After a day made more grueling due to several nights of interrupted sleep, Regina locked her office door and happily dropped her office keys into her portfolio bag.
She still wasn’t sure how her friend Lauren McCarthy had coerced her into being the entertainment for her latest fundraiser, but that’s where she was headed. Her sneaky, manipulative friend would just have to forgive her for running a little late. It had taken a while to come up with a talk tame enough for the country club crowd.
Regina knew how to practice restraint in her subject matter when necessary, but she was more used to saying things others barely dared to think about.
In the parking lot, Regina pulled her attention away from her surly thoughts to the present and smiled. The day got measurably better when saw her favorite male waiting for her in the parking lot.
“Hello, Harry,” she purred in her best sexy voice, “you’re looking very handsome today. Want to go for a ride?”
Regina walked the short distance to her car, an excited hand reaching for the sleek door handle of her metallic baby blue Porsche. Delighted to be comforted at last, she let herself sink into the plush leather driver’s seat. It rumbled beneath her rear as she started the car and she sighed in pleasure, laughing softly at her intense response.
Ironically, it had been Saint McCarthy who pointed out to Regina her relationship to her car was the most sexual one in her life. While Regina had laughed hard at Lauren’s teasing, she readily admitted a growling car sure as hell beat a vibrator for her any day. Driving Harry made the craziness of her life seem at least a little more worth it. Regina worked hard on letting Harry and the good she did for others be enough to keep her content.
Tonight she stroked the leather shifter firmly, groaning in happiness as she pushed in the most responsive clutch she had ever known. She touched a button on the dash and the Stones soulful music filled the small car. It was reassuring somehow to hear the sexy lead singer complaining about the same problem finding satisfaction Regina had.
“Come on, Harry. Let’s go talk to some stuffy rich people about sex,” Regina said to the car, peeling out of the parking spot.
*** *** ***
Ben Kaiser walked the long hallway to the country club offices, trying to remember the last time he had been to a function like this. It probably had been before Catherine had even gotten sick, which was three years ago at least.
He hadn’t really been very social since she’d died, though not from grief exactly. His grieving had taken place over the entire two years of her illness as he lost her a little at a time. By the time Catherine had finally died, sheer relief she was finally out of pain was stronger than what he felt over the final loss. The six months since her death had been about figuring out next steps.
His family was encouraging him to start dating again, and Ben wasn’t opposed to it. He just wasn’t thinking about it much or taking any steps yet. It was one the reasons he had decided to come tonight and deliver the bid himself.
It had crossed Ben’s mind several times lately to ask Lauren McCarthy out to dinner.
Lauren was divorced, had been for years. A tall, sleek blond who dressed meticulously, she was as polished as Catherine had been, though she didn’t seem to have the same warmth.
Not that he was looking for another Catherine exactly.
Actually, Ben didn’t really know what he wanted next time around. After being married for twenty-five years, he didn’t know how dating worked anymore or what it was like to look for someone new.
His not knowing was one of the reasons Lauren seemed like a safe first date. It was a well known fact Lauren McCarthy wasn’t looking for anything more than pleasant companionship.
Though fifty felt a bit late in life to be starting over, Ben prided himself on having an open mind. He knew he wasn’t meant to be alone. He liked sex too much for one thing, or least he used to. He hadn’t been able to express those needs in a long time, and was looking forward to doing so again soon. Being a man who trusted his instincts, Ben was willing to wait a bit longer and let them lead him in the right direction. If they didn’t, then he’d probably ask Lauren out to jump start his dating.
Instincts were Plan A. Dating a safe woman was Plan B. There was nothing wrong with planning, was there? Besides, Ben had always enjoyed the hunt, even though he did tend to settle into monogamous relationships more quickly than most men.
Finding the office locked, Ben slid the manila envelope containing his company’s estimates for renovating the McIntyre Retirement Community under the door. The deep discount for the work was his business’ contribution to the fund, and Ben was glad his company was wealthy enough to do it.
Heading into the ballroom of the club, Ben saw the tables were filling and the music had begun. Lights had been lowered to an intimate level to entice dancers to the floor. Lauren was talking to a group of people off to one side of the room.
