The Wrong Bed: Again and Again
Harlequin Blaze #636
It was an honest mistake, really. Navy Lieutenant Jack Murphy simply got into the wrong bed. Now that they’re on the open water, Jack and Alicia have endless opportunities to explore the carnal side of seafaring…and work out all that unresolved sexual tension, completely and thoroughly! But once they hit land, will their hot, steamy chemistry dry up?
“The cat and mouse games Alicia and Jack play with each other nicely complement this lovely and heart warming romance, infusing it with a healthy dose of red-hot sensuality.” —Romantic Times,, 4 1/2 stars
“The heat was fantastic!” — Fictional Bookshelf
“I absolutely loved this story…highly recommend!” —Night Owl Reviews
**Don’t miss the free online prequel at eHarlequin, “Living the Fantasy”
Read the Excerpt
Jack Murphy had been back in town for less than four weeks since he’d finished out his Navy contract and returned to Chatham, MA from where he’d been stationed in Bahrain. Already, his family had noted the changes in him. Quieter. More brooding than he used to be. Refusing to take his old job as V.P. of Global Properties for the family business, Murphy Resorts.
And, perhaps most notably, not bothering to show up for a family football game the day before even though all give Murphy brothers were back in town at once. Clearly, something was wrong.
Jack’s younger brother, Keith, watched him now as they shared a table at their older brother’s engagement party currently taking place on the lawn of the family’s home overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Jack stared out at the waves while — one table over — their father tapped his beer bottle to signal for the crowd’s attention.
As the family peacemaker, Keith naturally felt tasked to pinpoint the problem with Jack. He’d ruled out PTSD last week, thank God, after strong-arming his closed-mouthed brother into a conversation about his second overseas stint in four years. Instead, he’d discovered that all signs pointed to a woman problem.
And that, Keith planned to address tonight.
“To the future bride and groom!” Their father made the hearty toast that reverberated through the huge outdoor tent on the lawn.
On cue, Keith clanked glasses with Jack and their two other brothers, Daniel and Kyle, while they raised a collective cheer for the eldest, Ryan, and his bride to be. At least one of the Murphy Men was in a good mood today.
Not that they weren’t all glad for Ryan, whose hard work with Murphy Resorts, Inc. had more than earned him some personal happiness. That’s why all the Murphys heeded the call to return to Chatham, Massachusetts and the sprawling house on Cape Cod to take part in the outdoor engagement party brouhaha tonight.
Jack didn’t bother suppressing an outright scowl despite the festivities. Even as the chamber ensemble gave way to a lively dance band that cranked up the tunes for the future bride and groom, Jack slid back into his chair and drummed his fingers on the white linen tablecloth.
The guy’s problem had a name, of course. Alicia Le Blanc. She was a firecracker and just the kind of woman a strong-willed man needed. But with two ardent opinions at work, they’d been too stubborn to see the possibilities of a future together and Jack had joined the Navy at a critical juncture in their courtship, telling her not to wait for him.
Nothing like slamming a door on a future.
The family had assumed four years away from home — returning only on the occasional leave — would cure him of Alicia. But he’d returned from Bahrain more restless and edgy than ever. Something needed to be settled between those two, one way or another.
Luckily, Keith had a plan to shove his hard-headed brother in the right direction since he just happened to have the woman in question aboard his boat and docked nearby at this very moment. Alicia had approached Keith two weeks ago with some questions about developing a business plan for a bed and breakfast she hoped to purchase. He might have simply given her the advice and sent her on her way except that the inn she wanted was up in Bar Harbor, Maine — close to where Keith needed to hand off his catamaran to one of his company’s VIPs as part of a corporate incentives reward. He’d agreed to give Alicia all the help she wanted, but with his busy schedule running his own company, Keith had talked her into letting him ferry her up to Bar Harbor when he relocated the boat.
Right after Ryan’s engagement party. Right after Keith trotted out a little old-fashioned maneuvering to make sure Alicia’s ex- Jack — was aboard that boat tonight for the trip north instead of him.
“So how’s the Vesta handling these days?” Keith began, turning the discussion to watercraft as the band launched into “Moonglow” and their parents took the floor beneath a small chandelier suspended under one of the tent canopies. “Are you getting tired of sailing solo yet?
