KRISTI GOLD.

Marooned With A Millionaire






Im Not Letting You Go.

Jack turned Lizzie toward the sea and held on to her from behind. If you fall in, then Ill have to go get you. And, babe, Im thinking that would be a bad idea. Rule One, stay on the boat.

I told you, Im not a babe.

And Im not Ahab.

Its either that or Captain Hook, since we seem to be following a fairy-tale theme.

Both my hands are intact. Definitely so, because theyd somehow made their way to her hips.

I guess youre right about that, so Ahab it is.

He couldnt hold back a smile. Are you feeling better now?

Lizzie drew in a deep breath. I just need something to eat.

Jack needed to kiss her, badly.

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Marooned with a Millionaire
Kristi Gold


KRISTI GOLD

has always believed that love has remarkable healing powers and feels very fortunate to be able to weave stories of romance and commitment. As a bestselling author and Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist, shes learned that although accolades are wonderful, the most cherished rewards come from the most unexpected places, namely from personal stories shared by readers. Kristi resides on a ranch in Central Texas with her husband and three children, along with various and sundry livestock.

She loves to hear from readers and can be contacted at KGOLDAUTHOR@aol.com or P.O. Box 11292, Robinson, TX 76716.

To Captain Jeremy and First Mate Pattie, for all the wonderful insight and nautical details youve provided during the making of this story. Heres wishing you both another twenty-five years of smooth sailing.

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Epilogue

One

The sailboats sudden pitch jarred Jackson Dunlap from his solitude and sent the mug before him into his lap. Bolting from his seat in the galley, he scaled the companionway leading topside at a sprint, covered in coffee and cursing the sudden commotion.

For one solid year, not much had disturbed him as hed sailed alone off the coast of Florida. At his request, hed had no visitors, no business calls, no disruptions aside from the necessary returns to port to restock and the occasional patch of rough weather. Until now.

After arriving on deck, Jack shaded his eyes against the midday June sun expecting to find hed been rammed by some craft piloted by an idiot or a nearsighted whale in the throes of mating season. He didnt expect to see the patchwork purple-and-yellow balloon slowly descending from the sky and deflating not more than a few hundred yards away.

He moved closer to the sight, unable to comprehend what he now witnessed. Some guy in the gondola attached to the balloon was waving like mad until the basket bounced along the surface, toppled, then spilled its human contents.

Spurred into action by a surge of adrenaline and a sudden sense of d?j? vu, Jack raced to the platform at the stern. Swim! he yelled as he tossed a buoy in the general direction of the stranger, thankful hed lowered the sails that morning. At least the boat was somewhat stationary. And luckily the current seemed to be aiding the guy in his efforts. Unfortunately, it was also aiding the balloon and basket to travel in the same direction, toward his prized boat.

Jack feverishly tugged the buoys line, dragging the stranger through the water at a fast clip. Then suddenly he realized he wasnt a he at all. He was a she. A woman with wide oval eyes and chin-length blond hair that hung down around her face in wet strands.

What the hell was she doing all the way out here?

He planned to ask her thatand moreas soon as he had her safely on board.

Once she was within reach, Jack grabbed her extended arm, tugged her onto the platform, tossed her over his shoulder and headed forward.

I can walk, she said in a raspy, winded voice. So you can put me down now.

He could, but not until he made sure she wasnt injured. Gingerly he laid her on the deck and sat beside her, uncertain which one of them was breathing more heavily. His ragged respiration had more to do with nerves than exertion because she really didnt weigh all that much. He imagined her labored breath resulted from the swim along with a little added fearand rightfully so.

When he regained his voice, he asked, Are you hurt?

She scooted into a sitting position and stared at him with blue-green eyes almost a perfect match to the sea. Then she opened her mouth and muttered, Im okay as long as the babys okay.

Baby? She had a kid with her? Was the baby in the basket? he asked in a moderate tone, struggling to keep the panic from his voice.

She studied him with sandy brows drawn down over confused eyes. Then she laid a hand on her belly and smiled. Its in this basket.

Both relieved and shocked, his gaze shot to her slender hand now curved protectively over her abdomen. Youre pregnant?

