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One Night in Santiago
A Stanton Family Novella
By Audra North, Heather Howland, Tahra Seplowin
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Audra North
All rights reserved.
Lily Stanton pushed her way through the heavy doors of the hotel entrance, rolling her small suitcase closely behind her. The rain was still coming down in droves, but as soon as she stumbled into the gorgeous, rotunda lobby of the Santiago Ritz and the doors swung shut behind her, the din of the pounding rain dropped away as if by magic. Some of the accumulated exhaustion ebbed from her body.
She shrugged out of her rain-splattered down jacket and hung it over the handle of her suitcase, breathing a sigh of relief ... just before the doors whooshed open again behind her. The deafening noise of the storm rushed back in, accompanied by a renewed tension in her shoulders. Lily whipped her head around and saw a tall man striding in from the awning-covered sidewalk, looking arrogantly calm, as though the raging torrent just behind him didn't affect him one bit.
Wow. A fantastically good-looking, well-built man ...
She shook her head and turned back around to walk toward the reception desk. She shouldn't be checking out guys like that, ones who commanded attention even when the rest of the world was falling apart around them. Still, he was pretty damn hot.
Two employees were manning the desk, each busy giving out room keys to business travelers. Lily got in line behind one, while the man who had walked in behind her stood in the other.
There was just something about him.
The hairs on her arms were standing on end. She could feel it. Lily paused for a moment to confirm that it wasn't the temperature causing this reaction. Nope.
It was him.
The effect he was having on her made her think he should be classified as his own weather system, something strong enough to rival the tempest outside. A veritable hurricane of hotness.
She glanced over at him surreptitiously as he, too, removed his wet coat, and then his suit jacket. He had on black pinstriped pants, and a lavender shirt that highlighted just how very broad his shoulders were and how alluringly tanned his skin was. His hair was cut short enough that the intense winds outside hadn't disturbed a single strand.
He draped his coat and suit jacket from the handle of his suitcase, just like she had, and she could see a dark purple tie sticking out of the right side pocket of the jacket.
He looked like a proper man who was coming undone.
Lily pressed her thighs together against the pure sensation that shot between them. Get a grip. You're only attracted to him because you haven't had sex in several months. Then why hadn't she felt the same reaction when her last date, back home in New York, had kissed her good night? It had been only three weeks ago, but that date seemed like something from another life.
"Señora?" A man's voice broke into her reverie. The customer in front of her had moved away, and the receptionist was calling her forward.
"Oh! I apologize. I was daydreaming." Lily gave him a smile and walked up to the counter. The man in the suit was coming forward at the same time.
"How may I help you, madam?" the receptionist — Edgardo, according to his name tag — asked.
She stifled a sigh. "I need a room for one night, please."
Edgardo nodded. "Of course. Do you have a reservation?"
"No, unfortunately. I was supposed to fly back home this afternoon, but because of the storms, all the flights got canceled and — "She stopped herself before her voice broke. Thinking about how she might miss her baby sister's graduation because of her own selfishness in going on this ski trip in the first place would have her crying her eyes out in seconds.
"The recent storms have been keeping us quite busy, indeed. I am sorry to hear your flight was affected. Let me just check the system for you." Edgardo punched a few keys on the computer in front of him and studied the screen for a bit.
At the same time, the other receptionist was saying the same thing to the man next to Lily. That she was sorry about his flight, and that she was going to check the system. Apparently, the sexy stranger had also been trying to get somewhere on a plane and didn't have a reservation, either.
Edgardo looked back up with a furrow in his brow. Oh, no. Please don't be out of rooms.
"We have one room left ..." He and his colleague began speaking at the same time, but realizing the echo, both stopped.
The female receptionist — a pretty young woman with pale green eyes and light brown hair — turned to Edgardo. They conferred for a moment in Spanish and Edgardo turned back to address her ... and the mysterious man to her left.
"It appears we have a bit of a problem," Edgardo said slowly, moving his eyes between Lily and the other man. "We have only one available room remaining. It is an executive suite —"
"I'll take it," she replied, at the exact moment that the gorgeous guy next to her did. Although, as it seemed that they were both vying for the last hotel room in one of the few hotels that she knew by reputation — she didn't like taking a chance on unknown chains at the last minute — he was starting to look decidedly less appealing.
Edgardo looked wary, but he maintained his professionalism and soldiered on, "And the price is nine hundred and forty dollars for the night," he finished, his eyes again bouncing between Lily and the stranger.
Who, once again at the same time as she, said, "Done."
Oh, of all the infuriating —
"Jinx!" Lily exhaled loudly, the frustration of her day suddenly spilling over as she turned to face her now-nemesis, the brief attraction to him momentarily forgotten.
