Excerpt from The Marriage Trap

Chapter 1

“Virgin?”

Ginny Fitzgerald whipped her head around. “Excuse me?

“Virgin?” the man repeated. “Not you, sweetheart, your drink. You told your boyfriend no, but he ordered for you anyway before going to the john.” The bartender smiled and leaned closer. “I thought maybe you’d like to go virgin on this drink without him knowing.”

“Thanks, but I don’t want the drink at all,” she said. “And he’s not my boyfriend.”

“Just kidding.” He winked. “But whoever the guy is, he’s working damn hard to get lucky tonight.”

Ginny shrugged. “I know that. I’m not a moron. I’ve been trying to politely discourage him.”

“Need help?”

“No, thanks. I’m handling it.”

“Good to know. I hate to see slime sneak up on nice girls.”

He wiped a small towel across the bar in front of her, but still held her gaze. Even in the dim lighting, his eyes twinkled an amazing teal blue like the water over the coral reefs.

“How do you know I’m a ‘nice girl’?”

He stroked his chin. “Let me count the ways. One, you don’t let someone push you into drinking more than you want. Two, you flinch every time that guy touches you, which means you recognize the jerk for the player he is. Three, and most important, if that type appealed to you, you would’ve left with him already.” A cocky grin lit the man’s face. “Definitely a nice girl.” With another wink, he moved down the bar to take a couple’s order.

Sneaking a discreet peek, Ginny watched the bartender’s efficient, fluid movements as he mixed drinks and chatted with the customers. And there was a lot more about him to admire. The sun had woven wheat-colored streaks through his wavy, chestnut hair and bronzed his face and arms, giving him a healthy, outdoorsman appearance. The short sleeves of his Hawaiian print shirt revealed taut muscles, and his khaki cargo shorts hugged narrow hips and a sweet ass.

Hot, hot, hot…

After a mental shake, she swiveled on the barstool, her gaze sweeping around the buzzing bar and reaching the crowded dance floor. Friday night was cranking up. The brilliant colors of the tropical motif added another layer of sensual heat to the already sizzling scene. Temperatures and decibels were on the rise. Upscale Club Lahaina vibrated with pulsing music. Uninhibited dancers pumped and gyrated, performing erotic mating rituals. Their wild abandon mesmerized Ginny and tugged at a longing she was reluctant to acknowledge.

With a heavy sigh, she swung back toward the bar, determined to keep the sadness swelling in her chest at bay. Hoping to boost her spirits, she’d stopped at the popular club in the charming little tourist town of Lahaina to toast her newfound freedom only because she didn’t want to face her silent, empty condo. Even though she’d chosen an inconspicuous seat at the end of the bar, a jerk had still managed to intrude on her private celebration.

And now, the anxiety from temporarily abandoning her goals of marriage and motherhood overshadowed the joy of her recent liberation. The long day that had started back home in San Diego and ended on Maui had finally drained her of the first-day-of-the-rest-of-your-life excitement. Melancholy threatened with the onslaught of fatigue. Time for Ginger Fitzgerald to leave.

While she reached for her purse, she stole a last glance at the friendly bartender. He must have sensed her gaze because his eyes flicked in her direction. He flashed a high-wattage smile, but it faded the second a large hand squeezed Ginny’s shoulder. She flinched. The bartender shot her a sympathetic look and turned back to his other customers.

“Whatcha lookin’ at, sweet cheeks?” the guy slurred in her ear, then spun the barstool around so she faced him.

“Uh, nothing. You know, Ron, I’m going to call it a night. Jet lag is catching up with me. It was nice meeting you and thanks for the drink.”

She scooted forward to slide off the stool, but he blocked her way by stepping in between her legs. He splayed a hand on her thigh and leaned in close with a lecherous smile. Ginny pulled back and grimaced.

“Yeah, let’s go have some real fun. This place is starting to suck. Why don’t we split to my place so you can, too?” His free hand rubbed his fly.

