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The first time Victoria Matthews met Russell Knight, she fell hopelessly and completely in lust.
Maybe it was the neat dreadlocks that flowed down his back, or the firm muscular body hugged by the close-fitting shirt he wore.
Or maybe it was his eyes. Two startling dark pools that held secrets but flamed with the mutual desire reflected in hers.
What she did know was that she wanted him.
When she saw the responding heat in his eyes, she knew that something unexpected had taken place in the moment when their eyes had met, caressed and lingered.
She stood erect as her mother had taught her, but she felt the sudden urge to discard that image and do what was necessary to get what she wanted and what she wanted was the sexy man who'd just walked into the club where she performed each night.
When she climbed the steps to the stage for her final set that night, she knew that she would be singing to him.
She'd chosen her songs carefully for the crowd that filled the club on Friday nights. But they were perfect for what she had planned. She'd always been cautious about the men who frequented the bar. However, when she'd seen him chatting with her boss, Rachel, during her first break, she'd been intrigued enough to ask about him when Rachel came to tell her it was time for her next set something she didn't usually do.
Russell Knight. The name Rachel had given her. Twenty-seven, a reporter at the New York Times and single. She would discover everything else she needed before the night was over. Until then she had to earn a living.
Taking the cordless microphone from the stand, she raised it to her mouth and closed her eyes, trying to calm the familiar butterflies in her stomach.
But as happened each night, when she sang the first note, the apprehension was quickly gone and she soon felt the rhythm of the music as it flowed within her.
Her first selection was a haunting melody she'd written long ago, when a man had played with her heart and left her in pain.
She loved the song, and so did the audiences. Not because it was technically one of her best compositions, but because it reminded her of her need to remain in control of her life.
For a while, the man in the audience was forgotten and Tori immersed herself in her performance.
Russell loved music. He couldn't remember a time when music didn't play an important part in his life, so when his friend Rachel Allen had invited him to her club to hear the new band and the lead singer that she raved about, he couldn't pass up the opportunity.
He remembered clearly the mornings at home in Barbados when he'd wake up and the only thing he could think of was the feel of the steel pan beneath his hands.
But he never knew that music could be such an erotic experience until the singer lifted the microphone to her mouth and started to sing.
Her voice reminded him of the satin warmth of his island home.
The song she sang was a haunting melody of lost love. For some reason, he wondered if she'd loved and lost. He'd not had much experience with love.
Yeah, he loved sex and loved women, but that was it.
He smiled, remembering his twin sister's words the last time they'd spoken. "You laugh all you want. Your turn is coming next."
He continued to laugh, knowing that what she said was far from reality. He had no intention of getting married. He was happy for his sister, Tamara. She'd been married for almost three years now to Kyle Austin, former West Indies cricketer.
Shayne, his older brother, had also found his true love and was happily married. Several of his sister-in-law's paintings hung in his apartment building.
In moments of weakness, he wondered if he would ever find a love like theirs, but because marriage was not in his immediate plans, he doubted it. He did know that his next lover was standing right before him.
She'd changed to a sexy number, taking the white shawl from around her shoulders to reveal smooth arms and a dress cut just above the slight swell of her breasts.
This time she moved among the audience, enchanting everyone with her passion, making each of them think she was singing directly to them.
When she stood before him, he felt himself tremble as he inhaled the faintest hint of flowers. She didn't seem like the flowery type. She should be wearing something bolder, fiery.
He didn't expect this powerful a reaction to a woman he didn't know.
And then he noticed it. The slight trembling of her hand on the microphone, and the look of wonder in her eyes.
She'd not expected it, either.
For a moment she stumbled on her words, but she quickly regained her composure, returning to the professional songstress that swayed the crowd.
But he'd confirmed all that he wanted to know.
She wanted him. He could feel it in every note she sang, and as inevitable as the sun's rising in the morning, he knew he would have her.
By the end of the forty-five-minute set she'd totally mesmerized him. Not only with her singing, but also with the way she interacted with the audience.
Depending on the song, she was funny at times, keeping the audience in stitches, and other times she was teasing and flirtatious. But whatever the mood, the audience enjoyed her.
When the final note of her last number for the night faded, she bowed. The audience stood to applaud her.
The scent of the fragrance lingered and he inhaled deeply. Below his belt his arousal remained hard and powerful. He didn't like the discomfort but he had no control over what he was feeling.
