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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.
“Not this time.”
“Jimmy-Jaymz, are you behaving yourself?”
“Of course. I’m a model citizen, you know that.”
“Is there anything lively to do here?”
“Anna has plans for us. You won’t have time for much extracurricular activity.”
“Wow. That sounds underwhelming.”
“Shush.” Jami laughed quietly.
Fiona’s dominant voice pierced even Kyle’s bored veneer as she launched into a round of stories of the accomplishments of her children. Beck edged away and entered into a deep conversation with one of his nephews who’d brought a set of small model race cars and was showing them off at the side of the pool.
Beck’s rich laugh carried to the far side of the patio, and Jami’s pulse fluttered. She turned, but all she could see was the dark whorl of that blasted cowlick and his shirt straining across his muscled biceps.
Caitlynne let out a tiny huff, and her eyes narrowed as attention had veered away from her, and she was poised to launch a new attack. Jami took a steadying breath. This was going to be some kind of wedding.
“Hey, the waiters have arrived,” Teddy Barrett interrupted. “Looks like the buffet is open. It smells fabulous. What can I serve you, my dear?” He waved jauntily to his adult children and tugged his missus toward the food.
By some misfortune, Beck sauntered behind her and slipped next to her in the dinner line. An instant buzz fluttered up her spine, and curiously, her cheeks burned hot.
“Enjoying yourself?” Beck’s tone was bland and conversational. “The food looks delicious.”
Jami glared at him and his pathetic small talk, but with an army of witnesses, she silenced her snarky retort.
“It does, doesn’t it,” she replied, mimicking his overly charming tone of voice. “I’m so ready for the succulent tropical fruits.” Were they seriously discussing produce? “We just can’t seem to get them fresh enough in our little rural hometown. You must be used to them in Los Angeles.” Jami had done her research after the nerve-racking hearing. BK Industries was based in L. A., and she wished he’d stay down there.
“Nothing like a fresh mango or pineapple. They’re a luxury anywhere on the mainland.” Beck’s hand brushed hers, and she dropped the tongs as if she’d received a shock from a fork stuck in a toaster.
Jami ignored him and focused on plucking up choice chunks of golden and peachy fruit. So much for trying to convince him Barrett Ridge was too rural for his cosmopolitan tastes.
She fought back irritation. He was standing too close, and every inch of her skin tingled with awareness. She shot him a sideways glance, and her fingers itched to comb back the curl that threatened to fall to his forehead as he leaned down to snag what looked like a small mango cheesecake.
He was definitely the better looking of the two brothers. She pressed her lips together. Not that she cared, of course. She tromped to the opposite side of the pool deck and settled at the kids’ table, and lost herself in joking and teasing with the flock of children, and with Kyle, who joined in the merriment.
After dinner, all the kids begged their parents to let them splash in the pool. Kyle doffed his loose, tropical flowered shirt, and hopped into the water and started chasing the kids around with many squeals and screams.
With a frosty piña colada in her hand, Jami decided the alcoholic content must be rather light since she wasn’t even feeling a buzz and this was her third cocktail of the night. Buzz or no buzz, it was no doubt loaded with calories. She’d better work it off tomorrow. She wondered if there was some kind of spin class.
As she bounced her foot in rhythm with the island music streaming from the strategically placed speakers, Jami’s gaze wandered around the various tables scattered in intervals around the stamped concrete patio. Jo and Sam were deep in conversation with two of the Edwards sisters, Elaine and Mandy. Austin, Dillon, and Beck were tipping back beers and seemed comfortable while Anna gazed adoringly at Rob as he told a story to the rest of the family, new and old.
Dillon’s laughter roared out as Austin and Beck clinked their bottles in some kind of congratulations.
Jami fumed. How could Beck Kavanagh possibly be her future brother-in-law, or at least the sibling of an in-law, and be the lowlife scumbutt who was trying to take over her town? Oh sure, Beck’s company looked all environmentally friendly with their electric motorcycles and wave of the future, but she knew the company was bad news. She’d seen the filings. They’d filed for bankruptcy two years ago and had only been saved by some white knight investment group with a Wall Street connection.
