In books and movies, the “meet cute” is a big moment. It’s the scene where the two lead characters meet for the first time. While there’s usually a humorous or sweet element to meet cutes, most well known in romantic comedies, the first time characters meet in a military romantic suspense story is no less critical. It’s just not usually “cute.”
In my SEAL romance Bedroom Eyes, the pivotal meeting for Bridget and Clay happens at a masquerade ball.
If you enjoy romantic suspense stories with secrets, hot SEAL heroes, and steamy love scenes, check out Bedroom Eyes.
Start with Chapter One…
Darren tightened his arms around her, his gaze locked with hers. He didn’t think he’d ever get enough of looking into those slumberous bedroom eyes. Eyes that he could get lost in.
Bridget Reilly made a sound of disgust, selected the text she’d just written and hit the Delete key. Eyes, eyes, eyes. She was fixated on them. Why couldn’t she focus on breasts? Or hips? Or even thighs? There was nothing wrong with those parts of her body. It was her eyes that were the problem. No doubt the reason she kept giving her heroines the kind that were so totally opposite from hers.
Darren showered kisses along Maggie’s jawline and down the column of her neck. He thought he could spend hours just tasting every inch of her, drinking in her essence. He’d never met a woman who could make him come undone the way she did just by looking at him with those eyes that captivated him…
Damn! Again with the freakin’ eyes. Talk about being obsessed.
Once more she highlighted the text and hit Delete then stared at the page. Why was it tonight she was more obsessed than usual about the deformity she lived with on a daily basis?
Because today yet another jerk had rudely asked why I had such fat eyelids.
She picked up her coffee mug and took a sip. Made a face when she realized the liquid had cooled and put the mug back down on her desk. Reading romance fiction had long ago become her alternate universe, a place where she could vicariously experience all the things she missed in real life. She had a boring job that paid her bills and gave her a place to hide from public view. Rushing home after work she’d curl up with the latest hot romance and lose herself in the pages of a book.
One night, on impulse, she’d decided to try writing a story that was dancing around in her head and had discovered she could actually become her heroines. She wrote another story. And another. In page after page of her stories she could live out every one of her fantasies. Give her heroines the thing she lacked—sexy, inviting, appealing eyes. And hotter-than-sin men like the kind she dreamed about. It soon became a wonderful escape for her from the realities of her pitiful sex life.
Again on impulse she’d decided to submit a manuscript to a publisher. She loved the anonymity of the internet. They couldn’t see her so she could be any image to them she chose. Seven rejections had come her way before the first contract. Now the fact that someone was actually publishing what she wrote and she was making a little money from it was the frosting on the cake.
No one knew about her little secret. Not even her friend Joni. She wrote under a pen name, deliciously shocked when an epublisher had actually offered her a contract, and stashed the growing royalty checks in a separate account. No, they weren’t huge amounts at the moment but each one showed increasing sales. One of these days she’d have enough for her special project. She just hoped it was before she was too old to get any benefit from it.
Her dream—her very, very secret dream—was to have that surgery, come out of her writing closet and attend some important writers’ conferences. Maybe even, after a while, be able to conduct a workshop. Have the opportunity to get her out of her dead-end job and into the career she dreamed about.
But none of that would be possible unless she had the surgery on her eyelids. She knew she’d never be able to stand the humiliation of people staring at her. Even her tinted glasses might not be sufficient protection. What if they slipped in public? Or someone saw her when she had them off for some reason? Her talent would be submerged beneath the ugliness of her face.
Meanwhile she’d keep on writing. One of these days she’d have the money for the surgery. Hopefully by that time she wouldn’t be too old to really launch her career.
Sighing, she pushed back from her computer desk and did something she’d done far too many times lately. She walked into her bedroom, opened the closet door and stared at herself in the mirror, assessing herself.
Okay, physical assets aside she was smart, could carry on a good conversation and make a mean martini. She had a decent body that she took care of, a figure not too bad. Maybe a tad too wide in the hips but her breasts balanced it off. Nice legs. Her face had good bone structure and she took very good care of her skin. And her hair fell like a shiny curtain of honey-colored silk to her shoulders thanks to an expert cut.
