"Sorry," the intriguing gypsy vixen murmured to Noah, in English, as she squeezed by his seat in the VIP section of the Carlene concert.
He was aware of a faint clean scent of soap—and of the photographer eying him. He was not an impulsive man, and yet he had a sudden irresistible impulse to not let Manda write the entire story. He glanced at her ring finger. Empty.
"Are you here by yourself?" Noah asked, "Or waiting for someone?"
"I'm single," she said, and then blushed, as if she had revealed a shameful secret about herself. Something about that blush altered his initial assessment of her. Perhaps not quite the vixen she first appeared.
He took the woman's ring-free hand, and looked deep into her suddenly widened eyes. They were a rather astonishing shade of green, not that he could lose his focus over that.
"Want to play pretend with me?" he whispered in her ear.
She reared back from him and studied his face. She hesitated. And then, with just a trace of uncertainty, she said, "Okay."
He ignored the fact it was as much a question as an answer and kissed her.
For a moment Paula, stunned, thought the stranger was going to kiss her on her lips. Crazily, she leaned toward that. But his lips grazed her cheek instead. It was just a brush, the way sophisticated people—who were more than friends—might greet each other.
Even so, something in her went very, very still. Her skin tingled where his mouth had touched her cheek. So did her other senses. She felt as if a current of electricity had just run through her.
Want to play pretend with me?
Was it the fact he spoke English—that he was obviously American—that had made her lower her normal guard?
Or was it the fact that for the first time, in a long, long time, she felt beautiful?
Whatever it was, from the moment she had said, tentatively, okay, it seemed as if energy had been put in motion. That casual kiss on her cheek made Paula feel as if she was the princess in a fairy tale, as if she had been sleeping, and suddenly she was jolted awake. She didn't feel like a reluctant expat, an exhausted single parent with two teenagers, a waitress with a low-paying job in a tea shop temporarily relocated to the music festival.
With Carlene's soulful sounds swelling around her, and this handsome stranger gazing down at her uptilted lips, she felt as if, truly, nothing was impossible.
As if a waitress could be pulled into an unexpected adventure, as if she could be the very important person her ticket indicated she was.
"What are we pretending?" she asked the man. Her voice was a shock to her: low and sultry and faintly flirty. It would be amazing if he could even hear it over the soaring notes of Carlene singing.
But he did hear her. He grinned. He had eyes as dark as fresh-brewed coffee, and hair the same deep, rich brown. This close to him, she could see the faintest beginning of whisker shadow on the hollows of his cheeks and his strong chin. He had a scent that made her want to lean in closer to him and breathe deeply.
"We're pretending we like each other. Very much."
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