I grasped the door handle firmly but couldn’t bring myself to open it. Not yet, anyway. If I was going to head into this stupid building to do something…equally stupid, then the least I could do was take a moment to think it through first.
The annual Liberty County Livestock Show and Rodeo had always attracted a large crowd, and judging by the congested parking lot, tonight wouldn’t be any different. Even for a small, amateur event that wasn’t part of the professional circuit, the cash prizes were large enough to draw in a few big-name headliners…and plenty of viewers who wanted to watch the rodeo stars get kicked in the face by a bucking bronco or stomped on by a raging bull. The weird things that entertain people.
In the past, I’d always come to the rodeo with a group of friends to cheer on Cowboy, since he was the only one of us who ever entered the events. But after falling off a bucking horse last year and fracturing two ribs, he’d finally decided to hang up his spurs for good. Thank goodness for that. Watching one of my best friends get hurt didn’t sound like my idea of a good time.
Neither did sitting at home alone on a Saturday night in a big, empty house. Which was exactly why I was here to begin with. The rodeo had a history of drawing in a lot of fresh man meat from the surrounding tri-county area. Men I hadn’t grown up with my whole life. Guys that I wasn’t at all related to. And hopefully at least one of them who would be interested in a no strings, no attachment one-night stand…with me.
I cringed but stopped myself and shrugged it away. There were some times in a lonely woman’s life where she wanted to relieve some pent-up sexual frustration without everyone she knew finding out about it.
God, Bobbie, quit stalling and go inside already.
I blew out the deep breath I’d been holding in, planted a fake smile on my face, and swung open the heavy wooden door. The loud, upbeat country music blasted through me at full volume, vibrating into my chest, as cool air washed over my skin and provided me with a relief I hadn’t even realized I’d needed until now. It must’ve been more humid outside than I thought.
I paid my entry fee at the door and made my way through the dense crowd. A few of the locals—people I had grown up with—stopped me several times for a chat, but I ended the conversations as politely and as quickly as I could. I kept going, heading for the area behind the arena where the beer stand was always set up. That was usually where a lot of the single guys lurked. If only I could make it there without running into…well, everyone I knew.
That was the worst thing about growing up in a small town. Everyone knows everything you’ve ever done your whole life, and even if you had secrets, they always had a way of coming out. I’d spent the last four years keeping my nose clean, though, in hopes that the town gossips would move on to a new subject, one that hopefully didn’t involve me.
Hadn’t really worked, though.
Now all the older folks just constantly asked me when I was going to find me a “nice, young man” and settle down. Although I usually bit my tongue, the answer to that question was about as simple as they come. Never. Because that was the other bad part about living in a small town. Slim pickings in the dating pool.
Then again, there was Slick Willy. He was still available. The man might be in his seventies, but the way the bingo ladies primped and patted their hair whenever he was around probably said a hell of a lot about his skills with women. So did the fact that his real name wasn’t even Willy.
An abundance of men in cowboy hats surrounded the beer stand, and I stopped over to the side to gaze at all of them before blowing out a hard breath. Maybe it was just a matter of coming to terms with what I planned to do. Or maybe it was just a matter of not thinking about it at all.
I turned toward the sound of the voice and spotted Emily walking toward me with a beer in her hand. Well, there goes my night. I slid a fake-ass grin onto my face and greeted her enthusiastically. “Hey!”
“What are you doing here? Where’s Austin?”
“He’s spending the weekend at his grandma’s house, so I thought I’d come out here for a bit.” Not bothering to elaborate, I flagged down one of the workers behind the beer counter and asked him to bring me a water. It was about the only thing I could afford at the moment. “Um, where’s your little one?”
“Lily’s spending the night with Floss. They’re going to watch a Disney movie, make homemade fudge, and paint each other’s nails. You know how much she loves her great aunt Floss.”
“What about Jake? You didn’t come by yourself and leave him at home, did ya? The last time you pulled something like that, he about skinned you alive.”
