One hundred and fifteen friggin’ degrees.
A wave of stifling heat hit Ethan the moment he walked out the doors of McCarran International Airport. It was one of the reasons he loathed Vegas in the summer.
Who in their everlovin’ right mind would live here?
He grabbed the handle of a cab door, and felt a thump on the back of his leg. He glanced down to see what hit him, and discovered a face peering up at him.
“Jonathan Wendell Childs, how many times do I have to tell you to stay by my side,” the mother looked turned her attention to him, “I’m so sorry, Sir. He’s been bouncing off the walls since we got off the plane.”
Ethan sympathized with her. He remembered what it was like to travel with his nieces. “That’s all right. My nieces and nephews weren’t meant to sit for very long either. Why don’t you take my cab?”
She shook her head.
“No, that’s okay.. We’re waiting for the hotel shuttle.”
He took in her luggage, the death grip she had on her son and the fussy baby in the car seat. There was no way he was letting a woman who looked to be the same age as his sister and two small kids get on the shuttle. He gestured for the cabbie to get her luggage.
“It’s no problem. Trust me, you want to take the cab.”
He helped load her luggage into the back of the cab, and slipped the cabbie a hundred dollars.
“Her trip is on me,” he said under his breath so only the cab driver could hear him.
What a cute family, too bad he’d never have one.
He opened the door to a waiting cab, and gave the driver his destination. He pushed the encounter with the small family from his mind settled back in the seat, pulled his phone from his pocket, and opened his messages.
He had twenty emails, fifteen missed calls and ten texts. More than half of them from his assistant. Now what, he thought. When he’d spoken to her during his layover in LA, she was on her way out of the office for the weekend. There should have been nothing pressing, at least nothing that couldn’t wait until they were back in the office on Monday.
He scrolled through the emails on the way to the hotel, and spotting one from his brother, he opened it. He smiled, reading the antics of his nieces and nephews. He clicked on the attachment and got his first black and white look at his newest niece or nephew. All he could make out was a hand and two TV static blobs. He couldn’t tell what the sex was, and Ryan wasn’t saying. Not that he was surprised. no one in his family found out if they were having a boy or a girl. Besides if he even knew what to look for when it came to determining the sex, Ryan would have put a sticker over the sex so Ethan wouldn’t know.
The cab pulled to a stop outside his hotel. He put his phone away and exited the cab. The bellhop lead the way with his luggage and Ethan was soon on his way to his room. He waited while the man opened the door, his phone dinged, alerting him to a missed call. He pulled it from his pocket, before he could see who called him, his phone rang again, the ring tone alerting him to who was calling.
“What’s the emergency, Lucy?”
He was not in the mood for any emergencies or problems.
“Your meeting has been postponed until Tuesday morning. Chadwick had an emergency and won’t be back in town until late Monday night.”
“What do you mean he has an emergency? He knows that this was a fly-in-fly-out meeting. I’ve been traveling all summer and want to sleep in my own damned bed this weekend.”
“I know you do, and trust me, I made that abundantly clear. He’s paying for your hotel and your meals while you’re there, and if you want to see a show that’s on him as well.”
“I don’t give a good god-damn that he’s flipping the bill. I can pay for my room. That isn’t the point. I’m tired of traveling. I’ve not been home in months other than to empty out my suitcase and put clean clothes in it.”
“Ethan, calm down and enjoy your weekend in Vegas. Go play at some tables. Have a Vegas hookup.”
He pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at it in disbelief. Lucy hadn’t just told him to have a Vegas hookup, had she?
“Have you been talking to my brother, Lucy?”
Ryan had been after him for almost a year to find a woman and let loose, even if it was just for a weekend.
“No, I haven’t. But you need to relax.”
Before he could retort she hung up. He frowned at his phone before shoving it back into his pocket and turned to face the butler for his suite, villa, whatever the hell it was called. He was suddenly glad he’d followed the impulse to book a room. It looked like a busy weekend in Vegas as always, and rooms could be hard to come by at the last minute.
“I’ve placed your luggage in the master bedroom, Mr. Cartwright. Will there be anything else, Sir?”
