Excerpt from Extreme Exposure
Kara McMillan was going to kill her best friend. It was Holly’s fault that Kara stood alone, margarita in hand, in Denver’s skankiest meat market wishing she were invisible. Holly had brought her here — and then deserted her.
This time Holly had gone too far.
“Just go up to a guy who turns you on and start talking,” Holly had said before she’d disappeared into the crowd. “Make it clear you want to get laid, and you’ll find yourself on your back in no time.”
On her back .
Kara hadn’t been on her back for five long years — not since she’d learned she was pregnant with Connor — and the thought of ending the evening with her legs wrapped around some strong, sexy man while he drove himself into her, hot and hard, was almost enough to make her moan out loud.
But she was nothing if not a realist. She’d never hooked up with a man in a bar before, and there was no way she was going to meet anyone worthwhile tonight, no matter what Holly said. Why had she let Holly talk her into this? Was she truly that desperate?
Kara pressed herself further back against the wall, took a sip of her drink just to have something to do. She stood next to an enormous potted fern not far from the entrance. The fern’s lacey fronds made her feel somewhat sheltered but allowed her a view of both the bar to her right and the restaurant to her left.
The Rio del Sol, or The Rio as locals called it, was a spawning ground. The air was heavy with pheromones, the bar so crowded it was impossible to walk anywhere without brushing up against someone. Music pumped from overhead speakers but was drowned out by shouted conversation until the bass tones were nothing but a throb against the soles of her feet like a heartbeat, or the pulsing rhythm of sex.
Most everyone wore black — black leather, black Levis, black T-shirts, tiny black dresses that revealed black bra straps. It looked like a funeral, except everyone was smiling, flirting, touching. Kara’s mind flashed on the prairie chickens she’d seen doing their mating dance at a nearby wildlife refuge — a sultry glance, the bulge of a bicep, a bit of exposed cleavage little more than the flash of mating plumage.
In the back corner, one couple had already paired off. They stood against the wall, all tongues and hands and writhing bodies. The woman had lifted her leg, had all but wrapped it around the man’s waist, and he obligingly ground himself into her.
For a moment, Kara couldn’t pull her eyes off them and found herself wondering what it would feel like to be that woman, to have a man maul her with the same kind of intensity. When the man reached up and cupped the woman’s breast, Kara’s pulse skipped.
She looked away, took another sip of her drink, savored its salty tang. At least the margaritas were good. Signs on the wall said patrons were limited to three, so the drinks must be potent. She took another, bigger sip. If she had to be here, she might as well get a bit tipsy. Tomorrow was Saturday. Holly was driving, and Connor was staying with her mother tonight. She could afford to have a little fun for once — if drinking a margarita with an overgrown fern for company could be called fun.
Just go up to some guy who turns you on and start talking .
It ought to be easy. Kara talked to people all the time. In the ten years she’d been a journalist she’d talked to literally thousands of people — corporate CEOs, government officials, convicted drug smugglers, war survivors, rock stars, even a retired assassin. She’d gotten angry phone calls, hate mail, death threats. None of it fazed her. So why did the idea of approaching an attractive man in a bar seem so overwhelming?
Just go up to a guy who turns you on and start talking .
It was certainly easy for Holly, who was younger, platinum blonde and had the kind of body that rendered men stupid — big boobs, a slender waist and plenty of booty. Kara had stretch marks on her belly from pregnancy and had never gotten out of a B-cup, except when she’d been nursing Connor. Her only striking asset was her hair, which attracted attention because it was long — that and maybe her eyes.
Even had she been a supermodel, casual sex just wasn’t Kara’s style. Not that she didn’t wish it were her style. She’d give anything to have Holly’s confidence and smorgasbord attitude toward men and sex. Kara was thirty-two and in her sexual prime, after all. She hadn’t been with a man for so long she felt her sexual frustration could generate enough electricity to power the entire Denver-metro area.
“You’re pathetic, McMillan,” she said to herself. “Pa-the-tic.”
What was she doing here? She should be home snuggling her son and reading Fox in Sox for the millionth time, not standing in The Rio drinking by herself while Horny Holly went trolling for sperm.
