Authors: Lauren Blakely
ALSO BY LAUREN BLAKELY
The Caught Up in Love Series
(Each book in this series follows a different couple, so each book can be read separately or enjoyed as a series, since characters cross over.)
Caught Up in Her
(a short prequel novella to Caught Up in Us)
Caught Up in Us
Pretending He’s Mine
Stars in Their Eyes
Mister [email protected]
Far Too Tempting
21 Stolen Kisses
Playing with Her Heart
(a stand-alone Seductive Nights spin-off novel about Jill and Davis)
The No Regrets Series
The Thrill of It
The Start of Us
Every Second with You
The Seductive Nights Series
Night after Night
(Julia and Clay, book one)
After This Night
(Julia and Clay, book two)
One More Night
(Julia and Clay, book three)
Nights with Him
(a stand-alone novel about Michelle and Jack)
(a stand-alone novel about Nate and Casey)
The Sinful Nights Series
Sweet Sinful Nights
The Fighting Fire Series
Burn for Me
(Smith and Jamie)
Melt for Him
(Megan and Becker)
Consumed by You
(Travis and Cara)
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2016 Lauren Blakely
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Michael Rehder
Cover photography by Regina Wamba of
Steph wedged a fake ruby into the treasure chest, parking it next to a bright, gleaming emerald.
Like Jake’s feelings for her had been. Clearly.
Clenching her jaw, she fumed as she arranged the gaudy gems inside a plastic underwater treasure chest, her mind latching on to Jake’s deception. She could barely believe the man had stolen so brazenly from her.
She placed one remaining bauble in the chest, then stood up. “It’s a real pirate’s bounty, arrr,” she said, fixing on her pirate tone, trying desperately to cover up the cocktail of hurt and frustration roiling in her heart and head.
She gestured to the chest, her last bit of prep for the midmorning Stingray City Sandbar visit to kiss and pet the sea creatures.
Her deeply tanned, longtime Caymans friend Devon joined her in the corner of his snorkel shop. “Ah, but that’s a beauty right there. Worth several thousand galleons,” he said in a pirate voice, too.
Despite the plumes of anger licking her veins, she managed a small laugh. “I’ll just go bury it in the sea now,” she said, then grabbed the box, hoisted it up to her hip, and pushed open the door of his shop. She walked along the dock, set the treasure chest on the worn wood, then jumped into the shallow blue waters.
Ah, the ocean’s caress felt good. But even it wasn’t enough to numb the pain.
Carefully, she tugged the chest off the dock, into the water, and under the placid surface.
These phony gems were worth more than the contents of her hotel safe now that Jake had pilfered her very real diamond. Handsome, charming, no-good Jake. Her blood boiled as she thought about what he’d done last night. The man had actually broken into her safe—
—and taken her precious diamond after sleeping with her. That had probably been part of his nefarious plan. Drug her up on multiple orgasms so he could make off with her big rock.
Admittedly, he was a master at delivering
But she could not, should not, would not let that lessen his crime. He’d stolen the one thing she owned that was worth something. She’d been planning on cashing it in and using the proceeds as a thank-you for her mom, who’d helped rebuild Steph’s adventure tour business after her ex-boyfriend had tried to take it down.
So much for the gift.
She dragged the chest beneath the dock, then popped open the cover. The ten-cent fake gems glittered, like a pirate’s booty. The customers would surely get a kick out of discovering this pretend treasure after they smooched the nearby stingrays. She popped up in the water, her hair sleek and wet, then took a breath and climbed onto the dock. She marched to the store, annoyance powering every step she took, her lips a tight, fierce line as she flicked back to last night with Jake when they’d stumbled into her room, flush with lust and desire, finally ready to give in to all that they’d felt.
The sex had been red-hot.
Butterflies had the audacity to swoop in her belly with the memory of how he’d touched her. She wanted to throat punch her traitorous hormones for longing for that cad of a man.
That damn pirate.
She couldn’t believe that sometime in the middle of the night when she was sleeping, he’d actually sneaked out of bed, opened her safe, snagged her diamond, then took off with it after making love to her again as the dawn rose.
