My lips curled into a smile as I surveyed my quiet driveway. No flashing cameras. No microphones. No vultures. Lara had been right. I needed this getaway. The looks of pity from everyone who thought I was too naïve, too stupid, or too gutless were getting to me. I was none of that.
To hell with the media. I was on vacation, and I needed to think about having fun and getting laid. Especially getting laid. It had been almost a year. A little longer, and I’d start growing cobwebs down there.
What would the paparazzi say if I told them that?
Who was I kidding? My label would bury me alive, even if it was my fake boyfriend getting caught cheating for the seventh time this year and causing all these problems. Their golden boy could get away with anything, even if he was a has-been and needed to date a new, shiny rockstar to get any attention.
Ugh. I needed to stop thinking about this.
I got into the car and drove to the city that shone with Christmas lights. Holidays in New York. What could possibly go wrong? I was going to have fun at this party, even if it killed me. My red dress with black and white flowers highlighted my figure. A pair of high heel shoes, minimalistic jewelry designed to draw attention to my face and chest, but not to distract from them, and makeup, would do the trick. I was ready.
Dance, have a few drinks, find the right guy for a one-night stand. Easy.
At least the vultures wouldn’t be here to catch me embarrassing myself. Nope. I’d be fine. I looked great, and I knew it. Men would trip all over themselves for a chance to even talk to me. There was no point in doubting myself now.
I let the valet take care of my car and headed into the hotel that hosted the party. The music vibrated through my body. I spotted Lara and headed for her, squeezing myself between writhing bodies and flailing arms that threatened to smack me in the face.
“Nina.” Lara waved me over to the bar. “You look like you need a drink and a bodyguard.”
“Bodyguard? What are you talking about?” Did someone know I was here? I didn’t normally need protection back home in Russia, but every now and then, my label hired someone anyway because they loved wasting my money and then telling me how well they take care of me.
“I’m talking about you picking the perfect dress for the job.”
I looked around, catching a few eyes trying to undress me, and even more doing the same to Lara. She always had that effect on men. A girl couldn’t get any more exotic than a Korean that grew up in Central Asia but spoke with a Russian accent. Not to mention her killer figure and the perfect face to go with it. Too bad few saw beyond that.
“That’s the goal, right?” I got myself a pineapple coconut champagne. Simply holding it calmed my nerves and gave my hands something to do, a trick I had learned when I first started singing.
“Want me to introduce you to a few people?” Lara asked.
“Afraid if I sit here a little longer, I’ll end up too drunk to execute the plan?” I took a sip, letting it fill me with warmth.
“If you get drunk, I’m afraid someone else might execute their plans on you, instead.”
I bit my lower lip and smiled. “What if I’ll like that?”
“What if you don’t?”
“Fine, let’s do the rounds. Just don’t give anyone my stage name. I’d rather not risk it, even if they won’t know it.” Ninel was the name reserved only for my singing, but I had left it in Russia. In my personal life, I preferred Nina.
Before we could leave the bar, a tall blond man with a body to kill for stepped up.
“Good evening. Saw two beauties here and couldn’t help myself,” he said.
“Michael, good to see you made it. This is my friend Nina.” Lara grinned from ear to ear.
“It’s a pleasure.” Michael’s eyes raked down my body, spending a little too much time admiring my chest.
“Likewise,” I said in my accented English. His lip twitched further up.
“Oh, I forgot I had to talk to someone. I’ll leave you two.” Lara gave me a Cheshire smile and walked away.
I didn’t share her enthusiasm. Sure, he looked hot, but something was missing, and frankly, I didn’t like his reaction to me. He might do for a one-night stand, but I wasn’t sure I’d even go that far.
“I hear an accent,” he said. “Where are you from?”
“Russia.” I took another sip of my drink as my eyes combed over the crowd, trying to see if there was anyone better. It was just for this one night. I really had no right to complain if the guy only wanted to screw me because I looked hot and had an accent.
“Beautiful country,” he said.
“You’ve been?” I started coming up with questions about his visit. Most people went to Moscow, and since that’s where I lived now, I could use it as a springboard for a conversation.
“No, I prefer going to warmer climates,” he answered.
Be nice, Nina, be nice.
I needed to blow him off and fast. There was no way in hell I’d sleep with someone who didn’t realize that Russia was the biggest country on the planet and had more climates and time zones than was proper. Or that summers were a thing.
“Sorry, I need to make a phone call,” I said. “I’ll see you around.”
I found the bathroom and went in to touch up my lipstick, then headed back out. Careful to avoid Michael, I circled the room. A few men tried their best to acquire an x-ray vision, but they quickly looked away, pretending they weren’t ogling. Finally, my eyes stopped on a tall, dark figure, his eyes studying me, refusing to falter when I met his gaze. I smiled at him and went on, spotting Lara in the crowd and making my way to her.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Lara asked when I approached. “I thought you’d like him. He’s good-looking.”
“He’s also good at looking.” I scrunched up my nose. “At boobs instead of maps.”
“Ouch. What was it this time?”
I shrugged. “He doesn’t want to visit Russia because it’s cold. I thought after the Winter Olympics in Sochi, people finally figured out we had southern cities.”
“Hey, that’s not bad. At least he didn’t ask you how you deal with all those polar bears walking the streets.”
She had me there. I had heard much worse. Maybe I was so frustrated by it because I had lived in Krasnodar when I was little, a city that almost never got snow.
“Ok, attempt number two is headed this way.” Lara smiled at someone behind me.
I turned to see the owner of the deep, confident voice and found myself looking into those same eyes that had refused to look away.
“And hello, mystery woman.” He smiled, and what a smile it was.
Lara flashed me a grin I knew too well. “Brandon, this is Nina. Nina, this is Brandon.”