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Lori Myles finished her virgin strawberry daiquiri, slipped off her barstool, tugged down the hem of her ruffled miniskirt and accepted the stranger's outstretched hand. Moving with precise steps in her black stilettos, she followed her new dance partner into the pulsing throng that was grinding and bumping to Usher's latest single on Club Azule's too-small dance floor.
The club, named for its spectacular view of Acapulco Bay, was a popular "in" spot in the resort town's throbbing nightclub scene. The exclusive nightspot, tucked away on a quiet curve of the bay, dished out music that drew locals as well as tourists who wanted to socialize, enjoy the music and dance the night away.
Whirling strobe lights flashed overhead and cool neon color beams glowed in the semidark, providing Lori with a fractured glimpse of the man who was guiding her into the gyrating mob. He was slim, but his tight booty was high, round and encased in fitted jeans. His V-shaped torso, flanked by muscular arms that bulged impressively under a short-sleeved polo shirt, tapered into a wide leather belt studded with silver nails. His wavy black hair swept the ridge of solid shoulders as his slight jerk of a swagger sent the teardrop earring in his right earlobe into a dance of its own. As each burst from the strobe lights hit his golden brown skin, he glowed like copper money.
As soon as her partner elbowed space for them in the frenzied crowd, the music suddenly shifted from Usher's fast-paced beat to a sensuous number by Mary J. Blige, changing the mood entirely. Some couples left the dance floor. Others slid into place, arms wrapped around each other to execute slow, sexy moves.
Lori gave her partner a quizzical look, wondering if he still wanted to dance. He responded by taking her hand and easing her into position, his arm circling her waist. She dropped her shoulders, sucked in a silent breath and tightened her grip on him, surprisingly shaken by the way his probing dark eyes were boring into her. Something told her that this man wanted to show off his stuff, and she planned to match him step for step.
Biting back a satisfied smile, Lori followed his lead, impressed by the near-perfect moves he was throwing down. In her opinion, this was the best way to spend a free evening—in the arms of a handsome stranger who was all about the music and the moves, and not into a lot of disjointed, phony conversation that served no purpose and went nowhere. She did not go to clubs to meet men, but to dance, and this guy was one smooth operator. He had not uttered a single word.
Fine with me, Lori thought, appreciating his lack of conversation. She spoke Spanish well enough, but rarely spoke to the men she danced with. No English was the best route to take. That way there were no complications, no false promises or drama, only a good time and a fast exit when it was time to leave.
At twenty-nine, Lori had worked for Globus-Americas Airlines (GAA) for six years, with a flying schedule that took her from Houston to Mexico City, and then on to Acapulco—a dream of a schedule that fit her carefree lifestyle as well as her love of travel and adventure. An avid dancer, Lori had come to Club Azule to escape her hotel and spend a few hours of her overnight layover having fun in Acapulco. Working as a flight attendant for GAA was exciting, but stressful work, and dancing was a good way to wind down after her long flight. Keeping things impersonal, uncomplicated, and stress-free was the only way to go. For her, a perfect night out meant bumping and grinding to music with someone who had no interest in anything other than a good time. Someone who shunned name-giving, requests for cell phone numbers, and questions about her plans for tomorrow. Why bother with all that nonproductive talk? By tomorrow morning, she'd be high in the sky, flying away from Acapulco, and on her way back to Houston.
When Mary J hit a high, soulful note and ended the set, Lori stepped out of her partner's arms, nodded her thanks and turned to walk away. However, she was jolted to a halt when he tightened his hold on her hand and forced her to look at him.
"Thank you for the dance. It was beautiful," he said in flawless English that had no trace of a Spanish accent. "You're the most beautiful woman here tonight. And a hell of a dancer, too."
