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Hot buttered rum standal.., p.22
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       Hot Buttered Rum: Standalone Romance (Silk Stocking Inn Book 4), p.22

           Tess Oliver

  “Or what?” Derek asked. I had to hand it to the man, he might have been a terrible loser, but he had some guts.

  Beck took another step forward, ignoring the fiery glare of the bar owner. Derek took a small step back. It seemed his tough shell was cracking.

  I needed to step in. “Thank you.” I inclined my head at Beck. “But I don’t need an apology. Obviously my opponent hadn’t met his match yet. Until now.” I winked sweetly at Derek. “Maybe sometime I can drop by here and give you some pointers. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to be on my way.” It seemed every eye in the place was on me as I returned my cue to the rack and headed out.

  “Stupid bitch,” Derek sneered as I walked past.

  I hadn’t heard anything but a rush of air behind me, but every face in the bar froze in shock. I twisted around, and my own shock followed. Beck had his hand around Derek’s throat.

  Derek swung the pool cue around, but Beck lifted his arm and intercepted it. He tossed the cue on the table. Hank circled around the table. Beck held up a hand to stop him. “I’m not going to hurt him, Hank. Just want him to apologize to the lady.” He was completely calm as he spoke. “Now, I’m going to let go of you, so you can come up with a nice, sincere apology. Then I’ll let you walk the fuck out of here.”

  Derek’s eyes were wide with fear by the time Beck let him go. He coughed and sucked in long breaths. Derek briefly turned my direction, looking at me as if he wished he’d never laid eyes on me. “I’m sorry I called you a hustler and a bitch.” With that he stumbled out of the pool hall and out of the bar.

  I glared hard at Beck. “You are a jerk.” I turned and walked out of the bar.

  Chapter 9

  The night was surprisingly warm, and I was feeling, even more surprisingly, amped up over the incident in the pool room. I’d never been called a stupid bitch before, and I’d, most assuredly, never had someone, a complete stranger at that, stand up for my honor. As pissed as I was that it had devolved to a smattering of violence, I had to admit I was feeling a little giddy about the whole thing. I just hadn’t been willing to let my arrogant knight in black leather know it.

  A motorcycle rumbled in the distance, but my mind was still reeling with too much to pay attention to the sound. Until the loud rumbling machine rolled up next to me.

  I stared straight ahead, pretending not to notice. I probably should have been frightened by the extremely intimidating looking man on the motorcycle, but, interestingly enough, I wasn’t. In fact, I would have been lying to myself if I didn’t admit that I was feeling a streak of excitement. Of course, I had no intention of letting that show. His head was already plenty of sizes too big for his helmet.

  The turret and the pointed roof of the Silk Stocking Inn loomed tall and gothic in the night sky. Beck revved the bike once, startling me along with some night critter with a long tail out of a nearby bush. Then he rode off.

  My shoulders dropped in disappointment. It was silly. A man like Beck would never have the slightest interest in a bookish type like me. I was, no doubt, the complete opposite of the kind of woman he’d be interested in. I wasn’t even certain why I was having a mind debate about it. Then I remembered back to my last date with David, when the unsavory looking biker had walked into the bistro, looking completely out of place. I’d found myself watching him and his girlfriend, and I’d found the whole idea of being with a man like that more than a bit intriguing. That was it. That explained the excitement. My dark, deep fantasy man had just come to my rescue in the pool hall. And I’d returned the favor by calling him a jerk. Well done, Emmie.

  I decided to just push the whole evening out of my mind. A cozy bed awaited me, and tomorrow, I’d be back at home. Back in my safe, dull and excitement-free life, I thought wistfully.

  I reached the long road that wound up the hill to the inn. The front porch light was on. Coco had mentioned leaving the door unlocked for me. She was a very accommodating hostess, even if I had no way to describe or explain how I’d ended up at her inn.

