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Copyright © 2014 Kristin Daniels
A woman on a mission, that was Riley Watson.
She’d spent the last eight hours learning about cutting-edge treatments and diagnoses for tears to the meniscus of the knee. The first half of the day was informative and actually interesting, but the afternoon session had quickly become a rehashing of the morning program, thanks so much to stupid-question-guy. Every conference she’d ever been to had one and this time wasn’t the exception. By three o’clock, an annoying tic had developed in her eye. By four, an impatient itch inside her chest quickly morphed into an overwhelming desire to grab the guy by his tie and use it as a gag so he couldn’t talk anymore. And by five? Well, by then she’d been grinding her teeth so hard and for so long simply trying to stay put in her chair, she honestly wasn’t sure which aggravation would make her lose her mind first—the ache in her jaw or her beyond-worn-out patience.
As a physician’s assistant, she’d been sent to this conference by the director at the clinic where she worked. She’d learned a handful of new techniques, listened to countless spiels on up-and-coming drug therapies and typed out pages worth of notes on her iPad in the last three days. To say she was glad it was the last night of the conference seemed like a vast understatement. She’d never been so ready for a cocktail and some desperately needed down time in her life. And as she wormed her way through the hotel’s still-packed atrium and headed straight for her new favorite place—a dimly lit pub tucked away at the far end of the lobby—she honestly wasn’t looking for anything more than an opportunity to unwind.
Even so, a flutter raced through her stomach when the bartender—the one she secretly hoped would be here tonight—greeted her with a double-take the instant she walked in.
“Well, well,” he said with a smile before he tilted his head seductively to the side. “Isn’t this a treat. I didn’t think I’d get to see you again. Most everyone else I talked to said they were cutting out early to spend a little time on the beach before they had to leave.”
Wasn’t it funny how a simple smile and just the right words could alter a person’s perspective? In the span of a finger snap, her thoughts sparked with a few naughty ideas and she went from wanting this night to be over to wondering where it might actually end up.
“Not me.” As she hopped onto the barstool, she hooked her purse and the convention bag onto the back and swung her legs around to face front. “Being the trooper I am, I decided to stick the workshops out until the end. Fun in the sun comes after,” she said.
“I’d have to say it’s my lucky day, then.”
Her cheeks warmed at the flattery and she prayed the sultry mood lighting inside the pub would hide their pinkness. She didn’t usually blush this easily. That she reacted with such an evident display spoke to how effortlessly this guy drew her in—even if she didn’t know his name or anything else about him. She bit back the urge to fan herself with her fingers and instead propped her elbows on the edge of the bar and began massaging circles into her jaw, feeling not quite edgy, but hmm…restless, maybe.
That was when he sauntered through the door. Garrett W., his name tag read. She knew that not because she could read it from across the room now, but because she’d been staring at this particular hunk of man along with the masculine handwritten script on his name tag for a good portion of today’s never-ending workshops.
Talk about your lucky days…
Mr. Bartender slipped a napkin across the bar in front of her just as Garrett claimed the stool kitty-corner from her. He sat close but not too close. Stopping mid-massage, she instead folded her arms and crossed her legs with a teasing, slow-motion sensuality, determined to play the entire situation utterly cool.
Garrett, a hot-shot drug company rep, had shown up for today’s meeting to tout his corporation’s latest and greatest anti-inflammatory injections. She’d meant to meander her way over to chat with him during one of their breaks, but she hadn’t wanted to interrupt the quiet conversation she spotted him having with the petite blonde from a St. Louis treatment center right before the afternoon session. They’d been sitting together earlier in the day and it was quite apparent that the magnetic Mr. Garrett W. admired the tight pink sweater Ms. St. Louis filled out. His obvious appreciation made Riley do a mental rummage through her closet at home, wondering if she owned anything similar that might catch his eye in the same way.
Lord, she wished she could pinpoint exactly what it was about this man that got to her. It was something more than his powerful charisma, even more than his enticing good looks. She loved his dominating presence just as much as she loved his dark, wavy hair and his equally dark, piercing eyes. And his smile. Good God, his smile. Simply breathtaking.
And okay, in all fairness she’d admit that maybe a quick cocktail wasn’t exactly what she really needed right now.
“What can I get for you?” the bartender asked her.
She threw him a charming smile, but the show wasn’t so much for him as it was for the sexy man to her left. She could feel Garrett watching her and her entire body buzzed at the thrill. “In celebration of this exhausting convention finally being over, I’m thinking I should try something different. Something fun. Any suggestions?”
