Hello everyone! I hope you are all weathering the pandemic as well as you can!
Well, you're probably wondering what in the world this is. For the past nearly two years, I've been working on converting the Rendezvous one shots into a full length novel. It has been a long process – and much harder than I expected – but it is finally complete!
This would not have been possible, at all, if not for Eunice339, my incredible alpha/beta combo. Without her encouragement, love, poking and prodding, I don't know if I ever would have done this. This story is all her!
I hope you enjoy this and Happy Thanksgiving!
With two more weeks still to go before Thanksgiving, New York City was unseasonably cold, a slushy rain falling from the iron-gray skies. Inside the back of a yellow cab, Tobias Eaton pulled his trench coat a little closer around himself. He'd asked the cabbie to turn the heat up twice, but it was clear that the aging taxi had given all it could give. Tobias decided it didn't matter as they were already nearing the corporate headquarters of Prior-Eaton International Travel.
Less than ten minutes later, the cab pulled up to the front of the midtown high-rise that housed his family's company. Glancing at his watch, Tobias smiled to himself. He was going to be precisely on time for the meeting with his father. Marcus Eaton did not like to be kept waiting.
Upon arriving at Marcus' office, Tobias frowned when he didn't see his father's secretary at her desk. He stood, debating what to do for a moment. Marcus didn't tolerate lateness and Tobias needed his father's approval on the additional funding for their charity, Helping Hands Foundation. However, Marcus also didn't appreciate anyone—family included—barging into his office unannounced either. Deciding to risk it, Tobias strode toward the office door; he did have an appointment after all.
As he approached, he couldn't help but notice the door was ajar and groaned at what he saw within. "Jesus," he muttered, loudly enough to be heard across the room.
The secretary—Amelia, Allison, something like that—was just straightening up to her full height while smoothing her too-tight pencil skirt over her hips. She'd clearly been on her knees just a few moments before. Tobias silently scoffed; he wasn't terribly surprised at the scenario. Marcus was notorious for sleeping with his staff, but considering it had taken a million dollars to keep the last secretary quiet just a year ago, Tobias had thought his father would exercise better judgment. No such luck, he thought as he entered the room.
"Son!" Marcus boomed, glancing at the clock on the bookshelf opposite him. "You're right on time." Flicking a glance at the young redhead, he said, "Thank you, Allison. That'll be all for now."
Allison smiled a completely unprofessional smile. "Of course, Mr. Eaton," she purred. "It was my pleasure." She crossed the room, ensuring that her hips swayed invitingly. As she approached Tobias, her eyes flicked smugly over to him. Lowering her voice so only he could hear her, she whispered, "That could have been you, you know. If you'd been man enough to take what I offered." Allison smirked, clearly assuming her position as Marcus' latest lover would give her some sort of leeway to speak to Tobias however she chose.
Tobias suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. He had turned her down flat when she'd propositioned him a few months before, so she'd turned her eyes firmly towards Marcus—a move that had obviously worked. As she sashayed past him, Tobias glanced down at her mouth. "You missed some," he said, wiping a finger along the side of his mouth, his gravelly voice serious and loud enough for Marcus to hear.
The woman flushed, either with anger or embarrassment—maybe both—and quickened her step out of the office, shutting the door firmly behind her. Tobias shook his head and strode to the chair across from his father's desk and dropped into it. Fury raced through his veins and it was all he could do to maintain a neutral expression as he regarded his father. Tobias could see Allison was just using Marcus—her quick pivot from Tobias to him was evidence of that—but Marcus was just as bad. Sex as a transaction was something Tobias had never understood.
"That wasn't very nice, Tobias," Marcus chided none too seriously.
Tobias tried hard not to let his anger and disgust at his father's casual amusement show. His carelessness could've meant disaster for the company and Tobias couldn't fathom how Marcus would be so reckless. "So what? She left the door partially opened. You need to be more discreet, Dad. What if I had been an employee?"
Marcus' eyes narrowed. He didn't appreciate being called on the carpet by anyone, least of all his own son. "I would think my employees are smart enough to keep what they see to themselves." His voice carried a tone of warning.
The tone set Tobias' teeth on edge, but he couldn't afford to alienate his father, not if he wanted to seal this deal for Helping Hands. Pissing off Marcus would only backfire on him and could push Marcus into being even more antagonistic. Whether he liked it or not, Tobias would eventually need Marcus' approval to spin Helping Hands off as its own non-profit organization. "Our employees are absolutely loyal," Tobias said carefully, "but that reporter, Nita Vargas, was heavily sniffing around Ellen before we negotiated her…um…separation agreement. The company doesn't want any bad publicity." In all honesty, Tobias was still pissed it cost the family a million dollars just because Marcus couldn't keep his pants zipped. In this day and age, Marcus' careless philandering could seriously damage the company's brand, but whatever the potential risk, it still didn't seem to dissuade him. Though, Tobias knew paying off the former secretary was a sore spot with Marcus too and mentioning it had the desired effect.
Marcus' expression turned serious and his deep-blue eyes, which were the same color as his son's, locked on the closed door. "Hmm," he murmured, "you have a point, son. I'll have a word with her."
Pushing aside the unpleasant topic of his dad's infidelities, Tobias pulled out a folder of spreadsheets from his briefcase. "I assume you've had a chance to review the projections I sent you yesterday?"
Reaching for a similar looking folder lying on the side of his desk, Marcus flipped it open lazily. "Yes, quite a thorough job, son, I must admit."
