Her lips parted, and he almost reached for her, but the sudden shout and scream of the machines announcing a big winner ruined the moment.
She cleared her throat. “I guess I’ll go gamble.”
“Need a cocktail?”
“Still working on my champagne.” She hesitated, then turned. “I’ll see you later.”
He watched her walk away and disappear into the throngs of excited, happy people looking for a big hit. Too bad the emptiness in his gut made him feel like the loneliest person there.
He clenched his fists and headed toward the bar.
He was with a girl.
Avery reminded herself it was his right. She was having a great time. Finally, she wasn’t in charge of everyone else’s happiness and was free to dance and have fun with her best friend. The girls in Ally’s bridal party were easy to get along with, and after a few hours, it felt like they’d known each other forever. Noelle kept up a steady stream of dance partners, and when Judith and Maddie pulled her onto the dance floor, Avery remembered how much fun it was to cut loose and let her body lead. The DJ played a variety of high-energy hits mixed with hip-hop and just enough rap. The VIP service kept snacks and drinks flowing at their table.
So far, Carter had done an amazing job.
And he was talking to a girl right now. A pretty one, too. She had smooth, straight blonde hair and big Barbie-doll blue eyes. Leather pants and some type of fringe top that would look ridiculous on Avery, but the woman at the bar had a perfect sleek, skinny body that probably made all clothes seem model perfect. Probably the regular type of women Carter went for. Not extra-curvy, wild-haired workaholics who made every decision based on practicality.
Avery slumped in the booth and sipped her champagne. She was happy for him. The blonde wouldn’t have rules about long-term relationships or expectations. Maybe they’d sleep together tonight. No strings and no hassles. Just the way he liked it.
He’d dressed casually tonight, but sharp. The navy button-down shirt was designer, with flipped-up paisley cuffs. The material clung and emphasized his molded chest. He’d put some type of gel in his hair so it was sculpted back away from his brow. The look made his eyes appear more intense—the blue-gray depths pinning an onlooker with a serious gaze, unbarred by his glasses. His dark-washed jeans were tight and made his ass drool-worthy. Every time she got near, the delicious scent of spice and whiskey teased her senses. Yeah, he was ready to get laid, and that woman was practically licking her chops.
On cue, the blonde threw back her head and laughed at something he said. Their faces were close together, probably trying to hear each other above the loud music. Carter grinned with pride at making her laugh, and the woman squeezed his biceps in a familiar gesture. He did nothing to shake it off or discourage her.
Avery brooded and drank and watched.
Noelle appeared with a big smile and leaned over the table. “Why aren’t you dancing?”
She laughed, averting her gaze firmly from the man a few feet away. “Just hydrating. Having fun?”
“Always.” Her blue eyes gleamed with pure mischief. Noelle practically exuded sex appeal and emanated confidence bigger women usually didn’t own. It was obvious she loved her curves, and dressed to accentuate every single one. Men were consistently asking her to dance and seemed to want to soak up her presence. Avery had adored her at first sight and wished she lived closer so they could be friends.
“Noelle, I didn’t get to ask what you do for work.”
The woman raised her voice to be heard above the music. “I’m a producer. I worked in New York for a while, but got transferred to Austin to do an indie series on Netflix. I’m employed by LWW Enterprises—they’re based in Port Hudson.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of them! They got Kyle Kimpton’s book made into a movie, A Brand New Ending. Did you see it? I couldn’t stop crying, it was so damn good.”
“Yes! That was my girl Presley Cabot’s doing. I was in the same sorority as her, and she’s done amazing things at LWW. Hey, when you come to visit Ally, make sure you invite me out! Sometimes I have a hard time making friends, and I just clicked with you.”
They smiled at each other, and then the DJ mixed into another song. Noelle shouted and began swaying her hips. “Come dance with me!”
Avery focused on the slow bluesy-type sound. Couples began pairing up on the dance floor, arms and legs tangled together. “It’s a slow song.”
“Who cares?” Noelle grabbed her hands, dragging her out. Only then did she notice Ally and Judith dancing together, laughing hysterically.
