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When he set it in the cradle, a slow song started playing. It wasn’t offensive, so Dusty let it roll.
“Is this ok—?” The word got mangled in his throat when he turned to face Skylar. She wasn’t lying in bed anymore, but stood next to it instead. The light from the fire pit in the center of the cave made her skin glow…and made her nightgown damn near see-through again.
Those dirty thoughts about her rocketed to the surface. His cock got so hard so fast it actually hurt. He didn’t want to scare her, far from it. She’d been through enough tonight. Maybe if he stayed a reasonable distance from her until he got himself under control she wouldn’t notice his predicament.
Smiling, she arched up onto her tiptoes and rocked back down, bouncing in place. “Dance with me?”
She said it as though she didn’t have a care in the world, and he almost believed it too. Except right after she spoke the invitation she drew her bottom lip between her teeth and smoothed at her nightgown, before twisting her hands together in front of her.
Innocent temptress. Self-assured one minute, nervous the next. It just made him want her more.
He’d danced with a lot of women tonight, but not a single one of them made him feel like he was more than a stand-in until another better man came along. Even Mariah and Twyla had only danced with him because the person they wanted to be with wasn’t available. Skylar though…
Maybe he was reading too much into this. He was—literally—the only man in the room. Except she didn’t have to ask him to dance. She didn’t have to climb out of bed and stand there and look so damn beautiful he couldn’t remember why he was trying so hard to stay away from her.
Dusty crossed the empty space between them and took her hands in his. “If we do this, I feel like I should warn you. I’m not a very good dancer.” Especially with his calf injury causing all sorts of cramping. Not that it would stop him. He’d suffer every last ounce of pain in the world rather than turn down her request.
She lifted her face to his, and her eyes sparked with laughter. “And I don’t remember how to dance so we’ll probably step on each other’s toes and trip each other and end up falling on the ground at some point. You up for the challenge? I am if you are.”
Hot damn. If it meant holding her in his arms again, he’d fumble his way through anything—even his entire leg falling off. “I’m game.”
“Okay then.” Skylar kept one hand in his and moved her other hand to his shoulder. He curved his free hand over her hip. The position brought them closer together, their bodies not quite touching, but close enough he smelled her sweet scent with every breath he took.
He tried to stop breathing.
It didn’t work. To take his mind off the constant desire to rub his face in her hair, to kiss her and sweep her off her feet and carry her back to the bed, he forced himself back on track. “Is this music sparking any memories?”
“The song seems vaguely familiar, like maybe I’ve heard it before, but…” She shrugged and peered up at him. The look in her eyes changed, like she was staring far, far away. The hand on his shoulder shifted, soft fingers trailed back and forth along his collarbone. Her brow wrinkled. Was she in pain?
“Skylar, you okay? Are you remembering something?”
“Your bowtie. It was crooked. I fixed it.” She shook her head. “No. Not me. Mariah. Not my memory.” A sad smile lifted her lips. “Sorry. I guess Mariah’s memories are still floating around inside my head. I got confused for a second. I knew I hadn’t seen you in a tux, but I could remember…” She paused. “It’s so strange having another woman’s memories, someone I don’t know, someone I’ve never met. I know things about her, things I shouldn’t, but I don’t know her. Can you tell me a little bit about her, Dusty? It’d be nice to know something about this woman whose memories I share.”
Damn. This was something that could get him in a world of trouble if he wasn’t careful about what he said. From prior experience he’d learned that women in general don’t like to hear a man talk about other women. This wasn’t exactly a normal situation though.
“She’s had a rough life. A few years ago, before she moved to Talisman Bay, she got beat up pretty bad, so bad she almost died. It had something to do with her asshole boyfriend at the time, so she didn’t trust men for a long time. Actually, I don’t think she trusted anyone except Twyla, her best friend. Until Stephan. But even with all the hell she’s been through, she has a good heart.”
Following the rhythm of the surprisingly decent slow song, he moved them in an easy circle.
“Do you love her?”
Well, hell, he sure hadn’t expected that question. Before he could say anything, she clarified, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be prying. I just have the strangest memory from Mariah, and I don’t know if it’s real or one Craze put in my head. Did you ask Mariah to marry you?”
He laughed. He couldn’t help himself. He’d never expected his impromptu marriage proposal to come back and haunt him. “Yes, I did.”
Her eyes widened. “But Stephan?”
“It wasn’t serious. Well, not completely serious. See, Mariah makes a really good cup of coffee. I mean, like nectar-of-the-gods good. After my first sip, I proposed, hoping she’d stick around and make coffee every day. She turned me down, but she still makes coffee every day, so I’m not complaining.”
She arched an eyebrow. “You proposed because of a cup of coffee? You do know there are fancy places you can go where brewing coffee is their specialty, and you don’t even have to propose to the baristas.”
“Really?” He looked at her like she was pulling his leg. “Tell me more about these mysterious java palaces.”
“I’ll do you one better. I’ll take you to one tomorrow. You can usually find one on every corner.”
“Hey, is that a memory?”
She scrunched up her nose. “I don’t think so. It’s like how I know the sky’s blue and the earth’s round, I think it’s just common knowledge.” She let out a frustrated sigh. “You’re trying so hard to help me get my memories back and my brain’s not cooperating. I’m sorry about that.”
He wanted to erase the tension from her face. Kiss away the worry. But what he wanted and what she needed were two very different things. “Skylar, there’s nothing for you to apologize for. You didn’t ask for this to happen to you. I’ll do anything I can to help you, whatever you need. I promise.”
Seconds passed and she didn’t say a word. Her eyes were so wide, so open, so trusting. Had anyone ever looked at him that way before? He didn’t think so.
Swaying to the gently sensual rhythm, she leaned her head against his chest and circled an arm around his neck. Her cheek was so warm, so soft where it met his bare flesh. Her eyelashes fluttered as she closed her eyes. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you for making me feel okay inside.”
He breathed in her scent and lifted his hand to cradle her head against him, to keep her from ever leaving him. He couldn’t force her to stay though, no matter how much he wanted this moment to last. So he trailed along the curve of her skull, following the path of her hair, teasing the silky strands between his fingertips before settling his hand on the middle of her back.
She snuggled closer, rubbing her cheek against his chest. Her quiet exhale heated him straight through.
It was the first perfect moment of his life.
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EXCERPT: Prologue and First Chapter
EXCERPT: First Kiss
DELETED SCENE: Dusty Mingles
DELETED SCENE: The Gang Has Dinner
DELETED SCENE: Twyla Dances
DELETED SCENE: Dusty Dances
DELETED SCENE: Twyla on the Balcony
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