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Champagne Books Presents
Hot Commodity By
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Champagne Books www.champagnebooks.com Copyright 2010 by Linda Grotheer ISBN 9781926681900 November 2010 Cover Art by Amanda Kelsey Produced in Canada
Champagne Books #35069-4604 37 ST SW Calgary, AB T3E 7C7 Canada
For Lydia Marie
Las Vegas, Nevada Olivia Donovan should’ve known better than to answer the door to her twelfth-floor suite at the Hyatt Regency when someone rapped on it. She knew that sharp knock; only a headache would follow if she opened up. But the repercussions would be even more severe if she didn’t. She smoothed out the wrinkles on the black cocktail dress she wore, skimming her fingers over her waist and hips. Then with a sigh, she took a firm hold of the doorknob, stalling one last moment to brace herself. The smile she bestowed upon her caller was practiced and as fake as the implanted breasts of the woman who stood before her. Vivian Helbrock-Donovan-Roark sniffed as she glanced at Olivia’s attire with a condescending pucker to her painted eyebrows. Before Olivia could greet her, Vivian stepped over the threshold and past her daughter, sweeping into the room with a box tucked under her arm. "You’re not wearing that dust rag tonight." Olivia paused in the middle of shutting the door. "But—" "You’ll wear this instead." Vivian flung the box on the bed with enough enthusiasm to make the lid slip off a few inches, showing Olivia a peek of silky red material. Her mouth dropped open. "You bought me a new dress? Thank y—" "Your appreciation is unnecessary. And unwanted." Vivian whirled around, her mouth stretched thin with annoyance. "There’ll be a man at the dinner tonight. His name is Cameron Banks. When I introduce you to him, I want you to—" she glanced at the red peeking out from under the skewed lid—"dazzle him." Olivia glanced at the dress as well, blinked twice, and turned back to her mother, shaking her head. "I don’t understand. You want me to do what exactly?" She was used to schmoozing people her mother didn’t like yet wanted to remain professionally connected to. This didn’t sound quite like
one of those instances, however. Vivian’s sigh was loud and irritated. "I swear you’re as dense as your father was. Listen and listen good. Banks is just the kind of man I’ve always wanted in my back pocket. And his being family could ensure that. He always finds the hottest commodities on the market and invests at the right time." Shaking her head, she murmured, "The lucky SOB must have connections I could only dream of. It’s too bad Nolan hasn’t keeled over yet, or I’d be all over him myself. Here." She thrust forward a business-size envelope with a Hyatt Regency logo in the top left hand corner. "I’ve written up a small dossier on Banks. Know it inside and out by the time you two are introduced. I want it to appear like there’s some kind of brain in the empty head of yours when he meets you." Still rattled by confusion, Olivia accepted the envelope and opened it. Noticing there was a foil container inside with the folded sheet of paper, she lifted the small package before realizing it was a condom. "I want you to treat him good, Olivia," Vivian murmured with a bit too much evil glee. "Make him want you more than any other woman he’s ever wanted." Olivia’s mouth fell open. "And make sure he wears it," Vivian advised, giving an ominous shake of her finger at Olivia’s nose. "He’ll think you’re responsible and trustworthy if you insist upon protection. Later, however," she added with a shrug, "if we need more leverage, we’ll poke holes in the latex. A baby might be able to convince him to marry you more than you could." Flabbergasted, Olivia stared at the condom. She wished she could be a smart ass and spit back something like, "What, couldn’t you at least find one ‘ribbed for my pleasure’?" But her mind went blank as she studied the prophylactic, rubbing it between her fingers as if it might vanish into thin air with enough chafing and cease to ever have existed. "Meet me in the lobby at seven," Vivian said. "We’ll walk to the conference hall together." Whistling, she turned and strolled from Olivia’s room. Olivia couldn’t believe it. Vivian had no respect whatsoever for her only child. Yes, the woman actually whistled as she commanded her only daughter to whore herself out for Vivian’s career advancement. For twenty-four years, Olivia had been the perfect daughter, striving to become someone her mother could love. She’d done everything Vivian Helbrock-Donovan-Roark demanded of her. Sit up straight, Olivia. Run along and stay out of the way, Olivia. Hold your comments to yourself, Olivia. Lie to the police for Mommy, Olivia. Olivia had always obeyed, longing for a single crumb of affection. Her hand trembled, her fingers constricting around the condom until it crumpled in her fist. She sank onto the bed next to the red dress. Lost and
confused, she clutched the foil the way someone drowning in the ocean would hold onto the only life preserver around. ~*~ An hour later, Olivia leaned over the porcelain vanity and patted the last bit of makeup into place under her eye. There was nothing to be done for the red streaks marring the whites of her eyes; it hadn’t occurred to her she’d need to pack her Visine for this trip. But at least the skin circling her baby blues didn’t look as swollen and puffy as it had twenty minutes ago. And the tears had dried enough so they didn’t clump her lashes together. Straightening, she took in her overall appearance in the reflection and shivered down a spurt of dread. Instead of slipping into the dress Vivian had bought her from the hotel boutique down on the first floor, Olivia had returned and exchanged it for another. Now, at a quarter 'til seven, she slipped into a pair of strappy shoes and started toward the exit, where she eased open the door to her suite and scanned the halls in her new outfit. To be honest, though, the term outfit was probably too liberal for the contraption she sported. With her eyes and lips lined in thick black, Olivia’s face matched her costume (ah, now 'costume' was a good name). The tight black leather bustier and matching mini skirt adorning her body could give Cat Woman a run for her money. All she needed was whiskers and a tail to match. She already had a leash-like collar wrapped snuggly around her neck. Silver spikes studded the black choker necklace. It was so goth, she’d been tempted to dye her hair black just to match the wicked duds. But Olivia loved her silky, oh-so-blonde corn-silk mane, so she let it be. There was no need for a dye job anyway. She looked perfectly transformed without one. Vivian would drop dead if she caught sight of her daughter in this get-up. She snuck from her room and darted for the elevator. The escape would’ve gone smoothly except for the fact that one of her four-inch d’Orsay stilettos snagged a tassel on a rug and tripped her. She went careening forward and probably would’ve torn her fishnet hose if she hadn’t caught herself with her hands at the very last moment, breaking a new French-tipped fingernail in the process. She struggled to her feet—and not gracefully—when the elevator opened, emitting an elderly couple. The pair pulled to a halt when they saw Cat Woman sprawled at their feet. The man’s jaw dropped. He pressed a fist to his chest as if he might have a heart attack. His wife, a prudish-looking fiend, immediately covered his eyes with her long, bony fingers. Olivia glanced down, hoping she hadn’t spilled out of the top of her costume. Her shoulders slumped when she saw all was good in the boobexposing department. Not a nipple in sight, just a nice healthy display of deep cleavage between the criss-crossing leather ties holding her bustier
together. "Thank God," she muttered, staggering to her feet. She grinned engagingly at the couple. But the woman merely scowled and yanked her husband a step back. "Well, I never." She elbowed her man when he peeked around her fingers in order to get another look at Olivia. Olivia hissed at them. Hey, it seemed like a Cat Woman thing to do. Actually, most of her actions this evening were spurred on by courage in a bottle. After bawling her eyes out, she’d raided the suite’s tiny fridge and divested it of its entire stock of mini liqueurs. Now, feeling loose and free, she tossed back her shoulders and tilted up her chin, then strolled toward the elevator where the attendant, hanging his head out to gawk at her, held the door open with a white-gloved hand. Feeling suddenly uninhibited and mischievous, Olivia winked at the guy in the elevator and swatted the old married fart on the butt as she passed. She felt him jump and spin around, but she didn’t bother to give him a backward glance. She was on the prowl. It was a new and odd sensation, this sudden loss of inhibitions. But the proverbial camel’s back had been broken and the straw that had done it was tucked neatly in its safe foil container inside Olivia’s bustier—just waiting to be used on the right man. Vivian Donavon had gone too far this time, and her obedient daughter wasn’t going to allow it. Olivia had actually scanned the report about Cameron Banks. There was no picture or age listed in the information, but what she’d learned made her cringe. Cameron Orville Banks, president of EarnNet spent his time buying and selling other companies in order to gain a profit. If that detail, which mirrored her mother’s occupation right down to the dotted I’s and crossed T’s, hadn’t turned Olivia off, then the rest of the information certainly finalized her distaste. Banks was supposedly a recovering alcoholic whose wife had committed suicide and left him a millionaire widower. No, it definitely didn’t make her heart go pitter-pat with the warm fuzzies. The rage skimming her bloodstream was barely leashed and growing more uncontrollable by the minute, and in effect, making her crazy plan sound even more sane. Her mother wanted her to marry a lousy alcoholic. Fine. She’d marry a lousy alcoholic. In fact, she planned to snatch up the first alcoholic moron she came across. And then she was going to use the condom meant for Cameron Banks, and she was going to make her new alcoholic husband beg for mercy. The elevator stopped on the first floor. Grinning one last come-hither
smile at the attendant, Olivia trailed her nails over the chest of his uniform as she stepped out into the foyer. Suck on this, Vivian. She lifted her chin again and sauntered out the front doors, where the cab she’d called was already waiting. She let the doorman open the back door for her. The driver asked where she wanted to go, and when she answered, "Just drive," he complied. From the backseat, Olivia scanned her options. There were so many places to husband-hunt. Cruising the Vegas Strip opened numerous options. Not that she felt picky at the moment. "This looks good," she told the driver about ten minutes later. The taxi pulled to the curb, she paid her fare, and out she slid, only to wrinkle her nose at the seedy-looking bar and swallow nervously. Good God, was she really going to do this? Maybe she should just go back to the hotel, wait for her mother, and calmly explain she wasn’t going to sleep with some stranger, no matter how much Vivian insisted. But then Olivia thought about how swell that announcement would go over. There was a good reason she’d never defied Vivian before. Vivian was a cruel, powerful woman. Those two qualities totally sucked when one made an enemy of her—sucked for the enemy, that is. Olivia had seen Vivian’s opponents fall under her metaphoric sword, and Olivia never wanted to get on her mother’s bad side. Of course, there was also the option where she actually went to the dinner, met Cameron Banks, and did her damndest to seduce him. But, no. That wouldn’t work either. She didn’t want to be anywhere near one of Vivian’s crusty, old cronies, and she certainly didn’t want to invite the geezer into bed with her. Two years ago, Vivian had married the most available millionaire around. If this Cameron Banks fellow was anything like Olivia’s eighty-two-year-old stepfather, Nolan Roark, she’d gag if Banks even tried to kiss her. The mere thought made her shudder. Gross. Forcing her rebellion to take precedence, Olivia fisted her hands and entered the bar. But she hadn’t even made it all the way inside before she was ready to leave. There were some truly scary-looking people hanging around, and they all turned to ogle her as soon as she stepped over the threshold. The door shut at her back and swatted her in the butt as it closed, making her yelp and jump a foot further inside. Olivia sent the roomful of gawking eyes an innocent little smile as she eased a step in reverse. She might’ve been looking for the worst candidate Vivian could imagine, but she had to be able to stomach the guy too. No one present looked to fit that bill. As she reached behind her, she sent one last fleeting glance around the slime-infested joint, and that’s when she finally caught sight of him.
Paying no attention to her, he exited the bathroom and made a beeline toward the bar. As he neared a stool that had an empty shot glass in front of it, he went to sit and missed his seat, tripping and slipping off the side. He caught himself just in time. Laughing at his own clumsiness, he ordered another drink as the bartender approached to ask if he was all right. Intrigued, Olivia watched. She waited until he turned slightly in her direction to glance up at the television over the bar. The breath snagged in her chest when she finally caught a view of his side profile. The guy was positively gorgeous. He was dressed in a ratty pair of jeans and a holey Tshirt, yet he looked so yummy Olivia decided she could go grunge after all. She’d always been a sucker for well-defined facial features. Pronounced cheekbones, square jaw, deep-set eyes, and a high forehead. As the bartender set the tiny glass in front of him, he grinned at the man, thanking him. Olivia’s stomach filled with butterflies. He looked, well, he looked kind of lovable, like a happy-go-lucky drunk who didn’t care if he didn’t have a cent to his name just as long as the alcohol kept coming. Her mother would hate him, absolutely despise the very sight of him. "Hey, sexy," a tall, burly man said, approaching Olivia and getting so close his bulging pecs brushed her arm. "Can I buy you a drink?" She didn’t bother to glance over. Her eyes were fixed on the bum at the bar. The drop-dead sexy bum at the bar. "I’m with someone," she answered and proceeded to stroll her fourinch heels toward the bum. Biting her lip as she approached, she studied his back. Even with his shoulders hunched over his shot glasses, she could tell they were nice and wide. From the side view she’d had of his face, she noticed there was at least some kind of intelligence in him. Despite the fact he was plowed, there’d been a modicum of lucidity in the ornery curve in his smile, like he knew some kind of inside joke about the rest of the world. From her standpoint, he appeared too good to be true. Dreamy men like this just weren’t available. They—oh, hell. He was probably married, or at least taken. Coming up directly behind him, Olivia glanced around his shoulder as he picked up his glass to swallow yet another shot. Must be a lefty, she mused as he lifted the glass with his left hand—his left hand that was completely bare of rings. She continued to stare as he set the empty cup down. She was lefthanded. He was left-handed. She figured it was a sign. This was her guy. Now, how did one go about asking a total stranger to marry you? "Hey, will you marry me?" sounded about as straightforward as she could imagine. So, before she could lose her nerve, Olivia tapped him on the shoulder. He was slow to turn, but when he did, he looked at her with a set of
penetrating dark green eyes that made her swallow. "I take your chair?" he said, slurring his words a little. She blinked. Huh? It took her a moment to realize he was asking a question. "Oh! No," she answered, glancing toward the bar stools on either side of him. Even if he had taken her seat, she could’ve settled for any of the ten free stools surrounding him. "Want a drink?" he asked next. "Um, sure," Olivia answered. Why not? Yes, a drink would help segue her into a proposal. He motioned to the stool at his left. "Grab a seat." So far, so good. She gingerly seated herself, noticing he wore a nice-smelling yet subtle cologne as she brushed by. Another plus. "What’ll you have?" he asked as he swept out an arm to display the vast array of liquor displayed along the wall in front of them. "Well…" Olivia licked her lips and glanced at all the drinks. "A Mountain Dew with a cherry in it sounds wonderful." The man gave her a funny look. Then he turned to the bartender and grinned. "Give her a bourbon and coke." He tapped his drained glass against the countertop before adding, "And I’ll have another one of these." The bartender nodded and Olivia’s prospective husband turned back to her. He set his elbows on the countertop as if he were ready to chat. "So, what’s up?" he asked, as if she were some friend he’d had for years, and they were getting together for their weekly gossip session. It was strange how personable he acted. Olivia folded her hands and set them lightly on the edge of the bar. She stared at them as she opened her mouth and tried to say, "Will you marry me?" but the words wouldn’t come. Finally, she bolstered herself and blurted out, "I have to get married." He studied her for a moment and then dropped his eyes, only to lift them a moment later. "When’s it due?" Olivia blinked a few times. "When is what due?" "The baby." Frowning, she shook her head. "Whose baby?" Their drinks arrived. The guy paused to chug his shot. He set the glass down and sighed in satisfaction. Then he turned back to Olivia, picking up their conversation where they’d left off. "Your baby." She floundered. "I don’t have a baby." "You’re not pregnant?" he asked, looking utterly confused. Olivia threw him a dirty look. "No!" She had to glance down at her skin-tight bustier to make sure no fat rolls bulged out. But her belly was as flat as ever.
The man also glanced at her bare stomach. He lifted his eyes. "Then why do you have to get married?" Her shoulders slumped. "Oh," she said in relief. Thank God he wasn’t calling her big. She’d been about ready to give Mr. Green Eyes a black and blue one. Olivia wore a size four, and she worked hard for it. She wasn’t about to let anyone call her chunky. She smiled. "To escape my mother." The guy shook a finger at her in a drunken manner. "Well, what do y’know. That was my second guess. Actually, I was going to say father. But a mother will do jus’ as good." He picked up his drink and realized the glass was empty. Frowning at it, he promptly waved the bartender over for more. Growing anxiously impatient, Olivia said, "Well?" Green Eyes glanced curiously at her. "Well, what?" She sighed. "Will you marry me or not?" His back pulled straight as he sat up fully and his eyes opened wide. "You want me to marry you?" Olivia nodded, then looked around the room one last time, checking for any better prospects. "I’m not exactly—" he paused to hiccup—"marriage material. I mean, I’m drunk. And I-I’m not so sober. And I also—holy mother of God!" Olivia jerked her head up at his outburst, but he wasn’t looking at her. Or rather, he wasn’t looking at her face. His eyes were popped even wider than before as he gaped at her exposed cleavage as if he were just now realizing what she wore. His stare slipped down her body. Olivia felt a spurt of heat at his entranced gaze. "What in the hell are you wearing?" he asked, sounding utterly awed. Olivia rolled her eyes. He had just noticed. "I’m an apprentice for Cat Woman." He gawked for another few seconds and actually impressed her when he managed to lift his face to meet her gaze. "I think I like it," he murmured but then his eyes instantly dropped again to scope out her cleavage, which seemed to be his favorite area. "Enough to marry me?" Olivia asked and slid off her chair to lift her arms and turn in a slow circle, displaying the goods. He continued to stare for a moment. He seemed to realize she was waiting for a response when she stopped with her hands on her hips and sent him a probing look. He shook his head to clear it. "Sorry," he said. "But I just had this really vivid picture of me running my tongue up the back seam of those fishnet hose." Olivia lips widened. She leaned forward so he could look down her cleavage, which he did. "I’ll tell you what," she murmured huskily as she ran her long fingernail down his arm. "You can lick anything you want to if you marry me tonight."
He bobbed his head, transfixed. "All right."
Olivia was stunned. It worked. Her skin tingled with sudden apprehension. Good God, it really worked. She’d asked a complete stranger to marry her, and the drunk had actually said yes. What was she supposed to do now? He started to slide off his stool until he noticed her untouched bourbon and coke. Pausing, he lifted his eyes. "You didn’t drink yours." "I didn’t order that," she reminded him. He stared at her as if she was insane then nudged her glass toward her. "But I bought it for you." He paused with an almost injured expression. "Besides, you shouldn’t let good liquor go to waste." He proceeded to blink his long lashes and stick out his bottom lip. It looked so much like something a five-year-old girl would do, she sputtered out a surprised laugh. "Oh, for God’s sake." She snatched the drink from him and downed everything in one hearty swallow. Her companion watched avidly. When she set the empty cup down, his eyebrows rose. "Damn." Grinning, he pointed a finger at her and shook it a little. "See there. That’s exactly why I’m marrying you. You drink like a pro." Olivia could only roll her eyes and turn away to stroll from the bar. She was pleased to notice he obediently trailed after her. Once they were out on the sidewalk, he tripped and stumbled on a crack in the concrete. Olivia caught his arm. Since he continued to sway like a flimsy tree limb in the breeze, she kept her hand around his bicep as she hailed a cab. But as soon as one pulled to the curb and she opened the back door, he resisted. "No cab," he said, holding his belly as his face turned a pale shade of green. "What’s wrong?" she asked, fearing the worst. But he merely turned away as if the sight of the yellow taxi made him sick to his stomach. "Motion sickness," he said and started down the sidewalk away from her. "Just need to walk."
Olivia sighed and shut the cab door. "Okay," she said more to herself as she chased after her stumbling groom. "We can surely find a wedding chapel somewhere close. We’re on the freaking Strip, for crying out loud." Her intoxicated fiancé threw an arm around her shoulder, bumping into her as he walked a crooked line. "Are we really, really gettin’ married?" he asked, as if he suspected she was playing a prank on him. "Yes," she said and slung his arm off her shoulder, scanning the streets for an all-night wedding chapel. Her groom grinned at a passing couple. "We’re getting married," he informed them and once again wrapped his arm around Olivia’s shoulder, tugging her close. "Yes, we’re goooooooing to the chapel," he sang loudly and off key. "And we’re gonnnnna get mar-ar-arried." Olivia sighed. She didn’t push him away this time, but slipped her hand around his waist and steered them in the direction she wanted to go. He followed where she led for a good two blocks, right up to the point where they passed a bar advertising "Karaoke Night." "Karaoke!" he cheered and veered them toward the front door. "Wait!" Olivia called frantically, grabbing after him. All she caught was air. He opened the door and headed inside. Unwilling to find herself another hunky and completely wasted groom, Olivia followed, grinding her teeth. He’d already made his way to the stage and was talking to the emcee by the time she found him. When he caught sight of her approaching, he grinned and turned back, holding up bunny ears. "Two microphones please." Olivia groaned. She didn’t want to sing, damn it. But as the strains of "Margaritaville" started and a microphone was thrust into her hand, she had a bad feeling that’s exactly what she was going to do. Her singing fool of a fiancé motioned her closer and then looped his arm over her shoulder, swaying with her as he began. "Nibblin’ on sponge cake. Watchin’ the sun bake…" Her shoulders wilted in defeat as he serenaded the cheering crowd. He didn’t seem to notice she hadn’t joined in until he reached the chorus. Tightening his hold on her, he grinned down and yelled, "Sing with me now. ‘Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville.’" "I thought we were going to get married," she called into his ear. Her groom waved that thought away with his hand. "Relax, honey. We’ve got plenty of time." Then he lifted his mike, and the room joined in with the rest of the chorus. As everyone around them sang on, he leaned down to talk directly into her ear. "Know what your problem is? You just gotta loosen up. Hey, waitress!" he called to a passing server. "My fiancée here needs another drink." Then he grinned at her and repeated, "Fiancée? Hey!" He brought his
microphone down to his mouth and hollered through the speaker system. "Yo, everybody. We’re gettin’ hitched tonight!" Olivia blushed as the roar of applause exploded around them. What followed was a barrage of complete strangers buying them each a congratulatory margarita. The man at her side was so busy singing his own slurring rendition of 'My Girl', he didn’t bother with his drink. So, wanting to settle her nerves, Olivia slugged back both cocktails. When her fiancé finally hauled her out the door, she felt good and buzzed. The idea of getting married no longer seemed like such a determined mission; it felt like a fun, exciting adventure. ~*~ They stopped at four clubs before making it to a wedding parlor. At each place, her fiancé ordered his first drink only to lift it over his head and loudly announce their pending nuptials. Then he’d set his glass aside, forgetting his own earlier motto that one should never let good alcohol go to waste, and pull her onto the dance floor. The last place they hit hosted lively salsa music. The dance floor was full of hot bodies, and with the bongos, trumpets and saxophones pulsing through her bloodstream, Olivia wanted to stay there and boogie for the rest of her life. She wanted to slide her body against this man who was proving to be the best time she’d ever had—this perfect, wonderful man who made her sing, and dance, and laugh. Olivia grabbed his arm and dragged him onto the floor. They were both too smashed to hit any good moves, but they had a blast trying. Olivia gyrated with her back to him while he slipped his hands around her hips and pulled her ass flush against his crotch. His fingers stroked her bare waist; she had to admit she liked his touch. She liked the way he grew aroused. Leaning against him, she lifted her arms and jiggled her hips to the rhythm. He bent forward and nipped the sensitive flesh on her shoulder as his hand moved around to the front of her stomach and ground her back even harder against his erection. His fingers cupped her breasts through black leather. Olivia gasped, her body instantly quickening. She’d never acted so slutty before. But this felt good. This felt incredible. When she glanced around, she noticed other couples doing provocative things ten times worse than what she was doing. So she didn’t worry about pressing her backside against his hard-on and grinding for all she was worth. Behind her, he made a harsh groan and snatched her wrist, hauling her toward the exit. Once they were outside in the fresher air, he spun her around and cupped her face with both hands, yanking her close for a kiss. Olivia let out a surprised yelp—which he promptly smothered with his mouth—and the sound transformed into a needy whimper.
But whoa. Her hottie fiancé could kiss. Liquor must’ve made his lips especially soft and pliable because it felt like he brushed pure silk across her mouth. He tasted of tequila and chocolate. Where he’d gotten chocolate, she had no idea. But she moaned and opened as soon as his seeking tongue traced the seam. Wet velvet entered and batted her tongue playfully before curiously sweeping across the back of her teeth. Olivia clutched his hair and returned the favor. He growled, pressing her spine against the building as he cupped her ass and lifted her. She tried to spread her legs so he could step between her thighs and get closer to the place that needed him the most. But her skirt was too tight to allow much movement. Whimpering in frustration, she bit his tongue and tightened her grip on his hair. This definitely wasn’t the old Olivia in action. No matter how drunk she could get, never in a million years would that star debutante from Pasadena maul a complete stranger in the middle of a busy public sidewalk on the Las Vegas Strip. Never would she want him to pull her skirt up and press himself against her throbbing center. Never would she reach down to stroke him through his pants. But that’s exactly what happened. As if reading her mind, he bunched her skirt until her legs could move freely. Sighing, she lifted a thigh and hooked her knee around his hips. He pushed close and, ahhhh, bliss. Her underwear rubbed against his fly. With their mouths fused, she fought to get closer and he seemed just as desperate to press against her. For once in her life, Olivia didn’t care about anything except feeling a rushing orgasm. Crazy and totally insane as that was, she wanted this man inside her. Now. She was on the point of begging. Hot hands returned to her ass. With her skirt gathered around her waist, she only had her underwear and fishnet obstructing his path. But since her underwear was a skimpy thong, he pretty much cupped bare skin. Seemingly surprised by this, he paused and pulled his mouth back only far enough to look into her eyes. "Damn," he said and dipped his head for another kiss. Olivia went under again. It felt like she was in the ocean. With his mouth on hers, she floated underwater where the world around her remained muted and pleasant. All she knew was his lips. But when he came up for air, it was like returning to the surface, and she could suddenly see and hear the traffic and passing conversations again. Until he dipped his head and she was, yes, once again sucked into the sensation of dangling. Absolutely soaring. She didn’t even focus on the harsh voice saying, "Hey! You two. Hey, cut that out." But she did notice when her fiancé was jerked away from her. Olivia yelped in surprise as she slid down the wall until her heels hit the sidewalk and she wobbled for footing. Her companion spun around to glare at the individual who’d yanked him away from her. But when he saw the
uniformed police officer glaring back, he stumbled in reverse and bumped into her, pinning her momentarily to the wall. Her eyes flared, and she quickly smoothed down her skirt. "I told you two to stop," the officer lectured, scowling from her groom to her and back to her groom again. Her intended winced, holding up both hands as if surrendering. "Sorry, ossif...officer," he gushed. "I was, well, I wasn’t paying attention to much of anything, ’cept her." He glanced over his shoulder, and when their gazes met, he grinned engagingly, making Olivia swallow down a start of longing. There was just something so incredibly sweet and cuddly, yet wholly erotic, about this man she was going to marry. She blinked, wondering how he could stand in such a submissive position with his hands in the air and smile at her like he didn’t have a care in the world. "That’s obvious," the officer muttered, his eyes narrowing. "Now, how much have you had to drink tonight, buddy?" Olivia’s groom turned to direct his glazy grin toward the cop. "A lot," he admitted openly and cheerfully. Then he hiccupped to prove it. "That’s why I’m walking everywhere, you see. No drinking and driving for me." He paused. "Say, that’s a nice uniform, officer. You must get lotsa chicks." Olivia closed her eyes and let out a groan of mortification. Why in the world was he sucking up to the cranky cop? He was only going land them both in jail. When she finally opened her eyes, she found the officer scrutinizing her. She swallowed. "Ma’am," he said stonily. Then his gaze roved disapprovingly down her outfit. "Are you aware this area has a high concentration of prostitution?" Olivia whimpered and licked her suddenly dried lips. "I...does it?" "Now, wait a sec," her fiancé butted in, sounding insulted. He stepped partially in front of her and, she had to admit, his protective gesture felt nice. "She’s not a hooker, damn it. That’s my fiancée you’re talking to, pal. We’re gettin’ married tonight. Besides, I happen to know prosistush— prostitution is legal in Navada, cause this buddy of mine once—" "Sir," the officer broke in, not looking at all impressed by the drunk’s legal knowledge. "Prostitution may be legal in the state, but it’s not in Clark County or the city limits of Las Vegas." Dropping his finger to scratch his head and look suitably confused, Green Eyes frowned. "Really? Well, jus’ the same. She’s no hooker. She’s my fiancée. An’ we’re getting married tonight." "Is that so?"
"Yeah, it is." He reached back and caught Olivia’s hip with a blind hand to tug her closer. "We’re looking for a chapel right now as a matter o’ fact." The officer arched a skeptical brow. Her groom gave a defeated sigh. "Look, man. We’re jus’ drunk and horny. Is there a law agains’ being drunk and horny?" "No, but there is one against drunk and disorderly. And prostitution within the city limits." Olivia’s intended sank back against her, clearly intimidated. "Oh," he said in small voice. Her fingers clutched his arm. "Do either of you have any identification on you?" "Uh, yeah, sure," her fiancé answered, promptly digging into his back pocket. Olivia blushed, remembering where she’d stashed her ID. Green Eyes had already handed over his driver’s license when he turned to her. "Babe?" Both men stared expectantly. Fearing incarceration more than she did immodesty, she gave a loud sigh. "Wait a second," she mumbled and turned slightly away from them, lifting her hand to her cleavage. "Nice," her fiancé cooed, his eyes lighting with interest as she wiggled her fingers between the leather ties and fished around. "Say, honey. Need any help digging that out?" "No," she snapped and sent him an irritated look. "That’s exactly what got us into trouble in the first place." "Sorry," he mumbled, lifting both hands again, this time surrendering to her. Then he grinned over his shoulder at the waiting officer. "She’s the love of my life." Olivia finally latched onto a hard chunk of plastic and tugged. Along with her driver’s license came a wad of cash and a single condom. Her eyes went wide and she glanced guiltily at the cop. Great. Now he was never going to believe she wasn’t a hooker. Shoving the money and prophylactic back into her cleavage, she handed over the warm piece of identification. The officer clipped both IDs to his badge and said, "Alright then. Mind if I check both your clothes for officer safety?" "Um, sure," Olivia’s companion said. "Whatever you need, officer." So, Olivia found herself with her legs spread and her fingers behind her head as a pair of impersonal hands ran quickly down her body. She glanced at her fiancé to find him scowling as he watched. But he repeated the same stance without protest when it was his turn. The officer had them both sit on the side of the curb about ten feet away from each other as he spoke into his radio and cleared their identities. A couple of minutes later, right about the time Olivia was sure she’d be spending the night in jail, the officer returned.
"Okay, folks. Both of your licenses check out. You’re free to go. Thank you for your cooperation. But I’m warning you now. If I see you again tonight with your public displays of affection, I’m arresting you both. Find somewhere private for it." "Thank you, sir," Olivia’s fiancé said as he popped to his feet. He went straight to her and held down a hand to help her up. She reached for him, and he hauled her to her unsteady stilettos. As he wrapped an arm around her waist, he turned back to the officer and cheerfully repeated, "We’re getting married tonight." The cop finally showed a glimmer of amusement. "Congratulations," he said, his mouth pulling tight in an effort to hide his smile. "But I recommend you tie the knot before you start the honeymoon. And find a hotel room for it." "We will," her intended answered and tugged Olivia away. They hurried along for a good block, clutching each other gratefully before they slowed. Finally they paused and rested their backs against the wall of a closed storefront while they caught their breaths. "Okay," her fiancé announced, breathing hard. "That scared the holy hell out of me." Olivia pressed her fingers to her stomach. "You’re telling me," she gasped. "I thought I was going to pee my pants when he said we were in an area thick with prostitution." A warm hand clutched hers, surprising her with the comfort that accompanied it. "Maybe we should hurry and get married," he suggested. "Before that happens again." Olivia looked down at their entwined fingers. Holding a hand felt strange. Actually, it had felt more impersonal to tickle his tonsils with her tongue than it did to weave her fingers though his. She lifted her face and realized she didn’t know him at all. She knew absolutely nothing about this man. The fact that she’d just about had sex with him on a public street shocked and mortified her. The truth finally sank in. They were getting married. Married! What in God’s name was she thinking? Yeah, okay, the move would totally aggravate Vivian. But it would affect her too. She’d have a freaking husband. Olivia opened her mouth with every intention of calling it quits when he threw her for a loop and lifted her hand to his mouth. His lips brushed gently over her knuckles; he caressed her with his hot moist breath. She could only watch in entranced fascination. No one had ever been so tender with her before. But his sweetness affected her more than anything else ever had or probably ever could. As he turned her palm up and kissed the pulse on the inside of her wrist, she blinked repeatedly, falling under some kind of spell that bound her to him in the most unexplainable way.
"I can’t wait until you’re mine," he said, licking the skin and causing a shot of pure adrenaline to rush through her. He lifted his face and sent her a smile that had her drowning. "Wedding or honeymoon first?" he murmured, his eyelids heavy with desire. Forgetting all thoughts from the moment before, Olivia licked her lips and listened to herself say, "Wedding." He smiled, making her loins swell and tingle. "Then let’s get married," he announced and linked them together at the elbows. Their stroll down the sidewalk resembled the way Dorothy and her crew had looked on their trip to Oz. They skipped along jauntily, arm in arm over a concrete sidewalk instead of a yellow brick road, and sang the Dixie Cups’ version of 'Chapel of Love' instead of stressing over lions, tigers, and bears. He was the first to spot a wedding parlor. "There," he said pointing. "All night weddings. Let’s go." But as they neared the chapel, another sign caught Olivia’s attention. Her eyes lit. "Elvis!" she screamed and tugged on his hand. "Ooh! Can we get married by Elvis? Please, please, please!" "Yeah," he said, glancing that way. "Yeah, let’s get married by the king." He dropped his voice and wiggled the corner of his top lip, doing a mediocre Presley impersonation. Olivia was so excited she threw her arms around him and kissed him. His lips instantly caught hers, and soon he was the aggressor. His fingers tangled in her hair as he held her captive, stroking her mouth with his until she melted against him, limp and dazed and so totally alive, everything inside her could burst out at any moment. She couldn’t remember another time in her life she’d felt so free and exhilarated. When he finally broke away, breathing hard and looking dazed, she laughed and kissed her way down his neck. "Holy damn," he panted. "You trying to kill me, woman?" "I’m trying something," she answered and slid her hand over the front of his pants. He shivered. "That’s it," he said, stepping back and snatching her wrist. "We’re getting married right now." He grinned and tipped an imaginary hat like some cowboy would to a woman in an old country western movie. "Don’t you worry none, little lady. I’ll make a decent woman outta you yet." She threw back her head and laughed. He interlaced their fingers and tugged her across the street, breaking into a slow jog as they dogged traffic. They were both winded and laughing by the time they stepped inside the building, where Elvis’s "Can’t Help Falling in Love" played in the vestibule.
Keeping his hand securely latched around hers, Olivia’s groom pulled her toward the front desk. The lady behind the counter grinned. "Let me guess. You two want to get married?" When Olivia’s groom cheered, "Hell, yeah," the woman pulled up a pamphlet from behind the counter and described all the packages and wedding themes they offered. Within minutes, they decided on the Blue Hawaii ceremony. As the receptionist shoved the paperwork at Olivia’s fiancé, she turned to Olivia. "Do you need a ring, sweetheart?" Olivia glanced at the man beside her. "Do I?" He lifted his face. "Well, yes." Then he turned to the receptionist. "Get her the biggest damn ring you got." The woman cleared her throat discreetly. "And how will you be paying for this, sir?" A wallet appeared in his hand; he tugged out a gold-faced credit card. After getting her paws on the plastic, the receptionist spun energetically toward Olivia. "Come on, sugar," she said, motioning Olivia to follow. "Let me show you the rings we have." Olivia only needed to take one look before she saw the wedding band of her dreams. A one-and-a-half carat, marquis-cut white diamond embedded in thick platinum twinkled up at her, and she had to have it. Surprisingly, it fit. Once she tried the jewel on, she didn’t want to take it off, but the receptionist coaxed it from her finger. "Just a few minutes more," she assured Olivia. "Then you can wear it forever and ever. Okay, sweetie?" Olivia followed it longingly with her eyes as it was tucked safely back into its box. After the paperwork was finished, she signed her name where she was told, and before she knew it, she found herself standing next to her groom, waiting for the wedding march to begin. She glanced up at him standing next to her and found herself studying his jaw. He was such a handsome man. At that moment, she really did want to spend the rest of her life with him, just so she could stare at him all she wanted. The music began, and a sudden thought struck her. "Hey," she said, tightening her hand on his arm. He glanced down. "Hmm?" She leaned closer. "What’s your name?" He grinned and slurred out a name. He said something with one syllable, starting with a k sound and ending with an n. Or maybe it was an m. It sounded like Kim or Kam. But the music was so loud, she could barely hear. So, she figured his name was probably Ken. She almost laughed at that.
She’d derogatorily been called Barbie more than once in her life. It seemed fitting to end up with a Ken. "What’s yours?" he asked, nudging her elbow to catch her attention. "’Livia," she slurred out, beaming up at him. He held out a hand and grinned. "Nice to meet-cha."
