What a damned depressing way to spend her last night on the town. Jackie hunched over the moored sailboat’s rail and stared into the lapping water below where the twinkling stars’ reflections danced playfully. Even they were having more fun than she. So much for her last night on the town before she hunkered down to prepare for Baltimore’s financial fraud trial of the decade.
As the attorney representing the retirees who had lost their savings in a pyramid scheme, Jackie would be the star of that show. A victory meant she’d never again have to worry about making her mortgage payment or floating the check for her office rent. Maybe she would even buy one of these fancy boats and learn to sail.
With a loss…
She could never completely shut that possibility out of her mind. Letting her clients down topped the list of unmentionables. They weren’t just clients. They were friends. Family, almost. Bankruptcy also shared the top spot, without a doubt. She’d already lived through that humiliation as a child and had vowed never to return.
From there, her uncertainties spiraled into the dark place she hid deep inside her. If she lost a case this big, she’d be damaged goods in the legal market. Even if she wanted to return one of the big firms, and she didn’t, no doors would be open to a loser, especially a loser who’d snubbed her nose at the blue-blooded Baltimore legal community by leaving a prestigious firm to start her own practice.
Before the spiral spun down further, Jackie slammed the door shut on her fears and downed the dregs of her gin and tonic. She hurled the flimsy plastic cup into the garbage bin tied to the sailboat’s steering wheel.
She checked her cell. Her friend had been down below with the boat’s owner, a charming Brazilian guy, for almost an hour. They’d planned to hit a few bars near the Inner Harbor with the hope of meeting some sexy international hunks sailing in the weekend’s regatta. Her friend struck gold.
Jackie struck out.
Once again relegated to the status of wingman.
She leaned backed and stared into the starry sky, wondering if the fates portended nothing but abstinence and grueling work for her future. The moored boat swayed rhythmically under her. Or was she just imagining that? If this boat is rocking, don’t bother knocking.
She sighed. Time to call it a night and get some rest before hitting it hard tomorrow.
She got up to leave, but a flock of fashionistas disembarking from the sailboat tied up in the next slip cluttered the dock. Although a sailing novice, Jackie guessed from the gleaming wood and shiny brass that the boat next door was expensive.
The guy who seemed to be in charge of that boat had shaggy, blondish hair, and his white pants hugged an ass to die for. He looked over at her and gave her a fleeting, but definitely warm, smile as he moved the glamorous crowd down the dock toward solid ground. Maybe the night could be salvaged after all.
Jackie took the one step up from the cockpit to the deck of the boat and held on to the line that ran around the boat like a railing. She tightened her abs, cocked her hip slightly, and hiked up her dress a few inches to show off her long and lean runner’s legs.
Mr. Hot Buns veered toward her boat on his way back from escorting the revelers off the dock.
“Hey.” He flashed his warm smile again.
Jackie conjured her sultriest voice. “Looks like you got everyone off pretty well.”
She held her breath. Had she really just tried to pick someone up by accusing him of pleasuring a boatload of people? God, she was pathetically out of practice.
He laughed. “Well, maybe not everyone.” He reached his hand out to her. “Are you getting off yourself? It would be my honor to assist you.”
His sense of humor matched his hot ass. Good-bye wingman duty.
Before she could grasp his hand, a motorboat roared through the no-wake zone. Its wave rocked the boat and tossed Jackie forward with the grace of a flailing frog into the man’s arms.
“Whoa. What an asshole,” he said, though he kept his arms wrapped around her waist to get her back on her feet.
Tucking her hair behind her ear, Jackie looked up into his soft, dark amber-colored eyes. Intense and sensual, his gaze sent a shock of electricity through her body. Was she prepared to take what she wanted? “Sorry. I’m not much of a sailor. Can’t even swim, to be honest.”
“We’ll have to change that, now won’t we?” His warm smile hit her again, and his embrace wrapped around her like a familiar and comforting blanket. “Do you dance?”
She couldn’t tear her gaze from his gorgeous eyes. Butterflies of excitement stirred in her stomach, but her pragmatic mind swatted at her desires. When was the last time a total stranger had asked her out? “Why?”
“Because I love to dance, and you fit just right. Let me change and lock up. Then come dance with me.”
Was her giving her an order or an offer?
She rested her hands flat on his chest. Sweet Jesus. Solid and defined, his broad chest warmed her hands even through his T-shirt. She wouldn’t mind exploring his body a little further. Even so, her thoughts darted back to the question of what kind of guy, other than a crazy psycho, asked a total stranger to go dancing out of the blue? Racking her brain for pickup protocol, she drew a blank. Was she that
out of practice? She tensed and pushed herself away from him.
His grip loosened. “Look, I’m not some crazy psycho, and I’m not married.” He raised his hands, flipping them back and forth in alleged proof of his marital and psychological status.
She frowned in skepticism.
“I own this boat. You can check out my license and vessel registration. All those people were clients of mine out for a booze cruise.”
He sounded as legit as he looked. Both the boat and the partygoers emanated swank. Would they be spending the evening being motored around by a psychopath? Surely not. And her original intention in going out tonight was to find a guy and have some excitement for a change. The dance floor would be a relatively safe place, and a little fun wouldn’t hurt.
She wet her lips and took in a breath full of the bay’s pungent smell and something woodsy, like fresh-hewn oak. Him.
“You’re perfect,” she murmured.
Did she really say that out loud?
“I mean, sounds
perfect. Your idea. Dancing.” Her cheeks burned. Hopefully he wouldn’t notice in the dim light.
