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The only thing the first-class-all-the-way log house lacked was a sexy female in the master bedroom's quilt-covered sleigh bed. Make that a naked sexy female. Blond. Curvy.
Make that lots of curves.
Coat hangers with legs didn't interest Luke Barton. He liked his women built for pleasure. His pleasure.
"Did you say something, Mr. Barton?"
He started, then tore his gaze from the decadent bed to frown at the caretaker who was showing him through the home that was his for the next month. Had he been talking out loud? Luke shoved his hands in his pockets and tried out a noncommittal smile before trailing the woman toward the adjoining bathroom.
She was attractive enough, he supposed, and somewhere in her twenties as well as sort of blondish, but it wasn't her who had sparked his imagination. It was that luxurious bed, he decided, glancing back at it over his shoulder. That quilt-covered bed with a mattress wide enough to rival the sizable slice of Lake Tahoe that he could see through the room's tall windows.
There was a stone fireplace near the bed's carved footboard with wood neatly laid inside and Luke could imagine the logs burning brightly, licking golden color along the naked, fair flesh of his fantasy woman. he'd follow suit with his tongue, tasting her warm
His attention jolted to the caretaker again and he realized he was standing, frozen, in the middle of the room. "Call me Luke," he said.
"What?, The caretaker frowned. "We were expecting Matthias Barton this month."
Perplexed, Luke stared at her for a moment. Matthias?
Oh. Matthias. Matt. That luxurious decadent bed was making him forget everything. It wasn't often thatLuke Barton forgot his bastard of a twin brother, Matt. And it was never that he did his bastard of a brother a favor.
Except for now.
When his assistant had called Luke's assistant he'd wished like hell he could have turned the cheating, thieving SOB down flat. "Your brother has to take care of some unexpected business and he wants to know if you'll switch months with him," Elaine had imparted, as if it wasn't damn strange that identical siblings refused to speak to each other.
But for once, Luke had been unable to refuse his brother's request.
"I'm sorry. I meant to mention it right away," Luke told the caretaker. Apparently she hadn't noticed the cryptic note Nathan left behind had been addressed to him. "Something came up and my brother and I had to trade months." The ol" twin switcheroo.
"Oh, I suppose that's all right," the woman replied, then gestured him forward. "So, as I was saying, Luke, you must spend the next month in the lodge in order to fulfill the requirements of Hunter's will. Your friend Nathan was here last month and your brother Matthias will then take your place in the fifth month."
Luke knew all that. A while back, letters had been received by each of the remaining "Seven Samurai" as they'd called themselves in college. The six had lost touch after the death of Hunter Palmer and graduation, but with the arrival of those letters they'd been reminded of the promise they'd once made to one another as they closed in on getting their diplomas. Though they were from families of distinction and wealth, they'd been determined to each make their own mark on the world. In ten years, they'd vowed.
Over a table filled with empty beer bottles they'd pledged to build a lodge on the shores of Lake Tahoe and in ten years, each of them would take the place for a month. At the end of the seventh month, the plan had been that they'd all come together for a celebration of their friendship and the successes they'd achieved.
But after Hunter's illness and subsequent death, that dream had died with him.
Though apparently not for Hunter. Even aware he wouldn't be there to share it with them, he'd made arrangements for a lodge to be built at the lake. The letters he'd written to each of the friends said that he expected them to honor the vow they'd taken all those years ago.
The caretaker stepped aside as they reached another arched doorway. "And here's the master bathroom."
As Luke stepped inside, the fantasy blond popped back into his thoughts. The light of a fire was tracing her skin again, all that pretty, pretty skin, as she lowered herself into the deep porcelain tub that was surrounded by slate and butted up against yet another fireplace. The ends of her hair darkened as they swished against her wet shoulders. Bubbles played peekaboo with her rosy nipples.
"Do you think you'll be comfortable here?, Sidetracked again by his enticing little vision, Luke was jolted once more by the sound of the caretaker's voice.
Damn! What was the matter with him? he wondered, firmly banishing the distracting beauty splashing in his suddenly sex-obsessed brain.