She was married. And for some reason, Olivia felt extremely giddy. Now that she was Mrs. Ken Whatever-His-Last-Name-Was, she was free: free from Vivian and that crusty, old tycoon her mother wanted her to marry. She had her handsome, young Ken, and they were going to live happily ever after. Forever. Yes, everything seemed right in the world. As soon as they were handed a copy of their license and Ken shoved it into his back pocket, they were on their way. He hailed them a cab and held open the back passenger-side door, sweeping out his arm with a flourish for her to enter first. "Dear wife," he offered. She grinned. "Why thank you, dear husband," she answered, making sure to brush by him as she passed. He growled possessively in her ear and caught hold of her hip as he followed her inside. He yanked her back to him for a hungry kiss even before he had the door shut. Olivia felt glad she was already sitting or her jellied knees would’ve given out. But the man truly had a magic mouth. And he knew how to use it. "Hey!" the taxi-driver called from the front seat, sounding annoyed as if that wasn’t the first time he’d tried to get their attention. "Where to?" Ken lifted his head long enough to spit out an address. Then he crushed his mouth back to hers. "Tonight," he murmured against her hair as his lips traveled down her temple. "Tonight, baby, I’m going to make you mine." His hand moved up her thigh and disappeared under her skirt. Half a second later, hot fingers cupped her through her thong. Olivia’s head fell back and she hissed out an intoxicated breath. Catching sight of her exposed throat, he leaned forward and nipped at her collarbone with his teeth. Then he licked the spot and she gasped, never having realized her neck hid such sensitive delight. Her French-tipped nails dug into his shoulders when he grabbed her
waist and pulled her into his lap so she could face him. Straddling him, she tugged his head closer. He dipped his mouth to her cleavage and caressed the slopes of her breasts with his warm breath. She was so drunk, a part of her mind became numb to the reality of their foreplay. She felt outside herself, like an observer watching him kiss her chest and stroke her through her underwear. It certainly didn’t seem like her playing naughty in the back of a cab. It felt fabulous, yes, but it didn’t feel real. So she made no attempt to stop him. When they finally came to a jarring halt, Olivia whimpered because Ken had to lift her off his lap so he could shell out their fare. Tab paid, he reached for her, and she clung desperately, kissing his jaw as he opened the door. "In the house," he panted and nudged her out into the warm night. They were still standing there kissing as their ride disappeared. Finally, Ken broke away to rasp, "Inside." Olivia turned and jerked to a startled stop. Ken bumped into her from behind. The mansion was every bit as big as her home in California, but this place looked about twenty years newer. Her jaw dropped. "You live here?" It didn’t seem possible. He looked too poor, and he’d been in such a low-class bar. "My sister’s place," he said from behind her, his hand coming around her waist as he pulled her back against him and stroked the rim of her ear with his tongue. She shivered and leaned back, taking the fingers at her waist and nudging them down. Like a good boy, he dipped his hand inside the waistband of her leather skirt. Though her mind turned fuzzy with need, she had one last moment of clarity to frown and ask, "You live with your sister?" He pressed her from behind with his erection as if guiding her toward the front door with it. "She makes me stay at her place when I’m in town," he answered, though his voice sounded muffled, what with his teeth full of her earlobe. He tugged slightly. She moaned and arched back against him, forgetting her curiosity. The twenty-foot walk to the front door was the longest Olivia had ever made. Erotic touches and naughty words filled every step. She honestly didn’t think they were going to make it. She came so close to the edge she was ready to throw herself down on the sidewalk and pull him on top of her. As he pinned her against the front door and rid her of her stilettos, panty hose and thong, she wrapped her legs around his waist, tilting her hips up to receive him. He cursed and kissed her hard as he struggled to dig his key from his pocket. Unable to coordinate, he finally sat her down and then nudged her a few feet away, telling her he needed to concentrate. She
laughed but stayed back. "Here, hold these," he muttered and shoved the shoes and hose at her. "Thanks." He fumbled for a second, cursing the whole time, and finally they were in. Grinning, he turned back and wrapped an arm around her waist to lift her feet a few inches off the ground. Then he carried his bride over the threshold. "Well done," she murmured, wrapping her legs back around his waist where they belonged and kissing his jaw. "I try," he rasped, pressing his erection against her and burying his face in her neck. She dropped a shoe. He paused there, still kissing, driving his tongue into her mouth for about ten seconds before he cursed and wrenched back. "The alarm!" He peeled her off, setting her delicately on the floor. As Olivia wobbled unsteadily, her bare toes landing on cool marble, Ken hurried to a panel on the wall and muttered to himself. "Come on, come on. What’s the freaking code?" After a moment of thought, he nodded and punched in a few numbers. When the red, blinking light changed to solid green, he sagged in relief. Then he turned back toward her. There was no lamp glowing inside the house, so the bright moon outside was their only light source. It shimmered through a long bay of windows to help her make out the basic features of her new groom. But mostly shadows masked his face, making him appear suddenly large and dominating. He held out a hand toward her. She hesitated. This was real. This was her husband and she was following him to his room. When she didn’t move forward, he took one step to her. The first part of her he touched was her cheek with the backs of his fingers. It was so sweet a move she moaned and sank toward him, melting. "We need to be quiet," he said against her mouth. "Can’t wake them." With no idea who 'they' were, she latched onto his fingers when he fumbled for her hand. Quickly, he turned and led her away. Not three steps into their journey, though, he ran smack into something, which created a loud thud and sent something rolling across the marble floor. Olivia giggled, unable to stop herself, and even snorted as she dropped a second shoe. "Shh," he warned. But when he turned, his face bumped into hers. This time, he blurted out a laugh, which only made her giggles double. Olivia was the one to straighten first and shush him. She squeezed his fingers, and he seemed to collect himself, hurrying them down a long hall. When they finally made it to their destination, she no longer had her shoes, her hose, or her panties. Ken nudged her into the dark room, shutting
the door behind him as he followed. And finally, there was light as he flipped a switch. Olivia paused and took in the sight of a huge, exquisitely designed suite with a king-sized bed, the sheets rumpled and lying at the footboard. A suitcase sat on the floor, flung open with various bits of clothing draped over the side of the case and on chairs and littering the floor. Olivia frowned at the Gucci label on the luggage, but she didn’t have time to think about much of anything because he approached her from behind, wrapping both his arms around her waist and lifting her off her feet again. He carried her the last few feet to the bed where he finally let go. She laughed as she bounced once on the mattress and rolled over onto her back. Grinning up at him, she watched him turn serious. His smile faded as he stared down at her. Then, slowly, he reached for his belt and unbuckled it. Her mouth watered as he tugged his zipper down. Thinking he was having all the fun, getting to take his clothes off, she sat up and reached for him while he slipped his jeans down. Olivia took care of his boxers, pushing them out of her way so she could get to the prize inside. She was well rewarded when a thick engorged penis sprang toward her. Her jaw dropped. Holy Lord, the man was huge. She’d never been with someone so big. Her eyes darted up, but he merely gave her a soft, glazy grin before he tugged his shirt over his head. Suddenly curious, Olivia leaned forward and took him into her mouth. There was no way she could take the entire length before he prodded the back of her throat, but he appreciated her efforts, gripping her hair and groaning out a stream of curses. She’d just found her rhythm, stroking him with her lips and tongue and wrapping both hands around the base when he grabbed her shoulders and jerked her back. "Now," he rasped and pushed her back onto the bed. He crawled over her, reaching for the leather criss-crossed ties that held her top together. Seconds later, he gave up the civilized approach and tore the straps in half. Her breasts spilled out as did her money, driver’s license and the condom. "Thank God," he rasped, snatching the foiled package and immediately tearing it open. He rolled the condom on even as he lowered his face and suckled on an erect nipple. Olivia clutched his head to her chest and lifted her hips while he used his free hand to gather her short skirt around her waist. Since her thong was long gone, she was already open and ready, and way too wet for him to meet any resistance. He entered her without warning and she opened her mouth and let out a choked gasp. Ken filled her and filled her, easing so slow and deep she didn’t think he was going to stop. When he finally reached the hilt, he paused a second to meet her eyes. Just as their gazes collided, he started retracting. The breath rushed from her lungs and
Olivia already missed the empty space he vacated, wanting him back inside her. She clawed at his back, hissing when he left her entirely. Then he winked and pushed back in. "God," she gasped, gripping his shoulders with her French-tipped nails and whimpering. "Please." Beating on his arm with her open hand, she pleaded, "God, please. Oh, please." What exactly she begged for, she had no idea. But he seemed to understand. He surged then, a quick thrust that caught a scream right in her lungs. He plunged at a speed that left her hanging on for dear life. The first orgasm had her gouging deep half-moons in the glistening skin of his back. He gripped her hair, tugging her head back and kissing her as she came hard and wild, bucking frantically. She bit his lip, tasting blood as she struggled against him, needing to get closer and further away at the same time, needing her skin gone so everything could get out. Finally, she gasped and pulled taut, spreading her arms and legs wide. Done fighting it, she let the release consume her body and soul. When she settled, she felt spent, utterly exhausted. But he continued to swing his hips, pushing deeper and faster while she lay as limp as a Raggedy Ann doll. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she closed her eyes and clung. He kissed her throat, repositioned her legs even wider apart, and, like turning on a light, flipped her on again, making her back bow. Her body felt electrocuted and she went rigid again. The surge of power that zapped her from head to toe made her cry out another silent scream. He threw back his head, and she watched the muscles in his neck tense as he clenched his teeth and gritted out a low moan. The sound reverberated through her and caused her orgasm to ripple and splinter out of control. Olivia felt so limp and boneless afterward, she barely noticed when he pulled out and plopped onto his back beside her. "Holy Mother of God," he wheezed, sounding amazed and dazed, and so winded he panted as if he’d been without air for a few minutes. He set the back of his hand over his glistening forehead and blew out a long breath, though that didn’t seem to help his erratic breathing much. She smiled at the compliment and curled on her side against him. Closing her eyes, she sighed and inhaled the musky scent of his skin. This man, this man whom she’d never known before tonight, had succeeded in doing something no one else had ever done. He made her smile after sex. Ignorant of his own accomplishment, he wrapped an arm around her waist and tugged her closer. "You’re something else," he mumbled drowsily, his breathing finally starting to regulate itself. She kissed his shoulder and yawned. "So’re you." "This definitely calls for a post-coital toast," he added, catching her
contagious yawn and experiencing one of his one. Then he fisted his hand and lifted it in the air. "To the hottest woman alive," he announced and tapped his fist twice against his chest. Then he spooned himself behind her, curling his body protectively around hers. She smiled and closed her eyes. It felt nice, having him snuggle his nose into her hair and sling his arm over her hip, pulling her flush against him. She might not know him from Adam, but something about him made her feel secure and protected as if nothing—not even Vivian—could ever hurt her again. Content, she yawned one last time and relaxed against her new husband, slipping into a pleasant, dreamless sleep. ~*~ "Oh. My. God." Cameron Banks woke to someone rudely hollering in his ear. He winced and moaned. It felt as if someone was taking an axe to his temple and chopping all the way to the gooey center. Whoa. Hangover City. He hadn’t felt this disoriented and tormented after a night of booze in a long time. Probably because he hadn’t drunk in such a long time. But today, every nerve ending in his brain shrieked. And his sister’s insistent voice didn’t help the situation in the least. "Cam." She jerked at his shoulder, only intensifying his agony. He gasped and then held very still until the needle of white-hot pain in the back of his skull dissipated. "Cam!" "What?" he croaked in a muffled voice as he buried his face back into his pillow. "How could you? Have you no decency at all for your family? This is my house for God’s sake!" "Damn, Leah," he mumbled. "Lower your voice, will you? I’ve got a killer headache." "Oh, do you really," Leah said sarcastically. "Hmm, I wonder why?" Cameron cocked one eye open and turned his head to watch her bend down and snag something off the floor: a shot glass advertising "Battista's Hole In The Wall" nightclub. Oops. His sister shook it in his face. "This wouldn’t have anything to do with that, would it?" He groaned. "Sorry. Forgot to hide that." Leah lifted an eyebrow. "Hmm, too bad," she agreed. "Too bad you couldn’t hide the girl too." "Huh?" he asked, squeezing his eyes closed and stretching his arms above his head. Man, he felt like crap. He couldn’t even remember when he’d gotten home last night. Or how. What in the world had he done? Jesus, what day was it?
"The glass is actually minor compared to her," Leah was saying. "Her who?" He smacked his lips a few times to loosen his dehydrated tongue from the roof of his mouth. When Leah merely scowled at him and dumped an armload of something on top of him, he jerked to a sitting position. Cursing and blinking repeatedly, he took in the black high heels, torn fishnet hose and a slinky strip of black silk cloth. Intrigued by the tiny scrap of cloth, he picked it up with one finger and lifted it for a curious inspection. Good God. Was that— was that underwear? "I’m so disappointed in you, Cam," Leah raged. "I can’t believe you brought a woman into my home. I have a family, damn you, an impressionable four-year-old son that just adores his uncle—" "Whoa, whoa, whoa," he said, cutting in as he wadded the thong in his fist. "What in God’s name are you talking about? What woman?" Leah sighed and pointed to the expanse of sheets and blankets next to him. "Well, gee, maybe the one in bed with you." He whirled around and immediately found himself eye to eye with a pair of big, blue, raccoon-ringed peepers. "Holy hell!" he burst out. He jumped so hard that when he lurched back, he tumbled off his side of the mattress and landed on his bare butt at Leah’s feet. As he grunted, his astute sister immediately noticed another major detail. Scurrying backward, she squealed, "You’re naked! Eww. Put some clothes on." Having just awoken, Cameron felt too disoriented to immediately comply. He did, however, huddle closer to the edge of the bed so he could cover his lap with the sheet draping off the side. He wasn’t worried about trying to protect his sister’s eyes though. He was more concerned with the blue-eyed blond on his mattress. "Who the hell are you?" he demanded. The woman had no time to respond, though, because Leah discovered the answer on the nightstand. "What’s this?" Cameron lifted his face to see her studying a legal-looking sheet of folded paper. As she unfolded it, her eyes went wide. A sinking sensation and a flickering memory of the night before hit him. He suddenly remembered prancing down the sidewalk arm and arm with a woman and singing—what in world had they been singing? "Cameron," Leah said shrilly. "What is this?" He grabbed the document away from her. "I don’t know." The woman on the bed finally spoke. "Cameron?" She sat up, looking alarmed. "What’re you doing with a marriage certificate?" Leah railed at the same moment.
"Marriage certificate?" Cameron’s eyes squinted and focused to the sheet in his hand. "Your name’s Cameron?" Blondie asked. "I thought your name was Ken." He didn’t even register the question. "What the…" he murmured in dawning horror as he read the document. Finally, he glanced up and met the eyes of the stranger. "You are in serious trouble now, Cameron Banks," Leah said. "I can’t believe you did this again. I am so calling Mom." As she started from the room, a panicked expression lit his new bride’s face. "Cameron Banks?" she shrieked, making even Leah stop in her tracks and glance back. With the sheet tucked up under her armpits, Blondie pressed her hand to her heart and sucked in a mighty lungful. She stared horror-struck as if she’d just discovered he was Hitler reincarnated. Then she shook her head. "No," she murmured more to herself than anyone else. "No. That’s impossible." Cameron was about to ask what she was prattling about, but he was suddenly caught by how pretty she looked. Tussled blonde hair swept over her bare shoulder and half way down her back. Though her eyes were rimed with black, they were a clear blue that held him captivated. And the way her full lips parted in utter shock had him going hard. He was struck then with a real clear picture of looking down and watching those luscious lips wrap around him and suck the length of him into the hot, wet cavity of her mouth. Oh, yeah. He could definitively see how he might’ve lost his head over her in an inebriated moment. He probably would’ve done just about anything to get into her panties. But marry her? No. He didn’t do marriage. Not after the first time. Not after he’d made the biggest mistake of his life with Sienna. Cameron Banks loathed the very idea. Okay, he didn’t care if others partook. His sister was settled and living out her happily-ever-after. But not Cameron. He was never looping that noose around his neck again. Obviously, though, he had. There was a marriage certificate in his hand and a babbling, sexy blonde on his bed. She pressed a hand to her temple and shook her head, looking confused, as if she were making a grocery run and suddenly couldn’t remember what she’d come all the way to the store to buy. "No, no, no. This isn’t right," she insisted. "I covered all the bases. I looked in a damn bar all the way across town, didn’t I? I made sure he was plowed. And hopefully single." Then she lifted her face and pinned him with an accusing look. "You’re really Cameron Banks? Cameron Orville Banks?" she asked as if maybe there were more than one of him out there.
He winced, hating it whenever someone used his middle name. "How’d you know my middle name?" Then he glanced down at the paper to see if he’d actually put it there when he spotted her name next to his. "Olivia," he murmured on a frown. Olivia ripped the license from his hand and jerked it to her face. Her cheeks immediately drained of color. "Oh my God," she whispered. "This can’t be real." Her eyes closed but she opened them a split moment later and once again read the document as if the names on the sheet might’ve changed in the last second. "This isn’t happening," she muttered, her face pulling tight into a horrified grimace. Cameron knew that look. He’d grown up with an emotional mother, sister, and handful of female cousins. His new bride was about to throw a major sob fest. He was sure of it. It panicked him as much as it insulted. Well, hell. He hadn’t thought he was that bad a catch. Yet his bride’s chin quivered at the realization she’d married the one and only Cameron Orville Banks. "Of course, it’s happening. This would only happen to me." And yep, here they came. The tears started, gushing from the first drop. "I’m such a moron," she moaned, clutching her hands in her mussed hair as she lifted her eyes to him. Cameron realized Leah was still standing at his side. He looked up at her, hoping she’d step in and soothe the girl, or, you know, woman bond. But she looked about as taken aback as he felt. "What’s wrong with her?" she asked. Cameron shook his head. "How the hell should I know? I’ve never met her before in my life." His sister set her hands on her hips and glowered. "Maybe you shouldn’t have married her then, you think?" Cameron sent her a dirty look. "Oh, shut up." He whirled back to his bawling wife. "Hey," he said softly and reached out for the lump in the sheet he suspected was a knee. He’d merely been attempting to offer some kind of comfort. But she skittered away from his hand, making him stop his pursuit. Her face was blotchy with tears. "Maybe you’re not the Cameron Orville Banks I’m thinking of," she said and sent him a hopeful nod of encouragement. "Of course you can’t be," she added and wiped at the black mascara trail running down her cheek. "I mean, the man I’m thinking of must be a crusty old drunk, because he’s a mega rich businessman whose wife killed herself ten years ago. And if you had a wife ten years ago, you would’ve only been, like, fifteen when you got married." Cameron yanked his hand off the mattress and away from her. His
mouth fell open. What the hell? How did this complete stranger know about Sienna? His suspicious gaze bore a hole through her. Finally, he swallowed. "I was nineteen." The blonde gasped. "What?" "I was nineteen when I got married," he repeated, his eyes still hard as they swept over her. "Twenty when she died. Now, how do you know about that? Who are you?" Olivia shook her head and the tears started to fall faster. "Noooo," she moaned. "This is all wrong. You...you were supposed to be at a...a big conference dinner last night." Cameron closed his eyes and muttered a curse. "Damn it. I knew I’d forgotten something." Leah nudged him in the rib with her toe. "Isn’t that conference the only reason you came to town?" "No. I went to a meeting yesterday morning too. But, God, I really should’ve made it to that dinner." "It really is you, then," Olivia whispered and inched back even further as if she was certain he was the anti-Christ. He’d thought she’d already started with the tears. But that little teaser was nothing compared to the sobs that wracked her next. Shoulders heaving, black tears flying, his wife of a few hours buried her face in her hands and wept, putting her entire body into it. "I want a divorce," she bawled.
Sobbing wives and nasty hangovers weren’t exactly an ideal way to start the day. Coffee would’ve been nice. But by the way his sister glared at him, he knew Leah certainly wasn’t going to offer Cameron a cup. "Leah." He sighed. "Can you…?" He motioned toward the door with a hand, silently asking her to skedaddle. His obstinate sister ignored the hint. She folded her arms over her chest and rooted her feet to the floor, staring at him as if waiting for an explanation. Since there was no way he could explain any of this, he frowned. "Will you wait in the damn hall?" he snapped, noticing from the corner of his eye how his bed companion jerked at his tone of voice. She whipped her face up to watch him but he was too busy glaring at his sister to soothe the wife’s tender feelings. "We need a minute to figure this out," he said. "And to put some clothes on. Unless you want to watch me change," he added and reached for the corner of the sheet, threatening to lift it. Leah jumped back. "Eww, gross. Cameron, that’s sick." "Then a minute, please," he said, lifting his eyebrows in warning. "Damn interfering older sister," he muttered as soon as she was gone. He sucked in a breath, but when his head continued to throb, he sighed and pushed the sheet off his lap. His attention swerved to Olivia Donovan—at least, that’s who the slip of paper in his hand claimed her to be. Olivia Bette Donovan-Banks, his new wife. He ran a shaky hand through his hair and let out another long breath. "So, uh, crazy night, huh?" Hey, it sounded like a good icebreaker to him. Not that she responded. She’d eased up on the tears, but remained huddled under the sheets with her face buried in her palms. A glitter of light caught the huge chunk of diamond clinging to a platinum band wrapped around the ring finger of her left hand. He wondered idly if he’d gotten the ring for her last night in his
drunken state or if she’d been engaged to someone else before seeking him out. And she had sought him. He knew that much for sure. He remembered her approaching him, remembered how she’d looked so desperate when she’d told him she needed a husband. He’d been only half wasted at that point. But from then on, everything turned blurry. He also remembered the sex. Vaguely. He recalled thinking he’d never wanted it so bad before. He remembered how good she’d felt when he first slid inside her. He remembered pounding into her and making her come, more than once. But other than that… "Look," he said, trying to sound gentle since she was obviously spooked. "I’m still having trouble remembering much. But if you want to help me clear up a few details, like why and how this happened, I’d be real willing to hear what you have to say so we can fix it as expediently as possible. And I’m not going to hurt you, so you don’t have to flinch away from me every time I speak." She didn’t answer. "Are you okay?" he tried. "Olivia?" She didn’t even glance his way as she wiped at her eyes. "Humph," he muttered to himself. "Not even married twenty-four hours and the wife’s already giving me the silent treatment." And still, he got nothing. Cameron rolled his eyes. "All righty then," he said, deciding it was time to put some clothes on. He pushed himself to his feet, and finally she responded with an outraged gasp. Wondering what her problem was now, he glanced over. She’d turned her attention to him. Her blue eyes had gone wide, her hand covered her mouth while she ogled his crotch. He looked down to discover his raging erection was immodestly swaying her way. It almost surprised him he could get it up. After the workout she’d given the little guy last night, Cameron figured junior wouldn’t want to come out of hibernation again for a while. But nope, there he was, straining at the sight of the blond goddess as if seeking an introduction. Wife, this is my hard-on. Hard-on, meet the wife. Hmm, however could the two shake and properly get to know each other? Cameron grinned. "What? You want to go another round?" Olivia sputtered. Her narrowed eyes zipped from his erection to his face. She glared long enough to get her point across with a lethal glare before abruptly whirling away to put her back to him. "Guess that’s a no," he answered and then winced when he realized what an ass he sounded like. "Sorry." When she only sniffed, he sighed and made his way to his suitcase, where he hauled out something to wear.
The Mrs. kept her back to him, wrapping the sheets more firmly around herself while he slipped into a fresh pair of underwear and some comfortable jeans. He tugged on a shirt and was reaching for his shoes when he stubbed his bare toe on a knife-like object. "Son of a—" The string of curses that followed had Olivia spinning around and hovering against the bed’s headboard, her eyes wide and frightened. Hopping on one foot as he held the injured toe in his hand, he glared at her, hoping she caught on that his crappy morning was her fault. When she merely eyed him as if he was Freddy Krueger, he muttered under his breath and bent down to retrieve the high heel that had caused his outburst. Scooping up the fishnet hose and thong underwear as well, he dumped the contents on the bed. "Yours, I presume?" She quickly reached out and gathered her things close, cradling them to her chest. "Right now might be a good time to, you know, put your clothes on, too," he suggested when she made no move to do so but only stared up at him with wide blue eyes. He shrugged. "Not that I mind you being all warm and naked in my bed, but—" "Could I have a little privacy, please?" she cut in. Ah, she speaks. Yet what she said left him clueless. "What for?" he asked, frowning. Her jaw dropped. "I don’t want you to see me," she said, her face heating with color. He laughed. "Okay, let me get this straight. Last night, you picked me out of a bar full of complete strangers, kissed me like there’s no tomorrow, somehow talked me into marrying you, and then screwed my brains out. But this morning, you’re too modest to let me see you naked?" "Could you just…" she grumbled as she motioned frantically toward the door. Cameron folded his arms over his chest and sent her an amused smile. "Sorry. No." When she let out a small growl, he threw his hand into the air, calling defeat. "Hey, if I go out there, my sister’s going to rip a strip from my hide. And I’d like to figure out what the hell happened here before I try to defend myself." "We got married," she explained from between clenched teeth. "That’s what happened." "Yeah, I caught that much. Now, I’d like to know why. How?" He watched her face shut down. Her features turned blank, an expression revealing nothing. Cameron sighed and scrubbed at his face with both hands. "Look, all I want are a few answers." "I was just as drunk as you were," she said defensively. "But this was your idea," he pressed. "That’s one thing I do remember. You approached me. You asked me, first thing. I have no idea how you talked me into it, or why, but that’s my own drunken stupidity. You,
however, were the little instigator of this whole mess. And I do know that for sure." When she refused to talk, Cameron became mesmerized by a stray tendril of blonde hair that slipped over her shoulder. No bikini line marred the smooth surface of her very bare skin; he couldn’t help but wonder if she sunbathed in the nude—nude like she was under that sheet. He shuddered and wanted. "Honestly," he said, wincing at the pinching constriction in his pants. "Can you put some clothes on already? I can’t concentrate when you’re all…" He waved his hand toward the sheet. She lifted her eyebrows. "And me dropping this sheet to reach for my clothes is going to help that—how?" He rolled his eyes. "Gotcha," he muttered and turned away so his back was to her. "Better?" She didn’t answer, but he heard bed springs shift and squeak as she hopped off the mattress. He was tempted to swing around and say, 'boo', just to irritate her. But he figured he’d gotten on her nerves enough in the past five minutes. Yes, the honeymoon was definitely over. When he heard a muttered curse behind him, he chanced a glance over his shoulder. What he saw had him stopping dead. "Whoa." He paused and shook his head to clear the nasty thoughts. Olivia had dressed. Well, she’d dressed as much as she could. She no longer wore the fishnet hose but stood in a skirt—a very leather, very tight, very short black skirt—and a top, which consisted of a black bit of leather that barely covered her tits. She held the gaping middle together with both hands. After letting out a low, appreciative whistle, Cameron mused, "Now I see how you coaxed me into marriage." His wife scowled. She lifted a frayed leather strap he had to guess once held her top together. "You ruined my blouse." Blouse? Cameron was trying to figure how that thing could possibly be referred to as a blouse when she suddenly crossed her arms over her chest, restricting his fine view. He lifted his face in time to catch her full glare. Grinning, he shrugged. "Can’t imagine why I would’ve done such a thing." She fumed. "What am I supposed to wear? This is...it’s ruined." "Hmm," was his only answer as his eyelids drooped heavily. He licked his lips as he thought up all the things he’d prefer to use in order to cover those full, lush breasts. "I’m serious," she cried. He sighed, his daydream dissolving at her scowl. "Oh, for God’s sake. It’s not the end of the world." He motioned distractedly toward his luggage on the floor. "I’ve got a whole suitcase full of shirts you can wear.
Take your pick." She eyed the pile of clothing uneasily. "I don’t have cooties," he groused. Then he grinned. "Besides, I think I already passed them on if I did." She blanched, probably remembering just how many cooties they’d swapped. Ashamed for bringing it up, he sighed. "I don’t have any venereal cooties either, by the way." She didn’t answer, daintily tiptoeing across the floor toward his suitcase to retrieve a pinstriped button up dress shirt. Unable to resist, his eyes gobbled the view. The woman was hot—hot in an all caps, triple underlined, bold font kind of hot. It was a relief to know he didn’t lower his standards when he was blubbering drunk. He could still pick the beauties even with his beer goggles on. Her face looked young. With her wide blue eyes, full rosy cheeks, small pert nose and full bottom lip, the black leather she wore made her seem like a little girl who was playing dress up. Her body however, was all woman, curvy, with rounded hips and plush D-cup breasts. Her ass was nice and tight and Cameron couldn’t help but watch it and want as she bent over to slip on her four inch strappy sandals. As she straightened, he grinned. Talk about playing dress up. The shirt she’d chosen was so long, it more than covered the tiny black skirt underneath and nearly came down to her knees. Wearing stilettos and a man’s shirt, she was definitely the image of a little girl who’d found her way into Mom and Dad’s closet. "God, you’re adorable," he blurted out before he could properly check his words. He didn’t particularly want her to know how much she turned him on, though the huge hard-on he’d pointed at her two minutes ago might’ve already clued her in. Still. She scowled, not appreciating his praise. He cleared his throat. "So, let’s talk." She retreated a step, sending him a leery look. "Talk about what?" "Gee, how about the weather?" At a bewildered blink of her long lashes, he sighed and rolled his eyes. "About the fact that we just got married. What do you think I want to discuss? Good Lord, woman." "I think I’d rather talk about the weather." His wife’s features took on dry sarcasm as she rolled up the cuffs on his shirt until she could find her hands. "Well, tough. I want to know how this happened." She gritted her teeth. "You were there. Why do I need to tell you anything?" "For starters, I was drunk and half of my memory’s been erased." "Then maybe you shouldn’t have been drinking."
Cameron’s face flamed with color. Alcohol was a tender subject with him; he’d already received enough flak about it from people he actually cared about. He didn’t want to hear a word from this little fluff ball. But instead of blowing up, he controlled his temper and held his breath, counting to ten. When he felt a smidgeon cooler, he exhaled and said, "Okay, let’s start fresh." Holding out a hand, he said, "Hi. I’m Cameron Banks. It’s nice to meet you." She frowned at his hand. "And you must be Olivia," he added when she refused to play along. "I hear you were married last night. Well, that’s quite a coincidence because I was too. But I don’t think the new Mrs. Banks likes me much. So far, she’s cried, glared, snapped and given me the silent treatment. And she seems averse to my name," he added after seeing her cringe at being labeled Mrs. Banks. Tilting his head to the side, he studied her a moment. "Which makes me wonder, why don’t you like my name? How do you even know who I am?" She looked up quickly. Too quickly. "I don’t." Then she snorted derisively and rubbed her hand against her forehead. "Trust me, if I’d known you were Cameron Banks, there’s no way in hell I would’ve even talked to you last night." "But you know something about me," he insisted. "You know my middle name and you know about…way too much about my wife. How do you know so much? There’s no way I would’ve told you that last night." No amount of alcohol would get him to open up about Sienna. She shook her head to agree. "No," she said and closed her eyes. "No, you didn’t tell me. I...my mother did." He arched a brow. "Your mother?" This time, her head bobbed up and down. He didn’t remember a mother lingering around in any of his hazy visions from the night before. There’d been a cop once, but no mothers. "Who’s your mother?" She opened her eyes and looked regretful as she whispered, "Vivian Helbrock-Donovan-Roark." He stared at her hard. Finally, he frowned. "Who?" Her lips parted; she looked at him as if he was insane. "Vivian Donavan," she said a little more forcefully as if he should really know this one. "The owner of Helbrock Enterprise." When he merely shook his head, her jaw dropped even farther. Something in his brain clicked. "Helbrock, you say? You mean that big-time canning company in California?" Her shoulders slumped in relief and her head once again did the up and down. "Your mother owns that?"
Closing her eyes, she bit her lip and continued to move her head in a nod. "And her name is Vivian Donovan," he concluded. "Yes," she whispered, looking stricken like she expected him to lose his temper at such an announcement. "My mother is Vivian HelbrockDonovan-Roark." Cameron shrugged. "Never heard of her." Her eyes flew open. "What?" she blurted out, staring at him with that disbelieving gawk all over again. "But...but that’s impossible. She’s told me about you. All about you. She...she even gave me a sheet full of information about all the companies you’ve bought and sold." Cameron wrinkled his face in confusion. "Huh? Why would she do that?" Olivia didn’t answer. Instead, she looked like she was on the verge of another major crying fit. "You’ve seriously never met her before?" He felt like he should apologize for answering, "No." She looked so crushed, he actually wanted to give her a sympathetic hug. Of course, if he put his hands on her—good intentions or not—he’d probably turn into some kind of lecherous octopus and play how-fast-can-Iundress-the-blonde-babe, going straight for her— "I can’t believe it," she said to herself, her shoulders curling in around her body as she started to rock back and forth. "She’s never even met you before and yet...and yet…" "And yet what?" Cameron urged softly. "She wanted me to marry you," she choked out. Cameron pulled back. He blinked, waited for the punch line of her joke, and when it didn’t come, he cocked an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
Olivia sat huddled inside Cameron Banks’ shirt on the king-sized bed in his sister’s guest bedroom. Her 'husband' had spent the last half hour grilling her about Vivian until she’d spilled the entire sordid truth. When she was done, he merely stood there and stared in appalled silence with his eyebrow permanently quirked. "So you married me for my money?" he finally said. "No!" she screeched. "I chose you because I thought you had to be the polar opposite of this Cameron Banks guy Vivian wanted me to marry." But Cameron only shook his head. "Now, wait. Explain to me again. How did your mother think my marrying you would make her wealthier?" The way he stressed 'mother' and 'her' made her realize he didn’t buy her story. His wary scowl told her he sensed something underhanded taking place. He blamed the trickery on her, though, not Vivian. Olivia tried once again to explain her mother, though she knew a woman like Vivian was intellectually impossible to comprehend. "She’s heard about your reputation, and she’s studied your business acumen." Olivia shrugged. "I guess she assumed that with a man like you as her son-in-law, a whole new world of opportunities would open for her. All she’d have to do is mention you’re family and, presto, everyone will want to do business with her because—" "Wait, wait, wait," Cameron cut in. "A man like me? What does that mean, ‘a man like me’?" He looked so insulted Olivia grinned. "She sees you as a quickminded, prospering millionaire whose wealth keeps growing exponentially." "So?" he asked, appearing even more baffled by her description. "So…you’re just the type of person she wants in her back pocket. In her mind, anyway," Olivia was quick to add. She didn’t want Banks thinking any of this was her philosophy. God, she hoped he caught that. "Plus, she thinks any son-in-law of hers is going to want to merge his business with Helbrock Enterprise." Her new husband lifted an intrigued eyebrow. "Oh, she does, does
she?" Olivia smiled weakly. "I’m telling you, Vivian isn’t right in the brain." Cameron eyed her intently as if to say, neither is Vivian’s daughter. At the moment, she had to agree. "So." He cleared his throat. "She was counting on you to come in, totally sweep me off my feet, and keep me so blind in love—or lust, or whatever the hell you do—that I’d just hand over all my money to her?" He snorted. "Right. I so buy that story." Olivia couldn’t help herself. She laughed. "You know, she really sounds like a presumptuous bitch when you put it that way. Oh, wait. She is." She chuckled even more. She knew she was turning hysterical. She could actually feel her head go faint and realized hyperventilating wasn’t far behind. She wanted to stop. But she couldn’t seem to make her body obey. It, along with everything else, had slipped from her control. Tears seeped from between her eyelashes she giggled so hard. Running a hand through his hair, Cameron whipped the marriage certificate off the bed where he’d dropped it earlier. He frowned as he studied it. Then he glanced up. "This is really real, isn’t it?" She nodded and continued to laugh. There was nothing funny to snigger about, but laughter seemed like the only thing she had left to hold herself together. Or maybe it was a sign she was falling apart. Cameron muttered under his breath as he bent down and picked up his pants from the night before. When he shook out a cell phone and flipped it open, panic halted Olivia’s laughter, choking it off abruptly. Oh, God, he was going to call the police and have her arrested. She licked her lips. "What—what’re you doing?" "I’m calling my lawyer." Her eyes went wide. "You’re going to sue me?" He paused to send her a dry glower. "I’m going to get this—" he shook their marriage certificate—"annulled." "Oh." Her shoulders slumped. "Good idea." "You think?" He rolled his eyes and pushed a button before pressing the phone to his ear. After waiting only a few seconds, his face relaxed. "Boston! Thank God I caught you." He paused a moment, listening and then answered, "No, uh, actually I didn’t make the dinner. I—" He winced and pulled the receiver a few inches from his ear. Scratching his chin he finally added, "I kind of, ah, got myself into a pickle here in Vegas…No, I’m not in jail. I sort of, um, accidentally got married." This time, when he held the phone from his ear, even Olivia could hear Boston-whoever-he-was, exclaim, "You what! How in the holy hell did you do that?" "I’ll explain everything when I get home...What’s that?...Did we what?...Oh."
Cameron glanced toward Olivia. His eyes roamed her figure letting her know exactly what he’d been asked. Oh, yeah. They’d definitely done that. He spun away, turning his back to her and more quietly said, "Maybe. Does that really matter?" Olivia watched the muscles in his back tense as he listened intently to Boston. After a few more yeses and uh-huhs, a no, and one "yeah, there was alcohol," he quietly said, "shit," and glanced at her worriedly. Olivia sat up in alarm. Just what was this Boston guy telling him? "Okay," Cameron said and nodded in understanding. "Fine. We’ll work it out when I get back. Thanks, Bos." He hung up. When he turned to Olivia, she braced herself to hear the bad news. "Well?" He shrugged as if nothing was wrong. "Well, we can get an annulment because of the alcohol, which is the good news. But since all government offices are closed for the weekend and I have to be home by Sunday for an important meeting first thing Monday, we’ll have to make this a complaint annulment instead of a joint petition, which will take six to twelve weeks to file." "Okay," Olivia answered, holding her breath for the worst part she was sure would come next. "So…?" she pressed when he didn’t speak. He frowned. "So, we’ll have to wait at least six weeks before we get this straightened out," he repeated. Olivia blinked, still waiting for him to drop the big bomb. When he said nothing else, she asked, "Why did you say shit?" "Because," he growled. "We can’t get it done today, or even Monday." "And?" she prompted. He shook his head. "And what? There’s nothing else. We’ll have to wait." Olivia frowned. "Is that all?" she demanded. His frown turned annoyed. "What do you mean, ‘is that all’? It’ll take time. There’s paperwork, and handling fees, and waiting periods." But Olivia didn’t care. "As long as my mother doesn’t find out we’re married in that time, we’re safe." Cameron eyed at her strangely. "What’d you say her name was again?" She sighed and pressed a hand to her suddenly aching head. "Vivian Helbrock-Donovan-Roark." Sucking the side of his cheek in between his teeth with a thoughtful expression, Cameron shook his head. "I can’t place the name. I seriously don’t think I’ve ever met her." "Then you probably haven’t. If you’d ever run across her, you’d
remember it. She’s not a forgettable woman." "Okay, so I’ve never met her, yet she wants me to marry her daughter?" Cameron shook his head. "I don’t—you honestly can’t think I believe that?" Tired of trying to help him comprehend something she didn’t fully understand herself, Olivia stood and glanced at his cell phone. "It doesn’t matter anyway. You’re going to get us annulled, and in six weeks this’ll all be over. May I borrow your phone to give her a call and see if she’s still at the hotel? As mad as she’ll be about me skipping out on her last night, she’ll probably try to leave me in Las Vegas." ~*~ Cameron’s jaw dropped. "Your mother’s trying to sell you off to some man she’s never met—and you want to go back to her?" Olivia looked at him sharply. He could tell she didn’t like him dragging the truth right out into the open. But, tough. He wanted answers. She stood unmoving and stiff. "I don’t have anyone else to call," she admitted from reluctant, unmoving lips. He frowned. "What about your dad?" She snorted. "Trust me, if he was alive, he’d be just as bad as her." That answer caught him off guard. Experiencing a pang of sympathy he wasn’t prepared to feel for this mouthy little Twinkie, Cameron paused. He wondered if he should express condolences. Her father might’ve passed away recently. Fearing he’d only make her cry again if he told her he was sorry for her loss, he was about to give up interrogating her when he remembered what his pursuit was all about. The woman had just spent a good twenty minutes telling him how awful her mom was. And here, she was the first person his wife wanted to call. It punched all sorts of holes in the very foundation of the already-shaky story she’d just fed him. "And you have no other family?" he asked. "Friends?" For a moment, she looked very alone. He suddenly wanted to reach out and tell her—what? There was nothing he could do for her if she wanted to hightail it back to her mom. "There’s no one," she bit out from between clenched teeth. "Lady, you are unbelievable." He shook his head sadly. "You just sat there and convinced me your mom was Satan incognito and now you want to go back to her? I’m sorry, but I don’t get it." "You don’t have to get it. You don’t know me or my mother, okay? You don’t know what she’s capable of—" "And yet you want to crawl right back into her clutches?" "Look, I tried to rebel and failed, okay? I’m just not cut out for a life of defiance." "Defiance?" he sputtered. "Just how old are you? Twelve? Since when have grown women reverted back to the dark ages and let their parents
control their lives?" Her scowl told him he’d hit a nerve. But her calm words said, "It’s safer this way. Trust me. I—" "Oh, well, now you’re freaking me out," Cameron said, feeling a cold chill of dread race down his spine. The woman wasn’t scared of her mother, was she? "What exactly is she going to do to you, Olivia? Because if you seriously think she’ll hurt you—" "No! It’s nothing like that." Her answer came a little too quick for his comfort. "Then what is it?" Olivia glowered. Remaining stubbornly closed-mouthed about the relationship she had with her sole provider, she muttered, "Will you just let me call her?" Cameron lifted his eyebrows and handed her the phone. "Knock yourself out, honey. Far be it from me to try to help my wife." He hadn’t been much help to the last Mrs. Banks either. Feeling a swell of bitterness, he spun away and strode from the room. Stupid little twit. He didn’t want to lend her a hand anyway. Helping others had only resulted in giving him eternal heartache. He was an idiot to think he could assist her with— Ah, hell. Never mind. It wasn’t worth it. Cameron stalked through the house until he entered a room already occupied. As he stepped into the family den, he found Leah sitting crosslegged on the floor playing building blocks with her four-year old son. He paused to study the pair for a moment. When she’d married Devin, Leah wanted a big family, but the doctors thought she wouldn’t even be able to have one baby. After a bad miscarriage, she lost an ovary, and a future full of children in their home looked bleak. But three years of marriage and a load of medical consultations later, little Aiden had finally entered Leah and Devin’s life. And now their little ankle-biter was four. A pang of loneliness speared through him as he watched mother and son play quietly in the simple task of stacking block upon block. He suddenly missed his childhood and the easy, simple life he’d lived once upon a time with his parents and older sister. He missed being the jokester, the happy-golucky clown who found humor in everything and could make even the most sober of people smile with his bright, engaging charisma. He wondered why’d he’d been in such a hurry to grow up, why he’d gone after Sienna when everyone warned him to stay away, why it had sucked the happiness from him when he tried to make her smile. Swallowing, he strolled forward. His nephew glanced up. The way his face lit had Cameron’s insides twisting even more. If only he’d stayed away from Sienna, he’d probably have his own little ankle-biter by now who would look up at him as if he were someone worthy and important. "Unca Cam!" Aiden called. "Come pway wiv’ us."
