Caldwell Sisters - Book One - Lucianne Rivers
Still reeling from her mother’s death, news anchor Jane Caldwell’s life is upended further when she learns the father she lost twenty years ago is still alive. Her mother’s will unleashes a manhunt—the Caldwell sisters must find their father, or their mother’s estate will not be settled, and their questions about his disappearance will remain unanswered.
Jane’s search leads her to Guatemala to investigate a man who claims to be her father and heir to the family fortune. Needing a translator, she enlists enigmatic Harrison DeNeuve, a sexy ex-patriot with a penchant for wearing dark sunglasses in public.
As Jane struggles to reunite with her would-be father, Harrison fights to suppress his desire for Jane. He has a secret—one he’s sequestered himself in a third-world jungle hideaway to keep safe—and falling for Jane puts more than his heart at risk.
Jane finds two men in Guatemala—a father and a lover—but can she trust either of them?
Praise for Hold Me:
“A fictional morsel with all the right ingredients, HOLD ME is a quirky mystery, exotic adventure, and sizzling romance.”
- Virna DePaul, National Bestselling Author of Chosen By Blood
© 2011 Lucianne Rivers
Jane Caldwell leveled her best hardnosed-news-anchor gaze at the family attorney. “Let me get this straight. Are you telling us our father is alive?”
Her two sisters stared in similar shock at the woman who had called them together for the reading of their mother’s will.
The attorney nodded, sympathy etched in the lines of her face. Dawn Madden had been the family attorney since Jane could remember, and also a friend.
She shifted in the rawhide chair which had been crafted from the leather of cows raised on the Five C Ranch during Jane’s childhood. A childhood spent missing her father, crying for him, then grieving his death. Now he was supposedly out there somewhere?
Jane’s confidence in her mother’s love had never wavered, yet the secret revealed by Candace Caldwell’s will had Jane doubting. Part of the vast Caldwell estate would go to the father she could barely remember. Her insides twisted with anger and hurt.
“How could she do this?” whispered Allison, who sat to Jane’s right, her long, brown hair swept back from her pale face in haphazard fashion.
Jane squeezed her youngest sister’s hand. Everyone expected the ranch to go to Allison. She had been the one who had stayed home with their mother all these years. Together, they’d turned the ranch into a group retreat, spring through fall. The rest of year, Ally ran a five-star bed and breakfast for tourists willing to brave the New Mexican winter.
And Allison had been there with their mother at the end.
Jane swallowed. She’d spent the last week crying into the well-washed cotton of her childhood pillow in the privacy of her old bedroom-turned-guest-room. Now her eyes watered afresh.
Her sisters grieved in their own way. Margo had subsumed all her emotion, as usual, taking a rifle from the family collection and hiking into the vast acreage to shoot at tin cans. Allison took her angst out on the vegetable garden, hacking at the still-frozen ground of late winter. Jane tried to keep it all together. After all, she was the eldest at twenty-seven.
Margo―Detective Caldwell, Jane remembered proudly―leaned forward and steepled her hands. “I thought I was the executor of Mom’s will. This isn’t what we discussed.”
Dawn squirmed under Margo’s scrutiny. The library of the Five C Ranch was more than big enough to hold them, but their mother’s last wishes had sucked the air out of the room. It wasn’t overly hot, but Jane began to sweat. Her chest tightened.
Dawn took a deep breath, then focused on Margo. “When Candace became ill last month, she called me to make a new will.”
“I’m finding this hard to believe,” Jane managed.
“I imagine you are, yet this is what your mother wanted.”
“Could you repeat the part about our father?” Jane asked, hoping she’d misheard.
Dawn put on her reading glasses. “A quarter of the estate goes to your father, Zach T. Caldwell, and a quarter each to the three of you. Except for the ranch. Your mother left that to the daughter who finds Zach. ‘Added incentive’ was how she put it.”
“So she knew he was alive but had no idea where?” Jane asked. Her mom must have been damn sure for her to stipulate such terms in her will. She looked at Allison and Margo, wondering if they were as stupefied as she.
“Yes,” Dawn said.
