Authors: Katy Regnery
He stood just inside the room, tall and strong in the doorway, his blue eyes dark with concern.
“Barrett,” she warned him.
“You kept asking,” he said in a low, unapologetic voice, rooted where he stood.
She bit her bottom lip.
“Don’t,” he growled.
Heat flushed the surface of her skin like a burn at the simple command. She released it before slowly and deliberately grabbing it between her teeth again.
He crossed the room in an instant, holding her head between his hands as his lips descended upon hers urgently, passionately, punishingly, their teeth clanking together, their breath mingling in pants as their tongues sought one another madly. Emily plunged her fingers into his golden hair, which had been warmed by the sun outside, and moaned into his mouth as he pushed against her. She felt the bed behind her knees and let him push her just enough that she fell backwards, and he covered her body with his, his chest crushing her breasts as he plundered her mouth, demanding, stealing, taking everything she had to give after a lifetime of wanting. And she surrendered. She offered everything to this man who seemed so cold, but burned so hot, who made her forget everything that existed in life but him.
“Emily,” he breathed, his lips grazing the tender skin of her jaw, pressing hot, wet kisses in a path to her ear, then taking the soft lobe between his teeth. She bucked against him from the sweet sharpness of the sensation, whimpering, clasping his face and redirecting his lips to hers.
That he should remember little details about her life so vividly, preserving them like treasures wrapped in tissue, humbled her, delighted her, devastated her. He was Barrett English and she was Emily Edwards. What did it mean that he should shadow her life so devotedly? Did it mean—could it possibly mean—that he was in love with her? The idea was so thrilling and yet so completely terrifying, she tore her mouth away from his, tilting her neck to the side so she couldn’t see his eyes.
“Stop,” she panted, dropping her hands from his face to rest them on the bed at her sides. “Stop. Please.”
He sighed, long and deep, his hot breath making her shiver as his lips rested against the pulse in her neck. He made a strangled sound in his throat, as though he were going to try to say something, then thought better of it. The warm, heavy weight of his body still pressed intimately against her.
“Just give me a second,” he murmured, his hands gradually sliding from her hair to the bed on either side of her head. He pushed down and his feet hit the ground at the foot of the bed.
As he stood, Emily twisted her neck and looked up at him from where she still lay on the bed, taking in his worried eyes and the frustrated set of his jaw. Looking away again, she sat up, the blood rushing to her head as she scooted to the foot of the bed. She kept her head down, which meant that she stared at his waist directly in front of her. She swallowed, letting her eyes drop to his hips, to the enormous bulge in his pants. She nearly whimpered, wishing they weren’t bound by an agreement that included money, wishing they could explore all of the feelings between them that had been growing their whole lives and were finally coming to a head. It seemed that the feelings would not be put on hold, no matter how hard she tried. Perhaps because her heart—which would have needed time to adjust and expand to include a new love in her life—had already accommodated Barrett long ago.
“It’s not that I don’t want to,” she murmured miserably, sitting on her hands so she wouldn’t be tempted to reach out, to pull his body to her and rest her head on his flat, hard stomach.
“It’s that you won’t.”
“It’s that I
,” she said, finally looking up at him with glistening eyes and bruised lips.
He nodded, pursing his lips and she had a glimpse of boardroom Barrett, who didn’t like taking no for an answer. He surprised her by offering a thin smile. “Have it your way, Emily.”
He grabbed his jacket, turned on his heel and left the room.
Barrett had no idea where he was headed, but he certainly hoped his destination included a glass, some ice, and at least three fingers of decent scotch.
Damn it, but he hadn’t meant to attack her like that. Well, he had. But, he hadn’t. Did he want to sleep with her? Yes. Did every fiber of his being cry out for her? Yes. Had the past week been excruciating? Yes. But he hadn’t started talking about his “Memories of Emily” as a seduction technique, he’d sort of fallen into it. And the more he remembered, the more he thought about their entwined lives, and the more sure he was of how much he needed and wanted her to be a permanent part of his future.
lip biting. What the hell was he supposed to do? He could make a strong case that she’d provoked him.
He turned left at the foot of the stairs and walked into a nautical-themed living room, bee-lining to the small wet bar sandwiched elegantly within the white bookcases. He took down a glass, uncorked a bottle of scotch, and poured himself half a tumbler.
Barrett spun in surprise. He hadn’t noticed anyone else in the room, but he looked over at the windows to see J.J. Harrison’s grey head peeking over the top of a wingback chair that faced a massive picture window looking out at the ocean.
“Sorry, sir,” said Barrett. “I didn’t see you there. I would have asked before pouring.”
“Mi casa es su casa,” said J.J., crossing the room to offer his hand to Barrett. His steel grey eyes assessed the younger man smoothly. “But my business is not your business… yet.”
