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Authors: Maggie Marr

Tags: #FIC027020 FICTION / Romance / Contemporary; FIC044000 FICTION / Contemporary Women

Last Call for Love (2 page)

BOOK: Last Call for Love
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Ryan tapped the pedometer on his wrist and checked the time. Just enough to finish setup and get to Antigua’s office. Better to be a bit early than late.

A few minutes later Charla set the tray on the end of the bar. “They’re good right now. Reading, sunning, and snoozing in the lap of luxury.” She returned to cutting the fruit needed for morning drinks. “So what’s your story?”

“Me?” Ryan pressed his hand to his chest.

“Well, aside from the duo in the sun, it’s only us for probably another fifteen minutes or so. There was a late-night party in the disco last night. I’m guessing we won’t see many guests until after eleven.”

“Right, the Angels and Devils party.”

“Did you work it? Management relies more on staff veterans for that sort of event.”

“No, no, no.” Ryan shook his head. “Didn’t work it.” He needed to be more careful about what he said and how he said it.

“Are you American?” Charla asked. “Your accent kind of gives it away.”

“As does yours,” he said, and deflected the conversation back to Charla. “What part? I’m guessing maybe …”  Ryan tapped his fingertip against his lips. She was very good-looking, with that southern California sort of blonde hair and surfer look, but Charla seemed a bit too down-to-earth for a SoCal girl, plus she was always on time for her shifts and sometimes ridiculously early. “The Midwest? Indiana? Illinois?”

Charla’s gaze jolted away from the pineapple she was cutting. “How did you know that?”

“Good guess,” Ryan said. “I’ve spent a lot of time all around the U.S., and you strike me as a Midwestern-type girl. Although I’m guessing that most people say San Diego.”

“Bingo.” Charla smiled and nodded. “Central Illinois but got to Mesquale by way of San Diego. You’re good at this.” That lovely smile again.

A tingle flashed through him, a tiny jolt he’d not felt in close to eighteen months. How strange. There were hundreds of beautiful women at Mesquale at any given time, and yet he’d not felt any kind of attraction to a woman since—

“Now it’s your turn. Where in America are you from?”

“You’ll have to hold that thought.” Ryan backed out from behind the bar, thankful Antigua had requested a meeting. “I don’t want to be late for Mr. Antigua.”

“No, you definitely don’t want to be late for a meeting like that.”

 

Chapter 2

 

Charla hustled through the growing crowd toward the beach lounger just at the edge of the water. The Angels and Devils party must have been a hit, because guests arrived to the beach much later than the norm. Two more bartenders had started their shifts, but she hadn’t yet seen Ryan return from his meeting with Mr. Antigua. Geez, hopefully he didn’t get fired. She’d worked with him at the poolside bar most of last week. He seemed like a good guy. Spectacularly cute, although a bit dodgy about his past. Not a surprise really. It seemed nearly every staff member at Mesquale came to escape something. Whether it was their past, their families, their heartbreak.

She stopped next to a man who lounged in a pair of board shorts and a lightweight hoodie. With bright blue eyes and scruffy blond hair, he looked as though he’d just stepped out of an Abercrombie ad by way of J. Crew. Must be daddy’s money that he was surfing on at Mesquale, because he definitely didn’t have the dough to be here on his own. How could anyone who looked this young have enough money for this resort?

“Hey, doll.” He tilted his sunglasses. His gaze traveled the length of her body.

A cool shiver crept up her spine. She swallowed the sharp and unkind words she wanted to say. She remembered this guest. He’d done the same thing with his eyes yesterday. Most of the guests at Mesquale, while wealthy and high-maintenance, were at their best respectful of the staff and at their worst dismissive. Then there were men like this guy. The men who eyed her as though she were an a la carte item Mesquale offered.

“I saw
you
yesterday.” His gaze latched on to her breasts. “I remember.”

Breathe. Breathe and smile. Charla settled a napkin onto the table beside the lounger. Her memory served her just as well. This fellow had run up a monstrous tab, run her around from bar and back most of the day, and left her not a smidge of tip. All while staring at her breasts and trying to touch her ass.

“May I get you something, sir?”

He wiggled his eyebrows. “What did you have in mind?”

Definitely not what you’re thinking.
“Perhaps a mojito? A Bloody Mary?” Yesterday he’d begun by drinking Patrón at ten a.m. and hadn’t stopped until he left well after dark.

