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Lindy Bell stared in growing horror, the plunger dangling from her fingertips ineffectual against the choking, gurgling and overflowing toilet that was burping water all over the tiled floor of Bungalow 2 at her grandparents' resort, Larimar. She jumped out of the way before disgusting toilet water washed over her flip-flops. Oh, yes, most definitely, without a doubtthis was hell. And she was going to kill her sister for dragging her here and then putting her on maintenance detail just because she knew the difference between a Phillips head screwdriver and a flat head.
Normally, Heath Cannonher sister's boyfriendwas in charge of the maintenance but he'd fallen off the roof and banged himself up pretty bad so he wasn't going to be any help for a while. It wasn't that she minded pitching inhell, she was here, wasn't she?but right now, she wanted to murder someone.
She caught movement at the corner of her eye and turned just in time to see a small blond head duck and disappear as light laughter tinkled after her.
"You monster," she muttered, dropping the plunger to chase after the girl, not caring at the moment that she was supposed to be the adult because she was about to tie the little nuisance to the nearest tree. "What did you stick down there this time?" she shouted, rounding the corner and nearly skidding into a tall man who was sheltering the aforementioned monster in his arms as if Lindy were the villain and the kid was actually a victim.
"What's going on?" he demanded, rubbing the girl's back with soothing and gentle motions, as if Lindy had traumatized her. If anyone was suffering from an emotional upheaval it was Lindy. Being dragged to Cruz Bay in the Virgin Islands on family business and forced on janitor duty was punishment for crimes she hadn't even committed yet. Unemployment sucked but unemployment in the entertainment industry was downright brutal. Her last gig had lasted only a few months and now she was on the hunt again, or rather, her agent should be hunting. In the meantime she had no choice but to stick it out at the resort with her sisters. At the moment she was looking at troubleshooting a clogged toiletjoy of all joysthat seemed to have been filled with sand, by the looks of it.
"May I ask why you're chasing my daughter with murder in your eyes?" the man asked.
"Probably because I want to kill the little brat," Lindy quipped, her kicked-up heart rate keeping time with her temper. "She filled the toilet with sand."
"How do you know it was Carys?" he asked stiffly, but Lindy suspected it was an act. Anyone with a kid that wretched had to know they had the devil's spawn on their hands. "Maybe the problem is simply the fault of the plumbing."
"Yeah, sure. It can't have anything to do with the beaches' worth of sand she poured down its throat. Or the fact that this isn't the first time maintenance has been called for problems with your toilet. Last week we fished five tiespresumably yoursfrom the trap." At his startled look, she smirked. "You ought to check your underwear drawer. She might be throwing your boxers away next."
"She's lying, Daddy," the little heathen shouted before burying her face in his Hawaiian shirt. Nothing said I'm on vacation more than a rayon shirt with giant magnolias on it. Lindy looked away in disgust as the girl fervently assured her father. "I didn't put the sand in the toilet, Daddy. I swear it."
"this is the first I'm hearing about the previous incident," he answered, having at least the grace to look discomfited by the revelation. "Five ties?"
"Yeah. Five. Expensive looking, too. We threw them out because they were mangled." Ugh. That kid of his was a great testament as to why some animals ate their young.
"Perhaps it was an accident
"Whatever," Lindy said, exasperated and severely annoyed by the whole situation and the man's inability to admit that his precious daughter was a nightmare. Turning on her heel, she added over her shoulder, "Expect to see a plumbing bill on your invoice. Thanks for staying at Larimar. Please feel free not to come again."
Lindy stomped away from the two, her temper still percolating, and abruptly changed direction toward the beach. One of the perks of living on a tropical island was the ready access to paradise and right about now, she needed a good dose of calm before she dealt with any more resort issues.
As she walked the path to the private beach belonging to Larimar, she realized someone was calling after her.
She turned and groaned. Great. Little Miss Perfect's Deaf Dumb and Blind Father. What she wouldn't give for a guilt-free plane ticket back to Los Angeles. "What?" she asked when he'd caught up to her, thankfully sans the hellion. Maybe he'd dug a pit and pushed her into it. Ha. One could dream but she wasn't holding out hope. She couldn't help the irritation in her voice or her expression. Too bad his kid was such a pain in the ass. He wasn't half-bad-looking for a lawyer type, which wasn't her type, per se; she liked rugged guys whose trucks were usually crusted in mud from four-wheeling through rough terrain. This guy, with his clean cuticlesprobably got manicuresand short-cropped dark hairprobably paid a fortune for that look at some high-priced salonlikely drove some overpriced European numbereither a Saab or an Audiand paid a valet to park it. But even with all those points against him, Lindy had to admit. .he wasn't hard on the eyes.
Gabe Weston stalked after the striking long-haired honey-brown brunette, choosing to focus on his ire rather than the fact that she was wearing a lemon-yellow bikini top that lovingly cupped her breasts and a sarong that hugged the womanly swell of near-perfect hips. She pushed her white, wide-rimmed sunglasses atop her head and fixed him with a look that was both appraising and annoyed, if there was such a thing.
"Do you know who I am?" he asked, mentally cringing that he'd actually said those words. He sounded like a pompous ass but her casual dismissal poked at his ego and frankly, after the situation with Carys, the filter he usually reserved for his mouth had fallen off, allowing him to spout crap he wouldn't under normal circumstances. But seeing as he was already making a fine impression, he might as well go all the way. "My name's Gabe Weston and I'm the one spending gobs of money at your resort right now during a down economy so I think a little respect or at the very least professional courtesy is warranted. An apology wouldn't be out of line, either."