Cold air rushed in as the front door opened again and more people strode inside. As they streamed toward the bar, one face caught her eye.
State Senator Reece Sheridan.
Though she’d never met him in person, she recognized him from the many photos that had run on the front page of the paper since he’d been elected two years ago. She’d interviewed him over the phone a few times when the bills he was carrying overlapped with one of her columns or investigative stories. She’d found him smart for a politician and unusually well spoken — which, in Colorado, set him apart.
She took another sip, studied him as he walked closer.
He was, she decided, even better looking than his photographs. He was tall, easily over six feet. His dark blond hair was cut conservatively — short at the back and on the sides, a bit longer on top for style. His eyes were large with unusually long lashes, his lips firm and full. His square jaw bore a trace of five-o’clock shadow. He wore a grey wool trench coat over a white shirt and grey slacks, his grey silk tie visibly loosened.
He reminded her of a GQ model — handsome, well dressed, smooth. She imagined he’d been one of the popular kids in high school. He’d probably been president of his fraternity in college and had no doubt dated sorority girls and cheerleaders, who’d swooned for him — and the sports car he inevitably drove.
Kara could almost hear their annoying squeals. “Oooh, Reeeece!”
An overgrown frat boy — definitely not Kara’s type.
Kara took another drink of her margarita, was surprised to find she had only ice left. No wonder she felt a bit buzzed. She lifted her gaze back to the senator, remembered what he’d said last time they’d spoken on the phone.
“You’ve got a pretty voice. It’s very feminine.”
She had dismissed the compliment as nothing more than a politician’s attempt to suck up to the press. But she hadn’t forgotten it.
He surveyed the bar area as if looking for someone, slipped the heavy coat from his broad shoulders, kept moving. He was probably looking for a woman, Kara decided. A man like him wouldn’t go long without one.
He hadn’t seen Kara and had almost passed her by when she heard herself speak.
“Senator Sheridan?” Kara could have kicked herself. Why had she opened her mouth? She didn’t want to talk to him!
It occurred to her to walk quickly away, but it was too late.
His gaze met hers, and she could tell he was trying to place her.
Then he smiled, walked over to her, hand extended. “Kara McMillan?”
Kara took his hand, shook it, slipped behind the mask of her journalist persona. “Congrats on passing your alternative energy bill.”
“Thanks.” His hand was large, warm, and he held hers a bit longer than was necessary. “Your coverage was one of the reasons the bill made it out of committee.”
Kara shrugged, irritated by the way his compliment warmed her. She wasn’t supposed to care what he thought. “I felt I had to give it some ink. It’s an important issue to our readers.”
“It’s good to meet you in person. I’ve been meaning to call to tell you how much I enjoyed the interview. Of all the journalists who called about that bill, you asked the best questions.”
Her face grew warm, and she was horrified to realize she was smiling. “Well, that’s my job.”
What a stupid thing to say! Of course it’s your job, McMillan!
“I was warned about you.” He smiled. It was the kind of smile that made women melt.
But no way was an overgrown frat boy going to charm her. “Warned?”
“I was told you eat legislators for breakfast.”
The statement was so outrageous it made Kara laugh. “Only when I can’t get a hold of murderers, drug kingpins or rapists.”
His smile brightened, and he chuckled. “Ouch! I think I’ve been insulted. I need a drink to soothe my wounded pride. Can I get you something?”
Good journalists never let politicians buy them drinks. “Oh, no, I—”
Blue. His eyes were blue. “On the rocks with salt.”
He smiled, took her empty glass, turned toward the bar. The crowd seemed to part for him, and in a matter of moments he was back, two drinks in hand. He gave her one, took a sip from the other — amber liquid in a small glass. “I don’t know about their margaritas, but they have the best selection of single malt in town. Cheers.”
“Cheers.” Kara drank, tried to recover her sense of detachment. She had no business getting cozy with a senator. Particularly not a handsome one who oozed charm the way slugs oozed slime.
He gestured toward the fern, grinned. “Are you undercover or something?”
