You knew exactly, precisely, magnificent hello,
These are the first steps on the tango.
It was breathless, kinda awkward,
And I don't like letting go.
This is the tango, this is the tango.
- Ryan Cabrera, 'The Tango'
“It’s the least I can do,” he said, pushing her empty glass out of the way and putting a fresh drink in its place.
The least you could do is fuck off and die, she thought harshly. On the outside, she gave him a tight smile. He smiled back. He sure was gorgeous. Figures.
“I’m Steven,” he said, though from the narrow look in her eyes and the shirt stretched across her generous chest it was obvious she knew that already. Her long, slender fingers wrapped around the peace offering he’d delivered, the way they might wrap around something else later if he played his cards right. “And you are?”
“Kate,” she bit the hard consonant off like a door slamming.
“Here by yourself, Kate?” he repeated her name in the same aggressive way.
Kate raised the glass and pressed the tiny red straw between her glossy lips. Her dark eyes never left his as she took a draw of the clear, volatile liquid. “You know I’m not.”
Steven had guessed. No way a girl like that - maybe 23, about 5’ 6” in a painted-on t-shirt and jeans - was alone in a Tampa Bay hotel bar on a Saturday night. Not for long anyway. Her Washington Capitals t-shirt virtually announced who she was property of.
“I don’t see anyone,” he said without looking around. The Capitals were staying in this hotel - all the teams did. Steven’s friends from home were also here, in town for the season opener. He had planned to surprise them when the sight of Kate standing solo at the bar had surprised him instead. Wavy dark blonde hair hung halfway down her back, tumbling forward where it touched her shoulders. Fair skin said she probably lived in DC. A slender waist and the high, perfect curve of her backside in that denim said she probably belonged to someone he knew.
“It’s not a race.” Another twist of that straw in her mouth. Kate watched Steven watching her, enjoying the momentary distraction she cause with the slightest movement. He wore a light gray three piece suit with a slight pattern, the vest buttoned over a light purple shirt with white collar and a bright purple tie. His short hair was winter blond, nearly the same color as her’s, complimenting his ice blue eyes and what was undoubtedly a tan, on a hockey player, in the middle of January. She’d read somewhere that he put on twenty pounds of muscle over the last two off-seasons. Judging by the way his suit moved, no part of his 6’ 1” body had been left out.
“Depends on what you get for winning.” He took a sip of his own drink, knowing this was his chance to push the issue, before time on the clock expired. “Prize like you, I would hurry.”
She laughed, a throaty little giggle that made every hair on his body stand on end. The line was so un-Stamkos like, definitely not what Kate had expected. He’d caught her off guard.
“I’d be happy to help you pass the time,” Steven said, stepping in a little closer. Kate’s eyes dropped to his chest - broader from all the off-ice training - but she didn’t back away. He was close enough now to be in trouble.
Kate smirked. It was a pretty good line, as lines went. Stamkos probably didn’t have much practice; she doubted he’d need it. He was a nine-plus, maybe a ten now that she could smell his cologne. He had a gravity, created by the weight and strength hiding under his suit, that made her want to close the rest of the distance between them. It was dangerous to meet his pale eyes from such close range.
“You had your way with my team, and now you want to have your way with me?”
Steven’s turn to smirk. “One difference. I didn’t score on your team.”
He put his hand on her bare forearm where it lay on the bar. A little tingle of electricity passed through, like he’d plugged in and turned her on. The sharp line of his jaw accentuated the tight knot of his tie at the base of his throat. Kate took a deep breath.
She was in Tampa Bay with John Carlson. They’d been seeing each other since the end of last season - it was exciting for her, as a fan and as a girl. John was tall and strapping and a little dumb, but what he lacked in finesse he made up for with enthusiasm. The sex was fantastic, of course. He was built like climbing wall. Summer had cooled them off, till he came back to DC and the lockout happened. Kate thought he’d go home, but he stayed. Romantic, right? Except John had nothing to do but camp out in Kate’s life, play pick-up hockey a few hours a day, and wait. That waiting had been the hardest part. Even he seemed bored by their plodding relationship. She almost wished he’d go on the road and conveniently misbehave, but instead he’d dutifully invited her on the trip.
Now the option to misbehave was crowding her against the bar.
“You’re underestimating me,” she said, turning her hand up and running her fingers along the underside of Steven’s forearm.
Her attention to one of his sensitive spots brought all kinds of visions to mind. Steven tried to keep his voice steady. “I seriously doubt that.”
Kate batted her dark eyelashes. “I might hate you.”
“I might change your mind,” he focused on her mouth, not her touch.
Kate slipped her hand down and rubbed her thumb into the center of his palm. “In one night?”
Steven knitted his fingers between hers and held fast. “Now who’s underestimating who?”
Touche, Kate thought. She let her head fall back, laughing out loud. This was absurd. She could either leave with Steven Stamkos or John could catch them flirting at the bar. Either way, every minute brought her closer to trouble... and to whatever next thing she’d been waiting all summer to find.
The moment Kate dropped her defenses, Steven sprang. In one motion, he pushed her back to the bar and pressed his lips to the exposed curve of her neck. The vibration of her laughter rang through at the point of contact for a split second, until he felt her gasp.
“What are you doing?” Her words were a reflex.
“Anything you want.” Steven’s breath was hot on her skin. “Everything he can’t.”
Kate’s eyes cut toward the doorway, as if the man in question might walk in any second. This was Steven’s only chance. Still holding Kate’s hand and her body against the bar, he very slowly lowered his mouth to hers. If she’d spoken, he might have stopped. Instead Kate let him get all the way there: until her soft pink lips were giving beneath his, until her form was fitting into the pressure exerted by his own. Electricity stabbed through his chest into his lap. He had to pull away hard to keep from forcing his tongue down her throat.
Kate’s knees wobbled but there was nowhere for her to fall. Steven’s gentle, insistent kiss, coupled with the effortless strength of his body, knocked the breath from her lungs. She blinked slowly, bringing the world back into focus. “He’ll kill you.”
Steven didn’t give a shit who she was talking about. “He’ll have to catch me first.”