Kendall Murphy pushed through the crowd of writhing bodies and headed towards the bar. She smoothed out her short, slinky, silver skirt and hiked up the strapless, black figure-hugging bodice, wondering if maybe she was making a big mistake.
No. She refused to give into her insecurities even though they were almost as deafening as the music that was pounding through the packed club.
Wherever she stepped, Kendall was bumped into, unknown hands touching her body as she forced her way through. Already the heat was unbearable and a drop of sweat rolled uncomfortably between her breasts. A haze of artificial smoke lingered on the floor, swirling around the clubbers’ knees as bright strobe lights shone against the back wall, the only light visible, changing every few seconds, casting the exposed brick in an array of rainbow colours. Though the room was lit enough to see without straining the eyes, dark shadows added a little mystery.
Digging into her purse, she pulled out a ten dollar note and waited to be served. A bartender came up to her, ignoring a couple of men who had been standing there when she’d arrived at the bar.
“What would you like?”
She straightened her shoulders and looked the bartender in the eye. She was no longer Matt Murphy’s little sister. She was a woman. A person in her own right.
She wasn’t doing anything wrong. She was legal. Barely. It was three minutes past midnight on her eighteenth birthday and Kendall breathed in the smell of freedom…and sweat.
A swarm of butterflies had erupted in her belly the moment she’d snuck out of her older brother’s house barely thirty minutes ago and had yet to dissipate. She knew she was disobeying Matt’s rules and yet was determined to spread her wings. It was crazy to feel so guilty since she was legally an adult but Kendall knew in Matt’s eyes she would always be his baby sister. Someone for the senior constable of the Harbour Bay Police force to protect. She loved Matt. He’d been her surrogate father since their father had died when he’d been eleven, and Kendall only a baby but he smothered her, she was unable to make her own mistakes and carve her own life, away from his eagle eye.
“Vodka and orange.”
She wasn’t much of an alcohol connoisseur but Kendall liked the taste when she took a sip of the drink and then sculled the remaining liquid. Feeling slightly uncomfortable in her surroundings, she needed the courage to loosen up, and ordered another two so she didn’t need to bother the bartender for a while.
Standing off to the side, she drank her second drink more slowly, starting to feel the buzz. She studied the people on the dance floor as they moved, feeling almost voyeuristic but curious at the way their bodies moved in sync with the music, and with one another. Velocity had the best DJ in town and the bass made the entire floor vibrate. The tension in her muscles eased as she reached the bottom of her second glass and made the move on the third. Kendall closed her eyes and listened to the music, her body gently swaying to the beat, her mouth curving into a smile. When she opened her eyes she took a deep breath and pushed through the outer wall of dancers until she found a small space where she could dance.
Her moves were stiff at first until she found her own rhythm and moved her hips in line with the beat. Kendall smiled, not feeling as awkward as she had assumed she would and soon her forehead was coated with a fine sheen of perspiration. Every so often a man would grab her hips and gyrate behind her or grab a hand and spin her about before bringing her flush hard up against him. The first time she had been touched she’d jumped before realising it was just harmless flirting. She’d even laughed when two women had dragged her into their dance circle and slid up and down her body in what she knew to the outside observer would be sexy and provocative moves.
Feeling powerful, her own confidence in her sexual prowess heightened as she copied some of the other female dancers’ moves. She wiggled her hips, rotated her shoulders and flipped her hair a couple of times. Slowly, Kendall raised her arms above her head, entwined her fingers together, and bowed her back.
Rough hands covered hers and she leaned back into the hard, warm chest behind her. The contact singed her and yet at the same time she pulsed with renewed life. Together their hands drifted down and his arms tightened around her until there wasn’t a breath of space between their bodies. Every inch of her touched him and his strength was firm against her softness.
Taking a deep breath, she turned her head slightly to look over her shoulder and found herself staring into the deepest of blue eyes she’d ever seen. The air surrounding her and her companion vibrated and arced with electricity. She startled slightly in shock, surprised by her reaction. Her lips were just millimetres from his. She couldn’t help her gaze from drifting down and her mind from wondering how those lips would taste. She licked her own as if tasting him there. When she realised what she was doing, she jerked her gaze back to his eyes. A shudder ran through her as and noticed they had darkened.
