“See anything you like?”
Jessica glanced from the larger-than-life poster featuring photos of the bachelors up for auction at tonight’s charity event to her best friend, Avery, who wore a knowing smile.
Jessica shrugged nonchalantly. “Twelve gorgeous single men up for auction. What’s not to like?”
“Let me be more specific,” Avery said, as other guests strolled along the adjoining tables near them, filled with items up for silent auction. “Is there anyone in particular you’d like?”
Jessica knew which bachelor Avery was alluding to. Dark-haired, green-eyed Derek Bettencourt, her secret crush since she was a teenager. He was also her older brother Ben’s best friend and business partner. If that little detail didn’t make him off-limits, there were two other very legitimate reasons why her attraction to him would never be reciprocated.
One, she wasn’t his type at all.
And two, he’d only ever treated her like a second little sister.
Unfortunately, her infatuation with the man was stronger than ever.
“I am not bidding on anyone tonight,” she insisted, finishing off her third glass of champagne for the evening and enjoying the pleasant buzz she was feeling. She’d already supported the charity in other ways . . . the per-plate fee for attending and even bidding on a few silent-auction items that interested her.
“No?” Arms crossed over her chest, Avery tapped her chin thoughtfully with her finger, a devious look twinkling in her eyes. “You know, this might be the perfect opportunity for you to get a little payback.”
Jessica tipped her head in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
“Remember that summer our senior year when Derek blabbed about us sneaking out of the house and going to that party where we got drunk and stoned?”
Ten years had passed, but it was hard to forget any of the painful, humiliating things that had happened that last year of high school. Or the party they’d stupidly gone to, thinking that being around the cool kids and doing the same stuff they did would make them fit in. They never had—all because they were the chubby chicks none of the popular girls wanted to be seen with.
Instead, she and Avery had been the target of ridicule on a regular basis. At least they’d had each other.
“He didn’t really blab,” Jessica said, automatically defending Derek, since he’d been the one they’d called for a ride home from the party. “I mean, it wasn’t his fault that my mother overheard him telling my brother what we did.” Which resulted in her being punished for her antics.
“Still, you spent two weeks grounded and doing ridiculous chores, which meant you missed out on being with me at the lake house for the rest of the summer.”
The yearly vacation with Avery had been the one thing she’d been looking forward to, and her mother had known it. “Yeah, that part sucked.”
“Just saying,” Avery teased. “You could put him to work around your new place. Make him paint the fence or trim the hedges . . . shirtless. Watching all that sweat drip down his chest and into the low waistband of his shorts as he labored away on your . . . shrubbery.”
Jessica’s face flamed at the hot, sexy images of Derek now emblazoned in her mind, even if she knew Avery was just trying to play matchmaker in her own not-so-subtle way. “Okay, you can stop now. It’s not going to happen.”
As much as she’d enjoy having Derek’s undivided attention for a weekend, it would also be nothing short of sheer torture. Ogling but not being allowed to touch.
“Jessica!” a female voice called out.
She turned around to see Faith Dare approaching. Jessica had been introduced to Faith through her brother’s friendships with the Dare siblings, and the other woman was becoming one of Jessica’s best Curvy Girl Couture customers.
Jessica took in the red sequin mermaid-style gown Faith wore, the one Jessica had designed especially for her voluptuous curves and fuller figure. “You look amazing.”
“Don’t I, though?” Faith asked with a laugh and did a little spin that made her long, blond hair fall around her bare shoulders. “You outdid yourself with this custom dress. I was lucky that Jason let me leave the house tonight,” she said of her hunky husband. “He took one look at me and got that seductive gleam in his eyes. It’s been like that all evening, so it’s going to be a very good night when we get home, if you know what I mean.”
Jessica loved seeing Faith’s elevated confidence. Making women like herself feel beautiful in their own skin was all she’d ever wanted and why she’d created her own fashion line for females who loved their curves, which she sold in her boutique and online.
“By the way, the desserts you made for this evening were to die for,” Jessica said, complimenting the other woman right back. Faith ran her own successful business, Faith’s Sweet Treats, which were incredible.
“Oh, my God,” Avery cut in with a little orgasm-like moan. “I need those cheesecake brownie bars in my life on a daily basis.”
Faith laughed. “Thank you. I was thrilled when Aurora asked me to cater the desserts. Hasn’t she done a fabulous job with this event?”
“Yes, she has. It’s impressive,” Jessica replied, glancing around the grand ballroom located in the Meridian NYC hotel, an upscale establishment owned by the Dare family. There were at least one hundred guests who’d attended the charity event, hosted by Aurora Dare—another woman connected to the Dare family by marriage—whose nonprofit, Future Fast Track for foster kids, would benefit from the influx of donations tonight.
It was a charity Jessica had a personal attachment to, since she’d been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome as a teenager. Knowing that she might not be able to have kids of her own as a result of PCOS, she’d already considered the possibility of adopting or fostering a child one day.
An announcement came over the speakers that the bachelor auction would be starting in thirty minutes, and after finishing up their conversation with Faith, Jessica and Avery headed to the ladies’ room to freshen up.
She was still enjoying her happy, tipsy state as they walked into the lounge—complete with velvet-cushioned chairs, couches, and mirrored vanities—until she heard a familiar, grating voice drifting from the adjoining partitioned area, where the bathrooms and sinks were located. The running water indicated someone was washing their hands.
Jessica stiffened, immediately knowing who the voice belonged to. Her high school nemesis, Claire Sutherland. The rich mean girl who’d made her life miserable back then, and the catty woman who still had an air of entitlement about her now. Not to mention, she’d once been Derek’s fiancée—a fact that left an unpleasant taste in Jessica’s mouth.
