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A Fleeting Bad Mistake
This is the worst New Year’s Eve party ever, Riley thought to herself as she stared over her long stemmed martini glass at the drunk and garish party crowd assembled at the Holiday Inn. She disliked office parties in general and absolutely loathed social events where she hardly knew anyone. This party had both those things going for it. If it wasn’t for her Department Head, Victoria Harrison, personally inviting her (making her attendance all but mandatory) she’d be at home, cozy on the couch in her slippers and plaid flannel PJs watching on-demand chick flicks with her sister. Instead she was here, listening to this medical school professional crowd of eclectic, obnoxious tenured professors, doctors, and post-docs all competing to be the most published, most successful, and/or most brilliant person in the room.
Most drunk or most obnoxious is more like it. Riley swallowed the last pungent bit of liquor from the bottom of her glass.
To make matters worse, Dr. Harrison was a no-show. Riley overheard some vague conversation at the bar about an emergency at the research lab. The only positive thing about tonight was the open bar, something that distinguished a faculty-only event from other Wearner University (WU) functions. Although far from a premium drink, the second house martini had tasted pretty good, not to mention the third. Riley couldn’t remember the last time she’d drunk more than a single glass of wine. She was determined to make an escape soon before she lost all ability to drive. The idea of being the only single female at the party was becoming an undeniable reality. She had no intention of experiencing the awkward New Year’s Eve countdown to The Kiss. Riley already knew what would happen if she stayed. She’d either hide in a corner and attempt to go unnoticed until the kissing was over, or fight off pathetic sympathy kisses from a good half dozen drunk, old and overweight doctors in the immediate vicinity. Neither option was tolerable.
“Can I get you another drink, ma’am?” asked the roaming waiter.
“No…no, thank you,” Riley replied, flashing her best fake smile, while tossing her long brown hair over a shoulder. “I’m going home.” She handed him her empty glass and made an abrupt turn to go. Her back stiffened slightly as she headed for the main entrance.
Ma’am? Did he really just call me ma’am? she asked herself. Doesn’t a woman need to be in her fifties to be called ma’am?’ Riley had only one foot into her forties. She was often mistaken for a woman in her early thirties by nearly everyone. How could she possibly be mistaken for someone deserving the title Ma’am?
She decided it must be this small provincial town. That waiter couldn’t possibly have been over twenty. He was barely old enough to drink himself. Her temper continued to steam as she navigated through the thicket of stuffy overdressed bodies.
She should have stayed home tonight. She knew the party was a mistake in the making. She’d had a sixth sense about it all day. When would she learn to listen to her intuition and allow herself to actually follow it? Instead her life was like a broken record, inevitably reciting the same bad decision and stupid mistakes.
Riley Parker was usually an outgoing self-sufficient woman. She had worked hard all her life to obtain what little she had, and her accomplishments were her own. She’d received little help or support from others over the years. Despite the lack of support, she hadn’t let life beat her down, get the best of her, or suck her dry of a great sense of humor—a humor which in part was responsible for the flirty red dress she was wearing tonight. Her sister had insisted she borrow it. Since her boxes from San Antonio had yet to arrive in the small town of Franklin, Massachusetts, she had limited choices. It was either her sister’s hand-me-down dress, the one business suit she’d worn to work three days in a row, or her favorite gray sweatpants set with fuzzy slippers. Oh, how she longed to be back at her sister’s apartment in those cozy warm sweatpants and slippers right now.
Riley turned the corner and emerged from the congested ballroom, finally squeezing out of the packed crowd and into the hotel lobby. The front entrance to the hotel was straight ahead and she wasted no time making an exit. Her stomach did a turn, however, as she reached the glass door and realized there was more than one obstacle still standing between her and her slippers.
Why, why, why hadn’t she parked down the street tonight? After all, valet service was complimentary, not mandatory. She dreaded having to wait at the corner valet stand, a single in the midst of pairs. It wasn’t that she minded standing alone to wait for her car, she was used to that. She could easily ignore any sympathetic looks from the valet as she slipped off by herself, leaving the champagne and singing behind. She’d been alone for as long as she could remember and was perfectly comfortable with her situation. Most of the time she considered herself to be lucky in life. She never had a serious reason to change her position, and although there had been amusing and amicable men in her past, she’d never found the need or inspiration to do anything so drastic as to make an eternal, legal union with a man. In her own experience, the romance stories about soul mates and deep heart-pounding love were simple fiction. At least it had never existed in this world for Riley.
