Gemmi shifted on the bar stool, tipped her wrist, and checked her watch. Her blind date was twenty-seven minutes late. Three more minutes and he would hit the magic thirty-minute mark, and she would officially be stood up.
She swirled the straw in her diet cola and glanced around as she scanned the patrons of the jazz bar. Once again her gaze landed on the most magnificent man she’d ever seen. A drink in one hand, the other tucked in the pocket of his jeans, he leaned against the wall, casually surveying the sea of people mingling in the bar.
A sigh escaped her lips. There’d been a time when she might have been one of those women, vying for his attention, but not now. With a small shake of her head, she pulled her gaze back to her drink. What the hell was she doing here anyway? She loved True--her boss and good friend--but she should have never allowed herself to accept her offer of help.
It wasn’t the first time Gemmi had questioned her own sanity. That would be when she’d lied to her matchmaking mother about having a boyfriend. Now the yearly family reunion was approaching, and her mom wanted her to bring the new man in her life with her. At the last reunion, her cousin--and former best friend--Rosalyn had slept with her boyfriend. Gemmi had been devastated by the betrayal of two people she had loved and trusted, and she had sworn off dating ever since. That situation had caused a full-force family campaign that should have been titled “Somebody please date Gemmi.” She’d been set up with more plumbers, attorneys, teachers, and underwater basket weavers than she ever would have believed existed. If her family knew of a human who was single, able-bodied, and had a penis attached, then he was a qualified candidate for the campaign. When the over fragranced, loud-talking carnival clown had shown up and discussed taking her on the road with him, she’d decided she’d had enough. She would make up a boyfriend and save everyone the burden of trying to replace what she’d lost. Well, the gig was up now, and everyone wanted to meet her “boyfriend.” She had to produce one, or it was back to the phone calls that began with, “I know this guy who would be so perfect for you.” Nope, not going to happen.
Her attention drifted back to the stunning specimen of manhood as he surveyed the crowd, though she was briefly distracted by the slight melee caused by a waitress who’d spilled a tray of drinks on a group of people. She thought of the number one lesson the cheating pair had taught her: don’t date anyone too deliciously good-looking. Granted, that wasn’t the only reason her last boyfriend had cheated. Gemmi sighed. If she were honest with herself, part of it was her own fault for not looking past the pretty-boy exterior. There were many inner warning alarms, like his lack of attention, not caring about anything she liked, little to no interest in sex, and excuses for spending less and less time with her. His attitude and demeanor should have set her off, but she had ignored them. She’d thought she could love enough for both of them. It might have been a good idea in theory, but the reality proved she was way off the mark. She should stay in her own lane when it came to attractive men. A lesson she’d thought she had learned well, but if the way her gaze kept returning to this man was any indication, the humiliating experience was dissipating.
The bar top in the swanky jazz lounge was polished to a high shine and had dim lights around the perimeter. She’d have never entered this place at all if True hadn't set her up with a blind date. This venue was gorgeous, but she would’ve been able to enjoy it more if she hadn’t been so nervous. She should have just gone with her first idea of hiring an escort. It would have been easy to pick him out of a catalog and be done with the whole “find a guy” situation.
She’d known relying on True to set her up with a guy who wasn't too hot or too charming was a lousy idea, but she’d let herself be talked into it anyway. “It’ll be great”
and “what could go wrong?”
True had said. Gemmi hadn’t been sure how it would go, but she thought she’d have gotten further than having a drink alone in the bar. Or maybe he’d sauntered in, seen her plain face and the old “could be considered classic or just outdated” outfit, and booked it right back out the door.
She took another peek at the man who’d entered a few minutes ago. Yes, she’d noticed when he got here, just like almost every other woman in the room. His short black hair had a bit of a wave to it--she’d always been a sucker for a man who wore his hair a little like Superman. His strong, square jaw had just a hint of a five-o’clock--or, rather, seven thirty-one--shadow, which made him look like a bad boy attempting to be good. She wondered what that scruff would feel like brushing the skin below her ear...or between her thighs.
