The dress she wore was pure torture.
Red, tight, and snug against every luscious curve of her body, it whispered to him in some kind of smoky, come-hither voice.
Take me off.
Travis would love nothing more than to answer that call, as he watched Cara move like a sensual, catlike creature on the dance floor, in those mile-high heels that had him wishing she were the kind of woman he could take home for the night.
He leaned his hip against the high metal table parked at the edge of the dance floor, enjoying his front row seat to the best view in the house. Her.
Cara was temptation herself this evening, her long, silky mane of black hair spilling down her back as those hips swayed in time to the low, pulsing bass that vibrated through the night club. He didn’t have a clue how he was going to survive dog training lessons with her later that week, when it was hard enough being this near to her at their friends Smith and Jamie’s joint bachelor and bachelorette party.
But, he reasoned, she’d be back to the T-shirt-and-jeans Cara, the hair-in-a-ponytail Cara in a few days, when they started teaching his new Jack Russell mix to sit, stay, and fetch.
That Cara would be easier for him to manage than this temptress, right?
He took a long pull on his beer, finishing it off as he considered his own question. The answer came quickly as he set down the empty bottle. Nah, it wouldn’t be any easier. She was just as fucking hot during the day, walking dogs around their hometown of Hidden Oaks, as she was here tonight, dressed for sin in San Francisco.
A hand came down on his back. Travis turned to Smith, who thrust another beer at him. He’d been refilling drinks at the bar.
“How long what?”
Smith nodded to the crew of their friends on the dance floor. “How long before you actually make a move on Cara?”
“Why do you want to know?” Travis asked. No use pretending he hadn’t been caught staring.
“Because I’m thinking of getting a pool going at the firehouse. I’m even going to put up a big old poster with squares,” Smith said, spreading his arms out wide.
Travis arched an eyebrow, finally managing to pull his gaze away from Cara. “And what will these squares say?”
Smith mimed writing on a whiteboard. “One week from now,” he said, tapping an imaginary square on the betting pool. “One year from now.” Then another. “Never fucking ever,” he said, stabbing his finger into the air. “And that’s the one I’m putting my money on.”
Travis laughed, talking above the loud music. “Why do you even care if I make a move?”
Smith clutched his chest. “Because it pains me to see a man ogling a woman like that and doing nothing about it.”
“Who said I was going to do nothing about it? Maybe I just don’t feel like telling you about all the plans I have up here,” Travis said, tapping his skull, even though his friend was right—he hadn’t been planning on doing a damn thing about Cara. “Plans that would make your betting pool obsolete.”
He was bluffing, but he couldn’t deny that Smith was onto something. Hell, it pained him, too, not to do a damn thing about this rampant attraction that wound him up like a coiled spring. His focus briefly wandered to the bar where Cara had joined Jamie in a round of shots. Somewhere out on the dance floor, Travis’s sister, Megan, was snug up against the fire chief, Becker, while a bunch of their other buddies had grabbed a table in the back. They’d all rented a few limos for the night, riding from Hidden Oaks down to the city so they could fully enjoy the celebration.
Smith shrugged and took a drink of his beer. “My money’s on: you’re too much of a pussy to do it.”
Travis scoffed, his eyebrows shooting into his hairline. “One, I’m not too much of a pussy to make a move on her. Two, why do people use pussy as an insult? I never understood that. Pussy is fucking awesome. It’s pretty much the greatest thing in the world. And three, you know she’s not interested in a guy like me.”
Smith nodded several times and flubbed his lips, as if Travis had just revealed the secrets of the universe. “Yeah, you’re right. She probably likes men who actually have the guts to go for her instead of just staring at her wistfully while she’s on the dance floor.”
Travis rolled his eyes. “That’s not what I meant. I would never stare at a woman wistfully. When I stare, it’s hungrily,” he said, as he deflected the conversation from the real reason he hadn’t acted on his desire for her. Cara was great—she was fun, and sharp, and he’d enjoyed every second of the summer they’d spent together back when they were younger. He could still recall how fiery she’d been between the sheets. But now that they were no longer two horny teenagers screwing in the back of his truck, or two recent college grads reconnecting for one hot night, she didn’t have any interest in guys who didn’t like settling down. A volunteer firefighter and a professional card player, Travis was not a settler-downer. Hell, he had his sights set on winning the California Bachelor Fireman’s Auction in a few weeks—the key word being bachelor. So as much as he wanted to have the woman in red again, he was all wrong for her. Even though he wanted her badly.
“Time for another round!”
Jamie grabbed Cara’s arm and practically yanked her off the dance floor. Cara nearly stumbled in her heels from the surprise attack her friend had launched on her elbow.
“Hey! I like that arm. I want to keep it,” she said as they made their way to the bar.
“It is indeed a very nice arm. Shapely and toned,” Jamie said, patting Cara’s bare flesh as they reached the chrome and steel bar at Edge, a nightclub owned by one of Travis’s friends.
“So you can see why I’m attached to it,” she said, and then her eyes widened as the soon-to-be-bride gestured to a tray with shot glasses and a gorgeous crystal martini glass with a purple concoction.
Cara pointed to the fancy cocktail. “Purple Snow Globe?”
Jamie nodded. “Pick your poison. I ordered a bunch of drinks.”
There was no question in her mind. She’d gladly take the sweet, sugary, award-winning cocktail over the burn of a tequila shot anytime. She picked up the drink and clinked glasses with Jamie. “To your wedding.”
