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The Sand Bar, a cool little club in a tucked-away lane off Melbourne's Chapel Street, was pumping that Saturday night.
'He's cute!' said Franny, shouting to be heard.
Caitlyn played with her sparkly chandelier earrings as she stared dreamily at the buff Cutey Patootey in the T-shirt and jeans at the other end of the bar. 'Isn't he just? And for an outdoorsytype guy he actually has really nice hands. I'm sure he plays the piano.'
Franny laughed into her cocktail sending the flamingo swizzle-stick spinning. 'If he plays the piano then the doodles on the notepad beside my phone make me the next Picasso.'
Caitlyn dropped her hand to her drink and blinked at Franny. 'Meaning?'
'Only you would see husband potential in a first date.' 'I never! I'
'You know you do!' Franny said, cutting Caitlyn off. 'You see hearts and flowers, when what you actually need is a guy who can keep you in line. Who doesn't let you get away with the crap you usually do. One who dances to the beat of his own drum, not yours.'
Caitlyn glanced back at Cutey Patootey just as he sucked in his washboard stomach as a pair of bouncy blondes swayed past. Her mouth twitched. 'Believe me, I'm not hearing wedding bells this time.'
Franny gave her a nudge, then out of the corner of her mouth said, 'But have you heard bedsprings creaking?'
Caitlyn smacked her hard on the upper arm. 'We met a week ago.'
Franny shook her head as if that was no kind of answer, which in Frannyland it wasn't.
Caitlyn, on the other hand, wasn't about to jump into bed with some random guy just because he gave her that sweet rush that came from meeting someone new. That had never been her bag. For her, the attraction was all about the delicious slow burn at the beginning of a relationship. The shy glances, and first touches and stolen kisses, and that build of delicious tension 'til they could no longer keep their hands off one anotherwhat a thrill! So much better than the reality that always came later. So Cutey Patootey was going to have to wait.
He glanced back at the girls and grinned; big, brawny, honestly a little less erudite than she might have liked. But Franny was right; with the dimples and spiky blond hair he was ridiculously cute.
With a self-satisfied smile, Caitlyn motioned to Franny she was about to make a beeline for the ladies' room for a freshen up. She sucked in her stomach and ducked and weaved her way through the heaving Saturday night club crowd.
Once through she let out her stomach and craned her neck to see which direction the rest rooms had gone, when she turned and smacked face first into a wall.
At least it felt like a wall. That was until she reached out and grabbed it and discovered it was warm, and slightly yielding, and wearing a suit.
She tried to push off it only to find the crowd pressing at her back.
'Whoa,' she said, half laughing, half hanging on for dear life as she righted herself using the wall as her guide.
And then she looked up. And up. And up.
Dark hair, dark eyes, dark expression. Hello Handsome.
She stood staring into those dark eyes for a long time. Seconds? Minutes?
'So sorry,' she finally said, as breathless as though she'd had the air knocked from her lungs.
Then just when she decided he wasn't going to answer her back, a deep dark velvet voice said, 'Whatever for?'
She swallowed. Tried to anyway. Turned out her mouth had dried up.
Shaking her fringe from her eyes and feigning a confidence that was feeling a tad shaky right about then, she looked right into his eyes, and said, 'I don't make a habit of throwing myself into the arms of passing strangers.'
'Yet you're so good at it.'
She laughed, and her breasts pressed against him. His hard warm chest. She felt a weakening at the backs of her knees. She curled her hands tighter around his lapels.
She wished she could see his eyes better. To see if he was smiling too. The club wasn't exactly dark, but he somehow seemed to swallow the light around him.
'Okay,' she said, 'so it's a move. Not an original one. A classic, really. And I'm sticking by it.'
'Mmm. There's a reason why classics become classics,' he drawled, his rich velvety voice making her shoulders roll as though someone were running a slow finger right down her spine.
She could feel the beat of the music in her stomach. Or 10 the rules of engagement perhaps it was her pulse, thumping hard and fast through her centre. Unless it was his pulse. His thumping. They were pressed close enough for it to be possible.
