Gabe moved with such confidence Peyton couldn’t take her eyes from him as he led with his shoulder through the crowd.
Firefighters and locals alike stopped him at every table, congratulated him, offered him beer, quizzed him about his narrow escape. She liked the way he brushed off the adulation, as if his skill and know-how had no bearing on the outcome of the day. Since when could Gabe Cooper be humble? She never saw evidence of it when he dealt with her.
“Hey.” He reached the bar and edged closer to her than necessary. “Hanging in?”
The scent of smoke clung to him, probably was a part of his DNA after so many years on the fire line. She’d attributed the odor to the place, and now would always recognize the scent as Gabe. He was so close she couldn’t take a breath without smelling him. It didn’t stop her from breathing.
She tried to shift away for her own sanity, but the bar was too crowded to go far. “No. I left my will to stay upright on the mountain.”
His low, sexy laugh curled around every nerve in her body, coaxing them to the surface of her skin, where they shimmered with anticipation.
“Good thing we don’t have far to go.” He dangled a motel key from his fingers. So he’d gotten the last room. And he wanted to share. “The room’s right upstairs. Thought you might enjoy a long hot shower.”
For God’s sake, a thirty-two-year-old widow should be able to control her blush. Was she embarrassed because the bartender overheard, or because a gorgeous man handed her a line?
That was all it was, right? A fresh line? God, she couldn’t think with his thigh pressed against hers.
“One room?” she asked, and hated the shakiness of her voice.
“That’s all they got. Take it or leave it.”
“Do you come with it?”
He smiled into her eyes, amusement and arousal a breathtaking blend. “Is there a problem?”
Before she could answer, the bartender set an unordered bottle of beer in front of Gabe and he glanced up questioningly. The bartender pointed to a table of local men who waved when Gabe looked their way. He saluted them with his bottle and took a long drink. Peyton was so close to him she could feel him swallow.
The twang of music had changed to something softer, slower, sexier. On the dance floor, couples shifted closer together. Her body hummed at the thought of being up against all that maleness. It had been so long.
Time to step into the fire.
The minute he folded his hand around hers, she could imagine the rough skin of his palms on her body. She wanted him to smooth away the goose bumps his touch raised.
What the hell was she doing? She knew where this would lead.
He eased them through the crowd to the dance floor and turned her to him with just a shift of his hand on hers. She faced him for a beat before putting her hand on his shoulder, willing it not to wander, and he put his hand on her waistband, under the hem of the sweatshirt, and slid a finger through an empty belt loop to anchor her. The possessiveness of the move sent a shiver of longing through her, and she struggled to mask it.
The pounding of her heart, the rhythm of his breathing drowned out the music. She wanted to look into his eyes, but was afraid what he would see in hers, so she lowered her gaze to the column of his throat, below her eye level. His thumb rested on the edge of her waistband, and if she bent to the right, just a little, his fingers hooked through her belt loop would be against her bare skin. Her entire consciousness focused on the imagined pleasure.
She bent, and his breath caught as he encountered flesh. The scrape of his finger over her sensitive skin sent heat spiraling downward, making her muscles weak. But she wasn’t ready to lean into him.
“What kind of name is Peyton, anyway?” His voice was a growl vibrating in his chest. She should have known better than to toy with an alpha.
She glanced up to see him watching her, his eyes crinkled in amusement, completely at odds with her thoughts. Damn, that was sexy. “A family name.”
“What, like a last name?”
His words brushed warm over her skin as he turned her to avoid another couple. “Mm, my mother’s.”
His eyes were still crinkled, but they’d twisted more toward shrewd than good-humored. He’d figured it out; they all did as soon as she explained. Only wealthy families had the audacity for that pretentiousness. Poor little rich girl.
What did she care what he thought? She wasn’t sticking around. She never did. And that made it easier when he released her hand to press his against the small of her back, brought her against his body, which made it easier to tilt her face up to see his descending. Made it easier to part her lips in anticipation as her nerves skittered from where he touched her to where she wanted him to touch her. So close, she could already feel his kiss.
She expected to feel guilty for wanting this man, but the guilt didn’t come. Maybe she’d been alone too long, maybe her connection with Gabe was stronger than she credited. Maybe her anger with Dan for dying had killed her love for him. Sleeping with Gabe Cooper wouldn’t be a betrayal of her husband, but it might be a betrayal of herself and all she wanted.
“What’s happening here?” she asked breathily.
A teasing smile curved his lips. “You know, the whole life-in-peril thing, adrenaline transfers to arousal. Danger is a big turn-on. You said so yourself.”
Her breath hitched and she tried very hard not to focus on his mouth, or how it felt against hers as he leaned closer.
She swallowed, hoping it would make her voice stronger. “They say danger, or escaping danger, is like a sexual rush. Is that why you do what you do?”
He brushed his cheek against hers, the stubble an erotic caress on her suddenly sensitive skin. Peyton struggled to keep her eyes open and her knees locked.
“I don’t have to almost die to get turned on.”