Authors: Jennifer Lewis
A BAD BOY IS
GOOD TO FIND
hat is that?” Her brown eyes widened as her finger lifted off his skin.
She’d discovered his tattoo. He had a tendency to forget about it since it wasn’t where he could see it.
“It’s…a family crest.” He stroked her cheek.
“Oh.” She smiled. “I see. It does look like a fleur-de-lis.” She touched it, then pulled her hand back under the sheets.
. You learned to be resourceful when you had a flaming dagger tattooed on your ass. Somehow she’d gotten hold of the idea he, Conroy Beale, was descended from French aristocracy, and he didn’t want to deprive her of that happy delusion. Who knows? Maybe he was.
Anything seemed possible lately.
“You smell nice,” he whispered as he snuggled up closer. Lizzie Hathaway smelled like a plump overripe rose. Felt like one too. Silky skin on silky sheets in her comfy apartment. Heaven.
“It’s a personalized scent. I had it mixed for me by an olfactory specialist at a scent boutique in the East Village.”
Yeah, smooth, Con
. Rich girls did leave him speechless though. He pushed her long curls aside and kissed her hot cheek. “Roses and vanilla? Smells like sweetness and innocence.”
“Smells can be deceptive.”
“I don’t doubt it.” In this case, he thought the smell was pretty damn close. Despite her old-money New York upbringing, Lizzie was quiet and shy, more comfortable in a bookstore than a cocktail bar, and he liked her just fine for it. The world could use more sweetness and innocence. He sure hadn’t run across too much until now.
“I wonder what your custom-blended scent would be.” She brushed his chin with a fingertip.
Hmm. Axle grease and champagne?
Bottle it and call it Contradiction.
“What do you think would reflect me?” He looked her dead in the eye.
“Hmm…” Her plump pomegranate lips curved into a smile. Pretty. “Horses, sweat, and wild alpine flowers.”
“I don’t know about horses, but sweat, I can give you.” They’d worked up quite a sweat already.
“Maybe the flower should be a fleur-de-lis?” She squeezed his butt and his cock leapt to attention.
“Sounds good to me.” He leaned forward and kissed her gently on the lips. “You make me happy, Lizzie. You know that?” He buried his face between her breasts worshipfully and didn’t try to hide the shudder of lust that followed. “You’re a unique woman.”
“And you’re a very unique man.”
If you only knew
He looked at her steadily, not wanting to complicate things with more words. The less lies between them, the better, as they’d all come out in the wash sooner or later.
Her whole face shone with the unspoken connection between them that took his breath away. She tugged at his shirt buttons with a hungry look in her eyes. Lizzie Hathaway wanted him as badly as he wanted her and wasn’t afraid to show it.
Which made him hard as a gun barrel.
He trailed kisses down her pulsing neck, over her breasts and belly. Shucked off that blue satin and dove into the hot warmth waiting below, licking and cajoling her into a place where it didn’t matter who they were or where they came from.
Her breathing quickened and he instinctively filled his mouth with a rosy nipple. As he suckled, burying his face in rose-scented warmth, she lost it—gushing low groans that unraveled him too. Lizzie genuinely drove him crazy with her lush, mobile body and her inhibitions all undone.
When the blood returned to his brain he slid off her. Slowly, reluctant to give up the delicious closeness that was the best part of sex. He cuddled up to her, settling his head on one soft arm, his cheek against her breast. Bliss.
She stroked his cheek affectionately and a sensation of perfect contentment softened his limbs. He’d take his moments of perfection where he could get ’em. So he’d let her get the impression that he was a big shot—was that a crime? Once they were married…
A hot, tight feeling in his chest told him his plan was right, even though some people might say it was wrong. His life had been a long strange trip, and he craved a permanent berth in Lizzie Hathaway’s calm harbor.
He wasn’t marrying her for the money, but the money would make it work. Keep her living in the style she was used to. It was her money, so her parents couldn’t cut her off.
And once they were married he’d make her the happiest woman on earth for the rest of her life.
Ronkonkoma. Yaphank. Hampton Bays. Lizzie’s blood pressure ratcheted with each green highway sign she passed. She’d left early to avoid the Friday night Hamptons-bound traffic, but now she wished she’d stretched the journey out as long as she could. She knew tonight wasn’t going to be easy. Nothing in her life was ever easy.
For a start, it was no picnic being an “heiress.” Everyone expected you to live up to some image of ultimate glamour they had in their head from reading too many princess stories as a kid. You were supposed to be a willowy blonde with roses in your porcelain cheeks and elegant hands that itched to play symphonies. You were supposed to be outgoing, confident and easy to talk to. Demanding and slightly arrogant, yet sweet and lovable.
If you’re not all that stuff, then that’s your problem.
She hit the exit for Southampton too fast and had to turn hard.
Sometimes you weren’t a willowy blonde, you were a “big boned” brunette. Sometimes that “arrogance” was really insecurity, and your best talents were for things that no one appreciated.
And sometimes you fell in love with a person who wasn’t exactly the handsome prince your parents had in mind.
At that point you just have to take charge of your own goddam life
She slammed on the brakes and screeched to a halt, her bumper inches from a doe’s chest. The stunned deer stared at her for a moment, then scrambled—hooves scraping on the tarmac—back the way it came, over the high privet hedge of an expensively manicured yard.
They all looked the same, these “cottages,” because a gazillion dollars only bought you so much around here. A few thousand square feet of paneled oak and granite countertop and chemical-soaked lawn, the smell of the sea hovering off somewhere beyond the privet.
It was good that she’d come early, and not because of the traffic. Hopefully she’d catch her mother before she dove into a second bottle of wine.
