The Best Man

Four Sensuous Novellas

Brenda Jackson, Cindi Louis, Felicia Mason, Kayla Perrin

St. Martin's Paperbacks

Chapter One

There were certain things that a woman just couldn't forget.

For instance, she could not forget the time she progressed from girl into womanhood; the time she began wearing her first bra; the time she had her first date; the first time she fell in love and the first time she had made love.

Gina was reminded of the latter two as she sat across from the man who had played an instrumental role in both: her ex-husband, Mitch Farrell. She tried to concentrate on what he was saying and not on the memories invading her mind. Memories of naked bodies and silken sheets; memories of lovemaking sessions that had seemed to last forever, and orgasms of the highest intensity that had no endings.

Seeing Mitch again reminded her of all those things. It also reminded her of pain still lingering deep within, and was a rude awakening that even two years after their divorce, he was not yet out of her system, not fully out of her heart. That thought made her rather uncomfortable.

"What about it, Gina?" Mitch asked softly after taking a leisurely sip of his wine, interrupting her thoughts. The eyes that met his were curious yet reserved.

They sat at a corner table in Sisters, a well-known restaurant in downtown Houston. On weekends it was usually filled to capacity, but tonight-a weeknight-the amount of people dining was a good number: not too many to be considered crowded and not too few to be considered cozy. The atmosphere was relaxing, comfortable and tranquil.

"Why me, Mitch? Why have you come to me with such a generous offer?" she finally asked him, her brows knit.

He smiled before his gaze shifted to the magazine in front of him, having expected her question. "I think the answer to that is obvious. That piece you did on Jake Madaris and Diamond Swain was outstanding and says it all."

She smiled. "Thank you."

When wealthy rancher Jake Madaris and movie actress Diamond Swain had announced to the world they were married, and had been for nearly two years, everyone had wanted their story. It had been Gina Grant Farrell, a twenty-eight-year-old freelance writer and family friend of the Madaris family, whom the couple had gotten to do the exclusive interview and write the article. Before then, Gina had done a number of jobs for various publications but the piece on Jake and Diamond for People magazine had brought her skill as a journalist into the national spotlight.

"And you know how I am when it comes to my privacy, Gina," he continued. "You know me better than anyone, and I think it's time people knew the real Mitch Farrell as well. I want you to be the one to tell my story because I know you'll be fair and objective."

Gina inhaled slowly. Yes, she did know him and at one time she'd felt she had known him better than anyone. But that had been before the demise of their marriage. After that she'd wondered if she'd really known him at all. She silently admitted there were times when she thought there were things about his past that he refused to share with her. But the one thing she did know was that Mitch wasn't the cold, hard, self-made millionaire the media made him out to be. He was fast becoming one of the largest land developers in the country, and everyone wanted to know all they could about the elusive, wealthy divorcé who'd made his mark in real estate.

"People might think I'd be less objective since we were once married," she finally said.

"Or they may think that since we were married you would have the inside scoop if there were any. I want my story told, Gina, so people can stop speculating."

Again she was surprised. The Mitch she knew wouldn't have cared what anyone thought. She had been a journalist long enough to know that people liked reading whatever they could get their hands on about the rich and famous-regardless of whether the information was true. "The speculation may not stop, Mitch. R may only increase."

"I know, but I want to put it in writing once and for all that I live a very normal and very dull life that doesn't include a different woman in my bed every night."

Gina took a sip of her wine. She was glad to hear that. Although she hadn't wanted to believe what she'd read in the newspapers and tabloids, the thought that he had become a womanizer had bothered her more than it should have.

She sighed as she placed her wineglass down. There was a lot to consider. She had thought about him a lot over the past few weeks after hearing he had returned to Houston on business. He had moved to California within months after their divorce.

