Recipe for Temptation
She’s the woman he loves to hate.
Penn Foster wants a lot of things. She wants a spot on the board of a charitable foundation. She wants to win the stupid, plastic family trophy. And more than anything, she wants her tall, hot, and brooding boss naked in her bed. Now, on a Hawaiian vacation with her family, she’s desperately trying not to think about how he’d sound whispering dirty things in her ear.
He’s the man she can’t have…or can she?
Cole Murphy keeps himself locked down, away from the press and out of the spotlight. Still haunted by a traumatic childhood, his ability to trust has been decimated. Penn, with her sexy body and confidence, is the only person able to drag him out of his shell. Which is why he crashes her vacation and accepts her proposition for no-strings sex. But is the inescapable heat building between them a delicious temptation, or will it end in total disaster?
This was the life.
When Penn Foster awoke that morning, there was no tension in her body. No nauseous feeling in her stomach. All because she didn’t have to see Cole Murphy—her sort-of boss, a pain in the ass, and one of the hottest men she’d ever encountered. Not for seven glorious days.
She lay on her back, her body stretched out on a lounge chair. The white resort towel spread under her was soft against her bare skin, and the bright midday sun shone down from a cloudless sky. A slight breeze wafted up to the pool area from the ocean and tickled the fine hairs on her arms. With a sigh, she settled against the folded-up towel under her neck, relaxed her shoulders, and soaked up the sun. She sneaked a peek down her body.
Not that she’d be getting much sun. Not with the one-piece bathing suit she was forced to wear to cover the cherry blossom tattoo that spanned her entire left side. Her family didn’t know about it.
Hell, they didn’t know her at all. To them, she was the dutiful daughter and sister who always did what she was told. She’d been slapped with the boring, unadventurous wallflower stigma a long time ago, and they refused to see her as anything different. To this day, they couldn’t understand why she hadn’t settled down with a nice man and followed in her father’s footsteps to become a teacher.
Because shaping the youth of tomorrow was God’s honest work.
Which she believed in, but she wanted to do it in her own way. Like on the board of directors for the Vivian Madewood Foundation, a not-for-profit run by the Madewood brothers—her bosses. They used the foundation to raise funds for charitable causes aimed at helping children and youth across the city of Toronto in the name of their late foster mother, Vivian Madewood.
Fitting back into her wallflower persona was more and more difficult every time she saw her family, and she felt like she was leading a double life. But they just wouldn’t understand the person she’d become.
When a shadow fell across her lounge chair, she peeked through one eye and saw a man standing with his back to her, blocking the sun.
“Do you mind moving over? I’m trying to get some sun,” she muttered, closing her eye in annoyance.
The man complied immediately. She knew because she felt the heat against her skin again. But just as quickly as it had appeared, it disappeared. She turned her head and ripped off her sunglasses, then shielded her eyes with a hand pinned against her forehead.
The man had moved closer and was now turned toward her, his shins almost touching the edge of her chair.
“Seriously, dude. Do you mi—”
Her shoulders shot up to her ears. She fisted one hand around the arm of the lounge chair and the other grasped her fruity drink in a death grip. Oh. My. God.
On her vacation.
“How did I know you’d be lounging like a cat with your hand around a drink?” he drawled.
And with only a few words—not even a hello—he had managed to ruin the moment entirely.
“What are you doing here, Cole?” She sat up and placed her banana daiquiri on the small table beside her chair. She had so been looking forward to a week of perspective. To try and get a handle on her feelings for him before she returned home and cemented herself even further into the Madewood family business.
But with Cole here, in one fell swoop that plan had been squashed.
He straightened and clasped his hands at the small of his back. His eyes were hidden behind sexy wraparound sunglasses. “I’m on vacation.”
Oh, hell no. He did not get to crash her family vacation.
“You don’t vacation.”
He hesitated, his body tensing for a brief moment.
She sat back in her lounger with a smug smile and enjoyed watching the small vein throb at his jaw. He was nervous. But she couldn’t help her wandering gaze.
Damn, he was hot. He wore a white polo shirt and blue golf shorts. Tommy Hilfiger models had nothing on this guy. His hair, usually combed through, was haphazard, like he’d dried it with a towel and left it alone. She liked it. Made her think of her recurring daydream that had her running her hands through those brown strands and using them to guide his mouth to where she wanted it. Which was—All. Over. Her. Body.
Which absolutely was not going to happen.
She picked up the small white towel that sat on the table and dabbed her forehead. “Why are you really here?” He’d come all the way from his restaurant in Toronto, when usually nothing could make the man take a day off work. Not to mention they were two weeks away from launching his new project—the Madewood Boys and Girls Club. A project born out of guilt and anger because one of the students in his cooking program had been stabbed.
He puffed out his chest and crossed his arms over those hard pecs. “I’m here because…”
“Because?” Her fingers wrapped around the arms of the lounger, and her stomach tensed.
Was he finally going to open up and tell her something, anything, that resembled a true emotion?
In an unsurprising move, he simply shook his head as if shaking off the rest of the sentence. “You need a partner to win the Foster Cup.”
