A Convenient Ring to Claim Her
BOOK 3 in the Four Weddings and a Baby Quartet
Will the billionaire finally say “I do”?
Find out in this intense marriage of convenience from USA TODAY bestselling author Dani Collins.
…she vowed never to accept!
Life has taught orphan Quinn Harper to trust only herself. So, whilst her secret fling with billionaire Micah Gould was her first taste of passion, it wasn’t supposed to last forever. Although it gets harder and harder to pull herself away from his bed…
The abominable actions of Micah’s father have left a permanent mark. Love isn’t in his future. Then his relationship with Quinn is suddenly exposed and, in Berlin, a new possibility presents itself. Quinn could be the convenient bride Micah needs…but can he be what she deserves?
Read all the Four Weddings and a Baby books:
A Convenient Ring to Claim Her
BOOK 3 in the
Four Weddings and a Baby Quartet
He would never forgive her for this.
— Quinn, A Convenient Ring to Wed Her
Quinn and Micah turned into one of my favorite couples ever. They hold the distinction of being my *second* manuscript accepted without revisions.
They have one of my very favorite dynamics–they are horribly in love with each other and cannot see it. They are convinced they are having a convenient affair, that they are very wrong for one another, and think they kind of hate the other. And that the other one hates them.
At the same time, they have the power to devastate one another (and do!) Then they also are compelled to rush to the other’s side when their world turns upside down.
I don’t want to give too much away on this one. It’s book three in my Four Weddings and a Baby quartet. You don’t have to read the first two to figure out what’s going on with this pair, but if you like rich world building, you’ll want to read:
share this excerpt!
A Convenient Ring to Claim Her
He would never forgive her for this.
That knowledge stabbed into Quinn Harper’s belly like a blade as she announced, “Micah and I have been having an affair. It’s been going on for years.”
Birdsong ceased and the fragrance of the flowers that surrounded the gazebo turned sour. Quinn was aware of soft gasps of surprise next to her, but all she saw was Micah.
Micah Gould, a man she loved to hate and hated to l—lust after. That’s definitely all it was, she stressed to herself. She was not a self-destructive person who set herself up for heartbreak. It was lust with a side of long-term friendly acquaintanceship. Best friend’s brother with benefits.
Micah didn’t move. He had arrived the way he always did, with the energy of a gathering thunderstorm, wearing one of his bespoke suits without a wrinkle or fleck of lint upon it.
He must have traveled with urgency to arrive in Gibraltar at this moment, but if he was tired or distressed, he didn’t show it. He was superhuman that way, always impeccably turned out, clean-shaven and crisp. His short, dark brown hair was only notable because it was thick and absent of a single gray strand. His features were more rugged than handsome and rarely betrayed what he was thinking or feeling.
His expression didn’t need to change for Quinn to know he was livid, though. His whole body condensed the way concrete solidified in the unrelenting sun. The way water compressed into a glacier. The way carbon crystalized under pressure to become the hardest substance in the world—a beautiful, icy diamond that could cut through anything.
“Why are you doing this? Now? Like this?” His voice was calm. Too calm. Deadly as a quiet pool that hid riptides and piranhas and bloodthirsty monsters.
“Like this” was in front of his half sister, Eden, who was Quinn’s closest friend. And Eden’s groom, Remy, Micah’s longtime enemy. And Remy’s sister, a very innocent Yasmine, still in shock.
The three stood in silence around Quinn, reeling at what she had just revealed.
Quinn was doing this for Micah, not that he knew it. Perhaps he would never fully understand why she was doing this. The layers of secrets were so thick around her, Quinn could hardly breathe beneath their suffocating weight, but deep in the heart of those secrets was a truth so painful, she had to stop Micah from forcing its exposure. He wasn’t ready to hear it. It had the potential to destroy him.
If he was forced to realize that Remy’s sister—half sister!—was also his own, that he shared a father with Yasmine… If he had to face that devastating reality as Eden married Remy, it might cause Micah to sever the few tenuous threads of family he had, leaving him even more isolated than he made himself.
Someday his father’s darkest actions might come to light, but not today. Not when emotions were already fevered and knife-sharp. That ugliness would not besmirch Eden’s wedding day. Her real wedding day. Quinn refused to let that happen to her very best friend.
Micah looked ready to cause mass destruction if Eden didn’t walk away from her elopement with Remy, but the vows had been spoken. If Quinn didn’t draw his ire, his feud with Remy would escalate to include Eden and become something that couldn’t be repaired.
Quinn calculated all of that in the few seconds following his sudden appearance. She threw herself forward in sacrifice, drawing all the cold loathing Micah aimed at Remy onto herself.
“It was completely consensual,” Quinn assured everyone. “I’m not accusing him of anything but appalling double standards. Your sister is allowed to marry whoever she wants.” She directed that last statement at Micah. Eden had been pining for Remy for five years. Surely he could see what a lost cause it was to try to stop them?
Micah stared so hard at Quinn, she felt her soul being shredded by the force of it, as though his gaze blasted golf-ball-sized hailstones through her. She had to fight shrinking into herself under that hostile glare.
Then Micah dismissed her in a cold blink that was the cruelest thing he could have ever done to her.
“Are you coming with me or not?” he asked Eden.
“I can’t. We’re married. I love him.”
“He’s convinced you of that, has he?” Micah rocked on his heels. His contempt for that particular emotion was thick in his tone. “You can all go to hell, then.” He pivoted and walked away.
