What had she done? She never let herself get carried away by a sexy man with a charming accent who clearly just wanted to get laid. She’d learned her lesson about that the hard way. But her gaze riveted to Marcus the moment he sauntered into the bar and when he’d approached, well, she’d been helpless. She hadn’t had sex in so long—hadn’t felt sexy in so long. She’d bought into his flirtation, his casual touches, his proximity as the bar got more crowded. She let herself be seduced, escorted here, and very, very thoroughly made love to.
Her body heated as she recalled his expert kiss, his callused hands that melted her clothes away.
And then it got good. Her body hummed with the desire for a repeat, but waking him up opened up way too many dangerous possibilities, the worst of which—more rejection. Yeah, she didn’t need that, not after New York.
Which was why she was now on the other side of the planet.
Snatching her jeans against her chest, she tried to shake some sense back into herself. She slipped into the bathroom and dressed quickly in the dark, pausing only at the odd fit of the jeans. Hoping she wouldn’t wake him, she flipped on the light to see the Levi’s tag on the back pocket. She’d grabbed his instead.
She caught sight of herself in the mirror, and her fingers went to the beard-burn at her throat before she finger-combed her rat’s nest hair. God, was that a—no, not a hickey, just a shadow. Thank God. That would hardly look professional above her chef uniform.
She turned off the light and crept back into the bedroom. He grunted and shifted in the bed, and she froze. She didn’t want conversation—she wanted last night to be a memory.
A bone-melting, no-other-man-could-live-up-to memory.
Time to go. She yanked on her own jeans, crammed her feet in her boots, felt her way across the dresser until she found her purse, and beat it out of the room.
* * *
Marcus Devlin arrived at the Hobart dock and tightened his grip on the strap of his duffel as he looked up at the Ice Queen. The Russian icebreaker had been converted to a cruise ship for people who would pay a pretty penny to see Antarctica up close. His family’s travel company had made a fortune from the greenies who wanted to see the unspoiled land, but Marcus never had the desire.
Still didn’t. But after his latest scandal, his family insisted he occupy his time in a more productive way and learn how the family business was run. Plus, sending him to the end of the earth had been an idea they’d threatened for years now, although with less specificity than this.
How was he supposed to know the asshole whose nose he broke in the bar fight was a senator’s son? Though now that he looked back on it, it explained a lot. The prick.
So, yeah, he wasn’t in jail, but Christ. He shuddered. That might almost be preferable.
He straightened his shoulders and headed up the ramp, grateful at least that this cruise ship didn’t have fancy dress dinners or balls like the other cruises his family owned. There wouldn’t be any expectation he act as someone he wasn’t.
He glimpsed a flutter of red hair below him and whipped around, wondering if it was the girl who’d slipped out of his bed this morning. The twist amused him—he was usually the one doing the sneaking. That the girl had beaten him to the punch threw him off balance.
But no, he couldn’t be that lucky. Despite her initial shyness, she’d been amazing once he got her to his hotel room, so open, and the combination had been freaking sexy. He planned to look her up when he got back into port. Of course, he hadn’t gotten her number, so it might not be easy.
He crossed the deck, wondering where the hell the pilothouse would be, if the captain was there or somewhere else. From what he’d been told, they wouldn’t be taking on passengers for a couple of hours, plenty of time for him to introduce himself to the captain, find his berth and hide for the next two weeks. He had to be on this boat. He didn’t have to like it.
That flash of red again, this time closer. He turned to follow, and damned if it wasn’t her, right here on this ship. Gorgeous titian hair pulled back in a thick, soft-looking ponytail—last night at the bar it’d been down around her shoulders, and when he’d gotten her in bed, well, it’d been—yeah, best not to pursue that. Soft white skin, full pink lips—best not to think of those, either—lush body hidden beneath layers of clothing, the sweatshirt she wore now proclaiming her “Ice Queen” when he knew she was anything but.
Right. The name of the ship. She worked here? Christ, was he her boss? A chuckle escaped, drawing her attention in his direction. She went absolutely still, then absolutely red. Desire zinged through him at that innocent blush, especially when he had intimate knowledge that she wasn’t all that innocent.
“Morning,” he said, approaching. She cast a glance over her shoulder at the rail and for a moment, he thought she considered jumping overboard to get away.
“Morning,” she replied instead, backing up.
