Rich Man’s Fake Fiancée 

rich_mans_fake_fiancee

CHAPTER ONE

Only one thing sucked worse than wearing boring white cotton underwear on the night she finally landed in bed with her secret fantasy man.

Having him walk out on her before daylight.

Ashley Carson tensed under her downy comforter. Through the veil of her eyelashes, she watched her new lover quietly zip his custom fit pants. She’d taken a bold step – unusual for her – by falling into bed with Matthew Landis the night before. Her still-tingly sated body cheered the risk. Her good sense, however, told her she’d made a whopper mistake with none other than South Carolina ’s most high profile Senatorial candidate.

Moonlight streaked through the dormer window, glinting off his dark hair trimmed short but still mussed from her fingers. Broad shoulders showcased his beacon white shirt, crisp even though she’d stripped it from him just hours ago when their planning session for his fundraiser dinner at her restaurant/home had taken an unexpected turn down the hall to her bedroom.

Matthew may have been dream material, but safely so since she’d always thought there wasn’t a chance they could actually end up together. She preferred a sedentary, quiet life running her business, with simple pleasures she never took for granted after her foster child upbringing. He worked in the spotlight as a powerful member of the House of Representatives just as adept at negotiating high profile legislation as swinging a hammer at a Habitat for Humanity site.

People gravitated to his natural charisma and sense of purpose.

Matthew reached for his suit jacket draped over the back of a corner chair. Would he say goodbye or simply walk away? She wanted to think he would speak to her, but couldn’t bear to find out otherwise so she sat up, floral sheet clutched to her chest.

“That floorboard by the door creaks, Matthew. You might want to sidestep it or I’ll hear you sneaking out.”

He stopped, wide shoulders stiffening before he turned slowly. He hadn’t shaved, his five o’clock shadow having thickened into something much darker – just below the guilty glint in his jewel green eyes that had helped win him a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Five months from now, come November, he could well be the handsome sexy-eyed Senator Landis if he won the seat to be vacated by his mother.

With one quick blink, Matthew masked the hint of emotion. “Excuse me? I haven’t snuck anywhere since I was twelve, trying to steal my cousin’s magazines from under his mattress.” He stuffed his tie in his pocket. “I was getting dressed.”

“Oh, my mistake.” She slid from the bed, keeping the sheet tucked around her naked body. The room smelled of potpourri and musk, but she wouldn’t let either distract her. “Since yesterday, you’ve just developed a light step and a penchant for walking around in your socks.”

Ashley nodded toward his Gucci loafers dangling from two fingers.

“You were sleeping soundly,” he stated simply.

A lot of great sex tended to wear a woman out. Apparently she hadn’t accomplished the same for him, not that she intended to voice her vulnerability to him. “How polite of you.”

He dropped the shoes to the floor and toed them on one after the other. Seeing his expensive loafers on her worn hardwood floors with a cotton rag rug, she couldn’t miss the hints that this polished, soon-to-be Senator wasn’t at home in her world. Too bad those reminders didn’t stop her from wanting to drag him back onto her bed.

“Ashley, last night was amazing–”

“Stop right there. I don’t need platitudes or explanations. We’re both single adults, not dating each other or anyone else.” She snagged a terrycloth robe off a brass hook by the bathroom door and ducked inside to swap the sheet for the robe. “We’re not even really friends for that matter. More like business acquaintances who happened to indulge in a momentary attraction.”

Okay, momentary for him maybe. But she’d been salivating over him during the few times they’d met to plan social functions at her Beachcombers Restaurant and Bar.

Ashley stepped back into the bedroom, tugging the robe tie tight around her waist.

“Right, we’re on the same page then.” He braced a hand on the doorframe, his gold cufflinks glinting.

“You should get going if you plan to make it home in time to change.”

He hesitated for three long thumps of her heart before pivoting away on his heel. Ashley followed him down the hall of her Southern antebellum home/turned restaurant she ran with her two foster sisters. She’d recently taken up residence in the back room off her office, watching over the accounting books as well as the building since her recently married sisters had moved out.

