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'Excuse me. I'm sorry. This is a private beach.'
Roane Elliott stepped tentatively closer. A full moon lit everything around her in shades of silver and grey, with black shadows that seemed to breathe with the ebb and flow of the tide. But her surroundings didn't worry her as much as the presence of the stranger; she might have known every rock, every path, every place the sand sank deeper beneath her feetbut she also knew she was too far away from a 911 call for it to help if she got into trouble
Her footsteps faltered. But it wasn't the sudden 911 thought that had done it; it was because she was now standing close enough to see he was
Her eyes widened. Oh, dear Lord. He was naked!
More than that, he was an Adonis. In the silvery light every tight muscle was defined in shadowy dips and shimmering planes from wide shoulders to tapering waist to taut
Her mouth went dry.
He turned around, so Roane swiftly averted her gaze, and mumbled under her breath, 'Look at his face.'
When she glanced at him from the corner of her eye her errant gaze didn't do what it was told. Well, who could blame her? He was sensational. She damped her lips as if she could taste him on the air before forcing her gaze sharply upwards, her palms itching with an almost primal urge to reach out and touch.
'This is a private beach,' she repeated with a little more force, lifting her chin to make her point. 'You shouldn't be here.'
'The ocean belongs to everyone.' Even the tone of his voice was magical.
Well, he could take that deep, rumbling, deliciously masculine voice of his that was doing something completely undiscovered to her pulse rate and
Her thought process stalled. Wow, he had the most amazing muscle definition on his chest and upper arms. Not pumped up, steroid induced definition, oh, no. He looked like the kind of man who worked at something very physical for a living. Or was a natural sportsman of some kind, a swimmer maybeno, not lean enough for a swimmer. Not that he was fat anywhere she could see, which was pretty much everywhere if she chose to take a good long look. And she could have, because he wasn't the least bit embarrassed about being nakedin fact, he placed his hands on his hips, almost daring her to go right ahead and look.
Thankfully the silent arrogance brought her gaze north to his shadowed face rather than travelling south, which, deep down, it really wanted to do
She cleared her throat. 'You're not in the ocean; you're standing on the beach. And it's private. You have to go. There are security patrols.'
It was a lie. But he didn't know that.
In the shadows the suggestion of a crooked smile appeared, 'Your beach, is it?'
'It belongs to the family I work for. I' She'd been about to tell him she had a place a few hundred yards away. No doubt she'd be casually discussing the weather with him next. 'I have permission to be here.'
When he took a step forwards she instinctively stepped back. 'I know self-defence, so don't try anything. I'm a black belt in ju-kwando.'
A brief chuckle of deep laughter preceded the dropping of his hands and another forward step. 'My clothes are behind you. And for future reference it's ju-jitsu or tae kwon do. Nice try. But I won't bite you.'
Roane moved to the side as he stepped closer, colour rising on her cheeks when he inclined his head and added a low, 'Not unless you ask me to.'
She opened her mouth to say something cutting in return and couldn't seem to get her brain to work well enough to form a sentence. But she liked to think any red-blooded female would have been the same when confronted with such temptation. He was one of those men that would take what he wanted when he wanted, wasn't he? She could feel it. There was just something very erotic about thatin the darknesswhen he was naked
For a girl as inexperienced as Roane it was quite the realization. But what kind of woman was turned on by a naked stranger in the middle of the night? She tried to think of a reason why she was still standing there.
Making sure he leaves, she told herself.
Liar, an inner voice replied.
The rasp of a zipper invited her to glance back at him. His elbows bent as his hands worked on the belt of his jeans, he asked, 'You live here?'
Answering that would hardly be a good move on my part, now would it?'
'I'd say you left the region of good moves when you approached a stranger to begin with, wouldn't you?'
When he turned his face towards the ocean the moon lit his face. For a brief moment Roane was struck by how beautiful he was. Not a word normally used to describe men, she knew, but he was. There was no way to tell what colour his hair or eyes were in the restricted light, but she had a sneaking suspicion they'd merely be icing on the cake.
