Midnight Bayou Page 13

Her hair was midnight black, a gypsy mane that spilled wild curls over her shoulders. Her face was fox-sharp– the narrow, somewhat aristocratic nose, the high, planed cheeks, the tapered chin. Her eyes were long and heavy-lidded, her mouth wide, full and painted blood-lust red.

It didn't quite go together, he thought as his brain jumbled. The elements in the face shouldn't work as a whole. But they were perfect. Striking, sexy, superb.

She was small, almost delicately built, and wore a tight scooped-neck shirt the color of poppies that showed off the lean muscles of her arms, the firm curve of her br**sts. Tucked into the valley of those br**sts was a silver chain with a tiny silver key.

Her skin was dusky, her eyes, when they flicked to his, the deep, rich brown of bitter chocolate.

Those red lips curved-a slow, knowing smile as she strolled over, leaned on the bar so their faces were close enough for him to see the tiny beauty mark just above the right curve of her top lip. Close enough for him to catch the scent of night-blooming jasmine, and start to drown in it.

"Can I do something for you, cher?”

Oh yeah, he thought. Please.

But all that came out was: "Um …" She gave her head a little toss, then angled it as she sized him up. She spoke again, in that easy Cajun rhythm. "You thirsty? Or just … hungry tonight?”

"Ah …" He wanted to lap his tongue over those red lips, that tiny mole, and slurp her right up. "Corona.”

He watched her as she got the bottle, snagged a lime. She had a walk like a dancer, somewhere between ballet and exotic. He could literally feel his tongue tangling into knots.

"You want to run a tab, handsome?”

"Ah." God, Fitzgerald, pull yourself together. "Yeah, thanks. What's it unlock?" When she lifted her eyebrows, he picked up the bottle. "Your key?”

"This?" She reached down, trailed a finger over the little key and sent his blood pressure through the roof. "Why, my heart, cher. What'd you think?”

He reached out a hand for hers. If he didn't touch her, he was afraid he might break down and sob. "I'm Declan."

"Is that right?" She left her hand in his. "Nice name. Not usual.”

"It's … Irish.”

"Uh-huh." She turned his hand over, leaned down as if reading the palm. "What do I see here? You haven't been in New Orleans long, but you hope to be. Got yourself out of the cold, cold North, did you, Declan?”

"Yeah. Guess that's not hard to figure.”

She looked up again, and this time his heart did stop. "I can figure more. Rich Yankee lawyer down from Boston. You bought Manet Hall.”

"Do I know you?" He felt something-like a link forged onto a chain-when his hand gripped hers. "Have we met before?”

"Not in this life, darling." She gave his hand a little pat, then moved down the bar filling more orders.

But she kept an eye on him. He wasn't what she'd expected from Remy's description. Though she was damned if she knew what she'd expected. Still, she was a woman who liked surprises. The man sitting at her bar, watching her out of storm-gray eyes, looked to be full of them.

She liked his eyes. She was used to men looking at her with desire, but there'd been more in his. A kind of breathless shock that was both flattering and sweet.

And it was appealing to have a man who looked like he could handle anything you tossed at him fumble when you smiled at him.

Though he'd barely touched his beer, she worked her way back to him, tapped a finger to the bottle. "Ready for another?”

"No, thanks. Can you take a break? Can I buy you a drink, coffee, a car, a dog?”

"What's in there?”

He glanced at the little gift bag he'd set on the bar. "It's just a present for someone I'm meeting.”

"You buy gifts for lots of women, Declan?”

"She's not a woman. I mean, not my woman. I don't actually have one-it's just … I used to be better at this.”

"Better at what?”

"At hitting on women.”

She laughed-the low, throaty sound of his fantasies.

"Can you take a break? We'll kick somebody away from a table and you can give me another chance.”

"You're not doing so bad with the first one. I own the place, so I don't get breaks.”

"This is your place?”

"That's right." She turned as one of the waitresses came to the bar with a tray.

"Wait. Wait." He reached for her hand again. "I don't know your name. What's your name?”

"Angelina." She said softly. "But they call me Lena, 'cause I ain't no angel. Cher." She trailed a finger down his cheek, then stepped away to fill orders.

Declan took a deep, long swallow of beer to wash back the saliva that had pooled in his mouth.

He was trying to work out another approach when Remy slapped him on the back. "We're going to need us a table, son.”

"View's better from here.”

Remy followed the direction of Declan's gaze. "One of the best the city offers. You meet my cousin Lena?”

"Cousin?”

"Fourth cousins, I'm thinking. Might be fifth. Angelina Simone, one of New Orleans's jewels. And here's another. Effie Renault. Effie darling, this is my good friend Declan Fitzgerald.”

"Hello, Declan." She wiggled between him and Remy and kissed Declan's cheek. "I'm so happy to meet you.”

She had a cloud of blond hair around a pretty, heart-shaped face, and eyes of clear summer blue. Her lips had a deep, Kewpie doll curve and were a rosy pink.

She looked like she should be leading cheers at the local high school.

"You're too pretty to waste yourself on this guy," Declan told her. "Why don't you run away with me instead?”

"When do we leave?”

With a chuckle, Declan slid off the stool and returned her kiss. "Nice job, Remy.”

"Best work I ever did." Remy pressed his lips to Effie's hair. "Sit on down there, darling. Place is packed. Bar might be the best we do. You want wine?"

"The house white'll be fine.”

"Get you a refill there, Declan?”

"I'll get it. I'm buying.”

"If that's the case, get my girl here the good chardonnay. I'll have what you're having.”

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