Be still my fucking heart.
He was here…for her.
To help her win the Foster Cup—the trophy given out to the winner of her father’s ridiculous sporting challenge at the annual family vacation. That damn trophy still didn’t have her name on it. Because she hadn’t won—ever—not once in twenty years. She’d certainly bitched about it at work enough for him to remember. And boy, did she need his help. She’d already been partnered with her niece, Sara, for this morning’s challenge.
And that was why she never won. All her siblings were happily paired off with their competitive, athletic spouses, and that left her to partner with one of the kids.
“Oh, I get it.” She kicked her legs over the side of the lounger and slipped her feet into her beige, plastic flip-flops. When she looked up, he was eyeing her choice of footwear with a confused look. “You’re here to help poor Penn. She’s too spazzy to win the cup and needs help from a big, strong man.”
His hands clenched. “You’re not spazzy.” He shrugged. “Maybe just unlucky?”
She snorted. “And you’re going to be my good luck charm?”
A group of kids ran past them and jumped into the pool. Cole dodged out of the way and a splash narrowly missed him, but the ricochet of the water hitting the concrete had a welcome cooling effect against her hot skin.
She gathered up her sunscreen and water bottle and threw it in her cerulean-colored straw bag. She sighed and stood. “Look, Cole, I appreciate the offer, but there are rules, and you can’t just show up and help me.”
The Foster Cup had started off as innocent family fun, but became increasingly more competitive—and embarrassing for her—as the years went by.
“Let me help you.”
If she had Cole on her team, she’d have a really good chance at winning.
For the very first time.
Not to mention other intriguing possibilities.
“It’s not that easy. My father…he’s…”
She’d spent her entire adult life trying to be the opposite of her parents and her siblings. It might be selfish, but there was a method to her madness. Her loving family of six had been outwardly picture-perfect—mundane and boring. Inwardly, however, they were critical and judgmental.
As soon as she’d had the opportunity to fly the coop, she did, choosing not to follow in her father’s footsteps but follow her own interests. Instead of teaching credentials, she earned degrees in both public relations and marketing. Her first job out of college was as an assistant copy editor for a marketing firm. But she’d ended up having an affair with her boss, and when she’d gotten promoted for no good reason other than her skills in pillow talk, she severed the relationship and found another job. There was no way she was going to build a career on her knees.
Which was why Cole being here wasn’t such a great idea. The man had been her temptation for the last three years, and while she refused to let anything real happen, she could have told him every dirty thought she’d ever had about him and it wouldn’t have made a difference. She loved teasing him because he was so cranky and easily embarrassed, and they’d slowly become friends, but the man was impenetrable. Completely immune to her charms.
Which was why there was no reason for him to be standing here next to the pool with her on vacation.
A squeal pierced her eardrums like an air raid. She knew exactly who that squeal belonged to. “Pennie!”
She froze. “Oh. Shit.”
“Go away,” she ordered Cole through gritted teeth. “Go before they see you.” She pulled at his bicep and yanked him, but she pulled too hard. Their bodies slammed together, rubbing his rock-hard abs against her. His biceps bulged under her grip. And the way he smelled—like the very best spices in his kitchen mixed with the perfect man-smell that was unique only to Cole.
He looked over her head and murmured, “Who’s Barbie and Ken?” His breath was a warm sensation across her skin.
She shivered and swayed even closer, but then they were swarmed, her sister-in-law, Cathy, pulling her out of his arms. Which she greatly appreciated, because she didn’t think she’d be able to do it herself.
Cathy squealed and nattered on with excitement. “Oh, my, God. It’s Cole Murphy.” She grabbed at his bicep, an inappropriate gleam in her eye.
“What is Cole Murphy doing here, Pennie?” One of Cathy’s eyebrows quirked up as she crossed her arms over her chest, waiting for a response.
How the hell was she going to explain this?
She turned to Cole and took a deep breath. No getting out of introductions now. “Cole, this is my sister-in-law, Cathy.” She pointed to her right. “And my brother, Ian.”
Ian took a few steps forward and held out his hand. His brown hair and swim trunks were soaked. Cole shook it with a tentative smile. “Cath, I think you should let the poor man breathe.” He grabbed his wife’s arm and pulled her away from Cole.
“And those are my sisters-in-law, Beth and Christine, and my brothers, Dave and Pete.”
Beth eyed Cole with the same curiosity as Cathy. Dave stared him down, most likely sizing up his strength. Pete and Christine were just…smirking. They were the only ones in her family who knew how she felt about Cole. Well, a watered-down version of how she felt, but they knew there was something there.
“Pennie, this is so exciting.” Cathy’s excitement had her blond hair, gathered in a high ponytail, swinging like a pendulum. “You didn’t tell us you were bringing a celebrity on vacation!” She gleefully pointed her long index finger, made even longer by her cat manicure, at Cole.
This was a celebrity sighting for Cathy. Cole and his brothers were infamous back home in Toronto and more than occasionally headlined the newspapers and gossip sites. Their mother, a do-gooder socialite, had adopted them, and by association, they’d been thrust into the limelight, which she knew Cole despised.
