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Getting the job at Tempest Maui Hotel as event planner had been a breeze. With her impressive résumé in hand, Vanessa Dupree walked right into today's interview with confidence and answered the hotel tycoon's questions with all of the intelligence and charm she possessed. Then she smiled winningly with promise in her eyes. Promises that arched Brock Tyler's dark eyebrows a bit and had his gaze wandering to her "other" assets. Vanessa silently fumed. Brock was a charmer, all right. Black hair, perfectly groomed, dark eyes that could mesmerize and classy clothes covering a fit body; it was a small wonder her younger sister fell for him back in New Orleans.
He didn't know that Melody Applegate and Vanessa Dupree were related and that's exactly how she intended on keeping it. Vanessa shoved the image of her heartbroken sister, teary-eyed and devastated, out of her mind, for now.
She rose from her seat. "Thank you for the opportunity, Mr. Tyler. You won't be sorry you hired me."
The lie flowed easily from her lips.
He stood up and instead of reaching across his desk for a handshake, walked around to grasp her hand and give a gentle but firm tug. "The success of this hotel is very important to me. I handpick all my employees. Welcome to the team, Miss Dupree."
Vanessa squirmed a little under his steady gaze. He stood a head taller than her and she felt his dominating presence far more than when a bamboo-accented desk separated them. The man oozed sexual prowess with every movement he made and his hand touching hers brought queasy jitters to her stomach. "Thank you."
"I'll see you tonight for dinner."
"Dinner?" Vanessa's voice squeaked. The man worked fast.
"There'san employee dinner meeting every Wednesday night. Seven o'clock in the Aloha conference room."
"Right," she said, steadying her nerves. "I'll be there."
Brock nodded and walked her to the door, his eyes flickering from her tightly pulled back platinum hair, down the bodice of her navy-blue business suit, lingering a second on her breasts, then to the hem of her dress. "We dress more casual here. We want the guests to feel relaxed. No more business suits and let your hair down."
Sizzling heat rivaling the Hawaiian sun raced through her system when his gaze returned to her hair. She touched a strand absently. "It's natural. The color, I mean."
Good heavens, Vanessa. Get a grip.
Those dark brows rose again, but he didn't voice his doubt.
"My mother always said it was a freak of nature. No one in the family has this color hair."
He looked at her hair again and nodded. "Pretty."
"Oh, I wasn't fishing for a compliment, Mr. Tyler."
Though that's exactly how she'd sounded.
"No, I doubt you'd have to hunt down compliments, Vanessa."
The soft tone of his voice when he spoke her name brought another round of jitters to her stomach.
He was good, she surmised.
Sexy. Rich. Powerful.
But Vanessa wouldn't let that discourage her from her mission. She thought of the pain he'd caused Melody last month. Her sister had been beside herself with grief. She'd fallen hard and fast for her tycoon employer in New Orleans and Brock had discarded her like yesterday's newspaper. To him, she was old news. Vanessa had never seen her sister cry so much or so hard. She'd been destroyed by his abrupt dismissal and rejection. He hadn't cared that he'd broken her young naive heart after dating her for weeks and leading her on.
Vanessa had firsthand experience with this kind of man. She'd been dumped a few times and she remembered how much that had hurt. She learned how to weed out the insincere men and steer clear. Melody, on the other hand, being six years her junior, hadn't the experience to handle a man like Brock Tyler.
Vanessa had always championed her younger half sister's cause. She'd watched out for her. She'd protected her all of her life. In most respects, she'd mothered Melody when their own mother had become too ill to do it. Vanessa had taken over the role then and those tendencies were hard to change.
Compelled by anger and a sense of justice, Vanessa couldn't pass up this chance to finally give Brock Tyler a taste of his own medicine. The event planner position had fallen into her lap. She'd always wanted to see Hawaii, and now she'd be here for a time, subletting a little condo on the island. All things had fallen into place.
Yet, after meeting Brock Tyler, Vanessa understood the challenge. It wouldn't be easy. He'd be a worthy adversary but that wouldn't deter her. She'd come to the island for one reason and one reason only.
To ruin Brock Tyler.
* * *
"Vanessa Dupree is teaching the class?" Brock Tyler watched his new event planner on an exercise mat lift one firm, gorgeous leg over her head on Tempest Maui's sandy beachfront.
