Book: Tough and Tender (Bad Boy Romance Box Set)

Previous: Chapter Twelve
Next: Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Thirteen

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The island of St. Maarten was so beautiful it was almost impossible to choose where to begin her voyage of discovery. She’d come here and found the most outstanding natural environment, the atmosphere so tranquil that it seemed perfect for quiet relaxation and contemplation.

Not that she wasn’t going to have fun. She intended to. The island was small enough to thoroughly investigate in the course of one vacation, and she intended to squeeze in as much sightseeing, shopping and yes, water sports as she could.

Alexandra had taken many luxury vacations before, but there was something about this place. The white sand beaches with the turquoise waters made it feel like she was on the edge of paradise. Now she felt glad that her father had thought of making her swap her hectic urban lifestyle for a couple of weeks in a peaceful and beautiful location.

Alexandra knew Malia would have loved this place; it was just like something out of a romance novel. Alexandra had actually asked her best friend if she’d like to join her there, but Malia regretfully couldn’t take time off work and of course, there was the fact that her boyfriend had just proposed and now Malia was starting to plan her wedding!

Alexandra smiled as she thought of how happy her friend was. Being a plus-size female, Malia had once despaired, while in college, if she’d ever find a man who’d love her for herself. Turned out she’d had no problem at all about that. In her own case, Alexandra with her knockout supermodel figure couldn’t seem to get a decent man to fall in love with her. That was life for you, thought Alexandra with a rueful smirk.

Not that she hadn’t had offers since she’d arrived three days ago. In fact, she’d had to be wresting off the male admirers left and right. She came here for relaxation, not romance.

Yesterday had passed like a dream. She prepared a fabulous breakfast in the well-equipped kitchen, and then later served lunch by the pool. Just before sunset, she walked along her own beach front.

She intended to rent a jeep for transportation just to make sure she enjoyed the rich pleasures of the island. Alexandra was going to experience everything; the trendy exotic foods, the popular local crafts and the duty free shopping. There were gorgeous seaside views in almost all the restaurants, which provided amazingly diverse cuisine from Mediterranean, to Provencal or French.

She got to sail around the island on the open water, taking in the sights and visiting the local attractions. By her fourth day on the island, Alexandra could almost convince herself that she’d at last found a perfect way to completely erase the way her heart ached. But every time she saw a couple in love, or laughing and having fun, she thought of Cane. Why had he never given them a chance?

That morning, she left her luxurious vacation condo with the decision that she was going to try harder today. And that meant finally opening the door of her heart to at least allow someone take a peek. It could be anyone. Any of the gorgeous local men or other vacationers she’d been meeting. She’d try to get an actual date if it killed her. She would stop saying no; this time, she felt she was ready. It was time to stop using loneliness as a cloak, stop making excuses. If she couldn’t have her fairytale love, then maybe she could at least work on finding something more realistic – if not passion, then something to simply warm all those lonely nights.

She was young, she still had her looks – she could at least try to be happy. Forget the feeling of rejection she suffered each time she thought of Cane leaving and staying away without a word. He never cared for her, not really; she had to get over it and move the fuck on. Even if it killed her!

That day, she was in a more relaxed mood, happy to simply kick back and relax on the beach. She picked a quirky, fun restaurant where she could just park herself on the lounge under an umbrella and enjoy being waited on by staff serving appetizers, sandwiches, drinks and tapas.

She wasn’t surprised when she was soon joined by a handsome, bronzed and blue-eyed hunk whom she’d met a few times before on the beach. He’d told her he was a doctor on vacation, and once she’d convinced herself he wasn’t married, Alexandra allowed herself to warm up to him. He was cute, after all.

