Read Last Call for Love Online

Authors: Maggie Marr

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

Last Call for Love (12 page)

BOOK: Last Call for Love
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“I asked you here because I want to know your thoughts on who should replace Mr. Orso.”

“Liam Dunbar,” Charla said without hesitation.

Mr. Antigua’s jaw twitched, and his eyebrow raised. “That’s an interesting choice. Could you elaborate as to why?”

“He’s smart. He’s honest. He leads by example, and he knows Mesquale. You couldn’t find a better person for the position.”

“You sound quite confident,” Mr. Antigua said. “You are aware, Miss Duvall, that Liam has been offered this position several times.”

Charla nodded. “I know.”

“What leads you to believe that this time would be different?”

“Because there is something I know about Liam that would guarantee he’d say yes.”

Mr. Antigua leaned forward and tilted his head to the side. “But.”

“But I’m betraying a confidence to tell you. I’ve been asked not to say anything about this matter. I can’t help but think if Mesquale offered Liam the right package, a package that he would need not only for himself but for his family, that he would say yes.”

“I’m listening.”

“Well,” Charla started. She clasped her hands together. “I know that everyone
thinks
that he works here six months of the year and then surfs the other six.”

“I’ve heard this, yes.”

“He doesn’t. There are some things about his
family
. Personal, private things, that if you were aware of, I’m certain you could make him an offer that he wouldn’t refuse.”

“You have my attention, Miss Duvall. Please, tell me, how might I convince Liam to become the food and beverage director of Mesquale?”

 

*

 

“We still don’t know where Orso is?” Ryan asked Steven.

Steven shook his head. “The Virgin manifest doesn’t have him, but the police haven’t found him either. Mesquale isn’t that big. If he’s on the island, he can’t hide forever. Too many people are looking for him.”

“The safety of our guests and staff is at risk until we find him, question him, and determine whether he started the fire.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thank you, Steven. Keep Mr. Antigua apprised. I won’t be doing this secret-identity thing much longer. I just have a couple loose ends I need to tie up.”

“You have the special phone we requested that you use?”

“I do. But I’ve been just fine without such a device, and I’ve been on the island for nearly nine months.”

Steven visibly flinched with Ryan’s words. “That’s not something I’m proud of,” Steven said.

“I forced Antoine to keep this private.”

“I understand that, sir, but we run background checks on every new employee, and we would have done that for you three times. Each time you were approved as a different employee. Not once did any flags pop up. That is a systemic error, and I can’t let that—”

Ryan held up his hand. “Steven, stop.
I’m
the systemic error. I have access to everything at Mesquale, do I not?”

“Of course. You’re the owner, and as such nothing is kept from you.”

“Including new employee reports, when they are initially run, hard drives, primary sources utilized.”

Steven’s face relaxed. “So you’re telling me we were hacked? From the inside?”

“At the highest of levels.” Ryan smiled. “Your systems are very good. I do think that I’m the only one who could fool your security team.”

Steven nodded. “Well, if it’s you, sir, as the owner, fooling us, that’s one thing. Guess I can stop beating on my IT security guys then.”

“By beating, you mean—”

“A metaphor. We don’t resort to violence except in self-defense.”

“Good to know.”

Steven walked toward the front of the building. “You’d better go first, sir. Easier to explain if someone sees you and you’re not with me.”

“Thank you, Steven. I’ll be seeing you soon.”

Ryan pressed the down button. His shift at The Banana Boat didn’t start for another two hours. He had a surprise scheduled for Charla. Then tonight, once his mid-shift was over, they were meeting for dinner, and finally he would tell her the truth. Please let the truth not scare her away.

The elevator doors opened, and he stepped onto the private elevator. He pressed one and crossed his arms. How would Charla take the news? What would she say? What would she do? The elevator descended one floor, the door opened, and there was … Charla.

Ryan’s heart flipped. Her beauty continued to stun him. She smiled. She looked him from top to toe, and then she squinted. She stepped onto the elevator alone.

“Hey,” she said. “What’re you doing here? I didn’t think your shift started until later.”

“You’re completely right.” Was his voice off? Did he sound as though he was lying? He pulled Charla close and kissed her. Charla’s response was … cool.

“Are you okay?”

