Authors: Maggie Marr
Tags: #FIC027020 FICTION / Romance / Contemporary; FIC044000 FICTION / Contemporary Women
He tore his gaze from Charla’s full lips. A question laced with worry hovered in her eyes. Of course. He’d spent nearly an hour away from the bar and with a man who Charla assumed was not only her “big boss” but also Ryan’s. He gave her the thumbs up, tossed her a smile, and the worry dropped from her eyes. She took her full tray back out toward the sand and Ryan grabbed a chit that had popped up with drink orders. His gaze trailed after Charla. She was sweet and beautiful and kind and generous and smart. In a different life, perhaps, maybe a different time, she might be a girl he’d be interested in pursuing. His body responded to her. The curve of her waist, her full breasts, her rounded hips. The way she pulled strands of hair from her face. She was an outdoor beauty. A woman so different than … completely different than the dark and exotic beauty of Paloma.
He ducked his head, grasped the bottle of Jameson, and poured shots of whiskey. His heart wouldn’t ever overcome his love for Paloma. There would be no other woman in his life.
Pain sliced his chest. He took a long, deep breath and quickly poured jiggers of dark rum into each glass. Paloma had loved rum. They’d drunk much rum together under a moonlit sky, on the sand, with the ocean whispering about their toes. Their life, one filled with travel and exotic locales and slow dancing, had fulfilled his every desire.
Until she was gone.
“Yo, mate, get those drinks up. First you’re gone for an hour, and now you’re daydreamin’? You won’t be workin’ The Banana Boat again if you can’t snap to. Look lively.”
A giant smile greeted Ryan as he glanced over at Liam, an Aussie who’d worked The Banana Boat at Mesquale for the last fifteen years. His surfer looks combined with his charm made him the perfect fit for Mesquale’s most laid-back bar. Liam’s nonchalance didn’t fool Ryan. He was familiar with Liam’s employee folder. A hard worker with a type-A personality, Liam had been offered many promotions into management, which he’d declined to remain behind the bar and maintain his six-months-on, six-months-off lifestyle so that half the year he could chase waves around the world.
“Sorry.” Ryan cranked out the drinks as though on an assembly line, suddenly very thankful for the bartending jobs that had gotten him through both college and then business school.
“Okay,” Charla set her silver tray onto the bar. “I need another bottle of Patrón.”
“Another?” Liam cocked an eyebrow. “This the same fella gave you trouble yesterday?” He poured a glass of chardonnay and set the bottle back into the wine cooler behind the bar.
“Causing me trouble again today.”
Ryan put up two daiquiris for one of the servers and stepped closer to Liam. He pressed his hands across the towel that hung from his pants. “What kind of trouble?”
Charla rolled her eyes toward the ceiling.
“The handsy kind of trouble.” Liam turned toward the bar. He settled his hands on his hips and searched the tequilas above the bar.
“More like the well-off, entitled kind,” Charla said.
Liam grabbed a bottle of Patrón. “Does he want ice and a glass for his bottle service? Mixers?”
“Just a straw. This is his
“Of Patrón? In one day?” Ryan asked.
Charla nodded. “He’s a guest of Mesquale, and what the guest wants—” Charla started.
“—the guest gets.” Liam finished her sentence and placed the bottle, a silver bucket of ice, and a crystal rocks glass onto her tray. “Good luck, my dear. You managed him yesterday. I’m certain you can do it again.”
Ryan stood beside Liam and watched Charla walk toward the sand. “Who is this guy? What’d he do yesterday?”
“He tried to grab every bit of her, ran up a giant bill, kept her running for twelve hours, and left her no tip.”
“Not a stitch. Not that it makes the behavior okay, but the whole no-tip thing just adds salt to the wound.” Liam crossed his arms over his chest. “He’s a complete douche. Josh Hughes, some bigwig media guy out of—”
“Los Angeles.” Ryan ended Liam’s sentence.
“Hey, right, I forgot you were from L.A. You two been hanging together in Bel Air? Polo Club and all?” Liam’s smile hooked upward, and he grabbed a chit for another order of drinks. He was being facetious and making a joke, but actually Liam wasn’t that far off. Ryan did know Josh Hughes. Ryan had closed two business deals with Josh while Ryan owned Metro Media.
