The Bitter Rival by LM Fox

CHAPTERONE

Isabella

“Here’s to a much-needed girls’ night, Bella. Cheers.”

Clinking our frosty margarita glasses in celebration of an overdue girls-only evening, I take a much-anticipated sip of my drink and smile at my sister over the salty rim. “Oh, Bailes, I really needed this. The only thing I need more is a little hot and dirty. But if I can’t find a man, I’ll happily accept the next best thing.”

“Ha. Well, given my poor history with the male population, I haven’t completely ruled out women. However, sleeping with you might be taking it a step too far.” She giggles. “I know you’re juggling a lot with school and your internship, but we need to put a stake in the ground, B. Girls’ night is mandatory from here on out. It’s been way too long,” she shouts over the dance music behind us.

Growing up in a big family, we rarely enjoy time alone. Bailey, the youngest of my three siblings, is also the loudest. She’s never been treated like the baby of the family; that could be because our older brothers looked out for the two of us equally. Dominic and Damian, along with our cousin, Donovan, watched over us like they were self-appointed bodyguards. We grew up knowing we had their protection, whether we wanted it or not. Needless to say, dating was not easy. Prospective suitors needed to pass inspection from each of the ‘Potter Boys’ before being granted access to us. Bailey and I have worked hard to keep our relationships private, out of the scrutiny of our overbearing family.

“Oh, I love this song. Come on, Bella, please?” Bailey begs, grabbing my arm as she wiggles her hips toward the dance floor. As “Wobble” by V.I.C. begins to play, we squeeze through the many patrons on the small dance floor of this downtown club to find a spot big enough for the two of us to move. Normally, this go-to club is a favorite, even if the clientele seems to get younger and younger. The atmosphere is eclectic, the bartenders hot to peruse between drinks, and the music is always good.

Richmond, Virginia, wasn’t always a huge town for tourists. Yet, in recent years the amount of travelers has picked up. It has started to develop a name for itself amongst foodies, with all of the new restaurants popping onto the scene. Even Guy Fieri has visited with several eateries starring on his Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives Food Network show. But this weekend has become quite crowded with the Richmond Bike Race in full swing. The central Virginia area is rich with outdoor activities this time of year between cycling, BMX, the Flying Squirrels double-A baseball team, outdoor festivals, and hiking and boating along the James River. Quite honestly, it’s hard to know how many of this club’s current patrons are local or out-of-town trekkers to the city.

I watch as my little sister swings her arms over her head with wild abandon to the rhythmic beat of the music. Bailey’s such a free spirit. She’s the creative sibling while my older brothers joined the fire academy, and Donovan, went to medical school, Bailey pursued a career in art. She was accepted into Virginia Commonwealth University’s competitive art program and has continued to cultivate her talent.

I’m the late bloomer to higher education. I’d embraced domestic bliss after graduation, supporting my young husband in his pursuit of a medical degree. It wasn’t until I turned thirty-four when post-high school instruction became a priority. Although attending college and managing my home responsibilities has been difficult, I’m proud of all I’ve accomplished. Even if that means Bailey and I haven’t had many opportunities for a night out.

Taking in the contagious smile on my sister’s pretty face, I feel a warmth in my chest. I’m proud of her. Proud of us. She, much like myself, has been single for a long while. While I’ve spent the last twelve years a divorcée, my younger sister has admittedly not found The One. Watching this willowy, brown-eyed beauty spin and sway before me, fills me with pride. She’s protected her heart. While she’s dated her fair share of men, she’s not settling. She’s awaiting The man God created just for her. I’d given up on that notion long ago. Yet, I still miss the company of an attractive man, particularly when I lie alone in my bed, night after night.

As if cupid has been on standby, I hear a masculine voice over the thumping base behind me. “Hi. Would you like to dance?”

I glance over my shoulder, and a tall man with closely trimmed brown hair stands a foot away from me, staring at me with a hopeful look in his brown eyes, framed by wire rim glasses. As I turn to acknowledge his presence and hopefully let him down easily, I reassess his physique. He’s not what most would describe as tall yet, at my petite five-foot-three frame, everyone appears to tower over me. He’s not unattractive, but this is a girls’ night, and he’s clearly not female.

