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Jaci Burton

  eBooks are not transferable.

  They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.

  This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

  Samhain Publishing, Ltd.

  577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520

  Macon GA 31201


  Copyright (c) 2008 by Jaci Burton

  ISBN: 978-1-60504-248-0

  Edited by Angela James

  Cover by Natalie Winters

  All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  First Samhain Publishing, Ltd. electronic publication: December 2008


  Jaci Burton


  Huge thanks to Jambrea for the title suggestion!

  To all the Writeminded ladies for loving Mitch and demanding his story.

  And as always, to Charlie, who's a constant reminder to me about what love really means.

  Chapter One

  Mitch Magruder didn't hear the word "no" very often, especially in business, and usually never from a woman. So when he heard that Greta Mason had said no to his offer to buy her rundown, dilapidated shack of a fifteen-room motel right on the sands at Ft. Lincoln Beach, Florida, which just so happened to be his hometown, he knew he had only one choice. He'd have to go home for the holidays, and take care of a little business while he was there. Turning down his sales team and an offer on paper was one thing. Turning down the CEO and a friend of her brother, someone she'd known since she was a kid? That might be different.

  Besides, he could be damned charming in person. And surely she wouldn't say no to him--not after he offered her enough money to put her two kids in private school and settle herself in a nice beach condo. Hell, he might even buy the condo for her. It was the Christmas season, after all, and he was feeling generous. Especially if he could get her motel out of the way and clear the beach for one of his resorts.

  He turned left at the stoplight and headed down to the beach. The waves rolled up against the white sand shore, beckoning to him and making his stomach tighten. One would think at forty-three he'd be well past surfing age, but it seemed like he could never stray too far from the need to grab a board, climb on top of a wave and ride it in, no matter where he was. If there was an ocean, he wanted to be in it.

  And hell, why not? He'd worked hard to build Magruder Enterprises into the multimillion-dollar organization it was. Last year he'd divested himself of his sporting goods company, which gave him more free time to concentrate on the resort aspect of his business, and more importantly, more time to play. He had money, he had time, and he enjoyed his life.

  Just him and the waves, which greeted him as he pulled into the parking lot of the Crystal Sands Motel.

  Oh, man, this location was perfect. The motel sat on the white sand, not more than fifty yards from the water. There was plenty of room east, as well as north and south of the motel to allow for an expansive resort area. Beachfront property, baby.

  He stepped out of the car and took a walk down beachside to get a feel for the traffic in the area.

  It was pretty remote. Great when he put up the resort. Not so great for a fifteen-room motel. A few families enjoyed the water with their kids, but Greta had nothing else to offer them other than the ocean. No catamaran, no jet ski rentals, though he did see a net for beach volleyball. She was trying, at least, but her resources were obviously limited.

  She needed a lot more.

  She needed him.

  "Excuse me."

  He turned around and was gut punched by a stunning woman. Sun-streaked auburn hair pulled back into a high ponytail on top of her head, she impatiently pushed back tendrils that the wind had blown against her face. Her shorts showed off tanned, well-toned legs, her polo shirt fit tight against luscious breasts and curved down around a waist made for a man's hands. Damn. Dark sunglasses hid her eyes. He wanted to see them.

  "Hi there."

  "Hi yourself. Um, you're parked at my front door. You checking in or just looking at the waves? I mean, you're more than welcome to park and take a walk on the beach, but if you could move your car, I like to keep the front of the motel open for guests who want to check in."

  "Your front..." Holy shit. This was Greta? He was never, ever at a loss for words. He'd stood in front of international conglomerates and executive board rooms and spun multimillion-dollar deals without blinking, but for some reason staring down at the gawky adolescent who'd turned into a siren had suddenly made him a tongue tied teenager again. "Yeah, sure. Let me go move my car."

  Then she smiled, and his dick took notice. Perfectly even white teeth and those full, kissable lips.

  What the fuck was wrong with her ex-husband? This woman was a prize.


  She pivoted on her bare feet and headed back to her motel.

  He groaned. Her ass was just as good as the rest of her body. Rounded, touchable. Kissable. He was getting a hard-on. That just didn't happen to men like him who prided themselves on control.

  He focused his attention on the sand instead of Greta and made his way around the side of the motel back to his car. Unfortunately, she was waiting right there by the front door.

  "I said I'd move it."

  "Sorry. We get beach walkers all the time using this place as a parking lot. I have to protect my paying guests."

  He took a glance down the parking lot. Yeah, all three paying guests. How did she stay in business? He climbed into his car and moved it to the back of the lot, then came back to her. "You don't recognize me, do you?"

  She peeled her sunglasses off, revealing emerald green eyes he remembered all too well. With a frown, she searched his face, then scanned his body quickly before looking up at his eyes again. "No. Should I?"

  Okay, so maybe it had been twenty years or so. Still, it wasn't like he'd aged badly. He was in great shape, dammit. He held out his hand. "It's Mitch, Greta. Mitch Magruder."

