Bungalow Nights
Author:Christie Ridgway

chapter SIX



LAYLA FIDGETED IN THE KITCHEN, rotating the plate of cupcakes she’d frosted in red, white and blue as the dessert for the Fourth of July dinner she’d thought she’d be sharing with Vance and Addy. But the other woman had gone to Captain Crow’s to meet some friends for a quick drink and she’d yet to return. Vance’s cousin Baxter had arrived at Beach House No. 9 not long after Addy had left, and he’d headed straightaway after her. He was still MIA, as well.

That meant Layla was alone with Vance, who was seated on the couch in the adjacent living room, staring out the sliding glass door that led to the deck and then the ocean beyond. Over the past couple of days, being by herself with him was a circumstance she’d done her best to avoid. Taking her gaze off him, she played once again with the placement of the baked treats, her twitchy nerves making it impossible to keep still.

Unable to help herself, she stole another glance at Vance and wondered about his mood. Was he edgy, too? Without other company as a buffer between them, the atmosphere in the house felt heavy with tension and her nerves stretched thin enough to snap. As if sensing her gaze, he turned his head and she quickly redirected her attention to the cupcakes. Boy, were they fascinating.

Not. Even as she pretended an interest in them, she could tell that Vance continued looking at her. The nape of her neck went hot beneath the long fall of her hair and her sundress, a patriotic red with white polka dots, suddenly seemed to cling too tightly to her ribs. The nervous shuffle of her feet made the hemline tickle the sensitive spots at the back of her knees.

As more minutes passed, her breath bounced back at her from the old-fashioned tile backsplash, sounding much too loud. And was it just her, or were the walls now closing in?

Layla spun away from the countertop. “I’m going to find Addy.”

In a move just as abrupt, Vance shoved up from the couch. “Sounds good to me.”

He was going with her? She wanted to refuse his company, but that would only seem rude and...immature. God knew she’d appeared childish enough when she’d clung to him during the Ferris wheel ride. She couldn’t help that the height of the metal contraption had triggered a bout of panic, but it only had added to her humiliation that he’d been prompted to offer up his services as her big brother.

Big brother! He was a step or two ahead of her now as they descended the stairs from the deck to the beach. The thin fabric of his short-sleeved, white chambray shirt fluttered against the strong muscles of his broad back. His ancient Levi’s had a rip in one rear pocket, which drew her eyes and made her all too aware of the way only a man could fill out a pair of jeans. She heaved a sigh.

He glanced around at the sound, just in time to see her trip on the last step. Her neck blazed hot again as his hand shot out to steady her.

“I’m fine,” she bit out, jerking to avoid his touch. “I don’t need a keeper.”

Then, sucking in a breath, she started striding along the sand in the direction of the restaurant. Okay, maybe she sounded as if she needed a keeper.

Or a big brother.

Gah!

The mere fact that he’d mentioned it on the Ferris wheel proved he’d managed to bury what she’d thought was a mutual attraction. Or perhaps on his end it had evaporated all on its own. In any case, clearly she’d morphed in his mind from sexy to sibling.

Great.

She was still grinding away on that when they approached the deck at Captain Crow’s. It was a much different place from where she’d eaten lunch a few days before. Then it had been relaxed. Quiet. The tables half-full.

Now a rock band was playing in one corner. People were sitting, standing, dancing. Drinking.

As they entered the throng, a man let out a loud whoop and lifted a scantily clad woman to his shoulders, where she swayed to the heavy beat. Vance leaned into Layla and spoke directly into her ear. “This place is nuts. Let’s go back.”

For another session of her nerves on the torture rack? No, thank you. Pretending not to hear him, she side-scooted around another piggyback-dancing couple. Addy had to be around somewhere.

A guy with curly blond hair, wearing board shorts and a tan, grabbed her arm as she went by. He swung her onto the dance floor, a good-natured grin on his face. “I’m Ted,” he shouted over the guitar licks. “I bet you like to dance.”

