Yes! It's here...your very own little tease from Reckless Hearts!
* * * * *
THE LAST THING Jami Barrett expected was a wedding crasher. Seriously, who infiltrated a private party on an exclusive island resort? But there he was, Beck Kavanagh, sucking up to the bartender.
Jami glared at the back of the dark-haired, broad-shouldered man. She knew that stupid, swirling cowlick in the middle of his lush, brown curls like the back of her hand. She’d stared at it for seventy minutes straight at the county commissioner’s hearing last month. It was definitely Beck Kavanagh, the CEO of BK Industries. Fabulous. What was he doing in the middle of the Caribbean at her sister’s wedding?
He was the one thing standing between her and a successful real estate purchase for her family’s business expansion plans. During the land use committee meeting, he and his lawyer had matched her every argument and outflanked the strategies employed by her and the family attorney.
Jami glanced around to see if her father had noticed what was going on. Nope. Teddy Barrett was nowhere in sight yet. Thank goodness. The last thing he needed was more stress, not after finally healing from open heart surgery.
Jami narrowed her gaze, and without conscious volition, marched across the pool deck toward her enemy malingering by the bar. Okay. It was an all-inclusive resort, so he had every right to drink, but really!
“Mr. Kavanagh?” Beck turned toward her with a friendly expression in his gray eyes, but it faded as he seemed to recognize her. “I’m sorry, you’re going to have to leave.” Jami pointed toward the stairs leading down to the main public pool area. “This is a private gathering. No outsiders allowed.”
“Aren’t you a long way from home?” Beck Kavanagh stared coldly at Jami. He straightened his back, and his broad shoulders, encased in a sleek white shirt, suddenly seemed even more imposing. “What are you doing here?” Beck flicked a dismissive glance at her.
Jami bridled at his condescending tone. “Once again, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“You seem to have me confused with someone else.” He looked away with disinterest as he picked up his drink. “I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”
“Are you spying on us, Mr. Kavanagh?” Jami couldn’t believe his insistence on remaining. What was his game?
“Get over yourself.” Beck scowled. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Jami! Beck!” A woman with shoulder-length blond hair patted Jami on the arm.
It was Anna, the bride-to-be, and she appeared to be chummy with public enemy number one, Beck Kavanagh. Jami swallowed against the knot forming in the pit of her belly. Something wasn’t right here. Beck’s eyebrow shot up as he gave Jami a flinty, hard look.
“Oh, Jami, it looks like you’ve already met Beck.” Anna touched Beck’s arm. “He’s one of my new in-laws.
“That’s way too complicated.” Anna laughed. “Either you’re family, or you’re not. Rob says nothing but wonderful things about you.” Anna tilted her head and smiled at Jami. “We’re siblings now. One nice, big family.”
Beck shot Jami a so-there look. She bit her lip and wondered why she was always rushing into things headlong without first considering the consequences. But then she thought about her father’s stress levels at seeing the main competitor to their business expansion plans, and Jami knew she’d go to battle any day for her father. She lifted her chin and stared back at Beck.
Beck broke eye contact and smiled graciously at Anna. “What would you like to drink?”
“That’s a lovely idea.” Anna turned to the bartender and discussed the merits of a chardonnay versus a mango rum slushy. Beck looked over Jami’s head with a bland expression. Jami smiled serenely although she was steaming on the inside.
“Where’s your handsome groom?” Jami accepted the fruity adult smoothie and clicked Anna’s identical glass with a grin.
“Rob’s checking on his mother.” Anna glanced at Beck. “She seemed to have some kind of problem with her luggage at the airport.”
Beck’s eyebrows drew together in a crease, and Jami filed away his pained expression for future reference.
“There’s Rob now.” Anna waved and made a beeline to her beloved.
As if the Red Sea had parted, a steady file of chattering adults and kids strolled through the leafy-framed opening to the private pool patio. Jami sighed with relief. At least she would have reinforcements in her battle. All of her family, and now the delight of meeting Anna’s future in-laws, and unfortunately, one Beckham Kavanagh.
With laughter and teasing, the introductions proceeded. Jami exchanged greetings with Anna’s fiancé, Rob and then met Rob’s preteen sons, Carl and Ryan. Her oldest brother, Austin, gave her a big hug, and she exchanged squeezes with Jo and Sam, her two sisters. As Anna continued the introductions, Jami noted that Rob and Beck looked little alike, and only seemed to share a similar hairline and square jaw. She shrugged. They were only half-brothers according to Beck.
