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Authors: Tina Donahue

The Yearning

BOOK: The Yearning
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Dedication

To the wonderful members of The Romance Room, especially my co-hostess & writing buddy, Sarah McNeal, author extraordinaire. Lady, you make writing wicked fun.

Chapter One

You will want as I want. You will know insatiable lust, but no peace.

—Desiree Zazou

Despite the danger, unending desire drove Jasmine Dante through the Blue Bliss Club, a hangout for locals in Key West. Slow-dancing couples clung to each other in the intimate atmosphere. Turquoise lighting gave the place a dreamy underwater feel, while tiny azure bulbs sparkled like Christmas decorations on the palms flanking the bar.

A man Jasmine had just noticed sat on the last stool. No more than mid-thirties, he wore his long, black hair tied back. Sharp, masculine features, dark eyes and a coppery complexion revealed his Native American heritage. Unlike many of the other men, he didn’t wear the ubiquitous flowered shirt, shorts and flip-flops. Black mocs hugged his large feet. Jeans and a T-shirt the color of midnight clothed his lean, muscular frame. Beneath his right sleeve, she spotted a bold tattoo of what looked to be an eagle.

She pictured her mouth on the strong design, her tongue roaming his slightly salty flesh, her fingers travelling over his hard abdominal muscles and beneath his jeans’ waistband, seeking the thick, fragrant curls below. Unendurable yearning sliced through her, quickening her heart. She moved closer.

His attention didn’t stray from tonight’s band, a new group named Engaged. Their R&B throbbed soulfully, evoking the seductive richness of Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson and Toni Braxton. The lead singer, a slight young woman with heartache in her eyes, seemed to perform solely for him.

Were they together? Was he waiting for her set to end? Panic flared, pushing Jasmine to do something. What? her mind cried. Fight another woman over a man she didn’t know? Months ago, she would have found the notion ludicrous and daunting. Since crossing paths with Desiree Zazou, everything paled beneath Jasmine’s consuming lust.

The woman’s mocking voice echoed in her mind: “You will want as I want.”

A bead of sweat slithered from Jasmine’s temple to her cheek, intensifying the fragile, dewy scent she wore. Her steps slowed as she regarded the singer.

The girl dipped her head in a gesture of farewell to the man, then sang with equal passion to another guy who leaned against the satiny blue wall.

She’s playing to her audience, Jasmine thought, it’s a part of her act. She probably doesn’t even know him. Though relieved, she remained shaky inside and stopped at the end of the dance floor.

Someone bumped into her. She stepped aside and froze as a young redhead in a scarlet Band-Aid dress tottered toward the man, her gait unsteady from drugs or too many drinks. He noted her blurry smile and offered a guarded expression in return. Twisting her hair and holding it back with one hand, the redhead pressed close, her ample breasts snuggled into his sculpted biceps, her mouth to his ear. Whatever she said made his dark brows lift.

Heart pounding, Jasmine glanced over and captured the server’s wrist as the twenty-something girl—Sara, by her nametag—tried to move past. Jasmine kept her voice raised just enough so the music and singer wouldn’t drown her out. “See that man at the bar on the last stool?”

Server Sara put her voice at the same pitch. “You kidding? Me and about a dozen other women got him in our sights, including the one who’s with him now. You thinking about sending him a drink?”

“Whatever he’s having.” Afraid to use a credit card the police could trace back to her if anyone reported him missing, she took a twenty out of her evening bag.

The bill went into the front pocket of Sara’s cobalt blue apron. “What’s your name? So I can tell him.”

No. She couldn’t chance the girl putting any name to her face. “Have the bartender point me out. And keep the change. Please.”

“You got it.” With a savvy wink, Server Sara turned and wove through the crowd.

One of the bouncers, an older guy with a shaved head and goatee, watched the redhead as she clung to the man and continued to speak. Jasmine saw the building annoyance in the man’s twilight eyes. Before he had to do anything about it, a trio of giggling young women joined the redhead. All wore skimpy, skin-tight dresses in a rainbow of shades: bright yellow, grass green, purple as deep as a bruise. They tried to coax their friend back to the dance floor.

