About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
For a woman like Serena Warren, Las Vegas was heaven. Everything about the place was outrageous and over the top—just like she was. Too bad she was only there for the weekend. She'd come on a sisterhood mission of sorts, with her three friends—Molly Hunter, Alexandra Lowell and Jayne Cavendish—after Jayne's fiancé had turned out to be a lying, cheating, son of a… jerk.
They'd kicked up their high heels on Friday night and most of Saturday. Even Jayne had managed to have some fun. She'd gone to a salon and had her trademark long locks snipped off into an adorable short do that would have left her ex suitably appalled. But as Saturday wound down, so did Jayne.
Even though the friends had planned a second storming of the Strip, Jayne decided to spend the evening in the hotel's spa and pool complex. And Alex, her roommate for the evening, had opted to stay with her—not only to keep Jayne company, but because she had a lot of thinking to do herself. The owner of McKendrick's, the resort where they were staying, had offered Alex a job. It was an incredible opportunity, but if she took it not only would she have to move to Las Vegas, she would have to stay behind when the others returned to San Diego the following day.
"Tear up the Strip on our behalf," Alex instructed after Molly and Serena had offered to share some spa time, too.
"Are you sure?" Molly asked.
"Positive," Jayne said. "There's no reason the two of you shouldn't go out and have a good time."
The smile Jayne offered was genuine, even if it didn't quite reach her eyes. None of her smiles did these days.
"All right. If you insist." Serena grinned wickedly. "Las Vegas won't know what hit it when we're through."
"Dear God, what have we done?" Alex muttered in mock dismay. "This town will never be the same."
Jayne was more circumspect. "Try not to do anything too crazy. Especially you, Serena."
Serena blinked innocently and held up two fingers. "Scouts' honor. I won't do anything you wouldn't do."
Her quasi-promise was already forgotten an hour later, as she and Molly stood on the patio of one of the Bellagio's crowded lounges, watching its famed fountains as they waited for a table to open up.
"I wonder if I'd get arrested for dancing under the spray," she mused aloud.
Molly was used to her friend's antics and merely rolled her eyes. "Let's not find out, okay?"
"I'm not saying I plan to do it." Serena lifted her shoulders. "Just wondering, that's all."
"I wish Alex and Jayne had come out with us."
"I know. Do you think Jayne's having a good time?" Serena asked.
"About as good as she can under the circumstances."
"If I ever get my hands on that—"
"She's better off without him," Molly interjected.
"That goes without saying, but I hate that Rich walked away unscathed after all the pain and humiliation he caused her."
"He'll get his eventually," Molly predicted.
"I want to be there when he does. Maybe even help the process along a little, you know?"
"I do, indeed. Men can be such idiots." Molly's tone turned wistful then. "Still, they do have their uses."
"And some of them aren't hard to look at either," Serena added as she caught a glimpse of a blond-haired god of a man.
Gorgeous was an understatement. Something about him, something more than his looks, had her heart ticking out an extra beat. Before she could figure out what it was, though, he was swallowed up by the crowd.
The first thing Jonas Benjamin noticed as he walked through the Bellagio's bustling lounge was the redhead standing at the patio rail. She was impossible to miss— and not only because of the neon colors in her tie-dyed cropped jacket.
She had her back to him, so he couldn't see her face, but talk about a killer pair of legs. Slender, yet shapely, they gave the illusion of going on forever thanks to the skinny jeans that hugged her curves from thigh to ankle. They ended just shy of dagger-like leopard-print heels.
As water shot high into the air behind her she turned, and Jonas glimpsed her face. Her features were as stunning as he'd anticipated: high cheekbones, lushly fringed eyes, a slightly upturned nose beneath which a pair of pouting lips were slicked with red gloss. Lust wasn't unexpected, but the powerful zap of recognition he experienced was.
It made no sense. He didn't know the woman. He'd never seen her before and wasn't likely to again, since most if not all the bar's patrons were tourists. Added to that, she wasn't his type. Too unconventional, and way too flashy. His gaze skimmed her colorful jacket before focusing on a pair of earrings that dangled practically to her shoulders. The women he dated dressed conservatively. When it came to jewelry they leaned toward pearl studs or gold posts. They wouldn't be caught dead in quarter-sized hoops, let alone silver chandeliers that dripped with iridescent beads. The redhead's slightest movement caused the earrings to sway. The effect was mesmerizing, almost hypnotic.
