ed a moment later carrying the gold clutch that matched her high-heeled sandals. She noticed his raised eyebrows.
“What?” she asked, approaching him. He cupped her hip in his palm. She focused on his small, teasing smile and the way her heart raced at his touch, letting his charm and her excitement silence her anxiety.
“Have you seen what you look like from the back? Are you trying to kill me or what?” he murmured.
She laughed, and then shocked herself by drawing nearer, letting the front of her body brush lightly against him. She craned up and pressed her lips to his. By the time she took a step back, he looked like she’d slugged him instead of kissed him.
He also looked pleased . . . and aroused.
“You’ll just have to stay beside me all night and never fall behind. I have no malicious intent in mind,” she murmured.
“Are you kidding? And let all the other guys have the pleasure of seeing the best pair of legs this side of the Atlantic?” he asked with a look of mock scandal. He took her hand and opened the door wider, urging her to walk ahead of him. “I don’t think so. Not when those legs belong to my date.”
Maybe it was something in the way he’d said it, but remembering those words gave her a sense of newfound security. No matter how crazy and temporary this thing with Everett was, he clearly wanted to be with her tonight. Even when their limousine passed the security check and proceeded down Illinois Avenue—people were packed like sardines on either side of the street—the spell lingered. It was Everett and the other artists who had created Maritime’s night. She knew—better than many—how much meticulous detail and hard work went into such a gargantuan production. She was proud to be there as his guest.
Besides, if you think for a second anyone is going to pay attention to you when you’re with Everett Hughes, you’re so flattering yourself.
Despite her self-assurances, her heart lurched when the limousine came to a halt in front of the red carpet and canopy that had been set up in the entrance of the AMC East 21 Theatres. She heard a muffled cheer go up in the crowd. She peered out the window and had the brief, flashing vision of several teenagers and a middle-aged couple staring at the limo with rapt excitement.
“They’re all usually really nice people,” he said. “Not what you’d think.”
She stared back at him, eyes wide. The driver didn’t immediately exit. Everett took her hand. For a few seconds, they seemed to exist in some kind of surreal bubble of invisibility in the very midst of a clamoring crowd.
“You okay?” he murmured.
She nodded, taking heart from his warm gaze on her face.
“It wasn’t a great first date idea. I see that now. But again—I was selfish.”
“It’s a wonderful first date. I’m really looking forward to seeing the film.”
“Yeah. You probably tell your dentist the same thing about your next appointment. We could have seen this at a matinee in a few days,” he said, his mouth twitching in a combination of regret and amusement.
“No. It’s your special night.”
“And Seth’s, too,” he reminded her.
Joy nodded. “I’m glad you asked me to share it.”
His grin vanished. He leaned over and kissed her. His lips almost immediately parted hers, his tongue sliding between them. He tasted like he’d sucked on a peppermint just minutes ago. He tasted like sex.
He tasted like heaven.
Joy made a muffled sound in her throat and returned the kiss, going from warm to a low simmer in a matter of seconds. It was strange to feel her body awaken so immediately after what she’d been through in the last year, sense her flesh flooding with new life. He applied a slight suction as their tongues dueled and tangled sensually. She felt that sweet pull all the way to her sex. He swept his hand along her bare shoulder and cupped the side of her neck, his thumb beneath her chin, holding her steady for his ravishment of her mouth.
Someone let out a shrill shriek of excitement that penetrated the cocoon of the limo. Everett sealed the kiss, but his head remained bent over hers. He studied her somberly, his eyelids narrowed.
“God, Joy. Why do I want you so much?”
She swallowed thickly when she heard his muted incredulity. He must have read the confusion on her face.
“Don’t say anything. I know you don’t have the answer any more than I do. I only think it’s fair to warn you, that’s all,” he muttered. He glanced out the door into the sunny, hot summer evening before he turned back to her. “I usually sign a few autographs before I go in, but I won’t if you don’t want me to. Then I’m going to do a couple really quick interviews, but I won’t be long. My agent planned it so that I did most of them earlier today.”
“I’ll be fine,” she assured him. “And of course you should sign some autographs. I can just imagine how long those people have been waiting.”