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Authors: Annette Broadrick

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BOOK: Provocative Peril
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Carolyn's chin lifted as she forced herself to meet his steely gaze. "I believe you think of him as Hercules." She grinned. "And you're so right."

"I'm so glad to meet you, Carolyn," Selena spoke up. "I hope we can be friends."

Carolyn could do little more than nod; then she went upstairs. Why did Selena have to be so nice and friendly? It was tough trying to dislike someone who was being so kind.

She filled the tub with hot water and slowly eased herself into its steamy depths. What was she going to do? There was no way she could stay there that night. It was true that Selena hadn't acted as though it bothered her to sleep in another bed, but perhaps she was trying to protect Clay's "cousin" from the reality of the relationship. Who did they think she was, some naive kid who didn't understand the facts of life? She began to scrub her arms with unnecessary vigor as she tried to decide where she could stay.

When Carolyn was ready for the evening, she went downstairs. Clay and Selena sat on the sofa, each holding a long-stemmed glass and talking. Selena was regaling Clay with something that had happened at the studio, and she talked as though he knew the people she was discussing. Clay stared out at the angry waves breaking just below their room. Although it had stopped raining, dark clouds and heavy gusts of wind indicated that the storm was not over.

Carolyn paused at the bottom of the stairs. Clay saw her reflection in the glass and turned his head. She wore the flame-red chiffon dress with full, flowing sleeves and demure neckline—and no back. His jaw tightened as he took in her air of fragile vulnerability. He stood up and started toward her.

She backed hastily toward the door. "It was nice meeting you, Ms. Stanford—" She paused, trying to sound poised. "I hope you enjoy your visit—" She realized what she was saying and stopped abruptly. Of course she would enjoy it—Clay would see to that. "Uh, I'll see you later—" She jerked open the door and left.

"Carolyn!" Clay started after her, then stopped. What could he say to her? He turned around to Selena with a shrug.

"She's a sweetheart, Clay," Selena offered from the sofa. "You'd better grab her while you can."

"Unfortunately, that's all I've been thinking about lately—grabbing her, I mean. I was really hoping you'd help to distract me."

She started laughing at his woebegone expression. "That's about the worst compliment I've ever received, you know."

Clay grinned as he slumped down beside her. "I'm supposed to have a real way with words, too. I can't understand it."

She hugged him to her, then leaned back to study him. "Who is this Brad person she's seeing tonight?"

"Oh, some character she picked up here at the resort. They've been swarming around her ever since she got here"."

"She obviously has some feelings for you or she wouldn't be so jealous."

"Carolyn jealous? Don't kid yourself."

"I'm not," she replied calmly. "I saw the look on her face when she walked in and saw us together. That was intense pain, my friend. I admired the way she covered it almost immediately."

"I didn't notice."

"No, because you're too busy being jealous of her. I never knew watching a love affair develop could be so much fun."

"Some fun. And that's the problem, you see. I don't want an affair. Last night I finally faced the fact that I want to marry her. Meanwhile she's just ended a relationship and wants to enjoy her freedom. The last thing she wants is for some guy to get serious and start proposing."

"How do you know. Did you ask her?"

"Oh, sure. We had a long discussion about it just this morning over breakfast." He distractedly ran his hand through his hair. "Of course I haven't asked her. I've got more sense than that. Not much, but some."

"By the way, are you sure cousins can marry? I thought there was some law about that."

"Oh, hell, Selena. We aren't cousins. I was just trying to save her embarrassment when I told you we were sharing a room."

"Exactly why are you sharing a room?"

"It's a long, dull story, and I'll tell you over dinner. You can change upstairs if you'd like. It's about time I do something about feeding you." He smiled at Selena with affection. She was a good friend and at the moment he was in desperate need of one!

The first place Carolyn went after she left the room was the registration desk. Had there been, perhaps, a cancellation? Unfortunately not. They were booked solid for several weeks. She gave up and met Brad in the lounge, more than a little preoccupied, but he managed to get her mind off her problems by telling her some wickedly funny stories about life in sunny southern California.

By the time they went in to dinner Carolyn had managed to push the problem of her lack of another room to the back of her mind, so it was unfortunate that the first couple she saw was Clay and Selena.

As soon as Clay saw them he leaped up to intercept them. "I thought you might have dinner with us this evening," he said as he approached them. Smiling at Brad, he stuck out his hand. "Hello, I'm Clay Kenniwick." He turned and ushered them to the table where Selena waited.

"I'm sorry, Clay, but we'd prefer to be alone." Carolyn glanced at Brad, praying that he wouldn't argue with her. Brad looked bewildered by the stranger who was showing them to his table. Then he caught sight of the woman sitting there.

"Selena Stanford!" Brad looked at her as though his favorite poster had suddenly come to life.

Selena was used to being stared at by adoring fans. Her smile was merely polite until she raised her eyes and took in the full impact of the man before her, stunning in evening wear. Her smile sparkled. "Hello," she offered in her most husky tones.