Kara felt her aloofness slip to the floor, shatter. She took a step away from the plant. “I’m waiting for someone.”
“No! No — a friend from work. She’s somewhere out there.” Kara gestured toward the undulating crowd. “We put our names in for a table and—”
“Reece! There you are!” A young woman who reminded Kara of Malibu Barbie emerged from the crowd, reached for the senator.
Kara watched as Senator Sheridan took Barbie’s hand, bent down to kiss her cheek. He seemed happy to see her. Blonde, curvy, tanned, she was just the sort of woman Kara had imagined he would find attractive. For some reason, being right disappointed her.
He put his arm around her shoulder, drew her nearer. “Melanie, I’d like you to meet Kara McMillan of the Denver Independent.”
Melanie — Kara thought Barbie was a better name for her — reached out a delicate, well-manicured hand. “Oh, I’ve heard of you. You’re the reporter who got that city official fired, right?”
Kara shook her hand, forced a smile. “Right.”
Melanie turned to the senator. “I’ve saved us a little table in the back corner. You can talk some more if you want. I’ll head back to the table. I’m afraid someone will steal it.”
Blond hair swinging, Malibu Melanie disappeared back into the crowd.
Senator Sheridan shifted his gaze back to Kara, a look of regret on his face. “I hate to end this conversation, but I need to go. Are you going to be here for a while?”
Kara wanted to tell him to drop dead, but he hadn’t done anything wrong. “We were planning on having dinner.”
“I’ll look for you in the restaurant.” Then he flashed her another smile and disappeared into the crowded bar.
He’d been gone perhaps two seconds when Holly reappeared, eyes wide, a big smile on her face. “Who was that?”
“Nobody.” Kara took another sip of her marg.
Holly’s big brown eyes narrowed. “Nobody my ass! You were talking to the hottest guy in the bar! I saw him buy you a drink!”
“You were watching?” For some reason Kara wasn’t really surprised.
Holly crossed her arms. “Who was he — or didn’t you bother to get his name?”
Kara gave up. “That was Senator Reece Sheridan.”
Holly’s eyes widened. “A senator? Oooh!”
# # #
“You’re too damn picky. That’s your problem.” Holly dug a corn chip into the salsa, popped it into her mouth, crunched. “You don’t know anything about this senator guy, and you’ve already written him off.”
They’d gotten a table, had placed their orders, and still Holly wouldn’t quit harping at Kara.
“He’s here with a woman.” Kara drank the last of her second margarita. “Besides, he’s not my type.”
“Tall, sexy and blatantly male isn’t your type? Good God, Kara, what is?”
“I want someone real.”
Holly considered her for a moment, sipped her Diet Coke. “This is all his fault.”
“Oh, don’t start—”
“If he’d been a man instead of a rat bastard, you might have a love life.”
“You can’t blame him for my decisions.”
“The jerk should be neutered.”
Kara opened her mouth to protest, shut it again. She had once been in love with Galen Prentice, had believed he loved her, too. But he had betrayed her and dumped her when she’d needed him most. She’d found herself in the exact same situation as her mother — raising a child by herself.
“You know what I think?” Holly took another sip of her Coke.
“I feel certain you’re going to tell me.”
“I think you were so hurt by that S.O.B you’re afraid to spend time with any man who might actually turn you on. That’s why you haven’t been on a date in five years. You hide behind motherhood and your job and use your responsibilities as a way to hide from life.” Holly nodded her stylish blond head decisively, and, apparently done preaching, bit into another chip.
Kara felt tears prick behind her eyes, fought them back. “I’ve been on dates. I went out with Todd Myers, remember?”
Holly gave Kara a withering look. “Todd Myers is gay as a daisy, and you knew it! You prove my point.”
The waiter arrived at the table with two plates, a sizzling platter and all the fixings for fajitas for two. “Is there anything else I can get you ladies? More drinks?”
Kara started to say no, but Holly had already answered for her.
“More Coke for me, and definitely another marg for her.”
By the time the remains of the fajitas were cleared away, the conversation had moved from men to having sex with men, and Kara was feeling better than she’d felt in ages. She was floating, and everything in the world seemed warm, fuzzy, perfect.
