Authors: Janet Wellington
Tags: #romance novel
“Either I'm a great teacher, Lacey, or you don't need lessons,” Hank said, then pulled her even closer as they circled the dance floor.
The song ended abruptly with a
shout from the line dancers and Lacey pulled away from Hank to join in the applause, more than pleased with herself for having made it through without a stumble or a toe stomp.
She felt Hank’s hand on her elbow and he led her toward the front door, saying, “How 'bout some air? It's pretty nice outside.”
At the entrance Hank took her hand, drawing her outside onto the long front porch. He pointed and they made their way to an empty loveseat made of delicate, bent willow branches. She sat down, fanning herself with her hand, definitely feeling a little overheated from the dancing, or else it was a reaction to being in Hank’s arms.
Hank removed his cowboy hat and fanned her with it, offering his dimpled smile that definitely reached his eyes. “So, where have you been all my life, Lacey?”
She returned his irresistible smile with a genuine one of her own. “Thank you for asking me—I’d heard you were a good dancer.”
“Entirely my pleasure,” he said, leaning in closer.
Lacey's looked down at her hands, clasping them, afraid her fingers might tremble. She wasn’t feeling all that comfortable sitting so close, but she didn’t really want Hank to know she was nervous. And why did she feel nervous anyway…
goodness, it was only a dance.
She was being silly, just out of practice Kandy would probably say. This was normal behavior and she needed to just relax and go with it.
Hank put his hat back on his head, then reached for her hands and took them both in his and leaned in even closer. In an instant, he found her lips, giving her a quick, light kiss.
Lacey pulled away from him, surprised, then slipped her hands out of his grasp.
“And that was for your bravery in getting out on the dance floor in the first place.” He watched her, maybe waiting for her reaction. Well, she wouldn’t react. It was a simple kiss. That’s all. Nothing to get excited about, right?
“I'll go get us something tall and wet and we can cool down a little out here, okay?” Hank stood up before she could reply and walked along the porch back to the entrance.
With her lips still tingling from Hank's kiss, Lacey touched her fingertips to her mouth. Though she was a little taken aback, she again decided it had just been a friendly kiss. Nothing more.
She watched Hank as he walked away, thinking Kandy would definitely label his as a “cute butt.” Leaning back, she took a deep, nervous breath.
It had been a long time since she'd been kissed.
Dirk had never enjoyed kissing and she remembered how odd it had seemed at the time. When he'd proposed to her, they had embraced and kissed almost as lightly as Hank had just kissed her.
Lacey took another deep breath. Her stomach felt a little queasy and she couldn't seem to calm the butterflies. Closing her eyes, she took five measured breaths, instructing herself to relax and enjoy the moment. That was the point. It was time to rejoin the regular world, where people got together, got to know one another, and had a little fun.
Drinks in hand, she watched Hank amble down the porch toward her. She smiled and when he got closer, reached for one of the glasses.
“I thought you'd like a Tennessee Lemonade to help quench your thirst. My, you sure look pretty sittin' here waitin' for me.”
Lacey drew deeply from the straw and finished half the drink in one long series of swallows.
“Hey, watch it, little lady—that lemonade packs quite a kick.”
“What's in this?” Her brow furrowed at the conflicting reactions from the iced beverage that warmed her stomach at the same time it cooled her throat.
“Lemonade with a shot of Mr. Jack Daniels, just to keep it interestin',” he replied. His crooked grin told her he seemed amused at her reaction to the strong drink.
But, she reminded herself again, this was perfectly normal. Having a drink, sharing some conversation. What was she feeling all worried about? With that, she smiled and took another sip.
Onstage, Jared's jaw tightened and the mandibular joint muscle there began to twitch, which it always did when he was tense. He consciously separated his clenched teeth and forced a smile. Three more songs remained in the first set and he needed to pay some attention to chords and key changes.
When he’d watched Lacey dancing with Hank, the song had been one he could have played in his sleep. Good thing, because he’d barely been aware when the song had ended.
had been what he’d guessed was her first dance tonight. At least he had that.
Of course he’d noticed how Hank held her tightly—who wouldn’t?—carefully guiding her around the perimeter of the dance floor, skillfully avoiding the line dancers. Pretty much swept her off her feet, one could say.
Jared closed his eyes for an instant. He had no right even thinking about her. He was there to play a gig, nothing more. He should be oblivious to anyone—and everyone—in the club.
Then why am I acting like some young kid ready to fight for the girl?
What he didn't need—or want—was the angelic distraction of this woman, someone he knew nothing about. Besides, she was not the type of woman he needed in his and Jamie's life right now…even if he
looking. She was too young, for one thing, probably a good ten or fifteen years younger than him.
So, with practiced discipline, Jared expelled from his mind the lingering thoughts of how soft she’d felt in his arms. It wouldn't be so easy to forget the flowery scent of her perfume that subtly mixed with her own unique feminine scent. The pleasurable assault on his senses had imprinted her fragrance in his subconscious memory, he knew. He sighed and shook his head.
The first set finally came to an end with another line dance favorite. The band gave a hoot and Luke leaned into the mike declaring the need to “pause for the cause.” Guitars were quickly secured into their stands and the stage cleared as the recorded music was turned up for any die-hard dancers.
Jared lagged behind the others, carefully placing the borrowed bass in a stand near the back wall, then flipped off his amplifier. Guardedly, he observed the path of each band member toward the bar.
Then he eyed the front door. He certainly needed some fresh air, and it wouldn't hurt his feelings any if he ran into Hank and Lacey.
“So, tell me about yourself, pretty lady.”
