Size Doesn't Matter: The Bennett's Bastards Series, book five
Mind the gap
“He’ll be here.”
Sophie Bennett gritted her teeth against the thumping strains of the dance music vibrating through the floor of the ballroom and into her, working its way through her body until it reached her brain and shook it, slammed it against the front of her skull, contributing to the dull ache that had formed there before she’d even arrived.
She was distracted, and while she’d heard what Anna had said, her brain was having trouble comprehending it. “What?”
“I said, he’ll be here.”
Glancing at her phone for the tenth time in as many minutes, Sophie sighed wearily, her shoulders slumping with resignation. “It’s a quarter to twelve, Ange,” she said, raising her voice against the music. “He’s not coming and I’m tired of waiting. Besides, my feet are killing me. I’m going to bed.”
Anna tilted her head to one side and lifted a brow. “How could your feet possibly be sore? You’re wearing ballet flats. Unlike me who stupidly wore these monstrosities.” She stuck out her foot, showing off her gold leather ankle boots with the lattice work detailing and deadly four inch stiletto heel.
Sophie had always loved those boots, even if she could never wear them. “But they’re very cute monstrosities,” she said, trying not to laugh at her friend’s pained expression.
And yeah, okay, so her feet weren’t killing her, not when compared to Anna’s, but usually when she said some body part or other was hurting, Anna put up less of a fight and let Sophie go without argument. But the way her friend was eyeing her with obvious mistrust meant she wasn’t getting away with it this time.
With both feet firmly back on the floor, Anna said, “Nope. Nice try, babe. You can’t go yet.”
“Ange, I really am tired,” Sophie groaned. “And I have that meeting with the company rep tomorrow. I need my beauty sleep.”
Her friend snorted. “You’re already beautiful, babe, and that meeting isn’t until the arvo. You could sleep the day away and still show up on time.”
Sophie pressed her lips together, flattening them into a thin line in the hopes of repressing her heavy sigh. “I don’t even know why I’m here.”
“Because it’s New Year’s Eve and we’re here to have fun.”
That wasn’t even remotely what Sophie had meant, but explaining to her best friend that the on again, off again fling she’d been having with Australia’s premier playboy was more than likely heading towards off again, took more energy than she could muster.
“Come on, Soph,” Anna pleaded, taking her hands in hers and giving them a light squeeze. “Ethan is probably just waiting to make a grand entrance at the last minute. You know that’s his signature move.” Her friend stared up at her, concern swirling in her pale green eyes. “Please stay. It’s almost midnight. And hey, if you’re worried about not having someone to kiss when the clock counts down,” she added, waggling her eyebrows and grinning suddenly, “I’ve got you covered.”
Sophie pursed her lips but couldn’t restrain the laughter that bubbled out of her. “Fine,” she said, shaking her head at her best friend. “I’ll give him five more minutes.”
Anna grinned and grabbed two fresh drinks from a passing waiter and handed one to Sophie. “That’s the spirit.”
“But I’m not making any promises, Ange, kiss or no kiss. If Ethan doesn’t get here soon, I’m leaving.”
“Fair enough. But… you’ll see,” she said distractedly, straining her neck to look over Sophie’s shoulder.
Sophie followed Anna’s gaze and turned to watch a young man rip his shirt off, revealing a body of washboard abs and a plethora of tattoos to a crowd of squealing women. Ten years ago, she would have been one of those women. Hell, ten years ago she would have been the one ripping her shirt off for a cheering audience.
Now she just rolled her eyes and refocussed her attention on her friend, one eyebrow cocked and a small grin lifting her lips. “A little young for you, isn’t he?” Anna’s taste in men usually ran to the more mature variety.
Anna grinned back. “A little. He’s still pretty to look at though.” She sipped her drink. “What was I saying? Oh, yeah. No way is Ethan missing his own party.”
Sophie’s grin slipped into a forced smile. She didn’t blame Anna for thinking the best of Ethan. The man was adept at making people see only what he wanted them to see. But Sophie knew better. She’d seen the man behind the curtain, had seen the mess he hid from the world.
Which begged the question, why was she still entertaining the idea of being with such a self-absorbed arsehole?
She wasn’t that lonely. Was she?
Sighing quietly, she handed her untouched champagne back to Anna, and said, “Go drool over your pretty boy. I need some fresh air.”
