Read an Excerpt
IF THERE WAS ONE THING GRANT CASSIDY HATED more than anything, it was PR. Doing commercial shoots was a necessary evil, and some he disliked more than others.
But right now he was in board shorts and bare feet, standing on a beach in Barbados, about to do a shoot for the annual swimsuit edition of a pretty damned famous sports magazine. There were about two dozen barely clad, tanned, and gorgeous models who were going to take part in the shoot along with several athletes.
All in all? Not a bad gig.
“This I could get used to.”
Grant grinned as one of his best friends, Trevor Shay, stood next to him.
“Don’t get too used to it. Your girlfriend will kick your ass if you get too close to any of these models.”
Trevor crossed his arms. “Yeah. I really wish Haven could be here in Barbados with me. But she’s in school right now and couldn’t make it. She did tell me to behave myself. Like that was even necessary. Trust me, none of these women are as beautiful as mine.”
Grant laughed. “You’re blinded by love, my man.”
“It’s true. I am. And perfectly happy to go back to my bungalow at night all by myself. How about you? You like dating models. Got one scoped out yet?”
He had dated models in the past. They were beautiful and fun. “I wasn’t exactly looking.”
“It’s still early in the day. I have high hopes for you.” Trevor slapped him on the back as the assistant director motioned for him. “Hey, I’m up. I’ll catch you at the bar later.”
Grant stayed close and watched as Trevor was put into a shot on a hammock with a beautiful, dark-skinned model. The model straddled Trevor, who Grant had to admit handled the whole thing professionally. As soon as it was over, Trevor shook the woman’s hand and wandered off in the direction of the pool.
“You’ll be up next, Grant,” the assistant said. “We’re pairing you up with Katrina Korsova.”
“Sure.” He knew who she was. Korsova was a big deal in the modeling world, one of those supermodels whose face and body were plastered all over billboards, in magazines, and on television. She was a beauty. He was lucky to be doing the shoot with her. It would advance his profile, and he was all about exposure.
If he had to be here doing this shoot for the sports magazine, at least he was being paired up with one of the best in the business.
Once they readied the shot on the beach, he was called over and set up on his marks. He stood in the water up to his ankles. They’d already primped his hair, his face, and his skin. It all felt weird to him, but he’d done photo shoots before. They told him it was to combat shine and to make sure his hair would be gelled appropriately enough so it would behave.
Whatever. He was paid to do what he was told, just like in football. So he stood where they told him to stand.
“We’re ready for you, Katrina,” he heard the assistant say.
The models were clustered in shaded cabanas before the shoot, so he’d only caught glimpses of them on and off.
Katrina stepped out, a gorgeous woman with long hair the color of midnight, wearing a swimsuit bottom that barely clung to her hips. It was more like two tiny pieces of cloth tied together with scraps. There wasn’t much to the top, either. Just a couple of triangles that hardly covered her generous breasts.
She was curved in all the right places, and after she bent over so they could spray her hair wet, she straightened, flipped her hair back, then gave him a look.
Wow. Those eyes. They were so deep blue they were almost violet. Maybe they were violet. He had no idea, because he’d been struck dumb as she approached him.
He’d been around plenty of beautiful women before, but Katrina was . . . wow. Photos of her didn’t do justice to what a knockout she really was.
“Grant Cassidy, this is Katrina Korsova.”
She gave him a quick nod, then turned to the director, obviously all business and not as thunderstruck by him as he had been by her.
He was going to try not to be offended by that. Then again, she likely worked around good-looking male models all the time. He was no big deal, at least not in the modeling world.
“I want your arm around his, Katrina,” the director said. “Katrina, your right breast against his chest, with you facing him. Let’s see some heat here.”
It was as if they were on a movie set and the director had said, “Action.” Where she had previously ignored him as if he didn’t exist, now Katrina moved into him, her body warm and pliant as she slid her hand into his hair and tilted her head back. Their hips touched, their thighs made contact, and then she made eye contact with him.
He’d never felt that pow of instant connection before, but he sure as hell felt it now. It was as if lightning had struck the center of his universe, and every part of him felt it.
Katrina blinked a few times, then frowned.
“The angle. Give me a second,” she said. He’d expected some type of Russian accent, but there was none, just the smoky hot darkness of her voice spilling from her lips. It was like drinking whiskey on a cold night. The sound of her voice heated him from the inside out. He’d never been slammed so hard like this before.
Katrina adjusted, her fingers tangling in his hair, giving him a bit of a tug.
His lips curved. “So, you like that?” he asked.
“Just a job,” she responded, then gave him a smoldering look, tilted her head toward him, and jutted her hips out enough to hit him right in the crotch.
Goddammit. She’d done that on purpose.
He could do it as well. He raised his hand and laid it above her hip, knowing he couldn’t obscure the swimwear. After all, that’s what they were advertising. His fingers bit into her skin, enough that he caught the flash of awareness in her eyes.
