Rhythm of the Night, Book 1
If old wives’ tales were simply words,
They never would be told.
There’s truth in every fable, child—
So heed this song of gold.
When day is done and night has come,
You’ll see it in your dreams.
Eyes of fire, heart’s desire
You’ll know just what it means.
-Edna Pace’s Lullaby for Nathan
Shocked all the way down to her toes, Sophie Butler gawked at the man.
Shit, shit, shit.
She was so going to be fired for this.
She should turn around and beat a hasty retreat. If not hasty, she should back out of the door real slow, and give the guy a little privacy. At the very least, she should have the decency to cover her eyes and stammer out a sincere apology.
So why then did she stand frozen in place with her jaw hanging open and her tongue glued to the bottom of her mouth?
Because she was dazed, that’s why. Stunned by the sight that greeted her.
And what a sight. A good six feet of tanned male muscle. Legs that stretched on forever, with slim, powerful thighs. A hard and well-defined stomach that tapered down to lean, square hips. Not to mention the arms, biceps rippling and bunching as he towel-dried his hair.
She swallowed when her gaze drifted between his legs, settling on the decent-sized cock that lay there, shifting slightly with every move he made. Lord, he was perfect. A-gift-from-the-Gods perfect. A belly-rolling, breath-catching, heart-racing perfect.
She’d walked in on a guest, caught him naked and unsuspecting, and he didn’t even know she was standing there, eyeballing him.
Was there time to slip out unnoticed? An accessible path of escape before he lowered the towel and caught her? She scanned the bedroom, estimating the number of steps between herself and the door. At least seven, and two of those would take her within touching distance of Mr. Naked-and-gorgeous. God help her, she knew, as any healthy woman in her right mind would know, that if she got within a meter of the guy, she would feel compelled to reach out and run her hands over all that dazzling male skin.
He threw the towel on the floor, ran a hand through his shoulder-length, water-darkened blond hair and opened his eyes. Then jolted as though he’d been struck.
The man gaped at her, horror written all over his face. He looked almost as taken aback as she felt. Like her, he seemed to have lost muscle function, because neither of them moved an inch. Both stood where they were, gawking at each other.
Panic set in. Her heart slammed against her chest at a million miles an hour, blurring her vision.
She was so going to pay for this mistake. She’d broken the cardinal rule of her employment and walked into the apartment while the occupant was there. How many times had she been told, Ensure the guests have absolute privacy. When they are around, you are not. Rooms are cleaned when they are out?
But damn it, she’d knocked three times, loudly, and he hadn’t answered. Not on the first knock or the second or the third. So she’d shoved her earphones back in and entered the apartment. Heck, she’d tidied the kitchen and living room before coming into the bedroom. Surely he’d have heard her?
Sophie blinked hard to clear her vision. Refusing to look at his face and see his disapproval there, she—almost unwillingly—scanned his body one more time, noted the wet hair that dripped down his neck and shoulders and the tiny droplets clinging to the light sprinkle of chest hair. Okay, so if he’d been in the shower, he wouldn’t have heard anything besides the rushing water. And with the volume of her music turned up, she wouldn’t have heard the shower humming.
Either way, this was without a doubt her last day on the job.
Nathan Pace stared at her, perplexed.
Hadn’t he rented this apartment because it promised absolute privacy? How the hell had she gotten inside? Bribed the manager with guarantees of a blowjob, like any number of other women before her had done to get close to him? She had the mouth for it. Lush, pouty lips that promised the best damn head a man could want.
He was so tired of being chased down by so-called adoring fans, tired of them finding his every hiding place. Paying top dollar for the luxury unit was a good deal in his book—if it meant staying out of the public eye. Fat lot of good top dollar had done him now.
It didn’t matter that the woman was drop-dead gorgeous. That her long, blonde hair was caught in a sexy ponytail, and her curvy, fuck-me body could bring a man to his knees. Never mind the made-to-give-head mouth that gaped now, slack-jawed, showing full, succulent lips, flashes of straight white teeth and a pink tongue.
Never mind any of that. Yes, she had the looks of an angel, but as with so many of the other women who’d tracked him down, she obviously had the scruples of the devil. Why else would she be here, in his bedroom, waiting for him to get out of the shower?
He could not prevent the snarl that started in his throat and erupted from his mouth.
“Oh, crap.” She closed her eyes. “I am so going to lose my job for this.”
Lose her job? Ah, so maybe she wasn’t a groupie after all.
Maybe she was from the press and had come to interview him. Or a member of the paparazzi, grabbing any chance to take a photograph.
He gave her a quick once-over. No camera.
Was that why she’d lose her job? The ultimate photo opportunity, and she’d left her camera behind? He sneered to himself, then watched dumbfounded as she leaned over and picked up a bucket full of…of…cleaning products?
“God, I am so sorry,” she mumbled, her face flushing five hues of crimson. The woman refused to meet his gaze. “I knocked a few times, but there was no answer. I, er, thought no one was in.”