His melodious voice, his gentlemanly manner and his striking good looks made Lori's heart turn over. He sounded sincere, as if he actually expected her to be impressed by his words of praise. She tried to suppress a smile, but failed. Grinning at him, she lifted her chin, blinked her acknowledgment and started to pivot away, but he pulled her forward, placed two fingers beneath her chin and raised her mouth to his. Instinctively, Lori backed away, but when he leaned in and pressed a firm kiss on her lips, she froze. A buzz of heat flashed through Lori, carrying a warning signal to the rational part of her brain, which her lips obviously ignored. When her tongue touched his, the kiss intensified, and Lori sank into it with little hesitation, as if accepting a souvenir of her evening at Club Azule.
Standing on a dance floor in Acapulco and kissing a stranger—that was the craziest thing she'd ever done. But it seemed so natural. Why? She worried as the kiss broke off almost as quickly as it started.
Without a word, her handsome dance partner slipped into the crowd, leaving Lori to watch him go. He walked with his head tilted back, his shoulders high, as if he owned the world. As if he did as he pleased and got whatever he wanted, she thought. Hadn't he just proven that by the moves he'd made on her? Lori could still feel his black eyes caressing her face and his muscular brown arms holding her close, and was oh-so-tempted to go after him. Just to talk to him. To find out who he was, and when he'd be at the club again.
But why bother? she decided. This has been fun, but it's time to go back to the hotel and forget this ever happened. He's long gone, anyway.
Shaking off crazy thoughts of seeking out her mystery man, Lori went back to her seat at the bar to settle her bill, but before she could ask for it, a mature man wearing a white suit and a charming smile offered her his hand. Lori checked her watch.
One last dance before shutting down for the night, she told herself. Exactly what I need to shake off that last go-round.
With a flip of her hair and a wide smile of greeting, Lori stepped into a hot salsa number with her new partner, wrapping her mind around her early call tomorrow morning instead of the kissing stranger she would never see again.
From the opposite side of the dance floor, Ramón Vidal watched Lori execute a sensuous salsa routine with her new partner. A shimmer of interest slid through him, making it impossible for him to tear his eyes off the woman who was not like any he'd ever met at the club before. Her silky tan skin reminded him of sweet almonds. Her dark hair, flying free as she swung from side to side, created a sensuous frame around her heart-stopping face. Luscious full lips called to him from across the room, begging for another kiss, and her sexy round hips, swinging with the beat of the music, initiated surges of desire—and even jealousy.
Why do I feel like I want to get close to her? he wondered. He didn't even know the woman's name, let alone have any claim to her. He never picked up girls in clubs, and tonight would be no exception. With a flip of his wrist, Ramón slapped a $20 bill down on the bar and squeezed his way through the crowded club to the front door. Once outside, he took a long breath to clear his head. Staring across the dark waters of Acapulco Bay, he swept two fingers across lips that still burned from the luscious hot kiss he'd just shared with a stranger. A beautiful stranger whose touch had sparked jolts of desire that both disturbed and excited Ramón.
Though it was six o'clock in the morning, Lori awoke alert and energized despite her late night out. Since she never drank alcohol while on the job, tired feet were usually the only reminders of the fun she'd had the night before. Eager to get on with her day, Lori took a hot shower, applied the minimal makeup that kept her morning routine easy—mascara, blush and a little lip gloss—secured her long black hair into a fancy twist to keep it off her face and then snapped her suitcase closed.
Wearing her navy blue and red GAA uniform, she rolled her flight bag into the elevator and across the hotel lobby, where she dropped her room key into the fast checkout and exited through the sliding-glass doors.
Outside the hotel, a white van was waiting to take the flight crew to the airport. Since Lori was the first to arrive, she settled into a seat in the middle row and stared out the window, fingertips at her lips, her mind returning to the gorgeous guy whose mini-seduction had left her wanting more. After her final turn on the dance floor, she'd looked around the club on her way out, hoping to see him one more time. However, he had vanished as quickly as he'd appeared, like the seagulls that swooped out over the bay and slipped into the swirling clouds.
