Author: Jaci Burton


What was he supposed to say to her? No? He supposed he could have, but it was very last-minute, and it was an easy enough thing for him to do, so he’d said yes.


Alicia was a sweetheart, very much in love with her fiancé. They were planning to get married in a month or so, hopefully somewhere quick and private and out of the public eye, but she wanted to set the rumors to rest about her and Phil. The girl looked tired. She laughed and said the first trimester had been hell on her, that Phil had been her rock, but this flu had kicked his butt, and he refused to come anywhere near her while he was sick because he didn’t want to infect her or the baby. Mick laughed and held her hand and told her he’d fend off any annoying paparazzi, which meant he intended to stick to her side like glue the entire night.


He hadn’t made the connection that it was the same event Tara had been planning. It had just never entered his mind. He knew Tara had been worked up about some charity event, but hell, in this city there was always some charity event or other going on. And he hadn’t even had time to call Tara and tell her what he was going to be doing tonight. He’d grabbed a shower, thrown on his tux, and the limo had shown up. Plus, he knew she’d be busy, and this was such a nonissue to him that he didn’t think it was a big deal. He figured he’d tell her about it when he saw her tomorrow.


And then he ran into her tonight and realized he’d escorted Alicia to Tara’s event. But instead of her giving him time to explain, she’d already made up her mind what was going on and had played judge, jury, and executioner. It had pissed him off that she didn’t believe in him. In them.


Dammit.


Mick filled up a glass with ice, water, and a wedge of lime, then went into the living room and turned on the television, propped his feet up, and stared at the screen for a while, flipping through channels and not really seeing anything.


A knock at the door had him grabbing his cell phone to look at the time. It was one in the morning. Who the hell was at the door this late? He rolled his eyes and hoped one of the guys on the team hadn’t gotten kicked out by his wife.


He took a look through the peephole, surprised to see Tara standing outside. He opened the door and pulled her in.


“What the hell are you doing out this late?”


Her eyes widened. “I came to see you.”


Mick shut and locked the door. “You should have called me.”


“I’m sorry. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. Bad time?”


“No, it’s not that. I just don’t want you out on the streets or wandering around in this parking lot late at night by yourself.”


She stepped in and slid her fingers into the pockets of her jeans, looking as uncomfortable as he felt. “Oh. Well, thanks for your concern.”


“You want something to drink?”


“Whatever you’re having.”


“Water with lime.”


“That’ll suit me just fine.”


He fixed her a drink and brought it out to her. She was still standing in the same spot as she was when she walked in. “You can sit down, Tara.”


“I don’t know if you want me to stay or not.”


He handed her the drink. “Sit down.”


She did, taking a seat in his oversized chair, not on the sofa with him. Okay, so it was going to be like that.


She stared at the television for a while and he let her, figuring she’d come here to say something. He sipped his water, watching her, knowing she was thinking, organizing her thoughts. She always went quiet when her brain was working, when she was thinking about what she wanted to say or working out a plan of action.


He finally gave up and found them a movie to watch.


“Mick, I’m sorry.”


He muted the TV and gave her his attention. “I’m sorry, too. This thing between Alicia and me tonight was very last-minute. Liz called—”


She held up her hand. “It doesn’t matter. You don’t owe me an explanation.”


He pushed off the sofa and came over to her, dropping to his knees in front of her chair. “Liz called and said this was very last-minute,” he continued, needing her to hear him, telling her the story of how Alicia’s fiancé had fallen sick and she didn’t want to tell the world about her fiancé and her pregnancy without some support. “I was nothing more than a glorified bodyguard to keep the press from knocking her over.”


Tara pulled her knees to her chest. “You were very nice to her. I saw how close you stayed to her. I’m sure she appreciated it.”


“She’s a nice kid. But she’s a kid, Tara. She’s twenty-two.”


Tara’s lips lifted. “Some of the women you’ve dated haven’t been much older than that.”


She was right about that. “I’ve reformed. I like more mature women now.”


She snorted. “Gee, thanks.”


“You know what I mean.” He slid his hands over her knees. “I should have called you and given you a heads-up. I wasn’t even thinking that we were attending the same event as you. I was just operating blind here, assuming I was going to do this good deed and tell you about it tomorrow. I didn’t want to call and bother you with something trivial like this when I knew you were busy with work.”


Tara leaned forward and tangled her fingers in his hair. “I know. And then you ran into me, and I acted like a giant bitch about it all.”


He gave her an impish grin. “I’m going to assume it just means you care about me.”


“If I didn’t, you wouldn’t have seen me act like a giant bitch.”


“So we’re good?”


“We’re good. And I’m really sorry. I acted petty and jealous and I don’t know why. It’s a very ugly side of me, and I don’t like it. Did I mention I was sorry?”


“You don’t need to be. Next time I’ll give you a heads-up when Liz tosses some stunning, sexy young babe at me.”


Tara mimicked a knife stabbing repeatedly into her heart. “You’re killing me here, Mick.”


