Chapter 1 A Loving Friendship and a Meeting

"Sheri, can we segue The Man That Got Away into My Man and back again?" I asked, looking over the music in my hand.

"Sure, Mar," my pianist replied. "Something like this?"

Her fingers flew across the ivory keys of the baby grand.

I sang along with what she was doing and it worked brilliantly…as I knew it would. Sheri was a keyboard genius.

We had been working together for the last ten years, having met in college. I majored on dramatic arts, with a minor in music, while Sheri practically lived for music. She played whenever she could: with the University Jazz Trio all the way to volunteer keyboardist for the drama department.

Our friendship grew out of the fact that she was the first pianist, ever, that could find my vocal range and transpose any number into it, on the spot. We new from that moment that ours would be a loving and lasting friendship. We took care of each other after an all nighter, we laughed and cried with one another, and were there for each other whenever the need arose.

We knew each other, musically, better than most married couples knew each other physically. Having the dreaded "artistic temperament", we knew that forgiveness would always follow immediately after any argument. And we argued often, about men, clothes, men, costumes, men, but never about music. Being in sync, like a well-oiled machine, our tastes were the same. I had the husky, sultry voice and she had the fingers of gold.

While we loved all kinds of music, the bluesy torch songs were our favorites. When we first went out on the road, it was hard to convince promoters that we could do this stuff, often being told that we were too young to be able to feel the pathos that most of these songs expressed. It was only after years of traveling the country, performing in dives, that we finally started making a name for ourselves.

We had been here in the Torch Club, a small lounge in the Hyatt Regency Wilshire Hotel, for seven months. We had built up a fair following, the older patrons seeming to enjoy the ambiance of days gone by while the younger crowd, the chance to experience Old Hollywood.

I lived for my music and singing.

My personal life was non-existent. Men had come and gone in my life. I'd been searching for, but never found, one that wanted to stay with me, or I him. It just never happened…well, maybe except for Brian. Oh, I had wanted Brian. The stars in my eyes had me blinded and when I found out that he was married, everything came crashing down around me. The only thing that I could do was sing, my sad, heart wrenching, torch songs.

Sheri, on the other hand, had been with her James for seven years. They had met during a special benefit, for cancer research, that we'd been involved in. He was a sound tech and they had clicked instantly when he came to adjust her piano mic.

James learned early on in their relationship that Sheri and I were a package deal, that she would be there for me whenever and wherever I needed her. I was alone, no family, only a couple of the foster parents I'd kept in semi-regular contact with. Sheri, and then James became my only family.

"Are we gonna go over this material again or what?" Sheri asked, smiling and tinkling the keys, with the Twilight Zone theme. "Mara?"

I shook myself out of the past and grinned.

"Let's do it," I said.

For the next hour we worked on the number until it was perfected. Memories of Brian, and the tragic aftermath of his betrayal leant itself to the genuine sadness and loneliness that came through my voice.

We must have stood side by side, at brightly lit make-up mirrors, thousands of times, as Sheri and I put the finishing touches on our faces. A routine had been established, early on in our partnership, of watching each other, making suggestions and corrections to our appearances, counting on each other.

"I like that new shade of green shadow on you," she said, leaning in to add a bit more gloss to her red lips.

"Thanks, I replied. "It's darker than I usually use, but I like it with this gown."

I smiled at her in the mirror and marveled again at the picture we made. More exact opposites you'd never find. Her five foot two lithe frame was the perfect foil for my five foot six statuesque body, although I often felt gargantuan standing next to her.

She had long, almost waist length, blond hair, thick and lush with just a hint of curl. Her blue eyes were definitely the "windows to her soul", clear and twinkling with happiness. James had put that twinkle there.

That night, she was wearing a beautiful deep red, floor length gown of soft chiffon over satin. The deep V of the neckline and tight fitted bodice emphasized her full breasts and narrow waist. The full skirt fell gracefully to the floor. Her hair was pulled back from her face and clipped at the back with a ruby clip. She always wore her tresses pulled back to keep her hair out of her eyes as she played. She was breathtaking, as usual.

Her brilliant smile told me that James would be there that night. He was often away on other projects, having been hired by Cullen Studios' sound department, so when he was at a performance, Sheri was jubilant

Living in Hollywood, by contrast, I was rounder, softer and curvier than the anorexic young starlets. I was what some called a full figured woman, voluptuous, full breasted, narrow waisted, round hipped and fairly long legged. I had the body of a well-nourished woman rather than a pencil thin young girl, living on lettuce and steamed fish.