How had he failed to think this through? Someone who knew him from business or school or any one of the elite places he’d spent the last ten years of his life could walk into Mesquale at any time and recognize him.
This, the front of the house, was where he needed a disguise most of all. Not in the bowels of the buildings looking at pipes and wiring. Not even in the guest rooms when the guests were away and he’d scrubbed away their filth, or in the laundry where he’d washed thousands of sheets and folded hundreds of towels. No. Maintenance and housekeeping were not the places where he’d needed a wig and glasses and a beard. He needed them here. Now.
Ryan scanned the room. There could be a former business associate in here. Antoine was right. How long before the staff realized that he, Ryan, was the new owner of Mesquale and that he’d been pretending to be an employee for nearly nine months?
“Get your hands off me!” The shriek from across the bar at the edge of the beach jerked Ryan back from his thoughts.
“Think we’ve got a problem.” Before Liam could get more words out of his mouth, Ryan was over the bar, past the wooden floor, and onto the sand. He hustled across the beach to where Charla stood with her arms across her chest, her tray on the sand, a spilled bottle of Patrón at her feet, and a handprint on Josh Hughes’s cheek.
“This bitch hit me!” Josh’s words were slurred and his stance sloppy. He bent forward and wobbled. “I want her ass fired.” He swung his hand toward her with his finger pointed. “I want that bitch fired.”
Ryan moved closer. He placed his body between Josh and Charla, and fought the urge to coldcock the bastard. “Sir, you’ve had too much to drink. Do you need help to your room?”
“I don’t need your help.”
Ryan glanced around where people now eyed the scene unfolding in front of them.
Tried to cop a feel.
Server slapped the guest.
Bad. Very bad.
“Who the fuck are you? Get away from me. You touch me and I’ll have your ass fired too. What kind of place has Mesquale become? Do you hear me? She struck me. This little whore with a tray hit me! She needs to be fired now.”
“I want to see the guy in charge.”
Ryan had tried to be calm, patient, and diplomatic, but sometimes there was no other choice but to be strong. “You’re drunk and you’re belligerent, and I suggest you go to your room.”
“Fuck you!” Josh bellowed. He lowered his head and ran toward Ryan. While young and athletic, he was also unstable and drunk. Ryan took one step to the side, grasped Josh’s arms, whipped him around and pulled him up.
Charla shrieked again and covered her mouth. Liam was now beside her.
“Well done,” Liam said. “You seem to have this covered.”
Ryan pinned both Josh’s arms behind Josh’s back. Charla was frozen, and Mesquale security hustled across the sand toward them. Josh tried to jerk his arms from Ryan’s grasp but finally gave up.
Ryan lowered his voice and kept his mouth close to Josh’s ear. “Listen, asshole, you ever try to touch any female employee of Mesquale again and I’ll have you gutted like a fresh fish. Are we clear?”
“What the fuck?” Josh jerked his head around in an attempt to see who held him. “Do I fucking know you?”
Security grabbed Josh’s arms and took him from Ryan. Josh turned and leaned forward.
“Oh my fucking God, I
know you!” he yelled. Security placed zip ties on his wrists. “I fucking know you! You’re Ryan Murphy!”
“And you’re drunk.” Heat boiled through Ryan’s cheeks. He walked back toward the bar. He kept his eyes fixed forward to avoid Charla’s gaze.
Aside from a small group of administrators, Internet service wasn’t allowed to anyone at Mesquale. No cell phones. There were landlines for the staff to use within each staff dorm room. The lack of cell service and Internet only added to the allure for Mesquale’s high-end and celebrity guests. Mesquale guests never need worry that pictures of them dancing the night away clad only in lingerie at the infamous Angels and Devils party would surface at the next board of directors meeting. Mesquale was private and discreet, and their wealthy guests paid handsomely for the privacy and discretion.
The staff paid as well by giving up Internet and mainland life. They were required to sign on for six-month contracts and got a higher rate of pay if they agreed to a full year. A year included four weeks’ paid vacation, sick days, health insurance, a place to live, and two days a week off from staff requirements.
Nine months before, when Charla left San Diego, she’d been ready to sign up at Mesquale for multiple years. Leaving behind Bertram and his horrid family and what they’d done to her wasn’t much of a sacrifice.
