Page 5

He inched closer until their faces were a breath apart. “So, may I get your name? You do have a name, right?” Her expression softened as she playfully pushed him away. It was something Ali would do and as much as he tried not to think about her, he couldn’t help himself. Gabriel pulled away and by the look on her face, he knew she wasn’t used to men doing that. She closed the distance between them again, placing a hand on his knee.

“I’m Dani. Nice to meet you,” she said holding out her hand and offering a bright smile, punctuated by dimpled cheeks.

He took her hand into his own.

“Gabriel, and same to you, Dani,” he brought it to his lips and placed a soft kiss upon it.  She pulled her hand away and the mood shifted. A silence fell between them. Gabriel wondered if maybe his forwardness was taken the wrong way. He pointed over his shoulder.

“Do you play pool?”

She seemed surprised by the question.

He laughed. “I’m asking because there’s a billiard room downstairs,” he added.

“There’s a downstairs?”

Gabriel nodded as he took a drag of his freshly lit cigarette.

“Well, to be honest I’ve only played pool once in my life and I wasn’t very good at it.”

“It’s okay, I can teach you,” he reassured her.

A mask of uncertainty shadowed her features. Her reluctance intrigued him. After a moment of indecision, she relented. “Okay. Sure.”

They gathered their belongings from the bar and headed across the room to the stairs leading down into the billiard room. There weren’t many people around. Classic rock music spilled from the speakers hidden in the corners overhead and only one of two tables were being used. He pulled a chair close and told her to drop her things on the seat.

She angled her body over the table. The light overhead illuminated her frame. The better view caught him off guard. Even in the low lighting, she captivated. Though Dani had a way about her that was vastly different than Ali, there were similarities. Same complexions and dimpled smiles. But whereas Dani was taller and svelte, Ali was petite with compact curves. But one thing he knew for sure. Both were stunning in their own way. 

His Irish charm failed him, replaced by pure animal lust. Sometimes it really sucked being a man. His eyes trailed along her toned legs—beautiful and brown—while she racked the pool balls. A lit cigarette hung from between her red lips. Sexy. But very wrong he concluded. He was married after all, and if the bling blinding him from her ring finger was any indication, so was she.

The game set, Gabriel grabbed an ashtray from a nearby table and offered it to Dani. She ground out her cigarette while he grabbed one of the pool sticks off the wall. He chalked the tip of his own, studying the balls.

“It’s really about Geometry,” he said. “Hitting the right angles.”

With a sly smile, Dani moved to his side. “That wasn’t my best subject.” 

The balls were arranged in a colorful triangle, the white one off on its own. Gabriel lined up his stick as Dani silently watched on, and he wondered if she was more interested in his movements than learning the game itself. His stick slammed into the white ball sending the others in all directions rolling fast and furiously across the table.

“First one in is solid, so you’ll be stripes,” Gabriel tossed over his shoulder.

Dani laughed. “Like shirts and skins?”

Gabriel paused, his eyes lifting to meet hers. He couldn’t help but smirk. “That too, but I’d prefer you be skins.” He went on to explain the rules and she listened, but that nagging feeling in his gut told him she barely heard a word he said.

“Got the hang of it?” Gabriel asked.

“Yeah, I think I can manage.”

“Right. Who knows, you may wind up being a pro at it. Like Ali—” Shit. Not the moment he wanted to have this discussion.

“Ali? The boxer?”

Gabriel looked away, grabbing his pack of smokes, then lit up again. Did this officially make him a chain smoker? He contemplated how to answer, then thought, fuck it.

“My wife. That’s her name.”

He focused again on the table, but it was no use, his concentration was fucked. 

“Interesting name.”

Cute. She’s jealous.

“Well, it’s Alicia. But yeah, we call her Ali.”

He didn’t go further, and she didn’t push the subject. After a moment of companionable silence, whatever awkwardness remained fell by the wayside. He relaxed.

“Anyway, we used to play a lot when we first met, and she usually kicked my ass.”

Dani had yet to reply but offered him a smile as she grabbed another pool stick from the holding rack along the wall. She walked back to the table and copied his earlier actions, chalking the tip of her stick and studying the angles

“Like this?”

