Sam Eastland longs for an oasis. After a messy and very public divorce, the Silicon Valley millionaire just wants a seaside house on California’s Monterey Bay where he can escape his high-pressure world. But the new interior decorator is an unwanted distraction—and a tantalizingly lovely one, at that. Madeline Ames talks about reading the home’s energies and other nonsense, but Sam is paying more attention to her lithe body and eclectic beauty. Yet when he tries to make his interests clear, Maddie rebuffs him—and Sam realizes, for the first time in a long time, that he actually cares.
For Maddie Ames, the Eastland house job is essential. She aims to make a soothing interior for a man who seems highly in need of some relaxation. But after just one encounter with the astonishingly handsome Sam Eastland, Maddie realizes that she might be the one who needs to unwind. A fling with Sam Eastland is not part of her plan. But no amount of denying will make the hot bolt of attraction go away.
Includes a special message from the editor, as well as excerpts from these Loveswept titles: Back to You, Morgan’s Woman, and A Case for Romance.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A ribbon, deep green and nearly as rich and vivid as her eyes, bound her floppy velvet hat. The hat was soft and well-worn, the kind discovered in thrift shops beneath piles of musty-smelling blouses or pants.
On Maddie Ames the eccentric hat was at home, looking as if she had come into the world with it pressing down on her thick black hair.
Her boss, Joseph Carter, a dear, elderly man, sat behind the scratched wooden desk in the offices of Ocean Interiors and watched her, the pleasure of her presence indicated by the smile on his lined face.
“Joseph, are you listening to me?” Maddie asked.
“Of course, Maddie, don’t I always listen to you?”
“Hardly ever,” she said, then added, “If anyone calls, I’ll be at the Eastland place the rest of the day.”
“I am now the lady’s secretary!”
Maddie laughed. “Things could be worse. You could be me instead of the boss. You could be the one trying to satisfy tastes that sometimes match those of banana slugs.”
Joseph smiled and picked up his chewed cigar. “Bless you, Madeline. I don’t know what I would do without you.” The words were sincere. His wife, Sadie, had loved her small interior-design business and wouldn’t have given it up for anything. When it had begun to turn a nice profit, she had encouraged Joseph to retire and do what he most enjoyed: puttering around the house and playing golf. Sadie was delighted her earning power made it possible to free her husband from his teaching duties at the university that had started with such enthusiasm some thirty years before and grown more frustrating and onerous with each passing semester in the last ten years. Joseph had been a happy retired professor, and Sadie a busy interior decorator, and all was right with their world … until one bright California morning the year before when Sadie, feeling unusually tired, set down her teacup in their sunny kitchen and died of heart failure.
Now Joseph was in charge of Ocean Interiors, trying to keep it going and even build up the business, if possible, so he could sell it in a year or two and finally retire in comfort.
“So tell me the truth, Joseph,” Maddie said now, touching his shoulder. “What’s the catch to all this? Why were we invited to bid on the Eastland house?”
“Because we are good at what we do, Madeline.”
“Sure, I know that, you know that, but a big gun from San Jose can’t know that. The Eastlands can afford the best, Joseph.”
“And that’s exactly what they’re getting.”
Maddie allowed herself to smile. “You’re hopeless.”
“And you’re the one with eternal faith. Don’t let it fail you now, Maddie.”
“You’re right as usual. Okay, I’ll give it my all.” She hugged him, then glanced at her watch. “I need daylight to get all the measuring done over there, so I’d better scoot.” She blew him a kiss from across the room and sailed out the door, her fast walk turning into a trot as she hit the sidewalk and headed for her ancient VW Bug, hoping against hope it would start this time.
The Eastland house was on the southern edge of Santa Cruz, a resort town on Monterey Bay. It stood on a rise surrounded by a lawn that ended on three sides in dense stands of fragrant conifers, Monterey pine, and cypresses. The two-story house commanded a breathtaking view of the water from huge windows and a terrace. The location was one of the finest in Santa Cruz County. A half-million-dollar view, Joseph had said.
Maddie stood on the circular driveway and shielded her eyes against the sun. Joseph’s estimate was far too conservative, she decided. The place was a showcase.
Excitement surged through her. If they got this job, Joseph would be set. It was a full house job, top to bottom, the woman who called her from San Jose had said. Maddie glanced at the carved wooden sign that read EAST OF THE OCEAN, then walked on past it as if she entered exclusive beach homes every day. She found the key beneath a giant empty pot, imagined it full of brilliant red geraniums, and hurried on inside.
“Fantastic,” she murmured, looking around at the spacious home. From the tiled entryway she could see all the way through to the back, where the ocean view was framed by enormous windows. Heaven. This was surely heaven.
A clearing of a throat, followed immediately by a deep “What are you doing here?” echoed out of nowhere.