A few minutes later, Teddy Barrett and his wife, Caitlynne, appeared at the top of the stairs with Daphne and Mae, their twin six-year-old daughters, in tow. Jami was relieved to see her father was in good spirits and didn’t seem too fatigued by the long flight from Oregon.
Her stepmother, Caitlynne, looked as if she’d stepped out of a fashion magazine with her blue and white striped maxi dress, delicately bejeweled sandals, and artfully tousled hair. Her eyes were perfectly lined in black, and her fake eyelashes surely must be extensions. She was high-maintenance and looked like a candidate from The Bachelor. Although she and Jami were the same age, Jami had little in common with her stepmother.
Within a short time, the twins were splashing in the pool with Rob’s boys, and then Jami’s youngest brother, Kyle, strolled in with a beer in hand and an easy greeting for all.
Jami stood out of Caitlynne’s line of sight and waited for the onslaught to start. She wondered idly who would be victim number one? Because, of course, no gathering was complete without Caitlynne proving to her husband that his daughters were deficient and clearly not as perfect as their own two progeny.
“Of course, we thought this would be your wedding, didn’t we?” Jami’s stepmother looked all innocent. Oh goody. She was first on Caitlynne’s hotlist tonight. “What is your old fiancé doing now? Didn’t Eric get that promotion?”
“I didn’t hear anything about a new job,” Teddy Barrett said, “but Evelyn Greenwood told me his new wife is having a baby in the fall.” Jami’s dad looked supremely unaware of the spear he’d casually harpooned into Jami’s heart.
Lovely. Caitlynne was a fluffy Labradoodle on the outside, but a bitchy barracuda on the inside. There was nothing she liked better than to lob bunker-buster bombs at her stepchildren. How charming of her to bring up her ass-hat of an ex who’d jilted her during his bachelor party the month before their wedding. The wound was six months old, but Caitlynne just had to pour some pickle juice on this papercut.
Jami swizzled the straw around the pale golden party drink and wished her glass wasn’t half-empty. Ha! Her glass was always full. No self-pity allowed. She peeked up at Beck, and his expression was speculative but sympathetic. Dammit. The last thing she wanted was sympathy from the black-hearted Beck. It was best to appear above the fray and supremely indifferent.
“I heard that his wife is expecting twins. Boys, I believe.” Jami schooled her features into impassivity as if she was merely sharing details of the of a half-inch of rainfall in the middle of winter instead of the hurricane of destruction that had leveled her personal life last fall.
“Eric’s wife looks like she’s having quadruplets,” Sam chimed in as she took Jami’s old drink and exchanged it for a fresh one. “And she’s only four months along.” She winked at Jami and took her place in their circle.
“She has cankles already.” Jo smiled serenely at Caitlynne and the rest of the goggle-eyed Edwards-Kavanagh clan. Jami loved her loyal sisters.
Caitlynne sniffed and tucked her arm through her husband’s. “It was a front page article that Eric is the newest partner at his firm.”
“How did you let him get away?” Teddy clucked his tongue and shook his head. “Poor Jami, such a disappointment.” Jami’s stomach muscles clenched as if she’d been sucker punched in the gut. Did he mean that it was sad that Eric had run off from her, or was he implying she was a disappointment of a daughter?
Jami hoped her cheeks weren’t flaming pink because it sure felt like her face was on fire. Beck sent her a fleeting, piteous glance before he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Her fingers itched to squeeze into a fist, but she held still, as Austin slipped into the growing circle.
“Jami’s lucky she escaped.” Austin threw a nod her direction. “Eric was a total tool. Who runs off with a lap dancer at his own bachelor party?”
Anna pressed her lips together and exchanged a look with Sam, while Jo choked on her drink. Jami decided she might need to murder her entire family. She loved her siblings, but seriously, enough with the airing of her dirty laundry in front of a stranger. A stupidly gorgeous stranger who happened to be her arch nemesis.
Jami stared at her red polished toes and wondered if her dignity was lying in shreds around her feet. Jami checked Beck’s reaction. Yup, she definitely detected a decided smirk on Beck’s lips and merriment lurking in his gray eyes. Jerk.
Rob circled his arm around Anna but shot Jami a sympathetic look. Jami immediately warmed to Anna’s groom. At least one of Anna’s new family might be kind and decent.
“Beck, aren’t you in the process of moving your company to Oregon?” Rob smiled easily at his brother. “Is it anywhere near Barrett Ridge?” Jami blessed his heart for mercifully changing the subject, but seriously, this topic was no better.
Austin and Teddy turned toward Beck.
