Read Blown away Online

Authors: Cheryl Douglas

Blown away (page 3)

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“Your mind issomewhere else today,” Lena said, observing her carefully. “I canalways tell when you’re distracted.”

Ava knew betterthan to try to hide the truth from Lena. She always managed to pryit out of her. “A guy I used to know contacted me earlier. It justkind of caught me off guard, I guess.”

“Anyone Iknow?” Lena curled up in one of the oversized armchairs in heroffice.

Ava claimed thechair beside her. “I knew him back in college. His younger brotherwas in some of my classes.”

“Huh, so whydid he contact you?”

“I have noidea. I haven’t even thought about him in years.” That wasn’tentirely true. She’d spent the years since she returned fromGermany fearing she may run into him at a party and have to explainwhy she left town so quickly.

“But he’sobviously thought about you or he wouldn’t have reached out.”

Ava shrugged,wishing they could talk about something else, anything else. “Iguess.”

“Is hecute?”

Ava nearlyspewed her mouthful of coffee. “Uh, I don’t know if that’s the wordI’d use to describe him.”

“Okay, nowyou’ve really got me curious,” Lena laughed. “What’s his name? Whatdoes he do?”

“Um…” Therewasn’t a person in Tennessee who hadn’t heard the name BrentArmstrong, and Ava didn’t want to fuel Lena’s curiosity.

“Why are youbeing so secretive? That’s not like you.”

Great, she’doffended Lena. “His name is Brent--” she surrendered when Lenaraised an eyebrow “--Armstrong.”

“Shut up!” Lenaset her coffee down on the table at her elbow. “NottheBrent Armstrong?”

“That’shim.”

“Oh my God,that man is gorgeous. And rich, filthy, filthy rich.”

Ava laughed andslapped Lena’s knee. “Behave. Since when did that matter?”

“It doesn’t,”Lena said, grinning, “but it sure doesn’t hurt his chances.”

“He doesn’thave a chance.” Ava took a sip of her coffee. Coming to theboutique when she was still reeling from Brent’s email was a badidea.

“Why not?”

“He… I…” Avacouldn’t explain without telling Lena the nature of theirrelationship. If she found out Brent was the man who’d taken Ava’svirginity, there’s no telling how she might react.

“You know I’mnot letting you off the hook without telling me the wholestory.”

Sighing, Avadecided to accept her fate with grace. “Fine. We kind of went outonce, right before I moved to Germany.”

“He didn’t haveanything to do with you leaving, did he?”

“No.” Thatwasn’t entirely true. She’d been accepted to several schools inEurope, but she hadn’t intended to attend any of them until sheslept with Brent. She didn’t relish the idea of living in the samecity as him, especially when she found out the lengths he’d gone tojust to find her. A private investigator. Thinking about how intenthe’d been on locating her still gave her chills.

“Are yousure?”

“Things got alittle complicated.”

“How so?”

Ava wasn’t aninexperienced teenager anymore. She shouldn’t feel so awkwardtalking to Lena about her sex life. “We slept together.” At Lena’sstunned expression, Ava offered, “He was my first.”

“Oh, wow.That’s intense.”

“Yeah, it was.He was intense.”

“What do youmean?”

“Afterward, hecalled me repeatedly, emailed me, and tried to get mutual friendsto reach out to me for him.” Ava wasn’t sure if she should revealthe last part. “When that didn’t work, he hired a privateinvestigator to track me down.”

“Hedidn’t!”

Ava nodded. “Hedid.”

“How do youknow?”

“Tara and I gotscared when we saw this guy following us, so we pointed out the guyto a cop. He started questioning him and found out Brent had hiredthe guy to find out where I was.”

“But you neverheard from Brent again after that?”

“We hopped onthe next plane. No way was I going to stick around with that guywatching our every move.”

“I can’tbelieve this,” Lena said quietly. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know.By the time I came home, it didn’t seem important anymore. I knewhe’d forgotten all about me. He hadn’t tried to contact me sincethe police apprehended his friend.”

Lena looked atAva out of the corner of her eye. “From everything I’ve heard, he’sruthless if you try to cross him, but I’ve never heard anythingabout him being unbalanced.”

