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The Tycoon's Convenient Bride ... and Baby
By Shoshanna Evers, Erin Molta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Shoshanna Evers
All rights reserved.
Lauren Peters kept her eyes shut, luxuriating in the feel of Mack's large hands running over her skin. What's that noise? She moaned and opened her eyes, the dream dissolving as she awoke on the couch. Someone was pounding on her front door.
She padded barefoot to the entranceway and stood on her tip-toes to peer out the peephole.
"Mack?" she gasped.
Maybe I'm still dreaming — but no, this was real. Why on earth was her brother Joe's business partner here? Droplets of rain ran down his chiseled jaw, which was clenched tight, a little muscle twitching. He couldn't see her through the peephole and his fist came up, pounding the door again in the rain.
Her cheeks burned with embarrassment.
Calm down, it's not like he can read your mind.
Mack couldn't possibly know she'd just been having a very ... um, vivid dream about him. Despite the fact that he was completely off-limits and that she rarely saw him unless they were at an event, Mack Hansen had become her go-to fantasy man.
Maybe being "off-limits" made him so desirable to her ... so easy to dream about. He was exactly her type, physically at least. Tall, dark hair, muscles like an athlete, and the sort of jawline that usually only graced movie actors. He was also a grade-A playboy, with a different woman on his arm at every single family function he was invited to, which was all of them.
His large fist came up again to knock once more, and Lauren realized she'd been letting him stand in the rain while her sleep-fogged brain woke up. It had to be after midnight.
She flung the door open, a rush of cold, damp air flying into her face, the raindrops slanting sideways with the wind.
"What are you doing here?" she blurted.
"May I come in?" Mack asked.
"Oh my goodness, of course," she said, shaking her head at her lapse in manners.
She moved aside and he stepped into the grand foyer with its two story entranceway, dripping water onto the marble floor. His huge frame — all six-foot-something of it — seemed to fill the space.
"I'm glad you're here," he said.
"Of course," she said. "Are you okay? What's wrong?"
"It's pouring out," Mack said.
Water dripped off him in little rivulets. He raked one large hand through his dark, soaking wet hair. Funny, she'd just been thinking about those big hands of his ...
"I'm so sorry," Lauren said, "Let me get you a towel. You're soaked. Do you want me to grab you some clothes from Joe's room? I'm sure he won't mind. You guys are about the same size. You know, giant-sized." She laughed nervously.
He nodded silently, not returning her smile.
What the hell was Mack, of all people, doing here? Surely he knew Joe was out of town and Lauren was here babysitting.
Despite Lauren's busy schedule, her brother and his wife hadn't exactly had to twist her arm to get her to watch her infant niece Callie while they went on a "restorative cruise" on their yacht. Poor Joe and Marisol — they'd only been parents for a few months, and everyone could tell that their relationship was falling apart. Maybe it was a mix of post-partum depression or baby blues or something, plus the fact that Joe had only married her because she had gotten pregnant, but they had really needed a vacation. Hopefully, Marisol and Joe were reconnecting and relaxing on their yacht right now so they could come home revitalized and ready to deal with parenthood.
But it's not like Joe would take two weeks off and not inform his business partner. So Mack had to know Joe wouldn't be at his house in Chappaqua tonight. Which meant Mack had driven almost an hour upstate from Manhattan, in the storm, knowing Joe wouldn't be home.
Maybe he came to visit me.
Her heart pounded at the prospect, but she knew there was no way that was the case. From the look in his eyes, there'd probably been some sort of business deal that fell through.
Lauren sprinted up the stairs and grabbed a towel and the first pair of jeans and T-shirt she could find in the walnut armoire in the master bedroom.
"Here you go," she offered when she got back to the foyer.
He took the towel and clothes wordlessly and stripped off his shirt right there in front of her, not making any effort to hide his muscular physique. It was obvious he felt completely comfortable in his best friend's home, despite the late hour and the fact that only Lauren and the baby were there.
His broad shoulders, tanned and muscled, filled her field of vision. The T-shirt went over his head, too quickly covering his torso. He looked up and caught her staring.
"Sorry," Lauren said. Wow. "You know Joe and Marisol are on vacation, right? They're not home."
"I know they're not home."
Surely he wasn't really here just to see her? Though he had shown up well after midnight and immediately taken his shirt off ...
Don't be silly, he's not hot for me. He's just so used to me. He sees me as a sister the way he sees Joe as a brother. "Are the clothes okay? Do you want something to drink?"
"I'm going to change my pants," he said pointedly.
Her cheeks blazed as she turned around to afford him some privacy. "What are you doing here?" He stripped right in front of her and she was embarrassed that she'd fallen for it, staring at him like that. He'd probably done it on purpose.
