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Authors: Ann Marie Walker

Embrace Me

BOOK: Embrace Me
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Titles by Ann Marie Walker & Amy K. Rogers

Chasing Fire Series

Remind Me

Release Me

Reclaim Me

Embrace Me

Embrace Me

A Chasing Fire Novella

Ann Marie Walker

&

Amy K. Rogers

INTERMIX

New York

INTERMIX

Published by Berkley

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

Copyright © 2016 by Ann Marie Walker and Amy K. Rogers

Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

INTERMIX and the “IM” design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

ISBN: 9780451488343

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

Chapter One

“Look at the size of that cock!”

Allie turned to find her best friend's bright red lips pursed around the head of an enormous penis. Actually, it was a straw in the shape of a penis that she was using to slurp down a hefty portion of her third strawberry daiquiri, but still. Harper's wide eyes were glued to the stage, prompting Allie to wonder if she'd been referring to the oversize drinking utensil or the well-endowed man dancing directly in front of her. Of course they had front-row seats. “Not worth going if you aren't in the splash zone,” Harper had said. Allie hadn't bothered to ask what in the world she meant by “splash zone,” and something told her she didn't want to know.

Around her the crowd of women buzzed with excitement, not to mention hormones, as they waved fistfuls of cash in the air in an attempt to attract the attention of one of the performers. And there was certainly no shortage of takers. Allie had never seen so much naked flesh in her life. The stage was literally covered with gorgeous men gyrating to the beat of “Pony.” It was as if she'd walked out of her office and straight into a scene from
Magic Mike
.

Harper had originally wanted a more traditional bachelorette party, complete with party games that would have no doubt proved embarrassing and a stripper who would have no doubt arrived dressed as a policeman ready to conduct a strip search, handcuffs and all—in other words, Allie's worst nightmare. But Harper was nothing if not persistent, and in the end Allie had agreed to a hen night under the condition that it be just the two of them. In a weak moment she'd even told Harper the rest was up to her, which was how she'd ended up sitting in front of a dozen oily bodies wearing a white sash that read
BRIDE-TO-BE
.

Allie tucked a loose blond curl behind her ear, then nonchalantly brushed her fingers across her shoulder in an effort to help the satin material slip out of place. With any luck it would only take a few well-timed shifts to send it discreetly to the floor.

“Oh no,” Harper said, not missing a beat as she restored the sash to its original position. “You wouldn't wear the crown, but the sash stays on.”

Allie cringed. As if she would have walked into the bar sporting a tiara and veil? But since she suspected Harper had envisioned this as a night of trashy gag gifts and drunken rounds of “Never Have I Ever,” she thought the least she could do was humor her by wearing the sash. Harper had one, too. Over her black-and-white polka-dot dress she proudly wore a hot pink sash that read
MAID
OF HONOR
. It was a role she'd clearly been born to play, but still, all the fuss seemed ridiculous given the situation. “You know I'm not technically a bachelorette?” she said. “In case you've forgotten, Hudson and I have been married for almost three months.”

“As if I could forget. My best friend runs off to elope in what I'm sure was the world's most romantic ceremony and I don't even get so much as a lousy piece of cake.” Harper shook her head in feigned disgust. “I still haven't forgiven you.” She plucked the strawberry garnish from the rim of her glass, popped it into her mouth, and smiled. “But this is a good first step.”

Colored lights dimmed, then flared, as a new song began. A curtain rose at the rear of the stage and a new group of men made their way to the catwalk. They weren't in place for more than a few minutes before they tore their pants away in a simultaneous maneuver that sent the entire club into a near frenzy.

“Fine,” Allie said when the crowd calmed. “But can we call it a night after this round and eat Chinese takeout in our flannel pajamas?”

Harper rolled her eyes. “I'd ask if being a married woman has turned you into my grandma, but you were like this before Hudson slipped that rock on your finger, so I can't really blame him.”

Allie snorted to herself before taking another sip of her lemon-drop martini. Blame Hudson? Hardly. If anything, her husband had brought out a side of her she'd never experienced before. With Hudson she wasn't the shy, reserved debutante her mother had tried to raise. With him she felt wanton and sexy and free of all her inhibitions. Allie hid her smile behind her glass as thoughts from the previous night filled her mind. The black leather cuffs had made an appearance but this time there were two sets, and when Hudson had explained how he intended to use them . . . well, she dared say even Harper would have blushed. And when he—

“Is there a dick on my head?” A woman at the table next to theirs shrieked, pulling Allie from her very private thoughts and right back into her very public reality. Women whooped and hollered as the red-faced girl attempted to hold completely still while a nearly naked dancer gyrated behind her.

Allie reached for her purse. “On second thought, maybe we should just leave now.”

“Can't leave yet,” Harper said, never taking her eyes off the spectacle taking place beside them. “You haven't had your turn.”

An uneasy feeling began to stir in the pit of Allie's stomach. “My turn?”

Harper's grin was more than mischievous; it was downright wicked. “You didn't think we'd leave before the bride had a lap dance, did you?”

Allie's mouth dropped open. “You're not serious?”

“Indeed I am. So unless you're reaching into that purse for more singles, you can just put it back down”—she nodded to the cowboy weaving between the tables as he made his way toward Allie—“because you're next.”

 * * * 

“Jesus fucking Christ.” Hudson leaned forward and planted his elbows on his knees as he watched the Chicago Bulls turn the ball over to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third time in as many minutes. The Bulls had a passionate fan base with a love-to-hate for LeBron James, but the team was trailing in what was sizing up to be more of a massacre than a loss. The season was all but shot if they didn't turn this shit around, and then the courtside seats Chase Industries had shelled out a fortune for might as well be flushed down the ever-loving toilet. Forget about impressing important clients, Hudson wouldn't be able to give the tickets away at this rate.

