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Well, this was it. She'd come full circle. Back to where her dream of organizing glamorous events had been born and was now about to be realized. If she could get the job, that was.
But first she had to conquer her lame phobia of gilded front doors.
Alyssa Hunt stared across South Miami Beach's Ocean Avenue at the Samba Hotel. As part of the renovations, workmen in overalls applied touch-up paint around the arched windows, the afternoon sun glinting off the glass. A salty Atlantic breeze rustled the fuchsia-tipped hibiscus lining the path to the staff entrance in back.
Years ago, she'd donned her waitress uniform to work at least a dozen catering jobs at the luxury hotel. And always, always entered via the rear.
She tugged on the jacket of her off-the-rack gray suit, shifting her gaze from the ornate front entry to the walkway that led to the service entrance. No mocking doorways back there.
With a frown, she let out a soft sigh of exasperation and gripped the handle of her tote.
Come on, Alyssa. Quit being such a wuss. It's time to take your business to the next level. And hovering in a quasi-purgatory state of indecision won't get you what you want.
She took a deep breath and waited for a break between cars. When it came, she crossed the road, boldly striding for the front door.
Fifteen minutes later Alyssa exited the elevator into the bright sunshine of the Samba's rooftop deck, heading toward a row of chaise longues. She was too stunned to take in the scenery. And as the realization she was one step closer to success finally sank in, she stopped to set her tote down and clutch the back of a chair, pressing a hand over her eyes. "Are you all right?"
The deep baritone voice echoed across the water of the pool, but Alyssa ignored the interloper.
Of course she was all right. She'd shown up. She'd conquered her ludicrous fear of fancy entryways. Best of all, she'd scored an appointment for an interview. For a gig she wasn't quite qualified for. Oh, she could do the job. She knew she could. It was exactly the kind of contract she'd been preparing for since she started Elite Events. Unfortunately, now she had to convince the owner. Not the manager, the owner.
Her stomach rolled, and she dropped her palm to her belly, as if she could soothe the jittery butterflies engaged in a feeding frenzy over her nerves.
"Lady, maybe you should take a seat before you keel over."
The voice was followed by a rhythmic splash of water. Whoever it was, he was swimming in her direction. And though she wasn't about to keel over, thank you very much, maybe his advice was sound.
Besides, she'd hate to find out she was wrong and ruin her skirt.
She rounded the chair, dropping into the cushioned seat. Elbows on her thighs, forehead against her fingers, she stared down at her feet and blew out a breath.
So what if none of the events on her resume were as grand as those at a five-star hotel? So what if she'd chosen saferalbeit less excitingsmall corporate events? She'd learned a lot since she started her business. And she was good. She knew she was good.
Arrange a kickass employee appreciation party on a budget? No problem. Keep her cool at a retirement luncheon as the intoxicated retiree barfed on her shoes? Bring it on.
Ten years after her royal screw-up, and five years after starting her business, she was finally applying for a job that catered to the moneyed set. A class of society responsible for countless humiliating memories. It had taken her all night to psyche herself up to ask for a meeting with the manager. And now she had to face the billionaire owner, Paulo Domingues.
Billionaire. With a boldfaced capital B.
Her stomach flipped again, and she closed her eyes, using deep breathing exercises to regain control. Which went well until sparkles of light began to shimmer behind her eyelids. It took a moment for her to realize she was teetering on the edge of hyperventilation.
Clearly her relaxation technique sucked.
"Here," the man said from beyond the twinkling darkness.
She forced herself to inhale slowly, lifted her lids, and caught sight of her high-heeled sandalsthe token designer accessory she'd added for a hint of style. Oh, good, no more annoying sparklies in her peripheral vision. With her breathing finally in line, she shifted her attention forward and spied bare masculine feet, water pooling on the deck around them.
Her gaze slid up past a pair of muscular thighs. With a growing sense of unease, she moved on to lean hips enveloped in a Speedo and then a flat abdomen. This was followed by an underwear model chest, complete with the obligatory ripples.
Sunshine glinted off rivulets coursing down the sculpted torso as the man held out a bottle of water in her direction.
Alyssa was handling the disturbing image just fine until he gave a shake of his black hairand flying water droplets landed close to her pricey high heels.
With a faint disgusted sound she leaned over to check the leather. She'd paid a mint for those shoes. She lifted her head, preparing to give the man hell.
Until her gaze met his. Dark eyes. With a hint of heat. Eyes housed in the handsome face of Paulo Domingues. Her mouth froze, and her blood drained lower, her head growing light.
Great. What sick, twisted turn of karmic fate was this?
He continued to hold out the bottle, his forehead creased with concern. "You look pale."
Uh yeah. Because all her blood had reconvened south of her belly button.
Like many in this city, his muted Latino heritage was tinctured with an American flavor that matched his accent. But just because she'd been presented with a vista of downtown Miami to the west, cerulean sky over the Atlantic to the east, and a shimmering pool garnished with a fantasy-worthy, ridiculously wealthy male specimen, she was not going to swoon.
She never swooned. Damnit, she was better than that.
He nodded at the bottle in his hand. "Drink this." A sexy half-smile flickered across his face. "And then I'll get you something stronger."
There wasn't enough alcohol in the world to get her through the next few minutes.
Her heart thrummed beneath her ribs, and she accepted the offer with a nod of thanks.
