Authors: Clarice Wynter
See you at 7.
That seemed too bland. She erased it before sending and tried,
7 is perfect
, then thought better of that and went with,
Pick me up at my place at 6:45?
followed by her address. Her hands shook a little as she typed the final characters and hit Send, and that bothered her. She didn’t want to fall head over heels for Taylor Croft. Sure, he was handsome, smart, successful, and talented. His list of positive attributes went on and on, but she wasn’t looking for Mr. Right. After her last long-term relationship ended, she’d decided to just have fun for a while and not get too serious, because who needed a broken heart? Joining the band had seemed like a great way to meet new people and keep herself from falling into the full time dating trap. The last thing she wanted was to be mired in a complicated relationship that reminded her she wasn’t the settling down type. She’d been down that road with Kyle, her last flame, and it hadn’t ended well.
Taylor was her type in every way, and she had no doubt they could have a lot of fun together, but the one thing she was certain about was that she wasn’t looking for a life-long commitment.
So why the hell was she so nervous?
* * * *
“I haven’t been in here since they redecorated the place,” Dani said when Taylor escorted her into the main dining room of Taverna Fiora. The catering hall and restaurant, now expertly managed by his friend Grant Addison, was known for gourmet Greek and Italian food and for being one of the more romantic spots in town.
He’d hoped, when he made the reservations, that Dani would take the gesture to mean he wanted to start a relationship off on the right foot.
“It’s a lot more…elegant,” he said, helping her off with her coat at the check-in counter. He wanted to say “intimate,” but the word just didn’t feel right. “People used to say it was a bit gaudy, with all the gold leaf. The new look is more sophisticated.”
She nodded and twirled around to get the full view of the expansive lobby. The flowing skirt of her deep red dress floated around her legs as she turned. Her jeweled earrings and bracelets sparkled, making her look like a dancing flame. “Sophisticated is the right word. And it smells divine. I didn’t realize how hungry I was until I walked in.”
A uniformed waiter led them to their table, and Taylor pulled out Dani’s chair for her. It all seemed surreal. He hadn’t been on a first date in twelve years. He might as well have been sixteen again, considering how awkward he felt.
A small voice in his brain told him to relax, since this was the woman who had blatantly invited him to bed last night, but his more practical self reminded him there was no such thing as a sure thing, and it would be disrespectful to treat this gorgeous, intelligent woman like there was. She’d said the pace was his to set, and regardless of what Tanner had said, it was Taylor’s style to take things slow. No matter how it all turned out, he didn’t want Dani regretting that she’d chosen him.
“I have to admit, I was surprised to hear from you,” she said once the waiter had left with their drink order. “I figured last night you probably thought I was insane.”
“I thought you were certifiable,” he deadpanned.
Fortunately, she laughed. “Good. Then we’re on the same page. I do want to apologize—”
“No, I should be the one apologizing. I acted like a boob. My only excuse
—and my brother told me I should tell you this—is that I’ve been living in a cave for ten years, and I have no idea how the world works. You were kind enough to be honest with me, so I’m going to do the same. I like you, and I would love to do anything you want to do, but honestly I’m out of practice as far as dating goes, or anything resembling social behavior that doesn’t involve talking to you about your pet’s health. If you can forgive me in advance for any more stupid, insensitive, or clueless things I say or do, I would appreciate the opportunity to spend time with you.”
Dani was silent for a moment
, then she picked up her water glass and raised it in a toast. “Apology accepted. Here’s to new social behaviors.”
Taylor lifted his glass and clinked it against hers. “Here’s to us.”
* * * *
Dani leaned forward, her lips pressed together in a soft pout. She glanced down, checking the depth of her cleavage before re-applying her cherry-pink lip gloss in the mirror. The lighting in Taverna Fiora’s ladies room flattered her complexion and gave her hair a sassy, coppery tint that boosted her confidence and reassured her the night was going well.
Not that she needed much of a boost. Taylor had been a dream date so far. He was funny, flirty and so sexy she’d had to stop herself several times from suggesting they skip dessert and go right to her place for something sweet.
Maybe bad lighting would have helped her behave.
After a few deep, calming breaths, she turned away from the mirror, promising herself she would be a good girl for the rest of the evening.
“You’re a very lucky lady,” the brunette who’d just entered the ladies’ lounge said as she stepped up to the vanity and took a compact out of her purse.
The woman looked familiar, but Dani couldn’t quite place her. “Oh?”
“You’re with Taylor Croft, right?”
Dani raised a brow. “Yes. Do you know him?”
The woman offered a hand. “Sorry. You must think I’m crazy. I’m Bailey Cole. I’m friends with Evie Prentice. She’s Taylor’s brother’s girlfriend.
It took a second for Dani to follow the convoluted connection. “Oh, okay. I haven’t met Tanner yet. Nice to meet you, Bailey.”
“The two of them look exactly alike. It’s uncanny…well, they’re identical twins, so I guess uncanny isn’t the right word…”
Dani laughed. Two Taylors would be a sight to see. “If you’re friends with Taylor, you should stop by our table and say hello.”
“I will, thank you. I saw you two earlier, but I didn’t want to interrupt. It looks like a first date.”
Cheeks heating, Dani nodded. Was it that obvious? Could even near perfect strangers see how nervous she was tonight? “Yes, but we’ve been friends for a while. We sing together in a band—”
“Love Notes. You guys are great. My boyfriend Matt and I caught you last weekend. He used to bartend at Colette’s, so we stop in a lot.” Bailey leaned closer and lowered her voice. “I’m so glad to see Taylor dating someone. He deserves to be happy.”
