Game On
Author:Wylie Snow

chapter 3

“SO HE FIRED YOU?” CLARA tipped champagne into her mouth, hoping that the alcohol would somehow make Lydia’s story less bewildering. Some former Miss America with a minor in journalism and a cosmetics contract had convinced Kingsley Bartel that Lydia wasn’t needed in her fashion department, but had the nerve to expect Lydia to share her contacts at Prada, Chabot, and the likes.

“Not technically, no. He did offer me the job as Valentina’s assistant,” Lydia replied and popped a crab puff into her mouth.

“Bugger. I hope you told him to get stuffed.”

Lydia swallowed, dabbed the corner of her mouth with a napkin and said, “My exact reply was, I am Lydia Fucking Truelove. I assist no one. And then I quit.”

“Oh Lyds, I’m so sorry. Do you at least have your needles with you?”

“No, damn it. Didn’t think I’d need them this trip. I’ll have to handle my stress the good old-fashioned way,” she said with a laugh, and held her empty glass up for a passing waiter to fill.

“So what will you do?”

“In the interest of not burning any more bridges than necessary, I told Mr. Bartel that I’d take Miss Congeniality as far as Milan. After that, she, like me, is on her own.”

“That’s awfully good of you, Lyds. You’re clearly more mature than I could have been.”

“Mature? Darling, don’t you know me at all?” Lydia said with a moue. “I’m going to drop her off in the hands of the master of Italian fashion.”

“Antonio Ferralusco?” Clara asked in respectful disbelief.

Lydia smirked.

“But he’ll eat her alive!”

“One can hope.”

“Oh Miss Truelove, you do know how to use your powers for evil.”

Clara would have envied Lydia for her cool attitude if her friend’s trembling hands hadn’t given her away. Lydia’s world had just been rocked, but she, as always, was a master of composure.

Clara, by contrast, was a mess. Her stomach was in knots over her morning meeting. She’d no doubt come to the same end and wished Charlie had just fired them all in England instead of dragging them across an ocean for an international execution.

“Miss Bean, as much as I hate to change the subject, I do believe we’re being ogled,” Lydia said as she chose another canapé from an offered tray.

“Oh, do tell, Miss Truelove,” Clara replied, giving her head a little shake at the waiter. If she had a high-speed metabolism like Lydia, she’d have gladly inhaled the entire plate of spanakopita puffs. Alas, she had to stop after two or she’d be borrowing clothes from Charlie.

“They’re standing by the bar but, for heaven’s sake, don’t look over,” she warned, stopping Clara in mid swivel. “They might take it as an invitation. Let them get their testosterone jacked up first. It’s always more amusing when they swagger.”

Clara loved this game like she loved flu shots. Lydia always got the attention of the savvy international businessman while Clara inevitably attracted the balding comic book enthusiast with back hair, so there was no hiding her sarcasm when she asked, “Anything to make my lady business tingle?”

“They’re not bad, actually.”

It took quite a lot to reach Not Bad on The Lydia Scale, but Clara had to take into consideration her friend’s current state of vulnerability, not to mention the four refills of her champagne flute, so she’d have to have a look for herself.

“Oh bloody hell, Clara, don’t you dare turn around. One of them is practically undressing you with his eyes.”

“Is he an overweight, hirsute man in a fishnet shirt? Because I’m not travelling that road again.”

“Eww, no,” Lydia said, horrified. “But do tell.”

Clara gulped her drink for recall courage. “Portugal. His name was Rodrigo. I was going through a needy stage.”

Lydia winced and turned her face away. “Stop please.”

Two more waiters swept by, one with champagne, the other with smoked salmon on toast points. Clara held her glass to Pato—it was oh, so important to know the name of one’s beverage server—for a libation top up but shook her head at the food. Lydia eagerly helped herself.

“Don’t think I’m up to this tonight, Lyds. I simply can’t imagine trying to play nicey-nice with the locals while my stomach is still in a twist over Biscuit and this pending unemployment situation.”

“That’s where we differ, darling. I can’t think of better remedy to life’s woes than a rollicking good orgasm.” Lydia popped the second canapé into her mouth without getting a crumb stuck to her lipstick.

“That’s your remedy for everything.”

“Because it works, darling. Now be a good sport, drink more bubbly, and let’s have some fun.”

Clara gave a little shrug and downed her champers. It was the good stuff, not the eau de catpiss Charlie served every year at the holiday party. Pato, in his smart white short-coat and shiny gold nametag, reappeared before the chill of the last swallow left her throat.

“How do you do that, Pato?” Clara asked, peering into the bottom of her glass. “Is there a sensor at the bottom of this thing?”

Pato winked and poured.

“Still not feeling this, Lyds. You know my policy on chastity in the workplace.”

“Scott completely ruined you,” Lydia said, referring to the disastrous office romance that left Clara skittish about mixing business with pleasure. “Bloody wanker,” she mumbled.

“He was that.” Clara had been ready to declare her undying love to the political analyst when she arrived at the office late one night to find him inflagranti dilicto with the paper’s fact checker. Lesson learned.

