How in sweet bloody hell had he come to this point so swiftly? Could it be only yesterday that he’d had no earthly idea that Kat might have feelings for him that were based on the desire for more than friendship, even one such as theirs? Even more shocking was the discovery that all he’d had to do was be made aware of the possibility and his body had taken off like a rocket on a mission to Mars. As had his head ... and, it seemed, his heart.
He watched as Kat tossed the first one, then the second, then the third. “Not bad,” he claimed, as two hit the inner ring and one pinned the outside of the bull’s-eye.
She snorted. “Not bad, he says.” She grinned at him, a taunting grin if ever there was one, before sauntering to the board to retrieve the darts. “In fact, I won’t even take the rest of my warm-up shots.”
Brodie felt his body twitch hard. She was a saucy one. He’d always liked that about her. Only now he couldn’t help but wonder where else that would play to his advantage. Christ, but he’d be lucky to stand upright when the time came for him to throw.
“You want to practice?” she offered.
He shook his head. “Since you’re using an unfamiliar set, it’s only fair that I forgo mine to even the field a bit.”
She just smirked at him, as if to say he was fooling himself if he thought that would save him. He found himself grinning.
As she took her place back on the
, the toe line, he surreptitiously untucked his t-shirt and rearranged it to at least make a modest attempt at covering the effect she was having on him. He was still working out the particulars of how he was going to use their game to ease her into exploring this newfound attraction they apparently had for one another as she took her first real throw.
Fifteen seconds later, she was hooting and giving a little victory wiggle with her hips. One dart in the inner ring, two darts had landed on the outside edge of the bull’s-eye. “Nice,” she said. “They feel really nice.”
“I should hope so, seeing as what they set me back,” Brodie said, knowing it would distract her. And it did.
She frowned immediately. “I told you it was too much, but you insisted. So you can’t very well make me a gift like that, then complain about the cost.”
He just laughed and stepped over to the wall that separated the dart area from the drinking area. He reached up and grabbed down his own boxed set of darts from the heavy oak support beam that ran overhead. “I’m just saying it’s good to see I’m getting my money’s worth.” He lined up at the mark, and with barely a moment of preparation, let his first dart fly. Inner ring, right next to hers.
“Show-off,” she muttered.
He grinned at her; then, in quick succession, let his other two fly. One matched hers on the outer edge of the bull’s-eye, but the other pegged the inner bull’s-eye square in the middle.
She folded her arms. “Rusty luck, I say. You never hit the bull’s-eye before your second round.”
“Maybe I’ve been practicing.”
She snorted another laugh. “You’ve been playing since you began workin’ for Hagg at the tender age of twelve, and probably threw a few before then as well. If that’s no’ enough practice for a body, I don’t know what is.”
Instead of walking to collect the darts, he stepped over to where she was leaning against the billiard table. “Maybe I was more motivated this time.”
She shifted a little when he closed the space between them a bit more than was absolutely necessary. Her pupils expanded ... and her throat worked a bit. But she didn’t shift away. In fact, her gaze seemed locked on his. “Motivated,” she managed, though the word sounded a bit hoarse. “You don’t even know what you’re playin’ for.”
He stepped closer still, his grin slowly spreading. “Aye, but I do.”
at swallowed hard, which was a rare feat considering how dry her throat had suddenly become. The way Brodie was looking at her was like ... well, to be honest, it was a lot like she’d fantasized having him look at her. Which meant either the dim lighting was playing tricks on her eyes, or she’d finally gone off the beam completely and lost all sense of reality. Because, other than that brief moment when he’d stared at her legs last night, he’d never once in all the years she’d known him looked at her like anything other than a bud—
The rest of that thought vanished as he slowly lifted his hands and toyed with the ends of her braids. Which just happened to be brushing below her collar bones ... and right above her breasts. Aching breasts now tipped by nipples that had contracted with such exquisite pleasure she’d choked on a gasp the instant the backs of his fingers had brushed along her coveralls.
Coveralls. Christ. She
hallucinating. Because no way was Brodie Chisholm fantasizing about anything sexual having to do with her. Stupid braids and baggy, grimy work clothes, and—
Then he shocked her mind blank all over again by tugging the braided elastic from the ends of her plaits ... and slowly unweaving her hair with his fingers.
“Wha—what are you doing?”
“I won the first round.” His grin was lethal. “So I’m taking my spoils.”
“Spoils?” she squeaked. She’d never been anybody’s spoils before. The fact that she might be Brodie’s stunned her beyond comprehension.
He merely nodded and bent his head back to the task, leaving her to wonder what in the world was the appropriate reaction to something like that. Of course, what felt appropriate at the moment was to grab his head in her hands and thrust his mouth over the burgeoning tips of her breasts. But surely that wouldn’t be a good idea. No matter that the mere thought of it had her pushing a deep, very heartfelt groan to the back of her throat.