Emily grinned and gestured to where her handsome dark-haired husband stood chatting with Harry Sikes, the owner of the local meat market. Jake met my gaze head-on, gave me a friendly nod, and then took a long pull off his beer.
His wife settled in next to me, leaning on the counter, and glanced around. “So did you come with Brad? Do we finally get to meet him tonight?”
Yeah, about that… “He’s not here,” I said nonchalantly. “Actually, we aren’t really seeing each other anymore.” I could feel her eyes burning holes into me but didn’t allow myself to look directly at her to see if I was right.
“What do you mean? I thought things were going well with him.”
Though I tried to let go of the anger that had been brewing inside of me all week, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and let it bubble to the surface. “Brad was a joke. A bad one. The moment I told him about Austin, he quit calling. When I finally cornered him and asked what his problem was, he had the nerve to call my son a ‘deal-breaker.’”
Emily shook her head with disgust. “What a fucking jerk! I hope you gave him a well-deserved kick in the ass on the way out of your bed.”
I paused. “Oh. Um, actually, he and I never…er…”
Her brows twisted with confusion. “How come? You dated him for almost a month.”
Only Emily would think that’s a long time. “Not really. We only went out a few times. Junior’s Diner has been shorthanded, and I’ve been picking up extra shifts as often as I can.” I waved my hand through the air, as if swatting away a pest. “Doesn’t matter, though. I think I was way more into the idea of having a father for my son than dating the actual guy, anyway. It would’ve never worked out in the end. Better to know that now.”
“True. Don’t worry about it, Bobbie. Austin doesn’t need him. He already has four of the best godfathers a boy could ask for in Jake, Cowboy, Ox, and Judd.”
“My boys” as I so lovingly called them. The guys I grew up with and four of the best friends a girl could ask for…even if they were a little too overprotective at times.
“I know. But it’s just that…well, a father figure isn’t quite the same as having a daddy around all the time. You’re absolutely right, though. Austin has good men in his life who care about him and that’s more than I had growing up. My own dad wasn’t there for me, and I turned out just…just f-fine.” My voice cracked unexpectedly on the last word, and my eyes welled up with tears.
“Aw, honey. I’m sorry it didn’t work out with Brad.”
I reached for a napkin on the counter and dabbed at my eyes, feeling like an idiot for getting emotional all because my son was going to grow up like I had—without a father. Then I thought, Fuck Brad! It wasn’t until Emily giggled that I realized I’d said the words out loud. “Oh, sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Emily smiled. “I don’t know why you’re apologizing. It’s me you’re talking to. Besides, you have every right to be upset with that idiot. So yeah, fuck Brad.”
I shook my head. “It’s not even about that idiot. It’s just…everything. I’m tired of dating random guys in hopes that one day I’ll meet one who’ll want to be part of my son’s life.” I sighed heavily and dropped my shoulders into a more relaxed position. “And now I feel terrible that I’m ruining your fun night out by using you as a sounding board. Just forget I said anything.”
“Oh please. You didn’t ruin anything. In fact…” Her sly grin told me that she was plotting something. Actually, Emily was always plotting something. The woman never stopped. “Now that you’re single, why don’t we see if we can’t find you a new guy to mingle with?”
It was the whole reason I’d bothered to come out tonight to begin with. But after running into Emily and hearing myself commiserate about Brad and other guys like him, I’d since changed my mind. “Um, no. I don’t think so. When it comes to men, my judgment is obviously way off. I’m better off admitting that I don’t have a romantic future in store and giving up on men altogether.”
“What? You’re kidding, right? You’re gorgeous, and any guy in this place would be happy to date you.”
“Sure. Until I tell them about my little ‘deal-breaker.’ I still can’t believe that insensitive asshole said that about my kid. I came real damn close to punching him in the face.”
Emily shook her head. “Don’t let what one jerk did ruin you when it comes to men. Not all guys are like that.”
Yeah, well, unfortunately those are the only ones I kept meeting. “I just don’t think I have it in me anymore to keep trying. I’m burned out. Four years of serial dating and almost five years of no sex does that to a girl. I hesitate to invest too much emotionally, only to have it not work out.”
