In STELLA IN STILETTOS, Stella Matson chooses the latter. She runs for cover for almost a year.
This is a story about learning to trust again and lowering your fences so love can find a way in. It's also about the things you do for friendship, that you normally wouldn't even consider. (And of course, it's about doing it all in stilettos!)
Stella Matson has had it with handsome guys who schmooze their way into a woman's heart and walk out the door when they get a better offer. As far as she's concerned, she needs to focus on the one thing that won't leave her teary-eyed on a Friday night -- her job with the lingerie company. That plan goes awry when drop-dead gorgeous, Alex Clay, is temporarily assigned to her department. He both frustrates and excites her, turns her into a klutz, and she's afraid her heart is once again in real danger.
Alex Clay is trying to find his place in the business world. His boss seems to be grooming him for big things by giving him a taste of everything from the mailroom to the boardroom. When he does a short stint in the advertising department and meets hardheaded but intriguing, Stella Matson, she challenges his convictions and stirs an unwanted desire. He doesn't know whether to kiss her until they're both breathless, or find a new job.
(In this scene, Stella and Alex bump into each other outside the office. Stella and her best friend, Trish, are enjoying a drink at their favorite bar when Stella's ex shows up and once again she wants to run for cover. Alex and his friend, Steve, enter the bar and a rescue of sorts takes place.)
"Weasel-alert," Trish said, looking past Stella to the front of the bar.
Stella sipped from her glass of wine. "What?"
Trish's animated expression sobered. "Don't look behind you."
Saying don't look was the same as saying look. Curiosity always won. Stella was on her way to turning around.
Trish stopped her with a stern look. "Seriously. Don't. It's Jace."
Almost a year and the mention of his name still induced a queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Stella instinctively lowered her head as though it would throw an imaginary veil over her. "Tell me he walked back out. Lie to me. Anything."
"Wish I could."
Stella groaned quietly, but the volume-control on her pulse cranked up. She was sure the whole place could hear it thumping in her chest. The breath caught in her lungs. "He didn't see us, did he?"
Trish shook her head. "I don't think so, but it's a matter of time because he's scanning the place." She described him with some pretty strong cuss words.
Stella couldn't sit still. "Why did he pick this place?"
"Uh-oh," Trish whispered. "Breathe. He's not here for you." She wrinkled her nose. "But who knows, maybe he is."
Stella squinted. "That's calming."
"Sorry. Trying to loosen you up before he descends on us."
Jace spotted Trish and worked his way through the crowd. "Trish O'Brien."
Trish's exaggerated sneer said "Hello, scumbag" but her mouth said, "Well, if it isn't Jace Fairchild."
Stella wanted to slither under the table so she wouldn't have to make eye contact with Jace. It was a tiny booth, so the only thing fitting under the table was her feet. She felt the infidel's eyes bore into her. She didn't want to acknowledge him. Not now. Not ever. Doing so would give him the power to rip the duct tape off that was holding her heart together.
"Stella. How the heck are you?"
His voice rumbled the contents of Stella's stomach. She couldn't say his name. "I'm just peachy. Couldn't be better." She drowned the lie with a significant swig from her wine glass.
"It's been forever. Where've you been? Hiding out?"
Jackass. Of course she'd been hiding out. It was the natural thing to do when someone makes a complete fool out of you.
She wanted to karate-chop him in the neck, or at least pour hot wax on his eyebrows and then rip them off. His brainless question deserved a brainless answer. "Armadillos have four babies at a time and they're all the same sex."
Trish sputtered in her margarita.
Jace looked dumbfounded. "What?"
Trish nudged her under the table. "Oh my gosh, Stella, look who's here." She nodded toward the door.
Good ploy, Trish! Keep the diversions coming, no matter how bizarre.
"Your honey just walked in."
My honey? Okay. Not sure they could pull that one off. Stella checked her watch to strengthen the story, plus she pretended to be irked. "It's about time." She looked to where Alex Clay and Steve Benson stood brushing snow off their jackets.
Stella's eyes flew to Trish's, where she recognized an appeal to play along.
How could she? This was Alex. She couldn't play along when it involved him. Besides, she was already on emotional-overload from Jace. If she missed a cue and did something foolish, she might have a need to go back into...hiding. Grr.
She glanced at Jace who was sizing up the two men.
Trish flew out of the booth and practically ran to Alex and Steve.
Stella tried to gauge their expressions when Trish approached. What would Trish say? Ack! She wanted to guzzle her glass of wine.
"How long have you two been dating?" Jace asked.
There was a hint of jealousy in his voice that was wickedly satisfying.
She would love to spout that they'd been together for almost a year so Jace wouldn't think she wasted time grieving their breakup, but she was afraid to squander a lie that could possibly take a chomp out of her butt later. "A few months."
Alex took a step away from Trish and linked gazes with Stella.
Dang. Now what? Impetuously she blew him a kiss and then mentally thrashed herself for doing something so ridiculous.
Jace yanked her attention back to him. "Can't wait to meet the guy."
Stella swallowed hard. Soon she'd be exposed as a fraud...to both men.
Trish came back arm-in-arm with Alex and Steve. "They got held up in traffic." She and Steve slid into the booth. Alex didn't hesitate sliding in beside her.
