What really happened between Sean Anderson and Ashleigh Jordan?
The night before Christmas, Ashleigh Jordan stands outside a hotel room, begging for permission to be let inside. She’s walked off set mid-filming, canceled her promotional commitments and abandoned her mother’s big family Christmas, to fly across the country in search of the married man she’s been in love with for her entire adult life. And right now, Sean Anderson neither wants nor needs her help.
In the light of his wife’s betrayal, Sean wants nothing and no one, except an alcoholic fast track to oblivion. But to add insult to injury, Ashleigh won’t go away. Her presence serves only as a reminder that two-and-a-half years ago Sean had been the one on the verge of an affair Ashleigh didn’t turn up to have.
Now that his marriage is over, there’s nothing standing in Sean’s way, except a door.
Will he open it?
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“C’mon, open up!”
Sean Anderson closed his eyes and shut out the distorted peephole view of the world’s biggest bitch. He swallowed against the lump in his throat and rested his forehead against the cool door. He couldn’t deal with Krystal Valentina right now. In fact, she was the last person he wanted to see.
From the other side, a repetitive heavy thump vibrated against his skin. He couldn’t do it. He could not open the door to her. What the hell does she want anyway? The clap of her palm against the veneer brought a long, low groan from his throat. He’d rather scrub his eyes with salt than talk to Krystal.
“Sean!” She thumped on the door again. “I know you’re in there.”
Sean turned around and let his weight sink against the door’s support. His knees gave in. His back slowly slid down the smooth veneer as he rubbed the heels of his palms against his eyes. He wasn‘t going to cry. His heart was not broken. For it to be broken he’d have to be in love with his wife, and he wasn’t. He hadn’t been in love with Anna for a really long time, not since before they’d been married. How could she do this to me?
“Excuse me, is this Mr. Anderson’s room?” he heard Krystal asking from outside the door. A woman replied in a foreign language. Sean thought he recognized it as Spanish, but it had been a while since he’d needed to speak in one of the three other languages he knew. Today, it could have been Martian for all he knew. “Señorita, es esta sala Señor Anderson?”
That was definitely Spanish. Krystal’s Latino heritage and the way she spoke her late stepfather’s mother tongue had a way of stroking a man in all the right places.
After a moment he heard a reply. “Sí, señorita.”
Through the door, he heard Krystal pressing on the hotel employee. She wanted to be let into his room; to his relief, the employee wasn’t giving in. She repeated her refusal several times, reminding him of the card he’d hung outside the door three days ago: Do not disturb.
The longer the other woman refused to give in to her demands, the louder and higher Krystal’s voice grew. He was sure if she mentioned the magic words “Do you know who I am? I’m Krystal Valentina.” the hotel employee would do as she asked. But as demanding as she was, he had never heard Krystal utter those words, not once in the entire time he’d known her.
“I only want to know he has not killed himself!” Krystal shrieked in Spanish.
Sean clambered to his feet. He would have to let her in now.
“No, I cannot let you in. I will lose my job.” The hotel employee replied.
“Then give me the manager,” Krystal’s voice hit a higher note, warning him she was on the verge of doing something stupid, like taking the master keycard by force. “Security… anyone. Just get me to someone who can let me into that room!”
Sean opened the door.
Krystal turned. He caught a flash of her auburn hair before she flung herself into his arms. “Oh my god, Sean! I’ve been so worried.”
For a moment, the whole world slipped away. Nothing and no one else mattered. After two and a half years of bitter arguments, toxic rage and spiteful silences, she was here, in his arms, and it felt freaking amazing—like coming home.
But all the joy seeped out of him in seconds. Their fight—who, what, where and why they’d argued; the demands she’d made; the black eye he’d received when he wouldn’t give into them; the reason they were no longer friends—it all came rushing to the front of his mind.
The problem between them was not that he’d married Anna, nor was it that Krystal claimed he’d drunkenly spilled his feelings for her the night before his wedding. Those circumstances hadn’t been a problem for two-and-a-half years, not since the night he’d all but left his wife and daughter for her—and she’d chosen her career over him. That was the problem.
If he hadn’t been so stubborn, if he hadn’t wanted to prove his heart belonged to Anna, his marriage would have ended then. It should have. And if he hadn’t been arrested and wrongfully accused of obstructing justice, and if Anna hadn’t felt obliged to stand by him for the last two years, Sean suspected their marriage probably would have ended long before now … because of his feelings for the woman he held in his arms in this moment, not because Anna had betrayed him.
He stepped back. “Disappointed?”
Something flickered across her expression. Her mouth gaped open for just a moment and then closed. They stood in awkward silence as the housekeeping assistant looked on with curiosity.
“Your Mom,” she began, but Sean hardly believed that his mother would call her. “She said you’d had a fight with Anna, and disappeared three days ago.”
Are they still in contact after all this time? He knew his mother had a soft spot for her. But he’d specifically said he was finished with Krystal and all of her bullshit. Why would Mom call her?
“Sean, you should call your mother. She’s really worried about you.”
“The thing about disappearing, Krystal—”
“Don’t call me that!” she barked at him, as if he’d insulted her.
A smile twitched at the corner of his mouth as he asked, “Why not? It’s who you are.”
Her eyes narrowed in response. “It’s what I do. Not who I am,” she snapped. “I’m still the same person I was two years ago.”
“No. You’re not.”
Their gazes locked. The hallway charged around them and Sean half expected her to argue her case that she hadn’t changed. Instead, she turned to the housekeeping lady and smiled, as though his insult meant nothing at all to her. “Muchas gracias, Señorita,” she sang, handing the lady a bill—he didn’t catch how much. “Feliz Navidad!”
Merry Christmas? Honestly, is she having a laugh?
