Enjoy the following excerpt for Downbeat:
“May I accompany you, Ms. Hrbek?”
I jumped and nearly tripped. Zajicek caught my wrist to steady me. His fingers were long and slender but amazingly strong—and fiercely warm. Like iron filings to a magnet, my skin aligned instantly to him. Hot sensation juddered through me, knocking me even more off balance. I scrambled to regain my equilibrium, only to have my feet scud into one of the semi-vertical sidewalk stones. My flute bag slipped off my shoulder and nosedived into the crook of my arm, yanking me sideways. I went down.
Powerful arms wrapped around me and saved me from severe pavement burn. The arms were gentle righting me, and I stood in their comforting embrace a moment to get my breath back. A strong heart beat under my cheek. My palms pressed against warm, crisp cotton. The body under the cotton was a solid, cloth-covered cliff, so unlike my own soft limbs. I shivered.
“Are you all right, Ms. Hrbek?” Zajicek’s deep honeyed tones, tinged with amusement, came from somewhere over my head.
“Huh?” Not the snappiest of rejoinders but I was cheek-to-massive-chest with Dragan Zajicek, the posterboy I’d had the hots for half my life.
He was definitely not pasteboard now. The longer I stood there the more I felt. Every ridge of his taut abdomen, the roped muscles of his long thighs, the poke of his belt buckle; they all became alarmingly three-dimensional. His warm breath stirred my hair. Something else stirred too, at hip level…and silent laughter rippled through him.
My brain churned. The intimate way he held me made no sense, but the laughter, well, my clumsiness had lightened the room on more than one occasion.
Then Zajicek’s long fingers slid under my chin, raising my face. His brilliant eyes were shuttered by slumberous lids. I stared in bemusement as his face expanded in my vision…
His lips found mine.
Warm. Smooth. Exciting. “Some Enchanted Evening” sang through my right brain.
My left brain locked up in utter confusion. A man was kissing me. Zajicek was kissing me. The sum of my kissing experience was a slobbery grandmother and a few rushed awkward sexual encounters. I never really saw what the fuss was about. Until Zajicek.
I always thought kisses were simply the press of lips. His mouth didn’t simply anything. It rubbed, it tasted, it gently teased. Warm, velvety soft, his tongue began to explore.
I stood there in stupefied awe.
Until he murmured against my lips, “How clumsy you are, Ms. Hrbek. How very fortunate I was here to catch you.”
He thought I’d done it on purpose.
I struggled out of his embrace. He was slow letting go, his fingers firm on my arms.
With a little tilt of his head, he perused me. Whatever he saw on my face made him release me with an extravagant sigh. “I beg your pardon. Apparently I misread your…desires.”
I flushed, because he hadn’t misread my “desires” at all. Just my intentions. I jerked my flute bag onto my shoulder and started determinedly toward my car, fiercely watching my feet on the uneven sidewalk. “No biggie. What did you want, Maestro?”
Long legs kept graceful pace with me. “Call me Dragan, please. Maestro is so overused.”
His first name? It implied an intimacy I couldn’t afford. “You call me Ms. Hrbek.”
“Yes, but perhaps you would allow me the familiarity of your first name as well?” His tone was coaxing.
I skewed a look at him, immediately returning my attention to the stones, although I was beginning to think Zajicek was more treacherous than my footing. “If you want. After all, you’ll be seeing us weekly for a while.”
“Perhaps you and I will be seeing a great deal more of each other, hmm?”
Yikes. My stomach flipped, my attention disintegrated and the elevated corner of a concrete slab cold-cocked my foot. I tripped and would have fallen again if not for Zajicek’s lightning reflexes. He caught me in his arms, steadying me. Senses reeling, I let him, my forebrain scolding idiot but my lizard brain panting and presenting its tail. Before I could completely self-combust, he brushed a thumb over my cheek and released me.
“What do you mean by that?” I croaked. Catching my flute bag to my chest, I wheeled and trotted off, fast, too fast, almost running, nearly stumbling yet again. Making a conscious effort to slow down, I cleared my throat. “Why would you see more of me than any other orchestra member?”
“I am staying in Meiers Corners for the duration of Mr. Banger’s recovery. That is what I wished to discuss with you. I have only just arrived in the area. I’d like to follow you home this evening.”
Dragan Zajicek in all his powerful, elegant glory, driving behind me? My internal meter was pinging red alert, core meltdown imminent. “You don’t need to. I can tell you how to go. It’s not that far.”
