Craving Him Page 51

And now we were seated in a booth under the harsh lighting of a hanging lamp and I couldn’t help noticing the sticky and dirty tablecloth, Todd’s too-long nose hair, and his fingernails, which needed trimming. Not to mention how lonely and miserable I felt. Thankfully, though, we’d ordered drinks and I concentrated on sipping the giant margarita in front of me. Seriously, the size of the goblet of tequila and lime juice was my saving grace.

“You really like that thing, don’t you?” he asked, taking a sip of his own drink.

Ben would have encouraged me to have whatever I wanted, not judge me for draining my cocktail in record time.

“Nerves, I guess,” I answered, sliding the large goblet away from myself.

He smiled warmly. “Haven’t dated in a while?”

“Something like that.”

I continued sipping my margarita while Todd prattled on about his job and I tried to appear interested.

“How hungry are you?” he asked. “Is an appetizer okay?” He closed his menu before I could answer.

I did the same. “That’s fine.” I didn’t know that by appetizer he meant the free chips and salsa the server had delivered to the table. If this was dating, then no thanks. I’d been wined and dined around the world. Ben had set an impossibly high bar. It was almost as if he ensured no man would ever measure up to him. Realization struck like a sharp pain coursing through me. Todd was a regular guy, but after Ben no one would compare. It was my worst fear come to life. “I’ll be right back,” I murmured, sliding from the booth. I needed some air. Some space.

I stood outside the restaurant entrance and pulled in deep lungfuls of air. I just wanted to go home, change into my pajamas, and erase this date from my memory. Unfortunately, moments later, Todd strolled out looking for me.

“Hey,” I said.

He placed his hand against my lower back. “Are you okay?”

It happened so fast I thought my mind was playing tricks on me. I blinked rapidly, trying to process what I was seeing. Ben had Todd by the shirt collar and was hauling him away from me. My heart twisted at the sight of him. Ben dragged Todd backward, shoving his back against the wall. Todd let out an oomph.

“Get your f**king hands off her,” Ben growled.

“Ben!” I tugged at his arms, trying to get him to release my date, but he didn’t budge an inch. His entire body was tensed and ready to fight. “Let him go,” I begged again. He was causing a scene.

Sad hazel eyes found mine and everything else ceased. The sights and sounds of the street fell away, and it was just us. A man and woman so beautifully wrong for each other it hurt. My lungs screamed for oxygen and I gulped a breath of air. “Let him go,” I repeated, my senses returning.

“He was touching you,” he said softly. His gentle tone with me was at complete odds with the roughness of his grasp on Todd. “You looked upset.”

“He’s my date.”

“You’re on a f**king date?” His hands dropped from Todd’s collar and he stumbled several steps back like he’d been burned. Forcing fingers into his messy hair, Ben’s agony was almost pitiable. An apology was on the tip of my tongue until I remembered his actions had pushed me down this path.

“Todd Hammerstein.” My awkward date who I wanted to disappear thrust his hand out toward Ben.

“With this guy?” Ben asked. He made no move to return the handshake, his fingers flexing at his sides. He obviously wanted to hit something. Preferably my date. I felt like I was watching him for the first time. Seeing straight inside his soul. How badly he needed love. And how much it hurt him to see me with someone else.

“How have you been?” he asked, turning to face me.

“Shitty. You?”

“The same,” he admitted.

“What are you doing here?”

“I brought my mother shopping.” He glanced to a lingerie boutique across the street. “She’s in there.”

Oh.

His mom was here from Australia. “Did she come for Christmas?”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “Sort of. I haven’t been, ah, doing so well with the sex tape scandal, and then you leaving me, so she came into town for a visit.”

Todd’s eyebrows shot up and he cleared his throat loudly. Both Ben and I continued to ignore him.

“I can’t live that way. Seeing you splashed all over the tabloids like that nearly destroyed me.”

“I know. And I wish I could take that back. But I did that before I met you. It was years ago. I can’t help what’s in the past, only what’s in the present. Only what I do now. That’s all we can control. And you’re here with another man.”

I swallowed roughly, unsure of what to say.

It didn’t occur to me right away that the woman who appeared at Ben’s side was his mother. She looked far too young to have a twenty-three-year-old son, but as soon as my eyes fell on her I recognized Dakota Shaw. She was tall and fit and very pretty, with waves of sandy blonde hair cascading over her shoulders.

My brain cataloged the few similarities between them. They each had thick, dark eyelashes, wide-set eyes, and full mouths. A gorgeous family, to be sure.

“Well, this must be the girl who stole my baby’s heart.”

“Mom,” Ben warned, his voice low.

She sighed and opened her arms. “Okay, I’ll play nice. I’m Dakota, Ben’s mom. Come here, then.”

I returned her hug, my head spinning with what she must think. Did she know about her darling son’s sex tape?

Prev Next