Perhaps, she shouldn’t be so judgy. Lots of companies had troubles. Even Barrett Logistics had been on the rocks any number of times, but Dad had always pulled through. Jami watched as her eldest brother, Austin, cracked a joke with their father.
Austin had been the lifesaver this last time. She shuddered and tried not to remember the scary days after her father’s massive heart attack and then multiple bypass surgery. The recovery had been fraught with setbacks, and Austin had taken an extended leave from his career in Denver to run the family’s trucking company while Teddy had been slowly recuperating in the hospital and at home.
Jami scowled and polished off the rest of her slushy. She was not going to let Beck off the hook. His company was horning in on their business deal to buy the property next door so Barrett Logistics could finally expand their yard and truck repair facilities. Besides, she did not like to lose.
She’d missed an opportunity to scoop up an alternative property for the family business. Her father had been furious that she hadn’t been able to close that deal. He hadn’t spoken to her for two months after that. A knot formed in her throat. She was not going to let this chance slip through her fingers.
No. She shouldn’t worry. They’d presented a generous offer to the current landowners, and the business plan presented to the county commissioners was perfect. Every t was crossed and every i was dotted. It didn’t matter that electric motorcycles were exotic and interesting. That wouldn’t matter, would it?
With a clink, she set the glass on the stone mosaic tabletop and eyeballed a narrow opening in the lush growth surrounding the patio. That looked like an escape route. She needed to get away and calm down.
She cast a quick glance over her shoulder. No one was watching, so she pushed past a thick fern, and tramped along the pea gravel pathway. A puff of ocean breeze whiffed past her nose and lured her onward.
The gravel pathway turned to flat paver stones that finally ended in a fine, light sand. The ocean beckoned, and she tugged off her sandals and plunged her toes into the cooling sand. She groaned and wiggled her toes as she sank deeper into the sandy beach.
She swept up the long hem of her skirt and was poised to make a dash for the surf when she froze.
There was Beck, reclining in an Adirondack chair with his cell phone glowing in the darkening sky. He thumbed through emails or messages, Jami wasn’t sure which.
She considered backing away. The last thing she wanted was Beck spoiling her first splash into the Caribbean, but it was too late. Beck looked up.
“A word with you?” Beck’s tone was polite, distant.
Beck studied her, and his flint gray eyes were chilly.
“NEVERTHELESS. WE NEED to talk.” Beck studied Jami. Her long brown hair was glossy, and the golden flecks in her hazel eyes drew attention to the sprinkling of freckles dotting her nose and cheeks. She was lean but somehow curvy in all the right places, and the expression on her face was mulish.
Here he’d been thinking this was going to be a boring, and possibly uncomfortable torture session with relatives. Now, he was thinking there might be some sport involved. Jami Barrett looked mutinous and ready for battle, but then an angelic smile sprouted on her lips, and Beck braced himself.
“You’re right. What can I help you with?” Jami smiled and fluttered her eyelashes as if she was enchanted by him, but the tightness around her mouth told a different story.
“Look. I don’t know what you’re so bent out of shape about, but we’re both here for a wedding, so let’s not cause any more scenes.”
“We are in complete agreement...about that. Anna and Rob and their kids are the top priority this week.”
“So we can keep our business dealings separate?”
“I’m happy to ignore you this week. Will that suit you?”
“To a tee.”
Jami turned away, but then she spun back. “But don’t think I’m fooled by your veneer of niceness right now.”
What was wrong with this chick? Did she hate everybody? “You don’t even know me, so I don’t think you’re in any position to say I’m nice or I’m faking nice.”
“I know enough. You are a coldhearted player.”
“Okay. Based on what evidence?”
“You have to be a calculating, self-centered ass to bid against your future sister-in-law’s family’s business.”
“That’s a big assumption.”
“I find it hard to believe you had no idea that you were horning in on our family business.” Jami jammed her hand on her hip.
“Whatever you might believe, it’s the truth.” Beck contemplated mentioning his distant and barely existent relationship with his mother and family but decided this was not the moment for full disclosure. Attack seemed more profitable. “Unlike you Barretts, I don’t spend all my days gossiping with my family members. I run a business, and I have much better things to do than keep track of all my in-laws and outlaws, and whatever stray family members I might have.”
