Authors: Brenda Jackson
To Gerald Jackson, Sr., the man who shows me
what true love is all about.
To all my readers who are participating in the
Reunion Cruise, 2007, this one is for you.
To my Heavenly Father, who gave me the gift to write.
Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed.
ake it from someone who almost found out the hard way, Van. Running away never solves anything.”
Vanessa Steele shifted her gaze from the open suitcase to the woman standing in her doorway. Sienna Bradford had been her best friend since grade school, but it bothered Vanessa that at times Sienna thought she knew her better than she knew herself. Unfortunately, some times Sienna actually did.
“I am not running away.” But not even Vanessa’s short, gruff tone could convince anyone that she wasn’t getting the hell out of Dodge because a certain man by the name of Cameron Cody was on his way to Charlotte, supposedly to spend some time visiting with her cousins.
“Then please explain what you’re doing if you’re not running away.”
Vanessa sighed and tossed aside the blouse she was about to pack. “I’m leaving for Jamaica because Cheyenne called and asked if I would house-sit while the builders are putting in her pool. She hadn’t planned on having to go to Italy for an un-scheduled photo shoot,” Vanessa said of her sister, an international model. “There’s not a lot happening at work and a vacation in Jamaica is just what I need.”
Sienna arched a brow. “And your leaving has nothing to do with Cameron coming to town?”
Vanessa nervously averted her gaze. “I wish I can say one has nothing to do with the other but that wouldn’t be true and you and I both know it. Cheyenne’s phone call gave me the out I need, and I’m taking it.”
Sienna came farther into the room, forcing Vanessa to look at her. “What are you afraid of, Van? Why do you feel so much dislike and anger toward one man?”
“You of all people know why, Sienna. You know what Cameron tried to do to my family’s business.”
“Yes, but that was three years ago. And if your cousins have gotten over it and consider him a friend, why can’t you?”
“I’ll never consider that man a friend,” Vanessa snapped.
“Then maybe you need to wonder why,” Sienna replied smoothly. “There has to be a reason for your intense dislike of him.”
Vanessa rolled her eyes. “There is, and I’ve told you what it is.”
“I only know what you’ve convinced yourself it is.”
Vanessa lifted a brow. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Only that I have eyes. I’ve been watching you and Cameron for a while now, especially at Morgan and Lena’s wedding last month. What I saw between you wasn’t animosity, but a buildup of sexual chemistry of the most potent and compelling kind. And I think the reason you don’t like being around him is because, if given the chance, you’d want to have your way with him.” Sienna grinned. “You’d probably jump his bones in a heartbeat.”
“What!” Vanessa exclaimed, folding her arms over her chest and giving her pregnant best friend an incredulous look. “How can you even think of anything so ridiculous?”
“Is it really so ridiculous, Vanessa? Think about it. He’s the only man I know who has pushed your buttons since that guy you met in London.”
“Well, yeah, that might be true, but he’s pushing them the wrong way.”
“And what if he starts pushing them the right way? What if one day you discover that Cameron isn’t as bad as you think and that an affair with him is just what you need to take the edge off?”
Vanessa laughed. “I don’t have an edge on.”
“Yes, you do, and we both know it.”
Vanessa walked over to her bedroom window and looked out. Yes, she had an edge on, all right. Not that she was counting, but it had been almost four years since that summer she’d spent in London with Harlan, a man she had fancied herself in love with. But Harlan couldn’t hold a candle to Cameron Cody. As far as she was concerned, Cameron was the sexiest, most handsome man alive—which wasn’t helping matters. It would be a lie to say she hadn’t thought about doing him, because she had. A part of her saw it as the perfect way to get him out of her system. Right?
Another part of her saw it as dominance on his part, a sure victory for him. Eventually he’d take her over just as he’d enjoyed taking over corporations that suited his fancy. He had a reputation that made Genghis Khan look like a choirboy.
She turned back around to Sienna. “Are you suggesting that I engage in an affair with Cameron? Especially after what Harlan said?”
Sienna frowned and rubbed her stomach as she felt her baby kick. “Forget about what Harlan Shaw said. As far as I’m concerned, an affair with Cameron sounds like a good plan to me. You’re twenty-six, old enough to know the score, and you and Cameron are spontaneous combustion just waiting to happen. I’ve never been around two more volatile individuals. And I’m not the only one who can feel the intensity, the passion, when the two of you are in the same room. Do us all a favor and finally do something about it.”
