38 year-old retired Marine, Casey, is looking good to 50 year-old lingerie model, Alexa after deciding to end her sexual recess. OK, the age gap worries her more than him, but a conventional relationship is absolutely out of the question because Casey is related to the boyfriend of her daughter. In her already complicated life, the last thing Alexa needs is another talk-show worthy drama!
All Alexa Ranger wanted in the whole world was a hot bath and an early night's sleep. Days like today where she ended up arguing with her entire staff made her seriously question why at fifty she still wanted to be the creative force behind her lingerie designs. She should be soothing herself with jazz music and bubbles. Instead, she was heading to a cocktail party still dressed in her work clothes, even though last minute socializing was not her idea of fun anymore.
But then who was she kidding? Nothing was fun anymore. Her moods shifted from contented to maudlin in the blink of an eye because of it. She hadn't been able to wine, dine, or pleasure the restlessness away in a very long time.
Angry at herself for agreeing to something she didn't want to do, she frowned as she pulled into the parking lot of Seth Carter's condo, her mind finally slowing down enough to think about checking her appearance. She parked and flipped down a mirrored visor that had seen a lot of use.
Pulling a lip gloss from her purse, she quickly and expertly dashed it across the generous lines of her mouth.
Mascara and eyes still looked okay at least. No need to add more, she decided.
Her mineral powder seemed to still be keeping down the shine on her face; thank goodness for great foundation.
Alexa pondered her reflection, finally deciding against brushing her hair and making it flatter. Instead, she finger combed it until she had achieved what she considered to be an attractively disheveled look falling somewhere between slutty-just-out-of-bed and alluring come-mess-me- up-further.
Or if not, at least the lush hair she invested in maintaining would partially save her this evening from looking like frump mom in jeans and a shirt with a coffee stain decorating one breast.
Maybe she dreaded this evening because the crowd inside was just Seth's business acquaintances. They weren't even friends of Jenna's.
But in the end it hadn't mattered who they were. Alexa had caved because her twenty-seven- year-old daughter rarely asked for anything from her these days. Stop by and meet Seth's cousin Casey, Jenna had encouraged. Two minutes--that's all, she had promised.
And it wouldn't kill her to make the effort to meet Seth's only remaining family, Alexa had reasoned, when she could no longer think of excuses to put off stopping by.
Unfortunately, her motherhood righteousness didn't even last the whole trip down the sidewalk. She rolled her eyes at the loud throbbing music as she neared the front door. Great, Alexa thought, feeling the vibrations in her teeth. She was tempted--very tempted--to turn right around and call Jenna from the parking lot.
Before the idea of avoiding the torture could take stronger root, Alexa made herself push the doorbell. The person standing nearest to the door immediately opened it for her.
Alexa smiled in thanks and moved inside slowly, scanning for Jenna or Seth. Not seeing either, and not remembering where anything was from her one previous visit, she moved through the mash of bodies in the living area toward what appeared to be the kitchen.
*** *** ***
Casey's first thought when he saw Alexa Ranger heading toward the kitchen and him was how much she looked like Jenna at first glance. His gaze lingered to study her as she wound her way through the people leaning against the sides of the hallway.
Males she passed either discreetly, or not so discreetly, followed her progress down the hall. Women stopped talking to frown as she moved by, especially when they noticed the men they were talking to being distracted by the attractive, older woman.
Trained by the military to be a keen observer, Casey smiled at both the wariness of the females, and the predatory glint in the gazes of the males. Jenna's mother had to be at least a decade older, possibly two in some cases, than most of the people Seth had invited.
Not that he was immune to her allure either, Casey thought, despite the fact she was at least a decade older than he as well. It was damn impressive to watch the woman move her tall, curvy body through the crowd. Along with every other male she passed by, he couldn't help noticing aging ex-model Alexa Ranger was even better looking in person than online or in the papers.
Jenna had definitely come from a master mold.
Once in the kitchen, Alexa sighed with what Casey could see was genuine relief to be in the clear of the people crush.
"Hi," she said to him breathlessly. "I don't suppose you've seen Jenna Ranger or Seth Carter, have you?"
"They're around somewhere, but it's probably safer and less trouble in this crowd to let them find you," Casey told her with a casual smile. "I'm your bartender this evening. Can I get you a drink while you wait?"
"Got a bottled water?" Alexa asked, smiling back.