“What—” The single word came out like a croak, forcing her to stop and attempt to clear her throat. “Why?” she finally managed.
He glanced up, those green-brown eyes of his dancing through lashes that were far too sinfully thick to belong to a man already genetically blessed. All the Chisholm men were. How often had she teased him about being too pretty?
At the moment, she was too busy trembling as his fingers continually brushed the front of her heavy cotton jumpsuit. Surely he knew the havoc he was wreaking? He was a master at seduction, the tales in the village and surrounding hills having long since taken on legendary status. Which gave her momentary pause. If this was a seduction, then was she destined to merely be another notch on a thoroughly gouged bedpost?
At the moment, her nipples alone would have argued for the affirmative, and all her hopes and dreams be damned. Why hadn’t she thought this through? Probably because she never thought it would really happen. She wasn’t entirely certain it was happening now ... but she was a damn sight closer to anything resembling it than ever before. She had to think, which was damn near impossible when he was standing so close, touching her. Why had he chosen now to do something like this? No way could he have known what she’d been thinking. The only other person who knew was her father, and though he loved to meddle in her business, he would never—oh, no. No. There was one other person.
“Brodie?” The single word came out like a croak.
He paused in his unwinding. His fingers brushed against the edge of her jaw and the side of her neck, making every inch of her sensitive skin there tingle with heightened awareness. He merely arched one brow in response, his hands still tangled in her partially unwoven hair.
“Why?” she asked again, though with different intent. If Daisy had told him, and she’d bet the family business she had, it still didn’t answer why he’d decided on this course. Could he possibly feel the same? Or was he just having fun, giving ol’ buddy Kat a thrill? No, he wouldn’t do that, trivialize her feelings ... would he? She knew damn well it wasn’t to give himself a thrill. His exploits might be legendary, but her very lack of the same could have drawn an equal number of tales. Not that she’d never—she had—but an accomplished, confident lover she was not. Far from it, in fact.
He went back to unweaving her hair as he said, “Because you never wear it down. And last night I found myself thinking that was a bit of a crime.” He smiled at her, eyes dancing with mischief ... and more. “So my choice for a prize this round is the pleasure of watching you continue to play with your hair all loose and wavy around your shoulders.” He lifted one of the long, shimmery blond strands and let his fingers rake through it. “You should think about wearing it down more often.”
“You’re just doing this to distract me from my game,” she said warily, finding herself hoping beyond hope that wasn’t the case. That he really was flirting with her. But experience forced her to maintain a worst-case scenario mind-set. She reminded herself that nothing had to happen here. Legendary conquests notwithstanding, Brodie Chisholm was also a gentleman. He’d never force his attentions where they weren’t wanted. Granted, he’d likely never encountered such a situation.
This morning appeared to be no different.
“Trust me,” he said, “I’ll be far more distracted than you.”
, she thought, slightly stunned by his admission. Just ... well.
Finally done with his task, he raked his fingertips along the back of her scalp as he sank his hands into the unwoven ropes of hair and raked them all loose. She shivered at his touch, and did nothing to help him. Nor did she make any move to stop him.
“There,” he said, a very satisfied, very male smile on his face. “Your turn, I believe. Second round.”
If she could have snorted in laughter, she would have. He’d just discombobulated her entire nervous system—and a few other systems as well—and he trusted her to throw sharp, pointy objects? She’d be lucky if she could take a single step without sinking to the floor. Her knees were about the substance of pudding at the moment.
As if reading her thoughts, he waggled his eyebrows and added, “You win and it’s your turn to take the spoils.”
The very idea that she could take something from Brodie, whatever she wanted, in fact, something that would give her pleasure, was more than a little overwhelming. And her senses were already reeling.
She still had no exact idea about what was really going on here, but she knew she wasn’t going to quit now, before finding out. Her natural competitive nature pushed through the fog of lust and need currently clouding up her brain ... and humidifying other parts of her body. “Right, then,” she uttered. “Off I go.” She stumbled only a little on her way to removing the darts from the board, but took the wobble in stride, knowing it could have been far worse.
Fire, Kat, that’s what yer playin’ with here
. In over her head, to be certain. But when had that ever stopped her?
She almost choked entirely when she felt Brodie move in behind her. “I should get these out of your way.” His chest brushed against her back as he reached past her to dislodge his own darts from the board.
Och, he was a smooth one, he was. But practiced or no’, it didn’t seem to matter to her. Her pulse was roaring along like a racing engine, and her skin felt like she’d taken a sudden fever.
With more care than he could possibly know, she plucked each dart from the board. When she got to the last of the three, he leaned his head down so his mouth was next to her ear. “Steady hands, now.” He placed his own on her shoulders, then shifted and pressed his face lightly into her hair. After taking an audibly deep breath, he let his lips brush the rim of her ear. “Have I ever told you how much I like the scent of your shampoo?”