Surprised that Marcus hadn't outright rejected his idea, Tobias continued, "I wanted to make sure you had as much of the data as possible. As you can see, the cost of overhauling the Temperance isn't financially feasible for Prior-Eaton. Instead, buying a new ship to replace her in the fleet makes much more sense in the long-term. But rather than junking her for parts, we could instead do some slight modifications and donate her for exclusive use by Helping Hands. It would be a win-win for both parties. Prior-Eaton will get a healthy and sound tax write-off for charitable purposes and Helping Hands will greatly reduce its overhead. With our own method of transportation and housing, we reduce the need for the charity to outsource those expenses."
Marcus nodded idly, flipping through the financial projections Tobias had provided. "I can see some benefit to it, but I need to consider all the options. Have the accountants rerun the projections—give it to George and Jack."
Tobias tried not to clench his teeth at his father's deflection, knowing Marcus would notice the tightening of his jaw. "I already had both accounting and legal take a look at the proposal. Their memos are also contained in the file," as he damn well knows, Tobias thought. Then again, it wouldn't be his father if Marcus didn't make him run the gauntlet before agreeing to the proposal. For all Marcus' bluster about wanting his son to join Prior-Eaton, Tobias knew Marcus would keep testing him.
"It's always best to double check these things," Marcus answered flippantly and was pleased when he didn't draw a reaction from his son. The boy is certainly honing his business skills, he conceded.
Realizing he wasn't going to get any further with Marcus today, Tobias began rearranging the papers he'd pulled from his briefcase. "Well, I should let you get back to work—"
"Just a moment, son." Marcus straightened in his chair and leaned across the table to look Tobias in the eye. "There's one other thing I want to talk to you about."
"The Thanksgiving Gala."
This time Tobias could not contain his sigh. Every year for the past decade, Prior-Eaton had rewarded their top employees with a getaway trip to The Big Apple the weekend before Thanksgiving that culminated in an elegant gala hosted in their honor. Marcus had consistently used it to push the branding of Prior-Eaton as a family company—even if the Eaton portion of that family was a sham.
"Yes, Dad, I'll be there."
"Of course, you will. Which is why I've arranged for you to escort Beatrice Prior."
Tobias stared at his father in shock. "What?"
Marcus sighed impatiently. "Beatrice…Andrew's daughter. She'll be alone this year since her brother will be escorting his fiancée. Beatrice isn't seeing anyone and neither are you, so Andrew and I thought this would be a perfect solution to ensure no one inappropriate makes an appearance this year."
Tempering down the anger rising inside him, Tobias forced himself to take a deep breath. His parents had never been the type of people to hold back their feelings about the women he'd dated even though his reputation as somewhat of a playboy was greatly exaggerated. "I'm perfectly capable of finding a date myself, Dad."
Marcus smirked a little. "I don't think any of your models would be an appropriate choice for a family function."
Tobias held his tongue at the irony of Marcus' statement given what Tobias had just walked in on. Besides that, Tobias had never told his parents that the few models he'd escorted to various parties weren't anything more than friends, two of them even had relationships of their own they preferred not to publicize. He admitted it was petty of him to allow his parents to think all he wanted was some pretty face, but it amused him nonetheless. "Dad, I haven't been around Beatrice in years. I think the last time I even saw her was before we moved to England." Tobias was only sixteen when his grandfather had died and the Board of Directors unanimously voted Marcus as CEO of Prior-Eaton. Marcus then moved the family back to his childhood home in London where their European offices were located and felt it only right to name Andrew Prior as partner and CFO of the company both of their grandfathers had started.
"Then it is time you renewed your association with my partner's daughter."
Tobias couldn't suppress another sigh. When he'd last seen Beatrice Prior, she'd been a skinny, gawky kid with braces who preferred to have her face in a book rather than talk to actual people. "Dad, really; I don't want to spend the evening with a stranger."
"She may be a bit boring, but she's a lovely, young lady. Besides, it's only a few hours." Marcus idly tapped his fingers on top of the folder containing the financial projections for Helping Hands.
The underlying meaning behind Marcus' tapping fingers was not lost on Tobias. He was well aware that Marcus would be more than willing to use Helping Hands against him if it came down to it. "Come now, son," Marcus cajoled. "It won't be that bad. Beatrice may not be a model, but she is pretty. You can put up with her for a few hours, can't you?"
Tobias' jaw tightened as he considered his father's unspoken message. If he refused to escort Beatrice, Marcus would turn down his proposal to use one of Prior-Eaton's old ships as the cornerstone of Helping Hands' charitable enterprise. It was blackmail, pure and simple. After a moment, Tobias' shoulders sagged. "Yes, Dad, I can do it."
Marcus grinned broadly—he'd been confident Tobias would capitulate. "Excellent! I'll tell Andrew. I'm sure you two will hit it right off."
Tobias slunk down in his chair. "Yes, Dad. I'm sure you're right," he said, dully. The thought of the gala had just gone from annoying to unbearable.
"Your dad's a fucking prick, dude," Zeke Pedrad proclaimed, taking a sip of his decaffeinated iced tea. A tight end for the New York Giants, he and Tobias had been best friends since they were nine years old, having bonded at the all-boys private school they'd both attended before Tobias moved to London. During the season, Zeke religiously avoided alcohol, not wanting anything to potentially mess up his game. In solidarity, his friends usually tee-totaled with him.
Tobias snorted. "Tell me something I don't know, man." He took a deep drink of his own tea and sighed. He'd come over not long after leaving his father's office, needing to vent out his frustration and anger. For the last several minutes he'd been brooding into his glass.
