And they'd promised nothing.
Liam pulled into the kind of roadside dive she would never have had the guts to come to on her own, one with a dozen motorcycles parked outside.
"I've driven past here so many times," she said as they headed inside, "but never thought to stop. Have you been here before?"
Before he could answer, she heard someone call out, "Damned if I ever thought I'd see this day come again. Liam Kane live and in the flesh."
Liam nodded at the heavily tattooed man behind the bar. "Christie, meet Dick. We're in need of two of your specials."
Despite her shock that the two men knew each other--she'd assumed Liam lived solely in a world of suits--she couldn't help but smile back at the man who was grinning so widely at her. "It's nice to meet you, Dick."
"Nice to meet you too." His hands were deft as he quickly mixed up their drinks. "Good to see you back home, Liam. You've been missed."
Glasses in hand, they headed over to a small booth in the corner of the dark room. "He seems nice," she said.
"You like everyone, don't you?"
"Until I see a reason not to like them, yes."
"That trust is going to get you hurt, Christie."
She rolled her eyes. "That's so cynical."
More frustrated now by what Liam was saying than she'd been for the two hours they'd done their song-and-dance for the council, she picked up her glass and took a huge gulp. Her eyes were watering when she put the drink down. "My God, what's in this?"
"Who knows?" he said with a shrug and another one of those almost-smiles. "No one's ever been able to get Dick to give up the recipe."
Maybe she should have been angry with Liam for poisoning her with this way-too-potent drink. Maybe she should have been crying over the fact that their one shot at convincing the council to let her have her festival looked to be a big goose egg. Instead, she found herself laughing over the way everything in her life had spun so totally out of control. It was either laugh or cry. And she was afraid that if she started crying, she might never stop.
"I'll be right back." Amazed by how unsteady she felt on her feet after drinking only a few ounces of Dick's concoction, she was back sixty seconds later. "Got it," she said, triumphantly holding out the recipe.
"Dick told you what he puts in his signature drink?" Liam asked incredulously.
"I asked nicely."
"Only you could make a man spill a secret he's been holding on to for decades."
She took another, smaller sip of the surprisingly delicious drink. "If you ask me, he was dying to have someone to tell, but everyone's been too afraid to ask him all these years." Bolder for the drink, she leaned across the table. "Now it's your turn to tell me a secret."
She wasn't expecting his expression to change so quickly from teasing to deadly serious. "Stopping here was a bad idea. I'm sure you want to get back to the inn."
He was already pushing his chair back when she put her hand over his to halt him. She wished she could be inside his head, wished she could understand what had caused this abrupt change in him when they were finally relaxing with each other. But since she couldn't read his mind, she said, "I thought we were having fun. What did I do wrong?"
His eyes were dark, his jaw jumping. She felt the air change, knew everything between them was on the verge of shifting, a split second before he said, "This, damn it."
And then his hands were in her hair, and his mouth was on hers, and he was kissing all of the air from her lungs.
She'd wanted this kiss for too long to do anything but reach right back for him and deepen the sweetest, most sinful kiss she'd ever tasted.
When he finally pulled away and she could figure out how to form words again, she whispered, "That was my secret too."
Liam made sure there were no more kisses in the bar or during their drive back to the inn.
He should apologize to Christie for losing control like that, for taking something she hadn't offered. But how the hell could he ever be sorry about kissing her? She was softer, sweeter than any woman had ever been...and he wanted her more than he'd ever known it was possible to want anyone or anything.
Even though the way she'd flat-out asked him to tell her his secrets had cut straight to the core of him. Almost as if she knew things that she couldn't possibly know.
She said his name as they were getting out of his car in the employee lot behind the inn. The moon was barely a sliver, and it was dark. So dark he should have been safe stealing another glance at her beauty in the car's lights without being caught out as a thief.
"Are you sorry you kissed me?"
He should have known she would ask him something like that, the exact question no one else would dare say aloud.
Liam tried to remind himself that she couldn't possibly be the open book she seemed to be--the same reminder he'd been repeating to himself for days. Only this time, with the taste of her kiss still on his lips, though she still hadn't come completely clean with him about Wesley, he just couldn't get himself to believe it.
He opened his mouth to say yes, they shouldn't have kissed. But the lie wouldn't come. "No, I'm not sorry. Are you?"
"How could I possibly regret that kiss?"
He should have had an answer for her. Should have been able to clearly, and definitively, lay out all the reasons they shouldn't get involved. But somehow, being with Christie felt inevitable. From that first moment he'd seen her at Sarah and Calvin's wedding, he'd been inexplicably drawn to her. And no matter how many times he tried to pull away, in the end he'd found he couldn't actually do it.
Not even when she moved closer, so close that he swore he could almost hear her heart beating as she said, "Would you please kiss me again?"
Sweet Lord. No one had ever asked him to kiss her like that. With such honest desire. No wonder his bartender friend had given up his drink recipe to her. Christie was irresistible.
And then she was putting her hands over his shoulders and tilting her mouth up to his--and even the strongest man in the world couldn't have stopped himself from kissing her again.
Her lips were soft, and she tasted like a mixture of the
syrup in her drink and something that was uniquely Christie. One kiss wasn't nearly enough, so he kept going back for one more, and then another, and another after that.
How could anyone taste this good? How could anyone be this pure, this giving?
He couldn't keep his hands from gripping her tighter, from dragging her closer. Couldn't stop his heart from racing faster and faster as she made little sounds of pleasure, of joy, that shot right through to the center of him. And as she wound her arms tighter around him, she was everything he'd ever wanted, but had never let himself wish for.
In her kiss, there was more than just passion. She stirred up something so much bigger than desire inside of him--impossible hope and dreams for a future that he'd always believed could never be his.
Only, with every moment that passed, with every kiss Christie so willingly gave him, images of his brother touching her the same way grew larger, more insistent. Liam had never been a jealous lover. He'd never been possessive. But now, with nothing more than a few of Christie's kisses on his lips, all he could think was, Mine.
He dragged his mouth from hers. In the faint moonlight, he could see that her mouth was swollen from his kisses. He'd never wanted a woman this much, had never been on the verge of throwing her over his shoulder and carrying her upstairs to his bed. "Did my brother kiss you like this?"
Her eyes widened with shock. "Excuse me?"
He needed to stop, needed to take a step back and apologize for his jealous question. Instead, he did just the opposite. "Was this how he held you?" He ran his hands down from her shoulders to the rise of her hips.
She pushed against his chest. "You're acting like a child in a sandbox fighting over a prized toy."
He forced himself to release his hold on her. Damn it, he wasn't acting any better than her bastard ex-boyfriend had. But now that they were admitting the truth of their attraction to each other, he could no longer deny that visions of Christie and his brother together had been playing around the edges of his mind all week. Visions that had his stomach twisting.
"I'm going crazy thinking about the two of you," he admitted in a rough voice that he barely recognized as his own. Hell, he could hardly believe that he was standing in the parking lot of his inn pleading with a woman who used to be his brother's fiancee, begging her to tell him she wasn't thinking of anyone but him when they were making out.