Authors: Juliana Stone
Copyright © 2014 Juliana Stone
All rights reserved.
Cover art and design by Patricia Schmitt/Pickyme
Copy editing by Jena O’Connor
E-book Formatting: Jessica Lewis, Authors’ Life Saver
This book is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used fictitiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real
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If Jack Simon was a betting man, he’d lay money down on the fact that tonight wasn’t going to end well. Hell, if he could go back in time he’d be up for a do-over, because about two minutes after he’d opened his eyes, his day had pretty much gone into the toilet.
For starters, his roommate (a fluff ball named Coco who weighed less than a small cat) decided to crap on the floor instead of waiting to be let outside. He’d inherited the dog after a nasty break-up with his ex, and damned if the little guy didn’t do everything in his power to piss Jack off. He supposed the dog had a right to be a pain in the ass, what with being male and having a name like Coco, but still….
After dealing with that mess, Jack had gone for an early morning jog, and he’d somehow managed to twist his ankle on a piece of driftwood. Seriously. Driftwood.
He’d hobbled back to his place—cursing the entire time because what kind of moron runs over driftwood on a near empty beach—only to find that the little turd, Coco, had somehow managed to open the patio door and was gone.
Now another guy might have let it go. Closed the door and forgotten about a dog who, according to Jack’s way of seeing things, wasn’t worth the aggravation. But Jack Simon had a conscience, and even though he and Coco didn’t see eye to eye most days, he couldn’t leave the dog outside to fend for himself. Christ a goddamn eagle could fly away with him.
He found Coco hiding underneath the porch of a neighboring beach house, the one owned by a crotchety old lady named Ella. The woman was grumpier than his uncle Bellamy, and that was saying something. Not only was she a staunch Republican who disliked pretty much everything that Jack stood for, she also liked to gossip, and she’d been riding Jack about Donovan James for months.
Seems Ella had always been a fan of the singer and was mighty excited about the prospect of Jack and Donovan reuniting. Photos of Jack and Donovan had surfaced a few months back, and she’d been riding his ass ever since.
Ella: So when are you going to up and marry that girl?
Jack: When I do, you’ll be the first to know (sarcasm drenched retort).
Ella: Don’t be smart with me, Mr. I’m-so-handsome-it-hurts-to-look-in-the-mirror.
Jack: Aw, Miss Ella, you’re making me blush.
Ella: Only women blush. Are you a pansy or what?
By the time Jack returned to his own beach house with Coco he was severely behind schedule. Something his mother had been more than happy to remind him about much later in the day, since he was nearly an hour and a half late for his own fundraiser.
A fundraiser for the Everglades, and one he’d been working on for the better part of four months. A fundraiser that most of the Simon clan had come out to support, including his brothers Tucker and Beau, as well as his cousin Cooper.
And a fundraiser that Donovan James had definitely
been invited to.
So why the hell was she across the room wearing a dress that barely covered her lady parts, with some guy’s arm draped across her shoulders as if it had every right to be there? Jesus, his hair was almost as long as Donovan’s, and Jack knew that wasn’t her thing. Who the hell was he?
“Keep that up and the gossip rags are going to have a field day,” Tucker Simon said, as he sidled up to the bar where Jack was currently nursing a scotch and glaring in the general direction of the woman who still managed to get under his skin like no other woman he’d ever known.
“What?” Jack barked, turning to his brother.
“You look like you want to take that guy down.” Tucker’s grin was wide as he accepted a cold beer from the bartender. “And don’t think I’m the only one who noticed. Mom’s got her eye on you, and if you’re not careful, she’ll drag someone over to occupy your time and God forbid it’s one of Marianne Meddencourt’s daughters. They’re all lined up like a bunch of Barbie Dolls just waiting for a chance at one of the eligible Simon boys. Maverick was smart to stay away from this event.”
“No shit.” Jack’s scowl deepened. “Who invited her?” he asked gruffly.
Jack took a moment. If his brother wasn’t careful, Jack would have no qualms about taking him out back and working out some of the aggression he was currently feeling.
“Donnie,” he replied, before downing the entire glass of scotch in a gulp that would have made his Uncle Bellamy proud (the aforementioned old grump), and Uncle Bellamy was a professional drinker.
“You didn’t?” Tucker asked and Jack could tell his brother was surprised.
“No, dammit. I did not invite Donovan James. She and I are like oil and water. You know that. Christ, I’ve barely recovered from the mess those pictures created the last time I saw her.”
Silence greeted his outburst, and Jack sighed heavily. “Sorry, Tuck. I just...I wasn’t expecting to see her. Not tonight. It’s been a shit day.”
Tucker cleared his throat and gave a slight shake of his head, and if Jack had been on his game, he would have picked up on it. But Jack was so far off his game, he didn’t have a clue. And when she spoke, his mood went from dark to much darker. As in he needed to break something, darker.