Ginny’s eyes narrowed as she brushed his fingers off her leg. “No, thanks,” she snapped, drawing a few curious glances.

“Don’t worry, hot lips, I’ll do you, too.”

“Not a chance,” she said, the words dripping disgust. She planted a palm in the center of his chest and pushed.

Ron staggered backwards, eyes blinking in surprise. Gathering his machismo, he pumped his pelvis suggestively as he came back for more. “Honey, you owe me a good time.”

Ginny laid the purse in her lap and tamped down her simmering anger. “Listen, Ron. You bought me one drink, and we chatted for a while.” She kept her voice quiet, but firm. “I appreciate your attention, but I don’t owe you a damn thing. Now, back off.”

“C’mon, baby, lemme give you a personal Maui welcome. I’ll even do you first. Whadayasay?” Ron plopped a hand on her shoulder and slid it down toward her breast.

She slapped his hand away. Anger bubbled to a rolling boil. “Look, jerk,” she said above the din. “I wouldn’t ‘do’ you even if you were the last guy on earth and your…your…penis was covered with chocolate. Get a clue. I’m not interested.” She rammed both hands into his chest and sent him stumbling backwards.

Ron scrambled to regain his balance and his composure as two burly bouncers closed in on him. They each grasped an arm and escorted the red-faced man to the exit.

Self-consciously, Ginny acknowledged the bar patrons’ applause with a slight nod. Then, she checked her watch, clutched her purse, and hopped off the stool.

As she straightened, a teasing voice spoke from beside her. “Sorry I couldn’t get out from behind the bar faster, but you obviously didn’t need my help getting rid of the SOB. Well done, by the way. Maybe he won’t be back after such a tongue-lashing.”

Ginny paused, hesitant to face those captivating eyes. “I hope he thinks twice before hitting on a nice girl again. You’re right, you know. I am a nice girl.”

“Yeah, but you’ve got a tongue like a whip.” The bartender smiled. “Let me walk you out to your car to be sure the jackass isn’t hanging around to hassle you.” Without waiting for a reply, he yanked the towel from his waistband, tossed it on the bar, and signaled the other bartender that he was leaving.

With a large, warm hand on the small of Ginny’s back, he guided her to the exit.

“This isn’t really necessary,” she insisted.

“Of course, it’s not.” He held the door open. “It’s only a ruse so I can talk to you.”

“Are you always so blunt?” she asked, passing close enough to smell his musky cologne.

“Usually. I don’t believe in playing games or hiding behind facades.” He caught her arm to stop her while he scrutinized the parking lot for any sign of the troublemaker. “I don’t see him, do you?”

She pulled free of his grasp. “No. I’m sure the loser’s gone.”

“Yeah, with his tail between his legs. Where’s your car?”

Ginny pointed to the red BMW convertible parked at the end of the nearest row.

“Nice wheels.” After several long strides, he glanced back. “Coming?” When she hesitated, he added, “Hey, gimme a break. I work here, and I’ll be in deep shit if I harass you.” Shaking his head, he sauntered toward the car without her.

She waited a moment, and then scurried to catch up.

He stood guard while she opened the door, dropped into the driver’s seat, and jammed the key into the ignition. “Thanks,” she said, tugging on the handle. When the car door didn’t budge, she looked up.

His fingers gripped the edge of the door, and his chin rested on top. “I didn’t catch your name.”

Uh oh. She pressed her lips together.

He cocked his head and frowned. “Ouch. That’s harsh. Well, I’m Drew Morgan if you want to complain to the club manager about me. Good night. Drive safe.” He pivoted on his heels and jogged back to the entrance where he waited.

Ginny tore her gaze away, slammed the car door, and hit the lock button. Peering straight ahead, she drove through the parking lot. A quick glance in the rearview mirror confirmed the bartender was still standing guard. Resolving not to look back again, she barreled out onto the street and whipped around the first corner.

***

Long, slender fingers covered Drew’s eyes as he watched the sporty BMW disappear.