The heat of embarrassment colored Stella's face when their gazes connected. There was something indescribable in his eyes. Anger, perhaps? Was he ticked about participating in a sham? Or were she and Trish kinking a trolling expedition?
Stella didn't have time to figure it out because Alex pulled her over to him and brushed his lips across hers.
"Sorry we're late, hon. I thought I'd be clever and take a shortcut. All I managed to do though was land us smack dab into backed-up traffic. Must've been an accident or something around Third and Broad Streets."
Stella was blown away. She smiled with complete affection; to her surprise, it wasn't an act. "No worries. We haven't been here long."
A curl fell across her cheek and Alex tucked it behind her ear. He was about to say something, but Jace coughed to nab their attention.
"So you're the new man in Stella's life." He held his hand out to shake Alex's. "I'm Jace."
Alex didn't rush to divulge his name or acknowledge the gesture. "Yes," he finally said. "Stella's my woman."
Stella widened her eyes. Trish crossed hers.
Jace nodded to Stella. "You've got a treasure there."
A treasure? Stella eyed her ex suspiciously and waited for the slam she knew would come.
Alex clasped her hand under the table and kneaded the top of it with his thumb. He looked at Stella instead of Jace. "I certainly do."
This was all for show, but his words warmed and calmed Stella.
Jace wasn't about to let her stay calm. He patted Alex on the shoulder. "I messed up when I let her go." He raised both brows. "I didn't realize what I had. She was a little inhibited, and like a fool, I went looking for someone who was open to anything. If you know what I mean."
Stella was instantly mortified and wished a sinkhole would open up and swallow her. She ventured a shocked look at Trish, who was also stunned by the brainless statement. Everyone knew inhibited meant uptight in bed.
Salty tears burned the back of her eyes. Do not cry. Do not cry. She had to repeat that over and over to hold off the tears.
"Inhibited? Are you sure you're talking about my Stella?" Alex laughed maniacally.
Trish followed his lead. So did Steve. They hooted like it was the funniest thing they'd ever heard.
Stella still wanted to cry, but from joy. Alex, Steve and Trish had her back. They were shoring her up and it was the most wonderful thing.
Alex stopped laughing long enough to gather her in his arms. "This woman's a freak."
Stella couldn't believe how she went from being inhibited to a freak, but she couldn't be happier. She dropped her eyes to her lap to get her emotions under control. Don't look up. Don't look up. If she caught Trish's eye, the game was over.
Alex lifted her chin to make her look at him. At the same time, he brought her hand to his lips. "We try something new every day." He turned her hand over to expose her palm. After a mischievous lift of his brow, he trailed his tongue across it.
Tingles of excitement riveted to every clothed and unclothed part of her body, and an inescapable sound of pleasure worked its way out. Stella felt lightheaded.
The ruse worked. Jace was intimidated. He talked so fast his words ran together. "It was good seeing you, Stella. I have to go."
He was long gone before Stella came down to earth.
Trish put her hand up to give Stella a high-five. "That moan was priceless."
That moan was real. Stella closed her eyes for a second to stabilize. Running into her ex had been a test. She failed parts of it, others she passed with flying colors -- like knowing for certain she was completely over him. "Thanks, guys." She put her hand over her heart. "I don't know how to repay you."
"We have a debt settlement all worked out." Trish said excitedly. She turned to Steve. "By the way, I'm Trish."
Steve perked with amusement. "Steve Benson."
Stella looked from Trish to Steve to Alex, and offered a grin. "What are the terms of the agreement?"
Trish winked at Alex. "Could you fellas give us a minute?" She waited until they were at the bar before she leaned across the table. "Here's the gist of it. We're hanging out with these stud muffins for awhile."
It sounded too simple, and easily payable. "That's it?"
"Yep. You aren't exactly cozy with Alex, but I had to make a decision. Put up with Jace or put up with Alex."
"You did good, Trish. Thank you."
"And damn, Stella. Steve Benson is a hunk." Trish made a sizzling sound.
Stella turned to see where the guys were. "Be careful, Trish. He's nice, but he's also a big flirt. A real womanizer."
"You're preaching to the choir, honey. We'd be perfect for each other." Trish almost fell out of the booth while surveying Steve. "Six feet of pure hotness. Did I mention blond men are the bomb?"
"Every day since kindergarten." Stella put her hand on Trish's. "Seriously, be careful."
Trish sparkled with challenge. "Taming him will be fun."
Stella giggled at Trish's lack of fear and turned to take a good look at Alex. He was the bomb too.
Her pulse climbed a few dreamy notches and her saliva glands kicked into high-gear. She'd been too consumed by Jace's presence to realize Alex had a casual-look going on. He'd transformed himself from an upward-bound professional to a scrumptious bad-boy with tattered jeans and a slightly worn leather jacket. This less-than-perfect look made him look completely perfect, and Stella decided Trish wasn't the only one who needed to be careful.
(The folder that contains the rough outline, scraps of paper with juicy tidbits and ideas, sticky notes and everything that eventually became, Stella in Stilettos!)
Thank you so much for stopping by my blog to read about Stella. I hope you have enjoyed this scene from my book.