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Ivy Madison was not a violent person, but as the "surprise" man she'd been hearing about for the past three monthsthe one who looked disturbingly similar to her gazillionaire ex-husbandunfolded his long, lean plotting her cousin Deidre's murder.
No, it couldn't possibly be him.
Blake, Deidre's fiancé, was supposed to be off picking up the best man from the airport. There was no way that the surprise Deidre had repeatedly enticed her with, the mystery best man Ivy was just going to love, was Dillon Marshal! Never in a million years would Deidre expect Ivy to stand up in a wedding, much less spend the week before the ceremony in the Mexican villa, with the biggest mistake who had ever walked in, then walked back out of, her life.
Maybe the surprise was that the best man only looked like Dillon. Yeah, that was probably it. They would have a good laugh, then Ivy could relax and enjoy the first real vacation since the release of her book.
It was just one of those weird, quirky coincidences. The man who couldn't possibly be her ex slipped off his Ray-Bans, revealing a familiar pair of heavy-lidded, come-hither, steel-blue bedroom eyes. Eyes that had been known to melt her with a mere glance, reduce her knees to mashed potatoes and her head to scrambled eggs.
A blast of emotions tore through her insides with the velocity of a tropical storm, misfiring the synapses in her brain and tangling her intestines into knots.
She turned from the front window and looked to her cousin for an explanation. For an assurance that there was no way the man standing in the driveway was who he looked like.
Deidre flashed her a look seeped in guilt and offered a weak, "Surprise."
Ivy's heart slid down from her chest, weaved around her internal organs and settled just north of her ovaries.
Her knees felt as if they might give out, and the bagel she'd had for breakfast was in danger of making a repeat performance all over the southwestern-theme rug. This could not be happening. There was a damned good reason she'd spent the last decade avoiding Dillon.
Feeling woozy, she lowered herself onto the couch. She glanced out the window and saw that men were at the back of the limo now, collecting Dillon's luggage. Soon they would be coming inside.
Her stomach launched into an Olympic-caliber backflip with a triple twist.
Deidre sat down on the opposite end of the couch, far enough away to hopefully avoid any flying fists. "I know you probably want to kill me right now, but I can explain."
Oh, yeah, she definitely had to die. And it would be slow and painful. Stung to death by African bees, or drained by a million leeches. "Deidre, what did you do?"
"I have a very good explanation."
There was no good explanation. And there was only one thing Ivy could do. She needed to grab her things, slip out the back, and catch the next flight back to Texas.
She made a mental list of her belongings and tried to estimate how long it would take to shove them back into her bag.
Oh, to hell with her clothes. She had plenty more back home. All she really needed was her laptop and purse. She could grab them both and be out the back door in two minutes. Dillon would never be the wiser. Unless
Oh, no, she wouldn't have. "This was a surprise for him, too, right?"
Deidre clamped her bottom lip between her teeth, eyes pinned in her lap, and Ivy felt the bagel creeping farther up her throat.
"Deidre, honey, tell me he doesn't know I'm here." The color leached from her cheeks.
Wonderful. Just freaking fantastic.
That meant running was not an option. No way she could let Dillon know he'd scared her off. Even worse, he'd had time to prepare for this. He would do and say all the right things.
Oh, who was she kidding? Dillon was not the type of guy who needed to prepare.
Oh boy, she was in big trouble.
The front door opened, and Ivy's heart sped up triple time. With an excited squeal Deidre dashed from the room to greet them, leaving Ivy alone.
She wasn't ready for this. Had she not been forced, she didn't know if she would have ever been ready to face Dillon again. Too much bad blood. Too many regrets.
She heard voices from the other room, enthusiastic greetings and the unmistakable hum of Dillon's deep, easy voice. Her heart started going berserk in her chest.
No matter what, she could not let that man see her this rattled.
She rose from the couch on rubbery legs and turned to look out the window at the taillights of the limo as it pulled down the driveway. Something was said about taking the luggage to the bedroom, then she heard the sound of footsteps on the stairsmore than one set. She closed her eyes and clung to the breath in her lungs until her head began to swim from lack of oxygen, praying Deidre was showing Dillon up to his room and she could put off a little longer the inevitable confrontation.
She needed time to prepare. Ten or fifteen minutes. Or a week.
For several long seconds the house was still and silent. She exhaled slowly, felt her heart rate returning to a somewhat normal pace, and sucked in a fresh breath.
Then a familiar feelingsomething warm and complicated and unpredictablepoured over her. It soaked through her clothes and drenched her skin and she knew without turning that Dillon was in the room. She could feel his presence, the pressure of his gaze on her back, like some creepy sixth sense.
Goose bumps broke out across her arms, and the fine hairs on her neck started to shiver.
Oh, boy, here we go.
Gathering every scrap of courage she could dredge up, she fixed what she hoped was a disinterested look on her face and turned to confront a past that up until today she thought she'd seen the last of. The man recently dubbed one of the country's most eligible bachelors.
He leaned in the arched doorway, arms folded over his chest. Arms that somehow managed to appear muscular and lean at the same time, a chest wide enough to impress but not overpower. Memories of those arms around her, her cheek pressed to that warm, solid chest breathing in the clean, subtle scent of his aftershave, rushed up to choke the air from her lungs.