My shoulder length dark auburn hair and leaf green eyes paid homage to my Irish ancestry, as did the smattering of freckles across my slightly up tilted nose and cheekbones. My thick dark lashes and light olive complexion attested to the fact that I was half Italian. I had all the heat without the hot temper of both…most of the time.

The only feature I was never happy with was my mouth. It was wide, full lipped and just plain too big. But when I smiled, which hadn't been too often lately, I had been told that my whole face lit up. So maybe it wasn't too bad, after all.

As I studied my reflection, I was pleased with my choice of gown. It was a long sleeved, plunging necked silk sheath that clung to my ample curves. And it was my favorite color, deep forest green. The narrow skirt was slit up the left side to mid thigh and fell to the top of my matching heels. My jewelry was minimal, only my thin silver watch and emerald and diamond earrings.

My hair was pulled up into a mass of unruly curls at the crown of my head, with a few wispy tendrils at the nape of my neck and at my temples.

I felt comfortable and powerful looking. Transforming myself from a shy, lonely little girl from Arkansas, into a seductive chanteuse was part of my nightly routine. The memories from the past made the change complete. They would manifest themselves in the sad wailing lyrics of the songs.

This was how I coped with everything. When I stepped out onto that stage, I was strong and in charge. My music was my safe place.

Taking a deep breath, I looked up at Sheri while swiping burgundy lip-gloss across my lips. I stood up and threw my shoulders back, that "look", as Sheri called it, on my face.

"Well soul-sister, are you ready to do this thing?" I asked, smiling at her reflection in the mirror

She reached around and hugged me, staring back at me.

"Yeah," she replied. "I have a feeling about tonight, something special is gonna happen, I just know it."

"Oh please," I said with a laugh, pulling her into the hallway leading to the staging area. "You always say that!"

"I know," she answered, "But this time I reallyfeel it."

I shook my head as we waited behind the screened off doorway for Demitri, the lounge manager, to announce us.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to bring to you the awesome voice of Mara Brannigan and the genius of the keyboard, Sheri Connery.

There was a surprisingly thunderous sound of applause as we stepped from behind the screen.

Sheri seated herself at the piano and started the introduction to the first song, the medley that we had perfected that morning. I stepped to the microphone and took it from the stand. James had been trying to get me to use a lapel mic, but I was adamant about the hand held, feeling that it was more in keeping with the genre, and it was my crutch, the only one I had.

The house lights lowered and a lone spot shone down on me. Lowering my head, looking down at the stage floor, I began to sing softly.

The Man That Got Away.

The night is bitter

The stars have lost their glitter

The winds grow colder

And suddenly you're older

And all because of

The man that got away

I slowly raised my eyes to the audience, focusing on a couple, sitting at a table in the back.

No More his eager call

The writings on the wall

The dreams you dreamed have all

Gone astray

I began walking toward the center of the stage, catching the eye of a few of the ladies present, communicating to them my love and loss. Stopping, I caught the sorrowful, teary look of one particular woman. She was older and sitting alone at the bar, a tear coursing down her cheek.

The man that won you

Has run off and undone you

The great beginning

Has seen it's final inning

Don't know what happened

It's all a crazy game

I raised the volume full throttle and poured my heart into the next lyrics, all the while never taking my eyes from the sad woman and walking stage left toward her.

No more that all time thrill

For you've been through the mill

And never a new love

Will be the same

Good riddance, good-bye

Every trick of his you're on to

But fools will be fools

And where's he gone to

Lowering the volume of my voice, I turned back toward center stage.

The road get rougher

It's lonelier and tougher

With hope you burn up

Tomorrow he will turn up

There's just no let up

The live long night and day

Turning to face the audience again, I softened the tenor of my voice.

Ever since this world began

There is nothing sadder than

A one-man woman

Looking for the man

That got away

The man that got away

Sheri played the transition intro as I walked toward her. Standing in the curve of the piano, I turned again to the audience, almost whispering the first phrase

My Man

Oh my man I love him so

He'll never know

All my life is just despair

But I don't care

When he takes me in his arms

The world is bright, alright

A little louder, with more strength.

What's the difference if I say

I'll go away

When I know I'll come back

On my knees someday

For whatever my man is

I am his


With a change in tempo and emotion, I stepped to the edge of the stage, focusing on the couple at the front table.