  Her frown remained for a fraction of a second, then her eyes widened. "Mitch? Holy shit." She bypassed the hand he held out and threw herself into his arms, pressing those full breasts against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her and tried really hard not to get an erection. That would be bad for the business he was going to propose to her.

  "Oh, my God, Mitch," she said when she pulled back, still holding on to his hands. "I haven't seen you in years. Like twenty years or something. How are you?"

  Her smile was infectious. "I'm doing well. And you?"

  She shrugged. "I'm managing just fine. What brings you here? Don said your parents retired to Hawaii to be closer to you. I heard you were quite successful. God, I'm so sorry to keep you standing out here in the overhang. Come inside." She let go of one hand, kept holding on to the other and dragged him inside.

  "Heath, this is Mitch Magruder," she said, pulling him past the scarred tiny front desk where a young man shot his head up and stared at Mitch, wide eyed.

  "Mitch Magruder the famous surfer?" Heath asked as they walked by.

  "Yup," Greta said. "The one and only hometown success story. I'm taking him to the house. Handle things, okay?"

  "Sure." Heath stood to lean over the counter as they walked down a short hallway and to a door that Greta opened with a key in the lock. She pushed it open and he followed her through.

  He thought she'd take him to he
r office, but this was like a tiny house--really tiny. A small living room, kitchen area with eating area adjacent, and a short hallway that must lead to bedrooms. He turned to her. "You live here?"

  She nodded and motioned for him to sit on one of the threadbare cloth sofas. "I have to. I run the motel, so I'm sort of on call twenty-four hours a day."

  This place was a box. His hotel suites were bigger than this. And she lived here with two children? Of course, she didn't know that he already knew that.

  "So, you live here by yourself?"

  She had gone into the kitchen and came back with two glasses of iced tea, handing one off to him before sliding onto the sofa next to him. She pushed her hair off her face and smiled. "No, with my kids."

  "You have children?"

  Her smile widened. "Two. Jeff is twelve and Zoey is ten."

  "So you must have a husband lurking about."

  Her smile died. "No. I'm divorced. It's just me and the kids now."

  "I'm sorry."

  "I'm not. He wasn't good for me and definitely not good for the kids. We're all better off without him."

  He felt the pain in every one of her words, in the haunted look on her face. He was never one to surround himself with women who had an ugly past. Most of the ladies on his arm were single. And younger than him. Of course Greta was younger than him, too, but not as young as the women he usually dated.

  Not that he was thinking of dating her. Not at all. He was here to buy out her motel.

  He took a sip of the tea and smiled. "Sweet tea. I haven't had it in a long time."

  "They probably don't make it in Hawaii, do they?"

  He laughed. "No, not really. My mom still does, though."

  "How are your parents?"

  "Loving Hawaii, and retirement. Dad golfs, Mom has a bridge club. They stay busy and travel. They're taking a cruise over the holidays."

  "That's great. I always did like your parents. I was so happy you moved them to be closer to you."

  "And how's your mom?"

  Greta rolled her eyes. "Feisty as ever. Always in my business. She never interferes in Don's life like she does in mine."

  "You're her baby girl. That's why."

  "Uh huh."

  He laid his hand on her arm. "I was sorry to hear about your dad. He was a great guy."

  Again, the shadow crossed her face. "Thanks. We all miss him a lot. He was the light and life of the family. Losing him was hard. And even though he's not around anymore, I feel like he's still here watching over me."

  "I wanted to come for the funeral but I was in Japan at the time."

  She placed her fingers on his knee. "Don't worry about that. Don understood. We all did. The flowers you sent were beautiful. So was the note and the card."

  "Is your mom doing okay?"

  She nodded. "She's fine. She copes, stays busy--mostly by getting into my business, like I said."

  He laughed. "Does she help you here at the motel?"

  "Sometimes. But this is my baby. Dad left the place to me in his will. He knew how much I always loved this part of the family business. Don had the fishing business and he's set with that. Me, I was always down here working the motel." She took a glance out the window at the ocean. "Dad built this place from scratch. It's not much, but it's all I have left of him. He loved it, I loved it, and now it's mine."

  Oh, shit. Now he was going to have to take a different approach entirely. He hadn't known Greta would attach a sentimental value to the motel. He set his glass of tea on the coffee table. "Did your dad ever talk about doing any...improvements to the place?"

  She nodded and put her feet on the table. "Yeah, we talked about it, but we're not exactly a money making enterprise. We break even most years. Enough to pay the bills. With the house being attached to the property, I can live here and make enough to see to the upkeep of the facility. That's about it. There's never really enough to do much in the way of upgrades. I have ideas, though, so maybe someday."

  Then her eyes widened and she turned to him.

  "Hey, you're a bigwig in the hotel business."

  Come on, Greta, make the connection. Ask me to buy you out. Make this easy on both of us.

  "Maybe you could give me some pointers on inexpensive ways I could freshen this place up, make it more exciting and attractive. I really need to bring in more visitors."