“No, I’m notafraid of him or anything. I’d just rather not cross paths with himif I can help it.”

“I’m surprisedyou’ve been able to avoid it. You and he are both on the A-list forparties and fundraisers in the city.”

“Let’s just sayI’ve been selective about which parties I attend. If he’s rumoredto be on the guest list, I send my regrets.”

“So I take ithe won’t be at tonight’s bash for the children’s hospital?”

“No, a friendis planning it and she emailed me the guest list. He’s definitelynot going to be there.”

ChapterTwo

Brent walked into theballroom that evening in a foul mood. Ava hadn’t responded to hisemail, and he wanted to know why. Why was she still trying to avoidhim?

“You’re quiettonight,” Leslie said, tugging on his arm. She looked stunning in acouture gown. She was a socialite whose mission in life was to landa rich husband. She’d set her sights on Brent and decided he wasthe one, despite the fact he told her repeatedly he wasn’tinterested in a serious relationship.

“I just have alot on my mind.” He didn’t have a lot on his mind. He had one thingon his mind: Ava Cooper. Everything else, including the hostiletakeover he’d been plotting for years, had been relegated to theback of his mind. He finally had the opportunity to get the answersshe’d denied him ten years ago. Brent hated losing, and he couldn’tshake the feeling he’d lost Ava before she’d given him the chanceto prove they have something special.

Leslie accepteda glass of champagne from a passing waiter. “Nice party, isn’tit?”

“I suppose.”Brent attended a hundred of those events every year, and each onewas no better or worse than the next. If he had his way, he wouldhave written a check and called it a night. Unfortunately, hecouldn’t pass up the face time with Nashville’s elite, and hisconscience told him he couldn’t stand Leslie up, no matter how muchhe wanted to.

“Don’t be sogrumpy,” she said, pressing her fake breasts into his forearm.“We’re going to have fun. I promise.”

He wasn’tinterested. Short of spelling it out, he didn’t know how toconvince her they would never consummate their pseudo-relationship.He’d figure out how to let her down gently on the way home, so shecould move on to her next conquest.

“I don’tbelieve it,” he whispered, his eyes fixed on the entrance.

“That’s AvaCooper,” Leslie said. “Do you know her?”

“Yeah.”

“Hmm.” Lesliepursed her Botox-injected lips. “She dated my ex-boyfriend. Rumorwas he was crazy about her. I don’t know why she’s holding out. Shecouldn’t have done any better. Parker’s a real catch.”

Brent knewParker well. He couldn’t earn the right to woman like Ava on hisbest day. “How long ago were they together?”

“I don’t know.”Leslie looked bored. If she wasn’t the subject of conversation, shewasn’t interested. “Sometime last year. After I dumped him.”

“If he was sucha great catch, why’d you dump him?”

Brent watchedAva work the crowd like a born socialite. She was obviouslycomfortable fraternizing with the blue bloods who’d made him feellike an outcast until he made his first hundred million. Afterthat, they were only too happy to call him a friend. He resentedthe lot of them, but the right connections were the lifeblood ofhis business, so he drank scotch and smoked cigars with them,smiled when they told a joke, and paid his dues at the countryclub.

“Parker was tooself-centered,” Leslie said, her eyes narrowing as Brent trackedAva’s movements.

If Lesliewasn’t careful, her glass house would shatter around her. He’dnever met a more self-centered woman. “Nobody’s perfect,” hemuttered.

“Ava doesn’t gofor guys like you,” Leslie blurted.

“Excuse me?”Brent asked, tearing his attention from Ava long enough to glanceat his date.

“She likes niceguys, like Parker.”

Parker Kleinwas his rich father’s doormat. Brent had no respect for him or hisold man. Brent couldn’t keep himself from looking back at Ava. Shelooked even more beautiful than he remembered. She wore a stunningblack and white evening gown and her long blond hair was upswept inan elegant twist. Her makeup highlighted the cobalt eyes that stillmade his heart falter, even from across the room.