He looked comfortable leaning on the wall. She watched as woman after woman sauntered by or stopped to say something to him. All who approached him had been turned away. He must have been polite about it, because there was no fuss, and although most looked disappointed, none of them appeared to feel rejected. For a few moments she’d hoped this guy was the one True had sent, but that would be way off the mark and nothing like she’d requested.
He took a deep swallow of his beer, then scanned the crowd with an easy smile on his handsome face--confident, beautiful, and undeniably hot. She was at once amused, aroused, and intimidated. With a sigh Gemmi finished the last watery sip of her drink, and then, unable to resist, glanced up and found him watching her. His gaze roamed her face, as if searching into her thoughts, before slowly drifting down. He made no move to mask his interest as he looked her over seductively, his attention lingering on the swell of her breast and the curve of her hip. When his eyes met hers again, the look of approval on his face made her body warm and ready for his touch.
Gemmi stared at him from across the room as a delightful shiver of awareness ran through her. Whoa
. This was how she’d gotten into trouble before. She so needed to learn from her mistakes.
She knew what most people saw when they looked at her: an average woman, curvy with a few extra pounds, curly black hair, and brown eyes. Someone you could easily meet one moment and later claim you’d never seen before. Background noise; that was what she felt like. This guy seemed to notice her, and that made her want him even more.
His gaze moved over her like a warm breeze. He was checking her out, no doubt about it, but she’d never be able to sashay over and introduce herself to a guy like that, especially after seeing him turn away so many others, so she should just stop that daydream in its tracks. She’d love to thank him for the little confidence boost, but she didn’t want to look too closely at this or be wrong. She needed to find the bathroom, freshen up, and get home.
She took a moment and thought about what it would be like if she took this man home to her family and presented him as her boyfriend. No, he was stunning. Nobody would believe she’d kept this man a secret for the past six months, and when it was time for her to break off the relationship...well, it would be harder to sell to her family. A nice normal man. That was all she wanted. The man against the wall could turn the world on with or without a smile. Perfection. Nothing about that man was average, so he was out of the question. The mere thought of presenting him to her family, spending time with him, even under the pretense of them being a couple, made her head spin. Was there alcohol in this drink? The way her thoughts were going, someone might have added a splash without her knowledge.
Still she found herself searching him out again. His lean body looked like he worked hard but didn’t necessarily work out. He appeared to be in good shape but not like a bodybuilder. His shirt stretched over his well-formed chest, and his thick, sculpted arms completed the look of healthy, fit male. Top off all that luscious maleness with the smile playing at the corners of his mouth, and--she sucked in a breath as a ripple of heat curled in her belly.
She missed having a good time, being spontaneous, and just doing something for the sake of fun. Try as she might, Gemmi was having trouble forgiving Rosalyn for a lot of things, but making her too self-conscious to put herself out there and making her doubt she had what it took to keep a man interested were the hardest to get over.
She spied the hottie again. His smile grew, and he raised his glass slightly. What the hell did that mean? An invitation? If he was interested, why didn’t he come over? She wasn’t dumb enough to go over there and be rejected in front of all these people like the other women had. That’s it
. She was done. Her drink was finished, and her elusive date’s time was up. She’d continue her hunt for a fictional boyfriend tomorrow by pricing the rates of an escort. Sitting here hoping that something was going to happen with this man was ridiculous. However, that didn’t stop her from wanting to see if she could make him feel just a touch of what he was doing to her. More than a little aroused, Gemmi kept her eyes on him as she took the cherry out of the glass, slid it between her lips, and used her tongue to bring it the rest of the way into her mouth.
He had been about to tip the bottle to his lips when she started her antics, but the glass never made it to his mouth. It came up halfway and halted as he watched her performance. When his gaze snapped back to hers, his eyes were filled with hunger, and the comfortable smile he’d worn all night turned wickedly seductive. She knew how to flirt and silently patted herself on the back before getting up in search of the bathroom. It was too bad she wasn’t bold enough to invite the fine-looking eye candy with her. That would make this night less of a bust, but she wasn’t that bold.
The bathroom was classy; it looked like something out of an elegant home. There were no stalls, just a clean, well-decorated bathroom for one. She wondered if she should call True to let her know the guy hadn’t shown, but then she decided to do it when she got home.
