The Wrong Bed: Again and Again
Harlequin Blaze #643
Businessman Keith Murphy (of the Cape Cod Murphys) is blown away by the sexy stranger on his brother’s boat. It’s like Goldilocks—only it’s more fantasy than fairy tale. But their sexual chemistry is lightning hot and Keith will do anything to keep Josie onboard…and in bed.
“The lead pairing is a delight as the extrovert in your face pirate and the princess in the tower introvert find love on the high seas.” — Merry Genre Go Round Reviews
“A sexy read from start to finish.” —Romantic Times, 4 stars
…Keith Murphy was none too happy to see Chase Freeman’s big-ass boat parked too close to the 26’ Pearson Triton sailboat he’d just agreed to sail down to Charleston for his brother.
Scowling at the flashy Nonsuch 30’Ultra nosing well into the neighboring slip, Keith hoped he’d be able to back out of the marina without hitting the other boat. He needed to get underway — make some serious progress toward Charleston, South Carolina — before his brother caught up to the prank Keith had pulled at their brother’s engagement party tonight. While toasting the future bridegroom — their oldest brother, Ryan — on the lawn of the Murphy family compound, Keith had deliberately baited the next oldest — Jack.
It hadn’t taken much since Jack was touchy as hell and all the Murphys were notoriously competitive. Soon, Jack was taunting him that he couldn’t sail his way out of a paper bag. Keith had suggested swapping boats, ostensibly to show Jack he knew how to sail as well as any of the rest of his brothers. His bigger motive had been to get Jack onto his boat—a slick 45’power catamaran that was too cushy for Jack the purist—but which currently played host to Jack’s ex-girlfriend. And his brother had fallen for the bait and switch so damn easily. Even now, Jack was probably half way to Bar Harbor, Maine, to deliver the boat to Keith’s chief financial officer. Jack would get one hell of a surprise when he discovered Alicia was already on board, sleeping peacefully in anticipation of a lift to Bar Harbor from Keith.
Of course, all that matchmaking effort wasn’t purely to benefit Jack. As CEO of Green Works, an environmentally-minded company he’d grown from the ground up, Keith had worked his butt off this summer on a merger with a competing firm. Green Works helped businesses and corporations of all sizes to become more environmentally friendly. They assessed a client’s carbon imprint, paper waste, recycling efforts, and energy use, highlighting problem areas and making suggestions for improvement, projecting costs for the changes and putting the clients in touch with contractors and suppliers who could implement the changes. Keith had finally acquired the smaller competing firm two weeks ago and he needed a break before his next major project — to cement a partnership with Wholesome Branding, a global marketing company that could take Green Works to an international level by recommending Green Works to companies that needed a more “green” image.
Sailing south in a vintage Pearson Triton for a few days sounded like the perfect way to clear his head from one deal and strategize how to manage the next. Keith would hand off the boat to Jack’s friend in Charleston who was supposed to buy the vessel. By the time he came home, he’d be recharged and ready to make the partnership with Wholesome Branding work.
Assuming he could maneuver around that damn Nonsuch butting into his space.
Cursing Wall Street’s latest big shot broker who’d attended the family engagement party, Keith climbed onto Jack’s trim, highly functional sailboat. Size-wise, it wasn’t that much smaller than Chase Freeman’s ride. But everything about the Vesta seemed sleeker. He’d figure out how to get the Vesta underway without any help from the owner of the 30 footer next door. Last he’d seen Freeman at the party, the guy had been feeling no pain on the dance floor. He didn’t look like he’d be heading back to his boat for the night anytime soon.
Keith loosened his tie from Ryan’s engagement bash, then thought the better of it and whipped the silk right off his neck. He tossed it aside, not caring where the thing fell. His responsibilities were done as of now.
For a moment, he debated scouting around below deck for some boat shoes or a pair of jeans. But considering his haste to get out of Dodge before his brother realized what he’d done, he settled for bare feet and rolling up his trousers. Switching on the motor for close maneuvering, he could wait to mess with the sails and the rigging until he had more room to work. Already, he could feel the anticipation firing through him. Much as he enjoyed the perks of the corporate power cat and all the bells and whistles of GPS position locking and docking, he had grown up on Cape Cod and he loved to sail. It was in the Murphy blood.