He couldn’t help but notice the way her flawless skin glowed in her embarrassment, the red tinge making her face even more lovely.
She stepped back two paces, looking downright alarmed. “I didn’t hear the shower.” She lifted up a phone, showing it to him, then yanked earphones from her ears.
Intense relief flooded him. She was neither a groupie nor from the press.
She took another step back, then gasped as she realized her mistake. The back of her knees connected with the bed, and she collapsed onto it, spilling products from the bucket as she went.
Nathan could not stop the laugh that rumbled through his chest. The woman was here to clean the place, nothing more. This was, after all, a serviced luxury apartment.
“Shit.” She swore under her breath, but he heard her and grinned. Of course she was servicing the apartment. On closer inspection he noticed grey smudges on her tight, white sleeveless T-shirt—above the voluptuous curve of her left breast, and she smelled of… He sniffed the air. Bottled pine? Like the air freshener that now lay on the carpet? Not unpleasant, just not the kind of scent he expected a woman like her would emit.
She should smell like sunshine and roses. Fresh and natural, to match the natural beauty of her face. Not a stitch of make-up to be seen, not even lipstick to make the red lips redder. She didn’t need it.
“Shit?” He lifted an eyebrow in question.
She looked nothing less than mortified. “First I walk in on a guest, then I catch him naked…” Her voice trailed off as she dropped her head, glancing down below his waist. If possible, her face grew even redder. But, he noticed, she did not raise her eyes. “And…and then—” still not lifting her head, “—and then I land on his bed, like a bloody idiot.”
Curiously, her gaze was still plastered on his cock, and wonder of wonders, said cock responded. Perhaps it had something to do with the way she licked those luscious lips, or perhaps it was her position on the bed, awkward and uncomfortable yet shifting a little in place, as if watching his penis was affecting her somehow. It made his shaft tighten further and stand to attention.
She gulped. “And then I swear out loud.” Her ponytail bobbed from side to side as she shook her head, looking dismayed. “But worst of all,” she continued, “I can’t stop staring at his erection.”
He stifled a laugh. Her gaze didn’t bother him in the least. On the contrary. But instinct told him she would be even more embarrassed when she came to her senses, so he made a droll suggestion. “Try hard.”
She snapped her head up. Her cheeks were now scarlet. “God, I am so sorry,” she mumbled, and dropped to her knees on the floor.
For a mere second she stared up at his face, but that was all it took for one fantasy to cram itself into his head. Her on her knees at his feet, him naked and hard.
He barely had time to register the blue of her eyes. The startling, sky blue that he’d only seen, what, a million times before?
In his dreams!
The realization tore the breath from his lungs.
He’d dreamed about a woman with eyes like hers last night. And the night before that too. In fact, he’d dreamed about her almost every night for ten years now.
In his dreams her face was a blur. The only feature that he could clearly see was her eyes.
And the fact that those eyes formed part of the face of this luscious beauty blew his mind.
Then she scrambled for her bucket, tossing things in willy-nilly. When the final bottle clanked inside, she jumped up, looked anywhere but directly at him and apologized again.
“Forgive me, for walking in on you at such a, uh, an awkward time. I meant no harm, it was a bad mistake. I… I’ll understand if you report me to management. My, uh, name is Sophie. You’ll need it to file the complaint.”
Before Nathan could reassure the woman, or get her to look him in the eye again, she fled. He didn’t have a chance to grab her arm, hold her tight. Find out more about her. God knew, he wanted—needed—to find out more about her.
The front door of the apartment slammed shut a couple of seconds after she raced from the bedroom. Much as he’d have liked to chase after her, get a better look, Nathan knew it was pointless. He could hardly go after her with no clothes on. The press would have a field day. And by the time he’d pulled on a pair of shorts and a shirt, Sophie would have long disappeared.
He’d spent the last ten years dreaming about a woman who had eyes the color of a summer sky. He’d grown accustomed to the dreams. Accepted them as a regular part of his nighttime routine. What he’d never expected was for his dream girl to present herself as a real-life, flesh-and-blood woman.
* * * *
Sophie bit back the urge to moan. She buried her face in her hands, and relived, for the thousandth time, the utter humiliation of her morning.
Tasha set a cappuccino in front of her and patted her shoulder in sympathy.
“God, how could I have behaved like that?” Sophie asked her friend.
“Sweetie, it’s not every day we unexpectedly come head to, uh, head with prime, naked, male flesh.”
“Tash.” Sophie looked up at her in horror. “I almost drooled on him. Watching his dick getting all hard—” She shivered. “It…it seriously turned me on.” No question about it. If he’d taken one single step toward her, she would have jumped him.
“He was that gorgeous?” Tasha pulled a chair out from the table and sat beside Sophie. The summer sun shone down on the two of them, and the enticing scent of coffee wafted through the air.