"I'll be just fine here, thank you." Even though he was going to be "just fine" three months early, all for the sake of his brother.
He must have been scowling at the thought, because the woman's eyebrows rose. "Is something wrong?"
"No. Not at all." There was no reason to expose the family laundry to a stranger. "I guess I'm just thinking ofof Hunter."
The woman's gaze dropped. "I'm sorry." The toe of tion without regard to kith, kin or even common decency.
That was how his brother operated.
Finally the caretaker gave him the ornate keychain that contained the house key and departed, leaving Luke alone inside the big house with only his grim thoughts for company. The place was quiet and absent of any signs of Nathan Barristerwho had been staying here the month beforeunless you counted the hastily written note Luke had found from him. But Nathan hadn't gone far. he'd fallen for the mayor of Hunter's Landing, Keira Sanders, and now they were flitting between the Tahoe town and sun-filled Barbados, where his old friend was presumably mixing business with pleasure.
Jacket and tie discarded, Luke found a beer in the overstocked fridge and settled himself by the window of the great room. Through the trees was another spectacular view of the lake. It wasn't its famous clear-blue at the moment, not only because it was settling into evening, but also because gray clouds were gathering overhead.
Dark clouds that reflected Luke's mood.
What the hell was he going to do with himself for a month?
Nathan had done okay here, apparently. His note said it wasn't "exactly the black hole I thought" and he'd occupied himself by jumping into a full-on love affair. Luke didn't wish that potential quagmire on himself, though a visit from that blond sweetheart of his imagination might make the month pass just a little bit faster. It was too damn bad she couldn't stroll out of his fantasies and straight into this room.
Yes, that would make the thirty days more interesting.
Except it wasn't going to happen unless Matt had invited someone to join him here. And even if that were the case, blond sweethearts just weren't Matt's type. Being identical twins didn't mean they had identical taste when it came to women.
Luke hooked his heels around a nearby ottoman and dragged it closer as the first drops of what appeared to be a heavy spring rain started to hit the windows and roll down like tears. Yeah, he'd be crying, too, if the vision from his daydream showed up on his doorstep looking for Matt.
Though he shouldn't rule that out, come to think of it. His brother might set up just such a thing to shake Luke's cage. Matt ruined Luke's life any chance he got.
To be fairunlike his brotherLuke had to admit that it was their father, Samuel Sullivan Barton, who had sowed the seeds of their ugly rivalry. he'd run their childhood like an endless season of The Apprentice, with himself playing Donald Trump, constantly orchestrating cutthroat competitions between his two sons.
Their enmity had abated in college. But after Hunter had died, so had their father, and he'd left behind one last contest that rekindled his sons" competitive fire. Whichever twin made a million dollars first would win the family holdings. Both of them had separately gone to work on developing wireless technologyLuke doing it hands-on, using his engineering degree, while Matt tapped into his undeniable business acumen to hire someone to work with him.
When it came to any kind of gadgetry, his brother was all thumbs. But when it came to building a successful team, Matt was a master.
Of course, that time he'd ensured his mastery by bribing a supplier and knocking Luke right out of the running. Matt had made the first mil and won all the family assets, to boot.
Luke hadn't spoken to his brother since, though he'd gone on to do a damn fine job with his own company a meaner and leaner version of what Matt continued to build upon with the Barton family wealth behind him. That was Luke in a nutshell these days: a leaner okay, maybe by only a pound or twobut definitely meaner version of his brother Matt.
Working his ass off had a way of doing that to a man, Luke thought. And maybe bitterness, too. He couldn't deny it.
The rain was really coming down now, and the house took on a chill. He got up and lit the fire laid in the great room's massive fireplaceit took up one huge stone walland the flames set him thinking about his blond again.
When he got back to his own condo in the San Francisco Bay Area he was going to have to make a few phone calls, apparently. This fantasy woman was a new fixation for him. Work usually was his only obsessionwork and finding some way to pay back his brother at some future dateso his sex life was more sporadic than people believed. It looked as if he needed to be paying more attention to his bodily needs, though.