She pushed her damp hair away from her forehead and exhaled slowly. Yes.

Great. Just great.

Are you sure youre feeling all right? he asked, genuinely concerned. No pain or anything?

She sat a little straighter. Im okay. Kind of tired, but overall pretty good.

Jack decided she looked pretty good all over. Healthy, he corrected. Her still-flat abdomen encased in plain white capri pants, the soaked yellow T-shirt adhering to her torso, made Jack hard-pressed to believe she was actually going to have a baby.

Obviously she wasnt very far along in the pregnancy. Obviously she couldnt lay claim to much common sense, either, which made him really want to shake some sense into her. But shed been shaken up enough for one day, so he settled for a little subtle chastising. Now let me see if Ive got this straight. You decided to go off in your balloon to tour the ocean at the risk of harming your unborn child?

She hugged her knees to her chest and glared at him. For your information, ballooning is a very safe mode of transportation. Im more at risk driving on a Miami freeway. I would never do anything, anything, to hurt my baby. This was a fluke.

A bite of guilt nipped at Jack. He had no call to judge anyone when it came to taking risks. God knew he had taken more than his share, with much more devastating consequences.

He sent her a half smile, a feeble attempt at an apology. I suppose its a lot like sailing. Once its in the blood, you cant consider giving it up.

She glanced away but not before he caught a hint of sadness in her eyes. Actually, it was my last trip until after the babys birth. I was leaving a festival near Miami. Im not sure what happened. I think I might have passed out or something. The next thing I knew, I woke up out here, wherever here is.

Were about twenty miles off the coast near Key Largo. You couldnt get back to shore?

By the time I came to, the wind was unstable and I started losing altitude.

He supposed that made sense, as much sense as it could to a man who preferred water to air. Sometimes the elements couldnt be controlled. How well he knew that concept.

She gave him a sheepish smile, revealing a glimpse of white teeth and a dimple at the left corner of her lower lip. Pretty lucky I happened upon you, huh?

That remained to be seen, Jack decided. Did you hit the deck when you were trying to land?

Not exactly.

It sounded like you hit something.

More like grazed.

The deck?

She pointed upward. The mast thingy. I aimed for it on my descent. I wanted to make sure I got your attention.

It had definitely gotten his attention, then and now. And admittedly a smart thing for her to do, not that he cared for it much. No telling what kind of damage shed done, but at least she hadnt brought the mast down. At the moment he didnt dare examine the thingy, fearing what he might find. Right now he was barely hanging on to some semblance of calm. Right now he had to deal with another pressing matter.

Coming to his feet, he asked with a great deal of benevolence, Are you sure youre okay?

Im fine. Really. Promise.

Okay. Im going to go see where the balloon went. Ill be right back. You rest.

Her expression reflected gratitude. Thanks. Id appreciate that.

He decided not to tell her that his concern was for his boat, not her balloon. And he hoped like hell the damn thing had changed course.

But it hadnt. He realized that the moment he arrived at the rear platform. The massive fabric billowed portside; the basket was lodged on the end of the swim ladder.

Tethering himself to the platform railing, he lowered to his stomach and inched down until he could reach the rig. With the set of bolt cutters stored aft, he started to work. First he dislodged the gondola and began cutting away the cables attaching the balloon to the framework that housed the burner. He fought the currents pull, fought the sea spray jetting into his face. Fought his desperation and impatience. He continued practically blind but knew he was making progress when the fabric began pulling away.

Finally, the last cable snapped. His fingers ached, his eyes burned, but he supposed he should feel lucky that the rig hadnt made its way underneath the boat. That could mean certain disaster.

What are you doing?

He hadnt realized she was standing behind him. Right behind him. Without looking at her, he said, Ive freed your balloon. Gave it a nice burial at sea, he almost told her but thought better of it.

Why did you do that?

So it didnt get caught up in the prop.

Standing, he turned to face her and met the most melancholy expression hed ever seen on a womans face. He couldnt really blame her. Hed felt the same way when hed lost his last boat to a cutthroat competition coupled with a relentless storm. Hed lost more than that.

