A Tropical Temptations Novella
By Samanthe Beck
Only fools rush in, Gwennie…
Mama had warned her. More than once, actually, but had she heeded the warnings? No. Maybe after last year’s fiasco she’d been too ready to rush. Ready for lightning, and fireworks, and damn-this-feels-right. Where had tuning out her mother’s words of caution gotten her? On the deck of an over-water bungalow in Paradise Bay, working on her tan. Alone.
Through the filter of dark sunglasses, she stared at her left hand. A platinum band should have gleamed there along with a sparkling solitaire, but only a pale strip of skin decorated an otherwise naked finger.
The sight riled her temper, and worse, put a lump in her throat, so she shifted her gaze across the expanse of turquoise lagoon—not a normal view for a horse trainer from Kentucky—to the empty decks of two bungalows in the distance. The big one at the end was unoccupied as far as she could tell from her second day in residence at this five-star destination Great Escapes magazine had dubbed World’s Most Romantic Honeymoon Destination. The other bungalow hosted Lana and Yvette, two models from Paris enjoying a little downtime after a swimsuit shoot. She’d met them last night at the bar. They’d listened to the story of her runaway groom, applied copious amounts of red wine to her shattered heart, and walked her back to her…ha...honeymoon suite. The evening got a little blurry from there, but in a moment of weakness she’d handed over her phone, stripped down to her bikini bottoms, and posed like a centerfold on the oversized bed while Lana art-directed and Yvette took pictures designed to, “Make zee motherfucker plein de regrets.”
She’d stayed strong since he’d pulled his morning-of-the-wedding disappearing act. Hadn’t called, texted. Nothing. But seconds after waking at dawn with a staggering hangover, she’d checked her phone and realized she’d texted a photo to him last night, along with the message, “Looks like there’s no U in paradise.”
The stunt felt pathetic and desperate in the sober light of day. A warm breeze blew a long strand of hair across her face. She shook it back and adjusted her sunglasses. She didn’t know where the hell he was, or if he’d even gotten the stupid text. She didn’t really know a damn thing.
Her mother’s concerned voice echoed in her mind. He’s easy on the eyes, I’ll grant you, but what do you really know about the man? His background has holes big enough to drive a horse trailer through. Honey, please. Slow down a little. I’m not saying he’s trouble, but even I can tell you he’s not a handyman.
Oh, but he’d been handy. Very handy. Two months ago when she’d closed escrow on the fixer just a block off the town square and asked her realtor to recommend someone for carpentry and repairs he’d immediately suggested his friend Ethan. The endorsement had been unqualified.
He’s new in town—can’t remember where from—but he did work on my folk’s place and, trust me, there’s nothing he can’t fix.
True enough. The tall, dark, monument to masculinity with hard-etched muscles and sharpest gray eyes she’d ever seen had been Mr. Fixit. Low water pressure? Resolved. Sticking front door? Unstuck. Faulty wiring? Fixed. His cool self-containment coupled with all the coiled power in his impressive frame might have intimidated some people, but she had experience dealing with big, silent animals.
She’d offered him a beer at the end of each day and slowly chipped away at his air of mystery. Every once in a while he’d given up a detail or two. He’d enlisted at eighteen. The Navy had worked out so well he’d served a stint in the SEALs. The last few years he’d spent doing odd jobs for his uncle, but had trained a replacement and was free and clear unless a loose end shook out that only he could tie off. She’d only half-jokingly asked if “uncle” was code for the mob, the military or the government. He’d treated her to a smile that carved an irresistible groove beside his mouth, and informed her he wasn’t a criminal, but if told her anything more, he’d have to kill her. Funny man.
