A nightclub would have been bad enough, but when Maddie Bauers heard the stereo pulsing loudly from where she stood outside the Woodland Hills house, she froze, preparing to march full stomp back to her car.
“Oh, come on.” Bree flashed her puppy-dog eyes, the ones that usually got her anything and anyone.
Maddie pursed her full lips. “You said one drink, Bree. This is not one drink. This is a noise violation and disorderly conduct ticket waiting to happen.”
“This is fun waiting to happen.” Bree tossed her long blond hair behind her shoulder. “I know you’re frigid and anti-good times, but one fucking party isn’t going to kill you. As your best friend, it’s my duty to tell you that you need to chillax. Have a good time.”
Bree leaned closer to Maddie. “And I heard from someone who heard from someone else that the cast and crew of the latest Davenport indie might show up. That means hot celebrities.” She raised her hands triumphantly above her head. “Woo hoo!”
“First of all, I couldn’t care less about celebrities. Secondly, how do you know they’re hot?”
Bree waggled her eyebrows. “Let’s just say I heard some rumors.”
Maddie groaned. “I’m so leaving.”
“Come on. Don’t you want to celebrate your graduation even a little bit?”
“I am perfectly happy to celebrate on our couch with a glass of red wine.”
“Maddie, I hate to tell you this, but for twenty-two, you are old.”
Bree had a point. Maddie had always been serious, probably too serious for her own good. But it paid off. While the rest of the students in her film class partied and fumbled their way through college, she’d graduated with several completed independent films under her belt and landed a summer internship with the Oscar-winning filmmaker Joss Beaumont. Maddie was headed for a lifelong career in the film biz and she rarely let parties or men distract her.
Bree was another story. Maddie believed the petite buxom blonde would try to sleep her way into a starring film role, a goal bound to get her into trouble sooner or later. Parties like this one could bring that trouble sooner rather than later, and leaving Bree there alone was probably not such a good idea.
Maddie sighed. “Okay, okay, I’ll stay.” Before Bree could squeal with happiness, Maddie gave conditions. “But you have to promise not to abandon me in some corner like you usually do. And whoever you decide to randomly hook up with, promise me you’ll use a condom.”
“You act like I’m such a slut.” Bree pulled Maddie toward the front door of the house. “But, yes, I do have a condom. In fact, I brought two.”
“Are you planning to get lucky twice?”
“No, I brought it for you.”
Bree didn’t abandon Maddie in the first five minutes as she usually did at parties, she waited nearly ten before she excused herself to find a drink. Bree being Bree, Maddie knew it’d be a while before they met up again.
Maddie snagged a seat on the living room sofa and busied herself with picking at her nails. She assumed a don’t-bother-me posture, more out of habit than on purpose. After an hour that felt like three, she wondered if it was too soon to hunt down her roommate and declare the night over. Was she really so much of a fuddy-duddy that she wanted to leave a graduation party before midnight? Yes, she was. But it was Bree’s graduation night too and she deserved to celebrate, so Maddie decided to hold out a little longer.
Taking a deep breath, she stood up, tugged the straps of her pink tank top into place and smoothed down her knee-length black cotton skirt. Might as well try to enjoy myself. She pushed through the crowd and found an open beer cooler near the patio doors. She grabbed a Corona, leaned against the open sliding door and peered into the backyard. Even though the party extended to the yard, there seemed to be more breathing room there.
Once she got past the crowd surrounding the doors, Maddie saw that most of the partygoers congregated in and around the pool and hot tub—many of them sans swimsuit. Definitely a scene she wanted to avoid. She stuck to the side of the house, steering clear of the pool area altogether.
On the other side of the backyard, she spied a couple making out on a porch swing. She watched as the man’s deft fingers traveled up and under the woman’s thin chemise. Even in the darkness, Maddie could see her shiver. The woman let out a moan of longing, and Maddie’s belly ached with unexpected jealousy. It had been a while since she’d been kissed that way. Too long.
It didn’t have to be too long, she reminded herself. That had been her choice. She could choose differently. What if she were audacious and uninhibited like Bree?
Then she wouldn’t be on her way to a promising film career, that’s what.
She shook off her arousal and fancies of unbridled passion, and searched for a place to hole up unbothered. She spotted a concrete sitting area with an unlit fire pit against the yard’s back wall. It was dark and in shadow, and it looked deserted. She moved to claim it for herself.