The truth was, he reminded her a bit of Cane. They both had the same kind of athletic, solid build and chiseled jaw. She missed Cane’s mossy green eyes but she figured she couldn’t do so bad with blue especially when they crinkled so nicely when he smiled. He looked closer to forty though he was fit as hell. Alexandra figured she was acquiring a taste for older white guys, so why not indulge. She allowed him to share her table and they chatted. It didn’t feel bad at all, enjoying the admiring looks and attention of a handsome, like-minded man. She could read the signals and knew he was physically attracted to her. He suggested they try out the highly recommended sunset cruise together. Alexandra couldn’t help but hesitate. A sunset cruise spelled much more romance than she was ready for right then. She told herself she’d much rather party with the handsome doctor. Far more sensible to try out some of the Caribbean nightlife, maybe check out any of the exciting and cosmopolitan clubs and casinos the island had to offer. The doctor, whose name was Liam, seemed eager to comply to her suggestion that they hit the club/casino, and told her he knew a few nice ones they could try.

“Alright; so why don’t you pick me up at eight,” she said with a smile, which he returned as he gallantly bent to kiss her hand.

“I’ll be there on the dot,” he said softly, looking up into her face with his deep baby blues. Alexandra hid a sad sigh as she then watched him walk away. She decided he didn’t really remind her of Cane after all. There was something about the way Cane moved; the sweep of his broad shoulders, the silky brush of his short, dark hair across the back of his head...

That’s it - I’m really fucked, thought Alexandra as she gulped down her drink with a massive lurch in her chest. She was an idiot to agree to that date with Liam. No freaking way she was ready to hang out with any guy, even for fun. Besides, who knew what Liam would expect by the end of the night? She’d certainly been giving him the right signals. She had to find a way to back out of the arranged outing...

Alexandra suddenly blinked. She was sure she was seeing things. The figure she was looking at was still a long distance down the beach but there was no mistaking his physique. He was running up the beach wearing only a pair of white shorts and the way he was headed, he’d run right by the lounger she was reclining on. She sat up with a gasp, her heart pounding so hard she could hear it beating in her eardrums. She saw several other tourists, female as well as male, throw him appreciative glances. Not that she could blame them. The sun-kissed god running up on the beach and heading her way looked like something from the perfect sexual fantasy. She ground her teeth as two women giggled to each other when he ran by, and he sent them a sexy smile which only made them swoon.

Cad! Alexandra thought irreverently as she suddenly snatched up her things and sprang to her feet. She now knew he’d spotted her and it was just moments before he’d be right where she was positioned. Recovering from her paralyzing shock from seeing him, she spun on her heels and stormed off with a head still whirling.

“Alexandra!”

She closed her eyes at the sound of his voice calling her name. She ignored the unmistakable, deep tone and stomped on, over the beautifully swept sand as she made her way in the direction of her beachfront condo.

Just as she got past the sloping ridge that cut a path to her destination, she felt a strong hand grab her wrist gently but firmly. Immediately, Alexandra whirled round to face him, her eyes shooting sparks.

“Alexandra...”

“What the hell do you want?” she spat. Her body was trembling. Dammit! This wasn’t how she’d planned it would go if she saw him again. But she couldn’t think, couldn’t process. He was here. She didn’t know how or why, but he was. Nothing made sense but her anger and pain. Her loneliness and loss of self-pride. And now he was here, looking so gorgeous and tanned, with no sign to show he’d even suffered like she had. Hence, the cad name-calling in her head.

His eyes were skimming her face the way she remembered he liked to do. His grip tightened on her wrist, and for a moment he just stayed like that, as if time was standing still. Until she jerked her hand from his grasp.

“What in damnation are you doing here, Cane?” she asked heatedly, and he drew in a long, deep breath, that little smile she adored playing on his curvy, deliciously full lips. It wasn’t fair. He was just standing there and she was already frothing between her thighs. Just seeing him had tightened every bolt inside her belly and she was virtually gasping like she’d run a freaking marathon.

For the third time, all he said was her name. This time, so softly it sounded like a caress. She shook her head, squeezed her eyes tight to blink back the sudden tears and looked away with a hidden sob. This time when she felt him take her hand, she didn’t snatch it away.