She nodded and smiled. “I’m good. Really good. So why are you here? You didn’t say.”

“Me?” Ryan pressed his hand to his chest. He didn’t want to lie to her. He was done lying to her but here, now, on the private elevator of Mesquale, wasn’t really the place to tell her,
Hey by the way, I’m not at all who you think I am. In fact I am a completely different person, and not only that, surprise, I’m your new boss!
No, he had the right time and place planned, he simply had to get to the end of this day.

“Oh, right, me.” Ryan rolled forward and back on his feet. “I was just here to talk to Antigua. More questions from the police about what I saw after the fire.”

“Antigua?” Charla searched his face.

Ryan nodded and smiled.

“Oh,” she said. “I … Okay …
You
just finished meeting with Antigua?”

“That’s right. Why? What were you doing in the Versailles Ballroom?”

Her whole demeanor changed. Her energy shifted from happy to see him to distant and aloof.

“Just a meeting. Some changes … something with Versailles.” The elevator doors opened, and they both exited the lift.

“I’m not on until later and I know we’re having dinner tonight, but there is something that I really need to talk to—”

“—I can’t,” Charla interrupted him. “I promised Poppy I’d help her with some travel plans. I’m sorry.” Charla wouldn’t meet his eyes. A distance widened between them.

His heart ached. He couldn’t … what … he reached for her, and while her fingers met his, she didn’t grasp his hand or look at him or give him her beautiful smile or provide him with the love in her eyes. He leaned forward to kiss her good-bye, but instead of her lips, she turned her head and let him kiss her cheek. She backed away from him.

“You’re sure you’re okay?” Ryan asked.

Charla nodded. She smiled, but sadness filled her eyes. “I’m sure.”

“We’re still on for tonight, right? We’re having that dinner I told you about where you wear something special and I wine and dine you.”

The corner of her mouth lifted, but this wasn’t a real smile. The look on her face was entirely different than when she was happy. Charla’s real smile came from within, and it lit up her entire face and the world around her.

“See you later, Ryan,” Charla said. She backed away from him, and then turned and walked down the hall.

 

*

 

The phone was ringing when Charla slid the keycard into the doorlock of her room.

“Hello?”

“Charla, this be Layla. You wanted an appointment with me.”

Layla, Layla, Layla.
Charla turned the name over in her head, trying to place the name.

“You’re befuddled, girl. The masseuse. The Mesquale masseuse.”

“Oh, Layla, I’m sorry, I’m distracted. Something happened and—”

“I know all about it, girl. Best you get your tail down to me now. We’ve got lots to talk about, and the feeling in that left shoulder of yours? We’ve gots to get that out.”

Charla’s hand clamped over her left shoulder. “How do you …?” How did Layla know about the muscle pain in Charla’s shoulder?

“Oh, girly, did they not tell you about me? Poppy and Trevor and all the rest of the staff?”

“They did.”

“Ah, but you didn’t believe.” A soft chuckle like a tiny wind came through the receiver. “No worries. There are many nonbelievers until I get my hands on them. Fifteen minutes. My bungalow.”

“You have a bungalow?”

“The resort, they treat me right ever since the new owner heard of me. Set me up good. No more going to the rooms unless the guest is willing to pay big bucks. I got my own place now. Apartment attached to the building. You come now. You see. I am at Mesquale 3.”

“Layla, I don’t know … Today I just don’t feel like it. I—”

“This is when you must come to Layla. This is when you need to know what is going on with you. I see it. I can tell you, but I need to touch that shoulder to know what I see is true. No. You come on now. Get off your sorry behind and get yourself over to this place. I have much to tell you. Been seeing what I need to say all darn day. The thoughts, the words, they are ready to spew out of my mouth. Come now. Let’s go.”

How much worse could the day get? She’d just caught the man she was madly in love with in a bald-faced lie, and she was going to have to figure out who the hell he really was. Was he the elusive billionaire Ryan Murphy? Her fear wouldn’t stop her from finding out the truth. A chill rushed across Charla’s skin, and large goose pimples prickled her arms.

 

Chapter 13

 

“Oh, girl, what have you been doing that your neck is so tense?”

Poppy lay under a heated blanket, her face pressed into the circular cushion of the massage table. Layla dug her fingers into the giant knot in Charla’s shoulder.

