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"I've been stood up." Jackson King closed his cell phone with a snap. Setting his empty glass down on the lustrously polished bar top, he signaled the bartender, Eddie, an older man with knowing eyes, to fill it again.
"Well," Eddie said, "I think this is a first for you, isn't it? You losing your touch?"
Jackson snorted a laugh and leaned deeper into the cushioned back of the dark red bar stool. Swiveling it a half turn, he glanced over the dimly lit room behind him. The Hotel Franklin, the only five-star hotel between the tiny town of Birkfield and Sacramento, boasted one of the best bars in the state.
It was also conveniently close to the King family airfield where Jackson spent most of his time. He kept a suite in the hotel for those nights when he was too tired to drive home and thought of the elegant bar almost as his office.
"Oh hell no. That's never going to happen. Wasn't a woman who blew me off, Eddie," Jackson said with a grin.
"My cousin Nathan canceled on me. His assistant was driving his car to his mountain place and had problems. Nathan to the rescue."
"Ah." The bartender nodded. "Good to know you're not slipping. Thought maybe it was a sign of the apocalypse or something."
He did have good luck with women, Jackson mused. Or at least, he always had. Soon enough, all of that would be over. He frowned a little at the thought.
"Something wrong?" The bartender asked.
Jackson shot him a look. "Nothing I want to talk about."
"Right. Another drink. Coming right up."
While he waited, Jackson let his gaze slide around the elegantly appointed bar. The room gleamed with a warm glow as discreet lighting reflected off the wood walls and marble floors. Themahogany bar itself curved around the room in a sinuous bend that was nearly artistic. Tall, high-backed red leather stools were pulled up to the bar inviting patrons to sit and stay awhile. Small round tables spotted the floor, each of them boasting flickering candlelight. And the soft, lazy strains of jazz piped in through overhead speakers.
In this bar a man could relax and a lone woman could enjoy a quiet drink without being hassled. At the moment, the place was practically empty. There were two couples at the tables and at the far end of the bar, a woman sat alone, like Jackson. Instinctively, Jackson's gaze fixed on the blond woman and he smiled. She gave him a long, sly look that fired his blood before returning her attention to her martini.
"She's a looker all right," Eddie muttered as he refilled Jackson's glass with his favorite, Irish whiskey.
"The blonde." The bartender risked a quick look himself. "Saw you spot her. She's been sitting over there for an hour, nursing that one drink and acting like she's waiting for someone."
"Yeah?" Jackson took a longer look. Even from a distance there was something about the woman that made his blood start to hum. He began to think that maybe Nathan not showing up was a very good thing.
"Can't imagine anyone standing her up," Eddie said as he moved off to fill another order.
Jackson couldn't either. This was a woman who demanded a man's attention. He watched her long fingers move up and down the stem of her martini glass in slow strokes and his body jerked to attention as strongly as if her hand was moving across his skin.
She looked up and her gaze slammed into his. He couldn't see her eyes from here, but he had a feeling there was a knowing gleam in them. She knew he was watching her. Had probably done the whole stroke-the-crystal thing on purpose to get his attention. Well congratulations, babe, it worked.
Picking up his drink, Jackson casually walked the length of the bar, slipping from lamplight to shadow, his gaze continually fixed on the blonde who watched his approach. As he got closer, he could appreciate the view even more.
She smiled, and a blast of something hot and driving roared up inside him. He hadn't felt anything like that in well, ever. Instantaneous heat. Even from a distance, she was affecting him in ways he never would have expected. Possibilities opened up in front of him as he closed the distance between them.
She swiveled on the bar stool as he approached and Jackson took that moment to size her up completely. She wasn't very tall, maybe five foot five, but she was wearing sky-high, black-heeled sandals that would give her an extra few inches. Her blond hair was short, cut close to her head, and small gold hoops in her ears twinkled in the light as she tipped her head to look at him. Her sapphire-blue dress had long sleeves, a full, short skirt and a V neck that dipped low enough to showcase breasts that were just the right size.
Her big eyes were blue and focused on him and one corner of her mouth was tipped up in an inviting smile as he stopped beside her.
