Authors: Maggie Marr
Tags: #FIC027020 FICTION / Romance / Contemporary; FIC044000 FICTION / Contemporary Women
Unseemly wasn’t the right word, but if it were, he wanted to be unseemly with Charla again. And again. And again. Would he get that chance? How angry would Charla be once she discovered that she’d been with the new owner of Mesquale? Would she hate him? Would she lump him into the same mix as Orso? A powerful man taking advantage of a woman?
Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn.
He had to tell her. Ryan scrubbed the bar surface with a towel. She deserved the truth. But not now. Not here.
“Poppy and I are going to Parpetai tonight to celebrate. Want to go?”
“I’d love to. What time you heading over?
“We’re thinking eight-ish. That work for you?”
“Works for me.”
“Trevor’s coming too. It’ll be fun. Us four out on the town with something to celebrate.”
“Most definitely something to celebrate.” He placed the towel in the hamper. “You’re glad that you’re back, right?”
She paused. Her eyes scanned his face. “I am.” She tilted her head as though a question flitted through her brain, but she couldn’t quite ask it.
“You’re back!” Therese, another server, popped up beside Charla. “I’m so happy they got rid of that letch. Nice job, you.” Therese pulled Charla into a hug. “Can I get two Maker’s Marks neat?” she called to Ryan.
He nodded. Therese moved to the computer screen and punched in her order. “How did you score that reprieve plus get the a-hole sacked?” Therese finished keying in the drinks and turned to Charla.
“Wasn’t me,” Charla nodded toward Ryan. “Was the new guy.”
Therese whipped around, her braids flying. “This dude? The guy started two weeks ago?”
“Way to go!” Therese held her palm out for a high-five. “I guess being here with the past owners made us all scared. This guy was braver then all the other men who work in this place.” Therese put the two drinks on her tray and scurried off to deliver the order to her guests.
Nope. Not braver. Wealthier and perhaps a much bigger fool.
“You’re really into this guy.” Poppy pulled a navy-blue halter dress over her head and fluffed her curly hair out of the back.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you don’t have to work tonight, but you’re putting on makeup. Plus it’s like you’re floating. Buzzing.”
Charla smiled. A floaty sensation tingled through her body. Along with the desire to go to bed with Ryan again. “I mean, he protected me. Twice. I haven’t had anyone like that in my life in forever.” Charla stroked the gloss onto her lips. “And I kind of like it.”
“Not all you like,” Poppy teased.
Charla bit her bottom lip. “Noooo, there are other things that I thought were pretty amazing.”
“Things, eh? I can only imagine what kind of other
, since I do believe he slept in this room last night.”
“Which helped you, I might add. He’s been cramping your and Trevor’s overnights since he became Trevor’s roommate. This thing with Trevor going on five months? That’s long for you.”
“Never more than six months, my love. Can’t be.” Poppy folded a skirt and put it into her bureau drawer. “I’ve booked my flight to Hong Kong—leaves the morning after my last day.”
“But you really like Trevor, don’t you? The two of you seem to fit each other so well … you finish each other’s sentences. You both love books—”
“I hate commitments and so does he. Try to spin that matchmaking magic all you like, but neither one of us wants a relationship. Just good times and good sex for a brief while, then on to the next adventure.”
Charla ran her fingers through her hair, fluffing it around her face. Was that what she wanted? Part-time lovers over a long-term life? No. Nine months away from Bertram and his twisted family and she’d come to believe that not all people lied. Not every person had a secret agenda. There were good and kind and wonderful people in the world. She wanted to find someone like that … she still wanted the normal. Someday. Maybe with …
“I see that faraway look in your eye. I know what that means. You’re moony over Ryan. You’re spinning all kinds of romantic fantasies that include lovely little houses and babies and carpool.” Poppy shuddered. “Not me. Give me a passport and an airline ticket.”
Charla smiled and placed her lip gloss in her purse. Poppy acted as though her romance with Trevor was a casual fling, but Charla had watched them together. The looks they shot each other, especially the longing in Poppy’s eyes when she thought no one was watching. Poppy’s feelings for Trevor were far from casual.
“Ryan must be a good egg, yes? I mean, he went to the mat for you.” Poppy reached for her umbrella inside her closet.
A tingle flew through Charla’s belly with Poppy’s tone. “But …? There’s a ‘but’ in your sentence.”
