Home > Meant to Be (Twist of Fate #1)

Meant to Be (Twist of Fate #1)
Author: Jennifer Probst

 

 

Prologue

Chiara Kennedy watched the man cross the room toward her, his gaze full of purpose as he closed the distance between them.

He exuded a sexiness she’d noticed immediately. Thick coal-black hair begged for a woman’s fingers. His body was lean and graceful when he moved, muscled without being jacked up. There was an innate confidence that buzzed around him, but Chiara had dismissed him as too arrogant by the crowd of tittering females surrounding him like a thickly coated barrier she had no desire to penetrate. He had seemed to be holding court for his admirers and interested in recruiting new members.

Chiara managed to snag a drink—the bartender was an old friend from high school—then find a spot so she could survey the dance floor and people-watch. Her friends had stood her up due to a work emergency, so she figured she’d finish her drink and amuse herself by watching love connections come, go, or explode on a busy Friday night.

She didn’t expect him to chase her.

Breathlessness gripped her as he leaned over, those gunmetal eyes piercing her with a strange intensity. Chiara waited for the big line he hoped to dazzle her with.

He raised a hand with a smile. “Bartender? Can I get three cosmos sent to the table behind me, please?” He threw a few bills on the bar. “Appreciate it.”

She blinked, her pride a bit stung. But then she couldn’t help the tiny laugh that escaped. Served her right for thinking he was coming to hit on her when he had a full table of women waiting for his return.

Sexy guy cocked his head, turning his attention to her. “What’s so funny?”

She tried not to stare at his mouth with those thinly defined lips. “Oh, nothing.”

His brow lifted. “Sure? I could use a laugh tonight.”

“I thought you were coming over to hit on me.”

Delight skated across his features. “Did I have a shot?”

“Depends on what you would’ve said.”

He laughed then, full and deep, like he was a man who did it often. “Can I try?”

This time, she arched a brow. “You’re buying drinks for your many admirers. Even you must admit you already have enough women to handle.”

Chiara waited for a defense, excuses, or a smooth comeback. Instead, he gave a sigh. “To be honest, they kind of swooped in and I felt pressured to stay. I don’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’m sending them drinks to lessen the blow.”

She considered his statement and wondered why she believed him. “That’s your big escape plan?”

“They really like cosmos. They’d had a few rounds before they found me.”

Her lip quirked. Damn, she liked him. That rarely happened with men at clubs. “Okay, go ahead. Give me your best try.”

Immediately, he turned to face her and stuck out his hand. “Hi, I’m Sebastian Ryder. It’s nice to meet you.”

Hmm. Maybe he wasn’t a player after all. “Hi, I’m Chiara Kennedy.” Automatically, she offered her own hand, and his grip was warm and strong, without being overwhelming.

“I’d offer to buy you a drink, but it looks like that’s fresh.”

“Yeah, it is.” She liked his smile. No fake-white teeth gleaming from daily whitening flashed back at her. She noticed his left incisor was chipped. “Come here often?”

This time Sebastian laughed, and she couldn’t help joining in. The scent of ocean waves from his cologne teased her nostrils. She fought the urge to move closer and take a big whiff. “Actually, no. I came with some friends from work, but they took off. You?”

“Got stood up. My girlfriends had a work emergency, so I figured I’d grab a drink before I left.”

“Then our meeting was meant to be.”

She shook her head in mock displeasure. “You were doing so well up to that part.”

He threw up his hands. “I promise, no canned lines. You make me want to be a better man.”

A chuckle escaped her lips. She studied his face in the flashing lights. He was even more attractive up close. The square jaw, Roman nose, and heavy brows softened the pretty-boy good looks. But it was the easy charm and warmth he exuded that kept her talking. Like he didn’t take himself too seriously. Too many men had a goal to win every conversation; they forgot to just enjoy the process. “Hmm, you’re funny. Unless that’s your big plan—pretend to be understated and genuine to stand out.”

Sebastian cocked his head. Surprise danced in his eyes. “You don’t trust me not to be one of those guys.”

“Which ones?”

“The ones who pretend to be everything until you find out too late they’re nothing.”

A small sigh broke from her lips. “It’s hard to separate the truth from the lies lately. All this surface niceness. Getting to know you via a perfect snapshot and blurb written like a marketing hook. I don’t know, I just wish . . .”

He leaned in. “What?”

“I wish just once I could meet someone and skip all the bullshit. Just be real and raw.” She rolled her eyes. “But that would scare every man off faster than a stage-one clinger.”

Something flared to life in that smoky gaze, and for an instant, an electric chemistry shot between them, making her eyes widen. She’d never experienced any type of attraction or pull as fast as this before, and it threw her off-balance. Even more so after he made his announcement.

“Let’s do it.”

“Do what?”

His grin was slow and sure. “You and me. Let’s get real.”

A laugh escaped her lips. “Oh, sure. It sounds good, but you’d bail. Or lie. Or pretend you’re this deep, artsy type who craves a soul connection when you’re really holding back.”

His face turned serious, and her heart banged against her chest when he uttered his next words. “I don’t lie, Chiara.”

Goose bumps broke out on her skin. She was suddenly hot and cold at the same time and wondered what it would be like to press her lips against his, in the shadows, just for a moment. “I don’t know you, so how could I tell?”

“We’d both have to take a leap. I’m willing if you are.”

It was an insane proposition. She didn’t know him. She didn’t even know if she wanted to do it. But a force inside her reared up, something bigger than her rational brain—an instinct to allow him to really see her—and she was nodding in agreement. “Okay.”

Their gazes locked for a long moment. “How about we go outside? It’s quieter.”

She followed his lead, exiting the back door where the open patio lured various groups together, smoking, surrounding heaters in the cool late-autumn air. They snagged two chairs on the side, away from the activity, and settled in close, knees touching, the night sky overhead exploding with stars. “How do we start?” Chiara asked.

“Q and A. Have you ever been in love?”

She couldn’t help but jerk back at the direct question. “Wow, that’s right to the point.”

“I’m a dive into the cold water type of guy. Do you like to go in one limb at a time?”

She shook her head. “No, I hate indecision.”

“Me, too. Gonna answer the question?”

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