“Hi,” I shout over Post Malone’s sultry styling. “I’m here with my sister.” I point my thumb over my shoulder before turning back to her.

I watch as Bailey shrugs her shoulders, questioning the interruption, but I have no time to fill her in before the relentlessly needy dancer pushes for more.

“Can I buy you a drink?” His voice is a little closer now.

“I already have one, thanks.” I toss my rejection his way before turning my back to him. Please take the hint, buddy. I inch a bit closer to Bailey, hoping the closer proximity will offer protection from any further interruption. Rolling my eyes at her in frustration with his unwanted persistence, I suddenly feel a hand on my elbow. For fuck’s sake.

Spinning on my heel, ready to give him a piece of my mind, I stop in my tracks. There’s no disputing this man is tall. He’s tall, dark, and holy hell is he handsome.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he offers before sliding his hand from my elbow to the small of my back, pulling me into him for a quick peck on the cheek.

Um, what?Stunned at the change in scenery, I try to play this cool. Leaning back, I take in the rogue before me. He must be the most attractive male specimen I’ve ever seen in the flesh. His dark brown hair is styled to perfection, and as I gaze into his piercing deep blue eyes, I notice a spark of humor. There’s a trace of a five o’clock shadow on his square jaw that commands attention—and that deep dimple is hard to miss, even under the slight facial hair.. He’s an imposing presence, not due to his height or attractiveness, but the air of superiority rolling from his confident stance.

“I’m sorry, man. This one’s taken,” he directs to the ever-persistent male who still lingers on the dance floor.

Glancing to the menace who’s volleying between us for clues, I watch as he turns and walks toward the bar without another word.

“Thank you,” I utter quietly in the direction of the gorgeous man. He’s wearing an expensive gray suit and crisp white shirt. The top buttons are undone, revealing tantalizing bronzed skin and just a hint of dark chest hair.

“Don’t thank me,” he replies. “I’m kicking myself for letting that guy slither over before I could get the nerve to talk to you.”

Unable to help myself, I roll my eyes at this statement. Like this guy would ever need to ‘get the nerve’ to talk to anyone. I hope he doesn’t think I’m falling for that line.

“Awe, come on. You need to dance with me, at least. To keep up the rouse.” He winks.

Craning my neck toward the bar, I notice the man in question has already found a new source of entertainment. “I don’t think that’s necessary.” I point a finger in the gentleman’s direction, making my point he’s completely forgotten about me. I rotate slightly and realize Bailey has slipped back to our table. “Thanks again,” I acknowledge before heading in her direction.

“Really? Not even one dance?”

I stop in my tracks, trying to come up with some clever anecdote when it dawns on me. Why am I in such a hurry to distance myself from the hottest man I’ve ever encountered? Everything about this attractive man screams ‘Run.’ But it’s just one dance. I spin on my heel and look up at him. God, he’s one tall drink of water. “Okay, one dance then.”

His expression shifts from a seductive smirk to a warm grin. His bright blue eyes twinkle in my direction, like constellations painted across a clear, dark sky. They could easily hypnotize me if I wasn’t distracted by that flirty dimple sending me morse code. Not wasting any time, he steps forward and wraps his strong arms around my back, pulling me into him. An immediate hum begins to stir in my belly. Just one dance, Bella.

Shocked at his invasion into my personal space, as well as my reaction to it, I attempt to retreat a step until the warmth of his strong hands caresses my lower back. I instantly feel goosebumps pimple my flesh and try to take a cleansing breath to calm my nerves. This action has the opposite effect, as now I’ve inhaled the most intoxicating scent. I relent and place my palms flat upon his chest as we move in beat with the music, all the while trying to decipher the incredible notes of his cologne. There’s a woody, floral scent with a strange touch of spice. I lean into him, continuing to draw in the heady aroma. I quickly determine I should discontinue this investigation before his scent completely inebriates me.

As I attempt to pull back, his strong arms pull me closer. I can feel him slide his body down the length of mine in time with the music, placing his pelvis entirely too close to mine. One firm rock against this incredibly well-built man, and I might start entertaining ways to satisfy my much overdue craving for some hot and dirty sex.