It cost me a lot

But there's one thing

That I've got

It's my man

Cold and wet

Tired you bet

But all that I soon forget

With my man

I looked out over the crowd.

He's not much for looks

And no hero out of books

He's my man

I gave a small smile and a quiet humph.

Two or three girls has he

That he likes as well as me

But I love him

Then I belted out the rest, to the end.

O my man I love him so

He'll never know

All my life is just despair

But I don't care

When he takes me in his arms

The world is bright alright

What's the difference if I say

I'll go away

When I know I'll come back

On my knees a someday

For whatever my man is

I am his


Sheri played the transition back and I sang from my heart

The Man That Got Away.

The night is bitter

The star have lost their glitter

The winds grow colder

And suddenly you're older

And all because of

The man that got away

No More his eager call

The writings on the wall

The dreams you dreamed have all

Gone astray

No more that all time thrill

For you've been through the mill

And never a new love

Will be the same

I lowered my volume and sang the pathos of the final lyrics, thinking of Brian.

Ever since this world began

There is nothing sadder than

A one-man woman

Looking for the man

That got away

The man that got away

I smiled, took a deep breath and waited for the applause to die down.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," I said softly into the microphone. "Welcome to the Torch Lounge. I am Mara Brannigan and this is my awesome accompanist and friend, Sheri Connery."

"Whoo Hoo!" came from the back of the room and I grinned.

"That's her husband James." I said laughingly. "I've often told him that he ought to change his name to Bond; because his first name is James and with Connery who portrayed James Bond…well never mind, I thought it was funny anyway."

There was a ripple of laughter and I continued.

"We are here to entertain you with some torch songs and a mixture of others in between." I said. "I hope you enjoy the show."

I had turned back to Sheri, to begin the next number, when I heard a commotion at the door. A group of young men, obviously inebriated, were seeking entrance and they were shown to a table close to the stage. There were four of them. Two were tall and lanky, one with collar length, wavy blond hair and the other with a mop of unruly bronze, sex hair. I mean he really looked like he'd just gotten out of bed. The third man was tall dark and muscular, maybe a Native American, but the one that caught my eye was even bigger than the bronzed giant.

He stood, I guessed, at about six-foot-five with close cropped dark brown, curly hair that caused his deep blue eyes to pop. But it was his wide, sensual mouth edged by deep dimples that caused me to take a deep breath. And he was built, with a broad muscular chest that led down to narrow hips and long muscular legs. The jeans he was wearing did nothing to hide the large package that he sported.

I gasped softly as I looked up and found him grinning at me; I had been caught ogling him.

Taking a deep breath, I turned back to Sheri, blushing, and we continued the set. During the fourth number, I noticed that other patrons were getting quite irritated with the group of young men, who were being quite loud. Suddenly a voice rang out.

"Will you ass wipes shut the fuck up? I wanna hear the beautiful lady. She's awesome."

I looked down to see the dark haired giant standing, glaring at his friends. The room had gotten quiet and I saw the realization of what he had said and done cross his handsome face.

"Aw, Jeez, I'm sorry!" he said as the bronze haired one yanked on his arm and pulled him back down into his seat.

I shook my head, with a smile.

"It's okay, Sweet Cheeks," I said sarcastically. "I'll let it go this time, just because you're prettier than me."

"Not so, darlin'," he replied, leaning back in his chair, staring at me intently. "Just, seriously, not so."

I stared at him for a brief moment then turned and nodded to Sheri to begin the last song of the set. She had been right, something different had happened.

"We'll be back after a fifteen minute break," I said softly after the song. "I hope y'all will stick around."

Sheri and I left the stage amidst wild applause, most of the enthusiasm coming from the table of four, who were standing on their feet.

"Damn," I growled as we made our way down the dimly lit hallway to the dressing room. "I let it slip, didn't I?"

"Yep," she replied with a grin. "That only happens when you're distracted and I'd say you were very distracted."

I had worked very hard to erase any trace of my poor Arkansas upbringing—if you could call it that—from my speech. Sheri was right, the only times I slipped were when I was either distracted or very angry. For the most part, my accent was generic.

"I wasn't distracted, just perturbed," I retorted. "I don't like being interrupted during a set."

"Yeah, right," she said, reapplying her lipstick. "I was out there, remember? You were definitely distracted."

I looked at her in the mirror for a moment and then smiled sheepishly.

