The Bachelor's Promise (Bachelor Auction)

By: Naima Simone

“Really?” The redhead who had bid on and won a date with him tsked, her lovely face scrunched up in a distasteful moue.

Aiden didn’t bother responding. Yeah, Noelle couldn’t be more out of place in this room of gowned and jeweled guests than a frog in a pond of golden koi. But it wasn’t the hip-length leather jacket that molded to her slender torso, or the tight denim and black boots that appeared painted on her long legs, that he objected to. He didn’t give a damn that with her clothes and long, tousled black hair, she’d shown up looking like a pinup, biker-chick version of Snow White.

He gave a damn that she’d just. Shown. Up.

“Excuse me, please.” Without waiting for her reply, he strode forward, every bit of him focused on the unwelcome blast from his past.

As he neared her, Noelle’s chin tipped up. He snorted. Some things hadn’t changed. Since he’d first met her fifteen years ago when she was a tiny, skinny eleven-year-old, she’d been giving him that defiant gesture. It’d pissed him off when he was sixteen, and it had the same effect at thirty-one. Another Rana. Invading his life uninvited. Like father, like daughter.

“What in the hell are you doing here?” he snapped, halting inches from her petite frame. He towered over her, the top of her head barely reaching his shoulder. A part of him—the civilized part—warned him to ease back, to calm. That same part was appalled that he would use his height and wide frame to intimidate her. Regardless of their turbulent history, she was also a woman. But the primal section of his brain, the one that scented his enemy and was on the hunt, kept him rooted there, studying her through narrowed eyes. Ready and poised to pounce.

A wise person would’ve retreated, would’ve turned tail and run. She didn’t.

She wasn’t foolish; the time they’d spent together had revealed a brilliant mind that had awed him. So that left brave.

Or desperate.

And desperation on a Rana meant trouble.

For Aiden.

Noelle tilted her head to the side, those pale, pale blue eyes never wavering from him. This close, he couldn’t miss the beauty mark that punctuated the bottom of the graceful arch of her left eyebrow. Or the thick fringe of coal-black lashes that, if he hadn’t known her since childhood, he’d cynically think were store-bought. This close, he couldn’t not observe the delicate lines and bone structure that appeared almost fragile and innocent…or the wide, lush mouth painted in deep, vibrant crimson that made a mockery of his last thought. With the mass of midnight waves tumbling around her face and shoulders, she seemed too much—too wild, too colorful…too carnal.

Hell, at this very second, almost every man in the room was probably imagining that lithe, little body effortlessly rising and falling over him, all that dark hair swaying against creamy, sweat-dampened skin, her light blue eyes gleaming down at him…

His jaw clenched, mirroring the knot tightening his gut. He’d tasted her passion, had been burned by it. Even six years later, he remembered…everything.

But he’d also experienced firsthand how Ranas used what they had—cunning, quick talking, fast hands, or pretty smiles—to get what they wanted. A roof over their heads. Money in their pockets.

Another man’s woman.

Fury flared higher within him at the reminder of whose blood ran in Noelle’s veins. “I repeat,” he ground out, “what the hell are you doing here?”

Leaning forward, she stage-whispered, “Making one bitch of a scene.”

Lust flashed to life inside him like a flare gun. Gone was the shy, quiet young woman who had become his friend then almost his lover. In her place stood a bold, vivid, sexy imposter who not only had the balls to crash a charity event but get in his face and challenge him. That shouldn’t have hardened his cock like a steel rod. That shouldn’t have made his fingers itch to thrust into that wild fall of hair and grip it, dragging her head back. But it did. And disgust for his reaction, for his traitorous body, prickled across his skin.

For several long seconds, they remained still, staring one another down like they were gunslingers in an old Western. The only things missing were a tinny soundtrack and a scrawny tumbleweed rolling across the ballroom’s marble floor.

But almost immediately, he became aware of the low murmurs and felt the pointed looks. They rippled through the room as more and more of Boston’s social elite took notice of the showdown between Bay Bridge Industries’ chief operating officer and the mysterious, underdressed goth girl. Dammit. In the almost two years since he’d settled in Boston, he’d managed to avoid even the hint of scandal. Other than comments on the women he dated, Aiden’s name had stayed clear of the online gossip columns. Not now. The Rhodonite Bachelor Auction was a huge, annual charity event attended by businessmen and socialites alike. Including the press. No way in hell this…incident would go unnoticed. Hell.

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