Your in-laws are scary,” Phillipa Elliot told her sister, who made a lovely and not-in-the-least-blushing bride.
She leaned against the terrace railing next to Josephine and took another sip of very good champagne. The hot wind that blew in off the Las Vegas desert made her thirsty; she was probably on her fifth glass of champagne.
Jo’s eyes went wide. “What do you mean by scary?”
Phillipa looked at the people dancing at the wedding reception in the hotel ballroom. “They make me feel like I’ve crashed the supermodels’ annual ball.”
Jo laughed. “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.” Her gaze didn’t leave her new husband, who was currently dancing with their mother. “Isn’t he—”
“Large,” Phillipa cut in.
“I was going to say cute.”
Phillipa laughed. “Of course you were.”
The hulking groom was probably the least handsome man there, to her. Not that the muscular Marcus Cage didn’t have enough charm and charisma for three normal males. It seemed to run in the Cage family, and among all their friends. The women were amazingly beautiful, mostly in a dark and mysterious way. And the men—good lord!
They’d been hitting on her since the rehearsal dinner the night before. It was quite a stimulating experience.
Phillipa fanned her face. She wasn’t sure if it was the champagne or the mere thought of the men at the reception that was causing the warmth that stirred through her. There was something special about this bunch. As a cop, she was used to working around hunky, hard-bodied, macho men, and liked it. But the Cages and their friends had so much going for them in the confident, sexy male department that they were downright daunting.
“It’s not that I don’t like the Cage clan,” Phillipa explained.
“Family,” Josephine said. “They’re a family, not a clan.”
“What difference does that make?”
Jo laughed. “Never mind, and I can’t explain anyway. If I did, they’d probably have to kill you. It’s a joke,” she added quickly. “Between Marc and me.”
Phillipa let it go. Far be it from her to try to interpret the private language of newlywed lovebirds, especially after five glasses of champagne.
She looked at her empty glass and said, “I’m switching to water.” One of the groom’s hunky relatives was headed their way, his gaze fixed on her. “Now,” she added, and left so he’d have to ask her sister to dance instead of her.
The band stopped playing as she skirted the dance floor, and she noticed Marc heading for Jo and Mom heading toward where Dad waited for her. Phillipa smiled, appreciating the devotion of the happy couples—though she had to fight off a twinge of sadness at being alone herself. She blamed the self-pity on the champagne; she had no one to blame for breaking up with Patrick but Patrick. You’d think with all the gorgeous men in the place, she thought, I’d be more interested than daunted by the prospect of hooking up with one of them.
Maybe I don’t want another macho man. Maybe that was why all the groom’s male relatives set off alarm bells she couldn’t explain.
The band started playing again as she reached the bar.
“Not more Queen,” a man said behind her.
The disgust in his voice amused her, and the deep British accent was intriguing. As the band played “Another One Bites the Dust,” she took the water the bartender handed her, then turned around. She hadn’t seen the man standing behind her before, though she was somehow already aware of his presence before he spoke. His hair was wavy and sandy brown, his eyes green and surrounded by laugh lines. He had a lived-in face; a dangerous face.
“I know what you mean,” she told him. “If they play ‘Fat Bottomed Girls,’ I’m out of here.”
“I’ll join you,” he answered.
“And, if they play a lot of Def Leppard, Jo will probably run away screaming.”
The newcomer followed Phillipa as she edged around the dance floor toward the terrace.
“Who’s Jo, and what’s wrong with Def Leppard? I’m a proud son of Sheffield myself,” he added. “Same hometown as the Lep—”
“Wait. What do you mean, who’s Jo?” Phillipa stopped and confronted him. “You are a guest at the Elliot-Cage wedding, aren’t you?”
His smile was devastating, showing deep dimples and crinkling the lines around his eyes. “I’m the best man.”
Irritation flared over the heat that had been roused by his smile. “You’re Matt Bridger! You very nearly ruined this wedding!” she accused.
“It’s not my fault my plane was late.”
“You were supposed to have arrived yesterday.”
He gestured at the boisterous people filling the crowded room. “It doesn’t look like I was missed.”
“One of my brothers stepped in as best man.”
“Then it all turned out all right.” He crossed his arms over his wide chest and moved close to her. “I don’t know what you have to be angry about.”
“I’m angry on my sister’s behalf.”
“She’s Jo Elliot.”
“The singer in Def Leppard?”
Even as she indignantly stepped closer, Phillipa realized that Matt Bridger was teasing her.
