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Awakening to the sounds of waves crashing, Sloane Hepburn couldn't help but smile. She had to pinch herself to believe she was actually living— not vacationing— in Maui, Hawaii. Sand. Sun. Ocean. Mountains. Palm trees. As much a paradise as anything she'd ever seen. Yet here she was, relocated from Raleigh, North Carolina, after getting promoted to director of guest relations at her company's grand resort hotel, Island Shores, located in Wailea on Maui's southern coast.
Leaving behind family and friends was not easy, but she would have been a fool to pass up the opportunity afforded her for career advancement. After all, wasn't that why she went to college and worked so hard? With no great love of her life keeping Sloane in Raleigh, the job had to come first. Besides, she was sure there were plenty of hot men as prospects in Maui, though she suspected the best ones were probably tourists and therefore not for her.
Sloane had been in Maui for only a few days and had yet to find a place to call home. Staying in a nice oceanfront suite at the hotel was satisfying, but she preferred keeping work and her private life separate.
After throwing on some running clothes and tying her long raven hair into a ponytail for a morning jog, Sloane left her seventh-floor room. When she got downstairs, she saw her boss in the lobby. Alan Komoda was the general manager of Island Shores.
Good morning, he said in a cheery voice.
Morning, Alan, Sloane said to the sixtysomething, white-haired Polynesian man, noting he was wearing his usual expensive dark suit. She felt a little self-conscious at being casually dressed instead of being in her business attire.
Are you settling in all right on the island?
Yes, thanks. Maui is definitely agreeing with me.
Good to know. His eyes crinkled. We're happy to have you as part of our staff.
She blushed. Works both ways.
By the way, there's a large contingent coming in from Japan in two days. They love everything about the water, so I want to make sure we do whatever we can to make their visit unforgettable.
I'll take care of it, Sloane assured him, already aware of the group. She had come up with some great water adventures for them.
Alan nodded and then waved her off as his cell phone rang.
Sloane left the hotel and soaked in the warm air as it hit her face, along with the humidity. Dawn had barely crept over the horizon. She walked the few steps to the beach, sucked in a deep breath, and began to run with the wind.
She'd been jogging since high school and couldn't think of a better way to work out and get her heart racing.
Well, maybe there was another way. She briefly imagined meeting a drop-dead gorgeous man and making sweet, passionate love to him all night long. That would certainly raise the blood pressure and temperature, while exercising every part of her body in an enjoyable manner.
Sloane felt herself getting hot from the thought in combination with the run and cleared her mind, preferring the real thing to imagination. She was jogging along the shoreline and barely cognizant of the rather large wave that seemed to come from nowhere. It slammed right into her, knocking Sloane onto her bottom, drenching her from head to toe.
For an instant, panic set in as Sloane actually wondered if she might be washed out to sea and lost forever. I don't want to die. The idea of her life ending tragically before it ever truly began had her head spinning. Then, as though her prayers had been answered, she felt powerful arms lift her straight up and onto wobbly legs.
Without taking the time to study this magnificent creature that stood firm in a coat of dark fudge armor, Sloane found her hands wrapping around his thick neck gratefully, hanging on for dear life as the wave disappeared from whence it came.
Are you all right? the profoundly masculine voice asked, sincere concern in his tone.
I think so, Sloane said, realizing she was still hugging him. Part of her could have stayed that way forever, somehow feeling protected in knowing that his muscular arms were snuggled around her as well and apparently in no hurry to let her go. But the fact was the man was a total stranger and she was wet and sandy. Those factors forced Sloane to pry her arms away from his hard body. You can probably let me go now.
He complied with her request and honed in on her with incredibly sexy and deep gray-brown eyes. No problem.
I'm not sure what just happened she murmured.
Looks like you were caught by a sneaker wave. I saw it coming and called out to you, but I guess the noise from the ocean drowned me out, so to speak.
Sloane colored under the weight of his gaze, which showed no hesitancy in wandering up and down her body as if sizing her up for the taking. She could feel the moist fabric of her clothing clinging to her every curve almost invitingly.
Well, two could play that game. She took a moment to assess her admittedly very nice-looking hero. He was, like her, in his early thirties. With a rich chocolate complexion, he was maybe six-three— bringing her head to his shoulders— with muscles threatening to rip from underneath his navy tank. He wore black mesh shorts, showing off runner's bulging quadriceps and long, sturdy legs tapering down to his bare feet. It was almost as though he were created entirely from her sexual fantasy, perfectly enticing from top to bottom.
Sloane blinked away such delicious thoughts as her eyes came up again to his. Well, thanks for your help, she told him, feeling more than a little embarrassed. I didn't realize the waves could come up so suddenly.
There's usually more bark than bite to them, he suggested. Had the wave decided to take you out for a ride, I would've come after you, believe me, and pulled you back to safety.
Oddly enough, Sloane believed every word, even if the notion of placing her life in another person's hands, no matter how capable, unnerved her.
So you're a lifeguard? she asked. And a very attractive one at that.
He chuckled with a deep resonance, cheeks dimpling in the process. Me, a lifeguard? I don't think so. Just someone who couldn't live with himself if a pretty lady was lost at sea and I was around to stop it from happening and didn't.
Sloane wasn't used to such a smooth operator. Not to mention one who was willing to put his life on the line for her. A pity he was likely only visiting Maui before heading back to who knew where. She wouldn't be surprised at all if his wife or girlfriend were waiting for him in their hotel room, eager for his company. After all, who came to Hawaii alone?
Again, I appreciate your being around when you were.
No big deal, he said coolly. By the way, my name's Gene Malloy.
