“He’s looking at you again,” Kirsten says in my ear.
I lift the brown bottle to my lips, take a sip, and peer down the bar. For the third time, the man at the end has his eyes locked on my profile. Before he catches my stare, I avert my gaze to the wall of liquor bottles. Study the colored glass with too much interest.
“Can we go?” I twist to face Kirsten. “Please.”
Coming out to the bar was not my idea. Personally, I’d rather sit on the couch with sour cream and onion potato chips, red licorice, chocolate, and a can of Dr Pepper. Binge-watch true crime documentaries all night with the lights off and curtains drawn.
Sounds like heaven.
Unlike these constricting heels Kirsten insisted I wear tonight. Along with the skintight, leaves-nothing-to-the-imagination red dress. Both of which came from her closet. Not that I wouldn’t own them, but I tend to lean toward nonconstrictive apparel and flatter shoes.
Kirsten pushes out her bottom lip and tilts her head. “But we haven’t danced yet.”
Dancing and I are not best friends. Kirsten is well aware of this fact. If she wasn’t already on her second Long Island Iced Tea, she would remember this. And I would probably say no. But then she sticks her lower lip out farther and bounces like a child ready to throw a hissy fit.
So, like the good friend I am, I cave.
“Fine.” She smiles and claps and bounces for a different reason. I hold a finger up and point at her. “But only for a few minutes. Then, I’m leaving.”
“You’re like an old lady. It’s not even midnight.” I cock a brow and she raises her hands in surrender. “But I’ll take what I can get. Sheesh.”
I drink the last of my beer before she drags me onto the dance floor. Literally. I almost face-plant from these ridiculous heels.
One dance, then I can kick these heels off.
Dead center in Dalton’s Pub and Billiards, with maybe thirty other people on the open dance floor space, Kirsten throws her hands in the air, tips her head back, and swings her hips to the music. My skin dampens as I join in. My eyes dart around the crowd, making a mental note of everyone here. I love to dance, but prefer to embarrass myself in privacy.
Thankfully, I know no one here tonight.
Live a little, Sky. You’re young, vivacious, and gorgeous. That is what everyone tells me, anyway.
The pub music varies from song to song, depending on who gets to the jukebox first. At the moment, a pop song from early last year spills from hidden speakers. I close my eyes for two deep breaths, then sway to the beat. One song transitions into another and I get lost in the music. Forget about my dislike of crowds, my phobia of being the center of attention, and enjoy the night out.
When my eyes reopen, Kirsten’s widen as they look over my shoulder. Before I open my mouth to ask what is wrong, a wall of heat blankets my backside. Whoever it is, they aren’t so close we touch. Our bodies inches apart. A stranger standing far too close. An invasion of my private bubble.
I mouth to Kirsten, “Is it him?”
Imperceptibly, she nods.
Somehow, some unfamiliar instinct deep down knew it was him.
My eyes close for one deep breath before I spin to face the man from the end of the bar. Ask him why he kept staring my way. Why he followed me to the dance floor. In the process, and because grace is not my middle name, I twist my ankle and fall forward. On him.
Fuck. My. Life.
“Are you okay?” he shouts above the music, hands cupping my elbows.
I peer up to the man that not only caused the problem but saved me from face-planting on the hardwood. Thank you is on the tip of my tongue, ready to spill from my lips, but my mouth refuses to open. Instead, I gawk at the man. Stare into his shimmering brown irises and lose all train of thought.
Who am I right now?
Straightening my spine, pain shoots up my leg as I add weight to the injured ankle. “Shit!” I lift my foot and reach for his bicep. “Ow, ow, ow.”
Tall Mature and Mysterious shifts his weight, snakes an arm around my waist, and practically carries me off the dance floor. Instinct screams at me to protest his help, rip his arm off me, and hobble to a chair on my own. I don’t know this man, don’t know if he’s some creeper who preys on younger women, then murders them on desolate highways.
Stone Bay has its share of dark back roads. Plenty of places for people to go missing.
That said, I cling to him. Curl my fingers tighter around his bicep. Salivate over the girth beneath his sleeve. Tell instinct to shut it while attraction works her magic. Because this man has definitely been conjured by the gods.