His face had a symmetry to it that she'd never seen beforealmost as if he'd been artificially created. Twinned dark pools that suggested large deep-set eyes, a perfectly straight nose, a mouthdear heaven, that mouth; full lips practically calling out to be kissed. He even had a square jaw.
Roane was just the teensiest bit smitten.
He looked at her and smiled the most sinfully sexy smile. Because he knew, didn't he? Looking the way he did, how could he fail to know women were smitten by him? Judging by the beast of a motorcycle she'd discovered parked at the top of the wooden walkway down to the beach she'd bet he drove all over the country leaving trails of smitten women behind him. There was an addictive sense offreedomto him too; as if he belonged where he stood and nowhere else. Nothing would stop him from going where he wanted when he wanted, from swimming naked on a private beach or seducing a woman in the moonlight
He could reach out and haul her to him, press those practised lips to hers, lower her to the soft sand beneath their feet, surround her body with his and
Erotic images flashed across her brain, her body aching low inside at the very thought of that kind of an encounter. Just once in her life. She could almost hear the ragged breathing; feel the sweat-slickened skin
Roane choked out the words, 'Please leave.'
His answer was slow, voice so husky she felt her breasts grow heavy in response. 'Scared, little girl?'
Roane frowned at the words. Why did they sound familiar? She didn't know who he was, but a part of her suddenly felt she should recognize him. 'Do I know you?'
'No one here knows me.'
When he turned and bent over to retrieve the rest of his belongings a shadow tracked the line of his spine, disappearing into the slight gape at the back of his jeans. The muscles in his shoulders worked as he moved, large hands reaching out and casually lifting what looked like a shirt and a jacket and boots. No underwear, she noted. And then he was turning to face her again, tucking the items casually against his hips.
'Taking a chance approaching a naked stranger on a beach in the dark, you know that, don't you, little girl?'
Why did he keep calling her that? Okay, so compared to him she was little. He had to be six feet two easy; Roane was five feet five. And beside all that defined muscle and inherent strength she was positively sylph-like in comparison. But being called a little girl at the age of twenty-seven should surely have felt patronizing to her. Instead it felt distinctly
and Roane was certain he knew that.
'I told you, there'll be a security'
'No, there won't.'
She felt a flicker of panic. 'You don't know that.'
'Yes' he continued looking at her 'I do.'
Who was this guy? The end of Martha's Vineyard they were on wasn't known for a large influx of motorcycle-riding bad boys. Frankly, anyone unfamiliar with the island would never have found the beach to begin with. But the main house on the bluff was certainly rich pickings for thieves. Maybe he'd been checking out the Bryant place? Was that it? Had he been filling in time on the beach while he waited for everyone to go to bed?
Roane had always had a very active imagination.
The stranger moved his clothes to the same hand as his boots, before reaching out to her. When she flinched back from it his low voice sounded irritated. 'I won't hurt you.'
'I don't know that.'
'You're still stood there so you must feel it or self-preservation would have kicked in.' He beckoned with long fingers. 'Come here.'
'I want to see you.'
Sighing impatiently, he stepped forwards and lifted her chin with the crook of his forefinger, turning her face to the light while she looked sideways at him with wide eyes. She didn't moveshe couldn't seem to find the strength to move. It was surreal.
Trapping her chin between his thumb and forefinger he angled his head and examined her face at a maddeningly leisurely pace; thumb smoothing back and forth almost absent-mindedly. Then he let goleaving the heated brand of his touch against her skin.
'Grew up some, didn't you, little girl?'
Roane blinked at him as he turned away, her feet carrying her forwards as he stepped silently onto the end of the wooden walkway. 'Who are you?'
He didn't look back, his deep voice carrying on the night air. 'Night, Roane.'
* * *
Roane jogged across to her friend's side when she spotted him on the laneway between the main house and the guest quarters the next morning. 'Wait up.'
He turned, a broad smile in place when he spotted her. 'Morning, sunshine.'