Lacey held Hank's gaze, determined to continue the conversation. “Oh, not much to tell, really.” Though she suddenly found it difficult to take a deep breath, the alcohol in her drink helped give her at least the temporary feeling of assurance and fortitude. “I'm just ready to start having fun again, I guess. And the Rockin' Ranch came highly recommended.”
“Are you having fun yet?” Hank grinned, then moved a little closer, just enough to place his thigh against hers. “I think you and me could have a whole lot of fun together.” He clinked his glass against hers in a toast.
Sipping from the straw, Lacey said nothing for a moment.
She should at least be friendly, especially if she intended to ask him if he’d participate in the bachelor auction. “Perhaps we could,” she replied, and as soon as the words left her lips she wished she’d said something else.
“That's my girl.” Hank reached his hand up to smooth an errant strand of hair off her cheek.
Lacey closed her eyes at the touch of Hank's fingers on her cheek, then felt his fingers quickly find their way behind her ear, moving to the nape of her neck. Deep in her womanly depths she felt a tiny flicker of life, finding she welcomed the hint of an internal quiver as he pulled her closer, waiting a little anxiously for the feel of his lips on hers, knowing a kiss was coming.
It was his mustache that she felt first—stiff, long hairs tickling her mouth. She waited. When his lips touched hers, they were dry, and the stale aroma of cigarettes was there. Almost with a feeling of being outside her body and observing the action, she responded shyly to his kiss, so foreign, so new. Breathless, she pulled away when she felt his tongue flick against her lips.
Hank kept his hand on her neck for a moment, then let his fingers drop to her shoulder and then to the middle of her upper arm.
Lacey caught her breath as she thought she felt Hank's thumb linger on the side of her breast as he lowered his hand down her bare arm to take her hand in his. Her head was swimming and beginning to throb a little. She pulled back from him, trying to find cooler, cleaner air to breathe, then lifted one hand to rub her left temple as the throbbing escalated into a sharp jab of pain.
“Sorry. I guess that drink was a little too strong for me,” she said.
“Well, here, let me take care of the rest of that one.” He poured the remains of her drink into his own empty glass. “And, unfortunately, dear lady, I have to return to the door. The late crowd is about to arrive. Catch you later, pretty lady.” Hank grinned and made his way back to his stool at the entrance.
Jared stood in the shadows, feeling like a peeping Tom.
What am I doing?
The intensity of the emotion he'd felt as he'd watched Hank kiss Lacey was unanticipated. His mouth had filled with the sour taste of anger and he had fought an almost overwhelming urge to rip Hank's head off. It made no sense. He knew nothing about the woman. Other than the fact that he was having crazy feelings about her, there was no real reason he should be upset that she had danced with some guy, kissed some guy. But the guy was a snake, he rationalized. And, no matter what, she deserved more.
At least Hank was gone now. He'd watched as he'd returned to his post at the door, already flirting with a fresh batch of college girls dressed in short shorts.
You just stay there, buddy, and stay away from her.
Jared leaned against the rough wood wall, mystified, closing his eyes to try an erase the scene he’d witnessed. He'd never felt this protective about anyone but Jamie. His sweet, precious angel girl. His daughter meant everything to him, and he was not going to jeopardize their tranquility by getting involved with a woman, even one as lovely as this one. No, things were just fine the way they were.
When he opened his eyes again, the loveseat was empty and she was nowhere in sight.
Good. Now, just walk away from this.
Somehow, though, he knew it was going to be difficult. He felt frustrated at his lack of logic and his inappropriate action of spying on this beautiful stranger. And she was a stranger. He had no legitimate reason to even care about her.
Feeling a little flustered, Jared returned to the club. Inside, he got the attention of his favorite waitress and tipped an imaginary glass to his lips, his signal for a glass of ice water. They’d gotten to know each other a little more each time he’d played with the band.
Gloria gave him her usual thumbs up and was back from the bar in a couple of minutes with an extra large glass. “What's with you? You look like you just lost a hundred bucks on a bad bet.”
Jared rolled his eyes. “I'm fine, Gloria. Just a little cranky tonight, I guess.”
Gloria's expression revealed she didn't believe a word coming out of his mouth. “Well, if you need a listening ear, you know I'm here.” She handed him the glass and rested her tray on her hip, giving him a moment to reconsider.
The sound of a raucous high-pitched squeal made them both turn toward the bar. Luke was standing in the midst of a group of women, his arm around a young woman’s waist.
“Ah, Luke and his notorious jokes.” Gloria shook her head. “I hope he knows how serious that blond is about him. Kandy is in love, the silly thing.”
As Jared stared at the group, his gaze instantly fixed on his mystery woman, who stood nearby, on the fringe of the group of younger women. When she joined the others in the shared laughter, her long hair swung with each bob of her head. What did she do to make her hair so…so… What? Silky? Soft? Shimmery?
When he looked back at Gloria, he could tell by her raised eyebrow that she’d observed his stare. Might as well come clean. And besides, Gloria was a straight shooter. Maybe she knew something. Maybe something that would help him resist the unreasonable pull he felt just being in the same room with the woman.
“What do you know about the woman in the black skirt behind Kandy?”
“Gloria, just tell me.” He turned away from her raised eyebrow, now accompanied by a grin.
“Well, she's single if that's what you mean,” she teased.
Jared groaned. “Forget it. It's not important.”
“Now wait, Jared, don't get your underwear in a bundle.”
He put up his free hand, palm facing out in surrender.
“C'mon, Jared, tell me. What's up?”
“Oh, I don't know. I met her—outside, before we started playing. I'm just curious.”
“Okay. First of all, she happens to be my stylist.” Gloria patted her hair with one hand and tipped her head back in an exaggerated model pose. “Her name’s Lacey, and she works with Kandy. Actually she's Kandy's boss. And she's really nice.”