say she seemed distracted as of late.
Fortunately, she made it back to her apartment with enough time to shower and change while only being a half hour late. Her father despised tardiness and she could expect a cold greeting when she did finally make it through the threshold of the one place she considered home, for most her childhood.
After one more quick look in a small, hand mirror before dropping it back into her beige, leather clutch, Shaun exited the car her father supplied her for the night. She chose to wear a loose-fitting, cream silk dress, with a silver, sequin flower print. The neckline was high in the front, the back completely open. The scant masterpiece of fabric, was a one of a kind, Badgley Mischka, and a personal favorite. She paired the knee length, long-sleeved cocktail dress with her cream, platform Louboutin sandals. Of course, her feet would be killing her by night’s end, but the sacrifice was one she always made willingly.
She walked the path around to the back patio and snagged a martini from a passing waiter’s tray. The young man in a short, white suit jacket paused while she swallowed the gin cocktail down in three large gulps, before replacing the empty glass and picking up a second. “Thank you.” She added the toothpick of olives from the first to the second drink and headed towards the crowd.
She searched the colorful array of suits and gowns before spotting Cole. To be honest, her eyes found him with ease even though he stood with his back towards her. He wore a black tux, the cut positively perfect. Especially around his backside, she thought with a mercurial grin. She continued to stare and sip, until she realized who exactly Cole was chatting with, and stiffened. Her father. She chugged the remains of her second martini and jettisoned the evidence on another passing tray. Patting her dress down, she walked over, paying extra attention to her footing. “Good evening, father.”
Her father turned, taking a moment to scrutinize her from head to toe with his hazel gaze. His hair, a salt and pepper mane of short waves, distinct when paired with the coffee hue of his skin. Her father was a very handsome man for his age. Almost too handsome, even. “You’re late. Mr. Jacobson arrived without any prior notice, but he cleared the matter up.”
Instantly, she was eight and being scolded for getting blood on her dress after scraping her knee, falling off her bike. “I’m sorry. I got held up at the office.”
“Save it for your mother.” Her father looked to Cole. “It was a pleasure to meet you, son.” Then, just like that, the man who she tried desperately to please at every turn, left. The pain she should have been used to, cut just as deep as the first time. She let out a wavering breath and scanned around for another tray of martinis to balm the growing ache.
“Damn, I didn’t mean to get you in trouble. Are you okay?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Shaun shook off Cole’s question with a flip of her hand. “Now, let’s see if we can find Jasper. I’d rather not be here longer than I have to.” She gripped his elbow and moved in the direction her father disappeared, head drifting from left to right.
“Shaun.” Cole pulled her back with his arm, refusing to budge.
She paused and met his eyes, a clear blue sea pulling her under. “What?” She didn’t want to talk about her father. Not with Cole. Not with the big asshole sign she now felt hung around her neck.
“You look absolutely beautiful.” He leaned forward and kissed her softly on the cheek. The heat from the gentle brush radiated throughout the whole of her body. She was breathless. Maybe chugging down the two martinis, on a fairly empty stomach, was not her best idea.
“Thank you.” She chewed at her lower lip, eyes fixated on his widened smile. All she could think about was how soft and commanding his mouth felt against hers, just mere hours ago. How commanding might he be above her, below her, straddled between her thighs? She regained her senses when another waiter glided by, offering them both caviar on a crisp cracker. Shaun declined and so did Cole. “Shall we?” she asked. He nodded and placed a warm, calloused palm against the small of her back. The meeting of skin so intimate, forced her to question her dress choice, mind drifting to more inappropriate thoughts involving that very palm. Thankfully, Jasper moved into view and Shaun hurried in his direction, breaking the brain-scrambling contact.
“Shaun! I was hoping to see you here.” Shaun likened Jasper to Nathan Lane. Same build. Same hair color. Even the same demeanor. He and her father had been friends for years. The fact he seemed pleased to see her, lessened some of the tension Robert planted in her head.
“Good evening, Jasper.” He grasped her upper arms and kissed her on the cheek. The cheek still on fire from Cole’s lips. “I was worried you were avoiding me.” She casually probed a bit, needing the reassurance she currently lacked.
He chuckled. “And risk having to answer to Preston?” She fought away the frown. Not the answer she wanted to hear. She tried desperately to command a reputation all her own. To step out of her father’s shadow. A feat, seemingly impossible.
“You are free to chose, Jasper. If what we’ve proposed is not the right fit, I would rather you be honest.” She felt the intensity of Cole’s stare. She was risking everything with her blunt words, but her pride and the gin from the two martinis, gave her the courage she needed.
Jasper’s expression grew serious. “Shaun, I jest. I loved what you showed me last meeting. I loved it so much, I wish to move forward as soon as possible.” He signaled a waiter carrying an array of cocktails over. “Let’s drink on it.”
Shaun sighed and smiled, lifting one of the two martinis off the tray, held out between them. Jasper selected the Bloody Mary and Cole wiggled the Heineken bottle he already had in his hand, she didn’t noticed before. “Shit! Forgive me, Jasper. I would like you to meet, Cole Jacobson. The man responsible for the redirection.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Cole.” Jasper reached out his palm, looking between Cole and her, then back to Cole as the men shook hands. She could see the wheels turning in Jasper’s head, but she didn’t feel the need to clarify their relationship was strictly business. Maybe she should slow down on the martinis. Her judgement was really going to shit. “To a perfect partnership,” Jasper exclaimed, drink in the air. They all clinked glasses and followed with sips.
Shaun nearly choked on hers, when she caught sight of the last person she expected to see this evening. “Would you two excuse me a moment?” She didn’t wait for a reply from either. She walked the short distance to her mother and tugged her elbow gently, pulling her away from a quick chat with a few members of the wait staff. “What is Olivia doing here?”
Her mother ignored her question and kissed Shaun on both her cheeks. “That is how you greet your mother? You could have at least had the decency to find me when you arrived. But no, everything is about business. Just like your father.”
Shaun lacked the patience and desire to deal with her mother’s healthy helping of guilt pie. “Mother?” she prodded.
Her mother popped out a wine-red, stained lower lip in a childish pout. “I was only stopping you from making a mistake. Olivia told me you won’t return her calls.”
“Mistake?” Shaun lowered her voice when a few heads turned in her direction. “The only mistake I made was introducing Liv to you in the first place.” Her mother’s mouth fell open, forming an exaggerated O.
Before she could continue, the familiar purr of her name gave her pause. “Shaun, you look lovely.” Olivia leaned in and pressed a tender kiss, just left of Shaun’s lips. The sweet fragrance of Liv’s perfume, Kenzo Amour, tingled her senses, sparking shallow buried memories to life.