Excited voices near the pool caught her attention when she’d nearly made it to the sanctuary. She glanced over, seeking the cause of the excitement. A drunken woman clothed only in a shirt and panties stepped out from the center of the spectators and onto the diving board, twirling her skirt around her finger in the air as she did.
Maddie stopped short as she made out the face of the woman. Her stomach tightened. She knew that stripper. It was Bree.
Bree sang some current popular hit at the top of her lungs, basking in the attention her display earned her. Soon she began inching her shirt up, teasing her audience as she did, until her shirt was abandoned in the pool below and Bree stood wearing only a black demi-cup bra and matching panties. The crowd cheered as she bent over provocatively, shimmying her petite behind.
“What the hell are you doing?” Maddie softly asked, willing the question to penetrate the distance between them and stop the antics of her wild friend.
“I’d say she’s having a good time,” a male voice said from behind her. “Giving one as well.”
Maddie jolted and put her hand over her heart. She turned to find her sitting area wasn’t deserted as she’d hoped. In the shadows on the stone bench behind her sat a male figure. She couldn’t make out his face, but moonlight fell on his lower body revealing taut, lean muscles constrained within his tight jeans.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you.” He leaned forward, his face appearing out of the shadows.
She took a quick breath as her gaze met his. His dark hair, thick and tousled, framed the smooth chiseled face. Deep-set eyes peered out from under intense eyebrows. She couldn’t be sure in the darkness, but she guessed his eyes were blue. Whatever color, they were piercing and her knees weakened under his stare.
“No problem,” she managed. “I didn’t realize there was anyone out here.”
“Clearly.” He grinned. “I mean, the whole allure of this area is the seclusion, right?” His smooth words combined with the slightest hint of a drawl sent an unexpected ripple of desire south of her belly.
“Right.” Maddie turned back to Bree, hoping to hide the heat that was rising in her cheeks. What was wrong with her? She never reacted this way to guys, let alone one she’d just met. Perhaps the scene she’d witnessed minutes before had aroused her more than she’d realized.
“She’ll be fine.” The man mistook Maddie’s withdrawal as concern about her stripping friend. “She has plenty of people looking out for her.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” But this stranger had the right idea. It was no good worrying about Bree when she got herself in these situations. Maddie knew from experience the best course of action was to just wait it out. Bree would summon her when she could no longer handle herself.
Maddie took a swig of her Corona and turned back to the piercing eyes. Despite the nearby striptease, his gaze was fixed directly on her. “She doesn’t seem to have captured your attention.”
The man shrugged. “I prefer private shows.”
An image of the kind of show Maddie could give him flashed through her mind. She quickly took another swallow of her beer, clearing her head of the deliciously inappropriate thoughts. Seriously, what had come over her?
The stranger tilted his head, as if trying to interpret her silence. “You’re welcome to sit.”
Her insides twisted at the thought of being close to him, wanting an accidental brush against his strong body. She dismissed her usual tendency to overthink and walked toward the stone seating. “You were looking to be alone, I wouldn’t want to intrude.”
“I was looking for seclusion, not necessarily to be alone.”
His words possessed a teasing tone that made her shiver. She tensed as he looked her over, fully aware that he was checking her out. She’d been gifted with pretty brown eyes and nice features, and she took care of her figure, but she didn’t pay attention to whether or not she was attractive to men. This man seemed pleased though, giving her a look that would usually turn her on her heels. She didn’t flirt with strangers – didn’t flirt much period – which was one of the reasons she avoided social gatherings such as this one.
But this man compelled her, his body drawing her like a magnet. He was so incredibly attractive, and hell, didn’t she deserve a little fun on her graduation night?
“I’ll take you up on the offer. To sit, I mean.”
“Ah, I hadn’t offered anything else.” He let out a slow breath. “Yet.”
Her heart raced at the implications of his statement as she sat beside him on the bench, closer than she imagined she’d ever dare. Her skirt rose as she crossed one long leg over the other and she fought the impulse to adjust it, feeling the intensity of his eyes on her thigh.
She flushed again under his gaze and realized she needed to calm the fire kindling between her legs. Seeing he held a Coors Light, she lifted her bottle in a toast. “To privacy.”
He smiled, his face lighting up as he did, causing another stir in Maddie’s nether parts. “To privacy.” He clinked her bottle then took a sip of his own. She watched as his mouth parted around the tip of the bottle and found herself imagining the feel of his full, firm lips, wondering what he’d taste like. Her tongue darted across her teeth at the thought.
