Sin had just walked into her bar and he was wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt.
Cat Sheehan paused midsentence, forgetting the conversation she'd been having with one of her customers. Forgetting everything. Because, Holy Mother Mary, a man who'd instantly set her heart pounding and her pulse racing was standing a few yards away, completely oblivious to her shocked stare.
He was tall. Very tall. And he had the kind of presence that immediately drew the attention of every person in the placeat least, every female person. Their gazes drifted over because of his size. They stayed because of his looks.
A strip of leather kept the man's jet-black hair tied at the back of his neck in a short ponytail. A simple thing, that piece of leather, and she'd certainly seen men with longish hair and ponytails. But on him, well, the look was rakish. That was the only word she could think of.
Cat liked rakes. Not that she'd ever met one for real, but she liked the ones she'd read about in her pirate romance novels.
A pirate. It fit. From the ponytail to the flash of silver glistening on the lobe of one ear to the aura of danger oozing from his body, this man had the pirate thing going in spades.
His classically handsome face was lean, a faint shadow of stubble adding a layer of ruggedness to his strong jaw. His lips briefly widened into a smile as he greeted someone. For a moment, Cat felt very sure the ground had trembled a bit under the power of his smile. Not to mention the mouth, which looked as if it had been created for the sole purpose of kissing.
His body was a living testament to the beauty of naturebroad at the shoulders, slim at the hips, with long legs covered in tight, faded jeans. His thick arms flexed, muscles bulging under the weight of the sizable guitar case he was carrying, though he hardly seemed to notice. Lifting it higher, he stepped deftly around tables and chairs, skirting the outstretched legs of the few patrons in the place.
He moved gracefully. Catlike.
"Oh, yeah," she murmured. Cat definitely liked.
She never took her eyes off him as he approached. Then it sunk in. He was approaching her, Cat Sheehan, the woman standing here with her mouth only slightly less wide-open than her eyes.
Blinking, she gave her head a hard shake, then grabbed the nearest cloth she could reach and busied herself by wiping up some spilled beer.
"Hey! What are you doing?"
Cat barely registered the shrill words from somewhere nearby, because suddenly he was there. A thick, tanned forearm dropped to the surface of the bar, and she couldn't help staring at his fingers. Long fingers. Artistic-looking. Perfect for a guitar player. Not to mention a lover.
"Wow," the same female voice said, sounding subdued.
Swallowing hard, Cat slowly shifted her gaze, surveying his limb from fingertip to elbow, then the ninety-degree turn up the thick planes of his arm, the tight hem of the black cotton T-shirt. The broad shoulder. The hollow of his throat. The cords of his neck. Wow, indeed. Then, oh, God, the face.
If Helen's face had launched a thousand ships to the sea, surely this man's could inspire ten thousand pairs of panties to drop to the floor.
Her legs wobbled, her knees knocking together loud enough to be heard over the sound of the jackhammer outside. But probably not loud enough to be heard over the pounding of her heart. Ordering herself to calm down, she slowed her breaths, mentally grabbing for control as she assessed the situation.
She was facing the most incredible man she'd ever seenthe kind of guy women fantasized about meeting for real, instead of on the pages of books or on giant screens in darkened movie theaters. One-hundred-percent pure sin.
Separating them were only the broad mahogany bar and Cat's own resolution to change her ways and steer clear of sexy, dangerous men.
She should have known she didn't have a snowball's chance of keeping that resolution, though, honestly, she'd figured she could last a week. But no. It'd been only three days since they'd received the letter from the historical society and she'd made the stupid promise to herself. Of all the changes in her world since Tuesdayincluding the shockingly abrupt departure of Laine and Tess for far-flung adventuresshe'd thought the ones she'd resolved to make in herself would be the easiest to deal with.
A slow grin tilted the corners of the stranger's lips up and he leaned closer. As he did so, his dark, intense eyes caught and reflected a reddish glimmer from one of the stained-glass light fixtures overhead.
Devilish. Dangerous. Off-limits.
Or so she tried to tell herself. But she suspected it was no use. Unless the guy had a hideous voice, he was altogether perfect. And since conversation wasn't even on the top ten list of the things she'd been picturing doing with this man since the second she'd set eyes on him, she suspected it wouldn't matter if he sounded like Roger Rabbit on speed.