Cameron grinned at the enticing offer, even as his stomach clenched, making the sour alcohol inside swirl and gurgle and work its way back up his esophagus. Ignoring the heartburn, he settled himself Indian style on the floor next to his nephew and picked out a blue block. He glanced at his sister before stacking it. "So, what do I have to do to convince you not to tell anyone about this little incident?" Leah handed Aiden a yellow arched-shaped block and proceeded to ignore Cameron for another ten seconds before she lifted her face and blew out a breath. "Well, I’ve already called Devin at work and told him." Cameron rolled his eyes and grabbed a red block. Of course, she wouldn’t keep anything from her husband. Great. "Okay, then," he said. "What do I have to do to keep you from telling Mom and Dad?" "You mean, you don’t want them knowing you once again got married without telling anyone or even letting us meet your wife first?" Frustrated, Cameron ran his hand through his hair. "Look, this was all just one big accident, okay?" "Well, it wouldn’t have happened if you’d been sober. I thought you were past that, Cam. I thought you didn’t need grief counseling anymore." Cameron stopped cold. He didn’t want to go over this again. He hated it when his family looked at him with sad, frustrated eyes and wondered why he couldn’t just straighten out his act. He hated disappointing them. He’d been doing so well about hiding the misery too. "Obviously, you don’t remember what yesterday was," he muttered quietly, gripping the red block in his hand so hard he was surprised it didn’t crumble. The date would get him off the hook this time, but he was going to have to do better about keeping his problems concealed. Leah glared at him, setting her hands on her hips, "Obviously, I don’t." What? He cocked her a surprised look. She seriously didn’t know? It didn’t seem possible. The anniversary had been glaring at him as it crept closer like a big red blinking sign. Death date approaching. Death date approaching. He didn’t understand how anyone could forget. "Mom and Dad’s anniversary is coming up," Leah mused thoughtfully. "But other than that—" She stopped cold, her eyes growing wide. "Oh, Cam," she said, sympathy filling her voice. Not wanting to deal with anything that resembled pity, he turned away. A fresh wave of grief gripped him. Yesterday had been the anniversary of Sienna’s suicide. He couldn’t believe he’d celebrated by going out and marrying some blonde pop tart who only wanted to crawl back to her mother after the woman had tried to whore her out to a complete stranger. "Just don’t tell Mom and Dad," he said, mortified when his voice
cracked. "Please." Leah touched his back. "I won’t tell anyone. I mean, except Devin." He turned and hauled her into a grateful hug. "Thank you." He closed his eyes as he inhaled the scent of her shampoo. He wished he could stay there a while longer, holding a concerned loved one and drifting in a fog of pleasant— "Now, about this alcohol." Groaning, Cameron pulled away. Leah’s hands tighten as if she wanted to keep him closer and protect her little brother from something that couldn’t be protected. "Bubby—" she started. "Leah, don’t. Please. I’m not…I can’t...Just don’t worry about it, okay. It was one insignificant relapse. Honest to God, I haven’t touched the stuff since…" well, not since the last painful death date a year ago. But he wasn’t going to mention that bit of news to his sister. His family assumed he’d been dry for three years now, which was true, save for those few anniversary binges. As her son continued to play between them, Leah eyed him miserably, intensifying the despair brewing inside him. If only he could return to his happy place, the ache would go away. He wouldn’t have to deal with— "You’re a recovering alcoholic, Cameron," Leah stated firmly, jerking him back to reality. "You can’t afford a relapse, small or otherwise." He sighed and pressed a hand to his skull where his hangover wasn’t slacking off. It hadn’t been his intent to drink at all last night. He’d been so sure he could deal with the date sober. But when the memories had crashed down around him, he’d needed to escape the pain and darkness. He’d have done anything to forget. The funny thing was, he hadn’t thought of Sienna once last night, not from the very moment he’d looked up into a pair of big blue eyes and grinned at Olivia Donovan. "Drinking once a year on the anniversary of my wife’s death should be allowed," he muttered. "Give me that much at least." "No," Leah stated. Shocked, Cameron lifted his face. Usually, people backed off when he mentioned Sienna. He did it seldom, but it was always a good way to get concerned loved ones off his case and nab himself some leeway. Yet Leah didn’t budge. Weird. "It’s been, what, nine years," she said. "You need to get over this." "Ten," he gritted out. "It’s been ten years." Leah finally softened. Her face transformed as she reached for his arm. He pulled back before she could touch him. "I’m sorry," she said. She sounded genuinely remorseful too, until
she added, "But this time you’re not just hurting yourself. You brought an innocent woman into it." Innocent? In his mind’s eyes, Cameron caught a flash of Olivia Donovan in her black leather bustier with her plush tits about to spill out the top, telling him he could do anything he wanted to her if only they’d marry. He almost snorted in his sister’s face. Yeah, right. Real innocent. "What’re you going to do with her?" Leah asked. Remembering exactly what he’d already done with her, Cameron refrained from snickering. He picked up one of his nephew’s toys and shrugged, tossing the block between two hands. "I’m not going to do anything. She’s calling her mother as we speak to come get her. I’ve already talked to Bos. He’s going to work up the divorce or annulment papers, or whatever." Leah arched a brow. "What?" he said. "Did you want me to stay married to her?" "No," she muttered and let out an irritated sigh. Then she growled. "Why can’t you just stop this depression? A divorce might save you this time, Cameron. But what about next time? Why won’t you just let your family help you?" "Help me do what?" They couldn’t bring Sienna back. They couldn’t take the guilt and remorse off his shoulders. They couldn’t fix shit. There was nothing they could do but hurt right along with him. "Cam," she bit out, gritting her teeth. But movement from the doorway caused both brother and sister to glance up. Wearing his dress shirt with the arms hanging down over her hands and her fingers constantly working the cuffs in a nervous gesture, Olivia hunched in the doorway. She looked on the verge of another crying jag. "She’s already gone back home," she said, her voice cracking. She looked about as scared as a lost lamb, and Cameron’s frustrations grew. If what she’d told him about her mother was true, then she was just as innocent in this situation as he was, and the whole night had been one big, avoidable accident. God. Exactly what he didn’t want to deal with. "Okay," he said, remaining as calm as possible. "Where’s home?" Her shoulders heaved as she sucked in air. "Pasadena." He nodded. "Fine. Tomorrow, I’m headed home myself. I’ll just have my pilot detour us by your place on the way." "But you’re going in completely the opposite direction of California," Leah cut in. Cameron gave his sister a sour look. "What would you rather have me do? Take her back to KC with me?" "Well, she is your wife." Cameron growled and tossed down the block he’d been holding. It hit another that happened to be a vital foundation piece to the structure his
nephew was building. As the entire stack went tumbling, four-year-old Aiden burst into devastated tears. Leah gathered her sobbing son into her arms and held him to her chest as she glared at Cameron. "Look what you did," she said accusingly. She cooed to Aiden and struggled to her feet. With a final scowl at Cam, she carried her son from the room, telling him they’d go do something else and leave mean old Uncle Cameron alone. Cameron sighed and shoved over another pile of blocks. He glanced at Olivia, who watched him with untrusting eyes. God, he needed a drink. Feeling his nasty mood spark, he decided to take it out on her. "So, how am I supposed to know you’re telling me the truth?" Her story was too fishy. None of it added up. He was having a hard time believing she’d stumbled across him by mere coincidence when he was the one guy she claimed to be avoiding. When Olivia frowned in confusion, he explained, "Maybe you wanted to do exactly what Mommy told you to do. Maybe you followed me to that bar last night and waited until I was good and plowed before strolling over in that tight little number." "No." He snorted when Olivia shook her head emphatically. "You know, maybe Mommy didn’t want to keep me as a son-in-law at all. Why would she need to? If you could talk me into marrying you, which you did, then you could just keep me in bed long enough until we bypassed the opportunity to get a nice simple annulment and had to go through a divorce instead, where you’d take half of everything I own." Olivia’s jaw dropped. "I don’t want anything from—" "But you know what?" Cameron cut in. "You can go ahead and take it. I don’t give a rat’s ass. I can be poor and miserable just as easily as I can be rich and miserable." "You’re wrong," Olivia told him, shaking her head again. But Cameron wasn’t buying it. "You know what’s wrong? You. It’s just plain wrong to go out, planning on seducing a complete stranger just because you know he’s rich. Some people would call that stealing, you know. You didn’t even earn it. Oh, wait. I guess you did. You screwed me real good last night, didn’t you? Well then, it must be time for me to pay my whore. Except you’re a little more pricey than most, aren’t you?" Gasping, Olivia took a step back. "Why, you awful, awful man. I see why your wife killed herself."
Olivia’s hands fisted inside the sleeves of Cameron Banks’ longsleeved shirt. If they’d been free, she would’ve slapped him. As it was, her words seemed to knock him back as effectively as any physical blow she could’ve produced. He blanched and lurched a step in reverse. But he stopped moving so abruptly, she wondered if he’d been petrified. Then he swallowed, and by the expression on his face, he was ingesting razorblades. For one awful, drawn-out second, she feared he might burst into tears. His bottom lip trembled and his eyes went moist. It took her a moment to remember what she’d said in her rage. When she realized she’d accused him of driving his first wife to suicide, she stopped breathing, appalled by herself. Oh, God. Olivia could actually see where all his insults toward her originated. Her tale was ludicrous. If she were him, she’d probably think she was merely following her mother’s orders too. She always had before. But his words had hurt, so she’d lashed back with the first thing she could think to say. Her mother always made similar comments, telling Olivia her father had killed himself to escape such an awful daughter. Over the years, she’d grown numb to the barbs, had actually become immune to them. So it was a little surprising to see how adversely they affected Cameron Banks. Ashamed she’d reverted to one of her mother’s techniques, she sank back a step. His agony-filled face started to blaze with color, making Olivia’s eyes widen. Instead of fearing he might cry, she suddenly worried he would attack. His nostrils flared and his eyes cleared, turning a hard, dangerous black. "That’s it," he said from between his clenched teeth. "You’re getting the hell out of here. Right now. I don’t care if I have to drive you to California myself. Get your things. You’re leaving." Olivia blinked rapidly, trying to beat down the sudden urge to weep. She felt awful. God, why hadn’t she slapped him instead? She must be the lowest life form on earth, worse than the scum that grew on pond scum. "I...I don’t have anything," she whispered, her voice small and timid.
"Just my top." She looked down at the baggy shirt adorning her body. "What about your—" "Keep it," he bit out. "Go get your top and let’s go. Now." Not wanting to argue, Olivia rushed back to the room where she’d spent the night in his arms. As she snagged the piece of black leather off the bed, she caught sight of the empty condom wrapper on the floor. It had been intended for his use, and he had indeed used it. Suddenly sick, she glanced away. If Vivian found out about this, she’d be thrilled. The one time Olivia had tried to break free, she’d ended up doing exactly what her mother wanted. Her stomach roiled; she thought she might vomit. She’d been a fool to attempt rebellion. Tucking the bustier under her arm, she rushed from the room and away from the glaring reminder of her failed try at a new start. Cameron stood waiting by the opened front door, impatiently jiggling his keys. He stormed outside when he saw her, and Olivia followed. He drove them to the airport in stony silence. Too miserable to speak, she remained mute. She was returning to Vivian. Dear Lord, she had to go back. Shadowing her the entire way, Cameron accompanied Olivia to the front desk to buy a ticket. When she heard the price, she counted the cash on her and was panicked when she discovered she didn’t have enough money, not by half. Grumbling, Cameron jerked his wallet from his back pocket and paid her fare. He didn’t glance at her once as he did so. Olivia didn’t bother to thank him. She instinctively knew he’d only snap at her if she tried. After that, he escorted her to her terminal. She bit her lip as she walked beside him, unable to understand why he was being nice to her when he was still obviously so mad. His presence comforted Olivia, though. Glad she wasn’t by herself and grateful he was being considerate despite his animosity, she hovered next to him and tried to think up something to say. Realizing this was the last time she’d see him, she lifted her face. Maybe it was the physical intimacies they’d shared, but suddenly she felt a connection to him. She didn’t want to leave. She was going to miss him. Last night had been nice. He’d been the best time she’d ever had. She didn’t want his abhorrence. She wanted to somehow fix the rift. When they called her flight, she bit her lip. Now or never. "I’m sorry," she said quietly and a little desperately. "It was a stupid thoughtless thing to say." He refused to meet her gaze, and Olivia swallowed her disappointment. "I didn’t mean it. I just...I—" "I’ll have my lawyer send you the papers through the mail," he said, then turned and stalked off only to pause a few feet later and pivot back. "You’re positive you’ll be okay? If you’re that scared of her, I can—"
"I’ll be fine," Olivia said, her eyes opening wide at his way-too-kind offer. She waited until he nodded and turned away again before she blinked back the tears. As she watched him walk out of her life, her shoulders slumped. He might’ve been the one man she’d wanted to avoid, but he’d given her something no one else ever had: a night full of hope. ~*~ Pasadena, California Nauseated, Olivia stepped from the back seat of her mother’s town car and shivered as a chill of dread raced up her spine. She murmured a thank you to the butler who held open the door for her and then paused to stare up at the house. The adobe-styled mansion with its clay-shingled roof was the only home she’d ever known. She’d grown up here. So why did it feel more like she was returning to a prison she’d tried to escape? Why didn’t she look forward to going inside her own home? Because Vivian was in there. Honestly, though, Olivia didn’t know where else to go. She had no close friends that would take her in. There wasn’t any family left that would claim either Vivian or her daughter and, well, that was about it. The closest people to Olivia were her maid and hair stylist, and she couldn’t pull either Rosa or Grace Ellen into her problems. Her mother could destroy them both with a single phone call, getting one deported and the other arrested for writing worthless checks. No, she couldn’t depend on anyone else. This was her life, the life she’d chosen for herself, and she needed to deal with it. Straightening her shoulders with a courage she didn’t feel, she started forward. Her d’Orsay heels clicked on the cobblestone path, reminding her of one of those horror movies where the lone sound of high heels on concrete echoed through an empty parking garage just before the killer pounced. The perfect drum roll for her own impending doom. The door opened before she reached it. She stumbled a step. Rosa peered out at her, eyes wide. "Miss Donovan," she said, though her voice cracked with trepidation, "Mr. and Mrs. Roark are waiting to speak with you in the breakfast room." Olivia’s face drained of color. The breakfast room. Of course, Vivian would summon her to the room where her father had died. Vivian was a pro at psychological warfare. "Thank you, Rosa," she murmured and started her way toward her destiny. Still wearing Cameron’s extra-large shirt, her fingers balled around the excess cloth covering her cold, clammy hands, taking comfort in the
small protective warmth it provided. Her 'husband' probably wouldn’t be pleased about providing any kind of support for her, but she appreciated the soft cotton of his shirt anyway. Vivian sat at the head of the table, reading a Wall Street Journal. A full meal was spread out on the ecru tablecloth. Nolan sat at her left elbow, the slight tremor in his liver-spotted hands showing his age as he split open a roll and buttered it. Only breakfast was eaten in the breakfast room. Down the hall, a large grandfather clock chimed letting her know it was noon, way past time for a morning meal. She bit back a shudder, knowing the only reason Vivian would eat lunch in here was to torture her. The wave of déjà vu that struck almost brought her to her knees. Her mother had planned it well, set up everything the same way it had been that morning. She wanted Olivia to remember. And remember she did. Vividly. Olivia’s heels announced her arrival. Vivian lowered her paper and glanced at Olivia as if surprised. "Darling," she called almost pleasantly, ushering Olivia further into the room. "Join us for lunch." Olivia swallowed, hesitated, then moved forward. Easing into the chair at Vivian’s right, the same place she’d been sitting when her father had killed himself, she folded her hands in her lap and eyed the food, hoping she didn’t vomit. "Eat," Vivian said with a congenial smile. "The chicken is divine," Nolan added. Olivia pressed a hand to her quaking stomach. "I’m not hungry." "EAT," Vivian roared. Olivia jumped at the unexpected bellow. Fumbling as she picked up her knife and fork, she cut into the breaded chicken on her plate, dicing it into tiny bite-sized pieces. Her mother glared, but she studiously ignored the woman, concentrating on slicing each portion precisely. "Whose shirt is that?" Olivia sank back and clutched the fabric to her chest as if she thought her mother might rip the cloth off her. Vivian glowered. "Olivia, I asked you a question." A remaining spark of her rebellion must’ve been lingering inside her from the night before, smoldering like a glowing ember ready to be blown on and ignited, because she lifted her chin and said, "Why, Mother, don’t you know? It belongs to Cameron Banks." She only said the truth because she knew Vivian would never believe it. Which she didn’t. Lurching to her feet, Vivian stood so fast her chair overturned. Before Olivia could duck or brace herself, her mother’s arm swung around and her palm cracked against Olivia’s jaw. Long Frenchtipped nails sliced open her cheek, and Olivia wrenched backward, falling
from her chair and onto the floor. She’d barely landed on all fours when her mother grabbed her by her hair and twisted, yanking her head up, forcing her to her feet. Olivia cried out; tears stinging her eyes. "You’re lucky he wasn’t at the convention last night," Vivian hissed, puffing coffee-scented breath in her face. "If he had showed up, and you’d pulled this little stunt, I’d be very upset right now, Olivia." Olivia whimpered. "Where were you?" When she didn’t answer, Vivian tightened her hold on Olivia’s hair briefly before shoving her back to the floor. Olivia began to scramble up until she noticed Nolan suddenly there, looming over her and staring with a cold, dead gaze as if he would push her right back down if she tried to stand. She stayed down. Vivian snorted. "God, you’re just like your father." She sneered. "All he ever thought about was what woman’s legs he could spread next." Olivia didn’t move, but lay as still as death on the cold tile at her mother’s and stepfather’s feet with her arms curled protectively around her head. "You owe me!" Vivian added, nudging her in the ribs with a sharptoed shoe as if trying to get her attention. "Every day, you sit around my house and spend my money on your shopping sprees. Well, it’s time to pay up, little sister. You will meet Banks and you will work your damnedest to seduce him. Do I make myself clear?" When Olivia didn’t respond fast enough, Vivian stomped her foot, causing the floor to vibrate around her. "Do I?" "Y-yes." Her mother remained quiet a moment. Then she snorted. "God, you’re pathetic. I must be out of my mind to think you’ll ever attract a powerful man like Banks. Maybe you should just put yourself out of your misery like your worthless father did and give us all a little peace and quiet." Olivia stayed curled in a ball on the floor as Vivian strode from the room half a second later, closely followed by Nolan, who looked like a horny buck chasing a doe in heat. Cheek stinging as if it’d been carved open with a machete instead of a fingernail, Olivia let her shoulders slump in relief, glad Vivian was gone. Her mother had only slapped her twice before. Once, when she’d been seventeen and attempted to run away with a boyfriend. They’d been caught five miles from home. Vivian slapped her as soon as she’d been ushered through the front door. Then she’d locked Olivia in her room for two weeks. Olivia had never seen Derrick again, though she heard he’d been forcibly recruited into the army. The second slap came the day her father died. Olivia rose unsteadily to her feet and stumbled to a chair where she sank down. She realized her fingers were trembling when she lifted them to
her face. Suddenly, a vivid picture entered her head. Glancing around the room, she didn’t see it as it was now, but how it had been then. Olivia didn’t mourn Roger Donovan, not as a normal daughter should. She’d never been close to him, and he’d never loved her. She distinctly remembered overhearing Roger one time say, "I had to get a vasectomy after Olivia was born because I couldn’t stomach the thought of giving Vivian another worthless brat." Of course, a vasectomy also helped him run off and have as many affairs as he wished without the consequence of siring bastard children. Vivian didn’t seem to care about his indiscretion. She said it kept him away from her. So the two parents lived happily enough, ignoring each other and the single daughter they’d created together. Her father killed himself on an April morning. At the time, Olivia was fifteen. It was one of those crisp spring days with lilies blooming in the yard and singing birds swarming home from their winter beak. Olivia was sitting at the breakfast table to the right side of her mother when her life changed forever. After taking on one new mistress, Roger had actually become enamored. He even announced he was in love. Then the word divorce was mentioned, and Vivian finally grew fed up. Thinking her husband might cause a scandal, she made Roger’s lover disappear. But Roger hadn’t taken it well. Olivia could still remember what she’d been eating—toast with grape jelly, a glass of orange juice, and a plate full of strawberries covered in powered sugar—when Roger barreled down the stairs to confront his wife over the matter. As usual, Vivian sat at the head of the table, reading the Wall Street Journal when he stalked in. No one looked up. But he stomped his foot, and Olivia finally lifted her face. When she saw the gun in his hand, she gasped, which finally gained Vivian’s attention as well. At first, Olivia thought her own father would murder her and Vivian then and there. But that’s not what happened. Roger shook, his skin glazed with sweat, as he turned the gun to his own temple and stared at Vivian with glossy, vacant eyes. Not once did he glance at Olivia, his one and only child. He merely glared at his wife with a bone-deep hatred and gritted his teeth. Vivian laughed. "Go ahead." She waved an unconcerned hand for him to proceed. "With all the insurance I’ve got on you, your worthless ass is worth more to me dead than alive, anyway." Not that she’d collected a penny from his suicide, but that was the kind of thing she liked to say. It was enough encouragement to make Roger pull the trigger. Blood splattered on Olivia, on her toast, and even in her orange juice.
At first, the flash-bang of sound and spray of red rendered her motionless. Her ears rang from the explosion. She’d thought she’d gone deaf, but then she heard the thud as her father’s lifeless body hit the floor. She looked down, and the screams that followed were ripped from her throat with a terror she’d never felt before or since. Vivian sprang to her feet. She lurched from the head of the table and hurled herself toward Olivia. Grabbing her daughter’s shoulders in a vise-like grip, she shook her. But Olivia only screamed louder. Finally, Vivian smacked her full across the mouth. Stunned mute, Olivia gaped at Vivian with glazed eyes. Vivian hissed, "Listen to me. I was not in here. If anyone asks, I was not in this room when he did it. Do you understand me?" She shook her daughter again. "Olivia?" Olivia didn’t answer. She couldn’t speak. Her father was dead at their feet. Who cared where her mother had been? The cook came rushing into the room then, so Vivian yanked Olivia against her breasts as if she’d been comforting and hugging her baby girl the entire time. "Call an ambulance," she choked out. But there was no need. Roger was dead, had been dead since the moment he hit the floor. After the suicide, when Olivia had lied to the police about her mother’s involvement, Vivian expected Olivia to step up and be her hostess and public companion. She dragged Olivia to social gatherings and took control of her life. Since then, Olivia had lived in a world her mother created for her, never once questioning it. Now she knew why she’d never questioned the witch before, why she never tried to buck Vivian’s control. Still shaking from her mother’s assault, Olivia pushed to her feet and went to the mirror. She lifted her fingers to the thin slash of blood on her cheek. It would probably bruise. The very thought made her want to vomit. Her mother had damaged her. She’d disobeyed Vivian, and now she was marked like a piece of bad fruit. Olivia suddenly realized Roger had been trying to defy Vivian as well. He’d taken on lover after lover as a way to strike back and reclaim his masculinity until he’d ended up dead for his trouble. All because he’d gone up against the mighty Vivian Helbrock. As a single tear slid down Olivia’s cheek, she wiped it away with the sleeve of Cameron’s shirt. There was no way she wanted to end up like her father, so there was no way she was going to rebel again. She called it survival.
Kansas City Two weeks after returning home from his trip west, Cameron received a package in the mail from the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel. Curious, he opened the padded envelope and shook out the contents. When a packet of pictures and a DVD spilled into his palm, he blinked. The first picture was of him and Olivia Donavon, both of them drunk off their asses, posing with two hula dancers and Elvis in a white cape suit. For some reason, it reminded him of his first wedding. He’d rushed Sienna off to a quickie ceremony, too. As memories washed over him, Cameron carried the package to his study and pulled a box of pictures off his shelf. He fell into a deep mahogany chair and settled the box on his lap, carefully opening the lid. As the top picture stared up at him, he sucked in a breath. Cam had met Sienna Tridell during his first semester—his first week, actually—of his junior year at Kansas University. When he’d transferred to Lawrence, his cousin begged him to volunteer some of his time at a local help center where she worked. Since he’d always been the comedian in the family and was never without a smile, Lacey thought his positive demeanor would be a good influence on the type of people she worked with. His unfortunate answer has been, "Sure, why not. I’ll volunteer." On his first day, Lacey walked him down the halls and explained what he’d be doing. When he glanced into a room where a meeting was in progress, he stopped dead. His eyes latched on to one female, and he knew he was a goner. "Who’s that?" he demanded to know. Lacey glanced inside. "That’s the support group for bipolar patients." He shook his head. "No. Who’s the beauty headed right this way with the long, straight black hair?" "Oh." Lacey pulled back to send him a leery look. "That’s Sienna," she said in a hushed voice.
Sad Sienna, he dubbed her, for he’d never seen a soul that looked more depressed than this striking individual. His body hummed as she drew closer, completely unaware of how his eyes devoured her. "Hi there," he said, anxious to get her attention. She jumped, startled, and glanced leerily his way. When her brown gaze slid over him, he knew he’d do anything to make her smile. "Hi," she responded softly, her voice monotone and lifeless. She lowered her face and kept walking. Forgetting Lacey and his tour of the facilities, Cameron turned and fell into step beside Sad Sienna. "I’m Cameron," he announced. She ignored him, but he wasn’t deterred. "You want to go get some coffee?" he asked. "Or ice cream maybe. Or I could take you on a full date if you’d like. We could grab something to eat, catch a movie, get married. Anything you want." He talked to her all the way to the exit, and she stared at her feet the entire trip. At the door, she finally looked up. She studied him dispassionately with those beautiful, sad eyes that were lined with bags from lack of sleep, and gave him a slight smile. It made his heart stutter with excitement. "Do you want to go out some time?" he repeated on a whisper. "Maybe," she finally answered, then turned away and pulled open the back door of a car waiting at the curb. She glanced back at him before getting in. "Bye." He smiled, feeling as light as a feather. "See you around." Lacey, who’d followed Cameron outside to the curb where he stood watching Sienna depart, grabbed his arm and spun him around. "What do you think you’re doing?" Cameron shook his head in confusion. "What?" "Sienna Tridell is a deeply troubled girl, Cam. After seeing her parents die when she was nine, she’s been a manic depressive who suffers from insomnia and has a partial addiction to half a dozen different prescription drugs." "But she sure is pretty," he argued, flashing his infamously ornery grin. "She’s a mess." Cameron didn’t care. He shrugged it off. "Hey, manic depressives need love too." And that’s exactly what he’d done. He’d given Sienna all his love. Knowing from the start how much it would take to make her smile, Cameron felt like the king of world when she smiled twice and laughed once on their first date. He’d never been a people-pleaser before. He was usually too much of a jokester to care all that much about anyone’s feelings. But after meeting
Sienna, his world altered on its axis. Suddenly, the only thing he wanted out of life was to make her happy. He wanted to save her. Bound and determined to pull her back from the depths of her despair, he’d centered his world around pleasing her. He’d— Realizing he’d shuffled through every picture and pulled out all the shots with Sienna in them, Cameron’s hands started to shake. He shoved the bundle back into the box and firmly closed the lid. Then he pushed the entire container off his lap and onto the floor. The package from his Viva Las Vegas vacation landed on top with a thud. Getting to his feet, he started for the kitchen. He needed a drink. He needed to forget. Nothing could mellow the ache like half a dozen shots of Crown Royal. Anything to ease the tightness in his chest and the images in his head of the sexy, blonde twinkie he’d recently married. Frowning, he wondered idly why he always applied food to her when he mentally described her. Twinkie, Pop tart, cupcake. Then it struck him. She was too delicious. He grinned, remembering how her hair had flowed through his fingers right before he’d pushed inside her. She was good in the sack, he’d give her that. He wondered if she’d made it home to Mommy Dearest all right. Then he snorted. What a crock. The two were probably celebrating their victory over bagging Cameron Banks. He was a little surprised he hadn’t received any word yet over how much money they wanted to rape out of him over this marriage business. Well, he didn’t care. They could take it all. It hadn’t been his money in the first place. He’d gotten it after Sienna died. Her father had been an insurance salesmen and he’d taken two huge policies out on him and his wife. All the money had gone to Sienna when they’d died, and then it had gone to him when she died. Suddenly stuck with nearly half a million dollars, Cameron had wanted to throw it all away. So, he’d bought stock with it, the riskiest ventures on the market, hoping it’d be gone within the month. That had been back when the economy was booming. So, by some twist of blind luck—or bad luck, in his opinion—his investments had ended profitably. Half a million turned into five almost overnight and a bitter, shocked Cameron had no idea what to do with all that capital. He invested again, and again, and now, he had more millions than he could ever need. All because his wife had offed herself. Cameron groaned and closed his eyes. Olivia Donovan and her mother could take every freaking cent. He didn’t want it. When he reached the kitchen, he discovered he didn’t have any alcohol in the house. He’d dumped every bottle three years ago when he’d gone sober. God, this night was going to suck.
Unless he made a quick run to the store. ~*~ Chicago, Illinois Olivia was sure she’d seen the last of Cameron Banks. It had been three weeks since her rebellious night in Vegas. The bruise on her face had faded and her mother hadn’t mentioned the incident again. She hoped Vivian had gotten over her ludicrous idea of marrying Olivia off. Her mother was like that sometimes. She’d devise a plan and be all hot and bothered over it for a few weeks and then suddenly lose interest and hop onto some other idea. Then again, Olivia thought it’d be funny if Vivian persisted and Cameron openly rejected her. Smiling at a waiter who offered her a drink off a silver platter full of fluted glasses, Olivia shook her head, and the man moved on. Vivian had dragged her to Chicago for yet another business convention. She’d spent four hours sitting next to Vivian through a long, boring presentation about new insurance claims, and now she was standing in an elegant ball room, surrounded by a flood of complete strangers. She’d caught sight of her mother ten minutes ago talking to some congressman from Massachusetts. But thankfully, she couldn’t spot the witch at the moment. And she’d just ditched the opera house owner from Nashville, which was a relief. To keep him from gawking down her dress, she’d been lifting her hands to her mouth and stuffing all sorts of hors d’oeuvres down her throat in hopes of blocking his wandering eye. For a while there, she’d been afraid she was going to pop if she ate another bite. But fortunately, Mrs. Nashville had come along and swept him away. Olivia wished she could escape up to her hotel room. But Vivian would kill her if she did. In the past few days, her mother had actually treated her decently, for lack of a better word. She’d even bought her daughter the dress she was wearing tonight. Olivia had to admit, she loved the dress. It was a soft, long, elegant number with spaghetti straps and— She let out a small scream and pulled to a stop before smacking directly into Cameron Banks. Crap. No wonder why Vivian had been buttering her up. Champagne flute in hand, Cameron lifted it in salute and sent her a sloppy grin. "Hey there, beautiful," he slurred out. "Fancy meeting you here." Olivia pressed her palm to her heart and closed her eyes. When she opened them, he was still there, bigger than life, beaming his adorable lopsided smile and looking devastating in a tux. Automatically, she scanned the room for Vivian.
"Oh, yeah," Cameron continued on a husky murmur and moved closer. "Like the dress. It has lick-me written all over it." His eyes wandered down her body, and she suddenly remembered being naked and alone with him. She remembered it in vivid technicolor. "Still look good in black, I see," he commented and reached out to run one finger over her left shoulder, under the spaghetti strap. "But I must say, I do miss the leather." He slipped another digit under the strap so the two could slide across her skin. "Nice necklace." The tips of his fingers barely grazed the string of pearls that suddenly felt very snug around her throat. Olivia shivered and jerked back, grabbing his wrist and tugging his hand off her as she glanced around frantically. "Are you insane?" she hissed, continuing to hold his hand. "Hurry, you have to go before Vivian sees you talking to me." Cameron lifted his eyebrows and glanced around the crowded room. "Oh? She’s here too, hmm?" "Yes! Now go." "Actually, I’d like to meet the woman." "No. Trust me, you wouldn’t," Olivia assured. But it was already too late. "Olivia," Her mother’s voice came shrilly from a mere ten feet away. She jolted and spun around, guiltily dropping Cameron’s hand. Cameron remained stubbornly rooted by her side. Vivian barreled their way. After frowning disapprovingly at Cameron, she immediately turned to her daughter. "Olivia." "Yes, Mother?" she asked a bit breathlessly. If she was lucky, Vivian wouldn’t know who Cameron was or find out, and she’d chase him off, never the wiser. But Cameron stepped forward. "Oh, is this your mom?" he asked with interest. "Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am. I’m Cameron Banks, and I can see where your daughter gets her good looks." Olivia nearly passed out. What was he doing? Gritting her teeth and fisting her hands, she closed her eyes briefly. He just had to go and introduce himself, didn’t he? "Who?" Vivian asked in surprise as she slowed to a stop. After looking Cameron up and down, she took his outstretched hand and shook slowly, still studying him as she did so. "Hmm. I pictured you older." Cameron grinned, a spark of something nasty entering his eyes. "Really? And here I thought you’d be younger." Feeling a small thrill shoot up her spine, Olivia watched her mother blink. Vivian was used to being the aggressor in every verbal exchange. She had a knack for guiding conversations to suit her purpose. Olivia wanted to cheer Cameron on for his subtle little jab at Vivian’s vanity. "You...wait. You know who I am?" Vivian asked, clearly surprised. Olivia held her breath, but Cameron’s answer came out sounding
completely innocent. "Of course. You’re Olivia’s mother. Vivian Roark, C. E. O. of Helbrock Enterprise for the past twenty-eight years, ever since your father handed it to you when you married Roger Donovan. Your company majors in dog food but you prefer to dally in the big buy-and-sell market. Your most recent venture was WorldAct United. And I must say I’m impressed with the profit margin you made there." Wow. The boy had done his homework. Olivia lifted her gaze to Cameron’s and was surprised to find his eyes on her. He winked. "I’ve heard of you too," Vivian said, looking satisfied by the fact he knew her reputation. "That merger you accomplished between McCrill and Thompson Pack was impressive." Cameron seemed reluctant to pull his gaze away from Olivia’s. "I’m sorry, but I can’t seem to concentrate on business in the presence of this enchanting creature." He sent Vivian a look of utter meekness. "Do you mind if I ask your daughter for a dance?" Both Olivia and Vivian sputtered, but Olivia did so in dread while the sparkle in her mother’s eye contained pure delight. "Oh! Well, of course. Olivia loves to dance." "Does she?" Cameron asked, turning expectantly toward her. Her face morphed into scarlet horror. "Olivia," Vivian said and nudged her toward Cameron. He took her elbow and nearly dragged her onto the floor. "Relax," he murmured unobtrusively in her ear, but she ignored him. Cameron settled his hand more snuggly around her waist and touched a little too low, making her lift her head and gawp at him. "What in God’s name are you doing?" He lifted his face from where he’d been looking quite openly down her cleavage. "What? Isn’t this all part of the plan? I take one look at you and fall all over myself in love?" Olivia’s eyes went frosty. "That’s Vivian’s plan. Not mine." Cameron sent her a sloppy grin. "Well, maybe it happened anyway." Olivia gritted out an irritated groan. Why her? Please, God, why? "Why haven’t I got any papers in the mail from you?" she said, deciding to change the subject. "My lawyer’s busy right now with another assignment," he answered, distracted as he returned to gawking down her dress. "Holy hell, you’re not wearing a bra, are you?" She opened her mouth to answer, but he suddenly noticed a certain ring on her right hand. The ring he’d bought her in Vegas. "Hey," he said, reaching for it. "That doesn’t go there." It looked for all the world like he was going to slip it off and set it back in its proper place on her left ring finger. Olivia ground her teeth. Of course, he had to go and notice she was wearing she stupid thing. She couldn’t believe she’d put it on tonight. Actually, she couldn’t
believe she hadn’t taken it off since Vegas. But it was such a nice ring, and Olivia did love her bling. Besides, she’d been wearing it on the wrong hand anyway. Certainly, he wouldn’t think their marriage meant anything to her. He wouldn’t think— "Cameron!" she hissed, curling her fingers into a fist to stop him from removing the diamond. "The annulment?" "Oh, right." He smoothly returned to the subject at hand, letting the ring stay where it was for the present. "With everything going on, it’ll probably be a few months before Bos’ll be able to get to that." "Months?" she squawked. He lifted his brow. "What’s the hurry? Are you that anxious to run off and marry some other stranger?" Olivia set her jaw and looked away. "I just want this over and done with as soon as possible. At least before Vivian finds out." "Now, now. Don’t worry, Livy Love. I won’t tell anyone about our night in Vegas." He pulled her closer. Olivia frowned. Livy Love? No one called her Livy, and they certainly didn’t call her Livy Love. Abruptly, she noticed he’d bent his head so that his face was next to hers, their cheeks barely grazing. He loudly inhaled the perfume she’d dabbed behind her ear. "God, you smell good." She tried to step away, but he held her tighter. "What’re you doing?" she breathed, feeling too drawn for her own good. "I thought you hated me." Cameron lifted his face, looking stunned. "Hate you? I don’t hate you. I might’ve been a little upset on our last encounter, is all. But I’m better now." "You mean, you’re drunk now." "Hey, whatever works." Cameron grinned and shrugged goodnaturedly. Olivia clenched her teeth. "And why are you drunk? The report I read said you were a recovering alcoholic." His eyes flashed with heat. "It’s called none of your business." She snorted. "Really? I thought it was called falling off the wagon." For a fraction of a moment, his fingers tightened on her and his teeth clenched in a snarl. Fear raced up her spine, making her shiver. His eyes lifted at her reaction, and after he blinked a few times, regret filled his gaze. His grip eased, and his face relaxed. "Anyway." He cleared his throat and glanced away. "I was wondering something. I need a little favor from you." Olivia swallowed. "What?" He turned back to her, his green eyes intense and enticing. "Well, I’m horny." She pulled back. "Excuse me?" He shrugged helplessly. "It’s the champagne. Does it to me every
time. I don’t understand it either. There’s just something about the chemical makeup that makes me want to…" He paused to shiver as if wracked by an orgasm. Olivia’s imagination immediately brought up a picture of them in bed together, a very memorable, very vivid picture. It caused her to shiver too, and this time, it wasn’t in fear. "Anyway, I’m dying to get laid," he said, making their conversation feel all too surreal for Olivia. "But the problem is now that I’m married, I don’t feel it’s right to go off and have an affair. Since it’s going to be a couple more months before this thing with us can be cleared up, I’d like to take my one last chance to have sex with my wife now, before we go our separate ways. And I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell can’t wait a few more months until the annulment is final." "I don’t mind if you have an affair. It’s not like we’re really married anyway." But Cam shook his head. "If there’s one thing my mama taught me, it’s not to cheat. So, I can’t, okay? It’s a moral thing." Blinking because, well, she was bowled over by that kind of announcement, Olivia blurted out, "Well, I’m not going to sleep with you!" Realizing a second too late how loud she’d been, she glanced around, hoping no one had heard her outburst. "Why not?" Cameron said not even seeming to care if anyone overheard. "It’s not like we haven’t done it before." "We’re trying to get an annulment," she reminded through her teeth. "Hey, I won’t tell if you don’t." Cameron sighed in delight as he moved his fingers against the base of her spine, making her suck in a breath. "Be a sport, Livy. It was good that one time. If there’s one thing I remember about our wedding night, it’s that we’re good together. Amazing, in fact. Crazy amazing. Amazing to the point of—" Turning beet red, Olivia slapped her hand over his mouth. "Shh!" She glanced around to make sure no one was paying them any attention. "I can’t believe you’re talking about this to me in front of the entire world. With my mother watching." When he playfully nipped her thumb, she jerked her fingers back. "No one can hear us," he assured, tugging her a smidgeon closer. "So, what do you say, huh? Give me your room number. I can slip by after everyone else has gone to bed. Then we can stay up all night, playing hidethe—" This time she ground her heel against his toe to shut him up. His step faltered, and he winced. She shook her head no and pulled out of his arms. As she turned to stalk off the floor, Cameron followed, sidling next to her. He took her elbow again and steered her in a different direction. When she realized he was returning her to Vivian, she resisted. His grip tightened. "This is what you chose then, Olivia," he
murmured in her ear just as she lifted her face to take in her mother’s smirk of triumph. "Didn’t step on your toes, did she, Banks?" Vivian asked cheerfully, obviously not catching the last few seconds of their dance. "Not at all," Cameron lied smoothly. "I haven’t partnered someone so smoothly in nearly four weeks." His eyes slid meaningfully toward Olivia, and she blushed before glancing away. "Good." Vivian beamed. "It’s nice to know all those dance classes I bought her actually paid off." "Oh, I’d say you definitely got your money’s worth." Cameron took Olivia’s hand. She gasped and tried to pull away, but he didn’t let go. Instead, he lifted her knuckles to his lips. "Miss Donovan," he murmured. "I truly hope I get to see you again." His eyes danced as he kissed the finger holding the diamond ring he’d bought her. Heat pooled between her legs, and her knees went loose. Dear God, he had a talented mouth. Then, all too soon, he dropped her hand and turned to Vivian. "Mrs. Roark," he said, taking her hand to kiss her knuckles as well. "It was a pleasure to finally meet you." With that, he turned and slipped away from them. Vivian stepped closer to Olivia as she watched Cameron disappear through the crowd. "Well, I’ll be damned," she murmured in awe. "I think the pup is actually taken with you, which is, actually, quite a shame. If I’d have known he was so young and attractive, I might’ve gone after him myself." When she licked her lips as she watched the back of Cameron disappear, Olivia felt her stomach revolt. "Where’s Nolan?" she asked a bit too sharply. Wincing as soon as the question slipped from her lips, she realized just how jealous she sounded. What was more horrifying, she realized just how jealous she felt. Vivian scowled. "He grew tired and has already gone up to our room. A man his age needs..." Not bothering to hide her displeasure at that remark, the rest of Vivian’s comment trailed off as she turned to once again look for Cameron among the crowd. Olivia wanted to hiss at her. "It really is too bad Nolan’s not in worse health," Vivian mused to herself. "If he could make me a widow anytime soon, I’d drop this whole plan of pawning Banks off on you and snatch him up for myself." "Mother," Olivia gritted out. Vivian was still smiling as she held up her hand. "Olivia, honestly. Calm down. I—" "Did you know he was going to be here tonight?" Olivia asked before they could delve into her the subject of her jealousy. Snorting, her mother answered, "Of course, I knew he was going to
be here. I purposely didn’t tell you about it because I knew you’d just find some way to get out of coming. But, look at what a nice time you two had together. I was right when I thought you’d suit him." She spoke as if she were some great matchmaker and this was all about setting up a love union instead of something she wanted for her own selfish gain. Disgusted, Olivia said, "I’m going to bed." She started to stalk off, but Vivian grabbed her arm, and none too gently. "Maybe you should stick around," her mother said softly, but the pressure in her grip tightened threateningly, her deadly nails biting into Olivia’s bicep. "See if Banks asks you for another dance." Olivia nodded even as she eased her arm from Vivian’s grasp. Glancing around the room as if to make sure no one had seen her daughter’s moment of resistance, Vivian moved closer to speak in Olivia’s ear. "Do you still have the condom I gave you in Vegas?" Too sick to answer, Olivia closed her eyes and gave another brief nod. "Good." Vivian smiled. "See if you can get the deed done tonight. Banks isn’t scheduled to attend another social function like this for five months. This is our last shot for a while." She arched her daughter a warning look. "Don’t mess it up, Olivia."
