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Melanie Hawthorne took a leisurely sip of her mojito, served with a stick of Hawaiian sugar cane at her favorite after-work hot spot, The Wicked Hop, and carefully put the glass back down on the bar. She knew exactly what Jenny was asking, but she was going to enjoy this to its fullest. "I'm sorry, so…what?"
Jenny accepted her drink from the friendly blond bartender they liked to flirt with. Usually she was surreptitiously checking out the scene, but right now she was 100 percent fixed on Melanie. "So…have you seen Stoner since that night in Edgar's apartment?"
"Nope. I did mention I hang here after work a lot. So maybe he'll show. I know last night he had a rehearsal with his band." Just the thought that Stoner might seek her out, that they might start something hot, launched that familiar internal flutter. She loved men, bad boys in particular. And she meant bad. Arrogant jerks, selfish users, whatever label you came up with, Melanie homed in on them with unerring precision. She'd love to change, heck, she'd tried to change, tried to convince herself she could date a sweet, steady guy, like her best friend and co-worker, Edgar Raymond. Last week, though, she'd been in the act of suggesting that exact solution on Edgar's couch when his so-hot older brother, Stoner, had walked into the apartment. Melanie had fallen, boom, and that was that. New guy. Same old story.
"He sounds so-o-o dreamy, I can't wait to see him." Jenny sighed. "You always land these incredible men. I mean I'm still happy with Noah after three years, but believe me, I don't mind living vicariously."
Yeah, incredible men. For the few hours or days or even weeks of blissful fun until they invariably moved on to the next pretty face, leaving her to grieve her latest disaster until against all odds—and common sense—her natural optimism resurfaced. Melanie had the hunt/capture/lose-the-prey-again sequence down to a science—a science she, after all her rejections and failures, hoped would someday land her the mother lode, the Real Thing, True Love, a guy-to-call-her-own for more than a few sweaty, athletic hours or days or weeks. "Just call me Lucky Mel."
"Ooh, is that him?" Jenny's brown eyes had about tripled in size. She brushed her black, slanted bangs out of the way and stared toward the entrance, craning her neck to see through the crowd. "Tall, dark hair, bodacious bod."
Melanie tried to turn around casually, but turning around casually was pretty hard to do moving as fast as possible. She scanned the bodies by the front door and shook her head. "I don't see him."
"Aw." Jenny sucked down more mojito to cushion the disappointment. "So he's a rock star, huh?"
"He plays in a band. 'Imploding Bovines.'"
"Some statement about the world economy and the beef industry and the environment…I don't know." Melanie shrugged, wishing she was sitting where Jenny was so she could monitor the entrance. "Edgar was kind of rolling his eyes when he told me. I don't think he and his brother get along too well."
"Well, if Stoner looks and acts anything like you say, they sound like exact opposites."
"I guess." She took another sip of her mojito, noting that the drink was half-gone; she'd better slow down. Edgar was…Edgar. Big nose, horrible hair, ghastly fashion sense, but great teeth and a fabulous smile, gorgeous blue eyes—the nicest man in the world. Of course, him being a great catch in all the ways that mattered, Melanie felt only sisterly affection no matter how hard she tried. God forbid she fall for a man who would treat her well.
"Omigod. That's got to be Stoner." Jenny clutched Mela-nie's arm and pointed. "There. Beside the tall guy with the red shirt. All in black. Wow, you totally weren't kidding. Those blue eyes are amazing. I can feel the heat from here!"
Melanie turned, adrenaline burning from chest to toes. Stoner shared those blue eyes with Edgar, but while Edgar's eyes were warm with shy friendliness, Stoner's blazed with sexual mischief which made Melanie weak in the…everything.
Like the first time she saw him, he wore black. Black tight T-shirt and black jeans with a silver-studded belt. Black hair, not quite as thick and curled as Edgar's, in a tousled I-don't-care style that probably took him hours. "That's him."
Stoner scanned the bar coolly until his eyes lit on Melanie's, and his sex appeal shot across the room as if he'd cast a hook. She was hit. All he had to do was reel her in.
He swaggered over, and while the crowd didn't really part to let him through, it almost seemed that way to Melanie because she couldn't believe the male power he had, and she couldn't stop staring.
"Hey there, Mel-a-nie." He kissed her cheek; his warm lips lingered, making her shiver. "How ya doing?"
"Great, now that you're here." She looked him straight in the eyes, buzzing full throttle from the mojito and his presence.