  The night glittered with an unusually vast amount of stars. I was far from the usual lights of the city, and it seemed every star in the sky was twinkling without the artificial glare to dim their brilliance. With only one dusty porch lamp to light up the front of the house, it took me a second to discern the silhouette of the motorcycle parked out front. My heart jumped at the sight of it. It might have been from alarm, but it seemed more to be from the thrill of seeing Beck again.

  My pool hall hero was sitting on the front steps, still clad in his black leather jacket. He leaned his elbows back on the step behind him and peered up at me with that disarming, brown gaze. I had definitely been hasty in calling him a jerk. Still, he didn’t need to know that.

  “Interesting coincidence meeting you here,” I noted tersely.

  “Probably not as big a coincidence as you might think. Seems we are both staying at the inn tonight.”

  “You’re the other guest?” I laughed. “I somehow doubt that.”

  “You can doubt whatever you like, sweetheart.”

  Not completely sure what compelled me to do it, but I found myself sitting down beside him. Even sitting, he towered over me.

  “Where’d you learn to play pool like that? I assume they didn’t teach you that in librarian school.”

  “You can assume whatever you like,” I said, throwing his quip back at him. “But pool shark 101and advanced hustling are integral parts of the library science degree.”

  His laugh was as deep and to the point as the way he spoke. “You are cute and feisty as hell for a bookworm, I’ll give you that.”

  “Not at all. We bookworms are not just deep thinkers, we’re a helluva lot of fun. Feisty just comes with the territory.”

  He gazed down at me. “How about cute? Does that come with this so-called territory too?”

  “No. I’m just particularly cute for a librarian.”

  Another deep laugh. He reached around and offered me his hand to shake. “Beckett, but you can call me Beck.”

  His hand made mine look absurdly small. His grip was firm, and something about it sent a tremble through my entire body.

  It took me a second to remember my own name. “Emmie. Nice to meet you. Sorry about calling you a jerk back there.”

  “Probably deserved it.” He leaned back again and stretched his long legs out in front of him. “Don’t really know what got into me. I’ve watched that numbskull play a lot of games. He’s just as bad of a winner as a loser. I never get involved with the social interactions in that place, but when he called you—” He stopped and I waited for him to finish. “Something just snapped, and all I could think about was grinding his clean shaven, baby face into the floor.”

  “I’ve never had anyone come to my defense like that.”

  “You handled yourself pretty damn perfectly back there. Especially when you told him he could come to you for some pointers. Nice.” He stood up and lowered his hand for me to take.

  I placed my hand in his. He popped me easily to my feet. Before I knew it, I was standing nearly toe to toe and face to chest with the man.

  I peered up at him, instantly wondering what it would be like to be kissed by a man like Beck. He was all leather and masculinity and the kind of bad boy a girl might try and hide from her parents. With the exception of my wildly, open-minded mother, of course. That’s when it occurred to me, it was entirely possible I hadn’t snuck around with the unseemly bad boys in town like some of my friends because the thrill of keeping it from my mom hadn’t been there.

  “Guess we should head inside,” the words creaked out of my throat. I was still thinking about the kiss. But I seriously doubted a man like Beck would be the slightest bit interested in kissing a woman like me. He clearly had plenty of plump pink lips waiting for him at home or wherever he’d rode in from.
  As we turned toward the house, a splash of pink color caught my eye. It was a cluster of roses, bright and fragrant, clinging to what I’d determined to be a dead vine. I stared in confusion at the flowers.

  “Anything wrong?” Beck asked.

  I pulled my attention away from the flowers. “No, just surprised to see those roses. Let’s go in.”

  We walked into a quiet house. Coco had left a lamp on in the front room, but it seemed she had long since gone to bed. Beck tried to take light, quiet steps with his heavy-soled boots as we climbed the stairs to the top floor.

  I reached the landing first and turned around to bid my neighbor good night. But he had different plans. With a few fast steps, he had his arm around my waist and me pulled against his rock solid chest.

  A small gasp of surprise left my mouth as I lifted my eyes to him.

  “I’ve always wondered just how luscious a librarian’s lips might taste.”

