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Authors: Elle Kennedy

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Series, #Best friend’s girl, #one-night-stand, #One Night of Scandal, #wrong side of the tracks, #Boston, #Elle Kennedy, #Brazen, #alpha hero, #opposites attract, #bad boy hero, #After Hours, #forbidden romance, #MMA hero, #sexy romance, #Entangled, #contemporary romance, #erotic romance

One Night of Scandal (3 page)

BOOK: One Night of Scandal
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“There’s only so much he can do for us.” Gage made a frustrated noise. “Shit. We’ve really gotta find this dealer before Sin gets a reputation for being a place that pushes drugs.”

“I’m working the bar tonight, so I’ll keep an eye out too.” Reed hesitated. “Have you heard from AJ?”

“No, but Skyler got a call from Darcy earlier today. Did you know AJ and Darcy broke up?”

He shifted in his chair. “Yeah. I ran into Darcy last night at the Krib, and she told me all about it. I tried calling AJ twice today, but he’s not picking up his phone.”

“I don’t blame him. Dude’s probably heartbroken.”

“You think? Darcy told me the breakup was mutual.”

Gage rolled his eyes. “Breakups are
never
mutual.”

“That’s what I said, but she insisted it was.” Reed didn’t offer any more details, afraid that the conversation would veer into dangerous territory if he did.

The last thing he wanted was for Gage to ask questions about his encounter with Darcy. So far, he’d successfully managed to mask his attraction for the woman, but he wasn’t sure he could keep up the I-Hate-Darcy charade at the moment. Not when his almost-confession to her last night had left him feeling so raw and exposed.

So he swiftly changed the subject to one he knew Gage wouldn’t be able to resist. “How’s Skyler doing?”

As expected, Gage’s expression softened at the mention of his girlfriend. “She’s great.”

Reed had to grin. “Still rocking your world every night?”

“Hey,” his friend chided, “show some respect. That’s the mother of my future children you’re talking about.”

Gage’s staunch certainty brought an ache of longing to Reed’s heart. Jeez, he was turning into such a pathetic sap. It wasn’t too long ago that he’d been perfectly content playing the field and racking up notches on his sex belt, reveling in the excitement of the chase and all the fun it resulted in.

But seeing Gage happy with Skyler, and AJ seemingly happy with Darcy, had stirred up the most fucked up need for something more meaningful than casual sex.

Except the only woman he was remotely interested in was the one woman he couldn’t have.

And even if Darcy
was
on the table, he knew she wouldn’t date him, anyway. Why would she? She thought he was a player, an opinion he’d helped shape by hooking up with a revolving door of women in the five months Darcy had been with AJ. And besides, he’d never even been in a real relationship before—what could a guy like him offer someone like Darcy?

Reed pushed aside the bleak thoughts and raised his eyebrows at Gage. “You’ve only been dating Skyler a couple months. Isn’t it a little too early to call her your forever love?”

The other man’s voice rang with conviction. “Oh, it’s forever.”

“Someone’s mighty confident of that.”

“Trust me, when you know, you know.”

Damn it. Now he needed to change the subject again. His attempt to get his friend talking about light-hearted dirty stuff had been foiled by Gage tossing back the F-word.

The
other
F-word—forever.

Fortunately, Reed’s cell phone rang before his buddy could drop more F-bombs, but the wave of relief that washed over him dried up the second he glimpsed AJ’s number on the display.

“AJ,” he told Gage, his muscles tightening right back up again.

“You can take it. I need to go round up the guys, anyway,” Gage replied. “I’ll catch you later.”

As his partner wandered out of the room, Reed raised the phone to his ear and greeted his other partner. “Hey, man, what’s up?”

“Nothing really,” came the gruff reply. “I just wanted to make sure you restocked the bar after yesterday’s rush.”

Reed searched for any false or unhappy note in AJ’s voice, but heard none. “Yes, Mom, I restocked the bar,” he grumbled.

“Good. I figured you’d forget.”

A frown surfaced. “I’m not sure if I should be insulted by how little faith you have in me.”

There was a beat, and then AJ spoke up guiltily. “Sorry, force of habit. I’m so used to staying on top of you that I keep forgetting you’ve finally got your shit together.”

This time, the remark didn’t offend him. Truth was, he hadn’t been very responsible in the past. He’d spent his younger days drinking too much, blowing off work, and thinking himself a big-time hero because he happened to fight pro. But he’d cleaned up his act three years ago, after he and his friends had pooled their winnings together to buy the club. Reed had quickly discovered that once you had a real stake in something—and a bank loan to pay back—you grew up
real
fast.