Without saying another word, Brad pulled out a chair for Carolyn and sat down across from her, his eyes never leaving Selena. Carolyn glared at Clay, furious at his underhanded manner of taking over her date. Wasn't it enough that she had no place to stay for the night? Couldn't she have just a few hours of peace?

Obviously not. Clay returned her glare with a smile of satisfaction. Dinner was a nightmare for Carolyn. Clay insisted that dinner was on him, and Carolyn thought seriously of making sure of it by turning her plate over his head. But when it came right down to it, Carolyn could not make a scene. Her mother had raised her to be polite, reserved and ladylike. She wished that for just once in her life she could raise hell.

The four of them moved into the lounge, and Brad was a very punctilious date. He made sure that Carolyn was dancing before he asked Selena, but it was obvious to everyone that the two of them were engrossed in each other.

It serves Clay right to lose her attention, Carolyn decided with uncharacteristic vindictiveness. She watched the other couple while they danced and decided that she might have a place to sleep after all. From all indications, Selena might be receiving another offer at any moment.

As the last song ended, Brad turned to Carolyn. "I've just been telling Selena about our plans to drive to Newport tomorrow. What do you say we have Clay and Selena go with us?" Before Carolyn could recover from the unexpected suggestion Clay answered. "That sounds like a great idea, Brad. What do you think, Selena?" he asked with all the aplomb of a seasoned diplomat.

They all looked at Selena, whose natural beauty was enhanced by the soft flush on her cheeks and the reflected candlelight in her eyes. "I'd love to, of course, but I don't want to crash Brad and Carolyn's plans."

Big of you,
Carolyn thought with disgust.
Unfortunately, you've already managed to do that.

Everyone looked at Carolyn, waiting for the expected polite response. She shrugged. "Whatever anyone wants to do is fine with me."
Do you turn into a pillar of salt for lying?
She couldn't remember, but she sincerely hoped not.

As they left the lounge, Clay paused and turned to Brad. "Why don't I see the ladies back to their room, Brad? Just tell us what time to meet you and where, and we'll see you in the morning."

Carolyn caught the look of longing on Brad's face as he glanced first at Selena, then quickly back at Clay. Well, Selena obviously had another conquest. Not that she cared. She liked Brad, but he certainly didn't stir any responses in her. Not like other people she could name.

"Uh, fine, Clay," was Brad's reluctant response. "Why don't we meet here in the lobby at nine tomorrow morning. That should give us time for breakfast."

The three of them watched Brad as he left, then the two women turned to Clay. Selena finally spoke. "Just what was all that about, Clay?"

"My question exactly," echoed Carolyn.

"I didn't think either of you would want him to know you were staying with me."

"Whose reputation are you trying to protect, anyway?" Selena asked with a grin.

Carolyn watched the exchange of intimate glances with a pang.

Clay opened the door to their room and the two women entered. Carolyn walked over to the glass wall and stared out at the night. What was she supposed to do now?

Clay went to the refrigerator and removed a bottle of wine. "Drink, anyone?" Both women turned around and looked at him.

Selena smiled. "Good idea. Then we could always try a game of three-handed rummy."

"Very funny." Clay was beginning to wish he hadn't been so insistent on Selena's visit. She was getting entirely too much enjoyment out of the situation, all at his expense.

He brought tulip-shaped glasses into the room and handed one to each woman, then sank into one of the large chairs with a sigh. Both women watched him, waiting for the next plan being brewed in his convoluted brain. It wasn't long in coming.

"Since the bed upstairs is so much larger, I was wondering if you two would mind sharing." He looked at Selena. "You'll probably rest more comfortably than on a roll-away."

Selena glanced at Carolyn and almost burst out laughing. Carolyn was staring at Clay as though he'd finally lost his mind. "Good grief, Clay," Selena drawled, "do you mean to tell me you invited me up here for the weekend to sleep with your cousin?"

He ignored her twinkling eyes and laughed, a hint of strain showing. "Cousins or not, I don't think it would be a good idea for me to share Carolyn's bed."

"You're absolutely right, cousin dear," Carolyn responded in a rush. She turned to Selena. "You're more than welcome to share my loft, Selena." She almost felt sorry for the beautiful woman. Almost, but not quite.

Selena shrugged. "Why not?" She finished her drink and put the glass down on the table in front of the sofa. "If it's all the same to everyone, I think I'll go on to bed. It's been a long, but quite interesting day, all told." She paused at the bottom of the stairs. "I'm sure you two have lots of family matters to discuss." She started up the stairs.

Clay got up and went into the kitchen, returning with the bottle of wine. He filled Carolyn's glass once again, then his own. Carolyn had sat down on the couch and was surprised when he joined her.

They heard the bathroom door close. Carolyn looked over at Clay. He saw the questions in her eyes and picked up her hand. "I'm sorry, Carolyn."

"About what, exactly? Inviting Selena to visit, having me here to intrude on the twosome or lying about our relationship?"

"I never thought of it as a multiple choice apology, but I suppose you're right. I haven't handled things very well, have I?"