“Guess who,” a soft, female voice whispered from behind him.

He lifted the hands from his face and turned around to scowl at the woman. “What are you doing here, Leilani? Did you forget we broke up last week?”

“No, silly, I changed my mind. I don’t want to break up now. Maybe next week.” She pushed her bottom lip out in a pout. “And I don’t want to sleep alone tonight.”

Drew exhaled, his impatience increasing. “Remember our talk? We agreed that I want a real relationship, and you don’t. That’s why we both need to move on.”

She glared at him. “You’re pissed because my career demands so much of my time and attention.”

“I’m not pissed. I just realize this isn’t going to work.”

Leilani changed strategies, resting her forehead against his chest and releasing a long sigh. “You’re right, Drew. I need to find someone new. I’m just too tired to deal with it right now. My schedule has been outrageous. Like tonight. The shoot ran way over. I hate night shoots because there are always problems.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her nubile body against him. “Can’t we pretend a little while longer? Please,” she coaxed.

Well, hell. How much difference would a few more days make? Drew slid his hands beneath her straight, waist-length, ebony hair and massaged her back. “How could I possibly deny a former Miss Hawaii and the state’s only super model?” he said, his amiable disposition undermining his resistance.

She punched his arm, and he chuckled.

“My work is tough. I’m exhausted, baby,” she said, peeking up at him.

“Yeah, your life is hell, Leilani.”

She pushed away. “It is.”

“Right.” He rolled his eyes and shook his head as he grasped her hand to lead her into the controlled chaos of the club.

A murmur swept through the crowd. Heads turned. The band interrupted its song for a dramatic drumroll. Enthusiastic applause filled the building.

Leilani dropped his hand and stepped forward. She raised her arms over her head, clapped a beat the band matched, and sashayed into the midst of the dancers. They closed around her, and the sexy dancing resumed.

Feeling invisible, Drew slipped away. Back behind the bar, he tucked a fresh towel into the waistband of his shorts. Everyone sitting at the bar had swiveled around to watch Leilani, so he and Matt, the other bartender, had a few minutes without drink orders.

A familiar disappointment filled Drew’s chest and erased his smile.

In contrast, Matt grinned and groaned as he focused on Leilani’s body in motion. He leaned his forearms on the bar and stretched his legs out behind him. “Damn. She is so hot.”

“Yeah,” Drew said. Hot, but hollow.

“What a body. I get a hard-on just watchin’ her. I’d sure like to—”

Drew scowled a warning. For Leilani’s sake, he could pretend he cared. “Hey man, you do remember she’s my girlfriend?”

“Sorry, dude.” Matt blew out a frustrated breath. “But, I mean, you can’t blame a guy for dreamin’, can ya?”

“Dreaming? No. Drooling? Yes.”

Matt laughed. “Ya gotta admit, Leilani is most guys’ idea of a perfect lay.”

Drew’s attention drifted back to the dance floor. “I guess.”

“Huh? Someone that damn hot has gotta be dynamite in bed.”

Drew shot him a silencing glare. “Cool it, Matt. Leilani’s sex life is none of your goddamn business.”

Matt straightened. “Man, I hope you appreciate what a good deal you’ve got. Every guy I know would like a piece of—”

“Shut up,” Drew growled, pointing down the bar. “We’ve got customers.” With a final glance at Leilani, he murmured, “Appearances can be deceiving.”

***

Ginny parked the BMW in the garage of the luxury condominium complex. Her parents owned the condo in Kaanapali, and the family had enjoyed many wonderful vacations over the past ten years. She and Spencer had even used the place for romantic getaways.

At the unwanted thought of Spencer Radcliffe, her chin dropped to her chest. Oh, God, what had she done? She sat with her head bowed in the silence of the dark car. Had her confidence and determination so quickly seeped away in the hours since her escape?

Escape?

The word was harsh, and yet, it seemed the most accurate description of how she felt.