Jami made a face as if the gossip comment stung. “Seriously, who doesn’t know the name of his brother’s next wife?”
“You might have noticed that Anna’s last name is not Barrett, nor have I met her before.”
“It would be rude to call you a liar, so I won’t.” Jami scowled, and her foot tapped. “I will take you at your word.”
Beck shrugged and studied the five freckles sprinkled on the tip of her nose. They were really quite adorable, despite the fact that Jami’s eyes were shooting daggers in his general direction.
“I appreciate your generosity.” Beck’s tone was clearly sarcastic. “Despite your unfounded accusation that I’m here to ruin your family business, Barrett Ridge has a lot going for it. Two universities within a seventy-mile radius. Great weather. Affordable land. Great wineries. A sweet ski resort. Ring any bells?”
“I’m glad you noticed. Now, why don’t you just go back to California like a good boy? Or how about Nevada? I’ve heard their tax structure is far more beneficial than Oregon’s.”
“We took a vote. The trees and wineries beat out casinos and desert.” Beck tried not to laugh as Jami chewed that over. It wasn’t every CEO who allowed his employees a vote on relocation. He tried not to look smug. He was really quite proud of it.
“How democratic of you. You might as well start looking at other properties because the Barretts have a long tradition of helping our community and being one of its best employers. I’m confident our bid on the Anderton property will be the successful one.”
“That’s too bad for you.” Good Lord, she was smug and arrogant. He was so ready to take her down a notch.
“What do you mean?”
“Your self-delusion will make the news of my victory all the more painful and embarrassing.”
“I’m not worried.”
“That’s your problem.”
“Whatever.” Jami scowled. “Let’s just pretend everything is peachy and dandy.”
“We have five days to ignore each other.”
“That should be easy. I’m completely bored with you already.” Beck examined his fingernails and followed up with a bland smile.
“Wow. You are such a charmer. Your personality is so repellent that it will be a cakewalk for me.”
“Perfect. Conversation over.”
Beck rolled his eyes. She was one of those women. She had to have the last word. Ha. Not on his dime. “I’ll make sure to avoid eye contact, too. Will that help you out?” He smirked and waited for her response.
“That won’t be necessary. I won’t even notice you so no such effort will be required on your part.” Jami pivoted with a dismissive hand wave.
“Peace, sister Jami.” Beck waited for an eruption.
“Don’t sister me, buddy.” Her eyes narrowed, and her nostrils flared. “I know all about your callous business ways. You don’t care about Barrett Ridge or bringing jobs to our town. You’re looking for the best tax breaks, and the first time something goes wrong, well, I don’t doubt you’ll declare bankruptcy again and clear out of town.”
Beck’s nostrils flared, and a fire crept up the back of his neck, but he said icily, “I’d advise you to check your facts. I’d hate to slap you with a libel lawsuit.” This wasn’t the moment to quibble over details; he’d filed for bankruptcy but had never acted on it. BK Industries had survived by the merest of threads before he’d wooed new investors and cleaned up the messes left by his old partner.
“Truth hurts.” Jami flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me. Anna’s wedding is hardly the place to start a feud.”
“As far as I’m concerned, there’s no war going on. You’re just a momentary inconvenience.”
Jami grimaced and flounced back the way she’d come, back down the sandy path, toward the resort.
At least he’d gotten the last word in. Beck tried to smile but failed.
He’d been dreading coming to Rob’s wedding and spending an extended time in captivity with his family. This island was too small. Apparently smaller than even he’d thought.
Beck rubbed the back of his neck and wondered how the heck he had not known Rob was marrying into the Barrett family? It was his mother’s fault. Beck huffed under his breath. It was always her fault. He always found a way to blame her. Her constant stream of ever-changing husbands drove him crazy, and he’d never been close to his older siblings.
At the end of the day, he never really counted them as full brothers and sisters. Maybe it’d been because they were older and never bothered with their little brother by another father. Besides, it was hard to be close when they’d grown up in different households eleven months out of twelve. He’d always figured they’d gotten the better deal living with their father and not their shared mother. He, on the other hand, had had to struggle with his mother’s boyfriend or husband of the week.
