Holly took her time sauntering across the room to the horseshoe-shaped bar, smiling, flirting, acting like she knew what the hell she was doing.
Time dragged on, and after fifteen excruciating minutes, she needed a booster shot of liquid courage. She’d barely curled her fingers around the brass bar rail when warm breath tickled the damp skin below her ear. “Buy you a drink, Mistress Christmas?”
A chill trickled down her spine upon hearing the sexy masculine drawl. Holly half-turned. Good thing she held the railing because the man crowding her was the most spectacular male specimen she’d seen since…well, since ever.
Merry Christmas to her.
He was big; at least an imposing six-foot-three, and his body appeared to have been crafted out of solid muscle. His golden hair brushed the collar of his plaid western shirt, which stretched across his shoulders nearly as broad as the bar top. Laugh lines creased the corners of his hazel eyes, as well as the corners of his captivating lips. Lips that were curved into a big ol’ shit-eating grin.
Oh mama. That lethal smile could prove to be her downfall.
“Did I pass your inspection, darlin’?”
“With flying colors.” So much for acting cool and professional. She regrouped and smiled cheekily. “I believe you mentioned something about buying me a drink?”
“Absolutely. What’s your pleasure?”
You. “I’m in the mood for peppermint schnapps.”
“A taste of sweet and sticky coming right up.”
He scooted close enough she could differentiate the varying shades of gold, blond and brown in his wavy hair. And the scent of him was intoxicating—clean linen and hot man.
When he reached across the bar, the inside of his thick wrist grazed the bared skin below her ribcage. The electric shock of the simple contact nearly buckled her knees. A little gasp of surprise escaped before she could stop it.
His frown was there and gone as he paid the bartender and slid two shot glasses within reach.
When Holly faced him fully, his gaze focused on hers with an intensity that caused her eyelashes to tingle. As she attempted to gulp down her shot, he placed his warm, rough-skinned hand atop hers, stilling the motion.
“Ah ah ah. Not before we toast.”
“Come now, I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve made a toast in here.”
How wrong he was. Holly racked her brain for a clever phrase. “How about…to Christmas wishes coming true?” Heaven help her, this man appeared to be everything she’d ever wished for.
“Don’t you think that’s a little vague, Mistress Christmas?”
Lord. His sexy voice was as dangerous as his sexy smirk. She managed, “Do you have a specific wish in mind?”
His burning gaze raked her from the tips of her pointed ears to the tips of her pointed nipples. “I’ve got a very explicit wish. Would you like to hear it?”
Her body vibrated as if he’d whispered very explicit across every inch of her passion-soaked skin. “Maybe you should tell me your name before we start sharing wishes and dreams.”
“Hmm. Are you anything like your namesake, Saint Nick?”
“Not even close, darlin’. I’ll offer no apologies that I’ve always been more sinner than saint material.”
“You do have that devilish look about you, Not-So-Saint Nick.”
Nick stared at her mouth, virtually growling, “I like the way my name sounds tumbling from your sweet lips.”
Playing with fire, Holly.
But she wasn’t brainy Holly North, shy accountant. She was bold Mistress Christmas, embodiment of sexual fantasies. And she’d milk that persona, live the dream of being the object of men’s physical desire, if only for a single night.
Holly lifted the glass to her mouth and ran her tongue around the rim, licking at the thick liquid clinging to the edge. The man’s gaze darkened; another thrill zipped through her. “Where’d you learn to talk so sweet?”
“Does that make you a real cowboy?”
“Yep. Born and bred, dust on my boots, sage in my blood, dyed-in-the-wool gen-u-wine, native Wyoming hell-raiser.” He raised his glass to hers. “You impressed?”
“So let’s toast to overcoming first impressions.”
Weird toast, but she smiled. “I’ll drink to that.”
They chinked their glasses and knocked back the schnapps.
Holly welcomed the sweet fire flowing down her throat and slammed the empty glass on the bar with a heartfelt, “Ah.”
She automatically started to decline, but her inner vixen cooed, “Why not?”
“Coming right up.” Nick signaled the bartender.
The next shot boosted Holly’s confidence. “Tell me, Nick, if you’re really a cowboy, where’s your hat?”
“Same place as my horse—at home in Wyoming.”
“Do you live there?”
“Nope. I’m riding a steel horse in Denver these days. What about you?”
“No hat or horse,” she hedged playfully. “Not that it matters because I don’t know the first thing about riding.”
A twinkle brightened his eyes. “Really?”
She cautioned, “Before you ask, no, I don’t want to save a horse and ride a cowboy.”
Nick’s you-caught-me-with-naughty-thoughts grin made her stomach cartwheel as fast as Wyoming tumbleweeds.
“I’d be more than willing to show you a few secret cowboy tricks once you mounted up.”
“I’ll just bet you could,” she murmured.
“I’ll just bet you were born to ride. You’d look amazing on top. Your thighs clamped tight, your back arched just so, your head held high as you find the natural rhythm of moving on a powerful body. This gorgeous mane”—he twirled a section around his index finger—”trailing between your shoulder blades as you buck bareback. Every part of you bouncing as you’re pushing faster and harder, until you explode from the sheer joy of the ultimate ride.”
Holly didn’t dare look away from the sexual challenge in Nick’s eyes, but she couldn’t keep the heat from rising in her cheeks, nor from hearing her mother’s warning: If you keep playing with matches, child, you’re gonna get burned.
A mischievous grin tilted his mouth as he leaned forward. “You’re awful quiet all of a sudden, darlin’. You okay?”
Smug man. If she were going up in flames, she’d drag Nick right along with her. “Oh, I was just thinking.”
“Something you oughta remember, cowboy. Not all women mount up the same or crave that type of wild ride. See, you’re all about fast, furious, pulse-pounding action. I imagined a slower, sweeter pace for the first go-round. Taking time to learn the subtle signals before handing over the reins. Not rushing headlong to the glorious end, all hot and sweaty and tired.” Holly bit her lip, as if deep in thought. A little buzz fizzed in her blood when Nick’s gaze zoomed to her mouth.
“I’d prefer drawing out the excitement. Gliding along with abandon. Building the pace one step at a time until that moment you dig your heels in and break free, reveling in the rush of an unbridled, unbound, rigorous ride.”
Nick just blinked at her and then he swallowed hard.
Hah. “You’re awful quiet all of a sudden, darlin’,” she teased. “You okay?”
“You’re good at that.”
Holly cocked her head saucily. “Good at what, cowboy?”
“Reminding me you’re a professional.”