"He's a nice guy," my best gal pal, Marisol, said as we glided into the swankiest martini bar in town. Mobile, Alabama, where the azaleas bloomed and the seagulls flew. Well, not at this time of year, when fifty degrees was the equivalent of living at the North Pole for those of us who preferred year-round tans.
I scrunched my forehead skeptically. "Is that worse than 'He's got a good personality'?"
"Just meet him. Have a drink, and if you don't like him, we're out of here."
"Sadly one drink is all it's gonna take to get me plastered. Lack of partying tends to lower one's tolerance." Even when my children were with their father every other weekend, I rarely went out with girlfriends. Yep, I'm a boring, workaholic mom--and slightly lazy too since I've discovered I can play on Facebook in pj's.
I'd endured a messy divorce two years ago, and after that, I'd focused on my kids and avoided men like the plague. I'd almost lost my sex drive. Oh, it was there--buried so deep it would take a jackhammer to dig it out, but five-inch peep-toe heels made a nice dent.
Marisol laughed and paid the cover--her gift for forcing me to don stilettos and suffer through blisters in the dead of winter. In all fairness, we were celebrating my debut on the best-seller list. As a stay-at-home mom, I dabbled in writing romances. It'd been difficult, but was now a bona fide career. I was making enough to work from home and continue picking the kiddies up from school.
"I don't see him." Marisol pointed to an empty corner. "Let's get a table."
I followed through the packed crowd of patrons--men wearing too much cologne and women wearing not enough of anything. "People are staring," I said to her back. No matter where I turned my gaze, some guy was staring back at us. I was on the verge of a panic attack.
"That's the point." Marisol laid her phone and cute little sequined Santa purse on a corner table. She ran her hands down her hips before twisting around in a pose worthy of a preening peacock. "They better look. I can barely breathe under all this spandex."
"Then why wear it?"
"Do you think perky derrieres are a natural phenomenon after thirty? Spanx, chica!"
I laughed and eased onto one of the high bar stools at our table. "You don't need a girdle."
"Whatever, you scrawny thing. Not everyone runs three miles a day for the sheer decadent hell of it."
"And I'm still fighting off age and gravity with every cream, lotion, and diet trick in the book," I said, a wide grin slowly curving my lips. "But I have to admit, we are a good-looking pair."
With my petite body and long dark blonde hair, and Marisol...just being Marisol, we were positively head turners. Marisol's sassy Cuban accent alone was quite seductive, but she had the voluptuous figure to match. Her tight leopard-print halter dress didn't hurt either.
The men were salivating.
Too bad for them. Her sweetie-pie husband had only graciously loaned her to me for the night since I was too nervous to blind date solo. Any first date is terrifying, but when you don't know the fellow--in fact, have never seen him--it's a downright nightmare in the making.
I hadn't checked him out on Facebook, and I deliberately sat with my back to the door. I wanted to be surprised. I'm OCD about being organized and on schedule, so I hate surprises, but finalizing my divorce started a new chapter in my life. Not only was I trying to loosen up, but also I'd been working to find myself again. I wanted to be independent, exciting--the way I'd been in college.
I mindlessly caressed my black beaded choker. Funny how the tight necklace felt way more comfortable than my "proper" doctor's-wife pearls. My crushed self-confidence from a criticizing ex-husband no longer hid beneath age-rewind foundation. It was truly gone. I'd spent the past two years rebuilding my self-esteem while learning to support the children and myself without the aid of an overbearing husband. I'd found myself again, gotten my spunk back. And while being alone had its advantages, it was time to move forward. Maybe find true love. Definitely time for sex. Really good sex.
I was back.
Still, I wanted someone who'd be around when my itty-bitty boobies shriveled up to look like prunes. Scratch that. Raisins. The problem was, the good ones didn't come around very often, especially those willing to take on two young kids, but I could stand to kiss a few frogs first. Heck, I wanted to swap spit with a large number of prince wannabes before I settled down again. Fun first was mandatory.
As I rummaged through my clutch for a dose of lip gloss, Marisol cleared her throat and cut her gaze across the room. I followed her line of vision and... Holy shit. I do believe my freakin' heart stopped. He wasn't supermodel gorgeous, not with his shaved head and height a tad on the short side, but his swagger... His near-predatory confidence as he maneuvered through the room made my eyes zero in on him. He locked on me, and I felt a slow, lazy smile spread across my lips. Suddenly we were the only two people in the room. My blood pressure hitched a degree with every step he took, and that feeling a girl gets when her heart beats so fast she's on the verge of throwing up? Yep, I had it. I believe the technical term is "lust at first sight."
