“I don’t suppose you have a pot of hot water back there, do you?”
The woman’s question sounded hopeful, and Matthew glanced in her direction, curious as to who would be asking for hot water rather than alcohol at this hour. It was one of Tessa’s bridesmaids - the slightly taller one with the really remarkable head of naturally curly hair that was half a dozen different shades of blonde. He didn’t know her name, but it occurred to him all of a sudden where he’d seen her before - just a week ago at Ian and Tessa’s joint bachelor/bachelorette party. Curlylocks hadn’t been wearing an elegant, blue strapless gown like she had on this evening, though. Instead, she’d worn some sort of vividly printed cotton dress in yellows and oranges that had twirled and whirled as she and her date had treated the guests to an impromptu salsa dance. Lindsey had made some disparaging comment about the colorful dress, wondering snidely what vintage store or flea market it had been found at. But Matthew knew the real reason for his wife’s cattiness was because Curlylocks’s very attractive date hadn’t paid Lindsey the slightest bit of attention, despite her rather pathetic attempts to flirt with him.
The bartender nodded. “Sure do. Can I get you anything else to go with that, like a tea bag or something?” he offered as he lifted a glass carafe filled with water from a hot plate.
Curlylocks shook her head, causing those amazing curls to bounce riotously, and laughingly held out her palm to display a little packet. “I brought my own, thanks.”
Matthew regarded the woman curiously as she dunked the tea bag into the hot water to let it seep. It wasn’t like him to strike up a conversation with a woman he didn’t really know, but there was something about this particular female that suddenly seemed oddly fascinating.
“I’m pretty sure they have tea here,” he joked. “And given how much this shindig must be costing Ian, you didn’t need to bring your own drink.”
She glanced up at him, as though startled that someone was actually speaking to her. Matthew sucked in a breath as the full impact of her green-gold eyes hit him. Coupled with the warm olive tones of her flawless skin, and that wild mane of multi-hued curls, she reminded him of a lioness. And when her mouth quirked up in a smile, he felt something he hadn’t experienced in a very long time - desire.
“Of course they have tea here,” she replied in that calm, melodious voice. “At least a dozen different blends if I recall correctly from the breakfast we had this morning. But, you see, this is a very special blend that I’m drinking now. It’s made with turmeric, lemongrass, ginger, and licorice, and it’s very beneficial in countering the effects of alcohol. Not that I’ve had very much to drink,” she added as she removed the tea bag, “but since I typically don’t drink alcohol at all I thought it best to take preventive measures.”
Matthew stared at her. “I don’t even know what some of that stuff is you just mentioned,” he admitted.
She smiled at him serenely as she took a sip of her tea. “You should try it sometime, then. Especially if you’ve been drinking that nasty stuff all night.” She gestured toward his empty glass of whiskey.
“Hey,” he protested half-seriously. “That nasty stuff, as you just called it, costs seventy five dollars a bottle.”
Curlylocks picked up his empty glass and gave it a dainty sniff before wrinkling her small, straight nose in distaste. “At least vodka or tequila barely has an odor. What is this exactly - bourbon or scotch? Either way, it smells horrid. And I’ll spare you the lecture, but what this poison is doing to your insides - well, you don’t want to think about that right now. I won’t spoil your evening for you.”
Matthew sighed. “Too late for that, I’m afraid. By the way, we haven’t been formally introduced, but I’m Matthew Bennett - Matt, to my friends. I, uh, saw you doing that dance thing at the party last weekend.”
She laughed, a tinkling, musical laugh that reminded him of bells or wind chimes. “I’m guessing you know as little about dancing as you do about herbal tea,” she teased. “And, yes, that was me dancing. My partner and I were doing the salsa, and then later a rhumba. And I’m Sasha. Sasha Fonseca. A pleasure to meet you, Matthew.”
Sasha extended a hand towards him, and he gripped it in his automatically, pleased to discover how smooth and soft her skin was. He wondered what it was she did for a living to have hands like that. And it also pleased him that she’d addressed him by his full name. Most people, including Lindsey, called him Matt, but he really preferred Matthew. Especially the way Sasha pronounced it in that soft, almost hypnotic voice.
He released her hand after belatedly realizing he’d been gripping it for long seconds. “I didn’t see the two of you out on the dance floor tonight,” he commented. “Though I’m not sure this band would be able to play anything that, uh, festive.”
