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Elena Royal sipped on her second glass of Sex on the Beach and the irony struck her anew.
Sex on the beach?
That's exactly what she should be having right now, while on her honeymoon. Instead, she sat outside alone on a bar stool of the Wind Breeze Resort. As overhead palm frond fans lapped around stealing traces of tropical Hawaiian heat, she cast off admiring looks from men at the patio bar and proceeded to drink away her sorrows.
She would have been married by now.
To Justin Overton, the scoundrel who had her convinced he loved her and not the Royal bankroll. Finding out on her wedding day that her would-be bridegroom hadn't an honest bone in his body, sent her packing, abandoning her wedding and the guests that would have arrived within the hour.
Yes, she'd left Justin at the altar, but she'd left her heart there, as well. No longer the trusting twenty-six-year-old girl who believed in happily ever after, Elena's tender ego had taken a nosedive.
She'd been shattered and still felt slivers of regret and heartache deep inside. She'd come to this secluded outof-the-way Maui resort hoping she wouldn't be recognized as the daughter of West Coast hotel magnate, Nolan Royal. She needed the escape. She needed peace and quiet. She needed time to reevaluate her life. She'd spent the past three weeks on the beach, swimming, reading and relaxing.
It was driving her crazy.
The midnight moon glistened on the oversize pool and beyond that, Hawaiian waters caressed the sand, the gentle waves echoing into a soft roar. From under the thatched roof of the bar's hut, she finished her drink, debating on having another before returning to the solitude of her lonely cottage. The sultryJune night surrounded her in stillness, the Wind Breeze Resort falling short of its namesake. If it weren't for the lapping fans, the heavy air would smother her.
"Want another drink?" the bartender asked, then darted a hard quick stare, keeping the last of the men at the bar from approaching her.
She smiled. Joe, the bartender, had taken it upon himself to protect her solitude once he realized she wasn't like other single women who were eager and willing to leave the bar with a stranger. "I'd better not. I haven't finished this one yet."
A splash from the pool had her lifting her eyes from her cocktail glass.
The late-night swimmer dipped down deep in a perfect dive then, shadowed by moonlight, he rose up until his head popped out of the water. Water flowed off longish black silken hair and his shoulders rivaled the breadth of an Olympic athlete.
She caught herself staring and when he spotted her, he stared back, his eyes dark and piercing. Her heart beat faster. Chills of awareness romped up and down her body, the sensation like nothing she'd ever experienced before.
She lifted her lips in a smile.
He didn't smile back, but the slightest arch of one brow answered her.
She grew warm all over, her lower body stirring with unexpected heat as she watched the stunning man come out of the water with a grace that belied his rugged physical stature.
Holding her breath, she watched as he mopped up beads of water off his shoulder, shaking out his hair and wrapping a towel around his waist. He glanced at her again, his eyes filled with promise. Her heart raced as she hoped for his approach, which surprised her since she'd sworn off men at least for the next ten years.
She'd had it with liars, deceivers, men who'd speak vows of love and forever after, only to want a piece of the Royal pie. Justin had been most clever. She'd been fooled quite easily with his charm and vows of undying love. Until her father had him investigated.
She'd found out just in the nick of time that Justin Overton wasn't the high-powered financial consultant he'd claimed to be when she'd met him in Europe six months ago, but a college dropout on the verge of bankruptcy.
Elena had run for all she was worth to hide away in this tropical resort and heal her broken heart.
She glanced once more toward the pool. Her mystery man was gone. Just like that, he'd disappeared. Elena sighed and shook her head. It was probably for the best. At least her instant attraction meant she wasn't completely destroyed inside, burned somewhat but not yet a dry pile of ashes.
"Anything wrong, miss?" Joe asked, wiping a shot glass clean and keeping his eyes trained on her.
"Nothing at all, Joe," she said, with a quick rueful smile, realizing the only sex on the beach she would have tonight remained sitting at the bottom of her sparkling cocktail glass on the bamboo-framed bar.
The combination of peach schnapps, vodka and fruit juices she'd had in those two drinks last night, wreaked havoc on her head this morning. She'd never been a heavy drinker, preferring a glass of vintage wine or fine champagne. Now, she paid the price with a hangover that pounded like a sledgehammer.
She sat on a private stretch of beach on a striped sand chair, sipping straight black coffee, watching the ocean through her gold-framed sunglasses. Even Yves Saint Laurent couldn't block the bright sunshine well enough to keep her eyes from squinting and her head from aching.
She closed her eyes and hoped the fresh sea breezes would clear out the fuzziness.
"Mind if I take up this piece of real estate?" A deep male voice surprised her eyes open and another chair slid into the sand next to her.
She looked up and found her mystery man smiling at her, his eyes hidden behind a dark pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses. He wore an unbuttoned tropical shirt in blacks and forest greens and dark shorts. The shirt flapped in the breeze, opening enough for her to see that same muscled physique that had inspired her interest last night. "This beach is one big open house," she said, sipping her coffee.
He sat and stretched out his tanned legs. "There's definitely something to be said for the view."
She nodded, looking out at the horizon, until she realized he might have been offering a compliment. She turned to him, but he masked his expression well. She felt his eyes on her through the gunmetal shade of his sunglasses.
"Thanks for loaning me a piece of your private strip of beach. I'm Ty," he said.
"Eluh Laney," she offered, glad not to be sharing last names and making an attempt not to give her true first name, either. Only her father and best friend called her by her childhood nickname, Laney. She sipped her coffee again.