Two hours later, Keith had the Vesta out in the open water.
The night air was cool and crisp, his dinner jacket ditched long ago after sprinting forward and aft a few times to make adjustments on the sails. Even though he had ideal conditions—the weather showed he could sail a reach for at least the next day or two if he could stay ahead of an oncoming storm system — he’d still bungled the jib and had a close call with the boom in his haste to get underway. Now, he had a beauty of a draft going as the boat cut through the water with ease. His navigation lights cast warring patterns of green and red on the deck while all around him the sea grew even darker as he left Cape Cod in the distance. Traffic would be heavier to the north, headed toward Boston. But right now, he had the water to himself for at least a little while. He’d avoided the shipping lanes, steering clear of bigger vessels.
Tempted to pound his chest and roar with the sense of accomplishment, Keith did exactly that. He let out a howl for good measure. His ex-Navy brother had been talking trash to say Keith had forgotten how to sail. Just because his work had kept him busy the last couple of years didn’t mean he’d gone soft.
He took advantage of the favorable wind for another hour before he called it a night, tucking into quiet waters off Nantucket to anchor. By now, he’d left Chatham far enough behind that his brother couldn’t call off their deal to exchange boats. Besides, exhaustion was kicking in and he still had to secure the sheets and rigging for the night.
It was going on four a.m. by the time he stumbled down the steps in the companionway.
And damn near had a heart attack.
The shadowed outline of a figure—a woman — slumped over the table in the middle of the main salon. Her elbows cradled her head on a huge, open book. Through a veil of dark hair, he could just make out a hint of pale skin from her cheek.
“Miss?” he called, stupidly. But his heart raced with the fear that she was injured or—worse.
If that woman was alive and breathing, how could she have ever slept through three hours at sea?
Shoving past some built in storage bins, he knelt beside her to check for a pulse, already wondering how in the hell he would explain to the police why he’d left without checking over the boat, but — thank you, God —her heartbeat thrummed softly against his thumb where he gripped her wrist. A wave of relief flooded through his veins so hard and fast that he sank into the seat beside her. Too soon, other worries crowded his brain. Did she have a medical condition or need some kind of emergency attention?
And what the hell was she doing on Jack’s boat in the middle of the night?
He tugged his cell phone out of his pants pocket, only to discover he had no service. No surprise, really, this far off the coast of Nantucket. He’d dropped anchor in shallow waters but hadn’t sailed too far in so that he’d be able to get underway faster after sunrise.
Calling to mind some half-forgotten CPR class he’d taken during a summer as a lifeguard on a Cape Cod beach, Keith tried to take a reasonable inventory of the woman’s vital signs. She breathed evenly. Wasn’t feverish. Heart rate normal for an adult female at rest. And hello, was she ever female. In rooting around her shirt collar for a better feel of the pulse at her neck — he got an eye full of black lace bra cups beneath a silk and linen blouse.
If he’d still feared for her health, he might not have noticed. Well, he certainly wouldn’t have noticed in such detail. But with the worst of his fears assuaged by a quick check, his normal male instincts kicked back in with a vengeance. This woman—lying on a book of fabric sample swatches, he realized—was a looker.
Shoulder length dark hair framed delicate features in a heart shaped face. A slender nose tilted gently upward above lips that were deeply pink, even without makeup. Long, beaded earrings tangled in her hair and he realized her whole outfit was vaguely artsy. She wore faux snakeskin shoes and baggy jeans rolled up slightly to show off her ankles. Her dark peasant blouse was densely embroidered underneath a more austere black jacket. A series of silver necklaces dipped into generous cleavage he continued to admire. For a petite woman — under five and a half feet, for sure — she carried just the right amount of curve.
Easing into the bench seat beside her, he touched her cheek. Not just because he wanted to, but because he really needed to wake her up. Had she been a guest at his brother’s engagement party who’d imbibed too much?
