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"A trip to the Dominican Republic? Sounds fabulous!" Courtney Adams was overjoyed at the prospect of leaving the chilly January weather of Atlanta. As a spokesmo-del for Adams Cosmetics, she really did have better perks than her older sister, Kayla, the CEO, and brother, Shane Adams, vice president and head chemist. She'd been in Milan for New Year's Eve for a fashion show, and now no more than two weeks later, she was off to the Caribbean.
"This is not a vacation, Courtney," said her brother-in-law, Ethan Graham, part owner of Adams Cosmetics. "You would be there for Bliss's new campaign." Bliss was the company's third fragrance.
"I'm well aware of that." They'd all been summoned to the conference room for a mandatory board meeting. It was a new-year, new-start sort of thing. "I'm just saying that it's a welcome change after all the drama with Ecstasy's debut." Ecstasy was their previous perfume that, thanks to the machinations of their competitor Jax Cosmetics, had a rocky start in the marketplace. But in the end, Ecstasy's revenues surpassed the knockoff Jax Cosmetics had produced.
"We're looking to capture the clean, modern and oceanic quality to Bliss," Shane added. "And what better way than on the beach? Gabrielle and I" he smiled over at his fiancée, who'd joined Adams Cosmetics last year "went there a month ago and we were so impressed that we thought it would be the perfect location for the ad campaign. And once they saw the pictures, Kayla and Ethan agreed."
"Well, I'm there," Courtney responded. "When do I leave?"
"Myra is finalizing your travel arrangements," Kayla said. She'd just finished feeding her five-month-old son, Alexander, and returned from the employee day-care center. "We'd like you to leave by the end of the week."
"You'll love Sea Breeze Resorts," Gabrielle said. "Shane and I found the resort to be first class. The staff is so warm and friendly you'll hate to leave."
"I'm looking forward to it," Courtney replied. She needed a break from all the lovey-dovey in the air. First Kayla and Ethan had gotten married over a year ago and then Shane and Gabby had gotten engaged. And although she'd orchestrated her brother's union, she still felt like the odd man out. Her mother, Elizabeth, was in full mother-hen mode and eager to fix Courtney up with any number of eligible Atlanta bachelors. It was time for her to make like a ghost.
"I'm so excited for this trip," Courtney told Kayla once their meeting adjourned. "I need to get away."
"You have been a little restless these days," Kayla noted. Courtney was usually full speed on all cylinders, but since Ecstasy's campaign had died down, it had been quiet on the home front. Her little sister had seemed content helping plan Shane and Gabrielle's wedding, but Kayla knew better. Courtney craved excitement.
"I've been still for too long," Courtney agreed. "I'm used to having too much to do and now I don't have enough."
"Are you looking for more responsibility in the company?" Kayla inquired.
Courtney nodded. "I can only survive on my looks for so long. I mean, I'm already past my prime in model years. I'm twenty-seven."
"Well, we'd love to have you take a bigger role here. You're not just a pretty face to me. With your marketing degree, you're a real asset to AC."
Courtney smiled broadly. It was nice hearing those words from Kayla. She'd always wanted her big sister's approval, but sometimes that was hard to come by. Kayla had always been very focused on her studies and learning the business, while Courtney had been about having fun and being carefree. It was getting long past time that she started acting like an adult and not an adolescent model.
"Why don't you get whatever it is out of your system?" Kayla replied. "And when you get back, be ready to get down to business."
"That sounds like a plan."
"What is going on, Mark?" Jasper Cartwright asked his head of development that same morning in his office at Sea Breeze Resorts in Punta Cana. He'd just reviewed the report from the lender's inspector on his second hotel in the Dominican Republic, Palace at Punta Cana, which was currently under construction, and seen that work wasn't as far along as he'd hoped on the project. To make matters worse, he didn't like the materials the construction company was using. Yet they had passed the bank's inspection. But even if the bank that had lent him the money was satisfied, Jasper wasn't. In his gut he felt something was amiss at the construction site.
"I thought you'd vetted this crew out?" Jasper asked from behind his desk.
"I did," Mark returned. "They were highly recommended by several local businesses."
"And did they use subpar materials on their build-outs too?" Jasper asked testily.