"Too much Sex on the Beach last night, Laney?"
Her body flashed hot from the way he said sex. He was about as appealing as one man could get and his rich confident voice didn't hurt his image, either.
"Uh, yes to drinking too much and none of your business, if that question went somewhere else."
"It didn't," he said quickly. "I saw you last night at the bar."
"I'm not really much of a drinker."
He smiled and his mysterious persona vanished for a second. "Are you bored?"
"Last night I was," she answered honestly. "I mean, I came here to relax, do some reading, do nothing at all." Recover from a broken engagement.
"But doing nothing isn't your style?"
She shook her head. "Apparently not."
He sank back into his chair and watched the waves hit the shore. "It's not my style, either. I guess we have that in common."
"Are you on vacation?" she asked, wondering if he was alone on the island. Not that it should matter one way or the other. She told herself she was simply making idle conversation.
"Something like that," he said with a shrug. "With a little business mixed in. I always stay at the Wind Breeze when I'm here."
* * *
When she leaned back in her chair, Evan Tyler looked his fill. Damn, she was a beauty. Just thinking about the way her smoky blue eyes had nearly devoured him last night made his blood heat. He'd come out of the pool to find this gorgeous blonde studying him from her bar stool with a look of pure lust in her eyes. What turned him on even more was that she was probably clueless as to how she appearedher body language enough to bring a man to his knees.
Then Evan realized who she was.
He'd recognized her from a few photos he'd seen. And though the rich heiress hadn't been notorious, she'd had a broken engagement that made the rounds with every sleazy tabloid in the country.
His rival in the hotel business, Nolan Royal, had only the one child and she usually kept a low profile. He guessed she'd come here to recover from the scandal of leaving her fiancé at the altar. Hollywood had been buzzing with news of the Royal breakup, but Nolan killed the media attention instantly with hefty bribes to unprincipled journalists to let that story die a quick death.
Money talked and people listened. And Evan almost could give Nolan Royal credit for keeping the media out of his daughter's life.
But because Nolan Royal had been a royal pain in his ass lately, cheating him out of a hotel buyout that he'd been working on for two years, he couldn't even give the man his due for protecting his daughter. Evan still burned from Royal's deliberate and dishonorable tactics. He'd lost two years of his life and a sizable chunk of future income to Nolan Royal. Yet, the older man had covered his tracks well and Evan couldn't provide any tangible proof that Royal had resorted to shady, if not illegal means to take over the southern-based hotel chain, The Swan's Inns.
Now, Evan was out for blood.
He meant to make Royal pay.
Evan turned to her, noting her bright red two-piece swimsuit that couldn't begin to hide her full breasts and luscious curves. "Want to get unbored?"
She raised her eyebrows and he could tell she was intrigued. "What do you have in mind?"
He rose and stripped to his swim trunks then grabbed her hand. "Let's go for a swim."
Laney enjoyed the swim with Ty so much that when he asked her to join him for lunch she couldn't find a reason to veto the invitation. They dined at Moose McGillycuddy's, a local Maui establishment on Front Street in Lahaina. They were known for their Ono Pupus, nose-clearing, mouth-searing hot chicken wings.
The place was jam-packed but somehow Ty orchestrated a corner table on the lanai that overlooked the historic town below hopping with tourists. Normally, Laney abhorred crowds and avoided places that crammed folks in worse than a Stones concert, but Ty promised nothing boring. And nothing boring, was exactly what she'd gotten. Studying photojournalism abroad, Laney loved people-watching. They made the best subjects for the camera and she'd been taking pictures of people and events ever since her father presented her with her first Canon on her twelfth birthday, fourteen years ago.
When she wanted to order a simple chicken salad, Ty intervened and made her try something a bit more daring on the menu. She ordered the Kahuna, a burger loaded with teriyaki sauce and grilled pineapple and told him after sharing those hot wings appetizers to be satisfied, because that was as bold as she was willing to go, right now. As she nibbled on her burger, she watched him eat Kalua Pig, a shredded pork sandwich piled high with cabbage and sautéed onions, another of the local main fares.
They walked along Front Street after lunch and spoke of nothing important. She liked that they'd seemed to have a silent agreement, no last names and no personal histories to mar the time they spent together.
She found him exciting and fun and full of surprises. When he took her back to the Wind Breeze, he walked her into the lobby and spoke in a sexy low voice near her ear. "I'd like to explore your 'bold as you're willing to go'comment a little more. Have dinner with me tonight."
She wasn't here for romance. She'd come to this secluded resort to get away from the press and memories that would have surely haunted her much more had she stayed in Los Angeles after the wedding fiasco. Normally, she wasn't one to sit still, but a broken heart had a way of sucking the joy out of everything. She was here to recover from her emotional injuries, she reminded herself, yet she could use a diversion.
A handsome, attentive diversion. "Will I be expected to have more Ono Pupus?" she asked with a little smile. "Because my mouth is still burning up from lunch."
His attention riveted to her lips. "I can promise you no more hot wings, Laney." Then he added in a thrilling whisper, "But I'm afraid I can't make any promises regarding your mouth."
A shot of heat rivaling the Ono Pupus coursed through her body and she decided that Ty was good for her torn-up ego. Why shouldn't she have dinner with a fascinating man? Why not have more than dinner with him? She'd played by the rules all of her life and look what that got her?