Harmony © Kyra Fox Author
A sigh of relief is all I can manage when I finally unlock the door of the LA company loft. My flight was delayed by a whopping three hours, and it’s now 4 AM back home, or 1 AM here in LA. Whatever, I don’t care. All I know is that I’m exhausted and need to wake up for an early meeting and that it’s time to have that company jet conversation with Davey again.
I drop my bag next to the door and start stripping as I make my way to the bedroom in the gallery and crawl under the covers stark naked and ready to crash, only to be greeted by a soft and warm body that smells like jasmine blossoms.
“The fuck?” I jump out of bed with a shout, and the unexpected invader screams with a definitively female voice, thank God for small mercies, and flicks on the reading lamp embedded into the headboard.
Even in the dim light, I can make out the most striking hazel eyes staring at me in wide-eyed horror. I manage to tear my gaze away from them to see they belong to a gorgeous blonde wearing a white t-shirt from material so thin I can make out the shape of her breasts.
“Please don’t rape me.” Her voice comes out as a high-pitched squeak. She looks terrified, and I realize she’s staring straight at my cock, which decided this was the right moment to stand at attention as if it doesn’t see enough action, and a brief brush with an unwilling trespasser sporting a perfect B-cup is the most exciting thing to ever happen to it.
“Oh, shit.” I hurry to grab a pillow and cover myself. “I’m not going to rape you. What are you doing here?”
“Me?” Her shrill tone indicates she’s quickly entering freak out mode, her eyes darting around the room looking for an escape route. “I live here! What are you doing here? Who are you?”
“I’m Michael Edwards, and I own this apartment.” She freezes, bright eyes slowly focusing back on me, assessing me with a creased brow as realization washes over her features.
“You’re Trista’s brother?”
“Yes. And you are?”
“Lauren Banks. She told me I could stay here for a while.”
I rake through my brain, hitting blank after blank, while she swipes her long delicate fingers through the fringe of her blunt bangs, a gesture I assume is a bit of a nervous one, but I find ridiculously cute. She waits patiently, avoiding my eyes, as I stare at her with bewilderment until her name vaguely clicks into place from a conversation I had with Trista when she flew in for Zoe’s wedding last month, before jumping on a plane to China to follow her best-friend-slash-love-of-her-life.
“You’re Tris’s friend from work. The one who’s always hungry.” I bite back a snort at her offended expression.
“Seriously?” she huffs. “That’s how Trista describes me?”
“My sister is very protective of her food.” I can’t hold back the laughter, which seems to offend Lauren even more. “She also may have mentioned you were living here, but I hadn’t realized it was an ongoing arrangement.”
One hand clutches the pillow against my erection, so it won’t accidentally drop and reveal my still raging boner, while the other rakes fingers through my hair to scratch the back of my neck until I eventually give up on making my brain function long enough to think of an appropriate solution at this ungodly hour.
“I’m sorry for… uh… scaring you?” I wrinkle my nose, not able to come up with a better way to word what just happened. Lauren smiles ruefully, almost like she wants to laugh but isn’t sure she should, which I guess is the requisite response to this bizarre situation. “I’ll go downstairs, throw some clothes on, and sleep on the pullout in the study. I’ll have my assistant arrange for a hotel room first thing in the morning.”
“No, don’t. This is your place; I’ll get a hotel,” Lauren hurries to protest, her hand automatically going to those bright strands hanging on her forehead, and I stop myself short of pointing out that I never said I’d be the one moving out, just that I’d be the one paying for it.
“Let’s just work it out in the morning, okay?” I suggest because, as much as I agree that she should be the one to leave, I’m not a heartless bastard to lay it on her in the middle of the night after unwittingly spooning her in my birthday suit. She nods, pulling the sheet over her breasts, and I realize I’m staring. In for the win tonight, huh, Edwards? “Uh, right, so, could you turn around or something?”
