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Fuck. Could this week, month, goddamn year get any worse?
Small camera monitors in the owner’s cabin revealed his ex-wife’s arrival aboard Tesoro Mio. This was the closest Rydell Case had been to Addison in over a year. Gliding his fingertip over the cold glass image of Addy’s face was no substitute for touching the real flesh-and-blood woman.
Control tightly leashed, his entire body ached with … yearning—yeah—yearning just looking at her. Dragging in a hard, painful inhale, Ry acknowledged he hadn’t taken a normal breath in thirteen months, eleven days, and ten hours. And he might not ever again.
Pinpricks of pain coursed through his body. As with a limb fallen asleep, the pain of reawakening hurt like hell. Numb felt better.
Everything. Everyfuckingthing in his life hinged on the next two weeks. No more options. Fourteen days. This was it. Do or die. Every ball he juggled for the duration came with its own inherent dangers. A minefield of things to go wrong at every turn.
He snatched up the phone on the first ring.
“Miss D’Marco and the prince just boarded.” Captain Anthony Seddeth sounded as wide-awake as Ry felt at three in the morning.
Miss D’Marco, not Mrs. Case. Got it. “I see them.” His wife and her date for the evening. About damn time she showed up. He’d been sitting in the dark waiting for the past. On board for several hours before that. Now that Addy was aboard things could start moving swiftly.
Ry narrowed his eyes at the dude in the tailored tux. Prince Naveen Darshi. Well, fuck. Knowing she was with someone else didn’t have the same blow-to-the-chest impact as seeing her with her old flame. Ry rubbed at the sore spot just behind his sternum with a clenched fist. “Thanks, Tony.”
Replacing the receiver, he stared at the monitors, checking their progress through his ship. Hell. Reality check. Her ship. Addison had scored it in the alimony settlement, and what was “ours” had become “hers” before Rydell had even seen his dream ship completed. This was the first time he’d set foot on her.
The Tesoro Mio was everything he’d hoped she’d be, and more. First-class all the way. One hundred and sixty feet of perfection, tri-deck, top-notch luxury and function combined.
On the plus side, all his dreams had gone up in smoke at the same time, so the loss of a multimillion-dollar ship was barely noticeable. An indication of the shit year it had been. There was something to be said for getting it all dumped on him at once. One giant, seamless pain had to be better than multiple slowly fatal stab wounds.
That’s what he’d thought, until now, as he stared into the monitor. The camera captured Addy’s sweet, oval face, the sophisticated sweep of her glorious apricot-colored hair, the way her lips curved as she smiled at another man. That smile rubbed salt painfully into wounds that had yet to heal.
As for her dickwad of a companion? Well, that was Ry’s own damn fault for asking God what the fuck else could go wrong. Years ago he’d stolen Addy from Darshi, and all the sucker had to do was stand back and wait for Rydell to fuck up so she could fall right back into his arms. Which she’d bloody well done before the ink was dry on the divorce papers.
The lights of Cannes sparkled copper-gold in the diaphanous mist drifting off the water behind them. Much as Ry hated to admit it, they made an elegant couple. They … matched.
Unlike their pairing. Addy had always been way the hell out of his class.
The subtle vibration of the ship’s powerful engines traveled up Ry’s outstretched legs to shake a little of the knot in his belly loose. Action. At last. But phase one didn’t come without its own hazards.
Glittering shoulder-dusting earrings tangled in the loose strands of Addy’s glossy, strawberry-blond hair, picking up the pinpoints of illumination from the strings of white lights surrounding the deck. Darshi slipped a proprietary arm around her slender waist. Casual, intimate. Too goddamn familiar for Rydell’s already strung-out nerves.
Prince Naveen Darshi. Even though Ry knew through several crew members that Darshi was around again, seeing them together made his belly cramp. So they were lovers again. The torque in his chest twisted deeper, a corkscrew winding into his heart. He picked up the bottle on the table beside him. The beer was flat—he’d been waiting down here for more than an hour. He drank anyway.
For a man whom many claimed was a robot with nerves of steel, his steely nerves were shot, his temper hair-trigger. That’s because before, he hadn’t needed this so fucking badly. Now he needed this—all of it—to go right. He had so many balls in the air, one fumble would decimate everything.
