Ashlyn Sawyer knocked back her second drink, her head swimming with the invading alcohol. She groaned and plonked her swaying butt onto the bar stool.
“You’re a lightweight.” The Vegas bartender removed her empty glass, eyeing her with a slight smile. He stood tall with broad shoulders and sandy blond hair falling immediately above his striking, clear blue eyes. His strange accent sounded out of place surrounded by Americans, but that was the nature of things in this gambling city—it sucked in people from every country around the world and emptied their pockets of everything but lint.
Ash grinned sheepishly at him. She knew it only took one or two drinks to make her feel relaxed and knock her off her feet. Usually, she knew her limits, especially in a strange place full of predators waiting to pounce. Right now, she didn’t care; she needed stress relief.
Hell, who wouldn’t after surviving a fifteen hour flight from Australia, including the transfer from Los Angeles to Las Vegas?
Even business class felt cramped and airless when sharing it with several soul-sucking, shallow women.
“I’ve been dragged here by my stepfamily from hell for their overpriced wedding. I need this. Hit me again, love.” She slapped down a twenty on the bar. “Keep the change.”
He shook his head, but took the money, and made her another apple martini.
Ash snorted, wiggling the fingers of her left hand at the barkeep. “No ring on this finger. Too frikken fat for one anyway.”
“I wouldn’t say that. Everyone has a soul match out there somewhere. You just haven’t met the right man to sweep you off your feet.”
“Ha! Everyone’s a comedian. Did you take clown school as well?”
She didn’t mean to sound as bitter as she did, but couldn’t help it.
The bartender shrugged and leaned closer. “Honey, I’ve seen my share of tall, beautiful women, and I can honestly tell you beauty really is only skin deep. You my lovely, have so many dangerous curves, you should be outlawed.”
Ash’s gaze narrowed in suspicion. Surely, he wasn’t flirting with her? Men didn’t flirt with big-boned, plump Ashlyn Sawyer. She dismissed him as one of those meddlesome bartenders, listening to everyone’s problems, dishing out advice.
Ash winced at the high-pitched tone of her stepmother’s voice. It made her own name sound like nails scratching down a blackboard every time she spoke it. “There you are! Your sister and I have been looking everywhere for you.”
The bartender set down her martini, and glanced from her to her stepmother who sidled up to her.
How her father married a woman with more plastic parts on her than a Barbie doll was beyond Ash. He’d found her in Las Vegas while on a business trip, and brought her and her new stepsister back to Australia.
Ash glanced around, spotting her stepsister wearing a skin-tight, short, red dress, whispering things to her two giggling, gal pals.
Ash could only guess her father must have been lonely and vulnerable. Her mother died several years ago, leaving only Ash and her father, to help each other through the tough times. Yet, somehow, he managed to miss the fact that his new wife and stepdaughter were nothing but greedy leeches.
Whatever makes my daddy happy… Ash let it slide.
When she first met her new American stepmother and sister, the chill in the air would have made camels living in the Egyptian Desert feel like they were on holiday at the North Pole.
However, as soon as it was clear how her father's will was written, the older woman didn’t have any choice but to pretend to be nice to Ash. The saccharine sweetness of her plastic doll stepmother always made her stomach churn.
Ash turned, facing the woman who detested her. The feeling was mutual; Ash hated liars and every nice word falling from Jillian’s lips and directed at Ash was a lie.
The bartender winked, adding an extra finger of vodka to her martini before walking off to attend to another customer.
“Well, here I am.” Ash turned slightly and raised her glass. “Pre-celebrating Lillian’s wedding.” She took a long swallow and the liquid, despite its sweetness, burned while it slid down her throat. Coughing, she set the glass down. She’d never make a good drunk when she didn’t like the stuff in the first place.
She was here because her father asked her to supervise the pre-wedding spend. He wouldn’t do it himself, claiming it was 'no place for a man.’ He had a business to run and would turn up at the event in two days. He added it was time Ash went on a proper holiday, and Vegas was the place to relax, and have some fun.
She was at least glad her dad was aware of Jillian’s greedy tendencies. He kept her in check by controlling how much she could spend, using Ash as his banker to stop Jillian from squandering the family fortune. Before leaving Australia, Jillian yelled, ranted and raved at her poor dad, but he held firm, bless him. Anything Jillian wanted for Lillian’s wedding would have to go through Ash.
This was the only reason wedding party had been nice towards her since arriving in Vegas. She kept her sarcastic thoughts to herself, knowing if she sank to their level, they would only beat her with their wealth of experience.
