Sure Thing(8)

by Jana Aston

Her tongue darts out to wet her lips, then she sucks in a breath and opens her mouth to speak a millisecond before I realize she’s gripping an armful of Sutton Travel tote bags and I suspect—if I was willing to take my eyes off of her to verify—the entire room has turned its attention towards her.

“Hello,” she says to the group with a little wave of her hand. “Hello again, everyone, and welcome to the Highlights of History tour with Sutton Travel.”

Bloody hell, she’s the travel guide. I laugh out loud and her head turns towards me, the smile dropping straight off her face when her eyes land on mine. Her perfect bottom lip drops and her eyes flare before she does her best to recover, whipping her gaze away from mine with an, “Um,” to the assembled group while tucking a nonexistent stray strand of hair behind her ear.

“So, um, welcome!” she repeats, but her voice is a bit breathless now and she’s fidgeting. And her eyes are everywhere but on mine. She shifts her weight from hip to hip and I relax back in my chair and kick my legs out in front of me before folding my arms across my chest with a grin. This trip just got a hell of a lot more entertaining.

What the heck is her name then? I don’t recall the guide for this trip being called Rose. I pull up the agenda on my mobile to confirm the itinerary and one Miss Daisy Hayden is the guide assigned to the Highlights of History tour this week. There’s even a picture of her at the bottom of the email, a generic welcome the company sends. Perhaps I should have opened it before picking her up in the hotel bar last night, I muse while another smile crosses my face, but this is more fun. So she’s a Daisy. I stare at her while contemplating that. I’m not sure it suits her; she reminds me of a rare flower, not a common one. Not that Rose was any better, but it’s cute the way she stuck to a flower theme for her alias.

“I met most of you earlier today during the airport pickups,” she starts with another glance darting in my direction, “but for the rest of you, my name is Daisy Hayden and I will be your guide this week on the Highlights of History tour.” She speaks with a wide smile but she seems nervous. She was more confident last night picking me up in the bar than she is right now. She rattles on about the forecasted weather for tomorrow and the amount of walking we can expect during tomorrow’s sights. Reminders about the importance of staying on schedule and notifying her if we plan to skip any of the scheduled activities so she knows not to look for you. Then she invites everyone to enjoy the buffet that’s been set out for us.

She manages to do this without meeting my eyes one single time. I catch her darting glances in my direction, her gaze making its way around my table companions but never coming to a stop on mine. Meanwhile I can’t take my eyes off of her. Beautiful. The way her ponytail sways as she places the stack of tote bags on an empty table, brushing against her arm as she bends slightly. How her brows draw together in concentration when a guest asks her something I can’t make out from across the room. The curve of her calves and the delicate shape of her ankles, the sensible ballerina flats on her feet. I’m a goddamned arse for letting her get away this morning, but now I’ve got another chance. Fate, if you will. And judging by this group and the itinerary, she’ll be done with her tour guide duties each evening with time to spare.

Time best spent with me. In bed.

Yes, I plan to become very well acquainted with Miss Hayden this week.

Once the group rises and heads towards the buffet queue the smile drops from her face and she finally sneaks a peek back at me. Her eyes widen when she finds me staring unabashedly back at her and then she spins, her soft pink skirt twirling with her as she exits the restaurant with her head down, thumbing something across the keypad of her phone.

I tell Nan I need to make a business call and encourage her to go ahead and eat with her new Canadian friends while I step out for a bit. Then I follow Miss Hayden and find her outside in the hallway as I’d expected, betting that she can’t run off until the welcome dinner is over. She’s half hidden behind a large decorative planter, one hand holding the phone to her ear and the other pressing against her opposite ear to block out the background noise.

“No, I told him my name was Rose,” she hisses into the phone. Her back is to me and I stop just opposite the planter because why the hell not? Who am I to overlook a golden opportunity to gain a bit of information?

“Why? I don’t know why, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought we were doing a fake name thing. I’ve never had a one-night stand so I didn’t know what the protocol was.”