In her twenties her singleness had caused considerable contemplation and worry for Riley, but by her thirties she’d come to accept and even appreciate her single standing in life. She usually enjoyed wearing her status of self-dependency like a banner and source of pride.
But for some reason tonight she didn’t feel the usual self-empowerment that came with being out in the world solo. She wasn’t sure if it was the unfamiliarity of the town, the learning curve of a new job, or the borrowed dress that fit a little too snug around her breasts and made her feel self-conscious. Perhaps she was just nervous about tomorrow and how it was going to change her entire life for the better.
Was it really possible? That all her hopes and dreams for the future might come true in less than a day from now? Her heart did a jumpstart anytime she thought about it. Yet she felt a little cold and hollow inside tonight as she handed her ticket to the valet at the counter. She couldn’t admit the nagging hard truth that clung just at the edge of consciousness, not yet. But she could admit that tonight, if just for this one occasion, she wanted someone to celebrate with. She wanted someone to “christen,” if you would, this new and special year in her life.
Her location in this minuscule town spoke to the improbability of finding a hunky one-night-stand waiting around the corner. Heck, Franklin didn’t even have a real bar, and lord knows she hadn’t seen anything worth looking at in the hotel party crowd, married or single.
Itching inside with the strained excitement of wanting to do something crazy and wild, she resigned herself instead to a night of slippers and sisterhood awaiting her at home. She took her place in line next to the other party-poopers who were leaving early and waited for her loyal and well-ridden Toyota Camry to be brought around.
As luck would have it, she ended up standing in line next to an overly sexed couple making out like the end of the world was tomorrow. Riley tried to resist a quick double-take at the groping, but ended up staring with her mouth open for a long uncomfortable interval at the feverish couple. When the woman paused to breathe and pull her tongue out of her partner’s throat, Riley forced herself to break her gaze and turn away, causing her to stumble, thanks to those martinis, and bump into someone behind her. Looking up to apologize, she found herself staring into the darkest green eyes she’d ever seen. She was instantly trapped by his gaze, her peripheral vision barely making out the rest of their masculine owner. Surprised, she sucked in her breath and finally snapped her mouth shut before she swallowed a bug or something. Riley unconsciously stood up a little taller, tossed her hair back off her face, and flashed one of her best heart-breaking smiles, all without breaking gaze with those incredible eyes.
She was close enough to feel the warm huff of his breathy laugh. “It’s a little awkward standing next to them, isn’t it?” he quietly offered.
Riley thought a smile probably crossed his face, but she couldn’t manage to tear herself away from his eyes to confirm. His eyebrows rose in question, and she realized he was waiting for her to answer. She attempted to step back and pull herself together, but the crowd behind bumped her, causing her to rebound forward and into him instead. She managed to stay on her feet with a little hop and wobble, causing her generously exposed breasts to jiggle up and down in a failed attempt to escape her sister’s low-cut, too-tight dress.
Riley could feel her cheeks warm with self-awareness as his gaze inevitably strayed down her dress before politely returning to her face. He quickly shifted his hands out of his pockets, took a step back, and crossed his arms in front as if to keep warm.
Or to protect himself from flying breasts, Riley silently lamented. It was impossible to be disappointed, though, since the new position between them allowed her a full view of his features. He did not look cold, despite his arms being in that self-hug position; he looked pretty damn hot. He looked athletic, with a movie-star chiseled face; she guessed he was a runner or cross-country bike jock, based on his lean build.
She had just enough martini left in her body to allow the view of him to wander through her head. More than a few romance novel chapters came to mind as her eyes were finally sucked back up into those deep green pools. Her thoughts drifted to sex and she subconsciously looked over her shoulder to check on the make-out couple. They were still openly groping and appeared completely oblivious to the attention they were getting. She quickly turned back to her new muse unable to muffle a nervous giggle. Making direct eye contact and flashing her best sexy smirk she said, “You know, I’m not sure that’s legal to do in public.”
He peeked sideways over her shoulder at the couple and appeared genuinely surprised at the display. He then took her elbow with a gentleman’s air and guided her a few steps away from the couple and closer to the wall. Riley let out a long sigh, relieved to be a bit separated from the show and not at all unhappy with her new company. The valet was taking forever and the January chill paired with leftover alcohol was interfering with her ability to think of anything remotely witty to say to her new hot escort. She rubbed her arms to warm them up in the night air.
