He brought his own glass to his mouth,
maintaining eye contact as he swallowed. And then, ignoring the basic
set, asked her the one question he was most curious to have her answer.
“Do you want me to be honest?” she responded
even though he wasn’t sticking to the deal upon which she’d
insisted. Then again, neither was she. “Or do you want me to be
He stared at her for one long moment, then laughed.
She saw it begin in his eyes; tiny laugh
lines appeared, barely visible in the glow from the fan’s light
above him. She saw it next in the dimples that bracketed his lips.
But it was the sound he let go, a great
gust of amusement, a severing of the tension around which they’d
been dancing, that grabbed hold of her heart and squeezed.
Yes. Her heart. The very organ she’d
determined to keep out of his bed.
>From an emotional standpoint, this encounter was not
going the way she’d wanted. His fault for the laugh. Her fault
for being susceptible.
Physically, however, she held out great
hope that the sparks between them had only just begun to fly. “I’ll
take that to mean honesty works for you?”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he
said and raised his glass in a toast.
She settled into the closest chair,
pretending to relax as she crossed her legs, as she slowly let her
dangling foot swing. “I
like the way you look.”
“Well, that’s certainly honest,” he
replied, taking the chair opposite hers, leaning back, stretching out
and crossing his ankles.
“Too much so?” she asked, running her index
finger around the rim of her glass and adding, “Would you prefer
I be subtle? That I approach you in a bar? Or offer to buy you a cup
of coffee at Café Eros? We could flirt and make small talk. You
could wonder about my intent. I could pretend to think about letting
you take me home.”
He’d set his wineglass on the
table while she talked, and now held it in place with two fingers threaded
around the stem, his
palm flat on the base.
She studied the dark hair dusting his wrist and the far
edge of his hand. Then she wondered how close the crystal was to breaking;
he was so very rigid, his body so very hard and still.
“That all seems like such a waste of time,” he
finally said, to which she replied, “I agree.”
And then she waited, her heart beating hard, and watched
him nod, watched him pick up his wineglass and drink, watched him watch
her all the while.
It was a strange sort of cat and mouse they were playing,
a game that if done right meant two winners, a game that if done perfectly
would mean no regrets, no heartache.
She’d served the ball into his court. The next move
was his, and he made it by asking her, “So, Claire, where do we
go from here?”
Of course he would know her name, she
mused. He didn’t
look to be the sort of man who overlooked details—especially those
that gave him the upper hand.
“Since I haven’t had the
pleasure . . .”
“Randy,” he said, inclining
She’d expected something more highbrow, a name with
a Roman numeral at the end. Randy was so All-American approachable, so
boy-next-door. Exactly what he was, she thought with a smile—a
smile that he mirrored, and the tension returned.
“You haven’t answered my question,” he
“I’m pretty sure the ground rules made clear
that I wouldn’t be answering anything.”
He returned his glass to the table,
slowly lifted his gaze to meet hers. “The first was just an exception
then? Exercising your female prerogative?”
She stared down into her wine colored
like winter sunshine. “That
would imply that I’d changed my mind.”
“And you haven’t.”
She shook her head.
This time, before she did, she looked up and made him wait
until the pulse at his temple pounded.
“Good,” he said and held out a hand. “Then
come over here and kiss me.”
Awareness of the space between them,
the very short distance she’d have to cross to do as he wanted—as
she wanted--stirred in her belly, more potent than the alcohol already
She uncrossed her legs, set her glass
on the balcony’s
surface, letting the neck of her dress gape to reveal the sheer cups
of her bra. Then she got to her feet and reached out, touching her fingertips
He refused the simple contact, enclosing her wrist in the
circle of his fingers and thumb, pulling her forward to stand between
his spread legs before pulling her down.
She settled her weight lightly on his
thigh, but he wasn’t
having any of that either. No. He tugged her into his body, forced her
into the crook of his elbow.
She had no choice. She wrapped her arms around his neck
and held on.
He didn’t lower his mouth as she’d expected.
Instead, he used his free hand to caress her cheekbones, her jaw, the
length of her throat to the hollow where she felt the telltale beat of
her heart, the curves of her breasts beneath the tank’s ribbed
Her breath caught and her nipples hardened. And beneath
her thighs she felt his reaction that was unmistakably thick and hard.
“Did you know that you have great
“Bausch and Lomb,” she said
He shook his head. “Not the color.
The clarity. The sparkle. Your eyes are . . . rich.”
“Rich. Hmm. I think that’s the best come-on
I’ve ever heard.”
Even so, she couldn’t help but think back to last
night, to the way they’d connected, to the need for him she’d
felt that left her unable to sleep, that made her past experiences with
men seem like time spent in a child’s sandbox.
He touched the pad of his thumb to her
lower lip in a way that was all grown-up. “I thought we’d
skipped the come-on step.”
He was right. They had. They’d skipped a lot of other
steps between here and there, too. Steps she’d always thought so
necessarily yet so incredibly dull.
“We did,” she said, threading her fingers into
the hair that just brushed his nape, feeling a shudder in the hand that
still caressed her. “I’m just not good with compliments.”
“With accepting them? Or believing
Sigh. What was she doing, telling him personal details,
letting him worm his way beneath the surface of this encounter?
She’d wanted anonymity. Two bodies
doing that thing that two bodies do, nothing more than the pleasure
of that. And so she
finally answered him in the only way she could.
She pulled his mouth to hers.
His chuckle tickled her but only for a moment because his
laughter quickly dissolved into a groan that rolled up from his gut.
She felt it in his thighs where she sat in his lap. She felt it in his
arms that held her.
But more than in his limbs, she felt
it in his lips pressed to hers, his tongue seeking entrance. He tasted
like the wine they’d
drank, like the metallic charge of electricity, like she wanted him.
He caught at her lips, nibbled, sucked, slid his tongue
over hers to play. She held his head and played too, stroking her fingers
over his ear, her tongue over his teeth. The fan overhead did nothing
to quell the temperature rising between them like a helium balloon.
He shifted beneath her, adjusting his erection, slipping
his hand between their bodies to cover her breast. Her whimper filled
his mouth, and he kissed her harder, rolled her nipple with his finger
Her body was on fire. Her skin burned. Her breath scorched
a path up her throat. Flames licked and toyed between her legs. And this
was only a kiss. Getting naked with this man was going to kill her.
She started to pull away to tell him
just that, to ask him how he felt about calling things off—or at least taking it
inside to prevent the fan from scattering her ashes—but he beat
her to the punch.
He left his hand where it was and lifted his head, staring
down into her eyes he thought so rich. His were green, almost pine, darker
than jade, his lashes the color of deep fertile soil.
And then he smiled. “I could use
“So could I.” She started
to push up, but he held her.
“And I’m serious about that
new set of rules.”
By now, she was curious enough to throw
her convictions to the wind and ask. “What did you have in mind?”
“Before I leave tonight, I’ll ask you one question.” His
eyes sparkled with mischief. “When I see you tomorrow night, you’ll
Tomorrow night. Interesting that he
was already thinking ahead. Even more interesting that she was falling
for that look in his
eyes and giving in. “Quid pro quo?”
He offered a nod of concession. “If you’d
“I think it’s only fair.”
At that, the corner of his mouth quirked
believe all is fair in love and war?”
“Especially in war.” She straightened in his
lap, got to her feet, waited until he’d done the same then offered
her hand. “Deal?”
He took it, shook it. “Deal.”
Now all she could do was hope she didn’t regret what
she was about to do. “Then what do you want to know?"