“Yes, that’s perfect,” the director said. “Hold it there.”
Grant heard the click of the camera several times.
“Now move. Get into each other. Lean in, touch. Be mindful of your angles, Katrina. And Grant, follow her lead.”
“Yes, Grant,” Katrina said, shifting a little, then picking up his hand and placing it on her butt. “Follow my lead.”
It wasn’t like he hadn’t had to pose for a photo session before. He wasn’t a rookie here. He knew what he was doing, how to move and react to the camera, and when to be still.
Katrina might be the pro here, but he could play the game, too. He cupped her butt, making sure he didn’t squeeze. He slid his fingers lightly over her skin, tucking his fingertips slightly inside the edge of her suit.
He heard each breath she took, saw the smoldering look in her eyes, and his body reacted.
So did hers, as her nipples pebbled, brushing against his chest.
His lips curved.
Just a job his ass.
He moved with every few clicks of the camera, turned his head, shifted his body against hers, making sure their clothes remained the focus while keeping his gaze intently on hers. When he drew a strand of her hair between his fingers, letting his knuckles brush the swell of her breasts, he heard her sharp intake of breath.
“Just a job, right?” he asked, turning her around so her back was to him. That way he could skim his hand down her arm, letting his fingers rest at her hip.
“This is perfect,” the director said. “Keep doing what you’re doing.”
He listened to the sound of Katrina’s breaths, got comfortable with her ass nestled into his crotch.
They fit damned perfect together. She was tall—taller than the average woman. He didn’t have to crouch down to fit her to him. She had long legs. Really nice legs, too. He’d noticed . . . everything about her.
“Okay, let’s break for a few,” the director said. “You both need an outfit change. Then we’ll resume.”
Before he had a chance to say anything, Katrina pushed off and walked away, heading into the cabana. Her assistant, or whoever, handed her a bottle of water, and she disappeared without a word to him.
Friendly, wasn’t she?
He wandered off at the direction of the staff to change his board shorts and to have his hair and makeup adjusted. When he came back out, Katrina was in a short robe.
He was called out toward a tree facing the sun.
“Ready for you, Katrina,” the director said.
She dropped the robe, and Grant blinked. Katrina wore only a thong bottom. She stood still while they arranged her hair to partially cover her breasts.
And what fantastic breasts they were, too. He decided to look elsewhere, like out on the water, until she showed up in front of him. In this game they were playing, it was best for him not to show a physical reaction.
“Katrina, you against the tree. Grant, you plant one hand above her head to start, lean into her body.”
Some of the assistants positioned them while Grant and Katrina made eye contact.
She met his gaze with a cool one of her own, a challenge to him, as if she’d done this a million times, as if rubbing her breasts against his chest wasn’t a big deal. To her, it probably wasn’t. She wanted to know if he’d react.
To him, he had a gorgeous, half-naked woman pressed up against him, and his dick was trying very hard to respond to that, while he was trying equally as hard to convince his dick nothing was going to happen out here on the beach with twenty other people watching.
“Ready?” the director asked.
Katrina tilted her head back toward the sun. “Yes.”
Grant gave a quick nod, hoping like hell this wouldn’t take long, especially since every time Katrina moved, she rubbed her breasts against his chest. And because she was topless, they had to take special care that no nipple was visible. They took every shot carefully, stopping to rearrange her hair or strategically place his arm or hand.
It was interminable. Katrina was patient through every shot, but to Grant, it was like a goddamned eternity.
“Is it always like this?” Grant asked Katrina during one of the many breaks.
Clearly comfortable standing around having her hair and makeup retouched, Katrina cocked her head to the side. “Like what?”
“Hours of this. Click and change positions. Click and redo the hair. Click and clothing changes.”
“Oh. Yes. Always like this. Why? Are you bored?”
His lips curved and he took a glance downward where her hair barely covered her generous breasts. “Hardly.”
She rolled her eyes. “I doubt these are the first set of breasts you’ve seen. Not from what I’ve read about you.”
“And here I thought you had no idea who I was.”
“Oh, I know who you are, Grant. You’ve dated a few of my friends.”
He wondered which ones. None of them were on location with him, and he’d always remained friends with the women he dated, so he doubted they had anything bad to say about him. “Is that right. And did you get a full report?”
“So that means you’ll have dinner with me tonight.”
She laughed, and he liked the sound of it.
“I don’t think so.”
He wasn’t insulted, and he liked her confidence. They finished the shoot for the day since, according to the director, the light was leaving them. Katrina grabbed her robe and wandered off, and Grant went back to his bungalow to shower off the makeup and hair gunk. He checked his phone and answered a few e-mails and text messages.
Trevor had sent him a text stating he was going to set up a face-to-face call with Haven, so he was staying in his room.
That meant Grant was on his own tonight, which was fine with him. He returned a few calls, one to his agent, Liz Riley. She talked to him about finalizing his contract since the season would be starting soon. He told her he’d come in and see her as soon as he got back to town.
