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Authors: Annette Broadrick

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BOOK: Provocative Peril
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Chapter 4

Clay wasn't there when Carolyn returned to the room. She floated up the stairway and absently undressed. Where did he spend so much of his time? He hadn't left with a woman. At least she hadn't seen him leave. A small frown grew between her brows. He could have, at that.

What was one dance, anyway? She'd been right— he was a good dancer. He had a natural sense of rhythm she found intriguing. She was beginning to find more and more about him that teased her, and she was forced to admit to herself she was very curious about him. After her experience with Mitch she didn't want to get involved with another male who was looking for a woman to support him. Not that Clay appeared to be that type of person, but the fact remained that she knew absolutely nothing about him, and he was very mysterious about how he made a living—almost as though he were ashamed of it.

It was a long time before Carolyn went to sleep that night, yet she never heard Clay return.

The next afternoon Carolyn decided to get some sun by the pool. She wore a terry cloth kaftan that was slit to the thigh on both sides, but knew she'd never get any sun if she didn't disrobe. Her black bikini was much more revealing than it had appeared in the store. She gazed down with some trepidation at the amount of her breasts exposed when she finally tossed off the robe with determined bravado.
I'm not at all sure I'm cut out for this type of role,
she thought with concern. She glanced around at the other women.
No one else seems concerned that they're going to fall out of their clothes whenever they move
.

She picked up her suntan oil and, with very careful movements, began to apply it to her arms and legs.

"Well, hello." A deep voice spoke near her left ear, causing her to leap several inches from her lounger, drop her plastic bottle and almost lose her bikini top.

After rescuing both the bikini and the bottle, she was prepared to face the unexpected intruder with a haughty glare. She turned her head—then blinked in astonishment. The deeply bronzed male standing before her could have been a Greek statue fresh from his pedestal. Even his hair was a dark auburn that blended with his deep tan. However, the blatant admiration in his tawny eyes was quite modern. Carolyn continued to stare at him in disbelief. He was too beautiful to be real.

"Hi," she finally managed to say. How was that for sparkling repartee?

"My name's Brad." He paused, his eyes slowly taking in the picture she made, her creamy skin gleaming against the black of the bikini. "What's yours?"

Carolyn gulped. She felt as though she'd suddenly moved into the fast lane without even changing gears. "Carolyn."

Brad pulled up the lounger next to her and leaned back. "How long have you been here, Carolyn? I could swear I've never seen you before. I never forget a . . ."—his eyes traveled once again over her body—"face."

She heard her calm response with surprise. "A little over a week. And you?"

"Oh, I've been here a couple of days. Things were getting a little boring, but all at once I have a feeling it's going to be much more interesting around here." Once again he explored her with his eyes, and it was all she could do to keep from covering her chest with both hands, not a move recommended for the sophisticated set.

He had to be putting her on. Nobody, but nobody, actually talked in that low, husky voice as though their conversation was being filmed for a love scene. Come to think of it, he sounded quite a bit like R. J. Wagner, but he got paid to act that way. What was this guy's excuse?

She stood up, unable to remain still under his ardent gaze. "If you'll excuse me, I think I'll get some swimming in before it's time to get ready for dinner." She made the mistake of smiling at him, unaware of the power of her gamine smile on members of the opposite sex.

He jumped up, his languor forgotten. "Don't run away, we were just getting acquainted."

She paused. "I'm not going anywhere." She sat down on the side of the pool, then slid over the edge.

Brad followed her into the water. "Great idea, actually. The sun was getting a little warm."

"You must stay out in it often to have such a tan," she guessed as she leisurely stroked down the pool, keeping her head out of the water.

Brad, keeping pace with her with a side stroke, grinned. "Yeah. I have a beachhouse just south of L. A. and spend most of my time there when I'm not working."

"What do you do?"

"Oh, I'm a model."

"That figures."

"What?" He stood up, dashing water from his face.

Carolyn stopped, finally managing to find bottom with her feet. The water was chest high on her and she glanced down, horrified to discover that her top had become loosened. She grabbed the ties around her neck just as they began to tumble down and hastily secured them once more while Brad looked on with unabashed interest.

Trying to get his mind off her and back on the subject, Carolyn determinedly went on. "I'm not surprised at your occupation. I'm sure you make a very good model."

"It's a living, but it's not what I intend to do with my life."

"Oh?"

"Naw. I'm a marine biologist, but it's hard to find work in that field, so I decided to pile up the coins while I'm young enough to do it. I spend my weekends and vacations along the coasts, doing what I love."

Before long, Brad and Carolyn were in deep discussion regarding the various marine animals living along the Pacific coast from Canada to Mexico. Carolyn discovered that he was familiar with the explorations reported in a recent National Geographic she had read, and their conversation-grew quite technical as he answered her many questions. They had long since left the pool and were enjoying drinks at one of the poolside tables when Carolyn noticed the time.