“Sorry, sugar. I can leave if y’all want me to, but I don’t want to disappoint the crowd.”
Jack’s eyes narrowed and every single muscle in his shoulders tightened. He glanced up at the bartender, Mike, according to the name tag. The guy didn’t hesitate. He poured another double scotch and handed it over. “You’re gonna need this, Mr. Simon.”
Smart man, Jack thought.
He grabbed the tumbler and turned around, aware that some of the folks nearby were doing that polite-stare-thing. You know, the one where they pretend like hell that they’re not listening, but in fact a bunch of naked people could waltz through the room and they wouldn’t notice.
Donovan stood a few inches away, and it was obvious that she’d heard everything he’d just said. All signs pointed to the fact that the woman was more than a little pissed. Her cheeks were flushed. Her eyes shiny like glass. But most telling, the tick was there. That small little tick near her mouth on the ride side, a smidge past the most famous mole in the world (or infamous according to some).
For a moment, he couldn’t tear his eyes away from her mole. Or that luscious mouth. But then, of course, she opened it—the mouth that is—and ruined any fantasies that still lived inside his head.
“Jack Simon, if you don’t stop staring at me like that, I’m going to start thinking that you still have feelings for me.”
Oh he had feelings for the woman, but they were nothing along the lines of what she was insinuating. He flexed his hands and rolled his shoulders. That ride had crashed and burned years ago, and she’d been the one driving the goddamn car.
She paused, smoothing her hands over her little black dress, which only managed to stretch the fabric tight across her chest and her hips.
“But that’s not possible is it? I mean, you high-handed political types don’t like to mess around with us hee-haws from the Ozarks…at least not in public.”
The jab was subtle, but it was there nonetheless. Should he feel sorry for her? Maybe, but right now all he felt was a slow burn settling under his skin.
After they’d been photographed leaving that damn Miami nightclub a few months back, the story had gone viral, and it was a story that still had life. The paparazzi had made his life hell and though Jack was used to being in the spotlight, it had become more than a little insane. His brother Beau with all his Hollywood hype was used to that kind of exposure, not Jack.
Jack’s people had immediately put their own spin on the pictures and the story, telling the media that he and Donovan, though a couple years ago, were definitely not involved. Their past was just that, the past, and had no bearing on the present.
That night had been wrong from start to finish.
Jack had ended up at the nightclub with a crowd he didn’t usually hang with, including a few up-and-comers in the Democratic party. The place was buzzing because Donovan James was in the house. And damn, but she was more than a little drunk. The girl could handle her whiskey just fine, but he’d seen her sucking back wine like it was water. Why else would she have rubbed herself all over him like a cat?
One look at her, and he knew trouble was coming if he didn’t get her the hell out of that club. They’d been broken up for years, but she still managed to tug on that over-protective streak inside him. There’d been stories that had managed to penetrate his cocoon. Out-of-control partying, fights with her manager (who also happened to be her mother), and love affairs gone bad.
Jack was pretty sure fifty percent of it was bullshit, but still it didn’t help that she seemed so goddamn small and vulnerable.
She’d come to the club with some second string movie actress known more for snorting lines than saying them—and no security. After she tried to kiss Jack for the second time, he’d taken her outside, and they’d grabbed a cab, though Donovan had passed out before they made it back to her hotel. Once she was safe in her room, he’d called his cousin Maverick. The two were close and he knew that Rick would look after her..
He and Donovan were no good for each other. Hell, the only thing they were good at was sex and fighting, and he’d outgrown that kind of relationship years ago.
That was it. End of story.
Yet as he stared into eyes so blue they looked as if the sky was captured inside them, he had to wonder if it was the end of the story after all.
She’d called him the next day, but by the time he’d gotten the message, she’d already cleared out of the hotel and was headed back to LA. Jack had left it at that, figuring Donovan James was a can of worms he could do without opening. He didn’t have time to deal with something that would only bite him in the ass.
She arched a brow at him. “So how’s your lady friend, Monique? I don’t see her here.”
“We’re not friends anymore.”
“That’s too bad.”
Tucker’s fiancé, Abby Mathews joined them at the bar just then, a smile on her face as she slipped into his brother’s embrace. “What’s up?” she asked.
Maybe her words were the catalyst that moved Jack forward, or maybe it was the fact that the guy who’d been all over Donovan moments earlier was heading their way. Whatever it was, he was pretty damn sure that Donovan was just as surprised as Jack was when he took that step and grabbed her hand.
The fundraiser was being held at the Beach House Golf and Country Club in the keys and Jack led her out back to the gardens that overlooked the ninth green.
It was humid and he tugged at his tie irritably. What the hell was he doing?