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It was a mind-blowing night of passion between complete strangers. Or so it seems?
Then publishing mogul Wynn Hunter discovers that the ravishing temptress who'd shared his bed was none other than his childhood nemesis, Grace Munroe. No wonder he didn't recognize her?the scrawny, pigtailed brat has blossomed into a dazzling beauty.
Disastrous romances have made them both wary of entanglements. So when Wynn lures Grace to Australia...
It was a mind-blowing night of passion between complete strangers. Or so it seems
Then publishing mogul Wynn Hunter discovers that the ravishing temptress who'd shared his bed was none other than his childhood nemesis, Grace Munroe. No wonder he didn't recognize her—the scrawny, pigtailed brat has blossomed into a dazzling beauty.
Disastrous romances have made them both wary of entanglements. So when Wynn lures Grace to Australia for a family wedding, they're determined to keep things light. But when life-threatening chaos erupts in Wynn's family, can these childhood adversaries find the courage to fall in love?
"Beautiful, isn't she?"
Wynn Hunter gave the older man standing beside him a wry grin. "Hate to tell you, but that bridesmaid's a little young for you."
"I would hope so." Brock Munroe's proud shoulders shucked back. "She's my daughter."
Wynn froze; his scalp tingled. Then he remembered to breathe. As his mind wheeled to fit all the pieces together, he swallowed and then pushed out the words. Brock had three daughters. Now it struck Wynn which one this was.
"All grown up."
Brock didn't need to know just how grown up.
Had Wynn suspected the connection three nights ago, he would never have taken her back to his Upper East Side apartment-not so much out of respect for Brock, who was a friend of his father, Australian media mogul and head of Hunter Enterprises Guthrie Hunter, but because Wynn had despised Grace Munroe when they were kids. She'd made his blood boil. His teeth grind.
How could he have enjoyed the single best evening of sex in his life with that girler, woman?
"Grace gets her looks from her mother, like the other two," Brock went on as music and slow-spinning lights drifted around the Park Avenue ballroom, which was decked out for tonight's wedding reception. "Remember the vacation we all spent together? That Colorado Christmas sure was a special one."
Brock had met Guthrie as a Sydney University graduate vacationing at the newly opened Vail Resort. Over the years, they'd kept in touch. When the Munroes and Hunters had got together two decades later, Wynn had turned eight. Whenever he and his older brothers had built a snowman outside of the chalet the two families had shared, Grace and Wynn's younger sister Teagan had conspired to demolish it. Back then, Wynn's angel of a mother had still been alive. She'd explained that the six-year-olds had simply wanted to join in. Be included.
Now Wynn ran Hunter Publishing, the New York-based branch of Hunter Enterprises. Until recently, he had always prided himself on being an affable type. But that Christmas day, when Grace had tripped him up then doubled over with laughter as his forehead had smacked the snow-and the rock hidden underneath-he'd snapped. While she'd scurried inside, pigtails flying, Wynn's brother Cole had struggled to hold him back.
So many years had passed since then and yet, in all his life, Wynn doubted anyone had riled him more than that pug-nosed little brat.
But since then, her mousey pigtails had transformed into a shimmering wheat-gold fall. And her lolly-legs in kiddies' jeans had matured into smooth, endless limbs. He recalled that pest from long ago who had relentlessly poked and teased, and then remembered his mouth working over hers that amazing night they'd made love. When they'd struck up a conversation at that Upper East Side piano bar, Grace couldn't possibly have known who he was. Could she?
"How's your father and that situation back in Australia?" Brock asked as Grace continued to dance with her partnered groomsman and other couples filled the floor. "We spoke a couple of months back. All that business about someone trying to kill him? Unbelievable." Brock crossed his tuxedo-clad arms and shook his head. "Are the authorities any closer to tracking down the lowlife responsible?"
With half an eye on Grace's hypnotic behind as she swayed around in that sexy red cocktail number, Wynn relayed some details.