Allison shook her head. “Mom wouldn’t pit us against each other, making our home some prize in a contest.”
Jane shrank at the absurd thought of competing for the family ranch. In her eyes, Ally had given up a lot to stay out here in the high desert—the fun of moving to a city, socializing daily with people her age, living on her own. But Ally seemed to love living here, isolated as it was.
Margo ran her fingers through her dark bob. “Never mind the inheritance. I’m just trying to get my head around the fact that Mom lied to us about Dad dying.”
Jane grappled with the same challenge. Zach Caldwell, the fifth ‘C’ of the Five C Ranch, had supposedly died during the Gulf War when Jane was six. What else had her mother kept from them?
“Your mother honestly thought your father was killed in action over twenty years ago.” Dawn took a sip of water from a heavy crystal glass. “She told me she received a phone call several weeks ago from a man who told her Zach was alive.”
“What man?” Allison asked, arms crossed.
“He didn’t identify himself,” Dawn said. “He hung up when she asked his name. Very cloak and dagger.”
“And Mom believed him?” Jane wasn’t sure she did.
“Candace hired a private investigator with connections to the military. He found no record of your father’s death.”
Margo raised an eyebrow. “Who’s the investigator? Maybe I know him.”
Margo probably knew everyone in local law enforcement. She’d been promoted often, and Jane suspected she’d make police chief someday.
“His name is Robert Rivera,” Dawn said, referring to her notes. “He’s a former Navy SEAL.”
“Never heard of him,” Margo said.
“Excuse me.” Allison stood and strode to the door, her face grim. Jane knew from the set of her shoulders that she was garden-bound. Jane stood, intending to comfort her most fragile sister. News of their father’s existence, coupled with the loss of their mother had brought chaos to their orderly existence. She wanted to reassure Ally that, Zach or no Zach, Jane and Margo would never take the ranch away from her.
“Wait,” Dawn said, handing each of them an envelope with their name on it. “Candace left one for each of you.”
Staring at her name scrawled on the envelope in her mother’s hand, Jane bit back a gasp of despair and cleared her throat. “Thank you for making the trip, Dawn. You didn’t have to come out here for this.”
“Candace was my friend, and I care about you girls. It was the least I could do.” Dawn rose and hugged each one. They murmured their goodbyes and she gave them a last, pitying glance before clacking down the wooden-floored hall to the front door.
The sisters stayed in the library until the sound of Dawn’s car on the gravel driveway disappeared.
Jane looked at each of their faces―Margo’s watchful, Allison’s glum. “If Dad’s alive, I want to find him.”
Allison, who Jane knew didn’t remember Zach Caldwell, paced across the room and stared out the window at the acres of dirt and cacti.
“Don’t worry, Ally.” Jane glanced at Margo, eyebrows raised. “Neither of us wants you to leave the ranch. I’m certain Mom knew that when she made her will. We’ll find Zach. You stay here and run the place as only you can.”
Margo nodded, eyes on their youngest sister.
“You really mean that?” Ally, usually so sure of herself, asked in a tremulous voice.
“Of course,” Jane said. She and Margo moved to flank Allison by the window. The winter sun appeared from behind a gray cloud. Its beams shone through the glass, lighting their faces.
“So what do we do now?” Allison asked, her words hollow and haunted.
Fierce protectiveness and determination rose in Jane’s chest. “We find our father.”
Two weeks later
Jane’s suit was past saving—the cream-colored, dry-clean-only fabric creased and sullied with stale-smelling coffee. Her flight to Cancun had been uneventful, but finding her way to the bus station had involved an altercation with an unscrupulous taxi-driver. College-level Spanish hadn’t prepared her for the pace and patois spoken in Mexico. No doubt the cabbie had taken her on a circuitous route to the bus station and charged her accordingly.
Managing to buy a ticket to Chetumal had also been a feat. She’d rewarded herself with a much-needed coffee, and promptly spilled it down the front of her suit and into her purse. Jane quickly pulled her dripping cell phone from her purse and found it dead and unrecoverable, fried by the liquid.
