Christie Ridgway

Chapter 1


“What are you trying to hide from me?” Connor Montgomery’s sister demanded, her expression suspicious.

He stared at Audra. Was the ridiculous predicament he found himself in written all over his face? She didn’t look any worse for wear, even though she’d been jilted at the altar a mere two weeks and change before. He’d checked into this fancy resort in Santa Barbara, the Hathaway at Dragonfly Beach, because she’d retreated to a suite there and he’d promised his parents to look in on her while they were traveling in Europe.

But here she was, blonde hair gleaming, dressed to kill, and she’d even casually suggested they head out for drinks and a meal, as if she’d not been shattered by the recent rejection. Only when he’d refused had she shown a change of mood. Her baby blues had narrowed and she’d gone interrogator on him.

Hell. Hell hell hell hell. He had to solve this problem he’d caused before anyone in the family found out about it. Wasn’t the point of turning over a new leaf—of committing to adulting for the first time in thirty-one years—to make adult decisions and to act in an adult manner? Not race off to Vegas and do something rash on a dare/bet/who-the-hell-knew-what-to-call-it.

Attraction, is what you’d call it.

Instant, blazing, blinding attraction. No. Binding attraction. Because he’d seen the brunette across the room and her image—sleek, shining hair, slim yet curvy body, killer cheekbones, full mouth—had become something he couldn’t look away from. The word binding applied once it became obvious he couldn’t keep his distance from her either.

After the anniversary party they’d both attended—her parents were the guests of honor, he’d wangled an invite when he’d spied an old buddy in the ballroom—they’d wound up in the resort’s bar with a group of revelers. That group pared down to a large handful. Then the large handful dwindled to five and three wandered away to the piano in the lobby.

Leaving only Con, the brunette, and the bar staff clearing up. The two of them had entered into a good-humored argument over the fastest route from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas because they both confessed to an insistent and unrelenting sense of good fortune. At the time, it had seemed entirely natural to want to explore that within the geographical limits of Sin City. Immediately.

See? There really was no adult, rational excuse for how that idea was born nor what happened after.

He glanced at Audra and his sister’s regard hadn’t softened, her chin tilted up to take in his much greater height.

And her earlier question lingered in the room, unanswered. What are you trying to hide from me?

He shoved his hands into his pockets. How to explain he wasn’t in the mood to go out for drinks and dinner with her? If he relaxed his vigilance, the temptation to confess his blunder might prove to be too much. “I just have plans, is all,” he said. And then, under his breath, “For like the next sixty years.”

Hell. Hell hell hell hell. That grim remark had actually tumbled off his tongue.

Audra’s blues were wide as saucers now. “What?” she asked.

He was saved from replying by a brisk knock on the front door of her suite. Con rushed to answer it, using his broad back as a shield so Audra wouldn’t notice he slipped his phone from his pocket to determine if anyone had tried to reach him in the last couple of minutes. But his big hands that had skimmed over the brunette’s sweet curves and silky skin as easy as a seagull riding an ocean breeze, were clumsy on the small screen and suddenly an image bloomed from his photos app.

Her face, those killer cheekbones and the full mouth, flirting at him from a nest of creamy sheets. It was his kisses that had made those lips swollen and red and it was his evening whiskers that had created that pink spot on her neck. But the come-hither look in her heavy-lidded eyes was all her own.

He’d snapped the shot sometime between long sessions of sex, before they’d sunk into a sated sleep. Before they’d awoken at the same instant the morning after and she’d gazed upon him with abject horror dawning on her lovely face.

That aghast expression would make any man take off, even as he’d briefly hoped—like an idiot—that the previous hours had all been a teenage-style wet dream followed by the kind of nightmare where you had to take a test buck naked in a language you’d never studied.

Yes, that pretty much summed up the nature of the mistake he’d made in Vegas.

Con vaguely heard Audra utter some sort of protest as he shoved the phone back in his pocket and then pulled open her door.

Some slick dude stood on the other side. Vaguely familiar…had he seen him around the resort? “I’m Connor Montgomery,” he said, holding out his hand, even as his protective instincts bristled like the hair on the neck of a wolf. “And you are?”

Audra was talking again, but the words didn’t register. What did register was the way the man—Kane Hathaway was the name he offered—looked at his sister. It was a way that Con did not like, he decided, as the man passed him to step inside the suite, his wide shoulders brushing Con’s brawnier ones.

He kept his gaze glued to this Kane person, and as if sensing his regard, the guy turned his head and returned the stare.

Distracted from his personal concerns, Con continued his assessment, not even pretending he wasn’t there as his sister’s guard dog. Yeah, the guy was slick. And there was an air of ownership about him that didn’t sit well with Con. He swung shut the door and stepped closer to the other man, thinking he should get between him and Con’s sister.

Audra wasn’t appreciating his attitude. “Stand down, boys,” she said, her voice filled with a combination of amusement and annoyance.

