This is so not the romantic vacation she planned! Instead of a let's-rekindle-this-relationship getaway, PR rep Melanie Ambrose is en route to Cancún with a Dear Jane letter and Hunter Ryan, her smoking-hot new bodyguard. To make matters worse, there's only one available room at the hotel she booked with one bed!
The truth is, Melanie has been so career-focused that she's ignored what she wants. And faced with sun, sand and an incredibly sexy companion, a deliciously hot and naughty fling seems the exact thing to help her reset her focus. But as the days pass, Melanie wants to change their arrangement so this doesn't end when they get back on the plane
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Something was wrong. Nearly everyone in the airport was naked.
Melanie Ambrose glanced around and frowned before rounding on her boyfriend. Dang it, he had broken their deal. "You said you were done working! We're on vacation, Ian, as of midnight last night. Our flight to Mexico is in an hour." She flung a finger out to point at the group of men and women sitting bare-assed on the hard plastic chairs in O'Hare's Concourse B. "This looks like work."
She shouldn't have trusted him to get to the airport on his own. She should have swung by his apartment and scooped him up, but it was out of the way and Ian hadn't wanted to stay at her place because he hated her bed. She'd agreed to arriving separate and now this. So annoying. Absolutely and utterly annoying. The whole reason their relationship was crumbling was because Ian worked all the time. She understood that his photography business was commercially successful beyond his wildest dreams, and that there were responsibilities and expectations, but this vacation was supposed to give him a much-needed rest. And her, a much-needed orgasm.
He held up his hands and gave her an apologetic shrug. "Mel, baby, I couldn't resist. I've not shot at the airport before, and what a perfect opportunity to capture the shuffling of humanity. It's brilliant. And I owe the idea to you."
She was not falling for that, or for his sexy New Zealand accent. "Whatever." She let go of the handle of her carry-on and looked down at her toes. The fifty dollars she'd just spent on a pedicure better not have been wasted. "We're not missing our flight," she told him flatly.
"Don't be so churlish," he reprimanded, pushing his glasses up. He looked past her, flagging someone down.
She turned and noticed one man in a suit, looking absolutely out of place amongst all this exposed flesh. The poor guy was probably just trying to catch a business flight and had wandered into Art. In the form of breasts and butt cheeks.
Melanie turned her attention back to Ian, giving him a glare. "It's nine in the morning! Our flight is supposed to leave at ten." She considered herself incredibly reasonable. She never complained about his schedule or questioned him about the company he kept. She respected his art, and as the PR rep for his company, Bainbridge Studios, she worked hard to make sure his climb up the ladder of success was smooth. But they'd been planning this trip for two months.
Escaping Chicago in December for the beach was bliss enough, but she'd been looking forward to the opportunity to rekindle a bit of romance.
Apparently, he wasn't in as much of a rush to drink wine and knock boots as she was. It was a bit deflating. A lot deflating.
"I'll find a later flight. You go ahead as planned. Hunter will go with you."
Um. "Who the heck is Hunter?" Melanie's Southern accent was resurfacing as she became agitated. "And why on God's green earth would I want to fly to Mexico with him?"
"This is Hunter." Ian gestured behind her. "He's your new bodyguard."
Melanie turned and saw the man in the suit standing a discreet distance behind them. He nodded briefly. She was officially confused.
"Ian, why do I need a bodyguard? You're the one being stalked." Some woman who had never even met Ian fancied herself in love with him and had been bothering him for over a year. At one point, Savannah the Stalker had been charged and Melanie had thought that would be the end of it, but a jury had found her not guilty and almost immediately she'd gone back to sending alternating love letters and threatening emails. "She doesn't even know about us. That's part of why we've kept our relationship on the down low."
Another source of friction between them. It sucked having to pretend you were primarily your boyfriend's employee in public. She was over it.
Looking uncomfortable, Ian bent closer to her. "It seems she's found out about you, because I got a disturbing email a few days ago. I didn't want to tell you and spoil the trip. But I don't think it's safe for you to be without some protection."
Great. She was at risk of being attacked by a random crazy person. "You can protect me. Come with me."
He frowned. "I have this shoot set up." He briefly touched her hand and kissed her forehead. "Go with Hunter. Go on. For me, so I don't have to worry about you.