Hi. I'm Sloane Hepburn. Nice to meet you, Sloane Hepburn. You too, she replied. Are you here on vacation?
Sloane weighed how much she should tell someone she was likely to never see again. My job brought me here.
His eyes widened with surprise. Or perhaps delight. That so? What do you do?
I work in guest relations at a hotel.
Sounds like interesting work.
It is most of the time, she said.
And the rest?
Sloane smiled. Tedious, but I'm not complaining. She was surprised how easily she could talk to him. Did he have that effect on all women? Or only those sopping-wet from a sneaker wave?
Of course not, Gene said, clearly amused.
So what about you? she wondered.
What about me?
Are you on holiday?
He gave her a lopsided grin. You could say I'm on holiday 24/7. Or damned near.
She raised a brow. You mean you're independently wealthy and go wherever you want to?
Not exactly. Gene turned around and pointed to a cluster of palm trees just beyond the beach. I run a bed-and-breakfast up there. It keeps me on my toes, but I don't consider it work per se.
Sloane would never have imagined this marvelous specimen of a man to be the owner of a bed-and-breakfast— and in Maui, no less. One just never knew these days. She wondered if he ran it alone or with a special lady in his life.
Deciding they had probably already taken up too much of each other's time and wanting to go shower off the sand, Sloane met Gene's enticing eyes. I'd better let you get back to your bed-and-breakfast.
Probably a good idea, he agreed. My guests can get restless when breakfast is not on time.
She smiled, trying to picture him cooking for a group. Or did the breakfast side of his establishment consist of mainly cereal, fruit and nuts?
Have a nice day, she told him.
You, too. And stay away from those sneaker waves.
Sloane flushed. I'll try my best.
She started running back toward the hotel, turning briefly to see Gene walking up the beach. He was looking her way and raised a long arm to wave. She waved back, hoping this wouldn't be the last time they saw each other.
Or was she hoping for too much, considering that Gene Malloy likely had much more on his mind than rescuing damsels in distress? Even if this one found him to be utterly handsome and the type of man she could imagine cuddling under the sheets with for some hot fun and frolic. Just because she was married to her job, in a manner of speaking, didn't mean she had to live like a nun in Maui. Especially if the right man happened to materialize and was also looking for a nonserious but very romantic fling.
Gene Malloy was tempted to follow the striking lady named Sloane Hepburn like a lust-struck puppy. But he thought better of it. As much as he would love to take her to bed and get to know her in every intimate way possible, it probably wasn't going to happen. Having been married once with damned near disastrous results, he wasn't looking to jump back into a serious relationship in the foreseeable future. Sloane struck him as someone who wasn't into casual sex. Or did he have her pegged wrong?
Gene stopped in his tracks and watched as Sloane continued to put some distance between them. Every morning he liked to come out on the beach, soak in the atmosphere, and get ready for another day in paradise. The last thing he expected to see before his very eyes was a beautiful woman running way too close to the water, practically asking it to knock her down on her lovely tush.
Well, she got her wish. He could see that she was shaken up about the whole thing, as though the ocean would have swallowed her up whole. Though that was never going to happen, it had given him a good excuse to come over and help her out while getting an up-close look. He wasn't disappointed in the least.
Sloane was easily the most attractive woman he'd seen in some time. Long and silky wet coal-colored hair cascaded down her back and bordered a heart-shaped face. Bold sable eyes captivated him beneath thin brows, and a dainty nose perched over her pouty lips. Her skin shade was like melted sweet caramel, and her slender body oozed sex appeal beneath the red fitness bra and blue athletic shorts. He imagined those long, shapely legs wrapped around his waist while they made frenetic love.
Taking looping strides, Gene crossed the beach and came upon Malloy's Bed and Breakfast. He'd purchased the remodeled 1930s two-story plantation home in a quiet residential area in Wailea four years ago with his then-wife, Lynda. It was supposed to be their dream come true to turn the place into the perfect getaway for travelers to Maui. But the dream became a nightmare when Lynda grew homesick and decided she was better off without him or the bed-and-breakfast. She returned to their hometown of Detroit and filed for divorce.
Gene had known that they were drifting apart for a while, but had hoped the relocation to Maui and away from family influences might be enough to save the marriage. All it did was prolong the inevitable. Now he was on his own and determined to keep the bed-and-breakfast running and profitable. Things were looking pretty good on both counts at the moment.
Having someone new in his life was something Gene would definitely welcome, so long as the person understood that his priority these days was playing host to his guests. Most women weren't secure enough to play second fiddle. He wondered if Sloane Hepburn was any different. Or had her business relocation also had a romantic element to keep her company at night?
After brushing off the sand that Sloane had passed his way when he lifted her up and they held each other, Gene went in the back door. He didn't see any of the guests up and at it yet, which suited him just fine. It would only take a few minutes to get breakfast ready.
In the gourmet kitchen, Gene glanced around at its Euro-style cabinetry, engineered stone countertops, butcher-block center island, and Sub-Zero wine refrigerator before washing his hands. He sliced up locally grown organic pineapple, papayas, mangoes and strawberries. He placed the fruit on a platter and then got out cereal, yogurt, granola, bagels, muffins and macadamia nuts. This was followed by tropical juices, assorted teas and fresh-ground Maui-grown coffee.
He began setting things out on the covered lanai, surrounded by coconut palm trees and adorned with orange and purple bougainvillea, expecting the guests to show up at any moment.
Gene paused, taking stock of his bed-and-breakfast. There were four guest suites, each designed with its own theme that reflected the island: Ocean Suite, Beach Suite, Garden Suite, and Paradise Suite. Currently only the Paradise Suite was unoccupied, until the guests arrived later this afternoon.