She glanced at her empty glass, wondered what exactly they put in their margaritas. Whatever it was, it was really, really, really strong.
“What I miss most is kissing.” She closed her eyes for a moment, tried to conjure up the sensation. “I love it when you feel that first brush of his lips on yours. And when his tongue slips into your mouth — mmmm.”
Holly smiled at her and poked at the ice in her glass with her straw.
“You know what else I love?”
Kara heard Holly, of course, but she wasn’t going to let Holly interrupt her train of thought. It was so like Holly to go straight for the crotch. “I love it when a man licks my nipples. It makes me crazy! I can’t even think about it without feeling turned on.”
Holly shrugged, still smiling. “That’s nice, but I prefer his mouth a bit farther south.”
“Galen refused to do that. But I knew this guy in college who said he really liked it.”
“Was he any good at it?”
Kara nodded, felt heat suffuse her cheeks at the memory. She leaned forward, looked straight into Holly’s eyes. “I think it’s soooo erotic when you kiss him afterwards — and taste yourself on his mouth!”
A man’s voice interrupted the conversation. “What are you ladies talking about?”
Senator Sheridan. He stood beside the table, his coat draped over his arm.
Kara looked up, felt the heat of his smile, answered without thinking. “I was just saying I think it’s really erotic when you kiss a man and taste yourself on his mouth.”
Some part of her wondered through a tequila haze whether she had just said something she shouldn’t have. But before she had time to consider it, the senator pulled out a chair, sat.
“I’d have to agree.” He gave her a lopsided grin. “That is erotic.”
She could smell his aftershave — something warm and enticingly male. He had taken off his tie and unbuttoned the top button on his shirt, exposing a bit of chest. His shirtsleeves, too, had been unbuttoned and were rolled up to reveal the muscles of his forearms.
Kara couldn’t remember noticing a man’s forearms before.
Holly was right.
Senator Sheridan was hot.
Reece knew he should be going. He had to finish editing the last of his five bills for the session, as it was slated to be heard in committee next week. He also needed to read through the bills he would be expected to vote on next week. And there were always phone calls and e-mails from constituents to return. But he found he couldn’t budge.
Kara McMillan was nothing like he’d expected. The black-and-white photograph that ran every week with her opinion column showed a rather stern woman, hair pulled back, staring gravely into the camera. But the real Kara McMillan was much softer, more colorful, much more feminine than her photo revealed.
He could tell she was tipsy by the color in her cheeks, a pink glow against her otherwise creamy skin. Her features were delicate, almost elfin. Her eyes were an unusual shade of green, dark with flecks of gold. Her hair was almost black and fell, thick and shining, to her waist. She was almost a foot shorter than he and willowy, with delicate curves in the right places and looked more like a ballet dancer than a tough reporter.
Kara had a reputation for being ruthless. When she called, people worried. Last year she had lost a city department head his job after discovering he was writing thousands of dollars in checks to a non-existent contractor who turned out to be his mistress. Reece had been impressed.
Then she had called him.
He’d been taken aback by her voice — soft and sexy. He had answered her questions — surprisingly insightful questions — and found himself wondering if her reputation wasn’t more the result of her determination and her success. As he knew too well, nothing pissed people off like success — and a refusal to break the rules.
Kara turned to her friend. “Holly, I’d like to introduce Senator Reece Sheridan.”
“Please, just call me Reece.” He reached out a hand to the pretty blond who sat across the table from Kara.
She shook his hand. “Holly Bradshaw.”
“Don’t let me interrupt your conversation. You were just talking about—”
“Oral sex,” Kara supplied, apparently unembarrassed. “So tell me the truth, Senator, how do men really feel about going down on women?”
“She’s had three,” Holly mouthed, pointing toward Kara and holding up three fingers.
But Reece had figured that out for himself. “It’s Reece, and I can’t speak for all men, but I—”
Kara shook her head. “How like a politician to dodge the question!”
Reece tried not to laugh. “If you’d let me finish my answer…”
“Let the man talk.” Holly shot Kara a stern look.