Mark appeared to be offended by Jasper's tone. He'd always taken his job very seriously and clearly didn't like the implication. "You don't know that for sure."
"Don't forget I used to work in construction," Jasper said. "I've done it all, from helping pour concrete to framing the walls to painting. It appears they are using inferior materials from what was drawn on the architectural plans. I want them off the site."
"We can't do that, Jasper. You signed a contract. You would stand to lose millions."
"I've lost faith in this general contractor."
"Then perhaps you should become more involved with the construction from here on out." Over the years, Jasper had allowed Mark to take the lead with this project.
Jasper rubbed his jaw. Mark had a point, and it gave him a crazy idea. Perhaps it was time to get his hands dirty again. Usually he would have been there himself, overseeing things, but he'd had to take a step back when his mother, Abigail, had taken a spill on the steps of her farmhouse in Marietta, Georgia. He'd gone back to the States for a couple of weeks so he could spend some time with her. He'd hired a private nurse to help with her rehabilitation, and she was progressing smoothly.
But now was clearly the time to jump back in. This prime piece of property had fallen into his lap and he couldn't afford to have it wasted because of bad construction. He needed to be more hands-on, and what better way than to go to the construction company and pose as a laborer or better yet a foreman? He could use his background to get hired, which would give him a way of seeing exactly what was going on on-site. Of course, he ran the risk of the general contractor recognizing who he was. But throughout, Mark had been the face of the project, and Jasper had been behind the scenes. He should be able to get by without anyone being the wiser.
"That's exactly what I'm going to do," Jasper stated.
"What makes you tick, Ms. Adams?" the reporter with the Atlanta Star asked when he visited the Adams family estate to interview Courtney for the cover of their next magazine. The issue was going to focus on the top thirty under thirty in Atlanta business.
When he'd arrived with a photographer, Courtney had been ready for him. She'd already called ahead to make sure Viola, AC's makeup stylist, was present, because she had to be camera ready and look her absolute best. Her stylist had picked out several different outfits for her to be photographed in. The first was a cream pantsuit with a plunging neckline and the final one was a white, one-shoulder evening gown with a front slit that showed off one toned thigh.
It was increasingly becoming a chore getting all dolled up for the press. As much as Courtney loved the fame, she was ready for a change. The photographer shot Courtney in several areas of the estate, in her bedroom facing her cheval mirror, in the gardens and by the pool. When they were done, they returned to the living room where Victor, their butler, had sweet tea and lemon cake waiting on the coffee table.
"You have it allfame, wealth and beauty. The world is your oyster. What more could you want?" The reporter set the tape recorder on the coffee table.
"I am pretty lucky," Courtney said, touching her chest. "But let me tell you that fame is fleeting. There will be another pretty face to take my place soon enough."
"I don't know about that," the reporter commented, leaning back against the sofa. "You've dominated the Atlanta scene for over a decade and are always seen in New York, Paris and Milan."
He was right about that. Courtney had loved the spotlight. It was as if she was born to be there, but all good things must come to end. "True, but I guess that dovetails into your other comment. Wealth. I've cultivated my fame to help brand my family's cosmetics company. It's not for personal gain. I'd like to think I've played a part in the company's success."
"I would say so. If you hadn't been in the limelight, no one would know Adams Cosmetics. Which brings me to my next question. For twenty years, Adams Cosmetics was a boutique firm catering to a specific clientele. What has it been like merging with such a corporate Goliath like Graham International?"
Courtney smiled soberly. "It was an adjustment for all of us, but we've acclimated. And now we're bigger and stronger than ever." It had taken a long time for Courtney to feel comfortable with Kayla and Ethan running the company. She'd been none too pleased when her brother-in-law had tried replacing her with Noelle Warner, an actress. Who also happened to be his ex-girlfriend. It was doomed from the start. "We've introduced new products in our cosmetics line, revamped our skin-care line and introduced two new fragrances, Hypnotic and Ecstasy. And we have another on the way."
"Sounds like you're a busy lady," he said. "How is your love life faring? I mean with your good looks, men must be bountiful."
Courtney skated by his question and said, "I think I get my good looks from my mother, Elizabeth. She's absolutely stunning."
"Did you inherit those famous green eyes from her?"