Quinn watched him retreat, feeling as though her very life force was pulled from her body, trying to stay with him even as he cast her off like a sticky spiderweb that only disgusted him. She swayed where she stood, hollow as an empty shell.
One week ago, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada
Somehow, Quinn wasn’t surprised her maid-of-honor duties included delivering the message that the wedding was off and throwing a change of clothes into a shoulder bag for a fleeing bride. Eden had been very tepid on her groom, stubbornly pursuing marriage for business reasons despite the fact that she was obviously in love with someone else.
When Eden had announced she was marrying Hunter Waverly, Quinn had expressed her concerns, but Eden was her best friend. Ultimately, Quinn supported her. That’s what best friends did.
If only Eden had been the one to come to her senses today and cancel of her own accord. No, the wedding march had started when a gray-haired grizzly of a man had charged across the lawn and accused the groom of making a baby with his daughter.
The baby in question had been in the arms of its mother right behind him. That poor woman had been mortified, but the kitten was very much out of the bag. The music was paused, conversations were conducted behind closed doors, and Eden had been thrown over.
Now she was gone.
Conspicuously, she had run away with the best man, Remy Sylvain, which didn’t really surprise Quinn, either.
The part where Eden had inadvertently stolen Quinn’s car keys was a nuisance, but Quinn wouldn’t hold it against her. As rotten days went, Eden was winning first prize. Quinn would accept whatever collateral damage blew onto her.
She peeled off her bridesmaid dress and the shapewear beneath, then yanked on a drop-waist sundress. She spared a few minutes to wash off her makeup, hating the feel of cover-up more than she disliked her freckles. She liberally applied moisturizer and sunscreen and left her red-gold hair in its updo, but grabbed a hairbrush so she could pull the pins and brush it out in the rideshare car.
As she picked up the notification on her phone that her driver was minutes away, she added an apple to her bag along with a bottle of water and a protein bar. Eden had her own purse and phone, but might want her silk sleep bonnet and that pricy moisturizer she liked so much. Quinn threw those into her bag, drained a warm mimosa, double-checked for her own wallet and phone, then kicked into her sandals.
Outside, the parking lot was busy as a colony of ants on a barrel of syrup. Between astonished vineyard staff, shocked wedding guests and the sleazy paparazzi who had trespassed onto the grounds, word was out that the much-anticipated Bellamy-Waverly wedding had collapsed. The groom had left with the mother of his infant daughter. The bride had fled with the best man—not that that was common knowledge yet. Quinn was hoping to forestall that by meeting Eden in Niagara Falls.
“Where are you going?” Micah asked behind her shoulder.
Quinn jolted, not so much startled by his catching her as reacting the way she always did to Eden’s older half brother. It was an infuriating mixture of joy and apprehension. A flood of yearning and a reflexive tension and a need to self-protect. It was sexual desire and abject annoyance because Micah Gould was too much. Too tall, too confident, too masculine and too bossy and so superior. He was far too capable of tying her in knots without any effort. The sound of his name tightened her abdomen. His breath on her neck made her skin feel hot.
She spun around to look at him and that was too much, too. He had changed from his morning suit. He had been tagged to stand in as father of the bride, but now had that European flair that elevated a pair of raw linen trousers with a short-sleeved camel-colored shirt into something out of an Italian designer’s summer catalog. His shirt was some kind of knit that hung lovingly off his muscled shoulders. How did he have the perfect number of fine dark hairs peeking from his unbuttoned collar?
“I’m ready for some peace and quiet,” Quinn said. It wasn’t untrue. The wedding planner would ensure the guests enjoyed dinner and dancing as scheduled, but Quinn was an introvert at the best of times. “I’ll get a room up the road.”
“I told you, if you pack her bag—” his voice was silky and lethal as he poked the overstuffed bag hanging off her shoulder “—I’ll take it to Eden.”
“No need. My rideshare is here.” She could see a driver craning his neck and waved.
“So you are meeting her.”
“Yes. Alone. Not because she was kidnapped—” Micah always assumed the worst where Remy Sylvain was concerned “—but because she doesn’t want to deal with you and your elevated testosterone right now.”
The car stopped. Quinn leaned down to the open window. “Dave?”
“Niagara Falls?” the driver asked.
“Yes, thanks.” She started to open the door, but Micah wrapped his arm around her, pinning her to his side. His size and heat enveloped her as he kept her bent.
She hated how much she loved the feel of his strength as he overpowered her. She could have screamed and elbowed him and made a terrific scene, but he made her weak simply by touching her. She wanted to close her eyes and curl into him and turn her face into his neck. She wanted to kiss his throat and make him groan.
This hold he had on her, both physical and metaphorical, was maddening. It always had been.
“Did you say you’re going to Niagara Falls?”
“Yes,” the oblivious driver replied. “Are you joining—”
“No. Don’t bill her for the trip.” Micah dropped a pair of hundred-dollar bills through the window and straightened, pulling her back so the driver could inch his way out of the lot.
“You don’t have the right to manhandle me simply because—”
“Are you coming with me?” He released her and walked toward a black BMW.
Quinn knew him too well to stand there and shout at his back. She hurried after him and threw herself into the passenger seat, letting out a huff of annoyance as she buckled.
“He left her at a hotel?” Micah neatly backed out of his spot.
“That’s what he said he would do,” Quinn said stiffly.
