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A Risqué Engagement (In The Heart Of A Valentine Book 2) by Stephanie Nicole Norris (1)

Chapter One

Island Harbour, Anguilla

The sun hung high over the Caribbean island, threatening the beach goers with intimidating rays of heat. Underneath an umbrella, Corinne Thomas sat with a cocktail on a foldable table at her side. When she landed at Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport, Corinne made a beeline straight to the tiny beach that sat just east of Puerto Rico and The Virgin Islands. Corinne was no stranger to Anguilla. For the two years, she’d been a stewardess, having an extended layover there had become her time to take a load off.

During those intervals, Corinne would find the spot where she could relax and pretend to be someone else for the small window of time she was held up. In the beginning, Corinne changed her identity as a safety hazard. She couldn’t go around telling strangers her government name. It felt silly keeping up the pretense, but after it became common, Corinne stepped into her role quite nicely.

Corinne changed quickly in the airport restroom, grabbing a small tan beach chair and table. On her shoulder, she carried a large beach bag, and she didn’t take the time to check into her hotel for the one night she would be there. Instead, Corinne led a trek to the sand and removed the dress she was wearing to reveal a mini metallic bikini. Auburn skin covered her body. Long arms and curvaceous thighs oozed through the thin straps and skimpy bottom as if it had been manufactured out of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Now she was stretched out on the lounge chair with a huge beach hat on top of her jet-black mane that hung straight down and trimmed the top of her shoulders.

Her mind was in another place as she brought the cocktail to her lips for a sip. More specifically, her mind was in Miami, Florida. It had been seven days since Hurricane Jasper flew through her hometown of Miami from the Florida Keys. The hurricane caught all of the residents by surprise since news reports stated earlier that the storm wouldn’t hit until a week after it did.

At the time, Corinne had been homebound in Miami, along with her best friend Camilla Augustina and Camilla’s parents. Because of the sudden storm, they all took immediate cover and for a long while none of them knew if they would make it out unharmed with the torrential winds and rain that slammed against the house’s foundation. Only when Camilla’s boyfriend and now fiancé Hunter Valentine emerged with his brother Xavier by his side to help them out did the foursome know the storm had passed.

A small smile cornered Corinne’s lips as her mind conjured Xavier’s mahogany brown skin that was distributed down his thick neck, muscular arms, and toned shoulders. Dark brown eyes stood out in her foresight, and his lids were draped as his orbs reached out to her with a piercing sting. His primed cut hair and neatly groomed beard complemented his hard mouth, and the spread of his lips shook up Corinne’s core as they erupted into a sexy grin. Corinne took another sip of her cocktail, but it didn’t slow down the daring thoughts of Xavier’s dominant build and strapping physique. The first time she met him officially was on a blind double date that had gone so well Corinne had to stop herself from going back to his place and becoming the statistical one-night stand.

It was hard to do since Xavier was nothing but a complete gentleman, intelligent, and debonair. She learned quite a bit about him in the short span of time that they accompanied each other. Xavier was a sports agent; one of the best according to Google. Yeah, it was true, after that date, Corinne couldn’t stop herself from putting his name in the search engine. What she’d found was an extended recap of things they’d discussed. Xavier graduated from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in sports and business management. After that he’d went on to get his master’s, studying negotiation and marketing law.

His career excelled almost immediately when he negotiated a two-million-dollar contract for his first client, and since then his accolades had added on ten-fold. Pictures of Xavier at charity events surfaced, and there was always a handsome donation in the images. But another thing Corinne took into account was the women. Every event seemed to bring forth a different woman. They ranged from different nationalities, but there was one who was recurring. The photo’s caption said the woman was Nadine Benson, lady and daughter of Archduke Benjamin Forrest the third.

There weren’t many things that intimidated Corinne, but she had to admit seeing the two in several photos made her wonder about the nature of their relationship. The entire evening of Corinne and Xavier’s blind date, he did simple things that were easy for Corinne to notice since she’d only been with bums, and never experienced the full extent of a gentleman’s moves. Pulling out chairs, holding open doors, ordering for her, paying for the check. Corinne took another sip as she continued to commemorate the evening. Simple things, yet noticeable. Besides that, their chemistry had held so much electricity that by the end of the night, Corinne felt completely fried. But again, Xavier’s mannerisms were already shutting down rumors of him being a casualty to birds of a feather flock together. More straightforwardly, Xavier was a Valentine, the multi-millionaire family that had a significant hand in the flourishing of Chicago’s economy.

They were born septuplets to powerhouse and media moguls Bridgette and Leslie Valentine. The men had been raised under the guidance of an influential father, and he’d taught his children the ropes, making sure they each went to ivy league schools and excelled at their careers. The men were at the top of their game, but with that celebrity came women, paparazzi, and tabloids. None of them had been immune to rumors in the media, not even Xavier. He, Hunter, and Lance Valentine were usually the trio that caught the most heat because of their risky rendezvous and the interchangeable women on their arms.

It was the sole reason Corinne chose to ignore the strange chemistry between her and Xavier; it was clearly lust and nothing more, right? Corinne struggled to shift her thoughts, but each time she was brought back to the aftermath of Hurricane Jasper. Xavier and Hunter surprised the four of them at Camilla’s family’s bungalow. After pulling them out of the fallout shelter, Corinne couldn’t hide the unmistakable adoration she experienced when Xavier pulled her into the comfort of his formidable chest.

“Are you all right?” His thick voice drummed.

Corinne swallowed, and her eyes fluttered while she wrestled to dismiss the sudden delight she felt.

“Yes,” she said, meeting his gaze.

