Having said goodnight to my buddies, I stepped off the curb on my way out to my cold little Honda. It had certainly been an interesting evening, I mused—one of my more memorable birthdays, in fact, and also one of the colder ones. Shivering as I pulled my coat more closely around me against the biting wind, I shoved my hands deeply into my pockets and walked, head down, out to my car, doing my best to avoid the icy patches on the pavement. Having reached my car, I was in the process of unlocking the door when I heard the driver's side door open on the vehicle parked next to mine. I didn't think anything about it until I saw the baseball cap and then my heart slowed to a dull thud, feeling like a hammer-stroke in my chest, as Puck got out of his car.
Any thoughts which I might have had about this merely being a coincidence were dispelled when our eyes met and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he'd been sitting out there waiting for me—a circumstance which made it patently obvious that he knew I'd been the one to buy his drink. Though just how he'd figured that out remained to be seen—surely Tami, our waitress, hadn't told him!—but somehow he knew, nonetheless. The knowledge was there, in his eyes.
Feeling a sudden urge to run, I realized I had nowhere to go, and though I probably could have gotten into my car and then locked the door before he would have had time to reach me if I'd been quick about it, his eyes held mine in a gaze so strong, so full of purpose and intent, that I simply couldn't do it. My keys dropped from my nerveless fingers onto the pavement and Puck swooped down to retrieve them for me. When he straightened up to his full height, his face was mere inches from mine, and his eyes on the same level.
“Thanks for the drink,” he said evenly. When I didn't reply, he went on, “It was you, wasn't it?”
I swallowed with some difficulty as a hard shudder gripped my chest. In my wildest dreams I hadn't expected this. “How did you know?” I whispered. What I had done had all been in fun; done on the merest whim and therefore shouldn't have seemed quite so dramatic, but the compelling look in his eyes made it seem that way. Oh, sure, he was cute, he was friendly, but just then, he was as serious as a heart attack.
“You were the only woman who spoke to me all evening,” he replied. “And the waitress told me it was your birthday.” He gestured toward the box lying on the front seat of my car. “I saw the cake.” He was still holding my keys, toying with them as they clinked together in his hand. “She said you just wanted to look at me—which was fine with me—but, be honest, now; is that really all you wanted to do?”
I nodded slowly. “Eye candy,” I replied, surprised that my voice sounded comparatively normal. “Just something nice to look at during dinner. You know, a sort of birthday present to myself.”
“Are you sure that's all it was?” he asked again. “Absolutely sure?”
I hesitated a long moment before answering him, and when I did, it was with another question. “What is it you want me to say?”
A ghost of a smile teased the corner of his mouth. “That you'd like to do a whole lot more than just look,” he replied.
“And what if I do?” I asked cautiously. “Then what?”
His smile was slow and seductive. “I give you back your keys and you follow me home.”
My already dry mouth turned to dust in the space of a heartbeat. “And if I don't?”
“Then I give you back your keys and you go home alone.” He smiled disarmingly, but all the same, melting me down with the heat of it. “And no, I won't follow you,” he said. “I'm not that pushy! Just promise me one thing, though: take my phone number and if you ever change your mind, call me. Anytime, day or night.”
Somewhere in the back of my mind, two voices were duking it out: one screaming at me that this was a total stranger and that I shouldn't trust him for a split second, and the other one reminding me just how much I would regret it if I said no. “Oh, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life. . . .” I could hear Humphrey Bogart saying those words to a tearful Ingrid Bergman on the tarmac at the airport in Casablanca. I sighed deeply as I realized that this kid had probably never even heard of that movie, let alone actually seen it. . . .
Something was wrong here. He wasn't acting reasonably—no man his age could possibly care one way or the other whether I found him attractive or not, and certainly wouldn't be giving me his phone number! It was surreal, like something out of the Twilight Zone—which was another reference that he probably wouldn't understand.
“I don't suppose Tami told you which birthday I was celebrating, did she?” I asked him, knowing full well that, thanks to modern cosmetic science, I didn't appear to be quite as ancient as my actual age would suggest.