"I did. So did my brother."
"That's right, your brother, Shane, is AC's chemist. He's getting married soon, yes?"
"In a couple of months."
"Wow. Your sister and brother both married in the last two years. Does that make you hear wedding bells yourself?"
"Absolutely not." Courtney shook her head fervently. "I love my freedom and am content with the status quo. I'll leave it to my siblings to marry and procreate."
"Are you saying you would never marry?"
Courtney shrugged. "I don't know if I'm the marrying kind. I'm having too much fun being single." And she couldn't wait to hop on a plane and find out just how much fun she could have.
As he drove in an old pickup, Jasper was pleased with himself. In less than an hour, he'd secured a position at Dorchester Construction Company, the company he'd hired to construct his new hotel, and would begin work on Monday. He'd driven his old beat-up Ford pickup truck, because it wasn't as if he could drive his Lamborghini to the hotel site and expect to get hired.
Jasper had acted as if he were a man down on his luck. The superintendent had taken one look at his truck and his attire of ripped jeans and T-shirt and hired him on the spot. It had helped that his foreman had just quit, and he was in need of help. But why would the foreman have quit such an illustrious project? It didn't make sense, and Jasper suspected his gut was right on the money that something was wrong on-site. The superintendent had requested a resume, which Jasper didn't have, but he'd given him several references, all of whom Jasper phoned in advance to give a heads-up of his plan.
The superintendent had easily fallen for his act. Now Jasper would have the opportunity to finally see what was going on.
When Courtney arrived in Punta Cana on Sunday afternoon after a three-and-a-half-hour flight, she was amazed at just how beautiful the Dominican Republic truly was. Flying over the Atlantic Ocean, she'd gotten a clear view of the island thanks to the cloudless blue sky. She saw sparkling cobalt waters, magnificent palm trees and sandy white beaches. It was Mother Nature at her best.
A hired car greeted her at the airport and whisked her to Sea Breeze Resorts. The hotel was tucked away from the other resorts and required a forty-five-minute drive to get there, but it was worth the wait. Sea Breeze Resorts had its own private beach, plush landscaping and the greenest grass she'd ever seen. Courtney was sure the golf course she'd passed on her way to the main building was a top-ranked course. Golf wasn't her favorite sport, but it was a necessary evil and had gotten her in front of movers and shakers she wouldn't otherwise have met.
The car stopped in front of a whitewashed stucco building, and a bellhop immediately opened the passenger door and helped her out of the vehicle. "Welcome to Sea Breeze Resorts."
"Thank you." Courtney smiled, accepting his hand. She was impressed at the prompt service. Even more so when a man whom she assumed was the hotel manager, dressed in a formal suit, greeted her by name as she walked in the lobby.
"Welcome, Ms. Adams, to Sea Breeze Resorts. My name is Miguel," the older, distinguished gentleman said. "It's a pleasure to have a celebrity of your caliber staying at the resort."
He led her to the check-in desk that was situated in the open-air lobby, where a wood-paneled walkway surrounded two small pools of water lilies and sea turtles. The hotel manager took care of checking her in himself.
"Celebrity? I wouldn't say that." From the lobby, she could see the property's spectacular ocean view and elegant accommodations. The focal point was the seventeenth-century hand-carved wooden archway that encased the entrance and the Dominican art sculptures that adorned the windows.
"But you and your family are featured in this month's Essence magazine, are you not?"
Courtney nodded. "Yes, we are." She'd forgotten that Ethan had arranged for the Adams and Graham family to be spotlighted in the magazine.
"Then, you're a celebrity," the hotel manager said. "My name is Miguel and I will be happy to assist you during your stay at Sea Breeze Resorts. We've arranged an excellent suite for you with a majestic view of the ocean from your terrace. You'll love it."
"Thank you so much," Courtney replied. Typically, she was in more cosmopolitan places like New York and Paris. She rarely got to go someplace warm, let alone frolic on the beach. And she intended to do a lot of frolicking on her stay. She'd promised Kayla she would get the wanderlust out of her system, and she intended to do just that.
With all the wedding planning for Gabby, who was inept at fashion, Courtney had been on a self-imposed male hiatus. It was time she had a little fun.