Just then, two little whirlwinds broke through the crowd of adults, bubbling with excitement, though one stayed a few paces back from Cole. Her nephew was as shy as her niece was outgoing.
“This is my niece, Sara, and that little monkey hiding behind Ian is Andy, my nephew.”
Sara tugged on Cole’s shirt. “Who are you?” Her silky, blond hair blew across her face in the gentle Hawaiian breeze.
When Penn glanced up at Cole, she expected to see terror on his face, but instead she saw an expression that was all too rare.
It lit up his entire face. His cheeks flushed, and she knew if he didn’t have his sunglasses on, his eyes would be sparkling in the sunlight.
“I’m…your aunt’s friend.”
Friend. Not coworker?
Andy’s shyness didn’t last long. The moment Sara touched Cole, Andy raced over. “Do you like Legos? I like to play with Legos. Maybe we can build a castle or a fortress.”
Penn smiled, unable to contain her own joy. Despite unleashing the crazy that was the Foster clan, she had inadvertently made him happy. And in the end, that’s all she’d ever wanted for him. He deserved happiness in his life. Something that, over the last three years, she’d watched him struggle to find but never quite keep.
Cole was the most negative person she’d ever encountered. Considering his upbringing in the foster care system, it was warranted, but for the last three years she’d been trying her damnedest to get him out of this life-long funk, this cloud of pessimism she’d bet he’d had since childhood.
If the Boys and Girls Club didn’t work out, he’d be devastated. Which was why she was going to do everything in her power to make it a success. As the marketing and publicity director for the Madewood Empire, it was her job. As Cole’s friend, it was her duty.
But on a big picture level, it was necessary.
A spot on the board of directors for the Vivian Madewood Foundation was now vacant, and it was the perfect opportunity to take her career to the next level. Cole’s late foster mother’s best friend, Gloria, had relinquished her position, and Penn was the perfect replacement.
She had every intention of rocking the Madewood boys’ socks off and lobbying for it once the club was up and running.
Cole looked down at Sara with a warm smile. Penn’s heart clenched in happiness at the soft expression. “I came to help your Aunt Pennie win the cup.”
She sneered at the use of her nickname. She wished he’d never heard it.
“Oh no you don’t, mister. You can’t play,” Cathy scolded with a wag of her finger.
“Hell, no.” Beth was a little more adamant, but they were both right. “Only significant others.” Beth pursed her lips in an I-told-you-so gesture.
Her sisters-in-law were right. But maybe she could get her father to change the rules. For once, give her a chance to win.
“Are you significant others?” Christine grinned from the sidelines, her pregnant belly just becoming noticeable under her clothing.
Hey, ground. This would be the perfect time for you to open up and swallow me whole.
Before she had time to look over at Cole and gauge his reaction to that question, Ian changed the subject.
“We’re due to meet our parents on the beach.” He pushed forward. “You know the Sergeant will want to weigh in on your…” He raised an eyebrow. “Friend.”
The Sergeant was the nickname her brothers had given their father when they were kids.
He knew nothing about it, of course.
Ian herded the family away, and they followed behind, a twinge of revenge settling in Penn’s stomach. Oh, yeah. She’d seen Cole in action many times: hockey, baseball, his smoking body on a treadmill. She knew he’d wipe them all off the map. And since he was already here and willing, she had to do whatever it took to get him on her team.
“Are you sure about this?” She looked up, biting her bottom lip. “What about the club?”
He shrugged. “It won’t fall apart in a week.”
Her heart leaped. If there was one thing Cole Murphy was not, it was blasé. But this man walking beside her had somehow shown up when she’d least expected it, but needed him the most.
She pulled him to a stop and hugged him. He was stiff at first, and she should have known better than to show any sign of affection, but she just couldn’t help herself. He might have just sealed the deal for her to win her first Foster Cup.
The longer she held him tight, the more relaxed his body became. He even swept his arms up and wrapped them around her before settling at her lower back.
Without releasing her grip, she tipped her head back and looked up at him.
He gazed down at her with a serious expression and said, “Pennie? Really?”
She released him and smacked her hand against his stomach. “Shut up, Murphy.”
He laughed, and in an unusual show of affection, rested his arm over her shoulders, then pulled her into his body. With a laugh, he said, “Watching you squirm for an entire week is going to be entertaining.”
They walked through the pool area, then across the patio to the beach where her parents and family were waiting. Penn relished the feel of his warm, hard body pressed against hers.
She’d wanted this man for three years. Even though she knew better, even though wanting him was the best way to erase every inch of professional success she’d gained for herself along the way.
Shameless flirting had always been her saving grace because she knew deep down he’d never flirt back. But now he was here, and that had to mean something.
She’d come to this island for some perspective. She had a cup to win and a promotion to clinch. Nothing was going to stand in her way. But then Cole lowered his arm and tightened his grip on her body, his fingers massaging her hip.
She stifled a whimper.
Turns out even her best laid plans were no match for Cole Murphy.