Tilting her head back against the seat, Lori closed her eyes, slightly uneasy with the thought that she actually hoped to run into her mystery kisser when she returned to Acapulco. Why was her mind so crowded with thoughts of that guy? All he had done was kiss her. Besides, bringing a new man into her life was not on her social agenda. As far as Lori was concerned, a committed relationship would compromise her independence and complicate her fast-paced schedule.
The alarming experience she'd had with her last boyfriend had cured Lori of making impulsive, emotional moves. Devan Parker's face flashed into Lori's mind. He was the man who'd cemented her vow never to get tangled up in a serious relationship with someone she barely knew.
Last year, when Lori met Devan in the elevator at the airport parking garage in Houston, she'd smiled at the handsome brother wearing a sharp pinstriped suit when he pushed the Down button for her. At five in the morning, she'd been rushing to check in for work, with a cup of coffee in one hand and her rolling bag handle in the other. He'd been hurrying to catch a flight to Los Angeles.
Devan's earthy cologne had filled the elevator with an intoxicating scent that pushed Lori's interest into overdrive. He was the most attractive, polite and sexy-looking man she had met in quite a while, and by the time the elevator reached the terminal, she'd handed him her business card and had taken his.
Three days later, Devan sent her a text message, asking Lori to meet him for lunch at the Italian restaurant inside the Marriott Hotel near the airport. She agreed, and at warp speed, they tumbled headfirst into a relationship that exploded with adventuresome sex, fancy dates at trendy clubs and silly fun days just hanging out in the city. Devan infused Lori's tightly scheduled life with excitement, and she willingly allowed him to consume every minute of her free time. Falling for Devan had happened so quickly and so easily, she should have known the affair wouldn't last…or end as smoothly as she'd hoped.
"Hey, early bird," Phyllis Marshall called out, climbing into the van, followed by Sam and Allen, fellow crew members who were also juggling cups and navy blue flight bags.
"Up and out, that's me," Lori joked, mentally closing the door on the past to zero in on the long workday that lay ahead.
"What time did you get back last night?" Phyllis inquired, stowing her bag in the luggage rack at the front of the vehicle before focusing on Lori.
"A little after twelve," Lori replied, scooting over to make room for Phyllis to sit beside her, while the two male flight attendants settled into seats in the rear.
"I don't see how you do it," Phyllis remarked, stifling a yawn. "I went to bed at nine and still, could have used a few more hours in the sack."
Lori shrugged and raised a brow at Phyllis, who at fifty-one, was the senior flight attendant and self-proclaimed mother hen of the crew. Her salt-and-pepper hair, wise blue eyes and authoritative voice inspired respect and trust. When Phyllis doled out her motherly advice, her much younger crew members usually listened, convinced that she cared about them and would have their backs if things got rough. At her age, and after a long career with GAA, Phyllis knew the business well and was generous in her support.
"Hotel rooms bore me," Lori responded in her defense. "I can only take them for so long and then I have to get out and check out the local scene. Watching TV and eating room service meals drive me nuts. Dancing relaxes me. It's like a good workout, only much more fun."
A flicker of her bright blue eyes was all that Phyllis offered.
"You could have come to the soccer game with me and Sam," Allen called up from the back of the van. "The fans in this town are absolutely wild. I was beginning to think we might not make it out of the stadium alive when the home team lost. Hell, it was a mob scene in there!"
While the two guys discussed the soccer game they'd attended the night before, Lori turned back to Phyllis. "You should have come. I found a great club on the beach. It had walls of glass and a fabulous view of the ocean. Really a spectacular place. The men here really know how to dance," Lori said, giving Phyllis a brief overview of her night out on the town, but omitting the fact that her Latin dance partner had kissed her and then disappeared.
Phyllis, who rarely ventured out of her hotel during layovers, made a sound in her throat that told Lori she was not particularly impressed by her coworker's description of her latest layover adventure.
"You need to be more careful," Phyllis warned. "American women out alone are targets for all kinds of scams and dangerous schemes. What do you get out of going to those clubs, anyway?"