I smile at that and I’m glad she’s not facing me because I know my smile is likely rather pompous, but I can’t help the satisfaction I feel about being the one to take that honor.

There’s a pause as she listens to whoever is on the other end.

“I’m not slut-shaming you, I’m explaining,” she says with an exaggerated sigh. “And you’re prude-shaming me when you laugh. It’s very hypocritical, Da—” She turns as she speaks and stops mid-sentence when she sees me standing there. “I’ve got to go,” she whispers into the phone and I smile. It’s a bit late for whispering.

“You,” she says in a tone that doesn’t exactly imply that she’s glad to see me. Her hand clenches into a fist then relaxes as she stands a little taller and shakes her head. She pulled the end of her ponytail over her shoulder during the call, wrapping a curly lock of it around her fingers as she talked. It rests against her blouse and I’m inclined to reach out and touch it but I don’t think she’d allow that just now.

“Yes, me,” I agree. “Still Jennings, by the way,” I add with a smirk. She bristles in response. Her eyes flare before narrowing while her lips turn downwards and her arms cross against her chest defensively. “So it’s Daisy then, not Rose,” I say, testing the way it sounds on my tongue. “I wouldn’t have guessed you for a Daisy.”

“Well, I am,” she retorts. “A Daisy,” she states, just to be sure I’m clear. Then she frowns. “Why don’t I seem like I could be a Daisy? Daisys have all the fun.” She waves her arms wide to encompass all the fun she is capable of and I bite back a smile.

“Fair enough.”

“Anyway, I thought you were here for business,” she hisses. “Not on a vacation with your sugar momma.”

“Grandmother,” I correct. I am here on business, if indirectly. I should tell her that. I should.

“Fine.” Her shoulders drop and she shrugs one shoulder. “Your grandmother. You’re on vacation with your grandmother,” she repeats, drawing the word out. “You’re almost forty and your grandmother is still paying for your vacations. Way to go.” She taps her fingers against her forehead and closes her eyes for a moment while shaking her head.

Come again? She thinks my nan is paying for this trip… oh, she’s priceless. And I can work with that. “Dreadful, isn’t it? The economy and all isn’t what it used to be.” I place my hands in my pockets and lean an inch in her direction before speaking again. “But let the journey begin, right?”

That’s the tagline for Sutton Travel. Let the Journey Begin. I think it’ll get me a smile but she just looks at me like I’m an idiot.

“Listen, Jennings.” She takes a deep breath and shifts her eyes away from mine. “I’m sorry about last night.”

She’s sorry?

“I didn’t realize you’d be on this tour,” she continues in a rush. “I hope this won’t be too awkward.”

“Why would it be awkward?”

Her eyes fly back to mine with her brows raised in disbelief. They’re the deepest blue framed by thick dark lashes. She’s so very lovely.

“Um, because you’ve seen me naked?”

My lips slide into a lazy grin as I take in her earnest expression and the slight blush on her cheeks. “Indeed, I have seen you naked, love,” I agree while running my gaze slowly over her head to toe and back again. “Nothing awkward about that at all,” I add as she fidgets and the blush on her face surpasses slight. “But I thought you normally saw the men you slept with more than once, so seeing me again shouldn’t be an issue for you, should it?”

Her eyes flare as she realizes I most certainly heard that little tidbit about being her only one-night stand. I grin while she scowls.

“But not at work,” she whispers. “And not without knowing their last names and stuff,” she adds with a little shake of her head. “This is already a disaster,” she says more to herself than for my benefit.

“Jennings Anderson,” I offer while holding out my hand. “And I like steak, hate popcorn and love puppies. Now you know my name and some things about me.” Some, but not all. Not the part she’d find most interesting.

She tilts her head and narrows her eyes before speaking. Dubious. That’s what I’d call the look on her face. Dubious. “Yes, well, Jennings, if you’ll excuse me I have a job to do.” She nods at the room behind me where the tour guests are dining.