She opened her mouth to reply, but a different hand found her wrist and spun her away from her would-be partner. It was Vance. Her back to his front, he held her against his body with his half cast and used the other arm as a shield of sorts to push them through the throng and toward the bar.

He had the devil’s own luck, or maybe it was his set expression that had two stools opening up just as they approached. He half lifted her onto the leather-strapped seat and then took the other. It was quieter here than near the dance floor, so she didn’t have to resort to lip-reading to hear his opening remark. “This was a bad idea.”

She frowned at him. “I might have wanted to dance, you know.”

“What? With that surfer dude? He was drunk.”

Her chance to retort was interrupted by the bartender, who slapped a couple of napkin squares in front of them and asked for their orders. Vance wanted beer. Layla put in for a margarita.

It didn’t add to her dignity that the guy pouring drinks followed up by requesting her ID and from the corner of her eye she saw Vance smirk. Ignoring him, she fished her license out of her sundress pocket and at the bartender’s satisfied nod reiterated her desire for a margarita and tacked on an order for a tequila shot, salt and a slice of lime.

Vance made a noise. “Do you think you should—”

“It’s a patriotic choice,” she hissed at him.

“Today’s July Fourth, not Cinco de Mayo,” he said as their drinks were delivered.

Instead of answering him, she grabbed up the saltshaker that had been placed in front of her. With her tongue, she wet the web of skin between her left forefinger and thumb, sprinkled salt on the damp spot, then traded the shaker for the shot glass. After licking at the salt, the tequila went down fiery and hot, and she chased the flames by biting into the tangy citrus pulp of the lime.

Then she smiled at Vance.

His expression didn’t tell her anything. He watched her coolly over his bottle of beer, unnerving her again, so she turned to the margarita and took a hefty swallow. The chill of the blended drink mitigated the burn in her belly, the combination creating a warm glow that traveled through her blood.

Feeling more relaxed than she had in days, she lifted her margarita glass again.

“Maybe you should take that slow,” Vance warned.

Before she could even roll her eyes, someone on the other side of Layla spoke up. “What you doing drinking with such a Danny Downer, pretty lady?” a man’s voice said.

Two guys crowded near her left elbow, both holding beers and wearing smiles as bold as the Hawaiian shirts they were wearing. “Hey,” the one in the orange shirt said, nudging his friend in blue. “That’s more than a pretty lady. That’s the cupcake girl. Remember, we bought a dozen from her this morning after surfing?”

The second man’s eyes went wide. “Hot damn, you’re right.” He leaned in closer, whispering as if he had a secret to tell. “Never tell my mom I said this, but you beat out anything she ever baked for me.”

Layla laughed, then lowered her voice, too. “I’ll keep that between the two of us.”

“Wait just a minute,” his friend protested, tapping his own chest with his half-full bottle of beer. “I saw her first. I realized she was Cupcake Cutie. No sharing sweet nothings with my woman.”

Layla laughed again as they started squabbling about the rules of first flirtation rights and who’d ignored those very same rules just last Saturday night with the “awesome red-haired babe” at “that bar on Second Street.” Clearly, the pair spent a lot of time together cruising for female companionship.

As the not-quite sober, almost entirely serious discussion continued, the blue-shirted man paused the conversation to address Layla. “Excuse us for just a minute,” he said. “We’ll get back to you as soon as we sort this out.”

Layla could only smile at them. They were clearly harmless and actually quite good-looking if you weren’t blinded by the ultraloud shirts. “I’ll be right here waiting.”

“Oh, God,” Vance muttered. “Don’t encourage them.”

She turned to him. “What’s the matter, Danny Downer?”

His eyes narrowed at the nickname. “They’re idiots,” he told her. “Boozed up and bored. They’re the kind of men you should give a wide berth.”

