Authors: Carly Phillips
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
To all the self-published and indie authors who paved the way for me to make this leap, THANK YOU!
Copyright © Karen Drogin, November 18, 2013
Cover Photo Copyright: Kellie Denison, Novel Graphic Designs
Published by: Carly Phillips, November 18, 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locals, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author.
nce a year, the Dare siblings gathered at the Club Meridian Ballroom in South Florida to celebrate the birthday of the father many of them despised. Ian Dare raised his glass filled with Glenlivet and took a sip, letting the slow burn of fine scotch work its way down his throat and into his system. He’d need another before he fully relaxed.
“Hi, big brother.” His sister Olivia strode up to him and nudged him with her elbow.
“Watch the drink,” he said, wrapping his free arm around her shoulders for an affectionate hug. “Hi, Olivia.”
She returned the gesture with a quick kiss on his cheek. “It’s nice of you to be here.”
He shrugged. “I’m here for Avery and for you. Although why you two forgave him—”
“Uh-uh. Not here.” She wagged a finger in front of his face. “If I have to put on a dress, we’re going to act civilized.”
Ian stepped back and took in his twenty-four-year-old sister for the first time. Wearing a gold gown, her dark hair up in a chic twist, it was hard to believe she was the same bane of his existence who’d chased after him and his friends until they relented and let her play ball with them.
“You look gorgeous,” he said to her.
She grinned. “You have to say that.”
“I don’t. And I mean it. I’ll have to beat men off with sticks when they see you.” The thought darkened his mood.
“You do and I’ll have your housekeeper short-sheet your bed! Again, there should be perks to getting dressed like this, and getting laid should be one of them.”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” he muttered and took another sip of his drink.
“You not only promised to come tonight, you swore you’d behave.”
Ian scowled. “Good behavior ought to be optional considering the way he flaunts his assets,” he said with a nod toward where Robert Dare held court.
Around him sat his second wife of nine years, Savannah Dare, and their daughter, Sienna, along with their nearest and dearest country club friends. Missing were their other two sons, but they’d show up soon.
Olivia placed a hand on his shoulder. “He loves her, you know. And Mom’s made her peace.”
“Mom had no choice once she found out about
Robert Dare had met the much younger Savannah Sheppard and, to hear him tell it, fallen instantly in love. She was now the mother of his three other children, the oldest of whom was twenty-five. Ian had just turned thirty. Anyone could do the math and come up with two families at the same time. The man was beyond fertile, that was for damned sure.
At the reminder, Ian finished his drink and placed the tumbler on a passing server’s tray. “I showed my face. I’m out of here.” He started for the exit.
“Ian, hold on,” his sister said, frustration in her tone.
“What? Do you want me to wait until they sing ‘Happy Birthday’? No thanks. I’m leaving.”
Before they could continue the discussion, their half brother Alex strode through the double entrance with a spectacular-looking woman holding tightly to his arm, and Ian’s plans changed.
Some people had presence; others merely wished they possessed that magic something. In her bold, red dress and fuck-me heels, she owned the room. And he wanted to own her. Petite and curvy, with long, chocolate-brown hair that fell down her back in wild curls, she was the antithesis of every too-thin female he’d dated and kept at arm’s length. But she was with his half brother, which meant he had to steer clear.
“I thought you were leaving,” Olivia said from beside him.
“I am.” He should. If he could tear his gaze away from
“If you wait for Tyler and Scott, you might just relax enough to have fun,” she said of their brothers. “Come on, please?” Olivia used the pleading tone he never could resist.
“Yeah, please, Ian? Come on,” his sister Avery said, joining them, looking equally mature in a silver gown that showed way too much cleavage. At twenty-two, she was similar in coloring and looks to Olivia, and he wasn’t any more ready to think of her as a grown-up—never mind letting other men ogle her—than he was with her sister.
Ian set his jaw, amazed these two hadn’t been the death of him yet.
“So what am I begging him to do?” Avery asked Olivia.
Olivia grinned. “I want him to stay and hang out for a while. Having fun is probably out of the question, but I’m trying to persuade him to let loose.”
