Take Me If You Dare ONLY
a Birthday Dare novella by Nina Crespo
It’s been a year since Jasmine Stewart dumped her cheating ex, so when her best friend dares her to have a one-night stand during a business trip to Miami, Jasmine is all in. But just as she hits her cheesy-come-ons limit, a wickedly hot former soldier comes to her rescue.
Security specialist Ethan Worth’s instincts tell him the gorgeous woman at the bar is trouble. After a sexy dance and even sexier kiss, he knows she is. But when their scintillating night leads to more, the possibility of another long distance relationship sends Jasmine running for the door.
Until the unthinkable happens. Jasmine’s company assigns her to Bode-Wynn, the military security firm where Ethan works. Forced back together, the undeniable heat between them flares to life. But sex is all it can ever be, because taking it further goes against everything Jasmine wants…and everything Ethan fears.
More in the Birthday Dare series by Nina Crespo:
Title: Take Me If You Dare
Series: Birthday Dare, #1
Author: Nina Crespo
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 165 pages
Release Date: June 2014
Price listed is for the U.S. digital format. Please confirm pricing and availability with the retailer before downloading.
Take Me if You Dare
by Nina Crespo
Copyright © 2014 by Nina Crespo. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
“Did it hurt when you fell from heaven? Why don’t you let me buy you a drink, and you can tell me all about it?”
Jasmine took a long sip of chardonnay and prepared to give her sixth refusal of the night to what was beginning to feel like a contest for the worst pickup lines ever.
“No, I’m fine.” She set her wineglass down on the tall table where she was sitting on the outdoor deck of the beachside lounge and swiveled her barstool more toward the ocean.
“You’re more than fine, baby. You’re an angel.” Mr. Can’t-Take-a-Hint stepped back into view and flashed a knowing smile. “We should go someplace where you can examine me for bruises, because I’ve been falling for you all night.”
He eased farther into her personal space, and her eyes watered from the overpowering scent of his cologne. As she moved back, he moved in. If he came any closer, she would tumble right out of her seat.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said, fanning him and his cologne away. She gave him an up-and-down look, but he didn’t budge. Turning her body farther away from him, she stared pointedly out at the crashing waves, but he still hung around like a thick, humid fog unmoved by the breeze.
Was he really that clueless?
The voice in her head huffed out a laugh. She should have celebrated her twenty-seventh birthday upstairs in her hotel room with a bubble bath, room service, and a movie, but instead, she’d gone all-in on her best friend Tabitha’s stupid birthday dare.
I can’t believe I agreed to do this. Have a one-night stand. What was I thinking?
Ironically, she was the one who’d started the dare tradition when she’d challenged Tab to kiss her playground crush on her eighth birthday. Since then, the dare had instigated purple hair, a tattoo, a well-hidden body piercing, and a college spring break incident in Acapulco that had landed them just short of jail.
During the past few years, mainly because her cheating ex-fiancé had insisted upon it, she and Tab had toned things down a bit, and the dare had mellowed to the pleasures they’d often denied themselves because of their busy schedules. Things like Latin dancing lessons, wine tasting in Napa, hiring a gourmet chef for a week, or pampering at an expensive spa. This year, as a way to help her get over the ending of her doomed engagement to Greg, Tab had insisted on giving her something more…challenging.
She shot a look at the guy standing next to her and his grin widened.
Once she’d agreed to take the restrictions off, she should have known that Tab would head straight down the path of flat-out crazy. I mean, really?Where had this idea come from? Before this night was over, she was going to think of seven—no, make that eight—ways for Tab to pay for this brilliant plan.
In the midst of drawing up her mental payback list, the guy brushed his hand over Jasmine’s thigh, and her game-over meter tipped into the red zone. In the past hour, she’d tolerated a sloppy drunk, two guys who’d spent their whole conversation tag-teaming stares at her breasts, another one who’d needed to make friends with a toothbrush, and one guy who’d just plain given her the creeps. This was a total disaster. Dare or not, she was done.
She moved her leg out of range and glared at the guy standing next to her. “Touch me again, and you’ll draw back nubs for fingers.”
