The club was designed around a “night out at home” theme, and each room in the vast building had been set up with trendy leather sofas and chairs arranged in conversational nooks. There were multiple bars and dance floors on both levels, each having its own color scheme. State-of-the-art lighting and sound systems and top-notch live entertainment kept the place packed to its twenty-five-hundred-person capacity with an A-list crowd every night. Or so she’d heard. She hadn’t been a customer yet and probably never would be since she’d given up late-night partying years ago and she didn’t fit the guest profile.
She paused to caress the carved newel post of the grand staircase sweeping up to the second floor. This was her favorite part of Estate. She’d always thought it resembled a stage from a Hollywood movie set.
Thinking of Hollywood reminded her of California and home.
Home. And the mother she’d inadvertently hurt when Susan Lowes had revealed Lauryn’s true parentage.
Way to go, Lauryn. Shoot the messenger.
Lauryn hadn’t meant to imply Susan had been anything less than a perfect mother. But Lauryn had questions about her heritage. Questions Susan couldn’t answer. And then there was the anger. Anger toward her father and Susan for withholding the truth. Anger toward Lauryn’s birthmother for rejecting her without even giving her a chance to fit into her world.
Shaking off her unproductive emotions, Lauryn circled back toward the employee exit, shoved open the side door and stepped into the Miami sunshine and balmy November day.
The first thing she saw once her eyes adjusted to the brightness was Adam Garrison leaning against a silver BMW convertible parked by the curb.
Her stomach dropped like a cruise ship anchor and her nerves knotted like a snarled line. So much for avoiding him after yesterday’s fiasco. She hoped he wasn’t waiting for her.
Reluctantly, she made her way down the sidewalk. She had to walk past him to get to the bus stop a block away. Lauryn had quickly learned that driving in South Beach was a disaster, not due to the traffic but because of the parking. Specifically, the lack thereof. So she relied on the bus system to get to and from work most of the time.
“Good afternoon, Lauryn.” Adam straightened as she neared.
At several inches over six feet, he looked lean and athletic in sharply creased chocolate slacks that accentuated his height and a cream silk T-shirt that emphasized the breadth of his shoulders. A breeze ruffled his dark hair, which always looked in need of a trim. She’d bet he paid a fortune for that casually unkempt look. Thankfully, his designer sunglasses covered his gorgeous make-Jell-O-of-her-kneecaps blue eyes.
She was ashamed to admit that in the beginning she’d had a bit of a crush on her boss, but then stories of his swinging bachelor lifestyle and short attention span with women had eroded those feelings. She’d been there, done that and didn’t ever want to live that kind of superficial, self-absorbed life again.
Adam was gorgeous, but good-looking men were a dime a dozen in South Beach. Not that she was shopping for one. You couldn’t walk down the sidewalk without passing a bare-chested guy showing off his tan and pecs—either of which may or may not be real here in a city where artificial beauty was as common as a cold.
But most of those guys didn’t make her pulse blip unevenly.
And none of them had proposed.
“Good afternoon, Mr.—Adam. Did you need me for something?”
Please say no.
Not the answer she wanted. “I…have plans.”
He frowned. “A date?”
She hesitated and debated lying. But she couldn’t. Her presence in Miami was already complicated by too many half-truths. “No. I was going to the mall.”
“I have a better idea. Get in.” He opened the passenger-side door.
Would he fire her if she refused? Not something she wanted to find out. She eased into the leather seat and fastened her safety belt. Adam slid into the driver’s seat, started the engine and merged into the Washington Avenue traffic.
“I only have an hour,” she reminded him.
“Not a problem. Besides, you’re with the boss. Who’s going to report you?” He drove north for a couple of miles and then cut through to North Bay and turned back south. Seconds later he pulled up to the curb in front of an exclusive restaurant overlooking Biscayne Bay—one she’d never been to because A, she couldn’t afford it, and B, she couldn’t get a reservation even if she wanted one.
He climbed from the car and tossed the keys to the valet. Another uniformed employee opened Lauryn’s door, handed her out and escorted her to Adam waiting on the sidewalk as if she were a prized possession. Or a ditz who couldn’t be trusted next to the busy street.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Garrison,” the hostess greeted him the second they stepped through the doors. Her cool gaze assessed and dismissed Lauryn in two seconds flat. “Your table is ready.”
Adam motioned for Lauryn to precede him, but then followed so closely she could feel his heat and his gaze on her back. She hoped her pin-striped navy skirt didn’t make her butt look big. And then she mentally kicked herself.
His opinion of your butt is irrelevant.
Conscious of the curious stares and her department-store clothing so different from the rest of the clientele’s designer wear, Lauryn followed the hostess to a waterfront table on the outside deck, took a seat beneath the umbrella and accepted a menu. A breeze teased strands of her hair from the knot at her nape to tickle her cheeks.