An hour ago, Quinn had realized Eden was no longer at the vineyard. She had called her and Eden had been in Remy’s car when she picked up. Quinn and Micah had played tug-of-war over Quinn’s phone, Micah performing his overprotective brother act, demanding Remy return Eden to the vineyard. Eden had hung up on them.
A short while ago, Quinn had picked up a text from Eden, telling her she would leave Quinn’s keys with the concierge at a five-star hotel in Niagara Falls. Whether Eden was staying there, with or without Remy, was a mystery to be solved when Quinn arrived.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were going to meet her?” Micah cut off an SUV and darted onto the main road. He accelerated hard enough she was pressed into her bucket seat.
“Because, in my perfect world, Eden and I will have a good old-fashioned slumber party complete with cheap wine and lots of complaining about men. She just got dumped at the altar, Micah. She doesn’t need you showing up to offer I-told-you-sos.”
“I won’t voice any. I’m the one who gave Sylvain the benefit of the doubt, trusting he wouldn’t sabotage his best friend’s wedding. I should have insisted Hunter choose a different man to stand up for him.”
“As much as I love hearing you admit you’re wrong, you’re giving yourself too much credit. Hunter has a baby with another woman. I don’t see how Remy is at fault for that.”
“He wasn’t shocked when that woman turned up. He must have had something to do with her crashing the wedding.”
“Do you really—” He was so infuriating. “Remy recognized her because he brought Hunter here last summer for a golf weekend. I heard Hunter’s sister, Vienna, tell Eden that.”
“So Sylvain knew who she was.”
“Sure, but are you seriously postulating that Remy arranged this entire thing? That would mean he consulted a psychic last year who predicted that Hunter would meet Eden and decide to propose to her. Then he preemptively took Hunter away weeks prior to that meeting, sabotaged his condoms and somehow forced Hunter to engage in relations with a waitress. You’re right. Remy Sylvain is an evil genius.”
Micah’s look swung toward her with the weight of a broad sword.
“Hunter is the reason this wedding fell apart,” Quinn stated firmly. “Look at the Waverly history. Turning a society wedding into a train wreck is a regular Saturday afternoon for them.” Quinn felt a sting of remorse at besmirching Vienna with that brush. She liked her, but it didn’t make the statement less true. “Eden doesn’t feel it now, but she’s lucky she’s not married to Hunter right now.”
“If you didn’t like him, you should have told me,” Micah said grittily. “Between us, we could have stopped her from taking it this far.”
“I am never going to gang up on your sister with you.” Eden was the most loyal friend Quinn had ever had. She would never betray her, not even for Micah.
Plus, Eden marrying Hunter would have worked for Quinn in ways that were very selfish and not very honorable, but she kept that to herself.
“Hunter is not a bad person. I think he was going into this marriage in good faith. So was Eden, but she didn’t love him.” Eden was a romantic and had always wanted to marry for love. “Plus, I don’t see the value in marriage. Well, I saw the literal value for her in this one. Obviously.” Eden stood to lose her father’s chain of stores, Bellamy Home and Garden, if she didn’t get an influx of cash, fast.
Quinn hated bringing up marriage and money around Micah, though. She was always conscious of the fact that women threw themselves at him all the time, thinking he was their ticket to both. She’d seen at least two make a play for him at the rehearsal dinner alone.
Whereas she threw herself at him purely for sex and that complicated approximation of affection that he offered when they were between the sheets.
“Given all that Eden was up against, I saw why she thought marrying Hunter made sense. Once she made her decision, I had to support her. That’s what friends do. Hunter is clearly a decent man since he put his child first the moment he learned he had one.”
“That’s where the bar is?” Micah drawled.
“You could have bailed her out.”
“I tried. Our mother refuses to let Eden take my father’s money for her father’s business. If I could change that, I would. I can’t.” His hands gripped the wheel so tightly, his knuckles turned white.
He released his frustration by overtaking a couple of cars that were already speeding. The river glittered on one side of them while rows of grapes flashed by on the other.
“Has she been seeing him all this time?” he asked.
“Remy? No. When? He was at their engagement party for, like, a minute. He didn’t show up at the vineyard until late last night. As far as I know, they’ve only spoken two or three times since—” She cut herself off, throat always going tight when she thought about that trip five years ago.
You’re a child.
That ancient declaration of his still made her feel so small.
“Then why did she leave with him today?”
“I don’t know. Eden is my friend, not my preschool daughter. Why do you care who she kisses at a nightclub or catches a lift with?”
“It’s not about what Eden does. I’m worried Sylvain is using her to take shots at me. That is what I refuse to tolerate.”
Quinn had plenty of experience with people who had ulterior motives. She had learned long ago to spot the opportunists who took in foster children to line their own pockets. Her radar was always alert for shifty eyes and straying hands. She might not have the curviest figure, but from the time her breasts had begun to bud, she’d been subjected to unwanted male attention and the pawing palms that seemed to follow those leering looks.
As naturally suspicious as she was, she had never seen Remy as nefarious. When Eden had met him five years ago, he had casually suggested they join him at a nightclub where he was meeting friends. That was a very normal thing to do.
When they arrived, Remy had tried to include Quinn when he asked Eden to dance, but Quinn had preferred to sulk over Micah dismissing her as a child. Then, after Micah turned up and confronted Remy, nearly coming to blows with him, Remy had kept his distance from Eden for five years. He had seemed prepared to let her marry his best friend even though Quinn had caught him looking at Eden in a way that was both anguished and covetous. Fatalistic and tortured.