A second later, his warm hand brushed my shoulder, and I'm not kidding, I thought I might melt right off that stool. Even the fine hairs on my arms stood on end, completely attuned to him and begging for attention. Needless to say, my nipples gave him a proud salute.
"Hi, I'm Chase Harris." His heated breath tickled my ear as he leaned in to be heard over the country rock band jamming out twenty feet away.
My lungs folded and decided breathing was no longer necessary. The brief contact ignited a fiery liquid in the bottom of my tummy. My pussy simmered for the first time in years without the aid of batteries. "Anna Ryan," I answered. "It's nice to meet you." Was it ever. I extended my hand, which he ignored for a hug.
My nostrils filled with the citrus scent of cologne, but underneath I detected something more masculine, more primal. I longed to bury my face in his soft gray fitted T-shirt. The garment outlined every perfect bulge. I couldn't make out its graffiti design, but it very well could've said Eat Me and I would've happily obliged.
His gaze roamed my body, and the sexy glint in his eyes told me the risk of catching a cold in this black strapless mini was totally worth it. I might be in dire need of a boob job, but Chase didn't seem to mind my negative As. Then the space between us grew cold as he left my side to hug Marisol.
"Cuba! Hey, woman. Great to see you."
"Hey, yourself." She flashed me a shrewd grin.
I so owed that girl.
Chase flagged a pretty, young waitress, whom he also hugged. Did he know her intimately? I didn't want to think about it, but this was obviously his stomping ground. We'd been sitting there less than thirty seconds and already five people--three of them female--had stopped by to say hello. I did the whole song and dance of meet and greet, all the while drinking him in. I never realized bald men could be so damn sexy. It wasn't just his penetrating blue eyes framed by strong, dark eyebrows, or his incredible physique. Chase's charisma drew me in.
"What would y'all like to drink?" he asked after chitchatting with the waitress long enough for me to determine he and her husband were friends.
I breathed a sigh of relief, not understanding my strange sense of jealously. "Sour apple martini."
"House cabernet." Marisol grabbed her purse. "The ladies' room beckons." She slid off her stool and flounced away before I could give her the evil eye for abandoning me.
"Corona and wicked bombs all around." Chase leaned back, making himself at home. He sent a chin lift to someone across the way.
I didn't want to be obvious and look, but I hoped like crazy it was a guy. Even if this was supposed to be a fun little evening, I didn't do slutty men. Something about not wanting to end up with any diseases or some such. On the other hand, a player might be exactly what I needed to help me find my way back into single life. With all his practice--confirmed through the flirty girls who'd stopped by--he'd definitely be a sure thing. Plus, he wouldn't be looking for anything serious. My gaze shamelessly roamed his broad chest. Yes, Chase might be an excellent Frog #1--in princely disguise. My core clenched at the thought of stripping away his clothes and tasting his hard muscles and even harder cock.
The waitress left, and it took a bit of effort to refocus. "What's a wicked bomb?"
"The signature shot of the bar. You'll like it. It's sweet."
"Oh God. I haven't done shots since college." Getting drunk and stupid wasn't in the plan, but this was my night to let loose. I wasn't driving, and a whole bottle of aspirin waited on me at home.
Tiny lines appeared at the corners of his eyes as he acknowledged my comment, but only then did I notice the deep line across his forehead, hinting he wasn't always fun and games. "Don't worry; I'll take care of you. It's my job."
I took a fortifying breath. If I could make the characters in my books flirt, I should be able to do it in real life. "Paid for with my tax money." Marisol had mentioned he was a cop.
"That would be corporal, ma'am."
"I stand corrected. So, corporal, what are you going to do about the traffic ticket I got last week?"
He put his hand over his heart as his lower lip pouted. "I'm being used already."
I wanted to bite that lip, suck it, and ram my tongue down his throat. "I'll pay you back some way."
"The best things usually are."
"In that case, I'm very expensive." His voice had the same sweet Southern drawl we all did in these parts, minus the redneck lilt most boys favored. I liked it. It sounded slow and lazy, like he never said anything without thinking about it first. The twang, the comfort in his own skin, the eyes that took in way too much in a single glance... Something about Chase told me he could throw down with the best of them. Underneath, though, a deeper side of him waited, just waited on... I couldn't put my finger on it exactly, but I was curious.