Along the other side, there was a table overflowing with food. Standing at the food table was a smiling redhead with a trim, but generous figure. She was wearing a fitted black dress that seemed to Ben to be working pretty hard to restrain the curvy woman inside it. The fact he noticed her body made Ben smile.
He watched as the woman spoke to someone else getting food, casually popping a grape into her mouth as she talked, all the while nodding at something said. Ben tried to tear his gaze away from watching her, but he couldn’t.
Then realization hit him. I’m attracted to her, Ben thought, his blood pumping a bit harder and faster as he adjusted to the unfamiliar feeling. Well, he reasoned, rubbing the tightness in his chest with one hand, at least this was how the game was supposed to work. You saw someone interesting, and then just took a chance.
And why not?
But his feet were already moving him toward her before he could ponder the answer to his own rhetorical question. Ben walked up to the woman just as she was tossing her now empty plate into the trash.
“Hello,” he said. “Would you like to dance? It’s for a good cause I hear.”
*** *** ***
The polite refusal Regina had been about to make died on her tongue when she raised her eyes to the man’s smiling face. It was a rare occurrence for her to be rendered speechless, but she was as she met his direct, obviously interested gaze.
Damn erotic dreams, she fumed, fighting a sudden urge to wipe damp palms on the sides of her dress. Her dream man would undoubtedly have this man’s face tonight.
Somewhere between the ages of forty and fifty, the incredible specimen standing in front of her was both handsome and masculine in spades. Only a little taller than her five-foot-eight height, there appeared to be a lot of solid male packed into the space he occupied.
His mostly jet-black hair was streaked with silver on each side of his head. Like a magazine model, his skin was tanned and clear, and his very nice clothes were perfectly suited to him.
But it was the man’s rakish smile as he openly appraised her that was severely testing her composure. He hadn’t said more than a few words to her, hadn’t even touched her yet, but she was already turned on just looking at him.
Confusion over her sudden, intense attraction rose inside Regina. It threatened to overrun her normal sense of self-protection like a rising tidal wave preparing to conquer a shore. Fortunately, before she could do something totally stupid, like giggle or reach out to touch him, her normal self-protection urge finally overrode her hormonal reaction.
“Thanks, but I shouldn’t dance—really, I have—well things I have to do shortly,” she stammered. If she had heard anyone else say something so lame, she’d have rolled her eyes. Her tongue, which habitually said things that shocked everyone—sometimes even her—seemed unwilling to just say a simple no to a man who looked as good as he did.
Regina watched the man’s eyes crinkle in amusement as he smiled at her attempt to politely refuse. Rows of perfectly straight, perfectly even white teeth sent unexpected butterflies fluttering around in her stomach. His knowing, disbelieving look was much more alluring to Regina than his polite words. His smile was lethal.
And as he simply smiled, Regina realized he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Her reaction to his persistence landed somewhere between here-I-go-again and holy-hell-he’s-hot. She sighed, unable to remember the last time a man had pursued her so blatantly and openly.
Down girl, she ordered herself as the butterflies took flight again, but it was too late.
His smiled widened as his gaze swept over her, his knowing look challenging her to say yes simply because he could tell she wanted to. For the first time in her life, Regina literally felt her willpower being sucked away as she all but drowned in the man’s emerald gaze.
*** *** ***
Ben looked the woman over thoroughly, feeling genuine relief when he saw no ring on her left hand. She was older than he had guessed from across the room, with faint but definite smile lines softening her eyes. Ben liked the lines. They were marks of a real woman, someone with character, he thought happily, thanking the instinct that had sent him across the floor to her.
“Just a dance—I promise I won’t keep you long,” Ben said sincerely, holding out his hand.
Sighing reluctantly, and looking more resigned than pleased, the woman put her hand in Ben’s and walked out to the dance floor with him. Her obvious reluctance made him smile even more.
Sure, Ben could tell he made her a little nervous, but her gaze returned his interest, which he found intriguing. Her color was high and her breathing erratic as she stepped into his arms. It was exciting as hell to coax her, Ben realized, and equally exciting to think the woman wanted to be coaxed. It also didn’t take long for him to notice how thrilled he was to get his hands on her at last. If she hadn’t felt so good, Ben would have laughed at his reaction.
