Whispers in the Dark
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And that surprised her. Yes, in the safety of her mind she had admitted she had a physical response to Chris, to his voice, to the sky-high images that seemed to pepper the city. What red-blooded woman wouldn’t? He was gorgeous and had the sort of lazy, husky bedroom voice that drove women crazy.
What she hadn’t anticipated was for those rumblings to be exponentially amplified by his actual presence. The reaction she’d had to his picture was safe. She’d never figured on having the opportunity to meet him in person. Now, all she could hear was Anne’s voice in the back of her head repeating over and over, “That man knows his way around a woman’s body. With him, fear wouldn’t be an option. He’d have you naked and panting before you could blink.”
She wasn’t naked, but the room had definitely become stuffy. She went to tug at her collar only to realize she wasn’t wearing her normal high-necked blouse but a low-cut, gauzy silk confection that rubbed deliciously against her skin.
His hesitation and low-pitched sound of concern pulled her focus up. Slowly she took in his charcoal-gray suit and white dress shirt, open at his strong throat. Sophisticated and urbane, there was no mistaking him for any man other than Dr. Desire.
She looked up into his dark-blue eyes, at the swirls of gray and flecks of the palest green, and knew this man had it all together. The core of her body clenched.
A smile, one she hadn’t seen slip since he’d walked in the door, tipped the corners of those breath-stealing eyes heavenward. Intelligence, laughter, reassurance. Anne was the only other person who’d given her this immediate sense of ease—if you discounted the hum of energy jingling her spine right now.
“Yes.” The word came out breathy, almost lost in the muted restaurant sounds from outside the room.
“Are you okay?”
No. She wasn’t. For the first time in five years, her body had flooded with heat. A heat she remembered, one she’d feared never feeling again. One she wanted to embrace, explore, capture.
“Yes. I’m…” surprised, excited, achy “…fine.”
“Why don’t we order some champagne? It’ll help settle your nerves.”
What nerves? Any nerves she’d felt had melted away the moment he’d walked through the door.
CHRIS WATCHED Karyn from across the table.
She wasn’t what he’d expected. When he’d pictured her in his mind she hadn’t been ugly—but she hadn’t been beautiful, either. Plain, average, unexciting. That’s what he’d expected.
What he’d gotten was nothing close to unexciting.
She was understated. But she was also…pretty. Fragile. Surprising.
Wisps of auburn hair, dark with only a hint of red, fluttered against her cheeks. A long, shining column spilled over one shoulder, a burst of color against her pale-green shirt. But it was her face that held his attention. Thin, her cheekbones high and sharp, her pale skin seemed to glow luminously in the candlelight.
He’d seen his share of beautiful women in candlelight.Karyn would never be classified as beautiful. She was something more…unique.
Her deep brown eyes flashed with golden glints he could see from half a table away. They were direct, and despite what he’d expected, calm. He fought the urge to breathe in her scent, to let it linger in his senses.
That would not be smart. The beginning tingle of attraction was already racing to the base of his spine. His body tightened. They were familiar signs, ones he’d recognized since he was fourteen and had his first sexual encounter with the older girl next door.
The fact that Karyn was the first woman to rev his engine in months meant nothing. Well, nothing other than the fact that it had been too long since he’d had sex.
It just hadn’t been satisfying lately. Oh, he and his partner had both enjoyed orgasms—Dr. Desire couldn’t provide anything less—but Chris hadn’t been able to shake the feeling that there was something missing. He was tired of playing a role, second-guessing every touch, taste and word against a list of expectations.
The kicker was they were expectations he’d built up himself. Dr. Desire was a prison of his own making. Women never seemed interested in spending an evening with Chris, they wanted his alter ego.
Karyn was no different. She’d called in to the show wanting something from Dr. Desire, something he wasn’t able to give. Looking across the table at her, he watched the sharp edge of her white teeth crease the flesh of her bottom lip, the first outward sign that she wasn’t as calm as she wanted him to believe.
One thing was certain: Karyn was not a candidate to break his dry spell. There were consequences, and he didn’t just mean for her. His job, his show, the responsibility he had to his listeners, it was all too important to throw away on a sexual whim.