Oh, yeah, he was going all big brother, wasn’t he? Doling out unsolicited advice and treating her as if she’d never been to a bar or handled a couple of flirtatious men.

Maybe he didn’t think she was appealing enough to actually have been approached by the male species before, she thought in annoyance, taking another swallow of her margarita to cool her snap of temper. “I’ve dated before, Vance. Kissed men. Even—don’t faint—had sex. I know what I’m doing.”

His mouth tightened. “Not with guys like that you don’t.”

Layla glanced over her shoulder at them. They were still engrossed in arguing the finer points of bro etiquette. In her judgment, their XY was of the nontoxic variety. They’d had a few beers, but so what? Yet her escort continued scowling in their direction.

She shook her head at him. “Listen, every person isn’t a Boy Scout, Vance.”

He turned his frown on her. “What?”

“I’m talking about you,” she said, gesturing toward him with her glass. “Just because you’re a squeaky-clean, always-in-control ice man—”

“Actually, I was the rowdiest party animal you’d ever have the misfortune to meet.”

“What?” Layla blinked in surprise.

“You heard me.” He set his beer onto the bar. “I excelled at wild and stupid from the day I bought my first fake ID until I was well into my twenties.”

Her mouth dropped, then she swallowed. “What happened then?”

Vance shrugged. “Cleaned up my act.”

There had to be more to the story. “Because...?”

“Because I grew out of stupid. Then I met a woman who made me...made me think. Eventually I asked her to marry me.”

Layla thought her eyes might pop out of her head. “You’re engaged?”

He retrieved his beer and took a swallow. “Was engaged, until about six months ago. But the point is, I recognize your friends Tweedledum and Tweedledee. That was me. Going nowhere good fast.”

She still considered him too harsh on the other two, but that didn’t concern her now. Vance had been engaged. And not that long ago, either. For some reason she couldn’t pinpoint, the idea irritated her as much as or more than his big brother act.

Shouldn’t he have told her he’d wanted to marry someone? Shouldn’t she have sensed it? He’d presumably been in love with the woman. Was he still in love with her?

The question was on the tip of Layla’s tongue when the clack of a shot glass against the polished wood surface in front of her redirected her attention. “Top shelf tequila,” the bartender explained, then nodded at the pair in Hawaiian shirts. “From your buddies.” He also slid over another wedge of lime and nudged forward the salt.

“I’ll take that,” the guy in orange said, scooping up the shaker and shouldering his friend away from Layla. Catching her eye, he lifted his hand and made a loose fist. Then he wet the skin between his thumb and forefinger with his tongue. “Lick the salt off me, Cupcake Girl, it’ll make your tequila shooter so much tastier.”

A strangled sound came from the other side of Layla. Vance reached across her, snatching the shaker from the other man. He was standing now, drawn to his full height of six foot three, all the muscles he had from packing pounds of equipment and weapons radiating threat. “Can it, buddy. The only man she’ll be licking is me.”

She might have laughed, but he didn’t seem the least bit aware of the suggestiveness of his remark. Neither Hawaiian-shirted guy found it amusing, either. Hands up, they backed away, murmuring all the while. “No offense” and “Sorry to bother you” and “Didn’t mean to trespass.”

Layla turned her head toward Vance. Even though the innocuous duo was walking away, he didn’t relax his posture. He stood there, glaring at them until they disappeared in the crowd, all junkyard dog.

Or older brother.

Her ire rose as he settled back onto his stool. How dare he...

She couldn’t decide exactly how she wanted to end that sentence. She only knew she couldn’t stand his guardian act any more than she could stand his cool control any more than she could stand this ridiculous attraction to him she couldn’t seem to stifle—and he’d been engaged just a short time ago! He was in love with someone else!