More pink crept into Kara’s cheeks. “Oh. Sorry.”
“I can’t speak for all men, but I enjoy it just fine — provided the woman gets into it. Not all women are comfortable enough with their bodies to enjoy it, you know.”
Kara looked puzzled by this and stared at… his mouth. “Do you like to kiss women?”
“Yes. But not as much as I like to go down on them.”
Kara’s gaze met his. He saw her pupils dilate, heard her little intake of breath. Her reaction, unguarded and sensual, intrigued him, and he found himself wondering if she was anywhere near as fiery in bed as she was in print.
A voice in his head reminded him he was treading on dangerous ground. Kara McMillan was a journalist. There was nothing to stop her from printing every word he said, nothing to stop her from taking her embarrassment out on him once her hangover had passed. He had a feeling she wasn’t used to drinking and that, while she might be adept at asking tough questions, those questions probably never involved anyone’s views on oral sex.
But in short order, she’d peppered him with an array of queries.
“Do women really taste like tuna?”
“No. Absolutely not.”
“Is it fair that some men expected a woman to give them head but refused to return the favor?”
“Do men like regular sex or getting head more?”
“That depends on the moment — and the woman.”
If she was trying to turn him on, she was doing a good job of it. He took a sip of whisky, nearly choked at her next question.
“What does it feel like to be inside a woman?” She leaned toward him, her gaze fixed on his, her chin resting on her hand.
“Good grief, Kara, are you interviewing him?” Holly laughed, stood. “If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I need to use the ladies’ room.”
Kara giggled, then made a grave face and spoke with mock severity, as if quoting a newspaper headline. “Sen. Sheridan Says Not All Women Like Oral Sex.”
Reece laughed. “It’s Reece, and please tell me this isn’t tomorrow’s lead story.”
“I’m afraid it is, Senator.” She looked at him sternly. “It’s a senatorial sexposé.”
A moment later he caught sight of Holly as she waved good-bye to him and slipped out the front door.
In his mind, he heard the doors of the trap swing shut with a clang.
Reece shifted his gaze back to Kara, who was licking salt from the rim of her margarita glass with a distracting pink tongue. “How are you getting home?”
She glanced across the table at Holly’s vacant spot. “Holly is driving me. Coming here was her idea.”
From her tone of voice, Reece gathered Kara hadn’t wanted to come along, an intriguing notion, since she’d obviously gotten very much into the spirit of the place. “I think Holly has deserted you. She just walked out the door.”
The look of panicked surprise on Kara’s face as Holly passed them outside the window and blew them a kiss convinced him Kara was as caught in Holly’s snare as he. He felt oddly relieved. He didn’t have much respect for women who tried to manipulate men into bed. Since he’d been elected, he’d met far too many women like that — grasping women who sized up men according to social status and potential future earnings and saw sex as the fastest means of securing their share.
That sort of woman hadn’t been interested in him at all when he’d been nothing more than a high school social studies teacher and youth soccer coach. But once the title “senator” had been placed before his name, they couldn’t spread their legs fast enough. He had learned the hard way not to take a sexy, willing woman at face value.
But it was obvious Kara hadn’t been privy to Holly’s scheming. She sat for a moment, eyes wide with astonishment. Then she grabbed her purse, threw two twenties on the table, stood — or tried to stand. But three margaritas had taken their toll.
Reece jumped to his feet, reached out with both arms to steady her before she fell into the aisle. “Careful.”
“I have to catch up with her. I don’t have enough for cab fare. I’ll have to walk home.” There was genuine worry in her eyes.
Reece couldn’t blame her. The streets of Denver weren’t the safest place for a woman at night — particularly one who’d had three. He reached for his coat. “It’s alright, Kara. I’ll drive you.”
She looked at him, her green-gold eyes clouded by uncertainty. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“Not at all.” Reece was a bit surprised to realize he was telling the truth.
As soon as Kara had paid the bill — her friend had thoughtfully abandoned that, as well — Reece led her out into the cold January night and down the icy sidewalk.
