Larissa stood outside the restaurant and took a deep breath. Well, it couldn't go as badly as last night, could it? Susan had assured her not an hour ago that her date was going to be here, that he really was a model, and that he was drop-dead gorgeous.
Of course, that had been after spending the morning apologizing for what her husband had done and assuring Larissa that she would try to set up two more dates later this week.
Larissa had told her not to do anything of the sort. She'd enjoyed her time with Jeffrey and had told Susan as much. He'd been polite, fun, and a fount of local information. It had been a great introduction to her time in Kansas City, and she wouldn't trade it for anything. She didn't need two more dates to make her vacation fun. It was already that.
She'd been forced to tell her about the stranger in the dress shop as well. Susan had been full of questions. Questions Larissa didn't have the answers to. And things she wasn't about to tell Susan. Things like: she would much prefer to be meeting him tonight rather than this unknown model.
And that he was definitely the kind of man she would willingly let herself get into trouble with. Him, and maybe a brother. Or maybe the hunk from yesterday outside the restaurant.
She shook her head. Damn her overactive hormones. It had been one of Larissa's fantasies for years to be involved in a ménage à trois. Creating a full-on triad was something she'd never even dared dream about. After all, what were the odds she would find one man who would take her forever, never mind two?
But between being here because of Michelle's stories, which all ended with established triads, and her meeting two of the sexiest men she'd ever seen, Larissa's mind was in the gutter and her libido was in high gear.
She'd taken a nap earlier this evening, and it had been filled with hot, wet dreams about a pair of sexy men making love to her all day. She'd woken up so excited and turned on, she'd masturbated without the help of a vibrator for the first time in years.
So now here she was. Hot, horny, and frustrated. Wearing yet another sexy little outfit that Susan had convinced her to buy earlier today.
It was an asymmetrical design, draping over one shoulder while leaving the other bare. The one sleeve stopped midway down her right biceps and fell in graceful ripples, mirrored by the handkerchief calf-length hem of the dress. Her shoes had four-inch spike heels, making her feel almost tall. The deep green of the dress reminded her of an expensive emerald. All in all, she felt pretty damn impressive tonight.
“Ms. Myles! Glad to see you again. Your date tonight is definitely yummy. I have to admit I'm jealous of you. What I wouldn't give to have a date with a couple of cover models from romances. This one is a dream come true.”
Larissa smiled in agreement. The hostess was right; it should be a dream come true. And despite the mix-ups with her dates, she was having a great time. Now if only this date was the man she saw yesterday evening, it would be perfect.
The young woman moved into the restaurant, and once again Larissa followed her, scanning the patrons and staff alike.
She saw many of the same staff from the night before, as well as guests who looked familiar. When her gaze found the only single man in the room, she knew he had to be her date. Both the hostess and Susan had definitely been right when they called this one gorgeous. Blond and well-built, he was obviously tall, even sitting down. He fit the physical description she had come to expect from Michelle in her books to a tee. But all similarity to the well-liked weres in her stories ended there.
This man had a cold, hard face and looked to be in a foul mood. Not possible. She couldn't have date karma that bad, could she?
When the hostess stopped at the table, Larissa's fears skyrocketed at the new look on her date's face. His scathing glance of disapproval couldn't be mistaken for anything else.
“Ms. Myles.” He nodded, not bothering to stand up.
“Yes, I am. And you would be?”
“Philip Prentiss.” The man preened. He honest to God preened. This was going to be a long night.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Prentiss.” Larissa plastered a smile on her face and told herself it might not be as bad as she thought. She pulled out her chair to sit, and before she was even seated, her date had called the waiter and started to order.
“I will have a salad with a grilled chicken breast, dry, no dressing. Make sure the chicken is cooked through, but don't put it on the salad until it has cooled sufficiently, I want the greens to be fresh, not wilted from the heat of the meat. Sprinkle some fresh lemon juice on the chicken, and I mean fresh, none of that bottled crap. And only a sprinkle.”
Larissa watched the man as he continued to make his demands, coming across as a bigger asshole than her last boyfriend was. And she'd thought that was impossible. The looks of disgust he gave her over his menu sent her pulse racing. Her hands started to shake with the adrenaline that flooded her body as it prepared to run away or deal with the horrible night she knew was coming.
“And the lady will have the same.”
“No, the lady will not have the same.” Larissa turned to look at the waiter with a smile. “The lady will have the six-ounce petite sirloin with a baked potato—just butter, please. The dinner salad that comes with it is fine, and well, I guess you can put a diet French dressing on that if you have it; if not, then a red French will do. I'm not too picky.”
She remembered the waiter's name was Andy. He had been her waiter every night since she'd arrived, and she had been pleased with his service. His smile assured her that tonight would be no different. After all, unlike her date, she wasn't a difficult patron.
“Well, I can't say I'm surprised, but I hoped for better.” Larissa took a deep breath and fought the nausea that tried to work its way into her stomach. She'd learned to accept her size a long time ago, but people like Prentiss never made it easy.
She pursed her lips. “I'm sorry to disappoint you, but not every woman feels the need to starve herself just to fit into the accepted parameters of society.”
Prentiss sneered. “And you're happy with yourself like…like that?” He gestured to her body with his free hand.
What about some people made them feel as though they had the right, the obligation, it seemed, to criticize those who weren't in perfect physical form? So what if she was plus-sized? She was happy the way she was. It wasn't anyone's damn business, and if they didn't like it, then they had the option of not looking at her. She tried not to make value judgments based on appearances, and the times she had, she kept them to herself. Nothing gave this asshole the right to be her judge, jury, and executioner. And she was damned if she was going to let him get the better of her. “Actually, in fact, I am. I eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, I get the protein my body needs, and I get to eat some extras. I get enough exercise that I'm not going to die tomorrow, but I still live a healthy and full life.”