Then she looked at her eyes. Oh, god. She hated seeing them yet was obsessed with constantly checking them, as if by some miracle they would have changed since the last time she looked.
But no, there they were, the eyes themselves peering out at her through narrowed slits, her lids dragged down by the heavy folds of skin over the upper eyelids. Pressing her forefingers on the skin and bracing her thumbs on her cheekbones she dragged the lids upward. Yup. Two perfectly good cornflower blue eyes that she was sure some men might look into and find enticing. If only they could see more than a tiny portion of them.
Oh, they looked at them all right. Stared was more like it, as if she was some kind of freak. If she removed the tinted glasses she’d taken to wearing years ago and the man she was with looked at her eyelids that was all she wrote.
She could identify the look in seconds by now—stunned, shocked, in some cases horrified. Then the overly polite excuses. The haste to depart. She still couldn’t erase the humiliating memory of the man she’d thought was an exception. A man who left her high and dry when she accidentally discovered he’d asked her out on a dare. Like the unpopular girl in high school.
The worst was the lab scientist she’d had one date with who told her they reminded her of the frogs in his lab when their lids were lowered. To make matters worse he hadn’t even realized how badly he’d hurt her.
Maybe she should just put a paper bag over her head. The tinted glasses which she wore like a lifeline disguised what she thought of as her deformity. They saved her from the curious looks of her co-workers and people when she was out in public. But some places were so dark she had to take them off to see and then the staring began in earnest.
Dr. Richards, the plastic surgeon she’d consulted with, had carefully explained to her that it was merely an accident of development in the womb. As if that made it all okay. For most people, he told her, the fold disappeared after three to six months of gestation. For some, however, it never changed. How did she happen to be one of those unlucky ones?
As she turned to leave the bedroom and walked back to her desk the lights flickered. Once. Twice. Were they about to have a power surge for some reason? Her stomach clenched. Ever since she was a child she’d had an unreasoning fear of the dark.
You’d think someone who looked like me would welcome it.
But no, for some unexplained reason it always terrified her. She still remembered the nights she’d climbed into bed with her sister, huddling under the covers with her, afraid to be alone.
The ringing of her phone cut through the air and broke into her little pity party. She glanced at her watch. Nine thirty. There weren’t too many people who’d be calling her at this hour. Or actually any hour. Her unenviable social life was the envy of none.
She checked the caller ID. Joni. Now what? Joni, bless her, always had some new idea to pester her about. She couldn’t seem to get it through her head that Bridget didn’t want to go to parties, be fixed up on blind dates or anything remotely resembling those two things.
“Hey,” she said, picking up the phone.
Bridget dropped into her desk chair. “What’s up?”
“Marnie heard about this new place called The Hot Spot,” she began. “Three people told her it’s the place to see and be seen now. We want to hit Happy Hour after work tomorrow. You on?”
No. No, no, no.
“Um, I don’t think so.” She twirled a strand of hair around her finger. “I’ve got…stuff to do. But thanks anyway.”
Go to yet another bar to be humiliated? Not in this lifetime.
“Bridget.” She heard the exasperation in Joni’s voice. “You can’t hide in your house forever.”
“I don’t,” she protested. “I go out every day, as a matter of fact.”
“Oh, right.” Joni snorted. “To work. Big whoop. Honey, you gotta get out and mingle a little. You haven’t been out with us in ages.”
Bridget and Joni had been friends for a long time but she’d really gotten tired of Joni constantly trying to act as if there wasn’t a problem here.
“I’m fine,” she snapped. “Thanks for asking but I have to go. I’m right in the middle of something.”
Right in the middle of creating a life for myself in the pages of a book that I’ll never have anywhere else.
“Don’t think you’re going to shut me out,” her friend told her. “I won’t let you hide forever.”
“If you were a real friend you wouldn’t insist on taking me places where I get insulted,” she said with bitterness. “Isn’t it enough already?”
“Bridget.” She could hear the sound of long-suffering patience in Joni’s voice. “I keep trying to tell you that the only person your eyes bother is you.”