He chuckled and released one hand from around her middle to gently sweep away the hair from her neck. Leaning down, he kissed the bare skin, his lips lingering.
Kendall shivered. His eyes twinkled and with the hand still holding hers he spun her around to face him, giving them both the first good look at the other. He was tall but she already knew that, and he was built. His torso and arms were in a pale blue button-up shirt that strained against his chest when he moved, threatening to tear at the seams. A pair of navy dress pants moulded strong, hard thighs.
Her mouth dried. He looked like a model; his blond hair was messy and damp from sweat but didn’t drawn attention away from his sexiness. His face was flushed just as she imagined hers must be. She hoped her makeup had held. Oh, God. What if it hadn’t? Is that why he was staring at her? That would be just her luck. Kendall let out a deep breath and her bangs fluttered.
His gaze dropped to her breasts. Kendall wasn’t well endowed and her shirt wasn’t showing her cleavage to its advantage, but he seemed spellbound and her body tingles and her pulse raced.
A smile curved his lips and he drew his gaze from her breasts and looked her casually up and down. When he held her gaze, she found his eyes had changed again but were unreadable; her experience was limited. He reached out and tucked her hair behind her ear and over her shoulder before trailing his fingers down her arm to rest on her waist. Goose bumps raised on her skin despite the heat.
He pulled her closer to him until her breasts were flattened against his chest. Her heart beat in time with the fast tempo, and she looped her hands around his neck. They began moving in unison, his free hand moving to her back and slowly inching down to her bottom.
Little fireworks went off inside her as her body rubbed against his, his hand hot and almost burning on her arse. She closed her eyes. Kendall was sure she would burn in hell for allowing this man—this stranger—free reign of her body but at that moment she couldn’t have cared less. Breathless, her head spun in a delicious way. Her heart beat faster and her head spun.
A low growl reached her just seconds before warm lips touched hers. She should protest but couldn’t muster enough energy to. Her legs wobbled, her knees no more substantial than a wet noodle. She was sure he was the only reason she was still upright, her arms were locked around his neck, practically clinging to him. The kiss was sweet and gentle, soft and slow as if he had all night just to kiss her. She sighed against him, her mouth parting slightly and his tongue slipped inside to rub against her own. He tasted delicious, like liquid chocolate with a touch of mint. She kissed him back, unable to get enough, the kiss changing, the tempo rising, the pressure increasing until it consumed her. She moaned into his mouth not wanting him to stop and he seemed more than willing to oblige.
When air became an issue, she pulled back and stared at him. Every nerve ending sizzled. He breathed with difficultly, as though he too found it hard to pull enough oxygen into his lungs. His gaze wandered over her, his eyes wide as if surprised. Could what had just occurred be as much a shock to him as it was to her? She could still taste him on her lips and in her mouth as if he had branded her and frankly she liked it.
When he spoke, his voice came out as a husky timbre. “I’m Austin.”
Kendall smiled, feeling her cheeks burn. She wet her lips, suddenly nervous despite their slightly raunchy dance and hot kiss. “Kendall.”
Austin pressed a fingertip to one of the twin dimples that always appeared in her cheeks when she smiled.
“So, Kendall, what brings you out tonight?” Each word sounded like an effort, his gaze flicking to her lips every few seconds as if he wanted more despite him putting some distance between them. Not much, but more than there had been.
“Just cutting loose. Today’s my birthday and I wanted to celebrate.”
“All alone?” His blond eyebrows drew down into a vee.
She shrugged. “My older brother’s kind of a drag. He’s a cop and still sees me as a ten-year-old. I kinda snuck out tonight.”
He laughed. “You don’t seem the type.”
Her heart sank. What it that obvious? “I’m usually not.”
Austin ran his thumb over her cheek. “Well I’m glad you were tonight. Happy birthday, Kendall. I hope it’s a day you won’t easily forget.”
Kendall suddenly felt shy. She wanted to drop her chin and hide but made herself stay still under his stare. “Thanks. What about you?”
He leaned in, the music becoming louder. “It’s my last night of freedom. I joined the army and head out tomorrow—today,” he corrected.
Kendall smiled again and leaned towards him, brushing her lips across his for a fleeting moment, feeling bold. “Something to think about,” she said shyly, not used to making the first move.