Jonas rubbed his eyes and dismissed the bizarre feeling that he'd somehow been waiting for her. He was overworked, and with his campaign for mayor heading toward the final stretch had gone far too long without intimate female companionship. It was eleven o'clock on a Saturday night and he'd just come from a meeting with his campaign manager, Jameson Culver. They'd spent the better part of five hours discussing how best to capitalize on Jonas's most recent poll numbers, which showed him slightly ahead of his opponent.
It was no small coup that a political novice such as Jonas had managed to snag the veteran strategist for his camp. Still, Jameson was tedious and humorless. If possible he could be even more overbearing than Jonas's father, Corbin Benjamin, who'd enjoyed two terms as Nevada's governor in the 1990s before being elected to Congress, where he still served.
"You'll need more than a stint on the city's planning board on your political résumé if you expect to someday lead the State or move on to Washington," Corbin liked to remind him. "Mayor will be a good start."
A good start and a good ending. Jonas felt he had a lot to offer as Las Vegas's mayor, but he didn't have the stomach for state or national politics—not that he'd ever been able to convince his father of that.
He tugged at his necktie. God, he needed a drink. It was why he'd come. He knew he could relax in obscurity amid the tourists. Not many locals patronized the place unless they were entertaining out-of-town guests. From the corner of his eye he saw a couple leave. He headed to their table, arriving at the same time as the redhead, who had an attractive brunette in tow.
"I'll flip you for it," she said.
Given her looks, he had expected her voice to be husky. It was smooth as velvet.
"I've got a better idea. How about we share it?" Even as Jonas struggled to process the fact that he'd just made that suggestion, he was making another. "I'll even buy you and your friend a drink."
"I don't know." She tilted her head to one side, considering. The earrings undulated and his pulse picked up speed. "I'mnot sure if you'll care for our conversation."
"I've got a sister." Jonas shrugged. "I think I can handle a bit of girl talk if it means I get to sit down." Who knew when the next table would become available? Surely that was the only reason he'd offered to share it in the first place?
The redhead laughed. The sound was rich and robust, just as he'd anticipated. What he wasn't prepared for was the way her sultry features took on an engagingly impish quality. Just that fast she went from searing siren to gamine girl-next-door. It was quite a transformation, and even though Jonas hadn't a clue as to what had inspired her mirth, he found himself grinning back and wanting to find out.
"What's so amusing?"
"Trust me, you don't want to know," the brunette murmured.
"Come on," Jonas coaxed.
The redhead shrugged. "Okay, but don't say you weren't warned. My friend and I were just discussing the most painful way to castrate a man."
Jonas winced, and resisted the urge to lower his hands in a protective gesture. "You're talking figuratively, right?"
A pair of red lips curved in answer.
"Okaaay," he said slowly. "Any man in particular, or the whole of the species?"
The redhead laughed. "Don't worry, Adonis. Your goods are safe." Just as he started to relax, though, she added, "For now," and laughed again.
"Do you still want to share a table with us?" the brunette asked. She was doing her best to hide a grin.
"Why not? I like to live dangerously."
"Yeah, you look it," the redhead remarked as her gaze skimmed from his necktie to his wingtips.
"Appearances can be deceiving," he replied. She sobered at that, as if his words struck a chord. He stuck out a hand. "I'm Jonas."
Interesting name. As far as he could tell the woman was walking chaos. So far nothing about her could be considered serene, and that included her handshake. Sexual awareness surged through him the moment their palms pressed together. Her eyes rounded and she tugged her hand free. Jonas wasn't sure knowing she'd felt it too made him feel the least bit better.
She motioned toward her friend. "This is… um…"
"Molly," the brunette supplied, appearing more amused than insulted by her friend's sudden lapse in memory.
"It's nice to meet you, Molly."
He shook the young woman's hand. No shock of electricity accompanied the contact. Jonas almost wished it had. With her tidy appearance, she was far more his type. They took their seats as a busboy arrived to remove the cocktail glasses left by the previous occupants.
"So, how are you ladies enjoying your stay at the Bellagio?" he asked.
"Actually, we're guests at McKendrick's," Molly corrected.
"How did you know we were tourists?" Serena asked.
"Just a hunch." Though he was oddly tempted to give her earring a flick, he signaled for a server instead.