Momentarily being the key word. Because as soon as their eyes met, she could barely form a coherent thought over the rush of hormones that rose up in her body. There was something in this man's gaze that called to her, that made her want to throw caution to the wind and do wild, dirty things with a perfect stranger. His chin was hard and angled, shadowed with a light dusting of dark hair. Deep-set chocolate-colored eyes, a perfectly straight nose with wickedly flaring nostrils at the end above full, pink lips set into a smirk —
She jumped as those lips moved, and she prayed her thoughts weren't written all over her face. She'd been told she had an expressive face.
"Jinx? As in, I'm not allowed to talk until someone says, 'done' again?" The man had an American accent, though she couldn't place its exact origin. Not Southern, and not New York, but that didn't actually narrow it down much. His voice was low, but not too low. Perfectly pitched to be smooth and soothing, and she had a sudden, vivid image of him whispering hot, sinful words in her ear as he pushed into her body —
Lily snapped to attention, forcing her posture into a rigid stance. She tipped her chin up and looked him in the eye. "Yes, jinx. And pinch, poke, you owe me a Coke, while we're at it. After I book my hotel room."
His eyebrows rose. She knew she was coming off as a total bitch, but she couldn't bring herself to care. This guy was hardly being chivalrous, and she was emotionally as well as physically exhausted. This ski trip she'd just spent six days on, at some chic and plush and altogether miserable resort in the Andes, hadn't turned out the way she had hoped. Primarily because of the miserable part.
She held the man's gaze for a moment before letting out a huff, crossing her arms over her chest. She knew she must look scraggly and unimpressive in her yoga pants and fleece turtleneck, her dark hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, but backing down from this guy wasn't an option.
Luckily, she hadn't spent years fighting for contracts as an independent consultant, only to roll over and die at the mere hint of public conflict over a hotel room.
"Fine," she snapped. "I don't drink soda. But you owe me a drink."
"You take my hotel room and then I owe you a drink?" the man scoffed, reaching for his wallet. Lily took a step back. Was he going to try to buy her off? Maybe whip out an official-looking badge? Oh, no, please don't let him have a diplomatic passport ... the room would be his, for sure.
But instead, he withdrew a slim, dark gray card from one of the pockets of his sleek leather wallet and placed it on the reception desk. She willed herself to stay still, not to strain to see it like some kind of fluttering rookie.
The receptionist helping the man picked it up and her eyebrows rose. Edgardo glanced over at it and his eyes went wide.
That was the universal expression for, "You're screwed."
"Miss Stanton," Edgardo cleared his throat. "I do apologize, but might you have a Ritz-Carlton Rewards account?"
So that's what it was. Lily shook her head and simmered. She usually stayed at Marriotts, since that had been the hotel chain that her first consulting firm preferred, back when she had been starting out and worked for someone else. After she struck out on her own she wanted to maintain her loyalty points.
Besides, it was more practical. The Ritz was a beautiful hotel, certainly, but she wasn't going to regularly dig into her own bottom line by splurging for the more expensive chain on a regular basis.
Apparently, this guy didn't have a problem with his bottom line.
She ignored the catcalls in her mind as an image of his firm ass momentarily filled her vision.
Or maybe he was a financial catastrophe. She might feel slightly superior if he was just a playboy on a spending spree. Let him have the room and continue to dig his own money pit. But judging from the way his whole person screamed "Wealth and power!" she somehow doubted he was anything but a very secure, competent man.
"I am sorry, Miss Stanton. We do have to offer the room to Mr. Komarov first."
Komarov. The name of a man who apparently always got what he wanted.
And Lily knew she didn't have any more cards to play. Literally. Time to bow out gracefully and get on with the search for a hotel room. There had to be another place nearby that she recognized, or maybe the receptionists would recommend one for her. Her shoulders slumped, but she managed to hold her head high as she nodded past the lump in her throat. "Of course. I understand," she said quietly.
She turned to the man — Mr. Komarov — and summoned up every ounce of professional courtesy she had. "It's only fair," she assured him, even though she could only think just how unfair it was as she put out her hand to shake his, "although you still owe me a drink." Lily forced a teasing smile, but she could feel the tension behind it.
He eyed her for a moment, but slowly extended his hand.
When his fingers touched hers, his large, warm hand sliding forward to envelop her smaller palm in his, her eyes nearly rolled back in her head at the pleasurable feeling.
Dangerous. This man was dangerous. A sexy, hard-bodied, well-dressed room stealer. And she had already had enough experiences with guys who took too much from her. She didn't need to spend any more time in this one's company.
It was for the best, then, that she was walking away and would likely never see him again. She had sworn off men like that after Jason. Sworn off men altogether, in fact, for nearly four months until her date a few weeks ago.