Drawn. That was the only word to describe what Cam had felt when he’d seen Olivia Donovan across the ball room. Like a frigging moth to her bonfire presence, he’d been sucked in. Tonight, she radiated beauty. The black leather cat suit had been nice, but this elegant shimmering sea of silk currently draping her made her look like a duchess: a regal, enchanting, seductive duchess. Cameron had seen other men approach and get rebuffed. He felt a sense of arrogant pride knowing he’d been the only one to coax her onto the dance floor. Sure, his coaxing had been more along the lines of blackmail, but hey, he’d still gotten to hold her close for a few minutes. And those few minutes had only enhanced his appetite. He wanted her again. He didn’t care if she was his wife and they were going to separate soon. He didn’t even care if she was working with her mother to steal his money. The risk only heightened his excitement. Despite what he always claimed about the horrors of marriage, Cameron had been raised and nurtured by a loving, monogamous couple. He’d watched his parents look at each other with a love that defied logic. And no matter how much he convinced himself he didn’t care, deep inside where his conscience still refused to believe he didn’t give a rat’s ass, the fact that Olivia was legally bound to him affected him. They had a link. For a few weeks longer, they legally belonged to each other. And he intended to capitalize on that fact to the fullest. He was horny, though it had nothing to do with the champagne and everything to do with the brief flit of black he’d seen through the hordes. His gaze had been drawn—yeah, there was that word again—around the room until he’d spotted the woman’s sexily clad body again. When he realized who he was ogling, he spurted out a surprised laugh. "Well, I’ll be damned," he’d murmured to himself. What was she doing in Chicago? Then he approached and finally met her scheming mother. It’d only
taken one look in the bitch’s eyes when he escorted Olivia back to her after their dance for Cameron to realize Vivian Helbrock-Donovan-Roark had orchestrated this chance meeting. But Mama had been a little too surprised when she realized who Cameron was for him to think Olivia had spilled the news of their marriage. In fact, Cameron was starting to think Olivia’s crazy story might be true. Cameron laughed again. It was rather funny when he thought about it. Then again, everything seemed humorous to him when he was soused. Even the way his dear wife cautiously glanced around the ballroom before she snuck out was comical. He couldn’t tell if she was trying to avoid him or her mother, but he suspected it was both. He grinned. "Lead the way, Livy Love," he murmured as he took up the chase. Having to dodge his way to the exit, he lost sight of her for a few seconds, but once he made it to the hotel’s hallway, he saw her dress just as she stepped into the elevator. He didn’t make it to the doors in time, but he patiently watched the lighted numbers until he saw the light stop on three. Hers was the fifth door he knocked on once he reached the third floor. No one had answered his knock on the first room he’d tried. A young boy and his mother had answered the next door down. After that, he’d met a crotchety old man, who scowled at Cameron for making him get out of bed. Then another no-answer until finally he knocked on room 328. It took half a minute, but when the door eased hesitantly open, he was well rewarded by the sight of her scrubbed-clean face. She’d had just enough time to wash and slip into a long, silky nightgown that Cam was going to have all kinds of fun taking off. "Nice," he said, glancing down the sleek length of her. "I approve." Olivia scowled. "What the hell are you doing here?" "I’ve come for my conjugal visit, of course." He broadened his smile when her frown deepened. "Forget it," she muttered and started to shut the door. He stuck out his foot. She growled and stared purposely at his shiny black shoe lodged in the doorway. "Come on, Livy," he encouraged huskily. "What’s one more time between husband and wife? It’ll be like our good-bye, annulment sex." She sniffed. "No way. And quit calling me Livy. Where’d you come up with such a name, anyway? No one’s ever called me Livy before." He shrugged and reached through the small crack in the door in order to play with the strap of her nightgown. It was another thin rope of silk, just like the one that had been on her evening gown. "It’s my pet name," he told her, wondering if he’d be able to expose a nipple if he oh-so-accidentally slid the strap off her shoulder. "Doesn’t every husband have a pet name for his wife?" Olivia slapped his hand away and clenched her teeth. "Stop calling
me your wife too. I’m not really your wife." "Now, now, Livy honey," Cameron said in a placating tone. "I have a piece of paper that says otherwise." He went to touch her cheek, but she evaded his grasp, backing out of his reach and eyeing him as if she might scream for help any moment. As entertaining as that might prove to be, Cameron didn’t particularly want to explain himself to hotel security if she did happen to open up her lungs, though an evening in jail might be quite an experience. He kept his foot solidly against the jam and slipped his hands nonchalantly into his pockets, sending her a casual smile. She frowned suspiciously. "I’m not going to sleep with you," she said, even as her eyes told him she was tempted. Oh, yeah, she remembered what it was like between them too. Cameron’s grin grew. "We’ll see," he murmured knowingly. His wife set her hands on her hips. "A cocky attitude like that definitely won’t get you anywhere." But then her gaze ran down his tux. When they paused at the bulge in his pants, he chuckled. Down the hall, the elevator dinged. Cameron glanced over. When he saw Vivian step into the hall, his eyebrows lifted. "Well, hey. There’s your mommy." He watched Roark glance in the opposite direction. "Maybe we ought to ask her if she thinks you should let me in." Olivia’s room door flung open. "What?" she hissed in alarm. Cameron backed up a step in order to let her poke her head around the corner. When she saw he wasn’t lying, a gasp escaped her lips. Roark began to lift her head just as a delicate feminine hand latched onto Cameron’s tux lapel. One moment he stood in the hall, watching her mother swivel her head their way, the next, his wife yanked him into her room. The door snapped shut behind him and Olivia leaned against him as she pressed her ear to the wooden panel. Completely ignoring him as she put all her attention into listening to the footsteps in the hall, Olivia didn’t even seem to realize Cameron was there. He grinned, pleased he’d gotten inside, and watched her face as she bit her bottom lip. He glanced around the suite—taking in the king-sized bed with the unmade sheets—and then returned his attention to the slight woman standing tense in his arms. "I think she’s moving past," she whispered. "Hmm," he responded, glancing down at the long length of her nightgown. It’d take forever to gather all that cloth up to her waist, but his fingers ached to get started. Unable to resist, he reached out and set his fingers lightly on her hip, delighting in the smooth texture of silk. She shuddered and sucked in a breath but kept her back to him. He took that as invitation enough and slowly slid his palm over all the gloriously smooth material.
He slipped his hand around to her stomach and briefly debated whether to head up or go down from there. Knowing he’d probably turn a little too hot a little too fast if he went south, he decided to savor his prize and glided his way north only to encounter a firm globe of womanly delights. His thumb rubbed over the peak, and he groaned when he found it hard and beaded, ready for him. Olivia whimpered and slapped her hand against the door to brace herself. She bowed her head down, causing all her hair to fall over her shoulders, which left the back of her neck exposed. Cam leaned forward, needing to taste that bare patch to soft, tempting flesh. But just as his lips grazed rich creamy skin, a knock came at the very door she leaned against. Yelping out a startled scream, Olivia jerked back and stumbled into Cameron. He caught her by the waist and gathered her close enough to press his aching cock to the crease in her warm ass. She slapped a hand over her mouth and tore away from him, bracing both hands to the door as she peeked out the peephole. "Oh, my God," she rasped in a breathless whisper. "It’s her." Cameron let out a low chuckle of amusement, feeling no compassion for what he knew had to be a traumatic moment for his wife. So, Mommy had come to call and Baby Olivia had a gentleman guest in her hotel room. Someone call the hangman. "Olivia?" that irritatingly shrill voice of Vivian’s sliced through the door like it was tissue paper between them instead of solid pine. "Yes?" Olivia called and anxiously shook her hands at her side as if trying to shake off water. "Open the door," her mother demanded. Olivia stuck a fingernail between her teeth and looked momentarily sick. Not much caring for that sudden grey pallor, Cameron leaned forward and stirred her hair with his breath as he whispered in her ear. "You just got out of the shower. Only wearing a towel." Not bothering to look back at him, she rushed out in a raised voice. "Uh, I can’t. I just got out of the shower, Mother. I’m not...I’m not decent." Grinning because she’d used his excuse, Cameron patted her hip encouragingly and decided she should never take up professional lying. The poor girl sucked at telling fibs. Wanting to help her stay honest, he went about making her as indecent as she claimed to be. Keeping his hand on her hip, he bunched as much fabric into his hand as he could gather. The hemline rose a few inches, revealing slim, petite ankles. "Why did you leave the reception?" Vivian asked through the door, her tone irritated. "I told you to stick around in case Banks asked for another dance." "Uh…" Hiking up her long nightgown another foot, Cameron leaned forward
until his chest brushed her back. "You heard me say I had a headache and then saw me leave. There was no reason for you to stay." "Banks told me his head hurt, and he was going up to his room. So, uh, I had no reason to stay," she parroted through the door. "Good girl," Cam whispered and hummed under his breath in approval when he lifted the skirt up enough to reveal her thong. Oh, yeah. She had a grade-A ass. He hooked his fingers in the thin excuse of a waistband and slid the panties down. She jerked in surprise as if she’d just then realized what he was doing. Then she pressed her hands against the door again and arched as if trying to assist his endeavors. He grinned and kissed her shoulder in thanks. "As long as you didn’t give him the headache with your incessant chatter during your dance," Vivian grumbled loudly. "Blame it on the champagne," Cam suggested, tunneling his fingers into the crack between her buttocks and following the line down until he hit moist heat. Olivia hiccupped a sound of need and surprise, but spread her thighs a few more inches to give him room to explore. "I, uh, uh, it was the alcohol," she managed to stumble out as she leaned her forehead against the door and lifted on tiptoes, displaying her ass to him in open invitation. "You should’ve seen how much champagne he was guzzling. I think the alcohol made him sick." Cameron slid two fingers inside her and she moaned loudly, pulling taut and rolling her forehead against the door as if thrashing it back and forth. "What was that?" Vivian asked. Olivia tried to freeze at her mother’s questions, but Cameron slid all the way out, only to push back in again, making her spasm and slap her hand over her mouth. "Tell her you yawned," he suggested, loving this more than he could ever imagine. The only thing to make the moment better would be if he had his dick inside her, taking over for his fingers. She looked so damn good, spread and moaning for him, he had to look away to keep from coming in his shorts. But when he glanced to the left, he caught sight of the necklace she’d been wearing earlier as it lay negligently tossed onto a nearby dresser. He reached for it with his free hand. "Sorry, Mother. I just yawned. I...I’m so…" she gasped and tried to sink her fingers into the surface of the door to grab hold of something, but only clawed the surface with her nails. Cameron wondered what Roark had to think of that sound as he nudged a few more pearls between the lips of Olivia’s sex. She bucked back against him. "Tired, tired. Oh, I’m so tired, Mother. I just...Oh, my God," she whispered. "Stop, Cameron. You have to stop." But even as she gasped the plea, her body arched and gyrated against him, demanding more. He listened to her physical order instead and filled her
completely with the rest of the necklace. "I just need some rest," she called in a very high voice. "Well, don’t keep your lazy ass in bed all morning," Vivian said. "We’re leaving at nine." And with that, the bitch was gone. Cameron barely heard the tread of her shoes moving down the hall. Hell, he barely heard Olivia’s sobbing breaths as she begged, "Please, oh, Cameron. Please." His heartbeat thundered like a roar through his ears and he strained against his zipper. He could only concentrate on removing those damn pearls so he could get inside her himself. He reached into her gently and hooked the strand with his finger. She bucked and cried out. Easily, he removed the first bead, the second and third following, bumping and sliding against every nerve ending inside her. "Oh, oh, ohhhhh!" She moaned and thrashed. He kept tugging, wrapping his hand around her waist to hold her steady as she came apart in his arms, screaming her release and spasming against him. A good thirty seconds after he freed the last pearl, her body finally went limp and pliable. She slumped back against him, her head falling dead weight onto his shoulder. He could see the side of her face as she panted. Her hair had matted itself to her damp, sweating cheeks. "Your mommy’s gone," he murmured, smoothing her nightgown back down to cover her as if he’d never touched her and then reaching around to wipe the hair out of her eyes. She blew out an exhausted breath, shuddered one more time, and slowly turned to look up at him through dazed, glossy blue eyes. Cameron’s heart pounded against his ribs. All her luscious curves screamed sinful, hot sex but the wide-eyed innocence in her gaze made his chest ache. There was a purity inside her he suddenly wanted to possess. It was something vivid and alive. Almost edible, like he could gobble her whole to consume it. He’d break her and destroy her wholesomeness if he took it, but the hell of it was, at the moment, he didn’t care. Why should he be the only ruined soul in this room? And besides, the second her eyes collided with his, he knew she’d let him do anything he so desired to her, any way, anyhow, and for as long as he wanted. For a brief moment, his heart stopped beating and every molecule in his body aligned perfectly with hers. He could smell her release, her light perfume, the soap she’d used to wipe the make-up off her face a few minutes earlier, and the arousal she had for him. Still. God, she wanted more. She wanted him inside her. It was so obvious he could read every thought in her head, spelled out in those huge, expressive blue eyes. Swallowing loudly, she slowly asked, "What...what was that?"
He gave a lazy, yet self-satisfied shrug. "Just a little fun with jewelry." After a wink, he added, "You should see what I can do with cherries and chocolate syrup." Her breath rippled out an unsteady breath and her eyebrows lifted. But before she said anything, she pressed her lips together and swallowed. It was amazing to watch her try to pull her wits together, to regain her control, and fail. He idly rested his shoulder against the wall as he watched, ready to take his time and savor her with a slow seduction. "You’re certainly a fickle man, aren’t you?" she murmured, not looking at him but down at her hands where she’d stamped little half moon shapes into her palms from her fingernails. Arching his brows, he caught a lock of her hair and wound it around his finger. "How so?" he couldn’t help but ask, curious where she was going with this. Her eyes lifted a moment only to skitter away again. "In Vegas you couldn’t wait to be rid of me. Not that I blame you. I wasn’t exactly very nice to you, but you were pretty mad at me." Cameron shifted, hoping she didn’t catch the restless move. "I don’t want to talk about that particular discussion in Vegas." Olivia looked up and watched him study the way her hair tangled though his fingers. For once, he had no idea what she was thinking, and it frustrated him. "So, why don’t you hate me anymore?" He shrugged, and now it was his turn to avoid eye contact. "I’ve had time to cool down. Besides, what you said…" He finally met her gaze. "I deserved to be put in my place. I was acting nasty and rude. And I wasn’t mad at you really. I was more upset with myself. I just took it out on you." She didn’t respond as she studied him with blue eyes that melted something hard and cold that had lived in him for years. Ten years to be exact. Cameron usually didn’t like to talk about his feelings. He hated opening up to people. But then, usually, the only people who cared enough to want him to open up were his family, and he didn’t want to hurt them by revealing how messed up he’d become. The woman in front of him wasn’t family, though, and for some reason, he suddenly wanted to ease some of this constant pressure off his chest. So, he glanced away and confessed, "You didn’t say anything I hadn’t already thought. Why did she kill herself? What did I do wrong? What should I have done that I didn’t?" He shook his head, letting the agony of those thoughts press against his throat, constricting his airway. "Toward the end, I got so tired of it all. I was sick of trying to make her happy, worn-out from watching every little thing I did and said. I just wanted a break. I wanted…" He shook his head, and his eyes slid to Olivia. "I don’t know. I just keep wondering what would’ve happened if I hadn’t slacked off, if I’d
just kept at it, kept working to make her smile." When Olivia’s eyes filled with pity, he wished he’d kept his damn mouth shut. She started forward. He shook his head to stop her, lifting his hand to ward her off. When she kept coming, he took a step in reverse. "I wasn’t mad at you in Vegas," he repeated. "I was still wrong," she countered. "I shouldn’t have spoken ill of your wife. I’m just used to…" His eyes narrowed. "Used to what?" She shook her head and lifted her fingers toward his face. He caught her wrist and eyed her uncertainly. "What’re you doing?" Her grin hinting at amusement, she said, "I thought you came here looking to get lucky." "But I don’t want sympathy sex," he growled, dodging her hand as she reached for his hair once again. "You want sex though," she countered flirtatiously, her grin doing crazy things to his already stiff member. "How about I throw in the sympathy for free?" "Damn it," he hissed, grabbing her other hand when she refused to back off. "I don’t do pity. This is just about physical relief and a couple of mind-blowing orgasms." She let out a husky laugh that went straight to his loins, damaging them even more. His balls tightened almost painfully and the zap of awareness that shot through his dick had him turning titanium hard. He wanted to strip her and lay her on the bed more than anything. She was wet and open down there, warm and ready for him. He didn’t want to talk anymore. It was time to get busy. "Then you shouldn’t have fed me such a sob story," she said. "Because now I just want to touch you and make you feel all better again." At the promise of some blessed relief, his body stilled. But so did his soul. What would it be like to let her soothe him emotionally, to let her take away all the guilt and pain? Maybe she could ease him. Ha! As if that were even possible. "No," Cameron said firmly and stepped away. "Look, I’m a lost cause in that department, Livy." When she frowned as if she didn’t believe him, he lifted his hand and added, "I just want straight sex or none at all. I don’t want to complicate this annulment by adding strings and feelings and crap like that." Olivia watched him thoughtfully for a minute. Then she nodded. "Okay. No sex then. No feelings. I’ll just give you a few words of encouragement." Cameron winced. "Make that no feelings, no sappy lecture, but some sex, and I’m in." Olivia rolled her eyes and grinned. But when she caught his eye, the laughter in her face mellowed. He knew the constructive criticism was
coming a split second before she said, "You’re not nearly the monster you think you are." He nodded. "Good words of encouragement. Thanks. Now can we have sex?" She threw back her head and laughed. Cameron moved closer and hovered. His eyelids lowered to half mast as his gaze slid down her nightgown. "Sorry," she murmured softly as she lifted her face and pursed her lips so he could kiss her if he wanted to. "But I still feel all soft and cuddly toward you." "Give me ten seconds and I’ll change those mushy feelings to hot and wanton." He finally kissed her. Bypassing her mouth, he pressed his lips to her throat, licking his tongue over her pulse and making her body shiver. ~*~ Still tingling from the orgasm her own pearl necklace had given her, Olivia wanted to experience another explosion of raw hunger. She wanted to feel Cameron move inside her. She wanted to clutch him with her inner muscles and milk him to his own release. "You weren’t this gorgeous in my memory," he murmured, touching her shoulder lightly and with such delicate care she couldn’t help but feel cherished. He did exactly what he’d done their first night together. He cupped her face as if she was precious to him, and he swooped in low, taking her lips into his and cradling her against him like he wanted to protect her from harm. It was his body language that said all this, this incredibly sweet and endearing thing that Olivia couldn’t resist. A gentle touch on the cheek, the way his soft mouth pressed so tenderly against hers, the way he closed his eyes and breathed in her smell as if there was only her for him. Yes, all he had to do was kiss her and she was a goner. "Cameron," she murmured as she closed her eyes and threaded her fingers through his hair. "Did you tell her to pull the trigger when she stuck the gun in her mouth?" He jerked at her words. She immediately missed the contact as he ripped his mouth away and pulled back. The surprise she saw in his green eyes clearly overrode any anger or pain he might’ve felt at her question. Then he shook his head. "What? She didn’t shoot herself." "Whatever," Olivia pressed. "Did you tell her to do it? Did you ever come right out and say you didn’t care what she did, that you’d be happier without her?" Looking repulsed, Cameron adamantly shook his head. "What? God, no. I would never have said that to anyone, much less my wife." The relief at his shocked, negative answer had Olivia falling for Cameron Orville Banks right then and there. "Then you’re not even a tenth as culpable for her death as you think you are." She stepped up on his toes to
press her mouth to his. She could feel him resist her for a good second. Then he melted and his body sank closer. As her lips remained fastened to his, he rid her of her nightgown, shredding the silk to get to her. The groan she heard when he found her naked underneath made her smile. She reached for his tuxedo jacket. He hurried to help and, in doing so, his mouth momentarily lost contact with hers. Letting out a feral growl, he hastened to unsnap his cuff links. "Okay," he muttered, jerking the cuffs open as she unbuttoned his shirt. "We can have sympathy sex. But just this once. I don’t want you feeling bad for— Oh God." He threw back his head and groaned when Olivia pressed her open mouth against the rapidly exposed chest she was revealing and bit one of his flat nipples. Before she could loosen the last button, he jerked the shirt off, snapping the thread that had been holding it together. The single button flew unnoticed across the room. Cameron shed his pants in three quick moves. They tumbled down around his ankles even as he grabbed Olivia by the hips and lifted her. "Bed," he rasped. She wrapped her arms and legs around him while he stepped out of his fallen trousers. He kicked off his shoes in the next two steps and draped her over the cotton sheets after the third. Instead of lowering himself on top of her, he stayed upright, looking down at her full breasts before he reached out to cup them. When he filled his hands, she arched. Talented fingers stirred her body and she moaned, grabbing for his shoulder, wanting him to cover her and rub the light hair of his chest over her throbbing nipples. But he shook his head and resisted. "Condom first. Then I want to watch us come together." After suiting up, Cameron returned to her. Keeping their bodies perpendicular to each other, he grasped her hips and pulled them up at an angle before slowly sliding into her, all the while watching the process avidly. Olivia found herself studying his face. He looked so enthralled with seeing the length of his penis disappear between her swollen lips, affection rose in her chest. Then she gasped and closed her eyes because the sensation of Cameron Banks filling her was so encompassing. "God, we look good together," he groaned. "I could watch this all night." His words aroused her as much as his body did. When he reached forward and started to knead her breast with one hand, she jerked, not prepared for the sudden leap of sensation. "Easy," he murmured and removed his fingers from her nipple. She whimpered, wanting him to return. "Open your eyes, Livy." As if drugged to obey his every command, she did so. There was a
slight flush to his cheeks and a sheen of sweat on his brow. He pulled his jaw tight as if he was trying hard to hold himself back. The thought that she could so quickly bring him to the edge caused her to smile and arch up higher to meet his next thrust, hoping to drive him a little more insane. His green eyes widened and his pupils grew. "Don’t," he choked out. "I can’t hold, ah hell." His eyes went unfocused and his teeth clenched. She watched him fight the orgasm, listened to him pant out how he wanted to wait on her. But Olivia liked watching him lose his center, so she squeezed her thighs around him and held him even more snuggly. "Liv—" he muttered and reached between their bodies, fumbling for a second before he pressed his thumb hard against her clit. A jolt of pleasure rocked her, making her cry out. He pulsed as he came, swelling bigger with each spurt of release. Olivia’s own orgasm seemed to throb, milking him. After a deep groan, he collapsed on top of her and pressed his heavy, sweaty body against hers into the mattress. Olivia had never been so happy to be squashed in her entire life. Though her legs had already wrapped themselves snuggly around him, her arms followed suit. She pressed her cheek against his and closed her eyes, listening to his breathing settle and feeling his heartbeat echo through her breasts. It took a couple of minutes for him to stir. "Am I too heavy?" he mumbled in her hair. "No," she answered, patting his shoulder contentedly, not wanting him to move. She liked his weight. But he shifted anyway. She was pleasantly surprised, however, when he caught her around the waist and rolled until she was on top of him. It felt strange to be nestled against another human this way. But it was so wonderful and warm she decided she’d get used to it. Not wanting to break the contact, she fell asleep with her head pillowed on Cameron’s shoulder.
Olivia drifted blissfully through a delicious dream. Tanning on a sunny beach, she could feel the warmth of the sun soaking into her skin. Her body hummed in delight. It was so toasty she wanted to snuggle deeper into her bathing towel that felt as soft as a hairy, male chest. Smiling, she felt the breeze on her face, like warm breath. Her ears strained to hear the waves and the seagulls. But the only sound that reached her was a thunderous pounding, like a fist on a door. "Olivia!" Her mother’s voice boomed through her consciousness. Her eyes flew open; she sprang out of bed, reaching for her nightgown before she was even fully awake. "Oh, my God!" she gulped and glanced back at the bed where Cameron Banks slept on, nude and hogging way more than half the mattress. "Cameron," she hissed as she slithered into the nightgown, not even bothering to look for underwear. Unaffected by the pounding that came at the door again, he only murmured something unintelligible and rolled over in his sleep, putting his back to her. "Cameron!" She reached over to shake him violently. "Get up!" His eyes flew open wide. "What? What!" He sprang to a sitting position. In his haste, he banged his forehead against hers. It knocked her back a step and caused Cameron to fall down against the pillows. They each rubbed their sore spots and straightened. "Oh, yeah." His voice gave a gravelly croak as he winced. "That made my hangover feel real good." He closed eyes after checking his fingers for blood. "You need to get up," Olivia said, jumping back into action. She hurried to him and grabbed his arm, physically tugging. "Vivian’s at the door." Cameron groaned, the news probably adding to his headache. "Here, how about I hide?" he offered and threw the sheets over his head so none of
his body showed, except for the obvious outline he made under the covers. Olivia growled and ripped the sheet off his head to glare at him. "Get up. Now!" When he didn’t budge, she spun away and started scurrying for his clothes, tossing them at him as she found each article. Cameron merely lay there, pushing his pants off his face when they slapped him in the cheek. "Livy," he whined. "I think it’s physically impossible for me to move right now." Outside the door, Vivian Donavon’s voice railed at an employee who obviously had the nerve to argue with her. "I paid for this room! Open the goddamn door." Olivia heard a key in the lock and gasped. The bitch had known Cameron was in here last night when she’d talked to her through the door. She wouldn’t be in such a hurry to get in if she thought nothing was up. With no time to think about that, Olivia spun desperately toward Cameron. "Please." He looked up at her with eyes that seemed to see right into her soul. Without another word, he nodded and gathered his clothes in one swipe. Jumping out of bed, he started for the bathroom. But it was already too late. He’d just made it to the lavatory when the entrance of the suite swung open. Vivian shoved a quivering bellhop aside and stormed inside like a raging bull. Nolan skittered in behind her, looking excited. When Vivian saw Olivia partially blocking the view of Cameron, who was now frozen in the bathroom exit and wrapped toga-style in the bed sheets, she sent her daughter a gloatingly triumphant, approving smile. Olivia’s vision dimmed. Her mother was happy. But of course she was happy. This was exactly what she’d wanted to see. She’d whored her own daughter out to the richest prospect, and Olivia had fallen right into her web. She suddenly felt light headed and feared she might pass out. This was it. It was all hitting the fan. Vivian shoved her aside so she could glare dauntingly at Cameron, her hands on her hips and her feet braced apart like a gunslinger at a standoff. The performance actually appeared real, too. The employee, with a master key clutched in his hand, looked scared spitless. He backed from the room and quickly shut the door, leaving the four alone inside. Nolan crossed his arms and legs as he leaned across the closed portal, looking perfectly at home as he prepared to watch the show. Vivian frowned. "What in the hell are you doing in my daughter’s bed?" Cameron, brave man that he was—or foolish, Olivia couldn’t decide which—didn’t cower. "Morning, Mrs. Roark," he greeted Vivian pleasantly. Then he yawned and scratched at the five o’clock shadow on his jaw. "And Mr. Roark, I assume." He nodded toward Nolan. "Banks," Vivian growled.
"Hmm?" He glanced her way. "Oh, right. What am I doing in your daughter’s bed? Well, actually, ma’am, I’m technically not in her bed. I’m standing in this fine doorway here." "Just answer my question!" Her roar caused Olivia to jump and Cameron to wince and grab his no-doubt pounding head. "Heard ya," he muttered and scrubbed furiously at a spot on his temple as if he could scratch the pain away. "Then answer me," Vivian growled, lowering her tone, but not her fake anger. In truth, she probably was steamed. Olivia knew how she hated snippety responses. And Cameron was throwing them out like candy at a parade. "I was sleeping," Cameron muttered the obvious and sent Vivian his own irritated scowl. "Until you woke me." Then he folded his arms over his chest as if he expected an apology. Vivian’s face turned a deep purplish red. "How dare you defile my daughter?" Cameron laughed and glanced toward Olivia. "She’s pretty good at that performance, isn’t she? She really does look like the pissed-off mother." "Why, you rutting little bastard," Vivian thundered, stalking forward. "Cameron!" Olivia cried out in fear. She could already picture it: Vivian was going to claw the skin off his face, and then Nolan would stomp the remains into the ground, and it would be all her fault for dragging him into this mess. She cringed, already steeped in guilt. But Cameron’s eyes narrowed as he glanced her way. He didn’t seem to like the anxiety in her voice, because he straightened and uncrossed his arms as he turned back to Vivian. "Stop," he commanded. Instantly, Vivian came to a halt as if Cameron’s words had thrown up an invisible force field she couldn’t cross. But she snorted a rush of hot air through her nose as she glowered at him. "You will marry her for this." Cameron grinned. "Sorry. Afraid I can’t do that." Olivia focused on the bulging vein in Vivian’s head. She’d seen it only three weeks ago and knew exactly how much anger her mother wielded behind it. "What do you mean you can’t?" Vivian demanded, balling her fists as if she would strike any moment. "You damn well will marry her, and you’ll do it today." But Cameron simply said, "Sorry, sweetheart. Still can’t. Polygamy’s illegal in this state." Then he frowned and glanced at Olivia. "Isn’t it?" Vivian’s face drained of color. "What?" Cameron shrugged. "It’s legally impossible to marry someone when you’re already hitched," he clarified, drawling out his words. Olivia gasped. Holy God, he was already married. But she’d just spent the entire night with him. And in Vegas, she’d—
Wait a second. Did this mean their marriage was void? For some reason, that thought made her want to cry. She turned Cameron’s way, but he never once glanced in her direction. He was too busy having a stare-off with Vivian. "How could you do this to my little girl?" Vivian demanded and, for once, she looked upset, as if she actually cared that someone had turned her baby into a cheating— Cameron finally seemed to lose his cool. Still swaddled like a drunken Greek god, he stepped forward and inhaled a large breath through his nose. By the look on his face, Olivia thought he might shoot fire from his nostrils when he exhaled. "How could you pimp your daughter out to a complete stranger?" Olivia’s eyes popped open wide. Oh, Lord, no. He wasn’t going spill everything she’d confessed to him, was he? "What kind of mother whores out her ‘little girl’ to the richest, fastest rising man she can find?" Vivian glanced at Olivia with a stunned expression. Her face colored, and Olivia knew the little slap her mother had given her after Vegas would be nothing compared to what she had in store for her now. Olivia backed up a step, bringing a shaking fist to her mouth. Vivian turned back to Cameron, looking cautious. "Excuse me?" Cameron snickered. "Oh, yeah, she told me." He grinned cruelly. "In Vegas." That stopped Vivian in her tracks. She spun back toward Olivia, looking confused. "Vegas? You met him in Las Vegas?" Light-headed, Olivia’s face grew pale as she watched the room swim between them. She was going to pass out, she could feel it. Slowly, Vivian returned her attention to Cameron and studied him skeptically. "That’s right," Cameron said softly. "She spilled it all, right after we were married." It seemed to take a moment for those words to sink into Vivian’s brain. She whipped her head toward Olivia. Nolan stepped away from the doorway, surprised. "Married?" Olivia shook her head like she could deny the truth, but no one paid her any attention because all eyes returned to Cameron, who had become the ringmaster of this insane circus. "So, you see why I can’t marry her today," he explained. "I’ve already been married to her for what...three...four weeks now, honey?" Then he grinned proudly. "Elvis married us." Olivia backed against the wall to support herself. She wondered how she was still standing. Every cell in her body felt like someone was poking her with a hot pin. She was so stunned and scared. What was Vivian capable of doing now?
"You two are already married?" she asked slowly, zipping her confused gaze from Cameron to Olivia. "Yes," Olivia admitted hoarsely "So you can save yourself the angry, concerned mother act," Cameron added. "And get the hell out of here so I can put some damn clothes on." Vivian whipped around to nail him with another menacing look. "What did you say to me, you little cocksucker?" Cameron sighed as if tired of dealing with her. Olivia couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t intimidated at all. "I told you to get out," he repeated calmly. "And take that creepy old man with you." Clearly insulted, Nolan thundered a menacing step toward Cameron. Vivian’s face clouded with that mad, purplish-red hue again. Olivia’s eyes shot wide; she just knew someone was going to die, right here, right now. "Listen here, boy," Vivian growled. "Don’t ever think you can tell me what to do. I paid for this room. I can come and go as I please." Cameron rolled his eyes and let out another exhausted sigh. "Fine," he muttered, more to himself than to anyone else. He shuffled toward the bed, moving slowly because he was still mummified by the sheet. Then he lifted his pants, draped across the mattress. After digging inside for a moment and fishing out a wallet, he extracted all the cash he had on him. "There." He flung the money at Vivian. "I’m paying you back for the room." Olivia swallowed. She saw at least two hundred-dollar bills, a couple of twenties, tens and fives and ones galore. She had no idea how much cash he flashed, but it more than doubled the cost of the room. Vivian greedily stared at the cash and went to pluck it from Cameron’s fingers. But once she tried to take it, Cameron tightened his grip. Vivian’s eyes shot to his. In a steely soft voice, Cameron hissed, "Enjoy it while you can, bitch. Because this is the last money you’ll ever see from me. I’m one son-inlaw you can’t control." He let go of the cash, making Vivian fall back a step. She stared down at the money with parted lips. Nolan moved to her side, taking her elbow as if he wasn’t sure how to help his wife and sought her instruction. She sniffed and jerked her arm from his grasp. "You may be excused now," Cameron said and turned away to pull his shirt off the floor. The cash had somewhat mollified Vivian. She continued to stare at it a moment and then, without speaking another word to Cameron, she turned and looked at Olivia. Her eyes cast blame. Then she snapped her fingers and glanced at her husband as she pointed toward her daughter. Nolan instantly marched toward Olivia and grasped her arm, hard. As her stepfather dragged her toward the door, Olivia’s life flashed before her eyes. She had no backbone, she realized. She never would’ve been
able to stand up to Vivian the way she’d just seen Cameron Banks do. And now her entire existence felt over. Vivian was probably going build a basement under their house when they got home, just so she could chain Olivia to a wall down there for the rest of her life. Olivia swallowed, trying to hold back the tears as Nolan yanked her behind him. When he opened the door, her heart gave a leap. Barely aware she was resisting, she dug her heels into the floor and braced herself, already wincing at the assault she knew her mother was going to give her for balking. "Come on," Vivian hissed, pushing her from behind. "No," she said in a voice that was a hundred times stronger than she felt. From the corner of her eye, she saw Cameron turn. "Hey!" he called. "Hang on there, Bonnie and Clyde." As Nolan looked back over his shoulder, Vivian paused and slowly turned around to glare at Cameron. Cameron looked undaunted. "Where do you think you’re taking my wife?" Olivia’s spun around. She couldn’t believe her ears. It sounded like he was going to help her. Oh, dear God. Was he going to help her? "What?" Vivian growled. Cameron shook his head. "I don’t know where you think you’re taking her. But she’s not going with you two." Vivian laughed. "Boy, this is my daughter. She does what I tell her." Cameron caught Olivia’s eye. He studied her a moment until he must’ve seen all the desperation inside her because he softly answered, "Not anymore. She’s my wife now. And she’s not going with you. Livy," he said, making her jump. "Do you want to go with them? Or do you finally want to be free?" Olivia glanced at her mother with wide eyes. Stunned that she was going to do this, she pulled her arm free of Nolan’s grip. When he reached for her again, Cameron let out a growl, and Nolan immediately yanked his hand back. Vivian’s eyes widened. Olivia stepped toward her husband, her back brittle but straight, all the while fearing Vivian would come charging at her, claws extended. "There. You see," Cameron murmured, slipping his arm over Olivia’s shoulder. "She doesn’t want to go with you. Now say goodbye to your ‘little girl’ and get the hell out." Vivian stared at Olivia. "You traitorous little bitch," she hissed. "You’re just like your father." Turning, she ran smack into Nolan. Calling him a dirty name, she pushed him into the hall, then stalked out, slamming the door behind her. "And good riddance to you too," Cameron murmured.
Olivia shook so hard she couldn’t even breathe. She slipped from Cameron’s grasp and backed away from him, her mouth moving though no words came out. He tugged the toga off his shoulders and stepped into a pair of briefs. After slipping them up over his hips and snapping them into place, he glanced her way. Olivia couldn’t maintain her composure any longer. She crumbled. Right to the floor. Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh God. She began to hyperventilate. "Livy?" Cameron’s voice came from a great distance. But when she looked up, he was moving closer instead of farther away. He grasped her shoulder and pulled her up, looking concerned. "Olivia," he said softly, sitting her gently on the edge of the mattress. "Just relax, okay?" Gentle fingers cupped her cheek; she wanted to close her eyes and sink into his warm comfort. But she shook her head instead. "You...Oh, God, Cameron. You have no idea. You just...Oh God." He dropped his hand and quickly reached for his pants, yanking them on. "What?" he said softly, sitting next to her and wrapping his arm around her shoulder. "Did you want to go with them after all? That’s okay, you know. I’m sure you can still catch your mom." She shook her head emphatically. He smiled as if satisfied. "Okay, then," he answered. "Let’s pack, and I’ll take you wherever it is you’re going and…" He paused and eyed her quizzically. "Where do you want to go?" She looked up. "If I had somewhere else to go, I would’ve gone there a long time ago," she cried out, her voice an octave higher than usual. He placed his hot palms on her temples, burying his fingers in her hair. "Don’t panic," he instructed softly. "Everything will be okay. I’ve got plenty of guest bedrooms at my place. We’ll just fly to Cali, pick up your things, and then you can—" He broke off when she shook her head. "All my things are gone," she murmured almost to herself. "She’ll never let me go back to get them. I don’t have anything now, except what’s here in this room. I don’t have any money. She’ll freeze all my accounts and credit cards and close my savings. I don’t have anywhere to go. I don’t…" Her voice broke. A tear wavered at the corner of her eye and she realized she was on the edge of a panic attack. Cameron leaned forward and kissed her tear, licking it away with his tongue. "Olivia," he whispered. "Listen to me, okay? I put you in this position, so I will help you get out of it. We’ll go home to Kansas City until the Bos-man can work on those annulment papers. Once they’re all filed and done, I’ll help you start your life; I’ll help you find a job, go to school, whatever you want to do. Okay? Nod your head, Livy. Tell me that’s what you want to do." Olivia shook her head from side to side instead of up and down. "No,
you don’t want to help me anymore than you already did. She’s mad enough at you. You don’t want her for an enemy, Cameron. She’s going to come after you now. She’s going to—" "Shh," he crooned and pulled her tight against his chest. "Why don’t you let me worry about me. Let’s focus on you right now." "But why would you want to help me?" she said, pushing him back to meet his eyes. "I tricked you into marriage. What do you want from me? You don’t even know me. There’s no way you’ll just bring home some stranger and start throwing money at her, promising her you’ll hand her a new life, completely free of charge." Cameron dropped his hands from her as if shocked. "You’re right," he finally said. "I don’t know you. But I do know you just stood up to a woman you’re deathly afraid of, and you got away from her. That kind of shit impresses me. Besides, I caused a majority of this to happen, so I feel pretty responsible for you right now. Plus, there’s also the fact we’re married and that makes us a team for the time being. Not to mention, you’re amazing in bed and I’d like to stay on your good side in the hopes you’ll let me sleep with you again." Hearing that last remark, Olivia snorted and turned away from him, starting to pack. "I agree," she said with her back to him and she stuffed clothes into her case. "This is your fault. If you’d just left me alone last night, none of this would’ve happened." "Yeah, well, what did you want me to do?" Cameron said in selfdefense. He pushed to his feet and scowled. "Keep our marriage a secret and let the crazy broad come after me with a shotgun? No thanks." Olivia turned and glared at him. "How about you not following me to my room in the first place and coaxing me into bed, huh? Maybe not doing that would’ve prevented this." Cameron grinned, his frown gone as fast as it had come. "Maybe," he agreed. "But in my opinion, it was worth it." Still upset with him, Olivia ground her teeth in frustration and finished her packing. She was going home with Cameron Banks, the man she’d married, the man her mother had commanded her to marry. And yet, now she was free of Vivian Helbrock-Donovan-Roark. Free. It was so exhilarating and frightening she sat down on the bed to steady her nerves as Cameron finished dressing.