He shook the man’s hand to slip him a tip in a time-honored tradition, and thought about his question. After eating nothing but rice and pho for the last month, he was craving a nice juicy burger and fries.
“Yeah there is. Can you tell me where I can get the best burger around here? And I would prefer to not go out in the heat.”
The man laughed, “I don’t blame you. I don’t like to be in the heat either. The Skybox Bar and Grill. The have the firecracker burger there. It’s made with the ghost pepper, it’s so hot the chefs have to wear gloves and respirators to make it.”
“Thanks, Man, I’ll have to check it out.”
Ethan walked into the Skybox Bar and Grill and immediately noticed three things, there were TVs on all the walls with a different sporting event on each one, there wasn’t a lot of people inside, and the brunette sitting by herself at the bar.
She was his fantasy come to life. Shoulder-length, dark brown hair cut in a choppy mess, legs that went on forever under her short jean skirt, toned arms he could see thanks to the tank top she was wearing. When he got a look at her face, however he almost ran into a chair. It was a mixture of Penelope Cruz and Audrey Tautou, the two women who topped his fantasy top five list. If her face wasn’t enough, her laughing blue eyes pulled him in even further. He didn’t care what, he had to do. He wanted to know this woman.
“Is this seat taken?” He asked reaching her side.
He waited as she looked him up and down, before gesturing for him to take his seat. He hadn’t missed the flash of heat in her eyes as she’d appraised him. It was a look he’d become accustomed to during college. It was something he and Ryan had used unabashedly.
He held out his hand.
The mixture of a Spanish and French accent had him suppressing a groan.
“Come here often?” He asked, His skills at picking up women were a little rusty, but he figured with a little work they would come back to him.
She met his gaze head on. From the glimmer in her eye, she knew exactly how she was effecting him.
“Never.” He replied, “So what brings you to Vegas?”
He raised his hand to catch the bartender’s eye.
“A wedding. And you?”
Every time she said something, it took all of his concentration to pay attention to what she was saying and not what he was imaging her saying.
“Business. I was supposed to be here for a few hours, long enough to sign some papers and then fly out.”
He couldn’t keep the irritation at being stuck in Vegas out of his voice. Regardless of that fact, he was suddenly glad his plans had changed.
“So how long you here for?” She asked as she lifted her drink and took a long swallow, tilting her head back to catch the last drops in her cup.
Ethan stared at the long expanse of her exposed neck, and swore he could feel all of the blood in his body head south. Holy hell. He couldn’t remember the last time a woman had affected him this much.
“Till Tuesday. You?”
An idea began to formulate in his mind, as he waited for her answer.
“I leave tomorrow.” She paused, “At least that’s how long the bride paid for the room I’m staying in. Whether I leave or not is up to me.”
No one could ever accuse Ethan of being slow on the uptake, especially when it concerned a beautiful woman. She was as interested as he was.
“Have you eaten?” He asked, no time like the present to get things in motion.
“Non, I couldn’t decide what to eat.”
She gestured towards the menu on the bar in front of them.
“How would you like to join me for dinner? We can move over to one of the tables and get to know each other.”
More nervous than he could ever remember being around a woman, he waited for answer.
“Ouias, I could do this.”
Merde, Audrey thought, as she followed Ethan to the table in corner of the bar. He affected her more than she realized if her English was slipping. Having learned the language as a teenager when she’d gone to boarding school because she had to communicate with her classmates in English. Over the years she’d become just as comfortable in English as she was in her native French and Spanish, unless she became flustered.
Though she did prefer to swear in those languages. Americans rarely understood what she was saying.
From the moment he walked into the bar she’d been aware of him. There was something about him that intrigued her.
It had been a long time since she’d let a stranger talk to her, especially a man. Being the daughter of a famous Spanish footballer, and French actress she’d grown up around charismatic and sexy men.
None of them had ever affected her the way this American did.
She wanted to know more about him.
“Where are you from?” She asked, taking the seat he pulled out for her.
He took the seat across from her and leaned his arms on the table.
“I grew up going between Spain and France. Papí is from Segovia España y maman is from Nîmes, France.”
She leaned her arms on the table, mimicking him.
“How does someone from Segovia meet someone from Nîmes?”