Her eyes widened. “Wait. Say that again.”
“I said I hesitate to invest—”
“No, not that. I mean the part where you said you haven’t had sex in five years.”
“Shhh. Keep your voice down,” I whispered, my cheeks warming. I glanced around to see if anyone heard and then leaned toward Emily like we were exchanging secret government information. “It’s not a big deal.”
“You’re right. It’s not,” Emily said nonchalantly. Then she laughed. “It’s a huge freaking deal. Holy shit. Jeremy was the last guy you slept with? Wow. No wonder why your glow is gone and you’ve got this whole crushed, broken spirit vibe going on.”
Emily cringed. “Sorry. That’s not what I meant. I was just trying to point out the obvious. Girl, you need to get laid.”
Tell me about it. “Well, like you said, I’m back on the single market, so it doesn’t look like a remote possibility at this point.” Unless I went ahead with my plan to have a one-night stand which sounded less appealing by the second.
“See? That’s what I’m talking about. What happened to that fun, fearless female I used to hate so much?” Emily gave me a teasing grin. “That girl would be all over this issue.”
I sighed. “That girl had a baby out of wedlock and is now a single mom with responsibilities. I’m working double shifts several days a week and all of my free time goes to Austin and working on the house. I don’t have time for a booty call.”
“You do right now,” Emily said smugly.
“Tonight’s different. At the last minute, my mom ended up getting the rest of the weekend off, and she asked if Austin could stay with her tonight.”
“Even better. You have the house all to yourself,” Emily said, waggling her eyebrows. “You could have a sleepover…with someone other than Cody.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. Cody was the little stuffed bull that Cowboy had given Austin last year at the rodeo. “Nope. I can’t do it.”
I glared at her. “Come on, Emily. You know why. After the crap I’ve put myself through with the sperm donor—”
“This is different, though.”
“How do you figure? Whether it’s with Jeremy or someone else, it’s still a one-night stand. There are consequences to those things that most people don’t think will happen to them. Well, guess what? I’m one of those people it happened to.”
“Yeah, but it’s not like you weren’t trying to protect yourself when that snafu occurred. It was a broken condom, right? It could’ve happened to any of us.”
“Which is exactly why I should avoid repeating the same mistake.”
“But didn’t you tell me the doctor put you on the pill last month to regulate your cycles?”
“There you go. Instant backup protection.” Emily shrugged. “Besides, there are plenty of other things you can do with a guy that doesn’t require you to sleep with him yet can be mutually satisfying. At least consider an extreme make-out session with a handsome stranger. It’ll make you feel better.”
I shrugged noncommittally. “You’re a bad influence.”
She nodded. “I know. But stop pretending like you don’t love it.”
It was my turn to smirk. “Okay, fine. Say I’m game. There’s still one big problem,” I said seriously. “I don’t see a line of hot and ready men fighting each other to get to my lady parts.”
Emily gave me a mischievous grin that worried me. “Turn around.”
“Look behind you.”
Oh God. “Emily, if I turn around and there’s a group of guys listening in on this conversation, I’m going to bitch-slap you.”
She giggled but didn’t seem all that concerned. “Just turn around already.”
I spun around slowly but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. “What exactly am I supposed to be looking at?”
“The guy in the black shirt on the other side of the beer stand has been eye-fucking you since you walked in. Perfect prospect, if you ask me.”
“No one asked you,” I told her absently, peering across the room to check out the guy she was talking about.
As my gaze met his, he leaned back against the wall and kicked one booted foot over his opposite ankle. As if he was making himself more comfortable. Then he gave me one of those sexy as hell, come-hither looks that instantly dampened a woman’s panties. Although he was nearly twenty-five feet away, his light eyes stood out in stark contrast against his tanned skin and dark hair. So dark, in fact, that it almost matched the black T-shirt stretching across his broad chest.
For a moment, I found myself caught up in the moment of having a potential lover in my bed for the night. Of course, that was before the bad-mommy guilt set in.
I spun back to Emily and palmed my face. “Oh God. I’m seriously going to hell for even considering this.”
