Masculine laughter floated from the direction of the kitchen. Hearing the voice of Ted Flynn, the husband of her best friend, was no surprise. But the other male…Asher Hollister.… She’d know that laugh anywhere though she hadn’t seen him since the annual Flynn New Year’s Eve party six months ago. Asher’s laughter was rich and husky and rolled over the listener like a sensual fog. Ariadne stiffened and froze in the process of entering the beach house, the sliding glass door open only a few inches. What the hell was he doing here? She whipped around to glare at her best friend Erika Flynn. Crossing her arms over her chest, she said, “You promised me he wasn’t coming this year.”
Erika winced. “Ted invited him, but he turned down the invitation. He must have changed his mind.”
Ariadne sighed. She wondered if she could sneak up to her room, pack her bags and leave without him noticing. This was supposed to be a much needed vacation for her. The last thing she needed was to have to deal with the animosity that existed between her and Asher. She’d intended to stay for two weeks. She doubted the two of them would last that long before weapons were drawn.
That they would cross swords was inevitable with only the four of them inhabiting the house. She avoided him when possible, but that was difficult since they often traveled in the same circles. Sometimes she felt like she lived in a soap opera town inhabited by a limited number of citizens. But the funny thing was that Asher seemed capable of getting along with everyone with the exception of her. Everybody loved him. Especially women. For some unknown reason, he had been an ass to her since high school.
“Might as well get it over with,” Erika said, laying a comforting hand on her arm.
Ariadne glanced down at herself. The two of them had been lying around on the beach while Ted went out to grab dinner. The purple one piece she wore was dry. Only a small amount of sand clung to her legs and ankles.
She opened the door the rest of the way and the two of them skirted the dining table and entered the den. It was a large open area separated from the kitchen by a curved bar. Ted leaned against the kitchen counter, bags of takeout behind him. His long legs were stretched out in front of him. His shaved head and goatee gave him a tough guy look though he was one of the nicest guys she’d ever met. Asher sat on a barstool facing him. The two men had been friends since elementary school. The same could be said for her and Erika. Prior to Erika marrying Ted two years ago, her run-ins with Asher had been minimal. After the marriage of their best friends, she really had to work to avoid the odious man. Whether he was avoiding her or not, she wasn’t certain. He seemed to relish their encounters. It was just another reason to hate him. She liked her life on a calm even keel. Some might calling it boring, but she’d choose ennui over calamity any given day.
Asher grinned at the sight of them. His lips tipped up on the left first before spreading to the other side. It was a slow, calculated move. His pale green eyes lit up in wicked delight. Ariadne’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. She just knew he was thinking of some cruel taunt as his gaze flicked over her from top to bottom. “Well, if it isn’t my sweet belle and Miss Prim and Proper.” She didn’t have to guess which one she was.
Erika rushed forward and received a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Ash, it’s good to see you.”
Ariadne hugged her beach bag to her chest. “Ash,” she said with a nod. It was as much of an acknowledgement as he was going to get out of her.
“Ari,” he murmured, knowing she’d never given him permission to use that abbreviation of her name. Only friends and family called her Ari. He was neither. “You look supremely overdressed for the occasion.”
Her swimsuit was conservative. It was true. It had a modest scoop neck and rose up high to cover her back. There was even a ruffle skirt that hid the tops of her rounded thighs. Erika had commented that it would have been better suited to a five year old. That was different. Erika was a friend. She was allowed to criticize her wardrobe. Bristling, she replied, “I shopped for a string bikini but the stores sold out to your cadre of busty girlfriends.”
He arched a dark brow before bursting out in laughter. “Well, you do have the impressive upper endowments I so adore.”
That was another habit of his that she hated. Her insults never seemed to hit their mark. He always laughed it off. It didn’t help that he had the sexiest laugh known to man. The man was infuriating. Ariadne growled. “You-”
“Come on, guys,” Ted interrupted. “Don’t get started. Erika and I don’t want to spend two weeks listening to you bicker. Ash, you promised to be on your best behavior.”
“What?” He lifted his arms and shrugged. “That was a compliment.”