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Juanita Slattery nodded politely at the drab-suited, middle-aged man explaining his postdoctoral thesis topic to her breasts and wished, not for the first time, she and alcohol got along better. Thankfully, after almost two decades of cleavage conversation she was over her indignation and at least it allowed her gaze to wander without being clocked. Not that a bar full of suited, middle-aged-male clones were the type of eye candy she craved.
Bloody hell. As far as birthdays went, this one really blew.
A bar full of old dudes, on top of a phone conversation with her mother about her dying eggs and fading looks, and now boob man who didn’t, it seemed, concur with her mother’s assertion that men weren’t going to find her attractive forever.
She thought presenting her paper on PTSD to the eminent annual Clinical Psychology Symposium would be the cherry on top of her big three-oh pie. And, professionally, it had certainly been the pinnacle of her career. Convenient, too, being held in Brisbane this year, which was only a two-hour drive away from the temporary position she was about to take up.
But from a purely party perspective it sucked.
Where were the women? It was supposed to be a profession dominated by them. Just not here, obviously. There was a sprinkling of women, but no-one under fifty. Not exactly chummy either this crowd. Half of them regarded her as some kind of an interloper—too young to be so advanced—while they quizzed her on her research. The other half smiled at her hopefully, like she was really the stripper who was going to jump out of some cake later.
Breast man pulled out his wallet and showed her a picture of his grandkids. Great … breast grandpa apparently. Juanita nodded and smiled some more while she contemplated getting into a slinky dress and hitting a nightclub.
Not much fun on her own though.
Maybe she’d go back to her room, order the most expensive mocktail on the room service menu and wallow in her spa bath.
Definitely not much fun on her own.
Thankfully her Sydney friends had given her a combined thirtieth/farewell party last week so at least she had that to cling to while two other guys—both sporting bow ties—joined in the cleavage conversation.
She hoped this wasn’t a sign of things to come. Leaving the hustle and bustle of Sydney for a two-month stint in a small outback town had seemed like a good idea at the time, but tonight she wasn’t so sure.
A flash of colour caught her eye near the entrance and Juanita’s heart skipped a beat as a long, tall streak of cowboy strode into the room in a worn pair of jeans, a red button-down shirt rolled up to the elbows, and battered-looking boots. He made straight for the bar.
Very Desperado. She knew exactly how he felt.
No-one else paid him any attention, but Juanita couldn’t drag her eyes off him. He definitely wasn’t one of them. Hell, the man looked like he’d just tethered his horse to a railing outside after a week riding fences.
She smiled. The universe had been watching out for her after all. He was salvation in a pair of Wranglers.
Happy birthday to me.
“Excuse me,” she murmured to the men in her group. “I see someone I know.”
Or would like to know anyway.
Juanita had no idea if they’d objected or not. Nor did she care. Desperado was in her sights and if he was single, available, didn’t give out a serial killer vibe and there was chemistry, maybe he’d be amenable to showing her his birthday suit.
She sure as hell wouldn’t mind showing him hers.
She hadn’t planned on getting laid tonight but then she hadn’t planned on missing her home and her friends and being this down and, frankly, this bored on her special day. She was so relieved to see a guy her own age it was worth a thank-you-for-walking-into-this-bar fuck alone.
His shoulders got broader as she approached him from behind and her gaze was drawn to the way his dark hair curled at his collar. The bartender was handing him a frosty glass of beer as she hauled herself up on the barstool beside him—not easy to do in her pinstriped pencil skirt and matching fitted jacket.
Thank goodness for the extra boost given to her by six-inch heels.
Their arms brushed as she leaned in close to him and murmured, “Save me, please.”
He glanced at her, a frown knitting his brows together, a troubled light in his eyes. Then the frown melted away and a big, lazy grin spread across his spare face. It turned him from sexy to sublime.
She bet the ladies loved that smile wherever he hailed from.
What wasn’t to love? Great dimples, nice cheekbones, dark stubbly growth with a sprinkle of salt along a strong jaw, fascinating crinkles around brown eyes as dark and sweet as maple syrup.
His gaze dipped to her cleavage, but didn’t linger, before it returned to her face. He scored points for that alone.
“What am I saving you from?”
Juanita waited for him to end with something like, darlin’ or little lady but he appeared to be finished and was waiting for her to respond with lively, interested, flirty eyes.
He looked around him and laughed. It was an utterly sexy sound, dipping into a register that stroked all the good places and caused her oestrogen levels to sky rocket.
Hell, Juanita was pretty sure she just ovulated.