“Oh, stop. This is a judgment-free zone. Just go for it, Bobbie. You deserve to have a little fun for one night. Besides, I want to live vicariously through you.”
I glanced up long enough to give her an exasperated look. “Give me a break. You have a hot husband over there who can’t keep his hands off of you. I’ve seriously considered ditching our friendship based on how many times you get laid in a week.”
She laughed and glanced over at Jake, who was now chatting with another gentleman I didn’t know. He caught Emily’s gaze and gave her a quick wink, which brought a secretive little smile to her adoring face.
It seemed almost crazy that it had been five years, and the two of them were still very much in love. After everything they’d been through together, I doubted either of them had thought things would work out quite so well. Especially after meeting during such a difficult time in Emily’s life. The poor girl had been placed in Witness Protection after witnessing a murder, and Jake had been the FBI agent unofficially in charge of protecting her.
Then there was the strange fact that he was also my ex-boyfriend.
Jake and I had dated in high school and had taken each other’s virginity, which definitely made a negative impact on Emily’s opinion of me from our first meeting. Can’t say I blamed her, though. Lots of people find it hard to believe that a man and a woman can be just friends without carrying some underlying torch, whether they’ve dated before or not.
But seeing how Jake’s face lit up whenever Emily walked into a room made me smile. We may not have been right for each other, but I was happy he found his soul mate in Emily. And even happier that she and I were now great friends.
Still, my heart lurched and my stomach ached as I watched the two of them interact in such an intimate way. So badly, I wanted what they had. Yet my life had taken a drastically different turn in the form of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
Not that I regretted it. I loved my little boy with all my heart and couldn’t imagine my life without him in it. I wouldn’t even want to. Who cares if all the single guys I met viewed children as men repellent? My four-year-old son was the only male in my life who truly mattered. Even from the moment I found out I was pregnant, I’d wanted the little person growing inside of me. Actually, I had always wanted children. I just never expected to be raising one all by myself.
Jeremy may be Austin’s biological father, but he was no daddy. He’d made it clear from the beginning he didn’t want much, if anything, to do with our son. And no matter what I said to Jeremy, things were never going to change.
“All right,” Emily said. “Enough thinking about it. Go over there and talk to Zeus.”
I crinkled my nose. “His name is Zeus?”
“No, I made that up…but he should be called that. Because from where I’m sitting, the man looks like he’s got the body of a god. Now go tap that shit.”
We giggled, and I gave “Zeus” another fleeting glance over my shoulder. He gave me the sexiest grin I’d ever seen on a man. But I couldn’t shake the bad feeling gnawing its way out of me. I mean, the guy looked a little dangerous even from here. “But what if he’s not a stand-up guy?”
Emily’s face warped with confusion. “Bobbie, I think you’re missing the point entirely. It’s a one-night stand, remember? You’re not looking for a stand-up guy. You’re looking for a lay-down kind of guy.” She thought about it for a second. “Actually, if he’s a stand-up-and-screw-you-against-the-wall kind of guy, then that would be absolutely hot. Christ, you’re going to have to call me and give me all the dirty details afterward.”
I shook my head at the crazy girl, but I couldn’t help feeling she was onto something. It was only one night, right? It’s not like I was looking for marriage or daddy material. I just needed someone who knew how to please a woman. And God, this guy looked like he could get me off ten different ways until sundown without even trying.
Feeling brave and carefree, I stood up and smoothed out the wrinkles in my shirt. “Okay, I’m going for it. I’ll text you later.” I winked at her as I started in his direction.
“With details,” Emily shouted out from behind me as I walked away.
I forced my way through the overpopulated area with my eye on the prize. “Zeus” was still staring straight at me, watching my forward motion and grinning wider with every step I took. His eyes raked over my body, and I mentally sighed, imagining exactly what his lips and hands were going to feel like on different parts of my anatomy.
But I barely made it fifteen feet when something crashed loudly in the distance across from the beer stand. My head—along with everyone else’s in my vicinity—jerked in the direction of the offending sound. I caught sight of a man righting a trash can he’d knocked over before he staggered drunkenly in a zigzag pattern toward the front exit.