Despite what his fath—Darrell seemed to think, he had standards. Somehow, over the past few years, Dr. Desire had gotten a reputation. Rumors abounded about his sexual prowess, his conquests. Women he’d never met claimed to have spent time in his bed. He hadn’t been a monk by any stretch of the imagination, but honestly, if he’d had sex with half the purported number, he would never have slept.
Mutually satisfying sexual gratification—that part of his reputation was all true. That’s what the women he did make love with wanted from him and, frankly, that’s all he had wanted from them.
Karyn. Karyn needed much more than that. Time. Patience. Understanding. He didn’t think he had any of those things.
Not to mention sleeping with her could kill his career. The last thing he needed was for a sensationalized news story to show up about how he’d taken advantage of a rape victim. His listeners wouldn’t appreciate that at all. And at the end of the day, the listeners were all that mattered. If he lost them, he lost the show.
Gwen Adair, a reporter for the local newspaper, had been dogging his every step lately, looking for something to make headlines with. She hadn’t taken his gentle decline of a rather obvious sexual offer several months ago very well. And while most of the things she’d printed about him so far had been insignificant, he didn’t intend to give her something real.
He might have simply fallen into his role as Dr. Desire, but no self-respecting trailer-trash kid would be stupid enough to throw his golden meal ticket away, especially not for sex.
Even sex that his body told him would be fantastic.
Grappling with his control, Chris thought charm, and smiled.
Their waiter approached the table and took his champagne order. Leaning over, the man also poured more water into Karyn’s glass. It hadn’t been anywhere close to empty; in fact, it looked like she’d taken maybe two sips. She glanced up, smiling slightly at the other man with those big, brown eyes.
A seed of something he couldn’t quite name lodged somewhere in his chest. His eyes narrowed as he watched the two interact.
He didn’t appreciate the other man’s blatant interest in his date. Or the way he crowded into Karyn’s space. But as Chris’s attention swung back to her, the seed dissolved. He couldn’t miss the way she slid back into her chair.
She chuckled at some inane comment, and understanding dawned. She was trying to project the image of a carefree woman. But Chris heard the strain in the delicate noise, and her wildly tapping foot beneath the table didn’t escape his notice, either. It brushed against his pant leg with each upswing.
As the man slid away to fill their request, Chris watched her chest rise and fall on a silent sigh of relief.
“Why didn’t you just tell him to leave you alone?”
“What?” She glanced up, her wide brown eyes looking directly at him, into him.
His breath caught and held while he studied her. Determination, acceptance and a tiny spark of fear clouded her gaze. But as he watched, the golden specks caught fire and flashed with something completely primitive and completely feminine.
Something deep inside him responded. His heart sped up and the blood quickened, rushing downward. He leaned forward, wanting to be sure it hadn’t been a trick of the light, but as he did she blinked and it was gone.
“Why didn’t you tell him to back off? You were obviously uncomfortable with him standing so close.”
She looked away for a moment before answering. “Because it isn’t his problem. He didn’t do anything wrong.”
“But neither did you.”
Her lips ghosted up in the faint beginnings of a smile before flatlining again.
He would have said more, but the man returned with their bottle at that moment. Through the uncorking ritual, Chris watched her.
Her delicate fingers grasped the stem of her glass flute, settling the rim between her lush lips, the bottom one slightly fuller than the top. Her disproportioned mouth was the one anomaly to her appearance. One he liked. Something that made her unique and delightfully imperfect. Her pale throat worked over a mouthful of the bubbling wine as her eyes scanned the oversize menu before her.
How this woman had gotten through the past five years without touching a man, let alone sleeping with one, he couldn’t figure out.
“I hope you’re not nervous or embarrassed.”
She laughed, the last thing he’d expected. But the sound rolled through him, reverberating inside his chest like the pounding bass in the classic rock he loved to listen to late at night, alone in the dark after his show.
“So it’s pretty common for your dates to proposition you before dinner even begins? That’s good to know.”
Her ability to laugh at herself and their unusual situation impressed him. And her strength astounded him. Unless you knew what signs to look for, you’d never guess that she was anything but relaxed.
