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If Raig has his way, this particular fairground attraction is one Vairi will not forget in a hurry. Her inner cougar is out to play, and Raig’s going to do his best to keep it there. All the fun of the fair—and a hot woman to share it with. What could go wrong? Raig thought he was merely helping to give the mum of a friend a good time at the fair. However, it was obvious Vairi didn’t want to be there, or have a good time. She’d rather be at home with a book boyfriend and a cup of coffee. They both soon found out, there are good times and good times. How was Raig to know Vairi McQueen was such hot stuff? Their time together was explosive, but with both of them having secrets nigh on impossible to share, would they ever be able to get together and see where their attraction took them? Sometimes, Raig decided, you just had to take a chance on life—and love. This was one of those times.
Tinny music blared from all directions, multicolored lights flickered, teenagers shrieked, pushing past families and older couples arm in arm. Generators—their cables snaking across the ground, ready to trip up the unwary—added noise, plus their particularly oily smell, to the other odors of grease and popcorn. All the fun of the fair. He loved it. Every last screaming child or puking teen. Each was a part of the whole.
His world. Even if he had to leave it and go back to his other life soon, for now this was all he wanted.
Raig stood and watched the crowds, always on the alert for anything untoward. Kids on their dad’s shoulders, mums pushing prams, couples holding hands as they decided where to go and what to do. A group of teenage boys, all swagger and bravado, stalked by and similar groups of giggling girls nudged and shoved one another. A normal evening at the fair.
He got the odd admiring glance, and ignored it. Something he found easy to do. One couple in particular caught his eyes. They were resolutely dragging an older woman in his direction. She looked as if she’d prefer root canal treatment. Ah, show time. Suck it up, Raig. Whether he liked it or not, a promise was just that—a promise. He didn’t make many, but those he did, he honored.
“Come on.” He heard Lorna, the younger woman, urging the older lady. He looked down at the other lady’s feet to see them encased in sensible ballet flats, albeit with something sparkly across the toes. Go figure. Semi-sensible then.
He glanced up at her face and his heart missed a beat. More than just a beautiful woman, she reached out to his soul, making him ache to know her in every way. What the fuck? That jolt of recognition, the electricity in his body, scared him. Was this what his da had meant? Recognizing a woman as his? Shit, if it were a film, the violins would be playing.
He’d always thought that his da had just been fanciful, making up the love-at-first-sight thing because it sounded so romantic and made his mum laugh, blush and poke Da in the ribs. Now? Well, now he wondered if maybe all those romance writers had hit the nail on the head. Shit, never mind the nail, he felt as if he had been hit on the head. With a sledgehammer. Him, a normally straightforward, hard-talking, no-nonsense businessman, thinking of roses and champagne, soft music and…yeah, and sex. Okay, so the sex bit was normal, the rest wasn’t.
“Mum, stop lagging.”
Mum? Oh fucking shit. This vibrant, sexy woman was Vairi, Lorna’s mum? The woman he was going to give a good time? Whew, ‘give a good time’ just took on a whole new meaning. It was unfortunate, but he suspected it was not the one Lorna and Denny wanted him to give her. The woman sighed deeply.
“I need to lag. You go on without me. I’ll sit and…smell the daisies.”
Raig chuckled. The stare she gave him should have withered his balls. He winked. She scowled, leaned on one of the security fences around the galloping horses and looked in the other direction.
“What shall we go on first?” Lorna shouted, her voice pitched above the noise. She sounded eager as she looked toward the chair-o-planes, the longing expression on her face there for everyone to see. The older woman rolled her eyes, raised her eyebrows and took a deep breath before exhaling heavily.
“You two can go on that torture ride. I’ll be here watching you and not losing my tea.”
Time to make his presence felt. He moved closer to her. “Ah, pretty lady. Sure, you’ll not lose your tea, but you can’t be at the fair and not have a ride.”