“I don’t want to talk here,” he added huskily, his other hand reaching up to cup her face. “There’s so much to say and I feel like if I don’t get you alone now, I’m going to do something really crazy out here on a public beach. Come on...”

“I’m not going anywhere with you,” she said in a quiet, though very clear, plain voice. Her body was stiff and unresponsive and she was ready to dig her heels in the sand if he tried to make her move anywhere with him. She felt her senses slowly return and she looked up at him with defiant eyes. “And I want you to let me go.”

“Let you go?” he repeated with a half-smile, half-wince. “I’m not sure that’s an option I’m ready to take right now.”

“Why not? You took it quite well three months ago when you calmly walked out of my life. And stayed away without a word,” she gritted out accusingly.

“I was never that far away, Alexandra. I was never really gone,” he told her softly. His eyes were trailing over every inch of her now. She felt that look like a laser beam. Other men ogled her and she never got even a twitch. But when Cane did it...damn. She felt like a pornography poster.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked in an accusing voice that sounding squeaky.

He took his time before finally lifting his eyes above her neck. “Forgive me,” he said in a voice she noted was totally unrepentant. “When protecting you was my job, I never allowed myself the luxury of looking at you the way I wanted to; and when I did, I never let myself fully give in to savoring the beauty of you simply because I was afraid I’d snap out of control; go past the boundaries and break the rules.”

His words made the heat shoot right up between her kneecaps. But she stemmed the steamy pleasure she felt, pursing her secret inner lips before they’d seep further. She didn’t want to want him. She shouldn’t. Ever. “And you hated that, didn’t you, Mr. Perfect? Everything has to be straight and narrow with you. Maybe I wanted you to break the rules. You losing control would have at least shown me that in some degree, I mattered more than your so-called boundaries.”

“I’m not perfect,” he corrected in a calming voice. “Alexandra, I’ll admit to being as fucked up as you can imagine. Yes, I was much too concerned about control. It’s all part of my honor code and I hated how it would feel if I broke it. But most of all, if you must know, I was afraid.”

Now he was messing with her, thought Alexandra as she huffed and flicked her hair over her shoulder. Cane, afraid? A guy like him couldn’t even recognize fear. Fear was afraid of him. But then he grabbed her by the shoulders and she turned to him with a glare that seemed to bounce right off.

“I was afraid, Alexandra,” he repeated firmly as his eyes pinned to hers. “Scared witless that I’d give in to the way I felt about you and then find out I wasn’t really the one for you. That you’d suddenly wake up and realize your feelings were just an infatuation, brought on by your close contact with your bodyguard. Any other woman and I wouldn’t mind. I’d have that fling or whatever we’d have had and then when the job was over or when you got fed up, it wouldn’t matter to me anyway. But I couldn’t risk that with you, Alexandra. And that was where I fucked up. I’m not a risk-taker; and normally that’s good for a man in my line of work. Zero risk means zero casualties or mistakes. Jeopardize nothing, and nothing will be lost. Obviously that mantra doesn’t carry over well when it comes to love between a man and a woman.”

“Obviously,” she retorted with a comical rolling of her eyes. “So let me get this; you held off because you were scared my feelings were fickle? Because you weren’t sure I knew what I was doing, right? You thought I’d hurt you,” she added with a tone less tinged with the sarcasm she’d been using so far.

“Yeah,” he said with a rueful twist to his lips. “I guess that’s the bottom line, in a nutshell. The breathtakingly beautiful and sexy Alexandra Duke, the hottest woman I’d ever seen, could bring me to my knees...so for the first time in my life, I wimped out. I held on to the rules like a life-line. I did my job and swore to keep the professional stance if it killed me. But guess what, sweetie? That didn’t save me.”

Alexandra’s eyes were quizzical as she looked up at him, but she couldn’t speak. She still hadn’t stopped shivering since the words ‘breathtaking and beautiful Alexandra’. He thought she was the hottest woman he’d ever seen? Whoa. The thought warmed her belly, tripped her heart up and made her want to sing. So basically, she was left speechless. A flipping sex god thought she was a sex goddess. She’d need to float down a bit from that first.

