Rule Number One didn’t stand a chance—Jen gawked for a full thirty seconds. Or maybe it was days. Not that anybody noticed. All proximate eyes, male and female alike, were trained on the new arrival.
She was tall, five ten at least. Her jet-black hair lay coiled against her graceful neck in a thick, lustrous chignon. Her body—one most men would describe in terms of small-scale brick construction—was showcased in sheer, floor-length, flesh-toned fabric, sequins and beads sprayed in strategically situated sunbursts. Her blue eyes, a shade lighter than Brent’s, gleamed as they met Jen’s.
Ten minutes ago—i.e., prior to her personal reformation—Jen would’ve described that gleam as malicious, bordering on feral. Though why a glittering goddess with a face designed to launch the entire Pacific Fleet would give a high school teacher from Donnerton the stink eye was a mystery.
I should be giving her the stink eye. I’m only standing next to that body; she’s wearing it.
“Hello, Vanessa.” Was she imagining it, hoping for it, or did she detect a note of resignation in Brent’s voice?
Still dumb with awe, Jen watched Vanessa rise on tiptoe, her ruby lips on a collision course with Brent’s mouth. A split second before the scarlet eagle landed, he turned his head, leaving her to graze his cheek instead.
“Darling, you can’t still be angry with me. Brent,” she pouted, “it’s been weeks. Didn’t I admit I shouldn’t have called your mother? I understand I led her to believe our relationship had progressed further than it had. I apologized for the misunderstanding, didn’t I? I was sure you’d have forgiven me by now. To tell you the truth, I hoped we could reconnect here at your fund-raiser.”
Jen blinked, felt the first stirring of indignation. Evidently, the Body that Wouldn’t Quit had tried an end run on Brent. No score then, but judging by next-to-naked outfit and jungle-cat eyes, The Body had suited up for another try.
“Jake, Carla,” Vanessa said, dripping icicles as she turned to the couple. “Nice to see you again.”
The Mitchells lobbed the subzero right back at her. Mitch offered a nod. “Vanessa.” Carla didn’t offer the time of day. If Jen hadn’t already decided she liked Carla, the frigid nonresponse would’ve done the trick.
Vanessa’s practiced smile didn’t so much as flicker, but stayed clamped on her lips when she finally deigned to address Jen. Of course, the new Ice Age dawning in her blue gaze sent the temperature plummeting another fifty degrees. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your little friend, Brent?”
So she was supposed to play Lilliputian to Vanessa’s Gulliver. Jen’s temper climbed a few degrees. Guess again, Maleficent.
Brent sighed. “Vanessa Coulton-Brandenburg, this is Jennifer Casey. Jen, Vanessa. An ... old friend of mine.”
Since their gazes were already locked, only Jen caught the flash in Vanessa’s eyes. “Close friends,” she purred. Her rapier gaze drilled into Jen’s skull as her talons traced up Brent’s sleeve. Her immaculately plucked brows furrowed, as she tapped her lips with one bloody nail. “Casey? Now where have I heard that name? Got it.” She managed to sneer and chuckle all at once. “The MotorMail high-school teacher. Isn’t that sweet?”
Like the Goddess of Silicone would know sweet if it bit her shapely butt.
Casually dismissing Jen, Vanessa refocused on her prey. “Brent, darling, I’ve been trying to reach you for weeks. We have to talk.”
Again with the darling. Jen’s vision swam into the red zone. Message received. Vanessa and Brent had obviously been an item at some point. God knew what the man had been thinking, when a one-eyed cat could see Beach Bimbo Barbie wasn’t within a country mile of good enough for him. Brent needed a warm, sensitive woman. A simple, unpretentious woman who understood him. Not some avaricious, overpriced, undressed ... tootsie.
Furthermore, if Vanessa figured she still held the lease on Brent Maddox, she had another figure coming. Was she dense, or what? What didn’t she get about his cool, we’re history smile? Can you spell I’ve been ditched? The fact that he’d had sense enough to do the ditching made Jen want to kick off her spikes for a quick attaboy boogie.
Not that Jen couldn’t sympathize—on a purely abstract level, of course. Having Brent, then losing him, would crush a woman’s heart. Then again, she doubted Vanessa had a heart. What Vanessa had was the Mont Blanc pen to fill in Brent’s blank check.
Insinuating herself between Jen and Brent, the other woman—and that’s how Jen already thought of her—sidled up close to him, trailed her fingers up his lapel, toyed with the ends of his hair, and crooned, “I’ve missed you,” thus detonating a teensy atomic bomb in Jen’s brain. Totally appropriate, since war had just been declared.
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