Authors: Kira Sinclair
Tags: #Island Nights
“You’ve known me for how long?”
“So you know better than to accuse me of being a gentleman.”
“True enough.” She laughed. Sitting up, she looked across at him.
“Why did you do that?”
He thought he knew what she was talking about, but part of him hoped he was wrong. “Do what?”
Her mouth took on a serious slant. “Kiss me.”
He shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Awkwardness, never present before, settled between them. He realized that he should probably apologize. Or maybe promise her he wouldn’t do it again. But the words didn’t form.
“Well, um, let’s try to avoid having to do that again.”
“Well, hell, I’ve never gotten any complaints before.” He exaggerated his words, pulling his face into a mock scowl, trying to restore the equilibrium they’d lost. “Was kissing me such a hardship?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You enjoyed it.”
“I didn’t say that, either,” she exclaimed, rolling her eyes.
“Anyway, I don’t think Marcy will require that kind of commitment. From either of us.” He hoped.
“Maybe not, but I’d really like to avoid having to explain to everyone what happened. I’m here to forget about the wedding, and I’m afraid these photo sessions will cause a stir. Maybe we should just pretend that we’re actually married.”
Well, he definitely hadn’t expected this. But, now that he thought about it, her suggestion made sense. If he were in her position, he wouldn’t want to have to retell the story over and over, reliving the painful experience.
“All right,” he agreed slowly. “I have a problem with outright lying, but I don’t mind letting people think whatever they want.”
“Thank you,” she said softly.
A knock at the door signaled the arrival of their luggage and put an end to their conversation. Several minutes later, he found himself outside walking slowly around the rim of the pool while Lena got ready for their first assignment—a romantic dinner, according to Marcy.
He just hoped he could get through the night without doing something he’d regret. Like kissing her again.
AWKWARDNESS HAD SETTLED around them again. The restaurant was elegant and romantic, which probably didn’t help the situation. Decorated in soft blues and greens that complemented the untamed tropical beauty outside, the dining area had an undercurrent of sensuality and sophistication. It was the sort of place a man took a woman he was planning to seduce, Lena thought.
Her eyes strayed sideways to Colt as the maître d’ led them through the restaurant. Colt’s hand settled lightly on the small of her back, guiding her through the maze of tables. Her muscles tightened beneath his touch, making her feel even more unsettled.
Colt had touched her a thousand times. Hadn’t he? Her body had never responded this way before. Had it?
Lena thought hard. Maybe. When they were both in college, there’d been some faint wisp of attraction. But it had gone away, to be replaced by deep affection. Which meant more than a fleeting physical attraction that could burn out and die. Right?
She’d seen it time and time again growing up. Her mother would gush over the latest man in her life. Her cheeks would be pink, her eyes would glow. But three months later there would be yelling and crying. Until the next man and the next place. If Lena had learned anything from watching her mother, it was that sexual attraction never lasted and was hardly the foundation for a good relationship.
Oh, she liked sex just as much as the next woman, but she’d always looked for more than a spark. Which is what she’d thought she’d found with Wyn.
The sommelier approached their table and introduced himself. “Marcy has arranged for a flight of excellent wines to accompany your dinner this evening.” Twisting the bottle he’d held against his arm, he presented it to Colt for his inspection. “This is our best champagne, compliments of the house in celebration of your marriage.”
Colt, who had leaned forward, sprawled back into his chair. The tip of his shoe nudged against her foot. Lena drew her own feet back underneath her chair. Two days ago, heck two hours ago, it wouldn’t have bothered her. But something had changed. An awareness of him as a man had sprung up seemingly out of nowhere.
Oh, she’d always thought he was an attractive man. With his rugged good looks and the well-defined muscles his dangerous hobbies had given him, any woman would be hard-pressed to argue. Colt had an air about him, an adventurous spirit that made you think you’d never be bored while he was around.
But she didn’t want adventure, never had. She wanted a man who would settle in one place, build a solid and stable life for her and their children. Colt didn’t fit that bill. Yet another reason she’d never thought of him in a romantic or sexual way.
“Didn’t you hear? We’re not—”
Lena kicked him with her sandal-clad foot, stubbing her toe and shutting him up in one fell swoop. Grimacing, she said, “Colt, behave.”
“What would be the fun in that?” he asked, mischief glinting in his eyes. She’d seen that look before, many times, and it usually heralded some harebrained scheme that she wanted no part of—such as jumping out of a perfectly functioning airplane.
There were many things about Colt that she liked. He was a good friend, always there for her when she needed him. But there was plenty about him that she just didn’t understand, and she had convinced herself a long time ago she never would.
She shot Colt a warning look for good measure as the sommelier poured. Lena gratefully accepted her glass. Taking a sip, she let the chilled bubbles tickle her nose and cascade down her throat. “Mmm, this is good.” It was light and fruity, sweet on her tongue. She took another sip. And another.
Looking at Colt, she smiled. Candlelight flickered between them, casting shifting shadows across his face. She wanted to reach out and run the pad of her finger over his skin. Her smile vanished and her eyes darted away. What was she thinking? She lifted her glass and drained it.
Colt palmed the bottle from the waiting bucket and asked, “More?”
The playful mask he’d been wearing slipped and for the first time Lena realized he was worried about her. The space between his eyebrows wrinkled and his lips pulled tight into a straight line.
