This was exactly where I wanted to be. Anywhere I wasn’t welcome. Any place I didn’t belong.
It had been a last-minute impulse to crash Liberty Jones’s wedding reception. I wanted to say goodbye to her, and if I managed to annoy the Travis family in the process, so much the better.
Liberty and I had both grown up in a trailer park in a small town east of Houston. Now she had married into one of the richest families in Texas. And I didn’t doubt that her new husband, Gage Travis, was in love with her.
It was easy to love Liberty.
I’d had my chance with her years ago, and I’d chosen to leave her. I would have done anything to succeed. I had made some tough choices and thrown away a lot of things, including love, to get ahead. But I had no regrets. Mainly because you could only have regrets if you took the time to think about the past, and that was something I tried like hell not to do.
I knew I didn’t fit in with these people, the party guests dressed in designer clothes, wearing Rolex watches and diamonds the size of cocktail olives. I hadn’t yet figured out their code words, or all the intricate histories of who had screwed whom, in business and in bed. But in time I would learn what I needed to. So far I had three things going for me: I’d started a small but successful oil recovery operation, I was a fast learner, and I owned my own damned tux.
My limited exposures to Houston society had already taught me quite a lot. I knew not to talk about business with a man when his woman was nearby. I knew never to discuss politics as seriously as football. I learned to shell out for a good haircut and expensive shoes. I figured out real quick that Italian designer suits weren’t tailored for guys with my build. Before I’d started my company, I’d worked on a drilling rig, and apparently the roughneck streak in me wasn’t going to be easy to get rid of.
At least a thousand guests had come to the reception. The accumulated body heat made the warm spring night feel like summer. The mixture of perfumes, aftershaves, liquor, champagne and food thickened the air considerably. Every breath seemed to stick in my throat. I tugged at my tie, feeling suffocated. Bitter. Hungry. This was the feeling I’d had all my life, this sense of wanting, needing, something just out of my reach.
A waiter came by, doing a balancing act with a huge tray loaded with champagne. I couldn’t stand champagne, but since everyone else was taking the crystal flutes, I did too.
Just as I lifted the glass to take a swallow, I saw her.
She was standing just a few yards away, wearing a strapless mint-green bridesmaid dress. She was a small woman, slight of build. Unlike the spray-tanned, highlighted women around her, she was pale and dark-haired. Her posture was relaxed and comfortable, but those white shoulders were hunched inward as if she was trying to protect herself from something. She was pretty rather than beautiful, with big brown eyes and a soft-looking mouth. There was something vibrant but fragile about her. I couldn’t stop staring.
I wanted to touch her. I wanted to run my hand along the delicate ladder of her spine and follow it beneath her dress. I couldn’t ever remember feeling such an instant attraction to someone before, a heat that mainlined into every vein.
“Who’s that?” I asked the waiter.
He followed the direction of my gaze. “That’s Haven Travis,” he said, maneuvering the tray deftly. “The groom’s sister.”
Fucking figures, I thought, smiling ruefully. If there was anything that guaranteed me dead-in-the-water status, it was the Travis name. A few months earlier I had deliberately ruined a biofuel deal that Gage, Liberty’s husband, had been putting together.
Not one of my finer moments. But I had a lot to gain by doing it, and at that point I couldn’t afford to pass up the opportunity. I figured Gage, with all his millions, would rebound fast from the blow, and he had. And he’d ended up with Liberty. So the guy was not exactly suffering. But all that hadn’t endeared me to the Travis family.
Haven. I couldn’t help glancing at her again. I wondered what she smelled like. Tasted like.
Somehow she sensed my interest. She turned a little and sent me a cautious sideways glance. The dark eyes widened, and it seemed she was trying to figure out if I was someone she ought to know. I thought of about ten things I’d like to do with her right then. A faint blush rose up her neck and face, as if she could read my mind.
Blinking, she turned away from me and sidled close to the guy she was with. He didn’t appear to be much older than her. I could tell at a glance that he was a college guy, clean-cut and shiny-faced and handsome.
Lucky son of a bitch.
Leaving the tent, I went into the air-conditioned mansion. I was hot inside and out, the sullen, suffocated feeling coming back in full force. I wasn’t oblivious to the fact that there were a lot of available women at the reception. The way the liquor was flowing, it wouldn’t take much to talk one of them into coming home with me. But there didn’t seem to be any point to it. There was only one woman I wanted.
