Read an Excerpt
Seventeen months later
Palm fronds swayed in the gentle breeze as sunlight splashed over Jake's sprawling white stucco villa. Standing on the veranda, Emily gazed at the sparkling jewel of a blue swimming pool with its waterfalls and fountains. Lavish landscaping with a velvet green lawn and exotic tropical flowers in immaculate beds surrounded the pool. The beach and blue ocean lay farther out. Back home in Dallas, September meant summer was still hanging on, but here the ocean breezes cooled the late afternoon. Her husband's private island should have been a paradise, not a prison. Yet Emily wanted to get back to Texas. Jake would be home any minute and she would have to confront him with her plans.
The beauty of her surroundings was lost on her while she mulled over her options. For seventeen months she had been locked in a marriage of convenience. But now she was ready to break her vows. She couldn't be the woman Jake needed. Yet reluctance tore at her.
She'd had enough of island life. Jake was flying off the island to work every day, so he probably hadn't missed Dallas or even noticed the difference. But this leisurely life of doing nothing wasn't for her. Any more than it would have been for Jake.
The roar of one of Jake's sport cars announced his arrival. Emily turned, stepping inside the house to wait. Ceiling fans revolved lazily above the casual bamboo furniture. A floor-to-ceiling mirror showed her reflection and she turned to check out how she looked.
Her long brown hair was tied with a silk ribbon behind her head and she wore a bright blue cotton sundress and sandals. She'd lost weight. Jake hadn't noticed, but that didn't surprise her.
As she waited, she heard the front door and the click of Jake's shoes on the polished hardwood floor. She called to him and he strode into the room, tossing his cell phone and keys onto a table. Her pulse jumped at the sight of him.
This intense reaction to him had developed during the whirlwind courtship before their wedding. When she'd worked for him, she'd known that her boss was a handsome, sexy man. But once he focused his attention on her, her response to him had intensified, something she was less than happy about. She didn't want Jake capturing her heart as he had so many other females'.
She remembered the calls he used to get at the office, the women who'd stop by unannounced, trying to get him to take them back into his life. She'd hoped she would never act that way with any man. That she'd never act that way with Jake.
He was tall with perfectly trimmed black hair. But it was his thickly lashed, smoke-colored eyes that set her heartbeat racing. His firm jaw, straight nose and high cheekbones added to the rugged, appealing face that turned heads everywhere he went. It would be impossible for him to enter any room and not be noticed. Dressed in one of his brown tailor-made suits, which she had been appalled to discover cost two thousand dollars, he exuded success and self-assurance. She tried to keep banked a smoldering flame of desire because she'd reached a turning point in their unstable marriage. She dreaded the next hour, but she had to face the future.
"You look wonderful. It's so nice to be home," he announced, striding up to embrace her. His aftershave was faint, but masculine and tempting. It reminded her of the muscled body beneath the elegant suit. "Hey! Why the long face?" he asked, tilting up her chin.
"Jake, I want to talk," she said. She heard the breathless note in her voice and wondered if she could go through with her rehearsed speech. His arms were strong, holding her pressed against him and as usual, her determination began to waver. He was gorgeous. He had all sorts of wonderful qualities, yet she was miserable every day. She felt as if she was failing him because she couldn't give him the baby he wanted.
"So do I. Although I thought we could talk later and make love now," he said in a husky voice. He caressed her neck and throat, stirring sizzles of pleasure through her, increasing her racing heartbeat. He fished in his pocket. "I brought you a present."
She inhaled and stared at a long slender black box tied with a red satin ribbon. "You shouldn't get these gifts for me," she said.
"I don't know why not. I want to. Open it," he commanded with a note of eagerness in his voice. She gazed up into his eyes and saw dancing flames of desire in their depths.
Wriggling out of his embrace, she tugged the ribbon free, opened the package and lifted out a black velvet box. When she raised the lid, a dazzling diamond-and-sapphire necklace sparkled in the afternoon light. "It's gorgeous," she said flatly, disappointment washing over her.