Cane smiled tenderly, almost like he could read her mind. Alexandra felt warmth spread over her cheeks and down to her neck, until beads of perspiration formed in the dusky hollow of her cleavage in the white bandeau she wore over her tie-dyed sarong.

“Remember when you asked me...when you wondered if I was ever curious to find out, even just once, how it could be between us?” Cane asked softly, moving so close his body warmth radiated all over her and made her head spin. He smelled so good, as always. Like nothing she could describe; just all male, fresh and inviting. She looked up into those mesmerizing eyes and wanted so much to fall into them – fall into him. But her heart felt wary, even terrified. How could she open the door and get kicked in the chest again?

She could only nod in reply to his question, and he stroked his thumb over her cheeks as he added, “Well, you were right. I was curious; I thought about it every freaking day and night while I was assigned as your bodyguard. Thinking about it, wanting and needing it, only made it worse. And when I left you, I felt like I was ripping out my own soul. I kept wishing I had taken that one kiss, that one night with you in my arms, letting me claim you like a lover should. With you out of the picture, I went so crazy that I was dangerous to have working on a mission. It was like I was slowly losing it and it felt just as it would have done if you had broken my heart, or if it didn’t work out between us. So either way, I was fucked.”

Alexandra drew in a shaky breath, her mind confused, eager to understand yet...cautious to give in. That too-good-to-be-true feeling that she couldn’t shake off. She looked up into his searching eyes and said, “But that doesn’t explain how you’re here, now. How come you just happened to be jogging down the beach, to me?”

Seeing him, identifying his face and that killer body making its way to her from across the pristine beach...it had felt like she’d conjured him just by her aching thoughts. Alexandra felt like she was still in shock from the fact that out of nowhere, her dream man, the one who’d got away...had found his way back to her.

Cane’s smile sobered slightly as he told her, “When I said I was never really gone, I meant it. Sure, I did go on that mission, but in three days I finally convinced myself I couldn’t cope and Noah agreed to let me off the case.”

“But I called him and he told me you were on assignment,” Alexandra blurted out accusatorily.

“Well he was right,” Cane said ruefully. “That assignment was you, rosebud. I came back because I was still worried about you and I wanted to be sure you were okay. So I started to keep watch on you; I followed you to your classes, I was there when you let Malia drag you off to some play or outings with friends, and I generally wanted to be certain that there really was no more threat to you, not from your father’s business rivals or anyone. But it’s become pretty clear now that Vincent really was never the threat; your ex Lamar had been the one who broke in that night at your apartment. But it wasn’t all just a job for me, in case that’s what you’d think. I did it because I couldn’t bear to be far from you, not so soon. I told myself I’ll let you find your heart, maybe meet someone in a normal situation and have a normal relationship. But you never dated and hardly left the house. I was worried about you even as I realized that my feelings were not going to fade away after a while like I thought. Instead, they became so intense I felt ready to face you with the truth.”

“So why didn’t you?” Alexandra choked, so dazed that all this time, Cane had been in the background, watching, looking out for her. “I was dying, Cane. I missed you and sometimes it was a trial to even get out of bed every morning. And you’re telling me you were right there all along?”

He let out a shuddering breath. “I was your bodyguard, Alexandra. And you were the daughter of this mega-billionaire. At first I was worried about what people would say – not about me because I wouldn’t give a shit, but about you. ‘Beautiful young heiress Alexandra Duke falls for or is seduced by her bodyguard’...the tabloids would make a meal of it and cook up the kind of tales that would probably tear your heart to pieces. I was afraid to risk that. I didn’t want anyone thinking you’re the kind who could be taken advantage of, or deceived – like Lamar tried to do.”