Sure enough, more than one floorboard creaked under his confident strides as they made their way past the gift shop and into the lobby. She unlocked the towering front door, avoiding his eyes. “I’ll send copies of the signed contract for the fundraising dinner to your campaign manager.”

The night before, Matthew had stayed late after the business dinner to pass along some last minute paperwork. She never could have guessed how combustible a simple brush of their bodies against each other could become. Her fantasies about this man had always revolved around far more exotic scenarios.

But they were just that. Fantasies. As much as he tried to hide his emotions, she couldn’t miss how fast he’d made tracks out of her room. She’d been rejected often enough as a kid by her parents and even classmates. These days, pride starched her spine far better than any back brace she’d been forced to wear to combat scoliosis.

Matthew flattened a palm to the mahogany door. “I will call you later.”

Sure. Right. “No calls.” She didn’t even want the possibility of waiting by the phone, or worse yet, succumbing to the humiliating urge to dial him up, only to get stuck in voicejail as she navigated his answering service. “Let’s end this encounter on the same note it started. Business.”

She extended her hand. He eyed her warily. She pasted her poise in place through pride alone. Matthew enfolded her hand in his, not shaking after all, rather holding as he leaned forward to press a kiss…

On her cheek.

Damn.

He slipped out into the muggy summer night. “It’s still dark. You should go back to sleep.”

Sleep? He had to be freaking kidding.

Thank goodness she had plenty to keep her busy now that Matthew had left, because she was fairly certain she wouldn’t be sleeping again. She watched his brisk pace down the steps and into the shadowy parking lot which held only his Lexus sedan and her tiny KIA Rio. What was she doing, staring after him? She shoved the door closed with a heavy click.

All her poise melted. She still had her pride but her ability to stand was sorely in question. Ashley sagged against the counter by the antique cash register in the foyer.

She couldn’t even blame him. She’d been a willing participant all night long. They’d been in the kitchen where she’d planned to give him a taste of the dessert pastries her sister added to the menu for his fundraiser. Standing near each other in the close confines of the open refrigerator, they had brushed against each other, once, twice.

His hand had slowly raised to thumb away cream filling at the corner of her mouth…

She’d forgotten all about her white cotton underwear until he’d peeled it from her body on the way back to her bedroom. Then she hadn’t been able to think of much else for hours to come.

Her bruised emotions needed some serious indulging. She gazed into the gift shop, her eyes locking on a rack of vintage-style lingerie. She padded on bare feet straight toward the pale pink satin nightgown dangling on the end. Her fingers gravitated to the wide bands of peek-a-boo lace crisscrossing over the bodice, rimming the hem, outlining the vee slit in the front of the 1920’s look garment.

How she’d ached for whispery soft underthings during her childhood, but had always been forced to opt for the more practical cotton, a sturdier fabric not so easily snagged by her back brace. She didn’t need the brace any longer. Just a slight lift to her left shoulder remained, only noticeable if someone knew to check. But while she’d ditched the brace once it finished the job, she still felt each striation on her heart.

Ashley snatched the hanger from the rack and dashed past the shelved volumes of poetry, around a bubble bath display to the public powder room. Too bad she hadn’t worn this yesterday. Her night with Matthew might not have ended any differently, but at least she would have had the satisfaction of stamping a helluva sexier imprint on his memory.

A quick shrug landed her robe on the floor around her feet.

Ashley avoided the mirror, a habit long ingrained. She focused instead on the nightgown’s beauty. One bridal shower after another, she’d gifted her two foster sisters with the same style.

Satin slid along her skin like a cool shower over a body still flushed from the joys of heated sex with Matthew. She sunk onto the tapestry chaise, a French Restoration piece she’d bargained for at an estate auction. She lit the candle next to her to complete the sensory saturation. The flame flickered shadows across the faded wallpaper, wafting relaxing hints of lavender.

A deep breath at a time she willed her anger to roll free as she drifted into the pillowy cloud of sensation. She tugged a decorative afghan over her. Maybe she could snag a nano nap after all.

