Snippet – Love the One You’re With by Lauren Layne – Grace’s story, Chapter One, #FREE
Chapter One (Grace’s Story)
In hindsight, she should have taken the subway.
But today was the launch of the new and improved Grace. Or Grace 2.0, as she’d begun thinking of her improved self. And Grace 2.0’s shoe choice really wasn’t suited for the New York subway system. Between the grates and the stairs and the roaches, Grace Brighton’s four-inch Jimmy Choos would be lucky to even make it to the office. And that whole wear-comfy-shoes-now-and-change-later just wasn’t Grace 1.0 or 2.0’s MO.
Then of course, there was the hassle of rush hour to contend with, not to mention . . .
Oh, who was she kidding?
The Brightons of Scarsdale, New York, didn’t do subways.
But her mother wasn’t here.
And neither was her mother’s personal driver.
So. A cab it would be.
As Grace exited the elevator in the high-rise apartment building she’d moved into just a month before, she wondered if she looked different now that 2.0 was all riding her ass with the rah-rah girl-power routine.
For example, anyone might notice that her hair, which once had fallen to the middle of her back, now brushed just below her shoulders in new, swishy layers.
But could those same people tell that the hair appointment hadn’t been about cutting off six inches of hair so much as a futile attempt to cut out the crippling sense of inadequacy that had settled around her like one of those ugly transparent raincoats?
And maybe some fashion-forward soul might note that her skirt was from the just-released Tory Burch line, but did they know that she’d bought it because of the fun, checkered pattern? And did they know she’d picked the checkered pattern because she’d spent the past four years wearing solid colors because Greg told her they were more slimming?
Would anyone notice that her lipstick was a little brighter, her heels a bit higher, and her smile a little wider? All to disguise the fact she felt anything but bright, anything but high, her smile anything but genuine . . .
Grace 2.0 cleared her throat loudly. Right. Moping was sooo 1.0.
The new Grace was all kick-ass confidence.
Or something. Okay fine, so maybe she was still working on the kick-ass part.
Grace refused to let her smile slip when she saw the long line of people waiting for a cab out in front of her building. Grace 1.0 was taunting here with memories about a former life, in which the doorman would have already had a taxi waiting for her and Greg to share.
Grace 2.0 was reminding 1.0 that that routine had been before her tidy life had gone to hell.
Back in those days, Grace would have made it through the morning without crying or doodling I hate men in the margins of the New York Times.
She’d already be well on her way to work, hip to hip with her boyfriend of nine years in the back of a taxi, maybe flipping through emails on her phone as the cab headed to Greg’s office on Wall Street before taking Grace uptown to her office.
More often than not, there’d even have been a text from Greg as she settled in for the day. I miss you. I love you.
If only all of Greg’s “love” had been reason enough for him to keep his dick in his pants.
Grace inhaled deeply through her nose and pushed the thought out of her mind. Do not go there.
You’ve moved on, remember?
And she didn’t have time to reminisce about Greg and his wandering prick, because on this particular Monday morning there was no waiting cab, no homemade latte, no lovey-dovey text messages. There weren’t even any of the dozens of familiar tiny dogs that she used to know by name out for their morning constitutional. Instead there were different dogs whose names she didn’t know and whose owners she didn’t recognize, and one of them was doing his business in the middle of the sidewalk. The only thing her Jimmy Choo stilettos liked less than sidewalk grates was dog poo.
If she waited in the cab line, she’d never make it to the weekly staff meeting on time.
But like any good New Yorker, Grace knew when to get crafty.
Grace weaved her way around the tight-butt, yoga-pants-wearing, stroller-pushing moms until she turned up one of the quiet side streets that would have less cab competition.
Sure enough, a taxi rounded the corner onto the street and was making its way toward her.
Finally. A little luck.
Grace raised a hand to hail it, only to watch in dismay as an arm in front of her moved in the exact same gesture at the exact same time. She hissed in annoyance, even though the man had obviously been there first and the cab was rightfully his.
She swore under her breath anyway. This was not the way she’d envisioned Grace 2.0 starting out. She was supposed to have gotten up early and done a little yoga, followed by a leisurely, healthy smoothie breakfast. Then she’d have a long shower followed by a perfect hair day, and would be in a cab and heading into the office all before the start of rush hour.