They’d even eaten breakfast together, and she’d shared with him the honey she liked so much. Such a little thing, but it was one more way she’d started to knock down her walls and let him into her guarded heart. She’d been played for a fool.
When she reached the screen door on the side of Devon’s snorkel shop, she yanked it open, nearly ripping it off its hinges.
“Careful there,” Devon warned.
“I will,” she said, patting the door gently in apology, then fixing on her best chipper tone. “And everything’s ready.”
She had to set aside her ire, because it was business time. Her job was to show the customers a helluva good time in the water with the stingrays. She wasn’t going to let a man get in the way of her work. She didn’t trust men. She didn’t trust love. She only trusted . . . well . . . fish. Fish were reliable; men were proving more vexing by the day. Ironic, since she’d hoped to learn the opposite on this trip. She’d come to the Caymans wanting to find a way to believe in the good in people, even when they were accused of bad, like her stepdad. But Jake’s deception only confirmed that no matter how sentimental her heart became, she would be wise to listen to her brain.
Her brain said,
At least she had her work, though, and she loved her job madly.
Fifteen minutes later, a quartet of happily married sisters and their husbands arrived for a private stingray tour.
“Who wants to kiss a stingray and get lucky?” Steph said in a bright, upbeat tone as she and Devon escorted them into the shallow waters.
Funny how she’d gotten lucky last night, but it came with a price this morning.
A $10,000 one.
Jake dropped several coins in a copper offering plate as he entered the island church, which was thick with tropical scents from a sea of votive candles lining a long, low table.
Midmorning sun streaked through stained glass windows, casting jewel-toned rays of light across pews, white walls, and the wooden floorboards. The benches were dotted with a handful of visitors, heads bent in prayer.
He nodded silently, a sign of his respect for their studious contemplation, even though they couldn’t see him. Unless they had eyes in the back of their heads, and nobody seemed to. On quiet feet, he walked to the staircase at the edge of the church entryway, then up the curving steps to the second floor of the house of worship. Windows stretched around the perimeter, giving it a light and airy feel.
The best part of the windows was the view they afforded—a clear shot into the art gallery across the street, wedged next to an empty storefront on one side and the Atlantis submarine tours on the other, with a slim alley slicing between the gallery and the vacant shop. That must be the property Isla and Eli were trying to purchase to expand the gallery.
Good Lord, business must be good in “Artlandia” if they had the kind of change needed to annex a shop.
He chuckled to himself. Of course business was good for Eli. The man was a thief. The bastard stole money from hardworking Americans. Jake dug his fingers into his palms, a burst of righteous anger fueling him—a reminder of why he did what he did for a living. Because rich, privileged men like Eli Thompson thought nothing of skimming a little off the top. Eli had done that to the tune of $10 million from his very own hedge fund, stealing it from the Middle America customers the fund served. Then he turned their retirement savings to diamonds and skipped out of the good old USA and into the Caymans with the loot in his pockets, and Jake had the evidence to prove it, thanks to his client—that same fund. All he needed to do now was locate those watermarked diamonds, take them back, and return the money to its rightful owners.
Eli had gotten away with his fraud so far. But the road stopped here with Jake. His mantra was simple: “Don’t let the bastards get away with anything.”
That was the promise he’d made as a teenager after the drunk driver who smashed into his parents’ car had gotten off scot-free. Now as an adult, Jake had no qualms whatsoever with tracking down the criminals and scum of the world to make sure they paid up.
Soon, it would be Eli’s turn.
And if the tip he and Steph had garnered last night about the location of the gems was right—inside the frames on the art in the gallery office—Eli’s opportunity to pay the piper was coming due any minute. Made sense that the rocks would be stuffed inside frames. You could store a lot of stones in that sort of clever hiding spot. Come to think of it, the frames he’d seen in the halls at Eli’s Sapphire nightclub had an unusual look to them, too. Strangely heavy for such light, contemporary art. One more possible option to pursue.
