Her attention turned outward a heartbeat later when a ripple of breathy anticipating shot through the crowd, buffeting her senses in waves of emotion that was almost a physical entity. She stopped and slowly looked toward the front of the room, frozen to the floor as the four men who’d been onstage less an hour earlier entered the room. The singer everyone’s attention was focused on looked around, and Claire saw his discomfort at the furor his presence created. Muted screams from some fans made him wince a tiny bit before he recovered his composure and smiled.
She watched as he was surrounded by woman who all talked at once in an effort to engage him, and while he was polite and courteous, he spared none of them more than a casual glance or a quick kiss when they insisted on pictures. Claire walked further away, intent on escaping the craziness in front of her. She’d almost reached the French doors that led onto a softly lit balcony, when someone bumped her from behind and sent her stumbling into the wall. Her drink splashed the front of her pale green dress, and she cursed at the stain that was quickly spreading.
“Are you all right?”
She opened her mouth to say something sarcastic, and the words sputtered out when she was captured by pale grey eyes that were genuinely concerned.
Michael Eden was even more devastating when he was this close. Just over six feet tall, sandy blond, unruly hair fell across his forehead, his handsome face was lightly tanned. She was struck by the overall impression of broad shoulders and a presence that was both strong and gentle.
“I’m fine,” she said, when he frowned. “My dress isn’t so lucky.”
She looked past him and saw the crowd had been watching them, and the looks being cast her way were not overly friendly. The instant he glanced over his shoulder, the annoyance vanished into adoring smiles again. Claire saw his mouth tighten in response and she knew he was irritated.
“Maybe I should be asking you if you’re all right,” she noted.
He looked at her and his mouth quirked in a half smile. “You’d be the only one here who noticed if I wasn’t,” he said.
“You don’t like this very much, do you?” She was acutely aware of his hand on her elbow as she righted herself, the firm grip of his fingers branding heat into her skin.
“I like to sing,” he shrugged. “The rest of it…”
He didn’t finish the sentence, and she felt weirdly lost when he withdrew his hand. For a couple of moments she was undecided, torn between logic and the sense that he didn’t want her to leave him. Considering she was just another fan, she chose the route that was logical, and murmured a quick thank you as the restless crowd decided they’d waited long enough.
She fled the reception room and found a bathroom a few minutes later. Once inside, she looked at her dress in dismay. At least she’d only been drinking Club Soda, so there’d be no stain once the satiny material dried. She glanced at the air dryer on the wall and went over to it, twisting the nozzle to the side so the stream of hot air was aimed at the wet spot on the front of her dress. It took about ten minutes, but it was mostly dry when she left the washroom and returned to the reception area. She headed for the balcony and stepped outside into the cooler night air.
The only light on the wide patio like balcony was what streamed out from the reception room. There were a couple of discreet bistro tables and chairs, and a multitude of plants and flower boxes. She spotted him immediately, one arm raised so his hand was against the back of his head, and his expression was shadowed as he looked outward. When she would have gone back inside and left him to his solitude, he dropped his arm and turned, his gaze meeting hers.
“I’ll go back inside,” she offered, her voice barely more than a whisper. “I don’t want to intrude.”
He smiled and held out his hand, inviting her closer. “It’s fine.” When she reached his side, he looked out over the city beneath them. “Gives a sense of false power when you look down on humanity like this,” he said. “Just like standing on a stage does. You can forget the people below you when you get caught in the moment.”
“You don’t seem to enjoy the reality of it very much, though,” she said, staring up at his profile, silhouetted against the light that poured from a window a feet away.
He tilted his head and looked at her, his smile emerging slowly before he spoke again. “I can’t think of a single person here tonight who’d have said that to me.”
She couldn’t hold his sharp look, so she twisted to gaze out at the city. “Maybe more people should pay attention to you in the right way.”
He laughed, and the sound of it stroked over her skin like a caress, making her flush with heat and awareness of him. He leaned down on the wide rail of stone that kept them safe, and he watched her, making her blood burn in her veins and stain her cheeks scarlet. In the half-light, she suspected he could see her response to him.
“What are you thinking about right now, this moment?”
“That I should be heading home while I can still get a taxi,” she answered.
He laughed again, and she shivered. “Liar,” he taunted. “What are you really thinking about? Or should I guess?”
“You don’t know me, it’s unlikely you have any idea what I’m thinking about, Mr. Eden.”
“Prove me wrong then, Miss…?”
“Claire Reynes,” she supplied into the pause.
“Talk to me, Claire, or I’ll be left to believe you’re like every other woman in this place, and your goal is to get into my bed tonight.”
Her eyebrows rose and she shook her head. “Keep talking, Mr. Eden, maybe you’ll believe that.”
He shrugged and turned his back on the view, leaning down on his elbows as he kept his look level with hers. “Most of the people here are just waiting to get a chance to convince me and my band that we should fall in love with them.”
“Is that your ego, or are you really that jaded by all this?”
He straightened up and ran his hands through his hair, leaving it more unruly than it had been. “I don’t know,” he admitted.
“What are you thinking about, Mr–” He interrupted, requesting she use his first name. “Michael?” she corrected, “you asked me, now I’m asking you.”
He snorted a laugh, and turned to snare her eyes with his shrewd gaze. “How honest do you want me to be?”
“I asked, what makes you think I want a lie?”
“I’ve been thinking about fucking you,” he replied, tone casual. “The moment you saw past this bullshit here I wanted to know what it would be like to fuck you.”
Her heartbeat roared to furious life inside her, the pounding pulse almost deafening in her ears as she absorbed his blunt statement. She was blushing all over, and her breath was coming in shallow gasps. He stood and placed his palm against her chest, smiling.
“Your heart’s beating so fast,” he remarked, his voice soft and sweet. “You’re real, Claire. This isn’t a game for you, is it?”
She wanted to take the last step that would put her next to him, but she stayed still. Tears sprang to her eyes and he sighed, then drew her close, holding her so tight she was drowning in him. The light scent of his skin teased her nose, and she closed her eyes when his hands stroked a light touch over her back.
“I’m sorry I was so rude,” he murmured into her hair, then rested his chin on the top of her head. “I’d like to take you out for a drink, if you’d like to go with me?”
The thread of uncertainty was what swayed her, and she drew back, staring up into his handsome face. “What if I told you you’d been right when you figured you knew what I was thinking?”
His slow grin transformed his features into wicked delight. He cupped her face with his hands and bent to cover her lips, his tongue licking her bottom lip, coaxing her mouth to open to him. Her arms wrapped around his neck and she sucked his tongue into her mouth, shuddering when he groaned softly and pulled her body tight to his as their mouths fused in roused desire. Long moments later he broke the kiss with a gasp, and their foreheads touched. His breath was quick against her flushed skin, and she felt his words when he whispered, “There’s a bar in my hotel room, why don’t we head over there?”
“I don’t do one-night stands, Michael.”
He nodded. “Believe it or not, neither do I.”
They stared at each other for a long moment, measuring truth and trust, and hope.
“Let’s have that drink,” he suggested.
To be continued...