Lauren tilts her head to the side and glares at me with amusement, a small smile playing on her thin pink lips as if to ask, “don’t I get to stare a bit, too?” before turning off the light and throwing herself onto the pillow. Her back is to me and soft laughter floats to my ears, most likely a reaction to the heat I felt climbing up my neck. I can’t remember the last time anyone made me blush, let alone a pretty girl.
I turn, sliding the pillow to my backside just in case Lauren decides to peek, before rushing downstairs. Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I shoot Trista an angry text, not caring what time it is in China right now. The only reply I receive is an order not to sleep with Lauren, in all caps with way too many exclamation points.
“Screw you. You’re not the boss of me,” I mutter, but reply with a “Fine.”
My cock twitches angrily at the sentiment, and I mentally promise it to find a hot hookup tomorrow once this debacle is settled. Another twitch signals further disapproval.
I’ll beat one out thinking about her perfect tits. Better?
The further hardening of my already painfully strained shaft indicates that idea sits better with my libido, and I sigh, daring another glance up to the gallery before turning back to the study with an annoyed shake of my head. Who I’m annoyed at—Lauren, Trista, or myself—I’m not sure.
At Trista. Definitely at Trista.
I shut the door behind me and defiantly throw the duffle on the study floor, pulling some clothes on before I slowly start making the pullout bed, hoping it will distract me from Lauren long enough so I can just crash without the bother of having to masturbate. It works until I lay down on the pillow I took from the bed, and the soft scent of jasmine hits my nostrils full force, scrambling my brain and springing my cock back to life.
“Fuck my life,” I breathe out with a weary sigh, resigning to my fate as I start mentally undressing the unsuspecting girl upstairs, which I met less than ten minutes ago.
Yeah, she definitely has to go.
“Good morning.” I can’t stop the laughter from bubbling up when Michael stumbles out of the study with a grunt, his coppery-red hair sticking out in all directions and eyes still hazy from sleep. “I see you take to waking up as well as Trista does.”
His hands rub over his handsome, freckled face, which I didn’t get a good look at in the dim light last night. His features are squared, but in a soft way, not jagged and sharp, and I imagine those full lips would probably deliver the best kiss of my life.
Whoa, where did that come from?
“No one is as bad as Trista in the morning.” He yawns and stretches, the blue t-shirt with the Carrot Top Records logo, a vintage vinyl player with a carrot-shaped needle hand, stretching over his chest, revealing the top of that mouthwatering V that I got a glimpse of last night. I also managed to get a good view of what it leads to, currently tucked away neatly in a pair of red running shorts.
“She texted me last night after you went downstairs,” I inform him as I ogle. “Told me to feel free to hit you if the occasion calls.”
Michael makes a sound somewhere between a laugh and a grunt, and the tattoos covering his left arm flex and pop with his pronounced muscles. When he catches me staring, he grins and winks, and despite the heat climbing up to my cheeks at the vivid memory of those almond-shaped eyes stripping me, I can’t tear my gaze away from his lean, muscular body flexing in front of me.
When he’s finally done with his display of masculine perfection, his eyes wander around the loft. “You redecorated.”
“Uh, yeah.” I swipe my bangs off my forehead and fidget with my coffee mug as he keeps scrutinizing the new décor. His eyes are a soft brown veiled with long thick lashes the same color as his hair. They’re so different from Trista’s electric blue but still hold the same underlying kindness, which I’ve so desperately missed since she left. “Tris was okay with the basic stuff you guys had; I guess this was always just a pit stop before she went back to Brian.”
“And it’s more than that for you?” He asks, and I don’t miss the flash of something I can only call pain that crosses his features, even as he keeps looking around in interest.
I assume he’s thinking about that year his life spun out of control, forcing Trista and the rest of his family to stop their own lives and take care of him. Before Trista left, when she was still photographing for Garderobe and was the only real friend I had, she confided in me how hard watching Michael on the road to self-destruction was for her.
The effect was so disastrous she almost lost the love of her life. It took them eight years to find their way back to each other, and I suspect Michael is guilt-ridden over the derailing of his little sister’s life.
