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Jewel paused just outside the perimeter of the outdoor bar and stared over the sand-covered floor to the blazing torches lining the walkway down to the beach.
Music played softly, a perfect accompaniment to the clear, star-strung night. In the distance, the waves rolled in harmony with the sultry melody. Soft jazz. Her favorite.
It was pure chance that had directed her to this tiny island paradise. A vacated seat on a plane, a bargain ticket price and only five minutes to decide. And here she was. A new place, a vow to take a few days for herself.
Not being completely impulsive, the first thing she'd done when she'd arrived was to find a new temporary job, and as luck would have it, had learned that the owner of the opulent Anetakis hotel was going to be in temporary residence here and needed an assistant. Four weeks. A perfect amount of time to spend in paradise before she moved on.
The opportunity had almost been too good to be true. Along with a generous salary, she'd also been given a room at the hotel. It had the makings of a marvelous vacation.
"Are you going out or are you going to spend such a lovely night indoors?"
The vaguely accented male voice brushed across her ears, eliciting a trail of chill bumps down her spine. She turned and was forced to look up for the source of the huskily spoken words.
When she met his eyes, she felt the impact clear to her toes. Her belly clenched, and for a moment it was hard to breathe.
The man wasn't just gorgeous. There were plenty of gorgeous men in the world, and she'd met her share. This one was powerful. A predator in a sea of sheep. His eyes bore into hers with an intensity that almost frightened her.
There wasinterest. Clear interest. She wasn't a fool, nor did she indulge in silly games of false modesty.
She stared back, unable to wrest herself from the force of his gaze. Black. His eyes were as black as night. His hair was as dark, and his skin gleamed golden brown in the soft light of the torches. Firelight cast a sheen to his eyes, shiny onyx, glittering and proud.
His jawline was firm, set, a strong tilt that denoted his arrogance, a quality she was attracted to in men. For a long moment he returned her frank appraisal, and then his lips curved upward into a slight smile.
"A woman of few words I see."
She shook herself and mentally scolded her tongue for knotting up so badly.
"I was deciding on whether to go out or not."
He lifted one imperious brow, a gesture that seemed more challenging than questioning.
"But I can't buy you a drink if you remain inside."
She cocked her head to the side, allowing a tiny smile to relax the tension bubbling inside her. She wasn't a stranger to sexual attraction, but she couldn't remember the last time a man had affected her so strongly right off the bat.
Awareness sizzled between them, almost as if a fuse had been lit the moment he'd spoken. Would she accept the unspoken invitation in his eyes? Oh, she knew he'd asked to buy her a drink, but that wasn't all he wanted. The question was whether she was bold enough to reach out and take the offer.
What could a single night hurt? She was extremely choosy in her partners. She hadn't taken a lover in two years. She just hadn't been interested until this dark-eyed stranger with his sensual smile and mocking arrogance came along. Oh yes, she wanted him. So much so that she vibrated with it.
"Are you here on holiday?" she asked as she peered up at him from underneath her lashes.
Again his lips quirked into a half smile. "In a manner of speaking."
Relief scurried through her belly. No, one night wouldn't hurt. He'd leave and go back to his world. Eventually she'd move on, and their paths would never cross again.
Tonight tonight she was lonely, a feeling she didn't often indulge in, even if she spent the majority of her time in isolation.
"I'd like a drink," she said by way of agreement.
Something predatory sparked in his eyes. A glow that was gone almost as soon as it burst to life. His hand came up and cupped her elbow, his fingers splaying possessively over her skin.
She closed her eyes for a brief moment, enjoying the electric sensation that sizzled through her body the moment he touched her.
He led her from the protective awning of the hotel into the night air. Around them the warm glow of torches danced in time with the sweet sounds of jazz. The breeze coming off the water blew through her hair, and she inhaled deeply, enjoying the salt tang.
"Dance with me before we have that drink," he murmured close to her ear.
Without waiting for her consent, he pulled her into his arms, his hips meeting hers as he cupped her body close.
They fit seamlessly, her flush against him, melting and flowing until she wasn't sure where she ended and he began.
His cheek rested against the side of her head as his arms encircled her. Protective. Strong. She reached up, sliding her arms over his shoulders until they wrapped around his neck.
His words flowed like warm honey over jaded ears. It wasn't the most original line, but that was just it. Coming from him, it didn't sound like a line, but rather an honest assessment, a sincere compliment, one that maybe he'd ordinarily be unwilling to give.
"So are you," she whispered.
He chuckled, and his laughter vibrated over her sensitive skin. "Me beautiful? I'm unsure of whether to be flattered or offended."
She snorted. "I know for a fact I'm not the only woman to have ever called you beautiful."
"Do you now?"
His hands skimmed over her back, finding the flesh bared by the backless scoop of her dress. She sucked in her breath as his fingers burned her flesh.
"You feel it too," he murmured.
She didn't pretend not to know what he meant. The chemistry between them was combustible. Never before had she experienced anything like this, not that she'd tell him that.
Instead she nodded her agreement.
"Are we going to do anything about it?"
She leaned back and tilted her head to meet his eyes. "I'd like to think we are."
"Direct. I like that in a woman."
"I like that in a man."
Amusement softened the intensity of his gaze, but she saw something else in his expression. Desire. He wanted her as badly as she wanted him.
"We could have that drink in my room."
She sucked in her breath. Even though she knew what he wanted, the invitation still hit her squarely in the stomach. Her breasts tightened against his chest, and arousal bloomed deep.
