“Why don’t you like me?” he asked.
Her breath caught. She allowed him to win and dropped her stare. Bastard. Half of her wanted to scream the truth and let the accusations of pain and betrayal fly loose. The other half knew it was her turf, and she’d promised not to waste her time on regrets from the past. Of course, he knew nothing, and the flash of confusion in those blue eyes almost made her feel sympathy.
Raven shrugged. “You’re getting way too personal,” she said coolly. “I don’t like you. I don’t not like you. You’re just . . . there.”
“Like an ant?”
“Or a fly.”
He nodded, thoughtful. “Bugs are a delicacy in many other countries. Ant eggs are eaten in Mexico. Flies are probably eaten, too.”
“You trying to tell me you’re an exotic taste that I can get used to?”
He flashed her a brilliant smile, complete with dimples. Her heart gave an extra pump. Damn him for knowing how to use charm to his advantage. “Exactly!”
“We’re in the US,” she pointed out. “We like simple things. Hamburgers and hot dogs and beer. Are you going to try the drink or not?”
“I can be simple.”
“You can’t be simple and exotic at the same time.”
“I can.” His voice dropped to an intimate murmur. “I can be anything you want, Raven.” Blistering heat shot from his body in waves. Suddenly the buzzing crowd faded and was replaced by the promise gleaming in his eyes, carved out in the lines of his face. She stilled under the impact of his full masculine power. It had been a long time since she’d been pursued with such focus. Raven had forgotten the adrenaline rush of the mating game and the sweet promise of sexual satisfaction that scented the air with rich pheromones.
She shook her head and forced herself to speak lightly. “You’re a master, I’ll give you that. But you’re wasting your time. You have nothing I want, or need.”
Again he took the jab with charm instead of irritation. “Then I’ll have to keep working on finding what you do want. Or need.” He paused. “Or crave.”
Her brow shot up in warning, but he only laughed. The rich, deep tones stroked her ear in a caress. Damn, he was dangerous. The worst part was he knew it.
“So, what is this drink called?” he finally asked.
She practically purred in response. “Fertility Goddess. It’s a drink made to ensure a long life of marriage, children, and commitment. Seems to be popular with the newly engaged crowd.”
Raven didn’t expect him to drink it. She wanted to make a point.
But Dalton only nodded and lifted the glass high in the air. His blue eyes sparkled with mischief, but underneath was an implacable determination that shook her to the core. “Bottoms up.”
He drank the whole glass in one long swallow.
And Raven knew she was in a heap of trouble.
The woman was driving him crazy.
Dalton put down the ridiculous pink cocktail and caught the flicker of wariness crossing her features. Good. Had he finally managed to surprise her? Had he managed to pry loose a tiny chunk of the armor she wore as proudly as a knight? Raven had all the qualities of a modern-day witch: Droolworthy sex appeal. A tiny bit of meanness. Wicked smarts. And cutting humor. The perfect package he’d been trying to tap for months without success.
He watched her flit away from him and head down the bar, refilling beer and wineglasses, tossing out comments or jokes to the regulars. She seemed comfortable talking to a wide array of people and moved in a way that told him she enjoyed her body but wasn’t obsessed with it. Women seemed to have so many hang-ups about their physical appearance. When Dalton stared at a naked woman, he didn’t see the individual flaws so many of his partners were afraid to expose—he only saw raw beauty as perfect as God made, and he always felt humbled to be chosen to adore such a body. Raven was different. There was an innate sexuality that seeped from her skin, and his instincts told him she’d taken her pleasures on her terms in the past. He loved a woman who owned that power.
She gestured to his empty glass, but this time there was a gleam of laughter in her dark eyes. Satisfaction speared through him. He’d drink another of those things to keep her amused, but it was time to initiate his plan. One that would hopefully make them both very, very happy.
“I’ll let you emasculate me if you listen to my proposal.”
She rolled her eyes and wiped a dish towel over the wet bar. “I’ll pass on both.” Like a perfectly coordinated dancer, she swept up a bottle of Raging Bitch, grabbed the opener from her back pocket, scooped off the cap, and had the bottle in front of him in a few seconds. Damn, the woman was hot. “Better?”
“Much. I’m going to give you my offer anyway.”
“Have I told you lately I’m a lesbian?”
He grinned. “Cool. I’d just have to work harder to woo you to the other side.”
Her lips twitched. When had simple banter been this much fun? His fingers curled with the urge to reach out and touch her hair. Was it as silky as it looked? The glimmer of a black satin bra strap flashed at him from under her skimpy tank. He wondered how she’d react if he bit into that perfect line where her shoulder met her neck. Would she shiver and moan? Arch up for more? Or bite him back?
As if she’d caught his thoughts, her gaze narrowed in suspicion. “Never gonna happen, Slick. Been on the bedpost-notch journey before. I’m done.”
He winced at the nickname and the assumption. “I think you have me confused with someone else. I’m the one who’s collected on bedposts. Not looking for a quick score. Not looking for a quick anything.”
“Then what do you want?”
He cupped his palms around his beer and leaned in. “I want to get my hands on something you have and make her sing. I want to strip her down, savor every moment, and stroke every corner. I want to break her until there’s nothing left, and then I want to build her back up, inch by slow inch, enjoying the smell and feel of her beneath my fingers. I want to look at her naked and beautiful again and know I was the one there for the whole journey. I need it, bad, Raven. And you’re the only one who’s able to give it to me.”
Her pupils dilated. Dalton knew in that instant that she wasn’t immune to him or the crackling tension between them. She chose to ignore it, but that didn’t make it not real. Her throat worked as she fought to process his statement. Her fingers clenched around the dish towel. Finally she pulled her gaze away and took a deep breath. “A real Don Juan, aren’t you? As pretty as those words are, you’re not getting me.”
She lifted a brow. “Hard to misunderstand that one.”
He gave a slow smile. “I want to get my hands all over your bar, darlin’.” He stroked his palm gently over the surface where worn wood was hidden beneath a glass top. “I want to restore it back to its original glory.” He paused. “What’d you think I meant?”
Annoyance flickered over her face, along with something else. Dalton hoped it was disappointment, but he figured she’d deny it. “My bar is fine the way it is.”
“I disagree. This is an antique, a rare art form.” Already he ached to examine the wood, find its strengths and weaknesses, make it great again. “This cheap gold trim was added later. The wood is chipped and peeled, and the glass top surface should be a crime. It’s tawdry.”
She tilted her head in concentration. “Tawdry? How is a practical glass top tawdry?”
He gave a mock shudder. “Another convenient, cheap addition that takes away the beauty of the piece. I could do amazing things for you. Make this bar the crowning centerpiece of the entire restaurant.”
She tapped a finger against the full curve of her lower lip. He fought back the urge to snag her hand, open his mouth, and suck. Nibble. Swirl his tongue around until she looked at him with need and not distance. He shifted on the bar stool and felt his jeans scratch against his erection uncomfortably.
“It would be too expensive,” she finally said.
“I’ll give you a deal. You can even pay in installments. You know I work at Pierce Brothers, and we’re the best in the Northeast. You won’t regret it.”