Read an Excerpt
"A jewel thief?" Rico King demanded of his chief of security. "Here in the hotel?"
Franklin Hicks scowled. The man was late thirties, stood six foot five and boasted a shaved head and sharp blue eyes. "Only explanation. The guest in bungalow sixSerenity Jamesreported that some of her diamonds are missing. I've already interviewed the maid and room service."
Bungalow six. Rico could have pulled up the map of the hotel on his computer, but there was no need. He knew every inch of his place. He knew that the bungalows were set apart from the main hotelfor privacy, since a lot of his clientele insisted on seclusion. People like Serenity James, an up-and-coming Hollywood darling who, in spite of her name, lived life on the edge.
The actress might claim to want to avoid photographers and nosy guests, but according to security, there were men streaming in and out of her bungalow at all hours. Any one of them could have made off with the diamonds. He hoped it would be that easy.
"What about Ms. James's 'guests'?" Rico looked up at the other man. "Did you talk to them, as well?"
Snorting, Franklin admitted, "We're still running them all to ground, but I don't think it was one of them, boss. If those diamonds were taken by one of her 'guests,' they'd have helped themselves to more than just the one necklace. Whoever took the diamonds was picky about it. Took the stones that would be easiest to pry out of their settings and sell. Smells like a professional job to me. Besides, you have to remember we've had two more reports of stolen property in the last few days. Gotta be a pro."
"Not good news," Rico mused.
His hotel, the Tesoro Castle, had only been open for a little more than six months. It was new, fresh and exclusive and had quickly become the hot spot for celebrities and the uberwealthy who were looking for a private getaway spot. Tesoro Island sat in the middle of the Caribbean, but it was privately owned. No one landed hereprivate yacht or cruise shipwithout permission of the owner, Walter Stanford.
Which meant that those seeking privacy had nothing to fear from paparazzi, except for the occasional over-achiever who used telephoto lenses from a boat anchored far offshore.
Tesoro was lush and secluded, and the Castle was like Disneyland for adults: there were infinity pools, the best spas in the world and sweeping ocean views from every room. The hotel had deliberately been built small, to keep it a select destination. There were only a hundred and fifty rooms, not counting the private bungalows scattered across the grounds. The interiors were opulent, service was impeccable and the island itself carried an air of dreamy seduction. For those who could afford it, Tesoro promised a world of languid pleasures for all of the senses.
And damned if Rico was going to allow his hotel's reputation to be stained. If there was a professional thief operating in his place, then that thief would be found.
"Security cameras?" Rico demanded.
"Nothing." Franklin scowled as if the word tasted bitter. "Another reason to go with the professional thief theory. Whoever it was, they knew how to bypass the cameras."
"Set up a meeting with your men. I want eyes and ears everywhere. If you need to hire more security," Rico said, "call my cousin Griffin. King Security can have more men here tomorrow if we need them."
Franklin bristled. He'd once worked for Griffin King and his twin, Garrett, and had decided to leave in favor of being chief of security here on the island. He clearly didn't care for the suggestion that there might be something he couldn't handle. "I won't need more men. The team I've got is the best in the world. Now that I know we're looking for a pro, we'll find him."
Rico nodded. He understood pride and he knew that Franklin's had been pricked. He was in charge and having a professional thief on the grounds was a direct slap in the face. But pride notwithstanding, if Rico decided they needed more help, Franklin would get extra men whether he liked it or not.
This hotel had been Rico's dream. Built to his exact specifications by King Construction, the Tesoro Castle was the epitome of luxury hotels. He'd been working toward this project for all of his adult life. He owned several hotels and each in its own way was spectacular. But this place on Tesoro was his crowning achievement. He'd do whatever he had to do to protect his name and his investment.
Shaking his head in irritation, Rico turned and stared out his office window at the view spread out below him. The island of Tesoro, Spanish for "treasure," was aptly named.
Miles of unspoiled beaches, aquamarine ocean, thick jungles with amazing waterfalls hidden away in the stands of trees. Sunshine every damn day and unlike most of the Caribbean, the trade winds blew across Tesoro almost constantly, keeping the heatand flying insectsat bay.
