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Music blared, drowning the cacophony of voices that crowded the Silver Dollar, an old-fashioned, turn-of-the-century saloon located along the southern coast area of California. It was a typical Friday night, with little room to move around, and perhaps more importantly, to think too much. Kaylee Masterson strolled among the restless throng of people until she found a small table that was unoccupied; it was ideally located--in the darkest corner of the bustling bar. She could see the patrons and, to her personal delight, the bar's owner. The traditional tall, dark, and handsome hero that most women dream about, this man embodied strength and masculinity. He was over six feet tall, had short coffee-brown hair and deep, dark eyes. His shoulders were broad and strong, his chest smoothly contoured, hips narrow, and long legs were toned and athletic. He dressed casually most of the time, simple t-shirts, and jeans that showcased his tight ass.
Kaylee had never spoken to him, and she adored him. From the safety of distance. There was an air of mystery and danger surrounding him, and that added yet another layer to his complex allure. Tending bar, he laughed with easy charm and grace at the banter tossed his way from the many women in the place. A tiny twitch of resentment surfaced inside her when she noted that, and she silently ridiculed herself for the foolishness of the emotion.
She'd been coming here for weeks on end, always staying in the background, forever watching the man she'd come to admire and wonder about. Though not once in those weeks had she dared to risk exposing herself by talking to him. She knew his name was Max Richmonte,and that he frequently disappeared for days at a time. So far, his longest absence, that she knew of, amounted to ten days. Instinctively she knew there were longer periods when he became a non-existent entity, but she couldn't figure out why. It hardly mattered. Knowing nothing of real value about him remained convenient.
Still ... it wasn't always easy to ignore the way her body responded to his presence, even if they hadn't exchanged a word. By the time she left she'd be so wet with wanting him that walking would be uncomfortable, and her nipples were already so tight it felt like they might simply pop from the near pain of being hard and thrusting against her blouse all night. Every part of her was aching with longing. For a stranger.
Nothing like this had ever happened to her before.
Part of her was drawn for reasons she didn't want to analyze too closely. She had chosen the Silver Dollar after a lengthy search for a perfect place to blend into obscurity, so far it had worked wonderfully well. The last thing she needed was to become too involved. Satisfied that she was going unnoticed, Kaylee took out the small notebook she carried, and began to write. The music continued to boom, and the voices around her slowly faded into the background of her thoughts.
"She's here again," Kevin pointed to the far corner, pulling Tommy's attention from the pretty redhead who'd been flirting with him for most of the past hour.
"Who's here again, Johnston?" Tommy drawled, his utter lack of interest apparent in the amused tone of his voice.
"The girl at the back table," Kevin insisted, and punched the Southerner lightly in the arm to make him actually look. "She's been coming in for weeks, and she never drinks much, just watches everyone, and writes."
Tommy finally dragged his eyes from the girl at the bar and peered intently through the shifting crowd. He saw the woman Kevin was curious about, and he did an automatic appraisal of her. She looked to be about thirty years old, had sandy hair, cut into a shaggy fall that draped her shoulders in soft waves and spilled down her back; her face, while pretty, was unremarkable. She wore a heavy silver watch on her right wrist, there was no sign of a wedding ring, and her glasses were antique-gold rimmed, the design very fashionable. Johnston had been right about her activity, as well; she was writing diligently in a notebook, her expression thoughtful. She was also squirming in her chair, crossing her legs and uncrossing them repeatedly. It didn't require great powers of observation to spot the clear outline of her nipples pressing against the satiny shirt she wore. She was even caressing her tits periodically, though the action appeared totally unconscious. She didn't have "fuck me" stamped on her forehead, but it was the impression she gave anyway.
"What do you think she's writing about?" Kevin wondered, now that he knew Tommy was watching the woman.
"I think I'll go ask." Tommy grinned. His curiosity wasn't the only thing she'd roused.
Before Kevin could object in any way, Tommy was on his feet and making his way through the crowd.
Writing the last of the notes she wanted to take that night, Kaylee closed the leather-bound book just as she felt the intensity of someone's intent interest in her activity. Her skin tingled and a warning chill crept up her spine. She knew before she lifted her eyes to his that she'd been spotted. Relief and dread combined in the second she met and held the sharp, inquisitive hazel gaze with hers, then he smiled and she relaxed the tiniest bit. She knew this man was a friend of Max Richmonte's, but at least it wasn't Max himself who'd discovered her hiding in the corner of his bar.
"Ma'am," he tilted his head in greeting and gestured, asking politely if he could sit with her.
Kaylee nodded, her nerves jangling anew.
"I'm Tommy Donovan," he said with a smile that would have dazzled almost any woman he bestowed it upon. In this case it earned him no responding warmth.