“Doubtful,” she agreed placidly. “But a fancy wedding isn’t exactly the right setting for something as earthy as salsa music. And you haven’t seen me out there dancing with my partner because Miguel isn’t here this evening. He flew back to Los Angeles a few days ago, and is probably out dancing at some club right now. With his new boyfriend.”
“Oh.” Matthew wasn’t exactly sure why Sasha had thrown that last bit in, but for some bizarre reason he was glad she had clarified that the hot Spaniard she’d danced so sultrily with last week was actually gay. Not that it was any of his business, of course. “So you’re here alone tonight?”
She nodded, taking another careful drink of her tea, as though she was savoring each sip. “I figured that any date I could round up wouldn’t know a soul here. And since I’d be occupied doing, well, bridesmaid-like things, it wouldn’t be fair to just abandon him to sit with a tableful of strangers. Plus,” she added with a twinkle in those huge, curly lashed cat eyes, “most of the guys I tend to date would stick out like a sore thumb in a place this fancy.”
Now Matthew was really intrigued, finding this woman with her wild curls and tiger eyes the most unusual, fascinating person he’d met in a very long time. “And what sort of guys would those be?” he asked, chuckling.
Sasha smiled, and that small movement lit up her radiant features, enough for Matthew to realize that Tessa’s bridesmaid was seriously gorgeous.
“Oh, you probably couldn’t begin to imagine,” she began. “I mean, if you’re one of Ian’s friends, I’m guessing you’re on the straight-laced side like he is. And he’s such a kind man, a real gentleman, but I’m well aware that certain aspects of my, ah, lifestyle are pretty far removed from black tie dinners and mansions and five star resorts. Most people would call me a hippie just for starters, but it goes well beyond something that simple.”
He glanced at her beautiful blue gown, silver high-heeled sandals, and the dainty diamond and sapphire pendant that hung around her slender neck - a bridesmaid’s gift, he guessed, from Tessa. “You don’t look anything like any hippie I’ve ever seen,” he stated firmly. “You just look - lovely.”
The look of pleasure on her animated face made him instantly and uncomfortably hard, and Matthew wondered what in hell had brought on that sort of reaction. He didn’t know anything about this woman, had barely exchanged a few sentences with her, but apparently his dick didn’t care. And evidently that particular part of his anatomy also didn’t mind that he was a married man, one who definitely should not be reacting this way to a woman who wasn’t his wife - no matter how pretty or interesting she was. His unwilling attraction to Sasha made him realize just how long it had been since he’d enjoyed sex with Lindsey - really enjoyed it, and not just gone through the motions.
“Well, thank you,” replied Sasha charmingly. “But this isn’t the way I usually dress. Not by a long shot. I did this to please Tessa, to make her happy. Because she’s been a very good friend to me, and she and Ian are two of the best people I know.”
The bartender caught Matthew’s eye then, motioning to his empty glass and silently asking if he wanted a refill. It was on the tip of his tongue to say yes, but then he glanced at Sasha as she continue to sip her tea. He sighed, and asked the bartender for a bottle of mineral water instead.
She nodded in approval as he uncapped the bottle. “A much better choice than bourbon. Stick to water for the rest of the night, and it will help flush out the alcohol.”
He regarded her curiously. “Are you a doctor in addition to a dancer?”
Sasha laughed again, and this time it definitely sounded like bells tinkling. “Neither one, actually. I’m a yoga teacher and masseuse mostly, but I’ve done some training as an herbalist as well. Not enough to get licensed, but I know quite a bit about the practice.”
“Wow.” Matthew shook his head. “I mean, we have masseuses at the health club I belong to, but they’re these big, beefy guys. You’re, well, less than half their size.”
She shrugged. “It isn’t always about raw strength, you know. And there are many different types of massage. Some have more benefits than others, and it all depends on the client and their particular needs. Ian was skeptical at first, too, convinced that someone he outweighed by more than eighty pounds wouldn’t be able to dig deep enough to make him flinch.” Her eyes twinkled with a mischievous gleam. “The first time I had him on the massage table I found a sore spot between his shoulder blades he didn’t know was there. And all I did was press on it with my thumb and he yelled so loud the table shook.”
Matthew guffawed, unable to imagine his buff, fitness fanatic friend at the mercy of this slender, graceful young woman. “So you’re the masseuse he always raves about,” he mused. “Hmm, maybe I should set up an appointment with you myself. I, uh, have a pretty stressful job, and massage seems to help with that from time to time.”