Instead, Grace had woken up an hour late to a malfunctioning coffeepot, absolutely no time for yoga, and so not a good-hair day.
Now some too-tall, perfect-haired stranger was about to take her cab.
As though he could feel her death glare on the back of his head, the man turned his face toward her just as the cab slowed to a stop in front of him.
Grace froze. He might be a cab stealer, but as far as thieves went, he was gorgeous. His black hair was just long enough to be interesting without being sloppy. He was tall—an inch or two over six feet, for sure—and he wore his height well, all broad shoulders and trim waist. Just the tiniest bit of stubble on the chin—more than a five o’clock shadow, less than scruff.
She would have been embarrassed at her gaping if he hadn’t been doing some looking of his own. His brown eyes skimmed over her, briefly enough to not be lecherous, but appreciatively enough to make her tingle.
When their eyes met, he grinned, his teeth perfectly white and perfectly even. This man knew what he had going on and was well accustomed to peddling his wares.
Watch out for that one, Grace 2.0 whispered. That smile will have you tucking your heart into your panties and handing the whole shebang over before he even buys you a drink.
Her attraction turned instantly to wariness. Okay, then. That was quite enough ogling.
Grace 1.0 was wailing that he could be a perfectly nice man that deserved a chance.
Well, Grace 1.0 could shove it. Grace 1.0 and her dreamy, happy-endings-really-do-happen dogma was the reason Grace was twenty-nine and unexpectedly single instead of wedding dress shopping.
Grace 1.0 was the reason that she actually missed Greg instead of consigning his memory to her mental compost pile.
Thinking about her wretched ex reminded Grace just how anti-man she was feeling these days, so instead of returning the stranger’s welcoming smile, Grace purposely moved her eyes beyond him to look for another cab.
“You want this one?” he called.
That got her attention. “What?”
Mr. Too-Good-Looking gestured toward the open cab door. “The cab. You want it?”
She narrowed her eyes as though to ask, What’s the catch?
His grin never faded as he nodded toward the cab.
“Come on now. You have I’m-in-a-hurry written all over you.”
Of course she did.
She was in a hurry. Normally, being a little late to a Monday staff meeting wasn’t a big deal. As long as it didn’t happen regularly, her boss was pretty chill about such things. And Grace in particular was likely to get a free pass—she’d been out of the office for a month, and everyone would figure she was struggling to get back into the swing of things.
Everyone would be understanding. Oh, poor Grace, give her a break. She’s been through a lot.
Her stomach twisted at the thought. Hell, no.
A quick scan showed her that another cab had turned onto the street but had already been flagged by someone upstream. Crap.
“You’re sure you don’t mind?” she asked, not making eye contact with the stranger.
In response, he stepped aside and gallantly swept his arm toward the open door. All yours.
Apparently chivalry wasn’t entirely dead after all, and for that, Mr. Charming got a smile. A small one.
“Thank you,” she murmured as she hurried to the waiting cab. “I really appreciate it.”
“Consider it a thank-you,” he said in a low voice when they were face-to-face.
“A thank-you for what?” Damn it. She hadn’t meant that to come out all low and flirty.
“For looking the way you do.”
Grace blinked in surprise, torn between flattery and disgust. “Wow. Wow. That is some line.”
He grinned, and suddenly the perfect white teeth looked a little . . . predatory.
“Too much?” he asked, looking slightly sheepish.
Grace lifted a shoulder as she lowered herself into the cab. “A little obvious. Maybe go back to the drawing board on that one.”
She tilted her head up to give the guy one last thank-you only to realize that he was no longer standing beside the cab. He was getting into the cab.
“What are you—what the—hey!” she said as he gently tapped the backs of his fingers against her hip in a universal move-over gesture, before crowding her to the other side of the taxi.
“Where to?” he asked as he shut the door. The admirably patient cab driver started the meter and turned around. Both men looked at her expectantly.
Pride demanded that she exit the cab, but practicality . . . she glanced at her watch. Crap.
Fine. She’d share a cab with this cretin.
“Fifty-eighth and Eighth,” she said.
The cab-crasher paused in the process of pulling his phone out of his pocket, looking startled.
