The man wasn’t just solid. His body felt as hard as concrete. Even his fingers felt as if they had no give at all when they automatically locked around her upper arms to keep her upright.
Beneath her hand, she felt the steady beat of his heart.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m…fine.” She was aware of the scowl in his voice, more aware of the heat wherever her body touched his. Each little point of contact seemed to physically burn—her palm where it had flattened against his chest, her arm where it lay against his. “I just got up too quickly.”
She shifted, getting her footing, trying to ease back.
Still holding her by one arm, he picked up the bottle of wine and tipped it. The scowl deepened. “Was this full?”
“It was when I opened it.”
“You sat out here and drank half a bottle by yourself?”
She was tempted to point out that he could have joined her. He just didn’t give her a chance. His frown had settled hard on her mouth. The displeasure carved in his face seemed to be slowly fading, though. It turned to something that looked far more like curiosity. And heat.
The air in her lungs went thin. She wasn’t sure she was even breathing when his eyes finally locked on hers once more.
“Give me your keys.”
“Your keys,” he repeated, finally deliberately letting her go. “You’re not driving anywhere.”
She had already realized that she’d had more wine than could be considered wise. She’d realized, too, that his power to rattle her went a tad beyond anything she might be able to physically control. Yet, all she truly cared about at the moment was that he was the third person that day to tell her what she couldn’t do.
Curling her fingers around her key ring, she tipped her chin, reminded herself not to be intimidated and politely said, “No.”
The sound he made leaned heavily toward exasperation. “Don’t do this.”
“I’m not doing anything,” she replied ever so reasonably. “You asked for my keys. I said no. End of discussion.”
“It might be the end of the discussion, but it’s not the end of the issue.” The determination in his eyes met the uncharacteristic stubbornness in hers. “Don’t make me have to take them.”
“Well, I’m afraid you’re going to have to,” she informed him.
Her tone mild, her expression faintly mutinous, she slipped her hand under her jacket, beneath her blouse and tucked them into her bra. She was perfectly capable of keeping her keys in her possession while she figured out how to get home without driving there herself. She wasn’t drunk, but she doubted she could walk a perfectly straight line, either. The last thing she wanted was to be stopped for driving under the influence. Worse, harm someone in an accident she caused. The press would have a field day with that one.
Remembering that the press was always out there, lying in wait for some mistake in judgement or unguarded comment to exploit, did nothing but add another layer to the sense of frustration she was beginning to feel with her life. Or, so she was thinking when Matt’s glance slipped to the V of flesh between the lapels of her jacket.
Seconds ago, he had sounded considerably less than pleased with the position he found himself in. Now, with her keys nestled between her breast and her bra, he simply seemed intrigued by it.
“Now, that’s a move I never would have expected of you.”
“Maybe I’m tired of doing what’s expected,” she murmured, a little surprised by it herself. “Chalk it up to a bad day.”
“All the more reason for you to not get behind a wheel. And by the way,” he said, his voice surprisingly patient, “I wasn’t implying that you had to stay here. If you give me your keys, I’ll drive you.”
There was a deep cleft in his upper lip. Realizing she was staring at it, hoping he didn’t, she jerked her glance up. “All the way to Richmond?”
“I was thinking more along the lines of a hotel. There’s a Hyatt right down the road.”
“It wouldn’t look right to check into a hotel without luggage.”
Especially if someone recognized me, she thought.
Having encountered yet another thing she couldn’t do, she picked up the goblet. Since she wasn’t driving, there was no reason not to finish what was in it. It was far too good a vintage to let it go to waste.
Watching her, looking unwillingly intrigued, Matt narrowed his eyes. “Why was it such a bad day?”
“It wasn’t really that bad. Not in the overall scheme of things,” she qualified. It really hadn’t been any worse than any other. Except for running into him, it hadn’t even been unlike any other.
She glanced toward the sky, wondering if she’d find a full moon. That might help explain the odd sense of dissatisfaction that had sunk its claws into her.
She didn’t see the moon at all.
“It was just…frustrating.”
“Because your brother didn’t show?”
That sounded so petty. And it was. But it wasn’t any one thing getting to her. It was the accumulation.
“Among other things,” she murmured.
There was a time when Matt would have told himself to let it go. To pack her into a cab and get her out of there. This was the woman who had backed away from him every time he’d come within ten feet of her, who had barely said a word to him even when he’d gone out of his way to get her to speak. From the time he’d first laid eyes on her, when she’d been all legs and long hair and all of fourteen, she’d done everything but twitch her nose to disappear in order to avoid him.
He could have sworn she had intended to continue to treat him like one of the great unwashed when she’d first arrived. Yet, it seemed that he had misread her. She didn’t seem at all intent on avoiding him now.
He watched her swirl the pale liquid. Her expression pensive, her thoughts clearly troubled, she seemed far different from the untouchable little princess he’d last seen nearly ten years ago. There was no mistaking her polish or refinement. There was a grace about her that went beyond the impeccable clothes and flawless skin. Yet, even looking as privileged as she truly was, she seemed softer to him, more…touchable.
In the muted light spilling through the windows, her hair looked like pale silk. The way she had it caught at the back of her head fairly taunted a man to undo the intricate clasp restraining it, free it to tumble over her shoulders. And her skin. In the shadows it looked as smooth and perfect as marble. Her eyes were what drew him, though, the gentleness he saw there.
Curious, taunted by a vulnerability he never would have expected, he heard himself ask, “Like what?”
“Well for one thing,” she said, looking as if she might be struggling to admit it, “I’ve discovered that I lack…guts.”
“You know. Nerve.”
Fascinated by the admission, he watched her frown.
“Anything in particular you want this nerve for?”
“To do something freeing.”
The pinch of her delicate forehead deepened, her pensive expression making him wonder if the wine might be making her a little more thoughtful, or more candid, than she might have otherwise been.
“Make that something…outrageous.”