But before she could pull her hand away and run for the exit, he gave it a gentle squeeze, dark eyes boring into hers. It was as though he could see to her very soul in that look, and her breath hitched. God, but he was gorgeous.
Komarov cleared his throat. "I apologize for being less than a gentleman. I am afraid that the situation prompted me to act out of hand, and I reacted inappropriately. The room is yours."
She couldn't help it. Her jaw dropped.
"I insist." He let go of her hand, and she was surprised to find her entire body felt suddenly chilled and her fingers stiffened in protest.
To the receptionist, he extended the same hand that had been holding hers, and an irrational jealousy surged.
"I'll just take my card back and be on my way," he said evenly. But as Lily watched his face, he looked so beaten and weary all of a sudden that she was ashamed. She had misjudged him based on his behavior — actions that had likely been born out of the stress and exhaustion that she only now bothered to notice were etched all over his face. Despite that, though, he had even apologized and given her the room.
Her parents had always taught her that a little short-term discomfort was always survivable, and that a generous heart and a positive attitude toward people would open more joy in her life than a surly, stubborn one. And here she was, fighting with a stranger for a place to spend a handful of hours, on the brink of missing a major event in Julie's life because she had insisted on going alone on the ski trip that she and Jason had planned, even knowing that she would be cutting it close to land back in New York just over one day before the graduation ceremony. Definitely not generous-hearted.
Now the sibling she was closest to was graduating college. And Lily was stuck half a day's flight away. If she managed to get on the morning flight tomorrow, Greg or Andrew — her two older brothers — could pick her up from the airport so she might even be able to sneak in a couple hours' sleep before the ceremony. Enough time ... but only if she made the flight.
She would make it. She'd take on Mother Nature herself if it meant being able to be there for Julie's big day.
Lily hesitated, but Komarov prodded her. "Go on, before someone else calls the hotel directly and takes it from either of us."
She sighed and passed her credit card and passport over the counter, then forced herself to look him in the eye. "Thank you," she murmured, her cheeks burning with both shame and relief at the same time.
He merely winked and nodded, then began wheeling his luggage away. The female receptionist sighed quietly.
And, just like that, she made her decision, and turned to him.
"The couch is yours if you want it," she called.
Komarov stopped, but didn't turn around. She quickly looked back at the receptionist. "There's a couch in the suite, right?"
He nodded. "Indeed, madam. It even folds out into a bed."
"You want it?"
He pivoted slowly and looked at her strangely.
"You don't even know me," he rumbled, and she forced herself not to feel naïve. Of course she didn't know him. But the little girl in her still believed in the inherent goodness of people. Men, even. Not everyone was like Jason, and his horrible behavior shouldn't cause her to lose her trust in humankind. Even though she might have lost sight of that for a few minutes just now, Komarov's concession had given her a pretty good reminder.
She gave him a small wave and laughed. "Hi. I'm Lily Stanton."
The hint of a smile quirked the corners of his lips. "Bruno Komarov."
Bruno. Hot. Not that it mattered. This was just a basic courtesy, introducing themselves before sharing a living space for the next ten hours or so.
She flashed him a wide smile — the one that had gotten her moved to the front row at the Maroon 5 concert, had gotten her free drinks all night when she went down to New Orleans last year for Mardi Gras, and the one that Jason had called her the-only-reason-you-want-to-live-in-this-town-is-because-I-own-it smile.
She hadn't used it since she and Jason had broken up. Or, more precisely, since she had discovered he'd been cheating on her for a year with her supposed best friend, Isabelle. That had killed any desire to smile at all.
She expected this Bruno Komarov guy to melt accordingly, and say yes so that she wouldn't feel like such a jerk for taking his hotel room.
Hey! Since when had it become his?
But there was no time to wonder about that, because it dawned on her after a few awkward seconds of silence that the smile wasn't working on him. Komarov — for some reason, she kept thinking of him that way — was just eyeing her curiously and probably waiting for her to say something instead of grinning at him like an idiot.
She dropped the smile. "Look, I don't know you that well, but I do know some things about you," she argued, and then stopped. "Wait. Why am I trying to convince you that you're safe and it's okay for you to accept a place to sleep in my hotel room?"
Back to yours, then. You're so wishy-washy.
Except she wasn't. That was Jason talking, during the three years they had been together and he had been so sly about it, she hadn't even realized just how far he had brought her confidence down. She'd been a young, hotshot consultant with her own thriving business when they'd met, and although work was still going well, she had been putting in way too many hours just to prove Jason wrong, to prove that she was worthy of him.
Excerpted from One Night in Santiago by Audra North, Heather Howland, Tahra Seplowin. Copyright © 2013 Audra North. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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