Tara Pierpont has had it with her interfering parents who want her to find a rich guy to marry just like her older sister did. She’s ready to rebel against them, and a chance for her rebellion appears in the form of a handsome waiter at an exclusive Hamptons party.
When Jay Bohannon attends the anniversary party of his friend’s parents and is mistaken for a waiter, he wants to immediately clear up the misunderstanding. But then Tara opens up to him and confesses that she’s sick of entitled rich guys and just wants to have fun with somebody who wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
The thing is, Jay is anything but poor or ordinary. He’s exactly the kind of guy Tara is trying to avoid.
New York City
Six months ago
Jay Bohannon wasn’t one to listen to other people’s private conversations, but tonight he was wedged into a tucked-away, half-moon shaped booth at a cozy, rather quiet restaurant, waiting for a business associate who was running fifteen minutes late.
The women talking in the booth behind him had arrived only minutes after him and were probably not even aware that anybody was sitting in the booth adjacent to theirs. He wasn’t sure how many there were, since he was sitting with his back to them and the backrests were too high, but he heard at least two female voices.
“Okay, so let’s go over this again,” one of the women started, speaking in a thick New York accent. Being from the South, Jay had never gotten used to the harsh tones that colored the speech of many native New Yorkers. “You have four guys left on your list—”
“And I totally know who I’d go for,” a second woman interrupted. Her voice was less grating, and it was obvious that she wasn’t from New York. Either that, or she’d worked on losing her accent.
“Cassie,” the first woman growled softly. “When it’s your turn, don’t worry, the two of us will help you choose the right husband. Just like we promised. Now let’s go over what I found out.”
Judging by the conversation there had to be at least three women in the booth behind him. Discussing possible husbands. Jay rolled his eyes and looked at his watch, hoping Milton would show up soon.
“What do you mean?” Cassie asked.
“Assets, dummy! Let’s go over their net worth.”
Jay cringed. Clearly this wasn’t a girl’s night out to discuss who the bride-to-be liked more, rather whose bank account she preferred.
Forcing himself to ignore the conversation, he scrolled through the emails on his cell phone. His girlfriend Deborah, who he’d been seeing exclusively for over four months now, had sent him an email an hour earlier. He reread it.
Something came up at the office. Will text you later if I can manage to stop by tonight.
God, he got hard just thinking of her. She was sexy as hell, adventurous in bed, and looked stunning in anything she wore. He was head over heels for her, so much so that he considered taking the next step in their relationship.
After all, he didn’t care if he emerged as the winner of the Hamptons Bachelor Club one day—claiming the sizable monetary prize associated with the win, once all the other bachelors had gotten married. He didn’t need the money. After inventing and patenting a nifty security device for boats, which had made him wealthy, he’d started building mega-yachts for the ultra-rich. It had turned him into one of the most eligible bachelors in New York.
“…apparently up to his eyeballs in debt. And get this: the penthouse he lives in is rented!” The New Yorker’s voice carried an air of outrage with it.
A gasp came from another woman. “B—”
“I know what you wanna say, but hear me out,” the first woman interrupted. “He’s hot and all, but I’m sorry, friends don’t let friends marry a loser.”
“What about him then?” a third woman, who hadn’t spoken before, asked.
Jay’s heart stopped. He recognized her voice. In fact, he knew it all too well.
“Whelan?” the woman with the heavy New York accent asked.
“Yes,” Deborah replied. “From your notes here it looks like he’s richer than Bohannon.”
Jay held his breath, annoyance and disappointment settling in his gut. Deborah’s voice sounded detached, as if she were talking about a fancy car rather than her current boyfriend.
“He’s a cutie, too,” Cassie chimed in now. “Hot. And didn’t you say he’s quite a stud in bed?”
“Sure,” Deborah said nonchalantly. “But I’m not gonna settle for second best if there’s somebody out there who’s more to my liking, no matter how hot the sex. Right, Sharon?”
“Right. Though I think Bohannon might be your best choice after all,” the first woman—apparently Sharon—replied.
“Why? I thought Whelan was richer than Bohannon.”
