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The Millionaire's Marriage Demand

By:Sandra Field

The Millionaire's Marriage Demand
Sandra Field

       CHAPTER ONE





She had the place to herself.

Heaven, Julie thought blissfully. The rocks and salt spray of the  coastline where she'd grown up were what she missed most of all when she  was overseas.

The tide was lapping at the wharf. She slipped her feet out of her  sandals and with scant regard for her pretty summer dress sat down on  the rough wood, dangling her legs over the edge. A wave grabbed at her  bare toes. She gave a laugh of mingled shock and dismay; the water was  icy cold.

What did she expect? After all, this was Maine and it was still June.  She splashed her feet vigorously, watching how the golden light of early  evening tangled itself in the foam. She was home again. Temporarily, to  be sure, and not for the happiest of reasons. But home, nevertheless.

The wharf was at the end of a dirt road. To her ears wafted the sigh of  wind through the pines and the chirping of sparrows in the underbrush;  overlying everything was the steady hiss of surf against the shore of  the nearest island.

Her destination was further out. She was spending the weekend on  Manatuck Island, owned by Charles Strathem, whose son Brent had invited  her to Charles's sixtieth birthday party tomorrow.

She'd been late leaving work this afternoon. By the time she'd driven  from her apartment in Portland to this isolated shoreline, she'd missed  the launch that was to have taken her and some of the caterers to the  party. Now the launch had to make a return trip just for her.

She should be feeling guilty. But she wasn't. She splashed her feet  again, hoping Charles Strathem had a heated swimming pool at  Castlereigh, his estate on Manatuck. One thing Brent had made clear was  that his father was very rich; the inference being that Brent, also, was  more than comfortably off.

Julie sighed. Brent was handsome, charming and out for a good time. This  meant, no doubt, that sooner or later she'd be fighting him off. Her  spirit of adventure, that had caused her to live for the last few years  in faraway places not always known for comfort or safety, didn't extend  to sex. Or marriage, for that matter.

But for the space of a weekend, surrounded by Brent's family, she'd be safe enough.

Abruptly she turned her head, straining her ears. What had she just  heard? A vehicle coming down the road? She didn't want company. Not  right now. Oliver, captain of the launch, had been quite explicit that  she was the only guest expected this Friday evening.

The unmistakable crunch of tires on gravel grew louder and louder. Julie  scowled at the gold-tinted trees, inwardly urging the unknown  interloper to stop at the last cottage a quarter of a mile from the  wharf. To stop anywhere but here.

To leave her alone.





As the tires of his sleek black Porsche skidded in the gravel, Travis  eased his foot off the accelerator. He was driving too fast. Partly, of  course, because he was later than he'd wanted to be. He'd been doing  fine until that emergency in intensive care, which had ended very  satisfactorily for the patient but had put him way behind schedule.

Lateness wasn't the only reason he was driving fast. Gut-wrenching  anxiety was the other reason. His lips stretched in a humorless smile.  On a beautiful Friday evening in June, when he could have been sailing  on Penobscot Bay or going to the local opera with that nurse with the  come-hither eyes, he was traveling to the one place in the world where  he was guaranteed to get the cold shoulder.

Another quarter mile to the wharf. He'd use the phone on the dock there,  contact Oliver and ask for the launch to be sent over. Once he was on  the island, they couldn't very well send him back. Or if they tried,  he'd put up one hell of a fight.

Through the open window he caught the scent of spruce resin mixed with  the sharp tang of the ocean; he breathed deeply, filling his lungs, and  for an instant was a little boy again, roaming the cliffs and rocky  shoreline of Manatuck Island. Happy. Secure. With no inkling of what was  to come.

It wasn't just the family he was returning to. It was the island as  well. Of the two, he wasn't sure which had the greater potential for  damage.

Probably the island.

Insanity to come back. Pure insanity.