"You could say that." She took a sip of her wine without meeting his eyes.

He started grinning. "You're a very tough person to apologize to; you know that, don't you?" His hand brushed the nape of her neck.

She tried to ignore the feathery touch that caused a frisson of feeling to shoot down her spine. "You don't need to apologize to me, Clay. After all, this is your place. You can invite anyone you want. I just don't understand why you needed to lie about our relationship."

He grinned. "Actually, I think you'll prefer that lie to the one that first crossed my mind."

How had he gotten so close to her? His muscled thigh rested next to hers, and his arm had slipped around her shoulders. She turned to look at him and discovered that his face was only inches from hers. "What do you mean?"

"I almost told her we were married."


"I knew you wouldn't go for that. So I settled for cousins." His eyes glittered with an unspoken message that caused Carolyn to quit breathing. His hand softly stroked her shoulder.

"I see," she murmured.

"I doubt it," he muttered, then leaned forward to kiss her.

As he pulled her closer to him Carolyn's hand came to rest on his chest. She meant to push him away, but somehow her hand touched his bare chest, where he'd unfastened several of his buttons. As though they had a mind of their own, her fingers slid further into the opening. She could feel Clay's heart thundering in his chest and realized with something like wonder that she was the cause of that rapid heartbeat. Then she could no longer think.

Clay felt her body trembling, or was it his? His other hand touched her waist, then slowly moved upward until it rested just below her breasts. His mouth explored hers with possessive intent, and when his hand slid onto her breast her mouth opened in a gasp. It was all he'd been waiting for. He took possession of her mouth, his tongue touching hers in an erotic gesture, fencing with hers as she shyly responded. Then he had to draw back for air. He could hear his harsh breathing and knew he had to stop. But not just yet. She was so sweet, and he needed her so much. His lips nibbled at her ear, then traced a path down her neck. He slipped the hidden zipper in her dress down, giving himself more freedom to explore.

Carolyn's head dropped to the back of the sofa, unconsciously giving him better access to her neck and shoulders. Then his mouth was covering hers once more. They were lost in a world of mutual discovery and delight. Carolyn admitted to herself that being in Clay's arms was more important to her than anything else, including his bank balance. Her bones felt like melted butter as she lay, half-reclining on the sofa.

"Kissing cousins. How sweet."

Disoriented, Carolyn slowly opened her eyes. Clay was lying half on her, half on the sofa. He reluctantly pulled away from Carolyn and sat up. Glancing at Selena, who was poised at the top of the steps, he muttered, "You've always had a great sense of timing, Selena, I'll give you that."

She grinned at his gruff remark and started down the stairs.

Carolyn was mortified. She'd just realized that her dress was unzipped and laying around her waist. She hastily pulled it up, reaching for the elusive zipper. Clay noticed her movements and lazily reached around her, finding the grip with no problem and easing it back up her spine. He didn't even seem disturbed by the interruption, but Carolyn was having trouble trying to decide what to do. At the moment she was certain that her knees were too weak to allow her to stand up.

Clay didn't help matters. He'd never removed his arm, and it now was wrapped possessively around her waist. "You don't suppose we could discuss this some other time, do you?" he asked the woman on the stairs in an even tone.

Selena gave her very seductive shrug. "We don't need to discuss it at all as far as I'm concerned. I'm going to pour myself another drink, then go to bed." The satin of her robe shimmered in the light. After she returned from the kitchen with a glass, she started up the stairs once more. "It's nice to see relatives who get along so well," she observed to no one in particular as she disappeared from view.

Carolyn could feel the heat of embarrassment race through her. She struggled to get up, her anger at being caught necking on the couch like a teenager adding the necessary stiffness to her legs.

"Don't go yet, Carolyn." Clay pleaded, but she ignored the entreaty.

"I want to get to bed. I've been looking forward all week to the trip tomorrow, and I'm not going to let anyone spoil it for me." She stood up, smoothing her dress around her hips.

Visions of Brad as he'd seen him with Carolyn caused Clay to stiffen. At least he knew the competition. He supposed that was something. He came slowly to his feet. "I suppose you're right." Before she could protest he pulled her into his arms once more. "Sweet dreams," he murmured as his lips touched hers. He'd meant to give her a light kiss, but it managed to get away from him. As soon as his lips touched her soft, sweet mouth, desire seared through him and his arms wrapped around her once more. After a few moments she pulled away from him, trying to get her breath. He reluctantly dropped his arms.

She was bewildered at how quickly she was lost to everything but him. "Good night, Clay," she muttered with determination as she sidestepped him and marched up the stairs. She refused to look back.

Clay stood there and watched her, hungrily enjoying the sway of her hips, the firm shapeliness of her legs, then he shook his head as though to clear it.

Somehow he had to stake his claim tomorrow, to make clear to both Brad and Carolyn that he was not going to stand by quietly and watch her fall into that musclebound monolith's seductive trap. As he crawled into bed he grinned.

Any seductive trap Carolyn fell into was going to be set by him.

BOOK: Provocative Peril
2.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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