Cane’s lips pulled closer and Alexandra caught her breath, thinking he’d go for her lips, but instead he traced the kiss along her jaw line, his breath snagging. “So when I couldn’t take it anymore, I confessed to Noah how I really felt about you. And he told me he’d always suspected, especially when I changed my mind about being taken off your security detail – and of course when I volunteered afterwards to carry out the constant surveillance on you. And then that was when he told me you’d just called, asking about me. Damn...that day I think my heart just stopped and then imploded. I told myself that I couldn’t dare believe that meant anything...I told myself that sure, you’d grown attached to me as your bodyguard; you still felt some gratitude that I’d saved your life...I warned myself off in all these ways and yet, that didn’t stop me from going to see your father at his office and telling him I wanted to be with you.”

“Wait...what?” Alexandra asked in shock, breaking out of her mesmerized daze of listening to his voice as those last words shattered through her brain. “You went to see my dad?”

“I guess you’ll say I’m old fashioned that way,” Cane said with a lop-sided grin. “I said to him, Sir, I’m in love with your daughter and I want to be with her. I told him I just wanted to lay it on the line that it had nothing to do with who you were; this wasn’t about Donel Duke the billionaire’s daughter, but about Alexandra Duke the beautiful, gifted and adorable woman and what she was to me.”

“Oh my God,” Alexandra gasped, mortified yet joyous at the same time. “I’m almost afraid to ask what he said.”

Cane smirked, his cocky grin showing through. “He chuckled and said he’d been wondering when I’d fess up, considering that I’d already undertaken the duty of following his daughter around. You see, of course Noah had to tell your father about me tailing you and making sure you’re alright since Noah handles all his security matters anyway. Well, to cut the long story short, he handed me a few brochures for St. Maarten and told me, ‘go get her’.”

Alexandra still had that ‘Oh God’ embarrassed look on her face. To think that everyone, including Noah and her father had been in on everything and she’d never even suspected, made her face hot.

“So that’s why I’m here. I came to get you, petal,” Cane said softly, making Alexandra’s throat go dry with the melting look in his eyes coupled with his soft endearment. “Now will you let me sweep you off somewhere romantic where we can kiss for hours and possibly, tousle up some sheets?”

His rakish smile was paired with his eyebrows wriggling suggestively in a comical way that was so different from his usual cool demeanor that Alexandra had to guffaw, covering her mouth with a hand to hold in the mirth.

“Hmm, I don’t know about that, Mr. Smooth. I happen to already have a date,” she finally managed to say while twisting her lips coyly.

“You mean the dashing doctor,” Cane surprised her by saying while his expression crossed between a frown and a scoff. “Yeah, I’ve watched him hover around you like a hawk for some time.”

Alexandra rolled her eyes. “Oh my goodness, just how long have you been here keeping me under more surveillance?”

“About three days,” he confessed, his smile rueful. “I love watching you, Alexandra. I could never tire of that but now I want to do it up close, where you can feel my love.” His fingers trailed down her cheek, sliding past her throat to dip into the soft yet firm hollow of her cleavage. Alexandra’s breathing hitched.

“Hold on...are you trying to sweet talk me into standing up the good doctor for some quality time with you?” she mock accused, her eyes thinning to playful slits.

“Hmm...yes,” he replied deeply, his hands falling on her waist and tugging her hard against him. “It’s already been many long, trying months since you walked in from your father’s study and I set eyes on you for the first time, Alexandra. God...you blew me away. It was all I could do not to sink back down in my chair; my legs could hardly keep me standing. You were like walking, talking candy; luscious and tempting me to take a huge bite. You slayed me, baby.”

“I never...wow, I didn’t even suspect,” she breathed, her eyes shining with happiness and disbelief.

“How could you? I was so good at keeping it all in. I daren’t let you see my instant attraction as I thought you’d use it against me. But I’m too far gone to be able to hide anything from you now.”

“So prove it,” she half-teased, gazing up adoringly into his eyes. “Show me you can be a risk taker. Kiss me, Cane Hutchinson.”