Night had fallen by the time the coach pulled into the small, open-air terminal in Chetumal. Spicy, humid smells of Mexico assailed Jane as she emerged from the bus, exhausted. She grabbed her bag from stowage, rolled it past a rickety covered seating area, and approached the ticket office.
At the ticket window, she gestured at the haggard clerk, purple-tinged bags beneath his eyes. “El Remate, Guatemala.”
Jane got a rush of incomprehensible Spanish in response. Why hadn’t she picked the other destination where they had found a Zach T. Caldwell?
She and her sisters had hired a private investigator out of Albuquerque who was former military. He had discovered two Zach T. Caldwells who might be their father. One lived in the Virgin Islands, the other in El Remate, Guatemala. Margo would leave tomorrow for the Virgin Islands. At the moment, Jane regretted her irrational choice to head to the unfamiliar territory of Guatemala. Jane and Margo had decided to give the ranch to Allison, no matter who found Zach first—if they found him—so Allison had stayed home to oversee business at the ranch.
Impatient rumblings came from the queue behind her, but she had no intention of stepping aside. She needed to find her way out of here—soon. “Tell me, por favor, that there is a bus leaving for El Remate tonight?”
Now that she understood. She shook her head, desperation creeping around the edges of her calm façade.
“He said ‘tomorrow.’” A deep voice resonated from behind her.
“Thank you,” she said dismissively, turning to the American who had spoken. “I know what mañana means.”
She stared, slack-jawed, at one of the most handsome men she had seen in months. Maybe years. Maybe ever. She’d know for sure if she could see his eyes, which were hidden behind dark glasses. Shiny brown hair grazed his strong cheekbones and fell to his shoulders.
Self-conscious about her coffee-stained suit, Jane eyed his pristine, casual white T-shirt and admired the tight muscles that pulled the fabric taut.
The man was built.
Jane tempered her thoughts and raised her eyes to his shaded ones. She could see them well enough to catch him giving her a once-over—eyeing her suitcase, her high heels, and lingering on her soiled suit.
He raised one of his eyebrows. “Lost?”
“I know exactly where I am,” she said. Grumblings from the line urged her to move to one side.
The hot American leaned toward the ticket window and spoke in rapid-fire Spanish. He paid the clerk and got a ticket in return.
“You should probably buy your fare today,” he said. “The seats fill up pretty quickly.”
Wise advice. She hovered, glancing at the ticket window then back at him.
“I can do it,” he offered.
Jane could accept his help or fend off a line of impatient customers while she language-wrangled. She nodded.
He spoke slowly to the clerk, allowing Jane to follow his Spanish, his voice deep and a little gravelly. She listened closely as he requested her ticket to El Remate, Guatemala, in case he was a murderer trying to lead her astray, like Danny DeVito in that Kathleen Turner movie set in Colombia.
“The bus leaves at six tomorrow morning,” he translated, handing the clerk her wad of pesos.
She took the ticket from his sun-browned fingers and gave him a demure smile. She had learned never to smile too widely, except on television, or men tended to get the wrong idea. Not that she would mind if he did. Her pulse did an impression of “The Little Drummer Boy.” Attraction stirred.
He nodded, hiked his backpack higher on his shoulders, and politely moved past her.
“Wait, please.” God, she sounded desperate.
He stopped, but didn’t face her, so she moved beside him. “You’re American?”
“Can you recommend a hotel?” she asked.
“Don’t know of any that would suit you. I’m afraid I’m slumming it tonight.”
He walked away, and Jane glanced around. The clerk was serving the last customer, leaving the bus lot almost deserted.
Two heavy-set teenage boys lurked by the terminal entrance. Were they eyeing her suitcase? Clutching her purse tightly, she trotted after the American, avoiding eye contact.
Jane stepped onto the main street, into a cloying swarm of people. Chetumal certainly had nightlife, unlike Albuquerque, which shut down around ten p.m. Music swelled from stores and cafes, scoring the pulse of the crowd with a Latin rhythm. Street peddlers offered exotic foods. Shaking her head at one who’d spotted her—the gullible-looking American—she almost lost sight of the man from the bus station. She gulped and gripped the handle of her suitcase tighter.