It was a comfortable, easy place to begin a familiar argument about the merits of their respective boats, and Keith tipped back the last of his champagne while he watched Jack’s scowl deepen. Around the small table, Danny peeled the label on his microbrew while Kyle thumbed a text message faster than a teenage girl in spite of his massive hands. The mild evening weather stirred a breeze fragrant with late blooming flowers the landscaper had imported for the occasion.
“She’s as smooth as ever,” he bit out, although he didn’t seem to rise to defend the 26’ vintage fiberglass sailboat with the same fire and brimstone as usual. “But I’ve got an offer on her and I’m taking the boat down to Charleston this week to meet with a potential buyer.”
Keith hadn’t planned for that possibility, thinking he could goad Jack into a boat switch for a few days with no problem.
“You’re selling the Vesta?” This surprised him for a few reasons, not the least of which was because “Vesta” used to be Jack’s nickname for Alicia.
What if Jack was truly making an effort to move on?
“Probably. Maybe.” He shrugged. “Heading south this time of year is bound to be a good idea either way. I’m doing some investing in local businesses and I figured I might as well free up my capital to continue in that direction.”
What direction? Keith wanted to shout since “investing” hardly amounted to the kind of hands-on work that Jack preferred. But he hadn’t found his footing since getting out of the Navy four weeks ago.
All the more reason to forge ahead with his plan, right?
“Yeah?” Thinking fast, Keith tried to envision how to make the scheme come together in light of the new wrinkle. “You ought to let me take the Vesta down there for you, bro. I have a client I need to see down that way and I’m well overdue for some down time.”
Jack snorted. “You? Sail the Vesta solo all the way to South Carolina?” He shook his head. “You forget a vintage classic like a Pearson Triton doesn’t come equipped with all the techno-gadgets like satellite positioning and automatic docking that you need on the miniature corporate yacht you’ve got.”
“Is that right?” Keith felt the same thrill as when he had a new client on the line, ready to close a deal that would reap fat rewards for his growing environmental consulting firm. He could tell he had Jack on the hook. “I’ll bet I could handle the Vesta a whole hell of a lot easier than you could navigate a state-of-the-art 45’ power catamaran on your own.”
Across the table, Daniel’s eyes flicked their way and Kyle set down his Blackberry, their brothers drawn into the bickering like moths to a flame. Hell, they’d forged a brotherhood by more than blood. Every Murphy present was used to the unspoken family code of “don’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk.”
And they all talked a damned good game. Bets and competitions were their way of life. No clan affair was complete without an impromptu game of football or a wager over who could throw a ball, horseshoe, javelin, you-name-it the farthest.
“Do you remember who you’re talking to?” Jack shook his head in disbelief, though he lowered his voice in deference to the fact that their mother had zeroed in on their table and was making her way toward them with determined steps. “You think I don’t know state of the art boats? I’ve been in the U.S. Navy for the last four years.”
The hard glint in his green eyes told Keith his brother wasn’t backing down. Of course, Jack could handle the boat. It was Alicia LeBlanc who would provide the challenge. And damned if Keith didn’t feel the smallest twinge of compassion for sending Jack into the fray unarmed and unaware.
But Keith knew what it was like to get taken in by a manipulative woman. And it pissed him off to think about his brother setting aside someone like Alicia without looking back. People fortunate enough to have something special like that had no business throwing it away.
Their mother arrived at the table in her peach silk dress and dyed to match pumps, her outfit perfectly coordinated with the harvest-themed colors of the engagement party. Colleen Murphy was all elegance on the outside with her understated diamond earrings and her French manicure, but she had a steely strength as tough as any of her sons. The fire in her light blue eyes right now suggested her maternal radar had gotten wind of a wager in the making.
“Boys?” She intervened discreetly, her gaze moving over each one slowly. “We agreed there would be no resolving discrepancies with feats of strength tonight, remember?”
On cue, Kyle flexed a bicep for show. “As if there was any point to that when the winner is so obvious.”
Keith rose to his feet to put her at ease.
