Kate watched with mild disinterest as the bartender, with his slicked-back blonde hair and too-perfect bone structure, poured three double shots of tequila for a group of barely twenty-one-year-old girls off to her right.
I’m getting too old for this.
She brought her chilled martini glass to her lips as her eyes locked onto the long mirror behind the bar. A lanky, red-bearded man settled next to her, his gaze sweeping over to meet hers.
“You here alone?” he asked.
Kate peeked over her shoulder at Mr. Red Beard. “Yeah.”
“That’s surprising.” He shifted in his seat to get a better view of her face. “You like this place?”
“It’s okay,” she murmured as she averted her attention back to the blush liquid in her glass. The rosy color reminded her of the failed wedding she’d planned the weekend before. The bride’s cheeks had turned beet red at the altar as she crushed the poor groom. “I can’t do this,” she’d admitted. Then she’d raced down the aisle like Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride.
That had been a first for Kate. But weddings weren’t her usual gig, anyway. They took entirely too long to prepare. That was yet another reason why she hoped her meeting with Julia Maddox tomorrow went well.
“You want to dance?”
“No, but thanks.” It had been months since she’d gone out, and she missed the feeling dancing used to give her. Loud, thumping club music had a way of syncing with the rhythm of her heartbeat, which always caused a tingling sensation throughout her body, mimicking chills—the good kind.
Music and dancing helped shed her anxiousness. In this city, particularly, Kate found that she really needed to unwind. After the long, nightmare of a day she’d had traveling from New York City to Charlotte, she at least deserved a drink.
Kate squeezed her eyes shut, wondering what she had done to warrant a year’s dose of bad luck all rolled into one hellish day. She had not only missed her flight but spilled coffee on herself at the airport. On the later flight, she had to sit next to someone who reeked of stale cigarettes, and—oh yeah—her hotel had been overbooked. Maybe she should never have agreed to tomorrow’s meeting—maybe her dad was right when he’d told her not to go.
But no—she wanted to land the gig. Who was she kidding?
“I really think we should dance.” A hand on her leg had her flinching and opening her eyes. Mr. Red Beard. Just great.
She shoved the guy’s hand from her thigh and slipped off her seat in a hurry, nearly stumbling in her heels.
His gray eyes combed over her chest as his tongue peeked out of his mouth and slid across his bottom lip. “If you change your mind, I’ll be here.”
She couldn’t even stomach a response. She grabbed her drink and turned away, tugging at the hem of her dress as she edged closer to the dance floor, feeling the need to hide the area where his hand had been.
Sipping her martini, she watched the attractive men and women shuffle around the floor, dancing to the beat of a new Calvin Harris remix. Her head tilted back, allowing the music to wash over her like waves licking the silky sands of the beach. She looked down at her heels and noticed that she was moving in place like an idiot. She rarely—actually, never—went dancing by herself. She abhorred the idea of some creep grinding up against her. It was always best to shield herself with a group of girlfriends, to keep the onslaught of male testosterone at bay.
But she wanted to dance. No—she needed to dance, to unwind the ball of nerves that wrapped, twanging, around the organs in her body.
She attempted to strip away the self-consciousness that lurked beneath her hot pink sheath dress as she finished her martini. She heaved out a deep breath and set the glass on a nearby table, deciding that she would no longer be a spectator of the men and women who moved to the music.
Kate walked onto the dance floor and allowed her body to drift with the beat. Her eyes shut, and the music pulsed through her body, electrifying her senses. She danced like she was alone in the room, the music reverberating through her soul.
After twenty minutes of dancing, she jumped a little when someone pressed up against her from behind. She turned to face the man who was intruding on her personal space. Although he was attractive in a dark haired, haunted, wiry sort of way, she had no interest in rubbing against some Adam Levine lookalike.
“I’m good,” she mouthed to him while shaking her head.
He held his hands up and moved away from her.
Message received. Thank God.
As she turned away to continue dancing, she caught sight of someone at the bar. Not the creepy, red-bearded man, but someone else. He was muscular, blonde, and sitting with his hands on his lap at the edge of the bar, and his eyes were on her. It wasn’t the leer that she had become accustomed to, that she had come to dread. But it could be hard to tell in a crowded club lit by spastic neon lights.
She shut her eyes, hoping the eerie sensation that filled her gut would dissipate.