"This seat taken?"
"It is now," she said and her voice was a whisper that sounded like long nights and lazy mornings.
He shot his cuffs, straightened his dark red tie, slid onto the stool beside hers and said, "I'm Jackson and you're beautiful."
She laughed and shook her head. "Does that line always work?"
He nodded to her in acknowledgement. "More often than not. How's it doing tonight?"
"I'll let you know after you buy me another drink."
Oh yeah. He'd have to remember to thank Nathan for blowing him off tonight. Turning, he signaled Eddie for a refill, then looked back at her. Close up, her eyes were as blue as the deep sapphire of her dress. Her mouth was tinted a deep pink and her lips were lush and full, tempting him to lean in and take what he wanted.
But he could wait. Waiting was half the fun.
"So, do I get to know your name?"
"Casey. You can call me Casey."
"Not really," she said, shrugging one shoulder. "My full name is Cassiopeia."
Jackson grinned. "Well, that's prettier."
She returned the smile and Jackson could have sworn he actually felt his blood start to simmer. The woman packed a hell of a punch with that smile.
"No, it's really not. Not when you're ten years old and your friends have names like Tiffany or Brittney or Amber "
"So, you went with the short version."
She glanced up at Eddie with a murmured "thank you," as the bartender delivered her bright green Appletini. "I did," she said. "And have my father to thank for it. My mother loved Greek myths, hence my name. My father loved baseball. Hence the nickname."
Jackson blinked, then laughed, getting the connection instantly. "Casey Stengel?"
Surprise flickered briefly in her eyes. "I'm impressed that you know the name. Most in our generation don't."
Jackson eased into the conversation, realizing he was having a good time. It was more than just her sex appeal, he was enjoying talking to her, too. He couldn't remember the last time that had happened. "Please. You're talking to a man who still has truckloads of his old baseball cards carefully tucked away in storage."
She lifted her drink, put her lips around the straw and sucked. Jackson went hard as stone in an instant. His mouth was dry and his heartbeat thundered in his ears. He wasn't sure if she was deliberately trying to set him on fire, but whether she was or not, the result was the same.
While he watched, she crossed her legs in a slow slide of skin against skin and one sandaled foot began to swing. One of her hands cupped the bowl of her drink glass while the other stroked the stem, as she'd done before.
Now he was sure she was doing it deliberately. Because her dark blue eyes were fixed on his as if she were measuring his reaction. Well, he'd been playing this kind of game for years. She'd see what he wanted her to see and nothing else.
When she set her drink down, she swept her tongue across her top lip as if searching for any errant drops of liquor. Jackson's gaze followed the motion and his insides fisted even tighter. Damn, she was good.
"So, Casey," he asked idly, "what are your plans for the evening?"
"I don't have any," she admitted. "You?"
His gaze dropped from her face to her breasts and back up again. "Nothing special until a few minutes ago. Now, I can think of a few ideas off the top of my head."
She chewed at her bottom lip as if she were suddenly nervous, but he wasn't buying it. Her moves were all too smooth. She was far too sure of herself. She'd set out to seduce him and she was doing a hell of a job of it.
Ordinarily, Jackson preferred to be the one making the moves. But tonight, he was willing to make an exception. Mainly because the deed was done and he wanted her more than he wanted to take another breath. "Why don't you let me buy you dinner at the hotel restaurant? We could get to know each other a little better."
She smiled, but her heart wasn't in it. Glancing around, as if to assure herself the two of them were secluded at the shadowy, far end of the bar, she looked back at him and said, "I'm not really in the mood for dinner, thanks."
"Really?" Intrigued again, he asked, "Then what?"
"Actually, I've wanted to kiss you since the moment I first saw you."
Good. She was going to be as upfront about this as he planned to be. "I'm a big believer in going after what you want."
"I'll bet you are," she murmured.
Her voice sounded breathless and he could feel her tension in the air. A tension he shared. All Jackson could think about was kissing her. Forget dinner. The only taste he wanted in his mouth was her.
Oh, he definitely owed Nathan.
"The question," Jackson said quietly, his gaze linking with hers, daring her to look away, "is whether or not you believe in doing exactly what you want."