“No arguments here, Mom.” He kissed her cheek as he pulled a set of keys from his pocket and tossed them on the white linen tablecloth. “Jack offered me a chance for a little downtime on the sailboat this week since I was in the market for a vacation. He offered to take my boat up to Bar Harbor to my company’s chief financial officer while I get to sail the Vesta down to Charleston to meet a guy who wants to buy it. Just a friendly swap.”
Danny snickered. Kyle hid his grin behind a champagne glass. And Keith had to pat himself on the back for pulling off this operation so smoothly.
“That’s it?” his mother pressed. “A friendly trade?” She peered around the table, daring any of them to disagree.
Jack rose, staring Keith down for a little longer than was strictly necessary before offering a warm smile to their mom.
“That’s it,” he assured her. He took Keith’s keys and pocketed them. “I’m docked two slips down from you, bro. And since I don’t have one damn thing worth locking up, you won’t need a set of keys to get in. Good luck with a boat that doesn’t come with enough horsepower to fuel a jet engine. Sailing single-handed requires elbow grease.”
Keith yawned to demonstrate what he thought of the warning.
“Not a problem. When you cut yourself off from the rest of the world, it’s easy to focus on one thing.” He loosened his tie. “I could use the life of leisure for a week.”
Kyle whistled under his breath at the implication Jack was taking it easy. But damn it, when was he going to get back to overseeing the global properties for Murphy Resorts, a position he’d vacated to take the Navy gig?
Jack seemed ready to fire back a retort when their mom extended a peach-silk covered arm between them and gestured to Kyle and Danny.
“Speaking of leisure,” she blurted, no doubt to divert them, “there are some lovely young ladies here who would probably enjoy a turn on the dance floor.”
How was that for a segue? Kyle and Danny took the bait, standing to attend their bachelor duties as the band took up a swing tune.
Jack’s jaw flexed in an obvious effort to swallow back whatever he’d been about to say. He tapped Keith on the center of his chest. “Your life is only as complicated as you make it, hotshot. I’ll have your boat relocated to Bar Harbor in a few days and leave myself enough time to take in the sights.” Jack turned to their mother and kissed her cheek. “Mom, it’s been a pleasure. I’ll pay my respects to the happy couple on my way out.”
When Jack had disappeared into the darkness and out of earshot, Keith’s mom peered up at him.
“I don’t suppose you care to tell me what that was all about?” She twisted the small diamond stud in one ear.
“I’m just trying to remind Jack that ignoring the obstacles in life doesn’t make them go away.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about and no clue how a week on a spiffed up catamaran will call to mind any obstacles for Jack.” She tipped her head toward his shoulder. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
He thought about Alicia who should have already arrived aboard his boat and would quite possibly be safely asleep by now since he’d warned her he would be late to arrive but would get underway as soon as he could. They’d set a tentative meeting to talk over the business plan tomorrow afternoon. That was his only regret in his scheme to help Jack confront his past. Keith genuinely had some ideas for her, but he’d prepped a file to email her in the morning so she wouldn’t be deprived of that input.
Besides, Jack knew more about the hospitality industry than him after working in the family business before he joined the Navy. Keith had gotten out from under the family thumb early in his career to pursue his environmental consulting company. Ultimately, Jack would provide better input for Alicia’s business plan.
“Trust me.” He took his mom’s arm and led her toward the dance floor. “When you run as hard and fast as Jack does from problems, you’re bound to slam headfirst into trouble sooner or later. I’m merely speeding up the inevitable collision.”
His mother’s heels stuck to the turf they’d laid to protect the lawn, her feet never reaching the hardwood dance surface. Keith could practically see the wheels turning in her mind, her delicately arched blond brows furrowed in thought before they smoothed out again.
Clearly, she’d reached the only logical conclusion about an obstacle in Jack’s life. The one thing he’d run from hard and fast. Love — in the form of Alicia LeBlanc.
“Don’t tell me Alicia is in Bar Harbor.”
“Better yet, she’s on my boat.” Keith grinned, unrepentant. He tugged his cell phone out of his pocket slid open the keypad. “But don’t worry. I’ll give Jack a heads-up… once I’m sure it’s too late to turn back.”