“Did it hurt when you fell from heaven? Why don’t you let me buy you a drink, and you can tell me all about it?”
Jasmine took a long sip of chardonnay and prepared to give her sixth refusal of the night to what was beginning to feel like a contest for the worst pickup lines ever.
“No, I’m fine.” She set her wineglass down on the tall table where she was sitting on the outdoor deck of the beachside lounge and swiveled her barstool more toward the ocean.
“You’re more than fine, baby. You’re an angel.” Mr. Can’t-Take-a-Hint stepped back into view and flashed a knowing smile. “We should go someplace where you can examine me for bruises, because I’ve been falling for you all night.”
He eased farther into her personal space, and her eyes watered from the overpowering scent of his cologne. As she moved back, he moved in. If he came any closer, she would tumble right out of her seat.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said, fanning him and his cologne away. She gave him an up-and-down look, but he didn’t budge. Turning her body farther away from him, she stared pointedly out at the crashing waves, but he still hung around like a thick, humid fog unmoved by the breeze.
Was he really that clueless?
The voice in her head huffed out a laugh. She should have celebrated her twenty-seventh birthday upstairs in her hotel room with a bubble bath, room service, and a movie, but instead, she’d gone all-in on her best friend Tabitha’s stupid birthday dare.
I can’t believe I agreed to do this. Have a one-night stand. What was I thinking?
Ironically, she was the one who’d started the dare tradition when she’d challenged Tab to kiss her playground crush on her eighth birthday. Since then, the dare had instigated purple hair, a tattoo, a well-hidden body piercing, and a college spring break incident in Acapulco that had landed them just short of jail.
During the past few years, mainly because her cheating ex-fiancé had insisted upon it, she and Tab had toned things down a bit, and the dare had mellowed to the pleasures they’d often denied themselves because of their busy schedules. Things like Latin dancing lessons, wine tasting in Napa, hiring a gourmet chef for a week, or pampering at an expensive spa. This year, as a way to help her get over the ending of her doomed engagement to Greg,Tab had insisted on giving her something more...challenging.
She shot a look at the guy standing next to her and his grin widened.
Once she’d agreed to take the restrictions off, she should have known that Tab would head straight down the path of at-out crazy. I mean, really? Where had this idea come from? Before this night was over, she was going to think of seven—no, make that eight—ways for Tab to pay for this brilliant plan.
In the midst of drawing up her mental payback list, the guy brushed his hand over Jasmine’s thigh, and her game-over meter tipped into the red zone. In the past hour, she’d tolerated a sloppy drunk, two guys who’d spent their whole conversation tag-teaming stares at her breasts, another one who’d needed to make friends with a toothbrush, and one guy who’d just plain given her the creeps. This was a total disaster. Dare or not, she was done.
She moved her leg out of range and glared at the guy standing next to her. “Touch me again, and you’ll draw back nubs for fingers.”
Ethan stood at the bar and watched the exchange with amused interest. The guy must have figured out by now that he was destined to go down in flames just like the other five ahead of him. That is, unless she preferred the type of guy who was addicted to hair gel and orange tans.
Turning to get a better view, he leaned his elbow against the bar and continued to enjoy his beer along with the pro le of the woman dressed in a peach halter dress that enhanced her light golden-brown skin. A light ocean breeze played in her dark curly hair, providing glimpses of her slim cheekbones, full lips, and the promise of it all fitting together beautifully.
She crossed her shapely legs, and his gaze moved from the strappy stiletto heels on her feet to where the hem of her dress ended at mid-thigh. The woman’s slow, unconscious movement of flipping her hair over her bare shoulder brought his attention back up to the curves of her breasts. When she raised her wineglass, his gaze followed it all the way up to her plum-colored lips.
No wonder every guy in the bar had his eye on her. The way she carried herself made a man want to nd out more about her scent, her touch, the softness of her skin, and what she preferred to wear next to it—silk, lace, satin, or maybe nothing at all.
His money was on lace.
Ethan’s cock stirred in interest, and he adjusted his stance. Maybe he would reconsider calling it an early night.
