“Excuse me, Mr. Vincent?”
My head whips around to see the stranger standing to the side of us. His eyes are stern and intense, and are locked on Gareth.
“Please don’t consider me rude, but you’ve absconded my date and this is our song. May I steal her back?”
Mr. Vincent looks from the stranger to me and back again. It is easy to tell from his expression he would very much like to keep me here and wring any secrets I might hold from me, but he won’t make a scene in public.
“Of course. I wouldn’t want to deny you the company of this lovely woman.” He eyes me once again and everything in them tells me he doesn’t believe what I’ve said. But he turns, and walks away.
When Gareth glances over his shoulder, the stranger wraps one hand around my waist, and takes my hand in his.
“One of the downfalls of working with clients; having to kiss dirty, disgusting asses,” he says, still glaring in Mr. Vincent’s direction. “Right?”
I am very well practiced at looking calm and confident; it comes second nature. But something about Mr. Vincent’s accusations has shaken me. “Yeah,” is all I manage to get out.
“You’re welcome for the rescue.” Suddenly his voice is low in my ear and I faintly feel his lips brush my ear.
“Know I don’t say this often,” I say, my confidence quickly returning. “But thank you.”
“What did the dick want, anyway?” His hand slides around my back a bit more and his fingertips brush my bare back.
It is just warm enough in here to keep the goosebumps from rising on my entire body.
“Company secrets,” I say, trying to sound dismissive. “He obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I think it was just an excuse to get his hands on me.”
He’s quiet and contemplative for just a moment too long and I wonder what he’s thinking about. “Hmm,” he finally says. “Who can blame him?”
Feeling completely normal again, a smile curls on my lips. He pulls me slightly tighter.
“Are you flirting with me?” I ask, letting my voice drop low and quiet.
A small laugh comes between his lips. “Well, if you could dance, I’d already have you in my bed, but since you’ve already stepped on my toes twice in the last two minutes, I’m having second thoughts.”
I pull away from him slightly so I have a clear view of his face. “Excuse me?” I say in half mock, half real offense. “We are simply shuffling in a circle. How could you possibly tell I am a bad dancer? And I did no such thing as stepping on your toes.”
His smile curls once again and he drops the hand that was at my waist. Keeping my hand in his other, he takes one step toward the front door. “I could use some fresh air,” he says. “How about you?”
I’m half tempted to tell him to go find someone else to insult, but it is hot and stuffy in here. Knowing I’m probably setting myself up for a bantering blowout, I allow him to lead me through the crowd.
The noise and music instantly die away when we walk through the glass doors. It’s nearing ten o’clock and all the streetlights around are on, adorned by lights twinkling from windows further in the distance. There might be stars overhead, but they’re covered by a thick layer of Washington late spring clouds. They reflect back a soft city-orange hue.
“I’m sorry about that idiot,” he says as he lets my hand go. He walks to one wall and leans against it, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “Any man should know that’s no way to treat a woman.”
“I know I said thank you earlier,” I say as I wrap my fingers around the other wrist behind my back. “But I could have handled him myself.”
“I don’t doubt it,” he says as those intense eyes stare at me. “I get the feeling you could be quite terrifying if you want to be.”
“I’ve been told that before,” I say as I take two lazy steps toward him. “It usually works pretty well in keeping most men away.”
“Is there a reason you like keeping men away?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.
“I’m not a lesbian,” I defend, though not in the least bit offended. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of it. “So don’t let your imagination start running away from you.”
He shrugs and gives a little cock of his head to the side. “Just checking to make sure I’m not wasting my time.”
“Wasting your time doing what?” I am now only two feet away from him. Away from the packed room filled with well-dressed but overheated bodies, I catch the scent of him: clean and crisp and sophisticated.
“I don’t know yet,” he says. “But I sense it’s going to be something fairly epic.”