Don’t panic, Jane.
Distracted by voices to her right, she turned to see two men shouting at one another a couple of yards away. One pushed the other against a storefront amid a torrent of curses. Jane’s gut tightened as she witnessed a street fight for the first time. Both men pulled knives and onlookers gasped or jeered as the men tousled. Adrenaline and sick fascination kept Jane riveted. One fighter landed an elbow on the other’s cheekbone with an audible crack. She winced. Someone’s fingers gripped her arm and she jumped. The American had come up beside her.
“It’s Fiesta,” he said, as if that explained the violence. “I’ll get you a taxi.”
She let him guide her away, risking a last glance at the bleeding fighters as he whistled for a cab.
An approaching taxicab pulled to the curb and he gestured toward it. “Your chariot.”
He didn’t wait for Jane to get in, but turned on his heel, hefted his backpack onto his shoulders, and walked away.
The cabbie leered at Jane through brown, gapped teeth, eyeing her exposed neckline. She gave him a sharp look and shook her head. No way was she doing battle with another taxi driver today, especially one who looked at her like a sex offender would.
The cab screeched back into traffic and Jane stood contemplating her next move. Vehicles crept along the narrow street, bumpers touching. Vendors and shopkeepers waved her into their stores. One woman tugged Jane’s arm, the too-personal gesture making her stomach clench. Jane tried to shrug off the woman’s surprisingly strong grip but failed.
“Dejarla ir,” interjected a deep voice.
The Mexican woman released Jane’s arm.
Jane recognized the deep tones of her rescuer’s voice and turned, relieved that the American had come back. She blew out a breath, wide-eyed. Who would have thought she’d need a bodyguard?
Her muscled savior shot her a glance, his jaw tight. “You should travel with a security detail.”
“Please. I need somewhere to sleep that’s within walking distance.” She tried not to stammer. “Could you point me in the right direction?”
He paused, his jaw visibly clenching. “Follow me.”
Immense relief flooded through her. Hauling her rolling luggage behind her, she trailed him through the throng of pedestrians.
They approached a cantina and the smells of Mexican food wafted her way. She felt faint from the dizzying mix of hunger and spent adrenaline.
“Can we stop for dinner?” she asked him. “I’ll pay.” She sounded a little desperate.
He stopped and faced her with a curious look.
“I haven’t eaten in about ten hours.” The energy bar she’d snacked on during her bus ride didn’t count.
He contemplated his answer for an unnerving amount of time then stepped into the restaurant and waited for her to follow.
Inside, the hostess led them past a lively mariachi band to a table that faced an inner courtyard. Jane caught the hostess eyeing her dirty suit and embarrassment flushed her cheeks. She wondered if the American had noticed the exchange, but couldn’t tell since he still wore his shades. Mr. Mystery Guide didn’t give much away.
“Margarita on the rocks, salted,” Jane said to the hostess, hoping she understood. Lord, she needed a drink. Overheated from the brisk walk and the humidity in the cantina, Jane fanned herself then opened the top two buttons of her suit.
“Agua, por favor,” her companion said to the hostess, eyeing Jane’s stained, busy fingers.
His mouth turned up at the corners. Amusement was not quite the reaction she’d wanted.
Jane drummed her fingers on the table until her margarita arrived then downed the concoction in thirty seconds. “Whew, they know how to make these here.”
He raised his eyebrows.
“What?” she asked, exasperated. “I can’t tell what you’re thinking with your eyes hidden behind those sunglasses.”
He flashed a full smile, his teeth orthodontist perfect.
“It’s dark out. Do you have some kind of eye condition?”
Ouch, that sounded really rude. She couldn’t afford to alienate him. Her big Caldwell mouth, made bigger by the drink, often got her into trouble.
He waited a moment, then removed the shades, revealing beautiful brown eyes. She’d bet her last peso she saw a glimmer of wariness in his expression before his face reverted to a blank slate.