Football season was gearing up, and he was due to the practice facility in St. Louis in two weeks.
He was ready. He’d been in training and was in shape, and was more than ready for the season to start. This was a nice mini vacation prior to getting back to work, though. Soon enough he’d have his head in the game, and it would be all he thought about.
After getting dressed in a pair of shorts and a sleeveless shirt, he made his way to the main bar at the hotel and ordered a beer. He grabbed a seat at one of the tables outside, content to sip his beer and people watch, one of his favorite pastimes.
He saw a few of the models come outside. They sat at a table not too far from where he was, all of them talking and laughing.
They were all beautiful women. Tall and slender, with great hair, pretty smiles, and amazing bodies. But he found himself searching for only one woman.
He had no idea why, when she’d clearly blown him off. She was probably out on a date tonight with some hot male model. He’d seen a few of those guys today as well.
But then he caught sight of Katrina coming through the bar. She was by herself, carrying a tote bag. She stopped to talk to the bartender, who nodded. Then she walked past Grant without saying a word, and pulled up a chair at a table by herself.
Not with the other models, who seemingly ignored her as much as she was ignoring them.
She pulled out a book and a pair of glasses, and one of the waitresses brought her a tall glass of what looked like iced tea with lemon. She opened the book and started to read, oblivious to everything—and everyone—around her.
Huh. Not at all what he’d expected.
He watched her for a while, waiting to see if she was meeting someone. After about thirty minutes, he realized no one was going to show up. He stood, grabbed his beer, and went over to her table and pulled out a chair to take a seat.
She lifted her gaze from her book and settled it on him. She didn’t offer a smile.
“Did you get lost on your way to some other table?” she asked.
“No. But you were alone.”
“Precisely. On purpose.”
She waited, as if she expected him to leave. He didn’t take a brush-off all that easily. “I thought you might want some company.”
“You thought wrong.”
“Does that icy-cold stare work on all men?”
“Why aren’t you with your friends over there?”
She took a quick glance at the other table, then back to him. “Do you think models travel in herds?”
She had a sharp wit. He liked that about her. “Sorry. I guess not. What are you drinking?”
He signaled for the waitress, then held up two fingers and motioned to their drinks. She nodded and wandered back inside.
“Really, Grant. I’m fine. And I’d like to be alone.”
“No one wants to be alone.”
“Okay, fine. I don’t want to be alone. I figured we’d have dinner together.”
With a sigh, she set down her book and took off her glasses. “Just because we worked together today doesn’t mean we have anything in common, or that we shared a moment or anything.”
She paused for a few seconds, and he held her gaze. Damn, there was something about her eyes. He liked women just fine, and always had a good time with them. He’d had a few relationships that had lasted awhile and had ended amicably. But not one woman had ever shocked him with the same spark he’d felt with Katrina today.
He wanted to explore that, see if he could push through her frosty exterior.
“I’m reading a book.”
“So you said. It’s a good one. I’ve read it before.”
She frowned. “You didn’t even look at it.”
“I saw it when I sat down.”
She crossed her arms. “Okay, fine. What’s it about?”
“There’s this guy, and he works for the CIA. But he’s a double agent, working both sides. You don’t know throughout the book if he’s a good guy or bad guy, or if the other CIA agent he hooks up with in Seoul is on his side, or out to kill him. So when they both show up on the train—”
She held up her hand. “Stop. I haven’t gotten to that part yet. Fine, I get it. You’ve read it.”
“You thought I was bullshitting you.”
“You wouldn’t be the first.”
The waitress brought their drinks. “Thanks,” Grant said. “Can we see some menus?”
“I don’t want to see a menu,” she said to the waitress, who walked away anyway. She turned her attention back on Grant. “I don’t want you to sit here with me. Honestly, are you always this rude?”
“Not always. You bring out the best in me.”
She rolled her eyes.
“So tell me why that book.”
“I like suspense and crime fiction.”
“You don’t strike me as the type.”
Her brows lifted. “Type? Why? Did you expect I’d be thumbing through a fashion magazine? Or perhaps you thought I didn’t know how to read, so I would just look at the pictures. Do you expect all models to be dumb?”
Man, was she ever sensitive. “That would be stereotyping, and I’d be the last person to do that. And no. You looked like the type to read books on . . . I don’t know. Psychology or something.”
She laughed. “Why?”
He picked up her dark glasses. “You look so smart wearing these.”
“I am smart. With or without the glasses.”
He could tell he was digging the hole even deeper with every word he said. “Sorry. I’m not getting this out right. I’ve dated a few models.”
“So I’ve heard.”
He sighed. “A lot of them have different interests. One was a certified scuba diver, so I learned to dive when I was dating her. One was a hiker and a climber. I did some heinous climbs with her.”
“You dated Elesia?” she asked.