It had hurt her to see it and it had mirrored something in Eden’s expression when she had told Quinn that, much to her shock, Remy was Hunter’s best man.
This was why she never wanted to fall in love! It looked very messy and painful.
But Eden deserved to be loved. She was kind and supportive and had given Quinn so many advantages and experiences she otherwise wouldn’t have had. She would do anything for her, even try to get her grumpy brother’s buy-in on their forbidden relationship.
“Tell me about this feud of yours with Remy.” Quinn began to pick out her hairpins. “His father stole proprietary information from yours and you’re still mad about it?”
“No that’s not what happened? Or no, you won’t tell me?”
Typical. “Fine. Remember this obstructionism of yours the next time you want to know why I always side with Eden.” Her friend gave her unconditional love and unvarnished truth. Micah gave her great orgasms and very little of himself.
“I know he’s bad news. That’s all you need to know.”
Because I’m a child?
No matter how much she wanted to sneer that at him, she still cringed when she thought of it.
Still unwinding the twists and braids in her hair, she pretended great interest in the landscape, but she didn’t see it. She was thinking about how she had even come to be sitting here, ever grateful for a tiny crumb of contact with this very exasperating man.
Micah loved his kid sister, distance and different fathers notwithstanding. From the time he had reached adulthood and could arrange it, he had brought Eden to visit him in Europe where he spoiled her mercilessly. Eventually, when his work commitments and her desire for shopping and other frivolous pursuits conflicted, he had begun suggesting she invite a friend.
Quinn secretly believed he had been vetting her friendships, culling the ones who hung on to Eden because of her modest celebrity and significant wealth. Bellamy Home and Garden was an iconic Canadian chain, and one of Eden’s grandfathers was a radio personality.
Quinn had met Eden when they were fifteen, both attending a French immersion program in Montreal. Many of the students had booked into it as a chance to get away midsummer. Their parents had sent them for the same reason, but Quinn had been there on a scholarship for the disadvantaged. In the disorder of the registration hall, someone behind Quinn had overheard her being redirected to the desk for “those on financial assistance.”
Quinn had earned a pithy look from the student as she turned.
He had given her an up-and-down scan to take in her out of fashion jeans and secondhand top. “They let anyone in, don’t they?” he said to the girl next to him. “And our parents’ taxes pay for it.”
“I earned my place on merit,” Quinn had shot back in solid French, used to having to stand up for herself. “That’s more than you can say, isn’t it?”
Eden, standing in the next queue over, had been the only one with enough French to catch the pun. She had burst out laughing.
“Please let me be your roommate. I don’t want to get stuck with a dud who can’t even make me laugh.”
Quinn had been pushed around and moved around most of her life. She didn’t form solid connections with anyone. She had roomed with Eden and they had some good laughs, but she expected it would be yet another nice but superficial and temporary friendship.
Eden wasn’t like that. She checked in and reached out. She stuck.
It had taken years for Quinn to quit being surprised by that and accept that Eden expected them to be friends forever. Thus, she’d hadn’t expected Eden’s invitation the following summer to come with her to her brother’s villa in Greece.
It was such a ridiculous idea, Quinn had immediately dismissed it. The bureaucracy alone was prohibitive. Quinn had still been a ward of the government. Eden was the patient, persistent, anything-is-possible type, though. She had downloaded forms and made calls and somehow all the hoops and barrels were jumped. Quinn had been allowed to go.
Meeting Micah at sixteen, Quinn had been both intimidated and infatuated. He was seven years older and already running a global enterprise that had its footings in robotics engineering. He was rich and handsome and radiated caged energy. His aloof, sarcastic demeanor would have scared the hell out of her if she hadn’t seen his indulgent human side with his sister. Eden wasn’t afraid to tease him and it made Quinn envious of her confidence in their relationship.
Quinn knew she was on trial as far as he was concerned. She was always on trial in a new house with new people, but she must have passed muster. She’d been invited to ski with them that winter in Saint Moritz. The following summer, Quinn declined Eden’s invitation. She had a summer job and was saving for her postsecondary education. Eden visited her for a week in PEI, then took someone else to Micah’s London penthouse.
He must not have cared for that friend because he insisted Eden bring Quinn when they met him in Rome the next year, when they graduated from high school. Quinn had only been able to steal ten days, needing to hurry back to the summer job she had lined up, but she dragged Eden through every cathedral and ruin she could find within a few hours’ radius before joining Micah in the evenings.
“You genuinely enjoy relics and history, don’t you?” Micah said with something like bemusement after she finished an animated description of their day trip to Pompeii.
“I like to learn,” she agreed, self-conscious of her enthusiasm. “I find it both frustrating and reassuring that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Two thousand years later, it’s still go to work, feed the kids. Visit a brothel.” She rolled her eyes.
Micah snorted. “Someone says the world is ending. No one believes him.”
“Exactly.” When their amused gazes locked, she felt something inside her click.
“You should stay another week.” He glanced to Eden, breaking the brief spell. “I’m returning to Vienna, but you could come. There are some excellent museums there.”
“You could take us to the opera.” Eden smiled slyly.
“I could buy you tickets to the opera,” Micah corrected, clearly not a fan. He glanced back at Quinn.
Longing had squeezed her, both for the culture and the time with Eden and the chance to see more of Micah.
“That sounds fun, but I have to get back and start my summer job. They’re holding it for me.”
“Do you need help paying for school? Let me arrange it,” Micah urged. “You’re clearly not someone planning to drink her way through freshman year.”
