Deliberately smoothing his frustrated frown, Miles strove for a reasonable, logical tone. “This is simply unacceptable. You’re both coming back to New York with me, and that’s final.”
Okay, perhaps a little less reasonable than he’d planned, Miles acknowledged silently as his youngest brother, Dylan, threw up his hands.
“Miles, I just got engaged! To a woman who lives on this island and loves it here. And by the way, not that it matters to you, but I love it here, too. I think I could make a real home here, the kind of home we haven’t had since . . .”
Dylan broke off to stare out over the ocean, his throat working visibly. A tiny chink cracked open the shell of ice Miles used to numb down his heart, and he had to work hard not to finish his brother’s sentence.
The kind of home we haven’t had since Mom and Dad died.
Refusing to allow the tragic loss they’d all suffered so many years ago to derail him, Miles slammed a patch over the crack in his armor and forged ahead. “Logan, help me talk some sense into him.”
But Logan, the brother Miles could usually count on for cold logic and emotionless rationality, merely shook his head, his light brown hair blowing in the breeze off the water.
“You probably don’t want my help,” Logan mused, narrowed blue eyes searching the restaurant behind Miles. Probably hoping for a glimpse of the personal assistant Miles had hired to take care of his brilliant middle brother.
Miles’s blood chilled enough to make him shiver even in the humid summer heat. “Wait. You’re telling me you don’t plan to come back to New York, either?”
“Not just yet.” Logan met Miles’s gaze squarely, with none of his usual abstract disregard for human interaction. “I like it here, too. And Jessica thinks I need more time to rest, so . . .”
Logan shrugged, and Miles fought the urge to pull at his own perfectly combed hair until it matched Logan’s windblown style. The family resemblance was strong enough already.
All three Harrington brothers had blue eyes and brown hair, but where his younger brothers favored a casual bad boy look, in Dylan’s case, and an I-dressed-in-the-dark look, in Logan’s, Miles Harrington took care with his appearance. An impeccable three-piece suit, well-groomed hair, and a close shave—that was Miles’s daily uniform.
As with everything he did, he was viscerally aware of the connection between his image and the image of the family company he lived for.
Familiar frustration coursed through him, tightening his jaw until his molars ground down painfully. “Fine, Logan. Do what you need to do to get better. God knows, I don’t want you collapsing in any more board meetings. But as for you, Dylan, if you think I’m going to give you my blessing for this giant mistake of an engagement to a woman you’ve known for less than a month, you’re sadly mistaken.”
With a furious huff, Dylan turned on his heel and stalked up the steps that led to the back door of the Firefly Café, and slammed it behind him.
The two older Harrington brothers watched him go. Amusement touched Logan’s mouth as he stuck his hands in his pockets. “Thanks for the permission to stay on the island, Miles, but I didn’t actually ask for it.”
“Don’t start,” Miles snarled, pacing over to the low wall that separated the patio from the sandy slope down to the beach. “I don’t enjoy being cast in the role of the bad guy, here, when all I’m trying to do is protect my family.”
A warm hand landed on Miles’s shoulder, startling him. He glanced over to see Logan regarding him with unusually soft eyes. Miles blinked. He couldn’t remember the last time his remote, cerebral brother had reached out to him.
“That’s all you’re ever trying to do, isn’t it?” Logan gave him an odd smile. “Protect what’s left of our family.”
The sudden lump of aching emotion in his throat shocked Miles to the core. “It’s my responsibility.”
“And we don’t make it easy for you.” Shaking his head, Logan dropped his hand and stared out over the ocean. “Sorry about that. I’ll try to do better. But Miles, you’ve got to lay off of Dylan or you’re going to lose him.”
“I lost him a long time ago,” Miles said bleakly, swallowing the grief and regret down into the depths of his gut. “The best I can hope for now is to control the damage and keep him from getting hurt by yet another woman who only wants him for his money.”
“I don’t think that is what’s going on here.”
Miles gave him the look he usually reserved for incompetent middle managers. “Right. Because your instincts about interpersonal relations are always spot on.”