She wrinkled her nose. “She’s a pit viper.”
He laughed. “I’m not even going to comment.”
“You have interesting taste in women.”
“I like women who intrigue me and challenge me. Not just a pretty face.”
“Good to know the modeling world isn’t growing old and moldy with no men to date as long as you’re around. After all, where would we be without our sports stars to take care of us?”
“Now who’s stereotyping? I’ve also dated a schoolteacher, an accountant, a microbiologist, and a landscape architect.”
She took a sip of her tea. “It’s nice you’re spreading it around.”
He couldn’t help but laugh. “So tell me what interests you, Katrina?”
* * *
KATRINA DIDN’T WANT TO LIKE GRANT CASSIDY. SHE didn’t want him sitting at her table, yet there he was, drinking his beer and looking absolutely gorgeous.
She’d wanted to be alone, and she thought about spending the evening in her room, so she could read. But it was too beautiful here, and the beach and sea air beckoned, so she’d put on a pair of shorts and a tank top to come sit beachside for dinner.
Obviously a huge mistake, because no matter how hard she tried to insult the man, he simply wouldn’t leave.
And no matter how hard she tried to deny the chemistry she felt during their photo shoot today, she couldn’t.
She posed with male models all the time. Sometimes fully naked. She’d never felt anything. It was her job. She knew it, and so did the guys. But making eye contact with Grant Cassidy today, there’d been some kind of . . . she didn’t even know how to describe it. A zing somewhere in the vicinity of her lower belly. A low warming that had spread when he’d laid his hands on her.
Even now, hours later, she could still feel his touch, the way he’d looked at her. She’d wanted . . . more. And if there was one thing Katrina never wanted from a man, it was more of anything. She was too focused on her career to spend any time at all thinking of men. Work was everything to her, and men were a distraction.
Like now. He sat across the table from her, all big and tan and smiling at her like he had exactly what she wanted.
Only she didn’t want it. She wanted no part of anything he might have to offer.
She couldn’t want it. Still, she couldn’t help herself.
“I’m surprised you read that book,” she said.
“Now who’s stereotyping? You think I’m a dumb jock, that all I read is sports magazines.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“I actually have a degree in accounting. And yes, I did graduate before I went out for the draft.”
She studied him. “Accounting. I don’t see it.”
“I was going to go for a law degree, but I like numbers better. I minored in finance. I wanted to make sure I could oversee my earnings with knowledge. I’ve seen too many football players blow it all or not know where their money is going, and a few years after they retire, the money is gone.”
He was smart, too. She liked that.
She leaned back and looked at him. “Do you have an investment portfolio?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. With the high income a successful model commands, I imagine you do as well.”
“I do. And I know exactly where my money is going.”
“See? I knew you were a smart woman, Katrina. Smart and beautiful—a lethal combination.”
She couldn’t help but appreciate that he mentioned the smart part before the beautiful part. Too many men never paid attention to the fact she had a brain. All they saw was her face and body and never even wanted to have a conversation with her. Which was why she didn’t date. She didn’t have time for men who were that superficial.
Grant seemed . . . different. Yes, there’d been that spark of chemistry at the photo shoot today, but so far all he’d done was talk to her. He hadn’t sat down to ogle her or hit on her. It was kind of refreshing.
Not that she had any interest in dating him, but when was the last time she’d spent time talking with a man she wasn’t connected to in the industry? She wasn’t going to bed with him, but there was no harm in sharing conversation and having a meal with him, was there?
“Okay, fine. Let’s see what’s on the menu for dinner.”
FOR SOME REASON, KATRINA AGREEING TO DINNER felt like he’d won some kind of battle, that she didn’t do this type of thing all that often. Grant would take that as a victory, even a small one.
“How long have you been a model?” he asked her.
“I was signed by an agency when I was seventeen. Close to my eighteenth birthday. So almost ten years now.”
“That’s a lot of your life. Ever want to do anything else?”
She shrugged, and took a sip of water. “I make good money, and modeling isn’t something most of us do all our lives. I’ll do something else later. Since I started modeling early, I didn’t get a chance to go to college, so that’s one of my long-term goals for after the modeling career is over.”
“College is a good goal, especially since you didn’t get to it after you graduated high school.”
“Unfortunately, no, I didn’t. It wouldn’t have been an option for me anyway.”
She stared at him for a few seconds, then waved her hand back and forth. “Not an interesting story. Forget I said that.”
“Why don’t you let me be the judge about what’s interesting or not? Why wasn’t it an option for you?”
Their waitress brought dinner, so she didn’t answer him. But he got the idea she’d said something she wished she hadn’t. Now he was curious and wanted to know more about her.
“Are you going to make me guess in a twenty questions kind of way, are you going to tell me, or will you just tell me it’s none of my business?”
She lifted her gaze from her plate. “What?”
“The reason you couldn’t go to college.”