Ethan stood at the bar and watched the exchange with amused interest. The guy must have figured out by now that he was destined to go down in flames just like the other five ahead of him. That is, unless she preferred the type of guy who was addicted to hair gel and orange tans.
Turning to get a better view, he leaned his elbow against the bar and continued to enjoy his beer along with the profile of the woman dressed in a peach halter dress that enhanced her light golden-brown skin. A light ocean breeze played in her dark curly hair, providing glimpses of her slim cheekbones, full lips, and the promise of it all fitting together beautifully.
She crossed her shapely legs, and his gaze moved from the strappy stiletto heels on her feet to where the hem of her dress ended at mid-thigh. The woman’s slow, unconscious movement of flipping her hair over her bare shoulder brought his attention back up to the curves of her breasts. When she raised her wineglass, his gaze followed it all the way up to her plum-colored lips.
No wonder every guy in the bar had his eye on her. The way she carried herself made a man want to find out more about her scent, her touch, the softness of her skin, and what she preferred to wear next to it—silk, lace, satin, or maybe nothing at all.
His money was on lace.
Ethan’s cock stirred in interest, and he adjusted his stance. Maybe he would reconsider calling it an early night.
A familiar laugh rose from the middle of the lounge, and he looked over at his friend, Mitch, standing at a table between a long-haired platinum blonde and a wavy-haired brunette. The blonde laughed and ran her fingers over his shaved head while the brunette on the other side rested her ample cleavage on his arm.
Ethan breathed out a chuckle.
He’d agreed to come to the bar to be Mitch’s wingman tonight, but the tipsy brunette making a grab for his crotch less than two minutes after they’d met wasn’t a part of the deal. At thirty-two, like most red-blooded males, he wasn’t averse to an invitation, but he appreciated sobriety and a small amount of subtlety. When the opportunity had come up, he’d volunteered to go to the bar and order more drinks but had sent them back with a server.
He returned his attention to the woman sitting across the deck.
Was she secretly getting off on busting the chops of every guy she turned down or did she really want to sit there alone tonight? He couldn’t stand the type who enjoyed verbally kicking a guy in the balls as a power trip, but if her thing was about not settling for less, especially considering the yahoos who’d shown up at her table, he understood. Lately, he’d grown tired of dragging ass to some tired bar, drinking the usual, and running the same usual tired lines that brought the usual to his bed.
Hell, not that he was ready to settle into a recliner or twirl around on a riding lawn mower anytime soon. He’d followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the army when he was eighteen. Nine of those twelve years he’d spent with Mitch in Special Forces, keeping pace and living to serve his country. Making the transition two years ago from full-time soldier to civilian security specialist suited him, but with the long stretches of travel, that still meant no long-term relationships. At the most, he could give a woman a few weeks or a couple of months.
Ethan ran the scenario of spending time with someone like the mystery woman through his mind. She didn’t look like the constant club and party type, which meant they would probably stay in most of the time. That was fine with him. They could kick back and watch a game or a movie. He’d even cook. As an only child and a latchkey kid, his mom had made sure he’d known how to do more than just boil water. Partly because she refused to raise a lazy son, but she also wanted to make sure he knew how to take care of himself.
His thoughts drifted back to the memory of his mom working two jobs after losing his dad. She’d focused all her time and energy on raising him. Joining the army right after high school was his gift to her so she could have more time for herself. Of course, she was proud of him, but she also worried. He hated that part. Guilt had almost burned a hole in his gut, but it lessened somewhat after she’d remarried. If something happened to him, she wouldn’t be left alone.
Personally, he could never put the woman he swore to love for the rest of his life through the grief of losing him. Life was hard enough without having someone leave you to live through that kind of pain, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy himself or be a little more discerning about his short-term prospects.
Ethan took a slow pull from his beer and glanced over at Mitch. Maybe he should make a play for the blonde and leave his buddy with Boozehound Betty. He brought up a visual of that plan in his mind, but the only image that made him hard was of a certain ebony-haired woman, lying naked and tangled in his sheets.
As he took another drink from his beer, he surreptitiously scanned the area, noting the location and disposition of every man in the lounge. If her plans really were to enjoy a quiet drink, she was going to end up greatly disappointed. The sharks were circling and ready to move in as soon as the current guy cut his losses.