Lillian was marrying Frank, a tall, blond jock. Ever since being introduced to Lillian’s boyfriend, not long after they became engaged, the jerk constantly made snide remarks about Ash’s weight and size. 'Buffalo,’ 'hippo,' and 'Goodyear blimp' were among the nicer comments she caught. Lillian giggled and batted her fake eye-lashes at him, encouraging his continuous torment while rubbing her perfect, size two body and implanted breasts up against him.
Yup, Lillian and Frank were made for each other, both are utter assholes. The sooner she got them married off, and out of her hair the better.
Right now, with her happy buzz swirling in her head, Ash didn’t give a flying shit about anything.
“Well, isn’t that lovely?" Jillian drummed her blood red nails along the bar top. "So good of you to be happy for Lillian finding such a wonderful man. Such a shame not everyone will be that lucky.”
The jab didn’t go unnoticed, but Ash chose to ignore the stinging implication.
Jillian moved in closer and lowered her voice, and Ash stopped herself from pinching her nose closed. Damn, she needed one of those toxic hazmat suits to protect her from the stink of the perfume her stepmother drenched herself in.
“Ashlyn, I know you don’t really want to be here, and no one really wants you here, so why don’t you give us what we need to make this wedding a success? We don’t have to see each other till tomorrow night at Lillian’s bachelorette party. I’m sure it’s the only fine, male ass you’ll ever get to view up close and personal.”
Being forced to watch a bunch of beefed-up, male, show ponies prance around on stage in a male revue show wasn’t her idea of fun, but she promised her father she would be the sensible one and also the voice of reason for the wedding party.
Her gaze drifted to the hunk of a bartender, who caught her glance and raised his baby blue eyes, smiled and winked.
Ash sighed, grabbed her purse and pulled out the pre-loaded, credit card she prepared before she left home.
“Dad’s already paid for Lillian’s dress and shoes. There’s six grand on this card for any other wedding expenses, so don’t blow it all. I won’t give you any more, and neither will dad.”
Jillian snatched the card. Ash knew no ‘thank you’ would be forthcoming.
“You know, you should try and loosen up once in a while." Jillian tucked the card into her clutch purse. "You’re in Vegas. Have some fun. I’d tell you to get laid, but then what real man in their right mind would want your fat ass.”
Jillian pivoted on her four inch heels, and stalked away.
Ash sank back onto the bar stool. Damn, she needed another drink, or the urge to break down into tears.
“Honey, no wonder you’re drinkin'. Do you want another?”
“Gawd, yes, please. I suppose you heard her charming remarks.”
“Vegas is the place for fun, yes. I know several real men who would worship your wonderful ass.”
Ash burst out laughing. He turned her mood right around. “Several huh?”
His perfectly symmetrical lips curved up in a secret smile. “One of my good friends would jump at the chance to meet you, honey. All sugar and sweetness. My friend's a big man and prefers his women soft and curvy.”
Ash’s jaw dropped, gawking at him. “Are you a matchmaker or a bartender?”
“Would you believe matchmaker first, bartender second? I can give you something strong and sweet to make you purr all night long.”
Wowzers, was she hallucinating, or was this guy was trying to set her up? Yeah, she was way drunker than she realized.
C’mon, out of your shell, Ash. I’m in Vegas, live a little. I can go back to being a boring, mild-mannered accountant when I go home.
She leaned over and licked her lips. “Strong and sweet, mmm… I like the sound of it.”
“Good. I’ll get you another drink, and something else.” He winked again.
She watched him slide a small, strange looking cell phone from his pocket, and press a few buttons before holding it to his ear. He spoke in a strange, melodic language she had trouble placing. All the while, he mixed up a new drink, placing the white and pink concoction in a cocktail glass before sliding it in front of her, and putting away his cell.
“My friend is eager to meet you.”
Ash realized she being fixed-up with a stranger by a stranger. Shit. She grabbed the glass, and took a deep gulp. Creamy, sweet liquid ran down her throat, making her moan with delight.
“Easy honey, not so fast! This one is more potent. I call it 'Love and Dreams.'”
“Love and Dreams? Well, aren’t you the romantic? So, is this friend of yours hot?”
The bartender chuckled. “I think you’ll like him.”
Her head buzzed even more as she enjoyed the warm, tingly feeling spreading through her body. It was like a sex hormone overload. She batted her eyes at the bartender.
“You’re pretty hot; I’d do you.”