Zeke's younger brother, Uriah, shrugged. "It won't be so bad," he argued. "Tris is cool."
"'Tris'?" Tobias asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Yeah. She hates Beatrice—says it's too old fashioned."
Tobias shrugged. "That's something, at least." He sighed again. "I should have figured he'd do something, but to use the charity to force me into spending the evening with this woman just pisses me off. Now I'm going to be stuck with her all evening."
Uriah rolled his eyes. "Trust me, Tobias, she's probably no happier about this than you."
"Still," Zeke cut in, "you've got to admit, Uri, it's pretty fucked up."
"I'm not saying it's not. I'm just saying there's no reason to get all upset about it."
"Come on, would you want to spend all night with some chick you don't even know just because mom and dad forced you to?" Zeke argued then turned to Tobias. "When was the last time you even saw her?"
Tobias thought for a moment. "It was before we moved to England. I was about sixteen, so she must have been, what…twelve or thirteen?"
"She's my age," Uriah pointed out. "Don't forget, we went to Princeton together."
"Okay, fine, then she was fourteen."
Uriah leaned forward. "That's my point. It's been almost fifteen years since you spent any time with her. She's not a kid anymore. She's an interesting, vivacious, intelligent, beautiful woman."
"You're her friend," Tobias pointed out.
Before Uriah could retort, Zeke butted in. "Well, he's not wrong," Zeke conceded. "Tris is a lot of fun once you get her to relax. And…" he wiggled his eyebrows, "she's pretty hot. Isn't she, Uri?" Zeke had needled his brother for years about his tendency to have more friends who were women than men, especially beautiful women.
Uriah shot a frown at his brother. "Don't be a jerk."
"I'm not! Look—if he has to have a woman foisted on him, she should at least be hot."
Uriah turned to Tobias. "Like I said, Tris is an amazing woman and I'm positive you'll like her. Just—just be regular you, not asshole you."
Tobias raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying I'm an asshole?" he asked, his voice deepening as he glared at Uriah.
"See, that right there. That's what I'm talking about. You go all military and act like people are enemy combatants or something. Believe me, her parents probably pressured her too, so she'll be just as pissed. You guys are on the same side, so don't take your shit out on her." Uriah took a deep drink from his glass. Tobias could be intimating as hell when he wanted to be and Uriah usually didn't push it, but Tris was too important to him to let it go. Zeke and Tobias exchanged glances. The humor had faded from Zeke's face and now he was looking at Uriah with a bit more interest.
Tobias studied Uriah for a moment too, trying to figure out what to say next. Finally, he said hesitantly, "Look, Uri, is there something you've got going with her? If so, I'll push back, tell my dad that she's seeing someone. I can try to get her out of this." Tobias had heard from Zeke that Uri had a friends-with-benefits arrangement with Tris' best friend, Christina, who he hung out with even when they weren't sleeping together. Tobias knew he was also close to Tris, maybe more so than with Christina. That combined with his passionate defense, made Tobias wonder if there was more to Tris and Uriah's friendship than met the eye.
Uriah looked startled. "No, it's not like that," he insisted. "We're just friends. She's like…a sister," he finished lamely. It wasn't entirely true; Uriah had had a mild crush on her in college, but Tris hadn't been interested. He'd thought about making a play for her after she broke up with her boyfriend, Robert Black, and he'd broken up with his girlfriend, Marlene, but by that time, they'd been seniors and there was entirely too much history between them. Still, Tris held a special place in Uriah's heart and he would hate to see Tobias screw with her.
Tobias stared at Uriah for a moment longer, not sure he believed him, but he decided to let it go. If Tris was important to Uriah, then Tobias resolved to be on his best behavior. "Okay, I'll be good," he promised. He reached for his glass again. "Hell, you're probably right and we could be allies in this. It'd be nice to have somebody on my side against my parents at one of these things for once."
Zeke toasted Tobias with his glass. "That's the spirit!" He then turned his gaze to Uriah. "Happy now?"
"Kiss ass, Zeke." Uriah was beginning to regret being so outspoken. He knew Zeke was not going to let it go.
"Hey, I'm not the one going all knight-in-shining-armor here."
"I'm just looking out for a friend."
"Uh-huh, a friend you'd like to fuck?" Zeke taunted. He'd harbored the same suspicion as Tobias about Uriah's feelings toward Tris.
"You know, Zeke, you're a real asshole." Uriah shot back. "Just because I know how to be a
Tobias settled back into the armchair, letting the bickering brothers soothe his nerves. The Pedrads had always been so damn normal; their family dynamic had been a ray of hope for Tobias when he was younger. His own parents' caustic relationship could have made him deeply skeptical of marriage and relationships, but Zeke and Uriah's parents—Hana and Jonathan—were the best example of a normal, loving relationship Tobias had ever seen. The delight they took in their sons had spilled over to Tobias, making him an honorary Pedrad. Their home was where he went whenever he was in town and his own family was too much. As he smiled fondly at the brothers, who were now outright arguing over which was the more chivalrous man, Tobias felt himself settle. He could get through one dinner. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, after all.
"Come on, Tris. Please!"
Tris sighed deeply and glared at her twin brother. "Caleb, I have no desire to stay here until the end! It's bad enough that I had to agree to have Tobias Eaton escort me," Tris sneered the word escort. "But now you expect me to take your place handing out the parting gifts and listening to speeches so you can go off with your fiancée? Nope, no way."
