“No thanks,” Finn said. “I’ve got it covered.”
“Are you sure?” Lars asked. “I could do a real smorgasbord for you. I have some pickled herring and—”
“No, that’s okay,” Finn answered abruptly.
Lars went back to the hotel kitchen. Mimi lingered. Shaking her head, she said, “You didn’t warn me about your cousin. She’s a manipulator, isn’t she?”
“Yes, she is,” Peyton agreed.
“If you aren’t too tired, we can chat tonight,” Mimi said. She patted Peyton’s hand and headed toward the door. Finn flipped the deadbolt after she was gone.
“I think I’ll go over to the business office, too,” Peyton said. “Where are my flats? I could get a little work done, couldn’t I?”
Smiling, he said, “Sure you could.” Before she realized what he was going to do, he scooped her up in his arms and carried her to her bedroom. While he was still holding her, he kicked off his shoes and dropped down on the bed.
“What are you doing?”
Finn wrapped her in his arms and closed his eyes. Damn, but he loved the way she felt.
“I didn’t get much sleep in that chair last night, and you need to rest.” He rolled onto his back and pulled her up against him. Her head rested on his shoulder.
“Finn, you have to leave tomorrow.”
Yawning, he said, “No.”
She couldn’t believe she was actually sleepy. She’d done nothing but sleep since yesterday morning. Settling into his embrace, she had to admit she was happy he was with her. Whenever he was around, she felt protected.
Lifting her head, she saw his eyelids were getting heavy. She put her head back on his shoulder and closed her eyes. A minute passed and she could feel his breathing become slower as he drifted off.
“Finn?” she whispered.
“Hmm?” he answered without opening his eyes.
“When are you going to leave?”
He tightened his hold. His answer was faint but unmistakable. “Never.”
Peyton slept hard for over four hours, and her headache was nearly gone when she opened her eyes. As soon as the fog cleared, she remembered what Finn had said. She’d asked him when he was going to leave, and she was certain he’d answered, “Never.” He’d sounded as though he’d meant it, too. What kind of game was he playing? He did love to tease her. Maybe that was what he was doing. Of course he was going to leave. It’s what he did.
While she was brushing her teeth, she thought about how she should proceed and decided she would continue to treat him like a friend. It wasn’t possible for her to forget that they had been intimate—every time she looked at him, images of his gorgeous na*ed body intruded into her thoughts—but she could pretend that they had always just been friends. And if she pulled that off, she should get an Oscar.
Finn was in the kitchen. “Are you hungry? I’ll make you something to eat.”
“I’m not an invalid. I can make lunch.”
Even as she protested, she sat at the island and let him see to the task. As soon as he pulled out a jar of peanut butter, she knew it wasn’t going to be a gourmet meal, and that was fine with her. She didn’t think her stomach could handle much more.
She couldn’t stop staring at him. His T-shirt was snug across his broad shoulders and upper arms, almost as if it were molded to him, and his jeans rode low on his hips. He couldn’t look sexier if he tried. She closed her eyes for a few seconds while she reminded herself that he had been demoted from lover to friend.
He placed her sandwich in front of her. The only garnish was the grape jam that oozed onto the plate. He wasn’t much on presentation, but the sandwich tasted great.
“Aren’t you going to eat?” she asked.
He leaned over the island and kissed her. It happened so fast she didn’t have time to stop him.
“I already had a couple of sandwiches,” he said. Then he kissed her again.
“Yes,” he agreed.
“But not friends with benefits.”
“So you agree.”
And then he kissed her again. His hands cupped the sides of her face, holding her still while his mouth ravaged hers. His tongue sensually rubbed hers, coaxing her to respond. It was impossible to resist him, and within seconds she was as wild as he was. When he pulled back, he looked arrogantly pleased. Her lips were swollen and she could feel her cheeks flush. She could barely catch her breath, and he made her burn for more. She wanted to grab his T-shirt and pull him back for another kiss. Wait, this wasn’t going according to her plan.
Finn took her plate to the sink, breaking the spell.