She’d left her coat in the car. Running late as usual, she didn’t think the coat necessary for just a fast dash from parking curb to hotel front door. Now that she was waiting outside for the valet, her mistake was obvious. Even though it was considered unseasonably warm for Massachusetts, with snow long overdue, the weather was certainly primed for it. She noticed for the first time her breath making cold puffs in the air, the same coming from her companion’s sexy lips as well.
They stood, silently looking at each other, in what was turning into an undeniable moment of awkward silence. Additional couples shuffled into the valet area, forcing Riley and her new sexy “line partner” to move to the opposite side of the valet podium to make room, positioning themselves a few feet removed from the crowd and a little sheltered from the January wind.
Riley finally remembered a brilliant pickup line, sure to gain a smile and begin a new conversation. She took a deep breath to gather courage. Perhaps she could even gain an invitation back inside for a drink at the small lobby bar with him? She caught his gaze and extended her hand, as if to make a formal introduction. She was ready with her funny tag line, but as their hands touched Riley felt a warm tingling radiate up her arm. She would have held onto his hand, but he quickly released hers and rubbed his palm discretely on his jacket as if it burned or something.
How strange, she thought to herself. But she tried again, tucking her hair behind her ear and leaning forward to deliver her sparkling brilliant pick-up line.
But as luck usually had it (all bad luck in her case), out of nowhere an elderly couple appeared just behind her. Mr. Green Eyes glanced up from Riley’s face to over her shoulder with a look of surprise. His face, transformed with obvious recognition of the couple and, ignoring Riley completely, he extended a friendly welcome to them.
“Well hello, you two!” he said, and then they launched into a conversation—excluding Riley.
Well…shit, Riley thought to herself as the older woman squeezed directly in front of her, giving her new muse a hug while simultaneously saying in a too loud voice,
“So this is where you’ve been hiding. Howard swore he saw you earlier.” She all but yelled at him. Unable to escape the new conversation, Mr. Green Eyes gave Riley a discrete but polite smile and extended an arm toward Howard, drawing him into the conversation and completing Riley’s exclusion from the group.
The only sexy man she’d seen all night, kidnapped right out from under her by a couple of old fogies.
Riley turned her back to the trio. She pretended to watch intently for her car, instead of obsessing on the old couple’s pointless conversation. They had confiscated her favorite pair of male eyes; they could at least make more of the moment than idle talk about the weather. The chill was back in the air and Riley was feeling pretty stupid for letting her imagination run wild over a complete stranger. With hurt pride, she stared intently down the half-circle hotel drive, willing the cars (or at least her car) to come sooner.
It was obvious sexy green eyes didn’t intend to introduce himself or even bother to get her name. Riley slowly etched out some distance between herself and the happy threesome, now engrossed in conversations about fake teeth and hearing aids. Annoyed and dissatisfied from her brief encounter, not to mention her frivolous, exaggerated, and sexually frustrated fantasy, she was now focused on simply bringing the miserable evening to an end.
Riley positioned herself closer to the front of the line. She could feel the winter wind whip around her legs. The sudden bitter breeze grabbed the layers of her dress and tossed them high into the air. Riley let out a shocked chirp of panic as she grabbed for her dress. She tried to keep the chiffon skirt down as best she could without looking ridiculous, but she was pretty sure she was failing. A heavy man in line next to her tried to look around politely as if not noticing her distress, but the sly smile playing at the corner of his lips betrayed the truth.
“Men!” Riley grumbled under her breath as she shoved the layers of feathery light material back down to keep her thighs covered. Feeling completely ridiculous she wondered, How did Marilyn Monroe manage this sort of thing and still look sexy? During her flailing she caught a glance at her sexy muse; he had spotted her precarious dance over the old woman’s shoulder and was trying, unsuccessfully, not to laugh at her.
“Want to die…want to die… want to die,” Riley chanted softly to herself. If this night got any better, she would need to go back into the hotel for another martini.
