With the water and Michael’s arms surrounding her, she felt herself sinking under his spell. What a magical moment to be with him. Away from everything but each other.

Seconds later, she felt her bathing-suit top slip from her body. “What—”

Michael grinned like a demon and moved away from her.

“You,” she accused, going after him, but he was faster. “Michael,” she called. “Give me back my swimsuit.”

“In a while,” he said. “Since we have a private beach, you can go topless.”

“Some other time,” she said, swimming toward him.

“I dare you,” he said.

She stopped and groaned. “Oh, don’t say that.”

“Ah, so you can’t turn down a dare, either,” he said, reminding her of how she’d challenged him to help paint the community center.

“That was different. You got to keep your clothes on.”

“And burn my hands,” he said.

“True,” she muttered, still reluctant. She met his gaze, for once nearly carefree and she realized she would do just about anything for him to stay that way instead of tortured and mired in guilt.

Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes. I can do this, she told herself. I can do this. She opened her eyes and walked forward, biting her lip as her upper body broke the surface of the water. Even though Michael had seen her naked too many times to count, this just felt different.

She couldn’t quite meet his gaze. “Never let it be said—”

He swooped her into his arms, his chest covering hers as he carried her into deeper water. “I really didn’t think you’d do it.”

She gawked at him. “You dared me. What am I supposed to do?”

“Remind me to never let you around any other men who like to make dares,” he said gruffly.

She looked at him. “I’m selective,” she said.

“Keep it that way,” he said.



Thirteen

T hey returned to Atlanta on Saturday in time for Bella to attend the wedding of a college friend. The trip to Grand Cayman had been amazing. She’d never seen Michael in a fun mode before. It lifted her heart and made her want to see more of that from him.

As they returned home, however, she saw him pulling into himself more and more. They parted ways at the private airport. He tucked her into his limo and she returned to her apartment.Dressing for the wedding, Bella couldn’t help wondering about her own future. What did Michael want from her? She couldn’t believe he wanted marriage, yet she knew he didn’t want her to be involved with any other man.

She drove to the church where her old friend CeCe was married then went to a country club for the reception. She smiled as CeCe danced first with her new husband and then her father. A bite of nostalgia prodded her at the memory of her own father, whom she’d never known, and her mother, who had died.

“They look happy,” a male voice said from behind her.

She turned at the sound of Stephen’s voice and nodded. “They do.” She glanced over her shoulder at him, looking for his fiancée. “Where’s your fiancée?”

He met her gaze. “Where’s your friend? Michael Medici?”

“We just got back from Grand Cayman. He had some work to do,” she said.

“You’re traveling in different circles these days,” Stephen said. “Michael Medici’s pretty high on the food chain.”

“You’re traveling in different circles now, too,” she said. “Excuse me—”

“No,” he said, blocking her way. “There’s no reason for us to be awkward. You and I have known each other too long. Let me get you a drink.”

She took a deep breath and looked at his familiar blond hair and blue eyes and relaxed. This was Stephen. She’d known him a long time. He’d been important to her and now he wanted to be her friend. The sting of longing she usually felt for him was absent.

“Okay,” she finally said. “White wine,” she said.

“I know that,” he said with a smile and left to get a drink for her.

Shortly, he returned with a beer for himself and a glass of wine for her. “How did you like Grand Cayman?”

“It was amazing. The water was so clear,” she said.

“And Michael, what is he like?”

She tilted her head to the side. “Complex,” she said. “One time I think I’ve got his personality nailed, then seconds later, I learn more about him.”

“Hmm,” Stephen said.

“What about your job?” she asked. “Are you liking it?”

“I like being employed,” he said and paused. “Britney is a means to an end.”

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