'Caitlyn March,' she said, figuring it impolite to be quite so plastered against the man and not at least introduce herself. She unpeeled a hand to shake his.
'Nice to meet you.'
The house lights flashed at that momenton off on offin time with an eighties dance hit and she finally saw his face. Gorgeous didn't even begin to cut it. It was the kind of face she'd have immediately looked away from if caught staring for fear of public drooling.
And then he smiled.
It wasn't a grin by any stretch of the imagination. But the serious cheek creased in the kind of way that set a girl's heart to racing, and the dark eyes gleamed, but it was plenty enough to make Caitlyn feel as if she'd just been clubbed over the back of the head.
Her brain became a fog. She could see the wave and sway of dancing clubbers out of the corner of her eye, and it felt as though they were moving in slow motion. The steady thump of the music pulsed in her stomach. Lower. Boom, boom, boom.
Were the two of them swaying in time with the music now? If not, it felt as if they sure as heck should be.
'Are you a dancer?' she asked. But when she felt him take a breath to answer, she got in first. 'I meant do you get your dance moves on at places like this? Not professionally, of course. I didn't mean you look like a ballerina or anything. And I'm not sure it would be physically possible to achieve head-spins in that suit.'
No response, not that she blamed him. Though his chest rumbled deliciously against hers. Was he laughing? God, she was literally having to stop herself from breathing the guy in he smelled so delicious, and he was laughing.
She knew she ought to just let him be, to back away slowly and go wherever it was she'd been planning to go when she stumbled upon him. Where was that again? But he smelled so good, felt so solid, gave her such an array of the most delicious goose bumps, she couldn't.
She realised then that his arms were around her. Not inappropriately in any way, shape or form. The song playing was the kind that always had half the nightclub trying to squeeze onto a dance floor three sizes too small and he was merely keeping her from smacking into any other nightclubbers. Or walls for that matter. It was a gentlemanly thing.
She was bumped, jostled, nudged closer. His arms tightened. The crowd moved away. His arm did not. And suddenly it didn't feel so gentlemanly after all.
He shifted his weight. Or maybe she'd shifted hers. Either way when the shifting stopped they were closer again. Her thighs were introduced to the hardness of his. His belt buckle got to know the dent of her belly button. Her blood rushed so hard and fast through her, her head had begun to spin.
She felt as if the floor had dropped out from under her and she was balancing on the edge. Like if the guy moved the wrong wayor more specifically the right wayshe might leap into his arms, wrap her legs around him and never let go. He was so strong, so warm, he had her wondering if there was a back alley to the place. A hard, private wall up against which he and she could
And then she remembered the guy at the bar. The guy with whom she was on a date. Whatshisname? Seriously, what was his name?
Honestly, in the end, it was less that than the fact that her toes had begun to go numb from standing on them in some kind of effort not to feel completely swamped by the man's height that she lowered shakily into her high heels, uncurled her clenched fingers from his jacket, peeled herself from his person, and took a slow and unsteady step away.
The dance song came to a halt. Something slower and softer moaned through the overworked speakers. The strobing lights disappeared and the room was lit with a soft even glow.
'Well, thanks for not letting me fall,' she said, still needing to half shout to be heard.
'Thank you for letting me not let you fall.'
She managed to laugh despite the strange tumbling inside her stomach. Then his cheek did the sexy crease thing again, and she might even have said something like, Lovely. But no. She couldn't have. That would be embarrassing along the lines of having her dress caught up in her undies.
She discreetly checked her dress. All good.
'Right.' She flapped her hands over her shoulders in the general direction of the bar. 'I'd better get back to my friend before she thinks I've been abducted by little green men. Not that she's some kind of rabid believer in UFOs, or those kinds of things. Though once, late one night, we did see something odd'
Stop! Go! Now!
'Okay, then. Bye!' she said.
He acknowledged her with a bow of his head. A small smile. And a glint in his eyes that seemed a hell of a lot like the kind of shockingly hot attraction she was dealing very badly with herself at that very moment.