“You’re not sailing, sir?”
“J.J., please. Let’s pretend to be friends.”
Barrett smiled wryly, dropping the older man’s hand after a firm shake. He bet J.J. Harrison was quite the shark himself once upon a time. If they weren’t on opposite sides of a deal right now, Barrett would openly admire his grit. “You’re not sailing,
“I’m more of a fishing man. You?”
“Can’t say I’m a huge fan of the water.”
J.J. narrowed his eyes. “You’re certainly a fan of my shipbuilding business.”
“It’s lucrative… or could be.”
“It wasn’t for sale,” growled the older man.
“At least seventy percent of it was. We barely had to ask. Your brothers and sister want to sell.”
J.J. huffed quietly, shaking his head. “Because they never worked a day in their lives at Harrison Shipbuilding, and it’s all about squeezing it for every dime. Tough being the oldest, eh, Barrett? The whole family legacy falls to you.”
Barrett took a long sip of his drink, his eyes carefully betraying nothing. No sympathy. No empathy. No connection. Business was business. Harrison Shipbuilding made yachts, cargo ships and fishing boats, and it made decent profits, but it was inefficiently run. Once in the hands of English & Sons it would be a genuine cash cow, and while Barrett actually did feel some small measure of sympathy for J.J. Harrison, he never let personal feelings cloud his business judgment… except, he thought bitterly, when dealing with Emily Edwards.
“A weak spot?” asked J.J., staring at Barrett thoughtfully.
Damn it. Stop thinking about her.
“No sir. Excellent scotch. It has a little bite.”
J.J. gestured to a framed photo on the bookcases beside the wet bar. It was black and white and showed a bearded fellow standing proudly beside a small fishing boat with the name “Trade Winds” neatly stenciled on the side.
“My grandfather built his first fishing boat with his own two hands. Such good craftsmanship, he built another and sold it, and then another. My father used to take me to the docks and point out the boats that my grandfather had handmade before they went into mass production. Now we sell yachts and cargo ships, too. But it all started with fishing boats made by hand. Don’t you understand that?”
“It’s a touching story. We know your heart is in Harrison Shipbuilding, J.J. And that’s precisely why we’d like to offer you a position on the board and a guaranteed position as consultant for the next three years before we give you a very, very generous severance package.”
“Screw you and your generous severance,” growled J.J., taking an angry sip of his own scotch as he held Barrett’s eyes. “Leave my company alone!”
“We’ve got seventy percent in the bag. I’ll take over the board by Christmas, and we’ll force you out if we have to.”
Barrett stared at J.J. unflinchingly, waiting for that triumphant feeling to come over him… he’d felt it hundreds of times before and always compared it to the way he suspected early hunter must have felt when they delivered the death blow to their prey. Powerful, dominant.
Surprisingly, it didn’t come today. For the first time in years, it didn’t come. Barrett just felt bored and a little bad.
“Try it,” snarled the older man. “My men will walk.”
“Not at Christmas they won’t.” He knew all the things to say, but felt none of the pleasure saying them.
“I know the men who make these boats. I know the men who buy them. Can’t you see that? Can’t you understand?”
He smelled her perfume before he saw or heard her walk into the room, but his voice softened, knowing she was near. “You’ve built a wonderful company, sir. We’ll make it even better.” Barrett didn’t turn to face her, but the steel was all but gone from his voice when he finished by adding, “Take the deal, Harrison. It’s in your best interest.”
,” said J.J., searching Barrett’s eyes mockingly before brightening his face with a smile. “Why, Emily, your timing couldn’t be more perfect.”
It had been a long evening to say the least. From the moment Emily found Barrett and J.J. talking in the living room, Barrett had been in a pisser of a mood. There had been cocktails on the lawn followed by a lovely lobster dinner
with a guitarist who strolled around the long candlelit table of eighteen guests taking requests. But with a taciturn Barrett to her left, obviously at odds with J.J. Harrison and probably still spoiling from their truncated make-out session, the evening had rolled on heavily. Emily mostly made polite conversation with the gentleman beside her, a fairly dull lawyer visiting from New York.
After dessert, when Emily was quite sure she’d learned everything possible to know about copyright law, she took her cue from three other guests who excused themselves for bed and did the same. As she stood, Barrett took her hand for the first time all evening, and after thanking Hélène and J.J. for a wonderful meal, he escorted Emily into the house.
She didn’t wiggle her hand away because it felt so right and natural to be held by his and because she’d missed his warmth all night. Looking up at the tight set of his jaw as they ascended the stairs, it occurred to her that she had gotten so distracted by their attraction to each other, she wasn’t doing a very good job of fulfilling her obligation to him. She was supposed to be his fiancée, someone who would smooth his rough edges and help him make the most of the weekend.