“They met at a fútbol match. Papí loves it, and maman was there with some friends. As maman tells it, it was love at first sight, as papí tells it, it was lust at first sight. I grew up going between the two of them. And attending every single fútbol game between the two countries.”
“So you have some fun stories to tell, huh?”
When he didn’t ask who her parents were, she relaxed the jaw muscles she hadn’t realized she had clenched at his question. In the past whenever she’d met someone new and he had asked where she was from and given this same answer they’d ask if she was related to Amado Rodriguez, the famous footballer. When she’d admit he was her papí they’d forget all about getting to know her and instead clamor for an introduction to him. It had gotten worse as her two older brothers had become professional athletes as well.
“What’s the craziest thing you saw?”
She thought about it for a minute and decided on a story about her brothers. How he reacted to the story would determine whether she stayed to eat with him or not.
“My older brother, Jax, plays fútbol for Juventus. They were playing Málaga, and there was an illegal tackle. When the Málaga player was pulled off of Jax he wasn’t moving. Because of the way he was tackled he was messed up.
While we were at the hospital my brother, Raoul, told a reporter that if he’d been playing a real sport like rugby, he would have known how to take that hit and we wouldn’t be waiting in the hospital to find out if his head was broken.”
“I remember when that happened. I was in France on business and had just started following rugby as it’s similar to football here. It was all over the news. How did your parents react to what he said?”
“Maman wasn’t happy. Papí said it was expected between those two, but told them no more bad talking about each other in the press. We are family and always show a united front.”
“That sounds like something my parents would say. What about you? What do you do?”
It took Audrey a minute to process his question.
She was used to people asking more questions about her family as soon as they discovered who they were, especially her brothers. Having someone ask about her wasn’t something that happened a lot. Though her ex-boyfriend had held off on asking about her family until they were in Vegas for a wedding he thought they would be at.
Overhearing him telling someone he was only there to get the scoop on Jax Rodriguez had been a blow to her self-esteem. As soon as he’d discovered he wouldn’t be meeting him, and pumping him for information he hadn’t wasted anytime in booking a flight home. So much for not caring who her family was.
For a heartbeat she’d regretted all the money she’d spent on sexy lingerie expecting to move their relationship into the bedroom. She couldn’t regret the way she felt wearing them, though, and decided she was going to wear them for herself.
“Earth to Audrey.”
Audrey tuned back to Ethan.
“I’m sorry, you asked what I do. I work in a book store.”
“Do you do the ordering of books or help people find books they are looking for?”
“Both. I’ve spent the last couple of years learning everything I need to know to open my own bookstore. I love exposing people to good books.”
“When did you learn English?”
His change of direction threw her for a moment.
“When I was fourteen, my parents sent me to a boarding school in Scotland. I was forced to learn it.”
“You speak it beautifully.”
She ducked her head and smiled because of his compliment. She wasn’t a shy person, at least not now. Before she’d been sent to Scotland she rarely ever spoken, but something about the way he looked at her had her feeling almost bashful.
His gaze was so intense and piercing, like he was trying to discover all her secrets.
Before she could respond, their waiter arrived. Opening her menu she glanced at it briefly before closing and ordering. She’d been contemplating the menu when he’d walked into the bar.
She had taken one look at him and felt an instant attraction. He looked nothing like the men she usually dated, as she tended to date Hispanic men.
Ethan looked like she’s always imagined an All-American Male looked like, tall with golden brown skin from the sun, light brown hair and brown eyes. It was also his casual elegance, that spoke he was someone who was comfortable with who he was.
Ethan’s order broke into her thoughts. She stared at him in shock.
“Did you really just order The Ghost Burger?”
He leaned back, stretching out his body for her perusal, “Yep, and I’m going to eat it and document it for my cousins back home. Eating this burger will make me the hottest food king.”
She stared at him incredulously.
“Is this a good thing?”
All of the moisture in her mouth dried up as he put his hands behind his and stretched his spine so that every can of his six-pack showed through his t-shirt.
Maudit, she thought, I would drink from every can in that six-pack. She’d never understood or really appreciated the sayings her American roommates had taught her until now.