The valet line moved up by another couple, but it was difficult to judge progress in the crowd since the waiting group shifted closer to the wall and entrance to avoid the increasing wind. Several people even returned back into the hotel to take shelter. Riley spied Mr. Green Eyes still outside in line, the older couple nowhere in sight. He obviously noticed her, too, but he did not turn around to reengage. A loud joyous noise started from inside the hotel and Riley knew it must mean midnight had come. She stood perfectly still in the wind, trying not to acknowledge the celebrating and kissing taking place inside. Even the other couples outside were giving little kissy pecks and handshakes to each other. Both Riley and her muse stood there awkwardly with only four feet between them, looking out into the night and definitely not talking to each other. At least her dress was behaving itself again.
Just as she began to contemplate increasing the distance between them to relieve some of the tension, the sky lit up with an arresting display of lightning. A massive thunderclap followed directly afterwards. It was so loud it drew a gasp from the remaining crowd. The instantaneous gust of wind brought the freezing promise of icy rain against Riley’s lips. How could this night possibly get any worse? Riley watched the next set of headlights round the corner. The sudden storm let out a moan as the groping couple poured into their car for a fast escape. As if on cue with the sexed up couple’s departure, torrents of rainy sleet began to fall.
The storm completely enveloped the hotel in torrential panes of rain and ice, thunder and lightning in a matter of seconds. Riley looked up at the storm and felt her stomach pitch as if someone had hit her in the gut. There was no way she could drive home in this storm. She could feel the irrational panic begin to build. She knew it was stupid to be scared, but she couldn’t help it. She decided to return to the party until the storm passed, when someone tapped her on the arm.
“Aren’t you going to take your car?” the valet impatiently asked. Riley then realized he had been standing in front of her for a few minutes already, holding the keys out for her. She had been deaf with fear of the storm. She hated her stupid reaction to storms; it made her feel small and powerless. The feeling was so different from whom she usually was, but every time a rainstorm blew into her life she felt helpless. She just couldn’t face it, let alone drive in it.
“Yes I…I was,” Riley stammered to the valet, “but it’s raining now and…”
“Yes, well, it does rain in Massachusetts from time to time, but it’s hardly a hurricane,” the valet countered, more than slightly sarcastic. His scarf was whipping around his neck wildly, which only added to Riley’s irrational fears. His voice carried over the rain and Riley could feel herself flush as everyone in the crowd behind her turned to see what kind of idiot was standing in the rain arguing with a valet.
Riley’s eyes flashed with anger, she was in no mood to play paparazzi at the Holiday Inn with a loud mouth valet in front of an audience of geriatric drunks…in the pouring rain no less. What happened to plain common courtesy? She’d worked plenty of blue-color jobs, not necessarily in the pouring rain, but unpleasant enough in their own way. It was how she’d paid her way through college. Having to work hard was no excuse for rude behavior. If she didn’t want to drive in this storm it was none of his business. She owed no one an explanation, including this valet. Riley decided he’d just lost whatever tip she would have eventually considered.
Her lips thinned with anger. “I think I’ll just wait a bit until the rain lightens up. I don’t drive in storms,” Riley replied with an attempted air of authority in her voice. Her back straightened up a little and she could feel her damp hair flick over her shoulder as her chin rose with drunken confidence.
The frustrated valet’s eyes narrowed. It was obvious he was getting stiffed by a wet, drunk woman, who was basically falling out of her too tight dress. He slammed the keys roughly into her hand and turned to walk away. The keychain stung her cold palm and Riley cried out in surprise more than pain. Riley’s free hand impulsively snaked out and grabbed the valet by the back of his arm. She was still a little off balance due to the martinis and the adrenaline from the storm, but she managed to yank him around hard enough to look her in the face again.
Before she could say anything the valet accosted her. “Hey,” he rumbled at her in a deep and threatening tone, grabbing her hand still clutching his sleeve and throwing her off his arm. Then he grabbed both her wrists and pulled her closer to his chest. Riley was now more scared than drunk. Before thinking it through, she dropped her keys, freed her hand from his grip, pulled her arm back, and slapped the side of his face as hard as she could. His head rocked back slightly, probably more from surprise than from her less than forceful hit. A small smear of blood traced across his cheek. In her shock, she was unable to comprehend that it was from her own bloody palm and not from his face.
As the valet’s eyes leveled back onto Riley’s face, his features slowly turned red with anger and his pupils grew dark. A deafening thunderclap shook the valet stand and Riley jumped. She pulled away from him trying to free herself, but he still held tight to her one arm. She could feel her heart pounding and her legs began to shake, but she couldn’t tell if it was from anger or fear. The valet’s arm rose behind his shoulder, his hand forming a large concrete fist. His other hand moving further up to grab her forearm, squeezing so tight she felt her arm might break in half. Her brain panicked, she wanted to scream or yell for help, but everything was happening so fast. She could feel the muscles down her back twitch in anticipation and fear. She couldn’t pull away from him. His fist started to make its path to her face. She stiffened her shoulders and closed her eyes, preparing for the blow.