“Friends don’t kiss each other with their tongues,” she said.
He laughed. “No, they don’t.”
“And we’re friends.”
He laughed again.
“You’re in a mood, aren’t you?” she mumbled. “I’m trying to explain . . .”
“That we’re friends?”
“Okay, I get it. Can this go in the dishwasher?” he asked, holding up a plastic bowl.
She nodded. “I could clean up since you made lunch.”
He closed the dishwasher and came around the island. “Do you want dessert?”
She swore his eyes twinkled. “I don’t know. What do you have?”
Pulling her into his arms, he asked, “What do you want?”
“This could go on all afternoon,” she said, and then she laughed.
“You need to go to bed.”
“I just got up,” she protested. Lifting her into his arms, he headed down the hallway. “Finn, I took a long nap. I’m not going to sleep.”
He smiled. “I sure hope not.”
What had come over him? They were going to be friends, damn it. And friends did not have sex. At least normal friends didn’t. A knock on the door interrupted his plans to seduce her. Muttering an expletive, he put her down and went to see who was there.
Christopher and Mimi had stopped by on their way back to the office after a trip to Port James to meet the accounting firm who handled the resort’s business. Despite Finn’s look of disapproval, Peyton invited them in. She was anxious to get Mimi’s impression of the resort now that she had had time to look around. And, just as she had hoped, Mimi loved the place. Her face lit up with excitement as she talked about the beauty of the resort and the tremendous possibilities all the renovations would bring. Peyton glanced over at Christopher and could tell he was pleased to have Mimi on the team. They were comfortable working together, and it was evident she knew what she was doing.
“My office will be here in the Cove,” Mimi said. “I’ll take over payroll and taxes, but I’ll also do projections. It’ll be fun.”
Her enthusiasm made Peyton smile. “Only you would think adding numbers is fun.”
Christopher had plans he’d drawn up for the Olympic-size pool and asked Finn if he wouldn’t mind taking a look.
“Before I make this official, I’d like to know what you think of the design. It’s going to be a huge pool, and Peyton’s convinced me we could use it for relays and maybe training camps.”
“Sure, I’ll help,” he said.
Christopher spread the plan out on the island, and the two men discussed possible changes.
“There will be a dome over the pool that will retract into the ground with the push of a button,” Christopher explained.
“This is going to cost a fortune,” Finn said.
“Len’s all for it. Once he heard about it, he wanted the Cove to have it. He doesn’t want it near the hotel, though. He thinks it should be in the back and away from the beach. It’s going to end up being an entire swimming center.” He smiled as he added, “He’s got grand plans for it, thanks to Peyton.”
Peyton wanted to look at the drawings, but Mimi was nudging her to the sofa. “You need to sit down, sweetie. How’s your head feeling? You look better, not so pale.”
“I’m fine now,” Peyton insisted. “Fully recovered. How are you getting along? It’s a big change for you, isn’t it?”
“Yes, and you were right. This is a paradise. It will be an adjustment not wearing five layers and a heavy coat most of the year. A lovely adjustment,” she added with a chuckle. “And I love the work. I feel useful and needed again.” She took hold of Peyton’s hand and whispered, “Thank you.”
Before Peyton could respond, Mimi plunged ahead. “Erik Swift called me. He’s a decent man, like his father. It’s difficult to imagine Eileen came from the same parents.”
“Why did he call?”
“He’s talking to all the employees who worked under Drew. He had a couple of names and he wondered if I knew anything about them.”
“I recognized two of them. They were young women who worked in the plant.”
“What’s Erik looking for?”
“He told me he’s helping his father. Randolph wants to find all the young women Drew preyed on.”
“And when he finds them? Then what?”
“I don’t know. Nothing can change what Drew put them through, but I think Randolph wants to let them have vindication and compensation. Maybe an apology from the company. I think he may be taking legal action, but I’m just guessing. We’ll have to wait to find out.” Mimi shook her head, a look of regret falling across her face. “I knew that Drew was a sleazy character, but I didn’t think he was violent until he tried to break into your motel room. I should have seen it coming . . . done something.”