Taking an opportunity to change positions during a transition in the chorus, I twist to dance with my back to him. His hands move to position themselves, not on my hips, but my lower abdomen. As he rocks my body back against his, I can feel his steely erection against my back. Good lord, is that his arm or his dick?

The song comes to an end, and I seize the opportunity to make my exit. As tempting as it might be to consider a one-night stand with this man, he’s way out of my league. Truth be told, I think I’d be nervous considering anything with the likes of this one. He seems a little too hot for me to handle.

“Thank you,” I blurt before offering a smile that feels forced. Before he can offer a reply, I make haste to my table to find Bailey. Dropping into my chair, I grab the remains of my margarita and chug it down. Hell, who am I kidding? I’m going to need an ice bath to cool down after that hot piece of─

“Uh, Bella? Why on earth would you come back here with me when you could keep dancing with tall, dark, and fuck me, is he sexy? Jeez, he’s the hottest man I think I’ve ever seen. I almost had an orgasm watching him move his hands all over you. That look on his face. Gah,” she utters, fanning herself.

I can’t possibly find an answer that will appease her, so I simply shrug my shoulders.

She gives me a blank stare, mimicking my ridiculous motion by drawing her shoulders up toward her ears in question. “What is wrong with you? That man is beautiful.”

“Yeah, a little too beautiful.”

“Huh?”

“The way he was looking at me, Bailey, and touching me… I was starting to feel like shark bait,” I reply as I swiftly look toward the bar for a waiter. I need another drink.

“Well, hell, Bella. I’d let him bite me,” she scolds, waggling her brows in my direction.

“Bailes, something tells me if a guy like that takes a bite out of you, you won’t recover.”

The much-needed waiter arrives at our table, and I order refills. I turn my gaze back to the dance floor, not wanting to make eye contact with the shark but to interrupt this conversation. Even if only for a moment.

“How long has it been, Bella?”

The question catches me off guard. Not sure why it should, as I’ve never kept anything from Bailey. I make eye contact with her but avoid answering the question. I’m embarrassed to admit it’s been way too long.

“Bella? You said earlier you needed some hot and dirty. Well, I bet it doesn’t come any hotter or dirtier than that guy.”

The conversation stops as the waiter returns with our drinks. I slide him enough cash to cover the cocktails, including a generous tip and quickly take a sip. Oh, that’s good.

Bailey takes a sip of her drink and leans across the table to whisper-shout over the dance music. “He looks like the kinda guy who’d go down on you without asking for anything in return. Like the unicorns you read about in romance novels that’ll eat you out because they’re hot for it.”

“Oh, good lord, Bailey.” I feel my cheeks turn pink at the statement. As long as it’s been since I’ve had sex with a man, it’s been too long to remember when I’ve had oral. Sure, I’ve given a blow job or two, but no one has reciprocated in a very long time. I shake my head briefly before diving into my delicious cocktail once more.

“Look out now, B. It appears the shark is circling the water.” Bailey giggles over her glass.

My eyes flick over my shoulder, making direct contact with the predator in question. His stare is intense. It’s as if he’s trying to send a message through his penetrating gaze. I feel the familiar tingle on my skin from earlier, and arousal stirs between my legs that I haven’t entertained in quite some time.

Realizing I need to get my body under control, I stand to look for the restrooms. “I’ll be back, Bailes. I just need the little girls’ room,” I say before looking in the direction of the front of the club. Maybe splashing some water on my face and neck will put out the fire that wimpy margarita couldn’t douse.

Turning the corner of the dark hallway, I discover the usual line that extends from the ladies’ room. It doesn’t appear long, so I decide to wait a few moments and pull out my phone to check for any missed calls or texts. I haven’t investigated this long before sensing an unmistakable aura behind me, causing me to pull the phone into my chest in alarm. My breath catches and my eyes flutter closed as the feeling of warm air dances over my left shoulder, neck, and ear. Again, I feel my goosebumped flesh betray me.

