Rick Steele tipped the bottle of beer to his lips and scanned his surroundings. The famous club at the Castillo Hotel and Resort packed in both the celebrities and current “in” crowd, and tonight was no exception. The tri-level dance floor already held a rowdy group, baring more flesh than glittery clothes and grinding away with new dirty dancing. The music pounded and both male and female entertainers hung suspended in glass cages, revving up the masses as they rocked and rolled in G-strings.
He bit back a groan and wondered what the hell he was doing there. His long shift was over, and he craved some downtime. Instead, he’d let his boss talk him into a one-night stand for the evening on the pretense the whole experience would be good for him.
Shaking his head, he glanced at his watch again. He’d had a bitch of a day. Dealing cards called to his soul, but a bunch of sore losers and drunks had remained at his table to torture him. Now he waited in the trendiest club in Vegas for a woman he’d never met and tried to ignore his throbbing head.
He curbed his impatience and took another sip of beer. Ever since leaving Atlantic City for a change of scene, he’d been grateful. Vegas satisfied his sense of adventure and hard play and the past year proved he’d made the right decision. After the breakup with his fiancée, his old friend and owner of the Castillo hotels, Jackson Castillo, urged him to start new. He’d met Jackson years ago at a mutual friend’s bachelor party, and they’d indulged in a drunken fest that rivaled The Hangover. They had emerged close friends and kept in touch. Jackson kept bugging him to deal in Vegas and work for his hotel. Rick always refused, until he’d walked in on his fiancée giving his groomsman a blowjob.
He moved to Vegas the next week.
Though it was difficult leaving his brothers, Jackson had been right. As always. He rented a beautiful apartment, made good money, and had endless women stretched out before him in one glorious chorus line. He’d moved past his heartbreak and unleashed his single status on a number of very willing participants.
So why am I unhappy?
He pushed the annoying thought away and tried to get a grip. Okay, so it had been months since he’d last taken a woman to bed. His choice. Hell, he’d thought Jackson would applaud his selectiveness instead of urging him to accept a date through Madame Evangeline’s 1Night Stand dating service. Of course, it didn’t help that Jackson met his own wife through the famous, yet mysterious, Madame. And when Madame Eve actually requested Rick to meet this particular woman, well, Jackson declared the whole coincidence a sign. Rick decided his friend wouldn’t shut up until he agreed, so he’d bitten the proverbial bullet and given in.
His lips twisted in mock humor as he set the empty bottle down on the glass table. He wondered briefly why anyone would hand select him to meet any woman, let alone this Tara Denton—who’d apparently been through a brutal past according to the report Eve sent—and needed a tender hand. He liked to keep his distance from women. Get in and get out with his soul and heart intact. A little respect, a lot of pleasure, and no boundaries crossed. Of course, that’s another reason he’d taken a break. Easier to wake up alone than face the empty feeling of meeting a woman’s sleepy gaze and realize she’d never be the one. Or even the one for another evening.
His phone vibrated in his pocket. Muttering under his breath, he fished it out and read the flashing text.
Bonsoir, Rick. Are you ready for your adventure?
His fingers paused on the keys. A slither of unease skated down his spine. His gut screamed once he agreed, his life would never be the same.
He typed his answer with the ease of an expert and sealed his fate. Good evening, Madame Eve. I shall put myself in your capable hands.
A smiley face popped up on the Blackberry screen. Wonderful. Your date is in the Blue Room awaiting your arrival. Right corner table.
The screen went blank.
He shook his head at the enigmatic conversation and headed past the bar. The pulsing hip hop music dimmed as he made his way through a large tunnel of elaborate glass where an impressive number of gold statues were displayed in different forms of eroticism. He took a hard left, and entered the Blue Room.
Aptly named, the quieter lounge area spilled an eerie blue light, reminding him of the Blue Grotto in Capri. The room shimmered from the floor to the ceiling with stunning crushed turquoise crystals embedded in every surface. A large aquarium tank took up one wall, displaying exotic fish in all sizes and colors, sea turtles, and stingrays. The sensual sounds of a flute and trickling water spilled from the background speakers a few feet down from the main club, and gave the impression of another reality. The room was soundproofed to close out the loud dance music and invoke a different experience. The exotic atmosphere impressed him every time he entered the themed room, even in Vegas.
He let his eyes adjust to the change of light and focused on the far right corner.
She sat with her legs crossed, neatly tucked under the glass table. A pink frothy drink rested in front of her, and she fiddled with the paper umbrella. Obviously nervous, she didn’t look up, and he grabbed the moment to study her.
God, her body was killer. The plain photo tucked into the report Madame Eve provided didn’t do her justice. He estimated she barely topped five foot, even with the three inch heels she wore. She’d obviously gone all out for their meeting, evident in the sequined silver top clinging to lush breasts, and the short black skirt she kept yanking down, revealing a good few inches of rounded thigh. She sported the perfect hour glass figure that always pushed his lust buttons, but never seemed fashionable for women nowadays.
