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 Angela 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.”
Angela 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 Angela’s, but usually when she said some body part or other was hurting, Angela 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, Angela 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.”
Sophie pressed her lips together, flatening 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. Come on, Soph,” Angela 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 ten more minutes.”
Angela 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 Angela’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?” Angela’s taste in men usually ran to the more mature variety.
Angela 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 Angela for thinking the best of Ethan Martin. 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 Angela, 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 Queensland. If the heat didn’t kill you, the humidity would. Even at almost midnight, it was 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 an Insta-ready fashion.
Breathing deeply, she let the scent of the ocean fill her lungs, let the continual rolling shush of the waves brushing against the sand settle her mind.
She and Ethan had been enjoying an on again, off again 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 little fat girl 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 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, 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 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.
Angela 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 clench in knots so tight 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 @EthanMartinOfficial @BritneyBooBooBunnie
“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. 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 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 it often. But everyone needs to feel a connection sometimes. With someone other than their family or their cat 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? That’s what she wanted to know.
Clicking off her phone, she 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,” her unexpected guest 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 imposing companion. He moved towards her, his gait graceful as the moonlight caressed his face, highlighting his straight nose, strong jaw and the close-clipped beard that covered it. Taking a step backwards, Sophie squinted into the dull light. “Who are you?”
“Jack,” he said, and extended his hand in greeting. “And you are?”
“Sophie,” she replied, frowning as she shook his proffered hand. “I thought I was alone out here.”
“Sorry about that. I just needed a break from the noise inside.” He thumbed over his shoulder at the shadowy corner he’d appeared from. “Seemed like a good place to hide.”
Relaxing a little at his admission, she smiled and asked, “And who were you hiding from?”
Jack returned her smile and his whole demeanour shifted, lightened. Unlike Ethan who knew he was drop dead gorgeous and unashamedly flaunted it to his advantage, this man was handsome in a more unassuming way, and Sophie felt an unexpected pull towards him. “No one. And everyone.”
She smiled. “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 made her feel playful.
“There won’t be any fireworks this year,” she said, taking the final step that would move her into Jack’s personal space, then bit her bottom lip, letting it slowly slip free of her teeth, making sure her companion got a good look at how plump and pink and delectable it was.
Jack didn’t disappoint. Sophie’s excitement ramped up as his dark eyes tracked the movement before flicking up to meet her gaze. “I guess that depends on your definition of fireworks, doesn’t it?”