Okay, he was definitely pushing them beyond the boundaries of their friendship. He was surely flirting with her. Or perhaps it was more. Perhaps he was trying to seduce her fully. Rocked by the absolute reality of the situation she was in, it was all she could do to stand there, absorbing his touch, while the vibrations of his deep voice sent her nerve endings into their own little lust frenzy. Any actual response was beyond her at that moment. By the time she managed to say, “I don’t—no, I don’t think so,” he’d dropped his hands and stepped back.
She resisted the urge to fan her face, and, instead, resolutely moved back to the toe line, careful not to look directly at him. She’d waited forever for this, it seemed, but now that it was actually happening, it was rather terrifying. What if she screwed this up somehow? Where would they go from here if it proved to be a disaster? And how did a dart game come into the middle of it all?
Well, the one thing she understood was competitive sports. So if Brodie had chosen this playing field as his scene of seduction, then perhaps she owed him a debt of thanks.
Just focus on the game. Let the victory ... or defeat, unfold as it may.
It was a pep talk she’d given herself many times. Admittedly, the stakes had never been what they were today.
She looked at the board, and took aim, uncertain for the first time if winning was in her best interest. What the hell would she take as her “spoils?” Although perhaps that concern was somewhat premature. At the moment, given her trembling fingers, she’d consider it a victory to hit the target at all. She took her stance, twirled the shaft between her fingers. She really did like the slender design of the dart body, the feel of the smooth wood. She wondered at the hands that had held it before, their stories. It was the distraction she needed to get the fine tremors in her fingers to still. She raised her hand and took aim.
The first dart sank deeply into the target, but it was the outer ring once again. Her second toss gained the same reward. Dammit. Taking her time, she took a slow breath as she lifted her arm for the last toss. When she finally lofted the dart home, she knew she’d thrown a ringer. It plunged dead center into the bull’s-eye.
She hooted and pumped her fist in automatic celebration, then turned to Brodie, only then remembering where she was ... and what they were doing. Her first two throws weren’t that great, and bull’s-eye or no, he could still win this round, too. She shivered quite pleasurably at the thought, thinking it might have been worth it to simply tank that round straight off. But never one to show her soft underbelly, she gave him a cocky little curtsy, holding out the sides of her baggy jumpsuit, before stepping aside and leaning against the billiard table as he moved to the line.
Brodie’s responding grin was quite confident. Mr. Cock o’ the Walk himself, he was. She should know better than to try and out-peacock the peacock. He didn’t even pause, or try to make it look like he was worried. In short succession, he sank all three of his darts. One inner ring, one outer bull’s-eye ... and, after a brief look at her, he buried the final one so close to hers it made the feathers quiver. She was beginning to know the feeling.
“I believe that puts me ahead,” he stated unnecessarily.
“I—I believe it does.” She found herself pressing her weight hard against the side of the pool table, as if it might steady her somehow, or even better, swallow her whole. She tried like mad to maintain a casual demeanor, but that was a daunting task. Because this time, when he turned and moved toward her, she knew what was coming. He was going to touch her again, somehow, some way. And, in that moment of brutal honesty, she acknowledged—fire, risk, and all—that she’d never wanted anything so badly in her entire life.
Her knees were already knocking, as was her heart. Her pulse rocketed even faster, and she had to work at finding even a trace of moisture in the sudden arid environs of her mouth and throat. She was having quite the opposite problem in other areas of her body. She pressed her thighs tightly together against the intense ache building there, her fingers digging at the mahogany billiard table behind her as he stopped directly in front of her.
She’d have given anything to be able to tilt her chin just then and give him some sort of cocky come-on. But that kind of bravado was well beyond her at the moment. Mostly because she wasn’t in the habit of making empty boasts ... and in this game, she had no idea if she could back her taunts up.
“I guess I get to take my prize. Again.”
She said nothing. Her gaze was locked on his mouth as he spoke. Wondering what he would taste like. She was both terrified and thrilled at the very idea that she might get the chance to find out.
This is Brodie,
she reminded herself, scrabbling for an emotional foothold.
You’ve known him forever. You can trust him to make this okay.
He held her gaze as he brushed her hair back over her shoulders, then toyed with the collar of her coveralls. For all her protestations, she found herself wishing fiercely that she was dressed in something more feminine. Or anything other than her grubby work clothes.
“You know,” he said casually, “I’ve probably seen you in these things, what, about a million times?”
Her heart sank and she wanted nothing more than for the floor to open up and swallow her shapeless, baggy self whole. She didn’t even bother to answer. As much as she wanted him to want her, she knew, deep down, that if she’d had to tart herself up as something she wasn’t, it wouldn’t be worth it. Although she admitted to a doubt or two as he tugged a little on the collar.