The waiter came to take their food order. Since the first margarita had given her a nice buzz, Jane requested another to go with her enchiladas. As her companion ordered, she propped her elbows on the table and observed him. He really was sinfully gorgeous.
After the waiter left, Jane asked, “What’s your name?”
She reached across the table to shake his hand and knocked over the saltshaker. The tequila, aided by an empty belly, had achieved its desired effect. “Oops,” she said, as her fingers gripped his. She giggled.
She never giggled.
His hand felt dry and firm in hers, and he withdrew it far too quickly.
“Do you often rescue damsels in distress?” She sipped her drink, and decided he deserved a full-wattage smile, rarely bestowed. Her news anchor smile, set on full dazzle.
“Not in a long time.” His eyes flickered with a light of truthfulness. He clasped his hands in front of him on the white tablecloth.
“Well I’m glad you decided to get back on the wagon.”
He didn’t laugh.
The waiter brought the food and Jane tried to pace herself while eating. The enchiladas tasted orgasm-good. She moaned and caught Harrison watching her intently.
After a third margarita, she felt decidedly revived, even emboldened. The happiest she had been since… since her mother died. The remembrance brought her crashing back to reality. She stared into thin air, dazed.
“Are you okay?” Harrison asked.
She swallowed the now-familiar lump of sadness and tore off the corner of her sopapilla. “Can you hand me the honey, please?”
His fingers brushed hers once more, a frisson of electricity passing between their hands. She looked to see if he had felt it, too, but his face registered only mild concern.
“You remind me of someone,” she said.
She thought about who it could be. “Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone.”
He relaxed. “Don’t get your hopes up. I don’t do the salsa.”
Had he just made a joke?
“Do you wield a machete?”
“Only in my backyard.”
She laughed. The man had to be joking. “So what are you doing down here?”
The mask returned. “I was visiting friends on the coast.”
“You live here?”
He shook his head. “Your turn.”
Okay. He liked his privacy. Tequila had loosened her tongue and she didn’t mind filling in the blanks in the conversation. “I’m looking for someone.”
“My dad.” Jane had trouble saying the words aloud. She remembered her father, vaguely. He had been an active soldier when she was a child and they hadn’t seen much of him, even before he died—disappeared. She had kept photos of him. Brown hair, brown eyes, square face. Handsome. She wondered what he looked like two decades later. If he was alive.
“Is he missing?”
“Oh, only for most of my life.” She laughed, but there was that desperation again. A sudden, vivid memory flashed in Jane’s mind―her father teaching her to ride, the sensation of his sturdy arms tightening around her, steadying her in the saddle.
Harrison’s eyes searched her face and her cheeks heated under his scrutiny. Margarita-bold, she returned his studying gaze, assessing him as he did her.
He had biceps to die for. They peeked out from under his T-shirt sleeves, and she considered reaching out and touching them. She could blame the alcohol for her brazenness. She longed to trace his skin with her fingertips, and for him to touch her, too. Was it wrong to want a night away from her troubles? Grief and alcohol mingled in her blood, making her desperate for some kind of release. A physical one would do.
Could what happened in Mexico, stay in Mexico?
It had been so long since she’d been able, or allowed herself, to let loose. Back home, she was a public figure—always conscious of her image. No one would recognize her here, among the morass of foreigners. Could she permit herself one night of passion? Kathleen Turner had done it, but could Jane Caldwell?
She’d searched him for a sign of reciprocal attraction, but Harrison’s face remained inscrutable.
Jane caught herself staring.
“Come on.” He pulled out some cash and tossed it on the table, then helped her stand and took her suitcase, waving her in front of him.
Their abrupt departure took her by surprise. “You didn’t have to pay.”
As they walked out of the restaurant, the band played something romantic. Jane wanted to dance, preferably with Harrison. It had been ages since she’d felt a man’s arms around her.
Jane’s heel met something slippery on the tile and she lurched backward. Harrison caught her, his fingers closing around her waist. For a brief second, the heat of his body burned her back and his spicy scent wafted over her. She swayed against him, just for a moment. “The Little Drummer Boy” tapped away in her blood, on steroids.
