Her thirty-fifth birthday and all of her friends were too busy to celebrate. Veronica Butler stood in her closet, eyeing the slip dress she still couldn’t believe she had the nerve to buy. In the fluorescent lights of the store, the fabric had appeared peach, which set off her skin tone, but once she got out into real light, the dress turned flesh colored.
Her best friend, Cindi, called it her naked dress, and not just because of the color. The spaghetti straps and low cut armholes made a bra impossible, and the silk clung to every detail of her body. The hem hit the tops of her thighs, which made sitting a challenge, which was why Veronica hadn’t worn it yet.
This was a dress a woman wore when she wanted to send a message, loud and clear. This was a dress that a woman wore when she hadn’t been laid since her boyfriend, Steve the asshole, dumped her ten months ago.
This was a sex dress.
And Veronica was going to wear it tonight.
* * *
Rafael Salazar turned his wine glass on the scarred wooden table, his attention drifting from the conversation of his companions. He hadn’t wanted to come out tonight, but his best friend, William, had just received a promotion and wanted to celebrate. The gathering of friends had swelled in the small bar and Rafael knew he wouldn’t be missed, but even after two hours of drinks and food—if you could call the nachos and artichoke dip food—he would be the first to leave. And he couldn’t do that since he was the first person William called.
The door opened, and a woman walked in, blonde hair billowing, a shiny trench coat floating open over…Well, at first glance, what looked like nothing. When she stopped at the hostess stand, he could very barely see the outline of a dress, the same color as her skin. She motioned to the bar, the hostess nodded, then the woman stepped back to let her trench coat slide down her arms.
The bar silenced—at least the men did—as all attention turned to this goddess in the flimsy dress that clung to her nipples, hinted at a glimpse of her secrets with every step she took in her high heels. Amazing legs, too—long, with graceful curves. She hesitated only a moment when she reached a barstool, then bared just a bit of black panties as she sat and crossed those legs, body turned halfway toward the room.
Rafael’s mouth went dry as she arched her throat, a clear invitation, and ordered a drink. Before the bartender could deliver it, she was surrounded by at least four men, each willing to take her up on her invitation. His view of her was slightly impaired, so he shifted, heard William laugh behind him just as the woman turned her profile and—
He knew that profile. Had seen it every day for the past four months, outside his office. But how could this be Veronica Butler, the woman who wore her hair in a bun and blouses buttoned to her collarbone, skirts nearly to her ankles? Did she have a secret life? Because she certainly kept that body a secret.
One of the men, young, blond, handsome, stood before her with a lime and a shot of tequila. She obligingly let her head fall back and allowed him to trace the slice of fruit down her delicate skin. The man grinned and leaned forward to lick it from her skin just as Rafael stepped onto the raised platform of the bar.
“Veronica?” he asked, stepping through her admirers. “Veronica Butler? I almost didn’t recognize you.”
Veronica snapped her head up at the sound of her name in that familiar Spanish accent, the “r” rolling, the “o” and “i” long. She’d let the pronunciation roll over her skin for months now, heard it in her sleep, in her fantasies. Her gaze collided with that of her very handsome, very hot supervisor, the man she’d lusted after since he had arrived from Spain to lead the team designing a new downtown, Gaudi-influenced hotel three months, two weeks and three days ago. The man whose eyes hinted at dark, sexy secrets, whose stubble- shadowed mouth promised untold pleasures.
The man whom she’d pictured when she bought this dress, never thinking he’d actually see her in it.
He definitely saw her in it now, his gaze drifting to her breasts, though he made an effort to look into her eyes. His already arched eyebrows lifted, and his dimples deepened in appreciation.
Her first instinct was to cover up, but she’d left her trench coat on the coat rack by the door, and her little shiny purse didn’t offer much protection. She tucked her hair behind her ear. All the confidence she’d felt when she walked into the bar evaporated in the face of the one man she didn’t expect to see, no matter how she’d hoped.
“Rafael. Um, I didn’t know you lived around here.”
“I don’t. Do you?”
“Excuse me, buddy, but I was here first.” One of her admirers, the one with the lime, poked Rafael in the shoulder, hard.
Veronica wanted to slide through the floor. She’d come here for a hook-up, clearly Rafael would see that. What would he think of her for that? He’d never fall for her now.
He didn’t take his eyes from her. “She’s here with me.”
The other admirers slipped away, but this one was persistent. He turned to Veronica. “That so?”
Her heart slammed against her ribs at the thought of what Rafael’s words might mean, at the possessiveness of his tone. “Yes,” she managed through dry lips and reached for her martini to moisten them.
Lime Boy grumbled and stomped off.
Rafael moved closer. Since the bar stools near her were occupied, he slid between her bar stool and the next, propping his elbow on the bar, the rough fabric of his slacks brushing her bare thigh. She didn’t think she’d ever been this close to him. If she had, there had definitely been more clothing between them. He smelled delicious, of wine and just the slightest hint of rain-scented masculine cologne. She had a bottle of that cologne at home, just to fuel her fantasies. Not that they needed fuel.
“That’s a very dangerous dress,” he remarked, signaling the waiter for a glass of wine.
“It’s meant to be.” She couldn’t believe the words came out.
His dark eyebrows shot up, and a smile curved his sensuous lips as he eased closer. “Is it?”
His body heat filled the small space between them. When he reached for his wine, the soft fabric of his cuffed sleeve brushed her arm. She drew in a breath and he cut a glance toward her, humor lighting his eyes. God, he knew she wanted him. That knowledge made her feel more vulnerable than the dress.
“You know, I believe some things are fate.” He turned to face her, closer, only inches away. “I’ve never been here before, and here you are.” His gaze flicked to her throat, then the curve of her breasts.
The glance was like a caress, and she arched her neck. He leaned closer so his breath warmed her skin. Her thighs clenched against her arousal.
“You smell good.” The words floated out.
He tilted his head to smile. “You do, too.” He skimmed his palm up the outside of her thigh. Her knees parted as her lips did. “You didn’t come here to stay. So why don’t we go?”
This was a bad idea in so many ways. “You’re my boss.”
“Supervisor only.” His breath stirred her hair, pebbled her nipples as he circled his thumb high on her thigh.
“I want…” His hands everywhere, his mouth everywhere, his…“This can’t make work weird.” Idiot. Of course it would make work weird. He was standing between her legs, his hand under the hem of her dress, and he’d practically seen her naked anyway. Rationalizing. Not hard to do with a Spanish hunk breathing down the front of her dress, his mouth so close to her skin that, well, how could it not be a kiss? “Yes. Let’s go.”
He straightened slowly, not in a hurry as she expected. He lifted his wine to his lips, barely sipped, and leaned forward to cover her mouth with his.
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