“Tell me,” he said, setting his bottle down on the ground next to him, “what’s a hot—I mean attractive—woman like you doing at a party like this if you’re looking to be alone?”
Her heart raced at his shameless remark. “One could ask the same of you.”
“Yes, they could. It’s the question on everyone’s mind. But I asked first.”
“You aren’t full of yourself at all.”
He feigned seriousness. “No, not at all. If I was full of myself we would be talking about me, but I’m trying to find out about you and so you should answer the question.”
Hot and charming. Delish.
“Well…” She wished she had some witty comeback. She settled on simply answering his question. “I was dragged here with Miss Bare-It-All over there.” She nodded her head toward Bree who now only wore panties. “It’s supposed to be our graduation party.”
The man stiffened beside her. “Graduation?”
She laughed. “From film school. Were you worried you were coming on to a teenager?”
He leaned back, distancing himself from Maddie. “Oh, you thought I was coming on to you?”
Crap! Had the teasing only been in her mind? She opened her mouth to speak, but she stuttered, “Uh…”
He chuckled. “Relax. I was totally coming on to you.”
She raised a brow. “Really? Or are you just keeping me from being completely humiliated?”
“No, I really was hitting on you. Come on, it was incredibly obvious.”
“Yes it was. Are you still hitting on me now? Or has the moment passed?”
“Oh, no, the moment hasn’t passed.” He cocked his head and his eyes travelled down her body again, lingering at her low neckline. “So…film school,” he said after a heat-filled moment. “What’s your area of interest?”
Maddie barely kept herself from a fit of nervous giggles. “You never told me why you’re here.”
“Okay, you really want to know? I was also dragged here. By some of the guys I work with.” He craned his neck looking around the party. “I have no idea where they are. Nor would I tell you if I saw them because they might be more attractive than I am and I wouldn’t want to give myself unnecessary competition.”
Maddie let her eyes explore his body. His casual white and black button-down shirt opened to mid-sternum and she could see serious pecs underneath. The bottom buttons also remained open and when he stretched his arms above his head—undoubtedly on purpose—a patch of tight abs and a trail of hair peeked out. Yum, yum, and yum. “You don’t need to worry about competition.”
“Seriously? Then I’m doing okay?”
“You’re doing just fine.” She locked eyes with him, and thoughts of him naked above her flashed through her mind. Blushing, she looked away.
“So…” she said, raising her eyebrows. Was she really flirting like this with a stranger?
“You never told me what area of film you studied.”
As a rule, Maddie stayed away from this conversation with people she’d just met. Saying you graduated from film school in L.A. was like saying you had breakfast. It was a dull, overdone topic. But this subject was safer than her fantasy thoughts and the man’s assertiveness easily drew the answer out. “Screenwriting.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Hmm, now that would be fun.”
“Being directed by you.”
Her eyes widened at his brazen comment. She quickly finished off her Corona, attempting to calm her nerves. How on earth did this stranger manage to fluster her like that? Turn her inside out so easily?
She played with the label of her empty bottle as she fought to stay on solid ground, steering away from his innuendo. “Yeah, so directing is my thing. But of course, it’s difficult to break into that biz, so I’m interested in all things film at the moment. Sound, camera, you name it. Screenwriting just fell into the mix because when you’re a kid growing up wanting to direct, you needed material to direct so you could practice. I’ve got three full-length films under my belt. Indies, but still…and I start an internship with an amazing film crew on Monday.” She stopped, realizing she was babbling.
“I’m intrigued.” He took the bottle from her and set it on the grass next to his.
Without the bottle in her hands she felt vulnerable. And was he sitting closer than he was a moment ago? She returned to her jabber, unable to organize her thoughts. “It’s really not that interesting. I’ll be a production assistant, the lowest of—”
“That’s not what I’m intrigued with,” he interrupted, his voice husky.
Maddie met his eyes and saw a flicker of desire. He wanted her, it was obvious. Why not? For one night, why not live carefree?
She tilted her head toward him and steeled herself to tempt his seduction. “Then tell me, what is intriguing you?”
In one swift move, he had her pressed against the wall, his mouth hovering above her own. The rough stone behind her barely registered as she licked her lips in anticipation of the kiss she knew was coming.
But he didn’t lean in. Instead, he brought his finger to her cheek and caressed it softly. She shuddered at the electric pulses that followed his light touch as he traced her jaw line. When he reached her chin, he lifted her face up to within an inch of his mouth. She felt his breath, hot and sweet, on her face. And then his mouth was on hers, tugging at her bottom lip, teasing her until she eagerly drew him in, wrapping her arms around his neck.
