Read an Excerpt
'Imagine him naked.'
Ellie Rose barely heard her friend's voice above the nightclub's musical din, but she recognised the lusty tone. She knew why. And she knew to whom she was referring. The six-foot-something male-model type standing not more than fifteen feet away. As the gyrating crowd parted briefly beneath the swirl of dimly coloured neon lights and bone-jarring bass, she was treated to her first full-length glimpse of him.
He was turned away from her, but she could see that he was tall and dark and She had a thing for cute rear ends. One butt cheek tightened and Nice, she thought with a little sigh that tickled like a guilty pleasure down to her toes. Very nice.
Then the crowd closed around him and she cursed her height-challenged five foot two. But no way was she admitting to ogling him with the same lustful thoughts her friend had voiced. She hadn't known Sasha long, but she did know that she was more than likely to up and invite him over. From what Ellie had observed, Sasha didn't wait for men to find her; she found them.
Ellie feigned ignorance. 'Who?'
Sasha lifted her bottle of wine cooler in salute and raised her voice over the noise. 'You know perfectly well whothe guy up close with that tall chick in leather pants. Better still, imagine yourself naked with him.'
Ellie could. Very well. Too well. On indigo satin sheets Except that the stunning brunette leaning in for a kiss insisted on sabotaging the image. Ellie swallowed and said in a ridiculously tight voice, 'We're not here to pick up guys. We're here to enjoy the music.'
'Speak for yourself.' Sasha tipped her bottle to her lips. 'If you want to enjoy music, go see a musical. Uh-oh, I think he's looking at us,' she said. 'At you,' she amended as the crowd between them thinned. She pressed her knuckles into Ellie's spine, prodded her forward. 'He's coming this way. Go on. You could get lucky tonight.' Sasha leaned closer, spoke into Ellie's ear. 'Ask him if he's got any friends.'
Ellie's legs began to tremble. She didn't want to get lucky. Did she? No. Not with a guy who had the potential to make her want things she knew she couldn't have with a guy like him. He had permanent playboy written all over that cocky smile and confident stride.
He wore black trousers and a white open-necked shirt that reflected the ceiling's changing light show. His hair was dark, short and spiked with a touch of gel in such a way that it looked as if he'd just rolled out of his lover's bed. The designer platinum watch adorning his wrist screamed money, money, money.
The lighting changed to an intermittent strobeit seemed to flash in time to her pulseas he drew near. And then he was so close that a quick yank of her arm would bring him within lip-smacking distance, and it was like watching one of those flickering black-and-white movies.
His eyes were dark bottomless pools. Mesmerising, magnetic, reeling her in. 'Hi, there. Can I buy you a drink?'
His voice, liqueur over dark chocolate, slid down deep, coating her insides with its lusciousness. She raised her all-but-empty bottle of cola. 'I already have one, thanks, and I'm with a friend ' She trailed off as she saw Sasha making off into the knot of dancers, hips swaying. The rat. This little dinghy was doomed.
'Looks like your friend knows how to have a good time,' he said, his gaze following Ellie's briefly before turning back to her. 'I haven't seen you here before.'
'Because I haven't been here before. I'm not a regular clubber.' Sasha had dragged her along despite her protests, insisting Ellie needed more fun in her life.
'Let's make you one.' He reached for her hand. 'Dance with me.' A tingling sensation zipped all the way up her arm and settled low in her abdomen. His hand was warm, hard, firm. The way she imagined the rest of his body would feel. She recalled her sheet fantasyand the brunette. Tension gripped tight in her lower belly.
'What about your friend?' She slipped her hand from his. Smoothed the tingly palm over her little black dress. Hitched her miniscule embroidered bag higher on her shoulder.
Uh-oh. Big mistake, voicing that observation, because now he knew she'd been checking him out. But he couldn't know what she'd been thinking.
Or perhaps he did, because he grinnedthe way a man like him would grin if he knewand Ellie wished she'd never given him the satisfaction.
'Yasmine's a colleague,' he said, that sexy confident grin still in place. 'I haven't seen her for a while. I've been working in Sydney.'
Hence, the up close and personal, Ellie supposed. She darted a quick glance behind him. She saw a well-endowed blonde in a white halter neck watching him with avaricious intent, but she could no longer see Yasmine. Or maybe her name wasn't Yasmine at all; maybe she'd just given this guy the flick and he'd moved on to his next targetEllie. She didn't know him; he could be lying, looking for an easy lay.