He flashed a quick grin at her, and it had all of her nerve endings dancing. Oh, the things he made her want to do.
“Yeah it’s a good thing. When we were kids our cousins from Louisiana would brag that they could eat anything no matter how hot it was, so my brother and I challenged them to a hot contest. Right now my brother, Ryan, is the champion, He made this hotter than hell chili with all sorts of hot peppers and ate an entire bowl.” He laughed, and Audrey knew it was a good memory, “That chili was so hot no one else would take more than a bite. If I eat this burger I get to unseat him, and I will be the new king.”
“You and your brother are close, no?” She asked, from the laughing adoration in his voice she could tell he loved his brother.
“He’s my best friend.” There was a hint of something in his voice as he said it, that struck her as poignant, and a little envious.
They drifted into a companionable silence, each lost in their own thoughts until their food came.
Audrey watched in stunned disbelief, her own food forgotten as Ethan ate every piece of his burger. He also drank several glasses of milk.
Their waiter was holding a camera to document him eating something no one had been able to eat before. He’d attracted a crowd as he had eaten and several of the women were checking him out. The sudden and viscous mine that went through shook her.
She had known him less than an hour and to have this strong of an emotional connection to him had warning bells going off in her head. Not that she was going to back away. No, she was going to see it through. Explore what he made her feel, and when it was time to leave Vegas, she was going to go on with the plans she’d started months ago.
As he took his last bite the crowd cheered and several men swarmed him in a rush to congratulate him. She shook her head at their antics. Even growing up with three brothers, she would never understand the things that made them cheer.
“Congratulations, Sir, you are the first person to finish eating the Ghost Burger.”
She leaned back in her chair and watched Ethan accept congratulations from everyone and get his picture taken for the bar’s wall. The crowd eventually departed and she was left alone with Ethan. The smile creasing his face transformed him from an intense but gorgeous man, to a fun, go with the flow guy.
Like most people, herself included, Ethan had two sides to him. She wondered which one she was going to get to know. Both sides of him intrigued her, and she’d only known him for an hour.
The crowd eventually dispersed, leaving them alone. He was wearing a grin. She’d heard one of her brother’s friends describe as “shit eating.” It was a phrase she’d never understood. Why would you were a smile while eating shit. She figured it was one of those American sayings she would never understand.
“Are you going to call your brother and inform him you have just beaten him?”
“Nah, where would the fun be in that? I’m going to order a giant print of the picture where I take my last bite and get the trophy and have it delivered to him,” Ethan laughed.
The sound was low and erotic, and washed over her body. She resisted fanning herself. Between his grin and laugh she swore it was hotter inside the casino than out.
Ethan paid for the check when it came, after the waiter departed Ethan put a hundred dollar bill on the table and leaned close.
“Do you feel lucky?”
The snort laugh that came out of her mouth made the edges of his mouth tip up. “Did you just quote Dirty Harry?”
“You know Clint Eastwood?”
“He’s huge in Europe. I had a roommate from Italy who swore that the American West, except for L.A., was just like his western movies. My dad however loved his Dirty Harry movies.”
“So, are you feeling lucky?”
Intrigued, she leaned forward, “I am,” she nodded towards the hundred dollar bill on the table. “What’s that for?”
“We’re going to see how long we can ride this hundred dollars. You pick the game and I provided the hundred.”
Audrey wasn’t a gambling person, point in fact she’d been in Vegas for a week and hadn’t gambled once. Her choices for the evening were to turn him down and spend her last night in Vegas herself in her hotel room or say yes and spend her last night with an incredibly sexy man.
She chose option two.
“I’m in. The game is craps.”
Ethan stood, swiping up the money and extending his hand to her. “Do you know anything about craps?”
She shook her head.
“Not a thing.”
The part of her brain that warned caution at all times, started to remind her of the last guy she’d followed blindly, but she quickly hushed herself. For once in her life she wasn’t going to err on the side of caution. Nope, she was going to through caution to the wind and see where the evening took her.
She took his hand and followed him out of the bar and through the throng of people. The first three craps tables they came to were full, but the fourth had an opening for one more person. Ethan shifted so she was in front of him and pressed her to the table.
