Tempted by Her Innocent Kiss

By: Maya Banks


                                      One

                There came a time in a man’s life when he knew he was well and truly caught. Devon Carter stared down at the brilliant diamond solitaire ring nestled in velvet and acknowledged that this was one such time. He snapped the lid closed and shoved the box into the breast pocket of his suit.

                 He had two choices. He could marry Ashley Copeland and fulfill his goal of merging his company with Copeland Hotels, thus creating the largest, most exclusive line of resorts in the world, or he could refuse and lose it all.

                 Put in that light, there wasn’t much he could do except pop the question.

                 The doorman to his Manhattan high-rise hurried to open the door as Devon strode toward the street, where his driver waited. He took a deep breath before ducking into the car, and the driver pulled into traffic.

                 Tonight was the night. All of his careful wooing—the countless dinners, kisses that started brief and casual and became more breathless—was a lead-up to tonight. Tonight his seduction of Ashley Copeland would be complete, and then he’d ask her to marry him.

                 He shook his head as the absurdity of the situation hit him for the hundredth time. Personally he thought William Copeland was crazy for forcing his daughter down Devon’s throat. He’d tried everything to sway the older man from his aim to see his daughter married off…to Devon.

                 Ashley was a sweet enough girl, but Devon had no desire to marry anyone. Not yet. Maybe in five years. Then he’d select a wife, have two-point-five children and have it all.

                 William had other plans. From the moment Devon had approached him, William held a calculated gleam in his eye. He’d told Devon that Ashley had no head for business. She was too soft-hearted, too naive, too…everything to ever take an active role in the family business. He was convinced that any man who showed interest in her would only be seeking to ingratiate himself into the Copeland fold—and the fortune that went with her. William wanted her taken care of and for whatever reason, he thought Devon was the best choice.

                 And so he’d made Ashley part and parcel of the deal. The catch? Ashley wasn’t to learn of it. The old man might be willing to barter his daughter, but he damn sure didn’t want her to know about it. Which meant that Devon was stuck playing stupid games. He winced at the things he’d said, the patience he’d exerted in his courting of Ashley. He was a blunt, straightforward person, and this whole mess made him grit his teeth.

                 If she was part of the deal, he’d rather all parties know that from the outset so there would be no misunderstandings, no hurt feelings and no misconceptions.

                 Ashley was going to think this was a grand love match. She was a starry-eyed, soft-hearted woman who preferred to spend time with her animal rescue foundation over board meetings, charts and financials for Copeland Hotels.

                 If she ever found out the truth, she wasn’t going to take it well. And hell, he couldn’t blame her. Devon hated manipulation, and he’d be pissed if someone was doing to him what he was doing to her.

                 “Stupid old fool,” Devon muttered.

                 His driver pulled up to the apartment building that was home to the entire Copeland clan. William and his wife occupied a penthouse on the top floor, but Ashley had moved to a smaller apartment on a lower floor. Various other family members, from cousins to aunts and uncles, lived in all places in between.

                 The Copeland family was an anomaly to Devon. He’d been on his own since he was eighteen, and the only thing he remembered of his parents was the occasional reminder not to “screw up.”

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