“I think you are too.” He ran a calloused thumb over her lips and then brushed her cheek with his rough knuckles. The initial jolt of electricity his sultry eyes gave her paled compared to the shockwave reverberating up and down her spine. “I’m Brandon, by the way,” he leaned down and whispered in her ear.
Her mystery date quickly secured his boat and returned wearing a crisp white linen shirt with the sleeves casually rolled up and jeans that rivaled those tight white pants in showing off his hot ass. They caught a cab and within minutes arrived at El Matador, the local hangout for serious salsa dancers and émigrés from Central and South America. The minimalist decor and modern, Picasso-like art gave it a chic European vibe.
Jackie loved the place because few, if any, of the other attorneys in town came here. It was just a little out of the ordinary, and out of the way, for the stiff, button-down Baltimore legal crowd. With no fear of running into her professional colleagues, Jackie checked her inhibitions at the door.
It had been a while since she last let her inner diva loose. Even if her bank account hadn’t been hovering perilously on empty from financing the start-up of her fledgling law firm, trial prep had consumed her life for the last six months. “Fun” had morphed into a four-letter word. She slogged through long days, and often nights, with the image of her clients’ faces burned into her memory. How joyous they would look when she won back their life savings.
The instant Jackie walked through the plush velvet curtains at the club’s entrance, the spicy scent of cigars hit her. Glamorous waifs sipped colorful cocktails and hovered on the arms of muscular, caramel-skinned men in pants tight enough to display their goods. Her heartbeat syncopated with the pounding drumbeats, making her feel like a living part of the scene.
The hostess guided Jackie and Brandon to a tiny, semicircular booth against the back wall. Only a serious tip from her mystery date could have scored them such a prime location. Hot, smooth, and a generous tipper. Jackie grinned as she imagined what other talents he might possess. This could prove to be a fun night after all.
As soon as they settled into their seats, a waiter glided to their table. “Buenos noches.
Welcome to El Matador. Can I bring you a drink tonight?”
Jackie blurted, “I’ll have a Plymouth martini, up, dry, extra olives, please.”
Brandon grinned at her. “Somebody knows what she wants.”
Heat rose in her cheeks, and she glanced away from him.
“I like that. Make it two.”
The waiter nodded.
Brandon ran his fingers back through his hair as he relaxed beside her in the booth. His hair wasn’t exactly blond, but a light brown with bleached-out streaks of gold. It fell tousled over his forehead into his eyes, despite his repeated attempts to push it back. Jackie’s hand twitched with temptation to run her fingers through his hair. Would it be silky or textured? She checked her desires to touch him. She wanted fun tonight without coming across as an eager slut.
“No fruit-flavored martinis for you, eh?” Brandon tucked a stray lock of hair behind Jackie’s ear. He stroked the back of her head. Either he didn’t have, or didn’t care as much about, self-restraint as she did. She rested her head into his hand, savoring the slight pressure of his palm massaging the nape of her neck. That electric shock ran up and down her spine again. She could melt into this guy.
He cleared his throat.
She sat up straighter and sharpened her focus. What was the question? Cocktails. “I’m a purist. A martini is gin, vermouth, and bitters. You can change the type of gin, the ratios, the preparation method, presentation, and garnish. Period. Anything else is a cocktail, not a martini.” Jackie raised her eyebrows and with a dead-on stare challenged him to disagree.
“I see. Does the rest of your life proceed in accordance with such rigid rules too?” Brandon dipped his chin and narrowed his eyes as if trying to read her mind.
“I enjoy cocktails. I just believe in precision in naming things.”
“That wasn’t my question.” His relentless gaze locked in on her eyes.
Jackie squirmed under the scrutiny. She preferred asking the questions and steering the direction of the conversation. She blamed her career for her interrogator tendencies—lawyers examined witnesses but rarely faced the same analysis. Plus, avoiding personal questions prevented her from revealing something she might later regret.
Turning the tables often deflected inquiring minds. “Do you always drink what your date drinks, or do you have a set of your own preferences and opinions?”
“Is this a date?” Brandon leaned in closer to her. Even in the balmy club, a charged heat from his body reached and enveloped her.
His warm amber eyes were unblinking, enticing, and incredibly sexy. This guy was good. He returned her volleys with grace and wit. Luckily, the waiter arrived with their drinks, since her comeback cogs were uncharacteristically jammed. She wasn’t sure if it frustrated or impressed her. Most men shrank from her directness. Brandon embraced it.
What a turn-on.
Brandon raised his glass. “Salud.
To finding dates in unexpected places.”
“Cheers.” Jackie clinked her glass with his.
The martini was perfect. Microscopic beads of ice floated on top, creating a murky layer over a crystal-clear bottom. The three olives were green jumbos with what looked like a variety of stuffings. Jackie sucked the first olive off the pick.
She closed her eyes to savor the heat of the salty tang. Warm lips on her neck caused her to suck in a quick breath, almost choking on the olive. Jackie swallowed and allowed her mind to wander and her body to enjoy to his caresses. The velvety-soft kisses just behind her ear began as a tickle but soon turned her body into a volcano on the verge of eruption. Deep breaths calmed the fire enough to allow her to relax into his expert ministrations. The gentle pecks moved down her neck and increased in intensity. She felt his lips part, and the warm, playful flicks of his tongue on her skin aroused her, sending a flood of heat between her legs. Where else, and how else, would he use that tongue tonight? With a throaty purr, she tucked her chin next to Brandon’s nuzzling face. Tonight was her night.