Jay could firmly imagine the skin between Deborah’s eyebrows furrowing, something he’d always considered cute, but which now made him want to kick somebody or something. He knew he should get up and show himself, but he was frozen in his seat, his hands trembling with rage.
“Actually, Whelan’s family is richer than Bohannon. Theoretically, it still all belongs to his parents, and though he’s an only son, you don’t want to have to wait for his parents to kick the bucket, do you? I mean, he probably has to do whatever his parents say to get at the money while they’re alive. Trust me on this. You don’t want to deal with that. I’d vote for Bohannon. Reel him in and get a ring on your finger asap.”
A sigh from Deborah. “You’re probably right. At least then I won’t have to sleep with Whelan anymore. Frankly, it was a chore.”
The other two women laughed. Jay heard the clinking of glasses. Then the sound of glass breaking.
He looked at his hand and the shards of his martini glass cutting into his skin. Blood mixed with the spilled gin and spread over the pristine white tablecloth.
But he didn’t feel the pain. He’d gone numb.
The woman he’d thought himself in love with had been two-timing him. And not only that. The only reason she considered marrying him was because he had more money than the next sucker in line.
Jay stood up, not caring that his jerky movement pushed the table toward the other end of the booth and made a loud grating noise on the polished wooden floor. Nor did he care about the cuts on his hand.
He tossed a twenty on the table and took a few steps to face the booth with the three women.
Deborah’s girlfriends looked up at him, checking him out. When he remained standing there, saying nothing, the women exchanged curious glances.
“What?” Deborah asked, looking over her shoulder.
Jay met her surprised gaze.
“Oh, hi, Jay, I didn’t—”
He raised a hand, the uninjured one. “Spare me.” He motioned to the piece of paper in the middle of the table. “And you can take me off that list of yours. I won’t continue dating a calculating woman who’s clearly only after my money.”
He enjoyed the moment when the penny dropped for Deborah. She didn’t even try to deny it, knowing she was caught.
“If I ever get married, it will be to a woman who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about my money.”
He pivoted and charged toward the door. It opened just as he reached it. He almost bumped into his business associate.
“Oh, hey, Jay!” Milton greeted him cheerfully. “Sorry for the—”
“Evening Milton, do you mind if we go somewhere else? This isn’t really my scene.”
Jay walked out into the cold winter night, realizing too late that he’d left his coat at the coat check. But he had no intention of going back into the restaurant where Cassie and Sharon were right now consoling his ex-girlfriend and probably already convincing her that maybe Whelan wasn’t such a bad catch after all. Poor Whelan.
As Jay hailed a cab, his heart turned to stone. From now on, he would be very careful whom he opened his heart to. The first hint that a woman was after him only for his money, and he’d be leaving her in the dust.
Montauk, Long Island, NY
Alerted by the angry voice of Paul Gilbert, his friend and fellow member of the Hamptons Bachelor Club, Jay turned his attention toward the pool house. He wasn’t the only one who was now staring at the fight about to break out.
Paul, impeccably dressed in a tuxedo like Jay himself, was gripping an obviously drunk, middle-aged man by the collar. “I said, leave my girlfriend alone!”
“Girlfriend? She’s a fucking hooker!” the man yelled.
Jay cursed under his breath, stunned by the outrageous accusation.
And here he’d thought Paul’s parents’ anniversary party, to which the Who’s Who of the Hamptons and New York had been invited, would be a dull affair. Far from it. While Jay had nothing against some impromptu entertainment, he didn’t wish anything bad on Paul, particularly when it had anything to do with Holly, the woman he was so clearly in love with. Jay couldn’t blame him. Holly was a stunner: mesmerizing blue eyes, long blond locks, and a body to die for. Jay had flirted with her a few months ago, but he knew that a woman like Holly deserved a man who could make a commitment.
And after the debacle with Deborah, Jay had sworn off relationships. It didn’t mean that he didn’t date or have sex, but it meant he didn’t open his heart anymore. His trust in the opposite sex was somewhat shaken, and so far he hadn’t come up with a sure-fire way of figuring out if a woman truly liked him or his money. Jay pushed the thoughts away. This certainly wasn’t the place to be looking for a girlfriend. The women invited to this high society event were all from wealthy or well-connected families, and he knew very well what that meant: they wouldn’t look at him twice if he didn’t have hundreds of millions to his name. Knowing that, how could he ever be sure that the affection and love they showed him was genuine?
