Her twin was a dead man.
Kelsie Cole glared daggers at the silver Lexus pulling up
the dirt road to the cabin. John McBride, her brother's best
friend, and one of the very few people who had the ability
to get under Kelsie's skin, owned said luxury vehicle. He
had always irritated her; twenty years of knowing him had
not changed her desire to smack the man more times than not
since practically the moment they'd met so long ago.
Damn it, what in the hell was her soon to be deceased brother
doing sending this man up to the cabin during her week of
John slid out of his car, his white shirt crisp and buttoned,
tie and dress pants equally neat, even in ninety-five degree
August heat. His dark hair lay neatly combed and trimmed to
just the right corporate length, and his face didn't look
any less attractive for the fact that he sported a five o'clock
The clock had just struck noon.
Growling under her breath, Kelsie ignored the kneejerk reaction
that made her want to run inside and change out of her cutoffs
and T-shirt into something that would cover her extra layer
of fluff from the judgment of a man whose body didn't dare
defy him and gain an ounce of weight that wasn't pure, steely
"You can get right back in your car and drive home,
McBride," she called down to where he stood at the bottom
of the steps. "The cabin is mine for the week. I don't
care what my idiot brother must have said about it being free."
John McBride moved up the steps with deliberate intent. Kelsie
didn't even realize she had backed up until she bumped into
the storm door. Cursing that damn flight instinct that always
kicked in around this man lately, she forced her body ramrod
John didn't stop moving until he stood a foot in front of
her, towering over her own considerable six-foot frame. He
dropped his black duffel bag at his side. "I've told
you a thousand times I don't respond to the name McBride.
If you want me to answer to you this week, you need to start
remembering that my name is John."
"Call yourself the king of the whole damn world for
all I care. You're still not staying in this cabin with me
John swept her with his icy blue stare, eliciting a shiver.
She crossed her arms against her chest and rubbed her fingers
over her favorite tat, a blue and green elaborate swirling
design on her upper arm that only she knew incorporated hers,
her brother's, and their grandmother's initials in the circular
scroll work. It was one of a dozen tattoos on her body, and
only one of the reasons this man had a tendency to study her
as if she were a science project. Her shocking pink hair and
ears full of piercings came in a close second and third. Her
look flew in the face of everything John and her brother represented,
where having a neat and clean image meant the difference between
gaining new clients in their venture capitalist firm or not.
Kelsie always thought John McBride took the controlled, straight
and narrow lifestyle just a little too close to his heart.
She sometimes wondered if he had replaced his soul with a
scorecard so he could check off where he stood among the ranks
of his fellow stuffed shirts.
"I didn't drive five hours up the North Carolina mountainside
to turn around and go home, Kelsie." God, she
hated the way he stressed her name, made it sound so easy
to say when she wouldn't do the same for him. "You can
take up the crossed dates with your brother, but I only take
one goddamned week of vacation a year, so I have no intentions
of leaving." He scrutinized her from top to bottom. "You
look settled in. I don't think you're about to pack up and
drive home either."
They both lived and worked in Raleigh, although her brother
had once told her John said he and she might as well be on
Kelsie looked John over just as thoroughly as he'd done to
her, deliberately taking her time on the wide expanse of chest
hidden under that damn wrinkle-free, starched shirt. She finally
reached his face, and wished she hadn't done it. He sported
a lazy smile that actually twinkled and rang true in his eyes.
Damn typical man. He'd enjoyed her leering.
"You want to invite me in?" John leaned down and
grabbed his bag. "Or do I wait until you're off swimming
in the lake and slip in with my own key?"
"All right, fine." Kelsie pushed her way inside
and led him to the unoccupied room. "But just so you
know, I'm only doing it because I know you could sue me for
everything I own if I make you wait outside and you end up
with Lyme disease--or something equally horrific--as a result
of my refusal to let you indoors."
"Maybe I shouldn't have pushed so hard." John paused
at the threshold of the door to his room. He met her gaze
and that infuriating slow smile of his showed itself again.
"I happen to know your business is worth a tidy little
He closed the door in her face, leaving her standing on the
outside with her jaw touching the floor.
Son of a bitch. How in the hell did John McBride know about
the net worth of The Sweetest Tattoo?
* * * *
John strode down the trampled path of grass to the private
deck that jutted out into the lake, and immediately spotted
the top of Kelsie's familiar pink hair over the back of one
of the Adirondack chairs. He tossed his towel over the back
of the empty one next to her and took a seat.
Kelsie barely spared him a glance, but it lasted long enough
for him to see the fire in her hazel eyes.
He arched a brow. "What?"
"It's a big cabin and an even bigger lake and mountain."
Kelsie's attention went right back to what she had on her
lap. "You're not required to sit next to me just because
we're here together. It's kind of like that guy who walks
into an almost empty movie theater and sits down next to the
only other person in the place." She shot him another
quick look. "It's a hinky combination of creepy, irritating,
John forced down the desire to grab Kelsie and make her exchange
an actual dialog with him, rather than these scathing retorts
he got much too often from her lately. He didn't want to fight,
damn it, he just wanted her to talk to him like a real person.
He had seen her do it with other people, so he knew she could.
Stretching his legs out, John settled his hands against his
bare stomach. "What are you working on?" With his
partially blocked view, he could only see a sketchpad with
pencil markings. He couldn't make out what she sketched without
getting a whole lot closer. Right now, he valued his balls
too much to try scooting in.
"Just doodling," Kelsie answered. Her pencil moved
with steady strokes over her paper. "Sketching the lake
and the cabin on the other side."
"Really?" John leaned over the arm of his chair
and stole a quick look after all. "Huh." He didn't
know shit about art, but the sketch looked damned realistic,
as well as pretty, to his untrained eye. "I didn't realize
you did more traditional stuff like this. I always assumed
you limited your work to designs you could incorporate into
a tattoo." He happened to know that everything inked
into her curvaceous body was Original Kelsie Cole. "Are
you looking to try something new?"
"Nope." She didn't look up. "This is just
for fun. I love what I do, McBride, even if it doesn't seem
very mature and adult to you."
"Hey." John jumped out of his chair in a shot and
clutched Kelsie's chin in his hand. Tilting her head back,
he forced her to meet his gaze. Christ, he hardly ever got
to touch her, but when he did, she stirred him to hard life
in about two damn seconds. Right now, he didn't much care
if she saw his stiff cock tenting the crotch of his swim trunks.
She would find out about it in one way or another sometime
in the next seven days. Living in isolation, in one cabin,
didn't leave much room for secrets or hiding.
Kelsie jerked against his hold. "Let go of me."
She glared up at him.
John loosened his grip, but not nearly enough to let her
slip free. "I'm getting damn sick of you putting words
in my mouth for me." His voice dropped to lethally soft,
one he used on clients to which he offered one last chance
not to screw up before he yanked his money out of their business.
"I don't understand what you do, Kelsie, I admit that,
but I have never judged it as less than what I do. The next
time you get defensive about something innocent I say, or
call me McBride when I have already asked you to call me John,
I'm gonna stick my tongue down your throat just to shut you
up. You decide if you want that the next time you think of
something bitchy to throw at me just because you know it'll
piss me off."
John let Kelsie go and dove into the water. If he stayed
one second longer watching her eyes burn a hole through him,
he just might take her right there in the Adirondack chair,
witnesses from across the lake and all. ...