Kansas City By nine that evening, Olivia and Cameron arrived in Kansas City. She had one travel bag with her, full of all the possessions she had left in the world. She followed her new husband up the front walk into his sprawling mansion and stopped just inside the doorway, her fingers clutched around her suitcase handle. Cameron tossed his keys on an end table and tugged a cell phone from his pocket. "I have to make a quick call," he said, glancing her way even as he moved toward a doorway leading to another room. "This will only take a minute." Olivia swallowed, wondering who he had to talk to so urgently. Probably some girlfriend, advising her not to come over tonight. Jealousy thickened in her lungs, making it hard to breathe, making her follow him to the doorway and peek in. With his back to her, he paced the sitting room. After a moment of holding his phone to his ear, he finally spoke. "Hello…? Grandma?" Grandma? Olivia mouthed the word, her eyebrows puckering in confusion. He was in a hurry to call his grandmother? No way. It must be some kind of code language. Grandma was probably short for Hey, baby, can’t talk right now. Super secret spy stuff going on. Olivia rolled her eyes. "It’s Cameron," he said and, after a moment, lifted his voice, repeating, "It’s Cameron." Okay, so maybe his girlfriend was hard of hearing. Either that or he really was talking to an elderly deaf woman. A smile was clear in his voice when he added, "Yeah, it’s Sunday already. I can’t talk long though, I have a guest...What’s that? Oh, don’t you
even worry about it, Grandma. I love calling you. No bother at all...Yes. Uh huh." After a second of listening, he threw back his head and laughed. "You naughty old woman, you. You’re going to ruin my innocent ears if you keep that up." Curious, Olivia found herself moving forward to listen openly. He was really talking to his grandmother, wasn’t he? How bizarre. "No, wait! Don’t hang up yet. I wanted to tell you…" Holding her breath, she wondered if he was going to announce his marriage or something. God, she hoped not. He’d give poor Grandma a heart attack. "I have another spoon for you to put in your collection. What? Oh, this one’s from Chicago...Yeah, I know I already brought you one from Chicago, but that was in honor of the Sears Tower. This one is for the city in general… Oh, that’ll do then, will it?" he murmured, like he was repeating what she’d just said. Turning so Olivia could see his face, he grinned and added, "Good. I was worried you’d shove it back in my face." Though he didn’t sound worried. Olivia must’ve breathed aloud because his eyes snapped her way. They both froze. "I have to go, Grandma," he said into the phone. "Yes, I’ll call next Sunday. I love you too. Bye." Never taking his eyes off Olivia, he snapped the phone closed. He and Olivia took a few seconds to stare at each other, both leery. "That…" he cleared his throat, looking suddenly rueful. "That was my grandmother. She’s been a widow for a few years now and gets lonely. So, I, uh, I make sure to call every so often." Olivia wondered what kind of man this was who took time out of his life to call a lonely old woman every week, just to flirt with her. Her chest felt very tight. Cameron glanced away, looking awkward, as if he were embarrassed. "Anyway," he murmured under his breath. "Who needs a drink?" He didn’t look at her again as he strolled to a nearby shelf lined with books. He’d barely talked to her the entire day, and Olivia was fast learning she’d married herself a moody man. He could go from one extreme to the next. One moment, he was grinning and cracking jokes like a comedian. The next, he was quiet and withdrawn, wrapped up in some inner demon that made her wonder what could put that haunted look in his eyes. Olivia figured the mood swings were why he was so successful. Growing up with Vivian as her mother, she’d met dozens of millionaires and discovered they all possessed quirky personalities. It must be a trait common among the insane masterminds. Next thing she knew, Cameron Banks would probably pull a Van Gogh and cut off his ear or something. She had to admit, however, even at his nastiest, he had an innate
kindness. He could never in a hundred years be what Vivian was. His sour side didn’t seem to come naturally. It was like he forced himself to be rude, as if some emotional struggle was taking place in him, making him guilty about every smile he revealed, so he had to counter it with a snarl. Apprehension attacked every nerve ending she possessed. Everything felt new and foreign. She was a long way from California, hundreds and hundreds of miles from the only home she’d ever known. Ignoring her, Cameron rummaged through the books on the shelf until he came to one thick dictionary. But he didn’t seem interested in reading. Instead, he tugged it out of his way and reached into the open gap to extract a glass decanter filled with amber liquid. Olivia rolled her eyes. Letting go of her suitcase handle, she strode toward him and jerked the container from his hand as soon as he’d taken his first swig. "Don’t drink that!" Wiping a drip that dribbled down his chin, he frowned. "Why not?" Yeah, why not? "Because…" Olivia sighed in irritation. She didn’t want him to think she was actually worried about him. She had a feeling he’d make fun of her if she showed him any tenderness. But, honestly, she didn’t want him to suffer any more. Despite how easily he could get her back up—not to mention how easily he got her back down on a bed—she was in his debt. He’d successfully removed her from Vivian’s life. The kind of gratitude that act inspired made her want to save him from himself. "Horrible things happen to me every time you drink," she said, instead of revealing her compassion. "First, I ended up marrying just the man I wanted to avoid. Then, the next time I ran into you while you were drunk, my mother found out about everything and I lost the only home I’ve ever known. And now, I’m stuck here, clear across the country, doing God knows what with my life. I’m telling you, Bud, that’s not a very good track record." "Maybe it’s just plain old me that’s bad luck for you," he suggested with a careless shrug. He reached out to take the bottle from her but she held it away from him. "You didn’t drink a drop all the way here from the hotel this morning," she said primly. "And no pianos have fallen on me yet, so I’ve concluded it’s the alcohol. Besides, I thought you were a recovering—" "Yeah, yeah," he snapped. "I know." Cameron switched his scowl from the bottle to her. But as soon as their gazes meshed, he blew out a breath and closed his eyes. "Sorry," he said as he rubbed at his forehead. "You’re right. I’ve been imbibing more than I should lately. I’ll stop." When he opened his eyes, his irritation was gone. He gave her a sudden seductive grin. "So, if I’m not allowed to drink, you’re going to keep my mind occupied on other matters, right?"
She rolled her eyes. "Is sex the only thing you ever think about?" His eyebrows arched. "When I look at you? Yeah. Pretty much." He reached out and touched a sensitive spot on the side of her neck. She shuddered, wanting to ignore the way her body responded and quickly stepped away. "Cameron," she groaned. "I’m serious. What are we going to do? What am I going to do? I can’t just stay here." "Sure, you can. I’ve got plenty of bedrooms. You can take your pick—" "No," she cut in. "I’m not talking about today. What am I going to do with the rest of my life?" He shrugged, obviously unconcerned. "You can stay as long as you like. I don’t care." She gritted her teeth. "I can’t stay forever. I have to decide what I’m going to—" "Livy, honey," he said, reaching out to take her arm and pull her toward him. For some reason, Olivia didn’t resist. She let him tug her into a warm, comforting hug, where she closed her eyes and sank into the blessed sensation. "You don’t have to figure out your entire future tonight," he murmured, softly stroking a hand down her back. "It’s late. You’re tired. You’ve had a big day. Let me just show you to your room, and you can sleep on it. Tomorrow, while I’m at work, you can use my computer, cruise the internet, and try to come up with some ideas. Okay? Sound like a plan to you?" She nodded her head against his shoulder. It sounded marvelous. Images of a huge, comfortable bed filled her mind, and all she wanted to do was close her eyes and dream the rest of the night away. Cameron made an approving sound as she unconsciously cuddled closer. "Say," he murmured in her ear, his warm breath a subtle caress compared to his hand, which was sliding over her hip with hot, bold strokes. "You don’t really want to sleep all alone in some big scary foreign bed tonight, do you? Why don’t you just come with me to my room. I’ll keep you company. And then tomorrow, you can scout out the house and feel better about—" "You are so not funny, do you know that?" "Oh, come on. Not even a little?" Olivia jerked away. "I’m not sleeping with you again. We’re getting an annulment." "But, Livy," he cajoled, reaching out to haul her back into his arms. His nose nuzzled her cheek, and the swell of emotion that followed kept her from resisting him when his fingers found their way under her shirt. "How can you say you don’t want me?" he asked, eliciting a hurt tone in his voice. "To me, being with you is the most amazing experience of—"
"I didn’t say I didn’t want you," she interrupted quickly, before she could hear any more of his oh-so-sweet words. If she listened to him much longer, he’d talk his way into getting what he wanted. Geesh. No wonder the guy was insanely rich. He could talk a doughnut from a cop. "Then why are you saying no?" he asked right before dipping his head and kissing the side of her neck. His tongue lapped her sensitive skin and then his teeth gently closed over the area. ~ *~ Thirty minutes later, Cameron rolled off her and landed beside her on his king-sized bed. Still coming off the peak of her climax, Olivia stared up at his ceiling in wonder. This was all wrong. She wasn’t supposed to fall for his corny comeon lines. She wasn’t supposed to tumble into bed with him every time he crooked his finger. What in the hell was going on? "How do you always do that?" she demanded. He paused in the process of running a finger up and down her arm. "Do what?" "Coax me into bed," she grumbled. Cameron merely turned his head so he could send her a lazy grin. "What can I say?" he replied, breathing on his knuckles and buffing them against his bare chest. "I’m irresistible." She sniffed and turned onto her side away from him. But he only spooned up behind her and wrapped his arm around her waist. It felt so wonderful; she wanted to relax against him. But wanting him—sleeping with him—couldn’t be good. She shouldn’t get used to this. As soon as she made her plans, she was out of here. She didn’t want any ties to him. She didn’t want— "Don’t think it to death," he murmured sleepily in her hair as if he could hear her thoughts, and they were keeping him awake, too. He patted her hip. "Let’s just enjoy this while we can. We’ll figure the rest out later." Deciding to take his advice, Olivia closed her eyes and let her body go lax against his. He was right. There was nothing saying a couple on the verge of annulment had to keep their hands off each other. And he really was talented in the sack. He made her forget reality for a while. She fell asleep thinking she would just become Scarlett O’Hara and worry about it tomorrow. ~*~ Olivia was dead to the world when the loud smack and sharp sting of a hand slapping her butt rudely jerked her awake from the delicious dream she was having. "Damn it, woman. Wake up," Cameron growled with a sexy rasp in her ear. "I want some sweet loving before I have to go to work."
Irritated he’d yanked her from her sound sleep, she curled into a tight ball. "No," she moaned and shook her head when his fingers slipped up to her bent knee and back down along the inside of her thigh toward her undies. She clamped her legs together, trapping his hand about six inches from its destination. "Come on, Livy," he coaxed. "You know you want to." His fingers wiggled a little, making her squirm from the tickling sensation. But she managed to keep her knees together. Cameron tugged his hand free and started up her stomach toward her breasts. "No," she said again and rolled onto her side away from him. "I’m tired," she groused. "And sore. You wore me out last night. I can’t take anymore." Her husband seemed unconcerned by her rejection. He merely slid up behind her and pressed his warm chest again her naked back. "So, why’d you moan when I touched you a few seconds ago?" he asked as his seeking hand snuck around her hip and slithered across her abdomen. Olivia caught his wrist. "I was dreaming," she complained and then growled when he continued to move his hand to the warmth between her legs in spite of the restraining grip she had on him. "Yeah, you were dreaming," he countered on a husky, morning laugh. "About me. So, here I am, baby." God, he was such a self-inflated chauvinist. But damn it, yes, she’d been dreaming about him. She hadn’t been tired and sore in her dream either. Clearly oblivious to her refusal and hoping to catch a little morning nookie, Cameron slid the pads of his fingers across her moist center. Olivia sucked in a loud breath. Tightening her fingers around his wrist, she tried to resist him, but her legs parted of their own accord. "I’m serious, Cameron," she said, closing her eyes as if that could block out the heat from his touch. "No more. I hurt." And that was true. She wasn’t used to so much sex. He’d awakened her three times last night, and now every muscle in her body ached. Yes, dear Lord, her body ached, and it throbbed. "You poor thing," he said sympathetically and kissed the back of her shoulder as his fingers eased their pressure between her legs. "I’ll be gentle. I swear." To prove his point, he slipped one finger inside her so slowly and delicately that it teased her into wanting more, wanting faster and rougher. She sighed and sank back against him. Her butt nestled snugly against his pulsing erection, and she realized he’d already slipped on a condom. He groaned. "Oh, yeah," he said, lifting her thigh and pushing the crotch of her panties out of his way to enter her from behind.
"I thought I told you to stop," Olivia complained, all the while curling her toes and arching her back, eager for his next thrust. She grabbed a fistful of the sheets in front of her, preparing for the jolt of his loving administration. "Stop, you say?" Instead of moving further inside, he pulled completely out and rolled away. "Cameron!" she cried shrilly, her body demanding more. She rolled toward him, reaching for that warm fuzzy chest she already missed. "What’re you doing?" He glanced over his shoulder and met her gaze. Though the rest of his face remained perfectly serious, his green eyes were lit in amusement. "You told me to stop." Oh, the filthy cretin. He was actually enjoying this. Olivia frowned. "Get back here now," she commanded, too tired to try the honey approach and heading straight toward vinegar. A smile tipped his mouth. White teeth flashed as he rolled back and scooted an inch closer. "Yes, ma’am," he crooned cockily. "Just tell me what you want me to do to best please you. I’m here to serve." "You know what I want." Olivia ungratefully flopped onto her back and closed her eyes, waiting for him to cover her, for his hands to touch her and his mouth to kiss her everywhere. Yeah, he always knew what she wanted. It was embarrassing to realize she was in no way immune to his touch. But when he didn’t move toward her, her eyes sprang open. "Cameron," she said irritably because her body was pulsating. He just smiled and shook his head. Sitting up so he could gaze down on her, he said, "No. You have to tell me. You already chewed my ass for guessing. Now you need to be specific." She narrowed her eyes. His grin grew. "Just tell me, Livy," he coaxed as he reached out to flick her nipple with one finger. "I’ll do anything you want. Your wish is my command." She blinked. Anything she wanted. The possibility made her body tighten with need. "Touch me," she said on a whisper. His eyelids went heavy. "Where?" Olivia licked her lips, suddenly very shy. She’d never been the one to give the commands before. The power was overwhelming, but exciting. "Here," she finally said, and covered the mound between her legs with her fingers. His eyes followed the move. "How?" he asked next. She frowned. "How?" He chuckled softly. "How, Olivia?" he repeated, coming up on his knees so he could lean over her and hover above her with a hand buried in the mattress on either side of her face. His mouth hovered inches above hers,
making her suddenly want to kiss him. "How do you want me to touch you there," he pressed. "With my hands? My dick? My mouth?" Her eyes sprang open wide as her gaze shot to his lips. She’d heard all kinds of stories about guys going down on a girl but it had never happened to her before. She figured it was only a myth. He laughed at her stunned expression. "Guess that answers my question," he said, peeling her underwear down her legs and tossing them over his shoulder. Then, with a wicked glint in his eyes, he lowered his face. "Cam," she said in alarm and grabbed his shoulder. He paused to wink at her. "Shh. It’s okay. Like I said, I’ll be gentle." His gaze stayed steady on her face as he descended until his mouth was inches over her pubic hair, his breath fanning her stomach. "You’re in charge here," he reminded. "Whatever you want, Livy. I’ll do it." She nodded. "Lick me," she said hoarsely. He smiled with approval and dipped his head, his eyes still on hers as he flicked out his tongue and lightly batted at the lips of her sex. She jerked and cried out. "Oh, God. Do it again." He lowered his eyes then to concentrate and licked her again, only he didn’t stop stroking this time. Pressure built inside her. She strained, wanting to buck against him, but she kept her body rigid. It only made her want more. She needed something, anything, inside her. "Touch me," she said again, and remembered at the last moment she needed to be specific. "My breasts, Cameron. Touch my breasts. Cover them with your hands." She didn’t know if he could hear her. He seemed so intent on his job. But his hands came up and covered the aching mounds on her chest. Her nipples protruded and burned for the contact, but he merely massaged the outer rim. "My nipples," she moaned and arched her back. He laughed against her clit, and the sound vibrated through her so that at the very second his fingers clamped around both of her nipples, she came. She flooded his tongue with her juices and pulled his hair with her fingers. Her body rippled as she bucked and arched trying to escape and seek the overwhelming release at the same time. By the time she’d settled down and was only jerking occasionally with little aftershocks from the orgasm, he took his mouth from her. Glancing down, she met his gaze. "What now?" he asked. He looked eager to continue. She smiled and reached for him. "I want you inside me." He slid up her body to kiss her and answer the unspoken demand in
her eyes. Then he pulled back and asked, "How?" How? Olivia didn’t know how, didn’t care how, she just wanted him inside her. Now. But getting into the spirit of her control, she instructed, "Roll onto your back." He grinned and complied immediately, staring up at her expectantly. She crawled over him and straddled his hips. Taking his penis in both hands, she paused a moment to marvel at the swollen shaft. It was soft to the touch but hard underneath. Longer than she remembered, it was so mighty in girth she was amazed she could actually wrap her whole hand around its base, and even more amazed it had ever fit inside her. It reminded her of all the historical romance books she’d used to read, how they were always called swords. Well, this one had her imagining a machete, feral and deadly and slightly curved. "Livy?" he asked, his voice urgent and begging. He pushed up into her hand, his stomach muscles quivering at the contact. "Call me Olivia," she said. His eyes flared as if he wanted to argue. But when she let go of his shaft and let it flop onto his stomach, he swallowed and nodded. "Okay, okay," he gasped. "I’ll try. Olivia." When she took him back into her hand, he closed his eyes and sighed. "Olivia." Olivia lifted her hips and came down on him. He pushed up inside her, making her moan. "Can I touch you?" he asked. She said, "No," and his eyes flew open in alarm. "I can only touch you." Her fingers started at his waist and they moved up over his ribs and to his flat nipples. All the while, she continued to move in a slow, purposeful rhythm. Up, down. Up, down. Nice and easy. When she leaned over to kiss his tiny nipples, he groaned out a strained, frustrated sound. "Olivia," he begged. She laughed huskily and lifted her face. "I’ll let you kiss me," she allowed and laid her mouth to his. He suckled hungrily, eating at her lips with teeth and tongue. "My neck," she instructed. "I like that thing you do to my neck." When she tilted up her chin and exposed her throat to him, he immediately leaned forward set to his mouth against her pulse. A single stroke of his tongue and nip of his teeth later, she bowed against him and pounded down faster, ready to explode once more. "Livy," he panted. "Olivia. I want to touch you. Oh, God. I want...I want…" "My hips," she said and quickly changed her mind. "No. My butt,
Cameron. Grab my ass like you do." He did. With pleasure. He clutched her backside, ground her down on him, and groaned, straining. She watched the pleasure on his face and was awed. His eyes slit open, and he met her gaze. "I can’t...I can’t hold back much longer," he confessed in a hoarse voice. She nodded, leaned over to kiss him, and came a second time as he clutched her hard and drove up into her. When he cried out the name Livy, she didn’t even mind. In fact, she decided she rather liked his pet name for her after all.
Cameron felt as if a train wreck had just passed through him. Exhausted and sated, yet feeling totally scattered, he ran his hand down his wife’s naked back. His thumb memorized every groove and bump in her spine as he grinned at the ceiling over her shoulder. He could get used to this, waking up with a wife next to him, a wife he could actually tease and coax into doing it, a wife that didn’t cry and withdraw into herself whenever he managed to make her come. Cameron knew he shouldn’t compare. Olivia was only a temporary spouse. As soon as the annulment papers were final, she’d be gone and he’d never see her again. But his mind measured her against Sienna anyway. And the most alarming conclusion was that his first wife came up lacking. All the way around. Olivia smiled and laughed, and Cameron could actually make her laugh and smile—when he wasn’t pissing her off. But even getting her riled showed him how lively she was. As much as he’d tried, he’d never been able to bring Sienna to the height of any emotion. He’d only made her miserable and more resentful because he could be so cheerful when she just wanted to die. Cameron’s arms tightened around Olivia, but he stopped as soon as he realized what he was doing. He’d tried tightening his grip on Sienna too. Yet the harder he tried to hold onto her, the further she had slipped away. Forcing himself to ease back, Cameron let go of the woman in his arms so she could roll off him. When she didn’t move, he smoothed a hand over her hair. "Okay," he said. "I have to get ready for work now, Livy." Nothing. "Olivia?" He craned his neck to see her face and was surprised to find her dead asleep. Tenderness tugged at him, but he swallowed it down. The poor girl. He’d exhausted her. He should’ve just let her sleep in. But she’d purred and
arched when he’d touched her hip. Then she murmured his name in her sleep, and he was a goner. What else was a guy to do but pounce? Then again, he hadn’t counted on feeling this tug of emotion when he spanked her awake. He didn’t want to feel anything toward her. He didn’t want to fall. Sienna had taught him not to ever make that mistake again. But as he gazed at the relaxed and innocent features of Olivia’s face, a chunk of the ice wall around his heart thawed. Since she was out cold, he stole a few minutes to cuddle. He stroked her hair with his cheek, inhaled the heavy scent of woman, and ran his hands over her warm, nude figure. In her sleep, his wife sighed, content. ~*~ Boston Kincaid glanced down at his Rolex and clenched his teeth. What do you know, Cameron was running late again. How typical. The lazy bum was probably still in bed. "Goes away to Chicago for three days, and the slug thinks he can sleep in this morning." Muttering under his breath, Boston turned on his radio and listened to the alternative music for a second, enjoying it while he could, because he was well aware Cam would change it to one of those loud, thumping hip-hop stations as soon as he slid into the car. The two of them were polar opposites, even though their mothers were sisters. When Boston’s parents had gone on business trips, he’d usually found himself staying with Aunt Allison and Uncle Chuck, playing side by side with his cousin Cam. And though the two of them had grown up together, he couldn’t say he’d cared much for the smart-mouthed Cameron in his youth. But these days, they were closer than most brothers. In fact, Boston was more connected to Cameron Banks than he was to his own kid brother, Monty. He’d gone to work for Cameron the day he’d graduated from law school and passed his final bar exam. And Boston hadn’t regretted the move once. His cousin might’ve made some risky ventures in the past, but they’d all ended in a nice, tidy profit. Boston had sweated sleeplessly through many a night, but he’d stuck by Cam’s side. He’d follow his friend to the grave if that’s what he had to do. It still irritated him, however, that the man could never be on time. That was one of the reasons Boston had grown into the habit of driving Cameron to work. It was his way of keeping the mastermind behind their operation punctual. So Boston began coming over to drag him out of bed, push him into a shower, shove a cup of coffee into his hand, and lug him to work. Boston trusted his cousin’s instincts over his own in the decisionmaking end of their business. Bos was just the legal back-up. If he’d had to
make the choices, they’d have gone belly up years ago. He was too safe and straight-laced to make any kind of radical judgment call. Cameron, on the other hand, was almost dangerous when he threw out his opinion. Sometimes, Boston was convinced his friend was actually trying to go bankrupt. And if he hadn’t been around to rein him in, they might’ve done just that too. That’s why, together, they made an awesome team. Apart, they would’ve fizzled out years ago. Wondering if Cam was still asleep or just lagging today, Boston slid his new car into park and pushed open the door. He pocketed his push-button ignition key and started for the entrance. Letting himself in, he strolled up the stairs, still frowning, and went directly to Cam’s bedroom. When he spotted the lump under the covers, he sighed. "Hey," he called, unsympathetically. "Get your lazy ass out of bed. We’ve got work to do today." When the lump only stirred as if jerking awake at the sound of his voice, Boston grabbed hold of the end of the covers and ripped them all the way off. The sheet was still in his hands when he discovered Cameron wasn’t the body in the bed. At the sight of the naked female, Boston froze. Okay, so it’d been a few months since he’d seen a nude woman, but for a moment there, all he could do was gawk like he’d never experience the phenomenon before. She, whoever she was, immediately curled into a ball, chilled by the absence of her warm covers. And finally, reality kicked in. Boston’s eyes shot open wide. "Holy shit!" he yelped and threw the sheets back on top of her. In his haste, he covered her entire body, head to toe. "Oh, my God, sorry. I am so sorry, ma’am." An irritated, muffled and very feminine sound came from under the blankets as she fought to uncover her head from the tangled mess on top of her. Boston watched a tanned leg kick out from the side and his eyebrow arched. Nice. Very nice. Then it struck him: he was staring. Whirling away, he turned his back to her, only to find Cameron leaning against the opened doorway of the bathroom, brushing his teeth. He was completely dressed, save for his bare feet and the fact he needed to comb his hair and tie his tie. He grinned, a twinkle of mischief sparking his eyes. Face heating with color, Boston glowered, already braced for the teasingly snide comment he knew Cam was sure to make. But Cameron merely said, "I see you’ve met Olivia." "Sort of," Boston answered on a mumble, refusing to look her way again. From the corner of his eye, however, he saw Cameron’s bedmate finally shove the covers off her face. She sat up, clutching the sheet protectively to her chest. He barely refrained from licking his lips and copping one more peek. "Livy," Cameron said, still wearing that cocky grin Boston just
wanted to pummel. "This is Boston Kincaid, the very Boston you’ve been hearing about. He’s my cousin, best friend, and overall partner in crime. He handles all the legal matters at work." ~*~ Still half out of it from being rudely awakened for the second time that morning, Olivia glanced at the black-haired fellow. He was taller than Cameron and tanner, with wide shoulders and a lean body. Boston Kincaid was just the kind of guy she would’ve gone for back in Pasadena. He had a sleek, sophisticated look about him with styled hair and not a wrinkle in sight. Next to Cameron, however, he appeared a little too polished, a little too clean, and extremely boring. Cam’s hair was still sticking up at all angles, his tie hanging loosely around his neck and his bare feet gave him that sexily rumpled, undone look. The toothbrush hanging from his mouth didn’t seem to add to a refined facade either. Yet, it appealed to her. Olivia just wanted to lift up her sheet and invite him back under the covers. Which made no sense. That’s not what she wanted. Not at all. Somehow, she had to learn to evade this man so she wouldn’t sleep with him again. Glancing at her husband’s GQ cousin, Olivia murmured a polite "Hello." All subtlety in the family must’ve fallen to the Kincaid side because his cheekbones were stained with embarrassment, and he declined to look at her. He merely lifted a hand in greeting. "Hey," he returned. Then he cleared his throat uncomfortably and lifted his eyes to Cameron. "I’ll be, uh, downstairs." Cameron grinned at his friend, his eyes glittering with unspoken laughter. Olivia was tempted to throw a pillow at him for not helping in any way to ease the situation. As Boston fled, she pushed her hair out of her face and scowled at her husband. "It’s not funny." Cameron laughed aloud and swaggered toward her with his toothbrush still in his mouth. "I think it’s great," he said as he crawled onto the bed and up toward where she rested her bare back against the headboard. "Now that Boston knows just exactly what I’ve got, he’s going to be all pea green with jealousy and want to be me." Olivia gave him a mild look. "You don’t ‘got’ me." Cameron looked at her with a raised eyebrow. "You’re naked in my bed. Probably still wet from me being inside you too." She frowned. "Don’t be crude." He grinned, unapologetically. "My apologies, ma’am." "Besides…" she muttered, irritated that his base behavior didn’t repulse her as it should. She still wanted him. None of his chauvinistic words could even dim that reality. "We’re getting a divorce—annulment— whatever. This is just temporary."
He shrugged. "Well, what Boston doesn’t know is going to make me look like the man." He took his toothbrush from his mouth and leaned over to kiss her. Olivia wrinkled her nose and turned her face away. "Cameron, ugh. That’s gross. There’s toothpaste in your—" Her words were cut off by his mouth pressing against hers. Minty breath teased her and she found herself turning toward him and meeting his tongue when he opened up. Surprised to find that second-hand toothpaste wasn’t as disgusting as she’d originally thought, Olivia whimpered and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Damn, Livy," he rasped against her lips. "I’ve got to go to work." But he continued to kiss her, nibbling at her lips and then her throat until she arched back, and he took the peak of her nipple into his mouth. Her fingers plowed through his still-damp hair and she pulled him closer. All too soon, he groaned and tore himself away. "I have to go," he repeated and kissed her mouth again. Olivia reached out and wiped some dried toothpaste off the corner of his lip with her fingertips. "Have a good day, darling. I’ll have a hot supper waiting for you when you get home." He paused, blinking. "Really?" Olivia rolled her eyes and snorted. "God, no. I’ve never cooked a meal in my life." Cameron’s shoulders slumped. "And here I thought I might have to keep you around after all." He tweaked her nose and strolled from the room, grabbing up a pair of shoes on the way. Olivia watched him go and felt a spurt of panic. She’d been joking about the whole cooked-meal thing, trying to lighten the mood and remind herself of their marital status and how it was only temporary. But at his crack about keeping her around, her mood deflated. She didn’t want to stay. So why did the thought of leaving depress her? ~*~ Cameron grinned as he strolled down the stairs. Boston, with his hands in his pockets, glared back. The scowl only deepened Cameron’s smile. "Ready?" Without answering, Boston turned on his heel and headed for the door. Chuckling, Cam followed. That was one thing he liked about his cousin. They were like two sides of a mirror. And when Cameron was in one mood, Boston was usually in the other. When Cameron couldn’t seem to settle down or stop cracking jokes, Boston was usually as stiff and tedious as ever. They complemented each other perfectly and made an unbeatable team. He paused when he stepped outside and noticed his cousin wasn’t strolling toward his usual drab-looking brown car, but a silver one instead.
"Got rid of the Saab, huh?" "Mmm-hmm," Boston answered mildly. As they approached it, it automatically unlocked, yet Boston hadn’t even pushed a button. Then it started on its own. Mildly impressed, Cameron lifted his eyebrows. "So, what is this thing?" "An Infiniti." Cameron snorted. "Sounds boring." Boston refused to rise to the bait. Too used to Cameron trying to get his back up, he merely gave the casual response, "It’s in the top of its class." "Yeah, well, so, is my Miata," Cameron countered. "But you didn’t buy one of those, now did you?" Still unperturbed by his criticism, Boston answered, "I prefer luxury sedans." Cameron shivered and made a repulsed face. "Ugh. Just hearing the word sedan makes me want to curl up and take a nap for, like, a week. Boring." Boston put the engine into gear. As if on cue, Cam leaned forward and changed the radio station. Loud, booming hip-hop immediately filled the speakers. Boston didn’t even twitch. At least this ride had a nice sound system. "Couldn’t find anything in red, huh?" Cameron asked, tapping his fingers on his knees to the sound of the thumping rhythm. "Though, granted, it’s better than the Saab." "I liked the Saab’s color," Boston muttered. Cameron snorted. "It was butt ugly brown." Frown growing, Boston said, "It was called Serengeti Sand." "More like someone puked-up-a-bunch-of sand," Cameron returned. Boston glanced over at him with a dry look but didn’t respond. "So, what’s all this do?" Cameron asked, learning forward to play with the screen on the dash. "Don’t touch it," Boston snapped. Cameron rolled his eyes. "Are you sure you’re not thirteen years older than me instead of thirteen months? Gah, Bos. Live a little. What’s the use of having toys if you’re not going to play with them?" "It’s my hands-free Bluetooth phone system," Boston said, scowling when Cameron touched the screen and left a smudged fingerprint. "So, get your grubby paws off. It’s voice activated. No touching needed." "Cool," Cameron said, lighting up at the prospect. "How’s it work?" "Music, alternative," Boston said calmly and the radio changed back to the last channel he had playing." Cameron laughed in delight. "Awesome." "Call Cam’s cell," Boston said next. A moment later, ringing came from Cameron pocket. He pulled out his cell to shut it up. "Oh, this is sweet," he announced. "I’m going to have to
get me one of these." Boston rolled his eyes. "Hey, let me try one," Cameron said, leaning toward the center console screen. Very slowly and enunciating his words precisely, he added, "Call Florist." When nothing happened, he frowned across the seat. Boston smiled slightly, "I told it not to listen to you." "Bag lick," Cameron muttered and slumped back into his seat to stare grumpily out the window. When Cam was quiet for a full five seconds, Boston finally asked, "Isn’t Olivia the name of the woman you married in Vegas?" Cameron glanced over at Boston and grinned. He’d been waiting for Boston to bring her up. Actually, he was surprised his good buddy had held out this long. "Liked what you saw, did you?" he taunted. "Yeah, I know how to pick ’em, huh? Even when I’m falling-down drunk and surrounded by gambling." Boston scowled slightly, "You mean, she is the woman you married in Vegas?" "Surprise," Cam said cheerfully. "I said I was bringing something home, didn’t I? Well, she’s it. I got a smokin’ hot wife, don’t I?" After working with Cameron for nearly five years, Boston had learned not to be surprised by anything. So Cam didn’t expect a big reaction. But his news did makes his cousin’s eyebrows lift slightly. "So, she’s lives in California, you meet and marry her in Las Vegas, but you bring her home from Chicago?" Cameron scrunched up his face thoughtfully before answering, "Yup, that sounds about right." Boston waited a moment and glanced at Cam, no doubt waiting for more of an explanation. When Cam didn’t provide one, Boston let it go. "I thought I was supposed to draft out annulment papers for you once we finished the Shaney deal." Holding in a sigh, Cam mumbled, "Yeah, the annulment thing’s still a go. We’ve just had a little change of plans until the papers are finalized." "So, her being naked in your bed is just…?" "Sex," Cameron said. Then he glanced at his friend and wiggled his eyebrows. "Really good, amazing, wild sex." Boston shot him the finger. "If it’s that great then why get an annulment?" Cameron frowned. "Because I don’t want to be married. I thought I told you. Never again." "Yeah, but—" "No buts. No wife. No marriage, okay? As soon as this Shaney deal is over, I want you focusing on getting her gone. Got it?" Boston was quiet a moment, thoughtfully digesting Cameron’s
outburst. Cam glanced over, already braced for more questions about what had gotten him into such a crappy moody. Boston liked to carp on him about his mood swings about as much as he liked to make fun of his bud for his dull fashion preferences. "And then what happens to her?" Boston asked instead. Cameron paused. Suddenly, he remembered what she’d looked like in the hotel room after her mother walked out of her life. He’d never seen anyone look so scared and alone before. He’d been doing good just to pull her into a hug and offer her one of his guest bedrooms for a while, when what he’d really been aching to do was make her all sorts of promises he’d never be able to keep. There wasn’t anything permanent about Olivia in his life. He’d get his sweet loving until that ran dry, and then he was pushing the annulment through. And that was it. He was not going to fall for her. "I don’t know," he answered Boston. "That’s up to her."
Olivia had been married to Cameron for nearly four weeks, yet she’d only known him a total of five days, and those couldn’t even be considered full days. Yet, she’d just been left alone in the man’s home. Okay, so she was married to said man, but that certainly didn’t mean she knew anything about Cameron Banks except for the fact he was good in bed. Half tempted to laze the day away on his mattress, Olivia stretched and glanced about the room. He’d had it professionally decorated. The walls were a muted sage and the sheets matched the curtains with splashes of various greens and grays. It was stylish, but it wasn’t the Cameron she knew. She’d been around interior decorators enough to know they at least tried to emulate the owner’s personality. This decorator, however, had gotten him all wrong. Not that it was any of her business. If the guy wanted to pay for crappy decorating, who was she to say anything? Deciding she should probably get up, she pulled off the covers and slid to her feet. After taking a long, hot shower and raiding his kitchen, she gave herself a tour. The house was newer than her mother’s Pasadena place. Olivia preferred the modern architecture of Casa de Cameron to Vivian’s staid mansion. The shape of the rooms actually seemed to fit him better than the décor. Olivia had to think he’d personally known the draftsman who’d designed his home. Munching on the apple she’d nabbed from the fruit basket in his kitchen, she plodded barefoot through the halls. The huge house seemed quiet and empty without Cameron’s presence. She wondered when he was going to come home. But thinking that only depressed her further. He’d saved her from her mother; now it was time to save herself. She couldn’t keep looking to him for help. Or entertainment. Deciding to take Cameron’s advice on cruising the internet for an
idea as to what she wanted to do with herself, Olivia settled into the desk chair in his home office and booted up the computer. Half an hour later, she turned the PC off. There had been plenty of openings listed in the area, things like warehouse associate, registered nurse, accounting clerk, process engineer, truck driver, restaurant manager, sales manager. The only thing she could imagine herself doing, however, was the retail sales manager at a top-end clothing store. If there was one thing Olivia Donovan knew, it was fashion. But she’d never had a job, and she’d never tried to find one before. The thought of actually going out into the workforce and applying scared the daylights out of her. Then again, how long could she mope around here before she was kicked out? Cameron would eventually want to return to his life. She couldn’t just stay. As she was leaving the room, a manila package sitting on an old shoebox caught her attention. Olivia paused and read the return address. When she saw that it was from the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel, she reached down and snatched it up with a gasp. The pictures inside had her plopping down in a nearby chair, stunned. Oh, God. She had no idea she’d been so drunk. But then, yeah, a person would have to be completely plowed off their ass to marry a total stranger. Captivated by the shots of her and Cameron together, Olivia sifted through every proof. She wondered why he hadn’t mentioned receiving them. She barely remembered getting them taken. But, from the looks of it, it appeared she’d had a blast being married by Elvis. Olivia sobered. She still had the ring she’d picked out that night. She looked down at it on her finger—still on her right hand—and let out a sigh. And to think, if she hadn’t worn it to Chicago, it would currently be lost to her forever at Vivian’s place, just like her one hundred and twenty pairs of name brand shoes and her closet full of designer clothes. Man, she missed her clothes. There was only one clean outfit left in the luggage she’d brought with her. Hopefully, Cameron would be a saint and lend her some money to buy some— She paused. No, she couldn’t rely on him to provide her with anything else. She was already mooching enough off him. She’d lived her entire life leeching from her mother for everything she’d ever needed. The habit wasn’t going to be transferred to Cameron. Upset with her train of thought, she pushed the pictures back into their envelope. She started to toss the package back on top of the box on the floor, but paused. Curious about was inside, she slipped open the lid. What she found had her digging inside. Pictures. Piles and piles of photographs. Unabashedly snooping, Olivia shuffled through the mess. Most shots showed Cameron’s childhood, from when he was a baby to when he graduated high school. Others were of family members. She caught sight of
Leah, his sister, in many poses. Becoming very curious about his life, Olivia eagerly went through more. She found a shot of Boston, the lawyer cousin, and paused. He might’ve only been thirteen or fourteen, but Olivia could tell it was him with his pitch-black hair and urbane demeanor. He was grinning with his arm looped casually around Cameron’s shoulder as they stood, dripping wet in swimming trunks on a beach. Olivia smiled. Cam had been a happy kid. She liked that thought. The snapshots of him as an adult didn’t quite reflect contentment, though, especially when he posed in a picture with the black-haired woman. Olivia turned one of those over and was rewarded with a name. Cam and Sienna, it read. One month wedding anniversary. One month wedding anniversary? Frowning, Olivia flipped the shot back over. Well, hello. They didn’t look like newlyweds, especially solemn Sienna. She had deep violet slashes under her eyes as if she hadn’t slept in weeks. She didn’t smile, and the look on her face said she just wanted to die. Struck by that thought, Olivia blinked a few times. Cameron was at least smiling despite the underlying look in his gaze—a desperate, wild look as if he knew exactly how miserable the woman next to him was, yet he was determined to act as if things were swell. It was sad, knowing this woman had killed herself within a year of being married to him. Olivia could tell something was wrong between them, even at this point. She wondered what the problem was, though she didn’t believe any of it was his fault. Feeling an impulsive antagonism for Sienna Banks, Olivia picked up another picture and was even further angered to see Cameron alone, opening a gift in front of a tree. He’d looked up just in time to get his mug taken, but he didn’t smile. It was a recent shot and Olivia blamed his sober expression on the woman with the straight black hair. Suddenly wanting to categorize the pictures chronologically so she could see just how much he’d changed through the years, Olivia picked up the box and carried it from the office. She found a spare bedroom and dumped the contents onto the bed. Then she went about sorting the pictures by age. A little thrill of pleasure went through her as she envisioned how pleased Cam would be that she’d gone to the trouble of organizing his mess. See, she wasn’t totally useless after all. If only Vivian could see her now. ~*~ Boston knocked on Cameron’s office door late in the morning. His cousin barely glanced up before waving him inside. "What’s up?" Boston gnashed his teeth, reluctant to be the bearer of bad news. "There’s a new development on the Shaney deal. We’ve got a new player
butting in and wanting to add their bid." Cameron frowned and finally turned from his computer. "This late in the game?" Boston nodded. "Ever heard of Helbrock Enterprise?" Cameron lifted his eyebrows. "Well, I’ll be damned." He ran his hand over his mouth. "What?" Boston asked, coming fully inside and sitting in the chair across from him. He hated it when Cam knew information he didn’t. "Livy’s mom," Cam said. "I pissed her off in Chicago. I don’t think she’s very happy with me at the moment." Boston sat up. "Helbrock’s your new in-laws?" He paused. Why did he not know that already? He thought Olivia’s last name was— "Her name’s Roark now," Cameron supplied. "Vivian HelbrockDonovan-Roark. Livy warned me she’d make a nasty enemy, but I didn’t think the bitch would strike this quick." "Well, how’s that for a welcome-to-the-family," Boston said. When Cam snorted, he reluctantly added, "She’s got the top bid as we speak." Cameron’s head snapped up. "Has she voiced an intent?" Boston shrugged. "Says pretty much what we’re saying; she’s thinking about fixing it up. But she might have the same plan we do." A shoe-production company, Shaney boasted top-of-the-line engineering equipment that put out a better quality of product in half the time as similar factories. While Cam and Boston had found that to be true, they’d discovered other problems in Shaney Manufacturing that would practically guarantee anyone who bought it would go as bankrupt as the current owners. But it just so happened that EarnNet already owned a shoeproduction manufacturer, and if they could get their hands on Shaney’s machines, they’d make their own company prosper. Cameron shook his head. "No," he told Boston. "I’ve done a background on her. She doesn’t have anything else in the shoe line. So, I’m sure she just wants Shaney so she can take away my toy. If she wins the bid, she won’t know what to do with it. She doesn’t realize she’s playing with the big dogs now. I’ll bet my life on it." "Want me to kick her back to the porch and seal this deal with Shaney now?" It took a minute for Cameron to answer. Rolling his bottom lip between his thumb and forefinger, he finally answered, "No. Roark doesn’t want the company. And it’d probably sink her if she won the bid. I did a little research on her after I met Livy. She couldn’t handle Shaney if she got it. I say we let her win and then watch her flounder." Boston’s eyes widened in shock. "But we’ve just spent months working to get—" "I don’t care," Cameron cut in. "We’ll come across another sweet deal later. I want this payback now. I want her to suffer for every heartbreak
she ever caused Livy." Stunned by the venom in his friend’s words, Boston blinked. He’d been wondering if Cam had been getting serious about his accidental wife, but now he had his answer. It cheered as much as it disheartened him. Cameron had been his best friend for nine years. They’d shared so much, including heartache over women. Boston assumed he and Cam would remain bachelors together for a long while yet. He’d at least hoped it would take his cousin just as long to get over his first love as it was taking him. But by the way Cameron’s eyes filled with vengeance, Boston realized his pal had moved on without him. "And who knows," Cameron added, glancing up with a quick grin. "If she goes belly up, maybe we’ll get another chance at Shaney, but for an even lower price." Boston shook his head and smiled. "Remind me to never get on your bad side." A strange look Cameron’s crossed face. "The woman needs to be taught a lesson. The way she treated her daughter…" He paused to grit his teeth. A bolt of unease rippled through Boston. How exactly had Roark treated Cameron’s new wife? He kind of liked Olivia, liked looking at her naked anyway. The thought of her hurt, actually physically harmed, didn’t settle with him. But his cousin didn’t enlighten him. Cam glanced up and sent Boston a tense smile. "Roark deserves bankruptcy." ~*~ Though she’d only been joking about having supper ready, Olivia was starving by the time five o’clock rolled around. After only an apple for breakfast and a skipped lunch, she was ready to gnaw off her arm. As evening approached, she once again ventured into Cameron’s kitchen. She raided his cabinets to find them fully stocked with pastas and beans and sauces. But there were no boxed meals or insta-suppers anywhere. Olivia frowned and set her hands on her hips. Her new husband didn’t know how to cook, did he? Though it appeared he did, she refused to believe it. It wouldn’t be fair if Cameron was domestically inclined. He was already rich, and handsome, and successful. Being able to cook gave him too much advantage. And it didn’t help that she hadn’t the foggiest idea of what to do with all the food she found. Well, there was no time to learn like the present. Shrugging, Olivia pulled down a package of spaghetti noodles and a can of tomato sauce. What could be hard about making spaghetti? It was just pasta, sauce, and meatballs, right? And actually, she could do without the meat. Feeling optimistic, she opened the package of pasta and frowned inside at the contents. She had no idea how much pasta was needed to feed two people. She poured the entire package into the round pan she’d found
and tossed the box into the waste basket. Then she struggled to open the sauce. It took her a while to figure out how the electric can opener worked, but when she finally pried the lid open, she felt cockily successful. Humming, she poured the entire can of sauce over the hard noodles and set them on the stove. Crouching down to examine all the devices, she finally figured out how to turn on the correct burner. Twisting up the heat, Olivia bit her lip and wondered how hot it needed to be. Finally, it occurred to her that maybe the cooking instructions were on the noodle box. Wrinkling her nose, she glanced toward the trashcan. "Eww," she said, and decided if a man could get from point A to point B without stopping for directions, then a woman could certainly cook a meal without digging through the nasty trash. So, she cranked the heat up to full-blast and went about inspecting Cameron’s wine fridge. She picked out the perfect blend for an Italian supper before it struck her that wine was alcohol. Probably not the best beverage for a recovering alcoholic. Immediately, she slipped the wine back into the cooler and decided to make coffee. Which was an experience all on its own. ~*~ Olivia wanted to melt into the floor and die of humiliation. By the time, Cameron appeared in the kitchen doorway, the room was in utter chaos. Thick ugly smoke rose from the spaghetti while coffee dripped directly onto the burner because there was no pot waiting to catch the brew. And the smoke detector wailed out a piercing yowl. "What the hell!" He flew into the room and tossed his briefcase onto a counter before dashing to where she was fanning the smoking spaghetti. Grabbing the handle, he jerked the scorched pan off the heat and turned off the stove. Then he disabled the alarm. Once the noise stopped, he turned and eyed the mess in his kitchen. Grinning, he shook his head. "I thought you were kidding when you said you’d have supper ready." "I was," she grumbled. "But I’m famished. I thought it was better to make a go at cooking than die of hunger." "Why didn’t you just have something delivered?" He motioned toward the refrigerator where all sorts of menus and magnets were posted, advertising a variety of food deliveries. Olivia flushed. To tell the truth, she hadn’t even noticed all the numbers. But she frowned and set her hands on her hips, eyeing him critically. "And just how was I supposed to pay for food? I don’t have any money." "Ah. Good point." Turning back to the pot of her scorched attempt at spaghetti, he scratched the back of his neck as he tapped at a crusty piece of pasta sticking from the top. After glancing in at the sauce, he cocked a curious glance Olivia’s way. "Um, did you, by chance, forget to boil your
pasta first?" Olivia blinked. "You’re supposed to boil it…in water?" He laughed. "Well, yeah." He pulled a stiff stick from the red goo. "Interesting," he murmured as if her failure was the most entertaining thing he’d ever witnessed. Olivia sat her hands on her hips. "Just how do you know how to cook?" "My mom." He picked up the handle of the pot and cleared his throat. "Say, let’s dump this, ah, whatever it is, and order Chinese." "I thought you knew how to cook," Olivia countered, still irritated her disaster only amused him. "Hey, just because I know how, doesn’t mean I do." "But what about all the food in the cabinets?" "That would be my mother. Again. She likes to stock my kitchen every few weeks. My housekeeper, Greta, will usually make a meal and leave it in the fridge. But she only comes on Wednesdays and Sundays." Olivia sighed, admitting defeat. "Okay," she said. "Let’s order Chinese. But I’m going to need, like, a dozen egg rolls." ~*~ Half an hour later, the kitchen was free of all coffee and spaghetti. Olivia and Cameron sat cross-legged on his leather couch, eating delivery from oriental to-go boxes. Olivia licked soy sauce off her thumb and sent Cam a rueful grin. "You don’t happen to know how to use the washing machine, do you?" He glanced up, surprised. "Why?" "I’m running out of clean clothes." Olivia motioned to her outfit. He shrugged. "Just have Greta wash them on Wednesday when she comes to clean," he offered. She flushed. "I, uh, I’m going to run out before then." Cameron paused and studied her shirt and slacks. "You need more clothes," he finally surmised. She didn’t answer, but busied herself pulling apart a crab rangoon. "But you don’t have any money," Cameron added softly. "I’m finally catching on here." He held up a finger for her to wait and lifted his hip off the couch in order to dig into his back pocket. When he pulled out his wallet, Olivia instantly scowled. "I don’t want your money." He ignored her and pulled free a credit card. When he handed it over, she merely glared at it. "I’m serious," she said. "You’re already doing too much for me." "Hey, you’re my wife," he said in a playful manner. "What’s mine is yours, right?" When Olivia didn’t budge, he sent her an imploring look. "You know I have more than enough to buy you ten new wardrobes, right?" "Cameron, I need to start learning how to do things on my own. If I
just keep taking hand-outs from you, I’ll never—" "Then don’t think of it as a hand-out," he interrupted. When she opened her mouth to interrupt, he held up a hand. "Think of it as a jump start. Once you’re on your feet, I’ll cut you loose." She nodded and finally slipped the card slowly from his hand. "I’ll pay you back as soon as I can." He shrugged. "Whatever." ~*~ Olivia was really starting to unnerve Cameron. Though he should’ve turned in for the night, he had this overwhelming urge to seek out his new houseguest and see what she was doing. He wanted to seduce her, push her against the first sturdy surface they encountered and bury himself deep inside her warmth. He wanted to suck her ripe nipples into his mouth and bite down until she cried for more. The urges annoyed him. Sure, he wanted Olivia. She was an attractive woman. But this need in him was starting to get ridiculous. He wanted her all the time. As soon as he pictured her face, his body went all achy and throbby and he wanted to bury himself over and over into the nearest available hole. Hell, he’d been damn near tempted to visit the bathroom at work and give himself a hand job to find some release. Three different times. And it was all because some delicious little Twinkie wouldn’t get out of his head. He’d thought about her more than he should’ve all day. Numerous times he’d been tempted to call home just to check in and see how she was doing. The pleasure he’d gotten from seeing her trying to cook in his kitchen went against all his rules concerning the opposite sex. He didn’t care about women—not in a lasting commitment sort of way. Okay, okay, that wasn’t exactly true. He loved his mother, and his sister, and all his girl cousins, and aunts, and grandmother, and so forth. But datable women were just around for entertainment. He didn’t feel contentment by watching them destroy his kitchen. That kind of affection wasn’t allowed. Not anymore. Sienna had successfully killed his ability to love that way, just as surely as she’d killed herself. Yet one little blonde cupcake broke all his carefully ordered guidelines. Determined to put Miss Livy back into her rightful place, Cameron scoured the house for a sign of her. He needed to do something nasty and mean so she’d know not to get too comfortable. Her stay was only temporary. They both needed a reminder of that. So, before looking further, he stopped by his nightstand and filched a little something from his condom box. He found her in one of the guest bedrooms. She wore the nightgown from Chicago and hummed under her breath as she stared in a mirror, watching her own fingers smear lotion on her throat and upper chest.
