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In Bed with the Competition
By J.K. Coi, Tracy Montoya, Kate Fall
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Kristina Coi
All rights reserved.
Ben Harrison had seen his fair share of women in bikinis, but this one seemed different. For one, she wasn't model thin with toothpicks for limbs, but had killer curves and legs that went for miles. His mouth went dry as he took it all in. A wide straw hat. The thin ribbon ties of her top coming together in the middle of her back. The ends trailing down a few inches, drawing the eye to the curve of her waist and then lower, to bright red bottoms.
He felt guilty for staring and averted his gaze, but Nolan's low whistle of appreciation reflected Ben's sentiments exactly.
He turned to his friend with a raised brow. "What are you looking at?"
Nolan leaned up on one elbow and tilted his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose. "The same thing as you, I'm thinking."
"Well, you can just lie back down and forget about it. We might be here a couple of days early, but there's still a lot to do to get ready for the convention." Ben enjoyed the occasional break, which is why he and his business partner Steve Nolan had come to Antigua two days before this convention was scheduled to begin. But no matter where he went, he never left the work entirely behind, because he still hadn't achieved his goals.
"Not for me," Nolan protested with a grin. "And not for you, either. We got this nailed, Harrison. Everyone will be lining up to hand over their money. And you have to admit, if you look at any more reports, you're going to go blind. Trust me, nobody likes a squinting playboy without a tan, no matter how innovative he is."
Ben frowned. A year ago he'd been a nobody, fighting tooth and nail to make his mark along with all the rest, but after appearing at a few gala events with heiress and model-turned-CEO Meredith Stone, someone had decided to run a story on him, and suddenly he was considered a playboy. "It's bad enough I get that shit from the media. I don't need to hear it from you, too."
"What? You don't appreciate the attention?" Nolan smirked.
It was disconcerting and inconvenient, but Nolan was of the opinion that a little media attention of any kind was a good thing. It had the potential to translate into the kind of corporate interest they desperately needed, and that made it worth putting up with for a while. Both of them had sunk everything they had into their cutting-edge software development company, but it just wasn't enough. They needed more capital, and they needed it now.
That's what had brought them to Antigua. The Artificial Intelligence world was a small one, all the industry players would be at this convention, and they would all be looking for the next big Internet money-maker — that's where Optimus Inc. came in.
Nolan grinned. "If you ask me, the fact that the media hounds have locked onto someone else's scent for a while is fucking fantastic."
"Yeah, I'm sure you're ecstatic," Ben answered with a shake of his head.
The reporters might suddenly consider Ben Harrison's life fodder for their pages, but they practically wet themselves over any chance to photograph brilliant mathematician and bad boy Steve Nolan, whose family had been the stuff of society legend until it all fell apart in a public scandal a few years ago ... and who was now having too damn much fun at Ben's expense.
Ben's attention shifted back to the woman on the pool deck. She faced away from them, having arranged herself on an available deck chair in front of the sparkling pool. She was applying lotion to her legs and thighs. Her motions were slow and smooth, the sun bouncing off her perfect, slick skin. It didn't take much for him to start imagining those legs wrapped around him ...
Maybe he had been staring at reports too long. After all, he'd left New York early to scratch his itch for adventure ... and a reckless island fling could be exactly the thing he needed.
Nolan moved to get out of his chair. "Well, since you're not going over there, I think I'll introduce myself —"
"No way." Ben shoved him back. He stood and grabbed his shirt, flinging it over his shoulder. "You've got your wish. I'll clock out for the rest of the day, but that means you have to check in with Clarissa in New York."
Nolan groaned good-naturedly. "Where are you going?"
"Don't worry about me." He glanced over his shoulder. "With any luck, I'll soon be sufficiently distracted for the rest of the night."
Ben walked away, but having escaped Nolan, he quickly changed his mind, deciding he was going back to his room after all. He didn't want to intrude on the woman's privacy. There was going to be a preponderance of a certain type of person at the resort this week: execs and programmers specializing in programming initiatives, and the marketing bottom feeders who were just looking to capitalize on someone else's innovation. The facilities had been completely booked by the convention, so while he couldn't picture many software engineers who looked like her, it stood to reason she was another early arrival taking advantage of an opportunity for some time to relax before the hordes descended, and he didn't want to encroach on that.
As he passed her chair, though, he couldn't help but slow. A large beach bag rested on the ground beside her, a colorful towel spilling out of it. He wondered if she planned to take a dip in the pool later. That was something he didn't think he'd want to miss out on.
Right now, she lounged back in the reclined deck chair. Her drop dead gorgeous body was presented to the sun like an offering, and the front of her was equally as stunning as the rest. The round globes of her breasts teased him from behind smallish triangles of bright red Lycra. Her skin was smooth and creamy, gleaming with the layer of sunscreen she'd just applied, but pale, as if she took vacation about as often as he did. Then again, after a few days in that tiny bikini, she'd be golden in no time.
