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This is paradise, Vanessa thought as she stood on the shore of the white-sand beach that overlooked the deep blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. Cheyenne's two-story home was located on a secluded cove in Montero Bay, on a private street with one other house.
Other than the pool workers, who arrived at nine and left by five, Vanessa was alone, except for the two days a week that the housekeeper showed up.
Cheyenne had already left for Italy by the time Vanessa had arrived so her first days were spent unpacking and shopping.
This was day three and she had decided just to do nothing. Since weather reports had predicted it would be another scorcher of a late-July day, she stayed inside working crossword puzzles and sipping lemonade while reading a book she had picked up yesterday. Later that day, after the workers had left, she gathered up her large straw hat, her beach bag, which was stuffed with a bottle of wine and a glass, and a huge towel to head down to the beach.
When she reached what she considered a good spot, she casually glanced around. This stretch of private beach was shared only by whoever was living in the house next door and so far the place appeared empty. According to Helen, Cheyenne's housekeeper, the house had changed ownership several times, and rumor had it someone had recently purchased it.
Helen had gone on to say that a few years ago, the house had been owned by some gorgeous Italian jet-setting playboy by the name of Chardon Argentina. And if you went along with what everyone believed, a number of seductions had taken place in that house. It was even rumored that many of Hollywood's leading ladies had been overnight guests.
Vanessa shrugged as she spread the huge towel on the sand and sat down. She was glad she didn't believe everything she heard. Besides, what had happened in that house was not her business. After placing the huge straw hat on her head and situating the brim in such a way as to block what was left of the sun, she glanced toward the ocean, thinking she could definitely get used to this. She'd never had an entire beach to herself. She was glad that Cheyenne had invited her to stay.
She, Taylor and Cheyenne had always been close, but it was Vanessa who had decided to stick with the family business instead of pursuing other careers as her sisters had. She had returned home to Charlotte and the Steele Corporation after getting a grad degree from Tennessee State.
Taylor, who was twenty-four, had graduated from Georgetown with a degree in business and a grad degree in finance. After college, she'd moved to New York to work at a major bank as a wealth asset manager and was doing quite well for herself.
After obtaining a degree in communications from Boston University, Cheyenne, who was twenty-two, had taken a reporter position at a television station in Philly and in less than a year, her looks, personality and keen intelligence had gotten her a promotion to the position of anchorwoman on the morning news. That job was short-lived as she had suddenly realized she wanted to do something different and had become a model. Modeling meant a lot of traveling and living in some of the most beautiful and exotic places in the world. A year ago, Cheyenne had been doing a photo shoot in Jamaica when she'd stumbled across this particular house, fallen in love with it and purchased it.
Vanessa leaned back on her arms with her legs stretched out in front of her. She tilted her head back to enjoy the feel of the evening sun on her face, as well as the salty spray from the ocean on her cheeks and lips. She couldn't help wondering what was happening back in Charlotte. Had Cameron arrived yet? Had he discovered her gone? Was he upset about it? Why did she even care?
She was deep into her thoughts when a movement caught her eye, and she turned her head. In the distance, in front of the property next door, she could see a man standing close to shore.With the palm trees partially blocking her view, she couldn't make out his features, but she could tell he wore only a pair of swimming trunks.And he was overpoweringly male.
She sat up as her heart began pumping wildly in her chest, and she wondered what on earth was wrong with her. It wasn't as though she hadn't seen good-looking men before. So what was there about this tall, broad-shouldered, long-legged, fine-as-they-come brother whose aura was seeping out to her over stretches of sand? And what was there about him that seemed so oddly familiar?
Biting down on her lip, she fought against one particular ultra-sexy male image that tried forcing its way into her mind. She simply refused to go there. She would not let Cameron creep into her thoughts. Tilting her head, she refocused her attention as she continued to gaze at the man, not seeing as much as she would like due to the shade cast by the palm trees, the fading evening sun and the emergence of dusk.
Since this was a private beach she quickly assumed he was the owner of the house next door and wondered who he was. A celebrity perhaps? Was he married, single or in between lovers like she was?
A lump caught in her throat when the man eased down his swimming trunks. It suddenly occurred to her that he was about to go swimming in the nude. Although their properties were separated only by a few palm trees, she wondered if he hadn't noticed her sitting hereif he had, evidently he didn't care.
She knew the decent thing to do was to ignore him, but she couldn't pull her gaze away. When he had completely removed the trunks, she held her breath and wished like hell that she had a pair of binoculars.
Reaching into her beach bag, she pulled out the bottle of wine and wineglass she had packed. By the time the man had dived into the ocean water she had not only poured a glassful but had quickly tossed back the contents, liking how the soothing liquid had flowed down her throat.
She decided to pour another glass, taking her eyes off the man for just a second. When she looked back, pausing with the wineglass halfway to her lips, he was gone. She sighed, wondering if she'd really seen him or if he'd been a mirage, a cruel trick of her imagination.
As she took a sip of her wine to calm her racing heart, a part of her knew that what she'd seen earlier had been the real thing.
• * *
Cameron Cody stood at the window and watched as the woman he intended to marry gathered up her belongings to walk back to the house where she would be staying for two weeks.
He didn't want to think what her reaction would be once she discovered he was her neighbor and that her flight from Charlotte had been for nothing. As soon as he had gotten wordthanks to her cousin and his loyal friend Morgan Steele that she intended to leave the country for a few weeks to house-sit her sister's home in Jamaica, he had changed his plans. No big deal. Where she went, he intended to follow. Her time for avoiding him had run out. At thirty-five, he was no longer interested in playing games. He was ready to make his move.
When he was sure Vanessa was safely inside the house, he moved away from the window toward the wet bar to pour himself a drink. He glanced around the home he had recently purchased, wanting to believe that luck was still on his side. It had been easy enough to buy this house within a matter of hours, his first move to gain what he considered the most valuable asset of his life.
As he sipped his brandy, he recalled the exact moment a little over three years ago when he had first laid eyes on Vanessa Steele. He had arrived at a very important Steele Corporation board meeting, one he'd assumed would give him total control of the Charlotte-based manufacturing company.
He had walked into the conference room, confident in his abilities and pretty damn positive that one of the Steeles would defect and throw their voting shares his way. After all, past experience had shown him that if offered the right price, family members had a tendency to prove that blood might be thicker than water but not thicker than the mighty dollar.
The Steeles had proved him wrong that day. In less than an hour he had walked away after encountering the first defeat of his career as a corporate raider. But that afternoon hadn't been a complete waste, since he had sat across the table from the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. He could admit now that he had focused his attention more on Vanessa Steele than on taking over her family's company.
The memory of that day would forever be etched in his mind. Something about Vanessa had immediately captured his attention. The moment he had gazed into her eyes he had suffered an instant jolt in his gut. he'd been mesmerized, awe-struck and captivated all at the same time. The other two Steele women had been just as good-looking, but it had been Vanessa who had caused his body and mind to react in all sorts of ways. Everything about her had turned him on, even when she had glared at him, which she'd spent most of her time doing.