Authors: Jules Bennett
To Jill, for everything from answering my frantic texts, sharing my excitements, listening to me whine and dining at Mickey D’s over nuggets and brainstorming. I love all the ideas you throw at me and all the critiquing you provide. You’re so much more than an assistant, you’re an awesome friend.
“You’re crying already? Damn, you just got here.”
The last thing Vincent Hawk expected to see when he opened the door of his Pebble Cove home early Saturday morning was the beautiful, flawless Evelyn Banks practically in tears.
“Trust me, the last thing I want to do is shed tears around you,” she hiccupped, patting her damp cheeks. “Besides, these are good tears.”
Reaching for her hand, he pulled her into his foyer. “I never understand when women use that term,” he muttered.
Vincent guided Evelyn into his oversized living room. Whatever happy thoughts occupied her mind right now would certainly interfere with his plans for this impromptu visit. He needed her undivided attention for the next project he proposed. And he needed to remind himself that he was doing a favor for her brother, Dylan, and to keep his hands off her. Which was damn hard, considering he hadn’t seen her for months and he’d missed her.
Talk about testing the willpower and bonds of a friendship. Vin couldn’t help but wonder if his and Dylan’s other friend, Alan, had similar thoughts about Dylan’s hot, curvy sister. Vin cringed at the idea.
Thankfully Evelyn had no clue how he truly thought of her. Beneath years of friendship, desire lurked and one of these days Vin feared he’d explode with passion for his best friend’s sister. God help them.
He never recalled Evelyn feuding with Alan or Dylan the way she did with him. Either she couldn’t care less about him in a sexual way or she wanted him and was denying herself. Of course the latter was just his ego talking, but whatever…
“I’m sorry,” she told him.
The vulnerability she portrayed was so unlike the strong, independent Evie he’d known for so long. He much preferred her to be in that fighter mode he’d come to appreciate sparring with.
“I’m so excited to be back home.” She eased herself onto the edge of the plush chaise in his living room. “And I just received a phone call from Dylan.”
Vincent took a seat next to her in the leather club chair. “Everything okay?” he asked.
A wide, beautiful smile spread across her face. “He’s bought our old house and is renovating it.”
Vin recalled how much Dylan and Evelyn loved that house. Though he’d met them both just after their parents were killed and the house had sold, he knew how they’d held on to that happy portion of their lives. And according to Dylan and Alan, Evelyn had never been the same since the tragedy. Vin couldn’t help but wonder how she was before, when she’d probably been an innocent teen.
“That’s great,” he told her. “I know how much you and Dylan hated when the house was sold.”
After the deaths of Dylan and Evelyn’s parents, their house had quickly been put on the market, but eighteen-year-old Dylan had vowed to get it back one day.
“I haven’t spoken to him for a few weeks,” Vin went on. “Will he be staying there while doing the renovations?”
Evelyn swiped at her damp cheek. “Yes. He said he doesn’t trust it to sit empty, but I think he just wants to be there, to know that he reached his goal. I’m glad I’m moving back. I want to see what he’s going to do.”
Which brought up his whole point for calling her here. Vin was glad she’d given him an opening.
“Dylan told me you’re starting a design business here.” He stretched his arm along the back of the sofa. “Since we haven’t seen each other in a few months, I’m anxious to hear about it.”
Evelyn grinned. “I am. I’m a bit nervous about branching out on my own, but my parents followed their dreams. I can’t sit back and just wonder
Vincent admired her—more and more as the years went by. “You’ll do amazing. I have confidence in you.”
Since he’d last seen her in Miami, where she was working and living, Dylan had approached him for a favor and Vin was more than happy to oblige.
With Vin opening a new resort, Evie would be the obvious choice to be the interior designer on the project. Dylan needn’t have asked. Vin was more than willing to work closely with Evie.
“You always have an agenda,” she laughed. “You’re always in work mode.”
“I think you know enough about my past to understand why I work my ass off.”
She leaned over and patted his arm. “I do and I totally respect you. You’re another reason I’m taking this step. I’ve never seen you afraid of anything.”
If only she knew…
“You did leave a pretty prestigious firm to start your own.”
She eased back. “Does that mean you’ll keep your business there and not give me a try?”
The only reason he’d done business in Miami was to remain close to her.
“Actually, I am giving you a try,” he told her. “I’m looking for someone to help me with my new hotel and restaurant. You up for the job?”
Evelyn jerked, her brows drawn together. “You really want me?”
Oh man. He knew when there was a prime opportunity to have a comeback—unfortunately this was one of those times he needed to keep his mouth shut. Damn—and he had so many lines to use.
“Of course I want you.”
“But…why? You always use Marshall’s Design Group.”
Because of you.
Besides, Dylan had asked this favor and it was going to be no hardship to have the sexy, alluring Miss Banks in his sights for the next several months while they worked together. Of course only his sights could be on her because if he so much as laid a hand on her lush, curvy body, Dylan would try to kill him.
Vin certainly wasn’t afraid of getting in a fight, but he respected Dylan and he respected Evelyn. She’d never shown the first sign of interest, so he’d best keep his lustful feelings to himself.