The car swung around the last corner, and from the rise Travis saw the  bay spread in front of him, its velvet-green islands sprinkling the deep  blue waters, foam edging them like white ruffs. His throat tightened.  One reason he'd driven himself so hard the last few years was to bury  the blend of yearning and emptiness that was popularly called  homesickness.                       
       
           



       

He jammed his foot on the brake. Someone was sitting on the wharf.

His gaze narrowed. Was it a teenager from one of the cottages up the  road? Dammit, he didn't need company. If there was one time in his life  he needed to be alone, it was right now, while he was waiting for the  launch.

It wasn't a kid. It was a woman. She must be the driver of the blue car that was parked by the side of the road above the wharf.

Travis swung the wheel, his tires grabbing at the gravel, and parked  behind the blue sedan. It had a rental sign on the back bumper, he  noticed absently. He got out of his car, slammed the door and strode  down the slope toward the dock; as he did so, the woman stood up.

He'd get rid of her as fast as he could and then he'd contact Oliver.

Because the sun was behind him, she was bathed in soft light. His  footsteps slowed. How could he ever have mistaken her for a young girl?  Her flowered dress was full-skirted with a bodice that clung to her  breasts and bared her shoulders and arms; her ankles and feet were  soaking wet. Her hair was cut short, a gleaming dark cap that emphasized  the slim line of her throat and her winged brows. She was exquisitely,  unbelievably beautiful.

She also, he realized, looked as displeased to see him as he'd been to  see her. She said coolly, taking the initiative in a way that irked him,  "Hello. Are you lost?" Giving him a quick survey that no doubt took in  all six feet of him in his faded jeans and casual open-necked shirt, she  added politely, "The road, as you see, comes to an end here. Perhaps  you were looking for Bartlett Cove? The turnoffs about a half a mile  back."

"No," Travis said brusquely, "I'm not lost-but you're trespassing. This  wharf is on private property. It belongs to the owner of Manatuck  Island."

"That's where I'm going."

"Oh? The party's not until tomorrow-did you get the timing wrong?"

"No, I didn't," she replied crisply.

His eyes clashed with her green ones. They couldn't really be that  color, he thought. Eyes of a deep true green were very rare, and made  comparisons with emeralds inevitable. Hers, at the moment, certainly  looked as unyielding as emeralds. She was several inches shorter than  he; why, when his normal fancy was for laughing blondes who were nearly  his height, was he lusting after a brunette who looked about as warm as  the ocean in January?

Light played across her high cheekbones, making him itch to stroke them;  it took an actual physical effort to keep his hands at his sides. And  all the while he was forcing himself to keep his gaze well above the  entrancing shadow of her cleavage. What the devil was wrong with him?

Think, Travis. Use your much-vaunted brains. "Let me guess," he said  softly. "You're arriving early on the island because you're Brent's  date."

She bit one delectable lip. "How did you know?"

"Brent's always had a weakness for females with great bodies and more than passably pretty faces."

"When you've just complimented me twice over, why do I feel as though I've been thoroughly insulted?"

The wind suddenly seized her skirt, flattening it to her legs, then  tugging it free to briefly bare her thighs. As she clutched at the  brilliantly flowered fabric, thrusting it down to cover herself, Travis  said hoarsely, "Your eyes-you must be wearing colored contacts?"

He'd had no intention of asking anything so personal; and was  nevertheless furious when she disregarded his question. "Are you going  to Manatuck as well?" she said bluntly.

"I am."

"And whose date are you?"

"Oh, I'm on my own," Travis said, giving her a smile that in no way  touched his eyes. Eyes that could look through you as though you weren't  there, Julie thought edgily, and heard him add, "I don't belong to  anyone, it's against my principles."

"A principle I happen to share."

"I doubt that. Not if you're Brent's date."

The slight emphasis he put on the word date brought a flush to her  cheeks. "His date is precisely-" she began, then broke off. Why was she  defending her morals to a complete stranger?                       
       
           

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