“I own the restaurant.”
I looked up, eyes wide. “Really? I thought you made ranches into resorts.”
“That too. I’m diversifying my investment portfolio.”
“Oh, right.” I nodded. Sure, whatever that meant. But, I had to admit, I was impressed. This fancy, packed, line-out-to-the-street restaurant looked like something you’d find in New York or L.A., not that I’d ever been to either city. He sure had come a long way from the ranch hand I’d known six years ago. A long way from my current reality.
“I wait tables at the Chat ‘n’ Chew,” I blurted out. “I work the morning shift five days a week.” Could I please stop talking? I took a big sip of ice water and inhaled a cube down the wrong pipe.
“You all right?” Declan put a large, warm hand on my back. I sputtered and flapped my hands, then managed to breathe.
Laughing, I looked at him. “I’m so elegant. I guess you can take the girl out of the ranch but you can’t take—”
“You’re beautiful, Kara.” Declan reached out and took my hand. Had I been saying something? I couldn’t remember. His eyes were like dark chocolate and his lips looked sinfully full, perfect to lick and taste. “You’re the most stunning woman in the room.”
I laughed, looked away and blushed but kept my hand right where it was. Normally I’d deflect a compliment with some kind of a joke, maybe tell him to stop. At the moment, though, words failed me. Declan was holding my hand, his large, warm palm enveloping my own. Did he honestly find me stunning?
I looked down at our hands entwined together. He worked inside now. How could his skin still be more tan and rough than my own?
In the center of the table a candle flickered in a hurricane glass. But the heat I felt came from his body, radiating into mine. His thumb caressed my hand, slowly stroking my skin. His large thigh pressed against my own.
He dropped his other hand to the table. It made an awkward bang and the plates and silverware jumped. I started and quickly drew back.
“Sorry about that,” he grumbled, then took a sip of ice water.
I carefully crossed my legs and slanted them to the side once again.
He gave a sharp exhale, pulled at his collar as if trying to loosen it, and then asked the innocuous, “How was your day?”
Oh, so we were going to play normal? I could try that. “Fine, thanks. I went shopping.”
“Yeah, I can see that.” He bit back a swear. His eyes traveled up to my neckline, then down to my hem high up on my thigh. The attention made me squirm, the pressure between my thighs growing. I wondered if he could sense my arousal.
He cleared his throat. “Did you go downtown?”
“Well, I started there and went in some boutiques, but it don’t go so well. Remember that scene from Pretty Woman?” Declan looked at me blankly. “You know, the Julia Roberts movie?” He shook his head. Not up on the classic chick flicks apparently. That made sense. “Anyway, the fancy shops didn’t go so well. But I found a great little consignment shop and a nice woman there helped me out.”
“I could have bought you something,” Declan grunted, seeming displeased. “You could have used my card.”
“Well…” I looked at him, a hand turned up in confusion. What was he talking about? He hadn’t given me his credit card. “What?” I finally managed.
“I could have bought you something. I’d like to do that.” His hand reached out again, finding mine. He stroked the sensitive inner skin between my index finger and thumb. How could he make that feel so intimate? He looked into my eyes. “I’d like to buy you something you could wear for me.”
I swallowed, suddenly needing a sip of something cold. The waiter appeared, not a moment too soon, with a chilled bottle of white wine. I sat back in my chair, dizzy, my hand still tingling from Declan’s touch. The waiter poured each of us a glass, then placed the bottle into an ice-filled bucket. I watched as a bead of condensation slid down its neck.
At my side, Declan sat so close. His huge, powerful shoulders strained against his shirt, his chest massive. I could see his pulse beating in his neck. I wanted to press my lips to it, lick him and breathe him in. I barely recognized myself. I clearly was not the same woman who expertly and relentlessly rebuffed all advances from any and all men. No one got my motor running.
Except Declan. Then and now. Gone was the lean, rangy look about him. Now he exuded confidence and power, sitting there like he owned the place. Which I guessed he did.
His eyes met mine, catching me looking at him, admiring him. His nostrils flared and his gaze drifted to my lips. The rest of the crowded restaurant faded away into a dim buzz. Apart in a quiet corner under soft lighting, I could imagine him leaning in, closing the distance between us.
“Is it to your satisfaction?” the waiter asked, still there. We both started. Declan swore under his breath.
“Yes,” Declan grunted and he left. Neither of us had tasted the wine.
“So.” I cleared my throat. I needed to do this. I had to remember why I was there tonight. “I’d like to discuss my business proposal. A loan I can pay back.”
“Kara.” He leaned toward me. His hand rested on the table, his long, strong fingers in a fist. One of his knuckles looked red and slightly swollen, as if he’d punched something, and I noticed a small cut.
I reached out and caressed his hand. “Are you hurt?”
He drew back, exhaling sharply with a hiss. He sat still in his chair, looking at me with a dark wash of emotions, holding his hand as if my tenderness and concern had scorched it.
Then, slowly, deliberately, Declan brought his chair closer to the table. He leaned forward. Underneath the tablecloth he reached out to touch my bare knee, grazing it lightly with his large fingers. I shivered at his touch.
“Come closer,” he ordered in a husky whisper. I looked down. I knew I shouldn’t. We were in a crowded restaurant and moving closer would give him more access. But his fingers stroked me, a few inches up and down my
lower thigh, up and down, so light, so gentle, so delicious.
I brought my hands down to my chair and shifted it over, closer to the table, closer to him. The corner of his mouth curved up into a smile, wickedly satisfied at my compliance. I looked away, nervous, embarrassed, but then those thoughts got swept away in the sensation of his large, rough palm caressing its way up my inner thigh. Slowly, in control, stroking me, making me part my legs even as I didn’t realize I was doing it.
My breathing grew more rapid and shallow. Heat built in my core, a throb down between my legs, the scrap of lace panties on my newly waxed, sensitive sex growing wet. He hadn’t even touched me there, but I wanted him to. I didn’t care that we were in a restaurant surrounded by people. All I could think about in that dimly lit corner was how much I needed the stroke of his large, thick fingers. He was getting so close, almost right up to where I needed him most.
“I have something to discuss with you, Kara.” His voice, low and dark, poured over me like rich caramel. “I want you to give it serious consideration.”
“Yes,” I exhaled, restless, eager.
“I have a proposal. An arrangement. This week I’m going to New York on business. I want you to come with me.”
My head felt foggy. “Come with you? Where?”
“And do what?”
“Serve me. For one week.” I grew still. What was he saying? “I’ll give you all the money you need for the ranch,” he continued, his voice steady and sure, his fingers still stroking my thigh. “In exchange, you’ll give me one week. All mine, every second of it.” He leaned closer. Into my ear he whispered, “You’ll surrender to me, Kara. Agree to do anything I say. Everything I want.”
My eyes widened with surprise. He drew back slightly, enough to measure my response.
“You’ll serve me in every way,” he continued. “Meet all of my needs. Fulfill every fantasy I’ve ever had about you.” He leaned in again to whisper close in my ear. “And I’ll make you come so hard you’ll forget your name.”