When she looked again, the man was gone. She wasn’t exactly in the mood to dance now. She shouldn’t even be out in an unknown city by herself. Of course, she wasn’t new to the club scene, but she’d come out with no social safety net.
She checked the time on her silver, large-faced watch, wondering if it was too late for another drink with a morning meeting.
Noticing Mr. Red Beard was out of sight, she brushed away a loose strand of long, blonde hair that had escaped her ponytail and decided to get one more drink.
“French martini, please,” Kate ordered. She shifted in her four-inch, nude heels, which she was beginning to regret, and checked her cell phone. Two missed calls from her father. He was damn persistent, but that was the story of her life.
“Kathryn?” the spiky-haired bartender said, eying the credit card she placed before him. He shook his head and slid the card back to her. “No need.”
She followed his pointed finger to find her fifty-something-year-old martini buyer, who gave her a slight nod. At least it wasn’t the strange guy who had been watching her dance moments earlier.
Kate pressed her lips together in a polite smile but prayed he wouldn’t attempt to join her. Maybe if she just shifted away . . .
She slammed into what felt like a concrete post. What the! The contents of her glass sloshed and cascaded over her wrist and onto a dark-gray, luxuriously soft fabric.
“Shit. I’m so sorry.” She set her glass back down on the bar and reached for a napkin.
She began to dab at the stain, taking note of the nicely sculpted abs beneath the shirt. But when she dragged her gaze back up to the hard jaw of the man in front of her, she inhaled a sharp breath, and her hand froze.
The man was staring down at her with the most intense blue eyes she had ever seen.
Cerulean blue. Cobalt. Sapphire. She couldn’t decide as she rummaged through the crayon color list in her head to find a match for those unbelievably blue eyes.
I seriously had to spill my drink on Michael freaking Maddox?
He was a man who could have been carved out of granite. That’s what she had thought about him when she looked at his photo the other day as part of the research she’d done in preparation for her appointment. Before her now, he was hard as steel.
And yet, his firm lips were curving at the edges with the hint of a smile.
“Let me pay for your shirt,” Kate offered in a small voice, once she was able to look away. Michael’s hand gently wrapped around her wrist, and she realized she was still touching his chest with the napkin. Oh, God.
“That won’t be necessary. Let me replace your drink.” His voice was deep, but also like silk, blowing across her skin in a hot caress. She kept her eyes on his, feeling lost for words. Then she cleared her throat and retracted her hand from his grasp.
She was free, but he’d left a mark. His touch had lit a sudden fire inside of her.
The feeling of desire was . . . unplanned. And Kate didn’t handle the unplanned very well. No, she needed lists and predictability, which was one reason she wanted to swear off weddings. Even coming to the club tonight had already been a rather wild step for her.
“Please, I insist on paying for your shirt.” Even though he was worth millions, she had to do the right thing. “I think my martini ruined it.” As she reached for her purse, he placed his large hand over hers, his touch warming her body.
“Just tell me what you were drinking, and that will be payment enough.” He pushed back a brownish-black lock that had escaped the gel of his purposefully unruly hair. His gaze penetrated deep into her eyes, and his lips parted. He edged closer to her, and she breathed in his cologne. He smelled exotic, like rosewood and amber.
Her mind raced, trying to come up with something to say—hell, anything, at this point. All that dared escape were the words, “French martini.”
“Michael, sweetie, I thought that was you.” A woman with long, brown hair and perfectly honeyed skin, placed a hand on Michael’s shoulder before briefly glancing at Kate.
Michael ignored the woman, his gaze never swerving from Kate’s.
“I—um . . .” What is wrong with me?
“Michael?” The woman’s clipped voice rang sharply in Kate’s ears as she touched the side of Michael’s face, attempting to guide it toward her. His chest lifted as the muscles in his face became tight—and she hadn’t thought he could get any harder. She wondered if he would be cool to the touch.
“I have to go,” Kate said once she realized Michael had no desire to look anywhere but at her. Before she could give him a chance to respond, she pivoted in her heels and started for the exit.
What the hell just happened?
She’d worked with plenty of powerful and good-looking men before, but God, Michael Maddox was in a league of his own. She’d had an instant crush on him when she saw his photo online, but his picture was a pale substitute for meeting him in person.
She hoped to hell he wouldn’t be at the meeting tomorrow. Of course, if she landed the job, she’d have to work with him eventually, wouldn’t she?
Damn my bad luck.