Time for Part 6!
(don’t forget: I’m copying and pasting straight from my deleted folder)
Heat flooded from Sugar’s bustier to stiletto heel, and she knew Jared’s eyes drilled into her barely covered backside. Forget being half-naked and on display. That shit didn’t bother her. But him, penetrating through her Teflon layers of not-interested? That was alarming. Disorienting. But at least he didn’t know it.
Out of nowhere, walking required concentration. Heel, toe. Right foot, left foot. All she needed was a mostly straight line to her crew, hovering along the wall.
Fake it to make it took on new meaning. I’m so not interested. It was a decision. A motto. A battle cry. And her body and subconscious could shut the hell up, because Sugar wasn’t changing her mind.
Jared wasn’t supposed to react this way. He wasn’t supposed to offer fuckfest deals with no strings. She liked no strings and she liked Jared, but she couldn’t—
“Oh my God, Sugar. Do you see how that man looks at you?” Ricky gushed, whipping his boa to punctuate each word. He eyed the non-FBI-ATF hair and make-up girl and leaned over to whisper. “You two don’t have to make anything up, do you?”
Jared walked past and leaned on the wall. One boot kicked up, thumbs hooked in his pants pockets. Thelma ran across the floor, her nailing tapping, and sat by his feet.
“He’s the best manager a showgirl could ask for,” she said, shrugging for the makeup girl’s benefit.
Ricky clucked. “That’s not an answer. We’ll dish later. Take your glamour shots and be ready to sweat, cause I’m going to make you dance until you cry.”
“Ricky,” Cole called out. “Leave her alone. Vanessa, please begin. We’re behind schedule.”
She was pushed into a chair that faced the windows. People moved around the room, setting up fake backgrounds and photography lights. The makeup went on heavy. Her hair was teased and pulled and became a well-behaved coiffure.
Judging by the please look on Vanessa and Cole’s faces, the excited way Ricky babbled and pointed, and the stoic stare that plastered across Jared’s face, hair and makeup were looking burlesque-ish.
Ricky whisked over, grabbed her chair and spun her round to the mirrored wall. “Drop dead gorgeous!”
Whoa. She was a provocative, trussed version of herself. In the mirror she caught Jared’s stare, locking eyes and wanting a reaction. She cocked an eyebrow and he gave a curt nod. Butterflies swarmed in her stomach. The warm rush was back in force.
All because of one fucking nod. The bastard didn’t have to touch her and she went all flustered.
“Sugar.” She snapped to attention. Annoyed, Cole pointed toward the photographer. “Let’s get these shots done already.”
Ricky grabbed her hand, yanking her from the chair. “I’m going to be pushing you two around this entire show if all you do is stare at one another. Sheesh.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m sure.”
The photographer positioned her against a fake brick wall, tilting her head and moving her hands. Vanessa walked over with a brush and powdered, dabbing at her nose. Sugar was their real life doll and everyone had a turn.
“Baby cakes.” Jared stood next to Ricky and Vanessa.
She turned toward him. The photographer groaned, repositioning her head, hands, shoulders.
“Can this wait until we’re finished?” Cole asked, folding his arms.
“Shut it, Cole,” Jared snapped. The director shrank smaller and studied his notebook. “Sugar, I have to head out, you have to dance for a few hours. I’ll be back—”
“Hours?” Her jaw dropped and the photographer pushed it shut, then tilted her head into a new pose.
He waved a piece of paper. “So says the agenda, and since I’m managing your—
“Hungry?” he repeated, looking unsure and uncomfortable with that tidbit of knowledge.
Well, he was her manager. He could make arrangement for a meal. Right? But there Mister In Charge stood, perhaps unsure of his next move. The poor bastard was really out of his element. Maybe she could cut him the tiniest bit of…nah.
Ricky snapped at the row of assistants by a table. “Oh, someone puh-leaze get her dinner.” He looked apologetically at Sugar. “You can’t go hungry. You’re blood Sugar must drop or something because you become…” He made an ugly face. “And I don’t want to have to teach that person her choreography.”
“Thank you, Ricky,” Jared said.
Like throwing a dog a bone, Ricky bounced on his toes. Didn’t take much to please him. Feather boas and thank yous.
“Yes, thanks,” she added, much to the photographer’s annoyance.
Ricky wiggled his brows. “Thank me now, Sugar, because in a few hours, you’re going to curse my name.”
Jared flashed a glance to his watch. Nine o’clock on the dot. The hallways were empty of the audition brigade. He eyeballed the glass window in the door to her studio and could see the lights were dimmed.
Only two people remained in the rehearsal room, Sugar and Ricky. She was propped back in a chair, feet resting on a large box, and Ricky was spinning. He’d stop, point to his feet, and spin again.
Jared remained by the wall, unseen, watching her take in the dance instruction. She looked earnest and entrenched, learning her temporary craft without her normal strong-willed tendencies.
Ricky looked up and waved. Busted. At least he could grab Sugar and head back to the apartment. Thelma had been there a few hours and had the tendency to eat things when bored. The carpet, the wall, a bedspread. It was one of the reasons he liked to keep her with him.
Ricky took a bow. “Alrighty, you’ve had enough torture. Remember, ice and Advil.”
Ice and advil? Jared laughed. Ricky sounded like a field medic.
Sugar leaned her head back and tossed a wave, looking exhausted, like it was too much effort to stand and communicate.
“Be nice to her.” Ricky bounced by and out the door, pulling it closed.