“I’m not. You’re right.” Her chest had filled with the hive of bees that arrived when she was presented with charity. “But no, thanks. I have a scholarship and my dorm fee is included. The summer job is my mad money.” If “mad money” included groceries and the cheapest phone plan she could find. “Also, my foster family is being really good to me. They don’t have to support me anymore, now that I’m eighteen, but they said I could stay in my room rent-free until I leave in September. I’ll go back and help in their garden and with the other kids.”
She caught a look that flashed between Eden and Micah, one she feared was pity-related, but Eden said brightly, “Then we’ll finally be together for good. We’ll tear that campus up.”
“Oh, yes. I expect our study parties to become legendary,” Quinn drawled. “We might live on the edge and put raisins in our cookies.”
Quinn had thought she wouldn’t see Micah again, but he always visited Toronto when it was Eden’s or their mother’s birthday. They had begun including her on those occasions and Micah had personally asked her if she planned to come to Paris with Eden when they finished their first year of university.
“She can run up my credit card all she wants, but I refuse to hold her purse while she sends someone on the hunt for a shorter sleeve. You’ll spare me that, I hope?”
“Spare me,” Eden urged. “He’s the worst to shop with. Also, you could finally see the Louvre,” she coaxed.
“And the Catacombs?” It was Micah she really wanted to see. Quinn had yet to line up her summer job, but she was too tempted to be sensible. She had agreed to go.
The day they arrived in Paris five years ago, Micah had said to Quinn, “You turned nineteen, too. Put some things on my accounts for yourself.”
Quinn had a very complicated relationship with accepting generosity. Coming away with Eden at Micah’s expense bothered her, but if she hadn’t accepted, Eden would have brought someone else, so Quinn managed to justify it to herself. Buying clothes on Micah’s card felt wrong, but Eden would have added outfits for her anyway, so Quinn decided she should at least pick some she liked.
She stuck to simple coordinates that she could wear for school or a job interview, but the quality and tailoring made her feel very grown-up and sophisticated. Secretly, they made her feel as though she belonged in his world.
On their second-to-last night in Paris, Eden took to her room after dinner, fussing over how to do her hair for the nightclub. Quinn had preferred to use the hour to pre-read material for a summer class she was taking online.
She wasn’t expecting Micah. He’d told them he had commitments that evening and they’d already eaten dinner alone, but he had suddenly appeared in the lounge where Quinn was curled on the sofa.
“We thought you were out tonight.” She tried to pretend her heart hadn’t leaped into her throat.
“I thought you two were going out. I’m only here to change into my tux.” His attention flickered from her throat to her bare, pedicured toes and back.
Quinn might have made a different clothing choice if she had known he would see her. Her new silk pedal-pushers and striped sleeveless top were smart, but unremarkable. Certainly not sexy, but that glance of his caused a pleasant, squiggling sensation to invade her stomach. Her breath shortened with excitement. Her cheeks stung and she felt both vulnerable and powerful as she held his gaze.
Micah’s dark brown eyes were always impossible to read, but she thought she detected heat there. Banked, because he always kept himself behind an invisible wall, but she suspected it would be a conflagration if he ever let it loose.
“Where is Eden?” His voice sounded deeper than usual.
“In her room. Why?” Quinn was riding a wave of sudden confidence in her femininity. “Are you afraid to be alone with me?”
“Of course not. You’re a child.” His response was whip-fast and stung like the devil.
Considering she had been raised in a series of foster homes without a childhood to speak of, it was a particularly harsh comment. Quinn had been earning money since she was old enough to babysit. Now that she’d turned nineteen, she supported herself, working around her heavy course load so she could eat. She had been adulting as long as she could remember.
His pithy dismissal cut so deep, however, she regressed into a juvenile retort.
“Good thing the boys we’re meeting at the nightclub are more my age than yours, then.” She rose and sent him a look of disinterest as she slipped into her heeled sandals.
“You’re meeting someone? This morning, you made it sound as though it was a night out.” He made it sound as though he’d caught her in a lie.
“I didn’t say anything.” Eden had told him they were going dancing. Quinn hadn’t been compelled to fill in any blanks. She felt disloyal at what she had just revealed, but she was also still clapping back at his rebuff.
“Who are you meeting?” he demanded to know.
“No one you’ll have to duel at dawn.” She deliberately rolled her eyes at him. How did he like being treated like an annoying, interfering adult? “Eden met him at the Louvre the other day. Remy something. He asked us to join him at his friend’s club. We meet up with guys at clubs in Toronto all the time.” By that she meant virtually never. “I should change. Have a nice evening.”
The penetrating way he had stared at her as she walked away had been deeply satisfying. Quinn had flattered herself he was jealous, but that wasn’t what it had been at all.
Not. At. All.
“Which hotel?” Micah asked, abruptly slowing for traffic and yanking her mind back to this circus train wreck of a day.
They were entering Niagara Falls, a natural wonder surrounded by high-rise hotels and gaudy tourist traps.
“I don’t recall.” She pulled out her phone.
“You always recall.”
She did have an excellent memory. She also needed to text Eden to warn her Micah was with her. She did that as she told him the name of the hotel.
It was easy to spot, being one of the best situated behemoths with a view of the falls.
Micah pulled into the entrance and handed his keys to the valet, telling him to keep it handy.
“Which room?” he asked Quinn.
“She’s not responding.” Quinn texted again.
Micah strode to the concierge and asked him to ring Eden Bellamy’s room.