"Good to hear." He winked and cocked his head toward Jenny. "And who's this?"
Jenny nearly slid to the floor in her eagerness. "Jenny Tremont. I work with Melanie. We're so going to come hear your band!"
Melanie kept herself from rolling her eyes. So going to come hear your band? Jenny was twenty-nine, but sometimes managed to sound like a tweenager groupie. "You're playing at Bad Genie Rock Lounge this week, right?"
"You remembered." He lifted his chin toward the bartender, who came over as if he'd been waiting all night for his chance to serve this drink. "I'll have a Leinie's Red and whatever these ladies are having, another round for them."
"Ooh, thanks, Stoner." Jenny batted her black-lined eyes at him. "I'll be loose and easy after two of these."
"Yeah?" He grinned a predator's grin, which probably made all the women in visual range immediately wish they were prey. "How about you, Mel? Your barriers go down after a little alcoholic lube job?"
Melanie wasn't an English major, but she thought that metaphor was pretty mixed up. However, substandard grammar was not going to stand between her and a chance for fun time with Stoner.
"Barriers?" She arched on the stool, tilted her head. "What barriers?"
His laugh was low and rich, so much like Edgar's it startled her. Their voices were eerily similar, too. If she turned around when he was talking she might get them confused. But that was about the only way to mistake one for the other, and she saw no reason to turn her back to Stoner…until later, maybe. "You are my kind of girl, Mel-a-nie."
"Mmm, no." She waggled her finger at him, loving the way he leisurely half sang her name. "I'm all woman."
"I stand corrected." He took his beer, clinked it with her glass, then Jenny's, then with hers again. His eyes skittered over her body and landed on her mouth with intensity that made her feel already kissed. "Yeah, you are all woman."
Melanie tossed her hair and pouted to suck the straw of her drink, making sure he was watching. The familiar sex-machinery inside her hummed steadily now. This was going to be one excellent evening. Instinct told her so, and her instinct when it came to men and sex was never, ever wrong. Stoner would be a passionate, selfish lover, slightly rough, mostly unschooled, a lover who assumed his own amazing-ness would turn her on so terrifically that he didn't need to do much more than just be him. Gymnastic, inventive, a show-off, he'd use many rooms and many positions.
Bring it on.
There was nothing like that first time, when she could be a man's perfect fantasy woman. Nothing like the erotic excitement of new bodies discovering each other, finding ways to please—light, lovely, no baggage, no boredom, no boundaries.
"So you're Edgar's brother." Jenny took her sugar cane stick out of her drink and bit down, sucking out the sweet syrup.
"Yup." He drained half his beer as if it were lemonade.
"You don't seem much alike."
"Never have been."
"Even as kids?" Melanie asked.
"Not even. I was into everything, and he was scared of everything. Bugs, worms, even the swing." He laughed. "I'd push him like a few inches on that thing, and he'd scre-e-eam."
Melanie immediately felt protective of poor baby Edgar. "I was scared of bugs, too, as a kid. And thunder. Still am, though not as much."
"Yeah?" He grinned his sexy grin again. "If it storms while I'm in town, you run to me, baby."
"I will." She let her eyes smolder at him. "Maybe even if it doesn't storm."
"Whoa." He rocked back on his heels, chuckling. "I'd take you up on that in a heartbeat, Mel-a-nie."
"You may have to." She licked her lips sensually.
Jenny muttered something else under her breath, nearly making Melanie giggle in the midst of her sex-goddess act. "Luckily, Edgar grew up braver than that."
"Seriously. And he is one smart dude." Stoner nodded slowly. "Smart plus classy. Like my parents."
"You come from class?" Jenny sounded so surprised that, thank goodness, Stoner cracked up instead of being insulted. Point in his favor, he could laugh at himself. "I mean, I didn't mean—"
"Nah, it's okay. Go figure, huh? I never fit into that country club shi—stuff, sorry, ladies."
"Country club?" Melanie was astounded. Edgar? How could she not know that about him?
"I was a rebel from the beginning. Gave my parents hell."
"Ha." Another reason Melanie loved bad boys. She understood them. "I was like that, too."
"Yeah?" He moved closer, his hip touching her thigh, bared by her short clingy black skirt. "A wild one, huh?"
"My poor grandparents haven't recovered yet. They had to move to Florida to get away from me."
She giggled, nearly emptying her mojito. "Maybe not only to get away from me."
"What about parents?"
