“Nice shot,” he said.
Her gaze shifted from his face to the handkerchief and back again, and she moved around the table to try another shot. There were several possibilities Cab thought he could make in her position, but none of them were a sure thing. She selected one, lined up and went for it.
Something tightened in Cab’s gut as he waited to see what she did next. He didn’t expect her to do anything but step back and allow him to take his turn, but he held his breath, hoping against hope. As the seconds ticked by, Rose fiddled with her pool cue and refused to look at him. Finally, with a sigh Cab stepped forward and surveyed the table for his best opportunity to score.
Just as he was lining up his cue, however, movement to his left distracted him. He looked up to see that Rose had skirted the table toward the easy chair. As he watched, she slipped off her heavy sweater, added it to the pile, then straightened the blouse she wore beneath it.
Heat flooded Cab.
Did she mean it? Did she understand what game they were playing? She still wouldn’t look at him, and he refused to ask her point blank.
Only one way to find out.
He picked his next shot with more care than he’d ever wasted on a game of pool before. Even as he hit the ball he knew he would sink it. When he did he couldn’t stop the grin from spreading across his face, but he knew that one wrong move could end this game before it really got started. He pretended he was engrossed by the arrangement of balls on the table, and never looked directly at Rose as she unwrapped the scarf she’d kept on after they got home and set it carefully atop her sweater.
Cab sunk the next ball and the next, and was gratified when Rose’s belt joined the pile and then her watch. He sunk two more and her barrette and earrings joined them, as well. She could have counted each earring separately, he noted. He hoped the fact she’d added them to the pile as one meant she was enjoying this as much as he was.
He wanted to get her naked as quickly as possible, but he didn’t want to scare her. Best to let her even things up a bit. He deliberately missed his next shot and took off his own belt. When she put the seven ball into the corner pocket, he shucked off his t-shirt.
Apparently the sight of his manly chest unnerved Rose—or maybe it was the way he flexed his muscles while reaching for his drink. Whatever it was, she missed the next shot and Cab felt like he’d reached the gates of heaven. He let the moment play out for a while, considering one shot and then another. When he sunk a ball, he stood up and waited to see what Rose would do.
This time she met his gaze, lifted her hands, and began to unbutton her shirt.
She was playing a game of pool with Cab Johnson, county sheriff, and she was half-naked.
Rose couldn’t believe she was standing in her stocking feet in Carl’s billiard room, her shirt off, her hair down, watching across the table as Cab lined up his next shot. His muscles rippled as he held the cue stick, planned his movements and then took the shot. Cab was one handsome man, and today he looked better than ever. When she’d taken off her shirt he’d given her that same calm, assessing look he always did, but this time his regard raked every inch of her skin like a burning brand.
Her lips parted as she watched him straighten the cue, and she drew in a breath as he sunk the ball again. She guessed if she was going to play with a superior partner, she’d better get used to ending up naked.
She could get used to ending up naked with Cab.
While the sheriff watched again, one hand on his hip, the other steadying his cue, she unhooked the button at the waist of her jeans, slid the zipper down and shimmied them off. She paced to the chair where they’d agreed without words to lay their clothes and added it to the growing pile. Thank goodness she’d put on a fresh, pretty pair of underthings this morning even though she’d had no shower and nearly froze to death in the minute it took to change. Their silky lines accentuated her curves. She had nothing to be ashamed of.
Still, she burned all over.
Cab shifted a little, trying to find a more comfortable position as he bent over the table to line up his next shot. Rose also looked a little uncomfortable as she stood across the table from him in her bra, panties… and socks. Interesting she’d chosen to take off her shirt and pants before the fuzzy striped things she wore on her feet. Maybe she didn’t like cold feet.
Or maybe she wanted him to see the rest of her.
Should he miss this shot and get his pants off, too? It would be the gentlemanly thing to do, but Cab didn’t feel much like a gentleman at the current moment. He lined up against the two ball and sunk it neatly. Waited to see what she’d do next.
And was rewarded when she reached behind her, undid the clasp of her bra and let it fall.
She bit her lip and straightened, still watching him. He wanted nothing more than to cross the room and take her into his arms. Hell, he could get the rest of her clothes off just fine, thank you very much. Still, this game heightened the sexual tension between them in a way he’d hate to throw away. He realized they hadn’t spoken a word in several minutes.
They didn’t need to speak, though, did they? Their actions got the message across strong and clear.
Cab lined up another shot and sunk it. Time to end the game. He hoped its conclusion would be the one he’d dreamed of. Rose let out a shaky breath he could hear across the room. What would she take off next? Panties or socks? She could draw this game out…
She hooked a thumb under the tiny waistband of her silk panties, gave it a tug and stepped out of them, dropping them to the floor. With a thudding heart, Cab set down his cue and crossed the room to tug her into his arms. He met her mouth with his and kissed her, desire flooding him until he thought he’d burst with it. Rose wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back. When he gathered her to him, she parted her lips and let him inside. He had to hold back from crushing her against him, but they had time.
Plenty of time. He kissed her tenderly and thoroughly, enjoying the feel of her in his arms. Her lips were soft under his, her body soft against his hard muscles. He allowed himself to savor the taste of her, stretching out this moment he’d waited for so long.
Dragging himself back through sheer force of will, Cab pulled away and searched Rose’s face. Everything there told him she wanted this as badly as he did.
“You won,” she said with a shrug when he hesitated.
“What did I win?” he asked, his voice husky. He knew he was treading dangerous grounds, asking her to define what was happening between them, but he wanted to hear her answer badly enough to take the risk.