Her gaze settled on the saltshaker that he’d placed in front of her. The only man she’ll be licking is me. Without giving herself time for second thoughts, she grabbed it up at the same moment she grabbed Vance’s left hand. The cast covered part of it, but she didn’t let that stop her. Before he could have a chance to yank away, she leaned down and licked a wet line across his knuckles. Then she dashed the salt there, tongued up the granules and knocked back the tequila.

Feeling triumphant, she dropped the empty glass, bit into the lime and met the gaze of her “big brother.”

Her mood died as she saw the bright smolder in his eyes. The wedge of citrus fell from her limp fingers as she watched him reclaim his hand. Without breaking her gaze, he ran his own tongue across his knuckles, licking up the remaining salt granules—taking the same path as hers.

She shivered, his gesture like a stroke of wet velvet against her own skin. Goose bumps rose on her spine and feathered along the ticklish skin covering her ribs. Her intent had been to poke at him. To shake him up like he’d shaken her at the idea that he’d been engaged. That he was in love with some other woman. She’d wanted to rattle him because she despised being looked upon like a little sister.

But the blue fire in his eyes told the true story. Vance didn’t think of her as a sibling any more than she thought of him as a brother.

He was just better at hiding it.

* * *

ALONE, VANCE STRODE from Captain Crow’s toward Beach House No. 9. Addy had been located and she’d shared the information that Baxter had recently departed for home and that she’d be returning to No. 9 just as soon as she gave her old college pals a brief tour of the Sunrise Pictures memorabilia stash. Layla was trailing in Vance’s wake, but he wasn’t inclined to slow for her. He needed to put distance between them.

Again.

On the way to the bar, he’d thought the buffer of the crowd would provide that distance, but then he’d caught sight of the raucous mob. Instinct had warned there was trouble brewing. Someone was going to spill a drink on Layla, he’d thought. Or a fight would break out and she would get caught by an errant fist.

Hah.

The fight had been with himself, trying to keep from snatching her bodily away from those two aloha-shirted ass-hats on the make. As for the fist... Vance looked down at his hand and remembered her soft tongue sliding across the bumps of his knuckles, lapping delicately at him like a cat. His fingers curled, his nails biting into the hard surface of his cast as heat started smoldering in his belly.

Dammit! He had to find a way to smother this sexual fire that kept flaring up between them despite his best intentions.

Suggesting he play big brother had worked for shit. So...what now? Maybe he should initiate a civilized conversation about the situation and lay out the exact boundaries.

We’re just going to be friends.

There’s no point in getting any more intimate than that.

You stomp out your sexual sparks and I’ll stomp out mine.

All very calm. All very polite.

He took a deep breath of damp ocean air and released it, his stress starting to ease. The straightforward approach would work, right? Honesty was always best.

His gaze narrowed as he caught sight of Beach House No. 9 just ahead. There was a male figure standing on the deck, his facial features indistinct in the dusk. But Vance didn’t need to see the face to recognize who it was.

The very last person he wanted to see.

A bitter cocktail of emotions poured like bile into his belly and adrenaline blasted through his blood, once more tensing his muscles to battle-readiness. He was going to kill him, Vance thought, surging forward as his fingers again curled into fists. He was going to knock the bastard’s head from his shoulders and—

No.

God, no, he decided, coming to a sudden halt. That reaction would only prove he cared a whit about the betrayal. No way would he give the guy the satisfaction. So chill, he told himself. Be chill.

Forcing a second long breath into his tight chest, he allowed himself another moment to calm. Then he mounted the stairs from the sand and confronted the man leaning against the deck railing.

“What the hell do you want?” he demanded of his brother. Because being chill didn’t mean being polite.

Fucking Perfect Fitz stared at him in silence. His chiseled features hadn’t changed since Vance had seen him last. He still looked as if he’d been born with a label reading Most Likely to Succeed.

“You were wounded,” he finally said. Running his hand over the smooth layers of his nut-brown hair, he cleared his throat. “You were really hurt.”

Vance ignored the comment. “How did you find me?” he asked, then made a disgusted sound as the obvious answer presented itself. “I’m going to kick Baxter’s ass.”