She flung out her hand to shoo them away. The bouncer stepped forward and said something the young woman didn’t like. Head whipped to the side, she gave him a frown. A tense moment passed during which the other girls convinced her to leave.

Jasmine feared the man would do the same, fed up with aggressive females. What would she do then? Follow him outside and pretend she wanted to know the time? Ask for directions to another bar, maybe one on touristy Duval Street? Invite him to join her? And if he didn’t, would she be able to find someone else to ease her ravenous yearning or would he stay in her blood the entire time, making her lust even worse?

Seconds crept by. The air hissed with uncertainty.

He settled back on his stool, absorbed by the smooth tenor sax and the songstress’s smoky vocals.

Jasmine remembered to breathe. Closing her eyes briefly, she wondered if he was a musician, given his interest in the band. He certainly seemed to be a gentleman, considering his restraint with the redhead. However, this was a public place. What would he do when he thought they were alone? Travis, the last man she chose, would have harmed her, if not for her sisters’ intervention.

Recalling that night, her insides rolled, though it didn’t stop her. She watched the female bartender accept her twenty. To the left, Jasmine’s younger sisters, Violet and Lily, sat at a corner table, their apprehension palpable. When she made eye contact with Lily, her youngest sibling rose to join her. Violet grabbed Lily’s arm, a reminder to sit. Worried they might argue and ruin everything, Jasmine shook her head, warning them not to be obvious. To the casual observer and especially to the man, they shouldn’t appear to know each other. Thankfully, they didn’t look like sisters. Violet, with her light brown hair, hazel eyes and pale complexion, resembled their late mom. So did Lily, even though she’d dyed her brown hair platinum and wore it in a close-cropped boyish style. Jasmine, on the other hand, had her late dad’s olive coloring, dark brown hair and blue-green eyes.

Violet inclined her head toward the man. Jasmine looked. The bartender had already slid a bottle of Dos Equis to him. They exchanged comments, and then the woman lifted a slender forefinger and pointed to Jasmine.

He turned.

Heat surged to Jasmine’s cheeks. Crushing need prevented her from taking a full breath.

In his hooded eyes, she saw fulfillment, no matter how fleeting…his confining weight trapping her, the ends of his untied hair skimming her bare shoulders, his mouth hard and ruthless. A virile male she wouldn’t have dared approach before Desiree changed her destiny, falsely accusing her of taking Connor Rolands, the man Desiree wanted.

Now, the curse drew Jasmine to this man as the road to Hell seduces a born sinner. She walked in time to the music’s sensual beats. Inwardly, a part of her cowered. For him and what would soon come, she offered a welcoming smile.

He returned it easily, his attention drifting to her black halter dress. Cut low on the top, with a short teasing skirt, it deliberately tantalized.

“Hi.” Her voice seemed throatier than she recalled, nothing at all like the woman she’d been. Leaning over so he could hear her above the band, she caught a hint of his clean, soapy scent. It derailed her thoughts. She fought her compulsion to cup his face in her hands and brush her lips over his. “Mind if I join you?”

His gaze lifted from her black high-heel slides. Unashamed interest charged his words. “I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.” He pushed to his feet.

She raised her face. Though tall like her father, her height was no match for his. He had to be six-three. Anticipation rippled in her belly. She made her voice playful. “In that case, I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.”

“I doubt you will.”

His soothing baritone held such wicked promise, her heart banged into her throat. She sank to the stool he’d pulled out, trying to hide her arousal. If he guessed too quickly what she wanted—no, what she simply had to have—what would he think of her? What would he end up doing?

The band came to the end of their set with the singer announcing a brief break.

He didn’t seem to notice them any longer or the crowd’s protests. His eyes held hers. “Thanks for the drink.”

“My pleasure.” She eased her hair from her neck.

With his attention moving to her throat and lower, he motioned for the bartender. “What are you having?”

