"Sometimes I feel like I’m spinning my wheels," Daisy said in a low voice. "Doing what I do. I mean, it’s more than mixing cocktails. It’s more than I ever expected, being a part owner of a successful place like With a Twist. But….”
She looked away and caught her bottom lip with her teeth. Rome reached out and brushed his fingertips against her mouth, forcing her to release it. Those wide eyes looked into his and he felt that tightness around his heart and lungs.
“But?” he repeated softly.
“Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong,” she whispered. She laughed, but the sound held a ring of sadness. “Jasmine and Rose—the other owners and my friends—they’re both amazing. Jasmine manages our business and finances. Rose…” She shook her head. “Well you ate her food. She’s a genius.”
“No argument there,” he said. Dinner last night had been delicious. She’d turned a piece of chicken into a gourmet meal.
“The truth is, I’m a fake. I have to troll the web for drink ideas. I’m not even smart enough to come up with them myself.”
She gulped in a big breath of air, as if she’d just confessed to something so appalling that it had stolen the oxygen from her body. Her cheeks pinked and she looked away.
“I think you’re plenty smart enough. Mixing drinks just isn’t where you’re heart’s at.”
Those incredible eyes came up and round, so vulnerable and hopeful that Rome found himself struggling to breathe, too.
“You’re looking for your bliss,” he said.
She cocked her head, questioning, her eyes shimmering in the subdued lighting.
“Something my father quotes—from a famous scholar. He says you should follow your bliss. Do what’s in your heart. Of course, sometimes it’s easier to quote than apply it to life, but it’s true.”
“What if you don’t know what that is?” she asked in a low voice. “What if you don’t know your own…bliss?”
In that moment, Daisy struck him as a paradox—so supremely confident in her red dress and high heels and so incredibly fragile beneath the silken shroud. She was the kind of woman men slay dragons for and he wanted to beat down the fire breathing beasts that had put such vulnerability in her beautiful eyes.
The idea of it rattled him. He straightened, taking a step back, but he couldn’t look away. “There’s nothing you’ve always wanted to do?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know…after my mother died, I…. Well, I never finished college. I’m not qualified for anything.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
She tilted her head down and her hair made a satin veil around her face, hiding her expression from him. But he could sense the turmoil going on inside her. It had taken him a long time to justify leaving a career many would kill for, to do something that others considered manual labor. Saying what he wanted had been the first and hardest step. After that, everything fell into place. Articulating his dreams had been the catalyst to making them come true.
“I guess I’d like to go back to school,” she murmured so softly that he almost missed it. “Study art. Maybe….” She shrugged. “It’s crazy. Do you know how hard it is to make a living as an artist?”
She ran her fingers through her hair in a careless move and gave him a hundred watt smile that dazzled him while at the same time, left him feeling strangely dissatisfied. It took him a moment to realize why. The smile was as much a disguise as the dress and the blithe flip of her hair.
“Don’t,” he said, without meaning to.
The smile faltered and her gaze searched his. He would swear she’d heard his thoughts.
“You’re right,” she murmured. “It’s not real.”
“But you are, Daisy. Life’s too short to pretend.”
She nodded once—a brief, jerky motion that revealed so much. He sensed that inside her, something had clicked into place. Perhaps voicing the dream she’d thought silly had given it substance.
“You’re not what I expected,” she said after a moment.
“And what did you expect?”
She shrugged, avoiding his eyes, and he laughed.
“I’m not going to let you get away with that, Daisy. What did you expect? Tell me.”
She shifted uncomfortably, crossing her long legs and then uncrossing them again. “I don’t know. I guess I thought you’d be a little conceited. Fast and loose with the lines.”
Shocked, he asked, “Why would you think that?”
Her cheeks flamed as she pointed at him, twirling her finger to indicate his whole appearance. He stopped his automatic impulse to check his fly and tried to look nonplussed. But he felt like he was ten and being teased on the playground
“Look at you,” she said with a hasty gulp of her wine. “I mean, really.”
He couldn’t help it, he looked down, imagining his buttons done up crooked or two different shoes on. Surreptitiously, he brushed a hand over the front of his pants. Nope, fly was shut.
Daisy let out a soft laugh that feathered against his senses. “You’re gorgeous, Rome,” she said. “You can’t tell me you don’t know that.”
It was his turn to blush—hot and hard—while Daisy grinned at him, obviously enjoying his embarrassment.
“Definitely not what I expected,” she said again, in a throaty voice that turned the blood suffusing his face south to another part of his body.
When he’d walked into With a Twist last night, he could have sworn the earth had moved. He felt that again, now. Here. Because of her.
Pitching his voice low so she’d have to lean in to hear, he said, “That’s funny, because you’re everything I expected. Even more.”
He watched her digest that, wash it down with another sip of wine, and then stare deeply into his eyes. She looked like she might say something and his guess was that she’d try to brush off his words as a cheap line rather than believe that he saw something extraordinary in her. But she must have read the truth in his steady gaze because she held her breath and her beautiful eyes widened.
Without thought, he leaned closer and took in that wonderful scent of hers that made his brain feel hot and his skin tight. She watched him, her gaze intent and unflinching. And then he closed the distance between them and pressed his mouth to hers.
He’d meant the kiss to be fleeting. A testing of waters. An introduction and invitation. Perhaps even a question. But the moment their lips touched, he ceased to think. Her mouth moved beneath his, and his tongue whispered across her bottom lip, caressing its fullness. She tasted of wine and sunshine, the kind that warmed the soul and rejuvenated the spirit. Her scent wrapped around him, clean and exotic, pure and erotic all at the same time.
When it came to women, Rome wasn’t the kind of guy who went straight for the goal. He didn’t view dating like a doorway to sex. He wasn’t into the one-night stand. He liked to know more than a woman’s name before he took her into his bed—he liked to know who she was inside.
But with this woman, he already felt connected. He sensed that beneath the surface of Daisy L’Amore, he’d find something he’d been looking for most of his life.
Still, the next words out of his mouth, took him completely by surprise.
“Do you want to get out of here?” he breathed against her lips, stunned by his own audacity and floored by the way every cell in his body begged her to say yes.
She pulled away for just an instant and stared into his eyes. Her lids looked heavy and slumberous, but what he saw in those vibrant depths was wide-awake and matched the yearning of his own emotions. He saw uncertainty and longing, rejection and acceptance, joy and fear. That look seemed to articulate all of the confused and overpowering emotions clamoring for attention inside of him.
“And go where?” she asked, the breath of her voice a heated sensation against his lips.
“With me,” he answered simply.
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Don't forget the other books in from the sexy, martini-inspired Love, Served with a Twist Valentine’s Day series by Amazon bestselling authors Erin Quinn, Calista Fox, and Mary Leo: