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Jack's cell phone buzzed at least three times before he even got his brother's sleek catamaran into open water.
He knew it was nothing pressing, since the text messages had subject lines such as "quick headsup" rather than "URGENT." So he ignored them, figuring Keith wanted to share a lot of details about his highend vesselas if Jack couldn't figure out how to steer a boat without the help of GPS gizmos. Jack had gotten this far in life by knowing when to tune out the rest of the world, a lesson his workaholic brother had yet to process.
Keith the Corporate Mogul took every incoming call as if it were life or death, assuming the world couldn't turn without his input. Jack had weathered enough storms to know plenty of problems blew themselves out without him lifting a finger. While Keith positioned himself for the Forbes list, Jack was content to invest some of his savings in local businesses, as he'd been doing since he returned home a month ago. Nothing big. He gave those struggling bars a hand up in a rough economy while he figured out what direction he wanted his career to take now that he was out of the service. Returning to the family business wasn't a direction that particularly appealed.
In the meantime, he'd started selling off a few of his personal possessions to consolidate his assets and simplify his lifestyle. Truth be told, he was glad not to be the one to hand off the vintage Pearson Triton that was full of memories for him. Alicia had helped him christen the Vesta back when his life had made more sense.
Not that he would think about her now, damn it. His brother's engagement party had messed with his head tonight, putting thoughts of her back in his brain.
But you broke up with her because she was too young Some obnoxious voice in his head piped up. That problem no longer exists.
The fact that they'd both matured, however, wouldn't take away their bulldog personalities. Or erase the fact that she'd moved on since he'd been away. Every time he'd been home on leave in the past four years, she'd been dating someone else.
If he had any sense, he would fall for someone softer. Someone who wouldn't argue about his every decision. Someone a whole lot less like him. But first he needed to find a way to come to terms with a shared past he'd never really forgotten.
Now, at about twothirty in the morning, he had his ropes thrown off and he'd steered through the coastal traffic into open water. He'd checked out the chart plotter and the selfsteering feature enough to feel comfortable moving around deck while the boat cruised along. No doubt about it, the catamaran had every cool innovation known to mankindthe Zeus steering system and GPS positionlocking features both made handling a big vessel easy.
He figured he'd put enough distance between him and the rest of the Murphy clan to settle down for the night. He was out of the main shipping lanes and his lights were burning bright, so he should be safe to get some rest.
It would kill his mother to know it, but he hated trips home. Being there brought back too many memories of a time where he'd dreamed of a different life.
Jamming the cell phone back in his jacket pocket, he tugged his tie off. The fact that, hours after leaving Ryan's party, Jack hadn't even changed out of his suit yet spoke volumes about his need to be under way, as far from Cape Cod and the possibility of bumping into Alicia as he could get. He needed to see her sooner or later, yes. But not until he figured out why her memory still affected him so strongly.
He'd stopped at a convenience store for some supplies on his way to the marina, despite Keith's assurance that the corporate toy was fully stocked. But other than the one brief pause, he'd been running nonstop since he walked away from the party.
The boat was a beauty. Keith's company owned the power catamaran and used it to entertain clients. But in between gigs to impress potential customers or longterm patrons, the top dogs passed the toy around amongst themselves.
Now that he'd cooled down a bit, he could appreciate some of the features of Keith's catamaran. Roomy as hell. laid out by someone who'd been at sea before, with no skimping on practical stuffalthough there were some fluffy addons such as a hot tub in the front deck. Jack switched on the nightlight in the hall leading to the forward cabin. He'd done a quick inspection of the hull layout before he'd left the marina, tossing his bag into the cabin that looked as if it had been recently used, with the berth still rumpled and a duffel in one corner. Had to be the space Keith had used, and was therefore the one most likely to have sheets and an alarm clock at the ready.
Yanking off his jacket and belt, Jack trailed clothes like a stripper, too wasted to hang things up. He didn't even bother turning on the light before he slid into the queensize bed, liking the dark just fine. oblivion couldn't come soon enough after the day he'd had.