Melanie felt like a five-year-old being sent off to kindergarten against her will. There was no arguing with him. He wouldn't change his mind, not with a terminal full of nude volunteers. Sometimes she wondered if she were cut out for the role of Artist's Girlfriend, because the whole slave-to-the-muse thing got old really quickly. But it was flattering that he was worried about her safety. She sighed. "Call me when you board your flight. Have a good shoot."
"Thanks, Mel. You're the best." He turned and left, going over to Sam, his assistant, and leaving Melanie standing there feeling incredibly defeated.
But there was no sense crying over it. She turned and gave Hunter a smile. "Hi, I'm Melanie. Nice to meet you."
"Hunter." He shook her hand. No smile.
Which ticked her off a bit. Sure, he was on the job, but the man was going to Mexico to sit on his butt and watch her splay her body out on a beach towel. It was a cake jobshe wasn't really in danger. That was total paranoia on Ian's part. Even if Savannah knew who she was, she wasn't likely to hop a plane to Cancun to track her down. That required cash and a passport, and the average stalker wasn't going to add international travel to their bag of harassing tricks. So why did Hunter look so sour?
"This might be the most boring assignment you've ever had," she warned him as she retrieved the handle of her carry-on and started walking toward their gate.
"Possibly. But I've had a lot of less-than-exciting assignments."
Excuse me? She shot him a sideways glance. He didn't look as if he was making a joke, which led her to the conclusion that he might simply be a jerk. A good-looking jerk, mind you, but a jerk nonetheless. What, as if it was her fault she wasn't a celebrity or a political figure surrounded by pushy paparazzi and people with agendas? She was just a PR rep from Kentucky. Who didn't need a bodyguard, plain and simple. Then again, the man was just doing his job, and she could respect that. "Well, I hope you packed your trunks, since we're going to Mexico. It's better than being stuck here, that's for sure."
"I have to agree with you."
She had a thought. "Do you have a gun on you? Is that legal?"
"I have a license to carry concealed, but no, I did not bring a gun."
"Good." That was reassuring. She didn't want to be detained and body probed by TSA at any point on this trip. That was not the kind of probing she'd had in mind at all. "You do know this is all totally ridiculous, right? My boyfriend is being overly protective." Ian had never been like that in the past, but it was warming her girl bits now, she had to admit.
Hunter gave her a look she couldn't decipher. Lord, the man was attractive. If she were single, she'd want a piece of that. He was the very definition of tall, dark and handsome. Smoking hot. Like fivealarm, sweet and spicy Texas barbecue hot. Finger-licking good.
He must hit the gym every day, because the man had muscles that were no accident. He'd gotten those biceps by sweating, hard. Melanie began to perspire just picturing it, which was startling and completely inappropriate. She wasn't normally one who went for bulked-up manly men, but Hunter's physique paired with that suit was quite a winning combination. His jaw was strong, his eyes an intriguing shade of green. Not that fake contact-lens green you sometimes saw, but a true mossy shade, with flecks of gold.
Yes, the man had been whacked with a sexy stick, and she could appreciate looking without wanting to touch.
Too bad he had zero personality.
And why did she care anyway? She had a boyfriend. A distracted, moody boyfriend, who had stuck her with this hunk of hotness for the next twelve-plus hours. It was nice to know Ian trusted her, she supposed. She wasn't sure she would have if their positions were reversed. But then again, he had no reason to be insecure. Melanie frequently worried that maybe she was more into Ian than he was into her. That was a thought she quickly banished, though.
"If you say so," Hunter told her.
What was that supposed to mean?
He glanced down at his phone, then gestured to their right. "This is our gate. Perfect timing. We're boarding."
"Okay." She started to veer off in the direction of the restroom for a preflight potty break, but squawked when Hunter grabbed her arm and pulled her to a stop.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
Melanie blinked up at him, giving a pointed glance down at his hand, still holding her arm. "To use the toilet," she said bluntly, hoping that would make him back off. It didn't.
"You can go on the plane," he told her.
"You think someone would buy a plane ticket to get past security just so they could assault me in the ladies' room?"
"I wouldn't rule it out."
"Then you live in a sad little world," she told him. But she obediently got into the boarding line with him. Once Ian arrived in Cancun, there would be none of this nonsense. They were going to hole up in their hotel suite and bang like bunnies, Hunter nowhere in sight.
She hoped anyway. Things hadn't been stellar in the bunny-banging department lately. Or any department, for that matter. It was worrisome. She wasn't ready to pack it in on her relationship with Ian, even if he was often distracted. Even if it had to be a secret. That would be like admitting defeat, and she didn't do defeat, even when she felt defeated.