He nodded. “The big five-o.”
So, he did know—which made it seem even less likely for him to be here, talking with me and obviously bent on seduction. He couldn't have been more than twenty-five, I guessed. Certainly not as old as thirty. . . . “And you're all of, what, twenty—?”
“Seven,” he replied. “Almost twenty-eight—in two weeks, as a matter of fact.”
I almost laughed out loud. As if that made a difference! No matter how you added it up, he was still more than twenty years my junior. My only consolation was that he was at least a few years older than my son.
Obviously having no clue as to the nature of my thoughts, he leaned a little closer. “Want to help me celebrate?”
Ignoring that question, I went on, “Tell me something, why is it that a cute little Puck like you would want someone old enough to be your mother to follow you home?”
He smiled at me with a slow blink of those deep brown eyes, reminding me of the way a cat will do when it is very content. “I've always liked older women,” he replied. “From the time I was a kid, I always liked my friend's mothers better than their sisters. The younger ones don't interest me very much, I'm afraid, whereas you . . . well . . . you intrigue the hell out of me.”
Intriguing? This was surprising, for while I'd been called a many different things in my time, I'd never been called that! My skepticism must have shown in my face, for he added, “You don't believe me, do you?”
I shook my head. “No, I don't,” I replied with a grimace. I could feel my heart skipping beats and took a deep breath to calm it—which helped only slightly. “Tell me something,” I said, adopting as even a tone as I could accomplish under the circumstances, “does that line ever actually work for you? What I mean is, how many older women have you managed to pick up with it?”
“Counting you?” he asked. “None so far. Actually, I've never even thought of it until now.” His head tipped to one side as he bestowed a thoughtful gaze upon me. “I've just been sitting out here in my car wondering why a woman like you would find me attractive, and I couldn't come up with a reason that made any sense.”
Must not be too bright if he couldn't figure that one out! I mean, all he had to do was look in the mirror! “Cute,” I said firmly. “C-U-T-E, cute! That's all!”
He sighed in a rather dejected fashion, somehow managing to appear even more adorable than he had the moment before.
“Oh, of course I'm sure there's more to you than just being cute,” I hastened to add. “But how you could expect me to know that from across the room, I simply can't imagine! You seem to be very nice and friendly—I mean, everyone you were talking to seemed to like you—you drink Jack Daniels and Coke, and it's fairly obvious that you're an IU fan, but other than that what could I possibly know?”
“Well,” he said reasonably, “you know when my birthday is, which is more than I can say for a lot of people.”
I had to laugh. “Yeah, like nearly a hundred percent of the world's population! Geeze, I can count on one hand the number of people who can rattle off my birthday!” Then it dawned on me that he just happened to be one of them. “Which also includes you,” I admitted, though somewhat reluctantly.
“You see!” he said eagerly, pouncing on the idea like a cat on a mouse. “We know that much about each other, and we're still talking! There's got to be a relationship in there somewhere!”
There were two things wrong with his last statement. Number one, it's been my experience that men don't voluntarily use the word “relationship” in a complete sentence, and two, that if he thought what we had was a relationship, then he hadn't been in any good ones lately—or perhaps ever. “So, you're looking for a relationship, huh?” I inquired skeptically. “That's funny, I thought you were just looking to get laid.”
He seemed sort of hurt by that, but what he said next had me howling with laughter. “Well, having sex is a relationship, isn't it?” he said, a tad bit defensively.
I might have been laughing my head off, but I was forced to admit he was right. It might not be lasting, and it might not be terribly meaningful, but it was, indeed, a relationship of sorts.
“And I meant what I said about you being intriguing,” he insisted. “I'd be willing to bet that what you read is fascinating, too.”
In all the excitement, I'd completely forgotten about my books, but they were right there in the bag dangling from my wrist. Four totally steamy erotic romance novels, when no doubt he was expecting something along the lines of Hemingway or Steinbeck. I hated to disappoint him, but I knew I was going to because he was reaching for the bag and I didn't seem to be able to make any moves to stop him. He pulled the books out and studied the covers carefully.