A few taps of the keys, then, “I’m sorry, sir. We don’t seem to have—”
“Try Remy Sylvain.”
“Of course. If you’d like to pick up the extension there…” He pointed at the nearby table.
Micah snatched up the receiver and, when the call was answered, said, “Give me Eden.” A pause, then, “Why are you in his room?”
Ugh. What was it about this man and that one?
“He caught me catching the rideshare.” Quinn stood close enough to Micah that Eden would hear her through the receiver. “Read your texts.”
“You.” Micah waved the concierge to approach them. “Tell him to let us up to your room,” he told Eden, then handed the phone to the confused young man.
Seconds later, they were striding into an elevator. The young man leaning in to tap his card and push a button.
As the doors closed, Quinn was compelled to ask, “Do you ever stand outside yourself and see what a rampaging grizzly bear you are?”
“This is not a good moment to pick a fight with me, Quinn.”
He wanted one, she realized. Maybe a real one.
A grave fear settled over her like a dark shadow.
“Micah, please don’t be violent.”
His cheek ticked. “I won’t.”
She honestly believed he had not meant to be violent the first time, that night at the club. He hadn’t been, but it had been close. He had dragged Remy back from kissing Eden and whirled him around into a confrontation that had descended into shoving.
It was the only time Quinn had ever seen him lose his temper, let alone come close to blows. Thankfully, the bouncers had immobilized both men before anyone was assaulted, but it had still been very unsettling.
The silence in the car on the way back to Micah’s home had been deafening.
The elevator doors opened on the top floor. Quinn hurried after him as he strode purposefully down the hall. The room door had been propped open by the inside lock-latch. He shoved in.
Quinn followed and was hit by the same thing that halted Micah.
Eden and Remy had flown the coop. Again.
Micah quickly searched the suite of rooms. It was likely billed as a VIP residence since it was on a top floor and had accoutrements like a bar, a kitchenette and dining area, and a large jet tub placed to allow a view of the falls. He was more interested in the fact that the shower had been used and Eden’s wedding gown was abandoned on the chair next to the king-size bed.
The bed appeared unrumpled and he didn’t like to spend any time contemplating his sister’s sex life, but Remy Sylvain had tried the route of coldly seducing Eden before.
Micah came back to the living room where he took note of the contents of various gift baskets strewn about. The wine in the bucket was open, as was the bottle of scotch on the bar. There was a rack of women’s clothing that he assumed had provided whatever Eden was wearing.
He was not a man who gave up, but even as his haze of fury urged him to race back to the lobby to confront them, the thunderous rush filling his ears became deafening.
It was the falls. Quinn had opened the doors to the balcony and stood outside to photograph them with her phone.
It was just like her to make the most of a moment in case she didn’t have another opportunity. Over the years, he had learned small quirks like that about her.
Not everything, of course. She was a closed book. Or rather, a set of encyclopedias that appeared unobtrusive at first glance, but brimmed with more knowledge than a single brain ought to be able to contain.
She drove him a little mad for that reason. Most people were obvious in their motives, eager for attention, and were wrong more often than they were right. Quinn was focused, ambitious and understood human nature better than most.
Please don’t be violent.
He hadn’t planned to be, but that didn’t stop a hot brand of shame from settling in the pit of his stomach. Paris had been the closest he’d ever come to behaving like his father. He had actually sought counselling for a time afterward. Eventually, he was reassured that he didn’t have the same potential to lash out, but Remy Sylvain still got under his skin in a way no one else did.
Micah knew Quinn thought he was overreacting, but Quinn didn’t understand all that Remy had cost him. Maybe Remy felt equally justified in coming after Micah. He, too, had had a taste of Kelvin Gould’s temper, but that didn’t mean Remy should involve Eden in their conflict. Eden was the most precious person in Micah’s life, untouched by the belittling and manipulations that had permeated his own life and that of their mother. He would protect Eden at all costs.
And he had tried giving Remy the benefit of the doubt. When he had learned Remy was Hunter’s best man, he hadn’t interfered, hadn’t assumed the worst.
His complacency had come back to bite him, though, hadn’t it? Remy kept persuading Eden to go with him.
Why? What did he want with her?
Outside, Quinn lowered her phone to read it. In the car, she’d pulled her hair loose from its complex wedding arrangement. The red-gold strands were frizzing in the humid breeze and the same wind ruffled the hem of her sundress, pressing it to her ass so he could discern the Y shape of her thong.
Be mine, valentine.
A knot of want twisted in his gut, messing with his ability to think.
He tried to tamp it down as she turned and came inside to waggle her phone at him.
“Eden says Remy is taking her to Toronto.”
Micah swore tiredly and looked to the door. Did a car chase all the way to Toronto make any sense? No. Not when their mother was still at the vineyard, expecting Micah to drive her home in the morning.
He swore again, hating to lose on any level. This loss was particularly punishing.
“Relax. He’s not a serial killer.”
“You don’t know that,” he growled. “Did she leave your keys at least?”
“I put them in my bag.”
“Good. Let’s go.” He moved to the door.
“You go. Eden told me to enjoy the room. I plan to do exactly that.” She collected a clean glass from the bar and brought it to the coffee table, where she glugged a healthy pour from the open bottle of rosé.
“Your car is at the vineyard. How will you get back to it?”
“Hitchhike?” She sipped her wine as she moved to flick through the rack of clothing.
“I know you’re saying that to wind me up.”
“I don’t understand why it works.”