“You’re Carla, right?” He seemed quite pleased that he’d remembered her name.

“Charla, sir.”

“Yes, Charla.” His eyes continued to roam her body. The day before he’d used his hands in the most inappropriate of ways to try to cop a feel. He’d dropped napkins and peered down her sarong while she bent over to get them. He’d asked her to pick up his sandals so that he could stare at her ass. He’d even been brazen enough to request she put suntan lotion on his shoulders and back. Which she’d boldly refused. Just now, his gaze was locked on her breasts while she stood beside him, tray in hand, trying not to hit him over the head with it and stomp off, job be damned.  

“Let’s start with a mai tai this morning.” He held out the drink menu. “I’m feeling like something a bit sweet.” Again leered her breasts, then her belly, and finally her thighs. “You’re sweet, Carla, are you not?”

She took the menu from his hand, and he grasped her fingers. “So very sweet,” he said.

Charla pulled her hand away from the guest. While other women at Mesquale might enjoy and even encourage this type of attention, she didn’t. But she did need her job. Her teeth ground tight, and she forced a smile to her lips.

“If you’re looking for something sweet, sir, perhaps some fresh fruit or a muffin?” Her stomach jolted as the words came from her mouth … a
muffin
? Had she just offered this letch a muffin? A term laced with sexual innuendo.

“A
muffin
, Carla? Oh yes, I do indeed think that I might enjoy
your muffin
.”

Charla pressed her lips together. Heat flushed up her chest and throat. Her stomach pitched forward. “Excellent, sir. I’ll bring both.” She would not let on that she realized what a gaffe she’d made. For a second day, she would ignore his inappropriate behavior. She turned toward the bar.

“Call me Josh,” he yelled after her. She turned, and his gaze was locked firmly on her ass.

“Thank you, sir. Back in just a moment with your mai tai and your—” she couldn’t say it, simply wouldn’t say it, “—breakfast item.” 

She could hear him snickering all the way back to the bar.

 

*

 

Ryan walked to the window in Antigua’s office and looked out toward the ocean. Below, on the beach, Charla carried a tray filled with drinks toward two couples in a cabana. “Have you managed to take care of the challenges that I alerted you to in maintenance?”

“I have.”

“And housekeeping? The entire staff is to get a raise. I was clear on that when we discussed the changes to that department.”

“Yes, sir, very clear.” Antoine paused. “Mr. Murphy, how long do you intend to keep up this …”

Ryan turned toward Antoine, his director of operations at Mesquale. The man was all old-world sophistication and charm, and Ryan watched as he searched for the correct word, the word that would not offend the new owner of Mesquale and yet convey the accurate assessment of what exactly Ryan was attempting to do.

“Your
research,
sir. On Mesquale.”

Ryan smiled. Antoine was so very diplomatic. And patient and loyal and knowledgeable. Antoine Antigua was one of the primary reasons why Ryan had purchased Mesquale. Well, that and grief and the desire to flee America and every memory he had of Paloma and their fairytale life together. He clasped his hands behind his back and turned back toward the brilliant-blue view of the sky and the ocean and the waves and the miles and miles of shoreline he now owned.

Paradise.

There could be no paradise without Paloma. But there had to be something in Ryan’s life. This, Mesquale, was to be Ryan’s something. His silly and sad attempt to forget he’d been engaged to the woman of his dreams, to forget that she’d carried their child in her goddess-like body, to forget that one rainstorm and a horribly slick street had destroyed his entire future.

There could be no paradise. No love. But there could be work. Work had always been Ryan’s refuge, and while he could no longer stand to be a part of Metro Media, the company he’d built while Paloma was in his life, he could turn his back to all that was in his past and try here. Try to find a reason to live.

“My research is meant to help me understand Mesquale.” Ryan glanced over his shoulder at Antoine. “In my attempt to make certain that Mesquale is the finest resort in the world.”

“Yes, sir, of course. But as you know, Mesquale’s service and staff has always been known as top notch. Impeccable, really.”

“Yes,” Ryan said. “However, as with any business, any system, there are unknown weaknesses. Those weaknesses are often only experienced by workers and accessible to those who deal with the weaknesses each day. Were you aware of the problems maintenance was having with the part supplier out of Hong Kong?”

“No, sir.”

