Fight for You
Seven years ago
DELANIE CLARK STROKED the dark wood footboard of the large sleigh bed in the bedroom of the rustic two-room mountain cabin at Clearmount Retreat. Should she greet Aiden Kingman wearing the lingerie set she’d picked out last week at the mall while thinking of him . . . or nothing at all?
She walked to the side of the bed and dropped her green backpack on top of the blue comforter. She’d let him discover her naked . . . in the hot tub. A smile she couldn’t stop bloomed on her face. That was the perfect place to wait for him and escape the chilly autumn night.
Finally, it was Friday. She’d hardly been able to concentrate during her classes at the University of Kentucky because he’d stayed on her mind. Since he’d called on Wednesday to tell her he was definitely flying in from Maryland for the weekend, the days had crept by at a snail’s pace and so had the five-hour drive earlier from Lexington. It seemed like an eternity since she’d last seen him, instead of just one week.
Delanie took off her brown hiking boots and socks, along with her tan wool sweater, jeans, and underwear. She stuffed her clothes into the pack,
stowed everything in the closet behind her, then hurried into the corner bathroom for a towel. When she came back out, she dimmed the brass lamp on the bedside table.
Moonlight shining through the sliding glass door across from her gave the simply furnished room a romantic glow. The smell of the oak logs stacked inside the fireplace built into the wall near the foot of the bed lingered with the clean, earthy scent of the space.
While she was growing up and living on the retreat property, one of the jobs her father assigned to her had been filling the kindling boxes and stocking wood in the cabins. She used to imagine the guests enjoying warm drinks in front of their fireplaces, thoroughly mesmerized by the orange and amber flames curling and flickering over the logs.
Later on, she and Aiden would lie in bed, watching their own fire slowly burn to embers. For once, they could fall asleep in each other’s arms and wake up together in the morning, like a normal couple, and share breakfast. Her dad was on a fishing trip until late Sunday. For the first time, she wouldn’t have to sneak back down the trail into the family living quarters she shared with him before dawn. More importantly, Aiden’s concern about them seeing each other as a conflict of interest while he negotiated to buy Clearmount from her father no longer existed. The papers had been signed yesterday, selling the property to Aiden’s family company, TriRoyal Incorporated. They’d take over ownership of her dad’s thirty-acre retreat next month, and she and Aiden were finally free to share about their relationship.
Delanie hurried out the sliding door into the wood-framed, glass-enclosed deck and shut it behind her. Moonlight illuminated the steam rising from the sunken hot tub on the right. The mountains in the distance and the gently swaying trees surrounding her added to the peaceful ambiance.
She dropped the towel on the deck, twisted her long dark hair into a loose topknot, then slipped into the rippling water. The stress from studying and agonizing over the economics exam she’d ultimately aced that
afternoon melted away as she leaned back and closed her eyes.
Would Aiden have more of TriRoyal’s modernization plans to show her? What he’d shared so far was fantastic. Redwood-and-stone cottages would replace the well-used wood cabins that were currently on the property. Picture windows would provide views of the lake, trees, and mountains.
Delanie’s heart accelerated as she recalled Aiden sitting across from her a week ago in the hot tub, telling her about his plans. His slicked-back dark hair had emphasized the chiseled angles of his gorgeous face.
“Not only are we building larger decks on the cottages, we’re also installing bigger hot tubs.” He’d shot her a lazy grin. “You and I will definitely take advantage of them when we visit the new and improved Clearmount Retreat next fall.”
“I like that idea, a lot.” She hadn’t been able to stop herself from returning his smile. “But I wouldn’t mind if you took advantage of me now.”
“Come over here and I will.”
“Uh-uh.” She’d crooked her finger at him. “You come here.”
As he’d stood and approached her, water had trailed down his defined pecs and abs. The gleam in his hazel eyes and the erection rising high on his abdomen had promised her one thing—earth-shattering orgasms.
“Are you mine?”
That’s what he’d asked her in bed later on as he’d kissed her along her left leg, from her toes to her inner thigh. He’d started all over again with her other leg. Each brush of his lips inching nearer to her sex had taunted and teased her.
“Answer me, Delanie.”
She’d tried to respond, but his tongue feathering over her clit and a back-arching climax had taken away her ability to form words. His length gliding slowly inside of her and pulling out at an equally torturous pace had captivated her. With each successive, deep stroke that followed, yes not only became her answer but a plea for more pleasure. And Aiden had delivered.
Infused with the warmth of remembered bliss, Delanie sank deeper
into the water. What they shared was . . . perfect.