"I didn't realize how late it is. I'm going to have to get ready for dinner."

Brad had long since forgotten his role of seducer. He was delighted to find a woman interested in learning more about his field, and he didn't want to lose track of her. "Would you have dinner with me?"

She smiled, amused at the eager expectation in his voice. Once she managed to get past the rippling muscles and flashing white smile, she found him a very interesting person. "I'm sorry, I've already made dinner plans."

He looked disappointed for a moment, then brightened. "How about dinner tomorrow night, then?" He waited hopefully.

She grinned. "Sure."

He stood, drawing her up from her chair, then holding on to her hand, nestled into his large one.

"In the meantime, how would you like to run up the coast with me tomorrow? There are some tide pools I've been studying that you might enjoy exploring."

Gently disengaging her hand, Carolyn slid her kaftan over her bikini, surprised to discover how unself-conscious she had become with Brad. Part of the reason was that he'd quit looking at her like a hungry shark.

"That sounds like fun, Brad. What time?"

"Low tide is at four in the morning, which is a little early to get up. Why don't we make it for the afternoon . . . say about two o'clock?"

Carolyn nodded. "You've got yourself a date. I'll meet you in the parking lot tomorrow at two."

Carolyn let herself into the room, reviewing the events of the afternoon. She was going to enjoy getting to know Brad, and she had dinner with Ted to look forward to. Her life was certainly becoming much more interesting.

"Didn't Hercules follow you home?"

Clay's voice startled her; she hadn't seen him stretched out on the sofa, reading. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about that muscular monolith who captivated you so completely at the pool this afternoon." He sat up, removing dark-rimmed glasses from his nose as he watched Carolyn cross the room.

She sank into a chair and gave him a serene smile. "Hercules," she repeated slowly. "You're right. That's very apt. He certainly does resemble a Greek god, doesn't he?" Her eyes sparkled with humor at the disgruntled expression on Clay's face.

"So how did you get rid of him?"

"Oh, I explained that I had to get ready for dinner. He understood." She sat there a moment, gazing off into the distance, then slowly got up. "We're going to go look at tide pools tomorrow," she added as she started up the stairs.

"I just bet you are," Clay muttered as he stretched out on the couch once more and attempted to regain his interest in the book.


When Carolyn slipped on the dress she had chosen for dinner that night, she was afraid her friends had gone too far. She stared at her image in the mirror in dismay. The silver lame dress fit like the skin of an overripe tomato. She wondered if she'd be able to sit down. A slit in the side allowed her to walk, and she prayed that the seam wouldn't give out by mid-evening.

Then she remembered Clay's reaction to Brad and smiled. He hadn't seemed too pleased. Her smile widened. She wondered what Clay's reaction would be to her dress. It was worth wearing the uncomfortable gown just to find out.

Clay was still reading when he heard a noise and turned toward the top of the stairs. "Oh, my God," he muttered sotto voce.

Carolyn stood at the top of the stairs, her silver dress, glittery in the soft light, faithfully following the curving contours of her body. As she took her first step down the stairs, Clay discovered how she was able to move. There was a slit in the side of the skirt that stopped mid-thigh. At least he strongly hoped that was as far as it went.

Carolyn resisted the urge to tug on the skirt to give her more room to walk. As she descended each step, the entire length of her leg came into view, and she repeated her prayer for strong binding in the seams. She glanced up and caught Clay's intent stare as he studied each step she took.

Pausing at the bottom of the stairway, Carolyn gave him a mischievous grin that only increased his pulse rate. "I'm not sure when I'll be back tonight . . . but don't worry if I'm late." She waved her hand airily as she glided out the door.

"Don't worry if I'm late," he mimicked. "What does she think I am, her damn room mother? I don't care how late she stays out, or who she's with. It's her vacation." He realized he was pacing back and forth, talking to himself. Not a good sign.

Clay quickly began to dress for dinner. He couldn't figure out what it was about Carolyn that got to him. It was her freshness and natural beauty that had first caught his eye, but now so much about her tugged at his heart that it scared him. He'd never had this feeling toward anyone before—this need to protect.

As he stared into the mirror checking the knot in his tie, Clay noticed the scowl on his face. Why do I have this strong desire to plant my fist in the face of every male who ogles her? he wondered derisively. The way she's dressed tonight my fist would give out before the men would!

How can she look and act so damned innocent, then wear clothes guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of every man in sight by twenty points? Some friends she has! They should have sent along a bodyguard!

I'd better get a move on if I'm going to keep watch over her tonight.
He gave a snort of disgust at the thought.
Who would have thought I'd be spending my vacation playing nursemaid to a kid who doesn't even know the dangers of the little games she's playing with such lighthearted abandon.