For the next few minutes I wandered from room to room, music and laughter and conversation filling the air with a muted roar. The house was decorated European-style, with paintings and furniture that looked stylishly worn and aged. I thought of Liberty stepping into this life, this privileged world, and I briefly remembered how she had been as a shy little girl, with glasses and long tangly hair and skinned knees. She must have changed a lot to be able to handle this.
I figured she would be coming into the house soon to change into her going-away clothes. If possible, I would steal a minute with her. In the meantime I was going to find a quiet place to wait.
Off the dining room, I saw an arched stone doorway with a partially open iron gate. Liberty had told me once about the Travises’ dine-in wine cellar and renowned wine collection. It looked dark and cool and still in there. Wondering what a world-class wine collection looked like, I went past the iron gate and into the wine room, which was lined with oak barrel stays that gave the air a sweet, earthy smell. There was a marble-topped table in the center of the space, and floor-to-ceiling slotted oak racks loaded with dust-frosted wine bottles.
Before I got a closer look, however, the lights went off.
I was startled by the sudden darkness, and even more by an unexpected movement behind me. “Hey—” I began, turning around.
“Just me.” A woman’s hands slid up my chest and shoulders. Her voice was soft and husky.
“Mmmn. You feel nice in a tux.” A slim, silk-covered body molded against me. “I missed you,” she whispered. “You didn’t dance with me.”
I should have told her right then that she had the wrong guy, I wasn’t who she thought I was. But the feel of her was electrifying; the light press of her breasts, the small, cool fingers slipping around the back of my neck. I drew in a breath, and the smell of her, fresh and exquisite, made my head swim.
She tugged my head downward. The tender brush of her lips was all it took to send my pulse into overdrive. Giving in to instinct, I settled my mouth on hers. I tasted sweetness. Warmth. A surprising hint of innocence. She relaxed and yielded, going boneless against me, and the pleasure of it slammed through me fast and hard. My hands shook with the urge to grip her hard against me. But I stayed gentle, searching until I found the shy tip of her tongue. The heat rose, blazed higher, and I drew my hands down to the small of her back. The willing arch of her body encouraged me to go farther. I brought her hips against mine, letting her feel how much I wanted to get inside her, and she made a needy sound against my mouth and tried to curve all around me.
The sensation of her was too much, sending the desire into a full-on rampage. I couldn’t breathe deeply enough or pull her close enough. I had never wanted anyone or anything this much. Nothing mattered, not even the knowledge that someone could walk in and find us at any moment. All I cared about was luscious mouth beneath mine, and the sound of her unsteady breath in the darkness. I caught her hips, lifted her onto the table and stood between her legs. As I kissed her deeper, she sucked on my tongue with a little wet tug.
In a life of raw deals, bruises, sweat and constant hunger, this was the best moment, the best feeling, I’d ever had. I wanted to kiss her everywhere. I wanted to keep her in bed for a week, and I knew even then I wouldn’t be satisfied, I would want more.
I dragged my mouth slowly along her throat, searching for her pulse. She clung to me, her hands going up to my head, fingers tangling in my hair.
And then she froze. A thrill of panic made her shiver in my arms. “Oh God,” she breathed. “Nick?”
Her shaking fingertips went to my face, exploring my cheek and jaw. I would have done anything to reassure her, to keep her from being afraid of me. I took her hand and pressed a kiss into the warm cup of her palm.
“Who’s Nick?” I asked.
She stuttered and trembled and apologized, telling me she had thought I was her boyfriend. I tried to soothe her, stroking her back, thinking she was the most adorable woman who had ever lived. I told her there was no harm done. Everything was okay.
But she shook her head and ran her hand over my shoulder and said breathlessly, “Oh. You’re the guy in the tent, aren’t you? The one with the blue eyes.”
Instantly I knew who she was. “You’re the bridesmaid in the green dress.” I couldn’t believe it. The situation was so ironic that I couldn’t stifle a sudden laugh. “Shit. You’re a Travis, aren’t you?”
Haven Travis. A woman I had no business being with. I knew I should leave her immediately.
But I didn’t let go of her. And she didn’t ask me to.
Big trouble ahead, I told myself.
Trouble that might actually be worth it.
Copyright 2008, Lisa Kleypas. Exclusive content written for and originally published @ RBTB @ myLifetime.com