'Morning.' She couldn't resist stopping for a similar smile in return before falling into step beside him. They'd been friends since they'd been in nappies. And whereas most women were immediately struck by his tall, dark and handsome good looks Roane had long since outgrown the stage of being anywhere in the region of starry eyed. He was like a brother to her.
'Do you have a visitor on the estate? There was someone on the beach on my way home last night.'
Jake lifted dark brows. 'Was there?'
'Yeahit was the weirdest thing.' She pushed her hands into the pockets of her jeans and skipped over the bigger details, like naked male glory and a soul-deep feminine reaction to that nakedness. There were some things a gal just didn't discuss with a brother. 'He seemed to know me.'
Jake's chin jerked up a little, his gaze on the guest house. 'Did he? Well, thenlet's just see if it's who I think it was, shall we?'
Roane frowned in confusion as Jake slung a long arm over her shoulders and tugged her close to whisper conspiratori-ally in her ear, 'We do have a visitor
Roane kept her hands in her pockets and allowed Jake to steer her up the grassy path and through the open doors of the house that her own home could have fitted inside at least a dozen times. Guests at the Bryant estate were treated to the kind of luxury most folks would be hard-pressed to find in a five star hotel.
Exquisite views over the ocean from the custom-built, architect-designed house were the first treat. The fact it was nestled in fifteen-odd acres of mature trees and established gardens overlooking a private cove was the next. Then add ten thousand square feet of house with five bedrooms, gourmet kitchen and countless luxury amenities, including master suite with Jacuzzi and great room with cathedral ceilings and two-storey stone fireplace and, well
Modern-day European royalty probably lived in less.
'Hello?' Jake released her as they stepped through into the beechwood kitchen, bright light streaming in through the many windows to bathe the room in golden warmth. 'Anyone home?'
He stopped so suddenly Roane almost walked into the wall of his back. Frowning, she stepped around him, ready to make a comment about a little warning being a good thing when her jaw dropped.
Her mystery man gave her a cursory glance before turning his attention to Jake. 'Coffee?'
He turned and poured two cups while Roane continued to gape. She'd been right about the hair and eye colour being icing. In fact if anything he was even more stunning in sunlight than he was in moonlight. She now knew his cropped hair was dark blond, the bright light in the room picking up lighter strands in the spikes that looked as if they'd been formed by long fingers raked casually from front to back. As for his eyes
well, she might have to be a little closer to be sure, but they looked pretty good to her
Jake was talking again. ''Found the key, then?'
'Looks like it.' He turned and placed a mug into each of their hands without asking Roane if she wanted anything. 'Add what you needit's all on the counter.'
Then he caught her gaze for a moment, a knowing light sparkling in the stunning green-flecked brown of his eyes. 'Morning, Roane.'
Suddenly she knew who he was. 'Adam?'
While Jake moved over to the kitchen table Adam smiled lazily, lowering his head to whisper, 'Now she remembers me.'
Before Roane could say anything in reply, he turned away and slid onto the curved bench facing his brother. 'The detective agency was a bit much, don't you think?'
Jake shrugged. 'It wasn't like you sent Christmas cards every year so we'd know how to reach you.'
And there was possibly a reason for that
Jake pursed his lips as Roane slid onto the bench beside him, immediately feeling the need to ease the tension by teasing him. 'You hired a detective agency to find him? You didn't mention that. Was he a raincoat-wearing private-eye type?'
Jake smiled. 'No; I was disappointed actually.'
'If you'd told me we could have searched for one. It would have been much more fun.' She smiled back at him. But a part of her was hurt he hadn' t told her he was searching for Adam. It was a huge deal. She could remember a time in their lives when they'd talked about everything and anything.
When she glanced across the table she found the prodigal Bryant lounging casually, one long arm slung along the back of the wooden bench while sunshine glowed off the deep tan on his skin. But the nonchalance was a fa ade, wasn't it? Roane could feel the intensity in him while his impossibly thick lashes flickered as he studied the interaction across the table.
His gaze crashed into hers for the space of two heartbeats and Roane felt her breath hitch. How did he do that with just a look?
He turned his attention to Jake. 'How bad is he?'