Prologue

A one-night stand only lasted one night. Sinclair Mahoney might be far from an expert, but she could guess that much.

So, while Hunter Osland’s bare chest rose and fell in his king-size bed, and a door slammed somewhere in the far reaches of the mansion, she pushed her feet into her low-heeled black pumps and shrugged into her pinstriped blazer. She was only guessing at the protocol here, but she suspected it wasn’t a lingering goodbye in the cold light of day.

Peacefully asleep in the gleaming four-poster, Hunter had obviously done this before. There were three brand-new toothbrushes in his en suite, along with half a dozen fresh towels and an assortment of mini toiletries in a basket on the marble counter. He had everything a woman needed if she wanted to make a simple, independent exit-which was exactly what Sinclair had in mind.

Last night had been good.

Okay, last night had been incredible. But last night was also over, and there was something pathetic about hanging around this morning hoping to see respect in his eyes.

So, she’d washed her face, brushed her teeth, and pulled her auburn hair into a simple ponytail, glancing one last time at the opulent cherry furnishings, the storm-tossed seascape that hung above his bed, and two potted palms that bracketed a huge bay window. It was nearly 8:00 a.m. She had just enough time to find her twin sister in the maze of the rambling Osland mansion. She’d say a quick goodbye before hopping a taxi to the Manchester, Vermont, airport and her flight to JFK.

She had a planning meeting at noon, then a conference call with the Cosmetics Manager at Bergdorf’s. There were also two focus-group reports on Luscious Lavender beauty products tucked in her briefcase.

Last night was last night. It was time to return to her regular life. She squared her shoulders and reached for her purse, her gaze catching Hunter’s tanned, toned leg. It had worked its way free from the tangled ivory sheets, and she followed its length to where the sheet was wrapped snugly around his hips.

She cringed at the telltale tightening beneath her ribs. His broad shoulders were also uncovered, along with the muscular arms that had held her tight into the wee hours of the morning. At five foot seven and a hundred and fifteen pounds, she wasn’t used to feeling small and delicate in a man’s arms. But she had in Hunter’s.

In fact, she’d felt a lot of things she hadn’t expected for a one-night stand.

Her friends had talked about them. But Sinclair had only imagined them. She always assumed they’d be stilted and awkward, each party self-conscious and trying to impress the other, while convincing themselves it wasn’t tacky and shallow to sleep with a near stranger.

She’d been wrong about all of it.

There was an edge of the forbidden, sure. But Hunter had mostly been sweet and funny. At first, his intelligence had challenged her. Then his smile had enticed her. His touches and kisses had been the most natural things in the world. By the time they were naked, she felt as if she’d known him for years instead of hours.

In fact, standing here on the brink of goodbye, she could feel the heady sensations all over again. She wanted to turn back the clock, climb into the big, soft bed, taste those lips, run her fingertips over his skin, inhale the clean, woodsy scent of his hair.

She took a reflexive step forward.

But he shifted in the bed and she froze, appalled to realize she was about to hop in for round three. Or was it four? She supposed that depended on whether you counted his orgasms or hers.

He stretched his arm across the bed, and his expression drew taut in his sleep. He felt around and frowned.

Any second now, he would open his eyes. She knew somewhere deep down in her soul that if she was still standing here when he woke up, she’d be flat on her back in an instant. He knew his way past her defenses, knew a hundred ways to make her gasp and moan, knew all the right things to growl and whisper in her ear.

Her palm closed around her purse strap, and she commanded herself to back off.

He gave a bleary blink, and she grasped at the doorknob.

Before he could focus, she was out in the hall, shutting the door behind her and striding for the staircase.

It was over.

It was done.

Her best hope was to never see him again.

Contents

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