Not that he felt sorry for himself. He thought of it rather matter-of-factly. The death of his father when he was only seven had been a stroke of bad luck on so many levels. No father, and stuck living with Fiona. His reality while growing up hadn’t been Ozzie and Harriet but had been more like an episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County.
A tall Barrett brother with a shock of tangled, dirty blond hair waved at Beck from the edge of the sand near the forest pathway. “Is it safe out here?”
“Coast is clear. I’ve only seen one of your sisters. You’re Kyle, right.”
The two shook hands.
“This is going to be one of the longest weeks of my life,” Kyle said with a cheerful tone. “Anna’s got a ton of activities planned for us. I’m thinking about booking an all-day fishing trip instead.”
“Sign me up if you do.” Beck laughed. “What does Anna have up her sleeve? You’ve got me worried.”
“It starts with a group photo in about ten minutes at the Plumeria Pool.”
“That’s not so bad.”
“There’s a treasure hunt, and I think she might have a round of Survivor, family reunion style up her sleeve.”
“And that’s only what I could pull out of her.”
“Yet, you flew all the way from Oregon for this?”
“It’s family. What are you going to do?” Kyle shrugged fatalistically, but he didn’t sound too concerned. “I’ll still manage to have some fun. At least this isn’t some couples resort. I’ve got my eye on some interesting targets.”
Beck chuckled at Kyle’s easygoing tone. He definitely seemed like he made the best of any situation. Unlike his sister. Jami was a different kettle of fish altogether. Her attitude was about as smelly as day-old fish guts.
“Let’s go get this photo over with. I noticed a bar down by the beach. Maybe we can hit that later.”
Fifteen minutes later, the whole family was mashed up against one another on the far side of the Plumeria Pool deck as the resort’s photographer fussed, fidgeted, and implored people to hold still.
Beck exchanged a grin with his brother, Rob, who was fiddling with the crooked collar on his youngest son, Ryan.
“No, no, no.” The photographer pouted. “We have too many boys on this side. We need balance.” He paced four steps and then stalked back. “You two. Move to the other side of the groom.”
His sister, Elaine, and Jami nodded obediently while the photographer studied Beck up and down. Beck smothered a laugh and waited patiently.
“You, with the braid. You stand to the groom’s left.” Elaine smiled and squeezed in next to Rob. “And you, pretty lady, with the glossy chestnut hair.” The photographer pointed at Jami. “You stand next to this gentleman.”
Beck’s smile faded as Jami’s gaze narrowed. Jami was going to have to stand next to him, one from the end.
“We’ll make room for you, Jami,” one of the six-year-old twin girls said.
“Thank you, sweet pea.” Jami’s voice was honey sweet, but her expression was stony as she stared straight at Beck.
He stepped to the side and made a generous space for her.
Jami stepped next to him but pulled her shoulder away as if even being that close to him was distasteful. “Excuse me.”
A whiff of jasmine drifted past his nose, and Beck smiled until he realized the intoxicating scent was coming from Jami.
“Everyone scooch in closer!” The photographer shouted and fanned his hands to encourage snug proximity. “Snuggle everyone! You on the end. Closer still.”
Beck shuffled closer to Jami as her face froze into a polite smile, but waves of irritation emanated from her. The photographer kept positioning everyone until at last he reached Beck and Jami on the far left end. “You two are so handsome and pretty. Come now. Smile like you mean it.” With that, he pushed Beck right into Jami’s back.
The jasmine tickled his senses, but the heat from her body woke him up. It was entrancing. Her dark tresses were glossy in the setting, tropical sun, and he itched to twine a finger through the long, fat curls on the ends.
“You’re close enough,” Jami hissed through her forced smile.
“Don’t worry, you’re not tempting me at all.” Beck kept his voice cool, but his heat was rising. He shifted his hip slightly to create a space between him and Jami. Damn. His body had other ideas.
Jami was a shrill cat, but she had all the best curves in all the right places. He snuck a glance at the red fabric of her skirt that pulled tight across her bubble butt. He inhaled sharply, and Jami trembled.
The camera clicked, and the photographer cooed and coaxed his clients into a never-ending smile until Beck thought his smile would break off.
“Okay, now everyone wave at me and say mango!”
Jami snorted, and for an instant, Beck was in agreement with his brown-haired, flashing-eyed enemy.
* * * * *
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