  I held back a nervous smile. “You, sir, are a terrible liar.”

  His brown eyes sparkled with silent laughter. “All right. Then let’s just say that I’ve been wondering what your luscious lips taste like. The librarian gig is optional.” His mouth covered mine. Within seconds, my body had melted into his arms as if he was a giant mold and I was warm chocolate.

  As he brazenly reached under my shirt to smooth his palm over my back, I told myself I should stop this before it went too far. I tamped down that silly notion for the moment. His kiss was just too damn good. Besides, when would I ever be standing in the arms of a man like Beck again?

  He paused, and I realized I’d been clutching at his shirt to keep steady on my feet. The narrow hallway, made even smaller by his presence, was closing in on me. But I knew, with no uncertainty, that the cause of the spinning in my head was the intoxicating kiss from the even more intoxicating man.

  “I was thinking we might finish this good night kiss in your room. Might even take all night.” His suggestion was bold, but my reaction to it was even bolder.

  “I should be saying ‘no’ and ‘how dare you?’”

  “Yep, that’s what you should be saying.” He looked down at my breasts and ran his thumb across my nipple. It tightened and seemed to be begging for more. “But I think you want me just as much as I want you, library lady. What do you say?” He slipped his hand beneath my shirt, and his thumb found its way to the same nipple. He hooked his finger over the top of my bra and pulled it down so that there was no longer a fabric barrier to his touch. His thumb ran a tantalizing circle around my breast. My pulse had a hard time keeping up.

  “I don’t know,” I uttered between breaths.

  He removed his hand and straightened. Utter disappointment washed over me.

  “You’re right. You don’t want to stray away from your sensible life in your sensible shoes. Because, library lady, I’m about as far away from sensible as you can get. Good night, then.”

  He turned his broad shoulders around and went inside his room.

  I stood stunned and blinking in surprise at his bedroom door. That was the second time in the same night that I’d brushed away the most exciting thing that had happened to me since the college sit down protest for better salad bar choices. What a pathetically boring life I led.

  I shuffled back to my room, looking what I was sure was amazing in the perfect fitting jeans and wondering how someone who was so darn smart could make such daft decisions.

  Chapter 10

  I stepped inside the room and the aroma of chocolate and something else, cinnamon maybe, wafted toward my nose. A tray with a whipped cream topped mug and two thick oatmeal cookies was sitting on the nightstand by the bed. I walked over to it. Chocolaty steam was curling up from the mug. My brows pinched in confusion as I reached down and wrapped my hand around it. The cocoa inside was hot. The whipped cream was still rich and piled high on top of the steamy liquid. Scientifically, none of it made sense. We hadn’t seen Coco coming down the stairs, and we’d spent a few extra minutes lingering on the landing. My face warmed to the temperature of the mug, thinking about the kiss. Speaking of steamy. I pressed my fingers to my lips. They were still a little tingly from the kiss. I could still feel Beck’s moustache and beard rubbing along my tender skin.

  I shook off the disappointment that threatened to crawl back, and I decided not to question the cocoa. For the first time, I noticed a blue satiny pair of pajamas on the bed. They looked expensive and pretty darn sexy for pajamas. I ran my hand over the fabric. It felt smooth and cool and sensual. I decided they were for me.

  I sat on the edge of the bed and picked up a cookie. Delicious. Naturally. Coco was magical in every sense of the word. I picked up the linen napkin, which looked a little too nice for wiping away a whipped cream moustache, and noticed it was embroidered with Silk Stocking Inn. I turned it over. There was lettering on the back. “Only your heart can lead you to a happy ending.”

  It was a perfectly logical sentiment, except that it had nothing to do with logic. It sounded exactly like something my mom would say. I stared down into the swirl of whipped cream. It was almost ludicrous, but I was slowly coming to the realization that my lifestyle, one that would be considered proper and safe for most doting moms, was completely the opposite of how I grew up. While many girls rebelled by breaking out of the proper and safe guidelines set by parents, I’d been rebelling too. Only I’d adopted safe and proper because my mom had always made such wild and frankly, crazy, decisions. It had been my own form of rebellion. Darn her for doing this to me. Darn her for making me the conventional good and decent woman.

