The Bachelor's Promise (Bachelor Auction)

By: Naima Simone

Yet that knowledge didn’t prevent a shaft of jealousy from piercing her chest. Not for the love she didn’t believe in, but for the joy and peace that suffused Sydney’s features. For the contentment that softened the stern lines of Lucas’s face as he curved a palm over his wife’s extended belly…

Tearing her gaze away from them once more, she swallowed and shook her head. “I—”

“Sorry, Sydney.” Aiden appeared at Noelle’s elbow, gripping her upper arm in a firm grip. Her heart thumped against her rib cage, her breath catching in her throat. For the first time in six years, he was touching her. Even though her jacket prevented skin-on-skin contact, she swore his heat seeped past the leather, branding her. Instinctively, she tried to step back, place distance between them. But his hold tightened, belying the calm, smooth tone of his voice. “Noelle and I haven’t seen each other in a long time. There are some things we need to talk over. Especially since she traveled so far.”

An edge sharpened his words, and she cursed the knot of anxiety that sat in her chest. But then again, most people didn’t bother peering past his gilded masculine beauty. She’d watched him tunnel his hands through his perfectly styled, golden hair in agitation. Seen his stunning, emerald eyes bright and diamond-hard with calculation. Observed the sensual curves of his mouth flattened by rage.

No, most only saw the playboy good looks and missed the stalking predator beneath.

“Aiden,” Lucas murmured, slipping an arm around Sydney. “Maybe you should come home with us.”

“No, we shouldn’t.” The cold resolve in Aiden’s tone practically warned Lucas to mind his own business. Christ, she hadn’t meant for her presence to incite dissention between them.

“It’s okay, Lucas. Thank you for inviting me, though.” She nodded at Sydney. “It was nice meeting you.”

“You, too, Noelle.” The other woman smiled, but when her gaze shifted to Aiden, her eyes narrowed. “Good night, Aiden.”

“It was good seeing you, Noelle,” Lucas said, then, with a hand on the small of his wife’s back, guided her out of the building and into the freezing November night.

“Trying to ingratiate yourself with my friends, Noelle?” Aiden murmured, the question almost pleasant, amused. “Sorry, that tactic didn’t work.”

Annoyed, she jerked at his grip again, and this time he freed her, the faint twist to his lips indicating he detested having his hand on her in the first place. Hell, she wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d rubbed his palms down his pants to rid himself of the Rana taint. She straightened her shoulders and gathered the façade of bravado she’d perfected over the years around her like a sheltering cape. Trying to ignore the shame that pierced her—shame made all the sharper and brighter because there’d been a time—a short time—when he’d seemed to enjoy touching her.

“Before you interrupted, I was going to decline her offer,” she said.

The corner of his mouth quirked, the gesture humorless, mocking. “And turn down the chance to use more people for whatever reason you’ve popped up here? I doubt it.” He pivoted, denying her a chance to reply. Not that she could. Fury and humiliation strangled the words in her throat. “Come here,” he ordered, heading back toward the ballroom and then veering off down a corridor.

He paused in front of a closed door with a gold plate that declared the room beyond “private.” But that obviously didn’t apply to him. Aiden walked in and flipped a switch, bathing the room in light. A long table flanked with big, leather office chairs dominated the space, and a floor-to-ceiling window granted a beautiful view of a large park. “Boston Common,” the signs she’d driven by had stated.

“I’m guessing there’s a purpose behind your dramatic entrance,” he said, sliding his hands into his pants pockets.

The action parted his tuxedo jacket and stretched the white shirt over the wide expanse of his chest and the flat plane of his abs. She jerked her gaze to the wall over his shoulder, disgusted with herself for noticing. But damn, a formal shirt really shouldn’t fit like a freaking wet T-shirt.

“I found your home address and went by your apartment building, but you weren’t there and security wouldn’t allow me to wait for you. No one was at your office either. Your company’s website had a mention about sponsoring the auction, so I took a chance you would be here.” She shrugged, exhibiting a nonchalance that was a blatant lie. “I didn’t mean to party-crash your flesh market. That kind of just…happened.”

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