Caitlyn curtsied. Curtsied! Then stepped back, bumped into someone, spun on her heel, apologised profusely, smacked another dancer, turned to wave to Dax again so that his final impression of her wasn't her elbowing a stranger in the head, to find he was gone.
She stood a moment in the middle of the dance floor, feeling a little adrift, actually.
When a group of grinning guys in matching 'Pub Crawl' T-shirts surrounded her, she came to quick smart. She ducked under their waving arms and aimed her unsteady feet in the direction of Franny.
As her knees shook she couldn't remember having such an instantaneously intense response to meeting a man in, well, ever. All that from a bit of body contact, a smouldering gaze, and a five-minute almost-conversation. No shy glances, and cheeky first touches there. It had felt as if a bomb had gone off inside her. She held a hand to her stomach to quell the lingering ache.
Alas, intensity was the absolute last thing she wanted or needed. She'd lived through enough intensity to last her a lifetime during her latest break-up.
George hadn't taken it well, poor love. No wonder, he'd been so sure of her he'd gone so far as to give her his grandmother's engagement ring. But panic had set in, as it inevitably did, and she'd ended it.
She shook it off, literally shimmying away the discomfort of the whole incident, which was draping itself over her like an old shawl that smelled of mothballs. Things were different now. She was different. At least she was trying to be.
At first she'd tried swearing off men for good. But holing up on the couch every Saturday night had sent her nearly around the bend. Now she'd decided, with Franny's encouragement, that what she needed wasn't selfenforced sobriety, just some simple honest-to-goodness fun. A light, easy-going, melt-in-the-mouth kind of guy; sorbet to cleanse her romantic palate.
'What was that?' Franny asked, practically bouncing on the barstool.
Caitlyn slid onto her barstool and feigned fascination for her now lukewarm cocktail. 'What was what?'
'You and the Suit, that's what. I thought you were going to tear one another's clothes off right in the middle of the dance floor. Who is he?'
'Well, Cutey Patootey over there might be a cute guy. But that one was all Man.'
Caitlyn glanced at her date to find him sculling beer with the Pub Crawl guys. She winced, and turned back to Franny. 'You say man like it needs a capital M.'
'Go ahead and capitalise the whole word.'
When Franny was quiet for longer than Caitlyn thought possible, she looked up to find her friend staring across the room. Caitlyn couldn't help but follow her lead.
And there he was, Dax Somebody, standing in a group on the other side of the club. He watched in seeming be-musement as a woman about her age wearing fairy wings was waving her arms at him as if she were about to take off.
Taller than everyone else in sight. Broad too. Dark hair, dark suit. Serious expression. As if he secretly ran the whole world all on his own. As if he always got his way.
Franny was right, he was all Man. Caitlyn breathed in deep through her nose, looking for and finding the tang of his scent, which still lingered on her skin. And just like that the vibration was back, fizzing as potently inside her as it had the moment she'd recognised the heat in his eyes as a direct mirror of hers.
But no matter how much her body was telling her yes, her head knew he was too much for her. All that intensity and heat was a banquet when all she could stomach right then was sorbet. Pity.
Dax Somebody discreetly checked his watch, then glanced about the room, his gaze almost colliding with hers.
Cheeks as red and hot as sun-ripened tomatoes, Caitlyn spun away and grabbed Franny by the arm, pulling her friend from a trance.
'Stop staring,' Caitlyn hissed as though he might hear her. 'You'll get RSI.'
'It'll be worth it.'
It was after two a.m. at the hazy, noisy, malodorous nightclub when Dax decided he'd put in an appropriate amount of time at his sister Lauren's birthday bash and was quietly working out the fastest route to the door.
His time was rarely his own. He still had a half dozen endowment proposals to which he needed to give the final stamp of approval and foreign markets to check before he could even think about sleep.
But his feet refused to budge. They were fixed to the floor as if they'd been bolted there, and it had nothing to do with the sticky remnants of a night's worth of spilt booze. He only had a certain someone with dreamy brown eyes to blame.