I dare you, p.1
I Dare You!, page 1part #4 of Moments In Maplesville Series
I Dare You!
A Moments in Maplesville Novella
Copyright © 2014 by Farrah Roybiskie
Cover by Mae Phillips of CoverFreshDesigns.com
Edited by Karen Dale Harris
Kindle Edition License Notes
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I Dare You!
A Moments in Maplesville Novella
Bullshit! You’re gonna chicken out!
Stefanie Sutherland-Thomas’s fingers flew across the touchscreen as she pounded out a reply to her best friend Tania’s text message.
I won’t! I’m doing it. And with someone hot!
She pressed send then locked her cellphone before slipping it into the pocket of her too-form-fitting-for-her-own-comfort capri pants. She adjusted her back against the unforgiving bamboo barstool she’d occupied for the past twenty minutes, and tried once again to recall just what it meant to relax. She remembered the concept, but damn if she could figure out how to actually do it.
Wiping a trail of condensation from the hurricane-lamp-shaped glass, Stef took a deep pull on the straw that poked through the pineapple, orange, and maraschino cherry garnishing the tropical drink.
Her phone vibrated.
“Really, Tania?” She tugged the phone from her pocket again and laughed at the latest message.
I want proof, Tania had texted. If you don’t send proof, I’ll know you chickened out.
Stef shook her head as she typed.
How am I supposed to send you proof? Just trust me. You dared me. You know I never back away from a dare. Now stop texting. I’m on vacation.
She put the phone away—for good this time—and took another sip of the icy punch.
Her shoulders wilted with contentment. “Oh, that’s good.”
Stef tilted her head back and peered up at the beach bar’s thatched roof, its dry reeds rustling from the strong breeze that blew in from the west. She tapped her fingers to the melodious rhythms of a steel-drum band that carried on the wind, providing the perfect soundtrack to the start of her short vacation. Her very much needed vacation.
“How is it going here?” came a lilting island voice. She twirled her stool around and smiled at the handsome bartender. “Would you like to try a rum punch this time?” he asked.
“No, thank you,” Stef said. “I don’t drink alcohol.”
She raised the glass to her lips and peered at him above its rim. His rich mahogany skin stood in stark contrast to the peach and cornflower-blue print shirt the staff at the resort wore. He was a little on the young side, but she wouldn’t hold that against him, not in this particular instance. A cute, young hottie with nicely muscled arms and a pretty smile would work just fine when it came to taking on Tania’s dare.
And she would take on this dare.
Her best friend had been taunting Stef for months, accusing her of becoming a boring homebody who was too afraid to step out of her comfort zone. Tania had only made things worse when she sent Stef a bunch of selfies from her spur-of-the-moment cross-country motorcycle trip on the famous Route 66. It was just the kind of thing Stef once loved too. These days, trips to the post office were scheduled in her day planner.
Crazy and spontaneous were no longer a part of her vocabulary. They couldn’t be. She had a seven-year-old son to raise and a demanding job that didn’t mesh with the untamed, impulsive person she used to be. She’d silenced that Stefanie a long time ago.
But she’d never meant to cling so fiercely to the other end of the spectrum.
She’d been so determined to become the docile, well-behaved daughter her father could be proud of. A disciplined soldier, an agreeable wife, a nurturing mother. She’d done such a good job that she could hardly conjure a mental image of the girl she had been all those years ago. And that’s when she’d accepted that her friend was right—she was a boring homebody, a shadow of her former self. The realization had both shocked and repulsed her.
That’s why, when Tania had challenged her to do something wild and spontaneous while on vacation and away from the responsibilities she’d left back home, Stef had accepted the dare. There was nothing wrong with being a little uninhibited. That’s what escaping was all about. What happened in the islands stayed there, right?
And what would be crazier than having a one-night stand with a random stranger?
You know you won’t do it! Tania’s voice rang in her head.
Actually, that sounded more like her voice.
It was her voice, because Stef’s sensible side knew darn well that if she went through with this, it would be a mistake she would live to regret. However, the other side—the side that was ready to get laid after a drought that had lasted way too long—nudged the wicked little devil on her shoulder into action.
Wild and spontaneous.
She could drum up that girl she used to be just for tonight, couldn’t she?
“Yes?” He walked over to her, slinging a towel over his shoulder. “Can I get you another fruit punch?”
“Not yet, but thanks,” Stef said, adding a tinge of sauciness to her voice. If she was going to do this, then she’d better do it. She was only here for two and a half days.
Before her common sense could talk her out of it, she said, “There is…ah…something else you can give me, maybe when you get off work?”
And then she winked.
The look of instant horror that flashed across the bartender’s face sent every bit of bravado Stef had built up plummeting into the crystal-blue waters that surrounded the island.
Had she really just said that?
