Persistent light knifed through the slits of Chase Flannigan’s eyelids, bringing him back to consciousness with a jolt. Pain pounded through his temples, his left cheekbone stung and one of his ribs hurt every time he took a breath.
He opened one eye, and immediately closed it. The light was blindingly bright. He couldn’t remember the light shining this brightly into his bedroom before. Easing open his eyelid again, he stared up at a ceiling fan with blades in the shape of palm leaves.
What the hell? Must have been a helluva brawl.
Forcing both eyes all the way open, he took in the bright walls of the room, the open window and the sunshine streaming through, and relaxed. Oh, yeah, he wasn’t in his room back on Coronado. He was in Cabo San Lucas, celebrating his separation from the US Navy.
No more deployments to hot-as-hell countries. No more commanders demanding more than he was physically able to give. No more enemy forces shooting at him from hidden locations. For the next week, all he had in front of him was sun and sandy beaches.
Despite his hangover, a smile curled his lips.
Yeah, this was the life.
When Chase raised his arm and rested his left hand over his eyes to block the sunlight shining on his face, something cool and hard pressed into his eyelid. Lifting his hand, he glanced at it and found that a bright gold band encircled his ring finger. He never wore rings. Rings were what poor suckers who fell into the marriage trap wore. Too many of his buddies had gone to the dark side of matrimony and now had nagging wives and rug rats climbing their pant legs.
Chase was a diehard, sworn-in-blood bachelor, determined to live his days single, footloose and fancy free. His motto was, Why settle for one item on the menu when you can sample from the whole buffet? Not that he did it often.
The gold band on his ring finger had to be a joke. Something his buddy, Trevor Anderson, had slipped on his finger when he was too drunk to care or remember.
A soft moan sounded in the bed beside him.
Chase sucked in a sharp breath and then rocketed into self-defense mode. He rolled over and straddled the intruder in his bed, pinning slender wrists to the mattress.
Wide blue eyes stared up at him from the flushed face of a beautifully tousled blonde.
Beautiful or not, she was stranger in his bed. “Who the hell are you, and what are you doing in my bed?”
She struggled to free her hands, her naked body bucking beneath his. “Let go of me before I scream,” she demanded.
In her fight to free herself, the sheets shifted lower, exposing bare breasts to the cool, air-conditioned room. The rosy tips knotted into hard little buds.
Chase’s groin tightened, his cock stiffening where it rubbed against the soft curls above her sex. He liked the way she felt beneath him, but he still had no memory of why she was there. “I’ll let go of you when you tell me who you are and why you’re in my room?”
“Your room? This is my room. And you better get out before I call the police.” She bucked again, the movement making him even harder.
“Not your room, lady. And I’m losing patience.” And control. If he didn’t get some answers soon, he’d embarrass himself with a full-blown hard-on.
Her gaze travelled down his torso to his groin, and she gasped. “You’re naked!”
“Darlin’, in case you haven’t noticed…so are you.” He glared down at her, and then swept her body with a pointed stare. “I don’t remember inviting you into my room last night.”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t invite you into my room.” She tugged at her wrists. “Now, get out before I scream the house down.” The woman drew in a deep breath.
Before she could let it out in a nail-driving screech sure to split his hungover head in two, Chase sealed her mouth with his.
At first, she stiffened, her lips drawing into a tight line beneath his. When he started to lift his head, she opened her mouth again to let out that scream.
Chase clamped his mouth over hers again and thrust his tongue between her parted teeth, praying she didn’t bite down hard.
He treated her to one of his best kisses, one normally reserved for the fortunate women who made it past the wining and dining. Women he ultimately made love to.
By the time he lifted his head, the woman lay still, her eyelids slightly closed, and her lips parted as if waiting for more.
“Now, can we start over?” he whispered, trailing a path of kisses along her jaw to her earlobe. “I’m Chase. And you are?”
“I’m…” she started, her mouth curving into a sweet smile, then bam, “…being held hostage!” she yelled at the top of her voice.
He didn’t want to do it, but he had to. Quickly as he could, he bent and kissed her again, swallowing the words she was spewing from her mouth.
When she quieted down, he raised his head slightly. “Look, I’ll quit kissing you, if you’ll quit screaming. I’m not here to rape you. I just want answers.”
“You already know why I’m here,” she said. “Obviously, you gave me some kind of date-rape drug.” Her gaze shot to her nakedness. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be lying in this bed naked with a complete stranger. Please,” she said, “let me go. I won’t tell anyone, I promise. Just let me go.”
“I told you, I’m not going to hurt you,” he assured her. “And I don’t have to rape the women I make love to. They usually come willingly.”
“See?” she said. “You must have given me some kind of drug. I wouldn’t have come willingly with a stranger. Oh, my God. Did we…did we…”
“Make love, have sex, get funky?” Chase quipped. He tilted toward the waste basket near the nightstand. “Based on the condoms in the trash, I’d say it was a distinct possibility.” Straightening to stare down at her again, he said, “I reiterate, I don’t rape women. You had to have been a willing participant for there to be more than one condom in there. For the record, there are two.”
“Oh, you’re disgusting. Please, let me go.” She tried again to move her arms.
“I’m going to let go of your wrists, so long as you promise not to slug me.” He frowned, wondering if it was a good idea to release her. She could have been the one who’d given him the bruised cheek and rib, and she looked mad enough to do damage to him. Since he was naked, she could really hurt him. “Promise?”
She nodded her head.
He let go of her left wrist.
She brought her hand up to cover her breast.