"Yes, sir." Akamu Ho, his hotel manager, nodded. "Pilates. She didn't want our guests to miss out when Lucy called in sick this morning."
"Enterprising woman." His newest employee had spunk and a great résumé. From the moment they'd met in the interview, Brock had been intrigued. He'd debated about hiring her. His instant attraction to her had knocked his well-honed senses off the charts. Not that Brock had trouble mixing business with pleasure normally, but he couldn't jeopardize the success of Tempest Maui. His focus and all of his attention had to be directed to the newly renovated hotel.
Brock walked from the plush Garden Pavilion onto the sands of Tranquility Bay toward the dozen guests working out on the beach. When Vanessa spotted him, she wiggled three fingers in a wave.
Her natural smile and that Marilyn Monroe hair were eye-stopping enough, but add the skimpy black spandex shorts with her tanned midriff exposed and Brock had a helluva time containing his lust.
He leaned against a tall palm tree and waited for her to finish. After leading the class in a cooldown exercise that had his blood heating up, she dismissed the class. He walked over to her, helping her pick up the mats and stack them in one pile on the sand. "So you're a Pilates expert, too? I didn't see that in your résumé."
Her low rumble of throaty laughter brought images of hot sex on the sand. "I'm not an expert. I just enjoy exercise. I've always been flexible."
Brock cleared his throat, but that image of sex with her on the sand went from hazy to vivid in two seconds flat.
"When Lucy called in sick with a high fever, I didn't want to disappoint the guests. I let them know I wasn't an expert or anything, but I could lead them in a class."
She picked up a towel and wiped sweat from her forehead. Beads of perspiration coated her body and brought a shimmering sheen to her tanned skin.
"They all thanked me," she said with a slight shrug. "I think they enjoyed it."
"I'm sure they did," Brock said, trying to keep his mind on the reason he'd come out here. "In just the week you've worked here, you've made an impression. Stepping in today for Lucy shows you've got team spirit and the hotel's interests in mind."
With the towel placed around her neck, she gazed into his eyes, squinting a bit in the sunlight. "Are you saying you're glad you hired me?"
She surprised him with her blunt assessment. "I'm a good judge of character."
Then he focused on the reason for approaching her in the first place, setting aside the fact that he'd have watched her do her flexible exercises for no other reason than pure fascination. "Actually, I need to speak with you about some upcoming events that are important to the hotel."
"Okay. Should I shower and change and meet you in your office?"
That had been his plan initially, but now it seemed sacrilegious to ask a gorgeous woman to change out of revealing spandex. "No, let's walk the beach. I've got a full schedule today and doubt I'll get outside again before the sun sets."
That much was true. Brock didn't spend enough time outside on these gorgeous Hawaiian days. Whenever he could, he'd go out on his yacht, harbored in Tranquility Bay to get away from the mounds of paperwork he'd encountered since the renovation project began months ago. Now he had a wager with his brother Trent, for ego's sake more than anything else, to make a bigger success of his hotel than Trent had with Tempest West in Arizona. The two had always been competitive and with the added bonus of his late father's beloved classic Thunderbird as the prize, Brock had everything to gain by seeing that his hotel prospered.
They walked in morning sunshine along the warm sand, the ocean humming more like a small kitten than a lion's roar.
Brock got right to the point. "These first few events will make or break our hotel's reputation. As you know, this hotel had been closed down for more than a year due to poor management. Certainly not because of location. My brothers and I saw the hotel's great potential as a destination spot for weddings, conventions, fashions shows and major parties. The renovations are complete and now it's up to all of us, including you, to see that we succeed, Vanessa."
Vanessa nodded, her head down. "I understand that, sir."
He winced at her serious tone. He was used to commanding respect from his employees, but somehow, the "sir" coming from Vanessa's sensual lips didn't sound quite right. "Call me Brock."
When she glanced up, he smiled. "We'll be working closely from now on. You and I might as well drop the formalities."
"Okay Brock." She cast him a quick coy smile.
Brock couldn't quite figure her out. Several times this week he'd caught her watching him, but the minute their eyes met she'd looked away abruptly. What had he witnessed in those pretty blue eyes?