“I will happily drink to the end of my single days,” Jamie said, quickly downing the amber liquid. “Speaking of single days, what are we going to do about you and Travis and the way you two were staring at each other on the dance floor?”
Cara’s jaw dropped. “What?”
Holy shit. Had everyone noticed? She thought she’d done a bang-up job sealing away her desire in a Ziploc bag and stuffing it in the back of the freezer. Evidently, she had not. She slapped on her best cool-and-composed look, took a leisurely swallow of her drink, then said, “What are you talking about?”
“Oh, come on,” Jamie said, rolling her pretty brown eyes. “The two of you are still checking each other out like you did in high school.”
God, it had been so long, and even though she and Travis had flickered back into each other’s lives once or twice since, they were never in the same place at the same time for long enough to matter. That hadn’t stopped her from wanting him, though.
“Well, that was then. This is now,” Cara said, as if she could so easily squash the long-simmering desire she felt for him. She’d try any remedy to get him out of her head. But he was right there, twenty feet away, casually leaning against the side of the table, knocking back a longneck as he chatted with Smith, looking all relaxed and sexy casual.
She did her best to avert her gaze from him, and his dark brown hair, and his piercing blue eyes, and his broad shoulders that were strong enough to carry you, because they were supposed to carry you. Just her luck that the already-gorgeous-at-the-time high school football star would turn into one of the hottest firemen in the whole damn world. He’d been branded on her brain and on her body, and the mere handful of men—she could count them on one hand; half a hand technically—she’d been with since then had paled in comparison.
Sigh. What was a woman to do?
“And now is the time to finally do something about it. I see how you’re always looking at him at my bar. And God only knows, I practically have to sweep his jaw up from the floor, the way he gawks at you,” Jamie said, parking her hands on her hips and staring pointedly. Cara’s lips twitched in a faint smile at the confirmation that this attraction wasn’t one-sided.
Wait. Why did it matter? She wasn’t going to do a damn thing about it. She wasn’t into casual hook-ups, and Travis wasn’t into serious relationships. Enough said.
“Be that as it may, I’m going to be working with him the next few weeks, training his new dog. Even if I were to do something about it, it would be foolish,” she said, and she didn’t intend to let her latent lust rule the day. Besides, she’d managed to resist jumping him since she’d moved back to Hidden Oaks after spending most of her twenties in San Francisco. She could work with the man and his dog, no problem.
Too bad the task was harder tonight, since he’d been giving her what distinctly felt like a good old-fashioned eye-fucking when she’d been dancing a few minutes ago.
“Well, you know what they say about fools,” Jamie said, as she flashed a big, bright smile.
Cara shook her head. “No. What do they say?”
“That sometimes the best things in life are the foolish things,” Jamie said, rattling off a quote with authority, as if she were reciting poetry in English class.
“I like that,” she said, and if they were anyplace but a nightclub with loud music reverberating throughout the cavernous hall, she would have repeated it softly to convey how it made her feel. “Who said that?”
Jamie pointed her thumbs back at herself. “This girl,” she said, and both women cracked up.
“All right, you win. You fooled me.”
“Let’s go see the guys,” she said and grabbed Cara’s arm once again.
They weaved through tables and bodies, circling behind Smith and Travis, who were chatting it up. As they neared the guys, Jamie tiptoed the final feet and stretched out her hands so she could drop them over Smith’s eyes in surprise. But then Jamie stopped short, quickly straightening her spine as she mimed zipping her lips.
Cara froze, and her ears pricked as she keyed in on Smith’s voice, saying, “We all know you’re hot for Cara and you have been ever since the two of you went to the goddamn prom together years ago. Wouldn’t tonight be the night to finally do something about it?”
Cara blinked. Holy shit. She did everything she could to rein in a wild grin at hearing those words—hot for Cara. She shouldn’t want to hear them so badly. But hell, did they light up her insides. The prospect of the man she wanted so badly doing something about it tonight had her skin sizzling.
Jamie gave Cara a bug-eyed look as she mouthed, I told you so. Cara pressed her finger against her lips and continued to listen quietly.
“Why tonight? Because it’s your bachelor party?” Travis asked Smith.
“Nope.” Smith puffed up his chest and pointed at Travis. “Because I’m going to make you an offer you can’t resist. Let’s bet right now. Here. You and me. Usual stakes.” The tone of the conversation shifted when Cara heard Smith’s next words. “I bet you can’t even get Cara to kiss you tonight. And there’s no way in hell you could ever convince her to go home with you.”
Now it was Cara’s turn to tug on her friend’s arm. She pulled her away from the men and to the epicenter of all important conversations between women at nightclubs—the ladies room. As the door clanged shut behind them, Cara crossed her arms. She wasn’t sure if she was mad or turned on.
“I can’t believe they just made a bet about me.”
“That’s what they do.”
“Make bets about women?”
“No,” Jamie said with a laugh. “They make bets about everything. They’re guys. That’s just their thing. Personally, I think it’s kind of hot that he wants you so much that all his friends can tell.”
Jamie nodded and wiggled her eyebrows.
“So what am I supposed to do about it?”
“What do you want to do about it?”
Cara blew out a long stream of air and ran her hand through her dark hair. She wasn’t entirely sure at first. A part of her was annoyed to be the object of a bet. But another part of her, the part ruled by her libido, craved the challenge.
Only, she intended to have things her way.
“I’m going to give Travis a taste of his own medicine,” Cara said, lifting her chin, ready for the sweet taste of payback.
There was more in play than turning the tables, though. Maybe one final hot, searing kiss with Travis—a kiss for the ages—would get him out of her system.