The sunlight shining through the window glanced off something bright on her ring finger.
“Good God, woman. You’re married,” Chase exclaimed, appalled that her presence in his bed went against one of his golden rules. Never bed a married woman. He leaped off her and the bed and stood a couple feet away, his hands held up in surrender. “I don’t know how you got into my room, but I don’t sleep with married women.”
“Married?” She glanced at his hand and yanked the sheet up to cover her nakedness. “I’m not the married one here. You are.” She pointed to his ring finger. “You lying bastard. I pity the woman who married you. She has to have shit for brains.” Tucking the sheet firmly around her, the woman eased out of the bed. “Where have you put my clothes? Is that your game? Keeping me naked in your room because I can’t go running down the hallway in the nude?” She poked a finger at him. “Well, I have news for you, buddy. I don’t care if I have to run naked through town. I’m not staying here. You can’t keep me, and as soon as I can, I’m turning you in to the authorities.”
Chase lifted a bright red dress off the floor and held it up. “This belong to you?”
“My dress!” She grabbed for the dress and held it against her chest. Then her gaze shot to the dresser where a pair of stilettos had landed. She marched over to the dresser, snatched the shoes into her hand and stared down at the paper beneath them. “What the hell?” She dropped the shoes and grabbed the paper. “No, no, no. It can’t be. What the hell did you give me last night?” Shoving the paper into Chase’s face, she demanded, “Tell me this is some sort of sick joke.”
He took the document from her hand and glanced down at the words. They were written in Spanish with the English translation beneath. The paper was thick parchment with fancy scrollwork designs on the border. At the top of the page, it read Acta de Matrimonio, and beneath it, in English, were the words, Marriage Certificate.
Chase’s heart hit the pit of his belly as he skimmed the Spanish to find the signature scrawled at the bottom of the page: Chase Flannigan. Beside his name in neatly written cursive was the name, Maggie Neal.
He looked at the ring on his finger, and then glanced at her.
She stood with what appeared to be a photograph in her hand, staring down at the image, her face blanching a startling shade of white. Then she looked to him. “We’re married?” Her finger pointed from him back to herself, wrapped in the sheet. “You and me? Married?”
With the proof in his hand, Chase had a hard time refuting her statement. He ran his free hand through his hair. “I don’t remember signing this.”
She looked over his shoulder at the document. “Is that your signature?”
He nodded. “Looks like it.” He jabbed his finger at the name Maggie Neal. “Is that yours?”
She closed her eyes. “I’m not believing this. It can’t be.” She spun, dropped the sheet and slipped the dress over her shoulders. “Whatever the hell happened last night…didn’t, as far as I’m concerned.”
“What do you want me to do about this?” He held up the marriage certificate.
“Tear it up. It didn’t happen. You and I are not married. No way. No how.” She snatched her heels off the floor, marched for the door and held it open. “Get out of my room.”
He shook his head. “I can’t.”
“You sure as hell can.” She waved her shoes at the hallway. “Go. Now.”
“Ms. Neal…Maggie, this is my room.”
“If this was your room…” Leaving the door open, she marched to the closet and flung open the door, “Why are my clothes in…” Her gaze took in his crisp white shirt and dark trousers hanging neatly beside his extra pair of jeans and one of the polo shirts his buddy Trevor said he’d need to fit in with the clientele at the all-inclusive resort. “Where the hell is my suitcase?” She ducked her head into the shallow closet as if searching for a hidden compartment. As she straightened, she pressed a hand to her forehead and swayed. “My head feels like steel wool, and I think I’m going to throw up.” She pinched the bridge of her nose and glared at him. “What have you done with my things?”
“Listen to me,” he said as slowly and as clearly as he could. “This. Is. Not. Your. Room.”
“Yes, it is. It says so right on the door. Room 336.” She crossed to the door and pointed at the numbers on the door.
“That’s 326, not 336.” He leaned out the door and jerked his thumb toward the opposite end of the hallway. “Your room is down there.”
She frowned, stared at the numbers, blinked and stared again. With a huff, she whirled and searched the room, her gaze landing on the dresser in his room. “If this isn’t my room, is that my room key?”
Chase retrieved the key card from the dresser and ran it over the locking mechanism on the door. The light turned red. He tried again, still the light blinked red. “I guess, it is.”
She snatched the key from him and marched down the hallway, muttering, “I’m not married. I didn’t come to Cabo to get married. This is not happening. It’s all one horrible, horrible nightmare. Gina!”
The woman was spitting fire, and Chase found it strangely charming. The marriage certificate still in his hand, he followed, telling himself he wasn’t interested, but needed to resolve this little matter of their marriage. “This appears to be a legally binding document. We can’t just tear it up,” he called out after her.
As much as Chase abhorred the institution of marriage, he kind of liked torturing Maggie with the idea she might be legally bound to him in holy matrimony. This thought gave him an inordinate amount of pleasure. He followed her to room 336. “We can’t just tear up this certificate. It’s stamped, and a copy is probably stored in some archive somewhere.”
“We sure as hell can,” she called over her shoulder. “What happens in these kinds of places stays in these places. That certificate won’t hold up in the US courts. I’m a US citizen, subject to the US court system. I’m not married.” She waved her key card over the door lock, and the light turned green. Maggie pushed into the suite. “Gina!” Without waiting for a response, she charged across the room like a bull toward a matador’s red cape and flung open a door. “Gina! What the hell happened last night?”
A startled squeal sounded from the bed. “Geez, woman. Haven’t you ever heard of knocking?”