A Convenient Proposal

Chapter One

Cool sand beneath his feet. A salty breeze off the ocean. Midnight stars overhead and cold champagne to drink. What better way to celebrate New Year’s Eve?

Not that Griff Campbell was looking forward to the new year. Or even the new week, since tomorrow morning— New Year’s Day—would see him returning to his Georgia hometown after a six-month exile. Self-imposed exile, actually.

Some people might call it running away.

For tonight, however, he’d tied his rented speedboat to an abandoned pier on the most deserted beach he could find—a little chunk of sand and live oak trees just a few miles off the Miami coastline, where nobody could find him and he could, he hoped, dredge up the enthusiasm to go home.

Two bottles of champagne down, and all he’d dredged up so far were the seashells rattling in the pockets of his shorts. Griff took a swig of Taittingers, then swiped his shirtsleeve across his chin to catch a dribble. Champagne was almost too easy to drink, sometimes. He’d popped this cork only a few minutes ago and now it was…how far gone?

Lifting the bottle as he walked along, he peered into the dark glass, trying to judge the level of liquid within. The moonless night offered no contrast to see by, but the light weight told its own tale. He’d better slow down, or he wouldn’t have a toast left at the stroke of twelve.

When he let his arm fall back to his side, however, the curvy shape lingered in front of him, like a white shadow of the bottle he’d been staring at.

It was a woman, he realized. She stood about a hundred yards farther along, facing away from him. Her light-colored dress contrasted starkly with the indigo water and sky. She didn’t turn around as he advanced, or seem to take any notice of his approach. He might as well be invisible.

Her obliviousness—her very presence on this deserted island—intrigued him. Griff walked up until he stood just a breath away, then tapped her on the shoulder as he said, “Happy New Year.”

The woman jumped about six feet off the sand and spun to face him. “What—? Wh-who are you?” Her face was as beautiful as her slender figure and as pale as her white dress. “What do you want?”

Now he felt like a rat for shocking her. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“This is a private island,” she told him fiercely. “You’re trespassing.”

“I must have missed the sign. I just wanted someplace quiet tonight.” He backed away several steps, holding up his hands, and thus the champagne, in a gesture of surrender. “I’m not dangerous. I swear.”

She looked at the bottle and then back to his face. “Are you going to hit me with that?”

“God, no. I could offer you a drink—” he glanced at his watch “—in about ten minutes. I would never hit a woman.” If ever he’d been tempted, it was six months ago. But the past was just that. Past.

Without warning, a glowing rocket streaked across the sky beyond the woman’s right shoulder, bursting into a flower of white sparks overhead. An instant later, a loud boom shook the leaves on the nearby live oak trees.

“So much for quiet,” Griff said.

“That’s the fireworks in Miami.” She turned away again, facing north. “They start at eleven-fifty.”

But Griff’s gaze lingered on the graceful length of her spine, the supple muscles in her shoulders revealed by the low-backed dress and the sweet curve of her hips.

“Nice,” he murmured. If she heard, she didn’t respond.

Then a series of red, green and blue explosions jerked his attention back to the horizon. Every second sent new bombs streaking skyward, splashing brilliant colors into the air and across the water. The night became filled with noise, from bass booms to whirling squeals and everything in between, as the old year received a hearty send-off and the new one arrived with rambunctious glory.

A thunderous finale concluded the program. Only trails of smoke remained, a crowd of gray ghosts drifting over the sea.

Griff’s companion blew out a deep breath. “Fantastic.” She glanced at him over her shoulder. “I gather you’re not planning to assault me, after all.”

Griff shook his head. “The thought never crossed my mind. Although…”

She turned to face him. “Yes?”

He’d consumed enough champagne to say what he was thinking. “We’d better keep up the old tradition if we expect to have a good new year.”

“What tradition is that?”

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