“Another round, Dwight!”
I put out a very unsteady hand to stop my best friend from ordering more shots. “Lia, no! I haven’t been back to the ranch in ten years. I want to have a clear head.” I stare down at the row of empty shot glasses in front of me. The edges blur, and, for a second, they double. “I’m already off to a terrible start.”
Lia waves me off. “Who are you kidding? You could always drink me under the table, and I’m not nearly drunk enough yet, so... Bartender!” She slaps her hand on the shiny, black bar to get his attention, which she does. Dwight raises a finger and sends a wink down the bar, the combination of which effectively scrambles Lia’s hormones. “My God, he’s gorgeous. I’m so gonna hit that.”
“That’s the eleventieth time you’ve said that. Eleventieth? Eleven-teth?” My tongue tangles around the word, and my brain provides no help whatsoever.
“Eleventh. E-lev-enth,” Lia supplies, sending us both into a fit of giggles for reasons I don’t fully understand. “Speaking of eleventh, I think it’s high time you jump back into sex.”
“What does that have to do with eleventieth?”
“Nothing, but don’t change the subject. You need sex!”
“Stop saying that,” I caution in a low hiss.
“Saying what? Sex?”
“Shhhh.” Paranoid, I glance left and right to make sure no one heard what she said. “Someone will hear you.”
“I don’t care. I want someone to hear me.”
“Well, I don’t.”
“You should. And here’s why.” Her voice rises to an embarrassing decibel, somewhere between a rational shout and an insane bellow. “It is not healthy for the human Virginia—”
“My Virginia is fine,” I interrupt her to say.
“—to go too long without…without…” I watch her struggle to find the word she’s searching for. When she can’t, she resorts to a widely recognized hand gesture.
My mortification triples.
I slap her hands down. “Ohmygod, please stop!”
“This?” Her brow pleats into an adorable wrinkle as she refers to her hands. She’s genuinely perplexed. “Why?”
“People know what that means.”
“Of course they know. That’s why I’m doing it. I can’t think of the word. You know the one.” She raises her hands and starts pushing her index finger into the hole she’s made with the fingers of her other hand. Again, I slap them down.
“Penetration!” She practically roars the word when it finally comes to her. She flings both her arms into the air like a referee calling a touchdown and starts chanting, “Penetration! Penetration!”
I reach over to plaster my hand to her mouth.
I don’t have to look left or right this time to see if anyone heard her. In my peripheral vision, I see at least a dozen heads spin in our direction. I think people three streets over heard her.
“Oh, Jesus fix it,” I mutter, tucking my flaming face against my arm.
“Nope. Only a penis will fix this.” She gives me an exaggerated wink.
“Well, I think it’s time for me to go.” I start to slide off the stool, but she stops me with a hand to my arm.
“I’m not leaving until you pick a dude.”
“Then you stay and I’ll go.”
“No, that’s not how this works. We came together, we’ll leave together. Unless we don’t leave alone. Hubba hubba.” She wiggles her eyebrows suggestively, and I can’t help but giggle. She’s ridiculous, and I love her.
“Fine, we’ll leave together, but I’m not picking a dude, Lia. We’re at a bar. That’s how women get killed.”
“I found a dude. Hot. Nice. Safe. But not too safe,” she says with a knowing nod. She leans around me to look down the bar at Dwight again. When her lips split into a beautiful smile, I know she found him. Poor guy. If she’s got her eye on him, he doesn’t stand a chance. He just doesn’t know it yet. “Now you need a dude.”
“I told you—”
“I heard you, but I never accept the first offer. Try again.”
“That wasn’t an offer because this isn’t a negotiation.”
“Of course it is.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Try again!” When I growl at her, she rolls her eyes and finally relents. At least a little. “Okay, fine. How about we compromise? How about you find a hot guy to at least kiss, and I’ll drop it? Then I’ll let you go back to the hotel while I stay and dazzle Dwight until he gets off. And then we both get off.” She snickers at her cleverness.
“Lia…” I sigh. My childhood best friend is persistent. I’ll give her that. And she knows me well enough to know when to push her advantage, too.
“Just one kiss. Or did you forget how? Want me to show you?”