No margin for error.
He drained the bottle, then returned it to the watermark on the table as, eyes intent, he drank her in. A year … She hadn’t changed. Beautiful. Lean, athletic body, small high breasts, marmalade-colored hair. Those three freckles on her nose that she hated, and he loved.
Only she wasn’t. Not his. Not anymore. He couldn’t compete with a multifuckinggazillionaire prince, even if the rift between himself and Addison weren’t as deep as the Mariana Trench.
Ry gave a mirthless laugh. “Yeah, asshole, and you’re going to attempt to dive it with just a snorkel and bloody fins. Good luck with that.”
Addy’s long, body-hugging gown of shimmery, creamy fabric dipped precariously low in front as her long strides carried her across the deck, Darshi at her side. Only half of the double doors stood open, necessitating her disengaging from her escort’s hold. Ry’s fingers dug into the nubby linen of the chair arms as he observed them entering the salon where another discreetly placed security camera picked up their progress. Darshi kept his hands to himself this time.
The owner’s cabin, designed for them, looked even better than it had on the drawing board. The room smelled of her. Sophisticated. Assured. Complex. Despite Darshi’s presence on board, the room showed no evidence of male occupancy. Thank God.
Like the absence of a male presence, there was no indication of Addy sharing her life on board with anyone. Tesoro Mio was her home. Their cabin on board the Sea Dragon had been filled with silver-framed pictures. But here, no pictures, no small mementos of the life they’d made and shared. No—
For a moment Ry shut his eyes as his chest squeezed. “Don’t go there. Do not fucking go there.” Instead, he prayed to gods who didn’t give a flying fuck about his wishes and pleas for Addy not to invite the prince into her cabin tonight.
Ry’d hate to add a murder rap to his long list of woes, but at this point maybe it would give him a roof over his head and three squares a day if the rest of his world went to hell and he lost what little remained. Which amounted to bugger-all.
He got up to pace. The time alone in her cabin told him she’d dressed leisurely, as she always did, before leaving the ship. Addy loved being female and everything that went into the mysterious rituals of womanhood. Cast-off gowns, long and slinky and short and sparkly, lay over the bed. Rejected shoes, with heels nosebleed high, were scattered between the bed and the enormous walk-in closet.
Once upon a time he’d settled back to enjoy the show before the evening started. Addy loved parties and events, and dressing was part of her fun. Many, many times, they hadn’t made it to whatever function Addy had been trying to drag him to. Ry would rather spend an evening in bed than anywhere else when they were together.
“Yeah, well, get that thought out of your head,” he muttered to himself. If she had the chance, Addison would use one of the discarded shoes as a lethal weapon. He didn’t doubt that she’d be happy to pin him like a butterfly with a spike through his heart. Not that he’d feel it. That useless organ had bled out a year ago. Dry as dust, it beat the required beats, but there was nothing more than blood and tissue. His emotions had flatlined, and it would take more than he had left in him to jump-start it back to life.
He doubted she’d be in a more receptive frame of mind now than she’d been a year ago. And while it fucking irked him no end to have to come to her, hat in hand, knowing how she felt about him, he had zero choice. He’d just have to make this as bloodless as humanly possible.
There’d be no cake. And no eating it. One thing at a time.
He’d done a thorough reconnoiter when he’d boarded several hours earlier. Everywhere he looked was a design feature they’d chosen together. From the sleek, sophisticated pale-gray leather sofas to the high-backed leather chairs in the dining room. Every single thing on board, large and small, reminded him of where and when they’d been together, the laughter, the long talks late at night, the way they’d resolved disputes with kisses and lingering touches—and usually in bed. The memories hurt. He returned to the chair in the dark corner to wait.
Addison Case had once been the most cheerfully open and forgiving woman Ry had ever met. Not anymore. Her anger was so deep, a scar ingrained in the fiber of her being, he knew unequivocally she was not going to be happy to see him.
Keeping an eye on the monitors, he watched their progress as they strolled leisurely through the salon. Darshi murmured sweet nothings in her ear, making her laugh as they headed for the stairs leading down to the lower deck.
