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"I think we should get married." Sean King choked on his sip of beer. Slamming the icy bottle down onto the polished teak bar, he coughed until tears filled his eyes. He was forced to blink them away to see the woman who had nearly killed him with six little words.
She was worth it.
Her hair was nearly as black as his. Her eyes were a softer blue than his own and her skin was a pale honey color, telling him she spent a lot of time outdoors. She had high cheekbones, delicately arched black brows and a look of fierce determination stamped on her features.
Something inside him stirred when she licked her lips and, just for a second, he let his gaze drop to appreciate the rest of her. She was wearing a lemon-yellow sundress that showed off a pair of truly amazing legs. Her sandals boasted bright white flowers positioned over toes that were painted bloodred.
Finally lifting his gaze to hers, he gave her a half smile and said, "Married? Don't you think we should have dinner first?"
Her lips twitched briefly, then she shot a look at the bartender, as if assuring herself he was far enough away to not overhear her. "I know how strange that sounded ."
He laughed. "Strange is a good word for it."
'" but, I have my reasons."
"Good to know," he said and lifted his beer for another sip. "Bye now."
She blew out an exasperated breath. "You're Sean King. You're here to meet with Walter Stanford"
Intrigued, Sean narrowed his eyes on her. "News travels fast on a small island."
"Even faster when Walter is your grandfather."
"Grandfather?" he repeated. "That means you're"
"Melinda Stanford, yes," she finished for him, then glanced uneasily around again.
For the wealthy, pampered granddaughter of the man who owned this island, she seemed a little spooky.
"Look, would you mind if we took this to one of the tables? I'd really rather not be overheard."
He could guess why. Proposing to a man you'd never met before wasn't the most normal way of introducing yourself. Pretty, but she didn't seem to be playing with all of her marbles. She didn't wait for him to agree, just walked toward one of the half-dozen empty tables in the hotel bar.
Sean watched her, deliberating whether or not to follow her. Sure, she was gorgeous. But clearly she was a little unhinged, too.
She looked bright as a sunbeam sitting in the dark corner of the once elegant and now tired-looking bar. Thirty years ago, this place was no doubt considered top-of-the-line. But it had seen its day come and go and hadn't tried hard enough to keep up.
Now, the wood floors had deep scars that several coats of polish couldn't disguise. The walls were in need of fresh paint and the windows were too small. There were some nice touches though. Sort of art deco, Sean thought. The throughways were rounded at the top, arched with clean lines, which he liked. Round mirrors with tiled edges. Rectangular tables with bowed legs and mosaic inlaid surfaces. The wall sconces were Tiffanyesque with a modernistic thirties sense of style. It was beautiful, but definitely needed a face-lift. If it were his place, Sean would have taken out the front wall entirely and replaced it with glass, affording the patrons a spectacular view of the ocean. And he'd have clung to the art deco style and added a stained glass window filled with sharp angles and curves over the door. The hazards of running a construction company, he supposed. He was forever remodeling places in his mind.
But this wasn't his bar and he had a beautiful, if a little weird, woman waiting on him. Since he wasn't meeting Walter Stanford until the next morning and he had a few hours to kill anyway Sean smiled to himself as he walked toward her.
He took a seat opposite her and leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs out in front of him. Holding his bottle of beer atop his flat belly, he tipped his head to one side, and studied her quietly, waiting for her to explain. He didn't have to wait long.
"I know you're here to buy the land on the North Shore."
"Not exactly a secret," he said, taking another sip of the icy beer. He took a quick look at the label. A local brew, it was exceptional. Once they got the go-ahead and Rico's hotel was up and running, he'd tell his cousin to stock this beer in the bar.
Shifting his gaze to her, Sean shrugged. "It's probably all over the island that the Kings are negotiating with your grandfather."
"Yes," she said, folding her hands together on the table-top. Somehow, she managed to look both prim and incredibly sexy. "Lucas King was here a couple of months ago. He didn't get very far with Grandfather."
Irritating, but true.
In fact, Sean himself had already had one phone conversation with Walter and it hadn't gone well. Which was the reason he was here, in person.
In the Caribbean, Tesoro was one of the smaller islands and privately owned. Walter Stanford was practically a feudal lord around here. He had his hand in most of the local businesses and guarded his island from newcomers like a pit bull at the end of a very short chain.
Sean's cousin Rico King was bound and determined to expand his hotel empire and he wanted to build an exclusive resort here. On Tesoro. King ConstructionSean and his half brothers Rafe and Lucaswould be partners in the deal. But it wasn't going to happen without that land. So for months, the Kings had been wheeling and dealing, trying to convince Stanford that a King hotel would mean great things for this island. New jobs, more tourists and plenty of money hitting local cash drawers.
Rico had been here himself to see the old man. Followed in quick succession by Sean's brothers Rafe and then Lucas. Now it was Sean's turn at bat, so to speak. He was the one sent in when things were looking bad. Sean's charm and laid-back attitude were usually all it took to cinch a deal. He knew how to play hardball. He just never let others in on that secret.
"I'm not Lucas," he said with confidence. "I'll get the deal with your grandfather."
