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Chapter One

ADDISON DAHL LEANED against the outdoor bar, surrounded by all the beauty an evening wedding on Elpitha Island, a small stretch of land off the coast of South Carolina, had to offer. Couples danced beneath twinkling lights, children darted across the lawn with sparklers in hand, laughing and making designs against the night sky. With ocean views as far as the eye could see, island music sailing through the air, and a lighthouse standing sentinel, Addy’s best friend, Gabriella, married her forever love, investor Duke Ryder. Tonight was bittersweet. Addison had worked as Gabriella’s legal assistant for several years, and now Gabriella was talking about starting a family and cutting back on her practice. She and Duke were leaving for their honeymoon in a couple days, and Addy was leaving for ten days of soul-searching in the mountains in upstate New York. She couldn’t help wondering how different their lives would be when they returned from their trips.

“They look happy, don’t they?” Trish, Duke’s younger sister and Addy’s friend, joined her by the bar. A lock of her dark hair swept across her cheek with the breeze, and she tucked it behind her ear, her eyes dancing with excitement. She’d been absolutely glowing since her fiancé, rock star Boone Stryker, had proposed to her earlier in the evening. He’d surprised her not only with a ring, but also with a wedding that was scheduled to take place the day after tomorrow right there on the island.

“Blissfully happy,” Addy agreed. Duke, an investor, was beautifying Elpitha, where Gabriella had grown up. He was single-handedly making all of Gabriella’s dreams come true. Addy was happy for her friend, but her needs were vastly different. As the daughter of a world-renowned fashion designer, she didn’t want or need a man to take care of her. She’d had enough of that for a lifetime. At almost thirty years old, she doubted she’d ever meet a man fierce, smart, and passionate enough to hold her interest for a week, much less forever. Addy had never felt anything beyond turned on for any man, and at this point she assumed it was just how she was wired. Which, apparently, was vastly different from the head-over-heels-in-love women she was currently surrounded by.

“I’m so glad Boone decided to get married here,” Trish said dreamily. “I couldn’t have asked for a more romantic setting.”

Elpitha was the epitome of romantic, but life moved too slow for Addy on the tiny island, and the Internet moved even slower. She needed excitement the way others craved downtime, which was what she loved most about living in New York City.

“Speaking of romance,” Trish said conspiratorially, “Jake hasn’t taken his eyes off of you all night.”

Addy forced herself not to glance at Trish’s older, arrogant, fast-talking, hotter-than-sin brother she’d been hard-core fantasizing about since she’d met him several months ago. She really needed to get him out of her head once and for all, because he was starting to mess with her mind. It didn’t help that he hit on her every time they were together, which was often, because Addy joined Gabriella and Duke, along with several of his siblings—almost always including Jake—for drinks or dinner about every other week. Hopefully her ten days away would get the sexy player out of her head for good.

“Oh!” Trish exclaimed. “My fiancé is finally done dancing with my mom.” She lowered her voice and said, “I can’t get enough of saying that. My fiancé. I’ll catch up with you soon. I want to get in his arms before one of Gabriella’s pretty cousins tries to snatch him up.”

Trish crossed the lawn with a bounce in her step, leaving Addy alone with her thoughts. A cool breeze swept up the bluff, lifting the hem of her royal-blue halter dress clear across her thighs. She felt the heat of Jake’s gaze before she lifted her eyes, catching sight of him striding confidently in her direction. Chin held high, eyes dark as night, every step full of potent male swagger, he zeroed in for another round of innuendos. The man had a homing device for all things sexual. Pretending not to notice the heat of his stare searing through her normally impenetrable nerves, she looked around for something to distract herself, wishing she had her phone so she could at least scroll through Tumblr. She’d spent more than a handful of nights trolling the naughty pages of nearly naked—okay, and maybe a few naked—men as a distraction from the one coming closer by the second.

Jake moved like a lion, stealthy and powerful, seemingly oblivious to the excited voices and laughter all around him as he patiently stalked his prey. Being hunted by a man who looked like he could take down a predator with one hand tied behind his back was an exhilaratingly dangerous feeling. And hunted was the only way to describe the way he came just close enough to mark his territory without physically staking claim. Not that Addy wanted him to stake claim.

That’s not entirely true.

She’d like him to drive his stake into her but not claim her. They’d been playing this seductive game for months, giving her plenty of time to decipher her feelings. Or rather, her impulses. Addy didn’t do feelings toward men. But she couldn’t deny that over the past few months she’d seen more in Jake than just his badassery and ability to weaken knees with a single glance. She’d come to admire the way he protected his siblings, was always there for his brothers’ significant others, and the way he acknowledged the accomplishments of others, both male and female. Addy was used to working with men who were too wrapped up in themselves to see past their own noses, and she’d grown up with a father who had never allowed women the need to make decisions, much less accomplish anything significant.