Yeah, yeah. He could be nice. She’d been run into the ground, easy to see. No teasing. No asinine requests to bed down.
He walked over. Her head was back, eyes closed, arms and legs hung limp. Maybe something more like bourbon and a massage was in order, though, shit, he wasn’t offering his services. Having his manhood handed to him once a day was enough.
“I’m dying.” Her eyes stayed shut. Most the makeup from the photo shoot had been wiped away. “Leave me here, I’m going to sleep.”
“Come on, baby cakes. Up and at ‘em.”
She shook her head.
“Thelma’s gonna eat through your suitcase if we don’t go home soon.”
Sugar opened one brown eye, scrunching her face up. “Seriously?”
“Hell, I never know.”
She shut her eye again. “I don’t have anything I can’t replace. Go away.”
“I can’t walk, so no.”
“La-dee-da, a day of spins and dips, and you’re ready to—”
“Go fuck yourself, Jared.” She lifted her leg, and his eyes traveled from hip to calf to…bloodied foot.
“Damn, girl. What’d you do?”
“I spun and dipped.” She muttered under her breath and he was sure the word asshole was sent his way. Her leg dropped to the box, eyes still closed. “And I may’ve forgotten how hard dance can be. Plus, new shoes. Blisters and cuts. Every muscle aches. That Ricky, he’s a tough one. Don’t let the feathers fool you.”
“What do you want from me? Why don’t you take those shoes off?”
Stubborn. “Then get up.”
“Nope.” She shook her head.
“Go. A. Way.”
Screw this. He reached around her, scooping her into his arms.
“Damn it, Jared. Stop it!”
He ignored her kicks, walking across the room and out in to the hall.
“I’m half-naked, and it’s fifty degrees outside. Put me down!”
He back tracked to the room, Sugar still squirming, and grabbed the first thing he saw to drape over her.
“I can walk.”
Jared stopped and put her down, careful, and backed away, wary that she’d topple. Sugar struggled into a jacket and took a step forward, wincing.
“Apparently you can’t.” And I don’t have time for this; Thelma’s likely gnawed a tunnel to the neighbors by now. Before Sugar looked over her shoulder, Jared had her back into his arms and headed to the elevators.
This time she didn’t squirm or bitch. It was an improvement. They stood, waiting for the elevators, silent. She smelled earthy and like hard work, but still with hints of vanilla, and it begged for his attention.
He’d carried men to safety and not thought twice about how they smelled or how they felt. Sugar was soft and muscular, contradicting the hell out of how he thought she might feel. Could this elevator get here any slower?
“You’re going to carry me the whole way?”
Thank fuck for the bell. “I don’t have the time or patience to waste watching you learn to walk again.”
“You are so grumpy.” She chuckled, but hadn’t made a move for release again.
So what? He grumbled and hit the button for the ground floor. If she wanted happy and bippy, he should’ve asked someone else on his team. Winters, Cash, Rocco, Roman, Park, Brock…well, maybe she should’ve held out until she got to New York and found Ricky. Because bippy didn’t work well at Titan. Bippy, he wasn’t and didn’t hire.
The elevator dinged again and they walked through the turnstiles, passed a security guard, and into the revolving doors. Tight spaces like that were made for tactical morons. They moved in a circle toward the street, sitting ducks. But it would’ve taken longer to find the regular door and kick the handicap panel until it opened. Hell if he was taking an arm off her to punch the door open. That move would beg for her to squirm out of his arms.
“I need stuff from a drugstore.”
“Make a list and we’ll send Ricky.” Jared’s steps ate through the New York city block. They’d be home in no time. “He’ll be thrilled that you asked.”
She huffed and he ignored it. They pushed through the lobby, into the elevator, and were on their floor. He rounded the corner, Sugar still in his arm, and stopped. A package sat outside their door. What the hell is it now?
Inside the door, Thelma barked. Bet the neighbors loved that. Trusting that Sugar couldn’t get far if she jumped off him, he used one hand to find his keys and unlock the door, kicking the box in with them. A few steps across the room, he deposited Sugar on the couch and Thelma jumped up too, licking and jumping and drooling.
He laughed. Good girl.
Sugar kicked and giggled, Thelma showing her no relief.
“Stop,” she squealed, balling into the fetal position. All fifty-five pounds of Thelma wriggled into her arms, licking her face. “Help me! Please.” She tried to push away, but Thelma had the tactical advantage. Sugar’s laughs filled the room, and he was content to let the ladies have a proper hi-how-ya-doing before he pulled them apart.
Thelma looked up, eyes bright, and he swore the damn mutt was smiling. Sugar took the pause and scooted away, laughing. She reached over and scrubbed Thelma until she was on her back. Four paws ran through the in the air, playful and excited, then Thelma jumped off the couch, bounding to her water bowl and dunked her head to her ears. Water splashed everywhere.
“I heard it.” Sugar leaned back, but pointed at him while catching her break. “I knew you could laugh, you old bastard.”
Laugh? He grumbled. “Yeah, maybe.”
Sugar kicked off her heels, pushed out of the jacket, and walked toward the bathroom. Her sequin covered ass swaying as she did. Holy hell.
“Get used to the sight, J-dawg. I don’t need you staring like it’s the first time you’ve seen a girl drop her clothes.”
He growled and Thelma joined in.
Sugar peeked around the door. “Very cute.”
Then slammed it shut. The water turned on and he needed the hell out of that apartment.