Sylvie kept staring at Connor. He knew she was there, but refused to make eye contact. Her heart sank when she’d first seen him. He was with the Victoria’s Secret model again. Sylvie thought the purpose of this whole exercise was to not give the killer another target. Wasn’t that why they continued on with this stupid charade? If he’d started seeing this woman, and this was his second date with her, maybe more, wasn’t he putting her in danger?
The party, a benefit for an international refugee relief fund, was a zoo. People were crammed in like sardines. She was thinking that a lot of the attendees must be diplomats by the way they were dressed. Many of the African representatives were wearing brightly-colored native costumes, with small, pill-box type hats. Several Arab-looking males were in long, white, traditional robes; their heads covered with either red and white checked or plain white scarves, held in place by a circle of black chord that resembled a halo. A couple of men she thought might be from Pakistan or Afghanistan were wearing turbans, baggy pants, and loose-fitting, hi-necked, knee-length tunics. Everyone was surprisingly friendly. She’d actually talked to a number of people tonight. Must be the dress, or maybe the hair, but she’d been propositioned several times already! It was just like being back at the restaurant, only the guys trying to get in her pants here weren’t drunk.
‘Well, I must say Sylvie girl, you clean up real nice.’
The voice had come from behind her. She spun around and saw her carrot-topped nemesis, Sean Noth. Guess she was wrong about not knowing anyone here.
‘You look surprisingly lovely tonight. I almost didn’t recognize you.’ He looked her up and down. It reminded her of the way farmers checked out the cows they were buying. ‘New hairdo?’ It’s very flattering. And that dress,’ he said, smiling and nodding, ‘is the perfect color for your skin.’
‘Hello Sean,’ she said grimly. Be the bigger person, she told herself. Be polite, thank him for the complement, even though he’s a sleazy snake. ‘Thank you,’ she said primly.
‘How is it that you keep turning up at these events? I can’t imagine this is your kind of crowd.’ He smirked, waiting for her response.
Daggers were shooting from her eyes, but she didn’t respond.
‘What are you his social secretary now? You find out where he’s going to be and have yourself added to the guest list? Honestly Sylvie, I don’t know why you bother. He’s moved on. Don’t you think it’s time you did too?’
She could feel her fury rising. Since when did treating her like shit become his job? She wanted to tell him he didn’t know squat, but a voice inside told her to let it go. What was she going to say, that he was wrong, that they were still together? No, she couldn’t say that; especially since she had serious doubts that it was true.
He shook his head in displeasure. ‘Connor told me you were stubborn, but I had no idea just how stubborn. Don’t give up do you? That’s an admirable trait if you have a chance of getting what you want. But you strike me as a smart girl Sylvie. Part of being smart is knowing when to throw in the towel.’ He grabbed her roughly by the upper arm. ‘Come on, let’s dance.’
‘I don’t want to dance,’ she glared at him.
‘Yes you do!’ He dragged her out onto the crowded floor.
Her only choice was to cause a ruckus or knuckle under. Before she could decide what to do he pulled her into his arms and began to waltz her around the floor. ‘Now see, isn’t this pleasant?’ he asked, not expecting an answer. He was smiling at her resistance. She was stiff as a board in his arms. ‘Just for the record…whatever happened to your fiancé.’
‘My fiancé? I don’t have…’
‘Now don’t tell me you can’t remember. You introduced us. It was back in September…does that ring a bell? You were dancing down Park Ave. and he was bringing up the rear. That fiancé. Honestly Sylvie, I’m beginning to think you’re fickle. Love them and leave them, is that you’re motto?’
Sylvie averted her eyes. If he was trying to humiliate her, it was working.
‘I take it the engagement is over? I’m glad to hear it. Those one-day, whirlwind romances never work out.’ He grabbed her by the waist and pulled her up against his body.
Startled, she tried to push back away from the erection that was pressing into her. She looked up at him, her eyes showing panic. ‘Please let me go,’ she whispered through clenched teeth. She tried to wriggle away but that only made her rub against him more.