Vanessa fought back the fear that ran through her at the mere thought of what would happen if she followed Sienna’s suggestion. She would find herself at Cameron’s mercy, become beholden to him—as she had to Harlan—and the thought of that filled her with disgust. On the other hand, the thought of sharing a bed with Cameron and finally letting go, putting aside her dislike of him to appease her overworked hormones, suddenly replaced the fear with red-hot pleasure. Wanton pleasure. It would be risky pleasure of the most intense type, the kind that would finally take the edge off. Her insides quivered at the very idea of Cameron giving her the best sex of her life. It was too much to think about. Downright scary.
She never wanted to be that vulnerable to a man. Especially not
man. There was so much about him she disliked. His chauvinistic, egoistical attitude was one a modern, liberated woman like herself couldn’t stand or tolerate. Besides, there was her concern about just what kind of bed partner she would be. According to Harlan, she needed vast improvement in that area.
“Will it help matters if I promise to give it some thought while I’m relaxing on the beach in Jamaica?” Vanessa finally asked.
“You can’t run forever. At some point you’re going to have to stop running and do something about Cameron. It’s obvious that he wants you, Van, and he comes across as a man who gets whatever he wants.”
That was exactly what had her worried, Vanessa admitted silently. For some reason she had a feeling that Cameron’s upcoming visit had a purpose, one that involved her. Maybe it was the way he had looked at her at the wedding, as if her time for avoiding him was up and that he was about to make his move. Unfortunately, it would be a wasted trip. When he arrived in Charlotte, she’d be long gone.
his is paradise,
Vanessa thought as she stood on the shore of the white-sand beach that overlooked the deep blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. Cheyenne’s two-story home was located on a secluded cove in Montero Bay, on a private street with one other house.
Other than the pool workers, who arrived at nine and left by five, Vanessa was alone, except for the two days a week that the housekeeper showed up.
Cheyenne had already left for Italy by the time Vanessa had arrived so her first days were spent unpacking and shopping.
This was day three and she had decided just to do nothing. Since weather reports had predicted it would be another scorcher of a late-July day, she stayed inside working crossword puzzles and sipping lemonade while reading a book she had picked up yesterday. Later that day, after the workers had left, she gathered up her large straw hat, her beach bag, which was stuffed with a bottle of wine and a glass, and a huge towel to head down to the beach.
When she reached what she considered a good spot, she casually glanced around. This stretch of private beach was shared only by whoever was living in the house next door and so far the place appeared empty. According to Helen, Cheyenne’s housekeeper, the house had changed ownership several times, and rumor had it someone had recently purchased it.
Helen had gone on to say that a few years ago, the house had been owned by some gorgeous Italian jet-setting playboy by the name of Chardon Argentina. And if you went along with what everyone believed, a number of seductions had taken place in that house. It was even rumored that many of Hollywood’s leading ladies had been overnight guests.
Vanessa shrugged as she spread the huge towel on the sand and sat down. She was glad she didn’t believe everything she heard. Besides, what had happened in that house was not her business. After placing the huge straw hat on her head and situating the brim in such a way as to block what was left of the sun, she glanced toward the ocean, thinking she could definitely get used to this. She’d never had an entire beach to herself. She was glad that Cheyenne had invited her to stay.
She, Taylor and Cheyenne had always been close, but it was Vanessa who had decided to stick with the family business instead of pursuing other careers as her sisters had. She had returned home to Charlotte and the Steele Corporation after getting a grad degree from Tennessee State.
Taylor, who was twenty-four, had graduated from Georgetown with a degree in business and a grad degree in finance. After college, she’d moved to New York to work at a major bank as a wealth asset manager and was doing quite well for herself.
After obtaining a degree in communications from Boston University, Cheyenne, who was twenty-two, had taken a reporter position at a television station in Philly and in less than a year, her looks, personality and keen intelligence had gotten her a promotion to the position of anchorwoman on the morning news. That job was short-lived as she had suddenly realized she wanted to do something different and had become a model. Modeling meant a lot of traveling and living in some of the most beautiful and exotic places in the world. A year ago, Cheyenne had been doing a photo shoot in Jamaica when she’d stumbled across this particular house, fallen in love with it and purchased it.