“What do you mean the drunk bloke yelled that the bartender was Ryan Murphy?” Poppy, Charla’s roommate, asked. She sat on the bed in their shared room with a bottle of coral nail polish open on the bedside table. She was mid-stroke on her big toe.
“I mean just that. The asshole with the grabby hands said I know you, you’re Ryan Murphy, as security was hauling him away.”
“And this occurred after his second bottle of Patrón?” Poppy turned back to her big toe and stroked on the polish.
“Before. I’d just delivered it when he—” Charla stopped speaking. She couldn’t even say it, didn’t want to relive what that horrible man had done. A shiver shot through her body. She’d come back from her shift and nearly scalded herself with hot water, trying to feel clean. She wanted to scrub away the memory of his grubby hands grasping her breast and groping her ass before she’d slapped his face.
“Oh, doll. I’m sorry. You know some of them are just built badly and do the worst things.” Poppy finished up her pinkie toe and then screwed on the lid of the nail polish. “If I had a dollar for every time one of those wealthy twats grabbed a piece of me, I wouldn’t be working here anymore.”
Poppy was standard Mesquale material. She signed on for six months of the year to save up tons of money so that she could spend the next six months satisfying her indiscriminate wanderlust. Never gathering any moss, Poppy had visited nearly every country in the world.
“How long’s this new bartender been about?”
“A couple weeks.” Charla pulled a brush through her long wet hair. She usually caught some waves after her shift, but not today. Today she’d needed to scrub her body clean.
What was it about wealthy men that made them believe they could grope her? Did she send out some sort of vibe that screamed,
Don’t worry, I’ll never tell. And if I do, no one will believe me.
Charla stared at her reflection in the mirror. “I worked the west pool with him last week. This was his first shift at The Banana Boat.” She twisted her hair into a chignon and pinned it up.
Poppy took a deep breath and sighed. “Drunk asshole from L.A. probably seeing double. What are the odds the most eligible billionaire on the planet is slinging drinks at Mesquale?” She pulled
from her night table and turned the pages while her toenails dried.
Charla sat on her bed across the room from Poppy’s. Yes, what were the odds? “And getting called to Antigua’s office?”
Poppy’s eyes flashed up from the page. She tilted her head. “He went to Antigua’s office?”
“Now that’s interesting. Usually it’s Orso who takes care of employees for The Banana Boat.” Poppy raised her eyebrow. “That’s another one you don’t want to be alone with.” She shuddered.
Yes, Charla had learned quite quickly from all the staff at all the Mesquale bars that she not only had to dodge handsy guests, but she also needed to dodge her immediate supervisor, Mr. Orso.
“From the top down, I suppose,” Charla said. “If Orso is grabby and management doesn’t do anything about him, I don’t suppose they’ll do a darn thing about a grabby guest.”
Poppy’s lips pulled down. “Except perhaps blame you.”
Charla spun around and faced Poppy. She hadn’t thought for an instant that she could get in trouble for what that horrible drunk had done. Why would she be punished because a drunk asshole had squeezed her breast and grabbed her ass?
Poppy nodded. “Last year, one of the girls from Waveside, Lucy, got trapped in a cabana by one of the guests. She jabbed him in the jewels with her knee. The oaf deserved it. Hands all over her. He’d been drinking all damn day for five days. When he finally got a piece of her, she did what any woman has a right to do.”
“And Orso fired her. He called her to his office, said a guest had filled out a complaint, and she was let go.”
“Are you kidding me?” Charla dropped to her bed. She shook her head. Her heart thudded. She didn’t want to be fired. She didn’t have anywhere to go and not nearly enough saved up to find a new place. She’d left everything behind when she’d left Bertram. “Why didn’t she say anything? Didn’t she tell Mr. Orso what happened?”
“Of course she did. Guess it didn’t matter.” Poppy flipped her
closed and leaned back against the pillow. “The guest is always right at Mesquale, and she was gone the next day.”
“I can’t believe … But how—?”
Two short rings burst out from the phone that sat on the table next to their door. Charla closed her eyes. Her heart dropped to her toes. Short rings were from the resort, almost always management with a request or a schedule change. Charla’s gaze flashed to Poppy.
“I’ve got it.” Poppy hopped up and dashed to the phone. “Room 669. This is Poppy.” She listened and tuned her gaze toward Charla. “Yes, she’s right here.” Poppy held the receiver out toward Charla. “For you.” Poppy mouthed the word