Damn. Even with his back to me, I could tell who it was.
Actually, now that I thought about it, I specifically remembered seeing a black Ford F-350 in the parking lot when I’d arrived, one that very much resembled his. And that seemed to be the direction he was heading in. But he couldn’t even walk in a straight line, much less drive himself home. Shit.
I shifted my eyes back to “Zeus” still standing against the wall. The divine male raised one questioning brow, as if he wasn’t sure why I’d stopped moving toward him, and I sighed with frustration. What the hell am I doing? Obviously, this is a sign from God. Damn it, Jeremy. Why did you have to go and get shit-faced?
Afraid I wouldn’t make it to the parking lot before the drunken fool drove away, I bolted in the direction of the exit to catch up with him. I made it outside just in time to see him opening the door of his black pickup. “Jeremy! Hey, wait!” He didn’t seem to hear me, since he started to climb into the cab, so I ran faster and screeched, “JEEEREMY!”
He planted his ass in the driver’s seat, door still open, and plugged his ear with one finger. “Jesus H. Christ, woman. Do you have to yell at me like that?”
I stopped next to him, panting a little. Okay, maybe a lot. Though I used to participate in track back in high school, sprinting any amount of distance now was pure torture.
“Did you come out here to stare at my pretty face, or is there another reason you blew out my eardrum?” he said impatiently, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel.
“I was trying to catch you, to stop you from driving home drunk.”
He stretched out his long legs and laid his head back against the headrest. “Then you’re wasting your breath, darlin’.”
I cringed, remembering the last time he’d used that term of endearment on me. It was the night he knocked me up. “Damn it, Jeremy, your eyes are glazed over, you’re wobbling all over the place, and you’re slurring every other word. Don’t try to tell me you’re not drunk.”
“I’m not. I’m telling you I’m not driving anywhere.”
“Oh.” Well, that was something at least.
“Not yet, anyway. I only came out here to grab another pack of cigarettes out of my truck. We’re only halfway through the night’s events. I’ve got at least six more beers calling my name.”
I sighed. The last thing I needed right now was to burden myself with someone else’s problems. Especially when it came to him of all people. But I couldn’t in good conscious let the idiot kill himself on the way home. Or someone else for that matter. “Well, I can still drive you home. It’s no problem.”
“Good. My balls were aching for some release.”
I crossed my arms and gave him a yeah right look. “You so much as think about touching me, and I can guarantee your balls will be aching, all right.”
“Figures,” he said, his face turning somber. His glazed eyes clouded over with irritation. “When did you turn into such a prude?”
“The same moment you became a prick.”
Jeremy grinned at the insult. “Yeah? Then what the fuck are you doing here? Checking up on me?”
I rolled my eyes. “Hardly. I have better things to do than worry about what you’re up to.”
He sucked on the front of his teeth. “Where’s the boy?”
“Since when do you care? You haven’t seen Austin in months. By the way, you still owe me three hundred dollars for the child support you conveniently forgot to pay last month.”
“Always got to throw the money issue in my face, don’t you, doll?”
God, I hated when he called me that. It was a term lots of men used, but in Jeremy’s case, it held a negative connotation. I gave him a stern look. “I wouldn’t throw it in your face if you didn’t habitually flake out on your payments. He’s your son, too. It wouldn’t hurt for you to help pay for his necessities.”
He stumbled out of the truck and slammed the door shut. “Necessities, my ass. You just want me to give you money so you can spend it on yourself. Ever since you bought that old house over on Ridge Lane, you think you’re so high and mighty. Well, I’m not going to pay to fix up that dump. You wanted it, sweetheart, then you pay for it yourself.”
Fire flashed through my veins. “You have some nerve. I bought that old, run-down chicken farm because it’s the only place I could afford as a single mother. Our son needs a stable home and a solid upbringing. And for your information, I’ve never used a dime of your money on myself or that house…not that you’ve ever given much to begin with.”