Vanessa leaned back on her arms with her legs stretched out in front of her. She tilted her head back to enjoy the feel of the evening sun on her face, as well as the salty spray from the ocean on her cheeks and lips. She couldn’t help wondering what was happening back in Charlotte. Had Cameron arrived yet? Had he discovered her gone? Was he upset about it? Why did she even care?
She was deep into her thoughts when a movement caught her eye, and she turned her head. In the distance, in front of the property next door, she could see a man standing close to shore. With the palm trees partially blocking her view, she couldn’t make out his features, but she could tell he wore only a pair of swimming trunks. And he was overpoweringly male.
She sat up as her heart began pumping wildly in her chest, and she wondered what on earth was wrong with her. It wasn’t as though she hadn’t seen good-looking men before. So what was there about this tall, broad-shouldered, long-legged, fine-as-they-
come brother whose aura was seeping out to her over stretches of sand? And what was there about him that seemed so oddly familiar?
Biting down on her lip, she fought against one particular ultra-sexy male image that tried forcing its way into her mind. She simply refused to go there. She would not let Cameron creep into her thoughts. Tilting her head, she refocused her attention as she continued to gaze at the man, not seeing as much as she would like due to the shade cast by the palm trees, the fading evening sun and the emergence of dusk.
Since this was a private beach she quickly assumed he was the owner of the house next door and wondered who he was. A celebrity perhaps? Was he married, single or in between lovers like she was?
A lump caught in her throat when the man eased down his swimming trunks. It suddenly occurred to her that he was about to go swimming in the nude. Although their properties were separated only by a few palm trees, she wondered if he hadn’t noticed her sitting here—if he had, evidently he didn’t care.
She knew the decent thing to do was to ignore him, but she couldn’t pull her gaze away. When he had completely removed the trunks, she held her breath and wished like hell that she had a pair of binoculars.
Reaching into her beach bag, she pulled out the bottle of wine and wineglass she had packed. By the time the man had dived into the ocean water she had not only poured a glassful but had quickly tossed back the contents, liking how the soothing liquid had flowed down her throat.
She decided to pour another glass, taking her eyes off the man for just a second. When she looked back, pausing with the wineglass halfway to her lips, he was gone. She sighed, wondering if she’d really seen him or if he’d been a mirage, a cruel trick of her imagination.
As she took a sip of her wine to calm her racing heart, a part of her knew that what she’d seen earlier had been the real thing.
Cameron Cody stood at the window and watched as the woman he intended to marry gathered up her belongings to walk back to the house where she would be staying for two weeks.
He didn’t want to think what her reaction would be once she discovered he was her neighbor and that her flight from Charlotte had been for nothing. As soon as he had gotten word—thanks to her cousin and his loyal friend Morgan Steele—that she intended to leave the country for a few weeks to house-sit her sister’s home in Jamaica, he had changed his plans. No big deal. Where she went, he intended to follow. Her time for avoiding him had run out. At thirty-five, he was no longer interested in playing games. He was ready to make his move.
When he was sure Vanessa was safely inside the house, he moved away from the window toward the wet bar to pour himself a drink. He glanced around the home he had recently purchased, wanting to believe that luck was still on his side. It had been easy enough to buy this house within a matter of hours, his first move to gain what he considered the most valuable asset of his life.
As he sipped his brandy, he recalled the exact moment a little over three years ago when he had first laid eyes on Vanessa Steele. He had arrived at a very important Steele Corporation board meeting, one he’d assumed would give him total control of the Charlotte-based manufacturing company.
He had walked into the conference room, confident in his abilities and pretty damn positive that one of the Steeles would defect and throw their voting shares his way. After all, past experience had shown him that if offered the right price, family members had a tendency to prove that blood might be thicker than water but not thicker than the mighty dollar.
The Steeles had proved him wrong that day.
In less than an hour he had walked away after encountering the first defeat of his career as a corporate raider. But that afternoon hadn’t been a complete waste, since he had sat across the table from the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. He could admit now that he had focused his attention more on Vanessa Steele than on taking over her family’s company.