“Oh. That.” She hesitated. “It was nothing.”
He wasn’t buying it, because if it was nothing, she would have just told him. Like something inane to talk about over dinner. “So you did jail time and had to put your college career on hold?”
She laughed. “No.”
He waved his fork at her. “You’re an international spy?”
That made her laugh harder. “Nothing that exciting, I’m afraid.”
She went back to eating. Her way of dropping the subject.
“You’re really not going to tell me. This makes me think you’re harboring a deep, dark secret. Maybe I wasn’t so off the mark about the spy thing. Or maybe you were held prisoner in a foreign country during your formative years.”
She laid her fork down and gave him a direct look. “My mom died and I had a younger brother and sister I had to take care of. Around the same time, I got the offer from the agency and started booking modeling jobs, so it all worked out great. That was the reason I didn’t go to college. Sorry, nothing nefarious or exciting.”
She made it sound so matter-of-fact, when it must have been a nightmare for her. “Katrina. I’m sorry about your mom. You were seventeen, right?”
“That must have been so hard for you. Your dad—”
“Was not in the picture. It’s just me, Leo, and Anya.”
“Leo and Anya are your brother and sister?”
“Tell me about them. How old are they?”
“Leo is fifteen. Anya is seventeen.”
Having finished his fish, he pushed his plate to the side. “They’re young. So they must have been really young when your mom died.”
“Who took care of them after? Did you have aunts and uncles?”
She laid her fork on her plate. “No. It was just me. We had no other family.”
This story kept getting worse. “Jesus, Katrina. You raised those kids? And worked full-time as a model?”
“You make it sound like it’s a big deal.”
“It is a big deal. You were just a kid yourself.”
She shrugged. “They’re my family. We’re a family. We had no one else but each other. What was I supposed to do? Child services wanted to take them away and put them in foster care. Can you believe that? I wouldn’t allow it—couldn’t allow it to happen. I booked jobs right away and fortunately I turned eighteen not too long after my mother passed away, so I filed for custody of the kids. Since I had immense earning potential, the courts let me have guardianship over them.”
Grant’s chest tightened at the thought of what Katrina must have gone through. Losing her mother, being all alone, and having the burden of raising her two younger siblings thrust upon her all at the age of seventeen. The pressure of her situation must have been overwhelming.
“You had no one to help you?”
“I hired a really good au pair, because I had to travel for work. I put the kids in good schools and I bought a really nice apartment in New York. I was home as much as I could. We’ve managed just fine.”
“I’ll bet you did.” He looked at her. “I have to admit, I’m damned impressed. You could have bailed.”
She lifted her chin. “I would have never done that. I love my sister and brother.”
“A lot of girls that age would have, faced with that responsibility. I admire you for taking it on, for having the balls—or the courage, I guess I should say. You’re an amazing woman.”
“I did what anyone else would have done, given the same circumstances.”
“I don’t think so. You don’t give yourself enough credit. I’m not sure I would have done the same thing. At seventeen all I wanted to do was play sports and party. The thought of that much responsibility—of having to raise my siblings?” He dragged his fingers through his hair. “No way in hell would I have been able to take that on.”
She smiled at him, and it was like the sky had lit up. “Oh, I don’t know, Grant. You don’t know what you’re capable of until you’re backed into a corner. I’m sure you would have done the same thing.”
He thought about his brothers. Hellions, all of them. A lot like him. He wasn’t the oldest, Flynn was. But still, with three brothers? Plus a little sister? Could he have done it? He didn’t know.
Hell, he did know. No way.
“Maybe. I’ll never know because I have two parents who raised me, and I lived a very comfortable life.”
“Then you’re very lucky.”
“Goddamn right I am. And you just made me realize how very lucky I am. And how very special you are for what you’ve done.”
“I didn’t tell you that story to make you admire me, Grant. I shouldn’t have told you at all.”
She was uncomfortable. Embarrassed, even. He had no idea why. “I’m glad you told me. It’s nice getting to know you.”
She shook her head. “I never tell anyone about that.”
The waitress came and took their plates. “Can I get you something else?”
“No, I’m fine, thank you,” she said, and started to gather her things, sliding them into her bag. “I should go.”
“Wait. What?” He signed the ticket, charging the meal to his room. “Why are you leaving?”
“I’ve told you enough.” She stood. “Too much.”
She hurried away. Grant followed, though she was hard to keep up with because she was practically running.
She ignored him, so he hustled to catch up with her, grasping her arm as she made it down the walkway in between the restaurant and the cabanas.
“Stop. Talk to me.”
She wouldn’t make eye contact. She had her arms wrapped around her bag.
“Hey. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable, if I made you say something you didn’t want to say.”
She lifted her gaze to him. “I never tell anyone about my past—about the kids. That’s . . . private. I don’t know why I told you.”