He was happy for Ryan finding The one. Truly, he was. But seeing that promise of a future on both their faces had poured acid in an old wound, reminding Jack of the way Alicia had started to think longterm with him when he'd been embroiled in a family drama that had needed his attention. Those days should have been too long ago for him to remember their breakup in such vivid detail.
Unfortunately, he remembered all too well.
On the plus side, he'd put some serious nautical miles between himself and the woman he'd walked out on, before he finally drifted into exhausted sleep
Alicia LeBlanc could almost swear Jack Murphy was back in her arms.
An annoying rational voiceinescapable even in her dreamstold her that was because she was on board a Murphyowned boat. Dealing with Keith had put his whole family back in the forefront of her mind after all these years, and that's why her subconscious had concocted a delicious nighttime fantasy about her ex.
"Jack " She sighed his name in her half sleep, resenting the practical side of her that insisted she was just dreaming. Why couldn't she simply enjoy sexy dreams like the rest of the population?
Because dreaming about him makes you weak! her cranky ego shouted.
Undaunted, she pressed her cheek to Jack's broad, bare chest. Her dreams added muscle and weight to his younger body, altering her memories of him to account for the navyhardened form he sported these days. She'd caught sight of him on the beach earlier in the week, when she'd been giving kitesurfing lessons to touristsone facet of the water sports business she'd started to save money for her own coastal bedandbreakfast. Nothing big like Murphy Resorts owned all over the Cape, but something small and personal, where she could entertain all the time and share her love of the water with travelers. She'd been hooking up the safety harness on a couple of college kids who wanted to catch big air on the water when she had heard Jack's voice carrying from farther out in the surf.
Sure enough, he'd sailed into sight on the Vesta. She might have taken a moment's pleasure in knowing he'd kept the boat even though he'd dumped her. But he'd probably just been too busy saving the world to ditch the sailboat the second he'd ousted Alicia from his life.
Damn the man.
Still, he was hot and hard everywhere in this dream moment that would be over all too soon. She kissed his chest, her tongue darting along one flat pectoral to steal a taste of him. He was salty with sea air, just the way she remembered. Turning her cheek against him again, she absorbed his warmth, her fingers finding the silky hair at the center of his chest. She followed the path lower, savoring the way his skin tightened at her touch, his muscles twitching in response.
Greedy for more, she rubbed her breasts against him, arching into his body so she touched as much of him as she could. The friction had her heart racing. Pleasure simmered in her veins and she wondered why her brain insisted on maintaining the reality of her tank top between them in the fantasy.
Ditto Jack's boxer shorts.
She'd slid a thigh between his at some point and she resented the presence of lightweight cotton, no matter that the fabric was soft. What she wanted throbbed behind the fly, and she had every intention of enjoying it. Enjoying him.
"Jack," she murmured, liking the feel of his name on her tongue, loving that he felt so real.
Smoothing her fingers over his face, she encountered deep stubble that would sting her cheek if she rubbed it against him there. The strong, square line of his jaw remained as stubborn and immovable as ever, broken only by a dimple centered in his chin. For old time's sake, she touched the depression, but the contact was too full of past emotions when she wanted only passion.
It had been so long for her. No one else compared to this man, even though she'd searched for someone to fill the void in her heart.
But right now, she could have him again.
"Alicia?" His voice warmed her ear, his lips coming alive as she undulated against him.
"Yes," she confirmed, wanting to be the only one he thought about. There'd been a time she'd been certain she was the only woman who mattered to him. "I'm so ready," she whispered, rocking her hips against his.
Heat blossomed between her legs and she palmed his thigh to keep the pressure of him right where she wanted it.
"Alicia." The cold bark of his voice knifed through the dream like a pin to a balloon, deflating all that sexedup heat.