Timeless relaxing moments later, Ashley inhaled again, deeper. And coughed. She sat up bolt right, sniffing not lavender, but…

Smoke.

Under the Millionaire’s Influence 

under_the_millionaires_influence

“THIS IS A NO-STRINGS OFFER.”

David felt the need to make the statement, even when the heat between them continued to flare. We’re going to land, have a quick lunch on the way to the gallery and then look at some artwork before supper. If after supper you want to go straight to your room alone, that’s your call.”

He meant it. No matter how much he wanted to be with Starr, it would be mutual or not at all. “We have enough history between us fro you to know that I would never hold you to something unless you want the same thing.”

She stared back into his eyes, holding on for a long drone of the private jet’s engines before finally nodding. “I trust you.”

“Good. Good.”

He was glad she did, because staying strong against the temptation of sleeping in the room next to Starr would be total torture. He wasn’t so sure he’d just made the wisest move.

Baby, I’m Yours 

baby_im_yours

PROLOGUE

“Ah hell, it broke.”

The second the stunned words fell out of Vic Jansen’s mouth he wanted to recall them for something more composed. But what was the mannerly way to tell the naked woman straddling his lap that their birth control had suffered a catastrophic failure?

This wasn’t supposed to happen to two over thirty adults.

“What do you mean, ‘It broke’?”

Claire’s horrified whisper steamed over his chest as they sat tangled together. The steamy gust stirred a fire down south when he should have been long past recovery after their weekend of marathon sex.

Lifting her off and to the side, Vic squinted in the darkness to see his friend of six months and lover of three days. Years of veterinary practice had prepped him for hostile horses and spitting-mad cats, but at the moment he felt damned unprepared to cope with Claire McDermott and a possible pregnancy.

Coping with memories of the daughter he’d lost proved even tougher. He shoved aside images of pigtails, Barbie dolls – funeral wreaths.

“Exactly what I said.” He swiped a wrist across his forehead, flinging aside sweat in spite of the forty degree weather of a Southern January evening. “The condom tore.”

“There’s absolutely no way it should have broken.” Panic pitching her voice higher, breathier, Claire snatched her dress from beside her feet and clutched it to her bare breasts he wanted to unveil and kiss all over again. “I know they only have a ninety-six percent reliability factor, but that four percent encompasses idiots who don’t know how to use the things.”

“Well, lady, tonight we two idiots just blew those stats right out of the water – as it were.” Vic gripped the steel rim of the bass boat, the plastic fishing chair chilling his skin. “Be still, will ya’? You’re going to tip us over.”

Claire puffed a breath of air upward, blowing away a lank lock dangling in her face, puffed again, then finally combed shaking fingers through her tousled caramel-colored hair. He couldn’t let himself think about tangling his hands through her silky strands as he held her curvy body against his or he would lose his focus.

She untangled a gelatinous lure and flicked it onto the tackle box. “Are you sure you didn’t catch the condom on a hook or something?”

“Geez, Claire.” Vic clasped her shoulders, her soft scented skin sending a fresh jolt of heat through him. “Don’t you think I would know if I had a hook in it?”

“Good point.” She dodged the cooler, leaning over the seat which displayed a flash of tempting flesh before she straightened, her lacy bra and panties in hand. “That’s the last time you get to supply birth control.”

“I feel compelled to point out that it’s one I snagged from your bedside table–” he tugged on his jeans– “since we’d used up mine.”

The slap and crash of waves against the shore filled the silence while Claire shimmied into her underwear. Vic grimaced at her extended quiet. Theirs had been an unlikely friendship of opposites – classic Claire with all her pretty lace, and him with his flannel, rough-around-the-edges ways. But a friendship he’d come to value in the past six months since he’d sold his vet practice in North Dakota and relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, away from all reminders of his daughter and ex-wife.

Yet, in spite of his vow for a rootless existence living on a sailboat, more and more often he’d found himself walking across the marina dock to Beachcombers restaurant for Claire’s home cooked meal, a glass of sweet tea – and her smile.