Fitz shook his head. “Not Bax— Wait, Bax knows?”

Vance pressed his lips together.

“It was Addison,” his brother said, crossing his arms over his chest. “She told her mother where and with whom she was staying. I guess Mrs. March missed the memo that it was a big secret you were hiding out here at the beach, a mere hour away from your family home, and injured to boot.”

“I’m not injured.” He was never going to admit to Fucking Perfect Fitz that he’d been hurt by anything...or anyone. “I’m fine.”

Fitz was silent another long beat, just staring at Vance as if assessing that for himself.

Impatient with the examination, Vance huffed out a breath. He didn’t know how long he could keep his temper in check, so this show had better get on the road. “You never answered the question. What do you want?”

“Go visit Mom, V.T.”

He found the use of the old nickname his brother had coined—V.T. for Vance Thomas—rankled as much as the order. But he stayed silent.

Fitz sighed. “She’s upset.”

“And Dad?” The question slipped out before Vance could haul it back. Then he shook his head. “Don’t bothering answering. I’m disappointing him. What else is new?”

Fitz pushed away from the railing to stand at his full height, an inch and a half less than Vance’s. “Do you know what it’s like for them—for us—when you’re in Afghanistan? It was bad enough the first round, after you enlisted—”

“I had no choice this time, you get that, right? They called me up, I had to go.”

Fitz ignored the point. “You should have told Mom in person that you had to return—and then that you were back in California, safe. For God’s sake, you should have let her know you’d been wounded.”

“Yeah, because that would have eased her mind,” Vance scoffed.

His brother shook his head in obvious frustration. “You forget she’s accustomed to seeing you banged up.”

That was the thing with family. Their ammo never ran out, making them the most formidable of combatants. Sure, Vance had once been young and stupid, but man, didn’t Fitz see how it had been? His brother had done everything so older son–ideal that a guy had needed to carve out a different place for himself.

Or maybe he’d just been an immature idiot.

The thoughts only further frayed the tether on his anger. “I don’t want to be having this conversation with you, Fitz.”

The ambient lights around the deck clicked on, activated by the deepening darkness. In their glow, Vance saw an unfamiliar, uncertain expression cross his brother’s face. “Look, V.T., about—”

“We’re done talking.” A few minutes more and he’d lose it. Hell, he was itching to deck his brother and he’d do so without a qualm if it wouldn’t reveal how close to the bone Fitz’s betrayal had cut.

“We’re going to have to clear the air,” Fitz started again. “We’re family—”

“No,” he answered, his voice turning sharp. “We’re not. Not anymore.”

“Vance.”

Just his name in that censuring, self-righteous tone unleashed his temper. “That’s it,” he bit out, moving forward. “That’s it.”

One hand was reaching for the collar of his brother’s shirt and his other arm was drawing back for the first punch when a tipsy female voice called up from the sand. “Va-ance,” it sang. “I talked to Addy and we both want more margaritas.”

Oh, God. Layla. The thought of her checked his momentum and his hands dropped. He’d forgotten all about the woman, he realized in surprise. His brother got him just that riled up. Spinning around, he saw her reach the top of the steps. She stood there, swaying slightly, her big eyes blinking against the light. It illuminated her flushed cheeks, her breeze-tousled hair and her dainty sundress. One of its skinny straps had slid down her arm and she carried both sandals in her right hand, giving her an appearance that was both innocent and suggestive.

Like she’d just finished playing a round of blanket bingo on the beach—or was about to go to bed in Beach House No. 9.

Obviously—as he should have suspected—she was a lightweight when it came to alcohol. During the short walk down the beach it must have caught up with her. One blended icy drink and those two shots had left her a little blurry around the edges.

She smiled at him, apparently oblivious to the other man on the deck. “You do know how to make margaritas, don’t you, Vance? Vance-Vance-Smartypants?”

