I should have been having a blast instead of feeling as if I were facing the most important decision of my life. It was one of those rock and hard place decisions. Damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.
“I need a drink,” I mumbled.
“I’ll get you one, sweetie.” A pretty blond woman sitting on a leather couch across from me quickly jumped up to do just that.
Zach looked at me and smiled. “That was easy.”
It hadn’t exactly been what I meant. I needed a drink, but I didn’t expect her to fetch it for me. She was a guest. She returned a minute later with a margarita, the rim of the glass lined with salt. It wasn’t exactly the drink I had in mind, but it would do.
“Thank you,” I said, unable to remember her name.
She smiled. “Any time, Terran. If you need anything, you only have to ask.”
I smiled and nodded my head, ignoring the flirting. I wasn’t in the mood to flirt, which was out of character for me.
“Can you ladies give us a minute?” Zach asked.
The four women who had followed us downstairs quickly jumped up to leave us alone. We were relaxing in the mahogany sitting room below deck on my yacht. The sound of loud music coming from the top deck reminded me this was a party. As if I needed the thumping music as a reminder. Zach Bailey, my best friend in the world and the guest of honor at this little shindig on the Pacific Ocean, a few miles off the coast of Los Angeles, had been telling me to loosen up for the past hour.
“Dude, relax,” Zach said from his seat beside mine. “Get loose. This is my birthday party, and you’re killing the vibe.”
I shrugged. “I’m relaxed,” I lied. “I needed a minute out of the sun.”
“You’re not relaxed. You’re walking around as if you are personally responsible for holding up the world.”
I chuckled. “Sorry. I don’t want to be a downer. Let’s go up.”
We walked up the stairs to the top deck where the party was happening. I had spared no expense to give Zach a stellar party with excellent food catered by one of the top chefs in the city and a lot of alcohol. I heard a splash and knew someone had just hit the water. I had hired lifeguards as well, knowing alcohol and water could be a deadly combination.
“You need to do that,” Zach mumbled.
“Do what?” I asked, walking in front of him up the stairs.
“Jump into the water, shake off the worry,” he suggested.
I looked down at the swim shorts I was wearing. Bathing suits were the dress code for the party.
“I might,” I shot back.
He laughed. “I doubt that. You’d get that pretty little mop of hair all messed up.”
I self-consciously ran a hand through the shaggy black hair on my head that was currently free of hair products. When I was going to a formal business meeting, it was usually gelled back. On a normal day at the office, I kept it tamed, but today, it was free to fall around my face in somewhat of an old-school Johnny Depp way.
“Don’t let me hold you back,” I told my blond-haired, blue-eyed friend. Although celebrating his thirty-second birthday, he didn’t look a day older than twenty-five.
We hit the top deck where the alcohol was freely flowing, fueling the gyrating bodies on the makeshift dancefloor. I could hear more splashing and knew someone else had just used the slide. Everyone was having a good time.
“Happy birthday,” a lovely redhead said, kissing Zach on the mouth before running her hand across his bare chest and walking away.
He was grinning like a fool.
“Who was that?” I asked.
He shrugged a shoulder. “Not a clue.”
I laughed at the boldness of the woman. The amount of skin showing was alarming. I was sure some of the bathing suits the women were wearing were illegal in some countries. Dental floss would have covered more.
I sighed. That was the goal. Two things Zach loved most in the world were beautiful women and being on the water. It was a little hard to get the guy who had everything he wanted a meaningful birthday gift.
“I need a real drink,” I said.
“Good, I’m going to say hi to a couple people I do know,” Zach said before walking away.
I walked straight for the bar, asking for scotch, neat before turning and heading in the opposite direction of the festivities. I was usually the life of the party, but today, it just seemed like another day ticking away until I had to make a decision. I rested my arms on the railing and watched the waves roll in, thinking about my life.
It wasn’t long before Zach propped his elbows on the railing beside me. He was quiet for a while.
“Are you still upset about your dad’s will?” Zach asked.
I shrugged. “Not upset, a little stressed.”
He laughed. “I think that’s the same thing.”
I pushed back a chunk of my unruly black hair from my forehead and turned to look at him. “I stand to lose all this or get saddled with a ball and chain. It isn’t a decision I can make on a whim.”
He slowly nodded his head. “I understand. I wouldn’t expect you to. I think you need to decide what is more important to you.”
I groaned. “I don’t know. I like my life the way it is. A wife would just add a dose of drama. I don’t want a relationship. I don’t want the hassle of checking in with someone.”
“Or getting in trouble for cheating or having a wandering eye,” Zach added.
“Exactly. I like my freedom. I like the luxury of flirting with an attractive woman if I want to. I don’t want the proverbial ball and chain holding me back.”