Suddenly, the woman quickly swiveled her chair around, and her knee bumped into the guy’s crotch. She stood up and a string of angry words passed between the two of them. Ethan put his beer down and stopped leaning against the bar. The guy’s expression morphed into ugly, and it didn’t take a lip-reader to interpret the man’s spat-out response. Her back visibly stiffened. Ethan cut through the crowd.
If two guys were going at it for some stupid reason, he’d mind his own business, but some dickhead giving a woman shit over a rejection was a whole different story. Once he reached her table, he took a balanced opened-legged stance, ready for anything, including having misread the situation. Then he did what naturally came to him having been trained to face unknown odds with undeterred determination.
“Sorry, sweetheart. I didn’t mean to keep you waiting. I got held up by a phone call.”
Two sets of eyes turned in his direction; one dark and obviously pissed off, the other a deep hazel-chestnut with the longest lashes he’d ever seen. He sucked in a breath. The earlier promise of beauty did not disappoint.
Just then, the DJ cued up a spicy Latin number, and the couples around them headed for the small dance floor on the other side of the deck.
She offered him her hand. “I believe that’s our song.”
Her rescuer took his cue.
Hallelujah! Jasmine let out a breath and latched onto his hand like it was the last life preserver on a rapidly sinking cruise ship.
Just before they walked away, her rescuer gave the guy she’d nearly tossed her wine on a warning look, and the jerk raised his hands in surrender.
On their way to the dance floor, she glanced up at the man leading the way.
His closely cropped black hair was cut into a military-style fade, and his face bore enough of life’s experiences to just barely remove him from the realm of cover-model handsome. He transmitted the message of confident and fit for duty, and any doubts about that were easily resolved by his wide shoulders, solid chest, and well-formed biceps hugged comfortably by a dark shirt.
As they weaved through the crowd, other men moved out of his way in deference to his size, while women stepped aside to get a better look. She couldn’t blame them. The black jeans he wore nicely cupped the essentials, especially his firm-looking butt. Once they reached the dance floor, he pulled her into the circle of his arms, and she followed his lead into a basic, uncomplicated salsa step.
“You can breathe now. Romeo has moved on to other prey.” The deep timbre of his voice easily reached her over the music. “Are you okay?”
She leaned back to get past his jawline and looked up into blue-green eyes as clear and beautiful as the Atlantic on a sunny day.
“Now I am,” she said. “And thank you.”
A slow smile tipped up the corners of his mouth. “You’re welcome,” he said and expertly guided her into a fast spin.
After twirling around on her toes, she went back into his arms. Each step they took was in perfect sync through the masculine-feminine maze of the dance. She relaxed, and by the end of the song, Tab had regained most of her bestfriend status for daring her to take Latin dance lessons two years ago.
They moved right into a sensual bachata and kept dancing into the next song. It was a slow one. Surprisingly, without the awkwardness of a new couple, they came together with her palms sliding over his shoulders and his hands curving around her waist. Heat and awareness radiated in the small space between them.
Maybe Tab was right and she was in sexual drought. How many long, lonely months had passed since she’d felt anything as wonderful as this? Before she could come up with an answer, his hands moved low on her waist. One small guided step forward fit her lower body tightly to his, and sways merged with the unhurried roll of their hips. His erection pressed against her belly, and Jasmine’s sex clenched. Sinking her teeth into her lower lip, she stifled a moan, but the vibration of a heavy bass line teased out more of the ache between her thighs.
His forehead rested against hers, and he released a ragged breath. Relieved that she wasn’t the only one affected, she allowed herself to get lost in the feel of his strong hands holding her, his warm, masculine scent, and the image in her thoughts of them satisfying the requirements of the dare. Yeah, she could definitely see it happening with him.
If he could only read my mind…
She looked at him, and his eyes zeroed in on her lips, his intentions clear, but he waited, giving her time to move away. The slip of his arm around her waist, the glide of his hand through the hair at the nape of her neck, the slow lean in, all brought out her soft sigh. His mouth pressed to hers, and she fell into a kiss that uncoiled need. All common sense about time and place was lost in the glide of his tongue stroking, teasing, and testing how far she was willing to go…all the way and back if he was taking her there. Dancers, caught up in the fast beat of the next song, bumped into them, and they took a step back. As she blinked away the haze of desire, she saw matching want in his eyes.