Alexandra shivered as something feral and bright shone in his eyes at her words. He didn’t even hesitate. The next second he was crushing her to him, making her breathless as he caught her lips with his, right there on the white sand beach of St. Maarten.

It became more than just a kiss. It was the kiss, the game changer, the bringer of bliss and the promise of things to come. Shot down, Alexandra clutched at Cane’s broad shoulders, her spine almost bent in half as he ate into her like the world would end. There was heat and passion and tongue – slick, sweet and precious tongue mating hard with hers. Oh my sweet lord, thought Alexandra as her inner thighs quivered. If this man put the same detail to sex like he did to kissing then damn...baby girl had hit the jackpot with this one.

Neither of them could breathe steadily by the time they slowly drew apart for much needed air. His eyes were smoky and filled with unrelenting ardor, mirroring her own feminine cravings to be devoured by him as soon as sanely possible. Like, right now. They just needed to find a room.

She giggled helplessly, and his left eyebrow shot up triangle-style. “What? I kiss that bad it makes girls laugh now?”

“Oh no, not that,” she gasped, holding a hand to her belly. She couldn’t explain it...maybe it was just all the improbability of it all – Cane, in love with her, probably as obsessed with her as she was over him...and then them being together, here in the most romantic corner of the world and probably just minutes from ‘consummating’ their newly confessed emotions...It seemed more perfect than perfect itself.

“Mmm, Cane,” she murmured on a deep breath as she threw her arms around his neck and snuggled close, unmindful of the spectacle they could be making to passers-by. “I’m laughing because...it’s either that or crying. I do love you, so much. Too much and I’m ready to take this as far as you lead. You know what they say...many folks climb mountains simply because they’re there. And I...I fell for you simply because you’re you. You were there and everything in my life just fitted in place like the perfect jigsaw puzzle.”

Cane didn’t speak; he didn’t need to especially since she could see the coals of profound admiration in his eyes. He simply took her hand and kissed it with fierce feeling, his eyes closing tight for a few moments.

“So...,” Alexandra teased as she curved her lips in a sultry smile. “I guess I’ll be standing up the doctor tonight after all. Now let’s go tousle up some fine-threaded sheets.” She grabbed his hand playfully to begin leading him away, but he pulled her to a stop, making her turn to look at him questioningly.

“Hey, no rush,” he said with a flash of white, gorgeous teeth. “We’ve waited this long, the red hot sex can wait a little bit more.”

Huh? Says who? Alexandra wanted to ask as she tried to curb the quivering in her secret folds at the mention of ‘red-hot’ sex.

“Okay,” she said, very slowly. “Now what?”

He pinched her chin and gazed down into her face with a smile. “What do you know about deep sea fishing?”

Alexandra’s eyes darted. “Um...about as much as you’ll know about any Lil Wayne rap lyrics,” she replied, smiling cheekily.

Cane laughed deeply. “No, I’m serious. Deep sea fishing, as well as snorkeling, diving and sailing...that’s my thing, rosebud. You asked me once what I did for fun and then and there I thought to myself that the first chance I got, I’d take you on a fishing adventure. As it happens, St. Maarten provides a wide variety of fishing areas as well as some serious sailfish, tuna, wahoo and dolphin and they’re always biting,” he told her with his boyish grin. “I’ve got a charter arranged already with enough bait, ice and fishing tackle to last us the whole day.”

His enthusiasm was catching, and Alexandra couldn’t help grinning back with equal excitement. “And then...we can catch the sunset together?”

“Yes,” Cane said, gazing down into her face like it was the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen. “The St. Maarten sunset on open water is an incredible vision to behold...much like the woman I’m looking at right now.”

Oh shit, it’s so not fair, Alexandra thought as she fell in love with him all over again. How was it possible, the bottomless way he made her feel? Nothing could measure it or box it in; it was boundless, limitless. And the best part of it all, the unbelievable part, was sensing that he felt exactly the same thing for her.

Previous: Chapter Twelve
Next: Chapter Fourteen
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