Compromised in Paradise Excerpt
Copyright © 2017 by Samanthe Beck. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Shoulders. Arden St. Sebastian’s attention skidded to a halt on a cliff of masculine shoulders in a casual white shirt. And because the owner of those shoulders occupied a table on the other side of the hotel bar, with his back to her, she did what any straight woman with an active imagination and an under-indulged sex drive would do upon encountering such a stunning monument of male beauty. She envisioned stripping the shirt off, smoothing her hands along the rangy expanse, and then sinking her teeth into the bundle of muscle at the top of his arm.
The bitable shoulders shared the table with an older couple, but they were deep in conversation, which left her free to drool without apology and appreciate the glimpse of tanned skin between the collar of his shirt and the sun-burnished brown hair that curled a little at the ends like he’d missed a trim.
The woman at the table moved—lifted her hand to touch the double strand of pearls around her throat—and Arden realized the woman had caught her looking. Oops.
She forced her gaze away, but after a few seconds of exile it wandered back. Part of her hoped the target of her attention would sense her stare and turn around, so she could see his face.
The ping of an incoming text shattered her hormone-fueled fantasy. What now?
Excellent news. The Templetons confirmed their nephew is available Saturday night.
Arden blinked at the text from her father, then downed the rest of her Maui mimosa and signaled the bartender for another. How many would it take before finding herself roped into going on a blind date with the nephew of her father’s business associates sounded like excellent news?
More than she could consume without risking an epic hangover. Even so, she gratefully accepted a second glass from the bartender, and justified it as the vacation part of her “working vacation.”
Two months into his retirement as chairman and CEO of St. Sebastian Enterprises, and her father was officially driving her nuts. He’d needed a new project to focus on after handing the helm of the business to her older brother, Rafe, and by God, he’d found one.
In addition to second-guessing every decision she made as the director of guest experience for St. Sebastian Luxury Resorts, he’d now taken it upon himself to oversee her personal life. It had to stop.
She typed her reply with a bit more force than the touch screen required.
I don’t need my father arranging my dates.
No? Things worked out so well with the last gentleman you selected? Hold. I have a call.
Ugh. She could practically hear his trademark French sarcasm dripping from his words. She tossed her phone on the glossy black bar she intended to replace with something more imaginative as part of an overall facelift for the resort. The frustration in the gesture caught the bartender’s attention. She mustered up a smile for him and considered upgrading her drink to a double.
One little blackmail incident involving a guy she’d briefly dated a few months ago, and suddenly she wasn’t qualified to manage her own affairs? Thankfully the authorities back home in California had figured out who was behind the scheme and shut him down. She didn’t even know how her father had found out about the whole humiliating mess. God knew she’d done her best to keep it off everyone’s radar—and thought she’d succeeded—but apparently retirement hadn’t impeded Renault’s uncanny access to information. Hopefully, he’d kept it to himself, because the last thing she needed was Rafe or her mother swooping in to berate her for unwittingly dating a criminal, smother her with misplaced concern, annoy her with attempts to take over her life on the mistaken assumption she couldn’t run it properly, or some aggravating combination of all of the above.
The muscles around her left eye began to twitch in what she was learning to recognize as the warning sign of a tension headache. And that was just plain wrong. As a rule, she didn’t get uptight. She had it good, and she knew it, but thanks to the perfect storm of stressors in her life lately, she’d fallen into an unhealthy state of all work and no play. One she hoped to end during this week in Maui. She’d counted on this getaway to recapture her Zen. Unfortunately, it seemed seven thousand miles wasn’t quite far enough to outrun stress.
She needed a distraction. Even as the thought crossed her mind, she turned to search out the shoulders. The ping of a new text sounded, and although she told herself to ignore the interruption, her eyes strayed to her phone. Renault was back.
Your brother found someone who makes him happy AND strengthens our business. I see no reason you can’t do the same.
Naturally. Because taking St. Sebastian out of the equation would never happen. Her father clearly assumed as much, which is why she was going to end up sacrificing a Saturday night to go on a blind date with the hard-up nephew of the people who’d sold him this hotel. God forbid she choose to be with someone who didn’t offer some business advantage. But it was the flip side of Renault’s assumption that really worried her. God forbid someone want to be with her simply for her.
