Been there. Done that.
Tempting, but taboo.
But she had to have access to this house. She’d lost her father and her own identity eleven months ago and possibly shattered her relationship with her mother beyond repair. If she had any chance of getting her life back on an even keel then she had to figure out who she was—who she really was—not the fairy tale her parents had concocted.
There was only one way.
A chill raced through her. She spun away from Adam, wrapped her arms around herself and picked her way through the mottled shadows to stand by the window and stare out at the lights winking across the darkness from the houses on the island across the channel.
“I’ll do it,” she said in a rush with her gaze focused on the rocking boat instead of the man behind her.
Light filled the room once again. “Do what?”
She slowly turned and met Adam’s direct gaze. “I’ll marry you. But only if we live here.”
“I have a condo within walking distance of the club.”
“Have you ever considered you might appear more settled if you lived in a house instead of a bachelor pad?”
He dipped his head. “Good point.”
“I won’t give up my job.”
“Lauryn, you won’t need to work.”
“But I want to.” She took a slow breath and then blurted, “And I won’t sleep with you.”
“You’ll have your own room.”
“No, Adam, I mean no sex. You might be able to be intimate with someone you don’t love, but I can’t.” Not anymore. She remembered all too well the self-loathing afterward. She’d wanted to hurt her father with her brazen behavior, but she’d only ended up hurting and hating herself.
“I’ll get tested if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“That has nothing to do with it. I mean, it is important given the legions you’re rumored to have bedded, but—”
“You’re not known for your discriminatory tastes.”
“There haven’t been legions.”
“How many then?”
“None of your business.”
“It is when you’re trying to talk me into bed.”
He hesitated and then shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“You didn’t count or you can’t count that high?”
His chin jutted forward. “How many men have you slept with?”
Her shameful past crept over her. She’d wasted her youth looking for ways to flout her father’s iron-fist authority, and she wasn’t proud of that. She’d been a rebel, but she’d reformed. She’d practically become a nun. “Hey, if you don’t have to answer then neither do I.”
“What am I supposed to do for…relief?”
A slideshow flashed in her mind of ten different ways she could give him sexual relief, but she shut it down. The heat flushing her skin wasn’t as easy to vanquish. “That depends on whether you’re right-or left-handed.”
Her cheeks ignited. “I can take care of myself.”
His jaw muscles bunched as if he were gritting his teeth. He paced to the window, paused and then turned. “Fine. I accept your terms. Do you have a passport?”
For a moment she was too stunned to speak. “Yes. Why?”
“I’ll have Brandon make the arrangements. He and Cassie can set up a quick, quiet Bahamas wedding. Does that suit you? Or do you need a circus?”
Cassie…it took a moment for Lauryn to place the name. Cassie Sinclair had been John Garrison’s secret lovechild from an extramarital affair. Or so the papers reported. Even though Lauryn had never met the woman, she felt a kinship with her. Another outsider. But at least Cassie had known who her parents were. Cassie currently owned and managed the Garrison Grand-Bahamas and had recently hooked up with Brandon Washington, Adam’s attorney—if the club’s scuttlebutt was to be believed.
“I don’t want a big wedding. But why the Bahamas?”
“If we get married in Miami my family would expect to be invited and there’s a good chance there would be a media blitz.”
Avoiding both the media and the Garrison family appealed. “Something quiet in the Bahamas is fine. I’ve never been there.”
“We’ll stay a few days and call it a honeymoon.”
Honeymoon? “I won’t change my mind about the sex.”
“Lauryn, it’s imperative we act like a couple who’s fallen in love and eloped. If this marriage doesn’t look real it’ll do me no good. We’ll have a honeymoon.”
“The business council nomination is that important to you?”
Again he hesitated. “It’s what the nomination represents that’s important.”
“And that is?”
“Personal.” He glanced at his watch. “If we leave now we have time to swing by the club and pick up the agreements.”
Secrets weren’t the best way to start a marriage—temporary or otherwise. But she’d let him get away with this one because she had a few of her own.
Some things were too shameful to share.
“You didn’t have to drive me home,” Lauryn said as Adam turned his BMW into her apartment complex.
“I told you I’m not letting you take the bus at this time of night.”
“I always use the bus.”
“Not anymore. My fiancée would never use public transportation.”
Fiancée. She gulped down her rising panic. Her last marriage had been a horrific mistake. Would this one be better or worse since love wasn’t involved?