Usually he evaded her questions and turned the conversation to her. Why horses? She loved their intelligence, their tremendous strength and gentle souls. Why no husband or boyfriend? Because ten months ago her high-school sweetheart had left her at the altar and run off to Houston to find himself. Now he co-owned a cowboy bar with his new love, Ron. And no, she’d never suspected. The story usually provoked pitying stares, but when he’d trained those seen-everything eyes on her, she’d felt heat. Sparks. Chemistry crackling just below the surface of their civilized conversations. Most of the time he’d managed to wring more out of her than she ever got from him, which should have bothered the crap out of her, but instead of annoyed, it had left her challenged…and ridiculously turned on.
Two weeks of him driving nails and tightening screws had manhandled her little house into shape—and her into a complicated state of need. And then, God help her, he’d fixed that too. Seconds after stepping off her porch at the end of a drizzly Saturday afternoon, he’d stopped cold, turned, and strode back toward her with a fierce intention that promised the real storm was about to begin. He’d kicked the door shut behind him without putting a hitch in his forward momentum.
Even now her backside tingled with the phantom imprint of calloused, capable hands hauling her against him. Her ears vibrated with the sound of his voice.
Gwendolyn, you’ve got five seconds to slap my face or wrap those pretty legs around me and ride us home.
In that moment she’d known the truth. She’d fallen for a man with a past he didn’t discuss, a way with tools, and the unshakeable look of certainty on his face.
She’d wrapped her legs around his waist, and ridden him like a wild stallion. He’d proceeded to test the endurance of the sheetrock, the floorboards, and every cell in her body. By the time he’d had her bent over the foot rail of her old iron bed, panting and sweating her way toward her fourth orgasm, she’d only been capable of nodding when he’d asked her to marry him. Was two months was long enough for her to plan whatever kind of wedding she wanted? She’d managed to moan something affirmative in between the impacts of his body slamming into hers.
In truth, she hadn’t much cared about a wedding, or the institution of marriage, given her first disastrous attempt at tying the knot. Commitment mattered to her, not a piece of paper or a ceremony, but the next day he’d slipped the blasted diamond on her finger, bit the pad of her thumb hard enough to scramble her brain, and told her with steady resolve that it mattered to him.
Except it hadn’t.
The morning of the wedding she’d woken before dawn, alone in the bed she’d shared with him for two perfect months. His soap-and-leather scent had lingered on the bedding, but something about the coolness of the sheets had quickened her pulse. As the stillness of the room, hell, the entire house, had registered, she’d seen the note.
A loose end shook out and I need two days to tie it off. Forty-eight hours. I promise I’ll make it worth the wait.
Those cryptic lines had told her nothing and everything at once. At least her ex had mustered up the balls to face her, not sneak off in the dead of night and leave a note engineering himself a forty-eight hour head start. With flashbacks of whispers behind palms and sympathetic stares from everyone in town whirling through her mind, she’d flushed her engagement ring down the toilet, grabbed her passport and the honeymoon itinerary he kept tucked in his nightstand, and headed to the airport.
Disgusted to find her thoughts spinning on the same useless cycle, she hoisted herself out of the chaise and went inside for a magazine…book…anything to distract her from the reality of her situation.
Trust was officially dead.
Never piss off southern woman…
Great advice, coming from a man who’d left him little choice. Ethan had no problem telling a five-star general, “I’m not on the roster anymore.” He could say, “Find someone else,” to the Undersecretary of State, but he couldn’t say no to a guy who’d saved his ass in a shithole in Africa three years ago.
He might indeed be off the roster, and only a handful of days from officially retired from the game, but he had a highly specialized skillset and he owed one last favor—the kind Uncle Sam preferred to deny all knowledge of should things go sideways. The kind of favor you didn’t spell out in any detail to your fiancée unless you wanted to righteously fuck up your life. And hers.
Things hadn’t gone sideways, thank Christ, unless one counted the fact that his fiancée had gone on the honeymoon without him, and apparently found someone else to keep her company.
He stalked into the bedroom of the deluxe bungalow commandeered on his behalf thanks to calling in a few favors, and chucked his duffel at a chair. Then he pulled his phone out of the pocket of the jeans he felt like he’d been traveling in for days.