But her dad would be surprised to hear she and Aiden were in a relationship, and that they were going to keep seeing each other. He’d asked her not to become serious with anyone until after she’d turned twenty-one. She’d only missed the mark by six months, and her father did like Aiden. At twenty-four, Aiden was already an acquisitions negotiator for his father’s company. He understood the importance of responsibility and would support her making college her main priority over him. It wasn’t like they were planning to get married or anything. Surely, her father would understand why she’d kept it a secret until now. She and Aiden had happily and unexpectedly fallen in love—and she hadn’t wanted that to disrupt his business dealings.
A man’s voice coming from inside the cabin, clearly on the phone, broke into her thoughts.
Aiden? Her heart drummed in her chest as she listened closely. No . . . not Aiden.
“It’s Gerard Kingman. I’ve been trying to reach you.”
Gerard Kingman. Shit!
Just as she shrank back into the shadows, a stream of light came from the bedroom. Aiden’s tall, black-haired father opened the sliding door and strode into the enclosure, talking on his cell.
“I don’t care what it takes. Just do it. No more delays.” Gerard unknotted the maroon tie from the collar of his white dress shirt and stuffed it in the pocket of the charcoal overcoat that melded perfectly with his dark suit. With his back turned to Delanie, he moved toward the stairs at the other end of the deck.
The temperature seemed to creep up with the warmth flushing into her cheeks. She couldn’t let him find her bare-ass naked in the tub. If he came closer, she could dunk herself under the water. She’d rather drown than have him discover her.
“I don’t give a damn if they mow down the place, cement over the lake,
and build a parking lot on top of it as long as the papers are signed. Get it done.”
Mow down the place? Parking lot? What was he talking about?
She heard the front door slam shut.
“Dad, where are you?” Aiden’s bellow reverberated. The solid thunk of his shoes became louder when he entered the bedroom. Delanie watched him storm out onto the deck and advance on his father while she tried to shrink back into the shadows farther still. “What the fuck did you do?”
Gerard slipped his phone into his pocket. “That’s none of your concern.”
“None of my concern?” Aiden’s muscles bunched and released underneath his navy sweater and jeans. “You working a side negotiation with the outlet mall developers on my deal damn well qualifies as my concern.”
Side negotiation? No. They weren’t talking about Clearmount. They couldn’t be.
“First, you work for me, not the other way around.” Gerard’s tone grew implacable. “Second, this is about business and has nothing to do with whether or not you can bang the property owner’s daughter with a clear conscience.”
“Leave Delanie out of this.”
“I didn’t bring her into it.” Gerard pointed at Aiden. “You did. I must admit, it was a smart move getting Delanie on your side. She was a big influence in swaying Bryan Clark to come to the negotiating table. He signed the deal. We own the property. It’s mine to sell. The mall developers are happily going to pay my asking price.”
“Clearmount is my project.”
“That has nothing to do with it. Because of my decision, we made money. Everybody got what they wanted. That’s how it works.”
“It wasn’t your call. This was my acquisition.” Aiden raked back his hair with both hands. “I should have been the one handling negotiations, not you.”
Delanie’s heart thumped so hard it felt as if her breastbone would shatter. “No!” Water sloshed in her face as she surged forward in the tub and into the light. Disbelief made her tremble more than the cold as she crossed her arms, covering her chest. “You promised my father you would preserve Clearmount as a retreat. Aiden—you showed me the renovation plans.”
Gerard’s dismissive look replaced the heat in the water with a chill. He turned to Aiden, blatantly ignoring her. “We’re flying out to our property in Denver tonight. Productivity at the hotel there is low, complaints are high, and since no one else seems to be able to solve the problem, we’re going to fix it. You’re riding in the town car with me to the airport. You can make arrangements for the car company to pick up your rental before we take off. Hurry up and deal with her. We don’t have all night.” He strode into the cabin.
Delanie looked to Aiden. “What’s going on?”
He snagged the towel from the deck. “You’re shivering.”
She took Aiden’s hand and he pulled her out of the tub, but he didn’t meet her gaze.
Hot and cold prickles dripped down her spine with the water puddling at her feet. “Is it true?”
He tucked the towel around her. “Let’s go inside.”
“Answer me!” The force of the words burned her throat. “Did you sell Clearmount to outlet mall developers?”
“It’s not that simple.”
“It was simple enough for you to fuck me so I’d vouch for you to my father.”
Aiden’s jawline angled as he gripped her shoulders. “It’s not like that.”
“Isn’t it? Like your father said, you got what you wanted. Right?”
His silence filled in the gaps.
He’d used her. How could she have been so stupid? She’d fallen for him but he hadn’t loved her at all. Anger and hurt washed over Delanie. She wrenched out of Aiden’s grasp. “Get away from me. I never want to see you again.”