My words must’ve slammed straight into his gut because he winced, then stepped closer, towering over me in his usual attempt to intimidate me. His eyes narrowed. “You’re such a bitch. You think just because you guest starred in my bed one night and got a little more than you bargained for that you own me and everything in my wallet.”
Incredulously, I blinked at him. Got a little more than I bargained for? Seriously? I balled my hands into fists and thrust them onto my hips to keep from punching him in the throat. “You say whatever you want about me, asshole, but don’t you ever talk about my son that way again!”
Jeremy held his hands up in surrender. “Oh, calm down. Don’t go getting all worked up over nothing.” He chuckled drunkenly and then offered me a lopsided grin. “I was just about to take you up on your offer.” He tipped his black cowboy hat farther back on his head and allowed his gaze to linger on my cleavage as his tongue darted out and swept across his bottom lip. “That was an offer, wasn’t it?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You said you wanted to go home with me.” He leaned closer, as if to get a better view of my breasts.
The familiar scent of his cologne mixed with the stale alcohol on his breath gagged me, filling me with regret and shame. One night of bad judgment and poor decisions. That’s all it took to end up being a single mom to a four-year-old little boy.
I crossed my arms over my chest to block his lewd inspection. “I offered you a ride home to keep your sorry ass from killing yourself…nothing more.”
His face soured, and he rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say, doll.”
I couldn’t believe I’d actually given in to the temptation of going home with him that one night so many years ago. But that was when I still thought he had a sliver of decency in him. Those days were long over. Nothing tempted me about the worthless shithead now. “Jeremy, you had your chance with me four years ago. You didn’t want it then, so you sure as hell aren’t getting another one now.”
He scoffed under his breath. “Chance with you, my ass. You just can’t get it through that pretty little head of yours, can you? It was a one-night stand, woman. My buddy hooked up with a friend of yours, and I was doing what any good wingman would do. I took one for the team.”
Our toxic relationship had grown so dysfunctional that I was actually used to his demeaning insults. But that didn’t mean I’d let him get away with them without some sort of retribution. “That’s funny,” I said with a smirk, “because I said the same thing about you.”
I spun on my heels to march away, but he latched on to my arm with a hard grip and spun me back around to face him. “Don’t you walk away from me when I’m talking to—”
Not letting him get another word in, I wrenched my arm out of his grasp and narrowed my eyes. Fuck Brad and fuck Jeremy, too. “If you want to keep your balls intact, I suggest you keep your goddamn hands off me.”
We stood there glowering at each other for what seemed like forever before his eyes flickered to something over my left shoulder and his gaze narrowed. I glanced back to see what had averted his attention and caught sight of a dark, masculine figure leaning casually against the fender of a late-model pickup on the opposite side of the parking lot.
Jeremy sized up the shadowed man from a distance and then nodded toward him. “Is he with you?”
“Nope. I came alone tonight.”
His glassy eyes shifted back to mine, and he smirked. “Sounds like a personal problem. I told you I can fix that for ya.”
I sighed in frustration. I couldn’t deal with this man anymore tonight. If anything, I’d just let the beer stand workers know that Jeremy was in no condition to drive, tell them to take his keys from him, and they could call him a cab. It would be my good deed for the day. “Good night, Jeremy.”
Shrugging nonchalantly, he staggered back toward the rodeo entrance, without as much as a backward glance. Sadly, he didn’t even care that he’d just left the mother of his only child standing in the middle of a dimly lit parking lot with a dark stranger watching her from ten yards away. The jerk.
I glanced back at the stranger who was moving in my direction. Oh great. Exactly what I need, to deal with another drunk asshole probably looking for a woman to wet his whistle.
But his deliberate, well-placed steps didn’t strike me as belonging to someone under the influence. If anything, it was just the opposite. His erect posture and broad shoulders suggested some serious physical strength, while his powerful, steady gait only hinted at the dense thigh muscles I imagined bunching beneath his jeans. No, this guy—whoever he was—was definitely in control of his agile movements. And he had an agenda…one that clearly involved me.