He laughed and stood, pulling her into his arms. “Just kidding.”


She leaned against him. “No you’re not. It’s likely to happen again. It’s your job to do these promotional things. I need to learn to live with it.”


“No, it won’t happen again. No one needs to be on my arm but you.”


Tara swallowed, her throat gone dry. She tried to say something, but what retort could she come up with for that statement? Instead, she reached up and cupped the back of his neck, drawing his lips to hers. Enough had been said, and they were already headed into dangerous territory. Kissing was a much better idea.


When his lips met hers, the anguish of the night dissolved and she felt settled again. Every time she was in Mick’s arms she felt ... she didn’t know how she felt. She wanted to say calm, but that wasn’t it, because whenever he touched her he riled her up and got her excited, so calm definitely wasn’t the right word.


Perfect. It felt perfect and right to be with him, and when he wrapped his arms around her and deepened the kiss, exploring her tongue with his, she sighed, because everything was in balance again.


He broke the kiss and leaned back. “Can you find someone for Nathan to hang out with for a weekend?”


His question made her pause. “What? Why?”


“I bid on and won that private island in the Caribbean. I want to take you there.”


She reached up and laid her hand across her heart. “You do?”


“Yeah. What did you think I was bidding on it for? To take my mother?”


She was in total awe of this man. “Wow. Well, uh, I guess I could ask his coach.”


“Do that. We’ll have to do it soon because once we get into preseason games, my weekends are shot.”


“I’ll ask Coach tomorrow.”


He slid his hands down her back and cupped her butt in his hands. “I’d like to have you to myself for a couple days, where no one bothers us.”


She shivered in his arms, already imagining what that would be like. “I’m already packing.”


“Better make that phone call tomorrow, then. We can go next weekend if you’re free.”


“As a matter of fact, I am free next weekend.”


His eyes crinkled as he gave her a devilish smile. “Then if it’s okay with Nathan’s coach, we’re on. Start packing.”


SIXTEEN


OKAY, SO PRIVATE ISLANDS AND HAVING YOUR OWN butler and wearing very little clothing was as far away from Tara’s normal daily existence as she could get.


She could get used to this kind of lifestyle. She’d thought when the auction item said “private island,” they meant a little slice of an island with a privacy fence.


Uh, no. They’d flown to the Virgin Islands, then taken another flight somewhere. Tara had gotten lost and had no idea where they were. Maybe that was the point. They’d taken a boat to a tiny island that was truly uninhabited by anyone other than the two of them and their butler, who served them meals, took care of their every need, and other than that made himself totally invisible. If they needed something, they picked up a phone and called him. He told them his quarters were off island, so they could be assured of their privacy. Which meant they could walk the island naked if they wanted to.


Tara couldn’t imagine doing that, but it had taken Mick all of an hour to throw off his clothes and sunbathe naked on the sand. Who was she to argue with the primal urge to go native? Soon she was lying on a cozy beach chair with no clothes on, and she’d never felt more decadent in her entire life.


The island—what could she say about this island? A stretch of sand that looked out over turquoise waters with no other land in sight, making her feel totally isolated. Lazy palm trees that bent and swayed in a gentle breeze, providing shade over the sand. Their own two-story home nestled in the forest that overlooked the bay. It was heaven.


The warm breeze sailed across her skin, and she inhaled the salty air, lifting her arms to stretch and roll over. After about an hour in the sun, she’d pushed her chair under a palm tree to soak up some shade, careful not to sunburn her skin. The last thing she’d want is to miss any of this glorious tropical paradise while nursing a burn.


It was too perfect. Warmth, breeze, and utter relaxation. Her eyes drifted closed, but then she felt warm lips against her back, and she smiled as a hand followed, smoothing down her spine to rest at the spot where her lower back met her buttocks.


“Mmmmmmmm,” was all she could manage.


“I like you like this,” Mick said, teasing between her butt cheeks with his fingers. “Your body warm from the sun, every muscle like liquid.”


“I’m pretty much at your mercy right now. You can do whatever you want with me.”


“Is that right. Anything?”


Her limbs felt heavy, and so did her head. She couldn’t even muster the strength to nod, but the other parts of her—the female parts—they were firing up like a roaring engine. “Anything.”


He continued to massage her back with light touches, and it felt so good, especially when he kneaded the small of her back, teasing her by lightly tracing his fingertips over her butt cheeks. From hard pressure on the muscles of her back to the torturous caresses on her butt, it was driving her crazy, making her relaxed and tense at the same time. Her nipples peaked against the chair, and she wanted to rub them against the towel, anything to get some friction. Being naked meant her clit was getting some contact, too, and she felt the urge to reach between her legs and rub the throbbing ache Mick had caused.


But then he spread her legs. She felt the brush of his hair against her thighs and the swipe of his tongue across her pussy lips. She arched, lifting her butt, and his tongue slid across her clit.


Yes, that’s what she wanted. She got up on her knees, and he tucked his head between her legs, licking her pussy in long, delicious swipes.

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