Suddenly, a tall man appeared next to her. He firmly grabbed the valet’s arm to stay his strike. The valet freed Riley’s arm with a loud grunt of surprise.
Released, Riley skidded and slipped backwards, as she tried to get as much distance from the valet as possible. But the sidewalk was wet from the icy rain and she fell onto the cold cobbled stones. Her palm, wet with blood, began to stain a pink wash over the rough surface. She looked up just in time to see her rescuer reach behind and cold cock the valet squarely in the face. A loud popping sound echoed down the drive. Riley visualized the cracking of bone at the sound. Her arm was seized and she was kindly pulled up and quickly maneuvered past several blurred bodies. She found herself directly in front of the hotel’s front door. A crowd was beginning to form in front of the valet stand. The valet was still lying on the ground, screaming in pain and grasping his bloody nose with both hands.
Her focus became sharp again as she looked up to recognize Mr. Green Eyes, her savior. His voice was calm and collected as he whispered in her ear, “I think we could use a drink while things calm down a bit out there.”
He guided her back inside the hotel toward the small corner bar that sat just behind the reception area and opposite the still rowdy ballroom party. He seemed so cool, as if nothing had happened. He gave her a quick wink as they settled into a quiet corner of the bar. “You didn’t want to drive until the rain stopped anyway, right?” he told her, as his near perfect smile sent a temporary wave of warmth over her wet skin.
Riley tried to smile back at him as they settled into a circular booth in the back of the bar, but the warm flush of his smile was giving away to the reality of her situation. She was shaking now, noticeably. The bottom of her dress was thoroughly soaked from the icy puddle she’d landed in; she was cold, dirty and scuffed up. In short, she was a wreck and so was this entire evening, with the one exception of her current company. Such a handsome smile, such a kind gesture, she started to warm up in more ways than one sitting in the bar next to him.
Eventually her shivering lessened and she was able to engage his eyes for a second, then feasted on his entire body. She was determined this time to at least get his name. Even in the dim light she could appreciate his strong features, thick dark hair, and of course those piercing green eyes. They shared a long and silent gaze sitting next to each other in the booth. Normally such a moment would be awkward. But between the two of them, it somehow seemed completely appropriate. Riley could feel a connection, some sort of unspeakable chemistry between herself and the man sitting less than a foot away. She started to lick her lips with increased interest and anticipated possibilities.
A waiter appeared over her shoulder, causing her muse to look up, breaking their eye contact and her suggestive train of thought. He looked at her, uncertain, but she shook her head with a shrug, inviting him to order for her.
“You choose,” she told him, brushing wet hair away from her face and leaning her head back against the booth. She vaguely heard him order two of something in a low voice as she closed her eyes. With him so close, she could smell his musky scent of sweat and expensive leather.
Just what a man is supposed to smell like, Riley thought to herself. A smile pressed against her lips. When she opened her eyes again, he was still there, staring back down at her with a gentle smile on his own charming face.
A few minutes later the waiter returned with two drinks. As he set them precisely on the small square paper napkins, Riley watched the waiter’s eye settle on her. His eyes were glued just below her face and just above table height. She suddenly realized that the front of her dress was not only soaked, but also completely awry and almost see-through. Her left breast was barely contained within the fabric. The pink edge of her nipple was visible from her own vantage point and she prayed hidden from the waiter. She quickly grabbed the front ruffles and shifted her body sideways, turning her shoulder to both men in an attempt to regain her modesty. Her companion noticed the waiter’s gaze as well and shifted closer to Riley. He threw the waiter a twenty-dollar bill and a “go to hell” look of steel. The waiter smirked and quickly moved away, leaving them alone and comparatively unruffled.
Riley was pleased to find he had ordered a shot of bourbon for them both. Most men would have ordered her a glass of wine or sweet style cocktail. She had to admit that this night called for something more substantial. Picking a fight with a 280-pound man in the middle of a rainstorm with her breasts flying about beckoned for something more than hyped up grape juice.
