California man - the author's cut edition (page 2)

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"No, I'm not lost—yet. Close to it though. I'm looking for—" he glanced down at a crumpled map of the island, "Beddis Road. Which, if I read this map correctly, will lead me to Beddis Beach Park. Right?"

Emily couldn't help glancing up. Even with his attention on the map, he was smiling.

"Just head up there," Grace pointed to the road behind them, "Beddis is up that road a bit on your left. If you watch for it, you'll see a sign."

"Thanks." He stuffed the map into the back pocket of his khaki shorts.

"Where are you from—Vancouver?" Grace found her bearings and was intent on satisfying her curiosity.

"No. California." Quinn glanced at the woman sitting silently beside the chatty blonde. Her head lowered, she appeared determined not to look at him. Beautiful deep brown hair, thick and shining under the noon sun. But hair was pretty much all he could see.

"I've always wanted to go there," Grace chirped. "All that endless sunshine. Emily and I were just talking about that. Well, not California exactly, but other places. I'm Grace Whitby. I run Milly's Muffins... over there." She pointed to her storefront.

"Quinn Ramsay." He extended his hand. As Grace shook it, she nodded to her right.

"And this is Emily Welland. Em runs the best bookstore on the island."

Again he offered his hand. The brown-haired woman hesitated before extending hers. It was ice cold and trembled in his own. She raised her eyes briefly to his—and his breath caught. Her pale gray eyes were amazing, like rain, all mist and silver.

"Nice to meet you, Emily."

She nodded but didn't speak. Her lips twisted into a half smile, then compressed into a tight line, before her dark lashes again swept down.

"Where's your store?" he asked. "I'd like to get a history of the island."

Silence.

It was Grace, the talkative one, who finally answered. "Right beside Milly's Muffin Shop. You can buy a book and a great muffin at the same time."

"Sounds like a good idea. I'll take you up on that. Well, I've got a few miles to cover, so I guess I'll get going. Thanks for the directions."

While Grace smiled, Emily kept her head lowered—and those intriguing eyes to herself. Too bad, Quinn thought, but her call. Not everyone liked meeting strangers.

When she was sure he was walking away, Emily lifted her eyes to watch him take the few steps to his bike. He strode easily on long, well-muscled legs. She drank him in. His shoulders were wide and straight, his hips narrow. With a fluid movement, he straddled his mountain bike, then bent his head to glance again at the tattered map before again stuffing it in his back pocket. His every movement enthralled her. It was as though his body was a powerful, graceful instrument under his full and superb control. Confident. Powerful. Totally in charge of his world.

Emily's heart throbbed in her chest to the point of pain. She could still hear the sound of her name on his lips. So soft—like a caress. And there was something else. Quinn Ramsay was familiar to her, and that didn't make sense. Because if she'd ever seen him before, she'd never, never have forgotten him. He was not a man you forget.

"Whew! Now that's what I call a blue-ribbon certified hunk." Grace stared after him as he pedaled away. When he turned to wave, she waved back, then turned to Emily with a frown. "Woman, have you lost all five of your senses? You could've at least said hello. You were positively catatonic. I mean, I know you're shy, but you were just this side of rude to the poor man."

"I know, but... I got nervous."

"Nervous? And that turns you into a stone pillar?" The annoyance in Grace's voice changed to concern. "I worry about you. I really do. This nervousness—shyness, whatever it is. It's ruining your life. You've got to try harder. Force yourself. Talk to people, for heaven's sake."

If only it were that easy."I'll try. I will, but, honestly, I don't have anything to say—and who'd be interested anyway?"

"Anybody, everybody! You're an interesting person. You've read every book ever written, you're a gifted writer, you're an absolute wonder with a hammer and nails—when I think what you've done to that place of yours! And you have a great sense of humor." Her voice rose. "Why wouldn't anyone be interested, for Pete's sake? You're talented, pretty, and smart. Not to mention you have an almost photographic memory. What more do you want?"

"I don't know... Maybe a body like Jennifer Aniston?"

"There's nothing wrong with your body."

"Nothing that losing a few pounds wouldn't fix."

"So you're a bit overweight, who isn't? Five or ten pounds is nothing. You could dump it in a walk. Well... maybe two walks." Grace smiled.

Emily laughed then. "It's more like fifteen pounds and you know it." She thought about the man on the bike. His lean, strong body was perfect and all coated in a deep California tan. Every ripple yelled toned and fit.What would it be like,she thought,to have a body so perfect? Or to feel it against your own?The heat that surged through her caught her off guard. She stood up to hide the blush it caused and got busy clearing away their trash. "Maybe it would help if I moved the bookstore away from your muffin shop. Probably half these pounds are your fault. Did you ever think of that?"

Grace snorted in frustration. "Why is it every woman sees herself as fatter than she actually is? Besides, weight is not the issue here. The thing is you don't seem to care about... opening up. Here you are, almost twenty-eight years old... you don't date anyone, never go out, and you don't seem to want to. You live like a hermit and it's not right. It's like you're trying to disappear, like you're afraid of—I don't know—just afraid."

Emily walked to the garbage can to get rid of their lunch refuse. When she turned back, Grace was staring at her, a question in her friendly hazel eyes. "Is that it, Em? Are you afraid?"

"Of course I'm not afraid," she lied. "So I get silly attacks of nerves. It's nothing life-threatening. I can handle it, and if it will make you feel better, I'll run after that guy, throw him to the ground, and make mad, passionate love to him. How about that?"And don't I wish.

Grace laughed. "He should be so lucky."

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

The plan was to spend the day cycling and thinking about the sale of his company. Letting a gray-eyed woman intrude on those thoughts made no sense

Those eyes...