She certainly needed a second to catch her breath as his dimples came out to play and his eyes crinkled at the corners.
That’s where those interesting lines came from.
“Can I get you a drink?” he asked.
“Sure.” This man could get her whatever he wanted. “A lime and soda thanks.”
He shook his head. “That is not a drink.”
It was Juanita’s turn to laugh. “I don’t drink.”
“Really?” he cocked an eyebrow as his gaze took in her face. “Now see … I didn’t get that vibe from you at all.”
“Oh yeah?” she smiled. “Why’s that?”
He shrugged. “In my experience, most women require some alcoholic fortification to make the first move in a social situation.”
Juanita liked that she already wasn’t most women to him. “Is that what I’m doing? Making a move?”
His gaze fanned over her mouth. “I hope so.” Then he turned and gestured to the bartender.
She studied his profile while he ordered and liked how strong it was. His chin and his forehead were perfect counterpoints as was the sharp line of his jaw and the jut of his cheekbone. She knew there was some kind of mathematical equation for symmetry of facial features but the seductive waft of his cologne messed with her ability to locate the information.
She didn’t know what brand it was, but it was being delivered on constant waves of warm, masculine heat and smelled sweet like cloves and sharp like really good cognac. It made her want to press her nose to his neck to find out if he tasted like it too.
“I’m Juanita,” she said, holding out her hand when the bartender departed.
He took her hand. “Marcus.”
His hand lingered for a moment or two before withdrawing and Juanita liked how it felt against her palm. Not rough but not soft, either. Definitely not smooth and manicured like practically every other guy in the bar tonight. His shake had been strong and sure and she liked that too. Too many men shook hands like they might break her.
His were capable hands and damn if that thought didn’t cause another egg to pop on out of her ovaries.
“So … I know why I’m here,” she said smiling up at him. Even seated he was a good head taller than her. “But if you don’t mind me saying, this doesn’t really look like the kind of place you hang out.”
He laughed as he raised the beer to his lips and took a sip. Juanita watched him—it was impossible not to. His mouth was as fascinating as the rest of him. In fact her brain was already fast-forwarding to the point where she got to road test those lips.
Maybe she was wrong. Maybe that wasn’t where this evening was heading, and she was fine with that too. But Juanita had picked up a guy in a bar a time or two and she had a good feeling about this one.
“What kind of place do I hang out in?”
“The kind of place where they boot scoot and line dance.”
He really laughed this time. “You think I’m a cowboy?”
“Actually …” Juanita gave her flirtiest shrug as the bartender put her drink down in front of her. “I was going for bull rider.”
He laughed again. “Well I do enjoy a long, hard ride so, sure, let’s go with that.”
Juanita’s breath hitched as she sucked her fizzy drink through the straw. Oh yeah. She had a freaking great feeling about this one.
“Let me guess what you do,” he said.
Fabulous. Juanita tried not to let her smile slip. She’d played this game with guys before and invariably they were completely unoriginal. Model was what they usually said. She knew it was supposed to flatter her, but astronaut would have been more complimentary. Because seriously, she was five foot two and curvier than a mountain pass.
Fashion designers didn’t make clothes for women like her.
She couldn’t bear for this guy—Marcus—to fall into the trap of mediocrity when he’d been showing such promise.
He took on a faux serious expression as he examined her face, tipping his head from side to side, angling himself back on his stool to check out the full length of her.
Heat flared in his wake. The thrust of her breasts. The curve of her waist. The length of her thigh. The line from nylon-clad calf to ankle. Even her toes inside her expensive stilettos.
His gaze returned to her face triumphantly. “Librarian.”
Juanita supposed it was the suit and the way her naturally wavy hair had been pulled back into a sleek, severe ponytail—her professional persona—but she was still too stunned for a second to respond. Then she laughed. A lot.
Librarian? She loved it.
It was preferable to the truth. Some guys got a little freaked out when they found out she was a psychologist. Or got a little too interested. The last thing she wanted on a hook-up was to listen to two hours of why his mother never loved him.
It was hard enough to turn that stuff off anyway.
And she was done with men needing psychoanalysis.
So he was a bull rider and she was a librarian. She was happy to run with that. The point was, in her professional opinion, he was no serial killer either and this was just a hook-up.
Which didn’t mean she couldn’t tease him.
“A librarian, huh? That sounds kind of boring.”
“Oh no, not boring at all,” he denied. “I wish you’d been my librarian as a kid. I might have read more books.”
Juanita laughed. “Not a reader?”
“Not unless you count comics.”
She scrunched up her nose as she swished her straw through her drink before lifting it to her mouth. “What kind of comics? Like Snoopy?”