“More than,” Sophie said. “I’m talking orgasm-inducing hot.”
“And you left him?” Tasha looked at her in disbelief. “You walked away from that?”
“Damn it, I was servicing the apartment, not the freaking guest.” Sophie kept her voice low so as not to disturb the other customers sitting at the tables around them.
“Still, Soph, you might have hung around to see what developed.”
Sophie couldn’t help it. She laughed. Trust Tasha to see the possibilities in the whole excruciating encounter. “The only development likely to come of this is my imminent job loss.”
She eyed her mobile phone, sitting on the table between them. Why hadn’t it rung yet? It was a matter of time before her boss called to tell her not to bother returning to work. Ever.
Damn it, she needed the job. Needed the salary to pay back the student loan she’d taken out so she could finish her studies for her psych degree. Working as a cleaner was by no means ideal. But it required no training, the money was decent and she’d done it for so long she was good at it.
On an average day, she could whip through an entire apartment in less than an hour and leave it gleaming. At worst, an hour and a half. When all was said and done, she should have been out of his unit in under forty minutes. Apart from some misplaced sofa cushions, a few dirty plates and the unmade bed, it had been in mint condition.
“Still think he reported you?” Tasha asked.
“Put yourself in his position. You’re staying in an absurdly expensive, private, furnished apartment, and you walk out of the shower, buck naked, to be confronted by a drooling mass of unwanted female hormones. Think you’d report me?”
Tasha’s look was glum. She didn’t need to answer. She didn’t have a chance to, either. Her mother called her inside. “I’m sorry, Soph, I have to go help Mum serve.”
“Go ahead,” Sophie told her, knowing Lizzie, Tasha’s mother and owner of the pastry shop where she now sat, relied on Tasha’s assistance. “I have my book for company. No worries.” She needed to escape the mortification that played over and over in her head somehow. Needed to escape her obsessive thoughts about Mr. Naked-and-gorgeous. A novel was the best way. And sitting at the pastry shop was the best place she could be. Since her Gramma had died a year ago, Tasha and Lizzie were the closest thing to family Sophie had.
She felt at home here. Comfortable. And comforted.
It took about ten minutes before Sophie shoved the morning’s humiliation to the back of her mind and was immersed in the latest Sookie Stackhouse book. Sookie was a perfect distraction. Sophie could lose herself to the world of vampires, werewolves and fairies, and not have to think about him.
Problem was, as she took a sip of coffee, Eric the vampire made a comment so outrageously suggestive, Sophie choked on the hot liquid.
Several seconds passed before she stopped coughing and could breathe normally again, and by then her eyes were watering like crazy.
From nowhere, a serviette manifested before her. She stared at it blankly before registering it was attached to a hand. A strong male hand with long, slender fingers.
“You look like you could use it,” a voice said. Not just any voice. A familiar voice, as smooth as old scotch and as rich as whipped cream. “I’m sorry I don’t have a Kleenex.”
“Oh, I… Thank you.” She placed her novel on the table beside her cappuccino, accepted the paper napkin, dabbed at her eyes and then cleared her throat two or three times.
“I enjoy the Sookie books myself,” the American-accented voice said, “but not so much that I’ve ever gotten all choked up about it.”
Sophie grinned and cleared her throat one last time. Anyone who enjoyed this Charlaine Harris series was a-okay in her book.
Her gaze trailed past his hand, up his arm, along the lines of his navy T—which covered a broad, kind of familiar and most delectable-looking shoulder—and came to rest on a remarkable, handsome face. Longish blond hair touched his neck and a good week’s worth of beard growth framed mega-kissable lips. His eyes were masked by a pair of black Ray-Bans.
Looking at him brought on an odd sense of déjà vu, and her heart skipped a beat. Probably the after-effect of her choking fit.
And then it skipped another beat as recognition hit her like a blow to the chest.
Her grin vanished. Standing before her, looking as stunning as he had this morning, was Mr. Naked-and-gorgeous of the delectable penis—and most embarrassing moment of her life—fame.
“You!” Dear Lord, could fate be a bigger bitch? How could Sophie bump into him twice in one day?
He smiled a tight smile. “You say that as though I’m a curse.”
Uh, yeah. A curse who was going to get her sorry ass fired. What on earth was he doing here?
Sophie shook her head, trying to clear it. This must be a hallucination. Her mind, tortured by this morning’s incident, was playing tricks on her. Pure and simple.
He wasn’t really there.
But for someone who wasn’t there, his presence sure struck her in all the right places. The scent of woodsy aftershave she’d gotten a hint of in his bedroom earlier now floated over the breeze to tickle her nose. Her heart pitter-pattered unevenly, and her breasts tingled beneath her shirt. The sun, which seconds ago had reflected off the glass table, was now blocked out, shadowed by a nonexistent man. A nonexistent man who’d given her the serviette she held in her hand.
