When Amara Hart slipped off her white, silk kimono, revealing her nude, shimmering body to the classroom full of artists, her heart sped and her limbs quivered. Her situation caused her to do something that she never imagined. However, when she spotted her ex-lover's best friend and business partner, Bryce Davidson, among the art students, her embarrassment soared to another level. She had thought of him much more than she should have and never in her wildest dreams imagined that he would be a student in the class.
Tempted to grab her cover up and flee, Amara could barely pose on the cold table in the gracefully sensuous manner the instructor requested. Each time her wide, slanted-up eyes dared to wander among the night class, they immediately captured Bryce. His dazzling, dark eyes met hers, making her wonder what he thought of her new occupation. She just knew he would tell her ex-boyfriend, Terrence, about her pursuits.
At the wind up of the class, the teacher and many of the students thanked Amara for posing. Acknowledging their gratitude, she forced a smile, and turned around to grab her kimono. The flimsy fabric embellished a dull, wooden chair.
While tying the sash, she suddenly inhaled a trace of spicy cologne. Footsteps approached her from the rear. Sensing the tall presence behind her, Amara wished she hadn't bothered to lace the sash, but raced out of the room the instant the class ended.
"Amara," a deep, sexy voice called, floating beyond her shoulders.
Her fingers brushed back long, cinnamon colored curls from her face. Amara turned around and once again faced Bryce's magnetic eyes. They complimented pudding-smooth, rich chocolate skin, a gently sloped nose, and a strong jaw. A neat, black, narrow line of hair edged the latter connecting with a silky mustache, which circled the most inviting lips. Close-cropped, dark, wavy hair framed his face. The handsome features crowned a body formed with broad shoulders, cantaloupe-sized muscles, a tapered waist, and powerfully built legs.
Amara thought Bryce's black, velvet sweat suit showed off his well-built physique all too well. But it wasn't the first time she viewed him this way. In the days following her breakup with Terrence, each time her ex's best friend crossed her path in the office, a rush of heat flowed through her body. As he stood before her now, the sensation teased her again.
"Hi," she said, much calmer than she felt.
Bryce flashed a broad, mesmerizing smile, which always made the women at her former job melt. "How are you doing?"
"It's nice to see you again. I miss seeing you at the office. I didn't know you were a model."
She shrugged. "It's something new for me."
"So you're no longer a real estate agent?"
Amara hesitated; her answer would have meant dredging up drama that made this year one of the most wretched times of her life. She glanced at the last of the class, which left the room rather than respond to him. "I better get going."
"Do you need a ride home?"
"No, but thanks, my car is in the parking lot. See you around."
Amara fled into the changing room where her jeans, top, shoes, purse, bra, and panties were. She felt badly about her abruptness with Bryce, but she couldn't tell him her problems. On top of everything else, this first night of bare skinned modeling had been difficult for her. Spotting him among those who scrutinized her bare flesh made it worse. Of all people to behold and sketch her naked, why did it have to be her ex-man's business partner and best friend?
She had met Bryce three weeks before her dismissal from TJ Realty Corporation. At the same time, she had broken up with her boss and lover, Terrence Johnson. She heard from another agent that an Illinoisan, Bryce Davidson, had moved to Maryland to become a partner in TJ Realty after Terrence's accountant mismanaged his taxes. It led to costly fines, which ultimately downsized the company. Bryce owned two other mega successful businesses in Chicago. When asked to assist his old college buddy with resurrecting his once thriving enterprise, Bryce did not hesitate.
He partnered with Terrence, making a substantial financial investment, offering business savvy, and bringing with him, key contacts. Although, Amara hadn't known him long or well, she watched him uplift the company's morale. Terrence was rude, egotistical, and failed to recognize his staff's efforts in the company's success. Unlike their distaste for Terrence, the employees liked Bryce. He was down-to-earth and respectful toward everybody, including Terrence. What's more, the women drooled at his drop-dead gorgeous looks.
