Ava Minor was looking for trouble and, from the look of the Bar Nothing, trouble was exactly what she was going to get.
She stood alone in the dusty parking lot of the rundown honky-tonk, listening to the gravel spray as the taxi driver who'd dumped her there took his slimy leer and his smelly cab off to greener pastures. She'd asked to be taken to the most notorious pick-up bar in town. Now she stood in the parking lot, paralyzed by an attack of be-careful-what-you-wish-for jitters. Ava Minor, the cowardly lioness.
Friday night. Even in this rural backwater, the bar would be filled with human men on a Friday night. Men who wouldn't see the smallest, weakest lioness of her pride when they looked at her. They'd see a petite, sexy woman whose grace was just a little too feline, but they'd never suspect she was anything more than human.
More than human. That's what she wanted to be tonight. For once more than human, instead of less than all the other shifters in her pride. Less strong. Less fast. Less worthy.
Now or never.
Ava tossed her head, flipping her long, white-blonde hair over her shoulder. Her hair brushed her bare shoulder blades, teasing at her sensitized skin. Anticipation ran through her like electricity, charging every more-than-human sense.
She wasn't in the habit of making dramatic entrances, but when the heavy door slammed shut behind her and every alcohol-blurred gaze in the place rolled over her in blatant assessment, Ava struck a pose, planting a hand on one hip and arching her back.
The heat and smell hit her simultaneously. Clearly ventilation was not a top priority in the establishment she'd selected for her first foray into the dark side. The stench of stale beer and sweat assaulted her nostrils, but beneath it all, almost completely masked by the eau-du-honky-tonk, was a subtle, tantalizingly masculine aroma that had her shivering in her high heels in spite of the smothering heat. Her inner lioness rolled over and purred.
Ava smoothed her hands over the denim hugging her hips. She resisted the urge to cross her arms in front of her bare stomach or tug at her shirt. She didn't know if she would have tugged it up or down; the crimson tube top stretched tight over her breasts didn't have much room for maneuvering in either direction.
Her audience appeared to appreciate her costume. Not a single gaze had veered away from her since the door slammed shut behind her.
A drink, she thought, eyeing the sparsely populated stools lined up against the chipped imitation mahogany bar. A beer or twelve would calm her jumpy nerves.
Ava strutted toward the bar, swiveling her hips in what she hoped was a decent parody of Marilyn Monroe. She felt the weight of a dozen pairs of eyes tracking her as she crossed the room, but being the timid good girl was too deeply ingrained and she couldn't bring herself to look around to bask in the attention. She kept her eyes locked on her destination, hoping her nerves came across as haughty sex appeal.
The man at the end of the bar leered at her as she approached. A regular Romeo with three missing teeth. Ava kept walking, ignoring the kissy noise he made in the direction of her ass as she passed.
Three empty stools down, Bachelor Number Two gave her a thorough once over from her tits to her toes and back again before making it all the way up to her face and giving her a lazy, you-know-you-want-it smile. It wasn't a bad smile. Cocky as all hell, but Ava was used to cocky men. She could handle this asshole. And he had all his teeth. We have a winner, ladies and gentlemen.
Ava hitched herself up onto the barstool next to her lucky bachelor--the man didn't know how lucky he was about to get. She resisted the urge to yank on her shirt when her Casanova's eyes locked on her braless breasts to enjoy the show as she bounced up onto the stool.
"Buy a girl a drink?"
Casanova's eyes dilated until they were all pupil and Ava smiled, her confidence getting a healthy boost. She may be a good girl, but that didn't mean she didn't have a voice like a phone sex operator. Smoky, husky and low, her voice was one of the many reasons her overbearing brothers insisted she remain silent as often as possible around the other men at the ranch.
But she wasn't on the ranch now...
Casanova waved the bartender over, never taking his eyes off her. "What's your name, darlin'?"
He had a smooth Texas drawl and Ava's back arched a little at the sound of it. The idea of hauling him outside and having her way with him was starting to gain momentum in her mind. She could do this. She could really be the bad girl for a change.
She didn't care what his name was one little bit. Her nerves felt electrified, like she was a car someone was trying to hotwire. When the bartender plunked a beer in front of her, Ava sprang off the stool. She leaned against the chipped wood of the bar like a life raft as she downed half the bottle in one long swallow.
Chance? Oh, right. His name. Yippee. Ava took another drink. Her hips pushed back of their own according, sticking her ass out, almost as if her body expected the mate it craved to rip off her jeans and shove into her from behind at any second.
Ava slammed the beer back onto the bar. The alcohol was not helping.
She tossed her hair again and, again, the slide against her sweat-slick skin had her shivering. Hopefully, Chance wasn't looking for a long heart-to-heart before she climbed on top of him and took what she needed. She didn't think she could wait much longer.
"So..." Chance drawled, clearly intent on starting a conversation she didn't want to have.
Ava wondered how he would react if she put her tongue down his throat. He'd probably stop talking pretty damn quick.
She started to turn toward her lucky cowboy, when a distinctive scent hit her nostrils, dark and hot, like midnight on the savannah. Her body reacted to the presence behind her with a rush of moisture between her legs even before her mind registered he was there. A heavy hand landed on the back of her neck, not shaking her by the scruff like the errant child he probably thought she was, but pressing warm and steady and firm into her flesh like he could brand her with his palm.
Ava didn't need to look to know who would be standing behind her, no doubt glaring at her and her Cowboy Casanova equally. She'd never reacted to another man the way she did to Landon King, simultaneously melting and tensing.
She pressed her thighs together to hold back the flood of heat, praying he wouldn't smell her arousal, but knowing he would. Why did it have to be him? Anyone else would have been preferable. She would have rather been caught shaking her ass at strangers by one of her over-protective brothers than the man who loomed behind her, the Alpha of her damn pride.
She'd been so careful to stay clear of him. So careful to ensure he would never know of her stupid infatuation, the mindless lust he inspired in her. Landon would never want her, that much was a given, so she preserved her dignity by making sure he would never know how badly she wanted him. Now all of that effort was about to go up in smoke. He stood less than three feet behind her. He was just as much of an animal as she was. He would be able to smell it on her. He would know.
Unless she could convince him that the thick heat of her desire wasn't for him.