Her front door shut with a click. Joy just stood there for a stretched minute, wondering what the hell had just happened to her.
She spent a good portion of the time she was supposed to be sleeping enumerating all the things she needed to do the following day in preparation for the premiere. How did one go about getting ready for a date with the most eligible bachelor in the country? She’d have to get a manicure and pedicure and get her hair trimmed. She’d have to dip into her savings account and buy a dress.
In the moments she wasn’t having those anxious thoughts, she was busy replaying every second she’d spent with Everett in vivid detail. What had he meant when he’d said she’d be shocked by his sexual fantasies in regard to her? What specifically had he been thinking about? Joy had had several long-term boyfriends and one or two intense sexual affairs that hadn’t lasted long. Still, none of those experiences called to mind the experience she’d had with Everett out there in her living room . . . the way he’d restrained her gently, forcing her to face her pleasure head-on.
Excitement tingled in her flesh, sending teasing tendrils all the way to her clit. She slid her fingers beneath her panties and found herself wet. Eyes clamped tight, she imagined Everett looking down at her while his cock pounded high inside of her. He was telling her to take it all—all he had to offer, all she could take . . . and then more. She was powerless, a quaking bundle of clamoring nerves and naked flesh. He was ruthless, demanding more, fucking her like he planned to start a fire with the friction of their straining bodies and was close to ignition . . . so close.
She cried out shakily as orgasm shuddered through her, a hot, delicious rush that temporarily crowded out her anxieties and uncertainties about getting involved—no matter how briefly—with a man like Everett Hughes.
* * *
She woke up with so much stiffness in her muscles, she knew she needed to add some vigorous exercise to her to-do list. Otherwise, she’d grow tense and rigid as a board from all this nervous anticipation.
After her morning jog and yoga routine, she showered and stood before the mirror, nude. She ran her hand along her chest, neck, armpits and groin area, searching for swollen lymph glands, experiencing the daily dread of what she might find, but determined nonetheless. Then she quickly, efficiently completed a breast exam. She’d been diagnosed with a type of B-cell lymphoma and was now in complete remission. She’d seen how cancer could spread, however. Her mother had been riddled with it by the time she died. That fear was what motivated her daily obsessive checking.
She was taking her vitamins when she heard her buzzer ring. It must be Seth, she thought as she hurried toward the foyer, tightening her robe around her. Her uncle had been busy with a few publicity interviews and a demonstration of his craft at a local college yesterday, but maybe he’d decided to stop by and see if she wanted to do breakfast.
“Hello?” she said into the intercom.
“Hello, Joy?” came a bright female voice. “It’s Katie Pierce. I met you yesterday at the coffee shop?”
“Oh, yes . . . hello,” Joy said, amazed. What could Everett’s sister be doing here?
“I hope I’m not stopping by too early. Rill and I are staying with a friend who lives just around the block.”
“Not at all. Come right up the stairs. I’m in number three,” Joy said, pushing the button to release the lock on the front door. A few seconds later, Katie swept into her foyer wearing shorts and a tank top, her hair in a ponytail.
“I did catch you at a bad time. You were showering. I’m sorry,” Katie said, her green eyes flickering over Joy.
“No, I don’t mind if you don’t,” Joy assured her, waving vaguely at her robe. “I went out for a jog this morning and it was already stifling outside. I would have thought that storm we had yesterday would have washed away the humidity, but it seems to have made it worse. I was drenched by the time I got home, so I hopped in the shower.” She paused, noticing the garment bag Katie was holding in one hand. Katie looked where she was staring.
“Oh . . . I brought these for you,” she said, holding up the bag. She must have noticed Joy’s dumbfounded expression. “A few dresses? For the premiere tonight? Everett called me early this morning before he went for a round of publicity interviews at the Four Seasons Hotel. He was very grouchy. He can’t stand those things. Anyway, he asked me to bring by some dresses for you. I hope one of them works.”
Embarrassment swept through her when she recalled Everett’s and her terse, charged conversation on the previous day in the coffee shop. He had taken her initial excuse for why she couldn’t attend the premiere literally. In her shock over the unlikely unfolding of events, she’d completely forgotten about his suggestion that she borrow a dress from his sister.
“I’m sorry, Katie. Everett mentioned something about borrowing a dress, but I didn’t think he was serious,” she said, flustered.
“It’s sort of hard to know when to take him seriously, isn’t it?” Katie replied airily as she glanced behind Joy into her apartment. “I’m one of the few people on the planet he can’t BS, though.”
“Is that right?” Joy asked warily.
“Bullshitting is just another word for acting, isn’t it?” Katie asked, meeting Joy’s gaze and grinning. Her brow creased as if she’d just evaluated what she’d said and found it wanting. Her smile faded and she rolled her eyes. “Oh . . . that sounded all wrong. Everett is going to kill me. I just meant brothers tend to BS their sisters as a matter of course, and sisters tend to see straight through it. So you can take it from me. He’s serious about you.” She tilted her head and studied Joy with interest.
Joy cleared her throat. “I can’t imagine why. We hardly know each other.”
“Everett’s a creature of instinct. It’s why he’s such a great actor. Most people live by reason. Everett lives by his wits, and there is a difference.” She shrugged. “I could tell he was interested in you when he talked about you last year. It doesn’t happen often, that I sense he’s interested—really interested—in a woman, so it stuck in my head. I could also tell he was disappointed when I asked him about you a few months later and he said you’d disappeared from his radar, despite the fact that he’d been sending out signals that he wanted the opposite.”
I’d disappeared into the grim, day-to-day battle of fighting cancer, Joy thought. She took a step back, disconcerted not by Katie’s frankness, but by what she’d implied. Everett had suggested he was interested in Joy to his sister, and that wasn’t his normal MO? Frankly, she didn’t know how to make sense of that.
She was reading in to Katie’s comment. That must be it.
“Please, come in. Would you like a cup of coffee?” she asked, waving Katie into her apartment.
“I’d love one. I like your place,” Katie said as she followed her.
“Thanks. It’s coming along. I’m doing a little here and there, decorating on a budget. Here . . . let me take that,” Joy said when she turned around and realized Katie still carried the garment bag.