Party at Luke’s
The minute they stepped into the party, tension crept up the back of Charisma’s neck. Luke’s penthouse was crawling with celebrities. She saw a few familiar faces, including a few of those dreadful Queen Titans, the cliquish women who’d strung her along and made her think they’d let her join their group. If it weren’t for Morgan sticking up for her at the taping of that game show, she would have been totally humiliated. She couldn’t move, too scared to come face-to-face with them. She should never have come here. Tonight was going to be a disaster.
“Are you OK?” Derek whispered into her ear.
“Yes. I just see a few not-so-friendly faces in the crowd. I was hoping they wouldn’t be here. I’ve had disagreements with a few of them.” She discreetly pointed to the perfectly coiffed women huddled together in a group shooting catty glances around the room.
“Don’t tell me. They’re the cool kids who don’t want to play with you.” Derek snagged two flutes of champagne from a passing waitress and handed her one.
“Why on earth would you want to hang out with them?”
“They always looked so polished and glamorous. Their diamonds are sparkling from across the room.” She fingered her grandmother’s necklace.
“Bigger isn’t always better. In most cases.” He winked at her.
She raised an eyebrow. “Because you’ve been known to carry a big hockey stick?”
“That’s one nickname for it.” He cleared his throat and continued. “I’ve been to enough of Luke’s parties to know the players. Two of your Queen Titans have propositioned me in the past, and one tried to give me a hand job in a coat room. When I turned her down, she said she was drunk and thought I was her husband.”
Hearing the sordid details helped soothe her fears. Maybe these women weren’t so perfect after all. “Have you slept with anyone here?”
Luke, the host, approached before Derek could answer.
“Derek, so glad you could make it.” Luke gave him a hug.
“You know I never miss your parties. They’re too entertaining.” Derek smiled. “I’d like you to meet my date, Charisma Reed.”
“Yes, you’re Morgan’s cousin. We’ve attended a few of the same events.” Luke’s eyes sparkled.
“Guilty.” Oh no. Was he at the retirement party? She took a half step back, but Derek grasped her elbow and stopped her.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Luke continued. “Derek said he was bringing someone special with him. I hope you have a great time.” He turned to Derek. “Derek, I hate to ambush you like this but someone from Berkshire Athletics wants to meet you. They’ve been hounding me about getting you to endorse their wares for some time now.”
Derek leaned in close to her. “Do you mind if I slip away for a few minutes?”
“Not at all.” She plastered a smile on her face even though she was terrified to be swimming in this party’s shark-infested waters alone. “You go take care of business.”
“Thanks.” Derek kissed her on the cheek and went off with Luke.
Charisma took another glass of champagne from a passing waiter and gulped it down. If she were going to be alone for a while, she needed something to steel her nerves. If she were careful, she could stay out of the line of sight of the Queen Titans. But she remembered what her grandmother said. Facing her own past actions was the only way to work through them.
* * *
Derek may have been listening to a quick pitch about a lucrative deal but his eyes were on Charisma as she awkwardly made her way around the party. As soon as they were done, he excused himself because he wanted to get back to her. No more than a few feet away, he was sidetracked by a friend.
Andrew Story, his teammate, gave him a hug. “Derek, glad you could make it. I thought you were going to Maui with us?”
“I had some things to take care of. I’m renovating the bar and I’ve been visiting family.”
“You still could have shown up for a few days. I thought for sure you’d come after that meltdown with Phoebe Price.”
The more he thought about Phoebe’s latest public meltdown, the more he felt like it had been orchestrated from beginning to end. He was just a notch in her tiered system to stardom. A high-profile athlete was a good battle scar to building a Hollywood A-list resume. There were still a few actresses that, when talked about in the media, their past flings with Seth were always mentioned. Now he’d be forever tied to Phoebe and the outburst at the bar.
Basketball player Kyle Westfield joined the conversation. “Popovich, did you just show up with Brayer’s ex?”
“So what if I did?”
“Don’t get me wrong, she’s fine, but she’s trouble with a capital T.”
“I could say that about half the women you’ve slept with, Westfield, including your wife,” Derek fired back. Kyle had been the talk of the town last year when his wife had burned their house down to the ground after she’d caught him cheating. But he knew Kyle was friends with Lamont. It was Kyle’s way of sticking up for his buddy in his absence.
“Yeah, but I found out they were crazy after the fact. You already know how it’s going to end.”
“Brayer made a big contribution to that craziness. I respect that he’s your friend, but don’t try to sell me on him being a great guy. I know better.”
“Hey, I’m just saying there’s two sides to every story.”
“Well, domestic abuse has been his side of the story involving three different women.”
“You know how women can be.”
Derek’s jaw ticked. “No, I don’t.”
A hush fell over the surrounding crowd.
“They don’t get what they want so they make things up. From what I hear, Charisma Reed can push you to the point of madness.”
“I think you’ve been hanging with Brayer too long if that’s your opinion of women. You feel like hitting somebody, come on down to my bar and we’ll go a few rounds.”
Andrew interrupted with a nervous laugh. “So when’s the bar re-opening?”
“In a few months. And I’ve instituted a new ‘no assholes’ policy. So don’t be offended if some of you won’t be able to get a reservation.” Derek replied.
Luke came rushing across the room and joined the group. “Guys, this is a party. What are we debating over here? World peace?”
I hope you enjoyed the pre-edited excerpt! Release date March 25th!
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