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"You are the hottest thing I've seen all night," the woman said.
She looked up to the docked yacht where Seven Carmi-chael stood, and watched him with a sly smile. She sipped from a glass of Scotch as she stood in the midst of the chaotic swirl of bodies on the back lawn of Marcus Stanfield's Star Island mansion. High heels. Tight jeans. A sheer white blouse showing off a lacy black bra underneath. She was a gorgeous flash in the night, something Seven could definitely appreciate, although he usually preferred his women a little less obvious. Actually, she wasn't just gorgeous. She was absolutely stunning.
His lips twitched in response to her compliment while another body part responded in a similar fashion to her sleek and sensuous body. "Thank you," he said. "You're not so bad yourself."
He'd forgotten how delightfully forward American women could be. He braced his arms against the boat's railing, watching the woman, who continued to boldly stare, hip cocked to one side, elbow of one arm resting in her palm, the crystal tumbler of Scotch held near her lips. Her gaze devoured his six-and-a-half-foot, muscled, toffee-colored frame.
"Don't worry, honey. I'm just taking in the view. I have no intension of touching the merchandise," the woman said. "At least not yet." She smiled again, a suggestive movement of her glistening maroon lips.
"Are you so sure you could handle me?" Seven teased.
She looked him over again, brown eyes sparkling, hair swept up into an elegant pompadour. "I could handle two of you, honey."
Seven was absolutely tempted to challenge the woman on her boast. The longer he looked down at her statuesque form, with its bold swath of hair and the white silk blouse fluttering in the breeze over her lace-cupped breasts, the more his intrigue and interest grew. But.. "Maybe I'll give you the chance to prove it another time," he said. "I have a twin."
The woman laughed, a husky gurgle of sound, and lifted her glass to him in salute. Then she turned on her high heels, treating him to a glimpse of her small but shapely behind in the tight jeans, and strutted down the walkway of the back lawn toward the mansion, where another party was going strong. Seven watched her go with regret, fighting the unfamiliar urge to rush after her and find out more about that heavily implied stamina of hers. He'd never been one for casual hookups, but something about that woman made him want to change his mind.
Seven stood on the deck of the yacht for a moment longer, feeling the minute movements of the Dirty Diana as she swayed in the dock, as much from the gentle undulations of Biscayne Bay as from the activities of the over two dozen partiers on board.
Beautiful women pranced around on the deck in their high heels. Well-dressed menmost with cigars in handstalked after them. Everyone was drinking and partying hard to Drake pounding from the speakers, their laughter high and bright. The hors d'oeuvres were plentiful and provided by uniformed waiters making regular trips between the mansion and boat. And at the center of it all stood Marcus Stanfield, Seven's host and recent acquaintance.
The billionaire playboy's generosity had come as a surprise to Seven, but he knew well enough from experience the whims and whimsies of the rich. He wouldn't let himself get too used to Marcus's hospitality. As quickly as it had been given, it could be taken away.
But at least Marcus's spur-of-the-moment generosity had brought Seven from the arid deserts of Dubai to a much more appealing climate. When Marcus had come to Seven's last solo show in the Arabian city, he had taken a liking to Seven's work, immediately buying two pieces and arranging to have them shipped to Miami. His attention brought Seven to the notice of a few others at the opening, including a B-list British actress whose pants Marcus was trying to get into.
The actress later hosted a dinner party for Seven at her home, where he and Marcus ended up talking for most of the night. Toward the end of the party, Marcus declared that he hadn't met anyone as interesting as Seven in a long time, and invited the artist to come with him to Miami as his guest. Seven, who had already planned on leaving Dubai, readily accepted the invitation.
Miami was his kind of town. Although he was visiting for only a short while, he could see himself settling down in a place like this. And not just for the abundance of beautiful women. It was the water, the international flavor of the city, the way certain sections reminded him of Jamaicaof Kingston, where his parents had moved from when he was a child. He was tired of living out of a suitcase, going wherever his work took him.
In the circle of hangers-on and admirers, Marcus caught Seven's eye and grinned, pointing with his glass of champagne to the two girls hanging off his arms. Do you want some of this? his look asked. Seven shook his head and smiled.
"No, thanks, man. Enjoy it."
