Catrina sat on the backless, oversized, and padded barstool at the hotel bar, sipping a wine spritzer. Behind her was a steady flow of traffic into the steak restaurant next door, even though it was about nine in the evening, a little late to be eating, no matter how delicious the food. Those not going into the restaurant, headed for the Registration desk, checking in for the night.
She'd been in the bar for about an hour, enjoying the jazz trio playing in the lounge around the corner to the right, as they performed one jazz instrumental after another. They were one of the best jazz groups she'd heard in awhile. The hotel lounge was starting to fill, even though it was still early for a Friday night, and while the band was excellent, she doubted the crowd would grow much larger than it was now.
The mellow music was working wonders, and she'd finally begun to relax. The mouthwatering New York Strip she'd consumed earlier followed by a slice of heavenly key lime pie didn't hurt, either. While being stood up disappointed her, the shower, meal, wine, and music combined to alleviate the stress of the heavy weekend traffic she'd driven in to get here.
Cat noticed the bar and the sign announcing tonight's performers when she walked through the hotel lobby two hours earlier to check in. After eating her quiet, solitary meal, she decided it was too early to return to her room for the night. The bar cum lounge seemed like the perfect solution. She'd have a drink or two and enjoy the music before returning to her room to settle down for a good night's sleep. She was doing just that when she found her peace interrupted.
A large male body, smelling of Brut--her favorite--crowded into her personal space as he squeezed into the narrow alley between her stool and the one next to it. A deep, commanding voice spoke. "A rum and coke on the rocks--light on the rum--and give the lady here another one of whatever she's drinking."
Cat sighed and held up her left hand, displaying the two-and-a-half-carat diamond and gold wedding band set she was wearing. This was the fifth time this night, at least. Why did men assume a woman alone was easy prey? She'd come in here in hopes of some down time, not to be approached by every Tom, Dick, and Harry wanting to test their skills as a Player. After the second wanna-be, she'd discovered the hard way that looking at or talking to the men only seemed to encourage them, so she didn't even bother glancing at this newest, unwelcome disturbance to her hard earned tranquility.
She flinched when a masculine hand entered her field of vision, mere inches from her face, complete with its own well-aged, worn-looking wedding band. She trailed the arm back to its owner until her gaze connected with a tall, well-built man with black, wavy hair and a piercing set of dark blue eyes. This one was going to be harder to run off than the rest. She could feel it in her bones. "Does your wife know you're here, in a bar, trying to pick up women?"
The young, male bartender quickly smothered a grin at the evident scorn in her voice before walking off to fill the order. Cat wasn't amused, annoyed and frustrated, but not amused. Was she going to have to retreat to her room just to get a little peace and quiet?
He grinned, a dazzling slash of straight, white teeth in a well-tanned face, and held his hands out in front of him. "Whoa, you've got the wrong idea. I saw you shoot down those last four guys and figured we could help each other. Maybe if we act like we're together, the men will stop hitting on you and the ladies will leave me alone."
Cat arched her brow in disbelief, looking around the bar. There were several hungry-looking women giving the ruggedly handsome man at her side the eye, but still ... "Is this some sort of new pick up line?"
He shook his head. "No ulterior motives, I swear. I really thought we could assist each other but if you're not interested..." He picked up his drink and turned away from the bar with an obviously disappointed sigh.
If she could believe him, it could be the answer to her problem.
"Wait!" She laid a hand on his arm. Mmm, nice muscle tone. She resisted the urge to squeeze. "You can't blame a woman for being cautious. If you're really serious, that might be nice. The come-ons were starting to annoy me."
He turned back to her with an engaging grin and held out his hand, "Darius Cornelio, at your service."
She laid her hand in his and shook it firmly. "Catrina Jackson. My friends call me Cat."
"Is that an invitation?" He arched his left brow inquiringly, and his blue eyes seemed to sparkle.
Is he flirting with me? Cat was suddenly aware that her hand still enfolded his, and she abruptly pulled free. "More a statement of fact, but you can call me Cat, if you like," she said a bit brusquely.
"Thank you. So Cat, why don't we go into the lounge and snag one of the tables before they're all gone? There'll be a lot less traffic near the stage, and less chance of interruptions." His manner was so genuinely nice that Cat was confused. Maybe he hadn't been flirting earlier. Still, she hesitated.
"Your drinks, sir."
Darius turned and handed the bartender the money. "Keep the change."
"Thanks." The bartender flashed another grin and walked off to serve the three other customers that approached while she debated.
The bar wasn't that large but well lit. There was only seating for six, and two of the stools beside her own were already taken. With the addition of Darius and the newcomers, it was getting crowded fast. Also, with no wait staff serving the lounge, the foot traffic was extremely heavy as more and more people stopped by.
"Shall we?" Darius took his drink in hand and motioned toward the darkened lounge, while sliding the other drink towards her.