He took hold of her hand, and in silent agreement, they walked off the packed dance floor, headed for the bar. When they got there, she settled into the last empty seat fanning her face, warm from the humidity and the lingering effects of the kiss.
“Would you like a drink?” he asked.
She allowed herself an extra second to study him, taking in the slight bump on his nose, the masculine angles of his face, and the hint of her gloss still on his lips. His eyes, like the pull of gravity, brought her attention back up to his steady gaze.
“Chardonnay,” she said.
He signaled the bartender, placed the order for her wine, and added on a beer.
As she dabbed away the light sheen of moisture on her forehead with a napkin, he leaned down, and the light stubble on his face brushed against her cheek. “By the way,” he said, “my name is Ethan.”
She looked at him, and once again, she got all tangled up in the pull of attraction still buzzing between them. His puzzled stare reminded her he was waiting for a response, and she gave herself a mental shake.
The bartender showed up with their drinks, and while Ethan paid for them, she took a sip from her glass. The cold, crisp, fruity taste of the wine brought her temperature down and washed away some of the dryness from her throat.
“So tell me, Jasmine.” He placed his hand on the back of her chair, a proprietary gesture, claiming her and their space at the bar. “You had to have known every knuckleheaded guy in this place was going to hit on you, so why are you here alone?”
She debated among the coy, the cute, and the utterly clueless, and opted for a slice of the truth.
“I was attending a conference this week, and I didn’t get a chance to relax. It’s my last night in Miami, and a friend suggested this place so…” She shrugged out the last part of her answer behind another sip of wine.
He chuckled, and the deep timbre of his laugh stroked over her in all the right places.
“Relax?” He eyed her over the beer bottle as he took a drink. “Your friend doesn’t know Miami very well. This bar is one of the hottest spots in the city on a Saturday night.”
Jasmine sputtered, nearly choking on her wine. “Ah—no, she must have missed that part.”
Tab had actually said the lounge was boring, more of a place for business than pleasure, and had suggested she go to a trendier club downtown.
She’d agreed to Tab’s dare to get over her dry spell, like a batter finally taking a swing to get out of a slump, that’s all. No flirting, no partying, no long-term expectations. She wasn’t doing this for fun. No doubt Tab was betting on her choosing the hotel lounge as the safest place to find a guy, get the deed done, and still get in a good night’s sleep, alone, before her flight out in the morning.
Ethan regarded her quizzically for a moment, and then he gave her a sexy smile so lethal it obliterated every trace of embarrassment.
Turning the tables, she asked, “So tell me, Ethan, do you normally come here on a Saturday night to rescue women from knuckleheaded men?”
His widening smile deepened the dimple in his left cheek.
“Honestly, I’m here because it’s convenient. My buddy and I are on vacation. We’re staying at his condo farther up the beach.” He leaned down near her ear. “And as far as rescuing a woman in this place goes, you’re my first.”
The way he said the words was like an intimate caress, and her fingers tightened around the stem of the wineglass. She’d never felt this attracted to a man, not even Greg. Another image of her and Ethan settling Tab’s challenge vividly came to mind.
She peered up at him through her lashes, and his gaze met hers.
Oh, who was she kidding? As if she needed Tab’s birthday dare as a reason to twist her arm into any kind of temptation with him.
He moved back and propped his booted foot on the rung of her barstool. His knee brushed her thigh and tingles radiated over her skin.
“I’m also playing chaperone tonight.” He gestured with his beer bottle toward an equally impressive man standing at a table with a blonde and a brunette. Both of the women’s perfectly proportioned bodies were poured into skintight dresses, and they balanced on six-inch fuck-me heels.
His buddy spotted him, and the two men exchanged a “bro nod” while the brunette licked her lips and sent Ethan a blatant look of invitation.
A group of women let out collective a yell of encouragement, and Jasmine looked over at a woman with a tissue bridal veil partying with her friends on the dance floor.
Memories of her own failed engagement came to mind, and a chill washed over her skin. Greg had wanted her to fight for him when she’d found out what happened. News flash.He’d cheated on her, not the other way around!