“But as you’ll be unemployed by elevenses tomorrow, it really doesn’t qualify, does it?”

Clara sighed, thinking she could indeed have her mid-morning cup of tea over the employment ads. “Can you at least describe the potential candidates?”

“Both tall, one’s roguish looking, dressed entirely in black with a surly look about him, the other’s a blond god.”

“You’d better have your eye on the surly funeral director,” Clara warned. She had no tolerance for men who sheathed themselves from head to toe in black. It showed a distinct lack of imagination, so unless there was a specific dress-code in effect, she generally avoided them.

“That would have been my natural choice, but he seems to only have eyes for you.”

“How can you tell? You’re not even looking.”

“I’ve superior peripheral vision.”

“Your talents are endless, Miss Truelove.”

“You haven’t seen half of them, Miss Bean.”

“No doubt.”

“Laugh and give your head a toss.”

“Are you joking?” Clara asked at the odd request.

“Just do it.”

Clara pretended her friend said something amusing and feigned a giggle. She didn’t know how to toss her head without looking ridiculous so she tucked her hair behind her ear instead.

“I think you just gave the poor man a hard-on.”

“Oh Lydia, stop being dramatic,” Clara laughed for real. “Aside from being angry, does my funeral director at least have a nice face?”

“Nice everything, actually. He’s sporty by the breadth of his shoulders, and I didn’t say angry, I said surly. There’s a difference.”

“Not much,” Clara argued. “What about the other?”

“Oh la! He’s mine. That’s all you need to know.”

“Lyds, please. I cannot do this tonight, especially with a churlish Man In Black. I’m positively knackered and all I want to do is go back to the hotel and curl up in bed for the next ten hours. My current emotional state is so tender, Bartel will have a bawling baby on his hands when he fires me tomorrow, and I truly want to stomp out of his office with some decorum.”

It only took one look, one glance into the eyes of her friend, to see that she was barely hanging on. The world witnessed the loss of Lydia’s dignity a decade ago, and she’d spent the interim years building her self-esteem and credibility back up, just to have it poked at again by Bartel and the pageant winner who most likely earned her position via the bedroom. Clara couldn’t abandon her now.

“All right, then,” Clara conceded. She would, at the very least, ensure that Lydia was in good company before making her own excuses to flee to her hotel room. “What’s the plan?”

“Foursome?” Lydia smirked.

“I should think not. Our last go at group sex didn’t really work out, did it?”

“That’s because you’re a prude, Miss Bean.”

“Well we all can’t be tramps, Miss Truelove.”

“All’s the pity. But you could have at least tried—”

“Never mind,” Clara said, putting her hand up. She certainly didn’t want to rehash that awkward night. “What else can we do? They would already know we’re British journalists, so we can’t play Swedish-air-hostesses-on-layover or German rocket scientists. Guess we shall just be ourselves.”

Lydia shrugged. “No bloody fun in that.”

“Too right.”

“Trollops and virgins?”

“Don’t be droll,” Clara said. “Might as well be ourselves.”

“Then let’s both be trollops.”

Clara, realizing she’d just been played, considered the options for a moment before narrowing her eyes. “Well, as you’ve already been fired and me and my dead dog will be out of a job by approximately eight-oh-five tomorrow morning, we may as well let loose and enjoy our last night in America.”

“Trollops it is!” Lydia beamed and clinked the rim of her glass against Clara’s.

“So we just saunter over and slip them our hotel keys?”

“Good heavens, darling. Have I taught you nothing?” Lydia reprimanded. “Just because we’ve agreed to be desperate whores, doesn’t mean we’ll act like desperate whores.”

“Honestly, what was I thinking?”

“They’ll come to us,” Lydia said with confidence.

“Can I at least look? What if I decide they’re not my cuppa?” Not that it made a difference. Clara would play along to appease Lydia, but she was quite determined to escape at the first opportunity. The plush duvet on the massive king bed in her room was calling, pleading for her return.

Lydia elbowed her. “Quick, look now while they’re distracted, no doubt by some silly plan to get into our knickers.”

On the pretence of looking for a waiter to top up her glass, Clara turned ever so slightly and scanned the bar area for their prey. She meant to steal a glance, do a quick top to bottom look-see, but the moment her eyes landed on the funeral director, the world stopped turning.

“How to get them alone,” Sutter said, staring into his scotch as if it were a magic eight ball. “Are you sure we can’t just walk over and introduce ourselves?”

“Not unless you want to meet the parents.”


“Look at the way the Head Weeble is hovering around them. He’s been sending the waiters over with food, making sure their drinks are topped up. If we make an approach, you can be damn sure he’ll butt in.”

“His name is Charlie Holmes. I was introduced to him when I came in.”

“You’ve already met the father? And you didn’t think to mention?”

Sutter shrugged. “Didn’t think it was mentionable.”

“You know, Sutter, I often wonder why you aren’t married. Now I’m wondering if you’ve ever even dated.”