‘God, will you stop wiggling and settle down? You act as though you’d never had a…’ he stopped and stared down at her.
Her face was crimson and she looked as though she were about to faint.
He puffed out a breath, more in resignation than anger, and put some distance between the two of them. He was beginning to understand. You haven’t been with many men before have you?’ He waited but she didn’t answer. ‘Have you?’ he repeated.
She shook her head no.
‘I forgot that you were a little farm girl from the sticks. I guess boys where you come from don’t act this way. What are they, eunuchs? At any rate, this is the ‘Big Apple’ Sylvie. Things are done differently here.’
She stopped moving and stared at him angrily.
‘Keep dancing Sylvie. You don’t want to cause a scene now do you? You know I think I finally have a handle on what’s going on here. I’ve got to be honest with you Sylvie; I never understood why Connor was so smitten with you. He can have any number of beautiful women, like the one he’s got his arm around now,’ he tossed off the line, drawing her attention to where Connor appeared to be hugging his date. ‘But I’m beginning to get what he saw in you. The question is what did you see in him: money, position, power? Whatever it was; it’s over. You need to get on with your life.’
She looked away. Not wanting him to see the pain in her eyes.
‘How old are you Sylvie? You look like a kid. I’m thinking you’re maybe 22 or 23.’
‘I’ll be 26 in two weeks.’
‘That may be, but I’m guessing from your behavior that you’ve been with no more than five men in your entire life, if even that. You don’t seem to know your way around an erection.’ He was grinning down at her. She looked away. ‘I’m right aren’t I? What was it, four?’ No reaction. ‘Three then?’ Still no reaction. ‘Two? Are you kidding me? Only two?’
Her face was so red it looked as though she’d been scalded. ‘It’s none of your damn business,’ she spat out, trying to jerk away. But he was 6’1” or 6′ 2′ and 190 pounds of muscle. There was no way she could get away.
‘Hmmm. You know, the more I think about it, the more I suspect you haven’t been around the block at all, so I’m going to go with one. That’s why you can’t let it go. Where have you been living all these years? In a cave? That’s unheard of in this day and age. Was it based on your religious convictions or something?’
Sylvie didn’t respond. But if looks could kill…he’d be dead.
‘I’d like to discuss this further, but I have to leave in a few minutes. I’ve got a jet waiting at the airport. I just stopped by to put in an appearance. Another old classmate of mine from Collegiate is one of this year’s honorees. He’s been involved in digging wells, providing medical care, and constructing shelters in refugee camps in Chad for people fleeing Darfur. He’s a good guy. I’m going to London tonight and then on to Saudi Arabia on business. I won’t be back until mid-December. But I’ll call you as soon as I return. We’ll reconnect then and you and I will enjoy the first of many intimate dinners together.’
Was this douche bag serious? ‘What makes you think I’d go out with you or even give you my number for that matter?’ she challenged.
‘You don’t need to give me your number. I already have it.’
‘You do not!’ she sneered at him.
‘I most assuredly do. Most of Park Ave. probably has your number. You were certainly screaming it loud enough. And as for you not going out with me. I expected you to say no at first. That’s your nature. You’re obstinate. But I’m sure once you’ve given it some thought, you’ll change your mind. I may be blunt and abrasive at times, but you’ll always know where you stand with me. I’m not the kind of man to leave you dangling on a string. If and when it’s over I’ll at least have the balls and good manners to tell you.’
Sylvie glared at him. What an arrogant…
‘I’m not as good looking as the rest of my compadres, the red hair, freckles and all, but you’ll discover I’m a damn sight more honest. You’ll get used to me. I’m considered quite a catch. You should be flattered by my attention. You’re not exactly my type. However, I’m willing to make an exception. I’d like to take you out and see where this goes. So where shall we go on our first date?
‘I am not going out with you Sean. Hell will freeze over first!’
