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Authors: Janelle Taylor

Love With A Stranger

BOOK: Love With A Stranger
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SWEET TEMPTATION

As Cass and Jason worked together in the kitchen, they laughed and talked easily. They seemed totally relaxed with each other, yet the sexual tension was mutual…and growing.

Suddenly, their eyes met for a long, meaning-filled moment and they found themselves in each other’s arms, kissing hungrily as their hands caressed and stroked the places they’d ached to touch all night long.

As Jason spread kisses over her face and throat, he murmured, “I want you so badly, Cass. You’ve been driving me crazy since the first time we met.”

Cass looked into his eyes. Could she, should she, surrender to him, to her own desires? Was she ready to trust him with her heart? Once she did, there would be no turning back…

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Love With
A Stranger
Janelle Taylor

Dedicated to:

My camping buddies and in-laws, Joe and Sheila Taylor, who made this research trip and others in the past so much fun.

My good and longtime friends in Evans and St. Simons Island, Bud and Peggy Carter and their son, Keenan, a marvelous entertainer with “Ziggy Mahoney” at Bennie’s Red Barn on St. Simons Island.

My dear and longtime friend, Becky Weyrich, who’s also a talented writer and St. Simons resident.

Chapter One

A black Chanel purse slipped unnoticeably from her fingers to the carpet as Cassandra Redfern Grantham sat down on a Victorian bench at the foot of the bed and clasped her cold hands in her lap. Even after five days of grieving, she still found it difficult to believe Tom was gone forever, killed in an automobile accident at midnight on Sunday. She felt numb and alone, her friends having been pushed aside long ago by Tom after she married the multi-millionaire two and a half years ago and was sucked into his busy and unfamiliar world. Following a hectic schedule and four plane flights over the last five days, her head throbbed, as if it refused to allow the aspirins she had taken earlier to work their magic. Even the wine she had drunk at her stepson’s insistence during their flight home tonight failed to relax her tension and weariness, though she was feeling limp and a little dazed. She attributed those odd sensations to what she had endured this week rather than to effects of the Chablis and little to eat.

As she stared at the ten-karat diamond ring and fifteen-stone matching wedding band on her finger, Cass thought about the
man who had put them there. He’d been only fifty—vital, energetic, so youthful in appearance, despite silvery streaks at his temples. She glanced over her shoulder at a picture of him on the nightstand, one taken in Kenya during their first year of marriage while they were on safari there.

The five-by-seven photograph revealed that Thomas Grantham—clad in a khaki outfit and outback hat, holding a hunting rifle and leaning against an acacia tree—was handsome and happy. There was a near-tangible charisma about him. His green eyes appeared to dance with the sheer joy of being alive and being who he was, and his broad grin enhanced that impression. He had a commanding presence, which explained, along with his business acumen, why he was so successful, so admired and respected by people in all social classes. She didn’t know what he was worth; he had never said and she had never asked, but she knew he was an extremely wealthy man. Tom had loved the good life and had been fortunate he could afford it. He had said to her often: “Life is to be enjoyed to the hilt, my beautiful Cass, every minute, every hour, every week, every month, every year. Take all it has to offer and never look back in regret.” Why he had chosen her—a working girl from a poor country background—to marry when he could have had his choice of wealthy socialites with blueblooded heritages a mile long could only be explained by his love for her, and Tom had made her feel special and cherished, more than she deserved.

Cass knew she had married him in part because she was lonely and unfulfilled and, at thirty-three, had heard her biological clock ticking loudly for a mate and a child. All of her friends and co-workers had married and had children, which made her and her life so different from theirs, giving them less and less in common as the years passed. They had left work each day to head for cozy homes and happy families while she was greeted by a small condo and solitude. She had yearned for a home and family, and realized too late it had been a mistake
not to discuss those needs with Tom before their marriage, as he, she soon discovered, didn’t want another child. Cass had tried to accept Tom’s decision. In the beginning, she had found his world to be stimulating and fun; she had traveled all over the world, seen and done many things, and been given more gifts than she could count. But the shine on his golden but exhausting existence had dulled after two years. Those old yearnings for a home and family had resurfaced, though she kept those desires a secret from Tom. She doubted that Tom ever realized he wasn’t the great love of her life and all the fulfillment she needed, but she still often felt twinges of guilt that his love wasn’t enough to make her whole.

Cass remembered how she had done her best to learn and to do everything she could to please him, to make him happy, and to help her fit into his world of big money and enormous power. Tom had been patient, instructive, considerate, and—at last she could admit—at times, controlling and demanding. He had lavished her with expensive clothes, jewels, and cars. She had felt pampered, and treasured. Surely it was only natural for a lonely woman to be overwhelmed by him and his enticing world.