Nowadays, he spent most of his nights doing inventory and signing other people’s paychecks, and he genuinely appreciated that AJ recognized he was no longer the irresponsible, self-absorbed jerk he’d once been.

“Don’t worry, Gage and I are handling things on this end.” Reed hesitated. “You still taking the weekend off? Or are you coming in now that you and…” He trailed off, uncertain about how to proceed.

But AJ had always been able to read his mind. “Now that me and Darcy broke up, you mean?” There was a pause, followed by a tired laugh. “Let me guess—she told Skyler, and Skyler didn’t waste any time telling you and Gage.”

“Actually, ah, Darcy told me herself.” Reed battled a rush of discomfort. “I stopped by the Krib last night and ran into her there.”

He was greeted by silence.

A very long silence.

“You still there, man?”

“Yeah, I’m here.” Another pause. “Was she with another guy?”

His fingers tightened around the phone. Crap. Should he tell AJ the truth? Lying to his friends wasn’t something Reed did often—if ever—but AJ had sounded so unhappy just now that he didn’t want to make him feel worse.

And
ha
—he’d
known
the break-up wasn’t mutual. If it had been, there definitely wouldn’t be this much tension rippling over the line.

“Naah,” Reed finally said. “She was only there to dance.”

The lie burned his throat as it exited his mouth, sparking a pang of guilt.

But…was it
really
a lie? In the end, Darcy hadn’t gone home with another man, so why upset AJ when Reed had successfully managed to thwart disaster?

“That girl loves to dance,” AJ said ruefully. “I always felt like such a tool when she dragged me to all those dance clubs.”

“Are you…how are you handling it?” Reed injected a hefty dose of sympathy into his tone. “You’re not crying into your pillow and listening to Celine Dion or anything, right?”

A snort sounded in his ear. “Hardly. I’m doing fine, man. Honest. It wasn’t working, and we both knew it.”

Reed shifted in his chair, his chest tightening uneasily again. He wasn’t sure what to say next. He’d never been great at talking about his feelings, or helping others work through theirs. There weren’t many people he felt comfortable confiding in, and when he was the one serving as confidant, he couldn’t seem to vocalize all those nice, encouraging words they needed to hear.

“Well…” Reed cleared his throat. “If you ever want to talk about it…”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ll go to Gage.” AJ snickered. “Not that he’s a sparkling conversationalist either, but at least he doesn’t run out screaming when people start talking about their mushy feelings.”

Reed couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah, I kinda suck at it. But seriously, bro, I mean it. If you need to talk, I’m here.”

“Thanks, man.”

“Hey, you wanna go out for beers soon? After the weekend rush?”

“Sure. Sounds good.”

After they’d hung up, Reed leaned back in his chair, feeling like a load had been lifted off his chest. And now he was even more sure of what he needed to do.

This attraction to Darcy?

It needed to be squashed. ASAP. Sleeping with her wasn’t an option. Same went for dating. And since neither of those options was available to him, he was simply torturing himself by continuing to obsess over her. The only available course of action was to forget about her. Pretend she’d never walked into their lives.

Of course, that was easier said than done.

And, as he discovered two hours later, the plan was a thousand times more difficult to execute when the person he’d decided to avoid didn’t seem interested in doing the same.

“Reed.” The woman he’d just vowed to forget strolled right up to the bar, her expression awkward as she shouted his name over the blaring music.

He froze, his hand poised on the bottle of Jack Daniels he was about to pour. “Hey,” he called out. “What are you doing here?”

Darcy moved closer, resting both elbows on the shiny black counter. She wore skinny blue jeans and a yellow tank top that complemented both her reddish-gold hair and her vivid blue eyes, and as usual, his groin stirred at the mere sight of her.

“I wanted to talk to you,” she called back. She sounded as unenthused as he felt. “Do you have a minute?”

He glanced at the crowd of people milling at the counter, which he was working alone at the moment because Henry and Sue, two of the other bartenders, weren’t scheduled to come in for another hour. Sin wasn’t usually so busy this early in the evening, but he welcomed the aberration, since it allowed him to put off what was bound to be an uncomfortable exchange.

He didn’t know why Darcy had showed up out of the blue, but the sudden flare of determination in her eyes told him he wouldn’t like—or maybe like too much—what she’d come here to say.

