Son of a bitch, he thought again—as much referring to himself as his own frustration with the unexpected situation. God, how could everything that had been so perfect in one moment get so completely fucked up in the next? With one stupid, thoughtless utterance, he’d ruined everything. He’d driven her away.
I can explain, he’d told her. Yeah, he thought bitterly. Good luck with that one, Elías. What are you going to say? ‘I’ve been watching you dance for weeks now, Pilar, and I’ve fallen in love with you. Only thing is, one of the guys who killed your father has been found laid out like day-old ham salad in the bayou, and the wheelbase for the motorcycle your brother gave you matches one I found at the crime scene. So even though I think about you all the time, dream about you, wake up in the middle of the night reaching for you, that doesn’t change the fact that I think Valien might have used your bike to hunt Miguel Torres down and kill him.’
Yeah. He managed a coarse, humorless laugh. That should clear everything up.
“Wait,” he said, rushing to catch up and intercept her before she could get through the door and escape. He caught her elbow and she whirled, cat-like, eyes flown wide. “Please.”
“Don’t touch me,” she snapped, wrenching herself loose.
“I’m sorry.” Holding up his hands, palms facing her, he said it again. “I’m sorry.”
“Forget it.” Turning on her heel, she marched toward the door again.
He said it quietly so that if anyone else happened to be in earshot, they wouldn’t over hear, but loudly enough so that she would. She froze in her tracks, her entire body stiffening.
She turned slowly to face him, all round and stricken eyes, and he could tell from her face, her rigid posture that she was thinking about bolting into the dressing room, hiding from him, not coming out until firmly convinced he was long gone and ancient history.
“Don’t you ever call me that again,” she seethed, almost inaudible, and God, the look of wounded, bewildered betrayal in her face nearly shattered him. “Do you hear me?”
“Please.” Elías kept his hands raised. “I just want to talk.”
The corner of her mouth twitched. “Yeah? That’s not what seemed to be on your mind a few minutes ago.”
“I know that,” he conceded, shame-faced. “And I’m sorry. With all my heart, Pilar, I’m sorry. I promise you—I swear to God that’s not why I came here today. I just…” His voice trailed off and he raked his fingers through his hair. I just lose my head whenever I see you.Madre de Dios, woman, you’re so beautiful and you were right there in front of me. I couldn’t think straight…couldn’t think at all…!
“Yeah, and next you’ll tell me you didn’t like it, didn’t want it,” Pilar shot with a frown.
“God, no,” he said, blurting it out, taking himself as much by surprise as her by the frank admittance. “I did like it,” he whispered, his brows lifting. “And I did want it…more than anything.” I want you more than anything, he added in his mind, pressing his lips together momentarily to stifle the words. More than you can know. “That’s why I couldn’t stop myself. Or you.”
His confession had visibly deflated her fury, at least for the moment. “Please,” he said. “Just hear me out.”
A heavy hand fell against his shoulder, a low voice with menacing intimacy in his ear. “Hands off the lady.”
Elías turned in start and found one of the club’s very large, very imposing security guards standing there, dressed in a white tuxedo shirt and cummerbund, both stretched tautly across the broad expanse of his chest.
“This guy bothering you, Destiny?” the bouncer asked Pilar gruffly. “You want me to show him to the door?”
Because Elías suspected the man was using “show” in its loosest possible interpretation, he was grateful when Pilar shook her head.
“No, Joey. It’s okay.”
The bouncer, Joey, leveled his surly gaze at Elías for another moment, then growled, “Keep your hands to yourself. House rules.” Then with a reluctant glower—as if he’d been hoping for the chance to forcibly eject Elías from the building and thus highlighting what had otherwise been a boring day for bouncing—Joey turned and walked away.
“Here.” Pilar reached down and took the money Elías had given her out of her waistband. “Take this back. I don’t want it.”
He shook his head. “It’s yours.”
She locked gazed with him, stony and cold. Opening her fingers, she let it drop to the floor. “I don’t want it.”
“Wait.” She’d tried to leave again, turning away, but he caught her arm. This time, she didn’t try to fight her way free, but she awarded him a look that could have passed as a deadly weapon. “Please. I need to talk to you.”
“About what?” she asked, huffing out a put-upon sigh.
“Miguel Torres,” he said, leaning toward her, speaking softly again. He didn’t miss the startled intake of her breath, or the way her eyes darted abruptly away, like a cornered animal surveying its options for escape.
“What about him?” she asked.
Stepping closer, tilting his head, Elías spoke softly into her ear. “He was found dead in the middle of Highway 1226 this morning, half-eaten by alligators.”
He felt a slight tremor work its way through her, whether a shiver at the revelation of Miguel’s discovery, or at his proximity, his breath rustling her hair, he couldn’t be sure. Because in all of the weeks he’d been coming to Melaza, and all of the times he’d watched—longing, envious—as Pilar had danced for other men, he’d never seen her perform for anyone as she had for him. More than just a dance, she’d moved against him, responded to him like a lover. Like she’d wanted him, too.
“What…what’s that have to do with me?” she asked, close enough now so that when she glanced up at him, her cheek dragged lightly against his own, and when he moved in turn to meet her gaze, his mouth hovered just above hers, so close…
Madre de Dios, he thought, agonized, as he fought the impulse to lean in and kiss her. Mother of God.
“You tell me,” he breathed.