“You’re not a figment of my imagination, are you?” she asked, sensing she was about to face the second most embarrassing moment of her life—by confronting the first.
He frowned. “Last I checked I was real enough.”
Impossible. How could a real man look so good and talk with the voice of an angel—deep, resonant and beautiful.
“That probably means you were flesh-and-blood real this morning too, doesn’t it?” she asked, resigned to her fate.
He gave a somber nod. “I thought you might have picked up on that flesh-and-blood bit.”
Her cheeks burned. Oh, she’d picked up on it. Watching all that perfect male flesh swelling with blood, standing up straight before her… Yep, she’d noticed. She’d have had to be brain dead not to.
But that was then and this was now, and if Sophie didn’t want to make an even bigger fool of herself than she already had, she’d best gather her wits about her. She stood and looked him in the eye, tilting her head back to do so since he towered above her. Sunglasses reflected her obvious discomfort back to her.
She licked her very dry lips. “Look, I owe you a huge apology. I…I’m sorry for walking in on you. I had no idea you were there. If I had, I would never have let myself in.”
He slanted his head to the side, and she couldn’t miss the humor in his tone. “You mean observing naked guests is not the general modus operandi of apartment employees?”
Heck, if all the guests looked like he did naked, not only would she make it the general modus operandi, she’d personally install CCTV cameras in every room.
“Cleaning staff are not supposed to be anywhere near the apartments when the guests are in,” she admitted, shamefaced and not quite ready to laugh at the situation. Especially not when her job was on the line. “After I knocked and there was no answer, I shoved my earphones back in.” She tapped her ear. “The music was loud enough, I didn’t hear you in the bathroom. Barging in on you was a bad mistake. I truly am sorry.”
The intrusion had been an honest-to-God slip-up. But even slip-ups had their repercussions.
He nodded once, and the sexiest smile imaginable tugged the corners of his lips.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t a condescending smile. Or a threatening one. It was simply warm and open, with perhaps a hint of devilry involved.
“Here’s the deal,” he said. “Let me share your table, and I’ll consider forgiving you. Under any other circumstances, I wouldn’t.” He shrugged and looked around. “But seats are somewhat limited around here, and I have to work with what I have.”
Sophie’s mouth threatened to drop open. He wanted to share her table? After the earlier incident?
Yep, seats were limited at the café. There was a grand total of three tables inside the pastry shop, and three outside, one of which she occupied. Umpteen times she’d told Lizzie to get a bigger place, but Lizzie insisted the size added to the atmosphere of her little restaurant in The Rocks, and she was right. The shop was small, cozy and one of the hottest coffee spots in the city. Its popularity had a lot to do with the handmade-by-Lizzie, best damn pastries in Sydney.
Did he seriously want to sit with her?
Sophie twisted her mouth and considered his deal. Bah. As if there was anything to consider. She’d give anything to spend some time with Mr. Not-so-naked-anymore-but-still-gorgeous. Especially if it gave her the opportunity to convince him not to contact her boss. Never mind the fact his presence made her heart beat a little faster than it should.
Still, she wasn’t above giving him a hard time about it. “Is that a bribe?”
The grin he shot her was devious. And sexy. So sexy, her belly did a little somersault. “I guess it is,” he drawled. “You willing to take it?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Do I have a choice?”
“Sure you do. We all have choices.” And then he had the gall to ask, “Sophie, right? Is that S-O-P-H-Y or S-O-P-H-I-E? I need the correct spelling for my letter of complaint.”
Her draw dropped open. “Y-you’re…b-blackmailing me?”
He grinned again, and damned if her pussy didn’t clench in response. “I like to call it negotiating.”
And she’d like to call him a son of a bitch but knew better. She smiled sweetly at him. “Since you asked so nicely, by all means, have a seat. I mean, gosh, how can a girl refuse a gallant blackmail threat like that?”
“I’d like to think that you couldn’t refuse me anything, Sophie.”
His meaning was so blatantly sexual Sophie spluttered. The muscles in her pussy twitched in undisguised interest. “You did not just say that!”
He raised an eyebrow. “I’m merely asking if you’ll let me buy you a cup of coffee.”
Yeah, right. That’s all he’d meant. She stared at him.
Well, crap. Maybe that was all he’d meant, and she’d read too much into it. Damn it. It seemed when he was around, she opened her mouth to change feet.
Or maybe he was tormenting her and taking pleasure in it. “I already have a cappuccino, thank you.”
“How about a pastry, then?”
She shook her head.
“Look, I’m going to get myself coffee. Let me get something for you too. Please?”
Sophie mulled over his offer. This time, with bribes and threats aside, it sounded genuine enough. “Well, a croissant would be good. Thank you.” She smiled. “Their selection is incredible, but the chocolate and cinnamon flavored are my favorite.”
“One chocolate and cinnamon croissant coming up.” He smiled back and headed inside.