Oh, yeah, he liked this game. Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood. “I didn’t think you’d be gone when I got up.”
“Thought you’d beat me to the punch?” she retorted with a swish of her ponytail.
Little Red had teeth. Well, he knew that, sort of, but appreciated the bite of her observation nearly as much as the scrape of her teeth on his skin. “You got me.” His gaze flicked to her breasts, and the words printed across them. “I beg to differ.”
Her shoulders stiffened. “The ship.”
“You work here?”
“I do. You’re a passenger?”
For a moment he considered saying yes, hiding who he was, but he was never very good at pretending. “I’m the youngest Devlin.”
She drew in a sharp breath, clearly recognizing the name. “You own the ship.”
“Yeah. Well. Not me.” He didn’t own much of anything, to be honest. Too much responsibility went along with that.
“We’ve never had an owner on a cruise.”
That statement, almost an accusation, intrigued him. He resisted the urge to lift his fingers to her soft cheek as he asked, “You’ve been on a lot of these?” He expected the crew to be more rugged and outdoorsy, not with a peaches and cream complexion.
“I’ve worked for you for two years.”
He grinned and rocked back on his heels, needing to get some distance from her before he did something stupid, like touch her. “Then I suppose you know where I can find the captain.”
She nodded and pointed down the deck. “He should be there in the pilothouse, the last doorway as you approach the bow.”
He stared at her. Crap. His brother Harris had told him he needed to learn the lingo, but as usual, he’d blown it off. So he did what he always did when he didn’t understand. He gave her his most charming grin. “Show me?”
She opened her mouth to protest, then apparently recalled that he was her boss. She squared her shoulders and led the way across the deck.
“So what is it you do here?” His hand tightened on his duffel as he watched the sway of her ass in those snug blue jeans. “I thought you said you were a student.”
She frowned over her shoulder. “I didn’t say that. Must have been one of your other conquests.”
Hey, that was uncalled for. He trotted up to walk alongside her. “No, you said you were a student. The name of the school sounded swank.” He sought his memory, which had admittedly been impaired last night as he drank to forget he was heading out to sea today. And to forget the pain he was leaving behind. “Culinary school. That’s it. You go to a culinary school in New York.”
“I did go. Past tense.” Her cheeks pinkened, then she slowed and turned toward an open door. “The captain is right through there.”
Marcus wasn’t ready to let her walk off yet. “Won’t you introduce me?”
She huffed an exasperated breath. “Are you going to be this difficult the entire trip?”
She folded her arms and faced him. “So if I’m nice to you, you’ll go easy on us?”
“If you’re nice to me, I’ll go easy on you,” he corrected.
She waved an exasperated hand and pivoted to walk into the pilothouse.
The place was all polished cherry and chrome, with huge windows on all sides, and more gizmos tucked into the paneling than Marcus could name. Harris probably had fun with all this—he was a long-time geek, especially when it came to technology. A big man—and he did mean big, six-six if he was an inch, and built like Hagrid from the Harry Potter movies—turned from the controls when he heard them come in.
“Brylie!” He enfolded her in a bear hug that had her shoulders go stiff, and Marcus took a step forward to intervene, since the embrace obviously made her uncomfortable.
“Dad,” she said, breaking free.
Marcus stared. No, he couldn’t have heard that right. Not only had he slept with the chef on the cruise ship his family owned, she was also the captain’s daughter? And this guy looked like he’d throw Marcus overboard at the slightest provocation.
“Dad?” he repeated, but she didn’t meet his gaze.
So Marcus turned to the big man, whose face was hidden by hair a shade darker than Brylie’s, who had the same blue eyes. Oh, hell.
“Dad, this is Marcus Devlin. Did you know he was joining us on this cruise?”
She spoke like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, and Marcus began to rethink the appropriateness of her sweatshirt.
“I had heard,” her father, the captain, said. Captain what? Marcus didn’t remember getting her last name. Hell, for half the night, he’d called her Riley. The captain thrust a hand out at Marcus. “Captain Winston. And you’ve already met my girl Brylie. Best chef you have in your fleet. Trained in New York at some of the best restaurants.”
Instead of looking proud of this accomplishment, she kept her gaze averted. She didn’t want to be here, Marcus realized. She wanted to be at one of those restaurants. So why wasn’t she?
He was a sucker for mysterious women.