"Kaylee," she replied. "I was just leaving, Tommy," she used the name awkwardly and began to stand, suddenly eager to leave. A firm hand on her wrist startled and annoyed her in equal measure. She pulled her hand back and eyed him with mild irritation.
"I'm not interested," she stated, tone cold.
Before he could prevent her escape a second time, she spun on her heel and left.
Tommy fingered the notebook that had been left behind on the table top. Curious, he cracked the cover and saw the name inside, Kaylee Masterson; there was an address printed neatly under the name. When he flipped a few pages he saw that it was simply a volume of notes and ideas, labeled in various ways that made him suspect it was the blueprint for a novel of some kind.
He waited for several minutes to see if she'd return for the book, realized she wouldn't be back that night, and picked it up when he went to rejoin Kevin.
"Didn't take you long to get rid of her," Johnston noted as Tommy slid back into his seat.
"I didn't mean to get rid of her," Tommy said honestly.
"Guess you're not her type," Kevin grinned. He was thoughtful for a moment, then added, "Maybe Max is. She was looking at him all night."
Tommy's eyebrows rose.
"I mean, she wasn't bein' obvious about it, but she didn't miss a thing that was goin' on at the bar," Kevin went on.
"Maybe the boss knows her," Tommy suggested, though he was fairly certain none of them knew her.
"She give you that?" Kevin queried, noticing the book resting beneath his partner's elbow on the table.
"Let me have a look," Kevin said and tried to pry the volume out from under Tommy's arm.
"Not your business, Johnston," Tommy smiled.
"It's not yours either," Kevin objected, "but you looked."
"Yeah, I did," the other man agreed. "And now I'm gonna leave this in Max's office in case she comes back for it."
Kaylee paced her living room, her mood flip-flopping between fury and despair as she considered what had happened to the precious notebook she carried with her each week to the Silver Dollar. In her desperation to flee from Tommy, she'd been careless. The book must have been left on the table.
What if he read it?
That thought had kept her in turmoil ever since she'd gotten home and discovered the book wasn't with her. It crossed her mind to call the bar and see if it was there, but that might mean speaking to Max Richmonte, and possibly telling him precisely what she was looking for. Most people, once they opened a book, were inclined by natural curiosity to see what it contained. She did not want Max Richmonte reading her notebook.
He'd think she was certifiable if he ever saw the contents of the book. And Kaylee wasn't prepared to explain herself to him, or anyone else for that matter.
Sighing heavily, she chose to leave it for the moment and decide in the morning what would be easier; going to the Silver Dollar and asking for the book in person. Or calling.
Kaylee swallowed her heart, which felt firmly lodged in the region of her throat, and tried to keep her voice steady when she answered the distracted, softly masculine voice on the other end of the phone line.
"Mr. Richmonte," she forced the name past her lips and closed her eyes, grateful he couldn't see her. "My name is Kaylee Masterson, and I think I may have left something at your bar last night. A notebook," she clarified instantly. "Leather bound, burgundy."
There was a pause, and she could almost see him smiling.
"Yeah, it's here in my office, Mrs. Masterson."
"I'm not married, Mr. Richmonte," she replied. "It's just Kaylee."
"Would you like to stop by and pick up your book, Kaylee?" he asked smoothly. "I'll be in the office most of the day. The bar's not open until this evening."
"Thank you, Mr. Richmonte," she replied, trying to keep the tremor from her voice.
"It's Max," he laughed. "I'll leave the door open. Just come in."
The line clicked, going silent. Kaylee slowly dropped the receiver back into its cradle, then slumped into a chair.
"Shit!" she muttered vehemently. The last thing she wanted to do was meet this man face to face. It was pretty much unavoidable now. She stood and walked into her bedroom, chewing her bottom lip as she faced herself in the mirror on the wardrobe door. Ordinary in every way, she silently jeered at her reflection. Mousy brown hair that was inching toward her waist, colorless grey eyes, and she needed to lose about fifteen pounds to be what she considered the right weight. Her face was smooth, but as unremarkable as the rest of her. She'd never been beautiful, and she'd long since stopped wishing it could be different. The only time her physical appearance pained her these days was when she looked at the man who was as perfect as she was not; Max Richmonte was drop-dead gorgeous. The kind of man who never noticed women like her because of all the beautiful creatures who surrounded him on a daily basis.
She thought about him for a moment more, permitted the warm brown of his eyes to swim before her mind's eye. Between her thighs, an increasingly familiar pulse woke and she felt herself getting wet as her internal muscles clenched with hungry longing. She wanted Max Richmonte with an intensity that was almost frightening. Looking into his dark eyes she was almost choked by the sudden image of him gloriously naked, his cock rigid, the swollen head dripping pearlescent beads for her to lick away as she knelt in front of him. Her knees wobbled dangerously, and she swallowed the lump of excitement that had leapt into her throat
"Let's just get this over with," she snarled into the silence of her room. She whirled away from the mirror and grabbed her purse off the end of the bed.