“Of course,” agreed Sasha placidly. “I’m afraid I don’t have a business card with me, but you can just ask Tessa or Ian for my contact info. After they get back from their honeymoon, that is.”
“I’ll do that.”
Sasha set her tea mug down on the bar. “I should be getting back now. You’re not here alone, are you, Matthew?”
He quickly decided that he loved the way she said his name - almost like a musical note. “No. My wife and I are here together. Though it seems like she’s ditched me for a different dance partner,” he joked, trying to sound carefree. “Several different ones actually.”
Sasha frowned. “Why in the world would she do that? I mean, don’t married couples typically hang out together at events like this one? And dance together?”
Matthew tried again to laugh the matter off. “I’m a terrible dancer,” he admitted. “Two left feet, and all that. And Lindsey loves to dance, so it’s better for both of us if she finds another partner. That way neither of us is miserable.”
Sasha shook her head, causing those curls to bounce endearingly. “I don’t believe you’re a terrible dancer,” she declared firmly. “Not for a minute. You hold yourself very well, have excellent posture, and seem extremely fit. If you can’t dance well it’s probably because you haven’t had the right teachers. Come with me. I’ll show you.”
“But - honestly, I don’t think..” stammered Matthew, as she took him firmly by the hand and led him out to the crowded dance floor.
“Relax,” she assured him, patting him on the shoulder as though he was a small child she was comforting. “The band has just switched to a slow number, so all you have to do is move your feet a little.”
Before he could protest further, Sasha had placed one of her hands on his shoulder and picked up his hand with the other. Automatically, Matthew’s arm banded about her slender waist, holding her a respectable distance from his body. It was, he thought absently, a far cry from the way he’d seen Lindsey almost dry humping one of her dance partners a little while ago.
And surprisingly, with Sasha’s softly murmured instructions, he found himself moving her around to the music, not stepping on her dainty toes even once. He gazed down at her, the top of her curly head barely reaching his chin, and realized he hadn’t felt this sense of calm in a very, very long time.
“You’re doing great,” she assured him. “See, I told you. Anyone can dance provided they receive the proper instruction. However,” she added more severely, “you weren’t kidding before when you said you needed a massage. You’ve got knots in your shoulder that a Shibari master wouldn’t be able to untie.”
“What exactly is a Shibari master?” he inquired, unfamiliar with the term.
“Oh, just someone who’s skilled with tying patterns and shapes with rope,” she replied hastily. “It’s, ah, usually for bondage purposes. You know, like in BDSM.”
Matthew coughed. “Are you into that stuff?” he wheezed. “Is that what you meant earlier about having weird boyfriends?”
Sasha laughed delightedly. “I never said they were weird. Just that they wouldn’t necessarily fit into a fancy society event like this. And, no. I’m not into ‘that stuff”. But I do appreciate all different art forms, and I saw a photography exhibit of Shibari last year. It’s actually quite beautiful, very intricate. You should look it up sometime.”
A sudden, unbidden image of the graceful, lovely Sasha bound up in intricately knotted silk ropes made him hard again, and he was thankful that several inches still separated their bodies. By the time the song ended a minute or so later, he’d brought his unexpected erection back under control, and led her off the dance floor with a hand lightly resting on her elbow.
“Well, thank you for the dance,” Sasha told him. “And I do hope you’ll get in touch. For that massage I mentioned, of course. I could feel all the tension in your body just now. And if your neck and upper back are anywhere near as tight as your shoulder feels, you need a massage urgently. So even if you forget to ask Tessa for my contact info, or just prefer to go to someone else, please make sure you get that massage soon, Matthew.” She took a step back and frowned a little as she studied his face. “You have a very unsettling aura about you. Oh, I’m sure you think all of that stuff is for quacks and weirdos. Don’t worry, most people feel the same way. But believe it or not, I do have something of a gift for reading peoples’ emotional states. And yours - well, you don’t seem like a very happy man, Matthew. And that’s a shame, because you’re also one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. So please take care of yourself, hmm?”
She touched his cheek briefly, softly, but for long minutes after she disappeared back into the throngs of guests, Matthew felt the imprint of her hand on his skin as though he’d been branded. And the way she’d so swiftly and neatly summed up his emotions was almost frighteningly accurate - because it had been a long, long time since he’d been truly happy.