Caleb pulled Tris closer so he wouldn't be overheard. People were beginning to enter the ballroom and find their way to their tables. "Cara is here!" he hissed.
"Of course, she's here! She's just been named Assistant Director of Online Operations." Tris rolled her eyes at her brother.
"I know, I know, but I don't want her to have to watch me and Susan doing the whole welcome/goodbye thing." Caleb's green eyes, their mother's eyes, were pleading. "Come on, Tris. If not for me, then do it for her. Cara's your friend. I don't want to hurt her any more than I already have."
Tris heaved a huge sigh. "It's been nearly a year, Caleb. She's over it." But still, Tris' gaze wandered over to the blonde currently chatting with Gus, the Director of Online Operations for Prior-Eaton. "But you're right, I don't want to see her hurt." Tris glared at her brother. "I'm still mad at you for what you did to her."
Caleb hunched his shoulders a little. "Yeah, I know." He might not admit it often, but his twin's disapproval did bother him.
Crossing her arms across her chest, Tris regarded her brother. It wasn't an ideal place—there were people milling about the ballroom so it was possible they would be overheard—but this was the first time Tris felt like she could actually get straight answers out of her brother. She pulled him to a relatively quiet corner of the ballroom and lowered her voice. "So, why'd you do it? Why'd you just take off like that? Cara was confused…Mom and Dad were hurt. It was a damn mess and you just left."
"I just…I just didn't know how to tell everyone I wanted to go back into research." Caleb hunched his shoulders. "When I graduated from medical school, Mom and Dad were so excited about me joining the staff of ship's doctors; I just went along with it. When I met Cara, I thought everything would be okay." Gesturing helplessly, Caleb shrugged. "Then I got that call from Harold and I just couldn't say no." Harold was a former professor of Caleb's, now at the University of Toronto. He'd had a breakthrough in cancer treatment based on research Caleb had helped him with as a student. Without any warning, Caleb accepted a position on Harold's medical research team and moved to Toronto. He'd not only told his parents that he was quitting Prior-Eaton, but also broke up with Cara…over the telephone.
"Yeah, but you didn't have to dump Cara that way!" Tris said, narrowing her eyes. "I have been friends with her since college. Do you know how awkward it has been with her? With Will?" Tris had a tight-knit group of friends and having one of them date her twin brother had made it better than she'd dreamed. And Will, Cara's brother, was not only Tris' friend too, but also her best friend's sometimes-boyfriend.
"I didn't know how to tell her what I wanted. I knew it would be awkward, so I thought it would be easier for all of us if I severed as many ties to Prior-Eaton as I could." Caleb looked his sister straight in the eye, something he hadn't done in months. "I'm not proud of myself. It was a chicken-shit move."
"Yeah, it was. Then to just move on with Susan Black like nothing happened," Tris shook her head. "It just made it all the worse."
Caleb pushed a hand through his sandy blond hair. "I knew I had screwed up. But you know how Dad can be. Every time I tried to talk to him, to help him understand, he'd just perseverate on how much extra work they'd had to do to fill my position. I just…I felt so guilty. So when Mom asked, I felt obligated to go out with Susan that first time. I didn't expect things to happen the way they did."
Tris was quiet, considering her twin's words. She looked up at him, a lifetime of shared experiences passing between them. They'd both tried their best to be the perfect children they thought their parents deserved, but there always seemed to be a disconnect between what they wanted and what their parents wanted for them. Caleb hated confrontation and having to tell their parents he was walking away from their dream for him was tantamount to torture. Looking back, Tris could see why her brother had done things the way he did. "I guess I can understand why you went out with Susan," she said grudgingly.
A surge of hope shot through Caleb. He'd hated the distance he'd created with Tris and if this were to be his only chance to bridge that, then he would gladly bare his soul. "They were so happy when we kept dating, making it clear they wanted me and Susan together. She's so sweet and amenable, and the Blacks wanted it too, especially since you and Robert didn't work out. It just seemed easier for us to go along with it."
She sighed and turned a hard gaze onto her brother. She already knew she was going to agree to help him, not just because Cara was her friend, but also because she could understand how Caleb felt. "If I do this, I'm doing this for Cara, not you. Even though I understand, I'm still mad at you and I'm going to be for a while."
"Thank you, Tris! You know I love you, right? And I hope you will eventually forgive me."
"I know," she murmured, "And, Dad can be—forceful—when he wants something."
Feeling a thousand pounds lighter, Caleb threw an arm around Tris and gave her a side hug. "I'm not as strong as you, little sister," he teased. Tris was five minutes younger than him and he never let her forget it. "How have you been able to hold Dad at bay? You haven't had to officially join the company."
"Don't think it's been easy," she warned. Tris had managed to keep her participation in Prior-Eaton limited to part-time work in their advertising department so she could concentrate on her writing, something her family still didn't realize she was taking seriously. "But look at me now. I let them badger me into coming tonight and having Tobias as my escort, no less." Tris had missed the last several of these employee Thanksgiving events—first because she was in college, then finishing her Master's degree, and last year because she was sick.
"He's actually a good guy," Caleb defended. "I know you guys haven't spent a lot of time together in the last several years, but I have and I think you'll like him."
Tris snorted. "Hardly. The man traipses around the world, doing who knows what, then shows up every now and then in a magazine with some slinky model. Yeah, that's my kind of guy."
"He was in the military," Caleb pointed out. "And then he went to the London School of Economics."