“Brat,” he muttered, unable to hold back a smile at Olivia’s persistence.
He stole another glance at his lady in red. He could no more leave than he could approach her, he thought, frustrated because he was a man of action, and right now, he could do nothing but watch her.
“Well?” Olivia asked.
He forced his gaze to his sister and smiled. “Because you two asked so nicely, I’ll stay.” But his attention remained on the woman now dancing and laughing with his half brother.
* * *
Riley Taylor felt his eyes on her from the moment she entered the elegantly decorated ballroom on the arm of another man. As it was, her heels made it difficult enough to maneuver gracefully. Knowing a devastatingly sexy man watched her every move only made not falling on her ass even more of a challenge.
Alex Dare, her best friend, was oblivious. Being the star quarterback of the Tampa Breakers meant he was used to stares and attention. Riley wasn’t. And since this was his father’s birthday bash, he knew everyone here. She didn’t.
She definitely didn’t know
. She’d managed to avoid this annual party in the past with a legitimate work excuse one year, the flu another, but this year, Alex knew she was down in the dumps due to job problems, and he’d insisted she come along and have a good time.
While Alex danced with his mother then sisters, she headed for the bar and asked the bartender for a glass of ice water. She took a sip and turned to go find a seat, someplace where she could get off her feet and slip free of her offending heels.
She’d barely taken half a step when she bumped into a hard, suit-clad body. The accompanying jolt sent her water spilling from the top of her glass and into her cleavage. The chill startled her as much as the liquid that dripped down her chest.
“Oh!” She teetered on her stilettos, and big, warm hands grasped her shoulders, steadying her.
She gathered herself and looked up into the face of the man she’d been covertly watching. “You,” she said on a breathy whisper.
His eyes, a steely gray with a hint of blue in the depths, sparkled in amusement and something more. “Glad you noticed me too.”
She blinked, mortified, no words rushing into her brain to save her. She was too busy taking him in. Dark brown hair stylishly cut, cheekbones perfectly carved, and a strong jaw completed the package. And the most intense heat emanated from his touch as he held on to her arms. His big hands made her feel small, not an easy feat when she was always conscious of her too-full curves.
She breathed in deeply and was treated to a masculine, woodsy scent that turned her insides to pure mush. Full-scale awareness rocked her to her core. This man hit all her right buttons.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“I’m fine.” Or she would be if he’d release her so she could think. Instead of telling him so, she continued to stare into his handsome face.
“You certainly are,” he murmured.
A heated flush rushed to her cheeks at the compliment, and a delicious warmth invaded her system.
“I’m sorry about the spill,” he said.
At least she hoped he was oblivious to her ridiculous attraction to him.
“You’re wet.” He released her and reached for a napkin from the bar.
Yes, she was. In wholly inappropriate ways considering they’d barely met. Desire pulsed through her veins. Oh my God, what was it about this man that caused reactions in her body another man would have to work overtime to achieve?
He pressed the thin paper napkin against her chest and neck. He didn’t linger, didn’t stroke her anywhere he shouldn’t, but she could swear she felt the heat of his fingertips against her skin. Between his heady scent and his deliberate touch, her nerves felt raw and exposed. Her breasts swelled, her nipples peaked, and she shivered, her body tightening in places she’d long thought dormant. If he noticed, he was too much of a gentleman to say.
No man had ever awakened her senses this way before. Sometimes she wondered if that was a deliberate choice on her part. Obviously not, she thought and forced herself to step back, away from his potent aura.
He crinkled the napkin and placed the paper onto the bar.
“Thank you,” she said.
“My pleasure.” The word, laced with sexual innuendo, rolled off his tongue, and his eyes darkened, an indication that this crazy attraction she experienced wasn’t one-sided.
“Maybe now we can move on to introductions. I’m Ian Dare,” he said.
She swallowed hard, disappointment rushing through her as she realized, for all her awareness of him, he was the one man at this party she ought to stay away from. “Alex’s brother.”
“Half brother,” he bit out.