“I’m fine,” she said.
Colt shrugged, the dress shirt he’d put on pulling tight against the broad expanse of his shoulders. “If you say so.”
She was halfway through her second glass, on an empty stomach, when Marcy appeared at her elbow.
“All settled in?”
Lena looked up at the other woman, at the strained smile that stretched her lips but didn’t touch her eyes.
“Yes, the bungalow is lovely.”
“I’m so glad you’re pleased.”
Marcy plunked something that made a metallic twang onto the table. The plain gold bands rattled for a moment before settling against each other. “I noticed you didn’t have rings. We’ll need them for the photographs.”
Lena stared at the rings. Without looking at her, Colt reached for the bigger one, slipping it onto his finger.
She swallowed, picked hers up and slid it snugly against the princess-cut diamond already on her finger. She’d been wearing the engagement ring for so long she’d forgotten it was there. Now, however, it felt all wrong, and she wished she’d left it back in D.C. Both bands sat heavy against her skin. She didn’t want either of them, but when Marcy let out a sigh of relief, Lena dropped her hands into her lap, her naked right covering her left.
With a wave of her hand, Marcy pulled over a man with a camera draped across his neck. Lena had wondered when the three-ring circus would start.
“This is Mikhail. He’s going to be the photographer this week. The photo shoot was supposed to be organic, catching a real honeymooning couple as they explored all the resort had to offer. We were hoping to use candid shots. Obviously, that might be a little difficult now.”
“Why do you say that?” Colt asked.
Marcy shot him an incredulous look. “Well, for starters, you’re both sitting as far away from each other as possible without being at separate tables.”
Colt’s lips dipped down into a frown. Lena took in their positions and realized Marcy was right. A hard glint entered Colt’s eyes. Slapping his hand down onto the table, his open palm waited expectantly as he said, “Give me your hand.”
Reluctantly, Lena placed her hand in his. His fingers brushed against the pulse at her wrist, sending it skittering. A warm heat that had nothing to do with the alcohol she’d drunk suffused her skin.
Colt’s eyes changed, going from hard to soft. He pulled their joined hands closer, forcing her to either let go or press her body against the biting edge of the table.
She’d left her hair down and it fell around her face, somehow closing the rest of the restaurant out and training her focus solely on him. Colt leaned forward, meeting her halfway across the table. His tongue licked across his lips, drawing her attention to his mouth. She’d never bothered to study it before. Or maybe it had been intentional avoidance. But since he’d used his mouth against her…
It was sensual, wide. The dip in the center of his top lip flared out in a way that made her want to close the gap between them and suck it into her own mouth.
Something flared in the back of his eyes. An awareness and intensity she’d only ever seen him focus on someone else.
She leaned closer. The candle burning between them flickered with the breeze from their joined breaths.
What was she doing?
Her teeth clinked together and she pulled back. He reluctantly let her hand go. His palm scraped slowly against hers. Her nerve endings pulsed and flared, sending unwanted signals all through her body.
Lena put her hands in her lap and rubbed her palm, trying to stop the ripple effect. It didn’t work. The damage was already done. She blinked, feeling sluggish, disoriented and sorely out of her element.
“Better?” he asked in a low rumbling voice that sent shivers down her spine.
Without thought, Lena nodded, and then realized Colt was no longer looking at her but up at Marcy.
“Uh-huh,” Marcy uttered before clearing her throat and jerking her gaze away. “Mikhail, we’ll try the candid shots tonight.”
Marcy flicked them one more calculating glance before melting away from their table. Lena thought she heard the other woman whisper, “Wine. Lots of wine,” to their sommelier as she passed, but she couldn’t be certain.
Lena looked across at Colt and for the first time in their friendship had no idea what to say. Luckily, the salad course arrived and saved her from having to come up with something.
Her mouth watered at the crisp greens, strawberries, candied nuts and light citrus dressing their waiter placed before her. She was grateful for something to occupy her hands…and her mouth.
But apparently Colt wasn’t as desperate for the distraction. He took a few bites and then set his fork down. Instead of eating, he watched her. Several times she picked up her napkin and blotted her lips for fear that the dressing was dribbling down her chin. She was already on edge and he wasn’t helping any. She was about to tell him to knock it off, but he spoke before her.
“Why did you want to marry Wyn?”
Surprised by his question, she sputtered for a few seconds, unsure what to say. They’d never really talked about her relationship with Wyn before. She didn’t know why, but there was some tacit agreement between them. He didn’t tell her about the women who flitted through his life and she rarely mentioned Wyn when they spoke.
It felt weird to be talking with Colt about him now, but he’d asked. She tried to remember exactly what it was about Wyn that had mattered. Her brain felt fuzzy and the only thing she could come up with was, “Because…he was good to me.”
“Not because you loved him.”
“Of course I loved him,” Lena protested.
Colt shook his head. “I don’t think there’s any ‘of course’ about it. You haven’t even cried.”
“I hate crying in front of people. You know that,” she scoffed, dismissing his statement without really even thinking about it.
“Maybe. But I watched you up on that altar. You were so pale I was worried you might faint. Right up until the minute your cousin objected and then color flooded your cheeks. You were shocked, possibly angry, but that was relief I saw all over your face.”