In faded blue jeans, a white T-shirt and cowboy boots, the billionaire oil king looked just as he had in college. Yet there was an air of authority and importance that emanated from inside him, from every pore. An arrogance that said he knew exactly what he wanted and he wasn't afraid to go after it, and pity the person who dared get in his way.
Beginning with her pink-tipped toes, his eyes embarked on a leisurely journey, working their way up as if he had every right to be mentally undressing her.
Over her hips, across her mostly flat stomach She clasped her hands behind her back, so he wouldn't see them tremble. What was wrong with her? She was no longer the naive, sheltered girl who had been swept away by a trust-fund rebel. She was a strong, self-confident professional. She had co-written the definitive guide on divorce for the modern woman. She was a New York Times bestselling author, for cripes' sake. She could handle Dillon Marshall.
He finally reached her breasts and took his sweet ole time, caressing them with his eyes. She felt the tips tingle and tighten against her will. The urge to cross her arms over her chest was almost unbearable, but she wouldn't give him the satisfaction.
This inspection, this violation, was all a part of the game he played.
She narrowed her eyes and raised her chin to a don'teven-mess-with-me angle. When he finally reached her face, his eyes locked on hers and held, and one corner of his mouth tipped up in a familiar, cocky smile.
He shook his head, eyes simmering with male appreciation. "Damn, darlin', you look good enough to eat."
If looks could kill, Dillon would be knocking at the pearly gates. His ex-wife's whiskey-colored eyes impaled him like razor-sharp daggers.
Talk about a blast from the past. It was the same look she'd given him ten years ago, the day she walked out on him.
Though the particulars of that morning were still fuzzy, he remembered stumbling in stinking drunk at 7:00 a.m. after an all-nighter with his buddies. His third all-nighter that week and it had been only Wednesday. He'd tried to coax her into bed, to show her how sorry he washell, it had worked beforeand she'd lobbed an empty beer bottle at his head.
Lucky for him that her aim had been as bad as her temper.
But damn, did she look good nowtall and willowy and soft around the edges. The kind of pretty that crept up on a man slowly, then dug its claws in deep and held on.
Too bad she was a major pain in the behind.
He turned up the charm on his smile, knowing it would irritate the hell out of her, since that in large part was the motivation for this trip. He intended to make her suffer. "What, no kiss?"
Sure enough, that telltale little crease formed between her eyebrows. She always had taken life too seriously. He used to admire her confidence, her determination. The woman knew exactly what she wanted, and she hadn't been afraid to go after it. Too bad she'd never learned how to have fun. He'd tried his best to teach her, to loosen her up, and what had it gotten him?
A lot of grief.
It would be that much more satisfying when he finally broke her spirit.
"You don't look happy to see me," he said. Her eyes narrowed, like maybe she thought that if she concentrated hard enough she could wish him out of existence.
"Oh, right, you still think I'm a now, how did you word it in that little book of yours?" He scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Something to the effect of me being a self-centered, pigheaded horse's ass?"
Her chin rose in that familiar, stubborn tilt. "Not once did I use your name in that little book, so you can't say one way or the other who I was referring to."
She might not have used his name, but the implication had been more than clear.
Clear to him.
Clear to his family and friends.
And clear to the millions of women who had flocked to the bookstore to get their hands on the new must-read self-help guide.
Nearly every negative little story and anecdote she'd included in the text had been plucked right out of their marriage. Talk about social devastation. The class of woman he normally dated wouldn't give him the time of day, and the women who would, the morbidly curious and monetarily motivated, he wouldn't wish on his worst enemy.
"Besides, it was self-absorbed and bullheaded," Ivy added. "And I never used the term horse's ass. Even though you were one."
He flattened a hand across the left side of his chest. "Darlin', you're breakin' my heart."
"Look, you can cut the good ole boy crap. I don't imagine you're any happier than I am about being stuck together for a whole week."
It was just like her to cut through the bull and get right to the point. And as usual, she was wrong. He couldn't be happier.
"For Deidre and Blake's sake, I'm going to try to make the best of it," she continued in that master-of-theuniverse tone. "I expect you to do the same."
He just bet she did. Was she under the impression they were going to pick up where they left off? With her issuing orders?
Had she forgotten that he didn't take orders from anyone?
"How do you s'pose we go about doing that?" he asked in the same good ole boy twang, since it clearly annoyed her.
"I think we should agree to avoid each other whenever humanly possible. I'll stay out of your way and you stay out of mine. After this week, we never have to see each other again."
The never seeing each other again part sounded just fine to him. But that was only a fraction of the good news. He'd been looking for a way to irritate her, to make her as miserable as humanly possible, and she'd just served it up on a silver platter.
The worst thing he could do to a control freak like Ivy was take away her control.
A corner of his mouth twitched, but he held the smile inside. He pretended to give her demand some thought, then gave her a solemn nod. "Sounds like a good idea."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "So that's it?" "Sure." It did sound like a good idea. For her. That didn't mean he had any intention of doing it.
She had no idea the flack his family had taken after her book was released. Call it childish and immaturehell, he'd been called worsebut the way he saw it, he was long overdue for a little payback. Some good oldfashioned revenge.
If keeping his distance was what she really wanted, for the next week he would be stuck to that woman like glue.