Beck nodded. “Not just close, but in Barrett Ridge.”
“No kidding.” Austin cocked his head as if searching his memory banks. “What kind of business do you operate?”
“I’ve founded an electric motorcycle business.” Beck smiled. “We’ve been growing lately and need a new place to call home. We’re bidding on a piece of property and hope to hear soon.” Beck’s voice was bland, and Jami’s nostrils flared.
“The little thing that Beck is glossing over is that he is BK Industries.” Jami met Beck’s gaze. There was a flash of irritation, and then his neutral expression fell back into place. “He was the surprise, last-minute bid for the Anderton property.” Jami couldn’t help but let irritation filter into her voice. She and the family attorney had only found out about BK Industries rival bid a few minutes before the commissioners’ hearing.
Jami turned her head and waited for her father’s reaction. With the old man, she could never guess if he’d fly off the handle, go stone cold silent, or just blame her for the misfortune. Jami inhaled and planted the hint of a tiny smile at the corner of her mouth. Never let anyone see her sweat. Not her father. Not Beck Kavanagh.
Jami side-eyed Beck. And certainly she wouldn’t give Beck even the remotest hint that she needed this deal. Her father’s health was on the line and his trust in her.
“That’s interesting.” Teddy sucked air through his teeth. “Such a coincidence.” Teddy’s tone was jovial, but there was no laughter in his expression.
“Well, doesn’t this make our little soiree a tad more interesting.” Kyle gave a carefree laugh that even a repressive stare from Austin couldn’t silence. Caitlynne put her hand on Teddy’s arm and squeezed.
A vein on his temple pulsed. Jami held her breath and prayed that a fit of temper didn’t hit her father. The doctor had told him he needed to reduce stress or he’d risk another heart attack.
“Weddings are dull.” Teddy pulled away from his wife but inclined his head toward Beck. “I like having a sparring match. You up for it, Beck?”
“I’m game, sir.”
“Don’t drag business into this.” Caitlynne scowled at Jami as if this was all her fault.
“Relax, Caitlynne.” Austin’s tone was soothing. “Business is almost four thousand miles away. This is family first.” Austin tilted back his icy blue cocktail and drained the last ounce. Jami wished she could handle their stepmother as smoothly as Austin did.
Beck smiled at Caitlynne with a roguish smile that made Jami want to roll her eyes.
“Rob and Anna are the main event.” Beck nodded to Caitlynne, whose ruffled feathers seemed to smooth down. With his glass raised in the air, Beck saluted Anna. “To the lovely bride. Welcome to the family.”
Anna beamed back at him. “The merger of two big families. This should be lively.”
Jami toasted the bridal couple but kept her eyes on Beck. She didn’t trust him. Not with those silky, long eyelashes just waiting to charm the ladies. Not with those flashing gray eyes that promised he was a master competitor.
Oh yes, the game was on.
AS EVERYONE CLINKED glasses in Rob and Anna’s honor, two more groups arrived from opposite staircases from the main pool area. Jami spotted Anna’s two teenage daughters, Emma and Clara, hovering close to their favorite uncle, Jami’s other brother, Dillon.
Jami did a quick count in her head. Yup. All seven of the adult Barrett children were accounted for as well as the adorable twins, Daphne and Mae. And with Anna’s daughters added in, they were quite the pack.
Jami noted the new faces and guessed the others were Rob’s family, which seemed to consist of an older, but well-preserved woman who was clearly Rob’s mother based on the similar eye colors and skin tones, and two women in their mid-thirties who looked like female versions of Rob.
Jami stole a glance at Beck and decided there was only a slight resemblance between Beck and his siblings. She wondered if he looked more like his father because he only seemed to share a strong, straight nose with the older woman Jami supposed was his mother.
As introductions proceeded, Jami remembered Anna had mentioned that Rob’s mother, Fiona, was recently divorced from husband number six, but definitely on the prowl for number seven. Or was it eight?
Fiona LaPierre was stylishly dressed, her hair dyed and highlighted to perfection. She was likely north of sixty, but she had the vibrant appearance of someone in her mid-forties. Jami wanted to like her, but the woman’s eyes were aloof and frosty.
Kyle nudged Jami’s elbow and sloshed her drink from side to side. Jami moved the glass away from her dress and rebalanced it with a sly eyebrow quirk to her youngest brother. Kyle was twenty-five and towered over her at six feet five inches, but still delighted in harassing her like a twelve-year-old. It was her job to outmaneuver him. It was a mission, a calling. Jami waggled a finger at him.