  I could hear heavy footsteps in the hallway. The shower turned on in the bathroom across the way. I drank my cocoa and visualized what Beck would look like standing beneath a steady stream of soapy water. That daydream conjured every possible physical sensation, and before I knew it, I was feeling a little drunk, both from the sexy image of Beck in the shower and from the rich, heady taste of the cocoa.

  Ten minutes later, I’d drained my cocoa mug and the shower turned off. Apparently, Beck was getting ready to go to bed. I decided to freshen up and change into the pajamas that felt as light and soft as a cloud. If nothing else, it would be a cozy, albeit lonely, night in my lovely romantic room.

  Chapter 11

  I stood in the full length mirror and marveled at the exact fit of the silky pajamas. The color was perfect against my skin and it went with my hair too. It was perplexing. But I’d given up on trying to solve the mystery that was Coco.

  I walked back to the bed. The napkin with the embroidered sentiment stared back at me. Had that been my downfall all along? Was that why I’d continuously picked the wrong man? I’d always led with my head, figuring my heart would eventually catch up. Only it never did, and I ended up in relationships that left me feeling empty.

  A ridiculous, completely out of my comfort zone idea popped into my head. Maybe it was time to expand that absurdly small so-called comfort zone. Maybe for once, I should lead with my heart and keep my head completely out of it.

  I went to the mirror again. The pajamas were a touch conservative and, ironically enough, a whole lot provocative. They were exactly what I needed. That Coco. I unbuttoned the top button on the shirt just to expose a little more cleavage. I fluffed up my long hair to give it a disheveled, just out of bed look. Then, with bare feet and confident steps I walked out into the hallway.

  Before I could let my head try and stop me, I marched straight up to Beck’s door and knocked. Lightly and tentatively, at first, but then I rapped it hard enough to sting my knuckles. There was no response. I felt as deflated as a soufflé that had been checked on once too often.

  I turned to leave, and the door behind me opened. I spun back around but was completely unprepared for the half naked demigod standing in the doorway, or filling up the doorway would be more accurate. His ink a
rt stretched on much farther than I’d first assumed. The tattoos traversed all the curves of his muscles in perfect harmony. He was like a magnificent painting that had far too many focal points to pick out just one spot to be mesmerized by. And then there was his incredible face, which could not be attributed to tattoo artists but more to damn lucky genetics.

  He leaned his massive arm up against the doorframe. Something about the dark mass of hair under his arm pit and the way his bicep muscles bunched up with potential power caused heat to swirl through my belly.

  I had walked over with all the confidence of a damn gladiator, but now I was speechless and feeling a little unstable.

  His long, black lashes dropped down along with his gaze as he surveyed my outfit. “Damn, library lady, don’t know if I’ve ever seen a woman rock a pair of pajamas like you’re rocking those.”

  “Yes, well—” I did a runway model turn for him. “And I might return the compliment. You rock those tattoos pretty well too. In fact, all of this”—I waved my hand in front of him—“is working for you.”

  “How about you?”

  I peered up at him. “How about me, what?”

  “Is it working for you?”

  I swallowed and locked my unsteady knees beneath me. “Yes,” the word squeaked out. I took a deep breath. “Did you hear that little bird chirp just now? That means it’s really working for me.”

  He reached forward, took hold of my arm and pulled me into his room. The decor in the bedroom on this side of the hallway was decidedly more masculine, with a dark walnut dresser and four post canopy bed. There was a mountain of pillows and tan curtains were tied up to each post. The linens were of a green and blue tartan plaid instead of the floral prints in my room.

  Beck’s big hands cupped my face, and he lifted it to his mouth, where he quickly returned to the amazing kiss that he’d left me with in the hallway. His hands slid easily beneath the watery fabric of the pajamas. He smoothed his slightly callused palms over the bare skin of my back.

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