“Not right now,” he said lightly. “I’ve gotta serve these folks.”

“That’s okay. I can wait.”

With a brisk nod, Darcy headed to the far end of the counter and plopped down on the last unoccupied stool.

Reed stifled a groan. Shit. Evidently she wasn’t going anywhere until she said her piece.

Swallowing hard, he tore his eyes away from her and tried to concentrate on pouring a stream of alcohol into the row of shot glasses lined up on the smooth counter. Then he pasted on a smile and turned to serve the waiting customers.

Feeling Darcy’s gaze on him the entire time.

Chapter Three

She shouldn’t have come here tonight. Nope, she should have stayed home like the smart, careful woman she was, and spent the evening finalizing her class’s reading list for the upcoming school year.

But curiosity, along with her tireless obsession with solving mysteries, just happened to be Darcy’s kryptonite.

I have to act the way I do, okay? It’s the only way for me to…

The only way to
what,
damn it? Reed’s mysterious words had kept her up half the night, even though a part of her wasn’t sure she wanted to know the rest of that sentence. She wished she could talk about it with Skyler or one of her other friends, but that would mean admitting that she’d put way too much thought into the idea that Reed Miller might be interested in her.

As she sat on her stool and fiddled with the straw poking out of her Coke, her gaze kept wandering in his direction. He was way too handsome, possessing those Black Irish good looks that formed a criminally sexy combination. Jet black hair and magnetic blue eyes, and once you threw that rock-hard body into the mix, you got one delicious looking male.

Tonight he was wearing all black again, snug pants that hugged the curve of his ass and a T-shirt that couldn’t hide the rippled muscles of his chest if it tried. His roped forearms flexed enticingly as he slid a couple of strawberry daiquiris in front of two female customers, and the crooked grin he flashed them sent a spiral of heat through Darcy’s body.

Damn it. Like the dumbass she apparently was, she’d gone and opened Pandora’s sex box, and now she couldn’t close the stupid thing. X-rated images sizzled through her mind, all of them involving Reed’s muscular body in various states of undress, which only caused a dose of guilt to join the desire coursing in her veins.

He was AJ’s best friend, for Pete’s sake. She wasn’t allowed to harbor such wicked thoughts about him.

In an attempt to distract herself, Darcy sipped her Coke and eavesdropped on the conversation of the two women beside her. They were in their early twenties, both decked out in skintight dresses and impossibly high heels. Their heads were huddled together as they spoke in raised voices over the pounding music.

Initially, Darcy thought they were discussing a phone call with a guy that one of the girls was crushing on, but after a couple of minutes, it became evident they were talking about something entirely different. The person whose call they were waiting for wasn’t a boyfriend or a crush—it was a drug dealer.

“No,” the blonde was saying, “we don’t have to go anywhere. He sells it right here at Sin.”

Darcy froze, the hairs at the back of her neck standing on edge. AJ had mentioned that a drug dealer was using the club as his headquarters, but they hadn’t figured out who it was yet.

“How did you even get his number?” the other girl asked.

“Mac gave it to me. But he warned me that this guy is totally on the down low. Everything is super hush-hush, but his stuff is good and he sells it cheap.” The young woman glanced at her phone display, then squealed. “Ooh, he just got back to me. Come on, let’s go. You have cash on you, right?”

As both girls hopped off their stools, Darcy sprang to action, lightly touching the blonde’s arm. “Excuse me.”

“Yeah?” The girl eyed her warily.

“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop—I swear, I don’t usually do that—but…Do you think I could get that phone number from you?” Darcy put on her most innocent, unassuming face.

Suspicious brown eyes peered back at her. “Why?”

She offered a sheepish smile. “I’ve been trying to score some—” she leaned in to whisper into the woman’s ear “—Ecstasy for weeks now, but my usual guy is dry.”

“Really? You don’t look like the type who, uh, uses that stuff.”

Darcy laughed. “I don’t do it often, but every now and then I feel like getting a little…
happy
, if you know what I mean.”

The two women giggled. “Oh, we definitely know what you mean,” the brunette answered.

The blonde quickly clicked a couple of buttons on her BlackBerry, then turned it around so Darcy could view the screen. “Here. Hope this helps you feel happy tonight.” She shot her a warning look. “But you’re only allowed to text him. He won’t pick up the phone if you call.”