He winced. Under his watch, she was never being served tequila again.

“‘Vance-Vance-Smartypants’?” Fitz murmured.

“Shut up,” he said, glancing back. He was still a hairsbreadth from clobbering Fitz. It was only the presence of Layla that kept his brother’s handsome face intact. “You don’t get it.”

“Oh, I get it very well,” the other man responded. “I’ve met her before, or girls just like her, dozens of times. Color me unsurprised to find you’re back to your old ways of picking up random beach honeys in bars.”

Sanctimonious jerk. “That’s no random beach honey,” he gritted out. “That’s Layla.”

Fitz didn’t appear to recognize the name. Which meant Mrs. March didn’t know or hadn’t shared the whole reason Vance was here at Crescent Cove.

His brother still wore a disapproving expression as he glanced at the tipsy woman, then back at Vance. “Layla, Leila, Lila, Lola, they’re all the same to you. I thought you’d grown out of this kind of behavior, though. Is this because of Blythe? Because of Blythe and—”

“Layla’s not a pickup, Fitz,” he said, furious all over again. He couldn’t stomach his brother seeing Colonel Parker’s pretty daughter as some replaceable and interchangeable temporary bed partner, just as he couldn’t bear him bringing up Blythe. “We’re...we’re...uh...”

Fitz rolled his eyes. “Oh, sure. You’re the big ‘uh’ to each other. Do you even know her full name?”

“Parker,” Vance said from between his teeth. “It’s Layla Jean Parker.”

“June,” his housemate corrected in a helpful tone. “Layla June Parker.”

Fitz snorted a derisive laugh. “See—”

“You don’t see anything,” Vance shot back.

“I see you with yet another of your one-night stands.”

Red tinged the edges of Vance’s vision. “She and I aren’t only together for tonight,” he said. “We’re living together.”

Fitz’s jaw dropped. “You’re living together?”

His brother’s shock revealed his misinterpretation of Vance’s words. “I don’t mean—” But then he halted. Why not? Why not let Fitz believe he was shacking up with a beautiful woman?

Even though part of him felt guilty for the deception, still he crossed the deck to Layla. At least the fib would prove he wasn’t pining after someone he couldn’t have. He curled his arm around the colonel’s daughter, at the same time catching that drooping strap and drawing it onto her shoulder. “Sweetheart,” he said, wondering if he had a chance of her getting the message he was trying to send with his eyes, “this is my brother, Fitz.” Did you hear what I said, Layla? We’re together. Play along.

“Fitz?” she repeated in a low, sweet voice. Leaning into Vance’s body, she looked owlishly up at him and then over at his brother. “He doesn’t look so fucking perfect to me.”

The affront on Fitz’s face was priceless. All at once, both Vance’s tension and his temper evaporated and he didn’t know if he wanted to laugh out loud or kiss her silly. Then he remembered the conversation he’d told himself that he and Layla needed to have—We’re just going to be friends. There’s no point in getting any more intimate than that. You stomp out your sexual sparks and I’ll stomp out mine—and settled for keeping her close to his side.

“I’m sure you have plans for tonight,” he remarked to his brother. “Don’t let us keep you.”

Thank God Fitz didn’t try to delay his dismissal. He strode toward the deck steps, but paused before descending. “This isn’t over, V.T. Before you leave this place, you and I—and the rest of our family—are going to have it out once and for all.”

“No, we’re...” But the other man was already gone. Hell. Vance let his head drop back, staring at the stars just starting to poke through the dark blue canvas of the sky. Fucking Perfect Fitz was like a dog with a bone, dammit, and for the next month he knew exactly where to find Vance. Which meant more potential confrontations...and that his impulsive Layla-lie might have unpleasant repercussions.

Cursing himself for his rash words, he squeezed her shoulder. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have involved you in that.”