The Dubai trip had worn him out. He'd spent almost two years there, finishing up the steel sculpture commissioned by the Bank of Arab Emirates. It was a prestigious commission. A well-paying one. If he wanted to, he could stop working for another two years and still live in the style to which he'd grown accustomed. But Seven liked working too much. Not to mention it was good to keep working while people still knew his name and were willing to pay exorbitant sums of money for something that came from his sweat and two hands.
In many ways, his career had been pure luck. He was lucky to have this life of his. Lucky Seven, as his mother called him. Her seventh child, the firstborn of the twins, her only children to survive past birth.
As Seven watched, one of the women from the pack surrounding Marcus separated herself and came toward him. She was short, but her stilettos gave her the much-needed height, helping to make her seem more grown-up than she actually was. Her rounded cheeks and the acne-dotted skin Seven could still see under her heavy makeup gave away her age. He would eat his welding helmet if she was even twenty-one. At thirty-five, he was far too old to be playing with children.
"What you doing out here by yourself, handsome?"
The girl tottered close, the hem of her cream-colored dress fluttering around her thighs, threatening to expose her backside. Seven vaguely remembered her from a few hours ago, when Marcus had made the introductions on the yacht. This one was filthy rich, an admitted art groupie who'd slipped her number in Seven's pocket once the introductions had been made.
She was pretty and bold, but instead of taking her to his bed, Seven wanted to clean the makeup off her face and return her to her parents.
"I'm checking out the view," Seven said with a smile.
The girl came even closer, sipping her nearly empty glass of champagne. She touched his arm, then playfully squeezed his biceps. "Yeah, me, too. And the view from where I stand is really hot." Her breath smelled like champagne and strawberries as she leaned against the railing toward him.
After the woman in the backyard, this girl seemed too self-conscious, a flashy beauty without the confidence to back it up. Seven gave the girl his most charming smile and touched her arm, saying without a word she was beautiful, but tonight wasn't the night. Her smile faltered. She clutched at the glass of champagne like a lifeline. A girl like this wasn't used to being refused anything.
"A gorgeous woman like you deserves better company than me," he said. "My head is in a whole different place tonight." He squeezed her waist and, before she could say anything else, left her in search of solitude.
Seven felt her bemused eyes on his back as he walked away, but did not turn around. As he gripped the railing to get off the yacht, Marcus swam out of his crowd of admirers to Seven's side.
"You having a good time, man?"
"You know I am." Seven slapped his host on the back.
"Good. I don't want you to get too bored." Marcus grinned as if that was an impossibility. He shoved a full glass of Scotch into Seven's hand. "Here. To make the party even better."
"If things get slow for me here, I can always head back down to the house. The action down there looks hot."
Hip-hop blared from the outdoor speakers on the back lawn of the mansion, while barely dressed women leaned from the balconies or danced suggestively to the music. Some had jumped into the pool in their party clothes, while others had simply stripped, inviting anyone else to join them with come-hither looks over their wet shoulders.
"Good, good. And don't forget you can stay here as long as you like. My place is your place. And everything in it." He inclined his head to encompass the women he'd just been talking to, one of whom was staring at him with a flirtatious come-get-it grin. She blew Marcus a kiss and he laughed, pretending to catch it and put it on his crotch.
"Thanks. I won't be staying too long at your place, though," Seven said, making a sudden decision. "I'll get my own soon. But before I get too settled here, I need to take care of a few financial things."
Most of his money was at a bank in England. He needed to set up accounts in the U.S. and arrange for his last check from the Bank of Arab Emirates to be sent there.
"That's the last thing you should worry about. I know a money guy who can help you with whatever you need."
A money guy, huh? Seven thought briefly about refusing Marcus's help. Although Seven's finances were very much in the black, in just a few short days of knowing the American billionaire, he'd received commissions worth almost three times what the bank in Dubai had paid him for the piece in their lobby. A man who made that happen probably knew a thing or two about multiplying and sheltering a fortune.
"Okay," he said. "I'll meet with your guy."
"Marcus, baby!" The sloe-eyed woman from across the room had apparently gotten tired of sending her kisses long-distance. She grabbed Marcus's arm. "It's time for you to tuck me in." She grinned, all tiny teeth and bountiful cleavage.