Too delighted with his own spontaneity to be shocked with the speed and direction of his thoughts, Ben simply wrapped the woman in his arms and spun her off to the music. In her low heels, she was the perfect match to his five-ten height. They moved around the floor slowly while she worked out her comfort level with dancing with him.
Ben sighed in relief when she finally relaxed, and used the opportunity to move in to her a little more. His face brushed her hair when they had to dodge the other dancers, and Ben noticed she smelled like a rich dessert, something with vanilla ice cream and warm cherries. His body tightened, reminding him it had been a very long time since he had even thought about dessert, much less wanted something so specific.
Like an impatient kid, Ben found himself testing the attraction between them by pulling her even closer, inappropriately close for strangers no doubt, but the fleeting concern didn’t stop him. Ben found he was suddenly beyond polite as her scent filled him and he felt himself connect to a woman for the first time in years.
She drew in a sharp breath as their fronts brushed. Since he pretty much had the same reaction, Ben ran a hand across her back to let her know. To his amazement, she leaned into him further then, bringing her breasts against his chest until he could actually feel her heart beating rapidly against his. Ben took another deep breath, pulling her scent further inside him.
When he felt her sigh and sag against him in surrender to what was happening between them, Ben swallowed hard. The urge to kiss her came swift and strong—too strong not to act on it. Dipping his head, intending to follow the urge, Ben felt her ease their bodies apart.
Then he noticed her flushed, almost embarrassed face. Instead of feeling guilty, it only confirmed for Ben that she felt exactly as he did. That was why when she started to draw away, Ben immediately tightened his hold to stop her full escape. When their fronts brushed again during the silent struggle, they finally just stopped moving altogether.
Then they were just standing still in the middle of the crowded dance floor, staring at each other in shock, arms still linked in the dance form. It was a toss-up though which one of them was breathing harder.
When Ben checked in with himself about what to do, his instincts laughed at his hesitation.
“We need to take a walk,” Ben said decisively, pulling the woman along with him, not really giving her time to formulate a reasonable answer or to say no.
“No, really—I can’t, I—I really don’t have time to take a walk,” she protested, trying to clear her throat to speak more clearly even as she reluctantly let him lead her outside.
Ben slowed a little as they followed the brick path through elaborate English gardens. They passed by red roses draped and flowing over trellises. A large fountain spilled water over several layers of concrete and rock. Finally, he stopped near a very old magnolia tree already half in bloom. Ben walked them over to it, his urge to connect to her overcoming his usually impeccable manners.
Using the full length of his body, Ben pressed her into the tree, not the least bit surprised when she let him. He’d never been so in sync with a woman.
“I know this is crazy, but I really need to kiss you,” Ben told her at last, hoping the explanation was enough to justify his boldness. The woman looked at him with confusion again, but also with the most honest desire Ben had ever seen in a woman’s eyes. His heart beat hard in anticipation, knowing she wasn’t going to stop him from kissing her, and even harder thinking she might want what was happening as badly as he did.
“Okay,” she conceded softly, her sexy voice a tiny whisper across the distance between their mouths.
Ben kissed her lightly at first, testing the strangeness of her lips against his, but found only a sense of absolute rightness. He tasted the sweetness of the grape he’d watched her eat earlier. Then he kissed her a little harder, letting his tongue ride the seam of her lips, asking to be let inside. When she finally opened her mouth to him on a moan, his tongue dove in, delighted to tangle with hers at last.
And as he kissed her, Ben explored her, letting his hands travel boldly over her body. When his hands eventually found her hips, he held her tightly to him, rocking rhythmically against her as his tongue made love to her mouth.
The sweet pleasure of what they were doing gave Ben the most astounding sense of hope. Need deepened and Ben eagerly kissed her, pushing her back into the tree with little thought of her comfort or his.
On some level Ben knew it was crazy to make out with a woman he didn’t know, but he still didn’t want to stop. Like some randy teenager, the question of who she was simply became secondary to the one about how long he would have to wait before he could be inside her.
*** *** ***
Regina ignored the alarms sounding in her brain about kissing a stranger. Delighted with the erotic madness the man was creating with his mouth and hands, she chose to forget the fact she didn’t even know his name. She didn’t even want to acknowledge the tree scraping her back through her dress. Instead, she willingly let him rock his impressive hardness against her, the pleasure of each press sending her spiraling a little higher.