The picture of her sprawled on the bed stared back at him from the screen. Granted, he owed her a grovel of epic proportions, and he was fully prepared to deliver, but after they got that out of the way she was going to pay for the picture. For wasting their time and the privilege of her body on someone just to demonstrate what he knew going in: she could have any guy she wanted. How many orgasms would it take to pry an apology out of her? Didn’t matter. She’d get every last one of them, until she screamed for forgiveness and promised him forever.
Jealousy made a terrible travel companion, but a constant one. From the moment he’d checked his messages last night at the airbase in Paraguay and discovered he needed to jump a flight to Paradise Bay instead of Covington International, the green-eyed bastard had kept him in its grip. His gut still churned every time he stared at the picture. Beautiful as a fucking goddess with her long, dark hair tossed back from her heart-shaped face, the slim limbs and dangerous curves of her all but naked body draped over the pillows. A completely bare ring finger buddied up to the raised middle finger saluting the camera. Lash-heavy eyelids veiled her big blue irises, and a lopsided smile pulled at one corner of the softest lips he’d ever had the pleasure of slipping his cock between. Both indicated she’d been less than sober when she’d posed for the shot.
The text required less analysis—it told him exactly what she thought of him. The only things he didn’t know? Who had snapped the picture, and how long it would take to track the asshole down and kill him.
Now seemed like a good time to find out. He pulled off his clothes and dragged on the swim trunks he’d bought at the resort gift shop on his way in. Under different circumstances he might have spared a moment to appreciate the light wind stirring heavy air and the white clouds stacked along a dancing horizon where waves broke on the reef. Right now, however, he focused his attention on the opposite side of the lagoon, identified her bungalow—their bungalow—and took in the pertinent details. Nobody occupied the deck, but a towel covered one of the lounge chairs and a clutter of stuff on the side table indicated his target remained in the vicinity. Was she alone, or were things about to get momentarily awkward? Despite sleeping in turbulent, thirty-minute jags over the last three days, he swam the distance in record time.
A ladder extended from the lagoon to the bungalow. A guy with his training knew how to move soundlessly, and he did so now, ascending to the deck and pausing there to take stock. A nearly empty bottle of water sat on the side table. One water. An edge of the towel fluttered in the breeze, but the part lying over the chaise still bore the damp imprint from a wet body. One body.
While he did the math on that, a movement inside the little structure caught his eye. A second later she walked out wearing tiny black bikini bottoms, sunglasses, and nothing else. This time he did spare a split second on the view—her strong, slender, horse trainer’s legs, smooth, newly tanned skin, perfect tits swaying slightly as she moved.
The magazine she carried hit the floor. Her hand flew to her chest and her mouth dropped open on a strangled sound. It snapped shut just as quickly, and firmed into an impassive line, but he could see the pulse pounding at the base of her throat. She slowly folded her arms—not to hide anything, he knew, but in an effort to fortify her don’t-fuck-with-me expression.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
He took a step closer. “You know why I’m here. You’ve got five seconds to slap my face or wrap those pretty legs around me and ride us home.”
She could do both, as it turned out, in under three. Her palm cracked across his cheek an instant before she used his calves for stirrups and saddled up. Heels dug into his ass hard enough to leave bruises. Fingers tangled in his hair, pulling until his scalp sang.
Risking another slap, or a head-butt, or a lacerated lip, he trapped her jaw in his hand and brought his mouth down on hers. The force parted her lips—or maybe she parted them of her own accord. Either way, he dragged his tongue through her mouth, desperate to flood her with his taste, dominate her senses, and obliterate any possible traces of another man’s kiss. Her tight nipples drilled into his chest. Had she pressed them against some other guy last night? He sank his free hand down the back of her bikini and palmed tight curves that belonged to him. His. She’d damn well know it by the time he finished this conversation.
A moan reached his ears. He pulled his mouth away and let her breath.
“You can kiss my ass,” she panted.