She slapped her hand over her mouth, mortified at her outburst. Then, she burst into a fit of giggles. A knowing smile spread over his lips. He leaned over the bar and patted her hand.
“You’re a sexy woman, Ashlyn, but I may get my head cut off if I dare make a move on what belongs to another.”
Another? What the heck was he talking about? She didn’t belong to—
A deep voice washed over her from behind. She shivered in response.
Swiveling around, she almost slid off the barstool, but two large, strong hands gripped her arms, holding her in place. Her wobbly gaze landed on an expanse of a broad chest. Wowzers! Broad—a completely lame term—didn’t even begin to cover its size.
Her gaze shifted upwards to the open collar of his white shirt, revealing golden tanned skin. She swallowed and moved further up to his head, finding a solid, slightly square chin and lips full on the bottom, bowed on the top. Oh, so kissable.
That was what she wanted to do—kiss, lick, and nibble.
Good god, her sensible underwear grew damp with her own juices, her nipples hardened into aching, hard points. Never did her body react so strongly to a guy, but she got the feeling he wasn’t any old, sexy guy. Oh yes, he turned her on faster than flicking a switch, and she loved it.
His nose was straight and slightly large on his face, yet it fit beautifully. When she met his eyes, if not for his firm grip, she would have melted into a puddle of goo. She dared not blink as she stared into his deep, crystal blue eyes. Around his ears fell wisps of inky, black hair, the rest swept neatly on top of his head, making her fingers itch to run through it and mess it up while he did wicked thing to her body.
She bit back her moan, her imagination running way too fast on the treadmill of her imagination.
He was tall, dark and devastating to a woman’s senses. Surely, he was some kind of Greek god or cover model, or, well…she ran out of things to compare him to. He was simply out-of-this-galaxy, grade-A, prime male!
She licked her lips. “Wowzers, I was just thinking I needed a super-hot guy, and here you are! I mean wow!”
Did I just say that? I need another drink!
“Super-hot is good for you like how I look, yes?” He chuckled.
Wowzers, where was this guy from if he didn’t know the effect of his appearance? No doubt, he could have any woman he wanted. “Uh, yes, baby, your looks could set the arctic on fire.”
He beamed a goofy kind of smile which was still hot. “I am more pleased than I can say that you approve, sweetheart. I’m Lance’s friend, K’marr.”
She giggled. “Kmart?”
“K’marr,” he pronounced slower. “I came to meet the beautiful woman Lance said was sitting here all alone.”
Confused as to who he was talking about, she broke his gaze to glance around at some of the more attractive women sitting in the bar, disappointment sweeping through her he didn’t come here to meet her.
“Oh, really, where?” The touch of his hand on her face sent sizzles of awareness down her spine, more potent than the alcohol swimming in her body. He gently guided her gaze back to his. His eyes looked darker, swimming with clear desire.
She fought the sudden urge to climb the mountain of sexy man and hump him. How she stopped herself from doing it she didn’t know.
Realization hit. “Oh, you mean me?”
“Who else? You’re the only beautiful woman I see here.”
She brightened for a moment before the last of her sensible reality raised its head, tipping her lips and forehead down in a suspicious frown. “Amss I on Candid Camera, or something? No one callsss me beautiful.”
Was she slurring her words? More giggles escaped.
“You are a true beauty, Ashlyn.”
The sincerity in his words melted the last of her reasoning away.
Oh, yeah, she liked this. She leaned closer, enjoying the feeling of being called beautiful by Mr Lickable-hotness. She ran her tongue over her bottom lip, wondering where on his six foot-six frame, she wanted to start licking first, but she needed to be careful.
“Wait a min… minuet. You’re not going to rob me, kill me, and leave my body out soom wheres in the dess…dess…dassart, are you?”
He smiled and shook his head. “No, baby, I take care of what’s mine; I’m going to treat you like the queen you are. I swear on my own life, and the life of our people, you are safe.”
“Yay!” She jumped, throwing her size sixteen curves at him, giggling even harder and truly impressed when he caught her with ease. “I’m all yours! What should we do first?”
Her mind melted into a fuzzy mess, only focusing on how good her body felt in big Kmart’s arms.
“I can think of many things we can do, my soul bond.”
She didn’t have a clue what he said, but parroted, trying to sound sexy. “I th…think anything with you will be fun, as long as it comes with dancing.”
“Don’t worry, sweetheart, we will dance.” He nuzzled at her throat, and licked her skin. Ash was lost in a world of heated sensation. “We will dance for the rest of our lives.”