His cruel intentions forgotten, Cameron went rock-solid hard as he recalled touching that throat and slipping those thin straps off her shoulders to bare her full breasts. He ran his gaze down her voluptuous figure. God, she had such a tiny waist to go with those full hips. He couldn’t wait to get his hands on them again. "You’re not really going to sleep in here, are you?" he asked, startling her into jumping and whirling around. "Well, yeah," she answered, sending him an odd look after surveying the room. "This is my room. You said I could choose." Stepping inside, Cameron approached her slowly, like a spider advancing on any tasty morsel caught its web. "Yes, but why should we mess up two set of sheets for Greta to clean when we can just share mine?" "Because," she started, but he effectively cut her off when he yanked her into his arms and kissed her. He could tell she tasted alcohol on his tongue. She pulled back immediately and gave him a surprised look. "When did you—" But she stopped herself at the last moment. He was glad she didn’t continue. He didn’t want to talk about it. ~*~ Olivia ran her tongue over her bottom lip and lapped up the taste of Cameron. As she did so, she focused on his face and compared it to all the pictures she’d sorted through earlier. He’d aged a lot in the last few years. And it was true what they said about men only looking better the older they grew. Though he’d been cute in his youth, the features on his face were chiseled and shaped to perfection. Cameron Banks had a defined character about him. His eyes narrowed. "Why is that look in your eyes making me so nervous?" Olivia smiled and reached for his face. He stiffened in surprise, but then closed his eyes and nuzzled her fingers as she ran them up his jaw. "I was just thinking you made a good point about the sheets," she murmured, moving closer. "And you’re right. There really is no point in being wasteful. We should just share a bed for tonight." "I’m always right," he murmured drowsily and made a sound of appreciation when she moved closer and pressed her mouth to the jaw she’d just stroked. His breath caressed her face. A picture of his first wife entered her head. Remembering Sienna and the way she’d made Cameron miserable upset her. For the first time in her life, she wanted to slap a dead woman. But how could Sienna still control so much of Cameron’s emotions? Irrationally jealous he could sleep with her each night, yet still mourn another woman, Olivia tightened her grip on him. Determined to wipe all traces of the other woman out of his head, she hooked a finger under one strap of her nightgown and slid it off her shoulder to reveal the slope of her breast. Cameron watched the process. His
steady, solemn gaze almost broke her. For some reason, she wanted to soothe the ache inside him. He’d saved her from her mother. She needed to return the favor. Looping her arms around his neck, she pulled him close. His eyes sparked. "Take me," she commanded in a low voice. "Now." He grinned. "Yes, ma’am." Dipping his head, he set his mouth against hers and caressed her lips, then he pulled back, only to return again, licking her bottom lip and nibbling playfully. Olivia loved his teasing, though she loved it when he turned serious too. Okay, so there was nothing Cameron Banks could do wrong in bed. He leaned down, slid an arm around the back of her knees and lifted her off her feet, igniting a thrill in her stomach. She sighed, which made him chuckle and kiss her again. He crawled onto the mattress, set her down gently, and started to back her toward the headboard, covering her with his body as he went and gathering sheets to shove them to the floor. When he tried to lay her down fully, she pressed her palms against his chest and shook her head. He paused. "No?" "No," she rasped, grasping his shoulders and rolling him onto his back. He opened his mouth with surprise. But it didn’t take long for him to smile. "Well, okay then." After tucking the condom into her grasp, he clasped his hands behind his head and crossed his feet at the ankles. "Do your worst, Livy Love." His lazy pose was just fine with her since she wanted to do all the pleasuring. But she only had to push up his shirt, unbutton his fly enough to pull him free, and lean over his dick, spilling her hair across his stomach for him to suck in a breath and sit up, reaching for her. "Uh, uh, uh," she warned with a shake of her head, squeezing his penis in warning. "Lie back down and be a good boy." He choked out a sound of denial as she took her time slipping the prophylactic on him. By the time she’d finished, he’d had enough. "Screw that. I’ve never been a good boy in my life." She opened her mouth to argue, but he buried his hand between her legs and caressed her through her silk gown, finding her warmth instantly, like some kind of heat-seeking missile. She tightened her grip on him, and they both groaned. He caught her eye. "You’re not wearing any panties again." She gave a slight shake of the head and he clenched his teeth before tugging her thigh over his lap. "God, I can’t believe you’re real. I can’t believe you’re here with—" He cut off with a low grunt as he aligned them and she seated herself fully. "Jes-us."
She lifted and came back over him, squeezing him like a glove, milking him, riding him. His eyes dilated and unfocused but he kept them on her. The contact was cosmic. He wouldn’t look away, and she couldn’t. Their bodies moved together, yet their gazes stayed fused. The breath shuddered from her, and she knew she was going to explode any minute. As if sensing her release, he pressed his forehead to hers, squeezed his lashes tight and choked on a single sob as he came. She followed, wrapping her arms around his head and trapping his face in the valley between her breasts. He held her just as fiercely, occasionally jolting as a leftover orgasm caught him unaware. Feeling more shaken afterward than she had during, Olivia let go of his head to let him breathe, but he continued to hold her close, his face buried in her flesh. With trembling fingers, she brushed the hair off his forehead and glanced at the sheets on the floor to keep from thinking about how connected and close to him she felt. They hadn’t spoken one word throughout, but a full novel of feeling seemed to move between them. "I guess we didn’t save your maid any work," she said, for lack of anything better to say, because it was either that, or, Oh, my God, I love you. I love you. I love you. I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you. Cameron lifted his face and blinked, giving her the most bewildered look. For a horrified moment, she wondered if she’d blurted out the 'I love you' bit instead of the stuff about the maid. "Huh?" he said. She motioned toward the heap on the floor and reminded him of his earlier comment. "The sheets. You wanted me to sleep with you to save the sheets." He turned and stared at them a full second before cringing. "Damn, I forgot." Olivia threw back her head and laughed, looping her arms around his neck and loving him with all she had.
The next day, Olivia filled her morning with shopping. She snagged Cameron’s credit card along with his little red Mazda Miata and headed downtown. It was hard to find a good selection in such an unfamiliar city. Since she had no idea where to go, she pulled into the first mall she came across. Ten outfits and fifteen pairs of shoes later, she decided she’d found enough to tide her over for a month or so. So she started home, only to pass a scrapbook store on the way. Compelled to pull in, Olivia impulsively did so. She ended up spending more money there than she’d spent on clothes—shoes not included, of course–because she found some really awesome Las Vegas, Elvis, and Weddings stickers on the shelves and couldn’t help herself. Since she’d never scrapbooked before, she had to get a few new albums, plenty of paper, cutting tools, stamps, punches, trimmers, and pens. When she arrived back at Cameron’s, she was so eager to scrapbook she barely took the time to dump her clothing and shoes on her guest bed before hurrying toward the room where she still had Cameron’s pictures laid out. She started on their wedding shots first. Since she was in those pictures, she felt safe about cutting and pasting them into her book. Olivia had heard women talk about scrapbooking family pictures, but she’d never felt the need while living with Vivian. Why in the world would she want to preserve that part of her life with visual mementoes? So she’d never had the scrapbook fever before. Today, with Cameron’s pictures, the urge was insatiable. He had family, and she could tell there was a lot of love between them. So she experimented. It took her nearly an hour to finish her first page. She went through every idea book she’d bought until she found the perfect layout. Then she mimicked it, putting her and Cameron’s wedding pictures in the open slots. What she created had her sitting back and blinking in awe. It was perfect. And she and Cam looked like a normal, happy couple together.
Seeing the two of them arm in arm and grinning goofily at the camera caused a twinge in her stomach. She missed their time in Vegas. That night had been so perfect and fun, she could almost understand the lure alcohol had on him. Maybe she should join her husband’s drinking club. That way she could forget the fact she’d fallen for the man she’d accidentally married. ~*~ Olivia sat snuggled on the couch in the front room watching a cooking show when Cameron made it home from work. She had pulled her bottom lip in between her teeth in concentration, furiously jotting down notes, when his voice asked, "Planning another disaster?" She yelped, and the pen she was using jumped from her hand. When she whirled around, she found him grinning from the doorway where he leaned with his hands slipped loosely in his pockets. "Cameron," she gasped, uncrossing her legs and coming to her feet. "I didn’t realize you were home." He shrugged, watching the television as he drew near. "Learning anything from Emeril there?" Suddenly bashful, she answered, "I just thought since I’m going to be on my own now, I should, you know, learn how to cook." For a moment, he didn’t answer. Instead, his eyes drifted down her body. Feeling a spark of excitement at his hot gaze, she turned away and tried to concentrate on her cooking lessons, but she couldn’t get past the fact that he was just standing there, staring at her. "I like your outfit," he finally said. "Thanks. It’s new." She automatically lifted her hands and turned in a slow circle to model for him. It reminded her of the first night she’d met him and how she done this same move in her cat suit. "You like?" she asked huskily. "I bought it today with your credit card." His eyes dipped down and back up again. "I’d say it was money well spent," he murmured before pushing from the doorway and strolling toward her. Olivia laughed, even though her stomach tightened and every nerve ending running up the insides of her thighs tingled. "You might not sing the same tune once you get the bill." Instead of responding, he caught her chin in his hand and lifted her face. Confused by his odd move, Olivia’s brows wrinkled in confusion as she caught his gaze. Her mouth opened to say something, but when their eyes met, she didn’t speak. A swell of emotion passed between them. ~*~ Feeling this strange urge to start talking, to tell her about his day, his life, his hopeless pain, Cameron kept his mouth shut and just stared. He hadn’t expected that air-headed pop tart in Vegas to move him this way. Then again, he’d never expected to see her again after their one-nighter
either. Life had a funny way of turning out. He couldn’t keep her. He knew that. She was leaving soon so he should take his hands off her. It’d only be that much harder to let her go when the time came. But he didn’t want to stay away. He wanted to pull her close and cherish every last moment they had left. So he did. Lowering his face, he touched his lips to hers and closed his eyes as he drank softly from her lips. She moaned. Or maybe that was him. When he lifted his head a minute later, he was surprised to see that his simple little kiss had turned the features of her face into pure rapture. Her long lashes lifted and she looked at him as if he were her everything. Growling out a sound of need, he dipped again. This time, he wasn’t so soft or sweet. This time, he wanted her with every breath in his body. Though he wanted to race and hurry, Cameron took his time, unbuttoning each button on her new blouse with leisurely, unhurried strokes, making sure his knuckles grazed warm skin frequently. Without saying a word, Olivia reached up and pulled him back down, kissing him as he continued to undo the buttons on her shirt. "All this talk about food," he murmured, "has made me suddenly ravenous." Olivia chuckled. "Has it now?" With her face tipped up, her dewy lips slightly parted and her eyes closed, she looked like a woman in love with the man touching her. It caused a ripple of pleasure and then a jolt of fear to pass through him. He wasn’t going to try the love thing again. He hated himself for failing Sienna in the end. For not saving her. He didn’t want to go through that again. He knew he should stop. He should pull Olivia’s blouse together and explain this thing between them wasn’t going to go any further than sex. It couldn’t. But he didn’t want to stop. He wanted to bury himself inside her and forget the past. Just for a couple of hours. Wrapping his hands around her hips, he picked her up and carried her to the couch. As soon as he sat her down, he lowered himself to his knees on the carpet in front of her and pushed up her skirt. Peeling away her panties next, he stripped them down her legs and turned the the brief piece of silk into a slingshot, snapping them into the air, not even bothering to watch where they landed. Grinning, he wrapped his hands around her ankles and studied the strappy high-heeled sandals she wore. He was about to take them off when it struck him that it’d be a lot kinkier if she left them on. So, he lifted her thighs and draped them over his shoulders. "You might want to hold onto something," he advised. "I’m a pretty intense cook." And with no more warning than that, he dipped his head and plunged
his tongue inside her. Olivia jerked and cried out his name. He closed his eyes and breathed in her heady, musky scent. God, he loved tasting her. Murmuring his delight, he stroked his tongue up between her folds and boldly caressed the entire area, causing her thighs to clamp around his face. "Cam. Cam," she panted, unable to say much more than that except for a few garbled words that meant nothing to either of them. After swirling his tongue around the outer rim, he plunged unexpectedly inside her again. She arched and screamed, coming in a rush and filling his mouth with her creamy flavor. He lavished her through the orgasm and continued licking until nearly a minute after she’d settled. "Cameron," she sighed, reaching down to sift her fingers through his hair. "Hmm?" he asked and lifted his face to send her an irritated look. "Woman, can’t you see I’m taste testing the sauce here." He licked his lips and glanced at her swollen center. "God, you’re delicious." He moved as if to go back down for more. But Olivia laughed and caught his shoulders. "So, when is it time for my taste test?" she asked, reaching for his fly. He was surprised to realize he was still fully dressed and watched in amusement as she leisurely stripped him. "How do you want it?" he asked huskily, realizing how close to the edge she was making him with her soft fingers. "With you inside me, preferably." "I can manage that," he rasped and suddenly grabbed her ankles, pulling her toward him until she slid down the cushiony sofa and collided with him, her legs on either side of his hips. "In fact," he murmured, leaning over her and nudging the head of his penis against her opening. "How about I fulfill that request right now?" Without waiting for a response, he pushed his way home. She was so wet, he glided past her clenching muscles and straight up into her very core. They both moaned. "Holy Lord," he gasped, leaning forward to rest his face on her breasts. He was going to get carpet burn on his knees for this, but he so didn’t care. Plunging forward and pushing her bodily back into the couch cushions, Cameron surged and withdrew, surged and withdrew. He had a perfect rhythm going, until suddenly, he came all the way out of her. "Cameron!" she screamed in agony. "No condom," he gritted out as he clutched himself with his fist and pumped furiously, needing release before he died. "Wait," she said frantically, slipping down onto the floor in front of him. Wait? He let out a frustrated growl and wiped at the sweat beading on his forehead with his forearm.
"Let me," Olivia instructed, pushing him back onto his butt and leaning down to take him in her mouth. "Oh, God," he groaned, letting his head fall back and closing his eyes. "Livy." Her tongue stroked him as her lips continued to hug and tug. Restraining himself from exploding in her mouth just yet, he started to move, repositioning his body on the carpet until he’d twisted around and found his face back between her thighs. He licked her nether lips and groaned as her mouth jerked around him. He bit lightly in order to keep a hold of her and that caused her to ignite. As she came, she took him deeper in her mouth and he couldn’t hold back. His juices spewed out and she swallowed him whole, sucking him dry. Cameron clutched her hip and rode the waves. When she finally released him and pulled back, she let out a little laugh. "Wow," she breathed in wonder. Cameron wanted to know if she was okay. He’d never been with a swallower before. He wondered if she needed a drink or to go spit, but he was too exhausted to speak just yet, so he closed his eyes and pillowed his face on her thigh. "Mmm-hmm," he murmured and closed his eyes. He might’ve slept. He didn’t know. Or maybe he only drifted on cloud nine for a couple of seconds. But he still felt extreme relaxation when opened his eyes and glanced over to watch a moment of Emeril Live playing on the television. "If you really want to learn how to cook," he finally mumbled. "You should talk to my mother. That’s totally her forte." When Olivia didn’t answer, Cameron glanced down and was surprised to see that she’d fallen asleep, curled against him with her head nestled against the inside of his thigh. A wave of tenderness struck him and he wanted to wrap himself around her and hold her until everything in the world was perfect. But he stopped himself, even as he reached for a stray hair caught between her lips. He pulled back, untangled himself from her arms and legs and stumbled to his feet. Then he went and sought a drink, hoping to drown out the sound of his wife’s throaty cries from his memory, hoping it would keep him from feeling more toward her than he should. ~*~ The next evening, Olivia once again tried her hand at cooking. After watching two cooking shows, she felt more confident about her skills. Once again, however, she and Cam ended up ordering take-out and had sandwiches delivered from a nearby deli. Their meal had just arrived and the two of them were seated in the kitchen, unwrapping their goods, when Cameron’s cell phone rang. Cameron checked the number. "It’s Boston," he said, glancing her way. "Sorry. I should take this."
He waited until she nodded and waved him on. Then he answered. "Bos. What’s up? Did you get that bid dropped...Good, good. I think we need to…" Olivia sat there a moment, listening to him talk. Swallowing down the bite she’d been chewing, she forced her gaze away and continued eating. She didn’t want to admit how touching it was to have him act worried about taking a call at dinner. Vivian had never worried about such a thing. She never apologized and never explained herself. Cameron Banks was a hundred times the person Vivian could ever be. But soon, she had to leave Cameron too. Something had changed between them though. Their lovemaking was becoming so—just that. Lovemaking. It wasn’t merely them getting down and dirty. It was like their souls had meshed right along with their bodies. It was as if he might possibly love her as much as she loved him. The ringing of the doorbell caught both her and Cam’s attention. As she glanced at him, he mouthed, could you get that please? Distinctly uncomfortable about answering his door, Olivia merely nodded and pushed to her feet. She stressed all the way to the entrance. What if it was some woman of his, come to give him a booty call? What if—she pulled open the door and froze. It was worse. His parents. The couple standing on the other side of the threshold pulled back when they saw her. She knew exactly who they were from the pictures she’d seen of them. The pictures she was currently turning into a scrapbook. Still lacking the ability to move, Olivia stared with wide eyes. The man and woman stared back a moment before Cameron’s father smiled, a light flirtatious grin that reminded her of Cam at his best. "Well, hello there," he greeted her pleasantly. "Is Cameron around?" Olivia licked her lips and was embarrassed to discover a glob of mayonnaise on the corner of her mouth. Face heating, she slapped her hand over the spot and wiped furiously. "Uh, yeah," she answered in a muffled voice as she stepped aside to let them enter. "He’s, um, on the phone with Boston." Though both parents nodded with understanding, neither seemed concerned about going to find him. They were far more preoccupied with studying her. "We’re his parents," the man said. "I’m Chuck Banks. And this lovely vision here is my wife, Allison." He stepped toward her and cordially held out his hand. Olivia shook it and then turned to Allison Banks. Cameron’s mother smiled shyly and offered her fingers. Okay, this was surreal, Olivia decided. Meeting the in-laws. If only they knew who she was, they would in no way be so pleasant to her. She wondered if she should introduce herself at this point, but what
in the world would she say? Hi, I’m the woman that trapped your little boy into marriage. Yeah, that’d go over real well. "It’s nice to meet you," Allison said quietly, smiling at Olivia. "You’re...a friend of Cameron’s?" Olivia paused. "Uh…" How to break it to them? "No, not quite. I’m…I’m…" Hmm. From behind them, Cameron appeared. "This is Olivia," he said from the doorway. Allison and Chuck turned back together to look at Cameron. Olivia frowned at him. He’d found some alcohol somewhere, she could tell it immediately by his smile. He only gave off that pleasantly content look when he had liquor in him. And he’d only been gone a few minutes. How had he found the time to talk to Boston and drink? ~*~ Cameron jammed his hands into his pockets. He’d been hoping to hold off this little scene for a while longer. But now that Mom and Dad were here, there was no getting around it. Olivia looked as if she’d just swallowed a bowling pin. She kept glancing at him as if searching for some kind of silent command from him on what to do. He turned to his parents and announced, "She’s my wife." Olivia’s face turned bright red as Allison and Chuck both whirled back around to blink at her. "But don’t worry," Cameron went on to explain. "It won’t last long. The marriage was a mistake." Allison gasped. "Cameron," she whispered in horror, looking worriedly toward Olivia. Cameron flushed. "Sorry, Livy. You know I didn’t mean it that way. I meant, it was an accident." He glanced at his parents. "We didn’t mean to marry each other." "An accident," Allison repeated in perplexity. "But how in the world could you accidentally marry someone unless…" Then she realized. "You were drunk," Chuck finished flatly, disappointment thick in his voice. Allison pressed a hand to her mouth. When tears immediately filled her lashes, Cameron shoved his hands in his pockets and turned uneasily away. "It’s okay," he assured. "Boston’s going to work out the papers, and we’ll be annulled in no time." But Allison shook her head, still looking like she was going to fall to her knees and start weeping uncontrollably. "I thought you had recovered," she insisted. "You went to all those AA classes." "It was just one relapse," Cameron said. He could shrug off anyone else, but seeing his mother hurt by him was more than he could handle. "I haven’t—" "Don’t," Chuck snapped, glaring. "Don’t you dare lie to your mother.
I don’t care if you’re thirty or eighty. You’re still my son, and I will not let you lie to my wife." "Look, I’m not like I used to be," Cameron argued. "I promise you I’m better. Alcohol doesn’t rule my life. It doesn’t affect me like it did. I can stop. I have stopped." "Except you haven’t," Chuck cocked back. "And it obviously does rule your life since it made you marry a perfectly innocent young woman." Cameron’s jaw set. "We’re going to fix that." Allison couldn’t take it anymore. She wiped at her eyes and then hoarsely said, "Excuse me. I-I’m sorry, I have to…" She hurried from the room before finishing her sentence. Cameron cursed under his breath, slumped onto the sofa, and buried his face in his hands. ~*~ Olivia watched Cameron’s torn father glance after his departed wife and then toward his son. His eyes narrowed slightly when they settled on Cameron. Then he started to turn away as if it were too painful to look at his boy. When he caught her watching him, he paused, his gaze warming. Instinctively, she knew he didn’t blame her for any of this, and it made her feel a guilty. Yes, Cameron had been drunk that night, but she’d been the one to press their nuptials. "You’re his mistake, hmm?" Chuck murmured. Then he grinned and winked. "Well, you sure are a pretty mistake." His smile faded a little as he glanced at the empty doorway through which his wife had fled. Then he nodded quietly to Olivia and hurried after Allison, calling her name. Olivia looked at Cameron and was about to scold him for letting them down that way. But she saw the misery on every tense muscle in his body and quietly left him alone.
Olivia had been planning on slinking unnoticed up to her room and hiding until the whole family scene played itself out. But as soon as she stepped into the next parlor and started for the steps, she skidded to a stop. Cameron’s parents stood huddled together, hugging, in her path. They lifted their faces, and she knew she was trapped. Great. Here came the accusations and dirty names. But Allison Banks merely sent her a bashful smile as she stepped away from her husband and reached for Olivia’s hand. "Please excuse my behavior," she gushed. "I didn’t mean to walk out without—" "Don’t worry about it," Olivia cut in. "You don’t have to explain or apologize to me," she added hastily. She should be the one apologizing for trapping their son into an unwanted marriage. "It’s just that Cameron went through such a hard time after...after…" "After Sienna killed herself," Olivia finished bluntly. Both Allison and Chuck lifted their eyebrows, startled. "He told you about that?" Olivia frowned, not understanding why they seemed so surprised. "A little," she answered evasively. She wasn’t ready for them to know how Vivian had researched him. Looking anxious, Cameron’s mother stepped closer. "Please. What did he say?" "Just…" she shrugged, looking confused. "Just that he feels guilty about her death, like he should’ve done more." Chuck closed his eyes and cursed under his breath. His wife took his arm and squeezed comfortingly, but she continued to eye Olivia as she spoke. "Having someone close to you commit suicide affects everyone differently," she murmured quietly. Cameron’s father slipped a comforting arm around his wife’s shoulders and pulled her close. As he kissed her hair, Allison lifted her face and sent Olivia a sad smile. "I cooked." A strange pressure filled Olivia’s chest. She ached for Cameron’s mother with a sympathy that made her want to cry. A cold chill passed over
her arms, but Olivia didn’t shiver. Frowning, she realized Roger Donovan’s death had turned her meek and passive. While seeing her husband kill himself had made Vivian become more aggressive and ruthless, Olivia had shied into a shell and let her mother control her. Disgusted with her own weakness, she glanced at Cameron’s parents. They seemed nice, like the type of parents she’d always dreamed of having. She wondered if her temporary husband knew what a priceless gift he had in these two people. They loved him unconditionally. And yet he pushed them away. She’d stayed in Pasadena for twenty-four years, dreaming for a mere glimpse of such devotion from her mother. "So, where are you from, Olivia?" Chuck asked, looking determined to change the subject. "Pasadena," she answered. "California?" She nodded, and Chuck whistled. "Long way from home." She shrugged. "I don’t live there anymore. I-I’ll never go back." An uncomfortable moment of silence followed her adamant proclamation. Olivia’s face colored. She could tell they wanted to know the reason behind her strong announcement, but they were too polite to ask. Chuck cleared his throat and smiled. "Where’re you headed next?" "I…" She glanced at Cameron’s parents and went blank. "I have no idea," she confessed, struck with a moment of panic. Where was she going to go next? "Cameron said he’d help me, but…" "You have no clue, hmm?" Instead of looking appalled, Chuck looked excited. Rubbing his hands together, he said, "Well, you’re in luck, little lady. It just so happens that my business is to help other people with their business. Now, what kind of skills do you have?" The only thing Olivia could think of was that she pleased Cameron in bed. Of course, that kind of skill only led to one type of job. She didn’t particularly want to announce such an accomplishment to the man’s mother and father either. Turning a bright red, she shook her head. "I, uh, I don’t...I don’t really have any talents." Chuck’s eyebrows lifted, but he didn’t look disgusted. "So, you’re going to give me a challenge. Good." He grinned before scratching his chin and visually dissecting her. "Well then. What kind of things did you do to pass the days back in Pasadena?" Olivia swallowed. She’d shopped, sun-tanned, gotten facials and manicures, and had her hair styled. Glancing away a little guiltily, she said, "I, uh, well, since my father passed, I’ve usually been the hostess whenever my mother had clients and other guests over to the house. A few of her widowed friends would sometimes have me plan parties for them, too."
"A social coordinator?" Chuck mused. Next to him, Allison brightened. "Oh, do you think you could help me?" Reaching both hands for Olivia, she said, "I’m supposed to prepare a party for a gathering of twelve. Chuck’s having some clients from Texas up, and I’m completely lost." "My own social coordinator retired recently," her husband put in. "Allison’s stepped in for him, but she doesn’t like the job much." Olivia relaxed. If there was one thing she knew, it was how to plan a party. "Of course I could help, though I don’t know any of the caterers or musicians in this area. I’ll have to study the nearby—" "Don’t worry about looking for a caterer," Chuck cut in. "We always use Southern Delights." Then he winked at her. "I’m sleeping with the main chef so I’ve got connections." Olivia paused. She couldn’t believe Cameron’s father would announce something like that so openly. Her parents had never been faithful to each other, but they’d never come right out and aired it quite like this. Before she could think up a proper response, she noticed how brilliant rosy red Allison Banks was turning. "Chuck," she whispered, scandalized, and ducked her head. Finally, it struck Olivia. Allison was the master chef at Southern Delights. Cameron’s father chuckled and threw an arm around his wife’s waist. Pulling her close, he grinned at Olivia. "One of these days she’d going to realize I only say that kind of thing in order to see her beautiful blush, and she’s just going to haul off and hit me." "Please excuse my husband," Allison murmured, unable to meet Olivia’s eyes. "He’s…" "Just like his son," Olivia finished dryly. "Oh, dear," Allison said. "I can only imagine what kind of wicked things Cameron’s said and done." "Yep," Chuck said, looking satisfied. "That’s my boy." ~*~ As Cameron’s parents bid their farewell an hour later, his father paused to take Olivia’s hands, looking deep into her eyes as if asking for her help. "You make sure that son of mine takes care of you," he said, but what she suspected he meant was, Take care of my son. Please. Then he smiled at her proudly, just as she’d always wanted her own father to look at her, and hugged her goodbye. The house seemed quiet after their absence, and Olivia felt alone. Going to the window, she watched their car turn from the drive and disappear down the street. "Are they gone?" Cameron’s voice came from behind her. She spun around. "You’re drunk!" she gasped, unable to believe her
eyes. He’d untucked his dress shirt and limply held a bottle down at his side. He cocked an amused brow. "You’re surprised?" "But…" Frowning, she set her hands on her hips. "You just watched your mother cry because of this," she spat out, pointing at the liquor he held. "So you decided to run off and drink? How much more do you want to break her heart?" He flinched but it was quickly covered by a glower. "Maybe you shouldn’t get involved in something that’s none of your business, Blondie." Resting his back against the doorframe, he boldly—almost challengingly—lifted the bottle to his lips. Olivia watched him guzzle, her gaze caught by the way the amber liquid glinted against the light as it swished inside its glass container. "I like your parents," she said quietly. He swallowed and let out a refreshed sigh. Closing his eyes, he answered, "What’s not to like?" "They’re incredibly nice." "The best," he agreed. She frowned. "So, why are you so intent on hurting them?" Face darkening, Cameron sent her a dirty look. "I don’t want to hurt them," he snapped. Then on a tired sigh, he whispered, "I just do. I hurt everything that gets too close." Her anger dissolved. "Cameron," she croaked and took a step toward him. "You did not hurt Sienna. She—" He lifted one finger of the hand that clutched his liquor. "Don’t say her name to me." Olivia froze mid-step, too hurt to move, to even breathe. That his wife still had such a grip on him told her exactly where she ranked. As the pretty little mistake he planned to rid himself of as soon as possible. Gritting her teeth when he cursed under his breath and started to take another drink, she decided to get mad instead of sad. Marching forward, she ripped the bottle from his hand, spilling a couple of drops on him in the process. "Hey," he said. "That’s it," she growled. "No more." Bottle in hand, she strode from the room and went straight to the kitchen. As she proceeded to pour the contents down the drain, she heard him enter the room behind her. "You take away my liquor, you better have something else in mind to occupy my time," he commented in a lazy drawl, not sounding upset at all by what she was doing. He no doubt had more stashed somewhere in the house. "I’m not sleeping with you to take your mind off drinking," she said stiffly. She needed to stop sleeping with him period. They were trying to get an annulment here. An active sexual relationship wasn’t usually part of the
annulment process. But the hand that cupped her butt and squeezed gently as he came up behind her seemed to disagree. "You sure about that?" he murmured in her ear. Then he licked the side of her neck. Olivia willed herself not to react. "Has your lawyer cousin gotten started on those papers yet?" Cameron stilled. "I told you, he’s swamped with work right now. But he’ll get to it." He wrapped his hand around her waist and pulled her snug against his erection. "Now come, my pretty little mistake. Let me appreciate you while I still can." She turned in his arms. He looked so handsome and sad, her heart broke. Suddenly, she wanted to save this man. She wanted to mend the rift forming between him and his family and she wanted him to love her. But there was only pain in getting involved with a guy loaded down by this much baggage. "Not tonight," she said softly and brushed past him, hurrying to escape before he did something sweet to coax her back in. He grasped her elbow. "Livy." His voice sounded rusty, as if he hadn’t used it for days. She looked up and immediately wished she hadn’t. His green eyes held all the sorrow in the world. "Thank you for taking the bottle away," he said, letting go of her arm. Before she could reach for him, he took a step in reverse. Then, cutting their eye contact, he turned on his heel and strode from the room. ~*~ Olivia hummed to herself as she picked up a pair of scissors to crop the picture of Cameron graduating from high school. She’d convinced herself she wasn’t going to think about last night and how she’d slept in her own bed for the first time since coming to live with Cameron. She wasn’t going to think about the pain in his parents’ eyes as they stared at their son with worry. She wasn’t going to think about how he’d been so resolute when he’d announced their marriage was a ruse and would be quickly terminated. She paused in her cutting and stared down at the scrapbook page she was creating. It centered on Cameron. Lately, her entire life revolved around him. Frowning, she set the scissors down. If they were going to get an annulment, she shouldn’t rely on him for everything. She needed to stop sleeping with him and find herself a job. And she really ought to quit making him a scrapbook. The phone rang; Olivia answered it without thinking. "Olivia," a woman’s voice said. "I’m so glad I caught you."
She frowned, surprised someone was actually calling her. No one even knew she was here. "I’m sorry, who is this?" "Oh, whoops. This is Allison. Allison Banks, Cameron’s mother." Olivia paused. What in the world was his mom doing, calling her? "Hello, Mrs. Banks," she said cautiously. "What can I do for you?" "Please. Call me, Allison. " "O-Okay. Is, uh, is there something I can do for you? Cameron’s not home right now, but I could call him at—" "Actually, I want to talk to you," Allison answered. "If you’re not too busy sometime, I’d love to get together with you and toss around a few ideas about how to plan this party for Chuck’s company." "Oh!" Olivia said in surprise. "Well, of course. I’d be delighted to help." "Really? You would?" Cameron’s mother sounded so pleasantly surprised Olivia had to grin. How could such a sweet, passive woman raise such an ornery, outgoing son? "Sure. I’ve been hosting get-togethers for my mother since I was fifteen. It’d be nice to do something familiar again." "That’s great," Allison said. "When would be a good time for you?" Olivia nearly laughed. As if her schedule were so crowded. "Any time, really." "I hope I’m not being too forward then. But are you busy now?" "No, of course not." Right. Like what would make her busy? "Do you think you could come over here?" Allison asked next. "I have napkin samples and magazines full of ides spread out everywhere. I could probably pack them up and bring them over there if that’s more convenient for you—" "I don’t mind coming over," Olivia cut in. Cameron’s mother was definitely a people pleaser. She sounded so apologetic, worried that she was honestly bothering Olivia that Olivia had this strange urge just to give the woman a soothing hug. "Oh, good. Let me give you the address," Allison answered. ~*~ "It’s official," Boston announced as he strolled into Cameron’s office. "What’s that?" Cameron asked, glancing up from the computer screen where he’d been browsing developmental sites for sale. Since he’d had Boston drop the Shaney bid the week before, their workflow had been pretty dead. They’d yet to find another business venture to pursue. "Helbrock won the Shaney bid this morning," Boston said, settling into the chair across from Cameron. "Your mother-in-law is now the owner of a three-point-two million dollar shoe factory that’s going out of business." Cameron felt a spark of satisfaction. It served the bitch right for tormenting Olivia. "I wonder if she’s even aware Shaney’s so bad off," he
murmured to himself. "I doubt it," Boston said, yawning as he stretched. "She barely did any research before she started throwing around her offer. Probably doesn’t even know we planned on closing the place and shipping its equipment to McFarland and Sons." "Hmm," Cameron said thoughtfully. "Well, she’ll get what’s coming to her then. The woman should’ve treated her daughter better." Boston lifted an eyebrow and stacked his hand behind his head as he fixed Cameron with a knowing look. "How is the wife?" he asked, smiling slightly. Cameron frowned, not amused by the teasing glint in his friend’s eyes. "She keeps asking about you," he lied, "wondering when you’re going to come back around and look at her naked again." Boston flushed bright red. He flipped Cameron the bird and called him a dirty name. Cameron only laughed and then let out a long sigh. "She’s fine. Asked me about those annulment papers last night, though." Boston shrugged and glanced around as if looking for something better to do. "Well, I can get started on them. Anytime you want." But Cameron went cold inside. Not yet, something in him screamed. Looking nonchalant for his cousin’s benefit, however, he gave his own shrug. "She can wait." Then he grinned. "It’s kind of fun putting it off. I think it’s starting to get under her skin." "Keeps her in your bed a while longer too, doesn’t it?" Boston guessed. Cameron frowned slightly. He hadn’t gotten her into his bed last night. Instead she’d gone to her own room. He’d been forced to wait until nearly midnight before stealing into her bed and settling himself next to her. He’d tried to sleep alone in his room, but it hadn’t worked. He missed listening to her breathing next to him, occasionally hearing a little sigh as she slipped further into sweet dreams. In the morning, he’d wakened early and escaped before she noticed the added company. Before she realized he was getting a little too dependent on her. Pushing those thoughts from his brain, he got to his feet and stretched, letting out a loud yawn. "Let’s go shoot some pool down at the bar," he suggested, hoping that might ease some of the restlessness swirling inside him. Boston cocked an amused look his way. "Again?" Cameron frowned. "Why not? You got anything else to do around here today?" His friend let out an indulging sigh. "I guess not." He unfolded himself from his seat. "All right, Banks. Let’s go play pool."