He whipped her around until she faced the water, took a fistful of her bikini, and ripped it off. “I’ve got other plans for this ass.” He gave it a quick, satisfying smack. “Mine,” he couldn’t stop himself from adding. Then he braced her hands on the deck rail and menaced her ear with his teeth. “All of this is mine, and you let someone else have what belongs to me.” He squeezed her tits while she writhed between him and the rail.
“You didn’t act like a man who wanted it,” she shot back, and arched into his touch, but he heard the hurt in her voice.
“Grab that rail tight, Gwendolyn, and I’ll show you how wrong you are.” The words came out like an order. He silently prayed she’d obey.
“Somebody could see us.” Still, she planted her feet, firmed her hold on the rail, and bent forward a bit. Sable waves curtained her face and left the nape of her neck exposed. The pose projected an element of submission, but he knew better. Proud Gwendolyn hadn’t boarded a plane and flown to Paradise Bay just to make him chase her. She might offer him her body, but her heart? She’d guard that prize until he convinced her to trust him with it again.
He wasn’t above using one to attain the other. He had a sneaking suspicion that’s how he’d gotten her in the first place. With a tear of Velcro, his trunks hit the deck. He kicked out of them and wrapped his fist around his throbbing cock.
“I want people to see.” So saying, he pushed in, appreciating her cry of gratitude like a drowning man appreciates oxygen. He prepared to hold at the halfway point to give her a chance to adjust to him. Three seconds of furious kissing and a slap on the ass didn’t constitute foreplay in his book, and he needed her wet and ready before he gave her the kind of frustrated, jealous-assed fucking he had in him now.
But she didn’t want his caution. Didn’t need it, apparently, because she rocked her hips back and hastened the connection. He slid home like she’d been ready to receive him for three long days. Every ounce of blood in his body rushed toward her, surging with an urgency that left him lightheaded. He took hold of her hips and blinked his world back into focus.
“I want everyone to see,” he reiterated, and started moving. Her head came up, hair tumbling down her back as she lifted onto her toes to meet each thrust. “I want everyone to see exactly where you belong.”
To that end, he took hold of her wrists and guided her hands back until she could latch them behind his neck. Elbows to the sky, head resting on his shoulder, she moved with him. If anybody happened to look out from another bungalow, they’d get a damn fine view.
He wrapped an arm around her waist and quickened his pace, but for some reason his goal of showing her how wrong she was suddenly took a back seat to his sense of betrayal. He’d expected anger—she deserved to be angry with him—but he hadn’t expected her to cut and run, or exorcise her fury in the arms of another man. “I should be here, right now, fucking my wife, but instead I’m fucking a woman who won’t even wear my ring. My bride-to-be took off and spent last night teaching me I’m replaceable.” He thrust harder, feeling his muscles burn. “Do you know what that does to me?”
“You left. That’s all I know. Oh God…”
He dropped his hand between her legs and strummed the swollen little trigger practically twitching to be pumped. With his other hand he pushed her elbow higher, to its full extension, stretching her and forcing her onto her tiptoes. Then he switched his pace to slow, shallow stirs. “I asked you to trust me. I told you to wait. You did neither, which means I’ve failed to demonstrate I’m worthy of your trust or patience. Now we’re both paying for our mistakes. Who took the damn picture?”
“Yvette, and…sweet Jesus, Ethan, please…”
“Yvette and Lana.” The confession came out in a rush. She released his neck and tossed a hand out, gesturing across the lagoon.
Through a haze of need and possessiveness he looked toward the bungalow in the distance. The one he didn’t occupy. Lana and Yvette. A knot in his gut loosened for the first time since he’d gotten the text. Her admission granted him considerable, but not complete, relief.
“Nobody touched this but me?” He trapped her clit between his thumb and forefinger and pinched gently.