“Yep, just like that.”

They locked eyes and Gabriel quickly turned away as a familiar heat rose inside of him. She was standing way too close. Dani bent over the table, and his gaze traveled along her round backside. She arched forward as if sensing him looking and aligned her stick to the cue ball. She slid the long wood back and forth between two fingers—just as she’d seen him do earlier. But this time it was different. She had a purpose beyond winning. He heard the hard slap of the balls as the stick made contact. The sound jolted him out of his wandering thoughts. When he refocused, he realized the balls were still on the table. Pockets empty.

Dani’s expression sagged. Gabriel brought a fist to his mouth and coughed, stifling a laugh. She cut her eyes in his direction, her lips pursed. “Thanks a lot, coach.”

Gabriel straightened and came up behind her. “Well, you’re not competition ready, but a few more rounds and who knows?”

“Don’t bullshit me,” Dani cautioned.

“Such a naughty word for a lady like you—I’m shocked,” he teased.

Her amber eyes narrowed.

He put a hand over his heart. “Aww poor baby, did I hurt your feelings?” Before Dani could make a snappy comeback, Gabriel moved in quick. If they were naked, they’d be skin to skin. He placed a hand onto the table and molded his body to hers. She didn’t protest. “Here, why don’t I show you how to position yourself better?”

Gabriel inhaled the intoxicating scent of her hair and skin; a sexy mix of Gardenia and tobacco. She shivered against him and he tried to tell himself it was just the drafty basement, but he knew better. 

“That might be good,” Dani whispered. “To get me started.”

Gabriel froze, gathering himself, reminding himself that this was nothing more than a mild flirtation. But Dani leaned back, giving him the signal that she was comfortable with the closeness. He advanced forward, once more, his arms resting on either side of her, trapping her in place. He moved his lips to her ear, instructing her on what to do. Her body responded and kick started his desire below. When he thought she had a good grasp on the game, he paused and stepped back reclaiming his cigarette pack.

“Okay, why don’t you try again?”

“All right, if you think I’m ready.”

It sounded like a plea to Gabriel’s ears, and although he knew it was a dick move, he liked the cat and mouse game happening between them.

“You should be fine.”

She tried again, this time hitting a ball into one of the pockets.

“Much better!”

Dani turned to him, beaming proudly. Gabriel went to her, brushing away a loose strand of hair that had fallen into her face. A picture of Ali flashed in his mind dampening the mood.

“You’ll be a pool hall hustler in no time,” he said, backing away again.

“You think so?” she asked.

He shrugged. “I’ve seen stranger things happen.”

“Me too.”

Dani moved to the end of the table perching her bottom on the edge. She crooked her finger, urging him forward. But he knew better than to fall for that trap.

“You’re no fun,” she said with a pout and hopped off the table to close the distance between them. Dani’s drunkenness amused Gabriel. Glassy-eyed, pouty and looking for trouble. She just might find it. He thought about taking her up on her silent offer. But he wasn’t ready to end their playful sparring just yet. Dani leaned in close, curling her fingers through his hair. “You’re. No. Fun.”

They were a breath apart; one wrong move and their rated R night would turn NC-17. He chuckled.

“You’re drunk.”

Dani retreated with a flash of hurt in her eyes. Gabriel reached for her, but she slapped his hand away. He wouldn’t be deterred.

“Don’t be that way,” he said, grabbing hold of her arm. This time he didn’t let go. “C’mon. I’m married. Besides, I thought you were too.”

“Bullshit!” she spat, freeing herself from his grasp. “If you’re so married, why are you here with me?”

Dani’s words hit him hard. Gabriel had dismissed what they were doing as harmless flirtation. He never meant for it to go farther than it had. The day had been stressful and yes not going home right away might have been a mistake. But what could he say? He’d been a coward. Not wanting to face Ali’s wrath. Gabriel had tried to push her out of his mind for a while and failed miserably. The guilt sunk deep into his bones. This time he let Dani go. He thought of Ali at home waiting for him, probably pacing the floors. Worried. He needed answers, to know how things had gotten so out of hand. He wanted to go to her, and yet when he looked at Dani, he also wanted to stay. What kind of man am I?