COMING OCTOBER 30, 2019
Brittany Hauge sipped her drink and studied the patrons of the bar. The sour stench of a decade’s worth of spilled beer clung to the air. Loud music, nominal lighting, battered decor—Holsters was her usual hangout when she was in the mood for some action. Tonight, anyone who appeared remotely interesting was either occupied with someone else or had been tried before. She wouldn’t want to give some poor, weak-minded man the wrong idea by giving him a second chance. One and done.
Maybe she needed to find new hunting grounds. Even her usual hurricane tasted off, as if the bartender used powdered orange drink instead of real juice.
Her annoyance with her best friend for reneging on their business plans tainted everything. Britt came to Holsters to work off her irritation with an orgasm or two. No strings attached. Forget her frustration with Selena. Now that Selena had her famous musician husband—and gee, Britt wasn’t at all bitter for not being invited to her best friend’s wedding . . . hey, at least she didn’t have to buy a gift. Britt took another sip of the fruity concoction, searching for a buzz in the liquid.
“Wanna dance?” a potential one-and-done asked.
Why not? Nothing else happening.
She nodded but held on to her half-gone drink. She feared date rape drugs. As a chemist, she could cite their components and how they worked. Awareness didn’t make her immune. Being a Holsters regular didn’t guarantee her safety. She’d stopped being careless a long time ago.
That’s why Selena’s about-face on their business surprised her. If Britt trusted anyone on the planet, she would have placed her money on Selena Wolfe.
Enough energy wasted on the traitorous bitch. Time to dance. Maybe work up some enthusiasm for the pitiful specimen gyrating in front of her.
The liquid in Britt’s glass sloshed as she swayed her hips in time to the music. She closed her eyes, fantasizing she was having a good time. Didn’t work. She opened them again.
And saw him.
A stranger. In more ways than one.
He loomed over every other man in the room. Yet his size wasn’t what made him stand out. His eyes were the key to the strangeness flowing into every cell of her body. Dark. Fluid. He exuded darkness, not only from his eyes and the longish black hair framing his head. His very presence brought midnight into the already murky space. The time could have been high noon and the effect would be the same. The impression ran deeper than his black t-shirt, jeans, and denim jacket. There was a stillness about him, a watchfulness that might have unnerved her had she been completely sober. His stare. Brooding at her.
As tipsy as she was, he proved to be her undoing.
Britt wasn’t aware she’d stopped dancing until the one-and-done wannabe made some irksome comment. She handed her glass to him and headed toward the stranger. His dark gaze compelled her as surely as if he’d hypnotized her. She felt as fluid as the hurricane she’d abandoned. Half a drink should not have triggered the humming of her nerves.
No, not humming. Sputtering. Rain pattering on a calm lake during a storm; water jumping, splashing, the surface disrupted, leaping, fragmented; still water, but not a cohesive whole.
She bumped her hip against someone’s chair and didn’t pause to apologize.
“Who are you?” She stood toe to toe with the stranger. Not that his name mattered. She preferred anonymity.
“Dakota.” He spoke as if his name did matter. Should matter to her specifically. “Dakota Towne.”
She couldn’t place his accent except to determine he wasn’t native to northern Minnesota. “I’m Brittany.” She never offered her surname in these situations.
“Selena calls you Britt.”
Britt jerked. “You know Selena?”
“I work with Ethan.” His mustache and beard beautifully framed his mouth.
“Oh. You’re one of his Colorado friends. Are you in the band? Toke Lobo and the Pack?” She didn’t recognize him. She would have remembered those eyes. She might have stalked him solely to have those eyes stare into hers.
“One of the bus drivers. Want to go for a walk?”
“Yes. What does a bus driver do?” Duh! The man splattered her brain.
“I drive the band bus when we’re on tour.”
He probably had a woman in every honkytonk town in the country. Good. He could add Holsters in Warwick, Minnesota to his itinerary.
Dakota took her arm and steered her toward the exit. Lightning crackled along her skeleton. Every hair on her body rose as if honoring his presence.
“Were you here for Selena’s wedding?” Not that she was bitter.
“Wedding?” He pushed open the door. “Selena and Ethan didn’t have a wedding. Not in the way you mean.”
What kind of answer was that?
“I don’t want to discuss Ethan and Selena,” he continued. “Let’s talk about you and me.”
“Our wedding? Dream on.” She hated pick-up lines.
He led her around the side of the tavern. The sleeve of his denim jacket brushed against her bare arm. She shivered. She hadn’t brought a sweater. Coming to Holster’s was spur of the moment. Selena made her so angry—
Dakota’s mouth on hers drove every thought from her brain. If his eyes were a bottomless darkness, his mouth was a storm surge, flooding her, stealing her ability to breathe, perhaps to survive. His tongue did things she’d only imagined. No one ever kissed her with such . . . possession. Such thoroughness. Not even in the early days with Judd—
Her senses returned. Dakota pressed her against the building’s unyielding cinder blocks, his mouth on hers like that of a man devouring his first meal after years of starvation. The damp, chilly night air brushed her skin, but the places Dakota touched her were as hot as the hellfire her father preached. Her arms twined around his neck of their own volition. Her nipples tingled.
He smelled of an experimental soap she and Selena created for their business; lemon balm with a hint of basil. His impressive erection burned past the layers of their clothing and branded her belly.
Although mindless sex was why she’d come to the bar, all her senses screamed if she indulged with Dakota, the act would not be meaningless.
She averted her head, breaking the kiss. “Not here.” She was a slut, not an exhibitionist.
“Not here,” he echoed, his voice as rough as the cinder blocks at her back. “Do you have a place?”
Right. He was staying at Ethan’s with the Colorado contingent.
Her roommate got cranky if Britt brought home guests. What the hell. Britt paid half the rent. If she wanted to fuck some random guy’s brains out, she would. And she decided Dakota’s brains were supremely fuckable.
“Yeah. You want to follow me?” Her voice warbled. Taking inventory, her voice wasn’t the only body part caught in Dakota’s disruptive aura. Her legs were barely able to support her body weight. Her heart thudded crazily in her chest. Even her respiration was off-kilter.
“I jogged,” Dakota said. “Can I catch a lift with you?”
Okay. Jogging to a bar was weird. Ten miles easily separated Ethan’s house on Ash Street from Holsters.
Britt wasn’t stupid. She usually texted a photo of her one-and-done’s license plate to Selena or her roommate. Tonight would be okay to skip. Right? Dakota and Ethan were pals.
Or so Dakota claimed. He could be lying. He didn’t want to discuss Selena and Ethan. Maybe he didn’t know them.
As if her eyes transmitted her thoughts, Dakota pulled out a cell phone and punched in a number. He put the phone on speaker. When Ethan answered, Dakota said, “I won’t be coming back to the house tonight.”
“Okay,” Ethan replied.
“Is he with Britt?” Selena asked in the background. “She doesn’t—”
Dakota disconnected, and tucked the phone into his breast pocket. “Shall we?”