Sophie watched him walk away, her mouth watering. Hard as she tried to convince herself it was in anticipation of the delectable pastry, she failed miserably.
“Thank you.” She smiled at him again when he returned, hands full of coffee and croissant. “For the treat—and for the serviette.”
He cast her a puzzled look as he sat with his back to the picturesque cobblestone road. “Serviette?”
“The napkin you handed me earlier,” she amended, translating for him.
“Hey, no problem. It’s my pleasure. The least I could do for a damsel in distress. I’m Nathan, by the way.” He offered her his hand.
“Sophie, with an I-E, as you know.” She clasped his palm in hers. Lucky thing she’d put on moisturizing cream, otherwise her work-roughened hands would scare him right off.
His smooth skin closed around her fingers, and heat tingled up her arm. “It’s good to meet you, Sophie, with an I-E.”
“It’s good to meet you too, Nathan.” She frowned. “Uh, I think.”
He shot her his criminally sexy grin, and images of his erect, delectable penis crowded her memory banks.
Sophie almost whimpered when he pulled his hand away. Its warmth had suffused her palm, flowed through her arm and shoulder into her chest and lodged someplace deep in her heart.
“You think?” He raised an eyebrow.
She stared at the dark glass of his sunnies and shrugged. “You hold my future in your hands. Meeting you could be the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
He winced. “I bought you a croissant, not arsenic. Rest assured your future—and your job—is safe. I would have told you that this morning, but you left so quickly there wasn’t time.” Sincerity rang in his voice.
“You really mean it?”
“Wouldn’t say it if I didn’t.”
Sophie couldn’t stop her sigh of relief. “Thank you.”
His eyes might be hidden behind his dark lenses, but she could feel his gaze, staring straight at her, making her heart beat erratically.
“Don’t mention it.”
Holy crap. His voice. It sent hot shivers racing through her veins. So deep, so…exquisite. She could listen to it all day long. Just like she could stare at him all day long.
Er, no, she couldn’t. She should actually say something, make conversation with the man. “You seem to have good taste in books.”
“Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you.”
It was ridiculous, but she had a definite sense of déjà vu with him. She knew him from somewhere… “I don’t know any other men who’ve read Sookie Stackhouse.”
He shrugged. “I enjoyed watching True Blood. Couldn’t resist reading the series.”
“You’ve read them all?”
“Yep, and eagerly awaiting the next book too. And the next season of True Blood.”
Sophie laughed. “You must be American. No Aussie bloke would ever admit to that.”
Nathan laughed with her. “I am. A New Yorker through and through.”
New York was a long way away. No way their paths could have crossed, which meant her sense of déjà vu was way off base. “Are you here on holiday?”
His hand now lay next to hers on the table, almost touching but not quite. Sophie imagined she could feel the heat emanating from it.
He hesitated before shaking his head. “I was on vacation. Spent the last two months up in Queensland.”
A two-month holiday? Nice. Lifestyles of the rich and famous—so unlike hers it was laughable. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a holiday.
“But from here on it’s all work,” Nathan told her. “I’ll be in Sydney a few more days and then I’m flying to Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Auckland.”
His voice flowed over her like hot syrup, resonating through her stomach and lower.
From nowhere, a scene from a dream she’d had the night before flashed through her head. In it she was naked and aroused, watching someone approach, her sense of anticipation building and her nipples tightening into hard, needy buds.
She shrugged off the memory. “That’s quite a schedule.”
He leaned forward. “It’s busy. But I’m used to it.”
“You travel a lot?” Mmmm. His movement had shifted his hand so his thumb now brushed against hers. Damn, the contact felt sweet.
“I never used to, but in the last couple of years it seems like it’s all I ever do. The two months in Queensland was a break I needed badly.”
Move your hand away, Soph.
She didn’t. “Did you have a chance to relax?”
He grinned. “I surfed, swam and discovered every restaurant and coffee shop on the Sunshine Coast. Visited Fraser Island and Australia Zoo, took a diving course and even made a pit stop at the Big Pineapple. So yep, I had a chance to relax.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to ask what line of work he was in, but she made a conscious decision not to. A question like that would invariably lead back to her line of work, and she simply wasn’t interested in comparing their jobs. His obviously afforded him the luxury of staying in obscenely expensive accommodation and taking two-month-long holidays. Hers let her maintain her gramma’s flat, pay off her loan and have just enough left over on a monthly basis to cover other essential costs. “Wait. You visited the Big Pineapple?”
“Hey, it’s an iconic, heritage listed site. Who wouldn’t visit?”
Sophie let out a not-so-delicate-snort. “Um, everyone.”
One side of his mouth twitched in a sexy, half-smile. “You know what they say. When in Rome…” He took a sip from the cup he’d placed on the table and sighed with happiness. “Mmm. Delicious.”
Oh, to be a cup of coffee right now, to have those lips sip from her. “You should try the croissants.”
“They any good?”