Lauren mentally added "arrogance" to her list of reasons she didn't date rich playboys. "You could have changed in one of the bathrooms," she grumbled.
"Turn around Lauren, we have to talk."
Something about the way he said it made her pulse race. Please tell me you're here hoping to have sex. Ugh, she had to focus, not fantasize. Where did that thought even come from? In ten years, Mack had never once tried to sleep with her. There had to be a reason for that, right? And Lauren definitely wasn't in the habit of having one-night stands. Or multiple-night stands.
"Okay," she said, walking into the kitchen and sitting on one of the high stools at the center island with the granite countertop. "What's up?
Mack didn't sit. He leaned against the stainless steel refrigerator door like he needed something to hold up his massive frame.
"I don't know how to say this," he began.
"Mack," she interrupted. "You've never been one to mince words, right? And since when have you worried about what I think? Just spit it out."
Tightness washed over his face as if he were clenching his jaw, grinding his teeth. "Joe left me a very disconcerting message."
"About the new Cortlandt place?" Their latest shopping center acquisition had been a source of much frustration as they'd tried to get all the pieces in place so they could take over. Joe hadn't stopped talking about it for the past few weeks.
"This is hard enough without you guessing what's wrong," Mack said sharply.
She'd known Mack for ten years and she'd never seen him angry. Ever. Her brother told her the reason he partnered up with Mack was because Mack never lost his cool. He was all business — he'd negotiate deals by looking only at the numbers, and never let emotions affect him. But now ...
"I drove here from Manhattan to tell you in person," he said, "and then we need to figure out together whether or not to go to the authorities with the information, or whether the safest course of action is to sit on this."
"What are you talking about, Mack?"
"Joe made some investments with the wrong person. It snowballed. He got wind of some information he shouldn't have, and now I think this guy Scorino is after him."
Lauren hadn't heard any of this from Joe. He'd let her believe everything was fine. The name Scorino sounded familiar, though. "What are you saying?"
"Joe told me he was worried about his safety. The guy after him is dangerous, and knows dangerous people. He said something about lying low for a while — really low. There's a possibility ... that he's faked his own death."
"What? Back up. He's on vacation. Not dead, or fake dead, or anything like that."
Mack stepped in close, too close for comfort. Having his body so near triggered a flash of her steamy dream about him. Now he was here, in reality, his face inches from hers. His deep brown eyes never left hers, as if he was searching for the truth.
Lauren gasped. How? "They're not missing," she protested weakly. "They're on their yacht."
"Joe and Marisol had an itinerary. They were supposed to dock, refuel, and restock their yacht yesterday, at the halfway point of their trip."
"Was that yesterday?"
Time had flown — she'd totally forgotten Joe said he'd call when he was in port to check up on them. Yesterday she'd taken Callie to the park and had forgotten her cell at home, then came back and immediately became immersed into the little routine she'd set up with the baby. Bottles, naps, cleaning, playing. It hadn't even occurred to her to check her phone.
Today she'd also spent the whole day hanging out with Callie, sneaking in naps whenever the baby slept. As far as she knew, the house phone hadn't rung, and she was pretty sure the only calls she got on her cell were from her harried assistant, calling to ask her millions of daycare- oriented work questions. Standing firm on her need for a break from work, Lauren hadn't checked her email or picked up the phone once. And she hadn't thought twice about it.
"I was expecting to have a video meeting with Joe and a potential client," Mack continued, "and I knew Joe wouldn't skip it unless something had happened. We planned it around when he'd be at port and everything."
"What are you saying?"
"They never made it, Lauren. Joe and Marisol went out on their boat and they never made it back to port. When I didn't hear from Joe I called the local authorities in Cabo and they did an air and boat sweep of the area. They scanned a three thousand mile radius and they didn't find anything. They searched all yesterday, and again today."
"And you never called me?" she whispered, shock crashing over her like a cold ocean wave.
"I did call you, Lauren. I texted you. I emailed you. You've been incommunicado all frigging day. I even broke down and called your mom in Boca — I left a message on her voicemail asking her to call me back."
"She never checks her voicemail, only the caller ID," Lauren said. "How could he do this?"
"It was all a big mistake, getting in with those guys. Joe didn't realize that, though, not until he knew too much — and I have no idea what exactly they're after him for. I don't even know if he went to the police."
"He must have. He's not an idiot," she argued. "He must be in real danger if he was desperate enough to do this." Lauren's stomach dropped. Bile rose in her throat. "If he's faking his own death, then why is Marisol with him?"
