Risky Pleasures(6)

By: Brenda Jackson

Vanessa knew if either Taylor or Cheyenne was putting the basket together they would probably include a tablecloth, the proper eating utensils and enough food for two with the intent of joining him in a picnic instead of giving him everything he needed to enjoy on his own. To say both of her sisters were bold when it came to dating was an understatement. But then neither had encountered the likes of Harlan, the man responsible for rattling her self-confidence.

In fact, neither of her sisters nor her cousins had ever heard of him. The only person who’d known about him was Sienna. Vanessa had immediately been taken with Harlan’s handsome features and smooth talk while vacationing for two weeks in London four years ago. He’d been a college professor from Los Angeles on a year’s sabbatical doing research for a book he was writing.

She’d thought he was special, an intellectual genius. She’d also assumed that he had fallen in love with her, as she had with him, and that he would want to continue what they’d started once she returned to the States. Instead, on the last night they spent together, the one and only time they’d been intimate, he’d told her they were through. She hadn’t been everything that he fully desired from a woman in bed. After the pain of his cruel words, she had made a decision not to let any man close enough to break her heart again. That was the main reason she kept a comfortable distance between herself and Cameron Cody. She would admit—but only to herself and only when she was in a good mood—that she was attracted to him, but her mother hadn’t raised her to be a fool twice over.

So instead of being as bold as she wanted to be and inviting the man next door to picnic with her on the beach, she would do the neighborly thing and present him with a welcome basket and leave. She wouldn’t even enter his home if he invited her inside. He was a stranger and she knew nothing about him. He could be married or some woman’s fiancé. She had enough to keep her mind occupied over the next two weeks. She certainly didn’t need a man around causing problems. All she had to do when she felt weak was to remember Harlan, although she had to admit Harlan’s memory had a tendency to fade to black when Cameron was around.

She walked over to the basket, opened the lid and did a quick check to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything. She wondered what Mr. Neighbor would think when she appeared on his doorstep. She intended to meet the man then put him out of her thoughts once and for all.

Little Red Riding Hood.

That was the first thought that came to Cameron’s mind when he glanced out his library window and saw the feminine figure coming up his walkway dressed in a red shorts set, a red straw hat and carrying a picnic basket. He pasted a smile on his lips. It seemed that Vanessa would be finding out his identity sooner than he had anticipated, but that was just as well.

He stood and pressed the intercom button on his desk and within minutes an elderly lady appeared. It seemed that Martha Pritchett came with the house, having been housekeeper to the previous four owners, over a period of fifteen years. She had been born and raised on the island and arrived early on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. He really didn’t need her that often and with little to do, she usually left by noon. But during the time she was there, he’d found her to be very efficient.

“Yes, Mr. Cody?”

“I’m about to get a visitor.”

“And you want me to send them away,” she said quickly, assuming what would be his position on unwelcome guests.

In most circumstances she wasn’t far off the mark, but in this case, the last thing he wanted was Vanessa sent away. “No. I want you to do whatever it takes to encourage her to stay. I’m going upstairs to change and will be back down in a minute.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And in case it comes up in conversation, I prefer that you not give her my name.”

If Martha found his request strange, her expression didn’t show it. “All right.”

With adrenaline of the strongest kind rushing through his veins, Cameron turned and left the room.

Vanessa stood, stretched and for the third time dismissed the idea of leaving before officially meeting her neighbor. She’d only rung his bell once when the door had been opened by an elderly lady with a huge smile who’d introduced herself as Martha.

Vanessa had given her the spiel of wanting to welcome her sister’s new neighbor, and then, without batting an eye, the older woman had ushered her inside. That had been a little over five minutes ago. Explaining that the master of the house would be down shortly, she led Vanessa to the massive living room. A few moments later she had returned with a tray of hot tea and the most delicious teacakes Vanessa had ever eaten. Then she had excused herself.