Winston Coltrane sat across the counter from his childhood friend, Grady Parker, who moonlighted as a bartender at the Sparrow, a popular nightclub located within the Regency Resort in Hilton Head. Winston shrugged and asked, "I need a reason?"
Grady chuckled. "Hell, yeah. Even when we were kids it was hard to get you off that damn island."
Winston couldn't help smiling as he took a sip of his Scotch. What Grady said was true. Even leaving Barrett Shores, the ten-thousand-acre barrier island that had been in his family since the end of the Civil War, to attend college hadn't been easy for him. The island had withstood a lot over the years, including several hurricanes and a hostile takeover attempt by a group of developers with plans to transform the island into an exclusive resort community. "Well, I'm here with a room upstairs for the next two nights," he said.
One of those cheesy grins slid onto Grady's face. "Two nights? Must mean you need to get laid pretty bad. I understand. Happens to the best of us."
Grady paused from wiping off the counter to add, "If you thought Sophie was going to take care of your horny needs then I hate to disappoint you. She left New Year's Day for Miami."
A hot liaison with Sophie Causey had been foremost in Winston's mind. He hadn't had a woman in over six months, and he'd counted on those two nights with her. "Who does Sophie know in Miami?"
"Some cousin who's competing in a tennis tournament. She'll be gone for two weeks."
Disappointed, Winston took another sip of his drink. His very casual affair with Sophie worked well for him and for her. After Sophie's divorce three years ago, she'd sworn up and down Main Street that she would never marry again and that her only relationship with men would be for pleasure-sex only. Those had been Winston's sentiments exactly. Any thoughts of settling down with one woman had come to a screeching halt in college when a coed by the name of Caroline Darling had shown him just how deceitful some women could be.
He was about to ask for a refill on his glass of Scotch when something beyond his shoulder made Grady's eyes almost pop out of the sockets. "Hell, if I didn't love my wife so much, I would be all over her. She's hot."
Curious, Winston jerked around his head, nearly getting whiplash in the process. He let out a low whistle as his gaze roamed up and down the woman who'd just walked through the door. His pulse quickened and a breath was released from his lungs in one heated rush. She was more than hot. The woman was in flames.
Her hair, a mass of spiral curls, highlighted her cinnamon-toned complexion and made every feature of her face striking. His fingers actually itched at the thought of running through those curls on her head.
But what really had his erection throbbing big-time was her outfita one-sleeved formfitting red mini dress that showed off every curve of her body. And she definitely had the legs for it in those killer red stilettos.
She had captured the attention of every man in the room, even the musicians who all but stopped playing their instruments to stare at her. But she seemed oblivious to the attention she was getting as she glanced around for an available table.
"Um, do you think Carol would forgive me if I was unfaithful just this one time?" he heard Grady ask. He knew his friend was joking because Grady loved his wife to distraction.
"Carol might forgive you but I won't because I'm going to claim that woman tonight for myself, so don't get any ideas," Winston said.
"Evidently you have a few ideas of your own. You think she'll agree to any of them?" Grady asked him.
He heard Grady chuckle. "You sound pretty damn confident as usual, Win."
The woman crossed the room to an empty table and Winston watched how the hem of her short dress rode up her thighs with every step she took. And when she slid into her chair, that itsy-bitsy dress barely covered those same thighs. He swallowed deeply. And they were luscious brown thighs.
"That's the only way to get anything done," he finally said. "Just watch how things are about to go down."
And going down they would, he thought, already envisioning their hot naked bodies on silken sheets making love nonstop. He took another sip of his drink, licked his lips and then placed the glass on the counter and slowly began moving across the room toward the woman in red.
Ainsley St. James glanced around thinking this was exactly what she needed, especially tonight. She had been in Hilton Head only a couple days and was still trying to replace the angry Ainsley St. James of Claxton, New Jersey, with the I-don't-give-a-royal-damn Ainsley. The same one who'd escaped to this seaside community, to forget that the man who'd defeated her in her bid as mayor of her hometown had been sworn in today, and she hadn't wanted to be anywhere near Claxton.
