“Okay, man. Behave.”
“It’s not a big deal, okay? You’ll be home day after tomorrow.”
Jeez, his kid slayed him. “It’s just two days too many.”
“Yeah, here’s Luke.”
“Hey, Daddy. Where are you?”
Luke was nine, and still had a little boy’s voice. At twelve, Jake’s voice was starting to change. Sometimes he sounded like a little boy and sometimes he sounded like a man. And then at other times he sounded like a screeching prehistoric bird. God, he missed his kids.
“I’m in Las Vegas, buddy, and next year when I come to play this show, I’ll bring you and your brother. You’d love this place. There are wave pools, a lazy river, all kinds of slides, and other stuff. There’s even a beach.”
“Luke, are you there?”
“Yeah. I’m here. I miss you, Daddy.”
“I miss you, too. I’ll be home in a couple days.”
“Okay. Bye.” Click.
That was quick, but at least he talked to them for a few minutes.
He opened the camera app on his phone. He’d take a few shots, text them to the boys, and post a couple on social media sites. Tomorrow’s show wasn’t sold out, and he wanted it to be.
He turned in a circle, taking pictures. He was able to fit most of the poolside marquee announcing the show into one.
The band had a cabana reserved, and he wasn’t the first one there. He grabbed a towel and threw it on one of the lounge chairs, tossed his phone on the table, and reached around to pull his shirt over his head. A couple hours by the pool wouldn’t hurt. He didn’t remember the last time he had nothing to do. Forced rest, he’d take it.
Ben sat back down and picked up his phone, scrolling through the photos he’d taken. He texted several to Jake, and then scrolled back through, trying to decide which ones to post and which to delete.
Wait. He went back to the previous image, using two fingers on the screen to zoom in closer. There was a woman in the background who looked familiar. Who was she? He studied it, but it was too out of focus. He stood and looked around him, and then looked at the photo again, trying to figure out where she’d be sitting, based on other landmarks.
He wandered out of the cabana area, searching. Her familiarity tugged at him. He needed to find her.
Ben walked by the lazy river and waited as people floated by. He stood there until the same people floated by him, again and again. He turned to leave, and bumped into an inner tube.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I can’t see where I’m going.” A tiny voice giggled from behind the giant pink tube. Ben lifted it out of the woman’s hands and came face to face with her—Liv. Even with as out of focus as the photo was, he somehow knew it was her. This was the third time in a year fate put her in his path. This time, he wouldn’t let her go.
Liv gasped, and then got very dizzy. He set the inner tube down and put his hands on her shoulders.
“Liv, are you okay?”
She gazed into his big, blue eyes and couldn’t decide whether she would die, right there on the spot, or if she’d never been as okay as she was at that moment.
“Hell-o? Liv? Anybody home?”
That was a different voice. Oh, that was Paige’s voice. Those were Paige’s hands waving in front of her face.
“What? Yes, I’m okay. I’m so sorry, I couldn’t see where I was going.” Liv turned to pick up the inner tube.
“Oh, no, you don’t. You’re not getting away this time.” Ben picked up the tube and held it far enough away that she couldn’t reach it. He was a foot taller than she was, so he didn’t have to hold it very high.
“Liv, it’s me, Ben.”
“Hi, Ben. How are you?”
“How am I? Don’t you think it’s wild running into me? What are you doing here?”
“I’m here on business, and I made Liv come with me. I’m Paige. We met once before, briefly, at Red Rocks.”
Paige was talking, so she didn’t have to. Ben was answering her. More talking she didn’t have to do. Now if she could slink away without him noticing, she’d be fine. But wait, she wanted to listen to his voice a little longer. She loved his voice.
“Where are you going?”
Oh, crap. She’d backed away from him. And he noticed. “Come with me. You, too, Paige.”
“Where are we going? Can you ease up a bit, please?” Ben’s grasp on her hand was tight. “I’m not letting go this time, Liv. If I do, I may never see you again.”
Once they were within the confines of the cabana, Ben pulled out a chair and pointed at it. “Please have a seat.”
When she didn’t sit, he took a step forward. “Liv, please.” He sounded more exasperated than he intended. When she sat he moved to the other side of the table, pulling a chair out for Paige.
He came back, sat next to Liv, and stared at her, wanting to memorize the lines of her face, the curve of her body. Here she was, sitting next to him, this woman who haunted his dreams.
She was a mystery. Didn’t she recognize him? It sounded as though her friend did.
“Now that you may stay put…hi, Liv. How are you? It’s nice bumping into you here.”
“Ha, ha.” She looked away. He touched her cheek, turning her head so she’d look at him.
“Hi, Ben. It’s nice bumping into you, too.” She took a deep breath, and added, “I’m surprised you remember me.” She looked down again. He didn’t want her to look down, he wanted her to look at him. He moved his hand from her cheek to her chin and lifted her gaze to his.
“Why do you run from me?” he whispered.
Paige jumped up from her chair. “I’ll get drinks. Liv? Ben? What would you like?”
“Paige, please sit back down,” he stated, without looking away from Liv. “We have cabana service. Tell me what you want, and I’ll order it for you.”