The Ava he’dknown was a young and innocent college girl just finding her placein the world, testing her boundaries, and developing herself-esteem. But the woman before him was confident and sexier thanany mirage of the girl she used to be. She held her own withbusiness moguls and social climbers with practised ease, but shedid it without looking fake or pretentious. She was genuine, andthat was a rare quality in those circles. He watched her talk andlaugh with dozens of people, treating each one as though they werethe most important person in the room. He wanted her attentionfixed on him.

“That guy she’swith,” Brent said, raising his crystal highball to his lips. “Youknow him?”

“No, and Idon’t care to.” Leslie didn’t like sharing Brent’s time orattention. She’d made that abundantly clear whenever someoneapproached to talk business. “Can we sit down now? My feet arekilling me.”

“I’m notsurprised.” Her shoes were at least five inches high. Between thetight dress and the shoes, she walked like a penguin. Unlike Ava,who pulled off her glamour effortlessly. “If you’ll excuse me, mybrother just walked in. I need to have a word with him. Why don’tyou find our table? I’ll be right there.”

She wasn’thappy, but she toddled off with a pout on her face. Brent couldcare less about making small talk with his brother. Ava was histarget. He walked up to her group and caught her off guard when hesettled a hand on the small of her bare back.

She sucked inan audible breath when she saw him. “Brent.”

“Hello, Ava.”He nodded to the other members of the group.

“Brent, good tosee you,” the vice president of his bank said, offering his hand.“Nice to see you out supporting this cause tonight.”

Ava shot him aquick glance before looking away. “I’m surprised to see youhere.”

He suddenlyrealized she’d been purposefully avoiding him all these years. Butwhy? “I’m Leslie’s plus one tonight,” he said, smiling. “I sent myregrets when they sent my invitation because I was supposed to beout of town. Turns out my plans fell through and I was able to makeit after all.”

“Lucky us,” Avasaid, low enough so only Brent could hear.

Brent bit hislower lip, trying to suppress his smile. He was glad the refinementhadn’t stripped her of the feistiness he’d loved so much. “Ifyou’ll excuse us, Ava and I haven’t seen each other since college.I’d like to steal her away for a few minutes so we can catch upbefore the evening gets underway.” He didn’t give her a chance toobject. He tightened his grip on her waist and turned her away fromthe group.

“Where are wegoing?” she asked through clenched teeth when he steered heroutside.

“I need abreath of fresh air,” he said, inclining his head toward a group ofmen.

“Are you askingme if I’d like to go with you or telling me?” she asked, smilingsweetly at a little old lady who sat on the board of the charitythey were honoring.

“What do youthink?”

“I think youhave a hell of a lot of nerve cornering me. I didn’t respond toyour email because I’m not interested in talking to you. Can’t youtake a hint?”

Brent wasn’tused to fighting for a woman’s attention. He was surprised itturned him on in a big way. “Would I be where I am if I took no foran answer, sweetheart?”

“Am I supposedto be impressed because you’re a big shot now?” She smiled at thevalet tipping his hat. “Because I’m not.”

He led her to asecluded bench amidst a floral profusion and waterfall where he’dattended a wedding or two over the years. “I’m not asking you to beimpressed, but I think I deserve some answers.”

“I’m here witha date tonight.” She scowled when he pointed to the bench. “Did itever occur to you how he might feel seeing his date take off tospend time with you?”

“Why shouldit?” He folded his arms, pinning her with the stare that madepowerful business men squirm in their seats. It didn’t work withher. She simply lifted her chin and gave it right back.Damnher. She was throwing him off his game. “If he knows you atall, he’d know that taking off on unsuspecting men is yourspecialty.”

“It was ameaningless one-night stand. I didn’t owe you anything!”

He grabbed herupper arms and hauled her body against his. Her mask ofindifference slipped, and he saw something familiar flare to lifein her eyes: arousal. “It meant something to me.” He fixated on herlips, intent on making her guess what he might do next. “You meantsomething to me.”

She seemed tobe having trouble drawing breath when she said, “I never promisedyou anything.”

“Yes, you did.”He leaned in to whisper in her ear. His lower lip grazed herearlobe, and she sucked in a breath. “Don’t you remember? When youwere coming apart in my arms, begging me to make you come over andover again?” His plan to remind her was backfiring and making himrecall every detail of a night he couldn’t forget.

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