He took her in his arms and though she teetered on sexy, blue satin stilettos, he moved her around the floor as if she were born to be there. She'd never been so graceful, or so incredibly excited.
They executed a complex turn, and the beat of the music seeped into her pores. He twirled her out, then back in, curling her tight against his chest. Her flowing skirt tangled sensually around their knees, making it feel even more intimate. The dance itself was color and light and his muscular body kept her safe, secure and cherished while he guided her through its intricacies.
The music changed and he started tap dancing. Somehow, she knew the steps too. She danced perfectly in time with him as he smiled encouragement.
Casey groaned, lifting her head from the couch. Blearily, she realized she'd fallen asleep in the middle of the day again. This had to stop.
Dammit. The relentless ring of the phone woke her up. And it had been such a good dream too.
She checked the caller I.D., yanking up the phone with a disgusted curse.
"Dammit, Mark. I was dancing with Gene Kelly."
There was a slight pause before a sexy male voice came over the line.
"I'd rather you danced with me."
Her knees turned to jelly. Good thing she was sprawled on the couch. This wasn't Mark. It only took her a moment to place the voice calling from her brother's familiar number. It was her brother's obnoxiously handsome friend. The one who had tormented her since she was a little kid. The one whose face still haunted her dreams.
"Hal." She sighed heavily. "When did you get back? And why are you calling me from Mark's? Where is he?"
"He's watching over the grill out back and asked me to give you a ring. I just got in, and we're having an impromptu barbeque. Wanna come over and play?"
The sexy purr in his voice sent shivers down her spine. Too bad he was only kidding around with her. She'd known him for too many years to read anything into his flirty banter. She was glad he couldn't see her disappointment. He was the star of her most vivid fantasies, but he'd always treated her like a pesky little sister.
"Sure. Give me an hour, and I'll be over with a bottle of Merlot. I can't drink that beer he's been brewing in his basement. It makes me sick."
"I am duly warned. Actually, though, it tastes pretty good."
"Oh, it tastes good at first. Just watch out tomorrow. You'll be praying to the porcelain god if your stomach is anything like mine." She laughed, remembering the few times her brother had gotten her to drink some of his home brew, and the sad consequences.
"You forget, I've been eating Army chow for the past twelve years. My stomach is cast iron."
"Well, don't say I didn't warn you."
"Yes, ma'am. Now get yourself off the couch and put on something sexy. I haven't seen you in far too long, Cas."
"How'd you know I was on the couch?"
He chuckled in that masculine way of his. "Old habits die hard. I remember finding you curled up on that old couch in your parents' house in the middle of the day more than once. You always reminded me of a kitten, basking in the sun coming in through the picture window."
"Maybe I don't have a couch or a picture window in my apartment. Did you ever think of that?" She didn't know why she was being contrary, except that Hal had always known how to push her buttons. Five years of not seeing him apparently hadn't changed that.
"You forget. I've been to your apartment. I know exactly what it looks like. Down to your daisy-covered couch."
"They weren't daisies. It was a lovely yellow and white paisley pattern, and it's gone now."
"What happened? I liked that couch."
"Oh, I still have the couch, but I had to have it reupholstered. And to answer your question, Mark happened. He got mud, oil and some kind of glue on his clothes working on his boat then flopped down on my pretty couch. No matter what I tried, I couldn't get the stains out."
"The moron." His chuckle made her feel oddly better about losing her pretty fabric, even though it was a sticking point between the siblings. "I'll have to beat him up for you. I've had fantasies about you on that little daisy couch."
"I'll just bet you did." She laughed, hoping she could disguise the instant heat in her veins by treating his comment lightly. He was only kidding. Had to be. He'd never seen her as anything more than his friend's kid sister.
Then why was he flirting so hard? That was three potential come-ons in one conversation. Either he'd changed drastically in the last five years, or he was trying to get her mad.
He'd changed drastically in the last five years. She decided that the moment she stepped into Mark's little house and saw Hal.
Tall, tan, fit and handsome, he looked more weathered than when she'd last seen him. His closely cropped hair was a little longer than usual. His grin was the same lazy, sexy spread of sensuous lips. She'd fantasized about his smile for years.
His arms were all man, muscular and strong as he hugged her in greeting, holding her just a little longer than propriety demanded. It had been five years since they'd seen each other so she guessed it didn't really mean anything.
She'd written to him for holidays and his birthday, sending him funny cards and updates on her family, since she knew her brother was a terrible correspondent. Hal had answered when he could, but he'd been in a lot of dangerous spots around the world over the past few years, and he hadn't always been able write back. When he had, he'd impressed upon her how much he enjoyed hearing from her, so she never felt stupid shopping for that perfect card to make him smile weeks in advance of his birthday, or any other card-giving holiday. Heck, she figured she probably kept the local corner card store in business all by herself.
He smelled good too. Like hot, strong man, a bit of charcoal smoke, probably from the barbeque out back, and just a hint of masculine aftershave. He couldn't wear it in the field, but when he was home, he sometimes used it. She knew his favorite brand and loved the scent of it. She had even bought it for him a few times for Christmas and his birthday.
She was glad he still wore that brand. It was forever identified with him in her mind. Maybe she'd have a chance to buy him a new bottle this year if he were going to be home for the holidays.
"I've missed you, squirt. Why haven't I seen you in five, long years?"
She pushed back in his arms to look up at him. He didn't let her go completely and she had to tilt her head back to see him. This was as close as she'd get to him until he left again, and she'd be granted another hug--this time in goodbye. Those parting hugs were always a little harder to bear.
"Well, let's see. You've only come home about once a year from wherever they've got you stationed, and each time I was either already on vacation or on a business trip out of town. We kept missing each other. If you'd given me a little warning, I could've scheduled around you."
He shook his head. "It doesn't work that way for me, Cas. You know that. I don't always know when I'm going to be able to get leave and when I do, I have to go quickly, before they call me back to go to some other foreign hellhole."
She daringly reached up and stroked his cheek, amazed at the tender look that came into his eyes at her innocent touch.
"I worry about you, Hal."
That earned her a second hug, with an extra squeeze this time, and she was glad she'd dared voice her fears. She knew he could more than take care of himself and that he truly loved what he did. It didn't help her worry any less that one day he wouldn't come back. The thought brought tears to her eyes that she refused to let fall.
He saw them anyway and bent down to kiss her eyelids softly. The tenderness in his unexpected salute was unmistakable. He'd never treated her this way. Maybe what they said was true--absence really did make the heart grow fonder.
"Don't worry for me anymore, Cas. I'm out of that life, and I'm coming home to stay."
"What?" She pulled back from him, astounded.
"I've been reassigned."