Paige sat back down.
“Liv, what can I order for you?”
“Is that a question?”
“I need something a little stronger. A Salty Dog please.”
“I’ll be right back…I’m walking a couple feet away…I’m ordering drinks…do not get up from the table…” He kept his voice low and free of inflection, like a hypnotist.
He came back and pulled his chair closer to Liv. “So—let’s start over, way back at the beginning. Why don’t we talk about why you bolt away from me every time I start a conversation with you? Is there something about me you don’t like?” He rubbed his head. “I’m bald. Is that it? You don’t like bald guys.”
“No, I like bald guys. I mean, I like everything about you. No, that isn’t what I mean. See? I can’t even put two thoughts together. I ‘bolt,’ as you put it, because I don’t want you to realize I’m an idiot.”
Ben leaned back and laughed. She was so damned cute. She made him laugh. If there was one thing he was certain of, she wouldn’t be bolting away from him today.
She laughed too. Then Paige did. Ben put his hand on Liv’s arm. “Better now?”
“Yes,” she giggled. “I’m better now.”
He talked them into ordering lunch and when they finished, Paige excused herself to go to a meeting.
Liv got up from her chair. “I should go too.”
Ben stood and put his arm around Liv’s shoulders. “No. Stay. Can you stay? Please?” He wasn’t used to women trying so hard to get away from him. It was usually the other way around.
Liv looked at Paige, as if to ask for a reason to leave. “I’ll be back for dinner. Stay. Enjoy yourself.”
“Well, I guess…”
“There, it’s settled. You’re staying. Before you go, what are you doing for dinner?”
“We hadn’t gotten that far.”
“Good, then you’ll both join me and the band. We have something special planned tonight. You’ll e
Liv and Ben had a nice, quiet afternoon. Somewhat unexpected. They sat on the steps of the pool and talked. He told her about his two boys, and she told him more about Renie. When he noticed her getting chill bumps, he led her to the hot tub. “Let’s get warm.”
She was plenty warm, overheated in fact, but she wouldn’t admit it to him. Ben, with clothes on, made her blood boil. Without them, the sweat bubbled on the surface of her skin. She longed to have his powerful arms wrapped around her, and to be close enough that she could feel his ripped chest against her.
He sat down first and pulled her to sit in front of him, as if he’d read her mind.
He ran his lips between her neck and shoulder. “God, Liv, what you do to me,” he whispered, pulling her closer. Liv heard a moan and wasn’t sure if it came from him or her. She closed her eyes and leaned into him.
“That’s my girl.” He wrapped his arms around her waist and scooted her as close as she could get without sitting on his lap.
“Shh…the music is starting to play. Listen.” He started to hum, then sing softly.
The soft skin on your bones and the smile I would own.
He nuzzled into her hair and breathed in her scent. “You smell delicious. What is it?”
Liv couldn’t wait a moment longer, instead of answering, she turned far enough that her lips touched his.
When she did, his mouth devoured hers. She pulled back and bit her lip. Ben’s hand slid into her hair and gripped a fistful, gentle, but firm, tugging her head back.
The steam rising off the warm water in the hot tub swirled around them. His arms moved back to her waist and tightened around her, pulling her even closer. He gave a rough groan as he lowered his head and kissed her again. His body felt big and solid against hers, and she sank into him. His kiss was heated, yet so tender. He slid his tongue over her bottom lip and nipped at it.
“I want you, Liv.”
Liv pulled back, gasping to get air into her straining lungs.
“Let’s go somewhere we can be alone,” he said, his lips parted, his eyes dark and hungry. “I want to get you out of this bikini.”
Liv shifted away from him. She wanted his lips back on hers, wanted him naked too, but…they needed to slow down. She moved away, but held his gaze as they stared at each other.
“Too much?” he ventured.
“Too soon,” she answered.
Ben insisted on walking her back to her room, to her door. “This way, if you run from me again, I’ll know where to find you.”
“Shh…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I can’t explain this attraction between us. It feels as though I’ve known you forever, not that I’m just getting to know you. That must sound crazy. I won’t push so hard, I promise.”
It wasn’t that, she wanted the same thing he did. She didn’t know how to tell him, though, how long it had been since she’d done this. I hope it’s like riding a bike.
“Pretty much, but like no other bike you’ve ridden before, baby,” he said, nuzzling her neck.
Oh no, did she say that out loud?
Ben leaned up against the wall outside Liv’s hotel room. His body pulsed with lust, heart thundering, and his eyes closed. They opened and fixated on her. He could spend all day studying every inch of her.
Her skin was kissed by their day in the sun, and her hair hung in waves around her face. The thin cover-up that left her arms bare was so feminine, the way it wrapped around her slender body. And her eyes, the bluest he’d ever seen, were gazing at him apprehensively.
“I’m leaving now, Liv, and it’s not because I want to. We have reservations at Charlie Palmer at eight. Would you like me to come back up later, and we can walk down together, or would you prefer to meet me in the lobby?”
“You’re sure about this?”
