Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
I was looking for a stranger.
The Fishtank wasn't my usual hangout, though I'd been inside it once or twice. Recently redecorated, it sought to compete with a bunch of brand-new bars and restaurants that had opened in downtown Harrisburg, but though the tropical theme and aquariums were pretty and the drinks cheap enough, the Fishtank was too far away from restaurant row to really compete. What it did have that the other, newer bars didn't, was the attached hotel. The Fishtank, "where you hook 'em," was sort of a joke with the young and single crowd of central Pennsylvania. Or at least with me, and I was young. And blessedly, purposefully, single.
Scanning the crowd, I wove my way through the closely set tables toward the bar. The Fishtank was filled, literally, with people I didn't know. One would be the perfect stranger, emphasis on perfect.
So far, I hadn't seen him, but there was still time. I took a seat at the bar. My black skirt rode up a little and my stockings, held up by a garter belt of wispy lace, slipped on the leather stool. The sensation whispered up my thighs, bare above the tops of my stockings. My panties, of even wispier lace, rubbed me as I shifted.
"Tröegs Pale Ale," I told the bartender, who passed me a bottle with a nod.
Compared to many of the women in the Fishtank, I was dressed conservatively. My black skirt was cut fashionably just above the knee, my blouse silky and formfitting, but in the sea of low-riding jeans and navel-baring T-shirts, spaghetti straps and hooker heels, I stood out. Just the way I wanted.
I sipped my beer and looked around. Who would it be? Who would take me upstairs tonight? How long would I have to wait?
Apparently, not long. The seat next to mine had been empty when I sat, but now a man took it. Unfortunately, it was the wrong man. A stranger, yes, but not the one I was waiting for. The guy had blond hair and a gap between his two front teeth. Cute, but definitely not what I wanted. Also unfortunately, he didn't seem to take a hint.
"No, thanks," I said when he offered to buy me a drink. "I'm waiting for my boyfriend."
"You're not waiting for your boyfriend." He said this with unshakable confidence. "You're just saying that. Let me buy you a drink."
"I have one already." I gave him points for persistence, but I wasn't here to go home with a frat boy who thought "not" jokes were the height of humor.
"Okay, I'll leave you alone." Pause. "NOT!"
He laughed, slapping a thigh. "C'mon. Let me buy you a drink."
"Are you hitting on my date?"
Frat Boy and I turned, and both our jaws dropped. I'm pretty sure we each had different reasons. His was probably surprise at being wrong. Mine was in delight.
The man standing next to me had the dark hair and blue eyes I'd been looking for. The earring. The jeans, deliciously worn in all the right places and the white T-shirt with a leather jacket over it. I was seated on a high bar stool and he still towered over me. I guessed him to be at least four inches over six feet, if not more.
Very, very nice.
My stranger flicked his hand like he was brushing away Frat Boy. "G'wan, now. Go."
Frat Boy, to give him credit, didn't try to make excuses. He just grinned and got off the stool. "Sorry, man. You can't blame me for trying, can you?"
My stranger turned to look at me, and his blue-eyed gaze roamed over my every inch before he answered. "No." He sounded considering. "I don't guess I can."
My stranger took the vacated seat. He held out the hand not gripping the glass of dark beer. "Hi. I'm Sam. Don't say Sam I am, or I'll toss you back to that doofus."
Sam. The name suited him. Before he gave it I might've imagined him as anyone, but once he did I could think of him as nobody else.
"Grace." I shook his proffered hand. "Nice to meet you."
"What are you drinking, Grace?"
I lifted my bottle. "Tröegs Pale Ale."
"How is that?"
I sipped. "Pale."
Sam held up his glass. "I've got Guinness. It's not pale. Let me buy you one."
"I haven't finished the one I have," I said, but with the smile I hadn't given Frat Boy.
Sam leaned in. "C'mon, Grace. It'll put hair on your chest."
"Uh-huh. Do I look like I want hair on my chest?"
Sam blatantly eyed the front of my blouse. "Without seeing the chest in question, I'm afraid I can't say."
I laughed. "Riiiight. Try again."
Sam gestured to the bartender and asked for two more bottles of the pale ale. "For when you're done with that one."
I didn't take the second bottle. "I can't, really. I'm on call."
"Are you a doctor?" Sam tipped back the last of his beer from his glass and pulled a bottle toward him.
He paused, waiting for me to say more, but I didn't. He drank, swallowed. He gave the sort of manly grunt and lip-smack guys make when they drink beer from bottles and are trying to impress women. I watched him without speaking and sipped from my own bottle, wondering how he meant to do this. I really hoped he'd make it convincing enough for me to go upstairs with him.
