Copyright © 2012 Karen Erickson
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
He liked her laugh. She didn’t hold back. Let it burst forth in all of its joyful glory. He’d been stunned when he first saw her, her transformation was that dramatic. New hairstyle, new clothing, she wore makeup…
Studying her a little more closely, he realized the cosmetics were lightly applied, merely emphasizing her beauty rather than making it. The outfit flattered her slender figure and the haircut was a mere trim, controlling what he’d once thought of as unruly.
Tessa had polished a diamond in the rough. And now she shone so bright, Rhett was more than a little dazzled.
They’d gone to a pizza joint close by, each of them ordering a giant slice and a soda. They sat side by side at the crowded counter, too busy eating to talk and besides, the place was too loud, it was so packed with customers.
Plus it gave him time to think. Muddle over what he was doing, how risky his behavior was. Buying new clothes for Gabriella, spending time with her that had nothing to do with work, it wasn’t smart.
Yet he didn’t want to stop.
“I studied the brief,” she suddenly said.
Glancing in her direction, he watched as she wiped the corner of her mouth with a napkin. Her slice of pizza was gone—she’d consumed it almost as fast as he’d eaten his. “The brief?”
She nodded slowly, took a sip of her soda. “The one you gave me?”
Hell. He looked like an idiot. “So what did you think?” In the industry, “the brief” was a sort of written concept, what they believed the perfume should be about. He’d included notes, thoughts and even a few photos, not really knowing what he was doing.
He hoped she wouldn’t trash it. Tell him he was out of his mind.
“I liked your ideas. I’m excited to tour the island and get a sense of what you’re trying to capture.” The serene smile she gave him was like a punch to the gut, stealing the very breath from him.
He turned toward her, his knees colliding with hers for the briefest moment. Lust streaked through him, even with such an impersonal touch but he tried to ignore it. “I’m glad you liked it. I have a lot of plans for when we get there.”
She arched a delicate brow. “A lot of plans? I can’t wait to get started.”
“I bet,” he murmured, double meaning behind his words.
They stared at each other silently, the buzz of conversation surrounding them muting to a dull roar. All he could see, focus on, was her. The depths of her pretty blue eyes, the slight upward curl of her lips, the scent of her, clean and sweet even in the crowded, smelly restaurant. An undercurrent passed between them, thick with promise, heady with pleasure, and he cleared his throat. She blinked at the sound, as if he had startled her.
“Let’s get out of here,” he murmured.
She hopped down from the stool and he followed, placing his hand low on her back, guiding her out of the restaurant. They emerged into the stifling night air, the sounds of the city extra loud, and he glanced down at her, catching her gaze.
“Do you mind walking to the hotel?”
“Is the walk as far as the last time we tried this?” The amusement in her tone was unmistakable.
He chuckled. “Much, much shorter, I promise. We’re two, maybe three blocks from the hotel at the most.”
They walked side by side in silence and for some inexplicable reason, he wanted to reach out and grab her hand. Pull her with him down the street, into the hotel, the elevator, her room.
Where he would push her against the wall and kiss her. A real kiss this time, with tongues and heat and soft little moans. He would race his hands all over that slender body, cup her breasts, caress her skin, grind against her until she was panting and begging for it.
Sweat misted his forehead and he tried his best to push the wicked imagery from his brain.
But it was no use. The idea was there, front and center, and his fingers literally itched to take hers. Lace them together, stroke the top of her hand with his thumb. He’d never wanted to be so connected to a woman before in his life.
He recalled the night in the taxi, the way she’d touched his thigh. She’d wanted him then and had let him know it, albeit shyly. She hadn’t made a move whatsoever tonight.
Disappointment threatened and he told himself to shove it deep. He was being an idiot. This woman who wasn’t his usual sort was destroying his brain cells and common sense, bit by bit.
“There’s the hotel.” Her soft voice broke through his lusty thoughts and he glanced up, saw the Warwick Hotel in the near distance. “Thank you so much for walking me here.”
“Want me to walk you up to your room?”
She turned her head so sharply in his direction, he was afraid she’d give herself whiplash. “Do you think that’s a good idea?”
Christ, yes, he wanted to say. “I’m not going to push myself on you, Gabriella, if that’s what you’re afraid of.”
“Of course, I’m not afraid of you.”
“Good.” He smiled. “I’ve never instilled fear in a woman before. I’m the nicer brother of the three.”
“I heard you’re the bad brother.” She clamped her lips shut, her eyes going wide.
He stopped in front of the hotel and so did she. Great. So she knew about his past? But then again, who didn’t? “My reputation always precedes me.”
She cocked her head to the side, contemplating him. “You’re actually quite the gentleman.”
If she was referring to the other night, she didn’t know how much it took for him to use such restraint. Normally he would’ve jumped her. Hell, he would’ve had his hand up her skirt and his fingers beneath the front of her panties by the time the cab stopped at their destination.
“I’m trying to walk the straight and narrow,” he said, his voice tight, his jaw aching from gritting his teeth.
“Really?” She tsked and shook her head. “Well, isn’t that a shame?”
Gabriella turned on her heel and entered the hotel, not once looking back.
And leaving Rhett in the dust.