He had come to town to discuss a business deal with Madaris Enterprises, a company formed by the Madaris brothers-Justin, Dex and Clayton-to fulfill their dream: to build an exclusive office park that would house the fifteen-story Madaris Building as well as a cluster of upscale shops. She had been surprised to get a call from Mitch yesterday, inviting her to dinner to discuss a business proposition. The last time they had seen or spoken to each other had been at her brother Trevor's wedding reception almost a year ago. She knew Trevor and Mitch had stayed in contact over the past two years.

Her mind went back to the offer he'd made. She knew any journalist would jump at the chance to do an exclusive with Mitch. He was a man who seldom did interviews. But not only was he willing to do one, he wanted her to be part of it.

And that was the crux of her problem. That was the reason she felt so tense. There was no way she could spend any amount of time with him and not remember what they had once meant to each other. Although they had agreed to remain friends after their divorce, all it took was for her to look at him to know that even after all this time she was still attracted to him. He was still handsome, sexy and masculine, with eyes so compelling they not only penetrated your soul but had the ability to draw you in. Even now when he looked at her, his eyes went almost black. They were just that intense, dark and magnetic.

She sighed deeply. The effect Mitch still had on her was startling and played havoc on her raw nerve endings. He could still make her body ache in certain places. The interview would take a good week to complete if she did it in stages like the one she'd done on Jake and Diamond. How would she survive Mitch Farrell for an entire week?

"Where will the interview take place?" she asked, breaking the silence between them and trying not to notice his hands. They were hands that used to give her hours upon hours of earth-shattering pleasure. Of all the things they used to disagree about while married, sex was never an issue; the both of them had had overpassionate hormones. The main reason they had decided to go ahead and marry so soon after they'd met was that they had found it hard to keep their overheated sexuality under control. It was during those times in his arms, while they were able to bring each other to a second orgasm while still trembling from the effects of the first, that she'd felt so much an integral part of him. Even now, a part of her body tingled from thinking about how they used to make love all night long.

"My ranch."

Gina raised an arched brow when she realized he had answered her question. "Your ranch? In Los Angeles?"

He gave her a smile that had the ability to actually reach out and touch her, which was bad timing after just having thoughts of them making love. "No, the one here in Houston," he murmured softly.

She stared at him through the lingering fog of his words, confused. "You own a ranch here in Houston?"

He knew that information had surprised her. "Yes. Actually it's a few miles out, a hundred acres of land in Fresno. I bought it six months ago. Are you familiar with the area?"

Gina nodded in stunned shock. Yes, she was familiar with the area. It was a beautiful section that was far enough away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Houston but close enough by way of the interstate. The land, rich in dark Texas soil with large oak trees and lush green grass, was beautiful and scenic. She knew Trevor and his wife Corinthians were thinking about buying land in the area to build a new home.

"How are your parents, Gina? I understand they're back together."

Gina refused to let him smoothly change subjects especially after the bomb he'd just dropped. "Yes, after nearly twenty years Mom and Dad are back together and am ecstatic about being grandparents," she said, thinking about her three-month-old nephew. Then, without missing a beat, she asked, frowning, "Why did you buy a ranch in Fresno, Mitch?"

He met her gaze. "Because I'm moving back here."

She frowned some more. "Why?"

Rather than tell her the truth, the absolute truth, Mitch decided to give her the watered-down version. "I miss Texas, Gina. Houston especially. Although I was born in Beaumont, I consider Houston my home since I spent the majority of my time growing up here. Is it so unusual for someone to want to return home?"

She considered his question thoughtfully before responding. "No, but you used to hate Houston because of the things you didn't want to remember." They were things he had never shared with her. "Is it easier to come back now that you've gotten everything you wanted in life?"

A part of Mitch knew that now was not the time to tell her he hadn't gotten everything since he didn't have her. Nor was it the time to tell her that he'd found out the hard way he had never been satisfied. The more he had obtained, the greedier he had become. But in the end he'd realized material possessions and success weren't everything. Having someone you loved and someone who loved you were. And he did love the beautiful woman sitting across from him. He loved everything about her. He loved the way she wore her hair now, an abundance of shoulder-length, precision-cut layers. And he loved her full lips, the high cheekbones on her cocoa-colored complexion and the dark brown eyes that conveyed sensuality and allurement all rolled into one.