Darcy wasted no time pulling her own phone out of her purse and punching in the phone number. Once she was done, she winked at the two girls, thanked them, and then watched them scurry off and get swallowed by the crowd.

The instant they were gone, Darcy spun around and waved her hand in an attempt to get Reed’s attention.

When he noticed her frantic movements, a slight frown marred his lips.

“Get over here!” she called.

Without an ounce of enthusiasm, he made his way over, wiping his hands on a red-and-white-checkered dishrag. “Hey, I know I’m taking a while, but I can’t leave until my relief shows up. It’s insanely busy tonight.” He looked frazzled. “Normally we don’t get a rush this big until closer to ten.”

She spoke in an urgent tone. “I think I just found your drug dealer.”

Confusion filled his eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“AJ told me there’s some guy dealing drugs at Sin. Well, I just spoke to two girls who know him.” Darcy beamed at him. “They gave me his phone number.”

He gave a sharp intake of breath. “You’re shitting me.”

“Nope. It’s right here on my phone. Should I text him?”

Reed’s expression went deadly serious. “Yeah. Do it now. Tell him you’re interested in buying a few party favors and you’ve got the cash.”

Darcy started to key in the message, then stopped and shot Reed a blank look. “How do I phrase it? What does Ecstasy even come in? Hits? Pills? Fingers, you know, like whiskey?”

A laugh burst out of his mouth. “Yes, Darcy, ask for two
fingers
of E. Makes you sound like a real pro.”

She scowled. “Excuuuuuse me for not being super knowledgeable about drugs and all the forms they come in.”

“I thought you
knew
stuff,” he said smugly.

Her scowl deepened. “Yeah, normal, everyday stuff. I’m not part of a drug cartel!” She pressed
send,
then set her phone down on the counter. “There. I kept it vague, so we should be good. Hopefully he texts me ba—”

Her iPhone buzzed before she could finish the sentence. Wow. That was one on-the-ball drug dealer. The kids in her eighth grade class could take a lesson or two from him about punctuality.

She quickly read the message, then relayed it to Reed. “He says thirty bucks for two pills—is that a reasonable price or should I try to barter with him?”

Reed rumbled with laughter again. “Tell him it’s fine.”

With a nod, Darcy sent an answering message, and just like before, a response came in right away, instructing her to go to one of the curtained-off alcoves situated throughout the club in exactly thirty minutes. She shot back a quick “KK” before grinning at Reed. “This is so exciting. I feel like a narc.”

He snickered. “You watch too many cop shows.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t watch
enough
cop shows, otherwise you’d find this as exciting as I do.”

A stern look sharpened his features. “It’s not supposed to be exciting, Darce. Drugs are serious shit.”

An annoyed shout sliced through the trance beat blasting from the DJ platform. “Yo, dude! Quit getting your mack on and bring us our beers!”

“I’ll be right back.” Looking unenthused, Reed hurried off to take care of the waiting patrons.

He didn’t end up coming back for another twenty minutes, and Darcy was thoroughly impressed as she watched him move up and down the bar with ease, filling endless orders and flashing that cocky grin to every customer, male or female. At one point, he clicked on his earpiece and muttered something she couldn’t make out, and then he was suddenly heading back to her.

He lifted up the wooden barrier that blocked off the bar area, opening his mouth to address her just as a tall, bulky man with a shaved head stalked up to them. Darcy recognized him as one of the bouncers, but she couldn’t remember his name.

“What’s up, boss?” the behemoth said brusquely.

“Jeff. Hey. You tended bar back in the day, right?”

The bouncer nodded. “Yeah…”

“Good. I need you to man the fort until Henry or Sue get here,” Reed replied. “I’ve got something I need to take care of.”

The bouncer’s dark eyes shifted from Reed to Darcy, then back to Reed. “Everything okay?”

Reed leaned in and murmured something in the other man’s ear. Darcy wasn’t certain, but she thought she heard the words “our little problem” and “keep an eye out, seven o’clock” but Reed ushered her away before she could ask him what he’d said.

“So how are we doing this?” She had to bring her lips close to his ear, and his intoxicating scent immediately grabbed hold of her senses and stole her ability to think properly. She held her breath so she wouldn’t have to breathe him in, once again reminding herself that she had no business thinking about how good he smelled. Or how yummy his ass looked in his black trousers.

“Not sure yet. We’ll just wing it.”

His cavalier response didn’t surprise her. Reed had always come off as the kind of man who didn’t put much thought behind his actions.