"I think that's her purse you're using to clean up the spilled beer," he said.
Velvet voice. Soft. Husky. As smooth and warm as their very best whiskeythe kind she kept hidden beneath the bar for special customers. She felt every word he spoke on each of the nerve endings in her body.
Doomed. The new, reformed Cat Sheehan was utterly doomed.
Then what he'd said sunk in and Cat looked down at her hand. "Oh, my God, I'm so sorry," she said when she spied what she'd been using as a rag.
It was a small, cloth handbag belonging to a customer seated at the bar. Fortunately, the woman was one of their regulars, a bank teller named Julie. Even more fortunately, Julie was just as drooly-faced over the stranger as Cat, because she seemed to understand Cat's lapse into hot-man-induced dementia.
"It'll wash," Julie mumbled.
The man plucked the damp purse from Cat's limp fingers and handed it to its owner, giving her an intimate smile. "Maybe a drink on the house would help?"
Julie nodded dumbly. Cat was tempted to grab the woman's left hand and flip it over to remind her of the big diamond ring she'd been flashing in here since her engagement to some salesman. But she couldn't blame her. Engaged or not, any woman would look twice or dozens of times at a man like this one.
Then he turned his attention back to Cat. His full, unwavering attention. "Hi. I'm your entertainment," he finally said, his voice low and intimate though she'd swear laughter danced behind his eyes.
"You're very good," she replied matter-of-factly.
A dimple flashed in one of his lean cheeks. "You haven't seen what I can do yet."
"Wild guess," she mumbled, her mind filling with possibilities of just what he could do. She had to give herself creditonly half were X-rated. Well, maybe sixty percent.
"You won't have to wait for long to find out," he said, his tone as suggestive as her words had been.
Oh, boy, did that set her heart flip-flopping in her chest.
Her expression must have given away her thoughts. His brown eyes darkened to near black and he leaned closer, both elbows now resting on the bar. "You sure you're gonna be able to handle it?"
She raised a challenging brow. "You think you're that good? That you can't be handled?"
"I've been known to shake the walls when I get going."
Cat grabbed the edge of the bar to steady herself and took a deep breath. She should walk away, ignore the comment, pretend she'd misunderstood.
She did none of the above. Instead, even though she knew she shouldn't step farther into the fire, she threw a spark right back at the solid stick of dynamite watching her with promise in his eyes. "I've been known to rattle a few walls myself."
His cocky grin faded and his jaw tightened a bit. Tie game. She'd definitely gotten under his skin, just as he had hers. Then he managed, "So you play, too?"
"Not lately," she admitted.
Nope, she hadn't played with a man in a very long time. Not since last year, when she'd briefly dated a rodeo cowboy, whose lack of finesse in the saddle had been equaled only by his lack of staying power.
He'd lasted about three-and-a-half minutes. They'd lasted about three-and-a-half dates.
"What instrument?" he asked.
The words, "a thick, eight-inch one is my preference," came to mind, but she bit back the reply. This game had gotten a bit too reckless for a woman who'd sworn off guys with trouble written all over them. This one was the absolute Yellow Pages of trouble. "Um "
"I somehow see you as a sax woman."
Her mouth dropped open. She was definitely a sex woman, which she was being reminded of with every passing second. But, lord, he'd skipped right past the subtle innuendo, hadn't he?
"Or maybe clarinet?"
Her brow shot up. "You mean we were talking about musical instruments?"
"Of course." He managed to pull off a look of such complete innocence that Cat began to believe she really had misread their conversation. "What else would we have been talking about?"
Feeling heat rise in her face, she opened her mouth, then closed it, wondering how to gracefully back out of this enormous foot-in-mouth moment. She was about to tell him she was a virtuoso on the kazoo when she saw his shoulders shaking with suppressed amusement.
"Dog," she muttered, laughing even as she shook her head in admiration of how well he'd played her.
"Cat," he replied.
"Yes. Cat Sheehan."
He nodded. "I know."
Interesting. He knew who she was. Which left her at a disadvantage. "And you are ?"
He paused, a frown pulling at his brow so briefly she almost missed it. Then he admitted, "Call me Spence."
She'd rather call him guy-destined-to-be-naked-in-her-bed-by-midnight.
Not happening, she reminded herself. This is supposed to be the new you.
