As I watched the glittering lights of Las Vegas whip by the window of my cab, I frowned and leaned back against the plush leather seat behind me. This was the last place in the whole world I wanted to be.
And my fucking trip had barely gotten started.
Any other week, I would have found some way to wriggle out of being there, come up with a date I couldn’t get out of or a meeting that needed my presence to function, maybe. But with Dad flying out halfway across the world with wife number—what was he on, four?—I had no choice but to turn out to this stupid fucking gala. What a waste of a Friday night. I’d have to plaster a fake smile on my face in the hopes that we would land a few more investors to the company.
The company was everyone’s focus, everyone’s life. Including mine.
The flight over had been easy enough, but then again, I always made a point to fly with our private jet, so everything was just how I liked it. Considering that I had no choice but to be here, I made sure every little detail was perfect. Good scotch, comfortable seat, and no rush to bundle myself through security before I made my trip. It was long but easier with a glass of strong booze in my hand and the knowledge that I would earn a spot on my father’s good side for my troubles.
But being in Vegas, I wanted nothing more than to climb back on that jet and head home, even if it meant flying through the night to get there. Maybe it was the time difference or maybe that I didn’t get a choice in whether to come here, but I couldn’t think of much worse in the world than pulling on that tuxedo I’d had laundered and sent ahead to the hotel and acting as the face of the company for a few hours. There was a reason my father usually stepped up to work these kinds of events, and that was because I preferred drinking hard and flirting with everything that moved over playing the pulled-together businessman.
Still. Wasn’t like I had much of a choice. I had booked a room in the same hotel as the event to save myself having to make more trips than I had to, and I was looking forward to relaxing a little before I had to get ready to head out to this gala thing. My body felt all cramped up from being in the plane so long, and I was ready for a swim to work out some of the kinks in my muscles.
“Good trip, sir?” The cab driver eyed me in the mirror.
I shrugged and stretched. “Would have been better if I didn’t have to make it at all,” I replied.
He flashed me an understanding smile. “The hotel you’re staying at, I think a lot of people would be jealous.”
I fought the urge to roll my eyes. “Not if they had to do what I did to get there,” I shot back, managing a polite smile.
My father had always taught me not to be an ass to anyone who crossed my path because you never knew where they might end up. I was pretty sure I was safe when it came to talking back to a random Vegas cab driver, but the reflex was there, and it had served me well over the years. Don’t be a jerk was a good rule to live life by, especially when it came to working in business, where not being a major asshole seemed like an exception and not a rule.
He dropped me off at the hotel, and a bellboy appeared to help me with my bags. They must have recognized my name when I was making the booking because I got the royal treatment as soon as I walked through the door.
“Kristo Balaban?” A beautiful woman with a sexy smile approached me.
“The one and only.” I nodded and offered her a smile back.
“We’ve upgraded your room to a suite,” she announced smoothly, extending her hand and shaking mine before handing me a key with my room number on it. She had perfectly straightened blond hair and a suit that looked as though it was starched ten minutes before—far from my type but I was never going to say no to the attentions of a gorgeous woman like her.
“Thanks.” I nodded. “And the suit?”
“The suit you sent has been laundered and prepared for you,” she replied, coyly. “You’ll find it in your room.”
“Good. And your pool? I need a swim before I go along to the gala.”
“The pool is on our ground floor, near the elevators. I do hope you enjoy your stay here, Mr. Balaban. And if there is anything at all we can do for you, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Thank you,” I replied and took my bag from the bellboy and headed upstairs at once. Cheeky thing.
After being papered a little more, I found myself over it. It never took my long. If only I could fly under the radar when on business. That would be a fucking miracle. It was a double edged sword, but one I’d been dealing with for what felt like a long-ass time.
See if you think that tonight when the women won’t leave you alone once they find out who you are, I reminded myself as I arrived at my room to drop off my bag. I grinned. There might have been some upsides to this trip after all.
I wasn’t going to do anything, but damn, it was going to be nice to enjoy some flirtation with a few new faces for a change. Best thing was, I could pass it off as networking when I took their numbers for next time I was in town. Now that I was running the company, it was easier than ever to get away with the most bachelor of bachelor behaviors. Which was a notable upside.