"I'm thinking he told her his plan so she wouldn't worry, and she insisted on joining him. That's what I think. It's ... it's the only explanation I have for their disappearance. Joe's an expert yachtsman. There's no way they'd get lost at sea." Mack furrowed his brow in concentration.
She'd seen that look before, when he and Joe had discussed business. And she imagined he'd make a face similar to that when he was close to a climax ... at least, he had in her fantasy.
Focus, woman. Mack had come to her to talk to her about something so intense it was no wonder she was having trouble believing it all wasn't part of a dream.
Maybe she'd wake up.
Lauren's head spun as she tried to wrap her mind around what he was saying. "They wouldn't leave Callie," she said. "They love that baby too much to abandon her like that."
"He'd leave Callie if he thought her life was in danger if she was with him. If Joe really had people after him, going missing for a few months and giving everyone time to cool down would be the safest thing he could do for her — and for Marisol."
She couldn't think straight, couldn't take a proper breath. This was all happening too fast. Callie was asleep upstairs, who would care for her if her parents were in hiding for months, maybe longer?
Lauren looked up at Mack. "When did you get a message from Joe, then? What did he say, exactly?"
"It was right before he left on his trip. His exact words were 'I'm in too deep, and we need to lay low for a while. Really low.'"
"That's what he said. But then he said, 'It's okay — everything will work itself out with a little time.' And then he either hung up or got disconnected, I don't know. And then he left for the cruise and now he's missing."
"Maybe the reason they can't be found is the FBI put them into temporary hiding. Is that possible?"
"If Joe discovered evidence of Scorino's criminal activity, then I'd say yes, it's very possible. If a hit was put out on his life and he had to act fast — very fast — the witness protection program might have decided their vacation was the best time for them to disappear."
The thought was oddly comforting. If the FBI was protecting them, they'd be safe. "And then it makes sense why no one's found them yet," she added.
"Not even bodies."
"God, don't say that!" Lauren gasped.
There was no way Joe was dead. She'd know if something was wrong, she was his twin, she always knew when something was wrong.
"I'm sorry." Mack stepped away from the refrigerator and wrapped his arms around her in an unexpected hug, pulling her off the kitchen stool and into his embrace. He wore Joe's shirt, and the scent of it triggered a memory of the last time she had hugged her brother, even though being pressed against Mack's muscular torso was a completely different sensation. He'd never hugged her before.
"He said everything would be fine soon. I trust him."
"I need a drink," she said, disentangling herself from Mack's hug. It had caught her completely by surprise, and she was certain he hadn't meant it to have an ... arousing effect on her, not at a time like this. "You want something?"
He glanced at her, and for a moment she imagined he might answer You. But no, that was only in her fantasy. Not in real life.
"Scotch, straight up," he said.
Lauren took a half-filled bottle of expensive scotch out of the liquor cabinet in the butler's pantry and poured double shots into two tumblers.
"Last time I saw you do shots was at your college graduation party, remember?" He chuckled.
"I don't remember much about that night," she lied. They had shared a drunken kiss, many years ago on the night of her graduation. She'd promptly pretended to forget, preferring to be thought of as someone who drank until she blacked out over someone who had given in to her long- time lust for her brother's best friend.
Their fingers touched as she handed him his glass, and she couldn't help but notice the jolt of heat that passed between them. Guilt filled her. How could she be thinking about anyone in that way at a time like this? But it wasn't just anyone. It was Mack — and damn if he hadn't always had this kind of effect on her. An effect she'd never acted on ... as long as you didn't count the stolen kiss at her graduation party, which she didn't.
Despite the length of time they'd known each other, Mack had always been on the fringes of her life, always little more than an acquaintance, despite his closeness to Joe. He was her brother's friend, not hers. Truth be told, this was probably the longest conversation she'd ever had with him.
And she'd been off the market, so to speak, since high school, all the way through college. Until her ex had dumped her on graduation night, which made her getting wasted and kissing Mack the only thing that had made sense at the time.
"Thank you," he murmured, draining his glass.
"I don't know what I'm going to tell our mother," she said.
"I think you should tell her what we know. Otherwise she'll think Joe and Marisol are dead."
"Now? Do we have to do it now?"
Mack's eyes flickered to the baby monitor sitting on the granite counter top. "It's up to you. If it were my child who was missing, I'd want to know right away."
Child. "Mack, what about Callie? What's going to happen to Callie if her parents are presumed ..." she swallowed, forcing herself to say the word. "Dead?"
Excerpted from The Tycoon's Convenient Bride ... and Baby by Shoshanna Evers, Erin Molta. Copyright © 2014 Shoshanna Evers. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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