"We have a wedding next week. It's a big expensive affair and the hotel has booked over three hundred guests. You've been working with the wedding coordinator, I suspect?"
"Yes, since the moment I hired on. I have the details covered, Mr. uh, Brock."
"I've done wedding coordinating before. I've got it under control."
Her qualifications were impeccable. She'd had experience in event planning for a large corporation as well as a major hotel chain, working at one time for a competitor, actually. Brock had been fortunate she'd come along when she had.
"I'm counting on your expertise to make this happen."
"I'm good at making things happen." She spoke that last word softly, the woman oozing sensuality.
Brock stopped to gaze into her eyes. A little, throaty laugh escaped and he didn't mistake the demure look she cast him. "How good?" he asked, all thought of business now out of his mind.
"Oh, very good," she whispered, her gaze dropping to his mouth.
Brock was ready to pull her into his arms and crush his lips to hers, until she took a step back. "About the other events?"
"We'll talk about those later," he said, keeping his frustration at bay. He'd almost kissed her. Hell, he wanted to, but she'd backed off.
"Is there anything else you'd like to discuss with me?"
He shook his head. "No. Just concentrate on the wedding."
"Okay. Well, I'd better get to that shower now. I have work to do." She turned and jogged away, leaving him a stunning view of her backside and wondering what she'd do if he'd joined her in the shower.
* * *
Vanessa drove her MINI Cooper to Lucy's small home in a residential part of the island. She parked her car and carefully juggled a pot of homemade chicken soup and a bag of navel oranges. Knocking had been tricky, but she managed and waited for Lucy to open the door.
"Hi. Did I catch you napping?"
Lucy looked miserable. Her long raven hair was disheveled and her eyes were watery. "No, I'm up. Are you sure you want to come in? I don't know what I have, but it's nasty."
"I'm sure. Don't worry, I never get sick. I brought you the cure. Hot chicken soup and fresh-squeezed orange juice. I'm the squeezer," she added, chuckling.
Lucy opened the door wider and Vanessa entered. "You're so sweet to do this, but remember I warned you."
"I'll take my chances."
Lucy shook her head and sighed. "You fill in for me today with my class and now you bring me nourishment. How can I ever thank you?"
"You can tell me where can I put these things."
"Oh, follow me."
They walked into a big kitchen area, which seemed to also serve as her main living space, an oblong bay window caught a view of the Pacific Ocean between rooftops. Vanessa set the bag of oranges on the bright-white-tiled countertop and handed Lucy the soup container. "This place is great."
"Thanks," she said, her eyes sparking with pride as she set the soup pot onto a four-burner range. "It's small and affordable and I couldn't resist the view. Any place here with a view goes for a bundle, so I consider myself lucky."
"How are you feeling?"
"My fever's gone. Now I'm just exhausted." Lucy plopped into a dark cane chair and gestured for Vanessa to also sit at the kitchen table.
Vanessa shook her head. "No, let me heat up the soup and squeeze you some juice. I'll have it all ready in no time."
"This is very nice of you," Lucy said.
"You were friendly to me all week at the hotel and I well, I don't have any friends on the island yet. Besides, I'm kind of a nurturer. My younger sister would say too much so. Just kick me out when you want to rest."
Vanessa turned the knob on the gas range to simmer then found a knife from a block on the counter. "Do you have a juicer?"
"Just a manual one in that drawer behind you."
Vanessa found the juicer and began twisting cut oranges onto the cone-shaped device.
"So how did the class go?"
"You mean after I told the disappointed guests that you were out sick? I guess it went okay. Not too many grumbles," Vanessa said, smiling while pressing half an orange down, squeezing out every last ounce of juice. "I didn't expect the big boss to show up."
"Mr. Tyler was there?" Lucy's expression brightened.
"Yep. He watched me through the class, probably making sure I didn't scare any guests away."
"He's dedicated to the hotel," Lucy said, dreamy-eyed. "He's got some sort of competition going with his brother. He told the staff about it when we all hired on. Big bonuses for all of us if the hotel does well."
Vanessa couldn't conceal a frown. "Is that so?"
He'd brought devastation to Melody without blinking an eye, walking out on her when she'd needed him the most. He'd abandoned her for another woman and now Vanessa couldn't wait to work on her plan to screw up the beloved Tempest Maui.