As he stalked toward me, his reflective eyes glowed brighter with interest, causing the hair on the back of my neck to stand up. As if he was a lithe predator in pursuit of unsuspecting prey. An uneasy feeling sank into the pit of my stomach, and an overwhelming urge to run rippled through me.
Unnerved, I took a cowardly step backward, and his forward progression immediately slowed to a snail’s pace. The nonthreatening gesture comforted me a little, but I was still not sure it was wise to ignore my primary instincts. Especially since the last time I made that mistake, I ended up squeezing an eight-pound baby out of my vagina.
He advanced again, this time with more caution, as if I were a wild animal that he’d cornered, ready to defend my territory. And yeah, that was a pretty accurate description. I could’ve gone back inside, but I was worried that I’d have another run-in with Jeremy. So, warily, I stayed put. Considering there was an entire building of people one scream away, I didn’t think I really had too much to worry about. That was, if they could even hear a cry for help over the loud music. Otherwise, I’d be pretty much screwed. Damn you, Jeremy! Why’d you leave me out here alone?
But as the shadowy stranger approached, his face came into full view and my heart somersaulted in my chest. “Zeus” stopped a few feet in front of me with one eyebrow raised, as if he was asking an unknown question. My stomach butterflies prepared for flight mode and began fanning their wings lightly against my diaphragm.
Feeling a bit more relaxed, I smiled at him. “Couldn’t resist the need to rescue a damsel in distress?”
“You weren’t in distress,” he said simply, a slight grin tugging at the corner of his mouth.
The deep timbre of his voice instantly transformed my stomach butterflies into lively pigeons. “You’re right. I wasn’t.” But had he not captured Jeremy’s attention when he did, things could’ve escalated rather quickly. He probably didn’t know it, but he had actually saved me whether he meant to or not. I wasn’t about to tell him that, though. “So why did you follow me out here, then?”
“Well, from the looks of things inside, we were about to get…acquainted with one another.” He gave me another devastating smile and then sauntered closer. “So I guess I was curious. I wanted to see what had you hightailing it out of the building so fast. Most women who cross my path don’t usually turn and run in the opposite direction.”
“Hmm. Cocky and arrogant,” I said, my gaze flitting over his broad shoulders and solid chest. Then I lifted my chin to see his golden eyes staring back at me.
“Darlin’, you don’t know the half of it,” he said brazenly. Closing the slight distance between us, he used one calloused finger to sweep a blond tendril of hair from my eyes, tucking it behind my right ear. A deeply intimate gesture that had my stomach pigeons cooing in delight. “So…you still game?” he asked, absently toying with my locks.
His piercing, impolite eyes flickered over my body before rising to meet my gaze head-on. Wordlessly, he grinned again.
My face flushed and my inner muscles contracted at the highly erotic overtones his smile implied. My God, this guy is like a walking vibrator. Only better. He doesn’t require batteries to operate.
But after my unfortunate run-in with Jeremy, I wasn’t feeling particularly interested in doing anything too crazy—and probably totally hot—that I might later come to regret. God, why not? Tamping down my inner resistance, I strengthened my resolve by forcing the firm, unmistakable words out of my mouth. “I’m not going to sleep with you.” Damn. I could almost feel my vagina pouting.
Amusement lit his face. “I don’t recall asking you to.”
Oh. All right. “Sorry. I guess I just thought—”
“Don’t get me wrong. Say the words and I’ll have your panties around your ankles and my dick buried in you so fast, you won’t know if you’re coming or…” His golden eyes glinted, heat smoldering just below the surface. “No, never mind. You’d definitely be coming.”
Holy shit! I think I just did.
His sexually charged words effectively disarmed me, inflaming parts of my body that hadn’t been intimately touched by a man in five long, celibate years. I clenched my thighs together to ease the no longer familiar ache building between them and mentally whimpered. Hot and bothered didn’t even begin to describe it.