Breathing deeply he willed his thoughts back to the stage, feeling a tightness in his chest when she bowed again to the audience and thanked everyone for coming. She blew a kiss and then disappeared.
He quickly took one of his business cards from his pocket, scribbled on it and beckoned a waitress.
Good, he wanted to see how Tori would respond to his invitation.
What he'd done was not in keeping with the kind of person he was, but he didn't want to miss the opportunity to meet her. Of course, he could easily ask Rachel to introduce the two of them, but since Rachel continued to indicate her interest in him, he didn't want to cause any conflict there.
So he'd just sit here for the next few minutes to see how she'd respond.
When Tori entered the dressing room, she headed straight for the single couch and immediately lowered herself into its comfort.
The memory of the way Russell Knight had looked at her made every nerve in her body tingle.
She wondered if he had already left. She would have loved to meet him, but some things were not meant to be.
A knock at the door forced her from her musings and she pulled herself together. She stood, headed to the door and opened it.
Disappointment washed over her.
It was Tricia, one of the waitresses, bringing her the usual after-performance coffee.
When Tricia placed the tray on the table, she smiled and indicated something on it.
A stark white business card beckoned Tori.
Her heart stopped.
She turned to Tricia and smiled. "Thanks, Tricia. You have a great night. I'll see you on Tuesday night."
"You enjoy your nights off and make sure you get some rest."
"I will," Tori replied.
When Tricia left the room, Tori reached for the card. The message on the back of the card was simple: I'll wait for you in the lounge. R.K.
She smiled. The nerve of the man. Did he actually think she'd respond to such an invitation?
But he knew beyond a shadow of doubt that she'd go with him.
Tori slipped her dress off and placed it on a hanger before hanging it next to several of her gowns that needed to be laundered. One of Rachel's staff members would take care of that.
In the mirror she caught a glimpse of herself. She knew she was attractive. Some would even call her beautiful. She didn't think she was, but she knew she was more than passable.
Sitting, she wiped the makeup from her face, preferring to allow her skin to breathe. She wore makeup only onstage.
Tori took a quick shower, all the while wishing that she'd brought something more attractive than a T-shirt and a faded pair of jeans.
Well, the outfit would have to do. Maybe seeing her like this instead of the illusion of the beautiful singer would bring him to reality, but somehow she doubted that he would react other than with the promise she'd seen in his heated gaze.
It seemed there would be no way out of what she was about to do. Maybe she was being crazy. Maybe she should tell him she'd join him for a drink, but that was it.
But she wanted to experience that tingling of awareness and the sweep of fire that had raced its way through her body as he'd devoured every inch of her while she sang.
Minutes later when she exited the room, her heart beating fast, she walked toward her destiny.
Outside, the cold fall air forced Russell deeper into the coat he wore. He would never grow accustomed to the coldness of fall and oncoming winter. At times like these he longed for the warmth of his island paradise. But there was no returning to Barbados anytime soon.
The situation with his brother Shayne was far from being resolved. Quickly, he pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind. At the moment the beautiful woman he planned to make love to tonight had tantalized him with her song and earthy scent.
Russell saw her as soon as she walked out of the building. Though she was wearing black jeans and a pale blue T-shirt, she was as beautiful as if she were wearing that same stunning gown she'd worn. In fact, she was even more beautiful. He felt his heart quicken. Liquid heat raced through his body.
"Thanks for coming. I didn't think you would."
"And miss a date with the most handsome man I've seen in years?"
He tried not to blush but he liked her honesty.
"You're ready to go?" he asked.
"Whenever you are. So, where are you taking me?"
"I'll let it be a surprise," he replied, taking her arm and heading to a red Corvette parked on the side of the street.
When they reached the car, he opened the passenger side and made sure she was comfortable before he circled the car and took his own seat.
As the car pulled away from the curb, he asked, "Music?"
"Yeah, but something soft and soothing. I'm beat."
The soothing voice of India.Arie was a good choice. She said, "That's perfect. You have good taste in music."
"I'm glad you're pleased." For a moment he could feel her eyes on him. Assessing, analyzing.
"So, you are Russell Knight," she said. She knew his name.
"Yeah, I'm Russell."
"I like your work. Deep and probing." And his work, too. Interesting.