“Perhaps. But it’s late and I would not wish to become lost.”
I opened my mouth to say no, heard my voice say, “Oka—” and snapped my jaw shut so fast teeth sparked. Problem was, I liked being with him—which, considering I was practically wearing my heart on my sleeve, was dangerous. What if he found out his kiss was the first real one of my life, and had utterly demolished me?
He was politely waiting for an answer. Politely, as if the whole of my pitiful ego wasn’t in the balance.
I tried to see it from his point of view. The man wanted help getting around. A few directions, not my soul. Simple neighborliness would do. I breathed deep, and managed to rasp out, “Sure. No problem, Mr. Zajicek.”
He smiled and slipped his arm around mine. “Dragan, please.” His hip bumped against my side as we walked.
My respiration rate shot through the roof. I gritted my teeth. Simple neighborliness, yeah, right. Like your basic neighborhood raging inferno. “Okay. First names. I’m Rocky.”
“Rocky? That’s a boy’s name.”
“It’s a nickname,” I admitted.
“Ah. And your real name?”
Yes. My “real” name.
My friend, Nixie Emerson, once told me names have power. In her case, she went by her kicky middle name instead of “Dietlinde”, her dull-as-dust first. For her, that was appropriate. Nixie was short and punk and smart as a whip—and as smart-mouthed too, though she reined it in around her new baby.
In my case though, my “real” name was not appropriate. Anti-appropriate, in fact. My mom named me Raquel, after Raquel Welch, the sex-goddess of the sixties. So while Nixie’s name was right and good, mine was a joke. And considering my nega-love-life, a rather nasty one at that. “Rocky’s good enough, Mr. Zajicek.”
“Dragan,” he murmured, somehow pulling me closer. The heat of his body licked flame-like up my side. I hissed and shifted my flute bag between us, but as a defense it backfired. Zajicek simply plucked the bag from my hands. “Shall I carry that?”
“You don’t have to. No, wait—”
“Nonsense. It is quite light.” He shifted my bag onto his own shoulder, not the one between us. The strap wrapped itself over his muscles like a second skin, and I swear it moaned happily.
Then Zajicek curled one hand around my waist and pulled me so close I could barely breathe. I tried to, really I did. But every tentative inhale brought the scent of him, cotton and sandalwood and burning masculinity. Every movement of my ribcage scraped the side of my breast against his arm, until I was trembling with the need to rub blatantly against him. Every breath drew cool air over my tongue…yikes, I was lolling like a dog in heat.
My glasses fogged up, and I stumbled again.
Both Zajicek’s arms went around me. I felt incredibly clumsy and stupid, making him rescue me continually from my own feet. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Zajicek—”
“Dragan,” he murmured, cupping my chin and lifting my face for another soft kiss. His lips touched mine, his mouth moving in tiny circles as if to warm my skin. He didn’t need to. I was plenty warm already—and a little buzzy.
“You taste wonderful.” His mouth opened and his tongue teased the seam of my lips.
I jumped at the touch but Zajicek held me, so securely I relaxed into his arms. It seemed to be some sort of cue for him to lick me and slide his tongue between my lips, encouraging me to part them.
He asked so nicely, with tiny hot licks. So I did.
The instant my mouth opened he devoured me. His mouth slanted over mine and his jaw dropped. Heat rushed in. I gasped. Shocked and a little scared, I fell back, but he stepped with me, wrapped his arm around my back and trapped me good. He had to bend quite a ways to do it.
My back arched like a bow, my breasts crushed to his chest, my hips to his thighs. Something stirred against my belly, sending a jolt shearing through me. My mouth tingled and my breasts tingled and I was getting really tingly between my legs.
I slid my hands between us to try to wedge open some space. All I succeeded in doing was fitting my palms to the hardest pectorals in the world.
The tingling between my legs was starting to drive me insane.
Zajicek’s mouth left mine to trail licks and nibbles down my jaw to my throat. He nuzzled me there, an odd dark rumble coming from his chest, almost a lion’s purr. “You smell divine. Ah, to taste you fully.” His tongue rasped over my pulse.
Somewhere along the way his hand had found my breast and was kneading and cupping while he sucked gently on the tender skin of my neck until my head spun.
Then his fingers found my raised nipple and plucked.
A thousand Christmas lights went on in my head. I shrieked.