Her hair was jammed up in some sort of elaborate design, and she wore a ton of makeup. In a few seconds, he summed up one of her problems immediately—she was a gorgeous woman who didn’t know it. She seemed uncomfortable in her flashy clothes, makeup, and heels. He bet she’d be ready to flee within minutes if he didn’t walk over and close the deal.
He waited one beat. Two.
She lifted her head.
A strange longing rose up and caught him in a chokehold. Her eyes widened as they locked with his. The anxious worry he glimpsed deep in their depths caused a protectiveness to surge from within. His second thought centered on what she would look like when he thrust deep inside her and brought her to orgasm.
He hardened instantly. Son of a bitch. It was going to end up being an interesting night after all.
He held her stare for a moment longer. Then strode over to the table.
Tara stirred her cotton candy drink for the fifth time and glanced at her watch. He was late. He wasn’t coming. Sheer relief surged through her. Thank God she could escape to her room. Yes, a one-night stand sounded like a wonderful idea when she’d discovered Madame Eve’s service. But sitting in a trendy Vegas bar, waiting for a man she intended to sleep with, completely freaked her out. She didn’t do things like that. Hell, she couldn’t remember the last time she had on heels and makeup, let alone knew how to flirt or go to bed with a man. She’d tried though. No reason to blame herself. In moments, she’d rip off the hellish clothes and be in her comfy PJs under the covers. Alone.
She reached over to grab her purse then did one last sweep of the room.
A man towered in the entrance with an authoritative power that shot tingles down her spine. Like a deer caught in the headlights, she sensed a predator and stilled. Please don’t let this be my date.
He met her gaze head on.
He looked like Thor.
Her eyes widened. He easily stood over six feet, with massive shoulders and muscled arms that seemed able to rip a tree out of the ground. Thick white-blond hair tumbled over his brow, a little long and shaggy around the edges. His face was a contradiction of hard and soft with a strong jaw, slashing cheekbones, and full lips. Black pants and a silk button down shirt only accented his power. Energy shimmered around him and pumped up the room. There probably wasn’t a female within miles who didn’t bend to his unconscious male will. The group by the bar halted their conversation to stare.
Her heart stopped—then pounded against her chest in something close to a panic attack. It was him. Why did he look so different in his picture? There was no way she’d spend a night with him. He’d tear her apart.
She reached down and gripped the edge of the table. Breathe. She’d talk to him for a few minutes, explain she changed her mind, and walk away. Who cared if he was literally sex-on-a-stick? No way would she sleep with someone more attractive than her. With her fat ass and scars, she needed someone to ease her into the experience, someone with gentleness and compassion. Not Thor, who’d burn up her panties in seconds and have her running in terror for the door. Her ex had ruined her for normal sex. She’d be lucky to get through the experience without flinching, and no way did she want to embarrass herself with this man.
He walked over.
She cleared her throat and forced herself to appear calm.
“Tara Denton?” His question was more of a command.
She had no spit left when she opened her mouth to answer, and managed only a squeak. “Yes.”
“Good. I’m Rick Steele.” His green-gold eyes gentled as he pulled back a stool and took a seat. “Don’t you like your drink? I’d be happy to get you another.”
She looked down at her barely touched concoction and shook her head. “This is fine, thank you.” She took a large sip and swallowed, as if proving her point. The sweetness was a bit cloying on her tongue, but the vodka burned hot down her throat. Since she rarely drank, she fought a cough, determined to act cool. The slight curl of his lip told her she’d failed.
He signaled the waiter over and ordered a beer. She forced her gaze upward, away from the large fingers inches from her own. Fingers that looked talented. Her cheeks heated at the sudden image of his hands gripping her hips as he thrust inside of her. She took a deep breath and discreetly wiped her damp palms on her skirt. “Well, Mr. Steele–”
“Rick.” Another quirk of amusement curved his lip. “I think we should at least be on a first name basis, don’t you?”
His drawl reminded her of smoke, sex, and sweat. She folded and refolded the cocktail napkin so she didn’t pick her fingers and ruin her new manicure. “Oh, yes, of course. Well, I just wanted to let you know it will be perfectly acceptable if you’d like to cancel. I’m not sure if you saw my photo or read my requirements, but I understand if you decide to leave after our drinks.”
He took a long pull of his beer, then pushed away from the table and studied her with interest. “You don’t like me?”
She sputtered with embarrassment. “God, no! I mean, you seem fine. You’re attractive, and I’m sure you’re experienced. But this is new to me. I just don’t think I’m the type you expected for this, for a….”
“Yes, that’s right.” She nodded again and cleared her throat. “Please don’t feel bad. I appreciate you meeting me.”
One brow shot up. “That’s quite polite of you. But unnecessary.” A wolfish grin transformed his face. A rush of sexual heat squeezed through her blood and settled between her thighs in an ache. “You see, I’m just counting the minutes until I get you into bed.”