Jake lowered his shades, placed his palms on the windowsill, and stared across the street. From the second story of the church, he had a bird’s-eye view of the gallery. Well, it was really courtesy of the binoculars built into the awesome sunglasses he wore today that he was able to keep watch on the back door, then the front, then the alley along the side of Isla’s Island Gallery. The most useful sunglasses ever, they provided a close-up look into what was many feet away. He enjoyed the little gadgets of the job, like his lock-picking kit and the sunglasses with the built-in zoom.
With its bright white walls and steel framework, the gallery exuded class and style. The proprietor was catering to the wealthiest clientele on the island, even if it was located amid souvenir shops, bars, and tour operators. As Jake scanned the swank location, he took mental note of the number of employees visible in the gallery—three, including one at the reception desk—as well as the activity of the establishment.
A green Honda pulled up outside the gallery, and a tall guy with graying hair emerged, glanced at the gallery doorway, then popped into a souvenir shop down the block. A thick, burly man in a suit strolled by next, ducking into the gallery for five minutes or so, chatting with Isla the whole time. A woman in a flowy red dress walked in next.
When the woman left the gallery, she blew a kiss to Isla, who held open the door. The woman breezed down the street with a brochure in hand. Jake checked his watch. One more hour ’til showtime. This morning in Steph’s hotel room, they’d checked out every angle of Isla’s Island Gallery with Google street view as they’d prepped, but it was wise to obtain an actual visual with one’s own eyes.
Though the visual he wanted in his line of sight again was Steph Anderson.
Beautiful, blonde, athletic, clever, witty,
Steph Anderson. The woman who swam with turtles, who loved her family, and who kissed with passion and fell apart in his arms.
As he stared across the street, he adjusted his shorts. Just the memory of her up against the wall, then beneath him, then straddling him, sent bolts of lust through his groin. Last night with her blew his mind and torched all the pathways in his body. She gave herself to him in all the ways that he wanted, and he couldn’t wait to have his hands on her again.
But he also wanted the rest of those damn diamonds that he was sure were inside that gallery.
Wanted them badly. His fingers itched to touch them.
He patted his pocket, running his thumb along the outline of a little something he’d taken from Steph’s hotel this morning. He chuckled silently at the memory of lifting this sweet object. It had been so easy—taking candy from a baby, for sure.
He only hoped snagging Eli’s diamonds would be as smooth. Once he had his hands on all those blue-tinted beauties, he’d be good to go. He could get the hell out of Dodge and head on home to Key Largo. See his sister, see his nephew, have a brew with his buddy Dan. Maybe even fish off the dock near his house.
But out of nowhere, a pang lurched in his heart as he pictured boarding a plane and leaving this island. He scratched his head.
What was that all about?
He was ready to be done with this job today, thank you very much.
Except if he finished it, he’d have to say good-bye to Steph.
No reason for him to be missing her.
They were only having a tropical affair, a little island tryst. Besides, neither one had time for anything more than the here and now. Once he was gone, he’d need to zero in on whatever was coming his way next. Not linger on the woman he wouldn’t see again. Get her out of his mind.
But as he ran a hand absently over his chin, it occurred to him that maybe this odd feeling inside him wasn’t so unusual, considering Steph was sweet, feisty, smart, game for adventure, and had a vulnerability in her that latched onto his heart. They had a damn good time together—he made her laugh, and she did the same for him.
His lips curved up in a grin as he thought of her. He shrugged happily to himself. Fine, if the job lasted a few more days, that wasn’t so bad. He’d been lucky so far. Getting involved with her had only helped him on this case. She’d been a great partner, and they were that much closer to cracking it because of her. He rapped his knuckles soundlessly against the windowsill—knocking wood that his lucky streak would continue. He could see spending time with her, chartering a fishing boat for an afternoon maybe, casting away far from shore, lolling about on the open sea. Naturally, the fantasy boat trip would include screwing on the deck of the boat. Many, many times. The image of her legs wrapped around his hips as he took her under the sun burned into his brain.
Hell, he’d stay extra on the island to make that happen. He’d definitely extend his trip for that sort of quality time.
The clacking of shoes echoed in his ears and snapped him out of his daydream. Glancing briefly behind him, he caught sight of a man in slacks and a dark short-sleeve shirt adorned with a name tag bearing the name of the church. The man looked at Jake and flashed a brief smile.