She could just imagine what kind of inauguration party Luis Higgins was throwing about now. She'd heard the guest list was long and it wouldn't surprise her if the small town of fifteen thousand was going in debt to pay for the new mayor's extravagancies.
Okay, it wasn't meant for her to be mayor of Claxton. She got that. .finally. But what she couldn't get past was the nasty campaign Higgins had run, especially the lies he'd fabricated. And even worse was how the good people of Claxtonthose who'd vowed to back her until the endhad been gullible enough to believe them.
However, her intention tonight was to put all that to the back of her mind and have some long overdue fun. The concierge at the resort where she was staying for the next two weeks had suggested the Sparrow. The club was crowded but then it was a Friday night. She'd been lucky to find a table, even if it was a small one in the corner.
She watched several couples move toward the dance floor to enjoy the hip-hop sound the live band was blasting out. Tonight she intended to get on that same floor even if she had to dance by herself. She liked dancing, hadn't done it in a while and had quite a few issues to shake, rattle and roll right out of her system.
She took a sip of the water from the glass a waitress had quickly placed on her table before hurrying off to service another customer. At that moment Ainsley wasn't sure what made her tilt her head to look toward the bar but, when she did her breath caught at the dark, intense gaze that snagged hers. Her heart skipped a beat and a warm surge of heat flooded her.
She'd heard of immediate sexual attraction but hadn't believed such a thing existed until now. She sat there, mesmerized as the tall, dark and handsome man appeared to be weaving his way through the crowd toward her.
Lordy, she mouthed under her breath. She hoped not, because she was definitely not ready for the likes of him. Everything about the man was overwhelming. He had to be every bit of six-three and was wearing a pair of pleated black slacks and a white shirt that was opened at the top and revealed just a smidgen of a hairy chest. Too bad she'd always had a thing for hairy-chested men because now she wondered just how far down his chest that patch went. Then there were his broad muscular shoulders, flat abs, strong arms and powerful long legs. Never had she seen a male so good-looking and fine.
And he was eating up the distance between them in a sensual stride that had shivers inching up her spine. Her gaze moved back to his eyes that were focused solely on her.
She would guess his age at thirty-three or thirty-four. He had chestnut-colored skin, bedroom-brown eyes, a perfectly shaped nose, rugged jaw and an arrogant mouth. That mouth gave her pause and she immediately concluded that he saw her as a conquest with him as the conqueror.
For the first time in all her twenty-six years of life, the thought of such a thing did not bother her because she could definitely understand any woman lowering her guard a little for the likes of him. The thought of being taken by him, in any shape, form or position, had her stomach fluttering wildly.
Okay, Ainsley St. James, get rid of all those lusty thoughts or you might end up in his bed later. You came here to let your hair down, but, girl, please keep your panties up, she lectured herself. Deciding it was time to get her guard back in place, she squared her shoulders and sat straighter in her chair, wanting to stop him in his tracks.
When he came to a halt in front of her table, she tilted her head and met the intensity of his dark eyes when he simply said, "Hi."
That was it? No pickup line? Just a simple hi? She frowned. "Do I know you?"
For a moment he only stood there and smiled at her, and then he leaned down close, his breath warming the skin near her ear when he whispered, "No, not now. But the minute I make love to you, you will."
WVinston was tempted to kiss that shocked look right off the woman's lips but decided he needed to retain his cool. He stared at her knowing it was just a matter of time before she put him in his place, and when she did he would do the same to her. But even with the shock on her face, he'd seen itthat flash of desire that had lit her eyes before he'd come on to her.
"How dare you say something like that to me," she said in a breathless rush.
He slid into the chair across from her. "I dare because I saw the way you were looking at me."
The frown on her face deepened. "I was not looking at you in any particular way."
