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For Her Protection-An Alpha Romance

By:Amber Bardan

ONE


The tequila burned a path of blazing hell-fire down her esophagus.

Charlie gasped and slammed the shot glass down on the bar. "Holy shit, why can't we drink wine?"

Melanie gave the kind of dark seductive laugh that only a person with  one-hundred-and-ninety-percent unapologetic self-confidence can muster.  "Because tonight you're a boss-bitch who just acquired a top Telco, and  you can handle your damned liquor."

"Not sure I'd put it quite that way." Charlie wiped her mouth on her  wrist. Halifax Communications made the acquisition. She'd simply done  the grunt work.

And what grunt work there'd been.

Despite her preference for a crisp white wine, a little tequila might be the thing to hit the spot.

Melanie tapped the bar, then held up two fingers. The bartender refilled  the glasses as promptly as if the two of them were the only ones  there-despite it being a teeming Friday night with dozens of other  patrons waiting to be served. But then Melanie had that effect on men in  the service industry.

And that effect on men in general.

Lucky Melanie. Everyone should have a superpower. Melanie's was man-mustering, and hers was well …

Did the ability to reason calmly with crazy people count?

Because these days that seemed to be the only thing dominating her  schedule. Meeting with disgruntled person one. Meeting with disgruntled  person two.

Pacify, mollify, apologize.

Repeat.

If only she could reason with the hundreds of people emailing abuse  daily, for nothing more than doing the job she'd been ordered to do. She  downed the next tequila, this time prepared for the lung-punch it  caused.

"See, you didn't even flinch that time." Melanie winked one of her  bright chocolate eyes, her whole face curling in mischief. "Now we can  have some fun."

"Aren't we already?"

Melanie features morphed from wink to arched brow. "Not yet, we aren't."

She reached out and plucked at Charlie's blouse.

Charlie glanced down at her gaping collar and newly viable cleavage. "What did you just do?"

Melanie held up the button she'd stealthily removed. "I knew you'd just do it up again."

"That's because I like my clothes on properly." She yanked together the  sides of the collar. If she hadn't gained a few pounds the last few  months with over-working and under-exercising, it might be fine. But  those pounds went right to her bra.

Her bra which was now over capacity.

So it wasn't fine-so not fine, she may get thrown out of the bar for indecency.

"I warned you when you decided to come directly from work you'd better  not arrive in nun-habit." She smirked and tossed the button over her  shoulder.

"Excuse me, but there were nun's at my high-school and none of them wore pencil skirts."

Melanie's gaze flicked to Charlie's thighs. "Actually I like the skirt  just fine. Points for that. If I had an ass like yours I'd wear pencil  skirts every damned day."

Charlie laughed. "Glad my ass at least has your approval."

What Melanie didn't need to know was about the navy high necked sweater  she'd left at the office to avoid just this kind of conversation. It  wasn't as though she didn't like nice clothes, just that when you work  fourteen hours a day, you dress for comfort.

And practicality.

And if she were being completely honest, none of the prettier things in  her wardrobe were fitting presentably, or at all … so there was that.

Melanie glanced over her shoulder. "You remember the signals?"

"Yeah, I remember." Single girls in a bar signals. Standard safety  precaution. Scratch your nose if you're fine. Double scratch if you're  so fine you won't be sharing a cab ride home.

But tug your left earlobe and it's a call for immediate evacuation.

"Can we buy you ladies a drink?" The voice came from behind her, and the reason for Melanie's question became apparent.

"Sure. I'll have a Moscato." Melanie beamed. "And this buxom wench will have a Chardonnay."

Buxom wench?

Charlie released her collar. Well, if she were going to let loose  tonight, why not live a little dangerously? Just how long had Melanie  been trying to organize a night out-months?

May as well make the most of it, since this was her first weekend off in  recent memory. The two men slipped between them and ordered and paid  for the drinks. Charlie shuffled over to make room.

"Paul," the first bigger brawnier guy said, taking Melanie's hand.

The other turned to Charlie. "Blake."

"Charlie." She extended her hand.         