He took her elbow and led her down toward the beach, where it was quiet. Fortunately, she came willingly. Whatever was bothering her was clearly upsetting. “I’m glad you did, but don’t worry. I’m not planning to broadcast it to anyone.”
“I don’t like those models with those sad backstories, you know? They use it to get media attention and that’s just not me.” She slung her bag over her shoulder, seeming a little more relaxed now. “I want my work to speak for itself. And I need to protect the kids. They have enough to deal with without having the media hounding them.”
He grinned as they walked along the beach. She glared at him.
“You go all protective mama bear when you talk about Anya and Leo.”
“Shut up. I do not.” But her lips tilted upward. “Okay, maybe I do. You don’t even know what it’s like—” She stopped herself. “Right. Of course you know what it’s like.”
“Is that why you don’t date anyone famous? To keep the cameras away?”
“I have enough cameras on me in my work. I need to keep them out of my personal life. And it’s not like I’m going to meet a guy at the corner coffee shop.”
He nodded. “You are a little intimidating. You probably scare the shit out of men.”
She stilled, then turned to face him. “I do not. I’m very nice.”
He pinned her with a look. “Yeah, you were all warm and welcoming when I took a seat at your table tonight.”
“That was different. You barged in on my time with my favorite book.”
“Duly noted. Don’t get between you and your books. Otherwise you’re totally approachable.”
“Okay, maybe not so much. It’s not that I don’t date anyone famous. I don’t date . . . anyone.”
He pulled her to a sitting spot on the sand. “Okay, now I find that hard to believe. You’re young, you’re beautiful, and well traveled. This is the time of your life you should be dating your ass off. And you’re telling me you don’t go out. Why not?”
She shrugged and stared out over the ocean. “I don’t have time.”
“Okay. I get that you’re busy, and you’re in high demand. But you get time off.”
“I spend my time off with the kids.”
“They’re teenagers and likely want to spend their time off with their friends.”
She didn’t answer.
“I’m right, aren’t I?”
She still didn’t answer, but that gave him time to study her profile. A lot of women didn’t like to be viewed at certain angles. Especially the models he’d dated. There were all these angles they’d preferred. Something about head-on being their most attractive feature, or they liked gazing into his eyes, or some such bullshit. Katrina didn’t have a problem giving him her profile. And why not? She was stunning from any angle. Or maybe she just didn’t want to make eye contact with him, because he was hitting too close to the truth.
“Katrina. You took on a lot of responsibility at such a young age. You’re entitled to go out and have some fun, ya know.”
“I have plenty of fun when I travel.”
He cocked a brow. “Do you? Are you having fun now?”
She gave him a half smile. “Loads.”
“I’ll bet.” He stood, brushing the sand off his butt and legs. He held his hand out for her, then tugged her up. “Come on.”
“Wait,” she said as he held tight to her hand and pulled her back toward the hotel. “Where are we going?”
He shot her a grin. “To have some fun.”
KATRINA FELT LIKE SHE WAS ON SOME ROLLER coaster, being dragged to the top, only to plunge down the abyss at around a hundred miles an hour.
In the dark.
In the short span of an hour, she’d been sent to her room to change. Grant had told her “comfortable,” and since she had no idea what he had in mind, she changed into a sundress, plus sandals. She’d thought about objecting. Hadn’t he been listening when she’d told him she didn’t date?
Why did she even agree to this? She could have told him to kiss her ass, which was her typical response to pushy, aggressive men, especially the ones who asked her out. Though he hadn’t asked her out, had he? He hadn’t even given her time to ask what the hell was going on. He’d told her to change, that it was high time she have some fun.
Whatever. Fine. She’d have “fun,” because it was obvious he wasn’t going to go away until she did. Then she was going to bed, because they were shooting again in the morning.
When she’d come out of her bungalow, Grant had been waiting for her. He’d changed, too, into cargo shorts plus a short-sleeved shirt. She had to admit, he was some rather nice eye candy, and not in the typical pretty-boy-model way, either. He was real. Rugged, tall and lean and good to look at.
“Ready to go?” he asked.
“Where exactly are we going?”
“You’ll see.” He held out his arm, which she took, letting him lead her to the front of the hotel, where there was a private car waiting for them.
“Seriously,” she asked. “Where are we going?”
“You said you don’t get out much. So we’re going out.”
“I already had dinner.”
He held the car door for her. “Never said we were gonna eat.”
She knew she should have hidden out in her room tonight. This was ridiculous. Still, it might not hurt to get out a little, and she was curious now.
She slid into the seat and he climbed in after her. The car took them for a ride around the island, to the bay, where they got out at the docks.
“You’re not going to throw me in the water, are you?”
He laughed, then took her hand as they walked down the dock. “No.”
At the end of the dock was a catamaran.
“I thought we’d take a cruise tonight—see the sunset.”
Normally she worked, then she went to her room to read, or hung out near the water. She very rarely went in it—or on it. She loved the water, and getting out on it wasn’t the worst idea ever. “Sounds okay.”