Our drinks arrived as Marisol slid back into her seat.
"Thanks, Meddles." Chase took his Corona and pushed the lime to the bottom of the bottle.
The waitress distributed napkins, then our drinks. "Nicknames are his trademark." She must have noted my confusion as I read Julie on her nametag.
"Everybody gets one." He leaned forward, reached into his back pocket, and pulled out his own personal beer hugger. "Meddles got hers because she likes to meddle in other folks' business."
"At least mine isn't as bad as some of his ex-girlfriends'." She laughed and walked off.
Much to my disappointment, Chase felt the need not to elaborate on that subject and lifted his beer for a toast.
"To new friends." He clinked his bottle against my glass.
"And to old ones." His Corona collided softly against Marisol's in salute. "A woman is a lot like wine--great taste, scent, looks, and as they age, they become sought after and more appreciated."
"He called you old, Marisol." I laughed, secretly thinking it was kind of sweet.
"Sounded like it." She sipped her wine, not the least bit insulted. Unlike me, she had no problems in the self-confidence department. It made our friendship well-balanced.
"Of course, age also brings experience." Marisol must have thrown me some courage vibes.
"And wisdom." She chimed in over the rim of her glass.
The corner of Chase's lip tugged up in a teasing smirk. "And we all know how attractive wisdom is on a girl."
I uncrossed my legs, intentionally brushing my calf against his jeans. Our gazes locked, and a flicker of desire flashed in his. Most likely, mine reflected the same sentiment. Those borrowed vibes fled the building, and I glanced away before my eyes gave away how much I already wanted him.
Clear Christmas lights intermixed with red and green mesh ribbon draped the bar. A tall tree stood in the corner, professionally decorated with a slew of more red and green paraphernalia. I smiled to myself. Mine at home looked twice as pretty, although it was a bit bottom heavy since the children could only reach so high when they hung their handmade candy canes and star-shaped glitter cookies.
"How's life?" I heard Marisol ask Chase.
"Got shot at today."
"What?" Marisol practically screamed.
My brain needed a second longer to register the shock. "No way. Are you serious?"
"Yep. Believe it or not, raiding a meth lab isn't as risky as taking a domestic violence call. This afternoon, some crazy dude shot his girlfriend, then took aim at me. Had my bulletproof vest on..." He rubbed his chest. "But it left a massive bruise."
"Oh my God," Marisol said.
I touched his forearm. "Are you okay? That must have been terrifying."
He visibly swallowed, then nodded.
"I bet your life flashed before your eyes. What did you see?" Marisol downed the last of her wine.
"Nothing pretty." Chase suddenly seemed to find immense pleasure in twirling his bottle around. "I thought I'd die alone."
Marisol and I shared a look. I didn't know where to take the shift in conversation. I felt so sorry for him.
I stilled his wobbling bottle, but he refused to look at me. Instead, we laced fingers. "Do you want to talk about it?" I squeezed his hand in encouragement.
He continued, "I'm tired of having nobody to share my life with."
I almost missed his mumbled complaint before Marisol interrupted. "Hey, this conversation just got a little too serious for a first date."
Chase nodded. "You're right." His grin didn't reach his eyes.
I withdrew my hand, ready to scold Marisol for cutting short the subject when Chase obviously needed to get it off his chest. "Mar--"
"Chase, baby. Where have you been, stranger?"
I turned toward the new voice as yet another girl draped her arm around his neck. She looked barely old enough to drive a car, although she must have been at least twenty-one. It took major effort to not gag. I truly did not need the visual of this chick planting a sloppy whopper on my date's cheek.
"Ladies, this is...um..." His eyes widened as he obviously racked his brain to remember the girl's name.
Chase better damn well remember mine after tonight.
"Hey, y'all. I'm Jenni--"
I didn't catch the rest of her name. All I could concentrate on was whether her fake boobs were going to fall out of that low-cut top. Tipsy-boobs. It was as good a name as any, and I'd a much better chance of remembering it once she sloshed away. Which I damn well hoped would be soon. My cheeks were starting to hurt from holding the fake smile.
"So, baby, like, when are we gonna hook up?" she asked.
"Do you have a ride home?" He tactfully removed her groping hands from his body. Rather impressed me there.
"Yeah." She looked around and shrugged. "Somewhere." She let out one of those annoying giggles females can only accomplish at the height of drunken stupors.