The memory of that day would forever be etched in his mind. Something about Vanessa had immediately captured his attention. The moment he had gazed into her eyes he had suffered an instant jolt in his gut. He’d been mesmerized, awe-struck and captivated all at the same time. The other two Steele women had been just as good-looking, but it had been Vanessa who had caused his body and mind to react in all sorts of ways. Everything about her had turned him on, even when she had glared at him, which she’d spent most of her time doing.
During the years that followed, he and members of the Steele family had put the takeover attempt behind them. He was close friends with Vanessa’s four older male cousins, especially Morgan, whom he considered one of his best friends. He even got along with her two sisters whenever their paths crossed. But Vanessa hung back, refusing to accept friendship or anything else from him.
She was different from the women he usually dated, since his taste ran to the tall, willowy, talk-only-if-you’re-asked-to-speak kind. At five foot eight, she came up to his nose. He’d discovered that fact the one and only time he’d caught her unawares and had gotten up close. And instead of a willowy figure she had a feminine one, with a small waist and seductive curves to her hips. Whenever she passed, every male took notice. And then there was her face. It seemed the hairstyle she wore, short and flippy, was created just for her; it emphasized her ethereal facial features. Dark eyes, a voluptuously formed mouth, a chin imbued with intense stubbornness, and high cheekbones, compliments of her Cheyenne ancestry from her mother’s side.
That day in the conference room he knew she had felt the intensity of his attention and hadn’t liked it. That hadn’t diminished his feelings for her, even though he’d known he should walk away and leave her alone. Ten years ago, at the age of twenty-five, he had learned one hard lesson when it came to matters of the heart. Stay clear of them. A woman who got too deep under a man’s skin could ultimately become his downfall. Besides, he needed to use his time working deals and not pursuing resistant women.
But he had ignored the warning bells and now after three years of playing a no-win game, he was ready to pursue a relationship and come out a winner. Some would even go so far as to say that he’d taken drastic measures. All he said was that there came a time when a man had to do what a man had to do. Now he was finally going to do something about this chronic tug of desire that claimed his body each and every time he saw her or thought about her—which was all the time.
Today on the beach she had been wearing a wrap over her bathing suit, but she’d still looked good. He remembered the way the straps of the wrap had hung off her shoulders and how those graceful legs of hers moved when she walked. And when she had sat down and leaned back on her arms and stretched out her legs, he had gotten a nice view of her thigh, and even from a distance he had become so aroused that he’d had to jump into the ocean waters to cool off.
Cameron couldn’t retract the smile that touched his lips. Experience had taught him a valuable lesson—if there was something you wanted, then you put all your efforts into getting it. You didn’t wait for it to come to you or you’d never have it. And he was a man with a reputation for going after whatever it was he wanted. Hence, here he was, on this beautiful tropical island, going after Vanessa.
By this time tomorrow she would know that he was her neighbor. She would also know that for the remainder of her time on the island, he intended to seduce the hell out of her.
The last time he’d come up against the Steeles, he had failed. This time he would only be dealing with one. Vanessa. He wanted her and no matter what it took, he wouldn’t fail at having her.
The ringing of his cell phone crashed its way into his thoughts. Annoyed at the interruption, he picked it up and flipped it open. “Yes, what is it?” he said gruffly.
“McMurray is trying to fight back.”
Cameron recognized the caller’s voice immediately. Xavier Kane was not only his right-hand man but also a good friend. The two had met at Harvard when Cameron was in business school and Xavier in law school. Though both had been loners, somehow they’d forged a bond that was still intact today. For years Cameron had tried to convince Xavier to come work for him, knowing it would only be a matter of time before his friend got tired of defending men who were guilty of white-collar crimes. Cameron had needed someone to have his back, someone he trusted implicitly, and X was that man. Now Xavier handled all the legal aspects of Cody Enterprises.
A faint smile touched Cameron’s lips. “He can fight back, although it’s rather late since Global Petroleum is now legally mine.”
“Well, I just thought you should know that he held a press conference today, and I don’t have to tell you that he painted you as someone who won’t have any sympathy or loyalty with the present workers when you clean house.”
Cameron shook his head. “I bet while he was in front of the camera he didn’t happen to mention how he messed up his employees’ pension plan or how they were about to lose their jobs anyway at the rate he was going.”
“Of course he didn’t. His intent was to make you look bad. And when I called him to let him know we wouldn’t hesitate to take him to court for slander, he made a threat.”