"A couple of weeks after my father's vehicle was run off the road, someone tried to shoot him. Thankfully the gunman missed. When Dad's bodyguard chased him on foot, the guy ran out in front of a car. Didn't survive."
"But wasn't there another incident not long after that?"
"My father was assaulted again, yes." Remembering the phone call he'd received from a livid Cole, Wynn's chest tightened. "The police are on the case but my brother also hired a P.I. friend to help."
Brandon Powell and Cole went back to navy-cadet days. Now Brandon spent his time cruising around Sydney on a Harley and running his private-investigation and security agency. He was instinctive, thorough and, everyone agreed, the right man for the job.
As one song segued into another, the music tempo increased and the lights dimmed more. On the dance floor, Grace Munroe was limbering up. Her moves weren't provocative in the strictest sense of the word. Still, the way she arranged her arms and bumped those hips Well, hell, she stood out. And Wynn saw that he wasn't alone in that impression; her first dance partner had been replaced by a guy who could barely keep his hands to himself.
Wynn downed the rest of his drink.
Wynn didn't think Grace had noticed him yet among the three hundred guests. Now that he was aware of their shared background, there was less than no reason to hang around until she did. It was way too uncomfortable.
Wynn gestured toward the exit and made his excuse to Brock "Better get going. Early meeting tomorrow."
The older man sucked his cheeks in. "On a Sunday? Then again, you must be run off your feet since Hunter Publishing acquired La Trobes two years ago. Huge distribution."
Brock was being kind. "We've also shut down four publications in as many years." As well as reducing leases on foreign and national bureaus.
"These are difficult times." Brock grunted. "Adapt or die. God knows, advertising's in the toilet, too."
Brock was the founding chairman of Munroe Select Advertising, a company with offices in Florida, California and New York. Whether members of the Munroe family helped run the firm, Wynn couldn't say. The night he and Grace had got together, they hadn't exchanged personal information no phone numbers, employment details. Obviously no names. Now curiosity niggled and Wynn asked.
"Does Grace work for your company?"
"I'll let her tell you. She's on her way over."
Wynn's attention shot back to the floor. When Grace recognized him, her smile vanished. But she didn't turn tail and run. Instead, she carefully pressed back her bare shoulders and, tacking up a grin, continued over, weaving her way through the partying crowd.
A moment later, she placed a dainty hand on Brock's sleeve and craned to brush a kiss on his cheek. Then she turned her attention toward Wynn. With her head at an angle, her wheat-gold hair cascaded to one side. Wynn recalled the feel of that hair beneath his fingers. The firm slide of his skin over hers.
"I see you've found a friend," she said loud enough to be heard over the music.
Brock gave a cryptic smile. "You've met before."
Her focus on Wynn now, Grace's let's-keep-a-secret mask held up. "Really?"
"This is Wynn," her father said. "Guthrie Hunter's third boy."
Her entrancing eyes-a similar hue to her hair-blinked twice.
"Wynn?" she croaked. "Wynn Hunter?'''
"We were reminiscing," Brock said, setting his empty champagne flute on a passing waiter's tray. "Remembering the time we all spent Christmas together in Colorado."
"That was a long time ago." Gathering herself, Grace pegged out one shapely leg and arched a teasing brow. "I don't suppose you build snowmen anymore?"
Wynn deadpanned. "Way too dangerous."
"Dangerous " Her puzzled look cleared up after a moment. "Oh, I remember. You were out in the yard with your brothers that Christmas morning. You hit your head."
He rubbed the ridge near his temple. "Never did thank you for the scar."
"Why would you do that?"
"You tripped me."
"The way I recall it, you fell over your laces. You were always doing that."
When Wynn opened his mouth to disagree-six-year-old Grace had stuck out her boot, plain and simple-Brock stepped in.
"Grace has been friends with the bride since grade school," the older man offered.
"Jason and I were at university together in Sydney," Wynn replied, still wanting to set straight that other point.