She wasn’t really dressed for a semi-formal shindig and he had the feeling he would have noticed this woman if she’d been in attendance. Women hadn’t been on his radar lately, but this one? She made the grade with her eyes closed. Literally.
“Mmmm.” A throaty humming in her throat surprised him in answer to his touch.
In fact, the low, feminine vibration seemed to electrify his whole hand where he touched her, the pulse surging pleasantly through his skin.
“Miss?” He brushed his thumb along the top of her cheekbone. “Are you all right?”
She turned sleepily toward him, another incoherent murmur on her lips. Her shoulders rolled with the movement, as if she had an ache in her neck. The shifting of clothes released a hint of perfume, something vanilla-laden and sexy that made him want to lean in and inhale deeply.
He told himself to ease his hand away. In the dim salon, on the gently rocking boat, the setting suddenly felt too intimate. He didn’t want to frighten her when she awoke. But forcing his fingers away from that warm, silky skin was another matter all together. It had been many months since he’d last touched a woman. And even that—a passing encounter with an ex—had been a brief release in a work-intensive year.
“Who are you?” he asked, the feel of her still warming his palm even after his hand rested on the table beside her swatch book.
He peered past her to the stack of heavy books next to her on the other side of the bench they shared.
“You’ve got to be a designer of some kind, right?”
But despite the evidence of her career calling, he could hardly picture his brother hiring anyone to redecorate the Vesta. Jack had no style—or if he did, Keith would call it Spartan, at best. So what would this woman be doing on Jack’s boat in the middle of the night?
“There’s no way Jack is involved with someone,” he mused aloud, hoping the sound of his voice would wake her up.
Keith knew Jack was still hung up on old flame Alicia LeBlanc. Had probably even been waiting for the perfect time to look her up now that he’d returned home to Chatham. He definitely wouldn’t be hooking up with a stranger at midnight after a family party. Besides, the woman next to Keith hadn’t come to the Vesta for a tryst or she wouldn’t have brought her decorating books.
“Which means you’re fair game.” He double-checked her left hand for a ring even as he made the pronouncement. “There’s no reason I can’t flirt with you. I’ve been a perfect gentleman.”
No reasonable person could hold the glance at her breasts against him, right? He’d been scared for her life. That was his story and he was sticking to it because this woman — whoever she was — had him gaping like he’d never seen a female before.
Sighing in her sleep, she brushed a strand of hair from her face, her fingers skimming down her neck in the wake of the movement. Her hand remained there, lightly resting along the pale column of her throat, exactly where he’d like his touch to linger. His awareness shifted into overdrive, his body responding instantly.
“Maybe too much of a gentleman,” he continued, his fingers itching for the slightest rationalization to return to her skin. The silky dark hair that spilled over one shoulder as she cradled her head on the crook of an elbow. “You’re passed out on my boat—well, my boat for the next week anyway. Who would blame me if I woke you up by whispering something suggestive in your ear?”
Maybe he could plant a few torrid notions in her sleeping brain that she’d be anxious to act on when she opened her eyes? He knew a thing or two about the power of suggestion. He’d studied some business psychology, after all.
Another throaty hum vibrated through her as if to agree. His body heated instantly in response, feeling a definite sexual connection to this woman who hadn’t even opened her eyes. Could she be starting to wake up? Liking what he had to say?
The possibility tantalized.
“You’re going to be wildly attracted to me when you open your eyes,” he told her. “Wait a minute. You’re not hypnotized. You’re just sleeping.” He didn’t have any power over her subconscious and he didn’t want to tick her off by coming on too strong. “How about this—I’m damn attracted to you.”
He let that sink in, half hoping she’d throw herself into his arms. Hey, it could happen.
“I’m seriously restraining myself from touching you right now.” Still, no reply. No flutter of her lashes or sexy shifting in sleep. “I’d like nothing better than to peel your clothes off inch by inch with my teeth.”
A slow, sexy smile curved her lips. He could hardly believe his eyes. But while his gaze was glued there, absorbing the view of her deeply pink mouth, she shifted her palm against her throat and stroked upward until her fingers stroked softly along her lower lip.
Heat shot to his groin in a rush so forceful it was damn near painful.
Whatever he was doing, it was working….