For more than three years Jayla Anderson lusted for Josh Andrews but he's been content to keep her at arm’s length and she has no idea why. Jayla’s friends adore her, the party planning business is booming and all her secrets have remained hidden but it just isn’t enough. A drunken kiss changes everything between them—or does it?
I am not a prude, Jayla Anderson told herself as she stepped out of her walk-in closet and tossed a dress on the unmade bed. Apparently telling herself and doing something about it remained two distinctly different things. Jayla pondered this a bit as she shimmied into her clothes and searched for the right shoes.
She glanced in the bathroom mirror and pushed her dark blonde hair behind an ear. The highlights framed her face perfectly and showed off her dark green eyes. Putting her best foot forward was like second nature to her, so to speak—she would always be a wallflower compared to her friends, but she needed to try her best because she could never go back to the way things were before.
Jayla pouted and swept gloss across her lips before heading out to meet Veronica and Madeline for a late Saturday afternoon lunch. The shopping trip planned for afterwards would hopefully yield a cute outfit. The three were going to a huge art premiere tonight, and Jayla was nervous about looking her best. The three swapped clothes when they fit, shoes when they didn’t and stories at every turn.
“Hey there,” Jayla said as she walked up to the café table where Veronica and Madeline were seated. It was a gorgeous summer day in Chicago; sunny and breezy with temperatures hinting at eighty. She was glad they had snagged a spot on the patio where they could people watch. It was fun to see the vibes different people put off; some in a huge hurry, others distracted by phones. The tourists were easy to spot by their wide-eyed stares and gaping appreciation for the frenetic energy the city pulsed.
“You look amazing, girlie,” Veronica purred. “Love the dress.” Jayla loved getting compliments from Veronica, a personal shopper with killer instincts when it came to style.
Jayla tugged at the hem of the skimpy, hot pink sundress that hugged every curve on her five foot, seven inch frame. She had decided to be daring and wear the strappy bone-colored heels that made her look even taller. A few years ago an article she read in a fashion magazine mentioned when people added height it made them look thinner. Wasn’t that the goal of every woman?
“Thank you. The two of you look beautiful as well.”
Veronica smiled and added a smoldering look that could stop traffic. It always amazed Jayla that even though Veronica was the shortest of the three, she never lacked for male attention and relished it. The girl probably never suffered through an awkward phase for a day in her life and she exuded confidence.
Jayla looked at Madeline, who was the tallest and also the most athletic—there wasn’t a sport she didn’t play. Jayla appreciated that Madeline allowed Jayla and Veronica to see the feminine side most people missed. Male teammates saw her as one of the guys, but Jayla and Veronica were fully aware that Madeline longed for a husband and kids.
As the waiter came by to take their order, he did a double take, almost stumbling on his dropped jaw. Jayla noticed her friends got that reaction a lot.
“So, what can I get you ladies?” the waiter asked in a way that suggested they could get him to do pretty much anything.
Veronica unleashed a look that could only be described as predatory. “I’d like a chicken turnover, without onions or chives.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he stammered with a southern accent and blushed, the color contrasting with his shock of blond hair.
“I’d also love a glass of wine. White is best with chicken, don’t you think?”
The poor guy was hardly old enough to drink and was probably stuck with cheap beer at a frat house somewhere. He must have choked on his tongue because he only nodded before turning his attention to Madeline. She tossed her long auburn hair over her shoulder in a careless way and looked at him directly.
“Lasagna and red wine, please.”
Jayla smiled at the waiter. She had seen several men fall at her friend’s feet and always felt a bit of compassion for their apparent weakness. He seemed relieved to get to her, probably felt she was the safest of the three.
“Side salad and water, please.”
“What dressing, beautiful?” he blushed again at the slip. So did Jayla.
“None, thank you.”
He shrugged his shoulders but walked away.
“He can’t keep his eyes off you, Jayla,” Veronica laughed after he dropped off their drinks.
“It isn’t me,” Jayla protested, “Guys are always falling all over the two of you.”