After dressing, Amara walked into the university parking lot and soon plopped onto her car's worn, leather cushions. Mentally, she replayed her nude modeling experience and wished she'd never have to do it again. Accepting that she had no other choice, she took a deep breath and stuck her key in the ignition. Her old beat up jalopy of a car wouldn't start. She turned on the headlights and repeatedly turned the key. The engine wouldn't turn over. Resting her face on the steering wheel, she had no idea what to do.
A knock on the half-open driver's window startled her. Swaying back from the glass, Amara's eyes leveled on the face. Bryce's unexpected warm gaze eased her. There had been a few muggings on the campus lately and she was relieved that a robber wasn't attempting to prey upon her.
"Having a problem?" he asked.
"A big one. I knew this car was on its way out, but I didn't expect it to conk out tonight. I need it for work and to see my brother. Now, I'm so screwed."
He pointed at the gauge. "You checked the gas?"
"I filled it up this morning."
Rubbing his chin, he speculated. "And it's not the battery because the headlights wouldn't be on. Why don't you let me give it a try?"
"You wouldn't mind?"
"Of course not." He gripped the door handle and opened the car door.
"I appreciate this." Amara unlocked the door and scooted into the passenger seat.
Instantly, spicy cologne lightly filled the air. The scent reminded her of what she used to admire about Bryce and his casual attitude. He settled in beside her and attempted to get her clunker moving. Having his strong, masculine presence so close, a feeling of comfort came over her despite the humiliation she endured around him earlier. When he stepped out of the car and raised its hood, she felt more grateful that he offered to help her..
Rejoining her in the car, Bryce didn't look hopeful. "I know a little bit about cars since I used to work on them with my dad. You need to get this one to a shop. You might even need to get a new car."
"Oh, no," Pursing her full lips, Amara stared ahead beyond the glass into the parking lot, which became darker and emptier with each minute.
She lacked the funds for car repairs or a new car. She barely had enough money for food let alone, the rent she owed for her apartment. Today her modeling assignment just began, so she couldn't count on income from it for the next few weeks. And once she did receive it, could she make an adequate partial payment for the overdue amount on her brother's medical care?
Suddenly aware of Bryce staring at her, Amara curved her head aside. She caught his dark brown eyes roaming over her body, and then swiftly meeting her gaze. "I know what you're thinking about me." Her eyes narrowed at him.
Bryce shifted, turning toward her with a mysterious twinkle in his eyes. "You do? Tell me then."
"You're thinking I'm trash for taking off my clothes in front of people for money."
Faintly, Bryce shook his head. "You're wrong."
"No, I'm not. You're thinking she went from selling half million dollar homes to taking it all off for whatever she could get."
"No way was I thinking that." He grasped her hand, squeezing it gently.
The touch surprised her. So did the intensity in his eyes. Each stirred something within her. They made her acutely aware of a rush of heat that flowed in her body. "I hope I don't sound out of line because of your prior relationship with Terrence," Bryce said, "but when I sketched you in class, I was thinking you're a striking artist's model and a woman taking care of herself. And from what Terrence told me, you're also a sister taking care of a brother who was hurt badly in a skiing accident. There is nothing trashy about that. In fact, it's to be admired."
A hint of a smile tugged the corners of Amara's lips. "Thank you."
"Well, that's how I feel about it."
Silence and stares lingered between them. Reluctantly, Bryce let go of Amara's hand. She peered beyond the front window again and her heart felt lighter than it had before. She noticed only a van and truck remained in the parking lot. "I think I'm going to leave my car here tonight and handle everything tomorrow."
Bryce frowned. "You sure? I can get my mechanic to take a look at it right now if you want."
"I appreciate the offer. I really do. But I'll leave it here."
"All right. I guess it should be safe here with security around. I'll take you home ... if you don't mind."
Amara smiled softly. "I don't mind. Thank you."
"It's my pleasure."