The new her might be trying to call the shots in the brain. But the old Catthe hungry one whose entire body was sparking in reaction to this stranger named Spencehad control of everything from the neck down. Especially the, uh, softest parts.
Still, even the old, reckless Cat had never done the one-night stand thing. Despite what her sister might imagine, Cat wasn't that danger-loving. With a man like this one, however, she was beginning to understand the illicit allure of a bar hookup.
"Hi, Spence. Welcome to Temptation," she finally said.
"I like that."
Ooooh definitely her kinda guy.
"I also liked the sign over your front door."
She instantly knew which one he meantthe handpainted sign inviting those outside to Enter Into Temptation. She'd thought up the logo three years ago when she and Laine had taken over the bar from their mother, changing the name from Sheehan's Pub to Temptation. "Thanks. Seemed appropriate."
"I just didn't realize it was going to be quite so prophetic," he added, his tone husky.
She got his meaning instantly. He was every bit as tempted as she was. A long, shuddery breath escaped her lips. Unable to do much more than breathe and stand still, she stared at him. Right into those fathomless eyes.
He stared right back, just as intently, neither of them laughing or flirting any longer. They said nothing, yet exchanged a wealth of information. In twenty seconds they covered the basicsyes, they were both interested, and, yes, they were both aware of each other's interest. But it went deeper they each knew that they could play games or do away with them right now. Because the palpable attraction made something happening between them inevitable.
They all but named the time and place.
Then his lipsGod, those lipsparted, and he drew in a long, slow breath of air. His lids lowered slightly, half closing over his eyes, drawing her attention to his long, spiky black lashes. Visceral pleasure accompanied his inhalation, and she realized what he was doing.
Smelling her perfume. Inhaling it. Savoring it. Gaining sensual pleasure from the aroma of her skin.
Dangerous. Oh, he was dangerous. Because he was so damned appealing. A man who appreciated a woman's scent would appreciate so many other delightful things, wouldn't he? Tastes, touches, sensations.
Her pulse raced as the thick, heady silence dragged on, in spite of the cacophony all around them. At some point, she noted Julie pushing away and getting off her stool, until Cat and Spence were the only two people in this small corner of the bar.
Surrounded by others, but completely alone.
Cat hesitated as a sensation of deja vu washed over her. How many times had she stood in this room, filled with chattering peoplecustomers, family, friendsand felt that exact sensation of being alone, separated? It felt as if the world was moving all around her but she was frozen for one moment in time, looking at her life and wondering if she really was traveling the same path as everyone else. Because she so rarely felt in step with anyone.
Only now, in this timeless instant when she wondered just where she belonged and where she was going, she wasn't completely by herself. This dark-haired stranger was right there with her.
"Cat?" he asked, obviously sensing her confusion.
She blinked rapidly and shook her head, shaking off not only the strange sensation, but also the intensity of the moment. Forcing herself to focus, she shifted her gaze away, toward a customer who'd just taken a seat at the far end of the bar. She stepped over to him, trying to convince herself she had to get back to work when, in truth, she needed a chance to regain her sanity.
"The usual?" she said to the guy in the brown sport coat, a Friday night regular who liked his women easy and his martinis dirty.
He nodded. "If you can spare the time," he said with a truly amused grin, probably having heard the quiver in her voice.
Behind her, she heard a long, low chuckle. As throaty and sensuous as every word Spence had spoken.
She deserved the reaction. She'd looked away first, losing their silent game of chicken, shocking even herself. Cat didn't remember the last time that had happened to her.
Being disconcerted around a man was something she had seldom experienced. Cat Sheehan had been able to hold her own with men since the tenth grade when she'd started busing tables at the family bar. She'd sassed the old-timers, ducked away from grabby strangers and eventually chosen her first lover from among the Saturday night regulars.
Never before had a man taken the upper hand from herunless she'd wanted him to. This guy with his jet-black hair and his badass grin and his big, hard guitar had done it with a stare.
Which was why, after she'd served Mr. Sport Coat his martini, she was having such a hard time thinking of a single thing to say to the still-staring musician. How could she even try to explain away that silence as something other than what they both knew damn well it had been?
An invitation. A challenge. A promise. None of which she had any business accepting.
But oh, how tempting it was to consider it.