“Just work.” Charla’s voice sounded like a croak. Layla’s magic hands unwound the terrible lump of pain in her shoulder.

“No, girl, you been doing a lot more than work. I smell it on you like garlic. A man.”

Charla tried to jerk her head up, but Layla gently pressed the back of Charla’s head with her hand. “Girl, not like that. No one else be able to smell you. No one else except that man who’s got his hands all over you. The scent of him is seeping out of your pores. This man has you in deep. I can feel the love oozing out of your body.” Layla’s hand pushed down Charla’s spine with a long, gentle stroke. She stopped at the small of Charla’s back. “Oooo, what’d I say?” Layla pressed around the vertebrae in the small of Charla’s back. “Not two minutes before these muscles were relaxed, and now I’ve gone and said how bad you have it for this man … Oh, you don’t want to have it bad for that man? Is that what I’m feeling here in your back?”

Layla continued with long, slow, firm strokes. “I see it now. You’ve been lied to or you think you have, yes?”

Charla’s fingers tingled. Of course Layla knew. Every person on the island said Layla had a strong gift.

“He’s not what he say he is.” Layla moved her fingertips to the back of Charla’s neck. “It’s not bad like you think.” She softly pressed around each vertebra in a gentle circular motion. “He’s more than he says.”

More?
More, like he had a wife and four kids somewhere? More, like he’s a completely different person with a secret agenda? More, like—

“Stop,” Layla said. “I hear your mind running a furious race. He’s different than he’s led you to believe. He’s not told you all about his life for good reason, not for bad. Not at all like that other man you’re so mad at.”

“Bertram? Gerome? I’ve worked through that. They’re in the past.” 

“If your past is worked out in your mind, then why are you letting it affect your future?” 

“I’m not … I don’t see Ryan differently because of what happened.”

“You do. I’m not the first the universe has sent to tell you he’s good.”

“I believe you,” Charla said. “Or I want to believe. It’s just … I guess I’m scared.”

Layla’s hands rubbed the muscles along Charla’s shoulder blade. “Fear is a powerful motivator. Don’t make decisions to be on the safe side. This man, he is playing a big part for all of us on the island. He’s a good man. I feel it in my bones. And he’s in love with you. Not yet sure though whether you going to let yourself love him back.”

Charla closed her eyes. Ryan wasn’t who he said he was. She’d known that … maybe since the beginning.

“He’s been trying to find the truth for himself. Then … well then … I think he fell in love and was scared,” Layla continued. “Scared like you.”

“So the man I love is not the man I thought Ryan was?”

“No.”

“Pretty typical. I seem to fall for the liars, the cheats.”

“He’s not like the man who tried to put his hand on you. Not a bit like that man. Do you understand what I’m saying? He is a good man. The type of man a girl would be lucky to love.”

“And you see that he cares about me? That I wouldn’t be giving away my heart to the wrong person? I need to know that. I need to—”

“You don’t need to know nothing,” Layla interrupted. “You think you need to know, but even when you do know, you don’t. Life doesn’t follow the path you’re after. It’s crooked and weaving with turns and twists, but we all going to the same destination in the end. We’re going leave this husk of skin and muscle and bone behind and be souls.”

How would Charla trust him? How could she see the goodness in him and forget that he’d lied to her?

“We don’t forget what’s been done. We take all of our lives with us, we keep all that’s been done to us in our bodies. We carry it. We got to believe the truth comes when it’s time. The truth is always there, and maybe we’re not told the truth in the beginning because a thing bigger than us is trying to become.”

A lump formed in Charla’s throat. Her heart squeezed tight. Maybe … Maybe, but she wasn’t certain that she had the ability to forgive a lie anymore. So much pain had come to her from lies. From people not wanting to see the truth. What if Ryan couldn’t be true, couldn’t be honest? What if this was a character flaw he carried much like the flaws she’d discovered in Bertram and his family?

“There, girl.” Layla pulled the heated blanket up over Charla’s back. “I’ve done all I can for those muscles. You lay here for a bit. You get out all the emotions running through you. You let them come clear out.” Layla dimmed the lights, and Charla heard the soft sound of her feet padding across the floor. The door closed.

BOOK: Last Call for Love
5.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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