“No,” he laughed. “Not like Snoopy. Manly comics. Marvel stuff. The Flash, Ironman, Black Widow.”
“You got it,” he grinned.
Yeah. Somehow the fact that this big, sexy man was into superheros seemed fitting. She could imagine him in a sexy, muscle-moulding suit and a cape, swooping in to save the day. He had that leaping-tall-buildings-in-a-single-bound thing going on.
“So. What are you doing here in this beige bar with all these …” he glanced around “… stuffed shirts?”
“I just gave a paper to these stuffed shirts.”
“Oh?” He didn’t sound surprised, just curious. “What on?”
Juanita rolled her eyes. “The Dewey decimal system of course.”
He chuckled this time. Low and sexy. It vibrated right through her belly. “Of course.”
“It was a hit,” she smiled.
“I don’t doubt it.”
Juanita almost laughed at the complete lack of enthusiasm in his voice. “Hey. I’ll have you know it’s a fascinating topic.”
“I have no doubt you could make it extremely fascinating.”
Juanita’s pulse skipped a beat at the gravelly inflection. The bartender pointed at the dregs of Marcus’s beer and asked if he wanted another. He glanced at her and Juanita’s pulse practically fibrillated. “Do you have plans for the night?”
She shook her head. “No. But … it’s my birthday.”
She wasn’t sure why she told him. It probably sounded pathetic. And desperate. But then he broke into a slow grin and Juanita decided if this night never went anywhere else, his dimples alone were present enough. “Really?”
She grinned back. How could one word hold so much innuendo? “Really.”
“We should go grab a meal, then. My shout. We could eat cake.” His gaze dropped to her mouth before flicking back up again. “Or something.”
Juanita liked the sound of or something very, very much. “They have a really good room service menu here. There’s even cake.”
His smile got a whole lot bigger. “I’m a huge fan of room service.”
Oh yes. She still had it. Take that mama. “Ditto.”
He picked up his beer and drained the last two mouthfuls before sliding off his stool and holding out his hand to help her down. “Lead the way.”
Marcus Weston followed the swing of the sexiest pair of hips he’d seen in a long time. Watching those pinstripes move and sway right in front of him was almost hypnotic. Wasn’t a lot of call for pinstriped suits in Jumbuck Springs and there was something about a woman who could rock one so convincingly.
He could only begin to imagine what she looked like out of it.
Anticipation swelled through his system, beating hard in his chest and flowing hot through his groin. He hadn’t come here tonight to get laid. In fact he’d chosen it because one look through the large windows as he’d been passing had told him it was the exact opposite of the places he usually sought out.
He’d been in town for three days now and he was night-clubbed out. He was jello-shots and happy-houred out. He was twenty-something, chicky-babed out. All those things were becoming less and less appealing, less and less therapeutic and for some reason he just hadn’t been able to handle three nights in a row of loud music and knocking back perfectly cute, perfectly willing women who wanted to do more than dance.
Even they couldn’t erase the pictures that had come back to haunt him again, and he was seriously worried he was losing his shit. Or his libido anyway. And that was even scarier.
But one look at the curvy woman who had sat herself down next to him at the bar had restored his faith. He didn’t know why she was different to the others but he’d gone from irritation when he’d first heard her slightly accented pick-up line to a system growling on all cylinders as he’d looked into her savvy brown eyes.
Just following her now was an exercise in control.
Juanita had curves that wouldn’t quit and her stockinged, nicely toned calves in those fuck-me heels were seriously sexy. They were like a dancer’s—burlesque, not ballerina—and he couldn’t wait to peel those stockings off with his teeth.
The lift doors opened slowly, as soon as she pressed the button, and he gestured for her to precede him into possibly the world’s tiniest lift. He supposed it fit the wood panelled, turn-of-the-century ambience of the rest of the hotel, but Marcus would have preferred a modern sucker that got them to her floor in five seconds flat.
“This is snug,” he said as the doors creaked closed.
She smiled at him as she settled her butt against the side wall. “Snug can be a good thing.”
Her smile went all the way to her eyes and she had nice white teeth. Marcus grinned. Yes, it could.
“Can you push twelve please?”
He hit the requested button. The lift took a few seconds to think about it before it creaked and groaned into action. Marcus settled himself on the wall opposite. He prepared himself for a slow ride, enjoying the steady buzz of anticipation as he unabashedly checked her out.
“How old are you today?” he asked as his gaze slid lazily from the long, straight line of her ponytail, down her throat to the collar of the silky emerald blouse that arrowed down into the magnificent swell of her cleavage.