Michael’s tawny stare turns to me, and my cheeks grow even warmer, because damn if his intense gaze isn’t about the hottest thing I’ve ever seen, and my body is reacting accordingly.
My eyes cast down to the floor, fingers grazing my forehead as they swipe my bangs aside. “I don’t really have anywhere else to go,” I reluctantly admit, not happy about sharing with this successful, gorgeous man how stupid and gullible I was. Because, for some reason I can’t put my finger on, what Michael Edwards thinks of me matters.
Turning toward the cupboard, I busy myself with making Michael coffee so I won’t have to keep dealing with his penetrating gaze inspecting me, seeing my vulnerability. “How do you take it?”
“Dash of creamer, no sugar.”
“What is it with you Edwardses and bitter coffee?” I scrunch my nose disapprovingly as I pour him a cup and pull out the creamer.
Michael lets out a soft chuckle, leaning a hip against the counter in casual comfort as if nothing about this situation phases him. He’s the sort of man who carries enough confidence to feel comfortable in any space, whether it belongs to him or not.
Only, this one falls under the former, doesn’t it, Lore?
“And let me guess. You take it with three sugar cubes and either two creamers or half-and-half on the milk and water?” And then he does it—picks up my favorite mug, the one with the Unipug wishing you a magiwoof morning—and takes a sip.
It takes a few seconds for the shock to wear off. “Hey!”
Michael’s face is twisted in disgust. “Dear lord!”
I stomp to him and snatch the cup from his hand. “That was mine!”
“What? You can still drink it; I won’t give you cooties.”
“I will not! I don’t even know you.” I spill what’s left of my mostly untouched coffee to Michael’s bouts of laughter and take what I had initially planned to give him for myself. I make sure he sees I’m doing it purely out of spite and that he can get his own damn coffee if he wants because no one, and I mean no one, touches my damn Unipug mug.
Michael takes the hint, making a big show of sighing and dragging himself to the cabinet. And either the kitchen is too narrow, or he’s too large because I can feel the body warmth rolling off him, causing my pulse to race.
“You smell minty,” I observe, realizing how much of a weirdo it makes me sound.
“It’s my shampoo. Makes me feel fresh,” he says from behind my back, and when he moves to take the coffee pot, his hand brushes over mine in the lightest of touches. It’s enough to send a pleasant current up my arm, and Michael’s momentary pause makes me wonder if he felt it too.
He clears his throat before grabbing the pot and pouring himself a mug. “I like what you did with the place, by the way. It’s very homey.”
I nod, focusing on the mechanic act of adding creamer to my new brew before I dare answer, lest he hears the tremble that smallest of touches caused. “I didn’t know when I was leaving, and I figured giving the place some warmth was the least I could do in exchange for staying here for free.” I freeze mid-stirring and turn to Michael so quickly coffee slushes over the rim of my mug. “I’ve been putting some money aside every month to pay at least part of the rent back to Trista. I didn’t intend to mooch off her forever.”
“Stop, it’s fine,” Michael dismisses me, grabbing a paper towel and crouching low on the floor to wipe my spilled beverage without a second thought, the strong muscles of his calves bulging at the squat, and damn it, the man has nice, solid legs. “This place is mostly empty anyway. It’s not as if Trista was actually paying rent, and even before, we never intended this to be a real estate investment. You aren’t costing us money, so as long as you pay utilities, you’re welcome to stay.”
“But you need the loft for work,” I try to argue. “I can’t force you to live in a hotel for…for… How long are you here for, anyway?”
“Eight weeks,” Michael answers with a cringe and offers an apologetic grimace, making it clear the idea of spending that time in a hotel appeals to him about as much as it does to me. I gawk at him, terror climbing up my spine at the realization that eight weeks in a hotel will wipe out everything I’ve managed to put aside since the breakup with Jason, and then some.