As if agreeing with him, LeBron sunk a basket from behind the three-point line.

For fuck's sake.

The Bulls couldn't seem to catch a break despite doing their best to recapture the glory days of their nineties dynasty. They'd fired their coach—bringing in a former player to turn things around—and had spent a fortune on point guard Derrick Rose, a local kid who grew up a hard-core Bulls fan and Michael Jordan disciple. Hell, he'd probably cheered them on from the nosebleed seats while sporting Air Jordan 7's. But the kid with a lot of promise had been benched more seasons than he'd played, out with one injury after another. Ninety-four million dollars down the shitter along with his season tickets.

Then, on a powerful drive, Olympic hopeful Jimmy Butler brought the fans in the United Center to their feet when he scored on a crowd-pleasing alley-oop. Thank fuck. Hudson had money riding on the game.

“Ya know,” Nick said, once they'd settled back in their chairs, “for the guy whose penthouse is in the old Playboy Club, this has got to be the lamest bachelor party in the history of the world.” He took a loud slurp from his blue raspberry ICEE.

Hudson whipped his head to the right and shot his brother a look, but he couldn't knock the smile off his face. Nick's lips were blue from the frigid concoction. “You asked me what I wanted to do. This is what I wanted to do,” Hudson said. He glanced down at his watch. Tonight was going to feel like an eternity, and not because the game had gone to hell, but because Allie was out with that redhead doing god knows what. Harper had been tight-lipped about the festivities, which he doubted were taking place around tiny tables set with teacups and canapés.

“Dude, we're supposed to be surrounded by a harem of strippers worshipping us while we go broke stuffing bills into their bras and panties and licking body shots off them. I mean, I don't drink so it would have to be Shirley Temples for me. Maybe a cherry out of the navel.” Nick shrugged. “But it's cool. At least I have the Lovabulls, umm, performance to look forward to at halftime.”

Hudson cocked a brow at his brother, who'd turned his attention to the Bulls' scantily clad cheerleaders as they attempted to rev up the crowd by shooting T-shirts into the stands with air guns. “And what would Ms. Hayes think about that?”

“She'd be cool.” Nick took another long pull from his straw. “Ah, fuck . . . brain . . . freeze.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. “Oh, shit.”

Hudson kicked his head back and laughed as Nick dropped his fist into the armrest, trying to shake off a headache that must have felt like he'd snorted a line of ice through his nose.

“Laughing at me, bro? Not okay.”

“With you, Nicky, not at you.” Hudson scrubbed the mop on top of his brother's head. “You need a haircut.”

“You just can't resist getting in a shot about my hair, can ya? If it's not that it's my clothes, which you—”

“Advised against.” Hudson's gaze followed the players as they sprinted up and down the length of the court. A sharp whistle blew, calling a Cavalier foul. Seemed the refs were finally starting to pay attention to the game.

“I was going to say paid for,” Nick chuckled. “Floating your good ol' double C my way wasn't much of a protest.”

“I pick my battles wisely. And if you prefer to present yourself to the public looking like . . .” Hudson waved his hand in the air. The outfit Nick had chosen for the evening, while newly purchased, still looked like he'd pulled it out of the hamper. For the life of him Hudson couldn't wrap his head around the concept of buying clothes that were already torn. But hey, at least they were clean. Progress.

“Like . . . ?” Nick taunted.

“Presentation, Nicky.”

Nick looked down at his T-shirt and cargo jacket, then over to Hudson, who had opted for a pair of charcoal-gray pants and a cashmere sweater for the evening. “Well, my presentation is fucking wicked while yours is boring and old—”

Loud cheers erupted, cutting Nick off, and Journey's “Don't Stop Believin'”echoed through the stadium. Bulls fans, “stop believin'”? Yeah, not in this lifetime.

Hudson's cell shot off, rivaling Steve Perry's pitch-perfect serenade. He started to dig into his pocket for his phone.

“Do you ever shut that fucking thing off, bro?”

“No. A fact you're aware of from your previous late-night pontifications.” Hudson's mouth lifted into a humorous grin. There was a time when he couldn't make it two nights in a row without a rambling, drunken late-night call from his little brother. The fact that they could joke about it now was nothing short of a miracle.

“Pontifications? More like words of wisdom, my dear brother, wisdom. Pure verbal—”

“Diarrhea?” Hudson said, finishing his sentence for him. While crude, it was apt and on the level of his brother's humor.

“Har-har. Seriously dude, it's your bachelor party,” Nick said, using his fingers as air quotes to accentuate the words “bachelor party.” “Take a night off.”

“My work never takes a night off.”

Nick rolled his eyes. “Yeah, you're right. Better get that. It could be Pepper Potts alerting you to Iron Man up.”

“At least you chose the appropriate Marvel superhero—dashing, brilliant, and—”

“Cocky as hell?”

“Rules with an iron fists.” Hudson chuckled as he lifted his phone to his right ear and plugged a finger into his left. His brows furrowed as he listened to the head of his security team on the other end of the call. It only took a few words from Max for him to know he'd heard enough. “Text me the address,” he said before ending the call with a jab of his thumb. He rose to his feet in a rush, the phone gripped tight in his hand. “We're leaving.”

“What? The game's not over. Hell, it's not even halftime.”

“I mean it, Nick. Let's go.”

“Fine.” Nick shoved his half empty cup into the holder on the armrest. “What's the big emergency? Is Captain America moving in on your territory? Or did the Incredible Hulk bust out?” he asked, following Hudson as he made a beeline for the exit.

“Something like that,” he said, never breaking stride.

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