He held her hand as she climbed aboard, then kept hold of it, forcing her to meet his gaze. “Don’t get too enthused.”
“I’ll try my best.”
They were met by the captain and two crew members, one named Jay, who told them all about the catamaran and the cruise, including where they’d be sailing.
“We’ll take a tour around the coast of the island, and make sure you’re able to catch an awesome view of the sunset tonight. If you’ll come forward, we have some champagne.”
Grant looked over at her. “I suppose you don’t object to champagne.”
“I do not.”
He held her hand as they moved toward the front of the catamaran when they took off. She took in the sensation of the breeze blowing through her hair. They leaned against the front of the catamaran, and Katrina watched the view of the shore as they pulled out farther into the water.
The sea was like turquoise glass, the waves calm as they turned and began to make a slow, leisurely trek parallel to the shore.
When Jay brought champagne, Grant picked two glasses and handed one to her. Katrina looked around.
“Where are the other people?”
She blinked. “You rented the entire boat?”
“They offered private sunset cruises. I thought that sounded fun. Maybe a little romantic.”
She shook her head. “Seems a waste of money. You could fit a lot of people on this thing. And don’t go looking for romance with me, Grant, because it isn’t going to happen.”
“You’re welcome, Katrina. I thought it sounded nice, too.”
She cocked her head to the side. “Fine. Thank you. But I’m still not interested—”
He held up his hand. “How about you stop worrying about all the things that aren’t going to happen, and just enjoy the view—and the champagne?”
She still couldn’t believe they were alone on the huge catamaran. What was he thinking? Even worse, what was the boat owner thinking? She mentally counted the number of people that could fit on there, and how much money he could have made fitting all those people on here.
Then again, maybe he’d charged Grant the same amount.
Whatever. Not her problem, since she wasn’t paying. She sipped her champagne and decided that was Grant’s problem, not hers. If he wanted to waste his money taking a private cruise, he could. She wouldn’t have done it, but since he had, she walked along the side of the catamaran, taking in every view since they had the run of the boat. Grant followed behind, commenting about things he saw on the land like fishing boats or shopping areas or hotels and places where people lived.
“Must be nice to wake up to a view like this every morning,” he said, noting some of the beachfront property.
“It would be, wouldn’t it?”
“I sometimes think about retiring to a place like this someday,” he said, his gaze searching out over the shore. “But then I figure after a month or so, I’d be bored as hell and I’d miss civilization.”
“I don’t know. I could get used to the island life. It’s pretty decadent. You wake up in the morning and throw on your swimsuit. If you have to run an errand, you put on a sundress and your flip-flops and head into town or wherever the nearest market is. You get to know all the locals, so you feel safe and protected, and everyone takes care of everyone else. Since I live in such a big city, that idea sounds idyllic to me.”
He nodded. “I can see your point. Still, I’d miss going to football games. I’d miss my family.”
She looked at him. “They have airplanes for that. You could visit.”
“True. But then there are the kids. Wouldn’t they be missing out on city life?”
She shrugged. “Who’d miss city life when they could grow up with something like this?”
“You raise valid points, Katrina.”
“Or, wait until your kids are grown, then retire to your island paradise.”
“Then I’d miss my grandkids, and someone’s got to teach them about football.”
She laughed. He was a pretty good companion, but she wasn’t going to say that because she didn’t want him to think she was interested in him. She was just along for the ride because he’d more or less bullied her into coming with him. And okay, the champagne was pretty good.
The boat had slowed. The sun had started to set, a beautiful orange glow sifting through the clouds and melting into the water. The glow sizzled as it sank lower by the second.
With no buildings or trees to obstruct her view, she had to admit this was a stunning way to see the sun set.
Grant held out his hand for her. “Come on, let’s move to the front and watch.”
She slid her hand in his, mainly because the boat was rocky and she didn’t want to fall overboard. They headed to the front of the catamaran, where nothing stood between them and the sunset but the water.
It was a little cooler here, and she shivered.
“Cold?” he asked.
He wrapped his arm around her and tugged her against him.
“Kind of makes you feel like you’re hovering at the edge of the world, doesn’t it?”
She watched the sun dip into the water, imagining she could hear it sizzle. “When I was little, I was always an early riser and I’d dash up to our building’s roof whenever I could and watch the sun come up. My mom hated for me to be up there all alone. She was always afraid a strong gust of wind would blow me off the roof. But I loved it there. I felt so free. It was just me up there, all alone, waiting for the sun to greet me.”
It took her a few minutes to realize Grant hadn’t said anything. She pulled her gaze away from the setting sun to find him looking at her. “Shouldn’t you be watching the sunset?”
“You’re a lot better to look at than the sunset. And I liked your story about the roof.”
She laughed. “It wasn’t a big deal.”
“Still, you shared it with me and I appreciate it.”