“Close your mouth, Sean,” she snapped, then pushed past him, shoving her way into his darkened, solitary haven. “You’re not a fish!”
She waited until he’d closed the door and then spun around on those ridiculous ruby red stiletto heels and innocent schoolgirl white socks. Thigh-high school girl socks, he noted as he drew his eyes slowly upward, over a red lace mini-dress with a white fur trim at the hem, cuffs and collar. It was short enough that it barely covered her lady garden, low enough to give him an eyeful of her ample cleavage, and see-through enough that he could see everything and yet nothing. A nude lining perhaps?
After all this time, his body still responded to the promise of a naughty Christmas Eve with her, burning deep and low in his abdomen. He clamped down on it and shook the thought away. Even if his body was interested in how Santa’s Little Hooker kept her surprises a secret, he was not.
“So, you colored your hair?” he noted. She’d been blonde the last time he’d seen a photograph of her. Now her hair was a muted red that looked right yet didn’t suit her. Krystal was volcanic. The color of her hair should match her temperament.
She didn’t reply.
“What happened?” he asked, letting his eyes drift over her outfit again, this time, in deliberate disgust. “Did Hollywood turn out to be a bust, and now you’re working the streets?”
She narrowed her eyes at him again, and folded her arms across her chest, enhancing the magic of a mystery he was trying to push far, far away from his mind. But he couldn’t help it. He was a man, and she was dressed like she belonged in a strip club.
“You really are a jackass!” she hissed, “but you already knew that, right?”
He snatched the glass from the top of the dresser, where he’d left it to answer the door, and drained it. Then, he stepped toward the mini bar and refreshed it with a generous helping from the second of three bottles of scotch he’d bought three days ago. He’d planned on drinking himself into oblivion; a visit from the only reason his wife could give for her infidelity, Krystal, only exacerbated his need to achieve oblivion and quickly.
“Come to gloat, I see.”
“I wouldn’t waste my breath,” she hissed again.
“Then why are you—” He shook his head. “Oh, you heard I’d left my wife and thought you’d get in there before anyone else had a chance. Gee, Krystal, thanks, but I’m such a great catch I’m already off the market just three days after I made myself single again, so you’d better run along before she gets here.”
She gasped, her huge pained eyes looking back at him like he’d just hit her. Sean didn’t care. He didn’t believe he’d hurt her, not even for a second. “Don’t pretend to be innocent. It’s what you’ve wanted for… How long is it now? Nine years?” He deliberately got that wrong. It had been ten since they’d first met.
He expected her to correct him, but instead she cocked a smirk at him and walked forward. Her eyes changed from hurt to hunger as they lapped him up from head to toe. She didn’t stop until she was close enough for him to feel her body heat.
The familiar scent of spiced apples clouded around him, taking him back to the day she had first walked into the college newspaper. That scent was like a drug to him. It made him want things he couldn’t have.
She took in a deep breath, and her magnificent chest rubbed ever so gently against his, causing his heart to flutter and his skin to erupt in goosebumps. As she released it, the uneven ripples of air wisping against the base of his throat were not conducive to controlling his response to her.
“You’ve left Anna?” Her words doused any heat building inside him, quicker than a bath of ice water. “Really?” She sounded genuinely surprised, as though she was hearing the news for the first time. But then, she was an actress. She could fake anything, and hadn’t she fooled him before? He wasn’t falling for it again.
He swallowed and looked down into the rich cocoa color of her eyes, disappointed to see they weren’t their natural green. Another day, a different set of colored contact lenses disguised the person she truly was inside. But still, the heat in them tugged at the part of him that made him want to believe she still wanted him.
Until two years ago, the hunger in her eyes had been the life source of his blood and the axe in his heart, in equal measure, as precious to him as his daughter and yet torture for his soul, since he couldn’t have the woman he loved without losing the child who kept them apart. But now, with his wife’s infidelity, the question was no longer ‘what if?’ but ‘why the hell not?’ If she was offering herself on a platter, as she had so many times in the past, there was nothing to hold him back.
“Sean,” she whispered. Her finger trailed the length of his button-down, pausing just below his belly button, in the exact same spot that burned in want of her. “From the aroma you’re expelling, which I must say is absolutely delicious, and from all that tousled hair you have going on—and you know I find that bed-mussed look on you irresistible, and that tempting five o’clock shadow you have—” Her other hand caressed his cheek, rubbed against his stubble, stoking the fire below. “A homeless alcoholic has more chance of getting me into bed than you do.”
Sean hissed as he closed his eyes against the insult.
“And by the way,” she continued, “now I can taste your breath and I want to vomit.”
“Bitch,” he murmured. “Kick a man while he’s down, why don’t you?”
“Oh, for god’s sake!” She let go an exasperated sigh. “I’m trying to be nice here.”
Nice? Ha! She doesn’t know the meaning of the word.
She placed her hands on his chest and pushed.
Sean stumbled backward. “Hey!”
She pushed him again.
He stumbled back a few more steps. “What the hell?”
She kept on pushing and shoving him, until they were inside the en-suite bathroom. When he tumbled into the shower tray and landed on his ass, she reached over his head and switched on the shower.
Ice-cold water doused him in an instant. “Ashleigh!” he yelped, “What the—”
“So you do remember my name, then?” She kicked at his sock-covered toes, until he relented and tucked his knees into his chest and removed his feet from her reach, folding himself into the shower cubicle.
As the cold water rained down he hurled every cussword he could think of. They were directed at her, but she ignored him. Her hands reached for the sliding glass panels. She slammed them together, locking him inside.
“I don’t want to see you again until you look, smell and act like Sean, because you … I don’t know who you are!” She turned and walked away, slamming the door as she left the bathroom.
Other titles in the series…