“Nobody, I swear. Not a soul. Please, do it…”
He pinched again, very lightly, even though he knew she wanted more. Eight incredible weeks spent learning to play her body like a virtuoso didn’t fade in three days. He had her filled, stretched, and squirming on his cock, but she couldn’t come like this. Her neglected clit required the kind of direct attention she simply couldn’t get from this position—not without some help. She needed him to squeeze the orgasm out of her.
“Who touches this?”
“You. Only you.”
Damn right. He gave her what she craved, biting her shoulder and holding firm while she bucked and jerked and struggled for release. The feel of her clenching around him nearly pulled him in too, but he withstood the temptation to go over with her. Too soon.
When the last spasm subsided, he pulled out, steeling himself against her whimper at the sudden abandonment. Then he turned her around and hitched her up onto the railing. Her forehead rested against his throat and her hands clung to his shoulders. Although parts of him still ached like a wound, satisfaction settled in his chest. Being needed by Gwendolyn always had that effect on him, even if her primary use for him at the moment might be keeping her upright.
The soft gusts of breath fanning his collarbone eventually slowed. Her spine stiffened. The small, defensive gesture warned him the orgasm-induced wave of contentment had receded, leaving her temper exposed like a rocky shoreline.
“You came all this way to stake a claim?” she asked, her voice muffled against his skin. “What about my claim, Ethan?”
“You own me.”
Her head snapped up. “Prove it,” she challenged, and reached for his cock. “Show me I own this.”
“Uh-uh.” He intercepted her hand and brought it back to his chest so she could feel his heart pounding for her. “I haven’t earned mine yet. I don’t earn it until you tell me why?”
“Why what? Be specific, because my list of whys is pretty damn long at this point.”
Jesus, she was stubborn. Why you don’t know I’d never leave you? he wanted to shout, but settled for a comparatively calm, “Why you played this game.”
She stayed silent for so long he thought she intended to stonewall. Finally she stared somewhere over his shoulder and said, “I wanted to make you regret what you did.”
“Baby, I regretted it before I even walked out the door. I agreed to the wedding date, and then I couldn’t keep my word. I felt like a shit, but when it comes to certain situations, my feelings don’t factor.”
Guarded eyes continued to avoid his. “You left without a word. I didn’t know where you were. I didn’t know if you’d come back…”
“Yes you did.” He moved his hand to the back of her head and sank his fingers in her hair. “I told you I’d be back in two days.”
“And I’m supposed to sit tight and think happy thoughts based on a note?”
“You’re supposed to trust me.” He said the words quietly. Firmly.
“Are you insane? You took off mere hours before our wedding, and I’m the one with trust issues?” She pushed at his shoulder. “No. You know what? Cleary I’m the insane one.” Panic crept into her voice. “What kind of a man disappears in the middle of the night and the only explanation he can give is he had to tie off a loose end?”
He tightened his hold on her head and waited until she looked at him. “Gwendolyn, we talked about this. I told you what I could. You’re a smart person. You know the score. There’s nothing I could have said about where I was going and what I was doing that I didn’t put in the note.”
“Great.” Her laugh held no humor. “You are some kind of criminal.”
The question hurt—her doubt hurt—but he’d give her any reassurance she needed. “No. I told you I wasn’t, and I’ve never lied to you.” He pulled her face closer. “I will never lie to you.”
The vow put a hitch in her breath, and something hungry in her wide eyes. Need surged through his nervous system like a thousand volts from a live wire, scorching a brutal path all the way to his balls. “Give me the same honesty. Why didn’t you wait like I asked?”
“You didn’t ask. There wasn’t a single question mark in that note.”
Never piss off a southern woman…
He refused to take the bait and get sidetracked over semantics. “Why. Didn’t. You. Wait.”
Her chin trembled. Oh shit. Desperation shoved his “Tell me why” agenda aside. He’d never seen her cry, and he wanted to keep it that way.
“Don’t. I mean it. I can handle your anger. I can overcome distrust, but I can’t take your tears.”