Veronica turned her attention across the table. “Isn’t Jay adorable, Maddie?” she oozed in an overtly condescending tone. “Of course, why would any guy notice your all-American good looks, that stunning rack, or your killer body, and immediately go stupid? It wasn’t as if the guy was calling me beautiful. Jayla, you do realize that you are attractive, right?”
“You have to say that, you’re my friend.”
“You know I don’t say anything I don’t mean.” Veronica trained her hazel eyes on Jayla, daring another protest, clearly offended by the accusation of duplicity. “All those hot guys you’ve dated aren’t enough of a clue?”
Since she was currently single, Jayla was ready to move the conversation on, and ran her fingers along her glass, letting the condensation wet the tips. Obviously she didn’t have the same level of confidence Veronica did.
Veronica swept her pixie-cut brown hair from her face and shifted her attention to Madeline. “I’d love to hear how last night went. You were pretty chummy with Lucas at Paragon. I’m fairly certain you can’t be a wingman if you aren’t actually helping me get men.”
Madeline smiled shyly. “Oh, I’m equally certain you don’t need any help in that department.”
Veronica smirked, “Are you and Lucas dating again? I didn’t realize he was back in the country.”
“We’ve decided it was worth it to see where this goes. It is a bit hard when he’s overseas on shoots, but I can’t say I’ve met anyone that makes me think a better alternative exists.”
Jayla smirked as Veronica continued her questions. “Are you holding out on details?”
Jayla exchanged a sympathetic look with Madeline. Veronica wouldn’t give up till she dished; their friend was relentless that way. It was clear, considering Veronica had no shame or filter, that personal information was being sought.
“No, not holding out. We went to his place in Wrigleyville. The sex was good and I’m supposed to call him tonight when I leave the party.” She shrugged and smiled at the waiter as he placed the lasagna in front of her, making the poor guy nearly drop the plate.
“That’s it?” exclaimed Veronica. “I expected more details.”
“Oh, leave her be, Roni. She can save some of the details for herself. It appears she really likes Lucas so we should let it go. Don’t you have a story to tell us? I’m pretty sure I saw you with that lawyer—what’s his name again? Phillip?”
“You know very well his name is Franklin.” Veronica announced, exasperatedly stabbing a fork into the upper crust of her turnover.
“The point is, you are pressing Madeline for details and not giving any of your own.”
Veronica shifted in her chair with a giddy bounce. “Well, the sex was better than good,” she related, shooting a look at Madeline that held amusement instead of malice. “That man can do things with his tongue that blow my mind. We started off at the club, as you know, but he grabbed a bottle of wine and we took a walk along the shoreline. He carried my shoes, held my hand, and it was sweet.” She flipped her hand in the air. “Honestly, it was almost a bit too sweet, so I took charge. I shoved him against one of the lifeguard towers and kissed him. When he was completely breathless, I whispered in his ear that we should take our walk to somewhere private.”
“Oh my goodness, you didn’t,” Madeline interrupted, clearly shocked, though this type of story was far from unusual.
“I certainly did, I was out to get laid. I did not wear a $900 knockout red dress to take a walk along the beach. Anyway, he didn’t seem to mind the change in venue or the way I rocked his world in the cab on the way to his place.”
Jayla couldn’t contain her curiosity. “What did you do in the cab?”
“Well, you know, the usual,” her shoulders pulling up in a cute shrug. “Don’t give me that look, Jayla, you know what I’m talking about. I started with walking my fingers up his pant leg, then I hiked my skirt, leaving nothing to his imagination, and then I sucked on his each of his fingers in turn. You know, the usual. It seemed to do the trick because he was hardly able control himself in the elevator. Hell, I’m not even sure we shut the door of his apartment once we made it inside.”
“Wow, Veronica,” cringed a bewildered Madeline. Jayla shook her head slowly and stabbed another piece of lettuce with her fork.
“Jayla, I can’t believe how well you stick to your diets. I never see you eat carbs, fat or anything. Is there a secret? Please don’t tell me willpower,” Veronica teased.