Sighing, Ginny dragged herself from the car and locked it. She pasted on a smile as she entered the elevator with a couple so consumed with their groping they didn’t even acknowledge her. A lump swelled in her throat.

Once inside the Fitzgerald condo, she set her purse on the foyer table and ambled dejectedly into the living room. Classy, but comfortable, rattan furniture sporting colorful cushions filled the spacious area. A vibrant theme of bird-of-paradise flowers and palm trees dominated the décor, but did nothing to brighten Ginny’s mood.

Drawn to the expansive living room windows, she peered out at the black velvet Pacific stretching to the horizon. Although she loved the ocean, it provided no comfort this time. Instead, the vastness produced cold, lonely feelings. Emptiness spread through her. The condo felt cavernous; her heart, heavy.

Taking a deep breath, she turned from the panoramic view and trudged down the hallway. As she passed, she glanced into her parents’ bedroom. Much nicer than her own, the huge master bedroom swallowed up the California-king bed and the Jacuzzi, which occupied a corner with an ocean-view, picture window.

Ginny stopped. What a waste to leave the fabulous bedroom unused for the two months she would be living here. Her mother and father were so angry with her there was no chance they would visit. She had the place all to herself, so why not indulge.

With a lighter step, she trotted to her bedroom and gathered her clothes and other personal items. When she had moved everything into the master bedroom, she ran water into the Jacuzzi, lit several fragrant candles, and disappeared into the kitchen to pour a glass of wine.

Finally, she eased into the hot water. “Aaahhh.”Sipping the chardonnay, she pushed the button to activate the jets. She leaned back, rested her head on a cushion, and closed her eyes. The lavender scent of the candles drifted through the room. Her muscles relaxed, and her head lolled to the side.

At last, a celebration worthy of her recent emancipation. So much better than her impromptu visit to the stupid club. What a disappointment it had been. A good idea ruined by a horny jerk and a friendly bartender.

Unexpectedly, a man’s image flashed in her mind. Flashed being the operative word. The man was naked, and he was not Spencer Radcliffe. Ginny floundered in the spa, spilling wine into the water. Oh, my God. The bartender. What was his name? Doug? Dave? Drew? That was it: Drew Morgan.

The crystal wine goblet clinked as she set it on the marble rim of the tub. She swallowed hard and slid deeper into the water until only her head was above the bubbles. Why had her brain conjured up a nude image of a man she’d just met? She shook her head before shutting her eyes. The enticing figure reappeared in an instant. Her eyelids popped open.

Then her lips curved into a wistful smile as she closed her eyes again. There he was. In all his glory—or at least in all his imagined glory. She moaned. The anatomy was definitely not Spencer’s. Her former fiancé was tall and trim, but this dream man was also muscular, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, and…very well…hung.

Dream Drew drifted closer, and she peered into his amazing teal eyes. His gaze lowered as though searching for her naked body beneath the bubbles. Ginny’s hand inched across her leg and settled between her thighs. Tentatively, she touched herself.

Virgin? His deep voice echoed in her brain. Nice girl. Yeah, way too nice. Only a ruse so I can talk to you. Well, he’d tried. Tongue like a whip. Attorney extraordinaire.

Ginny snorted in disgust and jerked her hand out of the water. What is wrong with me?

She sipped the wine and chastised herself. Wrestling the disturbing thoughts from her mind, she envisioned her brain as a gigantic whiteboard. Soon, thrilling plots, emotional characters, elaborate settings, and clever dialogue would cover the blank space. The story—her story, her book—would come to life.

After turning her real life upside down by coming to Maui to write about fictional lives, the pressure of potential failure exceeded the exhilaration of potential success. She’d temporarily deferred her fervent desire for marriage and motherhood to pursue another passion. She had to succeed.

Failure is not an option. Today is the first day of the rest of my life.

Ginny exhaled through pursed lips. She would need a lot more than a few inspirational phrases to achieve her lifelong dream in the next two months.