Besides, if the next few months went like the last several years, they’d spend their time arguing over who was right. Damn, just once he’d like to get her to really relax, really cut loose and have a good time.
“I’d like to try something different with this next project and I’d be very interested in having you work with me. But only if you want to.”
Evelyn wanted to jump at the chance to work with Vincent on a one-on-one level, but first she had to tell herself to wake up and face reality. He’d called her over to discuss business. They hadn’t seen each other in months and he was strictly a businessman. He’d come to Miami often enough to do business with Marshall’s Design Group, where she’d worked, and they’d gone to dinner a few times as friends, but their friendship hadn’t changed since she’d met him at sixteen. She’d always wondered what, if anything, could’ve happened between them, but fate had intervened in an ugly, evil way.
Apparently she was a tad naïve, because she’d convinced herself he’d finally realized she was more than Dylan’s sister. But he’d never shown any interest in her before, so why should today be any different.
And besides all that, even if he did make a move, would she be able to follow through? How could she be intimate with someone after all she’d been through?
God, she’d thought losing her parents had been bad—that had just been the start of her nightmares.
“You really think we can work together?” she asked. “You’ve never worked with just me before.”
“I’m confident we can both be professionals and our friendship will only be an advantage. You already know my tastes.”
His gaze traveled over her, sending chills she never thought she’d experience in a positive way.
She would try her hardest to work with him if he was willing, because with a client like Vincent Hawk in her pocket, she would have quite the portfolio of images to show future clients.
Maybe working with Vin would help her overcome her fears and get past the years of torture she’d been exposed to. But what if he
make a move on her in a nonfriend way? Would she freak out? Would Vin want answers to questions she couldn’t answer?
Work. She had to concentrate on work. Her personal life was a jumbled mess and one she’d never drag another human being into. Not even her brother.
Vincent’s questioning tone brought her back to reality and away from the nightmare her mind was spiraling toward.
“Is there a certain reason you asked me?” She eased forward on the chaise, crossing her legs. “Not that I’m not grateful, but I’m just curious—why me, why now? You always seemed happy with Marshall’s.”
He smiled, showcasing a set of twin dimples. “Like I said, I’m ready to take my future projects in a new direction. This is my first resort and I want it to be different from my usual luxury hotels. Besides, I value your professional opinion.”
Hope soared through her. “Wait a minute. Let me just savor this moment.”
He smacked her leg. “Quit being a smart ass,” he laughed. “Are you up for the job or not?”
“What if you don’t like what I come up with?”
Those dark eyes held her. “If I thought I’d be disappointed, you wouldn’t be here.”
Evelyn looked into those deep gray eyes, the ones with the slight wrinkles around the corners, the ones that had kept her dreaming each night for years—until she realized he wasn’t interested and even if he was, she had issues that he wouldn’t be able to deal with.
Even if putting the issues aside was possible, she didn’t do flings. Ever. Vin was well known for being a lover of the ladies and he made no apologies about it. Added to that, she had enough skeletons in her closet to make Vin turn and run the other way…straight into the arms of another woman whose closet was probably full of size zero slinky dresses, unlike hers, where the size twelves were her “small” clothes.
But right now he was handing her a prime opportunity and she wasn’t about to let her insecurities ruin this.
Vincent Hawk was known throughout the world for building lavish hotels, but he’d been planning this resort since he’d graduated college. Even more impressive was the fact he was only in his late twenties and his empire rivaled that of Donald Trump—of course, Vin had a few tats, a nearly shaved head and mesmerizing gray eyes so the financial aspect was the only thing Vin had in common with the Donald.
And now this beautiful, sometimes frustrating man—a man she’d known for several years on a somewhat personal level—was technically going to be her employer.
Evelyn ran a hand down her crisp white capris. “Okay, you’ve obviously thought this proposal through. I have to admit I’d be a fool to turn this project down.”
His wide, signature smile spread across his face, deepening the subtle lines around his eyes. “You’re no fool.”
“When do you need me to start?”
“Immediately,” he told her. “We’ll be spending an exorbitant amount of time together so I can keep my project under deadline and under budget.”
“You always worry about the budget,” she told him. “You are aware of your own financial standings…right?”
He laughed. “Always, but when you come from nothing, you tend to always watch your wallet.”
Evelyn’s mind whirled at the possibilities. This would so launch her into where she wanted her small company to be. Then she could focus on taking charge of her life and not letting her past nightmare control her. And if she and Vin were traveling, it lowered the chances of coming face to face with her past. That was reason enough to want the job.
Even though she’d convinced herself to move back, start her own business and not let that frightened, teenage girl run her life, she still couldn’t get past the fears and memories that this beautiful beachy town evoked.
“If you’re spending all your time with me, won’t your hoards of women get jealous?” she asked, focusing on here and now.
Way to go, Evelyn. Just be blatant in asking if he’s seeing someone.
He quirked a brow. “When they get jealous, that’s when I know it’s time to move on. Any woman I get involved with knows where she stands up front. Always. I’m not a forever—or even a long-term—type of guy.”
Evelyn swallowed at the idea of how many women had probably come and gone in Vin’s life over the years. Did most people look at sex so casually? Perhaps she would to if…