The shock of Holly’s trickery seemed at first to rob Kara of her tequila-induced chattiness, and they walked in silence. This wasn’t entirely a bad thing, as Reece wasn’t sure he could have endured more of her seductively blunt questions without embarrassing himself.
What does it feel like to be inside a woman? Holy hell!
“I can’t believe she left me! Why would she —?” But Kara never finished the question. With a gasp, she slipped on ice and would have fallen had Reece not caught her.
“You’d better hook your arm through mine, or you’re going to end up flat on your back.”
“Oh!” Kara felt the strength of his arms as they encircled her, looked into his blue eyes. Her stomach did a flip.
Flat on her back.
The next moment, he deposited her squarely on her feet, wrapped a strong arm around her waist. This was a good thing, as the sidewalk was not only slippery, but seemed somehow slanted, as if gravity were stronger in some places than others.
She hadn’t had that much to drink. Had she?
Reece led her to the door of a yellow Jeep Wrangler that was covered with mud up to its headlights, stuck a key in the lock.
“This is yours? It isn’t a sports car.” Kara took his hand, climbed up the step into the passenger seat.
He shut the door, walked around to the driver’s side, climbed in. “Sorry. I left my Jag at home in the garage next to my Porsche.”
It took Kara a moment to realize he wasn’t serious. “You’re joking, Senator.”
“It’s Reece. And, yes, I am.” With a grin, he turned the key in the ignition, turned on the heater and slid into traffic. Then he reached across her, buckled her seat belt. “Where am I taking you?”
She had to think for a minute. “ Corona four blocks south of Colfax.”
“Close to the Capitol.”
Kara nodded. “And close to my son’s daycare and the paper.”
“You have kids?”
“One. He’s four.”
“What’s his name?”
“So you’re divorced?”
“Oh, no! No, no!” Kara couldn’t get the words out fast enough. “I was never married.”
As Reece drove through the city’s slushy streets, Kara found her gaze traveling over his face, only vaguely aware of what he was saying — something about state law and aid for single parents. Watching him, she felt something she hadn’t let herself feel for years — an overwhelming attraction to a real, live man.
Then she remembered Malibu Melanie.
Reece already had a girlfriend, a gorgeous girlfriend. There was no way he would break up with her to spend time with a woman as unglamorous as Kara.
Then again he had left the bar with her, not Malibu Melanie. But a little voice inside her mind shot that hope to bits. He was giving her a ride home because Holly had run off, not because he was attracted to her. She felt her mood plummet.
“ Corona, right?”
Kara realized they had reached her street. “Take a right. It’s that one.”
He turned into the driveway, left the Wrangler running. “I’ll walk you to you door. It’s slick out there.”
By the time Kara had opened the passenger door — the handle was a bit confusing — he was standing beside her, offering her his hand. The ground seemed ten feet away.
“Easy.” He helped her down, slipped his arm through hers, walked with her up the flagstone path that led to her front door.
Even though she was wearing a thick winter coat, the contact was unsettling. She wanted to savor it. She wanted it to end. It had been a long time since she’d been physically close to a man.
“Watch the steps. That’s it.” He helped up her front porch one stair at a time, then released her.
A feeling not unlike desperation welled up inside her. She didn’t want him to leave. Not yet. “You’re nothing like I thought you’d be.”
“No? How so?” He stood so close she could feel his body heat.
“I had you figured for an overgrown frat boy.”
He frowned. “Now I am insulted. I was never in a frat.”
Kara giggled at the irritated tone in his voice. “Did you date cheerleaders?”
“No. They wanted nothing to do with me.”
“And you don’t drive a sports car.”
“They’re no good in three feet of snow, and I like to snowboard.”
“Like I said — you’re nothing like I thought.”
His lips curved in a wry grin. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Then, ignoring the voice of warning in her mind, she asked the question she’d wanted to ask all the way home. “Who is Malibu Melanie? Your girlfriend?”
He looked puzzled, his brow furrowed. “Who?”
“You know — the blonde bimbo you were with earlier.” She watched recognition dawn on his face.
He smiled, chuckled. “Who is Melanie?”
He cupped her shoulders in his palms, an amused smile on his face. “Melanie is my little sister.”
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