Maddie jumped. Her clipboard went sailing across the polished floor.
A tall, half-naked man, so close to her now she could smell the salt water on his skin, leaned over to retrieve her papers. When he stood up again, Maddie found herself staring into a broad bare chest. Beads of water glistened in a dark golden thatch of springy hair. Slowly she raised her head and found herself staring up into startling, serious, midnight-blue eyes.
“You frightened me,” she said accusingly, frowning.
The man frowned in return, and Maddie was dismayed at the fierceness in his incredible eyes and the strong set to his square jaw.
“I should call the police,” she continued quickly, her nerves tap-dancing from apprehension.
“Be my guest,” the man said. The corner of his mouth lifted into a slight, mocking, half smile.
Maddie took a step backward. “This is a private home,” she said sternly, taking some comfort from the fact that there was nowhere on his swim-trunk-clad body to conceal a weapon. “You can’t come jogging in off the beach this way. And look what you’re doing to the floor!” She pointed to the spreading puddle of water around his bare feet. Behind him, leading all the way to the wide-open glass doors in the distance, was a trail of sand.
“It’ll dry,” he said.
“I think you’d better leave now,” she said, nibbling on her lower lip. The flicker of fear returned. What if he wouldn’t leave? What if he were dangerous? He was twice her size. She could see the headline now: BODY OF TALENTED SANTA CRUZ DESIGNER FOUND IN MILLIONAIRE’S BEACH HOUSE. Well, maybe the press wouldn’t call her talented, but if she lived to do this house—
“Leave, sir,” she repeated, her voice quivering slightly. Her chin was up, her green eyes flashing, her slender frame straight as a reed.
“Lady,” the man said slowly, drawing out the word so that Maddie had to squeeze her fingers into a fist to keep from swinging at him. “Maybe you’d better leave,” the man continued. “I’m Sam Eastland. This is my house.”
Maddie’s heart lurched, clattered, thudded painfully in her chest. She bit down hard on her bottom lip, fighting for composure. It was all those late movies she watched. They warped her imagination, and led to enormous professional faux pas—like this! “Well, all right, then,” she said with forced calmness. “You can stay, of course.” Maddie watched his face for a smile, even a half smile, but his forehead was furrowed so deeply, she was tempted to smooth it out with her fingers.
“Generous of you,” he said finally.
“You weren’t supposed to be here.”
The man was silent.
“Next time tell me you’re coming, okay?” she added.
The frown remained, but it was accompanied now by a hint of a smile. “Tell you,” he repeated with great deliberation. “I guess I could do that. There is one small detail that needs some clarification first.”
His expression disarmed her. It was guarded, a half smile that told her nothing, not whether he was amused, angry, or simply bored. It irritated Maddie. “And what’s the detail?” she asked. She took another step backward.
His smile disappeared when he spoke. “Simply this. I don’t know who the hell you are. Nor do I know why you’re standing here in front of me telling me to leave my house. No doubt there’s an explanation, but I sure can’t come up with it.”
Maddie’s mouth fell open, then snapped shut. She frowned and spoke accusingly. “You don’t know who I am?”
“I confess, no.”
She ignored the facetiousness in his tone. “If you don’t know, then why have you allowed me in like this? Do strange women just wander into your house off the street?” She flapped a hand through the still air as if to emphasize her point. Her fingertips brushed his bare chest and she jerked her hand back, as if it had been burned.
“It’s been known to happen,” he said. He reached for a shirt hanging on the banister and slipped it over his head. “But from the looks of things, in this case you seemed to have a key.” He nodded toward her hand.
“Of course I have a key. I’m Madeline Ames,” she said.
The enigmatic half smile was back.
Maddie lifted her chin higher. “I was invited to come out and look at this place, then submit a design proposal. I represent Ocean Interiors.”
“Ocean Interiors?” Sam frowned again. Maddie suspected it came easily to him.
“I think I’m beginning to understand.” He looked her over from head to foot. The crazy hat, set on a mass of thick, dark hair, was slightly askew now. Her dress was loose, a light, airy cotton garment that flowed gracefully over her willowy body. She was of medium height, very pretty in an offbeat way, and she fit his image of an interior designer about as neatly as Dolly Parton. He frowned. “You’re the interior designer?”
“I’m sure I’m not the only one.” Behave, Maddie, she cautioned herself. This job was important to Joseph. She forced a smile to her face. “But our firm was called about this job.”
Sam still wasn’t sure what was going on here. He had told Eleanor, his assistant, to call the Oceanic Interior Design Firm. Elizabeth had used them for everything. But who the devil was this? He suspected he and Eleanor had a little talking to do.
“Okay,” Sam said out loud, extending a hand. “Hello, Ms. Ames. I’m Sam Eastland.”