"I'm guessing you're here for a convention." Serena didn't keep her hands to herself. She reached for his tie and gave it a little tug, before allowing the length of silk to spill through her fingers. "Accountant?"
"No." He smiled up at the young woman who'd come to take their order. "I'd like a bourbon neat, please."
"A vodka martini. Make it dirty," Serena added.
Jonas had to bite back a groan.
"Just ice water for me," Molly said.
"Are you sure?" he asked. "Remember, I'm buying."
"Thanks, but I feel a headache coming on." She massaged one temple.
"Vegas can do that," he commiserated. "You have to pace yourself."
"Where's the fun in that?" Serena wanted to know. "You've loosened your tie, Adonis, but I'm betting you never really let loose."
"Ah, ah, ah. Appearances, remember?" God, he was enjoying himself.
"What was the last crazy thing you did?"
"The last crazy thing?"
"Yeah." She tilted her head again and the earrings danced.
He reached over and flicked the ends of one.
Serena laughed outright. "Is that the best you can do?"
Jonas had thought it pretty major. He wasn't big on spontaneity. He usually thought things through, carefully weighing the risks and benefits, before acting or making a decision. Doing so served him well in his profession. In addition to running for mayor, he was a contract lawyer. As such, he paid close attention to the fine print—and to the effect it could have on one's life or livelihood.
"I'm waiting, Adonis." Her smile was smug.
His gaze lingered on her lips. They looked soft and sweet and way too inviting. Crazy? What he was thinking of doing right now certainly qualified. He waited for sanity to return. It didn't, and instead of stepping back from the ledge he jumped off it.
"How about this?" he asked as he cupped the back of Serena's neck and pulled her toward him.
The kiss was brief and, as public displays of affection went, hardly over the top. Yet it proved to be as big a turn-on as foreplay. Even the zap of electricity he'd experienced at their handshake hadn't prepared him for this wicked snap of desire. Afterward, he wasn't sure which of them was more shocked. They gaped at each other as Molly studied her nails.
"Speechless?" Jonas prodded as he awaited Serena's comeback.
He expected whatever she said to be flippant, perhaps even rude. He'd certainly earned a cutting remark or two with his forward behavior. Though in his defense she hadn't resisted him. Not in the least. He couldn't believe he'd kissed her—or that he wanted to do it again. Her lips had lost most of their red gloss but none of their appeal.
When Serena finally spoke, she floored him with honesty.
"I'm a big enough person to admit when I'm wrong. And, man, was I wrong." A grin accompanied the admission.
Wrong wasn't the word for it, Serena mused inwardly as her hormones continued to pop and fizz like the bubbles in champagne. She hadn't seen this reaction coming even if she had found the man attractive from the get-go.
That in itself was surprising. In his charcoal suit, snowy white shirt and muted print tie, he was one hundred and eighty degrees from the artsy, anti-establishment sort who usually caught her notice. She chalked up his appeal to his handsome face, even though she'd never figured herself for being so superficial. Adonis, she'd called him.
Her gaze trailed over his broad shoulders. No doubt about it, the man worked out. She pictured him shirtless and sweaty, muscles flexing and straining as he finished up a set of curls with hand weights.
Mmm. The sound vibrated in her throat. It took Molly kicking her shin under the table for Serena to realize she was openly ogling him.
"I hope you don't mind, but I think I'm going to head back to our hotel," her friend said. She rubbed her temple as she rose to her feet. "My headache has gotten worse."
"Oh." Serena did her best to hide her disappointment as she started to rise too. "Well, Jonas, it's been…"
"Interesting?" he supplied.
Serena blew out a breath. "That's an understatement."
Molly divided her gaze between the two of them. "You should stay, Serena. I mean, if you want to."
"No. I'll go back." The words sounded half-hearted.
Their drinks arrived then. The waitress set the bourbon in front of Jonas and eyed the two women. "Who gets the dirty martini?"
Molly pointed to Serena. "Sit and have your drink."
"But…" Serena glanced at Jonas. No doubt about it, she wanted to stay. Still, she asked, "Are you sure, Moll?"
After Molly had left, Serena and Jonas eyed one another in silence as they sipped their drinks. With her friend seated next to her Serena's hormones had been somewhat held in check. Now they threatened to stage a riot.
"So, where are you from?" Small talk seemed the safest bet.
"Vegas, born and raised. You?"