“Because I care, Quinn. You’re my sister’s best friend.”
“Is that what I am?” She pressed the rim of her glass to her mouth, but her lashes lifted to send him a look that kicked him in the chest.
“Did you want to be something more than my sister’s best friend?” he challenged.
Her gaze dropped to a blouse. “No.”
“No,” he repeated. The word tasted sour on his tongue. He wasn’t sure why.
They had incredible chemistry in bed, but Quinn had made clear on many occasions that she didn’t want anything more from him than sex. Micah was reminded often by his aunt that he should marry and “secure the Gould legacy,” but he wasn’t ready to tie himself down, either.
He often wondered how he had come to have a secretive sometimes-affair with Quinn at all. Initially, he’d been very suspicious of her.
Eden’s wealth and pedigree as a Bellamy, coupled with her soft heart, had made her a target in her teens for users and vapid social climbers. Quinn had been different—a dry-witted orphan with eyes too big for her narrow face. Unlike the squealing girls who wanted to troll beaches for boys, Quinn had persuaded Eden to visit cultural sites and be home on time for dinner.
Cynic that he was, Micah assumed he was being lulled toward a false sense of security. That’s why, during their trip to Saint Moritz, when Quinn had behaved very shiftily, passing something to Eden, Micah had presumed it was drugs.
It had turned out to be a feminine necessity. Eden had been mortified.
Why are you embarrassing me?
He had apologized and Quinn had accepted it, but she’d been stoic after that. Micah had told himself he didn’t care what she thought of him. Eden was his priority, but the glimpse of hurt and injured pride that Quinn quickly masked had sat on his conscience.
As time wore on, she became the friend Eden most often brought when she visited him—and the one he most preferred. She was pleasant, intelligent and savvy. She was a grounding influence on his sister, not caring for fashion or parties. Quinn was focused on her education, planning a career in social work, but not ruling out politics if that was the best way to make a difference.
Anyone else saying those things would have struck him as idealistic, or too full of themselves. He found himself respecting someone so driven at such an early age, though.
Then, one day, he had walked into his Paris mansion and found a composed young woman whose lithe figure lit such a bonfire of lust in him, he immediately rejected it. She was his sister’s friend. A child.
She’d been nineteen and mature beyond her years, but still. It hadn’t felt right to look at her the way a man looked at a woman.
She had thrown some remark in his face and things had deteriorated further that night, when he accosted Remy. He knew she’d been insulted by his patronizing dismissal of her because she didn’t take any of the clothes she had put on his account. She had asked his housekeeper to have them returned instead.
As far as people who held grudges went, Quinn was his equal, which didn’t exactly help them get along in the long term.
So leave, he told himself.
She was ignoring him, sipping her wine as she held different items of clothing against her front.
His plethora of responsibilities danced in his periphery, but Eden didn’t want his help right now. She’d run away to prevent him from offering it. His mother wouldn’t be missing him. Despite the drama of her daughter’s wedding being called off, she was enjoying the chance to catch up with various relatives.
He turned to fix the latch that was propping the door open.
Behind him, he heard Quinn draw a breath as though she was about to say something.
He pressed the door closed and swung the latch into place, then turned to see Quinn rearranging whatever had been in her expression to something more blasé.
“You’ve decided to enjoy the room, too?” Her tone lilted with amused challenge.
“If you’d rather be alone, say so.”
“And deny you the view of Canada’s most famous natural wonder? I couldn’t.”
“I presume you’re referring to yourself?” He glanced up from behind the bar where he found a clean glass.
Her cheekbones had gone bright red. Her reddish-blonde brows pulled into a flat line.
“Why do you always assume my compliments are mockery?” he asked with exasperation.
“Because it wasn’t a compliment. You were being sarcastic.”
And there was the clash. He had thought he was throwing out clever and sincere flattery, but she loved to take everything he said the wrong way.
He poured himself a scotch that he took to the sofa, sitting and propping his feet on the coffee table, far happier to watch her shop than stare at however many liters of water were falling off a cliff.
She continued to glare at him.
“What do you want me to say? That I don’t find you attractive? I think you’d call that disingenuous.”
“I’m pretty sure you find me convenient,” she muttered.
Did she really think living with an ocean between them was convenient?
“If you really believe that’s all I think of you, then you ought to tell me to take a leap over those falls. You’re better than that and we both know it.”
She rolled her eyes.
“Oh, am I giving you too much credit? Or is it that I’m your convenience?”
“You are many things. Convenient has never been one of them.” She gave the clothes a final swish and turned away from the rack in disgust. “You’re a distraction.”
“I am,” he scoffed. She filled his head at the most inopportune times. From the moment Eden’s wedding had been announced, Micah had been wondering when he would see Quinn. How often. She was his quiet obsession and he would love it to stop.
“If I hadn’t been so consumed with getting away from the vineyard without you catching me, I would have remembered to bring my laptop. I could be working right now.”
“So I’ll take you back to the vineyard and you can work. What are you working on?” he asked with confusion. “Did you get a job?”
“My proposal for my PhD. But I wouldn’t get anything done there and you know it.” She set aside her half-empty glass and casually stepped over his knee so she straddled his thighs. As she set her knee next to his hip, the hem of her dress rode up, almost exposing her underwear. The cushions sank on either side of him as her weight settled warmly across his legs. “Let’s get this over with.”