At least he had saved her. At least she was alive, unharmed, in charge of all her faculties.

Can you go get the envelopethe balloon itself? We could roll it up and store it on deck.

Obviously she was crazy. Certifiable. Not unless you expect me to swim for it.

She wrapped her arms around her middle as she visually followed the flattened balloon now barely perceptible on the horizon. Of course, thats a stupid thing to ask considering what youve done for me. But that balloon is my livelihood.

When this ordeal ended, hed buy her another balloon. Hell, he had enough money to buy her fifty balloons, not that he had any desire to tell her that. The less she knew about him, the better. Im sorry, but I had no choice.

She gave him a one-shoulder shrug and a surprisingly bright grin. Im sure it will all work out somehow. Ill think of something.

Great. A blond optimist, Jack thought. A tall, blond optimist, not without some fairly liberal curves that were more than obvious beneath her clinging clothing. Admittedly, she was pretty darned cute, even if she was a little scattered. Scattered and sexy. She was also shaking.

Turning his back on all that cuteness, he said, Follow me. Lets get you out of your clothes. Oh, hell. You can wear some of mine.

Without protest she complied, and once theyd made it into the main salon, he faced her again. Its a little warmer in here. That should help. Not Jack, though. He was already way too hot under the collar.

Thanks, she murmured. I owe you.

He considered one form of payment that would not be at all appropriate, or advisable. He had no use for women, cute or otherwise. Especially a woman who had interrupted his nice solitary life. A pregnant woman, no less. More than likely a married pregnant woman.

Something suddenly occurred to Jack, something he should have considered long before now. After you change, we can try to get a message to your husband.

She executed a prideful tip of her chin. That would be futile since I dont have one.

Boyfriend? Jack asked, more than slightly curious, regardless of his caution.

She shook her head. Nope.

Miraculous conception?

Strolling to the navy-and-red plaid sofa, she ran her fingers along the edge. If youre inquiring about the father of my child, hes not involved.

And it was really none of Jacks business. He sure as hell didnt want her in the middle of his. Okay. What about friends and family?

Actually, the members of my chase crew are probably wondering what happened to me when they saw me drift away.

Im sure they are. And Jack wondered what was happening to him. He couldnt stop looking at her now exposed earlobe, her nice full mouth, her long, slender limbsand imagining things he had no cause to imagine. For Gods sake, he didnt even know her name.

With that in mind, he stuck out his hand. Jackson Dunlap. I prefer Jack.

Her grin illuminated the dimly lit cabin as she took his hand. Elizabeth Matheson, and I prefer another name altogether. However, you may call me Lizzie.

Despite his need to remain detached, he couldnt suppress his own smile. Well, Lizzie, at least we have a few things settled.

Unfortunately, he felt very unsettled. As crazy as it seemed, the woman glowed, even when she wasnt smiling. Even soaking wet and shivering, she possessed a weird kind of aura that would make most men take immediate notice. He certainly had. He was still noticing.

He didnt have time to notice. He had to check out the mainsail and mast, and get the hell back to port.

Chalking up his disregard for his boat to months of celibacy, he simply said, Bathrooms in there, if you want to use it. He pointed to the starboard head.

Her gaze swept the room and her smile returned. Fantastic boat. Its probably bigger than my apartment. Who owns it?

I do.

Oh. So wheres the rest of the crew?

Long lost to the sea, Jack thought with the same old remorse. Its only me. I prefer it that way.

She continued to survey the area. Really? You handle this baby all by yourself? Im impressed.

So was he. Too impressed. With her. You go grab a shower, Ill go grab you some clothes. And he would do his best not to grab her for the few remaining hours they would spend together.

With a nervous twist of her hands and another luminous smile, she said, Okay, then walked toward the head while regarding him over one shoulder. You might want to bring me just a T-shirt since I doubt I could get into your shorts.

Hed be willing to let her try.

Jacks reaction to her innocent, offhand comment and the image it produced created a not-so-nonchalant response down south. Fine. A T-shirt it is. Take your time. Ill get things moving so we can head for land.

The quicker he got rid of her, the better, for the sake of his own sanity and his valued seclusion.