"You're right," I admitted. "Did you see…"

"Oh yeah," she interrupted, her eyes twinkling excitedly. "I saw the whole package, and I mean the whole package!"

"You'd better not be checking out other packages, J," James spoke from the doorway, using his special nickname for her.

She turned and, smiling, walked over to him, wrapping her arms around his neck.

"Oh, sweet love," she crooned. "Yours is the only package I'm interested in. I was just trying to help Mar, here, out."

He leaned down and kissed her sweetly, moving further into the room. I turned away with a tad bit of sadness, oh not for them, but for myself. I wanted some of that for me, would I ever have a relationship like that?

With a sigh, I slipped passed them, out into the hall and into a solid wall of muscle. Massive arms came around me to keep me from falling, huge hands encircling my waist, pulling my body tight against his.

"Whoa, pretty lady," said a smooth, slightly slurred, baritone voice. "What's your hurry?"

I knew who it was before I even looked. Slowly I raised my eyes up and up and up until I met the twinkling blue eyes and dimpling grin of the huge giant, Sweet Cheeks.

I stared at him for a moment before hastily pulling out of his arms and away from that hard body.

"How did you get back here?" I whispered. "You're not allowed back stage without invitation."

"Well, Demitri is a friend of mine and Felix, the bouncer, is one of my training buddies," he replied. "I just told them that I had to meet you and they let me in."

I was livid, the Irish/Italian temper rising up. James would have to speak to Demitri, as this should have never happened.

"Well, I don't like to be disturbed between sets, so please go back to your table," I said, trying to stay calm. "I meet with fans after the show."

"Oh sweetness," he drawled softly, tracing the knuckles of a huge paw down my cheek. "I plan on being much more than a fan."

I could smell the beer on his breath as he leaned in, placing his soft sensual lips against mine in a tender kiss.

Gasping, I stepped back further, shaking my head, placing a trembling hand to my lips. My heart was racing.

"Oh, jeez, I'm sorry…no, not sorry," he stammered. "I don't usually do things like…O, hell, I don't know what I'm doin'."

"I really think that you should go back now," I said, my voice quivering. "Please."

"Just let me introduce myself, Mara Brannigan, and I'll leave, for now," he said, stepping toward me again.

"I…" I started.

"Is everything okay, Mara?" James asked, stepping into the hall. "I'm sorry buddy, but the ladies don't see fans between sets," he added, turning to face the visitor.

"I'll only be a minute, man," he replied, turning back to face me.

"And I said that the ladies don't accept visitors between sets, man," James repeated, taking Sweet Cheeks by the arm.

I could feel the tension rise between the two men and I stepped toward them.

James may have been smaller, but he matched him in muscle. Sweet Cheeks looked down at James' hand on his arm, then back up at his face.

"I don't want any trouble, just wanted to meet the pretty lady, here," he said, his jaw clenching, and carefully removed James' hand from his arm.

"It's time, Mara," Sheri said from the doorway, breaking the standoff.

"It's okay, James," I said, not taking my eyes off of Sweet Cheeks. "I'll be right there, Sheri. Go on, please."

They both looked at me, curiously, for a moment, James scowling and Sheri smirking, a smile twitching at the corner of her crimson mouth. She rolled her eyes at me and taking James's hand led him to the screened doorway.

I watched them walk away and turned back.

"Okay, tell me your name so that I can get back to the stage," I said.

"I don't mean you any harm, sweetness," he spoke quietly. "I'm Emmett McCarty and I find you enchanting."

His dimples creased his cheeks and my heart leapt.

God, he's gorgeous!

The name was vaguely familiar, but I couldn't place it. With my schedule, I didn't keep up with the outside world.

"Well, Mr. McCarty, " I said. "I appreciate the flattery and thank you. Now I really have to go. Please, enjoy the show."

I turned to walk up the hall and he placed a restraining hand on my arm.

"Please say that you'll meet me after the show," he requested. "I would really like to get to know you."

"I'm sorry," I replied. "I don't really think that is a very good idea."

"Please?" he pled. "I promise that we'll just sit and talk for a while."

"Really, I can't." I replied. "It was nice meeting you Mr. McCarty…"

"Emmett," he interrupted. "Please, call me Emmett. Mr. McCarty was my father."

"Emmett," I replied. "I really must go."

I turned and hurried down the hall, leaving him standing there. Looking back, I saw a look of determination spreading across his face and I watched as he turned and strode confidently back into the club.

Taking a shaky breath, I stepped out onto the stage.