She'd taken out a book, presumably from the depths of the large bag, but it lay closed in her lap. He raised his brows. That was some dense, technical subject matter. His first instinct had been correct; she was obviously here for the convention. That put a different spin on his interest, and he stopped walking altogether, trying to decide if he recognized her. He thought he might, but oversize dark glasses covered her eyes.
She wore a thick gold band on her thumb that looked better suited to a man, but no rings on any of her other fingers, including the third finger of her left hand. Not that such an absence meant as much these days as it used to. The band gave him pause, though. He used to know someone who wore a thumb ring like that.
Looking closer, he tried to see past the floppy straw hat. It covered her face and hair, with a red ribbon that matched her bikini. Thick curls escaped from beneath it and fell to her shoulders. He used to know someone with tight curls like that, too.
"Um, excuse me. You're in my sun."
He was startled by her relaxed, husky voice, as if she'd just been through a long night of steamy sex, and he was the man who'd awakened her with kisses to do it all over again. That voice was familiar, too.
He cleared his throat and inclined his head with his most approachable smile. "My apologies. You caught me daydreaming."
"Oh, is that what you were doing? Not staring at my ... uh ... hat?" Her lips were coated with some kind of clear gloss that made them look wet and full. A cocked eyebrow rose above the rim of her sunglasses. The way she did that, the tilt of her head as she looked up at him ...
He laughed, but his gut tightened. "Ah, maybe you're right, and that's what got me daydreaming. You have a very lovely ... hat after all."
The hair was different. Her body was different ... or maybe he'd just never seen so much of it before. If only he could look into her eyes to know for sure.
He readjusted the shirt he'd thrown over his shoulder and stepped closer. "Would you and your hat care to meet me in the bar tonight for a drink?"
That eyebrow went up again at his boldness, and her hand clenched on the book in her lap like a shield.
"I don't mean to intrude on your holiday," he added quickly. "But if you're here alone and you'd like some company ..."
She pressed her lips together, and he felt the weight of her assessing gaze travelling down the length of him, even though he couldn't see past the barrier of her dark sunglasses.
After a long moment, she reached up and slid the glasses down the bridge of her nose, revealing deep green eyes. Green like the tropical water surrounding the island.
Her gaze was the same as a physical touch to his skin. Hot and unexpectedly jarring. Those eyes.
Yes. He knew those eyes.
He knew her.
In the time it took for him to verify his suspicion about her identity, her smile turned brittle, and her expression hardened. "It's only been a little over a year, Harrison. Don't tell me I was that forgettable."CHAPTER 2
She winced. He was the only person who'd ever gotten away with calling her that. Her brother had tried once, and she'd nearly decked him, but for some reason she'd never objected when Ben had done it.
He sounded so surprised. Yes, she'd changed in the year since seeing him last. She'd let her hair grow out and lost some weight — okay, a lot of weight — but it wasn't like she was a different person.
Anger flared ... or was the heat building inside her something else entirely? She couldn't take her eyes of those pecs, unless it was to stare at his abs.
Put your damn shirt on, she wanted to scream. That was the only way she'd be able to concentrate. Of course, he hadn't changed at all. He was still too distracting for his own good.
You're concentrating just fine, Liz. Yeah, but she didn't want to concentrate on him. She didn't want to concentrate on the wide expanse of his shoulders, the bulk of his chest, and the grin still curling his damned lips. Or the way his blue eyes glimmered like sunshine bouncing off the water in the pool. She hated that his voice started a fluttery thing way down in the pit of her stomach, and that she couldn't help but notice how his black and red swimming trunks hung low on his waist, showing off more muscle than a man had a right to have.
She definitely did not want to admit that her heart had leapt into her throat when he'd stopped in front of her.
"What are you doing here, Harrison? Aren't you much too busy going to dinner parties with society heiresses for a boring industry convention these days?"
He only crossed his arms over that massive chest — which did unexpectedly exciting and traitorous things to her insides.
She had the sudden urge to stand up from the deck chair to give herself some height, but since she was only five-foot-five in her short-heeled beach sandals, he would still be looking way down at her.
"I didn't recognize you for a minute there," he said, gaze dipping down again. "It's nice to see you." His voice lowered.
Go figure, he actually sounded sincere.
If he took off his sunglasses, what would she see? Welcome or nuisance? Indifference or regret? Had he thought about her at all? Did he think about what had happened between them, or was it all a wash? Forgotten in the excitement of his new venture ... and dates with famous women?
"I wish I could say the same." She readjusted her sunglasses so he couldn't read anything from her eyes. He'd always said that all he had to do was look into her eyes to know what she was thinking.
Well, he could try to figure her out all he wanted, but the last year had been filled with changes, and she'd learned a lot, including how to perfect her poker face.
She purposely picked up her book, thinking he'd take the hint and go away.
Just as she realized the book was upside down and hastened to flip it over, he came closer, blocking out the sun with his to-die-for physique.
The sudden shade didn't cool her body down. As he closed the distance between them, she only got hotter.
