Authors: Maggie Marr
Tags: #FIC027020 FICTION / Romance / Contemporary; FIC044000 FICTION / Contemporary Women
Charla stood and took the phone. “This is Charla Duvall.” She forced her voice to remain calm, while her stomach spiraled.
“Miss Duvall, this is Susan in Mr. Orso’s office. He’d like to see you. Immediately.” Her voice was sharp, without a hint of kindness.
“May I inquire as to what this is about?” Charla twisted the phone cord around her finger. Her gaze met Poppy’s.
“You may, however I am not at liberty to disclose to what this meeting pertains. Please be at Mr. Orso’s office in twenty minutes.”
“Twenty minutes? But I—” The buzzing that indicated the absence of Mr. Orso’s assistant on the other end of line told Charla she had been hung up on. She closed her eyes, and a deep breath filled her lungs. She gently placed the phone back into the cradle and turned to Poppy.
“You know that thing you were talking about, what happened to Lucy last year?”
“Well, I think it’s about to happen to me too.”
Ryan hurried down the walkway that led to the staff quarters. When he’d worked in maintenance and then in housekeeping, he’d rented an apartment on the far side of the island in Parpetai. A small number of Mesquale staff maintained places away from the resort. Most who did so had grown up on Mesquale or were married and had children. Once Ryan moved to the food and beverage division, he’d decided to take a room in one of the staff dorms. He wasn’t wearing a disguise and didn’t need the privacy of an apartment far from the resort to get ready each day for his persona.
He slid his keycard into the outer security door. The overhead lights flickered on and off, and gave the hall an eerie feel. He needed to ask Antoine to tell Mesquale maintenance to replace the bulb, and while at it to check all the bulbs in the staff buildings. As hard as the staff worked, they needed safe, clean, and comfortable living quarters.
Ryan hustled up the stairs to his second-floor apartment. He slid his keycard through the lock on his room door. What an idiot he’d been when it came to working in food and beverage without a disguise. Antoine was correct. Ryan’s face sometimes still graced the covers of the tabloids. Most of those covers shots had stopped when he was engaged to Paloma, but after her death there had been a barrage of paparazzi until he sold Metro Media and disappeared. Now, eighteen months after Paloma’s death, twelve months after he purchased Mesquale, and nine months after he’d been on the island in disguise, his name and an article had popped up in one of those rags.
As though his personal life mattered to anyone but the one person who had died on that horrible night. He unbuttoned his uniform shirt and threw it into the laundry bag. The food and beverage staff would have new uniforms by the end of the week.
Ryan opened the back slider and stepped onto the balcony. He pulled his board shorts off the railing. If he was going to be the surfer guy from Los Angeles, he might as well enjoy being the surfer guy from Los Angeles. Tonight his meeting with Antoine wasn’t until ten-thirty. They’d discuss further changes that Ryan wanted implemented. He took off his uniform khaki pants, slipped on his trunks, and grabbed his wetsuit from the rail.
“Yo, dude, you out for the waves?” Trevor Brice, Ryan’s roommate, walked into their room with a bottle of rum under one arm and a journal under the other. A full-on struggling writer from Northern California, Trevor was never without his journal, a pen, and if he wasn’t working a shift that day, a bottle of booze.
“Yep. Want to grab some with me?”
“No, man. If you’re out, I’m gonna have a meeting with this guy …” he held up the bottle of rum, “… and see if I can’t work on this guy.” He waved the journal that represented his latest masterpiece. “Then I’m heading over to Parpetai for a little din-din with the Poppster.”
“Sounds good. Later then.” Ryan reached for the doorknob.
“Yo, man, staff’s got a bonfire tonight. Around eleven. On the south beach.”
Ryan stopped and turned to Trevor. “I thought bonfires weren’t allowed?”
“Right, well, it’s the one concession management seems to make. They look the other way on bonfires, and we don’t complain about the crappy working conditions.”
Trevor’s comment was why Ryan was here. He wanted to know how the staff felt. He needed to cut out middle management to find out what was really bothering the staff of Mesquale.
“Is it that bad?”
Trevor sat down at his desk and twisted the lid off the bottle of rum. “Man, you just haven’t been here long enough. Come to the party tonight. You’ll get the lowdown. Plus all the lovely ladies of Mesquale will be there too.” Trevor smiled and lifted a half-filled glass of rum toward Ryan. “Sure you don’t want a snort?”