She couldn’t help comparing her understated father, who moved like the wind, silently handling every aspect of her and her mother’s lives before they even had a chance to think, to Jake, a bull in a china shop with no airs about him. She admired Jake’s open appreciation for both beauty and brains as much as she admired his brooding, alpha tendencies. She’d love to know if he packed the same dose of virility in between the sheets as he did when he was flirting. He had an edge about him that never seemed to soften. Even the appearance of a smile on his impossibly chiseled face knocked her off-kilter. It came across as a wicked invitation, one she’d like to take him up on, if not for the fact that he scared the shit out of her.

The spicy scent of Jake’s cologne overrode the aroma of grilled meats and casseroles Gabriella’s relatives had spent all day preparing. Jake rested his elbow on the bar beside her, brushing his muscular forearm against hers and sending ripples of awareness to her core.

Who was she kidding? There was no distracting herself from the biggest distraction of them all.

“I think there are still a few guys you haven’t danced with yet.”

Of course Jake would go straight to pushing her buttons.

“I’ll have to take care of that, won’t I? Gab’s brother, Niko, is looking awfully hot tonight.” Niko was the epitome of a Greek heartthrob. Tall, dark, handsome, and as touchy-feely as the rest of Gabriella’s warm and loving family. He was also a shameless flirt.

Jake ground his teeth together, nearly paralyzing her with a blistering stare.

“I haven’t seen you dance all night. What’s the matter? Not into sexy island girls? Because I’m pretty sure that guy over there by the tree bats for the other team.” She enjoyed taunting the lion, even if she didn’t want to get too close. Her pulse beat wildly, and her fingers ached to grab him by the collar of his dress shirt and yank him down for what she knew would be an incredibly hot kiss. She tried to keep from dropping her eyes lower, but she was no match for the enticing ever-present bulge beneath his zipper. The one that became even more prominent when they were near. And damn, she liked knowing she had that effect on him.

He leaned in close, his warm breath coasting over her cheek. “I’m not into dancing, but if you keep looking at me like that you might find yourself getting up close and personal with more than you can handle.”

She lifted her eyes to his, which had gone coal black, and she swallowed hard against the lust threatening to pour out her mouth. Addy was used to controlling every interaction and reveled in holding her own and taking what she wanted where men were concerned. Or at least she always had, until the King of Hotness standing next to her came into the picture. Jake definitely threw her off her game. Lately, when they were together, she caught herself wondering if what she was experiencing were actual emotions rather than impulses. That was one thing that had kept her from taking their flirting to the next level. His relationship to her best friend was the other. But boy did she want to cross that line. It had been way too long since she had been with a man, thanks to Jake. Every time she came close to satisfying the urge to feel the weight of a man pressing down on her and get lost in the throes of passion, goddamn Jake swam into her mind, stealing her focus and killing the moment. Her fantasy had become her own personal cockblocker.

In an effort to reclaim the upper hand and prove he did not rattle her, she dragged her eyes over his chest again and said, “I have yet to meet a man who comes close to being what I can handle, much less more.”

The edge of his lips twitched as if they might quirk up, but he clenched his jaw, making the muscles beneath his dark scruff jump. He shifted his eyes away just as Niko headed toward them with a warm and inviting smile, making those jaw muscles work double time.

Niko nodded at Jake and offered his hand to Addy. “What kind of brother would I be if I didn’t dance with my sister’s beautiful best friend? Care to join me?”

“I’d love to.” Addy reached for his hand, taking pleasure in the tension rolling off of the man who had yet to ask her for a single dance but had no trouble inviting her into his bed.


IF JAKE HAD to watch one more guy dance with Addison he was going to murder someone. His hands fisted at his sides as yet another of Gabriella’s relatives put his hands around Addison’s slim waist, holding her so close she could probably taste his breath. That thought grated like sandpaper beneath his skin. The only breath he wanted her thinking about was his. Between her thighs, preferably. Which was precisely why he needed to stop watching her.

He loosened his tie, forcing his eyes away from the woman who was seriously screwing with his mind. Jake wasn’t big on weddings, but Duke had gone all out. The ceremony had taken place on a bluff overlooking the ocean, surrounded by their families and what seemed like the entire close-knit island community. Strings of sparkling white lights stretched clear across the bluff, illuminating the dance area, dozens of tables with floral centerpieces, and the awesome gazebo their brother, Blue, had built for the occasion. Hell if something inside Jake hadn’t unexpectedly softened at the sight of his teary-eyed eldest brother pledging his eternal love to the woman he loved.

His eyes drifted back to Addison, dancing in a blue halter dress that hugged every inch of her slim, sexy body. Just like Niko is doing. Yet another tall, dark, and built dude to yank Jake’s chain. Not that she was his to drool over. A relationship was definitely not in his plans. But that didn’t stop the woman from sticking in his mind like an itch he couldn’t scratch since the very first time he’d set eyes on her. Maybe it was her full, tempting lips that gave her a starring role in his dirty midnight fantasies. Or maybe it’s your goddamn vehemence about not needing a man in your life.

Or, more specifically, not needing him.

Wanting, he corrected himself. Not wanting him.

Damn that stung.

Over the past several months, she’d met each of his innuendos with one of her own but had no trouble walking away without taking him up on them. That was probably a good thing since she was Gabriella’s best friend, and he knew she was totally off-limits for a one-time hookup. But for some reason, he couldn’t back off.