“It won’t be the only thing.” He pulled her back to him, his promise lingering. The air between them crackled. Kendall giggled, feeling free and utterly alive. Knowing the moment wouldn’t last, she decided to make the most of it while she could.
She was so focused on Austin that she thought it was her imagination that the music dimmed until she heard someone shout out: “Last call.”
Austin’s gaze scorched her soul. “One more for the road?”
“Wait right here. I’ll be back.” He disappeared into the crowd towards the bar.
Kendall’s body hummed. She was sure she was smiling but she couldn’t seem to help herself. Not that she really wanted to. She knew what her brother would say about her behaviour, that she was being foolish. That she wasn’t being careful but she didn’t care. For once, careful, cosseted Kendall Murphy was having unsupervised fun.
Austin came back with two glasses, one she noted was vodka and orange and the other was a beer. He handed her the vodka and she briefly wondered how long he had been watching her before making his move. It should’ve made her nervous but only served to enhance her growing attraction.
She drank deeply and danced, enjoying it more now than she had earlier. She guessed Austin had something to do with that and the way he responded to her moves with his own. They moved so well together it was almost like it had been choreographed. Kendall’s heart pounded from the exertion of the dancing and perspiration coated her body. She was happy to see Austin looking as dishevelled as she must be.
The room went quiet. The sudden void almost deafening in its own. Everyone stopped dancing and started collecting their things, their voices strained from screaming at one another over the music as they chattered happily. Kendall checked her mobile phone and realised it was three am. It was the latest she had ever stayed out. She stood still as she caught her breath, watching the movement around her.
Austin touched her arm and she looked up at him. “Can I walk you out?”
She nodded. “Sure.”
The breeze was cool against her heated skin and Kendall took deep breaths, filling her lungs with fresh air, her ears ringing a little from the bass and decibel level. She couldn’t stand still, energised despite the hour and the dancing she had done. She glanced over at Austin and disappointment tugged at her. This was it. This was goodbye. Sadness enveloped her now their night had ended.
“Thank you for making tonight so wonderful, Austin. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun.”
Kendall believed he meant it.
Silence fell and she shifted on her feet nervously. “I guess I better get going.” She leaned over to kiss him quickly. He had other plans. She went up in flames, feeling engulfed. Kendall clung to him as he ravished her mouth, one hand on her jaw, the other splayed against her back. She melted against him.
“Stay with me tonight, Kendall,” he murmured against her lips.
Kendall went still. She wasn’t stupid. She knew what he was asking and what she would be agreeing to by accepting the invitation but this was what she wanted—to break free of her invisible bonds. To truly live outside the protective bubble her brother had put her in. Sure, she knew that wasn’t a good enough reason to do something so reckless but for the first time in her life she felt alive. Feeling exhilarated, she didn’t want it to end.
This was the beginning of her life. It was her choice. And she wanted to live in the moment. “Okay,” she whispered.
Austin pulled away. “Are you sure?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
He took her hand. “I’m staying just around the corner.” He waited to see what she would do. Kendall took a step in the direction he indicated and he fell in with her, matching his strides with her much shorter ones.
Her heart pounded and she couldn’t catch her breath. Her body hummed with tension. Would she be able to get through this night? So far, she had pretty much fluked her way. The nervous butterflies were back, somersaulting in her stomach, the feeling only intensifying as Austin came to a stop outside a small motel.
He turned to face her and she smiled, hoping to hide her anxiety. She liked him—her heart whispering to her that maybe she was even falling for him and she wanted to seem sophisticated, and worldly, and not a scared teenager who’d never had a boyfriend in her life. Matt had been too good of a deterrent for the boys she knew. It was crazy. She was crazy. She hardly knew Austin but that didn’t seem to matter.
He tugged on her hand and they began climbing the outer staircase to the second level. Austin fished out his keys from his pocket and unlocked the door to the room which was situated on the end, only sharing one wall with the room next door.
He opened the door and she froze for a moment. Should she back out? No, she didn’t want that. She wanted to experience everything life had to offer. After all that had been the goal of the evening. Kendall blew out her cheeks then took a step into the room.
Tonight was going to be the beginning of the rest of her life.