She whirled around, her long curls—the color of a raven’s wing—flipping across his face. He saw chagrin in her eyes and something else. Attraction? He and his ever-tightening body hoped so. His mind went to those classic novels his sisters had force-fed him. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Wuthering Heights, The Story of O. Okay, that wasn’t a classic per se, but he could imagine them both in it. He wondered what she saw when she looked at him. Six foot three tall. Inky, almost black eyes, overlong, dark, curly hair, one earring. Tattoos almost hidden with just one tantalizing bird’s wing showing. Tanned and toned.
He chuckled as she put her nose in the air, but not before she stared at him as if to reach into his soul. The sort of stare he would bet had nailed lesser men than him to the floor and kept them there and reduced them to babbling wrecks before they slunk away defeated. Not him.
His tone teased, low and husky as he leaned in a little closer. “So, what will your pleasure be?”
Did he really hear her say, ‘You naked’?
“Pardon?” Say that again.
“I’m sorry I need to go.” Pure frost. “My son-in-law is waiting for me.”
His smile was, with a bit of luck, wickedness personified. “I see him.” He raised his voice to be heard over a distorted rendition of Greased Lightnin’. Even John Travolta had trouble beating a fairground’s volume. “Are you well then, Denny?” He waved. “I have her. You and your lovely lady have a good evening now. As we will.” A laugh, a wave, a swift hug of her shoulders. “Now then, Lorna’s mum. What will be your pleasure?”
Vairi rolled her eyes. “For you to cut the crap and that phony Irish accent, to be sure.” She mimicked him. “‘Tis as fake as that Rolex you’re wearing. Own up to whatever shit you and your co-conspirators have thought up, find me a taxi and pay for the bloody thing.” There was the stare again. “Give me a break and don’t follow their well-meaning but unwelcome footsteps and try to”—she mimed quote marks—“make sure I have a good time, and show me what I’m missing. Seriously, I’m happy with my life and would be a lot happier without well-intentioned people trying to change it,” she finished with a snap. “So thanks but no thanks whatever you’re about to suggest. Unless it’s to escort me to the taxi rank.”
Oh ho, feisty. “Ouch. Oh, a chuisle, you pain me, indeed you do.” Did he sound as wounded as he felt? “Not shit at all. The Rolex is as real as those deep blue eyes of yours.”
Her stern expression relaxed and he swore he could see how she fought with herself not to give in to humor. Hopefully she wasn’t so annoyed as she’d tried to project.
“Now if only I could say I wore colored lenses. However, like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie. So Mister…”
“O’Shea. Padraig O’Shea. And you?” He bent over her hand and kissed it. A soft kiss, full of promise. Theatrical, but what the hell, he meant it. He, who had always steered clear of commitment, of ladies who clung, demanded attachment and wanted more than this. He had no idea why, how or when. Just that he did. Her laughter surprised and delighted him.
“Vairi McQueen.” Her voice held an absent tone. “Oh my God. Never. Paddy O’Shea. Next you’ll be telling me ‘indeed and there’s a leprechaun on my shoulder’.”
He contrived to look wounded. “Never, ever would I be joking about leprechauns, lovely lady. Also, no, I’m not Paddy O’Shea.”
“Told you.” She huffed, her eyes glittering in triumph. “I knew it. Lies, all lies. So who are you?”
“Paddy O’Shea is my da,” he continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “I’m Raig.”
“Rake? That sounds about right.” She shook her head. “I don’t half get them. Any oddball or weirdo and they come my way. And there’s something else. How do you know Denny?”
He chose to ignore her. “Now, I cannot be escorting a lovely lady and be calling her ‘Lorna’s mum’. I’ll be calling you Vairi My Queen.”
She glared. “You’re not escorting me anywhere long enough for that.”
“Now that’s where you’re wrong, love. God knows what’s in the water around here, but I can’t help it.” He bent his head and kissed her cheek, hoping to hell he wouldn’t end up with a black eye for his trouble. “You’ve bewitched me.”
Vairi shook her head. “You’re well-named, Rake O’Shea.”
In reply, he put his arms under hers and swung her around until the lights swirled. As he slowed she staggered and he held her close for a second, liking the way she felt as she rested against him. “How’s your dinner?”
“Bastard. My stomach wishes it had never met you. I can’t say it’s a pleasure to have done so.”