She didn’t know why she had. Another part of her past she’d divulged to someone who was practically a stranger. Maybe it was the champagne loosening her tongue. Then again, she’d been drinking iced tea over lunch when she’d told him about her parents and siblings, so she had no excuse.
What the hell was wrong with her tonight? She normally kept her past locked up tight. No one knew about it, yet in the space of a couple of hours Grant now knew more than she’d ever told anyone.
Not that it mattered, since after this shoot she wasn’t going to see him ever again.
After the sun set, the boat turned around and made a leisurely sail back to the dock. Katrina couldn’t recall having a nicer, more relaxing evening, other than being alone and reading one of her favorite books.
Grant didn’t talk incessantly, and when he did, it wasn’t all about himself like a lot of men she knew. The man was good company. She liked her own company just fine, and mostly preferred it that way, since men were a complication she didn’t need in her already too-complicated life.
They both thanked the crew for a nice sail, and he held her hand as she stepped off the catamaran.
There was a car waiting for them at the end of the dock.
“It’s like you planned it that way,” she said as the driver got out and held the door for them.
“Kind of,” Grant said, and slid in beside her.
The ride back to the hotel didn’t take long. Grant took care of the tab for the driver, and then held her hand as she got out of the car. There was still a lot of activity at the resort, since it wasn’t all that late.
“Care for a drink at the bar?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I need to get a full night’s sleep since we’re shooting again tomorrow.”
He nodded. “I’ll walk you back to your room.”
“It’s not necessary. I know the way.”
“I’ll walk you anyway.”
She shrugged, and he stayed close to her as they made their way to her bungalow. She fished her key out of her bag, then turned to him.
“I had a nice time. Thanks.”
“That was probably painful for you to say.”
She nudged him with her elbow. “It was not. I can be charming and polite. Even fun.”
“I’m sure you can. But I can tell you don’t go out much. And you obviously aren’t comfortable around men.”
She pinned him with a look. “I’m extremely comfortable around men, since I shoot with them all the time.”
“That’s work. I’m talking about fun. Dating. Romance. You know, romance? That thing you said we weren’t going to have together? Or is it just me you don’t like?”
Now he was putting words in her mouth, and irritating her. “I never said I didn’t like you.”
“So you do like me.”
She rolled her eyes. “I didn’t say that, either.”
He laughed, then took the key card from her hand and opened the door to her bungalow. “Get some sleep, Katrina. I’ll see you in the morning.”
She was kind of shocked he didn’t push to come in for a drink, or even try to kiss her. “Okay. Good night, Grant.”
He nodded, and waited there while she closed the door and locked it. She put her purse down and kicked off her sandals. When she went to the window to check, he was gone.
And one she couldn’t figure out at all, which was odd, because she thought she knew men very well. But this man she intended to avoid, like she had made avoiding men a practiced art her entire life.
She had made independence her priority, knew better than to trust any man.
I’ll never leave you, my printsessa.
She could still hear her father’s voice in her head, promising he’d always be there for her.
Right up until he’d disappeared from her life forever, abandoning her and her mother without a word, shattering her world and her trust.
And then her mother had died, and she’d been on her own, spending years carving out the independence she’d worked so hard to attain for herself, and for her siblings.
She’d never let a man—any man—screw that up.
Even if her libido thought otherwise.
Grant Cassidy might be hot and sexy, and her sex drive might be revved up, but her sex drive could be tamped down.
She’d worked for ten years to make a life for herself, to make sure she’d never end up broke and alone. She’d made a careful plan, never once deviating from it.
And no man would ever interfere with her plan.
She just had to keep her body and thoughts under control. She’d done it for twenty-seven years; she could do it for another couple of days.
Easy enough, right?
IT WAS DAMNED HOT TODAY, AND THEY DIDN’T HAVE to do much oiling of Grant’s skin, because he was sweating like he’d just taken the ball himself and run it forty yards for a touchdown.
Good thing they decided on a shady shot, and in the water by some caves, which suited him just fine.
It also suited him that they decided to pair him up with Katrina again. The director told him he liked the chemistry between him and Katrina.
Yeah, Grant was into that chemistry, too. All over it, in fact. He’d like to find out if yesterday was just a fluke, or if it continued today.
They were at the mouth of the rocks in the shallow water. Katrina was in a turquoise swimsuit, some skimpy thing again that barely covered her. And again, she was oblivious to it all, just following directions as they set up the shot.
Grant had to lean against the rocks, with Katrina draped over him. The director was hot about this, saying it would be sexy as hell. Right now it was uncomfortable as hell and the rock was digging into his back. Good thing he had a gorgeous distraction, and as Katrina eased over his body, her breasts mashing against his chest, his back forgot all about the pain.
“Stretch out, Katrina,” the director said. “Now slide your fingers into his hair and extend your legs. That’s it. Grant, I want your left hand on her lower back, your fingertips just above her swimsuit bottom. Hold it—that’s perfect.”