Mr. Bartender was hot in a Chippendales kind of way, and he knew it too, if the way he licked his lips while giving her the once-over was any indication. Then again, maybe it was his blond, beach-bum good looks or the form-fitting black shirt with the white bow tie and matching cuff links that reminded her of the gorgeous dancers. Or the way he entranced her with just a single glance when she stopped in for a cup of coffee after lunch like she did today or for a quick glass of wine before a group of them headed out to dinner. They’d not really spoken other than some innuendo-laced chitchat when she had placed an order, but oddly enough, she’d grown accustomed to seeing him here.
He met her smile with a provocative one of his own and she nearly melted in her seat. “I make a killer chocolate martini. Or maybe you’d like something more tropical? Like a little Sex on the Beach?”
The offer really could’ve been for the actual drink, but the fact they were cozied up in a convention resort’s bar in Destin, Florida, along with the way he leaned in and lowered his eyelids as he oozed the suggestion had her seriously doubting that. She waggled her finger and chuckled. “Sand gets in too many hard-to-reach places. Besides…”
“Evan,” he offered when she paused. “Evan Tucker.”
“Evan Tucker.” She smiled gently. “Well Evan, I’m much more of a chocoholic. That martini sounds like it’d be right up my alley.”
He straightened, and this time when he smiled, he tossed a wink in too. “Ah, you don’t know what you’re missing out on. But just in case you’re wondering—” He stopped to peek at her name tag. Heat sizzled over her breasts when his gaze lingered a bit as he did so. “Riley. The offer stands. I’ll be here for at least another half-hour.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she replied with a wispy exhale and a wink of her own even as she slid her gaze toward Garrett, who simply shook his head and laughed. “Did I say something funny?” That she failed miserably at masking her grin as she asked the question wasn’t too much of a surprise.
Garrett ran a hand through his hair and she melted all over again. The strands looked so thick. Silky. Really soft.
“Nope, not a thing. I just enjoy being right every now and then.”
“You. I had you pegged for a flirt since I first laid eyes on you.”
A flirt, huh? She supposed she was one since she learned to love the excitement a little sexual banter created between a man and a woman. The same sexual banter she wanted to get into with these two men.
She shrugged a moment later, just as her chocolate-swirled martini was placed in front of her. “I’ve discovered that a little harmless flirting is good for the soul.”
“Amen to that,” Evan muttered in her direction as he moved on to Garrett. “And for you, sir?”
Garrett never broke his stare with her. The rush his attention created made her very aware of her suddenly over-active heart rate.
“I’ll have a martini as well. But make mine top shelf and dirty. Up, with three olives.”
Evan nodded. “You got it.”
She lifted one eyebrow. “Dirty?”
arrett blessed her with another heart-melting look. “Yeah, it’s the way I like most things in my life lately. A little dirty. Somewhat rough around the edges. You know, not so typical.”
She could certainly understand that. Life was short and there was only one ride on the merry-go-round, so why not enjoy what you got into for as long as you were able? “Spoken like a man who goes after what he wants.”
“I’ve been known to.”
“I’ll just bet,” she quipped, and then sipped on her drink. The decadent concoction slid down her throat and warmed a sugar-coated path straight to her stomach. Oh, this could be dangerous. Too dangerous. Just one and she’d be infringing on her keep-her-wits-about-her limit.
“What a day, huh?”
She set the martini back onto the bar, licked away a bead of chocolate and looked up to find two sets of eyes ogling her. Well, ogling her lips, really.
It was Garrett who asked her the question, but the way he focused on her mouth and then trailed his gaze lower to her neckline told her he couldn’t care less about her answer. Feeling a tad powerful, hell, maybe even a little mischievous, she sat straighter and casually arched her back to thrust her assets forward. Hey, she could certainly play the game, too.
“It’s been interesting, to say the least.”
When the two men glanced at each other and shared one of those holy hell looks, she bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. Things hadn’t always been this way for her and she had to admit she loved the jolt enjoying a little appreciation from the opposite sex gave her.
So far, her thirties had been pretty good to her. She finally felt comfortable in her skin—confident and sure of who she was—which led to new opportunities and even more open doors. There was something to be said for figuring out the person she truly was on the inside and knowing that person well enough to be honest about what she wanted.
Or in her case tonight, who she wanted.
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