Cass’s gaze shifted to the brass statue of a kneeling Atlas holding the world—a grapefruit-size crystal ball—on his shoulders. When Tom had given her that gift shortly after their marriage, he had joked it reminded him of her: a worrier who feared she would disappoint him or embarrass him. He had always insisted she had never done so, that he was proud to have her on his arm, to have her as his wife. She had no doubt she would have done just about anything to hold her second marriage together, to learn to love him more, to strengthen their bond. Now he was gone, and she was alone and facing the enormous challenge of creating a new life without him.

She had no family to comfort and distract her and she knew very few people nearby. Tom hadn’t wanted her to get involved in local activities or even with charity work until he decided
which ones, and he’d lacked the time to make those choices. She had stopped going to the historical society meetings when he disapproved, though she had sneaked to several plays at the Ritz Theater in Brunswick. She had taken tennis lessons at the Sea Palms Club, but Tom had asked her to only play when he was there in case she got injured. She had some local aquaintances, but no one she could call or visit and to whom she could pour out her heart. Those people she
had
met were Tom’s friends and business associates, not anyone she would turn to in her hour of need. Her old friends in Augusta, to her shame, had been left by the wayside after her whirlwind marriage, so she was too embarrassed to phone one of them—even Kristy—at least for a while. She recalled her mother saying “You have to be a friend to have a friend” and she hadn’t been a friend in much too long.

For two and a half years, she had lived solely for Thomas Grantham and been cut off completely from her past. Where, when, and how her self-confidence and independence vanished she didn’t know; it had been a gradual and unnoticed process. Now her freedom had been returned to her, and she wasn’t certain how to deal with it.

Until tonight, she had not been given time to think about her future after the tragic news was delivered by a local policeman just after midnight on Sunday. She and Thomas’s son Peter had selected Tom’s casket on Monday and chosen a mortuary in Brunswick to embalm his body and send it to another one in Los Angeles. Tom’s friends, distant relatives, and business associates had been notified of his sudden death. On Tuesday, she and Peter, who was being suspiciously nice for a change, flew to LA where they met with friends and acquaintances from seven to nine at a mortuary there. On Wednesday, Thomas Ethan Grantham was laid to rest during a large funeral service, which was also attended by a cold drizzling rain, gray clouds, and several grieving strangers.
While she rested afterward, Peter had taken care of pressing business at a local import-export company owned by his father.

Today, she and Peter had flown home to Sea Island. The time zone changes and connection at the Atlanta airport where they took Tom’s private jet to the nearby McKinnon Airport on St. Simons Island had created a long and tiring day. It was during the long flight between Los Angeles and Atlanta that certain realities and buried memories began to haunt her. By the time they landed, she was mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. She knew the worst repercussions of this tragedy loomed ahead for her.

It was ten o’clock Thursday night. She was home alone, a wealthy widow at thirty-five. She was bracing herself for the war with Peter over Tom’s money which she was certain was sure to come soon.

As if that dreaded thought summoned him, her twenty-sixyear-old stepson knocked on her bedroom door. Cass took a deep breath, ordered her head to stop spinning and pounding, and replied, “It’s open, Peter; come in.”

Cass’s brown gaze watched Peter walk across the room and sit down beside her on the long bench. She saw his hazel eyes drift over her face before he gave her one of his disarming half-smiles. A section of midnight-black hair dangled over his forehead in a mischievous and sexy manner. She admitted he was handsome and virile, like his father. Also like his father the six-foot-tall bachelor with a playboy reputation was well groomed, well educated, and intelligent. But there the similarities stopped. Peter Grantham was a clever, skilled, and deceitful charmer. He was also selfish, greedy, arrogant, and spiteful. He was being very good during this horrible episode, but she didn’t trust him. No matter, she reasoned, it was best to respond in like kind, for now.

“You look exhausted, Cass,” he murmured sympathetically. “You haven’t even changed clothes or taken off your shoes.
I saw the light on and knew you were still up, so I thought I should come check on you. Are you all right?”

Cass focused her gaze on the carpet as she answered. “I’m as well as can be expected under the circumstances. I know what’s happened is real, but it’s so hard to believe he’s gone. If he had been sick for a long time…but this just came out of nowhere.”

“At least he didn’t suffer; the doctor said he went out instantly. Knowing my father, he would rather be dead than crippled or disfigured.”

She wasn’t convinced that last statement was true, but she agreed to keep the peace. “Tom was a proud and active man, you could be right.”