“Yeah? I don’t think so. You aren’t the one guys look at as if you’re on a microscope slide or ask you embarrassing questions like ‘What’s wrong with your eyelids? Why do they look so weird?’ Thanks, anyway, but I’ll pass.”
“Oh, honey, listen—”
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” Bridget said firmly and disconnected the call, done with the conversation.
She scraped her hair back from her face, leaned her head back and closed her eyes.
She’d been asking herself that question for years but no one seemed to have answers for her. She had done so much research on her condition that by this time she figured she could write a book about it. She also knew that surgery was a possibility but that had created even more problems for her. No doctor would touch it when she was still young because her particular case was extreme and could be complicated.
The operation would still be complex because the fold was unusually large and involved a lot of nerves and blood vessels, and was therefore very expensive. The damn insurance companies classified it as elective cosmetic surgery and paying for it herself was out of the question. Even with the money she earned from her books she was a long way from having sufficient finances.
Pulling her hair back into a ponytail and fastening it in place with a clip she turned her attention back to her computer.
Maggie’s heart was racing, her pulse pounding madly. Heat poured from Darren’s body, his skin hot against hers. The curled hair on his chest abraded her nipples already taut with need, and brushed the sensitive skin of her breasts. His cock pressed against the inside of her thigh, a vivid reminder of his intense state of arousal.
The throbbing deep in her cunt accelerated, vibrating through her body.
Darren cupped her head with his lean fingers, his face barely an inch from hers.
“Look at me,” he commanded. “Open your eyes and look at me.” His dark eyes were now as black as onyx, desire a golden flame dancing in them.
“Darren,” she breathed.
“I could get lost in your eyes.” His voice was rough with need. “Bedroom eyes. Look at me while I fuck you, Maggie. Let me fall into those eyes while I pump into your body.”
He thrust inside her, his gaze holding her in place while he…
Eyes, eyes, eyes. Hell.
Bridget hit Save and pushed back from her desk. Damn it to hell, anyway. No man was ever going to say that to her, that was for damn sure. Why did people have to be so hung up on looks, anyway?
Making a face at the dregs of her coffee, she carried the mug into the kitchen and dumped what was left into the sink. Might as well set up the coffee pot for tomorrow while she was at it, she thought. But when she pitched the used filter and grounds into her trash she sighed at the amount of garbage, pulled the sack out and tied it off. Tomorrow was trash pickup day which meant she ought to take the big garbage can out to the curb now.
She detoured on her way to the garage to get her tinted glasses from the bedroom. She knew she looked stupid wearing them at night but there was always the chance she’d run into her neighbor, Mr. Sexy-and-Good-Looking himself. The ultimate fantasy come to life. Ever since he’d moved in next door she’d lusted after him. Yup, that was the only word. Lusted. If she admitted it, reluctantly, by now it had morphed into something else. If you reached for the impossible, might as well make it as unattainable as you can, right? The image of him was the one always dancing in her brain when she wrote her erotic heroes and every contact with him only reinforced it.
They’d actually had many conversations, on her back porch or his. About his life as a SEAL. About politics, books and movies. Even about sports.
“You’re one of the few women I’ve ever met who’s as addicted as I am,” he told her once during a heated debate about Super Bowl contenders. They’d even indulged in some casual flirting, scattered episodes that she hugged to her heart and pulled out at night to relive over and over.
The conversations were relaxed and easy, even the flirting, and always—always—in the daylight hours so she could hide behind her big, dark sunglasses. Of course he’d never seen her without the glasses and she didn’t intend to start now.
If only Clay Randall could fall in love with her as she was falling for him.
Sure enough, as she wheeled the can out of her narrow one-car garage to the curb there he was, setting out his own trash. Just the sight of him with his muscular body outlined by the soft light of the street lamps was enough to start her heart pounding. She couldn’t stop looking at the way his t-shirt stretched taut across well-muscled shoulders and a broad chest that tapered to a narrow waist. Worn jeans clung to narrow hips and long legs.
His sun-streaked brown hair just brushed the top of his t-shirt, framing a face with high cheekbones and a square jaw. Bridget was sure she had his features memorized by this time. Every hero in her books bore an uncanny resemblance to Clay Randall. If she could just keep him in her head and out of her heart. He was so far out of her league.