Rolling her eyes, Tris retorted, "And has spent the last couple of years partying with models."
Caleb paused. He knew that Tobias wasn't what Tris thought he was. Before he'd left Prior-Eaton for medical school, Tobias had asked Caleb if he knew anyone at Doctors Without Borders. Tobias had wanted to create a connection with them and the company's then fledgling charity. Caleb had brokered the introduction and had been amazed at how detailed Tobias' plans were when they'd met for lunch with one of Caleb's medical school classmates. It was then that Caleb realized that Tobias was the real driving force behind Helping Hands Foundation; there was a lot more to Tobias than what people saw. "It was only a couple of models, Tris. He and Lauren Seagram dated for, like, two years before she got married."
Tris shrugged her brother's arm off her shoulders and tucked a lock of hair back into the twisted chignon at the nape of her neck. "Whatever. It's only a few hours," she reasoned. "It shouldn't be that bad." Straightening her shoulders, she pasted on her professional smile. "Okay, let's do this." She wound her arm through her brother's and led him into the ballroom.
The employees of the catering company were bustling around, putting the finishing touches on the tables. Various Prior-Eaton executives were already sprinkled around the room, talking to each other and waiting for the honored employees to arrive. Caleb led Tris to the back of the ballroom where a man and woman stood, apparently in deep discussion about something. Tris recognized Johanna Reyes, the Vice President of Charitable Giving at Prior-Eaton. The man's back was turned to them, but Tris could see that he was tall and broad-shouldered with wavy, dark hair. As they got closer, Caleb called out, "Hey, Tobias!" and the man immediately turned around.
It was all Tris could do to keep her jaw from dropping. It had been nearly fifteen years since she'd seen Tobias Eaton in person and she was floored. The man was absolutely gorgeous. He was sporting a neatly trimmed beard, something Tris never realized could look so damn good on a man. The matching black shirt and thin tie beneath his black suit jacket was just fitted enough for Tris to make out the muscles hidden beneath the fine fabric. She'd known he was attractive, but she hadn't realized how strong of a punch he could pack. Everything about this man exuded male beauty and strength. His nearly navy-blue eyes caught hers and Tris felt a jolt of electricity spark throughout her body. Those eyes were captivating—magnetic even—and Tris found herself unable to look away. They stayed locked on hers as she and Caleb approached and Tris had to wonder if he felt the same pull towards her as she was feeling towards him.
He finally smiled, those full lips curving seductively. He politely turned to Caleb first and held out his hand for a shake. "Hi, Caleb. Good to see you again." The timbre of his voice seemed to caress Tris' skin so fully that she wondered if Caleb felt her tremble. Tobias' deep gaze turned back to Tris, "Beatrice. It's been a while. You look lovely."
"Hello, Tobias. It has been a long time. And it's just Tris," she practically purred. Tris subconsciously ordered herself to get her shit together. She was going to be spending the next few hours with this man and she would not appear a blithering idiot.
"Tris," he repeated and Tris felt her knees weaken at the sound of her name in that deep baritone voice. Tobias turned slightly to Johanna. "I believe you both know Johanna."
"Yes, hello." Caleb reached out to shake Johanna's hand. "It's good to see you again." Johanna smiled and returned the greeting, then began chatting amiably with Caleb. Their voices began fading into the background as Tris and Tobias stared at each other.
"So, I'm to escort you tonight," Tobias said, a small smile hovering over his lips.
Tris chuckled a little, hoping she didn't sound as nervous as she felt. "Yes, I'm sorry you got roped into this. My parents and yours thought putting us together would be a good idea."
"I'm beginning to think they were right," he murmured. Tris bit down on her bottom lip a little, desperately trying to think of something witty to say. Behind her, she realized that people were beginning to file into the ballroom. She glanced over her shoulder then turned back to find his hand held out to her. "Shall we?" he asked.
Tris placed her hand into his and once again felt that familiar electric shock. Her eyes flew up to his and this time, she could see that spark reflected in his dark blues, too. "Yes, I suppose we shall," she whispered back.
They made their obligatory rounds among the attendees, smiling and greeting people as they went along. Tobias was the perfect society host—he said the right things and acted the right way—but there was something about him that led Tris to believe there was more to explore behind his pleasant smile. There was something just this side of wicked gleaming in those bright, blue eyes and Tris wondered just what she needed to do to break through his societal control.
She tucked her arm into the crook of his as they finished talking to the top-rated employee from the Los Angeles office and her husband. Tobias looked down at Tris and smiled. "I think we deserve a drink," he said, leading her over to the bar.
"Champagne," Tris said to the bartender.
"Same." Tobias reached for the glasses after the bartender poured them and handed one to Tris. As they sipped, Tobias considered her over the rim of his glass. "Are you having fun?"
"Oh, absolutely," Tris said, hoping she had kept the sarcasm out of her voice. She assumed she wasn't entirely successful when he smirked at her. He started to reply, but they were interrupted when a pencil-thin, redhead in a dark-green dress placed her hand on Tobias' shoulder.
"Well, hello, Tobias," she practically cooed. Tris raised an eyebrow at the woman's rudeness and flicked her eyes to Tobias, but his expression was frozen. Tris leaned back slightly against the bar, prepared to enjoy what was obviously going to be a show.
"Sarah," he said blandly before glancing back at Tris. "Have you met Tris Prior? Tris, Sarah is one of the account executives here in the New York office."
