Tessa looked from the FBI agent’s outstretched hand up into his expectant eyes. Dancing meant more close proximity with the man after she’d unwittingly asked him to sleep with her. Apparently she hadn’t scared him off. And if he danced anything like he kissed...
“Thank you. I’d love to dance.” She stood, smoothing the skirt of the dress that she’d spent half a paycheck on.
Before they made it from the alcove, he twirled her into his arms and in seconds navigated them into the midst of the swaying bodies on the dance floor. It was a waltz, of course, a scandalous dance at one time, at least according to the historical romances she devoured like crack to an addict.
She’d always wondered why, but no more. He held her with perfect decorum—if the length of a paperback could be decorous—but with each of the music’s downbeats, each swing into that wide, looping circle, those inches evaporated, and they touched, just a beat in time. But her heart thumped with each beat, and her lungs seemed to hold less and less oxygen. Moisture erupted along her forehead and at her temples, and she licked her suddenly dry lips.
They were the first words he’d spoken, and he held her attention again in that predator’s gaze.
Her mind battled between the part of her that wanted to stay in that trance, in his arms that felt too good too soon, and the part of her that wanted to escape his intensity. She swallowed. “After this dance?”
His expression cleared, and he nodded. It might have been her imagination, but it seemed the distance between them had grown even slighter, so there were more of those touching beats amid the looping circles. More moments of breathlessness.
The song ended too soon, and he held on to her hand and led her toward the bar. She wouldn’t call his move dragging exactly, but she had to hurry her steps to match his pace. And if that warm clasp of his hand didn’t feel so good, she would have tugged it free.
Once there, he tipped his chin toward her. “What can I get you?”
“White wine spritzer, please?”
Another smile that made her insides go fuzzy flashed across his face. “Big drinker, are you?”
“I like to keep my wits about me, especially around an FBI agent.”
His eyebrows lifted as he handed her the drink. “We don’t bite.” He took a sip of his Coke, then added with a shrug, “usually.”
“Ha. You’re a funny guy.” More heat swam through her body as she pondered whether the innuendo had been only in her head. She couldn’t tell by his expression, so took another gulp for courage.
“Let’s get some food.”
Great. The man probably thought she was drunk after half a glass of diluted wine. He’d latched on to her free hand to tow her to the buffet table, where savory aromas filled the airspace around it.
Her stomach grumbled, and she pulled her hand free to press it against her the offending body part as they strolled the length of the food tables. She was calculating calories when he paused next to her, his plate already full.
“Ah, an analytical woman, I see.”
She glanced up from her perusal to find his gaze was pinned on her again. “When it comes to food? Yes. You can only have so much. I like to make it count.”
“Like kisses or...otherwise...under the mistletoe?”
His mouth pursed, but then he grinned, like he’d just lost a battle of holding in his amusement. Game on.
“The way you rushed down the stairs, it looked like you were ready for some action.”
Certain her skin had turned the color of over-ripe tomatoes, but still refusing to give in to whatever game he was playing, she gave him her shoulder and made her selections while he followed. Funny how she could already pick up on his particular scent, even within feet of dozens of savory foods.
Moments later, they were seated in another isolated alcove, alone. A candle at the center of the table flickered gold across his skin, and she reached for her spritzer.
“So, tell me about yourself, Tessa—short for Contessa—Baxter.” He forked a bite of ham into his mouth and chewed, eyes never leaving her face. “What’s it like being a math professor? Deadly boring?”
“Boring? No! Not at all. Numbers have always fascinated me.” Calmer, she pinched off a piece of biscuit and popped it in her mouth. “Mmmm, that is so good. I haven’t had a good biscuit in...I don’t know when.”
His eyes flared a darker brown, and he seemed to be inches closer than he had been moments ago. “Tastes of home?”
She nodded and was about to dive her fork into the mound of sweet potato casserole when Matthew’s phone chirped.
“Excuse me,” he murmured as he pulled it from his pocket. He glanced at the screen and his eyebrows did a nose dive, then he stood. “You’ll need to come with me, Ms. Baxter.” The teasing lilt in his baritone had turned to something much darker.
“What?” She laughed. “Seriously, the whole sex invitation thing was a mistake. My French skills are not what I thought they were.”
“It’s nothing to do with your language skills, Ms. Baxter...or should I call you Epsilon?”
Ignoring her, he snagged her wrists behind her back with his one hand and forced her forward, an arm around her back. Her mind frozen, she forced her gaze forward and hoped it looked like a lover’s embrace rather than a perp-walk.
They paused when they reached the foyer. Around them conversations halted and people gasped.
“Matthew, what are you doing?” The handsome blond man with the sexy French accent appeared, frowning.
“You texted confirming the presence of Epsilon,” Matthew said.
“Yes, we got her.” He gestured to his rear where a group of the liveried servants had a blonde woman subdued, face down on the floor.
Matthew turned another laser-like gaze on her and after a beat released her wrists. He pointed to her ankle. “Why did you tattoo an epsilon on your ankle?”
“My father was a math teacher. He called us epsilons...meaning we were small fry, diminutive. It was a nickname. He’s the one who got me interested in math. He died. I wanted a remembrance of him.” Now that he’d released her, anger churned in the pit of her gut. “Why? What were you thinking?”
His face paled and he swallowed thickly, looking like he needed the nearest restroom. “I can explain.”
Before he could, Sammi rushed up, interrupting. “Did you see that? They just arrested some spy. Epsilon or something. Mom’s freaking out.”
“Oh really?” Tessa crossed her arms over her chest and glared at her captor. “You thought I was a spy? Because of a tattoo?!”
His mouth firmed into a tight line. “It was more than that.” He explained the alerts the embassy had received, the vague description of the suspect. “You fit what we knew. My humblest apologies.”
She snorted. “Get real. You don’t have a humble molecule in your body. You better have more than that or I’ll...” Her mind searched for a punishment that would fit his crime.
His lips relaxed, and that grin broke out on his face again. “You’ll try more of your French on me again?”
“Oh! That was just rude, making fun of my lack of skills. At least I tried. Let’s see how well you’d do in a calculus competition.”
He lifted his hands, palms out.”You got me there.” Silence fell for a few moments.“Tell you what. In two weeks I’ll be back in New York. We’ll get together for some lessons. French, I mean.” The tease was back in his voice and her anger evaporated.
She tried to keep the sternness in her mouth, but couldn’t hold it. Her heart lightened, lifting her lips into a grin. “I do need the practice. But I’m not sure I can wait. I wouldn't want to get myself in another compromising situation.”
“What did you have in mind?”
Tessa moved closer, braced her palms on his chest and nudged him backward several feet, then looked up to where the mistletoe hung directly overhead.
He glanced up, then met her gaze.
Her heart thundering, she said, “Embrasse-moi?”
He smiled as he drew her closer. “Practice makes perfect.”
- The End -
I hope you've enjoyed Found in Translation. Please stop by tomorrow for the first part of Brenda Whiteside's story. I can't wait to read what she has in store for us!
Wishing you and yours a joyous holiday, and a safe, healthy and happy 2017!