Seven held up his hands. "Go ahead. I won't keep you from your duties."
Marcus tossed a grin his way before walking off with the woman toward the sleeping quarters belowdecks. Seven stayed only long enough to finish his Scotch. That last drink forced him to acknowledge the tiredness tugging at his shoulders and making his lids flag over his eyes. The past few days of nonstop partying with Marcus were catching up to him. Seven placed his empty glass on the tray of a passing waiter and left the boat, heading down a stone-paved path to the small cottage at the back of Marcus's mansion. Music throbbed faintly behind him, followed him on his escape from the mad party, the sounds of laughter, a body splashing into the pool.
Seven let himself into the relative comfort of the cottage, undressed and fell into the bed. It enfolded him like a lover, soft as dreams yet firm under his back. Soon, he drifted into sleep, the worries and annoyances of his third day in Miami fading away with the sounds of the music from the larger house.
"Hey, wake up, rock star!" Someone pounded at the cottage door and called out again, "Wake up!"
Seven jolted from his sleep, reaching automatically for his cell phone on the bedside table to check the time. He swore under his breath. It was just past noon. Monday. But his body felt as if it could still do with another five hours of sleep. With a groan, he scrubbed a hand over his face. In the large mirror across from the bed, his reflection gazed tiredly back at him, bleary-eyed and naked. His body, hardened from years of lifting and shaping his steel sculptures, looked almost too heavy for him to haul out of the bed.
Whoever it was knocked on the door again, forcing Seven to gather the top sheet around his bare hips and stumble to open the door. Marcus stood there, grinning.
"About time you got your lazy ass up," he said.
A trio of young women stood behind him, staring over his shoulder at Seven's bare chest and stomach. Seven was suddenly glad that he'd taken the time to cover himself, otherwise the girls would have gotten more than they'd bargained for. But, looking at the scantily dressed girls who watched him with a shark's intensity, maybe they wouldn't mind seeing him naked, after all.
"Damn," one of the girls said under her breath.
Seven cleared his throat. "Morning. It's a little early, isn't it?"
"It's never too early." Marcus laughed as if he'd made some big joke.
Behind him, the girls tittered on cue.
"You remember the girls from last night, right?" Marcus gestured to the women around him by way of introduction. Kenya was the bleached-blonde with deep gold skin. Felice wore her hair in a short natural, a pretty complement to her deep chocolate complexion. And Masiel had a fountain of black hair spilling around her narrow, foxlike face. All three girls were fiercely made up, dressed as though they'd just come from the set of a rap video.
Confused, Seven looked at the foursome gathered on his borrowed doorstep and gave them a questioning look.
"I came to take you to that money guy I told you about," Marcus said. "The girls and I are on the way to that side of town and thought you might want to tag along."
Seven raised an eyebrow at "the girls," who wore tight skirts and body-hugging blouses of the animal-print variety. They didn't look ready to see anyone's money guy. Unless he was a pimp.
Marcus read his look accurately enough. "They're not seeing the banker, you are. Come on. Get dressed. Maybe after you're done we can go grab the jet and go for a bite and a sail in Cape Cod."
Seven hesitated. He was flattered by Marcus's interest, but he had had enough of the man's hearty company. Marcus was generous, but he seemed to expect to be entertained at all times. His investment in Seven made him think the artist was there for his entertainment. It was time to end this.
"I have to shower. I don't like leaving the house dirty," Seven said. "We'll wait."
And they did. As he walked out of the room to go shower, Marcus and the three girls sauntered into the small living area. Marcus fell into a sprawl on the couch while his companions grabbed the video game controllers and knelt in front of the fifty-inch flat screen to start a game.
In the bedroom, Seven quickly discarded the sheet and grabbed some clothes from his suitcase, climbed into the travertine-tiled shower and turned the water on full blast. The hot water washed away the last of his tiredness, flooding over his head and face, dripping through his lashes, over his mouth and down the muscular planes of his chest, belly, the thick stalk of his sex and his corded thighs. He sighed into the water, the heaviness in his body falling away to leave him awake.
Energized, he quickly finished his shower and dressed in jeans, a plain white Armani T-shirt and a favorite pair of loafers. He walked into the living room, fastening the clasp on his watch.