"Why don't we find out?" She leaned forward and he met her halfway, more than eager to get a taste of this woman. In mere minutes, she'd driven him to the edge of a raw desire the likes of which he'd never known before.
Their lips met and in that instant, electricity hummed between them. There was no other way to describe it. Jackson felt the burn, the rush, and gave himself up to it. There in the shadows, his mouth moved over hers, his blood practically steaming in his veins.
Her scentlavenderfilled him and clouded his mind. All he could concentrate on was the incredible feel of her mouth on his, even as he told himself to pull back. To not push this too far too fast. This was something he wanted to enjoy. To revel in.And to do that, they'd need somewhere more private than the darkened end of a luxurious bar.
But as he shifted to break the kiss, she reached up, threaded her fingers through his hair and held him in place. Her mouth opened to him, inviting a deeper kiss, even as her fingers pulled hard enough at his hair to pull out several strands.
He jerked back, laughed shortly and said, "Ow."
She blushed, bit down on her bottom lip and let her hand slide from the back of his head. "Sorry," she said, her voice a whisper of sound that tugged at his insides. "Guess you bring out the wild in me."
She was doing the same damn thing to him. Forget dinner. Forget getting to know each other. All he wanted at the moment was her under him. Over him. He'd never desired any woman so desperately as he did this one. And Jackson wasn't a man to deny himself.
"I like wild," he said and laid one hand on her knee, his fingertips sliding discreetly beneath the hem of that spectacular dress to touch her bare skin. "How wild are we talking?"
She took a breath, grabbed her clutch purse off the bar and dipped her hand inside as if she were looking for something. Then she snapped the bag closed again, lifted her gaze to his and said, "Um, I think maybe this was a mistake."
"I think you're wrong," he said and smiled to himself as she jumped a little at the touch of his fingertips moving across her thigh. "I think you are feeling a little wild tonight. And I know I am."
"Kiss me again."
"There are people here," she reminded him.
"Didn't bother you a second ago."
"Does now," she said.
"Ignore them," he coaxed. Not usually a man who liked an audience, he couldn't care less about the sprinkling of people in the bar. He didn't want to chance her cooling off, coming to her senses. He needed to kiss her again. To remind her what was sizzling between them. Besides, the lighting was so dim, and he and Casey were so far from anyone else, they might as well have been alone anyway. And right now, that was good enough.
Her gaze lifted to his and when he looked into her eyes, he saw her wavering. Good enough. Leaning in close to her again, he kept one hand on her leg, letting his fingers slide higher onto her thigh even as his mouth took hers again.
She inhaled sharply, deeply at the touch of his lips and an instant later, her inhibitions went out the window, just as he'd hoped they would. Her tongue tangled with his and when he leaned in closer, sliding his hand higher, she sighed into his mouth and shivered beneath his touch. "Let's get out of here," he whispered, when he'd managed to take his mouth from hers.
"Yes we can," he said, fingers moving higher, higher up her thigh. She shifted instinctively, and he knew she was feeling the same burn he was. "I have a room upstairs."
"Oh " She took a breath, blew it out and shook her head. "That's probably not a good idea."
"Trust me, it's the best idea I've had all day." Abruptly, Jackson reached for his wallet, threw a hundred-dollar bill onto the bar, then tucked the wallet away again and took one of her hands in his. "Come with me."
She looked up at him and even in the dim light, Jackson saw the sheen of something hot and needy in her eyes. She wasn't going to refuse him. A moment later, she proved him right.
Standing up, she grabbed her clutch bag off the bar, and let him lead her from the room. He walked quickly, wanting to reach the elevator before she changed her mind. She kept up with him, the sound of her heels tapping out a quick rhythm on the floor that sounded like a frantic heartbeat.
Jackson wasted no time. The elevator doors dinged and swished open and he pulled his mystery woman inside. Before the doors were shut again, he turned her back to the wall and kissed her. His tongue swept inside, tangled with hers and he felt her surrender even as she lifted both arms to hook them around his neck. She held him close and arched her body into his as he pressed tighter and tighter to her.