He chuckled once. There was something in his voice—not just ego but more than confidence. Something made me want to turn and get a good look at him, but I kept my eyes on the line of liquor bottles on the other side of the bar.

After the man realized he wasn’t going to get a better response, he moved to the empty stool next to me. I sighed.

“What are you drinking?” he asked.

I rolled my eyes and then decided to look over at him. He was as beautiful as the Southern California weather, and he couldn’t have looked less like Jackson. Even sitting down, I could tell that he was tall—at least six foot three. His pear-colored eyes glowed against his beach-bronzed skin. Although he might be intimidating to the average male, I didn’t get the sense that he was dangerous—at least not to me—even if he was twice my size.

“Whatever I’m buying,” I said, not trying to hide my best flirtatious smile.

Letting my guard down for a beautiful stranger for an hour was justifiable, especially after a sixth glass. We would flirt, I would forget about any residual guilt, and I would go home. I’d possibly even get a free drink. That was a respectable plan.

He grinned back. “Anthony,” he said, holding up a finger.

“The usual?” Anthony asked from the end of the bar.

The man nodded. He was a regular. He must live or work close by.

I frowned when Anthony took my glass instead of refilling it.

He shrugged, no apology in his eyes. “Told you it was your last one.”

In half a dozen pulls, the stranger knocked back enough cheap beer to be at least close to my level of intoxication. I was glad. I wouldn’t have to pretend to be sober, and his drink of choice told me he wasn’t fussy or trying to impress me. Or maybe he was just broke.

“Did you say I couldn’t buy you a drink because Anthony capped you or because you really wouldn’t let me?” he asked.

“Because I can buy my own drinks,” I said, albeit a bit slurred.

“Do you live around here?” he asked.

I peeked over at him. “Your stunted conversational skills are disappointing me by the second.”

He laughed out loud, throwing his head back. “Christ, woman. Where are you from? Not here.”

“Chicago. Just blew in. Boxes are still stacked in my living room.”

“I can relate,” he said, nodding in understanding while holding up his drink with respect. “I’ve made two cross-country moves in the last three years.”

“Are you a politician or a lobbyist?” I asked with a smirk.

“Neither,” he said, his expression twisting into disgust. He took a swig of his beer. “What’s your name?” he asked.

He continued, “That explains the move. You’re running from a guy.”

I glared at him. He was beautiful, but he was also presumptuous—even if he was right. “And not looking for another one. Not a one-night stand, not a revenge screw, nothing. So, don’t waste your time or your money. I’m sure you can find a nice West Coast girl who would be more than happy to accept a drink from you.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” he said, leaning in.

My God, even if I were sober, he would be intoxicating.

I looked down at the way his lips touched the rim of his beer bottle, and I felt a twinge between my thighs. I was lying, and he knew it.

“Did I piss you off?” he asked with the most charming smile I’d ever seen.

Clean shaven with just a couple of inches of light-brown hair, that man and his smile had conquered far more daunting challenges than me.

“Are you trying to piss me off?” I asked.

“Maybe. The way you hold your mouth when you’re angry is…pretty fucking amazing. I might be a dick to you all night just so I can stare at your lips.”

My little game was over. He’d won, and he knew it.

“You want to get out of here?” he asked.

I signaled to Anthony, but the stranger shook his head and put a large bill on the counter. Free drink—at least that part of my plan had worked out. The man walked over to the door, gesturing for me to lead the way.

“A week’s worth of tips says he doesn’t go through with it,” Anthony said loud enough for the beautiful stranger to hear.

“To hell with it,” I said, walking quickly through the door.

I passed my new friend and walked out onto the sidewalk, the door sweeping slowly closed. He grabbed my hand, playful but firm, and pulled me against him.

“Anthony seems to think you’ll back out,” I said, looking up at him.

He was so much taller than me. Standing that close to him felt like sitting in the front row at the movie theater. I had to lift my chin and lean back a bit to look him in the eyes.

I leaned in, daring him to kiss me.

He hesitated while he scanned my face, and then his eyes softened. “Something tells me, this time, I won’t.”

He leaned down, and what began as an almost experimental soft kiss turned both lustful and romantic. His lips moved with mine as if he’d remembered them, even missed the way they’d felt. Unlike anything I’d experienced before, a strange electrical current crackled through me, melting my nerves away. We had done this so many times before—in a fantasy or maybe a dream. It was the best kind of déjà vu.

For less than a second after he pulled away, his eyes were still closed as if he were savoring the moment. When he looked down at me, he shook his head. “Definitely not backing out.”

We rounded the corner, walked quickly across the street, and then went up the stoop of my building. I fished inside of my purse for my keys, and then we walked inside, waiting in the elevator bay. His fingers grazed mine, and once they intertwined, he yanked me against him. The elevator opened, and we stumbled inside.

He gripped my hips and pulled me against him as my fingertips searched for the correct button. He touched his silken lips to my neck, and every nerve sparked and danced under my skin. The tiny kisses he peppered along my jawline, from ear to collarbone, were purposeful and experienced. His hands begged me to be closer to him with each touch as if he’d been waiting for me his entire life. Even though I had that same irrational feeling, I knew it was all part of the appeal, a part of the ruse, but the way he noticeably restrained himself from tugging too hard at my clothes made tiny shock waves careen through my body.

When we reached the fifth floor, he had my hair pulled to the side and one shoulder exposed while he skimmed his lips over my skin.

“You are so soft,” he whispered.

Ironically, his words made thousands of tiny bumps rise all over my skin.

My keys jingled while I fumbled with the lock. The man twisted the knob, and we nearly fell inside. He leaned away from me, pushing the door closed with his back, and pulled me against him by my hands. He smelled like beer and a hint of saffron and wood from his cologne, but his mouth still tasted of mint toothpaste. When our mouths met again, I willingly let his tongue slip inside as I laced my fingers behind his neck.

He slid my blazer off my shoulders and let it fall to the floor. Then, he loosened his tie and pulled it over his head. As he unbuttoned his shirt, I pulled my tube top up and over my head. My bare breasts were exposed for only a moment before my long black hair cascaded back down to cover them.