Harrison steadied her and released his grip.
She looked over her shoulder so she could read his eyes.
The man was implacable, but she thought she caught a glimpse of something in the brown depths before the wall came up.
Yes, this once, she would let her guard down. And she knew just the man to help her with that.
Harrison avoided staring at Jane’s tight little ass in the crumpled skirt as she stepped onto the street. He tried to focus on the back of her head instead.
Apart from her current state of disarray and insobriety, he could tell she liked expensive clothes. He recognized a designer cut when he saw one, even though her suit hung open and looked as if she’d spilled coffee on it. Her brown hair had been professionally streaked with blonde and her impractical high heels probably cost more than a month of living comfortably down here. He’d met a million women just like her.
Well, maybe not just like her.
There was something uniquely attractive about Jane. When he had saved her from falling, her silky hair brushed against his cheek. Her scent had been strangely intoxicating. He’d felt the urge to turn her toward him, to test her lips for taste and softness.
He bet she tasted good.
Releasing her had taken some resolve, especially when he saw the invitation in her eyes. She was on some crazy search for her father, and her mother had just died. He’d learned about nobility in his thirties and put the lesson to good use with Jane. She was drunk and looking for release. There had been a time when he would have been happy to oblige, but he wasn’t that guy anymore.
Outside, the mellow air hit his face. Relief washed over him, dissipating tension he hadn’t known he held. Harrison tended to avoid bars nowadays. He could count on his discipline, yet preferred to stay well away from temptation in all its forms. He glanced at Jane and gritted his teeth. She was definitely a temptation.
He put her at mid-to-late twenties, making her at least ten years younger than him. Back in the day, she would have been just the type to get him in trouble. She looked around at the town lights, glancing quickly away from the flashing neon sign of a strip club. He envisioned the unwanted image of her wrapped around a stripper pole, wearing very little.
He led her across a bridge with cars trundling by in both directions. The clack of her heels mixed with the clunk of her suitcase on the pavement. He was momentarily irritated at the unsuitability of her attire. Pampered maidens generally hired cars and eschewed buses and footpaths. He supposed he could take her to a decent bed and breakfast―he knew of one nearby.
Harrison pointed to the B&B as they approached. This place would suit her refined sensibilities. “Here we are.”
She seemed relieved to see the B&B and that, perversely, pissed him off.
Inside, they inquired about a room and the clerk shook his head. “Fiesta. No rooms.”
They got the same response at two more hostels.
Well, he’d tried, hadn’t he? She was flagging and he wanted to be rid of her. He’d seen the way she’d looked at him in the cantina, and he’d liked it too goddamn much.
Pausing at the street that led to the hostel where he’d booked a room, he crossed his arms. “I don’t know what to tell you, Jane. Everywhere’s going to be full.”
She retrieved her suitcase from his grip, clinging to its handle. “Where are you staying?” she asked, wide-eyed.
He couldn’t just leave her there with no place to go. They could give it one more attempt. He turned, knowing she would follow.
The hostel looked like a dive. The Senora in charge opened the ancient wooden gate and frowned at them for making her come out so late. Inside, the rooms surrounded a paved courtyard with a large covered kitchen in the center. Plastic utensils and plates were piled in two sinks and cheap white chairs haphazardly surrounded the tables. A part of him appreciated the grimy surroundings. He’d been used to luxury in his prior life, and it had cost him. These accommodations served as a welcome reminder of how the average Joe lived.
Or the average Harrison, in his case.
He watched as Jane gazed around in dismay. Lucky she didn’t see the cockroach crawling toward her. Harrison asked the hostel owner if she had any rooms available, but she shook her head.
He turned to Jane. “She says she’s booked up.”
Jane looked relieved. Perhaps she’d seen the roach after all.
But they weren’t leaving. The hostel owner ambled away, expecting him to follow. Harrison faced Jane and held out his hands, palms up. “I booked a room online yesterday.”
She shook her head. “I’ll sleep in a dormitory. They have those here, right?”
“No beds available,” he explained.
