The One That I Want. Michelle Monkou
I’ll take the runaway to his hotel.”
The attendant nodded and left him at the curb.
Dresden slowly turned in the direction of Laxmi’s voice. She greeted him with a cocky smirk and headed over to the valet service booth. A red coat shielded her body against the cold. Like the red dress, the perfectly matched coat complemented her skin. And, oh, man, that strut she had was always a pleasure to watch.
First, he didn’t know if he wanted to be rescued. Second, should she be his knight in a hot minidress? But he didn’t want to ponder the dilemmas for any real answer.
A spectacular red Ferrari Sergio roared into view and pulled up beside them. Dresden watched Laxmi tip the valet before sliding behind the steering wheel.
Did she plan for every part of her life to be in sync? The sports car matched its owner—brash and eye-catching with compelling power moves. As she fluffed out her hair and let it fall past her shoulders in a thick, curly black curtain, he knew she had the “it” factor for an expensive car ad.
“Oh, come on. I’m harmless.” The limited-edition roadster’s engine revved like a signal for him to get in and enjoy the ride.
“I’m not supposed to take rides from strangers.” He tried not to fall under her spell. All night he had tried, but as his hand closed on the door handle, he knew he couldn’t go on unless he surrendered to this woman.
An exciting shiver ran along his spine. She pressed a red lipstick to her bottom lip and smoothed on a fresh coat. He followed its path over the curves and valley of her lips. To survive the moment, he looked around for a distraction.
Seeing the valet looking longingly at the car instead of drooling over Laxmi worked for Dresden. Not that he could claim to be jealous of someone he didn’t know.
“Didn’t envision this gem as my getaway car.” He got into the tight space and pushed back his seat to match hers.
“And I never imagined that I’d be racing off with such a worthy prize.”
“Prize? Guess that’s what I am...to them.” He looked toward the entrance. The way he’d left, the things he’d said or hadn’t said—all of it ran on a continuous loop. There was no coming back from this. Should he never have said yes to Fiona’s invite? Now he’d made a mess of things and embarrassed Grace on her birthday. He swore under his breath.
“Want to head back in?”
“No. Actually, I did what I came to do. No more. No less.” He shrugged off the denial that popped up.
“At least sleep on it. You might think differently in the morning.”
“Are you the getaway driver or my therapist?” So what if he sounded ungrateful?
* * *
Laxmi didn’t consider herself the most observant person. Her client, Tonea, tended to accuse her of being clueless most of the time. Tonight was one of the occasions when clarity arrived and stuck around long enough for her to pay attention to her new drinking buddy—Dresden, the missing Meadows.
She sensed that he had been equally nervous about attending the party, of course, for different reasons. His reluctance to engage was understandable, but also a welcome distraction. Plus, he was so darn fine that she couldn’t resist flirting.
But when he went onstage, she saw the panic. She recognized the signs of feeling out of control, looking out at the crowd for approval and hoping to impress. His panic got the better of him and he bolted.
As soon as he left the stage, Laxmi shot out of her seat and followed. Maybe she was looking for an excuse to also leave, but there was a part of her that was genuinely interested in Dresden.
Even if he met her concern with full-out suspicion.
* * *
“I’m Fiona’s friend. So, she matters and, by default, you matter.”
“Then let me relieve you of that obligation.” He reached for the door handle.
But his head hit the headrest as Laxmi pushed the gas pedal. Tires squealed. Pedestrians skipped out of the way, hopping onto the curb. Their departure from the front of the hotel turned into a blurred flash of buildings and lights.
Not until Laxmi pulled up at a red light did Dresden test the seat belt. He kept one hand on the dashboard for added measure as she took off again. A sharp right turn tested his grip on every surface. A side glance to check on Laxmi only proved that the ride to his hotel would feel like a jump through a time warp.
“Where to?” she asked in between a three-lane change.
“I chose to stay at the Barkley Towers.”
“Nice digs. Everyone is at the Winthorpe.”
“I know,” he said. Fiona had offered to make the reservation at the same hotel, but he’d known he’d need his space. Besides, he’d passed on the Meadowses picking up the tab for his hotel stay.
“You’re a loner? Not judging.” Her hand rose against his instant protest. “Call me being observant.”
She banked a hard left. A few car horns blasted their owners’ annoyance. With another squeal of brakes, they pulled up in front of the hotel, a much quieter venue than the location for the birthday bash.
“Home sweet home.”
“Thanks.” Dresden unsnapped the seat belt and opened the car door. “I really appreciate...this.”
“No problem. My pleasure.”
He looked up at the building, glad to be in his safe space. Yet he didn’t want to part ways with Laxmi. “You’ve missed a lot of the festivities. Sorry about that.”
“Yes, but then, you wouldn’t have been there. Who would I have spent my time getting to know?” She shook her head. “Nah. I’m in the right place at the right time.”
“Do you want to come in for a drink?” He plunged ahead without bothering to have a comeback if she rejected him.
“Oh. I’m shocked.” She clearly teased him. “Didn’t think you were into one-night stands.” Her audacious wink drew his laughter.
“I promise that no such thing will occur.”
“Bummer.” She emerged from the car and handed over the keys to the valet. “And here I thought you were going to be interesting.”
Dresden didn’t know how to deal with his unlikely partner in crime. They walked into the lobby, with her hand tucked into the crook of his elbow, and then stepped onto the elevator. She hummed a tune he didn’t recognize. He looked straight ahead, hoping she couldn’t see his heart popping out of his chest, pumping like an overworked piston.
As soon as the doors opened and they stepped into the hallway, Laxmi said, “Somehow I pictured you in a setting like this.”
“Old and dusty?” He didn’t think she was laying down a compliment.
“An appreciation of the old mixed with the new. You’re a history professor. But you also have written some interesting articles on various topics with a predictive air about what the future holds. How the past doesn’t have to dictate the future. In other words, you are an optimist.”
* * *
Laxmi once had been an optimist. The high ledge where hope and ideals resided was for those lucky souls. But the space had felt narrow and uncomfortable once her life unraveled with loss and defeat.
Maybe her attraction to Dresden began with his air of optimism. Why else would he attend Grace’s party, despite his hasty departure?
* * *
“You knew who I was?”
“Not right away. Although, Dresden is an unusual name. But the aha moment hit when you showed up at the table.”