He forced his mind out of the gutter. “The Wilde Side isn’t some trendy, upscale club in a nice, safe part of town. The tips are lousy and the customers aren’t looking for chitchat from some perky number like you. It’s a neighborhood tavern that serves hard drinks to hardworking men. You won’t fit in.”
“How do you know that unless you’re willing to give me a chance?”
He punched the button to the stereo and adjusted the volume low. “I just know.”
“That’s a cop-out.”
A grin he wasn’t really feeling tipped his lips. “It’s my bar, Princess.”
His uncle’s bar, but his responsibility. Carly was a distraction, plain and simple. The fact that he couldn’t get her out of his mind was more than enough reason for him to send her packing back to her safe world where people cared about her and were worrying where she’d gone.
With Karen off, he really could use the extra help, even if it was only to give him time to take care of other business matters regarding the bar. Matters that might allow the doors of The Wilde Side to remain open so he could keep his promise to Hayden, though it was a long shot.
“Why is this so important to you?” he asked before he could stop himself. Whatever happened to not caring?
She moved closer and trailed her finger along the entertainment center. “Before I go back home, I have to know I can make it on my own. I’ve never done anything important or even exciting my entire life. What everyone else wanted me to do, I did. I’ve always been the quintessential good girl. I’ve listened to and followed every single rule ever created. Boring and predictable. That’s me,” she said, then looked down at the dust-free pad of her finger with a frown before glancing up at him.
“All right,” he reluctantly relented. “I could use the help for a couple of days. But if you’re bored and looking for a vacation from staid and predictable, look elsewhere, Princess. The Wilde Side doesn’t have what you’re looking for.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, flashing him a grin full of sass that tightened his gut, instantly making him regret his decision. “I think spending some time on The Wilde Side could be very interesting.”
Cooper didn’t even want to go there. “It’s only temporary,” he managed, trying to shake a few wild images from his mind.
She stepped closer and looked up at him with those deep sea-colored eyes. Before he could guess her intent, Carly slipped her hand behind his neck and applied the slightest bit of pressure. “Thank you, Cooper,” she said, her voice dropping to a husky whisper, sexier than anything he’d heard in a very long time. “You won’t be sorry.”
He was more than sorry when her sultry gaze shifted to his mouth. Against his will, his common sense fled faster than rats fleeing a sinking ship. There was no other explanation available, he thought, angling his head to capture her sweet lips beneath his.
Rule 4: Under no circumstances should a lady ever initiate advances.
CARLY PARTED HER lips. Her breath stilled, waiting, anticipating, willing Cooper to kiss her. In her heart, she knew his kiss would be one of the most sexually electrifying experiences of her boring and obedient life.
She couldn’t explain what had come over her. The urge to kiss him was so strong, stronger than any sensual longing she’d ever felt. Just the thought of discovering the masculine secrets of that oh-so-sexy mouth made her skin tingle and her pulse pound in a heavy rhythm.
She leaned forward slightly, breathing in his rich male scent. Her lashes fluttered closed, but not before she saw the desire swirling in his eyes. Desire and heat and—
“We can’t do this,” he said abruptly, sliding his hand over hers and pulling it from around the back of his neck.
Desire, heat and…regret?
Disappointment slammed into her. She looked up into his eyes. Definitely regret.
What was wrong? He’d wanted to kiss her. She might have initiated the kiss, but he’d been a willing participant. Momentarily, at least.
“Why not?” she blurted. “We’re both consenting adults.”
He dropped her hand and took two steps back, widening the distance between them. “It’s not a good idea.”
Carly’s Law: If it feels good, do it!
She planted her hands on her hips. “Why not?” she demanded again. He’d wanted to kiss her, too, so what was the problem? It wasn’t as if she was some blushing virgin who’d never been kissed, although she had serious doubts about being kissed the way she imagined Cooper would kiss her. With intensity and demand. With a hunger he wouldn’t be afraid to unleash, tempered by a gentleness so sweet she’d just melt.
And with more passion than she’d ever known existed.
He let out a rough breath and shoved his hands through his neatly trimmed hair. “Because.”
She blew out her own frustrated stream of breath. “Oh, that’s original.” She crossed the living room to the sofa and plopped down on the cushion before she did something really stupid like throw herself at him. “You wanted to kiss me, Cooper. I know you did, so what’s the problem?”
He straightened the already perfectly organized CDs, keeping his back to her. “We’d be borrowing trouble.”
While she admired the view of his backside encased in soft denim, she wished he’d turn around so she could look into his eyes to see if he was telling her the truth or just being noble. “You wanted to kiss me,” she told him again.
“That’s beside the point.”
She supposed that was about as much of an admission as she’d get out of him. “That’s the entire point.”
He finally turned to face her. Frustration replaced the desire she’d seen earlier. What she wanted to know was if it was the sexual kind.
He shook his head and walked to the recliner and sat. “It’d be a mistake.” He settled his elbows on his knees, letting his hands dangle between his legs. “And I don’t have time to get involved, Carly, no matter how tempting.”
He managed to soothe her ruffled feminine pride. Except he was mistaken. She wasn’t looking for anything long-term, or even involving.
All she’d wanted was a kiss.
But why now? And why Cooper, a virtual stranger, of all people?
She hadn’t quite figured out the answer yet, but she knew she wanted one. A tongue-tangling one, filled with intense heat that would no doubt set her soul on fire and ignite a few other interesting places, as well.
While she might be intent on breaking a few rules and shucking convention for a while in her attempt to find some direction in her life and finally take control of her destiny, she had no intention of embarking on a full-blown affair with Cooper, no matter how stimulating she imagined it might be, or how satisfying. She wasn’t completely without morals, and it had only been twenty-four hours since she’d left her groom at the altar.
But there was nothing wrong with a kiss, especially one with a man who’d made her skin feel all tight and hot the instant his eyes had darkened with desire.
She propped her bare feet on the coffee table, curling her toes around the edge. “Who said anything about getting involved? A kiss, Cooper. One simple, harmless kiss.”
Cooper doubted there’d be anything simple or harmless about it. The last thing he needed was to be lusting after some hot number looking to experience a little excitement, no matter how much sleep he’d lost during the night just thinking about her. That fact alone should have had him tossing Miss Brazen and Buxom out on her deliciously feminine posterior.
The Wildes had a history of obsessing over the opposite sex. As a kid, he’d watched his mother go from one man to the next. With each new love affair, Helena Wilde had been convinced that her new man was “the one.” She would forget about everything else, her illegitimate son included.
His uncle hadn’t been any better, and Cooper learned at an early age that love created distractions, often times with disastrous results. Those lessons had taught him well, so well that he tended to keep his distance, never allowing himself to get too close or too tied up by any one woman. That code had protected him for many years, and from what he’d seen thus far, despite her claims of non-involvement, Carly had involvement written all over her in pretty, feminine script.
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