He couldn’t ignore the pathetic look on her face. “Follow me.” He tried to tell himself that sympathy had motivated his words, but it hadn’t. Where was his nobility now?
The Senora led them to a tiny room to the west of the courtyard, pointing out the banos along the way. Jane paused at the open door of the bedroom. He put his rucksack on one of the two beds and watched her reaction.
Yes, this was his room. And yes, there were two beds.
Harrison stifled a smile. He would have bet she’d wanted to share a bed with him tonight, but maybe she was quick to back down when faced with reality.
The hostel owner shuffled off.
Jane swallowed, the movement obvious. Slowly, she stepped inside.
“I’m going to need your last name,” she said, raising an eyebrow, “if we’re going to sleep together.”
Maybe not so quick to back down.
She pushed past him into the dim bedroom, suitcase in tow, walked to the other bed and sat. Her skirt rode up her legs.
“DeNeuve,” he said, pulling clothes out of his bag, avoiding the sight of her smooth thighs. He needed control of the situation, quick.
“Harrison DeNeuve,” she said.
The sound of his name on her lips was like a shot of aphrodisiac straight where it counted. He felt her eyes on his back as he unpacked. Get out, man.
“I’ll let you change,” he said, without turning. He grabbed his toiletry bag and left.
So he could take a cold shower.
Harrison did a double take when he realized that the nymph walking toward him through the hostel courtyard was Jane. She clopped across the cobblestone in the same shoes she’d been wearing earlier, her long legs bare. She’d slung her suit jacket over her shoulders, but it didn’t cover the sexy piece of brown satin that served as a nightgown. He caught a peek of tantalizing cleavage above its neckline.
Harrison’s blood simmered. His damp hair was probably steaming. What was she thinking, walking around dressed like that in a public place? Luckily, all the other guests had gone to bed.
She spotted him and smiled.
The surge of hormones made his penis jump. A light of invitation ignited in her eyes and he goddamn knew it. She obviously found him attractive, and he couldn’t deny his attraction to her. Too bad he had sworn off casual sex.
So why had he invited her to sleep in his room?
“Hi, again.” She paused a short distance away, shifting her weight from foot to foot. Testosterone-driven pride swelled in his chest when he saw her checking out his pecs—he’d left his shirt open after his shower. She caught her lip between her teeth and something sparked inside of him. There was that urge to taste her again. He wanted to do that to her.
He didn’t respond to her greeting. She waggled her toothbrush at him and swept past, resuming her journey to the bathroom. Her ass swayed beneath her thin nightgown, and he watched. He couldn’t help himself. He suddenly imagined filling her between those cheeks.
Harrison headed back to the bedroom then pulled off his shirt and hung it on a makeshift clothes hook. The room was built from wooden planks that had never been plastered over. Electrical wires threaded up the walls, bare and, no doubt, dangerous. There was no mosquito netting so he pulled a can of OFF from his pack and sprayed himself liberally.
Figuring Jane hadn’t considered the possibility of being eaten alive in her barely-there nightgown, he left the can on her blanket. He shucked off his jeans, climbed onto his cot in his boxers, put his hands behind his head, and stared at the wooden ceiling. Cobwebs hung from the beams.
Jane returned and shut the door, darkening the room.
“There’s a light cord to your right.” It dangled from one of the dirty beams. Harrison kept his eyes on the ceiling.
She clicked on the light. An unadorned, clear bulb illuminated the Spartan room. From the corner of his gaze, he saw her take in the cobwebs and shudder.
“I feel like I’m in a prison camp.” She walked around him to her bed.
Harrison didn’t speak, which elicited a glance from her. He knew she was trying to figure him out. Set above well-cut cheekbones, her dark eyes took him in. Her glossy hair reflected the light.
She slipped off her jacket, back turned, and his gaze wandered over the supple muscles of her shoulders. She really was quite beautiful and, unlike the LA models in his past, still a little vulnerable.
She slowly laid her jacket on the bed cover, spotted the bug spray and smiled. “Thanks. Mosquitoes love me. Sweet blood.”
Oh yeah, he would bet on that.