He'd never seen eyes like hers, exotically luminous even in the afternoon sun, made more arresting by the intriguing black-rimmed irises. Probably the most beautiful eyes he'd ever seen.

The negative was the expression in them, that of a timid doe. He'd noticed her skin too, creamy and clear, like ivory silk. Soft to touch, he was sure of it. But she was pale, definitely not the outdoor type—his type. And, despite the warm day, she was shrouded in a black sweater at least two sizes too large. But it was that strange, fearful look in those amazing eyes that stayed with him—made him wonder what put it there.

Not that it was any business of his.

He stowed the bike and unlocked the door to the house, automatically heading for the kitchen. He opened the fridge and lowered his head to peer inside. His expression brightened when he saw another of Blanche's plastic containers.Bless her,he thought, as he opened it to find a good-sized chicken casserole and home-baked buns. His cell rang just as he popped the dish in the microwave. It was Paul.

"How you doing?" he asked. "Everything good?"

"Better than good. I can see why you bought this place. It's perfect." Quinn leaned against the kitchen counter and tucked one hand under the other elbow. "How's the movie going?"

"That's why I called. It's a wrap in about three weeks. Finishing early—and under budget?"He paused. "So I was wondering if you'd mind my company—only for a day or two. I know you planned on being alone, but I'd—"

"That would be great," Quinn cut in, his pleasure genuine.

"You're sure?"

"In case you've forgotten, this isyourplace, not mine. Besides, it's been three days, and I'm already bored with myself."

"Any closer to a decision?"

"No. It's not as easy as I thought it would be. On one hand, I'm thinking fifteen years is enough time to devote to anything—especially one business. The problem is I can't see what I'd do with myself without Action Sports in my life."

"All that cold, hard cash and you're worrying about what to do! No logic there, my man."

"Money's not the issue. Never has been. It's more... an identity thing."

"You mean, who am I if I'm not president and owner of Action Sports?"

"Something like that." Quinn wasn't sure he understood it himself. But the past few years had been nothing but nonstop work. Forty-eight hours a day, he always said. He wasn't sure what would replace that.

Paul laughed. "Tell me you're not saying you'll miss the high profile—all that who's-on-his-arm-this-week style publicity."

"I'm not talking about that crap." Quinn frowned. Action Sports was big business. Its blue and yellow logo was a common sight at national and international sports events. He'd worked hard for that kind of visibility, because it was good for business. What he hadn't counted on was being discovered by the gossip rags. Turned out the president—and a single one at that—of a successful, high-image sporting goods company provided plenty of grist for their endless mill. He'd hated it—photographers buzzing around his life like disturbed bees, the outrageous lies, and unceasing innuendo. If he'd had half the women they reported him with, he'd be dead. A drained but happy man.

"You could always get married."

"What?" Quinn didn't think he'd heard correctly.

"You heard me. Get a wife, have kids. That should keep you busy for the next fifteen years and beyond. In a couple of years you'll be forty. It's worth considering."

"You're kidding me, right? You, Paul Severns, Tinsel Town's leading Romeo, tellingmeto get a wife," he said. "I don't think so. Pretty sure I can't replace my company with a woman—any woman. It's going to take more than that."

"You haven't met the right one, that's all."

"Andyouhave?" Quinn laughed into the phone. "Seems like you've forgotten your own sterling matrimonial record. Three, wasn't it? What's with you today anyway? I thought it was official. You're out of the running. A confirmed and permanent bachelor."

"I am, but I'm not you. You're a softy when it comes to the female sex, admit it. You have been since we were in college. Trouble with you is they come too easy. You need one you have to work at. That'll do it."

"You know what I think. I think you've directed one too many love stories. You're beginning to believe your own hype. So get it through that thick head of yours, I'm not looking for a woman. But if you've got any other—sane—suggestions, I'm all ears." Quinn tried to ignore the pair of gray eyes haunting his denial. Paul was right. When it came to women, he was a bit soft. Net gain from that? Zero.

"There's always consulting, writing—maybe investing in a hot movie property or two. I'm sure I can find a way to part you from some of those millions. Maybe an artsy little cult film, very avant-garde, that costs twenty million to make and grosses three." Paul laughed into the phone. "Seriously, you may want to think about it."

"That's a possibility if you're involved in the project—but no more Italian actresses."

"Ah, our beautiful Gina... You could cut the woman some slack, you know. She honestly feels bad about what happened."

Quinn bristled. "It didn't just 'happen,' Paul. Gina made it happen. Big difference. It's not every day a photographer jumps out of the closet in your bedroom—at the precise moment you're bare assed and about to make love. A guy put there by the woman you were about to make love to." Even now Quinn's gut clenched. "I get that she wanted publicity, but that went so far over the line, it's off the map. God knows what rag those pictures would have turned up in if I hadn't caught the guy."

"What can I say? Gina's of the mind any publicity is better than none. Not uncommon in this town." Paul hesitated before his next words. "She'd like to talk to you."

"Yeah, well that's not likely to happen in this coming century. Why the hell are you acting as go-between anyway?"

"In case you've forgotten, she's the star of my picture. She asked me to speak to you and I have. That, as they say, is that." He sounded relieved.

"Good." Thinking about Gina Manzoni gave Quinn a headache. It wasn't the first time he'd made a mistake with a woman but never as badly or as painfully embarrassing as with Gina. He'd actually thought he was falling in love with her. He shook his head. Turned out it was only a severe case of lust. She might have been the most darkly beautiful and seductive woman he'd ever known, but she was also the most manipulative and selfish. "So when are you coming up?" he asked, anxious to change the subject.

"Toward the end of the month, okay?"

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