“I c-can’t h-help it…”
He could—or wreck himself trying. He grabbed his cock and angled it to her like an offering. “Shhh, baby. Don’t cry. Let me make you happy. I swear to God I will. You want to see what need looks like? I’ll show you. Any way you want.”
“Come inside me.” She opened her thighs wide. “Lose control. Surrender it. Need me so much you can’t help yourself. That’s what I want.”
“Jesus, I need you so much it hurts.” He eased in. Her cheeks turned pink, her eyelids fluttered, and they both groaned a little from the pain. “I wake up every morning wanting you. I fall asleep each night wanting you. Every time I have you only makes me want you more. I’ll die wanting you.” He rested his forehead against hers and started to give her everything he had with long, deep strokes.
Blue eyes stared into his soul. “I was afraid you weren’t coming back.”
“Forty-eight hours. I was very clear.” He pulled her off the rail and into his arms. Holding her closer. Supporting her weight. His fingers dug into her ass cheeks as he worked her up and down his shaft. He deliberately punctuated the ride with quick, clit-grinding thrusts.
“M-maybe you just said that because you wanted to get away?” The question came out in unsteady pants as he bounced her faster. “Maybe you realized you couldn’t go through with it, and you—.”
“You thought I was like that other guy? Take off and find myself?” A familiar burn seeped into his muscles, tightening his calves and thighs before concentrating in his groin. “Gwendolyn, I found myself the minute I set eyes on you. I was home the second I touched you.”
“Maybe you’d want to come back, but something would happen, and…and you’d become one of those loose ends someone needed to tie off?”
A lone tear rolled down her cheek, but he didn’t get a chance to beg her to stop, because she cupped his face and kissed him like she wanted to consume him, and, fuck, he wasn’t going to last much longer.
“Didn’t happen,” he ground out when she relinquished his mouth for air. “I’m here. I’m not leaving again. Let go of that worry.”
“It’s not that easy, Ethan.”
He lifted her until only his tip remained lodged in her heat. “Let go,” he whispered, and then dropped her down. Hard. Once…twice…three times in rapid succession.
Her head fell back, and her cry filled the air around them as she shattered.
And that was it for him. He managed to brace her against the rail as he delivered the surrender she’d demanded. His vision dimmed. Sound ceased except his pulse pounding in his ears, and then he came like a freight train. Whistles screamed, rails thundered, tracks clapped as the climax rolled through him. It took a moment or two before the chaos settled, and then he shook his head because the whistling and clapping lingered like an echo.
Gwendolyn’s husky voice cut through the noise. “You got your wish. We have an audience.”
He raised his head just enough to look in the direction of the sound. Two tanned figures loitered on the deck of the bungalow across the lagoon, giving them a standing ovation. “Yvette and Lana?”
“Mmm-hmm. I think they forgive you for being two days late for your honeymoon.”
“Yeah, well…” He gathered her into his arms, turned, and carried her into the bungalow. “I really only care if you forgive me.”
“I do, provided”—she narrowed her eyes at him—“it’s never going to happen again.”
He dropped her on the big, white bed, and sank down on top of her. “Never. I tied off my last loose end. I’m done. I’m out.”
She fiddled with his hair, brushing it back from his forehead. He caught her hand and used his thumb to separate her ring finger from the others. “If I promise, will you put the ring back on?”
To his surprise, her chin quivered again. “I promise anyway,” he said quickly.
“No, I believe you. It’s just…I…um…I was so mad when you left I flushed it down the toilet. Oh God.” She sniffled. “I flushed my ring. It’s gone.”
He pulled her to him and kissed her. By the time he let her go, she wasn’t sniffling anymore. “It’s not gone. A toilet is like a sink. There’s a trap.”
“Yep.” He kissed her again, and then settled against the pillow, and shifted his shoulder to scoot her head into a comfortable position on his chest. “It’s a little harder to get to, but it can be done.”
She smiled up at him. “Luckily, I know a handyman.”
“I guess you better keep him around.”
“I better keep him forever.”
Copyright © 2017 by Samanthe Beck.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.