“Best in Sydney.” Because there was little to no chance she was moving her hand away from his, she used her other hand to push the plate over to him. “See for yourself.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You don’t mind sharing?”
Typically she did. If Tasha or any other of her friends had tried to share her croissant, she’d have jokingly slapped their hands away. But to her surprise she had no problem with this virtual stranger taking a bite. “Not at all. Go ahead.”
Using the hand that did not lie next to hers, Nathan broke off a small piece and popped it in his mouth. Sophie’s gaze followed his every action. She nearly groaned out loud as his made-to-be-kissed lips closed around the appetizing morsel.
Lizzie’s croissants were mouthwatering at the best of times. The way Nathan devoured this one made it look like the food of the gods.
“You’re right.” He shot her a killer smile and took another bite. “This is good.” He took off his glasses, folded them and set them down beside his cup.
Sophie froze. Blood drained from her upper body down to her legs, making them heavy and limp.
Dear God. It isn’t possible.
Looking at her, across the tiny table, was the same set of eyes she’d dreamed about the night before. And the night before that. And possibly every night of her adult life. She couldn’t remember the first time she’d seen them in her sleep, she just knew they were as familiar to her as her own bed. The voice of the owner had never materialized in her dreams, nor had the face around the eyes. There’d always been a vague outline, with indistinguishable features. The only clearly discernible part of the man who frequented her nighttime images was his eyes.
Nut-brown eyes with flecks of black and green. Eyes that crinkled when he smiled. Yes, Sophie acknowledged, thousands, even millions, of men had irises the color of almonds. No way she could know specifically these were the ones.
Except for the scar. The centimeter-long scar that ran from the outside of his left eye, diagonally up towards his eyebrow. So faded with age that it was almost invisible. Had Sophie not known to look for it, she would never have noticed it.
She stared at him, utterly mystified and totally beguiled.
He seemed equally enthralled by her, returning the intensity of her gaze, not looking away for a second. Not even blinking.
She’d not noticed his eyes this morning. Hell, she hadn’t noticed much apart from his beautiful, naked physique and rising erection.
Her heart pounded fiercely. This wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be happening.
The gaze that she knew so well, so intimately, was not real. It was attached to a dream man. A lover who visited her only at night, while she slept. A lover who did wonderfully evocative things to her. Seduced her, aroused her, made love to her, fucked her senseless…
And yet, there they were. Those oh-so-familiar eyes. The ones she knew as well as her own.
That odd sense of déjà vu she’d experienced? Maybe it was her body telling her what it had picked up on without her brain knowing. She sat across the table from the man she made love to on a regular basis—in her dreams. The same man who made her come, over and over again, who’d treated her to more orgasms in the last month alone than she’d experienced in her total conscious life.
A million times she’d researched dreams and their symbolism, trying to find some reason for having the recurrent dreams. She’d found none, no matter how many different symbols she’d studied, which made dealing with her nighttime images all too complicated. She simply could not explain them away.
She had less luck trying to explain away her dream lover materializing in her conscious world.
No theory on earth, either psychological or related to dreams, could possibly have covered that ground.
As she stared at him, trying not to panic, his gaze darkened.
“Tell me, Sophie,” he drawled slowly, “do you look at every man like that?”
She watched his lips move and wondered how they’d feel sliding over her neck and down to her breasts. The same as her dream lover’s? Hot and moist and salacious?
He inched his hand against hers. “Like they’re dinner.”
She caught herself before she could say, “Only the ones I dream about.” Fortunately. An answer like that would make him think she was crazy.
“Uh…no. Not every man.”
“So it’s just me then?” He hooked his thumb over hers. The movement was so unexpected, so seductive, her thought processes were once again thrown into chaos.
“What’s just you?” A pulse beat in his neck, and she gave idle consideration to leaning over and nibbling the skin covering it. She’d nibbled it before. In her sleep. And dear Lord, the tang. Salty and sweet all at once. Would he taste the same now?
Was she mad? He couldn’t possibly taste the same as a figment of her imagination. Couldn’t possibly be the man she saw in her sleep.
He wasn’t real.
“Am I the only one you look at with those irresistible bedroom eyes?”
Her hand burned where his touched hers. “It’s like I know you,” she whispered.
His eyes widened and then narrowed. “You…know me?”
Sophie’s jaw dropped. Damn it, what else was she going to say before catching her tongue? I dream about you every night? Hot, erotic dreams that leave me gasping for breath, wet and sometimes even shuddering from an orgasm.
Hell, no. He’d think she suffered from psychotic delusions.
She herself was beginning to think she may be delusional.
Grasping at straws for a rational explanation as to where she may know him from, she looked around, and quite unexpectedly found the answer to her dilemma on a billboard stuck to a wall. A billboard like one of the ten thousand other billboards that had been plastered around the city.
