Highest Bid

by

Mel Teshco

An unapologetic player and a reserved wallflower… one night would never be enough

Galan Black carries a burden he can’t share with anyone, least of all his two brothers. Not even after the blood, sweat and tears it took for them to open and make the Black Pearl Nightclub a raging success. He’s just glad his secret doesn’t haunt him half as much in the arms of the eager women he takes to bed.

Yet he can’t stop thinking about the plain Jane bartender and waitress, who he impulsively hired against his better judgement. Then she steps half-naked onto the stage for the club’s once-yearly charity auction, and he can’t keep his bidding paddle down, or his eyes off her. He’ll have her for the night, and get her out of his system once and for all.

Layla doesn’t trust men, yet her infatuation with the eldest Black brother is getting beyond a joke. She needs to experience a night in his bedroom, and get over her silly fixation. But then one night becomes two, with the heat between them showing no signs of cooling. Until Layla’s trust is put to the ultimate test and dirty little secrets are exposed.

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Galan Black stalked through the Black Pearl Nightclub doing his best to ignore the throbbing, frenetic beat that filled the room like a raging beast. He hid a grimace. If the famous guest DJ didn’t also fill the room with Friday night patrons, Galan would never hire the man again.

Luckily, Galan’s fascination with making money hadn’t waned. Tonight his biggest concern was keeping the Black Pearl at capacity while the once-yearly auction held in one of the two function rooms went off without a hitch.

He stepped past a trio of blonde women, their stares open with invitation as they stood between the long bar and the mass of writhing bodies on the dance floor. His mouth curled into a sardonic grin. Who would ever have imagined he’d become more immune to the ogling, come-hither stares from beautiful women than to the cacophony of sound piercing his skull?

Yeah, but then you’ve been a little distracted lately, haven’t you?

He dragged his mind away from the one woman who irritated and turned him on in equal measure, and instead focused back on the business at hand.

No one could have foreseen that the charity auction, held for the first time five years ago, would turn into the biggest drawcard for Galan and his brothers, Aiden and Liam, who were the sole owners of the nightclub. VIP guests from sheikhs to billionaire real estate moguls and famous celebrities paid months in advance for the exorbitant tickets.

Galan and his brothers had learned the more costly and exclusive the price of admission, the bigger the fish that were reeled in. And the more women the auction attracted.

It was Aiden who vetted the ladies who came from all over Australia and further afield to support their favorite charity and potentially be seen with someone rich or famous for a night. Galan snorted. It was also probably the Cinderella fantasy of every one of those girls to have the highest bidder fall in love with her.

Stranger things had probably happened.

Yeah, like you no longer being the cynical bastard you’ve become.

“That’s not about to change any time soon,” he muttered, before he acknowledged the pair of muscled bouncers standing guard outside the doors leading to the function room.

He and his brothers had beefed up the security tonight. Big-time.

Few men could afford the event, but it didn’t stop them all from trying to gain entry into the exclusive auction and seeing for themselves the bevy of gorgeous, half-naked women available for the night.

The bouncers nodded back respectfully before they opened the doors. It wasn’t until Galan stepped through and the doors closed behind him that he released an audible sigh. Silence. He never took it for granted. It was something to be prized, valued. Hence the double-soundproofed insulation and glazed windows throughout the building.

Striding through the now-empty secondary foyer and past another guarded set of doors, he stilled for a moment to take in the luxurious function room. With pure New Zealand wool carpet underfoot, and a huge glittering chandelier overhead, along with a sprinkling of ruby Chesterfield chairs and sofas near the walls for those guests needing to get off their feet, the design was perfection.

Because, tonight, it was standing room only for the men in their tailored Armani and Savile Row suits and their deep, deep pockets.

His nostrils flared as he drew in a deep breath. He could damn well smell the prestige and money presently swelling the room. He and his brothers were exceptional at making a profit, and it was even better when it was for a worthy cause.

Galan spotted Liam moving through the crowd toward him. No hard feat considering his youngest sibling towered easily a head over most of the other men in the room. All three Black brothers had scored their height from their NBA athlete father. But, while Galan and Aiden had also inherited their dad’s dark hair and eyes, Liam had inherited his blond hair and blue eyes from their mom.

Galan closed his eyes for a moment, shutting out the world. If only their parents were alive today to see the successes their sons had become. All three siblings had taken the rundown, three-storey warehouse their parents had put their life savings into and converted it into a nightclub with two function rooms, the Garden Café and top-level living quarters.

But, instead of celebrating the feat together as a family, with their parents supporting their dream of owning and running their own nightclub, a drunk driver had plowed into their parents’ car and instantly killed them.

That it’d also killed their parents’ secret, one Galan had been forced to endure alone, was something he’d had to live with every day since that horrifying event eighteen years ago. But he’d made a promise to keep the confidence, and it was one he didn’t intend to break.

He was glad the once-yearly auction brought him and his two brothers closer together. Particularly when the entry fee from the exorbitantly priced tickets went to those families who’d also suffered loss or hardship at the hands of a drunk driver.

“You okay, Gal?”

Galan opened his eyes and forced a smile, pushing aside his inner turmoil. “Never better.” He’d become adept at shielding his bleakest thoughts from his brothers.

Liam eyed him speculatively before he turned to survey the room. “The auction is about to start. Care to put a wager on the highest bid?”

Galan shook his head. Liam didn’t gamble often, but when he did, he rarely lost. “I’m here to see charities make a profit, not lose money from my own pocket on a whim to my little brother.”

Liam exhaled on a laugh. “When did you get to be so predictable?”