Peyton took her hand. “You can’t blame yourself for anything. You couldn’t have known. Drew was a master at keeping people quiet and hiding what he was doing.”
Christopher interrupted them. “Peyton, do you want to look at this preliminary plan?” he asked.
She had to admit to herself that she was curious to see it, but her enthusiasm for the project had waned because she realized she wanted to build the pool for the most foolish of reasons. If they had such an attraction, Finn might want to come back to swim. How crazy was that? To lure him with an Olympic-size pool? She felt pathetic, now that she realized what her real motive was.
“Do we really need such a big pool?” she asked as she crossed the room to stand between the two men.
Her question surprised Christopher. “You’re having a change of heart? You said you wanted a regulation—”
“Yes, I did,” she interrupted. “But I’ve reevaluated. You heard Finn. It will cost a fortune.”
“And it will make a fortune,” he argued. “It was a great idea you had, and we’re going forward.”
She didn’t argue. She knew Finn was watching her, and so she kept her attention on the plans. “It looks good,” she said, and the longer she studied the layout, the more excited she became. It really was going to be a great addition. Did it matter that the only reason she’d come up with the idea was because of Finn?
Her enthusiasm was back in her voice when she told Christopher, “It will be great.”
“I’ve got to get back to work,” Mimi said. “Finn, there’s a package for you in the office. Would you like me to fetch it for you?”
“No, I’ll get it,” he said, nodding his appreciation.
“He’s a keeper,” she whispered to Peyton.
From Finn’s quick smile, Peyton knew he’d heard Mimi.
“No, he’s in need of a keeper,” she said.
Finn waited until he and Peyton were alone before he pulled her back into his arms. “I’m in need of a keeper? Are you up for the job?”
She put her hands on his chest to push away from him and desperately tried not to be swayed by his adorable smile and the sexy look in his eyes.
“You left.” She hadn’t known she was going to say that until the words were out of her mouth.
He wasn’t smiling now. His expression became intense as he tightened his hold on her. “I came back.”
She shook her head. “I don’t want you here. We’ve said all we need to say. You should leave.”
He nudged her chin up and lowered his mouth to hers. His lips brushed across hers before he deepened the kiss. He wasn’t in any hurry, and she sighed when his tongue leisurely explored her mouth. Breathless, she became the aggressor. Her hands moved up to the back of his neck, her fingers splayed upward into his hair. When he tried to pull away, she tugged at his lower lip with her teeth until he gave her what she wanted, and then her tongue rubbed over his. His taste, his scent, his touch aroused her, and at that moment she would have given him anything he wanted. One kiss and he made her ache for him.
“Tonight,” he promised as he gently pulled away from her.
Frustrated, she muttered her way to the bedroom.
“Did you say something?” Finn called.
“No, I’m just giving myself a stern talking-to,” she said. Her door shut, effectively stopping any other questions.
She stayed in her room making calls and working on her laptop. She kept telling herself she wasn’t hiding from Finn; she just needed some space. It wasn’t the truth, though. Her emotions were bouncing all over the place, and it was all his fault. He shouldn’t have come back, but now that he was here, she was going to tell him to leave her alone. No more hugging or kissing or anything else physical.
Since when did he ever listen to her? He was going to do whatever he wanted to do, and knowing how weak she was around him, she would probably go along. She suddenly remembered opening her eyes in the hospital room and seeing him, and she remembered exactly how she had felt in that moment. Safe and protected, yes . . . and something more.
Finn knocked on her door twice, then opened it. “It’s almost five. Do you want to go to the business office with me?”
“Sure.” She didn’t move; she just sat there staring at him.
He tilted his head. “What’s that look about?”
Impossible to explain, she decided. “It’s my concussion recovery expression. I’ll just get my tennis shoes.”
Tucking her phone in her pocket, she walked out the door ahead of him. Braxton waved to them as they crossed the parking lot.
“Oh, just so you know,” she began. “As far as Debi is concerned, I’m in a three-way with Drake and Braxton.”