One step out of the bathroom and she saw the composition of the outer hallway had changed. Now it was filled with people. To her surprise, Sir Hot-a-Lot was now leaning against the wall opposite the bathroom. She could tell his eyes were a light color, and he was flashing that magazine-cover-worthy smile--straight at her. She stood still for a second, uncertain, but then stepped closer. His smile got brighter with each step she took. Nearer and nearer she drew to the captivating stranger, and that escalating smile drew her right into his web.
“Are you following me?” she asked, then cursed her flippant tongue. He could be waiting to use the bathroom, or maybe he was waiting for someone to come out of the other bathroom.
The way he studied her made her want to preen and flutter her eyes--it was official; she had learned nothing about staying away from beautiful men. Gemmi stood in front of him now, taking in the line of admirers that littered the wall on both sides. Hot men made her stupid; she needed a T-shirt or at the very least a button stating that fact. He bent his head and leaned closer to her, and she took that last step.
“Yes.” His voice was deep and seductive, like audible chocolate, and her mouth watered for a taste. A shiver of awareness snaked down her spine. She peered up into bright sterling-silver eyes lined with a dark steel ring and almost forgot what she had asked.
“Why? Did you want something?” Gemmi knew it sounded like she was flirting, but there was a good reason for that--she was. His left eyebrow arched, making him appear surprised or maybe intrigued.
“There is something I’d like,” he said, and she wished that something was her.
“Wait. Did all these women follow you back here?” Gemmi watched him observe his surroundings and shadowed his line of vision. Women smiled and waved at him. When he looked back at her, he had the decency to appear chagrined. She bit back a groan. She was not going to like this guy. No
. Not going to happen.
“I’m not sure. I was trying to track you down,” he said. He looked earnest, but he could just be good at duping people. She yearned to figure out what was going on, but then his quick smile broke out, and her stupid little heart started pounding hard.
“You’re like the Pied Piper of women.”
“Well, maybe you’d like to do a good deed for the day and save me.” This rugged man didn’t appear to need saving. He looked like he could save them all with his eyes closed.
“That’s not how the story goes.”
“You can always change the story,” he said.
She’d wanted spontaneous good times and fun, and here it was, wrapped up in one super sexy package. The sudden irresistible urge to do something totally out of character seemed to come out of nowhere. It was true she had wanted this man since she saw him, although she couldn't believe he had actually followed and waited for her. Could she save him from these women in the hall? Unlikely. Did she want to? Hell yes.
She wanted this man. Not forever--the typical plan never seemed to work for her--but for right now. She deserved it. She deserved him. He wanted help, and she knew what that was like. How could she turn this down? She couldn’t.
She reached up, put her hand on the back of his head, and felt like she should say something. “Thank you for waiting for me,” she said, but she doubted anyone but him heard her.
Could she really kiss a stranger in front of all these salivating women? She licked her lips as she admired his mouth, excited anticipation running throughout her body. She looked up. The dare in his piercing gray eyes and the grin on his lips helped her glide past her nervousness. She pulled him down and placed a soft kiss on the corner of his mouth, then retreated. She went to kiss him again. This time she wanted to kiss the closed-mouth smile off those firm, supple lips. She tasted his bottom lip, taking it between hers to see if she could elicit a response. He tasted like bourbon and something minty, and she felt an insatiable hunger for him, wanting him more in that moment than she could remember ever wanting anything. As she touched her tongue to the seam of his lips, he opened and sucked her tongue into his mouth. She fisted her hand in his hair, not wanting this hot kiss to end or this captivating man to move.
A loud feminine cough reminded her they weren’t alone, and she was surprised at how fast she’d forgotten this was something she was doing for him. It brought her out of her lust-induced stupor. She released the übersexy man and looked around. The women were still there. Her self-consciousness rushed back in. All she could see were the scrutinizing gazes directed at her. She was transported back to the family reunion, when her whole family had witnessed the shame and humiliation of her inability to keep the attention of the man she’d finally brought with her. Anxiety coiled in her belly, quickly overpowering the thrum of excitement put there by the kiss.