“Girl power!” Ally declared with a slight slur.
Maddie joined in, and they began a giant group hug that slightly resembled dancing.
Suddenly, Carter cut into the circle, grabbing his sister and spinning her into his arms. “Come on, Ally-Cat. Show me your moves.”
Ally’s face lit up under her brother’s attention. “I love you, bro,” she said with a sigh, making him laugh while he guided her in tight loops around the crowded floor. “Best man of honor ever.”
“Man HO,” Avery popped in, shooting him a glare. The champagne had loosened her tongue. “In my world, it’s Man HO.”
Ally cracked up. “Imagine my brother as a Man HO. Maybe you’ll get lucky tonight,” she teased her brother.
The look he shot Avery held little humor. In fact, his gaze narrowed with such intensity, she shivered and hid a bit behind Judith, who was still bouncing back and forth in an imitation of dancing.
“Maybe I will,” he said, his dark voice making lava bubble through Avery’s veins. Suddenly, he traded off Ally to Judith and reached for Avery. “Switch,” he said. “I’d like to dance with the wedding planner.”
Ally giggled, and the ladies drifted off toward the right, getting closer to the DJ booth.
“What was that about?” he asked, lowering his mouth to speak close to her ear. “Did I miss something?”
Temper and embarrassment and alcohol mixed together in an explosive cocktail. “You missed dancing with your hot blonde,” she said. Heat rushed to her cheeks. It was awful to know she was acting like a jealous girlfriend and unable to stop it. “Didn’t she want to dance with you?”
Amusement glinted in his pewter eyes. Her body tensed, and her nails dug into his upper arms. Did he think that was funny? “Actually, she did. I told her I had a bachelorette party to take care of and wanted to dance with my sister.”
“I’m not your sister.”
He sucked in a breath and leaned in. Sexy stubble clung to his jaw and hugged his lips. “No, you’re not.” He paused. “You jealous?”
“No. I don’t care if she turns you on. Go sleep with her. Isn’t that exactly what you’re looking for? A bit of fun with no strings?”
His lips firmed. “Sweetheart, holding your hand gives me a hard-on. That woman could strip naked in front of me and I wouldn’t be interested.”
His words pummeled her defenses like rocks against glass. She didn’t speak, caught between the need to believe him and the awful ache tearing her apart that urged her to move in and claim him. Touch. Pleasure. Possess.
He lowered his head and spoke against her mouth. “I haven’t stopped thinking about you or what you said. And I need to figure this shit out soon because I need you too damn bad. Now, let me hold you for a little while, sweetheart. Dance with me.”
She shivered and moved closer, her body giving up the fight and melting against him.
He growled her name and pulled her in, his hips cradled against hers, his arms wrapped around her waist, palms on her ass. In the dark and the neon flashing lights, they were just blurry silhouettes, mashed into a crowd of strangers. His lips coasted over her cheek, his breath a warm rush of air, his lips inches away from hers. Surroundings drifted away until she was caught in a cocoon of warmth and want, his scent in her nostrils, her fingers in his hair, drowning in a wave of hunger she no longer wanted to fight.
When the song ended, it took a long time for them to break apart. The release of his hold pained her, until they stood staring at each other on the crazed dance floor.
Ally and Maddie danced in between them, grabbing her wrist, and she was pulled away to disappear back into the crowd.
But his words haunted her.
She didn’t know if it was one hour that had passed or three when she realized the group had reached its limit. Ally was slurring, Judith was screaming from being music deaf, and Maddie had a wasted smile on her face. Noelle was a happy drunk and kept hugging everyone. Avery was just about to go find Carter and let him know they were done, when he appeared with one of the smartly dressed VIPs who held chilled bottles of water.
“Drink up, ladies,” he said cheerfully. “We’ll get you to your suites so you can relax and get some sleep.”
Everyone nodded, hydrated, and headed up to the elevators. Carter tipped the guy and personally escorted each of them into their rooms, which were all right next to each other. Avery had stopped drinking champagne after the dance with Carter, so she was more tired than tipsy, but she helped him make sure the ladies were okay by themselves and weren’t about to be puking all night.