“Damn!” he swore softly, before closing his eyes and letting his head fall back as though beseeching the heavens for assistance. “Puh-leese, follow me home! I can do better than this stuff. I promise!”
“I don't know,” I said dryly. “Some of those are pretty hot.”
“I mean I can do it for real,” he explained, handing me back both my books and my keys. “Come on, Pretty Mama,” he pleaded in a deep, throaty whisper, “follow me.” Smiling at me in a very disturbing fashion, he leaned even closer. I could almost feel the heat emanating from him, could almost imagine what it would be like to be in his arms, kissing him. Oh, yeah, he was getting to me. “Give me a chance to show you what a good boy I can be.”
This time, I dropped not only my keys, but all of the books as well. Ignoring my clumsiness, he leaned in further and took the kiss before I had the chance to move away from him. Not that I was in any hurry to move, mind you. Not that I wanted any space between us, either. Not that I didn't long to kiss him—hadn't been thinking about it all evening, wondering what it would feel like, how he would taste. . . .
The kiss deepened as he stepped around me, pinning me against the side of my car, pressing the entire length of his body against mine, sliding his arms around me in the most sensual embrace I'd ever been a party to—with or without a coat. My head was swimming and despite the weather, my body was melting like a Hershey bar on a sidewalk in July. Oh, yes, he was a very good boy, and if this was any indication of how he could make me feel, I knew I should definitely consider following him home.
His tongue teased my lips, asking politely for admittance, and, oh, God, he not only made me feel like hot chocolate, but he tasted like it, too. He must have gone to the café in the bookstore for something to keep him warm while he waited for me. Not coffee, not tea, but hot, creamy, sensuous, delicious chocolate. Oh-h-h. . . . I felt his fingers threading their way through the hair on the back of my head, holding me firmly, kissing me even more deeply. I was losing it. . . . He backed off a bit and sucked my lower lip, tasting it with his tongue. I felt a low moan start to grow somewhere deep inside me, I knew there had to be people around to see us, but I didn't care, didn't care, didn't . . . care. . . .
“Come on, Pretty Mama,” he said again, spearing his fingers through the graying hair at my temples, as he held my head in his hands. “I want you. Please . . . say you will . . . say yes . . . say it . . . please. . . .” he murmured, filling in the pauses with hot kisses scattered all over my face.
I realized then that I was nodding my head—I might have been doing it myself, or perhaps he was doing it for me, but either way, he took it as a yes. He planted another searing, wet kiss squarely on my lips before bending down to retrieve my books and keys. Pulling a pen out of the breast pocket of his jacket, he scribbled something on the inside cover of one of the novels before putting them back in the bag and handing them to me.
“Follow me,” he said again, but this time he said it much more compellingly than before—more like a command than a request, and one which I knew I would find nearly impossible to ignore. “It's not far, and it's warm inside. You won't be sorry.” With that, he took my hand and, moving me aside, he unlocked my car and held the door open for me. I got in my car without a word and he handed me the keys. “If you get lost, call me.”
I sat there for a moment, breathing deeply with my eyes closed. I shouldn't do this, I told myself. Shouldn't, shouldn't, shouldn't! But my lips were still tingling from his last kiss and I could still taste him, still smell him—his scent, his leather jacket and whatever it was about him which made him unique; his own essence, as it were. I heard him get in his car and start the engine as I opened the book to see what he'd written.
Robin Thatcher, it read, and there were two phone numbers beneath the name. Robin. Yes, it suited him very well. There was a bit of the perky little bird about him, as well as a touch of the dashing and mischievous Robin Hood—charming rich damsels out of their money to give to the poor, no doubt. I wondered if I was one of the rich or one of the poor in this case; I could have made an argument for both.
I glanced over at him as I started my car and put it in gear. With an encouraging smile and a wave he pulled away. And, God help me, I followed him.