‘I doubt that very much. You’ll go. You’ll go because you’re not a fool. This is a golden opportunity for you. I’m rich. I’m successful. I’m handsome. What’s not to like? A chance like this might not come your way again. You’re smart enough to know that and will act accordingly. I’ll pick the place then. Somewhere quiet and intimate and…’ He looked over his shoulder and grinned. ‘Justin, you old dog. How goes it?’
Sylvie turned her head to see who it was he was talking to. Standing at the edge of the dance floor raising his glass to them was a devastatingly handsome, dark-haired man. His brown hair was longish and curled at the nape of his neck. His lips were full and perfectly shaped. And he had the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. Was this the former classmate? What was it with the prep school they went to? It appears there was some unwritten rule that they didn’t graduate anyone who wasn’t at least 6 feet tall, rich, well-built, and studly. It was like they used a cookie cutter. The music ended and Sean hurried over to him, dragging her along behind him. He was holding her arm in a vice-like grip as though worried she’d bolt. The men greeted each other enthusiastically.
After a moment or two Justin’s attention turned to her. ‘Aren’t you going to introduce me to this lovely lady?’
Before Sean could say anything, another man appeared behind Justin.
Sylvie blinked. She thought she was seeing double. He was the spitting image of the first man only his skin was deeply tanned and his dark brown hair was streaked with reddish-blond highlights from being out in the sun.
‘Jason! Congratulations! I’m proud to know you man!’ He let go of Sylvie’s arm and gave the newcomer a man-hug.
‘Thanks for coming. I thought you were going to be away.’
‘I’m flying out tonight. But I didn’t want to miss this. You deserve the recognition. I can’t believe it. You were always such a hell-raiser in high school. Who knew you’d turn out to be such a mensch? I always thought you’d either grow up to be a greedy, cold-hearted corporate raider or a cold-blooded serial killer! I had no idea you’d become a humanitarian.’ They all laughed.
Sylvie blanched. Justin and Jason? Prep school chums? It couldn’t be!
‘Will you stop kissing my brother’s ass? His ego doesn’t need any more stroking. It’s too big already. Enough of that. Introduce me to the girl already,’ Justin demanded.
‘Don’t you ever give it a rest?’ Sean scowled at him. ‘Very well. Sylvie Jenkins, this is Justin Frommer; and this is his brother Jason.’
‘Very nice to meet you!’ They said almost simultaneously.
Jason rushed passed his brother, putting out his hand and taking hers. ‘We haven’t met before have we?’ He asked. ‘I’m sure I would have remembered if we had.’
‘No, I don’t believe we have.’ She politely shook his hand, but when she tried to pull it away, he wouldn’t let it go. It was warm, but the feel of his skin sent icy shivers up her spine. Sylvie was standing face-to-face with two of the suspects in the murder investigation. And Sean had just said he thought one of them would grow up to be a serial killer! Had he been joking? Or was he serious? Sylvie turned to where she’d last seen Connor. He wasn’t there anymore. She was surprised he’d chosen to attend the function in light of who one of the guests of honor was.
Justin shoved his brother out of the way and grabbed her hand. ‘Did you two just meet?’ Justin asked, looking her up and down.
‘No,’ Sean replied, glowering at him. ‘We met last July.’
‘At a party? If so, I’ve been going to the wrong parties.’
‘You’re a friend of Connor Hudson’s?’ Justin asked, while Jason proceeded to give her the once-over.
‘I work for Mr. Hudson,’ she responded.
‘You work for him at the publishing house?’
‘She an editor,’ Sean cut him off. ‘You can back off now boys. I saw her first. Remember that. No way I’m going to let you jump my claim!’ He reminded them.
Jump my claim? What the hell was he talking about?
‘So you’re here to honor your boss then?’
‘Honor my boss?’ she asked in surprise.
‘He’s a fellow honoree.’ Justin didn’t say it, but she was sure he was thinking…duh!
‘Oh yes,’ she smiled weakly.