"I agree. Your kid is a brat. I have a feeling there's probably a long list of people she ought to apologize to."
He didn't appreciate her quipit hit too close to the truth. Carys was a handful and nearly everyone she came into contact with wanted little to do with her for long. Secretly, it horrified him that his daughter had become such a terror but he couldn't seem to find the answer as to how to return her to the little girl she'd been before his wife died.
"I want to speak to your manager," he said quietly.
"Good idea, and while you're at it make sure you let her know how your kid flushed a pound of sand down the toilet and how it'll likely take three plumbers to figure out how to unclog it without having to rip open the sewage line. It'll save me a trip." She smiled. "Somehow I think I'll be forgiven for my less-than-courteous delivery. And if not, oh well. My family owns this resort. So, do your worst but don't get your hopes up. Like as not, I'm here for the duration."
"That doesn't give you license to abuse your guests," he said.
"And it doesn't give our guests license to be destructive. Listen, we don't have a whole lot of rules here at Larimar but when your kid is doing her best impression of a rock star by trashing the place, someone has to say something andlucky me!I got the short straw. So, get control of the kid or we'll have to ask you to find another place to chill. We savvy?" She slid her sunglasses back in place, obviously finished, and continued down the sandy walk to the beach, both him and his daughter seemingly forgotten.
Gabe stared after the woman, half tempted to follow but what did he have to say? Not much. His daughter was a hellion. And he didn't have a clue as to how to change that fact.
Biting off a string of silent curse words, he returned to the bungalow, hoping against hope that Carys hadn't destroyed something else in his short absence.
He found the bungalow eerily quiet, something he'd grown to mistrust, and went to Carys's bedroom door. "Are you in there, honey?"
"I didn't put sand in the toilet," she called out with a watery sniff. "That woman was lying."
He sighed. Yeah, he suspected someone was lying but it wasn't the brunette who had every right to be pissed off.
In a Time magazine article about the modern-day shark in the boardroom, Gabe, CEO of Weston Enterprises, was once described as being a man who ate his competition with all the violent, single-minded focus of a great white. In short, he bit and chomped and what he left behind wasn't enough to feed a goldfish.
And yet, as he struggled to rein in the desire to pound on the bedroom door of the rented bungalow, he was most certain an eleven-year-old girl was going to be the death of him.
Or more specificallyan eleven-year-old girl who bore half his DNA and was bound and determined to turn every single strand of his hair gray.
"Carys Deanne, I'm not playing around. We need to talk about this latest stunt," he said, feeling more than a bit foolish for speaking to a door but unwilling to invade his daughter's privacy. "This is very serious business, which will likely be very expensive to fix. You're lucky we have two bathrooms in the bungalow or else we'd be in a jam when either one of us needed to use the restroom."
"I said she's lying! I hope she drowns in the ocean for what she's saying about me," shrieked his daughter in a shrill voice, eliciting a frown from Gabe. "Why do you believe hera strangerover your own daughter?" There was a short pause, then a barely audible, "Mom would've believed me."
He winced even as he recognized the ploy to manipulate him. "Carys, leave your mother out of this," he said sternly. "The issue is about the property damage. You're going to apologize."
"You can't make me. I'll spit in her face. Try me."
"That's not very nice, sweetheart," he chided her gently. "I know you don't mean what you're saying."
"I do mean it. And if you try to make me, I'll stay in my room until I die," Carys said with the theatrical flair that had always made him and his wife laugh when she was smaller. But since Charlotte's death a year ago, Gabe had found little to smile about when it came to his daughter's antics.
He'd brought them to Cruz Bay, St. John, with the hope that a change of scenery would help his daughter's increasingly bad attitude. But she'd just managed to terrorize and scare away the second nanny in as many weeks and he wasn't sure what to do any longer. He'd hoped to find a way to channel her destructive behavior into something productive but she'd sabotaged the art classes, sulked through the native dancing classes, and flat-out ditched the music lessons he'd managed to find on the small island.
He was plain out of ideas and patience. "Carys, you will apologize even if I have to drag you from that room and plop you in front of the woman you're so adamant is the one lying. Your behavior is out of control. Time to get a grip, kiddo."
"You can't make me!"
"Yes, I can," he said, tight-lipped. He sent a quick look toward the heavens where he liked to think his wife was watching and chuckling over his bumbling attempts at being mom and dad and muttered, "I need a little help here. . At this rate, she's not going to live to see twelve!"
He stalked away from the door before his temper got the best of him and went to the kitchen to find a bottle of water. What was he going to do with her? His daughter's behavior was nearly beyond his ability to handle.
He knew she was grievinglosing Charlotte had been a blow to them bothbut it didn't seem as if Carys was even close to healing. His daughter was mired in anger and plenty comfortable in her own little mud pit of sorrow. He cracked the top of the plastic bottle and swigged the water. The humidity was brutal that day. It was hurricane season in St. John, which meant temperamental weather. One minute it was sunny and hot, the next it was time to batten down the hatches and tie down the patio furniture.
His smartphone buzzed in his pocket and he fished it out. A work call. He paused a moment, torn between taking the call and having another conversation with Carys, but the decision became easier when he heard something hard and heavy thump against Carys's closed door. His little darling had just thrown something. He closed his eyes for a brief second and then walked away. "Hey, Gary," he answered, switching gears almost gratefully. "How's the Mercer and Jones acquisition coming?"
Standing at the helm of a multimillion-dollar company was easier by far than handling the fickle emotions of one eleven-year-old girl.
Heaven help him.