"Linley and Jason have been a couple for three years," Grace said. "I've never heard either one mention you."
"We lost touch." Wynn added, "I didn't expect an invitation."
"Seems the world is full of surprises."
While Wynn held Grace's wry look, Brock picked up a less complicated thread.
"Wynn runs the print arm of Hunter Enterprises here in New York now." He asked Wynn, "Is Cole still in charge of your broadcasting wing in Australia?"
Wynn nodded. "Although he stepped back a bit. He's getting married."
"Cole was always so committed to the company. A workaholic, like his dad." Brock chuckled fondly. "Glad he's settling down. Just goes to show-there's someone for everyone."
It seemed that before he could catch himself, Brock slid a hesitant look his daughter's way. Grace's gaze immediately dropped. He made a point of evaluating the room before sending a friendly salute over to a circle of friends nearby.
"I see the Dilshans. Should go catch up." Brock kissed his daughter's cheek. "I'll leave you two to get reac-quainted."
As Brock left, Wynn decided to let them both off the hook. As much as this meeting was awkward, their interactions three nights ago had felt remarkably right. Details of that time had also been private and, as far as he was concerned, would remain that way.
"Don't worry," he said, tipping a fraction closer. "I won't let on that you and I were already reintroduced."
She looked amused. "I didn't think you'd blurt out the fact that we picked each other up at a bar."
She really didn't pull any punches.
"Still don't want to get into each other's stories?" he asked.
"As it turns out, we already know each other, remember?"
"I didn't mean twenty years ago. I'm talking about now."
Her grin froze before she lifted her chin and replied. "Probably best that we don't."
He remembered her father's comment about there being a person for everyone and Grace's reaction. He recalled how she'd wanted to keep their conversation superficial that night. His bet? Grace Munroe had secrets.
None of his business. Hell, he had enough crap of his own going down in his life. Still, before they parted again, he was determined to clear something up.
"Tell me one thing," he said. "Did you have any idea who I was that night?"
She laughed. "There, see? You do have a sense of humor."
As she turned away, he reached and caught her wrist. An electric bolt shot up his arm as her hair flared out and her focus snapped back around. She almost looked frightened. Not his intention at all.
"Dance with me," he said.
Those honeyed eyes widened before she tilted her chin again. "I don't think so."
"You don't want the chance to trip me up again?" She grinned. "Admit it. You were a clumsy kid."
"You were a brat."
"Be careful." She eyed the fingers circling her wrist. "You'll catch girl germs."
"Don't be so sure."
"Trust me. I'm sure."
He shepherded her toward the dance floor. A moment later, when he took her in his arms, Wynn had to admit that though he'd never liked little Gracie Munroe, he sure approved of the way this older version fit so well against him. Surrounded by other couples, he studied her exquisite but indolent face before pressing his palm firmly against the small of her back.
Dancing her around in a tight, intimate circle, he asked, "How you holding up?"
"Not nauseous yet."
"No driving desire to curl your ankle around the back of mine and push?"
"I'll keep you informed."
He surrendered a grin. He just bet she would.
"Where's your mother tonight?"
Her cheeky smile faded. "Staying with my grandmother. She hasn't been well."
"Nothing serious, I hope."
"Pining. My grandfather passed away not long ago. He was Nan's rock." Her look softened more. "I remember my parents going to your mother's funeral a few years back."
His stomach gave a kick. Even now, memories of his father failing due to lack of sleep from his immeasurable loss left a lump in Wynn's throat the size of an egg. The word saint had been tailor-made for his mom. She would never be forgotten. Would always be missed.
But life had gone on.
"My father married again."
She nodded, and he remembered her parents had attended the wedding. "Is he happy?"
A frown pinched her brow as she searched his eyes. "You're not convinced."
"My stepmother was one of my mother's best friend's daughters."
"Wow. Sounds complicated."
That was one way to put it.