“What?” she snapped.
“That’s all the way uptown.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said sweetly. “Did I forget to mention that when I begged you to share a cab with me?”
He shrugged and turned back to his phone. “Doesn’t bother me. Tribeca’s just an interesting neighborhood choice for someone who works in the Central Park West area.”
Grace straightened her shoulders and looked primly out the window. “I like Tribeca.”
Actually, Grace wouldn’t have minded escaping the land of yoga moms and upscale day cares to try a new part of town. But after she’d packed up and moved out of the apartment she’d shared with Greg, she hadn’t been about to tuck her tail between her legs and slink off to the furthest possible neighborhood from him.
Instead she’d picked one of the newer buildings just a few blocks from her old place. Far enough to have a different Starbucks, but not so far that anyone could mistake her as running away.
If he wanted to put more distance between them, then he could pack his shit and move uptown, crosstown, out of town, off the planet . . .
She felt the stranger studying her, but she didn’t turn to meet his eyes.
“Got a husband?” he asked.
Grace stiffened. “No.”
“No.” Although I thought I was on the verge.
“No!” she exploded, finally whipping her head around to glare at him. “A little personal, don’t you think?”
“Sorry,” he said, not sounding sorry at all.
“Tribeca is just very family-friendly. I thought maybe that’s why you picked it.”
“Do you have a wife, kid, or dog?”
“No way,” he said as he began typing something on his phone.
Of course not. This man practically reeked of bachelor.
“Then why do you live here?”
“I don’t,” he said simply. “I live in midtown.”
Grace’s brow furrowed. “Then what the hell are you doing catching a cab all the way down here at eight in the morning?”
His eyes flicked up then, locking with hers and holding. His gaze wasn’t smug per se, but it was expectant, as though waiting for her to put something together . . .
“Oh!” she said. “Oh. That.”
He smiled but didn’t respond. He didn’t have to.
“Let me rephrase,” she said, not really sure why she was pushing. “If Tribeca is so family-friendly, why are you doing the walk of shame out of here?”
“Seems you’re not the only single woman lurking amid the day care set.”
Grace narrowed her eyes. “What makes you think I’m single?”
He typed a message on his phone before responding, then slid the phone back into his pocket and angled his body to face hers.
“You really want to know?” he asked.
No. She absolutely did not want to hear that her pathetic loser-ness was visible. “Yes,” she replied.
“The spark,” he said in a bored voice.
“The spark,” she repeated.
“Between us. You felt it,” he said, his eyes cutting to hers. “Women in a happy relationship don’t give off a spark like that.”
And damned if her stomach didn’t give a little flip. And double damn if she didn’t know exactly what spark he was talking about.
She did feel it.
But she could just as easily ignore it.
“Happens all the time when I’m annoyed,” she said, keeping her voice placid and bored.
He grinned again. “And that,” he said, pointing a finger at her, “that prickliness—that’s how I know you’re not just single, but recently single.”
Grace folded her arms across her chest. “Well, don’t you just have me all figured out.”
He leaned his head back on the seat as though bored. “Let’s see . . . you’re late twenties, I’m guessing twenty-eight, give or take, but you take care of yourself. Probably yoga, because you read in some magazine that it’s good for your mind and body, and you think balance is pretty much the holy grail. You love your job, mainly because it allows you to wear tight skirts and high heels, although you have family money that supplements your income, which is why said skirt and high heels are designer instead of off the rack. The hair color’s natural, the lip color’s not, and the only reason you didn’t go flying out of the car when I climbed in here with you is because you’re desperate to get to your oh-so-important job.”
He turned his head to meet her murderous gaze and gave a wide grin. “How’d I do?”
“I’m twenty-nine,” was all she said in reply, narrowing her eyes slightly. “But not bad.”
And then, because he’d been so damn right about her—scarily right—Grace gave him her best ice-princess smile. The one that ensured drunk guys in bars kept their distance, and that catty women didn’t dare gossip about anyone in Grace’s circle of friends.
But this guy? This guy didn’t seem to interpret her special smile for what it was. Because if anything, his dark brown gaze grew warmer.
No. It grew downright hot.
And suddenly Grace realized that she was playing it all wrong with this guy. Even though she shouldn’t be playing at all.