Jayla shook her head, not ready or able to discuss food choices with Veronica who seemed to eat whatever she wanted and never gained an ounce.
“What about you, Jayla? Meet anyone interesting?” asked Madeline, trying to switch directions.
“Kyle was there, but that ship has sailed. Oh, and do you remember Alec? He brought over a drink and we chatted for a bit. He is supposed to call me when he returns from Singapore next week, but I’m not sure I’m interested in dating him. I was actually hoping to see Josh. Sad, I know, but no luck.” Maybe it was wrong to hold out hope for the hot guy she had met at a party three years before, but she couldn’t seem to help herself.
“So you went home alone?” Veronica asked incredulously.
“Yes, I went home alone and don’t act so surprised. I don’t have to invite someone into my bed every time I go out.” Eager to change the subject she added, “Let’s talk about tonight. Are either of you bringing a date?”
“Well, I would have asked Lucas, but he’ll be at the Calvin Klein party instead. He actually asked me to come with him, but Michael would have a fit if I missed the premiere, considering I signed the artist.”
Generally Madeline’s boss gave her free reign given how successful she had been in elevating the status of Jamison Galleries to one of the trendiest in the city. Madeline was right, she did need to attend tonight, no matter what. Her friend had an amazing eye for artistic talent that helped her know precisely how to create interest. Hopefully this event would give Maddie the acclaim she so richly deserved.
Veronica swallowed her last bite. “You don’t need to bring him. What if you meet someone better? He is hot, but you said the sex was only good.”
“Is that all that matters to you, Veronica? Maddie’s feelings are what’s important here.” Jayla laughed. “You are so predictable. Does this mean Franklin will be escorting you?”
“No,” Veronica said, seemingly shocked by the thought. “The sex with Franklin was nice, but I don’t think he’s my type. I’ll call him after if I can’t find anyone else to hook up with.”
“It is so good to see romance isn’t dead,” Jayla said sarcastically, tossing her napkin at Veronica. “I’m curious though, why not your type?”
“Oh please, it is no big deal. Quit pretending you are such a good girl, missy. I know for a fact there has been a one night stand or two in your past.” Veronica threw the napkin back. “Besides, Franklin is looking for happily ever after and I’m just trying to have fun.”
No one knew Jayla was still a virgin, and it was a fact that would be changed before anyone could find out. She was not adverse to hot sex and definitely wasn’t saving herself for marriage, but was still firmly on the sidelines. All prior temptations met with a stop sign soon after things got a little too hot and heavy.
When the subject of sex came up, Jayla acted coy with her girlfriends. She told them everything, except this. Well, that wasn’t exactly true, there was another secret she hoped no one would ever learn, a secret she didn’t plan on sharing with anyone. A cross-country move several years ago ensured the skeletons in her closet stayed there.
“We are fast approaching our late twenties,” Jayla pronounced with a playful wink to mask her internal monologue, “and we might be at the point in our life when we get a bit serious about who we date. I don’t think Franklin is that far from your type. Maybe you should give him a legitimate chance. You may find that happily ever after with someone who can blow your mind and stimulate it at the same time isn’t all bad. “
“I’m not sure he fits that bill,” Veronica shrugged, but it seemed there was so much more not being said.
“So, how many are coming tonight?” Jayla asked Madeline, trying to lighten the mood as they paid their tab.
“Michael is expecting two hundred,” Madeline said of her boss. “We have some exciting people attending; very high profile.”
“I bought Michael and Denice both some great new pieces to wear tonight. I love that they are such great clients.”
“Good for us too,” Madeline teased, pushing Veronica with her elbow, “since that’s how we met.” A chance meeting five years ago had thrust them together and they had been closer than sisters ever since. Jayla grew up an only child and these friends were the family that she’d never had.
Jayla loved to hear her friend’s banter, appreciated further now since it kept her from asking if he would be there tonight. Somehow it was better not to know.