Claire suddenly seemed overly interested in how her dress buttoned up the front. “Those condoms in my bedside table were old. I, uh, haven’t been with anyone for a long time.”

“Really?”

She swayed toward him. “Really.”

Damn, she never failed to capsize his control with her unexpected moments of vulnerability peeking through her unflappable shield. Vic pulled her against his chest. She resisted half-heartedly, then relented.

He smoothed his hands over her back, down her spine while resisting the tempting curve of her bottom. “I don’t have any diseases you need to worry about, if that makes you feel better.”

“A little.” Her full lips curved into a hesitant smile against his skin. “Me neither, by the way, no surprise given my non existent sex life… up to now.” She eased free, the boat lurching in response. Once steadied, Claire slipped her feet into her pumps.

“What are the odds, given the timing of your cycle?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“Are you sure? Never mind.” Stupid question.

The risk of having another kid scared the pants right back off him, but Claire deserved some kind of reassurance.

“Let’s take this a day at a time. There’s no need to get in a frenzy about something that may not even happen. We’ll discuss it when and if we need to, but I’ll be there for you.”

Claire stared back at him in the dark, waiting… for what? Finally, she shook her head. “Like you said, we’ll discuss it later.”

She snatched up her sweater and leapt from the boat onto the asphalt.

Sliding open the garage door, she revealed the marina parking lot and her restaurant/home up the hill overlooking docked crafts bobbing in the harbor.

They’d been on their way to his forty-two foot sailboat when they’d been delayed by a spontaneous make-out session against a string of garages for marina residents. And hey, since he owned the truck and bass boat inside, why wait?

Zipping his pants, he tracked her sweet-butt hauling up the planked walkway toward the two story restaurant she co-owned with her sisters. A few leftover Christmas lights illuminated her double-time progress way from him. He considered simply letting her go and giving them both some space. But even as frustrated as he was over her deep freeze, he owed Claire for challenging him back to life after years of numbed emotions. That meant he couldn’t let her walk away scared.

Snagging his shirt, he vaulted over the side of the boat. He stuffed his arms through the flannel softness that now carried Claire’s lilac scent, along with a few ripped buttonholes from her frantic hands.

“Hold on.” He dashed after her, the tails of his open shirt flapping behind him.

The need for a better end to their weekend raked aside everything else, including shoes. He thudded barefoot past the marina office onto her property, across the patchy sandy lawn.

Toes darn-near frostbitten, Vic made it to her front porch a hair’s breadth behind her. He braced a hand just beside her and rested his cheek against the back of her head, nuzzling against her tangled hair. She tensed, but she didn’t move, gasping in the steamy humid night.

His brain scrambled for the right words, a way to shift them back to what they’d shared before he’d ruined it by taking her to bed – or to his boat. “I know you needed me to say something, and I fell short of the mark.”

The tense brace of her shoulders sent alarms through him. Claire was beyond upset. She was in a blind panic. What fears of her own was she carrying around that she hadn’t shared with him anymore than he’d told her about his? And what a time to realize they hadn’t been friends in any meaningful manner after all. Just meal-sharing acquaintances who’d gotten naked together. “God almighty, lady, you’re the most exasperating and incredible woman I’ve ever met. But I’m not very good at the pretty words.”

Slowly, she turned, tilting her chin defensively. She reached, her hand hovering between them almost touching his bare chest, but settling on the open shirt instead. “I need to be alone right now. But I promise I’ll let you know if I’m…”

She didn’t need to finish. Her shuttered expression said it all. They couldn’t go back to what little they’d had. Disappointment chugged through him, more than he would have expected three short days ago. His hands slid from her face. “Okay, I’ll be waiting to hear from you then. You know where to find me.”

He stepped back from the porch, Claire, her smile. Déjà vu swept over him as she sprinted up the steps and into her antebellum restaurant/home. How many times would he watch people he cared about fade from his life?

Damned if numb wasn’t better after all.