Jane sprayed the repellant on her skin, and it left a sheen of moisture in its wake. She put her foot on the bed to spray her legs and her gown rode up on her hips, giving him a glimpse of black, lacy underwear.
He closed his eyes. The spraying stopped then he heard her go to the light and turn it off. Her footsteps rounded his bed once more and her cot creaked when she laid down. The loudest sound in the room was the thundering of his heart.
Jane’s scream woke him and he shot off the bed, colliding with her as she stood in a panic.
He gripped her arms. “What is it?”
Moonlight reflected in her terrified eyes. She pressed against him.
“Something was crawling on me,” she said, her voice a hoarse whisper.
Her breasts rubbed against his bare chest, the sensation exquisite. He felt her heart thud as her breath warmed his chin. His eyes adjusted to the moonlit room and he scanned her bed for insects. “There’s nothing there that I can see.”
Jane looked at the rumpled mess of sheets and gradually relaxed. She put her hand to her chest and took a shaky breath. “Sorry for waking you like that.”
He’d only been dozing. Having a hot woman in the next bed had made sleep impossible.
Heat from her body penetrated his. Her breasts were tantalizingly close, her long hair smelling like expensive soap. He ached to caress the fine strands, to pull her closer then wrap her legs around his waist.
As if reading his mind, she gently put her hand on his bicep—her fingers a brand, her eyes a question.
He didn’t need this. He had sworn off well-dressed American women, and for good reason. What benefit would come of taking her to bed?
Beyond the obvious, of course.
Jane must have sensed his indecision, because she did something from one of his wildest fantasies. She released his arm then slipped her fingers beneath the smooth spaghetti straps of her nightgown, pushing them from her shoulders. The silky fabric fell away from her body to her waist, revealing round, pert breasts and hard, pink nipples.
He stopped breathing. She gauged his reaction through sultry eyes and he tried to solve the mystery of her. He hadn’t pegged her for a one-night-stand kind of girl, despite her clear attraction to him, but perhaps he had guessed wrong. His hormones urged him to take what she offered. If she looked down, she would see how happy his body would be to oblige.
She swayed toward him, closing the distance between their bodies—simply a whisper of a movement that brushed the hard peaks of her breasts against his chest. She did it again, watching his eyes.
Should he call her bluff and pull her hard against him? Push her onto the bed and take her? The image made him fully erect. Jane grazed against him again, and her hips swayed toward his. She gasped against his hardness, and let out a soft murmur.
He reveled in the erotic feel of standing next to her, touching but not touching. Her sweet breath mingled with his. Debating whether to push her away, or pull her close, he touched the fabric bunched above her hips. Moonlight shone on her breasts and her lips parted in welcome. Through the satin, he could feel the smooth warmth of her waist. Wanting more from him, she rocked her hips against his.
He could have her right now―hot, wet, and hard―and he could rationalize his actions. Yes, the woman had just lost her mother, was alone in a strange country, and had consumed three margaritas. She wanted a temporary release, affirmation, validation, and was practically begging him to make love to her.
“Harrison,” she pleaded.
The use of his assumed name broke the spell.
Harrison was a figment of his imagination, a product of his childhood infatuation with Indiana Jones. A phoenix rising from the ashes of a misspent youth, Harrison DeNeuve didn’t exist. As badly as he wanted the sexual release, he couldn’t undo years of practiced abstinence. Not even for Jane.
Gently, he hooked his fingers under the straps of her nightgown and pulled them up her bare arms. She drew a sharp breath when his knuckles grazed the sides of her breasts.
Dark longing pooled in his stomach.
She realized he was dressing her and looked up at him, confused. Her face flushed in embarrassment but before she could move away, he gently swept his knuckles underneath her jaw and made her meet his gaze. Uncertainty filled her eyes, traces of heat still making them liquid. He wanted to reassure her somehow, to soften the rejection.
“I’m going to need a last name,” he said.
“Caldwell,” she whispered, her lips soft and full, naturally inviting without makeup.
“Jane Caldwell.” His voice was low and she shuddered a little when he spoke. “It’s a pleasure meeting you.”