The heavy thump of bass beat a little faster than his heart, making him feel as if his body were off kilter. His sparkling water with lime was not what he wanted tonight, but it was all he could have.
By his calculations, he could reach NAS-Jacksonville in plenty of time to catch a Mac-flight back to Camp Lejeune so long as he was on the road by 0200. He should've made the long drive up the coast already. If he had, he could've taken an earlier hop and been resting in his officer's quarters by now. But his leave wasn't officially over just yet, and it was New Year's Eve, not the type of night meant to be spent asleep on base--at least not if he could help it.
He sipped his drink and glanced around the nightclub. Why he'd chosen to come here tonight, he wasn't sure. He wasn't looking to get drunk or laid, but that seemed to be the expectation if the centerpieces were any indication. Each table around the dance floor sported an odd assortment of taxi-cab business cards and condom packets arranged like floral bouquets. He chuckled as he plucked one of the blossoms.
A very young couple bumped into him by accident, and the girl erupted into a fit of giggles as if overcome by laughing gas.
"Sorry, mister," the boy said, trying to support his date, though he seemed a bit unsteady himself. He urged his giggle-happy girlfriend to apologize, too, but the most he got out of her was a snort and playful slap to the chest. Despite his obvious intoxication, evident wariness filled the boy's rounded, bloodshot gaze.
"No problem." A nod of reassurance that no brawl was imminent sent the couple stumbling on their way. When they moved on, he turned back to his unused condom collection ... and water.
God, he felt old. "Too old for this shit," he murmured to no one in particular.
It was true; he was too old to hang out in a place where the average age was just above legal. Thirty-eight wasn't exactly ancient, but he'd seen too much, survived too much. Resting his elbows on the tiny table where he sat, he brushed his fingers through his crew cut and sighed, then gripped his head between his hands.
He really should get back to base. He and his men would soon ship out for what amounted to his third tour to the Middle East. The battalion of Special Operation Marines he commanded depended on him. And, in the last two tours, he'd seen too many young men die. Boys just starting out their lives. Young husbands who'd never make it home to their wives. Fathers who wouldn't see their babies' first steps.
Just one of the many reasons he'd avoided similar commitments in his own life.
He wondered if it was his turn to die, if his number would come up this time around. Last time, he'd taken some shrapnel from a roadside bomb that blew up the Humvee, but his wounds had been superficial. The same bomb had killed one of his boys and sent another home without his right leg.
He wasn't afraid to die, and he was proud to serve his country, but the aches and pains of old injuries took their toll. Despite the fierce fitness regimen his pride and military training demanded, he wasn't the gung-ho young Marine any longer. This would be his last tour regardless of whether he made it home alive.
The end of this tour would mark twenty years of service to the Corp. Although his father and grandfather--both decorated Marines and foreign war vets in their own right--wanted him to stay in and get his stars, he just didn't have it in him any longer. He was tired and had no desire to exchange field work for the desk jobs necessary to gain the higher, star-studded ranks.
Glancing out at the dance floor where young twenty-somethings writhed and ground against each other--some necking, some doing more than that--he came to another startling conclusion.
He was fucking lonely. He wanted to settle down in one place and enjoy the love of one woman before he was too old to give a shit. Preferably, a woman willing to cater to his darker urges for the long term. With his job and the risks he took because of it, he'd kept women at a distance, except for the occasional one-night vanilla fuck. When he got home in six months, that would change. But not yet.
He leaned back in his chair and crossed his ankles under the table, sipped his mineral water, and watched the action around him, trying to enjoy the evening. The monstrous two-story nightclub was decked out with silver and blue streamers and balloons for the occasion. Glancing at his watch, he realized there were only about forty minutes left until the clock struck midnight and the new year rolled in.
Once he returned to base, he'd have to complete final debriefings before he boarded the transport that would take him back to hell.
He looked up from his watch to see a gorgeous woman in a skin-tight, leather mini-dress. She was older than the mean age group of the club--maybe closer to thirty than twenty--but still a knockout.
He raised an eyebrow when she slid into the chair opposite him, her ample breasts almost spilling from the cups of her bustier.
"Name's Tara," she said with a flick of her long, auburn hair.
He smirked and lifted his glass in silent greeting. Something about her seemed slightly familiar, but he couldn't figure out why. He couldn't place her name, either, and since he had to leave soon anyway, he didn't volunteer his.
She was damn nice to look at, though. Her makeup wasn't layered on so thick he couldn't see her face, although her eyes were outlined in dark kohl, which made their green color seem brighter. They sparkled in the flashing lights of the club.
"A Marine?" She brushed a long, red-polished fingernail over the tattoo on his forearm and watched him watch her.
Her smile was full-lipped and sinful. "You got a name, Marine?" The tip of her shoe touched his calf and slid upward. Against his better judgment, his cock stirred, but he kept his lips sealed.
She leaned across the tiny table and, the way her top pulled so tight, he figured if he stared hard enough, he might get a glimpse of nipple. She murmured in his ear. "Okay, Mr. Mystery Marine. You under orders for radio silence or can you talk?"
