Wall-to-wall partiers packed the Cabana. Devin stepped over to the bar, found an opening, and slipped in between a lip-locked couple and a lone drunk. Neither paid him any mind. After he purchased a beer from the attentive bartender, he turned and leaned an elbow against the polished mahogany. He took a slow drink from the amber bottle and observed the crowd.
How was he going to find them in this multitude? From his vantage point at the east wall, Devin scanned the outer perimeter. He was a seasoned detective. If Stephanie and her party were in here, he’d find them. The challenge was to locate them without being detected. Regardless of what his daughter thought, Stephanie would be pissed if she discovered him spying on her.
He spotted the dance floor at the far northwest corner and a level lower than where he stood. A large glass enclosure, several feet above at level three, housed an earphone-wearing DJ swaying behind a large console of equipment. The ear-piercing techno vibrating through Devin’s skull obviously came from up there.
Ella said they were going dancing. On a hunch, Devin stepped away from the bar and sauntered around to get a better look at the occupants on the dance floor. The large room was dark. Artificial smoke plowed up from somewhere on the floor. Scattered strobe lights hung from the high ceiling. All these elements made visibility difficult.
A strategically placed rail with a narrow ledge for people to lean on and watch the dancers allowed Devin a better vantage point. After taking a swig, he rested his beer on the ledge and gazed down at the revelers.
The dance floor was packed with bodies bumping and grinding to the seductive semislow beat. Devin’s saliva caught in his throat as he watched a couple appear to all but have sex right out there in front of anyone who cared to watch.
The half-dressed woman’s back pressed against her dance partner’s chest as they swayed to the music. One of his large hands smoothed down and over her bare, and bejeweled abdomen, and the other hand boldly caressed her breast. Her head lay back against his shoulder, her eyes closed, and ecstasy spilled across her lovely face.
. Devin took another drink. His cock twitched inside his jeans. He slipped a finger inside his collar as his body heated.
His gaze traveled away from the tantalizing scene, and another couple snagged his attention. These two faced each other. The small woman wore a sexy black dress. The large man reminded him of one of those bodybuilders who modeled on the beach. He wore black dress pants and a skin-tight maroon pullover short-sleeved shirt.
The little woman didn’t seem as into the seductive dance as the previous one he’d observed. It almost appeared she was trying to fight the big lug off. Devin frowned as the man’s huge palm landed on the woman’s behind with an excessive measure of force. So much so, the woman’s feet lifted off the floor. Wincing, she bent forward as if the blow caused her pain. She pulled away, but the man gripped her arms and yanked her back, slamming her against his chest.
Glancing around, Devin stood and stepped away from the rail. Where the hell are the bouncers in this establishment?
Did they allow abusive morons to come in here and do whatever they pleased, lawful or otherwise? Devin took the short set of steps two at a time and approached the couple at the outer edge of the dance floor. At his presence, the woman looked up, and Devin’s heart stopped before revving into high speed.
“Devin!” She yanked out of the asshole’s grip and moved behind Devin. “Thank God.”
Her body trembled against his back as she pulled on the tail of his shirt. He’d been correct in his assessment. She’d been fighting him off. Never in a million years would Devin have thought the woman in that sexy black dress was his ex-wife.
“What the hell?” the big man growled. “Get your hands off her.” He swung at Devin’s face.
Devin ducked, raised his arm, and blocked the punch. He gripped the man’s hand and twisted, bringing him to his knees. One snap and he’d break his wrist.
Stephanie moved around to Devin’s side and pulled on his sleeve. “Devin, please, let him go.”
A snatch on his shirt and another plea from her had Devin relaxing his grip. As the man stood, Devin shoved him away. “If you ever lay your hands on this woman again, you’ll spend the rest of your life wishing you’d never met her.”
Iron-pumper looked unconvinced but chose not to persist. Wise decision.
Lucy approached, concern written across her face. “Stephanie? Devin! What the hell is going on?”
Stephanie raised her hand. “Everything’s okay. I’m sorry. I don’t feel well.” She glanced up at Devin. “Can you take me home?”
Some of the tension left his body. “Sure. Let’s go now.” He placed his hand on the small of her back, wanting nothing more than to get the hell out of this stifling nightmare.
“I’m sorry, Lucy.” Stephanie pulled her friend aside. “Please don’t let this ruin your night. It’s my fault. I’m just not in the mood. I shouldn’t have agreed to a date when I wasn’t ready.”
Devin didn’t think she had any reason to apologize. He glanced back at the asshole, and he was flirting with two girls who were dancing together. How could Lucy have thought this dumbass deserved Stephanie?
Stephanie was correct about one thing, though, she should never have agreed to go out on this date without knowing if the man had a propensity toward aggression. Thank God, he’d chosen to heed his daughter’s warning and check on his ex-wife. Lord only knows what would have happened had he not been here to intervene. He shuddered, took Stephanie’s hand, and pulled her toward the exit.
* * * *
Stephanie would never have imagined Devin showing up in this wild and crazy bar. She was grateful, though. The jerk Lucy fixed her up with tonight had grown more forceful by the minute. When he kept grabbing her ass on the way in, she knew the date wasn’t going to end well.
As Devin tugged her along, her head began to spin, and she suffered a misstep, tripping over her feet. An unladylike snort slipped through her lips as her knees threatened to buckle. Devin gripped her waist, pulled her to his side, and held her upright as they continued toward the exit.