Emily laced her fingers through his, giving his hand a squeeze, fascinated to watch his jaw relax and the constricted lines of his face soften from the contact. It made her realize how much he needed her—to be a sounding board and a comfort. She’d offered neither of those things to him since he’d collected her this afternoon. She’d picked fights, needed him to reassure her on their airplane, and concentrated so much of their time in the room on his memories of her, she hadn’t even asked about the deal he was here to pursue. She wasn’t helping him, she was distracting him, all because her own heart was so affected by him.
Well, she could change things. What Barrett needed right now wasn’t a love interest to make him all hot and bothered. What Barrett needed was the sort of woman who could be his friend. And when you love someone, you find out what they need, and you take pleasure in offering it to them the best you can… which is exactly what Emily intended to do.
He opened the door to their room, and she dropped his hand gently as they walked inside, determined not to let the intense sexual tension from the afternoon dominate the small space again. She looked at him in the dim light, turning on the lamp on the bedside table, then reached up to take off her earrings.
“Barrett,” she asked, as he stood by the door. “Tell me what I walked into tonight when I interrupted you and J.J. Harrison.”
He looked confused for a second, then rubbed his eyes with his fingers, and shrugged out of his jacket. Emily took it from him, walking it to the closet where she found a hanger and hung it up. When she turned around, he was sitting on the edge of the bed.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. My head’s not in the game.”
“What’s the game?” she asked, slipping out of her heels and padding to the bathroom where she filled two crystal tumblers with water. She brought one to Barrett before sitting in the chair by the fire and facing him.
He looked at her, his face softening as he held the tumbler. “You can’t possibly be interested in this.”
“I promise you, I am.”
He looked incredulous, but his lips tilted up. “Really?”
“You two looked like you were about to jump each other… and you’ve been quiet and brooding since.”
“I definitely wanted to jump someone, but it wasn’t J.J. Harrison.”
She flushed, shaking her head at him. “Flirt.”
He sipped his water, staring at her from over the glass, as though deciding whether to push his advantage for more flirtation, or take her up on her offer to talk business. Finally, he sighed, pushing his shoes off his feet, and swinging his legs on the bed. He lay back on the pillow, staring at the ceiling, and answered her question.
“I want to buy his company. He doesn’t want to sell it.”
“How can you buy something that’s not for sale?”
“Well,” he said, “he has three brothers and one sister who all own seventeen point five percent of the company each. That’s seventy percent. None of them have ever worked for Harrison Shipbuilding or maintained an emotional connection to the company. They live off the interest from their shares, but otherwise have little to do with the day-to-day operations. Only one of them even serves on the board.
Anyway, the company is valued at two hundred and fifty million dollars. Each of the siblings are lining up with their hands out for their forty-two million dollar shares. But, J.J. refuses to sell.”
“At thirty percent, he’d make… oh my God, seventy-five million dollars? That can’t be right!”
Barrett nodded at the ceiling. “It is.”
“Yup. Digging his heels in, too.”
Barrett sucked a deep breath through his nose and sighed. “He loves the company. He doesn’t want to give it up. He doesn’t want to relinquish control. Something about fishing boats and his grandfather.”
“Ohhhh,” said Emily. “He has an emotional investment in the company. I guess you can’t put a dollar sign on that.”
“Usually you can.”
“So, what will you do? If he won’t sell?”
Barrett huffed. “It’ll get messy, but I’ll still get the company in the end.”
“I’ll buy the seventy percent. With that majority, I’ll take over the board. I’ll force him out.”
“That sounds cold
messy,” she observed, trying to keep the disappointment she felt out of her voice.
He flinched, which clutched at her heart, but she felt like maybe he should take a moment to think about what the company meant to J.J. Harrison.
“Cold or not, it
messy,” he agreed, leaning up on an elbow and shifting to his side to look at her. “He has the loyalty of his employees. I could get a walk-out at his factories. He could make things difficult for us. It wouldn’t be the smooth transition I was hoping for.”
“Isn’t there another way?” she asked.
“If there is, I don’t know what it is yet.”
“You have to figure out what he wants. What would make him happy.”
“Keeping his company. Not an option.”
“You’re smart, Barrett. Come up with another way.”
She stifled a yawn, but stood, hoping to keep their conversation flowing as she changed into pajamas and arranged herself—wrapped up in a blanket, like bundling—beside him in bed. She unzipped her suitcase to look for her pajamas, only then remembering that all she brought was her only super sexy silk nightgown. She was trying to maintain this conversational vibe between them, and she knew that sexy pajamas would be distracting to Barrett.
“Shoot,” she said. “I forgot my pajamas.”
She glanced over at Barrett, realizing her mistake a second too late. His eyes widened, then darkened, as he stared at her. “No complaints here.”
She pursed her lips, desperately trying to ignore how completely adorable he looked when he was flirting with her. “Can I borrow a T-shirt and some boxers?”