The kiss built, each stroke varying in pressure and intensity. Soft nips evolved into frenzied exploration, their tongues dancing, plunging deeply and hungrily. She savored the taste of him. A rush of pleasure rippled through her and she trembled under his attentive suckling.
His mouth released hers, traveled along her jaw and down her throat, his trail of kisses searing her skin. She clung to a fistful of his thick hair while he alternately nibbled and nuzzled her neck, stoking the fire in her core. When he raised his head to reclaim her lips, she glimpsed a greedy longing in his eyes.
He pressed tighter against her and Maddie could feel the bulge of his erection against her hip. She drew in a sharp breath, and he grinned against her mouth before recapturing it in his.
Desperate to feel more of his body against her own, for him to touch her more intimately, she arched her back, pushing her chest deeper into him. He read her cue and brought his hand down over her shirt to cup her breast. He stroked his thumb firmly over her nipple until it stood up under the contact.
“Damn,” he said, his tone pleased.
For once, Maddie was grateful that her chest, though on the smaller side, was firm enough to wear built-in shelf tank tops without bras.
He continued his assault on her other breast. Maddie moaned, her hips rocking up instinctively looking for something more, something her rational brain would have told her was inappropriate to seek from a man she’d just met. Hell, she didn’t even know his name. But her rational thought was lost within the flood of passion brought on by his equally fervent ardor.
She raised her hips again, and this time he responded by moving his hand to the inside of her upper leg. Softly, he caressed her thigh, journeying up slowly until he reached her panties. She gasped as his fingers moved underneath the elastic and found her taut bud. Holy fuck! She relaxed her legs to give him better access, letting him know she wanted more.
And man, did he deliver. With the pad of his finger, he stroked and swirled her tender flesh. Expertly, he increased the pressure to her swollen bundle of nerves until she was lost in glorious sensation. His mouth recaptured hers, swallowing her cry of pleasure as wave after wave of ecstasy crashed through her, and she shuddered uncontrollably.
His kissing slowed, and when she had calmed enough to resume a modicum of control, he pulled his lips away and rested his forehead against hers. “Would you join me somewhere even more private?” he asked, his engorged shaft still pressing hot against her hip.
Yes, yes, a million times yes! Even in the afterglow of her release, she desired him, longed to bring him to his own climax. Still panting, she opened her mouth to answer when a not-too-far-off voice interrupted her.
“Maddie! Maddie! Is that you?”
Maddie turned from the handsome stranger and saw her near-naked friend peering at her from a few feet away.
“It is you!” Bree squealed. “I’m so, so, so, so happy I found you. I really think you need to take me—”
Bree’s sentence was cut off as she vomited all over the lawn.
The man shook his head. “I see you’re needed…Maddie, is it?”
“I…I’m…” She felt torn between responsibility and recklessness. She wanted to leave Bree to figure out her own mess rather than give up this magnificent creature in her arms. Maybe it would teach her a lesson. But Bree was in no condition to handle herself. Maddie sighed with frustration.
“I totally understand.” He released her from his embrace. “I won’t say I’m not disappointed—very disappointed—but I understand.”
“I’m sorry. Truly sorry.” She stood reluctantly, and glowered at Bree, now on her hands and knees sobbing. Maddie readjusted her skirt and took a step toward the pathetic creature.
“Wait.” He grabbed her hand. “Can I see you sometime?”
Maddie tilted her head to stare back at him. “Really? You don’t have to—”
“I know I don’t. I want to.”
She broke into a grin. “Give me your phone.” He did and she typed her information into his contacts then handed it back.
“Thanks.” He nodded toward Bree. “Let me help you with her.”
“No,” Maddie said quickly. His questioning look prompted her to explain. “It’s just, I’d rather remember you right there, not fumbling around with my idiot drunk friend.” Plus she couldn’t subject him to dealing with Bree, especially with the hard-on she knew he still sported.
“Got it.” He adjusted himself. “Just as long as you are remembering me.”
“Oh, I could never forget.” She sighed to accent her point. He winked and she turned again to leave when a thought crossed her mind. She spun back to him. “Hey, I don’t know-- ”
“Micah,” he said, accurately predicting what she was going to say. “I’m Micah.”
“Nice to meet you, Micah.” She rolled the name off her lips, relishing the feel of it in her mouth. Then she gave him one last longing look before she left to help Bree.