Hello, everyone! It’s the Friday before Christmas and I want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas! I also thought I’d treat you to more of the first chapter of Midnight Fever for #firstchapterfriday! Happy Holidays, everyone! Enjoy!
Kay was under intense pressure, about to do something that would blow her existence to smithereens. These past weeks, as she’d contemplated steps that would ruin her life, perhaps forever, she’d remained calm. All the permutations of the steps she had to take had been slowly and carefully considered.
Her job sometimes required that she hold pipettes of nature’s most dangerous creations in her steady hands. In a level-4 biolab, with clumsy, thick rubber gloves, she handled life’s worst enemies—pipettes of Ebola, Marburg, rabies. It was possible that one day she’d be asked to handle smallpox, and she’d be okay with it. But this? Nick Mancino’s rough, scarred hand over hers? It made her tremble.
She finally looked up, met his eyes.
“You have been avoiding me, Kay,” Nick repeated. His jaw muscles clenched. “Don’t deny it.”
She couldn’t deny it anymore, because it was true. There was nothing she could say that wasn’t a lie. Nick was a walking lie detector, anyway. He could smell lies at a hundred paces, like sharks could smell blood in the water.
Kay opened her mouth and then closed it. She huffed out a breath, tried to smile, looked him in the eyes. “I’m here now.”
Nick blinked and a slow smile grew on his face. He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it. “Yes, you are.”
He could feel her hand trembling, she knew. Nothing escaped his notice. He’d been a SEAL and then a member of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team. He wasn’t going to miss the fact that the hand he was holding was shaking.
Looking away from him was impossible.
“May I top you up?” Kay jumped at the intrusion. The waiter, hovering. He’d introduced himself when they’d arrived, but she couldn’t remember his name. She could barely remember her own.
“Thanks.” Nick leaned to one side as the waiter poured another glass of an excellent merlot and waited for Kay’s glass to be filled again. She took a sip, barely tasting it, then another. And another. Dutch courage, her grandfather called it. God knew she needed any kind of courage there was on offer.
“Your antipasti will be coming shortly,” the waiter offered in a delicious Italian accent that might even have been real. You never knew. He had Italian good looks—thick black hair shaved at the sides and luxuriant on top, sharp cheekbones, a soul patch, brown eyes with ridiculously long lashes, which he actually batted at her. His eyes twinkled.
A real hipster hottie.
She looked from him back to Nick, whose eyes weren’t twinkling at all, and who had absolutely nothing trendy about him. Clean-shaven, short-buzzed hair and he definitely wasn’t batting his eyelashes at her. As a matter of fact, he was staring at her narrow-eyed.
It wasn’t even a contest, she thought. The waiter thought he was cute, but he looked like a puppy next to Nick. Maybe even from a different, wussier species.
“Fine.” She smiled, forcing the edges of her lips up, trying to remember how to smile. She’d almost forgotten how. There hadn’t been much to smile at these past weeks.
The server glided away and reappeared two minutes later, sliding long white porcelain rectangles filled with tiny bruschette, fried stuffed olives, sage fritters, ramekins of goat cheese soufflé and tiny pesto-filled mozzarella balls. Nick didn’t say a word and didn’t break eye contact with her as the plates were placed in the center of the table.
They sat there, staring at each other, until the server discreetly coughed. Kay glanced away from Nick. It was surprisingly hard to do, like wrenching something that was stuck. Nick was an eye magnet.
Two small square hors d’oeuvre plates appeared in front of them. “Enjoy,” the server said, a trace of irony in his voice.
Yeah, that was the kicker. She’d been avoiding Nick, trying her best not to even think of him, and by rights, she shouldn’t even be here this evening. She had something dangerous to do tomorrow morning, and then she would probably disappear forever, and why the hell had she agreed to dinner with Nick?
Because, well, she enjoyed the hell out of him. Her grandfather was FBI, her father had been a judge, so she was used to tough guys, but Nick was something else entirely. Like he’d invented the tough guy persona—super tough, capable, absolutely mesmerizing. When she was with him, he threw a force field of sex and protection around her. It was as if he bent gravity. She’d loved every single second she’d ever spent with him and she’d thought of him constantly, even while running away from him.
Nick picked up his fork, speared a mozzarella ball and frowned at her. “Eat,” he growled.
She sighed, picked up her own fork, put a hot stuffed olive on her plate and pushed it around. Her stomach was closed, there was no way she could eat anything. Every muscle in her body was tense, tightly knitted. It felt that if she put food down her throat, it would just bounce right back out.
He made a gesture and she put the olive in her mouth. Chewed. Swallowed. It was delicious, a little ball of warmth sliding down her gullet and into her closed stomach, which opened, just a little.
“Drink,” he growled, and she took a sip of wine, which tasted like sunshine and joy.
He narrowed his eyes at her, only gleaming darkness showing. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Yes, it was hard. This whole thing was hard.
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