Throughout the final set, I felt his eyes on me. I tried to ignore him, but I couldn't. Everytime my eyes met his, I felt my heart leap. What was happening to me? I'd never had this kind of reaction to a man, ever, not even Brian.

Before the last number, I stepped over to Sheri and made a change. She looked at me, raising one eyebrow, questioningly, with a knowing smile and twinkle in her eye. I just smirked at her and turned back to the crowd.

Looking down at my feet, I listened to Sheri play the intro to the new selection. Raising the mic to my lips, I looked up shyly, straight into those beautiful blue eyes and began to sing.

The Man I Love

Someday he'll come along

The man I love

And he'll be big and strong

The man I love

I took a few steps toward him and noticed his friends laughing and ribbing him. I could feel myself blush, but he never took his eyes from mine.

And when he comes my way

I'll do my best to make him stay

He'll look at me and smile

A huge grin crossed his face and my heart lurched.

I'll understand

He'll take my hand

And though it seems absurd

I know we both won't say a word

Remembering the rest of the audience, I tore my eyes from his face.

Maybe I shall meet him Sunday

Maybe Monday, maybe not

Still I'm sure I'll meet him one day

Maybe Tuesday will be my good news day

He'll build a little home

Just meant for two

From which I'll never roam

Who would, would you?

And so all else above

I'm waiting for the man I love

As soon as the song ended, I caught a glimpse of the smile still plastered across Emmett's face. With blush, I replaced the mic on the stand and, smiling, bowed to the audience.

"Thank you very much," I said. "I hope you've enjoyed the show and will come back again. Please, give a round of applause for my accompanist, Sherry Connery. Isn't she amazing?"

Sheri stood and took her bow and walking over to her, I took her hand and we left the stage.

"Okay, soul sister," Sheri said as soon as the dressing room door closed behind us. "What the hell was that end song change about?

I turned to slip my shoes off and placed them in their box.

For as small as she was, Sheri was strength personified. Her daily workouts with James kept her trim and toned. So, I wasn't surprised when she grabbed my arm and spun me to face her. She raised her eyebrow, waiting for my answer to her question.

I looked back at her, trying to articulate the merry mix-up of confusion that was in my mind. I didn't understand what I was feeling myself, so how was I supposed to explain it to her.

I watched as concern washed across her face.

"Mara?" she asked gently, taking my trembling hand. "What is it, sweetie? Did that man…?"

"Emmett," I interrupted, correcting her automatically, looking down at my hands.

"Emmett," she replied. "Did he do something to you?"

"Oh, no!" I exclaimed, looking back up quickly and closed my eyes, sighing. "No, he was really very nice, actually."

"Then what's wrong?" she asked again, squeezing my hand, tightly.

"I don't know," I whispered, closing my eyes. "I'm so mixed up and confused. I've never had a reaction to a man, like this. I don't know what to do about tonight."

"Tonight?" she questioned. "What about tonight?"

"He asked me to meet him so that we could talk and get to know one another," I replied. "I didn't give him a definite answer. In fact I said that I didn't think it was a good idea."

She stood looking at me for a long moment.

"You wanna know what I think?" she asked, stepping out of her shoes and unzipping her dress.

Turning back to face me, she asked again.

"Well, do ya?"

She tilted her head to the side and I had to smile. She didn't even realize what she was doing. That was the same gesture James used when he was asking questions, too.

"I'm waiting," she sang, drawing my attention back to her question.

"Yes, "mother dear", what do you think?" I replied chuckling.

"I think that you should meet him," she said, to my surprise, and grinned. "Sweetie, it's been two years since the "Brian fiasco" and I think it's about time for you to let it go. You need some happiness in your life. Maybe this man, Emmett, is the one to give it to you."

Then she rolled her eyes and burst out laughing, her face turning red.

"Don't you even go there," I laughed, slapping playfully at her arm.

"Well, it has been a while for that, too, y'know," she snorted. "And with a package like that..."

"Stop!" I cried, trying to catch my breath. "You are totally insane, you know that don't you. Just because you and James carry on like the Energizer Bunny, doesn't mean that I…"

"Oh yeah, right," she gasped, trying to catch her breath.

She slipped into a comfortable pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Then, turning me around, she unzipped my dress. I slipped it off of my shoulders and turned to hang it up.

"Do you seriously think that I should go?" I asked, turning back to her, holding the hanger and dress against my chest.