"Don't count on it," she told him. "He's very stubborn."
"You don't know the Kings," he said. "We invented stubborn."
She sighed and leaned toward him. The deeply scooped neckline of her sundress dipped, giving him a peek at her full breasts and just the smallest hint of a lacy bra. Sean reluctantly shifted his gaze to hers when she started speaking again.
"If you really want the land, there's a sure way to get it."
He shook his head and chuckled. Yeah, she was gorgeous, but he wasn't in the market for a new woman in his lifelet alone a wife. No, he'd complete this deal his way. And he wouldn't need Melinda Stanford to do it. Chuckling again, he said, "The only way to get the land is by marrying you."
He frowned. "You're actually serious."
"Are you on medication?"
"Not yet," she muttered. Then louder, she said, "Look, my grandfather is on a campaign to see me married with babies at my feet."
Sean shuddered. Sure, his brothers and far too many of his cousins had been taking the marital plunge lately. Lucas just last year. But not Sean. Nope. Been there, done that, survived to tell the tale. Not that anyone in his family had ever heard about Sean's thankfully brief trip into marriage hell.
He wasn't about to get married again.
"Good luck with that," he said and started to get up.
She reached across the table and grabbed his hand.
Instantly, heat sizzled where their palms met. Sean's body responded to that heat in a blink. It caught him off guard, that flash of something tantalizing. One look into her eyes told him she was as surprised as he was. And just as determined to ignore it. He could be attracted to a woman without doing anything about it. Hell, he hadn't been led around by his dick since he was nineteen.
Though the heat was still there, so to avoid temptation, he pulled his hand free of her grip and told himself he didn't miss that sweep of heat.
"You could at least listen to me," she said.
Frowning now, Sean eased back down in his chair. Not that he was interested in what she had to say, but why take the risk of offending a member of the very family he'd come here to do business with? "Fine. Listening. Make it fast."
"Okay. Bottom line is, I want you to marry me." "Yeah, I got that. Why?" "It makes sense." "In which universe?"
"You want the land for your cousin to build a hotel. I want a temporary husband." "Temporary?"
She laughed shortly and the sound was rich and musical. She shook her head until her soft, black hair floated around her like a dark halo. "Of course temporary. Did you think I was proposing a lifetime deal? To a man I've never met?"
"Hey," he reminded her, "you're the one proposing before I even knew your name, so watch the insults." "Fine." She nodded, serious again. "Here's the deal.
When you meet with my grandfather, he's going to suggest a merger/marriage." "How do you know?"
She waved one hand. "Because he's already tried at least four times."
"He didn't try this with Lucas or Rafe."
"Because they're already married."
"Ah. Right." Why was he trying to make sense of a situation that was clearly nuts?
"Anyway," she continued, "my grandfather will offer to sell you the land if you marry me. All I'm asking is that you accept."
"And marry you."
"How long is temporarily?" He couldn't even believe he was asking the question. He didn't want a wife, temporary or not. All he wanted to do was buy the land.
She frowned a little and tapped the tip of her finger against her chin while she thought about it. "Two months should be enough," she finally said with a nod. "Grandfather believes that even a business deal marriage could become something real given enough time. I don't."
"Right there with ya," Sean said, tipping his beer bottle at her in salute.
"My point is, if we're married two months, then Grandfather will think we've given it a try and it just didn't work out. Long enough to soothe him and short enough that neither of us should mind too much."
"Uh-huh." He looked at her, wondering how this day had gone from normal into the world of weird. "And you've chosen me for the honor of temporary husband why?"
She sat back in her chair and drummed her fingertips on the table. She might look cool and composed, Sean told himself, but her nerves were showing anyway.
"I did some research into you."
"Well," she explained, "I'm not about to marry just anybody."
"Oh yeah," he said nodding, "I can see that."
"You were a good student in college, majored in computer sciences. You graduated and went into business with two of your half brothers. You're the tech guy, but also the one they call on to make the hard sell." She took a breath and Sean just stared at her. "You live in a rehabbed water tower in Sunset Beach California and you love your sister-in-law's cookies."
He frowned and took a long drink of his beer. Sean didn't much care for being researched. And he really didn't care for what she had to say next.
"You don't do commitment," she said, still tapping her fingers on the tabletop. "You're a serial monogamistone woman only until you move on to the next one. Your exes all speak highly of you though, so that tells me you're a nice enough guy despite the fact that you can't maintain a relationship."
"The longest relationship you had was in college. That lasted nearly nine months, though I couldn't find out what happened to end it"
And she never would, Sean thought, deciding he'd had enough. Beautiful or not, she was starting to annoy him.
"That's it. I'm done." He leaned across the table and stared into those beautiful, sea-blue eyes of hers and said, "I'll get the land and I'll do it my way. I'm not interested in your schemes, babe, so try them on somebody else."
"Wait. Just wait." She gave him a wide-eyed look out of those beautiful blue eyes and he felt himself weakening. "This is coming out all wrong and I know it. I'm sorry if I offended you."
"Not offended," he assured her. "Just not interested."