“No, man, I’m good.” He opened the door. “Eleven? South beach?”
“Right on, dude. I’ll save you a spot.”
“You got it, man. See you then.”
Susan, Mr. Orso’s assistant, wasn’t a happy person. Her fingers tapped on her keyboard, and she didn’t look up at Charla. Instead she raised one finger and continued to type. Once finished, he looked up from her computer screen. Her gaze traveled over Charla. One eyebrow cocked upward as if to say,
This is what you wear to meet with your boss?
“I’m sorry.” Charla crossed her arms over her chest. “I’d just gotten out of the shower when you called. I didn’t have much time—”
“Right this way.” Susan stood from her desk and escorted Charla into Mr. Orso’s office. “He’s in a meeting with a guest. A very angry guest. Mr. Hughes? I believe you two met?”
Charla’s stomach tightened. She nodded.
“Have a seat, and Mr. Orso will be with you soon.”
Charla sank into a chair in front of Mr. Orso’s desk and closed her eyes.
Alabama. Alaska. Arizona. Arkansas.
She took a deep breath.
Another deep breath and this time a long exhale. Calm. Calm. Calm. Reciting the states calmed her. She opened her eyes and gazed out the window behind Mr. Orso’s desk.
. She’d hadn’t been to Connecticut, but it was definitely on her list.
“Ah, Miss Duvall.”
Charla looked at the large man who walked from the office door to his desk. He was round; perhaps once upon a time he’d been athletic, but now he was just round and soft. A nervous energy bounced off him and around him as though he might catapult onto a piece of furniture or scale the walls of his office.
Charla didn’t stand. She didn’t want to give Mr. Orso easy access with his hands or his eyes. Lecherous behavior seemed to be a theme at Mesquale today.
“I’ve just come from a unpleasant meeting about you.”
“Me?” Charla’s throat tightened. She’d done nothing wrong. Nothing. If anyone were to blame, it was Mr. Hughes.
“Mr. Hughes, who as you may know is a frequent guest of Mesquale, is upset. Very,
upset.” Mr. Orso sat behind his desk. “He’s considering pressing charges.”
Charla leaned forward. Any fear she might feel, any kind of discomfort or embarrassment, was quickly turning to justified rage. “What
“He reports that you attacked him. An unprovoked attack. He questions your mental stability.”
mental stability?” Heat flashed up her neck and into her cheeks. “The man grabbed my breast. He reached down the front of my shirt and
my breast. How could
mental stability be in question?”
Mr. Orso held up his hand. “Yes, indeed, each side always has their story. Mr. Hughes indicated that yours might be quite different than his.” Mr. Orso’s gaze dropped to her breasts. “He said that your story might indicate certain behaviors on his part that simply did not occur. Mr. Hughes is a very wealthy and powerful man. You’re aware of this?”
“I’m aware he’s an alcoholic who likes to grab women once he’s drunk. That’s what I’m aware of.”
“And you’re aware that there are no witnesses to what happened.”
Charla’s stomach pitted and an oily feeling churned in her gut. “What? No witnesses? The entire beach was full. Every chaise lounge had a guest—”
“All of whom I’ve spoken to, and none of whom saw anything.”
Charla’s heart sank to her toes. No one. Not one of those wealthy snobs was willing to come to the rescue of a staff member. Of course not. So similar to Bertram and his horrible father. She closed her eyes. What came after Connecticut … oh my goodness was it Colorado? No that was before …
Why would she expect anything different from the guests of Mesquale? Hadn’t Bertram’s family proved to be exactly the same when she’d told Bertram about his father? They’d been rich, she’d been poor and, according to Bertram’s mother, trash, so Charla must be making up what Bertram’s father had tried to do.
“What about security cameras?”
Mr. Orso leaned back in his chair, and a hint of surprise captured his face. Did he think she’d cave? She wouldn’t. She’d been toyed with and played. She’d lost at this game once before, and she didn’t intend to fold easily as though she were a piece of parchment paper, thin and unstable within a windstorm.
“Unfortunately, the security cameras do not reach to that part of the beach.”
“So Mesquale admittedly puts their employees at risk by failing to take appropriate security measures?”