He slammed the door behind him and strode up the walkway to the main building.

I'm really enjoying the evening,
Carolyn reminded herself on three separate occasions. Obviously I'm not the only one, she thought as Clay danced by with a redhead. Their bodies were so carefully molded together that the woman seemed to be made of mercury. She was as tall as Clay, and Carolyn waspishly decided they could have modeled for Ken and Barbie dolls.

Men under six feet don't even attract me,
she reminded herself. Then why did she find Clay's build so fascinating? She mentally measured the breadth of his shoulders, then frowned as she noted the woman's fingers playing along the nape of his neck. She found their exhibition disgusting.

She and Ted danced several times. He was an excellent dancer, but Carolyn found that she got a crick in her neck if she tried to talk to him while they danced, so she contented herself with resting her head on his chest.

It only took a couple of dances for Carolyn to recognize her error in wearing the dress. Ted's hands wouldn't stay still. He kept pressing her closer, while she kept trying to keep a distance from him. His hands roamed up and down her back, restlessly smoothing the material over her hips, then returning to her waist.

During the evening Carolyn learned even more about Ted: how long he'd been a dentist—six years; his golf score—low; his bowling score—high; his favorite color—blue; his favorite pastime—white water rafting. And he made it obvious that he found Carolyn to be his second favorite person.

What more could she ask?

"I've got some wine cooling in my room," he whispered in her ear. "Why don't we go and enjoy it while we make use of the hot tub?"

Suddenly the last few months flashed into Carolyn's mind—the hours of coaching by her friends, the numerous books and magazines she'd read and studied—the quizzes she'd given herself—all for this moment in time.

It was then that Carolyn discovered she wasn't quite ready for the next chapter of her book to begin.

"Not tonight, Ted," she murmured, desperately trying to remember the ways in which to say no gracefully. Her mind was blank.

Thankfully, he made no argument, although he insisted on walking her to her room. Relieved that he hadn't made more of a fuss when she declined the hot tub invitation, she agreed.

Carolyn didn't expect Clay to be in their suite. She knew to the minute when he had disappeared with the redhead earlier in the evening. It was obvious that his evening program did not include an early return. She was surprised at the surge of feeling the thought provoked.

Pausing before the door, Carolyn slipped her key from her small clutch purse. She turned to Ted. "I really enjoyed tonight—" was as far as she got when he pulled her roughly into his arms and kissed her with unrestrained passion. Carolyn's mind had been on Clay, so she wasn't prepared for his sudden lunge. She tried to pull away from him.

"Let me stay with you tonight, Carolyn, darling. Let me show you how wonderful we can be together." His mouth covered hers again, and she felt as though she were suffocating.

They heard the whistling at the same time. Ted's arms loosened enough that Carolyn managed to shove away from him a few inches, and they both watched Clay amble down the walkway toward them, his hands in his pockets.

He had changed clothes and wore the black turtle-neck sweater and black cords that reminded Carolyn of Zorro. With much the nonchalance of that popular hero, Clay walked up to them and stopped. "Good evening," he said, smiling at both of them as he retrieved his key from his pocket, inserted it in the lock, turned the key, opened the door and stepped inside.

Ted and Carolyn stood frozen as the door began to close. Then Clay stuck his head around the door and smiled once again. "I'll leave a light on for you, love." He gently closed the door.

Carolyn had often wondered what a pregnant silence would be like. Now she knew. An interesting phenomenon. She glanced up at Ted and clinically noted the emotions darting across his face—shock, bewilderment, disbelief, incredulity. A very interesting phenomenon.

"Carolyn?" His voice sounded strangled.

"Yes?"

"That man just went into your room."

"Actually, it's his room. He's just letting me share it."

"Share it!"

"Shh. I'm sure everybody around is asleep by now. It's almost two o'clock."

"Carolyn, are you telling me you've been sharing that man's room and you've never mentioned it?"

"Why should I have mentioned it?"

"Why should—?" He stared at her as though he'd never seen her before. "It is obvious I've totally misread you."

"In what way?"

"I thought we were developing a warm, trusting relationship where we were open and honest with each other."

"Yes, that's the way I'd describe it. It's been rather nice, hasn't it?"

"Nice? You call the start of what could have been a lasting relationship nice? While all the time you've been living with another man?" It was amazing what anger and belligerence could do to mar a handsome face. Ted reminded Carolyn of a little boy in the midst of a temper tantrum.

"In the first place," Carolyn answered in a level tone, "I don't recall doing or saying anything to give you the idea that I was looking for a lasting relationship—" His gasp would have done credit to an elderly spinster. "And in the second place, I don't see how my living with Clay has anything to do with you." She smiled.