“Most likely because of the head of maintenance’s alcohol problem. Now, we’ve seen to his recovery, and once he finishes rehab, he’ll come back to a job. Plus we’ve found a new supplier. Thus, a problem that was unknown to management, but very real to staff, has been fixed. Freeing up staff to utilize their time and talents with regards to their job and not having to develop constant workarounds for problems they shouldn’t have.”

“I do understand, and I do appreciate what you’re doing, but what about employee trust?”

Ryan’s brow crinkled. “Trust?” He turned away from the million-dollar view and back toward Antoine. He walked toward the couch in the center of the office and waved his hand, inviting Antoine to sit with him. “Please, what do you mean?”

“For your maintenance position and your housekeeping position, you utilized elaborate makeup and hair, but with this position, in the food and beverage section, you aren’t using any kind of disguise.”

Ryan nodded.

“Am I to assume this will be your final non-managerial position? I mean, sir, you are a person of note—”

“Of note?” Ryan shook his head, and his lips pulled tight. “Of what note am I? I worked in media, and now I own a hotel—”

“—and are one of the wealthiest single men in the world.”

Ryan leaned back into the cushions of the couch.

“Perhaps you’re unaware, but there is public interest in you and in your life.” Antoine leaned forward. “Just last week I witnessed two of our paralegals giggling over an article about you in one of those very unseemly magazines.”

Ryan’s heartbeat picked up speed. Seriously? What could he learn about the staff at Mesquale if he was outed as Ryan Murphy? The jig would be up.

“My concern is that the staff will see your research as spying and therefore not trust you. You’ll lose your credibility in their eyes.” Antoine dipped his chin and tilted his head. “While your intention is to create the best workplace for your employees, such activities could be seen as, perhaps, deceitful, which could in turn make the transition to your permanent leadership role more challenging.”

Ryan steepled his fingertips. “Excellent thoughts. Things that hadn’t crossed my mind.” He sat back. His floral shirt, the uniform that all the outdoor bartenders wore, would most definitely be one of his changes. “My intentions are pure, and I assumed my employees would understand. I forget sometimes, because of my position, those who work for me might not view my actions in the same way.”

“Correct, sir.”

“I’ve been sneaking around Mesquale for close to nine months. I intend to make my presence known. Soon. Perhaps I should have taken this final position in beverage and food in costume as well.” His gaze flicked around Antoine’s office. “It’s too late now. No going back. I’ll continue down this path for a while. Get a sense of the problem I’m trying to assess.” Ryan stood. “Our usual meeting tonight then?”

“Of course.”

Ryan walked toward the door. He stopped and turned back. “Anything concrete about the head of operations in food and beverage?”

“I’m watching, but so far everything is unsubstantiated. We haven’t found anyone willing to confirm the rumors.”

Ryan nodded. He’d discovered a similar situation in maintenance. The previous owners of Mesquale, a giant conglomerate out of China, had been big on retribution. A completely different vibe than what Ryan wanted to cultivate at Mesquale. Employee fear of management retribution was the very reason the director of maintenance had been able to fall into a drunken stupor and slough off his job. His employees had protected him, fearing they would lose their jobs should they mention to management what was going on with their immediate supervisor.

“I’m watching too. I want to discover if what we’ve heard is actually true. I’ll keep you informed.” Ryan reached for the door. He paused and plucked at the cotton fabric with pictures of birds of paradise decorating his button-down uniform shirt. “Let’s do something about these uniforms. Please contact Natalie in branding. I’m thinking the Mesquale yellow with the bruin blue insignia. White shorts. Navy-blue dock shoes.”

“A welcome change. I loathe those uniforms.”

“Yeah, and you don’t have to wear one.” Ryan opened the door and slipped out of the office. Shedding his boss demeanor, he walked down the hall and left the administrative offices.

When he entered The Banana Boat Bar, Charla’s head turned toward him and her magnetic smile greeted him.

Desire pulsed through him. Wow. That tingle of awareness because of a woman hadn’t hit him in nearly eighteen months. Not since … not since Paloma. A strange ache chased after the thrill of finding Charla attractive, of responding to her smile, of the pleasure he felt seeing her. The muscles in his lower back tensed. How odd. Of course his awareness of women, of their beauty, was bound to return, but the feeling of desire had been absent from his life for so long.

BOOK: Last Call for Love
5.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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