New Year’s Eve in Miami. Even workaholic Alana Hernandez can’t resist the call of the city, especially if it will get her little sister off her back. But a night of celebrating turns into a night of mischief when an alluring stranger catches her eye across the dance floor.
Former Navy Seal Cole Roberts isn’t looking for anything more than a good time in Miami. Since leaving the military and being betrayed by his former fiancée, he’s not interested in unnecessary complications. But the moment he sets eyes on the sultry beauty, Cole knows this night will be far from ordinary.
No going back.
Neither Cole nor Alana are looking for a relationship, so they strike a deal: One night. No names. No repeats. But things get complicated when their night of passion becomes something neither can walk away from.
“The epitome of a page-turner. The multi-dimensional characters are vulnerable and simply pulsate with unbridled lust and passion. An ultra-hot tale.” —RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
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Stroke of Midnight
One Night In South Beach
By Andie Christopher
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Andie Christopher
All rights reserved.
Alana jabbed the speakerphone button. She dropped her head to her fancy leather desk blotter when she heard her sister's voice. "Do you realize how pathetic it is that you're at the office at 10 PM on New Year's Eve? I was really hoping you weren't going to pick up, that maybe you were off having a clandestine affair with a client."
"Then why did you call me?" She ran her fingers through her hair. "And an affair with a client would be unethical."
"Well, you're going to be at my place in twenty minutes so that I can get you ready to go out."
"I'm not going out on South Beach tonight," Alana said.
"Come on. All the girls are home with their husbands. Geoff won't come out with me. You're my only hope."
"You should hang out with your fiancé at home. I would kill for a couch and a bottle of wine right now. And I'd probably fall asleep under the bar." She started packing up for the night. Even if she managed to fend off Carla, she was about ready to head home with her work. "What about Javi?" Their older brother was probably going out. He went out a lot, to drink and pick up a willing woman to bang so he didn't have to think about his unfaithful ex-wife. He needed to come up with a better coping mechanism, and soon. She didn't mind picking up the slack right now, but she wanted him to turn into her big brother again. Maybe as soon as the divorce was final, she'd get him back.
She was here, polishing a client proposal on New Year's Eve instead of binge watching Arrow because her brother had scheduled a client meeting next week and neglected to tell her about it until this morning. She hated being kept out of the loop. But she had to pick up Javi's mess because her jerk of a sibling had checked out of the family business, and with their dad about to retire, she was the only person that noticed. Her father had built the company from nothing, given her and her siblings a life he couldn't have dreamed of growing up in Cuba, and she felt responsible for keeping the whole thing afloat.
"I'm not going to be a wing woman for Javi again. The last time I warned the poor girl away before she could go home with him." Alana laughed. "He was pissed."
"I'll bet. Listen, I have to finish this prospectus." She sifted through the stack of papers on her desk. "It's going to take me at least another couple of hours."
"Tomorrow's a holiday. Finish it after the brunch at Mom and Dad's."
"Carlita —" She used the diminutive of her sister's name, like she always did when her sister acted like a brat.
"I'm not taking no for an answer. You're so boring now. I've let it go until now, but enough is enough. We are going out. You are not going to talk about work." Alana slumped in her chair. "And you are going to have fun and talk to boys — about something other than spreadsheets."
"Nothing sounds worse to me than going out on New Year's Eve. It's going to be a total clusterfuck." She hated crowds. Loathed them. Her breath caught just thinking about being in a crush of people. "The only things I think about are spreadsheets, anyway."
"Are you going to marry a spreadsheet? Is a spreadsheet going to touch your boobs?" Alana dropped her head back and looked to the heavens. Carla had a point there. How long had it been since she'd been kissed? Too long probably.
She couldn't help but smirk at the thought that the most action she'd seen had come from a contract when it got stuck to her left boob yesterday when she fell asleep at her desk. "I'm not going to meet anyone who I want to touch my boobs at a club on South Beach."
"I met Geoff at a bar. And he thinks about more than numbers. Sometimes."
She definitely didn't want someone like Geoff touching her anywhere. Her sister's fiancé was a douchebag. But he loved her flighty, unreliable, adorable sister so he must have some redeeming qualities. Alana just couldn't think of any.
Her gaze shifted between the stack of papers and the phone. She hadn't spared much time for her sister lately. But Carla always wanted to go to some rowdy club; mingling with young people who had a lot of money was good for her sister's interior design business. Alana would rather sit around in her pajamas and drink a couple of bottles of good wine.
For Alana, going out was an inefficient use of her time. It wasn't as if she could relax. She had a company to keep afloat. She'd spend the entire time thinking about investment approaches, possible pitches, and client meetings — nothing that would relieve the intractable knots of stress in her shoulders. Flirting with guys so that her sister didn't think she was a loser was the last thing she wanted to do.
She knew she'd reached new levels of boring, but someone had to clean up Javi's little messes that would turn into bigger messes. And that someone was Alana. These days, she was the captain of the clean-up crew. While both her siblings played the free and frivolous card, she kept her head screwed on straight to keep the business running smoothly. Fun could wait.
