Read an Excerpt
Famed restaurateur, Nicco Morretti, watched celebrity party planner Claudia Jefferies-Medina sail through the doors of Javalicious and noted that as usual, she was right on time. Smiling broadly, he stood and pulled out a chair for her at their table. Celebrating the grand reopening of his restaurant lounge, Dolce Vita, last night left Nicco feeling sluggish. But he quickly shook off his fatigue and smiled. "Good morning, Claudia."
"It's great to see you again." Kissing him on both cheeks, Claudia greeted him as if they'd known each other all of their lives rather than just a month.
"Thanks for agreeing to meet me on such short notice. I really appreciate it."
"No problem," Claudia said as she sat down, took off her white blazer and draped it behind her chair. "I was already in town on business, so squeezing you in this morning was a cinch."
"I ordered you a cappuccino when the waiter came by earlier. I hope that's okay."
"You remembered what kind of coffee I like," she said, touching a hand to her chest. "Thank you, Nicco. That was very thoughtful of you."
The waiter arrived, tray in hand, and placed two steaming mugs on the round wooden table. "Would you like to order something from the breakfast menu?"
"Nothing for me," Nicco said, reaching for his coffee mug. "I'm good."
While Claudia chatted with the waiter about the morning specials, Nicco studied the thin, long-haired women seated beside the front window. They grinned lasciviously, and he did, too, making a mental note to introduce himself to the blond babes after his meeting with Claudia ended. He glanced around the sparsely decorated café, surprised to see that it was filled to capacity. The quaint coffee shop attracted locals and tourists alike, and although it was only nine o'clock in the morning, a steady stream of casually dressed people shuffled through the open door. The scent of sea water mingled with the aromas wafting around the café, and the sound of squawking birds and laughter filled the air.
"Have you had a chance to review the notes I sent you last week?"
Nicco wanted to laugh, but didn't. Claudia sat on the edge of her seat, her eyes bright and her excitement sky high. "I think my mom will get a kick out of the live band, and the vintage photo booth, but the rest of the report didn't wow me."
Claudia frowned as if confused by his words, but she didn't speak.
"The party's too small, too low-key. It needs to be grand, flashy and over-the-top."
"Nicco, it doesn't get much bigger than the grand ballroom at the Biltmore Hotel," she said, sounding as animated as a high school cheerleader. "I've done several events at the Biltmore, and they outdo themselves every single time. If you'd like, I could email you some pictures of the pre-Grammy party I did back in January."
Nicco shook his head. "That won't be necessary."
"Are you sure? I think if you saw some pictures you'd feel differently about us booking the Biltmore. It's a gorgeous hotel rich in history and culture, and one of my personal favorites."
"I'm just not feeling it, Claudia, so please keep searching for another venue." His mind was made up. Nicco tasted his coffee, and leaned back comfortably in his chair. He loved the Biltmore Hotel, and thought the food and service was outstanding. But he didn't want to have his parents' anniversary party in a hotel where he'd had numerous sexual liaisons. But he couldn't tell Claudia that, not without looking like a sleaze ball. He wanted the celebrity party planner to think he was a mature, upstanding guy. So, spilling the beans about his past escapades at the historic hotel was definitely out of the question. "My parents worked hard to give me and my brothers a great life in this country, and I want to throw them the most expensive, outrageous anniversary bash Miami has ever seen!"
Claudia was silent for a moment. "What about a mega yacht?"
"Will three hundred people fit comfortably inside?"
"When did the guest list balloon to three hundred people?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Once word got out that my parents were celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, our relatives in Venice and Florence insisted on making the trip to Miami."
"The more the merrier, right?"
"That's the Morretti way!"
"Trust me, it's the Mexican way, too. A small family dinner at my in-laws' place usually involves hundreds of people, and more food and alcohol than a Carnival Cruise ship!" Claudia laughed out loud, but quickly sobered and continued her spiel. "A mega yacht can comfortably hold up to five hundred people, and has everything you can think oflavish staterooms, a lounge, a formal dining room, a pool and even a personal theater. You name it, the yacht's got it."
"Interesting," Nicco said, stroking the length of his jaw. "That could work."
"I'll look into it and get back to you once I find out more information. Can I get your assistant's new number?" she asked, her pen poised to write. "I rang her yesterday to confirm our meeting this morning, but her cell phone has been disconnected."