The warm body beside hers scrambled away. Hell, he scrambled right out of the bed. She blinked in the darkness, her pulse racing as her knee fell against the empty mattress without his thigh to prop hers up. What the
A horrible thought occurred to her.
"I'm not dreaming." She clutched the bedspread to her aching body, straining to see in the cabin with only a sliver of moonlight coming through a porthole and a dull glow from a nightlight flickering out in the hall.
She prayed she would wake up, prayed this was a fantasy turned mortifying nightmare. But as she took in Jack Murphy's glowering expression above her, Alicia knew she didn't have enough imagination to conjure up all the fury she saw there.
Oh, God. There must have been some mixup
"What are you doing here?" He flipped on an overhead light, frying her retinas and making her all too aware of the thin pajama shorts she'd worn to bed with her tank top.
No, it was Jack's forestgreen eyes raking up and down her exposed gams that tripped a keen awareness of the limited wardrobe. Flipping the rest of the bedspread over her lower half, she sat up in the bed.
"I might ask you the same question," she retorted, already imagining ways to strangle Keith for this. "Where is your brother?"
Not waiting for an answer, she hopped off the bed and marched past Jack, ready to duke it out with the only Murphy she'd remained friends with after the big breakup between her and Jack.
"He's not here." Jack halted her forward progress with one long arm, hauling her back into the bedroom. "And if he was, don't you think you're a little underdressed to speak with him?"
The feel of Jack's arm across her stomach, even through double layers of quilt, burned into her skin. Her breast brushed his forearm for the briefest moment, but the memory of that contact remained in her tingling flesh. She tightened her hold on the bedspread, wishing she could squeeze away the sensation.
His naked chest was mere inches from her in the small cabin, the berth just big enough for a bed and a space to dress. It occurred to her she'd actually kissed lickedthat chest only moments ago in her sleep. In fact, her hormones were still so ramped up that the thought of her lips on his tanned skin made her mouth run dry.
"What do you mean, he's not here?" With the lights on and her bare feet planted on the carpeted cabin floor, she realized something was wrongsomething beyond finding Jack in her bed. Peering out the nearest porthole, she couldn't see the marina lights. Dark ocean glimmered back at her. They were out to sea. The beginnings of panic tickled the back of her neck. "Where is he?"
"You were waiting for Keith?" Jack ignored her question to ask his own.
And didn't that help remind her why it was just as well they'd broken up? He was a man accustomed to having his own way.
"Yes, damn it." The panic jumped higher, clogging her throat. "He's supposed to take me to Bar Harbor and help me finalize a business plan on the way. I'm looking at a bedandbreakfast up there"
"Why?" Jack interrupted.
That couldn't possibly be jealousy she heard in his voice. Frustration spiked, mingled with embarrassment, and all around made it difficult to maintain her patience.
"First tell me what happened to Keith." She worked up a glower of her own, recalling how Jack could steamroll her if she didn't give as good as she got with him. "Tell me where we are and why Keith is not here."
She'd save the questions about why Jack felt it was okay to climb into bed with her after breaking her heart and leaving town four years ago. Damn him, she was the one who deserved some answers.
"Keith knew you were on the boat." Jack didn't seem terribly cowed by her threatening glare, but at least he'd paused in the inquisition to take out his cell phone. Tapping some keys, he appeared to scroll through a screen. "That must have been what he texted me about."
"Well, I still don't understand." She barreled past him again, determined to check their headings if Jack wouldn't pony up any answers. "Has it occurred to you or your brother that I might have a lot riding on this trip?"
Not waiting for his answers this time, she stomped through the galley and up toward the helm, clutching the spread tight against the sea winds that swirled down the hatch.
"And did you know the Murphys aren't the only people in the world who are passionate about their business?" she asked, on a roll now. "I never would have taken such a slow route to Bar Harbor if Keith hadn't agreed to look over my business plan for me and give me his input on it along the way." An awful thought occurred to her. She whirled around on the stairs to find Jack a half step behind her. "Does this have to do with some brotherly wager?"