"I'm not " For the first time, she sounded unsure, hesitant. Not at all the decisive woman she knew herself to be.
"You're not what?" he prompted.
"Protected," she said, her voice nearly drowning in the sounds around them.
He tucked a finger underneath her chin and forced her to once again meet his seeking gaze. "I'll take care of you."
The firm promise wrapped around her more securely than his arms. For a moment she indulged in the fantasy of what it would be like to have a man such as this take care of her for the rest of her life. Then she shook her head. Such foolish notions shouldn't disrupt the fantasy of this one night.
She rose up on tiptoe, her lips a breath away from his. "What's your room number?"
"I'll take you up myself."
She shook her head, and he frowned.
"I'll meet you there."
His eyes narrowed for a moment as if he wasn't sure whether to believe her or not. Then without warning, he slid a hand around her neck and curled his fingers around her nape. He pulled her to him, pressing his lips to hers.
She went liquid against him, her body sliding bone-lessly downward. He hauled her against him with his free arm, anchoring her tight to prevent her fall.
He licked over her lips, pressing, demanding her to open. With a breathless gasp, she surrendered, parting her mouth so his tongue could slide inward.
Hot, moist open-mouthed kisses. He stole her breath and returned it. His teeth scraped at her lip then captured it and tugged relentlessly. Unwilling to remain a passive participant, she fired back, sucking at his tongue.
His groan echoed over her ears. Her sigh spilled into his mouth.
He finally pulled away, his breaths coming in ragged heaves. His eyes flashed dangerously, sending a shiver over her flesh.
Then he shoved a keycard into her hand. "Top floor. Suite eleven. Hurry."
With that he turned and stalked back into the hotel, his stride eating up the floor.
She stared after him, her body humming and her mind in a million different pieces. She was completely shattered by what she'd just experienced.
"I must be insane. He'll eat me alive."
A low hum of heady desire buzzed through her veins. She could only hope she was right.
She turned on shaking legs and walked slowly into the hotel. It wasn't that she was being deliberately coy by putting her mystery man off. Mystery man She didn't even know his name, but she'd agreed to have sex with him.
Then again, it had a certain appeal, this air of mystery. A night of fantasy. No names. No expectations. No entanglements or emotional involvement. No one would get hurt. It was, in fact, perfect.
No, she wasn't being cute. But if she was going to go through with this, it would be on her own terms. Her dark-eyed lover wouldn't have complete control of the situation.
With more calm than she felt, she went up to her room. Once there, she surveyed her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Her hair was slightly mussed and her lips swollen. Passion. She looked as if she'd had an encounter with the very essence of passion.
The sultry temptress staring back at her wasn't a woman she recognized, but she decided she liked this new person. She looked beautiful and confident, and excitement sparked her eyes at the thought of what waited for her in suite eleven.
After a lifetime of loneliness, of being alone, the idea of spending the night in a lover's arms was so appealing that it was all she could do not to hurry out to the elevator.
Instead she forced herself to take steadying breaths. She stared at herself until the wildness faded from her eyes and coolness replaced it. Then she smoothed her long blond hair away from her face.
Satisfied that she had herself under control, she walked out of the bathroom to sit on the bed. She'd wait fifteen to twenty minutes before she headed up. No need to seem too eager.
Piers prowled his suite, unaccustomed to the edginess that consumed him ever since he'd parted ways with the blond bombshell downstairs. He stopped his restless pacing and poured a drink from the crystal decanter on the bar, but he didn't drink it. Instead he stared at the amber liquid then glanced at his watch for the third time.
Would she come?
He cursed his eagerness. He felt like an errant teenager sneaking out of the house to meet a girlfriend. His reaction to the woman couldn't be explained except in terms of lust and desire.
He wanted her. Had wanted her from the moment he spotted her staring longingly through the open doorway of the hotel. He'd been mesmerized by the picture she portrayed. Long and sleek with slender legs, a narrow waist and high, firm breasts. Her hair fell like silk over her shoulders and down her back and his fingers itched to dive into the tresses and wrap them around his knuckles while he devoured her plump lips.
Even now his groin ached uncomfortably. Never had he reacted so strongly to a woman, and it bothered him even as the idea of taking her to bed fired his senses.
A soft knock at his door thrust him to attention, and he hurried across to open it. She stood there, delightfully shy, her ocean eyes a strange mixture of emerald and sapphire.
"I know you gave me a key," she said in a low voice, "but it seemed rude to just barge in."
He found his voice, though his mouth had gone dry as soon as she spoke. He reached for her hand, and she placed it trustingly in his. "I'm glad you came," he said huskily as he pulled her forward.
Instead of leading her farther inside, he wrapped his arms around her, molding her to the contours of his body. She trembled softly against him, and he could feel her heart fluttering like the beat of hummingbird wings.
Unable to resist the temptation, he lowered his mouth to hers, wanting to taste her again. Just once. But when their lips met, he forgot all about his intention to sample.
She responded hotly, her arms sliding around his body. Her hands burned into his skin, through the material of his shirt as if it wasn't there. His impatience grew. He wanted her naked. Wanted him to be naked so he could feel her skin on his.
Thoughts of taking it slow, of seducing her in measured steps flew out the window as he drank deeply of her sweetness. He wasn't sure who was seducing whom, and at this moment, it didn't matter.
His lips scorched a path down the side of her neck as his fingers tugged impatiently at the fastenings of her dress.