“And you'll be alone the rest of your life. Is that what you want?”
Larissa couldn't help herself. She laughed. Not a nice polite little laugh, but a full-blown belly laugh that carried across the dining room. “Mr. Prentiss, you sound exactly like my mother. Thank you for that. Up until this moment I thought I'd have to sit through this dinner politely and chalk it up to experience. But now, I have no qualms in telling you what I am about to say.
“First of all, I know nothing about you, but I can already tell you're a pompous, arrogant ass. Anyone stupid enough to choose to spend time with you is either as self-centered as you are or dumb enough to get what they deserve.
“Now, as this is my vacation, I am going to set the rules for the night. You have two choices. Either get out of your seat and leave now before I'm forced to call Susan and tell her how rude and inconsiderate you are, or sit there and shut up. If I have to listen to one more word out of your mouth, I will make sure that Canid Publishing knows exactly how you treated me.”
Prentiss opened and shut his mouth like a fish as he debated her options. She hoped he'd pick the first option. Pretty though he may be, she was afraid if she was forced to eat dinner opposite him, she'd end up with indigestion.
“How dare you tell me I'm not entitled to my opinion.”
“Oh, you're entitled to it, but you are not entitled to blab it to the nearest person. And if you had even a modicum of manners, I am sure you would know that. Now why you thought I would sit here and take it, I have no idea. Perhaps someone mentioned I was an easygoing sort. And they would have been right. But I draw the line at rudeness. And in fact, I've changed my mind. If you don't leave, I will.”
Larissa grabbed the napkin that had been on her lap and folded it carefully, placing it on the table in front of her before pushing her chair away. “I am sorry for you, Mr. Prentiss. I hope someday you grow up.”
She stood and turned to walk away. She expected her legs to be shaky, but she'd never felt more confident in her life as she left her “Dream Date Number Two” behind her. Less than halfway to the door, however, Andy intercepted her.
“Yes?” She turned, smiling, actually in a good mood.
“I am sorry. I overheard some of that. Would you like us to ask the gentleman”—his face crinkled at the word—“to leave?”
“No. Don't worry about it. I can order dinner from my room. He can eat alone.”
“Please, don't do that. Perhaps you would be willing to take a table on the balcony? It's quiet out there and, despite the weather report, absolutely beautiful.”
Larissa thought about it for a moment before nodding. “Yes, thank you. Actually that sounds perfect.”
The waiter escorted her out to an empty balcony and gave her the choice of where to sit. She chose a seat in the shadows near the railing, where she could see the grounds and the nearly full moon.
The night was cool and crisp with a slight tang to the air, reminding her of an autumn night despite it being springtime. It made her almost wish for a shawl, but she was unwilling to move from her spot, finding it soothing and worth the slight chill.
“How can it be that you are sitting out here alone in the dark?”
The voice ran down her spine, his breath brushing across the back of her neck. Her nipples perked up in response. His lips were inches from her ear, and the heat of his body warmed hers thoroughly.
The voice was deeper, richer than that of her stranger from earlier in the day, but it was still familiar. Her body continued to heat as she forced herself to respond.
“Better to be alone than with distasteful company.” She couldn't bring herself to turn her head, to look at the man who had her body reacting with just a few words. Instead, she inhaled his scent. Masculine. That's all she could think of. Sandalwood, forests, wildness. He smelled absolutely wild and untamed. And absolutely delectable.
But her body wouldn't listen. The tingle of excitement, of not knowing, was stronger than the need to find out who was behind her turning her bones to mush and her nipples to pebbles.
“Tragic that such a beauty should be saddled with an unsatisfactory dinner companion. Perhaps I might act as a substitute?”
“I don't know. Would it be worth my while?” A thrill ran through her body as she realized what she was doing. She didn't normally flirt with people she knew, and here she was flirting with a complete stranger. One she hadn't even seen yet.
“I will strive to make the rest of your evening extremely enjoyable.” His response turned her on more than those simple words had any right to. He had done nothing but whisper in her ear, and already her panties were soaked with desire. She gave a slow nod.
She felt him straighten and move into her line of sight. Once she saw who it was, she sucked in a breath in amazement. Adonis from yesterday. The man who had whispered “later” laden with such sexual energy that she'd practically been ready to chase after him.
“My name is Jared Morrison,” he said as he sat down. He didn't extend a hand, but that was okay with Larissa; she didn't think she'd be able to shake it, given the condition she was in. If they actually touched, she might just jump over the table and ask him to spend the night fucking her brains out.
He was even more gorgeous than she remembered. He wore a dark suit that was tailored to his body and a white shirt that brought out the dark tone of his skin. In the dim light she couldn't see the color of his eyes, but she thought she remembered them as a deep brown and capable of staring straight through her.
“Well, Ms. Myles, would you care to share why your evening has been so unsatisfactory up until now?”
Larissa smiled. She couldn't help it. She wasn't sure if this man was normally this formal or if he was trying to be very good for her, but either way she found it absolutely irresistible. “No, not really. Let's just say that not everyone knows proper manners.”
“Did someone insult you?” His face darkened.
“Let's just say my date was less than polite.”
“I agree. Which is why I asked him to leave.”
“And I see he did.”
Larissa shook her head. “Actually, no. I left. I figured he wasn't worth the effort of convincing him to forgo the date, so I left the table. Andy, the waiter, gave me this table out here. One that I prefer, to be honest.”
“Well, I have to say I'm pleased. It will make our time together much more private.”
“And will we need privacy to eat dinner?”
Despite the dim light, Larissa would have sworn she saw his eyes glitter with some unknown emotion.
“I guess that depends how much we enjoy ourselves.”