He tilted up her chin. "What's wrong? You sound as if I've given you a bunch of weeds."
"It's beautiful, Jake. It's not the necklace. We have to talk. There's something wrong here. Not the necklace. It's other thingsthis marriage we have." She inhaled deeply, gazing into his unfathomable eyes. She knew most women would never do what she was about to do. Her sister, Beth, had spent hours on the phone arguing with her about it. "Our marriage, our dealit's not working."
Jake frowned. "Give it a chance. We've only been married for a little over a year and a half. What exactly aren't you happy about?"
"We agreed we wanted a baby. We've been to doctors who've said we're both healthy, but I'm not getting pregnant. I feel as if I'm failing you."
"Relax. Give it time," Jake said, his voice lowering and his frown vanishing. "In fact, we can work on it tonight," he said, nuzzling her neck.
She almost closed her eyes and succumbed as she had so many times before. Jake was passionate, understanding and constantly trying to please herhe was impossible to resist. But for once, she clung to her sanity, grasped his arms and leaned away from him.
"Jake, listen to me!" she demanded. "You know you can distract me, but we need to talk about this."
Jake stroked her cheek lightly. "Darlin', I've tried to give you everything you want. You can spend your time as you please. I'll tell you whatgo change and we'll fly to Grand Cayman for dinner and dancing. You've been on this island a month, and it's time to get you out. While you dress, I'll have the plane readied and we can talk all evening." He walked to the hall table and picked up his cell phone. "I'll make dinner reservations," he called over his shoulder.
"Jake, we can stay right here "
"I know we can, but I want to take you out. How long will it take you to get ready?"
"Ten minutes," she said, shaking her head, wondering how a man who was so brilliant in business could be so dense about relationships.
"Make it fifteen so I can shower and shave." He turned, flipped open his phone and started talking as she stared at the empty doorway.
"This is part of what I'm talking about," she said to no one. "You aren't listening.You're just doing exactly what you want to do." Clamping her lips together, she headed to their spacious bedroom to change. She could already hear Jake in the shower.
In the walk-in closet that was larger than half of her old apartment, Emily set the necklace and its open velvet box on the hand-crafted walnut triple dresser, stared at the brilliant diamonds and deep blue sapphires and sighed. So many women would be thrilled to get a gift like this.
As she dressed she could hear the waves hitting the beach through the open glass doors. A paradise and a prison. That was all her island home was. Her marriage, too.
She guessed they would eat in a luxurious dining room, so she selected a deep blue, sleeveless sheath. Prim and plain, it had tiny ebony buttons that fastened to the high, round collar. The lines were simple, yet the dress suited her. She brushed her hair again, looping and pinning it on top of her head. She wore little makeup, so after slipping on high-heeled sandals and grabbing her envelope silk purse, she was ready to join Jake. She paused to stare at the diamond-and-sapphire necklace. As far as she was concerned, it was too elegant for tonight. She picked up a diamond drop he'd given her and put it on, watching it sparkle against the blue dress. She didn't care about jewelry and seldom wore it, but she knew it pleased Jake when she wore his gifts.
As she hurried through the villa, she wondered whether she would ever be able to get him to listen to her. Maybe she should just walk out and leave him a letter.
Jake stood by the front door looking at his BlackBerry. At the sight of him, her pulse jumped. Whatever else, her husband was handsome. Dressed in a tailor-made navy suit and a monogrammed white shirt, he looked like the successful billionaire he was.
Jake's chiseled features and prominent cheekbones always made her heart skip a beat. But she knew it was his gray eyes that set him apart from other handsome men. Devastating eyes that could smolder with desire or light up with amusement or assess a situation at a glance. Tiny flecks of green near his pupils showed when she stood close to him. But those same eyes hid Jake's thoughts as effectively as fog hiding the world from view. And she knew too well how they could become cold steel, filled with determination to get his way.
If she left him, she would be breaking vows that she had been taught all her life were sacred. The prospect of leaving him made her feel guilty, but her fears for the future and her inability to have a baby were stronger.