“It’s nothing.” Poppy’s smile split her face. She looked at the purple umbrella. “I’m not taking this. I’ll just lose the damn thing.” She dropped it onto her bed. “I don’t mean anything by it. He hasn’t given anyone a reason to think anything but good thoughts about him.”
“You’re scaring me. What are you
“It’s nothing that I
.” Poppy angled toward the full-length mirror on the closet door. She pressed her hands down the front of her dress and looked herself up and down. “Just a feeling. Kind of this odd sensation that something doesn’t add up where Ryan is concerned.”
Charla didn’t like the sound of something
not adding up
. Something was off? About Ryan?
“Maybe it’s because he’s new.” Poppy reached for her leather jacket. “You know how I am with new people. Which is crazy when you think about how much I travel.” She slid her arm into the jacket. “I think it’s just new people at Mesquale. Maybe because I’ve been here so long and keep coming back. Like it’s my place and not just a random job.” She grabbed her bag. “What you need is a massage from Layla. She can use her voodoo magic hands and tell you all about Ryan.”
Charla raised an eyebrow. She’d heard all about Layla, a Mesquale legend who supposedly had the ability to tell a person their future based on a massage.
“Speaking of new people, who are they getting to replace Orso?” Poppy asked.
“No idea. Antigua asked me if I’d meet with him to talk about that.”
“Really? My, but things
changing at Mesquale with this new owner. Whomever he is.” Poppy turned toward Charla. “Ask Antigua about that one too. When in the hell are they going to tell us who the new owner is? As for food and beverage, who’re you thinking? Liam?”
“They’ve asked him like five times to take that job, and he keeps saying no, but I know a way that they can get him to say yes.” She’d have to tell Antigua a private fact about Liam that she’d promised not to tell, but it’d be worth it, right? Liam would get a plush job, plus he’d be able to take care of his family. Charla took a final turn in front the mirror.
“Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.” Poppy threw some clothes on the bed from the floor. “Remind me again why you didn’t take the suite that Antigua offered? With housekeeping and room service for a week?”
“I have no desire to surround myself with the type of people who stay at Mesquale. I don’t mind serving them, but I definitely don’t want to hang out with them. Plus, how could I possibly ask housekeeping to clean up after me?”
“Very easy. Just dial 1.”
“I don’t want staff waiting on me. We all work way too hard to have to wait on each other.”
“You’re too good to be true.” Poppy pulled open their door. “Maybe that’s why Prince Charming was willing to fall on his sword. He sees you for what you are. Perfect.”
“Ha!” Charla said. “Not perfect.”
Ryan had lived in Parpetai before moving to the staff dorm at Mesquale. He’d discovered that the seven thousand inhabitants of the biggest village on Mesquale Island were an odd mix of locals, ex-pats, resort staff who didn’t want to live at the resort, and an eclectic group of writers and artists. A Southern Pacific–French flavor permeated the small city. The shuttle from the resort to Parpetai ran twenty-four hours a day.
“Always throws me when I see a guy I served drinks to yesterday on the shuttle.” Poppy nodded toward the fellow sitting on the other side of the bus. A dark-haired fellow with dark skin had his arm around a pretty woman in a yellow sundress. He didn’t stare at Poppy or Charla, but instead kept his gaze locked on Ryan. The shuttle circled the outskirts of Parpetai, making three stops. Finally they hit the heart of the town, and Charla stood to exit. Ryan grasped her hand.
A tingle slid over Charla’s skin. Poppy was right, Charla did have it bad for Ryan. He was gorgeous, with that black hair and blue eyes. Plus he was smart and kind, and no matter what Poppy didn’t think “added up,” hadn’t he been her knight in shining armor? The couple across from them stood too. Everyone filed off the bus.
Once they were on the curb, the Mesquale guest turned to Ryan. “I know you.” He tilted his head with a quizzical look, trying to place him.
“Probably. I’ve been working at Mesquale for the last couple of weeks. Have you been to The Banana Boat?”
“No.” He shook his head. “We just arrived yesterday. It’s not from Mesquale. I’m nearly certain that we’ve met.” He tapped his finger to his chin. “Wait? You’re …” He glanced at his wife and then back to Ryan. He lowered his voice. “You’re Ryan Murphy. You built Metro Media.”