The feel of him pressed up against her, had her brain shorting out, and parts of her body that hadn’t seen any real action coming to life.
He leaned over her, and threw the hundred down on the table.
The next three hours flew by as they got caught up in the thrill of the game. Audrey could see why this game was used to fill sexy times in movies and books. The adrenaline rush that came with the game, combined with the whole blow a kiss on the dice myth ratcheted up the sexual tension over everyone at the table.
Ethan held the dice out to her and blew on them, just like she had every time he’d thrown, but this time she kept her eyes on his and saw his pupils dilate and heard the indrawn breath.
If he was feeling half as much as she was she was surprised they hadn’t caught on fire.
She was oblivious to what was happening with the dice, her gaze trapped in his. She dimly heard the people around them yelling and saw hands slapping Ethan.
She leaned forward at the same time he did, their mouths meeting.
The second her lips touched his, all the nerve endings in her mouth went off like the fireworks in Washington D.C. on the Fourth of July. Her brain shut off and her body melted like the sweat on the outside of a chilled glass of champagne on a hot summer day.
She didn’t know how long the kiss lasted, and she didn’t care. She wanted more.
The cheering and clapping brought her out of the cloud of lust She pulled back a millimeter at time, and whispered across his mouth, “Félicitations. Sounds like you’re the big winner.”
Ethan stared down into the glazed blue eyes of the woman who had just sent his blood pressure into the atmosphere. He’d thought the scorching heat from the burger was going to sear his brains cells off, but no. The last three hours with her body pressed against his, the kisses she’d pressed to his knuckles before every throw, under the guise of blowing on them, had him questioning everything he’d believed and thought for the last several years. She was even hotter.
The moment her lips had touched his, the memory of the mouth burning burger fled, replaced for every with the memory of his first kiss with Audrey.
Fire ran through his veins, setting alight nerve endings, creating sensations he didn’t remember ever feeling before.
It was all he could do to not pull her into him and strip them both naked to put out the fire racing through him.
“Madre de Dios” he murmured. He was almost positive she would find bruises on her hips from the grip he had on her. In all the years he’d been enjoying the female body he’d never had a kiss like this one. Combined with the fact he hadn’t been with a woman in years, the result of his self-imposed celibacy for an event in his life he felt responsible for, and he was ready to go up in flames.
While his body was scrambling to calm down, the noise of the crowd penetrated the haze that was Audrey.
“Congratulations, Sir, you’ve won again. Would you like to place another bet, Sir.
He looked at the dealer, his brow crinkled, as he held a trembling Audrey in his arms. He was glad to know she was just as affected as he was.
“No. I want to cash out.”
The dealer handed him a ticket. Ethan didn’t bother looking at it. He just shoved it into his pocket. He turned and for the first time in his life, he ignored the manners his mother had beaten into him and his siblings. Grasping Audrey’s hand, he dragged her from the casino floor and toward the elevator lobby.
“What floor are you on?” He asked in a deep voice.
He needed her alone, now. He needed to put out the fire racing through his body, and the only way he wanted to that was inside her.
Reaching the elevators he stabbed the up button and pulled Audrey in front of him. He had just enough working brain cells to make sure no one could see how much relief he needed.
“Room 25001.” She whispered, her breathing ragged.
As the elevator opened he ushered her in and hit the button for the twenty-fifth floor. Not caring whether the doors were closed or not, he spun her toward the back wall and pressed himself into her body.
Before he could do more than begin to kiss her, the swift elevator dinged and the doors opened. He reluctantly pulled back from her and ushered her out onto her floor. She led the way down the hall and with every sway of her hips, he groaned under his breath.
Audrey stopped at a door and turned to face him.
“I never do this. I don’t invite men I’ve just met to my hotel room.”
A savage part of him, one he had been unaware of, smiled.
“I don’t follow women I’ve just met to their hotel rooms,” he paused, “Please tell me you’re protected.” If she wasn’t, well then a bellman was going to make a very large tip.
The tightness in the muscles of her back where his hand rested relaxed a fraction. She nodded her head, and slid the keycard into the slot, unlocking the door. She pushed it open and he followed her into the room.
copyrighted by Heather Lire