Surrounded by the wonderful smell of magnolia blossoms, what they were doing was a fantasy come to life for her. The man’s mouth on hers was its own kind of heaven, better than any erotic dream, better than any man she had ever known.
Where had he been all this time, she wondered? Then an awful thought intruded. What if she hadn’t come tonight? What if she hadn’t agreed to help Lauren? No—no, Regina denied in a panic, pulling the man with the talented mouth tighter to her and straining against him more, thrilled every time she felt him pulling her hips up against his in time with what his mouth was doing.
From far away, she heard Lauren calling her name. The man pulled away a little, ceasing to rock against her.
“No—please, don’t stop kissing me,” Regina begged, groaning into his mouth, kissing him again.
He laughed roughly, hiding his face against her throat. “I don’t want to stop either, but someone is coming,” he told her sadly, his voice husky and low in her ear.
Yes, and I so wish like hell it was us, Regina thought sadly, her true self surfacing at last from the haze of lust he had generated. It was all she could do not to speak the complaint aloud.
Closing her eyes, she tried to reign in her libido before she exploded. As Lauren’s voice got closer, the man stepped away from her body, pulling her away from the tree in the process.
His eyes were still dazed, still dark with passion. Regina imagined hers looked pretty much the same. She sighed hard in resignation.
“Lauren,” she called, having to clear her throat before continuing. “Stop yelling. I’m over here.”
Regina reached behind her and dusted her rear to make sure no tree bark had stuck there.
“It’s time for your speech,” Lauren said, amused, taking in Regina’s mussed hair and missing lipstick, as well as Ben’s stunned expression and his rumpled clothes. She couldn’t help smiling at their guilty expressions.
“Get your Dr. Logan butt back inside and dazzle some money out of these people for me,” Lauren teased. “Hi, Ben. I see you met my friend Regina.”
Ben looked at the woman he’d been kissing in absolute shock. “Regina? Regina Logan? You’re—Dr. Regina Logan?” he exclaimed. He ran a hand through his hair as he glared at her. “Shit—I don’t believe this. Why didn’t you tell me who you were?”
Over the years, many men had rejected her just for who she was or what she did for a living, and Regina had survived those rejections. Eventually, she’d survive this too, but at the moment she could still taste him, still feel his hands exploring her, still feel him rocking against her in passionate possibility. The loss of what could have been between them broke what was left of her forty-seven-year-old romantic heart.
Okay, breathe, she ordered herself. Screaming will not help. Do not scream. Do not let him know how destroyed you are.
Regina glared at the man’s embarrassed face, derision curling her mouth into a regretful grimace. In a matter of moments, the amount of anger rolling through her equaled the amount of attraction she had originally felt for him. She welcomed the anger because it was better than the pain.
“Well, excuse the hell out of me,” Regina said sarcastically, stepping an arm’s length away so she wouldn’t be tempted to punch the gutless man in the nose. “It was difficult to talk with your tongue in my mouth.”
Regina lifted her chin and moved past both the man and Lauren. “Give me five minutes and I’ll be ready,” she said to Lauren as she walked away, not glancing back.
*** *** ***
After Regina was out of sight, Lauren gave Ben a sheepish look and shrugged.
“Sorry about the interruption,” she said to him in apology.
Horrified, Ben stood there staring, watching the passionate woman he’d kissed striding angrily away from him. He could tell he’d embarrassed her, but Ben was too stunned by what he had learned to be able to feel bad about it yet.
Everyone in the club had seen him all but drag Dr. Regina Logan out the door. His predominant concern at the moment was that he had to go back inside the country club now as if he had done nothing out of the ordinary. The gossip about his behavior would be worse if he ran away as he wanted to do. God only knew what kind of hassle he would get when Alfred and Daniel heard about it.
“I just saw her across the room,” Ben declared in his defense, as if it somehow explained the insanity of it all. “I had no idea who she was.”
Lauren smiled wistfully, wishing something as romantic could happen to her sometime. She took Ben’s arm to guide him back.
“How utterly wonderful for both of you,” she told Ben in reply, squeezing his arm in approval.