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Alexis Cavanaugh was in love with the wrong brother.
She gazed across the candlelit table at the man she had spent the better part of the past week in D.C. with, only half listening as he spoke fervently about Brody Oil and Gas, the company he co-owned with his brother Lance. The brother she was supposed to be marrying.
Not that she had expected to fall in love with Lance. The marriage was little more than a business deal cooked up by the Brody brothers and her father, Bruce Cavanaugh, senior senator from her home state of Texas. But hadn't she always done what her father asked of her? Didn't he, as he'd always claimed, know what was best? A marriage to Lance would provide her the financial security and station in society that she'd earned—although other than possess the Cavanaugh name, she wasn't sure what she'd ever done to deserve it.
Not that she didn't find Lance appealing. He was tall and dark and devastatingly attractive—not to mention built like a tank—with a charm that drew people to him. A gentle giant. But he wasn't as refined a man as she was accustomed to. He seemed more comfortable among the roughnecks at the refinery than the shareholders. Mitch, on the other hand, had seemed perfectly at ease with the elite of D.C. They had attended half a dozen parties and fundraisers together—Mitch on his brother's behalf, of course—and he could schmooze with the best of them. He was clearly the brains behind Brody Oil and Gas.
And the brother she clearly was falling for.
So many men treated her like a brainless, witless showpiece. Better seen and not heard. But Mitch listened to her. He heard her, and seemedgenuinely interested in what she had to say.
She realized suddenly that he was meeting her gaze across the table, a grin on his ridiculously handsome face. A face that had become quite familiar over the past few days. She had memorized every line and curve, the slope of his nose, the sensual shape of his chocolate-brown eyes, the fullness of his lips and sharp set of his jaw. She knew every expression and nuance. And the smile he wore now was an amused one.
"What?" she asked.
"You haven't heard a word I've said, have you?"
He was right. He'd been talking about his business, which obviously meant more to him than anything else, and she had completely zoned out. In her own defense, it was tough to watch those full lips move and not become entranced, not be lulled by the deep tenor of his voice. But that was no excuse to be rude. She was usually an exceptional listener.
"I'm sorry," she apologized.
"I'm the one who should be apologizing. I'm obviously boring you to death. I forget that not everyone is as passionate as I am about the oil business."
"I enjoy hearing you talk about it. I guess I'm just a little tired. It's been a very busy week."
"It has," Mitch agreed, with a smile that was just this side of seductive. "My brother has no idea what he's missing."
Did he feel the same connection, the same longing for her that she had for him? Or was he simply being polite? Was he just naturally flirtatious, like his brother?
"It's late. I should get you back to the hotel."
Just for a moment, she let herself believe that he couldn't wait to get her back to her room so he could make passionate love to her. The idea both thrilled and terrified her. She had always hoped her first time would be special, and she knew without a doubt that with Mitch, it would be.
But that wasn't going to happen because she was marrying his brother. And shouldn't she save something as precious as her virginity for her spouse? Even if it wasn't a real marriage?
He summoned the waiter and paid the exorbitantly high bill without batting an eyelash. What did she expect when he took her to the most exclusive restaurant in D.C.? Money was obviously of no concern.
He helped her up from her seat and walked her to the door. She took pleasure in the way every head in the room swiveled in his direction. Men watched with envy as their female companions swooned, eyes filled with silent longing.
Sorry, girls, he's all mine. At least until she became officially engaged to Lance. If only she could capture this time and make it last forever. Make a life with Mitch instead of Lance.
The limo was already waiting for them as they stepped out into the hot and muggy evening air, but the soft leather felt cool as she slipped inside. "The Watergate Hotel," Mitch told the driver.
She hoped they would talk more on the way there, but his cell phone rang. He checked the display and told her, "Sorry, but I have to take this."
Though he said nothing specific, it was clear by his tone that the conversation had something to do with the fire at the refinery. She'd heard from her father that the investigation pointed to arson, and though there were no solid suspects, rumors were spreading that Lance's rival, Alejandro Montoya, might be responsible. She couldn't understand why anyone would put so many lives in danger, but having grown up around politics, she'd learned that some people were capable of terrible things.
Mitch disconnected just as the limo pulled up to the hotel. Usually they parted ways in the lobby, as their rooms were in different wings, but tonight Mitch offered to accompany her to her door.
He was just being polite, she told herself. But why now? Why was tonight any different than the last?
The air seemed to sizzle with electricity as they rode the elevator up to the penthouse. More than usual she felt acutely aware of his presence beside her. Or maybe it was just her imagination.
When the doors slid open, he touched her waist to lead her out. His hand felt huge, and warmth seeped through the silk of her sundress, making the skin beneath tingle. She couldn't recall him touching her this way before, and she was sure she would have noticed. When they reached her door, he took the key from her and opened it. She stepped inside and he leaned against the jamb.
"I had a nice time tonight, Lexi," he said. There was heat in his eyes as they searched her face, then drifted lower, to the front of her dress, where, thanks to her very expensive and uncomfortable push-up bra, her breasts swelled over and begged to be noticed. He did notice, and he obviously liked what he saw.
