She kept her gaze trained on the door, even while mixing two martinis and a rum and Coke, otherwise she never would have glimpsed Gavin Cross appear on the other side of the glass, head bowed, talking through something serious with a striking man with shiny black hair and a body almost as massive as Gavin’s.

After a quick handshake, just a fleeting grasp of one wrist to another, Gavin broke away from the other man and came through the door. His gaze arrowed through the crush of bodies and landed squarely on Kara.

Her mouth went dry. Tha-thump. Tha-thump. Her heart throttled from zero to sixty in one glance, hammering as if she’d run a hundred miles through the desert.

But he was the oasis she’d been waiting for.

Gavin reached the bar, pulled out a stool and settled himself on the brown vinyl perch.

“Miss Reed.” He tipped his chin in greeting. His suit jacket was draped across one knee, leaving him in slacks and a white-collared shirt with the first button undone. With the way the fabric stretched around his biceps, he didn’t look like any businessman she’d ever met.

Her mind raced. Maybe he’d thought through her unspoken offer. Maybe she wasn’t the only one who’d felt the connection. Her body flushed, but not in embarrassment this time—this was simply blood rushing to all her important parts.

She nodded back and smiled, trying not to look as smug as she felt. “You found me.”

“I did. It must be nice working so close to home.”

“Yeah. It’s not a bad gig.” She wanted to laugh. It was clear he had something to say, and she already knew what it was going to be. Mutual attraction this strong couldn’t be denied. She wasn’t going to play hard to get just to get even with him. He might deserve it, but that wasn’t her style. She rarely wanted a man, but when she did, she let him know flat-out. “I’m glad you rethought my offer.”

He clasped his hands on the bar before him. “It’s the key.”

She put down the bottle in her hand and cocked her head. “What’s the key?”

“The reason I’m here.”

“Huh? I’m confused.” Confused and sinking like that rock in the pit of her stomach.

Gavin looked like he’d swallowed a bug. “The key doesn’t work.”

The blood drained from Kara’s face. “Oh…you’re not here to see…me.” She was the world’s biggest jackass. Such an ass, in fact, she was surprised she hadn’t brayed the soft, mortified words from between big blocky teeth.

“Technically, I am here to see you. The key doesn’t fit. I can’t move in my things until you open the door.”

She turned her back on him under the pretense of getting another bottle of tequila from the low storage cupboard, but she needed a minute to get herself under control. She rummaged around, shifting bottles, until she thought she could speak without her lips quivering.

“Take this for your trouble.” She handed him a shot of their best tequila. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what could have happened—they’re all numbered. But don’t worry. I have a set of master keys. As soon as I get off, I can let you in.” She swabbed the counter near him with shaking hands.

“Kara.” He reached out and covered her hand with his. “It’s all right. I waited weeks for that apartment. A couple more hours aren’t going to kill me.”

She froze, glancing at his hand as a small current ran between them. She desperately wanted to say something cool, flippant even, but she’d never met anyone like Gavin. Having him touch her like this… She couldn’t form words.

When the silence stretched too long, she pulled away. The other bartender at the far end of the bar was filling twice as many orders as Kara, and if she didn’t step it up, he’d be taking home twice the money. “Don’t you drink?” She pointed to Gavin’s untouched tequila.

“Sometimes.” He smiled and leaned forward on his stool. “Why, are you trying to get me drunk?”

Kara snickered, flushing from her cheeks to the roots of her hair. “Is that what it takes to loosen you up?” Just to taunt him, she put another shot next to the first.

“I can’t afford to be too loose. I’m on call tonight.” He met her eyes and threw back one shot followed by the other.

Kara took a written order from a server and got to work mixing the drinks. She raised her voice over the sound of ice sloshing against the side of the cocktail shaker. “You’re on call tonight? What do you do?”

He picked up his shot glass and rolled it in his fingers, watching as one drop trailed around the bottom of the glass. “I have a private security company.”

“Why do you have to go in tonight?”

“I can’t discuss my clients,” he said, then he grinned. “You’ll have to give me a lot more tequila if you want to know my secrets.”

A couple sat in the two remaining stools at Kara’s end of the bar. She took their orders, but her eyes never left Gavin as he rested his chin in his hand. “Hmm. This stuff isn’t cheap.” She slapped a third drink down and cleared away his empty glasses. “Are your secrets worth it?”

He gulped the third shot and chuckled. “I bet I have stories you’d like to hear, princess. I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”

She smiled, leaning her elbows on the dark wood surface across from him. “Princess, huh? Are you sure you aren’t feeling those drinks yet, big guy?”

He reached out and cupped her elbows in his thick hands. “I’m feeling something, but I think it has less to do with the alcohol and more to do with you.” He wasn’t slurring, but the tension had melted from his shoulders and he looked quite content just to stare into her eyes.

Her pulse beat in all the wrong places. “Is that right?”

“I didn’t expect you to be so disarming.”

The sounds of the bar swallowed up her burst of laughter. “You don’t have high expectations of apartment managers in general, or are you talking about me, specifically?”

“You, specifically, are a beautiful woman, Kara Reed.”

She rolled her eyes at the irony and shook her head. “Thanks. I’ve been told I get prettier with every shot.”

“That’s not what I meant.” He released her elbows to rub his fingers over his eyes. “I don’t seem to be holding my liquor as well as I used to. Your turn to talk now, princess. How long have you worked here?”

She snorted at his change in subject and lowered her voice conspiratorially. “Not long enough to get regular hours, but I’m working on it. And that’s all you’re getting out of me.”

“You owe me a secret.” He narrowed his eyes, but they still sparkled in the dim light. “What does it take to make you talk? Name your poison.”

She bent over to put the grenadine in the fridge, giving him a nice shot of her ass, then turned back to him. “Nothing you can find in a bottle. But I have my weaknesses.” Like tall blonds whose bodies deserve small countries named after them.

With a groan, Gavin tugged at his collar and unfastened another button. His cheeks were flushed from the tequila. “I need some fresh air.”

She frowned. “Are you okay, Gavin? If you’re really not used to drinking, I shouldn’t have given you that third shot.” She didn’t figure he’d feel it so fast.

Burying his face in his hands, he laughed, deep in his belly, then scrubbed his palms across his cheeks. “You’re right. It must be the tequila.” But the way his gaze raked over her body said otherwise.

He threw a fifty-dollar bill on the counter then rose from the stool, the jacket in the crook of his elbow covering his middle. “I’ll see you when you get off, princess. I may still wring some secrets from you yet.”