“You could ask her to dance.”

Jake glanced at his older brother Cash. He’d been so lost in thought he hadn’t even heard him approaching. He took in his serious brown eyes and his I-know-what-I’m-talking-about expression. Cash and his wife, Siena, had two-month-old twins, Charlotte “Coco” Rose and Seth, and somehow, when Jake added father to his brother’s already impressive repertoire—fireman, loving husband, and protective older brother—it gave that look in his eyes even more credence. And that bugged Jake, too, because of his five siblings Cash had always been one of the easier kids. A good one. While Jake was definitely…not. Following in Cash’s shadow had not been easy. His older brother’s good-boy behavior made Jake’s rebellious nature stand out even more. Usually Jake was cool with that, but tonight he was too irritated to be okay with anything short of Addison Dahl lying naked beneath him. Or maybe on her knees. Yeah, that’d do just fine, too.

“I’d ask her to dance if I wanted to dance, but the only kind of dancing I want to do is horizontal.” He wasn’t about to make his attraction to Addy out to be something it wasn’t, despite the way she became tangled in his every thought. She was a hot chick he wanted to bang. An unattainable challenge. Nothing more.

At least that’s what he told himself.

Lucky, Boone’s eighteen-year-old brother, joined them at the bar. He had that bad-boy attitude girls his age dug, and his dark hair and eyes gave him an edgy biker look. The kid was brilliant, too. In the span of a few short hours he’d chatted Duke up about online marketing, told Blue about a computer program he could tweak to maximize efficiency for his business, and gave Gage tips on how to fix his computer issues.

“Seriously?” Cash laughed. “Jake, you’ve been drooling over her for months, and you haven’t been with another woman in how long, exactly?”

Long enough that hearing you say it makes me want to throttle you.

“You’ve gotta be talking about Addison.” Lucky smirked. “She is so freaking hot, and man, Jake, if you don’t want her…”

“Back off,” Jake growled.

He never said he didn’t want her. Addy was as frustrating as she was beautiful. He didn’t know a woman alive who didn’t need a man in her life. As an independent search and rescue professional handling rescues all over the United States, he knew all too well that there were times that called for sheer strength. But Addy had something to prove—to herself or to her family, Jake wasn’t sure. She was also the complete opposite of the women he usually went for. Tall, blonde, a nice rack, and a firm ass were pretty much mandatory in his bed. Or at least they had been until he’d set eyes on the petite, small-breasted, sassy brunette who looked like she should be treated like fine china but spoke as though she could hold her own in a biker bar. Her no-bullshit attitude should probably turn him off, but it had the complete opposite effect. He could barely look at her without getting turned on, and Addy knew it. She taunted him as if she were offering honey to a bee—only she was the one with the stinger, and she never hesitated to use it. And now she’d gotten a bug up her sexy little butt about roughing it in the wilderness. She was leaving the day after tomorrow. That gave Jake two days to talk Addy out of her crazy plan so her stubborn, sexy ass didn’t get injured, or lost. Or picked up by a forest ranger.

That’s how I know you’re not just looking to get laid,” Cash said.

Jake scoffed. “Getting laid is exactly what I’m looking for with Addy, only as Gabriella’s best friend, she’s not exactly fair game for a good time.” Good time? He tried to ignore the voice in his head telling him that he wasn’t fooling himself any more than he was fooling Cash. Addy’s eyes found his, igniting the torch she’d planted the first time they met.

Niko’s hand moved south, his fingertips grazing the base of her spine. Jake’s gut knotted. One more inch and I’ll break those fingers.

“She’s only off-limits if she’s not on the same page,” Lucky said with a smirk.

Cash’s pinched expression told Jake he did not agree, but Jake had already latched on to Lucky’s nudge, and his mind was running with it.

“Better think long and hard about it, bro,” Cash said. “If you make a move, don’t make the wrong one.”

Jake’s gaze darted back to the woman toying with his emotions. Addy flashed a coy smile, licking her luscious lips and sending heat straight to his groin. Was she on the same page? After months of flirting to the point of leaving him blue-balled, could this be his lucky night? It was no secret that she talked about sex like she thrived on pushing her boundaries—boundaries Jake would be all too happy to shatter. Was Lucky right? If she was cool with a one-night stand, could he take her friendship with Gabriella off the table? Adrenaline coursed through him with the thought, followed closely by Cash’s comment. Was there a right or wrong move when it came to a one-night stand?

Niko’s hand slid lower. Addy’s narrowing eyes were still glued to Jake. She arched a brow. The little minx. Casting a last taunting look at Jake, she flashed one of her gorgeous smiles up at Niko. Jake should look away, drown his desires in more alcohol, or hit on one of Gabriella’s hot cousins to distract himself from whatever game she was playing. But his eyes were riveted to Addison moving sensually in another man’s arms while she sent him challenging looks.

Fuck this shit. He set his glass on the bar.

“Where are you going?” Cash asked.

“To play librarian,” Lucky answered for him.

“Damn straight.” He was done dicking around. It was time to see exactly what page Addy was on.

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