"We've got filtered on the rocks or carbonated with just a hint of lime," Casey said teasing. She was much more appealing than he'd imagined she would be from Jenna's descriptions of her.
"Filtered--straight up, no rocks," Alexa said, joking in return. "I need the hard stuff. It's been one of those days."
Casey nodded and filled a glass of cold filtered water from the refrigerator door. Behind him, he heard her laugh at the unglamorous source of her drink. She was smiling and obviously amused when he handed the full glass across the counter to her.
He watched her take a couple sips before she spoke to him again.
"Thanks," Alexa said finally. "I'm Alexa Ranger by the way--Jenna's mother."
"You know I figured that out already. She looks a lot like you. I'm Casey Carter," he said, introducing himself.
Casey put one hand on the counter to brace himself and support his bad leg as he reached the other hand over it for Alexa to shake. He smiled when Alexa set down her water glass and leaned her long body partially over the wide counter as well to make it easier for him to reach her.
"Casey? You're the reason I stopped by. Well, it's nice to meet you, fin--finally," Alexa said, stumbling a little over the words.
When Casey slid his palm across Alexa Ranger's, he was surprised at the electrical current that shot through him. He almost laughed when Alexa's startled gaze locked itself to his. Looks like she felt it too, he thought.
How long had it been? Two years, he decided. Two years since he'd felt anything for a woman, much less an attraction that made his blood rush. Alexa's pupils dilated, and Casey felt a tremble in the slender fingers wrapped around his palm.
He was as keenly aware of her reaction as he was of his own, but Casey could think of nothing sensible to say in reply to her introduction, mostly because he was too distracted by what was happening to the lower half of him under the counter. If it continued, he was going to have to adjust himself as soon as he dropped her hand. Not that he would mind, he wasn't the kind of man who embarrassed easily, but Alexa might be a little shocked at the reaction she'd caused.
He tightened his hold on her hand just a little and watched her eyes darken to the color of storm clouds. Her breathing grew a little erratic, but she never looked away. As they looked at each other, suddenly an image of kissing Alexa Ranger flashed through Casey's mind. The sigh he'd been holding in came out like a breathless groan of anticipation.
Casey never would have dreamed in a million years Alexa would respond to that kind of mating signal from him, but she drew in sharp breath and blushed. His erection hardened even further, confirming the intense attraction.
When Alexa lowered her gaze to their still joined hands, it took every ounce of his self- control not run his thumb over her knuckles just to see what she would say or do.
She caught her bottom lip in her teeth, sucked it in thoughtfully, and swallowed hard when she released it. She cleared her throat, opened her mouth to speak, met his gaze again, and--said nothing. It made him want to laugh.
By now, Casey was guessing thirty seconds had passed with nothing more than a tight hand grip between them. She still wasn't tugging her hand away, and he wasn't moving to end the contact either. He still held tightly enough to keep her body stretched across the counter. Casey thought Alexa looked little afraid he was going to yank her over it the rest of the way, which actually seemed a pretty natural next step to him, he admitted.
He opened his mouth, intending to tell her what was happening to him, to ask what was happening to her. One of them needed to say something, at least acknowledge the situation.
"Oh, good. You found each other," Jenna declared loudly, entering the kitchen. Her gaze went immediately to his and Alexa's clasped hands, and she smiled.
Casey let go at last, shocked further by his reluctance to do so. He heard the echo of Jenna's words in his head as he considered how close he had been to making a serious pass at her mother.
Yeah, we found each other all right, he thought.
Casey watched Alexa take a large step back from the counter. Her face was a fascinating shade of embarrassed pink. Casey knew with the tiniest bit of honesty that he could probably cause it to darken several more shades.
Jenna put a hand to her mother's face. "Mama, are you okay? Your face is so flushed." "I'm fine, Jenna," Alexa protested, pulling Jenna's hand from her forehead.
Alexa looked at Casey, and then turned her attention to Jenna and shook her head. "I'm fine," Alexa repeated. "Just a rough day. I need to make it an early night."
"Okay. Let's find Seth, and then you can go," Jenna said, looping her arm through her mother's. "Thanks for coming by to meet Casey."
"Of course. It was nice to meet you--Casey," Alexa said, pronouncing his name very carefully.
Casey could tell Alexa forced her gaze to meet his once more even though awareness of their attraction colored her face still.
"It was good to meet you too," Casey said, smiling in approval of her nerve. "I'm sure we'll be seeing each other."