Sarah turned her sharp gaze to Tris, her dark-green eyes taking in the fitted, rose-colored, capped sleeve, sheath dress Tris wore. Tris looked elegant and classic, her golden hair pulled up into a chignon with a few wisps brushing her neck. Every inch the pampered, rich girl, Sarah thought with a sneer, though she did purse her lips in envy at the four-inch-high Jimmy Choo heels in sparkling pink and white ombre Tris wore. Despite her excellent taste in shoes and the Prior name, Sarah dismissed Tris of being any real importance to the company or to the current situation, so murmured a curt greeting before turning back to Tobias. She reached out and lightly fingered the lapel of Tobias' suit. "I was hoping to run into you here," she purred. Tobias took a slight step back but she merely continued forward. "I was hoping we could get together while you're in town."
Tobias shook his head. "No, sorry, that won't be possible." He slid an arm around Tris' waist and pulled her close to him. "Tris and I have plans."
Sarah looked from him to Tris and back again then gave a slight laugh. "You aren't serious?" Her smile faded a little as she stared at Tobias' poker face giving nothing away. "You aren't together," she dismissed, her eyes narrowing. "I happen to know from your father's secretary that you're not seeing anyone," she accused. Allison was Sarah's younger sister and obviously the source of her company gossip.
Tris, deciding it was time to end Tobias' discomfiture, responded brightly, "No, we're just using each other for the sex." Beside her Tobias snorted out a laugh and Sarah's cheeks burned red. Without a word she turned on her ice pick heels and stormed away.
Respect and amusement gleamed in Tobias' eyes as he turned to Tris. "Thanks for that."
"No problem." Tris placed her now empty glass on the bar. "I have met her before, you know," she said conversationally. "She's always been a bitch, so I enjoyed taking her down a notch."
He drained his own glass. "She hits on me every time I see her at one of these things. Won't take no for an answer."
Tris patted him on the chest. "Aw, poor baby. Maybe now she'll leave you alone."
He leaned down, bringing his lips close to her ears. Tris shuddered a little as she inhaled his cologne—a spicy, uber-male scent that set off a flutter in her belly. "I owe you one." He caught her gaze and Tris found herself falling into those deep-blue eyes, the rest of the room fading around her.
She swallowed and took in a breath, hoping to calm her racing heart. "I'll be sure to collect."
Grinning, Tobias straightened. "I look forward to it."
Tobias had to admit, the evening wasn't nearly as bad as he had feared and a large part of that had to do with the woman next to him. The last time he'd seen her, Tris had been an awkward teenager, but now she was an elegant, beautiful woman. Tobias had been impressed with how she had worked the room earlier in the evening and was now allowing his gaze to admire the long line of her neck, wondering if her skin would be as soft under his lips as it was to his eye. She was laughing at her brother as she sat back, crossing her rather excellent legs. He lingered on the expanse of thigh exposed by her skirt as it slid up and reached for his glass of water to get his mind off of what he'd like to do with that thigh.
"Tobias, how are things going with the charity?"
Torn from his erotic fantasy, Tobias looked up to see the object of his desire's brother waiting expectantly for his response. He cleared his throat slightly before responding, "Very well, actually. We are in the process of looking into re-purposing one of Prior-Eaton's ships for Helping Hands. It would serve as a transportation method for people and supplies and a means of lodging for our charity work."
Tris cocked her head to the side and studied Tobias closely. It was not the first time Tobias had said something with depth that completely surprised her this evening, forcing her to realize that she'd pegged Tobias all wrong. He wasn't nearly the world-weary playboy she'd assumed him to be. Tobias caught Tris' look and smiled. "What?"
"Nothing," she said, a little embarrassed that she'd been caught staring at him. "I guess I'm a little surprised that you convinced the Board of Directors to donate a ship."
Flashing a grin, Tobias answered, "Well, I haven't quite convinced them yet, but your father is on board, especially since the finances work out in everyone's favor."
"They certainly do," a hand landed lightly on Tobias' shoulder and he tried not to jerk away from Andrew Prior's gesture. Guilt once again churned in Tobias' stomach as he tried to banish the lascivious thoughts of Andrew's daughter from his mind. He could not have a conversation with the man while he was lusting for his daughter. It was just wrong. "Tobias' project may well be a serious benefit for Prior-Eaton." Andrew smiled down at Tobias, his icy-blue eyes matching his daughter's. "I'm sure your father is proud of what you're attempting."
Tris watched as a flush worked its way up Tobias' neck. Intrigued, she stared at him, completely sure now that Tobias wasn't the bored playboy playing at philanthropy she'd thought him to be. As she watched Tobias and her father talk, Tris admitted to herself that she found Tobias fascinating. He was definitely attractive with those intense blue eyes, wavy brown hair and chiseled features softened by a slight dimpling in each cheek when he smiled. Beneath the finely tailored suit, she could just make out the muscles of his hard body. Tris had been surprised when she'd first taken his arm and felt the strength he exuded, and she certainly hoped that he hadn't noticed that she'd been subtly continuing to squeeze those arms as they walked.
She yanked her mind back to the present when her father sat down. She watched as Susan and Caleb walked together to the adjoining ballroom where the dancing was scheduled to take place, a little embarrassed that she'd been so caught up in studying Tobias that she'd missed out on them opening the doors so that the music could begin to stream through. Andrew smiled indulgently at Caleb and Susan as they left. "They're a good match," he murmured, more to himself than to Tris and Tobias.
"They seem to be a nice couple," Tobias agreed diplomatically.