They traveled along the edge of the dance floor toward the other side of the cavernous room. Sin had an open-concept design—exposed beams all around the main floor, a bar spanning one side and tables lining the other walls, and a spiral staircase leading to the second-floor VIP lounge that overlooked the club. Tucked in various points of the club were little alcoves sectioned off with blood-red velvet curtains. Some of them contained plush loveseats for customers who wanted to take a breather in privacy, but according to AJ, most people ducked into those hidden nooks to fool around.

The alcove where the dealer had directed her didn’t have any furniture. It was nothing but a dark, cramped space. Standing room only, which placed her in perilously close proximity to Reed.

There were ten minutes left in their allotted thirty, but Darcy wasn’t ready to raise the subject she’d come here to discuss. Her hands had gone clammy, her pulse racing as she and Reed squeezed into the tight space. She wondered if a few of the walls in there were sound-proofed, because the music from the club sounded muffled in the alcove, making it much easier to hear each other.

“What are you going to do when he shows up?” she asked.

The flashes of light streaming in from the slight gap in the curtain highlighted the deadly expression on Reed’s face. “I don’t know yet.”

“Bullshit. You’re totally planning on roughing him up, aren’t you?”

When he shrugged, his shoulder jostled hers, and the heat of his body seared her bare skin. Her heart beat even faster.

“Maybe,” Reed said in a vague tone. “Depends on how agreeable he is.” He paused. “But if I ask you to leave, please don’t argue with me, okay?”

She wasn’t sure she liked the idea of Reed getting violent with anyone, even a lowly drug dealer, but she was discovering that arguing with Reed was about as effective as trying to teach a dog to speak French. Total waste of time.

“So…school starts soon, huh?” His expression was tinged with awkwardness, as if making small talk wasn’t his forte.

Darcy nodded. “Next week.”

“Are you looking forward to it?”

“Definitely. I already started all my prep work last week. Setting up my classroom, going over the curriculum. Plus a lot of boring meetings, but I’ve gotten pretty good at secretly playing Candy Crush while Principal Donnelly babbles on about budgets and rules of conduct.”

Reed chuckled.

“I’m dying to see my students again.” She glanced over with a smile. “I teach eighth-grade homeroom and English for grades six to eight, so a lot of my seventh graders from history last year will be in my homeroom this year. I’m excited.”

“AJ said you’re really good with kids.” His voice turned gruff. “That’s a damn good skill to have. A lot of folks don’t know how to relate to kids.”

“Oh, I love them.” She grinned. “It helps that most of the girls watch all the same shows I do. Last year we held a weekly
American Idol
discussion group after school.”

He cringed. “You’re into all that reality show crap? I’m disappointed in you, Darce.”

She was quick to voice a defensive protest. “I have a thing for Keith Urban, okay? So sue me.”

Reed’s head tipped to the side. “Keith Urban, huh? Is that your type then, Australian cowboys?”

“Naah, he’s just pretty to look at.”

He made a disapproving noise with his tongue. “Ha, and people accuse men of objectifying
women.
But you ladies are way worse, and you know it.”

“Yeah, we’re pretty terrible,” she confessed. “I can’t deny that.”

Chuckling again, Reed checked the black tactical watch strapped to his wrist. He was one of the only men she knew who still wore a watch. Most people, herself included, just checked their phones these days.

“It’s been thirty minutes,” Reed told her.

Darcy shifted her gaze to the curtain, half expecting the dealer to pop through it at that exact moment. His text replies had come so fast, she figured he’d arrive at the proposed time on the dot, but it quickly became obvious that Mr. Drugs wasn’t as reliable as she’d thought.

She and Reed chatted about nothing in particular for the next five minutes, but the dealer still hadn’t appeared. When another five minutes passed, Reed cursed under his breath.

“I don’t think he’s going to show.”

Darcy chewed on her bottom lip. “Why not?”

Rather than answer, Reed clicked his earpiece on. “Jeff,” he barked. “Is anyone heading in this direction?”

She couldn’t hear the bouncer’s reply, but whatever it was, Reed didn’t like it. He touched his ear, then glanced at Darcy and swore again. “I bet he was watching us the whole time and saw me come in here with you. He must know I own this place.”

“That’s kind of a leap. Maybe something just came up.”

“From what I’ve gleaned, he’s a sharp businessman. I don’t think he would bail on a deal.” Reed sighed. “I think this is a bust. Come on, let’s go.”

BOOK: One Night of Scandal
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