“Hey, Bridget.” His grin was enough to heat her blood and set the pulse in her cunt to beating harder than a jungle drum.
“Hey yourself, Clay.” She placed her garbage can very carefully at the curb, making sure the lid was tight. And making doubly sure she stayed out of touching distance from Mr. Hottie.
“What’s with the sunglasses?” he asked.
“Sunglasses?” Damn. Bridget felt the familiar knot of tension grab her in the pit of her stomach.
“Maybe nobody told you, sugar, but there’s no sun out right now.” He made a show of looking up at the sky. “Actually, I think it’s pretty dark.”
“I, uh, have a problem with my eyes. That’s why I always keep the glasses on.”
Why didn’t I wait and make sure he wasn’t out here? I’ve always avoided him at night just for this reason.
“Oh.” His face sobered instantly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”
“It’s okay.” She waved it off. “No problem.”
“So, how’s life treating you these days?” he asked, leaning one hip against his can.
“Not bad.” Terrible. “How about you?”
“You know.” He shrugged. “Same old, same old.”
“How long you home for this time?”
Bridget knew Clay was a SEAL, often deployed on missions for weeks at a time. He’d bought the house for the same reason she’d purchased hers—to have some permanence and stability in his life. Bridget figured she’d probably never have a home of her own otherwise and apartment living had just gotten too old for her. Clay said he wanted a place to unwind that was all his. A place where he could put down roots. Do whatever he wanted.
Every so often she’d see a woman in the backyard with him, or sitting beside him in his car as he backed out of the driveway. Tall, leggy brunettes and redheads, with typically classic good looks. The sound of their intimate laughter was a knife straight to her heart, because she knew she’d never share those kinds of moments with him. She dreaded the day he brought a wife home with him and she was forced to watch them wrapped in a haze of happiness and sexual satisfaction.
“Well.” She wiped her suddenly damp palms on her shorts. “I’d better go in.”
“Me, too. Big night tomorrow night.” But he made a faced as he said it.
“You don’t look like it’s too big. Or that you’re too happy about it.”
He shrugged. “My team captain happens to live in San Antonio, too, just by coincidence, and his wife is involved in some big charitable ball that’s going down tomorrow night. The one that kicks off Fiesta. He made everyone on the team who lives around here buy a ticket. Not only that, he insists that we have to go.”
And of course he’ll be going with a gorgeous piece of arm-candy.
“Surely your date will keep you from being too miserable.” There. That was the right casual tone, wasn’t it?
“No date.” He ran a palm over his hair. “No one I could ask to rent a costume and dress up for a masquerade. Bad enough I have to do it myself.”
“No gorgeous babe hanging around these days?” She hated herself for asking the question, no matter how casual she tried to make it.”
His laugh was humorless. “Not lately. Must be losing my charm. Or maybe it’s just that I’m starting to lose interest in all show and no go. I’ll just guts it out.”
Bridget nodded but both her mind and her heart were racing. She knew all about the Masquerade. Joni’s boss was also on the committee and Joni had been pestering Bridget for weeks to buy a ticket. The cheapest ones were a hundred bucks, though, and not something Bridget wanted to dig into her stash to buy.
But Clay was going without a date. Well, well, well. An outrageous idea was percolating wildly in her brain.
“So I guess you’ve got your costume then?”
“Yeah.” Lines of displeasure grooved his cheeks. “Thank god at least most of my face will be covered so there’s no chance anyone will recognize me.”
Bridget cocked her head, all kinds of possibilities suddenly speed-racing through her brain. “You have a full face mask?”
He nodded. “In a manner of speaking. I’m going as a pirate. Figured that wasn’t too embarrassing. Got a scarf thing to wrap over my head and a big black mask that matches it over my eyes.”
A pirate. Bridget filed that piece of information away in her mind.
“Women love pirates.” She hoped her tone was casual enough. “They’ll probably be hanging all over you.”
Clay snorted. “I doubt it. The women who show up at these things seldom come alone and the ones that do aren’t worth the price of a drink.”