Logan shrugged. “Point. Although Jessica says I’m getting better.”
Miles ground his back teeth again. “About that—Logan, please consider the potential fallout from an affair with a Harrington International employee. The company is in the midst of some delicate negotiations right now. I’d rather not deal with a lawsuit.”
Any hint of softness disappeared from Logan’s eyes. “Don’t go there. You’re not firing Jessica, and I’m not giving her up.”
With that, Logan strode away, following Dylan back into the café.
Pinching at the headache building in his temples, Miles groaned. “What the hell kind of insanity-inducing drug is in the water around here?”
“Judging by what’s happened with your brothers since they arrived,” a woman’s voice said from behind him, “it must be a love potion. Maybe you should be careful what you drink, Mr. Harrington.”
He whirled to see a tall woman in dark jeans and a heather-gray tank top leaning against the stone wall at the side entrance to the patio, long legs stretched out in front of her. From the hint of a smile pulling up one corner of her pale pink lips, she’d been there long enough to catch the tail end of Miles’s fight with Logan.
Affronted embarrassment drew his shoulders straight and stiff. Aware that he sounded like a pompous ass, but unable to soften his tone, Miles said, “I’m afraid we haven’t been introduced, Ms. . . .”
Her smile widened a bit, exposing a dimple in her tanned cheek. “Hackley. Greta Hackley.”
Her voice was naturally husky, pitched slightly low like a woman who’d just woken up after a night of passion, and it sent rough shivers down Miles’s back. Ignoring the hot surge of desire in the pit of his stomach, Miles peered down his nose at her. “Ms. Hackley. Is it an island custom to eavesdrop on private conversations?”
“Is it a Harrington family custom to hold private conversations in public spaces?” she shot back, jumping to her feet.
Standing, Greta Hackley was only a few inches shorter than Miles’s six-foot-two, and she wasn’t getting much extra height from the lug-soled work boots she wore. This close, he could see the fine-grained texture of her skin. A scattering of light freckles dusted the bridge of her nose, and when she narrowed eyes the color of dark chocolate, he noticed that her long lashes were tipped the same golden blond as her hair.
He realized he’d been staring at her, unblinking, for an awkwardly long moment. Shaking himself loose, Miles summoned all his considerable dignity to say, “You’re right, of course. We are in public. It was my mistake to believe anyone who happened by would have the manners to leave us alone.”
A darker red than any achieved by blush suffused her cheeks, but she didn’t back down. If anything, her strong chin tilted higher. “I’ll happily leave you alone, as soon as you tell me you’re heading back to New York City.”
“So anxious to get rid of me.” Miles quirked a brow. “And I’d always heard such glowing praise of Southern hospitality.”
“Anyone who shows up on Sanctuary Island with an open mind and an open heart will find plenty of hospitality,” Greta declared. “But I’m not wasting any on the man who’s all set to ruin the happiness of my very best friend.”
Miles allowed a frown to lower his brows. “Your best friend. Remind me, again . . .”
From the ticking of a muscle in her jaw, Miles thought it was probably Greta’s turn to grind her teeth. “Maybe I should have mentioned when I introduced myself. I’m Greta Hackley—Penny Little’s best friend and maid of honor. It’s my job to make sure every step of her fairy tale, from engagement to honeymoon, is perfect. And that means no disapproving soon-to-be in-laws allowed.”
Miles didn’t have an excess of time for taking women out, but he never had trouble finding a date for the various charity benefits and gala dinners that formed a necessary part of his life as CEO of a major international corporation.
The women he tended to bring to those parties and dinners were interchangeably beautiful, poised, and focused on their own careers. Miles took care never to date anyone who might see more in him than an evening of mutually beneficial networking, possibly followed by a night of satisfying, no-strings sex.
One glance at Greta Hackley, with her velvety dark eyes and strong-boned face, and Miles knew she was nothing like his usual women.
Greta Hackley was a true romantic.
The question was, could Miles figure out a way to use that to his advantage, to find out the truth about Greta’s best friend, the woman his brother was all set to marry?