She looked up to see him holding up his suit jacket as an offering. Riley quickly accepted with a soft word of thanks, slipping into the sleeves and pulling the lapels together to both warm and cover her overexposed bust. She looked up into his gorgeous eyes and finally flashed him her very best smile.
“I hope this is okay?” he said, gesturing to the drinks.
Riley nodded. “It’s perfect, actually.” She could hear her voice still shake a little as she spoke, but he smiled back in return, pretending not to notice.
His eyes were dancing in the dim reflecting light of the room as he leaned in closer to say, “To be honest, I needed something a bit stiff after all that outside. I haven’t hit anyone since a second inning team skirmish, back in little league.”
Riley leaned in a little closer to him so she could whisper under the low bar music and background party noise, “I think you broke his nose.”
“There’s no way I hit him hard enough to break anything. I promise you,” he said with an embarrassed grin. He looked down at his slightly bruised hand and flexed his fingers. “My hand doesn’t even hurt too much.”
Riley’s stomach did a little flip as she watched the muscles of his arms ripple under the white linen shirt with each flex of his hand.
Oh my god this guy is really hot, Riley thought to herself; or perhaps it was a side effect of the bourbon? Half the men in a bar instantly become movie stars once you’ve had enough to drink. But bourbon never made her body tingle the way she was warming up to this guy. From the flush in her cheeks to the subtle tightness between her legs, she wasn’t sure what was going on, but she had to admit she liked the feeling.
Probably just a legitimate side effect of hypothermia, she told herself.
“That jacket looks better on you,” he said with a wink.
He had an easy way about himself that made Riley instantly comfortable and oblivious to his personal space. She subconsciously cuddled up closer to him in the booth. It was the type of comfort one experiences with a close friend they’d known for years, an instant unpretentious connection. The only difference was that Riley had never met this man before in her life. She smiled up into his eyes—she liked having any excuse to stare at him—and flirted back. “No, no…you…you look pretty good in it yourself.”
She took another large sip of her drink before continuing her lame pickup attempt. “Is it getting hot in this bar?” Riley wondered out loud.
They looked at each other and then laughed at her bad joke. When she reached for her drink, her long brown hair fell forward, shyly hiding part of her face from him.
“Hey, where’d you go?” he teased, pretending to catch a peek of her face around the fallen hair.
She reached up to brush a few strands away with the back of her hand.
“Oh My God, you’re bleeding,” he said with surprise and genuine concern in his voice.
Riley looked at her palm and recalled the damage from the key chain. Her cold glass of bourbon was streaked with blood from her hand. He gently took her wrist, turning her hand up into the light and examined the wound. He carefully cleaned it off with the damp cocktail napkin from underneath his bourbon glass. His attention caused only a brief tinge of pain but a lasting impression. Riley could feel the heat rising in her cheeks first, then she felt the flush travel down her throat and neck, warming her chest and breasts, which responded in a most perky manner.
She tried to assure him it was nothing, but she was suddenly having trouble speaking for some reason. “It’s not, uhhmmm…it’s really not…uhmm…”
He was so close and so intently focused on her. She could feel each of his fingers as he cradled the back of her hand, gently pressing his thumb into the cocktail napkin against her palm.
“It is not really that bad,” he said.
“Just a little blood and its clotting nicely.”
He looked up at her then and stared at her face far too long to pass as a casual glance. Then he shook his head and looked back down to her hand. “Clean it well when you get home, and keep it covered for a couple of days,” he said in a matter-of-fact manner. He had begun to wrap her hand with a handkerchief produced from his pants pocket. Riley couldn’t help herself; her eyes tracked down around his lean body to that back pocket he’d just reached into. She wanted to say something, to tease him about his medical proficiency, Boy Scout preparedness, or something. But every time he touched her hand, her breath would catch and she couldn’t trust her voice.
She could feel her hand begin to tremble as he wrapped it; at least she was pretty sure it was her hand and not his. They were both looking down so intently their heads were almost touching. Her long hair fell forward to curtain them. It was like they were in their own small world for a moment. The lapels of her jacket fell open away from her body, so no one could see what they were doing with their hands. She could smell his breath, crisp with a scent of bourbon. He smelled delicious to her.