“Maybe tomorrow night you’ll be surprised.” She wet her lips. “Tell you what. I’ll make a bet with you.”
“Uh-huh. I predict you’ll meet a mysterious woman. She won’t even tell you her real name. She’ll tempt you and tease you and make you want to sweep her off her feet.”
Clay’s mouth kicked up in a grin. “That right? You guaranteeing it?”
“I said I’d bet with you, didn’t I?” She shoved her hands in the pockets of her shorts, waiting tensely for his answer. “Well? You gonna put your money where your mouth is?”
He laughed. “Okay. A bet. Loser buys dinner.”
“You’re on.” She held out her hand.
Clay’s grip was firm and warm. Bridget had expected that, but she hadn’t been prepared for the jolt of electricity that sizzled up her arm and through her body. She pulled her hand back quickly, doing her best to ignore the gleam of mischief in Clay’s eyes.
“I certainly hope so,” he teased.
Bridget’s cheeks turned hot. This was just harmless flirting, something Clay probably did as naturally as he breathed. But for her this was a scarce commodity. Once men got a look at her eyes all flirting was off the table.
“I-I have to go.” She hurried up the driveway, calling over her shoulder, “Good luck. And I expect a full report.”
“If it turns out the way you predict,” he answered, “don’t look for too many details.”
If only this works.
”Confession time day after tomorrow, okay? We’ll meet over the fence.”
“Only long enough so I can tell you where I want you to take me for dinner. Get ready for an expensive meal.”
“We’ll see. “Night, now.”
She nearly ran into the house, her mind racing. She might never realize her goal of introducing herself in public as a published author but she at least had the possibility of one night with the man who filled her dreams. And one night was better than none.
Joni would surely still be awake. It hadn’t been that long ago that she’d called. Bridget’s hand was shaking so much as her plan took shape she had to make two tries at dialing the number. Then she nearly stumbled over her words telling her friend why she was calling.
“You want to do what?” Joni’s voice sounded shocked at Bridget’s request.
“You heard me. I want to buy a ticket to the Masquerade Ball. Do you still have any left?”
“Masquerade Ball?” Joni sounded stupefied. “The one tomorrow night?”
“Yes.” Bridget almost shouted the word. “What’s the problem? You’ve been pestering the shit out of me to spend my hard-earned money on this for days. Now that I’m saying yes you act like I’m out of my mind.”
“Yes. No. I mean…”Joni’s voice trailed off. “It’s just that this is definitely not your usual thing. I know I asked you about buying a ticket but honestly, Bridget. Don’t take this the wrong way but I really didn’t expect you to say yes. And if you did, I didn’t think you’d go.”
“Of course not. Why would I?” Bridget swallowed the automatic resentment. This was no time to get testy. “So can I meet you for breakfast and get a ticket? I’ll even buy.”
“Is something going on here I don’t know about?” Joni demanded.
“Listen,” Bridget pleaded. “Just this one time can you do something for me without the third degree? Do you have a ticket left and can I get it from you in the morning?”
Joni’s sigh echoed all the way through the connection. “Sure. Okay. Bennie’s Bagels at eight? That’ll still give us time to get to work.”
Bridget paused. “I’m a taking a personal day tomorrow.”
“You’re not going into work?” Joni was nearly shrieking. “Something’s definitely up. Give me details in the morning and you can have the ticket for free.”
“We’ll see. Just be there at eight.”
She hung up before Joni could pester her with anything else. Back at her computer she pulled up the yellow pages for the city and did a search for costume houses and costume stores. Printing out the list, she circled the most accessible ones, folded the sheet and tucked it into her purse. No one would be open until at least nine but by then for sure she’d be rid of Joni. Tomorrow would be a busy, busy day.
She closed her eyes and ran over her mental list.
And then the ball.
This was going to cost her a fortune, but if it worked out it would be so worth it. She’d have one wonderful night of memories to hug tightly for a long time.
Bridget knew this could all blow up in her face but she had to do it. No question about it. She tried to tamp down the thrill of excitement wriggling through her. But if she was very, very careful, she could end up with the night of her life.
Get your copy of Bedroom Eyes to keep reading.