He sighed. “Your yacht, your condo, the beach house, the cars? Aren’t all those things worth a ball and chain?”
I glared at him from behind my dark, thousand-dollar sunglasses. “I don’t know. That’s the problem.”
He laughed. “It’s a wife. It isn’t a death sentence.”
“You don’t want to be married any more than I do.”
Zach chuckled. “No, but my dad didn’t put a clause in his will demanding I be married by thirty-five or I would lose my inheritance. He probably knew I’d never be able to do that. It isn’t in the Bailey DNA. Baileys were meant to be bachelors, enjoying all the women the world has to offer.”
I groaned. “My dad was one of the guys who believed you mate for life. He never remarried after my mom died. He was never interested in another woman. When I was ten, I used to appreciate that. I didn’t want a stepmom. I never knew he would insist I be like him. I’m not built to have only one woman.”
“Me either. Are you sure you can’t persuade the attorney handling the will to ignore the clause?”
It was the same question I had asked myself several times. “I tried. He is one of my dad’s oldest friends. He won’t budge. I even offered to give him a chunk of the inheritance.”
“Shit,” Zach said, echoing my exact sentiments.
“I go back and forth between giving up the money and doing what he has demanded. I can’t seem to make up my mind.”
“It’s a lot of money to give up, but it isn’t like you’ll be a pauper,” he said. “You’ve made your own fortune.”
I nodded. “I know, but what if I put out one bad campaign? All it takes is one to lose your reputation in the industry. You know the ad world is cutthroat. I would like to have a backup plan in case I lose everything.”
“You’re not going to lose everything. You’re too damn smart for that. Relax.”
I shook my head. “Easier said than done.”
“Okay, so you have to make a decision within the next couple of months. Nothing changes today. Right now, you’re on your beautiful yacht filled with gorgeous women who would all love the chance to help you unwind. We’ll worry about all the other stuff tomorrow.”
“What if I can’t find a woman to marry me?” I asked, voicing one of my many fears.
Zach scoffed. “You know you are one of the hottest bachelors in the country. How you managed to get so damn tall is beyond me. Women are drawn to that whole tall, dark, and devasting thing, which I hate you for.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, because you’re really suffering from a lack of ladies interested in you.”
He laughed, knowing I was right. “Look, you know what you have to do. Hell, maybe your future wife is back there, waiting to meet you.”
I turned to face the opposite end of the yacht, my elbows resting on the railing behind me. I stared at the people milling about. I didn’t know most of them. I had put out an open invitation. My gift to Zach for his birthday was a party packed full of gorgeous women.
“Somehow, I don’t think my wife is one of these women.”
He shrugged a shoulder. “It’s the searching that will be the fun part.”
I looked around the yacht and the luxurious furnishings. If I didn’t find a woman to marry within the next six months, there was a good chance I wouldn’t be able to afford all this. Lenders loaned to me because they knew who I was and assumed I would inherit money upon my father’s death. They didn’t know the truth. If I didn’t get hitched, the inheritance would be divided up between several charities, and that would make the news. It wouldn’t be long before my very extended line of credit dried up.
“Maybe I could get a smaller boat and sell the condo,” I mused aloud.
Zach gasped in exaggerated horror. “You can’t sell the yacht!”
I shrugged a shoulder. “It’s kind of pretentious.”
“But it’s so awesome.”
“How often do I actually use it?”
“We’ll use it every weekend. Don’t you dare sell this thing until I’ve had a chance to talk you out of it.”
“Why don’t you buy a yacht?” I asked.
He shrugged a shoulder. “Because you have one.”
I laughed, shaking my head at his reasoning.
“I’m going to get another drink. Join me. Let’s have some fun.”
I shook my head. “I’ll be there in a second.”
He walked away, leaving me alone with my thoughts once again. I turned around to face the water and thought about what my life would look like at this time next year. I would either be here on my yacht with a wife or no yacht and no wife.
I heard Zach’s voice behind me. “Ladies, this is Terran Maddox. He could use some cheering up.”
I turned to see who he was with. Two beautiful women had their arms looped through either of his bent elbows.
I gave them each a cursory smile. A blonde and a brunette. I was naturally drawn to the blonde, but she had that empty look about her. Throwing my usual standards to the side, I looked at her and gave her my best charming smile.
“Good afternoon, ladies.”
The blonde, realizing I had picked her, stepped forward and came to stand directly in front of me. She was wearing nothing but a tiny bright blue bikini that showed off every curve and what I decided was a surgically enhanced set of breasts. She wasn’t my future wife, but she would be fun to pass the day with. She grabbed my hand and led me toward the party. As I passed Zach and his lady friend, he grinned and winked.
I would worry about my situation tomorrow. Today, I intended on having some fun and enjoying the last days of either my freedom or financial security.
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