Suddenly they were toe to toe and nose to nose. He put an arm around her waist, drawing her even closer. She was caught by the masculine heat and scent of him. “You’re provoking me on purpose.”
The back of his hand brushed across her cheek. “Yes.”
Her knees went weak, and she almost dropped her glass. She didn’t notice where it went when he took it out of her hand.
“Dance with me.”
Of course. She never wanted to dance with anyone else.
He drew her onto the dance floor, and they started slow-dancing to the fast music. It was the most natural thing in the world to gaze into this stranger’s eyes and press her body against his, soft and hard blending. They didn’t share a word while the music played, yet the communication between them was deep and profound. She’d known him forever, been waiting for him forever. It was all too perfect to make any sense.
When the music stopped she would’ve kept right on dancing, but Matt Bridger turned them off the dance floor. Her arms stayed draped around his wide shoulders, and her gaze stayed locked on his. His palms pressed against the small of her back, large and warm and possessive.
Despite this intimate closeness, Phillipa tried to regain her sanity.
“We’ve just met.”
“And you’re really not that kind of girl.”
“What kind of girl?”
“The sort who snuggles up to a stranger the moment they meet. And I’m not that sort of man.” He flashed that devastating smile at her again. “Mostly.”
“Then why are you and I—”
“We have more than snuggling in mind.”
“I have a theory.”
She didn’t want to hear his theory. “Kiss me.”
Fingers traced across her lips. “Soon.”
His touch left her sizzling. This was crazy! She should be embarrassed.
She took a deep breath, and made an effort to step away. She managed to move maybe an inch, making it a small triumph for public decency.
“Like calls to like,” he said, pulling her back to him.
She lost interest in decency. “I’m a cop.”
“Fancy that.” As the music started again, he took her by the hand. The connection was electric. “Come on.”
She held back. This was her last chance to stay virtuous. “I don’t—”
She did, and laughed. “Oh, my God, ‘Fat Bottomed Girls.’”
“You said you’d leave if they played it.”
“Left alone with big fat Fanny—”
“Matt Bridger, let’s get out of here.”
They headed toward the door, but he stopped after a few steps. “One thing, first.”
Now, at least, she wasn’t about to fall into reckless abandon with a total stranger.
He tilted his head and gave her a quick, thorough once-over. What he saw was a tall blond woman in a strapless, tea-length teal satin bridesmaid’s dress.
“I know, I don’t look like a Phillipa,” she said. “But who does?”
“Pardon me for saying so, but that is an unfortunate name for a Yank, isn’t it?”
“I’m used to it.”
“Good. It suits you.”
The band started to play louder, and they ran for the door.
They kissed in the elevator, coming together in a rush of heat. His mouth was hard and demanding on hers, and she responded just as fiercely. He caressed her in a way that made her feel naked despite the satin dress and layers of underwear. His fingers tracing along her bare shoulders and the back of her neck drove her wild. She knew this was crazy, but she didn’t care.
Until she noticed that her skirt was hiked up around one hip, and his hand was stroking the inside of her thigh. It felt wonderful.
“We’re not exactly private here,” she reminded him. “Hotel”—she gasped as his fingers moved higher—“security.”
“Room key,” was his answer.
He stopped long enough for her to fumble open her tiny purse, and the doors slid open onto the fourteenth floor just as she pulled out the black plastic key card.
“This is it.” She gave him a sideways glance. “I wonder which one of us remembered to press the button for the right floor.”
She thought he had, but it must have been her, since she was sure she hadn’t told him where her room was.
The room wasn’t far from the elevators, and they were inside within a few moments.
A few moments after that, he’d whirled her around and onto the bed.
“You make me dizzy,” she said as he leaned over her and she looked into his green eyes.
There was a wicked glint in those eyes, and a world of sensual promise in his slight smile. There was also something dangerous about his deep, slightly rough voice. The sound of it sent a thrill through her.
“Say something else.”
He chuckled. “What is it about Yank women and English accents?”
“Don’t complain if it helps you get laid,” she told him.
He laughed again. “Would this sound seductive in Sheffield?” he asked, doing a very good job of mimicking an American accent.
“Yes. But it’s not just your accent that’s sexy. You have gorgeous lips,” she added. When she traced them with a finger, he nipped it. “And sharp teeth.”
“Oh, yes.” He kissed her throat.