Xavier drove a thick finger down the side of her cheek and scrutinized her face to get a better look at her.

“Are you certain?

Corinne licked her lips, and Xavier’s gaze dropped down to them.

“I’m sure,” she said. “Thank you for coming down with Hunter. I’m sure you didn’t appreciate flying through a storm.”

Xavier smirked. “Not at first.”

At Corinne’s dubious expression, Xavier elaborated.

“My brother is in love, and when you’re in love, you do strange things. I don’t blame him, but at first, I thought he was crazy. Now I understand. It would’ve been me had I known my girl was caught in the crossfires of a cyclone. So, tell me, what are you doing in Florida? I was sure you would be halfway across the world by now.

“My flight was canceled. That happens sometimes.”

“Hmmm, and you didn’t think to call me when this storm hit?”

Corinne hesitated before responding. “And say what?”

Xavier stared at her for so long she thought he’d gone into a trance.

“I thought we were friends,” he said.

“We are,” Corinne added quickly.

“So why wouldn’t you call your friend and tell him that you were caught in a storm?” Xavier continued before Corinne could respond. “You shouldn’t have been here. What if the storm had been worse? We could’ve lost you.”

Corinne stuttered. “W-we?” She said.

“Yeah…” he drawled. “Your parents and me.”

Corinne had gone speechless after that. What exactly was he saying? She was almost afraid to ask. Afraid to wonder since his words felt more than friendly. She decided it was a part of his Casanova.

They were pulled from their musing when Hunter proposed to Camilla right then and there. Corinne was totally surprised along with Camilla’s parents, but not Xavier. It was like he knew it was coming. Corinne peered over to look at Xavier, and he winked with a lazy smile hanging onto the edges of his masculine jaw. The day moved pretty fast after that, with them all packing up in the BMW Hunter purchased off the hands of a random stranger in his desperate attempt to get to Camilla. They drove back to Hialeah Florida and boarded Xavier’s private jet for Chicago. Since then, Corinne lodged with Camilla, but she may as well had been staying alone for all the company Camilla was. Corinne smiled again and took a final sip of her cocktail before putting the glass to the side and standing to her feet.

Her toes sank into the warm grains of sand, and she stretched her long limbs then removed her sunglasses and straw hat, sticking them both inside her beach bag near her chair. With a sway in her hips, Corinne padded out to the shoreline and entered the water just as it rushed her legs, making her quiver. Still, her reflections were with Xavier as she hosted silly notions of what-ifs and never-ending possibilities.

She dipped down into the waves and stretched out on her back, allowing her body to float on top of the rushing water. The chilly waves let her coast for a second before becoming disruptive and tossing her over. Corinne drifted with the sway in the seas, dipping under then swimming to the top for a reprieve. As she rose, she stood, and the sunlight shimmered off her metallic two-piece. She walked out of the waters like one of Charlie’s Angels with her hair now plastered down her neck to her back. Rivulets ran down her skin as she approached her lounge chair to find someone occupying her space.

“Good evening, Angela.”

Corinne smiled softly. “Good evening, Carlos,” she said, greeting a friendly island native. “How did you know I was here?”

Carlos smiled. His ear-length silky hair waved as he nodded. “I tour this island all of the time. Besides that, you have a routine.”

Corinne smiled. “Do I?”

Carlos nodded again.

“Well, I was just getting ready to head to the hotel since the sun’s setting.”

“Oh, let me help you with your things.”

Carlos moved toward her beach bag to lift it.

“No, no, Carlos, you’re fine, it’s just a bag, I can get it.”

“What about your chair and table?”

“Those are easy to carry, too. They’re simple to fold.” Corinne made a show of folding up the beach chair without issue. “See.” She tucked the small chair up under her arm and reached for her bag on Carlos’s shoulder.

“Ms. Angela, you don’t need to carry any of it. There’s still the table,” he stressed.

Corinne dropped the bag and folded the flimsy table then tucked it alongside the chair and lifted her bag.

“See,” she said. “Thank you anyway, Carlos.” Corinne patted him on the shoulder and strolled away. Without needing to look back, Corinne knew he was watching.

The first time she encountered Carlos, she was lying stretched out across a beach towel on her stomach. The tiny island only housed a little over a thousand residents, so it was easy for one to be noticed as a visitor. When Carlos stepped to her and introduced himself, Corinne didn’t find it odd that he knew she was a stranger. Politely, she greeted him back and introduced herself as Angela. That was four months ago. Since then, whenever Corinne frequented the beach, Carlos would materialize out of nowhere. She would be relaxing one minute, then an enlarged shadow would be covering her the next. A few times he creeped her out appearing like that, but he seemed friendly enough, so she chose to ignore it.

Be that as it may, allowing Carlos to carry her items back to her hotel was out of the question. Though she’d warmed to him significantly since their initial meeting, Corinne was still not willing to go there. She didn’t need Carlos getting the wrong idea. She was only interested in one person, but his rigorous work schedule sealed just about every hour in every day. Corinne continued her stroll to the hotel with thoughts of Xavier pending. The seven days between the last time Corinne had seen him were spent checking her line for text messages and waking up in the midnight hour to see if she’d missed a call. To her pleasure, there would be a single sentence in her text window around the same time every night.

Thinking of you.

Corinne’s nerves tickled her system, and she recognized that she was in like with Xavier. Not only that, but she thought, just maybe, he was in like with her, too. He was busier than the president, so taking the time to send that text at what Corinne assumed was the end of his day made her warm inside. Corinne sighed, entering the hotel and taking the elevator to her floor. As she passed each level, she wondered what Xavier was up to, and if he was thinking of her at that moment, too.

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