“Yes.” I feel the heat of the exhale tickling along my nape as a deep, masculine voice floats down my ear—the rich tone of his speech causing everything to tingle. No longer limited to the skin of my arms, my pimpled flesh alive with excitement, it now appears my nipples have joined the party.

I dig my heels in, keeping my back to him. “I’m sorry. I don’t remember asking you anything.” I try to deliver my retort with a flat affect, knowing full well there’s a tremble to my voice.

“You didn’t. But I believe your friend did.”

Unable to decipher this riddle, I rotate to stare up at this intoxicating man. “Friend?”

“The pretty girl you’re with tonight,” he croons. Avoiding eye contact, I attempt to focus on his strong jaw. Big mistake.That dimple is going to need a nap for all the effort it’s put forth this evening.

“Ah, you mean my sister,” I correct. Not sure why I’ve shared this, as it’s none of his concern who I’m with.

“So, yes. To your sister’s question, then.”

I shoot him a blank look, baffled by this conversation.

“Yes. I’d love to eat your pussy.”

I feel my legs wobble and discover he’s intuitively reached down to steady me. Looking up at him, stunned by such a bold statement, I’m greeted with a sultry smirk.

Leaning into me, his hand still at the small of my back, he continues. “What’s the matter, good girl? Afraid of the big bad wolf?” His deep voice coats me like a sensual oil. My body feels aglow, provoked by his daring words and his dreamy scent. “It’s one night. Let me please you for just one night,” he probes with a hushed, gravelly tone.

Trying to gather my wits, I stare up at this brazen man. Hell, I’m sure he could please me like no one else ever has. Yet, the cockiness of his pursuit has me on edge. I’m not sure I’m willing to release all control to a man like this, even if it is only for one night. And that I’m sure of. There’s no doubt who will be calling the shots if I go home with him.

Unable to string two words together, I purse my lips, spin on my heel, and head back to the table and the safety of my sister.

“What on earth? What’s going on, B? You look flushed. Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I belt out, finishing off my margarita in one toss. “I thought I was going to the restroom, but instead, I ended up in the shark tank.”

Bailey’s eyes spring wide in recognition of my statement. “Oh my gosh, spill. Did he put the moves on you?”

“Did he? Lord, that man’s something else.” I briefly eye Bailey’s cocktail glass to see if she has anything remaining I can steal from her.

“What could it hurt, Bella? One night? You’re both adults. So long as you’re safe, why not go get you some hot and dirty?” She laughs, looking over her shoulder in a nonchalant attempt at locating the overconfident playboy.

I admit it’s tempting. I’ve been alone for a long time. My divorce was a wake-up call. I was completely blindsided by his decision to end the marriage. There was no attempt at counseling. No infidelity I’m aware of. He simply said he couldn’t do it anymore. As if being married to me was a chore. I’d stood by him for years, allowing his dreams of a future in medicine to best any of mine, and yet I was the chore.

It took a while to recover from the devastating blow. If my radar was that off after the years we’d spent together, I knew I wouldn’t be able to trust someone new in my life. And there wasn’t room for anyone else anyway. I’ve focused on becoming independent and pursuing a degree. I’ve had a few relationships with men over the years, but none of which were in any way serious. Honestly, the liaisons felt more like a friends with benefits scenario. Yet, I wouldn’t let anyone get close enough to hurt me again, so what did I expect? At least I had occasional company with the opposite sex so I wouldn’t dry up completely.

It’s been over a year since I’ve been in any relationship with a man where sex was involved. Usually, I’m too busy to reflect on the absence of male company, but it appears my desperation is a prime hunting ground for the lethally finned prowlers in the water tonight. And this one scares me every bit as much as the one in the movie. The shark that would devour its victims whole. I couldn’t shake the feeling, one night or not, I’d befall the same fate.

“Excuse me, ladies,” the waiter interjects, redirecting my thoughts. I watch as he places two fancy cocktails on the table.

“Did you order more drinks?” I ask Bailey, not realizing she was looking to get hammered tonight. Although my sister is taller than I, she’s a tiny wisp of a woman. More than two drinks, and I’d have to take her home personally.

“No,” she answers, appearing as stunned as I am.