Sean bent down to whisper in her ear, ‘The next time you decide to crash a benefit, at least read the damn invitation or pick up a copy of the program. I thought you knew.’
She was blushing. She’d been so worried about getting the dress and how she was going to look, that she didn’t give a thought to where she was going or why. That was stupid!
‘Don’t you have a plane to catch?’ Justin needled. ‘You’ll be leaving Miss Jenkins in good hands I assure you. Won’t he Jason?’
‘Miss Jenkins has better taste than that.’ Before she could push him away, Sean put a protective yet possessive arm around her shoulder.
‘Well look who’s here. The man of the hour himself,’ Justin said, as he reached out to shake someone’s hand.
Sylvie turned. Connor was standing right behind her!
Everyone started talking at once. Jason and Connor congratulated each other. Then they all began reminiscing about their time together at school. And how shocked some of their teachers would be to see them now. How they’d gone from being teenage hooligans to pillars of society.
Sylvie stood quietly listening, watching the interaction between the four men. Connor was smiling, but his eyes were like ice. Except for Sean’s red hair, they could have been brothers. They all had the same build, were nearly the same height, and all betrayed a snide, cocky attitude; the kind of arrogance that comes from having everything they wanted in life handed to them on a silver platter. Must be nice!
Sylvie felt someone pulling at the little clutch purse in her hand.
Sean was tugging at it. She tried to keep hold of it, but he pulled it free. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a card then opened her purse and slipped it inside. ‘I’ve really got to go. I’ve got a car waiting. I’ll call you as soon as I get back.’
She shook her head and started to say no, but he brought his lips down on hers, silencing her. Sylvie was too shocked to do anything. When he pulled back she just stared at him dumbfounded.
‘Again, congratulations guys. Connor.’ Sean nodded goodbye to his friend, a smug grin plastered on his face. ‘Jason.’ He gave the man’s back a hearty slap. ‘Justin.’ He grabbed his hand and briskly shook it. ‘Good seeing you all again.’
‘Safe journey,’ Connor responded, but his words were cold and tinged with anger.
‘Bye Sylvie,’ he said as he walked away from them, a self-satisfied, almost malevolent smile curling his lips.
‘Care to dance Sylvie?’ Jason asked, pulling her out onto the dance floor before she could say no. When the song was done. She looked around for Connor but he’d disappeared again.
Next it was Justin’s turn to twirl her around the floor. Then Jason again, followed once more by his brother. She tried to excuse herself, telling them her feet were hurting, her back was aching, and that she felt dizzy because the air was stale and the room was stifling. But the Frommer twins were not deterred.
She finally begged off, telling them she had to go to the ladies room. She hid out in there for a half hour, hoping they would take up with someone else in her absence. She sneaked out of the bathroom, and looking both ways to make sure they weren’t around, began searching the room for Connor. Sylvie really needed to talk to him, needed to know what was going on with him…with them. Had he moved on the way Sean had said? Was their relationship really over? Or was Sean just trying to hurt and humiliate her? Up until now that had been Sean’s modus operandi. He had a mean streak. He’d been okay tonight, nice even, but she suspected it was all an act. What would he want with her? Except to maybe screw her and throw it in Connor’s face. Then again, Connor didn’t seem to care. She thought about Bethany, Caris, and Deidre. Maybe she’d judged them too harshly. Sylvie suspected this was how they’d come to join the bimbo brigade? Hurt and despondent after being thrown over by one of the cronies, they were sweet-talked and bedded by another. Then another and another until the women had been used by everyone. Was that what Sean had in mind for her? She was hoping to see Connor after the party. But, since he was doing everything he could to ignore her, she’d just have to confront him: ask him where their relationship was headed and if she’d be seeing him tonight. She was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, but his behavior was making it difficult.
