Eighteen-year-old Mariah discovered from the Sunday morning Chronicle that her father’s rival Davis Campbell kept his racing boat on a Sausalito pier. A photo showed him holding aloft a silver cup, not even the newsprint blurring the sharp intensity of the man. He looked at his trophy with the same expression he’d used over the years to examine Mariah, an avarice that always made her uneasy.
Studying the photo, she caught sight of a younger man beside Davis, a fit and slimmer version of the yacht’s captain. She had never formally met Rory Campbell. Nonetheless, despite the lack of introduction, she was utterly smitten with him. Two years ago, she had watched this bronzed youth with flashing limbs destroy an opponent at a tennis party. In the milling aftermath, while she waited at courtside to attract his attention her father had announced abruptly that they were leaving.
Mariah set aside the newspaper, and, tiptoeing so as not to wake her father, left a noncommittal note. Then she drove his Pontiac across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito.
When she arrived at the marina, an unforecast squall played an eerie piping chime, beating the sailboat halyards against their masts. Fog streamed into the harbor, pleasure boats sat idle at the piers, and the houseboat community was battened down. For a moment she hesitated, but with this weather, she should be able to look over the yacht without being discovered.
Once on the pier, she had no trouble locating the knife-like vessel Privateer. A towering mast stretched up into the mist, and at least fifty feet of sleek hull shone bright even in the gray light. Water drops beaded the rich teak deck trim.
"Come in out of the rain," said a male voice from aboard.
Even with her tennis shoes’ traction, Mariah nearly lost her footing on the slippery boardwalk. Steadying herself on the boat’s wet aluminum rail, she turned to see who had spoken.
A tall, narrow-faced man stood in the shadowed companionway. Dark eyes peered at her from beneath the brim of his ball cap.
Instinctively, she pulled her damp denim shirt tighter around her. Caught flat-footed on the owner’s pier, she steeled herself and hoped Davis Campbell would not recognize her since she’d grown up. "I was just admiring your boat." She tried to smooth her wind-tangled hair.
"Privateer is my Dad’s," confessed a voice she now recognized as far less commanding than Davis Campbell’s.
Mariah nearly sagged with relief, but her heart began to race. Hadn’t she hoped to run into him, without daring to admit it?
"I’m Rory Campbell," he said. A rough blue cotton shirt over loose khaki shorts complimented his taut body.
When he reached a hand to help her aboard, his skin felt callused against hers, a suggestion he knew his way around the yacht’s winches and lines. Reluctant to break the spell by telling him she was a Grant, she tempered with, "Mariah." The rain came down harder, blowing beneath the canvas bimini over the broad cockpit.
"Come below," he urged.
Though she compromised by taking a seat on the ladder down to the cabin, drops still splattered her. Rory reached to close the Lexan hatch, his chest only inches from her face. She caught his scent, a pleasant aroma like geranium petals warmed by the sun. Strung tight at his nearness, Mariah was nonetheless disappointed when he turned away.
In the spacious galley, he lighted a brass lantern and suspended it from a hook over the table. Thus illuminated, the teak-lined cabin was as large as her father’s living room. Rory filled a kettle and put it on the stove, ferreted out teabags, and set out mugs with Privateer on them in gold letters. Waiting for the water to boil, he leaned against the counter and sent her a swift appraising glance.
"You’re cold." He unbuttoned his shirt, revealing a nest of crisp hair and rosy brown nipples drawn tight against the cabin’s chill.
Embarrassed by the flush that warmed her cheeks, she hugged herself to hide her breasts’ inevitable reaction to his splendid bare body.
He came toward her, a lithe animal on a stalk, and draped the shirt over hers. Once more nervous at him standing so close, she threw out the first thing she thought of. "Do you go to school?"
"Stanford. Business, that I may be worthy to wear Davis Campbell’s crown." He gave a sardonic bow.
"You sound bitter."
"You’d be, too, if your father expected you to follow his footsteps without a thought."
Mariah had never considered anything other than taking over for her dad someday. The love for building came to her naturally; it didn’t make sense that, as his father’s son, Rory would want anything else. "What would you rather be?"
"An architect, an archaeologist . . ." He waved an impatient hand. "I only know I’ve never been given a choice." The kettle whistled. He poured, dunked teabags, and fished them out with a spoon. "You don’t get to pick your father."
He handed her the cup, and their hands touched.
"My father is John Grant," she confessed.
"I thought so," Rory said evenly. "Mariah’s not a common name." In the rain-scattered light, his eyes held hers. She felt her pulse flutter at the base of her throat, but in the embrace of his shirt, she felt inexplicably safe.
He set his cup aside. Very carefully, as though she were a wild thing, he lifted her hair and spread it over her shoulders. She sat still and told herself she should be afraid here alone with Davis Campbell’s son. Yet, she could summon only a buoyant elation. Rory seemed different from what her dad told her of his father. Honest rather than scheming.
She wasn’t sure which of them closed that infinitesimal space, but his lips on hers had the softness of a remembered dream. The briefest graze and he drew back.
Mariah cherished the sense he was also feeling his way. With trembling fingers, she touched his smooth-shaven cheek. Its warmth, and the dear dimple in the crease beside his mouth undid her. He pressed his lips to hers again, tasting of tea and a sweetness that intensified her yearning. Though a little voice whispered she didn’t even know him, his kiss argued that he knew everything about her.
While rain streamed over his father’s boat, the Stanford man seduced a girl who wanted to believe.
Sitting on her apartment sofa, Mariah had to admit he hadn’t really seduced her. Having dreamed for years of the young man she’d seen playing tennis, she’d been half in love with him before he even spoke to her. Ready to cancel her plans for UCLA and attend a Bay Area college, prepared to defy her father and turn her life upside down . . . for she’d imagined them as star-crossed lovers defying their families’ enmity.
How blind she’d been not to see she was on a collision course with her destiny at Grant Development. How fortunate she had managed to learn her lesson. For the past eight years, she’d been a woman who cut to the bottom line, trusting nobody. Men had come and gone in her life while she kept her emotions in check and made sure she was the one in control . . . Until last night, when she learned how tenuous her rein on feeling was.
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