It must be written all over my face because Michael’s jaw hardens with resolve, and he takes a step closer, just shy of invading my personal space. “Carrot Top Records is one of the most successful indie record companies in the country; we can afford to pay for a hotel for a few weeks.”
“I will not let you spend thousands of dollars so I can sit around your million-dollar loft like some parasite!” I stop short of stomping my foot, angrier at myself than at Michael. If I weren’t so blind and trusting, if I hadn’t put myself in a situation where someone else controlled all my finances, wiped them clean, inheritance and life savings included, I wouldn’t be here now, having to choose between freeloading and bankruptcy.
“Nowhere close to a million dollars.” Michael shakes his head with a smirk, sipping on his coffee.
“That is not the damn point,” I huff and follow suit, finally getting some caffeine in me though it does nothing to soothe my rising sense of overwhelm. I try not to get angry at him. This predicament I’ve gotten myself into isn’t his fault, and all things considered, he’s actually being extremely kind and understanding. But the self-loathing, the sense of shame at my own gullibility, they stir inside me with a painful reminder of the person I’m trying not to become again.
“Look, I don’t know what happened that you need to stay here, but I trust my sister that she wouldn’t do that for just anyone or without good reason.” Michael writes me off again, and it pushes my last button.
“Listen here, mister billionaire music producer.” I stomp to him and poke his chest with my index finger, holding back a cringe when the motion backfires due to jabbing too hard at his rock-solid pecs.
“Nowhere near a billionaire,” he mumbles under his breath, and I swear I could strangle the amusement right out of his gorgeous eyes if I didn’t suspect I’d break my hand trying.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass!” His eyes grow wide at my frustrated choice of words, probably surprised he can’t call all the shots just because he’s sitting on a pile of money. “I spent the better part of the last ten years with a guy that ignored everything I said or wanted or thought, and money was always his excuse as well. I will not let you do the same. I do not feel comfortable with you staying at a hotel while I live in your apartment for free.”
A few seconds of silence follow. Michael’s playful teasing seems to have vanished in an instant as he stares at me intently. I wait for the pity, the poor-little-thing pats that do nothing to comfort me, the charities, and handouts. Instead, Michael takes another sip of his coffee before setting it aside and leaning his hip on the counter again, arms crossed over his broad chest.
“Well, I don’t feel comfortable kicking you out.” His tone is soft, and he’s looking at me through bright thick lashes with more seriousness than I thought he could possess.
When did he get this tall?
“You’re not kicking me out. I’m leaving of my own free will.” I place my hands on my hips, daring him to tell me otherwise.
“Okay,” he relents, much to my surprise. “Then, so am I.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you’re not staying, I won’t stay either,” he explains, picking his coffee back up and taking another infuriatingly nonchalant sip. “I’ll feel like a douche if I do.”
“Then what do you propose, Michael?” I throw my hands up and gesture the loft. “That we live together for eight weeks in this teeny tiny apartment?”
“Yeah, why not?” He pulls one shoulder up in complete ease, going back to his casual lean on the counter. “There are two bedrooms.”
“And one shower that doesn’t have a door,” I remind him, heat blooming through my face and maybe also some other parts of my body at the thought.
“Then we’ll work out a schedule.” He makes it sound so easy, so relaxed with that repeated one-shoulder shrug, and I bury my face in my hands with a groan. “I promise not to drink your coffee again. It’s kinda gross anyway.”
I let out a frustrated shout and turn to the door, grabbing my bag, shades, and a hat. “I’m late for work. We’ll talk about this later.”
“Sure thing,” he calls after me, and I swear there’s an amused undertone to his words as if he’s already decided how this is going to end.
“Asshole,” I grumble to myself when it dawns on me that he’s probably planning on getting me into bed.
Would that be so bad, Lore? The man is… Well, he’s blessed, to say the least, and with that money and those looks, he’s probably picked up a few tricks along the way. And God knows you could use a proper banging.
I scold my libido as I rush to the bus, cursing Michael for making me run in heels. And just for that, he is officially banned from getting anywhere near my hoo-ha.