He flicked his glance to her and then nodded toward Kane. “What’s he doing here?”

The man answered for her. “Taking your sister out for a meal. Maybe some dancing.”

“Out for a meal?” Con was nearly growling. “Dancing?”

All right. This could be definite trouble. Enough to detour him from the so-far fruitless search for the brunette who’d checked out of their Vegas hotel room shortly after he’d left to honor her wishes for “some space.” Then, once a couple of days passed without hearing from her, he’d realized she might try hiding from him forever and he’d done the mature thing—because they really couldn’t pretend it never happened—and put out feelers. But so far—nothing. No word as to her whereabouts.

This situation with Audra appeared to need his immediate attention, though. In the months before the wedding-that-wasn’t, their father had been diagnosed with a heart condition. Supraventricular tachycardia.

They’d kept Audra in the dark about it, not wanting to add to the bride’s stress. Though the symptoms were being controlled with medication, their mom had convinced their dad it was time to start taking life easier. That Dad had agreed had alarmed Con himself enough to propose he take over more of the day-to-day at their sustainable energy company.

Grow the fuck up and be responsible after years of turning his parents’ hair gray.

He loved his dad and wanted him around for decades to come.

So…the Audra situation warranted Con’s full focus. For her sake, and for the sake of his folks who worried about their daughter’s state of mind.

Sure, he didn’t want to immediately undercut his new—intended, anyway—image by taking the risk that the Vegas stunt might come to light, but with the brunette impossible to track down, he’d do what he must to shield his sister from another romantic disaster.

With new determination, he sent a look to Audra, one meant to convey a silent signal. I’m watching, little sis.

It caused her to straighten her spine and clear her throat. Uh-oh. Clearly big brother was not welcome to interfere. “Con—”

His phone buzzed. He signaled a halt and yanked his phone from his pocket. Shit. A text from a contact with a photo attached.

The brunette. Wearing a pair of droopy overalls and a bandanna tied around her dark head. He’d asked the contact if he might know where she could be. The response: Well, I know where she was last week.

Shit. Talk about bad timing. A lead on the brunette and his sister looking to go out on a date at the very same time. What to do?

With an inner grimace, he made a quick decision then addressed his sister. “I’ve got to go, Audie,” he said. With luck—and now that he had a clue to go on—he could take care of his Vegas problem and return before Audra, cautious and goody-goody Audra, landed in any trouble.

Trouble was his—used to be his—middle name. Now he just had to clear up this latest, last mistake and go on to become the all-wild-oats-behind-him version of Connor Montgomery.

Leaving the suite behind, he hurried through the lush grounds of the acclaimed resort, the scent of ocean and the murmuring sound of waves barely breaking into his consciousness. His mind elsewhere, the flowering hibiscus bushes and white-starred jasmine were just a blur. But smiling guests of the place strolled by, their good-humored greetings forcing him to comply with the same. Why was everyone so damn happy?

Of course the verdant grounds and the seaside location were stellar, but these people all appeared drunk on something more than sunshine. Probably all buying into the Heartbreak Hotel legend that purported that a stay at the resort could heal a wounded heart. He wouldn’t know about that, his heart had never even been nicked as a matter of fact, but maybe Audra would find her visit therapeutic.

He frowned. As long as she didn’t fall for that slick and oh-so-confident Kane.
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The thought made him pause and he spun about, thinking he should return to her rooms. Then his phone buzzed again and he pulled out the device and dropped onto a nearby bench to look at the latest text from Alec Thatcher.

Alec Thatcher, the brunette’s brother. Con had met him here at the resort when he was chasing after his sister’s BFF, Lilly. While Con hadn’t mentioned in his text why he wanted to find Alec’s sister, he’d known asking the man might mean success.

It was Alec who’d sent the overalls photo along with the address of the Blue Jay B & B. From that, Con discovered it was located in the nearby Santa Ynez mountains. He hauled in a breath. An hour or so, and he could be looking at the beautiful face of his brunette again.

The brunette. Not his.

Jojo. Her name was like the double hop his heart had taken upon laying eyes on her. That had been a first for him. It should have been a warning, but instead getting closer to her had become a compulsion, until they were on that big bed in Vegas, as close as two people could be.

Stifling a groan, he recalled the sight of her on those sheets. Her delicate scent, her sweet taste, the slickness of her arousal that had coated his fingers when he’d stroked between her thighs. In his mind’s eye he saw his broad tanned hands cupping her breasts, then sliding down her belly to part her legs. There was the tight bead of her nipple as he lowered his head to suck and tongue at it. Her fingers had gripped his hair and her soft moan had made his half-hard cock, just minutes from his first orgasm, swiftly go erect again.

Christ. He shook off the memories and made himself focus on the latest string of words on the small screen. I’m going to trust here, Alec’s text read, that you’re not out to mess with my sister.

“I don’t intend to mess with her,” Con murmured. “I only mean to divorce her.”




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