God, please don't ever let me sound like that. I pretended to scratch my brow as I glanced at Marisol and rolled my eyes.
"Honey, why don't you go to the ladies' room and vomit? You look a tad nauseating." Leave it to Marisol to cut one down while oozing sweetness.
"Don't you mean nauseated?" I asked.
"No, nauseating works." Marisol leaned in when the girl just looked more confused. "Green, honey. As in if you throw up on my new shoes, I'll kick your ass. Now be a good little girl and vamoose, skedaddle, or in plain English, get the hell out of here."
Chase snorted, and my fake smile turned real. He lifted his arm and motioned to someone. The next thing I knew a bouncer walked over and shook Chase's hand.
"Hey, man. Good to see you," Chase said. "Can you help this girl find her friends and get home safely?"
"Sure." The bouncer tugged on her elbow. "Tell everyone good-bye."
"Bye, baby." She tried to hug Chase, but the bouncer pulled her away. "Call me!"
"Sorry about that." Chase sipped his beer, then glanced off in the distance.
It further impressed me that he looked embarrassed by the episode, but I couldn't hold him at fault. I was proof even relatively sober women wanted him like crazy. I'd probably give him a lap dance if I drank one more shot. Where was our waitress?
"Who was that?" Marisol asked.
"I have no idea."
"Tipsy-boobs," I announced, proud of the name I'd come up with.
"Oh, yeah!" Chase gave me a high five. "I see you have a knack for nicknaming people too."
"So, Marisol's nickname is Cuba?" I'd picked up on it earlier.
"Not everybody gets one as cool as mine." Her sarcastic tone rang across the table.
"I'll have to think of a good one for you." Chase winked at me and picked up his shot.
His look told me we'd better do the same. He slammed his back, as did Marisol.
I took a cautious sip. The red liquid tasted like my kids' cherry cough syrup. "It's good."
I drained the glass in one swallow. As I set it on the table, Chase's sexy mouth moved, but the roar of the music drowned out his words. "Excuse me?" I asked as I leaned over to stick my ear closer to his lips. I swear on a stack of Bibles I did not put my hand on his thigh for seduction purposes. I fell over. "Sorry." I pulled away.
He grabbed my hand and returned it to his leg. His callused palm rubbed the tender skin slowly and sent a current of electricity up my arm. My heart skipped, and for a split second, the world around us blurred as the chorus of Lady Antebellum's "I Need You Now" spoke for us.
"I said, what is it you do?"
"I'm a mom of four-year-old twins. Boy and girl. They're with my mom tonight." Might as well get that out there right now. He didn't flinch. "I'm also a writer."
"What do you write?"
He quirked a brow and gave me a teasing grin. "You can slap me later, but I have to say it...porn for women?"
"Something like that." I might be tight-laced in real life, but in my books, the lace barely covered any flesh. In my books, all my fantasies came true.
"Need a muse?"
Fuck, yeah. "Ha-ha. Like I haven't heard that one."
His thumb drew tiny circles across my hand. "Just sayin' I'm happy to help if you'd like to do some research. Field-test your technique?"
"I'll keep that in mind."
Marisol's phone vibrated against the table. She snatched it up and answered with an exuberant, "Hey, honey..." Her voice trailed off as she and the hubby launched into a conversation about the gastric inadequacies of one of Robert's ER patients.
"Ugh." I shivered. "I don't miss hearing those stories."
"Yeah, I heard you were a rich doctor's wife."
"Money doesn't buy happiness. Fortunately for Marisol, she has love too."
"And you didn't?"
Marisol slapped the table hard. "You're never at home. I haven't had sex in weeks!" She somehow managed to make herself heard clearly from wall to wall through the loud bar. "You're giving me some tonight. I don't care how tired you are."
I looked at Chase and giggled. Marisol couldn't hold her liquor either. "The bomb has exploded. She gets feisty when she drinks."
"What do you get?" Chase asked as the band switched to holiday music. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" couldn't have been more applicable.
My hand cupped his clean-shaven cheek as I pulled his face inches from mine. I tilted his jaw and mouthed, Horny.
The skin at the corner of his eyes crinkled, and a tiny dimple appeared when he smiled. "Hi, I'm Chase Harris." He caught my hand before it could escape, giving it a gentle shake in mock greeting. "Let me say again how nice it is to meet you."
I laughed and licked the sugar crystals off the rim of my martini glass. His eyes followed my tongue. Yep. He'll do.