“Fuck off, frogman. I’m single because I’m not the marrying kind. And I get enough dates to keep my Roman Catholic cleaning lady in a perpetual state of Rosary clutch.”

“Sure. Sure. Now introduce me to daddy. He’ll do the rest.”

“Earth to Clara. Are you still there, Miss Bean?”

Clara could hear Lydia’s voice somewhere far off in the distance but was too busy trying to catch her breath to respond. Describing him as sporty was a bit like saying a fish was wet. He was very tall, probably six foot three or four, with broad shoulders that tapered to a narrow waist. And Lydia’s “Not Bad” was probably the understatement of the decade. His dark, tousled hair had just enough wave to make it run-your-fingers-through sexy without crossing the line to cute-curly. His jaw hadn’t seen a razor today, but even through the shadow of stubble, Clara could see it was hard and angled enough to keep him from looking too pretty. She wished she could read lips, if only to eavesdrop on what that beautifully formed mouth was saying to his friend.

As for the funeral wear, she could definitely overlook black duds when they were draped across a powerful physique. His limbs appeared long and lean, and from the look of his bare forearms and neck, his muscles were well defined. His body was well taken care of, honed like a fine machine. Never in her twenty-seven years had she ever so badly wanted a man to turn around so she could catch sight of his ass. If every rational brain cell in her head weren’t distractingly consumed with lust, she’d be positively ashamed of herself.

“Bloody hell, Clara. They’re supposed to be ogling us, not the other way around.”

“But Lyds, he’s beautiful.”

Clara felt a sharp elbow graze her ribs. “Were your optic nerves severed in that accident or is that the drink talking? Fiendishly sexy, perhaps. Beautiful, definitely not.”

“Just because he isn’t one of your runway model, androgynistic man-boys doesn’t mean he can’t be beautiful.”

“But beautiful has gentler connotations, Miss Bean. Feminine, if you will. I’m sure he’d find it bloody insulting.”

“Nonsense. By definition, the word beautiful simply means that he’s pleasing to the senses. I think he’d be flattered.” Clara sighed and brought the flute up to her lips once more. She felt as light and tingly as the bubbles in her drink. Sneaking another glance toward the bar, she sighed. “Yes, he truly is a beautiful man and… Oh! Oh my, they appear to coming over!” Clara felt a rush of panic. “Quick! Do I smell?”

“You smell fine, but never mind that,” Lydia said, slipping her arm through Clara’s. “We’re leaving.”

“Going? We can’t… I thought we were…what about the oglers? What about your orgasm?” What about my orgasm?

“Come. And don’t make a scene. Just follow along.”

Lydia turned to Charlie, made excuses about dawn flights and early morning meetings, waved to their colleagues, and headed toward the elevator faster than decorum dictated.

“Nice play, frogman. They’re leaving.”

“Relax,” Luc nodded, watching the sexiest thing on sticks get dragged to the elevator by her blonde friend. “Keep your head in the game and introduce me to your future father-in-law.”

Sutter was so busy giving him a dirty side-eye, he missed when the blonde gave the signal—a simple glass raise with a wink. She was a player all right, probably just as much as he’d been in his day. Riley was too nice a guy for this, but what the hell. The boy had to learn.

Luc tried to be as gracious and charming to the foreign guests during the introductions, but after a few minutes of collegial banter, his mind wandered back to her. The way her petite waist flared to a deliciously curvy ass, the way her fingers moved when she tucked the strand of hair behind her ear, and the way it bounced right back to rest against her cheek again, like even it wanted to caress her skin.

Merde! It had been too long since he was with a woman. No doubt that was the reason for his uncharacteristic behavior. When a man went too long without sex or sports, his testosterone levels got all out of whack, and it had been weeks—or was it months?—since his breakup with Valentina. So grateful for the blissful silence in his condo after her hysterical departure, Luc had avoided dating, women, and anything that spoke in decibels higher than a basset hound. Which explained why he was totally blindsided by the way she affected him, like he was recovering from a concussion—a bit dizzy, a tad nauseous, and with an overwhelming desire to smile.

Finally given an opening, he casually asked Charlie if their accommodations were comfortable. Thankfully, the obliging man mentioned the hotel by name as he gushed about the large en suite rooms. Before Charlie could describe the contents of the minibar, Luc whisked Sutter away.

“Where we going?”

“You really don’t know?” he asked, stopping to swipe a few editions of EuroNow from a display table.

“No. And I was just getting friendly with the tech gal. Did you hear how she called me Mista Suttah?” Riley looked over his shoulder wistfully. “Man, I could listen to her proper little mouth discuss VOIP technology all day.”

Luc put his hand between Riley’s shoulder blades and pushed him into the elevator. “Tic-toc, Mistah Suttah. There’s only forty-five minutes left in the game.”

“But I was in the middle of a play!”

“I thought you liked the blonde?” Luc asked as they descended into the parking garage under BMG’s headquarters.

“I did, but you blew it!”

“Do you have a pen and paper handy?”

“No, why?”

“You’ve obviously learned nothing, mon ami. You need to be taking notes.”