“You’ve seen that she’s safely on board, dickwad.” Ry’s jaw clenched so hard, if it were glass it would’ve shattered into a million shards. “Now bugger off.”
Their images moved from one security feed to the next. They were a handsome couple. The same height. Addy wore her usual five-inch heels—he winced at what those heels were doing to his teak deck—so her head was on the same level as the good old prince.
Blue blood, rich as Croesus. The man looked just like you’d imagine a prince would look. Dark and swarthy, the guy was too pretty, too well dressed. Too rich. Too fucking here.
Ry couldn’t take any more. His entire body felt as taut as a bowstring as he flipped off the small monitors. He didn’t need to see them say good night. Just goodbye.
Braced to see if Addy planned on bringing the man to her bed to finish off the evening, Ry straightened in the chair, drawing his long legs in, ready to stand again. Only the light beside the bed across the room cast a rosy glow over the cream-and-gold comforter and piled pillows, the jumble of silks and gleaming satins, the lace and chiffon. The rest of the room, and the chair in which he sat, were thrown into the velvety, Addy-scented shadows.
In his mind’s eye, Ry saw them traversing the gracefully curved staircase as his heartbeat pounded like a metronome with each footstep. He imagined them walking in step, side by side, in the narrow corridor. With a flip of the switch he could watch them in real time, but his jangled nerves couldn’t handle it anymore.
The heavy cabin door opened right on time, placing her in a wedge of golden light from the corridor. Rydell’s heart double-clutched. The low-light images on the monitor hadn’t done her justice after all. The reality of Addy, in the flesh, shocked him. God, he’d forgotten how beautiful she was. The heavily beaded gown swirled around her feet as if she were floating on creamy clouds. Lit from within, her skin seemed to glow.
Every atom in his body leaned forward as if magnetized. Electrified. His skin hurt, he wanted to touch her so badly.
“That was fun, Naveen, thanks.” Addison’s naturally husky voice traveled through bone and tissue to resonate deep inside Ry. His nails scored the fine fabric on the chair’s arm.
God he’d missed her.
“Night,” she told Darshi, who lingered hopefully at the doorway. “See you in a couple of days.” Shutting the door in his face, she turned, the beadwork on the dress picking up the lamplight. “Shit. Shit. Shit,” she muttered under her breath as she slipped the slender straps off her shoulders. The weight of the dress and gravity made it drift to the floor and left her in nothing but a barely there thong, fuck-me heels, and two flowery pasties over her nipples.
If his life depended on it, Ry couldn’t move. He couldn’t even breathe. She was all sleek golden skin and gentle curves. Perfect as the day he married her, as if nothing bad had ever happened. The pain in his chest ratcheted up another excruciating notch.
Stepping out of the pool of fabric, she started to cross the room, headed for the bathroom.
Freezing for a second as if she sensed him sitting in the shadows, she backed up, grabbed the crystal lamp from beside the bed, and held it aloft. The cord yanked out of the wall as she approached him, the cabin plunged into inky darkness, “Who the hell are you and how did you get into my cabin?”
No maidenly shrieks of terror. Fearless, still wearing her shoes but stark naked, she walked toward him. Ry got to his feet. “It’s counterproductive to leave yourself in the dark with an intruder inside the room.”
“I’m armed! Don’t come any cl—Rydell?”
“Addy.” Ry reached over to click on the light beside his chair as he drank her in.
She tossed the crystal lamp on the bed. Addy didn’t hurry, or fumble to cover her nudity. Merely backtracked, dipped her knees, and shimmied back into the gown, all while giving him the stink eye. He’d never met a woman with more self-confidence. It was a hell of a turn-on. Even now when her anger was palpable.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she demanded, adjusting the slender strap on her shoulder. Glossy, more-gold-than-red hair draped cape-like around her shoulders and trailed tantalizingly over her breasts. The strands would smell intoxicatingly of gardenias and feel heavy and cool, like expensive Chinese silk, draped across his body.
“You didn’t take my calls,” Rydell pointed out, drinking his fill while he had the chance.
Cocktail-olive-green eyes narrowed. “I have a restraining order against you.”