St. Sebastian paid the Templetons a good price for the resort. How did I become part of the deal?
A whooshing sound swept the uncharacteristically nasty retort off to Renault, but it left little prickles of guilt in its wake. Jaded as he was, her father loved her. He simply drew no distinction between business and family. They were one and the same, in his mind, and he’d spent the better part of his life wheeling, dealing, and strategizing to maintain St. Sebastian’s status as the destination of choice for travelers seeking world-class accommodations in the most desirable locations.
Yes, I spent millions purchasing a hotel simply to secure you a dinner date. Please be on time.
An eye roll would be wasted since her father couldn’t see her. Instead she wadded up her cocktail napkin and used it as an impromptu stress ball. Not effective.
Name? Time? Location? She hit send and then leaned across the bar and snagged another cocktail napkin from the small stack. Well, two, as it happened, because the little buggers stuck together. She pulled the closest one toward her, dug a pen out of the purse she’d slung over the back of her barstool, and scribbled some notes to herself about furniture layout and lighting for the lounge.
Her father texted the date details—Nicholas Bancroft, in the hotel lounge, at 7:00 p.m.—and signed off by informing her he hoped to conclude his business in New York by midweek and expected to meet with her in Maui before she left. He looked forward to reviewing in detail her proposed changes to their newest resort.
In detail? Oh, joy. She lifted her pen and looked at the ideas she’d jotted down as a new knot of anxiety formed in her stomach.
She could justify color schemes, explain the importance of layering textures or the value of offering locally sourced amenities. Psychology and economics shaped her decisions—her job actually wasn’t a big, arbitrary shopping spree, regardless of what people thought. But just now, pondering what the next few days had in store for her put a lead-weighted ache behind her twitching eye. Shit. How had her peaceful week in Maui devolved into a St. Sebastian off-site?
The notes on the cocktail napkin mocked her. She closed her eyes and rubbed the left one with the heel of her hand. A date? She didn’t need a date. She needed an escape. A sweaty, stress-relieving night of orgasms with absolutely no questions asked except which positions she preferred to receive them in. Hookups weren’t her usual MO, for a lot of reasons, but sweet baby Jesus…she needed to get laid.
The scrape of chair legs over polished marble told her someone had claimed a seat at the bar. She opened her eyes as the bartender headed over. His friendly Native Islander face broke into a smile, and he extended his hand to greet the customer.
Manners prevented her from turning to blatantly check out the newcomer, but she watched from the corner of her eye as he reached over the bar to shake hands. Oh…that hand. So damn masculine. Wide palm, long fingers, the strong angle of his thumb. She had a weakness for big hands, and the sight of this one caused her mouth to go dry. How would it feel to have it slide under the skirt of her sundress, unhook her crossed knees, and slowly part her thighs until they were open and vulnerable to his touch? Her pen fell from her limp fingers with a barely discernible clatter.
“Good to see you, man. Another drink?”
A single completely innocent word, but the low voice swept over her like velvet. Nerve endings in sensitive places woke up and said hello. Screw manners. Nothing short of the second coming could have stopped her from turning her head to get a better look at the source of the tingles.
Hello indeed. The man she’d spotted earlier at the table stared back at her. A quick look over her shoulder told her the older couple he’d been with had left. It was just him now, and he was even more captivating head-on than he’d been from the back. She zoomed in on his mouth, because a capable mouth was just as important as good hands.
His looked more than capable. Wide, expressive lips curled at one side in the faintest of grins, all the more subtle thanks to a shadow of stubble covering his jaw. He had sexy grooves on either side of his mouth, all the more sexy thanks to high cheekbones and a square chin. Straight dark brows framed eyes as clear and potent as top-shelf whiskey.
Holy vacation fuck. This man was a living, breathing answer to her prayers. The rest of the room receded into shadows until he seemed to stand before her bathed in some kind of celestial glow. The high notes of an angel’s chorus sounded in her ears. Amen. Hallelujah.
His eyes crinkled at the corners. The grin curved into a smile that took the bottom right out of her stomach. And then his brows lifted in a silent, but unmistakable invitation.