Intrigued, Dani raised a brow
, hoping to prompt Bailey to say more. She didn’t want to ask outright what Bailey meant, but she didn’t want to discourage her from talking either. Fortunately her restroom conspirator took the cue.
“Taylor’s what I call ‘the marrying kind.’ He’s a catch…very grounded and stable. He’s one of those really rare, nice normal guys. He’ll make someone a great husband one day.”
Dani’s throat tightened a little, but she managed to croak out a question without sounding like someone had a noose around her neck. “So…he’s looking for a wife?”
Bailey shrugged. “Maybe not looking, but I hope he finds one. I know he really wants to settle down, and he’s the right kind of guy to settle down with. Like I said, you’re very lucky.”
Glancing at her watch, she gasped. “Ooh, Matt probably thinks I fell in. I’d better get back. We’ll stop by your table before we go. It was nice meeting you…um…I’m sorry, I didn’t even ask your name.”
“Dani, great to meet you.” Bailey hurried out of the lounge, leaving Dani staring once again at her round-eyed reflection in the mirror. A man who wanted…or needed a wife was exactly the kind of man Dani didn’t want or need. Was this the universe telling her to ignore her desires and leave Taylor as she found him? It had been her experience that the universe tended to know what it was talking about.
On that note, she decided. Nothing naughty was going to happen tonight because the universe had spoken.
I promised myself I was going to be a good girl tonight
. Dani’s stern reminder to herself played in her head as she and Taylor meandered hand-in-hand down the cobblestone path that led to the front door of her condo. The warm glow of the porch light she’d left on reminded her of candlelight, and despite the snow flurries that had fallen periodically throughout the day, the night now seemed unseasonably warm.
Absently, she pulled open the collar of her coat. Four more steps and they’d be at her front door where their date was supposed to end at a respectable
hour for two people who had just decided to take their relationship slowly.
What’s the rush, anyway?
she asked herself. She needed time to be certain everything Bailey had told her in the ladies’ room was true.
She pushed her coat open and fanned her heated cheeks with her free hand.
God, it was really hot for November.
Taylor’s grip on her fingers tightened.
“Hmmm? Oh, fine. Where’s a nor’easter when you need one? I guess the media is right about global warming.”
Taylor stopped, his hand slipping away from hers. He turned to face her, his expression so earnest that her heart dropped from where it had nestled at the base of her throat to the deepest pit of her stomach.
“I don’t think it’s global warming. I think it’s the wine.”
His sexy half-smile completely unnerved her and made her forget all the promises she’d made to herself about how the night was going to go. Was that thumping sound she heard her heart beating wildly or her knees knocking together?
“Yes. That’s it. I had a little too much wine.”
Oh, no. Don’t tell him that.
Don’t let him think you’re too drunk to control your baser urges!
“I’m really not,” she added in response to her own unvoiced internal dialogue.
Oh, God. I want him so bad that I’m babbling.
“I’m not…entirely convinced global warming isn’t to blame. I mean, I remember years ago there was always snow on ground this time of— What?”
His soft laughter interrupted the beginning of what might have, if left unchecked, become an embarrassing environmental tirade. “You’re nervous.”
“I am not.”
“Yes, you are. And I think it’s adorable. I mean, look at you.” He put his hands on the lapels of her coat, grasping the open collar lightly. If skin had touched skin she would have melted at that moment.
“When you first walked into Love Notes for your audition, I thought you had to be the coolest hot chick I ever saw, and here you are nervous on a first date.”
She wanted to deny it, but what good would it do? She was ready to jump out of her skin or at least out of her clothes for this man. If he didn’t get away from here fast, she was going to eat him alive. “I don’t want to screw this up.”
He dropped his gaze. Was he being shy, or was he checking out her cleavage? She hoped it was the latter. “I don’t think there’s anything you could do to screw this up, aside from morphing into a giant spider or something…and even then…I’d be willing to try to work around it.”
“Shut up and kiss me, please.” There.
The coolest hot chick around just asks for what she wants and gets it.
One kiss, then she’d toss him to the curb and make him wait to get his next dose of sugar…except that he had her in his arms before she completed her next breath.
His mouth covered hers, possessive but sweet, demanding but gentle. She tasted a hint of the wine and a bit of mint. His scent enveloped her, warm and rich with a hint of coffee and musk, and while his tongue laved hers, she clung to him, weak-kneed with desire for this one kiss to go so much farther.
He bent her backward at the waist, cradling her upper body in his arms just the way all the best movie heroes did it. And when he broke the kiss and gazed down at her, that devastating grin tilting his lips, she was lost. None of this “good girl” stuff was going to work.
She arched a brow, ignored the thundering of her heart and every instinct that had cautioned her to take this courtship slow
, and breathed a sensual whisper close to his mouth. “I need you to take me to bed. Right now.”
* * * *
Taylor had put everything he had into that kiss, more to prove to himself than to Dani that he wasn’t as rusty as he thought when it came to making all the right moves. Apparently he’d done even better than expected.
Her breathless command left him momentarily speechless. A good kiss was one thing, like riding a bike
. With all the necessary working parts in the right place, the skill came back easily, but sex required a sustained finesse, and he was definitely out of practice.
He shrugged. He
on a roll after all, and with this firebrand in his arms, he had no doubt he’d be able to get it right. What man could refuse her? Those amber eyes and waves of coppery hair, milky skin pinkened with desire, her lips parted, asking for him to take her…
The journey from her front walkway to her bedroom passed in a sensual blur. Taylor let her lead him into her dimly lit condo and up the stairs to her bedroom.