He parks me on a stool and drops his hand from my waist. My lower lip pops out for one, two, three heartbeats before my lips part and I gasp. The semicoherence I gained from sitting is stolen by Mr. Magic as his hand drifts down my hip, along the outside of my thigh. His nails gingerly bite my skin as he passes the hem of my dress and slides down, down, down to my ankle. My thighs clamp together and a wicked smile dons his face.
“Should take these off.”
His words drift past me as I stare at him. “Sorry, what?”
My leg is cradled in one of his hands while he caresses my ankle with the other. “The shoes. You should take them off.”
Oh. Right. The shoes. I curse whoever made these heels—probably a man—then thank him. Without them, I wouldn’t be in this predicament.
“Uh…” I bite my bottom lip as the man remains crouched at my feet. “I don’t have anything else to wear.” And there is no way in hell I am walking barefoot in this bar. Or any bar, for that matter. Who the hell knows what is on the floor.
As if he senses my dilemma, he rises and steps forward, wedging one leg between mine as he cages me in with his arms on the stool back. My pulse doubles and breath quickens as his stubbled jaw grazes my cheek. Breath hot on my ear.
“I’ll carry you.”
Oh, I bet you will.
When I don’t answer him, he leans back enough to make eye contact. A breath between us, I silently beg for his lips. Anywhere. Everywhere.
What is it about him that has me compromising every boundary, every ounce of self-preservation? I would shove aside any other man. Tell them I don’t need their help. Declare my independence as a woman. But minutes with this guy and my brain goes rubbery.
“Thanks for the offer.” I inch forward, a silent signal I want to stand, but the man doesn’t budge. “Do you mind?” Pointing past him, I indicate my desire to leave.
And once again, he stands his ground. Alarms and flashing lights should be going off in my head. Red flags should be flying high everywhere I look.
Obviously, my internal security system is malfunctioning.
“You’re in no shape to walk. Allow me to help. Please.”
Where the hell is Kirsten?
I peer around Mr. Magic and spot my friend, her ass grinding against an anonymous groin. Which means girls’ night is officially over. No doubt she assumes I plan to go home with the man ogling me the last hour. Wouldn’t be the first time we came to the pub together and left separately.
Tonight feels different, though. He is different. Older. Darker. Edgier.
He makes my pulse pound and breath stutter. Equal parts desire and fear.
How many times have I picked up a guy in the pub? More than I can count on one hand. Not saying I’m easy, but I enjoy life. Do what I want. And if one of those things happens to be sex with strangers, so be it. If guys get to hook up with whoever they please and not be judged, so can I. But the guys of the past were a little softer around the edges. Quieter. Kind of like me until I get to know someone.
“Fine,” I huff out as my eyes come back to his. The corners of his mouth and eyes perk up. “But” —I hold up a finger— “what’s your name?”
“Law?” He cocks a brow and nods. “What kind of name is Law? Your parents work in criminal justice or something?”
It’s a joke. A way for me to lighten the mood. But it does nothing of the sort. Instead, he steps into me and purses his lips as his eyes shift left, then right, then left again.
My shoulders plummet. I open my mouth to apologize, but as the words of regret form on my tongue, all the seriousness vanishes from his face. In its place is the biggest smile. His entire frame shakes. Before I comprehend what is happening, laughter rips from his lips.
“Sorry.” More laughter. “It’s really not that funny.” He clutches his stomach with one hand and presses a closed fist to his lips with the other. “Guess it’s funnier in my head.”
“What?” I ask, irritated that he continues to laugh when I thought I had offended him.
“I was going to give some phony sad story, but you’re too fucking adorable.”
“Lawrence. Law is short for Lawrence.”
“What a sophisticated name.”
He steps closer, warming my skin with his. “And what’s your name?”
I swallow and trace the sharp line of his jaw with my eyes. Lick my lips and envision the scruff between my legs, chafing my thighs.
“Sky. Skylar,” I stammer.
“Well, Sky, Skylar, what do you say we get you home and off your feet?”
I shake my head and nod simultaneously. No doubt I look like a fool, with my head jittering in every direction. But Law doesn’t seem to care one bit. Matter of fact, he appears rather amused by my flustered state.
Can’t help it, though. The man has charisma unlike any I have seen before. Maybe it’s his maturity. Perhaps his confidence. Either way, I want everything he has to offer.
“Yeah, sounds good.”
Know what else sounds good? Going to his place and not mine. Time to work some magic of my own.
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