The feeling of being pulled backward overwhelmed her, and she closed her eyes for a few seconds to clear her vision. When she opened them, she was back in the elegant bathroom. Did I dream that mind-blowing kiss?
“No, you didn’t dream that.”
That voice was just like the one she remembered a few minutes ago. She lifted her head and found that the bewitching Pied Piper was holding her in his arms.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m fine. Thanks.”
“Hey,” he said, pulling back to scan her face, making sure she was steady before he stepped away to get a paper towel. He wet it, never looking away from her. “Thanks for saving me out there. It looked like you were about to faint, so I brought you in here. Let me get you out of here and buy you a drink. You still seem a little pale.”
There it was. That look of pity. That poor-Gemmi expression she received from her family--furrowed brow, understanding eyes--the only thing he didn’t do was shake his head. She was not taking this. Not from him. Not today. She marched over to the door and locked it before moving over to him, ignoring the concern on his face, and renewing the kiss she’d been enjoying in the hallway. It had to be done quickly, before she remembered the reasons she shouldn’t be kissing a man like this, a man she didn’t know, in a secluded but public bathroom. He was gentling her even as she tried to rev him up. Grasping her shoulders, he held her back. Her only consolation was that his breathing was a little harsher than it had been before they started, and the easygoing grin was definitely gone, but now she wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.
“Hold on,” he said, peering into her eyes as if he was trying to see if she was off her rocker. “First I want to tell you--”
“No,” she murmured as she pulled him back down to her mouth. She didn't want to hear what he had to say.
Take. That was what she wanted to do, and she would make sure he got something too, but talking wasn't a part of it. She didn't want to hear anything except his sounds of pleasure.
He took over, and she welcomed the change. He was good with his hands--rubbing, touching, and making her feel secure. He kissed his way down her neck and pulled her plunging neckline down a little more. The sucking kisses he placed on the tops of her breasts made her want to purr. She didn't remember foreplay ever being this exciting and electric. Maybe being illicit and carefree was just what she needed.
He undid the buttons on her favorite V-neck sweater and opened the clasp of her bra. She silently thanked whatever had made her choose this bra tonight. The snap front made it easy for him to get at her breasts, and she didn’t have to release him. She drove her fingers into his soft hair, subtly directing him. He might be an apparition. Maybe she’d come into the bathroom alone and was having a deep fantasy. Whatever it was, she didn't want it to end. He latched on to her hard nipple, and she could feel the moan start from deep within her. She fisted a hand in the thick black waves, not wanting him to move from that spot.
Then he looked up at her, and seeing those light gray eyes filled with desire, his pupils dilated, blew her away. He was as excited as she was. She wanted to touch his cock, she wanted to squeeze him, and she wanted to fuck him. Right now.
She pushed him slightly away so she could get his butter-soft T-shirt off. He relinquished his shirt easily, and unbelievably he was more attractive underneath his clothes than he was with them on. His broad chest was lightly sprinkled with hair that became more concentrated under his belly button, and the thicker treasure trail led into his pants. She ran her fingers over the flat brown disks of his nipples and paused before pinching them lightly. His well-toned stomach jumped, and she heard the hiss of air he released. Damn, she should try getting to the gym if there were guys like this there. Where had that thought come from? She wasn’t going to be meeting guys like this. She pulled him down and started to kiss him again, but he backed up.
“Before we go any further--”
“Shh, no talking. You'll ruin it.” She didn’t want words. She wanted action.
“Ruin what?” He brushed the hair away from her face.
“Everything.” She couldn’t study him as he tried to figure her out, so she opted to focus on his chest. She didn’t want tender, she wanted hot and wild, and she didn’t want to explain why. Chancing a glance at his face, she saw his narrowed eyes assessing her.
“Wait,” she said, thinking about all the things she might want to know. “Are you married?”
“Were you going to tell me about anything I would need to see a doctor for?”
“No. Full physical last month with a clean bill of health,” he said seriously, but then he opened his mouth like he wanted to say more.
“Okay then. That’s all I needed to know.”
Leela Lou Dahlin