“I know I am. Now, why don’t I fetch you a brandy while you get undressed and hop into bed before you keel over?”

Cass perceived that Peter was watching her intently, furtively, probably searching for any signs of weaknesses he could exploit. She knew he had even less affection for her than she had for him, but they were pretending otherwise in an undeclared truce. “I’ve already had those two glasses of wine and the aspirins you gave me earlier. I’ll be fine after I get some sleep.”

“You have something stronger if you need it. Remember you’ve only taken a couple of those sedatives Doctor Hines brought over on Monday morning.”

“Thanks, but I don’t think I should take Valium atop wine.”

Peter withdrew a brown plastic bottle from his pocket and pressed it into her hand. “I saw them on the kitchen counter and grabbed them because I thought you might need one tonight. There’s no harm or shame in admitting you need something to help you get through a terrible time like this.”

“Thanks, and you’re right. I really appreciate how kind and thoughtful you’ve been since…this difficult week started.”

“Dad’s loss has been hard on both of us. We’ve had our problems since you and he married, and it’s probably my fault,
but that’s over, Cass. We need to stick together now. There will be a lot of personal and business matters to handle next week. I’ll be going to work tomorrow to take care of any problems that might have arisen while we were gone. Employees tend to get a little nervous and crazy when they don’t know what’s going to happen to their jobs and the company. Inez will be here at seven, so let her know if there’s anything you need. But
I
think what you need is rest and quiet.”

“Again, you’re right. I am exhausted, so I’ll get ready for bed. Thanks for coming over to check on me. Would you lock up and turn on the alarm system as you leave?”
I wish your father had never given those two keys to you. Well, this is my home, and I’ll ask you to return them soon.

Peter walked to the door. “Good night, Cass,” he said. “Sleep well, and call me if you need anything.”

“I will, Peter. Thanks and good night.”

“I’ll check on you tomorrow after work.”

Cass forced out a smile and nodded, already dreading Saturday evening. She watched Peter until he was out of sight and remained sitting until she heard the door close in the quiet house. His covert stares and unusual behavior worried her.
A lull before the storm, Cass. Be prepared for trouble.

Since his father died, Cass had not seen Peter shed a single tear; nor were there any telltale signs of private grieving exposed in his gaze or in his voice. The only thing that seemed to gleam in his hazel eyes were dollar signs from his imminent inheritance. She was glad he didn’t live in the enormous house with her, though his residence—a large and luxurious guesthouse—was only a few steps beyond the back door. His bachelor pad overlooked the olympic-size pool and cabana and was within view of her bedroom veranda, which was how he had seen her lights.

Peter was nine years her junior, making her age closer to his than it had been to his father’s. From the first moment she met him two days before she married Thomas, her stepson had
found subtle—and on occasion when they were alone, overt—ways to let her know he did not trust her or approve of the marriage. But Peter made certain he never revealed his true opinion of her to others, as his father detested being challenged in any way. She had mentioned Peter’s ill feelings to Tom several times, but soon realized there was no point in pursuing the issue since Tom either insisted it was her imagination or reasoned that his son’s reaction was natural, considering the differences in their ages and backgrounds. For now, Peter was being nice even in private, which surprised and intrigued her. She had expected him to behave in public, since both Grantham men were staunch believers in public images and in keeping “dirty linen” hidden.

Cass took another deep breath, forced her weary body to rise, and placed the Valium bottle on the nightstand. She entered a huge walk-in closet. Built-in dressers with jewelry drawers, shoe racks, shelves, cubbyholes, and hanging bars at various heights held garments and shoes from the best designers and stores across the country. She had clothes and footware for any occasion, most of them selected by Tom or picked by in-store advisers. Tom had spared no expense to adorn her in the finest items, and she had been most appreciative of every purchase.

While donning a sapphire satin nightgown—Tom had loved her to wear satin to bed—and performing her nightly ritual by rote, she realized how happy she was that Tom had purchased this sprawing two-million-dollar house five months ago. It was beautiful and elegantly decorated, with perfectly manicured grounds that boasted of several gigantic live oaks draped in spanish moss and surrounded by beds of ivy. For the two previous years, she and Tom had traveled through the US and foreign countries for business and pleasure. They stayed in expensive hotels and plush resorts or in the four other residences Tom owned in New York City, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Aspen. Tom had a restless and adventurous streak, with energy that was sometimes difficult for her to match. He had loved to
stay on the move and to sample treats from every table fate placed before him. He had told her often he was going to slow down and settle down soon, but she knew he couldn’t or didn’t want to do either. “Soon” would never come now.

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