“If there is anything you need, let me know,” he said with a bow.
“Of course. Beautiful church you have,” Jake said.
“Do you need help getting down the stairs?”
Jake furrowed his brow. Why on earth would he need help down the steps? Did he look feeble? As he scrunched up his nose, it hit him why the man had asked. Jake was wearing dark glasses indoors. The man thought he was blind.
He laughed quietly and shook his head. “I’m all good,” he said. With sunglasses still covering his eyes, he headed down the steps, figuring it was best not to linger, even in a place where everyone was welcoming.
As he weaved past the table of pineapple and coconut candles, he reached into his pocket, grabbed his wallet, and opened it. He fished around for some bills—time to up his donation. This church had been good to him. He left a few on the donation plate, then pushed on the bright white door.
A blast of warm air blanketed him.
His phone rang. Taylor Swift. Grabbing the phone from his pocket, he turned in the opposite direction of the gallery, threading his way through late-morning tourists, shopping and strolling along the street, as he answered his little sister’s call. He braced himself for more bad news about her grades.
“Hey, Kylie. Are you a physics wiz now? Running experiments left and right in the school’s science lab?”
His sister moaned.
“Not yet. I have to take summer school first,” she said.
“The school said even with a tutor, I won’t have the science requirements to finish unless I take summer classes. I need the tutor
“Then we’ll get you into summer school,” he said, keeping his tone upbeat for her sake, even though summer school meant more bills. Law school tuition would be coming due soon for Brandt, and now he had more classes to pony up for. But getting Kylie and Brandt through school was his mission, and he was glad he could support his family, even if it meant busting his ass and working all the time. It also meant he’d need to find another gig quickly once this one wrapped up.
it wrapped up. “How’s the tutor? Is he helping?”
“So much,” she said, then sighed, the contented sound of a Disney princess after she’s caught a glimpse of Prince Charming. His radar went off before she even said the next words.
“He is so handsome. I think I might be in love with him already.”
Jake cringed as he walked past an ice-cream shop. “Let’s not jump the gun on the romance, Kylie. Let’s focus on the schoolwork.”
“I know. I will. But it doesn’t hurt that he’s dreamy.”
Jake shook his head, cursing himself for having picked a tutor she wound up crushing on. Next time, he’d need to hire a nun to teach her science, because now he had to get his little sister to focus on school again, not boys. Some days, it was exhausting taking care of her and doing his best to surrogate parent her from afar. He wondered what his dad would say. How his mom would handle this. What would they do when the baby of the family wound up distracted by boys? He wished he knew, but it was now up to him and his oldest sister, Kate, to make sure the younger kids made their way safely into adulthood.
“I’m sure it doesn’t, but let’s talk physics. Tell me what’s going on,” he said firmly, refocusing her on the task at hand.
“I have a test tomorrow. The tutor is going to study with me this afternoon, so I’m hoping that’ll help.”
“Yeah, me, too. But listen, Kylie. You can’t just stare into his eyes and let him hypnotize you with hotness. That’s not going to help.”
“You’re one to talk. How’s your island hottie?” she asked, needling him as only she could.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said with pretend stoicism.
“Ha. Deny all you want. You can’t fool me.”
“Never could,” he muttered playfully. “Back to you. You’re going to focus on studying, ’K?”
“I will. I promise,” she said, and Jake knew his little sister was trying, but hell, she was trying him, too.
But that was just the way it was. She was his complicated girl, and it was his job to see her through. That’s what his dad would have done. When he finished with Kylie, he checked his screen to see if Steph had tried to contact him. Then he rolled his eyes at his own pathetic actions and promptly reprimanded himself. He was seeing her in an hour. He could totally wait. He needn’t act like some lovesick fool, staring at his screen to see if his woman called.
He smacked the side of his own head.
Get it together.
Last night was just sex.
Steph was just fun
Their time together was only temporary. She was not
He shoved the phone into his pocket, and the metal case clanged against metal. Hitting the edge of the little trinket he’d lifted from her hotel. He didn’t want anything to happen to that goodie.