"Dear God, I can't believe this. I don't want to believe this. Our entire relationship has been a farce, a sham, and all you can do is stand there and smile about it?"

"I can also say, 'Thank you for a nice evening, Ted,'" Carolyn added as she stepped into the room. He continued to stand there staring at her, thunderstruck. She waggled her fingers. "Good night," she said softly and shut the door.

She stood in the entry way for a moment, reviewing what had just happened. She acknowledged her relief that she'd managed to get away from Ted, thanks to Clay. He had really done her a favor. But that wasn't the point. The point was, Clay had deliberately—oh, yes, she was almost certain that his actions had been carefully planned—spoiled what might have been a very important relationship. She couldn't afford to allow him to interfere again.

Swinging on her heel, Carolyn marched into the living area where she discovered Clay tucked innocently into his bed, once again reading, his glasses perched on his nose.

"Hope I didn't interrupt anything," he asked with a touching, and totally false, concern, while he peered at her over his glasses.

Carolyn moved over to the fireplace, bracing her back against the rock surface, and crossed her arms. "Is that what you hope? Funny, I have trouble believing you."

Clay placed his book carefully upside down beside him, then laid his glasses on top. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"That means, Mr. Kenniwick, that I don't appreciate being made the butt of what to your warped sense of humor was a joke, that's what I mean." She glared at him, daring him to deny it.

He did just that. "Are you serious? How was I to know you were just getting in?" He glanced at his watch and frowned. "It's after two o'clock," he intoned, for all the world like the father of a teenaged daughter.

"I specifically told you before I left that I would probably be late tonight."

"So you did," he admitted.

"Well, at least that's something. I thought you were going to plead temporary amnesia. Where were you at this time of night, anyway?"

"I took a walk on the beach, although I don't see that it's any of your business."

"Ordinarily it wouldn't be, but you made it my business when you decided to come strolling in at the exact moment when I was telling Ted good-night. Why didn't you come in through the sliding glass doors?"

That did it. Clay threw back the covers and stormed out of bed, ignoring Carolyn's quick gasp when she discovered that the only thing rescuing him from nudity was a pair of black minibriefs. "I don't have to ask your permission to use any door I damn well please to enter my own room any damned time I please, do you understand?" He stood with his hands on his hips, glaring at her.

"Certainly I understand. So does everyone else within a ten-mile radius." Her nose had lifted and she stood there defiantly glaring back at him. "All I'm saying is that I don't appreciate your lurking in the bushes waiting for me to show up so you can play some sort of chaperone—"

"Lurking in the bushes!" He stopped suddenly, took a deep breath, then continued in a lower tone. "For your information, my friend"—he paused and let a contemptuous gaze wander over her—"I have better things to do with my time than play nursemaid to some thirty-year-old adolescent whose goal during her vacation is to see how many scalps she can collect!"

Carolyn's blood pressure shot up to an alarming rate as she registered the multiple insults. "Thirty years old! I'll have you know I'm only twenty-three, you arrogant creep. I am certainly past my adolescence—"

He snorted.

"—and I don't know what you're talking about, collecting scalps!"

"I'm talking about that seductive wardrobe you've been flaunting." He waved a hand at the silver gown clinging to her. "And the number of men you've managed to collect since you've been here. What the hell is the point? Just what are you collecting, anyway, propositions or proposals?"

Carolyn watched Clay stomp to the kitchen and grab a beer from the refrigerator. After popping the top from the can, he took a long swallow, then lowered the can, glaring at her.

Her anger began to subside as surprise took over. Why was he so upset? "What difference does it make to you how many scalps I collect?" she asked in a quiet voice.

He stood there staring at her from across the room, his gaze flicking over her. Then he shrugged. "It doesn't." He took another swallow of beer.

She nodded. "Fine. Then all that remains is to agree to stay out of each other's way for the remainder of our vacation." A slight tinge of sarcasm seeped into her tone. "Can you see your way clear to agreeing to that?"

"You're damn right I can. The less I see of you, the better," he muttered.

Regally, Carolyn swept up the staircase without a backward glance.

Clay finished his beer, then wandered over to the glass wall, staring out into the black night.
Who the hell does she think she is, anyway? She must think half the men in the place are lusting after her body . . . that beautiful body which torments me every time I look at her . . . that feisty rear which teases me each time she trots up those blasted stairs . . .

What the hell am I thinking? Get hold of yourself, man. You couldn't be falling for a woman you met ten days ago. It's not Carolyn—your reactions would be the same no matter who shared the room. It's the propinquity getting to you, that's all—the ol' "look but don't touch" scenario.

He reached into the refrigerator for another beer. He knew better than to try to sleep. It was going to be a long night.

BOOK: Provocative Peril
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