She was a woman of habit and that would serve him well now. He hoped. He remembered how much she had enjoyed swimming first thing in the morning when they were working together in the islands of Tahiti. He’d accused her of being a mermaid with her daily need to return to the sea, but even when he’d been bleary-eyed from working late the night before, he never missed a chance to swim with her. For safety purposes, he’d told her, and not just because he enjoyed the occasional chance to slide a hand beneath her bikini top or wind the wet rope of her hair around his hand and angle her sea-salty lips for his kiss.
When the elevator sounded its dull chime, he slowly looked up. The doors opened and Lydia strode into view. His gaze fell on her long, shapely legs, the hem of her black mesh tunic revealing a hint of thigh.
“Ian?” Her voice tugged his attention higher, pulling his focus to her green eyes and creamy skin devoid of makeup.
With her hair scraped back into a ponytail, she looked every inch the part of his earthy, warmhearted lover from last summer. He had to remember that she hadn’t been the woman he thought, that he’d been wrong about her, or he might have swept her up into his arms and ridden the elevator back up to her hotel room to remind her how good they were together in at least one respect.
Sex. Raw, sensual, mind-blowing sex.
His pulse ramped up at the steamy memories, so much so that he had to shut down those thoughts and focus on the present or his plan would be doomed before he even started.
“Hope you don’t mind if I join you.” Ian tucked his phone back into the pocket of the cargo shorts he’d slid on over his swim trunks.
She halted in front of him abruptly. Then, eyes sliding to the desk attendant, she stepped closer. Probably she did it to minimize the chance of being overheard.
Ian liked the opportunity to breathe in the scent of her—the lavender fragrance of the detergent she washed her clothes in and a subtle perfume more complex than that.
“What on earth are you doing here?” She glanced over her shoulder. “You realize most of the consultants working on the Foxfire are staying in this hotel? What will they say if someone sees us together at this hour?”
“They’ll think we had a whole lot more fun last night than they did.”
Last night, he’d paced the floor of his penthouse suite for far too long, thinking through every aspect of a contract marriage and what details he should include in the paperwork.
In the end, she would sign. But she wasn’t going to like him forcing her hand, and that bothered him more than it should have.
“And that doesn’t concern you? I happen to enjoy a hard-earned reputation as a professional.” Her clipped words and the high color in her cheeks told him he’d gotten under her skin in record time.
“If you don’t want anyone to see us together, we might as well hit the beach. Take refuge in the water.” His hand itched to touch her. To rest on the small of her back and steer her out the door, across the street and onto the soft sand. But he had to be careful not to push or she could dig her heels in about his suggestion and delay the whole thing.
Now that he’d made up his mind and seen the benefits of a union between the two of them, he couldn’t think of one damn reason why he should delay.
After narrowing her green eyes at him for an instant, she pivoted on her wedge sandals and strode toward the exit.
He caught up to her in two long steps, holding the door wide for her before as they headed out onto Ocean Drive, which was strangely quiet in the predawn dark. There were more joggers on the beach than bathers; a few runners kicked up sand as they pounded past them.
“It’ll be quieter down here.” He pointed out a stretch of the shore where no beach loungers had been set up yet, a spot free from any hotel guests.
In fact, he’d claimed the location for them earlier when he’d ordered a cabana and sunrise breakfast. Lydia apparently didn’t notice his preparations, however, instead appearing too absorbed in her frustrated march toward the water, her feet churning through the sand at breakneck pace.
The horizon was starting to smudge from inky black to purple as she reached the shoreline and kicked off her shoes. Then she yanked the black mesh cover-up off and over her head. Mesmerized by her silhouette as his eyes adjusted to the light, Ian watched as she ran into the surf and made a shallow dive under an oncoming wave… She was a woman of habit and that would serve him well now. He hoped. He remembered how much she had enjoyed swimming first thing in the morning when they were working together in the islands of Tahiti. He’d accused her of being a mermaid with her daily need to return to the sea, but even when he’d been bleary-eyed from working late the night before, he never missed a chance to swim with her. For safety purposes, he’d told her, and not just because he enjoyed the occasional chance to slide a hand beneath her bikini top or wind the wet rope of her hair around his hand and angle her sea-salty lips for his kiss.