Rico had spent months with Walter Stanford, negotiating for his own slice of the old man's paradise. Hell, he'd even had some of his cousins come in and talk to the older man for him. Of course, Rico mused, that had worked out for Sean King, since he'd married Walter's granddaughter Melinda.
After the negotiations, the months spent building this place and the time and expense of furnishing and staffing this hotel to get it just right.. irritation blossomed into quietly restrained fury. No one was going to ruin this place.
His guests came to Tesoro looking for beauty, privacy and security and he would see that they got it.
Just the thought of jewel thieves on the island had him gritting his teeth and flexing his hands into fists that had no one to punch. He supposed it was only natural that thieves would find their way here to Tesoro, where the rich flocked in droves. Just as it was natural that when he found whoever was behind this, he'd see them locked away for decades.
But a professional thief risked a lot to make a play on Tesoro. The island was too small. Too difficult to get to and to leave from. And since no ships had left the harbor in days, whoever the thief was, he was still on the island and he still had the stolen property on him.
Suddenly, those two words began to echo over and over again in his mind as warning bells started clanging inside his head. Even then, though, Rico assured himself that the little voice inside his head had to be wrong.
No way would she risk that.
Not even she would have the nerve to chance facing him again.
But what if she had?
"What?" Rico glanced over his shoulder at Franklin.
"You want me to contact Interpol about this?"
The international police force with hundreds of member countries didn't make arrests or have its own jail, but it could and did provide much-needed data on suspected thieves, killers and just about any crime imaginable.
"No," he said, ignoring the look of surprise on his head of security's face. Instead, he turned back to look out the window over the playground he'd built for the rich and famous. Rico's brain was racing with possibilities and his adrenaline surged at the idea that he just might be at the threshold of the revenge he'd waited five years to take.
No chance in hell he'd bring Interpol into this before he knew whether or not his gut instinct was right or not.
"We'll handle it on island," he said, never taking his gaze from the horizon, where the sunlight glinted off the water in bright shards. "Once we've got the thief, we'll decide what to do then."
"Your call," Franklin said, then he left, closing the office door behind him.
"Yeah, it is," Rico told himself aloud. And if this jewel thief turned out to be the woman who'd stolen from him once before Interpol would be lucky if there was anything left of her to hand over.
"Papa, please. Leave now before it's too late." Teresa Coretti glanced from her father to the closed door of his suite and back again.
She was so anxious just being here on Tesoro, even her nerves had nerves. But she'd had to come. The moment she'd realized where her father and brother had gone on their supposed vacation, Teresa had had no choice.
"How can I leave?" her father asked with an exaggerated shrug and a smile. "I've not finished my holiday."
If Nick Coretti was really taking a sabbatical from his avocation, no one at the Tesoro Castle would have lost any of their possessions. No, her father could call this a holiday if he wanted to, but the truth was he was working. As he always was.
Dominick was a shorter, older, Italian version of George Clooney. His tan was permanent, and his sharp brown eyes missed nothing. His black hair was gray-streaked, but that only seemed to give him an air of distinction. He was polished and always a gentleman. He had been a faithful husband until Teresa's mother's death ten years ago.
Since then, he had used his considerable charm to smooth his way into high society, where, he said, "the pickings are always worth the effort." He loved women; women loved him. And he was the best jewel thief in the worldnot counting Teresa's brothers, Gianni and Paulo.
Her father was always on the lookout for his next job. She should have known that he would never have been able to resist the allure of Tesoro. For him, it was the mother lode.
The problem was, this fabulous hotel belonged to Rico King and that was really not a good thing.
It had been five years since she'd seen Rico and just thinking his name sent a ripple of heat along her spine. Like it was yesterday, she could see those blue eyes of his as he stared down at her. She could almost taste his mouth on hers and hardly a night went by that she didn't dream of his hands sliding across her skin.