She’d been looking for him for nearly an hour when she heard the microphone come alive. They were about to make the presentations. The room quickly quieted. Everyone was focused on the far end of the room. She couldn’t see a thing so she slowly wormed her way through the crowd until she reached the raised platform where the 20 or so honorees were standing. There was Connor. He saw her at the front of the crowd, but quickly turned away. He refused to even look at her. He did, however, nod to the blond model he’d been canoodling with all evening. Sylvie’s heart sank. What was the matter with him? Why was he acting this way? One by one the honorees came forward as the head of the relief agency acknowledged their support and presented each of them with a framed certificate of appreciation. They all said a few words as they received their award and then it was over.
Sylvie was standing right in front of him, blocking his way, when he stepped off the platform. ‘I need to have a word with you Connor.’
The blond gave Sylvie a dirty look. ‘A friend of yours Connor?’ she asked, turning up her nose. ‘You should introduce us. I remember her from one of the other parties, but I never caught her name.’
‘Her name is Sylvie. She’s my editorial assistant.’
‘Oh, she works for you,’ she said blithely, feeling she had nothing to fear from an employee. ‘How nice.’
‘I really need to speak to you.’
‘Can’t it wait?
‘No it can’t,’ she informed him, her jaw tightening.
Connor sighed then grimaced. ‘I don’t think this is either the time or the place.’
‘There’s something important I need to speak to you about…in private.’
The girl frowned at Sylvie.
‘Why don’t you go get us a drink? I’ll just be a minute.’
Feeling put out, and visibly pouting, she spun on her heels and headed toward the nearest waiter.
‘What’s so important that it can’t wait? That you have to interrupt my evening,’ he demanded, glaring at her.
His words stung. Sylvie took a deep breath, ‘I need to know if you’re coming tonight Connor.’
‘Why? You’re not going anywhere,’ he told her, almost spitefully.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ she asked, looking at him with growing sadness in her eyes. ‘Why are you behaving this way?’
‘Why? Because I’m sick to death of your nagging and your demands, that’s why. I’ll get there when I get there.’
‘Then you’re coming?’ she asked hopefully.
‘We’ll see,’ he responded coldly. ‘All I want is for you to do your job. Do you understand? Just do your damn job. I don’t need this crap from you.’ He turned and stormed off.
Sylvie headed toward the door. She had to get out of here. Her world was crashing down around her. But she was intercepted by the Frommers. First Jason grabbed her, forcing his card into her hand, ‘Just in case things don’t work out with Sean.’ He bent her ear for 20 minutes telling her he didn’t usually fish in a friend’s pond, but he was making an exception in her case. Back in the day, they used to poach each other’s girls, he told her. It had been great fun at first, seeing who could steal what girl from who; but it led to a lot of hard feelings among the guys. Friendships were fractured. There were threats and fights. Eventually they’d all agreed not to do it anymore. But that was then, this was now. He wasn’t concerned about ruffling Sean’s feathers. She was worth it he told her.
When she finally managed to get away from him she was accosted by the other brother Justin. He also gave her his number and demanded hers. She didn’t want to give it to him, but it was obvious he wasn’t going to let her leave until she did. Sylvie thought about giving him her work number, but knew Connor would be furious. She finally gave him her cell number, then kicked herself…she should have been more devious. She could probably have gotten away with making a number up. He wouldn’t have known the difference.
Between one thing and another he managed to keep talking for nearly an hour, telling her about himself, his brother, family, business, the refugee camps he helped sponsor. She kept trying to interrupt, but the man was determined to tell her everything about himself. The next thing she knew the music had stopped and people were heading toward the exits. By the time he let her go, it was well after midnight. She was shocked when he kissed her goodnight. It wasn’t passionate or anything, at least not on her end. He apparently enjoyed it though. He tried to come back for seconds. Justin seemed like a nice guy; except he could be a serial killer. For that matter, so could his brother. Or maybe they were in it together? Connor said he didn’t think the brothers were involved in the murders, but she wasn’t ruling out any of his high school chums. There was something about them that made her uneasy. Every single one of the guys he’d gone to school with was slightly off somehow. Go out with one of them? Not in this lifetime!
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