Home > The Reception (The Wedding From Hell #2)(6)

The Reception (The Wedding From Hell #2)(6)
Author: J.R. Ward

The entire time, he just lay there with the duvet pulled over his private area, one arm cocked up under his head. He didn’t seem to notice or care that they had scattered the pillows and knocked the lamp over, or that the TV remote had been kicked across the room and was by the bathroom door.

When she had the bow tie in place, she buttoned the single fastening on the jacket.

“It doesn’t have to be like this, Anne,” he said in a low voice.

“Yes, it does—”

“Will you cut it out about my reputation? Jesus, at least give me a chance to prove you wrong on that one.”

Anne crossed her arms over her chest. “Even if you were a model of monogamy, it still wouldn’t work.”

“I don’t care what people say down at the four-nine-nine and neither should you.”

“You don’t get it.” She shook her head. “There are rules for firefighters. If we were to get into a relationship—and that is a big ‘if’—I’d have to transfer out of the station.”

“No, you wouldn’t—”

“Yes, I would,” she interrupted. “I checked the regulations. We have a duty to disclose personal relationships, and I have less seniority than you so I’m the one who’d get relocated—and no matter where they sent me, it would be a step down. The four-nine-nine is the best of the best. We get more calls, more emergencies, more alarms than any other house in the city because of where we’re located, and I am not leaving that just to get a boyfriend.”

“So I’ll volunteer to transfer.” He sat up and put a pillow over his lap. “This is only a problem if you see it as one.”

“You’re saying you’d trade being at the top of your game for getting cats out of trees in suburbia? If you think you’d be okay with that, then you’re delusional. You’d hate it and you’d end up resenting me—just like I’d end up resenting you.”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

“Fine, but this is still not happening.” She threw up her hands. “Even if we did split up fire stations, I’d still be looked at differently. It’s hard enough to be a woman in this male-dominated profession. The last thing I need is that speculation in the guys’ eyes, that wonder-if-she’ll-do-me-too look. I’ve worked too hard and come too far to not be taken seriously.”

“So you’ve decided how all this is going to go.”

“And you should be relieved. You only do one-night stands anyway.”

There was a long silence. Then he laid back down and nodded at his duffel bag. “I have a brush,” he said tightly. “You know, for your hair.”

“Oh, right.”

“It’s with my clothes.”

Stepping over his pants on the floor, she got his brush, ripped it through the tangles they’d created, and put the thing back where she’d found it. Then she squared her shoulders and turned to face him.

Her heart was pounding again, just for a different reason. “So . . .”

“I’ll lie.”

“Excuse me?”

“When they ask me where I was during the reception. I’ll tell them I drank too much and went to bed.”

“You’re not going back down?”

“No, I’m done with all this. The brunch tomorrow morning, too.”

Anne nodded. “Okay. So I’ll see you Monday for roll call.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

Anne headed for the door. When she put her hand on the knob, she hesitated. But what else was there to say? She believed him when he said he would tell no one, and told herself it was what she wanted.

“Anne . . . ?”

She looked over her shoulder at him on that bed. There was enough ambient light coming from the window that she could see his half-mast eyes and his extraordinary abs and his powerful legs. His hair was too short to be messy, but he looked well used, all languid and relaxed.

“I’m going to think about you,” he whispered. “You can stop us from ever doing this again, but you can’t control my mind or my dreams.”

“Don’t say things like that.”

He sat forward once more, those shoulders she had held onto rising from the bed. “Don’t you know you’re different to me, Anne? You’ve always been different.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

Her heart bucked behind her ribs. But she shook her head. “I’m sorry, Danny. It’s better that we just . . . go our separate ways.”

His head lowered. Then he nodded. “If that’s what you want.”

“It’s the way it has to be.”

“All right. I’ll respect your decision.”

Sadness settled on her, a tangible weight, and she left before that pall made her say something or do something that—well, hell, she’d already slept with the guy, so it was hard to think of what else she could do to complicate things.

Walking off down the hotel corridor toward the elevators, she started out with purpose and stride, but that faded, her footfalls slowing. Then stopping.

Halfway to her goal and her escape, she wondered why she was being such a coward. Danny had the courage of a lion, the strength of four men, he made her laugh and made her think—

And the sex had been the best she’d ever had.

Why was she letting this go just because she was scared? That was a girl move, not a woman move—

The door to her left opened and Duff stepped out—then stopped like he’d hit a brick wall. The resident 499 hottie was in street clothes and had an unlit stogie in his hand.

“Anne? What are you doing up here?”

“Nothing. I’m not—I’m not here, I mean, I had to get something from—I got a room up here, too. I’m a groomsmen, remember?”

Just one of the guys, she thought as they started walking together.

“Oh, sure, yeah.” Duff put an arm around her. “Come on, let’s go down to the party together. I just had to get out of that penguin suit. You want a smoke? We got more of these to share.”

“Nah, I’m good. I think I’ll head home.”

“Canning it so soon? What a lightweight.” But he gave her a squeeze. “We’ll miss you.”

When they got to the elevators, he hit the “down” button, and after a moment, the double doors opened. As they stepped inside, the guy was talking about something, but Anne couldn’t follow the words.

She was too busy staring down that corridor, praying Danny didn’t come out looking like he’d just had sex.

“You all right, Anne?” Duff asked.

Anne rubbed at an ache in the center of her chest. Then, in true firefighter fashion, she said, “I’m fine. I’m great. Just great . . .”

The doors began to trundle shut. Just before they closed, Danny stepped out of his room. As his eyes lifted, they looked at each other across the vast distance that separated them.

And that was when Anne knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that no matter what she was telling herself now, or how resolved she was to keep things professional . . .

. . . they were not done with each other yet.

Not by a long shot.

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