Shay couldn’t help feeling nervous and guilty as Lucas led her into the ballroom at The Carolinian Hotel. Augustan Technologies was holding another party to celebrate the construction of the new headquarters that would begin next week. She should be elated that Lucas had requested that she be his date. Hadn’t she just spent the last two weeks longing for him to return to her? Hadn’t she instinctively chosen his comfort over Jonathan’s after the fiasco at Tempest?
But that didn’t mean that she didn’t feel like shit about how she had treated Jonathan. He had kept his distance for the past two days. She hadn’t heard a word from him since that night. She had considered calling him to apologize, but she was too much of a coward. Although she should be blissfully happy to be on Lucas’ arm tonight, she couldn’t help thinking of her time with Jonathan. He had been so sweet to her, had never caused her pain as Lucas had. Her rational mind told her that she had made the wrong choice; she had rejected the nice guy. But her irrational gut told her that she hadn’t really had a choice. Even when she had been with Jonathan, Lucas had never left her thoughts, her heart. Even now, her body was telling her that she had chosen well. Her skin tingled where Lucas’ hand touched her bare arm, making it difficult to keep her focus on her tangled thoughts.
She was going to have to force herself to focus, to gather her courage. Jonathan would certainly be here tonight, and she had to be ready to face him. Would the passion between them still be there, tempting her? She would prefer that he was angry at her, pushing her away rather than having to face the prospect of harboring lingering feelings for him.
“Are you alright? You seem tense.” Her attention turned to Lucas as he spoke to her softly, concern lacing his tone. She was caught up in his sincere green gaze. She didn’t want to lie to him, but the last thing she wanted was to tell him about her feelings towards Jonathan. Not when she had just won him back.
“I’m just a bit nervous,” she hedged. There, that would have to do. She had learned better than to lie to Lucas; he could always tell when she was lying to him. He frowned down at her, sensing her reticence, but mercifully he said nothing, allowing her to guard her secret.
After a moment, his frown gave way to a small smile. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go do a bit of networking.” His eyes darkened with lust. “The sooner we get this over with the sooner we can get to… other things.” He rubbed the pad of his thumb against her skin, and she shivered slightly at the contact. “You look beautiful tonight, Shay.”
She dropped her eyes, blushing. “Thank you,” she murmured. It still amazed her that he thought of her in that way. Just a few weeks ago, she would have considered him way out of league, but for some reason he was just as drawn to her as she was to him. And she wasn’t about to question it lest she jeopardize it.
She allowed Lucas to steer her towards a knot of sharply dressed men and women, straightening her shoulders and preparing to enter the fray. She knew she was doing well, and it didn’t hurt that Lucas kept turning the conversation in her direction. Doors were definitely being opened for her tonight, and she was thrilled at the prospect of further advancing her career through managing to snag this contract. She was confidently asserting herself, and the men and women around her were listening attentively. But then her throat seized up, cutting off her speech; Jonathan had just entered the room.
“Shay?” Lucas asked, prompting her to rejoin the conversation. But she couldn’t. Not now that guilt and dread were pooling in her belly. She glanced toward him, her eyes apologetic.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Please excuse me.” Lucas’ expression tightened ever so slightly, and she was such a coward that she could no longer bear to meet his eyes. She turned on her heel and separated herself from the group, barely noticing the rumble of conversation that resumed behind her.
Her first instinct was to run; she wasn’t ready to face Jonathan. But he was blocking the elevators, so there was no escape that way. She could go out on the balcony, but she would only be trapped there.
Stop being ridiculous! What was she going to do, hide out there for the rest of the evening? Steeling herself, she began to walk toward him. But then his eyes swept the room, stopping when they landed on her. She froze, all of her forced confidence leaving her. She couldn’t do this, couldn’t face him. But she was trapped in his unreadable blue gaze, unable to move away as he approached her. He stopped just short of entering her personal space, and she was grateful for that. The last thing she wanted was to piss Lucas off by seeming to flirt with Jonathan. It was time for her to set things right, to apologize. No matter how awkward it would be.
But doing so was going to be even more difficult than she had anticipated. She couldn’t help the little tremor that ran through her as she gazed up at him. Anger filled her as she recognized it as desire. Why did her body have to betray her? Why had she let herself get into this mess in the first place?
“Hello, Shay,” he said softly. His voice seemed to caress her name, and heat flared in her loins.
“Jonathan,” she said quickly, wanting to get this over with and escape from him. “I’m sorry-”
He held up a hand, stopping her. “You don’t have to apologize, Shay. I never should have put you in that situation.” Shay’s jaw dropped. Now he was apologizing to her? God, could the guy be any nicer? It only made her feel shittier for rejecting him.
“I’m perfectly happy to resume our professional relationship,” he continued. “We are going to be working together for some time, and I wouldn’t want you to feel at all uncomfortable.” His expression was earnest, his eyes sincere. Shay could hardly believe it.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “I’d like that.”
“Have a drink with me?” He asked.
“Sure,” she said. It would be beyond rude to decline after how courteous he had just been. Jonathan flagged down a waitress and handed Shay a glass of champagne.
“To a fresh start,” he toasted her. She clinked her glass against his politely. She tipped her head back, taking a longer draw of the drink than was strictly necessary. The bubbles fizzed pleasantly down her throat, this particular vintage sweeter than she was accustomed to.
“Shall we rejoin the group?” He asked.
Shay nodded and was relieved when he let her walk on her own rather than taking her by the arm. But her stomach dropped when she saw the tightness of Lucas’ expression as they approached together: the lines around his eyes and the thinness of his mouth. She avoided his gaze as they joined the circle of people, but she couldn’t ignore the uncomfortable tension that seemed to trap her between the two Dominant men on either side of her. Trying to fight her anxiety, she gulped down her champagne much faster than was wise. In minutes, her glass was empty, and a woman came to take it from her. She offered Shay another drink, but she declined; she was already feeling lightheaded.
The conversation seemed to be getting away from her. Caught in the palpable tension rolling off of Jonathan and Lucas, she couldn’t seem to focus on anything. She was getting warm, but not in a good way. A light sheen of sweat broke out on her brow as her anxiety rose. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. She was so hot; she needed air. Excusing herself from the group, she made her way out to the balcony.She gave a sigh of relief as she breathed in the fresh air, but the balmy breeze wasn’t enough to cool her heated skin. She was starting to feel dizzy, her anxiety getting the better of her. Within moments, her back was against the wall as she sought its support, the rough bricks lightly scraping her skin. Closing her eyes, she drew in several deep breaths, trying to stop the spinning in her head.