What a strange turn of events
. She’d gone on this outing in the first place because of recent unhealthy feelings toward her ex. And what does the doofus do but show up right in the middle of her disastrous date, like a knight in shining armor?
She giggled, gripped his shirt at his waistline, and pressed her nose in his short sleeve. “You smell good, Devin.” So much better than Musty—I mean Rusty
He chuckled. “You must be tipsy if you’re complimenting me.”
She drew a deep breath of his manly scent. He smelled of clean linen, soap, and masculinity. An ache penetrated her heart at the same time her pussy throbbed. She’d missed Devin’s touch more than she wanted to admit. The recognition distracted her concentration and caused another misstep.
“Easy, sweetheart, I’ve got you.” He maneuvered them through the throng.
“Whew,” she wheezed, “room’s spinning.” The effect of the green Grog started to kick in while she’d been out there on the dance floor. Now her legs wobbled like they were rubber. She tightened her thighs to keep her knees from buckling.
“Damn it, Steph, how much did you have to drink?”
She tried to hold up her index finger, but her arm refused to follow directions. It seemed to weigh a ton. “Just one.” She groaned, “I think I’m gonna be sick.”
“Shit!” Devin complained but pulled her out the door and over to the grassy area at the side of the building. He held her hair back while she lost the contents of her stomach. Her knees dropped to the cool grass while Devin knelt beside her and kept her from toppling over.
He remained silent, caressing her back until she’d finished and taken a few calming breaths. “You okay now?” He combed back her hair.
She nodded, pulled a tissue from her purse with a trembling hand, and then wiped her mouth. “I’m so sorry.” Mortified by her behavior, she would rather have Devin not been witness to her moment of weakness. At the same time, he comforted her in a way no other could, and she needed that right now.
“There’s no reason to apologize. You never could hold your booze.”
She glanced up to see him smile. “Yeah, I’ve always been a cheap date, huh?”
“I’d never say that.” He grinned. “A cheap drunk, maybe.” He winked.
Stephanie smacked his leg and tried to stand, but the necessary strength to do so failed her.
He effortlessly lifted her to her feet, and they hobbled across the parking lot. He opened the passenger door of his SUV and helped her inside; then he walked around and got behind the wheel. A fresh bottle of water rested in the console. He twisted the top off and handed her the drink.
“Thank you.” She took several swallows of the cool liquid. After handing the bottle back to him, she shut her eyes and rested her head against the leather seat. Out of nowhere, a rush of tears filled her eyes, and she began to weep. How could her life have spiraled so out of control? Everything came crashing down.
Devin reached over and slipped his hand on the back of her neck, giving her a gentle massage beneath her hair. “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”
He must have sensed her distress went deeper than this one-night binge. She wanted to crawl over the console and onto his lap. His solid chest and arms were almost too much to resist. That would be inappropriate. She no longer owned the right to his comfort. She’d given up that privilege seven years ago. Regret and loss consumed her as another stream of tears rushed down her cheeks and dripped off her chin. She leaned forward and buried her face in both hands.
The sound of the driver’s door opening and closing caught her attention. She looked up in time to see Devin come around the front of his vehicle. He opened her door, propped his foot on the running board, leaned in, and pulled her into his arms.
“Oh God, Devin.” Her voice rasped with emotion as she wrapped her arms around his neck and gripped him tight. “I’m a wreck.” She buried her chin between his neck and shoulder, cheek to cheek. A sizzle of pleasurable sensation shot down her middle, and she reveled in his warmth. She’d always loved the feel of his warm, freshly shaven face against hers.
“Shhh, everything is going to be all right.” He caressed her back and cupped her head in his large hand. “Whatever you need, I’m here to help you. We can work out the problem together.”
“Why?” She whimpered. “I sent you away.”
He groaned, and the vibration from his chest penetrated hers. Her nipples puckered. She pressed harder. His arms flexed as he pulled her tight.
“I didn’t have to go.” His voice filled with emotion as he drew an audible breath and sighed. “I should have fought harder to keep us together.”
Stephanie lifted away from his shoulder and shook her head. “It wouldn’t have worked. I was stubborn back then.”
A myriad of emotions crossed his handsome face, and his blue eyes glistened with unshed tears. “Let’s just agree. We were both too stubborn. I should have tried harder to understand the depth of your concerns. Hell, we should have gained a handle on everything before we got married in the first place.”
Allowing her no time to respond, he stood abruptly and closed her door. He walked back around, a frown marring his brow. Most likely, he regretted the rare display of emotion. She’d try not to make too much of his flash of vulnerability. The fuzziness in her head might be affecting her perception anyway. She wasn’t sure what he meant by dealing with things before they’d gotten married. At that time, she hadn’t yet realized how her father’s violent death in the line of duty had affected her. She could admit now, she’d gone into the marriage dragging a fair share of emotional baggage.
He started the vehicle. “You all right now?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry for the meltdown.” She combed her hair back from her face with her fingers and then straightened her skirt. “Seems to be happening a lot lately.”
Devin smiled, then pulled out of the parking lot. “Well, we’ll just have to do something about that. I can’t have you expiring on me.”
She chuckled. “I’m not your problem anymore.”
“Ha! That’s what you think.”
“Did you forget we’re divorced?”
“Not hardly, but I still care about your well-being.”
“I care about you too.” She blinked away the tears filling her eyes. “I never stopped.”
Devin reached over and placed his hand on her knee. “Me neither, sweetheart.”