Clad in confidence, charisma, and a well-fitted black tux, Ryder DeLuca was the personification of tall, dark, and handsome. Brown hair, tousled and thick, had my curious fingers itching to run through it. Desperate to know if it really was as soft as it appeared. Sexy stubble peppered his angular jawline and his panty-dropping, dimpled smile had me damn near ready to fall at his feet.
His gorgeous green irises raked over my body, causing a rush of warmth to roll through me. The feeling was foreign and unfamiliar but not unwelcome.
I had spent most of my life blending into the background. An average Jane, barely discernible in a sea of faces. But the way he drank me in made me feel anything but ordinary.
Lifting his hand, he brought the tumbler of amber liquid to his mouth. His eyes never leaving mine as those perfect lips wrapped over the glass rim.
My heart thudded a wild beat.
He hadn’t even touched me, yet my skin scorched like the summer sun in mid-August.
Ryder leaned closer, aiming all his alluring charm in my direction. Mischief danced in his gaze while a flirty smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
“What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?”
Nervous laughter fell from my lips. “Does that pickup line really work for you?”
“I guess we’re about to find out.”
My grip tightened on my collins glass as I brought it to my lips and took a long drink of the sweet concoction inside, letting the liquid courage flow through my veins.
I considered his question while I glanced around the opulent ballroom draped in silk and organza. Crystal chandeliers and at least a million fairy lights cast an intimate glow through the large space.
I had to hand it to my cousin. The venue she chose for her destination wedding in Miami was beyond gorgeous.
I tore my focus from the couples on the dance floor and returned my attention to Ryder. “Hmm?”
“Am I boring you?”
“No,” I insisted a little too loudly. Lowering my voice to a normal decibel, I continued, “Not at all. I was just thinking about your question.”
“So, are you going to tell me?”
Shit. What did he ask me again?
I hesitated for half a second before I remembered.
I scrambled for something.
Anything that would seem remotely adventurous or even slightly interesting.
I had nothing.
Zero. Zilch. Nada.
Breaking the rules and drawing attention to myself was something I avoided if at all possible.
I rarely ventured out of my comfort zone.
Tell him you went skydiving or ziplining through the Amazon or that you drank your way through New York City when you were sixteen using a fake ID.
It’s not like you’ll ever see him again.
He doesn’t need to know you’re a rule follower.
But I was a rule follower.
Down to my core.
And thanks to my mother, who was an attorney, I couldn’t lie.
So, I blurted out the only thing I could think of, “Blonde.”
I jabbed the index finger of my free hand—the one not holding my drink—in the general direction of my head.
Ryder reached out, fingering the errant strand that had escaped from one of the pins securing my fancy updo. “You’re not a natural blonde?”
“I never would have guessed.”
His compliment would have pleased my mother. Immensely. She’d had her stylist lighten my eyebrows a bit, making them so they were only a couple of shades darker than my golden locks and exactly the same color as hers.
Ryder released my hair but didn’t step away.
I brought the cocktail clasped in my hand to my lips, draining the rest of the contents before turning to set the glass on the bar top.
The alcohol went straight to my head. That was the only explanation for what came out of my mouth next.
“The drapes”—I gestured to my hair before I lowered my hand, indicating my lady bits—“most definitely do not match the carpet.”
Ryder’s laughter burst in the space between us, confirming I had said those words out loud.
For the love of Peter, Paul, and Mary, just stop talking.
If the intense heat burning my cheeks was any indication, there was no doubt my face glowed like Amsterdam’s Red Light District.
Before I could beg the universe to open a crater beneath my feet, the bartender approached, saving me from added humiliation.
His gaze flitted from my empty glass to my face. “Ready for another Liquid Panty Dropper?”
And now, I want to die.
If I had a spirit animal, it would be a deer. The proverbial kind—always caught in headlights.
“Wait. What?” I managed to stammer out.
Ryder damn near choked on his whiskey.
The bartender repeated the name of the drink, further escalating my mortification.
“Seriously?” I muttered.
The bartender shrugged. “You said you wanted something fruity and told me to surprise you.”
“Okay. I’ll have another one of … those.” I pointed to the empty glass, unable to say the words aloud.
He turned his focus to Ryder and asked, “Another Johnnie Walker?”
“Sure,” he coughed out.
The bartender nodded, collected the empty glasses, and then busied himself, making our fresh drinks.
I wasn’t sure if I was a little too sober or a little too tipsy, but I was desperate to have the attention off me.
“What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?” I posed the same question he’d asked me earlier.
He shifted his gaze skyward, and he thoughtfully tapped his chin. Mirth shone when his eyes met mine.