“You want to borrow my underwear?”
“I want something comfortable to wear to bed, Barrett. That’s all.”
His eyes raked deliberately down her body in the black cocktail dress she was wearing with bare feet. “What if I say no?”
“Then I’ll sleep in jeans.”
“And a bra?”
“And the shirt I wore today.”
His lips twitched and he rolled his eyes, getting up from the bed to unzip his suitcase, which sat on a luggage rack across the room from hers.
“You know what, Emily? I hate your off-limits rules,” he said, throwing her a clean pair of boxers and a T-shirt. “I really do.”
She caught them against her chest and headed into the bathroom.
Me too, Barrett
, she thought, as she changed. Me too.
While Emily changed in the bathroom, Barrett refused to think about her putting her naked body into his underwear, and forced his thoughts back to their conversation. It was no small feat. When she’d said,
I forgot my pajamas
, he’d gotten instantly hard. She hadn’t even said it flirtatiously or as an invitation. Her tone had been matter-of-fact. God, he was losing his mind.
He rolled onto his back, pillowing his hands under his head. Dragging his body away from hers this afternoon had taken all of the strength he possessed and frankly, he was starting to wonder if it was a good idea to have Emily here at all. He couldn’t have her. Thoughts of her were messing with his head so much that he couldn’t even focus on business.
And yet. Having her here—in any capacity—felt so right to his heart, he needed to figure out how to still do business with Emily as a distraction. He wasn’t getting rid of either in his life.
He glanced up when she came out of the bathroom. His T-shirt billowed over her chest, tucked into his boxers which were pulled up under her breasts. Her face had been scrubbed clean of make-up, she wore rimless glasses and her long, white legs and little feet padded softly around the bed. Did she look conventionally sexy? No. Had Barrett ever wanted anyone as much as he wanted Emily Edwards in that moment? No.
He groaned lightly as she pulled at the comforter and slipped into bed beside him, laying her head back on the pillow and sighing. Even though he was on top of the covers and she was under them, he was achingly aware of her proximity, and all he wanted to do was reach for her.
Rolling onto his side, he reached his arm out, draping it over her stomach. “Is this okay?”
She hesitated, her eyes searching his. “Can we be friends tonight?”
“I don’t think we’ll ever be
, Barrett. But can we try? Just for tonight?” she asked softly.
He sensed room for negotiation, but instead of pressing his advantage, he nodded, settling his cheek on the pillow beside hers, close to her shoulder. He pulled her a little tighter up against him, and she relaxed next to his body. It was uncharacteristic of him to back away from improving a deal, but Emily was shaking up everything he knew about who he was.
“And a good friend listens… so keep talking,” she said, snuggling deeper into the bed and closer to him, sighing in comfort.
Could he do this? Could he hold the woman he loved in a bed, in his arms, and just talk to her? He gazed at her face in profile, at the face he’d sought so many times throughout his life. If that’s what she wanted, what she needed, then yes, he could.
“Well, I don’t want a messy corporate transition. I prefer neat.”
“I remember,” she said, and he heard the laughter in her voice. She turned to him. “Your proposition? That day at Penn when you asked me to be your fake fiancée? You said, ‘I don’t want messy. I prefer neat.’ Remember?”
He grinned at her, then pursed his lips and shook his head. “Ironic, huh? Because this is as messy as it gets.”
“It’s not,” she insisted softly. “It’s just temporary.”
His smile turned to a frown, and he felt the lines of his face harden. “I don’t want it to be temporary, Emily.”
,” she said. “This
. You on top of the covers and me beneath them. It’s just temporary.”
His breath hitched as he understood her meaning. She was saying that them being apart was temporary? “But I thought you said, ‘We’ll see,’…after this weekend was over.”
“Barrett,” she whispered, rolling to her side and reaching up to cradle his cheek in her palm as their breath mingled in the valley of pillow between them. “I know what I want when this weekend is over.”
“Me?” he breathed.
“You,” she answered, leaning forward to brush her lips softly against his.
His heart shuddered with love for her, as his mind processed the fact that by not pushing her to negotiate, he’d somehow gotten exactly what he wanted. His fingers, which had flexed to clasp her to him through the covers, relaxed, though his arm still lay across her body, pulling her gently closer, though there was nowhere else to go.
She leaned back, her blue eyes bright and happy, as she smiled at him from mere inches away. “And you want me.”
“Always,” he answered solemnly, swallowing the lump in his throat as he drank in the beauty of her face, the wisps of hair that lay soft and flat against her ear, the light eyelashes that fluttered delicately behind glasses, the freckles that dotted her nose, the pink softness of her lips. He’d told the truth: he was solidly and irrevocably in love with her and he always had been.
“Now tell me more about the deal.”