“Just a sip of your beer, if you don’t mind.” She couldn’t risk drinking and losing even more control. In way of explanation, she added what no man would question. “I’m watching my weight.”

“False alarm,” he told the bartender, sending her away. He handed Jasmine his brew. “No, you’re not.”

The lip of the bottle stalled near her mouth. “What?”

“You don’t have to watch your weight.” He settled on his stool, facing and studying her. “You’re fine just as you are.”

The old Jasmine flushed in delight and embarrassment. The woman she’d become gave him a feline smile. “If you say so.”

Holding her gaze, his eyes searched. “What’s your name?”

Although it shouldn’t have, the question rattled her. She struggled to remember the fake one she and her sisters had concocted, but all her mind gave up were generic and unbelievable choices like Jane Doe or Mary Smith. Flustered and having to say something, she offered her own. “Jasmine Dante.” She transferred the bottle to her left hand and put out her right. “And you are?”

“Happy to make your acquaintance, Jasmine.” His large hand covered and warmed hers.

A roguish grin crinkled his eyes, mellowing his features.

She liked his effortless confidence and calm strength. It awakened memories of how her father had behaved with her mother. His long fingers squeezed gently. The small intimacy reached her soul, leaving her breathless and lighthearted. “So do you go by Happy or do you prefer the more formal Make Your Acquaintance?”

He chuckled and released her hand. “Call me Mike.”

“Ah, a nickname. I like that, Mike…?” She deliberately made it a question and sipped a bit of the brew, giving him time to add his last name and more.

Still regarding her, he did not.

Faster than she wanted, her pulse quickened. Unease seeped through her previous comfort. Travis had also offered little, only that he owned a body-piercing shop. He certainly hadn’t confided his violent past. No matter her attraction to Mike or her cruel need, Jasmine couldn’t take another gamble on her safety.

Seconds passed as she searched for the right questions to ask to learn as much as she could about him. Perfumed flesh and the smell of beer thickened the air. Animated chatter created a din near the tables. Someone laughed too loud. A woman squealed girlishly. Jasmine handed him the bottle. “Are you a musician?”

He enjoyed a sip and shook his head. “Never came close, not even in high school when it’s more or less required to be considered cool.” He appeared amused. “Why would you think I played?”

“You seemed very interested in the band. Is that why you’re here tonight?”

“I like their sound. What brings you here?”

“I thought going out tonight might be fun.”

A deeper smile tugged the corners of his rich mouth. “It might be. So, tell me about yourself, Jasmine.”

Again, he’d taken command of the conversation. Could he be a cop? He acted like one, never really answering a question. But what about his long hair? Cops didn’t look like that, not even on TV, unless they went undercover in vice. Thoughts racing, she put her forearm on her thigh and leaned nearer to him. “You first. I insist.”

“Why?” His gaze dipped to her breasts, then inched back up. “I’m not half as interesting as you.”

“Let me be the judge. Please.”

Something flickered in his eyes. Confusion? Fascination? At last, he put the bottle on the bar. “My name’s Mike Stearn. I spend my days in front of a computer.”

Jasmine tried not to show her surprise. Of all the occupations she might have given him, none would have called for full-time use of a PC. He certainly didn’t look like a programmer or an Xbox junkie. She hazarded a guess. “You’re a novelist?”

He laughed, an easy, rumbling sound. “I swear I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”

Briefly, she smiled. “Then that only leaves hacker. You’re a computer bad boy?”

As his laughter wound down, his broad shoulders relaxed. Resting his arm on the bar, he considered her. “Hardly. I’m an outside consultant for various federal and state agencies.”

Law enforcement? Had she been correct in her earlier assessment? Her throat tightened. Not wanting to grill him too obviously, she joked, “Please tell me the IRS isn’t included in your work.”

“You cheat on your taxes, Jasmine?”

She gave herself to men she didn’t know to relieve her oppressive hunger, putting herself in danger. Tonight’s plan was supposed to end that. “No—but if you could divulge a few tips on how I might get away with it, I’d be forever in your debt.”

BOOK: The Yearning
6.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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