For the Sake of His Heir

By: Joanne Rock

CHAPTER ONE


Brianne Hanson’s crush on her boss had died a swift and brutal death when he’d walked down the aisle with another woman. And she hadn’t even dreamed of resurrecting it after his extremely unhappy divorce. She would never want to be that rebound fling a man lived to regret.

But every now and then, the old spark came back to burn her. Like today.

She’d just taken a break from her work in the gardens of Gabe’s resort, the Birdsong Hotel, in Martinique. As a landscape designer, Brianne had worked on dozens of island properties before Gabe convinced her to take on the Birdsong as a full-time gig a year ago. It was a job she loved since she had carte blanche to design whatever she wanted on Gabe’s considerable budget. He was committed to the project and shared her basic aesthetic vision, so they got along just fine. All business, boundaries in place.

Today, however, was different. She’d stopped by his workshop in a converted shed to ask him about his plans for upgrading the entrance to one of the bungalows. The resort grounds were a never-ending labor of love for Gabe, a talented woodworker who spent his free time handcrafting ceiling panels and restoring custom cabinets.

And damn if she wasn’t caught by the pull of that old crush as she stood on the threshold of the workshop. The dust extractor hummed in the background, cleaning the air of particles kicked up by the table saw he’d just been using. Gabe was currently laboring over a curved piece of wood clamped down to another table, running a hand planer over the surface. This segment of wood—a molding destined for a curved archway in the lobby, she knew—was at least five feet long. Gabe shaved the length of it with the shallow blade, drawing the scraper toward him again and again while wood bits went flying.

Intent on his work, Brianne’s six-foot-plus boss stared down at the mahogany piece through his safety goggles, giving her time to enjoy the view of male muscle in motion. He was handsome enough any day of the week, as his dark hair and ocean-blue eyes were traits he shared with his equally attractive older brothers. The McNeill men had caused plenty of female heads to turn throughout Martinique and beyond, since their wealth and business interests extended to New York and Silicon Valley. But Gabe was unique among his brothers for his down-to-earth, easygoing ways, and his affinity for manual labor.

With the door to his workshop open, a sea breeze swirled through the sawdust-scented air. Gabe’s white T-shirt clung to his upper back, highlighting bands of muscle that ran along his shoulder blades. His forearms were lightly coated with a sheen of sweat and wood dust, which shouldn’t have been sexy, or so she told herself. But the strength there was testament to the physical labor he did every day. His jeans rode low on narrow hips, thanks in part to the weight of a tool belt.

And just like that, her temperature went from garden-variety warm to scorching. So much for kicking the crush.

“Hey, Brianne.” He turned a sudden, easy smile her way as he put aside the blade, leaving the plank tilted in the brace he’d made to support it. “What can I do for you?”

He shoved the safety glasses up into his dark hair, revealing those azure-blue eyes. Then he leaned over to the abandoned table saw and switched off the dust extractor. As he strode closer, she sternly reminded herself ogling time was over. She needed to keep her paychecks coming now that the last of her dysfunctional family had deserted her grandmother back in Brooklyn. Brianne owed everything—her work ethic, her life in Martinique, her very sanity—to the woman who’d given her a chance at a better life away from the painful dramas at home. As her grandmother became more frail, Brianne hoped to relocate Nana to the Caribbean to care for her.

Besides, complicating matters more? Gabe McNeill had become her closest friend.

“Hey.” Forcing a smile to mask any leftover traces of feminine yearning, Brianne tried to remember why she’d come to the workshop in the first place. “Sorry to interrupt. I thought you might be ready to break for lunch and I wanted to see if you had a minute to walk me through your plans for bungalow two.”

He unfastened his tool belt and hung it on a hook near the workbench.

“You mean the Butterfly Bungalow?” he teased, winking at her and nudging her shoulder with his as he walked past.

She’d been resistant to using the names Gabe’s new promotions company had assigned to all the suites and villas on the property since they made the hotel sound more like a touristy amusement park.

“Right. Butterfly Boudoir. Whatever.” She had to hurry to catch up with him as he headed there now, his long-legged stride carrying him far even though he wasn’t moving fast.

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