Her sister thought she'd lost all good sense to walk out on Jake and the life he could give her. Emily wondered if she would forever regret leaving him. During the past three weeks she'd asked herself that question constantly. She knew Jake wasn't the sort of man to have regrets. He'd move on with his lifehe could find dozens of women who would be thrilled to take her place. Who could easily give him the family he wanted.
There would be no going back. Jake could be unforgiving. She had already seen that side of him at work. Strong-willed and forceful, Jake was accustomed to getting what he wanted. The evening was going to be difficult. They were on Jake's turf. If she had waited until they were back at home in Dallas, this would be a degree easier for her. On his island, he was in charge. The only way home was to convince Jake to let one of his planes fly her.
As Jake put his BlackBerry into its holder, his gaze moved leisurely over her. He approached her, stopping only inches from her, and slid his hands to her waist. "You look beautiful and smell wonderful," he said in a husky voice.
"Thank you," she answered solemnly, gazing up at him, her heartbeat jumping again. She could say the same thing about him. The scent of his aftershave was faint, yet enticing. The expression in his eyes curled her toes.
"You'll taste better than any dinner we can find," he added in a slow drawl that made the temperature in the room climb. When his gaze lowered to her mouth, she drew a deep breath. He leaned closer. "You're luscious," he whispered, brushing her mouth lightly with his. She closed her eyes, placing her hands on his arms and feeling the solid muscles beneath the elegant suit. Jake drew her to him and covered her lips with his.
The minute his mouth touched hers, her lips parted and his tongue slipped inside, building fires she couldn't control. Knowing she was lost to his kiss, she moaned softly. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pressed against him and returned his kiss.
Her heart drummed. Desire flamed into a scalding inferno that made her cling more tightly as he leaned over her and kissed her passionately.
When at last he released her, it took a second for her to open her eyes. She found him watching her intently. Two emotions showed in his expressiondesire and satisfaction. He could always kiss her arguments and complaints into oblivion and he knew it all too well.
"Jake, kisses solve nothing."
"You're right. They start fires that only you can put out later," he said in a husky voice. "You're wearing the diamond I gave you. I'm glad you like it," he said.
"It's lovely," she answered.
"Before we go, there's one thing that will make the evening better," he said. Still watching her intently, he reached up to unfasten the tiny ebony buttons, starting at her collar and working his way down. "You have enticing curves that you hide from me even now that we're married."
She wanted to unbutton his shirt, run her hands over his sculpted chest and kiss him again. So easily, he could kiss her into forgetting dinner and their evening plans. She knew she had to keep her hands to herself or she'd never get his attention on conversation. If they made love, instead, she'd be hopelessly sidetracked. Yet it was a struggle to stand quietly while he steadily unfastened button after button. She caught his wrist and held him lightly.
"That's far enough, Jake," she said.
"One more. Let me enjoy the view. Two more until we get off the plane."
Smiling at him, she was unable to refuse. He unfastened three more and pushed the dress open slightly to create a wider V. His fingers drifted lightly over the curves he revealed, making her insides tighten.
"There. I think you look delectable," he said.
"And you're quite irresistible," she told him frankly, wondering if he realized how much she meant what she said.
"I hope so," he answered solemnly, gazing into her eyes with another one of his inscrutable looks. "Shall we go?" he asked. In his usual take-charge manner, he took her arm and headed outside without waiting for her answer. He held the door to his low-slung convertible sports car.
She'd been surprised to learn that Jake had a fleet of fancy cars, which he kept at his various houses. She sat on the soft leather and watched him stride around the car and slide into the seat beside her. As he did, she fastened the three buttons of her dress that he had just opened.
In minutes they were at his private airstrip where his jet was ready and waiting. Toby Uride, his chauffeur, and Brick Prentiss, his bodyguard, were also there. It had taken her a while to get accustomed to all the people who worked for Jake, particularly the bodyguard.
Shortly they were airborne, flying over his island and then the deep blue Caribbean. She spotted Jake's yacht at anchor near the island dock. Farther out, they flew over a sparkling white cruise ship that looked only slightly larger than Jake's yacht.