Excited as she pulled Cameron’s Miata out of Allison and Chuck’s driveway, Olivia couldn’t contain her grin. She felt revved after spending three hours with his mother, going over place settings and decorations. She’d made similar plans for Vivian and her mother’s stuffy friends before, but she’d always kept it low-key and formal. Allison had been open to new ideas, and she’d listened to every suggestion Olivia gave as if Olivia were some kind of professional. It made her heart sing. Olivia sighed, so proud of herself she wondered if she might burst open. Chuck Banks liked big, splashy affairs, so Olivia had gone to town, designing the brightest and most extravagant party she’d ever thought up. What was even better, Cameron’s mother loved her ideas. Still giddy about the headway they’d made, Olivia didn’t drive straight home, but detoured toward Cameron’s office. He’d explained to her where he worked, but she had yet to visit him. Today seemed like a good day to drop by. She wanted to share her happiness with someone and tell him her good news. If Chuck liked how smoothly this party went, he said he’d think about hiring her full time as the new social coordinator of Banks Corporation. Olivia liked the title. She was starting to think that by the time the annulment went through, she’d be ready and able to make it on her own. She knew Cameron was busy with his work, but she didn’t plan on bugging him for long. She wasn’t even sure why she was so excited about seeing him. But she’d had this spur-of-the-moment urge and now she couldn’t wait to share her day. But when she stepped inside the cool interior of EarnNet and stopped to speak with the receptionist, she was startled to learn Cam wasn’t even around. ~*~ Cameron perched his hip against a small table and watched Boston arrange the pool balls into a battered triangle.
"Is it your turn to break or mine?" Boston asked. He knew full well it was Cameron’s. The loser of the previous game always started the next game, and his dear cousin never forgot anything. He just wanted to hear Cam admit he’d lost yesterday. Cameron took a sip of his cola, wishing the bartender had accidentally slipped in a dash of bourbon. "I think it’s yours." Boston laughed. "Yeah, whatever." He handed a cue stick to Cameron. "You know you lost yesterday." "Okay, fine," Cameron grumbled as he hefted the stick and leaned over the table. "If you want to remember it wrong, then far be it for me to correct your faulty brain." He broke, and the balls cracked against each other, spreading across the green felt as they rolled madly to escape each other. When nothing dropped into a pocket, Cameron obligingly offered the stick to Boston. His cousin promptly sank three before missing. During Cameron’s second turn, the woman walked in. He didn’t spot her but the other guys around the smoke-filled joint definitely did, wolf-whistling and ogling the entrance. Cameron hovered over the table and aimed. He didn’t bother to glance over, but Boston did. Cameron saw his cousin’s eyes widen. "Uh, Cam," he said in a strange voice. Cameron hit the cue ball, straightened, and glanced over just as Olivia caught sight of him. As their gazes connected, something passed through him and made every nerve in his body shudder. God, she looked good. It took him a moment to realize she was pissed. He swallowed briefly, a sinking feeling landing hard in his gut. For some reason, he knew things were about to get ugly. But he smiled anyway and said, "Hey, baby. Want a drink?" Her eyes flashed to his glass and she picked it up to take a sniff. When she was satisfied it wasn’t alcoholic, her glower settled a little. She set his cup down. "What’re you doing here?" Cameron glanced toward Boston. "We’re playing pool," he answered. "What’re you doing here?" "I went to see you at work," Olivia said. Cameron grinned. "Really? A nice, wifely visit, huh? Was I going to get a nooner?" Olivia glared. "Not hardly." She crossed her arms over her chest. "I was...I was…" Her face turned a bright red in embarrassment, making Cameron think maybe she had been coming to give him a nooner. Well, hot damn. Now he felt bad about being away. Tightening the arms she still held over her chest, she turned from Cameron and watched Boston aim and hit his cue ball, pocket it, and then look around at what he wanted to aim at next. Her gaze slid to Cameron.
"So, it’s real busy at work, huh?" she demanded. "No time for you and your lawyer to work on annulment papers. Isn’t that what you said last night?" "Hey, everyone needs a break every now and then," Cameron answered. "Oh, really?" Olivia set her hands on her hips. "That’s funny. Your receptionist said you’d been gone for almost three hours. And this was the third time this week you guys have come down here to ‘take a break’." His smile faltered. "Okay, so I lied. We’re pretty much dead at work. Our last venture recently fell through." Thanks to her mother. Olivia’s mouth dropped open. "You lied?" she repeated as if she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. "Well…" He shrugged and sent her a pretty-boy smile. "Yeah." "You lied!? You lousy son of a bitch. What about my annulment papers? I want an annulment!" Boston totally missed the cue ball he was trying to hit, and everyone in the place stopped what they were doing to turn their way. "Yo, lady," some idiot actually called. "If you’re going to be single, you can go out with me." Olivia told him very rudely where he could shove it. Cameron sent her a frown. "Hey now. Old Mack over there’s a decent fellow. You might want to take him up on his offer. You’d probably have a lot of fun on a date with him." Olivia stared at Cameron. "Have you even started the papers?" He squinted his eyes as if he was thinking about it, then straightened, and shook his head. "Nope." Olivia stomped her foot. "Why the hell not?" "Well, probably because I don’t really feel like it right now. I’d rather play pool." He glanced at her as he bent over the cue ball to aim. "If you’re so hot and fired for an annulment," he added, squinting one eye on the ball. "Get your own damn lawyer. I sure as hell won’t try to stop you." He hit the ball, totally missing his target, and glanced Olivia’s way. She looked like she wanted to let loose with a shrill scream, but she must’ve been so mad, she couldn’t even manage that. She merely turned and stomped from the building. He watched her leave before he glanced over at Boston. "Want to finish this tomorrow?" Boston shook his head and laughed like he didn’t know why Cameron was even asking. "Just go." Cameron tossed his stick onto the pool table and hurried after his wife. He caught her by his Miata. "Hey, could you give me a lift home? I think I’ll knock off for the rest of the afternoon." Olivia completely ignored him and threw herself into the driver’s seat. Cameron opened the passenger door. He barely shut it before she
gunned the engine and took off. Cameron sucked in a quiet breath and refrained from latching onto something for support as they neared a tight curve. "So…" he started nonchalantly. "Nice weather, we’re having today. Bright and sunny. Not a cloud in the sky." Remembering their first morning in Vegas, Cameron watched Olivia ignore him as she sped even faster. He gnashed his teeth and stared out the side window so he couldn’t see how recklessly she drove. He tried talking to her some more, but she completely ignored him. His humorous monologue should’ve had her cracking up with laughter, but she merely stared stonily ahead. Cameron started to grow frantic. Why was she so mad at him, anyway? Who cared if he’d been playing pool? Who cared if he hadn’t gotten started on the annulment yet? Why was she suddenly in a rush? Was he such an awful roommate? As she veered around a corner, the tires broke loose and squealed. Cameron grabbed hold of the dash for dear life. "Holy—" he started to swear and then glanced over at her irritably. "Why are you so eager about this annulment anyway?" he muttered, finally getting to the meat of the problem. "It’s not like you have somewhere more important to go." He realized he’d just said the wrong thing a split second after the words left his mouth. "Actually, I was coming to tell you about the job I started today," she hissed. "I even got paid. Real money." The breath whooshed from his lungs. Oh God. She was leaving? "Really? That’s great," he said, after clearing his throat. "Uh, where is it? What’ll you be doing?" She screeched to a stop in their drive, hurled herself out of the seat and slammed the door, stomping toward the house. "Okay, then," Cam said to himself, since there was no one else around to address. He opened the passenger side just in time to hear her slam the door into the house as well. Cameron blew out a breath. Slowly, he exited the car and loped to the entrance. He could hear her stomping up the stairs and slamming more doors as he eased carefully inside. She went straight to her room, the one she’d stayed in only one night so far. He knew this wasn’t the best time to mess with her, but he didn’t have anything else to do, so he strolled up the stairs. The sound of glass breaking in the bathroom followed by a cry of pain caused him to pause. "Livy?" He rushed forward. When he reached the opened doorway to the private bath, the breath whooshed from his lungs. He came to a dead stop. It was like stepping ten years into the past. As fresh as if it were yesterday, the vision hit him suddenly of Sienna lifting her face with guilty
triumph and flipping over her wrists to show him her knife work. He’d nearly fallen to his knees when he’d seen the blood. "Oh, God, Sienna. What have you done?" "Just let me go," she said weakly as she glanced down awe-struck by the red stream pumping from her veins. He grit his teeth, not even aware tears were flowing down his cheeks. "No." His voice was hoarse as he flew to her side. "No!" But he didn’t use such dramatics with Olivia. It only took a moment to take in the situation. The wall mirror was shattered and pills from an opened container had been spilled out and were scattered among broken glass. Cameron lifted accusing eyes. She held a large chunk of mirror in her shaking hand; it dripped with red ooze. Blood squirted from her wrist. Her face went sheet white as she looked up with wide, scared eyes. Oh, God. Not again. Without saying a word, he grimly marched into the bathroom and went to work. Snatching a white hand towel, he pressed it against the wound on her wrist, mummifying her entire arm as he wrapped her. When blood instantly soaked through the terrycloth, Olivia let out a gasp, and her knees gave way. Cameron cursed and caught her before she hit the floor. She grabbed his shirt and held on for dear life. He took her free hand, manually setting it over the wound. "Hold this," he said. "Press it tight." Olivia followed his directions but looked away as she did, tucking her face against his chest as if seeking comfort. Not wasting a second, he scooped her up into his arms and carried her downstairs and out to his car. Refusing to feel anything, Cam set her in the passenger seat and buckled her in. Other than his two gruff instructions, he didn’t speak to her. He merely drove fast all the way to the hospital. Looking too scared and pale to talk either, Olivia held her hand over the towel, trembling, and refused to look at all the blood. Cameron glanced over once to see the sticky, red wetness seeping between her fingers. He pressed his foot harder on the gas. All the while, he shook his head and gnashed his teeth. Explosive words bubbled to the surface, but he kept swallowing them back down. This woman wasn’t his problem. He wasn’t going to waste any time lecturing her. It didn’t involve him. He kept repeating that to himself even as the anger turned to panic, and he felt like crying for the fate that had been handed to him. Why? Why had she done it? ~*~ Olivia felt like a complete nimrod. She’d never been so foolish and
asinine in her entire life. She was just lucky Cameron had been there to keep a level head and get her to a hospital. Like a knight in shining armor, he’d swept into the bathroom and taken control of the situation. And now she was sitting in an emergency room, waiting for someone to come back and release her. Eight stitches had patched her wrist back together. Glancing down at the gauzy square bandage, she shuddered. It was amazing that such a tiny suture held together what had seemed like a huge gaping hole only an hour ago. Just thinking about all the gore that had come out of that hole made her woozy all over again. She reached out a hand to brace herself against the wall just as a nurse walked in. "Whoa. You okay there?" The nurse caught her shoulder. "I’m good," Olivia murmured. Considering. "Well, don’t try to stand up so fast. You haven’t quite got your land legs back yet." She hadn’t been trying to stand, but Olivia didn’t mention that. Slowly, she eased off the cot, hating the sound of the sterile padding crinkling under her as she stood. She’d never been a fan of hospitals. They reminded her of death and sickness, and thinking of death always brought up a picture of her father slumped in a bloody pile on the floor. She winced and swallowed down more nausea. "So…" The nurse asked curiously, glancing down at Olivia’s bandaged arm. "How in the world did this happen?" Olivia nearly groaned. What could she say? Well, you see, I was throwing a fit because the man I want to stay married to refuses to give me the annulment I’ve been demanding. So, I was slamming doors and flinging shoes left and right. When I shut the medicine cabinet too hard, glass went flying and voilà... "The mirrored cabinet door in my bathroom broke when I was closing it." "Hmm." The woman’s stare was dry. "Fragile door," she finally answered. Olivia groaned. "Okay, okay," she gave in. "I was being a drama queen after having this fight—" if the event could even be considered a fight—"with my husband. I went to the bathroom to get an aspirin, because by this point, I had a raging headache." "Uh huh," the nurse said, urging her on and nodding because she obviously knew about men-induced headaches. "So I snatched out the bottle and opened the cap, but when I tried to lift the handful of pills to my mouth, my arm bumped into the still open cabinet door, and I spilled all the aspirin down the drain." Olivia let out a sigh of relief, glad that moment of frustrated anger had passed. "So you glared at the door for causing you to spill all your drugs and slammed it shut," the nurse continued for her, able to summarize Olivia’s
tale. "Causing it to shatter into a million pieces and take a nice chuck out of your arm." Olivia’s shoulders slumped. "Exactly." The nurse treated her to a sympathetic smile. "Bummer." "I never did get that aspirin either," Olivia complained as she pressed a palm to her aching forehead. "Well, I’ve got good news," the nurse smiled and handed her a slip of paper. "The doctor wrote out a prescription for some nice, hefty pain killers." "Oh, thank God." Olivia snagged the sheet from her hand. "And you’ve been released. So, you’re free to go." ~*~ Cameron sat in the waiting room. He probably would’ve been pacing with worry—if he hadn’t been so steeped in the past. But horrors from another lifetime consumed him, so he sat as still as a statue, thinking of his first wife. They had been married four months the first time Sienna tried to commit suicide. Well, that was the first time she tried since Cameron had come into her life. He hadn’t been expecting it, and he hadn’t been prepared. The fight had been about nothing really. They were always coming to a confrontation over the stupidest things. This time it had been about arranging the living room. They’d bought a new television, and Cameron wanted to move something to better fit it into its spot. But his new wife didn’t like change. He hadn’t even raised his voice as he disagreed with her and told her why he thought the placement should be the way he suggested. But she started crying anyway, making him immediately apologize. In return, she ran to their room and locked herself inside. The next afternoon, she took too many of her prescription pills for depression and started to convulse. When Cameron came home for work to find her passed out on the bedroom floor, he freaked. He had the presence of mind to call an ambulance, but that was about it. They took her away and pumped her stomach. Afterward, a psychologist came in and did an evaluation. He decided Sienna wasn’t stable enough to be in society, and within hours she was sent to a mental institution for three weeks’ evaluation. Cameron visited her daily and told her how sorry he was about the fight. He’d never let it happen again. He’d change; she’d see. But the stress of having to constantly be so accommodating, to always be on the ball and smiling for her, wore on him. After they’d been married six months, Sienna must’ve realized what she was doing to her new husband. Spring break came and, happy to ditch classes and college for a while, Cameron took her away. They went to the Bahamas and basked in the sun for a week. But Sienna noticed he didn’t try so hard to make her laugh anymore because she mentioned it to him and told him it was okay. He knew
it wasn’t but didn’t argue. She told him he could leave her. He rejected her idea, of course, and worked extra hard not to let any of his exhausted frustrations show. He didn’t say anything to get them into a fight, and he was constantly nice. Sometimes, all he could do was hold her in his arms and stroke her hair, telling her he loved her. But she caught him sneaking some of her sleeping pills. When she asked if he was having trouble sleeping, he tried to shrug it off, assuring her he was fine. But she must’ve known better. He couldn’t do this much longer. He couldn’t smile all the time. So Sienna took matters into her own hands. She slit her wrists. Again, Cameron found her and carried her to the hospital where they stitched her up. This time, she stayed in a mental institution for six weeks. He went to see her as she lay strapped to her bed. Crying over her, he asked, "What did I do? What did I do wrong this time?" She merely looked up at him with dull, lifeless. "You’re trying too hard." Cameron felt about as helpless as he’d ever felt in his entire life. When Sienna came back after that, things were different. In the beginning, he’d been fresh and ready to make her laugh and pull her from the depths of her sadness. Now, he walked on eggshells, trying to act normal but failing pathetically. One night, after Cameron attempted to make love to her, but Sienna said she wasn’t in the mood, so he lay beside her in the dark and rubbed her back. "You’d be happier without me," Sienna murmured after a time. He was quiet for a moment before answering. "I don’t think so." But Sienna insisted, "You would be." From then on, it was a lost cause. Everything Cameron did to make Sienna smile was a hopeless endeavor. She’d just look at him as if she couldn’t understand why he bothered. The third and final time Sienna tried to kill herself, she finally succeeded. Making certain she wouldn’t fail, she first doped herself up on so much medicine, she probably didn’t even feel phase two, which consisted of hacking out parts of her wrists in chunks. Cameron found her while she was sawing away on her second arm. He cried out and ran into the bathroom, jerking the blade from her hand to throw it against the wall. He had to repaint three times to get out that stain. Sienna was already so weak, she merely melted against him. Cameron caught her and lifted her into his arms. He drove her to the hospital and carried her into the emergency room, both of them drenched in her blood. As nurses and doctors came hurrying over, he looked down at his wife’s face. She looked bad. She looked dead. "Why are you doing this?" he sobbed. Sienna’s eyes flittered open. "It…needs…to stop."
She tried to lift her hand toward his face, but she only got her bloody wrist lifted a few inches before she passed out. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head, and about four people helped Cameron lay her onto a stretcher. She was unconscious the last moment he saw her, her eyes open but lifeless. Cameron sat in the waiting room and didn’t bother to call anyone. They’d only get mad at him for running off and marrying a crazy woman. He worried about how long she was going to get stuck in an institution this time. Attempted suicide three times in one year did not look good. He hoped they wouldn’t try to put her away forever. He didn’t want his wife locked away in a nut house. When the doctor eventually approached him, he got to his feet, expecting the usual. She’s mentally unstable. We’re going to have to keep her for observation, and she’s going to be taken up to the top floor where the crazy people are kept. But the doctor said none of that. "I’m sorry, son," he choked out. "We lost her." Cameron frowned in confusion. "You what?" They’d lost her, as in, they didn’t know what room they’d stuck her in, right? Then he wondered how in the world they could misplace Sienna. She would’ve been way too weak to go anywhere on her own. But the doctor’s eyes filled with sympathy. "Your wife’s dead, Mr. Banks." Cameron blinked and licked his lips. "Mr. Banks?" Cameron jerked back to the present and flew to his feet to stare bleakly at the doctor who’d worked on Olivia. God, Olivia. Not Olivia. He thought she was different. He thought—he never would’ve guessed Olivia of all people would try to do this. Holding his breath, Cameron waited for the news. Was she dead or were they just taking her to the mental ward? God, he needed a drink. He couldn’t imagine a vivacious spitfire like Livy being dead. Not Livy. He didn’t know what he’d do if something happened to Livy. Everything with her had been so different than it’d been with Sienna. It’d been better. "Your wife is checking out at the desk if you want to meet her there, Mr. Banks," the doctor informed him. Cameron stopped. He realized he’d been holding his breath and suddenly sucked in air. It only made him feel woozier. "She’s alive?" he gasped. The doctor frowned and eyed him strangely. "Of course, she’s alive. I admit she lost enough blood to warrant a transfusion, but you got her here
in plenty of time to prevent anything serious from happening." Slumping back into the chair he’d been sitting on, Cam cradled his head in his hands and blew out a relieved breath. The intensity of it nearly made him pass out. He sat for a moment and concentrated on breathing. She was alive. She was apparently okay. And no one in a white coat was coming to take her away. He didn’t understand, but he certainly wasn’t going to question it. Olivia was okay. For now, that’s all that mattered. Blowing out a breath, Cameron pushed to his feet and gritted his teeth. He was more than grateful she was okay, but a new fear lodged itself in his abdomen as he moved toward the check out. He’d married another suicide junkie. If he didn’t do something, it was going to be Sienna all over again. But for some reason, Cam knew it’d be more devastating to lose wife number two. "I’m not going to do this again," he said quietly, staring down at his shaking hands. "I can’t. Damn it. I won’t."
Cameron was strangely quiet as he drove home. In the passenger seat, Olivia snuck quick glances his way. He ignored her, staring bleakly straight ahead. She wasn’t sure what was going on with him. It wasn’t normal for him to be this mute. His silence was almost scary in fact, because he was usually so open with what was on his mind. Olivia realized she didn’t like not knowing what he was thinking. Sensitive to his mood, she clamped her own mouth shut and closed her eyes, resting her face against the passenger side window. When they reached the house, he came around to her side as if to help her from the car, though Olivia had already opened the door and slid out. He paused when he saw her taking care of herself. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he turned his back to her and started for the house. When she reached the entrance, he was on the phone. Olivia had no idea who he was talking to; his voice was muted too low to hear. Slowly, she started for the sofa, wincing with each step she took. She was just settling herself into the plush cushions when he hung up. Cameron ignored her and picked up the remote control to the television. He turned it on and commenced to pace behind the divan as he stared fixedly at the screen. Trying to watch him made her dizzy, so Olivia gave up and closed her eyes. ~*~ Something was wrong. "Get over here now," Cam growled in Boston’s ear. "And bring your briefcase." Boston wasn’t sure what had happened, but he hurried out the door as soon as his cousin disconnected. Once he reached Cam’s place, he let himself inside the front door without knocking and found both Olivia and Cameron in the front room. A relieved breath deflated from his lungs. By the tone in Cam’s voice, he’d been so sure she’d left him. But there she sat slumped on the couch with Cam pacing behind her,
his hands on his hips. He sent Boston a dirty look as if to say, What took you so damn long? "What happened?" Boston asked, coming to a stop when he saw Olivia’s pale face and bandaged wrist Cameron merely growled, "Start the annulment papers. Right now." Boston paused. He glanced at Olivia in confusion. She looked about as shocked as he felt as she twisted around to gape up at Cameron with her mouth falling open. Boston shook his head as not to question anything. Setting his briefcase on an end table, he opened the lid and cleared his throat. "Um, okay. What terms do you want?" Cameron snorted bitterly. "I don’t give a rat’s ass. Give her whatever she wants. Just get her the fuck out of my house." Boston looked up at his friend’s words. He glanced toward Olivia again. But she still looked confused, except now there was a load of hurt filling her features. Boston let out a sigh and set down his papers. "What happened?" Cameron sneered. "I’ll tell you what happened." He jabbed his finger toward Olivia. "Little Miss Spoiled Princess here didn’t get her way and couldn’t have the speedy annulment she wanted, so she came home and tried to slice her wrist open with a broken piece of glass." "What!" Boston and Olivia gasped together. Boston looked at her, and she turned to stare at him as if she assumed he was behind her husband’s announcement. He could only shrug and shake his head. She swiveled back to Cameron. "What in the world are you talking about?" Cam finally gave her his attention, cutting his eyes toward her with a killer glare. "If you want to overdose on pills, cut open your wrists—do whatever to try to commit suicide—I don’t care. Just don’t ever do it on my time again." Olivia got to her feet, staring at him as if she wanted to slug him, which Boston had to guess she really did. "For your information," she snarled, straightening her shoulders righteously and lifting her chin. "I wasn’t trying to commit suicide. I was getting some aspirin because you were giving me a headache. When I slammed the medicine cabinet because you had pissed me off, the mirror shattered. Okay? And a piece of glass landed in my arm." She shivered as she spoke the last bit and covered the bandage with her hand. "I don’t believe you," Cameron said, though he looked less angry. "When I walked into that bathroom, you had the glass in your hand." "Because I’d just pulled it out, bonehead!" Olivia snapped. "Suicide is for weak, stupid people that don’t care about anyone but themselves. Besides, if I had really wanted to die today, I certainly wouldn’t have cut my wrists because I can’t stand the sight of blood. And I wouldn’t have
overdosed because it takes too long and usually doesn’t work anyway. I’d have just stuck a gun in my mouth and pulled the trigger. Like my father did." Turning on her heel, she stormed from the room. Cameron looked devastated as he stared after her. "Think she’s telling the truth?" Boston asked a second later. His buddy looked miserable. "Probably." He slid into a chair and groaned out a curse. Boston sighed. "Did you know that about her dad?" Cameron glanced up, his eyes rimmed with red. "No." Boston snapped his briefcase closed and picked it up. He sent Cam a sympathetic smile. "We’ll do this later," he murmured and walked out. ~*~ Cameron ran his hands through his hair and closed his eyes as he let his head fall back against the cushions of the chair. "Bombed that one," he muttered aloud. Shame filled him as he recalled all the accusations he’d slung Olivia’s way. He couldn’t believe himself. He’d never met anyone less likely to hurt herself than Olivia. There was no way she’d attempt suicide. What had he been thinking? He hadn’t. That was the problem. He’d stepped into the bathroom, and the past had swamped him. It felt like Sienna all over again, so he assumed the worst. His first wife had poisoned him. She’d clogged his mind, and now, all he could think of people was how mentally unstable they were and how much they could take before tipping themselves over the edge. He’d never wondered such things before Sienna had entered his life. Cameron knew he should go apologize. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He was too ashamed. And what was all that stuff about her father? Had Olivia’s dad done himself in? It surprised Cameron he had that kind of past in common with her. Not many people had such close connections with suicide victims. Her father and his first wife. That fact seemed to bind them together in such a way he was left shaken by the knowledge. He suddenly saw her in a different light. The blonde cupcake he’d first met, who had seemed like nothing more than a spoiled little princess, now had a past. A dark, depressing past. She hadn’t been pampered her whole life by two adoring parents who gave her whatever she demanded. No, she’d ended up with Vivian the bitch for a mother and a father that had to have been at least a little like Sienna. Cameron shivered. Needing relief from the thoughts racing through his head, he staggered to his feet and made his way to the bookshelves lining the wall. Pushing aside the largest volume of books, he reached between the two and extracted a bottle. Damn, he craved that first biting swallow.
But instead of opening it, he closed his eyes and cursed under his breath. Just as he carried the alcohol to bathroom and poured the entire contents down the toilet, the doorbell rang. It was probably Boston. Kincaid was no doubt worried how things were going. He was annoyingly thoughtful that way. It’d been especially irritating right after Sienna had died, when Cam had wanted to be left alone the most. Yet, Boston stuck by his side through it all. "Look, your concern is touching, Kincaid," Cameron muttered, yanking open the door. "But—" His words died in his throat as he found himself face to face with Vivian Helbrock-Donovan-Roark. He blinked to clear his vision. Vivian’s face filled with hatred, and her lip curled into a sneer. "I’ve come for my daughter," she stated in a stony, serious voice. For some reason, a bolt of panic roared through Cameron. No! He didn’t want anyone to take Livy. He needed her. But then reality returned, and he realized Olivia wouldn’t go anywhere with her mother. Relaxing, he sent Vivian a sympathetic look. "Sorry, honey. But you can’t have her." "Look, you unethical little prick. You might have screwed me in that underhanded business dealing but—" "Screwed you?" Cameron broke in incredulously. "I merely backed off my bid when I discovered my mother-in-law was the competition." "—but you can’t have my daughter. I want her back. Now. And you were not thinking any such thing. You knew what would happen to me if I won that bid, you cocksucker. It’ll take me five years to regain all the capital I lost." "Then maybe you shouldn’t have tried to undercut me," Cameron murmured, folding his arms over his chest and giving Vivian a steely look. Man, but he’d love to knock the wind out of her sails. It was too bad she wasn’t a man; he could’ve just punched her in the nose. For a moment, Vivian’s face turned purple and Cameron wondered if she was going to keel over. But the older woman seemed to calm herself. She looked expectantly over Cameron’s shoulder into the house. "Where is she?" "Why don’t we make a deal?" Cameron said instead of answering, aware Vivian had yet to call her daughter by her name. Something was clearly missing in the woman. Like a heart. No way in hell did he want her anywhere near Livy, but, "If you let her remove all her possessions from your house, I’ll let you come visit her whenever she wants, and I’ll call a truce on the business level. I’ll stop screwing you over like you tried to do to me." "I’m not making any deals with you, Banks," Vivian huffed. "Now, where’s—"
"Mother?" Olivia said in a startled voice from inside the living room. Cameron spun around just as Vivian charged past him into the house. "Olivia!" she cried out in relief. Okay, so the lady remembered her name after all. So what? That didn’t mean— Cameron briefly thought the old broad was going to throw herself at her daughter’s feet and wrap her arms around Olivia’s ankles, kissing the very ground she stood upon. Olivia looked like she was thinking similar thoughts because she skipped a nervous step back. "Olivia," Vivian repeated, sending her a desperate smile as she reached for her daughter’s arm. "You’re coming home with me. Right now." Olivia pulled her hand away before her mother could catch her. "What?" She cast an accusing look Cameron’s way as if this were all his doing. Then her gaze veered back to Vivian. "No. I don’t think so." "But, Olivia. You have to. I want—no, I need—you back, darling." Darling? Cameron watched Olivia’s face as she blinked rapidly, clearly bowled over by the term as well. Vivian sent her a tenuous, begging smile. Her lips quivered; Cameron almost swore he saw a tear in the bitch’s eye. "But you’re my little hostess, sweetheart. I can’t—nothing’s been the same since you left." Then, lifting the back of her hand to her mouth, she sniffed, like she really was crying. "Nolan’s dead." Olivia stumbled back a step, her eyes growing large. "Dead?" she repeated. "How? When?" "We buried him yesterday. It was a massive stroke. He…" Vivian’s voice choked; she paused a dramatic moment. "Too many clogged arteries." "I-I’m sorry," Olivia said softly. Cameron shifted uncomfortably as he watched the two women. He suddenly felt crappy for being rude as soon as he’d opened the door. He wasn’t sure if he should offer his condolences. Hell, he wasn’t even sure who Nolan was, though he suspected it was Vivian’s husband, the same old geezer he’d kicked out of Olivia’s hotel room in Chicago, because Vivian continued with, "I have no one now. I need you." She stared her daughter straight in the eye and made no comment about Olivia’s bandaged wrist or the paleness in her cheeks. There was no way the woman could’ve missed them. Cameron was all too aware of everything mommy dearest skipped over, like asking whether Olivia’s new husband had been treating her right or telling her daughter she loved her. "You must come back with me, Olivia. I can’t be by myself." Olivia blinked her long-lashed eyes and looked blankly startled. "II’m sorry, Mother," she said, looking seriously regretful. "But I’ve started a life here. I’ve made friends, gotten a job, and—" "You really did get a job?" Cameron blurted out. She spared him a brief, hard glance for interrupting and, as he
snapped his mouth shut, turned back to her mother. "You might need me, Vivian. But I don’t need you. And I’m sorry for your loss, but I know how quickly you bounce back after your spouse dies. You’ll find some poor man to control in no time. Besides, my life is here. In Kansas City." "Olivia," Vivian nearly whispered. "Please." She opened her mouth, looking absolutely clueless as how to deal with this stranger her own mother had become. "I-I...No," she said. "I’m staying." Vivian’s face frosted over. Her back straightened, and she once again became the woman they both knew and despised. "This is it then," she said with a sneer. "You just made your bed with him. Don’t ever come crawling back to me. And don’t bother trying to retrieve your things either. They were gone the day after I got home from Chicago." Cameron watched his wife swallow a lump in her throat. But she bravely tilted her chin up and answered, "That’s all right. I didn’t need anything from your house, anyway." Pausing a moment to send her one last evil glare, Vivian turned on her heel and stormed from the house. She brushed by Cameron, knocking him back a step, and slammed the door on her way out. No one spoke for a good minute after her departure. For once, Cameron couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Olivia was obviously still steamed at him over the whole cut-wrist misunderstanding. "Did you call her?" she finally said. His mouth dropped. "What? Hell, no." She gave a single, thoughtful nod before asking, "What’d you do to her?" Cam was suspiciously quiet for a moment. Then cautiously, he countered, "Why do you think I did anything?" "Oh, maybe because you said, ‘I’ll stop screwing you over like you tried to do to me’." Cameron grinned suddenly. "Oh. That." "Yeah. That. You must’ve hit her hard. I’ve never seen her look so beaten before." "Well, we, uh, we kind of screwed her out of a business deal, or rather into a business deal." Olivia shook her head, not comprehending. "Boston and I had been looking into buying out this company, you see. And, well, your mother found out about it. I guess she was still ticked at me for taking you away, so she tried to buy it out from under us and screw me over. But what she didn’t know was that we were going to merge it with this other company we own. So, when your mother starting putting in these outrageous bids to make us raise our offer, I decided to let her win the auction."
Cameron shrugged helplessly. "Now, she owns a failing company she paid an arm and a leg for." He sighed, looking pleased. "She took a direct hit in the pocketbook for messing with us. I doubt she’ll try it again." "That was pretty ingenious." She cocked her head to the side as she studied him. "Have you always been this smart?" He nodded seriously. "Oh, always." Olivia grinned. But she didn’t smile for long. As she stared at him, she seemed to remember the discord between them, and her lips quivered a moment before falling. Cameron watched helplessly as she drew back inside herself. He wanted to reach out and shake her, make her come back, make her keep smiling. He swallowed and looked away. "So, you found a job, huh?" Olivia nodded. "Your dad hired me." "He did?" The traitor. "When?" "Just today. I’m officially the new social coordinator of Banks Corporation." "Really? That’s…" Cameron choked on the word his first attempt. He swallowed and tried again, sending her a forced smile. "That’s great, Livy." "I think so," she answered, still acting cool toward him and only showing him her back. Then she flung a heated look over her shoulder. "That’s why I came to visit you at work today. To tell you all about it." "Oh," he mumbled. "I wasn’t lying when I told Vivian I’d started a new life here. I’ve got a job and as soon as I move out into my own place, I truly will be completely independent for the first time in my life." She sounded so pleased and proud, Cameron wanted to howl at the moon. He couldn’t return the smile. "So, um, yeah," he said. "Yeah, it really sounds like you’re getting everything planned out. I, uh, I guess you’ve found somewhere to live then?" Please not. Don’t go. "Not yet," Olivia answered after a strained pause. He bit the inside of his lip to keep from doing a victory dance. "But I’m supposed to go apartment hunting with your mom next week." Hell. Both his parents had turned against him? Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad. Make him lose the best thing that had happened to him since— "Well, good," he said. "I-I’m really glad everything is falling together for you." Just don’t leave me, damn it. Olivia nodded, and he mimicked the move. When neither spoke, she made an uncomfortable act of crossing her arms over her chest. Then obviously realizing she didn’t need to stand there any longer, she turned and hurried from the room. Cameron blew out a breath and slumped into a chair, wishing he hadn’t thrown out his liquor. Until he remembered another hiding place he
used to have.
The next morning, Boston arrived at his usual time to pick Cameron up for work. Anxious to see how the newlyweds had fared during the night, he cut the engine and hurried toward the entrance. He found them sitting across from each other at the kitchen table, eating breakfast as if no fight had ever happened. But Boston could feel the thick tension in the air, heavy, as if someone had just cooked sausages or bacon, which, hmm, it smelled like someone had. The weighty, oily atmosphere seemed to stick to his clothing and made him feel like he needed to shower. Neither party at the table paid the other any notice. In fact, they ignored each other completely. He stopped in the doorway and eyed the two cautiously. Cameron glanced up. "Morning," he offered, looking relieved to see his cousin. "Hungry?" Boston was starving, but he shook his head no, not trusting the quasidomestic scene in the least. "I’m pretty much ready," Cam added, pushing back his chair and getting to his feet. "Just let me find some shoes, and we can head out." Boston nodded and moved out of the way as his cousin fled, looking overly anxious to escape. But he didn’t follow. He stayed where he was, his gaze sliding to Olivia. Once they were alone, she finally glanced at him. She didn’t bother to hide her feelings behind a fake smile. "Morning," she mumbled. "Hey," he said softly, slipping into the seat Cam had just vacated. "How’s the arm?" "Throbbing." Boston eyed Cameron’s deserted breakfast plate and snagged a piece of abandoned bacon. "Didn’t the doctor give you any meds for the pain?" he asked around a mouthful. Olivia’s eyes grew round as if his suggestion was scandalous. "And risk letting Cameron think I’m trying to overdose?" she whispered in dismay. "I think not."
Boston smiled and shook his head, wiping grease from his fingers on a napkin. "He went a little overboard with his assumptions last night, didn’t he?" he agreed as he reached for Cameron’s glass of orange juice to wash down the salty flavor on his tongue. But he barely tipped the drink back before he was sputtering and spitting the liquid back into the cup. Olivia came to her feet in worry. "Are you okay?" He held up a hand to reassure her, all the while choking and coughing. With a couple bobs of the head, he grabbed his napkin and dabbed at the mess he’d made. "Sorry," he offered. "I thought it was orange juice." Olivia frowned. "It’s not?" She went to reach for the cup, but as soon as Boston saw her, he tried to intercept. She was faster. Bringing it to her nose, she sniffed the orange brew. When her eyes rose toward Boston, he glanced away guilty. "Screwdriver," she hissed. He didn’t answer, could only sigh. When he lifted his eyes toward hers, he quickly looked away as if he were still embarrassed about seeing her buck-naked the first time they’d met. Letting out a low growl, Olivia rested her chin on her hands. "Sienna really played a number on his head, didn’t she?" Stunned she would dare say that name aloud in Cameron’s house, he blinked a moment. And then he realized. He’d just found a kindred spirit. This woman would worry about Cameron just as much as he would. She’d cover for him and lie for him just like Boston always had, because, well, it was Cameron. Who wouldn’t give his life for Banks? "I don’t know if he’ll ever fully convince himself it wasn’t his fault," he murmured. "He’ll always think he should’ve done more to help her." Olivia closed her eyes. A depressed silence filled the air between them. "Have you ever been in love?" she asked out of the blue. Boston jerked back. He shifted in his seat, vaguely uncomfortable, and lifted one shoulder. "I-I don’t know." But even as he spoke, he quickly added, "I mean, I’ve never dated a woman long enough to really fall, because one time, in college, there was this girl..." He paused, not sure how to go on, not sure if he wanted to. Then he shrugged and started again. "I went out with her for a little over a semester. It was the longest relationship I’d ever had. And it ended badly." He shook his head. "Since then, I make it a point not to get too involved or attached." Ice cold Boston Kincaid. That’s who he was. That’s who he wanted to stay. It was better than putting himself through misery as Cameron was doing. He lifted his face and caught Olivia studying him. She was going to pry. He knew it even before she asked. His stomach knotted in preparation.