     



 

He shook her hand gently, and smiled. Blake may not fill his suit or  loom the way Paul did, but even if they hadn't apparently made their  pick, Charlie would have gone for Blake. His smile lines gave him a  happy charisma that made her smile right back.

"Celebrating?" Blake asked.

"How could you tell?"

Blake nodded to the empty tequila glasses. "I have a sister and a tequila night is always a celebration night."

"Ah," Charlie said. The bartender handed her the glass of Chardonnay.  She didn't drink, already feeling a little warmer than she'd prefer.  "Well, you are correct."

He set his beer down and leaned against the bar, cutting off her view of Melanie.

"What's the celebration?"

Charlie leaned to the side. Melanie met her gaze and scratched her nose.  "Work. We finished something we'd been working on for a long time  today."

He picked up his beer bottle. "Well, cheers."

Charlie clinked her wine glass against the bottle. "Thanks."

She raised the glass to her mouth. Her attention flicked across the bar,  and caught. A man raised a glass, almost in time to hers, to his flat,  hard, completely unsmiling mouth.

The wineglass clinked against her tooth.

Holy moly.

Heat moved into her cheeks. She'd thought just moments ago that her  standards were realistic. Maybe not. Because the guy across the room  would've caught the attention of every female in the vicinity-and he'd  certainly caught hers.

Completely, just by existing. She couldn't even pinpoint what it was.  The bicep flexing his black t-shirt sleeve was certainly impressive, but  what was it about his face, without an ounce of softness, that made her  want to touch it?

" … you do?"

She blinked, returning her attention to Blake. Nice Blake who'd been  perfectly pleasant, and even polite enough to have not glanced below her  chin once.

What was the question?

Blake ran a hand through his pale brown hair, but all Charlie could  think was how the guy across the room's darker hair would be too short  to grab hold of.

She took a guess at the question. What did she do for work? But for some  reason the truth seemed too exhausting with nice Blake, who kept asking  questions. "I'm a PA."

He smiled. "That's great."

She should feel bad for the fib, but loathed president of a Telecommunications dynasty, just didn't feel like the better answer.

Melanie peaked out from behind Paul's shoulder and her finger brushed her nose twice.

Charlie held onto her slipping smile, and nodded. She hadn't expected  the girls part of the evening to end so soon. If this hadn't been so  last minute, she'd have preferred to have come out with a few more  friends. Maybe gone somewhere a little quieter where you could hold a  better conversation and order a cocktail.

Melanie and Paul slipped from the bar and headed towards the exit.

"Well, it's been a pleasure meeting you, Charlie." Blake clamped a hand  on her upper arm then pulled a ten dollar bill from his wallet. "Why  don't you go ahead and get yourself another drink."

She blinked. Had she missed something? Blake was leaving too?

He slapped the note on the counter, then headed off down the bar.

No, Blake was not leaving.

Blake sidled up next to a thin blonde across the room.

"What the hell just happened?"

"DUFF," a voice rang out next to her.

Charlie turned to the woman leaning against the bar beside her.

"Excuse me?"

The woman, perhaps a decade older than her twenty-five, would've been  attractive if her makeup weren't sliding down her face. "You're the DUFF  that's what happened."

DUFF? She wracked her brain. As in up-the-DUFF? "He thinks I'm pregnant?"

The woman swayed a little, and stared at Charlie's middle. "Well maybe, but it's D.U.F.F-designated, ugly, fat friend."

Designated, ugly, what now?

"Haven't you seen the movie?"

"No." Charlie blinked.

This woman, was clearly drunk and not in her right mind. She slurped  from a glass. "It's a thing guys do. The wingman separates the DUFF from  the hot girl, so his friend can steal her away."

It sunk in. DUFF was Man-code-kinda like Girl-code, but for assholes.

Total assholes.

Charlie glanced at Blake. The blonde laughed. Jerk. No wonder he'd seemed so respectful, he'd had zero interest in her.

She hadn't exactly been infatuated either but still-mean. Her hand moved  to her hair, half fallen out of its ponytail. She tugged out the  holder. Maybe she should've dressed up a bit more. Reapplying a little  mascara never hurt anyone.         

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