Fifteen minutes later she was settled in her seat next to her stony-faced bodyguard. A bodyguard. It made her feel pretentious and ridiculous. Not to mention somewhat like a prisoner. While she struggled to stuff her very large purse under the seat in front of her, Hunter sat and watched. She could feel his eyes on her as she heaved and hoed, her blond hair falling in her eyes. When she finally sat back up, he just silently handed her an envelope.
"What is this?" she asked, confused yet again.
"I don't know. I was told to give it to you once the cabin door closed."
A wisp of fear slithered up her spine. That sounded sketchy, but she instantly dismissed the thought. The envelope was the kind that greeting cards came in. Maybe it was a romantic note from Ian, a gesture to make up for his complete failure to understand how important this vacation was to her.
Turning her back slightly on Hunter so he couldn't read over her shoulder, she opened the envelope and pulled out a card. Not a pretty vellum paper card, but the cards they used at the office to send personal notes. It was one of Ian's mass nudes depicting a dozen people in a tree. Decidedly less promising. She recognized Ian's handwriting inside.
Dear Melanie, I think we both know this isn't working. To delay the inevitable in Cancun doesn't make any sense. We've had a good run but it's time to move on, and consciously uncouple. Enjoy the beach, and I'll see you at work when you get back.
Best, Ian Melanie read it three times, her heart racing as she tried to convince herself there was another meaning to it. But there wasn't. Ian was breaking up with her. On work stationery. After putting her on a plane with a bodyguard.
"Oh, my God," she said before she could stop herself. She grappled for her seat belt, unbuckling it. "I have to go." She couldn't sit here; she couldn't go to Mexico. She needed to get off this plane, away from all these people. She needed to breathe deeply somewhere in private, getting control of her emotions. After she tracked down Ian in Concourse B and asked him how he could be so damn insensitive as to dump her in a Dear Melanie letter.
Then punched him in the no-nos.
This couldn't be happening.
"What are you doing?" Hunter asked her. "We're about to take off. Put your seat belt back on."
"I have to get off this plane," she insisted.
"Are you sick? Afraid of flying?"
She shook her head, panicking, unable to speak. Ian had purposely waited until she was trapped on board so she couldn't even discuss it with him. It was mind-blowing and insulting and vomit inducing.
Hunter's hand settled on the back of her neck, big and warm, gently urging her head forward toward the seat-back tray. "Breathe," he commanded. "Take a deep breath, nice and slow. You're okay."
He had a deep voice, smooth. It commanded obedience, so she did as he said, sucking in a lungful of air and letting it back out through her nose.
"Again," he said.
After a few breaths, she felt marginally better. And like a complete idiot. "I'm sorry."
The plane was backing up off the tarmac and heading for the runway. She was going to Mexico whether she wanted to or not.
"Don't apologize. A lot of people are afraid of flying." His hand massaged the back of her neck. "Are you okay?"
She nodded and sat up again, hoping he'd take his hand off her. While it felt good to have him kneading the knots out of her neck, she was acutely aware of how unfitting it was. He got the hint and dropped his hand. Bracing herself, she turned to look at him, still clutching the stupid note from Ian in her sweaty palm. Those green eyes were gazing at her calmly, and with concern. Maybe Hunter wasn't such a jerk after all.
"What did Ian tell you?" she asked. She needed to know if Hunter had been aware of Ian's plan, so she would know if she needed to die of humiliation or not.
"About this trip?"
"That he has a stalker and you're in danger. I got the file on her so I know what she looks like. You don't need to worry."
"I'm not worried about Savannah." She wasn't. Savannah would be where Ian was, not where Melanie was. "I think you coming with me is pointless. No offense."
The corner of his mouth turned up. "None taken. But I've been hired to do a job, whether you think it's necessary or not."
"Ian's not coming," she told him flatly. There was no way to cover it up. If he didn't know now, he'd figure it out by nightfall.
But there was no reaction. Just a blank stare. "Was he supposed to come with you? I was under the impression you were taking the trip solo for R & R."
Excellent. Wonderful. This was officially the vacation from hell. And the ironic thing? She had paid for it. She had put the whole goddamn tab on her credit card as a grand gesture to let Ian know she valued him and their relationship. Even though he was a millionaire and she made thirty grand a year, she had taken on the bill. For love.
Now she was going on vacation with a total stranger who was witness to Ian consciously uncoupling them.