Carla didn't realize that she had the privilege of working as a part-time interior designer and full-time party girl because of Alana's efforts. Efforts that Alana doubted their father would ever recognize because she was a girl. A vein in her temple started to throb at that thought. She needed a cocktail.
"Seriously, what else are you going to do tonight?" Carla's question stopped her from ruminating on their father's disapproval for a hot second.
"Make sure you can keep your trust fund —"
"Whatever you do tonight is not going to make or break the company, and you know it. Come out with me for one hour, just eleven until midnight. If you go home, you'll just go home and get half drunk on champagne on your couch, watching the ball drop. You won't be able to sleep, anyway."
While her neighborhood, Little Havana, wasn't flashy and revelers didn't clog the streets at midnight on New Year's Eve, some residents stood outside banging pots with wooden spoons — a form of celebration reserved for Heat championships and other special occasions. But her sister was right. All she needed to turn into a stereotype of a spinster was some cats. And she'd been thinking a lot about getting a kitten lately because she was seeing far too many of those ASPCA commercials on late-night television.
"Fine. I'll be at your place in thirty."
Carla wasn't going to quit until she got her way anyhow. And Alana deserved to have fun, or at least enough alcohol to think she was having fun.
Her sister squealed. "Good. I picked up an amazing dress for you while I was out shopping today. By the end of the night, hopefully you won't be a born-again virgin anymore."
Alana sighed, hung up the phone, and grudgingly walked out the office. She was going to get her v-card back if she didn't do something about it soon. But she was going to need to be drunk — very drunk for this.
* * *
Cole Roberts made his way down South Beach, looking for a bar that didn't have a line a mile long. At 11:30 on New Year's Eve, he wasn't having much luck. He blew out a breath as he sidestepped a drunken army of college girls. There was nothing like being alone among throngs of inebriated, hollering coeds to make a guy feel old and used up.
He checked his phone again for a message from Javier. Nothing. Muttering under his breath that he wished he would've stayed someplace quiet, like the Keys, he dodged another staggering asshole and cursed his buddy. Javier had invited him down here for a vacation, and Cole — having nothing better to do — had agreed. He didn't go home for the holidays anymore, not after his fiancée had humiliated him and then proceeded to procreate with some rich redneck. And something about the cold weather and abandoned streets of D.C. during the holidays made him antsy.
But now, Javier wasn't answering his texts, and Cole was at loose ends.
The hotel was nice, and he should have ordered room service and stayed in. But he never could sit still for long. Being stuck in a sterile, all-white hotel room didn't suit. So, here he was outside, on the biggest party night of the year, battling the crowd. At thirty-three, he was too old for this shit.
A beefy frat boy bumped into his left shoulder, and Cole grimaced. A round had nicked him in the shoulder four years ago. It didn't hurt as much these days, and he was fully functional for regular, civilian activities. But he was no longer fit to serve as a Navy SEAL. That hurt more than the lingering aches and pains. The injury severed his military career and left him with no real purpose or plan for his life. And every plan he'd made for his future while in the service had blown up in his face right after that bullet had fucked up his shoulder. But at least he was alive.
He found himself in front of a club on a patio. Even though it was as crowded as all the other bars along the beach, he wouldn't choke on cigarette smoke because of the open air. The music was so loud that no one would probably bother talking to him, either. He could watch pretty girls dance and drink in peace.
The man at the door had a Navy tattoo that peeked out from under his T-shirt. Cole strode right up to him, glad he'd worn the sleeves on his dress shirt rolled up. He was thankful for the tattoo on his lower arm, which depicted the logo of a Virginia Beach hangout that any Navy man worth his salt had gotten piss drunk at once.
The bouncer nodded toward the entrance, not taking the hundred-dollar bill Cole proffered. Once inside, Cole made his way for the least hectic bar of the four scattered around the club.
He leaned against the bar, and tried to get the hot blond bartender's attention.
"Scotch. Sixteen year." While she poured his drink and eyed him, he briefly considered talking her into coming back to his hotel room. He thought better of it because he didn't want to be that guy. She was busting her ass, and probably flirting with all the customers for the tips. Since he wasn't a scum bag, he wouldn't add to her stress by hitting on her. She gave him a saucy grin along with his drink. He handed over his credit card. "Keep it open and keep 'em coming."
He was on his second whiskey when he noticed a woman entering the bar. His mouth went dry, and not from the hooch. Everything about this woman was lush — from her perfect rack to the full hips. Long, dark hair curled over her shoulders. Lust hit his veins faster than the whisky had. In less than a bass beat, he could picture her naked — underneath him, biting her lip, stifling a moan. He had a vision of his fingers dug into the skin of her hips as he thrust inside her. He wanted to thread his hands through her curls and find out how soft the skin at the back of her neck was.