Nathan was a dead ringer for Jamie Speed, lead singer of Speed, the hottest rock band in the world. Sophie couldn’t flick through TV channels without hearing news reports about Jamie and his two brothers, who had touched down in Sydney three days ago for the start of their world tour. She’d seen them a million times. On CD covers and magazine pictures. On the front page of the newspaper and countless TV shows.
And on Saturday afternoon, two days away, she, Tasha and their friend, Kaz, were going to the Speed concert.
“You look like Jamie Speed,” she told Nathan, staring at him slack-jawed, because seriously, he did. Identical. Apart from his hair and eyes, Nathan could pass for the guy voted the World’s Sexiest Man by People magazine. A man with a voice so exquisite it sent chills up her spine whenever he sang.
Jamie Speed, however, had short brown hair, smooth-shaved skin and brilliant green eyes. A deep, piercing emerald green. Trademark green eyes, like his two brothers.
Shit, maybe she was delusional after all. First she’d identified the man as her dream lover, now she was confusing him with Jamie Speed.
Seriously, she should shut up. If anyone got a look into her head now, she’d be forcefully hospitalized—in a psychiatric facility.
Nathan’s brows were pulled together in a frown. His shoulders were hunched, and his hand and arm had gone rigid. The air around him seemed to shimmer with tension.
Then he took a deep breath and relaxed.
“I get that a lot.” He shrugged. “Even laugh about it with my family sometimes.”
Phew! She wasn’t the only one confusing him with Jamie Speed. “That must be quite something, being mistaken for a rock star.”
At least her original faux pas was all but forgotten. She had no reason to tell Nathan she’d recognized him…from her dreams.
“I’ve had a few people come up and ask for my autograph this last year.” He grinned. “Sometimes I take whatever they’re shoving under my nose and sign it, Love, Jamie.”
“You do not.” Laughter bubbled from her chest.
“Well, how do you think they’d feel if I signed it, Love, Nathan?”
The laughter escaped. As Sophie sat chuckling with Nathan, she realized she was utterly captivated by him. And not just by his eyes—but by his looks, his charm, his humor and from what little she knew of it, his personality too. If someone had packaged up the ideal man for Sophie, it would have been Nathan.
Now if she could understand how on earth she’d dreamed about him for ten years…
She was baffled and a little bit freaked out, and she couldn’t look away from him.
As hard as she stared at him, enchanted, so he stared back at her.
He truly was beautiful. The wild-child, unshaven image had always worked for her, and now was no different. Add to that the familiarity of his nut-brown—not-green—eyes and she was smitten. Of course he wasn’t Jamie Speed. But he was beautiful. And he provided the perfect face to the eyes she’d dreamed of for so long.
His thumb still hooked through hers, he asked, “Should I be flattered you think I look like Jamie Speed?”
“Uh, I compared you to the sexiest man alive. What do you think?”
“I think I’d love it if you thought I was sexy.”
She swallowed hard. “My reaction to your erection in your room earlier didn’t give me away?”
A low laugh rumbled from his throat. “You mean your hundred-meter sprint out of the apartment? Sweetheart, you couldn’t wait to get away from me.”
She gave him an are-you-insane look. “It was either that or jump you. A guest at the apartments. Which should I have chosen?”
Good grief. Had she left her tact at home this morning? This simply was not Sophie speaking.
“Do I really need to answer that?” His smile was sexy, teasing. His eyes turned dark and hazy, like they did in her dreams when he was aroused. They left her with no doubt which option he would have chosen. They also left her questioning her sanity—again.
Her knees turned to jelly. Red heat sparked in her stomach.
He stared at her as though mesmerized. “Christ, you’re beautiful.”
She almost snorted at his proclamation. Scrubbing bathrooms and dirty floors for a living did not leave her looking like a million bucks. But his words and the sincerity on his face made her heart beat a little faster.
He leaned in closer and spoke in the softest of voices. “I’ve met you—” he stopped, blinked and frowned, “—twice. And both times I’ve been aroused beyond decency.” Desire blazed in the brown depths of his irises.
Sophie swallowed hard. After one of her dreams, she’d wake up aroused and achy. Pretty much the way she felt now, talking to Nathan.
Could Nathan be her dream lover?
No, he couldn’t. Because there is no such thing as a dream lover magically appearing in real life.
He made a growling sound that vibrated through her belly. Without saying a word, he lifted her hand in his and traced her index finger with his thumb. The light touch sent shockwaves hurtling through her.
Her body burned. Fire raced through her veins. Desire, dizzying and delicious swept over her. He’d done this before. While she slept.
The air between them crackled.
A second passed. A minute. Maybe more, maybe less. Then Nathan lifted her hand and brought it to his face. As she watched, he dragged his mouth over her index finger, scorching her skin from her knuckle to her fingertip.
His lips were as soft and delicious as she remembered.
She whispered his name.
He nuzzled the tip of her finger, before drawing it into his hot, moist mouth. He’d done this to her before too. Often.