She suddenly had an overwhelming urge to jump down from the barstool and race back to her room. Hell, back to the airport. If it wasn’t for her twin brother Stefan’s wedding tomorrow, she would call her few hours in Turks and Caicos a wrap and haul ass back to Louisiana.
“I am so sorry,” Stefanie said. “I don’t know what made me say that.”
What was she doing? Other than making a fool of herself, that is.
The bartender’s tentative smile held several shades of discomfort. “I get it a lot. It comes with the job.”
Goodness, had his voice sounded so young before? He was a child!
“I truly am sorry,” Stef said again. “That was extremely inappropriate.”
“Really, it’s okay, ma’am.”
Ma’am? Great. He’d probably lumped her in with the desperate cougars that hit on him every day. If humiliation were a prize at the state fair, someone would be pinning a blue ribbon on her chest right about now.
With another smile—this one slightly less uncomfortable, but still awkward—the bartender went back to diligently wiping down the surface of the already pristine countertop. She was pretty sure it was relief that flashed across his face when a patron on the other side of the semi-circular bar summoned him.
Stef’s eyes fell shut while mortified tremors continued to quake through her belly.
Well, she could scratch the hot bartender off the list of eligible men with whom she could have a little naked island fun. It was pretty pathetic that, so far, he had been the only man on her list.
Fearing that a repeat of any eye contact would have her melting into a puddle of
It was obvious her brother, Stefan, and his soon-to-be wife, Callie, had chosen a resort that catered to couples to host their destination wedding. It made sense. Of the handful of close friends and family that had been invited to join them on Grand Turk, Stef was pretty sure she was the only one who was unattached.
“Good looking out for the single gal,” she said with an indelicate snort.
Although, she wasn’t all that surprised that Stefan and Callie hadn’t taken into account her relationship status as plans were being made. When her friends and family looked at her, they didn’t see single Stefanie—they saw widowed Stefanie.
Which apparently meant she shouldn’t feel like a ninth wheel around the other couples who would be here this weekend.
But she did. She felt like a lonely, desperate, undersexed ninth wheel that scared off cute bartenders with her sharp cougar claws.
Maybe she should add some rum to her fruit punch.
Nah, she and alcohol had engaged in a short, brutal relationship. The one time she’d tried it she’d become so sick that she’d never touched the stuff again. Besides, if by some miracle she were able to find someone to help her take on Tania’s dare, she wanted to be sober enough to enjoy it.
But there had to be a better way for her to occupy her time. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could endure sitting here under the hot July sun, sipping fruit punch like her life depended on it and making a fool of herself with her dismal attempts at flirting.
The rest of the wedding party and guests, who had all arrived yesterday, were sailing around the crystal-clear waters surrounding Grand Turk on a catamaran, no doubt having a great time as they enjoyed early evening cocktails. Stef had been delayed a day, flying first to Tampa to escort her seven-year-old, Jacob, to his grandparents, her late husband Brandon’s folks. Stefan had offered to remain behind so that he could be here when she arrived at the resort, but Stef wouldn’t hear of it.
Now, she was sorry she hadn’t taken her twin up on his offer. Watching all these loving couples walking hand in hand on the beach was giving her heartburn. She had no problem admitting that she was jealous as hell. It had been a long time since a man had taken her by the hand and looked at her with longing in his eyes.
Another pair of gooey-eyed lovers came up to the bar, taking the two stools to her left. She was forced to stomach a full five minutes of their giggles, playful kisses, and soft caresses.
Just as she was about to toss her drink on them to cool them off, Stef heard, “Is this seat taken?”
She looked to her right and stopped just short of having a coronary. Standing before her was the personification of tall, dark and gorgeous.
“No, it’s not,” she answered.
He gestured to the stool. “Do you mind?”
“Not at all.”
Yes, honey, why don’t you sit your cute butt right on down.
In less than five seconds, Stef had determined three things that made Mr. Tall, Dark and Gorgeous a prime candidate to help her accomplish her dare. No wedding ring, just enough wrinkles bracketing his mouth to indicate that he was over thirty, and no twittering twenty-something on his arm.
Oh, yeah, he was definitely going on the list. He wasn’t just on the list—he was the list.
As he climbed onto the barstool, her new neighbor smiled one of the most stunning smiles Stef had ever seen. Oh, wait. She had seen that smile before. She saw it every time she got sucked into a Criminal Minds marathon and saw Shemar Moore’s devastating dimples twinkling back at her. His skin was nearly the same golden brown as the bamboo stool he’d slid onto, and his face had just enough beard scruff to make her insides tingle at the thought of how it would feel rubbing against…interesting places.
Stef crossed her legs and bit back a moan. Goodness, but she was horny.
Mr. Gorgeous tapped on the bar to get the bartender’s attention, then turned her way and gestured to her drink.
“Can I buy you another?”
“Sure,” Stef said, even though she’d already consumed more fruit punch today than she had all of last year.
