“I’m gonna dance,” she said, waving to one of the other women in their group who was motioning at the dance floor.
As it happened, one of her favorite dance songs came on, Whitney Houston’s, It’s Not Right. Smiling, she headed out, people all around her, the music throbbing, the crowd bobbing. There was no fear, only the joy of moving and enjoying the music.
A man sidled up behind her and she moved away, hating that aspect of going out dancing. But he followed, so she spun and found herself facing the aforementioned game-haver, Andrew Copeland. Well, all right then, that was a totally different thing than some stranger trying to rub his dick all over her in the dark. Her heart jumped and did a cheer with the rest of her body, all for him. Damn he was ridiculously hot.
She smiled and he gave her one in return, easing back into the space he’d ceded when she thought he was just some dude trying to cop a feel in the dark.
Women seemed to be drawn to him like he was a magnet. They crowded in, trying to get his attention, but he never took his gaze from her, as if no one else in the world existed for him. If he’d acted any other way, she’d have been uncomfortable on a different level. But those other women didn’t matter to him at all and that made her feel ten feet tall.
Even hotter, he knew how to dance. He didn’t crowd her, but lured her instead until she found herself very close. His gaze was locked on hers, drawing her in. She couldn’t deal with how exposed she felt so she spun again, facing away and breathing deep.
Until he was right against her, his body like a magnet as she arched her back to get closer.
Two martinis would be her alibi the next day when she realized what she’d done. Right then, though? Well, she closed her eyes and let the music pulse through her, let go of her fear and just danced. With him, against him, their bodies sliding against each other. His palm slid around her waist, cupping her hip bone a moment before moving around to her belly. The shirt hem had risen and the heat of his bare skin burned against her stomach.
Every part of her was electrified as pleasure like she’d never felt rushed through her veins. The freedom of the moment, the lack of fear, the delicious sexual tension, the chemistry of music, vibration and movement putting her under their spell.
And she went willingly for the first time in years.
His forearm pressed against her belly and side, so hard and muscled. Whitney’s voice rose into the last chorus and Ella turned, laughing as it ended.
He leaned in quick and kissed her before stepping back and leading her to the table where the men had joined them. It was just a peck, she told herself, but she didn’t stop smiling because she was happy either way.
“You’re an amazing dancer,” he said to her as she slid into the booth.
“Pshaw. Thank you. You too.” Thank goodness it was dark and hot in there or she’d be horrified by her blush.
“What other talents are you hiding?” He got very close as he spoke, his breath on her neck. He’d turned on the flirt again, made her drunk with it.
She laughed somewhat shakily. “I’m really not that interesting, I swear.”
“On the contrary, Ella, I find you fascinating. You want another drink?”
On impulse and because he flustered her, she blurted out, “Tell me one thing about yourself no one knows.”
He paused then, clearly surprised by her question and then shrugged. “Only if you do the same.”
“I love poetry.” He said it while his gaze danced away for a moment. Was he embarrassed? Did he not know that it made him even sexier?
“It’s getting loud in here. Come with me into the bar. We’ll get drinks and my ears won’t bleed.”
She shrugged and let him pull her from the booth. Once standing she turned back to the table, leaning over Adrian to speak to Elise.
“You want a refill?”
Cope wanted to punch Adrian in the face for the way he looked at Ella’s boobs. Yes, they were right there in his vision, and god damn if they weren’t mouthwateringly gorgeous, but they weren’t Adrian’s to gaze at.
He stepped over just a bit until Adrian looked up and discovered he’d been caught. Cope flipped him off and Adrian waggled his brows before going back to look. Annoyed, Cope hooked a finger through one of her belt loops and tugged. She turned with a grin and let him pull her to standing.
She nodded and he sheltered her against his body and pushed through the crowd, keeping people from crowding her too much. Just to be safe, he kept an arm around her waist, liking how she felt.
The volume level dropped back down to only partially insane once they reached the back bar. One arm to either side of her body, he bracketed her with his back as she moved forward. It shielded her from the crush of the crowd and kept her against him.
She rattled off drinks to the bartender who nodded, looked down at her tits and grinned as he went to work.
“Pablo Neruda,” he said softly in her ear, partly to answer her earlier question and partly to snag her attention again.
She froze a moment, not knowing what he meant until she remembered the poetry conversation.
Leaning her head back, she caught his gaze. “Really? I admit I don’t know all of his stuff. I had a world lit course a million years ago.”
“I’ll have to remedy that. Now it’s your turn.”
“I told you I’m not that interesting. But, I do enjoy poetry too. What little I know if it.”
“Really?” He tossed money on the counter before she could pay. She frowned and without thinking, he brushed his thumb over her bottom lip. “You’re far more beautiful without the frown. It’s my round anyway.”
Her expression was a cross between consternation, anger and appreciation. There was a story there, he could tell. Question was, should he pursue it now, or wait?
“I like to pay my own way.”
“Next round you can.”
She lost some of the tension in her face and nodded. “Thank you.”
He grabbed the beers and she got Erin’s water. Again he sort of shielded her with his body as he muscled through the crowd. It was…delicious to feel protected by a man as big as Cope was. He was so much, just took up so much space. He seemed more serious with her of late and it drove her mad. Sometimes she allowed herself the opportunity to obsess over whether he was actually showing romantic interest in her, especially after the things Elise and Erin had said earlier. Mainly she just told herself he was flirting like he did with everyone else. Nothing more.