“Speaking of,” she said, her voice brisk. “I need to get to the kitchen to get tonight’s dinner started. The passengers won’t like to be kept waiting.”
“Mr. Devlin’s cabin is on the way to the galley.” Her father’s voice boomed off the windows. “Why don’t you show him to the VIP Suite? I’m sure he’d like to get settled before he tours the ship.”
Her cheeks grew pink again, and she didn’t look at him, but nodded. “Of course. I’ll see you after dinner.” She stretched up to kiss the big man’s cheek, then motioned for Marcus to follow her.
“He’s going to break me into pieces, isn’t he?” Marcus asked when, instead of leading him back onto the deck, she led him through a door to an interior hallway.
“There’s no reason for him to know what went on last night.” She glanced over and he saw just the hint of a humor in those gorgeous blue eyes. “Besides, you have your name to protect you.”
Of all the beauties in Hobart, he had to seduce this one. Too soon to tell if she was going to make his trip exciting or miserable.
“Here’s your cabin.” She motioned to a door on her left. “Do you have your key card?”
He did, and fumbled for it before sliding it in the lock and swinging the door open.
“Suite,” the captain had said, but the room was half the size of the hotel room from last night. The room he stood in contained a sofa and a desk in the corner. The windows were shuttered along one wall.
“Bed and bath through there.” Brylie pointed to a door in the paneling. “Enjoy.”
“Wait.” He grasped her arm and pulled her into the room with him, then opened the door she indicated. A queen-sized bed took up most of the area, barely giving him room to walk around it. He popped open another door leading to the tiniest bathroom he’d ever seen. So much for his plan to hide out in here for the duration. He’d lose his mind. “This is the VIP suite?”
“You have complete privacy,” she said. “Most of the other passengers pay a pretty penny and still have to share a bathroom with strangers.”
“Cozy,” he murmured.
“Well, these ships are converted icebreakers, not designed like your other ships. Besides, most people don’t stay in their rooms very much. There’s a beautiful lounge up on Deck Five, where they can watch the ocean and see the icebergs and occasional wildlife. Most people come on these trips to be social.”
She was watching him with an unnerving accuracy. Did she read his mind? Or was she wondering at his real reason for being here?
“Will you take me on a tour later? After dinner, maybe?”
“I’m very busy, Marcus. We have two hundred passengers and crew, and my responsibilities lie elsewhere.”
“You don’t work in the kitchen alone, surely.”
“I have a crew,” she admitted. “But my name is at stake.”
Right. She’d play hard to get, now. So he’d play the boss card. “And I’m your employer.”
This time, she went beyond pink to red. Fury sparked in her eyes. “You have plenty of other minions to wait on you. Sir.”
“I don’t want anyone else. I want you.” He was being stubborn and unreasonable. But he wasn’t accustomed to settling.
“There won’t be a repeat of last night,” she said, her voice prim. Ice Queen, indeed.
“Why not? You had fun.”
She didn’t rise to the bait, and he hid his disappointment when she capitulated.
“Fine. At nine, after dinner, I’ll show you the ship. I won’t be free before then, so don’t ask.”
He nodded, already missing the battle. “Right. Nine o’clock, then.”
When she turned to stalk off, he determined she’d definitely be making his trip more exciting.
* * *
Brylie smacked the ladle against the side of the pot with more force than necessary, drawing the attention of her crew, and waving it off with an impatient hand.
This. This was why she didn’t make rash decisions. This was why she made plans and followed them to the letter.
This was why she hadn’t had sex in a year and a half.
How had she let herself be seduced by a handsome Aussie with stories of a carefree life, of his travels, a man living his dreams? She should have known better. But he’d made her feel desirable as a man hadn’t in years, and while part of her brain told her he probably did the same to all the girls, her neglected side bought his seduction hook, line and sinker.
Now they were stuck together on this suddenly-too-small ship for the next twenty days, and he wasn’t above using his clout—she’d slept with the owner, good Lord—to get his way.
Worse, her body remembered him all too well and wanted a replay of last night. He’d been very, very attentive. And he’d made her laugh and feel good about herself, and—feel good. Something that hadn’t happened in a long time.
Then he’d fallen asleep, and she’d been alone with her thoughts and fears and she’d beat it out of there, thinking she could put it behind her.
The only thing to do was keep him at arm's length, do what he asked for the sake of her father and her own job, but make sure he understood this was only professional.
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