“As a matter of fact, I’m pretty used to that.” He flashed her a smile meant to bring back that laugh. “But I don’t usually agree to dates with those women, so you’re a first.”
He regretted the words the moment they left his mouth as the spark in her eyes dulled and her cheeks bloomed red. “However, I have been on a ton of first dates and, as you can see, have lived to tell the tales. I promise this won’t hurt. You might even find you like me.”
“I already like you, Chris.”
“You like my public persona. That guy isn’t all I am.”
Now why had he said that? It didn’t matter. She could like whoever she wanted—Dr. Desire, Chris Faulkner, the waiter. After this night it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference. No matter how appealing and beautiful she was, he wasn’t getting involved. End of story.
“I’d like to think I’m not that shallow. I realize your job isn’t all there is to know about you. But I’ve learned a lot, more than you probably think, by listening to the advice you give.”
“I know that you have a wickedly sarcastic sense of humor.”
Chris rocked back into his chair, dropping the menu he hadn’t really been looking at anyway.
“Usually those comments are at the expense of someone’s pride, and afterward I feel horrible.”
“See, I knew it. Under that tough, man’s-man persona there’s a softy. You’re a nice guy.”
“No. A nice guy wouldn’t say the stuff in the first place. Or wouldn’t continue saying it. I said I feel guilty, but only for a second.”
“Well, that’s because the person on the other end usually needs some sense knocked into them.”
Maybe she did understand him. He’d often thought he’d carefully compartmentalized his true persona from the polished, charming Dr. Desire, the voice and personality that garnered ratings and multiyear contracts. Maybe not.
“That’s one reason I called the show. Not because you were soft and nice. But because you’re hard and tough and usually right. I trust you to tell me what I need to hear.”
“What do you need to hear?” His voice dipped lower than he’d intended. He hoped she hadn’t noticed. The last thing he wanted to do was make her uncomfortable.
She waved her hands between them. “This is not supposed to be a pop psych session. Just dinner.”
She was right. He’d walked into the restaurant intent on proving to Karyn she could enjoy a nice dinner out with a man, a stranger, without having to deal with the complicated issues. He’d specifically set out not to turn on Dr. Desire. He wanted to stay as far away as possible from that proposition she claimed had just slipped out. He didn’t want to give her another chance to mention what she needed from him, how he could help solve all her sexual problems.
He couldn’t solve anything. At the moment, however, his libido was sorely tempted to try.
ALL THROUGH DINNER Karyn felt as if she was walking a tightrope. Despite the fact that every cell in her body seemed swollen, excited, expectant, somehow she managed to keep her reaction to herself. Or she hoped she had.
Leaning toward him across the table was normal, right? She wanted to hear him over the kitchen clatter coming from behind the doors. And so what that she’d forgotten and let their hands touch. Accident. Pure accident. She just hoped Chris hadn’t noticed that when dessert arrived and her tongue darted across her lips in anticipation, she hadn’t been staring at his chocolate tart.
“You should try this. It’s wonderful.” Chris looked at her across the table, his fork halfway to his almost-empty plate, a thoroughly satisfied smile on his face. Chocolate could do that to a person.
She started to protest, opening her mouth to insist she was full already. But he didn’t give her a chance. Chris reached across the table, putting his fork loaded down with rich creamy mousse and a buttery, flaky crust into her mouth. Her lips closed around the cold metal in reflex. The sinful treat melted on her tongue.
Their eyes collided. Electricity snapped from his hand to her lips through the conduit of the fork. He jerked back, pulling it through her still-pursed lips. It stayed suspended between them, wavering slightly from the force of his hold.
She swallowed, not tasting the rich pastry anymore, but what she imagined his kiss would be like, spicy with a hint of sweet temptation.
He cleared his throat, the sound seeming to break their connection. “I’m sorry.”
“No. It was wonderful.”
Karyn dropped her eyes to the tablecloth before her, trying to regain her focus.
This is not a date.
She let the words swirl around in her brain. Maybe this time she’d remember them.
Life was so unfair. The first man she’d been attracted to—and if that wasn’t the understatement of the century, she didn’t know what was—in five long, lonely years, and she’d had to blow it by propositioning him on the radio. She was going to kill Anne.
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