Several guys whoop their approval. Clearly, they’ve been paying attention, probably since Lia started using words like sex and penetration in her football-game voice. My cheeks burn hot again when a few errant comments erupt around us.
“Let’s see it, ladies.”
“Girl on girl is hot.”
“Oh my God! Look what you’ve started,” I groan.
“You can stop it right now. Just pick a hot guy and kiss him. Easy peasy.”
On any other day, I’d outwit her. Tonight, however, the room is hazy and tilts when I move too quickly. I don’t expect to be outwitting anyone or anything, except maybe the mechanical bull that some girl is riding in the next room.
“Fine, but then I’m leaving. I can’t stay here after I publicly molest a strange man when you’ve been screaming ‘penetration’ and making finger gestures all night.”
In that adorably obtuse way she has about her, Lia raises her touchdown arms one more time and squeals “penetration.”
“That was for good luck,” she explains, her chocolate eyes sparkling in glee. I narrow my hazel ones on her.
“You’re a terrible friend.”
“I’m a great friend, now pick a dude.” She grabs my shoulders and spins my stool around. It’s the first time I’ve braved an actual look at the crowd since Lia drew so much attention to us in here. It seems she very effectively grabbed the notice of ninety percent of the male population in the bar. But not one of them grabs mine.
Until I’m spinning myself back around and my gaze collides with one that’s as black as the sky outside. It’s set in a face about as gorgeous as any I’ve ever seen, and I can’t look away. Can’t and, at the moment, don’t want to.
Tingles shoot through me. Wave after wave of them, skittering down my arms and legs, tapdancing around in my belly.
Maybe this is what it feels like to be tased, I think irrationally. It’s been a long, long time since a guy blew my mind and reduced me to a starstruck gawker.
The man isn’t smiling; he’s just watching me. Not unlike most everyone else in here, yet also very much unlike everyone else in here. His eyes are like alluring bottomless lakes. They’re hot and intense, but not in a pervy way. He just looks…intrigued, although I don’t know why. At the moment, I’m like part of a sideshow at the circus. Nothing intriguing about that unless I have a beard or can swallow a sword.
And, for the record, I don’t have a beard or a sword.
When I continue to stare, he tips his dark head in acknowledgement of me. The corners of his mouth turn up in a grin so sexy my knees wobble a little. If I were standing, they’d probably give out and dump me on my ass.
I’m getting a little short of breath when the back of Lia’s head pops into my field of vision, obstructing my view of him. Although I don’t like it initially, a few seconds away from those burning eyes of his is probably a good thing for my composure.
After she gets in a good stare, she turns toward me, and I see her face. “Is that the one?” She hikes a thumb over her shoulder at him.
I’m still addled, and my head isn’t quite back in the game yet. “Huh?”
“Is that the one you pick?”
“For the kiss, dummy.”
The kiss. That’s right. How on earth could I forget?
Although I kind of like the thought of kissing a random stranger now that I’ve seen this particular one, it’s still not my style to be so brazen. “Can’t we just forget this? I’m ready to go. I’m gonna have a record-breaking hangover as it is.”
In two days. When the drunk finally wears off. As it is, I think my nose is already numb.
I reach up to feel the tip.
“No! You’re gonna march that sweet ass of yours over there and reclaim your womanhood.” She pulls me off my stool, slaps me on the butt, and gives me a shove in hot guy’s direction. I hear her whisper to me as I stumble, “Own that shit, woman!”
I glance up and find that hot guy is still in the same spot, still watching me, only now, he’s got his arms crossed over his broad chest. For a second, I get distracted by the ropes and bulges of muscle under the smooth skin of his arms. His build is every bit as stunning as his face, which I manage to force my eyes back to only to get lost in those inky eyes again.
I put one foot in front of the other and make my way to him. I’m vaguely aware of people moving out of my way as I do, but I’m far too focused on my target for it to fully register. If I weren’t, if I knew that the entire bar was watching me, I’d die a thousand deaths. And I’d never do what I’m about to do. But, lucky for me, I’m oblivious. Tequila can do that to you.
I stop when I’m mere inches from him. He’s tall. Very tall, and I have to crane my neck to look up at him. He’s broad, too. Just a big, strong, strapping guy. A big, strong, strapping, gorgeous guy. Even more so up close, where I can count every long lash surrounding his scorching eyes and see the fine grain of stubble on his square jaw.