She had never been one to play the seductress, but tonight she was feeling the part. Would it hurt her, for the first time in her boring and proper life, to do something scandalous and wicked? Something just for herself? Who, besides the two of them, would ever know? After years of chastity, hadn't she earned one night of unbridled passion and ecstasy?
She knew without a doubt he would give her exactly that.
"I had a nice time, too," she said, gazing up at him through the fringe of her lashes, wearing what she hoped was a seductive smile. Maybe it was the wine, or the candlelit dinner, but she could feel her inhibitions melting away. "Would you like to come inside for a nightcap?"
Without hesitation he stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. She opened her mouth to ask him what he wanted to drink, but before she could make a sound his arms were around her, drawing her against him. Her nipples tingled almost painfully as they pressed against the wall of his chest and her knees went weak with excitement. Then he lowered his head and kissed her. Her lips parted with a surprised gasp, and he dipped in for a taste.
She expected him to plunder and dominate the way the men did in her favorite romance novels. Instead, his lips were soft and gentle, his touch tender. In spite of having wanted this with all of her heart, she was so stunned she was actually kissing her future brother-in-law that she stood stiff in his arms.
He must have interpreted her reaction as a rejection, because he released her and pulled away. "I'm sorry," he said. "But I've been fantasizing about doing that all night. All week."
So had she, and she wasn't going to blow it. She wasn't going to let her fear of the unknown ruin this chance for a night with the man of her dreams.
She grinned her most wicked smile and slid her hands up his chest, wrapping them around his neck. "Then why did you stop?"
This time when he kissed her, he didn't stop. And when he took her to bed, he proved to be everything she had imagined.
Last night had been the most amazing, terrifying and wonderful night of Lexi's life. She'd had no idea two people could connect—could be in perfect sync—the way she and Mitch had been. She had tried to hide the fact that she was a virgin, but of course he'd figured it out. She'd worried that he might be angry or put off, but the opposite had been true. He'd been so sweet and gentle with her. What could have been a painful, awkward experience had been more beautiful than she had ever imagined possible.
The instant she woke the next morning, cradled in a cocoon of warm silk sheets that still held the scent of Mitch's aftershave, she knew without a doubt that she wouldn't be marrying Lance. She wanted Mitch. And she was sure that if she pleaded her case to her father, he would see that the other Brody brother would be a much better match. As far as he was concerned, it was only the Brody name that was important.
Before she even opened her eyes she smiled to herself and began to imagine what life would be like married to Mitch. How happy she would be because they would love each other. She imagined what their children would look like. They would have a son who would be tall and fit with Mitch's dark hair, olive tones and striking features, and a girl, pretty and graceful with Lexi's creamy complexion and blond hair.
They would have a ceremony in the garden at her father's Houston estate, then honeymoon somewhere warm and exotic. Maybe Cabo San Lucas, or the Bahamas. And if Mitch was agreeable, they could try to conceive while they were there. What better time to get pregnant than on her honeymoon? She had always wanted to be a mother, to have at least three or four children.
Lexi heard movement in the room and realized Mitch was already up. She peered at the clock on the bedside table, surprised to find that it was barely 7:00 a.m.
"Are you awake?" Mitch asked.
She rolled to face him, ready to smile and say, why don't you climb back in bed and find out, but he was already showered and dressed, and when she saw the look on his face, her heart sank. Then she realized, of course he would look distressed. He was about to steal his brother's fiancée. Maybe he thought she loved Lance.
She sat up, holding the sheet against her bare breasts. "Good morning."
"We need to talk," he said.
She nodded, barely able to contain her excitement. Here it comes. He was going to tell her he loved her, and beg her to marry him instead of Lance. Of course she would say yes. Then he would undress, and climb back into bed, and she would spend the rest of the morning showing him just how much she loved him. Then everything would be perfect, just like the happily-ever-afters in the romance novels.
His expression somber, he said, "I don't suppose I have to tell you that we've made a drastic mistake."
She had to replay the words several times in her mind, convinced she must have misunderstood.
"No one can ever know that this happened," he continued, his tone grim. "Especially my brother."
He might as well have reached into her chest and ripped out her heart, because that was the way it felt. The fierce, hollow ache was nearly unbearable.
For years she had endured her father's criticism and indifference. No matter what she did to please him, however closely she played by his rules, it was never enough to win his love. Now, once again, she had been rejected by a man whose affection she desperately craved.
Maybe there was something wrong with her, something that made her unlovable.
"Lance is flying in this afternoon to officially propose," Mitch told her. "You have to pretend that everything is fine, and nothing has changed."
How could she act as though everything was fine when she was falling apart? And how could she have been so stupid? Why didn't she see that it was just sex to him? Maybe it was some sort of warped sibling rivalry. Maybe Mitch seduced all of his brother's girlfriends.
Humiliation burned her from the inside out, but she would die before she let Mitch know.