“I went right along with you,” she said. “It was that Layla, Leila, Lila, Lola speech. If brothers are that judgmental, I don’t want one, after all.”

“It’s Fitz’s specialty,” Vance murmured, gazing down at his companion. There was something different about her now. She glanced up, looking decidedly more sober—which struck him as highly suspicious.

He frowned. “Did you really just arrive, or were you down there on the beach eavesdropping?”

“I was giving you privacy, not eavesdropping,” she said primly. “But then it sounded as if the conversation could use some redirection and you could use some backup.”

He stared at her. Right as Vance was about to haul back and slug his brother, thus exposing the dent in his own pride, Layla Parker had sensed the danger and come to his rescue. He, the Black Sheep Smith, had a champion.

Scarcely aware of moving, Vance turned into her body so they were chest to chest. He nudged her chin higher with the same knuckles she’d licked earlier. Her breath hitched, and her breasts brushed his chest as he crowded closer. “You’re not drunk, are you?” he asked, looking into those long-lashed eyes.

“Not even a little bit.” A small smile quirked the corners of her mouth. “Uncle Phil claims the Parkers are special. He knows this from forty years of surfing trips down the coast of Baja. Our constitutions have a natural resistance to tequila.”

“Unfortunately,” Vance murmured as his mouth lowered, “I don’t seem to have a natural resistance to this.”

If he’d been in the mood for lying again, he might have told himself he meant only to brush his lips against hers in gratitude. But there was nothing but naked honesty in the compulsion to have his first taste of her. Her lashes swept low and he touched the tip of his tongue to the center of her lush upper lip. A sharp tremor ran through her body, but her mouth opened on the smallest of sighs. Vance slid into the tart, sweet taste of her.

God.

Fire flashed over his skin. The half-casted arm slid around her hips to yank her closer. Her body molded to his and he lifted her onto her toes, his sex—already hard—pushing into the juncture of her thighs.

It was too hot, it was too fast, it was wrong for some reason he couldn’t quite dredge up now. Layla threw an arm around his neck and he angled his head to take the kiss in a different direction.

Harder. Deeper.

She stroked her tongue against his, sending his head spinning. His fingers slid over the curve of her ass, cupping her close and tight. She shuddered again, and he lifted his mouth, giving them both a moment to breathe. “Layla,” he whispered, then his lips were on her again, testing the softness of her cheek and the edge of her jaw.

Her fingers dug into his shoulders as he nuzzled the hollow behind her ear. He took her mouth once more, easier now, tickling the ridged roof, teasing her with soft touches to the slick inner surfaces of her lips. From deep in her throat came a frustrated noise and he smiled, amused by the sound of it.

Her nails bit once again into his skin, she thrust her tongue into his mouth, and nothing was funny anymore.

Under the influence of that deep, hot kiss, he caressed the bare skin of her arm to her shoulder, then flicked the thin strap of her dress toward her elbow. The back of his knuckles traced its path, then slid around to brush the top slope of her breast. Layla went breathless; he could feel her sudden stillness. Her anticipation.

He let her wait a moment, then used two fingers to catch the nipple jutting through the fabric. Her body sagged into him and her head fell back. Sweet God. Her response only made his fire jump higher. He dragged his lips down her neck while toying with the hard peak of her breast.

She clutched at him, her ragged breathing loud in the night, even over the shush, shush, shush of the incoming waves. But then he heard something else.

Footsteps on the wooden stairs.

His head shot up and he glanced back. Addy’s curly blond hair came into view. Dammit.

He looked back at Layla. “Sweetheart, I—”

But she was already stepping away, her stunned gaze on his face, her palms covering her red cheeks. “Uh-oh,” she said.

It almost made him smile. Uh-oh was right. He was pretty sure he’d lost his chance to have that straightforward conversation he’d planned to stymie all this.

Which meant he had a problem. And, he remembered, it got worse.

Because as far as his family was concerned, he also had a girlfriend.