"So. You're not here to drink, then?" Sam eyed me, then turned on his stool so our knees touched.
I smiled at the touch of challenge in his tone. "Not really. No."
" He paused, as if thinking. He was very good. "So what you're saying is, let's say a guy, oh, bought you a drink."
"Before he knew you weren't here to drink."
I smiled again, holding back a laugh. "Sure. Let's say that."
Sam swiveled on his stool to fix me with an intense gaze. "Would he already have fucked up too bad, or would you give him a chance to make it up to you?"
I pushed the bottle he'd bought me toward him. "I guess that would depend."
Sam's slow grin was a heat-seeking missile sent straight between my thighs. "On what?"
"On if he was cute or not."
Slowly he turned to show off his profile, then to the other side until he finally looked at me head-on. "How's this?"
I looked him over. His hair, the color of expensive black licorice and spiked on the crown, feathered a bit over his ears and against the back of his neck. His jeans had rubbed to white in interesting places. He wore black, scuffed boots I hadn't noticed before. I looked back up to his face and the quirking mouth, the nose saved from being too sharp only by the way the rest of his features came together. He had brows like dark wings, arched high over the center of his eyes and tapering to nothing at the outside corners.
"Yes." I leaned closer. "You're cute enough."
Sam rapped the top of the bar with his knuckles and wa-hooed. The noise turned heads, but he didn't notice. Or he pretended not to. "Damn. My mama was right. I am purty."
He wasn't, really. Attractive, but not pretty. Still, I couldn't help laughing. He wasn't what I'd been expecting, but
wasn't that the point of meeting a stranger?
He didn't waste any time.
"You're very pretty," Sam, beer finished in record time, leaned to murmur in the vicinity of my ear.
His lips tickled the sensitive skin of my neck just below my lobe. Already primed by the fantasy, my body reacted at once. My nipples pushed against the lace of my bra and outlined themselves in the silk of my shirt. My clit pulsed, and I squeezed my thighs together.
I leaned close to him, too. He smelled a little like beer, a little like soap. A whole lot like yum. I wanted to lick him. "Thanks."
We each sat back on our stools. Smiling. I crossed my legs and watched his gaze follow the hem of my skirt as it rose to give him a glimpse of bare thigh. His eyes widened in satisfactory appreciation. His tongue slid along his bottom lip, leaving it glistening.
He looked into my eyes. "I don't suppose you're the type of girl to go upstairs with a guy she just met, even if he is cute as all hell?"
"Actually," I told him, matching his low, breathy tone, "I think I might be."
Sam paid the bill and left a tip big enough to make the bartender grin. Then he took my hand to help me down from the stool, holding me steady when my foot came down wrong as though he'd known all along I'd stumble. Even in four-inch heels I had to tilt my head way back to look into his face.
"Thank you," I said.
"What can I say?" Sam replied. "I'm a gentleman."
He stood head and shoulders over most of the crowd, which had grown considerably since I came in, and he led me without faltering through the maze of tables and bodies toward the door to the lobby.
Nobody could have known we'd just met. That we were strangers. I was going upstairs to a stranger's room. Nobody could know that, but I did, and my heart thumped hard and harder the closer we got to the elevator.
The walls inside reflected us both, our faces blurred by the dim lighting and the abstract pattern of gold in the mirrors. His T-shirt had rucked up out of his jeans. I couldn't look away from his belt buckle or the hint of bare skin just above it. When I looked up again to meet his gaze in the mirror, Sam's smile had shifted.
I saw him put his hand on the back of my neck before I felt his touch. The mirror had created that distance, that second of delay. Like watching a movie or TV, but somehow that small disconnect made this seem all the more real.
At the door to his room Sam took his hand away from the back of my neck to dig in his pockets for the key card. He tried both front pockets and came up with nothing but a few coins. He fumbled. His nervousness charmed me even as it prompted my own. He found the key inside his wallet, tucked into a back pocket.
I liked his laugh when he pulled it out and fit it into the door. The lock blinked red, and he muttered a curse I deciphered by tone, not by word. He tried again, his hands so big they engulfed the slim plastic card. I couldn't stop staring at his hands.
"Fuck," Sam said clearly, and handed me the card. "I can't get the door open."
I reached for the card. Our hands touched. Then somehow his hand had encircled my wrist and my back pressed against the still-closed door. Sam pressed against my front. His mouth found mine already open for him. His hand discovered my leg already cocked to fit his grasp just behind my knee. He fit between my legs like the key o...