“Of course I am. The band has a private dining room reserved for a special dinner tonight.”
“Should you check with the band first?”
“No, Liv, it’s my band. Which reminds me, do you have tickets for the show tomorrow night?”
“Um, no, we hadn’t gotten around to getting them yet.”
“Good. You’ll be my guests.”
His arms ached to hold her, to put his lips on hers, but he stopped himself. This was new for him, having to exercise such restraint. He wanted to reassure her, explain how he didn’t care about anything else at that moment, besides being with her.
He was accustomed to reaching out and taking what he wanted, and that wouldn’t work with this woman.
He ran his finger down her cheek. It felt velvety soft beneath his fingers, calloused from years of guitar playing. He pulled her back into his arms, bent his head and found her mouth again with his. He’d show her how much he wanted to be with her when words weren’t enough.
Dinner with the band was fun—and loud. Liv envied the way they all embraced life with gusto. Several members of the other bands were there, too. Before she realized it, it was after one in the morning.
Paige was more of a night owl than she. It didn’t surprise Liv one bit that Paige was discussing record deals and song rights with the other guys in the band, or that she’d gone outside to smoke a cigar with them. It would never have occurred to Paige to be unfaithful to Mark, she just fit in wherever she happened to be. And if the conversation involved business, Paige was in her element.
Ben stroked his fingers up and down her arm, lulling her into a state of relaxation. “Tired?”
“A little,” Liv answered as she stifled a yawn. “What about you? You have a big day tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I do.” He took the glass of wine she still held and set it on the table. He rose and took her hand, pulling her with him. He ran one finger from beneath her chin, down to the place where her dress met the top of her breasts. She breathed in, pushing herself closer to him.
“Come with me,” he murmured, walking toward the door.
“You can. Let’s take a walk in the moonlight.”
“A walk, and then we have to say goodnight.”
Ben started humming, then singing again.
The charm of your tease
When you make me say please
Your eyes and your hair
The look of your stare
The way that you laugh…
“Wooing me with your music, that’s not playing fair.”
Ben kept singing.
All I want is your mouth, and your lips
And your soft fingertips
The curve of your spine well it’s gotta be mine
The warmth of your kiss when we’re lying like this
The heat of your touch well it’s never too much.
They shared a heated smile, and walked in the direction of the elevators.
“My room is this way,” he pulled her in the opposite direction.
“And my room is this way. Would you like to say goodnight here?”
“No, I wouldn’t like. But, if I walk you to your room, the room you’re sharing with Paige, we won’t be able to be alone. If you come with me, we’ll be alone all night.”
“Which is why I’m going to my room. It’s been a long day. Tomorrow will be, too. Goodnight, Ben.”
“Not yet, Liv.” He brought her hand up to his lips and kissed across her knuckles.
The elevator dinged. “Walk me to my room.”
They were almost to her door when Ben stopped walking. “Liv, please let me stay with you tonight.”
She smiled, but shook her head. “Goodnight, Ben. Sweet dreams.”
Ben put his forehead against the wall as the door clicked behind her. He doubted the sweetness of his dreams, but he didn’t doubt how hot they’d be. He’d never wanted a woman the way he wanted her. How much of it was her resistance to him?
Liv hadn’t heard Paige come in last night, or this morning, but she heard her i
n the shower. What time was it? Eleven? She never slept past eight, not ever.
“Good morning,” said Paige, coming out of the bathroom door in a waft of steam, wearing one of the hotel’s big, fluffy robes. “I wondered if you were going to sleep all day.”
“You got in after I did. Why are you so chipper first thing this morning?”
“First thing? It’s almost noon. I’ve been up since before nine. I got coffee, read for a while, and decided if you were still asleep when I finished my shower, I would blast CB Rice songs through the iPod.”
Liv rolled over and buried her head in the pillow. Paige sat down on the bed across from her. “Spill. Tell me all the details. I’m dying of curiosity.”
“Yes. That part is obvious. What happened after you left the restaurant last night? Oh, before I forget, I found an envelope containing two tickets to the show slipped under our door this morning.”
“Nothing happened. He walked me to the room. We said goodnight.”
“Paige, what did you expect? That I’d invite him in and have hot sex with a stranger?”
Paige looked dumbfounded.
“Paige? Is that what you thought?”
“Of course it’s what I thought. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, honey, but for God’s sake, when was the last time you had sex? You have had sex since you conceived Renie, haven’t you?”
“Of course I have.”
“Wait, I better clarify. You have had sex since Scott died, haven’t you?”
“Liv, that was twenty-one years ago!”
“Thank you for reminding me. It should be obvious why I didn’t invite him inside.”
Paige shook her head. “It’s about as far from obvious as it gets.” She started getting dressed. “No wonder you’re so grouchy.”
“Hey! Be nice. Just because someone isn’t having sex, doesn’t make them grouchy. After a while, you get used to it. It’s the idea of having sex again, and then not having it, that makes a person grouchy. And to be honest, I am very grouchy this morning.”
“Again, why didn’t you do something about it last night?”
Fall for Me (Cowboys of Crested Butte Book 1) Page 3