"Gracie no longer works for Morretti Inc."
"That's too bad. I really liked Ms. O'Connor. Have you found a replacement yet?"
"No, but my HR director is in the process of interviewing suitable candidates as we speak." Nicco raised his mug to his lips and took a swig of coffee. "Hopefully she'll find someone soon, but in the meantime you can reach me by phone or email."
"That works for me."
"One last thing. I want the party to be a surprise, so I'd appreciate if you kept everything quiet." Leaning forward in his chair, he glanced conspicuously around the café to ensure no one was listening in. "The only people who know about the anniversary bash are my brothers, Demetri and Rafael, and I'd like to keep it that way."
"I can do that!" She fervently nodded her head. "Covert is my middle name!"
Laughing, they clinked coffee mugs.
Claudia's cell phone vibrated, and when she glanced at the screen, her face brightened. "I apologize for the interruption," she said, swiping her cell phone off the table. "Do you mind if I take this call? It's my husband, and I'm worried he's still stuck at the Orlando airport."
"Please, by all means, go ahead."
Claudia pressed her cell phone to her ear. "Santiago, bebé, ¿estás bien?"
For the second time in minutes, Nicco swallowed a laugh. Claudia sounded more like a love-struck teenager, than an accomplished businesswoman who'd recently been featured in top magazines. With her cell phone at her ear, she swept through the café, speaking in a hushed tone. Nicco scoured the café for the blonds in the daisy dukes he'd spotted earlier, but couldn't find them anywhere. And that sucked, because he needed a woman in his bed bad. Like yesterday. Sex was his favorite pastime, the only thing ever worth missing a round of golf with his brothers for. And Nicco couldn't think of anything better than having a gorgeous womanor twobetween his black satin sheets.
Punching in his cell phone password, he fired off a quick text to his older brother, Rafael, and waited anxiously for his reply. For months, Nicco had been debating whether or not to buy Javalicious, and as he sat in his corner table watching the staff fly around the room like busy bees, he decided investing in the coffee shop would be a smart, solid business move. And if Rafael agreed, he'd be one step closer to owning the popular Ocean Drive café just steps away from Miami Beach.
"Wesley, I don't need you to take care of me. I'm a strong, intelligent woman who can take care of herself. Got it?"
Frowning, Nicco shot a glance over his shoulder, curious to see who was responsible for the loud, angry outburst. Seated directly behind him, a woman with short black hair and dressed in pink workout gear spoke on her cell phone. Nicco couldn't see her face, but there was no mistaking her frustration, or the contempt in her voice for the person on the line.
"Please, you wouldn't know the truth if it walked up and slapped you!"
Nicco cracked up. But when he saw the puzzled expressions on the faces of the patrons seated nearby, he killed his laughter and pretended to read the menu card propped up against the napkin holder.
"Sorry about that." Claudia took her seat and rested her cell phone on the table. "My husband was calling to give me an update on his schedule. He'll be in Miami within the hour."
"Then don't let me keep you," Nicco said. "We're finished, so go meet your husband."
"Are you sure?"
Up on her feet, her eyes twinkling like diamonds, she collected her things and flashed a friendly wave. "Take care of yourself, Nicco. I'll be in touch."
The second Claudia rushed out the café doors, Nicco searched the room for the woman in the pink workout gear. He found her standing in line, typing furiously on her cell phone, wearing a cheeky grin. Nicco stood in the middle of the café, staring at her. Her facial features were perfect, and so was her taut derriere. Last night, at the grand reopening of Dolce Vita, he'd met scores of women, but they all looked the samelong, silky hair, coats of thick makeup, wearing tiny dresses that left nothing to the imagination. But the woman in front of him now with the killer curves and big brown eyes instantly seized his attention. She's a stunner, nothing short of magnificent, the most striking woman on the face of the earth.
Nicco moved forward, toward her. Couldn't help it. Couldn't stop himself. His hands itched to touch her, to squeeze, to caress and stroke her delectable, hourglass shape. Her tank top showed off toned arms, her leggings fit her body like a second skin, and her neon-pink sneakers drew his gaze down the length of her long, sculptured legs.