“These are from the gentleman at the bar,” the kind waiter instructs.

Bailey and I both turn simultaneously to find the arrogant playboy tipping his scotch glass in our direction. Looking back to the table, I notice Bailey inspecting the two cocktails carefully.

“What are these?” she asks.

“This one’s a Dark ‘N Stormy, and this one is a Screaming Orgasm.”

Bailey doesn’t even pretend to hide her laugh. I, on the other hand, turn and cock a distasteful brow in the waiter’s direction before pushing the drink closest to me away with my index finger. I’m surprised at the juvenile attempt of this haughty man to needle me. This is more the act of an overgrown frat boy than an overconfident playboy. I turn back to Bailey, confident in my decision to end my evening alone.

“Okay, call me crazy, Bella. But I think you’re making a mistake. That man is hot as sin. A guy like that doesn’t come around often. Who knows, maybe he’s in town for the bike race, and you’ll never see him again.” She lifts the Dark ’N Stormy cocktail and takes a sip, making a face of approval as she lowers it back to the table. “Look at it this way. If you’re looking to get an itch scratched, well, I bet he has really good hands.” Bailey begins to laugh but abruptly comes up short.

Wondering what’s changed her facial expression, I follow her gaze to see a striking blonde saddle up to the bar in front of the man in question. She’s tall, thin, and appears several years younger than I am. Well aware of my curvy, petite frame suddenly has me feeling a bit dejected. This is silly. I didn’t want anything to do with him anyway. What should I care if a blonde bombshell is flirting with him? I observe the two of them as they appear to make conversation and sit stunned as I see his arm slink around her waist, laying his hand on the small of her back. My body tenses in response to his familiarity, and I’m immediately incensed at the effect this is having on me. What is wrong with you, Isabella? He’s a player. Let that shark take a bite out of some other unsuspecting female.


Sebastian

“Fancy seeing you here, Sophia,” I greet cautiously as she slinks closer.

“I could say the same for you, Sebastian. This isn’t your usual haunt. Looking for some fresh meat?”

Truth or not, hearing this fall from her well-glossed lips stings a little. Thirty-six years old, and this is my life. Finding a new woman to fuck for the night who won’t want to get her tentacles into me. I instantly feel tense. Not sure if it’s having this reality acknowledged by another person or the fact it’s from Sophia that has my hackles drawn.

I take in the stunner in front of me briefly as I sip my scotch. She’s statuesque with curves in all of the right places. She’s well-groomed and carries herself like an heiress. Sophia is the eldest daughter of an upper-middle-class family. While not a pauper, she’s far from the socialite she carries herself to be. Yet, in my experience, her life’s mission appears to be climbing the economic and social class ladders by sleeping her way to the top. And I should know. I narrowly avoided falling into her trap.

Sophia’s unquestionably gorgeous. We’d met years ago when she came on to my best friend, Nick. Nick and I were classmates in medical school and spent most of our free time together. We determined quickly we had a lot more than our curriculum in common. We were driven, top of our class, and addicted to the hunt. We both strived to be number one in school and extracurricular activities, particularly women. He had no more interest in a long-term relationship than I did until Sophia came along. I’ll admit, if I were to entertain a relationship with a woman, it would’ve been with her. She was all the things I was attracted to in the gentler sex. She was beautiful, intelligent, and sweet. I was disappointed she’d chosen Nick over me. But she’d charmed him into marrying her, and I was in no way ready for that type of commitment—even with Sophia.

As the years passed, Sophia’s true colors emerged. Yet, not before pulling me temporarily into her web. Nick and I had become focused on our careers. Unaware there was discord in their marriage, Sophia had come to me crying that Nick had rejected her. She suspected his career was his true mistress but hadn’t ruled out another woman. He’d supposedly tossed her out, and she was devastated.

