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One day, Josie Passano would be a world-famous interior decorator, and she would hire a personal driver. Then she would have someone to guide her around dark marinas at midnight to meet with clients who were too busy to see her at a reasonable hour.
Stepping carefully along the planked pier with boats tied up on both sides, she was grateful she'd at least thought to wear flats instead of the heels she normally preferred for client meetings. At five foot three, she liked the height and sense of presence a pair of heels could give herprobably a holdover from her days as a fashion designer. Of course, that was before all hell had broken loose in her former career. But tonight, under an inky sky, with waves splashing up onto the dock, wearing heels would have landed her at the bottom of the Atlantic for sure.
"Slip number thirty-nine, which one are you?" Shivering in the cooling late-summer air, Josie squinted at the tiny numbers etched into stone slab markers near the boats. She wished there were some signs of life on one of the decks so she could ask someone. How could she tell which watercraft went with which slip when there was a sailboat between thirty-seven and thirty-nine, plus a sailboat between thirty-nine and forty-one, but none directly in front of the markers?
With nothing to suggest one direction or the other, Josie tugged her cell phone out of her pocket and called her client, Wall Street bigwig Chase Freeman, for input on his boat's whereabouts.
"Chase, I'm standing between slip thirty-seven and thirty-nine and having a devil of a time figuring out which boat is yours." She peered around the docks, wishing the marina office was still open. "Can you call me back?"
Chase had requested a meeting on the vessel she hoped to decorate to fatten up her interior-design portfolio. They were distantly relatedhe was someone she saw at family wakes and weddingsbut she'd never particularly cared for him. He'd acted as if he was doing her a big favor while being difficult about agreeing on a time to meet. But she'd persevered because she needed the account, and it wasn't as if her packed schedule presented her with many openings, either.
By the time all was said and done, he'd insisted he couldn't do the meeting any other time but after a friend's engagement party in Chatham, name-dropping that the shindig was for Ryan Murphy. The Murphys were a well-known, mega-rich Cape Cod family, and the oldest son's engagement had been in the society papers in Boston, where her business was based. These days, Josie only read those papers to search for potential clients. She still held a grudge against the tabloids after they'd raked her over the coals for being a "party girl" when she was younger and circulating socially to promote her work in fashion. She'd put the fallout from those days to rest when she'd changed her name and left new York City. But she was still keeping that world at arm's length while she got her new business off the ground.
Anyway, Chase had yammered on and on about his travel schedule and a trip to Singapore, trying to impress her at every turn with his access to millions. Whatever. A big bank account didn't make you any cooler, in Josie's booka message she'd been trying to send her overprivileged parents ever since she was about ten. But Chase had a serious budget for this project, and as a struggling solo designer trying to break out onto the next level, she needed this kind of account. Decorating a boat interior would be something unique to add to her design portfolio before she pitched a do-it-yourself show to a Boston-based cable company.
Hello, new audience. Between her new name and location, it would take a little while before anyone made the connection to the scandal of her past. And by then, with any luck, her business and the show would have enough momentum to weather the inevitable media storm.
But first she had to work her tail off to get to that spot of unassailable success. Like now, when she was so exhausted from an open house in Yarmouth this morning that she could hardly put one foot in front of the other, let alone figure out which boat went with these cursed slip signs.
"This has to be it," she muttered to herself, tired of staring back and forth between slip thirty-seven and thirty-nine. The boat closest to her had a light on, and wouldn't that make sense for a man who expected company?
Decision made, she called Marlena.
"Josie, please say you arrived in one piece?" Her assistant, a college intern who'd stayed on after the internship was complete, launched right into conversation. "You sounded exhausted while you were driving."
"I'm here. And it's too late for you to be working, by the way." Josie shifted a bag full of design inspiration books to her other shoulder, glad to hear Marlena's voice. It was great to have help back at the office while she was out on the road.
"You're a fine one to talk. You set a terrible example for me, working constantly. Have you ever taken a vacation in your whole life?"
Josie grinned, far preferring this vision of herself to the one she'd grown up withthat you were only a success if you didn't have to work.
"I don't mean to be a bad role model. I just like the job."
"Me, too," Marlena replied. "That doesn't mean I can do it successfully if I'm at it eighteen hours a day."
"Heard and understood." Josie knew she would probably benefit from a little downtime. Maybe next year. In the meanwhile, she appreciated her assistant's candoras well as the work ethic that mirrored her own. "Have I thanked you lately for being my assistant?"