She'd finished tying her Nikes and stood up, hands on her hips. She stepped forward and took the dress from me and hung it up in the closet.

"Yes I do," she replied, handing me a pair of black leggings and a purple cowl necked sweater from the shelf inside.

Taking my jewelry off, I opened a small floor safe and took a small box out of it, placing the pieces carefully inside. I grabbed a pair of simple silver hoops to go with my watch and fastened them to my ears. Sheri placed her jewelry inside and slipped the box back into the safe, locking it.

We both went to the mirror and slathered cold cream on our faces, carefully removing all the heavy stage make-up. I had to smile. Without it, Sheri looked like she was twelve years old, in her face anyway. Her body told a different story.

I couldn't help internalizing.

Why was I reacting to this man in this way? Granted, he was gorgeous and had an amazing build, but there was something more, a kind of vulnerability and maybe a little pain in his eyes. And, for as big as he was, he was very gentle. Maybe that was it; he was a true gentle man. Maybe getting to know him wouldn't be so bad.

I smiled to myself.

With out realizing it, I had carefully applied a light mineral foundation, brushed my eyelids with a soft purple shadow, swiped my lashes with a dark mascara, and dusted a rose colored blush across my cheeks.

Turning, I grabbed the leggings and slipped them on, then pulled the sweater over my head and stepped into black, low-heeled sandals.

I returned to the mirror and caught a few loose hairs back up into my curls. I was applying a rose colored lip-gloss to my lips when I caught Sheri's smirking gaze in the mirror.

"What?' I asked quizzically as she began to giggle. "What?"

"Do you always dress up and apply makeup just to go home and go to bed?" she asked, covering her mouth to keep from going hysterical again.

I gaped at her for a minute and then turned back to the mirror.

Oh my God, she was right!

I couldn't stop thinking about Emmett and hadn't even realized that I was subconsciously preparing to meet him. My inner self had made the decision for me.

I caught her reflected eye in the mirror and smiled sheepishly.

"I guess I'm going out." I murmured, just as there was a knock at the dressing room door.

"Are you ready to go home, girls?" James called.

Sheri opened the door and he stepped in, kissing her lightly.

"You were both in top form, tonight," he said cheerfully. "Although you seemed a little distracted, Mar, what was that about?"

He looked at me and his mouth dropped open. He and Sheri always saw me home before heading on to their own place.

"What's going on?" he asked. "Aren't you coming with us?"

"Actually, I believe that she's coming with me, right Mara?" came Emmett's voice from the doorway.

I stared at him, my heart beginning to race.

Was this really a good idea, and what had I been thinking, singing that song to him? Why had I even changed it in the first place? What was I doing?

"Yes, Emmett."

The words were out before I really even thought them and he smiled, his dimples creasing his cheeks. I almost groaned aloud.

I watched James bristle, protectively. Sheri patted his arm.

"Well, sweet love," she said, placating him. "Let's go home and let these two head out."

She turned to Emmett.

"Emmett, right?" she asked, holding her hand out to him.

"And you're Sheri and James," he said, engulfing her hand in his and turning toward James, extending his hand to him.

James reluctantly shook Emmett's hand and grunted. I saw a hint of a dimple crease Emmett's cheek.

"Okay then," Sheri said, coming over to kiss my cheek. "Have fun."

"Yes, mam," I snarked.

She patted my cheek and turned to lead James out the door. She stopped suddenly and grabbing the front of Emmett's jacket, pulled his face down to her. I gasped as I heard her pleasant voice.

"If you hurt her in any way, big guy, I'll have your balls and feed them to you for breakfast, got it?"

James snorted and, laughing, pulled her into the hall.

"Yes, mam," Emmett replied, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. "You don't have anything to worry about."

Then we were alone, his broad shoulders and height dwarfing the room. He looked totally hot and sexy in his tight blue jeans and royal blue button up, with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. The color made his twinkling eyes pop.

He took a step forward and grinned, his dimples flashing. I looked up at him and flushed in embarrassment at being caught staring at him again.

"Where did…" I started as he said.

"What would…"

"Sorry, go ahead," he said quietly as I spoke

"I'm sorry…"

Then we were both laughing and the awkwardness vanished.

"I thought we could go down the street to a little diner I know of, for a late supper," he said, taking my arm as I walked forward.

I picked up my small purse as we stepped out into the hall. He turned the light in the dressing room out and, with his large hand resting on the small of my back, we exited through the back door of the club, out into the cool September night air.