"Mom was even wilder than me. She wasn't around much, and when she was, there were different men in and out all the time."
"In and out, huh?" He rotated his hip back and forth against her thigh. "Tell me more about that concept."
She would, but her mind had turned to lust-mush. "Maybe later?"
"Her mom just came back to town." Jenny finished her mojito and picked up the one Stoner had bought her. "She's trying to settle down and change her ways."
"Aw, man." Stoner shook his head sorrowfully. "You can't fight who you are. There's no point. Like I said, I knew early on I was different from my family. There was nothing I could do about it but be me. So that's who I am."
Melanie wanted to applaud. "I totally agree with you."
"Well, then, cheers, girl—sorry. Ms. Mel-a-nie, she is a-all woman." He clinked their glasses, drained his beer and thunked it on the bar. "And I am sad to say, I gotta get going."
Melanie's adrenaline petered out abruptly.
"Already?" Jenny looked as bewildered as Melanie felt.
"I have somewhere to be tonight. I just stopped by to see if I could catch you." He slid his arm around Melanie's shoulder. "Bang, you're caught."
Melanie tipped back to look directly into his bottomless blue pools of sex. "I know."
"I should be home to Edgar's place by midnight." He glanced carelessly around the bar, then angled his head lazily back toward hers. "I'm heading right to bed."
Her petered-out adrenaline came flooding back. "Really…"
"I hear Edgar doesn't lock his apartment at night." His voice had dropped, for her ears only. She was getting every word. "Or at least he's going to forget tonight."
She pretended to look shocked. "How careless."
"And guess what." He leaned forward until his lips touched her cheek. "Edgar is such a good guy that he's given up his bedroom for me so I can sleep in when he has to get up for work."
"Is that so?" She could barely get sound out, battered by a surge of hormones broadcasting their readiness for this man. Tonight. After midnight. In Edgar's—
Edgar's bed? With Edgar in the apartment? Oh, no. She couldn't—
"It's a nice big bed. Clean sheets." His voice rumbled through her, his lips brushed her cheek at every syllable. "Very comfortable."
"Won't be home. He's visiting a friend in…Chicago. Last-minute thing."
Melanie frowned. Edgar hadn't told her that. Though, if he wasn't going to be home…
"Well." She turned. Stoner's lips touched the corner of her mouth. "That might change things."
"I hope it does." He lingered a blissful second, then drew back and took her hand for a formal shake. "Very nice to see you, Ms. Mel-a-nie."
"And you, Mr. Stoner."
"I hope to see you again—" he brought her hand to his mouth for a gallant kiss "—very soon."
"We'll see." She kept her cool, all the while dying to jump down from her stool and go skipping around the bar shrieking yes, yes, yes!
Nothing in this world, nothing, fired her up like a sexy guy wanting her. The pumped-up thrill took over her, made the world a fabulous place bursting with possibilities.
Stoner said goodbye to Jenny, left one last piercing blue look with Melanie and exited the bar, probably sure they were staring at his fabulous shoulders and ass disappearing into the crowd, which they both were.
"What did he say? What's going on? Are you going to meet him later?"
Melanie smiled dreamily. Why fight it? She knew inviting random encounters was a bad way to live, knew it was a crazy way to look for love, knew men who approached her like this were not in the mood for any kind of real relationship, but heck, she couldn't resist. She had her mother's genes. And look at Mom—fifty-one and only recently deciding it was time to renounce her self-indulgent lifestyle.
Which meant Melanie had another twenty-five years of fabulous high after fabulous high to look forward to. Starting tonight, with the current man of her dreams, through an unlocked apartment door into a nice-size room holding a big, clean and ready-for-action bed.
Melanie strode down Water Street in the cool night air, checking her watch by the nearest streetlight even knowing it would be exactly one minute later than the last time she checked it. Which put her at forty-five minutes past midnight, enough time, she hoped, for Stoner to have made it back from wherever he'd gone, gotten into bed as promised, and to have given up on her and fallen asleep.
After Stoner left, she'd had another mojito with Jenny at The Wicked Hop, then they'd gone to hear a band at the Milwaukee Ale House, where she drank a lot of water and nursed a beer for appearances, not wanting to show up in Stoner's bed too drunk to function. Before it was time to leave, though, she'd poured back one last mojito to make sure any inhibitions—she didn't have many—would be on hold.
So now, well-hydrated, high on adrenaline and that last quickly downed drink, she was on her way.
To Stoner. Oh, yeah.