God bless the man who invented spandex! The woman had a body that made him salivate. Her looks were jaw-dropping, clear off the Richter scale, and Nicco found it impossible to turn away from her. He more than liked what he sawher dimpled cheeks, the beauty mark above her mouth and most importantly her fine, feminine figure. His thoughts were all over the place, jumping from one illicit image to the next. Battling the needs of his flesh, he stood transfixed, unable to move.
The woman glanced up from her cell phone and caught his eye. Nicco's heart rate sped up, beating at a wild, fanatic pace. For a moment, all he could do was stare helplessly at the beauty standing across the room. That's it. Breathing required every single drop of energy he had left.
Her glossy, pink lips slowly curled into a smile, one that hit him straight in the heart. And when his eyes zeroed in on her moist, lush mouth, Nicco imagined himself planting one on her. A long, sensuous kiss that would turn her on.
Nicco watched the woman pay her bill, and when she headed in his direction, he surfaced from his sexual haze. Clearing his throat, he racked his brain for the right pickup line, one that would capture her attention and buy him a few precious minutes of her time.
"How was your workout?" Nicco winced when he heard the question slide past his lips.
How was your workout? mocked his inner voice. Surely you can do better than that. Quit staring at her cleavage, man, and get your head in the game!
Her feet slowed and a frown bruised her lips. "My workout?" she repeated, regarding him closely. "Were you in my Bootie Camp class this morning?"
Nicco chuckled. "No, unfortunately I missed it. Where do you teach?"
"Why? Are you looking to drop a few pounds?"
"Do I need to?" Raising an eyebrow, he cocked his head to the right. Nicco wanted her to get a good look at him, so he stood tall and squared his shoulders. He saw her eyelashes widen and flutter, and heard her quick intake of breath. She darted a glance down at his shoes and a sly grin claimed his mouth. That's right, baby. I wear a size twelve shoe. How you like me now?
"Since you're a fitness instructor, I'd love your expert opinion." Nicco rested his hands on his waist and displayed a bold, in-your-face stance. "Am I in good shape or not?"
Rolling her eyes, an exasperated expression marring her features, she heaved her gym bag over her shoulder and stepped past him as if he hadn't just asked her a question.
Nicco didn't know what possessed him to touch her, but when his hands connected with her flesh he felt a rush, a charge so powerful his knees buckled. They stood in the middle of the café, staring at each other. His desire for her so strong, his mind went blank. "Please don't go. We're not finished talking."
Leaning forward, he read the name printed on the top hand corner of her tank top. Jariah Brooks. Nicco tried it on for size, allowing the syllables to stroke the length of his tongue, before deciding that her name was as striking as her dark, creamy complexion. "I'd love to take you out sometime, Jariah. Can I get your phone number?"
"Look," she snapped, "I'm having a really bad day, and I'm not in the mood to hear any of your slick lines, so go hit on someone else."
"Let's sit down and talk."
"Let's not and say we did."
"Do you know who I am?"
Jariah sputtered a laugh. "No, should I?"
"I think so." Bragging was usually beneath him, but to impress the saucy fitness instructor, he was willing to use every trick in the book. "I'm well-known around these parts. My picture is always in the newspapers and on TV."
She stared at him for a moment, as if trying to place his face, then fervently nodded her head. "Oh, wow," she gushed, pointing a finger at him. "I thought you looked familiar."
A grin overwhelmed Nicco's mouth. Finally. Now that Jariah recognized himand knew that he was one of the most successful restaurateurs in the nationthey could skip the preamble and head straight to the penthouse suite at his favorite, luxury hotel. He had plans for Jariah, plans that involved whip cream, Cristal, and a box of Magnum condoms, and the sooner they got to his suite at the Hilton Bentley the better.
"You were on last night's episode of Cheaters, weren't you?"
Hanging his head, Nicco clutched his shirt, as if wounded by the dig, but deep down he was amused. Aroused actually. He loved their playful banter. Much like her stunning looks, Jariah's cheeky wit was a turn-on. But what Nicco liked most about the mocha-brown was her mouth. Her lips were thick, moist and plump, and looked incredibly inviting.
"Sorry, but I'm not interested."
"Not interested?" Nicco chuckled a laugh. "Can't say I've ever heard that one before."
"There's a first time for everything," she said in a singsong voice.
"Are you married?"
"Why?" she quipped. "Are you looking for your one true love?"'
Nicco choked on his tongue. Hell, no! he thought, sliding his hands into the back pocket of his blue Levi's jeans.