Cole and Dex, Guthrie's second-oldest son, had labeled their father's second wife a gold digger, and worse. Wynn's motto had always been Right Is Right. But not everything about Eloise Hunter was black or white. Eloise was, after all, his youngest brother Tate's mom. With his father's stalker still on the loose, little Tate didn't need one ounce more trouble in his life, particularly not nasty gossip concerning one of his parents running around.
Out of all his siblings, Wynn loved Tate the best. There was a time when he'd imagined having a kid just like him one day.
Wynn felt a tap on his shoulder. A shorter man stood waiting, straightening his bow tie, wearing a stupid grin.
"Mind if I cut in?" the man asked.
Wynn gave a curt smile. "Yeah, I do."
With pinpricks of light falling over the dance floor in slow motion, Grace tsked as he moved them along. "That wasn't polite."
Wynn only smiled.
"He's a friend," she explained.
What could he say? Too bad.
She looked at him more closely. "I'm confused. From what I've heard, Cole was the workaholic, Dex, the playboy. Aren't you supposed to be the Hunter brother with a conscience?"
"I grew up."
"And yet you're captivated by my charm."
Her lips twitched. "I wouldn't say that."
"So I dreamed that you came home with me three nights ago?"
She didn't blush. Not even close.
"I was feeling self-indulgent. Guess we connected."
"In case you hadn't noticed," his head angled closer,
"we still do."
Her hand on his shoulder tightened even as she averted her gaze. "I've never been in that kind of situation before." He admitted, "Neither have I."
"I can't regret the other night." She let out a breath. "But, I'm not interested in pursuing anything rekindling any flames. It's not a good time."
He felt his smile waver before firming back up.
"I don't recall asking."
"So, that hand sliding toward my behind, pressing me in against the ridge in your pants I kind of took that as a hint." Her smile was thin. "I'm not after a relationship, Wynn. Not right now. Not of any kind."
He'd asked her to dance to prove, well, something. Now he wasn't sure what. Three nights ago, he'd been attracted by her looks. Intrigued by her wit. Drawn by her touch. Frankly, she was right. The way he felt this minute wasn't a whole lot different from that.
However, Grace Munroe had made her wishes known. On a less primal level, he agreed. At the edge of the dance floor, he released her and stepped away.
"I'll let you get back to your party."
A look-was it respect?-faded up in her eyes. "Say hi to Teagan and your brothers for me."
Although these days the siblings rarely saw each other. But Cole was set to tie the knot soon with Australian television producer Taryn Quinn, which meant a family gathering complete with wily stepmother, stalked father and, inevitably, questions surrounding the altered state of Wynn's own personal life.
Until recently, he-not Cole or Dex-had been the brother destined for marriage. Of course, that was before the former love of his life, Heather Matthews, had informed the world that actually, she'd made other plans. When the bomb had hit, he'd slogged through the devastated stage, the angry phase. Now, he was comfortable just cruising along. So comfortable, in fact, he had no desire to ever lay open his heart to anyone again for any reason, sexy Grace Munroe included.
Wynn found the bride and groom, did the right thing and wished them nothing but happiness. On his way out of the room, which was thumping with music now, he bumped into Brock again. Wynn had a feeling it wasn't by accident.
"I see you shared a dance with my daughter," Brock said.
"For old time's sake."
" She might have told you Grace left New York twelve months ago. She's staying on in Manhattan for a few days, getting together with friends." He mentioned the name of the prestigious hotel. "If you wanted to call in, see how she's doing Well, I'd appreciate it. Might help keep some bad memories at bay." Brock lowered his voice. "She lost someone close to her recently."
"She mentioned her grandfather-"
"This was a person around her age." The older man's mouth twisted. "He was a firefighter. A good man. They were set to announce their engagement before the accident."
The floor tilted beneath Wynn's feet. Concentrating, he rubbed his temple-that scar.
"Grace was engaged?"
"As good as. The accident happened a year ago last week here in New York."