Her blood raced as warm lips pressed against her tender skin. His hand brushed across the satin covering her breast, sparking an overwhelming desire to have his naked flesh against hers.
A moment later he tugged her to her feet and pulled down the dress’s long zipper. As the dress pooled around her feet, his thumb slid slowly down the length of her bare spine. She arched against him.
“Skin on skin, just like you want,” he murmured. His lips were close to her ear. Then they were on her throat.
There was a moment of sharp pain, followed by blinding ecstasy. When her mind cleared from the blissful overload, they were back on the bed once more, and he was as naked as she was. She ran her hands across his chest, appreciating the sight and texture of hard muscles and hot flesh.
“You are so sweet,” he told her.
“I’m more than sweet.” She pulled his head down and kissed him hard.
“You’re also hot,” he agreed.
He kissed her gently on the lips, on the cheek, but she was aware of the edge of ferocity he was holding back. Then his head moved down and his tongue swirled around one hard nipple, then the other.
She moaned, and inside the needy sound she heard his voice. I’m trying to stay civilized.
Don’t, she answered.
His touch grew rougher then, and her responses were just as frantic. He kissed and bit her all over. Each pinprick of pain that followed the soft brush of lips across her skin brought her a flash of mounting pleasure.
The contrast was maddening. Wonderful.
With each flash, the heat pooling in her belly grew and spread until the orgasms became one long, continuous wave of ecstasy. She didn’t think it could get better, until he was inside her, filling her with hard, fast strokes that drowned her in fiery sensation. She clung to him, rose to meet him with the same manic energy, wanted nothing but more.
And more was what he gave her. She gave herself up to him, blended with him, blood, mind, and soul, and he gave himself to her. She was complete with him, whole with him, in nirvana, until one last, shattering explosion sent her over the edge and into darkness.
“That was—” Phillipa sighed, unable to describe the experience. Now she understood why sex was called “the little death.” Maybe it was just great sex that was called that.
Little sparks of pleasure were still shooting through her; she was exhilarated and exhausted at the same time. She was completely content to lie across Matt, her breasts pressed against the hard muscles of his bare chest. She rested her cheek against the warmth of his skin and breathed in the male scent of him.
“It certainly was,” Matt answered.
She glanced up to see his hands propped behind his head, a smug smile curving his beautiful mouth. She caught the sparkle of green in his half-closed eyes.
“You look like a well-fed cat,” she told him.
“Very well-fed,” he answered. “But still hungry.”
He pulled her up the length of his body for a kiss. His mouth was as insistent and needy as if they hadn’t just made love. He made her hungry all over again. His hands began to roam, and her body responded.
This time she was able to keep her head long enough to say, “Maybe we shouldn’t.” His mouth circled a nipple. “Oh God! I mean—there’s supposed to be photos—and—wedding stuff.” Her mind was too into the pleasure to remember just what. “We’ll be missed.”
He nuzzled her, and his voice came muffled from between her breasts. “Do you really care?”
“Nooo—yes! We’ll be missed. I should be there. She’s my sis—” She suddenly became very aware of his erection, and her hand closed around it. She had to touch him, to stroke him. “I shouldn’t be doing this.”
“You better not stop.”
His hungry growl sent a needy shiver through her. His voice was enough to make her melt. “But—”
This sort of thing happens at family gatherings all the time.
People disappear to make love. It’s a way to celebrate the bonding.
“That’s nice.” It occurred to Phillipa that there was something odd about this conversation. “Did you just say something inside my head?”
Not that you’ll recall. Relax, sweetness. Make love to me.
“All right.” It was all she wanted to do anyway.
As a carousel version of “Ode to Joy” woke Phillipa, she thought, I belong with this man. When she came a further awake, she realized that the noise was a cell phone ringing, and that she was lying naked in a dark hotel room with Matt Bridger. She couldn’t think of anywhere better to be, and snuggled closer to him while Beethoven kept playing.
Eventually Matt rolled over and picked the phone up from the nightstand. “Mike, if you’re drunk, you’re a dead lobo.”
Whatever the answer was, it made Matt sit up. His muscles bunched with tension. “Where and when? Right. I’m not alone.”
Deciding to let him ride out this emergency in privacy, Phillipa slid out of bed and crossed the dark room to the bathroom. There she took her time using the facilities and drinking a glass of water.
Even as she stepped back into the bedroom, she was aware of the emptiness. The musky tang of sex was still in the air, but even before she turned on a light and saw the rumpled, empty bed, she knew he was gone.