"No, that's not the reason, Gina," he said as the corners of his lips lifted in a smile. "I guess you can say that I've come back to find myself. That's one of the reasons I want you to do the article. Talking about it, getting it out with someone I trust will help. That's one mistake I regret making while married to you. I didn't openly communicate with you as I should have."

Gina said nothing for a long time. This was definitely not the same Mitch. He might look the same but his views had definitely changed. What he had just confessed was true. He hadn't openly communicated with her because he'd been too busy making it to the top. Being successful and having money and power were all that had mattered. He had wanted those things more than he had wanted her. What had bothered her most about their breakup was how easily he had walked away from their marriage without putting up a fight.

"I need to think about it, Mitch."

"That's fine but I'd like to know something within a week if possible."

She nodded and glanced at the magazine that was still in front of him. A week was plenty of time for her to really think things through. "All right. I'll let you know something by then."

She then looked up at him and again got caught up in the way he was looking at her. His gaze was touching her; she could feel it through the clothes she was wearing. The deep penetration of his eyes was hot. She let the scope of her vision run lightly over his face, everywhere except the deepness of his dark eyes. She took in the rich chocolate coloring of his skin, the sharp cheekbones, the jutting chin with its dimpled cleft, the full lips. She inhaled deeply when she felt deep sexual awareness and knew she had to make sure his offer was just what it was. She could not fill her head with illusions that it was more than that. For a moment she tried reading his thoughts; but as usual his expression was unreadable.

"This interview is strictly business, right, Mitch?" she decided to ask.

Mitch lifted his wineglass and met her stare before taking a sip. "Yes, Gina, this is strictly business," he said smoothly. He then tipped the wineglass to his lips and while the cool wine slipped down his throat he thought, Strictly unfinished business.

Chapter Two

Gina heard her phone ring the minute she walked into her home. Locking the door behind her, she quickly crossed the room to answer it. "Hello?"
"How did things go tonight?"

Gina smiled upon hearing her sister-in-law's voice. The woman her brother had married almost a year ago had become the sister she'd never had. With only a three-year difference in their ages, she and Corinthians had quickly formed a bond that was priceless.

Easing onto the sofa, Gina pulled off her earrings and adjusted the phone to a more comfortable position. "They went okay, I imagine, given the fact that I sat across from Mitch hot and bothered the entire time. Isn't that pathetic?"

"No," Corinthians answered softly, not trying to mask the smile in her voice. "Considering that you still love him, I don't think it's pathetic at all."

Gina released a long, deep sigh. "I never said I still loved Mitch."

"You didn't have to. I heard love in your voice the first time you told me about him. And if you'll recall, you were rather upset that Trevor had invited him to our wedding reception."

Gina sighed, remembering that time. "Only because we'd been divorced less than a year and I didn't think I was ready to see him again."

"But you did see him and you survived."

"Yes, but just barely. And now that he's back makes it harder, especially since he mentioned tonight that he's moving back to Houston and wants me to do an exclusive interview with him."

"That's a generous offer. Are you going to do it?"

"I don't know. Financially, it's a great opportunity since a lot of magazines are just dying to get their hands on his story, but I don't know if I could handle being around him long enough to do it."

"If he's moving back to Houston you'll be around him anyway, won't you? The two of you are bound to run into each other occasionally."

"I can deal with occasional sightings. What he's proposing is for me to do the interview at his ranch. A good solid interview will take a week to complete, especially with the angle I plan to use. I can't imagine spending a week alone with him, Corinthians."

"Where's his ranch?"

"He bought one in Fresno."

"Umm, then there's a good possibility we might become neighbors. Trevor and I put a down payment on some land in Fresno today. We hope to start building sometime next year."

Gina smiled, happy for the brother she thought would never marry. Not only did he have a wife he loved completely, but he also had a son he simply adored.

Copyright © 2003 by Brenda Streater Jackson