And when it came right down to it, who here wasn't?
Her body wanted, desperately, to refute that claimwith himbut she injected the zap of excess hormonal energy into her spine instead, straightened and stuck to something inanely neutral. 'You're from Melbourne originally?'
He nodded. 'I work on multiple projects, so I commute between the two cities on occasion.'
And he obviously took the high road to town, whereas she lived on the low road.
'The name's Matt, by the way.'
No surname, Ellie noted. Obviously not interested in more than a passing flirtation. Fine. Long-term relationships and becoming attached to people always ended in disaster. At least, it did for her. She lifted the bottle to her lips and drained the contents to soothe her throat which felt as if it were coated in sand. 'I'm Ellie.'
'How about that dance, then, Ellie?'
A ribbon of heat shimmied through her as the music changed to a slow, thrumming love song.
Perspiration broke out between her breasts, on her upper lip. She tugged at the neckline of her dress a couple of times to create a draught. It didn't help. 'I'd rather not at the moment, if you don't mind ' Except that the bosomy blonde was sure to pounce and Ellie found herself smiling up at him. 'It's so airless and loud in here, I'
'Outside, then?' he suggested. 'I could do with some fresh air myself.'
Even better, Matt thought as, with a light hand at her back, he guided her around the sway of dancers toward the club's secured outdoor area. The sensation of skin-warmed fabric was a tantalising heat against his palm. Anticipationa different kind of heatnipped at his skin.
But she stopped midstride and swivelled to face him, looking for all the world like a bunny frozen in headlights, and for a moment there he thought she'd changed her mind. He was prepared to do whatever it took to change it back again, but she gestured to the cloakroom.
'I___I'll want my jacket. It might be hot in here, but it's bitterly cold outside.'
He watched her walk towards the cloak check. He hadn't intended picking up a woman tonight. He'd come to get away from the pressures of work for an hour or two, but the petite woman with the short flyaway bob had captivated him. Perhaps it was because she was nothing like the women he usually dated.
He liked his women the way he designed his million-dollar constructionstall, clean-cut lines, elegant sophistication and a sense of style. This girl was tiny, delicately boned but curvaceous. Moreover, every curve looked real. She reminded him of fairy flosspretty and sweet and fragile.
That warm nip of anticipation struck anew. Harder, hotter. He ran a finger around the collar of his shirt. His suggestion to step outside had been inspired because suddenly he couldn't wait to find out if she tasted as sweet as she looked. And then then he wanted to take his time to enjoy, something not easily achieved on a crowded dance floor.
He watched her hand over her ticket to the attendant, her spiky stilettos drawing attention to the smooth, well-turned ankles, her short hem riding up her thighs as she reached over the countertop to collect her coat.
'Hi,' a sultry feminine voice said beside him. 'I couldn't help noticing your friend leaving.'
He barely glanced at the woman who'd materialised beside him. Blonde. Big teeth. 'She's not leaving,' he said, his gaze finding Ellie again.
Ellie turned and wide wary eyes met his. She looked away, then looked back, nibbling on her lower lip, and for the second time in as many moments he thought she might bolt to the exit.
To forestall that possibility, he stepped forward quickly to meet her, cupping her elbow as he drew her towards the outdoor area. 'Everything okay?'
'Why wouldn't it be?'
'You looked a little edgy for a moment there.'
'Did I?' A tentative sound between a laugh and a cough escaped her as she accompanied him outside.
An almost solid wall of cold air laden with cigarette smoke met them. Bright lanterns swung overhead, reflecting pools of colour on aluminium tables and overflowing ashtrays. Clubbers huddled in groups around tall gas heaters, smoking, drinking and laughing while couples smooched in shadowy spots around the high-fenced perimeter. And by an amazing stroke of luck one of those spots appeared to be reserved for them.
'This is better.' He took her jacket from her handsa little black number with embroidery on the pocketsand settled it around her shoulders. Her bobbed hair, cut just below chin length, brushed silkily against his fingers.
Her fragrance teased his nostrils. Not perfume, but something that smelled like spiced raspberries. 'Now we can talk without risk to our vocal chords.' Her eyes intrigued him. Beneath their placid reserve he glimpsed the promise of passion. 'So, Ellie, if you're not into the club scene, what do you do for fun on a regular Saturday night?'