God help me.
He’s still wearing that tiny grin as he stares silently down at me.
I give an awkward laugh. “Uh, hi.”
“Hi,” he returns.
Sweet mother of audio pheromones! His voice is like warm honey dripping down my chest. Or like melted chocolate being dribbled on my thighs.
Or maybe that’s just the drink talking.
Why did I start with tequila?
He cocks his head to one side, waiting for what I might say next. My palms threaten to sweat, but thankfully, I think I’m too dehydrated for that to actually happen.
“Um, I…I…my friend over there…” I turn to look back at Lia whose mouth is open as if she’s cheering me on. I don’t know for sure. I can’t hear it over the buzzing in my ears. I swivel my head back to hot guy. “I know this is going to sound insane, but—”
“You don’t have to explain. I know what you need to do.” I could be crazy, or drunk as all hell, but it looks like his eyes are twinkling with mischief. Could that be right? Maybe not, but it sure seems like he’s amused by my squirming. I mean, he could make this easier on me. Hit on me a little or something. Offer to buy me a drink or ask me if I come here often, or even what color underwear I’m wearing. Something. Anything. But he’s not. He’s leaving me no choice but to just jump head first into the deep end. And it looks an awful lot like he’s enjoying my plunge.
He nods. “Everyone here does.”
Face. Equals. Fire.
I resist the urge to fan my skin as I close my eyes. “Oh, God.”
“Some might say that, but you can just call me Nixon.”
My eyes snap open to find him wearing a full-blown grin. Cocky, sexy, teasing. Breathtaking! Absolutely breathtaking. It transforms what was already an exceptional appearance into something stunning. His teeth are even perfect, and he has a dimple in one cheek. A dimple!
I stare at it for a few seconds. It’s the most adorable yet the hottest thing I think I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what it is about that dimple, but it seems to awaken my inner Lia. I didn’t even know I had an inner Lia, but something brave and wanton ignites in my veins, hijacking my body. It comes scratching and clawing and roaring to the surface.
I take a step closer. My own lips curve in anticipation when my boobs bump into his crossed arms. “Uncross your arms, Nixon.”
One jet-black brow spikes up as he slowly uncrosses and lowers his arms. “Like this?”
“Is there something you’d like me to do with my hands?”
I move in even closer, not stopping until I feel my belly touch his. I grab his wrists and tug his arms around me. “How about putting them here?”
He splays his long fingers across my lower back, the tips brushing the bare skin just above my waistband. Electricity shoots southward. “Like this?”
I nod again.
“Just hold still.” I fist my hands in the soft material of his shirt and haul myself up onto my tiptoes. The moment I smash my mouth to his, chaos explodes all around us. It’s like fireworks in my ears. Cheering and whooping, cat-calling and howling. I feel like Rachel when she kissed Ross for the first time, and the studio crowd went wild.
After a few seconds, I lean back, smiling and satisfied by my courageous efforts. Before I can pull away, though, he stops me. “Wait.”
I pause, looking up at him. His eyes pour down into mine like sweet, thick molasses. And just like that, I’m caught. Stuck. Held breathlessly.
Two words ripple through the fireworks. A warning. A taunt. “My turn.”
Each word lands in my stomach with a boom.
One palm rises to the side of my neck, his thumb by my ear. He gives me the space of three erratic heartbeats to protest before he bends to press his lips to mine. I don’t protest because I can’t. I want this. More than I can remember wanting anything in recent years.
And he gives it to me.
This kiss… Dear God, it’s nothing like the one I gave him. This kiss is fiery and wild. It devours, and it savors. It thrills, and it incites. It’s meant for dark rooms and shadowed corners, not crowded bars and public places. But at the moment, I don’t care. I’m lost. Consumed. Burned up.
His tongue sweeps along mine, lapping hungrily as he threads the fingers of one hand into my hair. He tugs my head to the side as his other broad palm, still at my waist, snugs my lower body against his. The fireworks in my ears fade as my blood goes up in flames.
I’m nowhere near ready for the kiss to be over when he raises his head. I watch with dazed eyes as he runs the tip of his tongue along his bottom lip and mutters, “Mmmm. Tequila.”