"I beg to differ," he said, leaning close to her and thinking the shape of her mouth was a total turn-on.
"You can beg all you want, mister."
"Not mister. Winston. And you are?"
"You don't need to know my name."
He shrugged. "That's fine. For now I'll just call you Red. That color looks great on you, by the way."
She rolled her eyes. "Don't exert your efforts since they won't work on me."
"I think any effort I invest in you will be well worth it," he said. "May I join you?"
"It seems you already have."
She was right, he had. Was that irritation he heard in her voice or anticipation? Usually he wasn't this forward with a woman, nor as pushy. But there had been this instant connection between them the moment their gazes had met, whether she admitted to it or not.
"So where are you from, Red?"
If he thinks he's getting any information out of me, he's as crazy as he is bold, Ainsley thought, taking another sip of her water. And where was the waitress? She needed that margarita right now. Up close the man was simply gorgeous and each time he spoke she could feel her stomach quivering.
"What makes you think I'm not from here?" she asked, feeling pleasure radiating through her traitorous body. The man had a sexual magnetism that was slowly drawing her in, eroding her resistance. And he smelled so darn good. She was tempted to ask him what cologne he was wearing.
"Lucky guess," he said, reclaiming her attention.
She glanced around for a waitress before returning her gaze to him. When their eyes locked, her pulse rate increased. She swallowed deeply before saying, "I take that to mean you're from Hilton Head."
"No, I'm not."
"Then where are you from?" she inquired, trying to see if she could decipher his accent. There was enough of a Southern drawl to let her know he was from the South. Possibly Tennessee or Texas. "I asked you first."
And she had no intention of telling him. She doubted he'd ever heard of Claxton, New Jersey, but still, he might begin asking questions for conversational purposes and she didn't want to talk about her hometown. "And I'm not talking," she said, glancing away. His eyes were too mesmerizing. They were like a magnet, pulling her in.
At that moment a waitress appeared. "Sorry to keep you waiting. What will you guys have?"
"I want a margarita," she said.
"Please make that two margaritas but hold them until later," Winston added.
Ainsley frowned when the waitress walked off. "Excuse me, but I want my drink now."
"We're about to do something else now."
She tilted her head and tried steadying her heart rate which wasn't easy. "And just what do you think we're about to do?"
"Dance. You said you're not talking so I figured we'll dance first."
Ainsley leaned back in her chair. "And what makes you think I want to dance?"
A smile touched his lips. "I know you want to dance because I noticed you were tapping your feet to the music and even rocking your body a little."
He'd noticed all of that? Jeez, the man was too observant. "I don't need a partner to dance."
"True, but what fun would dancing alone be?"
At that moment the band struck up another number and a rush of people hurriedly moved to the dance floor. "Come on," he said, standing and extending his hand out to her.
She glanced down at his hand. Should she? She had come here to loosen up on the dance floor. Besides, it was a fast number and their bodies wouldn't even touch.
Ainsley lifted a brow. "Unless what?"
He smiled. "Unless you think you'll embarrass us both out there," he said.
She knew he was only baiting her, but still, she didn't take too kindly to his assertion. If anything, she could probably show him up. In addition to taking dancing classes all her life, she'd also worked part-time as a dancer at a hot spot in New York City, earning extra money while she'd attended journalism school at Columbia University.
She placed her hand in his and the moment their hands touched, she felt her nerve endings ignite. She looked up and met his eyes. It was as if he was staring straight into her soul, seeing things she didn't want anyone to see, especially a stranger. Specifically, she didn't want anyone to know how painful losing the election had been to her.
The man called Winston reclaimed her attention and she fought to ignore the heat sizzling through her veins. The attraction she felt to him was unsettling and she was tempted to pull away her hand but couldn't.
Ainsley stood, tilting her head and meeting his gaze directly. "I'm not afraid of embarrassing you, Winston," she finally responded, saying his name for the first time. "Lead the way."