'I read. Science fiction and fantasy mostly.' Shrugging deeper beneath her jacket, she said, 'I know that probably sounds pathetically solitary and boring to someone like yourself.' She rolled her eyes to the star-studded sky. 'But haven't you ever wondered what's out there?'
'Sure.' He shifted his gazenot skyward but to the tempting column of her throat. 'For now, though, I'm perfectly satisfied with what's right here in front of me.'
He blinked. Oh? That was it? Most women would respond with a smile or a giggle or a flutter of lashessome hint that this game was definitely going somewhere.
Not Ellie. And yet there was no mistaking the latent heat behind her gaze. She tugged the edges of her jacket together with tightly curled fingers and switched topics. 'What's been happening in Sydney?'
He rocked back on his heels. 'To tell you the truth, I've been too busy to notice.'
'I'm working on a harbour-side housing project at the moment. How about you? What line of work are you in?'
She moved her shoulders. 'A bit of this, a bit of that. I like to move around, so I pick up work wherever.'
'Travel. So I'm guessing you've been overseas?'
She coughed out a laugh. 'I'm afraid nothing near as exciting as that. Name a town between Sydney and Adelaide and I've probably been there at some stage in the past few years. I don't like to be tied down.' She laughed again but the humour didn't seem to reach her eyes. 'Call me irresponsible.'
'Okay, but at some point, you'd probably like to settle in one place, build a career and take on the responsibility of raising a family?'
She shook her head once. 'Not me. I'm a free spirit. I go where I please, when I please. And I like it that way.'
Do you? he wondered, watching the play of mixed emotions flicker across her gaze.
'And I can eat the whole darn cheesecake in one sitting if I want. Now that's what I call freedom.' Her smile broadened. This time her eyes danced with devilment and he found himself totally entranced by the way her lips curved, making apples of her cheeks.
'I guess it is,' he agreed, smiling back. 'Free spirit, huh.' His lips tingled in anticipation of his first taste of her luscious-looking lips. He could almost feel their sweet heat, the warmth of her breath against his cheek . 'Ellie, I want to kiss you,' he murmured. 'I've been wanting to kiss you since the moment I laid eyes on you.' And a lot more besides, but he didn't voice that yet.
Her head snapped back, her eyes locked on his and the slow-burning sexual tension which had been simmering along nicely evaporated in a puff of frosty air. Her tongue darted out to lick her lips, then they disappeared altogether as she pressed them into a tight flat line.
His body howled a protest. That's what you get for being a gentleman, McGregor. He'd not had much experience with women knocking him back. Or he was right and she wasn't as free spirited as she was making out. 'Is there someone else?'
'No.' Her face reflected the light from the pink lantern hanging nearby as she shook her head. 'So ?'
Nearby, someone's glass shattered on the concrete but her eyes remained locked with his. They seemed to say yes, but her behaviour indicated otherwise. The wind scuttled along the high brick fence, scattering dried leaves at their feet and riffling through her bright hair, gleaming like moonlight.
Then her shoulders tightened as she drew in air. 'So do it, then.'
Her surprisingly breathy demand had his libido leaping to attention. He leaned closer, watching her chest rise sharply as she drew another swift breath, watching her eyes flare with a mix of vulnerability, hesitance and anticipation.
He barely laid his lips on hers, just enough to feel the warmth there, the texture. It was like tasting summer's first ripe peach. Sweet, soft. Sensuous. Eliciting a low throaty murmur from her that sang like honey through his bloodstream.
More. It was more than he'd anticipated and it threw him for a loop. He lifted his head to gaze down at her, saw that she was as surprised as he. He hadn't expected to feel his heart beating oddly out of time, as if he stood on the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the middle of a storm without a safety harness.
Willing to believe it had been a fluke, again he lowered his lips, felt her hesitance dissipate like autumn mist in sunshine as she shifted nearer. Her mouth, tentative and unsure, softened and opened beneath his. He took swift advantage, lifting his hands to cradle her jaw for more intimate access and angling his body so that they aligned in the all right places.
He felt her tiny frame quiver against him as he swept his tongue inside her mouth to tangle with hers where the flavours were richer, darker, hotter.