When I started seeing money pour into our accounts and knew our futures were secure.

Liam sighed. “But then I guess it’s nearly always been work and sex with you.” He cocked his head to the side. “You know, there was a time you liked to take risks outside of the bedroom.”

“We all three took a lot of risks to get where we are now,” Galan conceded. “We’re only lucky those risks paid off.”

Liam chuckled. “Who’d have thought we’d come this far? Guess that’s why you’re so…conservative now. But I can almost understand not wanting to push your luck any further than you already have.”

Conservative? Fuck. Was he really getting that unadventurous?

Not in the bedroom, buddy.

Liam nodded at a group of men on the other side of the room, one of whom was the auctioneer about to step on stage. “Duty calls, Gal.” His grin turned into a wry smirk. “I’ll let you know how I went with a little side bet I made with Aiden.”

Galan frowned. Side bet? But he was already too preoccupied scanning the room to stop Liam’s retreat and query him further. His frown deepened as he identified each of the bar staff, with their drink trays held aloft as they stepped around their suited customers.

Where the hell was Layla?

He’d pushed back thoughts of her for—he flicked a look at his Patek Phillippe watch—easily half an hour. “A new record,” he muttered.

Hiring her had been one of his more foolish risks. With no bar experience and zero waitressing skills, no one had been more shocked than he when he’d chosen her over far prettier and more experienced barwomen.

That wasn’t even to mention that from the first night on the job she’d hidden her body beneath the same black T-shirt, with Black Pearl Nightclub emblazoned across the chest, as the male bar staff. She was the antithesis of the lingerie-wearing barwomen who floated seductively around the room, flaunting their bodies to earn big tips.

Perhaps that was why he was so damn intrigued.

In his experience, women did what they could to earn a few extra bucks. Hell, he and his brothers encouraged a sexy outfit on nightclub shift. Expected it, even. But though Layla was pleasant and gracious to all the patrons, she hadn’t once shown off what appeared to be a decent body.

That he was oddly comforted by her choice of clothing was something he didn’t like to think about too often. Layla wasn’t even his type.

He’d always enjoyed his nights fucking a plentiful supply of fast women, often more than one, with sex nothing more than a physical release. He’d never really experienced a deep emotional connection with anyone since his parents’ deaths. He was disconnected from everyone around him, his emotions firmly boxed away.

His growing obsession with Layla was nothing more than his need for a challenge. He stifled a bemused chuckle. And Layla was definitely one woman who defied him at every turn.

The auctioneer stepped onto stage, and the men in the room became all ears at his introductory speech. Minutes later, the men were all eyes, as the first woman stepped onto stage in nothing more than a miniscule bikini and a huge smile.

Galan grinned at the quickly escalating bids. There’d be a lot of happy charities tonight thanks to this auction. Each woman selected a cause she wanted to support. The higher the men bid for her, the more her chosen organization received.

It wasn’t until the fourth girl came out and blew kisses to the bidders that Aiden put in an appearance beside his older brother. He clapped Galan on the shoulder and murmured, “I knew these ladies would get the men bidding.”

Galan nodded. “You selected well.”

Aiden smirked. “Yeah, well, you know what they say. It’s a hard life, but someone’s got to do it.” He arched a dark brow. “Are you planning on making a bid?”

Galan sent him a sardonic look. “I’ll leave that to the paying customers.”

Aiden’s smirk widened. “You’ve got every right to bid, too, you know. The highest one is all that counts.” He handed him a bidding paddle before Galan even realized what he’d been given. Aiden winked, “Keep hold of it. You never know, you just might need it.”

Galan stared after his brother, his lips thinning and his arms crossing. One thing he’d always hated—as both his brothers knew all too well—was subterfuge. He liked to be in control. It was less likely for things to go wrong. And right now his every instinct flailed like a fish that’d been thrown on baking hot sand.

His brothers had concocted something. But if they thought for even one second he’d bid on any of the women walking out on stage, they could think again. He shook his head. He had more than enough hookups without having to pay for it.

So what had his damn brothers gone and done?

Wolf whistles and cheers jerked him back to the present, and for a moment his fool heart forgot to beat. His throat dried, and his every nerve ending short-circuited, as he stared openmouthed at the sexy, inescapably beautiful woman strutting out on stage on impossibly tall stilettos.

Heart-shaped pasties just barely covered the nipples of her bared, beautiful breasts. A perfect fit for his big hands. Her waist-length, dark hair fell like a curtain around her exquisite body, where a short peacock feather skirt with feathered train was her only covering.

For a moment, denial left him frozen in place. It can’t be.

Though he’d never seen her out of her uniform of men’s T-shirt and black dress pants, never seen her without her glasses, or her dark hair out of its bun…it was irrevocably, undeniably her.

“Layla,” he breathed. And he finally understood why she was the one woman in his life who had gotten under his skin like a damn burr.

She was fucking glorious.

No longer was she a sparrow of a woman, who blended into the background while her coworkers, in their revealing lingerie, drew the stares of most men in the room. Every single eye was on the goddess up on stage.

His pulse jerked into double-time, his cock hardening to concrete, while every single fantasy he’d had, and then some, poured through his mind. He inhaled long and deep, only barely sensing the knowing smirks of his brothers, while the suited men around him went ballistic with their bidding.

His hands fisted as a surge of something primal and totally foreign rose up from within. He had to have her.

So what are you going to do about it?

He rubbed a hand down his face. He’d do what any hot-blooded, self-centered man with too much money and not enough sense would. He’d win Layla for the night and hope she wanted more from him than stimulating conversation.

End of Excerpt