Mr. Orso’s big, bloated face reddened. A film of perspiration gleamed on his upper lip. “You should be aware that Mr. Hughes believes that you might be attempting to extort money from him. With no witnesses and no cameras, what choice do I have but to believe him?”
“What choice? You have the choice to stand by your staff, by me, who’s worked at Mesquale for nine months without one complaint, and to not believe some lecherous lothario with an alcohol problem who is surfing away daddy’s money.”
“Mr. Hughes happens to be the president of one of the largest media distributors in North America.”
“He’s also a douchebag with grabby hands.”
“Miss Duvall!” Orso’s eyes widened, and he passed his hand over his jaw.
“And what about the staff? Have you talked to Liam or the new bartender, Ryan?”
“I have not.”
“They were there. You need to speak to them.”
to do anything.” His eyes narrowed. “Mesquale’s policy is quite clear and stated in the employee handbook which you signed. If a guest files a formal complaint, which Mr. Hughes has done, then you may be terminated at
discretion.” Mr. Orso leaned forward and placed his hands on his desk. He tilted his head and licked his meaty lips. “Of course, there are often, concessions … that can be made.” His gaze dropped again to her breasts, and then he slowly and methodically he worked his view up and over her body.
Charla’s stomach tilted, and her throat tightened. Heat flamed her cheeks. “Mr. Orso!” She jumped from her chair. Did she telegraph an
I’m here for your pleasure
vibe? Why did all these powerful men think she’d fall into the sack with them? “What are you insinuating?”
“Nothing, Miss Duvall. Absolutely nothing.” He sat back in his office chair, a narrow look of defeat on his face. “Your termination is effective immediately. Susan will schedule you passage on the first flight from Mesquale in the morning.” He reached for a pen and signed the termination paper on his desk. “This is yours.” He held it to her. “Do not expect a positive recommendation.”
Charla’s hand trembled as she grasped the paper.
“And please know that this unpleasantness might have been avoided had you been a wiser girl.” He cocked an eyebrow upward.
Again she fought back the bile in her throat. Wiser? More willing? Ready to spread her legs for first her boyfriend’s father, then the horrible Mr. Hughes, and now, now this depraved Mr. Orso?
Delaware was after Connecticut and then Florida.
“Mr. Orso, you are a horrible human being,” Charla said. “I know what you’re after, don’t think for one moment I don’t. And I feel sorry for every girl that’s ever come into this office thinking she’d get fairness from you, and I pray to God that they did’nt spread their legs for you like you’re asking me to do.”
“I am shocked. I’ve asked no such thing.”
“You’ve hinted and intimated and made suggestive looks. You are a sick, sick man. Don’t think you’ve heard the last from me, Mr. Orso. Because you haven’t. You’ve messed with the wrong woman. You can expect a call from my lawyers.” Charla yanked open the office door and marched out of his office.
Susan looked up from her computer screen, and the corners of her lips curled into a smile. She shot Charla a wink and mouthed
. Charla raised her head and marched down the hall away from Mr. Orso and his proposition, away from Josh Hughes and his lies, and away from Mesquale and her job. She avoided the panic clawing her insides and fled the administration building, into the growing darkness, and onto the walkway that lead to the staff quarters. Once she rounded a corner and was out of sight, she stopped beneath a bougainvillea bush that wrapped along an overhead arch. She pressed her hand to the cool tile of wall.
Her heart pounded. Where would she go? What would she do? Oh, God, what had she done? Lawyers? Ha! Lawyers were expensive. They cost money she didn’t have. There wasn’t enough in her checking account to prevent her from being homeless once she returned to California. She certainly didn’t have enough to fight a man like Josh Hughes or a huge resort like Mesquale. Rich people and huge companies had armies of lawyers. She pressed her lips together. No, this was just one more loss in a string of losses.
Deep breath. She straightened her spine and stood tall. Where was she? Georgia? Georgia was after Delaware. She put one foot in front of the other. No, no, Florida was after Delaware and then came Georgia. She walked toward the staff building. She’d pack tonight. Lucky for her, when she’d left San Diego, she didn’t have much. Maybe someone on staff would have a friend in Los Angeles who would allow her to couch surf, at least for a while, until she found a job of some kind. A job that didn’t include handsy men who thought she was their toy. But, somehow, finding men who didn’t believe that her body was their plaything appeared to be impossible for her.