A familiar laugh rose from the middle of the lounge, and he looked over at his friend, Mitch, standing at a table between a long-haired platinum blonde and a wavy-haired brunette. The blonde laughed and ran her fingers over his shaved head while the brunette on the other side rested her ample cleavage on his arm.
Ethan breathed out a chuckle.
He’d agreed to come to the bar to be Mitch’s wingman tonight, but the tipsy brunette making a grab for his crotch less than two minutes after they’d met wasn’t a part of the deal. At thirty-two, like most red-blooded males, he wasn’t averse to an invitation, but he appreciated sobriety and a small amount of subtlety. When the opportunity had come up, he’d volunteered to go to the bar and order more drinks but had sent them back with a server.
He returned his attention to the woman sitting across the deck.
Was she secretly getting off on busting the chops of every guy she turned down or did she really want to sit there alone tonight? He couldn’t stand the type who enjoyed verbally kicking a guy in the balls as a power trip, but if her thing was about not settling for less, especially considering the yahoos who’d shown up at her table, he understood. Lately, he’d grown tired of dragging ass to some tired bar, drinking the usual, and running the same usual tired lines that brought the usual to his bed.
Hell, not that he was ready to settle into a recliner or twirl around on a riding lawn mower anytime soon. He’d followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the army when he was eighteen. Nine of those twelve years he’d spent with Mitch in Special Forces, keeping pace and living to serve his country. Making the transition two years ago from full- time soldier to civilian security specialist suited him, but with the long stretches of travel, that still meant no long- term relationships. At the most, he could give a woman a few weeks or a couple of months.
Ethan ran the scenario of spending time with someone like the mystery woman through his mind. She didn’t look like the constant club and party type, which meant they would probably stay in most of the time. That was ne with him. They could kick back and watch a game or a movie. He’d even cook. As an only child and a latchkey kid, his mom had made sure he’d known how to do more than just boil water. Partly because she refused to raise a lazy son, but she also wanted to make sure he knew how to take care of himself.
His thoughts drifted back to the memory of his mom working two jobs after losing his dad. She’d focused all her time and energy on raising him. Joining the army right after high school was his gift to her so she could have more time for herself. Of course, she was proud of him, but she also worried. He hated that part. Guilt had almost burned a hole in his gut, but it lessened somewhat after she’d remarried. If something happened to him, she wouldn’t be left alone.
Personally, he could never put the woman he swore to love for the rest of his life through the grief of losing him. Life was hard enough without having someone leave you to live through that kind of pain, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy himself or be a little more discerning about his short-term prospects.
Ethan took a slow pull from his beer and glanced over at Mitch. Maybe he should make a play for the blonde and leave his buddy with Boozehound Betty. He brought up a visual of that plan in his mind, but the only image that made him hard was of a certain ebony-haired woman, lying naked and tangled in his sheets.
As he took another drink from his beer, he surreptitiously scanned the area, noting the location and disposition of every man in the lounge. If her plans really were to enjoy a quiet drink, she was going to end up greatly disappointed. The sharks were circling and ready to move in as soon as the current guy cut his losses.
Suddenly, the woman quickly swiveled her chair around, and her knee bumped into the guy’s crotch. She stood up and a string of angry words passed between the two of them. Ethan put his beer down and stopped leaning against the bar. The guy’s expression morphed into ugly, and it didn’t take a lip-reader to interpret the man’s spat-out response. Her back visibly stiffened. Ethan cut through the crowd.
If two guys were going at it for some stupid reason, he’d mind his own business, but some dickhead giving a woman shit over a rejection was a whole different story. Once he reached her table, he took a balanced opened-legged stance, ready for anything, including having misread the situation. Then he did what naturally came to him having been trained to face unknown odds with undeterred determination.
“Sorry, sweetheart. I didn’t mean to keep you waiting. I got held up by a phone call.”
Two sets of eyes turned in his direction; one dark and obviously pissed off, the other a deep hazel-chestnut with the longest lashes he’d ever seen. He sucked in a breath. The earlier promise of beauty did not disappoint.
Just then, the DJ cued up a spicy Latin number, and the couples around them headed for the small dance floor on the other side of the deck.
She offered him her hand. “I believe that’s our song.”
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