“Your fiancée can’t afford valet parking or dollar-an-hour parking meters.”
“With the money you’re about to receive that’s going to change.”
As bad luck would have it, one of the few visitors’ parking spaces opened up as he turned into the lot. He pulled between the white lines, killed the engine and unlocked the doors.
She needed to get away from Adam, needed to rethink this crazy scheme and make sure there wasn’t another way to accomplish her goal.
Admit it. There is no other way. You’ve pursued every other avenue. This is your best chance to uncover the truth.
Clutching her purse and the file containing the prenuptial agreement and marriage contract, she sprang from the car before he could circle to her side. “You don’t need to walk me to the door. The area is well-lit and safe.”
He grasped her elbow in a warm, firm grip. Even though he’d touched her dozens of times tonight her breath still caught on contact. “Which way to the elevators?”
He obviously planned to ignore what she’d said.
“There are no elevators. I’m on the third floor.”
He swept his free hand toward the stairwell.
Reluctantly, Lauryn led the way, but even with her “leading” he was right beside her, matching his steps to hers. She didn’t want him in her apartment. Not that there was anything wrong with the tiny, tidy space, but after seeing the luxury to which he was accustomed, her place felt dinky and inadequate. The Art Deco building had been renovated, but with white-collar instead of wealthy tenants in mind.
She hiked the stairs with him by her side, unlocked the door and entered. A quick glance revealed she hadn’t left anything lying around that she didn’t want him to see—like the thick folder she’d compiled on her mother. Or the thinner one on Adam and his business clearly marked with his name on the tab.
She faced him with the marriage file clutched to her chest. “I’m in. Safe and sound. Thanks for taking me to the Ainsleys’ tonight and for showing me your house.”
He stepped forward, forcing her to shuffle hastily out of the way. With his eyes sweeping her space, the tiny kitchenette to the left, the sitting room in front of him, the doors leading to the small bedroom and minuscule bathroom, he shrugged off his suit jacket and hung it over the back of a kitchen chair.
“What are you doing?”
“Making myself comfortable.”
“You don’t have to stay. I’ll look these over and bring them to work with me in the morning.” She remained by the open door, hoping he’d take the hint, get his coat and leave.
Instead, he unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled up one shirt-sleeve and then the other, revealing hair-dusted forearms. “I’ll go over the documents with you.”
“No need. If I have questions I’ll write them down.”
He prowled toward her, his blue gaze intent and unwavering, and palmed the door shut. “Trying to get rid of me, Lauryn?”
Her mouth dried and her pulse kicked erratically. “I have to get up early.”
“It’s only eleven and your boss will cut you some slack.”
“I can’t be late. I have to issue a check to the liquor supplier when he delivers first thing tomorrow.”
“The truck comes at ten. You can sleep in. We have a few more details to work out.” He parked his hands on his h*ps as if expecting an argument.
“Like how you’ll be paid. Brandon has spelled it out in the marriage contract, but I’ll recap. You’ll receive just over forty-one grand every month. The first payment will be transferred into your account after the wedding ceremony.”
“So you won’t skip out before the end of the second year.”
“Once I give my word I don’t break it.” Not anymore. “But okay. Monthly is fine.” She wasn’t in this for the money anyway.
“I’ll open bank and charge accounts for you. Because of the temporary nature of this marriage our money will be kept separate. If you blow your salary before the end of the month you’re out of luck. I won’t give you a dime more.” When she didn’t argue he continued, “And I’m going to hire an assistant for you.”
“Wait a minute. You said I could keep my job, and I’ve told you, I don’t need an assistant.”
“I’ll allow you to continue working, but only part-time. If we’re inseparable newlyweds you’ll be expected to make regular appearances by my side at the club. That means late nights. Your assistant will cover mornings.”
His logic made sense. She reluctantly conceded by inclining her head. “What else?”
“A certain amount of PDAs will be required to make this marriage look real.” He stood almost a yard away, but the distance and her apartment suddenly seemed to shrink.
“Public displays of affection. We’ll need to touch. Like we did tonight.”
She could handle that. “Okay.”
She gulped. “I don’t think—”
“Newlyweds kiss and touch. Often. Making people believe we can’t keep our hands off each other is part of the performance.”
Her lips seemed to throb beneath his gaze. Tension stretched between them. Would he kiss her tonight? To seal the deal? To test her acting ability? Her heart pounded so hard she felt light-headed.