“I don’t claim to be a romantic, but even I find that off-putting.” It was a lie. His blood was already singing. The fragrance of sunscreen and sunshine and that subtler honey and nutmeg she naturally exuded began to numb his brain. He set aside his glass so his hands could settle on her waist and tug her an inch closer.
“We both know it’s going to happen. At least once it’s done, we can start behaving like adults again.”
He snorted, doubtful, but she was right. This seemed to have become inevitable whenever they crossed paths. Without conscious thought, he was slouching lower and pulling her tighter into his lap. A rough noise rattled in his chest as her heat penetrated his fly and warmed his hardening flesh.
The way her ice-blue eyes melted and her golden lashes drooped was deeply satisfying. He watched her catch her bottom lip, all shiny and pink. He needed to suck it.
“Do I need a condom?” He had one. Three, actually. He had anticipated he would be alone with her at some point and had wanted to be prepared.
“I haven’t been with anyone else since last time.”
“Me, either.” He refused to contemplate what it meant that they seemed to say that every time. “C’mere.” His voice was a rumble he barely recognized.
Her hands moved from his shoulders to his neck and she slanted her head as she pressed her mouth to his, their connection as effortless as always.
The taste and feel of him swept through Quinn’s senses. Much as she’d tried to resist, contact with him had become so intensely necessary for her, it was painful. Why was he the only man to make her feel this way? Sometimes she feared that she had imprinted on him for life. His hands were the only ones she would ever let touch her. His lips the only ones she wanted against her own.
Granted, they were very clever hands and lips. He knew exactly how to pet her, using the right amount of pressure and lazy, precise urgency as he slid his touch down to her buttocks, seeming to savor the feel of her while infusing her with deep pleasure. She was kissing him, but he was the one who made it so compelling. His tongue brushed hers, inviting her to deepen their connection. She did and moaned as she sank into the sheer luxury of being with him like this.
Sometimes she thought a kiss would be enough. That she just needed a taste of him, but it was never enough. Even on a humid day like today, she couldn’t get close enough. Couldn’t be held hard enough. She wanted to be absorbed through his skin so she was inside him forever.
It was a neediness that brought a sting to her eyes, one that should have had her pushing away from him so she wouldn’t succumb to it, but she sank into sensuality and the sense of belonging—not to him, but with him. It was only lust, she reminded herself, but there was no place for blunt reality right now. Not when she could wallow in the hungry pull of his lips and the wiry thickness of his hair between her fingers and the thick ridge of his erection right where she wanted to feel it.
Well, almost where she wanted it.
Cool air swept up her back as he gathered the skirt of her dress, sweeping it up her torso. She lifted her arms and he didn’t stop until the soft cotton was floating toward the floor. His arms stayed up and he leaned forward. She raked at his shirt, dragging it up and off, throwing it after her dress.
She removed her bra herself while he slouched back and worked on his belt buckle. His thighs pressed hers apart another inch as he opened his fly. He shoved his hand into his boxer briefs, pushing his clothing out of the way to fully free himself.
Oh, she adored the way he was built. Every single bit of him from the whorl at the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. It was pure animalistic instinct to want the most powerful male in the pack, the one with lean muscles that radiated strength and endurance. She let her greedy hands take in all the skin he had exposed—his thick shoulders and meaty pecs, his flexing biceps and his washboard abs. His hot, ever-so-hard erection that pulsed in her grip as she squeezed him and made him groan.
She had an urge to slip to the floor and take him in her mouth, but he swept the backs of two fingers beneath the string of her thong. His knuckle petted and caressed down her center, grazing the sweetest spot, making her breath catch.
A satisfied growl left him. He was watching her through slitted eyes as he did it again, this time with more purpose.
She bit her lip, squeezing him while holding very still for his deliberate touch. When he pulled away, she gave a sob of loss, but he casually snapped the thong and dragged it free, tossing it away before he cupped her mound with his wide palm.
Her body instinctually rocked against his hand, seeking the delicious waves of pleasure and heat he incited. She dipped her head to kiss him again and for long minutes they caressed each other, both of them doing the delicate, knowing things that made it good for the other. She swept her thumb across his weeping tip. He slid a finger deep inside her and his free hand cupped her breast, teasing her nipple until she was quivering in acute arousal.
“You’re almost there, aren’t you? Take me inside you,” he commanded in a voice that was raspy and filled with carnal hunger. “I want to feel it when you shatter.”
She wanted to feel him inside her when she shattered. With a small, helpless noise, she shifted higher on her knees and guided him. As the wide dome of his crown pressed at her entrance, he curled his arm around her back and angled his head, capturing her nipple in the hot cavern of his mouth, trapping her high on her knees.
She was so close! He held her there, pulled taut between two points of need, between the draw of his mouth on her nipple and the thickness her yearning flesh craved. She curled her fists into his hair, each breath a ragged flame. Every pulsebeat was a throb of unanswered need.
“Micah!” She dragged his head up and he let her weight press down. His hard flesh slid effortlessly into her, filling her with intense satisfaction as the pressure of his pubic bone took her over the edge.
She threw back her head and rolled her hips, instantly subsumed in orgasm, reveling in the shivering contractions and the way his hands kept her deep in his lap.
As the sharpest waves began to subside, she brought her head up and saw his nostrils were flared, his teeth bared in his effort to hold back his own climax. His fingers dug into her hips and his eyes were glazed with heat.
“See? A natural wonder.” He gathered her up and flipped her onto her back on the cushions, the weight of his pelvis settling against hers in a way that brought all her nerve endings back to life. “Now, let me see that again from this angle.”