This guy didn’t need ice from her—he could melt it with that perfect grin and won’t-you-come-to-my-bed eyes. No, this one deserved fire.
Fire was something Grace Brighton had always been a little short on.
But luckily for this jackass, she’d spent the past several months getting over the bone-searing pain of having the former love of her life cheat on her.
And now? Now she was done with the denial. Done with the tears.
The anger had set in.
So yeah. She just happened to have a fresh dose of fire in her arsenal.
“My turn,” she said sweetly.
His brows lifted condescendingly. “Think you’ve got a read on me, huh?”
Oh, I know I do.
See, the guy had been pretty dead-on in his assessment of her, but there was one very important detail that he hadn’t hit on. The job that enabled her to wear her “tight skirts and high heels”? That job just happened to be a career in this very type of thing.
And then writing about it.
Sure, Greg might have pulled the wool over her eyes—maybe stomped her ego a little bit—but Grace was determined to regain her title as Stiletto magazine’s expert on men and the games they played.
She wasn’t one of the lead columnists of the country’s best-selling women’s magazine for nothing.
And this guy was exactly what she needed to get back in the saddle.
“So let’s see,” she said, resting her head against the back of the seat and mimicking his posture.
“You work out religiously, probably to counteract the scattering of gray hairs popping up prematurely at your temples. I say prematurely, because you’re only thirty-three, but you work hard and you play hard, and you hate like hell that you can’t control your hair as easily as you do your biceps. Your job requires you to be endlessly charming, something that you happily carry over to your personal life, which I’m guessing means your longest relationship is somewhere in the proximity of . . . four months? Give or take. You fancy yourself a New Yorker, but your accent smacks of small-town Midwest—something you probably hate, though you’d never tell your parents, whom you’re close to.”
Grace paused to take a breath.
“It’s never occurred to you that a woman wouldn’t want to share her cab with you, and now you’ll spend the rest of the day wondering why I wasn’t fishing for a reason to give you my number. Then you’ll forget all about me tomorrow when the next tight skirt catches your eye. Also, you’re one-night stand with Miss Tribeca guarantees you’re wearing yesterday’s suit, although I’m guessing you drew the line on dirty underwear, which means you’re currently commando, which, in conclusion, I would like to point out is completely disgusting.”
As if on cue, the taxi came to a stop in front of her office building, and she pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and leaned over to tuck it neatly into his suit jacket pocket.
“How’d I do?” she asked sweetly, her hand already going for the door handle.
He moved quickly, reaching out a hand to grab her wrist even as he pried open her fingers and placed the twenty back into her palm. “Not bad,” he said, his voice husky.
Her eyes collided with his, and if they’d been warmly flirtatious before, they were burning hot as hell now. “But?” she asked, more than a little curious about how close she’d come.
His thumb flicked across her inner wrist, making her pulse jumpy. “You got everything right but one detail.”
She gave him a look of sympathy. “So you are wearing the dirty underwear, then?”
“No,” he said, his voice dropping even lower. “I mean you were wrong about the part of me forgetting you by tomorrow.”
Grace’s mouth went dry.
“Something tells me I’ll be remembering you for a long time.” With that, he released her arm, and Grace clawed for the door handle, her composure completely shot to hell by one handsome guy.
Grace 1.0 was practically tittering at the pretty words, and 2.0 was howling at the sky in anger.
Since 2.0 was noisier, Grace clung to disdain instead of swooning, and refused to spare the man a second glance as she tucked the twenty-dollar bill back into his pocket and climbed out of the cab.
Good girl, Grace 2.0 said with a little football-player-style slap on the ass. This is supposed to be your time. Single time, girl power, whatever you want to call it.
Right. Got it. Grace straightened her skirt and headed into the lobby of the Ravenna building for the first time in over a month.
First day of her new life and all that.
It was time to figure out who Grace Brighton really was. And that meant no relationships. No sex. No men. For six months, at least.
Especially not tall dark playboys who climbed into cabs with strange women and likely skipped underwear after one-night stands.
No matter how dead sexy he was. . . . .
Intrigued? Want more? Get your Stiletto fix here – http://www.randomhouse.com/book/227833/love-the-one-youre-with-by-lauren-layne