In my efforts to comfort her, I made one of the worst decisions of my life. Thinking their marriage was over and Sophia left devastated in its wake, I slept with my best friend’s soon-to-be-ex. Not only did I break Bro-code, but I destroyed my relationship with Nick. In a moment of weakness, I let this woman come between us, just to find out later it was all a lie. She’d been having affairs with other men, looking for her next victim on her way out of Nick’s life. Apparently, his lifestyle wasn’t enough for her. I’m sure I was just one more unsuspecting asshole she was trying on for size. Someone with a bigger bank account and a pocket-sized heart to match. A rich, arrogant preoccupied man who’d be happy to have her on his arm and let her live as she pleased.

I was in a bad place when Sophia called crying that night. Otherwise, I might’ve seen her for what she was sooner. But, the more time we spent together, it became clear her only allegiance was to herself. It’s taken a lot of repair work to get my relationship with Nick back on track after my involvement with her. As much as I’d like to resent her for the situation, I’m a grown-ass man. I made my own choices and have to own up to them.

Sophia has tried to make amends to me in her own way for lying about the situation and straining my relationship with Nick. She’s agreed to help me in a few instances when I found myself in a bind—completely platonic instances. We only slept together once, and I plan to keep it that way, just like every other woman I encounter.

Taking another sip from my scotch, I peer over the rim of the crystal tumbler to observe the dark-haired minx sitting at the table with her sister. The drinks I’d delivered were sitting between them. While her sister’s cocktail was near empty, her screaming orgasm sat untouched. I shake my head at the stubborn temptress. What is it about this woman that has me so intrigued? Normally, I never give a second thought to any female, whether I’ve slept with them or not. There are plenty of other beauties in the sea for me to enjoy. I don’t need to chase someone who isn’t interested. Yet, I have to admit this particular rejection stings a little.

“I see someone’s got your eye,” Sophia tosses in my direction, following my gaze to the petite brunette.

“Just leave it, Soph.”

“What, did someone reject the sexy surgeon?” Sophia cackles as she accepts her Manhattan from the bartender.

“Just drop it. She’s no one,” I grunt as I take another drink, hoping I can convince myself of the statement. This mesmerizing woman strikes me as a good girl. One you’d take home to meet your family. Not the kind you pick up hoping to bend her backward with your dick buried in her every orifice. My cock twitches within the confines of my pants at this delicious notion.

My dalliances are very impersonal. I avoid sharing any details with the women I meet. I give them my surname instead of my first, avoid career conversations, and never bring anyone home. Most rendezvous are either at their abode or a hotel. I don’t do sleepovers. Even in college, I learned quickly. An attractive man with money and a promising future drew women like flies to honey. I have no interest in such entanglements. A healthy relationship was alien territory for me.

I hadn’t enjoyed a life raised by loving, committed parents like my friend, Nick. My mother was a self-absorbed socialite who didn’t have the self-respect to divorce my cheating father for fear of what she’d lose. Growing up in this environment was less than pleasant, to say the very least. I didn’t need to make that lifestyle a generational reoccurrence.

There were only two times in my life I’d even considered a long-term relationship with a woman. One I’d put behind me years ago, and the other stood before me. Never going back there.

“If you say so,” Sophia returns. I watch as she casually glances over her shoulder at the table in question. “I’ve got to say, Bas. Neither of those two looks like your usual conquest. One looks like a hippy chick, and the other is… well, she’s a little old for you, isn’t she?”

What the hell?“What are you talking about, Sophia? I have no idea how old she is, but she’s certainly not any older than I am.”

“As I said, a little old for you. But I guess you’ve always been an equal opportunity offender.”

Before I can snap back a witty retort, the bartender returns.

“Ah, thanks. Dr. Lee will take care of that, won’t you, honey?” Sophia answers the bartender, rubbing her well-manicured hand along my arm. The comment and her touch making me equally irritated. “Thanks for the drink, Sebastian. I’ll catch you later,” she adds, just before sauntering off toward the other end of the bar. I’m sure she’s already made her mark on some poor sap. Better him than me.

Unable to help myself, I allow my gaze to drift back to the brunette. Yet, it appears they’ve left for the evening. The table is clear of any evidence of their existence. I toss back the last of my scotch and wince. I guess I’m calling it a night. While I’d still love the company of a sultry woman for the evening, I have to admit anyone I’d pursue now would feel like a consolation prize. If I’m going to end the night disappointed, I might as well do it alone.