Pushing through the heated crush of party people, Sophie slipped out through the balcony doors, letting them shut behind her. The noise was instantly reduced. The temperature, not so much. Oh, the joy of summer in tropical North Queensland. If the heat didn’t kill you, the humidity would. Even at almost midnight, it was still stinking hot outside, and Sophie was glad she’d decided to wear her hair up for the night, even if it didn’t frame her face in a perfect Insta-ready fashion.
Breathing deeply, her lungs filled with the intoxicating scent of frangipanis and ocean spray, and the continual rolling shush of the waves brushing against the sand helped settle her fractious mind.
She and Ethan had been enjoying their fling for almost six months. Okay, maybe enjoying wasn’t exactly the right term—Ethan didn’t do exclusive—but she couldn’t deny he was fun. Especially in the bedroom. The man was obsessed with her curves, and as stupid as it sounded for a professional model to admit, he made her feel pretty.
As successful as she was, as famous as she was becoming, sometimes Sophie still felt like the fat kid she’d been in school. The one who was teased and bullied and lacked the confidence to stand up for herself.
Obviously she’d grown since then, both in size and attitude, but along the way she’d also come to realise that what the world thought of as fat, actually wasn’t. By industry standards, yes, Sophie and others like her were the proverbial elephants in the room. In reality she was only a size 14. Not that big at all really. But at six foot one in height, most people found her intimidating regardless of the size of her waistline.
Which was another thing Ethan had going for him. Even though he was the same height as her, he’d never once made her feel like she took up too much space in the world, never made her feel un-feminine. And when they were together, his attention was absolute.
But the gaps between their time together had been widening recently, to the point she rarely saw him at all anymore, and his invitations had begun to feel obligatory.
Sophie was certain Ethan had only invited her to ring in the new year with him as an afterthought. She was someone he could hook up with at the end of the night, someone familiar who didn’t require all the little games and banter necessary for luring someone new into bed.
Not that Ethan had that problem. The scent of money to some women was like the scent of blood to a shark. Drop a billionaire’s heir in the hot tub and watch the gold-digging predators circle.
Which was why he liked Sophie. She’d grown up with money and didn’t give two shits about it. Not that her family’s wealth rivalled Ethan’s—not even close—but it was enough for her to know better than most that money didn’t maketh man.
And Ethan’s manners were sorely lacking.
Take this stupid party, for instance. The man had gone to all the trouble of renting out an entire beachside hotel for this shindig, filled it to the brim with acquaintances, friends and sycophants, then didn’t even have the decency to show up.
She wasn’t even sure why she was surprised anymore. The man had practically made a career out of living an excessive lifestyle with little to no consequences for his actions.
Sophie lifted her gaze to the heavens, took in the silky black of the night sky and sighed wearily as she realised she no longer much cared about Ethan, or his lack of manners.
She hadn’t done for a while. Not in any meaningful way at least.
Just then her phone buzzed with an incoming alert. After tapping in the passcode and opening the app, she chuckled at the picture that sprang to life on the screen.
Anna had posted a selfie on Instagram, a photo of herself wrapped around the shirtless, tattooed guy while he grabbed her arse and licked her neck.
Getting my new years on bitches! #NYE #partyon #cougar
Then her phone dinged with another alert, a video this time. But one that made her smile slip, her face flush and her stomach drop so fucking fast she felt physically ill.
Someone had tagged Ethan in a video of him at a completely different party, half naked with a very obvious erection tenting his limited edition Levi’s, and with not one but two women taking turns shoving their tongues down his throat.
Ringing in the #NewYear with my bestie and her beau #bbf #threesome #bigdickenergy #cumgetsome @EthanMartinOfficial @Britney-Boo-Boo-Bunnie
“Britney Boo Boo Bunnie? What in the actual fuck…?”
Sophie didn’t know if she wanted to laugh, cry or hurl her phone over the railing so she no longer had to suffer staring at the image on her screen. One thing she knew for sure was that she and Ethan Martin were definitely off again.
In the end she settled for laughing as her incredulity at Ethan’s disregard for her feelings hit an all-time high. She didn’t care that he wasn’t with her. She didn’t care that he wanted to fuck other women. They’d both known what they had together had a limited shelf life. What Sophie did take offence to was the fact Ethan had deliberately invited her to spend the evening with him, then summarily dismissed her out of hand in favour of Britney fucking Boo Boo and her BFF.