He chuckled and shook his head. "Just enjoying the show." As she sat back again, he eyed her breasts, making sure she knew exactly what he meant.
She had Fuck Me written all over her, and if he had the time, he'd be happy to take her up on the offer. She was beautiful, smelled like heaven, and had full, red lips he was sure would feel perfect if wrapped around his cock.
He didn't have the time, though.
Her laugh was light and teasing, and she ran her hand over his shoulder, down his arm, as she sat back in her chair. She really was striking. Her eyebrows were just a shade darker than the deep auburn of her hair, and she had the features of a supermodel. High cheek bones, cute little chin.
"You here alone tonight?" she asked, her volume a little louder amid the brief lull between songs.
She didn't seem intimidated by him, which was a surprise. Women usually got one good look at him and ran the other direction. His buddies said it was because he always looked ready to kick some ass.
"So am I."
His first thought was that no woman should be in a nightclub alone, and his second was that she must be on the hunt. From his experience, women usually hunted in packs. Safety in numbers and all that.
"Don't frown at me, Mr. Marine. I'm a big girl and can take care of myself."
He hid his urge to smile by taking a sip of his mineral water.
"Not much of a conversationalist, are you?"
He shrugged, that urge to grin growing stronger by the second.
"I know. You're the strong, silent type." She had the sexiest smile he'd ever seen. Tempting and flirtatious, but not overdone. If he were of a mind to get her into bed--which of course he wasn't because he didn't have the time--he was sure she'd be an honest fuck. She looked as if she knew what she liked and didn't mind demanding it. "Conversation can be overrated," she continued, her gaze colliding with his, "especially when action can be so much more ... thrilling."
Again, he raised his eyebrow. When he set down his glass, she reached for it and took a sip, then grimaced.
He laughed, and it felt good. He hadn't found much humor in anything for a very long time.
"Well, at least you're not drunk." She batted her eyes.
"You're a tease," he chided.
She propped her chin on her hand and stared at him for a long moment, a tiny, secretive smile curving those fucking hot lips. "No, I'm not teasing," she finally said. "You know what I want. I can see it in your eyes. Really sexy eyes, too, if I may say so."
Yeah, he knew. If he let them get close enough, women tended to fall for his baby blues. No surprise there. What did surprise him was how spot on she was in her observations. He'd never considered himself an easy read.
If he'd been at Incognito, that little gem of a fetish club he'd discovered while on leave, he would not have had a moment's hesitation. He scanned the crowd and let his gaze settled once more on Tara. But he wasn't there, and vanilla sex in some cheap-assed hotel didn't fit in with his plans for tonight, despite the luscious temptation before him.
"Sorry, honey. I can't tonight. Nothing personal."
Her lips turned down in a slight pout. "Well, that sucks."
Damn those lips of hers. He couldn't keep himself from fantasizing about them, and his cock pulsed with need.
"You ever going to tell me your name?"
He shook his head and grinned when the pout got a little more oomph behind it. "Just call me Marine."
She rolled her eyes. "Are you a commander by any chance?"
He was, but he didn't advertise. "Why?"
She stood up with that sly smile on her lips, leaned over, and said in his ear, "Because, Marine, you could've had command of me any day."
When she pulled back, gave him a saucy wink, and turned to walk away, he grabbed her wrist and surged to his feet, pulling her tight against his chest. Her breasts pressed into him, and her eyes widened as she sucked in a quick breath of air.
She was tall in her fuck-me stilettos. At six-foot-two, it wasn't often a woman didn't have to tip her head all the way back to look at him, especially when they were this close. Her forehead aligned with his nose.
"You shouldn't go around saying things like that to just anyone, honey. It could get you into trouble someday."
"You're not just anyone," she purred. In time with the erotic, musical beat, she swiveled her hips slightly, grinding herself against his aching hard-on.
Primal lust infused his body at her blatant display of sexual prowess. She was like a cat in heat. Ready, wanting. And the hell of it was he hadn't been quite so turned on in years.
"You don't know me." He gave in to the urge to glance around the club to see if one of his men was somewhere in the shadows watching, if maybe one had put her up to approaching him. Unlikely, since he was hundreds of miles from their usual haunts, but still...
She laid a hand on his shoulder as the other scooted around his side and grabbed his ass. The move dragged his gaze back to hers.
"I know that a strong, sexy guy like you shouldn't be all alone on New Year's Eve when there's so many more enjoyable ways for two adults to spend the time ... together. I know you caught my eye and that you like what you see."
He liked even better what he felt. Damn, she was hot. All lithe muscle with those breasts that just about burst the seams of that skintight leather.
She squeezed his right butt cheek, which made his cock jump behind the buttons of his too-tight jeans. Her throaty chuckle just about sent him over the edge. He pressed his hand between her shoulder blades, forcing her chest tighter against his.
She tossed her hair again and met his gaze. Her neck was long and slim, and he had the undeniable urge to taste her skin.
"I dare you," she whispered.
So he did. He leaned down and opened his mouth against her neck, swiping his tongue over her speeding pulse. She was sweet and slightly salty.