“Only in the UK.”
“Don’t split hairs. It’s the spirit of the law.”
“I need Tesoro Mio.”
“No. You have Sea Dragon. I have Tesoro Mio, and never the twain shall meet.”
Yeah, her lawyers had enjoyed that little bit of negotiation. Rydell hadn’t fought Addy getting her hands on his dream ship. He’d instructed his lawyers to make it quick and give her anything she wanted.
She’d taken his dreams. All of them. “Sea Dragon was hijacked.”
She shook her head, creating a small breeze of gardenia. “No way. You’d never allow that to happen. What’s really going on, Rydell?”
“Sea Dragon was in port. Nicaragua. North Pacific. Went into town. Came back, the ship was gone.”
“My God.” She rested her hand at the base of her throat. “You’re serious. The crew?”
His crew—those remaining on board—were found piled up like cordwood on the docks behind a fishing boat. The memory still made him want to puke with a combo of sympathy and pure, unadulterated, impotent rage. “Everyone on board was killed.”
She started to reach out a hand, then thought better of it and dropped her arm to her side. “I’m so sorry. Was it the Cutters?”
“No. As much as I’d like to stick this on one of them, it was apparently a bunch of terrorists doing a con near Peru. The ship was expendable and was blown up in the process.”
“Did the authorities find the bastards?”
Ry shook his head.
“That’s a hell of a financial loss, Rydell.”
That was the understatement of the century. “Yeah, big time.” That was just the second sucker punch. They’d kept on coming.
Removing an earring, she held it in her palm, gaze steady. “You were insured, of course.”
“Self-insured. The cost of premiums for salvage ships operating in waters subject to terrorist and pirate attack are astronomical. But then you already know that.” He paid the premiums for Tesoro Mio.
Ry’s heart hurt badly enough that he thought he might be having a heart attack. Wouldn’t that be in-fucking-convenient right now? He’d thought—hoped—that seeing her again, after more than a year, would lessen her impact on him, would stop the constant ache. He’d hoped that his memory of her was exaggerated by his hurt and anger over what she’d done.
But no. She was more achingly beautiful than he remembered, and her impact on him was more severe than he could ever have imagined. It didn’t matter that what she’d done was unforgivable. He still wanted her with an intensity that made his jaw hurt; made his chest feel as though his heart were being cut out with a rusty knife.
Shoving his fingertips in the front pockets of his jeans helped him not reach out to touch her. The familiar scent of her filled his senses and fogged his mind. Neither of which he could afford to indulge in when his life was going to hell in a fucking handbasket.
When he was around her he felt like a goddamn drug addict. Addy had always been his drug of choice.
“Too damn bad,” she said without inflection as she removed the second dangly earring and let it pour into her palm like dripping water. “Not my problem.”
“Yeah. It is. If I don’t have a ship, I can’t salvage. If I don’t salvage, I can’t afford the upkeep on the Tesoro Mio, or anything else for that matter.”
“Then my selling her will solve both our problems, won’t it?”
“You can’t sell her. Not without my signature. Or my dead body.”
She arched a brow. “I can hope for either.”
“And you’ll get neither. I have a lucrative salvage near the Maldives. I need Tesoro Mio now.” Needed his ship, his wife, his fucking life back on track. Had to salvage that silver. Had. To.
She set the earrings on the mirror-topped bedside table, then returned the lamp to the table, straightening the elegant black-and-gold lampshade. She gave him a cool look. “Then you’re ship out of luck, ’cause you’re not getting Tesoro Mio.”
Her eyes darkened, and her shoulders tensed. “Get off my ship, Rydell. You can leave on your own, or I’ll have you dragged off. Your choice.”
The smooth vibration of the powerful engines was in counterpoint to the erratic throb as his blood coursed through his body. Just looking at her. And that was with ten feet and powerful emotions pulsing between them akin to the 4,250-meter span over the 8,000-meter drop inside the fucking Kermadec Trench.
He stuffed his fingers farther into the back pockets of his jeans to keep from grabbing her. His life was so fucked now, he had to put out one fire at a time. “We’ve set sail,” he informed her flatly.
Copyright © 2017 by Cherry Adair