As she sipped the icy water, her gaze followed him anxiously as he crossed to a table piled with clothes and swiped a towel down his legs. He pulled on jeans over his bathing suit, and she relaxed in relief. But then he returned to stand in front of her, folding his bicep-laden arms across his beautifully naked chest, scanning her face as if to assess if she was okay.
The concern was nice, but for crying out loud, what was with the shirtless Taylor Lautner impression? And why couldn't she finish her panic attack in peace?
Hoping he'd take the hint, she checked her watch and then looked up at him, searching for a gracious way to tell him to take a hike. And, please God, don't let her hick accent surface. "I believe we have an appointment in fifteen minutes."
His eyes lit with a twinkle. "Nice to know you can speak." He headed for a nearby corner bar, bypassing the table with his remaining clothes. "Otherwise it would have been a very short interview, Ms .?"
Shoot, he was still bare-chested. "Alyssa Hunt."
"So, Ms. Hunt," he said as he pulled out a soda and raised it in offering. "Would you like some caffeinated sugar?"
Really? That was his idea of something stronger? Alyssa simply declined with a shake of her head.
"It might help you prepare for the interview," he went on.
Prepare. Well, there was an idea. Last evening, when she'd heard about the sudden opening at the Samba, she'd learned as much as she could about his property. A shining star regarded as the industry's hippest new hotel. But there was no time to read about the owner. Other than his rebel image, aided by his shocking departure from his family's mega resort chain, she didn't know much. And she never went in so blind about a client.
"I'll admit the short notice left little time for research," she said.
"My event planner's departure yesterday took me by surprise, too." His half-grin turned into a full, complete with dimples. "So, just to be fair, I'll give you ten minutes to pump me for information."
With a little grimace, she wrinkled her nose delicately. At least she hoped it was delicate. "That sounds so harsh. I prefer the phrase " She searched for a more acceptable term. "Tactical reconnaissance."
His brows rose. "Are you preparing for an interview or a combat mission?"
Confident her professional air had finally returned, she stood, smoothing a hand down her jacket. The concrete and steel forest of downtown Miami gleamed in the distance beyond him. "You can always hope for the former," she said coolly. "But it's best to prepare for the latter."
A glint of awareness appeared in his eyes. "Should I be afraid?"
His suggestive tone set her on guard, but she held his gaze, refusing to play. The bad boy image was all well and good, but she had no time for games. "I doubt you scare so easily, Mr. Domingues."
As his lips twitched, she braced for his reply. But when it came, it was without his previous undertones. "What would you like to know about me?"
She hesitated. Anything she said was likely to reveal more about her than him, and the male expanse of chest was most troubling. But the opportunity was too good to pass.
Alyssa picked up her bag and crossed the teak deck, sitting on the barstool across from him. "What do you think I should ask?" she said with a polite smile.
Obviously tickled by her reply, he braced a hand against the counter. "You're going to make me do all the work?" She lifted a noncommittal shoulder, and he pursed his lips. "Okay. I would want to know if I'm dealing with a straight-shooter or someone who beats around the bush." Alyssa tipped her head in question, and he answered, "Straight-shooter."
The roguish look returned to his face. "On the other hand " His eyes boldly swept down to her waist and back, triggering a barrage of disconcerting sensations in her body. "You should ask if you'll have my undivided attention or if my gaze will repeatedly drift to your legs."
Ignoring the hammering in her chest, she resisted the urge to roll her eyes and folded her hands on the counter. Her tone was careful. "Fascinating. That isn't a question I would have considered."
"You would have considered it." A grin flashed. "You just wouldn't have asked it."
True. And she always appreciated blunt honesty. "And the answer is.?"
His dimples grew deeper. "Yes to both."
Cocky little charmer. While most people were working hard for their pay, here he was swimming in the middle of the day, but his easygoing nature was hard to resist. "I appreciate the warning." She hiked a brow drolly. "Should I be aware of any other chauvinistic character traits?"
"Oh, I'm much more subtle than that."
Ha. There was nothing subtle about him. Neither his confidence nor his to-die-for looks nor his bazillion-dollar smile. Feeling the need for a shield, she folded her arms across her chest. "So exactly how hard a sell are you during a job interview?"
He parked his elbows on the counter, bringing his face level with hers, his eyes flickering with an unmistakable light. "Depends on the bait."
Bait? She blinked. Whatever allure she held, it was nothing compared to his thick eyelashes. The chin-length black hair brushed back from flawless skin. Or the dark slash of eyebrows that added a rugged touch and contrasted nicely against full lips.
She leaned back to gain some distance and crossed her legs. And while she sensed his teasing was all in fun, it was best he learned Alyssa Hunt didn't take crap from anybody anymore.
She sent him her well-perfected I-won't-be-tempted smile. "I don't dangle myself in front of anyone, Mr. Domingues."
The man tipped back his head and laughed. Deep. Rich. Radiating humor to its very core. The kind that wrapped around you, encouraging you to join in no matter what your troubles. And he was clearly trouble.
When his chuckle finally died out, he said, "Sure we can't continue this over a drink?" His gaze turned positively wicked. "A mojito, perhaps?"
Alyssa's body froze. During her luncheon for the Hot Bods Agency, with every hunky Miami model in attendance, she'd been hit on repeatedly. And she'd had no problem dealing with the six-pack of tall, dark and handsomes at her table. Surely she could handle just one?