He slid my long blond hair gently off my right shoulder and allowed his fingertips to trace lightly across my collarbone before coming to rest on my neck. With the way his eyes darkened with intensity, I had no doubt he detected my erratic pulse pounding beneath my skin. His eyes probed mine thoroughly, as if he was waiting for an invitation to take things one step further. “Struggling a bit with your decision? Why don’t I make it a little easier for you?”
“Easier?” I repeated.
“Just one kiss. What do you say?”
“One kiss?” I muttered, parroting him once again.
The amused expression he wore had me questioning his sanity. How the hell did his offer change from screwing me senseless to one simple kiss in the matter of a heartbeat? Not that I planned to accept his first official offer, but a girl does like to keep her options open.
Gentle hands cinched my waist, catching me off guard and causing me to stiffen. “Do you need a second to recap…or is it okay for me to kiss you now?”
His hot breath fanned across my face and, although I could smell a hint of strong whiskey on it, it didn’t repel me the way Jeremy’s had. Then his gaze dropped to my mouth and the corner of his twitched into a tiny smirk.
I nodded my agreement but sucked in a breath as he lowered his head and brushed his lips lightly against mine. Having been deprived of a man’s affections for far too long, I held myself still, unable to react. But within moments, my lips began to move.
The touch of his lips against mine reminded me of what I’d been missing for five long years, and I sighed against his mouth, expressing my appreciation. That single vocal gesture must’ve stirred up something inside him because he suddenly ratcheted me up into his arms and extended the kiss.
Naked desire rolled off his tongue as he slid it into my mouth, reaching inside of me for something more…a primitive ache I’d buried deep inside a long time ago. But as he feasted hungrily, attacking my mouth from every angle, a throbbing sensation surfaced and enveloped my entire body.
A long, hard ridge in his jeans suddenly prodded into my abdomen in the most delicious way imaginable. Well, well, what do we have here? Rough, insistent hands maneuvered downward, grasping and massaging my ass, as he lifted slightly and ground himself against me through our clothes. I released a small, unintentional moan. I hadn’t even realized we had moved until my back pressed firmly into the cold metal of a nearby tailgate.
One at a time, his hands moved to the top of the tailgate, gripping the metal railing and effectively caging me in as he pressed me farther into the truck than my body could physically go. Unable to get enough of him, I moved my hips insistently against his as if the barrier of clothing between us would magically disappear just from friction alone.
My fingers dove into his short tufts of black hair and the erotic sound passing my lips pleaded for more. He obliged by quickly peeling the strap of my halter top halfway down my shoulder, while his skillful mouth paid careful attention to every inch he exposed by alternating different variations. Short, sweet kisses. Light, teasing nibbles. Long swipes of tongue that promised fulfillment. Without a doubt, the man knew what the hell he was doing.
When his rough, calloused hands slid under my shirt, trailed methodically up my abdomen, and neared my breasts, I arched under him, offering him complete access. But for some strange reason, his hands came to an unexpected halt. He tore himself away from me, leaving me panting against the tailgate. What the hell?
“Time to stop,” he said, blowing out a slow, ragged breath. “Otherwise, I’m going to have you bent over that tailgate with your sweet ass in the air and some part of my anatomy shoved deep inside you.”
Holy hell. When he puts it like that…
I must’ve been wearing a so what? expression because he grinned and shook his head. “You don’t want that, darlin’,” he said, sounding quite sure of himself.
Boy, was he fucking wrong.
He adjusted himself with a groan and turned to leave, but stopped at the last minute and glanced back at me. A sexy little smirk crossed his lips as he gave me a quick wink. “Good night.”
Good night? Was he joking?
He pivoted on his heels and made his way across the parking lot without looking back. I wanted to run after him and find out why he’d stopped. But a group of people I knew exited the building, reminding me that we were in a very public place. I watched as the sexy, mysterious stranger faded slowly into the darkness.
In an attempt to pull myself together, I stood there on shaky legs, adjusting my clothes and breathing like I’d run a damn marathon. It was frustrating to think I was ready and willing to take this guy home only for him to bail on me like he had. But as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t be mad.
I’d longed to feel a man’s desire and remember what it felt like to be wanted.
God, I needed that.