She held her breath as he dragged another lounger across the pool deck until it was right beside hers.
He repeated his invitation. "Have a drink with me."
Her mouth dropped open. "Why the hell would I do that?"
"Because we should talk."
"I've been in the same place with the same phone number. If you wanted to talk, you knew very well how to reach me every day of the last fourteen months." She winced at the hint of bitterness in her voice. She couldn't really blame him for not keeping in touch. He'd moved across the country and started his own company, and since she'd gone into business for herself as well, she knew what a huge, time-consuming undertaking it must have been. Not to mention that they hadn't exactly gone their separate ways on the best of terms.
"Are you saying you're busy then? What else do you have to do tonight?"
As if she couldn't possibly have anything better to do on an island paradise than spend the evening with him?
Dropping the book to her lap, she crossed her arms in front of her, but wasn't deluded that she was any better protected from his piercing looks and disarmingly familiar smile.
"Not that it's any of your business, but I came here for work, not to waste my time tramping down memory lane with the likes of you."
"Are you pitching something?" His expression narrowed. With competitive calculation or simply interest?
Wouldn't you like to know? In college he'd been the only person to get better grades than her. The only person to get more attention from their professors. He'd gotten a scholarship she had applied for. A job she'd wanted. When he left for New York, she'd thought she was done competing with him, but she'd done her research and had no delusions. Their two companies were producing a very similar product, and being forced to compete with Ben again had been bound to happen sooner or later, despite the geographic distance that was now between them.
Yes, Liz knew exactly the kind of competition she was up against at this convention and in this industry on the whole. The same competition she'd always been up against.
I'm not discussing my business with you," she said stubbornly.
"That's fine," he said too easily. "We don't have to talk business."
"There's nothing else we could possibly discuss with each other."
"Beth, we were friends for three years, and it's been over a year since I saw you. Is it so difficult to believe that I just want to know how you've been?"
She looked away and pretended to be captivated by the beauty of the pristine pool.
Yes, they'd been friends, and the good-natured competitiveness between them had always been grounded in respect and an admiration for one another's intelligence and abilities.
Ben had been a good friend ... a great friend ... her best friend ... right up until the moment he'd suggested they go into business together, and then, just to make matters even worse ... he'd kissed her.
No matter how hard she'd tried to get them back to their friendship place, it hadn't been the same after that. And when he left for New York a month later — alone — it had almost been a relief, because she knew she'd never be able to banish the other feelings he'd forced her to acknowledge, the ones that stripped her raw and left her vulnerable.
How could he do that? How could he just ruin everything? Shock and denial had left her shaken, angry, and scared for a long time, but she'd refused to admit she might be angry with herself, too. Because part of her had seen it coming, part of her had wanted it so badly ... but she never would have risked it.
She dared a glance back at him. The sight of all that sculpted male flesh and those strong, capable hands sent shivers racing through her even now. Her mouth went dry, and her nipples tightened.
"Eight o'clock in the bar?" he said expectantly. He appeared calm, relaxed, and criminally good looking.
She shouldn't. Corporate secrets were stolen every day in her industry. She needed to protect herself, especially from him. She remembered well how competitive Ben could be, and they no longer had friendship between them to protect her from his ruthless business practices.
"All right. I'll have a drink with you."
His smile was radiant as he stood, his big body casting a shadow again. "Good. I'll see you tonight at the bar then?"
She nodded slowly, transfixed by the sight of those flexing arms and rippling abs as he pulled his T-shirt over his head and tugged it down, covering everything — and yet not covering enough, because the shirt molded to him like a second skin.
Good God. Are you seriously thinking what I think you're thinking? He's going to eat you up and spit you out.
Watching him walk away, she clenched her jaw and imagined exactly how the "eating up" part might play out.CHAPTER 3
What happens in Antigua ...
Liz shook her head at the reckless thought. Back in her room out of the hot sun, her common sense had started to return in a rush.
She might be here on business, but the temptation to use her trip to the beautiful tropical island to indulge in a rare opportunity for some hot and sexy fun in the sun had occurred to her even before running into Harrison at the pool. It was why she'd arrived a couple of days before the convention was scheduled to start.
Not that she would really do anything with a stranger. That would be rash and reckless, and Liz was anything but. She was always the responsible one, the one who made plans, who avoided confrontation. In fact, starting her own business was the most reckless thing she'd ever done, and making that decision had given her ulcers.
No, she'd never have a fling with a stranger.
But Ben Harrison wasn't exactly a stranger, now was he? With him? That's just asking for trouble.
She took a deep breath and gave herself a disapproving look in the bathroom mirror. "That's why it's just a drink, nothing else."
Her brain was telling her not to be such an idiot as she worried her bottom lip with her teeth. Then again, lower, where it counted, she felt a rush of warmth, and anticipation surged through her bloodstream.
Excerpted from In Bed with the Competition by J.K. Coi, Tracy Montoya, Kate Fall. Copyright © 2014 Kristina Coi. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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