Andrew turned back to them, his gaze wandering over Tris and Tobias. "You kids seem to be having a good time tonight," he observed. "I'm glad you two are getting along so well."
Tris' eyes narrowed as she saw the spark of interest on Andrew's face. She didn't want him to get any ideas that he could orchestrate a match for her the way he had for Caleb. "It's been a nice night, Dad."
"Good, good!" Andrew's smile widened. "You know, Tobias, Beatrice is working with us in our Chicago office. She's really gifted with writing copy for our advertisements. She'd be good to consult with for Helping Hands, too. I'm sure you two would make a very effective team."
"Dad," Tris said, warning clear in her voice, "you know I haven't committed to working for the company."
Andrew dismissed her words with a shrug, clearly ignoring his daughter's annoyance. "It would be good for you to commit yourself to something." He smiled again at Tobias. "Beatrice is really very talented. Since you're both here in New York, it would be good for you two to get together, talk about publicizing Helping Hands' work. We can arrange some time for you together in one of the board rooms."
Tris leaned forward frowning—trying hard to keep a hold of her temper. "Dad—" she started, her voice sharp, but Tobias smoothly interrupted her.
"Tris, would you like to dance?" he asked, standing up and holding a hand out to her. She looked up at him, at the look of sympathetic amusement on his face and she softened.
"Yeah." She placed her hand in his and shooting one last withering glance at her father, followed Tobias through the doors to the secondary ballroom where a band and singer were set up at the far end of the room. He smoothly pulled her into his arms among the other couples dancing and they began swaying to the jazz band. Tris moved stiffly at first, but as they danced, she slowly relaxed. "I'm sorry about that," she said finally.
Tobias chuckled lightly. "Don't worry about it. I get it. I get the same pressure from my folks."
"Marriage or job?"
Tris laughed with Tobias, relaxing even further against him. "They can't seem to help themselves, can they?" She glanced through the crowd at her brother and Susan. "It doesn't help that they managed to arrange Susan and Caleb," she murmured. "I know they want nothing more than to see me happily tucked into both the company and connubial bliss with an acceptable man." Tris sighed. Her parents' vision for her was so clear she could see it and it made her vaguely nauseous. She loved her parents—she really did—but the idea of living her life for their dreams made her feel as though she were suffocating.
Nodding sympathetically, Tobias said, "My mom keeps trying to fix me up with a daughter of a friend of hers and I keep ducking. I even enlisted in the Navy to get away from her."
"You did not!"
Laughing, he twirled her around. "Not entirely, but it was a big bonus. I try to keep my parents from meddling too much, especially in my love life. Who wants to say their parents set them up? I mean, come on!" he said teasingly.
He made her laugh, Tris marveled. Very few men in her social circle were as cynical about their lifestyle as she was, but somehow Tobias understood and even seemed to share her sentiments. How had she missed that all these years? They swayed, moving together as if they'd done this a thousand times before. Tris realized she enjoyed the feel of his body against hers; his large hand pressing into the small of her back while his other hand enveloped hers in a warm grip. He moved gracefully, gliding her around the dance floor so effortlessly, Tris found herself closing her eyes, basking in the movement of his body against hers. She began humming the music softly to herself and opened her eyes in surprise when she heard his deep baritone echoing the words with her.
"I've got you, under my skin," Tobias sang softly, not noticing that Tris was looking up at him in amusement. He stopped when he realized she was no longer humming to herself but watching him. He flushed a little. "Whoops. Sorry."
"No, no, it was great. You've got a great voice, and nothing beats Sinatra."
He shrugged. "I like the classics."
Tris nodded in agreement. "What else do you listen to?"
Tilting his head, he considered the question. "Blues, hip-hop, classic rock, jazz…I've got an eclectic play list." He rubbed his hand lightly along the small of her back, setting off goose bumps along her entire spine. "What about you?"
"Um, similar, I guess, even though I haven't listened to a lot of blues or jazz."
"Really?" His eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled. "We need to change that."
"You have any suggestions?" she teased, her voice coming out a lot huskier than she'd intended.
He smiled that smile again and Tris felt her knees weaken a little. "Sure. You doing anything after this?"
"Why don't you come with me to a little place I know. Jazz, whiskey, good food—it's my favorite way to relax."
Pressing herself against him, Tris looked up into his eyes and once again experienced that drowning sensation she'd been feeling all night. "Why not?"
"Good," he said, his deep voice caressing the word. "It's a date."
"So, which one do you like best?" Tobias asked, placing his now empty glass of whiskey on the table, joining the three others sitting in front of him.
Tris spread Camembert cheese onto a round of baguette and looked up at him. "I wasn't a fan of the Laphroaig, but the Glenlivet was pretty good." She bit into the bread enjoying the juxtaposition of the creamy cheese with the bite of the single malt that was still lingering on her tongue.
"How did you find this place?" Tris asked, finishing off the bread. They were tucked into a corner booth at Tobias' favorite whiskey bar. The small bar was in the basement of a swanky restaurant, with about thirty tables and booths and a small stage for live music.
The jazz quartet a perfect accompaniment to the dimly lit room and the tasting flight of Scottish single malt whiskeys he'd talked her into trying, she decided. They'd finally relaxed from the pressures of being the perfect children at the gala, Tobias having removed his suit coat, loosened his tie and opened the first two buttons on his shirt while Tris pulled her hair out of the neat chignon. The mood was mellow—sensual even—and Tris was definitely feeling the current of electricity running between her and Tobias. They'd been teasing each other all night, testing each other's limits, and the undeniably sexy atmosphere of the club had only heightened the tension between them. They were certainly building to something—they could both feel it.