Was it even possible to find a love match in a society like this? Where parents were making sure that their daughters met only eligible men with a large enough bank account? Sometimes he wished he could pretend to be an average Joe and see how far his good looks, southern drawl, and charm would get him. Maybe then he would finally meet a real woman who saw the man behind the suave exterior: the hard-working kid who’d worked his way out of poverty and made it big, thanks to his determination and inventiveness, not to mention a good portion of luck. But few people ever got to see that side of him. Nor knew where he came from, or the pain of his difficult childhood.
Paul, on the other hand, had enjoyed a privileged upbringing. And at the moment his parents’ friends were all looking in his direction, their conversations suddenly silenced.
Jay paved his way through the onlookers, ready to come to his friend’s aid and assist him in removing the jerk, who was spouting lies about Holly, from the property.
“Yeah, a fucking hooker!” the drunk yelled again, pointing at Holly, who stood near the entrance to the pool house, a horrified expression on her beautiful face.
Jay glanced over to her. God, she was pretty. But a hooker? He shook his head. No way! Holly just didn’t seem the type. She was too… well, too sweet.
“Shut your fucking mouth, or I’ll shut it for you!” Paul yelled, and swung his fist.
It connected with the guy’s face and whipped his head sideways. The drunkard was catapulted in Jay’s direction. A waiter, dressed in a tuxedo, with a tray full of drinks was in his path.
“Crap!” Jay cursed and reached out, trying to pull the server out of the way, but all he caught was the tray as the drunk crashed into the poor guy.
The drunk caught himself as the waiter fell to the ground.
Wiping blood off his mouth, the troublemaker continued glaring at Paul. “Yeah, a two-bit hooker. That’s all she is! What are you paying her, huh?”
Paul looked as if he was seeing red and pounded his fists into the man in such quick succession that his opponent couldn’t even lift his arms in defense. All the drunkard could do was step backward to try to escape Paul’s unrelenting fists. But there was no escape.
With Paul’s next punch, the man stumbled over the ledge of the pool and fell in. Water sloshed over the edges, splashing onto those guests who stood too close. A collective gasp went through the crowd.
“Paul!” Mrs. Gilbert screamed.
Jay cringed. He’d known the Gilberts for many years, and he was fully aware of the fact that Mrs. Gilbert always wanted to be seen in the best light. The fact that her son was now being accused of having a prostitute for a girlfriend couldn’t sit well with her.
Paul jerked his head up to look at his mother, who glared at him and then turned her gaze on Holly.
“Is this true? Is it true what he said?”
“He attacked Holly!” Paul ground out.
It was dead silent now. None of the over one hundred guests and catering staff spoke a word. The only thing that could be heard was the sloshing in the pool, as the drunk tried to keep his head above water.
Mrs. Gilbert pointed to Holly. “Somebody remove that woman from my property!”
But Holly had already turned on her heel and was running down the path that led to the beach.
“Holly!” Paul called after her. Before he could follow her, his mother had gripped him by the elbow.
Jay couldn’t hear what she said to him in a low voice, her jaw tight, but judging by the venomous look on her face, she wasn’t pleased.
“Isn’t anybody going to help him?” Jay suddenly heard a woman ask, breaking the silence.
He looked in the direction of the voice and saw a young woman with a blond pixie haircut standing at the edge of the pool, pointing to the drunk who was still struggling to keep above water.
Nobody reacted. Jay looked to his left and right, searching for a place to set down the tray of drinks he was holding and coming up empty.
When he heard a splashing sound, he whirled his head back to the pool and watched the woman dive into it, swimming toward the drunk. She reached him within seconds and slung her arms under his armpits.
“I’ve got you. Don’t move.”
But the man kept kicking and moving his arms. Despite the drunk’s struggles she managed to hold on to him, quickly kicking her legs and maneuvering herself and the guy toward the shallow end of the pool where steps led up to the deck. She was surprisingly strong for her lean, lithe body. By the time she reached the edge, other guests came to her aid and helped her pull the man out.