He gave a low whistle. “A biggie.”
Marcus liked that she just came straight out with it. She didn’t play that crappy, coy guess-how-old-I-am game that so many women seemed fond of. The one that no sane man ever entered into.
No smart one anyway.
She raised a perfectly arched brow. “Right? So no pressure on you then.”
Marcus chuckled. “No worries. Birthday sex is my specialty.”
He may have been concerned about his libido lately but he wasn’t tonight as blood shunted exactly where it was supposed to shunt.
There was only one thing on his mind now and that’s the way he liked it.
“Although,” he rolled his head to the side looking at the light display on the lift console. Halfway. “You may be a year older before we get there.”
She laughed, but there was an unmistakably husky edge to it. “I don’t mind. The view’s pretty good from here.”
Marcus couldn’t agree more. The view was awesome from this side too. He liked that the single button of her jacket was still done up pulling the fabric snug across her chest and cupping the fullness of her breasts. It emphasised the indent of her waist and the full curve of her hips.
He liked the caramel tone of her skin and wondered if it was just a really good tan or something in her heritage. There was definitely something exotic about both her features and her voice. Something that hinted at Australia maybe not being her country of birth.
His gaze slid down the elegant line of her throat and further still to the ripe swells of her breasts. He wondered if her nipples were caramel too. It was so tempting to take those two steps that separated them, pin her against the wall, open that jacket and blouse and find out. He didn’t think she’d object, not if the rough burr of her breathing was anything to go by.
But the building buzz was something he wanted to savour for a moment. Too many times during the last six months sex had been a hurried rush to the end. In his quest to drown out the constant backbeat in his head, he’d forgotten how thrilling the build could be.
Although if this ancient contraption took too much longer all bets were off.
The lift shuddered to a halt, dinging its arrival on floor twelve. “Saved by the bell,” he murmured, his gaze raking over her mouth.
“Ditto,” she said giving him a Mona Lisa smile as the door cranked slowly open.
She sashayed out of the lift and he followed her again at a slower pace, taking in the sway of her hips and the swish of her ponytail as it swung temptingly down the centre of her back. He wanted to pull that hair out of its clasp and sink his fingers into it. He wanted to feel it fanned over his chest and see if it covered her bare breasts.
He wanted to wrap it around his fist as she sucked his cock.
She slowed and stopped outside room 1215. Marcus leaned his shoulder into the door jamb while she slid the key card through the lock. It clicked first time, the light flashing green.
“This thing has been playing up on me for the last two days,” she said, turning her face toward him. “You really are my birthday present from the universe.”
He chuckled as she pushed the door open. He could handle being Juanita’s karmic sex gift.
God knew she was exactly what he needed right now too.
Marcus checked out the room as he strolled in, the heavy door clicking shut quietly behind him. “Nice,” he whistled as he glanced around at all the dark wood panelling and heavy decorative gilt.
It was overwhelmingly masculine except for the decidedly feminine bed that sat in the middle of the room, glowing like a beacon in snowy white glory.
It was almost a shame to mess it up.
“I guess,” she shrugged. “If you like all that men’s club bullshit. But it is a suite.” She threw her bag on a nearby table. “I decided to treat myself for my birthday. If I’d known I was going to get you, however—” She undid her jacket and peeled it off, discarding it on a chair as she turned to face him. “I wouldn’t have bothered.”
Marcus smiled. He loved a woman who appreciated decadence and everything about Juanita screamed decadence. From the rich lustre of her hair to the gloss of her mouth. From the silky fabric of her blouse to the sheen of her nylon stockings. From the vibrant red of her nails to the shine of her patent leather heels.
There was a sensuousness to Juanita that excited him way more than a barely dressed, perky twenty-five year old who was up for anything. She was the kind of women who didn’t have a problem buying flowers for herself, who slept in sheets with debauched thread counts and treated herself to day spas because she believed in the power of indulgence.
The kind of woman who wore lingerie for herself. For the thrill of it against her skin and how sexy it made her feel.
Marcus’s pulse beat faster in anticipation of that.
His gaze snagged on her bedside table noticing three books in a pile. “I knew you were a librarian.”
She held her hands up in surrender. “You got me.”
“You wanna order something from room service?” he asked as she dropped her hands and walked towards him. Personally he could skip it but it wasn’t his party.
She shook her head as she snatched the three-pack of condoms that sat next to the Pringles and gourmet chocolates in the mini bar. The gleam in her eyes went straight to his dick as she threw the condoms on the bed.
“I’d like to open my present.”
End of Excerpt