The world around them seemed to melt, their quiet table forming an island in an isolated reality. All Riley could sense was the smell of his body and the touch of his hands. Her hand began to noticeably tremble more and she pulled it away slightly, bringing him closer to her. His hands fell down and away, his right hand absently brushing lightly against the damp fabric over her breast. They both froze for just a moment, eyes meeting, breath held. Then his thumb, lightly and deliberately moved across the crest of her breast. Riley sucked in air rich with him and rocked slightly in his direction. She felt dizzy in the heat pouring off of him; it warmed her damp skin, hammering into her in a way she could only describe as intoxicating. Her head rocked back a little, exposing her throat, as her breast arched more into his hand. Her nipple was becoming hard against his palm.
What is he waiting for? She could feel him take a shaky breath as his head raised to slowly follow her neck, his hair softly dusting past her throat and chin. As his eyes reached her mouth she could feel her own restraint melt away. His eyelids were half closed; his breathing was heavy and wet.
“I really…I…,” he tried to say.
Then he seemed to almost shake his head no, but the slight movement caused his lips to brush carelessly against hers. A deep low moan sounded from his core as he gave in finally and locked his mouth over hers. Their bodies pressed deeply into the soft back of the curved bench. His hands seemed to burn her everywhere they touched, and they were touching her everywhere. Riley couldn’t catch her breath, but refused to release his mouth, as she locked her arms around his strong torso. His right hand moved to her back and rubbed hard down to her ass. Thank God, the jacket and the table disguised the true extent of their embrace from the public. His knee pressed between her thighs and she gripped strongly with her legs. She wanted to feel more of him. She wanted to feel all of him.
She gasped and slid down onto the cushion of the booth. Her arms released in surrender on either side of her head, her hair spilling around her as if she lay in water. She was completely hidden behind the table now, her body draped across the bench. He hovered over her, catching his breath, each hand now gripping a breast as his thumbs slowly traced up and around the thin red fabric stretched snug against her warm skin. His eyes were half closed with desire as he looked at her, but she could still see their emerald color in the bar’s darkness. They seemed to burn through her, to touch her in a way nothing had before.
He moved away, slowly, while her body ached for more, her back arching to follow his hands as they pulled away. His hands moved out to grip her arms hard enough to hurt. She looked up to him questioningly.
“You are so beautiful”—he breathed heavily into the thick air between them—“and I’m so sorry; I can’t….” He pulled away from her then and stood up next to the booth. He took a deep breath and straightened his clothes before holding a hand out for Riley, to help pull her to her feet.
He escorted Riley outside to get her car. She wasn’t sure how she was supposed to feel. Part of her was hurt he had pulled away and rejected her, but a small part was almost relieved, as there was something about this man that almost frightened her. Being escorted out of the hotel to her car, instead of up to a romantic hotel room, definitely chaffed her pride.
How many ways could a person humiliate herself in one night?
As the post-storm breeze hit her knees, she snuggled into his coat one last time for warmth before surrendering it. She loved the smell of him on the finely cut jacket.
Whoever he was, he obviously had money or taste, or both. Or a wife, she tagged to the end.
The thought came unannounced and unwanted to her mind and she quickly looked down at his left hand to check. There it was!! A flat shiny gold wedding band. How had she missed that before? Her sharp intake of breath alerted him to her gaze on his hand.
He met her eyes straight-on when she looked up. “Like I said, I’m sorry that I can’t,” he told her as she shoved his jacket over to him.
She took one step backwards and that small movement seemed to break whatever spell had been cast over the night. The smells in the evening breeze seemed common and stale now and the light was harsh and unforgiving, no longer romantic. A world of space suddenly opened up between them and this beautiful man seemed as far away to her as San Antonio, the old hometown she’d moved away from three months ago.
The valet from before was nowhere to be seen now, and what looked like a manager was directing business. Riley was able to identify her car quickly.
As she stepped up to the driver’s side door, she looked over the car at him. Even from here she could still see his green eyes as they followed her every step. She realized she still didn’t have his name, but she couldn’t bear to ask for it now. She already felt about as cheap and rejected as a woman could feel. She wanted to call to him nonchalantly and say something charmingly fabulous to break the tension of the moment, so she could speed away feeling sexy and free. But she couldn’t think of anything to say that could make this less awkward. She had never been the charming and fabulous type of girl anyway.
She tried to flash him a smile that she didn’t feel and gave what most likely resembled the dorkiest of waves, as she climbed into her Camry.
“How many ways could a person humiliate themselves in one night?” she asked herself again. Then Riley began to count the ways, as she fought back tears of anger and humiliation on the slow drive home.
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