"The uncle of a friend of mine moved here from London and opened a nightclub. He turned me on to this place since the owner is a friend of his." Tobias reached for his glass of water and Tris couldn't help but notice how his shirt accentuated his muscles as it tightened over him. When he sat back, he noticed her gaze and shot her a grin.
Rather than be embarrassed, Tris grinned back. "I have to admit, you were right about this. It is pretty…relaxing." She drawled the last word.
It was all Tobias could do to keep from pulling her close to him at the husky purr in her voice. "I told you, it's my favorite way."
Tris tapped her finger along the rim of the glass in time to the low wail of the saxophone. "Hmm, I can think of a few other ways that might be better," she teased, enjoying the way his eyes darkened.
"That so?" he drawled, his fingers lightly brushing hers as he reached for an herb breadstick.
The touch was light, but it set off sparks along Tris' nerve endings. She slid slightly closer to him. "Maybe I'll show you sometime."
Tobias held her gaze and leaned towards her. The spicy scent of his cologne mixed with the musk of the whiskey and Tris wondered if he should come with a potency proof like the whiskey. "So," she said, settling back into the booth, "which one do you like best?" She gestured to the empty glasses in front of him.
Tobias reached out and snagged the last slice of salami from the cheese and charcuterie platter they'd ordered along with the whiskey. "The Glenmorangie is my favorite," he said, nodding towards Tris' glass. "That's what's in your last one there."
Lifting the glass, she gave him a little smirk. "Saved the best for last, huh?" Tobias winked at her and once again, Tris felt a flutter in her belly as he stretched his arm along the back of the booth. The movement once again pulled the dark shirt tightly across his chest, accentuating his muscles, and Tris had a very clear image of her running her hands over those muscles. She wondered if it felt half as good as she thought it would.
She swirled the amber-colored whiskey around in the wide-bottomed glass for a moment before bringing it to her lips. Her eyes met Tobias' dark-blue ones, which were twinkling in amusement. Allowing the smooth liquid to slide down her throat, Tris closed her eyes and enjoyed the slight burn under the smoky flavor. She opened her eyes to see Tobias watching her with undisguised want in his eyes. Slowly, Tris licked her lips, enjoying the spark of heat in his eyes as he watched her. "Mmm, that was good," she purred.
Unable to take any further stimulation, Tobias leaned forward and firmly took Tris' mouth. With a small sigh, Tris scooted just a little closer to him as his arm dropped from the back of the booth to slide around her waist. He eased her back a little against the back of the seat and Tris' hand grasped his thigh and squeezed. In response, Tobias deepened the kiss, his tongue caressing hers as he brought his other hand up to cup her cheek. Time seemed to stop and the room faded away until there was nothing but the two of them. His lips were impossibly soft against hers and Tris lost herself in him completely. She had no idea how long they sat kissing, but her dress suddenly felt entirely too hot and too tight as she slid her hand further up his thigh, higher and higher until his hand came down heavily on hers. Tobias pulled back with a gasp and searched her face.
"Come home with me," he whispered huskily.
Tris felt as though she were caught in a dream, the world hazy around her. "Yes."
Tobias brushed his lips across hers one more time. "I'll go take care of the bill."
Still in a daze, Tris nodded. "I need to visit the ladies' room. I'll meet you by the elevator."
"Okay." Tobias slid out of the booth, extending his hand to help her up. He stared at the creamy skin of her thighs as her dress slid up when she exited the booth. She wasn't a tall woman, but now, with her dress hiked high on her thigh and her feet encased in those sparkling mile-high heels, her legs looked ridiculously long. When she stood in front of him, a slight smirk on her face, he knew she'd allowed her dress to slide up on purpose, giving him that spectacular view. They stood by the booth a moment, holding hands, staring into each other's eyes. A line had been crossed and they both knew it. There was no going back now; the desire between them was too irresistible.
Tobias watched as Tris threw her coat over her arm then walked through the tables on her way to the restrooms. He shook his head a little and made his way through the crowd to the bar. The bartender knew him well and produced the tab quickly. Tobias dropped a large bill on the tray before glancing again towards the bathrooms. He hadn't expected this, hadn't expected Tris. She was amazing, so much more than he'd ever thought. He remembered her from years past and had to admit, he'd rarely paid attention to her. He'd known she was cute, but in the years each of them had been apart, she'd matured from the almost too-skinny teen into one of the most arresting women he'd ever seen. She wasn't beautiful in the conventional sense, but her vitality—the passion for life he saw shining in those icy-blue eyes—was beyond captivating. Add to that her sharp mind and quick wit and Tobias had to admit he was tumbling head first into uncharted territory for him. Taking her home was a calculated risk. If their families ever found out, there would be hell to pay, not to mention an intense, unrelenting pressure to make things official. But he couldn't resist. He wanted her more than he'd wanted any woman before.
The bartender slid Tobias' change back to him and grinned. "Never seen you bring a woman in here before," he teased, wiggling his eyebrows, "and then you bring in a hot one."
"She's a friend."
Tobias grinned, leaving a generous tip, and made his way through the crowd towards the elevator to wait for Tris. He'd just pulled on his overcoat when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning to face Tris, she grabbed the lapels of his coat and pulled him to her. Tobias tangled his fingers into her hair, cupping her neck as he bent his head and kissed her again teasingly—his lips just brushing hers. "Ready to go?" he murmured, running his fingers down her silky hair.