The One That I Want. Michelle Monkou
ever have to know that he was there. But for actual records, the check-in list would show that he’d arrived. Immediately his mother’s caution piled onto his guilt. The Meadowses weren’t owed his compliance.
* * *
Laxmi would have returned home if Fiona hadn’t spotted her in the room. She felt nauseous by the time she’d gone through the checkpoints to get into the party. At any moment, she expected someone to accuse her of being a faker.
“I’m so glad you made it.” Fiona hugged her tight, making Laxmi gasp. “Thought you would bail on me.”
“Of course not. Wouldn’t dream of it.” Laxmi hid her lie behind a bright grin. “Feels like most of New York is in this room.”
“It’s a good turnout.” Fiona looked radiant. Her fierce detective persona had disappeared behind stylish hair and makeup. She looked gorgeous in her evening dress.
Maybe she shouldn’t have worn the minidress. But she needed the safety net of her former style as the brash, youthful party girl. She could observe the world through that veneer.
“Come. Come. Let me show you to the head table.”
“Oh, no. I could have had a seat in the back. Near the coat check.”
“You’re so silly.” Fiona laughed, but as if sensing the retreat, she hooked her arm through Laxmi’s and guided her to the table.
After introductions were made, Laxmi took her seat.
Fiona patted her shoulder. “Sorry, I’m going to have to leave you. Have to play hostess.”
“Oh, please, go do your thing. I’ll be fine.” Laxmi waved her on and tried to keep her nerves away from her smile.
But once Fiona left, she felt alone. Stranded. No one at the table talked to her. The cousins might have remembered her, but she had been close to only Fiona. With the event not ready to start officially for thirty minutes, she scanned the room for a place to hang. The minibars stationed around the big room seemed good enough. She made her escape.
* * *
“Is this spot taken?”
Dresden shook his head without bothering to look over his shoulder. He wasn’t interested in conversation, even if its owner’s fragrance smelled so damn good it baited his curiosity to check her out. To distract himself, he shifted his focus to the head table and scanned the faces, looking for one specifically—Fiona, the only tolerable Meadow and his half sister.
“Which Meadows do you know?”
Dresden blinked and reluctantly turned to the woman who prodded his attention and who couldn’t read a vibe. Irritation fueled his impatience with the invader. His self-exile was on the verge of a breach.
A smile, bold and bright, greeted him and sucked the wind from his lungs. Its owner held out her hand to match the cheeriness behind her flash of teeth. “Laxmi Holder.”
The second after she said her name he silently repeated Lak-shmee.
He shook her hand and didn’t want to let go. But he had to when her smile turned into a bubbly burst of laughter at his flustered reaction. His face flushed with the creeping heat from his neck up over his cheeks.
An awkward handshake was the least of his problems as his eyes connected with her face.
Sexy, full lips were splashed with a badass red color. Bright eyes popped because of long, dark lashes and shapely arched brows. Add the interesting contours of her face and he might as well have stepped off the edge and fallen into a delightful rabbit hole.
“And you are?” she prompted. She hadn’t broken eye contact now that he couldn’t stop staring at her.
“Dresden.” He sipped his drink to quell the sudden dryness.
“You’re one of those one-name celebrities—like Cher and Madonna?”
He laughed at the idea of being anything but a history professor working on his genealogy as a personal hobby. Still, he jumped on the option to keep his last name out of the mix since he had no idea in what social circle she spent her time. His new fame had brought him into the spotlight with the details trickling in or being sensationalized for the gossip spreads. Any public mention of his life stripped away his privacy that he’d taken for granted. Reading the fictional and even the nonfictional bits about his life sounded insignificant and average when splashed against the Meadowses’ powerful reputation.
“Okay, mystery man,” she said in a husky voice that sounded like an old jazz singer’s. “We’ll play it your way. I like solving puzzles.”
“Nothing much to know.” And he meant it as a curtain to keep out her curiosity.
She shrugged, but he saw the interest intensify like so many did at mention of the Meadowses. She looked poised for any discovery. Her gaze recorded everything. If he stumbled and opened access to his life, she’d pounce without hesitation. While he had no intention of opening up about who he was because who really knew what had triggered her attention? On the other hand, he didn’t want his reluctance to end their conversation.
“Mild temperatures for the time of the year. More than chilly tonight, though.”
Laxmi signaled to the bartender for a refill. “Looks like we’ll stay in the safe zone and chat about the weather. Or maybe we can talk politics?”
Dresden made a face. “That’s depressing.”
She tapped her cheek with her finger, as if mulling over her next move. The nail polish perfectly matched the bloodred lip color. “Relationship status?”
His cough erupted and fizzled into a nervous chuckle from her direct blast into his personal life. His lack of a current girlfriend wasn’t a secret, but he was used to being in the driver’s seat when testing new terrain.
“It’s not a hard question.” Her voice turned an edge frosty. “Unless you’re about to lie.”
“Single.” He gulped a mouthful of beer.
His eyebrow hitched up with his shock that she was interested in him—and for more than passing time at a party.
Problem was, and he did see it as a problem, he was interested in her, too. He cleared his throat. His body was reacting without waiting for his mind to catch up. “Are you...single?”
“Not that I’m trying to pick you up.” He shook his head. “Commitment-phobe here. And work pretty much takes up my life.” Damn. He wanted to kiss those lips, smear that color right off.
The way his body short-circuited over her, he needed to set the record straight not only for her, but mainly for him.
But now his imagination wouldn’t stop its what-if scenarios. What if those long, manicured fingernails that tapped the bar’s counter could one day rake along the length of his back as they lay together?
He shifted his stance, wishing he could walk off the aroused tightness in his crotch. His eyes squeezed shut as he urged his libido to get it together. Maybe he needed a double shot of oxygen to clear away these thoughts.
“You’re a cop? Fireman? Navy SEAL?”
Dresden laughed and shook his head. “Professor. I teach history and write articles. Working on a book now.”
“My family tree in the context of Canada’s black history. I’m Canadian, by the way.”
“You keep getting more interesting. Sounds like your project is a lot of work, but also eye-opening for the curious-minded.”
He nodded, unable to withhold his appreciation that she showed interest in his work.
“And you haven’t managed to squeeze in a significant