When they got back he followed her into the booth, his body pressed against hers until she felt faint with his nearness. God, what a fabulous night this was!
“Which poets do you like?”
“Mary Oliver. Wild Geese is a poem that beaks my heart each time I read it. It’s so beautiful, achingly so. Marge Piercy, love her fiction too. Edith Wharton.” She hadn’t had much time to explore things like poetry, but Mick would email her poems, song lyrics, he’d write her letters with photographs and dried flowers tucked between the pages. She smiled, thinking about how her brother had always known when she needed those little check-ins from him the most.
Cope slid a fingertip down the tender skin of the inside of her forearm, snagging her attention. “I like that smile. What are you thinking about?”
“My brother Mick. He’s the one who introduced me to Mary Oliver. He’s one of those people you love getting letters from.”
Cope’s smile warmed her in a way not at all connected to sex. It was understanding, open and interested in what she was saying.
In order to be heard over the music and dull roar of people shouting to speak to each other, he had to lean in close, his breath against her neck and ear. “Oh like with ticket stubs and funny newspaper articles tucked inside? Sometimes just a photograph of a beach or a tree?”
“Exactly! He can go months without a word and then one of those. Usually just when I need it most. Who’s your letter sender?”
“My dad’s brother, my uncle Ted. My mom always jokes that he’s an old bum, but he sails all over the world. Or he did. He worked on crews on every boat imaginable. He’d send the family these letters. Once every six months or so a packet of them would arrive filled with sand or shells, these small town news stories, drawings and sketches. It was like Christmas when that packet arrived.”
They talked, shared and laughed for some time. Long enough Ella forgot anyone else was around but for the moments they’d been jostled by their friends getting in and out of the booth. He’d stayed so close, reaching out to touch her often, often leaning in to speak quietly in her ear as he explained something.
Cripes she was going to combust at this rate.
One of those rare moments when she took the time to look around at their friends gathered and she caught sight of Erin. Ella wanted to stay and talk with him more, but Erin was looking tired. She tried to hide it, but Ella saw through it. Ben and Todd would soon enough too.
“Erin looks tired. Back me up when I suggest we go back to Brody and Elise’s,” she murmured and Cope squeezed her hand quickly in answer.
“Why don’t we go back to Brody and Elise’s? Getting loud and warm in here. We forgot the cupcakes over there anyway. They’re in my car and it would be a venal sin to let them go to waste.” Her car was back at the house because they’d taken a limo to dinner and then to the club.
Elise turned to look at Erin and then back to Ella, nodding. She stood and Brody with her. They were so beautiful together, Ella thought, right, in synch. “You know my opinion on cupcakes.”
“I want pizza.” Brody joined with the others of his tribe—the tribe of giant men—and they eased the way out of the club onto the sidewalk outside. She breathed deep, letting the relative silence and the freedom from the crush of people slide through her, calming her.
“Wait.” Cope touched her to stay her movement. “Now I want to look at your ink. I wanted to do so at the house, but you got rushed off.” She bit back a moan when he circled her, tracing the blossom on her shoulder. “It’s so beautiful against your skin. I can’t wait to see the whole thing.”
She blushed, gripping her coat tight against her belly. Taking the shiver of pleasure as a sign she was cold, he chuckled and helped her shrug into her coat. Something like that from another man might have bothered her. It might have felt like manhandling. With Cope, from Cope, it was nurturing without feeling coercive or paternalistic.
“Limo is going to be pretty full,” Cope said casually as they walked toward the lot next door. “I drove. You want to catch a ride back with me? I haven’t had a drink in hours, so I’m fine to drive.”
Had they been talking for hours? It seemed like ten minutes. And did she want a ride from him? Really? Was that a trick question?
“Ella, get out of the cold!” Elise called to her, waving at the limo. “The boys will meet us back there.”
The men moved to Cope’s SUV and began to pile in so she smiled at him. “Thanks anyway, I guess they have it handled.”
He walked her to the limo door and helped her in. “I’ll see you back at the house. Save me a cupcake.”
She waved as he shut the door and the limo pulled away.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” Elise said. “I thought after I spoke that you might want to be alone with him in the car. You two seemed to really be, um, wow, with each other tonight.”
“He was just being polite.”
“He’s never that polite to me,” Elise said, one of her eyebrows sliding up.
“Pfft. That’s different. He’d never flirt like that with a friend’s girlfriend.” She was insulted on his behalf. He’d never do anything like that!
“Exactly! You’re a single woman in his eyes and I can only say it’s about time.” Erin leaned back with a smirk. “And don’t think I don’t know you called it an early night because of me.”
“Are you kidding me? I’m too old for all that noise. And we left the cupcakes at Elise’s. I have presents in my trunk too.”
Erin’s face lit, making Ella laugh. “Presents! Wheee!”
“You’re a present whore.” Elise grinned.
“We should have taken over Adrian’s house tonight,” Elise said as they got out once they arrived home. “Had a slumber party.”
“He would have loved that.” Erin snickered. “He has a movie theater and soda on tap. I would live in his house if I could. I also know Brody would be a grumpy butthead if he had to be separated from you tonight.” Erin looked up and caught sight of Todd as he waited on the porch. “I sleep better at home anyway,” she said, her voice fading at the end as her man caught her attention fully.