She looked up and directly into Adam’s blue eyes. He’d removed his sunglasses. As always, the intensity and intelligence in his gaze made her breath hitch.
Tension invaded her limbs as she waited for him to bring up the proposal because there was no doubt that’s why he’d brought her here. She hadn’t changed her mind about marrying him, although the idea had monopolized her thoughts and cost her a decent night’s sleep. Lunch at an exclusive restaurant wouldn’t sway her.
What kind of man coolly plotted to buy a wife, sleep with her for two years even though he didn’t love her and then discard her and walk away? But then Adam probably hadn’t loved any of the women who’d creased his sheets.
Having been burned by love, Lauryn could see the advantages of avoiding the unpredictable emotion, but call her a romantic sap; she actually wanted to find her soul mate one day.
She ducked her head and fussed with her napkin. She’d thought her parents had been soul mates, but discovering the letters and the lies had made her question every tender gesture she’d witnessed over the years. What had been real? What had been staged? Had they fallen for each other after the convoluted coverup of Lauryn’s adoption and the premature death of Susan’s baby like Susan claimed? Or was that also a lie?
After the waiter took their orders Adam gave Lauryn his full attention. His gaze roamed her features as if cataloging each one. “You moved here from California. Which part?”
Small talk. She could do small talk. Although it had been so long since she’d been on a date she was probably rusty. Was this a date? She hoped not. “Northern.”
She’d had enough doors slammed in her face to know she certainly couldn’t blurt out the whole truth. Adam belonged to the same upper class who’d closed ranks and shut her out when she’d come here ten months ago to ask questions about one of their own. No one would confirm that Adrianna had given birth to an illegitimate child, and no one would tell Lauryn how her birthmother died. In fact, conversations ended pretty quickly as soon as she mentioned Adrianna Laurence’s name.
Adrianna’s obituary hadn’t listed a cause of death or even an organization to which one could donate in lieu of flowers as a clue. She’d only been thirty-six, ten years older than Lauryn was now. If there was a ticking time bomb in Lauryn’s genes she would like to know.
“My father used to be stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base. I grew up hearing stories about Florida, the Everglades and the beaches. After he died I decided to check them out for myself.”
“And yet you settled on the east coast rather than pan-handle.”
“Better job opportunities,” she replied and hoped he’d drop the subject. He’d been the only job opportunity she’d pursued, and she considered it an amazing stroke of luck that his previous accountant had quit to stay at home with her new baby around the same time Lauryn had needed her job.
“California’s loss is my gain.” He accompanied the words with a smile she’d only seen in the South Florida Album section of the newspaper, but those grainy pictures in no way had the same lung-emptying impact as the real deal. No wonder flocks of women fell at his feet. She felt almost dizzy.
She transferred her gaze to the islands across the bay. The Sunset Islands were a tiny cluster of outrageously priced real estate. Could you see Adam’s other home—her birthmother’s family estate—from here? She counted until she found the correct channel to mark the way to the waterfront property. Lauryn had considered renting a boat and trying to get a better view of the house from the bay side, but the only thing she knew about boats was that they made her seasick.
The man in front of her held the answers. “Didn’t I hear someone say you own a house on one of those islands?”
Adam nodded. “Ricco?”
What did the club’s booking agent have to do with the estate? But he wasn’t her source. She’d discovered that tidbit during a search of the county records, but if she told Adam that she’d come across as a stalker. Which she was…sort of. And she didn’t want to get Ricco in trouble. “I don’t remember.”
“I bought the house at auction the same way I bought the building now housing Estate and a few other properties. Bargain prices. Good investments.”
“And yet you don’t live on the island.”
“I use the Sunset estate to house certain VIPs who are performing at the club. The ones who prefer privacy to hotels.”
That explained the maintenance crews. “I didn’t know that.”
He reached across the table and covered her hand with his. A zing shot up her arm—the same kind of tempting tingle she’d experienced yesterday when he’d held her hand. Lauryn was no stranger to sexual attraction, but she’d learned the hard way to ignore it because sex inevitably led to complications. Complications she didn’t need.
She tried to pull away, but Adam’s grip tightened around her wrist. He turned her hand over, used his other hand to pry open her clenched fist and then drew on her palm with his fingertip. The impact hit her libido like a car bomb. Shock-waves plowed through her and shattered defenses she’d thought unbreachable. She gulped and squeezed her knees against the warmth gathering between her thighs.
“I apologize for springing my proposal on you so abruptly yesterday. I realize it’s a pretty radical idea.”
“No kidding,” she croaked and tugged her hand to no avail.
“You don’t know me well enough to know I always give one hundred ten percent to any endeavor. I can and will be a great husband.” He stroked up and down between each of her fingers. Her pulse bounded like popcorn in a popper. No doubt he felt it beneath the thumb he feathered over the inside of her wrist. “We’ll get to know each other better. Date a few times.”