Jackson Carter Dunlap, hotel magnate and self-made millionaire, didnt like the thought of anyone disrupting the way of life he had come to know over the past twelve months. But damned if the woman whod fallen from the sky like some misguided Dorothy wasnt driving him to distraction. And it had taken her all of twelve minutes.

If Lizzie never tasted salt again, it would be too soon. At least the accommodations were first-rate, she thought as she sank farther into the garden tub, immersing herself in the warmth of fresh water.

The bathroom was much bigger than shed envisioned, but it made sense. A big bathroom for one big strappin guy with broad shoulders and large hands. Except he had narrow hips, something shed noticed immediately while walking behind him, shamelessly scrutinizing his butt.

She had also noticed his silver eyes because hed had them trained on her from the beginning. Rugged was the first thought that had come to mind when shed gotten a good look at him. His brown hair, sun-bleached on the ends, gave him a totally natural look. A good thing because shed never gone for the kind of guy who got his highlights from a bottle. Mr. Dunlap wasnt that kind at all. In fact, she couldnt imagine him sitting still for a dye job, or sitting still for very long, period. She really liked his face, his healthy-looking skin. Nice and tan. But before he ruined it, someone really ought to remind him of the dangers of prolonged UV exposure. Maybe she would. Maybe shed better not.

Although he could use a little cleanup, a shave and haircut, Lizzie got the definite impression that beneath Jack Dunlaps added fur there existed some interesting territory many a woman would like to explore. But not her. Of course, not her. Being the plain sort, not at all a bombshell blonde, she wasnt really any mans ideal, and for the most part shed been fine with that.

Oh, she had lots of men friends, but very few that had viewed her as a romantic prospect. Only one man, in fact. That relationship had happened a long time ago, without great success. Nothing tragic, no broken hearts. Just plain old apathy on the part of both parties. Recently she hadnt met one guy that shed cared to try on for size.

Not that Jack Dunlap hadnt jump-started a few of her fantasies. But her host was just a tad bit irritated by her presence even though he had been accommodating. Shed sensed that immediately after hed verified for himself she wasnt hurt. Thank the Lord she hadnt been hurt.

Resting her palm on her tummy, she smiled with relief. Well, little Hank, Mommy almost did a number on us this time. But I promise, from now on, Ill take good care of you. No more balloon flights until after youre born. Heck, if I ever get off this boat, I might never do anything more risky than jaywalk, as long as theres no oncoming traffic.

Considering she no longer had a balloon, that wouldnt be a problem. This meant she no longer had a balloon business, either. She couldnt afford to buy another even though she would receive some insurance money. But it wouldnt be enough to replace it, or to pay her crew and a pilot to take over for her until after the baby was born.

She only had limited savings left from her fathers life insurance, and that was for the baby. The rest she had used to keep the business going, the business her dad had always dreamed of owning. A dream he had never achieved.

Hank Matheson, her beloved father, had raised Lizzie by himself since the year shed turned fourthe same year her mother had died. Hed taught her how to fly. Hed taught her a lot, the most important being that life was what you made it. No matter how tough things got, silver linings did exist. Lizzie still believed that and probably always would, even if she didnt have a job at present.

She supposed she could go back to being Lizzie the Makeover Artist at the salon. Less stress than owning her own business. Less money, too.

Lizzie toyed with the necklace at her throat. The chain contained her two most prized possessionsher fathers St. Christopher medal and the heart he had given her mother on their first anniversary, four months before Lizzies birth. Her good-luck charms served as a reminder that everything would work out, as it always had. After all, shed survived losing her only family. She would survive this loss, too, because in the end, she wouldnt be alone. She would have her baby.

A grinding sound followed by a loud curse pulled Lizzie out of her musings. Obviously Ahab was in command of some colorful language, even a few compound words she hadnt heard except on cable-TV comedy shows.

Maybe she should just submerse herself underwater until he calmed down from whatever had him so irate. Maybe she was responsible for his rant.

The door flew open and the man with many curses entered the room. Heres your T-shirt. He tossed it onto the cabinet where shed laid out her clothes and underwear to dry.





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