After two hours of enjoying the open bar Lorenda’s father had paid for, most of the guests were past their limit, and the party was just getting started. Talmadge’d had enough. With his bow tie unknotted and the top two buttons of his tux shirt undone, he walked to the back of Joe’s, took the stairs up to his Uncle’s private quarters and stepped out onto the large balcony.
A full moon illuminated the jagged outline of the Sangre di Cristo mountains, and Talmadge drew the fresh mountain air into his lungs. He took a pull from his long neck beer bottle and set it on a table, then he propped his elbows against the railing and gazed at the scenic view of twinkling residential lights at the base of the soaring mountains.
It seemed like a picture. Too perfect. Familiar yet so distant from the life he led now. And so unattainable. He wanted it back.
A sound came from the shadowed corner of the balcony.
“Who’s there?” Talmadge straightened, his voice hardened into a threat. But then he forced the tension from his posture. This wasn’t the hustle and bustle of a big city, where criminal activity was part of every day life. He was home in Red River, for God’s sake, where a major crime happened once every decade or so.
Feet shuffled against the wooden balcony, and Miranda stepped out of the shadows. “It’s just me.” She rubbed her bare arms against the night chill that hung in the air year round because of the high mountain altitude. “Joe let’s me come out here when I’m working a shift and need a break.”
“Oh.” Talmadge’s gaze traveled down the length of her dress and snagged on the split that exposed one of her slender thighs. Her knee bent and widened the split to expose a bare foot and painted toenails.
“Here.” He shrugged out of his tux jacket and walked over to her. “You’re cold.” With a swish, he flipped it around and draped it over her shoulders.
“Thank you.” Miranda snuggled into it. “I’m surprised you noticed.”
“You’re barely wearing a top.” His eyes dropped to the bared thigh peeking through her dress. “Or bottoms. It would be kind of hard not to notice.” Jesus, any man with a pulse would notice her in that dress.
“Right.” She pulled the front of his jacket together and fisted the lapels in both hands. “You prefer your women half-naked. I got that memo from reading People Magazine. But my dress covers a lot more real estate than the pictures I’ve seen of your girlfriend. So I’m hardly worthy of your attention.”
“Don’t believe everything you read.”
She gave him a hard stare and walked to the railing. “I suppose you’re right.”
Ah. All of Red River knew Miranda had been trying hard not to live up to her mother’s reputation ever since she hit puberty. Obviously, she succeeded, because she’d become Red River’s Darling. Uncle Joe couldn’t talk her up enough.
“Are you enjoying the reception?” Shit. If she were enjoying the reception, she’d still be inside. Which begged the question, why was she out here all alone?
“Oh heck yeah. Weddings are the bomb.” She gave a sarcastic “pfst” and a dismissive wave of her hand. “Makes me realize how broad my prospects are here in Red River.” Her laugh rang hollow.
Well, she had a point. Red River wasn’t exactly brimming with eligible bachelors that could match Miranda’s sharp mind and beautiful looks.
“Have you ever thought of moving away?” He joined her at the railing.
“I have.” She hesitated. “But no, I like it here.”
So did he.
“Well, you’re the prettiest girl in Red River, so it shouldn’t be hard to find someone.” Even if they weren’t even close to her caliber.
Her head swiveled around to look at him.
Yes, she still had that youthful girl look. Only she didn’t. Not quite.
Hell. Where was his beer? A cold beer might put out that flame building below his waist, because the chilled air damn sure wasn’t doing it. Better yet, maybe he should go back to his grandparent’s and stand under a cold shower while drinking a cold beer.
But then an image of Miranda in the shower with him skated through his caveman brain, and he bit back an F-bomb.
He did a three-sixty, frantic to find his beer. Miranda walked over to the shadowed patio table, picked it up and walked it back to him. And stepped into his space a little closer than an acquaintance should.
“Is this what you’re looking for?” She held out the beer.
He nodded and reached for it. His calloused fingers closed over her small hand, and it was cold as a block of ice.
“You do look great in that dress.” His voice came out raspy like his throat was dry. “You look better than the bride, but don’t tell Lorenda I said that.”
Miranda snorted. “I wouldn’t dare.”
Yes, Miranda Cruz rocked that look tonight.
And he really wanted to shake her hair loose until it tumbled down around her shoulders.
Miranda drew in a breath like she was about to make some important announcement, but then she stopped. And oh yeah, would you look at that? His hand was still over hers and his fingers started to caress her soft skin.
“What is it?” he asked her, and took the bottle with his free hand. He set it on the balcony ledge. His fingers stroked the top of her hand, and he drew it to his lips. As soft as he knew how, he feathered a kiss at the inside of her wrist.
She pulled in another sharp breath.
His lips lingered there, and her quickened pulse throbbed against his mouth. So he did it again.
This time she squeaked.
“Were you going to say something, Miranda?” He feathered another round of small kisses up her arm.
“Yes,” she rasped out. “I was going to ask a favor.”
“Anything.” He used his teeth to nip at the inside of her elbow, and he could swear sweet Miranda mumbled a curse word under her breath. “Just ask. I’ll do anything you want.” And he would’ve right then. He’d drop to the ground and worship her feet because she represented everything that was missing in his life. Everything he’d left behind.
“I…” Her voice shook. “I was hoping…” She swallowed.
He pulled her into him and covered her mouth with his. She accepted him, albeit hesitantly, like she was getting used to him. Adjusting to his touch. Then her lips parted, and she was warm and soft and lush. When she threaded her fingers into his hair, he nearly lost it. One of his hands found the split of her dress, and his fingers flexed into the smooth skin of her thigh.
He’d never wanted a woman more than he wanted her at that moment.
“What?” he whispered against her lips.
“Do you remember that time in high school at Lorenda’s house?” she asked, her tone shy.
He went still. Hell yes, he remembered. Unfortunately. Because he’d said all the wrong things and made a complete ass of himself in Langston’s basement closet. Then he had to set several of his classmates straight who’d made lewd remarks about Miranda being like her mom.
“We made a bet up in Lorenda’s room, and I won. Um, we agreed you’d owe me.”
He relaxed when she didn’t mention the dumbass remarks he’d made in the closet. “I remember.” He brushed his nose with hers.
Her fingers caressed down one side of his neck. “I’d like to call in that marker now. But…” She pulled her plump lower lip between her teeth.
“Promise you’ll do anything?”
He smiled. Oh hell yeah, he’d take on global warming all by himself if that’s what she wanted. “Anything.”
She pulled back to look up at him and her head tilted way back. Two chocolaty eyes shimmered under the moonlight, and she smiled. Subtle, but just enough that her dimples appeared.
“I want you to make love to me.”