She'd spent so much time trying to get Rico out of her mind as well as her lifeand here she was. On his turf.
Warily, she turned her head for a quick look outside to the terrace, as if half expecting to see Rico standing there. Glaring at her.
But the elegantly furnished deck was empty save for the glass-topped table, the chairs and matching chaise and a silver bucket holding her father's favorite brand of champagne. Which, she thought, brought her right back to the problem at hand.
"Papa," she started, "I asked you to stay away from Rico King, remember?"
Nick flicked an imaginary piece of lint from the elegantly tailored suit jacket he wore, then smoothed one hand along the side of his perfectly styled hair. "Of course I remember, my angel. And as promised," he continued, wagging a finger at her, "I have refused all temptation to relieve Mr. King of his valuables."
Teresa sighed. "That's not what I meant, Papa. Tesoro is Rico's. Being here, stealing from his guests, you might as well be lifting his wallet. You're tempting fate, Papa. Rico is not exactly an understanding man."
"Ah, Teresa," Nick said, carrying his crystal flute to the terrace where he refilled his glass and took a sip before continuing. "You were always too nervous. Too." He paused, tipped his head back and tried to come up with the right word. Finally, he added sadly, "Honest."
A wry smile curved Teresa's mouth. Where else but in her family would honesty be considered a fatal flaw? She'd lived on the fringes of the law since she was a child. Before she was five, she could identify a plainclothes police officer as well as a possible mark with alacrity. While other children played with dolls, Teresa learned to pick locks. When her girlfriends were taking driver's education, Teresa studied with her uncle Antonio, the master safecracker.
She loved her family, but she'd never been comfortable with stealing for a living. At eighteen, she had broken it to her father that she had gone on her last job. Instead, she became the first Coretti in memory to go to school and be legally, gainfully employed.
Her father still considered it a tragic waste of her talents.
While her mind raced, she watched her father settle on the chaise and stare off at the resort spread below.
Rico had built something amazing here, she thought, but that didn't surprise her. He was a man who never settled for less than the best, no matter the circumstances. She'd learned that when she first met him so long ago in Cancun.
At his hotel, Castello de KingKing's CastleTeresa had been one of the innumerable chefs in the immense hotel kitchens. In her first real job after culinary school, she was excited simply to be a part of the hustle that took place in that amazing kitchen. Teresa had believed that working in that hotel was the best thing that had ever happened to heruntil she met Rico himself.
She'd worked late one night and before heading to her apartment, Teresa had treated herself to a little relaxation. She'd carried a glass of wine out to one of the beach lounge chairs and sat to enjoy the night, the moon on the water and the lovely sensation of being absolutely alone.
Then he had appeared, walking along the water's edge, moonlight shining on his dark hair and making the white shirt he wore seem to glow. He'd worn tan slacks and his bare feet had kicked through the water with every step. She couldn't seem to look away from him. He was tall and dark and as he came closer, she realized he was gorgeous. He was also her employer. Rico King, playboy, gazillionaire, hotelier and at the moment, as alone as she.
In an instant, her mind replayed that scene.
He glanced up as if sensing her gaze on him and when he saw her, he smiled and headed for her. "I thought I was alone on the beach."
"So did I," she managed to say.
"Shall we be alone together? "
Teresa still remembered that faintest hint of an accent coloring his words. His eyes were a piercing blue, his hair as black as the night and his smile was temptation personified. She couldn't have said no to him even if she had triedwhich she hadn't. Rico had sat on the sand beside her and they'd shared her glass of wine and spent the next couple of hours talking.
Teresa came out of the memory and mentally warned herself to stop reliving the past. To stop indulging in thoughts of him and what might have been. She was here on Tesoroin Rico's hotelfor one reason only: to get her family out of there before Rico discovered them. If only her father had listened to her. But Nick Coretti was a force of nature and when the prize was rich, no risk was too much.
Rico would find them. Teresa knew that man too well to think that he would allow jewel thieves to operate freely in his place. It was only a matter of time. Which meant that she had to get the Coretti family off Tesoro. Fast.