Her body burned. Lust seeped from the point of contact with his mouth, through her arm, into her stomach and lower. It curled in a tight ball between her legs, stirring up an insistent hum of need.
“Mmmm,” he murmured.
An image blossomed in her mind, one that stemmed from her dreams. Her lips covered him—just like his had covered her finger. Only it wasn’t his finger she nuzzled. It was his cock.
He released her finger, scraping his teeth against the now-tender flesh in the process.
“Nathan…” Shivers shot up her spine.
“Mommy,” someone shouted. “Look who’s there. Look who’s there.” A young boy raced past the shop and threw himself into a man’s arms.
The shout must have disturbed Nathan because he froze.
He blinked and stared at her finger as if not quite believing what he’d done. Abruptly, he dropped her hand, pushed his chair back and jumped up, almost spilling his coffee in the process. He managed to steady his cup before the milky liquid slopped over the side.
“I… I… Forgive me.” Even hoarse, his voice sounded like a caress to her ears. “I lost perspective. Lost my…uh, mind, apparently.” Once again she found herself drowning in the familiar depths of his eyes. “You’ve bewitched me,” he whispered.
A group of noisy tourists walked by, laughing out loud. The noise broke Nathan’s reverie, for he snapped out of his trance and looked around. Then he turned back to her. “I’m sorry, Sophie. I have to go. There’s an appointment I can’t be late for. It was—” He swallowed. “It was good to meet you. To talk to you, without the fear of losing your job hanging over your shoulders. Maybe we’ll meet again one day.”
Without waiting for her reply, he walked away. She stared after him, stunned. Once, he turned back to look at her, stumbled and walked a few more steps. Then he turned again. He’d shoved his glasses back on so she could no longer see his eyes. But she could feel his gaze on her, searching. Then he shook his head, turned and did not look back again.
Nathan restrained the urge to smack the side of his head. He’d nearly made a public spectacle of himself. Fortunately that kid had screamed, reminding him where he was. For a second, he’d feared the kid had recognized him.
He’d sucked on a woman’s finger in public, with hundreds of people milling around. He’d almost invited her back to the apartment with him. Hadn’t he given up that practice months ago? Snapped himself out of the vicious cycle of meaningless one-night stands? Hadn’t he vowed that the next woman he slept with would be more than a Speed junkie, more than one of the hundreds of screaming fans who threw themselves at his feet on a daily basis?
Shit, who was he kidding?
Sophie hadn’t thrown herself at his feet. She hadn’t even noticed him standing at her table, staring at her transfixed when he’d stumbled upon her, quite by accident. She’d been so absorbed in her book and then in choking, a bomb could have exploded beside her. Or worse, the press could have tracked him down and attacked, and she’d never have noticed.
There’d been something about her. Something that called to him.
Not something. Her eyes. Dear God. He’d dreamed about them for years. And depending on the length of the dream, he’d either wake up hard, frustrated and strangely hollow inside, or soft, spent and still strangely hollow inside.
Every instinct told him waking up beside Sophie would leave him full, sated, replete and content. Every instinct told him to go back to her, to beg her to come with him to the rented apartment. To stay with him until he had no choice but to leave her and face the world again.
The dream Sophie was more real, more known to him than any other woman had ever been. He strongly suspected the living, breathing Sophie could be all that—and so much more.
He should be questioning the ease with which he was accepting her existence. He’d never heard of anyone stumbling across the real-life embodiment of their sleeping fantasies. But then again, he’d never heard of anyone else dreaming about the same woman for ten years.
Meeting her felt…right. As though fate had stepped in and thrown her in his path—not once now, but twice. So why the hell was he walking away?
He should listen to his instincts. They never failed him. Hadn’t his grandmother told him that repeatedly?
Fuck, he couldn’t have stayed with her.
She’d almost recognized him. Almost seen through Nathan and glimpsed Jamie. For two months he’d been able to hide his other persona, leave Jamie at home in New York, while Nathan relaxed, away from the lights and the frenetic pace of his professional life.
Nathan took a quick detour down a tiny side street and jogged the rest of the way to the InterContinental, where his brothers and the rest of the band were staying. Although Zachary and Seth Pace, AKA Jonah and Jordan Speed, liked for him to stay at the same hotel, both appreciated his temporary need for solitude and time out. After their last tour, followed immediately by the recording of their new album, Nathan had been exhausted. The vacation in Queensland had been a lifesaver.
But he hadn’t seen his brothers for two months. Hooking up with them and the rest of the band again was pretty cool. As was getting back into the rhythm of Speed.
Climbing into bed with Sophie would probably also be pretty cool, but since that wasn’t going to happen, he’d better give his full attention to his work and the concerts that began the day after tomorrow. Much as he wanted to, he did not have time to think about anything else. Not even a woman who’d enthralled him—both in his dreams and in reality.
Maybe he’d run this whole crazy scenario past his brothers. They might have something to say about what to do when one met a dream lover in real life.
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