"Yes. Have I thanked you lately for treating me like a creative contributor and not a peon intern who can only fetch your coffee?" Marlena spoke loudly over the harpsichord music she favored whenever she sketched design ideas. "You're going places, J.P. I hitched my wagon to a rising star."
"Yes, well, I certainly hope so. But I wish I could have arrived here earlier. I had every intention of being on-site before sunset so I could look over the space in the daylight, but I got talking to that journalist at the open house." She'd been delayed by a woman from the local press who wanted to feature the historic home in Yarmouth in an upcoming style section.
While Josie talked, she stepped aboard the large, lit deck of the sleek boat in slip thirty-nine.
"Right. I sent her those photos you asked me about." Marlena turned down her music. "Will you call me when you finish up with Freeman?"
"No way." Josie walked carefully in case the deck was slippery, her eye on the stairs leading below deck, where it might be warmer. "You put in more hours than I pay you for already. I'll text you afterward and we'll talk in the morning, okay?"
"Deal. Good luck, J.P."
Disconnecting, Josie used the light on her cell phone to help illuminate a path to the covered section of the deck near what was obviously the control center for the vessel, complete with a radio and a couple of readout screens.
Still chilly from the cool air blowing off the waves, she hoped it was okay to seek a warmer part of the boat while she waited. Gingerly, she made her way down a couple narrow steps into the kitchen, where a low-wattage light over the countertop helped her find her way around. The boat was simple and somewhat austere, designwise. Functional, she supposed. She quite liked the vibe and found herself vaguely surprised that Mr. Moneybags owned something so understated. But then, he'd hired her to redo it, hadn't he? He probably wanted to deck the thing out in designer silks and mahogany. She didn't see any note from Chase inviting her to make herself at home, but then, thoughtfulness had never been his strong suit. At the last family reunion, she'd seen him texting under the table while halfheartedly engaged in a conversation with his great-aunt.
Josie found a couple wooden benches on either side of a small table, and promptly dropped her swatch books and inspiration pictures on one of the built-in seats. The cabin area remained dim even with some of the exterior deck light filtering through the high windows. Josie slid onto the seat beside her gear and promptly lurched forward, thanks to a particularly forceful wave.
Her stomach rolled in response.
Damn it. She hated to give in and take the motion-sickness meds she'd stashed in her purse, especially since she was already tired and the drug could make her drowsier. But while she hadn't been on a boat since she was seven or eight years old, she'd spent that short cruise to Catalina turning green and begging for the ride to be over. Drowsiness was preferable to tossing her cookies on Chase's shoes. Although chances were good he might deserve it, she needed this job too much to risk upsetting her client.
Popping two pills to be safe, Josie tugged out her swatch books and pictures, looking through them for design ideas to spruce up the vintage sailboat interior. She wanted to have some suggestions ready when Chase walked in, so they could sign the contract and be done for the night. The last thing she wanted to do was fall asleep while she waited.
But after forcing her eyes over the same line of copy and piece of ivory-colored sailcloth about ten times, Josie realized she was more exhausted than she'd realized. With little sleep the night before, prepping for today's open house, and lots of mingling with potential clients and guests from the press corps, followed by the drive to Chatham in the dark, she was wiped out. Good thing she had no personal life to speak of, or she'd never be able to keep up this pace.
Personal life. Ha! She didn't even want to think about how long it'd been since she'd indulged in that ultimate de-stressorhot, sweaty, fabulous sex. Scandal had erupted for her three years earlier when she'd been photographed kissing a congressman who'd never told her he was married. And the ensuing media frenzy had been a dropkick to her libido. Every photo of her ever taken had surfacedfrom the nights she'd trolled expensive clubs in her original designs to drum up interest in her work, to her teenage years, when she'd been a brat with too much money and privilege, flipping off paparazzi while shopping in Milan, or dancing in a public fountain in Amsterdam with a beer in hand. With all the negative publicity, Josie had made the decision to cut herself off from her family's fortune. She'd started over from scratch, reinventing herself completely.
The move had been a healthy one, and she thrived in her new field. But she hadn't found time to resurrect the sex life she'd left behind with the rest of her past
Shoving aside vague memories of intimacy from the years before she'd started her interior design business, Josie decided maybe she would be fresher for the meeting with Chase if she took the tiniest catnap. Clearly, the medicine was kicking in and giving the one-two punch to her already exhausted body.
She propped her chin on her hand and told herself she'd close her eyes only for a moment. She would hear Chase when he came on board, and be awake before he could walk down the stairs.
It was her last conscious thought before she succumbed to the delicious luxury of sleep, sweetened with a dream that brought a smile to her lips.