She pulled into the driveway, gravel crunching under her tires and anxiety twisting in her belly.
I don’t care what they say
I love him.
I’m going to marry him
“You are not.” Her father’s harsh tone made her jump, since he rarely issued more than a disinterested rumble in her direction. He hadn’t moved, or even looked at her. Just stood there, in his “summer weight” suit, an unlit cigar in one hand.
She wobbled slightly in her high heels. “I don’t understand why you don’t like him. We all had a perfectly nice time last weekend, you said so yourself.”
“That was in front of him, dear,” said her mother from the far side of the room, where she refilled her glass with unsteady hands. “You’d hardly expect us to insult him to his face.”
“I don’t know why not. You think it’s more polite to wait until he leaves, then stab him in the back?”
She’d seen that they didn’t like him. The too-polite smiles. The too-witty conversations. Con saw it too, but he asked her to marry him anyway. He loved her in spite of her parents.
“No one enjoys a confrontation, Elizabeth.” Her father surveyed her over the half-moons of his reading glasses. “There’s no need to stir up drama.”
“But why have a confrontation at all? What’s wrong with him?”
“We don’t know anything about him. Where he comes from, his family.”
“He’s from Louisiana,” she protested. “What does his family matter? I’m not marrying them.”
Her father gave a dismissive snort.
“Why are you sneering? Because his family is from the South?” Heat rushed her chest at the thought of them discriminating against someone so good and kind.
Her father removed his reading glasses and started to polish them. Anger bubbled up inside her as she saw that—once again—he planned to simply ignore her.
She groped for something to impress her father. “They’re descended from French aristocracy!”
He even has the family crest tattooed on his
“It’s not so simple, dear.” Her mother shot a glance at her father. “There are things to consider. Your legacy, for example…” She paused and sipped her wine. Looked almost nervous.
“My legacy? Who are we kidding here? We’re garbage bag tycoons. The only reason we’re sitting on pots of money right now is because grandpa perfected the disposable bin-liner. People take our product and shove it in the trash can, literally, so excuse me if I can’t take it too freakin’ seriously.”
“You will not use language like that in my presence.” Her father lit his cigar, and her lungs recoiled as acrid smoke rolled toward her. “And as you know only too well, Hathaway Industries is one of the foremost manufacturers of household products in the world today.”
Anger stole her breath. “Why are we talking about Hathaway Industries? Why does everything always come back to ‘the firm’ and the embarrassment of money that’s a millstone around all our necks?”
She paused and took a deep breath, heart thudding. “Conroy Beale is the man I love. He loves me. Since I’ve met him I’ve changed and grown in ways I’d never dreamed possible.”
She smoothed the clingy black fabric of the elegant dress he’d helped her choose. The marcasite bracelet he’d picked out caught the golden light from the lowering sun. Strength seeped through her veins at the thought of him.
“Since I met him I feel like a new person. Look at me!” She gestured to her glamorous attire, the loose dark curls cascading over her bosom. “When did you last see me wear my hair down? When did you see me in a dress? I feel beautiful. I know I’m beautiful, and Conroy Beale has given me that gift.”
“Well, dear, I’m not sure that dress is entirely flattering, given your…endowments.” Her mother sipped her wine and peered at her with soulless pale eyes.
Lizzie shrank a little, the way she always did under that withering stare, then tossed her hair and stuck out her “endowments.” “I’m not ashamed of my body any more. I’m tired of creeping around, hiding myself under baggy clothes, trying out every crazy diet that comes along. I’m not meant to be a twig like you. I don’t have that kind of body. Conroy loves me just the way I am, and so do I!”
Her voice gave her a shivering thrill as it rang out over the polished parquet and reverberated off the wall of windows. She wanted to yell at them for every hurt she’d ever suffered at their hands.
“I’m intelligent and creative. I don’t need to sit in a dreary office designing promotional brochures so you can keep me tucked away in ‘gainful employment’ that won’t embarrass you. I was going to be an artist—” her voice cracked, “an artist who created beauty and made people see things in a new way—”
“Now, dear, let’s not get carried away.” Her mother’s low voice stuck her like a blunt knife. “You sprayed graffiti on canvas and called it art. I don’t recall anyone clamoring to put you in the Whitney Biennial.”
Lizzie’s breathing got shallow. Once again she felt herself shrinking, withering, losing stature and confidence while gaining in bloated girth under that critical glare.
Con. Think of him
. In her mind she squeezed his hand.
Remember all that strength and power and warm affection
. The adoring way his gaze roamed over her, heated her skin and swelled her heart until it was ready to burst. The most handsome man she’d ever met, the sweetest, the most skilled and inventive lover…
“I’m going to marry him.”
“You are not.” Her father didn’t even look at her. He stared down at his cigar for a moment.
“Oh, for Christ sake. Tell her, Harold,” snapped her mother. She slammed her glass down on the antique sideboard.
“Tell me what?” Lizzie frowned. The sun had sunk in the sky and now blasted through the huge wall of paned windows, a fiery orange ball that made her squint.
“You’re drunk, dear. Don’t make a fool of yourself,”
Her mother didn’t even flinch, but Lizzie froze. Where was the thin-lipped pretense she’d grown up with?
“I’m going to bed.” Her mom turned and looked at her. An odd look in her pale eyes chilled Lizzie and made her glance at her father. She noticed for the first time that her mother’s hair wasn’t carefully styled and her clothes were wrinkled. Her whole façade seemed to be slipping. Even her face looked older, its lines deeper.
Instead of turning to the curved oak staircase she walked toward the French doors, opened them, and slipped out into the garden. The dark backyard screeched with tree frogs for a moment before the door closed behind her with a thunk.