"Do you think you loved her?" Boston stared thoughtfully at the far wall. His vision filled with the sweet, pale face of a young woman too scared to be left alone, but begging him to do just that. He hadn’t known true agony until the moment he’d walked away and realized he’d probably just made the biggest mistake of his life. "I don’t know," he murmured quietly before he finally glanced back at Olivia. "But if I did, I don’t ever want to fall again." As if chilled by the thought, Olivia wrapped her arms around herself. "I don’t want to fall in love either," she announced is if making the decision that very moment. "Just look at what it did to Cameron." Boston studied the miserable Olivia and wanted to tell her it was already too late for her. She loved his cousin, and she could deny it as much as she wanted, but the feelings would still be there. Cameron strolled into the room then, and Boston felt a sudden urge to grab his best friend by the throat and pin him to the wall. The man was on self-destruct. He’d had his ups and downs before. Boston had seen Cameron at this lowest, and he’d seen him pick himself up and start over. But this time, he was going to take Olivia under with him. Boston didn’t want her to become collateral damage, especially when he suspected she might be the one thing to save Cameron from completely destroying himself. "Ready?" Cameron asked. "Or do you want to sit and flirt with my wife for a while longer?" Needing to knock the wind out his buddy’s sail, Boston forced a grin across the table at Olivia. "Actually, could you leave us alone for another hour so I can put a proper good-morning glow on her face?" Olivia’s eyes grew round for a moment. Then she threw back her head and laughed. Cameron scowled. Turning on his heels, he stormed from the kitchen, growling over his shoulder. "Whatever. I’ll be waiting in the car." Boston watched him go before he risked a glance toward Olivia. "Sorry," he offered humbly. She shrugged as if to tell him she wasn’t upset. She was more curious when she asked, "Why did you do that?" This time his grin was genuine. "To piss him off." "I think it worked." Boston was still disappointed by his cousin’s lack of reaction. Cameron wasn’t typically the jealous type, but Boston suspected Olivia was an entirely different case for him. Except his response had let Boston down. Cam wasn’t supposed to stomp off like a scorned child. He was supposed to grab Olivia, throw her over his shoulder, and drag her off to his lair. "He’ll get over it," Boston said and reached across the table to take her hand. He looked into her eyes and wanted to tell her to be strong and
stick through this. But instead he offered a small smile and kissed her knuckles before letting her go and following his cousin out the door. ~*~ Cameron tapped his foot and drummed his fingers on the armrest. Boston’s little bait had really caught him. Olivia was his, damn it. Kincaid better keep his damn paws off. He and his cousin had teased about passing women off to each other. But they’d never actually done so. They’d always had different tastes. Thinking Boston might want Olivia, though, distressed him. Now was not the time for them to start sharing. Boston didn’t have baggage. He was good looking, and he would take care of Livy better than anyone. He’d be a hell of a lot better for her than Cameron was. The two of them would be good together. But the thought of his wife turning to his best friend after their annulment made him feel ill. In fact, he didn’t much like the idea of losing her at all. But he could only hurt Olivia if she stayed. Sienna had broken something inside him. He wasn’t suitable to be any woman’s husband any longer. It didn’t matter that he wanted Olivia to stay, didn’t matter that he’d secretly held off the annulment on purpose just to get a little more time with her. He was damaged goods. He’d always be haunted by the first woman he’d killed, the one he’d somehow driven to suicide. "What the hell is wrong with you?" Boston asked, opening the car door and sliding into the driver’s seat. Cameron ignored him and continued to tap his fingers against the dash. Boston scowled at the action for a moment, and Cam expected him to make some dorky kind of comment like telling him to stop smudging fingerprints all over his car. But he didn’t. Instead, he cocked an inquisitive look Cameron’s way. "Nervous about something?" he asked mildly. "Or did you just put too much vodka in your orange juice this morning?" "How—" Cameron was about to ask how he knew about the screwdriver when he realized his cousin was probably just testing him. Not calling the man’s bluff, he frowned and drummed his fingers again until he realized he was only making himself look worse. Stilling his hand, he glanced out the window. "Go ahead and start the annulment papers today." It was time. He’d already taken too much from Livy. But even as the words left his mouth, a dry, painful knot lodged in his chest. Boston didn’t answer. He put the car into gear and pulled from the driveway. Cameron glanced over. "I said—" "I heard what you said," Boston snapped. He was quiet a moment before adding, "I’m not doing it." Cameron blinked. "What?" "I didn’t stutter. I’m not writing one damn document to help you get
rid of her." "But...but you’re my lawyer," Cam sputtered. Boston had never denied him anything where his job was concerned. "You have to do what I say." Boston lifted his eyebrows. "The hell if I do. I represent EarnNet, the business. An annulment has nothing to do with business. I’m not doing it." "Why the hell not? You’ve always helped me out with personal legal work before." "Maybe I don’t think you really want an annulment," Boston answered. He glanced Cameron’s way with a knowing look. "You’ve been married to her for nearly two months, and you’ve done everything short of murder to put off filing. I know you, Cam. You like having her in your house. In your bed." Cameron turned away, muttering under his breath. He grumbled to himself about annoying friends, neither denying nor confirming Boston’s bold statement. Finally, he spun toward the driver’s seat. "She’s gotten under your skin, hasn’t she?" he accused. "Seeing her naked has really turned you into her personal—" "No," Boston cut in steadily. "She’s gotten under your skin, pal. If she were under mine, I’d have finished those papers months ago and had you two separated by now so I could have her myself." "So, what’s the deal then?" "She’s good for you." "Good for me?" Well, what about how awful he was for her? Didn’t Boston realize he was going to end up destroying her if she stayed with him? Didn’t he care? Frowning, he said, "You know, I can always go to another lawyer. Hell, Helena will write me up an annulment today." Boston wasn’t the only lawyer in the family. Boston’s sister, Helena, was a lawyer who actually specialized in divorce and family suits. He usually hated it when Cameron teased him and threatened to get advice from her. But this morning, he merely shrugged, obviously unconcerned by the threat. "Do whatever you want. I still refuse to have anything to do with your annulment from Livy." "Oh, so it’s Livy now, is it?" Cameron sneered, jealous that his buddy was using the pet name he’d given her. No one else was supposed to use it. "See my wife naked in bed one time and you think you can start calling her Livy, huh?" Boston shrugged as he pulled into the executive parking spot in front of EarnNet and cutting the engine. "Hell, if you don’t want her, I’ll definitely take her." He grinned at Cam with a wicked curve of his lips. "I’d even stoop as low as to accept your leftovers for a shot at Olivia." "Screw you," Cameron muttered, so mad that he leaped out of the car and stormed away, slamming the door shut as he went.
~*~ Olivia had supper ready and on the table when Cameron made it home from work. She’d called Allison half a dozen times with all sorts of cooking questions and for the first time, she hadn’t burned one thing. More than once, she’d heard Cameron’s mother comment that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. At this point, Olivia was ready to try anything. She’d failed the whole sex thing. Cameron hadn’t made one move toward her since the moment she’d denied him after meeting his parents. He still wanted her, she knew that. He looked at her like he wanted to gobble her whole. Yet he kept his distance. Even last night, she’d awakened to feel him slipping into bed next to her, but he hadn’t tried anything. She faked sleep, waiting to see what he’d do next. But other than gently slipping the sheet down far enough to get a peek at her naked breasts and pouting nipples, he hadn’t touched her. He’d been gone by the time she woke up this morning. So, today she’d try Allison’s answer for the ultimate cure-all solution. A home-cooked meal. She was determined to get to Cameron one way or another. This strange distance they’d erected between them was freaking her out. It wasn’t the Cameron she knew. The Cameron she knew invaded her personal space and butted his way into her life. This new guy was stepping back and behaving oddly polite, disturbingly distant. Well, it was going to stop. She had a plan. She’d never mention the annulment again, act like she’d completely forgotten about it, and then she’d flood Cameron with wifely adoration, feeding him and loving him like he’d never been loved before. After a few years of growing comfortable together and falling into a nice, pleasant rut, she’d one day mention it in passing, saying he didn’t have to worry about the annulment after all. They could stay married if it made no difference to him. Olivia jumped when she heard the front door open. He was home. Yanking off her apron to reveal the short dress she had on underneath, she quickly smoothed her hands over the fabric. "Livy?" she heard him call. "Back here," she answered, sliding her hands through her hair to give it one last fluff before he appeared. And then, there he was. Rumpled and sexy as hell, Cameron paused when he saw the elegant setting around the table, even pulled back a surprised step. "Dinner’s ready," she announced needlessly. He turned at the sound of her voice. She almost went to him, but stopped herself at the last moment. He looked exhausted. Deep grooves bracketed his mouth and eyes.
"Uh, it looks good," he said quietly. Politely. Olivia’s hands balled into fists behind her back. She didn’t want polite Cameron. Distant Cameron. This wasn’t the sarcastic, witty, vivacious drunk she’d met in Vegas. This wasn’t the man she loved. "Well, let’s eat," she said uncomfortably, gesturing toward the chairs. He cleared his throat and seated himself across from her. The quiet, tense meal began. "I have some good news," he said, putting all his attention on the linguini noodle he swirled around the tines of his fork. "What’s that?" Olivia asked, swallowing a mouthful and dabbing at her lips with a napkin. "The annulment papers have finally been started." He lifted his face. His eyes were bright, almost glassy, as he added, "So you don’t have to ask again when I’m going to get to that." He sent her a smile. "They are now officially underway." For a second, Olivia couldn’t speak. Hell, she couldn’t breathe. Even her heart did a double take as if it had heard wrong. Then her lashes fluttered. "O-oh." Her breath quietly whooshed from her lungs in a rush and her pulse scurried to get back on rhythm. "I, um, thank you," she finally managed to add. Lowering her head, she focused on her meal, acting like a starving woman as she stuffed food into her mouth with gusto, though frankly, everything suddenly tasted like sawdust.
That night Olivia had a nightmare. Since Cameron had once again snuck into her room to sleep next to her, he was already there when she began thrashing her arms and legs and tossing her head to the side. He jerked awake, then sat up. "Livy," he murmured softly. He reached out to touch her cold, damp arm, but she screamed before he reached her. It wasn’t some pathetic little yelp either. No, she opened her lungs and let loose. He nearly leapt out of his skin. "Get it off me!" she screeched. "GET. IT. OFF." "Olivia!" he said a little more harshly, anxiety lacing his words as he clutched her shoulders and shook, all the while scanning the sheets for the spider—or whatever—that had bitten her. He turned on the light, but the only thing touching her was the sheets. Still, she shoved them away and clawed at her arms, making red marks appear. He grabbed her fingers to stop her, clutching them tight while she struggled against him. "The blood," she cried out. "It’s everywhere. Oh, God. Everywhere." Cameron freaked, thinking she’d just lost her mind. "Livy? Livy honey, there’s no blood on you. There’s no blood. Wake up." He shook her again, and this time she blinked, finally coming to. When she looked at him with wide eyes, he pulled her close, tucking her head under his chin. She remained stiff a moment. But then her body eased, and she wrapped her arms around him; her entire frame surged as she wilted and wept. He rocked her slowly, combing her hair with his fingers. "It’s okay," was all he could think to repeat. "It’s okay. Everything’s okay. You’re okay. It was just a dream." After a while, he stopped rocking and they merely sat there, holding each other. "I saw him die, you know," she murmured drowsily against his chest. Out of the freaking blue. He opened his eyes. "Huh? Saw who?"
"My father." Lifting her face, she met his eyes. "I was there when he killed himself, and my mother was too." Cameron pulled her back into a hug, kissing her hair and tightening his grip, because he couldn’t look into her eyes if she was going to tell this story. "No one else knows that," Olivia continued. "But Vivian was there. She was reading the morning paper when he walked in. After she finally noticed he had a gun tucked in his mouth, she said...she said, ‘Go ahead and pull the trigger, Roger. With the insurance I have out on your worthless ass, you’re worth more to me dead than alive.’ And he did what she told him to do. He pulled the trigger." A shudder wracked her body. Cam felt it reverberate through him, making goose bumps mount on his arms. "Holy Lord," he whispered. He was suddenly glad he’d caused Vivian Roark to fear bankruptcy. How could any woman say such a thing to her own husband? "After he hit the floor," Olivia went on, "She...she grabbed my arms and shook me, saying, ‘I wasn’t here. Do you understand? I wasn’t here when it happened.’ And that’s when I knew how evil she was." Another shiver rocked her. Cameron pulled the sheet up over them, rubbing the bumps on both their arms. "When the police came, I lied and told them what she wanted, saying I was the only one in the room when he...when it happened. So they all focused their attention on me. They grilled me for hours, wanting to know why he’d made a point to off himself in front of me, wanting to know what I’d done to upset him. "But it wasn’t me at all. It was her. She was the evil one that pushed him into it. And I lied for her. I was so scared. I’ve been terrified of her ever since. It made no sense. It was more like a phobia than a reasonable fear. Rationally, I knew she hadn’t killed him. But deep inside me, I was always scared that if I ever disobeyed her, I’d end up like him. I’d die too. "So when I finally reached my limit, when I went out that night in Vegas to find myself a husband, it was...it was like my suicide mission. She’d pushed me to the brink and I was just as desperate to self-destruct as my father had been." She stopped talking; he had a feeling she was done. Still lightly stroking her arm, Cam closed his eyes and pressed his nose against her hair, inhaling her familiar fragrance. "She’s never going to hurt you again, Livy," he murmured. She nodded and reached out to press her hand against his chest, directly over his heart. Unable to stop himself, he covered it with his palm, lacing their fingers together. They lay that way for nearly half an hour, soaking up each other’s silent comfort. It surprised him when her quiet voice filled the room. "Cameron?" His eyelashes fluttered open. "Hmm?"
"Not once in those few seconds before he killed himself did he look at me." Her voice was blank, probably numb to the pain. "I’m not even sure if he knew I was in the room. No, actually, now that I think of it, I’m sure he did know. He just didn’t care. He didn’t say anything to me or act concerned about how any of this would affect me." She turned her head to look up at him, her eyes large and pleading. "His blood splattered all over me when he died, and he probably didn’t even care about that either." Cameron swallowed. "I got Sienna’s blood on me when she killed herself." Olivia blinked, startled. "You were with her?" He nodded, his eyes going distant as he glanced over her shoulder. "She didn’t seem to care either. She just looked up at me and said, ‘Let me go.’ Can you believe that? She didn’t apologize for the hell she was putting me through, for the mess she’d made of everything. She didn’t tell me she loved me. She just told me to let her die." Olivia leaned forward and pressed her mouth to his throat in a show of consolation. "How’d it happen?" Cameron closed his eyes again, but it didn’t do anything to block out the memory. "I walked into the bathroom one day and found her overdosed on all sorts of pills, hacking away at her wrists. That...that’s why I overreacted so badly after you broke the mirror. When I walked into that bathroom and saw the pills everywhere, the blood on your wrist, it was—" He shook his head. Olivia buried her face against his throat. He turned toward her, and when she wrapped her arms around him, he shuddered. "I’m so sorry," she said, running her fingers through his hair. "I didn’t mean to scare you like that in the bathroom. I shouldn’t have slammed the cabinet so hard." "It wasn’t your fault. It was just an accident." "I wasn’t trying to kill myself." "I know. I..." His words broke off. "I wasn’t thinking. Forgive me, Livy." "There’s nothing to forgive. You’re reaction was natural." Her easy reassurance was hard for him to swallow. It made him think of his family. "I think your dad cared about you more than you know," he murmured, stroking her hair. He felt her body go tense a moment before she pulled back to look up at him. "What?" "When Sienna died," he explained. "There was a part of me that was so mad at her. I couldn’t understand why she’d done this to me, why she hated me that much. But these days, there’s moments where I actually get it." He thought of his parents, of Boston. How many times had he apologized to them for holing up inside himself and been forgiven without
thought? How many times had guilt eaten at him for hurting them over and over again? Licking his lips, he tried to explain. "Sometimes, when emotions get the best of you, you know your pain is hurting others, but you can’t seem to function past wallowing in your own misery. You start to think the solution is to get away from them, so you can stop their pain too. Sienna didn’t mean to hurt me, just like your dad probably didn’t mean to hurt you. They just couldn’t see past themselves." Olivia let out a quiet sigh and rested her face against his neck. After a moment, she said, "That still doesn’t make what they did right." "No," he agreed, closing his eyes and sinking against her warmth and support. "But it might keep us from hating them for it." ~*~ Time passed. Olivia nuzzled against Cameron until she grew warm and responsive. She loved this man, and she wanted to show it. Leaning up, and making sure her body rubbed against his, she cupped his face and kissed him. Her insides glowed when she heard his low groan of approval. Her bare breasts slid against his taut chest, and his body shuddered. One moment, she was sure he was going to roll her onto her back and crawl on top of her. The next, he pulled away and politely kissed her brow. "Get some sleep," he murmured kindly. "You must be exhausted." Then he slid out from under the covers and clicked off her nightlight. In the dark, she listened to him pad from the room. Frowning, she pressed her hands to a couple of different aching body parts and let out a low moan of distress. She knew what he was doing. He was trying to sever all ties between them. He’d started the annulment and this was his way of saying goodbye. He hadn’t been so considerate before, thinking they could still enjoy each other’s bodies until the papers were signed. He hadn’t cared how having sex and then splitting abruptly would affect her. That knowledge right there told her how things had changed. He’d changed. He must be starting to care. He must be conscious of her feelings, not wanting to take her body and then cut her loose. He was trying to ease away gently because it mattered to him. Either that, or he really didn’t want anything to do with her. She snorted. Okay, that was unlikely. But there was only one way to get herself an honest answer. Tomorrow, she’d take drastic steps to get him back. And however he responded, well, then that would be that. ~*~ Nearly twenty-four hours later, Cameron was still kicking himself.
Making it home from work after a miserable day at the office, he unlocked his front door and paused before pushing it open. He blew out a breath, bracing himself. He’d wanted Olivia in that bed last night, more than he’d ever wanted anything in his life. But he hadn’t been able to make himself take her. Her warm limbs had been pressed against him, snuggled close. Then she’d kissed him, and oh God, that kiss. It had taken a Herculean effort to pry himself away, mash his mouth chastely to her forehead and walk—or rather hobble—to his room. This was all about her, he reminded himself. Her well-being was the reason he had to get her away from him in the first place. He had to— Cameron knew something was wrong the moment he opened his front door. Dead silence greeted him. She was already gone. He wandered around the quiet house, noting her absence from her room, where all her things were missing and the bed was made, leaving behind nothing but the smell of her perfume. In another room, he found the scrapbook. He had no idea how she’d found his memory box full of pictures or when she’d started the book. But it caught him right in the chest to see what she’d done. The book wasn’t finished, though, and that tore him up more than anything. He wanted Olivia to come back so she could complete it, so she could add more pictures as the years progressed, pictures of them and someday of their children and grandchildren. He suddenly wanted that future with her more than anything. But it was too late. She was already gone. Struck hard with that realization, he decided to drink. ~*~ Boston groaned as soon as he turned into his drive. The blonde sitting on his front steps idly twirled a key ring around her finger. This was not what he wanted to come home from work to find. "Why me?" he moaned to himself and pulled to a stop in his parking spot. Dawdling in his driver’s seat for as long as he could, he retrieved his briefcase and stared at the car phone a second, half tempted to call good ol’ Cameron and have him come fetch his wife home. Knowing his cousin, he figured the bastard would refuse. With a sigh, he opened the car door and slid out. She stood as he approached, her hands fisted at her sides and eyes blazing fire. "How could you?" she hissed. "Olivia," he greeted her quietly, not quite sure why she was so pissed at him, but bracing for the onslaught anyway. "To what do I owe this pleasure?" "I can’t believe you," she growled, stomping down the steps and coming right at him.
He took an uncertain step back. "How could you start those annulment papers? How could you? And after that heart-to-heart we had yesterday morning." He blinked. "Huh? Annulment papers? I didn’t." "I thought we’d become friends. I thought—what? You didn’t?" "No, I did not. Cameron asked me to begin them, but I refused." "You...you refused? Really?" Boston nodded. "I told him to go to someone else if he wanted them done so bad." He winced. "I guess he listened to me." That had to be a first. "Oh...Oh, Boston," she breathed and flung herself at him, hugging him heartily. "Thank you. Thank you, so much." He patted her back in an awkward gesture. "You’re getting home awfully late," she noted as she pulled back. "Did Cameron go home this late too?" Warning bells went off in his head. For some reason, he knew he was about to get dragged into something he didn’t want to be within ten miles of. He shook his head. "No, I stayed later to fill out a few legal forms." "Oh." She looked disappointed. "So, he’s been home a while and hasn’t called you yet?" Boston stared at her a moment, wondering where the hell she was going with this line of questions. He shook his head again. "Why would he call me?" She glanced sadly at the key in her palm. "No reason," she said, holding out her hand. "Can you return his car to him for me?" Mouth going dry, Boston stared at key she offered him. No. She couldn’t leave Cam. She couldn’t— "You don’t have to do this," he blurted out. "He can’t…" When he lifted his face, the words died in his throat. She looked like she could start crying any second. He felt like an ass because as much as he knew how it’d hurt her to stay with his cousin, he still wanted her to go back to him. "Where’re you going?" he asked. She couldn’t quite meet his gaze as she shrugged. "A hotel for the time being." "Which hotel?" She jerked a frown his way, probably annoyed by his sharp question. He didn’t think she’d answer but was relieved when she finally said, "Some Holiday Inn off I-35." He nodded. "And how’d you pay for that? I thought you didn’t have any money." "Alli—" she had to pause and clear her throat when tears glistened in her eyes. "I have some. Allison already paid me to help her plan a party for Chuck’s work."
Wondering what his aunt would think if she learned she’d just helped a woman hurt her own son, he blinked when Olivia thrust the key at him more forcefully. "So, will you return his car to him for me or not?" Tears dribbled down her cheeks now. Boston eased the key from her hand. "How’re you going to get back to your hotel?" She blinked and then stared at him a frozen moment before she let out a wet laugh and wiped at her cheeks. "I hadn’t even thought of that." "Then let me drive you." She looked hesitant to accept his offer. "To the hotel?" "Of course," he answered. Though she still appeared to be leery, as if she thought he’d haul her straight back to Cameron’s house—which was tempting—she finally gave in. He escorted her to the Miata, and then drove her to the Holiday Inn. As he pulled to the curb, he asked, "Are you sure this is a good idea?" Olivia appeared thoughtful for a moment before she murmured, "Actually, I think it’s the only option I have." She smiled sadly at him. "You’ll take care of him, won’t you?" "Don’t I always?" She leaned toward him and kissed his cheek. "Thank you." He wanted to grab her hand and keep her in Cam’s car, beg to her stick around—just a little longer. But this was her decision to make. Feeling as if she was deserting him—instead of his cousin—he watched her disappear inside the hotel. As soon as she was out of sight, he drove to Cameron’s. As irritated as he was with Olivia, Boston didn’t think he could actually blame her. It was hard to watch Cameron when he was down. No woman should have to put up with a man who couldn’t get over the fact he was human and hadn’t been able save a manic depressive. Boston really didn’t think he should have to put up with it either. But he had no idea how to slap his friend back to reality and tell him to wake up and notice the world around him. Sienna was gone, and Olivia was here. Olivia was better looking anyway. And she wasn’t creepy-quiet like Sienna had been. Cameron was damn lucky for stumbling across Livy; he should definitely put a bigger effort into trying to keep her around, instead of moping about something that happened a full decade ago. Boston had lost someone around the same time, and look at him. Had he turned into a bummed-out alcoholic? No. Did he worry the family by plunging into depression? Hell no. He’d picked up and carried on. And if there were some nights when he locked himself alone in a room and filled himself with aching, bitter sweet memories, jacking off until he nearly went blind, well, then no one else had to know about it. "I’m getting real tired of picking up your sorry ass every time you
stumble," Boston muttered as he parked in driveway. He cut the engine and stared up at the house for a moment. Letting out another tired sigh, he exited the car and entered the house. "Cam?" he called into the dim interior. There weren’t many lights on; he fumbled a minute before he found the wall switch. "Hey, Banks?" he called again and frowned as he started back to his cousin’s den, which was Cameron’s main moping place. But that room was dark too. Feeling a finger of concern skate up the back of his neck, Boston started up the stairs. He turned on lights as he went, glancing into every corridor he passed. Not caring for the anxious feeling that washed through him, Boston yelled a little louder, "Damn it, Cameron. Where the hell are you hiding? I know you’re here. All your cars are outside." He hoped his cousin would pop out from somewhere and say, except the one Olivia took, so he could explain that it had returned. But no one answered. He made a frustrated growling sound. It wasn’t like Cameron to use the silent treatment. "I know she’s gone," he called, not sure why he was bringing it up. They might be best friends, but neither of them discussed major personal problems. Cameron tended to drink his away, and Boston locked his so deep inside no one knew about them. But maybe, for some reason, Cam wanted to discuss this. "Hell, I’ll even drink one with you if you want," he coaxed, thinking that would surely draw the man out. Fear hit him when nothing happened. The house was too quiet— silent as death—so he panicked. Cameron was here; he knew it. But where was he? Starting back on the ground floor, Boston methodically went through every room. He finally found his best friend in the master bathroom on the second floor, passed out next to the toilet. Boston smelled him first. Even as he flipped on the light, he knew what he was going to find. But he still wasn’t prepared for the severity of alarm that struck him when he spotted the drunk. Cameron looked dead. His skin was gray, and he wasn’t moving at all. "Cam!" Boston fell to his knees at Cameron’s side and pressed his fingers to the cold, clammy skin on his cousin’s neck, waiting to feel a pulse. When he finally felt a light yet slow thump, he nearly wilted in relief. "Cameron," he said steadily and shook his shoulders. "Wake up." Cameron did move then, but only to slump limply against Boston’s leg. Unable to stand the stench, Boston reached forward and flushed the toilet. But as he did so, Cameron’s body heaved, and he vomited some more. "Jesus," Boston breathed and hurried to position his unconscious friend so the outpouring was partially aimed into the toilet. When it sounded like he was choking, Boston moved quickly to
reposition him before he suffocated on bile. All the while, Cameron remained comatose. He didn’t wake up once. Not when Boston used toilet paper to wipe chunks from his mouth or even when he pulled Cam into his lap and rocked him. He’d never seen anyone so sick before. Or look so dead. It scared him. Something was horribly, awfully wrong and he instinctively knew that if he didn’t get help quick, his friend wasn’t going to make it through the night. His voice shook as he gave the emergency operator Cam’s address. Gritting his teeth, Boston cradled Cameron closer and cursed. "Stupid, selfish bastard," he muttered. "Don’t you dare die on me. I will never forgive you for this if you drop dead in my arms, you son of a bitch." Though Cameron didn’t respond to the muttered ravings, Boston figured he’d still gotten through. At least Cameron had stopped throwing up and wasn’t in jeopardy of choking by the time paramedics arrived.
Cameron woke to the steady, calming beep of a heart monitor. He felt the IV next, plugged into his wrist like some kind of electrical socket to keep him running. Finally, the warm pressure of someone holding his hand entered his realm of consciousness. Knowing those comforting fingers anywhere, he managed a painful, cracked smile. "Mom," he croaked and turned his face to the right as he opened his eyes. "Oh, my sweet baby boy." Though tears clotted her lashes, she smiled and tightened her grip encouragingly. "Where’s Dad?" "Right here, kiddo," came his father’s voice. Slowly, Cameron rolled his head to the left. "Hey, there," Chuck said, bending down to get into Cameron’s field of vision. "Decided to join the living again, huh?" Cameron didn’t bother to smile. He didn’t feel so alive at the moment. Drained and empty and a little numb, his licked his lips. His head felt as if someone was taking a jack-hammer to his skull and trying to drill down to his toes. Even lying down, he felt nauseous and dizzy. "Wha...what happened?" "Alcohol poisoning," his father answered, placing his palm over Cameron’s hair. The warmth of his fingers seeped through Cameron’s locks and soothed his aching head. "You went over the limit this time, son." To his right, his mother covered her mouth and let out a small sob. Cam winced. "Sorry." "Yeah, well, you should probably save your apologies for those two." His dad hooked a thumb over his shoulder toward the curtain that separated him from the main part of the ICU room. "They’re taking it worse than anyone. They both seem to think this is their fault." Cameron managed to lift his face enough to see Boston and Olivia in the doorway. They’d wrapped themselves around each other in a very private embrace. Livy buried her face so far into Boston’s shirt, Cam feared it would
take a surgical procedure to remove her. And Boston—his best friend in the entire world—curled around Cam’s wife with his arms wrapped so tight he fisted the back of her shirt in his hands. Jealousy hit hard. Well, thanks a lot, he wanted to snarl, though his energy level was so pathetic, he could only manage a small grunt. But it sure as hell hadn’t taken them long to turn to each other. He wasn’t even buried yet. Then Olivia lifted her face and looked up at Boston. She was as pale as a ghost, save for the red rings around her eyes, where tears gathered and dripped. She said something, and Boston answered with a shake of the head. Then he wiped at his own eyes with the back of his hand. Well, damn. Bos was bawling too? "Why’re they crying?" he slurred, twisting his face toward his mom. "Because they love you, and you scared us all half to death," she rasped, her voice growing hoarse. Cameron closed his eyes, and listened to Boston murmur comforting words to Olivia. Chuck gripped Cam’s shoulder. "Boston’s the one that found you," he explained. "He called the ambulance and held you while you threw up blood. The boy probably saved your life, keeping you from suffocating on your own vomit. Took ten years off his life. He was about to break down into a panic attack by the time we arrived." Cameron glanced at his best friend. Boston appeared to be seeking comfort about as much as he was trying to give it. "And that pretty little wife of yours." Chuck shook his head. "She’s convinced this is all her fault, and no one’s going to convince her otherwise. Keeps saying stuff like she should’ve done more, should’ve tried harder. You wouldn’t have drunk tonight if she hadn’t left. Poor thing is taking on the weight of the world. Kind of like you did when Sienna died." Cameron’s head swiveled around. He ignored the spiking pain from the sudden movement and gaped at his dad. "Oh, I remember everything you said back then," his father murmured. "Most of it was, ‘I should’ve done more. I should’ve tried harder. If only I’d…’" Chuck’s words drifted off as he watched a tear trail down Cameron’s cheek. "So, I’ve turned into Sienna," Cam choked out. "Is that what you’re saying? I’m the manic depressive now." "You couldn’t save her, Cameron," Allison said, squeezing his fingers. "Nothing Sienna did to herself was your fault. Only she could’ve saved herself." "And none of us can save you," Chuck added. "No matter how much we want to. No matter how much it kills us to watch you go through this." Cameron squeezed his eyes closed, but tears leaked through anyway. When he looked up, he met his mother’s worried features. "I’ve made a mess
of things, haven’t I?" Allison ran her thumb over his knuckles. "It’s nothing that can’t be fixed," she assured, sounding suddenly like the woman he remembered from when he was a child and had made mistakes. He swallowed. This was all wrong. They were treating him like, well, like he’d treated Sienna in her final days. No. He wasn’t turning into a Sienna. He couldn’t. He’d never do to his family what she’d done to him. He’d never put them through hell by making them worry. But that’s exactly what he’d done. For ten years. "God, I’m so sorry." Allison leaned down to hug him and in doing so, finally drew Boston and Olivia’s attention. Gasping, they let go of each other and stumbled forward. Boston came all the way to his side, but Olivia hung back at the last moment, her face wrinkling into a scared, uncertain mask. "Still got some life left in you, huh?" Boston asked in a steady enough voice, though his pale face and red-ringed eyes told the true story. "Yeah, so you can quit trying to comfort the weeping widow," Cameron groused and managed a half-hearted glare. "I’m not dead yet." Boston grinned, but the relief in his eyes nearly made Cam tear up again. What in the world had he done to his best friend? As he opened his mouth to make some snide, probably sarcastically dry comment, Boston’s face suddenly filled with color. He sucked in a breath, blinking rapidly. "Jesus," he said, pressed a fisted hand to the center of his chest, and stared at Cameron as if he couldn’t believe his friend had actually survived. "You scared the shit out of me tonight, man." Cameron’s chest constricted, making him cringe. Regret filled him to the brink. He licked his dry lips and said, "I hear I owe you thanks. You saved my life." He lifted his hands; a look of extreme liberation washed over Boston as he stepped forward and gripped Cam’s fingers. "Yeah, well, you can pay me back by buying me a new pair of shoes. You puked all over my favorites." "You mean that ratty old brown pair you’ve had for ten years?" Cameron grinned. "Thank God. It was beyond time to retire them." Boston shook his head, the skin around his eyes wrinkling with humor. Cameron shifted his gaze past Boston and settled on Olivia. She must not have gone far whenever she’d left him. The family had still been able to contact her and let her know he was in the hospital. Her tousled hair rose in a scattered mountainous mess. Still, she was the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen. She loved him. Whether he liked it or not, Olivia loved him. It was
an unconditional devotion, like what his parents felt for each other. Whether he pushed her away or not, she’d still love him. The insight was humbling and overwhelming, but he liked it. And that was his decision-maker right there. Never truly having loved a woman before, never having felt the pressing need to keep her safe, Cameron knew he’d do anything for Olivia. He’d even fix himself to protect her. "Livy," he whispered. She jerked guiltily; her face drained of color. As his parents and Boston stepped aside and slowly started backing toward the separating curtain to give him privacy, Olivia cautiously shuffled forward as if she thought he was going to beat her now. An unexpected surge of pleasure moved through him. She cared. She loved him so much, he altered the whole view he’d been taking on the entire situation. He no longer wanted to distance himself from her. He just wanted to be with her forever. And if he had to make himself right to do that, then by God, he would. "Where’d you go?" he heard himself ask, not really caring but curious about the answer. He realized it was the wrong thing to say as soon as the panic entered her face. Shit, he hadn’t meant to make her think this was her fault. He lifted his hand, but she jerked back. "I-I...Oh, God, Cameron. I’m so sorry. I’ll never leave again. I’m sorry." He closed his eyes as his own words to Sienna repeated themselves through his head, the first time he’d gone away for the weekend to go camping with friends. Forgive me, Sienna. I never meant to hurt you. I’ll never leave again. Cameron shook his head. "No, Livy. I didn’t mean it that way. I…" Hell. He what? He was blowing this. "I’m just glad you’re here." He saw new hope staring at him through the big blue eyes of his cupcake as he held out his hand again. Their fingers gripped and held. Cameron had to assume the tight bond meant something. He sent her a smile. "I went a little overboard tonight, huh?" She sucked in a shuddering breath and wiped a trail of tears off her cheek with her free hand. His heart clenched. He could only do one thing to stop this. Well, two maybe. He could finish the annulment and get as far away from her as possible. But that no longer seemed possible. The other option, however… "God, I’m sorry, Livy." He clutched her fingers for dear life. "I’ll change. I’ll get better. I-I’ll go into rehab again. Whatever it takes. I didn’t mean to scare you. I love you too much to keep putting you through this." "You love me?" she said, her blue eyes blinking. He smiled. "I do. And I want to change. I want to get over this. So, if
I can do this, if I make it successfully through rehab, will you stay?" "You love me?" she repeated, stark shock outlining her face. He grinned. "Well, yeah." "No one’s ever loved me before," she said, looking a little panicked by the thought as if a whole new world of overbearing responsibility had been plopped onto her shoulders. "Don’t worry," he assured her. "I’ll take it easy on you for the first couple of months." Then he winked. "But after that, I’ll probably start laying it on a little thicker and, you know, getting really down and mushy with all the poetry and roses and serenading." Olivia gurgled out a laugh at his corny attempt to make a joke. "Oh, Cameron," she said falling suddenly serious. "I love you too." Bending, she wrapped her arms around his chest and laid her head on over his heart. Contentment roared through him. Cameron sifted his fingers through her long mass of bed-tangled hair. Closing his eyes, he leaned forward and kissed her forehead. "I never wanted to leave," she confessed, her voice muffled against his thin hospital gown. "Then why did you?" She lifted her face and sent him a slightly annoyed look. "You started the annulment papers." He frowned. "Only because you told me to." "Yeah, and I only told you to, to get you to confess you loved me." "Well, I do love you." "Then I’ll come back," she returned in a snippety tone. "If you make it successfully through rehab," she added on an afterthought. "And under one condition." His stomach tightened into knots. "What’s that?" "You have to drop the annulment papers." The grin that spread through him was instantaneous. He glanced toward the curtain where he could see his family’s silhouette lingering on the other side. "Bos?" Boston’s face appeared around the side. He smiled approvingly even as he pulled his cell phone from his pocket. "I’m already on it."
One Year Later Cameron tried not to fidget as he waited in the air-conditioned room. When he noticed his knee jiggling, he immediately stopped the action by slapping his hand over it. He didn’t want to be nervous over one silly conference. During his first month of rehabilitation, he’d stayed at the center exclusively and been stuffed with a 'relaxing' atmosphere: pretty little walks along a sunset beach or meditation gardens, total-body massages, spas. He’d never been so relieved to get out there. But that had only been the beginning of his torture. After checking out of the clinic, there’d been counseling and support groups. He’d been coming here every week for a year now. But if he failed the test today, he’d have to keep coming back. And there surely had to be some kind of test behind this whole 'meeting'. Last week, his doctor had said, "If things go well next time, it should be your last appointment with me." Freaked out by wondering what 'things' were supposed to happen today, he was about to surge to his feet to pace when the door opened. Cam lurched to his feet anyway. His doctor had an oriental face with a trace of the Bronx in his accent. "How’s it going, Banks?" Awful. Crappy. Miserable. He so wanted out of this joint. "Fine," Cam answered on a tense smile. "Just fine." "Well, congrats, bud." Dr. Chin strode around his desk as he studied an opened file. Once he seated himself, he set it down and lifted his face. "This is our last scheduled session together. You feel ready to break free or what?" Cam almost snorted. Was he ready? The perfunctory nod he gave totally under-stressed his answer in so many ways. Away from this room, he felt completely better, completely healed. Life was perfect in every way, and it felt unnatural to even need a therapist.
Only when he returned for his weekly session was he reminded there’d ever been a problem. Finally seating himself again, he murmured, "No offence, but it wouldn’t break my heart if I never laid eyes on you again, Doc." Dr. Chin chuckled and gave a nod of understanding. "Oh, yeah, I gotcha. But, seriously, Cam," he asked his most common, weekly question, "you have any more urges to pound a couple down?" Cameron shook his head without even a pause. Nope. Not even. At first, that realization actually shocked him. After getting out of the hospital all those months ago, he’d gone into rehab for thirty days, but he hadn’t craved a drink even then. He’d spent most of the time impatiently waiting and pacing to get out and back to Olivia. He’d even gotten through the anniversary of Sienna’s death without sipping a drop. And truth be told, he’d forgotten the date until a month after it had passed. "No," he answered, staring his doctor dead in the eye. Looking pleased by his answer, the doctor nodded. "So, now that you’re a free man, what’re you looking forward the most once you get home today?" Well, that was an easy one. "Sex with my wife." "Cameron!" Olivia gasped and slugged him in the arm. He glanced to his right with a devilish grin. But when he saw her sitting beside him, much as she’d done every week for the past fifty-two, love slammed hard against his ribcage. It still amazed him she’d stayed and bothered to stick by him through his recovery. But here she sat, as beautiful and sexy as ever. And all his. "Well, it is," he argued. "I can’t lie to my doctor, Livy." Dropping his voice, he leaned confidentially closer and whispered, "He’ll know if I don’t tell the truth." From his chair, Dr. Chin chuckled. "I take it the marriage is still a go then." Cam glowered at him, not amused by the dry crack. "Yes, the marriage is still a go." Steepling his fingers and looking way too amused, the doctor asked, "So you’ve finally told her how you feel about her then?" Cam shifted uncomfortably, not sure what he meant; he felt Olivia edge closer, felt her eyes on him, anxious for his response. "How’d this get flipped around to our marriage?" he mumbled, turning defensive. "Aren’t we supposed to talk about drinking and depression?" "We’re supposed to talk about your well-being," Dr. Chin corrected. "And since drinking and depression no longer seems to be an issue for you, that just leaves…" He glanced meaningfully toward Olivia. Cameron took instant offence. "Hey, now," he growled, snagging her hand and tugging her close. She huddled against him as if she feared Dr.
Chin would physically rip her away. "Don’t attack my wife. Livy didn’t do anything wrong. She—" "Whoa, whoa," Dr. Chin held up both hands, laughing the entire time. "That’s not what I mean, Banks. I was just trying to get you to tell her you love her. Have you ever told her that?" "Uhh…" Feeling blank, Cam glanced into Olivia’s wide, blue eyes. Had he told her loved her? What the hell kind of question was that? And when had Dr. Chin turned into Dr. Phil? "Maybe now would be a good time to do that," Chin murmured encouragingly. Arching a curious eyebrow at the doctor, Cam asked, "In front of you?" His doctor shrugged. "Sure, why not?" Yeah, why not? Well, for starters, when he told the sexpot next to him how much he loved her, there was bound to be hugging afterward. Hugging led to kissing, which would no doubt evolve into licking and touching, and the next thing he’d know, Livy would be all naked and sweaty, straddling his lap and riding him like there was no tomorrow. But, hey, if the Bronx doc was into voyeurism, Cam could deal. He turned to his wife. Her eyes held amusement. She’d probably heard his declaration of love at least ten times a day. So, she knew this was only for the doctor’s benefit. Still. He decided to put his all into it. "Livy," he said in a low, husky voice, letting his eyes go limpid. "You know I love you, right?" "Umm…" She bit her lip; her expressive face showed how strongly his words affected her. Hell, yes, he knew how to tug on her strings. He could almost smell her go wet. "Well, I do," he insisted, putting some feeling into his cause. He drew closer to her because, well, he’d never been able to stay away. Her lips parted. "I love you, Olivia Banks. You’re my entire world. And if that doctor over there tries to tell me I’m crazy for loving you, then I’ll gladly come back to this office every week for the rest of my life. I don’t care. The only thing that makes any sense in my world is you. You’re my entire existence. My foundation." Olivia sucked in a breath. "Oh," she breathed out the word. And, yes, score! She swayed toward him, her lips already pursing for his kiss. "Well, II love you too." He grinned. "Nice rejoinder." Her eyes gleamed. "Thanks." Simultaneously, they reached for each other. Lips seeking, Cameron slanted his mouth over hers; she whimpered and scooted across her seat toward him.
"I love you, I love you, I love you," she chanted against his mouth. And, oh yeah, he knew that chant. It always led to the shedding of clothes. "Oh, Cameron. You’re my world too. My foundation. My life." Let the bras and panties fly. She started to crawl over the armrest separating them and into his lap. The doctor cleared his throat. "Well, uh, okay then. I’ll...I’m just gonna take a five minute break." He lurched to his feet, turning a bright, tomato red. "Make it fifteen," Cameron rasped against his wife’s mouth. "Twenty," Olivia revised. Cameron laughed and slid his hands up her thigh as he heard Dr. Chin charge from the room. And, finally, he had his woman all to himself.
Linda Kage is a contemporary romance writer from Midwestern USA, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and nine cuckoo clocks. The eighth and final child of dairy farmers, she was forced into having a vivid imagination if she ever wanted to do something one of her siblings hadn't already tried.
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