He motioned to the bartender who—damn him—definitely looked relieved that Stef had found someone else to flirt with. She made a mental note not to come back to this particular bar for the rest of the trip. The resort had at least a half-dozen others to choose from.
“A Turk’s Head Stout for me and a second of whatever the lady is having,” her new neighbor ordered.
“Thanks,” Stef said.
“My pleasure.” That dimple peeked out again. “One of the perks of visiting an island resort like this is the opportunity to buy a beautiful lady a drink, isn’t it?”
A crack of laughter shot from Stef’s mouth before she could rein it in. “Wow. You’re not even going to ease into this, are you? Pulling out the heavy artillery before I even know your name.”
She was rewarded with a flash of brilliant white teeth as he held his hand out to her. “I’m Dustin, and I’m not really known for my subtlety.”
“That’s quite alright. Subtlety is overrated,” she returned. “I’m Stefanie.”
“Pretty name for an equally pretty lady. What brings you to Grand Turk, Stefanie? Vacation?”
She nodded. “And you?”
“The same,” he said.
The bartender returned with their drinks. Dustin tipped his dark beer bottle toward her glass. “Is that a drink, or a fruit salad?”
Stef laughed again. “A combination of both.”
“You have a beautiful laugh,” he said.
Oh, he wasn’t even trying to be sly with his.
As if he’d read her mind, his grin broadened and he said, “When it comes to a beautiful lady I’m looking to impress, I’m shameless in my flirting.”
“I can tell.” Awareness cascaded down Stef’s spine. “It just so happens that you’ve come across a woman who has no problem at all with a handsome man calling her beautiful. Lucky you.”
He turned his barstool so that he was fully facing her. “I have to ask, Stefanie, why is such a beautiful woman like yourself sitting at this bar alone?”
She nearly let it slip that her vacationing companions were out touring the islands, but then remembered that despite the gorgeous dimples and the fact that he was currently the sole occupant on her dare-eligibility list, he was a complete stranger. She did have a bit of self-preservation floating somewhere in her head.
“I wanted to enjoy the view, but my friends can’t take the heat so they’re at the bar inside,” Stef answered. “What about the people you’re vacationing with? Or do you enjoy coming to couples’ resorts alone?”
“No, no, no.” He took another pull on his beer before continuing. “I’m here with a few friends. They’re out island hopping, but, unfortunately, work followed me from the States and I had to sit in on a conference call.”
Setting her elbow on the bar, Stef cradled her chin in her palm and, with amusement tinting her voice, said, “It sounds as if you need a refresher course in what it means to be on vacation. The point is to leave work at home, not bring it with you.”
An adorably chagrinned smile emerged, playing at the corners of his mouth and sending those addictive tingles skipping along her skin once more.
“I was upset that I was missing out on all the fun,” he continued as he leaned back, tracing a finger around the lip of his beer bottle. His warm gaze dropped to her mouth, and a ribbon of heat instantly curled through Stef’s blood. “I’m not anymore. There’s nothing they’re seeing on that tour that can capture my attention as much as what I’ve found right here at this bar.”
Oh, he was as smooth as butter melting over a hot biscuit. And just as scrumptious. Stef couldn’t deny that she was fall
And that was just fine with her.
She hadn’t flirted with a handsome man since well before her deployment to the Middle East. She couldn’t really call what she did back then flirting anyway. She’d lost her husband in a car accident the year before, and had just started to entertain the idea of dating again when her unit was called to action two Thanksgivings ago.
Her stunningly gorgeous bar mate had caught her at a vulnerable period in her life, and a part of her was grateful for it. If ever there was an ideal time for her to throw caution to the wind and engage in the casual island hook-up Tania had dared, it was now.
Their conversation progressed from shameless flirting—on both their parts—to more substantive discussions, like which was tastier: conch fritters or corn fritters. And who was the best Bond: Pierce Bronson or Sean Connery. Or, her favorite debate, which was better: red Kool-Aid or purple. The man actually picked purple. Even worse, he called it grape. He was clearly insane.
Stef’s eyes widened in surprise when she glanced over her shoulder and discovered that dusk had fallen.
“Something wrong?” Dustin asked.
“Not really. I just didn’t realize how much time had passed.”
“Do you have somewhere else you need to be?”
The trace of disappointed panic she heard in his voice massaged her still-tender ego. After the way the bartender had fled, it was flattering to have a man who actually wanted her attention.
“No,” Stef answered. A slow, seductive smile eased across her lips as she recalled his earlier assertion. “Besides, I doubt there’s anything on this island as fascinating as what I’ve found here.”
The naked heat that flashed in his eyes scorched her nerve endings. She was playing with fire; that much was obvious. They’d spent these past few hours engaging in increasingly sexual word play. Flirtatious. Sensual. Addictive.
Stef had found herself on the brink of inviting him to her room more than once. She wanted her one-night stand, and she wanted it now.
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