She was about ten feet away, bellying up to order with a petite redhead. He didn't know why he was gut-punched by her. There were hordes of women at the bar. But none of them held themselves the way she did. Like she had a secret from everyone else in the room. She wasn't just beautiful. She was luminous. He'd never met a movie star, but he'd bet that she had the same thing that made people look at them. And he couldn't stop looking. Underneath all that fuck-hot magnetism, she looked expensive. Probably too rich for his blood.
Leave it to him to spot the one spoiled rich girl in the place.
She surveyed the bar with a look that said she didn't want to be there. Beth had the same look on her face when he'd re-enlisted for that last tour. He should have known then that she'd wanted out, but he'd thought it was just a signal to work harder at keeping her happy.
And now that same look, on this woman's face, made him hard enough that he'd have to hobble back to the hotel. He should have reconsidered talking up the bartender, or maybe the girl wearing a "Maid of Honor" sash a few tables way, but he couldn't stop looking at her. The tips of his fingers burned with the need to touch her.
He finished his drink, hoping to douse his desire to go talk to her when the bartender set half a tray of tequila shots in front of her and her friend. After a moment's hesitation, she licked and salted her hand — he would have been happy to do that for her — and downed two shots in quick succession. Dear Lord. Not many women could look elegant doing shots. She might as well have kicked him in the balls.
When she licked her lower lip, he groaned. That pink, glossy mouth. Her lips would look amazing wrapped around his cock. Fuck. He had to stop thinking that. He wouldn't be able to approach her, much less leave the bar with her, sporting wood for all to see.
She took a third shot.
He'd almost calmed himself down by reciting Heisman Trophy winners backward in his head when she looked right at him. Fucked up as it made him, he got hard again as soon as she turned her hazel-eyed gaze right on him with a grimace on her face.CHAPTER 2
Alana wanted to go home as soon as they walked into the Clevelander. She'd never felt so claustrophobic while outside. Most nights, the salty breeze off the water made for a nice atmosphere, but not on New Year's Eve. Collins Avenue was a parking lot, drunken partiers weaving around the cars as Porsche and Lamborghini owners leaned on their horns.
She and Carla fought their way up to the bar. Of course, Carla knew the fastest way to get one of the many bartenders with whom she'd been intimately acquainted before her engagement. Already irritated by the crush of people, Alana considered pulling an Irish good-bye — going to the bathroom and not coming back. But the ladies' room was across the dance floor. She would need at least three vodka sodas before she tried to maneuver her way through that swaying clump of bodies.
The music was so loud that she didn't hear Carla order four shots of Patron for each of them. When the bartender set out the shots, she looked over at her sister and said, "Are you out of your mind? Do you want me to die tonight?" She had to yell over the music, and could predict a hoarse voice tomorrow.
"I want you to have fun. Tequila is fun. You're fun when you drink tequila." Carla handed her one of the glasses.
Alana hesitated. Carla had picked her favorite silver tequila. The shot would be smooth and she wouldn't be hung over the next day. If she had to be standing jammed up against the bar for the next hour, being a little drunk would make it suck less. "Tequila makes me slutty."
"And who said that's a bad thing?"
She winked at Carla and licked her hand, poured salt on the damp spot, downed two shots in quick succession, and sucked on one of the limes the bartender had served along with their shots. It was a good thing that she'd inherited their mother's Irish constitution when it came to drinking. She bit her lip, eyed the remaining shots, and picked up the salt again.
She was already going to have to crash on Carla's couch tonight. She might as well make it worthwhile.
The third shot didn't go down as easily as the first two. The pleasant warmth gave way to a tickle in the back of her throat and she shook her head to rid herself of the sting.
That's when she saw him. She could feel his stare down the bar. His skin had a deep tan, and his dark hair and beard were a striking contrast to the piercing light eyes. He didn't wear a shiny dress shirt or pants tighter than some of hers, so he probably wasn't a douchebag local. Definitely a tourist.
Under his appreciative gaze, her insides warmed and some of the weight on her shoulders dissipated. Her jaw unclenched, and she felt herself smile at him.
Four shots of tequila and a look from that guy and she wanted to wiggle out of her panties. Maybe a little flirting would make her feel more like herself again. Maybe a little more would make her feel even better. Happy brain chemicals from sex were almost as good as yoga. And who had time for yoga? She certainly didn't.
She wasn't sure if it was excitement, trepidation, or too much tequila that made goose bumps rise up on her arms when she thought about the guy across the bar.
His lopsided smile and the naughtiness in his eyes told her that he wouldn't tell anyone. Anonymous tourist, but not one of the affable bros who frequented the Clevelander. Definitely not one of her brother's friends. And he seemed to only have eyes for her, not checking out the gaggle of college girls from Wisconsin screaming and doing red-headed slut shots. No, he'd been staring at her ass; he was looking at her like she was dinner. He drained the brown liquid in his glass, and walked toward her. He moved with a purpose, sidestepping two or three Midwestern-looking blondes.
Excerpted from Stroke of Midnight by Andie Christopher. Copyright © 2016 Andie Christopher. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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