She took a sip of chardonnay and swallowed the wine along with the bitterness rising in her throat. Tab was wrong. She wasn’t ready for this. If this guy thought she was going to get into some kind of a silly catfight to stop another woman from claiming him, his ego was about to take a serious hit.
“Well, thank you for the drink and the save,” she said, setting the half-empty wineglass down on the bar. “I have to go.”
“What? You’re leaving?” He frowned. “It’s not even eight o’clock yet.”
“Yes, I’m leaving.” She gestured lightly over to the trio. “You should probably get back to your chaperoning duties.”
“Mitch has things under control.”
“Oh, really? Well, I don’t think the brunette got that message.” The words slipped out before she could rein in the hint of angry wasp in her tone.
Ethan leaned down and looked directly in her eyes. “I don’t care what the brunette did or didn’t get, as long as you get the message that I’m here with you for as long as you want me to be.”
He slanted his lips to hers and coaxed her into a slow, unhurried exploration of her mouth that made her greedy for more, but once the kiss ended, doubt crept back into her thoughts. She shoved it aside.
What she wanted was simple. No promises, no investments, just a man willing to make a dare a reality.
She eased off the barstool, braced her hands on the side of his waist for balance, and found herself in the perfect position—up close and personal with his chest. As she formulated a plan, her hand wandered, almost of its own accord, past his waistband and pressed against the zipper of his jeans.
Rising up on her toes near his ear she whispered, “And what if I want you next to me all night?”
He lightly closed his fingers around her wrist, and she leaned back to look at him.
Ethan lifted his other hand to tip up her chin, looking into her eyes in a way that almost made her believe he could see straight into her thoughts.
He stroked his thumb over her bottom lip, and then brushed an unhurried kiss over the same spot. “Stick close to me. Romeo’s still on the prowl. He’s had enough drinks to make stupid feel courageous, and I’m not in the mood to educate him on the difference.”
She followed his gaze to a nearby table where the poor guy sat with three women, still not taking the hint as they ignored his presence.
Tugging her gently by the wrist, he urged her in front of him, and they walked toward the connecting restaurant. Once they were inside, they moved through the crowd and the maze of tables. Every time she stopped, his front bumped into her rear, a nice, hard reminder of what they were about to carry out.
What type of lover was he? Greedy, generous, unhurried…demanding?
The thrill of something new, something different, made her heart pound faster in anticipation.
Greg hadn’t been her first lover, but like most long-term couples, they’d slid into a comfortable routine.
A near collision with one of the servers carrying a tray caused Jasmine to lose her balance, but Ethan wrapped his arm securely around her waist. He held her upright and his arousal nudged against her hip. Warmth pooled low in her middle and quickly replaced her worries of looking like a klutz.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
- All she wanted to do was lie back in the firm cradle of his chest. Pulling herself together, she nodded and willed her legs to move toward the exit. They walked out of the restaurant into the far less populated hallway of the hotel, and a rush of cold air reoriented her senses. She slipped her hand into the hidden pocket in the folds of her skirt, and her fingers brushed against the small leather holder with the key card to her room. Her heartbeat kicked up another notch, and words of invitation hovered on the tip of her tongue.
“When do you leave town?” Ethan slowed down, and she had to match his stride or risk coming off as desperate. They stopped just short of the elevator, and she wondered about the sudden hesitation.
She cleared her throat. “Tomorrow afternoon. What about you?”
“Me too.” He moved in front of her, inches away, leaving her no choice but to look up.
That’s what his eyes reminded her of—a cool, sparkling waterfall she wanted to step under and let rain down all over her body.
“What happened?” he asked.
Geared up for any other question but that one, her mind went blank. “Wh-what?”
He skimmed his hands up and down her arms, warming away the chill from her skin. “A woman like you doesn’t make the choice to get under a man this way unless she’s trying to get over someone.”
Her cheeks scalded with heat. Was she that obvious?
“Don’t get me wrong.” Another one of his wickedly handsome smiles formed on his mouth. “I don’t mind being used, but I just have one small requirement.”
Wariness slithered through her mind. “Like what?” she asked, cautiously.