Max heard the knock at his office door and glanced absently in that general direction. He'd been expecting the woman who'd left the notebook, and barely noticed her when he gestured for her to come in. Most of his attention was focused on the computer screen in front of him; and the accounting program that was supposed to make things so much easier for him was doing precisely the opposite. He'd gotten through the book work quicker when he was doing it on paper. Marg might be able to use this particular method, but it was causing him no small number of headaches.
"Yeah," he answered with a slight smile, glancing in her direction again. "Your book is on the table," he pointed to the coffee table in front of the couch.
"Thank you," Kaylee's voice held noticeable irony, and he finally turned to really look at her when he caught the nuance.
"I'm sorry," he murmured, and rose to an impressive six feet three inches. He extended his hand and waited for her to complete the few steps that would put her in front of his desk. "I'm Max Richmonte," he told her. "You must be Kaylee Masterson?"
Kaylee took his hand and tried not to stare at him. It wasn't easy when every instinct she possessed wanted to do nothing other than absorb his very presence. And a whole lot more ... some wild inner voice cackled.
"Yes, I am," she replied, forcing her voice to an even cadence. Her gaze darted to the offending computer screen and she grinned, the response involuntary. Having something innate to focus on restored her shaken equilibrium, and she grabbed it like a lifeline. "Having problems with the book-keeping?"
Max laughed ruefully and nodded.
"Yeah, I used to do a whole lot better when I was writing it all down," he stated.
"You're probably complicating it more than is necessary," she told him, her eyes glancing over the formatted ledger. "I use this system myself, and there are ways to make it a whole lot more user friendly," she assured him.
"User friendly sounds great about now," he informed her with dry humor.
"Would you like for me to have a look at it for you?" she asked, uncertainty creeping into her tone.
"Absolutely," Max was more than happy to step aside and offer her his chair. When she sat down and started rearranging things with smooth, familiar keystrokes, he rapidly saw the simplicity of her approach to the program. She pointed out a few things as she went, asked relatively few questions, and had everything organized for him within the hour.
Standing at her back, looking down, Max had an enjoyable view of her cleavage. She had on a pretty, soft sweater with a scooping neckline. Under it was a low-cut, lacy bra that seemed just about inadequate to contain her luscious curves. His fingertips tingled, and he smiled inwardly at how aroused he was getting as he considered the possibility of persuading her to enjoy a couple of hours naked in his office before he opened the bar and she went back to whatever it was she did. From what he'd observed so far, Kaylee Masterson had a gorgeous set of tits, a beautifully rounded ass, and a pair of legs that would feel fabulous wrapped around him.
"If you use the shortcuts I've created, you should find it very user friendly now."
Her voice jolted him, but he recovered instantly and peered at the screen she was pointing to.
"That's amazing," Max marveled at the page in front of him now when he took the seat she'd just vacated.
"Glad to be of help," she smiled. "You can use the same forms each month when you do your bookkeeping. Just remember to save the new files under their proper month names. I've lost a few months of the year myself forgetting to do that!" A glance at her watch told her she'd lingered a lot longer than she'd meant to, and she went to retrieve her book from the table. "Thanks for holding onto this for me, Mr. Richmonte," she said when she had the volume safely in her hands again.
"It's Max," he said instantly, leaning back in his chair to look at her.
Kaylee Masterson was a pretty woman, he mused. Not stunning the way Marg was, but very lovely. Marg Peters had been friend, partner, and lover to Max over the long years they'd known each other, but the love they shared had never grown into real passion, it remained solid friendship. One of the few things that was constant in his life.
Kaylee intrigued him, without his quite knowing why. Her hair was soft, light golden brown, and her eyes were the color of stormy skies. And she had a pleasantly contoured face that gave away every thought she had when you looked closely at her. She was attracted to him, he knew, and very uncomfortable with the emotions it stirred.
"I'd like to take you out to dinner, Ms. Masterson," he said. "To thank you for your help with this," he added immediately when he saw the automatic refusal begin in her pale eyes.
"That's very generous of you, Mr ... Max," she smiled. "But not necessary."
"That isn't why I asked," he pointed out gently.
"Thank you anyway," she responded quickly. "It was nice to meet you, Max," she continued, heading determinedly for the door to his office. "Good luck with the book-keeping," she added, unable to resist the mild teasing.
"Yeah," Max muttered to the empty air when she was gone seconds later.
Rubbing the back of his neck, he looked at the computer again, and decided it was time to have a drink. He mentally added sexual frustration to his others of the moment and almost growled at the air as he stalked to the bar for a beer.