  Not exactly the opening he was looking for, but he'd take it. "Well, now that you mentioned it..."

  She leaned forward, her eyes glittering. "Yeah?"

  "I have an idea that I think will really excite you."

  She wriggled on the sofa. "Come on, tell me."

  He took her hands in his. "Greta, Magruder Enterprises would like to buy the Crystal Sands Motel property. Our intention is to build a resort right here on this spot."

  She looked at him for a moment, then her smile died. She jerked her hands away from his and leaped off the sofa, her bright eyes narrowing in anger.

  "Are you out of your goddamned mind?"

  Chapter Two

  Greta stared down at Mitch, who she'd been so excited to find at her motel. Now she wanted him gone. He represented everything she hated. Big business, those corporate jocks who thought just because they could build monster hotels they could raze her beloved family business like it was nothing. Like it meant nothing.

  It was everything to her, to her children, to their future.

  It was all she had left of her father. Didn't Mitch understand that?

  "I'm sorry, Greta. I thought this would make you happy."

  He was so gorgeous. Seeing him again had made her stomach do flip flops. She had been madly in love with him when she was twelve years old in the way that only a first crush could make a girl's toes curl. He'd been nineteen, a beautiful boy with dark hair and a surfer's lean body. He'd taught her to surf, to love the ocean waves as much as he had. He'd taught her all about having a dream and going for it.

  She'd had a dream once. Until one man had killed all her dreams.

  Never again would she allow that to happen. No man was going to take away her dreams.

  "That's why you're here, isn't it? That's why you came back to Ft. Lincoln Beach? When I received that offer on the motel from some..." She waved her hand in the air... "Some joint venture capital group or something, I didn't make the connection."

  "They're my investment group, a subsidiary of Magruder Enterprises."

  "Whatever. It's all big business and big money to me. So you thought you could come here and sweet talk me in person, that because our families were tight and had a history together that I'd be eager to offload this old run down piece of shit motel, take the money and run?"

  She watched his gaze wander around her little house and knew what he saw--the dismal pea green shag carpeting, the blinds that didn't quite center on the windows, the ancient nineteen-inch television, the mismatched furniture, the house that she had never been embarrassed about--until now.

  "Honestly? Yeah. It's an incredible opportunity for you and your children. A solid future for them."

  "My children's future looks just fine. They go to a great school. They live right on the beach. They're happy."

  He stood. "I'm sure they are. But you could secure their college educations, move them into a bigger, better home, give them everything they could ever dream of. You could make your own dreams come true."

  "My dreams are doing just fine. I have my father's motel. I have my children. I don't need more than that."

  Mitch blew out a breath. "You did understand the offer my investment group made?"

  She rolled her eyes. "I'm not stupid, Mitch. I can do simple math."

  His lips lifted. "There was nothing simple about those numbers, Greta."

  Now he was being insulting. She went into the kitchen, grabbed the yellow pad of lined paper and tore off the top sheet that Zoey had scribbled on, then brought out the pad and a pen and handed it to him. "Here."

  He took them and looked up at her. "What's th
is for?"

  "You seem to labor under the misassumption that I'm some brainless twit who can't grasp basic accounting. So go ahead and write up the offer again. I'll wait." She crossed her arms and tapped her foot, realizing she was acting childish, but she didn't care. She was pissed.

  "I think you already saw the number, Greta." He laid the pad and paper down on the coffee table. "What I don't understand is why you said no."

  "I think I already made my reasons clear. I'm perfectly happy with my little motel on the beach."

  "The one with three current guests? This is prime vacation time, right before Christmas. You should be full."

  Damn him. "I have three more reservations for the weekend."

  "You barely make enough revenue to get by."

  "I do just fine. I don't need your money."

  "So you're denying your children a comfortable future, and incredible growth for your town? Why, Greta?"

  Last straw. "Get out, Mitch."

  "Let's talk about this. I can lay out options, show you--"

  "I'm not interested in what you have to show me. You need to leave. I have to get back to work." She moved to the front door and opened it, then waited at the entry until he moved toward it.

  "We'll talk again."

  She shook her head. "No, we won't."

  He walked out and she shut the door, leaned her back against it and exhaled, realizing her hands were shaking.

  She was right about this. Dad loved this place. She loved it, too.

  Destroying it would destroy her, her memories of him. The kids loved it, too.

  Dammit, she was right in holding on to it.

  It was all she had left and no one was going to take it away from her.

  Okay, that went well.

  Mitch stared at the little motel from his vantage point on the hill overlooking the ocean. What a beautiful view this would make from a penthouse suite.

  Good thing he wasn't the type to give up easily.

  Greta was holding on to the past, on to memories.

  Once he convinced her to see reason, she'd sell.

  He just needed some allies in his corner. And he knew just where to go for those. Then he'd do a little sweet talking, maybe some wining and dining. She worked too hard, she was myopic, her eye only on the motel. She needed to see what life was like on the other side. Then he could convince her a different kind of lifestyle could be hers, if only she'd sell the motel.