“Back in college, I was at this party. Things got wild.”
“As they do,” I interjected as if I knew a thing or two about being reckless.
Ryder nodded. “People started throwing down dares, goading me and a few buddies, including Kyle”—he gestured in the direction of the groom—“into streaking across campus to the fountain. Which wouldn’t have been too terrible, but they also wanted us to perform—”
My mouth fell open. “Perform? You mean, like a porno?” I whisper-yelled.
“What?” Ryder’s deep chuckle filled the air. When he finally caught his breath, he insisted, “It wasn’t quite that scandalous. Has anyone ever told you that you’re fucking adorable?”
“No. Not really.”
“Well, you are.”
Before I had a chance to overanalyze Ryder’s comment, the bartender returned with our drinks. He passed Ryder his whiskey before turning to me and holding out my glass.
“Let me know if you need anything else.”
“Thanks,” I told him, accepting his offering. Then, I gave my attention back to Ryder, eager for the rest of the story. “Okay, so what did your friends want you to do?”
“Rap a naked, drunken rendition of ‘Baby Got Back.’ ”
“Hell yeah, we did.” Ryder shimmied his hips and shook his ass just a bit as he sang the line about big butts.
I laughed so hard that I had to cover my mouth to keep from spraying my Panty Dropper all over him.
We stood there, swapping tales—his way more colorful than mine—until our drinks were finished.
He freed me of the empty glass, setting it alongside his on the bar top, and then extended his hand. “Dance with me.”
I slipped my small palm into Ryder’s larger one.
Our connection sent a shock wave through me. The way he looked at me told me he’d felt it too.
Together, we made our way to the dance floor in the center of the room.
Ryder slid his arms around me.
Desire spread like wildfire through my body as he held me against him.
“So, are you and Natalia close?” he asked, referring to my cousin, the bride.
Natalia was a few years older than me. We had grown up a couple of hours from each other. Even if she had lived closer, I doubted we would’ve been kindred spirits.
She had been homecoming queen and cocaptain of the cheer squad; she’d dated the quarterback and sung lead soprano in her school chorus.
Whereas I had not only been a band geek, complete with glasses and braces, but I’d also taken bookworm to a whole other level. If that wasn’t bad enough, I was known as Pancake Presley until eleventh grade when I finally got boobs. Eventually, I’d ditched the braces and traded the glasses for contacts.
My cousin was the beautiful swan, and though I wasn’t exactly an ugly duckling, there was nothing about me that stood out.
My name on Ryder’s lips brought me back to the moment.
“No, we aren’t really close.”
He lifted a brow.
“Why am I in the wedding party?” I voiced the question he hadn’t asked.
“One of the bridesmaids broke her leg a couple days ago.”
Ryder’s gaze settled on mine. “That sucks. For her, not for me. I’m really glad you’re here.” He flashed his sinfully sexy dimples.
“Me too,” I confessed, breathing in his woodsy scent.
The music slowly waned. Spoons clinked against champagne flutes, the sound drawing our attention to the bride and groom near the head table.
Kyle embraced Natalia, fiercely kissing her, much to the delight of the crowd.
After the obligatory toasts from the best man and maid of honor as well as the tossing of the garter and the bouquet, Ryder pulled me back into his arms.
The night wore on; one song bled into the next, and we were too wrapped up in each other to notice.
Two drinks became three, and then three became four.
Ryder dipped his head low and huskily whispered against the shell of my ear, “Spend the night with me.”
The warmth of his breath sent shivers down my spine.
Did I hear him right?
“You want me to sleep with you?”
“I didn’t say a damn thing about sleep.”
My breath hitched, and heat pooled between my legs. “Ryder.” It tumbled out on a barely audible moan.
“One night, Presley. No strings. Don’t overthink it. Live in this moment with me.”
His words drowned out that small voice.
The one I had listened to my entire life.
Reminding me to follow the rules and make good choices.
But all I could see was him.
I had never wanted a man the way I wanted Ryder.
I craved to do something crazy.
Anticipation bloomed in my belly.
Just one night where the rules didn’t apply. Where I didn’t follow orders or do what was expected of me.
He pressed his lips to that sensitive spot just below my earlobe.
His low-rumbled chuckle vibrated against my skin. “Is that a yes?”
Leaning into his touch, I gave him the only answer I could. “Y-yes.”
Ryder laced his fingers with mine, leading me out of the ballroom to the bank of elevators.
Years from now, if someone asked me about the craziest thing I had ever done, I would remember tonight.
And just how much of an asshole Ryder DeLuca turned out to be.
The release date for Creative Casanova will be here before you know it, but if you need something to read in the meantime, be sure to check out my other books.