The smile remained plastered to Ryan’s face, but the look in his eyes changed. For the briefest instant his grip on Charla’s hand tightened.
“Sorry. My name is Ryan, but I think you’ve got the wrong guy.”
“Noooo. Come on?” He leaned closer to Ryan. “I understand why, that you must want your privacy, but—”
“You’ve got the wrong guy.” Ryan’s voice was firmer, with the hint of an edge. Charla glanced from Ryan to Poppy. She and Trevor stood farther up the road. They were walking toward Coquille, the club and restaurant where they were having dinner.
“Really? Wow. I did a merger deal with his company a couple years ago, and you look
like him.” He turned to his wife. “They say everyone has a doppelganger. I guess I just met Ryan Murphy’s. Hey, can I get your picture? So when I run into him in L.A, I can show him?”
“No man, but thanks.” Ryan pulled Charla toward Poppy and Trevor.
Charla’s chest tightened, and her feet didn’t feel right. She glanced at Ryan, but he stared straight ahead, directing them both to where Poppy and Trevor stood waiting.
“Yo, man, come check this out,” Trevor called to Ryan.
He dropped Charla’s hand and walked with Trevor a little ahead of her and Poppy. Trevor pointed out the statue of St. Lucius and where he came to write on his days off from Mesquale.
“What was that about?” Poppy asked.
The couple walked in the opposite direction. “They thought Ryan looked like somebody they knew.”
“He must have one of those faces,” Poppy said. “That’s two different people in two days.”
Cold trickled through Charla’s belly. She didn’t mention that the guy on the shuttle said the exact same name that Josh Hughes had said. That couldn’t be, could it? She didn’t want to know … Fear, resistance, and a desire to shut her eyes and pretend that this odd similarity between the man she was falling for and the billionaire Ryan Murphy wasn’t happening. Why was she doing that? Why was she so desperate to root herself in denial?
Because she no longer wanted to be alone. She didn’t want to fight every battle solo. She wanted a person she could depend on and rely on and be with. Ryan had fought for her, he’d tried to protect her, he’d saved her job, he’d made her feel safer in two days than she’d felt in years. Her Ryan couldn’t
that Ryan. She needed Ryan to be the guy who was great looking, sexy, and a bartender at Mesquale. Besides, what were the odds that Ryan was actually Ryan Murphy, the billionaire?
Maybe as good as the odds that two people in two days would mistake Ryan for Ryan Murphy.
Her stomach tumbled. Then everything would be a lie. She couldn’t tolerate lies. She couldn’t pretend reality was one way when it was actually another. Pretending, playing nice, that was ultimately what Bertram and his mother and even Gerome, Bertram’s father, had wanted Charla to do. Forget the lies and the assault and the secret agenda and proceed with life as though everything were normal. Instead she’d left, because she couldn’t live with the falseness and their sick, twisted game of pretend.
Trevor and Ryan stood in the doorway of Coquille. Trevor held the door open. “Come on, ladies, your fantastic evening awaits.”
Too many coincidences … two people calling him Ryan Murphy, Antigua, Orso …
Ryan grasped her hand. He pulled her close and gazed into her eyes. “You okay? You look a little green.”
She nodded. “I’m good.”
He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. She relaxed into him. How in such a short time did his body seem meant for her? The scent of sunshine and ocean and the rich smell of him. She wanted this relationship to be real. She wanted these feelings to be true. She didn’t want any of this to be a lie.
“So wait,” Charla said as Ryan poured her another glass of wine. “What you’re saying, Pop, is that you didn’t even
Trevor at first?”
Poppy turned a mischievous look toward Trevor. “Let’s just say I found his body much more appealing than his personality.”
“Ouch. Pop, that hurts my heart.” Trevor grinned and took a long swallow of wine.
“It’s nothing you don’t know now, and I think you knew it even then. Admit it, you saw me as a challenge. You needed to prove to me that I should like you.”
“Every man enjoys a challenge. I don’t suppose I’m much different,” Trevor said.
“Oh you’re different,” Poppy said. “Different in all kinds of ways. You wouldn’t take no for an answer. Most men I turn down cower in fear and run. But this one?” Poppy tilted her wine glass toward Trevor. “This one would not leave me alone. Poems. He started leaving me poems. Can you believe?”
Ryan’s fingers wrapped around Charla’s beneath the table.