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FIRST NIGHT, a short story prequel to the Hauberk Protection series. Was it the excitement of the New Year or stubborn pride that drove Jodi Tyler to challenge her boss? But when the clock strikes midnight, and the ball drops on Times Square, has Jodi Tyler won the bet or lost her heart?
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© 2008, 2014 Leah Braemel
It might have been the two glasses of champagne that drove Jodi Tyler to consider her friend Terri’s dare. Or maybe, she told herself for the fifth time, she really was concerned her boss was working himself too hard.
Though her mouth was moving, Jodi could barely hear a word of Terri’s explanation over Hector’s attempts at singing and the amps blasting full-power. The music itself wasn’t bad—Juan and Tyrell both played a mean guitar—but Hector needed to be muzzled for mangling U2’s New Year’s Day so badly.
Champagne sloshing over the side of her wine glass, Terri gestured toward their boss, who stood in the farthest corner, his cell phone pressed to one ear and a hand covering the other. The suit jacket Mark Rodriguez had worn earlier was nowhere in sight. His tie had disappeared too, leaving the top two buttons of his shirt splayed open. What was it about that peek-a-boo V that she found so attractive? He twisted to allow a waiter to pass, which caused his shirt sleeve to pull taut. Damn, the man must work out five hours a day to maintain those shoulder muscles.
Though he had an excellent physique his recently-earned MBA spoke to his intelligence, a trait Jodi found just as sexy as his kick-ass body.
From the deep furrow in his forehead, whoever he was talking to was pissing him off. Bingo, there was his tell of running his hand over his head, something he only did when he was trying to keep his cool. Normally he kept his dark hair trimmed in a Marine’s high and tight, but he’d been so harried lately, he’d let the top part grow longer. Long enough that every time she’d seen him, she’d been tempted to run her fingers through it.
Poor guy. Celada Security had the best rep in the Metroplex, yet the damned competition kept swiping clients by undercutting their rates. It wasn’t that Mark was doing anything wrong—the man had a flair for keeping both his clients and his employees happy—but he didn’t have the type of money their competition did. Which meant this might be the last party they’d all celebrate together. Unless he pulled off whatever Hail Mary pass he’d hinted at during today’s staff meeting.
Terri put her mouth to Jodi’s ear and repeated, “Come on, Jodi. Mark brought his laptop to the party, and when he’s not working on it, he’s been on that damned phone. You need to get him to loosen up.”
Jodi rolled her eyes. “And just how do you propose I do that?”
Terri flattened her free hand over her stomach and wiggled her hips. “There’s no better way to start a New Year than with some hot monkey sex.”
“Terri!” Laughing at her friend’s antics, Jodi shoved Terri’s shoulder.
“Jodi.” Terri mimicked Jodi’s exasperation. “He’s not seeing anyone, and neither are you since you finally saw the light about Jace and kicked him to the curb. Sex is the perfect way to relax and, honey, you both need to relax. Besides, I’ve seen the way you eye Mark when you think no one’s looking. You’re dying to get him naked.”
“I am not!” Yes, I am. I want to pull his shirt off and run my fingers—hell my tongue—down his pecs, over his abs. To trace that line of dark hair from his navel to where it hides beneath his fly.
“It’s time you get back up on the horse and Mark’s the perfect stallion to ride.” Terri grabbed a champagne flute from a passing waiter and pressed it into Jodi’s hand. “Here. Give him this. Tell him there’s a private party and he’s invited. I bet he’ll have you seeing fireworks before the ball drops in Times Square.”
As Jodi argued internally about whether it was a good idea to have sex with the boss—which she knew wasn’t smart at the best of times—Terri fumbled in her purse, withdrew a package and shoved it in Jodi’s bag. Jodi peered inside to see what her friend had given her. “Holy crap, you brought a box of condoms to the party? What the fuck were you expecting? An orgy?”
“No. But it never hurts for a girl to be prepared.”
With an entire box? Terri obviously had far more to her beneath that standard Celada uniform than she let on.
“You know you’ve been fantasizing about him for months. It’s time you go hook up with him and ride that man into the sunset.” Terri shoved her in Mark’s direction. “Or let him ride you.”
What the heck am I doing? Jodi asked herself, as she maneuvered her way through the crowded room.
Taking responsibility for your own happiness, that’s what.