This seemed to be the cue for everybody to start talking, whispering. The rumor mill was in session now. It wouldn’t take long until everybody on Long Island knew what had happened at the Gilberts’ anniversary party. Whether there was any truth to the accusations the man had hurled at Holly didn’t even matter at this point. This was welcome fodder for the bored society that came to the shores of Long Island every summer, hoping to be entertained. And tonight they’d gotten more than they’d bargained for.
The brave woman who’d rescued the drunk plopped down on the closest lounge chair, her chest heaving from the effort. She was dripping, and the fabric of her thin chiffon cocktail dress was clinging to her body, making it virtually transparent and revealing tantalizing curves. Jay wasn’t the only one gawking: she was quite a sight to behold. However, for some reason, Jay wanted her to cover up, even though by doing so she would deprive him of the sight of her luscious body, too.
Jay looked around to search for a towel he could bring her so she could dry herself off, but realized that all towels had been removed from the pool area.
“A drink, please,” he suddenly heard her say while she motioned to him.
He turned his head then looked back at her. Had she spoken to him? “Me?”
“Yes, a drink, please.”
She pointed to his hands, and only now did Jay realize that he was still holding the tray he’d rescued from the waiter. The gorgeous young woman was confusing him with a waiter. Well, no wonder! Mrs. Gilbert had dressed the catering staff in tuxedos, and unfortunately Jay was wearing the same type of outfit. In fact, earlier in the kitchen, one of the staff had confused him with a waiter and pressed a tray full of champagne glasses into his hands. He and Paul had laughed about the incident, and his friend had suggested buying a new tuxedo.
Smiling to himself, Jay crossed the distance between him and the water nymph and bent down to her with his tray. She snatched a glass of amber liquid off it and took a sip.
Jay set the tray on the table next to her and watched how she swallowed the burning whiskey, her face scrunching up briefly, evidence that she wasn’t used to it.
“It was very nice of you to pull him out,” he commented.
She rolled her eyes. “Better that than having to listen to my mother’s complaints any longer.”
Jay smiled at her and noticed how she shivered. He took off his tuxedo jacket. “Ah, yes, mothers have a way of annoying their children.” He tossed a knowing look at Mrs. Gilbert, who now stood face to face with her son, exchanging words with Paul with a clenched jaw. Jay took his jacket and put it around the young woman’s shoulders. “Here.”
She took another sip and ran her eyes over him. Slowly. The way she licked her lips at the same time gave him a little, not at all unpleasant, jolt. Suddenly he was the one shivering.
“What are you doing after your shift?”
She sighed. “Yes, when you’re done working here. I can’t wait to get away from all these arrogant rich people.”
At her words, his mind instantly went into overdrive. She wanted to get away from these arrogant rich people? Wasn’t she part of the same society? He looked at her. Everything about her suggested that she belonged here. So why did she want to leave an event where she was among her peers? Could it mean that money meant nothing to her? That in fact she’d rather go out on a date with a waiter than any of the rich bachelors at this party? Interesting.
He let his eyes wander over her body, taking in her curves without haste. Strong shoulders and arms. Small, but pert breasts. Slender, but strong thighs. And the most gorgeous toes he’d ever seen. She was young, maybe even eight to ten years younger than he. Maybe even too young for him. But at this moment he didn’t care. Neither did his cock, which started stirring beneath his tuxedo pants.
She was positively delectable. But that wasn’t even the best of it. She was willing to go out with a poor waiter. Well, actually somebody she thought was a poor waiter. And what was the harm in pretending to be poor? It would be worse if he did the opposite. This could be a golden opportunity—to get to know a woman without her being blinded by his money.
“No plans. But I’m open to suggestions.” Jay lifted his gaze to her eyes and added, “Or if you prefer, I could come up with some suggestions.” He had plenty of those. And judging by the look she gave him now, she would be game for all of them.
“That works too.” She set the empty glass back on the tray, her cheeks rosy now. “I’m Tara.”
“I’m Jay.” He leaned closer and dropped his voice, knowing that his southern accent was more pronounced now. It always was when he was flirting—or aroused. And right now he was both.
“And I’ll be your server tonight.”