She’d been publicly discarded. Deemed unneeded. Unnecessary.
She was superfluous pussy.
And the thought she’d been desperate enough for his attention to even show up in the first place made her so goddamn mad.
Because she’d be lying if she didn’t admit—at least to herself—that there just might be a grain of truth in it. She’d been desperate.
Ethan was a selfish fuckboy and an emotional minefield of a man, but he’d made her feel good about herself, had boosted her self-esteem when she’d needed it most. Had made her feel less alone in the world.
And that wasn’t to say she couldn’t be alone for any length of time and not be content, because she could and did. Quite often. But everyone needs to feel a connection sometimes. With someone other than their family or even their best friend.
Sometimes Sophie wanted—needed—a man.
Sometimes she needed to be touched and kissed and fucked, needed the weight of another human body on top of her, behind her, between her thighs. Needed to feel the heated breath of a lover brush over her skin, craved the touch of a man’s hands on her body, adoring her, loving her. Even if it was only for one night.
Ethan had given her that.
And he’d taken it away.
Whatever. What was done was done. Finished.
Time to move on.
But on to… what?
Clicking off her phone, Sophie squeezed it in her fist. “What the hell am I even doing here?” she muttered, not expecting an answer but getting one anyway.
“Same as me, I expect.”
The deep, silky voice coming from the other end of the balcony made Sophie jump, her hand clutching at her wildly beating heart. “Oh my God,” she gasped, her breath sawing in and out of her lungs. “What the hell?”
“Sorry,” the stranger said, smirking as he stepped out of the shadows.
“I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“I thought…,” her words faded to nothing as she took in her unexpected interloper, her breath catching in her throat as he moved towards her. Struck by how graceful his gait was as he strode across the space, Sophie almost missed the way the moonlight caressed his face, highlighting his straight nose, strong jaw and the flawless five o’clock shadow that covered it. Considering the shock she’d just experienced seeing Ethan with another woman, she wouldn’t have thought it possible to find another man so damn attractive so quickly, but apparently her lady parts didn’t give a crap about her emotional needs. They saw. They wanted. Simple as that. And as the handsome stranger approached, it was difficult to find fault with their reasoning. “Who are you?”
“Jack,” he said, and extended his hand in greeting.
“Sophie,” she replied. A tiny zing of electricity flickered along her fingers as she shook his proffered hand and she almost yanked it away, but then he tightened his grip and the warmth of his palm melted into hers. The zing faded, morphed into something else, something more enticing than electricity and heat. “I thought I was alone out here,” she added, suddenly breathless.
The palm of Jack’s hand was soft, no calloused skin or scars to indicate he worked with his hands. But his grip was strong and firm, his fingers curling around hers in a show of authority and command. Then he dropped her hand and Sophie forced down a needy whimper at the loss of his touch.
What the hell is wrong with me?
“Sorry about that,” he said, confusing her for a moment until she realised he was apologising for stealing her solitude, and not for depriving her of his magic fingers. “I just needed a break from the noise inside.” He thumbed over his shoulder at the shadowy corner he’d emerged from. “Seemed like a good place to hide.”
Relaxing a little at his admission, she smiled and asked, “And who were you hiding from?”
“No one,” he said, then his mouth kicked up in one corner, “and everyone.”
She laughed, surprising herself at the flirty undertone. “I guess that makes two of us.”
“And what brings you here tonight, Sophie?” Jack asked, moving closer. “Was it a person, or the promise of fireworks?”
Sophie liked the way he said her name, the way it slipped off his tongue like warmed honey. The whisper of a grin playing around the corners of his mouth made his suggestion of fireworks seem almost obscene, and when Jack rested his hand on the balcony railing right beside her waist, his thumb achingly close to her body, she was tempted to close the miniscule distance and lean into it just to see what he would do or say next.
Screw it. Closing the distance, she leaned against the railing, trapping his thumb between the warmth of her body and the cold steel. “I didn’t think they were having fireworks this year.”
Jack didn’t disappoint. He stroked his thumb against her waist, the pressure of the digit against her body firm and sure. The heat of the gesture slowly burning a hole through her form-fitting dress and adding another layer of suggestion to his words. “I guess that depends on your definition of fireworks, doesn’t it?”