I grabbed my swimming stuff and headed down to the pool, my body craving the cool water despite my exhaustion from the trip. Making my way into the locker room, I was glad to see the place was quiet enough. I guessed the hotel was nearly booked out for the gala that evening, and everyone else would be getting ready to rub elbows and schmooze their asses off. I should have been to, but I needed a minute to myself first, just to get my head in order.
When I came out into the pool area, I inhaled the scent of chlorine, let the warmth of the room coddle me, and at once started to feel better. Slipping below the water, I did a couple of laps before I noticed I wasn’t the only person in the area.
She was sitting on a lounge chair set ten feet from the edge of the pool, reclined like the model in some Renaissance work of art. She was holding a book—I couldn’t make out the title, but there was a watercolor image on the front—and sipping on a cocktail, wearing a one-piece suit that was cut low at the front to show off her generous cleavage. There was no part of her that wasn’t a curve, from the soft inward slope of her waist to her thick thighs to the way her dark hair lay in soft waves across one side of her chest.
She lifted the cocktail to her mouth and wrapped her lips around the straw, not taking her eyes off the book, and the way she chased the straw around the glass with her tongue sent a zing straight to my dick. I paused for a moment, seeing if she would notice me, but she didn’t look up from the pages. I shrugged to myself and kept on swimming, enjoying the view when I came up for air, and let my mind linger on what I would do if she did happen to look in my direction. Maybe she would be at the gala that evening. She certainly looked as though she belonged at an event like that one.
I wasn’t sure how long I was swimming there, but it was long enough that by the time I came to a halt to catch my breath on the far side of the pool, the clock told me it was only twenty minutes till the gala started, and I needed to get my ass in gear. I pulled myself up and out of the pool, heading for a quick shower, and when I looked over at the spot where that woman had been sitting, I found it empty but for the glass she had been drinking from. Man, I wouldn’t have minded buying her a drink – or two.
Getting ready as quickly as I could, I dressed in the fresh-laundered suit I’d picked out for the evening and headed downstairs to the room where the gala was taking place. By the time I arrived, the room was thronging with noise and people, the buzz of the chatter rising above the crowd and filling the enormous space. I took a deep breath and dug down deep inside to find my game face. I could do this. When I had stepped up after Dad’s retirement to take over the company, I’d known this shit was a part of the job, and I was good at it when I actually tried.
I turned when I heard someone call out my name. I found myself facing Neil Grayson, a friendly rival of my father from way back.
“Good to see you here.” He thrust his hand out to me, and I shook it and then waved down a passing waiter for a drink. If I was going to be here, then I was going to take advantage of the free booze that likely cost as much as the jewelry dripping off every woman in the place.
“Good to see you, too, Neil,” I replied coolly. Before I could stop it, I was caught up in a conversation about how business was going for him. He introduced me to a friend of his, an up-and-comer here in Vegas, and I realized tonight could actually be useful if I just kept my mind open and talked to whoever I could. Or maybe that was just the champagne loosening me up a little.
“Give me a minute.” I held my hand up to duck out of the conversation with Neil and the newcomer, my drink dry. “I’m going to grab another glass.”
When I turned, I found myself looking straight at the woman who had been at the pool earlier. There was no doubt in my mind that it was her. I would have recognized that body anywhere, even if it was now poured into a deep green velvet dress instead of a swimsuit. Her hair was pulled over to one side, the waves shiny and soft in the dim light of the room.
She spoke with someone I didn’t recognize, her face lit up and animated, a glass of champagne in her hand as she tossed her head back and burst out laughing at something they’d said. The dress was cut so low, it looked like someone had just cut a “V” out the front to show off her perfect cleavage.
I wanted to trace the lines of her with my fingers, but then I remembered where I was and what I was supposed to be doing. I reluctantly pulled my gaze away from her and back to the waiter with the champagne.
The night had just gotten a hell of a lot more interesting now. Maybe I could buy her that drink… or something gentlemanly like that.