Off Limits(3)

By: Callie Harper

I blushed furiously. I’d heard that nickname enough times to know for sure he was talking to me. But the way he said it didn’t make me feel awkward or funny-looking. The way he said it made me feel hot.

I looked up at him, shy, a nervous, electric tremble running through my body.

“Are you having fun lurking around?” he asked.

“What?” Shocked, my eyes widened. Had he seen me?

“I saw you over there, hiding behind that pillar.” He pointed over to my former hiding spot. I bit my lip and winced slightly in embarrassment. “What are you up to?” he continued, teasing. “Are you trying to make sure you don’t make all the other women here jealous?”

“What?” Apparently being next to him reduced me to one word and one word only. I definitely wouldn’t snare him with my witty repartee. But I couldn’t understand, was he giving me a compliment?

He leaned down to me and I thrilled at it, he was so tall. At 5’8” I wasn’t exactly a giantess, but he made me feel so willowy and slender, delicate next to his massive frame.

“They all wish they looked like you,” he whispered, conspiratorial. “You look fresh and young.” He swept one of my errant locks of hair behind my shoulder, baring my pale skin. “Innocent,” he continued, his voice low and seductive.

I looked up at him through my lashes. He had a decidedly more predatory gleam in his eyes now. Much less bored than before.

“It’s a currency here in L.A.,” he continued. Gesturing out to the crowd with his drink, he added, “If they could figure out a way to bottle what you have they’d do it in a heartbeat. Even if they had to kill you to make it happen.”

For some reason, what he said made me laugh. I burst out with it, not at all delicate and ladylike, more like a peal of laughter ringing out.

“You think I’m joking?” He looked at me with the hint of a smile. I hadn’t thought he could look any more handsome, but the sight of him amused almost took away my powers of speech.

“No.” I composed myself, a hand to my chest, proud I’d managed to say more than ‘what.’ “I’m laughing because it’s so true.”

“They’re vampires,” he observed, looking out at the crowd.

“And they would drink my blood,” I agreed, standing by his side.

Just like that, I went from outsider to insider. He made me feel special, like I belonged and I’d just about never felt like that before. We stood together, surveying the room from our own private world.

He brought a hand to the small of my back and my whole body responded, a surge tingling through me. My stomach did a low, slow flip. If he could do that to me with just one hand, I was in trouble. Gently, he started leading me back over to the dark corner where I’d been standing. How much more I’d enjoy the quiet, private spot sharing it with him.

“So, are you here tonight because of your deep concern for equestrian land conservation?”

Sarcasm, I liked it. My native language. “I’m very passionate about equestrian land conservation,” I agreed in mock seriousness. “As soon as I figure out what it is, I’m going to become the president of this group.”

“Yes.” He nodded as if I’d just said something very wise. “So true. The equestrian industry really needs our support.”

“Is that what we’re raising money for?” I had to ask.

“I think so.” His full mouth crooked up at the corner in wry humor.

“Good.” I nodded back. “The industry matters a lot more than the horses.”

“Who cares about the horses?” he agreed.

“Horses-schmorses, I always say.” Instantly, I flushed with embarrassment. Why did I have to go and say something so dorky when we’d had a nice banter going, back and forth, making fun of it all together?

But he laughed. “Yeah, I’m so glad we’re not at a benefit for animals.”

“Please,” I agreed, as if totally annoyed at the thought.

“And don’t even get me started about charities that help people.”

“Like refugee children,” I added, as if the concept were preposterous.

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