Her stomach gave a little twist, and when Avery mouthed to her, Do you want to go?, Jessica shook her head and stepped up to one of the mirrors. She hadn’t had any contact with Claire yet this evening, but now that they were in the same space, she refused to let the other woman run her off.
She wasn’t that insecure teenager any longer. Jessica had done a lot of growing and self-reflecting since graduating high school, even if Claire had not. Ten years later, and Claire was still shallow and judgmental. Though to your face, she tried to pretend she was all sweetness and sugar, her real self eventually showed through. Jessica had been the target of Claire’s teenage cruelty, but she refused to let the other woman intimidate her now.
The water shut off, and then came the sound of paper towels rustling, as Claire continued to speak. “If Derek refuses to take my calls or answer my texts, winning him at this bachelor auction for an entire weekend will definitely get his attention. I know he’s upset about what . . . happened, but I just need the chance to make it up to him.”
Jessica couldn’t ignore that slight pang in her chest when she thought about Derek and Claire having been together. That had been a tough pill to swallow, and she couldn’t imagine what Derek had seen in the other woman beyond the physical—though at least he’d come to his senses eventually and ended their engagement. Clearly, Claire wasn’t taking the breakup very well, even though it had happened well over six months ago.
Jessica pulled out her lipstick just as Claire’s best friend, Peyton, spoke.
“How do you think he’ll react when you tell him you’re taking him to our ten-year high school reunion so you can flaunt the fact that you snagged yourself a billionaire?” the equally mean girl asked.
“He doesn’t need to know that last part,” Claire said dismissively. “And he won’t have a choice in the matter once I win him and he’s mine for a weekend. I can’t show up without him.” She sounded desperate.
In the mirror, Jessica exchanged a glance with Avery, who rolled her eyes at Claire’s dramatics.
“Well, you could show up without Derek,” Peyton said. “But considering you’ve told most of our friends that you’re getting back together with him and you’ve already RSVP’d, adding him as your plus-one, yeah, it would look bad if you arrived solo.”
“It’s not going to happen,” Claire said resolutely. “Once I win him at tonight’s auction and we spend a weekend together, he’ll realize that I made a silly little mistake and I’m perfect for him.”
“Both of your mothers will be thrilled if you reconcile. After all, they’re the ones who wanted you two together in the first place.”
Avery made a gagging motion with her finger in her mouth, and Jessica stifled a laugh. From what she’d learned from her brother, Derek’s ambitious mother had wanted her son married into another influential family and had gone so far as to orchestrate the relationship. Though Ben had never divulged what silly little mistake had prompted Derek to break things off.
“Exactly. At least—” Claire stopped abruptly as they came around the corner, belatedly realizing that they weren’t alone. “Oh, hey . . . hi, Jessica.”
Jessica didn’t miss the way the other woman gave her formfitting gown a flagrant once-over, her quick sneer intended to make Jessica doubt herself. But even Claire couldn’t put a dent in how confident Jessica felt in the sexy gown she’d designed—one that accentuated her breasts and hips and made her feel like a million bucks. Like she’d thought earlier, she had come a long way since high school.
“Hi, Claire. Peyton,” Jessica replied, not bothering to turn around, though she could see both women behind her in the mirror.
“I don’t suppose the two of you are going to our ten-year reunion next month?” Claire asked, knowing that they’d most likely overheard the conversation she’d just had with Peyton. Before Jessica or Avery could reply, Claire waved a dismissive hand. “Oh, you’re probably not going. I know you don’t have the greatest high school memories.”
The other woman’s tone was sugary sweet. As if she felt bad, when in reality, Claire was the reason for their crappy experience. While most people might have grown up in the past ten years and apologized for their behavior, Claire wasn’t that person. She still wore that air of superiority like a designer dress.
Jessica dropped her lipstick into her purse, snapped it shut, and finally turned around. “Actually, I have no desire to go. I have nothing to prove to our classmates.” Unlike you, she wanted to add, but knew it was implied, considering Claire was trying to shore up her appearance by winning Derek tonight. “Besides, I already keep in touch with anyone who matters to me.”
Claire’s eyes flashed with something akin to anger. “Or maybe you don’t want to go, knowing that Derek, your teenage crush, will be there with me?” Her expression turned smug.
Unfortunately, Claire knew Jessica’s secrets. Like most young girls, she’d made the mistake of writing her thoughts and dreams in a notebook, including her infatuation with Derek—which Claire had stolen and used to embarrass her—in school and on social media. It was no shock that Claire would use the dig now as an attempt to divert them from the fact that they’d just overheard Claire’s plan to buy Derek. So if he did go to the reunion with her, it wouldn’t be of his own free will.
At least that knowledge gave Jessica a small bit of pleasure.
Ignoring the snide remark, Jessica kept her composure and gave Claire a tight smile. “No matter who you end up going with, I’m sure you’ll have a great time.”
She and Avery walked out of the lounge, and Jessica didn’t realize just how tense she was until Avery touched her arm and said, “Take a deep breath. You’re better than her. We both are and you proved that in there.”
Jessica did as her friend suggested and pulled in a long breath, then let it out slowly.
“And just for the record,” Avery said, “Claire doesn’t have to be the one to win Derek tonight.”
Jessica blinked, letting that thought settle inside her, but ultimately, she shook her head. “Nope.” Snagging another glass of champagne from a passing tray, she squared her shoulders as they walked toward the staging area where the auction would be held. “I’m not going to stoop to her level and get into a bidding war over a man.”
What did they say about famous last words?
Narrated by Conor Crais and Samantha Cook
Links coming soon, audio releasing April 25th
3 thoughts on “Just A Little Hookup – Chapter One”
Love this excerpt and can’t wait to read more.
Loved that little teaser, definitely makes me want to know what happens next.
Can’t wait, love all the Dare books and all spin offs . Love, them all.❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
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